Batman V Superman : Dawn of Justice – A Review

Zack Snyder directs Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot and Jesse Eisenberg in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice the DC-Warner tent pole which sets up the Justice League. I haven’t been shy of my dislike of Zack Snyder as a director and with the multitude of bad reviews I didn’t have great expectations going in.

 

We are given a quick flashback into Bruce Wayne’s past. And a quick second into the funeral of Bruce’s parents Snyder commits hara-kiri that will have fanboys frothing at the mouth. Bruce is swarmed by the bats as he falls into a hole in the ground and the bats seemingly lift him up and that is how he assumes the identity of Batman. Ben Afflect is the middle aged Batman based on Frank Miller’s Dark Knight and he is a weary, tired middle-aged Bat very different from the Batman played by Christian Bale in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. Affleck is quickly thrust into the destruction of Metropolis as General Zod and Superman engage in a death match. All through the movie that is something off about the scale of things, Metropolis and Gotham towers over everything and dwarfs both Superman and Batman. Even the car Ben Affleck is driving through metropolis seems to be mis-proportioned – it seems too small compared to the surroundings. I don’t know if other viewers experienced this but it just made the “Heroes” look puny.

Superman is deified as a god after he saved Earth from General Zod and his alien army. When he is not saving children from burning building or stranded women from tops of flooded towns Superman spends his time rescuing his girlfriend Lois Lane, either while she is being held hostage in the African Desert or while she is pushed from atop LexCorp. The film’s villainous mastermind is played by Jesse Eisenberg. Reprising his Mark Zuckerberg performance Eisenberg plays Lex Luthor, an evil genius with enormous wealth at his disposal. His sociopathic behaviour verges on psychotic. He pits Batman against Superman but like General Zod in Man of Steel here too his motivation is unresolved and his hatred of both the superheroes seems misplaced. He also tries to convince the senate to give him permission to bring the Kryptonite found in the indian ocean into the US so that he can weaponize it. Snyder, Chris Terrio and David S Goyer seem to be juggling too many balls with the story telling and each of them more unresolved than the other. In anticipation of the forthcoming Justice League movie we are introduced to The Flash, Aquaman and Wonder Woman. The latter plays a bigger part in the movie than Lois Lane does.

There are many flaws in this movie and they primarily concern Snyder’s lack of ability as a director. He makes poor choices both story wise and visually. Story wise there is no coherent reason for Batman to so pissed with Superman. The Superman’s misplaced sense of justice when he accuses Batman of abuse of power is akin to a pot calling a kettle black. The DC warner universe setup the batman character nicely at the end of Nolan’s trilogy. There were a few canons set which seem to not matter to Snyder. The Nolan Batman specifically said “No Guns” but Snyder’s batman is more violent than the criminals he seems to be rounding up. Basing this on Miller’s dark knight where batman comes out of retirement more brutal and more unstable there seems to be no explanation given to the retirement part. Also Jeremy Irons as Alfred is a hard sell. He seems to be Alfred and Lucius Fox both rolled into one and I prefer the grandfatherly Michael Caine over Irons.  Visually Snyder focuses on the wrong points of interest. He is more keen on product placement than a coherent story telling. How else would you explain the Olay Shampoo bottle that gets a zoom in when Lois is taking a bath after being rescued from the African ambush? Eisenberg’s whiney lunatic approach to playing Lex Luthor is a poor decision from both the actor and the director. All his manipulations of events that bring Batman and Superman face to face seem a bit too farfetched. Also the final face off between Batman and Superman and Batman’s bulky suit seem to be a pretty odd choice. It makes an already bulky Affleck look even chunkier also we are never really in the clear if his suit is actually kryptonite infused or not. Also the conclusion of the Batman Vs Superman fight to finish had me snorting – like seriously that is why they stop fighting? Because both their moms are called Martha!

But then there are some bright spots in the movie too. Gal Gadot as Diana Prince is smoking hot. In the hands of a good director the Wonder Woman origin story should be interesting. Henry Cavill as Clark Kent/Superman is perfection. The man maketh the suit look good. The knightmare scene while confusing and ultimately insignificant in the course of this movie shows promise of what the Justice League multiverse holds. Hans Zimmer’s music is great in spots and jarring and overbearing in others. He seems to not be able to find the fine balance that he did with Nolan.

Overall it is not as bad as people are making it out to be. Yes it is overlong and entirely unresolved in terms of its main villain’s motivation. Ben Affleck needs to work on his Batman persona but isn’t entirely horrible. Gal Gadot is exciting as Wonder Woman and I cannot wait to see Jason Momoa as Aquaman but I would have preferred TV’s Grant Gustin as Flash than Ezra Miller because as much as I like Miller as an actor I don’t want a moody broody millennial Barry Allen. But in my humble opinion Snyder is the wrong horse to bet on to take on Disney and Marvel’s Avenger Multiverse. Give Nolan all the money he wants and the creative freedom he needs and green light his Howard Hughes biopic and let him take on the Justice League. Snyder will keep getting in the way of the story and the franchise will suffer unless you want to place Olay Shampoo in the Aquaman origins story.

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Her – A Review

Extra Large Movie Poster Image for HerSpike Jonze directs Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara and a disembodied Scarlett Johansson in the near-futuristic love story Her.

Her is the story of a talented and sensitive Theodore played by Joaquin Phoenix set in the near futuristic LA where he works for a company that specializes in delivering hand written letters. Theodore is very talented at what he does, writing personalized letters from couples to each other on their 50th anniversary, from a boyfriend on a business trip who sent in a request for his girlfriend to let her know he misses her. The intimacy with which Theodore writes each letter leaves the audience with a warm and fuzzy feeling inside and as Chris Pratt (the receptionist) says in one scene “you are part woman, I would be so happy to receive a letter like this from a girl but written by a sensitive dude like you” you cannot help but smile because that is exactly what you are thinking.

A man as sensitive and as talented as him would have no trouble maintaining a loving relationship with his wife – but Theo is separated from his wife and is still reluctant to sign the divorce papers as he “likes being married”. On his daily commute he comes across an advert for a new virtual reality artificial intelligence Operating System which can provide companionship to its users. Theo gives it a try and from the first moment Samantha says “Hi” the love story kicks off.

Samantha is voiced by the beautiful Scarlett Johansson who does an exceptional job bringing to life a character that is basically a computer generated voice simulation.  The affectations in her voice, the laughter, the doubts in her voice when she is unsure of certain things, the softness and the cooing of her voice when she is talking intimately with Theo make you believe that there has got to be a person on the other side and that it cannot just be a computer and a piece of software.  As Samantha “grows” you keep suspecting even more and this dichotomy is essential to the conflict that you feel as you are happy for Theo as he has found a loving relationship but still cannot wrap your head around the fact that it is not another person.

Spike Jonze has done an incredible job with the story and the direction, with so many plausible options of how to take each moment in the story forward the director makes the most unusual of choices which still feel the most natural in the course of the love story. The setting of the LA in future is such that it is infinitely believable because there only a few telling signs of technological advance, the clothing is almost normal if slightly retro (I remember a term Retro-Futuristic that came from a designer once describing how she was influenced by blade runner) the houses look normal the modes of commute look slightly advanced. But there are still tell-tale signs that we are in the future with the pieces of technology, the computers, the wearable computer devices, the virtual reality games  and also most of all by the subtle hints that a service like written letters is available to people for a price. There are many brilliant instances of storytelling where Jonze lets Samantha grow as a person where she at one point mentions “you have made me discover my ability to want” this is what is essential to the human nature – the ability to want, to want to get better, to want to know more, to want to love and be loved. Samantha is a living breathing incarnation with her own needs and wants and desires and this leads  to a few awkward conflicts between Theo and Samantha which are beautifully handled as well, however the masterstroke of storytelling for me was when Theo and Samantha take a vacation and Samantha has a surprise for Theo – that scene is goose-bump inducing and brought a tear to my eye with the sheer joy that Joaquin feels and how in love they really are. The climax is gut wrenching for the exact same reason – Jonze takes an almost unimaginable chance with the story and the effect is both believable and heart-breaking. I don’t remember feeling this melancholic about a movie since Michel Gondry’s brilliant but equally heart breaking “Eternal Sunshine of the spotless mind”. With the individually nuanced characters Jonze has written this is a movie that will keep getting more intimate with repeat viewings.

The music by Arcade Fire is stunning and in my opinion one of the best sound tracks this year – it is distinctive and also the way it is used, the piano pieces to describe what it feels like to be Theo and Samantha on the beach, the music that plays when Theo takes Samantha out on an adventure, the Oscar nominated “Moon song” Theo and Sam compose together – it is pure joy.  Hoyte Van Hoytema’s Cinematography is the perfect companion to Jonze’s sensitive story telling – Hoytema uses sunlight in ways that is so beautiful and the effect so personal that it is like looking back on the memories of someone like how you would remember a sun-kissed afternoon spent with your lover. I was in love with Hoytema’s work on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with how much of a moody atmosphere he created with his camera work and here too he creates a moody melancholic atmosphere that is in complete contrast to Tinker but just as effective and as essential to the story being told.

See this movie about an unusual love story told in the most unusual yet almost conventional way, see it for Joaquin Phoenix who pissed me off with his mockumentary but turns in one of most sensitive portrayals I have ever seen, see if for Scarlett Johansson who while not visible on screen creates an entirely realistic and perfect version of herself that is just as desirable as the star’s physical appearance itself. See it for Spike Jonze’s beautifully written, perfectly cast and superbly acted directorial triumph of a movie. This is bound to be in my top 3 at the end of the year – it is that good and it will only get better with repeat viewing.

One last note – there is some sort of a controversy brewing following a newsnight interview with Emily Maitlis who called the movie a “Sad Male Fetish Fantasy” – please trust me that is as far from the truth as possible – this description couldn’t be more wrong – infact in the one sequence where Samantha brings in a sex surrogate it is Theo who feels uncomfortable. As did I. It is not about a disembodied female voice doing his bidding it is a loving thriving relationship between Theo and Samantha.

 

Man Of Steel – A Review

The worlds of Krypton and Earth collide in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. Henry Cavill dons the red cape in a story by Christopher Nolan and David S Goyer which sees the origins of Kal-El Aka Clark Kent aka Superman. Amy Adams plays Lois Lane Kevin Costner and Diane Lane play Kent’s earth parents and Russell Crowe plays Jor-El Kal’s Kryptonian father. Michael Shannon plays General Zod Krypton’s military general who stages a coup before Kal is sent packing to Earth.

After Christopher Nolan’s ground breaking Dark Knight Trilogy the landscape for Comic book adaptations has been forever changed and the audiences have come to expect a certain level of sophistication that goes beyond mere set pieces and action sequences.  And despite Nolan getting story credit and being the executive producer on this the movie is entirely Snyder’s, the Nolan influences that were apparent in the initial trailers are few and far between. The opening sequence plays straight out of Snyder’s Sucker Punch visually speaking.

The story is told in flashbacks letting on important pieces of Clark Kent’s past as he grows from a scared child to a confused young boy to a formidable young man who eventually fills out the blue suit quite nicely. Henry Cavill was my absolute favorite character in The Tudors and here is a vast improvement on the Man of Steel as portrayed by Brandon Routh. In his steely appearance you are assured that we have a superman worthy of the title, I only wish the character was given a little more humor and dialogues that did not felt they came out a Michael Bay movie.

Michael Shannon, who plays general Zod, plays it Mean. He gets the most dialogue of any characters and after a point you just want him to shut up. The angry sneer and the shrill rhetoric are beyond annoying and grate on your nerves. Instead Antje Traue who plays Faora-Ul is a much more menacing villain than Zod could ever hope to be.

The movie is not all bad; there are some quite moments where skyscrapers are not exploding that is where you can see that this could’ve been such a good movie. The flashbacks with Costner are wonderfully intimate and feel like they belong in a Nolan movie. The music when not accompanied by the sounds of explosion is signature Zimmer and isn’t as derivative as his work on TDKR was.  Amir Mokri’s work on that one scene where Kent is underwater after the Oil-Rig event is brilliant.

Snyder who ruined watchmen for me (I know of people who disagree and MoS will be my final argument) is at his Michael Bay-best with references to Independence Day and Transformers. I was told that the problem was the story but on the contrary the story is not so bad, it is the execution of it where Snyder makes a mess of it. There are so many references that any original element is completely forgotten.  There are references to the Independence Day, Transformers, The Avengers, Thor, The Day After Tomorrow and all of it does nothing to enhance the viewing experience. The final sequence feels like an unending assault on your senses and your intelligence. The fight sequences keep going on for what feels like 20 minutes too long. What also is extremely irritating is the silly glorification of the American Armed forces which just feels out of place and takes away from the focus which should be on Superman and Zod. Snyder seemed preoccupied with IHOP and Sears placements than any focus on storytelling.

The story telling in the second half of the movie felt like it was bereft of any sense and the only explanation I can find is that Nolan left Snyder the reins to continue to focus on the story for Interstellar. Watch this movie if the only thing you care about is endless explosions and yet another destruction of New York by an alien race. Watch it at your own risk because it might say Nolan on the playbill but there is nothing Nolan-esque here.