Posts Tagged ‘Ben Affleck’

Director: Zack Snyder

Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot

As a comics reader, I’ve always been more of a Marvel fan. The same is true of the movies… for the most part. There have been exceptions to that rule, of course, notably with DC’s adaptations of Alan Moore classics V for Vendetta and Watchmen. The big-screen escapades of DC’s two most popular characters, Batman and Superman, have also piqued my interest on occasion. Of the two, Batman, being a man who has no superpowers to fall back on, is infinitely more relatable than the Last Son of Krypton.  So, of course, when it comes to a showdown between the two, I would always choose the side of the Caped Crusader. Not to mention the fact that I can count seeing Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman at the age of 7 as the event which changed me from a casual viewer to full-blown fan of movies. From 1978 to the present day, each hero’s cinematic ride has experienced the highest of highs, and (extremely) lowest of lows. 2016’s Batman v. Superman falls into neither category.

After a brief opening credits sequence which features what feels like the millionth depiction of the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne (played by “The Walking Dead” co-stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Lauren Cohan), the action moves to the climactic battle sequence from the end of 2013’s Man of Steel, where Superman (Henry Cavill) winds up causing more destruction in Metropolis than he is able to prevent in battling General Zod (Michael Shannon). Only, this time, we witness the battle from the perspective of Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck).

One cannot watch this sequence without automatically thinking of 9/11, and that’s what makes this the most effective part of the movie. It also helps to establish a motive for Bruce Wayne/Batman to see Superman not as a guardian of Earth, but as a threat against it. Bruce, who has been at this superhero gig for a while now, is using a much more harshly defined sense of justice these days, which provides Clark Kent/Superman with reason to voice his opinion on the matter via Daily Planet articles.

Unlike the Superman of the 1980s, who somehow was able to convince the leaders of the world to allow him to rid the Earth of nuclear weapons, this version of Superman has a hard time assuring the U.S. government that he has our best interests at heart. He is even compelled to appear before a Senate committee hearing on the subject. Unfortunately, the hearing is interrupted by a suicide bomb, which kills everyone in attendance, including Senator June Finch (Holly Hunter). Everyone, that is, except for Superman. As it happens, this event, along with the seeds of doubt pitting Batman and Superman on opposing sides, have all been orchestrated by the unhinged head of LexCorp, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg).

Behind the scenes, Luthor has been very busy, collecting a Kryptonite sample, acquiring both Zod’s corpse and his spaceship, and also investigating the existence of metahumans. Bruce Wayne acquires both the Kryptonite and the info on meta-humans, the former to be used as a deterrent against Superman. The latter reveals to him four individuals with extraordinary gifts: the super-speedy Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller), the underwater-dwelling Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa), the part man, part machine Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher), as well as Amazonian Princess and daughter of Zeus, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). Bruce is already familiar with Diana, having bumped into her at a party at LexCorp. He only needs the one meeting to be able to sense that there is more to her than most men would notice.

Diana is also interested in the meta-human file, though only for a specific photo which she claims belongs to her. Bruce shares the file via e-mail, noting that this grainy black & white image from a century ago is not merely her possession, but is in fact a record of her involvement in the events of World War I. I reserve any further commentary on the matter, as the movie does, for 2017’s Wonder Woman.

The film’s promised fight finally gets underway thanks to Lex’s maneuverings, the final piece of which is the kidnapping of Martha Kent (Diane Lane), which will ensure that Superman fights Batman at Lex’s bidding, lest Martha meet a fiery end. So the two heroes fight, with Batman using Kryptonite as a means to level the playing field. Eventually, Batman gains the upper hand, but is startled by the notion that Superman’s adoptive mother and his own dead mother share the same first name. For most who have seen this movie, this scene is one of the most heavily scrutinized. It’s the jarring transition from beating the hell out of each other to suddenly being best buds which earns that criticism.

So, Batman volunteers to save Martha while Superman goes to confront Luthor. Unable to accept defeat, Luthor unveils his Plan B: the Kryptonian abomination known as Doomsday. It takes the combined efforts of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman to provide adequate defense against the monster, but only Kryptonite can kill it, and the only fragment left was used by Batman to form a spear. It falls to Superman to find and use the spear, but because of his own weakness to the shiny green rock it leaves him just as vulnerable, and thus Superman and Doomsday simultaneously kill one another.

An epilogue, which is mainly a teaser for the forthcoming Justice League movie, shows Batman confronting a deranged Luthor in prison, who warns of the imminent arrival of supervillain Steppenwolf (whose actual name is never mentioned), leaving Bruce Wayne with the sense that, soon, the meta-humans will be compelled to answer the call to battle. Meanwhile, a funeral is held for Superman, who is recognized in death as the hero he was never fully appreciated as in life. But there are indications that he may not be totally dead just yet…

Batman v. Superman is a fundamentally flawed movie, which is pretty much par for the course with Batman and Superman’s movies (except for 2008’s The Dark Knight). It gives us a terrific Bruce Wayne/Batman (not to mention a decent Alfred as performed by Jeremy Irons), and a not-so-great Superman. The battle scenes are great, but character behavior/motivation is a problem. Particularly depressing is the portrayal of Superman not as the ray of hope he’s been known as through the majority of his existence since 1938, but as a dark, brooding character. That’s supposed to be Batman’s territory! The whole point is for them to have two wildly contrasting outlooks on the world and life in general.

So desperate was DC to compete with Marvel Studios that it got a little too greedy. It’s never a good idea to cross pollinate two completely different comic storylines into one movie. 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand did the same thing. So did 2007’s Spider-Man 3. All it does is undermine both arcs. If you’re gonna throw in “The Death of Superman” right after his first meeting with Batman, that’s fine. A little weird, but okay. What you shouldn’t do is pass off their chronologically final confrontation from the comics (“The Dark Knight Returns”) as their first in this movie. It’s rather jarring.

This movie is neither fantastic, nor fantastically awful, although it is clear that this wasn’t the best way to introduce the DCEU (DC Expanded Universe). One thing that Batman v. Superman got fantastically right is its portrayal of Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. Even her theme music is badass! The scene-stealing Gal Gadot’s performance is spot-on; so much so that, by herself, Wonder Woman gave hope that her own adventure might just give DC the boost it needed after this misstep. But that, as I said, is a subject best left for another film review.

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Feast (2005)

Director: John Gulager

Starring: Balthazar Getty, Navi Rawat, Henry Rollins, Judah Friedlander, Josh Zuckerman, Jason Mewes, Jenny Wade, Krista Allen, Clu Gulager

Going without a subscription to HBO (and other networks) has meant more than having to rely on others for my “Game of Thrones” fix. It has left me largely oblivious to the rest of that channel’s programming, as well. In 2005, Bravo presented one season of a documentary/contest series called “Project Greenlight.” Until quite recently, I had no clue that this was the show’s third year on television, the first two of its history having been spent on HBO, and having resurfaced there in 2015 after a long hiatus for Season 4. The purpose of the show is something I find very appealing, as rookie filmmakers are given their first crack at directing a feature-length film. The screenplay selected for Season 3 was the action-horror monster movie “Feast.”

A group comprised of just about every social stereotype you can think of are all gathered in the same bar for what looks to be an otherwise quiet night of drinking, flirting and gambling on billiards. Each character is introduced with text which 1) identifies them by nickname only, 2) lists their occupation and 3) their life expectancy. Each character profile is more comical than the last. It’s clear from the start that the screenwriters are intent on disrupting the comfort zone provided by horror conventions. Illustrating this point, the action begins with a man identified as “Hero” entering the bar, telling everyone to lock the place down and to prepare for something terrible closing in on their position, offering the head of one of the monsters as proof that he’s to be taken seriously. He then declares himself to be “the guy who’s gonna save your asses”… and is then promptly pulled through a window and decapitated.

Shortly after this surprising turn of events, the recently deceased’s widow, “Heroine” (Navi Rawat), shows up and assumes her late husband’s authoritative role. Although everyone works quickly to board up the place, the smallest of the monsters finds its way through and several of the patrons die before it is locked inside a freezer. During the carnage, a stray shotgun blast has destroyed the only working telephone, so alerting the authorities is out of the question. The barricade is finished, and a moment of peace is enjoyed. Suddenly, it occurs to “Tuffy” (Krista Allen) that her son is still upstairs where she’d left him. Frantically, she searches for and finds him, but her relief is short-lived. In the movie’s second unexpected moment, the boy is pulled from his mother’s arms and eaten, leaving “Tuffy” in indescribable anguish. Before disappearing again, the monster has apparently found something about the taste of the boy disagreeable, and vomits all over “Beer Guy” (Judah Friedlander), which later proves to have a revoltingly slow decomposition effect.

In retaliation for the boy’s death, the group kills the baby monster trapped in the freezer and offer up its corpse as a warning to its family not to mess with humans. Instead of retreating, the parents eat the child, have sex, and produce two brand new monsters all within a matter of minutes. The monsters all return to attacking the bar. Their plan having failed completely, the bar’s survivors try to devise a new strategy of escape. They try using one of the many dead bodies as bait to serve as a distraction so that someone can go out and start up an escape vehicle. This plan, too, is a complete failure. “Bozo” (Balthazar Getty), so named for being a would-be tough guy who is as clumsy as he is socially inept, accidentally kills “Heroine” as she tries to evade the monsters and re-enter the bar. Her death inspires “Tuffy” to ascend to the position of “Heroine 2” when all others seem to have given up hope. Meanwhile, the monsters use “Coach” as a battering ram. The only person to get through is “Honey Pie” (Jenny Wade). The rest of the group cheers her on as she manages to get into and start the beer truck, but are shocked as they watch her drive off without them. That’s pretty cold, but it’s also the smartest move that “Honey Pie” has made in the entire movie. Preparing for a last stand against the remaining monsters, “Beer Guy” and “Bartender” (Clu Gulager) are both killed (although the sequels will show that “Bartender” miraculously survives). As the sun rises, “Tuffy/Heroine 2,” “Bozo” and his wheelchair-bound brother “Hot Wheels” (Josh Zuckerman) emerge victorious and thankful to be alive.

Aptly named, “Feast” is a visual delight from beginning to end, presented to us by executive producers Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Wes Craven, and others. Uncertain as to the exactness of its inspirations, what I can gather from observation is that it shares some things in common with “Alien” and “From Dusk Till Dawn,” to name a few. Darkness is the theme here. Both minimal lighting and a keen sense of humor help you forget all about how cheap the production actually is. Filming the monsters in broad daylight in particular would have been a mistake, something the sequels forget to take into account. It’s smart to keep the origin of the monsters a mystery, also. We don’t need to know what they are, how old they are, or if they’re indigenous to Earth. The cast, working with a novice script, all create characters with distinct and lively personalities (at least until the moment when they are snuffed out). My favorite is Navi Rawat’s “Heroine,” a woman with a survival instinct that inspires the same in others. When she dies, it’s one of the sadder moments in the film because she has a daughter out there who will never see her mother again. Action-packed and reveling in its lunacy, “Feast” is the kind of horror movie you gather a group of your best friends together to sit back and enjoy.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)

Director: Fran Rubel Kazui

Starring: Kristy Swanson. Donald Sutherland, Paul Reubens, Rutger Hauer, Luke Perry

With the recent explosion in popularity of the superhero genre, much has been made of the fact that Iron Man, Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Captain America, etc. are all male. Sure, there have been some attempts at comic book movies with females in the lead, but that’s where you get Halle Berry’s “Catwoman” and Jennifer Garner as “Elektra.” Those debacles are no doubt as much of a reason as any as to why there hasn’t been a “Wonder Woman” solo movie yet. (She’s set to appear as a secondary character in “Batman vs. Superman.”) Still, the genre, however slanted towards the Y chromosome it may be, is enjoying a level of success it could not have dreamed possible only a few years ago. What might be lost on some people is that Joss Whedon, director of Marvel’s “The Avengers” and the soon-to-be-released “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” was the man responsible for creating one of the greatest female superheroes of all-time.

Buffy (Kristy Swanson) would seem on the surface to be your typical, self-absorbed California high school rich girl. Her ambitions consist of things like graduating, moving to Europe, marrying actor Christian Slater and then, once all that’s accomplished, dying. Lofty goals, I must say. But, despite her lack of vision for her future advancement, Buffy’s destiny is already predetermined. She is the latest in a long line of young women gifted (or cursed, depending on one’s perspective) with the powers of a Vampire Slayer. What became of the Slayers who came before Buffy? Right, well, that’s the catch. A new Slayer only emerges after the previous one has died. Thus, like with Highlanders, “there can be only one.”

Until Merrick (Donald Sutherland) shows up to fill Buffy in on all of this, she remains oblivious to the evil descending upon Los Angeles. She’s still unconvinced until he describes with alarming detail the nightmares she’s been having lately. A visit to the cemetery to put to rest the fresh corpses which are rising from their graves lets Buffy know that this is, like, for real. The main threat she’ll have to contend with comes from Lothos (Rutger Hauer) and his henchman, Amilyn, a.k.a. ‘Lefty’ (Paul Reubens). Lothos has a history with the Slayer lineage, having personally killed several of them. But Buffy has something those other girls didn’t have: Companions. In addition to Merrick, Buffy also finds a friend …and possibly something more… in Pike (Luke Perry), the boy she and the vapid members of her high school clique had dissed earlier.

Although a quick glance at the credits for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” will show that this movie was directed by Fran Rubel Kazui, it is screenwriter Joss Whedon who is the true brains behind the operation. And still, the movie does not quite meet with Whedon’s original vision. Its theme of female empowerment gets more than a little distorted by the fact that the finished product is campy in the extreme. It’s impossible now to consider the merits of this movie without keeping the TV series in mind. I’ve seen many great movies which were turned into terrible TV shows, but I can only think of a handful of movies which were outdone in almost every way by their small screen successor. The two that come to mind most often are “M*A*S*H*” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” The two series don’t have much in common, except that each was long-lived, each has a devoted fan following to this day, each tackled very serious topics… and, oh yeah… both of the original movies starred Donald Sutherland. I’ll get to him in just a moment.

The uneven cast in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is a problem. Some people will tell you that Kristy Swanson was all wrong for the part of Buffy. Her only crime is that she’s not Sarah Michelle Gellar. Oddly enough, sometimes when Swanson would speak I found myself hearing her TV counterpart. Given time, Swanson might have become as comfortable in the role as Gellar later was. Otherwise, she’s just fine. It’s virtually everyone else that drags this thing down. The villains suck, and not in the vampire way. You really have to make an effort to keep Paul Reubens… best known to the world as Pee-Wee Herman… from being funny, but that’s what they did. Almost every line he has falls flat. His death scene, prolonged for comic effect, is a total yawner. Even worse is Rutger Hauer. Here is a guy who can make you hang on his every word, and give life to some of the greatest bad guys you’ll ever see, and all I get from Lothos is how terrible his mustache looks. That’s how ineffective he is.

Luke Perry is harmless enough as Buffy’s friend Pike, but I can only assume his inclusion is based solely on his popularity from “Beverly Hills, 90210.” The supporting cast is surprisingly full of familiar faces. There’s two-time Oscar-winning actress Hilary Swank playing one of Buffy’s rich girl friends. Probably the dumbest of the bunch. Well acted, especially if the intent was for the character to get under my skin. There’s David Arquette being David Arquette. Don’t think I need to say more than that. Also look fast for Ben Affleck as a basketball player on the team playing against Buffy’s high school.

Much more complicated is Donald Sutherland’s contribution to the film. On-screen, as Merrick, Sutherland delivers his typical performance. Nothing standout but not horrific either, at least not until you really start to listen to his dialogue and realize that most of it doesn’t make much sense. This is because Sutherland took it upon himself to improvise and rewrite most of his lines to his own liking, and at the expense of Joss Whedon’s script. He was reportedly so hard to work with that Whedon still refers to Sutherland as a “dick.” Seeing as how Whedon’s grudges are not my grudges, I can’t grade him based on behind-the-scenes shenanigans. Sutherland and Swanson have good chemistry, so at least there’s that.

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is an incomplete work, however one that is a little bit better than I had remembered. When I saw this originally, I had disliked it to the point that it was the chief reason why I avoided the TV series until it was almost done with its first run. As it turns out, the movie is at least better than the abysmal seventh season of the TV show. It isn’t what its creator had in mind, but it does make me want to revisit the first six seasons of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” on DVD, and that’s as close to a seal of approval as I can muster.