Thursday, November 30, 2017

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: JUSTICE LEAGUE



The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 


on JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017, 120 minutes, PG-13)


The Quick of It -
I want to say to all the haters, “Suck it.”  But, I will be nice.

It is the latest fashion, I tell you:  to ‘hate’.  And, I will explain why you shouldn’t be so rushed to judge the JUSTICE LEAGUE in an overly-critical manner.  As I now have come to understand it, there is one huge problem when putting together a project like this and hoping to not suffer any backlash.  The key problem?  There is just too much source material.  This maybe a quick and an oversimplified answer, yes… but follow me on this, and my, journey.

The truth is, everyone has been introduced to and experienced the DC Extended Universe in various ways.  Was it the comics?  Was it any of the animated series they offered?  How about the plethora of movies that have had various directors at the helm?  A combination?  And, how has your opinion matured on what is or is not acceptable?  Much has changed as the DCEU has evolved and there are numerous contributors along the way that have helped or hurt your current mindset.


I remember while in middle school, standing out front with the masses waiting for the first bell with a number of friends talking about the world of comics.  There were many young comic book readers back then, and they openly chatted about the latest issue or reminisced over the Silver and Gold ages.  It was kinda like the Greeks in Athens discussing the tenants of democracy.  Kinda… Marvel was constantly the main topic because they always tried crazy gimmicks to keep their readership high.  Now, comics are not as prolific in everyday small talk thanks the billions of other distractions this new technological age has introduced.  At the time, I enjoyed both Universes when I could but lacked the funds to collect all the titles.  So, I drifted to the one that resonated with me the most, Batman.  To put you in the timeline, this was the mid 80’s. 

During my days in high school, DC evolved into something greater.  In 1988, Batman: The Killing Joke was released, and it shook the world.  Then, following that, The Death of Superman.  Another crazy moment in panel-print with the splitting of Superman universes.  DC was getting intense and grew into a more mature style that worked on deeper, and sometimes darker, levels of writing.  Also, 1989 saw the release of Tim Burton’s Batman… a big moment for me (squee!).  I remember the day I sat down in the theater to watch with the family and friends.  The excitement level was super high for my adolescent heart, and I probably cried a little in my popcorn when I heard the Danny Elfman musical opening.  DC reached a new level for comics who were based films at that point.  You must understand, Marvel was not so prolific on the silver screen till much later.  BLADE (1998) was its first real release, and no one cared that it was a Marvel story.  Great movie but everyone was hung up on the vampires.  Some of you reading probably didn’t even know that it was Marvel-based.  So, looking at the bigger picture, Marvel blossomed in the 2000’s with Fantastic Four and X-Men at the start, while DC already cut ground long before.  Superman had already ruled the 80’s and Batman the 90’s.

As time went by and I grew a tad older, I was pulled back into comics with the release of Batman: The Animated Series.  If you didn’t know, which you really should, the series won a number of awards for its progressive style… including four Emmy Awards.  I was hooked.  I would set my VCR to tape episodes so that I wouldn’t miss anything new.  Kevin Conroy will always be Batman’s voice and Mark Hamill the Joker’s.  Never will that change.


So, to jump forward further, we have this rat race between Marvel and DC on film projects.  Marvel seems to have the upper hand with critics.  To explain this, scan back and remember all your experiences with Iron Man.  Hmm… waiting…  Okay, Thor…  Let’s go with Captain America…  I’ll give you one.  The Hulk?  Yes, a fun TV show with a green-painted man and a theme song that will forever haunt you (…such melancholy).  So, when they launched all these guys in the MCU, you’ve had not much to go one except a couple of questionable Hulk films.  For the fanbase, most were ignorant of their beginnings.  The writers could sell you whatever they wanted and you will buy it without question.  How could you argue?


By this point for the DC world, everyone has an opinion and a particular vision of what they want on the silver screen thanks in part to all the potential paths they took to become a full-grown DC fan.  And yes, apparently, everyone can write an amazing script as well, one that will appeal to the snobbish masses who require their version of the story, and nothing else.  If you hadn’t noticed by now after all these films, take note of the problems listed for any of the recent DC films you may have and then compare it to the Marvel films.  You will find that there are a surprising number of things found in the Marvel films that people gave a pass to.  Why is that?  My favorite answer is, “Oh, they just did it better.”  Silly, there was no difference.

So, when watching the JUSTICE LEAGUE, remember that this is just a story made to be entertaining.  You have the power on how the next couple hours will be filled.  It will be a great ride.  Jason Momoa as Aquaman is quite entertaining, almost steeling the scenes with his brash demeaner.  This is something everyone was convinced would be a failed experiment.  Ezra Miller as The Flash, again hilarious in his own way.  (Yes, I supported the thought of having the CW’s Grant Gustin play the role so that the small and large screen was linked in some way.)  Miller filled the role of a na├»ve hero, bringing a sense of wonder and new-found excitement when trying to be a part of something grander.  Gal Gadot… never in question after WONDER WOMAN.  Even Ben Affleck plays the aged Batman with grace and a lot of snark.  One tip of the hat is required for Ray Fisher as Cyborg.  With only half a face, he shows a great range of emotions throughout, making him the surprise winner here on an acting level.


The story is the continuation of the Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice story arc.  The call that Lex Luther mentions is answered by Steppenwolf and he brings the fight to earth, hunting down the Motherboxes.  He is a powerful villain and you never think his defeat is possible as they battle.  Without spoiling, things get crazy and desperate measures are taken.  By the end, Steppenwolf still shines better than most baddies who required a massive team-up to fight to date for the group films.

Yes, there were some questionable calls.  The CGI was over-the-top.  Yes, because superhero movies no longer require CGI at this point, people and filming tricks are on a new level of awesomeness (that’s me being a wise ass).  Some complain Steppenwolf’s CGI was not great… wait for Thanos.  Even in the quick clips, I cringe at what they are thinking is not too cartoony for live action.  When scanning “these here interwebs”, critics seem more interested in trying to present clever jabs and irrelevant issues than discuss the movie.  Again, some seem to have not enjoyed one comic or have very superficial knowledge when it comes to DC superheroes.  


The strongest point I can make would be to reference what a typical person having an opinion that they are offering on a subject that is counterintuitive to their argument.  I heard a particular segment on radio, one where a gentleman said how Star Wars and Lord of the Rings were stupid, or something to that effect.  When trying to defend his opinion to those trying to understand, he also added he had never seen any of the films or read the books.  Again, he said he wouldn’t like them and they are stupid, so why bother.  My problem with that is – “How can you have an opinion if you are completely dismissive?”  Sure, it may not be something you would enjoy, but it sure as hell can’t support your authoritative cry that these things are ‘stupid’ and a waste of time.


For those that do have some inkling of the DCEU, remember your roots but understand that there are many ways to tell a story.  You have the choice on whether you are open to something different or suffer the influence of others.  From the director’s side, it has both Zach Snyder’s darkness – to include the first song Sigrid’s cover of Leonard Cohen “Everybody Knows” (which I know was his decision, being based on Concrete Blonde’s version, we are kindred spirits of that age in music I tell you) and Joss Whedon’s wit and flair (even if he was to keep the same tone as was initially filmed).  There is some sense of disjointed scenes, but what do you expect with two directors, a large cast of Type-A superheroes, and the studio mandating a runtime of less than two hours. 

In the end, the action is intense, the story arc continues in a confident manner with multiple subplots to be excited about, and there are two after-credit clips worth seeing.  I am thankful for the continuous efforts made to make these stories available to the masses and the diligence to create something grander, beyond the scope of one person’s opinion… even if it is my own.


Grade: A-

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

“Trapped by Circumstance: The Violent Stories You Might Be Missing on NETFLIX”



“Trapped by Circumstance:  The Violent Stories You Might Be Missing on NETFLIX”

NETFLIX:

THE PUNISHER
(2017, TV-MA, 54 minutes each, ABC STUDIOS / DISNEY-ABC DOMESTIC TELEVISION / MARVEL ENTERTAINMENT)



What do you ask for in a comic book-based series?  I know the diehards keep a list and will be sure to rip apart a series if it deviates in the slightest.  I find that counterintuitive when wanting to enjoy a good story.  Sure, it’s awesome to have something that keeps true to a particular storyline or a much-loved character but that ‘flavor’ is not so easy to translate to the large or small screen.  I find if you keep to the core tenants of a character and the plot, you can’t go wrong… even if some concessions are made to make a better story.  THE PUNISHER, with Jon Bernthal as the angriest man on Netflix, seems with its attention to detail, likeable characters, and intense drama can’t do no wrong… even if violence is the only core tenant.  I didn’t like Bernthal in ‘The Walking Dead’.  Something just rubbed me wrong with his acting, I didn’t feel an earnest effort or even the skill capable of something bigger for him to pursue.  And when I first heard his coming to DAREDEVIL, I questioned whether he actually could carry the role?  And now, him as the Punisher, it’s hard to believe anyone else in this role. This is by far my favorite of the Marvel programing launched by Netflix.

WHEELMAN
(2017, TV-MA, 82 minutes, SOLUTION ENTERTAINMENT GROUP / WARPARTY FILMS)


WHEELMAN is a small-budget affair that stars Frank Grillo (CAPTAIN AMERICA’s – ‘Crossbones’ and of the PURGE series), a man who wants to cut ties with his criminal connections.  On what he claims is his final job (they always say that), he finds himself double-crossed when acting as the wheelman for a bank job.  He must maneuver his way through the lies and the streets to find out who is behind the treachery, and save his family from mob reprisal.  Although a simple film filled with familiar plot devices, the ride is very entertaining and the action is brutal.  I would almost say that Frank has the some of the same grit that Bernthal shows in PUNISHER, making these an extension of any ‘punishment’ bingeing.

FATE/APOCRYPHA
(2017, TV-MA, Season 1 - 12 episodes approx. 24 minutes each, A-1 PICTURES)


For a change of pace, this one was added to the list.  The FATE series is always in question when the ‘truest’ critic decides to spew their thoughts about the anime, just like THE PUNISHER and all other unique universes that are adapted to another media.  APOCRYPHA offers a debut season that shakes up the norm, and will make them darn ‘truest’ squirm.  If you haven’t started watching this series, you should.  You will not need it to have seen the previous series as this one is set in an alternate universe, but having seen them kinda helps.  Those that have, the race is on again for the Holy Grail in the Grail War.  What is different with this one?  The big difference, how about two sets of servants, each working for opposing factions.  How about servants who pretty much run amuck on their masters.  How about new servants that keep you wondering if they are more a villain than a hero.  Although a familiar feel to the FATE storylines, this one gives you something more to be excited about.

THE VEIL (O MATADOR)
(2017, TV-MA, 93 minutes, BRENT RYAN GREEN FILMS / NATIVE WARRIOR / TOY GUN FILMS)


This is a Syfy style guilty pleasure film.  As with Raz’s MAN WITH THE IRON FIST, I could only think that this script and worldbuild was written by a teenager who thirsted to make something original but lacks the deeper writing skills to put it to paper and have it make sense.  You see, there is nothing wrong with the film as a cultish / Mystery Science Theater 300 target, but there is nothing “write” about the dialogue, acting, or its aggrandizing plot. The story is about a warrior of one faction who learns his father’s tales of an alternate world are true, and he will become its savior.  If you want to kill some time and not think too hard, this is your pick.

SLASHER
(2017, NR, Season 2 - 10 episodes approx. 54 minutes each, CHILLER FILMS / SHAFTESBURY films /super channel)


SLASHER is a great concept that follows the well-known ‘American Horror Story’ model.  Each season has a new cast and tells a new story about a slasher reigning blood on the ‘poor innocents’ within reach.  This one is set at a children’s camp during the wintertime.  A group of past camp councilors return because they need to move the body of a fellow councilor they murdered.  How joyous an occasion to bring friends together.  They find the camp is now the home of some tree-hugging, self-aware goody-goodies.  Like the first season, everyone seems to have their dark secrets and you keep guessing who is behind all the killings.  The gore is intense and the typical ‘slasher movie’ rules are thrown out.  Even the person or people you think most likely to survive to some extent are not safe.  Although not a great project, creator Adam Martin has something here you want more of.


-- James S. Austin