Saturday, March 26, 2016

Review: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

I'll admit it, when I first heard the casting news that Ben Affleck was tabbed to play Batman in the new Zack Snyder helmed Batman v Superman film, I was very concerned.  Affleck had recently had a career resurgence but I couldn't imagine him as being an effective caped crusader (or Bruce Wayne for that matter).  Thankfully I was way off base in my assessment and Affleck totally nails his turn in the bat mask which helps make Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice a very entertaining film (despite some flaws) and a solid boot-up for the DC comics Justice League film franchise.

Dawn of Justice picks up right where the muddled Man of Steel left off.  We see all of the Metropolis getting destroyed by Superman's (Henry Cavill) battle with General Zod (Michael Sheen returns in a thankless role as a dead person) from Bruce Wayne's perspective.  The country then starts to turn on Superman and hearings are held (with Holly Hunter in a key role as a Senator) to decide whether Superman should have full reign and no accountability for his actions.  Lex Luthor (Jessie Eisenberg) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) join in on the fun and we eventually get to a climactic battle between Batman and Superman in a rain-soaked Gotham City.

The action is great throughout and all of the Batman suits and set pieces are.  There is a reference to the voice modulator in Batman's suit built by Alfred (a regal and fun Jeremy Irons) that seems genuine and it's very cool to see Batman's armored glow-eye suit get mangled up in battle.  I thought this was probably the best overall Batman we've ever seen on screen (no disrespect to Christian Bale).  Affleck is just perfect as an elder, wiser, more passionate Bruce Wayne.  I really never thought he could pull this off, but Ben just continues to surprise me. Kudos to the production department for nailing the Batman suit(s) and bat cave. Cavill is solid as Clark Kent / Superman even though he really doesn't emote too much.  Gadot is great (and drop dead gorgeous) as the new Wonder Woman addition although we really don't see her in full costume until a couple minutes towards the end of the movie.

There are definite problems here.  The movie is way too long and I was thinking through parts of it that some of the filler could definitely have been tidied up to make this closer to a 2 hour film (as it is, it's bloated at just over 2.5 hours).  The special effects overall are really awful.  There are so many cartoony sequences that I found myself longing for the more practical effects of a Christopher Nolan Batman film.  Snyder also pushes in too many 300-style sequences near the end with quick zooms and dark overtones.  He needs to push back and show a little more restraint at times.  Amy Adams' Lois Lane is kind of annoying and her presence at the end of the film in a key sequence seems really forced.  Some have mentioned that Jessie Eisenberg's Lex Luthor is over-the-top and a bit too much like a poor-man's imitation of Heath Ledger's Joker from The Dark Knight.  However, I didn't mind his performance.  It was quirky enough and edgy to make me interested and invested in his character.  The surprise twist on the rooftop near the end of the film felt more authentic and effective the way Eisenberg played his hand.

This movie is currently getting murdered by both critics and some of my friends/reviewers (*cough* Omar *cough*).  I'm really not sure why this film is being picked apart by the "experts".  Now I'm not a huge comic book nerd so I'm not as invested in this nonsense as a lot of others are.  Maybe my fresh perspective keeps me from nitpicking plot issues and some of the pacing problems others are commenting on.  I simply enjoyed the movie from start to finish, and while seeing yet another Bruce Wayne origin story shoved down my through is a bit annoying, I was able to look past those types of issues.  This is NOT a perfect film and Marvel is still head and shoulders above DC in cinema right now.  However, Cavill, Affleck, Gadot (and even Eisenberg) make for a solid nucleus for the Justice League and I am indeed interested in following on with this franchise (it was cool to see some hints of the Justice League cast throughout the film). I was not impressed by Man of Steel but I was very much invested and entertained by the events of this movie.  Give me more BatFleck in the future.  Ben's presence alone helps this movie achieve a solid 4 out of 5 JRs.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Reviews: Zootopia, 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Brothers Grimsby

Sorry for the delay in reviews once again, but I wanted to throw out a few quick-hit mini reviews over the past few weeks before diving into Batman V. Superman later today (I hope it's not as bad as EVERYONE says it is).


This animated offering from Disney animation (not Pixar) was pretty fun to watch.  There's nothing really new and amazing here, but the story and voice acting is well done.  Lots of clever gags and laughs throughout but the BEST part of the film was the Sloth DMV piece and I had seen it so many times in the trailer that it wasn't really new and funny to me this time around.  This is an animated film that can be enjoyed by both kids and adults.  My four kids really liked it but I wasn't as enthused and am hoping for a better animated offering later in the year (Finding Dory??).  A meager 3.5 out of 5 JRs for this one.

10 Cloverfield Lane

Once again, Mr. J.J. Abrams has entertained me immensely with his Bad Robot production of Dan Trachtenburg's "invasion" drama. This is a quasi-cousin of 2008's Cloverfield and a case study on paranoia and speculation in a confined space that leaves you guessing at whether the intentions of John Goodman's crazy-conspiracy fanatic Howard are good-natured or not.  My friend Omar Latiri commented that he feels this played out as simply a long version of what happens in Tim Robbins' house in Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds, but I totally disagree.  This movie grips you from the start and never really lets go until the "escape" scene towards the end.  I don't want to give away key plot elements but lets just say I REALLY did NOT like the ending of the movie.  I wanted less sci-fi intervention towards the finish of the film but the rest of the movie is so well paces and acted that it almost makes up for it.  I was all set to give this 5 JRs but I have to downgrade to a 4.5 rating for a messy finish in what really is the best movie of 2016 so-far.  Bravo to Goodman for turning in the best performance of his career and kudos to Mary Elizabeth Winstead for playing a strong female lead who pulls us in with her eyes and passion.  This movie wouldn't have been as effective without such strong acting from the three leads.  It's really got to the point where anything Bad Robot spits out I am ready to eat up 100% without any hesitation.

The Brothers Grimsby

Sacha Baron Cohen can be REALLY funny when he wants to be.  I really enjoyed Borat, kinda enjoyed Bruno and was a big fan of Da Ali G Show.  That being said, he, like Adam Sandler has really fallen to new lows with each subsequent movie release.  The Dictator was really bad and this film is even worse.  The film tells the "story" of two English brothers who are split up at a young age and put in different foster homes.  They re-unite many years later and the youngest, Sebastian (Mack Strong), is now a special agent involved in a global conspiracy while the eldest, Dobby (Cohen), is a father of many and a local drunk in the town he grew up in.  The rest of the film is a fish-out-of-water pairing of Cohen working with Strong as they try to unravel a mystery surrounding the head of a charitable organization (Penelope Cruz once again in a comedic role). There are a couple good jokes here and there and I did laugh at times but MOST of this film is a total mess.  There are so many butt jokes throughout that are just so juvenile that they fail to make anyone laugh except for maybe a 7-year-old.  The problem is that this is such a HARD R rated film that you wouldn't dare show it to a young child.  So many sexual scenes with men, women and animals that get to "the finish line" that it's a wonder this wasn't NC-17.  Throw in a disgustingly useless turn by Gabrielle Sidoube (who must have run out of her Precious money) and some awful caricatures of Donald Trump and Daniel Radcliffe and you get a multitude of cringe-worthy scenes.  Scenes that help convey a sense that most of this movie had to be made-up on-the-fly and that the actors and producers just weren't trying very hard.  I still think Cohen is talented but he is totally misguided right now and needs to be reigned in by someone.  Poor Mack Strong looks like he's having absolutely no fun in this movie and I can only imagine that he was just going through the motions trying to perform what was put into this god-awful script.  Please DON'T see this film which earns a paltry 1 JR rating.