April 9, 2016

Of Batman v. Superman and Netflix Shows

            Once again it’s been a while since my last update so this post will mostly be reviews of the things I’ve watched in the last month or so.  A lot of it is on the TV side, but I’m going to start with the film that was on the tip of everyone’s tongue a couple of weeks ago: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.  It’s been interesting to see this film be utterly rejected in the word of mouth department as it dropped almost 70% from its first weekend to its second and looks to have another drop in the high 50s-low 60s range this weekend.  Now those drops are somewhat similar to its predecessor, Man of Steel, which was a film so thematically stupid that the unique and eye-popping imagery couldn’t save it.  That’s just about what many have summed up Batman v. Superman as, and it’s easy to see why.  However, I couldn’t help but liking this film overall.  It’s a complete mess of a film that has no understanding of its two leads, but for all of its faults I couldn’t help but admire that Zack Snyder has completely captured the grandeur of these larger than life figures on the big screen.  That may seem easy, but capturing scale is harder to do than it looks on film, and Snyder nails it here.  It also helps this film is much better cast than its predecessor.  Henry Cavill is still too bland to play an already bland character and poor Amy Adams is still stuck playing one of the worst written characters in cinematic history, but Ben Affleck makes it clear that while he may be miscast in this film (he just has too much charm for a The Dark Knight Returns-esque Batman) he certainly can be a great Bruce Wayne/Batman in future films.  Also Gal Galdot is a real standout as Wonder Woman, and Jesse Eisenberg brings a different set of energy that brings attention to his performance in all the right ways.  Now that all of the positives are out of the way it’s time to bring up the fact that Zack Snyder is still tone deaf, that Warners Brothers meddling leaves marks all over the place on this film, and that the filmmakers’ happiness with themselves over their “twist” ending is a little ridiculous considering all they are doing is telling the Hero’s Journey.  So, yes, this is a mess but a fun one.

            Now onto television where I have been trying to catch up with a lot lately.  The latest binge watch I was able to complete was Marvel’s Jessica Jones.  This series continues to build off of the more adult themes that the first season of Marvel’s Daredevil delved into and it is quite admirable for doing so.  Additionally, the cast is largely strong.  So far the television leads (with the exception of Hayley Atwell who admittedly got her start in a supporting role in one of the films) of the Marvel Cinematic Universe just haven’t been able to capture the spotlight of their projects as much as their cinematic counterparts have, and Krysten Ritter’s Jessica Jones continues that trend.  Ritter does a great job with what she is given, but the dour tone of her character makes her hard to love.  Mike Colter’s appearance as future lead Luke Cage gave me a similar impression.  However, Rachael Taylor (as Jessica Jones best friend), David Tennant (as mind controlling villain Kilgrave) and Wil Traval (as Jessica’s “in” with the authorities) all bring enough spunk to lighten up this show.  Unfortunately, the direction on this show leaves a lot to be desired.  The noir style is one that can easily go so wrong in bland hands and that’s what happens here.  The action sequences also pale in comparison to Daredevil, and while that shouldn’t amount to much it does when a crucial action scene in the finale falls apart due to being too derivative of previous action sequences.  The solid serialization of the plot and the supporting cast are enough to make this series interesting though.
            Another Netflix series I was able to catch up on was the fourth season of House of Cards.  I’m slowly coming to wit’s end with this series.  It’s a beautiful show and its team of directors has done a fantastic job of capturing the style that David Fincher evoked with the pilot episode.  However, the writing on this show just gets more and more unbelievable and that’s saying something when you consider how ridiculous the real life election cycle has gotten.  It also doesn’t help that there is a single likeable character left on this show.  While Frank Underwood was never going to be likeable, there was still this idea of revenge that worked so well with the character.  However, with him as the free leader of the world there really is no one left to get revenge at.  So while the visuals of this show are shiny, the core has unfortunately rotted away.

            Another show that I was able to get to was the first season of Angie Tribeca, which I will only briefly touch on.  The reason: it’s just fluff.  It’s a bunch of one liners stretched over thirty minutes.  That works in the capable hands of Rashida Jones and Hayes MacArthur, but there isn’t exactly any meat to this show either.  It’s enjoyable but completely forgettable.

            Meanwhile, Star Wars just never seems to go away.  Just as The Force Awakens left my local theater a couple of weeks ago, it was quickly released on Blu-ray this week and the trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was released the following day.  The second season finale of Star Wars Rebels aired just last week as well.  It seems like Rebels has now settled into a groove of sorts.  It knows exactly what it is at points, which is unfortunate because I much preferred the mini arc structure that its predecessor Star Wars: The Clone Wars used.  While Rebels will at times use the mini arc format it doesn’t do so as religiously as its predecessor, so this season did seem to get lost at times.  This season really would have benefitted from being four or five episodes shorter.  However, when this show was firing on all cylinders it was telling some of the best stories in Star Wars cannon, and it really knew how to include all of its cameos in very organic ways (PRINCESS LEIA!!!).  Also, you just have to admire the fact that this show has gotten James Earl Jones to reprise Darth Vader.  Some of Vader’s finest hours have been in this season of Rebels.

            Finally, American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson concluded this week so I can’t help but issue my thoughts on the show.  I had so many bad feelings about this show when it was first announced considering Ryan Murphy’s involvement, but Murphy is largely contained throughout this show (other than some scenes with the Kardashian children early in the series that have no reason being in the show).  Surprisingly, this might be up there with The Leftovers as the best written, directed and acted show on television this season.  Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski really nail the back-and-forths and the monologues.  They also, with directors Ryan Murphy, Anthony Hemingway and John Singleton, are able to capture a singular voice that comes the closest to getting to the point about what the entire Black Lives Matter movement is about (which is a true achievement considering how complex that issue is with so many people looking at it through a black or white lens).  Then it’s all left to the cast, which delivers a series of knockout performances.  Sterling K. Brown, Cuba Gooding Jr., Sarah Paulson, John Travolta, and Courtney B. Vance do some of the best work of their entire careers.  This is a monumental achievement that will surely steamroll through Emmy season in what was already a very crowded field.

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice = 6.5/10
Marvel’s Jessica Jones: Season 1=7/10
House of Cards: Season 4=6/10
Angie Tribeca: Season 1=7/10
Star Wars Rebels: Season 2=7.5/10

American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson=8.5/10

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