Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Director: Zack Snyder

Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Laurence Fishburn, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter

As a movie buff, I’ve never liked it when people hate a movie intensely before it is released. Sure, a film can show signs of being a stinker just by looking at the trailer, but it is my belief that every movie should be given a chance (well, almost every movie) before you decide to pour every ounce of hatred upon it. A recent example of this is the new Ghostbusters movie set to be released this summer 2016. As the trailer played before Batman vs. Superman, I heard actual audience members boo at the screen. Sure these aren’t the original Ghostbusters, but what’s with the immediate hatred without having seen the film? They can’t base their hatred on a three second trailer! Is it because they are women? Is it because it’s not the original cast? I don’t exactly know, but there they were, booing at the screen to a movie they have not seen yet. Case in point, Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) a film that audiences came in hating from day one. Again, I decided to give the film a fighting chance, to prove itself to me. How was it?

Behind the Scenes Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

The premise for Batman vs. Superman is that the world now sees Superman as more of a threat than a protector. His fight with general Zod in Man of Steel (2013) caused many deaths, and so now people don’t trust him, in fact, they’re thinking that if something should push him off the deep end someday, he might actually make the entire planet disappear! Lex Luthor is one of these people who sees Superman as a threat, so he orchestrates a way to get Batman and Superman to fight, so that Batman can kill Superman and therefore wipe the threat from Luthor’s mind. Will Batman have what it takes to go up against the Son of Krypton?

Now if you ask me, all the hatred comes simply because its cool to hate a big budget movie that stars Ben Affleck, an actor whose career seemed to be in an inevitable downward spiral after he starred in a string of bad movies like Daredevil (2003) and Gigli (2003). But that was all left behind when he vindicated himself by directing and winning a couple of Oscars for Argo (2012), suddenly he was on the proverbial comeback. Gigli was finally left behind in the dust like some long lost fuzzy memory. But apparently, people still associate Affleck with failure, because his casting as Batman is one of the many things that people immediately draw upon to bad mouth Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). Good thing about Affleck is that he’s resilient, he hasn’t given up. He figures it’s all about making good movies, good scripts and good solid performances, which is exactly what he’s been sticking to lately, and its worked. To me he has more than demonstrated he’s a good writer/director/actor, a multi talented individual. And he’s awesome as Batman in my book, in fact, I personally dig his Batman more than Christian Bales, who always seemed kind of like a half crazed Batman. Affleck’s plays him more like a cool, calculated businessman.

The film itself is a bit unbalanced, because it doesn't stick to one story line, it leaves some threads hanging, and starts others up. I don't mind seeing hints at future plot lines, because Marvel movies have been doing the exact same thing in their movies for years and nobody seemed to complaint then. DC/Warner Brothers is simply applying that successful cliffhanger formula to their movies, what’s the big deal? Is there a double standard with using this formula? Its okay for Marvel to do it, but not for DC? I frown upon that and say that it’s cool that DC movies are giving us small glimpses of things to come within their cinematic universe, which in my book is vast and unexplored. But I do agree the film needed a bit more focus. Follow through with what you propose with your plot lines. What happened to the whole story line about the world feeling Superman is a threat? What are the governments of the world gonna do about it and why aren't they taking action? This story line wasn't followed through, and then they introduce Doomsday and Flash and Cyborg and Aquaman. Still, even with these flaws, fan boys were eating up this movie. I know it, because I felt the wave of awe when the geeks (myself included) got a glimpse of these visages of the future. People actually cheered and clapped when Wonder Woman first appears! So naysayers, don’t hate this movie for hates sake. Sure it's got flaws, but I had a blast with this movie anyways!

It’s both a Superman film and a Batman film, both get equal screen time, both get explored. I mention this because I read complaints that the film is more about Batman than Superman, but I do not agree with these comments either, in my book both characters get the exposition they deserve. Superman is seen as more of a threat than a savior! When had we seen that story line played out in a Superman movie? Never! Superman is seen as a god like figure, who can either be our benefactor or totally annihilate us if he chose to, a concept explored by Alan Moore and Zack Snyder through the character of Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen (2009). So in a way, this is Zack Snyder revisiting some concepts he’d explored before. Actually, this whole idea of the superhero suddenly turning into a threat to humanity rather than a savior seems to be the hot ticket in Hollywood, Captain America: Civil War (2016) will apparently explore the same themes, with Captain American being seen as a threat to humanity, because of all the destruction he’s caused. Suddenly, Captain America: Civil War doesn’t seem so original. But whatever, something tells me that will be an awesome movie anyways. I just wish Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice had explored this plot further, to its full measure, instead this idea is only half explored.

Just so you know, what the writers behind Batman vs. Superman did was they took parts of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and mashed it up with parts of The Death of Superman story line, primarily issue #75 of Superman. I kept seeing elements and images from both of these story lines popping up, so you might want to give those two story lines a look. Finally, I even liked Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, he was a formidable villain.  He has no super powers, but he knew exactly what buttons to push in order to get the ball rolling. Sure he’s maybe a bit to jokey, but that’s Eisenberg's own personal take on the character. I have a feeling we’ll see this villain evolve into a serious threat in the upcoming films. Finally, I’m looking forward to the growth of the DC cinematic universe. I had a blast with Batman vs. Superman, loved how it mixed its serious tone with the exaggerated antics we’ve come to expect from a comic book movie. Naysayers are hating for hates sake, pay no mind to them and go see this fun slice of comic book cinema, warts and all.

Rating: 4 out of 5   

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

Director: Dan Trachtenberg

Cast: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr.  

10 Cloverfield Lane is the kind of film that gets made without anybody knowing about it and then suddenly boom; there it is in theaters, completely taking you by surprise. Suddenly there’s a new film produced by J.J. Abrams that nobody knew a thing about! And it’s supposed to be intense and scary! Suddenly there’s a buzz about the movie. Could it be as good as everyone is saying? What is this mystery box that Abrams has suddenly thrown our way? While Abrams served as a producer for 10 Cloverfield Lane, this film was actually written and directed by a group of newcomers who are slowly working their way up to making bigger films. A small budget film like 10 Cloverfield Lane which was made with only 15 million dollars, can give up and coming writers and directors the opportunity to show they can handle a film with special effects while at the same time, showing they can squeeze a good, solid, convincing performance from their actors. Case in point, Dan Trachtenberg and Damien Chazelle are part of a new wave of filmmakers that’s popping up. They represent an entirely new generation of writers and directors and we get to see them take their first baby steps in the world of filmmaking. I went to the theater to find out if 10 Cloverfield Lane was worth all the hype its been getting. How was it?

The premise for this film is extremely simple, a woman who ends up in a car accident, wakes up in a bunker, beneath ground not knowing how she got there. Soon she discovers that a man rescued her and he claims there’s been some sort of attack. He says that the air outside the bunker is contaminated by toxic chemicals that will melt your skin off. Problem is the woman has no way of knowing if what the man claims is true or not. Is he a psycho who wants to lock her up and do nasty things to her? Or has there actually be some sort of attack that has contaminated the air?

10 Cloverfield Lane strives on intensity, paranoia and the performances delivered by the actors involved. In this sense, I say 10 Cloverfield Lane succeeds. This isn’t a film that rides on wowing us with computer effects or action; instead, it tries to genuinely creep us out with its situations, the way the characters react and with where your imagination can take you. This film effectively plays with what we don’t see. It makes us imagine the worst. I heard some people disappointed by the film because they thought it was going to be something else, they were maybe expecting a film centering on action and effects. Shows how deluded audiences are, I mean, come on, not everything has to be a constant barrage of computer effects! How about a slow burner that creeps up beneath your skin? How about you get into that? How about you just let a movie be what it is, without letting your expectations get in the way? Truth is, audiences are so dumbed down by commercial blockbuster films that this is all they’ve come to expect from movies. So when something a bit more minimalist comes along, they feel disappointed.

Point I’m trying to make is that 10 Cloverfield Lane is actually a gripping and intense movie that runs on performances, mainly that of John Goodman as Howard, the guy who seems to be kind of nuts, but maybe he’s on to something? The ambiguity with this character is fantastic, really dug that about Goodman’s performance and the way the character was written. Actually, it brought to mind another ambiguous ‘maybe he’s good, maybe he’s the devil’ type of character that John Goodman himself played in the Cohen Brothers Barton Fink (1991), in fact I’m sure that particular performance is why he was chosen for 10 Cloverfield Lane. The thing about Goodman is that he can play the sweetest characters, like Babe Ruth in The Babe (1991) or when he played Dan Conner in Roseanne, but when he goes dark, he can really deliver! On this one, he goes batshit insane and it’s convincing. I was also glad to see Mary Elizabeth Winstead in a film, I’ve always thought she’s underused in cinema, and here she is again delivering an awesome performance in a strong female lead.

10 Cloverfield Lane is not groundbreaking cinema by any standards; it is not a wholly original film. It plays with a familiar premise, that of a group of strangers kooked up in a claustrophobic environment while society disintegrates. The confined space they are in is a microcosm of society, we are them and they are us. For similar films watch Night of the Living Dead (1968), The Divide (2011), Cube (1997) or if you want to go further back, The War of the Worlds (1953). These kinds of films milk people’s fears of society breaking down, they explore the idea that we are our own worst enemies, or the idea that that someday we might all blow each other up. Though we don’t live under the intense nuclear paranoia that people from the 50’s or from the 80’s did, we do have North Korea threatening to press the button, so yeah, our collective fears do work themselves into this film and juice it for all its worth. In this way, science fiction films are again mirroring reality, as they have always done.

Rating: 3 out of 5   

Dan Trachtenberg directing his first feature film, 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

Friday, March 11, 2016

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)

Director: Russ Meyer

Cast: Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers, Marcia McBroom, John Lazar

So wow, a film written by the late, great film critic Roger Ebert?! That’s not the strangest part about Beyond the Valley of the Dolls; the strangest part is that it’s such a violent, sexual film! You’d never guess a film of this nature would come from the mind of the mild mannered Roger Ebert, a man of such quiet demeanor! Yet it did and it’s amazing in my book. I mean, sure it’s what many would call “schlock” or in other terms a “cheap and inferior” film, yet I wouldn’t exactly categorize it as such. I mean, sure it’s got cheesy as hell lines like “you shall taste the black sperm of my vengeance” but dammit, that’s exactly why it’s so watchable! Some probably categorize this one as b-movie schlock because it’s extremely violent and the nudity, I won’t lie, is gratuitous, but then again, the world the film explores was probably that crazy. People probably did dance around naked in parties while doing LSD. Sadly, those who lived through it probably don’t remember enough to confirm it. Still, the whole crazy shebang makes for one trippy movie experience! So, what exactly is so crazy about this movie? What’s it all about?

First off, there was a film called Valley of the Dolls (1967), which is the story about the “rise and fall of three young ladies in show business”. This film was based on a book by author Jacqueline Susann. I’ve never seen that film so I can’t compare the two, but based on the success of that film, the studio wanted to do a sequel. Jacqueline Susann wrote a script which was rejected by the studio, but the contract gave the studio the rights to do their own sequel, so they gave that task to Ebert and Myer who went on to make Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970). Problem is that the resulting film repulsed Jacqueline Susanne so much that she asked 20th Century Fox to market the film as not being a sequel to Valley of the Dolls. This is why Beyond the Valley of the Dolls opens up with a disclaimer saying that it’s not a sequel to Valley of the Dolls, but that it deals with the same “often times nightmarish world of show business”. Nightmarish is the right term alright. Nightmarish indeed!

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, much like its predecessor also focuses on the rise to fame of three talented young ladies. The three start out like a small band, playing this trippy rock and roll, which to me sounded a lot like The Mommas and the Poppas. The girls end up exploding in the music scene and becoming ultra famous. They suddenly plunge head first into the crazy, drug fueled, sex crazed showbiz world of the sixties. While attending these crazy parties filled with famous stoned out of their minds people, they end up meeting this guy called Ronnie ‘Z-Man’ Barzell, a guy who knows everybody and loves the hippy scene. In fact, during a particularly trippy scene Ronnie says “This is my happening and it freaks me out!” which Mike Myers went on to quote in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997). Suddenly I knew where a lot of Austin Powers came from. Aha! Mike Myers saw this movie for sure! So anyways, Ronnie Barzell ends up making these girls famous. Will they survive the wild and dirty world of showbiz, or will it suck their souls into oblivion?

I was actually blown away by this movie, which I went to see at a public screening; totally unaware of what was awaiting me. I’d never seen a Russ Myer film, so yeah; I popped my Russ Myer cherry with this one. Now I need to see the rest of his repertoire, including one of his most famous films Faster Pussy Cat! Kill! Kill! (1965). I read up a bit on Myers career, and he was seen as a “pornographer” by his detractors, though I think they were merely referring to the sexual and violent nature of his films which were risqué and sexy, but not true blue porn. More accurately, his films are what are commonly known as ‘sexploitation films’, more in line with the types of films that Jean Rollin used to do. This type of films were often times sexy, violent and often times kind of cartoonish. Myers did shoot some centerfolds for Playboy though and he was notoriously fascinated by big breasted women, which would explain all the nudity on Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.   

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is truly a film of its time. It captures that crazy, hippy, drug infused trip that most people were on during that decade. A film like this one cannot be made today, at least not in any sort of commercial way. Not that this movie got it easy when it was first released, actually it was lambasted by critics and slapped with an “X-rating” by the MPAA! It does get pretty violent and gory towards its finale; I was actually kind of shocked at just how violent it got. Also, it plays with the controversial themes of homosexuality, bisexuality and promiscuous sex (read: orgies).The films main character ends up being a frustrated homosexual, which is why the film brought to mind The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), a film that Beyond the Valley of the Dolls has some similarities with. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls went on to become a success for 20th Century Fox; it made 9 million on a 900,000.00 dollar budget. So X-rating or no, this one actually managed to become a money maker, which is probably why Ebert and Myer reunited once again for Beneath the Valley of the Ultra Vixens (1979), which I will be reviewing soon. I’m extremely curious where they went with that one. But as far as Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) goes, I thought it was extremely entertaining and shocking, it even surprised me with this brilliant thing it did by showing us the whole ending of the film during the films opening credits. The visuals mean nothing to us during the credits. They seem like a bunch of crazy images that aren’t connected to one another. It’s not until we’ve seen the whole film and reach the ending that it hits you like a ton of bricks and it all makes sense! Then it’s like “oh wow!” That bit was brilliant! Highly recommend it if you are in the need of a trippy, sexy, violent film.

Rating: 4 out of 5  


Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Green Inferno (2013)

The Green Inferno (2013)

Director: Eli Roth

Cast: Lorenza Izzo, Ariel Levy, Daryl Sabara, Sky Ferreira, Nicolas Martinez

When a director dedicates his career to horror films the way John Carpenter or Wes Craven did, it’s something special. Even more so today, when in my opinion, horror films have gotten the shaft by Hollywood. The glory days of horror films are long gone, supplanted with watered down horror for thirteen year olds. So when a director like Roth continues to make horror films in spite of the way horror films are being treated by Hollywood, then I pay attention, then I applaud. I mean, technically, by making films like The Green Inferno,  Eli Roth is going against the grain, he’s fighting for this type of film to get out there, to be seen. Like Rock and Roll, gory horror films aren’t dead yet. I speak this way coming from the perspective of a guy who lived through the glorious 80’s, a time when gory horror was king in cinemas and films like Cannibal Holocaust (1980) would actually get released in theaters! A time when Hellraiser films didn’t go straight to video! So, is Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno worthy of celebrating? Is it a true throwback to the glory days of gory horror?

The film is all about these activist college kids who want to tie themselves up to some trees in the middle of the Amazon jungle, you know to protect nature from the evil corporations who want to take the trees down in the name of ‘progress’. To these kids, this jungle belongs to the tribes that live in them! Problem comes when the plane they came in crash-lands in the middle of the jungle and the college kids are abducted by a tribe of hungry for flesh cannibals! Will the college students escape with their lives? Will they see civilization ever again?

The Green Inferno is the kind of film you hear about for years and years before you actually get to see it. For example, it was made way back in 2013, and its only now, in 2016 that I finally get to see it. This type of delayed release happens with films of this graphic nature, because major Hollywood studios don’t really want to back this sort of film up. They don’t even want to spend the money marketing it, because to them, these types of films are made for a cult audience, a small niche of freaks who will undoubtedly love it. To the rest of the world, this is a disgusting film, worthy of rejection. And it’s true, this is the way these films are perceived by the grand majority of people. I suggested The Green Inferno to some coworkers, I spoke of the films connections to Cannibal Holocaust, showed them some pics. Their reaction? The general consensus was that I needed psychological treatment. Typical. It’s safe to say that this film is definitely something gorehounds will no doubt appreciate, everyone else will find it too disturbing. The gore is truly something on this one. I mean, the camera does not shy away from the bloody bits. In this sense, The Green Inferno got things just right. Also, kudos to Roth for actually shooting in Peru, in the jungle in the middle of nowhere, it makes all the difference in the world.   

But is it a good movie? I say yeah, it entertained. It shocked. It complied with all those things you are meant to see in a cannibal movie. My only real gripe with the movie were some situations that were downright silly, I counted three of these situations. The problem with these unbelievable situations is that they takes you out of the film, which is so deadly serious most of the time. Okay, I’ll get down to it, if you don’t want to read about this scene, skip to the next paragraph [SPOILER ALER! SPOILER ALERT!] So the scene that was extremely silly and unconvincing was this scene in which the young college dudes who have been caught by the cannibals decide it’s a good idea to put a bag of weed inside of one of their dead friends, so that when the cannibals eat her, they will all get high. The idea being that this will give them a chance to escape. It’s not a bad idea, the problem is that it’s not enough weed to get a whole tribe high. Worse part is they put the weed inside of a plastic bag, which would not allow for the body to absorb it? The whole scene just made no sense. Soon enough the whole freaking cannibal tribe is high on weed and laughing and ha ha ha…the big payoff is of course that the cannibals get the munchies, and kablam, there is the punch line of the whole thing. I get it. But it was not pulled off in a convincing matter. [END OF SPOILER] Sadly, this was not the only nonsensical moment in the film.

Roth and his Peruvian cannibals

Though effective, The Green Inferno (2013) does not reach the levels of tension and intensity that say Cannibal Holocaust (1980) reaches, the latter being the most obvious influential film here. Eli Roth even includes a list of all the Cannibal films that came before The Green Inferno in the end credits, so it’s safe to say that The Green Inferno is a film that pays respects to a sub-genre that has long gone; society deemed these types of films too strong, too much. Plus, it’s hard to make money of a type of film that not everyone has the guts to see. A lot of people can’t take seeing cannibals eating eyeballs and tongues, even if it’s all actors and special effects, it’s the concept that gets people uncomfortable. For example, Cannibal Holocaust was banned in many countries, people stood up and walked out of theaters because they just couldn’t take it, the director had to go to court to prove the actors were not harmed or killed while filming, I mean, Cannibal Holocaust shook the film industry back in the early 80’s. The Green Inferno feels like an afterthought to all that, a homage every step of the way. In my opinion it needed better actors, these characters were too squeaky clean to ever attempt anything like this. I mean, okay, they were activists, but activists who do this sort of thing aren’t preppy, rich kids looking for an adventure. The young actors weren’t the best choice in my book, they didn’t feel like the kind of people who’d pull off a stunt like this. I guess that was the whole idea, to thrust rich daddy’s girls into the middle of hell itself, but it’s just one more element that wasn’t pulled off convincingly. Why does Eli Roth continue to populate his films with unlikable protagonists? All that aside, I ended up enjoying The Green Inferno, in an age where horror films are de-horrified, or watered down, I applaud this one for being so ‘in your face’.

Rating:  3 out of 5


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