AIR

By Marc S. Sanders

Pop culture for me began in the early 1980s.  Burger King had Star Wars glasses to collect. Everyone was running to the theatres to see Beverly Hills Cop.  Ray Parker Jr asked us who we were gonna call, and a little old lady wanted to know “Where’s The Beef?” 

Apparently, basketball was big too.  I wouldn’t know.  I only followed sports once in a blue moon.  However, I wanted the high-top sneakers that all the guys were wearing, the Nike Air Jordans.  Couldn’t make a free throw shot to save myself, but I explained to my mom that I just had to wear the shoes.  I owned two pair – one was charcoal and white and the other were black and blue.  Beautiful accessories to go with my Levi jeans, Ralph Lauren Polo shirts and my Member’s Only jacket.

All of these memories flooded back to me as I watched Ben Affleck’s latest directorial production called Air.  The film recaps how Nike, a distant leading third place sneaker brand in the USA, signed the eventual greatest basketball player to ever perform on an NBA court, Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls, as the celebrity face for its flagship shoe that still reigns supreme today, over forty years later.  Air is not so much a sports movie, as it is that rare breed of film hardly touched upon.  Air is an inspirational, stand up and cheer success story of capitalism and materialism. 

The year is 1984.  Nike’s headquarters reside in the sleepy state of Oregon.  Affleck’s longtime friend Matt Damon portrays Sonny Vacarro, an out of shape Vice President of Marketing for Nike who is tagged with finding the next flash in the pan basketball star to sponsor their shoes.  Sonny can recite statistics and facts about any past or present player in the league verbatim.  He also has a knack for recognizing the potential of up-and-coming stars fresh out of high school and college.  Nothing seems interesting, however.  Sonny religiously watches videotapes of game footage and one night it occurs to him that a rookie kid named Michael Jordan is the answer to Nike’s stagnant profit and loss statements. 

Sonny’s got challenges to overcome though, like convincing his fellow executives played by Jason Bateman and Chris Tucker to jump on his campaign.  He also needs to get Phil Knight (Nike’s CEO, played by a bearded and often barefoot Affleck) to invest their entire $250,000 budget in the faith of one player with no proven track record, as opposed to spending the money on multiple players.  It’s like playing roulette with everything on Red 23.  Perhaps the hardest obstacle will be swaying Mr. Jordan’s tough and intuitive mother, Deloris Jordan (Viola Davis, a clear front runner for Best Supporting Actress), to go with this company, as opposed to Adidas and Converse who seemingly can provide for any of her son’s requests, including a shiny red Mercedes coupe on top of any dollar figure imaginable.

Ben Affleck’s direction, with Alex Convery’s script, works so well because it operates on industry.  Vaccaro not only travels unexpectedly to the Jordans’ home in North Carolina, but he’s constantly working the phone on Michael Jordan’s ball busting, slick and foul-mouthed sports agent (Chris Messina giving a hilarious performance worthy of a nomination as well.).  The negotiations these guys communicate with hinges on how descriptively ugly they can be with their dialogue and tete a tete cursing.  Every conversation has to end with that much more of a dramatic hang-up.  Sonny also must take the elevator down to the design center basement, and delegate a quirky kind of guy (Peter Moore, played by Matthew Maher) with designing a shoe that stands above anything ever seen before. 

There’s a process to how to some of the most well recognized manufactured goods in the North American continent came to be and continue to circulate for decades on end.  It could be Coca Cola, or Ray Ban sunglasses or Ford Mustangs or Nike Air Jordans.  Matt Damon is the energetic thread that is connected to every ingredient and participant responsible for this finished product. 

Outside of the operation is the quiet Deloris Jordan protecting the best interests and image of her talented son.  She will ensure he is not taken for granted and most importantly he will be the one credited for every consumer who puts a pair of Air Jordan shoes on their feet. 

In less than two hours, Ben Affleck uses Convery’s script with perfect efficiency and time devoted to a passion for Sonny Vaccaro and a careful process of examination by Deloris Jordan.  Matt Damon and Viola Davis are so much in tune with their respective roles. In fact, the whole picture is perfectly cast.

This is a story that takes place in boring offices and cubicles.  Yet, the film comes alive with a culturally relevant soundtrack of pop culture music of its specific year, 1984, when life for middle class families seemed easier following an exhausting Vietnam War and an assurance of politics from a US President who held office for most of the decade.  People went to the movies in the summertime. They watched Dallas and Miami Vice on Friday nights.  Teens wore the one glitter glove on their hand as a salute to Michael Jackson.  Kids collected Care Bears, He-Man toys, and Garbage Pail Kids cards, and they saved up their money to emulate a basketball superstar by wearing his brand name shoes.

Too often films reflect back on business and industry that has betrayed the buyers and investors.  Films like The Big Short and a few interpretations of Bernie Madoff’s pyramid scheme come to mind.  I’m waiting for the movie that will focus on one of the greatest foul ups in business history, New Coke.  Air reminds me that we don’t have to always embrace the tragedies of business operations by focusing on where it has failed us time and again. 

Nike Air Jordans are an expensive epitome of materialistic need.  Yet, business is also about giving consumers what they want, and if that is done, then its success spreads to prosperity and financial security for many parties throughout the nation and the world.  Air is a film that should be shown to business majors in universities.  It teaches the art of risk, passion and confidence when taking on an investment and holding on to who can be each generation’s next hero. 

Air is a standout film, and I’ll accept the risk of declaring it one of the best films of 2023.

SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE

By Marc S. Sanders

William Shakespeare’s works will always remain timeless.  His accomplishments are simply magnetic.

If you have any love for live theater, you’ll likely have at least a fondness for John Madden’s Oscar winning film Shakespeare In Love.  I loved the movie.  Perhaps that is because as a moonlighting playwright, myself, I could relate to The Bard’s early dilemma in the film – writer’s block.  It’s a gnawing, aggravating experience to go through.  You have an urge to create.  You just don’t know where to begin.  Believe me Bill, I know what you’re going through.

This likely fictional telling of William Shakespeare’s process of conceiving Romeo & Juliet begins with two competing theaters who have purchased the rights to Shakespeare’s (Joseph Fiennes) newest play that he has titled Romeo & Ethel, The Pirate’s Daughter, a comedy of course.  However, he has not yet written one page.  Not only does he suffer through his writer’s block, but William also has to endure the pressure of the theatre companies to stage and cast the play.  Geoffrey Rush and Martin Clunes are the scene stealing theatre owners who pester poor Bill for his script. 

My experiences in theatre allow me to also relate to the frustrations of staging a play.  Casting can be troubling if you don’t have the right selection of actors for the roles to be filled.  Huge egos can also be an annoyance.  Ben Affleck seems perfectly cast for that. (“What is the play, and what is my part?”)  In Shakespeare’s time, women are absolutely forbidden on the stage. As most theater presentations are intended to be comedic, men occupying the female roles only heightens the humor.  Still, as troubling as it is to cast the supporting roles with the available men of the company, including Ethel and her nurse, no one seems right for the role of Romeo. 

A fan of his, and a lover of theater, is Viola De Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow), the daughter of a wealthy merchant.  She musters the courage to disguise herself as a man and attend an audition under the name of “Thomas Kent.”  William is immediately taken with Thomas’ stage presence and upon his pursuit of him, encounters Viola.  They are both immediately stricken with love for one another and soon the writer learns of Viola’s deceit and revels in trysts with her while they maintain the secret for the integrity of the play that he now has inspiration to continue writing to its grand conclusion.  Viola is the muse that William has been seeking.

One problem beyond the usual obstacles in producing a play for performance time comes in the form of Lord Wessex (Colin Firth), a snobby cash poor aristocrat, who claims Viola as his soon to be bride as a means of earning a stature of wealth through her family.  Wessex is a demanding and unreasonable fiend of course, and Firth delivers an effectively cruel villain against the heroism found in Fiennes’ Shakespeare.

As the play is rehearsed and the romance between Viola and William continues to blossom, the drama is not left only on the stage.  A grand scene bordering on slapstick occurs when the competing theaters engage in a swashbuckling dual.  Props are tossed, swords are swung and feathered pillows explode.  Later, adventure on the level of Errol Flynn occurs with swordplay between William and Wessex within the theater and its trappings.  Screenwriters Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard inventively imply that theater, as we know it today, was simply inspired by what Shakespeare encounters in his own life.  When I conduct playwrighting workshops at my local community theater, I always tell the class that you have to “write what you know.”  Shakespeare In Love precisely demonstrates that mantra, even if it is elevated for the theatrics of cinema.  After all, this movie proudly boasts its silly comedy as much as it embraces its romance which thankfully never drowns in sap.

A wonderfully well edited centerpiece cuts between Viola and William’s passion for one another against their stage rehearsals with Viola in her guise as “Thomas Madden.”  In bed, they romance each other with recognizable dialogue, originally written by the real Shakespeare, that then makes its way into William’s pages for his script in progress.  This is where Gwyneth Paltrow really shines as she is momentarily depicted as the lovely Viola and then we see her in the guise of “Thomas,” the naturally gifted actor perfect for William’s Romeo character.  Paltrow’s range with the Oscar winning performance is done so well in this sequence alone.

The final act of the film is joyously assembled.  Behind the scenes, actor and writer William Shakespeare stresses over a stuttering actor who has entered the stage to begin the play.  Can he get through the scene?  What about the poor actor who is stricken with stage fright, and suddenly can’t go on as Juliet?  The audience is left in a rapturous trance with open mouths of silence and tears, following the suicides of the lovers on stage.  Yet, they don’t know if they should applaud at the end of the play.  The actors don’t know how to respond to the applause.  As well, are we given an opportunity to bear witness where the well-known phrase “The show must go on!” originated from?

It’s also necessary to point out one of the most favorite side characters to ever grace a film.  Judi Dench is the staunch and intimidating Queen Elizabeth I.  Arguably, this brief role, that I believe amounts to no more than five and half minutes on screen, carried Dench to not only Oscar glory but a celebrated favorite character actress for years to come.  Dench demonstrates how fun acting can be even if she is wrapped up in layers of 16th century wardrobe and caked on makeup.  Her first scene has her laughing at a poor actor performing with an uncooperative poodle.  Her last scene has her tearing down the romantic gesture of men laying down their coats for her to cross over a mud puddle.  It’s an unforgettable appearance in the film.

I take issue with one element of the picture, however.  Forgive me for going against the opinion of the Academy Awards, but Shakespeare In Love would have been an even grander experience for me had it not been for an overproduced and intrusive original score from Oscar winner Stephen Warbeck.  The music cuts into the film too much.  It borders on obnoxious.  Over and over, I was telling myself, these scenes hold together beautifully without any of the blaring horns and trumpets from Warbeck’s orchestra.  This film has an outstanding cast of actors and often I felt like they were being upstaged by the soundtrack of the film.  There are magnificent scenes with witty dialogue delivered by the likes of Imelda Staunton, Tom Wilkinson, Ben Affleck, along with Dench, Firth, Paltrow, Fiennes and Rush.  I could literally envision these moments working based simply on their performances alone.  Imagine watching a live stage performance, only elevator music cuts in at the most inopportune times. 

Still, I refuse to end on a sour note for Shakespeare In Love.  It is worthy of a standing ovation.  John Madden’s film is a grand production in cast performance, art direction, costume and makeup.  The script by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard is brilliantly clever and witty as they weave inspired references from Shakespeare’s various sonnets, poems and plays into rich, everyday dialogue. 

Sustaining the value of performing arts can easily begin with a viewing of Shakespeare In Love in a school curriculum.  Even better would be to adapt this film into a stage play.  I think to watch Shakespeare In Love, live on stage, would be a wonderous experience.

DAREDEVIL

By Marc S. Sanders

Mark Steven Johnson is probably a director you never heard of. He made two very bad movies based on Marvel’s character Ghost Rider featuring Nicholas Cage. Still Johnson has one redeeming quality and that is the very underappreciated Daredevil featuring Ben Affleck in the title role.

It’s not so much that Affleck is good in the role as blind lawyer/vigilante Matt Murdock aka the title character. More so, is that Johnson writes and directs a solid film very faithful to the source material. So, reader, what if you tell me you never read the comic books? My reply, so what! There’s still a lot of fun and colorful characters to get caught up in and you should have no trouble getting the hang of it.

Michael Clarke Duncan’s hulking physique was always his best attribute and serves him well as the crime warlord Kingpin aka Wilson Fisk, the puppet master of Hell’s Kitchen and the man responsible for the death of Murdock’s washed up boxer father. Colin Farrell chews the scenery (maybe little too much on my repeat viewing many years later) as Bullseye, a mercenary villain who can use any object as a precise throwing weapon, whether it be a card, a pencil, or shards of glass. It’s a ridiculous and unlikely talent but Farrell makes the most of it and the character serves as a perfect foil to the blind vigilante hero who uses his remaining four senses to skillfully fight and dodge and acrobat his way through rooftops over the city at night.

Jon Faverau (before directing Iron Man) is welcome relief as Murdock’s legal partner with some good humor material. Jennifer Garner is filler in the role of Elektra, a skilled fighter with trident weapons in each hand and the film’s standard love interest looking for revenge. Garner is nothing special. I’ll say it. She’s here based on her looks and her body and at the time she was the action go to gal (thanks to her TV show Alias) when Angelina Jolie was not available.

Affleck is fine in the part. He’s got the looks and physique. You can easily believe he’s a lawyer. If anything, I could have done without his voiceover narration. I think the film narrates itself fine without additional instructions. I’d argue that Affleck and Johnson could have taken this franchise further. At the time, it actually got good reviews. What did not help were the published exploitations of Affleck with his girlfriend at the time (now new bride), Jennifer Lopez (and later Garner), as well as his other poor choices of roles like Gigli and the insultingly embarrassing Pearl Harbor. (Main character Raif McCauley I have not yet forgotten!!!!)

Years later, some of the fight scenes look clunky. Some of the mid 2000’s alt rock is a little much (but Evanescence is always welcome, especially during a nicely dramatic rainy funeral scene). However, Johnson still has some tricks up his sleeve that work really well. He uses a great filming technique where Daredevil can see by means of sonic waves of sound thus making him more attuned to the trajectory of a bullet or where to find his adversaries. So, to pit a blind guy against the greatest marksman…yeah that’s a dual worth seeing. This gimmick was invented in the comics by Stan Lee and John Romita, yet very well captured in the medium of film. Another great bit is to translate how Daredevil can tell if a person is lying, a great skill for any lawyer to have. He can hear their heartbeat. Duh! Especially well done is how Murdock can see the facial features of Elekra during a brief escapade in the rain. Johnson CGIs it in midnight blue to leave an impression. Yes, Garner’s best moment comes when she’s animated in CGI blue.

The film offers a great theme of superimposing the devil image of the vigilante against the backdrop of the catholic church and other opportunities for a cross to intrude a scene. It hints that Matt Murdock is a religious catholic, but not enough. It seemingly questions the actions of its hero. Affleck even asks himself at one point “Am I the bad guy?” It’s a good additional dimension to the character; one I wish Johnson capitalized on a little more. When is a vigilante truly crossing over into the realm of sin?

Daredevil is worth watching and not worth comparing to the Netflix series. The product is served in two different mediums, one of which has the luxury of telling its story over a span of 10 hours each year. The original film, though, is condensed quite well in origin and character. Live with that and feel forsaken.

GONE GIRL

By Marc S. Sanders

David Fincher is best when he builds tension in dark cinematography. It’s eerie and moody, but it all seems to make appropriate sense.

A skilled director like him proves that even with Lifetime television soap opera material, if delivered with care for detail and with genuine acting he can hold on to the attention of a scrupulous movie going audience. Haunting filmmaking, like Fincher is known for with movies like Seven or Panic Room, can also work in sensational material that at first might draw the attention of lonely housewives pigging out on Rocky Road ice cream while watching hours upon hours of scorned victim gossip material on the WE Channel. Gone Girl adapted from the best-selling novel by Gillian Flynn, who also wrote the screenplay, is a thrilling cinematic piece even if the story’s ending is a little disappointing.

Ben Affleck plays Nick Lowe who discovers a broken glass coffee table in his home and realizes his wife of 5 years is missing. Rosumund Pike is Amy, who seemingly vanished without a trace.

Fincher closely shoots Flynn’s story with developments you might expect or have experienced with various news stories and documented investigations by sensational legal journalists like Nancy Grace. Nick, with Amy’s parents (Lisa Banes, David Clennon), initially form a united front for the press but that falls apart when it’s uncovered that Nick has had an affair. Amy had a close neighbor who expresses tearful concern that cameras latch on to for ratings. The cops (Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit) grow more and more suspicious of Nick. Nick eventually hires a high-priced lawyer (Tyler Perry). Nick is eventually considered to be an abusive husband as well. It all adds up.

These are the steps you’d expect from a missing persons case. You might also suspect murder, but no one can claim that out loud if there’s no body to be found. So, toe the line carefully detectives, journalists, & gossip mongers!

What is not expected in Gone Girl are the surprises that open up midway through the picture, and the book. Flynn is a really inventive storyteller, and Fincher as director gives ample opportunity to answer for every surprise up the writer’s sleeve. Gone Girl plays with a lot of internal character thought to process its details.

I had read the novel long before the movie was even cast, and I couldn’t put it down. That being said, I was frustrated when the conclusion arrived. I can say the same for the faithful film adaptation. It’s an ending that could happen but, wow, is it a long shot.

Rosamund Pike was Oscar nominated as Amy, the complicated wife in this marriage. She’s good at occupying the complexity of her past shown in flashback. She’s likable in many moments, but then Amy is also a character that we are reluctant to trust based on her relationship to Nick, as well as her own parents.

Affleck remains a good actor with this picture. I think it takes an honest actor, writer and director to accurately show a man who might not be responding to this crisis like a general public expects. I think much of Affleck’s personal issues of infidelity and alcoholism in the public eye lend credence to how genuine he makes Nick out to be. Could this guy be handsome enough to think he could harm or actually murder a woman as beautiful as Amy; the “Amazing Amy” as she’s widely known in her mother’s series of best-selling children’s books? Is Nick that good at hiding his evil side? On the other hand, is Nick simply innocent, despite all the skeletons that are gradually uncovered? That’s a fair question as well.

Again, Gone Girl is superb in its delivery. It’s ending, though, is the setback. At least I felt that way. For every reader, like me who considers it dubious, I’m sure there are readers who applaud the inventiveness of Gillian Flynn’s gripping and modern mystery.

I guess if a good story prompts a group discussion on a Saturday night, then a really good novel or a great movie has achieved its purpose. At the very least, I consider that a great compliment for an outstanding cast, director and writer.

ARGO

By Marc S. Sanders

Ben Affleck’s third directorial effort Argo is his best. It makes me wonder why he followed this with playing Batman, a done to death cinematic character.

Argo showed promise of another great actor/director in the same vein as Orson Wells, Woody Allen, Robert Redford and Clint Eastwood. I’m sure Affleck will direct again but a Batman commitment certainly sidelines you. I hope he’ll direct again. I’m a big fan of his previous films, The Town and Gone Baby Gone.

The story tells of one aspect of the Iranian hostage crisis that spanned the end of 1979 through 1980. Six employees of the riot stormed American embassy in Iran manage to escape and hide in the Canadian ambassador’s home. Slowly but surely their hideaway will be revealed and they will inevitably be taken prisoner. Affleck plays CIA operative Tony Mendez who is tasked with getting them out. His plan, with assistance from John Goodman as legendary Hollywood makeup artist, John Chambers, and Alan Arkin as producer Lester Siegel, will make up a cockamamie story about producing a fake science fiction Star Wars rip off film called, you guessed it, Argo. They will do marketing write ups, poster advertising, and even a costumed table read at the Beverly Hills Hotel, all with the intent to just appear authentic as a film studio seeking out production locales in exotic Iran. The six hostages naturally are the film’s crew.

Affleck directs two acts here with two different narratives using both masks of theatre. Namely comedy and tragedy. The pleasure comes in watching Arkin and Goodman pair up to bring the Hollywood flavor that’s necessary. It’s great fun, especially when watching Arkin (in an Oscar nominated role) shyster his way with character actor Richard Kind to buy the Hollywood script-these two guys are like Oscar and Felix. Goodman is great as the been there done that Hollywood insider. He says “You can teach a Rhesus monkey to be a director.”

The drama comes with Affleck’s talent for delivering taut tension from his directing especially but also from his own performance as well as his cast of six hostages consisting of Tate Donovan, Scoot McNairy and Kerry Bishe. Bryan Cranston is also good as Mendez’ comunica from home. Cranston is just good in anything.

The tension builds with intimidating locals screaming of their loyalty to the Ayatollah as well as the eventual airport security. It’s all very nerve racking.

The critique for the the film lies in its own admission of historical inaccuracies. The escape was not as tense as the film suggests. More importantly, the caper was really primarily pulled off by the Canadian Ambassador, Ken Taylor (great actor Victor Garber). No. Canada is not given enough credit in the film. Still, here is a rare exception where I don’t mind. I guess because the suspense Affleck offers up is at its peak. You really shake your head at it all.

Forgive the cliche but Argo is a nail biting, edge of your seat thriller. At best, I can be grateful for learning about the true story following seeing the film. It’s a story that was kept hidden for 17 years. In these times of hardship and turmoil in America, it’s fortunate that a success can finally be celebrated.

Argo was undoubtedly worthy of its Best Picture Oscar win, and Ben Affleck should have at least been nominated for Best Director.

Fun Fact: Argo is produced by two former Batmans: George Clooney and Ben Affleck.

BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE

By Marc S. Sanders

Zack Snyder may have been indulging in too many cookies from the jar when he made Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice.  I can not deny how ambitious this film is, but did it ever need to be this ambitious?  There are too many storylines, too many characters, and not enough thought provoking dialogue to really make any sense of the gobblety gook that’s splattered all over the screen.

Reader, my favorite super hero of all time is Batman.  Nearly any variation of Batman (including moments from the dreadful Joel Schumacher films) contains an element that I just love about the character.  Ben Affleck is cast as The Dark Knight here.  He’s fine in the role.  I knew since he had done Daredevil, that he could pull off this part.  He might be too long in the tooth, and too busy an actor/director, for a new series of super hero films, but I digress.  That being said, the movies have gone into overkill on the Batman character.  It’s time the Gotham crusader hide in his cave for a little while and let some of the other super heroes out to play.  Snyder’s film proves my theory.  After all, the true highlight is neither title character in this movie.  

Actually Wonder Woman (Gal Godot) making her big screen debut is the draw above anything else here.  Even that is problematic, though.  I’ve seen this film twice now.  Can anyone tell me why Wonder Woman aka Diana Prince even makes an appearance in this film?  From a story perspective, what justifies Diana creeping into this film, other than to plaster her picture on DVD covers and merchandise a new action figure?

Events begin right after Snyder’s stellar Superman film, Man Of Steel.  An older and experienced Bruce Wayne is dubious of the benefits that Superman (Henry Cavill) can serve on Earth.  After all, his bout with the Krypton villain, General Zod, practically leveled Metropolis.  Heaven forbid if one day this powerful alien with the red cape goes out of control.  Bruce, as well as politicians led by Holly Hunter, ask a wise question.  Who on earth could ever stop him?  So Bruce, with assistance from Alfred (Jeremy Irons playing the well known sidekick more as a strategist, than a polite butler) begin preparing for a seemingly inevitable battle to eliminate the Kryptonian. 

Meanwhile, a young, brainy Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) is planning for his own undoing of both of these super heroes by living up to the film’s title; pitting the Bat of Gotham against the God of Metropolis; mano y mano.  Like most iterations, Luthor plays with defying the odds of nature.  In this case, he is experimenting with a green element sourced from Krypton which we all know is Kryptonite, as well as extracting blood from the corpse of Zod to create his own monster movie.  That last part feels like a side gig for the supposedly genius villain.

In addition, a mysteriously exotic and beautiful woman is turning up on various occasions.  Somehow, only Bruce seems to take notice of her.  Why?  I don’t know.  There’s really no purpose for him to scope out this person amid a sea of other extras attending a Luthor gala. 

There’s also Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane).  There’s a retread of Bruce Wayne’s origin story that we’ve seen countless times before.  There’s a bitter and disabled former employee of Wayne Enterprises.  There’s a dream sequence showing vague plague like foreshadowing to come.  There’s an arms dealer/terrorist sequence in the desert for Lois to investigate, and another figure for Bruce to track.  There’s the eventual gladiator battle between the two heroes, and then there’s another battle thereafter for the two guys to team up with the the woman who carries a magic lasso to defeat a Doomsday monster; likely rejected sketches from the Harry Potter and Star Wars franchises.  Oh yeah.  There’s also some teaser material for what’s yet to come in the DC cinematic universe.

Do you see where I am going with all of this?  There’s just too much stuff here.  Eventually it all gets tedious.  A laundry list of storylines with little to no connection with one another feels burdensome.  I wish the screenwriters, Chris Terrio and David S Goyer, finished writing a script before starting another script.  As lengthy as all of these stories feel, they also seem unfinished, and, I can’t understand why.  

Forgive me.  It’s easy to compare the DC Comics film adaptations to the Marvel Comics films that Disney now owns.  The latter franchise seems well structured and outlined.  The former franchise helmed by Snyder seems rushed to catch up to everything that Marvel has already accomplished.  If the intent was to have a huge franchise of films, then why smash all of your material together in one sitting?

That gets back to my viewpoint on Batman.  Why Batman, all over again?  Snyder and the producers really aced it with the casting of Gal Godot.  She is Wonder Woman.  Snyder also struck gold on Man Of Steel with Cavill as Superman.  I wanted more exploration of that guy.  So why make this a Superman and Batman film?  We’ve seen enough Batman through the last thirty years.  Let’s give someone else a chance.  Much could have been accomplished had this installment been a Superman and Wonder Woman team up with maybe a teaser ending of a new Batman yet to come.  This Batman shows me nothing I hadn’t already seen.  There’s a new car and gadgets and cables to swing from.  It’s all been done before.  Lemme see some of what this Wonder Woman can do.  As well, if Wonder Woman is here, then tell me why she is here.  Again, she just comes out of nowhere and never explains why she’s there.  My wife and daughter tried to explain it to me.  Apparently, she wants to acquire a photograph of her with her war comrades from the first World War, and Lex Luthor is in possession of it.  Really?  That’s it?  She just needs to get a sentimental photograph back?  By the way, why does Lex have this photo, and how did she know he has it anyway?

Good stories always answer questions with more questions until it’s eventually tied off at the end.  Moments in Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice seem to begin in the middle of their stories with questions that did not answer questions that likely came before, and by the end of the picture, there’s no ending or answers in sight.

I had already reviewed Wonder Woman, and in that column I specifically noted that DC films with Warner Bros always seems to come close, but never gets it completely right.  This film boasts an impressive cast, and all are good in their respective roles.  My approach to this Lex Luthor from Eisenberg might have been different if I were in charge; make him more like a Steve Jobs kinda guy rather than a slight variation of the actor’s other famous role as Mark Zuckerberg.  Still, it’s not good enough and it’s hardly forgivable for what the filmmakers churned out with this picture.  The writers have an infinite wealth of source material to select from.  Pick up a comic book, guys!!!!  They have the funds and opportunity to divide up the best moments of these outstanding characters for the next ten years of film installments.  Nevertheless, they don’t take the time to think strategically, and flesh out the environments and the characters that inhabit these settings.  

Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice is just a sloppy mountain of peas, carrots, corn and green beans, with lumpy mashed potatoes and covered in lots of over seasoned gravy.

SCHOOL TIES

By Marc S. Sanders

Robert Mandel’s adaptation of a story from Dick Wolf might be regarded nearly 30 years later as the film with the next generation of up-and-coming brat packers, but School Ties remains an underrated and topically important film nonetheless.  Just as it is still a problem of today, victimized by ignorance and unfounded bigotry, anti-Semitism was an issue that spread like a social disease within the confines of a prep school New England community in the 1950’s.

Brendan Fraser is David Greene, a high school senior awarded a scholarship at the school in order to usher in a championship football season as their quarterback.  David is well aware of his ultimate purpose for his scholarship and he brushes that aside as just one year of attendance will ultimately lead to acceptance at an Ivy League school.  He’s just like any other handsome boy attending the school, and he’s immediately accepted among the masses.  He’s hilarious at mischievous horseplay with the French teacher.  The beautiful girl (Amy Locane) at the nearby girls’ school is taken with him.  His football skills are applauded.  It may be a little surprising that he stems from the blue-collar town of Scranton, Pennsylvania and he buses the tables at dinner time, but David is an all-around okay guy who can knock over a linebacker while passing exceptional touchdown passes.  Amid this environment of different Christian denominations and WASP culture, however, David knows that he will stand apart if he reveals he is Jewish.  Therefore, he tolerates the casual jokes and accepts that it’s best to hide his Star of David necklace. 

The most important relationship occurs between David and his back up quarterback, Charlie (Matt Damon, before he became a superstar, but already looks like he’ll be a superstar).  Charlie begrudgingly accepts that David got to cut in line to be the star player.  As David becomes more of the celebrity on campus, Charlie is proud to be by his side.  Yet, Charlie has his own pressures to live up to as the fifth in line of his esteemed family who must carry on the legacy at the school followed by attending Harvard the following year. 

The roadmap of School Ties is easy to navigate.  You know when each note of the script is about to be played.  There will be a swastika that will shockingly appear.  Fist fights will happen.  The blue blood parents and faculty will interfere preaching their own “codes of honor” and the school’s storied 193 year history.  Yet, the film works very, very effectively.  The dialogue isn’t hokey and nothing feels like what could have been an after school special. 

No debate among the viewers.  Anti-Semitism is evil and thoughtless without merit or justification.  Questions appear where is it right to ask if David should have hidden his Jewishness or was he even lying about being Jewish, when in fact he just wasn’t even asked.  Is it right that David confronts his problems with his fists first?  Yet, Wolf’s script, apparently based on personal experience, delves further into the mounting pressures of these prep school kids who are primed from birth to be the latest model churned out from the respective family lineage for greatness in academics and athleticism.  Much of the material is devoted to the horror of actually not acing a class, and I appreciate that it’s not diminished to a standard line of “my parents are going to kill me.”  Raw emotion and stress are legitimized among these students.

The third act comes with no foreshadowing as a cheating scandal is suddenly introduced. Collectively the boys must debate who is the guilty party and why are they the guilty party.  Is it because one is Jewish, or is it because one actually cheated?  Good dialogue, good debate, but this also may be where the standard stuff spills over a little too much.  As such, the ending hinges on the third act, when it should have embraced more of the film as a whole.

The cast is made up of, at the time, soon to be superstars like Fraser, Damon, Chris O’Donnell, and Ben Affleck.  School Ties should be regarded as a winning audition for these guys’ careers that were only just on the horizon.  Their respective performances here are just as good as any of their most well-known roles, and they are happy to hide in the background as extras or step up for a camera shot.