Super Pals In Conflict (Batman V Superman:Dawn of Justice, 2016)

batman_vs_superman_pop_art_postersThis film has been both hotly anticipated and less than interesting depending on who you ask.  In fact, the talk at the beginning of the week was that people had seen the movie and loved it.  It was starting to look like Deadpool all over again.  The early reaction made me wonder if my preconceptions were fair.  Then, as the week progressed and more official reviews started to come out?  It started to suggest my low expectations were warranted.  Of course, I still felt I needed to see the film before declaring it a dud or success.

I am inclined to say it is better than the (at the last time I checked) 30% Rotten Tomato rating.  But it is not truly great either.  Clocking in at two hours and forty minutes, it is reaching for a standard of epic.  Snyder and Nolan have emphasized that their films are different than those of Marvel.  And it is true…the Marvel films, to a large extent, combine humor, adventure and suspense.  Sure, some do it better than others.  But they are lively fun films.  Snyder has describe wanting his DC Cinematic Universe to be more epic Greek Myth.

Affleck actually works well in the role.  There was plenty of online hemming and hawing…but Affleck’s Batman was pretty strong.  Jeremy Iron’s Alfred worked very effectively for me.  I enjoyed the larger screen time to Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White.  He seems to be having a lot of fun as the tough Editor in Chief of the Daily Planet.  I liked Amy Adam’s Lois Lane in Man of Steel, and she is just as good here.  In spite of criticisms of the Man of Steel, I like Henry Cavill and feel he gives us the best Superman we can hope for given the material.  I also liked when they focused on Lois and Clark’s relationship.  I also enjoyed the brief time given to Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman and find myself looking to her solo film now.

The weakest link of the characters was Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor.  The character never feels as brilliant or as menacing as he should.  Instead he just comes across as weird and quirky.

I can appreciate that they tried to make the destruction of Man of Steel a real sticking point that Superman has to face.  That his heroics can even see negative results.  This does really give a plausible motivation to Batman.  The Batman we get in the film is cynical and has given up hope, rather than seeing Superman as that hope, he becomes determined to stop Superman.  When Lex Luthor manipulates events, Batman falls over the edge.  This actually works pretty well.  It is an old comic book trope where two heroes meet, not realizing they are on the same side and fight, before realizing they are on the same side.  The first Avengers film did this in very entertaining fashion in about five minutes.  Here, Superman and Batman spend a majority of the film in distrust.

However, the film is just so packed with advance planning for the cinematic universe, they start forcing stuff into the film to prepare us.  This also becomes confusing on telling apart dreams from memories from possible future events…at one point I was trying to determine if Bruce Wayne was having a potential prophetic vision.  The film also lacks a strong central antagonist, and the introduction of Doomsday for the final battle just makes the film feel overloaded.  The film feels bloated and confusing, and could use some streamlining.

It is also obvious that the criticisms of the Man of Steel’s massive destruction really stung Snyder.  At points a general points out that they cleared an area, a newscast points out that the workday is over and everyone had gone home…Batman explains he chose a particular area for a fight because it was abandoned…the filmmakers really want you to know just how many people are not getting killed.

The movie is full of iconic visuals of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, and that is what they feel like.  “Remember this panel from Dark Knight Returns?!”  But they do not enhance the story.  And Snyder’s cynical approach infects even the color grading.  It is almost a dull and faded world.  I am missing vibrant color in the DC Universe.

In the end, like Man of Steel…there are things I really did like.  There are things I really did not care for.  The film just misses the mark in a way that bums me out.  I want to leave a movie starring Superman feeling hopeful and happy.  I cannot say that here.  The film never earns it’s deeper questions of hero worship and power, or the repercussions of Superman’s actions.  I appreciate that they tried to aim for depth…it just is not as deep as they would like us to think it is.

Baked Goods Part 8 (American Reunion, 2012)

american_reunion_posterAnd the franchise came full circle with the first theatrical release since American Wedding. Overseen by director Jon Hurwitz, (director of Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay), American Reunion completely ignores the films that came after American Wedding.  This was, of course a wise decision.  Also wise?  Centering the film around a class reunion.  This keeps from having to come up with weird plot devices as to why everyone would be located in the same area.

And they brought everyone back for this round.  Granted, in some cases it is a blip and you miss it moment (such as Natasha Lyonne’s character Jessica).  The film introduces us to Jim and Michelle’s life as parents, with a scene reminiscent of the first film’s opening sequence…except this time around, it is being caught by the kids.  Truthfully, this scene does not fully work.  I get they are setting up that their relationship is strained.  But I think they might have been better to set this scene up with the couple trying to have together time that they sorely miss.  Most parents have tales of the kids walking in on intimate moments and there is all sorts of ways to play that.

However, Biggs and Hannigan really work well together.  We also meet Kevin, who is now a happily married father and house husband (for the most part).  Oz is now a successful sport-caster on a sports network and Finch is appearing the wandering soul he has always tried to be.  Stifler (with no acknowledgement of his supposed Girls Gone Wild career in Band Camp) is now working as a temp for a Geek who has made it big.  Apparently his biggest nightmare.  Tara Reid returns as Vicky, who causes Kevin to question the could have beens.  Heather and Oz are no longer together and their story line focuses on the re-kindling of their relationship.

The cast remains likable in the film, especially when they get to channel the qualities that made them sympathetic.

The film focuses on marriages/relationships in trouble and questioning where people find themselves years after high school and the disappointment they may feel.  Some of this actually works well in the film.  Jim and Michelle are struggling to make it work, and Jim’s dad is struggling with being a widower.  Jim shows a lot of his dad’s heart, even in scenes where things are starting to fall apart.  Jim has an opportunity, but really walking out on Michelle or cheating on her are not true options for him.  Oz and Kevin deal with temptations against their relationships.  Oz keeps thinking his girlfriend (played by Katrina Bowden) is cheating on him, due to him finding her in many compromising situations.  But, of course, his heart yearns for Heather.

This is a fairly decent return to form for the franchise.  American Reunion has welcome laughs and heart.  The ongoing story line of Stifler’s mom is actually resolved in an unexpected way that works nicely.  It does not abandon it’s gross out humor, but it is not so overwhelming as to becoming off-putting.  If you enjoyed American Pie and American Wedding, this is a decently enjoyable enough follow up.

Baked Goods Part 7 (American Pie Presents tBook of Love, 2009)

American_Pie_Book_of_Love_posterThe seventh film in the franchise attempts to right the sails by focusing on a new set of young men.  There is still a Stifler, but he is the bad guy and foil of the lead and his buddies.  Rob (Bug Hall) and his pals Nathan and Lube (really, the nicknames in the middle part of this franchise are terrible) discover the titular Book of Love.  This plot device is actually something from the first film.  It is a tome that guys added their own experiences to and it supposed to spill the secrets on how to get girls in to bed and how to drive them wild.

The boys try to make the book work to their favor, but everything keeps backfiring.  Rob really want to just make things work out with his best friend Heidi (2 Broke Girls’ Beth Behrs).  He wants to date her bad, but she is focused on wanting to just lose her virginity.

Eventually, something happens to the book, so the boys set about recreating it with the help of Mr. Levenstein and a host of “Special Appearances by” that really seem to not come together.  I mean, technically, they all had roles in notable college/high school films such as Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Soul Man and Revenge of the Nerds…but none of those really come to mind when they appear.

While the early films had embarrassments like being caught by parents masturbating, the Book of Love writers really up the ante…and not for the better.  Rob is caught by his little brother getting pleasured by the family dog (accidentally) which goes viral, because his brother filmed it (!).  Would this really be something that a kid face minor ribbing at school?  Rob seems to bounce back from every humiliation quite well.  And the film mines Moose rape for comedic purposes.  Because a guy getting raped by an amorous moose is just hysterical.

The film throws in bizarre plot developments.  After Rob and Heidi confess they are really into each other, she suddenly decides to lose her virginity to Stifler for…reasons?  The storyline with Rob’s friend Lube is a tired trope in which the schlep desires the top sexy cheerleader.  Listen, the less attractive person who wins over the attractive person can be done well…and it happens in real life.  But it is also ridiculously overplayed in male fantasy.

Like other films in the series, women behave in improbable ways, because the creators really do not put much thought into the female characters.  They mainly are whatever the need to be for the scene.  So, for instance, Ashley (the previously mentioned cheerleader) is a mean girl who humiliates Rob.  In another she is just the misunderstood girl who can be won over by Lube.

The film tries to bring back the charms of the original, but the characters are not up to the task.  The film often overshoots and the result is another disappointment.

Baked Goods Part 6 (American Pie Presents Beta House, 2007)

american_pie_beta_house_posterThis continues the story of Erik Stifler.  And the Stifler-centric nature of things continues to not favor the franchise.  This film hammers home what crappy people the Stifler Family Tree is…it appears almost every branch is rotten.  Erik’s biggest struggle in life is not living up to the Stifler name.  He is not good at partying or getting laid.  Early in the film, his father (Christopher McDonald) provides a list of all the women he has had sex with.  Erik is startled to see the list does not end with his mom.  Cause nothing is good for a laugh like implying he is a terrible husband.  Erik’s friend even notices his mom’s name is on the list.  The Stiflers are terrible people.  Why does Erik want to measure up to that?  But he has no girlfriend now, so he can have a romantic interest at college in his co-ed dorms.

He joins his cousin Dwight in the Beta House and this is where the real sto-oh who am I kidding.  There is no “Real Story”.  It is just more cheap excuses for nudity, because that is all that happens at frat houses according to movies.

The loose plot is how the Beta House Frat Bros are being threatened by the powerful Nerds on campus.  Seriously.

The film lacks any strong jokes, and at this point, I am embarrassed for Eugene Levy, and Mr. Levenstein’s strongest traits are missing entirely from the film. The film simply recycles gags from a variety of frat movie stereotypes, and reversing the Revenge of the Nerds dynamic is not creative enough to make  the story remotely fresh.

Again, the same criticisms of Naked Mile appear here.  It has the same problematic treatment of it’s female characters.  They are empty and are used primarily for titillation.  The guys only fare slightly better in that they are absurd stereotypes of college guys.


Baked Goods Part 5 (American Pie Presents the Naked Mile, 2006)

American_Pie_Naked Mile_posterSo, the Franchise continues, and it moves into full focus on the Stifler family.  Not the Stiflers we know and put up with…but Steve and Matt’s cousin Erik (John White).  Erik is trying to get his girlfriend Tracy (Jessy Schram) to give up her virginity.  But Erik  has a problem.  He is not a total jerk like his cousins.  He actually likes his girlfriend.  But not so much that when she gives him a free pass for a weekend he does not refuse to take advantage of it.

He and his buddies are about to graduate so they go to visit a college campus.  There they hang out with Erik’s popular crazy Frat living cousin Dwight (Steve Talley).  They stay at the Beta House, meet women and have all sorts of shenanigans culminating in the Naked Mile.  Which was started decades before as a form of protest by Jim’s Dad ,Mr. Levenstein.  He still runs it, but now it is an excuse to see attractive women run the campus naked and have a huge frat party afterwards.

Which all leads to Erik realizing how much he loves Tracy and does not care if she is not ready to have sex.  He is totally cool with waiting if that is what she needs.  Don’t worry, his new found respect won’t have to hold out long.  Because in the American Pie Cinematic Universe, as soon as you realize that sex is not quite the thing you made it out to be, you have cracked the “Get Sex Code”.

The thing is, the goal of Stiflers is to be complete jerks and this switch to focusing on them over relatives of, say Jim and Michelle or something means the film lacks heart.  The purpose of most of the women are to be hot objects.  They seem to have no actual goals or personalities beyond being “sexy and free” to high school kids visiting college.  And I am pretty sure that no actress with a no nudity clause got through.  The Guys pretend to be naked, but the women do not even get the benefit of creatively hidden but implied nudity.  This is because many of the jokes surround things like seeing a running girl’s breasts bouncing.  That is the level of humor in the film, which, may surprise some to learn is below the standards of the franchise.  In the early films, they were at least attempting to be clever with the sex jokes.

The film embraces the biggest problems of Band Camp.  The raunchiness is unpleasant and does not result in anything resembling humor.  The film has no true heart or center. Director Joe Nussbaum had a hit with a short film called George Lucas in Love, but manages none of the originality in this film.

Baked Goods Part 4 (American Pie Presents Band Camp, 2005)

American_Pie_Presents_Band_CampAfter American Wedding, the producers got the idea of keeping the name of American Pie out there by doing direct to video sequels.  They decided to visit the infamous Band Camp.  The tale focuses on Stifler’s little brother Matt (Tad Hilgenbrink), who like his brother is mostly referred to as Stifler, though he wants to be called the Stiffmeister, his brother’s nickname.  He is a jock, and like his brother sets out to humiliate band geeks.  His nemesis is Elyse (Arielle Kebbel).  After a prank in school gets him in major trouble, he is sentenced to Band Camp by Sherman (Chris Owen appeared in previous American Pie films as this character, and now he is a guidance counselor).

Matt tries to use this to his advantage.  His brother is apparently running a Girls Gone Wild type of business.  Matt orders all types of spy cameras to set up around the girl’s rooms and showers.  He then proceeds to mock his fellow band mates, making no effort to bond.  Of course, we all know he will start to fall for Elyse and kind of like the other kids at the camp.  Which will all come crashing down when they find out about the cameras.

The film sets up such a great fall, Matt’s attempts at redemption seem hard to accept as being effective.  The film steps up the raunch, trying to compete with other films such as the short lived Van Wilder series.  It’s female characters are all sorts of problematic.  Almost every woman in the cast is eye candy, with only Elyse and her best friend fleshed out at all.  The film flat out has adult counselors getting it on with students.  It is, of course a joke, because it is the attractive female counselors with young teen boys.  but the fact that Matt is doing something highly illegal, including filming illegal acts is troubling enough.  That the entire camp’s resolution of the issue is to shun Matt and pretend it never happened, so the camp is not totally humiliated.  So, sweep all the illegal behavior under the rug.  This is a consistent problem within the franchise.  Illegal activity is just a story or plot device to be resolved with little impact on the characters.

It really tries to have some heart, by bringing in Jim’s Dad (Eugene Levy, and now referred to as Mr. Levenstein).  He is the guide to a better path for Matt, but of course, it takes the entire film to realize it.  And it just never recaptures the magic Levy brought to the role in previous installments.  The film was directed by Steve Rash, whose main claim to fame as a director is 1987’s Patrick Dempsey feature Can’t Buy Me Love.  Far from the worst, and in some ways better than the second or other later installments, the film just does not come together and the final results are pretty mediocre.  Kudos to the casting folks for finding a guy who looked like he might be related to Seann William Scott though.

Baked Goods Part 3 (American Wedding, 2003)

American_WeddingAmerican Wedding focuses heavily on the next step for Jim and Michelle, which was a wise move.  It’s secondary focus is on Stifler, which dominates the beginning of the film.  That is a very rough start.

The scenes with Jim and Michelle work well.  They are likable characters.  And to play Michelle’s parents, they got the terrific Fred Willard and Deborah Rush.  The early scenes where “Stifler Ruins Everything” are tiring.  But, somehow, they start to transform Stifler.  Oh, sure, he is a douche, but they really play up just how badly he wants to be liked.  This results in the homophobic character trying to prove to the patrons of a gay bar that they totally want him.  The dance off he starts is actually quite amusing.

Again, a lot of the heart is from Jim’s dad.  There is a genuinely heartwarming moment where Michelle is feeling uncertain, and she seeks the advice of Jim’s Dad.  When she mentions Jim told her he is the person he trusts most for life advice, Levy’s face lights up, like he always wished this was true, but never believed it.

This installment is notable as Shannon Elizabeth, Mena Suvari, Natasha Lyonne and Tara Reid are completely absent.  I suspect they had no idea how to fit them into the tale.

There are gross out jokes, embarrassing moments with Strippers at the bachelor party (Aspects of this scene work well, as everyone tries to cover up, when Jim unexpectedly brings Michelle’s parents back to the house).  Despite a rocky start, American Wedding is a surprise, and one of the best of the franchise.

Baked Goods Part 2 (American Pie 2, 2001)

American_Pie_2The first film was a big enough hit that we got a sequel.  This time there is no pact, the guys are back from their first year of college and get a summer house so they can party hard.  Pretty much all the girls are gone.  They make appearances, but they are brief.  So it is focused on the boys.  Kevin is feeling apprehensive that Vicky is off having lots of sex, even though he is not her boyfriend…but he is concerned because he has not had much sex since the first film. Oz is bummed by his long distance relationship with Heather.  Finch continues to be obsessed with Stifler’s Mom.

Jim is hoping to have sex with Nadia who is coming to visit him, and seeks the help of Michelle.  This is the real heart of the movie.  Michelle grows as a character who is sweet but blunt.  These scenes work the best.  But other than this, women exist only as fantasy in the film.  They are there to entertain men.  And the portrayal of some of the women suggests the writers do not know any.

Seriously, if a couple women in their underwear discovers a bunch of guys hiding in their bedroom, do you really believe their response would be “Let’s play a “sexy” game?)  No, I think it is safe to say they would be running to get help.  On the other hand, I totally believe the gag where Jim accidentally super-glues his hand to…himself.  That a guy might be that stupid is plausible to me.  That scene also allows for a Patented “Jim’s Dad Speech”.  Dad tries to defend his son, but admittedly makes it a bit worse.

But overall, this sequel is a bust.  Only the Jim/Michelle story works or is sympathetic, it is hard to care at all about the other characters.


Baked Goods Part 1 (American Pie, 1999)

American_PieAmerican Pie was a movie released promising to bring back the spirit of films Like Porky’s, Hot Dog, Ski School and Revenge of the Nerds.  They were going to push the boundaries, starting with the plot.  The plot is real simple.  Four buddies make a pact to lose their virginity before graduation in their senior year.

And the film follows their fumbles as they race for that goal.  Sensitive Athlete Oz (Chris Klein) joins the Choir to woo cute and sweet Heather (Mena Suvari).  Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is trying to get his girlfriend Vicky (Tara Reid) to give up her virginity.  “Worldly” Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) ultimately tries by being cool and aloof.  Then there is Jim (Jason Biggs), the nerd of the group who pins his hopes on the sexy and sexually available foreign exchange student Nadia.  Jim is repeatedly humiliated in the film.

The thing that is surprising?  This film has a lot of heart.  A lot of that is between the well written and performed scenes between Jim and his Dad (Eugene Levy).  Jim’s dad is part bumbling dad stereotype, part wise sage.  He loves his son and wants his son to succeed in life.  He also tries to help his son navigate the world of relationships.  He stumbles through the attempts, but his kindness is a high point in the film.

The problem is, while the male leads are clearly defined, Jessica (Natasha Lyonne) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) are the only female character who seem to have lives when they are not onscreen.  Nadia gets the worst treatment as her character is literally only there to be someone Jim wants to have sex with.  And when she and Jim have an embarrassing situation involving a webcam?  She disappears from the story  completely.  And Jim, aside from humiliation, suffers no consequences.

The film’s gross out humor goes back and forth between disgusting and amusing.  While Jim’s experiences are funny, the character of Stifler (Seann William Scott) gets the crude and disgusting moments.  The character is pretty repulsive, constantly putting down the guys and making terrible sexual come ons  (bordering on harassment) to the women around him. He is a sexist homophobic guy, and an all around unpleasant character.

The film also has the characters come to the realization that the pact is absurd.  That sex is not the most important thing, and their pursuit of it was fruitless.   And then the film ends with all the guys getting laid.  So, way to undermine the revelation.  Admittedly, it plays an important role for Kevin and Vicky dramatically (their experience is awkward and uncomfortable, and is spelling the end of their relationship, not fulfilling it).  And Jim’s experience has a comedic payoff.

The film has it’s laughs and it’s heart does make it stand better against the test of time than films that tried to follow it’s success.  But it is at best a flawed but entertaining comedy.

Bustin’ Up


So, the Ghostbusters Trailer has hit.  And there were responses.  I initially saw plenty of “I’m in” responses.  Suddenly I started to see a lot of “blah” reactions.  Some were super aggressively angry that the trailer was a disappointment.

And, I agree to an extent that there was some stuff that is frustrating (Mentioning the original film as it does makes it seem like a sequel, and it is not).  But I loved the interaction between Wiig, McCarthy, Jones and McKinnon.  Plus Jones slapping McCarthy yelling “the Power of Pain compels you!” cracks me up.

But then there was a complaint that started a war of words.  See, Leslie Jones’ character Patty is a transit employee.  People questioned why she could not be a scientist.  And this question was lambasted for it’s being PC.

I am weary of this.  I am weary of how legit questions of story and character choices in regards to diversity are so quickly attempted to be shut down with cries of PC Culture.  Diversity in film is, of course, not important to these mostly white critics.  White people in America have no idea what it is like to watch movies after movie where there is only one or two folks who look like us.  It is easy when your face is all over the screens.  And my entire life, I have heard white people lament even one non-white character appearing in a story as being unrealistic, or they are token characters or they are forcing diversity.


The question of why Patty could not have been one of the scientists (and having, say, McCarthy be the “every man”) is a valid one.  It is not like film and television have had a bunch of black nerds.  Now, they already finished the film.  Feig did not consult me.  And Leslie looks like she had fun with the role.  She is certainly protective of it.  I am holding back final judgement until I see the film.

Personally, I still wish it was within the original film’s storyline.  I think it would have made things fun if they returned in a sequel.  Let these ladies be aware of the originals, but nobody really knows where they went.  So, this film would focus on the new team, but in the background there is that mystery of where they went.  Then in a sequel, they could bring the still living cast in to team up with the new team.

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