BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016) No Victory For Storytelling

0

batman_v_superman

 

BATMAN V SUPERMAN:  DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016), the latest DC comics movie pits their two most famous superheroes against each other, Batman vs. Superman, and from the outset, this seemed like a silly premise to me.

Seriously, is there any doubt about the outcome?  Does anyone seriously believe that when all is said and done, and the dust has settled, that one of these two will emerge the victor, or that they will remain enemies?  Don’t we all know that at some point there will be a big fat superhero kumbaya moment?  Of course we do!

BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE gets off to a very good start as we witness Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) watching the horrifying destruction of Metropolis at the hands of Superman and General Zod in the battle they waged at the end of MAN OF STEEL (2013) and the terrible toll it takes on human life.  So we see from the outset why Wayne aka Batman is so down on Superman.  He’s outraged and a little bit afraid of the destruction Superman caused.

And he’s not alone.  The rest of the nation is also questioning Superman’s loyalties, including Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) who is holding hearings and being very vocal in the press about the need to hold Superman accountable for his actions and to put a lid on his acting unilaterally, although the last time I checked Superman didn’t work for the U.S. government.

As a result, Superman (Henry Cavill) is having an identity crisis and is going through some serious soul searching. Just who is he and what is his role here on earth, he’s asking?  He’s also asking if he can be Superman and still enjoy his beautiful girlfriend, Lois Lane (Amy Adams).

Superman is not having an easy time of it in this movie.  Perhaps a better title to this one should have been GET SUPERMAN!  because everyone in this film seems to have it out for the Man of Steel.  The government’s trying to control him, public opinion has turned against him, Batman wants to kill him, and oh yeah that new young villain Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) has gotten his hands on both kryptonite and General Zod’s ship and the technology that goes along with it.  And just what do you think Luthor will do with all this stuff?  Why, take down Superman of course!

Well, sort of.  Luthor actually has bigger plans.  I mean, why take down one superhero when you can take down two?  Which is why he sets his sights on playing Don King and arranging the bout of the century, Batman vs. Superman.

Of course, when you think about it, you realize it’s rather a dumb plot point, because Batman and Superman hate each other and they’re on a collision course on their own.  They don’t need Luthor’s help.

Which brings me to the number one reason why I absolutely did not like BATMAN V SUPERMAN:  DAWN OF JUSTICE one bit:  it’s the storytelling, stupid.

While I have little problem with the performers here, I can’t say the same for the story and the way director Zach Snyder goes about telling it.

Remember how I said the film began with Bruce Wayne watching the brutal battle in the sky?  That’s not quite accurate.  Before this scene, we get to see yet again another variation of the scene where Bruce Wayne’s parents are killed.  Why?  How many times do we have to see this part of the story told?  Right off the bat, I’m thinking, what a weak way to begin what is supposed to be an epic superhero tale.

Then we get to the battle, and this scene does work.  It’s one of the few scenes in the movie that I did enjoy, and it sets up perfectly Bruce Wayne’s feelings towards Superman. But then the movie progresses in a series of scenes that do not flow together well at all.  I’m not exactly sure what the problem was, but the first 30 minutes or so contains scenes that just do not seem to flow seamlessly into the next.  Part of the problem is there is so little dialogue at the beginning.  The movie is begging for dialogue early on.

Then there’s the odd choice of scenes.  There are two in particular that I thought were poor ways to introduce out superheroes.  The first has Lois Lane held hostage by terrorists in the middle east.  There’s suddenly a firefight, and Superman arrives and rescues her in a scene that lasts about 30 seconds, and the next thing you know Superman is being blamed because a lot of innocent people were killed.  Huh?  This is a key plot point because it further sets up the public’s mistrust of Superman, but it’s muddled in its execution.  All I saw was Superman rescue Lois Lane.  Where’s the controversy in that?

For Batman’s first appearance, we see this really bizarre scene where two cops enter a dark building, find a group of terrified people who are babbling about some being who you can figure out is Batman, and one of the cops sees Batman lurking in the corner and opens fire at him before Batman flees without a word— there’s that lack of dialogue, again—.  His partner chastises him, telling him that he shouldn’t shoot at the good guys.  They also discover the criminal which Batman had left for them, and they see that Batman—now even darker than ever—oooh!!!—branded the Batman insignia into the bad guy’s flesh.  Holy cow poker, Batman!  Again, just a bizarre, confusing scene.  It seems to be implying that Batman is bad, but then again, it shows he’s good, but really I think the filmmakers hadn’t a clue, and it shows.

The entire movie is muddled in its storytelling, a combination of weird filming choices by director Snyder and a less than remarkable script by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer.  Terrio wrote the script for ARGO (2012).  This is no ARGO. Meanwhile, Goyer wrote the screenplay for BATMAN BEGINS (2005) and MAN OF STEEL (2013).  The screenplay for BATMAN V SUPERMAN should have been better than it is.  It tries to do dark and foreboding, but without strong characterizations, it gives us dull and dreary.

The superheroes here do not fare well at all.

I’m a fan of Ben Affleck, especially in recent years, and while I don’t think he does a bad job here as Batman/Bruce Wayne, there are simply too many factors working against him here.  The script doesn’t provide him with anything worthwhile to say. In fact, it’s the opposite.  He says some pretty ridiculous things in this movie, chief amongst them his forced speech at the end of the movie, and his quick change of heart regarding a certain flying superhero.

His Bruce Wayne is dreary beyond belief, a man with zero charisma.  As much as I loved the DARK KNIGHT trilogy, I was never a huge fan of Christian Bale’s Batman, but I found myself missing Bale here.  Of course, my favorite film Batman/Bruce Wayne remains Michael Keaton, which always blows my mind, because Keaton is such a terrific comic actor that it’s amazing to think that he made such a cool Bruce Wayne.

I also did not like Batman’s robotic suit in this movie.  Can someone say, “Iron Man wannabe?”  It didn’t work for me at all.

Superman doesn’t fare any better.  For a lot of the movie, Superman really isn’t Henry Cavill but a special effect zipping here and zooming there.  In the scenes where he has dialogue, he’s actually pretty good, and I found myself enjoying his performance a bit more here than in MAN OF STEEL.  But he still lacks that special something to make Superman work. There’s just something not-larger-than-life about his interpretation of the role.  He’s sort of superman with a lower case “s.”

Now, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) who makes her debut here is another story.  I liked Wonder Woman.  A lot.  But she’s in this movie for all of five minutes.  So much for Wonder Woman!  Again, bizarre choices by the filmmakers.

I also did not like Jesse Eisenberg’s interpretation of Lex Luthor at all.  In fact, he’s probably my least favorite Lex Luthor ever.  I think I even prefer Kevin Spacey’s over-the-top performance as Lex in SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006) more.  Eisenberg’s Lex is sort of going for the chaotic insanity of the Joker, but he’s not even close.  So here we have yet another disappointing superhero movie villain to add to our ever-growing list of weak superhero movie villains.

As much as I love Amy Adams as Lois Lane here, and make no mistake I enjoyed her in this movie, she really doesn’t have much to do in this movie other than be rescued by Superman.  Jeremy Irons actually made for a pretty interesting Alfred, and I have no complaints about Irons at all, but you know things are bad when you’re talking about Alfred instead of the superheroes!

Likewise, Laurence Fishburne turns in a respectable performance as Perry White, reprising the role from MAN OF STEEL.  I also really enjoyed Holly Hunter as Senator Finch, and some of her scenes were some of the better written scenes in the film.  I liked the plot point of the public’s mistrust of Superman, and Superman’s own questioning about his role in the world, but again, the filmmakers didn’t really roll with this.  It dies midway through the film.

It’s also a very long movie, clocking in at 151 minutes which for me was way too long.  I was longing for it to end.  I also saw it in 3D, and it was about as unspectacular as a 3D movie could be.

BATMAN V SUPERMAN:  DAWN OF JUSTICE is a dreary muddled movie that doesn’t seem to know how to tell a story to save its life.

Batman and Superman definitely deserve better.

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

IN THE SHADOWS: HAROLD GOODWIN

0
harold goodwin

Harold Goodwin in FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969)

Welcome back to IN THE SHADOWS, that column where we look at character actors in the movies, especially horror movies.

Today we look at Harold Goodwin, a familiar face if you’re a Hammer Film fan.  Goodwin showed up as a burglar in the suspenseful opening scene in FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969) and he also enjoyed a memorable bit in Hammer’s THE MUMMY (1959).

Goodwin appeared in a lot of movies and TV shows, but for horror fans, especially Hammer Films fans, he’ll always be remembered as the ill-fated burglar who in the opening moments of FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED unfortunately chose to break into a home owned by Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing).  In a memorable sequence, his character finds himself trapped in a mysterious laboratory, only to be discovered by a hideous man with a pock-marked face.  The man attacks him, there’s a struggle, which damages the lab, and at one point Goodwin’s burlgar crashes into a table, knocks over a container, and a severed head spills out.  He flees in terror, and once he’s gone, the pock-marked man removes his mask and we see that he is the Baron Frankenstein.  A rousing way to start a very exciting Frankenstein movie, and Goodwin was a big part of this scene.

Goodwin also enjoys a funny bit in THE MUMMY (1959) where he plays a man who is hired by a foreign gentleman to transport some crates full of relics to the foreigner’s house.  Of course, it turns out that the foreign gentleman is Mehemet Bey (George Pastell), the man  who is controlling Kharis the Mummy (Christopher Lee), and the crates of “relics” include Kharis himself!  In one of the film’s more exciting scenes, the horses pulling the wagon get spooked and Goodwin’s character loses the crate containing Kharis into the local swamp.

Before this happens, Goodwin’s character and his buddy get rip-roaring drunk just before they’re to deliver the relics, and on their way to the horse and cart, Goodwin’s character approaches the horses and says “A man’s best friend is a horse,” to which his buddy replies “It’s a dog!”  Goodwin then looks directly at the horse in front of him and says, “It’s a horse!  I’m not that drunk!”

Interestingly enough, there were two Harold Goodwins working as character actors in the movies at the very same time!  The subject of this article was British and appeared in mostly British movies, whereas the other Harold Goodwin was an American.  The American Goodwin appeared in such films as ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (1930), YOUNG MR. LINCOLN (1939), and ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN (1951), and made movies between 1915-1973, whereas the British Harold Goodwin worked in the biz between 1946-1992.

Here’s a partial look at the acting credits of Harold Goodwin, focusing mostly on his genre films:

THE MASQUE OF KINGS (1946) – Goodwin received his first screen credit in this made-for-TV movie.

THE HAPPIEST DAYS OF YOUR LIFE (1950)- Edwin- Goodwin’s first credit in a theatrical release was this comedy about the merging of an all-boys school with an all-girls school, starring Scrooge himself, Alastair Sim.

WHO DONE IT? (1956) – Pringle- uncredited peformance in this comedy, notable for being the film debut of British comedian Benny Hill.  Also featured in the cast, Dr. Pretorious himself, Ernest Thesiger, and Hammer Film character actor Thorley Walters.

THE LAST MAN TO HANG? (1956) – Cheed – Goodwin adds his support to this crime drama directed by the man who would go on to direct Hammer Film’s best movies, Terence Fisher.  Starring Tom Conway [I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943)] and Hammer Films’ actresses Eunice Gayson [THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958)- Gayson also appeared in the first two James Bond movies DR. NO (1962) & FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963) as Sylvia,in what was originally intended to be a recurring character in the series], and Freda Jackson [THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960)].

THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (1957) – Baker –  The classic war movie by director David Lean, starring William Holden and Alec Guinness.  Winner of seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director for Lean, Best Actor for Guinness, Best Adapted Screenplay by Pierre Boulle, Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson, and Best Music Score by Malcolm Arnold. Based on the novel by Pierre Boulle (PLANET OF THE APES).

QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (TV Mini-series 1958-59- Colonel Gibson-  recurring role in this famous British TV production, later turned into a feature film by Hammer Films as FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (1967).

THE MUMMY (1959) – Pat – Goodwin’s first appearance in a Hammer horror film, a humorous role as a local hired to transport a crate carrying Kharis the Mummy (Christopher Lee) only to lose it in a muddy swamp.

THE TERROR OF THE TONGS (1961) – uncredited appearance in this crime thriller by Hammer Films starring Christopher Lee as Asian villain Chung King.  Screenplay by Jimmy Sangster.

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1962) – Bill – Nice role here in the Hammer remake of Gaston Leroux tale, starring Herbert Lom as the Phantom.  Directed by Terence Fisher.

THE LONGEST DAY (1962)- uncredited role in this classic WWII epic chronicling the D-Day invasion.  All-star cast includes John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Richard Burton, and about 40 more major stars.

THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1964) -Fred – Another brief appearance in this second Mummy movie from Hammer Films, unrelated to their first.

DIE, MONSTER, DIE! (1965) – Taxi Driver- Horror movie with an aged Boris Karloff playing a scientist in a wheelchair who discovers a mysterious meteorite and tries to harness its powers.  Also stars Nick Adams, and Hammer veterans Freda Jackson and Suzan Farmer.  Based on the H.P. Lovecraft story “The Colour Out of Space.”

FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969)- Burglar, uncredited – the role I most remember Harold Goodwin for- the burglar who has the misfortune of breaking into Baron Frankenstein’s home where he must face the wrath of the Baron (Peter Cushing) himself. His final Hammer horror appearance.

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed - Goodwin

Harold Goodwin’s unfortunate encounter in FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969).

ONE FOOT IN THE GRAVE (TV Series) (1992)- Window Cleaner – Goodwin’s final screen appearance in this British TV comedy.

There you have it.  A partial listing of Harold Goodwin’s screen credits.

Harold Goodwin passed away on June 3, 2004 in Middlesex, England, UK.  He was 87.

Hope you enjoyed this brief look at the career of Harold Goodwin.  Join me again next time for the next edition of IN THE SHADOWS where we’ll look at the career of another character actor from the movies.

Harold Goodwin – October 22, 1917 – June 3, 2004.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

.

 

 

 

MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES: BATMAN (1966)

0

Batman (1966) poster

Welcome back to MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES, that column where we look at memorable quotes in the movies.

With BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016) due out in theaters on March 25, let’s take a fun look back now at the 1960s version of BATMAN, starring Adam West as the Caped Crusader.  West’s hilarious take on the character was the way a lot of us of a certain age were first introduced to Batman, and the way we still fondly think of him today.

The 1960s BATMAN  TV show ran on ABC from 1966-1968, and it remains one of the funniest interpretations of a superhero ever.  Of course, when I was a tyke watching this on TV, the comedy went over my head.  I just thought it was a fun action adventure.

The movie version, BATMAN (1966), was originally slated to premiere before the show, but it didn’t happen that way and was actually released after the show had already started airing.

Let’s take a look now at some of the memorable lines in this incredibly entertaining superhero vehicle, starring Adam West as Batman, Burt Ward as Robin, Cesar Romero as the Joker, Burgess Meredith at the Penguin, Lee Meriwether as Catwoman, and Frank Gorshin as the Riddler, screenplay by Lorenzo Semple, Jr.

Semple Jr. also wrote the scripts for KING KONG (1976), FLASH GORDON (1980) and the last Sean Connery Bond film, NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (1983).  BATMAN is full of quotable lines.  Let’s have a listen.

For me, the most memorable line from the movie, and the one that always pops into my mind first whenever I think of BATMAN, comes from one of its most memorable sequences, where Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward) infiltrate a seedy bar and discover a bomb there.  Batman grabs the bomb and attempts to dispose of it, but everywhere he runs, someone is there, and he can’t find any place to get rid of it.  At one point, he’s about to chuck it into the ocean, but he doesn’t when he sees baby ducklings swimming.

Finally, he says exasperatedly:

BATMAN:  Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb.”

Moments later, it explodes, but no worries, Batman was able to shield himself and survive the blast.

 

Robin criticizes Batman for risking his life to safe the ruffians in the bar, to which Batman replies, teaching his young sidekick:

BATMAN:  They may be drinkers, Robin, but they’re still human beings.

 

Of course, a lot of the humor comes from Batman and Robin’s attempts to decipher the Riddler’s riddles.  For example:

BATMAN (reading the Riddler’s riddle):  What has yellow skin and writes?

ROBIN:   A ball-point banana!

BATMAN (reading):  What people are always in a hurry?

ROBIN:  Rushing people… Russians!

BATMAN:  So this means—.

ROBIN:  Someone Russian is going to slip on a banana and break their neck!

BATMAN (excitedly):  Precisely, Robin!

 

Later, Commissioner Gordon (Neil Hamilton) and Chief O’Hara (Stafford Repp) join in on the riddling solving business:

CHIEF O’HARA (reading):  What does a turkey do when he flies upside down?

ROBIN:  He gobbles up!

CHIEF O’HARA:  Of course.

BATMAN:  And, number two?

COMMISSIONER GORDON (reading):  What weighs six ounces, sits in a tree and is very dangerous?

ROBIN:  A sparrow with a machine gun!

COMMISSIONER GORDON:   Yes, of course.

 

Of course, these scenes work so well because everyone involved handles them so seriously. Both O’Hara and Gordon keep a straight face and react  to Robin’s answers as if they are as straightforward as the time of day.

And who can forget Adam West’s energetic peformance and boisterous delivery of lines as Batman?  His Batman is as much a 1960s icon as James Bond, Star Trek, and the Beatles.  The ongoing joke in the show, and in this movie, is that Batman simply doesn’t realize how funny he is. He plays everything straight, even though his lines of dialogue are hilarious.

 

Here’s more riddle fun:

BATMAN (reading a message written in the sky by one of Riddler’s missiles):  What goes up white and comes down yellow and white?

ROBIN:  An egg!

BATMAN (reading another skywritten message):  How do you divide seventeen apples among sixteen people?

ROBIN:  Make applesauce!

BATMAN:  Apples into applesauce.  A unification into one smooth mixture. An egg—nature’s perfect container. The container of all our hopes for the future.

ROBIN:  A unification and a container of hope? United World Organization!

BATMAN (Excitedly):  Precisely, Robin!

 

Right after this, with their bat copter out of commission, Robin suggests they hail a cab to make it to the United World Organization building, but Batman won’t hear of it.  Why ride when you can walk?

BATMAN:  Luckily, we’re in tip-top condition. It’ll be faster if we run. Let’s go!

 

One of Batman’s best bits of dialogue comes in this scene where Catwoman (Lee Meriwether) disguised as Russian reporter Miss Kitka asks Batman and Robin to take off their masks, much to the horror of Commissioner Gordon and Chief O’Hara.

KITKA:  If you please, to take off the mask to give the better picture?

COMMISSIONER GORDON:  Great Scott! Batman take off his mask?

CHIEF O’HARA:  The woman must be mad!

BATMAN (calmly):  Please, Chief O’Hara.  All of you. This young lady is a stranger to our shores. Her request is not unnatural, however, impossible to grant.

KITKA:  Impossible?

BATMAN:  Indeed. If Robin and I were to remove our masks, the secret of our true identities would be revealed.

COMMISSIONER GORDON:  Completely destroying their value as ace crimefighters.

CHIEF O’HARA:  Sure, ma’am. Not even Commisioner Gordon and myself know who they really are.

ROBIN:  In fact, our own relatives we live with don’t know.

KITKA:  But your so curious costumes—.

ROBIN:  Don’t be put off by them, ma’am. Underneath this garb, we’re perfectly ordinary Americans.

KITKA:  You are like the masked vigilantes in the Westerns, no?

COMMISSIONER GORDON:  Certainly not! Batman and Robin are fully deputized agents of the law.

ROBIN:  Support your police! That’s our message!

BATMAN:  Well said, Robin, and no better way to end this press conference.  Thank you, and good day.

 

And in fitting fashion, when the movie ends, and Batman and Robin have saved the day, rather than leaving through the door, Batman suggests a better and more unassuming way to exit the proceedings.

BATMAN (deliberately):  Let’s go, but, inconspicuously, through the window.

batman-1966

Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward) getting ready to leave inconspicuously through the window.

We end with the dialogue that always breaks me up whenever I watch this movie.  Batman is trying to locate the whereabouts of the four supervillains and acts on a tip that they have in their possession a submarine.  He telephones a Navy Admiral in the hope of learning more, and he finds out that yes, the Navy has sold the submarine, and when he asks for a forwarding address, the Admiral replies that he didn’t get one from the buyer.

ADMIRAL:  Your tone sounds rather grim. We haven’t done anything foolish, have we?

BATMAN (with the slightest agitation in his voice):  Disposing a pre-atomic submarine to persons who don’t even leave their full addresses—.  Good day, Admiral!

ADMIRAL (after Batman hangs up):  Gosh!

 

There you have it.  I hope you enjoyed these quotes from BATMAN.  Join me again next time when we look at more memorable quotes from another memorable movie.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016) Is NOT the Sequel CLOVERFIELD Fans Have Been Waiting For

1

10-Cloverfield-Lane-Movie-Poster

Let’s get this out of the way right now:  10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016) is not a sequel to CLOVERFIELD (2008), arguably one of the best giant monster movies ever made.  For this reason alone, this well-written, acted, and directed thriller is flawed.

It’s flawed because producer J.J. Abrams resurrected the CLOVERFIELD name, resurrected the anticipation and excitement of fans the world over of the original movie, only to put out a film with as much in common with CLOVERFIELD as THE MARTIAN (2015) has with GODZILLA.  Yeah, but if you pay close attention, you’ll see that the astronaut in THE MARTIAN had a cousin who worked for the company responsible for resurrecting Godzilla.  Isn’t that cool?  Isn’t that a wild connection?

No, it’s not.

It’s geeky and annoying.  Now, obviously, there is no connection between GODZILLA and THE MARTIAN, but the example shows the level of connection we’re talking about between CLOVERFIELD and 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE.  It’s minuscule.

It’s also embarrassingly clear that J.J. Abrams threw in the Cloverfield name simply as a marketing ploy to attract viewers.  Shame on him.  Sure, you can argue otherwise, but you might just sound like Donald Trump doing it.

Other than this though, 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is a pretty nifty thriller.

Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is leaving her boyfriend.  He calls her (that’s Bradley Cooper’s voice on the phone.) asking her to come back, but she’s not interested.  She no sooner turns off her cell when she’s involved in a nasty car accident which leaves her unconscious.

When she awakes, she finds herself imprisoned in an underground bunker, and she assumes she’s been kidnapped.  When the peculiar Howard (John Goodman) shows up and tells her that he hasn’t abducted her but rather has saved her life after the car accident, she doesn’t believe him; and when he tells her she can’t leave because outside the bunker the world she once knew doesn’t exist anymore as some unknown apocalyptic event has poisoned the air killing everyone on the surface, she thinks he’s crazy.

Even when she meets the third tenant in the bunker, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), who confirms Howard’s story, she’s still not convinced.  But later, when Michelle tries to escape and sees a woman outside the door whose skin seems to be peeling from her face and acting crazy, it appears as if Howard has been telling the truth.

The three then set their sights on surviving, and life is good, until certain things come to light that confirm Michelle’s worst fears.

The story told in 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is tight and well-written.  It’s an excellent screenplay by Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, and Damien Chazelle.  There’s an uncomfortable feeling permeating throughout this film, as you’re never quite able to feel at ease around John Goodman’s Howard.

John Goodman delivers a phenomenal performance as Howard.  He’s the best part of 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE.  Goodman is almost always good, but his performance here in this movie is extra special.  He’s just “off” enough where you’re pretty sure you don’t trust him but you’re not quite convinced because the crazy things he says all seem to be true.    He’s a difficult character to read, which is one of the reasons the story works so well. Should Michelle trust him?  Or should she try to kill him?

Mary Elizabeth Winstead is equally as good as Michelle.  She is not a helpless victim at all. At first, she’s constantly trying to escape, and even later, when she more or less believes Howard, she still keeps her eyes wide open.  No one is going to pull  a fast one on her.

And John Gallagher, Jr. rounds out the phenomenal trio with a decent performance of his own as Emmett.  At first, you’re not sure how much Emmett knows or what his intentions are, but as the story goes on, he becomes Michelle’s biggest ally.

Director Dan Trachtenberg, in his feature film directorial debut, does a nice job at the helm.  He gives this film a claustrophobic feel as he puts the audience right in the middle of the action with the characters in the underground bunker.

There are plenty of suspenseful scenes as well.  There’s one scene in particular where they are playing a game, and it goes from funny, to suspenseful, to back to funny again all in a matter of seconds.

Strangely, the weakest part of this movie is its ending, and it’s strange because it should have been the best part.  This is where the film should have tied in with the original CLOVERFIELD, but alas, that’s not how things play out.

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is a tight little thriller, a stand-alone movie that would work on its own merits even without the CLOVERFIELD name in the title.  Unfortunately, however, the name is in the title and the fact that is so loosely connected is a shame.  It’s pretty much not connected to the earlier movie at all.  Ridley Scott’s PROMETHEUS (2012) was more connected to the ALIEN series.

Why does this matter?  Let me use another movie to make my point.  Take JAWS (1975) for example.  And let’s say instead of JAWS 2 (1978) the next movie in the series was called 10 JAWS LANE, and in this movie, there’s no shark, there’s no Brody, no Matt Hooper, it doesn’t take place on Amity Island, and heck it’s not even about a shark!  It’s about an unknown threat that may or may not be lurking in the ocean while our characters are holed up in an underground bunker.  It’s a well-made movie, but without even one reference to the events in the previous film, I think audiences would have been miffed, and they probably would have felt cheated.  That’s how I felt towards 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE.

All this being said, I still enjoyed 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE, although it’s nowhere near as good a movie as CLOVERFIELD.

It is suspenseful, though, as it plays more like an Alfred Hitchcock movie than a horror movie.  Is this bad?  Not at all, but again, it works against the expectations generated by the CLOVERFIELD name.

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is a decent thriller, but it’s not CLOVERFIELD, nor is it related to it in any way shape or form.  And when your namesake is one of the finest giant monster movies ever made, the fact that you share no connection to it, is definitely not something worth celebrating.

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT (2016) – War Comedy Rather Tame

0

whiskey tango foxtrot poster

What would happen if 30 ROCK’S Liz Lemon left her TV studio job and went to Afghanistan to cover the war?

Check out WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT (2016) and you’ll have the answer.  Well, sort of.

Tina Fey, who played Liz Lemon for 7 seasons on the television show 30 ROCK, and stars in WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT (2016) isn’t playing Lemon here, but she might as well be. The similarities between Lemon and reporter Kim Baker, who Fey plays in this movie, are many.   They both have smart-alecky senses of humor, are awkward around men, and are energetic and ambitious.  The one big difference is Lemon is much funnier.

Not that movies about wars should be funny.  After all, war is no laughing matter.  Yet, when done right, black comedies about war— M*A*S*H (1972), GOOD MORNING VIETNAM (1987)— can be classics.  When done wrong, they can be embarrassingly awful.  WHISKEY TANGO FOXTRAT falls somewhere in between.  It’s not bad.  In fact, at times it’s pretty darn good, but on the whole, it just lacks the teeth that a black comedy about the war in Afghanistan needs to be successful.

It’s all very light and peripheral.

It’s 2004, and reporter Kim Baker (Tina Fey) is sent to Afghanistan to cover the war there because the network she works for is scrambling to find enough reporters to provide coverage of the multiple wars.  Baker agrees to go even though she has no foreign correspondent experience.  She’s as green as a cucumber.

Her contact there Fahim Ahmadzai (Christopher Abbott) quickly shows her the ropes and introduces her to all the folks she needs to know, like the man leading her security detail, Nic (Stephen Peacocke), fellow reporters Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie) and Iain MacKelpie (Martin Freeman), the leader of the Marine unit she’s covering, General Hollanek (Billy Bob Thornton) and the local Afghan leader, Ali Massoud Sadiq (Alfred Molina).

At first, Kim is overwhelmed and doubts she can last there very long, but as it turns out, she shows that she has what it takes to get the job done, like running alongside Marines during a fierce fire fight and capturing it all on film.  She quickly gains the respect of her fellow journalists and becomes something of a name back home.

Fellow reporter Tanya Vanderpoel shows Kim the wild times of the night life, something that at first she resists, but eventually she lets down her guard and accepts the lifestyle there, even becoming romantically involved with Iaian MacKelpie.

In short, Kim becomes addicted to the high octane life of a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, until she realizes that this lifestyle as much as it provides her with a constant rush isn’t normal, and is not something she wants to do for the rest of her life.

WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT attempts to show the horrors of war through the eyes of an out-of-place reporter who brings her snarky humor along with her to Afghanistan.  The problem is neither the horror nor the humor rise above standard fare, making this movie while entertaining nonetheless a bit underwhelming.

Tina Fey can be hilariously funny.  She’s not here, although her Kim Baker is a likable enough character.  At first the humor in the movie stems from Kim’s being so green and inexperienced.  Later it’s watching her make full use of her gumption.  But the film never takes these moments far enough.

When Kim finally decides to go all in with the night life, for example, the film never shows things as bawdy as they’re supposed to be.  We witness Kim and her friends binge drinking and talking about wild sex, but we never see it.  We see Kim vomit for a couple of seconds the next morning, but we never see her act like someone who really overdid it the night before.

Later in the story, Kim becomes involved romantically with Iain MacKelpie, and although Martin Freeman delivers what may be the best performance in the film as MacKelpie, he and Fey share very little chemistry.  Their relationship is supposed to be hot and heavy, yet it’s all so asexual.  Part of the problem is that Tina Fey generates as much sexual charisma as a library book on insect mating habits.

As I said, Martin Freeman delivers the best performance in the movie.  Freeman, from TV’s SHERLOCK and THE HOBBIT movies, among other things, gives MacKelpie some range at least.  At first, he comes off as an absolute cad, the last person you’d expect Kim to fall for, but when he comes to her rescue at one point, we see that he’s a three-dimensional cad with genuine feelings.  Once they become involved, he actually treats Kim very well.

Billy Bob Thornton does his thing in a nice performance as General Hollanek.  Likewise, Margot Robbie does well as veteran reporter Tanya Vanderpoel, who shows Kim the ropes and encourages her to becomes a savvier reporter.

Christopher Abbott makes his mark as Kim’s contact person Fahim Ahmadzai, and Alfred Molina enjoys some humorous moments as Afghan official Ali Massoud Sadiq, a man who has the hots for Kim and is always trying to find a way to get her to go to bed with him.  While some of Molina’s scenes are funny, others are too over the top and come off as phony.

WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT could certainly have benefitted from some sharper writing.  The screenplay by Robert Carlock, based on the book “The Taliban Shuffle:  Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan” by Kim Barker, comes close to hitting its mark but never quite gets there.  While it’s true that for the most part there was an undercurrent of uncomfortableness throughout the story, as a movie about the war in Afghanistan should be, the true horrors of the war were never quite hit upon.

For example, at one point Iain MacKelpie finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, and he’s kidnapped.  At this point, I’m thinking, western journalist captured, this is not going to end well, but it does, as Iain is rescued without suffering nary a scratch.

The humor never totally works either.  Writer Carlock wrote for SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE and for 30 ROCK, so you’d expect this one to be quite funny, but it’s not.

Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, the same two directors who directed the very funny CRAZY, STUPID LOVE (2011) don’t display the same comic hand  here.  They do a good job with the sense of place, as I certainly felt transported to Afghanistan, but for some reason, the horrors of war never come to light.  I expected this tale to be more disturbing.

Likewise, with Carlock writing the screenplay, Ficarra and Requa at the helm, and Tina Fey in the lead, I expected this one to be funnier than it was.

WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT generates some sympathy for the soldiers fighting in this Afghan war, as well as some for the reporters covering it.  However, one thing that is missing is a sense of the Afghan people.  The main Afghans we get to know are almost caricatures.

The film could have used a heavier dose of realism.

The film’s title, WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT, refers to the letters WTF, and while I’m sure there will be some viewers who after seeing this movie will be asking just that, I think the better question after watching this movie is Where’s The Ferocity?  War is ferocious, and a movie about war should be as well.

While not bad, WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT is far too tame to succeed as a black comedy about war.

—END—

 

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (2004)

2

This IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column on ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (2004) originally appeared in the HWA NEWSLETTER in March 2008.  It’s being reprinted this month in the March 2016 edition of the HORROR WRITERS ASSOCIATION NEWSLETTER.

Enjoy!

—Michael

alien-vs-predator-movie-poster

In the tradition of FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943) and KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1963), we have ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (2004).

I hate to admit it, but I like ALIEN VS. PREDATOR.  Here’s why.

The number one reason? It’s the monsters, stupid.  For those of us who love our movie monsters, it’s hard not to like a film like ALIEN VS. PREDATOR.  That’s not to say the film doesn’t have flaws.  It does.

The story is simple.  A group of experts make an expedition to the Antarctic in search of a strange underground pyramid.  While there,  they discover a breeding ground and learn that the predators are breeding the aliens for hunting practice.  Of course, to breed the aliens, the predators need humans to serve as hosts.  Nice vacation spot.

By far, this plot point of the relationship between the predators and the aliens is the worst part of the movie.  The first time these creatures meet it should have been something special.  We the audience should have been privy to it, but we’re not.  Imagine if in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1963) the filmmakers revealed that these two behemoths had already met, frequently, and that Godzilla uses King Kong for target practice on a regular basis.  Would you still want to watch the movie?  It just wouldn’t be the same.

It’s a major blemish on the screenplay by Paul W.S. Anderson, who also directed.

Still, it doesn’t ruin the entire movie, and to his credit, director Anderson does craft a neat first meeting between a predator and an alien in this movie.  It’s just that we know through the story that these creatures have met before, and so, much of the zing of what is to follow is lost.

Even so, the battle sequences are still entertaining, but oh what could have been.  Director Paul W.S. Anderson does a good job for the most part helming these cinematic monster battles, which at the very least are not boring.

And the film looks good.  The shots in the icy Antarctic bring to mind John Carpenter’s THE THING (1982), and the special effects aren’t that bad either.

Absent from the film however is the gripping suspense from the earlier ALIEN movies, though this isn’t a complete surprise because the suspense was also absent from the previous two ALIEN installments, ALIEN 3 (1992) and ALIEN RESURRECTION (1997).

The cast is pretty good though.  I enjoyed the lead character (Sanaa Lathan).  Nathan turns in a strong performance, in keeping with the ALIEN tradition of having a strong female lead, taking over the job from Sigourney Weaver.  She gets to say such tough gal lines as “When I lead my team, I don’t ever leave my team,” and “We’re in the middle of a war.  It’s time to pick a side.”  And did I mention she looks good?

The rest of the cast is OK, even though Lance Henriksen, a fine actor who appeared in ALIENS (1986) and ALIEN 3 (1992) is somewhat of a disappointment.  Compare Henriksen’s performance in this film to his performance in ALIENS as the android Bishop, and you’ll find that Henriksen showed more range as the android than as a human.

But who are we kidding?  ALIEN VS. PREDATOR is about the monsters, not the people, and there are plenty of monsters in this movie.  For this reason alone, it’s fun.

All in all, ALIEN VS. PREDATOR is a well-produced and well-acted film that in spite of its flaws, satisfies that hunger which those of us  who love movie monsters all share, a hunger for monsters.

—END—

And remember, if you enjoyed this column, you can read 150 of my IN THE SPOOKLIGHT columns in my book, IN THE SPOOKLIGHT.  It’s available as an Ebook at http://www.neconebooks.com, and if you’d like a print edition, just visit the “About” section of this blog for ordering details.

Thanks!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

TRIPLE 9 (2016) Wastes Talented Cast

0

triple 9 poster

With a cast that includes Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Woody Harrelson, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus, and Kate Winslet, TRIPLE 9 (2016) should have been triple the fun, but it’s not.

TRIPLE 9 tells a dark tale of corrupt cops working for the Russian mob, and as such should have been a riveting action drama, but less than stellar writing and underdeveloped characters ultimately do this one in.

The bad guys include crooked cops Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie) and Franco Rodriguez (Clifton Collins Jr.), ex-cop Gabe Welch (Aaron Paul), and disgrunteld ex-soldiers Michael Atwood (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Russell Welch (Norman Reedus) who also happens to be Gabe’s brother. They work for the Russian mob, and they’re at the mob’s beck and call because the head of the mob Irina Vlaslov (Kate Winslet) has Michael Atwood’s young son in her clutches, which in this case is easy to do because she happens to be the boy’s aunt!  See, the boy’s mother is Irina’s sister.

The good guys— and there’s not many of them in this movie— include Chris Allen (Casey Affleck), a cop who runs the straight and narrow because he wants to “make a difference,” (cliche, cough, cliche), and his loose canon police captain uncle Jeffrey Allen (Woody Harrelson).

Michael and his team rob a bank for Irina’s mob, but after the job, she refuses to pay them, saying there is one more job that they must do for her, and of course, Michael cannot refuse her, because she’s got his son.  The job is next to impossible, as it involves robbing a federal building loaded with swat-team style security, and so they come up with a plan to utilize “999” which is the police code for “officer down.”  They decide to kill a police officer, knowing that once that 999 code spreads over the police dispatch, every officer on the force will be racing towards the shooting scene, which will give them the time to make their impossible heist.

They choose Marcus’ new partner Chris to be their victim, thus setting the stage for the big conflict in this movie.

TRIPLE 9 suffers from some pretty weak writing across the board.    The screenplay is by Matt Cook, and it’s his first feature film writing credit.  It shows.

Let’s start with characters.  All of these guys have the potential to be very interesting, but none of them— not one– is developed enough for us to care about them.  Part of the problem is that there are too many characters in this movie.  Perhaps things would have been better had screenwriter Cook taken just two of these guys and built the story around them.

Take the two main characters for example.  You have Michael Atwood, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, as the leader of the baddies, who should be the guy we love to hate, or perhaps feel bad about, but I felt absolutely nothing for this guy.  We’re supposed to feel bad for him bad for him because the mob has his son, but we never see him as a dad with his son.  They have some scenes together, but they’re meaningless.  On the contrary, the little kid seems to be having more fun with his aunt Irina.  Plus, we’re given no background to establish what kind of relationship Michael had with the boy’s mother.  Everything is all so peripheral.  And on the tough guy bad guy front, Michael is a failure as very few things he does here work.

Likewise, Casey Affleck’s Chris Allen is a walking cliche.  He goes around brooding, obviously unhappy with a lot of his fellow police officers (no wonder they want to kill him!) and the brief scenes where we see him with his family are pointless.  We just never get to know him.

Anthony Mackie’s Marcus Belmont is even less developed than these two.  Clifton Collins Jr. fares slightly better as Franco Rodriguez.  At least he comes off as slightly creepy.

Woody Harrelson’s performance as Jeffrey Allen is all over the place.  At times, he acts like the top cop in the precinct, but more often than not he’s a loose wire, often sounding and acting like the corrupt cops he’s trying to weed out.

And then there’s Kate Winslet.  What was she doing in this movie?  Irina Vlaslov comes off like a cross between Cruella Deville and Brigitte Nielsen’s Ludmilla from ROCKY IV (1985) only without any personality.  I never took this character seriously.

The two best peformances in this movie belong to the two TV stars, Aaron Paul (BREAKING BAD) and Norman Reedus (THE WALKING DEAD).

Reedus delivers the best performance in the movie, hands down, with Paul right behind him, but the reason they don’t lift this movie is they’re not in it much at all.  Had this film been built around these guys, these characters, the filmmakers might have had something.  Reedus is icy cool as big brother Russell Welch, and in his brief screen time, he manages to do something that no one else other than Paul does in this film:  he actually makes you care about his character a little bit.  Incredibly, in the brief time Reedus is in this movie, he gives Russell some depth, a feeling that there’s more to this guy than just a shallow mercenary.

Paul does the same with younger brother Gabe Welch.  Of all the villains, it’s Gabe who’s the most messed up, the one who struggles the most to keep it all together, and Paul does a great job with this character.  Unfortunately, the movie spends very little time on these guys.

Director John Hillcoat actually does a pretty good job here.  The opening robbery sequence is indeed rather riveting, and the climactic “999” scene is also very good, but there’s just so much in the middle that doesn’t work that by the time we get to that “999” scene, I didn’t really care about any of it.

For example, there’s the weak depiction of the Russian mob.  How do we know this Russian mob is so deadly?  Because we’re privy to quick shots of bloodied whimpering bodies in the trunks of cars.  It’s certainly not because we’re privy to what the mob is up to.  The plot is centered around the big heist at the end, and yet very little time is spent on what they are actually stealing or why the mob wants it so badly.

The film also never really delivers true suspense.

There’s just not a lot that works in TRIPLE 9.  It wastes its very talented cast, its story is contrived, its characters undeveloped, and its execution is uneven.

Instead of calling in a 999, perhaps the folks in this movie should have dialed 911.