Saturday, March 26, 2016

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

In the latest superhero movie, the two dynamos of the DC Universe are pitted against each other (sort of): Superman and Batman.  For decades cinema fanatics have fantasized about such a scenario.  Frank Miller's genre defining graphic novel The Dark Knight Retruns offered an iconoclastic take on comic book lore - a masterpiece that imagined a plausible scenario for Batman and Superman becoming enemies. Dawn of Justice takes direct inspiration from Miller - minus the satirical edge that made the graphic novel transcend its genre.

The plot picks a few years after Man of Steel (2013), when the Battle of Metropolis left Superman's city in ruins. 

Bruce Wayne sees something sinister about Superman and fears he will attempt to enslave humanity.  Meanwhile, Clark Kent disapproves of Batman's vigilante activity. Miller saw Superman as a corporate hack and Batman as an anti-establishment crime fighter.  Here, their conflict lacks gravity. It feels forced to simply satisfy audiences.

Ben Affleck gives a strong performance as Bruce Wayne/Batman, a grim, but driven caped crusader.  But Henry Cavill's stoic take on Superman fails to achieve a much of an emotional connection. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) also appears in a peripheral role (she will get a stand alone film next year).

Jesse Eisenberg's villainous turn as Lex Luther takes the "mad scientist" mythos to another level.  The film crackles whenever Eisenberg's on the screen - a super-villain for the age of google.

Human relationships are totally absent.  Richard Donner's Superman films brought a zany screwball comedy repartee between Lois Lane and Clark Kent.  Here, their dialogue is cold as ice. The only decent lines went to Lawrence Fishburne as Daily Planet editor Perry White, a character who makes light Dawn of Justice is nothing more than a corporate product.

Reviews keep going on about how dark the film is, I don't mind a dark superhero story at all.  But I do find all the repetition tiring.

Miller's Dark Knight allowed Batman dignity and pathos, here he's a one-dimensional, one-man wrecking machine.

On top of the clunky storytelling the film introduces several new characters for upcoming DC Universe films, diluting the main story - making the Batman/Superman duel feel even more contrived.  

Overall, I enjoyed Dawn of Justice for what it is. Do audiences deserve better? Yes.  But this is a comic book movie.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Lower your expectations and enjoy the ride.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Hitchcock/Truffaut (2015) **1/2

In 1962 Alfred Hitchcock sat down for a series of interviews with the young French New Wave director Francois Truffaut.  The resulting book remains a crucial work on the creative process of Hitchcock. Unfortunately, the recent documentary about the book is somewhat muddled. Valuable commentary from Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, David Fincher, and many others as they sing praises for Hitchcock's creativity is the main draw.  Included are some detailed analyses of Vertigo and Psycho - ground that's been covered numerous times in other documentaries. And there's very little on the French New Wave's influence on modern cinema or on its connection to Hitchcock.  Truffaut's films are barely discussed.  I would recommend the film as a primer for anyone new to the Master of Suspense - and a chance to learn about his influence. 

Friday, March 11, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane *** (2016)

A surprise late winter release from producer J.J. Abrams and director Dan Trachtenberg, 10 Cloverfield Lane blends clever Sci-Fi with smart character study.  Like a vintage Twilight Zone episode, the story will keep you guessing: a game of cat and mouse told in the aftermath of what might be an apocalypse.

After a fight with her abusive boyfriend Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) takes to the road and gets into a freak accident.  She wakes in the care of Howard (John Goodman) a paranoid former military officer living in a bomb shelter. Also sharing the space is Emmet, a kindly young man.

Winstead does great work as Michelle: vulnerable, yet strong.  John Goodman's menacing, speaking in an unsettling Brando rhythm.  Their battle of wits carries the film.  We get clues as to what may be happening outside, but the most of the tension takes place inside the bomb shelter.