Archives for : Movie review

The Jaws That Bite

Whenever someone asks me what my passions or vices are, I usually respond that I like movies and television too much. But that is putting it mildly – I adore movies. I would watch a movie every day of my life if I could, and that extends to all sorts of different entertainment avenues where you are the audience, like plays, musicals, etc. But movies will always be my number one favourite.

I love to be entertained, taken away, transported to somewhere else and experience the highs and lows that cinema can invoke in all of us. There’s nothing better than sitting in a dark theatre and sharing an emotional thrill ride with everyone else in the theatre. It’s a magical experience, and it took me a long time to understand why.

I was having a conversation with a friend of mine the other day, and she asked me what it was about movies that I loved so much. I responded by saying that I liked the sense of escapism. That it allows me to turn my brain off, forget my problems, and enjoy the ride.

And some movies, what a ride they are!

Recently, I re-watched one of my favourite movies of all time: Jaws.

I saw Jaws when I was probably around eight years old with my brother, and I distinctly remember my dad recommending it because it was about sharks (which I loved), a Stephen Spielberg film (which I loved), and the first summer blockbuster ever. And I devoured the film … pun intended. And I have watched it over and over again in the over 20 years since, and have yet to get tired of it.

Jaws is by no means a perfect movie, but it is pretty damn close.

The casting is spot-on, with Roy Scheider playing new Police Chief Brody, Richard Dreyfuss as the underappreciated shark expert Hooper, and Robert Shaw playing the shark-hunter Quint. Each of them deliver fantastic performances, with my personal favourite being this scene:

The film masterfully builds up levels upon levels of suspense, mostly because you really never see the shark in the first half of the movie. You see it attack swimmers, the aftermath of the attacks, the paranoia of the townspeople, and the thoughts of the three main stars – but never the shark itself (mostly because the shark didn’t really work during production, causing Spielberg to hide it).

And then, the scene where first see the shark is pure movie magic:

The film continues to build from that moment, from one encounter with the shark to the next, as the crew find themselves completely unprepared for the ferocious nature and pure tenacity of the predator. That is, until the explosive final confrontation between Brody and the shark that puts an end to the threat once-and-for-all.

However, as much as I like the movie (and I do), I am of two minds with regards to it. To put it simply, I love everything about the movie, but I hate the aftermath of the film.

As a result of Stephen Spielberg scaring everyone out of the water back in 1975, people began to hate sharks because of how the great white shark was in the movie, as a mindless killing machine. As a result, individuals went out in the water with the specific purpose of hunting and killing sharks, simply because of the movie.

In fact, the author of the book that the film was based on, Peter Benchley, mentioned repeatedly that if he would have known more about real sharks and their behaviour, he would have never written the book, and deeply regrets what happened as a result of both the book and film. As a result, Benchley became an advocate for sharks and ocean conservation, and spent the rest of his life trying to undo the damage he did and try to alleviate people’s fears of the majestic animal. (Source)

A fantastic new film, entitled The Shallows, came out recently, and hits many of the same beats as Jaws. Blake Lively stars as Nancy, a young woman who gets attacked by a shark on a surfing trip and becomes stranded on a rock too far to swim to shore, as the shark is patrolling nearby. It is a great movie and Lively is amazing in it, but the absolute best part of the movie happens when her character finds a GoPro in the water.

As she records a final message to her family in case she doesn’t survive her daring plan of escape, she says one extremely important line. She doesn’t blame the shark … she blames herself, as she admits that she wandered into the shark’s feeding ground and put herself at risk.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Blake Lively said:

She’s surfing and she comes upon a shark’s feeding ground and a whale carcass. She swims into that, and as any wild animal would do, when food is scarce and times are tough, here something is on its feeding ground and it protects its territory. Both of them are just battling to stay alive. Neither one of them is evil, necessarily — they’re both fighting each other for their lives.

And that is just amazing.

Look how far we’ve come in 41 years, and I can only hope that people continue to realize that sharks are not evil, just misunderstood.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – A Plot Analysis

Last night, I was able to see one of the biggest movies of 2016 – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and decided to write this review to voice my opinion on the film.

Keep in mind that I will be discussing key moments from the film, plot points, cameos and more, so SPOILER WARNING!

Last chance to stop reading to avoid spoilers … Ok, so let’s get right into it.

The movie begins with a retelling of Batman’s origin, which anyone who has seen any Batman movie, TV show, animated feature, video game, etc. is very familiar with. After a night out seeing a movie or the theatre (it differs), young Bruce Wayne leaves the performance with his parents, Martha and Thomas Wayne. They are robbed a gunpoint, Martha Wayne’s pearls drop (which are CGI for some reason in this movie), and Bruce Wayne is left as an orphan. Then, after the funeral, Bruce falls into a cave nearby his house and encounters bats. Thus, he becomes Batman.

Most people know Batman’s origin, and in a movie that was – and not to mention felt – long, it could have been cut out and started from Bruce Wayne’s perspective during the events on 2013’s Man of Steel. Long-time readers of my blog know how I felt about that movie (you can read my review here), as I had many issues about the world that had been created, especially how Zod got his powers so quickly, and Superman not protecting people during the final battle.

There was a lot of outcry about this after Man of Steel was released, so it gets addressed. A lot. Numerous characters make point-blank statements that wherever a superhero battle is happening, the locations are abandoned, empty, or in one hilariously bizarre case, after-business-hours, so the office towers were “mostly empty.” There is even a whole subplot in the movie about Superman being held accountable for his actions, and he even attends a Senate sub-committee meeting to defend his actions. But, that’s getting ahead of myself.

After Bruce’s origin story, we see Bruce Wayne fly to Metropolis in a helicopter and try to save people from Zod and the ensuing battle. Bruce was rightfully angry when Superman and Zod destroy countless buildings (including the Wayne Financial building), injure others and kill a lot of people. This sets the stage for the primary conflict for Batman.

And then we cut to 18 months later.

We learn quickly that Bruce Wayne sees Superman’s power as too much for one being not of this Earth (read: alien), and that he could destroy everyone without a thought. So, he decided to find enough Kryptonite to kill Superman if necessary.

This started him on a collision course with Lex Luthor (played by a manic Nicholas Cage-level insanity by Jesse Eisenberg, who just got annoying in the role), who happened to be trying to import a massive batch of Kryptonite into the States, but was blocked by the very Senator leading the Senate committee mentioned above – how convenient!

To locate the shipment, Wayne went to a party held by Lex to steal the information, where he met Clark Kent and a mysterious woman who stole the stolen data from Bruce. At another event, he met the woman again, got the drive back and decrypted the information.

Meanwhile, Clark was worried about not being able to help everyone, but goes on being a God among men and saving Lois (who, as always, has a knack for getting into danger and needing saving). While Superman attended the Senate hearing, a bomb went off (thanks to Lex) killing everyone and Superman goes into hiding because he was ashamed. In this film, Lois was relegated to her own subplot about mysterious bullets that were made by LexCorp and worrying about Clark when he disappeared.

Bruce found the Kryptonite thanks to the drive (as well as other information I’ll get to later), and tried to steal it from Lex. He failed due to intervention from Superman and they had a staring contest.

While this is happening, Lex made a deal to get access to the Kryptonian ship from Man of Steel and Zod’s body. I’m still not entirely sure what he did, but he somehow used Zod’s fingerprints to become the new commander of the ship, and used a glowing yellow pool (called a Genesis pool?) to combine his DNA and Zod’s to create an “abomination”.

Bruce then successfully stole the Kryptonite rock from Lex and made some weapons, including a spear and gas grenades, for his eventual fight with Superman. As for the armoured suit in the trailer (inspired by the Frank Miller comic The Dark Knight Returns)? I was hoping we’d be able to see Bruce build it to try and compensate for the massive strength differential between the two, but no such luck.

Lex then kidnapped Lois, threw her off a building to lure Superman, and told Superman that he wanted Batman dead. Superman said he wouldn’t kill him, and Lex said that he kidnapped Clark’s mother (Martha Kent), and would kill her in an hour if Superman didn’t bring Lex the head of Batman. So, Superman flew off to gets Batman’s help.

Batman, on the other hand, was all decked out for war against Superman and didn’t let him explain the situation. So, they fought. Batman used Kryptonite gas to weaken Superman so he could get a few licks in, but Superman recovered and pummeled Batman. So, Batman used more gas and got him stunned enough to, after some bizarre CGI grapple gun antics, got him underfoot and about to be gutted with the Kryptonite spear.

Superman said to “find Martha” and “save Martha,” and Batman lost his mind (as that was his mother’s name – and where I think the flashback to the night Bruce’s parents were murdered would have been PERFECT), and then Lois rushed in to tell the truth to Batman about Martha Kent.

Batman threw the spear away and promised to rescue Superman’s mom (which he did), and Superman promised to find Lex Luthor (which he did). But not before the cocoon Lex created in the Kryptonian ship hatched and, in some terrible green screen CGI work, emerged Doomsday.

In the comics and cartoons, Doomsday was a creature bred and evolved to be the perfect killer. And every time he “died,” he would be resurrected and could not be killed that way again.

Anyway, Doomsday was quickly attacked by the US military and survived. So, Clark fought Doomsday and lost quickly. Batman went to help and also had trouble. Then, the mysterious woman Bruce Wayne met earlier appeared as Wonder Woman (and in my opinion, the best part of the movie), and she helped. Superman tackled Doomsday and flew into space, and the US nuked the both. Doomsday fell to Earth and regenerated into something deadlier, and Superman spent some time soaking up the sun’s rays before he rejoined Wonder Woman in the fight.

Lois grabbed the spear from before, but almost drowned in retrieving it. So Superman abandoned the fight, saved her, and flew with the Kryptonite spear and stabbed Doomsday. In his death throes, Doomsday stabbed Superman in the chest and they both died.

Superman was given a very public military funeral and Clark Kent was buried in Smallville (where he grew up) with Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince (Wonder Woman’s alter-ego) in attendance and they quickly teased the formation of the Justice League. And, Lex Luthor was in jail and visited by a very angry Batman. Lex, seemingly out of his mind, ominously said that something worse is coming – also teasing the eventual “big bad” of the upcoming Justice League movies.

A few things:

– Batman had a “vision” of an apocalyptic future, teasing the bad guy in the future Justice League movie (which looks to be the villain, Darkseid), as well as a visit from “Future Flash” warning him of what is coming in that future movie and to “get them together.”

– Inside Lex’s drive stolen by Batman and Wonder Woman, there were files on other metahumans, including videos showcasing the future Justice League members – the Flash stopping a mugging, Wonder Woman all over the world (and a photo from the early 1900s), Aquaman fighting off a submersible, and Cyborg being turned from a man into a machine.

Ok DC and Warner Brothers – we get it. You have a Justice League movie coming out and are trying to build a DC Cinematic Universe, but the film was overstuffed already with Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. These extraneous cameos for characters we won’t see for a while, and won’t have their own movies for years, were obvious and wastes of time.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe had movies introducing single characters in their own movies before building up to the big team-up in Avengers, followed by more individual movies culminating in Avengers: Age of Ultron. They had years and years to build up the world and the characters before putting them all together. That is why it worked.

Teases and looks at what will be coming are good, but not at the expense of the film you are trying to make.

But what did I think of the movie overall?

Well, the movie was ok. I wasn’t a big fan of Man of Steel, so I wasn’t anticipating this movie to be fantastic. Unlike other superhero movies, I’m not in a rush to see it again, as it wasn’t exciting, it was overly long, and the effects were less than optimal. The dream sequences were awkwardly placed, Batman’s origin was redone … again, and the reasons for fighting (Batman thought Superman was too powerful and Superman thought Batman crossed the line) changed because Lex kidnaps Superman’s mom. Therefore, Batman and Superman fight because of a misunderstanding. It’s not the be-all, end-all brawl that everyone and the trailers and marketing were suggesting.

Honestly, it seems like after Man of Steel, DC and Warner Brothers decided to make Superman and Batman fight, and reverse-engineered a reason why.

But, there were some enjoyable parts in the movie. The action sequences were mostly good, as long as they didn’t get too CGI-heavy, and Wonder Woman fighting looked great. But that was about it.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice will make a lot of money, but I don’t think it will make nearly as much as DC and Warner Brothers would like. And maybe they will learn their lesson. But, with Wonder Woman already  filmed and The Justice League Part 1 shooting now, who knows what will happen. I had hoped they would learn their lesson three years ago from Man of Steel

"Man of Steel" shows its rust

This weekend, I saw what is expected to be one of the big “blockbuster” hits of the summer, Man of Steel.

Keep in mind that I will be discussing key plot points and specific moments from the film, so there will be spoilers ahead.

The story of Superman is very well known, and the movie doesn’t break any huge new ground in originality – Superman is an exile on Earth and must (literally and figuratively) rise to the occasion when his adopted home is in trouble. But his origin story does get a bit of a buff, as is the director’s (Zack Snyder) and producer’s (Christopher Nolan) right.

What is new to the franchise is in the first 30-ish minutes of the film when you really get a sense of the Kryptonian civilization. And boy is there a lot of talking – and a giant dragonfly/lizard hybrid.

Jor-El, played by Russel Crowe, grabs the MacGuffin (the Kryptonian Codex) and sends young Kal-El to Earth with it imbued within his cells. We are later told that the codex contains the information for the entire Kryptonian civilization within it.

Here is my first gripe – and this is taking for granted that everything you see in the movie is possible, such as interstellar travel, flight, etc.

But if Clark has every Kryptonian within his cells, he’d have their DNA. And how can billions of people’s DNA exist within every single cell of an individual? Wouldn’t the cells simply die from too much “stuff” in their cells, even if the DNA were inactive? Or wouldn’t the cellular machinery just destroy the foreign matter?

This is, of course, taking for granted that Kryptonian cells and their DNA behave similarly to that of humans.

And this leads to my biggest issue with the movie – the Kryptonian powers on Earth.

In the movie, we are told that Kryptonian powers on Earth are caused by our sun being younger than the one on Krypton, and that their Kryptonian cells will absorb the radiation from our yellow sun, granting them “Godlike” powers. We are also told that the gravity is weaker on Earth than it is on Krypton, which implies that flight (or super-bounding, as the case may be) and super-strength will be possible.

Now in the comics, Clark is super-strong pretty much from the outset, even as a baby.

But in the movie, Clark grows up on Earth, and we see his powers (X-ray vision, super-hearing and heat vision) develop when he is in elementary school, I guess around grade 5 or so. We *are* told that the other students think he is weird because “his mom won’t let him play with anyone.” But it is never made clear because he is super-strong, or because he is an alien, and the Kent’s don’t want anyone to get to close – lest they discover his secret.

He learns, from his parents, how to control them and focus only on one thing at a time. Therefore, based on that information, the solar radiation seems to take around 10 years or so to affect Kryptonian biology and grant super-powers.

Remember that, it becomes important later.

When Zod and his cronies arrive on Earth, they are equipped with airtight battle suits. We know this because they explicitly say that Earth’s atmosphere is dangerous to them. And due to the change in gravity from their home planet of Krypton, each soldier is super-strong. We see them flip trucks into houses and throw Ma Kent like a rag doll.

Zod, in all his glory. Source

So, this would seem to hint that their prison ship had Krypton-like gravity. Ok, fine. Moving on.

But why didn’t the increased gravity affect Clark and Lois when they were brought upon the ship? We do know that Lois needed a breathing apparatus to survive the Kryptonian “atmosphere” and that Clark became weak because of that – so if the ship did have stronger gravity, wouldn’t Clark and Lois have to struggle to adapt to it?

And, if this is how they are so strong, how is Clark super-strong?

He wasn’t on Krypton long enough to get used to the gravity. He was there for what appears less than a day. And even if the ship that carried him did have artificial gravity, you would think that after 33 years on Earth, his body would have acclimated to the decreased gravity of Earth (like he did with the atmosphere).

So, if the lesser gravity isn’t the cause of the super-strength and flight of Superman, it must be the solar radiation from our yellow sun.

During a battle with Zod, Clark damages Zod’s helmet, causing the Earth air to ‘infect’ Zod, granting him super hearing and x-ray vision.

But how did the solar radiation affect Zod so quickly? It happened practically instantaneously – his helmet was damaged, he tore it off and voila, sensory overload caused by the sudden onset of super-powers.

His laser vision, however, only appeared at the final battle after much longer exposure to Earth’s yellow sun. But only his head was exposed to the sun, except for the last few minutes of the battle, when he tore his battle suit off. How much solar radiation could he possibly absorb through his head in one day?

And how did the sun affect Zod so quickly, but it took Clark about 10 years or so to gain X-ray vision, super-hearing and heat vision? The same thing happened with Faora (the female henchman), so it obviously was not strictly a Zod thing.

And if Zod was super-strong, super-fast, able to withstand super-punches that would make a normal person’s head explode like a watermelon being hit with a hammer, how was Superman able to snap Zod’s solar radiation enhanced bones in his neck?

Wouldn’t the enhancements bestowed upon the Earth’s yellow sun create super-bones? You can’t have Zod have all the super-powers that Superman does, except for that without a reason.

Granted, in the comics, Clark does get bones broken by other super-powered beings, such as Doomsday. But that only happens when he is dramatically out-powered and out-classed, not when someone has the exact same power set.

I am not saying that I disliked the movie in any sense of the word, but when you establish a certain mythology (the same or different than in the comics), there is only a certain amount that can fall under “suspension of disbelief.” Things still need to be explained, and the rules of the universe spelled out.


There are other science-light areas of the movie that bothered me – like Clark defeating the gravity beam by sheer force of will, the gravity weapon itself, the gateway to the phantom zone being conveniently close enough to the planet to be damaged by the explosion, etc.

But, during the visually stunning final battle, one thing struck me more than anything else – isn’t Superman supposed to PROTECT people?

Think about the countless battles that occurred in Metropolis. Did Superman save more than a handful of people? Did he seem to care at all about the safety and security of the citizens in the office buildings, the crowds in the street … anything?

The amount of wanton destruction during the final battle was insane. Countless buildings were torn apart by nigh-invincible beings with super powers battling it out with blatant disregard for human life.

How many buildings fell during the battle? How many office floors and infrastructure was damaged?

Superman is supposed to be one of the bravest and selfless superheroes in the galaxy – willing to sacrifice himself for anyone else, to lay down his life if necessary. Sure people die all the time, and he cannot possibly protect everyone.

Wouldn’t Superman try to save at least some people? We do see him save some people on the oil rig, the school bus as a child, and a few others – but after that, Superman does not appear to care about anyone else.

He does care about those four people in the final scene with Zod and Lois Lane, but do those few lives counter-balance the hundreds of thousands that died and the millions that were most likely injured in the battles of Smallville and Metropolis?

And couldn’t Superman have moved the battles to a less densely populated area, like the middle of the ocean or the Arctic? Or destroyed the gravity machine in Metropolis, thereby preventing the damage is causes, instead of the one in the middle of Indian Ocean (which is totally isolated), since they are linked?

No, because it wouldn’t have been as pleasing to the moviegoer.

And that is the whole argument in a nutshell: It is a movie, and is strictly popcorn entertainment. But just because it is, doesn’t mean it cannot make sense and abide by the rules of the universe that has been created – or is that asking too much?

Contagion Review – An infectiously intelligent worst-case scenario

This is the second post in my September Series, where I am experimenting with different forms of journalism and writing. Last week, I wrote an article entitled Not Just An Idiot Box, which took a look at educational television, using examples from my own childhood to argue the point. This week, I decided to try a movie review. Beware of some spoilers and enjoy!

Is there anything scarier than an enemy you cannot see?

Horror movies have been taking advantage of this for decades, as it allows your mind to run wild with scary and horrifying possibilities. However, instead of some crazy murderer following you around your house or a spirit seeking vengeance upon you, something all together scarier and deadlier is all around you. All you have to do is pick up a microscope and look at the onslaught of bacteria and viruses that we are exposed to every day.

Sometimes, all it can take is one touch, one cough or one innocent gesture to expose someone to a potentially lethal virus. And that is what the Warner Brothers movie Contagion is all about, tracing the path of a virus from initial exposure and its eventual outbreak, all the way to pandemic and finally treatment.

Director Steven Soderbergh expertly decides to start the movie, not from day one like the 1995 thriller Outbreak, but from day two, the day after Gwyneth Paltrow’s Beth Emhoff is exposed to the virus. She returns home to her loving husband Mitch, played by Matt Damon, but quickly succumbs to the illness, followed quickly by their young son.

But, the bulk of the plot doesn’t follow the widowed Mitch being a hero of the story and saving the day. Instead, Soderbergh divides his story amongst many different characters, all affected by the virus somehow and doing their best to manage, fight back and most importantly, to survive.

“We don’t have to weaponize the bird flu. The birds are already doing that” 

As the virus begins to infect an increasing number of people, either from direct contact or secondary contact (infected person touches rail followed by a healthy person, who then picks up the virus), the movie widens its scope and focuses on characters from all over the world, from Atlanta to Hong Kong.

The acting is stellar across the board, but the cast is far too large to name everyone. However, the standouts include: Laurence Fishburne as a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) division chief who is portrayed with just the right amount of humanity, Jude Law as a blogger who is one of the first to report the illness but has ulterior motives, Kate Winslet plays CDC employee Dr. Mears who is literally scrambling to contain the outbreak, and Marion Cotillard plays an epidemiologist from the World Health Organization sent to China to track the origin of the epidemic.

Every storyline adds weight, and allows the viewer to experience another facet of the destruction and pain a viral outbreak can accomplish.

Matt Damon’s story is by far the most emotional of them all. His storyline showcases the human side of the disease, and what can happen when normal people become so scared for their own lives that they begin to do whatever they can to survive.

And that is where the film becomes elevated beyond a mere biological thriller, as it manages to resonate beyond the confines of one genre. The film is also an insight into our most basic human conditions, and what happens when even the simple act of touching something can be deadly.

As the tagline of the film rightly states, “nothing spreads like fear.”

A different view of a never-ending battle

Soderbergh spends a lot of time focusing the camera for just a fraction longer than usual on everyday objects, such as a glass, a doorknob or a handrail on a bus. It is like seeing a shadow moving across the screen in a horror movie, showcasing just how susceptible the people in the movie (as well as ourselves) really are. And that’s the take-home message.

Contagion is a movie with brains that keeps you thinking after you leave the theatre, which is the kind of movie I always enjoy. As well, it managed to highlight some pretty decent science that made me want to look through some of my old microbiology notes. I won’t say that the movie is a substitute for learning about viruses in an academic setting or using better hygiene, but its heart is in the right place and the intelligence and thought that was put into this movie really shows just how possible such an event is.

Now that’s the real scare.

For those of you looking for an in-depth look at the science behind the movie, I will not be going into it in this post, as movie reviews traditionally don’t utilize a lot of science. However, for those still interested, be sure to read this great article where noted journalist and author, Maryn McKenna, spoke to the science advisor of the film, Dr. W. Ian Lipkin (who has also written a piece on the real threat presented by viruses for the New York Times, which can be read here).