Batman v Superman

Dawn of Justice

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I had a day off, so boogied on over to Newington to catch a late morning/early afternoon screening before it vanishes from theatres. I think there were five other people in the auditorium.

I read all the vitriol directed at this movie, but wound up liking it anyway.

Most of the plot is right up there in the title. Batman/Bruce Wayne has gone a little bit around the bend in his pursuit of evildoers, and he's more than a little irked at how the Superman/Zod battle from the previous movie trashed Metropolis and left thousands of collateral-damage casualties. Superman, for his part, is unfond of Batman's increasingly violent vigilantism.

Add Lex Luthor to the mix, who's eager to encourage the mutual irritation of our heroes into a deadly duel. And Lois Lane, always in peril. And—you probably already have heard—a reclusive female superhero, famous for her Lasso of Truth, Bracelets of Submission, and Bazongas of Awesomeness.

It's fun, but honestly, it's also way long, and I invited disaster by not timing my restroom visits better. And, geez, the plot is mystifying: just what is Luthor trying to accomplish here? At least the Gene Hackman version from 1978 (!) had a clear, if ludicrous, goal in mind. And our superbabe: exactly why is she doing what she's doing at the beginning? If any of this was explained, I missed it.

Also it's kind of pretentious: someone should tell the scriptwriters that's it's pointless for us mere mortals to draw coherent moral lessons from the travails of superheroes. Don't bother!

Along with the pretentiousness comes humorlessness. Although Jeremy Irons as Alfred delivers some good acerbic lines, the funny banter between B & S ("I thought she was with you.") comes as kind of a shock when it finally arrives.

Last Modified 2016-04-25 5:54 AM EDT

Wild Card

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Usually I prefer to watch movies the old-fashioned way: on DVD from Netflix. But, at loose ends one evening, I decided to scan through the Amazon Prime offerings, found this Jason Statham movie, and—hey, I like Jason—decided to check it out.

Surprise number one: screenplay by William Goldman. Mr. Goldman will turn 85 years young in August, and (let's check IMDB) his previous screenplay was in 2003 (Dreamcatcher, not well reviewed). It is based on his novel Heat, and this is the second movie version, the first being with Burt Reynolds in 1986.

If you need reminding about William Goldman's screenwriting skills, just check out the list at the above link.

Surprise number two: it's not mindless non-stop action. Statham plays Nick Wild, an actually interesting character. He scrapes by in Vegas, picking up (very) odd jobs here and there. He dreams of hitting a big (half-million dollar) jackpot and retiring to seaside bliss.

His primary task here: avenging the savage beating of a hooker by local hoodlums. And he's also babysitting a nebbish who wants to frequent the local casinos without getting robbed.

Never fear: there are a few scenes of action, and Statham's character is just tragically flawed enough to keep you guessing about the eventual outcome. It's not a fantastic movie, but good enough to watch if you don't have anything else in the queue.


[2.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Honest, I really wanted to like this more than I did. Salad family trivia: It was the only Best Picture Oscar nominee we hadn't seen from last year.

It starts out recreating a horrible moment in history: the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four black girls, aged 11-14. And then a dramatization of Annie Lee Cooper's—Oprah!—failed attempt to register to vote at the Selma courthouse. (She successfully recites the preamble to the Constitution. She knows there are 67 county judges in Alabama. But—oops!—she can't name them. Sorry, Annie.)

Into this steps Martin Luther King Jr. and various less-famous activists from the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). It's decided to use Selma as a symbol to pressure President Lyndon Johnson and the US Congress to pass Federal voting rights legislation. Over the period of a few months this gives rise to a massive violent confrontation at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, in addition to the deaths of other protesters.

What's good: the main black actors do an uncanny job of recreating their characters. David Oyelowo as Dr. King and Carmen Ejogo are especially good. (In contrast, Tom Wilkinson and Eli Roth are never that convincing as LBJ and George Wallace, respectively.)

Not so good: the characters tend to sermonize at points when, in real life, they would be speaking more normally. And the movie takes pretty unexcusable liberties with actual events. It's important to get things right.

Big Ass Spider!

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

How can one not help but like a movie titled Big Ass Spider!. Yes, with the exclamation point. Like Airplane! or … well, it turns out to be way more common than you might have thought.

It stars Greg Grunberg as the good-hearted exterminator Alex Mathis. Alex is excellent at his profession, because (he claims) he can think like the pests he is hired to eliminate. Never mind that his most loyal customers tend to pay him with fruitcake instead of dollars. He's doing what he loves.

But a nasty spider bite takes him to the local hospital. Which, coincidentally, also contains a morgue dealing with a corpse, which … aieee! … is serving as a hatchery for a mutant breed of killer arachnid. Look out, morgue attendant! Ooops, too late.

Pretty soon, the US Army is revealed to have been the source of this horrible experiment gone awry. Leland Palmer himself, Ray Wise, shows up as the Army officer in charge of capturing or killing the Big Ass Spider, and he's accompanied by fetching Lt. Karly. But it soon becomes apparent that they need the exterminating help that only Alex can provide.

It's not exactly sophistated humor, but I am easily amused, and chuckled throughout.

Rise of the Guardians

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Another ostensibly-for-kids movie that Mrs. Salad and I thoroughly enjoyed. Part of the secret was revealed in the credits: based on a book by William Joyce. We used to read his wonderful books to the kids. A lot of his genius shines through here, in both the inventive animation and the storytelling.

The main protagonist is Jack Frost: his origin is mysterious, in the sense that he doesn't remember how he got to be Jack Frost at all. But he enjoys giving kids snow days and fun times in the frigid temperatures.

Still, something's missing. He's given a chance to find it when he is invited to go on an important mission with the good-guy Guardians: Santa, Sandman, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny. Their nemesis is "Pitch Black", aka the Boogeyman. He has a nefarious plot to defang the Guardians by making the children of the world disbelieve in them. And henceforth the world shall be in the thrall of darkness, fear, and hatred.

It's fun to have a bad guy that's really bad.

It's full of beauty and humor. Plenty of sight gags in Santa's workshop.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Another movie that I liked more than I thought I would. That's always a nice thing to say. Back as a young 'un, I used to watch the TV show of the same name. Since I was an idiot (more accurately: a bigger idiot than I am now) I thought that was how the spy game actually worked. Learning otherwise was like finding out about Santa.

It is an origin story, set in the deep Cold War days. Dapper spy (and ex-thief) Napoleon Solo is sent into East Berlin to extract the beautiful auto mechanic Gaby into the West. Hoping to stop him is the KGB agent, Illya Kuryakin. Kuryakin is (of course) a formidable foe, but Solo barely escapes with Gaby.

There's a motive for Gaby's extraction: her father is a genius scientist who's worked out a new design for a nuclear bomb. And, unfortunately, he's developing it for a gang of criminals who want to sell it to everyone's favorite villains, the Nazis. Of course, Kuryakin gets roped back in as the CIA and KGB decide to collaborate in order to thwart this outcome.

Solo and Kuryakin initially loathe and distrust each other, and their relationship is a series of verbal barbs and one-upmanship. Of course, this feud develops quickly into a bromance. This works better than it has any right to. Also appearing is a dapper Brit, Waverly: anyone remembering the TV show knows that he'll eventually work things out.

There's some fancy cinematography, which I was indifferent toward.


[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A decent little movie, with Patrick Stewart playing someone who isn't a starship captain or heroic mutant leader.

Instead, he plays Tobi Powell, famous ex-dancer, currently a ballet instructor at Julliard. He's seemingly flamboyant and extroverted in public, but in private he's an odd duck. He saves his nail clippings in a jar on his mantle; his hobby is knitting.

Tobi, by the way, allegedly grew up on a pig farm in Maine, but that Maine accent is nowhere to be seen. (Patrick Stewart didn't try to do a French accent when he was Jean-Luc in Star Trek either. Maybe he doesn't do accents.)

Anyway, he agrees to an interview request from Lisa (Carla Gugino), (ostensibly) a graduate student from Oregon, assisted by her husband Mike (Matthew Lillard). Things go smoothly at first: they meet in a local diner, have some booze and party mix, then move to Tobi's apartment, have more booze, some hash, and more party mix. And it becomes apparent that Lisa and Mike have ulterior motives, as they start asking some increasingly nosy questions. And before you can say "Well, I thought something like that was going on", revelations occur, souls are bared, and cheeks are forcibly swabbed.

IMDB bills this as a comedy/drama, and there are some funny bits. I thought it felt like an adapted play while I was watching, and (sure enough) it was.

All three primary actors do a fantastic job in their roles. I'm not sure the plot stands up to scrutiny, but that's OK.

Back in Time

[2.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I loved the Back to the Future movies, so I was kind of eager to watch this documentary about it. I was disappointed, as it turns out.

It is about 90 minutes, but seems longer. There are many talking-head segments with both filmmakers and fans.

Michael J. Fox is, of course, interviewed; he does an impressively brave job telling some stories about the film, negotiating with his own body, which is in the cruel grip of Parkinson's Disease. Other actors interviewed include Lea Thompson, Christopher Lloyd, Claudia Wells (Jennifer in the first movie), James Tolkan (Principal Strickland), and Donald Fullilove (Goldie Wilson). (No Crispin Glover or Thomas F. Wilson, unfortunately.) Also showing up: producer Steven Spielberg, writer Bob Gale, and director/co-writer Robert Zemeckis. And good old Huey Lewis, who has wrinkled impressively.

Only about 30% of what these people have to say isn't that insightful or interesting, sorry. There's a lot of inside-baseball studio-politics talk about how the movie got made. Maybe fascinating for denizens of Hollywood, but for those of us in the sticks… eh.

But the documentary also covers the devoted fans. And… wow. Just wow. These folks are devoted.

There are, first and foremost, the DeLorean restorers, spending piles of money to bring back the look and feel of the fabled time machine. One guy owned two. But also: the bitchin' Toyota truck Marty winds up with at the end of the first movie. (Sorry, spoiler alert.) And—this was amazing too—also had a VW bus that was a dead ringer for the vehicle driven by the homicidal Libyan terrorists, for maybe two or three minutes of screen time in the first movie.

As I said: devotion.

Particularly inspiring: these guys, who have driven their restored DeLorean to all fifty states "to raise awareness and funding for Parkinson's Research." Good for them.

Grand Piano

[2.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A Mrs. Salad pick. She need not reveal her reasons.

Frodo himself, Elijah Wood, plays famed concert pianist Tom Selznick, returning to the stage after a long hiatus; he went into seclusion after an embarrassing freeze-up while attempting to perform a piece widely considered impossible to play. His beautiful, dutiful wife, who is a famous actress, supports and encourages his return.

Unfortunately, he is menaced during his performance by a sniper. Who is in touch with him via earpiece, demanding that he attempt to play the impossible piece once more, perfectly this time, or he will be shot dead. And his pretty wife too!

Also in the audience are Tom's good buddies, Wayne and Ashley. When I saw Wayne, I was sure the actor playing him was Sean Astin. Giving us the long-awaited Frodo/Samwise reunion! But no, it was that guy who plays the nice guy from Downton Abbey. Boy, he and Sean Astin look alike.

John Cusack and Alex Winter play the bad guys. Disappointingly, Mr. Winter neither exclaims "Excellent!" nor "Bogus!".

The motivation behind the whole thing turns out to be ludicrous. We are left wondering: how was that supposed to work exactly?


[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Kind of a downer. Emily Blunt is pretty easy to look at, though, even when she's generally miserable and putting up with various sorts of abuse. Throughout the entire movie.

She plays an FBI agent who does field work in a kidnap rescue team. In the aftermath of a particularly grisly mission in Arizona, a CIA spook (played by Josh Brolin) recruits her into a special operation, one where (he promises) they will be going after the drug kingpins who perpetrated this Arizona atrocity. Also involved is a gloomy Hispanic played by Benicio Del Toro.

If you noticed the "CIA" reference above, you will have accurately guessed that things are not as they initially appear. Ms. Blunt is perplexed, as her law-enforcement instincts are thwarted at every turn. She finds herself in mortal danger, and not just from the bad guys.

Arty (Oscar-nominated) cinematography. Ms. Blunt also handles an American accent well. Without going into spoilers, the plot's assumptions about the moral depravity of Our Side strains credulity. At one point, when confronted with his barbaric ways, one of the Bad Guys disclaims something much like one of the anti-drug commercials from the good old days: "I learned it by watching you!"