Episode 085: Justice League

Andrew B. Dyce of Screenrant joins the fellas for some discussion on the newest entry into the DC Extended Universe.  This conversation covers the positives and negatives of our Justice League experiences, and we also give our take on the DECU’s progress thus far. Having Andrew on the show always results in insightful chat so give it a listen and let us know what you think!

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:51

Aaron (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Wonder)
Patrick (The Death of Superman / A World Without Superman)
Andrew (#MarthaWatch2017, The Punisher on Netflix)

Justice League Review – 0:23:25

The Connecting Point – 1:48:16

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Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

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MOVIE REVIEW: Justice League

Justice League (2017)

GOING IN

The lead up to Justice League has been at times joyful to witness, and at others incredibly frustrating. Zack Synder’s DCEU has plenty of loyal fans defending its dark tone, but legions more who seem to prefer the more comedic and light-hearted nature of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As a big fan of all previous DC comic book films not named Suicide Squad, I can’t help but find myself in the former category. I have thoroughly enjoyed Snyder’s willingness to go deeper into the psyches of his characters and despite not loving every casting choice or action sequence, my overall response to the DCEU has been highly positive. While I mostly prefer solo superhero films, this initial team-up of the Justice League does have me very excited. The fanboy in me is really hoping for a Green Lantern appearance. I’ll also admit that I am a bit concerned about the Whedon script doctoring that occurred after Snyder took a hiatus due to the terrible tragic loss of his daughter. My hope is that Synder’s tone is not completely replaced by a focus on humor and lack of stakes.


COMING OUT

Well, consider me surprised. All of that Joss Whedon rewriting that I was concerned about? Totally worked. In fact, the film holds together well with two distinctly different tones flowing throughout, even if the difference is always noticeable and occasionally distracting. Whedon’s dialogue is mostly a hit, and especially so when it comes out of the mouth of The Flash (Ezra Miller). Flash provides us with the quippy nature the MCU has embraced, but it works because only one character is a goofball and not all five. The team dynamic is great and consists entirely of unique personalities. Aquaman (Jason Momoa) is a strong and powerful, independent bad-ass living the life of a loner but with a heart of gold. Cyborg (Ray Fisher) is brooding and angry, certain his new form is a curse. Batman (Ben Affleck) has renewed hope in humanity, regret over Superman’s death, and wants to save the world, while Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) follows-up her strong solo debut with a nice little arc of her own about what it means to be a leader. Truly, what Justice League really has going for it most is the cast chemistry. The relationship between Cyborg and Flash really stands out. These two “accidents” have a lot in common and are both discovering and coming to grips with their powers together, along with slowly developing trust and a friendship.

Its rather miraculous that Whedon’s humor and light-heartedness intertwine with Snyder’s serious storyline so easily. This is still a superhero universe with a lot at stake, where humans die and superheroes are vulnerable. But the dialogue works by delivering moments of levity instead of turning the film into a comedy. Justice League does bring up philosophical questions and ideas that carry over from previous films, too. In doing so, it balances those heavier topics with the epic sense of fun that we should get from reading or watching superheroes in action.

When it comes to the action, it’s vintage Snyder all the way. Fast cuts with explosive visuals and some well-timed slow motion feature prominently. I was worried that the movie might have a serious fake CGI look to it, but surprisingly it didn’t bother me at all. The majority of the action sequences are moving so fast that it’s hard to get a good handle on what’s going on, however, there are a few stand-out scenes – most of them involving Wonder Woman in some capacity, and that’s never a bad thing.

The film isn’t perfect, though. The opening scene and early setup feels rushed and incohesive. Once the team is together everything feels great, but getting there is just a little clunky. The villain is also not particularly memorable, although I did enjoy him more than previous DC baddies. His personality was lacking but the action involving him was a lot of fun, and he conveys a sense of otherworldly strength that was necessary for us to believe in the threat he poses.

One last thing to mention is that the film has two very good GREAT post-credit scenes. One right after the film ends and another all the way at the very end of the credits. They are both worth waiting for. Do not miss these. The final one, especially, is textbook for how a post-credit scene should be done.

Verdict

Justice League endured a lot of changes during its production and the result is a film that has glimpses of greatness but never quite reaches that plateau. Still, the film balances its dual tones just fine and manages to provide well-rounded character development  for the whole team. Ezra Miller steals the show as The Flash and team chemistry, in general, is a big highlight. A movie doesn’t have to be perfect to entertain, and Justice League does plenty of the latter. It is a joy to see these heroes together on the big screen and many emotions were felt. My prevailing thought when walking out of the theater with a huge smile on my face was simply,  “I want more,” and that happiness is a big relief.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

What We Learned This Week: August 20-26

 RETURNING FROM SUMMER VACATION: I take two weeks off and all hell breaks loose!

LESSON #1: “MANSPLAINING” IS NEVER ENDEARING OR RESPECTFUL— For a guy who has fostered one “Strong Female Character” after another, including two of the greatest in Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley, James Cameron sure missed the big picture of Wonder Woman.  In an interview with The Guardian (full context), the Titanic filmmaker stated “All of the self-congratulatory back-patting Hollywood’s been doing over Wonder Woman has been so misguided” and adds “She’s an objectified icon, and it’s just male Hollywood doing the same old thing! I’m not saying I didn’t like the movie but, to me, it’s a step backwards.”  Well now, Mr. Pott.  What color is the kettle?  Mr. Cameron is entitled to his opinion and slant (the film is far from perfect), but the fun thing is we all get one too.  Don’t worry Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins dropped the mic on him with this commandingly brilliant tweet:

LESSON #2: MOVIEPASS MAY HAVE FINALLY FOUND AN ATTRACTIVE PRICE POINT— Mitch Lowe, the co-founder of Netflix, made tsunami waves recently with a ballsy new business model for the mildly-received MoviePass program.  Reducing the $15-50 per-month rate with plenty of fine print and red tape for a tidy $9.95 fee with new fine print and red tape looks like a steal.  However, will customers buy-in and, more importantly, will theaters play ball at taking a possible haircut?  The AMC Theatres chain (more on them later) immediately pushed back threatening legal action and downright banning MoviePass customers.  You have to love that $10 price point, but how useful is it if the theater companies in your area don’t take it?  Compromise is needed.

LESSON #3: ALONG THE SAME LINES, THE VIDEO ON-DEMAND MARKET IS STILL TRYING TO FIND THEIR PRICE POINT— Some of you might remember that six years ago Universal Studios initially planned to release their tentpole Tower Heist on premium VOD for $59.99 three weeks after its theatrical release with the goal of putting more money in their pockets instead of splitting it with movie theaters.  The notion was met with instant boycott and dismissal (much like the film itself) and the studio backed off.  Here in 2017, media giants Comcast (parent company of Universal), Amazon, and Apple are all developing a new VOD delivery system that will put top-shelf movies out for rental 30-45 days after their theatrical debuts at a $30 price level.  Even with $30 being substantial savings compared to hauling an average family of four to the cinema, that price point still doesn’t work if the digital download and Blu-ray/DVD release windows of $20 permanent ownership (not a temporary rental) keep dramatically shrinking like they have been for a few years.  What used to be an industry-standard of six months or more between silver screen and small screen has been cut in half.  May theatrical releases like King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 have arrived on August store shelves.  Why wait a month for a single high-priced rental when you can wait three and buy it for keeps for a lesser price?  I don’t see the viable premium VOD marketplace for average tight-budgeted blue collar consumers out there (and that’s not even taking into account the piracy market looming over anything VOD related).

LESSON #4: SURPRISE, SURPRISE!  DISNEY IS OUT TO MAKE ITS OWN MONEY WITHOUT PARTNERS— When you make billions hand over fist, you get to call the shots or, better yet, go out make your own game.  The Walt Disney Company will pull its lucrative movies off Netflix and launch its own branded streaming subscription platform in 2019.  They don’t need Netflix when they have the clout and fanbase to create their own exclusivity and keep all the money.  I can’t say I blame them and I stand by my prognostication from earlier in the summer for the day Disney/Marvel pulls out of San Diego’s Comic-Con and lets their own D23 be the one-way fan access point to that frenzy.

LESSON #5: NETFLIX IS NOT INVINCIBLE— From the outside looking in, casual observers (and this very column) have been exceedingly impressed by Netflix’s huge push in creating their own original television and film content.  They have thrown tremendous resources with the aim of attracting more customers and now have the $20 billion of debt to prove it.  Subscriptions are up an astounding 25% since last year, so the gamble is working, but how long can a company like that sustain those spending habits on top of Disney pulling out?  Expect an investment bubble to burst in some area (licensing fees with the studios) and, naturally, a raise in subscription rates passed onto us very soon to recoup that debt.

LESSON #6: HAS THE SLOW DEATH OF THE MULTIPLEX BEGUN?— Options like MoviePass, VOD, and Netflix have not come close to creating a new entertainment access monopoly large enough to overtake the big screen marketplace.  That said, even with price point challenges and debt issues, have the little dents and pin pricks started to add up to true damage?  I, for one, am beginning to at least wonder.   Blockbuster fatigue, thanks to poor performing duds like The Mummy, have taken their toll on consumer spending and confidence.  Multiple business outlets broke the news that AMC Theatres took a dramatic second quarter loss (and is staring at a third quarter one coming) that caused shares to fall 40% since the beginning of August.  The overall American box office is down a scant 4.4% from last year.  If that’s all it takes to financially wound one theatre chain, how are the other ones doing?  How are they sustaining 20+ screen multiplexes hawking bargain attempts and hokey incentives only to still sit empty on weeknights against growing operating costs?  I bet they’re not doing much better than AMC.  I have to think some form of internal, yet dramatic, contraction is coming.  Movies survived the invention of television.  They will survive digital and device shifts, but not without a shift or two of their own.

LESSON #7: I DON’T KNOW WHAT WARNER BROS. IS DOING WITH THE DC CHARACTER FILMS AND I DON’T THINK THEY KNOW EITHER— Spinning off of Wonder Woman‘s success as the #1 earner of the summer, Warner Bros. has the ambitious DC Extended Universe schedule of Justice LeagueAquaman, ShazamWonder Woman 2Cyborg, and Green Lantern Corps locked on the calendar through 2020.  It’s the slate after that has created a flurry of questions this week.  Matt Reeves made it known that his The Batman will be a standalone film outside of the DCEU and spread gasoline-dipped rumors of Ben Affleck being out at the Caped Crusader.  The WB brass then added the dreamy Martin Scorsese/Todd Phillips team-up announcement of a spin-off Joker solo origin story film without Jared Leto and on its own.  Confounding us even more a day later, the studio reveals they are concurrently planning a Joker/Harley Quinn film starring Leto and Margot Robbie that will be within the DCEU.  What is all this?!  Is Warner Bros. admitting defeat at building a Marvel-like universe and course-correcting to make focused films or are we watching greedy, hubris, and befuddlement? If so, why carry both? This DCEU timeline is going to start looking a clue board spider-webbed with red yarn from a police procedural or a Charlie Day meme.

LESSON #8: EWAN MCGREGOR OR NO ONE— I’ll bring the first fanboy torch and pitchfork to Disney’s announcement of an Obi-wan Kenobi solo anthology film coming in the near future.  Cast Ewan McGregor or no one at all.  After the flop of Alden Ehrenreich requiring an acting coach for Han Solo, cast some damn proven talent.  Call it stability as much as you call it justified fan service.

LESSON #9: LOOK TO ITALY AS THE OSCAR SEASON STARTS NOW— The prime third quarter film festival season kicks off with the prestigious Venice Film Festival beginning on August 30th and the top-shelf Toronto International Film Festival starting on September 7th.  The lineup in Venice includes first looks at Alexander Payne’s Downsizing, Darren Aronofsky’s Mother!, George Clooney’s Suburbicon, Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of WaterJudi Dench’s crown in Victoria and Abdul, and the Redford/Fonda reunion Our Souls at Night.  I’ll share the killer TIFF lineup next week.  Get your coffee mugs ready to receive a pouring of Oscar buzz!


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  He is also one of the founders and the current directors of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.

MOVIE REVIEW: Wonder Woman

In the opening minutes of Wonder Woman, young Princess Diana (played by the precocious Lilly Aspell), bounds about the island of Themyscira with such a tireless enthusiasm, imitating lady warriors in training, channeling the energy of Wall Street’s Fearless Girl, defiant of rules and stereotypes.  Even as her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielson), tries to subdue her daughter’s eagerness to place herself in precarious circumstances, we can tell that Diana is cut from a different cloth. This is an origin story untold on the big screen before now, and in a cinematic society weary of such redundancies, the coming of age of the would be Amazonian princess is welcome, and in so many ways, necessary.

For the past decade, Marvel Studios has coasted along on the coattails of a genuinely decent cinematic universe, wherein rival DC has limped along with luke warm to abysmal attempts post-Nolan at keeping up with the Jonses. Rabid fandom aside, DC has mostly earned the reputation of being the VH1 to Marvel’s MTV.  But credit where credit is due, DC is the first studio to test the theory that a female centered superhero film can stand alongside the glut of “fill in the blank”-man movies that have strong armed the studio’s purse strings for far to long.  Giving the reigns to a passionate, visionary filmmaker like Patty Jenkins was also the right thing to do. There is an undercurrent of authenticity to this film, as if it knows it carries an extra burden.  Fair or not, Wonder Woman needed to be more than entertaining.  

Wonder Woman needs to be examined on multiple fronts. As a superhero film, it’s decent, much in the way most of these genre films are.  There will be things that work and things that will not, but generally you will feel a sense of satisfaction when the credits start rolling.  And yet, Twitter trolls will spew nonsense, and fanboys will gather to defend. If you can block out that noise, you can expect an above average slice of blockbuster pie that isn’t without its flaws.

Comparisons can be made to Captain America: The First Avenger in both style and structure.  The pacing isn’t always a strength, and it does feel the full weight of the 141 minute run time as a result.  The film ultimately falls into familiar genre trappings, where CGI assumes command of a final battle between super-beings in a dark cacophony of sight and sound.  But enough good will has been earned by that point for me to forgive most of that.  It isn’t terrible, just familiar.  

As maligned as Producer Zack Snyder is with a lot of his creative choices, casting Gal Gadot is purely inspired.  She is perfect, and with no disrespect to Linda Carter, she is the Wonder Woman for all going forward.  Gadot brings so many layers of Diana Prince to life, portraying her with a fearless intensity that smacks of both strength and vulnerability. There is a grace and beauty to Diana, and yet her fierce sense of duty never wavers.  Between Gadot’s talent and Jenkins’ direction, Wonder Woman never strays down a path that could have cheapened it.

To that end, props to Chris Pine (as Captain Steve Trevor), who never oversells himself.  He seems to understand there is something bigger going on here, and his portrayal of Trevor never impedes on Gadot.  Pine shows range with the character- sometimes frustrated, confused, or downright angry- but he’s always respectful of Diana’s role within this world.  

All of the plot devices and technicalities of filmmaking aside, the success of Wonder Woman, at least for me, lies squarely on its ability to serve as a beacon for gender equality.  And I’m of the opinion (admittedly the opinion of one white bred, middle aged dude), that this film succeeds on that front.  Every time I started to get concerned the line might get crossed- when the male hero might be called upon to save the day- Jenkins and Gadot sidestep, making sure the focus stays on Diana as hero, keeping the male characters involved but at a respectable distance that never feels unnatural. 

To that end, we male critics can comment on the basics of storytelling, or on technical merit, or character development, but I don’t feel as if we have the right to pass judgement on this film based on our experience outside of those particular contexts. It isn’t our film, guys.  We can love it or hate, but what matters is the way it lands with women who find inspiration from the main character.  What matters are the women who have felt the brunt of misaligned gender politics and look to a simple film as a step in the right direction.  What matters are women who find courage and strength in a world that doesn’t often allow them to express those traits.  What matters are the multitudes of little girls who don the warrior princess’ outfit and walk away empowered, seeing themselves as equals, seeing themselves in the same context as their male peers who sport Iron Man and Captain America gear on Halloween.  It’s really the only thing that matters here, and it’s long overdue.

Episode 061: Wonder Woman

We go for the team-up this week by calling in Andrew Dyce for this special episode on DC’s newest entry into their comic book film universe. Wonder Woman let into theaters shouldering an enormous weight as the first female-directed and led superhero movie. Not only has it garnered incredible financial success in its first weekend, but it has received overwhelming praise as something fresh, new, and necessary. We dig into the film and have a great conversation about its themes and importance to the future.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:52

(Aaron – You’re Next)
(Patrick – The Last of Us)
(Andrew – American Gods/Twin Peaks: The Return)

Wonder Woman Review – 0:21:14

The Connecting Point – 1:40:04

Contact

Download this Episode 


Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

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