Archive for March, 2016


Within the last decade, audiences have been subjected to an onslaught of superhero movies. Some have been good and some have been bad, but they’ve become so numerous that what was once an event now feels like common practice. Marvel has shown that they know how to build a universe and incorporate different characters into the same movie, but DC has yet to prove themselves. That all changes with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. By incorporating the two most famous superheroes of all-time into the same film, we’ve officially hit peak comic book movie. If this film had been released ten years ago, it would have been unbelievably exciting. But after two Avengers films, this simply feels par for the course.

But regardless of the hype, the actual content of the movie is what really matters. Producer Christopher Nolan clearly was a big influence on director Zack Snyder, but Snyder’s first Batman adaptation comes nowhere near the heights set by Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Batman v Superman is a total mess, a film that places far too much emphasis on plot, while throwing character development and thematic material by the wayside. Overly serious, bloated and way too long, it’s hard to imagine anyone getting any real sense of enjoyment out of this thing.

This may be a terrible project, but it starts off on a particularly high note. We’re introduced to a young Bruce Wayne at his parents’ funeral with images from their murder edited into the scene. Snyder has always been a very visual filmmaker and this opening sequence has him doing what he does best. It’s one of the most visually arresting moments in the entire film and it helps that this sequence isn’t bogged down by plot or expository dialogue. In fact, hardly anything is said during this opening, but Snyder’s visuals tell us everything that we need to know.

From here, we’re thrown into the most exciting action sequence in the film: Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) dealing with the climactic showdown from Man of Steel. That film was criticized for the amount of destruction that Superman caused in his fight with Zod, but in Batman v Superman, writers Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer smartly use this destruction to motivate Batman’s vengeance against Superman. We get to watch as Bruce Wayne hurtles his vehicle right into the midst of the destruction. In one of the film’s most memorable images, Wayne is the lone individual sprinting into a dust cloud caused by a collapsing building. The visual effects are convincing and the stakes actually feel real, something that the rest of the film fails at.

But once this sequence has concluded, the film takes a spectacular nosedive in terms of quality. Superman (Henry Cavill) has become seen as a dangerous individual by a large percentage of America. This movement to have him turn himself over to the authorities is led by Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) and supported by Lex Luther (Jesse Eisenberg). Superman also has a bone to pick with Batman, a vigilante whom Superman believes is going too far in his treatment of criminals. But when Luther begins importing kryptonite and creating a new supervillain, these two heroes will have to put aside their differences to save Gotham and Metropolis.

I don’t want to generalize, but for the most part, superhero films don’t have fantastic plots. Batman v Superman is no exception to this rule. So it’s strange that there is such an emphasis on the story, when most fans really just want to see some great action sequences. The first two-thirds of this film feel like nothing more than an extended and convoluted setup for the finale. The editing here is pretty terrible, cutting between individual storylines from Batman, Superman, Lex Luther and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) that lack cohesion from the big picture of the movie. At times it feels like you’re watching loosely connected solo films from these four characters that are edited together into a final product. It all kind of makes sense in the moment, but looking back on the film, it’s difficult to say what exactly everybody was doing.

So the plot, structure and pacing isn’t great, but Snyder should be able to deliver some satisfying action, right? Sadly, other than the opening sequence, the action is pretty underwhelming. Until the final 30 minutes, there’s not a lot of action to get excited about, mostly because the action takes a backseat to the endless plot. But when we get to Batman and Superman’s big battle, it’s decent but it’s over in about five minutes. For a film titled Batman v Superman, there’s really not a lot of fighting between the two. I’m not the kind of person that craves nonstop action, but the lack of a good story and character development would have been more tolerable if there had been some more excitement in the film. And the film’s climactic moments with Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) are tolerable, but it looks overly digital and doesn’t feel like it’s grounded in the real world.

It might sound like I’m being harsh on this film – and I am – but there are still some things that I thought were handled well. We’d already been introduced to Henry Cavill’s Superman in Man of Steel, but his performance in this film is even better. Not only does he look like the perfect Superman, but he’s able to ground his character in reality and make the problems of an alien feel incredibly personal. The internet groaned when Ben Affleck was cast as the Dark Knight, but Affleck is actually a pretty great fit for the part. He’s an older Batman compared to what we’re used to, but bulkier too. His character is incredibly underdeveloped, but there’s hope that they’ll actually explore this potential in future films. In the first ever big-screen portrayal of Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot makes the character her own. This Wonder Woman is strong, but also sexy and the prospect of a Wonder Woman solo film is exciting.

It’s been said that a superhero movie is only as strong as its villain, so it’s no surprise that Jesse Eisenberg is terrible as Lex Luther. His performance is campy and way too over-the-top, resulting in a character that simply doesn’t jive with the dark tone of the movie. It’s unclear if his goofiness was intended as comic relief, but an awkward monologue that he gives at a party gets absolutely no laughs. But the worst thing about him is that his motivations are unclear. The best villains are the ones who can remain relatable, even when they’re causing chaos around them. We don’t have to believe that what they’re doing is right, but we have to believe that they do. Perhaps I missed something, but Luther’s plan is so poorly concocted that it’s impossible to say what his end game was. Did he simply hate Superman and Batman, hoping to take them both down? Or did he just want to take over the world? It’s never really made clear, which makes for a completely uninteresting villain.

Intended as the precursor to the Justice League movie, Batman v Superman does a laughably bad job at building up the DC universe. Whereas Marvel took its time, giving each character their own movie before throwing them together in The Avengers, DC lazily introduces several famous characters through a file on a computer. It’s hard to get excited about Batman and Superman’s next big screen appearance when this one lacks any truly interesting action or quiet character moments. Despite a strong opening and a nice final five minutes, this is way too much plodding setup and hardly any of the excitement that should have been delivered. The best way to sum up Batman v Superman is that it’s like the time I tried to eat my two favorite foods (cheeseburgers and sushi) in the same meal and ended up with food poisoning.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice receives 1.5/4

 

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Zootopia – Movie Review

If you had told me that a movie starring a bunny and a fox could be an astute commentary on stereotypes and prejudice…well I probably wouldn’t have believed you. But that was before I saw Zootopia, the latest film from Disney Animation. By creating a world inhabited entirely by mammals, directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore have held up a mirror to some of the problems that plague our society. That’s more than would normally be expected from a children’s movie, but it also doesn’t hurt that the film is well-paced and a lot of fun. It sets the bar quite high for any other upcoming animated movies in 2016.

Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) has always wanted to become a police officer. But from a very young age, she was told that it would be impossible. You see, a rabbit had never become a law enforcement official, so you can’t totally blame her parents for thinking that this dream wouldn’t come true. But Hopps was able to prove them all wrong, becoming a police officer in the city of Zootopia. Her victory is short-lived, though, because the chief of police (Idris Elba) gives her the menial task of writing parking tickets. This is disconcerting to Hopps, especially when an increasingly large number of animals are disappearing throughout the city. It takes a chance encounter with a con-artist fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) to put Hopps on the right course to solve this mystery.

Most of the racial subtext will probably go over kids’ heads, but the film does a good job of communicating the idea that we should be accepting of everyone and not judge people based solely on their appearance. Hopps is mocked for wanting to be a police officer, but she proves everybody wrong. And even though her parents are deathly afraid of foxes, she eventually befriends one and discovers that they’re more complex than the stereotypes that she’s been told. As the film progresses, the prey of Zootopia begin to unfairly judge the predators as nothing more than savage beasts. Even though the predators in Zootopia are mostly harmless, this is somewhat of a contradicting message; in the actual animal kingdom, these prey would have good reason to fear the predators. But this lapse in logic is minor in the grand scheme of things, particularly when it reinforces a message that is so timely in our society.

Even if you take out the social commentary, this is still a bright, colorful trip into a unique and interesting world. It’s certainly not as funny as it could probably be, but a sequence involving a group of sloths working at the DMV gets big laughs. The story is ultimately pretty predictable and there are a few instances of obvious humor, but adults will get a kick out of the various references hidden throughout the film, ranging from Breaking Bad to Mission Impossible to The Lost World (ok, that last one might be a stretch). The entire cast also delivers solid voice performances, fully embodying their characters and shedding the persona that typically accompanies their well-known voices. Zootopia may not be perfect, but it’s definitely a city that I wouldn’t mind visiting again.

Zootopia receives 3/4

I don’t think there’s been a more interesting recent example of movie marketing than the Cloverfield films. The original brilliantly utilized viral marketing through its mysterious trailer and ads. Having created the TV show Lost, producer J.J. Abrams knows how to handle a good mystery and the marketing for 10 Cloverfield Lane has managed to follow in its predecessors deceptive footsteps. When the trailer suddenly premiered less than two months before the film’s release, I couldn’t wait to see this thing. In an era where trailers seem to spoil every aspect of a film, it’s refreshing to see marketing that prefers to keep things under wraps. So it’s an added bonus that both Cloverfield films are excellent genre exercises, providing tension and excitement through great direction. This is less of a sequel to the original and more of a distant relative; it manages to deliver just as many thrills as the original, but on a much smaller scale, which makes it all the more impressive.

We’re introduced to Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) as she’s packing up her belongings and leaving behind her fiancé. As she’s driving down the road to start a new beginning, her car is slammed into by a truck and she’s knocked out cold. She awakens chained to the wall inside a small, dank room that’s part of an underground bunker. She soon discovers that she was brought there by Howard (John Goodman), a doomsday prepper who tells her that it’s not safe outside of the shelter’s walls. Neither Howard nor the bunker’s other resident, Emmet (John Gallagher Jr.), know exactly what went wrong, but they both believe that it has something to do with the quality of the air. Michelle isn’t sure if it’s safe to go outside, but it might be even more dangerous inside the bunker with Howard.

In his feature film debut, director Dan Trachtenberg has crafted a thrill ride that will keep audiences on pins and needles from beginning to end. Part of what makes the film so tense is the general mystery that pervades the its excellently paced runtime. Is Howard telling the truth about the danger on the outside? Can he be trusted? If there is something dangerous outside, what caused it? These are just a few of the questions that spring up and the screenplay from Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken and Damien Chazelle does a great job at leading you to one conclusion before turning things on their head. These mysteries also lead to some great setpieces including Michelle’s initial escape attempt, a tense crawl through the bunker’s vents and the chaos that ensues at the end of the film when things descend into chaos.

Having avoided roles in major Hollywood productions for a few years, it’s great to see Mary Elizabeth Winstead back on the big screen again. Michelle goes through a lot in this film and Winstead successfully embodies every thought and emotion that she feels along the way. From the fear that she experiences upon discovering her initial situation to the strength that she displays in the film’s finale, Winstead nails every nuance required of her. John Gallagher Jr. does a fine job with the role that he’s given, particularly in a quiet moment where he reflects back on a key event from his life. But if there’s anyone in the cast worth talking about, it’s John Goodman. A veteran actor who’s been delivering underrated performances for decades now, Goodman walks a tightrope that balances his character between sympathetic and despicable. We’re never quite sure what his motivations are, but Goodman is intimidating regardless. Since so many things about his character are mysterious throughout the film, his performance will probably be more illuminating on a second viewing when all questions have been answered.

Some audience members might be disappointed by where the film ends up, but I appreciated that it had the guts to do something weird with its ending. The film starts off with a Twilight Zone premise and ends like a Stephen King short story, which I’m perfectly fine with. The direction in the film’s final 15 minutes gets a little muddled, which really the only time that Trachtenberg takes a misstep. There are a few hiccups in the script, particularly regarding Michelle’s convenient ability to design clothing, but luckily everything comes together to present a story that’s all about taking action and not sitting idly as life passes us by. There’s a lot to love in 10 Cloverfield Lane, a well-executed genre film that delivers everything you would hope for. I can’t wait to see what the Cloverfield franchise brings us next.

10 Cloverfield Lane receives 3.5/4

Comedy sequels are rarely a good idea. For every 22 Jump Street or Anchorman 2, there’s a Dumb and Dumber Too or The Hangover Part II. The problem with these films is that they’re usually too reliant on callbacks to the original and don’t have the guts to try something new. That’s a huge reason why Zoolander 2 is nowhere near as successful as its predecessor. Ben Stiller has directed some truly funny comedies throughout his career and the original Zoolander might just be his most popular film to date. It was a stupid film, no doubt, but it walked the fine line of delivering stupid humor in a clever way. It had some great laugh-out-loud moments and it was almost completely quotable from beginning to end. Zoolander 2 has none of these qualities. Other than a few sporadic chuckles, it’s a largely laughless affair that feels desperate when the original felt fresh.

Does the plot really matter in a film like this? Not really, but if you must know, this film picks up years after the original. Male model Derek Zoolander’s (Ben Stiller) wife was killed when his learning center collapsed on her and his son has now been taken away from him. Fellow model Hansel (Owen Wilson) was severely scarred in the disaster and both men are now in hiding. But when several of the world’s most beautiful celebrities are found murdered, special agent Valentina Valencia (Penélope Cruz) believes that Zoolander is the only person who can solve this case. They soon find out that this conspiracy is linked to a notorious fashion guru (Kristen Wiig) and the man that Zoolander helped put behind bars: Jacobim Mugatu (Will Ferrell).

Zoolander 2’s biggest problem is that it’s simply not very funny, only managing to deliver a few sparse chuckles throughout its runtime. Many of the jokes here feel like they were copy and pasted from the original film, with Stiller and co-screenwriters Justin Theroux, Nicholas Stoller and John Hamburg relying too heavily on callbacks (the fact that the film touts four writers certainly didn’t help matters either). There are also so many celebrity cameos scattered throughout that they cause the audience to become numb to their intended comedic effect .The biggest laughs come from Wiig and Kyle Mooney, the former of which delivers such a ridiculous performance that you’ll wish she had a lot more screentime. But unfortunately Stiller and company can’t deliver on the expectations set by the original and continue Hollywood’s tradition of disappointing comedy sequels.

Zoolander 2 receives 2/4