Posts Tagged ‘amber heard’

You’ve heard the scuttlebutt by now, of course — Justice League is a mess; Henry Cavill’s face looks ridiculous thanks to the shooting-schedule-necessitated decision to “erase” his mustache by means of CGI; the 9th-inning additional re-shoots are easy to spot; the so-called “DCEU” is doomed thanks to this film’s poor box office performance.

Some of these points are legit (the flick is certainly uneven, tonally and structurally, Cavill’s MIA ‘stache is conspicuous in its absence, the re-shoots (and brighter, “happier” color grading) undertaken by “relief” director Joss Whedon don’t fit in with Zack Snyder’s material), while others are clearly over-stated (the sub-$100 million opening weekend has been largely off-set by a stronger than expected “hold” over the five-day Thanksgiving holiday period), but at the end of the day, even after filtering out the noise (much of it generated by a certain competing comic-book-publisher-turned-movie-studio), the simple fact remains — this is obviously an up-and-down affair.

Which, believe it or not, is actually something of an achievement in and of itself — the forced departure of original director Snyder due to family tragedy definitely meant this production had to pull some kind of a rabbit out of its hat, and while Whedon (who in the end only gets a co-writer credit that he shares with Chris Terrio) clearly steered the ship into more “light-hearted” territory a la his fan-favorite Marvel Avengers flicks, it’s hard to tell how much of what he came up with originated in his own mind, and how much was dictated by WB execs who, let’s face it, were almost certain to part ways with Snyder anyway and were reportedly displeased with the “dark” tone of what he’d come up with prior to his exit.  Indeed, everything about the finished product that is Justice League feels focus-group-tested, specifically designed to appeal to as broad (and, some would argue, dumb) an audience as possible. Snyder’s visual ambition is on full display in the early going, but is completely absent by the time the credits roll; Hans Zimmer’s throbbing, rhythmic soundtrack work is gone in favor of  Danny Elfman’s nostalgia-heavy score; jokes (not all entirely successful) fly left and right; the body count is pretty damn low for a movie about an apocalyptic alien invasion. In short, this is a movie clearly trying to be as different from its predecessors, specifically Batman V. Superman : Dawn Of Justice, as possible. But that was never going to be an easy task with the same guy in the director’s chair.

Taking all that into account, then, the simple fact that Justice League succeeds in much of what it’s trying to do (like it or not) is pretty remarkable, and the DCEU definitely feels like it’s heading in a new, sunnier direction after this. The resurrection of Cavill’s Superman (achieved by means that can be described as “morally questionable” at best, seeing as how Ezra Miller’s Flash and Ray Fisher’s Cyborg actually dig his dead body out of the grave) seems as though it was designed to be the narrative catalyst for the change, and that’s all fine and dandy, but it sells Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman short (as does much much of the movie in general) given that the newly-formed team decides that she just can’t lead lead ’em even though she’s essentially carrying this fictitious “universe” on her back these days. That’s a pretty significant slap in the face right there.

Gadot’s not alone in getting the short shrift, though, by any means — supporting players J.K. Simmons, Amy Adams, Connie Nielsen, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Amber Heard, and Joe Morton all get stuck with roles that punch far beneath their respective weight classes — but by and large the main starts come out of this whole thing pretty well : Jason Momoa offers a decidedly revisionist, but altogether successful, take on Aquaman; Ben Affleck again gets the Bruce Wayne/Batman balance more or less exactly right (not so easy to do in this case since he’s saddled with a lot of decidedly-out-of-character “comic relief” material); Fisher proves to be an inspired choice to play Cyborg; Ezra Miller’s Flash starts out annoying but finishes up endearing; Gadot makes more than the most of a criminally-underwritten part. Hell, Cavill even finally appears to be enjoying this whole Superman gig. The principal cast, then, proves to be more than enough to carry this film through its not-inconsiderable story bumps, logical holes, shifting styles, and dodgy effects.

Not to mention its less-than-compelling villain. Like a lot of people, I thought we were going to get a full-on clash with the villains of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World here, but in the end all we get is Ciaran Hinds as a lackluster Steppenwolf accompanied by a horde of dully-realized Parademons. Honestly, if I want a bad guy this generic and uninspiring, I’ll see a Marvel movie.

And yet, this still ends up being a somewhat pleasing — uhmmmm — crowd-pleaser. The character designs are cool, the pacing is brisk enough that you don’t need to think about the film’s flaws until it’s over, the action sequences (particularly those obviously overseen by Snyder) are stirring and dynamic, the “fist-pump” quotient is reasonably high. Yes, it’s clear that DC is trying to “Marvel-ize” their movies from here on out, but given the absurd amount of critical and financial pressure on them (Batman V. Superman and Suicide Squad both being successfully tarred with the “disappointment” label despite taking in about $900 million each at the worldwide box office, roughly triple their budgets) maybe “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” was the only option they were left with.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. I realize I’m in the distinct minority in finding Snyder’s vision for these flicks to be inherently more compelling than your typical brain-dead blockbuster fare, but the people have apparently spoken, and while Justice League doesn’t quite hit all its marks — there’s no way it could —  for folks who felt the DCEU had gotten off on the wrong foot, it shows that WB is more than willing to adjust course “on the fly” in order to, as the Brits say, keep the punters happy. I’m a bit pessimistic going forward, to say the least, but there was enough of the DCEU that almost was on display here to have me leaving the theater reasonably happy. For now, at any rate.

"The Stepfather" Movie Poster

"The Stepfather" Movie Poster

If there’s one thing the horror community has been near-unanimous about recently, it’s that the remake of the 1987 suspense-thriller classic “The Stepfather” is bound to suck.

There’s plenty of evidence to support this preconceived notion. It’s directed by Nelson McCormick, who gave us the thoroughly uninspired reworking of “Prom Night” a couple of years ago. It’s a PG-13 teen horror. It’s thoroughly superfluous since the original still holds up terrifically. And most importantly, it doesn’t have Terry O’Quinn, whose standout performance as the titular homicidal quasi-family man was the heart and soul of the ’87 flick.

Again with the silent tyranny of expectations. I figured this movie would suck, and suck bad. I was wrong.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first — Dylan Walsh, The Stepfather himself, is no Terry O’Quinn. Not even close. The fact that O’Quinn has gone on to huge success as John Locke on “Lost” is no surprise to anyone who’s followed his career since the original “Stepfather.” He should have won the Oscar for that, no question, so it’s good to see him doing so well these days.

Walsh can’t come close to replicating that performance, but he really doesn’t even try to. His take on the idea of a guy who marries into “broken homes”  in a never-ending, thoroughly insane quest to find the perfect family to call his own, and then kills them all if things aren’t working before moving on to give the same homicidal hustle another try in another town is entirely different. As good? Hell no. It’s less subtle, less detailed, less complex, and much more overt and, frankly, two-dimensional. But it’s okay. It’s not enough to carry the film on its own, but he’s not asked to as much as O’Quinn was.

Calling himself David Harris, he moves to Portland, where he meets recently-divorced Susan Harding (Sela Ward, who the years have been very kind to) at the grocery store. In no time at all, he’s moved into her house and marriage is on the horizon. Susan’s sister gets David a job at her real estate office. Susan’s two youngest kids take to him nicely. Her ex-husband was a philandering jerk who abandoned his family and our guy David has no problem looking like the “good guy” up against “competition” like that.

Things start to go a little pear-shaped for him, though, when her oldest son, high school senior Michael (Penn Badgley), comes home from military boarding school, where he was sent for unspecified disciplinary reasons. At first, David tries to ease Michael’s concerns about him taking up with his mother and gets him readmitted to his local Portland high school so he can be closer to his girlfriend (current horror “it” girl Amber Heard, who spends most of the movie poolside in a bikini), He even asks Michael to be his best man when he takes his mother’s hand in marriage. Things seem to be off to a good start.

But Michael can’t shake the feeling in the back of his head that this guy is bad news. Soon he and, eventually, others begin to notice things about David his mother either can’t or won’t. He pays for everything in cash. He builds storage cabinets in the basement that he keeps locked. He screws up important details about his past. He doesn’t like his picture taken.

Okay, we know from the very first scene that David (or whatever name he’s going by) is a ruthless serial killer. There’s no question about that. The suspense her doesn’t come from wondering if he really is who we’re afraid he might be — we know that from the get-go. The suspense comes from wondering if he’ll be found out in time, and if everyone will survive that revelation if indeed it comes about.

Like the original, the bodycount here is low. For a serial killer flick, it’s relatively bloodless, it must be said. But it’s taut, well-paced, thoroughly suspenseful, and features some solid characterization from all the principal players. In short, it’s a believable premise, believably executed.

I confess to being somewhat disappointed that the new version has chosen to put a male character in the smart-kid role rather than the tough, independent young female we got in the original — a role which really stood out at the time because in the 1980s cinematic landscape, the job of women in horror films was to take their shirts off, scream, and get killed. But that’s my only major gripe. Apart from that, this is a pleasantly smart, well-realized updating.

If you’ve never seen the original, this movie will be all kinds of fun(and you should then take it upon yourself see the original ASAP—it’s finally out on DVD from Shout!Factory). If you have seen it, you won’t be nearly as disappointed as you expect to be. This new version of “The Stepfather”  is hardly the classic the first was, but it’s much better than any admittedly unnecessary, teen audience-marketed horror remake has any business being.  Okay — it didn’t actually need to be made by any stretch of the imagination, but since it has been, I’m glad the end product turned out to be so surprisingly enjoyable.