Justice League

Justice League is a 2017 American superhero film directed by both Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon at separate points in production, featuring a screenplay written by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon, who, once again, came onboard much later in production, with the main story being written by Snyder and Terrio. Based upon the superhero team of the same name as created by DC Comics, Justice League is the fifth installment in the DC Extended Universe following 2013’s Man of Steel, 2016’s Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, and this year’s Wonder Woman. The film features an ensemble cast including Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, and J.K. Simmons.

Following the events of Dawn Of Justice, Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince are inspired by Superman’s sacrifice and set out to assemble a team of metahumans to fight against powerful threats to humankind. Meanwhile, the villainous Steppenwolf comes to Earth in search of the three Mother Boxes.

It is no secret that the DCEU, Warner Brothers’ answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has been on shaky ground from the word go. While I didn’t hate Man of Steel, it was by no means remarkable, nor would I even call it “pretty good.” It was decidedly “eh.” The two efforts that followed, Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, were train wrecks of the highest (or lowest, depending on perspective) order. I couldn’t even get through the first fifteen minutes of Suicide Squad it was so bad. I set out to review it knowing it was pretty much a dumpster fire of a movie, and I couldn’t even handle it knowing that. It should be telling that it took them until Wonder Woman, the fourth film in the series, to make a solid, objectively good film.

It is no secret that I am not a fan of Zack Snyder as a director and I consider him to be an absolutely atrocious screenwriter. I am not a fan of any film he has directed so far; I have nothing against him as a person. Midway through production of this film, Snyder’s daughter tragically committed suicide during production of this film, leading to Joss Whedon replacing him. Whedon edited Snyder’s screenplay and had control over reshooots and editing of the film. All of this production drama led me to expect a trainwreck on par with Suicide Squad. I was expecting it to be, at the very least, interesting in its badness.

I was ultimately disappointed by Justice League in a multitude of ways. It was not horrible, it was not a travesty of cinema, but it was also not good nor memorable in any way, shape, or form. Batman vs. Superman, as bad as it was, at least tried to do something. It tried to be a thing. Justice League is the cinematic equivalent of saltine crackers.

From the opening five minutes, I was quite bored. There’s no fun to be had here, no enjoyment to get out of this. It’s not even incompetent. It is an entirely competent, well-constructed piece of bleh.

When the DC Extended Universe was first becoming a thing, Justice League was meant to be split into two films. People are guessing that Batman vs. Superman alongside the two Justice League films were meant to comprise a trilogy, with Batman vs. Superman being a combination of the (very famous in comic book circles) stories The Dark Knight Returns and The Death of Superman. Batman v. Superman was always (probably) to end in the climactic death of the world’s best-known allegory for Jesus Christ, with the ending of the first Justice League movie being his triumphant return, and the second film being the whole team fighting together. On paper, it sounds amazing.

Obviously, it didn’t work out that way. Batman vs. Superman was a terrible mess and the death of Superman had absolutely no impact. As a result, the Powers That Be refused to take any kind of risk with this film and hacked what was on paper an excellent plan into a milquetoast bore fest that had me wanting to fall asleep in the middle of it. There’s nothing interesting about it. Superman’s Resurrection is seen as more of a practical plot point than an emotional one, and nobody in the audience felt any way about it. It’s only a big part of the movie for maybe ten minutes. Afterwards, no one seemed to care, not even Superman. It is obvious this was meant to be a much longer movie (God forbid), with emotional story beats that were supposed to be there missing throughout.

The cast is good, but they are straight up phoning it in. Ben Affleck looks fat and uninterested. Nobody in this film is really into it, and it shows. The CGI was wildly inconsistent; the last third was an entirely CGI battle that was very uninteresting and boring. I literally am not going to stop using that word, because it is a perfect descriptor. It was so boring, I’m unapologetically phoning in this review. It’s not worth expending a lot of energy talking about more minute details.

Warner Brothers was so scared of another monstrous failure that they made a film that was so factory-ready, competent, and inoffensive that it was boring. It was so very boring. It shouldn’t be boring, but it was. I can’t emphasize the boredom enough. I don’t really know what else to say.

Advertisements

Whiplash

Whiplash is a 2014 American independent drama film written and directed by Damien Chazelle. The film stars Miles Teller as Andrew, a first-year student and drummer at the fictional music school Schaffer Conservatory, and J.K. Simmons as Terrance Fletcher, leader of the school’s competitive jazz band Andrew is recruited to. Whiplash is a feature-length version of Chazelle’s 18-minute short film. The short film starred Johnny Simmons in the role of the student and J.K. Simmons (no relation to Johnny) as the band leader. The short film won critical acclaim and praise on the awards circuit, becoming a hit at the Sundance Film Festival. This praise led to investors interested in a feature-length version. J.K, who played the role of Fletcher in the short film, and whose performance was the reason for the critical acclaim, gleefully returned to the role.

Chazelle’s script is an excellent one. The character of Terrance Fletcher is an intense, angry, foul-mouthed, oftentimes wholly inappropriate monster, and Chazelle nor Simmons hold back when attempting to portray this. Nor do Chazelle and Miles Teller slack on showing just how negative an effect Fletcher’s unsavory teaching methods have on people.

The film continues to go even further. For as much of a monster Terrance Fletcher is, the one thing Andrew wants is to please the notorious band leader. His drive and determination knows no boundaries. Andrew subjects himself to extreme physical and psychological pain in order to achieve this goal. It is, honestly, extremely disturbing to watch this young man put himself through so much pain.

Before becoming a filmmaker, Chazelle was an aspiring jazz musician in high school. He based the character of Fletcher off of a very intense high school instructor, although Fletcher is admittedly “an extreme version” of the teacher. Whiplash is a film that, above all, lives on the performances of its two main characters. Both Teller and Simmons give performances so effectively disturbing in different ways, you cannot help but be completely engrossed.

In addition to great performances, Whiplash also benefits from great cinematography from Sharone Meir. Meir effectively matches the darkness of the plot with equally dark and interesting lighting and rather vibrant color schemes.

I have never been exposed to jazz, but I must say that the soundtrack by Justin Hurwitz, which combines popular and electic jazz standards with an original, jazz-infused soundtrack is extremely catchy and very good at using music to match up with the character’s emotions and intensity.

Whiplash is a film that is as dark and intense as its two principle characters. It is a story of passion, fear, determination, struggle, and manipulation. Here, Damien Chazelle proves himself to be an excellent filmmaker in almost every aspect. Whiplash features a great script, flawless acting, a very competent jazz soundtrack, and some excellent cinematography. It’s no puzzle why this engrossing drama was an awards contender at the Oscars. At the 87th Academy Awards, Whiplash won Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Supporting Actor for Simmons, and was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture. It is a truly excellent film that, most impressively, showcases the acting talents of the usually “cuddly” and approachable J.K. Simmons. It also put Miles Teller on the map and proved that Damien Chazelle is a competent filmmaker in every respect, allowing him to move on to bigger and even better projects. I highly recommend this film to everyone. I suspect those experienced in or interested in making music will find it even more intense than I did.

The Accountant

The Accountant is a 2016 American action thriller film directed by Gavin O’Connor and written by Bill Dubduque. The film stars Ben Affleck, Jon Bernthal, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, J.K. Simmons, and Anna Kendrick. Affleck stars as the autistic son of a U.S. Army Psychological Operations officer. He was of the belief that his autistic son should learn to live in the harshness of the world and overcome it, rather than adapt the world to him. To that effect, the Colonel raises his son and has him train with a number of combat specialists. He essentially becomes a living weapon. He grows up and becomes a forensic accountant for a number of very dangerous criminal organizations, currently operating under the alias Christian Wolff.

Though coming under some controversy for supposedly exploiting autism, as someone very well-versed on the subject, I did not see it that way at all. No, having autism in no way makes you a super-assassin, but it is an entertaining idea, and the film in no way belittles people with autism, nor does it patronize them. The behavioral and neurological factors of autism are rather well portrayed by Affleck. It is very respectful of the condition in that aspect. There’s also some exploration of sensory overload, an aspect of autism I do not feel gets as much love as it should. Yes, autism is used in The Accountant as (half) of an explanation as to why Wolff is an effective killing machine, but I don’t have a problem with that, and don’t see why people do. Autism is portrayed rather accurately in The Accountant. Christian Wolff is never pitied and treated as an unstoppable force of sheer and abject violence and terror, just like any other highly-trained, cold, calculating assassin, as well he should be.

Boasting a rather ridiculous and unrealistic premise, The Accountant is nevertheless a solid film.The film features a very good and, as I mentioned, mostly accurate performance from Ben Affleck. The fight choreography is very well-done, using pencak silat, the martial art used in The Raid, and the shootouts are excellent, on par with John Wick, even. There is a farmhouse shootout that serves as the first major action piece of the movie; it is extremely entertaining. The Accountant, in fact, seems to draw from John Wick in several aspects. John Wick is a smarter-than-it-seems action thriller that purposefully leaves some questions about the plot unanswered, and gives an extremely limited backstory on the main character himself in order to  preserve his legend and mystique, making John Wick as a character seem a lot more interesting. The Accountant does this effectively. There really isn’t a lot we know about “Wolff,” which isn’t even his real name. His legend is very effective. Another benefit of leaving some things to the imagination is avoiding too much exposition. Some modern action movies make the mistake of thinking the “movie (plot)” part is more important than the “action” part, overburdening the audience with needless and ultimately annoying exposition that gets in the way of what the audience came to see. The Accountant does this well, to an extent, although there are some very crucial plot elements that are not explained in any detail and require explanation in order to make sense, leaving the audience confused at some places. There’s a difference between leaving things unsaid in a film, and leaving plot holes. The Accountant tends to stray too far in one direction, and really drags down what would’ve been a great film, instead ending up just a pretty good one. The film features a subplot of Treasury agents on Wolff’s trail, but they never even come close. Although it ends up being a rather sizeable chunk of the film, I wonder why they are even in there.

Anna Kendrick’s performance leaves much to be desired. Though my slight celebrity crush on her prohibits me from calling her absolutely terrible, they would have been better served here casting another actress who doesn’t look and dress like a college freshman, as her character is an accountant for a robotics firm.

One thing I can say for certain is I need more Bernthal in my life. If you are one of the poor, unlucky souls yet to feel the Bern (bringing it back), Jon Bernthal is best known for his performance as Shane in The Walking Dead and more recently for his role as Frank Castle/The Punisher in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a role that has rightfully netted more acclaim and notoriety than his Walking Dead role ever will. Also featured in a small role in SicarioBernthal is extremely effective at anti-hero roles, and is one of the most underutilized character actors in Hollywood, though hopefully not for long. Bernthal can flip on a dime, at first being absolutely horrifying and intimidating, and then empathetic and likeable. Proof of this can easily be found in the opening of Daredevil: Season 2 and his monologue a few episodes later.

In The Accountant, Bernthal plays a ruthless, yet unsettlingly likeable assassin who comes up against our protagonist, attempting to dispatch him in efficient fashion several times, yet failing to kill him, leading him to consider the The Accountant his equal. Bernthal’s character and performance is interesting and engaging; I can’t wait for the day he firmly establishes himself in Hollywood, as his performance, along with Affleck’s, serves to offset the damage done by a holey script.

The Accountant is an effective, yet flawed effort by Warrior director Gavin O’Connor. Though by no means perfect, it is unabashedly entertaining, utilizing a unique and suitably ridiculous premise to interesting and positive effect. It is at times confusing and unengaging, but ultimately enjoyable and fun, with several neat ideas and aspects littered throughout that add layers to what could have been cliché, boring, or worst, offensive. It isn’t the best film of the year, by any means, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy myself.