How to Lose Friends and Criticize Movies: A Wonder Woman Review

How to Lose Friends and Criticize Movies: A Wonder Woman Review

This is going to be a spoileriffic review.  Consider yourself warned.

I am not sure how to write this review. I’ll confess that right off the bat. I saw this movie last night, and I cannot understand the amount if love that it is getting. It is not a great movie. It is a movie that was mostly in focus and was a step in the right direction toward a great female superhero movie, but if this is the best we are gonna get, I will be deeply disappointed.

The difference between important and good

Lets establish something here. This movie is important. It is the first major superhero movie starring a female protagonist of the modern superhero era, and was also directed by a female director. I hope that it is a first step toward more female voices being considered for director spots on these kinds of movies. I hope that we can have more stories that are centered around female characters. I hope that those movies transcend other movies, eventually.

I am saying all of this because I think a lot of these things get swept up into the film. There was a big swing against this film before it came out, with people complaining about female only screenings, that there wasn’t enough marketing for it, that DC wasn’t sure if it would connect. These are all narratives that I am glad were wrong. It had a huge opening, screw the marketing, and if you are pissed about the women only screening, you need to take a big old step back and think about what your problem is.

It was imperative that this movie do well. A lot of other things hung onto it, including the industry perhaps giving more credit to hiring people to direct who are not white dudes. I’m super glad that it made a whole pile of money. If it made you feel empowered and heard, I couldn’t be happier for you. As usual, art is subjective and your appreciation of it should not be influenced by anything but your engagement, and so, when the headline voice comes around again, I hope you will hear me out. Here we go.

As a movie, Wonder Woman was incredibly flawed and disappointing

Let us start with the plot. Now, as a person who is understanding of the fact that studio systems exist and they will only produce things that have relatively the same structure and form, I get it. It’s a hero’s journey. You can do some things to change it, but for the most part, it is set in stone.

The problem that I have here though is in all of the specifics. We start out in the utopic colony of Amazons, but we don’t know the rules of the island. Are they immortal? Do they age? Is Diana a different species, because she ages? Is it like that movie In Time? It seems like they stop aging at some point, so we will go with that. How long have they been there? Where is it geographically? Is it near Greece? How could a plane get there? Is it just if you get next to the barrier, you can go right in? Is this all in like a comic I was supposed to read before the movie?

Diana is the only child on the island and wants to be a warrior, but her mother wants to prevent her from becoming a warrior. She ends up secretly training with her aunt, becoming the greatest warrior of her tribe, and shows that she has force field generation powers during a fight with her aunt. Cool, chosen one narrative. Then, living inciting incident Chris Pine, aka Capitan Kirk, aka Steve ‘Captian Kirk’ Thomas, crashes his plane into the waters of the island and is rescued by Diana. There is a fight scene on the beach between highly trained women with ancient weapons against men with guns. Shockingly, the warrior teacher dies, sacrificing herself for Diana because thats what happens to the mentor in a movie.

Chris explains that he is a spy and that he stole a journal from a lady named Doctor Poison and a General of the German Army and he was escaping from the German army, when he stumbled upon the island as he was crashing. He explains that the Great War is going on outside of the island, and Diana, based on the myths that she was told as a child, decides that she is going to go kill Ares and end all war. She steals her people’s magical weapons, a sword, supposedly powerful enough to kill a god, shield, lasso of truth and armor, and her mother gives Diana her aunts crown helmet thing, so she will remember that her aunt is dead.

So, here is our first act break. She has answered the call and is going into the wide world. It is fine. It follows the Campbell beats, it does the work needed to get her off the island. Chris is a fine sidekick. There are some major questions, but they are mostly lore related, not plot related. I have already forgotten most of the characters, but, that is fine. We have our good guys and our bad guys.

You may have noticed that I am really flogging this idea of a Campbell mono-myth.  That’s because I think that it is probably the most important film making concept that this movie uses.  It follows it to an exactness that is so clear that you can see exactly what is coming from miles away.  Every single character who is introduced is needed for the plot to go forward, and every single one serves their purpose and has zero depth past that point.  Diana doesn’t struggle with being something different than her peers, she’s just supposed to be better, and that is fine.  Steve isn’t concerned with killing people for killing people’s sake, he’s just concerned with the massive slaughter of people.  Which, sure, that’s terrible, but it’s the same issue that Man of Steel had, with a group of protagonists who are fighting for the “greater good” of a bunch of people whose lives they are not involved with at all.  Steve even says that he isn’t necessarily a good guy in the film.  It’s super weird.  Anyway, back to the plot.

London is where this really started dragging for me.  Somehow, they get from the island’s location, by sail, to the Thames over the course of a cut.  Sure, fine, weird, but fine.  It seems a lot like Steve and Diana haven’t talked for the entire trip, because everything seems to be greeted with incredulity by Steve, even after he spent ? time on the island of the amazons.  As we get into London, the first line out of Diana, the presumably sheltered girl who is completely not world weary is “It’s so ugly.”  Which, sure, it’s a joke, but it’s also kind of insane.  There needs to be some acknowledgement of it’s size and a bit of wonder.  By undercutting the setting of London, the viewer (or I guess just me) assumes that it’s not impressive or grand in any way, which is then immediately undercut by a sweeping under shot of Gal Gadot wondering at London Bridge.  You can’t have it both ways, you can’t be unimpressed and over-impressed back to back.

For her part, Gadot is great!  She’s naive and enjoyable, and pulls off some incredible little action scenes that look wonderful.  Her accent is still kind of ridiculous, especially for someone who has apparently studied a thousand languages, but she does a great job in the film.  The director serves her well, and films her like she is an action star.  It would be fun, if it weren’t trapped in a DC movie nightmareverse of grey and brown tones.  It’s a lot brighter and more colorful than Bv.S (May that movie go to hell), but we’re still not halfway up the Schindler’s List to Enter The Void scale.

We have a pretty standard trying on period clothes and figuring out how to fit in scene, fine.  We introduce a criminally underused character who is Steve’s secretary, who should be the most competent character in the film, and underappreciated by her male peers, but is instead relegated to silly faces and cheap laughs.  And then we barge into a closed door meeting of Parliament? The War Council?  The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen who cannot believe that a woman had the audacity to even enter their room?

While Steve and Diana are attempting to get the attention of the superior officer in London, a background character is talking about peace.  Now, for those of you who are not close watchers of movies, I’m going to let you in on a secret.  The best way to hide your villain in a movie is to introduce them being the voice of reason about whatever the threat is.  This can be done well, or poorly.  In this movie, it was fine, but it would have been better to bury it a little deeper.  Oh, and another flag is an actor who you sort of know, and seems just a little to big for a single day extra role being featured prominently.  But hey, this is the kind of shit the studio does to movies, I can’t really blame anyone for this.

So, we’re introduced to Sir “I’m Totally Not A Villain But I Am Totally The Villain” who listens to Steve’s pitch that there is a new gas that is being developed that would eat through gas masks and says, “Don’t do anything” but then comes to them and says “Go do whatever you were proposing.”  Glad that was in there!

And now, the problems start piling up.

War, huh?  What is it good for?

Hey, maybe you were forced to read All Quiet on the Western Front in high school.  In it, a group of German soldiers confront the reality of trench warfare, and how it’s a suicidal, insane form of war, disgusting and disturbing, and tons of people got sick just because of the conditions that they were living in.

It is possible you have taken a gander at The Guns of August which chronicles the dynastic and political ties that preceded World War One.  The war is portrayed as a huge domino effect of interlinked issues compounded by insane decisions, to the point that a relatively minor Archduke’s assassination could envelop the whole of the world in war.

So, why on Earth would you pick this conflict to put your superhero into?

World War Two is considered the peak time of the superheroes for a reason, and that reason is that Nazi Germany was rounding people up into camps and killing them for no reason other than racism.  So, when Captain America punches Hitler in the face, we say hooray, that guy is evil as shit!  When Cap says that he doesn’t like bullies, and that he wants to fight Nazis for that reason, our cultural narrative supports that.  World War One does not have those connotations for us.  World War One is mostly remembered for Franz Ferdinand, trench warfare, huge losses of life, and an ambiguous ending that leads into a bigger sequel.

While on their way to the front Diana and Steve recruit two characters, a linguistics expert/con man and a Scottish sniper to come with them to the front.  The linguistics expert/con man gives a solid performance, the sniper not so much.  As they are boarding the ship to go toward the front, they encounter a huge number of wounded soldiers going the other way.  It’s supposed to be the moment that we get on board for Diana’s mission to kill Ares, who she has concluded is the general working with Dr. Poison.

This can work.  The innocent seeing the horrors of war for the first time is supposed to be incredibly affecting, and Gadot does a good job of creating a bit of that tension.  The problem is, the visuals are not particularly bloody or reflective of the true horror of war. By seeing soldiers on the other side of the channel first, we are already prepared to see the full horror on the other side, which takes away the shock of that full horror.  When we cut to the European side, they have bandages on, or are having a bit of a bloody amputation, but it never sinks in that these people are in danger.  Weirdly, the civilians who are behind a trench that, we’re told, has been in place for more than a year, and seem like they are just now attempting to flee, like they just thought about it for the first time.

As we get over to the front side of things, we are also introduced to our final member of the team.  “Chief” is a Native American who smuggles things across the lines.  I am fine with his performance, but his line readings could have used some work.  But hey, whatever, he’s a tiny character.  I did like the moment where he said that his land was taken by white people.

Because World War One was such a mixed up war of alliances, as a viewer, I didn’t think that the Germans were the kind of evil that requires a superhuman effort to overcome.  The German high command is currently considering an armistice, as is the British high command.  Diana doesn’t make a major change in the course of the war, except charging into a German trench and gaining a bit of ground for the human troops against the gas-masked bad guys.  See, if her and her team aren’t killing anonymous troops, you might have sympathy for the other side.

Imagine this story from the German soldier in the trench’s perspective.  You’re in your trench, picking lice off yourself and slowly starving to death, as rumors of an armistice swirl around the entire battlefield.  As you are feeling weak, a person climbs over the top and starts charging you, dressed in a uniform that you’ve never seen, but coming from the far side.  You shoot at her, but the bullets have no effect.  Your whole platoon opens fire, but nothing comes of it.  And yet, when this person has arrived to the top of your trench, what do you do?  Oh, yeah, keep fighting in the trench.  Don’t surrender to this superhuman person.  Don’t give yourself up and show the awe that would inspire you to stop conflicts.  Make it so she can kill you, without consequences.

They then go into a town and essentially recreate a battle from Saving Private Ryan.  This part worked for me.  I like the dynamic fighting style, and instead of focusing on quick cuts with zero cohesion, it did a good job of showing what she was doing in long slow motion takes.  Good stuff.  We learn that the Sniper cannot shoot his gun anymore, because sniper no sniping.  Then, the non howling commandos use a platform to recreate a move from the Amazon fight at the beginning so that Diana can destroy a cultural relic in a war torn city, by smashing a church steeple that seems to have been in that town for hundreds of years, and also incidentally murder the shit out of a sniper who can’t hit shit to save his life.

As this ends, the people around her start cheering as if she has saved them, and maybe she has.  I don’t know, because I don’t know if the Germans in this town were terribly oppressive or if they were just soldiers doing their duty to their country.  I do know that Chris Pine executed a bunch of them after they were knocked down, and Diana killed a lot of people, Man of Steel style.  The weird part is this could be fixed with like three lines of dialog.  “The men on the other side are the most vicious unit in Germany.  They will be the last to surrender and their commanding officer has told them that they will not go down without a fight.  They constantly take advantage of the civilians behind them, leaving a swath of destruction wherever they go.  So, no Diana, we need to focus and not cross here.”

Then, Diana and Steve get a bit drunk and go bone, consentually. They have a lovely cute moment where Diana sees snow for the first time, and the Scottish sniper does his most consequential action of the movie, singing a song.  It’s cute-ish.

Third Act Problems

In screenwriting, one of the major things that studio executives like to say is that a movie has “third act problems” according to Tom Lennon and Ben Garant, who wrote How to Write Screenplays For Fun And Profit, a fantastic book that tells you why Die Hard is perfect. (Which, by the way, it is.)

The third act is the landing of the movie.  Your climax, your falling action, and your resolution all have to be in the third act.  For a classic example of third act problems, tell me which one of your favorite endings to the Lord of the Rings movies was in the comments, and then count them, and then realize that that movie ended like seven times.

Third Act Problems are incredibly hard to overcome, because they have to be right, or they ruin the movie up to that point.  I have massive problems with the third act of this movie. Here is a brief telling of the third act of the film, Wonder Woman, but we’ll go into the nitty gritty breakdown in a second.

The team hatches a plan to go to a gala ball that is cover for the unveiling of the new super weapon from Dr. Poison.  Steve and Diana sneak in separately, Steve trying to honeypot Dr. Poison and Diana having one of the most awkward interactions with the general.  Steve stops her from killing him at the party.  The general fires a test shot of the new gas onto the town that Diana “saved”, and kills everyone.  She is unaffected by the gas.  Steve shows up, she’s pissed at him because he stopped her from killing the general.  They track the general to a gigantic airfield where they have rigged up a gigantic drone plane that will destroy London with the new awesome gas, on a timer so it cannot be stopped by grounding it or something else.  Diana kills the general, expecting that since he is Ares, everyone will stop fighting, but lookie here, it doesn’t stop.  Ares shows up and it’s Sir “Hah, yeah, I turned out to be the villain” and they fight.  In the middle of the fight, Steve boards the plane and Captain America suicides himself, saving everyone.  Ares tries to recruit Diana into destroying humanity, but she remembers that Steve said he loved her, and so she is going to fight for love, and she beats Ares by using the same disco fighting powers that were used in Bv.S.  We see her back in England where they are having the VE-day celebration from a WWII movie.  She says goodbye to Steve on the memorial wall, and then we flash back to the Future, where she works in the Louvre, in their ancient armaments department.  And then she flies into the sky.

The third act is a mess.  A third act should have a nice little bow around it, to create a cohesive story that wraps things up.  If you’re ambitious, you do a little sequel set up, but I like a good solid ending to my comic stories.  Logan doesn’t have third act problems.  Logan’s third act pays off everything that came before, and does what you want it to with some nice little twists.  Way to go, Logan.

Okay, sorry, got off track here.  Let’s take it from the top. We have a nice little period party sneaking scene, where Chris Pine nearly humanizes or seduces or manipulates the villain into giving up her plans, but is distracted when Diana shows up.  Fine, okay, but then the General walks up to Diana and essentially has a one on one conversation with her with barely any prompting, where he chews some scenery and speaks in English?  I mean, she speaks tons of languages, shouldn’t they be speaking German at the German party?  Steve stops Diana from stabby stabby on the General by grabbing her hand, which 1. She’s super strong, you really think that would stop her? and 2. Why?  She’s following the general into the hallway, and there are maybe a few more guards than there were when they got mugged in an alley (Bee Tee Dubs, they got mugged in an alley in London.  It was… a scene that exists. [Yes, I know this is a recreation from a panel in the comics.  It was fine, Third Act Problems just hurt it for me]

The Non-howling commandos see the general about to test the weapon from the German high command castle, and thank god the sniper can’t snipe, because he essentially has the general in his sights.  If he shot him, the whole movie might be over.  Instead of following the general, Diana jumps on a horse and rides up to the gas cloud, which, thank god they tested the thing on a day without wind, because if the wind kicked up and blew back over the castle, boy would their faces be burnt off by mustard gas.  Diana, showing the prowess of someone who has incredibly little regard for their own self worth, charges headlong into the gas cloud.

And we have reached another point where an issue raises it’s ugly head.  And this is a big one.  There is a term in movies called stakes.  You need to have high stakes in a movie, or it is just a long series of images (Which can be great.  Check out things like the aforementioned Enter the Void and Koyaanisqatsi for some stakes-less film-making.  I guarantee you won’t watch either one twice! [That’s not a real guarantee, for all I know someone out there watches Enter The Void every day because reasons or something.  I just know that I won’t be revisiting it for a while.  Or until I write about it here, I guess.  I mean I’m sort of doing it now.  It’s good.  Interesting.  All of the Lights’s video by Kanye is based off it’s opening credits.  It might be a little long, but it definitely out there.])

Is there anything that hurts Wonder Woman?  We see her get injured in the initial battle against the Germans, but her wound heals quickly.  Poisonous gas doesn’t do anything.  She can apparently take unlimited hits from machine guns and small arms, and deflect a mortar round very close to her, and it doesn’t do anything.  Explosions can knock her back, but they pretty much have to be hundreds of grenades to do anything to her.

I’ve heard it said that Marvel has flawed heroes overcoming the odds to do great things, while DC has Godlike heroes doing Godlike things.  I can get on board for that, if there are stakes.  “Steve will die if you kill the General.”  “If you kill the general now, all the people in this castle will die.”  “Keeping me alive is the only thing that will save your precious island.”  There needs to be a threat to something that can be threatened.  If the hero of your story is invincible, give them something incredibly vincible to care about, then fuck that thing up.  John Wick has his puppy and his friend taken away from him.  He is unstoppable, but they know they can hurt him through others.  Hey look, I’m on board.

So, when we get to the airfield, and she kills the general.  I don’t know what to feel.  He was a super strong dude (given powers by a magical gas from Dr. Poison [Crazy idea, why not just make that make you go psycho and drop that shit on the battlefield.  Make the group of soldiers on the German side of the trench into Berzerkers who have taken that gas, and want to rock and roll, making them feared and hated.], but he’s not anywhere close to her league.  She stabs him right through, but luckily no blood gets on the blade.

This was perhaps the best acting by Gadot in the movie.  Her look of horror when the war doesn’t immediately end is fantastic.  Chris Pine coming up and saying that war might be in him too is also great.  I like this part a lot.  In fact, it would be cool for this to be the end of the climax.  She tried to stop the war, but she couldn’t.

I’ve been spending most of this review trying not to write that they copy-pasted the script for Captain America: The First Avenger, but they copy pasted, replaced with WWI and took out the middle bit where he was an actor.  Of course there is an experimental self flying German super weapon pointed at an allied city.  Of course, it is on a timer so someone has to sacrifice themselves.  Of course the hero of the movie does it for the greater good…  Oh wait, no, the slightly con man-y, liar, smuggler, thief sacrifices himself in an act of bravery while the hero of the movie trades blows in a fight that doesn’t matter.

There is a big fight scene and she wins, cause yeah, of course she wins.  And then, in what might be the most objectionable part, the German soldiers, who just recently were loading a huge plane full of weapons of mass destruction, have a moment with the non-howling commandos, like they are all friends now.  What the fuck?  The people that they were just fighting just committed a war crime.  How do you humanize them after the suicide of a good man to prevent the massive destruction of a city?  Why the fuck are they being treated like people now?

Well, you think you can do it better?

Yeah, I do.  Here is my ending.

We stab the general.  He dies, but the war continues, briefly.  Steve is sacrificed to the greater good, but because he is the only one who knows how to redirect the plane by flying it.  Anyone else could crash it, so he takes it up to height and dies, like in the movie.

However, the general’s death ends the hard line pressure against the peace, which then allows it to go through.  As people celebrate the peace, Diana ends up in a small cafe drinking tea, watching couples go by, thinking, obviously, about Steve and his sacrifice.

And Sir “Oh, you thought that the villain would have a fight scene, didn’t you” sits down with her, and says

So, Diana of Themyscria, how are you enjoying your time in the world?

She looks shocked.  “You know who I am?”

Oh yes, of course.  I have been watching you since you arrived.  You see, I know your mission, and I wanted to offer my assistance.

“You know where Ares is?”

Oh, darling, haven’t you figured it out yet?  I’m Ares.

She is baffled. “You… you argued for peace.  You wanted this war to end.  You cannot be…”

Oh, but Diana.  I know this world so much better than you.  Eons I have sat and watched these people learn to destroy each other.  Your friends on the island merely gave me time to perfect my art.  This time, I have assured my greatest work yet.  Yes, there will be peace, for a time, but we have made peace too costly, and the weapons that will be used in the next war, well, let’s just say I have some ideas.

“No, there will not be war.  I will stand against you, and I will destroy you.”

Young lady, do you think no one has tried?  I have been dead hundreds of times, I have seen the other side and yet, every time, these mortals bring me back.  I am Ares, I am war, and they cannot prevent themselves from summoning me.

Diana is silent.  Thinking.

You see, it was not my father (he spits the word out) who created me.  No, he cursed me into existence when he created these weak creatures.  When they first fought, they birthed me.  When they take up arms, they strengthen me.  And when I am stopped, the seeds will always be there. And no one, can defeat me.

And in a quiet voice, but powerful, Diana says “No.  I am Diana, daughter of Hippolyta, Princess of Themyscria, trained by Antiope.  I may not be able to kill you, but I will show man that your path is not the only way.  I will protect the innocent, I will defend them from evil, and I will end you by showing them that peace is possible.  I swear this by my lariat, my bracelets and my crown, that I will protect people from your evil, and eventually turn them away from it.”

So be it, sister

He spits his words at her, and walks away.

Brief other nits to pick

Why is Wonder Woman Jesus?

Why does Ares use lightning?  Wasn’t that a Zeus thing?

Wonder Woman sure kills a lot of people for saying that she is fighting to end war, is that like a moral choice?

Is the implication of Man of Steel that no one remembered the incredibly attractive woman who spearheaded an attack that resulted in a full retreat by a German division?  Were all those people gassed?

Do you think that Wonder Woman will get a sequel in WWII?  What about Korea?  Vietnam?  Latin America Narco Conflicts?  Iraq?  Iraq again?  Afghanistan?

Chris Pine, good actor, but only for one role?  Or bad actor, who can only play one role well?

When Wonder Woman was a child, was her mother derelict in her duty by not allowing her to train?  Or was there a reason why she shouldn’t train?  Wouldn’t it have been better for her to be controlling her powers earlier?

Was the implication that Wonder Woman gave Scottish Sniper hope, so he started singing again?

Costuming people, did this movie feel like they got all the costumes from a WWII movie and said, fuck it, good enough?

Am I writing this review this way because it’s actually not great, or because I am a Marvel fanboy?  I know that some people will accuse me of it.

What is the theme of this movie?  Conflict is inevitable?  Everything is shades of grey, and who knows if you are helping?  Love defeats war?

Am I going to lose friends over this post?

I really hope not.  I respect a lot of people who love this movie.  But I just was disappointed.

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Everybody Shut Up, Oliver Stone Has An Opinion

Everybody Shut Up, Oliver Stone Has An Opinion

Apparently, it is Joseph Gordon-Levitt Month.

We’re going to talk about Snowden which is a shitty reboot of the delightful and astonishing Citizen Four.  I liked the movie, and have deep political opinions about the whole thing, but from that first sentence and the titles, you can tell where your intrepid author is at about this.

JGL is once again, great.  He does a very solid Edward Snowden impression, to the point that when the real Snowden shows up, there is a moment of uncanny valley. The story is decent and well displayed.  Much of it is either true or at least needs to be true for the narrative that the movie is trying to tell.  These are not truth.

Snowden is complicated

and is more complicated because of Oliver Stone. Stone is known for a bit of a political leaning, and a bit of screaming very loudly whatever opinion he has about what is going on as loudly as he can directly into your eye holes.  In a movie with a brilliant, subtle performance by an actor who does great work, we also have characters that loom over him, Big Brother style, Nic Cage at his most unhinged and unrestrained, and stereotypes about nerds.  Stone deeply believes that Snowden is a hero and a patriot.

And that’s my major problem with the movie.  I think that it’s more complicated than that.  I think that Snowden did the right thing, at least from my political perspective, but I also understand the arguments against him.  He did have an effect on the world, and people working with his data may have not been as responsible as they could have been with it.  I can appreciate that it is a heroes story, but a little nuance, a little doubt, a little anxiety afterwards would be greatly appreciated.

When you have Nic Cage giving the kid a pat on the back, after an unhinged performance, you gotta go back and look at it.

In the long run…

Just watch Citizen Four.  It’s a better film.  It has better moments of tension.  Snowden is great background material, and can be added to your understanding of the superior film, but trusting it too much would be like trusting the US government to not spy on American citizens after 9/11.  Too political?  Yeah, maybe.  I’ll just shut up now.

Bv.S or Go Watch Fury Road Again, Friends

Bv.S or Go Watch Fury Road Again, Friends

Editors Note:

This was the first review I wrote long form.  I wanted to put it up today for two reasons, I’m proud of it, and I didn’t write anything over the last week or so.  So here we go!

So, today I went to see Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

I’ll probably get into spoilers for this, but I think that this is the last Zach Snyder thing that I can possibly see myself watching. It sucks that I was so right in my predictions of how joyless and depressing this movie was, and how easily it could have been avoided. So, if you don’t want spoilers, they end here. It’s not “the worst thing ever” and it’s not “good” in any sense. It’s mediocre, and wears it’s mediocrity as if it is the greatest thing ever, and as Immortan Joe has shown us, mediocrity is worth nothing. So, spoiler country lies ahead.

I wanted to talk about this because I think that Superman vs. Batman could be a great thing. It could be a fun, enjoyable, interesting look at a superhero movie, that shows what happens when the Dark Knight of Gotham meets the Boy Scout of Metropolis. It’s not going too far to say that the meeting of these two individuals is essentially the rock upon which comics church is based.

But I don’t think Zach Snyder has ever actually watched a movie that makes sense, or read a great comic that wasn’t also a best seller. Yes, Mr. Snyder, we get it. You read the last 25 pages of the Dark Knight Returns and think that you got it. And you read the Wikipedia article about the Death of Superman. I have also read those things. If we both have read them, they must be good, right!?

No. That’s not right. The Dark Knight Returns fight between Batman and Superman is established by several comics worth of set up. Batman doesn’t just hate Superman because he could potentially be a threat to the world, as shown through dream sequences of all things. Batman and Superman square off because they have differing approaches and different upbringings. Superman literally bows down to the government in the comics, which sends Batman into retirement. The entire storyline is Batman coming out of retirement, older, slower, and more willing to hurt people (and yet, he still attempts to follow his golden rule, of do not kill, something that the brief skimming of the comic wouldn’t make apparent).

The Death of Superman sold like crazy because it was a shocking event that DC sold as the killing off of one of their most important properties. This was in the early 90s, when comic book collections were starting to sell for a great deal of money, and people were into collecting them. The briefest glimpse at the hype surrounding it would show you that the story line was interesting, but not because watching Superman die was such a fun time, but because it shook up the world. Superman was always seen as the ultimate deterrent in the DC universe. If he was intervening, things had gotten truly bad, but dying wasn’t ever what you expected from him. Shock value is not that character.

But, hey, that comic stuff is for nerds, right? That kind of analysis doesn’t do film justice. I mean, Tony Stark wasn’t in a cave in Afghanistan in the comics. Film franchises are based on the idea that you steal whatever surface level ideas you could get from the comics and then build on top of it whatever movies you want to, right Marvel? Marvel? Are you going to give Zack a high five or what? Don’t leave him hanging! (This is not what makes Marvel Movies work. Marvel movies use iconic characters in no win situations overcoming things, and yet giving a shit about the people around them, and not in the “Well, this part of the city is deserted, so it’s okay to blow up entire swaths of a manufacturing district” way.)

The Good

Affleck is the bomb. Seriously. Affleck might be my favorite portrayal of Batman on film. He’s probably only second to Kevin Conroy from the Animated Series. Affleck does everything he needs to with actual movie star charisma, puts every single acting choice on the screen, and conveys more in his voice than any other Batman on film. I genuinely loved his performance, and would have been excited if this was a film only about him.

I liked Affleck witnessing the street level destruction of Man of Steel. I felt like it gave it the weight that the former movie needed, with the ludicrous amount of civilian death that had to happen for that fight scene to make sense. He looks older and tired, and pissed. It’s great!

Alfred was decent, and they didn’t even have to take him out of the Batcave set.

Eisenberg does his level best to fucking lighten up these proceedings. My God, he has the most brutal time of it, but he gives a unique take on Lex Luthor, and given the direction and material, I quite enjoyed what he did with it. He turns the quirk up to 11, which could get annoying if he wasn’t the only person on the screen that seemed to have a plan. It’s a dumb plan, for dumb people, that will essentially result in the complete and utter destruction of whatever cinders he wants to rule at the end of it, but whatever, it’s a Luthor plan. Luthor plans involve Otisville usually, and that’s fine with me. Nowhere near as good as Affleck, but I get where he is coming from.

Also, Wonder Woman is surprisingly effective in a fight, and holds her own among the boys, actually (in my opinion) contributing more to the final fight than Batman. Which is great! Wonder Woman should be that bad ass.

The Bad

The Plot, or what would be called the plot if the movie had one. Inner eight year old, what is the plot of this movie?

Batman’s family dies in an alleyway again. (Jesus Christ, more on this later.) So we know he is serious about fighting crime. Then, Batman in his Bruce Wayne flesh mask goes to Metropolis during the end of Man of Steel and watches as his building is cut the fuck up by the Snyderian symphony of destruction that was the end of Man of Steel. (Wow, eight year old me is quite eloquent.) He concludes that Superman is a dick hole for blowing a city the fuck up, after saving a guy who got his legs trapped under a steel beam. Then he saves a girl and watches superman fuck up another building. A year and a half later. Batman is angry at superman, and has determined that the best way to figure it out is to figure out who is importing a “dirty bomb” that is actually kryptonite. Lex Luthor wants the us government to give him Zod’s body and access to the ship that crashed in the middle of metropolis. Also, metropolis is right next door to gotham. Lex manipulates them into fighting, and blows up congress around Superman right before he testifies, which makes him go on a spirit quest to a mountain to talk to his dad. Lex kidnaps his mom and Lois, pushes Lois off a heliport, gets his attention and tells Supes to fight Batman and bring him his head in an hour. Batman beats the everloving shit out of Superman, and is about to kill him with a kryptonite spear, when he says their safe word, “Martha”, and Batman is forced to reboot after BSODing. Then Lex births Doomsday, who Superman kills with the spear, killing himself in the process. Then superman isn’t dead because they Inception top his grave, showing dirt rising off of his casket. The end…?

That’s the shortest version I can do. What I didn’t mention is Wonder Woman, who is in the movie to not wear a bra and seem like she is going to skip the battle, but doesn’t. The Flash, who appears in a “dream” telling Bruce that he was right about him all along and that he came too soon, and then beats the shit out of a guy without dropping a bottle of milk on a security camera, and Jason Momoa, confirming what we already knew, which is that Aquaman is lame and looks hilariously stupid menacing the shit out of robots. We also find out that Cyborg was a third of a torso, a head and a arm kept alive by the black guy from Eureka (you’re a great actor, Joe Morton. Why did they drag you into this?), and was reanimated by what can only be described as the fucking All Spark from the other Dicks to Sense, Let’s Make Splosions director of our day.

I didn’t mention that you can make Kryptonite scalpels to peel off the fingerprints to activate Kryptonian machinery, which is a thing that happens. I didn’t mention that our main antagonist, recruits the guy who got his legs cut off and is justifiably pissed about Superman screwing his life up to be a suicide bomber in the Capitol building. I didn’t mention that this suicide bomber is revealed when a sitting junior Democratic senator from Kentucky smells pee in a mason jar that was put in front of her, which is labeled with an idiom that she said to Lex Luthor scenes ago. I didn’t mention Batman’s sexy ass crossfit WOD in the middle of the movie, or Superman irresponsibly overflowing a tub to protect Amy Adams’ modesty, or that Superman apparently stood by while a CIA mole was executed in front of Amy Adams, but intervened when she was in danger. I didn’t mention the two dream sequences that Batman has, where Batman sees a fucking demon from hell come out of his mother’s bleeding casket, or where Batman turns into bad ass Malcolm Reynolds with a cowl, and executes like 15 people before being inundated with mantis creatures who stop him, before Superman executes two prisoners who have been chained up in cold blood, and then the Flash might or might not tell him some stuff. I am still not done listing things I didn’t mention. This “plot” is fucking insane.

Hey, I didn’t even mention that the entire movie hinges around the fact that “They are going to kill Martha” is said out loud at a critical point. Cool line, right? Except it’s Superman’s mom, who he has called mom, and hasn’t really called Martha as far as I remember in the movies so far, but fuck it, it BSODs Batman and that is what the plot needs.

Or that to prevent Batman ever killing Superman, Amy Adams throws away the weapon that will stop him, and then psychically goes to get it, then almost drowns, then is saved by Superman, who then almost drowns because of Kryptonite, and is saved by Amy Adams throwing the weapon away.

Or that Pa Kent tells his son in a “dream sequence/spirit quest/message from beyond the grave” about the time he saved his own farm to only drown a shitload of horses on another farm, which inspires him to… come back and be a hero again?

Or that, the one true moment of hilarious levity comes when Ma Kent says that she knows Batman is friends with her son because he is wearing a cape. Which makes you hopeful that they know what they are doing after sad sad sad for two hours, and then the only other intentional laugh comes along and it is upstaged by music, and was revealed in the trailer (I thought she was with you [HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH AREN’T WE CLEVER!]).

Or, hey, how about the fact that Batman kills like 50 people. And when I say kills, I mean kills. No dream sequence. No rubber bullets. Kills. He opens up with a Gatling gun from his airplane to shoot people. He blows up vehicles. He dive bombs his car through a truck, after his car (no joke) just went through a brick wall like butter. There is a person standing on that side of the truck. That person is dead because of Batman’s direct actions. And, best of all, Batman shoots a man’s flamethrower backpack with a fucking gun, and dives to save Martha Kent from the fire, killing two people. Straight up. Killing them, with the barest Rube Goldberg explanation that, well actually, it was the explosion that killed them.

Or, man, what about whatever genius screenwriter who figured out that as long as you say that parts of the city are deserted, obviously it’s okay to destroy huge swaths of it.

Or that over the express advice of the military, the president nukes doomsday and Supes in orbit, with nary a mention of the potential consequences of such an action. No fucking janitors ever work nights in Metropolis, as far as Anderson Cooper knows!

Or shit, Charlie fucking Rose, of interrupting people to ask his fucking self important questions on PBS fame, and Andy Coop, and Soledad O’Brien and Nancy ‘Screaming Opinions [Remember When Ben Affleck Was In That Movie That Made Fun Of My Journalism]’ Grace lend their talents to this. Neal DeGrasse Tyson is in this movie.

Or hey, that Thomas Wayne takes a swing at the guy who is currently pointing a gun at his family. He takes a swing at him, directly resulting in the guy shooting him. Instead of it being a tragedy, where he tried to comply and the incompetent robber destroyed Bruce’s world, no, we need him to fucking show that he’s a man and fuck that guy up.

Oh, and how did the pearl necklace that is a part of the Batman mythos end up on the ground? It got caught , on the gun, between the hammer and the pin. Seriously. It was inside of the hammer, so Martha Wayne was shot at point blank range. Luckily she was shot with one of those bullets that doesn’t do a ton of damage, so we could still see her face when Thomas ‘Fighting Jack Murphy’ Wayne calls her name for the last moment of his life.

I can keep going, but I think you get it. Oh wait, one more, Laurence Fishbourne, a newspaper editor, isn’t interested in a story about a man who dresses up like a bat and is terrorizing criminals in a city that is adjacent to his. What? That’s newspaper gold. Wait, this guy has been doing it for 20 years and no one figured it out? What? Oh, and he calls him Smallville, which is hilarious until you remember that that town was flattened 18 months ago by monsters from outer space. And then, you start agreeing with Lex Luthor that both of these heroes sort of deserve to get what is coming to them.

It’s so hard to stop. Because every choice makes no sense. Everything serves the purpose of the camera. Everything is for the coolest shot possible, not the necessary shot.

Everything is based on getting to the next action set piece, but not in a fun Avengers sort of way, but in a depressing Man of Steel sort of way.

Conclusion

Fury Road was great. It was fun to watch, it had action and adventure. Go watch that.

What?

You want me to talk about what I have written?

Fine.

This movie is mediocre. Affleck gives a great performance, and in the right hands, a Batman movie with him would be fun as fuck to watch. He moves brutally, and conveys a world weariness that really sells the character. Cavil looks like he just realized that being a hero is boring and he wants to go fuck supermodels, and every heroic action looks like he is genuinely constipated. I think this is a directors choice. Lois Lane is pointless. The Kents make a contractual appearance. Eisenberg twitches up the screen, but at least gives a performance.

The movie is so concerned with looking cool, it forgets that Superman is cool because he is ultimately powerful AND GOOD. He’s a GOOD GUY. He acts to save everyone, to the point of everyone thinking he is too good! When you have him standing at the center of a suicide bomb, at the US Capitol Building, and then going on a vision quest, it seems a lot like he doesn’t give a shit about anything. Remember Truth, Justice and the American way? Well, I hope you like watching Captain America, because that is the only place that you are going to get it. And if you think that GOOD GUY doesn’t work anymore, Cap is actually doing it. He has attempted to save peoples lives. He keeps the collateral as low as he can. And he gives a shit about people, and tries to save all of them. And he can’t. He can’t save all of them, and it looks like it hurts him that he can’t. Superman is supposed to try to save everyone. Remember? He got cats out of trees between burning buildings. He is the pinnacle of good.

Batman doesn’t kill people. It’s not his place to be the executioner. I know you saw Batman Begins, because Nolan sat you down to see it, Mr. Snyder. He doesn’t kill people because he witnessed his family getting killed on a street. I know you saw that, because you had to do it again. And also make it more violent, and way more ambiguous.

So, I’m done with Snyder. 300 was a fun myth thing that worked. Watchmen was visually accurate and missed the point entirely. Sucker Punch (loses consciousness, drifts in a haze for days, finds corporeal self and consumes it, like an oroboros). Man of Steel was the 6 year old power fantasy with zero consequences that Superman didn’t deserve. And now Batman v. Superman (it’s so fucking pretentious to me that it is v. I don’t know why that bugs me so much, but Jesus it does) is the grey brown nightmare that concludes my watching of the DC universe. Have a great time making the Flash brood quickly, guys. I’ll catch it on HBO.

Who is excited for Civil War, am I right? I’m excited to see colors on screen!

Dear How Did This Get Made, Red Letter Media, and Anyone Else Who Likes … enh movies,

Dear How Did This Get Made, Red Letter Media, and Anyone Else Who Likes … enh movies,

This Movie Is Bonkers.

I feel like I should be drinking more when I am writing this.  This is the kind of movie that black russians were made to accompany.  This is, hands down, one of the strangest and most insane movie watching experiences of my life, and I have watched The Room several times, Enter The Void several times, the entire Lynch filmography, and almost every one of the MST3K episodes ever made.  I am experienced in watching insane films.  This film may top that.

It’s The Rage is the name of the movie.  It stars (really, for real) Jeff Daniels, Joan Allen, David Schwimmer, Anna Paquin, Andre Braugher, Giovanni Ribisi, Gary Sinise, Josh Brolin, Bokeem Woodbine and Robert Forster.  It’s truly a who’s who of who is that guy, and where do I know him from.  The cast has some genuinely amazing actors, people who deeply commit to roles, and have had some amazing performances, and Ross from friends, who, I don’t know, acts?

It was apparently based on a play, and was directed by a director of a play, so maybe that is somewhere that I should cut them some slack.  And yet, I watched this movie stone cold sober, and felt like my brain was melting within my head and trying to escape trying to understand it.  Seriously.

Start at the Very Beginning

So, we open on opening credits.  Home video footage of people getting guns, and receiving guns, and then as the titles roll on, the film introduces newspaper clippings referring to guns being used in situations.  A man blacking out as he pulls the trigger.  Another man shooting his business partner.  Have you figured out what we’re looking for?

It’s the Rage is a movie with a message.  It thinks that it’s message is that guns are bad, but as we go further, I think that I can change your mind on that being the actual message and the real message being, please work with film directors.  Play adaptations are hard enough, but message movies with play adaptations are going to be tough.  Message movies require a commitment to telling a story so well that we are fully on board from minute one.  Movies like Traffic. Why am I not writing about Traffic?

As the message of the movie is pounded into your brain, we cut to a suburban house.  Joan Allen reaches over to check if her husband is there, hears a shot, and then two shots.  She goes downstairs and finds Jeff Daniels playing Warren Harding (no relation) standing over a body on the floor.  She does some quick detective work and sees that it is 1. his business partner, and 2. that Jeff Daniels seems pretty damn suspicious, and 3. Jeff Daniels definitely got up in the middle of the night to kill that guy.

Jeff Daniels and his lawyer, Andre Braugher are brought to the police station for questioning.  On the other side are Robert Forster who is the too old for this just about to retire cop and Bookeem Woodbine, the young hothead cop.  Robert Forster attempts to intimidate him into confessing.  Mr. Braugher, who is an amazing actor and I am deeply sad to see in this movie, does a great job selling his role as the bisexual son of a civil rights leader who was shot to death, but that’s for later.  Jeff Daniels is released because he was trying to protect his house, accuses his wife of cheating on him, and then goes home.

Andre Braugher goes to a grocery store where he runs into Anna Paquin, who is a poor street urchin who is dancing and stealing things.  She “flirts” with Braugher, who when she is caught stealing (once when I was five [Jesus, Jane’s Addiction, Matt? {You know what, screw you voice in my head, that’s a great song.}]), he vouches for her and pays for her stuff.  Anna Paquin is a decent actor, but she is ACTING in this MOVIE, and I have zero grasp of who she is supposed to be.  Is she underage?  Maybe?  Is she an addict?  Maybe?  Is she claiming that her brother has a gun and that he is police man? Yes.  Does he and is he? Yes and no?

Cut to Joan Allen and Jeff Daniels having dinner. Jeff Daniels talks about how he could have made money if he hadn’t murdered his business partner that day, but he was down at the police station answering questions because he is a psychopath.  Joan Allen gets him riled up by telling him that she fucked another man while getting him dinner, and tells him that she is going to leave him.  He threatens her by saying that she couldn’t leave if she wanted to, and if she did, he’d find her.

We then cut to David Schwimmer, silently waiting and crying as Andre Braugher gets home late.  You see, it turns out that the guy following the underage girl home is gay, which is supposed to be risque but does nothing for me.  David Schwimmer is pissed, and pulls a gun on Braugher, telling him that if he is late again, he is going to shoot him.  Pop quiz, hot shot, guess who shoots Braugher eventually. Ross also informs Braugher that he has gone off his meds, he’s bought him a gun, and that he’s stopped seeing his therapist.  Braugher picks up the pistol and they lovingly point it together and talk about how it makes them feel powerful.

To Review, Before This Gets Confusing

Jeff Daniels is Married to Joan Allen and Shot His Buisness Partner.

Andre Braugher is Dating David Schwimmer and into Anna Paquin.

Robert Forster is an almost retired cop, whose partner is Bookeem Woodbine and is investigating Jeff Daniels.

These are enough for a movie by themselves, right?  Well, guess who we haven’t gotten to yet.

Gary Sinise and Josh Brolin in, wait, what am I watching?

Gary Sinise is an “eccentric” “multi-millionaire” who owns a “compound” that looks like a legends of the hidden temple set re-purposed to be someone’s office with gigantic computer monitors everywhere.  He is in full on Lt. Dan meltdown mode in this movie, feeling like there is too much information coming in, and Josh Brolin is his hapless and put upon secretary who wants to make movies. I’ll say that again, Josh “No Country For Old Men” Brolin plays a weird secretary who wants to be a film director and is going to leave the service of the eccentric millionaire Sinise to direct films.

Since Brolin is leaving, Sinise directs him to find a replacement, which is convenient because Joan Allen wants to get out of her situation and Andre Braugher is also the lawyer of Sinise, so Joan Allen goes to join him on the compound and get herself either the worst haircut or worst wig I have ever seen.  I love Joan Allen, she’s great, and whatever the hell was going on with her in this was atrocious.

I don’t really know how to describe Gary Sinise in this movie.  He’s essentially the most insane of all possible people, and if you’ve read this far, you know that insanity is not uncommon in this universe. He creates an animated dog to play with on the copious screens that litter his office and are apparently linked to his voice and his thoughts somehow.  He is somehow connected to the internet, both in reality, and in that he was somehow responsible for some essential part of it.  He is rich, but out of touch, telling Joan Allen that all emails and voicemail are to be deleted.  I cannot tell if his character is supposed to be comic, or tragic, or both, or just impossible to tell.  The movie is off the rails at this point.

We also find out that Schwimmer goes shopping with Joan Allen, that Robert Forster is going to follow Jeff Daniels around, and that Josh Brolin’s character is changing his name from Tennel to Fennel.  No, I’m not making this up.

You Thought We Were Done, Didn’t You

Taking a little jaunt down “Two Weeks Later” we find all of our characters in new situations.  Andre and Anna have sex once, but not because she is a whore, but because she loves money. Brolin is working at a movie store, where he falls in love with Anna at first sight, mainly because her character name is Annabelle Lee.  Brolin recites the poem to her, and if you don’t remember the poem, it’s not a bright and happy poem, because Edgar Allen Poe wrote it.  She reciprocates by stealing stuff and flirting back?-ish.

And then we get to Sydney Lee.  Sindey Lee is played by Giovanni Ribisi as the incestuous, insanely overprotective, mentally ill, armed brother to Anna Paquin’s Annabelle Lee.  Another actor who you know, I am blown away by his presence in this movie.  He was in Saving Private Ryan.  In this movie, he is dressed like Michael Jackson and Sid Vicious had a child.  He comes into the movie at like the halfway point, far too late to introduce new central characters.  His introduction is being told that the video store clerk (Brolin) was hitting on his sister and that makes him very upset.  He threatens to use his piece on him if he doesn’t back off of her. Guess what eventually happens.

So, the stage is set, the players in their relationships, and now…

The movie goes off the rails.  It never really was on the rails, but at this point it loses rail cohesion entirely.

Joan Allen is settling into her new situation, reading a bunch and deleting emails, but Braugher shows up and tells Sinise that he’s being sued for cutting off all communication and that he needs to manage his empire.  Braugher ends up coming home late several times, telling Schwimmer that he is working on a case.  Daniels sits at home and thinks about redecorating his room.  Brolin works at his video store, meets Schwimmer and Daniels, as they watch Annabelle Lee, who is described as 15 going on 45.  Daniels slams Pulp Fiction (never a good way to get on my side, movie), and Schwimmer tells Brolin that he thinks that Braugher is cheating on him. Sinise and Allen grow closer, working together while his company falls apart, but he becomes unhinged when information starts leaking back in.  They have a dinner where he uses chopsticks to eat pasta, in parallel structure with the dinner with her husband.  It’s indicated that he is falling for her.

Braugher shoots Paquin in a struggle for Chechov’s… what is that thing called?  You introduce it at the beginning of the story and everyone knows that it has to go off, or the prop doesn’t make sense.  What is that thing called.  I forgot.  Well, anyway, Paquin dies.  Braugher calls Daniels to help clean it up. Daniels is followed by Forster and Woodbine to a bar, where they run into Ribisi, who threatens to shoot the two cops, walks over, and everyone looks like they are going to draw.  Ribisi leaves the bar.

Paquin’s body is discovered.  Braugher goes home, Chris shoots him, and then calls his therapist.  Ribisi goes to the video store and executes Brolin because he thinks he killed his sister. Sinise grabs a gun from inside his desk and shoots his monitors with it. Forster is handed a phone call by Schwimmer, at the active crime scene where Braugher has just been killed, from Daniels in which he confesses to shooting his partner.  Woodbine kills Sydney for killing Ribisi. Schwimmer moves to Nevada after his jail time so he can buy a gun. Daniels goes to jail and is visited by Allen, who is selling the house, which makes Daniels mad.

I am good at tracking what happens in movies.  I took no notes, and I wrote all of that by memory.  This movie had me confused, completely at odds with knowing anything, and deeply uncomfortable with what was going on. I am making none of that up.  NONE OF IT. I LIKE MOVIES, AND THIS MOVIE BROKE ME.

What’s the Lesson?

First off, message movies are hard, so if you’re going to do it, please, do it right.

Secondably, if you’re going to do an ensemble cast of hard hitting stars, make sure you get the tone right from frame one.  You cannot do five different tones.  Some of it is darkly comic, some of it is just comic, some of it is drama, some of it is thriller, and some of it is message movie.  You know how in The Thing you don’t have an opening musical number? That makes sense right?  If you opened with a big musical number, you expect a musical.  If you’re good enough to make a musical number work in the middle of your film (500 Days of Summer, sort of), don’t have it in the middle of the dramatic part, have it in the comedy fun parts.

Third of all, I need other people to see this movie.  I need it, because it has offically taken me 2037 words as of this point to deal with just the bare bones plot and character.  I haven’t talked about the crane shot in and crane shot out, to bookend the film, the fact that Sinise was discovered living under a viaduct and put into a mental institution by Allen, a person who is not his relative or has any relationship, and Allen literally discovered him living under a viaduct, which is a movie I want to see now.  I need people to see it because it’s The Room levels of insane.  It doesn’t make sense.  I cannot tell what it was trying to be.  I need your help.  Please, it’s cold and alone in this madness and only others joining me can free me.

Fourth, at the Milan International Film Festival, this movie got the Audience Award, Best Acting for Gary Sinise, Best Director, Best Editing, Best Film, Best Music and Best Screenwriting.  Really.  Like, really really. In the year 2000, in Milan, there was a gigantic mass delusion that this movie was good in some way.  I cannot cope with this.  I think that we might need to remove Milan from our maps, because there is something wrong there.  Something deeply unsettling lives in that city, somewhere deep down, and in 2000, they dug too deep.

Fifth, this movie is fucking bananas.  I am still blown away.  It’s been days.  It will never leave me.  What. On. Earth. Was. That?  I’m going to go watch Crank until my eyes bleed.

Editors Note:

This movie is still plaguing my brain.  I spend a good fifteen minutes a day trying to come to terms with this movie.  If you value my sanity, please, reach out to @HDTGM and @RedLetterMedia, and get someone else to see this movie.  If you can get me in touch with the producers and directors, or actors, please, tell me how.  If I can somehow find closure with this movie, I would appreciate it.

I Desperately Wanted to Like ‘The Messengers’

I Desperately Wanted to Like ‘The Messengers’

If you know me (and you probably don’t), you know I love pre-, peri-, post-apocalyptic stories.  I watched all of Outbreak last night, even though the bottom third was cut off on the TV Guide channel and I had work early in the morning; I’ve read the Left Behind series twice; heck, I even enjoyed the five minutes I watched of Zoo (but, really, don’t watch Zoo, it is terrible). So, I was stoked to check out The Messengers (2015).

It starts off really strong, within the first minute and a half, we’re introduced to one of our main characters. It is actually a decently subtle scene, we glide down from a well CGI’ed shot of the cosmos, through the night sky, past the entrance for the fictional Houston Memorial Hospital, and land on Rose and her friend as they walk out in scrubs. Right off the bat, we know the hospital is going to be important and that Rose is a standup human who heals the sick.  Rose is immediately framed as even more sympathetic, as her friend asks after her recent engagement.  During this exchange, Rose nearly faints, mentions “a bad feeling”, and *BLAM!* a stranger in a hoodie comes out of nowhere, spouts some nonsense about a personified Death, and shoots her.  This is the first 75 seconds of the show.

Then we are treated to one of my least favorite techniques, cyber lettering (complete with computer noises) that resolves into “7 Years Later.” We are also treated to the short-sighted, aggressive female astrophysicist who will persist in skepticism despite directly experiencing odd phenomena. As she and her partner receive a comet proximity alert (and I am silently screaming, “That is not how science works!”), we hard cut-

to people shouting Spanish in Juarez, complete with crooked DEA agents.  It is exactly as racist and awful as it sounds.  Somehow, I am still clinging to hope. Then –

Hard cut!

It is a young attractive mom (Yam from now on) and her adorably precocious daughter! A threat is introduced in the form of a silent phone call from “Arny.” Yam reacts with custody denials and we-

Hard cut!

Now on the set of the Church of the Eternal Redeemer, we are introduced to an incredibly attractive, young televangelist and his bouffanted, incredibly pregnant wife.  Her southern belle accent comes and goes in sudden peaks of twang.  She reassures him that he is “just as good as his father.”  (We’ll return to that line later.)  She gently prods him onto the stage and then exchanges significant looks with the father.  Preacher, (I’m not going to bother with most character’s names) gets up with a message of love and acceptance.  I’m really excited at this point.  There is subtle background drama building and a televangelist with a positive message.  Way to go, show! I was worried that you were going to lean on tired troupe after tired troupe, but you broke away from that. A little late, as we are.. oh, 6 minutes in? Wow.  We have introduced a crazy number of characters.  Are you sure you want to do that?  It is going to be hard to keep track of so many moving pieces, and you have to make them fully fleshed out people who will stand on their own and-

Hard cut! Ominous shot of the comet.

Hard cut!

We watch school letting out (in that orderly fashion which only exists on TV and in the movies) and our next main character is the only one to notice the gigantic comet streaking across the sky.  Not only is he the only one to look up at it, but the cute girl who approaches him doesn’t follow his gaze.  Okay, at this point, I’m going to give up on realism in this show.  They chat, he gets bullied, a party later is established.

Hard Cut!

Lady scientist and her colleague are tracking the comet.  She leaves their parked satellite van to pursue it on foot and watches the impact.  The shock wave causes her to wobble her head up and down as a wave of special effects hits her.  She then awkwardly collapses and, you guessed it-

Hard cut!

Back to racism!  Our Latinx friend is the only one to see the CG shockwave and he wobbles and goes down as it hits him.

Hard cut!

Yam is driving and briefly discussing with her daughter the absent, abusive husband we are all guessing called earlier.  Yam see the shockwave, head bobbles, and we are treated to squealing tires before our next-

Hard cut!

Bullied teen leaps into a pool.  Seconds later, the shock wave hits, and he is out for the count.

Hard cut.

Preacher senses a disturbance in the force, pauses in his good work, and starts head bobbling before the CG wave is close enough to obscure how very, very ridiculous it looks.  (kind of like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hdIwGcOL9o ) He goes down.

Hard cut to the now dead scientist, who we learn is named Vera.

Hard cut to the impact crater and  (another new character) the naked man in the center.

Hard cut to Preacher’s wife trying to revive him.

Hard cut to Juarez and the now dead informant.

Hard cut back to Vera who revives shouting, “Michael!”

Hard cut to Yam being extracted, dead, from her thrashed SUV and reviving in time to hear her daughter is in critical condition.

Hard cut to swimmer teen receiving CPR from a way too muscled lifeguard. Swimmer coughs out a mouthful of water and sits up, resurrected.

Hard cut to Juarez and our sexy informant standing up like a creature-feature villain.  He starts hearing the nefarious thoughts of the DEA agents, sustains a bullet to the arm and runs off.

Hard cut to Preacher resurrecting and demanding air time as soon as possible. The father responds with glee in his eyes that they have to share their miracle with the world.

Hard cut to Yam asking for her daughter in the hospital and being threatened by her asshole cop ex.

Hard cut to Naked Guy from the comet approaching a convenient tow guy in the desert.  This is one of the best interactions of the show.  Tow truck dude looks up, shakes his head and says, “Definitely calling the cops, bro.”  It is beautiful.

Hard cut back to our meteor tracking scientists.  They drive past No Longer Naked Guy, who is now wearing the tow truck driver’s coveralls.  His name was Johnny.  I’ll miss him.  I am so into this show now, it hurts.

Sexy informant has removed his shirt in order to cross a river. I am pleased by the visual, less pleased by the racism.

Vera and co. discover that the ‘meteor’ landed directly on the Trinity atomic test site.  They smell sulfur and I die a little inside.

Preacher talks of his resurrection and we start intercutting between scenes in even more rapid succession.

Yam visiting her comatose daughter.  She begins to cry.

Swimmer boy approaches the aforementioned party and is violently beaten by the earlier bully.  ( I do mean ‘violently’, it is one of the more brutal scenes I’ve watched.)

Yam’s tears fall onto her daughter’s face.

Meanwhile, the preacher’s voice pervades each scene, now speaking about end times and a  wrathful god.  He wraps up perfectly just as his sermon is prematurely taken off the air by announcing that he is a messenger of god.  (Get it? Messenger? It is the title of the show, folks, we just heard the title of the show.)  This is our turning point.

Swimmer stands and beats his bully.  Yam’s daughter’s wounds heal and she wakes up. Swimmer throws the bully. As she kidnaps her daughter, we see Yam has glowing wings only visible in the hospital security mirror. Swimmer sees his ephemeral wings in the reflection of a car window.

Swimmer wanders the kegger with a beaten in face, admits to murder, kisses the girl, and runs off into the night.  It is appropriately melodramatic, both for a teenager and for everything I see this show becoming.

The preacher’s father accuses him of sacrilege and threatens that his ‘new message’ will topple their tele-empire.  It is a wonderful exchange.  The father tells him to get back in line or, “you won’t be welcome in my church.”  Preacher takes his hand, makes eye contact, and states, “It is not your church, it’s God church.”  I squee at the scene, despite how obvious the course of the conversation was. In the camera’s viewfinder, we see Preacher’s wings.

And then we come to my least favorite scene and the whole thing slows way down. No Longer Naked Guy is in Vera’s home.  He starts talking about exchanging her kidnapped son, Michael (gasp!), for the teensy tiny favor of murder.  She is waving a gun around and generally acting stupid.  Vera is shockingly easy to persuade, though the scene feels interminable.

However, we hard cut to my absolute favorite scene, maybe ever.  Preacher’s wife is crying in the father’s office; Preacher walks into the family meeting; and the little lady tries to explain, “You were on retreat and I was weak and he tried to comfort me.”   As the father puts a creepily possessive arm around the incredibly pregnant wife, he drops the best line I have ever heard, ever, “Whether the baby is your son or your brother, he is still family.”  HOLY MOLY!!! THIS SHOW IS BONKERS!  I can just imagine being in the writers’ room when this was developed.  I bet there were high fives all around that table. There is nowhere to go from here but further and further into crazy town.  I cannot wait to see the rest of this ride.

Latinx carjacks/kidnaps Yam and daughter headed to Houston. Swimmer bums a ride with a trucker, also to Houston. Vera is pushed to murder a woman in Houston.  Preacher has a vision of Rose in a coma in Houston.  Maybe there is something happening in Houston? No Longer Naked Guy is sitting in Rose’s hospital room and is revealed through a rebroadcast voiceover of Preacher’s earlier sermon to be the Devil.  He direct to camera flashes red glowing Terminator eyes.

Hard cut to black!  Hot damn, what an amazing pilot!  There were some stumbles, as should be expected in any pilot, and some characters (Vera) who I will hate, but we’ve got our whole cast coming together to fight the Devil and prevent the apocalypse.  Now that the establishing work is out of the way, it is going to be an action-packed adventure, full of ethical quandaries and soul saving and I am so stoked!

 


And then I watched the second episode.

 

Is This The Best Movie Speech In History?

Is This The Best Movie Speech In History?

Short Answer: No.

Longer Answer:

We’re a week out from July 4th, Independence Day in America, and the annual viewing party of Independence Day on HBO.  It’s a deeply spiritual part of any celebration, watching young Will Smith, young Bill Pullman, and youngish Randy Quaid fight aliens in the most overblown blockbuster in history.

With Independence Day: Resurgence in theaters now, there has been a recent reevaluation of whether this movie is any good.  Here’s a hint, it’s a fine movie, as long as you don’t pay attention at all, and love ‘splosions.  And damn, are those ‘splosions awesome.

This is the movie that made Roland Emmerich able to make all those other movies where things go kablooie, like the one with John Cusack as the divorced writer, and the one with The Rock, and the one with the sentient ice that chases people down hallways and freezes wolves.  I’d say this is the best one of all of them, but that’s not really praise.

As a perpetual fourteen year old (old enough to like boobs, but dumb enough to love ‘splosions), I have always enjoyed these kinds of disaster movies, but ID4 may have actually been the turning point where they became awful.  If you watch it now, you can tell that the models were lovingly blown up in the best way, creating beautiful tension and wonderful destruction.  After this, name one thing that has blown up as good as the things in this movie.  I’ll wait.

On With The Speech

But the real reason any of us remember this movie is because of the speech.  And, it is quite the speech.

We’ve been conditioned to think of this as the do nothing right president, but he gets out there and rips away on the flats of Area 51, creating a moment that will be remembered as the greatest moment in Bill Pullman’s career, other than the entirety of Spaceballs.  This is a hard scene to get tonally right, because it is seriously tacky.  It has all the earmarks of a speech that would be over the top, and yet, it plays.  Man, does it play.

At this point, I can just type quotes from it, and you’ll hear them in his voice.

“We will not go quietly into the night!

We will not vanish without a fight!

We’re going to live on!

We’re going to survive!”

Pop Quiz: How many of you finished the speech after just reading it?

That’s what I thought.

But Why Does It Work?

First off, we’ve got this group ready to go, we start with him actually screwing up, messing up the loudspeaker before it starts working.  We’re on his side, because everyone in this airfield is going to be dead if their plan doesn’t work.  The set sets him up in the middle of the hangar, with every line pointed at him.  We pan across the ethnically diverse cast, who are now all on the same side.

The camera movement, a slow dolly in that goes between shots, brings us closer and closer to him, creating an intimacy that changes the tenor.  Since we start wide, we are communicating to the large group, with all of us on the same side, but as the music swells and the speech continues, the camera moves closer and closer, creating the illusion that the president is speaking just to us.

The music during ID4 was always insanely overblown.  So, this moment is accompanied by the most overblown part of the score. We’re already hearing it, but we know that the swell is coming, and when the climax hits, the whole group starts cheering.  The entire audience is included in the fight against the aliens, and it works amazingly well.

There is a definition of a great movie as three good scenes and no bad ones.  This is not a great movie, but this scene is one of the most effective ones I’ve ever seen.

What’s your favorite movie speech?

Bonus Video Game Speech:

And Featuring Ryan Reynolds as Ben Kingsley

And Featuring Ryan Reynolds as Ben Kingsley

Did you know that there are whole channels dedicated to movies on TV?

Ah, modern life.  We have all of these conveniences that bring things to us.  We  can experience the world, looking at everything around us with fresh eyes and different perspectives.  That’s why we usually just focus on a rectangular box that creates images and worlds that don’t exist.

Hypocritical?  Yes.  I am lamenting the modern age’s convenience on a blog about watching movies and talking about them to my friends. That, however, is what happens when you sit down to consider the things that come out of the box into which we stare.

HBO and Showtime are the premium channels to which I subscribe, so frequently, I’ll catch a movie that I didn’t even know exist, or end up watching Six Days, Seven Nights for the third time because wanting to murder David Schwimmer is the rack upon which I torture myself. Oh, and watching Harrison Ford be grumpy on camera is quite enjoyable.  Enough about Six Days, Seven Nights the entire collective universe says though, even though it’s a perfect example of this ephemeral crappy movie that no one will remember in five years.

So, one evening, I had the … pleasure?  Is pleasure a good word for watching a movie while realizing, over time, that it’s nonsensical garbage going nowhere? Sure.  The pleasure of watching a movie so forgettable that I have to go to IMDB to look up the name of it right … now.

Self/less

Yeah, that was it, title me!  Self/less (it sure is going to get annoying having to put that slash in there every time I say the title, thanks title gods) is a movie starring Ben Kingsley and Ryan Reynolds.  It purports to be a science fiction movie, but then does nothing with it’s science fiction premise.

You see, in the near future/the past (stupid new cars as status symbols in movies), Ben Kingsley is a big swinging Wall Street capitalist.  He has pushed all relationships to the side to make a bunch of money, but when he starts to feel his mortality, he googles living forever and finds a grad student who assisted an aging, wheel chaired professor in his research about immortality.

Dr. OldSoulYoungBody tells Ben Kingsley that he can put his brain into a younger body, grown from clone stock in a vat, and that he can live as a young Ryan Reynolds for the price of a small fortune.  Ben Kingsley takes the deal, goes to a restaurant with his friend, and keels over, where he is taken to the brain transfer CAT scan room.

He wakes up as Ryan Reynolds. They fabricate a backstory for him, he adopts a new identity and then he is given a bottle of pills and is set up with the rich man’s ideal young life.  He has money, an apartment, a bunch of expensive toys, and seems very happy using Ryan Reynolds’s face to get all the ass he can.  He meets and befriends Anton, a guy with a couple of pictures of kids and a pretty baller Mustang, at a Basketball game.

So, we have our set up.  Now, so far, this is kind of a cool little Sci-fi story, right?  What would you do if you were young again?  What kinds of things would an old man in young body be able to achieve?  What are the pills about?  Why am I watching this montage of him being delighted with his shallow life?  Is this movie just wealth porn?

Act Two: In Which Everything Is NOT WHAT IT SEEMS?!

Because this is a movie, we need to have ourselves a plot.  Ryan Kingsley forgets to take his medicine one day and has a hallucination of a bunch of disparate images.  He brings this up to Dr. NotMyRealName who reveals that he knows more than he is letting on about these hallucinations, which leads to Ryan Kingsley finding out about Ryan Reynolds who, shocker, wasn’t a clone and was actually AN AMERICAN HERO, with A SICK DAUGHTER, who GAVE UP EVERYTHING FOR HER AND HIS WIFE.  Which, of course, instantly makes Ryan Kingsley very sad, because he thought he was getting himself a clone.

Additionally, because this movie needs to become an action movie, it is revealed that instincts and other basic traits are carried in the brain and slowly wiped away by the pills.  So, Ryan Kingsley has about a year to decide whether to be Ryan Reynolds or Ryan Kingsley.  There is an action scene, and in our first twist, Anton isn’t who he thought he was! Anton actually works for the Doctor!  The Doctor turns out to be the Old Guy from the first part of the movie! The friend that went to lunch where Ben Kingsley died used the Doctor to put his paralyzed son into a new body!

It better be an action movie!

Ryan Reynold’s wife and kid have been kidnapped by the bad guys, so Ryan Kingsley stops taking his medicine to figure out where they took her.  He ends up finding a warehouse and attacks it using his army skills.  Action scene.  He gets captured, and Anton is going to be put into him, but he puts a piece of metal into his mouth, which prevents the CAT scan from doing its work and putting Anton’s brain into Ryan Reynolds’s brain over Ben Kingsley’s brain. Then, Ryan Kingsley fakes  being Anton, grabs a flamethrower, and flamethrowers the doctor, saving the wife and kid.  Then, he sends them to the Caribbean, figures his life out, reconnects with his daughter and gives her a letter, and then stops taking the drugs so that Ryan Reynolds will come back.

Really.  The end of the movie is Ryan Reynolds getting back together with his wife who thought he was dead and then met a man wearing his skin as a suit.  It’s a weird movie.

Why is this movie so bad?

So, here’s the thing. Stories like this can be very interesting.  Any time people can not be who they seem, or they can move from body to body, you can make a story that is all about identity and who people are.  I mean, Being John Malkovich is all about body swapping, and that movie is great!  The problem with this movie is that the premise promises a bunch of cool ideas, but it withholds them to have them tell a stupid story.

What if, instead of the process being one way, the process is an actual swap of the bodies?  We have young Ryan Reynolds trapped in a dying old man’s body, knowing that he did the right thing for his dying daughter, but ends up regretting his decision and attempting to find and convince Ryan to swap back.

Or, what if Anton got pushed into Ryan Reynolds’ body, but Ryan Reynolds’ had destroyed the pill supply, and Anton was seduced into giving up his life as well?  The third act would be insanely cool to me then.

Or, what if both Ryan Reynolds and Ben Kingsley’s personalities were transferred into Anton’s body, and they ended up protecting the wife, but unable to touch or express their love for her?

See, the movie isn’t bad on it’s own. It’s a serviceable piece of work, but the premise could go so much farther.  You could do so much with just a little thought, and each of your actors could get a little further down into the rabbit hole of playing characters.  Instead, everyone just acts like they act anyway.

This movie had a lot going for it.  I just wish that it had gone further into the weird and interesting, instead of being a basic action movie.