Batman v. Superman: I Didn’t Hate It

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A few months ago, we had a well-reviewed movie that a lot of the franchise’s most devoted fans were trying to convince everyone was terrible (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) and now we have a poorly reviewed film that a lot of the franchise’s most devoted fans are trying to convince everyone is good (“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”).

I didn’t side with the fans in the first instance, but I am going to go ahead and side with them in the second.

“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is far from the best entry in the seemingly ceaseless cinematic superhero sweepstakes, but it’s not the disaster that many critics seem to want to gloat over.

The aspect of the film that fans dreaded the most turns out to be one of the best things about it: Ben Affleck’s portrayal Bruce Wayne aka Batman aka Bruce Wayne.

Affleck will never be half the actor Christian Bale is, but this Dark Knight suits his talents. He’s a roguish, impulsive, horny wreck.

He’s usually the most interesting thing on screen, unless he’s sharing the screen with Gal Godot.

Jesse Eisenberg’s interpretation of Lex Luthor has been called the worst thus far, but I think that dubious distinction should be reserved for Kevin Spacey in “Superman Returns.”

Spacey’s casting was hailed from all quarters and yet his performance is neither fish nor fowl. Spacey (aided and abetted by a confusing screenplay) never seemed to get a handle on how he wanted to play the character, so he settled for mailing in a lukewarm Kevin Spacey impersonation – hitting a lot of generic Kevin Spacey notes.

There are undeniably some cringeworthy aspects of Eisenberg’s performance, but at least he went all in.

I think really good actors sometimes flirt with bad acting as a way of accessing the best acting. It’s sort of like how some really good poetry flirts with being bad poetry. There are thin lines separating these seeming extremes, in other words.

The best Luthor to date is still Michael Rosenbaum’s from the “Smallville” TV series, in my opinion.

“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is choppily plotted – a result, I suspect, of screenwriters knowing what scenes needed to be in the film but never figuring out how convincingly to connect all of them.

The same problem, incidentally, plagued the better reviewed “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” For all of his aptitude with quippage, Joss Whedon also seemed to have a lot of trouble connecting that sequel’s dots.

People who don’t read comic books don’t understand how comic book movies are constructed. The screenwriter treats the 50- to 80-year history of a particular title as a buffet from which he can spoon a drib of this and a drab of that. He might take something from the Vietnam era and the Reagan era and the WWII era.

He might take something from a video game, an animated series or a Happy Meal box.

The result often strikes the true comic book fan as a little hodgepodgey.

The literary equivalent of this would if a screenwriter borrowed material from Mark Twain, Kate Douglas Wiggin, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Nathaniel Hawthorne, and created a movie that should probably be called “The Adventures of Huckleberry Karamazov in the House of Seven Gables at Sunnybrook Farm.”

It wouldn’t be called that but it should.

Look, I am no babe in the woods where live action superheroes are concerned. As a writer who gets paid by the word, I certainly understand the impulse to want to pack 10 pounds of s*** in a five-pound bag. When I was a kid, Nick Fury was played by David Hasselhoff, J. Jonah Jameson was played by Larry Tate and Captain America was played by Gristle McThornBody (aka Reb Brown). I have a strong constitution, is what I’m saying.

So, the highlight reel nature of these films barely registers on me anymore.

My biggest issue with “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is identical to my biggest issue with its predecessor, “Man of Steel” – director Zack Snyder’s one-dimensional view of Superman.

In Snyder’s world, humans regard Superman in one of two ways, both bad: They either venerate him as a god or vilify him as a god.

Where’s the scrappy newspaper delivery kid who shouts, “Nice job, Superman! Keep up the good work,” before tossing his next rolled-up copy of the Daily Planet?

As controversial messiahs go, Snyder’s Superman almost out-suffers Jesus Christ. He walks around with this perpetually queasy look on his face. Does kryptonite cause diarrhea? Because Snyder’s Superman always looks to me like he’s searching for the nearest bathroom.

Snyder may have given us the first Superman in the history of moving pictures who is slightly more concerned with his own problems than he is with the problems of others. He’s the sort of superhero who seems to spend a lot of supertime supergazing into his supernavel.

So depressed is he that he can barely work up the motivation to differentiate his alter ego, Clark Kent, from his true omnipotent self.

Cavill’s strategy for disguising Superman as Clark Kent is to put on glasses. That’s it.

Now, think back to Christopher Reeve, who underwent a complete physical and dispositional transformation whenever he swapped one persona for the other.

Snyder hates that people keep bringing up Richard Donner’s “Superman” films and I think it’s because he really doesn’t understand what made them great.

Well, they were fun, for one thing. There are a lot of adjectives that can be used to describe “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” but fun ain’t one of them.

In Snyder’s universe, Superman and Lois Lane get exactly as much pleasure out of their romance as two people in a medieval torture room got out of being chained next to each other on a wall.

Snyder’s view of romance in his films is similar to that of many 14-year-old girls. It consists of two people occupying various poorly lit spaces while always seeming to be on the verge of tears.

I watch Lois and Clark’s dour scenes together and I think, “Do these two ever flirt? Does Clark ever put his super-briefs on his head to make her laugh? Does she ever give him s*** for leaving the cap off the toothpaste? Does he ever slap her butt (gingerly, to be sure) as she walks past him in a hallway?”

In Donner’s films, the template for the relationship between these two came from the screwball comedies, in which couples fought in electrifying ways, engaged in witty banter, used exquisitely wrought double entendres and exchanged flammable glances.

Where did Snyder get his ideas about romance? Stephenie Meyer? Nicholas Sparks?

I pity most of the actors who occupy Snyder’s Metropolis because they have nothing to do but look various shades of miserable.

Snyder’s Superman is a superbly muscled dud and it’s not really Cavill’s fault. He has proved in other roles that he is capable of a lighter tough. Snyder has tied his hands. And his feet. It’s hard to hit a home run when you’re not allowed to run the bases.

Snyder has a vision for these superhero films and his vision is that it sucks to be a superhero. As long as Snyder is in charge of DC’s cinematic universe, that vision will govern these films.

The fact that Snyder rejected TV’s Flash, Grant Gustin, for the role of big screen Flash because of the series’ occasionally flippant tone tells you everything you need to know.

The guy he ended up picking looks like one of the stars of “Bill and Ted’s Emo Adventure.”

Tim Burton’s first “Batman” movie was seen as an antidote to, and corrective of, the campy ‘60s TV series.

I suspect that some day someone will make a campy DC film designed to undo Snyder’s dreariness.

Anyway, back to things I liked about the film: The fight scene referenced in the title is a success, not because of the choreography, but because of how the actors play it.

Cavill’s Superman and Affleck’s Dark Knight come to many new realizations about themselves while beating each other up and both actors play those emotions well.

And everything about Gal Gadot’s involvement in this film is fantastic, except for the fact that she’s not in enough scenes.

The climatic monster, with the face of the Toxic Avenger and the sexless body of Stretch Armstrong, is a bewilderingly bad special effect in this day and age. But he serves as an acceptable deus ex machina, setting up an ending that is really less a conclusion for this film than a preface for the next.

All in all, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is a passable entertainment. It’s not one that most people are going to want to watch again and again.

Warner Bros. has a long way to go, however, before it knows as much as Disney does about making these sorts of films.

 

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In The Beginning was the Word: The Pilgrimage of Chuck Prophet

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Music has never made Chuck Prophet rich. There have been times in his life when it didn’t even make him solvent.

But it has made him happy. Sort of.

Prophet performs at the B-Side on March 26.

Chuck Prophet has never “played the geetar on the MTV” and he has never been a guest judge on “American Idol.” And while it is indisputable that “chuck” and “prophet” are both household words, the name Chuck Prophet is not.

What Prophet has consistently done for three decades is write and perform beautiful, intricate and challenging rock music.

It is fitting that Prophet’s email signature reads, “As soon as you realize it’s all insane, it all makes sense,” because he never seems to stop trying to make sense of things.

His career goal is nothing less than redemption.

“I tell myself that if I can make a classic, a real classic for the ages,” he said in a phone interview, “it’s going to make sense of my life; make up for all the evil shit I’ve done. That’s probably a lie.”

Music is hard to talk about if you do it right, Prophet said. The reason most conversations about music turn to paydays, attendance figures and other tabulations is because music is ephemeral, he said.

“They don’t like to talk about things that are ephemeral,” he said.

One of the questions Prophet said he hears most from fans is, “Why aren’t you more famous?”

It strikes this journalist as the king of all backhanded compliments, but Prophet’s answer is that “success came in many forms” in his career.

“I mean, it took all kinds of different shapes,” he said.

When Prophet played in bands in middle and high school, his biggest goal was to “have enough music to play a 20 or 30 minute set.”

“Getting a gig at a club was a huge deal to us at the time,” he said.

Later, when Prophet joined the band Green on Red, success for him had morphed into something equally modest.

“The thing that most impressed me about them was that they had a rental van and a gas card,” he said, laughing. “At the time, that was really bourgeois.”

Green on Red recorded for Mercury Records for much of its existence and Prophet said the label never interfered with the music the band wanted to make.

When he talks about it now, Prophet sounds like he can’t understand why the label didn’t get more involved.

“I don’t know why we got signed,” he said. “It’s hard for me even figure out how we got a record deal.”

The band performed a reunion show in London in 2006, Prophet said, and Jim Bogios sat in for the late Alex McNicol on drums.

“We were taking a cab back to the hotel after the first rehearsal and he was looking at me and he said, ‘How did you guys get a record deal?’” Prophet recalled, laughing.

Prophet didn’t even think of himself as a songwriter early on.

“We were just making up songs,” he said. “Later, I became more aware of “Oh, Jimmy Webb. He’s the guy who wrote all these great songs.’”

Prophet said he hesitates to cite any personal icon because he’s “had so much inspiration along the way, if I mention one person like Jimmy Webb, I’ll leave out 100.”

He is willing, however, to assert that all roads lead to Bob Dylan.

Prophet’s perfectionism as a composer and as an audio engineer is well illustrated by a Dylan anecdote.

He said he was hanging out with a friend recently who records world music and the friend wondered aloud, “What’s the point of doing another take of a song or another revision? No one’s going to be able to tell.”

“He kind of had these absolutes,” Prophet said, “and it was funny because it bothered me.”

The next morning, Prophet said, he read an article stating that “there was gonna be a 40-page draft of the song ‘Dignity’ from the ‘Oh Mercy’ sessions that didn’t make the album.”

“Oh that’s my kind of guy,” he recalled thinking. “That’s why Dylan is my guy.”

Prophet said he is never happier than when he is “wrestling some idea to the ground and getting a verse to have a nice straight line through it in plain language.”

“That’s the kind of the buzz I am chasing,” he said.

Prophet said he thinks in terms of albums, not individual songs.

While writing, he said, he always stands back and thinks, “Is there a record here? Am I tapping into something I never tapped into before, musically or thematically?”

When this reporter pointed out that thinking “in album terms” is an endangered mindset these days, Prophet responded, “I don’t care. That’s the other thing about success. People say, ‘Isn’t it a shame nobody buys albums anymore?’ I don’t make records for other people. I don’t care. I don’t want to be successful.”

Prophet said he continues to strive because he feels like everything is just out of reach.

“Sometimes you go past things and sometimes you fall short,” he said. “But anytime you’re engaged in just trying to get the beast to behave, that’s inspiration.”

Tours are like vacations for Prophet, he said, because it means he can stop obsessing about albums. Except that he never really stops obsessing.

Asked if he ever plays “woulda, coulda, shoulda” after an album is released, Prophet said, “Of course I do.”

“When you play it live, it’s still living and breathing,” he said. “You’ll be playing the songs in Scranton, Pennsylvania in a half-filled bar on a Wednesday night and you’re like, ‘Oh god. If we’d only played it like this when we cut the record.’”

Prophet said he sometimes takes songs out of rotation because he is so disappointed with some aspect of the composing and recording process.

After enough time goes by, he adds the songs back in because he can’t remember what was bugging him about them in the first place.

Prophet’s unceasing quest to make sense of things even extends to interactions with fans.

He said it sometimes seems as if they hate him.

“You’re on tour and they see you play and they don’t really like you,” he said. “They’re sort of like, ‘Oh, I used to be in a band. It’s really hard. You’re really brave.’”

“And I’m like, ‘Really? Does this look hard?” Prophet said. “‘I’m driving around, staying in decent hotels. I’m playing music with my friends. I don’t get it. Does this look hard to you? You should see what my dad did for a living. Now that was hard.’”

Prophet chalks these sorts of conversations up to people just “trying to make sense of their own lives.”

Fans ask for advice about breaking into the music business, but Prophet said he has never really been in the music business per se.

“I don’t have a manager that’s connected in any way,” he said. “I have a wonderful relationship with Yep Rock records and that relationship is: If I can make records, we’ll put them out together.’

“What I am doing here, really, is running a mom and pop business,” Prophet said.

 

Batman v. Superman: The Only Preview (and Subtitle) You Will Ever Need

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Dubbed the greatest gladiator match in history by people who probably don’t know all that much about gladiators, “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” is certain to be the biggest summer blockbuster since “Batman v. Superman: Afterparty of Justice” and “Batman v. Superman: Last Call of Justice.”

Since this movie was announced, the internet has been awash in rumor, insinuation, baseless speculation and a staggering amount of mostly unrelated pornography.

Based on a dystopian graphic novel about an old, ugly and weary Batman who battles a corrupt Superman, “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” concerns a younger, hotter but still pretty weary Batman who battles a rather sulky Superman.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that Ben Affleck plays Batman, a cave-dwelling superhero who lives under lots of rock.

Reports that Affleck rewrote some of his scenes in his trailer while dressed as Batman were greeted with surprise by some pundits. They didn’t say who else they expected him to be dressed as.

The role of Superman will be assayed by Henry Cavill, an actor so chiseled, muscular and ramrod-straight that he could play a statue of Superman and may already have.

The character of Superman has changed a lot since 1938. Seventy years ago, people were happy if he did nothing more than leap tall buildings in a single bound and fight a never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way. These days, people are harder to please. They expect Superman to accomplish the nearly impossible task of never smiling.

Gone are the spandex costumes of old. These days, Batman’s outfit looks like it’s made from the skin of the snake known as the black mamba and Superman’s outfit looks like it’s made from the skin of the snake known as the LGBT pride mamba.

While it is true that Superman is a Kryptonian immigrant, at least he has the courtesy to choose a job that no native-born American in his right mind would want in 2016: daily newspaper reporter.

As the movie opens, the public is spilt on its view of the Kryptonian. Half of the world sees him as a god, and the other half sees him as merely a Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.

While for many, he is still an emblem of hope, a growing number of people consider him to be a more divisive sort of emblem, perhaps something like the most hated Boy Scout merit badge of all: “Excellence in Bugling.”

What we have come to understand from the trailers is that Batman bears some sort of grudge against Superman. This grudge is strong enough, apparently, to compel him to become a so-called “bat vigilante,” named for that breed of bat that is known for vendettas.

The relationship between Batman and Superman is contentious from the start, as is evidenced by a scene in which the latter contemptuously rips off the mask worn by the former and Batman replies, “And I would have gotten away with it too if it weren’t for this meddling Kryptonian.”

Batman knows it will be tough to beat Superman, so he constructs a battle suit equipped with every weapon he can think of. Unfortunately, it doesn’t occur to him until it’s too late that Superman is strangely susceptible to Joel Schumacher’s bat-nipples.

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In this incarnation of the Batman mythos, Alfred is the Wayne family’s bodyguard, not its butler. After Bruce Wayne’s parents are murdered, Alfred probably wishes he’d been hired to polish the silver instead.

Batman and Superman aren’t the only superheroes slated to appear in the film. Word has it that Wonder Woman and Aquaman will be on hand (and on fin) as well.

Producers have confirmed that the movie’s version of Wonder Woman is a demigod who runs around demiclad.

She’ll be hundreds of years old at the start of the film, which means she’s aging remarkably well, but not as well as Susan Sarandon.

In one scene, a disguised Wonder Woman goes undercover at the villainous Lex Luthor’s headquarters but risks discovery after she writes an unbelievable fake name on a LexCorp name tag: Miss Tessmacher.

The casting of Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor didn’t sit well with some fans but that won’t stop them from wanting to put a “Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor” action figure in a home display case next to their “Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg” action figure.

At some point in the film, Luthor apparently creates a monster to battle the aforementioned superheroes.

Glimpses of this monster in the trailers have raised all sorts of questions. Is this the DC Comics character known as Doomsday? Does Lex Luthor use genetic material from a dead Kryptonian to create this craggy, cement-colored brute or does he use something else, like crags and cement?

Is this creature related to the Abomination from “The Incredible Hulk” or a cave troll from “Lord of the Rings”? Or is that just lazy CGI?

All questions will be answered on March 25.

Of one thing moviegoers can be certain: “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” will be no lighthearted romp. To preserve the film’s sober tone, director Zack Snyder instructed the actors to confine themselves to a venerable acting style that Lee Strasberg dubbed, “Frowny Face.”

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Producers have promised the public that they’ve eliminated the one aspect of Christopher Reeve’s “Superman” films that spoiled them for everyone: the humor.

“Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” is one of 30 superhero films that are slated for release over the next decade, which is news that surely causes most people to ask, “Why is that number so low?”

“Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” is the second of many comic book films that will comprise the DC Cinematic Universe, patterned after the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Other forthcoming cinematic universes include: The Cereal Spokescharacter Cinematic Universe, The Teddy Ruxpin Cinematic Universe, the Big Mouth Billy Bass Cinematic Universe and the Scrubbing Bubbles Cinematic Universe.