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“DAREDEVIL” Review (✫✫✫)

What is the man without fear afraid of?  

We open on a still, quiet shot, a haunting frame of a rat walking over a pool of blood dripping in front of a church.  As we pan up the window frame, with quick flashbacks cutting in and out as the music crescendos, we reach the top, helicopter spotlights shining on a wounded man in a devil costume grasping onto the holy cross.  This is easily the film’s master shot, and its influence quite possibly lasts throughout the rest of the film, even if nothing else ever comes to live up with this establishing shot.

The man we are looking at is Daredevil, and unless you read the comics, you would never have guessed that he’s blind. Growing up as a young boy in Hell’s Kitchen, Matthew Murdock (Ben Affleck) was the son of former boxer Jack “The Devil” Murdock (David Keith), nicknamed for his brutal fighting style towards his opponents. One day while skating past a construction site, Matt got in the way of a truck carrying barrels of radioactive chemicals when a bar suddenly punctures the metal, spilling the lethal chemical into young Matt’s eyes.

He lost his vision, but what he gained changed him forever. When he woke up in a hospital bed the next day, all of his senses were enhanced to superhuman levels. He could feel the fabrics of his eye bandages without even touching them. He could smell the aroma of bleach permeating off of the tiles in the hallway outside of his room. He could hear the sound of construction work, the cars beeping and the heartbeats of other human beings from miles away. But most impressively, his sense of sound gave him a “radar sense”, allowing him to form images of the people and things that he saw in front of him. He wasn’t just a boy any longer: he became a living sonar.

After witnessing the death of his father (I guess “hearing” his death if you want to get technical), Matt vows to never be afraid of the things he can’t see. To find the killer and bring him to justice. To seek justice, one way or another. To become Daredevil.

Here is a film that has an irresistible sense of style, a movie that takes us through its lavish stunts, choreography, and fight sequences and makes them exhilarating to sit through. It is really exciting, seeing these characters pulling off these crazy, mind-blowing leaps and bounds over buildings, in bars, and on rooftops as they fight each other with lightning-quick movements, attacks and reflexes. It’s even more fascinating seeing it from Daredevil’s perspective, watching bullets fly past him while he slides on railing, flips over tables, and knocks criminals out with his staff and nunchuks. Most would probably view these scenes as silly or preposterous, with characters flying from building to building as if they were in The Matrix. My response? I don’t really care. The fight scenes are choreographed and filmed in a very specific way to where its enjoyable, almost as if the laws of physics don’t matter in a movie like this. You more or less watch it for the joy of seeing the sensational effects rather than criticizing how preposterous and unrealistic it looks.

Oh yes, the action is excellent. Compared to the action, the performances are… inconsistent. Not bad, mind you, just inconsistent, and not all of it is entirely the actors fault. Affleck at least does a good job to keep us interested in between the sensational fight scenes, and even offers some very nice emotional moments where his character experiences both fear and vulnerability. Michael Clarke Duncan, most known as the pure-hearted and innocent miracle-maker in The Green Mile plays here the antonym of that role, a kingpin so foul and villanous that its shocking to see him make the transition. The highlight performance is in breakout actor Collin Ferrel as a hitman named Bullseye, and his presence on the screen is infectious. He is terrifying, his motions, speech and mannerisms forming this character who is so set on making his jobs perfect that he will kill anyone that makes him do something as simple as missing. He is mortifying, and definitely not the kind of guy you want to sit next to on a plane. The only actress I didn’t care much for in this movie was Jennifer Garner, who played a love interest of Matt’s named Elektra, but we’ll get a more into that in a bit.

For simple entertainment, the movie is acceptable. The fight scenes are great, the actors are fitting in their roles and the story advances in a form of pulpy comic book violence, the kind you expect to see when you open a Frank Miller comic and see two superhuman acrobats fighting all over the page.

The problems don’t start at the fight scenes or in its cast: they start at the hands of writer-director Mark Steven Johnson, and that’s a problem because those are two areas that should be the strongest in any film. Johnson, who directed the critically-favorable Simon Birch before this obviously has his “rookie” cap on because the film is so lopsided. It’s so freakingly inconsistent, so much so to the point where I can name an equal number of scenes that I liked side-by-side with the scenes that I disliked.

Do I really need to write out a list? The script switches from serious to silly. So does the acting. The tone can’t decide whether it wants to be dark and dreary or smirking and tongue-in-cheek. I mentioned early in this review that we were introduced with a dark, mesmerizing shot that hooked our attention to the screen. Would you take this movie just as seriously, however, if I told you that there was scene later in the movie where blind lawyer Matt Murdock was kung-fu-fighting against Elektra at a children’s park in broad daylight in public? Probably not, no.

Look, in the eyes of a critic (and I’m not talking about myself), this movie failed. The tone is off-beat, the acting is off-kilter, the scripting is inconsistent, and on that note, so are the visuals. And yet here I stand, giving this movie a marginal positive rating.  Why?  Because I liked it, that’s why. Because I sat down, looked at the movie, compared the good side-by-side with the bad, and ultimately, the good won me over.

I know that won’t be the same case for other viewers, and others are likely to hate the movie for its silliness, for its half-completed visuals, for its inconsistent scripting, filming, editing, and even acting. That’s fine. Different movies appeal to different tastes, and Daredevil won’t appeal to all of them. In the genre of superhero movies, there are many obviously superior to this one,  including the recently-released Spider-man and X-men movies.  If we are going to admit what it is worse than, however, let’s not be forget that Batman and Robin and Howard The Duck also exists. No, that last one was not a typo.

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“WATCHMEN” Review (✫✫)

Bad content, bad timing, and a bad comedian, all five minutes before midnight.   

Watchmen is a misguided and misunderstood film, a movie that will sharply divide the fans for both the original graphic novel and fans of the superhero movie sub genre, period.  On one hand, what we have here is compelling superhero drama.  The characters are fleshed out, their motivations are clearly understood, and we’re rooting for a few of them once we understand that their intentions are pure.  For everyone else, however, we grow to despise their character arc, we become annoyed with their conventions, and some characters are just downright despicable.  And how come some of them aren’t even wearing pants?  Didn’t they know jeans were invented way back in 1873?

Watchmen is based around the graphic novel of the same name by artist Dave Gibbons and writer Alan Moore (who demanded his name be left completely out of the credits, convinced that a movie adaptation of his novel was impossible).  Both the graphic novel and the film adaptation surrounds a group of retired superheroes called “The Watchmen” who are brought out of retirement when they learn that one of their own has been murdered by being thrown out of his own the window and landing on the concrete pavement, his blood staining the smiley pin on his jacket.

The one who has been murdered is Edward Blake, aka “The Comedian” (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).  The first Watchman to learn of Blake’s murder is a fedora-wearing culprit known as Rorschach (Jackie Eerie Haley), who wears a ink-blot shape-shifting mask which makes his name appropriate.  He develops a theory that someone is gunning for masked heroes, so he sets out to warn his other fellow watchmen: Dan Dreiberg (Patrick Wilson), aka a Batman rip-off called Night Owl, Sally Jupiter (Malin Akerman) aka Silk Spectre, Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode) aka Ozymandias, to whom his secret identity is known to the world, and John Osterman, aka Doctor Manhattan (Billy Crudrup), who is the only one with super powers, apparently being able to conduct anything his mind can imagine.

Here is a movie that is, at parts, a compelling character study and a fascinating crime drama.  That is because unlike other action movies, Watchmen is based heavily on character and story, not relentless action and CGI.  The film delves deep into the histories and origins of each individual watchman, and while at times the exposition may be drawn out and a bit boring, the rest of the time it is undeniably gripping and attentive.

Cudrup was ghastly and stoic as Doctor Manhattan, a man slowly losing his humanity but doesn’t know what to quite do about it.  Malin Akerman had a sort of spunk and wit to her as Laurie Jupiter, and in one emotionally stirring moment we experience all of her dread and desperation through her cries of anguish and defeat.  I especially liked Jackie Earle Haley as the cold, calculated, and unforgiving vigilante known as Rorschach.  I think he is the most fascinating character out of the bunch.  He has a rashness, a raspy, hurt, and pained voice behind his every narration, and we can tell that this is man who has had a pained past.  I would have hoped that the movie would delve deeper into his past than it did, but that’s besides the point.  Haley is so intimidating in his performance, the alternate title for this movie could have been called Watchmen: The Journal of Rorschach.

There are parts of this movie that are undeniably surreal and fascinating.  For the rest of the movie, however, the emotion and the mythology becomes redundant, and we lose interest because of its slow pacing and its drawn-out monologue.  This surprises me, because the director is Zack Snyder, and he is the same man who made the the visually and emotionally appealing 300 prior to this.  How is it that he goes from the provocative, epic, and entertaining veins of 300 to something as drawn-out and overly-philosophical as this?

Part of this, I think, has to be his dependency on the original comic.  One of his tactics when filming 300 was using the original graphic novel as both the storyboard and script for the production.  He has been reported to have used that same tactic here for Watchmen, with a few minor edits of the script by screenwriters David Hayater and Alex Tse.  How could this tactic work for 300 and yet backfire on him for Watchmen?  Simple: the answer lies with the page length.  300 had a total of 88 pages, while Watchmen had a total of 416.  Surely, Zack Snyder must’ve thought at some point he’d lose his audience with the overuse of exposition?

Whether he thought about it or not, he went through with it anyways: what we have here is a note-for-note, page-by-page adaptation that copies its story as simple as a copy-and-paste edit on Microsoft word.  For that, he loses points for unoriginality and innovation.

I feel like I’m watching two different movies here: two halves of one whole.  One half of the movie is dark and mesmerizing, is well acted, emotional and motivated, and sports plenty of visually beauitful scenes at the helm of the film’s director, Zack Snyder.

The other half of this movie is filled with content so bleak, graphic, and unnecessary that I’m shocked Zack Snyder didn’t turn it into a porno.  Maybe he did and we don’t even know it: Doctor Manhattan is naked through more than half of the film (and yes, we see every angle of his shining blue huevos), there’s an overly-prolonged sex scene between Night Owl and Silk Spectre, and you could have cut half of the Comedian’s scenes in the movie and make him more appealing to the audience.  Seriously: someone explain to me how having a guy rape a woman and then shoot another he impregnated supposed to make him a sympathetic figure?

Someone in theory could make an opposing argument by saying “But David!  That was in the comic book!”  Yes, but should that have been in the comic book, let alone in the movie?  I’ll answer that for you: No.  It shouldn’t have.  If it doesn’t advance story or define character, then what was the point for having it in there in the first place?  If the superhero genre is a big, beaming smiley face, Watchmen is the blood stain covering the eyelid: distracting, unsettling, and unnecessary.

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