Justice League

By: Kevin Jordan

Baby steps (or, I see you, Joss Whedon)

You know how when President Trump gives a speech that doesn’t contain racism, attacks, lies, or ads for his properties, certain people gush over how good or presidential he suddenly is?  What’s that – too political?  Okay; a different analogy.  You know how when your dog doesn’t shit in your living room you gush over what a good boy he is?  Oh yesh, jusht such good boy!  Here’s a treat!  That is where our expectations sit with DCEU movies.  Thus, we have Justice League – a movie that can hold its bowels, but still chews up your couch.

Before getting into the movie, we need to talk about the movie production.  Zack Snyder was roughly 80% through production when tragedy struck his personal life and he left the project.  Joss Whedon was brought on to complete the project, including completion of shooting and extensive reshoots.  Bringing in Whedon was a strange choice, not just because of his extensive involvement with the Marvel movies, but because he and Snyder are exactly opposite when it comes to directing and writing (Whedon also was one of the credited screenwriters on Justice League).  Whedon makes movies that are usually light-hearted, quippy romps, heavy on character development and relationships.  Snyder makes movies like a horny, 12-year old boy with the attention span of gnat who has perfected the perfect slo-mo shot of a just-fired shell casing falling in a drab, sepia-toned world.  You will have no trouble distinguishing which parts of the movie belong to each of them.  In a normal world, this contrast would doom a movie, but Whedon manages to keep the movie from ruining your carpet.

(Side note: There are also two scenes featuring Henry Cavill where his face has been poorly digitally edited to hide a moustache he wasn’t allowed to shave due to filming Mission: Impossible 6.)

What up, Joss?

(Some SPOILERS because, of course there are.  It’s a review).

The problem with the DCEU is a complete lack of long-term vision beyond dollar signs.  Snyder has helmed the franchise since the start and his sacrifice of narrative and storytelling for visuals and playing to the die-hard fan boy has resulted in an incoherent mess of nonsense.  Wonder Woman is somewhat of an exception (a female director, Patty Jenkins, helped immensely), though still bogged down in parts by Snyder’s bullshit (again, it is obvious which parts).  Justice League picks up with Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) stopping a terrorist from blowing up four blocks of London, then stopping him from gunning down a bunch of bank patrons.  This scene serves no purpose other than to remind you that Wonder Woman is hilariously overpowered.  To be fair, it’s a decent action scene, but the bad guy’s stated motivation is to force the world to revert to a simpler time before technology.  Huh?  By blowing up a few buildings, Earth will be back in the Stone Age?  That makes as much sense as Batman (Ben Affleck) wanting to kill Superman because “what if Superman decides to kill everyone?”

Move, Zack.

The plot of the movie is nearly as pointless as that opening scene, which is essentially forming a super team to thwart an impending alien invasion of flying insect monsters.  Batman spends the first part of the movie recruiting the heroes promised in Batman v Superman to thwart the bugs.  Then, a tall, devil-y looking, poorly rendered CGI guy named Steppenwolf (worst villain name ever, voiced by Ciaran Hinds) shows up via Thor’s warp tunnels to steal a mother box (worst MacGuffin name ever) from the Amazons.  We learn there are three mother boxes and if Steppenwolf puts them back together, he’ll be able to destroy all civilization on Earth…or something?  He refers to mother and the insect guys follow him and when they smell fear they attack and wow is this story really stupid.  We even get one of Snyder’s standard flashbacks of whatever convoluted absurdity he fever-dreamed to give Steppenwolf a back story that explains nothing.  As an added bonus, he says he’s finally able to return to Earth because the death of Superman left no Kryptonians on Earth.  Okay, shut up.  Superman (Cavill) was literally the last Kryptonian and only on Earth for 33 years.  Steppenwolf was banished 5,000 years earlier, so why couldn’t he come back for the other 4,967 years?  You know what – I don’t give a shit.  And that is the crux of the DCEU problems.

LOOK!  It’s a bird!…It’s a plane!…It’s a middle-aged balding man wearing a browncoat!  While I continue workshopping that sentence, two things.  One – Superman is resurrected in this movie and if you didn’t see that coming, I envy your innocence.  Two – Whedon injecting some sorely needed levity into the film.  The Flash is the most obvious example and has almost all of the quipping lines.  But the part that makes you have hope for the future of the franchise in a non-Synder’s hands is when the Flash joins the fray in a pointless Superman-fights-the-team-scene.  The scene is in slow motion to highlight the Flash’s speed and as he nears Superman, Superman turns his eyes, then his head, to look at the Flash.  The surprised look on the Flash’s face is brilliant and funny and projects everything this franchise could be in a non-pre-pubescent hands.

So, this new script says…

Virtually everyone coming out of the movie said it was okay or just fine or “thank God it wasn’t as bad as Batman v Superman.”  Despite Wonder Woman carrying much of the movie and Whedon injecting competence where he could, the movie was a far cry from being the pinnacle of the franchise like The Avengers was to MCU.  The new characters are minimally developed, even to the point of all of them having the clichéd dead moms (seriously, all but Wonder Woman’s mom is alive, not counting Martha Kent).  Don’t get me wrong, there was just enough for me to want to watch a Flash movie, Aquaman movie, and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) movie.  But Amy Adams and J.K Simmons were completely wasted and I am way off the Affleck-as-Batman train.  To top that all off, we get a teaser at the end of the film that is so poorly conceived that it felt like the movie was trolling us (and you have no idea how badly I want to spoil it for you).  One of these days, we’re going to get the DC movie we deserve, but a smidge of progress is better than nothing.  At least we didn’t have to break out the carpet cleaner this time.

Rating: Ask for half of your money back.  It’s fun at times and not fun at other times, but baby steps, people.

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

By: Kevin Jordan

Who wants a moustache ride?

It’s time for another edition of “Should You Have Remade That Movie?”  For those new to our game, it’s simple.  We ask a few easy questions and determine how wrong it was to remake a movie.  Tonight’s contestant is Murder on the Orient Express.  Now, let’s play “Should You Have Remade That Movie?”

Question 1 – Is the original more than twenty years old?

Answer:  Yes.  The original was made in 1974.  Plenty of room to spare and manages to be older than yours truly *rimshot.*

Good start.  Let’s move on to Question 2 – Is the remake a shot-for-shot remake?

Answer:  No.  Director Kenneth Branagh and writer Michael Green made some minor changes and created their own adaptation of author Agatha Christie’s classic novel (published in 1934).

Branagh really made the moustache his own.

Well done and two for two.  Question 3 – was the original great, terrible, or in between?

Answer: Pretty great.  Rotten Tomatoes aggregate score is 95% and was very positively received at the time.  Uh oh, it was also nominated for six Oscars, including Best Adapted Screenplay

Ooohhhh (sucking in breath).  That one hurt and leads us to Question 4 – did it win any of those nominations?

Answer (stalling for time): Ingrid Bergman won for Best Supporting Actress.  I’d say this game just took an ugly turn, but we’re talking about Ingrid Bergman *laugh track plays.*

I almost don’t want to ask the next question, but that’s not how the game works.  Question 5 – how does the new cast compare to the old?

Answer: Original cast featured Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, Sean Connery, Vanessa Redgrave, and Anthony Perkins.  Oh man, that’s almost not fair.  But, wait a minute – the new cast features Branagh, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Daisy Ridley.  Two all-star teams you would never bet against, so kudos to the casting director of the remake for living up to the challenge.

If nothing else, the casting director should get a massive bonus.

So far, we’ve got a great matchup here, but let’s take timeout for a word from our sponsor – all libraries.  All libraries would like to remind you that you pay taxes for libraries and a massive amount of movies are adaptations of books.  For no money whatsoever, you can check out a book and read what your favorite movie was most likely adapted from.  But please remember that with great knowledge comes great responsibility.  Return your books on time and resist being that jerk that insists the book is always better than the movie.  Now, on with the show.

Question 6 – does the remake feature a flavor-of-the-month headliner?

Answer: Not only is there not even a hint of anyone who might have been on Dancing with the Stars, but Rihanna does not show up anywhere.

We’re down to our last question before we tally up the score – how much money did the original make?

Answer: $36 million on a $1.4 million budget.  11th highest-grossing film of 1974.  That’s successful, but by no means gangbusters (Blazing Saddles topped the year at nearly $120 million).

While we tally up the score, let’s look at our competitor a bit more so the audience can get to know it a little better, especially those who never saw the original.  Branagh plays Hercules Poirot, a world famous detective and circus-strongman-moustache-thief, who inadvertently ends up on a world famous train where a passenger is murdered during the journey.  Due to an avalanche blocking the tracks, Poirot takes on the challenge of discovering who of the eleven remaining passengers (or handful of crew) is the murderer.  All of the major characters are kept intact from the original, as is the murder being tied to a previous and famous case in which a child is kidnapped and found dead (Christie’s novel being a take on the Lindbergh Baby kidnapping in 1932).  The film maintains the classic mystery structure and feels nostalgic in a way that doesn’t come off like it’s catering to your parents.  Branagh is easily the star of this show, delivering a great version of Poirot, emphasizing Poirot’s OCD and quirky nature to balance his pompousness.  The rest of the cast hits their marks as well, delivering a bunch of characters you will simultaneously like and hate throughout the film.  There are a couple of weak scenes near the climax, one in particular that feels out of place (you’ll know it when you see it), but the flow of the movie is great and you will be invested in finding out whodunit almost as much as Poirot.

The envelope, please.

Alright, the judges have just brought me the score, but let’s get one more word in from our sponsor – all libraries.  Seriously folks, we exist.  Don’t be like the President – read a book or two.

The judges say the remake covers the small things well and really stepped up to the plate with the cast, but took a bit of a beating by thinking it could improve on six Oscar nominations, including one win.  On a scale from Ocean’s 11 to GhostbustersOcean’s 11 being an 11 and Ghostbusters being negative 1000 – we’re scoring it an 8.  Besides the answers, we took into account that classic novels will always get multiple adaptations throughout time, as well they should.  We doubt it will snag any Oscar nominations, but it’s a very solid movie and faithful adaptation that will leave you satisfied at the end.

Thank you judges and thank you for tuning in.  Join us next time where we hope we aren’t covering Jumanji.

Rating: Don’t ask for any of your money back and don’t be surprised if we get offered another moustache ride in forty years.