How many film producers does it take to change a light bulb (or ruin a movie)?

nitehuntr1Night Hunter, 2018, 98 mins, Amazon Prime

I think I may be done with ‘new’, or modern-day, movies, and that I should possibly retreat to those 1940s- 1970s films made when, you know, they knew how to make films. Film-makers today, they just don’t know when to stop with all the nonsense. Why can’t they stop the faster, louder, darker, edgier, the whole more, more, more bullshit that infects what passes for film today, I’m just so tired of it. Even if a film seems to have an interesting premise, with a decent cast etc, the guys writing and producing it just can’t help but ruin it, so lost in the entertainment industry maze of more shocks, more twists and surprises as if that’s the only way to hold viewer attention. In this case, the once-promising opening degenerating into something that gets sillier and sillier. Its like they are perpetually terrified of viewers reaching for the channel button on the remote, or believe viewers won’t stay for an honest to goodness drama without regular, hysterical twists of fate.

Tonight we had the choice of a 1940s Hitchcock film I’d never seen, or this. I was attracted by the cast -Henry Cavill, Ben Kingsley, Stanley Tucci, Alexandra Daddario… sure, there was a time that a cast list like that might promise some kind of quality, but those days are long gone. Thespians gotta eat, or pay for that new sports car, so a gigs a gig, I get it. Anyway, we were tired, long day after a long weekend, I figured save the Hitchcock for a day when I’m sharper, and maybe that was the right choice – but really, it doesn’t feel that way right now.

So Night Hunter is about a serial killer, a devious and ultra-intelligent abductor and rapist of women who has been operating for years- Hannibal Lector with a twisted sex drive, basically, who outwits and surprises a police department at every turn – its Silence of the Lambs by way of Seven, but as usual these days it isn’t enough to just rip-off better movies, the film-makers instead have to do it bigger, louder, darker. Consequently there are plot-holes galore, leaps of logic glossed over in an instant, bizarre twists so out of left-field its like they come from an entirely different movie. The final twist/revelation is so preposterous it leaves a massive credibility hole in what passed for the plot that it beggars belief.

I counted thirty producer credits at the end of this movie. Thirty. That’s thirty pieces of the production budget spread across thirty voices, thirty different opinions. I’m not sure there were that many speaking parts in the whole bloody film. How the hell does it take thirty producers to make a movie? Is that how films are made these days? How can it possibly not end in a film that is such a mess as this one?

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.

Enola Holmes (2020)

ENOLA HOLMESReady your sedatives, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle fans, because Enola Holmes features the most inappropriate casting of Sherlock Holmes that I can possibly imagine- just how grossly wrong is Henry Cavill as the consulting detective? He’s standing there like he’s still wearing his Superman outfit under all that Victorian garb, ready to leap out of a window or into a telephone booth (good luck with that in Victorian London) at any moment. Its really quite a pity they didn’t have him wearing the deerstalker hat, that would have been absolutely hilarious. I have to confess to feeling some sympathy for Cavill, he’s a good actor (I remember his early days, when he was one of the best things in the ridiculous romp The Tudors, some years ago) but he’s physically such an imposing figure now… I always think he’s too big even as Superman (and his Clark Kent always prompts a titter, the meek unassuming ace reporter sports such a man-mountain physique) so whenever he is cast as an ordinary joe it doesn’t work. I imagine its a casting problem that might haunt him for years to come, until he at least leaves the DC hero behind and maybe bulks down a little. Becomes a little more ordinary. I appreciate Sherlock Holmes is hardly ordinary himself, its an extraordinary character, but he’s surely not such a muscle-bound brute or clean-cut, decent guy as Cavill appears- Holmes is a master of disguise, its just as well Cavill doesn’t have to demonstrate such a talent in this film (“My Goodness, Holmes, I would never have guessed it was you posing as that emaciated tramp in the street!”).

So moving away from that most inappropriate piece of casting, how is Enola Holmes? Its pretty good nonsense, really, for what it is. Based on the first of a series of books, The Enola Holmes Mysteries,  written by Nancy Springer, the film was apparently something of a pet project for actress Millie Bobby Brown who co-produced the film as well as stars in the title role. I thought it was a Netflix original, but I’ve since read that it was a Warner Bros movie intended for theatrical release which was later purchased by Netflix because of release issues caused by the Covid pandemic. I  think this rather saves the film- Netflix seems the perfect home for fluff such as this, and I can imagine a teenage-targeted, family friendly film such as this might certainly get a bigger immediate audience than had this been released in cinemas.

enola1Millie Bobby Brown is quite brilliant as the title character, and her relationship with the camera is at times quite extraordinary, especially when she almost breaks character mid-scene to break the fourth wall and share something with the audience. Its a really endearing performance and lifts the film from its rather formulaic, albeit endearingly escapist, roots. Enola Holmes is fun, albeit one of those typical Hollywood projects that seems to think it deserves an A-list cast that leaves one expecting something more than it is really is, or likely even intends to be.

It will be interesting to see, if this is really successful on Netflix, where the future lies for what is evidently intended to be a franchise. Will they try to take a second film back to cinemas, or will they tone down the budget and scale (this being Netflix of course, they may not need to) and bring any future instalments direct to the streaming giant? Is it, indeed, another indication of the seismic shift away from theatrical distribution and towards home streaming etc?

So anyway, harmless fun. Except for hardcore fans of the consulting detective, who may be horrified by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters going all, er, Harry Potter, but hey, that’s Public Domain for you…

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.