Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition
Directed by Zack Snyder | Written by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer | 182 min | on iTunes
We’ve all seen a Director’s Cut. Unless your name is Michael Mann or James Cameron, it’s safe to say it’s a bad idea. Even then, I can count the times on one hand where the Director’s or the Extended or even the Uncut version has improved the film.
So, imagine my surprise when the Ultimate Edition of BvS turned out to be, if not a revelation, a genuine improvement over the theatrical version, a film that with the added running time earns some of the excesses in the third act. (From here on there will be spoilers.)
Most, if not all the added content comes in the first two thirds of the film. This is the part of the film that feels most like a thriller—the narrative driver of Bruce Wayne’s (Ben Affleck) growing interest in what’s happening over in Metropolis with the flying Kryptonian, and the movement of a green gem into the area, despite the wishes of Senator Jane Finch (Holly Hunter). There’s a conspiracy here, and a lot more time is given to Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and her efforts to uncover the origins of a bullet she took home with her from Africa. The time given to that plot thread allows for a slowly building foundation for what comes later. It balances out the action, revealing in much more detail the complexity of Lex Luthor’s (Jesse Eisenberg) machinations, as well as Lane’s skills as a dogged reporter. It gives more time and plausibility for Wayne to get drawn into Luthor’s trap, and makes his obsession with bringing down Superman (Henry Cavill) a little more understandable.
Yes, the plot pivoting on the coincidence of the heroes’ mothers’ name is still poorly executed—though it must’ve seemed clever on the page—and Batman still comes over to Superman’s side far too quickly, given his slow build-up of murderous rage. There’s also still all the useless complications around the kryptonite spear lost in a puddle, and the irritating CGI monster, Doomsday, and as clumsy a coda as I can remember seeing. As I mentioned in my original review, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is the best part of the film, and I, for one, really dig her theme song.
But anyone who has the patience to sit through a three-hour version of the picture will find much more to enjoy in it. The original felt both rushed and awkward, whereas now, with more of the subplots given time to breathe, it just feels a little awkward.
Directed by Michael Grandage | Written by John Logan, adapting a book by A. Scott Berg | 104 min | On iTunes
Cinematizing the sweat of editing a novel is a hell of a task for any filmmaker, and credit should go to Grandage and Logan for taking a crack at it. This film struggles mightily to get to the juice of the relationship between literary giant Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law) and his long-suffering editor at Scribner’s, Maxwell Perkins (Colin Firth), the production design vividly recreating 1920s New York: the writers, the creased suits, and ever-present cigarettes. But something’s off.
It’s partly in the casting. Aside from the painfully underutilized Laura Linney—as Perkins’ wife, Louise—all the lead roles are played by Brits and Aussies. I’m no xenophobe, but it feels a little perverse in a story about three American men of letters. Firth’s fine, though his inability to take off his fedora is a little weird. Law chews the scenery, but we don’t really connect to his Wolfe. Same with Nicole Kidman as Aline Bernstein, the married woman with whom Wolfe had an affair while he wrote his first couple of novels. Dominic West in a walk-on as Ernest Hemingway is just a distraction.
Only Guy Pearce really distinguishes himself in a handful of scenes as Fitzgerald, yesterday’s genius laid low in Wolfe’s shadow. But it’s not enough to feel like we’re really in the hearts, soul, or pleated pants of these characters. Yes, a little more sex could really liven these stodgy dramas up a bit. It’s the strangest thing: A movie about writers and editors that feels more like theatre. And it’s not that there’s anything wrong with the stage, but this isn’t a show that’ll linger long in the memory.
Elvis & Nixon
Directed by Liza Johnson | Written by Joey Sagal, Hanala Sagal and Cary Elwes | 86 min | On iTunes
This is a delightfully strange tale, one made only stranger by the realization that it actually happened.
In December 1970, Elvis Presley met Richard Nixon in the Oval Office, resulting in a very famous and popular photo of The King and the 37th President of the United States. Presley wanted to be an undercover agent, an agent-at-large, because he was concerned about the wellbeing of America’s youth. He thought all those drugs, Beatles tunes, and civil rights were ruining the country, or so the story goes.
Michael Shannon is Elvis. He may seem an odd choice for the role, so tall and lanky. And, typical of Shannon, he can’t help but seem slightly threatening, as if he might explode into violence at any time. But with the help of the wardrobe, and the moves, he slowly convinces as Alien Elvis, as if he’d been duplicated by an extraterrestrial body snatcher. I never saw Christopher Walken’s Elvis—he essayed the role on stage in the production Him—but I bet it was something like this. Kevin Spacey’s Nixon is easier to swallow. His take is more an impersonation, but a very convincing one.
The film is as much about the men serving at the feet of The King and The President as it is about this legendary meeting. Working for Nixon are his handlers Krogh (Colin Hanks) and Chapin (Evan Peters), and for Elvis we get Sonny (Johnny Knoxville) and Jerry (Alex Pettyfer). The film tries to work in a little drama around Jerry’s need to live his own life in Los Angeles and his true friendship with the man he calls “E”—like this is a retro Entourage or something—but none of that really registers. The film is most fun following Elvis around as people react to him in his rock star loneliness.
Elvis & Nixon is breezy and fun, with a terrific soul and R&B soundtrack, though obviously this take on Elvis wasn’t approved by his estate—you’ll have to look elsewhere if you want to hear his music.
Written and Directed by Patrick Brice | 81 min | On iTunes
Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling) are young marrieds with a kid who’ve recently moved to Los Angeles and are keen to make new friends. A hipster couple they meet on a playground, Kurt (Jason Schwartzman) and Charlotte (Judith Godreche), invites them over for dinner that evening, which leads to interesting revelations about their sex lives, art, and parenting.
Like a comedic version of The Invitation, the films pushes the mystery of the hipster couple’s actual intent, and there’s a lot to enjoy in the moments of awkward, artsy LA behaviour. At times it feels like those moments could only happen between people in that city, or maybe in a broad version that only exists on screen, but the film sets up implausibilities that don’t mesh with the its scrappy indie aesthetic. If it’s a satire, it doesn’t go far enough, but as a social study it’s frequently beyond belief.
It does cheerily explore the couples’ sexual relationships and body issues in potently immodest ways. You can look forward to at least one delightful scene of full-frontal nudity, and wonder whether that is actually Schwartzman’s penis. (I’m in no position to comment.)
Directed by Lynn Shelton | Written by Andrea Seigel | 99 min | On iTunes
Lynn Shelton is the filmmaker responsible for Hump Day, the excellent Your Sister’s Sister and the less excellent Touchy Feely. Laggies, while it might be introducing some fresh slang into the culture, doesn’t quite achieve the high point of Your Sister’s Sister, but an overall sweetness and a few winning performances make it worth a look.
Meg (Keira Knightley) is in crisis: Her doting boyfriend, Anthony (Mark Webber), has proposed, her beloved father (Jeff Garlin) is having an affair, and her high school friends (including Ellie Kemper) are getting weird. She needs a break, so hides out at the home of her new teenaged pal, Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz), and Annika’s divorcee father, Craig (Sam Rockwell).
This doesn’t start that well: It’s hard to believe Meg was ever close to her uptight friends given their senses of humour don’t jibe. Anthony is telegraphed from the get-go as a milquetoast Mr Wrong, and the way Meg and Annika connect is painfully contrived. But one of Shelton’s gifts is an ease with actors, and even though she didn’t write this script, her skill in telling this kind of story—you could call it a domestic romantic comedy—carries the entire enterprise. The weirdness of Meg’s comfort with kids 10 years her junior is directly addressed, and Knightley nicely delivers Meg’s mix of awkward, endearing, and sexy. Rockwell may be the MVP here, however. He dials down is natural fidgety energy to play it smooth and runs away with every scene he’s in.