Category Archives: Reviews

Movie Review: Accidental Courtesy

accidental-courtesyDaryl Davis has an unusual hobby. Though primarily known as an accomplished musician who has performed all over the world with legends like Chuck Berry and Little Richard, in his spare time he likes to meet and befriend members of the Ku Klux Klan. Daryl has built his relationships person by person and his campaign has proved remarkably effective. Many members of the KKK he has connected with have been forced to reconsider their beliefs, with some even leaving the organization as a result.

Davis has collected hoods, robes and other artifacts from friends who have left the Klan, building a collection piece by piece, story by story, person by person in hopes of eventually opening a “Museum of the Klan.”

Accidental Courtesy is a rare and powerful portrait of a man who has truly embodied the idea that real and profound change happens one person at a time. He also shows that grassroots movements work when they embrace in person one-on-one interactions. It is a controversial concept that not everyone agrees with, but one that seems particularly important in the wake of the recent election.

Directed by Matt Ornstein, Accidental Courtesy is a fascinating documentary focusing on one man’s interesting life as he wins over one racist at a time. While Daryl Davis is the main focus on the film it also is a bigger look at race relations through the years and especially today. Davis is followed as he seeks out old friends he inspired to leave the Klan and those still active in the organization today, as well as academics, civil rights activists, and neo-Nazis as he attempts to answer his lifelong question: “How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?”

That final question is a theme of the film and it asks that question not to racists but also to Black Lives Matter activists who Davis meets. And that sit down is one of the most interesting of the film and really pivots it in many ways. Where was Davis during recent rallies and protests? Is he a traitor to his own race? Is his work really having an impact? There’s no clear answers and the viewer is left to make up their own mind but Ornstein examines Davis’ world much like Davis examines the world around him.

Davis explores his mission with a sort of anthropological glee as an outsider and the film explains what in his history led to this. Agree or disagree with Davis, his mission and interactions comes off as either really brave or really naive. But, what’s clear is that Davis has changed hearts and minds in his work. We see it on the screen. We meet some of the people.

I have no idea how long this film has been in the works but with the veil lifted in America and racism and racists out and proud, the documentary is timely and provides one route by which we can make the world better and a person who’s doing it. Davis shows it’s possible to change the world one person at a time.

Overall Rating: 9.5

Graphic Policy was provided with a FREE screener for review

Movie Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Star Wars Rogue OneI went into Rogue One: A Star Wars Story with high expectations, especially after a high bar was set with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and while the film succeeds in many ways, it also fails too creating an end result that’s rather mixed in its quality.

While previous Star Wars films featured war as a setting (and a battle here and there), this is the first film to really dive into the battle, especially for a final quarter of the film that’s a mix of the Dirty Dozen, Saving Private Ryan, and numerous other “classic” war films.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a prequel in many ways directly tied into Star Wars: A New Hope, the film that started it all. The main focus is dealing with the man behind the construction of the Death Star and then stealing the plans for the Death Star. And while that happens the cast expands as a rag tag group forms for the final act of the film and all out assault against the Empire that shifts from a guerilla incursion to a massive battle and that really sums up the film in many ways, a slow build until that final battle.

Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones) is initially joined by Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and K-2SO (Alan Tydyk) to find a defecting Empire pilot who has a message from Erso’s father about a new super weapon. This sets them on their adventure where they are eventually joined by Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang) two individuals who have a Solo/Chewbacca buddy buddy thing about them. And there lies an issue. Other than Erso, I couldn’t tell you anyone’s names, I had to look all of that up. They’re somehow both memorable and forgettable.

The characters feel very unique for the Star Wars universe (other than Luna’s Andor) they’re also cookie cutter types we see in other films of this nature. You have the sneaky person in Andor, reluctant leader in Erso, muscle with K-2SO, mystic kung-fu person in Îmwe, and heavy gunner with Malbus. It’s not unique in the big picture of cinema, but each character’s look and style has character and stands out from the previous seven films. That extends to many of other notables who they come across like the underused Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera.

But, while the characters of the Alliance/Rebels feel full of life, that’s in contrast to the Empire’s paint by numbers bureaucrats and generic soldiers. The villains aren’t too memorable in this instance, there’s nothing that stands out other than some new Storm Troopers clad in black and some other ships we haven’t seen before. And that blandness extends to the mission itself, sneak in and steal the plans of the Death Star… eventually. That’s the last quarter of the film with the previous 3/4’s build up being emotionally bland but visually impressive.

The film does put forth an interesting discussion about war itself as we see the destructive power of the Death Star in a visual awe that mimics the setting off of an atomic bomb. The film itself seems to tread the line of that discussion, whether you can put the genie back in the bottle and what should be done once it’s loose. There’s also a focus on sacrifice due to one’s belief with those standing up within the Rebels willing to give their lives for the mission. When battling tyranny should one play it safe and cautious? Or should one fight every step of the way. There’s a debate at the core of the film about that… but that’s a debate saved for much later after sitting through a long set-up.

The film saves itself in that last quarter when the assault begins with an ending that will make you forget everything you just watched in a perfectly executed finale that shows exactly how to tie-in a film as a prequel. The flow from Rogue One to A New Hope is seamless but also creates a situation where the film doesn’t really stand up on its own. It’s a prequel. If that last 10 minutes is taken away the film wouldn’t nearly have been as entertaining.

There’s a lot of good with Rogue One. It presents a visual feast and it’s a film that shows Star Wars can work in more genre types than what we’ve seen. I had just hoped as a film it’d stand up a bit more on its own and be a ride from beginning to end. Instead, it’s a slow star that builds up to a climactic battle that’s worth the price of admission.

Overall Rating: 7.85

Movie Review: Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange PosterLike a good magician Doctor Strange focuses on the spectacle rather than the substance giving us a visual feast that lacks much depth. follows the story of the talented neurosurgeon Doctor Stephen Strange who, after a tragic car accident, must put ego aside and learn the secrets of a hidden world of mysticism and alternate dimensions. Based in New York City’s Greenwich Village, Doctor Strange must act as an intermediary between the real world and what lies beyond, utilizing a vast array of metaphysical abilities and artifacts to protect the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Based on the classic Marvel character, Doctor Strange was created by Steve Ditko in 1963 first appearing in Strange Tales #110. Known for its trippy visuals, the movie is a basic adaptation of the character focused on special FX as opposed to the story itself.

After having watched the film, it struck me that the movie and character is very much a mystical Iron Man sharing a lot with that character’s first movie and its main character Tony Stark. Both characters are narcissistic womanizers who live fast and play hard, each with their own god complex and only accepting perfection. Each character is injured and seek help to heal themselves eventually getting a suit of armor to help them survive and fight their battles. In Iron Man’s case it’s a literal suit of armor and with Strange it’s an armor of spells… and a cloak. So, Iron Man, but with Christopher Nolan’s aesthetic from Inception.

Directed by Scott Derrickson the film bends reality literally as buildings shift and characters jump around space as if it’s a game of Portal on acid. All of that is impressive and the strongest part of the movie. It distracts you from a main character that doesn’t grow a whole lot and generally unlikeable as a person and a supporting cast that doesn’t have a ton to do.

The content of the film remains pretty faithful for the character hitting the right moments and keeping the basics. Magic is given a bit more of a scientific explanation, and characters and locations are changed a bit as well (which is a whole other issue).

Benedict Cumberbatch does a fine job in the lead role. Lets face it a lot of the film is him being a dick and the rest is his waving his hands and arms in the air casting spells. But, we see a little growth for the character, but there’s still issues that make him generally unlikeable. An example is his inability to take responsibility for the results of his actions. He’s right and do what he wants, then maybe apologize later. It’s a similar role Tony Stark plays, but Stark has a deeper back story and has absolutely grown through his films (and that is a difference, one film from a half dozen).

Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton, and a wasted Benjamin Bratt are all in supporting roles and generally their talent isn’t used enough. Ejofor is used the best and his Baron Mordo will be a character that should be very entertaining in films to come. Swinton’s role is the mystical guru and her line readings are like a child telling you there is no spoon. McAdams plays flustered or confused for most of the film while Benedict Wong stands out among the bunch. Mikkelsen’s villain is rather boring and he’s a step up and change from the usual evil businessmen that populate previous Marvel Cinematic films. There’s line readings, but the acting isn’t there. I rarely felt realy emotion.

The story itself we could debate if there’s a bigger meaning involing religious extermists, but maybe that’s a discussion for another time.

The movie is amazing visually as the world shifts and turns and 3D is a must. This is the first film I think I’ve seen where the 3D is an absolute and you should skip the 2D. And it’s the visuals you’re going for. They are the draw of a film that feels like it suffers from Marvel’s usual first movie blues. It’s entertaining, but we’ve seen so much better.

Overall Rating: 7.65

Movie Review: Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders

batman-return-of-the-caped-crusaders-2016-movie-posterIt’s back to the 1960s as Batman and Robin spring into action when Gotham City is threatened by a quartet of Batman’s most fiendish foes – Penguin, The Joker, Riddler and Catwoman. The four Super-Villains have combined their wicked talents to hatch a plot so nefarious that the Dynamic Duo will need to go to outer space (and back) to foil their arch enemies and restore order in Gotham City. It’s a truly fantastic adventure that will pit good against evil, good against good, evil against evil … and feature two words that exponentially raise the stakes for both sides: Replicator Ray. Holy Multiplication Tables!

Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders is the newest animated film based on DC Comic characters, but this one has a twist,, we’re back in the world of Batman ’66. Yes, the classic television show has a movie! It’s not just the characters that are returning, it’s some of the actors too. Adam West (Batman), Burt Ward (Robin) and Julie Newmar (Catwoman) are all involved providing their voices to the roles they helped defined and are celebrated all these years later.

The animated film captures the vibe created by the live action series with the “biff” “pow” and more in a psychedelic story that you just need to go with. It’s campy. It’s really campy, which is exactly what you’d expect in a Batman story. And that’s a lot of the fun of the movie as it really nails everything the classic series is loved and/or hated for. The movie is as much as an homage to the old series as it is a send-up of it as well. Scenes are taken over the top with winks and nods all throughout.

The story is out there involving duplicator rays and Batman turning evil, but that seriously doesn’t matter. If you don’t laugh at the concept of a “Batman AntiAntidote” you won’t appreciate the film at all.

It’s fantastic to hear the voices of West, Ward, and Newmar in their classic roles. There’s a weird disconnect for some as the voices sound a bit aged, but the characters obviously haven’t. Still, their readings are beyond fantastic. And those who are bringing other older characters to life are solid as well. The Joker, Penguin, Riddler, all reminded me of the classic television characters and blended seamlessly.

The movie as a whole is a solid blend of old and new and you’ll likely get excited as soon as the classic television theme starts playing. The power of animation has captured what made the show special and also allowed it to do things it’d never be able to due to the restrictions of live action. From Gotham to space and back, the movie is goofy fun that’ll put a smile on your face when it finally wraps up.

Here’s looking to more adventures to come.

Overall Rating: 8.6

Warner Bros. provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Movie Review: Shin Godzilla

shin-godzilla-11x17-poster_300-dpi_rgbShin Godzilla opens strong and never loses momentum. As the first Japanese Godzilla film after the franchise went on hiatus in 2004, fan expectations were higher than they’d been since Godzilla: Final Wars twelve years prior. Toho made the wise decision to return with as strong an entry as possible, tapping Hideaki Anno of Neon Genesis Evangelion fame to write the franchise reboot. With Shinji Higuchi co-directing, Anno crafted a Godzilla film unlike any other in the franchise. If you are a longtime Godzilla fan, how well you react to changes in the classic Godzilla formula will determine whether this movie works for you or fails. Speaking as a fan for over 20 years, it worked almost flawlessly.

Most of the time, when reviewing a Godzilla film, you can fill a couple paragraphs rehashing details about the franchise. You spend some time waxing poetic about the gravitas and somber tone of the original Gojira , you shift to the later films and work the phrase “b-movie shlock” in somewhere, and you make a condescending remark about rubber suits or cardboard buildings. The review at that point is almost halfway done and you can glide through the rest without a lot of extra work. I’ve seen it argued that the movies themselves occasionally show a similar lack of originality, with writers returning to standbys like Mechagodzilla or Mothra as Godzilla’s foes in the years before the hiatus.

Shin Godzilla is exactly the kind of film the franchise needed: it’s unique and original and takes serious risks with its changes to the classic formula. In this film, Godzilla is more a creature than a character – he is eerily silent through most of the film, attacks reactively when the military strikes him first and displays none of the intelligence and personality that previous incarnations have. This Godzilla is a natural disaster in the purest sense, his motivations unknown and the devastation he causes completely merciless. This shift in focus serves as a way to get to the film’s primary concern: social and political commentary about Japan itself. This is a film where kaiju action is interspersed with board meetings by committees and government officials.shingodzilla_jpn_1998x1080p24_dnxhrlb_1-52-40-18_rgb

While that might sound boring, the film doesn’t drag. The numerous meetings, where characters are introduced with job titles displayed on the screen (a running gag as characters’ titles get longer as they are promoted or other characters are written out of the film), all serve a purpose: showing how in the wake of a disaster nobody could predict or prepare for, the biggest threat to Japan is the inability of its government to act swiftly. In the wake of the Fukushima disaster, Shin Godzilla examines not only how Japan as a nation responds to disaster but how the United States and the UN treat Japan during a crisis. Shin Godzilla doesn’t overdo these ideas, thankfully – there’s no monologue from the Prime Minister about whether he should bow to pressure from the UN. Instead, we watch outsiders in the Japanese government as a group of scientists, assistants, and novice politicians comes together as a special committee that ignores honorific titles and openly shares information with businesses and other countries. It’s this group of people who eschew traditional bureaucracy that make real progress and move the plot forward.

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Anno and Higuchi don’t just show their human characters discarding traditions, of course: it can’t be stressed enough how unique this interpretation of Godzilla is. In other movies it’s easy to read motivation and intent into his actions – Godzilla is a character in the films, usually the star. Here, calling him a villain feels misleading since aside from destroying buildings as he walks Godzilla’s attacks are all retaliation toward the Japanese and US military. This incarnation of Godzilla changes form multiple times in the movie, each time displaying new abilities to defend himself. The film uses Godzilla’s screen time to great effect, establishing him as a serious threat early on and upping the stakes every time he’s onscreen. This Godzilla has the most raw destructive power the franchise has ever seen, and when Shin Godzilla shows us what he can really do even his classic atomic breath is taken in a new direction that left my theater awestruck.

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Shin Godzilla is in many ways emblematic of the Godzilla franchise as a whole. Switching from humorous political commentary to kaiju destruction and back with ease, the movie is a lens through which Anno and Higuchi examine Japan’s future and past. In the west we tend to view the Godzilla franchise as having somehow fallen from grace – critics breathlessly praise the original Gojira and then talk about how campy and silly later film installments are – but to me the point of Shin Godzilla is that the franchise can’t be boiled down to one single idea. One individual Godzilla movie can’t convey every idea the franchise has had or every message it’s tried to send, and that’s why Shin Godzilla works. Shin Godzilla focuses on one specific idea: new ideas. New ideas are what save Japan from destruction, new ideas are what set this film apart from the rest of the franchise, and new ideas are what Toho Studios needs to make Shin Godzilla the first film in a revitalized and inspired new era of kaiju film. If Toho sticks to the ideas that Shin Godzilla stresses most, this movie is a sign of great things to come.

Movie Review: Suicide Squad

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As one of my most anticipated films of 2016, it’s safe to say Suicide Squad had a lot to live up to! It seemed like it would be the stepping stone for DCEU, after the abomination of a movie that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was. The teaser trailer was spectacular. The first trailer was very good as well. Then, for some reason, Warner Bros. went in a completely different direction with the second trailer. Even though I found it alright, it wasn’t as captivating as the other two; as it seemed like the generic blockbuster. Suicide Squad was supposed to be unusual, distinctive and crazy. Unfortunately, it was none of these.

The movie follows Amanda Waller as she assembles a team of extremely dangerous prisoners because she feels the world needs to have a contingency plan if the bad version of Superman comes down to Earth. Followed by a million intros for the characters, coupled with a most obvious choice of music for each of them.Subsequently, they are sent to fight the belly-dancing Enchantress trying to destroy humanity by building ‘a machine’. That is the entire plot: a bunch of crazy, self-absorbed individuals without superpowers (most of them anyways) have to fight this extremely powerful witch and her plain-obvious CGI brother. There’s no second act or plot development.

Harley Quinn, Diablo and Deadshot are the only characters with some barely perceptible character development. Everyone else was either pointless (Boomerang, Slipknot, Katana), or contradicting in their beliefs (Waller). With Harley Quinn we get some flashbacks about how she became the way she is; but even those are equivocal and scarce, as they are too short to figure out exactly what’s happening.

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The main problem with this film is that we are supposed to believe these characters are the most dangerous people on the planet! However, throughout the film we never really get a sense of this – save for, possibly, Harley. On a number of occasions, we are told they are ominous – although we are never actually shown how.

It’s not all gloom and doom though! There are moments when the humour works, and these scenes are wonderful – if not far too negligible . The actors do their best with the lines they have. Most of the so-called villains throw one-liners, and just a few of them land. The music score (not the soundtrack) also has some curious cues, which work when put into practice. The soundtrack, on the other hand, is awful in its usage! Whenever on, it is overbearing, distracting and even unpleasant. It serves only to prevent one from becoming entirely acquainted with the characters and tells you how to feel too insistently.

The action is as memorable as the editing is abhorrent! Half the time you are lost, due to the bad geography and constant cuts. In addition, the film doesn’t flow – the chronology is all over the place and there is no consistency.

The Joker was heavily featured in the ad campaign, however, we only see fleeting glimpses of him during the film itself. Turns out it wasn’t so that we are amazed by the end result, but because there isn’t much of him in the film. He pops up every once in a while for 30 seconds in either a flashback or as a deux ex machina. On that front alone, I was truly disappointed!

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Suicide Squad is non-refutably a box-office success, for now at least. Nevertheless, due to rushed decisions, it feels like two films have collided into one; just like Fantastic Four. It is not as bad but has more flaws than strengths.

In conclusion, it’s entertaining enough that you won’t fall asleep, but do not come with high expectations, otherwise you will be let down. I am sure Warner Brother will try to fix the film for the Blu-Ray release, by including a lot of the missing scenes shown in the trailer; however, as this is the second time this year they have done so, isn’t it becoming a pattern?

Overall Rating: 4

Movie Review: Star Trek: Beyond

CHEKOV SULU SPOCK

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BONES UHURA SCOTTY

 Paramount Pictures is back at it again with their third installment of the rebooted Start Trek series featuring Chris Pine (Captain Kirk), Zacahary Quinto (Spock), Karl Urban (Bones McCoy), Simon Pegg (Chief Engineer Scotty), Zoe Saldana (Lieutenant Uhura), John Cho (Hikaru Sulu), Anton Yelchin (Pavel Chekov) the U.S.S. Enterprise and directed by Fast Furious savior Justin Lin

It’s been 3 years since the events of “Into Darkness” and 3 years that the Enterprise has been on its’ 5-year mission. After docking at a Starfleet base called “Yorktown”, the Enterprise ventures into a dangerous new uncharted territory, where a ruthless new enemy with a deep hatred of the Federation destroys the Enterprise and strands Kirk and his crew on a remote planet. Can Kirk reunite his crew and stop this dangerous new threat?

After Star Trek: Into Darkness I was left speechless and wondering if the next movie could top such an awesome cinematic adventure. Going into Star Trek: Into Darkness I was very leery because I really disliked the Original Wrath of Kahn and when I heard that they were infact doing a Wrath of Khan reboot I was very scared. But was proven wrong with how solid plot was combined with the acting of Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) as Khan, Alice Eve (Men In Black 3) as Carol Marcus, Peter Weller (Robocop) as Admiral Marcus and Bruce Greenwood (Double Jeopardy) as Admiral Pike.

Star Trek: Beyond for the most part is a fast paced movie with tons of action which is pretty typical however this time most of it was done without the U.S.S. Enterprise and I think this is where Director Justin Lin shines the brightest as we have seen with his work in the Fast and Furious films. There was a lot of hand to hand combat and as with the first film of the rebooted franchise there was a new villain to get acclimated to named Krall played by Idris Elba (Thor, Pacific Rim) who has a bone to pick with the Federation and surprisingly enough he had a legit beef and a new hero name Jayla who spent most of her life stranded on this Class M planet and at one point had been held captive by Krall, played by Sofia Boutella.

In separate ways both Spock and Kirk are struggling emotionally with their lives. Kirk is trying to figure out who he is and why he’s in Starfleet and Spock has learned that a part of him has gone away and now he is wondering what to make of his situation which puts a strain on his relationship with Uhura. The theme to this movie is Strength in Unity and because of the adventure the Crew of the Enterprise went through has brought them even closer together.

This is the first Star Trek Movie since the passing of Leonard Nemoy and the writers did an amazing job in incorporating a small tribute to him and Ambassador Spock Prime. Also a month prior to the film being released on Father’s Day Pavel Chekov actor Anton Yelchin tragically passed away when his Jeep rolled backwards pining Yelchin to a security gate at his home suffocating him. It was hard not feeling sad every time he was on-screen. Thankfully the 4th installment of Star Trek will not replace Anton Yelchin with another actor, which I believe is the right thing to do and I can’t wait to see how they are going to honor him in the film.

Overall Star Trek: Beyond is a cinematic masterpiece and respectfully done for those who are Trekkies (like myself) and those who are new to the Star Trek universe. It was visually stunning, well written and fast paced that never seemed to drag out which is a hard feet to do with a 2 plus hour movie. I hope the next installment (which is rumored to bring back Chris Helmsworth as George Kirk) lives up to both Star Trek: Into Darkness as Well as Star Trek: Beyond. I highly recommend you go out and see this film. It will not disappoint!

The Killing Joke: How the Adaptation Made it More Problematic and Less Fave

Despite the Killing Joke‘s place in the history of fridging women in superhero comics, I still have a great fondness for the Alan Moore/Brian Bolland story (in fact, I’ve often thought that the story could have been done without fridging Barbara Gordon at all) and so when I heard that it was going to be turned into an animated movie with Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, and Bruce Timm, I was thrilled and I got myself a ticket. (I even accidentally showed up a week early because I forgot which Monday the screening was…)

And then came rumors about the adaptation, and then came SDCC. I felt genuinely torn about whether to go ahead – if it was as bad as it sounded, I didn’t want to support the film; on the other hand, I hadn’t seen the film and wanted to be able to judge from primary evidence. Plus, I’d already bought the ticket and a bunch of my friends were going, so I waffled my way into going.

So is it as bad as people at SDCC thought? In some ways no, and in some ways it’s worse.

WARNING: Spoilers in full for the Killing Joke, which involves violence against women.

The Prologue:

So first let’s talk about the not-as-bad. Some of the reviews and first impressions that have come out suggest that “we meet Barbara Gordon as a young librarian who has started donning the Batgirl costume in order to attract the attention of Batman.” While everyone’s experience of a film is subjective, I think this reading is based on a mis-reading of one particular line.

There’s a scene in the Prologue where Batgirl is arguing with Batman over being taken off a case and she yells at him that she “got into this because of you.” (By the way, all of these quotes from the film should be taken as paraphrase from memory because I didn’t have the opportunity to take notes and there’s no script available) The context of her line is that Batman’s just told her that he doesn’t trust her because costumed crime-fighting is just a game for her, whereas Batgirl is pointing out that she became Batgirl because she was inspired by Batman and he’s been acting as her mentor. The two of them don’t have a sexual relationship at this point nor is Batgirl actively trying to start one, so I find this reading strange because it pushes the (arguably rather sexist) narrative that Batgirl is some sort of crazed groupie.

What might have led people to that conclusion is that after this line, Batgirl and Batman have sex. Now, I don’t necessarily have a problem with this in the abstract. While some might feel that “Batman has had a primarily parental relationship with Barbara, which makes this scene problematic for many fans on its most basic level,” I don’t agree. Having watched a lot of the Adam West show where Batgirl was substantially older than Robin and Batman would go into these rhapsodies about the perfume of this mystery woman, the idea isn’t without precedent.

However, the handling of this plotline is horrible, in ways that do minor damage to Barbara’s character, but arguably way more damage to Batman’s character. It’s bad enough that there is this framing of Barbara being hot for her yoga teacher, although her line that she has “a man in her life” is as much to try to fend off her camp gay coworker who might as well have stepped out of Patton Oswalt’s sketch on the “Gay Best Friend” as it is a statement of her interest. But what’s much worse is that the act itself is a horrible cliche slap-slap-kiss moment, where Batgirl is fighting Batman on a roof because she’s hit her limit with Batman’s bullshit, judo-flips him into the ground, and then pins him, and then they fuck. While a gargoyle watches.

(Poor guys can’t even close their eyes…)

In the sold-out screening I was in, this was a moment where the entire audience erupted in groans and laughter, because it was such a cheesy scene and didn’t fit Barbara Gordon’s character at all. The rooftops location, the fight-fight-kiss dynamic, the costumes – this is a Catwoman scene and it’s a played-out Catwoman scene at that.

Is what follows accurately described as her “using sex and then pining for Bruce,” as Jeremy Konrad said in that now-infamous Comic-Con panel? No. In fact, it’s kind of the reverse (and this is why I said the Prologue does more damage to Batman than Batgirl). Batgirl handles the event like an adult, telling Batman that “it’s just sex, it doesn’t have to be a thing,” rather than trying to manipulate him in any way. It’s Batman who acts like an immature asshole, refusing to work with her or take her calls, and generally acting like a remote, emotionally-stunted jackass.

All of which reinforces the basic problem with Batman in the Prologue: he’s a giant control freak who literally tells Batgirl that she has to do everything he says, who orders her “off the case” like some grizzled police captain in an 80s buddy-cop film, and who tells Batgirl he doesn’t trust her because she hasn’t stared into “the abyss… where all hope dies.” (which is a really hoary 90′s grimdark anti-hero trope, lands with a thud in the moment, and arguably contradicts the thematic thrust of Moore’s story), and who literally mansplains objectification to Batgirl. (Yes, at some level he’s explaining it for the audience, but it’s still fucked up that it’s him doing it rather than Barbara, who as a grown woman knows far better than he what being objectified by a man is like.)

Needless to say, this doesn’t fit the Batman of the Killing Joke, who’s in an unusually introspective, empathetic, and contemplative mood – meeting with Joker in Arkham Asylum because he’s worried he’s going to end up killing him, rushing to comfort Jim Gordon, offering to rehabilitate the Joker. More on this when we get to that part of the movie. So there’s a really weird disconnection between the two halves of the movie, as we’re really getting two Batman, one written by Brian Azzarello and Bruce Timm and one written by Alan Moore, and the two don’t feel like they’re the same person.

Speaking of Azzarello and Timm, we have to talk about the source of the conflict between Batgirl and Batman, the main bad guy of the Prologue. He’s a brand-new villain named Perry Franz (mon dieu), a would-be high-tech crime-boss who becomes obsessed with Batgirl (to the point of hiring a sex worker to wear a Batgirl mask while they have sex) when she foils an armored-truck robbery. This guy is clearly meant to be a parallel to the Joker – he’s got the whole Xanatos Gambit thing going, he plays this cat-and-mouse game where he’s leaving messages for Batgirl with the cops and taunts her over the phone, and so on. Batman argues that Batgirl is letting Perry get to her and she’s underestimating him, and she rightfully takes this as Batman thinking she’s not up to the task.

However, Perry is just not that impressive, ultimately nothing more than the shallow “punk” Batgirl pegs him as when they first meet. In addition to the thing with the sex worker and the messages, his go-to move when they first fight is to roofie her (it’s not just a knockout gas, he talks about having “fun” with her after she passes out, although thankfully Batgirl manages to save herself). When you get right down to it, he’s a date rapist whose master crime come down to a failed bank robbery and stealing his uncle’s online banking password.

Now, I disagree with those who’ve argued that, in the film, “the damnable part is that Batman is proven right” about Barbara not being ready. In the final clash, Batman is the one who underestimates Perry, who hits the Batmobile with a couple RPGs, wounding him and forcing him into a desperate struggle to survive against machine-gun wielding thugs. Batgirl is the one who saves him with a motorcycle-and-steverdore’s hook combo, and she’s the one who takes down Perry. This is probably where Azzarello and Timm were coming from with the “she’s a strong character” argument.

But where they fall short is the follow-through. Even though Batgirl saves Batman, we don’t get a scene where he thanks her or admits that he was wrong and learned a lesson – the “strong female character” stuff that Azzarello and Timm argued they were doing isn’t incorporated into the text. Instead, Batgirl beats the living shit out of Perry because “you ruined everything” – and this, rather than the scene where she has sex with Batman on the roof is where she sounds like a crazied groupie – and this is her moment of staring into the abyss. Because she loses her temper and administers a beating far less egregious than many that Batman has handed out (which I think is what Timm was gesturing to with his comment about “pining over the violence”) because of this penny-ante and flimsy one-shot villain, she decides to hang up the cowl and stop being Batgirl. (Which again, kind of works against the Killing Joke’s story..)

It’s far too inconsequential and disconnected from any core elements of Barbara’s character – her family or friends, her motives for fighting crime, a more established villain with a stronger personal connection – to carry the weight of what should be a momentous decision. And that, rather than the fact that she has sex with Batman, is what weakens Batgirl as a character.

The Killing Joke:

What makes all of these creative choices so strange is that it’s not like the controversy over the Killing Joke was news to anyone involved. Everyone on the creative team knew very well that the problem with the Killing Joke is the Joker shooting and paralyzing Barbara Gordon in order to motivate Jim Gordon and Batman. It’s a classic case of fridging, and the gendered nature of the event is further emphasized by the Joker taking nude photos of Barbara to use in his haunted house ride.

No matter whether you think that Barbara becoming Oracle was an important moment for the representation of the disabled or whether you prefer the New 52 or Batgirl of Burnside as a reclamation of the character, the moment is still ugly, feeding into the worst aspects of 90s comics, and is ultimately unnecessary. There’s quite a few ways to make the story work without that scene, and it oddly contradicts the moment at the end of the comic where the Joker turns the joke-flag gun on Batman.

So you think they would have approached the adaptation with that in mind. Instead, as I’ve already suggested, the two halves clash. Given that in the comics, Barbara’s paralyzing was the moment where she had to stop being Batgirl and become Oracle instead, the Prologue has her retired when she’s attacked. Likewise, given that Batman’s had a much closer relationship with her than he did at this point in the comic, the fact that they decided to do the comic essentially page-for-page makes Batman’s very limited interactions with Barbara and muted emotional response both to the physical damage done to her and the Joker’s sexualization of the attack read like a non-response to what should be a huge deal. Moreover, it conflicts with Batman’s major arc in the story – his attempt to reach out to the Joker, even in the end, makes him seem completely uncaring about his former lover.

And of course, there’s the moment itself, which you’d think the creators of the film would treat with heightened sensitivity. Instead, the moment is intensified (in what is otherwise a very faithful adaptation of the comic) in two ways: first, the “shot” is held on what is the second-to-last panel on the right, with the Joker slowly moving his hand down Barbara’s chest and then the “camera” showing us Barbara’s opened shirt and bra. Second, later on when Batman is canvassing the city for the Joker, there’s an elaboration of a single panel where Batman’s interviewing a group of sex workers where we learn that the first thing that the Joker does when he gets out is to make use of their services, but this time he hasn’t and maybe he’s found a new girl. Now, you can argue that the Joker hasn’t come by because he’s busy with his quasi-suicidal mission to break Gordon and Batman, but the text leaves itself open to the interpretation that Joker did something more than just photograph Barbara.

As I’ve said above, the above page is my least favorite part of the comic, and even the people who don’t have a problem with that section will generally agree that the heart of the comic is in the hypothetical backstory for the Joker, his argument to Jim Gordon that madness is the only rational response to an irrational and random universe, his attempt to prove that any ordinary person is capable of turning into the Joker as a result of “one bad day,” Jim Gordon’s defiant hold on his sanity and his belief in the capacity of human beings to create meaning through institutions like the law, and Batman’s attempt to reach out to the Joker. So how does the film handle that?

The answer is that it does only an okay job, there’s a few moments where it becomes something special (I especially love this shot of the Joker watching the carnival lights come on, because it has some energy that’s often missing), but nothing near good enough to make up for everything it gets wrong that we’ve already talked about. Kevin Conroy is fine, Mark Hamill puts in a great vocal performance, but the art and direction fall short of what Moore and Bolland and John Higgins (the colorist) accomplished on the page. For example, let’s take the famous last page of the comic, shown above. There’s a lot that can and has been said about these nine panels – the use of the palette of reds and purples and oranges and yellows that runs throughout the comic, the way that the headlights turn into the flashlight beam from the joke (which Moore has already set up from the scene where Batman goes to the lunatic asylum, which he further emphasizes with the use of repeating dialogue), the ambiguity of the laughter and the siren that convinced Grant Morrison that Batman killed the Joker, and on and on.

In the movie? It’s just a shot of a puddle. No beam of light, no paralleling, nothing of what made this comic special in the first place. Maybe Alan Moore was right – there are some things comics can do that movies can’t.

Movie Review: Lucha Mexico

LuchaMexico_Poster-7In Mexico, the fight between good and evil has been waged every week for decades, thrilling generations of fans with the spectacle of Lucha Libre. Real-life superheroes and villains, these masked wrestlers put their lives on the line night after night to entertain the legions of fans. Gaining unprecedented access to all the major Lucha promotions, Alex Hammond and Ian Markiewicz offer an entertaining, no holds barred look at some of the sport’s top performers, featuring the “1000% Guapo” Shocker, Luchador heir Blue Demon Jr, the tragic hardcore wrestler El Hijo Del Perro Aguayo, and extreme American bodybuilder Jon “Strongman” Andersen. Lucha Mexico goes behind the mask, on a journey into the heart of Mexico.

The little I know of Lucha Libre is the few wrestlers that crossed over the US wrestling during the period I was watching it (mostly mid to late 90s). I’ve never watched Mexican wrestling and the larger than life characters are an area I know little about.

This documentary is a fascinating dive into that world, perfect for folks interested in finding out more about this world of masked heroes and villains. The spectacle of Lucha Libre is different than American wrestling, though there’s some things the two share. There’s a long history and love for the two styles, but the mask versus non-masked is an example of something that’s very unique to the Lucha Libre style.

Revolving around a few of those personalities, the film is a great introduction to this world and gives a narrative that’s at times heartbreaking. There’s highs and lots of lows including death. The film emphasizes the toll this type of entertainment has on individuals. It’s an amazing look and one that’s honest and shows these characters before crowds of thousands and crowds of hundreds and at all times they give it their all.

The film has a lot of subtitles, so if you’re not into that, you might want to skip it, but you’d be missing out on a hell of an entertaining and educational film. If you’re a fan of wrestling, even a tiny interest in it, this is a documentary that’s a must watch.

Overall Rating: 8.15

Movie Review: Ghostbusters (2016)

ghostbusters-2016-posterFollowing a ghost invasion of Manhattan, paranormal enthusiasts Erin Gilbert Abby Yates, nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzmann, and subway worker Patty Tolan band together to stop the otherworldly threat.

I hold the first Ghostbusters film in high regard, being one of my favorite action comedies ever and a film that I can watch over and over. Since 1984, we haven’t had a worthy successor. I’ll straight up say it, Ghostbusters II is an inferior sequel, and I had high hopes, but low expectations, that this Ghostbusters would give us a “sequel” that could breathe new life into the franchise. This film does in some ways and doesn’t in others. It’s a completely uninspired and middling film. Better than I expected, but still not worth the money for a film ticket.

The blame for the film’s issues doesn’t sit on the shoulders of its stars Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones and Chris Hemsworth. The blame for the film’s shortcomings is squarely on Paul Feig for his direction and Feig and Katie Dippold for their script. The film isn’t daring and falls short on laughs. That’s do to the script and the direction. Wiig, McCarthy, McKinnon, Jones and Hemsworth make due with what they’re given and create a mildly entertaining film.

WARNING SPOILERS

The plot of the film is fine. Wiig’s Erin and McCarthy’s Abby are long time friends into ghosts but went their own way to pursue their scientific careers. They’re brought together again, with McKinnon’s Holtzmann joining them to explore some ghostly phenomenon that in the age of YouTube sets them on their path. The villain wants to bring about the apocalypse… because he was bullied?!

And that’s the first issue with the film. The three women are scientists who talk about the scientific method a lot but it’s never really shown. Their belief in science, observing, measuring, experimentation, formulation, testing, and hypotheses is thrown out any time someone challenges them, but it’s not practiced on-screen. Then there’s the villain who makes the statement he’s really smart and people don’t like him for it, so he’s going to destroy everything. Add in the emphasis that Hemsworth’s Kevin is a hunk of an idiot, and one of the film’s main themes is the intelligent vs the idiots. And the intelligent ones in the film come off as elitists. That elitism and arrogance to prove one’s intelligence actually gets someone killed!

That elitism extends to how Jones’ Patty Tolan is treated (her character and acting is one of the surprise standouts of the film). She’s the one not a scientist, working as a MTA worker who has an amazing knowledge of New York City’s history. Her not being a scientist is emphasized a few times and at the end of the film she’s praised for having a good idea to which her retort is something like “of course, I’m a Ghostbuster.” As if the smart folks are within the Ghostbusters club and those not just aren’t all that intelligent and should be looked down upon.

That mentality is shown in Chris Hemsworth’s Kevin who is as good-looking as he is dumb. The actual laughs of the film usually involve his character and something idiotic he does or doesn’t do. That along with a running joke about soup are the majority of laughs. Hemsworth’s ability to play dumb, along with Jones’ abilitiy to play the “straight man” character are to be commended and as far as acting are the standouts though too much of the film is at their expense in some way.

The jokes also are paced too far apart. The film feels like there’s dead air (pun intended) while we wait for the next scare or joke, and there’s just too little of everything. The pacing fails again and again.

Ghostbusters-2016The second issue I have is Feig and Dippold’s choice to not go far enough with the humor. This can be seen mostly with McKinnon’s Holtzmann who is a bat-shit insane version of Egon who does and says inappropriate things. It’s a dialed down version of Pitch Perfect‘s Lilly who would quietly say zany things and stole the show with some of the best lines. Here we begin to that point and then things don’t go far enough to really get the laughs. A perfect example is a scene in the Mayo’s office where she’s saying inappropriate things and messing with FBI agents. Instead of having that run throughout the scene, people either don’t react or it’s off-screen so we know something is happening, but not sure what. I’d have had her clearly doing something, and emphasize that through Abby and Erin’s reactions of trying not to watch her. It becomes an ongoing gag that way.

There are some laughs though. Hemsworth’s idiocy is so stupid it’s funny territory. A running gag with a Chinese restaurant is a joke that’s set up throughout the film and pays off in the credits. There’s some great jabs (and well deserved) at the hate thrown at the film before anyone had screened it. Some jokes fall beyond flat. Hemsworth’s handling of troops at the end is a poor joke choice (really, no “Thriller” dance!?). Slimer’s use too goes in the wrong direction (have him steal a car and give us a kicker scene of his still driving).

The third issue is the inconsistency of the “science” of this world. Proton beams now “kill” ghosts I guess? Except when they want to capture them? Ghosts can be punched now and physically fought with? That scientific method (a particular experimentally obtained value being reproducible) doesn’t seem to apply to the ghosts themselves I guess. Things aren’t consistent in this department at all.

But, again there’s some good. Proton bombs are a nice addition. Proton pistols seem cool, though come out of nowhere. A proton chipper and brass knuckles fall into the silly department.

The special fx are a bit mixed as well. I actually DO enjoy the neon look of the ghosts as well as their design. The problem is they look like something out of a Disney ride and there’s a disconnect between them and the real world. Go back and look at Slimer in the original film’s hotel segment. Though the fx are dated, he still feels like he fits in the world, not that you’re stepping into a video game infused ride to fight him.

I did enjoy the 3D. This was a film I expected the 3D to be good and for the most part it actually is! Ghosts and ectoplasm fly off the screen coming at you and for those paying attention ghosts seem to fly off of the screen’s width and height itself to come back on. They literally break the screen’s framing size in a good way that’s unexpected and works really well.

The failure of this film has nothing to do with the fact it’s four women in the lead. The four of them together play off of each other well and are generally funny. The failure of the film is in the script and the direction. I want there to be a sequel. I want these four to headline that sequel. I just want a new director and writer(s).

Overall Rating: 6.5

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