The Crusades of a Critic putting pop culture in its place with sharp verbal bullets.

Welcome to the cold, oppressive inner sanctum of my mind that gave birth to the beast known as The Iron Criterion. Armed with high expectations, a short temper, a lyrical spirit, and a raging God complex the literary equivalent of letting Dick Cheney loose in the suburbs with a high-velocity hunting rifle. So this is my personal crusade against a broad range of "unjust villains" of the movie, television, video game and literature varieties - that is a bit like a drunken hobo stuck in a video rental store. Special thanks go to my friend Brotherhood619 for designing the original logo, which is now BURNING IN HELL WHERE IT BELONGS.

My reviewing style is very analytical and critical while simultaneously aiming to be comical and entertaining. I automatically hate anything mainstream unless it can prove itself to me. I'm also a foreign film purist, and a lover of the English language and the literature it has spawned. Recurring elements in my reviews include surrealism, cynicism, nihilism, misanthropy and obscure references that most people probably dare not even attempt to understand - think Jon Stewart meets Friedrich Nietzsche.

The end of July 2014 marks the cumulation of the blog's fifth year. *Blows party-horn*

Want to suggest a review? Then simply e-mail Iron.Criterion@gmail.com

Need more Iron? Then you should probably see a dietician! Bad jokes aside, I created and used to edit an alternative music webzine, which finished its run in 2014. From 2012 - 2014 I also wrote for What Culture.

For archived posts visit the categorised links above, or for this week's post scroll down:

The Crusades of a Critic © 2009-2016 by Iron Criterion.
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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Review - Iron v The Critics v The Nerds

Jiminy jillickers, another month and another over-hyped superhero slugfest forced upon us like creationism in an American science class. I happen to prefer DC to Marvel, however, so I'm too not mad. But I do long for the days when liking leotard superheroes would get you run out of most social circles like you were the Pig-Man of Cannock Chase. The current superhero renaissance is akin to some trashy seventies sci-fi movie where super-powered aliens have infiltrated society and are slowly indoctrinating us with their propaganda; manipulating us into believing that they really are capable of all these heroic feats and that ordinary humans suck. And Soylent Green is people, it was Earth all along, and the President is a robot.

I'm willing to wager that the admission that I prefer DC rustles the jimmies of at least one reader. The furore and pointlessness of the DC-Marvel rivalry is comparable only to that of the Bloods and the Crips, afterall. But I've often found DC more tolerable than Marvel. DC's idea of maturity may tend towards the grimdark territory occupied mostly by Warhammer 40k fan fiction written by fifteen-year-olds, but that's why I like it. Marvel films are designed to be perpetually fan-pleasing. As such the stakes in the MCU are always going to be negligible because Marvel lives in constant fear of the inevitable nerd backlash. DC’s cinematic universe, on the other hand, feels less clinical and more auteur in intent. In dire contrast with Marvel, DC are the bumbling fools who can’t do anything right. Don't get me wrong - I'm well aware that both Marvel and DC are the artistic equivalents of a candy floss based diet. But as far as I'm concerned, DC is the Stanley Kubrick to Marvel's George Lucas.

So Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The idea that those two would fight is, at once, the ultimate nerd bait and an exercise in stupidity. What would be gained from such a fight? Other than a persecution-free day for the criminals of both Gotham and Metropolis. And like the man with a ten-foot long cock trying to get his end away with a woman with a vagina that's eight foot deep, there are practical considerations. But I was ready. I bought into the hype and went as soon as I could face going to the cinema. And then, nearly three hours later, I left. Partially satiated, somewhat aggrieved, but mostly just numb, as though I had tried to rub one out to every episode of Game of Thrones. I'm not the only one disappointed by BvS - critics have been tearing this film apart like it's a pamphlet filled with Donald Trump's hair styling tips. Naturally, this prompted the nerd brigade to come out in full force and challenge all that threatens its hive mentality. So I thought that, in this review, I'd do something a little different and weigh in between the wildly contrasting opinions of the critics and the audience. Mine being the one true opinion, of course.

This is what happens to me whenever I mention my website.

Critic #1: “The film generates zero tension from what is implicitly marketed as a seismic battle of superheroes.”

Nerd #1: “As the title suggests that it's a battle between Superman & Batman.
The two mightiest heroes of the world (that's a serious case). The movie is EPIC!”

Iron: I’ll admit that watching Batman and Superman share the screen - or seeing Batman wander Metropolis and Superman in Gotham - got me excited to levels normally reserved for my criminal extracurricular activities. The Dark Knight Returns is a storyline that was second only to the Swimsuit Issues on the comic fan’s wish list of properties to adapt into film. But, like going on a date while wearing a pair of boxers made entirely out of sandpaper, Batman v Superman soon eroded my excitement. As it transpired, the audience had been duped into believing that Man would do combat with God. See, I was expecting a cinematic clash between two titans; but what we got was more strained facial expressions than an advert for constipation aids. Batman v Superman plays out like Sucker Punch but with more angst. No Zack Synder, that wasn't a compliment. A more fitting title for the film would have been: 'Batman and Superman spend an hour doing random shit, trash talk each other, have a scrap, and then become best friends forever.' Superfriends, you might say.

A friend commented that it wasn’t really Batman v Superman, but Bruce Wayne v Clark Kent, and I’d be hard pressed to disagree. Too much of the film was focused on the characters’ civilian alter-egos scowling at the very thought of the other, and honestly, I was half-inclined to yell “kiss her you fool” at the screen. However, the titular fight was well-executed and brutal (in the Casino Royale-Bond savages a man in the toilet, kind of way). With all the technological bells and whistles in a modern cinema, you can practically feel Batman battering Superman around the head with the bog room sink. But considering Synder loves his destruction, and that these two heroes cause collateral damage on a far larger scale throughout, it was light on the destruction overall. It is a franchise movie starring two of DC’s biggest creations limitedly - the stakes were always going to lower than the urinals in a Hobbit tavern.

The homosexual dependency relationship parallels are too rich a vein of comedy to simply ignore, however. With Batman spending half the film's runtime brooding over images of Superman, I wouldn't have been too surprised he had confessed: "I wish I knew how to quit you." The weird Brokeback Mountain visual only intensified during the fight's climax which saw Batman stood over Superman, throbbing green staff in hand, both sweating like David Cameron visiting his accountant, letting slip pained grunts from the physical exertion; ready to stick it into Superman with the tender efficiency of a fan-fiction writer inserting a gender-queer character into their favourite work. What was I saying again? Oh, that's right: SMASHY SUPERHERO FILM ISN'T SMASHY ENOUGH. SMASHY.

Verdict: I’m going to, mostly, go with the critics on this one.

Critic #2: "There seems to be a fundamental lack of understanding of what those characters are about. It’s almost like Zack Snyder didn’t read a bunch of comics, he read one comic once, and it was Dark Knight Returns, and his favourite part was the last part where Batman and Superman fight".

Nerd #2: "F*ck the critics! T'was an awesome movie! They're probably expecting an Adam West Batman and a George Reeves Superman".

Iron: Okay, this was a criticism that didn't particularly fly with me. The cinematic Batman has been a brooding misery-guts since Tim Burton's Batman (1989) and has only grown darker with time. Before that, there was the eternally light-hearted and ultra camp Adam West 1960's Batman. And before that, we were treated to Lewis Wilson's nationalistic Boston-accented wise guy. The point I'm trying to make is that filmmakers should not be limited to a singular interpretation of a comic-book character - Batman wasn't particularly dark until Frank Miller and Alan Moore got their hands on him. BvS' Batman is older, cynical, and strung-out, which results in a caped crusader who, like a striking latrine cleaner, isn't taking any shit. In that respect, Ben Affleck puts in a highly compelling turn as both a strung-out Bruce Wayne and terrifying Batman all-to-ready to become the monster people already believe that he is. And in the early parts of the film, he is a frightening presence - a shadowy figure who hides in the shadows and drags people away to their doom. Once Doomsday starts his rampage, however, all Batman can do is hang about like your girlfriend's kid brother tagging along on your date because his parents wanted him out of the house.

My praise extends to Henry Cavill too. I identified with his put-upon Superman, with a perpetually furrowed brow, wondering "why don't these people like me?" as he plows through an orphanage to save a mangy cat. Making him the superhero equivalent of Lenny from Of Mice and Men - a well-meaning dolt who doesn't realise his own strength - made for a more compelling exploration of the Superman 'problem'. I already accept he's a menace to society without needing some shady authority figure, with an agenda the size of Kim Kardashian's fat arse, trying to brainwash me into believing it. So, yes, the two titular heroes are rather dark and Frankensteined together from a mish-mash of various storylines - but that's not exactly a bad thing. New, daring interpretations should always be welcomed, because when filmmakers milk a winning formula we end up with Bat-Credit Cards and Bat-Nipples. Ew, that just made think about Batman and Robin. That's it, Batman v Superman, you're getting the hose again.

Finally, I would like to discuss Gal Gadot's brief (but wonderful) performance as Wonder Woman; taking the form of a paragraph that's equivocal to her total screen time. Despite the brevity of her role, I felt she was the best part of a movie about the superhero equivalent of two rednecks beating the gay feelings out of each other. Gal juxtaposed the smouldering/enigmatic party-guest and hardened Amazonian warrior roles rather well; even if, physically, she looks like she has as much chance of picking up a massive sword as a Final Fantasy protagonist has at making it through a My Chemical Romance CD without crying.

Verdict: The nerds have this one with their uncharacteristic reasonableness regarding character adaptation.

Critic #3: “[Batman v Superman is] attempting to cram in too much (giggity) and as a result, fails to deliver anything individual enough to stand out.”

Nerd #3: “Personally I loved the movie. I loved the way it "dragged" as people call it. I think it was a good way to make a superhero movie, but in a way that it was completely different than your everyday superhero movie.”

Iron: By this point I've seen Batman's parents get murdered so many times that I'm probably the one who should be emotionally scarred. This time, however, it was all presented in such lovingly morbid detail - focusing on the light leaving his mother's dying eyes - that I'm not entirely sure if it expected me to be sad or turned on. The point is, did we really need to see Batman’s origin story again? Perhaps the film would have benefited more from devoting the time to explain why Alfred was about fifteen years younger and basically Warlock from Die Hard 4. But this was just one strange story choice in a movie that’s like Freddy Kruger’s origin story from Nightmare on Elm Street 3 – the result of a thousand undeveloped stories spunking on the sleek body of the embryonic idea. The plot zigzagged everywhere – strange dream sequence that’s set-up for a future movie, individual character trailers for the Justice League movie, the people against Superman, Batman’s personal crusades, Lois Lane, Doomsday as the final boss, Wonder Woman, etc.

Of all the terrible story decisions, perhaps the most egregious was the renewed focus on Man of Steel’s climatic battle. While I appreciated the attempt at bridging the two films together, in a bid to fill in Man of Steel's many plot holes, all the writers did was put a little hat on it. It as though the writers were pleading: "I know the plot was totally shit last time, and by drawing your attention to it we’re only making things worse, but look - Bruce Wayne was there! Look at all the emotions! Do you love us now?" Admirable but in practice it was like that old woman trying to restore the Jesus fresco only for it to end up resembling Peewee Herman stuck in sex face. The action is far more destructive, bombastic, and morally problematic in this movie, so perhaps we should just move on. Otherwise, we’d be forced to question why Wayne’s employees needed to be ordered to flee a building that’s currently being torn apart by the World Engine.

I found the underlying logic behind the People v Superman plot flummoxing too. After Man of Steel, society views Superman as an unaccountable force of destruction. Not too unreasonable considering his rescue of Metropolis is only marginally less destructive than summoning Godzilla in SimCity. However, the entire case against him only really comes to fruition once Superman is framed for gunning down the members of an African terrorist cell. No one ever points out that Superman would be the last person to use a gun: his entire body is a goddamn weapon. Akin to that one colleague who eats nothing but tuna sandwiches, Superman could kill simply by coughing. But everything I've mentioned so far pales in comparison to the conclusion of the titular conflict: Batman reaches an anagnorisis regarding Superman because their mothers share the same name. This is like when people point out that Hitler had a dog and therefore couldn't have been all that bad. The two going from unadulterated rage to practically embracing (in the space of seconds), reminded me of that scene in The Simpsons where Homer and Cletus, taking a class for bad parents, hug immediately after strangling each other.

Verdict: The critics all the way with this one.

I'll let you assign which is Batman and which is Superman

Critic #4: “Overlong superhero mash-up is dark, violent.”

Nerd #4: "‘Movie critics’ criticizing Batman v Superman for being too dark & serious is a little hypocritical, wouldn't you say? Considering every time Marvel puts out a slightly darker movie, they write a puff piece editorial…."

Iron: As the word ‘dark’ possesses two connotations, I thought I’d discuss both. Firstly, yes, this is a visually dark movie. When it comes to filmmaking Synder only really has one trick up his sleeve: cinematography that makes use of low contrast and ‘dust filters’, so that it looks like the film's taking place inside a Henry Hoover. The set design and colour palette resemble that of the Earth the day after the squids have taken over. As I watched the desire to take a steaming hot bath itched at me; which, considering I bathe only whenever Halley's Comet acknowledges that it isn't so fucking special, should tell you all you need to know. Many of the opening Batman sequences verge on being too visually dark, and it's hard to discern what is precisely happening. But I appreciate that Synder was trying to quickly establish Batman's whole deal for the girlfriends held captive in the audience, and having him hide in the shadows like a nerd trying to sneak into Skywalker Ranch was the quickest, and laziest, way to accomplish this thankless task.

This being a Zack Synder film, the visual effects verge on the ridiculous towards the end. The climatic battle between the superhero trio and Doomsday takes place on some bizarre Biker Mice From Mars esque landscape, and it was here that the film's conflicting pretensions rapidly descended into a clusterfuck of epic proportions. Suddenly the indefinable feeling of unease that pervaded throughout the movie finally started to make sense: BvS is basically a bad anime. The cartoonish visual effects coupled with a gritty and dark story resulted in the weird imbalance ever prevalent in bad anime. Usually, this is the first warning sign that the sexy tentacles are about to come out, or the female sidekick's tits are going to turn out to be a weapon of mass destruction. Luckily BvS never enters that horrifying territory - well, it could be argued that Wonder Woman is only propel herself that far forward through the power of queefing.
As the cited nerd quote states, the criticism of BvS being too dark and grim is more than a little hypocritical. Marvel are regularly lauded for the bleaker aspects of their Cinematic Universe. Every time that arrogant twat Tony Stark faces the consequences of his actions, the critics praise Marvel for making dark storytelling choices. I couldn't help but laugh when a friend reverently declared Age of Ultron the darkest Marvel film yet - I'd hardly call the guy from Kick-Ass getting himself killed profound storytelling. BvS verges on the ridiculous side of dark more often than not, but at least it knows that it's basically the spotty neckbeard atheist type. The upcoming Infinity War saga will almost definitely attempt awkwardly blend overwhelming darkness with cringy humour. Good luck fitting the team banter and shawarma scenes in a story about Thanos literally wanting to use his Infinity Gauntlet to give Death a good (power)fisting.

Verdict: I'm going with the nerds.

Critic #5: The best? Affleck in the Batsuit. The worst? Eisenberg's Lex Luthor.

Nerd #5: Jesse Eisenberg was tick central for the majority of the running time which was the big worry for me going into the proceedings from the trailer, just wanted to smack him.

Iron: Okay, I think we're all in agreement here. Jesse Eisenberg is a fucking frustrating actor, the equivalent of that one friend you desperately try to like even as he repeatedly pegs you in the balls. I'm beginning to suspect he's not actually even an actor, just some insufferable cunt who travels from set to set being as condescending and anti-social as possible. Eisenberg has been the holier-than-thou nerd so many times before, what other possible explanation could there be? It couldn't be that he has all the range of a Republic blaming his various scandals on poor people, could it? Regardless, this Joker-light Lex Luthor can piss off. Eisenberg plays Luthor like a vegetarian discovering his falafel chunk is actually a chicken nugget half way through eating it.  

Who am I kidding? You just know a twat like this identifies as a pollotarian.

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The Witch (Guest Review)

By Sam Graham

I have a terrible confession to make. I saw Silent Hill: Revelation (2012) at the pictures. There, I said it. I rewarded that abominable film. After going through the 5 stages of grief over my lost tenner I made a pact with myself to never see a shitty-looking horror film at pictures ever again. I broke that pact when The Woman in Black: Angel of Death (2014) came out, and more grief ensued. So when I saw trailers for The Witch I was very cautious. Very cautious indeed. After all, trailers lie.

Now, I never really considered a witch to be a good horror monster. The most I thought about a witch is that it’s an unimaginative Halloween costume. But don’t blame me; blame society.  Charmed (1998), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997), American Horror Story (2011), and The Craft (1996) all have one common thing about their witches: that they’re a bunch of cocky teenagers who treat their powers as a metaphor for teenage angst and growing adolescence. And upon discovering them they get all up themselves at how they don't take no shit yo, cos they got gnarly powers now, you dig? Who needs a man when they've got their girls? OK, so I don’t know how angsty girls talk. Sue me. The Witch, however says “fuck all that bullshit” and takes its concept from actual folklore and not some ex-goth’s repressed fantasies.

The story follows a puritanical family back in the 17th century who are chucked out asked to leave their community. They find themselves a patch of land and erect a farm and a new life for themselves. All seems to be going pretty well until the oldest daughter, Thomasin is larking with the baby, playing peekabo, but it turns out that no, she doesn't see you, as when she opens her eyes the baby's gone. She looks around as the camera pans up to an immense forest just past their farm, and the wide-angle lens gives the woods, where the light dies only a few feet in, and the bleak clouds blanket the skies, a sense of foreboding.

Here I thought it was going to be one of those ‘was it/wasn’t it’ films which leaves it up to the viewer as to whether there really was an evil force or it was just in their heads. However in the next scene when you see glimpses of the witch cutting the baby up and using its blood to make an ointment, which she then rubs all over itself, so I guess that’s that question answered. From there on a large portion of the film is the family trying to cope with it, and just like your average Trump rally, it quickly devolves into paranoia, hate, and hoping that God will save them.

They pass blame back and forth, ponder whether or not the baby will go to Hell, because he was unbaptised, and they each struggle in their own ways. The father of the family tries to be proactive and goes hunting for food, the mother sits at home and prays, and the youngest kids spend their time hanging out with a goat. As you do. Things get worse for the family when the crops die and the oldest boy goes missing (he’s lured to his doom by a saucy pair of tits) and Thomasin is just kind of caught in the middle of everyone else's bullshit. I'm not going to spoil the last quarter of the film, but as you can imagine the tension mounts on the family as their resolves eventually break and their fears get the better of them. It builds up to an ending which I really didn't expect, and only adds to the presence of the evil forces around them.

The Witch is the type of slow-burn horror film that’s rarely done well. The acting is solid all round from Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) as she struggles to get into the religious mojo the same way her family do, the father (Ralph Ineson) as he tries to keep his reserve for his family’s sake, and the mother (Kate Dickie), who you can only take so seriously once you’ve seen her get choked-out mid-coitus in Filth (2013). It’s minimalist in terms of cinematography and score. There’s a lot of panning around and just showing us the fields and the forest while the music holds a note for as long as it can.The longer the note, the more dread” - Super Hans. It establishes this haunting tension pretty early on and it carries through right to the very end.

The titular witch is rarely seen (the conversation/witchiness ratio is about 20/1), but then if they did show the witch more, not only would it take away the sense of malice, but it’d become a recurring monster like Freddy or Jason, and I just know they’d make a modern day sequel that’d be all eyeliner, bodices and tacky Alchemy jewellery. Let’s be clear here: the witch isn't some scorned teenager chanting “light as a feather, stiff as a board” in front of a bunch of tealights and a pentagram made out of red eyeshadow. She's a force of evil, in league with Satan.

There's only one scene where I felt the tension was a bit ruined, and that's where the oldest boy starts spouting a load of jibberish. The way the kid delivered the lines sounded forced, like he was reading from a script. Granted, the things he was saying were a bit ham-fisted, so it might have been that, because everywhere else in the film he was natural and believable. Naturally, a film about a Christian family and the brides of Satan has a lot of religious discussion, which can get a bit tedious at times and I imagine would alienate a lot of people, so if that sort of stuff annoys you in a “Huh, they keep talking about God like he's real or summit” kind of way, I’d give this one a miss. You’ll only end up taking personal offence to someone else's beliefs anyway.

One thing I really liked is that this is a horror film, and not a jump-scare film. It’s very heavy on the atmosphere and does well to make the audience feel the same sense of dread that the family does. When the witch is involved in a scene it’s done little, which strengthens its presence. It could have so easily gone the other way and just thrown a bunch of jump-scares at us instead.

For those who don't know, there are two main differences between the types of film:

1 – Horror films have, and develop a premise which, to the victim, is scary and threatening. Jump-scare films turn the volume up to 11 every once in a while as pasty weirdos shout at the fourth wall and sometimes cats pounce in from inconceivable angles.

2 – The current movie going audience doesn’t consider it a horror film unless there’s a shriek and a flash of Darth Maul over someone’s shoulder.  Here’s looking at you, Insidious (2010), you pile of shit.

(Insidious) Not pictured: Horror

For example: When It Follows (2015) came out, someone I know told me they didn’t think it was scary because it didn’t make them jump at all.  My reply was something on the lines of: “So if you watch Beaches and I turn the volume up on every time Bette Midler comes on screen, does that make Beaches a great horror film?” The person I was speaking to had never seen Beaches, but I did get them to believe it’s a horror film. I see it all the time now.  IMDB forums are full of ‘it didn't have any good jump-scares’ like that's a bad thing, and they praise the works of James Wan who does nothing but. None of his films have any atmosphere. None of them even try to buy anything more than they could. He’s the Michael Bay of horror films. I don't know about you, but if I was alone in the middle of nowhere while a witch was off somewhere orchestrating my doom, I’d be pretty scared.

Take The Exorcist (1973) for example. While it’s pretty boring at times, think of the premise: A girl is possessed by the devil (let’s ignore the sequel shall we?). That’s terrifying because not only is a girl possessed by an actual fallen angel, but think of the ramifications:

1 – The Devil is real,
2 – If the Devil is real then God is real,
3 – The bible is true,
4 – I've been sinning myself to death since I was thirteen years old,
5 – I'd best go to confession just as soon as I've washed my hands.

The problem is that people aren’t scared by the premise anymore. They want loud noises and flashing lights. That's horror these days. Actually no that’s not horror; that’s the sex scene from Demolition Man (1993). Somewhere along the line we got desensitised and impatient. It’s come to be more about the instant gratification of being shit-up rather than taking time to witness a horrifying premise unfold.  You can tell just from the trailers. When I saw The Witch there were 3 trailers for upcoming horror films, and they were all the same. Quiet, quiet, Bang!

Jump-scares are cheap, and a poor substitute for creativity. Anyone could film themselves walking down the street on their phone and have someone jump out at them. Put that person in white makeup and throw in a story about a house and an evil deity and you've got yourself a passable horror film by today's standards. It takes talent and creativity and an understanding of your audience to create something which has lasting effect; something that gets under your skin and stays with you even as you're walking home from the cinema.

It’s not our fault that we forgot how to wait for our supper though (well, it is). It’s just the way society is. Nowadays everything is instantaneous. Style over substance. We’re connected to everything 24/7, and information is given to us via a personalised feed (which is a daft term.  Makes the human race sound like a bunch of pigs at a trough). People want everything immediately and when they can’t get it, they demand to speak to the manager. So of course Hollywood is going to cater to the audience. It’s what they do best. However every year or two an indie-horror comes out starring nobody from the A-list and goes against that current trend. Last year was It Follows, year before that was The Babadook (2014), and I’m going to say that this year’s film is The Witch.