“Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” (PG-13) 3 stars
Director Zack Snyder creates an exciting template for the long anticipated “Justice League” movie with “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” which finally pits DC Comics’ two most iconic superheroes against each other on the big screen. The film picks up 18 months in the aftermath of General Zod’s attack on Metropolis, where, as we find out, involved a personal loss for Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck). Unlike others who look upon Superman (Henry Cavill) as a savior, Wayne perceives the alien from Krypton a threat to humanity, and he devises a plan to suits up as Batman to stop him.
The introduction of other members of the Justice League are sensible, especially the stunning Gal Gadot as Diana Prince and the butt-kicking Wonder Woman. The casting is terrific all around, including the return of Amy Adams as Lois Lane and Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, and the introduction of Jeremy Irons as Bruce Wayne’s caretaker, Alfred, and Jesse Eisenberg — who’s great as the sniveling, off-kilter Lex Luthor.
Snyder squeezes a lot of material into the 2 hour, 33 minute frame of “Batman v Superman,” including some huge plot developments that you won’t see coming. It’s not a perfect movie: the ending feels drawn out and the special effects in the third act get to be a bit exhausting, but overall the movie is a rousing, crowd-pleasing experience that’s made for fans and not highbrow critics.
“My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” (PG-13) 3 stars
It’s taken 14 years, but Nia Vardalos and John Corbett are back with another look at the delightfully eccentric Portokalos family in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2,” a heartfelt and funny follow-up to the surprise blockbuster original. The story picks up 17 years after the events of the first “Greek Wedding,” where Toula (Vardalos) and Ian (Corbett) are fretting over the decision of where their 17-year-old daughter, Paris (Elena Kampouris) will be going to college.
Exhausted already over the day-to-day happenings, Toula’s life becomes even more complicated when a huge family faux pas involving her dad and mom, Gus (Michael Constantine) and Maria (Lainie Kazan), is revealed. The film has several moments of inspired humor, and other moments that feel familiar, but overall, if you loved the first film, you’ll embrace this second invitation to a “Greek Wedding” whole-heartedly.
For “Man of Steel” star Henry Cavill, the key to the success of director Zack Snyder’s exciting new interpretation of the iconic character of Superman isn’t so much about the film’s spectacular special effects as it is creating a character grounded in reality. After all, any film has a hard time flying (so to speak) if the audience can’t relate to the main character, no matter how much it dazzles its audience visually.<
Of course, the big difference between Superman and his fans is that humans don’t have superpowers (so far as we know), But one thing everyone shares, including the Man of Steel, is the feeling of confusion and isolation as they struggle to find their purpose in this world.
“The emotional aspect is one of the most important traits of the movie,” Cavill told me in a recent interview. “We’ve grounded it very much in reality and although Superman himself is not subject to the frailties of the human flesh, he’s very much subject to the frailties of the human mind.”
Opening Friday in 2D and 3D theaters and on IMAX screens nationwide, “Man of Steel” tracks the origins of Superman, born Kal-El to Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer) on the distant planet of Krypton. With the planet crumbling beneath their feet and threat of anarchy by the menacing General Zod (Michael Shannon) and his band of militants, Kal-El is shipped off to Earth by his parents with the hopes that the child will someday grow to be an agent of good in his adoptive home.
Urged by his Earth parents, John and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), to hide his otherworldly gifts as a child, Clark Kent, as Kal-El is now known, is forced at age 33 to embrace his destiny as a superhero when Zod invades the planet looking for him. Clark, as it turns out, is the key to the general’s plan to bring Krypton back to life, and the fate of the planet — including the life of Clark’s new friend, journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams) — hangs in the balance because it.
Told in a gritty, real-world narrative that relies heavily on flashbacks instead of the linear sort of storytelling we’re used to seeing with the character, ‘”Man of Steel” is no doubt the most daring and unique film about Superman yet.
And while “Man of Steel” stays true to the Superman canon, Cavill is thrilled that Snyder and writers Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer were willing to take risks in bringing the new story to the fore.
“One of the wonderful things about this film is that it breaks new ground and tells a new story in a way that isn’t safe, because that makes it even more interesting,” Cavill observed. “It’s a genuine pleasure to be working with these guys.”
Another person Cavill worked with, albeit indirectly, was Hans Zimmer, Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy composer, who took the daunting responsibility of creating the score for “Man of Steel.”
Zimmer, in a recent interview, told me the score came together like clockwork because of several elements, including the strengths of the actors’ portrayals. Scoring to Cavill came naturally because of the actor’s complete embodiment of his character.
“I don’t think we’ve could have done this movie without Henry,” Zimmer confessed. “He to me is so perfect. I can’t possibly imagine anybody else playing Superman. It made it easier scoring to him. All of the characters made me feel that way. The movie is so incredibly well-cast.”
Suiting up One of the new directions the filmmakers took in “Man of Steel” was with a new design of Superman’s suit, which viewers will discover was influenced by Kal-El’s Krypton origins. But no matter the differences between the old Superman suits and the new one, it still very much is Superman — and Cavill said was thrilled beyond belief to step onto the set in his costume for the very first time.
“There was something very special, that very first time — it was just an honor to be there, representing Superman,” Cavill, 30, enthused. “Everyone was there and 100 percent into the job, and it was an honor to be chosen to do this very important duty.”
Without question, the most important part of Cavill’s duty was the research he put into the role. Ultimately, the British actor decided, it was in his best interest to avoid all film versions of the Superman tale — including the classic portrayal by Christopher Reeve — and only rely on the comic books for his research.
“I didn’t want to watch the other movies or any live action stuff because I felt it would influence my interpretation of the character,” Cavill said. “I wanted my interpretation to be purely from the source material, which are the comic books.”
Cavill did eventually see one Superman movie — his own — and admitted that watching “Man of Steel” was in some ways like an out-of-body experience. Gone was Cavill the man who was on the set every day filming the superhero tale, and in the seat was Cavill the average, unassuming moviegoer.
“I was 100 percent swept up watching the movie,” Cavill said. “Yes, I was privy to the movie magic and yes, I had that personal experience because I was there, but I was getting emotional throughout the movie. I wanted to stand up and cheer, support different characters and ask all the different questions the movie makes you ask. It was a great experience. I was speechless after seeing it. I’ve watched it two more times since and felt the same after each time, and I can’t wait to watch it again.”
Until then, Cavill will get to relive his memories of being the Man of Steel through several different means, including the ever-important action figures that come along with superhero film releases. The figures made him giddy when he received them, and he can’t wait to share them with his family.
“It’s absolutely fantastic. I’m sitting in my hotel room, looking at this 31-inch tall action figure of the character, and it’s very, very surreal looking at it,” Cavill beamed. “Having action figures is going to make getting Christmas and birthday presents for my nephews very easy from now on.”
If you look over Academy Award-winning actor Jeremy Irons’ immense body of work, it shouldn’t take long to realize that no genre is beneath the legendary screen veteran. He’s done it all, from biographical films like the recent Jesse Owens biopic “Race” and of course, “Reversal of Fortune” (which earned him his Best Actor Oscar); to voicing the menacing Scar in the animated Disney film classic “The Lion King” and a role in the upcoming big-screen adaptation of the hit video game “Assassin’s Creed.”
Yet for all Irons has accomplished in his four-plus decades in the entertainment business, he’s never done any work in the super
hero genre — that is, until he took on the iconic role as Bruce Wayne’s lifelong caretaker, Alfred, in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” The interesting thing, Irons said in a recent phone conversation from London, is that he’s never gone out of his way to see superhero films.
“I haven’t watched a lot of them — maybe only if I ran across them on television. I saw ‘Man of Steel’ and enjoyed that, and saw ‘Batman’ with Jack Nicholson as the Joker,” Irons said. “But having a chance to play in one is quite different, especially since this was multi-layered. The characters (in ‘Batman v Superman’) really have three-dimensional qualities.”
Opening in theaters and on IMAX screens Thursday night, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” finds two of DC Comics superheroes, Superman (Henry Cavill) and Batman (Ben Affleck) at odds when the Dark Knight fears the Man of Steel man be more of a threat to humanity than a hero as his actions appear to go unchecked. Alfred stands to be the only voice of reason for the tormented Bruce, who is so blinded with rage over Superman that he doesn’t realize another threat is emerging with maniacal industrialist Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg).
Directed by Zack Snyder, and written by Chris Terrio and David Goyer, “Batman v Superman” also stars Gal Gadot as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Diane Lane as Martha Kent and Laurence Fishburne as Perry White.
“Batman v Superman” paints a portrait of Alfred who is decidedly different that anything we’ve seen before in live-action form. Much more than a butler and longtime caretaker of the orphaned Bruce, Alfred, as we discover, is an experienced tactician with military skills — which becomes vital in the preparation of Batman’s armory and the operation of his vehicles and weaponry when the Dark Knight faces a formidable threat.
Irons said his take on Alfred was partly informed by an experience he had with a former neighbor of his who happened to be one of the richest men in the world: John Paul Getty. The people working for him may have seemed like they were doing mundane jobs for the billionaire, but looks, as Irons found out, were quite deceiving.
“I remember arriving at his estate with my wife and the gates were opened by two gentlemen, and then I drove and parked by the house, where there was another gentleman who took my car,” Irons recalled. “Then once we went into the foyer, another gentleman took our coats and then there was another, standing with a tray of champagne.”
Later that evening, Irons said he learned that all the employees he encountered were once members of the British SAS: “They were Special Forces, so everybody, from his valet to his gardener, were all people who could turn into a very defensive force if they had to.”
“John Paul Getty, of course, had a bad experience from his children being kidnapped, so I thought, ‘Well, wouldn’t Mr. and Mrs. Wayne do the same thing for Bruce?'” Irons said. “They may call Alfred ‘the butler’ or they may call him ‘the guardian,’ ‘the mechanic’ or whatever. He’s a man who can do all those things, but behind the scenes he has a myriad of talents he could use, depending on the situation. That was very interesting to me. It was a really fascinating quality of the character that I could run with.”
Irons also noted that Alfred is different in this Batman tale because Bruce is in different state of mind than we’ve ever seen him before on the big screen because he’s targeting Superman. Being Bruce’s only voice of reason, Alfred may be the only person who can stop him from making a terrible mistake in facing off against the Man of Steel.
“I think one of the strengths of this movie is that Chris Terrio has written some scenes for Bruce and Alfred where you see Bruce tussling with his conscience and tussling with his morality,” Irons said. “I hope that you can see that these two people have spent a lot of time together over many years and that they’re interdependent in a strange way. Even though Bruce is Batman and the employer, he still needs Alfred’s support.”
Irons said he emerged from “Batman v Superman” a huge fan of Snyder, who was completely graceful under the pressure of his enormous responsibility as the architect of the film.
“I was in awe watching him and just knew how much was in his head. There’s a lot in every director’s head, but when you’re doing a movie of this scale, a director like Zack is carrying a massive weight,” Irons said. “Yet, when he was working with us on set, none of that showed. He was just there for us in that scene we were doing. He would just throw out ideas and jokes, and made me feel very much at ease. That’s important when a movie that’s been rolling four or five months and you come in and do your little bit. It’s a great talent for a director can pull you in and make you feel like you’re the most important person there.”
“The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” (PG-13) 2 1/2 stars (out of four)
Another 1960s TV spy series gets the big screen treatment following “Mission: Impossible” with “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” a Guy Ritchie film that oddly enough, doesn’t feel much like a Guy Ritchie film. Far less gritty and stylish than Ritchie’s previous work (the writer-director’s recent movies include the underrated “RocknRolla” and the hit “Sherlock Holmes” films), “U.N.C.L.E.” is sustained by the undeniable presence of Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander and to a lesser extent, Hugh Grant.
“Man of Steel” star Cavill slips comfortably into the role of Napoleon Solo (played by Robert Vaughn on the TV series), a dashing, Cold War-era CIA agent who reluctantly teams with Russian KGB Agent Illya Kuryakin (Hammer, assuming David McCallum’s role from the series) in a bid to stop a mysterious global crime organization from carrying through with its world-dominating nuclear ambitions. Left with few people they can trust, including each other, Solo and Kuryakin must put their faith in Gaby (Vikander), the estranged daughter of the missing German scientist who designed the weapon, although it becomes quickly apparent that she may have an agenda of her own.
While the producers of “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” are probably hoping the title alone with be a draw, at least for diehard TV fans and Baby Boomers (millennials sure the hell won’t know anything about the original NBC series), that small segment of the audience won’t make or break this reimagining of the “U.N.C.L.E.” as a film franchise. After all, the film is essentially an origins story that methodically introduces its characters on its way to forming the “U.N.C.L.E.” (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) by the conclusion of the film; serving merely as a springboard to what Ritchie surely hopes will be a franchise, a la “Mission: Impossible.” Name recognition or not, the film stands on its own.
One thing’s for certain: “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” while not completely remarkable, fares far better than the first installment in the “Mission: Impossible” series, which was downright confusing. And while the tone is dramatically different than the Tom Cruise movie franchise (while there’s action and adventure here, it feels more like a tongue-in-cheek Roger Moore James Bond film), there’s no doubt Solo and Kuryakin can succeed with some more big screen adventures if Ritchie brings the sort of cinematic edge he’s built his resume on. With winning performances by Cavill, Hammer (although he’s a bit bland when toe-to-toe with Cavill) and Vikander (whose career continues to soar after “Ex Machina”) – as well as Grant in the pivotal role of British Secret Service honcho Alexander Waverly, and Elizabeth Debicki as the deliciously evil villain Victoria – the foundation is certainly there. If Ritchie doesn’t open things up a bit, somebody better hold the clapboard above his head until he says, well, “Uncle.”
“Straight Outta Compton” (R) 2 1/2 stars (out of four)
While the gangsta rap music that fuels the movie is less than to be desired, there’s no question, the back story of the pioneering rap group N.W.A. is a fascinating one, if not for any reason for its lurid, behind-the-scenes look at the music business and its warts-and-all portrayal of man group members Ice Cube, Easy-E and Dr. Dre. Admittedly not a fan at all of rap, I am a fan of good stories, and there are enough in “Straight Outta Compton” – from accounts of crooked management and run-ins with police, to dangerous encounters with fearsome Death Row Records founder Suge Knight – to fill the film’s exhaustive two-and-a-half hour run time.
O’Shea Jackson Jr. plays his father Ice Cube in “Straight Outta Compton,” which tracks the origins of N.W.A. and its rapid rise to the top, giving the sort of voice to a group of ghetto youths that had never been heard before. But while stirring up controversy and calls for social change with inflammatory songs like “F— Tha Police,” based on their personal experiences with law enforcement – the group members become consumed by their own jealousies, greed and mistrust of one another, leading to long-running feuds with each other and people close to their inner-circle, and the group’s eventual demise.
The three leads in “Compton” are outstanding. Jackson is a dead ringer for his dad – the lyricist – with maybe less of a scowl; while Corey Hawkins is given the most range to play with as the group’s easy-going creative force who eventually develops the balls to stand-up to a highly volatile Knight (R. Marcos Taylor). Jason Mitchell shows the most vulnerability as the group’s money man and leader Easy-E, who puts his unwavering trust in his shifty manager Jerry Heller (the always great Paul Giamatti).
The timing of the release of “Straight Outta Compton” is almost frightening in a way, because the film – while not afraid to portray its leads as deeply flawed individuals – plays heavy on the rifts the group had with police. The specter of Rodney King looms heavy over the film, as real-life footage of the beating and subsequent riots after the verdict acquitting the police officers appears prominently.
There’s no question the group’s surviving members and director F. Gary Gray wanted to make a statement with “Compton” in the wake of Ferguson and Baltimore; and one can only hope that the likes of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre will step up with voices of reason should the movie – and the revival of “F— Tha Police” – galvanizes people in the wrong sort of way. For N.W.A. in “Straight Outta Compton,” anyway, the whole idea of their music was about freedom of speech – not the freedom to destroy and wreak havoc. If the film teaches us anything, it’s OK to be angry about perceived social injustices, so long as it’s not in a destructive sort of way.
Original Interviews, Reviews & More By Tim Lammers