Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

Being in the shadow of Marvel Studios, especially with the creation of the cinematic universe it has managed and controlled so well, we finally get a glimpse of what’s to come with the superhero ensemble on DC’s side of things over at Warner Bros. 

Most of you may not recall or even remember, but DC almost beat Marvel from the word go.  Whether it would’ve worked or not, Warner Bros. was set to introduce us to the ensemble right at the beginning instead of the solo movie introductions Marvel constructed so perfectly.  George Miller (director of all the Mad Max films) was to direct Justice League with already a cast signed on to play the heroes.  Signed on, was D.J. Cotrona to play Superman, Armie Hammer as Batman, Megan Gale as Wonder Woman, Adam Brody as The Flash, Common as Green lantern, Santiago Cabrera as Aquaman, and a few others to round out the cast.  Production went as far as having costume fittings for the actors and actresses, with a lot of created concept art, but the Writer’s Guild Strike may have played a part in the film production’s downfall.  We’ll never know.

As doubt was casting a shadow on whether or not we can take a Superman film seriously nowadays, 2013 brought us a return to glory with Man of Steel.  The film, directed by Zack Snyder, gave us a more resolute Superman—no camp or outright comedy, just a no-nonsense heroic movie of a character most households are familiar with.  I enjoyed the hell out of that film and felt it was just the right push Warner Bros. needed to go forth with their plan to bring The Justice League onto the big screen.

So, questions began to arise regarding how the filmmakers were going to fit Batman into this cinematic universe.  Is Christian Bale returning as Batman?  Will Joseph Gordon-Levitt take over the role?  Will there be a new Batman?  Were they just going to reboot once more?  But word came about that the next movie—not necessarily a sequel to Man of Steel and not necessarily a Batman film, but a “versus” film that would pit the two heroes against each other.  Fanboys—myself included—were ecstatic and couldn’t wait to feast our eyes on such an epic movie.

As time went on, word also escaped that Bale would not reprise his role, but that the Batman in this film will have a new actor under the cowl.  It was also mentioned that the Batman in the movie is going to be an older, grizzled hero who has been crime-fighting for a long time. 

Not long after this news was out, the announcement came about that Ben Afflick would be the man wearing the bat ears in the movie.  I guess it’d be an understatement to say a lot of comic book fans weren’t happy.  It all harkened back to a little film Afflick starred in called Daredevil.  So many people have panned that movie, but I really don’t think it was Afflick’s fault.  I felt he did fine in that flick and I’d enjoyed watching it, even to this day.

Well, the photo of Ben Afflick in the suit popped up on the Internet.  Then, the first trailer…the second trailer…finally, the third trailer…I was chomping at the bit to see this movie and did not see anything wrong with Afflick in this role.

So, enough of the history on how this movie came to be…let me synopsize Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, shall I?

Per—Fearing that the actions of Superman (Henry Cavill) are left unchecked, Batman (Ben Affleck) takes on the Man of Steel, while the world wrestles with what kind of a hero it really needs.
Shortly before seeing the movie, I’d read an online article that a screening of the film was shown to the studio executives and at the end of the presentation, they all had given the film a standing ovation.  Some may read that and think it was a flattering endorsement to a great movie, but I had thought just the opposite.  Let’s not forget how much studio execs have ruined movies in the past.  Staying within the genre of comic book movies, the ones that come to mind are Superman II (the firing of Richard Donner after he’d already filmed 75% of the sequel), Spider-Man 3 (their insistence that Sam Raimi—against his better judgment—include Venom in the story), and, most recently, 2015’s Fantastic Four.  So to hear that studio execs loved this movie didn’t give me hope, it gave me despair.  I couldn’t help but think of Kevin Smith’s story of how Jon Peters wanted Superman to fight a giant spider in the climax of the Tim Burton/Nicolas Cage film that had never (thankfully) been made.  So, going into this, I had mild-to-low expectations.

Now, right off the ‘Batman,’ I have to say that Zack Snyder did a wonderful job with directing a multi-superhero movie.  Of course, recent history has told us that it could’ve gone one way or the other.  On one hand, it could’ve looked like a Batman & Robin or Spider-Man 3; on the other hand, it could’ve gone the way of The Avengers.  With BvS, however, I think it fell in the middle somewhere, but more toward the good than the bad.

Let’s start with the setup, the part of the plot that gives us the first part of the movie’s title—Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.  It doesn’t give too much away to say that Bruce Wayne was near Metropolis when the climactic battle between Superman and General Zod went down toward the end of Man of Steel and it pissed him off royally.  Snyder excellently shows us that battle from a different perspective—as the defenseless populace who were scared and hurt due to the damage caused throughout that mêlée, watching everything from ground zero.  Seeing those images during this first act of the movie unquestionably conjures up memories of the devastation the country witnessed on television (or up close and personal) back on September 11th, 2001.  Needless to say, this is what starts Batman’s mission to bring down Superman.

So…about the Batman’s funny…the one uproar fanboys had about this film—before any photos were released or any trailers were seen—was the casting of Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman.  I say it’s funny because he’s the one who does best in this movie, making the dual character the most interesting piece of this film.  As the story moves along, you become mesmerized by his presence on the screen, even as Bruce Wayne and it leaves you wanting more.  Personally, I can’t wait to see the stand-alone Batman film that is set to be released in 2017 with this aged and cynical persona of the caped crusader.  The suit is awesomely reminiscent of the Frank Miller era in comic books and even has better gadgets that we’d seen in the Nolan films.  Affleck, in my mind, has totally redeemed himself since his role in 2003’s Daredevil.

Henry Cavill seems to fit right back into his role of Superman as easily as he fits into that costume, but he doesn’t say or do much in the part, only broods and looks dejected at times.  He seems to
play the part this time around almost like Brandon Routh had played it in the forgetful Superman Returns.  With the hero’s Clark Kent persona, there’s not much development there either.  Overall, I was expecting to see more of the hero’s attitude he had shown at the end of Man of Steel, how he’d crashed a drone that was following him and basically told the general “tough shit” after he informed Superman he destroyed a very expensive piece of military equipment.  During that conclusion in Man of Steel, it was looking like he finally found his place on this Earth as a protagonist, but in BvS, he’s back to the unsure-of-himself hero.  But I can’t fault his performance too much because it seems the movie cuts away before we get any reactions from him—this happens quite a few times, I’d noticed.

The one casting choice that had gotten under my skin and I just could not accept was Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor.  When the decision was announced, I had my reservations but held off to see how he’d play the role.  Even as the trailers showcased him as a little goofy, I waited to see the movie.  Now, as I’ve seen the film, I really must say that his part in this flick was the thorn in its side.  As we’d all seen in the trailer, where Lex Luthor greets Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne, as he acts a bit off kilter…well…that’s what you’re going to get throughout his performance.  During the course of the Superman and Batman comics, there have been many evil-doers or villains with their specific personalities.  Lex Luthor has always been a powerful-looking man with a serious way about him.  Eisenberg almost seems to be getting him confused with the Joker, reciting his lines like a forgetful buffoon.

Above all else, the mixed feeling I have about this film is that it appeared to be a Batman movie that happened to feature Superman.  Although it’s supposed to be sort of a sequel to Man of Steel, it seemed to be focused more on Batman than Superman.  The good part of this musing is that it helps Affleck in his continuation of the Batman role, but it lessens the impact of Superman’s character.  Where we see a lot of setup into everything Batman does within this story, we only see a montage of Superman’s heroics, not understanding what led to them.  For instance, the scene in the trailer, where we see him save the rocket from being destroyed plays out in the movie just like in the trailer.  We don’t see who’s in the rocket, we don’t even know if there’s anybody in it—for all we know, he just saved an unmanned rocket from being destroyed.  All of Superman’s bravado is just given to us like snippets from a news reel.

As for the music we hear within the film, a lot of the Man of Steel cues are there, some original
music for Batman’s scenes were enjoyable as well.  Wonder Woman’s entrance, however?  The theme was unusual and strange, not really fitting and I kept on thinking, what is up with her entry music?  I take it, seeing that the score was shared by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL, Wonder Woman’s cue was created by the latter.  I know there are fans of Junkie XL, so I won't hate on them...I just don't think the music they composed works in this particular scene.  Who knows?  Maybe Zimmer's the one who came up with it.

Lastly, we all know this film leads up to a Justice League movie, featuring a lineup of heroes to get together for a big movie.  I guess to give us a taste of that, it was decided to give us glimpses of these heroes within this film.  I won’t go into it, especially to avoid spoilers, but the inclusion of the few they show in this movie was forced and unneeded.  We know the ensemble movie is coming, we know there are going to be a number of stand-alone films to introduce them, so there was really no need to show the cameos or excerpts that they did here in BvS.

My final “bit” on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice?

Overall the movie is enjoyable, with the right amount of action between the two title characters and even when they fight together with the inclusion of Wonder Woman going up against Doomsday (as seen in the trailers).  However, the editing seemed a bit uneven, giving us a lot of emptiness of certain subplots or characters.  After the film was over and I thought about what I’d seen, I couldn’t help but think there were missing parts that would explain certain details or expand on the character development a bit.  Maybe we’ll see a much better film with the release of home media—it was announced that a director’s cut with an extra 30 minutes will be added to the movie.  I’ve heard the complaints that some people have had with the story—some I agree with, some I don’t—but putting reasons for battles and reasons to stop battling aside, I’m going to reserve my views until I see the director’s cut in four or five months.

By the way, there is no stinger scene, so don’t bother staying after the credits roll.  I looked up this info before seeing the movie, but I’d noticed quite a few people remaining planted in their seats, waiting for that Marvel-esque extra we’ve all come to expect in this day and age, so just a word of advice…don’t bother to wait.

Well, that’s all I’ve got to say about Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice without divulging too much about it.  Perhaps I’ll update this post when the DVD/Blu-Ray is released to see if my view has changed.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, March 7, 2016


It’s time to save the world.

Being a child—and subsequent teen—of the 1980s, there are a lot of memories I treasure and sometimes wish could go back to on a daily basis.  It might sound clichéd, but I’ve always felt it was a better time, a more relaxed and unforgettable era, a period where kids could go out on their bikes and play outside for hours on end.  It was before or after meeting with the guys to play football or baseball, and there were many video games to be mastered, saving up quarters for a trip to the arcade, and just having good times wasting those coins away.  Roughly, between the years of 1982 and 1985, that’s just how my days were spent—further into the decade, I used a car to get to the arcade instead of a bike, but what I’d done with my time didn’t change. 

Nowadays, as I reminisce about those years, I have to recognize that time cannot be reversed.  Not only that, but I don’t think any of today’s demographic would want to visit that era.  People under the age of 20 would probably find it horrifying that there was no Internet, no cell phones, and no video games that equaled or were better than what you’d find in the arcades (Are there still arcades?).  In the 80s, there was no texting, no emails, no YouTube uploads… What did we children of the 80s do for fun?!  Listened to vinyl records or cassette tapes, talked to our friends through a phone hard-lined to the house, watched TV on just a handful of networks…MTV actually played music videos!  There were no DVDs, but we had a few outlets to rent a VHS (What’s a VHS?) or two, if we had a VCR.  What kind of hell did we live in???!!!

Yes…that was the 80s.

But back to the subject at hand…

I might be blasted by some people for admitting that I’ve never really been a fan of Sandler’s films.  Probably the one film I can watch repeatedly, and regard as one of his best, is Big Daddy.  I know a lot of his other films have a cult following, especially Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore, but they’re not my favorites in any way.  If anything, Adam Sandler seems to share my nostalgia for the 80s (although the music aspect of that decade is something I can do without), starring in The Wedding Singer back in 1998 and, recently, in 2015’s Pixels.

Straight off, when I first viewed the trailer for Pixels, I thought it was a novel idea, particularly when they were explaining the time capsule sent off into space back in the 80s (I suppose the story’s
borrowing from the two “Golden Records” that were sent off with Voyager 1 & 2 back in 1977…but it’s close enough), which included the popular video games of that time.  The aliens viewing it as a threat and invading Earth with the guise of those videos games seemed original and unique, certainly a plot that could work into a full feature film.

So, in case you couldn’t decipher what the synopsis was in that last paragraph, here it is…

When aliens misinterpret video feeds of classic arcade games as a declaration of war, they attack the Earth in the form of the video games.

The movie had gotten into a great start, showing us life in 1982 for Sam Brenner (Anthony Ippolito, playing the young version) and his best friend, Will Cooper (Jared Riley, playing the young version as well), collecting quarters and riding their bikes over to the local arcade to play video games.  Like in real life back when I was a teen, there was always someone declared the best at certain games.  Here, we have Eddie (Andrew Bambridge), shown a little exaggeratedly as arcade royalty, but the message comes across and it brought back memories for me.

Even the showdown between the young Sam and Eddie, as they are the two contestants in a video game face-off, Eddie mentions that there is a pattern to the game to help you win.  It always seemed like a myth to me, when I was in my teens, because you always heard other kids saying that.  The one big one I’d heard back then was that there was a location in the Pacman maze where you could hide and the ghosts wouldn’t see you.  I guess I’ll never find out if that was true or not, but I had a smile on my face when that was mentioned.

Well, when the movie cuts to present time, that’s when it loses me. 

Now, I don’t mind seeing Sandler playing the Brenner in his 40s, holding a “Geek Squad” type of profession…I don’t have to suspend disbelief for that.  But Kevin James as the older Will Cooper—President Will Cooper?—is too far-fetched for me.  Maybe if he was a White House assistant or clerk or…just anything but the POTUS, I’d buy it.

The choice for Will Cooper’s profession aside, the story just seems to stop in its tracks and gets really boring, giving us some impossible exposition on how Brenner just schmoozes his way into a woman’s life that happens to be a lieutenant colonel for the U.S. Army (played by Michelle Monaghan).  But I guess they needed that threadbare subplot to make sure Brenner has backing from someone in the military when the time comes for him to help out in the attack.

Although the film has some interesting special effects, it really doesn’t save this film.  But I did like seeing a giant Pacman wreaking havoc throughout the streets, the Centipede and Galaga attacks, and especially the Donkey Kong climax.  It’s just a shame they couldn’t work these scenes into a good movie.

The story relies on knowledge of the video games of the 80s, but a lot of young viewers won’t be able to relate to what they’re seeing on the screen (they may know Madonna—which was clever to CGI her lips to give Earth a warning message—but most kids won’t know many of the other 80s icons).  The only humorous parts I’d noticed when watching Pixels were the ones featured in the trailer.  In fact, the only real laugh I had was when the inventor of the Pacman Game, Professor
Iwatani (Denis Akiyama), walks up to the giant Pacman only to get his arm bitten off by pixilation (by the way, the filmmakers should’ve reversed this feature of the film because the ghosts were always the bad guys of the game—but I guess you wouldn’t be able to showcase that gag if you didn’t make Pacman the bad guy).  But there were so many parts that fell flat and made me feel sorry for the actor who was featured in such scenes and one of those is when Josh Gad is singing “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”  It was just an unfunny scene and was unnecessary.

So, my final “bit” on Pixels?

It’s sort of interesting, like I’d mentioned about the beginning of this movie, taking place in the early 80s.  The references throughout might put a smile on your face or even make you want to break out some of your classic video games if you’ve got your Nintendo stored away in the attic.  But it’s not very funny and even less entertaining.  I really can’t recommend it, but if you’re a big Sandler fan, maybe you’ll enjoy it…


Anyway, thanks for reading!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension

Shortly before October of 2009, a movie was furtively making the rounds as being one of the scariest movies people had ever laid eyes on.  Although the film was only circulated as a limited feature in larger cities, word had gotten around that this was a film to be reckoned and it spawned a following that caused an uproar with people around the country who couldn’t see it because their local theater didn’t carry it.  It went as far as to initiate online petitions to have it play in smaller cities, even being largely publicized in social media. 

Well, either it worked or Paramount Studios conducted a brilliant strategy to get people enthused for this film, aptly titled, Paranormal Activity.  Whatever the case may be, the social media advertisements and TV spots brought out the audiences in droves to see this flick.

I’ll admit…that first film absolutely worked for me, especially seeing the preview footage of test screenings in that eerie green night vision, watching people jumping out of their seats and screaming…I just had to see what this film was all about!  Even though, at this point, the “found footage” genre had “jumped the shark,” I relied on the word-of-mouth I’d been hearing and reading about, and went to see it when it finally played in my region.  I was hooked with this new horror movie franchise.  Let me tell you, a very few number of people have said it’s not that scary…and if you think that’s true…try sitting alone at night while watching this.  Believe me, I’ve tried and I always shut it off by the time it shows the subtitle stating that it’s the first night.

After the success of that initial film, with a pretty successful two sequels, an iffy third sequel, and a Latino spin-off, we now get the sixth film in this series…Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension.

Using a special camera that can see spirits, a family must protect their daughter from an evil entity with a sinister plan.

Now, from the outset, I’ll just have to say that Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension decided to use something throughout the whole film that people had complained about in the first film (which, by the way, was only used for a second at the end of the film)—computer generated special effects.  See, just about everyone loved that first movie, but complained about the final seconds of it, where the character of Katie (Katie Featherston) looked straight into the camera and her face turned into a demon (via CGI).  The consensus of movie-goers didn’t really care for that, and neither did I—it just took away from the realism that had been displayed throughout the entire story and

just plunged you right back into fantasyland, where the audience became cognizant once again and knew they were only watching a fictional account.  But the filmmakers had gotten away with it, seeing that it was the very end of the film and served as a final nail hammered into the story.  Like I’d said, some liked it, some didn’t.  But, overall, that last second is not what everybody had remembered if you were to ask.  What most people, including myself, recall is the eerie and spooky feel that most people experience when they’re all alone in the house.  The feeling of not knowing when, or if, something is about to happen…the quiet that gets under your skin…the creaks, the unexplained sounds you hear within your home…that’s what that first film gave us.  In Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, they use these special effects as a crutch and it’s very noticeable.

Now, it’s a very novel idea, how this new character, Ryan (Chris J. Murray), finds an old modified camera that, when filming, can pick up visuals not seen with the naked eye.  The only problem is who modified it?  Was it Dennis from the third film?  Since this film features home movies of the younger versions of Katie and Kristi, it must be.  But we’d never seen him create this camera in that movie—he only used a normal one and the only modifications applied was utilizing an oscillating fan’s motor so the camera can pan side-to-side when used unattended.  Right away, this “special” camera is a huge plot hole.

Other than that original idea, there’s really nothing much more this film gives us; there’s nothing new, nothing fresh, just the already-treaded-upon plot we’ve seen in the previous movies.  The family has someone—in this case, it’s Leila (Ivy George), the young daughter—that the demon attaches itself upon, someone video records every single second of everything and way beyond reason, a family member makes excuses for the recorded evidence, and it all climaxes at the very end where some extraordinary moment happens that’s supposed to shock the audience.  With the previous five movies, it worked; with this film—the sixth in the series, I might add, and we know what the typical track record is for a movie of that succession—it didn’t.  The story didn’t give us anything new, nothing was in this movie that we hadn’t seen before, it's just a banal movie that incites boredom within the audience.  It’s too bad because I’d really thought we were going to get something better, especially seeing that we had to wait a bit longer than the other sequels (each one came out a year later than the previous one).

The only thing that comes to mind when remembering this film is that it seemed the filmmakers were diagnosed with Lucasitis and felt the need to put in all kinds of CGI in place of a story, taking away that pensiveness we’d all felt during the first three (part four had it as well, but the story was so convoluted, I don’t want to count that one here).   Even the spin-off was pretty eerie and gave us a fresh take on the subject.

With the other films in this series, I was totally enthralled, waiting to see what would happen next, even though there was a lot of downtime and nothing happening in sections of the film.  Here, in Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, I did go into another dimension.  The dimension of being zoned out and not paying attention to the film because there was nothing to keep me interested.

My final “bit” on Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension?

Skip it.  There is no saving grace here…it’s a rehash of what we’ve seen, a threadbare story, nonsensical actions by the main characters, a gaping plot hole I’d mentioned earlier, and it’s just a plain old boring movie.  Instead of having the subtitle, The Ghost Dimension, it should have been The Final Chapter.

Thanks for reading!