Posts Tagged ‘Amy Adams’

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.

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One thing about being paranoid — sometimes it can actually give you a little bit of, believe it or not, clarity.

Take, for instance, the advance reviews for Zack Snyder’s heavily-anticipated Batman V Superman : Dawn Of Justice that have been appearing online over the last few days. After literally years of hype, the movie itself is finally here and so, it would seem, is the moment of truth — not only for it, but for the entire nascent DC cinematic universe. Only truth seems to be pretty hard to come by, at least as far as this flick is concerned, among the self-appointed arbiters of public opinion working the digital plantation.

To be sure, the vast majority of critics out there seem to either mildly dislike or actively loathe it (for proof of this look no further than its current 32% score on Rotten Tomatoes), and most for the same nebulous-at-best reasons : it’s “too dark,” they say, or “not much fun” (complaints which seem to have resonated with the “suits” at Warner Brothers, who are already busily assuring the masses that the forthcoming Justice League film will have a “lighter tone” to it — despite the fact that it will be overseen by the same director). But a little bit of legwork shows that many — shit, maybe even most — of these same self-appointed judges of artistic merit (hey! Kinda like me!) were only last week lauding to high heaven the sadistically grim, pessimistic, joyless, 13-hour bloodbath that was season two of Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix, and a few months back were equally effusive in their praise of the just-as-dour (and frankly sexually, racially, and politically repugnant) Jessica Jones, another product of the so-called “House Of Ideas.” Dis/Mar have been called out on their “whisper campaigns” against competing “product” (and let’s face it, that’s what super-hero movies are) before — most notably those directed against studios that held the cinematic rights to their own characters like Spider-Man and the X-Men — and it doesn’t take any great genius to see that the same thing could easily be going on here. Film critics, by and large, are an even cheaper investment than politicians, and for the price of a free pass to your next blockbuster or, better yet, the promise of a set tour should they ever happen to be in Hollywood, most of ’em will say just about anything.

On the other side of the coin, though, a scant few minutes of “assignment prep” reveals that some of the (admittedly few) voices of support for Batman V Superman, particularly in the comics press, are coming from people who give positive write-ups to even the most blatantly and obviously lousy DC comics (in other words, most of them). I won’t name any names, but when I found that one of the most glowing reviews of BvS I came across online was written by someone who also had nothing but terrific things to say about the painfully creatively bankrupt Dark Knight III : The Master Race, I was hardly surprised.

And so that aforementioned paranoia of mine has, I think, paid off, since it allowed (or forced, take your pick) me to actually go into this movie today trusting no one’s opinion,  and with absolutely nothing in terms of expectations one way or another. I have to say — it felt kinda good. The “good vibes” didn’t last, though — but maybe that’s not necessarily such a bad thing?  Bear with me as I attempt to explain —

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Plenty of movies can leave you feeling emotionally drained, psychologically confused, or even a scarred, blubbering wreck, but with Batman V Superman : Dawn Of Justice, Zack Snyder has crafted something that may very well be the first of its kind — a film that leaves you feeling physically exhausted. You have no real reason to be, of course, since all you’ve been doing for the previous two and a half hours is sitting on your ass, but seriously — this isn’t so much a movie as it is a full-scale sensory assault that just so happens to use celluloid as its weapon of choice. Snyder knocks you flat on the mat within the first few minutes and never lets you catch your breath, much less get up. There are points where one is tempted to do their best Roberto Duran impersonation and simply say “no mas,” but truth be told there isn’t even time for that. Between DP Larry Fong’s almost-overly-arresting visuals, Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL’s insistent, percussive musical score, David Brenner’s breakneck-paced editing, and a script by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer that clearly suffers from an acute case of ADD, the word we’re looking for here is relentless.

And yet, believe it or not, I say that with a certain degree of admiration. Snyder has always been about spectacle over substance, and in many ways is the perfect blockbuster director for the overly-media-saturated “information” (insert loud snorting sound here) age we live in. His film adaptations of 300 and Watchmen were essentially straight-up visual Cliff’s Notes translations of their comic book antecedents and the sophisticated sleight-of-hand he developed working on those projects to conceal the fact that he literally had nothing (or at least nothing new) up his sleeve actually serves him quite well here. That’s because the story for BvS is a paper-thin affair — although even at that there are still plot holes large and obvious enough to plow the new, muscled-up Batmobile through — that is, at its core, a confused mash-up of the classic Batman story The Dark Knight Returns and the 1990s-speculator-market-driven Superman storyline Doomsday (or The Death And Return Of Superman, if you prefer) that sees an older, more world-weary, decidedly more brutal Batman/Bruce Wayne (played by Ben Affleck) conclude that Superman (Henry Cavill) is an existential threat to the human race that he’s going to end, until the two of them realize that they’re both, to one degree or another, being played for suckers by ruthless billionaire Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), who resorts to “Plan B” — a standard-issue CGI monster, wouldn’t ya know — when his “Plan A” of getting ’em to kill each other off doesn’t work out. Fortunately, at the hour of our heroes’ greatest need, a new and unexpected ally turns up in the form of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), and the day is saved — but at a decidedly heavy cost. There are a handful of nods thrown in the direction of purported “real-world issues” like, I dunno, what we’d do if there actually were a super-being, but they’re not examined with anything like genuine depth since Snyder and his screenwriters clearly have a firm opinion on the matter, anyway. And why not?  Said super-being is one of the stars of their movie, after all.

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That’s probably about as deep into “spoiler” territory as I care to get, but I will say this much: Snyder-bashers can take heart — the same shortcomings he’s exhibited in previous efforts are on full display here, as well. His actors are left largely to “do their own thing” while he concentrates on assembling his frenetic, hyper-stylized symphony for the eyes. With a veteran cast such as the one assembled for this production that’s really not much of a problem — Affleck doesn’t deliver a performance anywhere near as good as Michael Keaton’s definitive turns under the cowl from nearly 30 years ago (goddamn but I suddenly feel really old) but is probably the best Batman and Bruce Wayne we’ve seen since, Eisenberg is a frenzied whirlwind of tech-billionaire menace as Luthor (think of an even more ruthless, amoral, and mentally unbalanced version of his take on Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network),  Amy Adams radiates quiet confidence and capability as Lois Lane, Jeremy Irons uses Michael Caine’s portrayal of Alfred as a jumping-off point for his “Q from James Bond” interpretation of the character, and solid pros like Laurence Fishburne and Diane Lane turn in, well — sold pro work as Daily Planet editor Perry White and Martha Kent, respectively.  Both Scoot McNairy and, especially, Holly Hunter knock it out of the park in supporting roles clearly beneath their talents, though, and while that, sure, is a good thing on paper (and on screen), when each of them is so obviously better than the material they’re given, it shines a bit of a light on how lackluster that material actually is.

The two names missing from that laundry list of actors, though, offer stark evidence of both the pluses and minuses of Snyder’s “spectacle above all” approach : Henry Cavill just doesn’t seem to be asked to do much as Superman other than show up and look perfect and he responds accordingly, while Gal Gadot, whose directives were probably more or less the same, doesn’t just steal, but robs, beats, and runs away with her scant few minutes’ of screen time. It’s the most stark difference between “just doing your job” and “doing your job to the very best of your ability” that I’ve seen in recent memory. Bring on 2017’s Wonder Woman already! No rush on that Man Of Steel sequel, though — and funny enough, there’s not one currently planned, either.

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As I’m sure the previous paragraphs have no doubt ably demonstrated (and if not, my bad) Batman V Superman : Dawn Of Justice is a mixed bag. But at least it’s an exhilarating, breathtaking one. Nowhere near the trainwreck its probably-purchased detractors would have you believe and nowhere near the triumph its probably-purchased cheerleaders are fighting against the tide to convince you it is, at the end of the day it’s a brutally operatic demonstration of the best and worst of modern Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking (particularly Zack Snyder’s version of modern Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking) duking it out right in front of your pinned-open eyes : as cinema it leaves a lot to be desired, but as pure spectacle it’s hard to imagine how it can be topped.

 

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I’ve got two different theories when it comes to Tim Burton — he’s either at his best when working on movies with the word “big” in their titles (think Pee Wee’s Big AdventureBig Fish, or his latest, Big Eyes), or when he’s  directing scripts that the screenwriting team of Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszeswski have mined from the treasure trove of interesting stuff put out by legendary subversive publishers Feral House (think Ed Wood, which was adapted from Rudolph Grey’s Nightmare Of Ecstasy or, again, Big Eyes, which leans pretty heavily on Adam Parfrey and Cletus Nelson’s recent Citizen Keane).

The nice thing about these theories is that they’re not really “competing” so much as working together — both can, and probably are, true. They’re a harmonious pair.

Which is more than you can say, of course, for Margaret and Walter Keane, the couple behind the famous “big eyed waif” paintings that took American pop culture by storm for the better part of two decades beginning in the late 1950s. The art world may still be trying to figure out exactly what it thinks about  so-called “big eye paintings” all these years later — the establishment at the time certainly thought they were pure shit, while various underground and populist quarters have been busily trying to resuscitate their reputation for a variety of reasons ever since — but as far the American legal system is concerned, one thing is certain : each and every one of them was the work of Margaret Keane, and not her husband.

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Yup, friends, we’ve got an “art fraud” story here — arguably the single-greatest one ever committed, for while even their fiercest defenders would never go so far as to claim that the Keane paintings are masterpieces, they certainly generated a shit-ton of cash, and were once at least every bit as ubiquitous in American households as velvet Elvis paintings or that picture of the dogs playing poker. They were everywhere, and the Keanes were at the epicenter of multi-million-dollar art empire. When the couple split in 1965, then, there was a lot on the line when the question of who did what came up, and the verdict in favor of Margaret was, and remains, a very big deal.

In light of such high stakes, Burton’s decision to make his biopic on the “two” artists such a personal one is perhaps surprising, but it proves to be something of a stroke of genius, because the hows and whys of such a massive swindle can only be understood by delving into the minds and hearts of the people who perpetrated it. Sure, Alexander and Karaszewski take a number of liberties with the facts here — as they did with Ed Wood — but overall they get the gist of things right, and the performances by Christoph Waltz as Walter and, especially, Amy Adams (who’s doing a lot better work these days now that she seems to have given up her grueling pace of a year or two back when she was apparently determined to be in every single flick being made) are both believable and agonizingly human. In the end it’s Margaret’s story, though (as was the artwork), and Burton manages to frame it perfectly by rooting it in the “women-are-second-class-citizens”  cultural context of its time in a way that overly-“hip” garbage like Mad Men only wishes it could pull off.

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Frankly, I’m not even sure that a divorced single mother in the late 1950s, when presented with the extraordinary set of circumstances the at-the-time Mrs. Keane found herself in, would have had any other choice but to play along with her old man’s charade, but I guess it’s worth noting for the sake of fairness that in his later years — something Alexander and Karaszewski bio-scripts are notorious for omitting — Walter still maintained that the big eye paintings were his creation, even though he not only never produced one of them on his own, he never painted anything else either. Don’t ask me how or why folks ever took his word for anything, but apparently at least a few gullible souls did.

All that aside, though, where Big Eyes comes up biggest is in the successful “scaling-down” of its proceedings to a level pretty much anyone can relate to, which not only gives the story a lot of heart, but helps it eschew the easy trap too many filmmakers fall into of becoming drunk on the perceived importance of their work. Yeah, the Keanes pulled off an amazingly huge hustle and kept it going for years, but in the end, these are still just kitsch paintings, and while kitsch is cool and all (at least sometimes), and certainly serves a noble purpose in giving a big, fat middle finger to the pretentious assholes of the artistic establishment, it’s still just —- well, it is what it is, right?

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In the final analysis, maybe Burton was the perfect choice for director here because his own work succeeds in the same way that big eye paintings did — just as Margaret Keane was able to use her art to communicate something about the souls of suffering innocent children to the masses of the time in a way that didn’t feel at all alienating or holier-than-thou, our guy Tim has managed to build a staggeringly successful career for himself by packaging images and ideas once thought to be too dark, macabre, or unsettling in a way that the masses of today find to be a bit of harmlessly eccentric fun — as a result, they flock to see his films (well, most of them, at any rate — let’s not forget he’s had a few high-profile flops over the years) in droves, and while Big Eyes might be miles away from his typical blockbuster fare,  he captures the beating heart of his characters, and their story,  in a way that’s positively uncanny,  and the end result is his strongest effort in many years.