Posts Tagged ‘ezra miller’

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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If there’s one thing that’s even more pathetic than the “Marvel Guy” vs. “DC Guy” debates that have been raging among comics fans for years, it’s seeing those same arguments steroid-pumped beyond comprehension now that four-color funnybooks have become the go-to “IP source” for multi-million-dollar Hollywood blockbusters. “Marvel movies are the best!” “You take that back, DC movies are the best!” — it’s all so mind-numbingly tedious.

Not to mention fundamentally dishonest. Just as neither publisher deserves to have anyone rooting for them given their sorry ethical histories and largely substandard product of recent vintage, the same is true for both cinematic universes — by and large, they’re entirely unexceptional on their best days, offensively mediocre on their worst. 2016 hasn’t bucked this trend in the least to date, with Marvel’s Captain America : Civil War being yet another bland two-and-a-half hour TV episode with lots of guest stars, and DC’s Batman V. Superman : Dawn Of Justice being a largely grim and self-serious effort that, while being nowhere near as lousy as its numerous critics allege, still doesn’t manage to rise above the level of being anything more than a visually interesting, painfully over-earnest slugfest. But damn if people haven’t succumbed to their most base tribal impulses and self-segregated into camps according to which celluloid super-hero brand they think is better.

The internet is the battlefield of choice for these less-than-noble unpaid warriors for the Dinsey and Warner media conglomerates, which I suppose is better than watching folks fight it out in the streets, but the gusto with which each camp promulgates its ultimately untenable position that either one or the other is all that good has given way to the sort of excesses that usually only emerge in the philosophical or political arenas, and there they can be can at least be understood to a degree (if not excused) given that the subjects under debate actually matter — which, I’m sorry, is hardly the case here. Whoever ultimately wins the battle for your super-hero dollar at the box office, be it Disney/Marvel or Warner Brothers/DC, isn’t going to put food on your table, educate your kids, stop global warming, eradicate nuclear weapons, curb police brutality, or block a mentally unstable sociopath from being elected president. They don’t care about you —- who why should you care about them?

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And yet, care about them people most certainly do — to a degree that can only be called alarming, at this point. For evidence of just how absurd it’s all become, look no further than the petition swirling around online to shut down Rotten Tomatoes, the aggregate-score movie review powerhouse website, simply because the appraisals pouring in for DC’s latest mega-blockbuster, Suicide Squad, are wretchedly poor on the whole. This will go nowhere, of course — but the fact that there’s even one person out there, never mind thousands, who would like to permanently silence opinions that run counter to their own is a troubling sign of the insanity that has gripped some of fandom’s more unfortunate quarters. Shit, it’s bad enough when folks try to drown out the originators of dissenting viewpoints, but RT is nothing more than a conveninet clearing-house for opinions that have already been expressed elsewhere. Do get a life, people.

Still, it’s not like Marvel fans can claim any particular moral superiority on this front, either. Earlier this year, when an entirely more reasonable petition emerged (on Rotten Tomatoes, no less!) asking for Disney to stop paying critics for phony positive reviews, it was met with howls of derision and racked up several million “dislikes” to only a few thousand signatures in its favor. The hard-core Marvel fans want their insular worldview protected at all costs every bit as much as their DC-loyalist counterparts, and they don’t even mind that supposedly “impartial” critics are getting paid to do the reinforcing.

And here’s where things get really frustrating for somebody who just wants to hate ’em all and be done with it like myself — idiot-ass anti-RT petitioning aside, the more rational DC fans do sort of have a point, because the boat-load of negative reviews that Suicide Squad is attracting to itself like flies on horse’s backside are proof-positive that plenty of critics are, in fact, completely in the tank for Dis/Mar.

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I don’t offer that opinion simply because they’re saying it’s bad, of course — all art is subjective and you can like or dislike something for any reason at all according to your whims or, preferably, logic — but because of why they’re saying it’s bad. The big knock on Batman V. Superman was, of course, that it was “too dark” and “no fun,” and while writer/director David Ayer has certainly concocted another dark flick with Suicide Squad, it’s all kinds of fun, riddled as it is throughout with gallows humor, intense action, memorable characters, superb performances, standout effects work, sharp and witty dialogue, and breakneck pacing that doesn’t give you too much time to think about its gaping plot holes. In short, it has almost everything the paid gatekeepers of public taste said the last DC flick was lacking  (and certainly everything you could ask for in a brainless summer “popcorn movie”)— and yet they still uniformly despise it. I may not have a whole lot of respect for DC/Warner as a corporate entity, but damn — I still know when the fix is in, ya know?

For those unfamiliar with the particulars here, they’re fairly basic : concerned by the threat posed by super-powered villains in world where Superman is now (presumed) dead,  cold-blooded Pentagon operative Amanda Waller (portrayed with Oscar-worthy calculating menace by Viola Davis) assembles a crack team to beat the baddies at their own game that’s composed entirely of — super-powered villains? Well, okay, who better to fight ’em than their own kind, I suppose, and she’s got herself a crackerjack crew here consisting of assassin-who-never-misses-a-mark Deadshot (Will Smith), gang-banger who can control fire El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Aussie burglar extraordinaire ( I needn’t tell you what his weapon of choice is given his name) Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), scaly and amphibious monster of the sewers Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), honest-to-goodness immortal witch Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) and the Joker’s even-crazier-than-he-is girlfriend, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). In the field, the misfit army is led by Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), the most highly-decorated special forces operative in US military history, and his back is protected by Katana (Karen Fukuhara), a modern-day samurai warrioress with a soul-trapping supernatural blade. And every one of these already-unstable reluctant soldiers is corralled into service via a combination of manipulation of their weaknesses and/or personal blackmail — and a nano-tech bomb implanted into their skulls that will go off the second they break ranks. The best they’ll get out of the deal is ten years shaved off their respective prison sentences. The worst is they’ll end up dead and the government will deny ever sending them in the first place, given this is a strictly “off the books” operation. If you’re thinking it all kinda sounds like The Expendables with super-powers, you’re absolutely right.

And, like all the films in that venerable trilogy, this thing is an absolute blast of stupid, high-voltage hijinks from start to finish. The set-up is minimal, we get plunged right into the action when the Squad is tasked with cleaning up a mess of Waller’s own making )after one of her conscripts “goes rogue” and threatens to destroy and entire city on the way, of course, to world conquest), and it never lets up. Any flick that eschews conventional three-act story structure as blatantly as this one does is bound to be a bit wobbly when it comes to “Plotting 101” basics, but Ayer weaves in any number of brief-but-effective character “beats,” the team’s chemistry is fantastic on the whole (particularly the “caretaker/caretaken” relationship that forms between Deadshot and Harley), the threat they face is formidable enough to warrant serious concern, and everyone gets to contribute to the final victory. The acting ranges from good (Courtney, Kinnaman) to great (Davis, Smith, Robbie, Hernandez, Akinnuoye-Agbaje), there are fun and even essential cameos from Ben Affleck’s Batman and Ezra Miller’s Flash, Jared Leto’s highly-anticipated new iteration of The Joker (think Cesar Romero on a “cocktail” of PCP, Flay Agaric, and high-grade crystal meth) steals every scene he’s in,  and long-time comic book readers even get treated to a smattering of respectful “Easter Eggs,” such as when the gang rescues Waller from the “John F. Ostrander Federal Building” — a nod to the legendary scribe of most of the seminal Suicide Squad stories of the 1980s. In short, those last-second re-shoots that Warners ordered appear to have paid off as there’s literally something in here for everyone from seasoned fans to the most casual of “newbie” viewers,  and yet none of it feels forcibly shoe-horned, so expert is the execution. Yes, it’s packed to the gills and beyond with stuff both vital and less-than, but it all works. In short, this is the DC movie that everyone who says they don’t like DC movies has been asking for — heck, it even offers all these folks  nearly every specific thing they claim was missing in previous efforts.

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And yet, for all that, the knives are still out, and for all their millions, DC and Warner still can’t seem to catch a break. I won’t go so far as to say that I “feel sorry” for them — they’re a rich corporation and this movie, negative reviews and all, is still going to rake in a ton of cash and make them even richer. But I know a crock of shit when I see (and smell) one, and I would be remiss in my (mostly voluntary, it must be said) duties if I didn’t call out the well-organized “whisper campaign” against this film for exactly what it is. So fuck all the naysayers, it’s never been more clear who’s lining their pockets (free passes to the local preview screening of the next Marvel Studios flick and empty promises of a “potential set visit if you’re ever in the LA area” is usually the going rate to buy “major” critic or blogger, if you must know) — Suicide Squad is easily the most fun you’ll have at the movies this summer.

 

 

 

Something awful has happened, but we don’t know what it is — that’s the basic premise behind director Lynne Ramsay’s latest effort, the much-lauded psychological thriller We Need To Talk About Kevin, a move that throws us in right at the deep end and never lets us up for air.

Confusion reigns from the outset, as we see a woman wrapped in the throes of some sort of ecstatic, celebratory feast that apparently involves a huge throng of revelers and lots and lots of  stomped and smashed tomatoes. Or something. Truth be told, we’re never fully informed of exactly what is transpiring in this beautifully shot opening sequence, but we do come to learn that the woman the camera eventually fixes on is one Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton), a hugely successful travel writer and editor who apparently finds herself involved in these kid of unorthodox situations pretty frequently.

Or, should that be, found herself involved in these kind of unorthodox situations pretty frequently, because in the very next scene we see Eva alone in a dilapidated house, waking up in a cold sweat to find that someone has thrown red paint all over her front porch and her car. There’s obviously quite a convoluted line that leads from situation A to situation B here, and the unraveling of that thread forms the film’s central narrative premise, with the remainder of the movie alternating between scenes involving the present-day Eva, quite obviously a broken, spent shell of a woman who punches the clock at a dingy storefront travel agency by day while studiously avoiding so much as even eye contact with any of her neighbors or fellow townsfolk during her off-hours, and the Eva of the past, a vivacious, globetrotting free-spirit who’s slowly, inexorably drawn earthward due to a vicious, self-defeating-spiral of a relationship with her eldest child, Kevin.

To be fair, Kevin’s not an easy child to raise from the get-go, as he cries constantly in Eva’s presence, to the point where she stands near jack hammers just to drown out the sound of his bawling. As he grows into toddler-hood, he proves increasingly uncooperative with her, while forming an almost-instantly-manipulative relationship with his father, Franklin (John C. Reilly), who alternates between thinking the sun rises and sets on his little boy and willfully ignoring his obvious behavioral problems (like wearing a diaper until near-adolescence) in the hope that they’ll simply go away. As the more youthful version of Kevin, played with disarming complexity given his years by Jasper Newell, gives way to a more transparently antisocial, perhaps even downright evil Kevin, played after the onset of puberty by Ezra Miller with a mixture of pure malevolence and the devious charm of the truly psychotic, we see his relationship with his mother grow more and more unhinged — yet also, perhaps conversely and perhaps not, more intertwined, to the point where both of them seem to need the conflict between them in order to survive, even though they both suspect only one of them is going to make it out alive since it’s clear that Kevin’s only goal in life has gradually become bringing  Eva’s entire world crashing down on her.

Obviously, at some point he succeeds, as Swinton’s deservedly-ballyhooed, multifaceted performance shows. The Eva we see now isn’t even a shadow of the Eva we see in flashback, as a shadow bears at least some resemblance to the person casting it. And while nagging questions dog at the back of our minds throughout — most notably where are Kevin’s younger sister and father in this present-day scenario — it’s Swinton’s turn as Eva, in both the then and the now, that keeps us glued to the screen. From her physical mannerisms to her speech patterns to her social interactions, everything we see in the present day is a 180 degree turn from the way she acts, talks, even thinks in the film’s past-tense scenarios. Rarely does an actor display so much range in the space of a single film, and Swinton does so with an unforced naturalism that both grounds the movie in her character’s obviously tragic arc and increases its almost oppressive sense of mystery and foreboding as events play out and we find ourselves more and more drawn into needing to know just how the hell this amazingly brutal transformation could have occurred.

While I’m sworn to secrecy when it comes to giving away the final act that Kevin commits that absolutely ruins his mother’s life (just as he’d planned), I will say this — it’s both amazingly, audaciously vicious, and entirely believable. We’ve seen it play out on the evening news too many times to count by this point, but realizing, as he’s doing it, that his ultimate intended victim is not the people he’s doing it to but rather his own mother makes it all the more unconscionable, as the point is driven home that he views more or less the entire rest of the world as pawns in his unending power struggle with her, one that he’s determined to “win” at all costs.

It goes without saying that We Need To Talk About Kevin is anything but an easy film to watch. It’s a tragedy in the truest sense of the term, one portrayed in such detailed, intimate terms that we’re not even given the option of looking away. It raises the eternally uncomfortable question of nature vs. nurture — Kevin’s a “problem child” right from the start but Eva isn’t shy about letting him know that she’d rather be galavanting around the globe than be stuck at home with him — and thrusts it right into the forefront. And of course, in the end, there are only victims,  no real survivors. Like the best dramatic fiction, it forces us to confront the darker corners of the human condition and examine how we would react given the same set of circumstances in our own lives. There are a lot of Kevins out there in the world, and whether  of them ourselves. or we actively help create them, or we merely aid and abet them by not caring what’s happening in millions of families across the country and around the planet, to one degree or another we’re all guilty. There’s plenty of blame to go around, and Lynne Ramsay isn’t about to let any of us off the hook —nor give us easy answers to the difficult, but necessary, questions her film raises.

I’m reminded of a classic line from Penelope Spheeris’ punk-rock coming-of-age opus Suburbia — “everybody knows families don’t work.” We Need To Talk About Kevin certainly proves that statement correct — but they’re also all we’ve got. Go rest easy now, if you can.