“Justice League”: in the DC Extended Universe, angels can be retroceded

Justice League”, the latest DC Comics movie, directed by Zach Snyder (who wrote the story with Chris Terrio) reunites the super-heroes of the DC Comics world, to repel what is a complicated alien invasion based on the “mother boxes”.

The details of the “DC Extended Universe” (DCEU) need not be resummarized here, as it is already covered in great detail on many other sites, as well as Wikipedia. But what strikes me is that the superheroes more or less correspond to the Christian idea of angels, who are supposed to be immortal, maybe.

Nevertheless, the film begins with a headline that Superman is dead. A superhero can at least be retroceded, perhaps, or maybe lose his or her “powers” and become mortal because of some moral or ritualistic failure. Superman (Henry Cavill) is resurrected, starting with exhuming his body (where as Jesus simply disappeared from the tomb)   At first he doesn’t remember who he is, but Lois Lane (Amy Adams) helps him recover.  Cavill gives a very different look to Superman, hairy chest and all, than did a younger Tom Welling in ten years of “Smallville”.

I guess the chief heroes are Batman, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Dianna Primce, Gal Gadot).  Ezra Miller plays Barry Allen, The Flash, and manages to make him look and act a bit like Marvel’s Spider Man.  He has an odd line about blood sugar suggesting diabetes.  In a late scene, he runs a sprint race with Superman, that reminds me of the “Timo v. Richard Harmon” race in 2012.  Neither of the later two actors has appeared in a comics movie (yet) as far as I know, but Harmon is nurturing his own horror project, “Crypto”, which I’ll be covering here in due course. Descamps has a sci-fi project called “Floating” that I’d love to see go somewhere.

In the second half of Justice League, the enemies attack the remains of the nuclear power plant, which logically would be Chernobyl in the Ukraine.  But the script says the facility is in “northern Russia”. The special effects with the sarcophagus get quite impressive. There are rumors about Russian facilities in northwestern Russia, around Lake Ladoga, which Finland and the Baltic states are quite nervous about. I wonder if the movie intended to suggest that Putin is the “alien enemy”.   The film does an impressive set of a Russian village and of the living standards therein.  Later, the movie moves us back to Kansas and Smallville.

The film was shot in regular 1.85:1 aspect ratio, which may make IMAX and DVD transfer easier.

Picture: Flint Hills, Kansas, my picture, 2006

Chernobyl sarcophagus, Wiki.

Lake Ladoga, wiki.

Name:  “Justice League”
Director, writer:  Zach Snyder
Released:  2017/11/17
Format:  1.85:1 Imax 3D
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter, 2017/11/27, small auditorium, daytime, small audience
Length:  120
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Warner Brothers, Ratpac, DC Comics
Link:  official 

(Posted: Monday, Nov. 27, 2017 at 8:45 PM EST)

“Blade Runner 2049”: The 30-year reset; can synthetic people attract souls?

The original “Blade Runner” (1982), directed by Ridley Scott, based on Philip K. Dick’s novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep?”, had an interesting premise, that ranged far and due to happen soon, om 2019;  a blade runner would track down slave replicants who had stolen a space ship and “illegally” (Trump-like) returned to Earth to look for their creator.  I saw the original film at Northpark in Dallas.

The newer film “Blade Runner 2049”, directed by French Canadian Denis Villeneuve, was necessary to reset the calendar.  It starts out by showing up an eyeball, and then a huge array of solar panels in a very smoggy California desert, before a vigorous young LAPD detective named “K” (Ryan Gosling) tracks down rogue replicant Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista) and winds the hand-to-hand battle, tearing out walls in a remote desert house, before finding human remains.

The movie seem sets up is premise, which is geographically limiting. The older replicants were to be retired and eliminated, and the newer ones are integrated into society.  But soon K gets information on a missing veteran replicant Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), and discovers that replicants can actually reproduce.  K’s adventures lead him to a particular ogre, Nilander Wallace (Jared Leto), who sets up a demonstration of a holographic pregnancy surrounded by disembodied black crawling eyes as if they were partial creature remnants themselves.  (There was a horror film “The Crawling Eye” on “Chiller” in the early 60.s).  There is curious terminology that calls the new replicants “angels”.

K moves between the city, modern LA, and a work farm out in the Mojave Desert, where kids (“proles”) are trained in a massive work farm, to burned out Las Vegas (“Cibola” from Stephen King’s “The Stand”). There is a critical scene with the Luxor (where I stayed in 1997) in the distance), which is ironically across the street from the rampage on Oct. 1.  Coincidence?

Some of the scenes, with bizarre alien structures laid across the desert, are impressive, but most of the time in this film, you don’t really know where you are going. But it is the psychological composition of the people that gets interesting.  First of all, K has gradually come to realize that he is a replicant himself. He is told he has no soul by a supervisor (Robin Wright), and that some of his childhood memories were implanted digitally.

Yet, K seems psychologically intact.  He may have mild Asperger’s, but he is really quite likeable and self-aware, and seems to have a certain intellectual integrity that doesn’t require close involvement with other people. It’s almost like he is a kind of Alan Turning, or maybe “The Good Doctor”. He could be fine as your best friend.  Relationships with women turn out to be fantasy pieces with holograms, but why not.  He doesn’t seem inclined to reproduce, but has discovered that maybe he is supposed to. It’s not hard to imagine how this kind of film could have used a gay subplot.

The movie would beg the question, what really gives someone an identity?  If your memories could be transferred (like by a virus) to someone else’s brain, could you wake up perceiving yourself in that person’s body.  It would be a good way for a 70 year old to become 21 again.  With a finite list of souls, no one dies, and there is no need for reproduction.  But then you don’t do your part dealing with the entropy of the universe.  Inevitability of death is tied to life.

I saw the film at Tyson’s AMC in 3-D, having left Friday’s just before the Washington Nationals came up with their winning home run rally in the game I was watching on a plasma screen during dinner.

The film was produced by Columbia Pictures (and Alcon, and Scott-Free) and has plenty of references to Sony products. It is distributed by Warner Brothers.  The introduction dispensed with the trademark music and went right into the Hans Zimmer’s bizarre musical world of sliding scales (more dissonant than the 1982 score by Vangelis).   The music score often quotes Prokofiev’s March from “The Love of Three Oranges”

Previewers of the film were required to sign unusual non-disclosure agreements of certain spoilers, but they probably don’t matter much now.

Name:  “Blade Runner 2049
Director, writer:  Denis Villeneuve, DGC
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1, Imax, 3D
When and how viewed:  AMC Tysons 2017-10-7, evening, ample crowd
Length:  165
Rating:  R
Companies:  Warner Brothers, Columbia Pictures, Alcon, Scott-Free
Link:  WB

(Posted: Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017 at 4:30 PM EDT)

“Dunkirk”: Christopher Nolan’s abstraction of the duty to rescue others, as civilians rescue soldiers

Christopher Nolan loves to put moviegoers into alternate worlds and make them real, and indeed he makes the chilly blue-gray war seascape of “Dunkirk” become alien.

The movie is certainly a departure from the usual focus on D-Day, showing the Dunkirk Evacuation as it unfolded in the late spring of 1940, 18 months before the US would enter WWII. The Battle of Britain would soon follow, with the air raids on London civilians.

But the film is also a morality play, about using a flotilla of volunteers and civilians who stepped up to the challenge of rescuing British, French, Belgian, and Canadian soldiers trapped on the beach in the frar north of France.  Call this more than radical hospitality, call it radical courage, but necessary.  The volunteers were needed because some of the waters were too shallow to accept regular British Navy ships.  We’ve seen the same spirit more recently after Hurricane Harvey with the “Cajun Navy”.

Nolan keeps the dialogue sparse and utilitarian. There is a particularly disturbing sequence where one soldier (Cillian Murphy) refuses to let the private boat that seems to have rescued him back into harms way to rescue more people, leading to complications leading to death of another soldier. A able civilian seaman (Bobby Lockwood) saves all.  The boat’s older skipper (is that Tom Hardy?) says about the soldier, “He may never be himself again.”  Later he says the only thing that matters is “Hope”. (In Corinthians it is “Charity”).

The incident is notable for savage Nazi air raids on safe harbors, including a Red Cross ship which sinks..  The movie has many impressive water scenes of men escaping drowning.

The music score by Hans Zimmer makes effective use of some of the material from Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations.

I saw this in an Imax presentation at AMC Tysons, with a presentation aspect ratio of about 2:1, it seemed.

Picture of evacuation (Wikipedia).

Name: Dunkirk
Director, writer:  Christopher Nolan
Released:  2017
Format:  Imax, variable aspect ratio, seemed to be about 2:1
When and how viewed:  Tysons Corner AMC, 2017/7/24, morning, moderate weekday audience
Length:  107
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Warner Brothers, Syncopy
Link:  official

(Posted: Monday, July 24, 2017 at 6:45 PM EDT)

“Wonder Woman: Rise of the Warrior”: who needs (cis, virile, manly) men anymore?

Patty Jenkins gave a passionate interview on, as I recall, ABC’s “Good Morning America” to explain her new DC Comics action film, “Wonder Woman: Rise of the Warrior”, from Warner Brothers.  She wanted to show a female heroine who was the equivalent of a Christ figure (my analogy), not “just” a Virgin Mary.

Indeed, the Amazonian society shown in the early 20th Century as the film starts seems to be all female (parthogenesis, perhaps), that doesn’t need men. The future wonder woman Diana (Lilly Aspell, then Gal Gadot as an adult) grows up as a warrior.  It looks like it came right out of the Burroughs Tarzan series, with women warriors.

There is some pagan mythology here.  Diana’s mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) wants to protect her daughter, who is determined to become a hero worthy of a future Star Wars. The overlord god Zeus loved mankind, but Ares considered man corrupt and let man play “survival of the fittest tribe” with increasingly destructive wars.  Finally, Antilope (Robin Wright) convinces Hippolyta that daughter Diana can become the comic world equivalent of a Navy Seal. (I recall Hippolyta as a name in high school.  A high school friend once mailed me a huge post card of little tunes and signed it Hippolyta.  I wonder if the card is somewhere in the attic.)

The story starts moving when  Diana rescues a British spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) from drowning. There’s a little skin shown here, and it looks like the encounter with her  laser-emanating “lasso of truth” costs Steve his chest hair.  Steve educates her about World War I, the War to End All Wars, or The Great War.

The remainder of the plot seems to deal with a desire of the British (David Thewlis) to make an armistice with Germany to stop the war, while a villain (Elena Anaya), with a mask to cover a burn-scarred face that would scare off crows and inspire Hannibal Lecter, concocts an unprecedented deadly poison gas that dissolves everything.

So here we have alternative fact history.  Wonder Woman and Steve’s interventions keep the Allies together until the Americans enter (although nobody gets into the politics of Woodrow Wilson, the draf, and his sedition laws) and in the end, England celebrates victory, only to brace for battles to come in two more decades, needing a wonder gay man (Alan Turing) to save them with “brains over brawn” (like “The Most Dangerous Game”)

This film has been popular in the gay community the week before Capital Pride.

Generally, I’m not as interested in the alternative comic book world presenting history as the real history itself.

The symphonic poem during the closing credits by Rupert Gregson-Williams was interesting.

Name:  “Wonder World: Rise of the Warrior”
Director, writer:  Patty Jenkins
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1, 3-D, Imax
When and how viewed:  AMC Courthouse Plaza, Arlington,, 2017/6/8, late, moderate audience
Length:  141
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Warner Brothers, DC Comics
Link:  official

(Posted: Friday, June 9, 2017 at 2:45 PM)

“Collateral Beauty”: this time, personal grief and metaphysical meditation don’t mix so well

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Name: “Collateral Beauty”
Director, writer: David Frankel, Alan Loeb
Released: 2016/12
Format: 2.35:1
When and how viewed: Regal Ballston Common, 2016/12/16
Length 97
Rating PG-13
Companies: Warner Brothers, New Line Cinema, Village Roadshow Pictures
Link: official site

Collateral Beauty” (directed by David Frankel and written by Alan Loeb) is the third straight film here dealing with the loss of a relationship, and unusual ways to deal with the grief (two of the three settings are straight). But this movie, from its billing by Warner Brothers and New Line, seems to aim to replace “The Tree of Life” (2011) as a mystic mediation. It falls far short. It doesn’t goes as deep into the cosmos as Terrence Malick would take it.

Will Smith plays Howard, the president of a Madison Avenue agency (although most of the film seems shot in Brooklyn) lecturing his staff about the three components of life: Love, Time, and Death. He has this hobby of setting up domino waves to fall. (Model trains would sound so much more constructive).

Three years later, he’s in deep depression, over the loss of his daughter to a brain tumor. He lives alone in a Brooklyn efficiency, without phone or Internet or friends. He’s behind in rent. He writes letters to those three components of life The board of the company wants to have him declared incompetent, and hires private detectives to tail him for evidence.

They also hire his subordinates to break into his mailbox to steal the letters, and to impersonate the three Characters as actors. (Sounds like a “Retake”). Soon we learn of the losses of some of the other characters, especially Simon (Michael Pena) who has his third bout of multiple myeloma after two remissions.

There’s an all star cast, comprising Edward Norton (“Primal Fear”, “The Illusionist”), Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, and Naomie Harris.

The orchestra music score by Theodore Shapiro sometimes echoes a passacaglia theme resembling Hans Zimmer’s music for “Inception”.

The film, to its credit, does dramatize the emotional intensity of interpersonal loss, something I have never experienced this way (but then again, there is “Manchester” to compare this to).

(Posted: Friday. Dec. 16, 2016 at 7:15 PM EST)

“Sully”: “duty” meant protecting the lives of New Yorkers on the ground as well as in his plane

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Name: Sully
Director, writer:  Clint Eastwood (based on book by Chesley Sullenberger)
Released:  2016/11
Format:  2.35:1 or Imax
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2016/9/9, afternoon, fair audience
Length 96
Rating PG-13
Companies: Warner Brothers, Village Roadshow, Ratpac
Link: official 

Sully”, directed by Clint Eastwood (who composed some original popular music for the film) and written by Todd Lomarnick presents Tom Hanks in the eyes of a “man of action” hero, pilot Chesley Sullenberger (using his book “Highest Duty”), who saved the lives of 155 passengers on a USAir flight that endured bird strikes on both engines on Jan 15. 2009 as it was leaving La Guardia, by landing in the icy Hudson River.  This was five days before Obama’s inauguration.

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The top-level plot concerns Sully’s vindication himself against the bureaucracy of the FAA and NTSB, for not trying to return to La Guardia or to Teeterboro, when post flight recovery suggested that one of the engines was still working.

On a narrative level, the film justifies his judgment, by showing dreams of the possible plane crashes into residential buildings in Manhattan or Queens that could have occurred, and final simulation, which Sully tweaks at his “trial” also makes the point.

Yes, it’s interesting that Warner Brothers releases this film on the 15th anniversary of 9/11.  But we get from the metaphor what Sully means by duty.

Aaron Eckhart looks scrubbed as the co-pilot Skiles.  Remember what happens to him in “Thank You for Smoking” (2005)?

Angelika also presented a 4-minute short film “Floaters” by Foster Huntington, about surfing.

(Published: Friday, September 9, 2016 at 9 PM EDT)

 

“War Dogs”: indeed, lets go run some guns

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Name: War Dogs
Director, writer:  Todd Phillips
Released:  2016/8/19
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  2016/8/18, sneak, Alamo at Winchester VA
Length 114
Rating R
Companies: Warner Brothers
Link: official site

In Todd Phillips’s dramedy “War Dogs”, David Packouz, played by a most charismatic and muscular Miles Teller, tells (pun) his own story first person, and he seems a basically decent guy who will do what it takes to support his family, once his girl friend (wife?) is expecting.

Having bounced around and working as a straight masseur for old gay men in Miami Beach, he discovers his people skills and street smarts when junior high school buddy (why not middle school) Efraim Diveroli (a fat Jonah Hill, even more bloated than in “Moneyball”) gets him into the bottom-feeding arms running business.

This invitation to set up organized crime at the bottom feeder level comes about as the Pentagon opens up an “Ebay” for small contractors to bid for contracts in weapons procurement (a big business all the way back to the Vietnam war days, because I worked in this area when I was in the Army at Fort Eustis – and some of it is like this), so the little guys now get the spoils by lowballing the biggies.

So Ephraim comes up with schemes to cover up weapons transfers (barettas from Italy and AK47 ammo from China), winding up with two big trips in the movie to Jordan and then a gun run to Baghdad (shot in Morocco), and then later to Albania (shot in a dingy section of Bucharest). The second half of the movie invites a shady if handsome arms dealer on a terror watch list (Henry Girard, played by suave and manly Bradley Cooper) to set up the Albania sequence with a clandestine meeting in Las Vegas.

I’m constantly amazed how David can kindly manipulate people to sell them things just because he has a family to support. Ephraim does not; he just bosses people around because he learned how to do it to survive at all. One of the chapters of the movie has a cynical subtitle, to the effect that telling the truth doesn’t help real people in real life.  So much for the “eternal feminine”.

The film is based on the Rolling Stone article “Arms and the Dudes” by Guy Lawson. There is a very early scene where Ephraim (who has far less moral scruples than David) demonstrates the value of owning an assault weapon for self-defense, at least in Miami.  Too bad, there was no scene in the Marlins’s funky stadium.  Later, there’s a “You’re Fired” scene reminiscent of an “Apprentice” episode:  a new employee at “AEY” demonstrates his “nerdiness” by saying what the acronym for “IBM” means (it could be “I’ve been moved”), and Ephraim indeed plays Donald Trump in the Boardroom.  That reminds me of an episode where Trump chastised a particular “team leader” for what he called a “life-threatening” self-deprecating remark.

The film shows some stunning views of the high-rise skyline of Miami Beach, almost making it look like a construction right out of Star Trek; there is a sci-fi look to the “cityscape”, as if it were on some sort of rama thread in a space station.  The film (which presents pregnancy in Miami) was made there before anyone knew about Zika virus.

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I saw the film at the huge Alamo Drafthouse in Winchester, VA, “on the road” (one day before opening, sneak preview).  But back in 1996, I stopped at a theater in Anacortes, WA to see John Grisham’s “A Time to Kill” with Matthew McConnaughey.

Before the show, Drafthouse has Teller himself deliver the no texting warnings.  Why not include a warning about texting and driving (the movie takes place a little too soon for smart phones;  the cell phones in the movie are flip jobs.)

(Published: Thursday, Aug 18, 2016, 11:45 PM EDT)

“The Intern”: a comedy about a 70-year-old retiree who seeks “real life” in a fashion firm

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Name: The Intern
Director, writer:  Nancy Meyers
Released:  2015
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix DVD
Length 121
Rating PG-13
Companies: Warner Brothers, Dune-Ratpac
Link: official site


The Intern”, written and directed by Nancy Meyers, opens with 70-year-old Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) appraising himself in a ritzy New York apartment and explaining what it feels like to live as a retired widower, having already seen the world and finished his bucket list.  He keeps his suits and ties in immaculate order, as well as his NYC coop (in contrast to me).  He needs something to do, involving real people.

He finds an e-commerce fashion firm in Brooklyn, “About the Fit” (a little snazzier than the real life “Bindle and Keep”, July 29), which has an “outreach” to senior citizens by letting them “intern”.

He goes through the interviews and demonstrates his “people skills”, especially when the youngest manager, Justin (Nat Woff) asks him what he wants to be doing in ten years and then apologetically withdraws the cookie-cutter question. Other young managers include Jason (Adam Devine, the “Man-o-Lantern 2”).

But most of the film revolves around his working with CDO Jules Olsen (Anne Hathaway). He own husband (Anders Holm) had become a stay-at-home dad to give her time to grow the film, but her personal life is creating enough noise that Wall Street wants her to step down from the startup.  She’s inclined to do so to save her marriage.  In the meantime, Whittake has developed a romance with massage therapist Fiona (Rene Russo).  In one sequence, he participates in a fake home breakin to save Jules from an embarrassing email on her own computer (remind you of Hillary Clinton’s server scandal?)

The film is stronger as it starts than as it follows through its 121 minutes.  There’s a real question of whether you need to join with other people in a bureaucratic environment to accomplish things.  There are real issues of keeping up appearances.

The film should be viewed in light of Ross Perlin’s 2011 book “Intern Nation”.

(Published: Monday, Aug. 1, 2016, at 3:15 PM EDT)