by Alan Yudman

I have waited a few days to write about BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE for a couple of reasons. One, so my review would not get caught up in the maelstrom of negative buzz about the movie. The other, to make sure I properly processed what I experienced. The first part was easy. The second, not so much.

I wanted to like this movie. Really, I did. But I just could not make the leap from tolerate to love. Or even like. I’m not even sure I appreciate what Zack Snyder is trying to accomplish. It seems he is trying to make Superman more human. I realize that is something the Man of Steel wrestles with, but in the end he knows he is not and accepts that. So imprinting human dilemmas on him feels forced and false. Maybe in the hands of a more skilled actor it would work. Henry Cavill physically fills out the suit well, but after two movies I’m just not getting the emotional depth that Snyder is going for.

Then there is Batman. Oh, Batman. Dude, lighten up just a little. Ben Affleck is fine. Not as good as Christian Bale, but not as bad a George Clooney. But the character of Batman/Bruce Wayne is such an unlikable sourpuss that it is hard to root for him at any time. Some part of me wanted Superman to end him. I guess skulking around Gotham City for 20 years fighting to keep all the scum at bay could take its toll on a hero. But aren’t heroes supposed to be above all that.

So why are the two at odds? Batman doesn’t like the way Superman dealt with the Kryptonians in MAN OF STEEL. He lost a friend in the chaos and destruction (he should be more angry at Snyder for that). So he decides he alone must come up with a way of keeping Superman in check. An ace in the hole that can destroy him if necessary. At the same time Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg trying his hardest with average material) is doing his evil best to do the same. Or something similar. Kryptonite is discovered in the wreck of one of General Zod’s world engines and both Luthor and Batman want it. And if it seems like I’m going all over the place, this is mild compared to the way Snyder jumps from storyline to storyline.

For the first 90 minutes I continually scratched my head trying to figure out exactly what was going on. Eventually all the pieces come together, but it takes entirely too long to do it. Once the movie does get going it is kind of satisfying. The fight scenes aren’t bad, but they suffer from Snyder-ology. Too much slo-mo. Too many weird camera angles that make the action confusing and hard to follow.

I haven’t even gotten to the set-ups for the sequels. We meet Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) who has a key role in defeating the creature Luthor creates to kill Superman and Batman. Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and The Flash (Ezra Miller) also make brief cameos, though not in any significant way.

Let’s bottom line it. Did I like it. Well, there were parts I enjoyed (mostly in the last hour. Yes the movie is 2:31). But it is a narrative mess with characters that you should care about but do not seem to have anything to like. Yes, it did huge box office in its first weekend. But Warner Brothers would be well served to take this out of Snyder’s hands and give it to someone who values character and story above style. Until then, I am not sure any of DC’s sequels will live up to any kind of expectations.


by Alan Yudman

When most people have a midlife crisis they do something to shake things up. A new purchase or a new significant other. Some may even change jobs. In WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT, Tina Fey’s Kim Baker ditches her job as a writer-producer for a major network and decides to become a war correspondent in Afghanistan circa 2003.

She goes over with the chance to move in front of the camera and report on the war against terror. Baker is obviously a newbie, taking a bright orange duffle bag into combat among other sins. But, Baker learns how to do her job and learns how everyone deal with the “Kabubble”— drinking. Lots of drinking.

Baker also learns about herself. She learns that she is an adrenaline junkie. She becomes addicted to the rush of reporting from dangerous areas.

In this weird environment she also tries to maintain a relationship with her boyfriend in New York (Josh Charles). That blows up during a Skype session where she notices another woman in his bed. That pushes her to a new relationship with a Scottish freelance cameraman played by Martin Freeman.

If all this sounds a little familiar, comedy and romance amidst the horrors of war, it did to me too. I thought it sought to be the Afghanistan version of MASH, the classic Robert Altman movie about doctors in the Korean War.

The movie was produced by Fey and Lorne Michaels. The screenplay was written by Robert Carlock. These are the people behind 30 ROCK and THE UNBREAKABLE KIMMIE SCHMIDT. So the comedy bonafides are there. The funny parts are really funny. The drama dips into the melodramatic, but not offensively so.

Fey is very good as Baker. She stretches a bit, but not as much as you might think. Here’s why. The movie is based on the real life story of Kim Barker. She was a print and online journalist who went to Afghanistan knowing not much and became a very good correspondent.

She shared her experience in the book THE TALIBAN SHUFFLE. In her New York Times review of the book, Michiko Kakutani wrote:

“It’s not that Ms. Barker is adept at dramatizing her own adventures as a reporter – though she develops the chops of a veteran correspondent, she depicts herself as a sort of Tina Fey character…”

So even before the movie was made, Fey seemed destined to play Kim.

The rest of the cast is very good. Freeman is solid as usual. Margot Robbie’s star continues to rise. Christopher Abbot as Fey’s Afghan guide is touching. And, Alfred Molina is always amazing and may be underutilized as a government official who is smitten with Baker.

I drew the comparison to MASH earlier. WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT shoots for that target, but falls just a bit short. The writing is not as sharp and the direction is a little too loose. The co-directors Glenn Ficara and John Requa are not Robert Altman. The film also rushes through events, a problem with any biopic.

But WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT is funny and touching and worth a look.


— by Jeff Schultz

If the title refers to the audience, it’s wishful thinking, because no one is going to flock to (or stream — I saw it on Amazon) this comedy-horror thriller, which is too unfunny to be a comedy, lacks anything horrific and is absent of thrills. The reality TV show premise (and the POV cameras that spring from it) is staler than a week-old scone, the acting includes a key role performed so amateurishly (by Carrie Genzel) you pray (unsuccessfully) for her early demise, and worst of all in this 95-minute bowl of slop, virtually nothing happens for the entire first hour and the only real action comes in the final ten minutes, when low-budget special effects that look like they come from a gag gift novelty store lead to a final line of dialogue meant to be funny, but is instead just embarrassing. Nothing more needs to be said.


— by Jeff Schultz

E.T. reimagined as a chase film. For much of it, the unsettling tension — punctuated by at least three unexpected eruptions — keeps us on edge. It’s built around the abduction from a religious cult of an eight-year-old boy by his father. But neither the cult nor Federal investigators, both working frantically to find the boy, quite know what they’re dealing with — and only gradually is it revealed to the audience. We know the boy has some kind of supernatural power, but not from whence it came until toward the end, when you can see what’s coming because Spielberg has already taken us there. (Twice, actually: there’s a big dollop of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS here, too.) There are fine turns from Michael Shannon (the father), Joel Edgerton (his close friend) and in a smaller role as the cult leader, Sam Shepard. Kirsten Dunst has less to do, but does her best, along with the rest of a lesser-known cast, among whom Adam Driver and Bill Camp should be singled out, and not only for their arresting faces. Plus the boy, Jaeden Lieberher, is a natural whose underplaying effectively emphasizes his other-worldliness. The movie goes on too long, and the big effect at the end is more visually striking than sense-making, but worth seeing for sure


— by Jeff Schultz

Painfully unfunny and ultimately uncomfortable, with just a few exceptions. Yes, I laughed helplessly during a long gag with a deflating balloon. Yes, I did the same during that old contract-signing bit (“Sign here. And here. And here. And…. etc.”) Yes, Pee-Wee’s early scenes with Joe Manganiello are fun. But their friendship, which fuels Pee-Wee’s brave decision to leave his small town and see the world, devolves into a kind of icky, un-spelled-out homoerotic buddy pairing that doesn’t work on any level. Road movies are only as good as their individual segments and the people cast in them, and neither a trio of sexpot bank robbers, nor a farmer and his nine daughters, nor a community of Amish, nor anyone else is funny or captivating enough. By the time of the movie’s biggest misfire — a musical number that both pays homage to and pokes fun at breathless salutes to New York City — you’ll be grabbing the remote to see how much is left to go. Whatever we loved about Pee-Wee Herman in the 80’s seems now either un-recapturable or stale. I admit I didn’t do my “homework” and watch the Tim Burton original. But for whatever reason, this is not an especially welcome return.


— by Jeff Schultz
Let us stipulate at the outset that even though it’s only March, John Goodman must surely have a lock on one of next year’s Best Actor nominations. He’s that good in this very fine thriller, which producer J.J. Abrams has said contains the original CLOVERFIELD’s DNA — even though it is a somewhat different type of film. Author Joseph Heller famously observed that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you — which is a fitting description of what’s going on here. More than three-quarters of the way through, we’re still not certain if we’re dealing with a psycho kidnapper or a survivalist canny enough to have prepared for a genuine apocalypse. I don’t want to give away too much here, because that mystery IS the movie, which should be seen with as little foreknowledge as possible. And if the denouement does not quite live up to the impossibly high bar set by the original (IMHO one of the greatest movies ever) — if, say, Paramount talked the filmmakers out of another nihilistic ending like the one that made the first CLOVERFIELD such a gut punch — still, there hasn’t been anything this gripping in a while. Which brings us back to Goodman, who from the moment he first appears looks, sounds and acts like someone you just don’t fuck with, keeping your heart racing throughout because you cannot escape him.


— by Jeff Schultz

Delicious. Yes, it’s primarily a profile of L.A. Times food critic Jonathan Gold, the first such writer to ever win a Pulitzer Prize. But the documentary’s co-subject is Los Angeles itself and the marvelous ways Gold evokes our megalopolis through its chow. If you’re familiar with Gold’s reviews, you know him as the most democratic of gourmands — a man for whom a taco truck, a mini mall, or a hole in the wall is more likely to yield taste bud heaven than the usual temples of fine dining that were once the sole purview of newspaper restaurant writing. That, coupled with his shy yet open and amiable personality, makes him a perfect guide as he cruises in his Dodge truck from the San Gabriel Valley to Koreatown, Alhambra to Hollywood, and anywhere else where there’s something exciting to be found on a plate. By the time the movie ends, we’re not only hungry, we’ve also gained a new way to define the city, summed up beautifully at the end in an elegiac reading (at Skylight Books) by Gold from one of his lovelier pieces.


by Alan Yudman


I’ve seen this all over Facebook today. Sony has released the first trailer for the new Ghostbusters movie. And it is all kind of nostalgic.

I’ve also seen plenty of people complain about it. It’s not funny. Leslie Jones sucks. And other comments.

People!!! Chill. I actually would have hated it if this was over the top hilarious. That would have worried me. I would have wondered, “did they put all the funniest stuff in the trailer”? So it’s kind of a relief that it is simply an exercise in nostalgia.

I think the cast is great, or will be. This will be Leslie Jones breakout role. I love her on Saturday Night live. Her weekend update segments about dating are one of my favorite things.

Plus, CAMEOS!! Paul Feig said members of the original cast will appear in the new movie, but not in the same roles. This is a reboot. Not a sequel. If anyone can pull it off, Feig can.

So let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s just soak ourselves in nostalgia and enjoy.