Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Movie Review 0 70

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This review was previously published in The National newspaper.

While Marvel continues to play around in the more colourful side of the superhero field, DC now has its sights set firmly on the dark with this lumbering but nevertheless stylishly gritty and unabashedly theatrical franchise starter.

After some flashbacks that quickly establishes Batman (Ben Affleck) and Superman (Henry Cavill) as part of the same world, we pick up 18 months after the events of Man of Steel with Metropolis recovering from the damage done by Superman bringing down half the city (resulting in the deaths of many thousands of citizens) during his fight to defeat General Zod.

In the aftermath, the governmental powers-that-be are trying to make sense of what happened and what that means going forward. Some still see Superman as an empowered saviour figure, while many others view him as an all-powerful alien threat that simply can’t be allowed to go unaccountable for his actions.

Chief among them is Bruce Wayne who is convinced that Superman is a threat that cannot be tolerated. As the Son of Krypton and the Bat of Gotham prepare to do battle, a new threat begins to emerge.

Director Zack Snyder’s behemoth versus behemoth match-up is the very definition of a mixed bag superhero blockbuster, as ambitious and unrelenting in its world-building and stylised action as it is po-faced and ham-fisted in how it approaches its underlying themes and juggling of the titular superhero worlds.

It’s pleasing to see past actions – such as the eye-watering death toll at the end of Man of Steel – dealt with head on here. While not always convincing, that attempt at a moral underpinning makes it feel part of a bigger entity with overarching dilemmas rather than a throwaway piece on its own.

The characters themselves are less defined by the script – which is often clumsy to say the least – as they are by the actors, most of whom elevate the material. Cavill still fits the bit well as Clark Kent/Superman, now having to deal with the fact that a lot of people not only blame him for what happened but see him as humanity’s potential downfall rather than its hero.

Affleck firmly puts the naysayers in their place as the character of Batman fits him like a tailor-made superhero outfit; importantly he’s just as convincing as the billionaire playboy as he is the black-suited hero now world weary after two decades of fighting crime on the streets of Gotham.

However, it’s Gal Gadot who is the real ace up the film’s sleeve, exhibiting real presence as Wonder Woman. It’s hard to imagine this is the very first time she’s been portrayed on the big-screen in live-action form and with relatively little screen-time and even fewer words gives great hope for her upcoming solo outing.

It’s only Jesse Eisenberg who lets things down on the cast side of things with a rather overbearing and annoyingly twitchy performance as shady businessman and one of Superman’s most famous foes, Lex Luthor. The action ranges in quality as much as it does in type; for every well-executed sequence of bone-crunching hand-to-hand combat or exhibiting of superpowers there’s a muddled car chase or lackadaisical over-reliance on the kind of one-upmanship CGI carnage found in so many of today’s Hollywood blockbusters.

But in the end, of course, this is all about kicking off the Justice League – essentially DC Comics’ darker and more dramatically super-powered equivalent to The Avengers. The hinting at what’s to come in that respect – while exciting in principal and sure to send a wave of gleeful anticipation through diehard comic fans – is quite awkwardly handled here. The film irritatingly feels far more interested in what’s to come rather than what’s happening in the moment.

Was it even possible that a film that pits together the two titans (certainly most well-known) of the superhero world was ever going to live up to the hype? Evidently not. But while it’s far from the sort of mighty blockbuster that one might be hoping for, there’s still something inherently exciting in seeing these two finally standing face-to-face.

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I’m a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features.

I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 353

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 380

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10