Saturday, March 26, 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Movie Review

Written by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer
Directed by Zack Snyder

First thing I’ll say here is that the critics have bashed this movie left, right, up, down, and diagonally, but it’s far better than Man of Steel, which is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.

Did I hate Batman v Superman?  No.  I actually enjoyed parts of it.  Did I love it?  No.  The vast majority of it doesn’t work on a basic story level.

The good: Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.  She’s not in the movie much, but she’s damn fine as Wonder Woman.  Not only is she gorgeous, but she makes you believe her.  So I’m looking forward to seeing the Wonder Woman movie.  I predict it will be excellent.  Why?  Because as I type this, only one writer has credit for the script (always a good sign), and because Patty Jenkins is directing (she directed Monster).

The good continued: Ben Affleck as Batman.  Affleck plays Batman in the dark Frank Miller sense, and Batman takes a page from the Punisher’s playbook in this mess.  According to IMDb, Affleck will star in, direct, and co-write a new Batman solo flick.  That one will likely kick ass.

Henry Cavill does fine as Superman.  Actually, most of the acting is decent considering the material.  It can’t be easy to deliver some of the truly horrible dialogue, but the actors carry most of it off well enough that you just remind yourself it’s a comic book movie and you’re fine.

On the acting front, Jesse Eisenberg, who was terrific in The Social Network, was horribly miscast as Lex Luthor.  I suspect he showed up, did as he was told, collected his paycheck and went home with enough money that he can say no to a lot of crappy scripts and find something he really wants to do instead.

I haven’t read the screenplay, and I have no idea who rewrote whom here, but I suspect the good parts were written by Chris Terrio and the awful parts were written by David S. Goyer.  Why do I say that?  Because Terrio wrote Argo on his own, and it was terrific, while David S. Goyer is the sole screenwriter on the ultimate piece of shit movie Man of Steel, which I hate more than any other movie I’ve ever seen.  That movie sucked big green donkey dicks and then expected you to suck them too.  Goyer has done good work in the past (the first Blade movie, Dark City, Batman Begins), so he does have talent.  Maybe it’s Superman that makes him turn out clunker lines and moronic plots.

Zack Snyder’s directing here leaves a lot to be desired.  I’m not sure if they shot a six hour movie and had to edit it down to three hours so important pieces are missing or what.  The film needs connective tissue to get the story to unfold in any reasonable way.  Then again, what story there is in this flick is beyond stupid.  Batman hates Superman because Superman killed a lot of people in his battle with Kryptonians at the end of that aforementioned piece of shit Man of Steel, which is still and probably always will be the worst movie I’ve ever had inflicted on me.  Yes, I need to get in touch with my feelings about that stupid flick.  Superman hates Batman because Batman brands criminals with a bat.  After a long time with all sorts of things happening that don’t really amount to much, Superman and Batman are forced to fight, and Batman has some Kryptonite so he isn’t just squashed right off the bat (sorry).  I’m going to give a spoiler here, but you can read it and you’ll think I’m pulling your chain, but this is actually a major plot point.  Batman forgets all about hating Superman and decides they’re going to be best buddies because … are you ready for this? … their mothers are both named Martha.  I shit you not.  If Superman’s foster mother had been named Brenda, all bets would be off.  This is the level of motivation used in this movie.  Aww, isn’t that cute?  It’s all good, Supes.  I’ll save your Martha.

One of the big problems with movies like this, and most action movies shot by Hollywood directors, is that the action tends to be shot in close-up and edited together so you can’t see what the fuck is going on.  Hollywood, please rent some Jackie Chan Hong Kong movies.  Look at the Police Story movies or the Project A movies or the Armour of God movies or Drunken Master II, or damn near anything Jackie does in Hong Kong.  Notice that the action is shot with the camera back far enough that you can actually see what’s happening?  Get away from the cut, cut, cut, cut, cut and just let the camera roll.  Pan along a bit, and keep the action in the damn frame!

Okay, I went into this movie with extremely low expectations.  After all, the trailers made the movie look truly awful.  I had no interest in seeing it.  But then some fanboys geeked out over how much they loved it, and I decided to review some movies so I’d have something to post on my blog.  On top of that, I have MoviePass, which means it didn’t cost me anything extra to see this (other than my time, which probably would have been better spent working on my latest novel).

So the critics have slammed it, but a lot of comic book people will still enjoy it.  This movie is critic-proof.  Here’s the deal, if you don’t mind comic book movies that are dark and without intentional humor, and you don’t mind turning off your brain enough to accept that no matter where Superman is, he will instantly appear when Lois Lane gets tossed off a building, and if you don’t mind that the main villain, well, sorta the main villain, has zero motivation, but likes to talk a lot and gets people to give him things like crashed spaceships in exchange for cherry Jolly Ranchers (I am not making that up), and if you don’t mind scenes played out in odd order and without any narrative flow, you might enjoy this movie more than I did.  And if you can read that sentence in one breath quickly and in Jesse Eisenberg’s voice, you’re all set.

I feel like I should give this movie an F or maybe a D-, but I liked Affleck, and Gal Gadot is terrific, and it wasn’t as bad as Man of Steel, the worst movie of the century.  So I’ll give it a C-.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

London Has Fallen Movie Review

Written by Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt, and Christian Gudegast and Chad St. John
Directed by Babak Najafi

The Prime Minister dies after a routine surgery and the world leaders must attend his funeral in London, so you know terrorists are going to have magically infiltrated everyplace so they can kill all the leaders except the US President (Aaron Eckhart), who is being protected by Mike Banning (Gerard Butler).  Man, if only the terrorists had seen Olympus Has Fallen, the first movie where Mike Banning saved the president, they might have had second thoughts about going ahead with their silly plan.

All right, first of all, this movie is beyond stupid.  There is pretty much nothing believable anywhere in the film, and whenever they can, they go for the cliché instead of trying for anything new or different.  Sample dialogue:

“There are a hundred terrorists in that building!”
Mike Banning nods.  “They should have brought more men.”

At the beginning of the film, I saw the long list of writers with the writing team of Creighton & Benedikt getting a story by credit plus a screenplay credit before the AND Gudegast AND St. John, and I knew the movie was probably going to suck balls.

Explanation time for those who don’t know how Hollywood works.  When you see the ampersand—that’s the & symbol—you know those two writers worked together on the script.  They collaborated and pounded out story points and character arcs and callbacks and set pieces to build and deliver the action, story, and emotion as best they could.  When you see the word AND spelled out, it means that the next writer took the script and reworked it.  In order to get a screen credit, they have to add a certain percentage of new material.  Note that this movie had a collaborative team (the authors who wrote the original Olympus Has Fallen and created the main characters) and then the producers or director (or both) hired another writer to rewrite the script and then they hired yet another writer to rewrite the script.  Odds are, other writers worked on it too, but didn’t make enough changes to get a screen credit.  There’s more money when you get a screen credit, so as a writer you really want that.  Consequently, you’ll make changes that don’t need to be there in order to get the extra pay. 

Screenwriter Chuck Pfarrer said (and I’ll have to paraphrase here because it was during an interview I did with him years ago), “There’s a point where your ethics become soluble in hundred dollar bills.”  He was talking about taking a job to rewrite Barb Wire.  Don’t judge Chuck by that cinematic gem, or by his work on other movies (Hard Target, Navy SEALS, The Jackal, etc.).  If you want a great book by Chuck, definitely read Warrior Soul, his memoir about his time as a Navy SEAL; that one is outstanding. 

In any case, when multiple writers rewrite one another, it’s not about story anymore.  So the original team works to get a layered script, and others come in and screw it up or perhaps fix it and let someone else screw it up or maybe they all screwed the pooch.  It’s nearly impossible to say, but too many writers normally means you’ve got a bad movie on the way.  It’s rare when you get something decent after seeing multiple ANDs in the writing credits.

I may be off the mark here, but I suspect a lot of the set up was by the original writing team.  There are a lot of players introduced, and we get their names and positions displayed on the lower third of the screen so we can hopefully keep track of the various characters we’ll see throughout the film.  Only we don’t really see most of them throughout the film, so you won’t need that scorecard.  Some are killed off because they’re world leaders.  Some are simply forgotten because the other writers couldn’t be bothered with them.  Why not cut them altogether?  Maybe they were rewriting the script as they went.  It wouldn’t surprise me.  The only name you’ll really need to remember is Mike Banning.

What surprised me is that I was able to turn off my brain enough to enjoy the movie more than I should have.  It wasn’t the writing, which was pretty bad, and layered cliché on top of cliché from the stay-at-home pregnant wife of Mike Banning to the piss-poor security where policemen and palace guards are easily infiltrated without anyone noticing before the bullets start flying to the brave black woman who dies a noble death, though it meant nothing, and I hope Angela Bassett got a big paycheck and didn’t have to spend much time on set.  She deserves better roles.

So by all rights, I should have hated the movie.  Yet, I sat through the whole thing.  I suspect it has something to do with the way Gerard Butler played his role.  He’s like the Ultimate Bad Ass American who will throw one-liners out there like Arnold Schwarzenegger did back in the 80s.  In so many ways, this was an Arnold movie without Arnold.

After Mike Banning kills a bad guy, the president says, “Was that necessary?”  Banning grins and says, “No.” 

Mike Banning banned bullets from hitting him, knives from cutting him, bad guys from getting him, bombs from blowing him up, helicopter crashes from injuring him, car wrecks from slowing him down except at the point where the bad guys need to be able to take the president hostage so Banning can go save him against all odds, and go it alone in spite of having a Delta team there with him.  No, this is a job for one guy.  You guys stay back here and press this button when I tell you to.  I’ve got this.  I’m Mike Banning, after all.  I am not kidding.

Mike Banning gets shit done.  See Mike Banning kill terrorists.  See Mike Banning jump out of the way so terrorists kill each other.  See Mike Banning arrive in the nick of time to save the president from being beheaded.  Bad guys ought to just shoot themselves to save Mike Banning the hassle of killing them.

Go, Mike, Go!
Kill, Mike, Kill!
See Mike Kill!

Taken on that level, the movie is actually kinda fun.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s still godawful, but it’s so bad it’s almost good in spite of itself.

A few years from now, if this movie is remembered at all, people will be doing drinking games to this movie.  Take a drink each time a worn-out cliché rears its head.  Take a drink each time a normal guy would have been killed.  Take a drink each time Mike Banning should have reloaded his guns (Mike Banning has banned guns from running out of bullets until he’s ready to eject a magazine and slap a new one home in dramatic fashion).  I saw Olympus Has Fallen when it came out, and I’d completely forgotten about it until I looked up this movie’s credits for this review and saw it was a sequel.  Based on that, maybe the drinking game won’t happen.

This movie should probably get an F for being stupid and illogical.  However, it embraces every cliché and doesn’t care if it disappoints people who might want a bit of nuance.  There are remnants of a deeper story here and there—the initial drone strike that opens the movie kills lots of innocent people, but when the USA causes collateral damage, that’s okay because we’re the good guys.  When the other side causes collateral damage, they’re terrorists.  I suspect there’s a more interesting draft of the script that explored that.  There are occasional nods, such as the mention that the terrorists aren’t specifically targeting civilians.  That movie would have given us a better story.

In spite of that, I have to say that on the level the movie wants to be taken, it delivers.  Does it matter that the CGI helicopters look like they were taken from a Tom Clancy video game?  Not really.  Does it matter that the movie will probably offend everyone outside the USA?  Maybe—after all, action movies often make more internationally than domestically.  London Has Fallen is pure pro-USA: one bad ass secret service agent is better than a hundred terrorists.  Outgunned, yes, but Mike Banning has banned reality from intruding on his action fantasy.

On that level, I have to give it a C.  Your mileage will vary.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Gods of Egypt Movie Review

Written by Matt Sazama & Burk Sharpless
Directed by Alex Proyas

My first thought was that the movie was loud.  I don’t mind loud, so for me that’s not a negative, but for some people that is a consideration.

Visually, the movie is spectacular and awful at different points.  Sometimes the CGI was terrific, and other times it looked like a bad video game.  I get bored when things turn from live action to cartoon characters fighting each other.

If you want to see beautiful women, Elodie Yung (who shines as Elektra in season two of Daredevil) and Courtney Eaton (Mad Max: Fury Road) are both easy on the eyes. 

Some of the action is well done, and some of it fell flat due to repetition.  I didn’t hate this movie, but I didn’t like it enough either.  That’s the problem. 

Spectacle simply does not replace story, and for the story to work, we need to care about the characters.  When you don’t care about the characters, all sorts of other demons raise their little heads.  The geography of Egypt is wrong in the movie, they use a telescope, which unless ancient aliens brought to them they would not have had, and it felt like a paint-by-number flick with next to no thought applied at any point.  There were a few amusing moments, just not enough to recommend the movie, and they were a bit off key with the rest of the film.  I went in with low expectations, and those expectations were just low enough that I sat through the entire movie.

My favorite actor in the film was Chadwick Boseman.  He played Thoth, and did a great job.  I loved his work in 42, and I can’t wait to see him as Black Panther.  Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (best known as Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones, and who was terrific in Headhunters) did fine as Horus, but Gerard Butler chewed the scenery playing bad boy Set with one-note, “I’m evil and I’m evil on purpose, oh, and I’m also evil.”  Brenton Thwaits as Bek seemed to think he was in a much different movie.  He looked to be having a lot of fun almost getting killed here, there, and everywhere.  Geoffrey Rush looked embarrassed to be there.

I haven’t read the script, so it’s likely that the story was stronger on the page.  Producers tend to dip their fingers into movies without understanding story, and the interference often increases with the budget of the film.  I’ve had a couple of screenplays optioned.  With one, the producers were mostly in tune with the story so most of the changes made sense, and I felt the script was better for their input.  The other script had notes that made me scratch my head, and I didn’t mind when the option lapsed and I didn’t have to make the changes.  Writers are often blamed for bad movies, but it’s important to note that nobody sets out to make a bad film, and without writers, nobody has a job.  So in most cases, the original script was solid.  Was that the case with Gods of Egypt?  I don’t know, but I’m willing to give the writers the benefit of the doubt.

Rating C-  because there were a few things I liked, but I can’t really recommend you spend your hard-earned cash to see it.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Movie Review

Written by Robert Carlock
Based on the book: The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Kim Barker, which you can buy in paperback on Amazon or  B&N or as an ebook from Amazon, B&N, or Kobo
Directed by Glenn Ficara & John Requa
Starring Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton, Alfred Molina, Christopher Abbott, etc.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, as you’re no doubt aware, translates from the military alphabet as WTF.

This was a good film, and it’s worth seeing.  You’d expect that a Tina Fey movie would be more of a comedy, and while there are certainly funny parts, the film goes deeper than that into the effects of war and the adrenaline addiction soldiers and even wartime reporters experience.  Tina Fey plays Kim Baker (shortened from Barker for some reason), a reporter in a dead-end job with a boring boyfriend and no future.  She accepts an assignment in Afghanistan, and the film covers her experience there from 2003-2006.

Tina Fey is terrific in this role.  Margot Robbie, fresh off of Focus, does a good job as well.  My favorite, however, is Billy Bob Thornton because with very little screen time steals the show every time he’s on camera.  This is a movie with something to say, and while I felt a few parts of it were a bit heavy-handed, I was fine with it.

Definitely worth watching.

Grade: B+