Tag Archives: Superhero

ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE: JUSTICE IS GRAY (2021)

‘s Justice League: Justice Is Gray (2021) is four-hours (!) of sullen macho masturbation that drains away whaever minuscule color and joy were left in the DC deities. The title is half-apt; look elsewhere for justice, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more epically gray landscape of Fascistic mediocrity.  While the Snyder/Whedon Justice League (2017) was an understandably lopsided affair, it at least had a few affecting moments.

Zack Snyders Justice League: Justice is Gray (2021)Like the Mango Mussolini cult, Snyder’s fan base heaps their rabid obsessions on the least deserving object of adulation. While HBO Max’s Justice League had strong viewership on its premiere, it eventually got knocked out of the public consciousness when the ape and lizard started strutting their stuff. In a 2 plus 2 equals eight moment, a faction of Snyder disciples made like QAnon (or like Snyder’s Taliban, or Jehovah’s Witnesses at the door—take your pick) to review bomb Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) on IMDB, revealing their barrel-dwelling lunacy. Snyder himself came out of his narcissistic closet, mantling his best Dotard impersonation, thanking his believers for sharing the dream.

Snyder epitomizes macho movie-making for low-demanding pubescents. There’s nothing authentically masculine or aesthetically competent in his Triumph of the Will for the funny papers. Some critics have heaped praise on it, pontificating about its better sense of depth. No, that’s merely excessive exposition from characters that have gone from symbolic (and vulnerable) heroes of justice to two-dimensional combatants, straight out of a soulless Transformer movie, who will eventually team up against a big black shiny villain named Darkseid (Ray Porter) who makes for one of the most personality-bankrupted antagonists in all of cinema.

Wonder Woman () is portrayed in sharp contrast to her character in ‘ films (and although WW 84 is flawed, it’s considerably better than this excrement). She’s merely a video byte here and the only time she manages to emit any light is when she kills (yup, she kills).

The Flash (Ezra Miller, who pales next to Grant Guston) provides the 7th grade humor. Aquaman (Jason Momoa) provides the yawn-inducing macho one-liners, variations of quips we’ve heard in hundreds of action pics. Batman (Ben Affleck, delivering a white trash portrayal of the Dark Knight, repeatedly seen riding a horse) channels Terminator‘s talk of “the looming war” in a banal landscape that literally zaps out all the color that Whedon infused into it. Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds, as a digital blob) compete with Darkseid for dullest characterizations. Lois Lane (Amy Adams) waxes wide-eyed, hand-wringing desperation awaiting the resurrection of Superman (Henry Cavill). One would think a literal resurrection would be accompanied by bells, whistles, and a jubilee. Nope. You see, these mother boxes… just don’t ask.

Our “heroes” (i.e., nationalist deities), step down from a Nintendo Mount Rushmore and stand in the drab, ashen horizon. Checking the watch here, one might be thankful for the finale. Nope. That was just a teaser, because there’s epilogues galore to come, all of which practically announce the sequels (which apparently are not not going to happen and/or will be Hack Snyderless).

This four-hour masturbation orgy doesn’t offer anything vital that we didn’t receive in its 2017 forerunner. That one was no great shakes, but it’s tolerable compared to this sadomasochism dictated by mob rule. While the Snyder cultists didn’t physically storm the Capitol, they did storm the studio demanding their prophet the chance to spew his unabridged sermon. Now, they’re toxically flooding social media demanding a “restoration of the Snyderverse.” You can’t make this shit up.

12*. JESUS SHOWS YOU THE WAY TO THE HIGHWAY (2019)

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“I think we’re living in a world that in fifty years we’re not going to recognize, because now we produce real objects. But with augmented reality… we’re going to transform the world.” -Miguel Llansó

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DIRECTED BY: Miguel Llansó

FEATURING: Daniel Tadesse, Guillermo Llansó, Gerda-Annette Allikas, Solomon Tashe,  Lauri Lagle

PLOT: Agents D.T. Gagano and Palmer Eldritch must enter the CIA-created alternate reality, “PsychoBook”, in order to investigate a sentient computer virus, Soviet Union. Abandoned within the virtual reality, Gagano finds himself in _Beta Ethiopia, where strongman/president/superhero-villain BatFro conspires with Soviet Union to distribute a VR byproduct known as “the substance.” Gagano’s reality-side fiancée, who hopes to open a kick-boxing academy, must now live with the prospect of him being trapped in a portable television display.

BACKGROUND:

  • An Estonian computer museum provided inspiration for the hardware aethestic in Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway, but the machines on screen were mostly Apple products from the early 1990s.
  • Solomon Tashe,  who plays the African strongman dictator “Batfro,” , is a much-loved Ethiopian media personality.
  • The unusual name “Mister Sophistication” was lifted from John Cassavetes’ The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. However, like other characters in Llansó’s films, he was based on a regular at the Club Juventus, a gathering spot in Addis Ababa for Italian ex-pats and other larger-than-life clientèle.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Take your pick. Perhaps it’s stop-motion Richard Pryor and Robert Redford investigating a house infiltrated by a computer virus assassin. Perhaps it’s the “Jiminy Cricket” CIA AI spouting knee-high advice to Agents Gagano and Eldritch. And perhaps it’s the melodramatic conversation between a super-sweetie BBW kick-boxer and her television-bound lover. For the record, however, the official “Indelible Image” is cross-dressing super-spy, Captain Lagucci, sprinting off a roof to save a portable television. Much like Miguel Llansó, Lagucci just… runs with it.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Coked-up Batfro to the rescue!; CIA Man trapped in a TV

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Llansó manages to make an “anything and everything” approach to imagery, symbolism, dialogue, and scenario gel into a unified whole. Obviously the plot for JSYtWttH is bonkers, and that’d be enough, but its mountain of antiquated tech, dizzying opening credits, vibrant colors, bug aliens, MIT conspiracizing, Cold War derring-do, and… You get the picture; just about everything in this movie makes it weird.

Trailer for Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway

COMMENTS: “Loading. Please wait.” Not a typical beginning for a Continue reading 12*. JESUS SHOWS YOU THE WAY TO THE HIGHWAY (2019)

CHANNEL 366: WANDAVISION (2021)

DIRECTED BY: Matt Shakman

FEATURING: Elizabeth Olsen, , Kathryn Hahn, , Randall Park,

PLOT: Sorceress Wanda Maximoff and her husband, the strong and flight-capable synthezoid Vision, settle down in the idyllic burg of Westview. However, their peace and comfort are regularly disrupted by nosy neighbors who are constantly seconds away from discovering their secret, outside forces threatening their safety, and the fact that their reality is constantly changing to reflect the evolution of the American situation comedy over several decades.

Still from WandaVision,(2021)

 COMMENTS: For their debut on the Disney+ streaming service, the bigwigs at Marvel Studios bypass their usual flights-and-punches formula in favor of parody, satire, and psychological paranoia. “WandaVision” turns the mystery of what is happening to our protagonists on its head by filtering the drama through the pastiche of laugh-tracked comical antics. So it’s not quite what you might expect from the box office wizards at Marvel. On the other hand, it’s still mainstream entertainment, and the patient will soon be rewarded with explanations for all that transpires.

When last seen on the big screen, Wanda Maximoff (AKA Scarlet Witch) was doing battle with purple mega-Malthusian Thanos, while Vision was dead at selfsame villain’s hands. For those who have diligently followed the Marvel Cinematic Universe through 24-or-so big screen adventures, the sight of the pair crossing the threshold as (1) married, (2) very much alive, and (3) stepping onto the set of an ersatz “Dick van Dyke Show” must surely provoke a cocked eyebrow.

But if you’ve been paying any attention at all, you’ve noticed that part of Marvel’s success has derived from its willingness to borrow beats and tropes from other genres to keep the overall superhero vibe fresh. You’re as likely to get touches of 70s paranoid thriller (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) as you are an 80s macho-buddy flick (Thor: Ragnarok). Sometimes the films even shift tone within their own running time (see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’s lurch from heist comedy to haunted requiem). So the left-turn into sitcom territory is not totally off-brand.

Considering that they’ve been reduced to mere cameos amidst the cinematic cavalcade of superheroes, Olsen and Bettany seem to relish finally getting the spotlight to themselves for a little bit. Their chemistry, teased out in stolen moments in the big-screen omnibus, is genuine, and if their transformation into broad comedians still feels awkward, it’s not for lack of trying. The same Vision who triumphantly hoisted Thor’s hammer in the cinema is here reduced to belting out “Yakety Yak” as a wild distraction—but the spirit says to just go with it.

That’s surely why “WandaVision” is on our radar. It feels wrong. These characters shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing, these comedic styles should not be on our TV screens in the 21st century, and for three episodes, the show resolutely refuses to explain just what the heck is going on. Of course, this puzzle box is part of what draws viewers here in the first place. Something strange is going on is Heroville, and we’re gonna try and figure out what.

And sure enough, episode 4 begins to unpack the mystery, as agents from the “real world” try to understand the mysterious goings-on. It’s hardly a coincidence that FBI agent Jimmy Woo is scribbling down the very questions that are in our own heads: “Why hexagonal shape? Why sitcoms? Same time & space? Is Vision alive?” For any viewers shaking their heads and despairing at the many unanswered questions, the plot cops are here to sort things out.

“WandaVision” represents an interesting attempt to incorporate some different flavors into the Marvel mix. Director Shakman and creator Jac Schaeffer fully commit to their odd premise, with credit sequences, theme songs, and commercial breaks to match each new setting. (In particular, episode 5 ends in a wild twist that manages to riff on sitcom tropes and inside-baseball Hollywood at the same time.) In other words, it’s weird and it knows it. But the show also wants to reassure you that everything’s going to make sense in the end; it’s weird for a reason. When you’re a multibillion dollar content factory, you probably don’t want to leave that kind of thing to chance.

Roger Ebert famously summarized the shortcomings of 2010, the belated sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey, by quoting the verse of e. e. cummings: “I’d rather learn from one bird how to sing / than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance”. Similarly, “WandaVision” soars when gleefully vivisecting expectations for a comic book adventure series, but the needs of the franchise, and the demands of mainstream entertainment, keep it firmly tethered to the ground.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The best parts of the first three episodes are when WandaVision unapologetically leans into its weirdness… the more unexplained moments the show throws at us, and the more it pushes up against what feels like horror, the more it allows the sitcom device to really hammer home its uncanny artificiality. The result is that the sitcom beats feel even stranger, maybe even more menacing — in a way that goes beyond “these characters sure are acting unnaturally.” It makes you realize the intense desperation for these characters to be “normal,” and the tragedy that “normal” is the one thing they’ll never be able to be. When the characters sink back into their comedic shtick, then, it feels even more unnerving.” – Alex Abad-Santos, Vox

 

8*. BIG MAN JAPAN (2007)

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Dai-Nihonjin

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Hitoshi Matsumoto, Tomoji Hasegawa, Taichi Yazaki

PLOT: An offscreen interviewer asks questions of middle-aged Masaru Daisatô, who grows into the giant “Big Man Japan” to fight various monsters who plague the country, as part of a documentary on the superhero’s fading popularity. Far from being honored for protecting the nation from kaiju attacks, Masaru is suffering from low ratings in his late-night time slot, is going through a divorce, and his house is covered in graffiti and vandalized whenever he causes collateral damage. When he flees from one particularly tough monster, his reputation is further damaged, and his retired grandfather (a previous Big Man Japan) leaves the nursing home to take on the kaiju himself.

Still from Big Man Japan (2007)

BACKGROUND:

  • Previously known in Japan as a comedian, Big Man Japan was Hitoshi Matsumoto’s first feature film.
  • The film spent five years in development and took a year to shoot.
  • Big Man Japan has frequently been suggested/recommended by readers over the years. Most recently, it was runner-up in our 2020 Apocrypha tournament.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The endlessly inventive giant monsters—with creepy human faces pasted on them via the black magic of CGI—are Big Man Japan‘s key visual motif. The Stink Monster, who looks like a cross between a squid and a fleshy flower petal, doesn’t seem like the weirdest kaiju in the stable, until a second Stink Monster shows up to do a wild mating dance that makes him look like a spastic ballerina on speed trying to get lucky at the disco on Saturday night.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Combover kaiju; Stink Monster mating dance

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: It plays like a genetically modified experiment in corssbreeding Spinal Tap with a late-era Godzilla monster mash, which is strange enough; Big Man Japan is not satisfied with it’s own oddness yet, however, so it takes another unanticipated turn into lunacy in the final act.


U.S. release trailer for Big Man Japan

COMMENTS: Thoroughly committed to its absurd premise, with Continue reading 8*. BIG MAN JAPAN (2007)

CAPSULE: MYSTERY MEN (1999)

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DIRECTED BY: Kinka Usher

FEATURING: Ben Stiller, , Hank Azaria, , Tom Waits, Greg Kinnear, Geoffrey Rush

PLOT: Captain Amazing has been captured by the villainous Casanova Frankenstein, and Champion City is in danger. Do the Shoveler, Mr Furious, and Blue Raja have what it takes to save the day? The answer: not quite.

COMMENTS: It isn’t that strange that a star-studded action comedy would be directed by someone with a career in commercials—commercials and music videos (essentially commercials for music) often act as a springboard into “real” cinema. What is a bit strange is that Kinka Usher, the director of this muddled cult classic, remarked, “I’m going back to commercials when this is done. I’ve had enough. I’d much rather do my cool little one-minute shorts than deal with all this nonsense.” This lack of passion makes Mystery Men incredibly uneven. But Usher brings with him considerable visual flair, so at least all this unevenness is interesting to look at and constantly in motion. Even as the many saggy sections sag, the viewer can take comfort in the fact that the storyteller will move on with due haste.

The action starts immediately… right after soaring pan over the retro-futuristic “Champion City”, accompanied by a Danny Elfman-esque score, established a “superhero” vibe. The Red Eyes, a low-rent gang of larcenous thugs, crash a senior citizens’ ball, robbing the guests of watches, diamonds, “wigs and toupés”, and even false teeth. Enter our heroes: the Shoveler (William H. Macy), Mr Furious (Ben Stiller, who was in every other movie released in those days), and Blue Raja (Hank Azaria). After a display of middling skills, they fail just in time for Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear) to save the day.

The script devotes more detail to Mystery Men‘s backdrop than to the characters themselves, and while this provides a grandeur to the superhero fun-poking, it also leaves the characters woefully underdeveloped. (It’s almost as if an entire comic book series doesn’t translate well into a single feature film.) The huge cityscapes, which hint at a world-culture smorgasbord, alternate with set pieces that play like sketch comedy bits strung together: the sub-heroes quibble in the diner, the sub-heroes host a recruitment barbecue, and so forth. Macy, Stiller, Azaria, et al. each seem to simultaneously hog the spotlight while also being spread too thinly.

This isn’t even a close call for our list, but the peripherals made it worth a look. The eccentric performances from Greg Kinnear, Geoffrey Rush, and Tom Waits all sync nicely with the tone that should have dominated. “Work-a-day super heroes”, though a cute premise, results in work-a-day personalities, and what Champion City (and Mystery Men) needs is a heavy dose of straight-faced absurdity. Kinnear and Rush play off each-other marvelously, and their scenes are a hoot. Waits needs only to be onscreen to give you a dose of strange.

Though failing at being weird is forgivable, failing as a comedy is less so. The biggest joke comes early, and works only because of meta-humor. Ricky Jay, as Captain Amazing’s agent, chides his client after the disappointing Red Eye bust, “Look, I’m a publicist—not a magician.” Some more self-awareness (and a little less Smash Mouth) could have saved Mystery Men from the “cult classic” film heap.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

Mystery Men has moments of brilliance waving their arms to attract attention in a sea of dreck. It’s a long, shapeless, undisciplined mess, and every once in awhile it generates a big laugh.” -Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times / Rogerebert.com (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Chad, who called it “one of the most bizarre movies I’ve ever seen.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

 

4*. ELECTRIC DRAGON 80000 V (2001)

Erekutorikku doragon 80000V

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DIRECTED BY: Sogo Ishii [AKA Gakuryû Ishii]

FEATURING: , , voice of Masakatsu Funaki

PLOT: A boy who survives electrocution while climbing an electrical tower grows up to be “Dragon Eye Morrison,” a human battery and “reptile investigator” who tracks missing lizards and who can only control his violent impulses by playing his electric guitar. Meanwhile, “Thunderbolt Buddha,” a half-man, half-metal being who was also struck by lightning as a child, hears of our hero, and wants to test his electrical superpowers against his counterpart’s. The villainous Buddha provokes a high voltage showdown with Morrison on a Tokyo rooftop.

Still from Electric Dragon 80000V

BACKGROUND:

  • Sogo Ishii was an established director whose work was influenced by punk music and style. He was an influential figure for Japanese underground filmmakers, but his work is seldom seen outside of his homeland.
  • Industrial/noise band MACH-1.67, an occasional ensemble that included director Ishii and star Asano, provided the music. They subsequently performed concerts with this film playing in the background.
  • Composer Hiroyuki Onogawa said he had never written rock music nor worked much with the electric guitar before this project.
  • The movie was a cult success in Japan, running to packed houses in one theater for two months. Plans for a Part 2 were discussed, but never materialized.
  • Reports suggest that the film was shot in three days (other accounts say three weeks, and obviously post-production took much, much longer) and largely improvised.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: We’re going to go with the visage of the movie’s villain, a half-man, half-statue. (Beyond the fact that he was struck by lightning as a child, his alloyed origins are never explained.)

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Thunderbolt Buddha, TV repairman; pre-rage noise solo

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: A team of Japanese industrial punks decide to made a surrealistic black and white superhero noise musical. If this sounds awesome to you, we won’t argue.

Original trailer for Electric Dragon 80000V

COMMENTS: We can dispense with any sort of search for deep Continue reading 4*. ELECTRIC DRAGON 80000 V (2001)

ALFRED EAKER VS. THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS: JOKER (2019)

Todd Phillips’ The Joker (2019) is a tedious, derivative manifesto for the “woe is me” white American male.  “I haven’t been happy one minute of my entire f—ing life,” says Arthur Fleck () and that sentiment is all too contagious while sitting through this self-pitying exercise of hackneyed seventh grade psychology. There’s more fun to be had here twirling one’s straw while waiting for the paint-by-number soundtrack accompaniment. Do a countdown while checking off “Send in the Clowns,”  “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” “That’s Life,” and Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll, Part 2” (its inclusion is a blatant, adolescent attempt to be provocative, given Giltter’s history). At least you’ll stay awake, if your straw is strong enough to endure all that twirling.

Still from Joker (2019)Another way to enhance what little entertainment that can be squeezed out of this lesson in masochism is to locate the the slivers of other films embedded in it: King of Comedy, Taxi Driver (cue the Robert De Niro cameo) ‘s Modern Times, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, The French Connection, and ‘s Batman, to name a random few (throw in at least one reference to ‘s “Dark Knight” comics as well).

For all its derivativeness, The Joker is yet another comic book based movie that’s embarrassed of its comic book origins. Angst-ridden fanboys, who haven’t seen a movie that’s not comic book-based in a decade or more, will hardly care. They’ll heap a ton of praise (and money) on it, proclaiming it profound, with an Oscar worthy performance from Phoenix, which will validate their own basement profundity.

It seems to be set in the 1980s (i.e. the Mark of Zorro marquee has been changed to Zorro, the Gay Blade) and it is essentially plotless. Fleck works for a clown agency, understandably gets fired for not being funny, rages against swamp-entitled self-righteous public figure Thomas Wayne (hint, hint), has mommy issues, sees conspiracies afoot (mostly involving Wayne) and descends into … whatever. End of story. It takes 90 muddled minutes (!) for Fleck to get into the makeup—but the makeup is rather a pronounced point of the Joker, a bit like the suit is a pronounced point of the superhero.

Phoenix’s may be the worst  portrayal of the character to date. Cesar Romero, (who’s looking better with each new portrayal), and each brought a sense of glee to the role, albeit a  maniacal one. Not so with Phoenix. He’s a tiresome gray, and when he does finally go black, he does not enjoy a moment of it.

The Joker is certainly bound to have a huge opening, but is it worthy of the controversy its generating? It deserves neither. Nor does it deserve to be remembered, celebrated, or mistaken for art, or cinema, for that matter. The Joker is merely a tasteless nothingburger.