Friday, March 25, 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice ★★

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    Dear faithful reader: I regret to inform you of this rather unfortunate fact, but as your reporter, I'm afraid that it is my responsibility to do so. (In truth, it's wholly necessary.) "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" is not only an inferior specimen of filmmaking, but it is sincerely one of the most bloated and shallow superhero films that I can remember—it's large-scale entertainment with little grit and a whole lotta spectacle. "The greatest gladiator match in the history of the world," as our terribly miscast antagonist aptly puts it, can never live up to the hype in which it so effortlessly created, and the entire thing reeks of bad choices and even poorer pre-production decision making. (This would be in reference to a script that is as addlebrained as it is tone deaf and to a miscasting that places an extensive burden on the picture.) But there's a sleek new Batsuit and Batmobile, so I guess we're supposed to jump for joy.

     After a decisive showdown between Superman (Henry Cavill) and General Zod that leaves the city of Metropolis in utter ruination, the "Caped Crusader" (more famously referred to as Batman) begins to see the all-powerful superhero in a new light: That is, he now sees him as a direct threat to humanity. More importantly, however, Capital Hill and the public also join in on the bashing and defamation of the "Man of Tomorrow," and it is this rift that primarily fuels the childish conflict betwixt the two heroes—Batman's utilitarian mindset (you know, the frame of mind that holds the greatest happiness of the greatest number as its guiding principle) leads him to a handful of rash conclusions, and Superman, well, he resorts to finger-pointing and does very little to atone for past mistakes. (Essentially, our "Man of Steel" gets the short end of the stick.)

    Then there is Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor, a character who is known for his cold and calculated comportment and antipathy for "The Last Son of Krypton." Eisenberg's zany take on this persona is beyond preposterous, and it just goes to show how important casting judgments can be. (In a manner of speaking, Eisenberg would have made a terrific Batman villain, presumably a Joker or Riddler type of personality, but his interpretation of Luthor is undeniably suspect, and it's not very convincing.) Additionally, a Lois Lane subplot never really gains traction—mostly because it is moronic and because it adds relatively nothing to the overall narrative—and the film relies much too heavily on philosophical inquiries and thematic checks that it can't cash. In short, it felt as if I was sitting through a Philosophy 101 course without the stimulating subject matter. The picture attempts to examine issues of ethics and morality, yet these esoteric topics are hard to engage once escapism becomes the desired end.

    What's worse is the fact that both heroes deal in what I would regard as foolish absolutes, and this is something that irks me to the core of my being. Batman claims that "If we believe there's even a one percent chance that he is our enemy, we have to take it as an absolute certainty" when discussing the newly discovered threat posed by the "Metropolis Marvel"; Superman asserts that he will have to convince "The Dark Knight" to assist him or else he must kill him. (I wonder if the filmmakers, and especially David S. Goyer who helped pen the script, realize just how dumb this makes their characters sound.) Tack on an unavailing apocalyptic dream sequence, a Batmobile chase scene that is relentlessly loud and banal, and a climax that places every asset in a position to fail, and the end result is a movie that's simply ill-considered.

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    And what about the inessential physical confrontation between our two testosterone-toting superheroes? Not to waste much space here, but if you were expecting anything in the realm of impressive, then I'm afraid that dissatisfaction will prove inevitable. For, the short-lived, CGI-driven fight scene falls short of any real expectations one should have for this climactic battle, and even though the film desperately tries to coax us into believing it is fundamentally necessary, the whole dustup seems to be unmotivated and uninspired. (If I were to be blunt, I'd say that it was blatantly fatuous.) As it so happens, I had to hold in a chuckle or two during the heroes' first encounter, and I can only describe the scene as glaringly farcical.

    Ben Affleck is quite the enigma, isn't he? I mean, here is an actor who broke into Hollywood in a maverick kind of way (he won an Academy Award for co-writing "Good Will Hunting"), and yet most of his career has been bedeviled by bad scripts, bad publicity, and if I am to be brutally honest, bad acting. I've always said that Affleck makes for a great personality actor, maybe even an interpreter, but he has rarely crossed the threshold that would see him as a top-tier talent, and his proficiency behind the camera has far overshadowed his acting ability in recent years.

    Nevertheless, Affleck's rugged portrayal of Batman in "Dawn of Justice" is polished and well done, and I was even more amazed by his personation of the character of Bruce Wayne. (I wish that I could be as complimentary of Cavill as the "Man of Steel," yet it is clear that Cavill adopted the "outside only" approach to acting when preparing for the role, and it is his lack of zeal that underscores what is largely a lifeless exhibition.) Correct me if I am wrong, but the beautiful and very skilled Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman may just be the most agreeable performance of them all.

    The troubling thing about "Batman v Superman" is that it has all the bells and whistles and no substance. Director Zack Snyder ("Watchmen," "Sucker Punch," and "Man of Steel") tries his darndest to inject the picture with some hint of emotion, but his efforts merely come off as contrived and forced, and the entire endeavor can best be described as a kid in a candy store type of offering. (Snyder utilizes both film and digital technology and makes use of color and light-diffusing filtersor some other technique to achieve the sought-after resultsbut what does this add to the savorless storyline? Not that it's any of my business, but I think Synder should become familiar with the "less is more" aphorism.)

    We tend to criticize these movies for being too predictable and formulaic, and although "Dawn of Justice" attempts to deviate from the conventional superhero path, it's all fairly ineffective. And you know, it is films like these that make one yearn for the days when the affairs of superheroes remained somewhat unnoticed by the political sphere; I think we've all had enough of the silly news flashes that may or may not incorporate television personalities such as Nancy Grace and Anderson Cooper. It might have worked in Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy, which Goyer also helped pen, but here it is just plain insufferable. (Of course, this practice is quite standard, yet it is something that has become problematic over the years.) I've mostly found superhero films to be enjoyable, but watch out for when Capitol Hill gets involved.  

Friday, March 4, 2016

Zootopia ★★★

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    Is it just me, or are Disney films becoming less magical and proportionally more preachy? Or, shall I say, increasingly self-righteous? Every picture produced by the megacorporation in recent memory seems to emit this sanctimonious attitude, and although they appear to have good intentions, this is something that we should not take lightly. (If this were the Golden Age of Hollywood, these types of productions would assuredly be viewed as "preachment yarns," which is basically a euphemism for propaganda.)

    Don't get me wrong. I am never one to bemoan the manufacturing of a moral implication or social problem film. (On the contrary, I undoubtedly have a fondness for these kinds of movies, and I support their existence and continuation indefinitely.) It's just nothing's subtle anymore. It used to be children could view an animated picture without being bombarded by deliberately instructional dialogue and language that would have even a man of the cloth begging for mercy; they used to have to work for the theme. Did "Dumbo" pound its audience with barefaced motifs in an effort to convey its central concern? It did not, nor did it have to.

    A message to the reader: If you are solely searching for a recommendation, then here it is"Zootopia" is truly a riveting film; I'm sure that adolescents will enjoy it immensely. If you wish to delve deeper into matters, then I suggest that you continue reading.

    On the surface of things, "Zootopia" or "Zootropolis" if you live in Europe, the former also being the name of the modernistic, mammalian melting pot utopia that is our setting, is a winsome little movie that centers around the life of Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), a bunny who has reveries of becoming an officer of the law. She is small in stature and cute as a button, and this doubtlessly leads to some minor prejudices and to countless moments of individual success.

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    And then the film (almost expectantly) begins to transition into this allegorical, satirical narrative that is decidedly anti-prejudice, anti-stereotyping, and anti-sexist before it inevitably settles on a buddy cop storyline that is clearly more charming, and to tell you the truth, the latter saves the picture from complete nonfulfillment. (Let's just say the film's anti-discriminatory theme was laid on thick and often.)

    Characters utter mechanical phrases such as "Change starts with you" and "Try and make the world a better place," and if this doesn't sound like social conditioning, then I'm not sure what is. There's even a number entitled "Try Everything," which does have a quaint message of perseverance; nonetheless, it contributes to a holier-than-thou temperament that is indecently overbearing and unmistakably disreputable. Some might call these messages timely and examples of AmericanismI would hold them to be obvious and ineffective.

    Screenwriter Phil Johnston and writing newcomer Jared Bush go for broke, and, well, it would seem as if all subtlety is lost. What would appear to be novel ultimately becomes clich├ęd, and I'm tempted to declare the entire product as a poor propaganda piece dominated by political correctness. (My reluctance to do so only highlights the worth of the film's more lighthearted sentiments.)    

    I, for one, do not oppose what's being broadcasted here. There is simply a bigger issue. Of course, every film has a message, whether it lies in the realm of moral implication or elsewhereeven the "Transformers" franchise has a theme of sorts. But to routinely make moral conditioning the sole motivation of a picture is perturbing. (This isn't the first time Hollywood has been accused of propagandizing audiences, and it will not be the last. Nevertheless, I'm afraid that this behavior has become Disney's latest modus operandi; it's a slippery slope.) Frankly, films that are this morally conspicuous should never be considered art, and they hardly warrant the classification of entertainment. Indoctrinating for good is still indoctrinating.

    On a side note, anthropomorphism has hit an all-time low. It's bad enough that we have succumbed to the ills of the twenty-first century. Must we destroy the lives of these innocent creatures as well? (Naturally, I'm just being a bit cynicalafter all, I am a stern follower of The Cynic's Word Bookbut this observation does deserve some form of recognition.) Our furry friends engage with iPhones and iPods at times during the production, and this only alludes to the influence of such things on our corporate-driven lifestyles. Maybe I'm just too old-fashioned for my own good.