Movie Review: “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”

Starring
Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Jeremy Irons, Scoot McNairy, Laurence Fishburne, Holly Hunter, Diane Lane
Director
Zack Snyder

It’s an idea that sounds like a slam dunk on paper: Pit two of the world’s biggest superheroes against one another in a cinematic battle for the ages and force the audience to choose sides. But while we all wait to see how that fight unfolds in “Captain America: Civil War,” moviegoers can get their fix sooner by trudging through the similarly themed “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” a disjointed mess of a movie that is occasionally exhilarating, but mostly disappointing. Though it’s scary to think that Warner Bros. is betting the future of its entire DC Comics film slate on this highly-anticipated clash of superhero icons, the real loser is the audience itself.

The warning signs were there for everyone to see in the movie’s convoluted title, but even diehard comic book fans will be surprised by just how overlong, overstuffed and unfocused the film is for such a seemingly straightforward affair. This is Batman versus Superman, for crying out loud – it doesn’t require any extra dressing, and it certainly didn’t need to be turned into a moody rumination on the responsibilities of power that nearly sucks the fun out of its killer premise. After all, didn’t director Zack Snyder already make that movie?

Eighteen months have passed since Superman (Henry Cavill) destroyed half of Metropolis fighting General Zod (Michael Shannon), and while some people have embraced him as a god-like hero, others believe that he’s a dangerous alien who should be held accountable for his actions. Having witnessed the collateral damage first-hand after one of his company’s buildings was destroyed in the battle, Gotham City industrialist Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) – now a seasoned crime-fighter who spends his nights dealing out justice as the vigilante Batman – is terrified of what Superman could do with that kind of power and becomes obsessed with stopping him by any means possible. Meanwhile, billionaire tech genius Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) is building his own weapon to combat the alien threat using a piece of Kryptonite uncovered at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. But when Bruce steals the green rock in an attempt to level the playing field against Superman, Luthor decides to use Batman to do his dirty work for him.

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Movie Review: “The Program”

Starring
Ben Foster, Chris O’Dowd, Jesse Plemmons, Dustin Hoffman, Lee Pace
Director
Stephen Frears

Stephen Fears’ “The Program” is the rise-and-fall story we all expected from a Lance Armstrong biopic, and that’s the biggest issue with this overly familiar tale. Despite a committed lead performance from Ben Foster, Frears’ drama is an obvious and frustrating depiction of ambition and obsession.

We all know the story. Lance Armstrong (Foster) was one of the world’s most beloved heroes, until the cyclist was revealed to be a fraud. Armstrong wasn’t the biggest or fastest racer at the start of his career, but his luck soon changed after using performance-enhancing drugs, only to learn he had cancer following his first major victory. Armstrong ultimately made his grand return to cycling after defeating the cancer against all odds and went on to win more Tour de France titles, but journalist David Walsh (Chris O’Dowd) found the comeback awfully questionable.

“The Program” is basically a David vs. Goliath tale between Armstrong and Walsh. Both men love cycling, but Walsh believes that Armstrong is killing the sport, which pains him. To get to the truth, Walsh faces an uphill battle as he takes on the great and mighty Lance Armstrong. In the end, that’s all Frears’ film is really about.

Armstrong is portrayed in the movie as a shark. That’s fine, of course, but John Hodge’s script rarely slows down to let the audience fully empathize with the character. There is one great instance where the story is allowed to unfold more gracefully – when Armstrong comforts an ill child – that makes for a fantastic dichotomy; one of the biggest liars in the world couldn’t be experiencing a more truthful connection. It’s a superb scene that’s played with genuine emotion by Foster, showing Armstrong at his most vulnerable.

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Movie Review: “Midnight Special”

Starring
Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst, Jaeden Lieberher, Joel Egerton, Adam Driver
Director
Jeff Nichols

Much of director Jeff Nichols’ work is about fatherhood. “Shotgun Stories,” “Take Shelter” and “Mud,” in one form or another, show what it means to be responsible for another human being. It should come as no surprise, then, that Nichols explores that theme once again in his biggest film to date, “Midnight Special,” a thrilling throwback that’s both meditative and moving.

Roy (Michael Shannon) needs to get his son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) to a specific location at a certain time. He’s not sure why, but he knows he has to for the sake of Alton. Roy’s son has special powers that he nor anyone else can explain, and while a religious cult – led by Sam Shepard – believes that Alton is their savior, to Roy, he’s just his son. With the help of his old friend, Lucas (Joel Edgerton), Roy will do whatever he must to protect Alton, even if that means running from the government or getting into shootouts with crazy cult members.

“Midnight Special” isn’t exactly “E.T.,” although a few shots and ideas certainly pay tribute to Steven Spielberg’s classic. Like that film, Nichols tells a personal story, with its characters and themes driving the story, not set pieces. Alton might have super powers, but this is far from a superhero movie; it’s about fatherhood, finding one’s place in the world and faith.

Alton has his father and mother, Sarah (Kirsten Dunst), but he’s never lived a normal life. During one quietly heartbreaking exchange, Roy and Sarah hold hands, watching their son play in front of them. It’s a sweet moment, but there’s an inherent sadness to the scene as Lucas cleans his gun in the background, watching the family trying to grasp onto fleeting moments of normalcy.

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Movie Review: “Allegiant”

Starring
Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Zoe Kravitz, Naomi Watts, Maggie Q, Jeff Daniels
Director
Robert Schwentke

As the “Divergent” series unfolds, it feels more and more like a giant bluff. Now in the homestretch, Veronica Roth’s not-too-distant dystopian nightmare is slowly devolving into a needlessly complicated metaphor for high school. There are factions, they keep to themselves, and once you switch factions, you cannot visit anyone from your previous faction. There is melodrama by the truckload. One boy does not like the special attention his girl is getting from the grown-ups, who are grooming her for Bigger, More Important Things. He is jealous. High school, high school, high school.

Society has collapsed inside the walled city of Chicago, where Evelyn (Naomi Watts), leader of the Factionless army and mother of Dauntless badass Four (Theo James), has wrested control and is holding public trials of those who did the bidding of now-dead Erudite leader Jeanine. This includes Caleb (Ansel Elgort), brother of Dauntless heroine Tris (Shailene Woodley). Tris and Four use back channels to spring Caleb from custody, and the three, along with fellow Dauntless Christina (Zoe Kravitz) and Peter (Miles Teller), climb the wall to discover a godforsaken wasteland. This wasteland turns out to be partly artificial, and the group is rescued by a group working for the Bureau, situated where O’Hare Airport used to be. O’Hare, of course, doesn’t mean anything to anyone in the film. That information is solely for the audience’s benefit. As Caleb himself says, “What’s an airport?”

The Bureau is run by David (Jeff Daniels), who has been watching Tris’ entire life from afar like she’s on a really warped version of “The Truman Show.” David declares that Tris is the only “pure” divergent in the entire city, while everyone else, factionless or not, is “damaged.” David wants to take Tris to meet his superiors, in order to prove that his Chicago “experiment” is working, and that they are on the verge of a breakthrough. Meanwhile, war is erupting in Chicago between the Factionless army and the once-peaceful Amity faction, renamed Allegiant. That should matter to David, right?

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Movie Review: “10 Cloverfield Lane”

Starring
Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr.
Director
Dan Trachtenberg

The 2008 found footage movie, “Cloverfield,” showcased producer J.J. Abrams at his secretive best, flying completely under the radar until the mysterious release of its buzzworthy teaser. No one imagined that Abrams could pull off the same trick again, yet that’s exactly what he’s done with the intriguingly titled “10 Cloverfield Lane,” this time with the whole world watching. It was an ingenious but risky marketing stunt for a movie scheduled to hit theaters only eight weeks after the surprise announcement, and it worked like a charm. While the film will undoubtedly frustrate those expecting any sort of substantial connection to its namesake, “10 Cloverfield Lane” is a well-crafted thriller that deserves the added exposure its title brings, even if that affiliation threatens to overshadow the story itself.

The movie opens on a young woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) as she frantically packs a suitcase with some clothes and personal belongings before leaving town to escape a toxic relationship. While driving through the night, Michelle is blind-sided by a truck and knocked unconscious, eventually waking to find herself chained to a wall and treated for her injuries. Michelle immediately fears the worst, but her captor Howard (John Goodman) insists that he saved her life by pulling her from the wreckage and then bringing her back to his fallout shelter following some kind of massive chemical attack that has rendered the outside world uninhabitable. Though Michelle is understandably skeptical of the slightly deranged Howard, she’s able to corroborate his story with Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), a good-natured construction worker who broke his arm while fighting his way into the bunker. Forced to accept the possibility that Howard’s nutty conspiracy theory might actually be true, Michelle can’t shake the feeling that he’s still hiding something.

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