Friday, March 25, 2016

20 SCRIPT MISTAKES THAT MAR "BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE"


One of the year’s most anticipated movies opens today, and those who have already seen BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE have given it reviews that veer from the sublime to the ridiculous. It’s below 40% at RottenTomatoes.com so clearly those who were depressed by the clash of titans are outweighing those who were impressed by it. Sadly, the movie has some very large plot holes that make it even more disappointing.

Indeed, there are far too many head scratching moments in this DC Comics outing to let slip as just poetic license. Bad writing is bad writing, and director Zack Snyder should have been more diligent about what he placed on the screen. And no matter whether you like your superhero movies dark or light, and this one is as dark as a dirge, it’s hard to argue with some very misbegotten plotting that mars so much of the storytelling here. Here are 20 blunders that should’ve been cleaned up after the first draft, and will be quite evident to fan boy and even casual movie watcher alike. (Warning: major plot spoilers are about to be revealed.)

1.) Let’s start with the very big set piece towards the end of the film. When Superman (Henry Cavill) must confront the Caped Crusader (Ben Affleck), he could tell him he’s being forced to fight by Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) who’s kidnapped his mom (Diane Lane), and it would simply avoid all chaos afterwards. Instead, he fails to get the words out, even though there is plenty of time to, and the big battle royal thus ensues. The screenwriters, Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer, and Snyder should’ve found a better way to engage the two in their fight without tossing logic out the window.


2.) And speaking of tossing, despite Batman’s kick-ass body armor, his jaw is still exposed and there is a normal human being underneath all that metal, so why is he able to withstand being thrown through buildings like a rag doll? He’s not General Zod (Michael Shannon). His open-aired jaw should be broken as well as just about every other bone in his body.

3.) Plus, Superman isn’t a fighter anyway. He would not be so ready to pummel an inferior like Wayne, and it’s woefully out of character. Did the writers realize this?

4.) To that point, it wasn’t in Superman’s character to level buildings fighting Zod either, obliviously killing thousands in their wake in MAN OF STEEL, and yet the filmmakers make the same mistake here with Superman creating all kinds of collateral damage everywhere he goes. Heck, he can’t even land without blasting the pavement to smithereens. Superman has more control than that, why don’t the writers?

5.) And when Superman stops Batman from stealing the Kryptonite from Lex Luthor, why doesn’t he also thwart his henchmen? They’re shooting at Batman, after all. So Superman stops vigilantes, but he won’t disarm or round up bazooka-toting criminals?


6.) Luthor equip his thugs in Africa with unique, one-of-a-kind bullets that are then traced directly back to him. It’s convenient for one of the story’s “Aha!” moments, but it’s too dumb logically for a supposed criminal mastermind. He’d know regular bullets could not lead back to him.

7.) And why would anyone think Superman took out the rebel forces in that African gunfight? He doesn’t use such weaponry. In fact, his body is his only weapon.

8.) And why does Luthor set off a big explosion in the congressional hearing that kills everyone except Superman, including his comely assistant Mercy (Tao Okamoto)? It doesn’t implicate the Man of Steel because Wallace Keefe’s wheelchair is identified as the source of the bomb. And again, Superman wouldn’t kill like that, nor would he need a bomb, so all that bloodletting on Luthor’s part serves little purpose to the narrative other than for shock effect. Cheap shock effect.


9.) One could also argue that the wheelchair detonated with the explosives would never have made it past security checks either, but that is the least of that scene’s ills.

10.) Perhaps the dumbest thing Luthor does is create the Doomsday monster. How does he know it will go after Superman and not just run away in fear after being birthed into a foreign planet?

11.) And why does Luthor put his blood into the mix to create Doomsday? Does he think his DNA will inflict his vengeful will on Doomsday’s psyche who’ll then be driven to destroy Superman and Batman? How convenient that it turns out exactly that way, but not due to any logic, merely the screenwriter’s whims.

12.) Why is Luthor tracking those others who have super powers, like Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg? It’s never explained and plays unfair in this movie if it’s merely designed to tease the coming Justice League film.


13.) Batman has a lot of bad dreams here, so perhaps he should take some NyQuil PM, but the real reason the nightmares exist here is so Snyder can psych out the audience with a couple of scenes where Batman dies. That’s wasteful storytelling.

14.) And why does the Flash (Ezra Miller) appear in Wayne’s last dream? He doesn’t know him, or vice versa, and he’s warned about the safety of Lois Lane (Amy Adams) which then never comes up later between Wayne and her character.

15.) And since when is Gotham a mere stone’s throw from Metropolis? These aren’t the Twin Cities. Instead, it’s perhaps the height of lazy screenwriting as the scribes here couldn’t figure out a way to get the heroes in each other’s cities without traveling across multiple states and time zones, so they conveniently have it play like Newark to New York City.


16.) When Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot, in a sly and welcome break from all the testosterone) shows up to fight Doomsday, she manages to wound him quite effectively, as well as hold her own against him without sustaining injury herself. So why don’t Batman and Superman let her defeat him by delivering the Kryptonite spear to his heart? Having Superman do it is only there because it redeems him in the screenwriters’ minds, but it makes no sense logically since it weakens him to fly with it in tow.

17.) And speaking of that spear, how did Lois know that it could kill Doomsday anyway? She’s never told he’s a monster created from Kryptonite DNA.

18.) There are little flaws that stick in one’s craw too, like the fact that Superman doesn’t use his X-ray vision to see what Wayne is up to at Luthor’s party. Instead, Kent follows him on foot.

19.) And why is Luthor’s hair shaved at the very end? It’s certainly not normal procedure in most prisons, even maximum security ones. So is it just to make him finally strike that iconic baldheaded look of the Luthor we all know. Yes, that’s the only reason.


20.) And why does Daily Planet editor Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) assign Clark Kent puff pieces when there is precious little about that reporter’s persona to suggest that he’d be a natural for such light fare? 

The real issues, beyond these 20 mistakes, are more big picture. Why does Superman feel like a supporting player in what is essentially his story? And why is there no connection between the DC movie universe and that on TV? (Grant Gustin, who plays The Flash on TV, doesn't reprise the role here, so I suppose the twain shall never meet even if it’s as fast as a locomotive.)


The real question for most fans is why DC continues to do brilliant work on the small screen and yet repeatedly has such struggles on the big one. Yes, Christopher Nolan succeeded spectacularly with his first two Batman films, but the Caped Crusader films have been marred by the two tone-deaf Joel Schumacher versions, as well as a revolving door of actors playing the lead. And the two attempts to re-launch Superman before this outing were both plagued by excessive violence and a dour tone that belies the essence of the sunnier superhero that Superman is.

If only these Superman reboots could exhibit some level of joie de vivre like one can find in the DC television programs. Even the dark DAREDEVIL on Netflix is still a ton of fun, and very funny. There’s a big funeral at the end of BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE and it’s almost ironic, considering the whole of the film is just as glum. Perhaps the biggest question for Snyder and his writers is, as the Joker queried, “Why so serious?” It’s a good question to ask before they start filming the Justice League movie, as well as asking if the writers have run it through the typewriter a few more times to erase lapses in logic.  

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

WHAT SUPERMAN CAN LEARN FROM SUPERGIRL

Original caricature by Jeff York of Melissa Benoit as SUPERGIRL (copyright 2016)
BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE sneaks into theaters tomorrow night before its official opening on Friday, March 25th, and the buzz from fan boys and early critics’ screenings is already painting a less than glowing portrait. When terms like “burdensome slog” and “joyless” get bandied about, a good time at the ol’ Cineplex on opening day seems unlikely. Sadly, this is the second Superman movie directed by Zack Snyder and starring Henry Cavill that has garnered such negative reactions. (MAN OF STEEL only accumulated a 56% fresh score there.) It’s a shame too, because the DC universe doesn’t have to be played so dark, especially in Superman’s world. Even more of a shame is that DC is doing things so right on TV with ARROW, THE FLASH and SUPERGIRL. In fact, it would be wise for Snyder and company to study how they’re nailing it on SUPERGIRL each week as it proves characters from Krypton don’t have to carry gravitas worthy of a funeral dirge.

Throughout 17 episodes thus far, CBS’s version of SUPERGIRL has maintained a terrific sense of drama and conflict, yet it never forgets that its main character is sunny and bright, not dark and dour like Bruce Wayne. And Melissa Benoist, the lead of the series, brilliantly brings out all the positive and light in her character to make for one of TV’s most compelling leads. Not since Christopher Reeve has someone made earnestness so utterly fun and attractive. She, as well as the showrunners and writers, realize the essence of her character is an innate sense of goodness. It’s in Superman’s nature too, but you wouldn’t know it these days as portrayed on the big screen. 

Superman, lest anyone forget, is a constructive force who should not be spending oodles of screen time doubting his mission. It’s the fight for truth and justice, that simple. After all, this is a man who doesn’t disguise himself to be a superhero as most others do, like Peter Parker or Matt Murdock. Instead, his disguise is that of Clark Kent, the average Joe he’s trying to play to fit in with the rest of the world when he isn’t being all heroic and godlike. 

That’s the biggest difference between Superman and most other comic book heroes. The son of Krypton is not a vigilante. He doesn’t work surreptitiously outside the law. And he isn’t tortured by his profession. He certainly doesn’t have trouble with his prowess. In his world, if others have an issue with his skill set, that’s their problem. Both Superman and Supergirl come to this planet with the purest and most noble of intentions. And the control over their ego, id and physicality is rarely in question. 

So why is Snyder’s world of Superman so dark, literally, and figuratively? Is he trying to emulate the dark world of Batman so vividly created by Christopher Nolan in recent years? Perhaps he’s more of an imitator, after all for all the acclaim that 300 yielded him, he was essentially doing the color version of what Robert Rodriguez did years earlier in black and white with SIN CITY. The doom and gloom from Nolan’s Batman lingers all over Snyder’s MAN OF STEEL. It’s painted with a palate over reliant on gray skies, gray buildings, gray everything. 


And the big, half-hour battle sequence towards the end was so excruciating in its destruction of half of Metropolis, it was as depressing as anything this side of a month’s stay in a hospital. Where was the exuberance, the sense of the possible, the feeling of the joy that should be part and parcel of Superman? 

Now, in the new film, it appears that once again Superman is throwing down with excessive violence, toppled architecture and a tortured psyche. Most of the action sequences appear to be played at night too, and while that may be Batman’s domain, it really shouldn’t be that of Superman. The son of Jor-El is no shadow dweller anymore than Kara is, only the TV show SUPERGIRL knows it and those putting Superman on the big screen don’t. If you watch SUPERGIRL week to week, you’ll see that most of her action set pieces take place in daylight.

Superman should also be clever and sly, with his confidence showing in his words as well as his deeds. Benoist’s Supergirl gets lots of funny lines, as did Reeve in his day, but one would be hard-pressed to find such fun in most of Superman’s dialogue in MAN OF STEEL. We’ll wait to see how his character fares in the new film, but the trailer showcases more tight-lipped tension than any breezy banter. 

And speaking of funny, it’s no longer amusing that the movies continually trot out Lex Luthor as the main villain for Superman. Even though Jesse Eisenberg appears to be playing him differently from many Luthor’s in the past (Mark Zuckerberg on speed, it would seem), why is Luthor always the default bad guy on the big screen? Where are Brainiac, Lobo or Mister Mxyzptlk, for starters? They all were prevalent in the brilliant Paul Dini and Bruce Timm SUPERMAN animated series 20 years ago, so why can’t the film’s foes be more varied? Today’s SUPERGIRL series has a different villain practically every week, so there should be more than Luthor in the A to Zod of Superman villains on the big screen.


Another aspect of SUPERGIRL that seems lost in Snyder’s work, is the abundance of humor in its storytelling. More and more superhero movies are demonstrating a flare for comedy with the likes of ANT-MAN and this year’s huge hit DEADPOOL, but most DC films seem t struggle with being funny. Dark is in the Dark Knight’s moniker but it doesn’t need to be so prevalent in Superman’s world, even if he’s sharing the big screen with him.

Part of the success of SUPERGIRL in how it uses humor is evident in Benoist’s body language. She has an inherent sense of comedy and could easily be the lead on a sitcom. Her ability to hesitate on a line responding to the bullheaded Hank Henshaw (David Harewood) is often as funny as her Kara answering a comically absurd directive from her prickly media boss Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart). Cavill can do so too, as evidenced by his cheeky performance in the big screen reboot of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E, so why can’t he show some of that as Superman? Reeve made Superman funny. Heck, so did George Reeves back in the fifties. Why is Cavill being held back on the big screen? 

Cavill is surrounded by actors who have demonstrated some great comic chops too, like Amy Adams, but as Lois Lane in MAN OF STEEL she was given little opportunity to play with the part the way Margot Kidder did throughout the earlier SUPERMAN movies. One questions even how much screen time she gets in the new film as the ads and press seems far more interested in the introduction of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). Again, it remains to be seen, but the numerous trailers and commercials don’t promise many sparks between Cavill and Adams. It seems entirely focused on Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and his flirtation with Diana Prince, Wonder Woman’s alter ego.

Finally, one of the great things that SUPERGIRL does week in and week out is present her with conflicts that need brains as well as brawn. Perhaps the biggest mistake that has been made in the last decade or so of big screen Batman and Superman movies is a distinct lack of ‘detective’ in their characters. Christopher Nolan did many great things with Batman, restoring some serious mojo in dire need after the Joel Schumacher debacles, but his Caped Crusader was mostly a brawler. And Superman in Bryan Singer’s SUPERMAN RETURNS, as well as in MAN OF STEEL, seemed to find more crime fighting answers with his fists than in genuine sleuthing. 


On SUPERGIRL, she’s shown thinking as much as fighting. She usually has to alter her strategy on how to stop one villain to the next. Sometimes it requires speed, or surprise, and often it requires a chess-like mind, but rarely is it driven purely by violence. Sometimes her words alone have talked a baddie out of doing a bad deed. Is anything like that evident in Snyder’s latest take on Superman? We shall see. 

The trailers promise the extremes of light versus dark, according to dialogue delivered by Luthor,  but one of the reasons that so many Superman fans rejected MAN OF STEEL was that it played too dark. It was almost like he was as tormented as Batman. Superman should not be just another brawler. Let’s hope this new film shows some light before Wonder Woman arrives. If it doesn’t, and it drags her down into the muck too, there simply will be no justice.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

DONALD, OJ, AGATHA, FRANK & VIOLENCE ON TV

Original caricature by Jeff York of Donald Trump (copyright 2016)
In 2006, a Senate study reported that the average child in America will see over 16,000 murders on TV by the time they are 18 (http://bit.ly/1lF403V).

Is it any wonder that the violence and rage at the Trump rallies almost plays like just another episode of reality TV viciousness. Look! The popular villain whom the audiences “love to hate”, is wreaking havoc, saying the most outrageous things! This seemed to be the response to the last 10 months of Trump's atrocious campaign up until this weekend when the threat of a riot broke out at one of his rallies in Chicago. This isn’t manufactured Hollywood pabulum, despite the reality TV star at the center of the storm. It’s about the future of our country.

Last week on Ashleigh Banfield’s CNN show, they cut to a Trump rally to watch him pontificate in a similar bellicose way that he has done at all his rallies, inciting his crowds to chant and rage like their schoolboys holding the conch in Lord of the Flies. Finally, after about 15 minutes, CNN returned to Banfield and her guests, when one of them complained that the GOP frontrunner said nothing new and had wasted the network’s time. Banfield responded by agreeing with her, but noting that Trump made for “great television.”

Think about that for a moment. All the hate, all the bile, all the threats, all the divisiveness - that's great TV? How can cable news and Trump's party stand so blithely by and still cajole the monster's rampage of hate? Remember how the Huffington Post announced it was going to put Trump on its entertainment page, and not on its news page, because they didn't deem him a serious candidate? How tin-eared could Ariana and her editors be? Indeed too many in cable news media have helped create this monster and now it's to a point where the genuine threat of death shows up at his rallies. It seems that they've forgotten that at the end of Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein, the doctor and creature are all that each other have left. And they’re doomed to an arctic wasteland together.

One wonders what will stop this crazy horror show being broadcast nightly on CNN, Fox and MSNBC. Trump’s likely going to be the Republican presidential nominee, so what then? Will it take a Trump supporter killing a protester on live TV to change things? Perhaps Trump himself shooting someone with a gun on 5th Avenue as he bragged he could do without consequence? Then will this cease to be “great television”? 

And many on those cable news shows and on the debate stages still don't get it. They'll keep interviewing him or saying they'll support him if he's the nominee. They're all as tin-eared as HuffPo was earlier this political season. It’s especially disingenuous when you have Trump on stage telling his followers in clip after clip to to express their rage through violent acts against the protestors, and precious little is done about it or even expounded upon. Only Rachel Maddow seemed to truly understand exactly what was going on in Chicago this weekend and why it came to a head.  (http://on.msnbc.com/1QUfmhp ).

Are we all too desensitized by all those murders we see on TV, those 16,000 by the time we reach adulthood? Is violence and death really that common place to us that we miss the clues of a demagogue urging his followers to send protestors to the hospital?  


Shockingly, there are currently three scripted TV shows on that seem to understand far better the implications of such words and actions of violence and the fallout from them, and they are now serving as a form of antidote to this side show of vicious words and actions that have plagued the airwaves since Trump starting running. And while these three scripted entertainments are still entertaining, their responsibility in examining the issue of violence is mature and thoughtful in ways that cable news simply is not often enough these days.

The first is FX’s incredible miniseries AMERICAN CRIME STORY: THE PEOPLE VS. OJ SIMPSON. For many like me who lived through the murder trial of the football superstar in the mid-90’s, to revisit that era is a disturbing time machine back to awful events that launched our nation’s obsession with “reality television.” The trial of Simpson became a real-life shit show that paved the way. Its soap opera-esque theatrics usurped legitimate soaps on TV and proved no scripted daytime drama could ever match its outrageousness. And the ratings went through the roof. Thus, more and more such unscripted dramas were ordered for TV.

Soon more Kato Kaelin's and Mark Fuhrman's were needed to satiate our appetites for larger-than-life characters and TV scrambled to come up with more oddballs and villains and train wrecks to watch. That's when reality TV starting makes stars of loathsome types like Richard Hatch, Omarosa, and those gauche real housewives on Bravo. TV was now pushing the crazy to new levels and viewers became more and more enthralled. 

But if you watch the miniseries THE PEOPLE VS. OJ SIMPSON, you’ll not only see how the trial made Kardashian a household name, but also how shrewdly the creators of the show are drawing attention to the devastation inherent in the violent deaths of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman. Despite the numbing of viewers to 16,000 of them in the media, these two carry weight. 

The truest point of the show is how it reminds us that even more awful than the creation of reality TV was the horrible chaos created around these very real homicides at the center of Simpson’s crimes. Nowhere was this point better demonstrated than when Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson) sat down to talk in her DA office with Ron’s devastated father Fred Goldman and his sister Kim in episode five.

Clark opens their conversation by stating that she understands how Goldman feels, and the distraught father all but screams at her in his disdain, “Really? Did you have a son who was murdered?!” Clark freezes in the moment, as Paulson brilliantly essays that her character spoke way too soon. And as Goldman continues to lay out exactly what he’s feeling, that which she has no understanding of whatsoever, we too in the audience are shamed into recognizing that we’ve viewed his son’s death more as a plot point rather than the devastating loss that it was. Goldman (in an Emmy-worthy turn by Joseph Siravo) laments with great fervor that his son has been forgotten by the media circus covering the OJ show and that it is almost as painful to him. “My son is a footnote in his own murder!” is what he bellows at her. 

This drama adroitly reminds us not only of how the American justice system, media and rabid audience poured salt in the Goldman's wounds, but how this became the forerunner for the mentality that allowed a charlatan like Trump to hijack the GOP and the primary season as well, drawing all the energy from cable news day after day, night after night. It's "great television", so they say.


Another show that reminds us that violence should not be so easily trivialized is Lifetime’s two-part adaptation of Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE. Premiering Sunday, March 13, and concluding the next evening, this chestnut of a mystery has been around since 1939 when Christie’s book was first published. Yet this version adds a real sense of menace, dread and responsibility to its examination of 10 guests lured to a secluded island to 'stand trial' for the crimes that they got away with. 

The story became Dame Agatha's bestselling novel of all-time and it's been adapted into a play and many filmed versions of the tale. Some of the executions have been wonderful, like Rene Clair’s 1945 darkly comedic take on the material. Still others have been utter crap, like the god-awful international production done in1974 as a quickie flick to capitalize on the success of England's sterling film adaptation of Christie's MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS.

Christie’s story is easy to get lost in, what with its intricate plotting and devilishly clever construct, but at the end of the day, the story is about bad people that got away with murder and their justified comeuppance for escaping the hand of the law. One by one, they’re knocked off in accordance to a children’s poem called 10 Little Indians that their demises echo. It’s a nasty work, but the Lifetime version, imported from BBC One, is the first one that I’ve ever seen where the implications of murder are not laughed at or the audience watching is not conveniently allowed to remain distant. Instead, we are shown the crimes, in flashback, and that front row seat is harrowing. 

This version truly drives home the fact that these ten are getting the justice they deserve. After all, they've blithely gone on with their lives despite their devastating crimes. If many of the takes on Christie’s greatest work in the past have suggested that most of the ten were mere victims of misunderstanding or manslaughter at best, this version makes it clear that all of them were guilty as hell.

In fact, watching Inspector Blore (Burn Gorman), one of the characters, beat a homosexual to death in a Scotland Yard flashback, is shocking, even after the 16,000 murders we viewers have witnessed. We can't wait for him to get what's coming to him after that. In previous versions, we rooted for the island’s guests to somehow figure out who is putting them through their paces, but here we count down the dead pool with the same sense of clear-eyed retribution that the island's judge, jury and executioner is experiencing too. 


Finally, another TV venture that really shines the light on violent words and actions is the fourth season of HOUSE OF CARDS that just dropped on Netflix two weekends ago. And this year, the  popular series is at its most devastating. Why? Precisely because it reminds us a great deal of the same monstrosities being perpetrated during our current primary season. 

In the first two seasons of the limited series, congressman Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) lusted for power and went about eliminating any pol or spectator who stood in his way. His actions even included murder. But by the third season, he had succeeded so spectacularly that he became the President of the United States. And in the 13 episodes of that season, he turned into almost a sympathetic lead. He struggled to do some good things, like push through a jobs agenda, and he tried standing up to a ruthless Russian leader, who was cast to look uncannily like Putin. Suddenly, Underwood's underhanded bite was muzzled and his vicious behaviors curbed. But this season, he's back to being the awful scoundrel that he is and his treacherous behavior knows no bounds. He and his wife Claire (Robin Wright) are one vicious duo who will do anything to keep their power. And they're terrifying, as they are meant to be on the program.

What are the lengths this modern day Macbeth and his lady will go to? In addition to ruining oodles of lives and careers, they play fast and loose with their facts, national and international policies, and demean others as the enemies of the state that should be condemned. (Is Trump getting his game plan from this show?) By the end of the fourth season, the Underwood’s have all but ensured they’ll remain in power by adding fuel to the fire of a nation’s terrorist fears. And as the Underwood’s coldly watch an innocent man beheaded on national television by an ISIS-like group, the trace of a knowing smirk turns the corners of their mouths upwards. They know that this strategy will work. Selling fear is their, ahem, trump card.

It’s probably good that scripted dramas like these want to do more than just entertain. They remind us of the devastation of violence and death. And they take a strong stand against of all of its enablers who make so much of the debauchery merely par for the discourse. From the law to the congress to the media to the audiences eating it up with a spoon, we all need to have our feet held to the fire. America is truly through the looking glass when such scripted programming stands with a better sense of moral outrage than cable news does.