Writers are not lazy

I was in Barnes & Noble this weekend perusing through books and the three of you were there, in the middle of the aisle, talking to each other. First off… if you’re going to stand a…

Source: Writers are not lazy

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Movie Review – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Director: Zack Snyder

Stars: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Jeremy Irons, Jesse Eisenberg, Laurence Fishburne

Earlier this week the reviews started coming in and they were middling at best. Empire gave it three stars and IGN gave it 6.8. I didn’t actually read those reviews, but my own predictions were that the film was going to be polarising. I thought that Affleck was going to be good as Batman but Superman was going to be mishandled again, that the film was going to be way too cluttered and it was ultimately going to make loads of money but it wasn’t going to be that good. Well, I can tell you here folks that those critics were wrong!

Yes, they were being too generous with three stars. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is an abysmal film. And it disappoints me because I wanted it to be good, I wanted to believe that Snyder could improve on Man of Steel and deliver with this epic. But the sad thing is I’m not even surprised. It was two and a half hours of empty moralising, pretentious speeches, and ultimately felt like a child playing with toys. So there’s lots to talk about here.

It begins in the most unoriginal way possible with the death of Batman’s parents. Oh yes, that again. Then there’s a hamfisted dream sequence (not the last one of the film), then the basic theme of the film is introduced. Can Superman be trusted? Should he be allowed to act unilaterally? Bruce Wayne saw the destruction of Metropolis firsthand and believes that he needs to take action to stop him, because, if he wanted, Superman could destroy the world easily. Once he finds out that Lexcorp has found some Kryptonite, he gets an idea. But the whole notion that people still mistrust Superman…the film is set 18-24 months after Man of Steel, didn’t this come up in that time? Superman is once again brooding, I mean, from what I can recall he maybe smiled once in the whole film? It just shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the character. Snyder shoots his scenes in a way that depicts Superman as a being so far away from humanity, and it reflects the way Luthor thinks of Superman. People always say that Superman is difficult to write because he’s too powerful but that just shows a lack of imagination. They’re forgetting the man.

The bit that got me most mad was when Superman uttered the line, “No man stays good in this world,” and if you’re reading this and you don’t have a problem with that then that’s fine, you might actually get some enjoyment out of the film. I get that some people think that Superman should reflect the state of our culture now, and the sad fact of the matter is that the world is cynical and ridden with angst, but I dismiss the notion that Superman should be a reflection of us. Superman should represent the best of us. The kindness, the compassion, the striving to always do what’s good, to be truthful, to be a hero. Contrast this film’s Superman with the current Supergirl on the tv show of the same name. In a recent episode there was a scene where a little girl, wearing a Supergirl costume, was being picked on by some older kids. Supergirl heard this, swooped down, and acted like she was this girl’s friend. I just can’t see Cavill’s Superman doing that.

Affleck makes a good Batman I think his solo film is going to be really good, especially if he’s directing it. But even Batman isn’t handled perfectly. There are vague dream sequences/ hallucinations that are crammed into the film to set up the sequel, but feel shoehorned in, much like the Thor cave scenes in Age of Ultron, and it simply makes the film more of a mess. Batman though, it was an okay depiction of the character until he flies in the Batplane and kills a load of people in a hail of bullets. By that point I was just laughing at how stupid this all was. And it feels vacuous as well, everything in the film happens so quickly and so arbitrarily that it lacks any kind of emotional impact. The much-vaunted fight between the two titular characters is okay. I liked how Batman made up some traps, but again is was basically ‘Batman is amazing. Superman…ehh’ and the switch to when they form a truce is absolutely ridiculous. There was no organic flow, it was just people doing things because the plot demanded it.

Oh yes, Lex Luthor is a perfect example of this. He’s basically a plot device. And you know how people were saying that there’s more to the character than what we saw in the trailer? Nope. I was hoping that the kinda-crazy was all going to be an act, that it was going to be the mask he wore in front of everyone but no he was just insane. Lois wasn’t much better either.  And this is what makes me really mad, the film trades on Superman’s history. In the film his relationship and love for Lois is said to be important but we hardly see them together. It trades on this history but it doesn’t respect it and Snyder doesn’t understand why Superman is such an enduring figure. Could they not have got some Superman writer to consult on the film?

Wonder Woman is probably the best thing about the film (either her or Perry White) and that’s most likely because she’s not in it enough for her character to be ruined. The conflict with Doomsday is empty, again, there’s no emotion to the battle. In Avengers the heroes were fighting a CGI army but at least there was Loki to give some context to the battle. This was, again, just a kid playing with action figures. But I get the feeling that Snyder probably thinks he’s made a grand, deep, profound film when instead the philosophy presented is shallow.

There are a couple of iconic shots lifted from comics that were kinda cool to see on the big screen, but the few things this film does right are let down by the rest of it. I mentioned Superman’s brooding earlier and I get that sometimes people are filled with a bit of doubt, but his brooding is never contrasted with him being optimistic or hopeful. We never get to see Superman actually look like he’s enjoying what he’s doing, like being the hero to earth is a burden. And the most damning fact of all for the film is this. A Civil War trailer played before this, the first one, the one I’ve seen probably 5 or 6 times now. Yet in those few seconds where Cap says “Bucky’s my friend,” and Tony replies with, “So was I,” I felt more emotion than I did in the entirety of the two and a half hours of Batman v Superman.

The film strives for an emotional ending but it feels unearned due to a misunderstanding of the characters and a rushed story. Disappointing, not surprising.

 

 

TV Review – Daredevil Season 2 (Spoiler Free)

I don’t usually do reviews of tv shows but when a whole season comes out on one day it’s a bit different. I’m aware that not everyone will have seen all of the show yet so I’m not going to go into spoiler territory, and I’ll only mention things that you would have known from the trailers. I’m going to give my general impressions and talk about some of the themes and concepts in the show. I really enjoyed season 1, although I thought it started off slowly, but I enjoyed the tone. There were  a couple of problems I had with it, so did season 2 correct them?

Yes, but it does have problems of its own as well. The two main criticisms I had of the first series was that it took a long time for things to happen, like Daredevil actually getting his costume. That is completely not the case here and the fast pace is evident from the first episode. The other thing that I felt was missing from the first season was courtroom drama, but that plays an element in season 2 as well. The action  is once again very good, although some fight scenes do become repetitive. But what I like is that this isn’t a show I watch primarily for the fight scenes. I watched it for the characters and the philosophical concepts discussed.

The main theme of the season is examining Daredevil’s code of no killing, and what effects that actually has. The contrast is drawn between two figures in his life, The Punisher and Elektra, who both have different reasons for going to the extreme. The first bulk of episodes focus on the emergence of Frank Castle as a one man killing machine and I loved the way he was introduced and the mystery surrounding why he does what he does. Bernthal is amazing, channelling a young De Niro, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a Netflix series starring him because he was such a dominating screen presence that sometimes it felt like it was a Punisher show co-starring Daredevil (although I’m going to say upfront that I like The Punisher more than I do Daredevil). He brings such a brooding intensity and it takes something special to out-brood Matt Murdock.

Punisher is obviously into killing and there are several amazing scenes between the two characters where Punisher calls Daredevil out for being a coward. The criminals he catches get released and go back out on the street, but when Punisher deals with them they’re done. The discussion was handled maturely and both perspectives were given a balanced overview. In a summer where superheroes are going to be fighting each other this is exactly what I want to see, a clashing of philosophies and a way to examine what it actually means to be a hero/vigilante. This is basically everything I want from a superhero tv show, and when Elektra is introduced there are more deeper conversations as Matt has more of a personal connection to her.

Elektra is as well cast as Punisher and that’s probably the main strength of the show. The casting, even to supporting characters, is stellar. Elodie Young captures the essence of Elektra and I felt she and Matt shared the kind of uncontrollable passion that they knew was going to destroy them, but was too powerful to resist. There’s a particularly tender scene in which they compare their scars, and it comes at a point where Matt is struggling to balance his personal life with that of his crime-fighting side. And of course that impacts his relationships with Foggy and Karen. I know a few people get annoyed with Foggy but I love him, and he’s a vital part of the show as he finally gets tired of Matt putting the costume above the lawyer suit. Karen has a subplot where she’s going after the truth about Castle, but honestly I felt for most of the season she was underused, and was just caught between the conflict that arose between Matt and Foggy. Also, they hint at her backstory but it’s so vague that I honestly don’t know why they bothered. I thought they would have delved more into the reasons why she came to New York, especially where they seem to be going for season 3.

But as the season goes in the quality lessens, and that’s understandable in a way because the first 4/5 episodes are SO good. I would put that block up there with the best of superhero screen depictions. The next four episodes are still good, especially the parts with Elektra, but the end of the season I found disappointing. The war that Stick alluded to finally comes to New York as The Hand search for Black Sky, but the big problem is that everything is so vague. Matt actually calls out Stick for being so vague about things, but just because a character on the show hints at a problem it doesn’t excuse it. There’s no reason given why they need Black Sky or what’s going to happen if they get it, or why it’s so powerful, and because of this the end of the season feels anticlimactic, and the themes of the earlier episodes feel lost. The show never really comes to a conclusion about whether Punisher or Matt’s philosophy is right (and it’s probably a good thing that the viewer is left to make up their own mind and think about it themselves) but there was an opportunity in the finale to follow up on that yet it was missed, and where the beginning of the season feels like it’s getting deep into the underlying mythology and tropes of the superhero genre, the final episodes feel like they’re following the same formulaic pattern that has been laid out before them.

Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the show a lot but I think my opinion is just tempered by how good the first episodes were. My other niggling thing is that by the end of the show I enjoyed the Punisher subplot more than I did the actual main plot of the show, and in his own show Daredevil should not be sidelined. But it’s another high-quality superhero product and I’m interested to see how Batman v Superman and Civil War compare in how they handle a conflict between heroes.

Book Review – Ripper by Isabel Allende

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The blurb on the back of the book describes the basic outline for the plot, which is that Amanda, a young girl, is part of an online roleplaying game called Ripper, in which she, her grandfather, and a few other teenagers all try and solve fictional murders. But then her interest gets piqued by some real life murders, and the group turns their attention to that, especially when more murders occur and they begin to suspect a serial killer is at large.

Sounds pretty interesting, right? I like role-playing games and the concept of one where you play detectives is intriguing and oh how I wish the book had actually been about that. What the book actually concerns is the love life of Amanda’s mother, Indiana, and the ripper game feels like a side note. And I wouldn’t even mind that so much if the characters had been interesting and well-rounded. There are so many characters involved in this book and they keep getting introduced even at the 200 page mark, which is almost halfway through the book. For a thriller this lacks any kind of suspense, and the crimes are basically footnotes in the saga of Indiana’s relationship problems.

The two main men in her life are Alan Keller, a wealthy man who she loves and has been involved with for four years, but who has never shown any sign of being able to commit, and Ryan, an ex-Navy SEAL who has anger management issues and a problem with alcohol. It’s not exactly original stuff and the scenes between these three characters are well-worn and familiar, and because the cast of characters is so large I never felt like I was given a chance to form an emotional connection to any of them. I get the impression from the acknowledgments that this is the author’s first time writing a thriller, and it’s severely lacking in intrigue and suspense, and these two ingredients give way to vapid relationship drama which comes off as inconsequential and uninvolving.

The initial concept is a good one, and I wish there had been more focus on the roleplaying group but as it is Ripper comes across as a bloated work that places far too much attention on too many characters that do not warrant it. And the final sentence is so trite that I rolled my eyes. Not for me at all, give this one a pass.

Getting Back to Reviewing

Some of you may have noticed my absence over the past few weeks, and that’s because I’ve been busy helping get the board game cafe ready for opening. We had about three weeks to renovate the place and everyone was working pretty much round the clock to get it ready for opening on the 12th of March, which we did! So we’ve been open for a week and it’s been going pretty well so far, everyone who has come in seems to have enjoyed themselves and the staff have enjoyed working there as well. Right now I’m still a director so I’m volunteering my time, so between that and writing for a living I haven’t had any time to devote to my blog, which has been a shame, but now that the cafe is open I’m hoping to start writing reviews again (although probably not with the frequency that I have been doing it, but obviously Batman v Superman comes out this week, and I’m in the middle of watching Daredevil as well).

But one thing you won’t be seeing anymore, or at least for a while, are board game reviews on my blog. Eventually I’m hoping to take up a role with Board in the City that encompasses doing board game reviews, so it would be redundant to just repeat things I’ve written on here. I might still do some from time to time, depending on how quickly that role gets developed, but I’ll just be focusing on books and movies.

I’d urge you to check out the cafe’s Facebook page as I’m very proud of the work that we’ve done to get this far, and it’d be good to get word to spread as I definitely want to see this be a success.