BATMAN v SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (3D)

March 27, 2016

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CANDLES 7

DIRECTOR: Zack Snyder

Contains Spoilers!

Panned by critics, loved by fans of the early showings, how does the second entry of DC’s revival and answer to Marvel’s domination of the Comic book box office really hold up?

The answer: Very well.

It may not be perfect, in fact, far from it, failing to live up to it’s predecessor, Man Of Steel (2013), which itself has had a mixed reception, but Batman v Superman is trying to do too much too soon. Setting up The Justice League before many would feel that it has earned it.

Batman v Superman is a Batman movie at it’s heart, setting up Ben Afleck’s Dark Knight as the cost of  continuing to expand Superman’s story far beyond the scope set up in his first solo film, giving us more of a holding action rather then taking it to the new depths which it deserves.

So it is fair to say that whilst Superman in circling the runway for the most part, Batman takes most of the character building action, with a real effort made and with some success to justify his hatred for the Man Of Steel, as this film spends a lot of time addressing the criticism of the Man Of Steel’s apocalyptic final battle, in which the levels of destruction seemed to be out of keeping with the Superman many of us are familiar with.

But this is tied into Bruce Wayne perfectly, opening with Wayne’s point of view of the climatic battle from the last movie, complete with several well judged 9/11 visual references, spawning a fear and loathing of Superman whcih we may well agree with, whilst allowing us to maintain our understanding of the Character we know to be a true hero, not a god or a devil as many, including Lex Luthor fear.

But, the problems here are whilst the plot is good, the execution is muddled. On one hand this is an epic superhero movie, sweeping and bold, but on the other, it is trying to win the action crown with spectacle whcih is much too hollow and diminishes what is in many ways an complex character drama.

This film has a lot to say and when it takes it’s time to speak, the narrative is bold and way above the safe popcorn nonsense delivered by Marvel, but it lets itself down when it tries to play down to their level.

This is not a rant about how rubbish Marvel are, quite the contrary, I like Marvel but they are producing a safe action franchise and rarely pushing the envelope but Nolan, who is serving as Executive Producer here and often derided Snyder, unfairly might I add, are trying to create a darker more complex universe, driven by mythical archetypes and personally I like it.

It could have stood to be a little more entertaining, tighter and less concerned with setting up The Justice League but that aside, what is here is good, interesting and above the standard and ambition of so many of its rivals.

Ambition though, may be Snyder’s downfall in this case. He is trying to do too much, too fast but I believe that this will settle into the DC universe much better in time.

batman-v-superman-trinityIn summation, Batman v Superman is not without its flaws but it is an ambitious project with delivers and complex and interesting story, supported by some good performances and production design. Some moments do jar though, having said that.

The slow motion posing of the main characters, especially Wonder Woman in the finale, is no where near as cool as Snyder thinks it is, and the most disappointing moment in the entire film was the scene in the desert, as featured heavily in the trailers; where a trench coated Batman faces off against “The Cult Of Superman”… Well, it was ALL a dream!

It get the point but it felt like a cop-out of what could have been a bold move in a genre piece like this.

I just hope this movie makes it’s money as it is clearly a cog in a monumental machine but there is clearly work to be done in both tone, pacing and in many ways, integrity. As Nolan has proven, you can make a genre movie into something original and unique, without falling back into safe mode and still make  a tone of money…


FROZEN FEVER (SHORT)

March 16, 2016

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CANDLES 7

DIRECTOR: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee

May contain spoilers!

These Disney short follow-ups to their major hits always fill me dread. This case in particular, where Frozen (2013) is a genuinely great movie, one which has now been followed up with this seven minutes cartoon was a little worrying as it had a lot to live up to.

Well, scrap that. It is basically a song and that is about it. That was a good, if not cynically motivated choice. Keep it simple and to the point. It works. The constant references to ALL the characters who made their marks on the main feature are well conceived too and do not outstay their welcome but as the for the song…

Well, it ain’t Let it go… or Long time in forever or even Rain-dears are better than people, which, let us face it, the tune was lifted from that bar song from Tangled anyway. But it is a forgettable song for a short which is nothing more than a teaser to keep our interest whilst we wait for Frozen 2.

But as teasers go, this is fine. Pretty light and enjoyable, in keeping with the tone of Frozen and generally doing no harm. And there is no doubt that it served it purpose as an insurance policy for the film it was attached too, Disney’s Cinderella (2015). But they need not have worried, Cinderella did just fine by herself and this is just nice treat to go along with it.


THE CANDIDATE

March 14, 2016

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CANDLES 8

DIRECTOR: Michael Ritchie

May contain spoilers!

For those West Wing fans amongst us, here it is. This little remembered 1972 satire is clearly the basis for the final two seasons of the hit TV show, one which I am personally very fond of. Maybe it could be argued that any film dealing realistically with a political campaign would look and feel similar and that may be true but watching this, it felt just like I was watching Jimmy Smits’ Santos vs. Alan Alda’s republican counterpart duking it out.

Is this a bad thing? No, not at all. Both are great and this did it first. Robert Redford’s common-man lawyer is talked into running a issue based campaign against the old school incumbent on the basis the he will lose but it is how he loses that will be important. He will be able to raise issues and make life difficult for his opponent, forcing a better, fairer election. But Peter Boyle’s campaign manager is not as intent of losing as he first implied and Redford is now in race that he may win.

It is not the most detailed film on the subject, with The West Wing’s long running TV format much more capable to taking us through the machinations of a political campaign and of course this is only a Senate race, not a Presidential one, but still, it covers the bases and proves that a film which was made 43 years ago highlights the same flaws in a political system which has not changed a bit in over four decades.

Redford, well, he is just Redford, charismatic and charming as he is taken along for the ride down the rocky road of ‘modern’ politics but the feel is both satirical and informative, showing the fickle nature of the democratic political system. Sharply scripted, smoothly acted and clearly setting the stage for more noteworthy films of this subject, The Candidate is a hidden gem of this genre and well worth seeking out.


MALEFICENT (3D)

March 11, 2016

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CANDLES 6

DIRECTOR: Robert Stromberg

May contains spoilers!

Beginning the Disney trend of remaking and re-imagining their classic animations into to live action blockbusters, Maleficent is Angelina Jolie’s take on classic villain.

But in a well conceived twist, the iconic villain, made more so by Disney in the 1955 animated classic, Sleeping Beauty, is fleshed out into a well rounded character, to create a much more complex and all together sympathetic protagonist.

In the end she is redeemed but this makes sense as in the beginning she was a good fairy turned evil by the betrayal of a man, and a brutal betrayal it was. The themes, particularly in this portion of the movie are quite dark for a family film, with, I felt, a strong subtext of female brutalisation in the lovers betrayal and mutilation of Maleficent, who has her wings cut off by the man who would be come Aurora’s, Sleeping Beauty’s, father.

Then we are given the iconic scene in which Aurora is cursed in the King’s court, perfectly capturing the tone of that Disney scene but by this point we have a greater understanding of Maleficent’s motivations, more than simply being the ‘evil queen’.

So, it may have a lot going for it but then we have the slow tone, interspersed with fast paced epic 3D action which I find gets old quickly and the casting Jolie, who unfortunately just does not do it for me. There is no doubting her acting prowess but I just can not get behind her, a problem I have with most of her films, no matter who good they may be.

But this is a good idea, probably a gem for Disney fans as this is an authentic live action re-enactment of that all time classic film, whilst offering quite a different take and one more fleshed out inherently more interesting.


BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE)

March 9, 2016

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CANDLES 8

DIRECTOR: Alejandro G. Iñárrit

May contain spoilers!

Taking the awards season by storm in 2014/2015, Birdman is a film which is launching an unremitting assault on modern cinema, as well as the cult of celebrity. It all begin with the casting of Michael Keaton, who let us face it, has not really reached the potential of his early career. This was Batman in 1989 and again in 1992 and the fictional Birdman character who also, was at his height in the same period, clearly harking back to that character. Though with the font on the Birdman 3 poster hanging on Keaton’s dressing room wall being the same as Iron Man (2008), the film’s true targets are announced in the opening scene. And what about the bookending shots of meteors plummeting to earth?

Is this just a metaphor for falling from fame or a veiled dig at a man who is seen by many to be destroying the art form of modern cinema itself, Micahel Bay and Armageddon? Maybe I am reading too much into this but with a film like this, interpretation is everything. But there is no doubt that Marvel’s comic book bubble is at the heart of the film, one which follows Keaton as the ageing ex-superhero star who is trying to prove to himself as well as everybody else that he is more than just a celebrity and is in fact a real actor.

Art imitating life?

The cast are all without exception, on top of their game and this is their movie, an actors movie about actors in a world being consumed by celebrity. But this is also a directors indulgence, with a solid narrative being dismembered by disjointed flights of fancy, dreams, hallucinations and the exploration of inner demons. And even though this can cast the film into the “love it” or “hate it” zone. The comedy and lighter touches pull it back from the brink on several occasions.

Birdman is palatable for broader audience whist pandering to the film festival crowd. But even though this movie believes that it has a lot to say about the vacuous state of Hollywood in 2000’s with the rise of comic book movies and pandering to the audience’s need for action and blood, it too it guilty of the same sort of cynicism.

This offers up sex, dark humour and pondering self pity and analyses as it plays to the Oscar crowd, coveting and successfully garnering awards. Michael Bay is after the money and Birdman is after the trophy and both offer up their souls to get what they want. At least Bay is not attacking Hollywood to get what he wants? Something to think about Mr. Iñárrit.


THE MAZE RUNNER

March 7, 2016

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CANDLES 5

DIRECTOR: Wes Ball

May contain spoilers!

Simply put, this is The Hunger Games – lite. Offering little in way of a plausible explanation of motivation, we are introduced to a group of teenage boys in “The Glade”, the centre of a huge maze complex, a maze with changes it’s configuration each night.

The maze is deadly and only “Runners” are permitted to enter. In short the maze is a trial to be passed and as the contrived plot plays out, it literally lifts moments from better films, especially The Hunger Games, but as The Hunger Games took it’s time to enter the arena, it established a complex world in which to justify the main event but here, we just spend over half the film arguing in the glade before spending about fifteen minutes traversing the maze which seems to be nothing more than running away from a few movable walls and some weird cyborg spiders!

It is after this that we find out “The Truth” which is so obviously a pack of lies, they need not have bothered! But in the end, the whole film is nothing more than an exercise. I want to say that it spends its running time setting up number two and whilst it literally does set up The Scorch Trials by actually saying this at the end, this is trying to be a film about running the maze.

But it is boring, contrived, derivative and in some ways patronising. It feels cheap and childish.


THE FORCE DOES NOT AWAKEN IN 3D JUST YET…

March 4, 2016

81IX8-b5lGL._SL1500_With yesterday’s announcement of the Blu-ray, DVD and Digital editions of Star Wars The Force Awakens, the glaring omission of the 3D version has really p**sed me off!

I was hoping that all this bull***t would have gone the way of the do-do after Lucas gave up his control of Lucasfilm but no, Disney are set to milk this for all it’s worth, by at the very least, making us pay out twice for the movie if we want it 3D.

But this is not all that is missing, there is NO commentary track either, as they have clearly rushed this out and do not care one iota about the value of their release.
I can only hope that this 3D delay has something to do with the release of the Prequel Trilogy in 3D, as we know that they DO exist, certainly Episode I which was released in theatres back in 2012, with II and III being shown at conventions, but what about the planned conversion of the Original Trilogy? Is this delay a glimmer of hope that all seven movies will be converted?

HanSoloChewbaccaOnly time will tell but I will be livid if we do not see a 3D Blu-ray of The Force Awakens before Christmas. This is a disgraceful move from Disney, but what do you expect?

The Force Awakens will be on shelves on April 5th in the U.S. and April 18th here in the U.K., with the digital release preceding on April 1st.


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