Justice League (Full Review)

Dreary, uninspired, and virtually tone deaf to the decades of phenomenal source material that came before it… the more you think about it, the more Batman v Superman feels like a train wreck. But Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman showed that DC and Warner Bros. has some footing. Now comes Justice League, the original super team of marquee heroes hoping to keep the DC Extended Universe from completely derailing.

Justice_League_film_posterFollowing the events of 2016’s Dawn of Justice, Justice League begins with Batman (Ben Affleck), his trusted butler Alfred (Jeremy Irons), and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) struggling to pick up the pieces following the death of Superman (Henry Cavill). When an alien god (Ciaran Hinds) who was once thwarted by Amazons and warriors from Atlantis returns to conquer Earth, Batman and Wonder Woman must recruit more metahumans to oppose him. Joining them are nerdy speedster Barry Allen aka The Flash (Ezra Miller), macho half-man, half Atlantian Arthur Curry aka the Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Victor Stone (Ray Fisher) a former football star who is fused with alien technology by his father (Joe Morton) after a near fatal accident. But to prevent the apocalypse, they’ll need to quickly gel as a team and find a way to resurrect the Man of Steel himself.

Justice League is by no means a polished movie. After an untimely and unfortunate exit from Director Zack Snyder, Avengers helmsmen Joss Whedon was brought in to finish the job. It is pretty noticeable in a few cringeworthy scenes where the reshoots and edits are glaringly obvious and out of place amidst the finished product. Not helping matters is the generic plot and somewhat rushed together opening act that attempts to pull together several characters never fully introduced on screen before.

But since when does having a flimsy plot make a superhero movie not entertaining? Audiences collectively gushed over Avengers even though it was about a random alien invasion bringing together a rag tag group just the same. And several of the touted Marvel films involve finding a magical mcguffin to thwart a megalomaniac. So the overarching narrative shouldn’t distract from the excitement when the tone is balanced, the action is intense, and the chemistry between characters works.

Justice League succeeds in the most important aspects of the genre. The chemistry between the heroes works wonderfully without compromising the more serious tone of the established universe. Affleck is brooding, but slyly exuberant and more balanced as Batman this time around. Fisher brings toughness and soul as Cyborg. Miller and Momoa are both boyishly comical in their roles and Gal Gadot is just as sophisticated and elegant as she’s been in every role as the Amazon warrior. Even Henry Cavill’s Superman, who swoops in as the team’s resident cheat code in the climax (it’s not that big of a spoiler. Trust me), manages to feel like a welcomed fit amongst the group. His charming boy scout routine works well in its small dose and manages to elevate another dull showing by Amy Adams as Lois Lane.

The action, though heavy on the CGI, is well paced and exhilarating with each team member getting a moment to flex their muscle. Several sequences, including one involving Connie Nielsen and the Amazons from Wonder Woman, are downright show stoppers. More importantly, characters finally feel true to their comic cores, so DC fan boys who have been waiting for the big screen films to be as engaging as the studio’s animated properties will have enough to feel satisfied. So while Justice League doesn’t break any new narrative ground and may only be wholly memorable to comic purists, it succeeds in rectifying the wrongs of Batman v Superman and showing that the DCEU does know how to put something fun together without completely losing its knack for spectacle and an emotional foundation.

FINAL GRADE: B

Advertisements

Live By Night (Full Review)

Once upon a time, (thanks to movies like Gigli) Ben Affleck’s name didn’t garner many positive vibes. Then, along came The Town and Argo and just like that, ole’ Ben’s reputation for quality movie making was back to Good Will Hunting status.  But reputations can only survive for so long before they have to be reinforced. And after the bad mojo created from Batman v Superman (most of it entirely not his fault), Mr. Affleck needed something to remind us that he is still one of the best filmmakers/actors.

live_by_night_filmLive By Night is the story of bootleggers in Florida during the time of American Prohibition. Affleck directs and stars as Joe Coughlin, the Boston born son of a Police chief (Brendan Gleeson) who is an outlaw by day. When his affair with an Irish mobster (Robert Glenister)’s girlfriend (Sienna Miller) lands him in hot water, Coughlin moves to Tampa, Florida with his partner (Chris Messina) to begin work bootlegging for the Italian mob. There, he meets his wife (Zoe Saldana), battles the Ku Klux Klan, and attempts to keep a Sheriff(Chris Cooper)’s preaching daughter (Elle Fanning) from ruining his organization’s plan to build the state’s first casino.

As you might be able to tell from the synopsis, the movie is filled with subplots. Clearly Affleck had ambition, but his film never seems to reach a consensus about what story it actually wants to tell or what point it wants to make. None of the subplots are uninteresting, but because things jump around so much and so often, it all feels like one big long mess that would’ve probably been better suited for an HBO mini-series.

Thankfully, the film isn’t a bore. The gangster action is exciting whenever it hits, but those moments don’t come as often as you think or want. In fact, for much of the movie, it feels more like a romance and a film about the political workings of bootlegging more than a gangster film. The lulls in action or intrigue are made less unfavorable by a few welcomed moments of wit, charm and humor from Affleck and a solid supporting cast. But at no point is any of it enough to fully justify the film’s poor pacing and sheer lack of focus.

FINAL GRADE: C, Redbox it

Quick Reviews (November 2016)

There are a couple of movies that have come out recently that are worth checking out (The AccountantKevin Hart: What Now?) and one you should wait for on Red Box or not see at all (Keeping up with the Joneses). Here are some quick thoughts for the film critic and critic reader on the go.

keeping_up_with_the_joneses_filmKEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES At one point in the movie, during a neighborhood barbecue, Zach Galifianakis’ character hands Jon Hamm’s character a beer bottle. Hamm’s undercover secret agent uses his wedding band to suavely open the bottle with ease. When Galifianakis’ wholesome character tries to imitate, he ends up turning his hand into a bloody mess. There. That’s the only time I did anything more than a light chuckle while watching this movie.

There are other slightly humorous moments. Most of them are from the trailers and the rest you’ll forget as soon as you walk out of the theater. Keeping Up with Joneses,  a movie about a boring couple (Galifianakis and Isla Fisher) who get caught up in a generic spy flick with their undercover neighbors (Hamm and Wonder Woman), is as bland as can be. It almost feels like a Saturday Night Live parody of something more interesting. The plot has no twists or unexpected turns making it feel like something written in a day and even the action is less inspiring than Kevin Hart’s lousy Ride Along movies. FINAL GRADE: D- 

the_accountant_2016_filmTHE ACCOUNTANT Batman… I mean Ben Affleck, stars as Christian Wolff, a high functioning autistic who is an accountant by day and a highly skilled vigilante by night. When auditing a tech company lands him in the crosshairs of a dangerous assassin (Jon Bernthal), he and a middling company accountant (Anna Kendrick) must go on the run. Also on his trail are two government agents (J.K. Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson) who are coming close to uncovering his secrets.

The film is fun and entertaining until its final act, when it goes from thriller to predictable B-movie. Twists can be seen a mile away and the moment meant to be the biggest reveal (at the very end) seems too farfetched even more than the idea of an autistic superspy. But overall, the movie is exciting and filled with a likable central cast, headlined by Affleck’s admirable performance. The action is also as thrilling as a Jason Bourne movie. FINAL GRADE: B

fb_img_1424255884706KEVIN HART: WHAT NOW? Kevin Hart hasn’t made too many memorable movies, but his stand up specials are always laugh out loud funny. Hart returns to his niche with his latest stand up special taped at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field. Complete with more bells and whistles than any stand up show should have, Hart navigates through hilarious stories about his family and newfound mega stardom.

The film opens up with a James Bond spoof where Hart works with Halle Berry to secure funds for his global tour. This part serves only to make the movie worthy of a feature length film, but it is just as funny as the stand up. Several actors make cameos and it actually made me wonder why Hart’s narrative films often aren’t as enjoyable. Some jokes aren’t as fresh as those from his older specials, and the repetitive need to create quotables is a bit too obvious, but nonetheless What Now? manages to have enough gut busting laughs to exemplify why he’s the current king of comedy. FINAL GRADE: B+

 

 

Suicide Squad (Full Review)

Batman v Superman left many of us with a bad taste in our mouths. Not because it was glaringly awful, but because it was wildly disappointing considering how good it could’ve been and considering how good we wanted it to be. But because we love superhero movies (more than the films critics who wish the most profitable film genre would die off), we are able to get excited about the next one as if we were never scorned. Suicide Squad is the latest attempt by DC Comics and Warner Bros. at getting audiences fully on board with their cinematic universe.

Suicide_Squad_(film)_PosterForget Batman v Superman, although it takes place in the same world, Suicide Squad delivers a drastically different tone and feel. The film tells the story of Task Force X, a group of criminals assembled together by ruthless government agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), to carry out a deadly mission to stop an out of control sorceress (Cara Delevingne).  If they succeed, they’ll get time off of their prison sentences; if they don’t, they’ll be blamed for everything… or die. Included in the squad are Deadshot (Will Smith) an assassin who never misses; Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), right hand woman to Batman (Ben Affleck)’s arch nemesis, The Joker (Jared Leto); El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) a fire spouting former gang banger; Boomerang (Jai Courtney), an Australian thief; and Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje) a reptilian, man eater. Wrangling the team of degenerates is U.S. Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman).

DC’s last film failed partially because it was far too dreary, and it seems here as if they tried to make this one as much like a 90’s music video as possible. Sometimes this works, adding flare and humor. Other times, it just feels disorienting. But it isn’t a big issue. The horrendous narrative structure, however, that’s a completely different story.

Suicide Squad ends up being a fun mess, but a mess nonetheless. First, let’s address the messy elements. There are plenty of colorful characters with fun backgrounds and personalities here, but it appears as if Director David Ayer has shiny toys he doesn’t quite know how to play with. Some characters, like Smith’s Deadshot and Robbie’s Harley Quinn, are given plenty of moments to shine and breathe life into the sloppy story. But the majority of the Squad just seem like random pawns that are barely necessary. Characters like Katana (Karen Fukuhara), an assassin bodyguard to Rick Flag, are both irrelevant and useless. And the entire objective of the movie feels out of place and uninspired, like something out of a video game, which leads to a relatively hokey final act.

Then there’s Jared Leto’s underdeveloped and hardly pertinent Joker who’s really only here to give origin to Harley Quinn. Leto misses the mark partially because the character is poorly designed. He doesn’t need to be Heath Ledger, Jack Nickloson, Mark Hamill, or even Caesar Romero… but the Joker HAS to be charismatic and menacing to not feel annoying. This version is neither and just comes off weird for the sake of being weird. But it isn’t necessarily the actor’s fault, because The Joker should never be used as a sideshow.

But beyond the poorly placed flashbacks and inefficient juggling of characters, there is a ton of potential where something great could’ve and should’ve formed. Viola Davis is deliciously wicked as Amanda Waller. From snappy dialogue to just being a bad ass, Will Smith is phenomenal every time he’s on screen as Deadshot. Margot Robbie is perfect as Harley Quinn, and even Jai Courtney and Jay Hernandez’s characters are great when given their seldom chances. Suicide Squad isn’t a disaster, unless you expected it to be something groundbreaking. But it is a missed opportunity to create something that could’ve been DC and Warner Bros’ most exhilarating moment. Instead it’s a chaotic two hours of weak plot and a few poor attempts at endearment, saved only by a collection of talented actors.

FINAL GRADE: C+

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Full Review)

batman_v_superman_dawn_of_justice_ver8Forget the ‘v’ for versus, the idea of having Batman and Superman, two of the most iconic superheroes in all of pop culture, on the big screen together for the first time is enough to make even the tiniest of action movie fans giddy. As for me, you don’t have to know me, personally, to know who I side with. Simply skim through my favorite superhero movies and the love for the Dark Knight becomes pretty apparent. As for the overpowered Superman, my feelings toward him have always been the exact opposite. I respect the character, but I’ve always found him boring. That being said, I am on the side that thoroughly enjoyed Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. While most found its story dry and its action over the top, I appreciated the story’s ability to make Superman relatively relatable and I enjoyed the Dragon Ball Z-esque action sequences. So, needless to say, I was incredibly excited to see Snyder step into the director’s chair again as DC Comics attempts to create a cinematic universe akin to their rivals over at Marvel.

If you aren’t as familiar with the various comics as I am, then you’re probably unaware that Batman and Superman have always had a rocky relationship usually stemming from their conflicting styles: Superman, the boy scout and Batman, the fear mongering aggressor. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice sews the seeds of that conflict early by placing Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) at ground zero of Metropolis during the climactic battle from Man of Steel as buildings are destroyed and countless people are killed in the crossfire. From there, the world splits between people like Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane) who either love or worship Superman (Henry Cavill), and the people like Bruce Wayne or Metropolis billionaire Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) who fear his power or loathe him for his constant collateral damage.

For starters, put your worries of Ben Affleck’s Batman aside. He is good, albeit brutal, in his portrayal of a weary and war torn Bruce Wayne. Good enough to warrant another solo Batman outing. The action sequences featuring the caped crusader are some of the best in the movie, and I’m not just saying that because of my obvious bias. Jeremy Irons is also a fantastic addition as Wayne’s butler, Alfred. Even the Dawn of Justice elements are not as shoe horned as some might have anticipated. Gal Gadot provides a perfect appetizer for the Wonder Woman character that will be expanded upon in future films.

Now let’s address what doesn’t work. I gave Snyder a pass for his pacing issues in Man of Steel, but here they are even more glaring. From the opening sequence that reminds us of Batman’s origin it is clearly evident that we are watching a Zack Snyder movie thanks to operatic music and overkill on slow motion graphics. There are seven live-action Batman movies in existence (eight if your’re counting this), not to mention countless animated films, television shows, and video games. Do we really need a long opening montage to remind us of the hero’s origin? Things like this coupled with some dragging scenes regarding Lois Lane researching a stray bullet, could’ve been noticeably shortened or cut to make the film less than three hours and make it feel less sluggish. The movie attempts to break the dragging tone with Jesse Eisenberg’s quirky portrayal of Lex Luthor, which mostly misses with the exception of one or two really riveting moments.

But pacing isn’t the biggest problem with the movie. My biggest gripe is the one fans and casual movie goers will likely have as opposed to film critics, and that is the relative false advertising. Instead of calling the movie Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, it should be called “The Philosophy of Superman’s Existence… featuring Batman… with a few Justice League Cameos”. Instead of focusing on the conflicting nature of the two iconic heroes and highlighting their greatest strengths and flaws, the movie meanders through its first half while wallowing in its own philosophical ideals. Sure, several excellent points are raised thanks to some great quotes from Holly Hunter’s Senator Finch and some solid banter between Clark Kent and his boss, Perry White (Laurence Fishburne), but that’s not what the studio spent two years marketing to potential audiences.

We were told that it would be, as Lex Luthor puts it, “God vs. Man. Day vs. Night. Son of Krypton vs. Bat of Gotham”. Yet, when the fight finally does come around, it goes by too fast and its set up seems so forced that the film could almost exist without it altogether. And because of that, even though the last act is full of eye popping action, it seems so thrown together that it isn’t quite enough to justify the weight of the buildup.

It isn’t quite fair to compare this film, or any DC film, to what Marvel has built. DC is attempting a more serious tone to establish a unique feel and there is nothing wrong with that. But if you’re going to be gloomy, wake us up here and there with some action (ala Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy). And if you’re going to have action, give it more purpose. Otherwise you end up with a film like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a movie so hell bent on being thought provokingly serious that it doesn’t stop to appreciate its iconic heroes and revel in the fact that we’re watching a fantasy. There are some great shoutouts to classic DC Comics and the hints at things to come should give purists hope for DC’s cinematic future. But a movie featuring arguably the most popular superheroes of all time deserves better than sub-par.

FINAL GRADE: C-

Gone Girl Review

Gone_Girl_Poster A horror movie came out this weekend. No, I’m not talking about Annabelle. I’m talking about David Fincher’s Gone Girl… a movie about how truly petrifying marriage cane be. This movie, much like last year’s haunting Prisoners, tells a very intricate story that can best be summed up as half murder mystery, half thriller.

The centerpiece is “Amazing” Amy (Rosamund Pike), so named because she is the inspiration for her snooty parents’ wildly successful set of children’s books. Amy is swept off of her feet by charming, laid-back everyman, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck). They are head over heels in love and get happily married. Years later, on their fifth anniversary of marriage, Nick goes home to find that his wife has disappeared.

As mentioned, the first half of the film is a compelling murder mystery where we are mainly spent wondering how, why, and most importantly, if Nick killed his wife. The tone is dreary and the soundtrack is perfect, but what truly sets this film apart is it’s narrative. There have been non-linear murder mystery’s before, but few manage to toy with the audience like Fincher (Panic Room, Benjamin Button, The Social Network) does with this film. We mainly follow Nick, who seems as genuinely confused by the events as everyone else, but because he doesn’t seem as saddened or concerned, the police detective charged with the case (Kim Dickens), the media, and we the audience, are left to draw conclusions based on three things: The evidence we are allowed to know, Nick’s numerous character flaws, and Amy’s own narrative via her diary. But like any murder mystery, it is never as simple as it seems.

Untrustworthy narratives, coupled with numerous twists and turns, make the second half of the film an absolute thriller. Once we know what really happened, it then becomes a cat and mouse game to discover who can better prove their innocence. Some twists you may see coming, but whether you can foresee it or not won’t take away from how eerie the whole situation is.

An absolutely stellar cast also manages to keep our interest in this nearly three hour film. Affleck is perfect as the everyman who just wants people to hear his side of the story before he is judged. Rosamund Pike plays her best role ever as the exceedingly cerebral Amy. Together, their characters are the epitome of every wife’s fear in a husband, and every husband’s fear in a wife. Surprisingly, Tyler Perry is also absolutely infectious in his role as Affleck’s Johnnie Cochrane-like lawyer.

The length of the film might get to you. We can’t all handle lengthy films, but the story and more importantly, the way it’s told should be enough to keep you interested. No movie I’ve ever seen does a better job at convincing an audience that there are always two sides to every story. And by the time the film comes to its unsettling end, I guarantee you’ll feel far more horrified than if you’d seen a film about a possessed doll.

FINAL GRADE: A-

Runner Runner Review

What do the 2012 Philadelphia Eagles, the 2012 USC Trojans, and the 2012-2013 Los Angeles Lakers have in common (Pauses for non sports fans to Google)? The answer: They were all teams with talented rosters and immense preseason hype. They are also teams that had a coach fired as a result. That’s because when a team has all of the pieces and everything seems fine on paper, the person who is supposed to put it together cohesively is always the first to take the bulk of the blame when expectations aren’t met. This, my good people, leads me into my review of Runner Runner.

Image

The film has nothing to do with sports, unless you’re like ESPN and consider Poker a sport. It’s actually about a Princeton graduate student (Justin Timberlake) who gets hustled while gambling for college tuition on an online Poker site. He then heads to Costa Rica to meet with the man who runs the internet gaming empire (Ben Affleck) in order to ask for his money back. Pretty sound plan right? Somehow we’re supposed to believe that not only is this plan feasible for a college student who just gambled away all of his money, but that it can happen in a matter of days. Anywho… a half hour of clunky dialogue and rushed character exposition later, Affleck’s Ivan Block offers to make Timberlake’s Richie Furst his new protégé because he had the cojones to take initiative in solving his problem (A word of advice to my strapped for cash college grads… If someone runs an American trade from another country and offers you a job one day after meeting you, you might want to do some company research instead of accepting on the spot… especially when his company just finished scamming you for 17K).

Ignoring thousands of red flags, Furst takes the job and, of course, ends up in a world of violence, racketeering and corruption. Along the way he woos the boss’ girl (because that’s never a bad idea) and gets recruited by a feisty FBI agent. They’re played by Gemma Arterton and Anthony Mackey respectively. Both are fairly good at what they do on screen. She’s seductive. He’s loud, angry and funny. It works well enough.

The movie isn’t horrible… and neither were the aforementioned sports teams… but when a film with a loaded cast and a noble concept fails to hit its mark it just leaves a sour taste in your mouth or creates a void like the feeling you get when you got a small combo, but should’ve ordered a medium. Similar to when a Super Bowl contender goes 4-12, or when a preseason #1 college football team goes 7-6, or when a team with Kobe Bryant barely makes the playoffs… see what I did there.

Director Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer) doesn’t seem to want to take his time to set things up. It’s as if there are several scenes missing that might’ve made everything gel more smoothly. Affleck is the film’s most saving grace. He provides the perfect amount of tongue and cheek wit, bravado with a dash of intimidation, and intelligence to pull off a solid mob boss-like character. It just goes to show you though… good actors plus good premise does not always equal memorable movie. Maybe it would’ve been better served as an HBO mini-series or something?

FINAL GRADE: C+