Mar 26, 2016

"Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice" - 2016 - movie review

Just saw this film again and it's even better the second time around if that's possible. Pretty much a perfect comic book movie.

Original review starts below the line.


Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice is the best superhero movie since Tim Burton's original "Batman". Zack Snyder has done himself proud and in the process redeemed the Caped Crusader after Christopher Nolan's ponderous and insipid Batman butcher jobs "The Dark Knight" and "The Dark Knight Rises".

Snyder instinctively understands something Nolan never did: that superhero's exist in an exaggerated version of our universe and that both the universe and the characters in it should reflect that. Nolan's silly embrace of "the real" had what's-his-name trying to act 'heavy' on the deserted streets of Chicago; streets that never looked like anything other than the deserted streets of Chicago. Here, Snyder puts some effort into world building and the results are magnificent.

Snyder thankfully deals with the perfunctory Batman origin story upfront. So upfront the montage serves as background to some of the opening credits before segueing seamlessly into the true opening scene which has Bruce Wayne arriving in Metropolis just as Superman and General Zod are going at it. It's a thrilling scene, beautifully crafted, and it sets the bar high for the rest of the film. Thankfully, the rest of the film delivers and then some.

There are no dead spots in BVS. At the end of its 2 1/2 hour runtime I could have happily sat through another half hour. Was it loud? Sure. But the sound design was appropriate to the action and never felt simply noisy. Was it dark? Oh yeah. Beautifully, poetically, apocalyptically dark like a Batman film should be. Did Ben Affleck ruin Batman? To my great surprise Affleck made Batman his own. Unlike some past wannabes his performance never felt forced or uncertain. He confidently shifted from womanizer on the make to vengeful son to determined champion of the human race.

On the other side of the BVS coin Henry Cavill has grown into his character and gives a far more nuanced performance than was suggested in the trailers. His Superman is a 20th century-style hero who is uncomfortable with the criticism powerful figures can attract in an almost democratic 21st century society. He thinks he should be left alone because he's not trying to undermine democracy, he simply understands that democracy has one major weakness: response times. As a result of being constantly hounded and second-guessed however he starts to lose interest in doing the right thing.

Between these two powerful figures we have Lex Luthor and Diana "Wonder Woman" Prince. The good news first; Gal Gadot is a revelation on par with Daisy Ridley. Her presence is such that she threatens to steal nearly every scene she's in. Her character seeps into the narrative over the course of the first two acts: occasionally parrying with Wayne and keeping up with events as they unfold. Slowly she begins to realize the time may be at hand when she'll need to shed nearly a century of voluntary retirement and get involved in human affairs again. When she finally ascends to the film's front ranks in the third act it seems both logical and necessary and she becomes a valuable asset to the film rather than a token distraction.

With that said I need to address the film's only weakness: Jesse Eisenberg. Mr Eisenberg has proven himself a capable actor over the years but he is in waaaay over his head here. Not sure what pictures he possesses of Zack Snyder that landed him this role but they must be doozies. A good villain is either physically menacing or radiates the sense that there's something lurking beneath their surface that would peel the paint on the walls if unleashed. Great villains possess both qualities. Eisenberg has neither. Thankfully his screen time is limited so he never becomes a significant drag on the film.

As for the story: I don't want to give away too much but basically Eisenberg's Luthor has decided to strengthen his own position by ridding the world of it's two super-powered crime fighters. In a nutshell; Superman will be given a powerful incentive to eliminate Batman, and then Lex will eliminate Superman with a weapon he fashioned from kryptonite he gleaned from the wreckage of one of the destroyed Kryptonian ships. The world will then be his oyster. It's a blissfully simple premise that manages to engage all the characters without losing the audience.

There are no huge head-scratching moments like in TDKR where you're left thinking "Why did they send the entire Gotham police department into the sewer at the same time?" or "How did bad guys that walked into the Gotham stock exchange wind up riding out on motorcycles?" Also, because the plot is straightforward there's no need for long expository monologues like the kind that weighed so heavily on TDKR. Things move forward crisply, logically and entertainingly. It's great.

Before I finish I want to go back one more time and touch on the look of this movie. Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice is a beautiful film. It's not just beautiful however. Every image here is in the service of the story and not simply inserted because of its 'awesomeness'. In this sense - the harmony between dialogue and imagery - it reminds me of nothing less than James Cameron's "Aliens", perhaps the best example ever of a film that's greater than the sum of its parts. Because of this symbiotic relationship between words and pictures I could probably watch BVS with the sound off and still know exactly what's going on. And that is the true sign of quality motion picture making.

Kudos to Zack Snyder for finally delivering a Batman-related property that I want to see a second time. I can't give it a full 5 stars due to Jesse Eisenberg but if there were someone more appropriate playing Lex Luthor it would be 5 stars all the way.

Verdict: ★★★★

Jan 31, 2016

"Black Mass" - 2015 - movie review

In "Black Mass" Jonny Depp finally foregoes the makeup (most of it anyway) and decides to face the camera and try his hand at adult acting. The result is a surprisingly strong and nuanced performance that is the undeniable (black) heart of the film.

The film tells the tale of James "Whitey" Bulger, brother of Massachusetts Senate President Billy Bulger and a big fish in the medium sized pond of South Boston. In just a few short years this unhinged thug went from local tough guy to the biggest name in Boston's crowded underworld scene. His rise was no accident however. Nor was it the result of a long term plan for world conquest on Bulger's part. Instead it was largely the doing of the FBI.

Drafting Bulger to be an FBI informant was the idea of one John Connelly. Connelly had known Bulger since childhood and owed some sort of street debt to him. When he became an FBI agent he used his position to keep the agency at arms length from his patron by selling him as an invaluable snitch. Since Bulger had intimate knowledge of the most arcane workings of Boston street power, Connelly argued, he could help them bring down Gennaro Angiulo, head of the Italian mob and a certified Big Target. Bulger did wind up playing a hand in Angiulo's downfall but beyond that gave up virtually nothing of value in nearly a decade on the government dole. And after Angiulo was sent to prison in the mid-80s Bulger, with the help of Connelly, stepped neatly into the power void.

While the art direction in Black Mass never seems to completely capture the time many of the characters seem perfectly drawn. The pacing is spot on and buttressed by a screenplay that acts like a kind of literary boa constrictor slowly squeezing the life out of the leads. Even if you aren't familiar with the real life events that inspired the story you can see, and more importantly feel, where this is all going from very early on.

Joel Egerton's Agent Connelly is beautifully crafted; a man who rose through the ranks when high school diplomas and a couple of connections were enough to get you 'made' in law enforcement. As time passed however his type slowly became anachronistic as more and more professionals from outside seeped into the important offices and trained a suspicious eye on these local holdovers.

Benedict Cumberbatch does a fine job as the cooly detached Senate President Billy Bulger, a man who reached the highest office he could reach in Massachusetts while still retaining a level of anonymity. Bulger wielded enormous power as Senate President yet was never subjected to the spotlight he would have had on him were he to ascend to the governor's chair. And that was fine with him.

The rest of the supporting cast hold their own with a particular shout out going to Peter Sarsgaard for his rabid portrayal of a lunatic hitman who tries to rat out Bulger only to be turned back out to the streets by Bulger's boy Connelly.

All that said the real star of Black Mass in more ways than one is Depp who digs deep and most unexpectedly pulls an acting rabbit out of his hat. His Bulger takes Jack Nicholson's Bulger-inspired performance in The Departed and clears it off the table with the back of his hand. Depp conjures dread, loathing, fear, insanity and even sympathy without so much as raising his voice or moving at more than a snails pace.

There's one scene in particular that sums up Depp's performance. Early on in the film Bulger's son becomes mortally ill and lies dying in the hospital. We see Bulger and his girlfriend, the boy's mother, sitting by a window in the hospital cafeteria. The girlfriend says she'll pull the plug on her son herself rather than see him live life as a vegetable. Depp gazes deeply into her eyes at that statement. The camera switches to a wide shot profiling the two against the window with the table between them. Depp's Bulger gently reaches across the table and takes the bereaved mother's hand. I fully expected to hear "Hey. Don't say that. It's gonna be alright." or something to that effect. Instead after gently taking hold of his girlfriends hand he growls "What the fuck did you just say?" - cue the chills down my back.

Depp's work here is one of the best acting jobs of 2015. It's great stuff and I highly recommend you take a look. The fact that he didn't even get an Oscar nomination doesn't speak well for the Academy.

Verdict: ★★★★

Jan 11, 2016

RIP David Bowie. Rock star, movie star, artist, genius.

Jan 1, 2016

Star Wars: The Prediction Awakens

The Force Awakens is busy rewriting the US box office record books on pretty much a daily basis and will likely pass Avatar sometime in the next few days to become the new US box office champ (not adjusted for inflation of course). While that's all well and good I'm going to go on record here with my prediction that TFA will not unseat Avatar as all time worldwide box office champ. Sure, the film has yet to open in China but since it's performance in the rest of the world is currently mirroring that of the US it would need to do something like $1 billion in China alone to have a shot at Avatar's worldwide crown. And I don't see that happening.

So, for what it's worth - and because I have nothing better to do on New Year's Day - my prediction is that TFA will wind up comfortably besting Titanic but fall short of Avatar and become the new #2 movie of all time worldwide.

"It's true. Big blue people. Pandora. All of it. You won't beat them."

Dec 29, 2015

"The Revenant" - 2015 - movie review

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Hugh Glass an early 19th century guide/frontiersman who went West and went native. He got involved with a Pawnee woman and lives among her people. Because he knows the country so well he's in demand as a guide for bands of trappers on their months-long expeditions. The film opens with Glass and one of these groups under attack by Arikara Indians. Half the group is killed with the rest barely making it to their boat before heading off down river. Afraid the group is too exposed on the boat Glass tells them to disembark and head cross country on foot instead. During some downtime on this journey Glass is off trying to kill something for dinner when he stumbles upon bear cubs. Where there are bear cubs, momma bear is never far off and never in an accommodating mood. Glass pays the price for his intrusion.

After being mauled by momma-bear Glass is basically a tangled mass of exposed flesh, broken bones and blood. After dragging him around for several days the troop decide to leave him in the hands of a malcontent named Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) with orders to watch over him and if he should die, to give him a proper burial. Hardy wants nothing more than to put a bullet in Glass' head and be off but he dutifully agrees to watch over him. Later, when he's alone with Glass, he tries to kill him but Glass' son intervenes. Fitzgerald kills the boy as Glass watches helplessly and then he leaves Glass to die and heads off to find the others.

Glass rallies and starts on a comeback that would make Beck Weathers proud. The fact that he doesn't die of shock or exposure or blood loss or infection in pretty short order following the CG bear attack leaves one to wonder about the writer's notion of 'realism' however. Not only that, but after only a couple of days his half-eaten legs are suddenly able to support him with only a slight limp. Excuse me? For a moment I thought I'd stumbled into a Bond film. He then takes about an hour long float down an icy stream and somehow avoids hypothermia. Then, to top it off, this same man with the recently mangled legs (oh yes, and exposed rib cage where the bear bit through his flesh) plunges some 100 or more feet over a cliff on a horse and doesn't even tweak one of those mangled legs (or anything else). The horse of course, dies. Because after all we're going for brutal realism here.

Basically my issues with the film center on two points: A) The story adheres to realism where it suits it and leaves realism begging at the door when it needs the hero to live another day. And B) DiCaprio is in over his head with this character and this movie. In essence he gives the same performance he's given in every film he's made in the past decade or so. "Isn't Leo intense?" Sure. But so is a root canal and I'm in no hurry to go through one of those again. I suppose you can't lay it all at DiCaprio's feet. Part of the problem is how the character is written. There's very little real about him. He's a cartoon character; the only throwback, invincible, hero-style character in the film. And that has to be laid at the feet of the writers. Still, DiCaprio has enough clout that he could have insisted on changes had he wanted them.

But enough about DiCaprio because there is an Oscar worthy performance in The Revenant and it's author is one Tom Hardy.

Hardy gives a gutsy, nuanced performance of a man torn apart by freedom; unhinged by the endless indifference of nature. His Fitzgerald has nothing but contempt for the landscape, the climate and the people he encounters. Nature, the ultimate serial killer, has robbed him of his faith and purpose and he occupies a space where only the paycheck matters. You can feel the vacuum at his center, you see him silently putting his actions through old moral filters that no longer work. Witnessing Hardy's performance is like when you listen to music you've never heard before but you still know which note is coming next because the composition has an ironclad internal logic you aren't consciously aware of.

As for the rest of the film: The cinematography borders on amazing and the editing is methodical and restrained. There are likely more cuts in two minutes or so of "The Bourne Ultimatum" than there are in this entire film, and that's how it should be given the subject matter. Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu obviously trusts the instincts of his actors and, in most cases, his trust is warranted. The supporting cast is generally excellent and the native people are portrayed in a balanced manner that acknowledges their tragedy without excusing their brutality. If any one group comes off as being "bad" it's the French trappers who seemingly live to carry out atrocities and who, like all evil men, laugh heartily while raping the innocent.

There will be a lot of Oscar talk surrounding The Revenant. Team DiCaprio is already fully deployed attempting to pave the way for his stroll up to the podium. I suppose if Tom Hanks can win an Oscar then you might as well give one to Leo although, in a just world, it would go to Hardy.

Verdict: ★★★★

Dec 22, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens - 2015 - movie review

This review contains a few spoilers. You have been warned.

Star Wars The Force Awakens is a film that earns it's keep in the first hour, and that's a good thing because the second hour... oh boy. The experience of watching TFA was akin to watching my favorite team build a huge lead over a bitter rival in the first half of a game and then almost blow it in the second half and hold on for a narrow win. Sure, a win is a win. But...

Sports analogies aside the story begins promising enough. Po Dameron (Oscar Isaac - maybe the best thing in the film) has been sent by <ahem> general Leia on a secret mission to retrieve an important clue into the whereabouts of the missing Luke Skywalker from Max Von Sydow. Their pow wow is interrupted by a gaggle of storm troopers led by the imposing Kylo Ren who also wants to know where Luke is hiding so he can kill him and put an end to the Jedi once and for all. Ren's troops commit atrocities and take Po prisoner but fail to retrieve the computer file they were looking for. That has been tucked away into Po's droid, BB8, who has taken it deep into the desert.

So far so good. I should mention that this is a beautiful looking movie right through to the end and the action complements the visuals perfectly, at least early on. The writing in the first act is succinct and easy to swallow and the acting is top-notch.

So, after Po is taken prisoner we spend some time with Rey (Daisy Ridley in one of the great star making turns of the past 20 years). She's a loner with an independent streak who scrapes a living from the detritus of empire. One day she's contentedly eating her lunch when suddenly BB8, fresh from the atrocities over yonder, wanders into her sphere of influence and is snagged by another scrapper. She frees the droid who takes to her and the story becomes one of a girl and her dog.

Meanwhile back at Kylo's place Po has succumbed to torture and spilled the beans on BB8's whereabouts. Soon after however he's befriended by a stormtrooper with a conscience who wants out of the ranks. The two steal a tie fighter and make their escape but are shot out of the sky as Po is heading back to the planet to get his droid.

The stormtrooper with a heart of gold is Finn (John Boyega) and when they crash land on the planet he assumes Po has been killed so he wanders off in search of water and into the scrap yard where Rey is fighting for control of BB8. The two form an uneasy alliance but before long more storm troopers arrive thanks to the information that was culled from Po's head. After a scuffle Rey and Finn wind up hopping into the Millennium Falcon that just happens to be sitting outside the scrap yard, partially dismantled and covered in a dirty tarp.

Once they reach orbit they're caught in a tractor beam and pulled into what turns out to be a freighter owned by ta da - Han Solo ("Chewie... We're home").

Up to this point everything has been going swimmingly. I'm fully engaged in the story in spite of the familiarity of it all and the fact that them's some serious coincidences playin' out dere. But it's not long after this that things start to go south. It's great to see Harrison Ford back as Han. But once he's introduced the story starts to buckle under the weight of expectation. And when it does other cracks begin to appear as well.

It's around the film's middle that we start to get a clearer picture of what the good guys are up against; and it looks an awful lot like a death star. Around the same time Leia makes her grand entrance and it's about as flat a big entrance as I've ever seen. She ambles gingerly off her space ship and creaks up toward Ford for the big how-do-you-do. But her performance is so wooden, so self conscious, so inept that I felt embarrassed for her. Ford too looks like he'd rather be flying his plane into a golf course than having to go through the sentimental motions with his less talented co-star. I found myself flashing back to the opening crawl and wishing it had said something like...

"After his sister Leia was killed in a knife fight with an Ewok, Luke Skywalker went missing"

But alas it didn't say that and here she was tossing a huge bucket of ice water on the proceedings with each wooden recital of the prequel-worthy luuvvvv talk with Han.

From this point onward the film starts cashing in those goodwill chips it won during the first hour and as it does my willingness to just accept all a dem coincidences and glossed-over details ("Oh look! It's Po... WTF?") starts to erode. I'm also less willing to accept used story elements, including the new super-sized death star/planet/killer/thingy.

The death star on steroids notion seems right in keeping with this year's tendency to simply take what worked before and make it bigger, with more teeth. Doesn't $200 million buy you an original idea any more? I know Disney wanted to do some serious fan service here and that's great but fan service became outright mannerism in the second hour with all the important scenes being little more than former scenes with more teeth. There was no suspense because I'd seen it before. Hell, they even seemed aware that they didn't need to set up the final battle because everybody knew what was coming. So instead of planning we got:

"You disable the shields. You fly in and blow it up. Got it? Let's go."

Uhhhmmmmm... isn't this like the largest, most sophisticated weapon ever built in the history of the universe? It has no defenses? Not even a security camera? Didn't these dullards learn anything from the destruction of the 2 previous death stars? Apparently not.

But before the Indominous Rex, uh, I mean new death planet thing, can be neutralized we of course need a version of the big showdown from the original film, and so we get it. Regardless of the fact that it was simply warmed-up leftovers it still should have been the film's biggest moment. But it wasn't. It just sort of happened and that was that. No resonance. No particular implications for the story or the remaining characters. Just an OMG second and then it's over. Next.

A couple of other things. The decision to unmask Kylo Ren completely undermined the character. I'm sure Adam Driver's contract called for a certain amount of face time but it was a huge mistake. Also, billions of people are killed in one scene and then never mentioned again. In addition: John Boyega is a fine actor but what is his character doing in this movie? Finn doesn't advance the story one iota. He seems to be there simply so that Disney can deflect charges of racism against the film.

Which brings me to what was really lost in the second hour: the sappy sentimentalism, the atrocious performance of Carrie Fisher, the head-scratching presence of Boyega's Finn, the tired rehashing of the death star and the relegation of C3PO and R2D2 to the status of Hammond's grandkids in Jurassic Park II completely undermined the real story of Rey and her march to the fore.

Ridley does a commendable job with the character arc here, taking command of it early and guiding it confidently to a conclusion that should have resonated much stronger. But because, by the end, I was consumed with trying to understand how my team could have squandered such a huge lead and nearly lost it all I wasn't fully available for the film's conclusion; which was a shame because in hindsight I can see it was handled deftly, brought Rey's journey to a satisfying rest point, and set up compelling possibilities for the future.

In the end team TFA squeaked out a win but, because I spent the second half with my head in my hands mumbling "what are they doing!?" I wasn't able to enjoy the victory.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Dec 6, 2015

Top 5 Films That Should Have Been Left to Stand on Their Own

The following is my list of the top 5 21st century films that would have been better off standing on their own. In no particular order.

Transformers - The original was a fresh, exciting, funny and engaging "boy and his dog" film for the new century. Drunk with power Michael Bay then used the subsequent installments to prove he hates everyone not named Micheal Bay and in the process tarnished Executive Producer Steve Spielberg's previously sparkling reputation.

Batman Begins - This gritty, life-sized portrayal of Batman's origin was followed by two of the worst comic book movies ever made. The Dark Knight was a dreadfully dull affair set in a boring, empty city where the director gave Christian Bale free reign to indulge his pretensions. While TDKR confirmed once and for all what TDK powerfully suggested: that Nolan has no idea what to do with a big budget. (As if any more proof were needed see Inception and Interstellar)

The Matrix - Of course the original was released in 1999 but II and III were 21st century fiascos of epic proportions. Another case of big budget-itis this time with the Wachowskis instead of Nolan doing the deer-in-headlights imitation. Each film had the unmistakable air of being made up as it went along by people with very little imagination who were still trying to fathom how they could have got so lucky. Good question indeed.

The Bourne Identity - In spite of Matt Damon the first movie succeeded in demonstrating the untapped potential of the spy thriller. The sequels did little to build on that potential. All they really accomplished was to point out that the main character isn't smart enough to buy some sunglasses or wear a hat and that the 'actor' portraying him has the dramatic range of a turnip. Oh yeah, and how about that editing. Pretty radical.

The Hangover - The sequels were nasty, pointless affairs that rested firmly on the hope that celebrity would trump quality and put consumer butts in theater seats. To a degree that hope was validated.

Nov 24, 2015

"The Martian" - 2015 - Movie Review

Pre-production meeting for "The Martian" - Scott Free Productions

Various production types talking before the Big Guy arrives.

Production type 1:

"People don't want serious movies. Look what happened to The Counselor, Days of Heaven and Body of Lies. People just don't care anymore. They want brand names that don't call them out for being the consumer sheep that they are. If we don't get on the brainless bandwagon we'll all be out of work."

Production type 2:

"So what are you saying? That Ridley should abandon serious films in favor of...?"

Production type 1:

"I'm saying no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of consumers."

Production type 2:

"Okay... So we shouldn't make 'The Martian'?"

Production type 1:

"No, we should make it. Just not as the serious movie Ridley wants to make. We need to steer him toward the abyss. That's where the money is."

Production type 3:

"You mean like Sandra Bullock?"

Production type 1:

"Exactly! Gravity was huge. Why? Because it was a metaphor for our brief, dangerous, depressing and isolated trip through the cosmos? No. Because it had Bullock and what's his name... ham-face."

Production type 4:

"George Clooney?"

Production type 1:

"That's the guy. Clooney."

Production type 2:

"I don't think he'd be up for doing a slightly different version of Gravity so soon."

Production type 1:

"Doesn't matter. We get one of those other "Ocean's Eleven" celebrities to do it. People love celebrities, they couldn't give a shit about actors."

Production type 3:

"How about Matt Damon"

Production type 1:

Slappling the table hard "Yes! Perfect! We can have him say 'shit' and 'fuck' a few times. People love when celebrities swear. It's so edgy."

Production type 2:

"I see where you're going... but we'd need to get China involved somehow. That's a huge market."

Production type 1:


Production type 4:

"But isn't pandering to the commies a little, you know, unethical? Lack of elections, suppression of liberties and all that..."

Production type 1:

"Who cares if they can vote? They're obsessed with brand names. We'll give them a bunch of brand name celebrities and make the PRC look like Paris in the process. "

Production type 3:

"Like Transformers 47 or whatever it was."

Production type 1:

"Exactly! We'll have to open new corporate accounts to handle all the cash."

Production type 2:

"What if we did a whole Apollo 13 thing? People loved that movie. Some thought it was based on real events."

Production type 4:

"It was based on real events."

Production type 2:

"It was? ...well, even better!"

Production type 3:

"And we could throw in some 70s disco, you know, to ramp up the PC wackiness. We might even make it onto the Yahoo homepage in between some of their Hillary stories."

Production type 4:

"But disco sucked in the 70s and it still sucks!"

Production type 1:

"My friend, do you have something to contribute? Because if you're just gonna wallow in hate you can leave."

Production type 4:

"You didn't hire me, Ridley did. And disco does suck. It did then and it does now."

Production type 2:

"Hey! Here he comes. Are we gonna do this?"

Production type 1:

"Absolutely. I want to have a job a year from now. Just follow my lead."

Enter Sir Ridley

Sir Ridley:

"Morning people."

Production types in unison:

"Good morning Sir Ridley."

Sir Ridley:

"Before we begin I just wanted to say that I just got off the phone with Fox and told them to put that South African guy's Alien picture on indefinite hold. We're going to do our own and do it right. I want to make sure the franchise gets back on track."

Production types in unison:

"Good idea Sir Ridley."

Sir Ridley:

"I also talked to Von Daniken and we've come up with a title: "Alien: Paradise Lost"

Muffled chuckling. Multiple spit-takes.

Sir Ridley:

"I'm thinking we can get Matt Damon and have him fighting the alien while in the background we hear... what's the name of that song again... oh yeah "I Will Survive"'

Production types look at each other with broadening smiles:

Sir Ridley:

"Now. About this Martian movie. Any ideas?"


"The Martian" signals the sad end of Ridley Scott as a serious film maker and fills me with dread regarding his upcoming Alien and Blade Runner films. The only relevant question now is: will he live long enough to completely destroy the legacy of his two bona-fide masterpieces? Stay tuned.

The Martian: Verdict: ☆☆☆☆

Oct 29, 2015

Why "Breaking Bad" Sucks

While I'm aware that the subject of this post is not a movie, it has nonetheless obsessed many of my movie loving friends and stuck it's mangy head into many an otherwise interesting movie-related conversation, making it fair game. Also, spoilers ahead. You have been warned.

Yesterday I had the latest in a series of... let's call them "discussions" with another of my friends who thinks "Breaking Bad" was something pretty special. While everyone is entitled to their opinion, in this case his opinion, like the opinion of many other friends on this subject, couldn't be more wrong: Breaking Bad sucks.

When pressed to provide reasons why Breaking Bad was the greatest thing since sliced bread my buddy, like everyone else I've ever met who liked the show, couldn't get much past "Bryan Cranston is awesome." This tells me that what we had with Breaking Bad was a really popular show that people thought was great because it was really popular because people thought it was great because it was really popular... you get the picture. I was really hoping that when the final season made its way into the cultural dumpster so would any memory of this abomination, yet the thing persists; like pee stains on white pants, to taunt me.

But back to last night's conversation that spawned this diatribe.

That conversation was progressing with the usual "Bryan Cranston is awesome" silliness when my buddy crossed a line and, with a completely straight face, compared Breaking Bad to "The Sopranos". It was at that point I resolved to dedicate a post to the Kim Kardashian of "serious programming"; Breaking Bad.

So let's get something out of the way right off the bat: comparing "The Sopranos" to "Breaking Bad" is like comparing the Rolling Stones' "Sway" to the Rolling Stones' "She's So Cold". One is art, the other is a consumer product.

That said here are just some of the many, many reasons Breaking Bad sucks (numbered for your convenience).

1) Bryan Cranston can't act his way out of a paper bag. He has two expessions; mouth agape and squinty eyes.

2) His character's story arch is laughably bad. Sure guys go through crises when facing the void, but even the void wouldn't turn Mr Rogers into Attila the Hun. Mr Rogers might go get himself a Miata, but he's not changing from a wall flower into a guy who tells psycho cartel leaders where to stuff it.

3) They do the "Gee we lost all our money again" thing about 12 times too many. They go back to that well more than Peter Jackson dips into the dead/not dead well.

4) The wife is loathsome. The character is abysmally written. As inconsistent a characterization as I've ever seen. One season a yuppie new age air head, next season a hard-boiled prison wife, next season scared, so scared. So, so scared.

4) The brother in law in the DEA is stupid beyond words. Imagine if they made Carmela's brother head of the Jersey FBI organized crime division. Just lazy, stupid writing.

5) The trope that he's dying of cancer is the most naked attempt I've ever seen of a writer trying to tug at heart strings to try and justify a character's assholedness; and make no mistake, WW is an a-hole of historic proportions.

6) He's such an indescribable a-hole I kept hoping someone would kill him. I don't think I'm supposed to be hoping that.

7) The idea that WW could kill a cartel leader and still be walking a week later is stupid.

8) The notion you could use an RV as a meth lab is stupid.

9) The idea you could cook in houses waiting to be fumigated was funny for about 5 minutes. Then I realized how stupid it was.

10) ABQ is about as compelling as minute rice.

11) Aaron Paul is an even worse actor than Bryan Cranston, and that's saying something. It's no accident he hasn't been seen since the show ended. Also, his character may be the most meaningless and poorly written in a show packed with meaningless, poorly written characters.

We can't act.

12) Flash round
I knew the RV wouldn't start.
I knew the kid on the bike would kill the fat drug dealer.
I knew the kid on the motorcycle would get killed.
I knew WW's cancer would go into remission.
I knew it would come back.
I knew the brother in law would find out.
I knew the cartel guy was going to die at the pool party.
I knew the chicken guy was going to kill the cook guy in the lab.
I knew Skyler was going to walk into the pool.
I knew the girlfriend was going to stiff the kid in front of her dad.
I knew she was going to eventually OD.
I knew Jessie was coming back, every damn time he came back.
I knew the old guy who couldn't talk had a bomb in his wheelchair.
I knew Jessie would discover the secret of the cigarette.

Whew! But wait. I'm not done.

13) The comedic moments say more about the writer's ineptitude than their ability to know when to throttle back.

14) Jerry Seinfeld had Bryan Cranston pegged pretty well: a second rate character guy, good for a few minutes of light diversion here and there.

15) The entire series seems like a Lifetime tv take on what it must be like to be a meth dealer. Like Lifetime went into high schools looking for writing talent to bring their 'bold' idea to the small screen and harnessed the best 10th grade writers in ABQ.

16) And for the record; the brother-in-law as he exists in the show does not get the job as head of the ABQ office. Ever. He also doesn't change from being class clown to being large and in charge. People are what they are. Often within a range, sure. But they are what they are. Good writers understand this.

17) The disabled son serves no purpose other than as a ham-handed device intended to show us WW may be hurting innocent people. They could completely ditch the kid character and instead show some of the thousands of lives WW is laying waste in his quest to get his wife Starbucks money for life.

18) The meltdown of Jessie toward the end is some of the worst acting I have ever seen. Laughably bad from beginning to end. He just took the same high-school-drama-club-quality "I'm mad" look that he's had in every scene since the first show and ramped it up a few degrees until he looked like he was taking a shit in his pants while setting the house on fire.

I could go on but what would be the point. Good riddance BB. You sucked.


Oct 5, 2015

Support Independent Film

My friend Rich Chambers has a short film that's begun making the festival rounds called "Tristan and Isolde" (poster below). It's a 7 minute horror flick with no dialogue. Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde" is used as backdrop music and the film deals loosely with Wagner's idea of "love death" and how a serial killer might think that was a pretty good idea. So, to say it's darkly comedic would be putting it mildly.

Rich has given me the link and password to the film on vimeo to share only with viewers of 21st Century Films. So enjoy and don't forget to support independent filmmakers.
password: 983olsef

For the record, Rich has another short that's in production and should be done by the end of the year. It's a much more involved production that I'm helping him out with and it's looking amazing at this point.