Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Alien, the Vigilante and the Femme Fatale

Warner Brothers’ 2013 reboot of the world’s original superhero (reviewed here: was brutally maligned by critics and fanboys alike for reinventing Superman to such a degree that he’s no longer the Superman we know.  The world’s first superhero (sorry, but ‘The Phantom’ has no superpowers) has always embodied everything that’s good and pure, fighting for “Truth, Justice and the American Way.”   But in his attempt to one-up the devastation and wholesale destruction of NYC in Joss Whedon’s ‘The Avengers,’  ‘Watchmen’ director Zach Snyder saw fit to remake Supes into a much darker, morally ambiguous character who had no qualms about leveling Metropolis and inflicting collateral damage while battling General Zod in MoS.  His only soft spot and link to humanity?  Lois Lane (Amy Adams), of course.
It should come as little surprise, then, that even before ‘Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice’ was released, the very same critics and fanboys still can’t find it their collective hearts to forgive the “Crime Against Humanity” that MoS represented and continue to mercilessly pan it three years later, like this spiteful little Q&A number by Rob "What did Zack Snyder do to you?" Bricken of io9 (spoiler warning):  Well, cry me a river and get over it!  Despite low scores on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, BvS:DoJ is far from unwatchable with a 7.1/10 rating on IMDB and a CinemaScore of “B” from moviegoers.  At the showing I attended, people even loudly cheered and applauded when the movie ended (I wasn't among them because giving applause at non-live performances just ain't my style).  Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the blockbuster grossed over $200 million domestically and $500 million worldwide on its opening weekend.  Better get ready for the Justice League, people.
I’m not saying that BvS:DoJ is a great movie.  It's plagued with plot holes, meaningless dream sequences that break up the pacing and a few “what the heck was he thinking???!!!” moments from its two titular heroes, not to mention the “V” in the title is really misleading since Bats and Supes only tried to settle their differences for like about two minutes.  Its world is perpetually dark, depressing and “gothic” to the point that it makes us long for the bright, fun and colorful world of the MCU.  But for all its shortcomings, the movie isn't nearly as bad as the critics would have us believe.  The visuals and FX are top-notch.  Ben Affleck is actually a pretty decent Batman and Gal Gadot exudes mysteriousness, seduction and sheer elegance as Wonder Woman.  Jesse Eisenberg also gives Lex Luthor a "mad boy genius" vibe and gravitas that we haven’t seen in the villain before.  As the last three pre-MoS films (‘Superman III,’ ‘Superman IV: The Quest for Peace’ and ‘Superman Returns’) have proven beyond the shadow of a doubt, the old Superman is dead and it’s time for us to rise above our deeply ingrained expectations and embrace the new and improved, albeit marginally less kind and gentle Superman.  That goes for you too, Kevin Smith.

Grade: B+

"It was a dark and stormy night...."
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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Shelter (Spoiler Free)

The latest release from J.J. Abrams’s Bad Robot Productions is ’10 Cloverfield Lane,’ the “spiritual successor” to the 2008 low-budget found-footage giant monster smash hit ‘Cloverfield’ that raked in $170.8 million worldwide.  So why not a sequel?  Because kaiju flicks have been done to death subsequently in movies such as Guillermo Del Toro’s ‘Pacific Rim’ and Gareth Edward’s ‘Godzilla’ reboot.
Like its spiritual predecessor, the plot of 10CL is shrouded in mystery, with its trailer revealing very little in the way of premise.  Three individuals (John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr. and Mary Elizabeth Winstead) are cooped up in a well-furnished bomb shelter/underground bunker. At the end of the trailer, Michelle (guess which actor) escapes and is about to gain access to the outside world while Howard (Goodman) chases after her yelling “NO, NO, NO, NO!!!!” in helpless desperation.  What unspeakable horrors could possibly be awaiting outside that door?  Intriguing minds would like to know, please.

The trailer so piqued my curiosity (I’m not a cat, so there) that I had to see it on its first day of release.  And boy, 10CL did not disappoint!  This is the kind of movie that pulls you in and draws your full attention, not letting go until the final credits roll.  The term “Cloverfield,” as in the first film, is purely incidental and I’m sure they’ll find a creative way to tie it in if a third installment that has nothing at all to do with the previous two is green-lit.  First-time director Dan Trachtenberg built the suspense slowly but surely throughout the film, laying on the mystery with the assured hand of a seasoned veteran.  10CL is oppressive at times and feels a bit like a ‘Twilight Zone’ episode.  Acting-wise, Goodman is solid as usual, but Winstead delivered one of her most engaging performances as the movie’s main protagonist.  Visit ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ by all means, but it’s best to go in with no expectations whatsoever.
Grade: A
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Monday, March 7, 2016

The Worst Case Scenario Handbook

Antoine Fuqua’s 2013 White House-takeover thriller, ‘Olympus Has Fallen,’ more than doubled its $70 million budget at the worldwide box office despite withering reviews from critics and having to compete with the similarly premised (though PG-13 rated) ‘White House Down’ from Roland Emmerich within months of its release.  Which means it’s sequel time baby, oh yeah!  Being a diehard ‘Die Hard’ fan, I am probably naturally inclined to such movies, but as long as they don’t suck (like the last ‘Die Hard’ movie starring Bruce Willis) that’s really all I ask.
If anything, the set-up of ‘London Has Fallen’ is even more eye-rolling impossible than that of its predecessor (North Koreans invade the White House, like that's gonna happen).  Britain’s PM dies all of a sudden and top world leaders flock to London for the state funeral.  With all the eggs in one basket, a well-coordinated and devastating series of terrorist attacks rock London to her knees, claiming not only visiting heads-of-state but also famous landmarks such as Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and London Bridge (Yup, London Bridge is literally falling down, my fair lady).  Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!  How can the British government including MI-5, MI-6 and New Scotland Yard be compromised so deeply and thoroughly?  Stop asking such inane questions, because how else is the movie supposed to make the predicament of tough ex-Marine President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) and his favorite pet ex-Delta Force Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) seem duly dire and near impossible?  Besides, the non-stop action and carnage are piled on so hot and heavy throughout the movie that soon you’ll stop caring about the how’s and wherefores anyway.
If you enjoyed ‘Olympus Has Fallen,’ odds are good that you’ll also find this indulgence in gratuitous violence a worthwhile diversion in spite of the many faults brought to light by the critics who mercilessly panned it.  There is a place for movies that excite the viscera and give us a truly “visceral viewing experience.”  LHF manages to do just that.
Grade: B+
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Infernal Affairs

‘Triple 9,’ the latest feature from director John Hillcoat, is a hard-boiled cat-and-mouse crime thriller in the tradition of ‘Point Break,’ ‘Heat,’ ‘The Town’ and ‘The Departed.’  Fans of the Australian auteur (‘Lawless,’ ‘The Road’ and ‘The Proposition’) will no doubt find much to like in ‘Triple 9’ (the law enforcement code for “Officer Down!”) because it is every bit as dark, violent and amoral as his previous films.
‘Triple 9’ centers on a team of professional criminals, two of whom are crooked Atlanta's finest while the other three are ex-military and former Blackwater employees.  The movie kicks off with a bang as our team of red-masked bad guys armed with military assault rifles and other gear rob a bank and make good their escape.  But it isn’t simply a daring cash grab in broad daylight and a “fuck you” to the cops a la’ ‘Heat,’ oh no.  Our robbers are under the thumb of the Russian mob in the guise of Irina Vlaslov (Kate Winslet with a faux Russian accent).  The bank robbery was only the easy part, as our unfortunate team finds out when they’re given their next impossible mission.
If you like edgy, ultraviolent and nihilistic crime noir with its share of twists and double-crosses, ‘Triple 9’ will not disappoint.  The movie’s talented ensemble includes Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Casey Affleck, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus and Woody Harrelson, who made the most out of his limited screen time as the jaded pot-smoking Atlanta police detective sergeant assigned to apprehend the criminals.  The most despicable evil villain in the movie, however, isn’t Kate the ruthless Russian mafiosa but the corrupt homicide detective played by Clifton Collins, Jr., whose Franco Rodriguez would make even Vic Mackey look positively saintly by comparison.
Grade: A 
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