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Review: ‘Batman V Superman’ Has Blockbuster Fever (But Not In A Good Way)

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Face Off: Henry Cavill as Superman MovieSpoon.com

Face Off: Henry Cavill as Superman

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is a clear case of reviewer futility. That is to say, a poor review is not going to stop a lot of people from going to to see it, anyway. It has blockbuster fever written all over it, no matter how much a critic might try to stop you from wasting your money.

A blockbuster mentality, however, is just one of the major problems with Batman V Superman. The idea of selling tickets as an artistic game-changer is evident from the film’s catchy, but horrendous casting choices to its endlessly explosive ending – the explosion that never quits – to its baffling beginning, which lasts about an hour or so before the plot jells into something cohesive.

That’s a long hour waiting for something to make sense. Oddly, director Zack Snyder chooses to circle the globe putting together unexplained scenes that will later have some nominal importance to the plot, which was very confusing. He then goes through the motions re-telling the same, old chestnut of a young Bruce Wayne walking down the street with his parents at night, when they are gunned down by a petty thief and the subsequent scene of his falling through a opening to a cave, where he is besieged by the haunting image of tens of thousands of bats. Haven’t we done all this before?

Gal Gadot Wonder Woman

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

Except for Henry Cavill as Superman and Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, the casting is all wrong. Cavill is super. He is stoic, steely-eyed and a bit of a blockhead, all the things we love about the man in the red cape. But Ben Affleck is puffy and slow as Batman and Jesse Eisenberg is annoying, rather than threatening as Lex Luther – who is supposed to want to take over Gotham, not just bother us. Amy Adams plays a terrific role as Lois Lane, but the problem is she is scripted to be someone else. She great, but she just isn’t Lois Lane. Gal Gadot provides the requisite eye candy as Wonder Woman but don’t expect much by way of acting chops.

Another misguided directing decision for Batman V Superman was for Snyder to take Batman and Superman out of their element, which is the late 1950s and early 1960s. Batman dialing in Alfred on a cell phone? It doesn’t ring true. But there it is on his parents graves: His father, in this film, was born in 1946 and was gunned down in 1981. That’s a big risk and it largely doesn’t work.

It’s a mistake not only because it allows for incongruous devices (like cell phones), but because the film doesn’t know where it is. Is it a campy rollick through the days when a nickle was a nickle and a punch was a punch? Or is it a modern film noir replete with terrorists carrying uzis?

This matters, because Snyder’s Batman is scruffy and isolated. He never shaves, even for the mandatory scenes in which he is dressed to the nines. Bruce Wayne, here, has very little social finesse and no friends. Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth, another casting faux pas, also looks more like an tweedy hobo than a billionaire’s butler.

Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne and Batman MovieSpoon.com

Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne / Batman

Instead, because it is modern times, Lois Lane is a modern, sexy, investigative reporter (hey, try to keep up) and the Bat Cave is both dingy and dark, but it is outfitted with huge computer screens that Alfred and Bruce both use expertly. What is Batman now – an antisocial hacker? Well, one can’t live in the 1950s forever.

For his part, Superman is great in every scene. This guy has presence, even when the director chooses to get in the way with dopey gimmicks, like having his eyes turn blazing red when he is mad, but having them simmer down when talked out of his anger.

What’s to like about Batman V Superman? Well, after the first hour, suddenly the plot pulls together and Lex Luther does start pulling some very wild, troublesome stunts, like blowing up things and upping the ante with more than just pesky threats. The Batman, on the side, is so isolated, he now sees Superman as a threat, so he tries to stop him from doing what he does — a very bad idea — and the two duke it out – an anticlimax in the extreme, but at least now two superheroes are are punching with purpose.

The finale is one to remember and it brought me back to the good, old days, when a nickle was a nickle and a comic was a comic. This ending has Marvel written all over it. Sure, it goes on for too long. It’s uproariously spellbinding – just like turning the page on a comic and finding a switch to a full page layout, because the scene wouldn’t fit in a one-sixth of a page story board. This is a big, bad showstopper ending and it offers no apologies. Hey, Batman and Superman are retro melodramas, anyway, and if you are going to be crowding one side of the stage with two heroes, then you need much more than an annoying villain to fill up the other half.

So even though Batman V Superman has stinker written all over it you should see it anyway. Some things, good, bad or indifferent, you just have to see for yourself.

[author title=”Anthony Hall” image=” http://popstermedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Jabba_the_Hutt-Anthony-Hall.png”]Movie guy Anthony Hall is an enigma. He’s never been photographed and only works late at night after everyone has left the office. Hall’s articles have appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Miami Herald (and more). [/author]


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Review: “The Predator” is a Humorous Homage, Sometimes Fun

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Shane Black’s The Predator is simultaneously the most no-nonsense and all-nonsense entry of the series. It does away with a lot of the fat for its story, skipping briskly through its introduction so that gory action of a human-hunting alien arrives quickly. It also doesn’t try to take itself seriously, favoring a comedic format to its writing so high on the goofiness it may as well be labeled a parody of the previous films. This odd assembly prevents such a generically titled film from becoming just another tired retread of a dug-up franchise, hit or miss though it may be.

In order to get the bloody gears grinding, Black throws a lot of inexplicably odd actions at the screen. I didn’t set my watch, but I’m pretty sure it was less than a minute before the first Predator marches onto the screen, crashing onto Earth and going about its secret mission. Encountering the Predator and his arsenal is sniper-for-hire and former Army Ranger, Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), who not only takes to the Predator tech quickly but also takes the risk of swallowing some of it so it can’t be found. To cash in on newly acquired treasures from outer space, he decides to ship the rest of the alien technology to his mailbox. Seems like a ridiculous idea, but it needs to be done so that the story can arrive on schedule to include a Predator-savvy scientist (Olivia Munn), a greedy government villain (Sterling K. Brown), a savant of an autistic kid with a smart mouth (Jacob Tremblay), and a team of mercenaries that includes a jokester (Keegan-Michael Key) and one with Tourette’s syndrome (Thomas Jane).

L-r, Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Keegan Michael-Key, Thomas Jane and Augusto Aguiliera in Twentieth Century Fox’s “The Predator.”

I could detail the elaborate scheme of the Predators and the tactics used by the human characters, but does it matter? There are convoluted plot elements for sure, including the most ridiculous use of Asperger’s Syndrome as a plot twist, but all that this amounts to is the self-aware knowledge of a goofy gore fest. The script, co-written by Shane Black, always seems careful never to go overboard with exposition without a joke in between. A key scene that could have been a bore is the initial alien dissection scene, its purpose to describe the new Predator and decipher his visit. Munn harps on why the scientists have called the alien a Predator when his purpose seems more akin to a big-game hunter.

While the choice to favor knowing comedy or dark action is a smart one, it’s not exactly a home run of ideas. The first act, in particular, has some rather stale nostalgic callbacks that one would expect from a lesser retread. Variations on some of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s iconic lines from the first film about choppers and the ugliness of the Predator felt so lame that I started gripping my seat, bracing for the entire film to be this adrift of inspiration. But the film thankfully proceeds down its own silly path by the second act, turning into a non-stop bloody bonanza of alien-on-human action. The gore goes for the gusto so heavily that it becomes just as strong as the comical banter between Holbrook and his team of gun-toting good guys, trying to stop the Predator from killing a kid and the government from killing them first.

The Predator in Twentith Century Fox’s THE PREDATOR. Photo Credit: Kimberley French.

There’s a lot of dumb and messiness in The Predator, but the constant winking from Black’s director and the all-star cast save it from being another PG-13 snoozer of a repeat. Armed with machine-gun speed comedy, violence more than worthy of an R rating, and a giddy sense that is always present, what could’ve been a merry-go-round turns into more of a roller coaster experience of a Predator movie. Black doesn’t exactly rework the Predator mythos into something new or even more akin to its quality camp roots, but he does have fun with the material. And when you’ve got a multi-mouthed alien with braids turning humans into hamburger, you’ve gotta have some fun mocking the spectacle, especially after so many films that take themselves far too seriously.


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“The Nun” Scares Up Strong September Box Office

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September has its first box office champion to topple August’s hit of Crazy Rich Asians, and by a substantial amount at that. The Nun, a spin-off and prequel to The Conjuring 2’s scary nun ghost in the painting, has earned an impressive $53.5 million for its debut weekend. That’s an exceptional premiere to warrant the film’s budget of $22 million, rather high for horror. The future is looking bright for The Conjuring franchise. Still, Crazy Rich Asians is still going strong as the romantic comedy of the year, grossing another $13.6 million for a domestic total now sitting at $136 million. With plans for a sequel already in the works and a chance at hitting $200 million, the film may very well carry deep into fall considering it’s still in the top five after four weeks.

Also debuting to a decent take for the weekend is Peppermint, an action-oriented thriller starring a revenge-seeking Jennifer Garner. The film made $13.2 million in its first weekend which may be a bit disappointing for a $25 million budget, but it may have decent enough to legs to make a profit depending on how September shapes up.

Plenty of the returning films are holding on strong. The Meg, the shark movie with Jason Statham, has remained in the top five long enough to clear its budget, with a domestic total now at $131 million. Also sticking around is the social media thriller Searching, dropping only 25% to make $4.5 million for the weekend, the domestic total sitting at $14.3 million. And BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee’s comedy about infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan, is still hanging in the top 10, making another $1.5 million for a domestic total of $43 million, stunning results for a $15 million film in somewhat limited release.

View the full box office weekend results below.
The Nun ($53,500,000)
Crazy Rich Asians ($13,600,000)
Peppermint ($13,260,000)
The Meg ($6,030,000)
Searching ($4,515,000)
Mission: Impossible – Fallout ($3,800,000)
Disney’s Christopher Robin ($3,196,000)
Operation Finale ($3,043,000)
Alpha ($2,505,000)
BlacKkKlansman ($1,565,000)

Next weekend will be a battle of a returning alien hunter and an odd thriller. The Predator, a remake of the alien franchise directed by Shane Black, will be in 3,900 theaters while A Simple Favor, a thriller directed by comedy director Paul Feig, will hit 3,000 theaters. Of the smaller releases are Pure Flix’s latest religious picture Unbroken: Path to Redemption and the Matthew McConaughey starring cop drama White Boy Rick. There’s little doubt that The Predator will swoop in to claim the weekend.


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Review: “The Nun” Offers Few Scares and Fun

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And from The Conjuring another spin-off cometh, presenting origins we didn’t really need to know for spooky supporting demons. If these films weren’t already showing cracks, The Nun comes crumbling, struggling to find scary and fun stuff to do with a nun that looks like she went to a goth concert. She looks great with the contrast of white and black that blends perfectly in the darkness. She’s unfortunately squandered in a film that is such a mess it dips between horror, comedy, and adventure.

The setting is 1952, Romania, where a nun has just committed suicide by hanging. To investigate this dark matter, the Vatican sends a ragtag duo of a priest and a nun familiar with the area and the demonic. The priest is Father Burke (Demián Bichir), having previously performed an exorcism and struggling to make himself boring with a crossword puzzle hobby. The nun is Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), a yet-to-have-taken-her-vows woman that is a bit of a rebel around the convent with her talk of dinosaurs and not wearing her habit. They venture to Romania, and with the help of a French-Canadian farmer going by the name Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), they’ll discover the dark secrets of the church turned haunted house.

The scare playbook from The Conjuring universe appears very dusty in this film. The majority of frights rely on the cheapest and tiresome of stagings: see something potentially scary in the distance, look away, it’s gone. Irene thinks she spots a nun in the shadows; turns away, turns back, gone. Burke thinks he spots the child he was unable to save from his previous exorcism; there one shot, gone the next. The other overused scare tactic is that of slowly venturing towards something scary. The demons are hoping our holy heroes will be dumb enough to follow every come-hinder spooky trap, to the point where Father Burke is being led by a bell being dragged on a string.

There’s a lot of disbelief suspension required to go along for the ride. There are visions of previous nuns of the church, but they’re staged as unconvincing twists that require the priest and nun to accept the answers of a faceless nun at (no) face value. A scary nun shrouded in black with a sinister voice recommends they spend the night. Surely nothing spooky will happen come nightfall. But, surprise, spookiness on cue! They investigate more and some other nuns they meet recommend staying another night. I’d think about breaking out the good book and a cross on that second sleep considering all the haunted hijinks. The Romanian haunted church comes complete with a graveyard of many crosses, where crows caw during the day and mist mysteriously crops up at night. Oh, and snakes.

Speaking of snakes, the film seems to grow so bored of its by-the-book haunted house method that it slips into Indiana Jones territory. Consider how Frenchie comes to the rescue in the third act as the comical action hero, chopping off the heads of zombies and shooting them with a shotgun. He seems to only come back when it’s time to explore underground passages with torches, searching for a religious artifact that can stop demons from hell. This adventure angle makes Jonas Bloquet the best part of the film, even if it feels like he’s a character that became lost on his way to the set of another tomb.

The Nun delivers the bare bones of what we’ve come to expect from this Warner Bros horror franchise. There’s some decent camera work and some technically sound frights here and there, despite some rather poor editing to keep everything on schedule and twisty. One aspect I could always count on enjoying was the audience reactions during these movies. They didn’t let me down. One viewer was so spooked by the silence after a nun’s cracked neck that he exclaimed “WTF” during the screening. It was the biggest laugh of the movie and one of the few reasons I have left to keep returning to this style of horror because there’s not a whole in The Nun itself to keep me satiated with terror or fun.


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