Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Movie Review: "Captain Marvel"

Captain Marvel is a vaguely-serviceable, superhero-related entertainment product.

Oh, you want more? *sigh* Okay, maybe I'll just splice my Ant Man, Thor 2 and Iron Man 2 reviews together, throw in a few pithy observations about Black Panther, switch out a few names and references and then, voila, instant mediocre Marvel movie review.

Captain Marvel stars Brie Larson as Vers, an alien special operative blessed with special abilities and plagued by buried memories. After she's captured by their arch-enemies, the shape-shifting Skrulls,  she manages to flee to 90's-era Earth. Once there, she partners up with neophyte S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) to uncover a Skrull plot to steal light-speed technology from a brilliant scientist named Dr. Wendy Lawson (Annette Benning).

During their investigations, our hero begins to learn about her past life as a human fighter pilot named Carol Danvers. As the loyalties of her squad and the Skrull's motivations are revealed, Carol's powers begin to fully manifest. This leads to your standard superhero movie conclusion where an over-powered, scarcely-relatable, god-like entity effortlessly wrecks everything in a boring orgy of murky CGI.

Most of the film's issues lie in the screenplay by Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck and Geneva Robertson-Dworet. First off, the early flashback scenes completely "bury the lead", to the point where the audience is waaaaay ahead of the game and we're just waiting for the characters to catch up to us. It nukes any potential mystery and makes the plot feel like a paint-by-numbers set. To make matters worse, the Skrull's intriguing ability to shape-shift should have been the perfect catalyst for endless  intrigue, tension and mystery, but here it's frittered away in lieu of your typical super hero movie story beats.

It also doesn't help that, as a prequel, Captain Marvel feels like it was written with scarcely any consideration for established continuity. For example, how did the all-powerful Tesseract, last seen in the possession of Howard Stark at the end of Captain America: The First Avenger, inexplicably make its way to Dr. Wendy Lawson? Even more disappointing: Nick Fury's salty retort of "The last time I trusted someone, I lost an eye!" in Winter Soldier now sounds patently ridiculous, given this film's goofy revelations.

About the only praise I can give to the film's writers is that they throw us a bit of a curve ball half-way through, which roused me from my slumber. Unfortunately, due to the presence of certain already-established characters right from the get-go, it doesn't take a detective to figure out who the good guys and the bad guys are.

Given that Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok really upped the ante in terms of the visual style of the Marvel Universe, this one looks strictly Phase One flick in comparison. Notwithstanding the Guardians of the Galaxy-lite art design, Captain Marvel looks dull, muddled and flat. Beyond Carol's manacled escape sequence and the train pursuit, most of the action sequences are unmemorable and pretty pedestrian.

Then there's the film's finale, which features all of the frustrating visual murk of the "The Long Night" episode of Game of Thrones, but without all the stakes, drama, character investment or fight choreography. And then, to put the cap on it altogether, the film ends with a yawn-inducing CGI shit-fit that has all the gravitas of a video game cut scene.

Unfortunately, the movie's biggest detriment is the titular character, and I'm still trying to reconcile  the root cause of this problem. After all, Brie Larson's acting chops are solid; one only needs to watch Room for ample evidence of this. Writer / director duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck are also wonderful, being responsible for the excellent drama Half Nelson back in 2006. So, in light of this, I can only conclude that the fault lies in the creative team's unsuitability to the C-grade subject matter.

Captain Marvel / Carol Danvers / Vers is so broadly written that she doesn't come across as a real character. And, regrettably, this bleeds through to Brie Larson's performance. Sometimes she's as robotic as Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2. Sometimes she's edgy, curt and smart-assed like Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy. And occasionally, when she's bouncing off Samuel L. Jackson and forgotten pal Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), she actually exhibits a modicum of charm and humanity. Pity, then, that these scenes are so few and far between.

Mindless proponents of the film will claim that Carol acts borderline-schizophrenic because she's a fish out of water with memory issues. Fine, but Gat Gadot in Wonder Woman and Chris Hemsworth in Thor were in similar situations, but those two were veritable founts of charisma. If she ends up being the deus ex machina character who comes out of the woodwork just to wreck Thanos in Endgame, I'm gonna be super-pissed.

So, other than some fun scenes between Brie Larson and the always-great Samuel L. Jackson, a few nostalgic 90's references, a CGI cat animated with the same quality level as Garfield, and a nuanced performance by Ben Mendelsohn as the Skrull leader Talos, there isn't much to recommend in Captain Marvel. Honestly, the movie feels a lot more like one of the blander Phase One flicks and, at this stage in the game, there's absolutely no excuse for this level of laziness.

Tilt: down.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Movie Review: "Us"

Is the title of "Master of Horror" still a thing? Back in the Bronze Age of 80's horror, this label was used as a convenient catch-all to describe visionary fright-peddlers like George A. Romero, Sam Raimi, Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven, John Carpenter and David Cronenberg. But when was the last time someone applied this same title to a director under the age of fifty?

With its tight script, chilling direction and deep-cut homages, 2017's Get Out made Jordan Peele a possible contender for that hallowed badge of honor. Not only was the film wildly entertaining and rife with pointed social commentary, it was also delivered from a perspective that wasn't even vaguely represented by the legendary pantheon of 80's-era "Masters of Horror." And frankly, that's a pretty exciting prospect for fans like me.

Us is Peele's sophomore effort and, although it's more nebulous and far-fetched than its predecessor, it's still a notably-original film that exhibits genuine artistic care.

In a prologue set in 1986, we see young Adelaide (Madison Curry) wander away from her parents on the Santa Cruz boardwalk and venture into a creepy funhouse. After getting turned around in the hall of mirrors, she has a terrifying encounter with a shadow version of herself and promptly blacks out.

Fast forward to the present day and adult Adelaide (Lupita Nyong'o) is a jittery mother looking to safeguard her older daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and young son Jason (Evan Alex). After her husband, Gabe (Winston Duke), drags them off to the same beach where her childhood trauma first occurred, a warped mirror image of the entire family shows up later on in their driveway and proceeds to terrorize them.

I don't wanna spoil anything, so I'll just say that Us isn't content to be a Funny Games / The Strangers-style home invasion flick. It's constantly twisting and contorting, evolving to the point where you have no clue where it's headed next. And, speaking as someone who's seen an inordinate number of horror movies, this is an important and refreshing attribute.

Except for a few mechanical or obvious exchanges, the dialogue in Us is generally organic and self-aware. I really appreciate the periodic detours into humor, since it acknowledges and effectively neuters the possibility of chronic audience eye-rollery. Even during some of the film's craziest moments, the packed theater I saw it with watched in reverent silence, save for a few nervous chuckles.

Peele hit the jackpot with Lupita Nyong'o, who inhabits the dual role of Adelaide and her insane duplicate "Red" with equal aplomb. In the hands of a lesser actor, Red's exaggerated facial expressions, ballet-like motions and odd vocal inflections would likely inspire titters from the audience. But Nyong'o projects so much conviction and range that she'll likely receive Toni Collette-levels of indifference when Oscar season rolls around again.

The rest of the cast ranges from adequate to exemplary. Winston Duke's Gabe might be a wry and likable teddy bear, but his duplicate is an intimidating wall of menace. Shahadi Wright Joseph is tremendous as older daughter Zora, and her doppelganger Umbrae is one of the more chilling incarnations in the film. As for Evan Alex's Jason, he seems oddly nonplussed throughout most of the film and I can't help but wonder if he's a tad autobiographical. His idiosyncrasies strike me as the sort of thing that l'il Jordan Peele might have exhibited as a kid.

There's plenty more to admire in the film. Peele and his cinematographer Mike Gioulakis do a wonderful job with their set ups. Creepy settings like the house of mirrors and the underground bunker are expertly lensed and I love how the camera slinks around corners, dragging the audience along with it. Combined with the effective editing of Nicholas Monsour, moments like the beach scene are genuinely arresting. Layer on a wonderfully-eclectic score by Michael Abels and you've got a film that's clearly trying hard to impress.

Unfortunately, the film's central conceit is slavishly explained at one point, which threatens to collapse the entire edifice. I don't want to spoil anything, but if you hated M. Night Shyamalan's The Village because the ending stretched credibility then Us is gonna give you fits. I really wish Peele had either kept the threat small-scale or, at the very least, vague-d things up by about 30%. Because, as it stands right now, after one of the characters gives their gratuitous expository crash course on the movie's raison d'être, OCD assholes like myself are immediately ejected out of the illusion and  immersion is irreparably damaged.

The frustrating thing is that I completely understand Peele's motivations. I think he's legitimately fascinated by "Hands Across America" and really wanted to parody that platitude-fueled charity event. I was 16 back in 1986 and, even then, I thought that "Hand's Across America" was one of the dumbest things I'd ever heard of. To this day I wonder what was more ludicrous: that people thought that folks were literally going to link hands across the entire continental US or that a gimmicky charity event was going to counteract the crippling effects of trickle down economics? So, as soon as Peele establishes the Wilson family as the "haves" and their subterranean duplicates as the "have nots", "Hands Across America" becomes the perfect thematic symbol for ridicule. 

But there's only one problem with that: it necessitates an utterly ludicrous reveal which immediately caused involuntary questions to start percolating in my head. And frankly, if your audience is preoccupied trying to square off a bunch of nonsensical logistics instead of enjoying the visceral thrill ride of your climax, then you've got yourself a problem.

Then there's the film's penultimate twist, which I won't presume to discuss here. Regardless of my issues with the film, at least Peele understands the concept of Chekhov's gun. Like Hereditary, Us bears repeat viewing just to see how many clues or visual precursors you can spot. Too much arbitrary or deus ex machina crap happens in movies nowadays, so for me it's refreshing to see a film that makes a concerted effort to set up its payoffs, even if the revelations are patently ridiculous.

I'd describe Us as flawed but interesting. It's got a pretty cool premise and, like Get Out, it has lots of  thematic fodder for your mind to munch on. I just get the impression that Peele didn't have as much time with the screenplay and it feels kinda half-baked as a result. 

Us earns three-and-a-half stars out of five with a tilt down into those mysterious tunnels!


Friday, March 22, 2019

Movie Review: "Moonraker"

At the end of The Spy Who Loved Me, the end credits proudly proclaimed "James Bond will return in For Your Eyes Only." Well, when a certain movie set in "a galaxy far, far away" exploded onto movie screens that very same year, producer Albert R. Broccoli decided to switch gears and fast-track the vaguely space-themed Moonraker instead.

I think that's why Bond snobs give the eleventh entry in the series more shit than it deserves. Somehow they've gotten it into their heads that the producers compromised the series in order to shoe-horn in a bunch of random Star Wars references. Well, nothing could be further than the truth and, in this reviewer's humble opinion, Moonraker is one of the most gleefully-entertaining entries in the series. Come at me, bro.  

Now, before I strap on the gloves, I have to make a few concessions. The following things admittedly run the gamut between lazy and idiotic:
  • The theme song is pretty m'eh.
  • The hover-gondola ride through the streets of Venice is patently ridiculous.
  • The resulting pigeon double-take should immediately be excised from every copy of the film.
  • The Jaws and Dolly romance doesn't really bother me...but did it hafta kick off with Tchaikovsky's Romeo & Juliet Overture? Yeesh!
  • The climactic mass jetpack laser fight in space definitely belongs in a different movie.
But, honestly, everything else is solid gold! I will endeavor to elaborate, but first, here's the obligatory plot summary:

In Moonraker, the titular space shuttle gets hijacked, so Bond (Roger Moore) wings off to California to meet the vehicle's designer, industrialist Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale). Naturally, Drax takes an instant dislike to our favorite super spy and tries to arrange for a few "accidents", but our hero is resolute. Eventually 007 discovers that Drax has drawn up plans to mass produce an unusual glass canister, made only in Venice.

Upon his arrival in Italy, James stumbles across a secret lab producing deadly chemicals, battles a persistent henchman named Chang (Toshiro Suga) and learns that Drax's entry into the evil genius science fair is being shipped off to Rio de Janeiro. In Brazil, 007 re-unites with astronaut and undercover CIA operative Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) and together they infiltrate the villain's operation. After an increasingly-thrilling series of action set pieces, Bond and Holly discover that Drax's villainy isn't just limited to terrestrial threats, he's looking to strike at the earth's population  from the cold reaches of space!

Not unlike Batman, Bond can go dark and gritty, like in Casino Royale, or he can go kinda campy, which is Moonraker. And, contrary to the assertions of stuffier fans, there's a place for both in the series. Roger Moore is, and will always be, my ideal Bond. He's at his wry best here, with one eyebrow permanently cocked and his tongue planted firmly in-cheek. Even as he's tangling with Jaws (Richard Kiel), trading barbs with Drax or putting the moves on a a bevy of hotties, he's inhumanly cool and unflappable throughout it all.

Speaking of, Lois Chiles is wonderful as Holly. She's smart, sassy and gets top marks in the field of ass-kickery. Like Barbara Bach in The Spy Who Loved Me, she very self-reliant but I think Chiles gets the duke when it comes to pure acting chops. On the villainy side of things, Michael Lonsdale is great as Drax. He's cold, calculating and understated, barely speaking above a whisper most of the time. You know things are getting serious when Drax starts to lose his shit towards the end.

Now I know some fans hate what the writers did with fan favorite Jaws here, but I'm glad they tried to do something different. For the record, Jaws scared the ever-lovin' crap outta me as a kid. I mean...what's more terrifying than a tall, lanky, relentlessly-indestructible Frankensteinian motherfucker who kills people by CHOMPING ON THEM WITH HIS METAL TEETH. But as The Spy Who Loved Me wears on, you kinda start to feel bad for the big galoot since he's just tryin' to do his job and keeps getting undone by bad luck. In light of where things were going, the arc he experiences in Moonraker just makes sense, and Kiel sells it to the hilt.

Notwithstanding the periodic dollops of cheddar, Moonraker has all the hallmarks of a classic Bond flick. James uses cool-ass gadgets, like a miniaturized camera, a wrist-mounted dart shooter and a weapon-stocked motorboat. Beyond the gondola scrap in Rio, there are some amazing practical action scenes, including a museum brawl which shatters more stunt glass than any other scene in cinema history. The locales are also jaw dropping and its particularly cool to see 70's-era Venice or Rio during Carnival perfectly preserved for all time in digital amber.

Another hallmark of these early Bond films are the amazing sets built by master designer Ken Adam. First up in Moonraker is Drax's sexy temple grotto, complete with waterfall, conspicuously silver rocks, lush ferns, a cat-walk bridge boasting a complete absence of safety features, and an anaconda-infested pool. Picture Hugh Hefner if he had a fetish for Mayan doomsday prophecies.
This is closely followed by the shuttle control room, which is an odd, angular chamber that likely  presaged the "ominous wall of television screens" trope.

Then there's the real pièce de résistance: Drax's space station. As Bond and Holly's shuttle cruises through space, the sun starts to peek out around the earth, revealing the top spire of the station.  Eventually this strange, asymmetrical, M.C. Escher-esque amalgam of pods and tunnels heaves into view. As a kid I was so fascinated by this interstellar human hamster maze that I tried to draw it over and over again.

And that's something else that bears mentioning: the miniatures and model work by Derek Meddings is absolutely top-notch. Even though Star Wars was held up as the high-water mark of model making and visual effects at the time, Meddings deserves considerable recognition as well. The space shuttle program was just starting to take off (no pun intended), and, for movie goers in 1979, the convincing sight of these Moonrakers lifting off and coasting through space was pretty thrilling.

Sure, the timing of the film might have been kinda mercenary and director Lewis Gilbert makes some ill-advised choices here and there, but overall, the movie is a blast. If you don't believe me, watch it back-to-back with the relatively-sober and kinda bland For Your Eyes Only and tell me which one is more fun to watch. 

Moonraker gets a tilt up towards that mysterious orbiting platform that just appeared on radar outta nowhere!


Sunday, February 17, 2019

Movie Review: "Hereditary"

For the record, excitable quotes like "Heredity takes its place as a new generation's The Exorcist" does zero favors for either film. IMHO, this new film bears as much resemblance to Bill Friedkin's grueling art / s(c)h(l)ock masterpiece as Time Out contributor Joshua Rothkopf does to a knowledgeable horror movie critic. Make no mistake, Hereditary wears its influences on its sleeve, but the power of its execution and the depth of its subtext ensures that the movie is its own animal.

Toni Collette plays Annie Graham, a woman mourning the protracted and painful death of her cold and secretive mother. It's just the latest blow to a family that seems cursed with chronic mental illness and suicide. It's so prevalent that Annie's psychiatrist husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) is powerless to exorcise the cloud of misery that lingers in their home like a dark physical presence. This pall is clearly taking a toll on their insular and fragile daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) and their withdrawn and uncommunicative teen-aged son Peter (Alex Wolff).

Almost inevitably, tragedy strikes again, fracturing the family in such an unimaginable way that Annie believes supernatural manipulation is at work. An escalating series of odd things start to occur leading to a Gotterdammerung-style climax that will leave most viewers feeling as if they were struck in the head with a 2 x 4, And even though the finale is increasingly-steeped in cheesy scary movie  tropes, veteran horror hounds like myself will still be put off-kilter thanks to how well it's realized and how freakin' weird the whole thing is.

With auteur film-making becoming increasingly rare, its refreshing to watch a movie that's clearly the product of one person's vision. To that point, if you're looking for a committee-made, thrill-a-minute fright fest you'd be well-advised to look elsewhere. First time feature writer / director Ari Aster deliberately thumbs his nose at modern sensibilities, taking his sweet ass-time to establish his characters and the harmful, oppressive environment they're marinating in. Thankfully, both creator and viewer are rewarded for their patience because when things inevitably start to go shit-house, we're deeply invested by then and want to see how things shake out.

Aster shows considerably visual acuity, using plenty of Kubrickian symmetry to create an eerie, unnatural visual tableau. He also clearly likes to use depth of focus to plant startling sights in the background to freak out the viewer. Sorry, but if I have a choice between loud, boisterous and showy special effects extravaganzas like The Conjuring or Insidious, I'll take sly and understated every time. Nothing gives me the creeps quicker than barely catching some bizarre, half-glimpsed oddity lurking in the hinterland of a movie frame. 

And while the visual shocks are effective, what makes the film greater then the sum of its parts is the treasure trove of subtext lurking just below the surface. The opening shot is particularly telling. It starts on the tree house; a completely innocuous structure that eventually reveals its importance later on in the film. The camera pulls back from this into Annie's studio, pivots over to the  model of their home and then slowly zooms in on a miniature version of Peter's room. When this tiny diorama suddenly springs to life, the mind reels.
It's not just subtext, it's the sheer depth of the subtext that I marvel at. For example, it doesn't take a clinical psychologist to realize that Annie's profession is designed to compartmentalize and deal with her family's pain. At one point she even designs a diorama inspired by the film's most heart-wrenching moment, an act that confounds and horrifies her psychologist husband. To me, that opening shot is more than just Aster suggesting that higher powers are at work and the characters are just pawns in a labyrinthine construct. It suggest that Annie herself is the creator of the film's sensationalist threats.

To further this point, Aster realized the Graham's home as a series of interior stage sets, giving the environments the appearance and feel of a giant doll-house. The resulting viewing experience is decidedly voyeuristic, as if you're watching something that you shouldn't be privy to. And when these environments get back-filled with oddball visuals and creepy ambient sound effects, the effect is downright unnerving.

As Hereditary surrenders its secrets, the script is forced to embrace certain genre conventions. But by linking these revelations directly to Annie's lineage, a hoary old horror movie trope becomes a powerful analogy for her family's genetic-like predisposition towards mental illness. Mercifully,  Aster's cool direction, eye for twisted imagery and willingness to go for broke all help to elevate the film's pedigree.

The film's note-perfect performances also prevent the film from tipping into self-parody. Given all of the rigorous emotional gymnastics that Toni Collette is asked to navigate, it's to her credit that she doesn't betray a single miss-step. Gabriel Byrne is appropriately world-weary and laconic as Annie's put-upon husband Steve. Milly Shapiro's unforgettable debut as Charlie is nothing short of heart-breaking. She deserves some major props since most young actors wouldn't be able to make such a sullen, weird and petulant kid so sympathetic.

Perhaps the most interesting performance is that of Alex Wolff who plays Peter. Detached and distant for most of the film, Wolff makes a bold move during the seance scene, manifesting infantile levels of grief. This was pretty off-putting to me at first but then I thought about Wolff's motivation in this scene. By this point in time, Peter is a powder keg of bottled-up emotions, so when he finally breaks, it makes sense that it's messy. It also draws some interesting comparisons to his little sister, a choice that begs further scrutiny.

Having said that, there are a few baffling miss-steps during the finale. An anticipated moment of Oedipus-style self-mutilation, constantly hinted at, never materializes on-screen. In a another missed opportunity, a symbol referenced throughout the film could have been used to great effect, but it's also conspicuously absent. In its place, Aster serves up a clunky exposition dump delivered by an off-camera narrator which feels as if it was decreed by some wrong-headed test audience screening.

Perhaps the best thing I can say about Hereditary is that it virtually demands to be viewed a second time. Personally, I'm can't wait to re-watch it again for the express purpose of looking for early tells, especially anything that might fuel my own personal interpretation of the film. For that reason alone, I recognize Hereditary as a genuine artistic achievement that's sure to inspire debate and analysis for years to come.

Tilt: up. 

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Movie Review: "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse"

Back in the mid-80's, when Marvel Comics was in dire financial trouble, they sold their flagship character's exclusive film rights to Sony for a mere song and dance. Then, after years of development hell, everyone's favorite web-head finally appeared on the big screen in 2002. Thanks to a solid script by David Koepp, the distinctive and sure-handed direction of Sam Raimi and some excellent casting, the movie was a solid, if flawed, effort. By some minor miracle, the 2004 sequel was even better.

But that cinematic saga didn't have a happy ending. After Sam Raimi got sick of corporate interference, resulting in the tonally-schizophrenic and messily-plotted Spider-Man 3, the veteran film-maker walked away from a proposed fourth entry in the series. The concept was resurrected six years later, not-coincidentally around the same time when Marvel's remaining assets were blossoming from a string of vaguely connected hits into a bonafide cinematic universe.

Thinking they could piggy-back on Marvel's success, Sony rebooted Spider-Man in 2012. Unfortunately, despite the solid casting and hiring a promising young director, the resulting film featured a barely-recognizable Peter Parker, a superfluous parental mystery plot and a boring, one-dimensional villain. Worse still, Harry Osbourne's OsCorp was used to set up Spidey's legendary rogues gallery of villains in the scripting equivalent of throwing down an expandable pup tent. 

Sadly, this lumpen mess was followed by a downright embarrassing sequel two years later. In fact, Amazing Spider-Man 2 was such a rampant dumpster fire that Sony was forced to accept joint custody of Spidey with Mama Marvel in order to produce Spider-Man: Homecoming. And while that movie felt more John Hughes than J.M DeMatteis, it was still a perfectly acceptable romp.

Note to Kevin Feige: please, please, please ditch that friggin' OP Stark Spidey-suit, already. Our boi was never about tech, he's all about inner fortitude.

*A-hem*...sorry. I digress.

Anyway, when an animated Sony Spider-Man movie was announced it was barely a blip on my radar. Especially considering that the main character appeared to be Miles Morales, someone I had snobbily written off as an alternate reality version of our beloved web-head at best or fan fiction at worst.

Well, shiver my webs when Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse turned out to be not only one of the best Spider-Man properties ever released, but also one of the finest animated movies in recent memory. 

The premise, like so many other super hero flicks, is no great shakes. After The Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) loses his family in a car accident, he attempts to use a dangerous particle accelerator to pluck facsimiles of them out of another dimension. When the unwitting Miles (Shameik Moore) and a dogged Spider-Man (Chris Pine) intervene, the machine is temporarily disabled, Spidey is killed and Miles is forced to become the hero he needs to be.

Much of the film's charm comes from the pretense that the malfunctioning accelerator is creating a rift between dimensions, pulling Spider-people in from multiple realities. This results in Miles sharing copious screen time with a crusty, jaded, middle-aged Peter Parker (Jake Johnson), who acts like a barely-competent and nominally-engaged Mr. Miyagi. The scenes with Peter begrudgingly showing Miles the (web) ropes are among some of the best in the film.

This sci-fi MacGuffin also gives screenwriters Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman a chance to spin some deep cuts from Spidey's colorful history, ranging from the popular to the downright obscure. Hailee Steinfeld charmingly inhabits the dual role of Gwen Stacy / Spider-Woman, stealing her fair share of scenes in the process. For a welcome dash of Anime flair, Kimiko Glenn plays Peni Parker, a Japanese American teenager who co-pilots a Gundam-style robot (!) with a sentient radioactive spider (!!). By the time Nic Cage shows up as the hard-boiled Spider-Man Noir and John Mulaney bombs in as Peter Porker, The Spectacular Spider-Ham, fans will be firmly be on-board the crazy train.

Comic book nerds will also enjoy a plethora of established Spider-lore. Not only do we get the coolest incarnation of Aunt May ever thanks to a spirited vocal turn by Lily Tomlin, we also get a wildly-successful, gender-swapped version of Spidey's arch nemesis Doc Ock. Kathryn Hahn brings a fun, sprightly and cheerily-psychotic quality to this role, making it all her own. Add in welcome appearances by Tombstone (played by L.A rapper Krondon), Scorpion (Joaquín Cosío) and Zoë Kravitz as Mary Jane Watson and Spider-philes will be in seventh heaven. 

Thankfully the movie has plenty of heart to validate all of this fan service. Central to this is the relationship between Miles and his family. His Dad, Jefferson, distinctively voiced by Brian Tyree Henry, is a world-weary cop who's relentlessly driving his son towards a better life. This is tempered somewhat by his sympathetic mom Rio, played Luna Lauren Velez. Despite her best efforts, the relentless pressure forces Miles to seek solace in the company the black sheep of the family, his edgy uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali). This dynamic plays out in unexpected and gratifying ways, putting many live-action non-genre films to shame.

Even this crusty ol' geek felt his withered heart thaw incrementally at times. Beyond the producers using an archived audio clip from the 2002 Raimi film of the late Cliff Robertson as Uncle Ben, the movie employs a powerful one-two punch of New Yorkers reacting to Spidey's demise and Stan Lee's posthumous cameo. Back to back, this threatened to reduce me into an emotional wreck.

With the bedrock of good plotting and characterization established, the film's wholly original visual style feels complimentary and not overwhelming. The animation is like nothing I've ever experienced; it's like an Alex Ross painting come to glorious life. I'd go so far as to say that this is the most "comic booky" film I've even seen, right down to written sound effects appearing on screen. The film's audio palette is just as immersive. Beyond the ambitious sound design, the musical score is absolutely incredible. Witness the distinctive, spine-jangling cue that accompanies the appearance of new Spider-foe The Prowler whenever he pops up.       

One admitted negative is in the depiction of The Kingpin. Liev Schreiber does a fantastic job, but I've never really viewed Wilson Fisk as a Tony Saprano-style mob boss. After Vincent D'Onofrio gave us the definitive final word on the character in the Netflix Daredevil show, I suppose the writers wanted to do something in contrast. That's all well and good, but we spend so little time with Fisk that this version doesn't hold a candle to D'Onofrio's.

Sure, the wonky particle accelerator is an easy way to dismiss the script's many vagaries, but who cares? Besides being tightly-plotted and well-voiced, the film's revolutionary visual flair never threatens to eclipse Miles or the other characters because they're so well defined. I urge you to see this one on the big screen, or at the very least, consider upgrading your home theaters so you can fully appreciate the spectacle in 4K.

Tilt: up.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Movie Review: "Terrifier"

So the other day I fired up the ol' GoogleMachine, queried "best recent horror movies" and out popped Terrfier. Since I've been on a slasher kick lately and it's right there on Netflix, I thought "Hey, why not check out what a modern example of the genre has to offer?"

The fact that the movie prominently features a creepy killer clown is also a bit of a personal dare. Full disclosure: I hate clowns. Actually that's putting it mildly: I effin' despise clowns. Every time my parents took me to a fair, flea market or car show as a kid, there'd always be some weirdo there dressed up like a falking clown. And every time, my brain would fail to reconcile this inexplicable sight.

'Okay, you're tall, so clearly you're an adult. But no sane adult would act or dress like that in public. Ergo, they must have a screw loose.'

Soon I'd be tugging on my parent's shirt-tails,  glancing over my shoulder and muttering "Hey, guys I'm just gonna go lock myself in the car, sit on the backseat floor and rock back and forth for awhile. The tire iron is still under the spare, right?" 

After re-visiting the classic 1978 version of Halloween recently, the visceral experience of watching Terrifier was downright jarring. But, hey, guess what? Horror movies, real horror movies, aren't supposed to be a montage of cheap jump scares, grainy night vision footage of doors slamming shut or anachronistic trips to the library to research why some hooded ponce with a dog keeps showing up. After emerging from the other side of a proper horror movie, you should feel inspired to find out if the director is still at large, walking around in polite society, free on their own recognizance.

Movies like The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the first and only truly great one), The Shining, Alien, Evil Dead, An American Werewolf in London, and Return of the Living Dead have all made me question the sanity of the film-makers. And such is the case with writer-director Damien Leone. Terrifier might not represent the high water mark of technical film-making, acting and screen-writing, but it also has a balls-to-the-wall, go-for-broke attitude that I find both admirable and decidedly nauseating.

The film opens with a severely disfigured woman being interviewed about her mutilation at the hands of a psychotic clown named Art who went on a killing spree one year ago. Later, when the same exploitative journalist is shown making snide comments about the victim, the interviewee just pops up from out of nowhere and murders her in her eye-holes.

Strap yourself in, kiddies. It's only gonna get worse.

Cut to our two protagonists, Tara (Jenna Kanell) and Victoria (Samantha Scaffidi) who are heading  home after some "drunken" Halloween shenanigans. They spot Art skulking at them from a distance and beat a hasty retreat to a nearby pizza parlor for solace...and a slice. Unfortunately, the grinning lunatic bombs in, "proposes" to Tina, and then gets thrown out after his "do-it-yourself" redecoration of the bathroom goes over like a lead balloon. After Tara and Victoria vamoose, Art returns to the pizza shop and gives the staff a stern lecture about how "the customer is always right" decapitating and / or viciously stabbing their eyes out.

Seriously, it's as if Damien Leone has some personal vendetta against intact eye sockets.

Almost by fate, Tara and Victoria inadvertently wander into the clown's spider web, which turns out to be a virtually-abandoned, dilapidated garage / tenement building that's inexplicably slated for fumigation. What follows is a grand guignol of violent murder, narrow escapes and visual depravity that'll put even the most hardened gore hound off their mixing bowl of Boo Berries.

Okay, so let's talk about the pros. First off, even though Terrifier looks like it was made for about forty-five bucks worth of Canadian Tire money, the low production values actually work in the film's favor. Like the original Dawn of the Dead and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, this movie actually looks like it smells bad. Between the dilapidated settings and Art himself (not to mention his gnarly bag of murder implements), the flick looks like it was shot in Smell-O-Vision and the knob snapped off on the "Reeks To High Heaven" setting.

The scant cash the producers did have is generally well-spent. Looking like the love child of a mime on bath salts and the Mouth of Sauron, Art himself is brilliantly realized. He's also impeccably inhabited by actor David Howard Thornton, who confidently steers the villain through bouts of playfulness, rage, resignation, and gleeful psychosis. He's creepy beyond all measure and single-handedly drags the entire production over the goal line.

And although the facial mutilation makeup shown at the beginning of the film is so over-the-top that it looks unintentionally goofy, the rest of Art's handiwork is up-chuckingly convincing. As a professional makeup artist, Damien Leone's practical gore effects are flawless and all of the kills are creatively brutal. In fact, there's a hacksaw decapitation scene that's so nasty and well-executed (pun not intended) that it would inspire a slow-clap from Tom Savini.

There's another sequence that had me just sitting there, staring at the screen and muttering to myself "Nope. No way. They're not gonna do that, are they? Naw...there's no way that they could possibly...Welp, nope, there he goes!" In one fell swoop, this scene:
  1. Avenges every Friday the 13'th flick that had it's creative makeup effects savagely and mercilessly hacked out by the biased MPAA. 
  2. Shows up all the milquetoast PG-13 dreck that's been passing for horror films lately.
  3. Informs the viewers that the kid gloves are off and absolutely anything can happen. 
Between this and some painfully-protracted scenes of Art slowly stalking and toying with his victims, the tension just builds and builds.

Also, with typical mainstream Hollywood fare, you know exactly who's gonna be left standing when the end credits roll. That isn't the case with Terrifier. Since Damien Leone is a bonafide psychopath, he's clearly not beholden to established tropes. Just because you've decided to make a slasher movie, it doesn't mean that you have to advertise who your FINAL GIRL is within five minutes of run time.

As for the performances, it's a real mixed bag. In addition to the aforementioned and thoroughly- exemplary David Howard Thornton, Jenna Kanell is resolute and likable as Tara, although her growing discomfort isn't always convincing. Catherine Corcoran is suitably boorish and amusingly fake-drunk as Victoria. Samantha Scaffidi is appropriately tired as Tara's put-upon sister Victoria and acts shell-shocked as the nightmare unfolds. And while most of the minor performances are pretty ham-fisted, they don't occupy enough screen (scream?) time to sink the proceedings.

Where the film suffers the most is in the writing, or lack thereof. My two-to-three-word descriptors of the performances also pretty much sum up the characters as a whole. Tara is the GOOD GIRL, Victoria is the PARTY GIRL and Victoria is, um...ANOTHER GOOD GIRL. It also doesn't help that the interview and hospital scenes that book-end the film are both pretty pointless. The fact that Tina just so happens to randomly wander into "Uncle Art's High Rise of Blood" is also pretty far-fetched. Then there's the scene where Art experiences some sort of supernatural "re-charge". Perhaps this was explained in his prior on-screen appearance but in the context of the story here it makes zero sense.

The movie also suffers from some sloppy technical issues as well. While the cheap, shot-on-digital image quality gives the film it's "bargain basement" aroma, it also looks like a student film. The scene where the second exterminator shows up even goes wildly out of focus at one point. The coroner's lab sequence is also a complete failure. This should be a pristine and sterile environment but instead it looks as if it was shot in the same run-down apartment building. There are some glaring gaffes that took me out of the film as well, such as when Art "strangles" Tara but he's barely touching her throat.

Like I said, experiencing Terrifier was quite the system shock after watching Halloween. Whereas the latter is an oddly-classy thriller with a distinctive score, memorable characters, generally good performances, tight direction, intriguing back-story and wonderful cinematography, the former doesn't aspire to any lofty goals.

Say what you want about Terrifier, but at least it does what it says on the tin. It's mean-spirited, vicious, nasty, repellent, tense, vile and uncompromising. It's a sleazy carnival fun-house that you dare your friends to try to get through without soiling their Underoos™ or yarfing up their candy corn.

With frayed nerves and bleary eyes, I managed to stumble out of Terrifier's finale, but unlike the experience provided by venerable predecessors like Halloween, I have no intention of subjecting myself to this particular spook show ever again.   

Tilt: down

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Movie Review: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Have you ever heard so much universally bad stuff about a movie that you started to think: '*PFFFTTT!* It can't possibly be that bad. Can it?'

Between Man of Steel's tone-deaf franchise launch and the venomous word of mouth surrounding Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, I decided pass on seeing the latter in theaters. Or on video, for that matter. But when it recently landed on Netflix like a bag of wet cement I thought to myself: 'Seriously, this flick has three iconic superheroes in it. How bad could it be?'

Now, movies can have a lasting impact on the viewer for several reasons. Some are wild n' crazy roller-coaster rides that serve up a truly visceral experience. Others unfold slowly and deliberately, like a satisfying visual novel. Some movies make you so invested in what you're watching that you never want them to end.

But occasionally you encounter a movie that's so thoroughly and completely devoid of any redeeming features that it baffles you. The sheer awfulness of what you witnessed stays lodged in your brain like a splinter and you're left trying to fathom how in god's name they managed to cock things up so spectaculalrly.

And that's where I'm at right now with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I'm trying to figure out who's most to blame for this burning trash heap. A lot of people have pointed the finger exclusively  at director Zack Snyder but honestly, unless the dude gave explicit marching orders to screenwriters Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer, then those two chuckle-heads are just as complicit.

Like many of Snyder's past films, including Dawn of the Dead300 and WatchmenBatman v Superman looks good at the very least. Granted it would have looked even better if it wasn't cloaked in the same muted, boring, grimdark color filter that seems to taint every modern blockbuster nowadays. The incessant Blade Runner-levels of rain, fog and smoke certainly don't help matters any.

So, there you go, I said a good thing. It looks fine. Oh, and Jeremy Irons' Alfred is salty good fun. But everything else, and I mean everything else, is a complete and utter waste of time and effort.

Awrite, let's get on with the autopsy.

So the whole conceit of the film is that we're eventually gonna see Bats and Supes go mano-a-mano with each other. Now, based on seventy-odd years of comic book lore, we already know that these two are the superhero equivalent of oil and water. In spite of this, they still generally get along with each other and it would probably take a lot to put them at loggerheads.

And this represents the film's two biggest failures. First off, I didn't believe for a second that Batman and / or Superman were even in this movie and secondly: I wasn't convinced that these two impostors had any legitimate reason to be pissed off at one another.

The movie starts with a flashback to the protracted, obnoxious, hyperactive orgy of mayhem that was the finale of Man of Steel. Bruce Wayne (played by an alternately sullen or unhinged Ben Affleck) realizes that one of his office buildings is smack dab in the middle of the destructive tilt between Superman and General Zod. But instead of calling someone in the building and telling them to evacuate or, better yet, hiring employees capable of autonomous thought or a sense of self-preservation, we gets this hilariously over-the-top sequence whereby Bruce drives his SUV directly into the heart of ground zero.

He arrives just as the building collapses. Throwing caution to the wind, OUR HERO rushes into the smoke cloud, frees an employee who's legs are pinned under a steel girder and then pauses to hug an orphaned girl who clearly picked the worst possible time to participate in "Take Your Moppet To Work Day". As the camera closes in, we see Bruce seething in helpless rage as the two super-titans continue to clash overhead.

Notwithstanding the rank idiocy of the execution, there's actually some potential here. In fact, here's the story I would have explored:

Given the widespread carnage that Superman blissfully presided over at the end of Man of Steel, it makes perfect sense that the entire population of Earth is scared shitless of Superman and other Kryptonians. This immediately renders all of Batman v Superman's conspiracy crap entirely superfluous.

This also serves as the perfect impetus for Batman to emerge from the shadows of Gotham and start formulating a plan to contain Superman and his ilk. Inter-cut between Batman's efforts, we see Supes trying to make amends by re-building the damage, working overtime to rescue people, and getting cats down from trees. Y'know the kinda stuff we actually expect to see Superman do.

Being the observant dude that he is, Batman picks up on Superman's contrition tour and this colors his opinion of the guy. So when they finally meet, Batman believes that our boi is sincere and they step away from the brink of confrontation. But little do they know, a rat bastard by the name of Lex Luthor is cooking up ways to derail this budding bromance. He uses Red Kryptonite to turn Supes to the Dark Side, which, in turn, activates Batman's contingency plan and they end up tangling.

But since Batman is a sharp cookie, he realizes that something is seriously wrong. He exposes  Luthor's scheme, reverses the effect, and they rush off to confront the baddie together. Lex is ready for them, tho, and takes them on wearing a Kryponite-fueled Power Suit. In the end, teamwork saves the day and the villain is defeated. Close curtains.

I think this idea (working title: World's Finest, natch) would have made gobs of money and, most importantly, viewers wouldn't have felt compelled to slit their wrists and climb into a warm bathtub.

But nope, that's not what we got. Here's what we got instead:
  • A boring, pointless subplot about a bullet which is nothing more than a thinly-veiled Lois Lane make-work project. Look, if there's any sleuthing to be done here, it needs to be done by The Worlds Greatest Detective. *PSSSTTT*...I'm talking about Batman, kids. 
  • Speaking of the Dark Knight, we get a Batman here who's a dim, psychotic, Crossfit-obsessed goon that murders people at will and isn't much better than the scumbags he's annihilating. Particularly moronic is his habit of branding people, which is supposed to convey a "death sentence" in prison. Dafuq? Wouldn't your fellow criminals sympathize with you for being branded by an unhinged nutjob? Don't worry, just throw it over there on the pile of other shit that doesn't makes sense. 
  • More wasted screen time in the form of a Russian weapons trafficker.
  • A very confused Lex Luthor. Notwithstanding a few throw-away lines of over-wrought dialogue about God and his daddy issues, I guess Luthor was scared of aliens just like everyone else. But, wait, that doesn't make any sense because he ends up hand-crafting the greatest  rogue alien threat on the planet. At first Lex offers to help the government prep their Kryptonian defense but when they realize that he's crazier than a shit-house rat they cut all of their ties to him. Didn't anyone find it odd that the film's primary villain has the exact same motivation as Batman? Luthor is most certainly a bad guy since he blows up a bunch of innocent people and molests poor Ma Kent, so why didn't they just give him a distinctly different and self-serving motivation? In my scenario, Lex would be an ethically-bankrupt / Martin Shkreli / corporatist scumbag who's never heard the word "no" during his entire cushy life, so he starts to panic when two incorruptible super-powered vigilantes start sniffing around. *BAM!* Instant motivation! But, hey, what do I know? I'm just simple man who has a soft spot for frivolous crap like logic, plotting, character motivation and common sense. 
  • In order to fast-track the DCEU and "keep up with Marvelses", Wonder Woman was  unceremoniously shoe-horned into this shlock-pile. Is there anything sadder than making "creative" decisions based on playing catch-up to your competitor? Oh, wait, how 'bout waiting seventy plus years to give one the most iconic super heroes ever a live-action movie role only to make her third banana to a couple of already-prolific assholes? Oh wait, it was also done to set up a Justice League movie that hasn't been earned and trick fans into buying more movie tickets. Disgusting.  
  • Speaking of completely cynical corporate decisions, I love how Lex Luthor was meta enough to compose three l'il teaser trailers for Wonder Woman, the Flash and Cyborg for us. He even had the presence of mind to design some tres-marketable thumb-nailed logos for all of them. Convenient.    
  • There's no story here, just a series of stitched-together clips of random shit. Witness Bruce's nightmare where he envisions Superman's dystopian future state. I'm still trying to pinpoint the worst thing about this sequence. Is it our first look at the Batsuit, which looks completely ridiculous in broad daylight? Maybe it's the screenwriter's decision to show Superman callously murdering people with his heat vision and Batman gunning down enemies without a second thought? Or what about those inexplicable winged creatures flying around like locusts? Yeah, I'm gonna go with the latter because, unless you're heavily steeped in comic book lore, you'd likely have no clue that these things are supposed to be minions of the DCEU's future Big Bad: Darkseid. When you throw in Bruce's non-sequitur "Flash"-back, you realize that none of this was done to improve the quality of the movie you're currently watching, its designed to set up sequels that the audience no longer wants because you haven't bothered to make a good movie yet. Hey: Zack Snyder, Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer: live in the now.  
  • Oh, man, do not get me started on the laughably inept character of Wallace Keefe played by Scoot McNairy (!). Wallace is the employee that Bruce Wayne rescues at the beginning of the film. Look, it makes sense that Wallace has a grudge against Superman, but I can't fathom why he'd refuse Bruce's compensation checks and then suicide bomb himself. Does he agree to do this just because Luthor paid for his bail and bought him a shiny new wheelchair? How did Lex sweeten that particular pot? Did he convince this dumb, sad fuck that the wheelchair was transferable to the afterlife? 
  • Granny's Peach Tea. 'Nuff said.
  • I assume Zack Snyder is the main reason for my next gripe but Terrio and Goyer are likely accessories to the crime. I hate how this piece of junk shamelessly cribs from The Dark Knight Returns. At the end of that classic graphic novel, Superman and Batman have a knock-down, drag out, Pier 6 donnybrook. It's the stuff of comic book legend. The key difference between The Dark Knight Returns and Batman v Superman is that the former earns this confrontation thanks to meticulous plotting and character development while the latter just uses the former as a storyboard reference. The most odious implication: if anyone tries to lens a live-action adaptation of Miller's seminal work in the future it'll probably be viewed as derivative by morons who saw Batman v Superman and somehow liked it. Fuck, that pisses me off.
  • Snyder and company somehow manage to double down on the sickening vein of Objectivist bullshit that tainted Man of Steel. Ma Kent, played by Diane Lane, spins a few of Ayn Rand's greatest hits for both her son and the oblivious audience. After the general population turns on Superman, for good reason mind you, Clark goes to see his moms and gets the following piece of sterling advice: "Be their hero, Clark. Be their angel, be their monument, be anything they need you to be... or be none of it. You don't owe this world a thing. You never did." What a giant crock of horse-shit. The whole point of Superman is that, in spite of his boundless power, he's completely selfless and wants to do good by others. He could easily enact Batman's future-nightmare scenario, but he doesn't. Trying to turn an intrinsically-good character like Superman into a selfish prick is the heights of cynicism. Please, Zack, go make The Fountainhead already and get this sophomoronic crap out of your system. At least that garbage comes pre-ruined.  
  • As if that wasn't bad enough, Clark goes to visit his Dad's grave site and a haggard-looking Kevin Costner suddenly materializes like a Force Ghost and tells him the following "inspirational" tale: "I remember one season the water came bad. I couldn't've been twelve. Dad had out the shovels and we went at it all night. We worked 'til I think I fainted, but we managed to stop the water. We saved the farm. Your grandma baked me a cake, said I was a hero. Later that day we found out we blocked the water alright...we sent it upstream. A whole Lange farm washed away. While I ate my hero cake, their horses were drowning. I used to hear them wailing in my sleep." Now, need I remind you that this pretentious drivel is in a movie featuring a flying indestructible man in a cape, a guy dressed up like a bat and an Amazon? Hey, kids, are ya havin' fun yet? Remember this message: don't even try to be good 'cuz it's only gonna blow up in your face! Jesus Christ, the makers of this film should be sued for criminal de-hope-ification and misappropriation of heroic icons.
  • "SAVE...MARFA...!!!" Y'know, if this scene had been presented with a deft hand, it could have been an effective and dramatic TSN Turning Point. Unfortunately, between Henry Cavill's hammy delivery, Ben Affleck's scenery chewing, Batman's goofy suit of armor, the glowing green spear thingie and Snyder's pretentious direction, the whole thing comes off as unintentionally hilarious.
  • Even I have to admit that the Martha Kent rescue sequence is legitimately well-staged and features the best Batman-related hand-to-hand combat I've ever seen on screen. Pity its ruined when Batverine snaps and starts blowing up, stabbing and shooting people with gleeful abandon. 
  • Similarly, there's a pointless action set piece earlier in the film when Batman attempts to steal Kryptonite from Lex Luthor. Granted, on-screen Batmobile chases of yore have always featured a certain level of, shall we say, collateral damage but this time we see Batman machine-gunning enemy vehicles and flinging cars all over the place with a grappling hook. I.E. he's straight-up murdering motherfuckers. Its the equivalent of Snyder and company shouting at the audience: "See, kids?!? This ain't yer daddy's Batman! Our Batman is a total EDGELORD. He's SAVAGE as FUX!" The really funny thing is that Batman doesn't get the Kryptonite and all of that death and mayhem is completely pointless. In the end, the Dork Knight sneaks into Lexcorp and steals it off-screen. Man, that would have been a much more tense, character-appropriate and inexpensive thing to do! 
  • The whole comedy of errors with the spear smacks of the screenwriters trying to appease Amy Adams' agent. 
  • Lex Luthor molests the body of General Zod and turns him into an, Doomsday.  Great, yet another story thread that's completely frittered away. Here DINO (Doomsday In Name Only) amounts to a giant CGI orc that Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman have to team up to defeat. Honestly, it's as if Snyder, Terrio and Goyer saw X-Men: The Last Stand and thought "Yes! This is the perfect way to alienate fans, confuse casual movie-goers and piss away a bunch of perfectly good story points all at the same time!" 
Now, those might be the movie's most obvious sins, but Batman v Superman isn't even good from a nuts n' bolts perspective. In fact, he film's most crippling liability is that the atrocious writing and the ham-fisted dialogue results in some pretty dismal performances.

Although I staunchly maintain that all three of our principal heroic leads are well-cast, they aren't given anything remotely interesting to do. Henry Cavill's Superman gets a particularly short shift. He floats through the entire film with a permanently-furrowed brow and a sour expression nailed to his face. Whenever he's on screen as Superman he's either put upon or surly or both. Also, since there's no perceivable difference between Clark Kent and Superman in either appearance or behavior, it's ridiculous to think that not a single investigative journalist at the Daily Planet has put two and two together yet.

In theory, Ben Affleck should be a great Batman / Bruce Wayne. Unfortunately all he's asked to do here is act like a sad bag of spoiled milk. He oscillates constantly between mopey and apoplectic. Gal Gadot is the physical embodiment of Wonder Woman but she's mainly on hand to help the two menfolk beat up a giant cartoon monster. The script also manages the impossible task of making Amy Adams a liability. Every time she's on-screen the script makes us feel as if we're all in purgatory. 

But Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor is definitely the film's cardinal sin of casting. And even though I kinda dig the idea of Luthor being a Mark Zuckerberg / Silicon Valley nerd, Eisenberg's take is too manic and too silly to work. I wish he'd been more reserved and socially inept as opposed to unhinged. As it stands, Eisenberg is about as threatening to me as, well, me...ranting about this stupid movie. I also can't help but picture someone with the gravitas of Bryan Cranston in the role. 

So, yeah, beyond some decent casting and cool visuals pilfered from a vastly superior piece of legitimate art, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a vast wasteland. The dialogue is heavy-handed and self-important, the story feels as if it was improvised on set, it's completely devoid of any joy and the entire cast looks like they're on Xanax. Even worse: the titular tilt that takes forever to come around ends up throwing in the kitchen sink and becoming inadvertently funny. 
P.S. normally at this point in the review I'd say something diplomatic and / conciliator such as: "Yeah, well, even though the movie didn't work for me, I'm glad it worked for you." Not this time, folks. In fact, I'm just gonna come right out and say this: if you think that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a good movie then I'm afraid you're part of the problem.

The way I look at it, you can't be a fan of the source material because the characters are so far removed from their comic book counterparts as to be unrecognizable. It's the equivalent of yodeling and banging the butt end of a mike stand on a snare drum and and calling it your cover of "Master of Puppets". And you can't claim that it's good as a regular ol' film because the plot, dialogue performances and editing are all universally terrible.

In fact, the only reason why someone might like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is because it's full of spectacle. But since the movie is so dour, depressing and poorly edited it scarcely qualifies on a purely superficial level.     

I hate to break it to you, but if you like this movie, you really need to take a long, hard look at yourself. Your aesthetic is broken and you need to fix it.

           Tilt: down

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