So San Diego Comic Con saw the release of a new trailer for next year’s Batman vs Superman and…

Well, I am a little more hopeful…but not yet excited.

The trailer is unclear if Batman has been active for years or if he retired, though there seems to be indications he is returning to his cowl.

While I am a bit bummed that we will not have an established friendship, they are clearly coming at this with the heroes fight, realize they are wrong, join forces model.  This is, certainly, a classic comic book story.  But Superman and Batman have a long history as close friends.  I would hope they can do it as effectively as John Byrne did in 1986’s Man of Steel mini-series.

bats_supesThey cannot, of course, give us a long established relationship, as Man of Steel established the very first time people saw Superman was his battle with Zod.  And the Man of Steel is our introduction to the DC Cinematic Universe.  It is off to a grim start.  I have expressed in discussions with friends that I am bothered by the literal hero worship aspect because I felt it had not yet been earned.  Granted, the film is likely set a few months after the previous film…and I can appreciate that they are trying to address all the destruction in Man of Steel.

So what makes me feel more hopeful?

Lex-LuthorThe Man of Steel Returning cast.  Getting to see Clark Kent active as a reporter.  Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is intriguing to me right now.  Jeremy Iron’s Alfred seems to nail the idea that Alfred is Batman’s needed conscience.  It looks pretty exciting.  Wonder Woman looks tough.

wonder-woman1So, I am still cautious and not yet at optimistic.

Artifacting (Pixels, 2015)

pixels_centipedePixels is a mash of Ghostbusters and Adam Sandler’s Nostalgia machine with a lot of likeable actors supporting Sandler and James based on a clever 2:34 minute short film by Patrick Jean from 2010.

The short explanation of the film is that in 1982 the U.S. government sent out a tie capsule into space, aliens with VCR technology thought we were declaring war and attack us with video games from 1982 (or earlier).  The world’s best hope is not our military or scientists… it is washed up guys who were super good at video games in 1982.

The idea certainly could have been a lot of fun.  But the film was mashed through a standard Sandler Comedy Filter.  The jokes depend on Sandler’s 80’s nostalgia (which translates scattershot jokes based on “har, har-80’s!” with no regard to accuracy).  The whole opening sequence is set in 1982 where we meet every major character except Michelle Monaghan’s Violet as children.  The jokes reference 80’s celebrities whose careers had not taken off in 1982.  We learn Adam Sandler’s Brenner is a prodigy at video games, Kevin Jame’s Cooper is only good at the claw game, Ludlow (Josh Gad) has no friends and Peter Dinklage is a gaming champion.  Brenner almost wins the championship, but in the end loses to Eddie.

Apparently, this destroys Brenner, and when the film picks up he is a entertainment system installer, which is how he meets skilled scientist and 2nd Lt. Violet, who is getting a divorce.  After a failed attempt to kiss Violet, the two spend the movie sparring in that generic “these people hate each other but are really falling in love” fashion.

The movie is very generic in every fashion.  The script has no life, and relies on cheap stereotypes (in an Adam Sandler film?!).  Gad’s Ludlow is a creepy conspiracy theory nut who admits to having kidnapped people.  He is also obsessed with Lady Lisa, the heroine of Dojo Quest.  Dinklage’s Eddie is a prisoner who wants a threesome with Martha Stewart and Serena Williams as a condition of helping save the world.

pixels-teamThe effects are good (which is not surprising).  The cast is promising (Dinklage has the best performance) yet ultimately everyone feels like they are just playing expected roles.  Monaghan is the love interest and mom, Brian Cox is Angry Old Man and Josh Gad yells then trails off quietly in his delivery…  Adam Sandler is his usual failed schlep and Kevin James channels his Bumbling Man Character through the president.

The film makes “odd” choices…one example is Lady Lisa.  All the alien video game warriors are pixelated.  Every single one.  Except Lisa.  And the only reason I can gather is that she is supposed to be a hot woman.  So, who cares, right?  Sexy trumps your established rules.

This film is supposed to be a comedy.  I did not laugh once.  Not even a chuckle.  I did smile a couple times where the film moved up in level to mildly amusing.  But the film is genuinely awful.

AfflictedDerek Lee & Clif Prowse wrote and directed in this film where they play two friends named Derek and Clif.  They are buddies who are going to travel the world and blog about it, posting regular videos and taking suggestions from the blog readers.

Derek has personal reasons for going on this trip beyond it being fun, he is trying to live his life with gusto as he looks to an uncertain future due to a medical condition.  This is a found footage film, using a variety of cameras that give a variety of views, such as first person perspective and so on.  And the film starts off as many films of this type do, the guys are having fun, talking, laughing, hitting on girls.  And for Derek that is where it all goes wrong.  He goes back to his hotel room with a beautiful french woman.  His friends show up shortly and find him lying in bed, beaten, bleeding and alone.  The woman is gone, but she seems to have left her clothes behind.

What follows is a series of events where Derek seems to be getting sicker and sicker…he sleeps all day and cannot keep down his food.  Then one afternoon, while visiting an Italian vineyard, his skin starts to blister until he gets out of the sun.  He finds he is getting stronger and faster.  While that part excites them at first, when they start putting it together, Clif starts getting more concerned.  It becomes real apparent that the strange disease is…well, Derek is a vampire.

I really was engaged by the film.  The leads are likeable.  Derek Lee is very convincing in his motions and facial contortions that are featured in the darker stages of the vampiric transformation.  The camera work is fast and jumps a lot, but without making it confusing as to what is going on.

afflicted_screenThe film hits a point where it feels like we are watching the final scene…and the film suddenly swerves into the revenge action thriller territory.  Luckily, it does work.  In a lot of ways, I actually found myself thinking back to how much I enjoyed the first two [REC] films.

Lee and Prowse have crafted an effective thriller with Afflicted.  While it does not cover new ground (there is nothing added to their take on vampires) they tell the story effectively and the special effects and camera work serve each other very well.  The makeup, when combined with Derek Lee’s physical contortions, has real impact on the viewer.  This film has me curious to check out the various shorts Lee and Prowse have collaborated on.  This is a pretty impressive full length debut.  I look forward to seeing what they do next.

The Age Old Question…

Maggie-GyllenhaalSometimes when watching a show or movie at home, I will look people up on the IMDB.  One of my curiosities is to look up actors and actresses in the lead roles who are supposed to be a couple in the film and show and see what kind of age difference there is.  Often, the age difference is pretty large.  Only in the last few years have I recalled seeing pairings of equal ages(within five years of each other).

But it is overwhelmingly in the direction that a couple with a large age gap in film and television being an older guy and younger woman.  On the occasion where it is an older woman and a younger man?  It tends to be the point of the film.  This is, of course, not some new observation I am making.  I am not under any illusion that I stumbled on something.

Just this past May, Maggie Gyllenhall (six years younger than me) told about how she was told she was not getting a role because at 37, she was too old to be the love interest for a 55 year old actor.  If you look through the IMDB, you will actually find that plenty of actresses have no age or birthday listed.  Gyllenhall’s story underscores there are probably good reasons for not including Ages.  If a casting director looks you up on the IMDB?  They cannot simply look at age and pass.

There is a long  standing tradition that it is rude to ask a woman her age.  It is not actually rude…but our patriarchal system has put the greatest emphasis women have to offer is their youth and beauty.The cold hard truth is there is no good reason to demand a romantic interest in a movie be played by a 24 year old when the lead male is Jack Nicholson.  The fact that this is still the norm is proof as to how far we have not come in roles for women in Hollywood.

mirren-loreal_shootPeople talk about how great Helen Mirren looks in a bikini at 70, pat themselves on the back for being supposedly not ageist and hire 27 year old Emma Stone or 25 year old Jennifer Lawrence to play 40 year old Bradley Cooper’s love interest.  The thing is, you know what Helen Mirren brings to film?  Not a great bikini body, but tremendous acting talent.  Emma and Jennifer are attractive, but they are more talented than to be treated as the eye candy for older actor’s arms.  And the larger the gap, the more it can just feel creepy.

It is time to stop telling women their age is the enemy.  Film and television can help by choosing age appropriate actresses for their leading men more than they do not.  Because there are certainly cases where you might be telling the tale of an age gap.  But if that is not part of the plot, if your lead just happens to be dating or married to someone ten years his junior, maybe rethink that.  You seem very conscious of who you pair older women up with, Hollywood (just how often are Helen Mirren and Dame Judi Dench paired up with male leads in their 30’s or 40’s?).  Show that conscientious attitude with your male leads.  You might be surprised.

Batman_Vs_Superman_MovieJeet Heer has made a rather thoughtful piece on the “grown up-ness” of Super-hero films.  This is not an entirely new phenomenon, after all, the Burton Batman films faced criticism of being to scary.  But yet, the family friendly super-hero film does seem to be progressively scarce.

While Marvel seems hit or miss, some films being lighter than others, DC seems to be making films aimed squarely at the Frank Miller and Alan Moore* fanboys.  I’ve have expressed frustration in the past that DC has set a dark tone for their universe.  And the next film we get is March’s Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice.  And while I think the latest trailer is a little more promising, I still feel like it sets the trajectory in the wrong direction.

Man of Steel was a mopey and grim affair.  And the very next step is to pit the flagship heroes against each other?  And then we get Suicide Squad?  Understand, I have a soft spot for the original Suicide Squad, and by no means am I opposed to Amanda Waller getting back to the big screen.

But the Suicide Squad being the third entry in DC’s shared cinematic world keeps the tone overwhelmingly dark.  Where is the light toned DC film?  Where heroes are fun?  That you can take your kids?

suicide-squadOn the one hand, I feel Heer goes overboard.  The article has deep implications that super-heroes films aimed at adults should not exist.  I just cannot agree with this.  I dare say it is a genre that is at home with adults.  And telling artists and writers they must write for kids or stop writing super-hero material (although Miller has written fairly little Super-Hero fare in last decades)…seems absurd.

On the other hand?  Jeet is right about the lack of fun super-hero movies that are aimed kids or at least families.  There are far to few, and while the Avengers franchise teeters back and forth, Marvel’s TV side is just getting darker.  I loved Daredevil.  And Daredevil has long been more for college students and older in all his formats.  But the only fun Super-Hero on TV right now is the Flash.  We need more shows in that vein.  Superman should be in that vein.

But I have two little nephews (ages three and four) who like super-heroes.  My older nephew loves the Avengers, in spite of not seeing any of the movies.  They both think Spider-Man and Batman are awesome.  They like to pretend to fly like Superman.

The_Amazing_Spider-Man_2_posterI have no idea how old they will need to be to see any of those characters recent films.  But I can easily say it might be years.  And that is a bummer.  I am not calling for an end to super-hero films for adults…there should be room for movies like Deadpool and Kick Ass.  I am simply asking that we get more all ages super-hero films.  Hey DC…how about a rollicking comedy centered on Plastic Man?

*Moore has switched to slamming grown up heroes and anyone who likes super-heroes over ten.  Not a change for the better.  he is also a guy who thinks the sexual awakings of young literary heroines is worth writing.  Unsure how that is better than adding rape to Super-hero comics.

Starry Eyes is the story of Sarah (Alex Essoe), an aspiring actress.  One day she answers a casting call for a film.  What follows is a bizarre tale of the lengths people will go to succeed.

starry_posterAs she is called back for repeatedly stranger auditions, she starts to unravel ever so slightly.  But when she is asked to meet the Producer (Louis Dezseran) her life is forever changed.  Telling her to kill her old life, one questions if this is metaphor or a true command.

Starry Eyes is  dark exploration of human ambition.  Has Sarah truly sold her soul?  Are her actions real?  Are the dreams her own, or communication from a darker source?

Visually, it is both stunning and horrifying.  The make up showing Sarah’s degeneration is simple, but frightful.  Her transformation has the appearances of disease.  The film is very gruesome once Sarah’s ambitions kick in.  Those who are a bit squeamish should be prepared.

Alex Essoe’s performance as Sarah stands out.  Both in emotional performance and physicality, she does extremely well.  It is a performance that effectively moves from sympathetic to creepy.

The co-directors (and writers) Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmeyer have crafted an effective and dark psychological tale, but not for the faint of heart.   But if you like your films dark and bleak, this is definitely in your corner.

sttarsnaps_eliroth_0So, Eli Roth wanted to sock it to Social Justice Warriors with his new flick the Green Inferno.  He claims the kids in the film represent SJW, whom he characterizes as not actually doing anything other than re-tweeting “this is wrong” or posting memes on Facebook.

This is not an uncommon accusation… SJW are usually lumped in with “Hash Tag Activism”.  The problem is, this criticism is oddly over confident.  It presumes that Eli Roth and other critics know the truth about what people really do.  I think to a certain extent, this is projecting.  People who do not do anything resent being told they should care, and they decide that, like them, the person re-tweeting actually is not doing anything to make the world a better place.

The irony in this of course is that his characters are trying to do something to improve the world.  They are active, not just re-posting stuff on face book.  His movie is about young people trying to do good and then dying horribly for it.  Funny enough, there is probably room for an argument that his film is an indictment of self righteous white imperialism (one of those things SJW like to complain about, amiright?!).  Or white liberal guilt…but the idea that it is condemning people who just re-tweet stuff?  Seems a lot shakier.

The_Green_InfernoI am honestly not sure about this film.  For one, I am not a huge fan of the whole Cannibal Horror Genre to begin with.  And honestly, I am not sure I can see what Eli brings to it that makes it worth sitting through.  This is not a slam on Roth…I cannot really see what can be brought to the genre that is giving us a new option.  But that may not be Eli’s goal.  And it may certainly be I am wrong and the film is an intense and terrifying trip.  I am open to being wrong in my expectations.

The Search For Masculinity

I really have no idea what this means.  I mean, first…the reverse sexism?  I am pretty sure men dominate movies still.  Most films are still about men.  Not really seeing reverse sexism.

And since when was “flashy” a typically “masculine” term?  And what exactly are they saying when they talk about how all the roles going to Aussies and Brits?  I really feel like this is one of those silly controversies we see every few years where old guys get their undies in a bundle about the death of masculinity.

If the “death of masculinity” means the death of whining about “dying masculinity”… I welcome it.

maggie1First time film Director Henry Hobson offers up a film very different than one might expect from a guy who came out of the video game industry.  Maggie is not a flashy film.  It is a quiet tale of a family dealing with the fact that their daughter is becoming a zombie.

Set in a world where becoming a zombie is just an expected possibility in life, Maggie is focused on a young woman (Abigail Breslin) who is suffering from the early stages of, uh, “zombie-ism”.    Her father Wade (Arnold Schwarzeneggar) and mother Caroline (Joely Richardson) are struggling to come to terms with what this means.  Do they send their daughter off to Quarantine?  Do they break the law and keep her until she is to far gone?

Wade struggles especially hard with the idea of what the future holds.  He is continuously trying to keep Maggie connected to the living world, whenever she starts to be consumed by aggression and hunger.

You probably see Schwarzeneggar’s name and assume there must be at least one ridiculous fight scene…but Arnold really does well in this role of heartbroken father at a loss for how to help his daughter.  He barely raises his voice.  He is not an action hero barreling through this film.  He is not a super hero.  He is a good hearted and gentle guy.  The connection between father and daughter is evident throughout the film…both of them knowing the path they are going down.

Maggie-590-02As I said, this is a quiet film, and moves at a fairly mellow pace.  This is not a zombie apocalypse about the world falling apart.  It would not be right to call it a horror movie.  This is a father and daughter drama set within a zombie movie.  Change Maggie’s situation to cancer and you have a heartbreaking family drama.

There are moments where the film seems to wander, but the overall film was effective as a slow burn drama.  It will, not be for everyone, but if you have enjoyed a film like, say, Moon?  This may be right up your alley.

jurassic-world-posterIt has been 14 years since we saw a Jurassic Park movie.  And they opted to bring us one thing we had not seen.  A fully operational space station.  Wait, that is not it.  I meant a fully functional theme park.  Considering the last two film trod similar ground (small group of people stuck on the island running from dinosaurs) it makes sense that they went bigger this time around.

It is years later and the Dinosaur Theme Park has been running for at least a few years, successfully. Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) is preparing the most daring exhibit yet.  A genetically modified dinosaur, a creature that has never walked the earth before.  Nothing could go wrong, except that her nephews are visiting the park this weekend.  So Mayhem will ensue.

The plot is not really the point here (there are some big plot points that just disappear from the film entirely), it is cool dinosaur scares.  And the film delivers there.  There is a lot of fan service to the previous films (One I really liked was the return of BD Wong as Dr. Henry Wu, given a much bigger presence than the original film).

The characters seem all over the place, early on Chris Pratt’s Owen comes off as the stereotype of the charming misogynist.  I find this trope absurd.  Never have known a charming misogynist in the real world.  But this personality trait drops pretty early, and does not resurface the rest of the film.  Claire is introduced as the “Woman Who Is Sacrificing a Family To Have a Career”, but it is pretty clear when she realizes her nephews are in danger she considers them important, risking her life to save them.

From the minute characters are introduced, I started trying to figure out who was going to get eaten, and it is not to hard to tell.  Faceless guys with guns, random park attendees and a couple big names because they are over confident or greedy.  You can play this game in most Jurassic Park films, but the first film still invested in all the dinosaur food.  We knew a lot about those people who got chomped.  Little to no depth is provided here.

It probably sounds like I hated this film.  But I didn’t.  I actually enjoyed it.  It has a very likeable cast, solid effects, cool dinosaurs and plenty of adventure.  It kept me into the story, even when Claire ran super fast in high heels.  It is a fun adventure, but not a deep one.