Sunday, March 27, 2016

Review of Batman v. Superman or: Superman’s Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Minor Spoilers Ahead

The reviews seem to be in. The critics hate it. The fans like it, if not love it. Why the disparity? Part of it I believe is confusion. "What is this movie about?" Wonder the critics. "What are we to expect?" Dutifully doing their research, I suspect most critics turned to the seminal Batman vs. Superman story, “The Dark Knight Returns,” by Frank Miller back in 1986. It’s about a lot more than B v S, of course, but that’s the part that stands out, and it’s the source material that critics assumed that Dawn of Justice is based on. They can hardly be blamed, as Zack Snyder was certainly influenced by Miller and there are several elements in the film that pay homage to DKR.

The problem is that Dawn of Justice is NOT based on The Dark Knight Returns, it’s based (loosely) on “The Death and Return of Superman,” a classic DC “Event” from 1992. The fans will have figured this out very quickly, but there are enough elements from “Dark Knight” (An older, angrier Batman, although not quite AS old or angry, an anti-superhero government, although this government is anti-Superman, not anti-Bat, a scene here or there pulled from a classic DKR moment), that the critics will have had no idea what they were supposed to be looking at.


That doesn’t excuse the movie entirely. A film of this scope (and cost) should appeal and make sense to just about everybody. This one definitely doesn’t, in large part because of the apocalyptic, doomsaying dream sequences that the architects of this film choose to insert. Zack Snyder loves these types of set pieces – part Kafka, part Michael Bay, that feel like some kind of fascist steampunk fever dream, and I get why, but they so rarely seem to fit anywhere.

I think some critics will say that the film is too dark and grim to be fun, but some parts are too ludicrous to be taken entirely seriously. That being said, I thought there was a lot to like about it, and in fact, I think if they started the movie about an hour in, fans and critics alike would be upholding this one as a success.

Here’s how all superhero fights go in the comics. Hero A, who has never met Hero B, or doesn’t know them very well, either: 1) Mistakes Hero B for a villain and attacks 2) Sees Hero B doing something that looks bad, assumes they have gone rogue and attacks or 3) is tricked/coerced/forced or otherwise manipulated by Villain A into attacking Hero B.

Hero B either 1) Mistakes Hero A for a villain and responds in kind 2) Assumes Hero A had gone rogue and responds in kind 3) Doesn’t know what the hell is going on but is damn well not going to stand there and get his ass kicked so he, you guessed it, responds in kind.

Despite the fact that a two minute conversation would clear things up with no property damage or broken bones necessary, and despite the fact that these guys never seem to shut up when fighting their ACTUAL villains, Hero A and Hero B then silently go to war, doing battle all over town, each seeming to get the better of the other at various points like a typical WWE wrestling match until finally, when each has barely an ounce of strength left, someone finally decides to say “hey, does anyone know what all this fighting has been about?” Then the two shake hands and band together to fight the real enemy.

It doesn’t work all that differently in this movie, and if we had just seen one of the above plotlines (I won’t say which one to keep the spoilers down), without an hour of buildup, I promise you not one critic or fan would have said “but wait, why are they fighting? I need more motivation!” Sorry to mix companies, but Stan Lee, who was the master of Superhero vs. Superhero fights will be the first to tell you: “Just get to the action!”

Once that happens, the movie IS fun, and the plot is abundantly clear. It just takes us so long to get there that many will be extremely frustrated by the time it rolls around.


As for the performances; I’m still not entirely convinced by Henry Cavill as Superman, but I’m not as distracted by it as I was in Man of Steel. He’s settling into the role, even if he wouldn’t have been my first, second, or third choice. Ben Affleck actually makes a serviceable angry Batman, although his Bruce Wayne was a little too smug for me, which is to say, every time he smiled, I couldn’t help but think that he was thinking “hell yeah, I’m Ben Affleck,” which I’m sure is not what he was going for. But again, as Batman, this actually fades away, and it works better than I expected.

I don't know anything about Gal Gadot and she doesn't get much screen time, but she seems to have the angry Amazon Warrior thing down.

You’re going to love or hate Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. I loved this take on the character. Basically Eisenberg plays him as a Silicon Valley Joker without the makeup. He’s clearly off his rocker, but smart enough that he can function in society anyway. Some people will find it too over the top, but it worked for me.

Although the way it ended made me yearn for a “Reign of the Supermen” sequel, I know that’s not what we’re getting. However, now that all the Superman fighting Batman hype is out of the way, I think there’s a clear path for the next movie featuring these characters (Justice League, as I understand it) and I have much higher hopes for that one.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Who Are the World's Coolest Women?

I may be the only person who still listens to AM radio, but if you do, you may have heard some of Tom Brokaw’s “An American Story” interstitials. If you haven’t, I can sum up. They go something like this: “I’m a very old, conservative man, who is set in his ways and completely out of touch with modern society and I’m quite proud of it, because somehow I think this makes me hip. I’m Tom Brokaw, and this is an American story.”

So, in the last one of these I was subjected to, Tom decides he’s going to talk about who the coolest people in the world are, and he’s going to start with women. Hoo-boy. Who does Tom name? Jackie Robinson’s wife. John F. Kennedy’s wife. His own wife. In addition to his stand by your man picks, he throws in a few popular actresses like Meryl Streep and calls it a day, proud of his “cool” selections. Do you imagine when he picks his “coolest men,” he’s going to go with Margaret Thatcher’s husband, Florence Griffith Joyner’s husband, and George Clooney?

Anyway, I think I can do better. Here are some of my picks for the world’s coolest women:

Jeanne d’Arc

At the age of SIXTEEN, Joan of Arc, a previously insignificant peasant girl, convinced the KING OF FRANCE to give her an ARMY TO LEAD. Not like, a pretend army, a real army full of French soldiers who would gladly fight and die for a sixteen-year-old girl. Their faith was not unwarranted. Joan’s army pushed the English back across the Loire river and all the way to Reims, where King Charles VII was able to receive his official coronation. Sadly, during a battle at Compiegne, she was thrown from her horse and abandoned to be captured by the English, where she was tried as a witch and ultimately burned at the stake. In 1920, Pope Benedict XV canonized her into Sainthood. Listen, I’m sure Rachel Robinson is a lovely woman, but come on.

Alessandra Mussolini

Image result for alessandra mussoliniAlessandra Mussolini is the granddaughter of infamous fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Wealthy and beautiful, she could have lived life like a Hilton sister. Instead, she got degrees in medicine and surgery and then proceeded to embark on a career as an actress, singer, and model. In 1990, when a producer asked her to change her last name to continue as an actress, she quit and began a career in politics. There, she became an outspoken defender of women’s rights and civil rights in general. She fought for the legal right of children to take their mother’s last name if they choose, and founded the social action party, which has fought doggedly for such issues as gay rights, civil unions, and abortion rights. She currently serves on the European Parliament representing the Forza Italia party.

Dalia Mogahed

Dalia Mogahed, a former marketing products researcher, is the Director of Research at the Institute for Social Policy Understanding. She is the first veiled Muslim to be selected to a Presidential cabinet, as she serves as Advisor to Barack Obama on the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.  Many of her policy recommendations on U.S. Muslim relations have been adopted by President Obama. Mogahed is consistently recognized as one of the world’s most influential Arab women.

Corazon Aquino

Image result for corazon aquinoCorazon Aquino started life on a path to be a housewife, raising children and supporting her husband Benigno Aquino, a politician who opposed residing dictator Ferdinand Marcos. When her husband, after being imprisoned and exiled, was ultimately assassinated in 1983, Corazon took up the fight. She led the opposition to Marcos and ran for President, refusing to be intimidated by Marcos or his sexist remarks towards her, simply responding “May the best woman win.” When Marcos emerged the winner of a likely rigged election, Aquino enacted civil disobedience tactics, including strikes, boycotts, and non-violent protests, an effort that was known as the People Power Revolution. Marcos withered under the pressure and fled the country, leaving Corazon Aquino as the first President of the Philippines, where she enacted radical reforms in the areas of civil liberties and human rights, while restoring the nation’s economy and mobilizing female leaders the world over.

Claudette Colvin

Image result for claudette colvin age 15Claudette Colvin is the unsung heroine of the American Civil Rights movement. It was she, not Rosa Parks, who was the first to protest bus segregation in Alabama. Nine months before the Rosa Parks incident, Colvin, a high school student with aspirations to be President, was ordered, along with three others, to vacate her bus seat and move to the back so white passengers could sit. Colvin insisted she was not going anywhere, and she had to be forcibly removed from the bus by police, who made inappropriate sexual comments towards her as they took her to the station. While Colvin, and not Parks was one of the plaintiffs in Browder v. Gayle, the case that struck down bus segregation in Montgomery, she was not chosen to be the poster girl for the movement. Colvin was an outspoken, pregnant, teenage girl, while Rosa Parks was considered to be a calmer, more clean cut, “safer” representative of the movement. Colvin, while disappointed, was content to accept her role for the good of the movement, but it doesn’t change the fact that she was the driving force behind this pivotal event in American Civil Rights history.

Maybe you want to take another shot, Brokaw?

P.S. I realize that since it's an "American Story," Brokaw may have been only choosing from American women, but still, in addition to Colvin, how about, Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman, Amelia Earhart, Sally Ride... There are plenty of American women who are "cool" without being primarily defined by their husband or "leading lady" status.