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New Releases for Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Ultimate Edition

Genre: Comic Book/Sequel

Directerd by: Zack Snyder

Run time: 151 minutes

Rating: PG-13/R

Format: Blu-Ray

The Lowdown: It is with heavy heart and resigned opinion that I must report the following, which millions of people already know (but refuse to acknowledge):

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is awful. And just to be clear, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Ultimate Edition is awful too. It’s just longer and more awful.

In the pantheon of Batman movies, this falls below “Batman Forever” and barely above “Batman & Robin.”

In the pantheon of Superman movies, this falls after “Superman Returns” and barely above “Superman III” and “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.”

What that means, exactly, is that Warner Bros. spent $250-million-dollars to make, respectively, the seventh-best Batman movie and the fifth-best Superman movie of all time.

Surely, there must have been a better use of time, money and talent than this incoherent, disjointed, tone-deaf and utterly abysmal train-wreck of a feature film.

If nothing else, Zack Snyder could have simply filmed David S. Goyer dropping a deuce on a stack of DC Comics and called it a day.

I mean, really? Really? This is the best that an Oscar-winning screenwriter (Chris Terrio) and a longtime writer of iconic comic book film franchises (Goyer) could come up with?

Let’s be clear – I did not pay to watch BvS in theaters. Not because I wasn’t swept up in the hype. I had reservations and I made the conscious decision to wait for home video. In part, I’m glad I did because the version I did see was Snyder’s self-professed definitive version – the Ultimate Edition – with 30-plus minutes of footage cut from the theatrical version restored.

I sat down to watch BvS with an open mind. I’d even go so far as to say I was excited after having seen positive reactions from friends and colleagues whose opinions I trust.

Then the damn movie started and the first thing it does is rehash Bruce Wayne/Batman’s origin story. At this point in my life, I have simply lost count of how many times I have seen Martha Wayne’s pearls get ripped from her throat. For good measure, Snyder filmed the sequence in slow-motion so it would linger that much longer as a reminder that there’s just nothing else left to be told about Batman’s origin.

I held my tongue as bats lifted young Wayne from the dark hole where he fell during the funeral for his parents, and thankfully, that was a dream sequence. Whew.

Then it immediately switched to the midpoint of the big battle from “Man of Steel” where Superman and General Zod are simply laying waste to most of Metropolis. Only now, there’s good old Bruce racing to save his employees at the Metropolis office of Wayne Enterprises.

So far, not so good.

I kept expecting a moment – you know, a moment of awesomeness – the kind of moment that usually shows up early in the first 15-20 minutes of a comic book movie to hook the audience, inspire a gasp of surprise or fuel fanboy frothing.

Nadda. Zip. Definitely no Bueno.

In fact, as Snyder’s movie lurched along, back and forth from Wayne/Batman to Superman/Clark Kent, it felt like little more than carefully-constructed vignettes with no central tether, no unifying thread, no reason for existing in the same film.

The only “moment” – if it can be called as much – and when it happened it wasn’t even clear what it was, exactly – involved Batman apparently having a premonition about taking on a desert squad of soldiers then being captured then being threatened with death by Superman as more soldiers are kneeling as if he’s God or their ruler and then a bunch of winged demon-bat-hellspawns start swooping around – and then Wayne (Ben Affleck) jolts awake to see The Flash (I kept thinking it was Rip Hunter because The Flash was not in his typical costume) breaking through a time rift to offer a warning. Sure, post-mortem, people have admitted this was likely setting up Darkseid as the future villain of the Justice League movies, but that’s it. That was, for me, the best damn sequence of the movie. And it had literally nothing to do with the plot of BvS.

My two biggest gripes with BvS – excluding the obvious issues with Batman’s brutal nihilism and Superman’s wishy-washy blandness – and ignoring the fact that Batman, literally, should have been dead and/or crippled about six times (by my count) in his fight with Supes or the big battle with Doomsday – is 1) the film’s introduction of Wonder Woman and 2) the film’s shoehorned cameos of Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg.

Wonder Woman is actually an OK character when she’s in full battle regalia. She’s tough and badass and doesn’t need the boys to save her. But who is she? What is she? Who is she working for? I know that Wonder Woman is getting her own film next year, but you just can’t throw her into the middle of this mess with no context – minus an old photograph that suggests she hasn’t aged a day in decades – and expect the audience to just go, ‘Oh yay, Wonder Woman. Cool.’ Even Spiderman, in the far superior “Captain America: Civil War,” received some semblance of a cursory background introduction courtesy of Tony Stark.

It’s irresponsible to simply take for granted that every individual sitting in the theater knows everything about these characters.

To make matters even worse, as if that was possible, Wayne/Batman has a super-secret computer file with video snippets of several other meta-humans, including Wonder Woman, which are conveniently labeled by each meta-human’s signature superhero symbol. (Question: How do they have symbols if Wayne doesn’t yet know their names?)

In the Wonder Woman file, Wayne has the vintage photograph that reveals WW hasn’t aged.

In the Cyborg file, Wayne has surveillance footage from S.T.A.R. labs that shows Victor Stone being rebuilt with alien tech by his scientist father. Admittedly, it’s the best cameo of the four as it leaves you wanting to see more.

In the Flash file, Wayne has security camera footage from a convenience store of Barry Allen in street clothes buying a bottle of milk (!) when a robber pulls a gun on the store owner. Allen zips over and knocks the bad guy to the ground and zips back to the drink cooler in time to catch the bottle of milk before it hits the floor. Honestly, this brief introduction is significantly lame and pales compared to anything – even the hokiest of moments – presented on the CW’s “The Flash.”

But the grand prize for worst introduction of a major comic book character goes to the footage contained in Wayne’s computer file on Aquaman. In a watery snippet, a camera floats down to a wrecked ship and viewers are treated to two glowing eyes deep in the murk. As the camera hovers, Aquaman slowly floats out of the wreckage and flashes his signature trident before whisking away underwater.

That’s it, folks. There’s your big reveal. Aquaman is now the DC Extended Universe version of Florida’s Skunk Ape, an aquatic urban legend, a man-fish with a big stick, whose existence is seemingly proven by a fluke encounter.

If I was Marvel’s Kevin Feige, I would immediately send Snyder, Goyer, et al., a case of Scotch for further cementing the fact that the DCEU is the literal Goofus to the MCU’s Gallant.

Even though it just seems like piling on at this point, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention several other supremely stupid moments:

1 – Pa Kent (Kevin Costner) returns as a ghost just in time to give Superman a pep talk.

2 – Ma Kent (Diane Lane) gives Lois Lane an engagement ring that Clark had mailed to her for safekeeping prior to Superman being killed by Doomsday. (Question: If you are literally the strongest, fastest, most indestructible person on the planet, why do you need to have someone else safeguard a ring?)

3 – Batman stops seconds from killing Superman because Superman talks about his mom (Clark’s mom Ma Kent, not Martha Wayne) and then, suddenly, they’re besties.

4 – Perry White is the worst newspaper editor ever. When I was a reporter, I would have been fired if I just disappeared for days with no word while I was supposed to be writing a fluff piece on high school sports.

5 – Jimmy Olsen gets 10 minutes of screen time and is revealed to be a CIA agent pretending to be a Daily Planet photographer. Then he gets shot and killed. Seriously.

6 – And finally, Wallace Keefe. Who’s that, you ask? He’s like Kenny from “South Park.” First, he’s revealed to be an employee at the Metropolis office of Wayne Enterprises who gets his legs smashed by a piece of building and is rescued by Bruce Wayne. Then he goes crazy after he’s confined to a wheelchair. Then he defaces a statue of Superman. Then he scrawls loopy hand-written messages on his Wayne Enterprises checks and mails them back to the company. Then he gets recruited by Lex Luthor to be the poster-child for action against meta-humans during the Senate hearings about Superman. Then he gets blown up by Luthor who has given him a nifty motorized mobility chair that is actually housing a ton of explosives, which is then detonated by Luthor during the Congressional sub-committee meeting.

I could go on, but you get the point.

Ironically, the ONLY thing positive about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is the one thing initially considered the film’s Achilles’ heel – Ben Affleck, the fifth actor to portray Batman on the big screen.

Affleck looks and acts the part, both as an older Bruce Wayne, with nice touches of gray streaking his hair, and as the dark knight. He’s the first actor since Michael Keaton to not sound somewhat silly when speaking from underneath his cowl, and I would honestly be excited to see Affleck continue the role in a stand-alone film that follows up on the only other positive Easter egg briefly shown in the Bat Cave – the defaced costume of Robin with a message that appears scrawled by the Joker.

That’s it – outside of Affleck, nothing – honestly, nothing else – really works well in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. And that sucks.

It’s disheartening to admit that DC botched their big moment in the sun in the most spectacular way possible.

As a movie lover, it further cements the idea that Hollywood just doesn’t give a crap about making a good movie as long as the box office take helps them recoup their money and the promotional product tie-ins and toy sales guarantee a profit.

And, as a comic book fan, someone who has spent decades enjoying both DC and Marvel characters, it’s like a kick in the crotch to sit in horror and watch your childhood idols be treated with such disdain and genuine lack of care that you just want the damn movie to end already.

The Stuff You Care About: Hot chicks – Gal Gadot is no Lynda Carter.

Nudity – No.

Gore – Pretty brutal violence for a Batman/Superman picture.

Drug use – No.

Bad Guys/Killers – Zack Snyder, David Goyer, Chris Terrio

Buy/Rent – Neither

Crimes of Passion (Arrow, 107 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): I probably shouldn’t have been watching director Ken Russell’s 1984 minor masterpiece Crimes of Passion when it was first released. After all, I was just 14. But I did, and the experience didn’t undermine my maturation into a law-abiding, decent human being, which my parents were probably relieved about.

What the film did do was galvanize my affinity for dark, meditative, openly-erotic thrillers that weren’t afraid to push boundaries, explore sexual taboos and allow both the actors and the audience to experience the euphoria of a transformative experience.

Russell’s filmography is marked by movies that have been championed and derided by critics and fans alike. I personally still love “The Lair of the White Worm,” which came four years after. But Crimes of Passion – the story of Joanna Crane, a successful executive by day who lives a double life – stands out for its subversive and boundary-breaking approach to sexual dynamics and personal happiness.

Each night, Joanna dons a platinum wig and baby-blue dress and catches a cab to troll the inner-city streets as a prostitute named China Blue. Her duality forms the core of the film. Joanna is incapable of commitment and/or intimacy. China Blue represents her inner-Id. When she’s wearing the wig, she is capable of anything – she acts out the most bizarre of fantasies presented by her clients with a fervor and freedom that literally shakes each man to his core. Those moments alone are hysterical, inspiring and unique in American cinema for shining a light on very real fetishes that many modern men harbor secretly.

In that regard, Crimes of Passion was a worthy pre-cursor to “Fight Club,” another groundbreaking experience that directly addressed the modern Id. Imagine if the Narrator had never formed Project: Mayhem and instead funneled all of his aggression into Tyler Durden’s sexual escapades, and you get the idea.

Kathleen Turner, whose career was white-hot in 1984, following “Body Heat” and “Romancing the Stone,” fully embraces and embodies Joanna/China Blue with a fearlessness that’s simply astounding. She commits to the role’s required nudity and raw sexual exploits with the same enthusiasm as her on-screen character, which gives each moment that much more validity.

Written by Barry Sandler, who had earlier penned 1982’s controversial erotic drama “Making Love,” which focused on a married suburban man’s struggle to understand and embrace his homosexuality, Crimes of Passion explores a plethora of sexual perspectives without passing judgment.

One subplot involves a 30-year-old father trapped in a sexless marriage with an ultra-conservative, frigid wife. Another focuses on a self-professed pastor, Rev. Shayne, who is played by Anthony Perkins in spectacularly creepy fashion, who believes God has sent him to “save” China Blue from her life on the streets. Shayne is his own lost soul seeking absolution for his own sins, and the scenes between Perkins and Turner are revelatory. Throughout the film, Russell intersperses surreal moments of fantasy with music-video-like vignettes playing up mainstream America’s perception of sex, success and family, which helps provide a balance to the more lurid explorations and also offers a stark contrast to the ultimate point that Sandler makes with his script.

Russell frames much of Crimes of Passion as if you’re watching a play, particularly the moments when Rev. Shayne and China Blue interact in her neon-colored seedy apartment.

Ultimately, Joanna must choose between reality and the world she inhabits as China Blue, and the choice she makes – to embrace her sexuality outside of a persona and a costume – represents the end of a necessary journey to self-realization and acceptance.

This wonderful Arrow high-definition restoration includes both the R-rated theatrical cut and Russell’s wilder, more graphic and unrestrained unrated cut (which I highly recommend).

If you’ve never seen Crimes of Passion, do yourself a favor and go, buy this one now.

The Return of the Living Dead: Collector’s Edition (Shout! Factory, 91 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): I remember being 15 years old in 1985 and going to see The Return of the Living Dead. The marketing campaign beautifully played up the picture as a punk-centric blast of nihilist horror with a wicked sense of humor, and that’s exactly what writer-director Dan O’Bannon delivered. ROTLD literally resurrected the zombie genre from the clutches of Italian B-movie hell and made zombies both relevant and scary again. They also were fast as hell and capable of speaking – a twist on the standard zombie mythology that has rarely been repeated. I still cackle with glee every time I hear the zombies say, ‘Send…more…paramedics.’

The real star of ROTLD – and a true lost voice for genre fans – is O’Bannon. ROTLD was one of just two movies he directed (O’Bannon died in 2009), but he provided the screenplays for some of the best films released in the 1980s, following his remarkable script for Ridley Scott’s original “Alien” in 1979. Seriously. O’Bannon wrote “Dead & Buried,” one of my all-time favorite cult classics, “Blue Thunder,” “Lifeforce” and “Total Recall.” He also contributed two story segments for “Heavy Metal.”

This collector’s edition for ROTLD by Shout! Factory is definitely one fans should own.

Kill Zone 2 (Well Go USA, 121 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): Here’s two important things to know about the latest Chinese action import, Kill Zone 2, which spotlights the spectacular martial arts abilities of stars Tony Jaa and Jing Wu.

First, the action scenes are jaw-dropping, stand up and clap fantastic. Director Pou-Soi Cheang deserves kudos for framing most of the film’s stellar battles in appropriate wide shots to allow the operatic brutality to have the best impact on viewers. Seriously, there are three or four extended fight scenes in this mother that are just stupid great.

Second, I figured out while watching Kill Zone 2 why Chinese films, and honestly most Asian imports, don’t appeal more to western audiences as a general genre.

These movies operate on two distinct levels.

They play directly to the target audience’s need for adrenaline and our appreciation not only for testosterone-fueled hand-to-hand combat but also our ability to appreciate the skill and prowess that the actors employ.

But they also traffic frequently in broad comedy and treacly emotion. For example, in the middle of the extended climatic confrontation in Kill Zone 2, Cheang repeatedly cuts away from the action to focus on Jaa’s on-screen daughter, who has leukemia, as she searches for an appropriate patch of ground to plant a flower as an overt metaphor of her hope that, like the flower, she can blossom and shake off the rabid disease destroying her body.

Audiences would likely savage such a decision by an American filmmaker because it directly undermines the euphoric rush they are experiencing watching the big fight. And likely also because it’s an incredibly tricky proposition to successfully marry such divergent themes in one extended scene without coming off as corny.

That’s clearly not the case in China where most of the movies do include action, comedy and old-fashioned emotion, and earn rabid praise and financial success as a result.

Despite its disjointed moments when these disparate influences collide, and frequently, in Kill Zone 2, this is still a movie action fans should seek out for the aforementioned awesome fight choreography, if nothing else. That and that alone makes Kill Zone 2 a solid recommendation.

The Magicians: Season One (Universal, 572 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): Lev Grossman’s trilogy of novels, 2009-2014’s The Magicians, The Magician King and The Magician’s Land, get the SyFy Channel series treatment and, you know what, it’s pretty damn good. Magic is depicted as a drug, as addictive and absorbing as the worst narcotic, and unlike a relatively-unknown book series from across the pond that focuses on child wizards, this is decidedly adult stuff. SyFy shows can be hit or miss, but The Magicians hits more often than not, providing a compelling narrative that alternates between the fictional Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy, and a Narnia-esque realm known as Fillory. If you missed the first season, here’s your chance to catch up before Season 2 premieres in the fall.

Bad Moon (Shout! Factory, 80 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Classic werewolf horror from 1996 starring genre stalwart Michael Pare. The best reason to seek out Bad Moon is writer-director Eric Red, who made a splash on the genre cinema scene in the late 1980’s-90’s with “Cohen & Tate” and “Body Parts,” before fading out for 12 years following Bad Moon.

Also Available:

Outatime: Saving the DeLorean Time Machine

Bitten: The Final Season

A Perfect Day

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