We Deserve Better, DC Comics

Let’s imagine a world where Christian Bale was still Batman and Zack Snyder stuck within the realm of the Dark Knight universe. I would be happier, you would be happier, hell even Christian Bale would be happier. and we wouldn’t have to endure the two and half hour shitfest that was Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. DC Comics always has been dark when it came to its films, but there was an underlying feeling of hope on the horizon. Unfortunately with Batman v Superman, there is no hope.

Let’s Talk About Characters, Baby

From the opening scene of Batman v Superman, it was clear that this was Batman’s movie, not Superman‘s. That’s great and all, but even from the glimpse into Bruce Wayne’s parents’ death, it was clear that this wasn’t a Batman that would be recognizable to fans. It bothered me how Thomas Wayne attempted to punch the attacker before he made a move because it changed the whole dynamic of Batman’s quest for the underlying good. And boy, did it change it a lot. Don’t get me wrong, how could you cast Jeffrey Dean Morgan in a movie and not have him be a macho man, but that isn’t who Thomas Wayne was. Due to this turn of events, Batman became a superhero everyone feared, not just the guys lurking in the shadows. He used extreme brute force and even seemed to take joy in his excessive cruelness. He stance on justice was that “real men fight for it,” not aliens who come down and play god. While I’m aware that Batman is a vigilante, this was like a step too far into Snyder’s dreamland. I mean, when the people he saves identify him as a “devil,” then we have to know someone went wrong somewhere. Nothing against Ben Affleck, he did fine and it was the best fighting from Batman we have seen to date. I just don’t want him anywhere near the Batman character, plain and simple. (Please Ben, go take your script and get someone else, preferably Bale.)

As for Superman, can this guy be anymore of a wet blanket? He wants the same thing as Batman, and he will be just as pouty to prove it. When he isn’t too busy saving Lois Lane, who was painted as a glorified damsel in distress, he is wondering why people don’t like him. As Martha Kent pointed out in the Comic-Con trailer, “be anything they need you to be or be none of it.” Superman is the ultimate vision of good, but he is also idealistic and it that idea is killed a little bit when he just seems so down and negative about everything. We never see a side of Clark Kent where he isn’t brooding in a corner, complaining about the bat. And maybe that’s the problem, there wasn’t enough of a difference in moodiness between Batman and Superman, and their triumph to friendship felt forced and too quick. Understandably, I guess you have to speed up things when Doomsday starts attacking. But there has to be a way to personify who Superman is as a character. Look at Smallville, they successfully captured the essence of Superman growing up and becoming a hero. Why can’t a major motion picture do the same?

The Golden Age of Television

DC Comics is dominating the television game. With Arrow, The Flash and Supergirl, they are literally setting the stage for comic book stories to be told. The disappointing thing is, Zack Snyder doesn’t want to use the television version of these superheroes because it doesn’t match his “tone.” These series already have a decent size following, and if they incorporated them into their movie multiverse, people would be even more drawn to catching up on what they missed out. Marvel did it with their show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, and that show isn’t even as highly reguarded of as any of the holy trinity. People are more interested in characters that they know and trust, and Grant Gustin is that when in character because he fully embodies Flash.

Truly, I feel like DC Comics and Warner Brothers is missing out on a huge opportunity by not incorporating these shows. They are established and well written, and even with the different “tone,” Snyder’s Flash sounds a lot like the television show. Greg Berlanti has brought some much life to DC Comics with these three television series, and I feel like he could do even more if he could incorporate them into the movie multiverse. Part of the reason we are in the second or third Golden Age of Television is because of series like these, and it is a disappointment that they won’t be transferred over to the big screen.

Zack Snyder’s Obsession with Frank Miller

Much of Snyder’s career has been over Frank Miller‘s work, such as 300 and Watchmen. Batman v Superman seems to carry a lot of influences from ThDark Knight Returns, especially Batman’s costume and the ultimate showdown between the two heroes. Unfortunately, that is where the comparisons stop. Kevin Smith said it perfectly when describing Snyder with Batman v Superman, “he read one comic once, and it was Dark Knight Returns, and his favorite part was the last part where Batman and Superman fight.” The thing is, every time Snyder adapts a film for Miller’s source material, it always has a feel like this. He takes what he likes, but he forgets the heart.

Miller is a brilliant writer and there is a reason everyone wants to adapt his stories, but imagine if Snyder had dug deeper for a story in both Batman and Superman’s lore. What if Snyder took from Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo‘s current Batman masterpiece to build his Batman? Or John Byrne‘s Superman: Man of Steel to shape the dynamic between Batman and Superman? Ultimately, Snyder had so much material to build off of, but he stuck to his safety belt and relied on watered down renditions of Miller’s stories.

Who Run the World? Girls

If there was one saving grace to Batman v Superman, it is Gal Gadot‘s take on Wonder Woman. Her entrance as the amazonian princess is electrifying. Any minute Gadot was on the screen, I was captivated, which is really unfortunate because she barely had any screen time. You’re biggest take away from this film should be your pure, unadulterated excitement for the Wonder Woman film coming to us in June 2017. While Batman has to dodge Doomsday attacks and Superman is off saving Lois Lane, Wonder Woman is facing him head on. She is the female superhero we have all been waiting for (and who we deserve), and I hope she marks the beginning of more female superheroes being transitioned to film.

Now on to Lois Lane. I want to begin this simply: Amy Adams deserved more from this film, and so did we. Lois Lane is a badass character, and Adams shined when she got to show off that side of Lois. Regrettably, those scenes were usually met with her somehow getting captured and Superman having to come and save her. This happened three times, THREE TIMES. Lois is way smarter than this, she even figured out that Lex Luthor was behind these crimes before anyone else (which, come on Batman is a super detective, and I’m supposed to believe he fell for Luther’s tricks, give me a break). Before she could even have a chance to save the day, they would have her do something out of character and that didn’t make sense, which ended up creating huge amounts of trouble. Still, Lois Lane was central to plot of this film. Even if they didn’t get the time or story they deserved, Adams owned her role and Gadot owned this movie reminding us that girls truly do run the world.

 

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Playing House: David O. Russell’s Romantic Realism

“I felt like we had a secret, just the two of us. Like that thing where you just wanna be with one person all the time. You feel like the two of you get something no one else gets,” (American Hustle). This is how it feels when watching a David O. Russell film: a newly found relationship between Russell and the audience. He is able to achieve this by using the realistic approach of a romanticized subject which he is able to translate into two hours of character driven, comedic pleasure. David O. Russell first brings you into the heart of the community with The Fighter, later on he brings you home to meet the family with Silver Linings Playbook, and then things get beautifully complicated as you slowly get to see his true identity with American Hustle. David O. Russell plays house with a loose trilogy dealing with a romantic approach to everyday life.

David O. Russell developed a new style of filmmaking when he made a trilogy of films that dealt with the topic of neighborhood, family, and identity. This collection included The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, and American Hustle, where he touches base with all of these topics and emphasizes one in particular for each film. The Fighter, which is the first of these films, is inspired by a true story that revolves around Micky Ward, a man struggling to break away from the working class Massachusetts upbringing by taking a chance to develop a boxing career. While the story revolves around his family, it truly shines when it focuses on Micky’s neighborhood and how that influenced the way he fights. Russell wanted to take that impact inflicted upon Micky by the community through on location filming. This included a real gym where Dicky trained his brother Micky, an apartment in downtown Lowell and a bar where Micky meets and pursues the bartender[1]. This allowed the film to have an accurate portrayal of a community and its people. Also, Russell demanded authentic Boston accents from his actors instead of sticking to a traditional American accent. This included Welsh actor Christian Bale, who recorded conversations with the person his character was based on so he could learn to mimic his voice[2]. This embedded feel for the community is what helped deliver the film’s core message of an against all odds local hero story. By approaching this story in a realistic manner with on location filming in Massachusetts, Russell was able to romanticize how a community is able to affect the way one is able to move through life. Micky’s feeling of disappointment from the community was what helped him continue to grow and improve himself, and Russell was able to bring this idea to light. He continued this notion with his next film, Silver Linings Playbook.

David O Russell was inspired when he first got his hands on Silver Linings Playbook because it dealt with a topic he was familiar with; Russell’s oldest son is bipolar[3]. Silver Linings Playbook centers on Pat, a man struggling with his bipolar disorder, which is discovered after he violently attacks a man who he finds sleeping with his wife. There were many ways to approach the topic of a mental disorder, but Russell decided to focus on how it affects the family as a whole.
Silver Linings Playbook was an enormous emotional thing for me because it was like taking all the anguish of the experience with our son that has been an ingrown struggle and bringing it into the light of day,” Russell said (Galloway 72). When finding a balance for the film, Russell relied on Robert De Niro’s character to showcase the way to keep the angst at bay, something Russell learned through his journey of filmmaking (Galloway 74). Even more so, Russell wanted to play up on the dysfunctional way Pat’s family interacts with one another, which included a crazy ritual for watching Philadelphia Eagle games. Instead of shying away from the controversy, Russell honed in on how people are at the mercy of their feelings[4]. There are several scenes in the film that show how Pat deals with situations compared to a normal person, such as hurling a copy of “A Farewell to Arms” out of his attic and then maniacally running to tell his parents of his frustration with the novel. Russell’s choice of letting him tell his parents of his frustration compared to dealing with them alone granted the audience a glimpse how a mental disorder can bring a family together and tear them apart at the same time. Ultimately, being able to grow and love as a family is the takeaway from Russell’s film. That is why most of the scenes in the film are filled with Pat’s dysfunctional family compared to just Pat alone. Russell’s choice of exploring the dynamic between Pat and his family is what made the film the feel good movie of the year. Russell continued to weave this type of storytelling when he went into making his last film of the trilogy, American Hustle.

When David O. Russell went into making American Hustle, he struggled with finding a direction. He finally found his light when he “kept telling the story of the film from the different perspectives… a colorful and enchanting world, and an intimate and raw feel,” (Dillon 30). In American Hustle we are greeted with several characters looking for something better as they try to survive in a world ran on lies. For example, Irving Rosenfeld is a self-made conman who does whatever is needed to continue on in this dog eat dog world. His mistress, Sydney Prosser, fakes her way through daily situations to gain what is needed. His wife, Rosalyn Rosenfeld, uses her son to keep Irving from walking out the door. Lastly, the cop who turned his world upside down, Richie DiMaso, is digging for his big break and will stop at nothing to make his way to the top. David O. Russell specifically manufactured each of these characters to bring to light the desperateness for each person to find where they belong. “They all have to be woven together in a way that is frightening, surprising, heartbreaking, enchanting — all those emotions that I love,” Russell noted in an interview (Galloway 73). Although each character was woven together, the story really shined with scenes between Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser. Irving and Sydney both faked their way through life, but together they were able to be who they wanted to be. For example, Sydney puts on a fake British accent and automatically becomes Lady Edith Greensly to everyone with only Irving seeing her true identity. This is similar to Irving who was forced into a conman lifestyle, when he truly longed for a family lifestyle where he didn’t need to lie to survive. These characters are drawn to each other by their need to survive and find a safe haven in one another that no one else can offer. The mask they put on for everyone else is what allowed American Hustle to grow away from the ABSCAM storyline, and emphasize more on how David O. Russell threshes out characters and their development. This is something Russell focused on when making The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, and American Hustle.

Each of these three films Russell became entangled with, he grew away from the story and zoned in how characters makes things possible. When talking about the films as a whole, Russell said “it’s about very specific characters with their very specific worlds, and they’re as dramatic and emotional as they are funny. They have their enchantments. The way they drink, eat, dance, make love and listen to music is as important to me as the story,” (Dillon 30). This is what allowed this collection of films to thrive. It is a continuing story of growing up, figuring things out, and relying on the others to help get you by. David O Russell does not fit the conventional standards of filmmaking because he strives to tell a story that uses the little details as motivation for a story of multiple people becoming a family.

 

[1] The Fighter filming locations in Lowell, Massachusetts

[2] An interview titled “Letting His Role Do the Talking,” by Dennis Lim

[3] Russell touches base in “American Hustler,” on why he was drawn to Silver Linings Playbook, by Stephen Galloway. Print article, not found on web.

[4] See Periodical on David O. Russell with Silver Linings Playbook, by Benjamin Endsley Klein.

True Detective Season 2 Dream Casting

Alright, alright, alright. As season one of  True Detective drew to a close, every one wondered who the hit HBO Police Detective Anthology Series would cast as their season 2 detectives. While some have been serious (Can we just have Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson back?), some have been more comical (Meryl Streep and Meryl Streep anyone?). My list features a mixture of both, but isn’t that they fun of it all?

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The Dark Knight Rises: Why the Dark Knight Rose.

This will not be like my usual reviews, mostly because I do not want to ruin how great this movie truly is. Now let’s begin. The first face we see return is the wartime worn face of Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman). His character is similar to how we left him, except for the fact that his family left him for not speaking the truth about what went down between Batman and Harvey Dent/Two Face. You can tell in his face and the ways he acts that this has taken a toll on him, and that he cannot seem to forgive himself or move past it. (Remember this is 8 years in the future). His character literally goes through Hell after a run in with Bane and his henchmen. And you can tell from his time of suffering that he is ready to restore the town to its former glory and restore Batman’s name in Gotham City. Our next returning character is the ever charming Alfred, and unfortunately we do not get to see much of his glorious face during much of these movies. But every scene he is in is moving; Michael Caine is such a brilliant actor, I cherish him deeply. His character brings so much life to the screen, and if you do not cry at any of Alfred’s scenes then you are totally heartless. He does get his wish, and I will leave it at that. Next up, we have Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman). Lucius plays an important role in this film, as he has done in every batman movie. For me, he truly brings about the return of Batman by introducing new toys such as “The Bat” which is the flying mechanism that we get the pleasure of viewing in the commercials. Also, watch for his words because he does foreshadow things (unintentionally) when it comes to the ending. Now it is time for the new characters, and let’s start off with the villain shall we? With the Joker (Heather Ledger) we witnessed a terrifying match psychologically, and now in The Dark Knight Rises we meet a match in the physical category. Gotham’s Reckoning, Bane (Tom Hardy) is a terrifying mercenary, and although a lot of critics have picked at him for not being the Joker, they did not pay attention to how great Tom Hardy truly was. All of the emotion were told from his eyes, and for the most part his eyes were black and heartless. If Bane was on the street, I would truly be worried for my life. We soon learn after meeting him that he was excommunicated from the League of Shadows (Reference Batman Begins). And he will stop at nothing to fulfill Ra’s Al Ghul’s wish of destroying the corruption that was Gotham City. And he does have a friend lurking in the shadows. We also have a new lady love by the name of Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), and my words to describe her would be very pushy. She is yearning for Bruce Wayne’s attention and his money for her project our supplying clean air to the world. She eventually works a way into his life, and we watch their chemistry blossom as she tells us of her hard childhood before they struck it rich. Miranda is indeed an interesting character, and as the movie progresses you discover more about her and her story. Next we have one of the most interesting characters of all time in comic book history, Selina Kyle aka Catwoman (Anne Hathaway). Christopher did perfect casting when selecting Anne Hathaway, she played the part with justice. Her transitions from sweet to seductive were breathtaking, and I loved every minute with her on screen. From the beginning her and Bruce Wayne had chemistry/sexual tension, but they do get pushed to the back burner after Miranda clawed her way through. Selina Kyle also has a huge wakening for her character (Phew, what a lot of work for one character) as she goes from bad kitty to the perfect sidekick/arm candy. Anne Hathaway holds her own in this character, and it is beautiful to watch. The last and my favorite character, John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). He is the perfect good cop, and he is the best detective (Refer to Tim Drake). He has strong morals through out the movie, and even with Bane’s demise of Gotham City he still encourages the town to have hope. Plus, he believes in Batman (and knows Batman’s/Bruce Wayne’s secret) since he was an orphan. You soon discover that Bruce Wayne has a soft spot for John Blake, and tries his best to keep that passion for Batman alive. “You wear the mask not to protect yourself, but to protect the ones you love”. And, of course the star of the show Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale). Over these ten years he has given us a marvelous example of what a comic book movie should be, and what a superhero truly was. We watched his character develop in Batman Begins, we watched him grow as Bruce Wayne and we watched the demise of Batman in The Dark Knight, and in The Dark Knight Rises we see him rebuild Batman and become the best Bruce Wayne that he could be, for his loved ones. We do watch Bruce Wayne go through a huge rebuilding of himself, and the way it plays out is nothing short of a masterpiece. Bruce Wayne starts out rich, but we soon discover that he is as broke as my piggy bank. And that is when he starts making decisions that effect the entire movie. Also, the team Catwoman and Batman create is so amazing, they suit each other very well. I will leave you with one last thing about Batman, the idea is that anyone could be behind the mask. The movie as a whole was nothing short of excellent, like a said before with Batman/Bruce Wayne this movie is also a masterpiece. I cannot begin to express my gratitude to Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan for delivering us this beautifully crafted trilogy that I will hold near and dear to my heart till the day I die (both literally, and not). He crafted all of the characters with such pride and dignity that I can be nothing by grateful for this gift. (Yes, I am a diehard Batman fan). Also, the score for this movie, thanks to Hans Zimmerman, is superb. If you do see this movie, please enjoy it in IMAX, you will not be sorry. To all the conspirators who have not seen this legendary movies yet, the answer the all of your questions is yes, well almost. I will leave that for you to figure out. I cannot grade this movie due to its excellence, and I would like to thank Christopher Nolan one more time for this gift of greatness. “A hero can be anyone. Even a man doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat around a little boy’s shoulder to let him know that the world hadn’t ended.”