Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Sad Batman is Sad

I’ve been a defender of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. Despite the issues I have with it (the terrible color correction, the insane death of Jonathan Kent, etc.), I thought it made the best of some source material that I always found questionable, aka forcing a Xerox of Batman’s spirit quest around the world into his mythology. I guess I was so relieved to finally have a Superman movie without an awful, over-the-top bumbling Clark Kent performance, a nonsense Luthor scheme, fluctuating powers that defy the movie’s internal logic, bastard kids or a thoroughly dislikable Lois Lane that I could overlook the flaws. After all, despite the bleakness, there’s promise in the film. Clark has finished a costly first battle and is in a position to use that sacrifice to learn and be the hero he should be. He can take his actions from Man of Steel and build on them, vowing to never take another life. Though unlike all the people who apparently have forgotten both the comics and the ending of their beloved Superman II, I had no problem with Clark killing Zod, seeing as how he’s the one character Superman has ever knowingly offed.

The question was, would the sequel build on that promise, or would it double down on the unique problems this take brought to the franchise? All of the marketing material seemed to indicate this would not so much be a Superman sequel as either a proto-Justice League movie or a jumping off point to a Frank Miller Batman franchise, none of which sounded particularly appealing. Unfortunately, this is largely correct. Superman seems like an also-ran in his own film for the most part.

After a strangely gripping prologue that gives a street level view of the devastation wrought by the battle between Clark and Zod in Man of Steel, the film settles in for an hour or so, spending a lot of time introducing us to this version of Batman, who follows the natural through line from Burton to Nolan to Snyder, finally adopting a fully-functional Dark Knight Returns-style Batman who is equal parts psychotic and broken. An impotent man who takes out his fury by torturing criminals and not especially caring if people die in his pursuit of self-serving justice. It’s certainly not my favorite style of Batman (I skew much farther towards the Denny O’Neil-style well-rounded version) but much as certain fanboys may deny it, this version of Batman is what many of them have been angling for.  Be careful what you wish for.

Meanwhile, we see Superman performing many acts of heroism, saving people around the world from disasters, intercut with footage of a world who doesn’t know how to react to him or trust him. It’s not so much a bad portrayal of Kal-El, but it certainly does create a morose environment surrounding him. After much sturm and drang, this overall paranoia leads to the confrontation of the title. To reveal much more would be to give away the mechanics of the plot, but it is fair to point out the much touted appearances by other Justice League members don’t just feel distracting, but actually lower the excitement over Warners’ plans for their characters.

The good news is that while the film is full of bad ideas, the ideas are filmed and acted competently. The bad news is that competence doesn’t fix bad ideas, it simply makes them go down easier. Make no mistake; there are some things to enjoy in the film which make it still worth seeing. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman does great things with her limited screentime. Gadot herself, apart from seeming to have trouble getting her Israeli accent around some of the overinflated dialogue, is a wonderful physical actress. Jeremy Irons’ Alfred manages to be an absolutely necessary source of humor in an otherwise dour affair. The majority of the acting is fine, even Ben Affleck’s, though he comes up short selling Batman’s character arc and revelation moment. The major exception is Jessie Eisenberg who seems to be edited in from a completely different film. While I’ve never been a fan of the way Luthor has been used in the Superman films, it’s quite a shock to go from the intelligent menace of Kevin Spacey’s portrayal to Eisenberg’s collection of tics and vocal contortions masquerading as a performance. He plays Lex Luthor as some kind of bizarre Joker variation, his motivation either making him pathetic or a puppet. Sometimes he is effectively creepy, but mostly he comes off as annoying.

The plot grabs famous storylines from the two characters at random like Scrabble tiles from a bag. In the end, what we have is a mess. A mess that is interesting, but overly long and needlessly complicated. It has a fourth act tacked on because there was never a scenario where the Superman/Batman fight could be dramatically satisfying as a conclusion.

Worse, in their misguided race to force a rivalry with Marvel Studios, Warner Bros. attempts to cram huge amounts of set-up into the film and none of that set-up feels earned. Watching it feels like we missed a few movies that were released between Man of Steel and now. Many audience members may even be completely lost as to what a lot of what is going on. When your entire movie is based on laying a foundation for future installments, that should be rather disconcerting. As of this moment, I’m not particularly looking forward to Justice League. Or Suicide Squad with its copy and paste characters who look like they stepped out of a 90s pitch meeting when “edgy” was still a buzzword. Wonder Woman and the Lego Batman Movie are they only DC film projects which continue to pique my interest. As I am a person who was a big DC fan until fairly recently, that kind of reaction should have Warner Bros. concerned. Somehow, I don’t think they’ll care.

(Two and a half damns given out of five)

Aisle of the Damned: 3/29/16- Batman Can’t Get a Boner

The right one is up front

In the historic tradition of such epic cinematic grudge matches as Godzilla vs Mothra and Kramer vs Kramer comes Batman v Superman. As DC bets the farm on Frank Miller fanboys, Bryan and Kent also set about to fighting; one of them hates it while the other… hates it less. Also, looks at 10 Cloverfield Lane, London Has Fallen, Zootopia, the Ghostbusters ’16 trailer and our host recommendations. All this and less on Aisle of the Damned.

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
Will Arnett- Untitled Self Portrait

PLP – Episode 104 – Movies We Missed 2015 Part 4

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Welcome to the Plain Label Podcast!  In this episode Rachel and Eric are joined once again by Catie O’Brien and Anelle Strauss as we look at a few films we missed in 2015! In this episode we discuss the films, Dope, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Z for Zachariah, and Room! Do yourself a favor and check it out! 

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Music: Awreeoh – It’s My Turn Now

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http://www.movienoise.com/plainlabel/podcasts/PlainLabelPodcast104.mp3

Aisle of the Damned: 03/02/16- Bryan

Somehow, the highlight of Ryan Reynolds' career

Greetings, puny mortals! Bryan and Kent present a review of the movie about the merc with a mouth. Additionally, we start a new segment of recommendations directly from our mouths to your earholes. Trust us, we’re the experts!

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
Yello- Oh Yeah

PLP – Pod Shots – After the Thin Man

In this episode, I am joined by returning guest, David A. Price to discuss the 1936 film After the Thin Man! It’s always fun chatting with David and this episode is no different, check it out!

Music: Bob Dylan – Ballad of a Thin Man

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http://www.movienoise.com/plainlabel/podcasts/PodShots091.mp3

Aisle of the Damned: 02/22/16- Summer’s Earlier Every Year

Hi-yo Silver! Away!

Kent jaws about some films he’s seen including (but not limited to) Turbo Kid, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Brooklyn, Kung Fu Panda 3 and a preview of The Brothers Grimsby. Then he and Bryan take a look at the slate of upcoming films through April. Honest, we hope Batman v Superman is somehow all just terrible marketing.

Music:
The Aquabats: Stuck in a Movie
Monty Python: Are You Embarrassed Easily?
DVDA: Now You’re a Man

PLP – Episode 103 – Movies We Missed 2015 Part 3

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Welcome to the Plain Label Podcast!  In this episode Rachel and Eric are joined once again by Catie O’Brien as we look at a few films we missed in 2015! In this episode we discuss the films, The End of the Tour, The Martian, and Bridge of Spies! Do yourself a favor and check it out! 

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Music: David Bowie – Starman

Facebook: Eric Williams, Rachel Szelag, Catie O’Brien, Plain Label Podcast

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http://www.movienoise.com/plainlabel/podcasts/PlainLabelPodcast103.mp3

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Deadpool

Somehow, the highlight of Ryan Reynolds' career

Let’s take a moment to let this sink in: Rob Liefeld’s golden boy has a movie. Robbie has got to be the richest comic artist ever who won’t draw feet. Was getting this movie worth handing him enough of a wad to keep him hip-deep in Levis and hookers?

Yes.

While sure to be a divisive film, I spent the drive home reminiscing with my viewing companion about the best moments. I can’t recall the last time that happened. (Though to be honest the crushing solidarity of my usual trips to the movies could account for that.) For the majority of its runtime, it is a kick to the fun sack, with only some tonal issues and questionable character moments getting in the way. But it’s understandable. While there may be some of Matthew Vaughn’s Kick Ass in its recessive DNA, it’s largely a type of film that’s never been made before: a mid-level budget that all of the X-movies since the original would wipe their asses with, a fairly hard R-rating, a comedic overtone, a character who has only been around for a couple of decades, a tangential relationship to a major franchise and an anti-hero main character. We’ve seen some of these together here and there. But certainly not all at once. So to juggle this all successfully is actually pretty impressive and it doesn’t take the coward’s way out as it also plays with structure, mixing one broken up set piece with flashbacks for the majority of the runtime.

Here’s where the film falters: it’s great that the structure is fractured, but it still manages to sag in the middle as we go through the one tradition that the movie refuses to break with: the origin story.

And yet, their attempts to brighten up that part of the film isn’t deftly directed enough to present a really meaningful before and after for Deadpool himself, Wade Wilson. At least not personality-wise. Is it enough to derail the film? Not even close. But it is noticeable enough to make a dent that you won’t find in the slicker, mainstream Marvel factory. Should we be lucky enough to get the unprecedented Deadpool 2 (suggested tag-line: Dead Pooler), this most likely wouldn’t be an issue. It’s still pretty impressive for a first-time feature director and one gets the feeling he embraced the budgetary challenges presented due to his effects background.

The important thing is that I had an absolute blast with the majority of the movie from the very first moment. As in, it features possibly the best opening credits sequence in history. Then you have Ryan Reynolds showing that it was worth his remorseless guerilla campaign to acquire the role. On the flip side, Morena Baccarin somehow manages to meet his over the top performance head on and provide a great counterpoint to him. What is it about dudes from Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place that bring out the best in her?

Admittedly, I’m tuned to this film’s frequency. I was getting every in-joke about Reynolds’ career, superhero movie conventions and studio politics that it lobbed at the audience. While at times, there’s an almost This is the End level of self-scrutiny involved that will reward fans, its neither in your face enough or so reliant upon inside baseball to require knowing the troubled history of the film to enjoy it. Like a Zucker film, when the comedy is flowing, there’s often multiple gags being set up at once. Sometimes what seems like gratuitous violence actually sets up great payoffs further down the line.

Maximum effort, Fox.

(Three and a half damns given out of five)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Down with PPZ? Yeah, you know me.

Much like Iron Sky and the upcoming Deadpool, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a movie that I appreciate at one level for the sheer fact that it shouldn’t exist. But like the first of those films, almost the entirety of it is an exercise in middling.

It starts out promisingly enough. There’s some titillation. We catch some surprisingly sexy flashes of stocking as the Bennett sisters arrange their weapons. There’s some gore. We get a splash of brains here and there. There’s some period drama. Pride and Prejudice is, after all, in the name.

But the true entertainment value of this type of a film would seemingly come in truly smashing the two opposites together in an extreme way either as a film shot entirely as a gauzy Austen centerpiece that happens to have zombies in it or, conversely, as an over-the-top horror film. Or at least a film that decides to play whiplash with tone. Instead it’s a film that doesn’t quite know what it wants to be and ends up being a PG-13 flick as limp-wristed as Matt Smith’s Parson. (That said, Smith’s dandy fop is the highlight of the proceedings.) In its attempts to appeal to a mass audience that was likely never there to begin with, it manages to lose it’s appeal to its true potiential audiences.

Not to say there aren’t some interesting ideas at play. However, they are never truly explored. Such as the fact that, with exception, a great many of the women are trained as warriors while the men are largely worthless, yet the time period’s ideals of marriage to a man for the sake of bettering one’s station and female subservience are largely intact.

So in the end we have what feels like a fun idea without commitment. A film that tries to be both and succeeds at neither, though there’s a part of me that could see enjoying it on the level of some of the tamer Hammer films if it were more visually impressive beyond a fun opening credits sequence that doles out the necessary exposition.

And just like a truly middling film, it is neither terrible nor great. I won’t say I didn’t laugh at the absurdity of the film at times. But it’s safe to say it simply settles for being a reasonably diverting couple of hours that likely will not call for repeat viewings.

Two and a half damns given out of five.

PLP – Pod Shots – Breakdown

In this episode, I am joined by returning guest, Shawn Pryor to discuss the 1997 film Breakdown! It’s always fun chatting with Shawn and this episode is no different, check it out!

Music: Tom Petty – Breakdown

Facebook: Eric Williams, Shawn Pryor, Plain Label Podcast

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http://www.movienoise.com/plainlabel/podcasts/PodShots090.mp3