Monday, March 28, 2016

"Batman v Superman" - Jerk Meets Gentleman

I don’t like Batman. I never have. Even when he was a cartoon, he was kind of unappealing to me. Superman, however, has grown on me. I’m referring to the more recent Superman films (i.e. Superman Returns, Superman). Superman’s sundry kindnesses to the children of men and his heroics that he performs for his love, Lois Lane are enough to melt any woman’s heart.

The idea of a well-bred alien superhero sparring with a brooding billionaire playboy whose enemies are all insane was a bit hard to swallow. Under what circumstances? How would two “men” like that even meet? And what on earth would cause them to engage in an epic battle? Lois Lane, I thought (I didn’t watch the trailers before I saw the movie).

Superman has a mother, a steady girlfriend and a romantic streak. Batman has nightmares and is seen in bed with an anonymous woman. He pursues Wonder Woman in a creepy way. Superman, sensing his imminent demise, bids Lois a heartfelt farewell.

The movie title, as basic as they come, could have been conceived by a 10 year old boy. A male friend of mine who is a die-hard Marvel Comics fan didn’t like the title either. Even after viewing the movie, the title still fell short because it failed to describe the “dawn of justice” since the main villain, Lex Luthor, basically got away.

As an action film, it was exciting and adventurous, with creatively designed fight and destruction scenes. I saw the 3D version and felt it was utilized very well in the opening and final scenes and the epic battle with the gorgon. There were many missed opportunities to use the 3D effect to enhance more mundane conversational scenes so I don’t recommend you spend the extra for the 3D unless you really want to.

Superman never wanted to fight Batman. Batman is the one who instigated and provoked Superman to battle, though his reasons don't make sense. One can fly; one has a cool, gadgety car. One can patrol the skies; the other the ground. What city could want more than to be monitored 24/7 against both alien attacks and regular street thugs? That is the bitter pill that is so hard to swallow. The “why”.

I get that Batman hates everyone because of his parents’ untimely death, but why blame Superman? With his superior technology, Batman should have be able to solve that crime by now anyway.

Audiences are forced to swallow that Batman hates Superman with an unrelenting, fiery rage because Superman accidentally destroyed some parts of Metropolis in order to save the entire world from Zod - an apparent criminal. Batman's hatred of Superman overrides his sense of justice against criminals. 

The numerous leaps of faith over gaping plot holes that viewers must take are humorously chronicled in this blog. Don’t ask “why”, just believe. Maybe the sequel will deliver more “aha” moments instead of “uh-uh” moments.

When the odd couple finally met, I immediately started rooting for Superman. His demeanor, character, streamlined outfit and restraint instantly out-classed Batman’s clunky, scary, cruel, meathead excess. His costume makes him look so close to the king of bats I thought he would morph into Dracula. And that basically sums up their face off – a devil vs an angel, a being from the heavens vs a critter from the depths.

These two superheroes don’t usher in any dawn of justice, more like a twilight of confusion, but most fans (females in particular, I think) would much rather have a nightly encounter with a polite alien in snug-fitting red tights, than the blackhearted, disturbed mind of Bruce Wayne. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

"Miracles From Heaven" - God, It's Good!

My Christian movie kryptonite has finally found me. With unhurried precision and thoughtfully crafted scenes and scoring, “Miracles From Heaven” undid all of my reservations about such an overtly titled movie and carried me to the brink of emotional torture and then delivered me to nirvana.

Miracles From Heaven is the first film released by Franklin Entertainment, spearheaded by preacher and former Columbia Pictures executive and author, DeVon Franklin ("The Wait", "Produced by Faith").

The action centers on a “regular” upper middle class Texan family, whose middle daughter, Annabelle, becomes violently sick with an unknown malady. When the mysterious illness is finally revealed as abdominal motility, an incurable illness, Jennifer Garner’s uncompromising portrayal of a worried, but determined mother against medical specialists with no answers is award worthy. Her frantic determination almost overshadows her dried up faith. Child actress Kylie Roger’s liquid portrayal of sickly Annabelle Beam is eerily realistic and almost unbearable to watch. When her faith slips away as her stomach pain increases, even the most cynical viewer will be reduced to a mess of sobs, tears and unanswered accusations against God.

The movie comes razor close to the perfect story and tone for the dramatic Christian movie genre. It is quite possibly the best of the batch of the pastor-church-family structured Christian films. Even the “heaven” scene, beautifully crafted with CGI, is spectacular without being a spectacle, but a “real” heaven that children and adults can visually relate to.

A noteworthy dramatic performance from Eugenia Derbez (Dr. Sam Norko), the Boston specialist who witnesses both Anna’s illness and her miraculous recovery. Queen Latifah (Angela) delivers several brief but nonstop fun scenes.

Considering that the majority of this movie takes place is several fairly monotonous settings - various hospitals, the family ranch, and in a church - the pace is very upbeat and smoothly moves the action along. The protracted, unexplained suffering of young Anna rattles your heart along a disjointed conveyor of emotions from white-hot rage to misery to hoping that she will die just to be free of her suffering.

However, the writing is on the wall is that Christian dramas are going to have to move beyond dramatizing fairly wealthy suburban people who live in large homes, enjoy financial and familial stability, and enjoy 7 course meals prepared by a housewife/mom and provided by a hard-working dad. Representing Christians as stereotypical nuclear families is almost as bad as representing us as pie-in-the-sky fanatics or not representing us at all.

Conveniently having a friendly pastor and caring church family to “balance” the family and offer timely advice would be a welcome addition to almost anyone’s life, but still does not reflect an authentic life where individuals must battle through circumstances largely on their own or with non-traditional family arrangements.

The next revolution for Christian dramas will be to trust that original fictionalized scripts can effectively spread the message of Christianity without using “case studies” as proof.

“Miracles From Heaven” is a must-see movie. Anyone who has cared for a sick friend or relative will relate to the heave-ho of the characters’ physical, emotional, and mental state. Anyone who hasn’t will be totally immersed in both Anna’s suffering and the drama of a mother’s resolute determination to get answers for her child –even from God Almighty.

Ultimately, “Miracles From Heaven” is not really about going to heaven but about bringing heaven down to earth.

Monday, February 8, 2016

"22 Years" - Short on Time, Long on Heart"

In just 16 minutes, the short film “22 Years” explores the aftermath of a question that haunts millions of adult children of divorce - “Why did Dad leave?”

Lead actress and producer Dawn Noel, delivers an emotionally convincing performance as Avi Moreno, a young waitress awaiting acceptance to law school, while grappling with her father’s sudden re-entry into her life after a 22 year absence. She still wears a chain he gave to her as a child shortly before being kicked out by her mother, who was tired of his reckless alcoholic behavior.

Avi navigates her turbulent state of mind by seeking the help of a psychiatrist (Kearran Giovanni, Major Crimes) and turning to her diverse circle of supportive friends. The action gradually progresses towards the much anticipated meeting with her father.

“22 Years” major achievement is tackling a complicated family drama head-on and yet concluding with a satisfying uplift. Avi’s emotional journey is accented by a memorable piano theme that reflects a modestly successful life, tumultuous childhood, ambitious future plans and an uncertain encounter.

Dawn Noel exhibits a very capable dramatic intelligence and range, introducing just enough emotional grit for the audience to feel her anger, frustration, and pain without coming across as starkly bitter or hopeless. She conveys a delicate, guarded hope that her life will turn out okay despite the uncertainty of how meeting with her father will affect her as depicted in the YouTube Trailer.

As with many short films, the challenge is telling a compelling story within a very unforgiving time constraint. “22 Years” delivers exceptional pace and keeps the audience interested with good rising action. However the low light, possibly intended to reflect the mood, created a shade effect making it difficult to see in some scenes. There was excessive camera shake that could have been reserved for the most dramatic moments instead of liberally inserted in nearly every scene.

“22 Years” delicately pulls your heart strings through a touchy emotional journey. A strong lead and well-rounded supporting cast deliver unrushed, down to earth performances showing how the pain of abandonment can lead to a much more fulfilling acceptance.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

12 Reasons Why Supergirl’s Costume Will Never Make the Cover of Vogue

Primary colors were officially banned during the 1981 Fashion Week recovery from the 1970’s. Actually that never happened, but the fact that no one (except politicians) ever wears red and blue together (except at Halloween) gives a clue about how designers feel about bold on bold. Red and blue crayons are not even next to each other in the 8 piece box of Crayolas.

I wasn’t expecting Supergirl to get a costume. After all, this is the year 2015, and what the average female heroine wears has been dramatically reimagined and re-styled (i.e. Cinderella, Frozen). Also, it’s a network tv show, not a feature film so the “signature” costume had become irrelevant in my mind.

Original image credit. (

But when Kara suddenly starting modeling a montage of costumes in front of her co-worker, Winn (not a designer or engineer), I was expecting an outfit for the ages, but was disappointed that she only ended up with one that screams, “Meh.” It was just one thread short of starting a trend.

12. It’s not seasonal. Even if red and blue were allowed to be worn together, Supergirl still needs her colors to reflect the seasons. For instance,
Winter = santasuit red and blue/green evergreen,
Spring = poppy and robin’s egg,
Summer = red rose and aqua
Fall= burgundy and navy.

11. It’s overstated. Her costume yells, “SUPERHERO”, instead of “Sophisticated Female Alien from 2,000 Light Years Away”. Our clothes tell a story. Hers should tell who she is and where’s she’s from. Kara comes from a royal family and lives in an incredible loft, so why should her costume reflect Halloween instead of Chelsea?

10. It has a cape. As Edna Mode, the superhero costume designer from the Incredibles quipped, “No capes!” Or at least make it reversible two-toned, a sheer cape, or add a lace overlay for that “invisible” look and for evening heroics.

9. That skirt length. I have a feeling that a man (not from the wardrobe department), couldn’t resist taking that hemline up as far as it could go on pretty Melissa Benoist. But extreme minis are terribly outdated. I would have preferred a romper look to suggest a little fashion modesty.

8. Long sleeves and short skirts don’t work.

7. No jewelry? Every Supergirl needs shiny accessories to complete the look. She doesn’t even own a large face watch.

6. They took away her glasses. Of all the times not to have a pair of stylish frames! I know she has laser vision but her specs are spectacular and add a bit of Warby Parker-esque, smarty-pants polish to her ensemble.

5. Pantyhose! Women stopped wearing hose a while back because they're uncomfortable and kept running whether you paid $0.99 or $19.99. Hose are thin, difficult to get on (and out of when you have to pee). Let’s liberate Supergirl’s legs!

4. Tall boots are well…They’re nice, but an ankle boot enhances the rest of the leg instead of hiding it. The girl is bulletproof so there’s no danger of getting her leg nicked. Pair with footless leggings and she's up, up and away!

3. The neckline. Wow, she wears a round-necked blouse. I didn’t know women still wore those. A more modern neckline teases with the slightest show of clavicle before plunging downward (without risking a wardrobe malfunction).

2. It’s not futuristic enough. A superheroine of the 21st century ought to have clothes that instantly change themselves. Why should she be bound by an immutable fashion law of putting one pants leg on at a time? I think Supergirl’s costume should instantly morph based on her mood like a cuttlefish.

1. Ralph Lauren didn’t design it. Neither did any other major designer. A star like Supergirl would instantly attract the attention of the 5th Avenue fashion houses. She shouldn’t be forced to piece her wardrobe together like Cinderella and those poor-overworked mice.

I don’t expect Supergirl to wear haute couture; I wouldn’t mind, but personally, I’m all about pret-a-porter. If Supergirl had to buy her costume from Zara or H&M, what would she pick?

I realize that the point of her costume is to hide her identity, but the audience was forced to believe that only one blurry image of Supergirl was captured on a crowded plane full of HD smartphones. I think we can suspend reality again. After all, she didn’t need a costume to save the plane so why can’t she switch up her clothes or go sans costume every once in a while?

The rest of Kara’s wardrobe choices are shop-worthy despite the stinging insult of her boss, Cat, about her “cheap pants.” But how could the superficial editor not notice Supergirl’s costume?  It’s difficult to accept that a character who wears designer clothes wouldn’t instantlly notice Supergirl’s threads.

The new Supergirl costume is a definite upgrade but a few changes are still needed.

Friday, October 2, 2015

"The Martian" - Too Much Pseudoscience, Not Enough Sci-Fi

**Spoiler alert**

Growing potatoes from human poop is a recurring punchline in this movie. But that's nothing compared to making your own water or being "caught" by a fellow astronaut after hurling yourself into outer space in a windowless craft (thank God for plastic and duct tape). But The Martian specializes in stretching all possibilities and hopes of life on Mars to the farthest reaches of the universe.

Matt Damon plays abandoned botanist/astronaut Mark Watney who is beaned with debris as he and his team are preparing to leave Mars after a joke-filled mission. As his unconscious body hurtles across the Martian landscape, one of the Nasa crew asks, "how long can he survive exposure?" The reply is less than a minute. Having no other choice, the crew boards their ship and leaves their beloved friend behind.

More silly questions that one would expect any astronaut to know and absurd "man on the moon" scenarios follow. A young NASA employee figures out the best way to bring Mark back from Mars all by himself without the help of the highly paid and much more senior and, presumably, more intelligent staff.

Initially there are several "crucifix" references (an obvious dig at the Christian movie lobby) when he realizes the dire state of his predicament but are abandoned shortly thereafter as Mark becomes the master of his own fate, presumably, unless the interpretation was that Jesus was some sort of alien.

Mark immediately becomes antagonistic towards Mars for some reason and becomes determined to thwart the evil planet by becoming an organic eco-farmer. He creates his own self-sustaining life pod with water and detailed calculations about how long his food and heat sources will last.

While his streak of Martian good luck holds out, back on Earth Nasa is deciding what to do. The moment of crisis comes in deciding whether to tell his crew, en route from Mars, that he is still alive. This is where I got stuck. I just didn't feel the urgency or buy in to the need to save this guy or for that matter feel vested in his death or survival. He was just so doggone self sufficient.

Eventually disaster strikes and his homemade farm blows up and he has to start from scratch. P.S. You will literally see Matt Damon shrink from beefy size XXL to an emaciated XXS, though I don't recommend it.

Obviously I've left out quite a few details, but I just didn't feel that this movie about Mars made me feel differently or interested in the red (dead) planet. The movie felt more like Martian propaganda about how much could be done if only the planet could be properly explored, if only the feds would give NASA more money. Okay, wish granted.

Making a space movie without aliens was risky enough and quite foolish. Mark is only in the same kind of danger as he would be in Death Valley or the woods - starvation or exposure. As far as "man against the world" movies, "Castaway" drew me in much deeper to the dark and lonely world of being abandoned on foreign soil. I think I felt more empathy for Optimus Prime than Mark Watney.

So should you see "The Martian?"

If you like a drawn out movie primarily about space and science, Yes. If you want excitement and at least one man-eating alien, No. I saw this movie in 3D, but there really is no reason to do that because there's not enough deep space action to warrant the price mark up.

"The Martian" is a film that wants to sell the excitement of S.T.E.M. and space to the masses but in the end, it was just too spacey for me.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

"WAR ROOM" Urges Wives, Women to Hunker Down

War Room is the latest Christian movie to target the husband-wife dynamic. Paralleling marriage with a secret inner chamber for military strategizing stretches the artistic license a bit, but the Kendrick brothers manage to tone down the war analogies enough to create an emotionally layered movie with credible characters and a spiritual gender bend with women at the core.

The plot revolves around the increasingly bitter relationship between a busy upper middle class couple, Elizabeth and Tony Jordan. Elizabeth is a real estate agent and her husband is a successful pharmaceutical salesman. They have reached that point of stalemate where every encounter is a bitter argument and divorce is imminent. Actor T.C. Stallings plays the dissatisfied husband to Priscilla Shirer’s miserable wife. Some will be familiar with Shirer’s insightful "Jonah: Navigating A Life Interrupted" Bible teaching series a few years back.

Due to Tony’s busy work schedule, he has grown distant from his wife and 10 year old daughter and often takes out his impatience on them.  Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s latest client, Miss Clara, interferes in her life insisting that she turn to prayer for help with her husband.

Actress Karen Abercrombie, playing the elderly Miss Clara, steals every scene. She could have easily portrayed the character as a stereotypical kindly, but meddling older woman. Instead she created an authentic emotional personality of a feisty senior citizen who has lived a long time and has an interesting story to share. Her scenes garnered laughter and applause from the audience each and every time she appeared on the screen.

Miss Clara urges Elizabeth to fight for her marriage through prayer and by supporting her cheating husband. No feminist tome this is. It’s an obvious and frankly, encouraging look at what might be if perhaps more women (i.e. wives) took this route. The fact that the woman is put in the position of having to yield first will not sit well with all Christian women, some of whom are still fighting for positions of equal power in some denominations.

Elizabeth is alone in most of the scenes, so I think it is fair to say that the filmmakers’ view the burden of responsibility for a happy home as the main job of the wife.  There are quite a few scenes with her constantly making dinner and being almost solely responsible for her daughter.
Reluctantly, Elizabeth re-establishes her personal prayer life and determines to treat her husband with respect and love in spite of his philandering ways. She finds herself growing spiritually ad personally stronger and regaining her own sense of self.

While the means by which Elizabeth achieves this is slightly hyperbolic (it is a movie after all), it will make many women in difficult relationships bite their lips as unhappy memories surface. This type of film is designed to corner the viewer into facing themselves and ultimately facing God about their personal foibles that they often blame on God.

Meanwhile Elizabeth’s husband teeters on the brink of full-fledged adultery and is eventually exposed as a very dishonest salesman. As his sins finally catch up to him, he is fired and has to turn back to the wife that he despised. After discovering his wife’s “war room” covered in written prayers for him (like a personal Wailing Wall) he realizes the error of his ways and in a tearful breakdown, begs Jesus for forgiveness.

Some critics have lambasted the film for its overt sermonizing, but it was to be expected. “War of the Roses” freely used hyperbole in the escalating violent verbal battles and ultimately murderous finale between a divorcing couple over their large house. I think some critics may still not get that audiences are demanding a more personal lens on the lives they actually live and not the “Hollywood-ized” version and no one is demanding louder than Christian audiences. I didn’t take this movie as a conversion piece – I accepted it more as a forgiveness and reconciliation piece. Hoping against hope. Moving forward instead of wallowing in regret.

There are quite a few outstanding emotional and spiritual scenes. The actors really put their hearts into these pivotal scenes. At first I thought the movie would be a slow paced, sugary suburban “happily ever after” Bible belt bedtime story. But I came away feeling that the movie did show a more authentic anger between a husband and wife than some other Christian movies have been comfortable showing. Key performances are contributed by Michael, Jr., who delivers a hilarious and grounding presence as Tony’s best friend and child actress Alena Pitts, who plays the cute Double Dutch jumping daughter of Tony and Elizabeth.

The film is not without its faults. The story could have been a little tighter and there were too many gratuitous “convenience” moments like a mugging and text message about cheating husband that added melodrama without adding depth or character development. I also noticed some technical errors like camera shake. I can’t be certain if the technique was purposely used to try and convey a sense of drama but I could have done without it.

Ultimately, War Room fulfills a multipurpose function. Undoubtedly it will be used as a relationship building tool in Marriage Ministry classes across the country, demographically, it will serve as a departure from Christian films that have focused almost exclusively on the rightful place of the white Christian male, and spiritually it offers a much more up to the minute view of the current state of the Christian home – the real life war room.

Monday, September 14, 2015

"Madea On the Run" Takes Off With Audience Laughter and Appreciation (Spoiler Alert)

My first live Tyler Perry play and I am still smiling. "Madea on the Run", Perry's 14th staged play (according to performed at Hartford's famed Bushnell Theater September 11th and 12th, opened with a very exciting video montage of all of Mr. Perry's movies, plays, and tv shows. He later remarked joyfully that he was in the twentieth year of his long entertainment career.

Since my birthday fell on the weekend of the performance, I felt especially blessed and excited to attend. I have seen other Tyler Perry plays on video and had been looking forward to being part of the "TP play movement" since Hartford was announced as a date. I have long been an ardent Tyler Perry movie fan, however his "play groupies" exhibit an almost rabid affection that approaches Holy

The story of "Madea on the Run" has almost nothing to do with Madea running (from the police again) and centers on Aunt Bam's adult daughter and her two grandaughters, who are treated very differently. In essence, it is a Cinderella story. Madea dramatically rushes into her first scene amid police lights and a robust welcome from the audience, but her "getaway" is not focused on at all. Instead she once again fills the role as the aggressive and overbearing voice of reason in a dysfunctional family.

The action moves very quickly but the story is not difficult to follow nor is it intended to be. A bitter "boomerang" divorcee favors one daughter over another. However, the daughter she loves more is a liar and is dating an abusive drug addict. Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis) provides comic relief with frequent references to her compulsive "scription" marijuana smoking. Adultery, shopping addiction, and "blind" parenting advance the major theme that emotional healing is needed to overcome generational and personal dysfunction.

The first act is dialogue heavy, while the second act is filled to overflow with songs - all executed to pitch perfect standards. Most of the cast was new to me,except Mr. Perry and Ms. Davis. After reading the $5 collectible program, I discovered that several of the actors had performed in previous Perry plays. All are experienced singers and performers with numerous accolades. Perry has a talent for choosing wonderful stage actors with pristine studio quality singing voices and with the same fully realized vocal range as any Broadway singer.

Truthfully, Perry was the real star, literally standing head and shoulders above all the others, evidenced by the deafening welcome he received as his signature character and by the thunderous ovation he received at the close of the production. There was enough applause for two or three curtain calls.

However, Mr. Perry clearly enjoyed himself throughout the play and frequently interjected quips towards the crowd, poking fun at those unlucky people sitting in Orchestra and calling out well-known hot spots in Hartford.

The house was packed. Prime lower level seating looked completely full from my vantage point. In addition, both Parterre Boxes were also filled, showing that Perry's audience is not amiss to spending $100+ to be entertained for an evening. Front and Rear Balcony received a sizable number of guests (and a nod from Mr. Perry at the end) but was no where near filled to capacity, suggesting that Perry's core audience are the higher spending individuals.

The main and sole set was designed as a gorgeous two-story Craftsman home, a very popular style in Atlanta. Behind the scenes "set up" photos are included in the program as well. Most of the action takes place in the house, though one of the "rooms" in the house wasn't used at all. A few token scenes take place in the attached "garage" and "sidewalk". A bit more set movement would have been appreciated.

There were too many truly funny moments to count. Gut blasting laughter resounded throughout the theater, at times canceling out the actors' voices. Perry did his best to unseat his actors with ad libs, directing hints, and other "unscripted" behavior that make his "Madea" plays the audience favorites that they are.

Perry wasn't shy about acting as judge/jury/counselor or whatever other "voice" he chose. Actually, he frequently shifted his vocal range from Madea's nasal soprano to his real, octaves deep baritone adding to Madea's bizarre and larger than life presence. The audience loved it. His flexibility as a stage actor often goes under-appreciated, but he blithely maneuvered his large frame around a fairly packed set and petite actors.

Capping a very enjoyable evening, Mr. Perry exhibited authentic gratitude towards his audience which elicited rowdy shouts of devotion from the Orchestra section and tons of affectionate and ecstatic "whoots" coming from every direction and resonating well in the excellent acoustics of the Bushnell's Mortensen Hall.

There was nothing embattled or embittered about Mr. Perry's performance, which frequently makes glib asides to some of his personal struggles and current events. He performed like a seasoned performer, totally comfortable in his stride and at ease with the many fans and supporters who braved a rainy Connecticut evening for a hilarious play and the chance to "run" with Tyler Perry for a night.

Madea is still on the run around the country. Get your tickets for upcoming performances in Atlanta Oakland and other cities through this Ticketmaster link.