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Archive for March, 2016

“I pushed my soul in a deep dark hole and then I followed it in

I watched myself crawling out as I was a-crawling in

I got up so tight I couldn’t unwind

I saw so much I broke my mind”

Mickey Newbury

As I walked out of Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice I sent a tweet renaming the movie Yawn Of Justice Review.  This was a little unkind as the film isn’t truly boring, it was just disappointing. When I heard that director Zack Snyder was inspired by Frank Miller’s seminal graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns I had a glimmer of hope.  The last time a director took inspiration from a Frank Miller Batman novel it was Christopher Nolan and Batman: Year One became Batman Begins.  So what went wrong?batman vs superman

Zack Snyder is something of an easy target for criticism, but I have never felt like an apologist when defending his work.  Despite my love for the original I liked his remake of Dawn of the Dead(2004); 300 (2006) was dumb camp fun with a great cast (and referred to by tour guides  when I went to Athens last year); Watchmen (2009) is a monumental and underrated adaptation of what is probably the best graphic novel ever.  Sucker Punch (2011) has its problems book looks amazing and really isn’t as bad as you have been told; Man of Steel (2013) is far from perfect especially the Transformers style finale, but, the build up and character development is really good.  Henry Cavill and Amy Adams where perfect casting.  So I ask the question again: So what went wrong?batman vs superman batman

Before I get to that, what did he get right?  Ben Affleck could be a great Batman.  I have long thought Michael Keaton should reprise his Batman for The Dark Knight Returns (with the right director even George Clooney could get away with it), Affleck plays the older jaded and on edge Batman to perfection, this truly is a performance that needs a better film.  The same is true of Jeremy Irons as Alfred, he deserves his own film.  Henry Cavill is still a decent Superman, but given that this is supposed to be a superman movie he isn’t given much to do.  Holly Hunter is excellent in a small part, and Gal Gadot seems okay in what we have seen of her.  So for a third and final time, went wrong? For a start Jesse Eisenberg.  Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is annoying at best, I would go as far as saying he is as bad, and as annoying as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Uma Thurman in Batman & Robin or Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey in Batman Forever.  He hight of got away with his performance if they were remaking the 60’s TV show, but only just.  I can only imagine Zack Snyder’s direction when something like this:batman vs superman wonder woman

Zack “do you remember when you played Mark Zuckerberg”

Jesse “Yeah”

Zack “I want you to do the same”

Jesse “Ok, I can do that”

Zack “Not exactly the same, do the Zuckerberg thing, times ten, imagine you are on crack, and be so annoying even your mother hates you”

Jesse “you mean like this?”

Zack “yes, but more zany and crazy” batman vs superman lex luthor

For all Eisenberg’s zaniness the film totally lacks fun or humour.  There is one funny moment in the entire film, unfortunately, when it came I had already seen it a dozen times in the trailer.   But the problems go beyond the lack of humour, the film is simply dour and uninteresting.  The plot is thin but overly complicated and constantly explained to the audience.  The mass destruction in the final act is no worse than what we have seen from Marvel (I include X-Men as well as MCU) in recent years, but at least they have a little fun along the way, and they have with Ant-Man (2015) and Deadpool (2016) proved that a lower  scale final act can work.  Worse than that, the final act is disjointed from the narrative that leads up to it.  We have to wait an eternity for the Batman v Superman that the title promises.  When we get there the set up and the conclusion are contrived beyond belief.  I could except that Luthor’s plan makes no sense, that it doesn’t fit with the narrative and that it is poorly executed, but to have all three issues are unforgivable.  I saw the movie in 2D, but understand there is a 3D version too.  Allowing for the light loss of 3D viewers must have missed half the movie in the gloom.  Again Dawn of Justice may not be the best title, The Dark Night Before Justice may be more appropriate.  Batman movies should be dark and gloomy and the washed-out colour works, but Superman should be bright and technicolor.  To serve both characters in one movie was always going to be tough, but they failed on both counts.  Even Zack Snyder’s biggest critics must admit that he has a visual flair and style, however, in this film it works against him.  The best visual scenes are all dream sequences, this could have worked well, but they are too long and distract from the plot rather than enhancing it.  Even the conclusion is pointless as we all know that by the time The Justice League Part One arrives in 2017 there will be a happy twist to the unfortunate event at the end of this movie.batman vs superman superman

There is some truth to the suggestion that Marvel earned the right to make the Avengers with the foundation of Iron Man and Thor, that they learned their lessons from two Hulk movies,  and that DC jumped right into the Justice League without that foundation.  But the problems go deeper than that.  Dawn of Justice opens with the events of Man of Steel, shown from the point of view of Bruce Wayne as the city is destroyed around him.  This would appear to be an acknowledgement of what they dis wrong first time around.  It isn’t, it is just a pre-cusser to more destruction.  Christopher Nolan’s name appears proudly on the movies credits, but his fingerprints are nowhere to be seen in the movie.  The film lacks the weight and scale of The Dark Knight, replacing them with CGI and gloom.  Batman & Robin was by far the weakest Batman film, but in a way it was a noble failure, I think I know what Joel Schumacher was trying to do; create a Batman that combines the dark edge of Tim Burton’s movies with the fun camp of the 60’s TV show and the bombast of the comics.  He failed in just about every aspect and I hate the film, but he tried.   Zack Snyder on the other hand got so much right but ultimately failed having created a disappointing film, a film that incites emotions of indifference and apathy.  A disappointing film is far worse than a bad one.  I only hope Suicide Squad, due out later this year has the same fun and humour that Marvel demonstrated in Ant-Man, Deadpool and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and sets a new direction for DC movies.

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Clint Mansell Uneasy Listening

Just be yourself, sir. Whatever happens, they can’t take that away from you.

I love live music.  While I still go to see big bands from time to time, many of the singers and bands I see are less established.  This has the benefit of smaller more intimate venues and cheaper tickets.  Unsigned or on independent labels most will never “make it” in the traditional sense.  They will never become millionaires and I am unlikely to hear their songs played on the radio, but they are professional musicians making a living playing music and performing cover songs on Saturday night TV talent shows looking for their fifteen minutes. 

So why am I telling you all this?  On Wednesday night I went to a very different concert, and one that made me think of all the great singers and bands I have seen that have then disappeared into obscurity.  Clint Mansell didn’t just “make it”, he made it twice; first in the 80’s and 90’s in the band Pop Will Eat Itself then in the past twenty years as a film composer.  A chance meeting with Darren Aronofsky, who at the time was looking for a composer for his début feature Pi has lead to one of the most enduring collaborations in recent movie history.  And that is what I was there for, a live performance of some highlights from his movie scores.  A friend had purchased the tickets way in November last year and asked it I was interested.  Clint Mansell

But before we get to Wednesdays show; the thing that got me thinking about past bands and gigs, was Mansell talking about all the Birmingham venues he used to play back in the day.  He reeled off a list including The Barrel Organ, The Golden Eagle, The Powerhouse and the Hummingbird (later reopened as The Academy).  But tonight was different, he was playing Birmingham’s Symphony Hall, regarded as one of the world’s best concert halls and home to the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.  Located on my doorstep since it opened twenty-five years ago, I am ashamed  to admit I have never been there before.  I felt better when I later learnt that this was also Clint Mansell’s first visit.  Self-deprecating all evening he was never overawed by the location but was almost apologetic about being there.  Had dropped to his knees and quoted Wayne’s World I wouldn’t have been surprised, he didn’t, and he didn’t have to worry about his himself or his music belonging in the esteemed hall, they were a perfect fit.  Given the setting I was expecting an orchestra, instead we were treated to fully amplified band combined with a string quartet.  Given Mansell’s reputation for combining orchestral music with electronic instruments it was the perfect blend.  The entire ensemble were brilliant by the way.  Clint-Mansell-live

I remember loving the music for Requiem for a Dream whilst watching the film, but when lent the CD recently found it a hard listen as a piece of music.  I was stunned by Black Swan when I saw the film but appreciated the brilliance of it even more after visiting the ballet and hearing Swan Lake performed by a live orchestra.  I would say these were highlights of the night, but every piece had its own highlight.  Pi, were it all began didn’t have the souring orchestral highs of Noah or The Fountain but had other charms.  And for those who think Mansell only works with Aronofsky, take a look at his filmography.  It includes but isn’t limited to Moon (Duncan Jones), Stoker (Chan-wook Park) and the High-Rise (Ben Wheatley).  He played pieces from both Moon and High-Rise but sadly not Stoker.

Don’t think it was a stuffy and serious show.  Between the music Clint Mansell told stories about his past life as a pop star and a funny story about visiting Madonna’s house, all of which helped make the night a real treat, but a rare one.  He has only performed this show a handful of times, I believe it will be less than twenty shows in five years by the time the tour finishes next week.  Finally, for those who are wondering the quote at the top is from the movie Trading places, Denholm Elliott’s character says it to Eddie Murphy’s before his first day at work when he is worried that he won’t fit in.  Clint Mansell quoted it early in the show, it became more relevant as the night went on. 

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Not as good a month as January but not without its highlights.  The movie of the month contenders are:

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi: True story of the attack at a U.S. compound in Libya.  It isn’t Black Hawk Down, but it’s the best thing Michael Bay has directed since The Rock 20 years ago.13 Hours The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Surprisingly enjoyable riff on the idea of a zombie outbreak in the middle of Jane Austen’s novel.  Having never read Austin or seen the adaptations, I am sure half the jokes went over my head.Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Point Break: Pointless remake of Kathryn Bigelow’s action movie masterpiece.Point Break

Goosebumps: Fun comedy horror helped by a great concept.  Jack Black is only slightly annoying.Goosebumps

Deadpool: After the misstep of his appearance X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Wade Wilson / Deadpool gets the film he deserves.  Devastatingly funny at times, it could be this year’s Kingsmen.

Concussion: True story of the doctor who discovered the link between concussion and brain damage in American Football players.  The film is a little flat but Will Smith is great.Concussion

A Bigger Splash: Remake of La Piscine (1969).  The cast (Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ralph Fiennes and Dakota Johnson) are all excellent, particularly Fiennes.  Intriguing but doesn’t reach the level it is aiming for.A Bigger Splash

Triple 9: Heist movie centred around corrupt cops and the Russian Mob.  Topped and tailed with great action scenes but a little flabby in the middle.Triple 9

Secret in Their Eyes:  Remake of the Argentinean Oscar winner from 2009.  The top cast does a good job but the film lacks both the suspense and the context of the original, the post-9/11 setting feels a little forced.Secret in Their Eyes

Movie of the month is:Deadpool

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