Thursday, March 31, 2016

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

        Director Zack Snyder goes bigger, louder and more bombastic in this overstuffed 2 1/2 hour infomercial for the new "Justice League" movie coming next year. Don't get me wrong, there are some bright spots but overall it's hard to get past the boredom and disconnection of the first half of the film.

        The movie opens with a tired retread of Batman's origin. How many times do we need to see that? However, the film redeems itself in the very next clever sequence where we see the end of "Man of Steel"from Batman's perspective.  This sets up Batman's anger towards Superman which is further fueled by villain Lex Luthor.  Lex's plan is to eventually pit the heroes against each other in a fight to the death. Why, is never really made clear. 

         I always thought in the DC universe, Metropolis and Gotham City were a great distance from each other but in this film, they are just across the river (who knew?). That makes it easy for Batman and Superman to find each other quickly to fight over who is the bigger vigilante and menace to society (oops, wrong film). The film is dark, both in mood and visuals. You can't even tell where the climatic fight takes place. Mr. Snyder throws everything he can into this film, including the proverbial kitchen sink (in an effort to be funny). Humor is sorely lacking in the film. Even when a joke is tried, it falls flat.

        Much was made over the casting choice of Ben Affleck as Batman. He actually is not that bad falling somewhere between Christian Bale and George Clooney in the role. Superman is once again played by Henry Cavill, just a step up from a cardboard cutout. He's much better in the Clark Kent scenes. Lex Luthor is played by Jesse Eisenberg, who seemed like an odd choice but he grows into the part and ends up truly evil.  Amy Adams reprises her role as"plucky" Lois Lane and Jeremy Irons joins the cast as Alfred the faithful Butler. Mr. Irons is just too majestic an actor to fill the Alfred role. Bring back Michael Caine. Laurence Fishburne is a generic Perry White and Holly Hunter is a senator with an agenda. The freshest face in the cast is Gal Godot, who plays Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman. She only has a few minutes of action screen time but she definitely makes an impression and that sets up her solo film coming next year.

               Even if you were sleeping through the first half of "Yawn of Justice", the second half of the film wakes you up faster than a speeding bullet. It's why you bought your ticket and it doesn't disappoint. There is plenty of action and even a surprising ending. 

               Unlike in a Marvel film, there is no need to sit through the credits waiting for an extra scene. The surprise cameos happen during the film and act to wet your appetite for "Justice League". The best I can really say about Batman V Superman is...bring on "Captain America: Civil War".

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

    Tina Fey finds a perfect star vehicle in this new dramedy based on the memoirs of television journalist Kim Barker. Ms. Barker was a reporter in Afghanistan in the mid 2000's , who thought she's be there for a few months and ended up staying for a few years.

     Ms. Fey is very good as the initial fish out of water who eventually fits right in with the rest of the foreign press corp covering the growing war.  As smart and funny as she is, it's not enough to carry a weak script that lacks any real depth. The film tries hard to be both funny and serious and ends up weaker for it. The only thing of interest is watching Ms. Fey move through a variety of situations, unfortunately filmed as if they were sketches and not one cohesive story.

       The film co-stars Billy Bob Thorton as a general who admires Kim's resolve. Martin Freeman as a war photographer who becomes a love interest, Alfred Molina as a cartoon version of an Afghan official and Margot Robbie as the only other woman among the journalists. Christopher Abbott also co-stars as a friendly Afghan which is a pretty strange casting decision.

        I stayed engaged only because the film was based on a true story but a stronger script, true or embellished would have made a stronger movie.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Midnight Special

    Writer/director Jeff Nichols returns with his third feature, following "Mud" and "Take Shelter".  This new drama is a slowly absorbing thriller, a mystery with sci-fi elements that turns into a indy version of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind".

     Michael Shannon, so good in "Take Shelter", returns as Roy, a father who has kidnapped his own son from a religious cult for reasons that are revealed ever so slowly. Joel Edgerton plays his best friend, Lucas, who helps him evade both the cult and the U.S government who are both after the boy. Kristen Dunst plays the boy's mother and Adam Driver is the NSC scientist working with the FBI to find the boy. Jaeden Liberher plays Alton, the boy with special powers that everyone wants for their own reasons.

       The film has a minimalist soundtrack, little dialog and reveals it's details very slowly. All of that contribute to a story that only up it's the pace late in the film.  What Mr. Nichols relies on is the powerful relationship between Roy and Alton to maintain interest while the mystery unfolds. The emotional connection is a strong one and a father's love is really the core of the film as it crosses over into full sci-fi mold late in the story.

        With little dialog, Mr. Shannon conveys much through his eyes which is ironic since Alton's power is expressed through his eyes. Ms. Dunst doesn't add much as the mother since the writing is directed  towards the father/son relationship. Mr. Driver adds a small dose of comic relief in an otherwise very serious film.  I applaud Mr. Nichols effort but ultimately, I came away disappointed.  Both his earlier films were much stronger in structure and story.

Friday, March 18, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane

  Released without much fanfare, this new thriller from producer J.J. Abrams can best be described as a full length "Twilight Zone" episode with multiple twists and turns. If you're are a fan of the movie, "Cloverfield", be warned that this is not a sequel and only has a sliver of a connection to that earlier film.

     Mary Elizabeth Winstead (who is terrific on the PBS series "Mercy Street") stars as Michelle, a woman leaving her fiancee who's circumstances place her in an underground bunker with two strangers.  John Goodman is Howard, the owner of the bunker and John Gallagher Jr. ( "The Newsroom") is Emmett, a local who helped build it.

     What happens in the bunker makes up the majority of the film. Credit the clever screenplay for an claustrophobic story of basically three people that will keep you not only engaged but guessing the final outcome (which trust me, you won't see coming). Mr. Goodman is a towering presence, scary and caring at the same time. Mr. Gallagher Jr. is a fine sympathetic character but the film is really driven by Ms. Winstead. Intelligent and brave, she plays a dynamo who refuses to be a victim and this role should elevate her to even bigger and better films.

       The story is full of surprises and the latter part of the film becomes very exciting. You may not accept the final moments based on what transpires before but in this cinematic universe, it makes perfect sense. One additional warning I will provide- the film is available in IMAX. Don't waste the additional money. There is really nothing about it that deserves IMAX. It will be perfectly enjoyable on a standard screen.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


        Disney scores another smash with this wonderful new animated film. It is laugh out loud funny, filled with a great cast of animated animals, visually stunning, suspenseful and has a wonderful message of tolerance on many levels. 

         I don't remember the last time laughing out loud so much during a movie. The verbal and visuals puns come fast and furious, definitely requiring a second viewing to absorb it all. There are so many adult gags that you shouldn't write the film off as just a kid's animated film. It will appeal to an audience of any age. Embedded in the story are nods to "The Godfather", "Breaking Bad", and many more. It even pokes fun at another Disney blockbuster as well as a certain 20th Century Fox animated film franchise.

         The vocal talents are perfectly cast. The lead characters include  Jennifer Goodwin as the very perky and determined, Judy Hopps, the bunny who dreams of working for the Zootopia police force. Jason Bateman as a literal "sly" fox who reluctantly ends up helping Judy solve her first case. Idris Elba, plays gruff police Chief Bogo, a tough talking water buffalo. J. K. Simmons is the Lion Mayor and Jenny Slate is the Assistant Mayor, a sheep named Bellwether. And what's a Disney animated film without one or two songs, provided here by Shakira as Gazelle.

            The message of racial, social, and economic tolerance is pretty evident throughout and presented in such a way that that a viewer of any age (probably at least 5 and older) will understand. Younger children will appreciate the vibrant colors, the adorable animals and slapstick comedy, although may be scared during some of the sequences.

             I can't wait for the inevitable Zootopia Two. 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Eye in the Sky

     Helen Mirren leads an excellent cast in this tense, political thriller that examines modern warfare from many angles. Directed by Gavin Hood, the film builds it's suspense slowly as it introduces us to the various players surrounding a terrorist situation in Kenya.

       Ms. Mirren plays Colonel Katherine Powell, a British soldier who has been tracking a known terrorist for six years. With the help of the U.S. Air Force and their "eye in the sky" drone, she finally has a chance to capture Ayesha Al-Hady, once known as Susan Danford, a British citizen.
The drone pilot is played by Aaron Paul and his partner is played by Phoebe Fox. They sit in a trailer in the Nevada desert controlling the armed drone over Kenya.

       When the mission to capture becomes a mission to kill, the suspense is raised to edge of your seat as the powers in control argue the value of collateral civilian life if they approve an airstrike, while the terrorists prepare two suicide bombers. In the way of the strike is a nine year old girl selling bread in the street. Ms. Mirren is icy cold as the soldier ready to give the strike order awaiting approval from her commander, played by Alan Rickman (in his last role).

        On the ground is Barkhad Abdi, (The Somalian pirate captain in "Captain Phillips") an operative spying on the house targeted by the drone. The action moves from various countries, involving multiple military and government officials, illustrating how complex modern warfare has become. As the terrorists plot, political, legal and moral ramifications must be examined by all sides before an kill order can be carried out. 

         The film borders on satire but seems so realistic that I can't help but think situations like this really exist on a regular basis somewhere in today's world.