Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Unpopular Opinion: Zack Snyder is a Whiner

Not too long ago, this article appeared in The Atlantic. In it, the author explains how the upcoming Justice League movie will be much lighter than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I never saw BvS, but I (as is my right, being a wag on the Internet) still have an opinion about it and its maker, Zack Snyder. The Atlantic article states that Snyder will endeavour to make Justice League more fun:
...Snyder seems to be directly responding to cricism by promising audiences more fun... [T]he Snyders are trying to sell the sense that Justice League will learn from its predecessors' mistakes, tapping more into the joyful spirit of the hugely successful Marvel movies.
That's all well and good, but let's take a moment to read a bit deeper into the narrative. On the surface, we see a man forced to come to terms with the fact that no one likes his version of the DC universe.
[I]n interviews about Batman v Superman, [Snynder] described that film's summary execution of its Jimmy Olsen character as the movie "having fun," which sums up both the film's oppressive bleakness and its creator's total misread of its audience. [...] "When [Batman v Superman] came out, it was like, 'Wow, off.' It did catch me off guard." Of the film's sequel, he told Vulture, "I have had to, in my mind, make an adjustment. I do think the tone of Justice League has changed because of what the fans have said."
This is a perfect example of how powerful are the meek. DC's fanbase was so outraged by BvS and the critical reviews were so overwhelmingly negative, that Snyder is now forced to do something about it. But are his efforts sincere? Does he even understand why his movie failed? Reading between the lines, it almost seems like Snyder is whining about having to cowtow to fan (and studio) pressure.

And if it's true, if Snyder is little more than a whiny brat, can we really blame him for getting upset about people getting upset at his movie? Of course we can. But he's in the unenviable position of having to account for his mistakes--no one likes to hear they've done a bad job--and it's largely Hollywood's fault that he's in this mess to begin with.

Zack Snyder is, more or less, an auteur. He's the primary (or only) creative force driving the movie, calling the shots on the film's look and feel and theme so that his movie reflects his personal creative vision. But here's the thing, Hollywood doesn't really like auteurs, not anymore. It wasn't always this way, of course. In the 1970s, the "new" Hollywood courted auteurs and these filmmakers were a driving force behind the Hollywood Renaissance. The love affair with auteurs petered out toward the end of the decade, although guys who'd made their bones in the latter half of the '70s were still doted upon in the '80s. The turn away from auteurship resulted in a new "theory" of collaboration, that film is a product of cooperative teamwork, the unspoken truth being that studios were getting ever more involved in different parts of the process.

There's an inherent hypocrisy in the way Hollywood today deals name brand filmmakers. On the one hand, studios rally against auteurs by meddling, manipulating, or micromanaging their projects, while on the other hand, they court certain directors specifically because their movies have a particular stylistic appeal.

In an interview with Movieline, John Woo spoke about the challenge of working in the American studio system:
In Hollywood it takes a much longer time [than in China] to set up a project. You have to take so many notes and so many meetings! But in China, they all want to make a good movie. I just walk into their offices and let them know I want to make a movie [...] I never need to take new meetings or notes from anyone. I just do what I want. So that's a little more simple. That's a big difference from Hollywood.
Of course, John Woo might experience more creative freedom than others, but his words nevertheless describe a system that's obsessed with control and in which everyone wants a piece of the pie. And still Hollywood pursues directors who've made a name for themselves as auteurs, hoping to strike gold. When they produce successful films, these auteurs are celebrated. When their movie flops, they're reigned in and locked down. There's no middle ground.

Snyder was hired on to "set the tone" for DC's new franchise and Man of Steel was reasonably well received, so he kept at it with, it appears, little oversight from Warner Bros or DC. What everyone failed to realize is that Snyder's "visionary" director status was meant to be taken literally. Look at Sucker Punch and 300: all spectacle with just enough story to tie all those dazzling set-pieces together. BvS is what happens when you hire a guy who doesn't fully understand narrative to make you a movie that relies heavily on story in order to drive the action that appears on screen. Never mind the fact that one of the writers, David Goyer, once dismissed the idea of a Batman vs Superman movie as "where you go when you admit to yourself you've exhausted all possibilities."

DC is chasing after Marvel, desperate to create its own cinematic juggernaut, but they just can't seem to get that ship to sail. What they don't understand--and what appears perfectly clear to everyone else--is that the MCU isn't unified through visuals or even tone. What holds the MCU together are the characters who populate that vast universe, and the b and c plots that run through the films. Put another way, Marvel's producing a serial while DC's making bottle episodes.

Christopher Nolan's Batman proved that audiences are open to a gritty and bleak re-imagining of the comic book superhero, but Batman lends himself well to that kind of thing, thanks in large part to the darkly sophisticated Batman; The Animated Series (itself inspired by Tim Burton's Batman). Superman, by contrast, is a godlike alien who's taken guardianship of Earth, and WB's Superman cartoon was brighter and shinier than BTAS, although it still dealt with some heavy issues (including one episode in which they hold a funeral for a supporting character). As such, a new Superman for a new millennium would do better if he were built upon the strong foundation laid by WB's DC cartoon, rather than trying to appropriate the look and feel of an entirely different character.

Snyder's complaints about having "to make an adjustment" and "change the tone" because the audience didn't like his movie are more than him whining. It speaks to a fundamental aspect of his character: he can't take criticism. It's one thing to make changes because you're being told to do so, it's quite another to understand why, and I don't believe Snyder fully appreciates what's happening. He's making his adjustments and changing the tone but without any self-conscious effort to learn from his mistakes and better himself because he doesn't believe that he's erred. 

Will Justice League be a better movie all-round than BvS? Probably, but only because Snyder's auteurship is now under scrutiny. Still, WB would probably do better to just keep making animated features and one-offs for now, giving other filmmakers a chance to breathe new life into their heroes.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Hitman: Agent 47


Some of the thoughts that flitted through my brain while watching Hitman: Agent 47:

Ha! This prologue makes no sense. "Man can only wage war. So we built super assassins." For what purpose? To stop war or to be the best at it?

Wait, I thought the Agents worked for the Syndicate.

I guess they're free agents? And Diana is Agent 47's agent?

Who puts out these contracts?

Is 47 the good guy or the bad guy? I feel like he's supposed to be the good guy but everything he's done so far makes him seem like the bad guy.

Zachary Quinto is the good guy.

Zachary Quinto is the bad guy. 

This movie has structure problems.

Biogenetics. Not to be confused with non-biological genetics.

Where have I seen Dominic Friend before? This is driving me nuts.

Omigod, is everyone in this movie a hitman?

Yes. Yes, they are.

You know, the whole "you're locked in here with me" thing loses its punch when it's repeated back and forth like that.

Now Diana's talking to someone else? Is she also a free agent? A freelance free Agent agent?

You know what this movie needs? A training montage.

If all the hitmen are so smart, how come no one's been able to figure out where this dude is? They can track a woman through CCTV based on her earlobe, but they can't find an old white man in Singapore?

Holy crap, I hope that garden is a real place is real because I need to go there.

I don't really see the point of having a video phone in your desk. That's got to be the least flattering angle there is.

Where the hell is the other Agent? I'm sitting here, waiting for the mysterious other hitman to show up and he refuses to appear. Did the movie forget about him? I feel like the movie forgot about him. I really hope it's Timothy Olyphant.

Oh, don't give me that "you are what you do" bullshit. What he does is kill people. Ergo, he's a hitman.

I'm mildly impressed by this fight.

I'm less impressed by this denouement. Who called in this hit, exactly?

And who the fuck is that??


Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Terrible Moments in Taglining


"Putting the tea back in terror."

If this movie is putting the tea back, that would suggest there was a time when tea was ubiquitous in horror movies, as some kind of fixture or genre trope. Then filmmakers turned away from tea, perhaps dabbling in coffee or even pop. But now these guys are going back to horror's roots, and infusing their nazi zombie movie with a strong peppermint.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Terrible Moments in Taglining


"Evil is only skin deep."

So we've got nothing to worry about from this guy.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Morbid

Not pictured: What actually happens in the movie.

There is a penis at the end of this review.

Fellow horror blogger Chuck Conry made a movie. Good for him! And this is where the praise ends because Morbid is a badly written and poorly paced slasher throwback that fails to pay hommage to the genre.

The movie opens with two dudes engaging in a heated debate about the horror canon. It would be fun if it weren't a tired cliche. Moreover, the rest of Morbid isn't nearly as post-modern as this scene would have you believe. An attempt to invert the male gaze is undermined by the film's lack of shower scene nudity, and the interminable pacing of the kills--not to mention the action and blocking--suggests that Conry is better off behind a keyboard than a camera.

That having been said, Morbid's script is thin on plot. And pages. Clocking in at 72 minutes, Morbid is little more than a series of kills strung together and intercut with too-long scenes of people talking about teen melodrama. The story, such as it is, revolves around a post-game house party and a love triangle. The cops want to shut the party down and, well...that's about it. If you're wondering how a masked killer fits in, so am I. Only two victims have been found, and no one at the party either knows or cares about the double homicide, nor do they (or the cops) even realize the killer's still out and about. At no point do the party-goers know they're in danger, meaning there's no tension whatsoever.

The thing about the slashers of yor is that the killer had some connection, no matter how tenuous, to his victims, and that at some point the over-sexed teens realize (too late) their numbers are dwindling. This is what ratchets up the tension, when the suspense, which has been boiling under, boils over and all hell breaks loose. Conry, however, seems to have fixated solely on the gore, forgoing story and plot for body count.

And he's not the only one. The genre is chock full of no/low movies inspired by the slasher classics of yesteryear made by horror lovers who display more passion than talent. As good/bad as the inspirational source material may be, it still had some semblance of story--some reason why the movie is happening. This simple fact, this basic tenet of storytelling, seems to have escaped Conry.

Other things that escaped Conry include camera angles and perspective.

Unless, of course, I'm wrong. The possibility exists that Conry is a genius and I'm too dumb, too self-absorbed, or too elitist to see it. Maybe Morbid's total lack of story is a comment on the state of the genre today. The disparate and disassociative nature of Morbid's narrative is a direct criticism of story's diminished position among an audience that only cares for incident. That the town's Sheriff is more concerned about a kegger than a brutal killer is a wry dig at morality and a keen observation on slasher tropes.

Morbid is a horror comedy that isn't funny. None of the jokes land, with one exception, and it's more outrageous than hilarious. I also got a big kick out of what might be the worst rap ever, only because it was so bad as to be funny. I'm not sure if that was the intent. When I did laugh, I was laughing at Morbid, not with it, and that's a problem for a movie that's supposed to be funny on purpose.

Perhaps most annoying is the promise of an ending (I'm paraphrasing here) "as shocking as Sleepaway Camp." Granted, this part isn't Conry's fault; the DVD box suggests a surprising twist end I'll never see coming. So while I was fidgeting my way through the longest 72 minutes of my life, I was also trying to figure out the twist, trying to guess who's the killer. What I didn't realize is that Rue Morgue, who made the comparison to Sleepaway Camp, meant it literally. Meaning, there is a penis at the end of the movie.

A big one.

And much like the flaccid phallus that punctuates the film, Morbid lacks substance. Like all other no/low horror, it was a good effort, but this one falls way short of the mark. The film's technical problems not withstanding (matching, re-shoots, editing, not leaving the tripod in the shot when you're going handheld), Morbid's complete lack of narrative arc meant the project was doomed from the start. 

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Map It! Haunted Places and Ley Lines

Ever wonder what the relationship is between ley lines and hauntings? Of course you have. Everyone has. Well, I've taken it upon myself to map that relationship to prove that it doesn't exist.


Now, I'm not saying ghosts don't exist, nor am I claiming that ley lines are bs, but there are more sites on this map that don't really coincide with ley lines than those that do.

Where did I get my data? From the Internet of course! The thirty sites listed above are the "most haunted" or appear the most often on haunted house websites. The ley line data is, admittedly slightly less authoritative. The above map was redrawn from this one, chosen because it appears on more than one site, was at the right scale, and because it was the "cleanest."

Saturday, 16 April 2016

4got10


4got10 is a curiously terrible movie. There is no good reason why it's as bad as it is. That having been said, there are a number of bad ones.

Bad Reason #1: The Script

To say the script for 4got10 is underdeveloped assumes a complete story to begin with. And assuming so makes an ass out of you. Not me, though. Because I know this story didn't get much past the idea stage before it was committed to videotape.

Brian wakes up shot and surrounded by bodies, with no clear idea of what's happened. The cops roll up and he pretends to be dead, eavesdropping on the Sheriff's plan to steal all the cash and blow on hand. Shortly after this scene plays out, Brian himself takes off in the van and drives...somewhere. He's following a route dictated to him by the van's satnav. When he get gets to his destination--which is some guy's house--he takes the guy and his wife hostage then sits down for a good think.

Meanwhile, the Sheriff is packing to leave town. He's in the shit after his foiled attempt to steal the van and is planning to get the hell out of Dodge. This plan is also foiled when Danny Trejo shows up at his house demanding to know who shot his son. Danny strikes a deal with the Sheriff: if the Sheriff deliver's his son's murderer and the stolen van with money and drugs intact, Danny will let him have some of the cash.

Meanwhile, Dolf Lundgren is a DEA agent investigating the shoot-out.

Meanwhile Brian has sex with the woman he's take hostage. Tuns out she knows him. Brian, of course, has no idea who she is.

It all comes to a head when the Sheriff arrives at the house where Brian's holed up. Shortly after he gets there, Trejo and his boys show up. A gun battle ensues. Brian survives, as does the broad. She takes off with a set of keys, keys that will open a locker at the bus station. It's where Brian hid the money before driving to the house.

Brian's too late to the bus station--the money's gone. But Dolf Lundgren isn't. He's in a parking garage, waiting for Brian. And now, finally, all the pieces fall into place. Or they would were this a better movie. Brian shoots Lundgren in the head and we're let in on the backstory.

Brian's an undercover DEA agent who brokered a deal with Trejo's lawyer's wife, aka the broad, to have her husband sent away. When Brian's in the middle of the big drug sale, Lundgren manipulates him into sparking the shoot-out. Lundgren shoots Brian with an aim to steal the money himself once everybody's dead.

If you're wondering what the lawyer has to do with any of this, you're not the only one. How and/or why the Sheriff and Danny Trejo show up at the lawyer's house is equally confusing. And at no point does Brian tell the broad where he stashed the cash--she just knows to go to the bus station. As does Dolf Lundgren.

4got10 wants to be this great twisted caper, with all these different characters and threads weaving an intricate web of deceit. But writing something like that requires time and patience, if not talent. 4got10's writer came up with the basic idea but stopped short of planning it out. So what should have been something along the lines of Lock Stock meets Get Shorty meets Once Upon a Time in Mexico, feels more like bad True Romance fan fic.

Bad Reason #2: The Cameos

Normally a cameo is a good thing. Or at least a surprising thing. 4got10 has three "big" "cameo" performances. In addition to Dolf Lundgren and Danny Trejo, Vivica Fox is in this movie, and only one of them has anything to contribute to the plot, such as it is. While Danny Trejo's drug lord character has a reason to be in the movie, Vivica Fox's DEA chief doesn't. Excise her from the script and you've freed up ten minutes that could be put to better use. That's not to suggest that Vivica Fox isn't good at her job, she just has nothing to do.

Most troubling of all is Dolf Lundgren. Clearly, he was only available for a couple of days but his character is more important to the plot and he should have more of a presence in the movie. If the script were better, it's likely Lundgren's DEA agent would do more, make more of an impact, but then he might not have been able to accept the role because he'd have to have been on set longer than a couple of days.

Bad Reason #3: The Spelling


Bad Reason #4: The Continuity

See that white van?


Here. I've pointed it out.


Now, take a look at this next photo and see if you can see it.


You can't because it's not there. Instead of a white panel van, there's a dark minivan parked in its place.


Note here the "braud"'s tattoo changes from one moment to the next.



And see how Danny Trejo is right-handed while his stand-in is a leftie.



Reason #5: The Budget

Normally I wouldn't hold a movie's budget against it. Unless we're talking about a billion dollar movie that looks like crap. Then yeah, it's a problem. But with low budget films, looking cheap isn't necessarily a strike against.

4got10 is low budget, and it looks pretty good, so that's a real accomplishment. But all that goodwill is undone by this one embarrassing prop:


How can a movie that can afford custom search engines and email graphics produce something so cheap as the evidence board seen here? There is no acceptable reason, no good excuse as to why this thing exists.

Like all the other terrible mistakes that found their way into this film, this awful bit of set dressing sums up all that's wrong with 4got10. It showcases a certain laziness on the part of the filmmakers, a lack of attention to detail and an inability to prioritize that completely undermines their efforts.