Heretofore unmentioned movie reviews

I forgot to post these movie reviews, which all ran in LGBT Weekly over the last few months.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Wonder WomanI was unable to see the mega-hyped, mega-budget Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice before other critics ran their reviews. And because many of the reviewers were so dismissive or so hyperbolic in their criticism, the news of the film’s opening was overshadowed by the blood sport of Internet overkill. The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern called it “underdeveloped, overlong and stupendously dispiriting” and NPR’s Chris Klimek described the film as “a ponderous, smothering, over-pixelated zeppelin crash of a movie scored by a choir that sounds like it’s being drowned in lava.” A meme of Ben Affleck’s dejected facial expression in response to hearing about the reviews was shared by millions of people who weirdly find glee in the sadness of others. I found it impossible to avoid knowing that a lot of people thought the movie was terrible. But when I did see it, I was perplexed. While BvS is certainly not a masterpiece of the genre – neither as morally complex and smart as The Dark Knight nor as fun and thrilling as The Avengers – it is hardly a “zeppelin crash.” It’s pretentious and bombastic and it rewrites the central ethos of its main characters in ways that are disconcerting for some longtime fans. But it’s not an ineptly made film. [Read the rest.]

Hello, My Name Is Doris

Hello, My Name Is DorisAt various times in my life, I’ve frequented nightclubs: loud music, overpriced drinks, spinning lights, smoke machines and usually young people dancing in outfits chosen to attract the gaze and attention of other, hopefully very attractive dancers. Occasionally, people would stick out. A guy who arrived in loafers and Dockers, a bachelorette dancing in a white veil and an older person in what someone might call “age-inappropriate clothing.” There’d be that one woman over 60 in a miniskirt, a glittery wig, chunky earrings and an original Sex Pistols concert T-shirt. I always loved this woman, not just because it takes a lot of guts to go dancing in a club full of kids younger than her children (if she had any), but also because I knew she had a story, a good story. Hello, My Name is Doris is one such story. Starring a brilliant Sally Field and co-written and directed by Wet Hot American Summer’s Michael Showalter, the delightful Doris is both heartfelt and cringeworthy. [Read the rest.]

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny

Sword of DestinyCrouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is one of those movies that everyone likes. The seamless blend of ground-breaking martial arts action, two epic love stories, feminist character arcs, high art visuals, gorgeous music and the great director Ang Lee made the film beloved of everyone from teenage action fans to cineastes, men and women, boys and girls. More than once, I was told seeing it was like seeing Star Wars for the first time – revelatory. Even though the film is based on the fourth novel of The Crane-Iron pentology by Du Lu Wang, no one seriously suggested that Ang Lee make the prequels or a sequel. But the Weinstein Company is never one not to see branded opportunity, and 15 years later they decided to make a film based on the fifth of Wang’s books, Iron Knight, Silver Vase, and release it on Netflix and in theaters simultaneously. (Most theaters balked.) Despite hiring Woo-Ping Yuen to direct and convincing Michelle Yeoh to reprise her iconic role as Shu Lien, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny is forgettable, mostly pleasing as a reminder of a much, much better movie. [Read the rest.]


Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) reacts to Colossus’ (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) threats.

Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) reacts to Colossus’ (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) threats.

One of the problems with the takeover of popular culture by Marvel and DC superheroes is how seriously the stories take themselves, how easy the morality is and how family-friendly everything is. Monster-budget films likeThe Avengers and the upcoming Batman vs Superman, or network dramas like The Flash andAgents of SHIELD, aim to reach the broadest audience possible, which means no swearing, little irony and barely a hint of sex. (The Netflix shows Daredevil andJessica Jones are the exception, as they are niche shows.) Then there’sDeadpool, the raunchy, hyper and hilariously violent, anti-hero’s tale that exploded a dozen box office records last week. Based on one of the edgiest characters in the Marvel X-Men universe, the film both panders to the basest sensibilities of the young men who make up the lion’s share of comic book fans and mercilessly mocks superhero story conventions. [Read the rest.]

Hail, Caesar!

Hail, Caesar!While I am a huge fan of the Coen brothers, I must acknowledge that they make some odd decisions that produce some ambiguous if not totally perplexing moments: The off-screen death of a major character in No Country for Old Men, the tornado that ends A Serious Man, the lack of any plot in Inside Llewyn Davis and pretty much all of The Big Lebowski. Usually, these weird scenes are aesthetically so interesting or so funny or, after some thought, thematically satisfying that the Coens get away with them, and they often end up being the most iconic parts of the films. But it doesn’t always work that way. Maybe I need a few months to think about Hail, Caesar! but right now, the over-stuffed incoherence and very odd political choices in the film don’t work. It’s rather unfortunate, too, because the Coens put together a fantastic cast and crafted a dozen or so near-genius scenes in Hail, Caesar! – including Channing Tatum in a nearly epic song-and-dance number – but it would have been nice to see they serve some purpose. [Read the rest.}

The Revenant

The RevenantA great deal has been written, said and tweeted regarding how, for the second year in a row, each one of the 20 actors nominated for an Academy Award this year are white. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Academy is 94 percent white, 2 percent African American and less than 2 percent Latino. The median age is 62, and only 14 percent of the membership is under 50. And 77 percent of members are men.

Even if Hollywood as a whole is supposedly very liberal, old white men are in general not likely to support people of color – in whatever venue, whether film awards or politics.

The Revenant, a ruthless and bombastic tale of revenge in the cold western American frontier, is the kind of movie many men like. The Academy nominated it for 12 Oscars, more than any other this year, and the film is currently holding an 8.3 rating on IMDb, ranking it as the 124th greatest movie of all time. About 80,000 of the IMDb votes came from men, and 13,000 from women. I don’t want to say that men like The Revenant so much because no woman speaks in it, but of the two female characters, neither have audible lines in their few minutes on screen. (One is murdered, the other is raped.) According to the site’s stats, the women who saw the film rated it nearly as high as men, but any film executive will tell you that fewer women are drawn to films so violent, so depleted of female voices or faces, and so focused on themes of classic male heroism. [Read the rest.]


By the time you read this, the actual movie called The Dark Knight Rises will have been completely eclipsed in the popular imagination by the shooting at a July 20th midnight screening of the movie in Aurora, Colorado, in which 12 people were killed and 58 wounded. James Holmes, the 24-year-old man who (allegedly) committed the crime had died his hair red, bought a ticket, entered the theater, put on a gas mask and a bullet-proof vest, set off some sort of gas bomb, and then, with an assault rifle and a shotgun and a revolver, opened fire into the audience as they were just sitting down to see the most anticipated film of the year. Rises is the sequel to The Dark Knight, the movie in which Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker was, perhaps, the greatest depiction of evil in modern film. When Holmes was arrested outside the theater, he told the police that he was the Joker. The picture of Holmes that has appeared in most stories about the San Diego native is that of a young man smiling as if he has just won the lottery or as if he were deranged. It seems the latter is most likely true.

What Holmes did in Aurora is something that the Joker would have done. It had no purpose other than to create chaos, fear, and despair. It had no meaning. It has no meaning. Yes, there are actions that could have prevented the massacre. Obviously, you can blame the National Rifle Association for spending hundreds of millions of dollars fighting gun control laws that could have prevented Holmes from legally buying an assault rifle. And less obviously, better, cheaper, and more aggressive mental health services could have been able to help and stop Holmes from becoming the monster he has become. But these are political arguments and policy problems. What Holmes and the Joker did in reality and fiction, respectively, were not political or even immoral. Their evil is amoral; it does not have righteousness or belief behind it. It is evil for evil’s sake.

The horrible irony of the Aurora massacre is that Christopher Nolan’s trilogy of Batman movies that started with Batman Begins and ends with Rises is about this kind of evil and the moral bargains that good people must make to fight and beat it. Rises takes place seven years after the action in The Dark Knight, and Gotham City is crime free because of the Dent Law, passed after Batman (Christian Bale) supposedly murdered the supposedly heroic district attorney Harvey Dent. In reality, Dent was the psychotic murderer Two-Face and Batman and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) decided to allow the city to valorize Dent at the Batman’s expense to give the populace hope. Batman has disappeared, and his alter ego Bruce Wayne has taken Howard Hughes-like to the east wing of his mansion. Batman and Gordon’s cynical pact comes back to haunt them and Gotham when a masked mercenary called Bane (Tom Hardy) descends on the city with an army and an insane plan to destroy it with nuclear device designed by Bruce Wayne’s company. Involved in the overstuffed and intricate plot are a talented cat burglar (Anne Hathaway), a beautiful and accented investor in Wayne Enterprises (Marion Cotillard), and a junior detective in the Gotham Police Department (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Of course, Alfred (Michael Caine), Wayne’s butler, is around as well.

No one could hope that Rises could ever be as good as The Dark Knight, which is inarguably the best superhero movie ever made. The main problem with the movie is that Nolan and his brother Jonathan forced the Rises screenplay to tie up the plot threads ofThe Dark Knight and Batman Begins into a perfect and bleak bow. This creates too many contrived revelatory moments, particularly during the film’s third act. However, I honestly didn’t care that I was suffering too many plot twists because I was watching, after all, a comic book movie. I didn’t care that Hathaway wasn’t as a good a Catwoman as Michelle Pfeiffer was in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, because Hathaway was sly, slinky, and funny. I was only bothered a little that Tom Hardy’s voice was occasionally muffled by Bane’s mask because, when he could be heard, his speeches were so lyrical and so cynical they gave me chills. And whatever the script problems, watching an epic action film directed by Christopher Nolan and edited by Lee Smith means that chase scenes, fist fights, seemingly impossible stunts, and complex dramatic scenes are executed with the precision needed to be both utterly clear and actually thrilling. I was so excited by the last hour of the film that for an hour afterward, my heart was still racing.

While I have avoided reading other reviews of The Dark Knight Rises, I haven’t been able escape the commentary on Facebook and Twitter from the small but vocal minority who didn’t like the movie. And I wasn’t able to escape the brouhaha about the critics who posted early, negative reviews and received death threats from Batman fans. While I take movies seriously for their cultural, political, and economic power, using an opinion about a movie as an excuse for actual or rhetorical violence is senseless to me. This is especially so when the movie is a meditation on the horror that senseless violence creates.

The Dark Knight Rises
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan
Starring Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, and Anne Hathaway
Rated PG-13
At your local multiplex