Saturday, 26 March 2016

Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice (2016) Review: I Think I Hate Superheroes Now

The very first review on this blog is for Zack Snyder's 'Man Of Steel'. In that review, I compared the development of a new 'Star Wars' movie as being just as ambitious as bringing Superman back into the modern cinematic conversation. Not only by himself, but for the purposes of ushering in a new universe of superheroes that included some of the most recognisable comic book characters across the world. While the movie had it's problems, I nevertheless maintained that there was enough groundwork laid to give me hope for where this story could go, and that the mistakes made weren't so grave that they couldn't be rectified, with a little attention to audience feedback.

Oh what precious innocence hath left me today.

For starters, I'll make this review brief. Odds are you're already planning to see the movie called, 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice' (henceforth known as BvS) if for nothing else than to get a glimpse of the titular battle between these two huge counterparts. This review isn't going to stop you and neither should it, your opinion is just as good as any. So this piece of writing isn't for you, it's for me. Therapy is expensive and this is next best way to express my trauma.

#WhoWillWin #WhoCares

Following the events of 'Man of Steel', BvS imagines a world where the events at the end of that film spark the philosophical discussion of Superman's role as a protector. In what I believe is in no doubt a reaction to the reaction of that film, the destruction of Metropolis is depicted as a 9/11 status event. One that completely changes the global conversation. As Clark Kent struggles with his need to do good and the world's perception of him, Bruce Wayne and his uber paranoid self, plots the demise of Superman, as he doesn't trust anyone with all that raw, skyscraper destroying power.

That's just a morsel of the stuff going on in 'BvS'. There's also the subplots of Lois Lane's globetrotting journalism, Clark Kent's newspaper crusade against a now veteran Batman's brutal methodology (Batman brands criminals with a red hot batarang so that they'll be killed in prison), Wonder Woman's attempt to keep her history a secret, Lex Luthor's confusing hate for Superman, and of course, the inclusion of scenes solely for the sake of establishing a wider cinematic universe. If you're sitting thinking to yourself, "Wow it's impressive for a movie to take that much on and still be a coherent comprehensible film with an enjoyable narrative" you'd be dead wrong.

Screenshot from the movie^

The first act of BvS is so painfully rushed. Scenes occur with a sort of cliffhanger ending with lines and character decisions that only confuse rather than entertain. Those scenes are followed by completely different scenes that pretty much follow the same formula. It feels as though either the script was fundamentally flawed or the editor fell asleep and forgot where scenes were supposed to go. Either way, it was not a pleasant viewing experience for much of the movie.

That being said, plot has never interested me as much as characters. I don't really care about the how of a movie, I care about the why. This is what was the most frustrating thing about this movie, and was mostly my problem with 'Man of Steel'. I didn't understand what the motivations were behind these characters. Time and time again the movie will have a line that I think was supposed to be poignant, setting up the characters to make some sort of decision that will have an effect on their arc. Fine. Great. That's how a movie works. The thing it doesn't get is the next step, which is making that decision, so that in the final act I feel as though I understand what these characters are about and I'm invested in their plight.

The final act of this movie is a good one, it's fun, it's exciting, it has really good superhero action. On the face of it. Underneath there's no substance to anything that happens because the characters don't really exist. They sure look like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, but they aren't. I'm not even talking as someone who reads comics. The characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe take liberties with their source material all the time, and I have literally zero problems with characters being changed for their adaptations, in fact, I prefer it (I actually like the neck thing from Man of Steel), but these characters in BvS aren't even established in this movie.

The movie tries to have it both ways. It tries to skate by on the fact that you know these characters from the thing the movie is based on. You know the comics, you know the movies, tv shows, lunch boxes, all that stuff, so it should be easy for you to fill in the blanks. The problem is it also tries to change the characters so much, that what you're left with is the film equivalent to a goddamn mad lib.

And the world's worst script writing tool!

Not to mention, the dialogue in this movie was abominable. You know how in Christopher Nolan Batman movies, and even in the Captain America films, characters will have dialogue about what it means to be a superhero, and it comes across as really powerful. This movie tries for that and it fails almost every time. Everything in the movie feels empty, and when it tried to get me to rally behind it, I was wondering when we got to this point. When did we cross over from set up to pay off, because the lines were pretty damn blurry.

I don't want to keep dogging on the movie since I guess I liked a few things in it. Like I said the action is good if you don't think about why it's happening, and the interaction between Ben Affleck's Batman and Jeremy Irons' Alfred is a high point in the movie. Affleck actually impresses as Batman, if his character made any sense in the movie. Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor was maybe 60% entertaining, 40% annoying. Yeah that's pretty much it.

No joke, this is the first picture that comes up when you google 'Dumb Superman'

There's a line in this movie where Clark Kent is in protest over the kind of newspaper the Daily Planet has become, (a plot that goes nowhere), and thinks that the paper should mean something. Laurence Fishburne's disgruntled Perry White gives him a response akin to the world is different than it was in 1938 and maybe then Clark would have a leg to stand on. 1938 is the year Superman first appeared. I have no doubt this was a jab and people who had a difficulty swallowing the new Superman created in 'Man of Steel' but... What? How does this make sense? The filmmakers are yelling at their own Superman for...wanting to be like the old Superman? Why does...What? Anyway.

That's pretty much how I felt for most of this movie. Like I said, see it or don't. I don't really care. I probably hate movies now. Why even bother. There's an audio review at the bottom. It's got some yelling in it so there's that. Thanks for reading.

Arbitrary Numerical Rating: Q (4/10)

Friday, 18 March 2016

'10 Cloverfield Lane' Review (2016): There Be Monsters

Back in the old days of...2008, there was a little movie called 'Cloverfield'. 'Cloverfield' was a found footage film that told the giant monster movie from a much different perspective. It's heralded today as one of the best movies to use the found footage technique, and an example of how you can take something as familiar as a giant monster movie, and still find a way to make it feel fresh. Putting the audience on the ground with the characters and forsaking grand spectacle for gripping tension sounds so obvious in hindsight, but at the time, it really wasn't done for monster movies.

I thought I wanted Monster Smash: The Movie, what I got was way better.

So, let's say the world did end. Whether it be war, zombie uprising, alien invasion or the mole people (that last one is true), the ideal is to survive right? As human beings our instinct is to survive by any means necessary. This is true for some people more than others though, those who prepare for the end based on their own misplaced paranoia. That person may be prepared, but they're still the type of person to prepare for the world ending without any real reason. That's not a person who I want to be surviving with, that's a person who belongs in a mental institution.

Preferably, one with thick walls and extra padding.

Essentially that's the idea behind 10 Cloverfield Lane. It's a catch 22 of, yes the world outside is dangerous, but now you're stuck with an insane person who thought the world was gonna end for years. John Goodman plays said insane person, Howard, and the people who are stuck with him are main character Michelle, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Emmett, played by John Gallagher Jr. The movie takes place in an underground bunker built by Howard with help by Emmett who unlike Howard is well adjusted socially. Howard is as well adjusted as one might expect a person who builds an underground apocalypse bunker to be.

The setting makes the movie feel extremely claustrophobic, which only adds to the overall tension. There's about 5 minutes in the whole film which aren't uncomfortable. Most of that is due to John Goodman's performance. His character Howard is not just slightly unhinged, he's borderline psychotic. Both Michelle and Emmett are victims of domestic abuse in the film, all the while being told they're being protected. Howard is violent, dismissive, and apathetic to anyone's plight but his own. He is defensive to the idea of his own hostility but immediately accuses anyone who mildly offends him, considering what a great guy he is for saving their lives and all. He's a creep, and he's terrifying, giving Goodman a role of a truly great villain.

An abusive, violent, perverted, psychopath; Also the voice of Sully from Monsters Inc.! :D

Thankfully, the role of Michelle is not that of a damsel in distress. She is a damsel in distress, but not in the general sense. She doesn't wait for anyone to save her, and is similar to that of an Ellen Ripley or a Sarah Connor. She's smart, capable and while she is a victim, the performance of Winstead makes it so that she's not just there for your pity. Every expression on her face has a myriad of thoughts behind it that all point to her skepticism of her "saviour" and of her newfound situation as apocalypse survivor.

What I found most interesting about the film is how it constantly made you question everything. I questioned if the world outside was liveable so that Michelle could escape her abuser. I questioned if Goodman really was a bad guy, or if he just had a temper. It was not a movie that presented you with all the details at once. That meant that the first act of the film had a bit of a lull, but as it went on my interest was piqued. Questioning everything as I did, only put me in the headspace of the characters who weren't sure what to believe themselves. As a survival film, Dan Trachtenberg's work on the short film 'Portal: No Escape' did more than enough to prepare him for this movie. I found his direction to be really solid and tight.

The working title of the movie was 'Paranoia Central'

I really enjoyed this movie. I felt like it was about something beneath the surface, and it's presentation was stellar. It's production design is great, the set feels tiny and works to the films advantage. The movie essentially makes more with less. The three actors you get have enough gravitas between them in their subtle performances to make it feel as weighty as an ensemble. The dialogue is naturalistic which works at it's best when Howard says something in a manner that is extremely disconcerting but the words themselves are completely commonplace. It's a bit obvious at some points, certain plot devices can be seen a mile away and while this isn't so much a novel thing these days but it's especially painful in a movie that was so surprising.

Overall, I liked this film a lot and I'd recommend it as theatre going experience, because being trapped by the feeling of disturbing the other people in a small dark room is just the environment to see this mind f**k of a movie.

Thanks for reading and if you liked this, I also host a podcast about movies. In preparation of Batman v. Superman we've been looking at the movies of both those characters. Here's the Batman episode:

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

'Zootopia' Review (2016): Animals Are Racist Too

In my review for Godzilla, I mentioned how Science Fiction movies have a tendency to be allegorical. The bright lights and cool sounds of a sci-fi movie are like the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine of real world issues go down. The same principle applies to animated movies, except sci-fi tends has a broader audience. Sci-fi movies are treated like the kids movies for people who consider themselves too old for kids movies. Animated movies are just kids movies. As such there's a much more delicate act in making a movie with an underlying message, since the people you're trying to reach are kids who unfortunately get bombarded with dreck like The Minions movie. Every once in awhile though, a movie like Zootopia comes along and reminds you that not only can animated movies do teach you something, but it's so important when they do.

'Zootopia' is a movie that takes place in an alternate universe from our own. One devoid of humans but still containing human inventions like the iPhone. Imagine a world where animals evolved to have the intelligence necessary to develop a society in which lions, tigers and bears could coexist with creatures formerly known as their prey. Such a place would be something of a zoological utopia.

"Ooooooh" - Said the moron (me)

The main character of the film is a bunny called Judy Hopps, played by Ginnifer Goodwin. Judy comes from a family of carrot farmers (get it?) who has big dreams of becoming the first ever rabbit police officer in the big city known as 'Zootopia'. She tops her class, gets the job, but when she's tasked with being a lowly meter maid, she realises she might've been a little idealistic. When Judy gets wind of a recent wave of kidnappings throughout the city, she gets the chance to prove to the world and herself, that there's more to her than meets the eye.

Justice has a new face. And it's adorable.

'Zootopia' is not a novel idea. It takes animals, anthropomorphizes them and juxtaposes their known instinctive behaviour against their assigned human roles for the sake of comedy. It's been done in Madagascar, and the society that's literally gone to the dogs has been seen in Bug's Life. The strength of 'Zootopia' is not in its originality but rather what it does with an already familiar idea. Where previous versions have lightly rapped on the door, 'Zootopia' kicks it wide open.

The story of the film is not a revelation either. Judy teams up with a fox called Nick Wilde, played by an out of character Jason Bateman, as a local conman. The movie becomes pretty much a buddy cop film. She goes by the book, he's never even read it. Along the way you meet the staple stand ins like the angry captain, played by Idris Elba, the corrupt mayor Lionheart, played by JK Simmons, and of course the one who you know is the villain the first time they're on screen. As someone who knows the genre well, it wasn't exactly full of surprises but it was still fun to pick out the cliches.

Those cliche standings aren't eye roll inducing and work well especially in the context of the movie. See, 'Zootopia' has some well done world building. Just as today there exist prejudices based on centuries of human history, so too would there be in a world where animals literally used to eat each other. Sure you're taught that you're not supposed to be afraid of bears because what are you, a racist? Still, fear and instinct dictate that when the squirrel walks down the street, and the fox is headed in the opposite direction on the same street, the squirrel gets out the foxes way.

The furriest film you'll ever see talking about institutionalized prejudice. 

It's the type of meaningful conversation that surprises you once you realise you're having it. On it's surface Zootopia seems to be just another animated movie with talking animals but almost immediately, you realise the content is way more mature than it seems to be. After seeing Inside Out I didn't think I would be blindsided by a movies impactful message and stellar delivery again for a long time, at least not at that level. While I won't say that Zootopia is quite as good as 'Inside Out', it nevertheless hit those notes really well, and puts itself at least in the same ball park.

As far as comedy goes, 'Zootopia' is not the type of movie where you'll have a laugh a minute. It's about as funny as a regular murder mystery which gets its humour from the back and forth of its leads. There's of course the humour I mentioned that's par for the course with talking animal movies, but it's used in sparing quantities. The movie though never becomes too dark. It's one of those cartoon films that is filled with substance but goes down easy like a light snack.

'Zootopia' is a really well made film. It's character work is great, the voice work is absolutely stellar, and the creativity is about as apparent as it was in 'Inside Out' or anything that's expected from truly great animation. It feels like the creators decided to take an idea and have fun with it in that true "It's animated we can do literally anything" fashion. It's still early but 'Zootopia' is actually one of the best films I've seen this year and I'm excited for more people to see it.

A.N.R = 9/10

Thanks for reading and if you liked this review or didn't, please let me know. I am completely desperate to know if there is anyone reading this. I also have a podcast where we discuss a different type of movie every Sunday. This week, we'll be talking about Batman. Here's a recent episode we did where we talked about the movies that deal with the issues of prejudice, particularly those against people of African descent. If it makes you more comfortable you can pretend we were talking about bunnies like in 'Zootopia':

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Impertinent Perception #4: Your Favourite IS Good Enough

When I was younger, I always found myself on the outskirts of regular social gatherings. So many of my friends seemed to be in on something that I simply wasn't. It was almost as if I were speaking another language and no matter my attempts, I couldn't decipher the code. I've realised since that everyone feels that way at some point, and at varying degrees of intensity, but they still feel it. The hope is that you eventually get comfortable enough in your own skin that you don't really need to decipher the code. Pretty soon after that, you relax and speaking the language gets a little easier. That's the idea anyway.

For a person who writes a blog about movies, it was actually film and other entertainment that was the hardest to relate to. So many people my age were into things that I completely did not get. Try having a conversation about 'The Godfather' with someone who just got back from seeing 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen' 3 times. When I was listening to Bob Dylan, they were rocking Lil Wayne. Even contemporary things I couldn't find others who I could relate to. While I was getting 'Lost' others were 'Keeping Up With The Kardashians'. Of course, that's not to say any of those things, were inferior to my choices. 

That's what's really at the heart of this article. Last week Sunday the Oscars were on, and while I watch every year for the ceremony, the host and the antics of hilariously unprepared award presenters, I don't hold 'Academy Awards' to a particularly high regard. The name alone inspires absolute credulity. Why would you care about what an "academy" says about a movie? That's like having someone dictate what's worth your attention and favour. Yes, I write movie reviews which give my take on a movie, but it's entirely my take, never to be taken as a dictation. My favourite thing in the world is to hear someone else's opinion on something. It's incredibly more valuable to me since it's something I don't already have. 

So many people were outraged at the nominations alone when they were announced in January, and of those nominations, so many were outraged at the eventual winners. That outrage comes from the innate response that people have when they feel that their view is discounted. I call this blog Impertinent Perceptions because I know that in the larger scheme of things, my view isn't important to many people, but it is mine, and I'm proud of it. Your opinions don't have to matter to other people, and you shouldn't think it has less value because it fails to receive external recognition.

There's an exclusivist mentality when it comes to entertainment, largely because, everyone wants to be in on something. I did, but at a certain point, I realised that it was okay to like the things that I liked. In this age of mass communication it's easier to find people that liked them as well.  I noticed that there was even something special about liking this thing that no one knew about. Not from a sense of hipster superiority, but because I had something I could share with others. Sure they might look at me weird if I started talking about the new strange thing they'd never heard of, but at the end of the day, I wasn't bothered if they didn't get it. So I stopped being bothered when I didn't get their stuff. 

What I'm saying is, there's no grand council that decrees group A of movies as good and group B of movies as bad. Everything subjective will always be more valuable than a false objective. If you like that thing you like, then go ahead and like it. Chances are they're making a movie about it one day. Then when other people start liking it, try not to be a tool and act like you're better than them for knowing about it first. That just perpetuates the behaviour and only creates a situation for insecurity and inferiority. The best way to go about it is to be secure in the things you like, while still being open to new things around the corner, and allowing others the chance to do the same to you. In my judgement anyway.

Thanks for reading and if you liked this article, or hated it, you can leave me a comment. I also did a podcast this week where we discussed those pesky academy awards and showed how very wrong our choices were, and you can listen to that here: