Ben Affleck

Pearl Harbor (2001, Michael Bay)

Pearl Harbor is a couple things. It’s a breathtaking historical visualization of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. And it’s a patronizing, cynical, disinterested war melodrama. The big problem with the melodrama is Randall Wallace’s script, which is vapid at best. It also barely factors in to the attack sequence. The attack sequence is all director Bay, for better and for worse, along with some unfortunate digital blurring to keep the rating down.

The Pearl Harbor sequence comes about halfway through. The movie runs three hours, the attack is at eighty minutes. Before the attack, there are some scenes with the Japanese (led by Mako and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, who are both great) planning the attack and the Americans worrying about an attack. The Americans are mostly Jon Voight as FDR, Dan Aykroyd as the Naval Intelligence guy who can’t convince anyone to be worried, and Colm Feore as the Pearl Harbor base commander. But even if Aykroyd did get boss Graham Beckel to listen, the Japanese plan was too good. The Americans are just unprepared, which actually brings in the closest thing to a political statement the film makes. It makes various implications regarding the American military brass, as opposed to guys on the ground like Feore or Alec Baldwin’s Doolittle; Voight’s FDR isn’t with the brass either. It’s… interesting.

It’s probably what happens when history fails the politics of the filmmakers.

In other words, the film does a terrible job essaying how 1941 felt to the average person. Because Wallace does a crappy job in general and Bay’s really not interested in doing anything with regular people, not when he gets to do a special effects heavy war movie. As for the melodrama… the only person more disconnected from the melodrama than Bay is leading lady Kate Beckinsale, who doesn’t even get a caricature to play. Wallace’s script is, actually, quite interesting when you realize Beckinsale doesn’t just have less character than practically every other nurse (who are all man-starved caricatures, the slutty one, the sweet one, the fat one, the nerd), but her lack of character is what obliterates the film’s potential. Not just Beckinsale’s performance, which is… fine, given the circumstances. It’s vaguely believable she’s interested in Ben Affleck, but they—Wallace and Bay—can’t figure out how to get Beckinsale interested in third love triangle leg, Josh Hartnett.

See, Affleck and Hartnett are childhood best friends from Tennessee—the accents are better than you’d think; maybe not authentic, but better than you’d think. Affleck’s the alpha, Hartnett’s the beta. Though Affleck’s still fallible, he’s got dyslexia in 1941.

So let’s talk about the melodrama.

The movie opens with a flashback showing Hartnett’s character has a bad but sympathetic dad (William Fichtner in a flashback-redeeming cameo—or at least flashback-evening cameo) and sets Affleck up as his protector. Only Affleck’s about to ship out to England to get in the war because he’s getting old and still wants to be a war hero. He lies to Hartnett about volunteering and breaks new girlfriend Beckinsale’s heart, but she’s going to wait for him. Coincidentally Navy nurse Beckinsale and Army flier Hartnett both get posted to Pearl Harbor, where they see each other to say hello but don’t hang out. Or maybe they do. Because their supporting casts hang out but the film doesn’t do anything with Harnett or Beckinsale’s character development. What you’ve got with Pearl Harbor is a film wanting a beta to alpha arc for Harnett, but resenting Hartnett for being a beta, and then accidentally coming to the conclusion the alpha and beta labels are a bad way to think about masculinity. Only it can’t recognize that possibility because… dudes. There’s nothing more painful than the scenes when Affleck and Hartnett try to bond after Affleck gets back to find Hartnett and Beckinsale together. Much like when Beckinsale’s character is so exceptionally shallow you have to wonder how she made it through the scene without just defaulting to an honest answer and then when she becomes literal background in the third arc, you eventually welcome Hartnett and Affleck just standing around looking pensive as opposed to trying to talk about their incredibly complex situation.

Even though there are a couple times they’re supposedly going to have a hard talk. And there are a couple times Beckinsale’s going to get real with someone. Only she doesn’t have enough agency to do it. And Wallace doesn’t know how to write men talking about anything not military or war expository-related except Affleck and Hartnett’s buddies trying to figure out the best way to manipulate the nurses into bed. But they don’t mean it in a bad way—come on, it’s 1941, no one knew women were people yet.

Not even women.

So, spoiler, no, Beckinsale doesn’t have some kind of empowerment arc.

In fact, even though she gets the ill-advised, poorly written, and awkwardly placed end narration… Bay cuts her out of the end of the movie because she’s not a dude.

I guess to simplify the problem with the melodrama plot—it’s about Hartnett having a man-crush on Affleck because Affleck’s a square-jawed superman only to realize he’d rather have a lady, something Affleck seemingly wanted for himself but wasn’t ever going to tell puppy dog Hartnett about, and then Beckinsale—the object of their affections—doesn’t have enough of a character to react honestly to either, but with Affleck there’s at least movie romance cuteness; with Hartnett it’s a chemistry-free, erotic-free, erotic affair. It’s wholesome. With shtupping. Is it wholesome shtupping? Eh? Bay’s really bad at directing sex scenes.

Really, really, really, really bad. You’re surprised the actors aren’t blushing red from the stupidity.

Not like the canoodling, which Bay does somewhat well. Hartnett and Beckinsale’s romance is mostly short montage sequences where they cuddle and breath heavy on each other and it looks like a perfume commercial.

But the Pearl Harbor attack sequence is awesome filmmaking. Editors Roger Barton, Mark Goldblatt, Chris Lebenzon, and Steven Rosenblum don’t get jack to do before it and about twice that amount after it, but the attack is breathtaking thanks to them. Their cuts are so good the digital vaselining of the frame to insure the PG-13 doesn’t matter. It doesn’t work, but it doesn’t matter. John Schwartzman’s photography is great throughout, especially on the attack. Even an uncaring bastard like Bay is able to make each death tragic. It also reveals if Cuba Gooding Jr., who’s shoehorned into the movie to give it a single Black character with a story arc, is Bay’s real hero. Gooding’s a cook who ends up shooting down Japanese planes; Bay’s a lot more interested in the ground action than the flying action. Pearl Harbor doesn’t reinvent any wheels (or even try), but it definitely gets a lot less interest when it’s “leads” Affleck and Hartnett hitting the sky to avenge.

But getting them to the planes to go into the sky? Bay’s all about their (ground) trip to it. It’s a problem. Bay’s a problem.

Other great crew contributions? Nigel Phelps’s production design is fantastic. Hans Zimmer’s score is fine. Nothing special, but nothing bad. It’s all about that editing though. All about that editing.

Now for the acting. Lots of good supporting performances. The film has a bunch of sturdy character actors giving sturdy performances in bit parts. In the bigger ones, Aykroyd’s pretty good. Voight’s no qualifiers good. He’s really able to turn FDR into an action hero. It’s something. Baldwin’s great as Doolittle. Gooding’s fine. It’s a shallower performance than it’s the part because Wallace does a crap job with it. Bay and Wallace believe in institutional racism in 1941 but not person-to-person racism. The movie’s patronizing as hell.

Of the main cast—Hartnett’s flying sidekicks and Beckinsale’s nursing sidekicks—Michael Shannon is a revelation, Tom Sizemore’s good, Ewen Bremner’s able to get over his stutter, which is only there to get sweet nurse Jaime King to fall for him. Jennifer Garner’s bad but likable as the nerdy nurse. Some of the better glorified cameos are Feore, Leland Orser, and Kim Coates.

Affleck’s a really good lead. He’s able to do it all. He’s not able to give he and Beckinsale enough chemistry to give their romance depth, but its all so disingenuous it’d be a miracle. And Pearl doesn’t have any miracles.

Hartnett’s got some really good moments and some potentially good scenes. It’s hard to wish for more because it’s so clear the film’s disinterested in him. Hartnett and Beckinsale start their flirtation just as the Pearl Harbor attack preparations subplot really gets going and, again, it’s not like Wallace and Bay are actually interested in how anyone existed in fall 1941 in Pearl Harbor and definitely not with a girl.

Beckinsale’s… never bad. She’s never… wholly unconvincing. Though she has an utter lack of chemistry with Hartnett, who she needs some with because they get so little in the script, and still not quite enough with Affleck to get over the silly romance stuff. You’d say she was miscast but she’s good with the straight nursing stuff.

In case anyone’s wondering, Pearl Harbor intentionally and utterly fails Bechdel. I suppose it’s technically exempt when they’re talking about the wounded but… the rest of it? This group of nurses moves from rural U.S.A. to paradise Hawaii and has no reaction other than “boys, boys, boys.”

When Wallace and Bay are bad at something… they’re real bad at it.

It’s shame the movie’s not better. But it’s far from a failure; Bay lacks narrative instinct and interest, he’s indifferent to his actors’ performances—which nicely doesn’t matter because most of the parts are thin and the performances grand—but he’s ambitious to the nth with the attack sequence and he’s at least willing to acknowledge it does need some kind of bookends. Unfortunately for the actors, the audience, the film, Wallace is writing those bookends. Because he’s inept. You’d expect more from an intern who watched a week of History Channel. Some of its Bay’s fault—if he’d cared about the melodrama, it’d be fine….

As is, thanks to the cast and crew’s work, Pearl Harbor is tolerable when it’s not phenomenal, which isn’t bad at all.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Bay; written by Randall Wallace; director of photography, John Schwartzman; edited by Roger Barton, Mark Goldblatt, Chris Lebenzon, and Steven Rosenblum; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Nigel Phelps; produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Bay; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Ben Affleck (Rafe), Josh Hartnett (Danny), Kate Beckinsale (Evelyn), Cuba Gooding Jr. (Miller), Alec Baldwin (Doolittle), Ewen Bremner (Red), Michael Shannon (Gooz), William Lee Scott (Billy), Tom Sizemore (Earl), Jaime King (Betty), Jennifer Garner (Sandra), Catherine Kellner (Barbara), Sara Rue (Martha), Mako (Yamamoto), Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Genda), Dan Aykroyd (Thurman), Kim Coates (Richards), Leland Orser (Jackson), Colm Feore (Kimmel), Raphael Sbarge (Kimmel’s Aide), and Jon Voight and the President of the United States.


Justice League (2017, Zack Snyder)

Justice League exists, whether intentionally or not, outside a certain kind of critical examination. Director Snyder didn’t finish post-production. Or, at least, when the studio demanded lots of reshoots, Snyder wasn’t involved in a creative capacity. The job went to Joss Whedon, who gets a co-writer credit. Are the terrible scenes Whedon’s fault or Snyder’s fault? The generic, impersonal Danny Elfman score? Seems like Whedon’s fault. The terrible part for top-billed Ben Affleck? Probably Snyder’s fault. The crappy CGI?

Well, crappy CGI in DC Comics adaptations is definitely Warner Bros.’s fault. And it gets bad in Justice League. The lack of detail on the giant, personality-free adversary (boringly voiced by Ciarán Hinds) is stunning. Again, it’s not clear if Snyder supervising post would’ve led to better action scenes. The ones in Justice League are all pretty awful. Fabian Wagner’s photography is bland, David Brenner, Richard Pearson, and Martin Walsh’s editing is at best bland. It’s much often much worse. The action sequences lack imagination on every level, whether scale or just the idea of the superheroes working together.

Justice League has no scale. Someone–Snyder, Whedon, the producers, the studio, the twenty-third test audience–decided there shouldn’t be any establishing shots if they don’t have exposition. Justice League cuts from expository scene to expository scene, except Whedon and Chris Terrio’s Frankenstein script doesn’t have any texture to it. Not when it’s the main cast, not when it’s the supporting cast. Especially not when it’s poor Diane Lane and Amy Adams. Jeremy Irons gets terribly mistreated, but it’s nothing compared to Lane and Adams.

Adams is literally reduced to broken woman. While the whole world is ceasing to function because of what happened with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, instead of being a strong character who perceivers in the aftermath, she just breaks down. Not on screen, she just tells everyone about it. Well, she tells Lane and Henry Cavill about it because she has nothing else going on.

But Lane. Poor Lane. It appears Lane’s scenes are entirely, with one exception, Whedon’s. Cavill had a mustache while doing reshoots and there’s some bad (though apparently exceptionally expensive–read rushed) CG to mask out the mustache. The result is his mouth not moving right and his teeth being scrunched. So you can kind of tell. You can kind of tell who to blame.

And it’s Whedon who reduces Lane and Adams to broken women. At least Terrio and Snyder–apparently–made Affleck a broken man. He just can’t get on after what he’s done. Except he’s not haunted about it. He’s just bad, actually. He’s really, really bad. He’s supposed to be the straight man to a team of misfit superheroes, only they’re not misfit superheroes.

Misfits need personality and the Justice League has none. Ezra Miller’s got the most as the Flash and all he does is tell wisecracks. Then there’s Ray Fisher; he gives the film’s best performance in a thankless part. Even though he’s got a lot to do in the script, Fisher gets the least story of anyone. More offensively, it wastes Joe Morton as his dad.

Jason Momoa’s Aquaman. He’s got no personality, doesn’t really do anything in the action sequences except save people occasionally–by people, I mean the other superheroes. Like all DC Comics movies, no regular people are in danger in Justice League. Well, except one family; but they’re actually trapped in a Russian version of Tremors. Otherwise, no one’s in danger. Ever.

Anyway. Momoa. It’s not his fault. More than anyone else, it’s not his fault. His part’s terribly written and the editing on his introduction scenes is atrocious.

Gal Gadot’s supposedly the real straight person on the team, because she can see through Affleck’s guff. Only Affleck wants Gadot to lead the team. Or something. They get some painful scenes together. Again, it’s unclear if it’s Whedon or Snyder, but their scenes are awful. There’s negative chemistry coming from Affleck, even when the script has him mooning over Gadot. Though he does attack her personally when he needs to make a point. Affleck’s writing is so bad. Just. Beyond bad.

Gadot’s fine. She gets the most to do in action scenes, which is either because she’s had the most successful solo movie or just because no one else’s superpowers are good for the fight scenes. Snyder’s direction of the Flash action is terrible, for example.

Amber Heard’s got one scene and makes more impression than practically anyone else.

Cavill’s performance is hard to gauge. Whedon doesn’t write him good scenes. And he’s got a giant unmoving mouth. He and Adams exhibit their usual wondrous chemistry when it’s not a Whedon shot or line. Even still, Elfman’s music ruins even the non-Whedon material. Elfman’s score doesn’t fit. It’s frantic and rushed and usually clashes with the editing.

The only thing saving Justice League from being a disaster is the film disqualifying itself from being serious enough proposition to be a disaster. You open a movie, any movie, with the single worst cover of Everybody Knows–and there have been some terrible Everybody Knows covers–but an offensively bad Everybody Knows cover… well, it’s just too stupid to take seriously enough for it to be a disaster.

Instead, Justice League is intriguingly terrible. Was Snyder’s intention worse? Maybe. I doubt it, because even with all that material’s problems, it doesn’t have Cavill with the silly CG face. But the things Whedon clearly contributed are godawful.

What a mess.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Zack Snyder; screenplay by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon, based on a story by Terrio and Zack Snyder and the comic book by Gardner Fox; director of photography, Fabian Wagner; edited by David Brenner, Richard Pearson, and Martin Walsh; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Patrick Taopoulos; produced by Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, Jon Berg, and Geoff Johns; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Ben Affleck (Batman / Bruce Wayne), Henry Cavill (Superman / Clark Kent), Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman / Diana Prince), Ezra Miller (The Flash / Barry Allen), Jason Momoa (Aquaman / Arthur Curry), Ray Fisher (Cyborg / Victor Stone), Jeremy Irons (Alfred), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Joe Morton (Silas Stone), J.K. Simmons (Commissioner Gordon), Diane Lane (Martha Kent), Amber Heard (Mera), Connie Nielsen (Queen Hippolyta), and Ciarán Hinds (Steppenwolf).


Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016, Zach Snyder), the ultimate edition

The extended version of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice isn’t just the extended version of Batman/Superman, it’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: The Ultimate Edition. There’s a second subtitle on the thing. It’s doubling down on the idea the extended cut in the post-DVD era. It’d be desperate if anything added in the “ultimate edition” actually made the film seem more “ultimate,” but it doesn’t. In fact, all the additional scenes and moments are good. And that quality is the problem, because they draw attention to the film’s failings.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: The Ultimate Edition is a worse film for better scenes.

The first part of Dawn of Justice, in this cut, runs just around 107 minutes. Quite frankly, if the remaining seventy-three minutes–which have minimal additions, compared to the rather extended first part–just had Amy Adams narrating it and the first 107 minutes cut in as flashbacks, it might have all worked out. Because that first hour and fifty minutes are about Adams, Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck. It’s about Adams and Cavill trying to figure out how to date as Lois Lane and Superman while Affleck’s a bit of a crazy Batman. Thank goodness Jeremy Irons (who excels far more in the ultimate edition) is around to keep Affleck sort of in check. Sort of.

But having this strong opening, with a far better paced investigation from Adams than the theatrical cut–not just because she gets a semi-sidekick in an affable Jena Malone cameo–but also because Cavill gets to be a reporter too. Dawn of Justice, the theatrical version, was already a great example of a disastrously plotted script, but the ultimate edition just shows how bad David Brenner is at editing a motion picture. Or how bad director Snyder is in instructing Brenner how to chop out a half hour. Because the first part, the fleshed out ultimate edition version of it, it works as a movie. There are some problems, sure, because Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer’s script (or Terrio’s rendition of Goyer’s treatment) is still a mess. Affleck is still a very strange edition to the film. He doesn’t feel at all natural in the narrative. Not in the events of Dawn of Justice, but in how Brenner, Snyder, Terrio and Goyer have the character in the film itself. Snyder takes two different styles for Affleck and Cavill’s plots. The one he takes for Affleck is bad.

Only in the extended cut, it gets a bit of a pass. There’s just a better pace all around to help it out. And Irons is delightful. Affleck’s still good, he’s just not delightful. Having something delightful in Dawn of Justice is nice, because it lacks in delight. Though the ultimate edition does have a little bit more fun. And it does help. Snyder’s extremely competent–the stuff he does just for general superhero antics, like Batman beating people up or sneaking around and Superman flying, he has a great approach. I’d watch Zack Snyder’s three hour version of the “Can You Read My Mind?” sequence starring Cavill and Adams in a second. I’d watch it twice in a row. Snyder and cinematographer Larry Fong make beautiful superhero moments.

But Snyder wants Dawn of Justice to be more than just a superhero movie. He wants it to be serious. And Terrio and Goyer’s script wants to be serious too. It even sees how it could be serious, it just never wants to take the time. But it gets a pass; the first hour and fifty get a pass. Cavill’s great, Adams is great, Affleck’s good. Larry Fishburne making fun of Cavill is magic; it’s awkward but somehow likable. Dawn of Justice: The Ultimate Edition makes Morpheus a dick to Superman. What’s that about? It’s personality. Dawn of Justice needs personality.

It also needs a better reason to have Batman and Superman fight. At least in the theatrical version, the film ramps up to it. There’s no real narrative to concern oneself with. In the ultimate version, even Holly Hunter gets a better role. Not perfect, no, but better. Only there’s not room in a movie with such a narratively and somewhat stylistically inert finish to have better roles. The MacGuffin to Batman v Superman should be Batman and Superman fighting, but it isn’t because Snyder and Terrio and Goyer can’t come up with a reason to make them fight.

The fight scene between Cavill and Affleck resonates better in the ultimate edition. It doesn’t work–Snyder (and the script) can’t handle passing the film off from Cavill to Affleck in this moment. It needed to be when there was a real flashback to the Batman origin, not the opening credits. How Warner Bros. didn’t bring in someone to at least fix this thing up in post is beyond me. There’s so much material and it could be cut so much better.

And Gal Gadot suffers a little in the ultimate edition. She disappears for too long and when she comes back as Wonder Woman, she’s got very little to do. She and Affleck needed another scene together, not a creepy email from a forty-something man to a much younger woman. The ultimate edition amplifies the theatrical. Everything bad, it makes worse, everything good, it makes better.

Jesse Eisenberg is good. Scoot McNairy is good. Callan Mulvey isn’t. I don’t even remember Mulvey having enough to do in the theatrical version for him to not be good. Everything bad, worse. Everything good, better.

It would be nice if that first 107 minutes were enough better to make up for the worse, but they aren’t. The big problem with Dawn of Justice is the resolution and conclusion, the two big fight scenes. They’re narrative disasters, just like they were in the theatrical version. They just weren’t as noticeably weaker in the shorter version. The ultimate edition shows real quality, real potential. Dawn of Justice could’ve weathered its pretense. But Snyder and Brenner–not to mention Terrio and Goyer–messed it up. And it’s actually too bad, because it’s not about the franchise deserving better and it sure isn’t about the audience deserving better, it’s about the actors. Adams, Cavill, Affleck, Irons, Hunter, Eisenberg. They all do some really good work in this film. Their performances deserve a better film.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Zack Snyder; screenplay by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer, based on characters created by Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; director of photography, Larry Fong; edited by David Brenner; music by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL; production designer, Patrick Tatopoulos; produced by Deborah Snyder and Charles Roven; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Ben Affleck (Bruce Wayne / Batman), Henry Cavill (Clark Kent / Superman), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Jesse Eisenberg (Lex Luthor), Jeremy Irons (Alfred Pennyworth), Holly Hunter (Senator Finch), Diane Lane (Martha Kent), Laurence Fishburne (Perry White), Harry Lennix (Swanwick), Scoot McNairy (Wallace Keefe), Gal Gadot (Diana Prince), Callan Mulvey (Anatoli Knyazev) and Jena Malone (Jenet Klyburn).


Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016, Zack Snyder)

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is, as a film, just as unwieldy as that title. Director Snyder, through a strange, comforting overconfidence, gets the film through its two and a half hour run time. By the end, when Snyder teases a cliffhanger, teases various comic book references, it’s a deceleration process. The viewer has made it to the finish line, here’s promise of a future reward (the setup of further movies).

Snyder brings no style to Dawn of Justice. He has a feel for the material–his dark and dreary take on Ben Affleck’s Batman, a lonely drunk surrounded by faceless women and haunted by Jeremy Irons (who might as well be a ghost, he has zero interaction with anyone else), is a big success, but it’s more. Most of Dawn of Justice is divinely fluid. David Brenner’s editing, Larry Fong’s photography, even Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL’s score–there’s a visual flow to the film. Snyder can get to all the various stories going on (at two and a half hours, the film’s about an hour too short and an hour too long), even if Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer’s screenplay cannot.

I can’t even list all the stories. Basically, every character has a story going on with every other character (except Jeremy Irons, of course, and Holly Hunter to some degree). All of the actors are pretty darn good at it, even if Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer’s screenplay is exceptionally lazy, but these stories don’t really go anywhere. They all get resolutions, usually lame ones, but the “big story” gets introduced halfway into the film. More than halfway into the film and it gets no more weight than numerous other plot points, so it taking over is a bit of a surprise.

Unfortunately, all of these stories tend to be to tie in to the characters’ other stories. The result is nothing for most of the actors to do. Terrio, Goyer and Snyder wuss out on Cavill, robbing him of various great possible scenes. They don’t even shortchange him for Affleck, they shortchange him as Superman. He gets more to do as Clark Kent, which is fine (and comparing how Affleck approaches his role with how Cavill’s approach is interesting), but it’s not called Batman v Clark Kent.

As a result of shortchanging Cavill’s Superman antics for most of the run time (the super antics get told in summary montages), he doesn’t feel like much of a character. He still is a character because of the Clark Kent stuff–and Cavill and Adams, failed by the screenplay, are wonderful together–but he’s also not. And neither is Affleck, because–again–there’s a lot of misdirection from the script.

So is Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor a large enough character? No. Eisenberg’s performance is great (for most of the film) but it all falls apart in the second half, when the film races to tie everything up and it becomes One Bad Night. In the end, Dawn of Justice’s action-packed finale has nothing to do with the film anyone had been building toward.

The script’s kind of bad, kind of mediocre. It gives Affleck and Gal Gadot (oh, yeah, she’s Wonder Woman–you’re supposed to get excited for her movie; you do) the opportunity to show off chemistry. They also get some boring moments playing on their computers to further the plot.

Snyder’s timing is good until the big finish. He hits a lot of good marks, but he’s in a rush. That overconfidence makes it seem like it’s okay to be rushed, but eventually it’s not okay anymore. Eventually, there’s a vacuum. Snyder can’t even find a tone for the film. It’s like he realized he was going to cop out of all the first act’s narrative expectations. He tries to distract the viewer from reaching the same conclusion with a lot of fanfare, a lot of nonsense. He’s got a strong cast, they get the movie through.

Dawn of Justice doesn’t succeed, it has enough trouble just surviving.

Wait, can’t forget–Holly Hunter is so good with nothing to work with. She’s real good.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Zack Snyder; screenplay by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer, based on characters created by Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; director of photography, Larry Fong; edited by David Brenner; music by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL; production designer, Patrick Tatopoulos; produced by Deborah Snyder and Charles Roven; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Ben Affleck (Bruce Wayne / Batman), Henry Cavill (Clark Kent / Superman), Jesse Eisenberg (Lex Luthor), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Jeremy Irons (Alfred Pennyworth), Tao Okamoto (Mercy Graves), Scoot McNairy (Wallace Keefe), Gal Gadot (Diana Prince), Diane Lane (Martha Kent), Laurence Fishburne (Perry White), Callan Mulvey (Anatoli Knyazev) and Holly Hunter (Senator Finch).


Daredevil (2003, Mark Steven Johnson)

I like Ben Affleck. Even his early phase–the self-aware, “Bruce Willis doing a Harrison Ford” impression thing actually worked out on occasion. It helped he kept the persona between pictures. Of course, Daredevil comes after Affleck decided to do his own thing. He gets an incomplete in Daredevil. You couldn’t hate watch it for his lousy essaying of the role of blind, gymnastic ninja lawyer but you also can’t say he came anywhere near making it work. It’s not his fault, it’s a terrible script, terrible direction, terrible everything, but he still didn’t make it work.

So while I can hope Affleck doesn’t embarrass himself, Daredevil is another story. Watching the film, for long, boring portions, there’s nothing to do but hope for it to fail a little bit more. Just to make things interesting. Director Johnson tries to do Batman meets Spider-Man meets The Matrix meets “extreme sports.” It’s awful. Though it does look a lot like a low budget, serious attempt at Joel Schumacher Batman movie. Even the crappy Graeme Revell music fits that vibe. It’s got enough budget to attempt effects sequences, but no idea what to do with them. It gets outrageous enough, it seems like Daredevil is actually going to break into absurdity. Little CGI Ben Affleck chasing little CGI Colin Farrell. Like they’ll stop and ask the audience how they can be believing anything so silly.

Farrell gives the most forgivable performance. Not even Joe Pantoliano (I miss Joe Pantoliano’s “stunt casting” phase) does well. No one does well. Jennifer Garner manages to adequate but unlikable. She’s even sympathetic during the cheesy romance montages, which Johnson certainly shows more aptitude for directing than anything else in the film.

However, the third act has a surprisingly decent pace. Daredevil overstays its welcome, but seems to realize it and make reasonable amends. Until the idiotic epilogue sequence, which has way too much CGI and way too little imagination. Oh, look, I unintentionally ended on a metaphor for the whole movie.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Mark Steven Johnson; screenplay by Johnson, based on characters created by Stan Lee and Bill Everett; director of photography, Ericson Core; edited by Dennis Virkler and Armen Minasian; music by Graeme Revell; production designer, Barry Chusid; produced by Gary Foster, Arnon Milchan and Avi Arad; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Ben Affleck (Matt Murdock), Jennifer Garner (Elektra Natchios), Colin Farrell (Bullseye), Michael Clarke Duncan (Wilson Fisk), Jon Favreau (Foggy Nelson), Scott Terra (Young Matt), Joe Pantoliano (Ben Urich), Leland Orser (Wesley Owen Welch), Erick Avari (Nikolas Natchios), Derrick O’Connor (Father Everett) and David Keith (Jack Murdock).


Dazed and Confused (1993, Richard Linklater)

Besides an occasional good performance and a lot of charming ones, Dazed and Confused only has so much going for it. Director Linklater is far more concerned with the script than he is with the direction. He doesn’t give the actors much to do and then doesn’t seem to want to spend much time with any of them. And, based on some of the performances, Dazed and Confused appears to have some improv. If so, it’s a mistake. If not, well, I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.

It’s the last day of school for a bunch of high school juniors (played by twenty-somethings). Their afternoon activity? Hazing a bunch of eighth graders (played by high school juniors). The movie opens with a likable Jason London (which, yes, did surprise me) and Joey Lauren Adams. She has nothing to do. Linklater just has the female cast around to show them in shorty-shorts for the most part. He may have had more for them to do at one point, but it got cut. Especially once the film becomes more male-centric in the second half.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

So London’s sort of the lead. He’s the star quarterback who really wants to hang out with the stoners. The cliques in Dazed and Confused are real loose, which makes everyone just a little bit more sympathetic. Combined with the feel good, “matched to the scene” soundtrack, you want to like everyone in Dazed and Confused. Except Ben Affleck.

Amid a bunch of pot jokes, usually with Rory Cochrane (he’s likable, but not good), Linklater introduces the rather large cast–over twenty kids he wants the audience to remember–and eventually gets to Wiley Wiggins. Wiggins is one of the eighth graders. He’s Linklater. Dazed and Confused is about Wiggins falling in man-love with London, who is already drawn to Wiggins’s older sister (a good Michelle Burke in a crap role), and eventually getting accepted. He doesn’t just get accepted. He gets an older girlfriend.

None of these actors actually have roles to play. They’re line delivery mechanisms. Even Matthew McConaughey’s early twenties pervert who pursues only high school girls.

I wanted Dazed and Confused to be better. The opening actually implies it can get somewhere–but Linklater doesn’t have a cast of actors who happen to be memorable, he has a memorable cast because it means he doesn’t have to write as hard. And he doesn’t have to direct much at all. Except to lionize Wiggins (and later London).

Anthony Rapp is pretty good. Marissa Ribisi is okay. Christin Hinojosa is supposed to be the female analogue to Wiggins but Linklater sets her off on an adventure with the nerds who are really cool instead of Wiggins, which is on the adventure with the cool kids who are actually even cooler. Plus she has like five lines.

Affleck loses his accent all the time but he’s at least amusing throughout. Adam Goldberg stars amusing, ends tiresome. Ditto Parker Posey, who Linklater gives the worst role (after Joey Lauren Adams). Solid performance from Sasha Jenson; problematic but solid. And Shawn Andrews seems like he’d be good if he were in it more. Wiggins is all right.

Lee Daniel’s photography is good, Sandra Adair’s editing is all right. Great look to the film. John Frick’s production design is outstanding.

Dazed and Confused has enough material for four movies but not enough for one, not with Linklater’s direction. Had it been someone else, it might have come off better.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Richard Linklater; director of photography, Lee Daniel; edited by Sandra Adair; production designer, John Frick; produced by James Jacks, Sean Daniel and Linklater; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Jason London (Pink), Wiley Wiggins (Mitch), Sasha Jenson (Don), Michelle Burke (Jodi), Rory Cochrane (Slater), Cole Hauser (Benny), Jason O. Smith (Melvin), Adam Goldberg (Mike), Anthony Rapp (Tony), Marissa Ribisi (Cynthia), Christin Hinojosa (Sabrina), Matthew McConaughey (Wooderson), Shawn Andrews (Pickford), Milla Jovovich (Michelle), Parker Posey (Darla), Joey Lauren Adams (Simone), Christine Harnos (Kaye), Catherine Avril Morris (Julie), Deena Martin (Shavonne), Nicky Katt (Clint) and Ben Affleck (O’Bannion).

Argo (2012, Ben Affleck)

Ben Affleck is a calm, assured director; Argo is something of a distant film. He never lets himself take the spotlight, but he also doesn’t let any of the supporting cast take it either. He casts the film beautifully–whether it’s Clea DuVall and Scoot McNairy as some of the people Affleck’s trying to rescue or John Goodman and Alan Arkin as Affleck’s Hollywood sidekicks–every performance in Argo’s perfect.

And Kyle Chandler too. Can’t forget him. He’s amazing in his handful of scenes.

But the perfection–the end credits roll with pictures of the actual people and the film went out of its way to cast on look–comes at a price. Affleck never lets loose. Every moment of Alexander Desplat’s score fits, but he never gets enthusiastic. The most stylish thing in the film is the seventies era Warner logo at the opening. Otherwise, Affleck is way too precise.

The result is an exceptional docudrama; but Affleck’s methodical and procedural approach hurts it a little. The one place Affleck does create something singular is with his recreations of the Iran hostage crisis. If his character’s attempts at rescuing the stranded people is the film’s main emphasis, the recreation comes second. The plight of the people? A distant third.

The postscript has the film’s most personality. Director Affleck gleefully calls back to his own childhood; he does it in a very controlled setting, however. He never lets the technical enthusiasm loose to infect Argo, which is too bad.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ben Affleck; screenplay by Chris Terrio, based in part on a book by Tony Mendez and an article by Joshuah Bearman; director of photography, Rodrigo Prieto; edited by William Goldenberg; music by Alexandre Desplat; production designer, Sharon Seymour; produced by Grant Heslov, Affleck and George Clooney; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Ben Affleck (Tony Mendez), Bryan Cranston (Jack O’Donnell), Alan Arkin (Lester Siegel), John Goodman (John Chambers), Victor Garber (Ken Taylor), Tate Donovan (Bob Anders), Clea DuVall (Cora Lijek), Scoot McNairy (Joe Stafford), Rory Cochrane (Lee Schatz), Christopher Denham (Mark Lijek), Kerry Bishé (Kathy Stafford), Kyle Chandler (Hamilton Jordan), Chris Messina (Malinov), Zeljko Ivanek (Robert Pender), Titus Welliver (Bates), Keith Szarabajka (Adam Engell), Bob Gunton (Cyrus Vance), Richard Kind (Max Klein), Richard Dillane (OSS Officer Nicholls), Omid Abtahi (Reza Borhani), Page Leong (Pat Taylor), Farshad Farahat (Azizi Checkpoint #3) and Sheila Vand (Sahar).


The Town (2010, Ben Affleck), the extended cut

Affleck’s directorial abilities are impressive. He’s got a great sense of composition–he seats his actors on either end of the Panavision frame, leaving this great space of emptiness between them. Except, of course, when he’s on screen with Rebecca Hall, as their bridging the gap is the whole point of The Town.

But he’s got his problems too. He casts too strongly.

Between himself, Jeremy Renner and Jon Hamm, Affleck’s got three strong lead performances. He doesn’t have enough story for all three, so it’s hard to track them across the film’s narrative canvas.

For a while, the large canvas does Affleck good–and even after it gets too big, it still does allow for some really solid scenes, unimportant to the plot, but very human. The benefit is the lack of expectable. The story develops organically, one moment growing into the next, the opening feeling of foreboding waning as characters and relationships become more clear.

Some of the best moments are the ones Affleck holds longer than he needs to hold.

But, in the end, it’s a heist movie and heist movies have big, third act heists.

Affleck is able to do some different things with the way that heist works, but not enough to shrink it to fit the rest of the film.

Excellent performances from everyone–Hamm’s amazing and Hall’s quietly heartbreaking. Great supporting turn from Titus Welliver and–a big surprise–Blake Lively.

Even with its problems, The Town is an outstandingly piece of work.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Ben Affleck; screenplay by Peter Craig, Affleck and Aaron Stockard, based on a novel by Chuck Hogan; director of photography, Robert Elswit; edited by Dylan Tichenor; music by Harry Gregson-Williams and David Buckley; production designer, Sharon Seymour; produced by Graham King and Basil Iwanyk; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Ben Affleck (Doug MacRay), Rebecca Hall (Claire Keesey), Jon Hamm (Adam Frawley), Jeremy Renner (James Coughlin), Blake Lively (Krista Coughlin), Slaine (Gloansy Magloan), Owen Burke (Desmond Elden), Titus Welliver (Dino Ciampa), Pete Postlethwaite (Fergie Colm) and Chris Cooper (Stephen MacRay).


Paycheck (2003, John Woo)

Didn’t John Woo used to have a style? I mean, I know he had birds and he had the guns pointed at each other, but didn’t he have some style? He’s got no style in Paycheck, which ends up being one of the best movies John Badham never made.

It’s a complete time waster, the kind of thing people used to grow up on seeing on TV, fueled by competent direction (without style, Woo’s inoffensive most of the time and only stupid–the birds–once or twice) and a fine leading man performance from Ben Affleck. While he’s never going to be believable as super genius (the idea of Uma Thurman as a PhD is as hilarious as Will Smith as one), he’s sturdy as an engineer.

Most of the supporting cast–Paul Giamatti, Colm Feore, Joe Morton–is solid. Aaron Eckhart’s not doing anything special here but he isn’t being terrible either. The script isn’t deep enough to let him. Michael C. Hall and Kathryn Morris are both pretty bad, but neither are in it too much. Peter Friedman appears to be wearing a lot of make-up. He’s not good, but the make-up distracts.

The script’s problematic–the concept isn’t cool as a near future movie and would have worked much better firmed up in reality–but serviceable. John Powell’s music is rather effective.

The whole movie hinges on Affleck being a movie star and Affleck is a movie star and it works.

It’s a fine diversion.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by John Woo; screenplay by Dean Georgaris, based on the short story by Philip K. Dick; directors of photography, Jeffrey L. Kimball and Gregory Lundsgaard; edited by Christopher Rouse and Kevin Stitt; music by John Powell; production designer, William Sandell; produced by John Davis, Michael Hackett, Terence Chang and Woo; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Ben Affleck (Jennings), Aaron Eckhart (Rethrick), Uma Thurman (Rachel), Paul Giamatti (Shorty), Colm Feore (Wolfe), Joe Morton (Agent Dodge), Michael C. Hall (Agent Klein), Peter Friedman (Attorney General Brown) and Kathryn Morris (Rita Dunne).


State of Play (2009, Kevin Macdonald)

Who has the least personality when it comes to State of Play? Director Kevin Macdonald? He shoots the most boring Panavision-sized frame I think I’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen a Brett Ratner movie from start to finish, but… Macdonald’s boring. He’s not bad, he’s just not any good at all. The lack of a distinctive screenwriter is also a problem–Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray are all hacks. I mean, they’re–at times–fine hacks, but none of them is a distinctive screenwriter. They’re the kind of guys Carrie Fisher comes in to fix up and, watching State of Play, one can’t help but think she rewrote the scenes between Russell Crowe and Robin Wright.

But it’s not just the behind-the-camera talent… no one in front of the camera has any personality either. I mean, Helen Mirren does because she occasionally swears with her British accent. It’s The Queen swearing; laugh. And the audience does laugh, because it’s why she’s swearing. For comic relief. State of Play is a newspaper drama in the post-newspaper age, which means lots of derogatory blog comments. But, you know what? It doesn’t provide a useful defense of printed media. There’s nothing, after all the film’s emphasis on Crowe as the traditional reporter and sidekick Rachel McAdams as the blogger, to show McAdams’s blog couldn’t have done all the narrative’s whistle-blowing.

McAdams and Crowe are both fine. Really, they’re fine. I mean, they have all the personality of a “Tonight Show” guest and it’s like the film’s producers didn’t understand Crowe is an actor, not a screen presence, so casting him in a lousy role, one needing a presence, was a bad idea. McAdams is the same situation. She has no character and no personality. For the majority of the film, State of Play relies on Mirren for relief. Sometimes, it’s Wright. She’s been doing these crappy wife roles for ten years, so it’s no surprise she doesn’t break a sweat doing another one, even one where she’s supposedly married to Ben Affleck.

Ben Affleck is, at the time of this film’s release, thirty-seven years old. Russell Crowe is forty-five. Robin Wright is forty-three. Crowe and Wright look fine together. State of Play puts Affleck in a bunch of aging make-up. He looks silly. It’s unbelievable he, Crowe and Wright went to college together. It’s unbelievable he and Crowe ever knew each other before the film’s present action. Affleck and Wright are both solid enough to make their marriage, however silly-looking thanks to Affleck’s make-up, work.

Affleck gives the film’s second best performance, after Mirren. Then, I guess, Wright. Then everyone else. They really don’t matter. Andy Garcia would have been far superior in the Crowe role. Anyone with some kind of non-character-based screen presence. Russell Crowe’s an actor, not a matinee star. State of Play needed a matinee star.

Originally, it was going to be Brad Pitt in the Crowe role and Edward Norton in the Affleck role. With them, the film would have at least made sense. It wouldn’t have been good unless Macdonald was gone and the script got a rewrite from a real writer.

Wait, I forgot about Jason Bateman. He gave the film’s best performance. He was fantastic.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Macdonald; written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray, based on the television series by Paul Abbott; director of photography, Rodrigo Prieto; edited by Justine Wright; music by Alex Heffes; production designer, Mark Friedberg; produced by Andrew Hauptman, Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Russell Crowe (Cal McAffrey), Ben Affleck (Stephen Collins), Rachel McAdams (Della Frye), Helen Mirren (Cameron Lynne), Robin Wright (Anne Collins), Jason Bateman (Dominic Foy), Jeff Daniels (Rep. George Fergus), Michael Berresse (Robert Bingham), Harry Lennix (Det. Donald Bell), Josh Mostel (Pete), Michael Weston (Hank), Barry Shabaka Henley (Gene Stavitz) and Viola Davis (Dr. Judith Franklin).


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