Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Case for the Red White and Blue Dawn

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

The fight of the century of two of the greatest superheroes ever.

Of course, considering the power differential (Batman is a human; Superman’s powers are godlike), there was really only one outcome, and the film forces Supes to hold back to make the match anywhere near “even”.  But then, Supes really didn’t stand much of a chance anyway.

Because the film’s director, Zac Snyder, doesn’t really give Superman (played by Henry Cavill, all muscles and frowns) a hell of a lot to do. This film is nominally a Superman (and I can’t really say “Clark Kent” because there is even less of him) sequel, but the director has a lot more fun and intrigue with Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck is a great Bruce, and Jeremy Irons is all dry and cutting English vowels as Alfred Pennyworth) and then directs the Batman action scenes with style, flair and quite a few deaths.  Likewise, the few times Wonder Woman showed up (Gal Godot still seems a bit too thin for me, but she is definitely a beautiful woman), she is treated more as a James Bond femme fatale than a super hero, and when she finally lets loose in the final fight scene, she is the one smiling and taking down Doomsday, while the boys are off doing their own thing.

The story is a bit of a mess really.  While the aforementioned scenes are great, the overarching story is all over the place, with hints of future storylines (dreary and confusing if you are not fans o the DC Comics universe) and key issues like Superman’s place in the world and his motivations and the reason people might like him not really addressed at all.  The introduction of other potential Justice League members (Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg; you knew this was coming, so its not really a spoiler to say it, though I do hint at something here that may not be evident) is likewise clumsily handled, though props have to be given to those keeping tabs on them for designing logos for each of these future heroes in their mission to document their abilities.  

And then the final “how will Batman and Superman team up?” question is answered and… its really dumb.  Not that it doesn’t make sense, its just that… well, nobody would ever do what either of them did given the circumstances.  And more I can’t say because of spoilers.  But trust me: dumb.

While Batman’s mano a mano fights against baddies are totally awesome, the big fight against Doomsday is a little less successful.  Its still violent and exciting, but Doomsday’s powers of energy pulses (or whatever it is) are a bit overdone.  Doomsday’s origins though… sigh.  

Slightly more successful than I thought it would be was Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor.  Well, he is an ADHD genius with Daddy Issues and a real lack of social skills, which is not quite the Lex Luthor I was expecting.  I was thinking more a suave manipulative super genius, but Eisenberg is going for near Joker levels of ticks and mannerisms.  So, while he is utterly annoying, as a villain, it kind of worked for me.  Not that I want to see any more of that character ever again.

So, I have concentrated above on the bits that didn’t work for me, but it has to be said that during the 2.5 hour running time, the majority of the film was spent following Batman and Bruce Wayne and that actually worked really well.  The opening scenes in particular are incredibly effective, as they illustrate and crystalise Wayne’s distrust of Superman as he runs around the tumbling towers of Metropolis trying to save lives while Superman battles his fellow Kryptonians in a flashback to the final fight in Man of Steel.  And any of the scenes of Batman as “James Bond”, bringing his famous (and oft neglected) detective skills to the fore rather than using hi WayneTech gadgets, are also quite fun.

But as a coherent movie and its overall “goodness”… I am afraid I am less convinced.

Verdict:  Overall, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice had a lot of good points and was far more successful than Man of Steel.  But its still not a great movie.  Roll on the Wonder Woman movie though!  3 peach teas out of 5.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Case for Van Ladies

The Lady in the Van was always going to be a crowd pleaser, with Maggie Smith at her cantankerous old lady best as Miss Shepherd, the woman who parked her vehicle, in which she lived, in the street and refused to leave.  The well to doers of the street humour her and try to help her, but being the contrarian that she is, Margaret refuses to accept their help, insisting she is helping them should she opt to do anything they suggest.

It’s a recipe for much crowd pleasing humour, and Smith can play these kinds of characters with her eyes closed behind her back.  

Less of a known quantity is Alex Jennings playing Shepherd’s “reluctant landlord” Bennett, a playwright and humourist who is kind of torn between using the experiences of his life with Miss Shepherd (and his mother) and keeping his private life private.  Obviously, the former won in the end.

The film employs “two aspects” of Bennett: the writer and the person who interacts with his neighbours, and it’s a little odd to begin with and a little annoying at times, but it does allow Bennett to express his inner thoughts when, in the “real world” there was no one else in the house with whom he could really bounce around these ideas.

For all the humour in the situations, there is also a real sense of sadness and regret that hangs over everything, and some nastiness that really leaves a sour taste in one’s mouth.  So its not quite the non stop laugh fest it may seem from the trailers.

Still, despite the lost opportunities and misunderstandings and the events that led Miss Shepherd to a life on the street (albeit in a van in the driveway), it’s a really entertaining and (with certain caveats) enjoyable film, and not overlong either.

Verdict: The Lady in the Van is a great small, true to life (within reason) comedy drama that doesn’t demand too much from the audience but gives back quite a bit.  7 Hail Marys out of 10.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Case for Wisdom

Come the end of Three Wise Cousins, I had one burning question.  Who were the 3 Wise Cousins?  Not the leads, surely?  Perhaps at most two of them were wise, so where was the third one?  Then I thought: perhaps it was the young children who barely had speaking roles who were the wise cousins?  But… was that truly the case?

It was one of the few questions I had from the film as really the movie is very straight forward.  Young man searches out his ancestral/tribal roots to try and woo a woman, but instead learns a much more valuable lesson about respecting himself and his family.  Its almost nauseating just writing it.

But the film itself is more – and less – than the sum of its parts.  Some of the acting is fairly dire (though only a Polynesian woman could deliver the lines about defriending her family because she is mad with them so deadpan and so witheringly), and there are scenes that stretch out for agonising minutes when they could have been over in seconds.  But I laughed regularly, got swept up in the island life, and was emotionally manipulated by the characters in all the ways they intended.

There is nothing new under the Samoan sun, but there is a very strong moral, family values message that needs to be told.  In a way it was surprising to see a film so straight and narrow and focussed, with strong Christian values and a sense of the rightness of family tradition and respect.  Normally you would expect to see some sort of rebelliousness, or a character that breaks social norms if for nothing more than for comic relief.  But no: there was no distraction from the outcome, no potential alternative to the message that the film wants to present. The moral certainty is unwavering, the righteousness clear.

And while that might have left me a little uncomfortable, I can’t deny that I found the journey there hilarious and entertaining (if occasionally cringeworthy).  Even the very… well, worthy ending wasn’t enough to wipe the smile (completely) from my face.  And it definitely made me want to go to Samoa, though I may need to make sure I can survive on more than coconut and cocoa beans first.

Verdict: Three Wise Cousins is a very family values movie with lots of laughs and its heart on its sleeve.  The acting won’t win awards, nor will the screenplay, but it doesn’t really need to.  Its well intentioned and squarely aimed at a religious island audience, and for what it is, it succeeds splendidly.  6 smart phones out of 10.