based on X-Menby Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
2016 • 144 minutes • 20th Century Fox
I’ve mentioned that seeing Batman V. Superman: Grimdark Grimdark Grimdark kind of broke my cinematic criticism—nowadays, if a movie doesn’t actively make me weep in exhaustion for humanity, it’s already streets ahead. A curse, true, but it’s also a blessing. I’m starting to think of it like being deathly afraid of something and then finally experiencing it. No film will ever be that bad again. I can take anything that cinema can throw at me, because I actively sought out and paid for the worst. Cinematically speaking, I am now invincible.
I already had a similar attitude to X-Men: Apocalypse even before Batman V. Superman: Grimdark Grimdark Grimdark broke me like Bane breaking Batman’s spine. After X-Men: Days of Future Past, it became obvious that the reason to go see an X-Men movie was to follow the continuing saga of Charles Xavier and the X-Men, see some great character moments, and have a giggle over some of the sillier aspects of the proceeding that are, nonetheless, endearing, like a deeply loose grasp of the concept of the passage of time.
You know, sort of reading X-Men comics.
Captain America: Civil War
Based on Captain America
by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
2016 • 147 minutes • Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Are we ever going to be able to get back to Captain America: The Winter Soldier?
Don’t get me wrong: I heartily enjoyed Captain America: Civil War. It is no less ideologically chewy, as one review delightfully put it, than The Winter Soldier. The difference is that The Winter Soldier is a Captain America movie and Captain America: Civil War is an Avengers movie. I often wonder when the wheels are going to come off the Marvel Cinematic Universe, because we’re getting to a point where a Marvel film must do two things: be a good enough film and set up the board for the next film or films, depending on how many players are on this particular board. In my experience as a reader and viewer, serial plot structure is one of the most challenging things to do right. And Marvel, with the exception of Iron Man 2, has mostly been handling it well. But it’s difficult to serve two masters at once, and we know which one takes precedent.
The Russos, to their eternal credit, pull that delicate balancing act off elegantly, but I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to get a wholly singular genre riff like Captain America: The Winter Soldier again in the Marvel universe.
The Huntsman: Winter’s War
based on characters by Evan Daugherty based on “Snow White” by the Brothers Grimm
2016 • 114 minutes • Universal Pictures
The last movie I saw in theaters was Batman V. Superman: Grimdark Grimdark Grimdark, a movie that will make you lose your faith in humanity, let alone cinema. (And, I might add, actively seeks to do so.) I had to go home, eat cake, and watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens to recover. I couldn’t walk past a comic book store for days without repressing the urge to flail screaming through it like my own personal marketplace scene. I’m starting to wonder if my neutral response to the fact that Captain America: Civil War is coming out in just a few weeks, a movie I already have a ticket to see, might not be a side effect of that experience.
After that, any cinema experience looks miles better in comparison. I left The Huntsman: Winter’s War practically glowing. Movies can be just mediocre! Oh happy day!
Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice
based on characters published by DC Comics
2016 • 151 minutes • Warner Bros. Pictures
There is no way to prepare for the horror show that is Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
I thought I was prepared. I had read every negative review, starting with Helen O’Hara’s. I spoiled myself silly, starting with the first episode of Overinvested. I took every measure to gird my loins, in the hopes of yielding the finest bad movie schadenfreude of the year, possibly even the decade.
But there’s no way to be prepared for the nihilistic slog of this film. As I told Captain Cinema upon exiting the theater, I felt like I had gone through childbirth without the reward of having had a child. We had to go home and watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens just to remember the taste of strawberries, as the saying goes. (That and a heaping helping of tiramisu definitely helped.)
Before I get into spoiler territory, because I am going to get into spoiler territory, here is the simplest and easiest way to know if Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice is for you. This is a film where the audience is honestly surprised when Batman threatens to throat-punch a villain with a sizzling Batbrand and doesn’t. If that level of violence and character assassination appeals to you, congratulations, please enjoy all of Zack Snyder’s cinematic oeuvre.
based on Judge Dredd by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra
2012 • 95 minutes • Lionsgate
Fun fact, cats and kittens: even as I sit down to write this, I still don’t have a really good feel for the Judge Dredd comics. I certainly plan to—I’m scenting vicious satire on the air—but I haven’t had the time since I watched it last week. I’m a busy lady.
Yes, my pop cultural blind spots can still amaze, even as I and the natural progression of time do our utmost to popping them like bubble wrap. But having proved too small in 1996 and tragically nonexistent in 1977, Dredd simply never came onto my radar screen, even when the Empire Podcast discussed it positively back when it was released. It took tumblr recommending it to me for me to watch it. (Why was tumblr recommending? Because I keep “tripping” onto the Domnhall Gleeson tag over there. Simple woman, simple tastes, etc.)
Why sit down and review this before catching myself up and counting myself lucky to live in the digital age? Because this is my blog, I will do what want to, etc., and also because I believe in utilizing my pop cultural blind spots to put myself in media situations that normally wouldn’t exist. In an age of reboots and remakes that assume the viewer has seen the original (Star Trek Into Whiteness, anyone?), it’s almost a superpower when it comes to consuming and critiquing media. That’s why I watched Prometheus before Alien, just to see if it would work. (Spoiler alert: it did not.) Can someone with no knowledge of Judge Dredd beyond having once watched the Nostalgia Critic review the 1996 Sly Stallone adaptation sit down and enjoy it without any prior knowledge?
The Princess Diaries
based on the novel by Meg Cabot
2001 • 115 minutes • Buena Vista Pictures
If, by some strange and vengeful act of God, every Disney Channel Original Movie was wiped from the face of this earth, we could probably reconstruct them using The Princess Diaries. Despite its theatrical release, its Whitney Houston production credit, and the good name of Gary Marshall back when that meant something other than another American rendition of Love Actually (Mother’s Day, coming to theaters April 26th, I am literally not joking), The Princess Diaries is nothing if not the platonic ideal of the DCOM: glossy, sweet, and fun, complete with the optional side order of a big star (Julie Andrews) gracing a smaller production with her presence.
It’s so sweet, in fact, that I remember being very disturbed as a preteen by the discovery that the Grandmere found in Meg Cabot’s novel (upon which the film is based, obviously) bares little resemblance to Julie Andrews’ kindly Queen Clarisse. I mean, she’s amazing—tough as nails, glamorous, and a fan of permanent makeup—but she’s, you know, different.
Addams Family Values
based on the comics by Charles Addams
1993 • 94 minutes • Paramount Pictures
Bowie among us, you could not make Addams Family Values these days. You can’t put a baby in constant, mortal danger for laughs in anything but the blackest of comedies these days, and Addams Family Values does so in a dark but ultimately lighthearted family film. A family film which also includes a joke about a stripper being baked to death in a cake by one of our heroes. This all seems a little weird in the context of 2015, but Matilda got pretty cartoonishly violent three years after this hit screens.
The nineties—apparently, the self-esteem of a Bill Clinton presidency and a booming economy means that the idea of children in mortal danger is so outlandish that it’s funny. The past is another country indeed.
Of the two theatrically released Addams Family films (the third film, Addams Family Reunion, was a direct to video release, even though it technically debuted on Fox Family—LONG MAY YOU RUN, BELOVED CHANNEL OF MY YOUTH), Addams Family Values seems to be the more fondly remembered. It boasts most of the charms of the first film while having a plot that’s more interesting and much bettered structured than the meandering question of whether or not Fester is or isn’t really Fester.
Addams Family Values pits the Addamses against some worthier rivals—the elder Addamses become the latest target of black widow serial killer Debbie Jellinsky and the younger Addamses are, after Debbie gets them out of her hair, pitted against the privileged excesses of an uber-WASPy camp.
based on The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
2015 • 118 minutes • The Weinstein Company
I’ve been thinking about Todd Haynes recently, largely because I recently watched a fanedit of the Star Wars prequels and that reminded me to watch Velvet Goldmine. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about how amazing it is that Haynes directed both Velvet Goldmine and Far From Heaven. They’re both pitch-perfect period pastiches of very, very different times and places.
Which makes him a perfect choice for adapting The Price of Salt, Patricia Highsmith’s midcentury lesbian romance novel. It’s been an interesting journey into propriety for The Price of Salt—Highsmith originally published it under the pseudonym of Claire Morgan and didn’t claim it as her own work for decades, and now it’s been given the sort of classy, stylish, and polished treatment that will undoubtedly garner it attention and awards come awards season. (Which is not that far away!) This is not, to randomly grab a recent disappointing mainstream film about ladies in love, Jenny’s Wedding, offering remedial lessons on lesbian identity and apologetically tap-dancing around anything a very narrow segment of the audience might find uncomfortable (i.e, expressing romantic same-sex affection). This is a glossy retro drama in its fullest flush that rightfully assumes that anyone interested in seeing this picture is going to be more than fine with its content and wastes absolutely no time on coddling a close-minded audience.
The Addams Family
based on the comics by Charles Addams
1991 • 99 minutes • Paramount Pictures
As a very young and very sheltered military brat in the late nineties and early aughts, my understanding of the pop cultural landscape around me was limited to what my mother watched, my brother played, and scraps of whatever mainstream anime I could get my hands on. But I could still largely match characters to their text of origin. You found Skywalkers in Star Wars, there were Borgs in Star Trek, and Pikachu in Pokemon.
But where did you find Addamses? That was a tougher question to answer, largely because we didn’t have Wikipedia in the nineties. They were definitely in the water, but where did they come from? Much like the Muppets, they appeared, to my sharky little eyes, to be a free-floating creative entity, untethered to any specific show. I mean, there were shows. There was The Addams Family: The Animated Series and The New Addams Family, which I caught glimpses of during my fanatical childhood devotion to Fox Family (rest in peace, you beautiful monster!). And then there were the movies—The Addams Family and Addams Family Values—which I never saw, but knew that they existed. But I’d never heard of the original television show or the original cartoons until college. I think this unsettles me a little bit because I’m otherwise so inured to extensive multimedia franchises, but it’s not like the Addams Family has a coherent story or continuity attached to it like, say, Star Wars.
The Addams Family boom of the nineties began with today’s film, 1991’s The Addams Family. We might complain about unnecessary film reboots these days (Memento? Seriously?), but the nineties hosted their own veritable cornucopia of rebooted sixties television shows—The Avengers, anyone? The Addams Family is no exception: its genesis is a crew of studio executives singing the theme song and realizing that there was still a lot of recognition value in that brand.
based on characters by Ian Fleming
2015 • 148 minutes • Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures
Spectre feels like it comes from an alternate timeline: specifically, an alternate timeline where the double punch of Die Another Day and The Bourne Identity had not resulted in a hard reboot of the franchise. In this timeline, Brosnan bangs out another movie; Craig slips neatly and seamlessly into the role after fans mutter about how he doesn’t look like Bond (nerds: we’re the same in every timeline); and the quips and the gadgets are thick on the ground. It’s a simpler and more basic Bond franchise in that timeline. How back to basics are we with Spectre? Let me put this way: there are sexy naked ladies in the opening credits sequence again.
At the end of Skyfall, we saw Bond complete his evolution into a masterless monster; answerable to no one now that the one person who could control him was dead. What those final frames suggested was not that we could now return to business as usual, but that the inevitable attempts to do so by the institutions and infrastructures attempting to utilize Bond could only end in tears and explosions. (Just look at the way he sizes up Ralph Fiennes. He feels equal to that man, and that is dangerous.)