Review: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

PG-13, 151 Minutes, 2016

uRUJzQY.jpgI grew up watching Batman and Superman. First it was The Superfriends, the quasi-Justice League show full of cheese. Then reruns of TV’s Batman and its corniness. As a pre-teen and teen I was a huge Justice League comics fan with a variety of super-heroes teaming up to fight world shattering human and alien villains. As an adult, I read fewer comics, but have seen nearly every DC comics animated, live action TV, and cinematic incarnation and have appreciated stories from the lighthearted to the more intense. You might say I’m the perfect candidate for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the bridge movie from Man of Steel to The Justice League.

Except I’m not. Reflecting the darker comics of Frank Miller and other writers, the current incarnation of DC Superheroes is very dark. The Dark Knight by Christopher Nolan was absolutely brilliant, but by The Dark Knight Rises, the widespread civilian causalities and lack of any humor made for a bit of a slog.

Now DC is trying to jump start its late-to-the-game movie empire by having Zack Snyder continue this dark trend he presented so mediocrely in Man of Steel. First, let’s be honest. Zack Snyder isn’t such a great director. 300 was an unexpected action fest, but hardly a classic. Watchmen didn’t live up to expectations. He is serviceable. And he loves long and dark films.

If you love the dark tone of Man of Steel with hundreds (but realistically thousands) of innocent lives lost and the ridiculous ending of Superman out-and-out murdering Zod, Batman v Superman may be for you. But if you like your superheroes to be heroes – praiseworthy exemplars of Truth, Justice, and the American Way, than this movie will disappoint.

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Mini-Review: The Revenant

The Revenant

R, 156 Minutes, 2015 – Opens Wide January 8, 2016

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About: An 1820s scout must survive the American wilderness as lots of really bad stuff happens to him and everyone else.

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domnall Gleeson (who has had quite the year with Ex Machina, Brooklyn, and Star Wars), and that kid from We’re the Millers (Will Poulter)

Directed: Alejandro González Iñárritu – If Birdman didn’t win you over to his skill, this will. He is a modern day master especially with his ability to craft a shot.

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Best Thing About It: Wow is this film beautiful and captivating. Long uncut shots (no surprise) with 360º swings, incredible vistas, gorgeous framing of the magnificent wilderness. Nature (mostly Canada, some Argentina) which is a co-star in this film, does its job outstandingly, and is captured with mastery.

Worst Thing About It: This is not a film for everyone. It is long. There are huge periods of silence. The plot of the movie isn’t that challenging.

And it’s pretty gross. The battles are realistic with gruesome resulting injuries. On-the-fly surgery is worse. There is a nasty persistent racism towards American Indians and the violence towards woman is raw and horrific. Animals are shown and eaten in all sorts of ways you’ve never desired. It’ll be a tough sit for many people. Know yourself.

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Notable Things About It: Just give Leo the Oscar already. 5 nominations. Should have won for The Aviator. This role was physically brutal. As IMDb reports, he grew that nasty beard, learned to shoot a musket, build a fire, and speak two native American Languages (Pawnee and Arikara). Just give him the Oscar already! (By the way, Tom Hardy is pretty outstanding too, but will get no Oscar love)

Overall: The movie is a pleasure as a visual feast and for the acting. But somewhat like Birdman, the plot is not captivating enough. Go see it as it really should be seen on the big screen.

Rating: 3 RaMaKs
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Mini-Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

PG-13, 135 Minutes, 2015

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About: A long time ago… a plot was borrowed from a 1977 and told it again. But with more lightsaber fighting and a woman in the lead.

Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver – your lives have massively changed forever.

Directed: JJ Abrams continues to show he can take a classic property, rework their old scripts, and make people love them anew. He does an even better job here than he did in Star Trek. And no lens flares.new-the-force-awakens-character-descriptions-for-finn-rey-kylo-ren-and-captain-phasma1.jpeg

Best Thing About It: When Rey uses the force to get the lightsaber. It is the establishment of a new generation of heroes and specifically that a young woman can be the central protagonist – something lacking in most classic Science Fiction.

 

Worst Thing About It: The Nazi imagery when General Hux address the Stormtroopers was way over the top.

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Notable Things About It: Best acted and funniest of Star Wars movies. Was not shot all in digital, so has grittier more realistic feel than the Prequels did. You can skip Episodes 1-3 and understand this fill without a problem – Prequels can be dead now.

IMAX/3D: Saw it in 3D on a regular screen and on IMAX/3D. While IMAX/3D makes your viewing into an event – and therefore worthwhile – neither is really needed.

Overall: JJ Abrams succeed in creating Star Wars for the next generation while satiating those of us who were transformed by it as children decades ago. That is one tough task and he did an amazing job.

As we prepare for 18 months of waiting for the next episode, some questions below…

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Questions: The film leaves a host of questions to debate until Episode VII in May 2017. Some of them:

  • Who are Rey’s parents? Unlikely to be Han and Leia. Current betting is on Luke, but she was a little girl when left on Jakku so you’d think she’d remember her parents and everyone else (Han, Leia, Ben Solo) would remember her.920x920.jpg
  • Is Finn just a rare rebellious Stormtrooper or does he have some interesting back story? I doubt he is Lando Calrissian’s son, but love to see some Billy Dee Williams.
  • How did Kylo Ren turn evil? And where did Supreme Leader Snoke come from? And is he really very tiny (like Yoda), but compensates with a Wizard of Oz giant head?
  • Who is the old guy at beginning and what’s his story? Internet tells us his name is Lor San Tekka and gives some history that wasn’t in the movie.
  • But most of all: Why does C-3PO have a red arm?

 

Rating: 3 1/2 RaMaKs (out of 4)

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Mini-Review and Premiere: The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight

R, 168/187 Minutes, 2015

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I had a chance to go the NY Premiere of The Hateful Eight at the Ziegfeld Theatre. If you’ve never been to the Ziegfeld, it is an experience of epic moviegoing proportions.ziegfeld_v7_460x285.jpg

I have never been to a premiere before so this was lots of fun. The was tons of free popcorn, soda, and candy. We received souvenir tickets and a program booklet.IMG_0917.jpg

Before the movie began, Harvey Weinstein welcomed us and then introduced a very energetic Quentin Tarantino. Quentin gave a short speech and then invited up 7 of 8 of the “Hateful Eight” along with Channing Tatum. (Samuel L. Jackson wasn’t there).

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The movie began with applause for every name in the cast (they were sitting right there) and much of crew. The film had an overture and then later an intermission.

 

There’s a lot of waiting around at a premiere – getting there early to get a good seIMG_0924.jpgats, movie starting late – but it was all good fun. Michael Madsen came right next to my seat and was being encouraged to sit in the empty chairs next to me, but he declined (and I don’t think watched the movie). After the film, I ended up right behind Harvey Weinstein, but only got this picture (to the left).

But we’re here for the movie review…

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Mini-Review: Bridge of Spies

Bridge of Spies

PG-13, 141 Minutes, 2015

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About: Lawyer must negotiate for trade of spies with USSR because once upon a time we let civilians do that. There is also a bridge.

Starring: Tom Hanks as Our Generation’s Gary Cooper/Jimmy Stewart

Directed: Steven Spielberg. I am a Spielberg-completist having seen all of his films. It’s been over 10 years since Spielberg made a “fun” film (Terminal to some extent, Catch Me If You Can for sure, The Adventures of Tintin wasn’t fun enough). He’s gotten so serious and self-important.

Bridgeof-Spies-777x437Best Thing About It: Mark Rylance as the Soviet Spy Col. Abel. His dry wit and non-conformist role makes him the most memorable and worthwhile thing in the film. I anticipate an Academy Award Nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Worst Thing About It: The word I have heard most about this film is “Old-Fashioned.” That’s not a bad thing as the movie is very well made. But it lacks much in terms of surprise, energy, or freshness. It feels very lived in – An old sweater you like, but don’t love.

Notable Thing About It: If anyone other than Tom Hanks was in this part, I think the movie would have failed. He brings such charisma and gravitas to a role that before he’s said a word, you are rooting for his character and trust him.

Overall: Everything about the film is professional. There isn’t anything weak in it. It is certainly the right kind of film for people who prefer more predictable, historical movies. You certainly don’t have to go to the theaters to see it. It is a good film, but forgettable.

Rating: 2 1/2 RaMaKs (out of 4)

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Mini-Review: Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs

R, 122 Minutes, 2015

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About: There was this computer guy who was a jerk, but a genius. You might have heard of him.

Starring: Michael Fassbender, who looks nothing like Jobs (see below), but is brilliant.

Michael Fassbender and Steve Jobs

Directed: Danny Boyle, who has now made a bunch of very different, really solid movies – Transporting, 127 Hours, Millions, 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Slumdog Millionaire

Written: Aaron Sorkin in totally Sorkinesque dialogue. Lots of walk and talks. I once interviewed with a rabbi who couldn’t walk and talk. He had to stop whenever he had to talk. I knew I couldn’t work with him.

Best Thing About It: The cast. Kate Winslet would be unrecognizable if I hadn’t just told you Kate Winslet was in it. Seth Rogen is totally recognizable, but is very compelling as Steve Wozniak. Jeff Daniels has found a new role as an older, friendly, but somewhat insufferable boss (see him similarly as the head of NASA in The Martian). Michael Stuhlbarg is once again amazing. In most films it takes a minute to place him (ex. Pawn Sacrifice), but in every film he displays the incredible talent that was on display as the lead in A Serious Man.

Worst Thing About It: I often complain when the lead character is distasteful. I have to spend two hours with someone I really don’t like. Steve Jobs is like The Social Network – socially incompetent asshole who offends everyone around him, but is an absolute genius. Steve Jobs is more distasteful, but more of a genius than Mark Zuckerberg. While I appreciate what Jobs was capable of doing, it was troubling to watch him throughout the film when all I wanted was someone to punch him in the face. Spoiler: No one does.

Notable Thing About It: In a very original structure, the film takes place in 3 separate real time segments in the 30 minutes of so before three major product launches – the Macintosh (1984), NeXT (1988), and the iMac (1998) [Filmed in 16mm, 35mm, and digital respectively**]. Also, truth be told, I owned 3 of these computers and have exclusively used Apple/Macintosh home computers my entire computer life since my family got an Apple II Plus when I was 10.

Overall: This is an extremely well made film. The creative structure gives the film urgency and keeps it moving. The actors are excellent top to bottom. The ending tries to hard to make things work out. Also, if you somehow have never heard of the success of Apple computers, the iPod, iPhone, etc. you would be baffled that anyone thinks Jobs is a genius by what is shown in the film (2 failures, 1 predicted success). It’s a good film, but not great. But if you loved The Social Network, run right out as I wasn’t as high on that film as the rest of the world (I was rooting for The King’s Speech for the Oscar).

**Info added after initial posting of blog fro Christ Nashawaty’s review of the film in Entertainment Weekly.

Rating: 3 RaMaKs (out of 4)

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Mini-Review: The Martian

The Martian

PG-13, 141 Minutes, 2015

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About: Astronaut must survive on Mars after being left for dead by accident. NASA must figure out how to bring him back.

Starring: Matt Damon as Mark Watney. Do you know how rare it is to find a protagonist named Mark in the movies? Okay, this site does, but who remembers any of these supporting roles? The Martian also stars like 8 other actors you’ll recognize and like a lot.

Directed: Ridley Scott making up for Prometheus and Exodus: Gods and Monsters.

Best Thing About It: Matt Damon. He is the perfect lead – charisma, humor, everyman. You want him to survive. He is the next generation Tom Hanks, but a little sexier. You want him to be your husband/boyfriend/best friend.

Worst Thing About It: So the book is better. Andy Weir’s novel has so much more depth. More things happen to Watney and to NASA. The science is explained instead of just shown loosely in a montage. And Weir is a first time novelist! Go read the book.

Notable Thing About It: The movie is better. Because it does what movies can do and books can’t – the visuals of Mars are incredible. Seeing Watney’s struggles and successes is very different than reading about them. Go see the movie.

Overall: This is a crowd pleaser. If you can live with a few curse words and one stunt-double’s butt, this is a movie you can take your kids, your parents, your friends. Like Apollo 13, it casts NASA in a heroic light even as it faces a failure. This is a beautifully made, well acted, often funny, exciting, Hollywood movie. It doesn’t break much new cinematic ground, but sometimes it is nice just to be entertained.

3D note: While the swirling dust at the beginning looked cool and the Mars landscapes were richer, like most live-action films, seeing it in 3D isn’t vital.

Rating: 3 ½ RAMAKs (out of 4)

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