Farewell Armageddon

ARMA1Armageddon, 1998, 150 mins, Streaming

Ah, but who am I kidding? The ‘Farewell….’ series of posts are about films which I believe I have watched for the last time (there’s only so much time, and so many films to watch, after all) but deep down I know I’m sure to return to this film again, someday (hell, it would probably only take a 4K UHD release to start me reaching for my wallet).  I KNOW that Armageddon is a terrible movie- its not a lot saner than Roland Emmerich’s Moonfall, which is what brought me to this one again, but certainly its a whole lot better than that disastrous disaster movie. What actually makes it a better movie is an interesting conundrum though. Is it the cast? The music? As far as scripts are concerned, both are incredibly silly, over the top spectacles that use big special effects to cover up all sorts of chasms of logic and scientific inaccuracy. One can feel self-respect and brain cells melting away with every minute of screen time. Its an endless marvel watching the actors earnestly spouting the cornball dialogue like their careers depended upon it – Steve Buscemi gets away lightly with what are probably the film’s best lines, but most everything Billy Bob Thornton utters during Armageddon is cringe-inducing, and Bruce Willis’ wry smirk seems to indicate he knows that he’s got worse movies/scripts coming.

While I shall likely (hopefully, even) never watch Moonfall again, I’ve probably watched Armageddon twelve times or more over the past twenty-plus years since I first watched it at the cinema, and parts of it more than that – I can’t help myself watching it if every time I stumble upon it screening on television, for instance, so I’ve seen the last half too many times to mention, probably. My routine excuse is that its so bad its good, like Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce, another guilty favourite (although in that films case I can rationalise it as imagining it is the film Hammer might have made had that British studio still been making its horror films into the 1980s, which actually improves the experience no end).

A more interesting, certainly more fitting, comparison than Moonfall would possibly be between Armageddon and 1998’s other meteor impact film, Deep Impact, which seems to be on television just as often, if not more. Deep Impact is widely accepted as being the better film, even if its not the most re-watchable of them. Which maybe adds another question, regards what actually makes films re-watchable anyway. Maybe its just anticipating the cheesy moments, the clunky one-liners, the idiotic science, as if there’s some perverse pleasure in it. I do know there’s better movies I should be re-watching.

That all being said, for all I know someone out there, maybe LOTS of someones, rate Armageddon as their favourite movie of all time.  I’d love them to explain why.

A dreadful proposal: Deep Water

deeplyDeep Water, 2022, 115 mins, Amazon Prime

A very silly film, this, about a toxic marriage that… well, I suppose this kind of thing trended well back in the 1990s; indeed, director Adrian Lyne had great success with this sort of tosh with Fatal Attraction (1987) and Indecent Proposal (1993), but while Deep Water is competently made and shot (as one would expect from someone like Lyne) its just.. so silly it borders on parody.

This time around its Vic (Ben Affleck) a fabulously wealthy and handsome husband of beautiful and sultry Melinda (Ana de Armas) who is strangely bored with her marriage and her fabulously wonderful daughter Trixie (film-stealing Grace Jenkins). Melinda fools around having successive affairs and Vic sleeps in the spare room getting increasingly suspicious of her late nights and drunken behaviour at the fabulous parties they keep going to. Melinda isn’t in the slightest bit discreet regards her affairs, even inviting each beau to the next party they are at, raising embarrassed glances from party-goers and freinds. Vic of course is beefed-up like he’s ready to appear in a Batman movie so when Melinda’s lovers each disappear… well, it wouldn’t take the Worlds Greatest Detective to deduce who the prime suspect is, so a local author, Don (Tracie Letts) realises there might be a great book in what’s going on in the neighbourhood.

Its pretty nauseating nonsense, really. The fabulous lives of the fabulously attractive and fabulously wealthy elite have nothing at all in common with my everyday experience: as we Brits say, its all bollocks. I’m supposed to feel sympathy with fabulously wealthy Vic married to fabulously beautiful Melinda with fabulously perfect daughter Trixie? I’m supposed to maybe understand fabulous Melinda’s boredom and promiscuous nature? Melinda is a beautiful trophy-wife but a frankly hideous character. Meanwhile, I’m not supposed to laugh at Vic’s preposterously odd hobby of raising snails/slugs in his garden shed/Batcave mancave? Moreover, I’m not supposed to be too concerned at an apparent lack of screen chemistry between the two leads?

To be fair, Ana de Armas plays a fabulous drunk and she exudes sensuality etc fabulously (she’s certainly not reticent regards shedding her clothes in films). Ben Affleck broods well but we knew he could manage that from his Batman role, and here he just looks too… well, handsome man-mountain- he’s hardly an Everyman, in just the same way his wife is hardly an Everywoman. Is this the fabulously toxic marriage we ordinary folks are supposed to aspire to? Affleck’s best moments are when he’s showing some genuine warmth, mostly those scenes he shares with the delightful Grace Jenkins, who genuinely steals the film from her adult stars. Highlight of the film is her singing in the back of the family car, reprised in the films end-credits for a bit of outtake fun, but a sexy thriller is in trouble when its stolen by its child actor and the best scene in the film is during the end-credits.

At any rate, the film gradually descends into farce and features the mother of all contrived coincidences once author Don stumbles upon Vic’s final (?) crime. I mean, that entire final reel is so audacious it almost deserves to be applauded, I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. It deserves some kind of award. One of those fabulous raspberries, probably.

The Last Duel (2021) 4K UHD

lastduel4kitaliaThankfully, The Last Duel marks a return to form for director Ridley Scott. I keep thinking, I should be referring to him as ‘SIR’ Ridley and I’m doing him a disservice at best or lack of respect at worst, and I certainly intend neither. After all, I’ve followed and been fascinated, enthralled and horrified  by his career ever since I read the lengthy interviews with him in Fantastic Films back when Alien came out in 1979. His Ridleygrams and keen eye for design was an inspiration for years while I was at High School and later doing my Degree in Art & Design.  I think its true to say now that there is much more to his films than the visuals, even if that was the inevitable cheap shot targeted at him early on, and a general consensus he always seems damned by. 

There was a time when the arrival of every new Ridley Scott film was something to get excited by. I think that waned pretty early on- of course, I loved Alien and Blade Runner and was frustrated by Legend, and I recall being mystified by Someone to Watch Over Me, as if it was Ridley selling out (something only intensified by Black Rain, and later G.I. Jane) when he’d gotten so many of us convinced he’d be the John Ford of sci-fi/fantasy films. Looking at his filmography today, its pretty mixed: some great films, some average films, some poor films, but its a pretty astonishing list of films, really, and that’s just considering him as director; he’s produced/executive produced a colossal amount of work in film and television.

But I remember the days I used to think he’d forever be making films that looked like Heavy Metal movies- a little like the days when I thought George Lucas would make nine Star Wars films in a relentless, wonderful three-yearly succession-and I have a wry smile considering my naivety back then. By the mid-eighties Ridley was off making ‘ordinary’ films and Lucas had abandoned Star Wars films completely.

The Last Duel is a little like the films I thought Ridley would always be making. Films depicting other worlds. I appreciate I’m falling into the trap, with this line of thinking,  of Ridley just being a visual stylist, but the guy has the best eye in the business, and as he’s gotten older, he’s gotten so incredibly fast. The Last Duel is a return to the very beginning, and the pastoral beauty of The Duellists, his low-budget first feature that was hardly released and watched by pretty much nobody (hey, its like he’s gone totally full circle). It also reminds one of 1492: Conquest of Paradise and Kingdom of Heaven (the directors cut of which I consider to be one of his top five, maybe even top three, films), films which put worlds on screen as vividly alien as anything set on some other world or in some distant future.

Its interesting to consider The Duellists, though, because The Last Duel is in no way as pretty or visually intoxicating as that first film. The Duellists seemed to have something to prove (if only that Ridley could outdo Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon?), and is so painterly and beautiful. The Last Duel is very impressive visually, with its period setting evoked in just as tangible a reality, but it doesn’t draw attention to its visuals as much as Ridley’s earlier work. The Last Duel is more balanced, and intent on its character and narrative and acting performances: a more qualified and professional piece of work, perhaps. I just think its quite telling, comparing Ridley’s first film and this 2021 film. 

So The Last Duel starts by telling us it is based on true events. Its essentially a Medieval rape-revenge drama, which is a summation that does it no favours at all, and its method of telling its narrative from three seperate viewpoints weighs the film down with a big Rashomon reference nailed to its back like an easy target. The Last Duel is no Rashomon– for one thing the three versions of the story are largely very similar, the differences pointedly the subjective view of each narrator, complicated by how much faith we have in who is being true and doubts regards what ‘truth’ even means in such a misogynistic world. Even the word ‘rape’ essentially has different meaning in 1386, less a crime against the female victim and more an affront to the man who ‘owns’ her. This is a horrifying world in which only men hold power and authority, and the woman Marguerite de Carrouges (Jodie Comer) is caught in the middle of some long feud between past freinds Jean (Matt Damon), and Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) which ends in typical bloody masculinity; a fight to the death which will decide the truth of her allegations and possibly result in her being flogged and burned alive. Hell yeah – this is the kind of film to outrage feminists everywhere and turn men into apologists for their gender (and as usual for Ridley, religion and its power machinations don’t come out too positively either).

What made The Last Duel so interesting and rewarding, for me, was the typical Ridley habit of featuring largely unlikeable characters. Even considering its general plotline, this is not the narrative one might expect in an audience-friendly Hollywood flick, characters don’t tick the boxes we’d usually expect. Jean, the wronged husband nominally defending his wife’s reputation is a brute, something of a monster. He’s a violent man more disposed to the battle field, largely unread and uncultured, and always on the brink of poverty. Its telling that he marries Marguerite not out of love but more out of the need of her dowry, paid to him by her father, in order to keep Jean solvent – part of his grievance with Jacques Le Gris is because Le Gris is gifted land which Jean thought he was entitled to as part of Marguerite’s dowry. Le Gris meanwhile is less the warrior and more the gifted socialite, working his way up through society through his manners and cultured upbringing rather than prowess serving the King on battlefields. This might suggest that he is a ‘nicer’, more likeable character but far from it- he’s actually quite repellent as regards his treatment of women (albeit one must remember its typical of that period). Its  interesting how the film portrays the actual rape- first from Le Gris’ point of view, which sees Marguerite’s protestations as token actions of ‘a lady’ who is actually quite willing, and then how we see it from Marguerite’s own view. Even something as subtle as Marguerite slipping off her footwear before backing upstairs towards her bedroom – enticingly provocative in Le Gris’ account, whereas they simply fall off in her rising panic  as she flees for safety upstairs in Marguerite’s telling.

In truth, I don’t think anyone comes across well in the film other than Marguerite- this is a film in which all men are largely bastards and dismissive of women other than as objects of lust or vessels for children. Perhaps the film lacks the sophistication to suggest that the men are not inherently evil, rather more products of their society and world, or perhaps that’s expected as a given. Its possibly one of the weaknesses of the film, that we don’t really ‘like’ either of the two men caught in combat during the final duel, but that’s possibly a case of reality getting in the way of empathy with the narrative. In an ‘ordinary’ or traditional film, we’d have a hero to root for, one of the men on the side of ‘right’. Instead we’re more concerned in the twists of the fight to the death as regards what it means for poor Marguerite who will be summarily tortured and executed if her husband falls. I have to admit, I felt quite tense during the last duel, having absolutely no idea who was going to be victorious or what the ultimate outcome for Marguerite might be, so some kudos for the film there. Its nice when watching a modern film not being able to second-guess or predict it. Neither man is really fighting for Marguerite- Jean has old scores to settle and the personal sense of affront regards his sullied wife, while Le Gris has likely already moved on to some other female conquest. 

Ironically however, for all the failings of the characters themselves, the actors come across very well indeed, and barring a few dodgy accents and a turn from Ben Affleck as the rich Count Pierre d’Alençon, cousin to the mad King and court ally of Le Gris, which I’ve still got mixed feelings about., the cast is excellent. Comer is just brilliant, probably the best performance in the film and one of the best I’ve seen all year. Damon and Driver are both very good, giving nuanced performances of complex and flawed characters, engaging and repellent in equal measure, something not at all easy. I think one of the improvements in Ridley’s films over the years has been his work with actors and one can see that here.

So this may not be top-tier Ridley, whatever that actually means as there are so many differing opinions regards which are his best films (hell, I actually like The Counsellor)  but its certainly a solid film and one of his better ones – most definitely a return to form. Time, of course, will provide the true yardstick, rather than the frankly appalling box-office which has left this film cited as the bomb of the year. I’d like to think the film will find its audience over time, and apparently this already may well be the case with home streaming figures reportedly being high- its just perhaps not the film to drag punters into cinemas, particularly during a pandemic. So wrong film, wrong time… that’s hardly a first for Ridders.

Justice at last?

zsjl1Zack Snyder’s Justice League has arrived and its, well, long and its loud. Both are likely big pluses for fans of his films – I’m rather conflicted to be honest. I loved his Watchmen adaptation; its not without its faults but its a far better and authentic adaptation of the Moore/Gibbons masterwork than I had ever hoped for. Snyder is clearly a gifted director at bringing comicbook heroes to cinema- he has a  visual sense that is ideally suited to bringing comicbook panels to vivid life, with a particular talent for action sequences and using slo-mo to mimic the effect of comicbook splash pages. 

But it can also be his weakness, his Kryptonite. ZSJL is four hours long but it could probably have been brought in at 3.5 hours with the slo-mo shots played at normal speed. The ‘posing’ is one thing (I can accept some of the posing that the characters do -Marvel does it too in its films- because that’s just mirroring the comicbook style of having key panels that readers/fans dwell on when reading the comicbooks, transferring that to the cinematic form) but the slo-mo thing… used sparingly it can be highly effective and is one of the visual devices Snyder is so very uniquely good at (it looks easy but isn’t) but he does go to the well too often sometimes, especially here. Often the film seems to have been primarily shot at a high frame rate and played back at normal rate, the slo-mo almost becoming something of a self-reverence bordering on parody: “This is SO important!” it seems to scream at us. Over and over.

But it really isn’t that important, at least unless you’re a DC uber-fan who is fixated on all the comicbook mythology. The story of ZSJL isn’t up to the task of being a four-hour epic, it just isn’t. Its handicapped with origin stories and character introductions that should be unnecessary, having been handled in solo movies in the way the MCU did things, but since those solo movies never happened (come on, not even Affleck’s Batman got his own solo outing, incredibly) this film has to spend an inordinate amount of time going over material that simply shouldn’t be there. In this respect, I have every sympathy with Snyder and what he was doing (remember this film was shot back in 2016, if not earlier, before Wonder Woman, Aquaman etc ever happened)- its a huge juggling act, positioning pieces, characters and motivations in order to move the plot forwards.

This might have been my biggest issue with the film. Somehow (sideward glance at the MCU) these comicbook films have become so very serialised now they hardly function as individual films anymore. ZSJL directly references events that happened in the prior film to this, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and since its been a few years now since I watched that film, many of them were lost on me (I didn’t realise it was Required Viewing prior to this film, silly me). It also doesn’t help that the film stars a Batman who’s since been rebooted (Ben Affleck’s excellent Batman replaced by Robert Pattinson in next year’s Matt Reeves imaginatively-titled film The Batman) and a Superman that’s being rebooted right now as I type this (poor Henry Cavill being ditched by that Jar Jar Abrams maniac). And it REALLY doesn’t help that ZSJL spends considerable time laying out plotlines -particularly continuing the BvS geektease of the Knightmare sequence, hinting for a SECOND TIME a better film- and threads/arcs that will never get played out, save some kind of miracle, but obviously intended for a JSL2 or JSL3. Best-case scenario, HBO hires Snyder to make his planned JSL2/JSL3 into one last film, but the most likely scenario is we never see it and it becomes another ‘what-if’ for the fans.

Ultimately ZSJL is an oddity, and no doubt while a boon for his fans and devotees of what they are calling the DC Snyderverse films, other than the miracle of it finally being finished and released (I refuse to refer to the 2017 Joss Whedon abomination, preferring to think that film simply never existed) I have to question the fandom hysterics of it being some kind of Second Coming. No film with a story as simple and predictable/formulaic as this one should run four hours long, it just shouldn’t. There are scenes that are redundant and those teases which are wholly pointless: the film could have been a leaner, better 3.5 hours, possibly even 3 hours long.

I also don’t think the aspect ratio of 4:3 justifies itself. It seems Snyder has his eye on Imax screenings but considering this thing is being launched on televisions across the world I would have thought the usual widescreen format would have been preferable now and the 4:3 something saved for those Imax screens later. I really can’t see why 4:3 was the preferable option, it seems to box everything in and loses the cinematic qualities benefitted by widescreen, as if the last twenty-odd years of widescreen CRT tubes and flat screen technologies never happened. I’m almost surprised it wasn’t released in mono for added Old School sensibilities (although I hear rumours of a b&w version that has me thinking the whole thing is an elaborate piss-take). Its such a curio, this whole thing. 

batsBut I will just say this- its further proof that Ben Affleck, incredibly (and God knows I was his biggest doubter when the casting news first broke, years ago), is absolutely the best Batman we’ve yet seen. The fact that the guy didn’t get his own movie is a bigger shame than anything else that went wrong with the DC movies or the Justice League project. I thought he’d be terrible but I was totally wrong- he even nails both the Bat and Bruce Wayne, something I don’t think any actor before him really managed: whenever I have reservations regards any casting news I think back to Affleck’s Batman and give anything the benefit of the doubt now. I’d like to see a ZSJL2 if only to see Affleck playing Batman again- his older, wiser (?), more bitter caped crusader is a total joy, up there with Christopher Reeves’ Superman to me. If I ever buy BvS and ZSJL on 4K disc someday, its wholly because of him.

Bring On The Bad Guys

suicid22017.2: Suicide Squad- Extended Cut (Blu-ray)

Hey, Suicide Squad ain’t so bad. Well, the movie is pretty poor, but the squad, well, they ain’t so bad. One of them even refuses to use his powers for fear of hurting anyone. Another is, yes, a killer but she just fell for the wrong guy (shucks, the Joker, whodathunkit) and she’s crazy anyway, so she doesn’t know what she’s doing, she just looks great doing it. Another one is an assassin who is more interested in getting his daughter through college, like any good parent should.

Were these the baddest bad guys DC could come up with? An Aussie bankrobber who throws a boomerang and keeps a pink fluffy unicorn under his coat? What?

Handicapped with a crew of b-list bad guys like that, its no wonder the film comes off feeling rather anaemic. These bad guys are more poor-mans superheroes than kickass supervillains. Even the Big Baddess that threatens to destroy the world in some weird Ghostbusters-knockoff is a good-looking white chick possessed by some evil voodoo priestess, who needs saving rather than killing (her brother who’s possessing some random Black Guy needs killing though, that’s fine, who’s gonna miss a black guy?).

Who the fuck pissed off my stylist?

In all fairness to the film-makers, maybe they really did intend to make the superhero-genre equivalent of Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds. There’s just no way Warners or DC would let them go that far. Superhero films are so expensive, with entire franchises of multitudes of films riding on each and every one of them, that there is no way anyone is going to take any risks subverting genre conventions or upsetting anyone. Even Deadpool, for all its bad-language and violence and under-the-belt humor, is fairly conservative in its structure in the end.

I do suspect that Zack Snyder when he began working on the DC films, from Man of Steel and Batman v Superman to Justice League, and co-producing Suicide Squad, possibly always intended to inform them from a post-Watchmen angle, analysing and subverting genre norms under the watchful eye of a modern contemporary worldview. But each film appears to have been neutered by a nervous studio envious of how Marvel Studios are cleaning up at the Box Office. So they seem to be being made with the best of intentions regards showing a dark and gritty world of heroes but they always seem to falter, never more so than here with Suicide Squad.

No boys, there aint nothing phallic about my baseball bat…

That said, I did quite enjoy it; its like there was a great film in here once but it got lost in the process of making it. Ben Affleck’s Batman really needs his own movie- Affleck looks fantastic as the Dark Knight. Jared Leto’s Joker needs a film where he’s the central villain so he can get on with being really bad and crazy. Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn has passed her audition with flying colours and is sure to get her own spin-off film to keep the pubescent boys interested in DC movies (what’s the odds she gets cameos in several films?). Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller is perhaps the only genuine bad guy in the whole picture, almost out-doing Samuel Jackson as the best badass leader around.

But as a whole, Suicide Squad is something of a shambles. If anything, it repeats the mistakes of BvS. It has to spend so much time establishing characters and motivations that it leaves little space for the actual plot, in just the same way that BvS spends far too much time setting up Justice League.

Suicide Squad needed to follow a Batman film with the Dark Knight battling the Joker and Harley Quinn, so that we knew all that background from the start. Suicide Squad needed a film with Deadshot being an evil deadly assassin so that his shot (sic) for redemption (and his daughter) actually meant something to us. Imagine if that first Avengers film had to introduce every member of the Avengers, who they were, their origins/histories, before it could get on with battling Loki and the alien invasion. It would have seemed a horrible clunky mess, like all these DC films seem to.

Oh well. There’s always Wonder Woman to save the day, DC…


Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

bvs1.jpg2016. 27: Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (Cinema)

I have to keep reminding myself; its ‘just’ a superhero movie. The whole genre is daft, isn’t it? You get grown guys dressed up in silly costumes and a genre increasingly taking itself far too seriously and you wind up with films like Man of Steel and BvS. Talented guys like Zack Snyder give too much credit to the passions of geeks and nerds and teenage comics readers and we get misguided films like this that believe that comicstrips can be like Shakespeare or something. Weighed down by self-importance and juvenile politicising and scripts that cover up massive plot-holes with CGI bombast until that very CGI bombast becomes the be-all and end-all of everything.

Sod it. Let’s start again. My favourite superhero film is Superman: The Movie. It’s a classic lesson in how to treat a comicbook with respect without taking itself too seriously. Its a fine line, I admit, but there is a limit to how seriously this stuff should be taken. Guys in tights, you know?

Another thing about Superman: The Movie. It’s kind of aged, because, well, it has– it was made in the ‘seventies. It dates back to photochemical effects and miniatures and is pre-CGI. But it still shines today because Christopher Reeve was genius casting and it’s him who makes you believe a man can fly. You love his Clark Kent, admire his Superman. You don’t have to lay waste to Metropolis and slaughter thousands of innocents to make the film exciting. Superman cares about burglaries and cats in trees and planes falling out of the sky. He’s a good guy. That’s all we need to know.

You see, Superman: The Movie wasn’t made by geeks for geeks. It was made by ordinary grown-ups for family audiences. There was a grounding of reality about everything. My question is, are the geeks ruining films? Have they inherited Hollywood and usurped the old storytellers?

bvs4Because here we have BvS. It says everything about where the genre has gone over the decades. We first had Superman: The Movie, we later had Batman. Now we have Batman vs Superman and its about as intellectually stimulating as the title suggests. I mean, that whole ‘Martha’ thing. How stupid do these film-makers think we are? And the first time Supes meets Batman, Batman is clearly chasing bazooka-wielding bad guys, but Supes gives them a pass in order to bust open the Batmobile and tell Bats off. And what exactly was Lex’s superplan to rule the world with Doomsday? How the hell was he expecting to control Doomsday once it had killed Bats and Supes? And Supes can hear/see Lois in trouble wherever she is, but can’t hear/see a bomb hidden in a wheelchair right in front of him. He can travel faster than a bullet but can’t get that bomb out of the building just as it detonates. Did Snyder learn nothing from reading/making Watchmen?

It’s a big mess of a film. It doesn’t have one protagonist, it has two. Or three. Or four, depending on who we count. It doesn’t have one plot. It has two or three spread across separate timelines, some of which may be dreams or visions or mis-remembered memories or clips from future films. Again, did Snyder learn nothing from reading/making Watchmen?

My first thoughts walking out of BvS? That it wasn’t as bad as the reviews made out. That I sort-of quite enjoyed it (whilst knowing that I really shouldn’t have though).

There doesn’t seem much point reviewing this film. Its already become an ‘event’, perhaps even more so than Disney’s relaunch of Star Wars. Suffering a delayed release and endless marketing and leaks (the trailers simply revealing – and promising- far too much) it seems evident that even during production the film was being retconned into less just a single film but more a launchpad for a whole series of other films, subjecting it to a tension that clearly always threatens to rip it apart and undermine the whole enterprise.

The Corporate stakes are huge: Warners and DC need the film to launch a film franchise to counter Marvel’s huge series of films after the faltering Superman Returns and Man Of Steel reboots and they also need it to work on its own and recoup its huge (anything from $250 to $400 million) production costs. Maybe even impress both the critics and the fanboys while it’s at it too. Well, good luck with that.

A better film had the line, the light that burns twice as bright burns half as long and it’s never truer than regards BvS. It burned so very, very brightly – subjected to largely vicious reviews from the press, fanboys themselves were largely split on the films merits with huge emotional debates becoming angry and personal online (fueled by some predictable Marvel vs DC nonsense too). The box-office has been initially amazing; contrary to those reviews, the film managed a huge opening weekend but was subjected to a corresponding massive drop-off by the second week (some outlets already quoting an 80% drop-off, even the most conservative estimating a fairly damning 70% drop). The film was scarcely in cinemas when release dates for an extended cut were being mentioned for as early as July and attention turning towards that as if the cinema release was already done and over.

As I’m writing this, the film was released little over a week ago, and already it almost feels all over. Everything has been said. Its almost scary. How much has been discussed and dissected on forums and on Youtube and media outlets? Its almost boring already, and the film has only been out just over a week. What on Earth is the Cultural half-life of a Hollywood blockbuster now? Or the timeline of its box-office: days? Weeks? A month? How much money has been spent on making and publicising this film, how much spent on distribution and marketing, how much spent by filmgoers, casual and otherwise (I know of one guy at work who has seen the film three times already), how much has been spent on merchandising and how much spent preparing for its home video release?

I have the feeling that we need a year or two to go by before we can really judge this film and even then we have to have some frame of reference to go by. By which criteria does someone judge it anyway? Do we judge it on its own artistic merits, or on how well it ultimately performs at the box office and more importantly how that impacts the succeeding DC movies? We have Suicide Squad this summer and the Wonder Woman film being shot right now. There are already rumours of reshoots for Suicide Squad, how long before reactions to BvS affect the making of Wonder Woman? Its like BvS isn’t just a film anymore- maybe it was never ‘just’ a film, and thats the root of all its issues.

So anyway, here’s my take, for what it’s worth.

bvs21) Ben Affleck. The best Batman ever? I really think he might be. His haunted Bruce Wayne is borderline psychotic and he absolutely nails the Batman. He looks pretty definitive in my book with a huge physical presence. He just deserved a better film. No, he deserved his own movie.  Which leads me to-

2) There’s much more Dark Knight Returns in BvS than I had expected. I have two differing thoughts on this. On the one hand, had Synder really wanted to just make Dark Knight Returns then maybe he just should have, and dropped all the Man of Steel tie-in stuff altogether (and certainly all that Justice League worldbuilding too). On the other hand, there’s more to the Batman than Frank bloody Miller, and it’s past time film-makers managed to shake the curse/weight/inspiration/shadow of DKR from the character. It shaped/handicapped the Chris Nolan trilogy and clearly inspired so much of BvS but surely its done now. Besides, DKR isn’t even canon. DC has always said it exists in some alternate universe away from the ‘proper’ character.

(There’s even a very fine animated movie of DKR that does the story well so a live-action version is surely already redundant but… I have the horrible feeling that, even with so much of it featuring in BvS, we will one day see a ‘proper’ live-action complete film version of DKR someday in the future. Maybe it’ll be ten, twenty, even thirty years from now, whenever it happens, it’ll happen. They just can’t leave the bloody thing alone).

3) Henry Cavill is awfully bland. I don’t blame Cavill for this, I’ve seen him much better in other stuff- in his defense, its the depiction of Superman in these films that is still pretty bland and boring. He was ill-served by Man of Steel and is just as ill-served here, maybe more so. Zack Snyder seems to have confused Superman with his Watchmen film’s Dr Manhattan. Superman is not Dr Manhattan- someone should tell Snyder that. But BvS continues to ask the same questions as MoS and it’s getting just as mired in them; we don’t trust our leaders, as they evidently prove corruptible and weak, so if there was a Superman, how could we trust him?  It’s pointless really because after two films it still doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. One thing I was curious of- there is plenty of questions in BvS about Superman, but all the public/police/politicians etc seem okay with that Batdude terrorising Gotham. What gives?

3). BvS is a much better film than Man of Steel, and yet Snyder still makes some of the same mistakes. Snyder seems to confuse drama with noise, visual as well as aural. Man of Steel did not need to blight MOS’ Kryptonian prologue with a huge sky battle/CGI shitfest. It did not add any gravitas or drama to it. Neither did it need the Planet-killer sequence or Metropolis laid waste. Battering audiences over the head with cartoon CGI theatrics does not add dramatic involvement or excitement. MoS would have been more interesting had it just comprised of Henry Cavill’s Clark Kent  wandering the planet trying to find his place in the world and hiding his powers while helping save people. It could have left donning the Superman suit until the end, made it the film’s climax. BvS addresses some of the fundamental excess of MOS’ ill-thought Metropolis battle in a novel way by forming its plot around its aftermath and justification, and yet forgets its own lessons by falling back into another CGI shitfest in the battle with Doomsday. Its almost boring. No, it is boring. Context is thrown out of the window with CGI characters and CGI explosions and… yawn.

bvs3 4) About boring- too many heroes equals too much CGI nonsense and it’s just too bloody boring for words. The most dramatic moments in the entire series of Star Wars films are those between Luke and Vader in TESB. Two combatants in a fight that is dramatic and involving and personal and weighted by a sense of reality. You don’t have Luke jumping across huge chasms or Vader firing lightning from his fingers. Just two dudes sword fighting with laser swords (the laser swords is conceit enough, the drama is in the conflict, the opposing characters and their ideologies).

Each successive superhero film seems to be throwing ever-bigger odds against an increasing roster of protagonists and, well, Age of Ultron was boring as shit. That whole finale with hundreds of little Ultrons attacking our band of merry superhumans in slo-mo was utterly boring.  Its the big danger facing superhero films today- they are getting too big, becoming too much like video-games. Future Justice League films seem hellbent on continuing this trend. Each of these films seem to think bigger is better and the idea of Snyder having a roster of several heroes battling some bad guy even bigger than Doomsday fills me with dread, frankly. But I do worry how far this genre can go before making things utterly abstract and the stakes utterly redundant.

5) Oh thats quite a bloody ’nuff about BvS. Two thousand words and I haven’t mentioned Supes meeting the ghost of his dad on a mountain for a chat about causality. Here’s hoping that the Ultimate Cut fixes everything. And maybe that somebody somewhere in Hollywood starts to exercise some kind of restraint with these superhero movies eventually.



Gone Girl (2014)

gone1Gone Girl is a fine thriller, elevated no end by Rosamund Pike’s great performance which in most other years might well have been awarded an Oscar- she’s that good. On the face of it, the premise of the film is fairly simple- revolving around the mysterious disappearance of Amy Elliott-Dunne (Rosamund Pike) and her husband Nick (Ben Affleck) who increasingly begins to fall under suspicion of her possible murder. There is of course an inevitable twist but surprisingly this comes mid-way through the film, from which point the film almost becomes another film entirely. Its a good film but due to its nature its one I can’t discuss freely without heading into spoiler-territory.

The only point I can really make is regarding the film’s soundtrack by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. David Fincher has seemingly become infatuated with ambient soundscapes in his movies (the pair having scored his last three movies now) and while it might serve Fincher’s purpose, I suspect you could run this film minus any of its music score and not notice any difference at all. Its that kind of score. Which is all well and good, but I prefer music that’s almost a character in the film; scores like Poledouris’ Conan The Barbarian or Hermann’s Vertigo or even, for a more recent example, Zimmer’s Interstellar. Music that is an integral part of the film and its sense of character- Reznor’s score here is more of a drone with the odd bit of tune hidden away in its mix, and is pretty much redundant. It is what it is. But the fact that Fincher seems to be more in favour of this style when his earlier films had such great scores as Goldenthal’s Alien 3 or Shore’s Seven or the Dust Brother’s Fight Club… well its rather disheartening.
gone2And really that’s my biggest beef with Gone Girl- Fincher himself. This is the guy after all, who directed Alien 3, the unfairly-maligned result of a troubled production that is a beautifully-shot elegy on death, moody and stark with great performances, wonderful music, great photography and sets…. its a great failure. Its got balls, and is easily the most interesting of all the sequels to Alien. This is the guy who directed Seven, as brutally dark a film as you’ll ever see, a fascinating thriller that’s pretty much the definitive serial-killer movie. Again, great score, great performances, beautifully shot, a film, again, with balls. And then of course we have Fight Club, one of the boldest, mind-bogglingly ballsy movies to come out of Hollywood, ever. The very least you could say of these movies is that Fincher was pushing the envelope, and proving himself something of a maverick director. If Alien 3 failed, it wasn’t really down to Fincher, and the workprint version at least hints at what might have been had the suits left him alone. His next two films were great, classic films.

I’m not going to suggest that his subsequent movies weren’t any good, I’m a big fan of Zodiac in particular, but Fincher seems to be settling down to a routine of thrillers that are competently made but nowhere near as bold as his early films. He seems to be mirroring the career-trajectory of Ridley Scott, whose own best films can easily be argued to be his first three, from which he himself settled into often pedestrian fare.

Gone Girl is a good film, but I have the feeing it would be just as good a film with anyone else directing it. Fincher should be making films only he could make. He should be making a Dune or Rendezvous With Rama or his own Unforgiven, by which I mean a genre film that turns things on its head and says something new. I don’t think his last few films have, and though I’d like to think his future projects will, at the moment that’s getting a little dubious. The promise of a Fincher film used to excite me, but that’s worn off now, sadly.


Argo (2012)

argoOdd that I’ve only just gotten around to finally watching this Best Picture winner from 2012. Its rather weird watching a film that has won such awards, isn’t it? People likely watched and enjoyed it just as a good film beforehand, but once a film has that Oscar glory its quite another thing watching it for the first time. Suddenly its Best Picture, Best of the Rest, something special… Only, is it?

To be clear, this is a good film. A very good film. Its based on a true story- you know, one of those True Stories that are so larger than life and Crazy Bizarre that no-one could have possibly made it up. Set in late 1979 when Islamist militants stormed the U.S Embassy in Tehran, it concerns six embassy staff who escape the hostage situation in the embassy and manage to find refuge in the Canadian embassy. However their danger remains very real, as the Iranians eventually realise six Americans have gone missing and start hunting them down. If they are caught, the Americans will very likely be executed as spies.

The CIA  sets up an operation to get the six hostages out of Iran, which involves CIA operative Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck, who also directed the film) posing as a movie producer who is making Argo, a science-fiction film hot on the heels of the success of Star Wars.  With the help of Hollywood makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and movie producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), Mendez makes Argo appear to be a legitimate Hollywood enterprise, convincing the Iranian authorities that he is leading a six-person production crew searching for locations to shoot the film. The plan is for Mendez to fly in, link up with the six embassy staff, set them up as his film crew, ‘scout’ some locations in  Tehran and then fly them out on a commercial airline in full view of the Iranians.


Argo wears its period setting as a badge of pride, depicting the styles and mood of the late 1970s not only in the film’s art direction but also in how the film is shot, lending it the feel of a 1970s movie, right down to the typeface used on the films credits- it looks and feels and sounds authentic (filmgeeks will love spotting visual references to sci-fi films/iconic images/props of the period). Original footage from newscasts and archive material is edited in pretty much seamlessly, lending it a convincing docudrama feel, something only heightened during the film’s end-credits when it is shown just how close the recreated scenes compare to the real. Its all quite an achievement.

Its a very intense and affective thriller that only falters towards the end, when director Affleck lets the film slip into standard Hollywood territory, an edge-of-your-seat escape with the airliner being chased down the tarmac by gun-wielding militia in trucks. I guess you can forgive the film taking a few liberties with the story to raise the stakes/tension but its still regrettable. The remarkable story the film tells should be enough – is enough, surely- so it doesn’t really need to tip things further into the fantastic. Suddenly, and not without some irony, the sense of reality falters and you feel like you are watching just a movie. Its a curious misstep, but maybe the film getting Best Picture would indicate it was no misstep at all. Any film that sets up the premise of Hollywood saving the day and itself being the hero was pretty much a cert to win Oscar glory wasn’t it? I mean, these guys vote for themselves and everyone loves to be a hero.

Agh. Stop being such a cynic, eh? Good film.


To the Wonder (2012)

2thewondrWith To the Wonder, Terrence Malick pushes everything to the limit- frankly, he seems hell-bent on testing the faith of his sincerest admirers/fans, threatening to make even the most faithful of us bored to tears. It’s all the best and very worst of him wrapped up into one strange, beautiful, but rather detached, even boring film. Its a further experiment in his cinematic  tone poems, in which he edits several hours of footage into two hours of ambient, fragmentary passages with carefully selected (mostly classical) music.

The plot – well, the marketing people will have you believe there is a plot, and furthermore that it’s a love story: Neil (a horribly wasted Ben Affleck) after a romance in Europe, returns to America with single mother Marina (Olga Kurylenko, who is radiant throughout) and her child. Marina has to return to Europe as the relationship fractures, Neil finding a new romance with an old flame of his youth, Jane (Rachel McAdams).  To be honest, there isn’t much of a story at all, and much of what I have just said can hardly be gleaned from just watching the movie. It’s mostly what the marketing people are telling us happens, because, quite frankly, the film itself hardly bothers to tell the viewer even that.  Marin leaves, Jane turns up. Marina returns, Jane disappears. Neil is passive throughout, as if unsure what he or the director wants. None of it is really explained, there is hardly any dialogue or exposition at all. Apparently random, albeit artistic, vignettes pass before us, of characters staring at each other, or away from each other. Walking towards each other, or walking away from each other. Embracing, fighting. Shopping. They hardly speak. Voice-overs and mutterings  litter the sound-scape so quietly I’m not even sure we are meant to hear them, but its mostly not in English anyway, so subtitles often help us out. I guess that’s the point; like in all Malick’s work, everything is subjective, it’s up to the viewer to decide what has happened. The film is almost like a mirror, shouting at us what do you see? What is going on?

Which is all very well and good when there is a story being told at the same time, from which we can glean/decide subjective meaning, however arbitrary,  from the events portrayed. We knew The Thin Red Line was a war movie, even though subjectively we know its really about nature, our place in it, how we bring arbitrary values of  good and evil to it. We knew that Tree of Life was telling the story of a family, of small human transient lives put into perspective against the grandest panorama of Creation, of The Beginning and The End.  So while that film has meanings we ourselves give it, it was still telling a story.  To the Wonder doesn’t really have that, its all rather aimless and irritating, as aimless as Javier Bardem’s pointless Father Quintana sullenly moping around his congregation muttering vaguely about love and Christ. Surely Malick has pushed his beautiful cinematic tone-poems as far as they can go.