Archive | March, 2016

Batman v Superman: the Dawn of Justice

25 Mar

Who knew Gotham and Metropolis were right across the bay from each other? Sort of like St. Louis and Kansas City, but each with their own superhero in the middle of a massive PR crisis. Over in Gotham, Batman’s been tagged as an unchecked vigilante; Superman has his own Senate committee to review his activities, newly minted as a reckless god because of the hundreds of innocents crushed in the streets as collateral damage from taking out General Zod as the two Kryptonians blasted each other through one skyscraping façade after the next in 2013’s “Man of Steel.” The scene evokes uncomfortably eerie images of 9/11. One such building laid to waste happens to be the Wayne Tower, workplace of many close associates of Batman alter ego Bruce Wayne – a catalyst for the titular grudge match of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.”

032416i Batman v Superman- Dawn of JusticeZack Snyder, the hyperkinetic visual stylist who’s crafted such over-the-top spectacles as “300” and “Sucker Punch” but also demonstrated nuanced restraint with the highly underappreciated “Watchmen,” winds up in no man’s land with epic aspirations as he grandiloquently pits the two classic comic book giants against each other.

When it comes to screen time, or quality of screen time, Batman wins the battle hands down. Early on we flash back to a young Bruce Wayne losing his parents in an alleyway just after seeing a showing of “Excalibur.” The scene’s been done several times over (by Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan, recently) besides the choice of movie, and if Snyder’s going to go that far he should have taken a cue from that film and its masterful director, John Boorman, that movies, even those fueled by fantasy and beings beyond man, are driven by character development and plot integrity. Cool stunts and grandiose FX surely wow and awe, but they’re like a giant bag of M&Ms: Eventually it all just becomes mush.

Cambridge’s own Ben Affleck, an inherently stiff performer, slips into Bruce Wayne’s tux and Batman’s cowl with convincing ease. Henry Cavill, on the other hand, a perfect human specimen in his own right, is grounded by tedious perfection. Sure he gets to zip around and level malevolents as Superman, but there’s no edge to it, and when in civilian duds as Clark Kent, he spends most of his time cuddling up to Lois Lane (Amy Adams), a woman of intrepid integrity and carnal knowledge. There’s not much fire there either, but occasionally, when challenged on topics by his editor at the Daily Planet (his boss wants more on the last football game between Metropolis and Gotham than the recent crime wave Clark’s interested in) he stands up for journalistic integrity. Perhaps this Clark should have been in “Spotlight” – it’s the most alive the ubermensch hiding inside a nerd’s skin becomes. The tortured soul whose bitterness endears belongs to The Bat and his alter-ego, further blessed with a snarky but sincere rendition of Alfred the butler by Jeremy Irons, surely far more fun at a party than Ms. Lane.  Continue reading

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Eye in the Sky

18 Mar

Gavin Hood’s Eye in the Sky is a taut, real-time thriller that gets at the complex politics of drone warfare as agents on opposite sides of the ocean debate what is and is not acceptable collateral damage given a time-sensitive strike against a terrorist cell. Best known for the Academy Award-winning, South African gang tale Tsotsi, Hood and his writer Guy Hibbert create something that’s both intricate and delicate. Ultimately, Eye in the Sky is best described as a fusion of a staged play and spy thriller.

The action takes place in four locations around the globe, with the focus being a terrorist hotbed in Nairobi where a Western convert masterminds the next wave of bloody disruption. In a dark and cavernous military post somewhere in England, Col. Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) oversees Operation Egret, an effort to extract a young Englishwoman (Lex King) who has joined the Al-Shabaab terrorist group. Elsewhere, Kenyan Special Forces on the ground sit on the ready to move in as a drone — piloted by U.S. serviceman Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) from a cramped military facility in the vast Nevada desert — watches from above. The Brits and Kenyans hang onto Watts’s feed while an indigenous informant (Barkhad Abdi) maintains street-level surveillance with short-range animatronic drones launched from a parked van.

It’s a basic nab-and-grab gig until the target leaves the house in a shroud so they can’t get a positive ID and moves to a well-guarded compound akin to the one Osama bin Laden was taken in. Soon, a larger plot to bomb a public marketplace emerges and the focus of the mission switches from a capture to a kill operation. Continue reading

Knight of Cups

8 Mar

MOVIES  |  REVIEWS

<i>Knight of Cups</i>

The haunting, transcendent etherealness of Terrence Malick that we take for granted these days is something we nearly never got to know. Back in 1973 Malick’s true-crime debut Bad Lands , while stunning to behold and brilliantly composed, lacked the dreamy voiceovers and the lingering meditations on nature we’ve come to expect from the famously reclusive director. It wasn’t until Days of Heaven in 1978 that Malick started to experiment and fully express these now signature filaments of filmmaking. Then, as Malick laid out his next few projects (one calledQ that concerned origins of the universe and man’s place in it and would ultimately become The Tree of Life), he ran into varying degrees of conflict with the studio and retreated into a self-imposed 20-year hiatus (in Paris), before returning to the screen with The Thin Red Line, the auteur’s contemplation on man and war based on James Jones’s account of the U.S. campaign in the South Pacific during the Second World War.

Since then, Malick has released four movies, all artfully imbued with discovery and revelation. The first two, The New World and arguably his magnum opus, The Tree of Life, take place in unique temporal settings and deal with larger cultural and philosophical themes. Comparably, his latest, and 2012’s To the Wonder, are rooted in the material inward now. As a result, neither resonate with quite the provocative soulfulness of the director’s prior works. Malick’s newest,Knight of Cups, begins with Ben Kingsley reciting The Pilgrim’s Progress as we get heavenly imagery of the aurora borealis from a celestial high before we settle in on a distant-looking Christian Bale rooted in the glitzy concrete jungle of Los Angeles as the venerable Brian Dennehy voices over the titular tale of a knight, who on a quest, succumbs to a sleep potion. This makes sense as Bale’s Rick is a screenwriter on the cusp of his biggest payday, though he’s in a creative funk and spends most of his days dallying with one lithesome body (or bodies) after the next. The title, too, is a reference to the tarot card, which when right side up connotes the bringer of ideas (hey, that must be the screenwriter) but when upside down (as the movie’s poster shows Bale) implies false promises and chicanery—but who is fooling whom?

With so much at his feet, Rick’s not a settled man. He’s searching, for what we don’t exactly know as he descends into strip clubs and casinos to work it out. It’s a pretty thin and decadent existence, though in flashback we learn that Rick was married to a smart, unpretentious doctor (Cate Blanchett) who tends to hardship cases from the inner city. (Their marriage is doomed just by the topography of their clientele alone.) We then bump into Rick’s brother (Wes Bentley, who never seems to age) full of spit and their dad (Dennehy) pushing the blame back and forth for the demise of a third brother. This is about as close as the film gets to registering a palpable human heart. There’s also the dilemma with a married woman (Natalie Portman) who becomes pregnant and unsure as to whom the father is. Occasionally, one get a sincere sense of yearning and a glimmer of happiness, but it’s so brief and ephemeral, it’s gone before the viewer can really engage with the emotional complexity of it all. Continue reading