Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Director Zack Snyder has effectively knocked the wind out of two great comic book heroes. This film is a crime to every geek who has ever picked up a graphic novel. Hell, it’s also a crime afflicted upon hardcore Ben Affleck fans. Affleck could be a fine Batman. Actually, he could be a great Batman. But, like George Clooney before him, he winds up looking quite ridiculous running around in a messy movie in which his character simply doesn’t fit. A nice effort by Affleck to portray a nuanced, older, somewhat weary Bruce Wayne—not to mention a badass suit—is utterly wasted. As for Henry Cavill’s Superman, I’m longing for those short-lived days of Brandon Routh as Kal-el. While it isn’t entirely his fault, Cavill’s Supes is officially a dud. A sequel to the dreary Man of Steel, also directed by Snyder, Batman v Superman is a soulless step in the wrong direction. Snyder, who made a great graphic novel movie with Watchmen, has just completely lost the ability to put together a cohesive, exciting movie. The film drags, the character motivations make no sense, and the film totally lacks any sense of joy or humor.
2 Everybody Wants Some!!Writer-director Richard Linklater makes a sort of companion piece to his breakthrough film Dazed and Confused with mixed results. This time out, he gives us a crew of young baseball players showing up for college a few days before classes and partying in various settings—a disco, a honkytonk, a punk bar—because it’s 1980, and things are all mixed up. The movie is full of bad wigs, bad mustaches, typical song choices (“My Sharona,” “Rapper’s Delight,” “Bad Girls”) and ugly ’70s cars. What it isn’t full of are the type of memorable characters that made Dazed such a delight. Blake Jenner (Glee) plays the film’s main protagonist, Jake, a baseball pitcher who has his eye on an art major (Zoey Deutch). Their little courtship is cute, but most of the movie isn’t as clever as it thinks it is. The cast of mostly unknowns deliver their lines like they are raining manna from their mouths, but none of it is all that funny or intelligent. For a film about baseball players, it spends very little time on the baseball field, and the ritual this team performs at the end of practice couldn’t possibly be done without killing somebody. It’s almost like Linklater is trying to make up for his garbage remake of The Bad News Bears by giving us a more mature baseball film, but this one feels too scattered.
4 Eye in the SkyA drone pilot (Aaron Paul) has a missile shot all lined up and is about to pull the trigger on a houseful of terrorists when a little girl parks herself within the blast zone to sell some bread. This is just one of the dilemmas brilliantly depicted in writer-director Gavin Hood’s tense thriller about drone warfare and the political ramifications of collateral damage. Helen Mirren is superb as Colonel Katherine Powell, determined to take out multiple targets on Great Britain’s terrorist list, but needing to check the legalities of all her strategies before she can make a single move. In his last live action screen appearance, Alan Rickman is terrific as Lt. General Frank Benson, drolly responding to the bureaucracy that’s keeping him from doing his job. Paul brings his best big screen acting yet to the role of Steve Watts, a drone commander torn between killing an innocent child or preventing potential scores from being killed in a terrorist bombing. Phoebe Fox gives a breakthrough performance as Carrie Gershon, drone co-commander.
3 The InvitationDinner parties tend to suck, don’t they? You bring a stupid bottle of wine nobody will like. You have no small talk for others gathering at the table other than the weather and your stinky feet problem. Your hosts may or may not be trying to kill you. Will (Logan Marshall-Green) is visiting his ex-wife, Gina (Michelle Krusiec), for a dinner party. Gina has been away for some time, and she’s gotten all smiley in the wake of a tragedy she and Will suffered. Her new boyfriend, David (Michiel Huisman), is a bit of a weirdo, all happy and perhaps a bit too pleasant. In contrast to his pleasant demeanor, he shows the party a video of a woman, surrounded by members of some cult, dying by choice. That puts a strange damper on the party, but they all eventually make it to the dinner table, where things get even weirder. Director Karyn Kusama (Jennifer’s Body, Girlfight) does nice work within the scary cult genre, getting good performances from Marshall-Green and John Caroll Lynch as a friend with a sketchy past. There’s a good mystery at play here, with a final act that delivers on the build up. (Available for rent or download on iTunes, Amazon.com and On Demand during limited theatrical release.)
4 The Jungle BookJon Favreau’s delightful and funny take on the Rudyard Kipling’s tale of a boy raised by wolves is a winner. The story is pretty simple: A young boy raised in the jungle is pursued by a pissed off tiger (Idris Elba) who had his face burned by a human when he was young. When plans to leave for a human village are rudely interrupted, Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi) winds up staying in the jungle longer than he planned, and he must keep wearing the same pair of red baggy shorts. He encounters Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), an evil temptress snake, and other perils while building a special friendship with a big bear. And, as far as I could see, he never stops to wash those red shorts. A swim in the river doesn’t count. You need detergent. Bill Murray is, indeed, a masterstroke of vocal casting as Baloo, the big bear who befriends Mowgli on his extended jungle trek. Casting Christopher Walken as King Louie, the Kong-sized master of all apes in the jungle, actually tops the Murray casting feat. It gives Favreau’s film an opportunity to become truly weird, very funny, and even a little scary. The highlight comes when Walken’s King Louie, portrayed with undertones of Brando’s Colonel Kurtz, suddenly busts out “I Wanna Be Like You.” Walken is perfect for the song and perfect for the character, making the scene an instant classic. The special effects are topnotch.
3 Miles AheadDon Cheadle makes an impressive directorial debut with this crazy biopic that’s mostly fiction but all fun. Cheadle plays jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, hibernating from public life in the late ’70s when a Rolling Stone reporter (Ewan McGregor) shows up at his door looking for a comeback story. The film then turns part comedy thriller as Davis tries to track down a missing tape from his latest sessions, something that never really happened. It’s all just an excuse to use Miles Davis in a goofy story, and somehow it all works. Cheadle is awesome as Davis, even doing some impressive trumpet miming to boot. (Cheadle, like Ethan Hawke in the recent Chet Baker biopic Born to Be Blue, learned how to play trumpet for the part.) The film switches between Miles in the ’70s and Miles in the ’60s dealing with relationship struggles. No, the movie doesn’t really focus much on the actual music. It’s more of a weird trip inspired by the music. Michael Stuhlbarg is good as a shady record producer, and McGregor has a lot of fun as the shifty reporter who will do anything for a scoop. Cheadle has made a good looking and sounding movie to go with his strong performance. It’s not going to win any awards for accuracy, but it’s a fun movie with a Cheadle performance well worth any music lover’s time.
3 Mr. RightYes, this is another one of those hitman comedies. There are many, too many to recount here, so I’ll just get to the point. This one is pretty good because it has Sam Rockwell and Anna Kendrick in it. Actually, it’s only good because it has Rockwell and Kendrick in it. Kendrick plays a woman just out of a relationship after catching her boyfriend cheating. (She has a drunk-closet scene that is very funny.) Rockwell plays a hitman who wears a clown nose, dances when he kills, and likes to kill those who hire him to kill because killing is wrong. The two meet in a store and start an unorthodox relationship. They like the same sort of things and both have the ability to catch knives thrown at their face. She finds out he kills people and that sort of complicates things but they still give it a go. Kendrick, who is in a million movies lately (actually, six this year, not counting this one), has solid comedic chops and she should be a bigger star than she is. She also brings a bit of the crazy, and it’s convincing. Rockwell is Rockwell, and I can think of nobody better to play a dancing hitman. Tim Roth shows up as the guy who trained him. It’s all kind of forgettable, but mildly enjoyable while it’s going on. (Available for rent on iTunes, Amazon.com and On Demand during limited theatrical run.)