ReasonForOurHope

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Film Flash: Batman - The Killing Joke

Batman The Killing Joke

15 words or less film review

Darkest animated Batman.  Engaging but disjointed and lengthy prologue make the movie good, but uneven.

3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

Monday, July 25, 2016

Trailer Time: Justice League Comic Con Trailer





I've already made my effusive love for Batman v. Superman on this blog.  So it should be no surprise that I have been fanboying out to this little taste of the upcoming Justice League movie that was released at Comic Con.

Here are a few thoughts:

-Fun.  I think the film makers are trying to work against the dark and angsty tone of the the last two DCU movies.  There was a lot of humor put up front for our first look at this movie.

-Focus on Batfleck.  Even the biggest critics of Batman v. Superman agreed that Ben Affleck's Batman was a highlight of the film.  So it is no surprise that he figures most prominently in this trailer.  They seem to be playing up more of his charm than his Batman persona, making him the Tony Stark of the DCU.

-Flash looks good.  One of my biggest reservations was the casting of Ezra Miller as Barry Allen aka The Flash.  But the footage of him interacting with Batman was a delight to watch.  I'm not sure how much I like him in the costume, but this trailer went a long way in assuaging my doubts.

-Aquaman rocks.  I am a huge fan of the Peter David era Aquaman that seems to be a huge influence on this film.  Jason Momoa looks to be a significant presence in this film.

-Superman?  The conspicuous absence of Superman tells me the Man of Steel will be missing from at least the first act of the movie and he might actually be the Maguffin ala Han Solo in Return of the Jedi.

-Who is missing?  The original poster that was released for Mamoa's Aquaman last year said "Unite the Seven."  While this could be a reference to the Seven Seas, I always took it to mean the seven members of the League.  But including Superman, there are only six.  I wonder if we are going to get a surprise member like Green Lantern or Shazam, or if they are going to keep it at six.

-Story?  This trailer gives no sense of the overall story.  I'll be waiting for any details as they come out.

Thoughts?

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Sunday Best: Star Trek Movies (Updated 2016)

In recognition of this weekend's premiere of the latest Star Trek movie, this Sunday Best article is a ranking of that film and the previous 12 from worst to best.


I also had a chance to finally see Star Trek Insurrection, so this list should be comprehensive, unlike the ranking from 3 years ago.

13.  Star Trek The Motion Picture
Star Trek The Motion Picture poster.png
 From the director of The Sound of Music comes a science fiction movie that is so preposterously boring and pretentious that it could be the second cousin of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  The aesthetic is the most dated of any of the Star Trek films

12.  Star Trek Nemesis

The more I think of this film, the less I enjoy it.  I accept that there is a lot in Star Trek that makes little sense (e.g. why do they send the Captain down on away missions?), but this pushed all bounds of logic.  Why would you clone Picard?  Why?  And the cheat at the end leaves things so empty.

11.  Star Trek Insurrection
Star Trek Insurrection.png
Moreso than any Star Trek, this feels like a script from the series that they threw a bunch of money at to make it look like a feature film.  Not terrible, but inconsequential.  Plus, I never want to see another space face-lift.

10.  Star Trek Generations

I wanted to like this movie so much.  And the parts with Kirk are awesome, but it always leaves me a little flat.

9.  Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
William Shatner's vanity project fails on nearly every level, except when he focuses his scenes on the complex friendship of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.  Moreso than any of the films, do you see the archetypal space that each character inhabits.  But the bad parts are so bad.  I go back and forth on this one.

8.  Star Trek Into Darkness 
Originally I ranked this one much higher.  But the more time has gone on, my affection for it lessens.  There is something about the central mystery that feels cheap.  And the allusions to Wrath of Kahn become more grating with time.  Still, it is not a bad film but the wasted potential is a bit of a drag.

7.  Star Trek: First Contact

This was one of the most action-packed in the series.  It was taught and tense.  Probably the best of the Next Generation movies.



6.  Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Star Trek IV The Voyage Home.png
This used to be my favorite, but the time travel story now feels dated.  It proves CS Lewis' principle that there is nothing so quickly out of date than what is in fashion.  It's environmental message also feels a bit too preachy.  But once you get past that, it is one of the funniest and enjoyable of the Star Trek movies.

5.  Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
Dominating the center is the head of a man with arched eyebrows and pointed ears. At the edges, the head dissolves into the background of blue and magenta stars. Above, two starships fire multicolored bursts at each other. Below are three smaller figures, the front of which is a man with brown hair, wearing a red coat over a white shirt. The rest dissolve into the background.
 This might be the darkest of all the Trek films.  It takes the characters to places that are not always comfortable.  Watching the Enterprise fall or seeing Kirk fall out of his captain's chair with grief always get me.  This one has actually gotten better with time.

4.  Star Trek Beyond
The USS Enterprise flying through the universe, with the film's title "Beyond", and the film's billing below.
I will get a full review for this up soon.  But this was a great deal of fun and it was one of the most visually imaginative of the series.  And it finally moved the New Star Trek universe films into a true ensemble instead of it only being a Kirk/Spock series.

3.  Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

 You would think that the last film with the entire original cast would be one of the worst.  Instead, it is one of the best.  It is a mystery.  It is a thriller.  It is epic space opera.  It hearkens back to the past movie and breaks new territory.  No Star Trek fan should miss this.



2.  Star Trek (2009)

 I've probably watched this one more than any of the others.  JJ Abrams made a sleek, exciting, and epic film full of fun and adventure.

1.  Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan.png
 I don't think I truly appreciated this film until years of watching.  It's story structure is perfect.  It's villain is one of the best I've seen onscreen.  It's themes are rich and multi-layered.  It reminds us that science fiction takes us to strange new worlds only to use them as a mirror to examine the unexplored depths of the human heart.  It has the most moving moment in the entire series that always stops me in my tracks.  It has the best performances of the entire cast.  People often mock Shatner's shouting of "Kahhhnnnn!" or Montalban's scenery chewing performance.  But that is only because in any other setting done by any other actors, it would not have worked.  But here it is pure movie magic.  

Sunday Best: Star Trek Movies (Updated 2016)

In recognition of this weekend's premiere of the latest Star Trek movie, this Sunday Best article is a ranking of that film and the previous 12 from worst to best.


I also had a chance to finally see Star Trek Insurrection, so this list should be comprehensive, unlike the ranking from 3 years ago.

13.  Star Trek The Motion Picture
Star Trek The Motion Picture poster.png
 From the director of The Sound of Music comes a science fiction movie that is so preposterously boring and pretentious that it could be the second cousin of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  The aesthetic is the most dated of any of the Star Trek films

12.  Star Trek Nemesis

The more I think of this film, the less I enjoy it.  I accept that there is a lot in Star Trek that makes little sense (e.g. why do they send the Captain down on away missions?), but this pushed all bounds of logic.  Why would you clone Picard?  Why?  And the cheat at the end leaves things so empty.

11.  Star Trek Insurrection
Star Trek Insurrection.png
Moreso than any Star Trek, this feels like a script from the series that they threw a bunch of money at to make it look like a feature film.  Not terrible, but inconsequential.  Plus, I never want to see another space face-lift.

10.  Star Trek Generations

I wanted to like this movie so much.  And the parts with Kirk are awesome, but it always leaves me a little flat.

9.  Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
William Shatner's vanity project fails on nearly every level, except when he focuses his scenes on the complex friendship of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.  Moreso than any of the films, do you see the archetypal space that each character inhabits.  But the bad parts are so bad.  I go back and forth on this one.

8.  Star Trek Into Darkness 
Originally I ranked this one much higher.  But the more time has gone on, my affection for it lessens.  There is something about the central mystery that feels cheap.  And the allusions to Wrath of Kahn become more grating with time.  Still, it is not a bad film but the wasted potential is a bit of a drag.

7.  Star Trek: First Contact

This was one of the most action-packed in the series.  It was taught and tense.  Probably the best of the Next Generation movies.



6.  Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Star Trek IV The Voyage Home.png
This used to be my favorite, but the time travel story now feels dated.  It proves CS Lewis' principle that there is nothing so quickly out of date than what is in fashion.  It's environmental message also feels a bit too preachy.  But once you get past that, it is one of the funniest and enjoyable of the Star Trek movies.

5.  Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
Dominating the center is the head of a man with arched eyebrows and pointed ears. At the edges, the head dissolves into the background of blue and magenta stars. Above, two starships fire multicolored bursts at each other. Below are three smaller figures, the front of which is a man with brown hair, wearing a red coat over a white shirt. The rest dissolve into the background.
 This might be the darkest of all the Trek films.  It takes the characters to places that are not always comfortable.  Watching the Enterprise fall or seeing Kirk fall out of his captain's chair with grief always get me.  This one has actually gotten better with time.

4.  Star Trek Beyond
The USS Enterprise flying through the universe, with the film's title "Beyond", and the film's billing below.
I will get a full review for this up soon.  But this was a great deal of fun and it was one of the most visually imaginative of the series.  And it finally moved the New Star Trek universe films into a true ensemble instead of it only being a Kirk/Spock series.

3.  Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

 You would think that the last film with the entire original cast would be one of the worst.  Instead, it is one of the best.  It is a mystery.  It is a thriller.  It is epic space opera.  It hearkens back to the past movie and breaks new territory.  No Star Trek fan should miss this.



2.  Star Trek (2009)

 I've probably watched this one more than any of the others.  JJ Abrams made a sleek, exciting, and epic film full of fun and adventure.

1.  Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan.png
 I don't think I truly appreciated this film until years of watching.  It's story structure is perfect.  It's villain is one of the best I've seen onscreen.  It's themes are rich and multi-layered.  It reminds us that science fiction takes us to strange new worlds only to use them as a mirror to examine the unexplored depths of the human heart.  It has the most moving moment in the entire series that always stops me in my tracks.  It has the best performances of the entire cast.  People often mock Shatner's shouting of "Kahhhnnnn!" or Montalban's scenery chewing performance.  But that is only because in any other setting done by any other actors, it would not have worked.  But here it is pure movie magic.  

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Film Flash: Star Trek - Beyond


The USS Enterprise flying through the universe, with the film's title "Beyond", and the film's billing below.
15 words or less film review (full review to follow soon)

Much more fun than Into Darkness.  Lacks greatness, but highly entertaining.  Bones steals the show.

4 out of 5 stars

Trailer Time: Wonder Woman (Comic Con Trailer




Here is the first significant look at the very first ever Wonder Woman movie.

Initial thoughts:

-It feels a bit like Downton Abbey.  This is not surprising since this movie takes place during an overlapping time of the show.  The fashions and sets feel very much the same.  And this is not a negative.  I like feeling transported into a place rarely visited in comics.

-The shots of Wonder Woman charging the trenches is fantastic.  I love the contrast of the gloomy surroundings and her vibrant and colorful appearance.

-The action looks exciting and powerful.  Some actresses are not as believable in the action role (e.g. Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor).  But Gal Godot is convincing as the warrior goddess.  It almost feels like some of Zack Snyder's 300 style influenced this film.

-This trailer leans heavily on its feminist overtones.  We have Diana say that no man can tell her what to do and she equates being a secretary with slavery.  In and of itself this doesn't concern me.  But if the movie then turns all men, including Steve Trevor, into either domineering jerks or spineless doormats, then the movie will suffer.

Thoughts?


Friday, July 22, 2016

Batman v. Superman - More Thoughts



I picked up the Ultimate Edition of Batman v. Superman from my local Best Buy the day that it came out and I have already watched it multiple times.  The affection I have for this movie runs very deep.

And I know that there are still many detractors out there with whom I respectfully disagree.  But in many ways, this was the comic book movie that I have been waiting to see for my entire life.

So I had a few random thoughts that I would like to share with you.  This will not be a re-review of the movie, but some thoughts that came to me while I watched it again.

Be warned SPOILERS BELOW.  Do not read any further if you have not yet seen the film.


1.  Becoming

I think the thing that most people misunderstood about this movie was this: Batman and Superman are not the heroes we know and love yet.  This can be very confusing especially since Superman had his origin movie in Man of Steel and we witnessed the unconnected but influential Dark Knight Trilogy by Christopher Nolan.  But in this movie Batman kills.  Superman is filled with angst.  These are things that we usually do not find in these icons.  But when the film begins they are not yet icons. They are in the processes of becoming the heroes we know.  This goes against what we've seen in most superhero team ups.  The Avengers is a great film and there is some level of character development.  But the main heroes are already who they are by the time they get together.  But Batman and Superman are not who they should be when the movie begins.  It will be the influence of each other that will teach Superman to be resolute in his convictions and Batman to see hope in a hopeless world.

I give Zack Snyder a lot of credit for taking this journey, because it is much riskier.  I remember watching the first season of Arrow and being disgusted that they had Oliver Queen kill people.  This was antithetical to the character.  But it wasn't until about the middle of the second season that I understood that they were showing how Oliver moves from darkness to the light.  And that is what they are doing with Batman and Superman.

2.  Understanding Luthor.

The biggest holdback for me was the portrayal of Lex Luthor.  In the comics, Lex is strong, domineering alpha-male.  He is a shark in an Armani suit.  He exudes power with the lightest gesture or touch.

But Eisenberg's Lex is a rage-spewing science geek.  It was difficult to understand and accept it.  But once I did, it felt like a wonderful critique of the modern man.  Clark and Bruce are archetypes of traditional masculinity, both physically and in personality.    Those who don't live up to those standards will either idolize or demonize them for it.  Lex has chosen to demonize.

They are everything he is not.  He is the perfect embodiment of the "anti-bully" bully.  These are the people that experience some kind of abuse from someone stronger and so they feel justified in releasing their venom on anyone they think belongs in that group.  You see it in high school when the nerds hate the popular jocks and the perfect cheerleaders for no other reason than they are not like them.  You see it online when the Twitter Inquisition tears down someone who breaks with popular ideology.  These are the people who hate the idea of anyone being happier or better than they are and so must tear them down.

I saw this especially in the scene where Lex taunts Superman with the polaroids of his mother.  There is a triumphant exhilaration at bringing a god to his knees that you can see in his pipsqueak face.  There is a hatred of Superman's heroism, his manliness, and his power because Lex, like so many men today, lacks these qualities.

It's interesting because this is almost the reason Batman hates him as well.  He tells Superman that he isn't brave: "Men are brave."  In Superman he sees someone who hasn't really acted and risked anything.  From Batman's perspective, he is a man with unearned power.  Batman had to train and work and sacrifice to become who he is.  Superman is someone born into his abilities and because he didn't earn his power, he doesn't respect it an therefore cannot be trusted with it.

But Lex will embrace any abomination for his ends.  And once I embraced this movie's version of Lex Luthor, I appreciated it on another level.  He literally plays God by creating new life in his warped image.  He is Dr. Frankenstein, the new Prometheus.

3.  The Role of God

Perhaps I am reading way too much into this small moment, but the scene of the man praying before his death gets me every time.  He doesn't pray to God to rescue him.  He doesn't ask God where He is?  The man even addresses God by the title, "Creator of Heaven and Earth," a very creedal title.  And his one prayer is for mercy on his soul.  This means a lot to me because as someone who is steeped in the pop culture, particularly that of superheroes, this display of Christian spirituality is so very rare.  Yes, there are some references here and there spread throughout comic book movies, but this felt very real to me.  I could see myself praying these words in moments of calamity.

But I like that Snyder uses Superman more as an analogy for religion rather than the direct comparison, which would have way too much baggage.  That isn't to say that he avoids the existential implications of this.  He does not go so far as he did in Watchmen when the arrival of Dr. Manhattan causes someone to say "God is real and he's an American."  But he does show a world that is in upheaval at the revelation of Superman.  Notice how movies like Thor don't deal with the real world implications of a "god" living among the humans and what that would mean for some in our society.

But mainly, what I found so striking was the religious imagery was so strong in pointing out good and evil.  Lex's wild atheism is clearly evil.  And Superman's sacrificial love is purely good.  I love the Pieta shot towards the end.  Not only does this occur after laying down his life, but you can see crosses in the background.  He becomes even more of a Christ figure than in Man of Steel.  His death not only saves everyone from the unkillable Doomsday, it redeems Batman and brings Wonder Woman to the fight.

The reason this is so refreshing is that I usually have my defenses up when God is brought up in the pop culture.  Usually he referenced in order to sucker punch the faith.  But here, the view that is on the side of traditional religious sentiment is on the side of goodness.

4.  Visual Beauty

I have Zack Snyder ranked as the 19th greatest director of all time.  I may have to move him up a few notches.  His flayer for kinetic, dynamic visual storytelling has been known for a long time.  But I was struck by how well he was able to tell the story and get the emotions with the visuals.  This was the first time I noticed the visual symmetry of the first shot of the film with the last.  And movie is filled with great visual parallelism between Bruce, Clark, and Lex.

I read some complaints about the retelling of the origin story of Batman.  But this scene was actually incredibly short and important: it set the emotional reality for Bruce Wayne.  His world is literally turned upside down and he falls into a pit from which the only escape is the bat.  And I have never seen the death of Martha and Thomas Wayne done with such tragically poetic cinematography.

I found I could not take my eyes off of this movie.  Everything in it was fascinating to watch.

5.  My Favorite Alfred

Jeremy Irons' Alfred Pennyworth gets very little screen time.  But he is now my favorite movie Alfred.  Michael Caine was fantastic as the paternal stalwart companion.  But Irons' Alfred is filled with sarcastic bite that constantly pulls at Bruce to get out of his death spiral but you never question that Alfred will follow him into the jaws of death.

6.  Not Very Ultimate

I bought the Ultimate Edition of the movie.  The Lord of the Rings has spoiled me for extended versions of films.  In that trilogy, the extended cuts add so much more character, story, and excitement to the story.  But most extended cuts only give you a little more texture to the characters and fill in small story gaps.

The Ultimate Edition of Batman v. Superman is the latter.

The restored scenes were interesting enough, but it did not make the movie remarkably better or different.

I also wish there were better bonus features that took you deeper in to the filmmaking process.  And the documentary about Wonder Woman's history is kinda awful.  I understand them ignoring some of the less than savory aspects of life of Wonder Woman's creator, but the documentary was almost hagiographic.  And they kept shoehorning Wonder Woman into the role of feminist and social justice icon.  This wouldn't be bad except it seemed to be her ONLY role in the pop culture.  The people they interviewed were strangely chosen and served more to pull me away from the character than draw me towards her.  I like that in the end, Geoff Johns says that you want to move away from only this narrow point of view and show how she is universally archetypal.  But the documentary does nothing to bolster Johns' point.

7.  Primal Emotions

This movie is about primal things.  I think if we an understand that it will unlock a lot of the character keys.  Notice the shot of Bruce holding the orphan child as he looks at Superman.  Bruce became an orphan and was powerless to save his parents.  But when he holds that child, orphaned like him, you can see him project that rage onto Superman.  The murder of his parents created the primal rage and fear and understanding that makes his hatred of Superman make so much emotional sense.

Lex is the child of abuse.  He will always be the boy who was hurt by his father, the original bully.  That pain broke him and he projected his rage onto Superman too.

Clark's love is also primal.  Lex knows that the first love of his life is his mother.  Superman is reduced to a helpless child when his mother is in danger because of that primal love.

And this is where the key turning point rings hollow for many people but not for me.  Many believed the use of the name "Martha" was a cheesy cop out.  I disagree.  Remember, Bruce became Batman because of his failure to save Martha and Thomas.  The mention of saving Martha would obviously give him pause.  But when he learns that Martha is the name of Clark's mother, he is able to make an emotional connection he had not even considered.  Remember, he said that Superman wasn't brave because "Men are brave."  That means that he does not see Superman as a man.  He is an alien threat like the invaders from Independence Day.  But the moment he realizes that in his last moments, all Superman wants to do is save his mother Martha, Batman cannot help but see him as a man.  And not just a man: he is a son trying to save his mommy.

That is the primal connection between Batman and Superman and that works perfectly for me.

8.  Action Fatigue.

As much as I love this film, it is very much like many of the blockbusters in the last few years that fill the third act with long, epic action sequences.  And as good as they are, there is a pacing issue at work.  Movies can only keep going full throttle for so long before even the most intense action sequences become a bit fatiguing.  You should always leave them wanting more, but it is difficult to do that when you stay on stage so long.  This is not a specific criticism of this movie, but of a general problem that this film exemplifies.

9.  Great Dialogue

I love the dialogue of this movie.  I found it witty, philosophical, evocative, and provocative.  The characters raise questions that your mind chews on like "Must there be a Superman?"  The conversation between Clark and Bruce when they first meet has such wonderfully delicious subtext and Bruce begins to peel back the facade the angrier he gets.  I love it when he calls Clark "son" in such an emasculating tone.


Anyway, those are some of my thoughts.  What are yours?  Please share in the comments section.