Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Film Review

“The greatest gladiator match in the history of the world.” That’s how Jesse Eisenberg’s maniacal genius Lex Luthor describes the super-powered slugfest at the heart of this sort-of follow-up to 2013’s Man of Steel.

It should be an understatement. Who would win in a fight between Batman and Superman is a question argued over by kids in playgrounds since 1939. It’s bigger than King Kong vs Godzilla. Bigger than Foreman vs Ali. It’s even bigger than Joe vs The Volcano. The answer should be epic.

Unless, of course, you put it in the butter-fingered hands of director Zack Snyder and writer David S. Goyer who somehow manage to turn this superheavyweight bout into a dour, powerless bore unworthy of America’s most iconic heroes.

If you thought Man of Steel was grim, prepare for things to get a whole lot darker. Dawn of Justice is a Superman film containing barely a shred of sunlight – despite the fact it’s the source of all his power. No wonder every character walks around bearing the same mirthless grimace when all they get to do is skulk in the shadows fretting over the fate of humanity.

Even the rare action beats lack any sense of fun, with Snyder’s increasingly overbearing infatuation with speed ramping and colourless tones failing to liven up what amounts to a miserable whirlwind of CGI carnage.

The seeds of a powerful story are all in place. Having watched helplessly as Superman’s battle with General Zod destroyed his employees’ lives 18 months prior, Ben Affleck’s ageing Batman embarks on a reckless mission to take down what he sees as an alien threat, fearing the damage his power could wreak if left unchecked. Meanwhile, an awkward young billionaire named Alexander Luthor sets in motion his own plot to destroy Metropolis’ ‘false god’ once and for all.

While there is a compelling story to be told around how fear can turn good men cruel and the dangers of absolute power, the script is too unfocused and underfed to do it justice. The presence of an older, battle-scarred Dark Knight should be intriguing, his fear pulling him further down to road from vigilante to villain, but the motivation behind his actions is never made clear – all we know is it relies on a very shaky understanding of percentages – which makes it hard to accept his choices.

Without this driving force, the tension between our heroes and their opposing methods merely simmers rather than building to the inevitable showdown, which, when it does finally arrive, is as overblown and lifeless as the rest of the film. With no real purpose behind it, we have no reason to care who wins or why they are even fighting, and the clunky choreography ensures it’s not even an entertaining spectacle for the eyes.

The actors involved are almost entirely blameless. Far from the catastrophe his detractors predicted, Affleck is a worthy Batman, possessing all the necessary playboy charm and seething intensity to play the Caped Crusader and his billionaire alter-ego Bruce Wayne. And pairing him with Jeremy Irons’ Alfred Pennyworth proves a masterstroke; the latter’s sardonic put-downs providing many of the film’s few moments of levity.

Henry Cavill, sadly, is once again wasted as the Man of Steel. Lacking both charisma and personality, Cavill is given very little to do other float around with a look of moody introspection as both Superman and Clark Kent. So much so, when his big emotional beat comes towards the end it feels more like a gentle stroke than the gut-wrenching wallop intended.

And while Eisenberg’s eccentric, Mark Zuckerberg-esque take on Superman’s primary foe might be an acquired taste, he at least attempts a different interpretation of the character and still packs the required menace of a true supervillain – even if his grand plan is complete bunkum.

The film’s brightest spark is Gail Gadot’s introduction as Wonder Woman – who is set to become the first female superhero to headline a film when her origin story hits screens next year. That Gadot stands out despite her limited screen time says a lot about the film’s wider characterisation flaws, but it’s also testament to her strong performance as she excels in the fight scenes and poses an elusive, formidable challenge to Affleck’s Wayne.

But while we can all now look forward to Wonder Woman with a sense of hope, the same cannot be said of the forthcoming Justice League movie. Cyborg, The Flash and Aquaman are all teased here, but the film doesn’t give us a reason to want to see them team-up. It just tests our patience and bores us senseless – hardly the stuff befitting this Clash of the Titans tale.

Runtime: 151 mins; Genre: Superhero; Released: 25 March 2016

Director: Zack Snyder; Writers: Chris Terrio, David S. Goyer;

Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Adams

Click here to watch a trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Flat TV – TV Review

If you are still mourning the demise of Peep Show last year, this latest offering from BBC Three might just be the perfect fit to fill that void of hapless depravity.

Flat TV might not have the most original set up – two white man-children moan about their self-involved problems – but like Channel 4’s seminal cult comedy it turns expectation on its head with a mind-bending stylistic quirk – the characters frame their lives through the prism of recognisable TV formats.

Co-creators Tom Rosenthal (Plebs) and Naz Osmanoglu star as, well, Tom and Naz (I doubt they put too much thought into the names), two 20-something slobs with nothing better to do with their lives than slosh about their grotty flat share acting out their favourite TV shows.

While the frequency of these off-the-wall skits can give episodes a bitty, sketch show-like feel, the regular bursts of absurdity more often cut through the inanity of domestic life like a Swiss army hat through pizza.

As with Peep Show’s dizzy POV style, these telly spoofs are more than just a cheesy gimmick, coming tinged with human truths. From passive aggressive news bulletins to heartfelt confessions in a makeshift Diary Room (actually a bathroom with a faulty lock), the off-beat parodies offer a fresh and imaginative way to peak into the male psyche and the internal conflict of living with other humans.

Throughout Rosenthal and Osmanoglu have excellent chemistry. The duo have clearly honed their performances during the show’s beginnings as a web series as they display impeccable comic timing here, both switching effortlessly between straight and funny man to share the spotlight while maintaining a winning sense of genuine friendship.

Move over Jez and Mark, the new El Dude brothers have finally arrived.

10 Cloverfield Lane – Film Review

You’ve got to give JJ Abrams credit – he sure knows how to sell a movie. When the trailer for this ‘spiritual sequel’ to 2008’s monster mash-up Cloverfield dropped earlier this year it took everyone by surprise. Even for a man famous for placing an air-tight seal of secrecy around his work, keeping the existence of an entire film under-wraps is a staggering achievement.

Sadly, 10 Cloverfield Lane is nowhere near as imaginative as its promotional strategy, offering up a well-crafted and outstandingly performed psychological thriller that boasts nothing you haven’t seen before – except for an arbitrary link to an unrelated film that serves no other purpose than to get more bums on seats.

You certainly shouldn’t go in expecting to see Cloverfield 2 – these films live on separate streets in terms of tone and execution, and may not even take place in the same world. What director Dan Trachtenberg has cobbled together out of a shoe-string budget is a taut three-person play that relies more on slow mounting suspense than monster smashing shock and awe.

An impressive Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays fashion designer Michelle, who dumps her fiancé and heads out on the road with a bottle of scotch to escape her emotional turmoil. Her journey is curtailed by a horrific car crash. When she regains consciousness, she finds herself chained to the walls of an underground bunker where her creepy saviour, Howard (John Goodman), tells her of an apocalyptic event that has rendered the outside world uninhabitable. But can he be trusted, or are his motives more sinister than looking for a new addition to his monopoly team?

This section of the film is superbly put together. Aside from an overbearing and unnecessary orchestral score, Trachtenberg is clinical in his direction of this claustrophobic drama, evoking shades of Hitchcock with the steadily rising suspense that builds as Michelle and fellow refugee/prisoner Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) try to work-out if Howard really is their generous saviour or a vicious lunatic with dark intentions.

Goodman is exceptional as the multi-faceted Howard, toying with both his prisoners’ and our own emotions as he shifts between misunderstood father, harmless nut-job and bad-tempered psychopath with alarming ease. Winstead is also perfectly cast as the sweet yet resourceful Michelle, who determines to escape Howard’s clutches no matter the consequences.

It’s at this point that the wheels start to spring off. As soon as we leave the sweaty confines of the bunker, the intelligence level plummets. All the tightly-wound tension, which built masterfully to Howard’s inevitable unravelling, is eroded to make way for a maximalist action flick completely at odds with the preceding 90 minutes.

What promised to forge a new frontier in a world of carbon copy sequels turns out to be a shameless, ill-considered and downright illogical marketing ploy. Punters may feels duped, but the film has already made back more than three times its budget. Well played, JJ. Well played.

Runtime: 106 mins; Genre: Sci-fi/Thriller; Released: 18 March 2016;

Director: Dan Trachtenberg; Writers: Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, Damien Chazelle;

Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr.

Click here to watch the trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane

London Has Fallen – Film Review

A sequel to 2013’s pale Die Hard rip-off Olympus Has Fallen, this unpleasant follow-up is the movie equivalent of The Sun – a gloriously entertaining romp spoiled by the big, fat seam of hate and xenophobia that runs through it.

London Has Fallen sees Gerard Butler’s thuggish Secret Service agent Mike Banning forced to protect his Presidential bestie once again when an implausibly large terrorist army launches a devastating attack on the UK capital during the Prime Minister’s state funeral.

Like its predecessor, the action descends into the usual mix of preposterous plot twists, repetitive set-pieces and threadbare action clichés as Banning shoots, stabs and punches his way through London’s battle-ravaged landmarks to rescue Eckhart’s chummy POTUS after he’s abducted by vengeful insurgents.

It might not be the most original movie you’ll ever see, but then those behind it have no intention of reinventing the wheel – they just want to have fun blowing it to smithereens. And there’s no denying London Has Fallen is a whole lot of fun. Babak Najafi directs with a ferocious pace and gritty intensity that will hook you instantly and keep you gripped until the bitter end.

Sadly, all the fun is spoiled by the distasteful views that lay at its heart. The terrorists are, of course, the usual band of ‘evil Muslim monsters’ on a mission to destroy civilised western society. Thank God there’s a heroic white guy around to save the day. But while this openly racist narrative can at least claim to tap into modern fears about ISIS fighters returning home to wreak bloody havoc on our streets, it doesn’t excuse Butler’s utterly charmless performance.

Banning is established as a troubled father-to-be who is tired of looking over his shoulder for a living, yet this dissatisfaction is completely disregarded as soon as the action kicks in, with Banning seemingly to busy enjoying maiming bad guys to care about his internal conflict. It’s all part of an uncomfortably jingoistic theme that revels in highlighting our foreign enemies’ wrongs while happily air-brushing over our own transgressions in this endless conflict.

When it steps down from its soapbox, London Has Fallen can be jaw-droppingly entertaining, but unpleasant themes and despicable characters turn this bombastic thriller into a murky stab-a-thon that should be avoided at all costs.

Runtime: 99 mins; Genre: Action/Thriller; Released: 3 March 2016;

Director: Babak Najafi; Writers: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt;

Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett

Click here to watch the trailer for London Has Fallen

The Aliens – TV Review

In the world of E4’s new drama The Aliens, thousands of crash-landed aliens are forced to live in a lawless ghetto called Troy. It’s a metaphor almost as clunky as the nitwitted gags that jar against the socially-conscious point it tries to make about our modern dilemmas over racism and immigration.

Thrown into the midst of this unpleasant business is Michael Socha’s dim-witted border guard Lewis, who can barely hide his disdain for the ‘Morks’ he’s tasked to keep in check. Naturally, poor Lewis’ prejudices come back to bite in a big way when he learns he is half-alien, a discovery that launches him on a madcap adventure with smitten co-worker Dominic (Peep Show’s Jim Howick).

Coming from In The Flesh writer Fintan Ryan, you might hope for a similarly bold piece of social commentary from this six-part series. Alas, while it raises some sage points about how outsiders are not always so different from ourselves (these aliens look just like humans – only with hair that doubles as a highly-prized narcotic), the tone is too tongue-in-cheek. The jaunty kidnap plot whizzes by in a blur of explosions, shootings, chases and stabbings, but the constant (and I mean constant) japes and wisecracks give it a throwaway feel like the stakes don’t really matter.

But at least this weird blend of sci-fi thriller and daft caper gives us the chance to see some compelling performances, particularly Michaela Coel’s enigmatic alien gangster Lilyhot, whose hard-edged attitude perfectly dovetails with Socha’s puppyish everyman shtick. It’s just a shame they weren’t given stronger material.

Click here to watch The Aliens on All 4

Hail, Caesar! – Film Review

“The movie business is fascinating, but it’s also frivolous,” a schmoozing corporate stooge tells Josh Brolin’s beleaguered studio boss in the latest screwball comedy from the Coen brothers. It’s a line that helpfully sums up the movie itself: a scintillatingly off-beat spoof of cinema’s golden age that struggles to keep you consistently gripped due to a complete lack of substance.

Brolin plays a fictionalised version of Eddie Mannix, a real-life studio fixer who worked in Hollywood during the 1950s. Aside from hiding a smoking habit from his wife and wrestling with Catholic guilt, Mannix’s chief concern is cleaning up after his hapless stars – be it an unplanned pregnancy or a disgruntled director fuming at a woeful miscasting – and keeping the baying gossip columnists in the dark. But his troubles only really begin when his biggest star, George Clooney’s Kirk Douglas-esque Baird Whitlock, is drugged and bungled into the back of a van just as his latest epic, Hail, Caesar!, is nearing completion.

Though Joel and Ethan Coen have already tackled the studio system in the more surreal Barton Fink, this movie is an altogether different beast. Here, the brothers use the 50s setting as an excuse to goad a gang of game big names to cameo in a series of lavish sketches playfully sending up cinema’s golden age – an era that has nostalgia to thank for glossing over its overwhelmingly corny output.

So we get Scarlett Johansson wedged into a rubber mermaid outfit, Ralph Fiennes delivering an excruciatingly hilarious direction to his miscast singing cowboy and Channing Tatum in a screwy-sailor dance number. Meanwhile, Tilda Swinton makes a superb double turn as feuding gossip columnists Thora and Thessaly Thacker – a distortion of the real-life rivalry between Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons.

Yet it doesn’t take long to realise these supremely silly set-pieces are as frivolous as the movies they parody. There’s very little dramatic jeopardy or emotional depth beneath the superficial charms and we are never given a reason to care about the fates of any of the characters. Mannix is supposed to act as our guide through this madcap world, yet Brolin’s gruff hero is so devoid of empathy his salvage mission carries no weight. As a result, the story feels like little more than a lavishly produced sketch show.

Don’t be fooled by its wrangling over the nature of god and communism, in Hail, Caesar! there’s very little meaning behind all the glitz and glamour.

Runtime: 106 mins; Genre: Comedy; Released: 4 March 2016;

Directors and Writers: Joel and Ethan Coen;

Cast: George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes

Click here to watch a trailer for Hail, Caesar!