Friday, March 25, 2016


Opening this week:

Batman v Superman: Dawn of JusticeThe title sounds like a Supreme Court Case, but it just refers to a spat between the two biggest names in the DC superhero stable. The Man of Steel thinks Gotham’s Dark Knight is a creepy vigilante, while the Caped Crusader thinks that the near-omnipotence of Krypton’s Favorite Son represents an existential threat to all humankind. Can either be called wrong with perfect confidence?

This had possibilities, certainly, and a deft director in Zack Snyder. And the film has its moments. The acting is quite strong—Ben Affleck makes a brooding, intriguing, suavely attractive Bruce Wayne, and his costume gives a perfectly competent performance as Batman. He’s far more credible as a superhero here than he was as Daredevil back in 2003.

Henry Cavill makes a serviceable Superman—like most actors who have played this role, his charm doubles whenever he’s in Clark Kent drag—and Jesse Eisenberg darkens his persona as a manic, nattering Lex Luthor. A young Israeli actress named Gal Gadot is introduced as Wonder Woman; she doesn’t get much to do, but she is unquestionably a wonder.

Parts of the clash between the title icons are amusing, but mostly Batman v Superman is an overwrought, laborious, punishingly heavy slog. The conflict is muddled and lacking in urgency, there isn’t nearly enough humor, and, above all, the movie is too freakin’ long. It’s TOO. FREAKIN’. LONG. By at least twenty minutes, probably more.

Various theories can be advanced as to why so many blockbuster action movies insist on being so outrageously overlong. But I would rather this review, unlike Batman v Superman itself, remain brief. 

City of GoldThis documentary challenges the commonplace that good stories require conflict. It’s a portrait of Pulitzer-Prize-winning L.A. Times restaurant critic Jonathan Gold, and it has almost none.

For an hour and a half, we watch the pleasant fellow galumph around the Greater L.A. area, going to Mom and Pop ethnic restaurants where adoring owners serve him plates of delicious-looking food. He takes a brief side trip to New York to dine with his idol Calvin Trillin, but otherwise that’s pretty much the whole movie, in terms of content. None of the talking heads have an unkind word to say about him, no appalling personal tragedies are revealed.

Of course, we do learn that Gold is a chronic procrastinator. A newspaper columnist who procrastinates? What a shocker! And his environmentalist brother gently reproves him for his fondness for overfished varieties of sushi. That’s about as much Shakespearean drama as we get.

But director Laura Gabbert, abetted by Bobby Johnston’s fine score, keeps City of Gold gliding along enjoyably. Gabbert’s bird’s-eye dissection of L.A.’s neighborhoods is fascinating and undeniably glamorous, and the movie works as genteel food porn as well. Mere humans may feel a pang of envy at seeing someone so seemingly contented with and well-rewarded by his talents, but Gold comes across so unassumingly that it doesn’t deepen into resentment.

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