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Justice League: The Snyder Cut – Review

Anyone who knows me, knows I’m a sucker for a great superhero movie, but I’ve always had mixed feelings about Zack Snyder. I loved the dark brooding of Watchmen, found it worked fairly well with Man Of Steel, but by the time we got to the bizarrely cut and overwrought Batman Versus Superman, I was very much in two minds about his films.

The counterpoint to that dark, brooding DC Universe of Snyder, and of the nihilistic and frankly depressing Batman trilogy was Wonder Woman, which pointed the whole franchise in a new direction. It succeeded in being a critical success and a box office hit, which the strangely cut deeply flawed Suicide Squad managed only half of.

Snyder has a habit of making grandiose gestures. His notes and techniques include the extreme macro lensed close-up shot, the focusing on the apparently inconsequential detail to stand for the whole scene, the dark and contrasty action sequence shot in slow motion and a few other trademarks which make parody of his style all too easy.

With this in mind – the grinding grimness of the DC franchise and the success of Wonder Woman, the executives at DC used personal tragedy in Snyder’s private life to take his final movie in the Superman trilogy away from him and hand it over to Joss Whedon to give it a more Avengersy, quirky sensibility.

Now I look back on it, I can see that the resulting 2017 Justice League was a disaster. My review at the time tried to be upbeat, because the film was at least an attempt at being upbeat – yet the fact that I focused less on the movie and more on people talking in the theatre is telling. Neither fish nor fowl, it doesn’t stand comparison with the Snyder Cut. The movie didn’t allow enough space or time for its characters to evolve and peppered the story with inappropriate notes – stupid petty arguments between Diana Prince and Bruce Wayne. The villain, Steppenwolf, was a 2D cipher whose motives and inner life were as solid as the CGI code he was obviously made from, and the resurrection of Superman was rushed and unconvincing. This knocked on to the final action sequence which was essentially the Avengers rehashed, but with less panache. Overall, the academically recognised word for it is Yeuk.

In fact, it was so far removed from the trailers, with nearly all the previewed key scenes absent that I nearly asked for my money back for misselling.

And so I had both high and low hopes for The Snyder Cut that fans had called for with their social media campaign #ReleaseTheSnyderCut. Surely, it had to be better than the Whedon version… but really, that wasn’t saying much. And would it have the weird haste of BvS or the downbeat feel of Man Of Steel?

With this movie it’s clear that Snyder has been given free rein to do exactly what he wants and to realise his vision fully. And his vision is grand indeed.

Some have called the long slow build-up to this movie boring. And let’s face it, at 4 hours long, it could be a valid point. But that only comes from not committing to the movie in its entirety. When you settle in, knowing you’re getting a full four hours to unwind an emotionally rich and varied story, then it’s allowed to have moments of brooding.

And brooding it has in spades. But unlike the Snyder Cut’s predecessors, it also has great moments of humour. Barry Allen is a treat: whacky, brilliantly nerdy and at times hilarious. Occasional scenes between Gal Gadot’s Diana and Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne imply embarrassment at Bruce’s awkwardness – and humour at it. Alfred, played by Jeremy Irons is hilarious in his grim primness and his desire to control everything under his purview, down to the brewing of a cup of tea by the Themysciran goddess. Jason Mamoa’s Aquaman is genuinely funny in his ribbing of Wayne.

The reality is, the pace of the first section is the same sort of set-up you get in a film like The Longest Day (3 hours), as war preparations are made. And it is not short of action by any means – it’s simply that Snyder’s style uses the rhythm of the story-telling to allow the viewer to take breaths between action scenes and to build tension. It is most definitely not boring.

Some of my complaints about the Whedon Justice League are resolved in this movie. Observations that the Amazons are too weak against Steppenwolf are answered by a much extended Themyscira scene that sees the immortal women fighters putting up a much greater resistance to the alien encroachment. And but for the arrival of the cavalry three seconds too late, it literally could have gone either way. This is also true of Superman, who sits out most of this film, while the balance of powers between the heroes in the final sequence is much better done in this version.

The movie has its peculiarities. The oddest thing to get used to is the 4:3 aspect, which makes it reminiscent of old 1920s movies in some ways, or like watching an old 1970s tv show, rather than the widescreen one associates with these grand over-the-top, almost operatic films. It’s still something that seems strange – especially to someone who has gone to the bother of setting up a cinema in his office to get the full widescreen big sound experience.

Yes, the movie is dark. But it isn’t oppressive and portentous in the way Man of Steel was. And the back story of Ray Fisher’s Cyborg and the time the film takes to unwind it makes it clear how pivotal he is to the entire story, something entirely missed in the Whedon version.

The film is occasionally unintentionally funny. Steppenwolf does not come across as menacing, rather he is a bit of a sad case with a lisp. The framing of his face in his armour makes him look a little bit nerdy and hypersensitive – something of a failure – and not quite the evil supervillain one expects him to be.

My only real complaint is the tedious Epilogue scene, which speaks of a much longer project with all of Snyder’s problems as a director seeming to be concentrated in its grim post-Apocalyptic and drawn-out dialogue between Batman and The Joker. For anyone now calling to #RestoreTheSnyderVerse, that tedious scene should be enough on its own to waylay any thoughts of that happening. In many ways the triumph of the Snyder Cut is exactly why we should not #RestoreTheSnyderVerse. It’s done. It’s over. Get used to it.

But these are minor quibbles. The Snyder Cut is more than a simple improvement on the 2017 Whedon Justice League – it is a fully realised artistic vision, and as such, it makes me appreciate that actually, Snyder is a visionary involved in the same struggle so many artists are in: fighting market expectations to deliver what is in his heart. Here, with his Justice League, he gets closer to doing that than ever before.

Parasite: Is It Any Good? – Review – Some Spoilers

Parasite, the Academy Award Winning movie has been a game-changer in Hollywood, which sees tinseltown’s establishment placing foreign language films on the same equal footing with English language works. To say this is a revolution in the way the city of dreams sees its place in an expanded and globalised world is a truism. But is the movie any good?

The answer has to be, of course, yes. But it is also not a flawless masterpiece and it certainly won’t appeal to all tastes. To my eyes, the opening hour of the film is slow as it sets up the set of relationships between the wealthy members of the Park family, and the carpet-bagging wannabe Kim family who at first just want enough money to eat and pay for their mobile phones, but by half way through have grand dreams of owning the luxurious modernist pad their hoodwinked employees inhabit.

The Kim Family in Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite.
From left, Choi Woo Shik, Song Kang Ho, Chang Hyae Jin and Park So Dam.

The film is billed as a black comedy thriller, and that in itself has a few problems. Black comedy, in my experience, often means comedy where there aren’t very many laughs, but more a twist of schadenfreude. And this movie stays true to that maxim. The travails and hopes of the Kim family in trying to climb the social ladder are neither particularly thrilling nor are they particular funny. One sees them do what they do, and there are occasional moments at which one thinks – well, that was clever of them, or that was mean of them – but judging by the silence of the cinema I sat in, not many others found much humour during the film’s rather long, slow first hour. There were, however, quite a lot of phone screens lighting up as people checked the time.

The second act of the movie becomes suddenly a lot crueller and more interesting, with a dark secret uncovered, and yes, it has some unpleasant humour in it and some genuine tension and violent comedy-ish moments. But what happened here for me was the unpleasantness each character shows to the others began to disengage me from them. I felt no emotional investment in anything going on.

It is quite possible this is deliberate. There is a discussion in the movie which talks about how wealthy people are made likeable by money. So, of course we aren’t going to like the poor characters. But this seems a rather trite and literalist take on the script’s meaning, which is a comment on the deep inequalities in society, and how people live in their own tiny worlds unaware of those around them, selfish and self-centred.

And that message, really, is the problem for me with this movie. Everyone is selfish. There’s no one to like.

By the time the ending comes with one of the characters deliberately incarcerating themselves and trying desperately to communicate with the outside world in the most preposterous of ways, when they could at any moment just walk out from their prison, I had lost faith in the movie’s vision and message. The director, having set up a strongly realist scenario, had decided to jump paradigms into symbolism. At no way, on a realist reading, does the ending work. It is psychologically untrue, and actually rather insulting to the audience, after they have invested this time in the film to receive such a poor pay-off.

For me, on that level, the film is interesting but unsatisfying. It gives some deep insights into life in South Korea and its class system, it is beautifully acted and stunningly shot – but in the end, it is trickery, and one is reminded of that by its preposterous denouement.

When it finished, I was glad it was over.


7 Random Reasons Why Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 Rocks

So, as a childhood Marvel and DC comics fan, over the last decade or so I’ve taken great delight in the fact that CGI in movies has progressed so far that you don’t actually have to suspend disbelief. I remember seeing the back projection outline when people were thrown off buildings, or the strings when The Invisible Man lifted things up. No wonder they didn’t make that many superhero movies back then. At least not convincing ones.

That it’s all possible to do seamlessly is old news, and the only thing that now holds writers and filmmakers back is their imagination and budget.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 has both in full measure. Here are 7 things picked at random as to why it rocks:

1) Little Groot. Okay, so it’s a merchandiser’s dream, but supercute Groot is joyous to behold, with his big eyes, his innocence and joyful naivety, there is so much potential for the bundle of laughs here. He’s the wide-eyed fool, and he’s hilarious.

2) That opening sequence that subverts the heroic form sets the tone. The show starts with the Guardians protecting some super-duper batteries for a race of gold skinned Sovereign aliens from an interdimensional monster made entirely of teeth, blubber and super-thick skin. But instead of doing the usual thing and focusing on the fight, it focuses on Little Groot’s dance routine. The juxtaposition is hilarious.

3) Drax’s one-liners. Boy oh boy, the writing team have really gone out of their ways to work up the characters for best comic effect. Drax, the alien who doesn’t understand metaphor goes through the show offending, irritating and genuinely making comedy gold. The deadpan delivery adds to the effect. I haven’t been in a cinema for a long time in which the audience is howling with laughter. Drax does it.

4) Rocket, the trickster. Rocket the Raccoon (“I’m not a Raccoon!”) is as super-sneaky, clever and selfish as ever, but now you start to see his “human” side. For a writer, this archetype is a gift. He’s straight out of Carl Jung, and he adds an element of chaos to the whole show. The script, indeed, the whole story arc, starts with one transgression from him – but he’s not all selfishness, as later events show. He intrigues and delights and builds wonderful empathy.

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2..Nebula (Karen Gillan)..Ph: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2017

5) Nebula. Ok, I’m going to make an admission. I got through the entire first Guardians without clocking that the blue-faced semi-robot alien with a psychotic streak was none other than Dr Who’s Amy Pond, aka Karen Gillan. It was only when the name jumped out at me on the credits that I clicked – and even then, I thought “Ah, maybe there’s a different actor with the same name, in the US”. Her American accent is pitch perfect, but more impressively, her angry, downtrodden, rage-filled character has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with Amy Pond. I genuinely wouldn’t have picked these two characters out as the same person. That is a tribute not only to the make-up team, but to Gillan’s skill in acting.

6) The visuals are sumptuous (as the picture above attests). There are so many visual delights in this show, it’s difficult to know where to start. Apart from the extraordinarily lifelike cgi, which means you genuinely think you’re watching interactions with real talking trees and real talking raccoons, the part where the designers let themselves go is fabulous. That is on the planet Ego, in which we are treated to a massive vista of impossible things that are beautiful and straight out of dreams. From wonderful colour-popping bubbles that greet them as they leave the spaceship, through the incredible animated fountain to the sumptuously designed interiors of the palace, everything is designed to a “T”. This show should win awards simply for visualisation.

7) The plot is both taut and hilarious. It’s a fine balancing act to get a genuine sense of comedy in a script balanced against a driving plot. If you watch many tv comedy shows, you’ll see that the plot is paper thin, while the comedy simply comes from the characters rubbing together. This has both. Add in the asides with Stan Lee (which are outside the plot for sure) and the extra elements that feed in to future episodes, and it is a work of brilliance.

So, there it is. Needless to say, I’m going back to watch it again with a friend of mine who writes comic books. Discussions after that should be joyous!

David Hare’s Skylight highlights how things have changed since he wrote it…

Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy on stage together – being able to watch two big names in Portsmouth, I mean, what’s not to like?


National Theatre Live at the Vue Cinema on 31st July gave us that. In fact, it’s better than being in the West End’s Wyndham Theatre from where it was broadcast. You can eat popcorn and icecream if you like in seats designed for a 21st Century frame. Though this was the “Encore” broadcast, a re-run of a play originally broadcast live on the 17th July, and starring two hugely accomplished actors, the experience really gives you the feel of the live event.

It does take some adjustment, seeing stage acting on screen. When Kyra (Carey Mulligan) enters with her shopping, her body language as she heavily plonks her bags on the table feels distastefully overdone. Her peculiar treatment of the text books she brings home from her work as a teacher jars the eye used to the nuanced performance of the big screen.

Just so with the arrival of 18-year-old Edward, walking into the flat on the sink housing estate where Mulligan lives because she left the door open. But then, this is hard to swallow for another reason. I mean, who leaves their door open on a snowy winter’s night in a clearly troubled housing estate? I mean really, who does that? It seemed strangely middle-classly cutesy, as if Hare had forgotten Kyra lived in the inner city, but in a little country cottage somewhere in the Home Counties.

Their initial interactions were what I had feared the whole play might be. At times unreal but with occasional moments of brilliance in the dialogue, something did not gel. Edward was clearly a 2D device used to set up what was to come later between Kyra and Tom (Bill Nighy). It was uncomfortably done. Edward’s flouncing out at the end of the scene with his “You’ve got to speak to him Kyra!” was straight out of Victorian melodrama.

Tom’s arrival was much better. The story unfolded. Businessman Tom and teacher Kyra had once been an item – having an affair while he ran his expanding chain of restaurants through the 1980s. Their affair had been discovered by Nighy’s wife and Mulligan (a nice middle class woman) had gone into teaching in East Ham.

Along the way, there were moments of comedy that highlighted the snobbery of the business classes and the idealism of liberal middle classes. Essentially the play was about the collision of two world views – the money-minded and the liberal left, interspersed with some cooking and a break in the middle for a shag, which thankfully happened in the interval.

As a writer, it was interesting to see how basic the play was. David Hare, one of Britain’s greatest living playwrights, used cookery to give the two actors something to do while they slugged it out with each other or came to understandings of each other’s views, or grew close, or grew apart. The cooking (I’m sure a symbol of consumerism, community and shared endeavour) alleviated the boredom of the pair standing and pontificating about how their particular views of the world were right.

Hare made a pretty good fist of making Nighy’s character likeable and sympathetic, but it was clear as the play went on that this wasn’t going to be one of those: “make your own mind up” types of plays. Carey Mulligan’s Kyra, the impassioned and idealistic middle class liberal who had given up everything to be a teacher was clearly the character with whom Hare most identified.

Towards the end , both characters ceased to be people at all. Mulligan’s Kyra especially became a mouthpiece for Hare’s opinion, with a long, tedious rant about how marvellous the public sector is and the platitude that “Wealth Creation” was not the truly important thing about life.

This was clearly intended as the highlight of the second half: a kind of super-eloquent Sixth Form Common Room rant, in which the Kyra rehearsed Hare’s particular political bugbears, and received spontaneous applause from the Wyndham’s sympathetic audience. He had pressed the right buttons for his audience, then.

By this time I genuinely had the feeling that Hare had written the play by tickbox. “Oh, okay, so I’ve now done the bit where he accuses her of being guilty. Now let’s do the bit where he accuses her of running away because she’s still in love with him. Okay, now we do the bit where she accuses him of cowardice. Okay, now selfishness…” and so on.

By the time you’d got to the end, just about every base was covered. The two characters were indeed symbols (something Hare himself highlighted in his script) who covered all the angles in the eternal battle between the private sector and public services, and between the unfaithful businessman and his young lover, picking up hypocrisies along the way.

But one really important angle was never approached.

Kyra mocked the idea of people involved in “Wealth Creation”, pointing instead to “real people” as if people involved in business are somehow “not real”. And that was the heart of the problem.

There was a much more profound discussion to be had here about that unhappy marriage, in which business and social enterprises are spliced together. Each is dependent on the other. Business is reliant on education to produce people with innovation and drive, self-belief and originality. As such, business cannot complain about taxation. It is reliant on the use of those resources to supply its employees and its consumers. The employees of business are also “real” people, prone to all the weaknesses of greed and stupidity and selfishness if that connection between business and the wider community is not nurtured.

At the same time, workers in State education (symbolising the public services) have trouble accepting the fact that without business they would not exist because no taxes would be taken to pay their wages. The fact that today there are fewer public sector wage packets than there were 6 years ago is a much bigger discussion about how the marriage works. What the covenant is between the public sector, the wider public and business was not even considered in this play.

That, I suspect, is partially because Hare is not interested in this more nuanced way of looking at the world. His writing comes straight out of the idealism of the 1960s. It’s also because Skylight was first performed in 1995, way before the Credit Crunch was a twinkle in Tony Blair’s eye. And to be frank, it showed.

Punchdrunk’s “The Drowned Man” – Review by Matt Wingett

We were tipped out of a darkened lift into more darkness, a handful of audience members about to experience Punchdrunk’s cult offering, The Drowned Man.

I came to a parking lot strewn with recently vacated film studio caravans, each filled with the discarded personal belongings of imagined 1950s/60s stars of Temple Studios. Unmade beds in the semi-darkness, little notes pinned on walls – clues maybe, about what the night might hold in store. I wandered into a bar. A woman was singing a mournful song to a man perched on the counter.

The Drowned Man, Punchdrunk

I watched them play out a scene of sulky shattered romance and then wandered next door where another man had just finished dancing with a woman. Rumbling chords and subdued lighting. Suddenly, he dashed to a pair of doors. Ah, some action, I thought, and followed. At the door, he turned to me and said: “Leave me, don’t follow me.” – A provocation if ever I had one. Soon a group of us 20 masked audience members gathered at the foot of a stairwell to watch him.

He climbed on the banister and put his feet on the wall, acting out being pulled up the stairwell, with extraordinary muscular movements. He looked like a puppet, but no strings attached.

I followed him up the stairs. At the top, he warned us off again as he entered a darkened room, shooting us his best tortured look before turning away. Once again, we ignored his warning and followed.

Through darkness and pools of subdued light, he made his way across a desert floor to an altar where a congregation of 20 scarecrows were seated. The altar was a makeshift affair made of desert detritus. He leant upon it. A live scarecrow rose from the congregation, took hold of him and they danced a struggle together. The scarecrow dragged his lifeless form to a tent where I watched him for a few minutes, before wandering around to look at a solitary sandy hill and a wooden cabin.

I returned. Our lifeless man was still in his tent, so I looked for other action. The scarecrow had gone to an office at one end of the room. I followed him and watched him change out of his clothing… Then he made his way from the room.

And cut! Time for a quick pee.

I wandered into a tiled 1930s-style toilet room that had once been used by countless posties, and took a moment to consider. Was this part of the set? Or was it actually an old Post Office toilet?  It was the latter, I decided.

The Drowned Man was set inside a building previously used as a massive Royal Mail sorting office near Paddington Underground. The loo I was in was a glimpse beneath the greasepaint and I savoured it as such for its incongruousness and cheeky irrelevance to the main show.

A masked man entered the toilet and pulled his mask off, clearly uncomfortable.  “It’s weird,” he said to me. “It’s all very, very weird.”

I felt for him. That sorting office is a very big space to feel adrift in.

For me the strangeness wasn’t a problem. After all, we know we’re entering a made-up world the moment we enter the building and a camp elevator-boy invites us into the studios to enjoy a “post-wrap party” in a faux American accent. The moment we don our nightmarish skeletal masks in order to distinguish us from the actors, our psychology is altered. If they’d wanted to give a masterclass in experiencing firsthand Sartre’s Existentialist paranoid alienation, Punchdrunk couldn’t have done better.

No doubt about it, the little world inside that sorting office is extraordinary. A continual soundtrack resounds through every room in the massive space, seemingly sampled from the darkest moments of Twin Peaks. Rumbling chords fill the void with a sense of impending doom and invisible danger. It’s the sort of soundtrack you hear at the movies when an unseen observer watches an ill-fated protagonist about to be murdered.

Of course, in this case, we are the unseen observers… Oh how post-post-post-modern!  I can imagine how pleased everyone in the troupe was with that little conceit.

At this stage, early in the night, I was hopeful that I would be able to piece together the story of why the man had been left in the tent. I left the puzzled man hiding in the loo and headed out from my pit stop to find out more. Just a little bit of close attention, I kidded myself, and the narrative will unfold. To make that work, I decided I needed to take hold of a character and follow them through the evening, then things would fit together.

Here’s what happened next:

I followed one woman as she got drunk with a Pierrot in a tent in the desert. Then she danced with a film company executive on a table in a boardroom and was given a script. She then listened to a recording on a Dictaphone of her child reciting a poem. Cleverly, the electronics in the room synchronised the sound so that half way through the poem the child’s voice (it was not a child’s voice, it was an adult actor pretending to be a child) from the Dictaphone synchronised with a booming hellish voice coming over the speakers and she looked a bit disturbed. It was, perhaps, an artistic representation of schizophrenia.

I then followed her to a film sound effects room where she nearly drowned the alcoholic Pierrot I had encountered previously. His was an impressive feat of breath-holding.

Then, after she had nearly drowned him, the Pierrot kind of shrugged it off and the action continued.

And suddenly, my attention started to wander. That near-drowning was a turning point for me. It was when I stopped caring about the characters. Because they weren’t characters. They were caricatures – and inconsistent ones at that who didn’t behave like people. Someone tries to drown you, for Pete’s sake!  And you just smile and get on with it. Bollocks.

I’ll be frank. I had expected something cleverer than this. Yes, each room was no less than a superb art installation, although the pervading gloom made the design difficult to appreciate. And they had overlaid these stunning sets with these unsettling sounds to produce a very specific, miserable mood pallet. It was experientially extraordinary. It was a spectacle.

But there was no let-up in the brooding mood and the whole experience was deeply oppressive. I remember walking into a wig room on one floor finding myself surrounded by weird images, hair and human heads, mirrors and the mess of life. Amazing? Sure. In the way Tate Modern is amazing. I stepped into another room out of curiosity. The floor was planted with dried flowers which gave a pungent smell and which cast nightmarish shadows on the walls. Nothing happened in that room. I stood there for a moment, enjoying the beauty of it, and the loneliness, and the quiet – a release from the relentless darkness and noise of the sound stages. It was, I thought, American Gothic meets the Tate Modern.

It was then I realised I was bored. Two hours in, and nothing had come together. I’d seen lots of different dance vignettes. I’d seen an orgy where a man is stripped naked and mounted by a woman in a red dress. I’d followed a woman and seen her take some scissors from the rafters of her dressing room. Then I’d seen her drag that same man to the top of a wooded hill and murder him – the tail end of a scene I’d already watched before, and at last I had a little bit of narrative, which was all rather heavy handed…

I happened on the woman in the sound room again, just about to half drown her Pierrot again. She was obviously performing on a loop. I thought: “Oh, it’s like channel-hopping and getting a series of repeats.” I was annoyed by the lack of development.

Yes, I know the performance was “fractured”. That is the trendy word to describe it. I’m sure motifs within it were meant to raise those sorts of questions so often encouraged at University and art school by young lecturers with creased brows. You know: What is reality? Are we in control of our own fates? What is real and what is imagined?

But when I saw the murder on the hill for a second time, I was well on my way to looking for the remote control and switching off.

Since no-one behaved like real people anyway, a murder on a hill wasn’t really a murder on a hill, and it didn’t matter whether this was being filmed for Temple Studios and was a wrap or was a “real” murder. After all, everything was made up anyway.

What was the night made of? Essentially, a series of dance vignettes. That’s basically it. At the end of the show, we got one more vignette: A woman got into a pond and lifted a drowned man. Then it rained – a little square of tears falling on the pond from the ceiling, while she drew her expression into one of pre-Raphaelite anguish.

By then, I was pissed off and I wanted to go back home to something that is genuinely and totally weird.

Real life.