Batman Begins (2005) – Movie Review

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It sickened me in the past to see the Batman movie franchise slowly digging it’s way to an early grave. After the quality Tim Burton films, the series pretty much went down the toilet, beginning a horrifically campy age of ‘Bat credit-cards’ and an armored Arnold Schwarzenegger tossing cringe-worthy puns at a Batman who seemed to be trying not to be embarrassed by the fact that his costume had nipples. So what could Warner Brothers producers hope to do to resurrect the franchise? Pretend it never happened, and start the whole series over again with a talented director, compelling story and capable cast.

Enter Christopher Nolan, the mastermind behind 2000’s ‘Momento’, widely praised as one of the most innovative films of the decade. As director/co- screenwriter, Nolan creates a richly dark, atmospheric world for Batman to inhabit, similar to that of the Burton films, but less cartoony. The film’s screenplay, written by Nolan and David S. Goyer is quality stuff, it’s true that some of the dialog exchanges can seem kind of contrived, particularly between Wayne and Liam Neeson’s character, Ducard, but it sounds so classy you tend not to care.

Nolan also puts a lot of trust in his audiences to stay put while the first hour of the film comprehensively explores Bruce Wayne’s backstory, with no cape donning and few fight sequences. Nevertheless, the pace never slows, and the story is so unexpected and fascinating (who would have expected a Batman film to begin in a prison in Tibet? only Nolan could pull it off!) there’s little chance of us losing interest. And this way, we really get a sense of who Bruce Wayne is, a trait none of the past movies were able to capture, including the Burton films. We see what drives him, what leads him to become this iconic crime fighter, and the reasoning behind the mask.

Of course, to help the audience get under Bruce Wayne’s skin, it doesn’t hurt to have such a talented lead as Christian Bale. Bale has been emerging as one of the most talented actors of his generation, and he brings that talent to a peak here, playing the darkest of all superheroes. If you were to break down the role of Batman/Bruce Wayne, you would find that it is essentially three characters: Wayne as Batman, behind the mask; Wayne’s public facade as the billionaire playboy; and the real, brooding Bruce Wayne. Bale plays all three of the characters to absolute perfection, and molds them together well enough to make it clear to show they are still the same person. He has been given tons of accolades for his performance already, and needless to say, he deserves every one.

And the sheer quality of the supporting cast is mind-boggling, if for the number of big names only. It’s very hard to find a weak spot in the incredibly strong array of performances here, but if one had to be found, it would have to be Katie Holmes. It’s not that she gives a bad performance, on the contrary, but just she seems too young to be convincing as a district attorney. For me, Michael Gough will always be the definitive Alfred, but Michael Caine does an excellent job of taking over the role, giving a very strong (and often funny) performance. Liam Neeson is sheer class as Ducard, Wayne’s mysterious mentor, as is Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, Wayne’s arms manufacturer and provider of the Batman gear. It’s wonderful to see the incredibly talented and much underrated Gary Oldman as Sgt. Gordon, the only decent cop in Gotham, and he truly makes the role his own. Even cult favorite Rutger Hauer makes an appearance as Richard Earle, the ambitious head of Wayne Enterprises. And (surprise surprise!) the villains are also actually menacing for once, as opposed to cartoony and corny. Cillian Murphy just about walks away with the show as the truly chilling Scarecrow (the sequences involving his ‘fear gas’ are surprisingly frightening) Ken Watanabe is mysterious and creepy as guild leader Ra’s Al Ghul and Tom Wilkinson is very convincing as Carmine Falcone, head of the Gotham city mob.

Nolan’s knack for realism also comes as a breath of fresh air in this age of CGI bloated blockbusters – there are next to no computer generated shots in the movie, even a sequence with Batman standing on top of a high building staring down at the city was filmed with a stuntman. And it really works, the Batmobile actually interacts with it’s environment, and looks so much better real than computer generated. But don’t think that the film will come across as too serious and stuffy because of Nolan’s realism – true, Gotham seems too dark and dirty to come across as a fantasy world, but Batman Begins retains that unmistakable sense of fun that seems to only be present in comic book movies. We jeer and fear the villains, and cheer the hero as he lays his life on the line to vanquish evil and save the city. And that is how it should be. There’s even a surprising twist near the end, which is doubly surprising because it actually comes as a shock. What’s not to love here?

(and, further cudos to director Nolan for finally managing to make a swarm of bats actually frightening for once)

Overall, I’d have to label Batman Begins ‘A must see movie’ – it’s a well written, authoritatively directed, impeccably acted (especially by Bale’s powerhouse lead performance and Cillian Murphy’s sickly menacing Scarecrow) and very high quality production. Indeed, most other summer blockbusters could learn a thing or two from Batman Begins. If the Batman franchise died under it’s own gaudiness years ago, let us rejoice this glorious rebirth – Batman truly does begin here.

 

5 out of 5 stars

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Ted 2 (2015) – Movie Review

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The obvious theme of Ted 2 is the expansion of civil rights in America. The film opens and closes with come-to-life teddy bear Ted marrying full-size sexpot Tami-Lyn. Between those ceremonies Ted is stripped of his legal status as a human. He is defined as property, therefore disqualified for a job, credit cards, bank accounts and marriage. He can even be abducted and cut open without legal recourse. The plot aligns Ted’s fight for recognition with America’s stuttering battles over civil rights, from reluctantly accepting the humanity of blacks and women to accepting gay marriages.

The film’s structural theme is the celebration of pop culture. As Ted wins acknowledgment of personhood, the film exercises the recognition of popular culture as a valid form of artistic expression, an art as capable of serious statement (e.g., civil rights, the triumph of personhood over objectification) as is traditional high art.

The spectacular pre-title Busby Berkeley musical number and the climactic chase through a comic convention clearly establish pop culture as the film’s arena of interest. Ted’s neophyte lawyer Samantha is characterized as woefully ignorant of pop culture, whereas Ted and friend John at least have the verbiage to play at being lawyers. Ted and villain Donny are drawn out of hiding by their reflex responses to pop songs. Cameo appearances by Liam Neeson, Tom Brady and the Saturday Night Live crew confirm the focus on pop culture. And after all, pop culture is as American as the — ever unending — campaign for civil rights.

Ted’s relationship with John replays the bromance genre in American film. The two love each other but are careful to exclude any homosexual implications. Both have women in their lives, John the spectre of his ex-wife and Ted his Tami-Lyn. They’re repelled by Samantha’s phallic glass hash-pipe — a schlong bong? — but Ted weakens. He adopts Rocky opponents as his surname and his adopted child’s name. John’s fake death is guy-play, an insensitivity to emotion, that Samantha properly finds horrid.

But despite that macho pretence— and Ted’s and John’s swaggering sexual profanity — there’s a curious innocence in Ted’s marriage. He and Tami-Lyn love each other despite his not having a penis. That only becomes an issue when they try to save their breaking marriage by having a child. Deploying John’s semen, they are thwarted by Tami-Lyn’s sterility.

Love without sex — that innocence evocative of Andy Hardy and the decades of romantic abstinence — puts this raunchy vulgar romp into the tradition of antique Hollywood. Significantly Ted is pantless through most of the film because — like Donald Duck and his Disney-mates — he’s asexual. When Ted starts his legal fight for personhood he wears a green tie. That’s the bud of his human clothing. At his triumphant trial, when he’s declared human, he’s wearing a full suit. He has adopted the ritual wardrobe of the human, however in his case unnecessary.

Their pro-bono lawyer Samantha, in her first case, comes on as too hip for the law. At their first meeting she’s swearing and smoking her water-pipe — an augur of her fit with these irregular clients. Though she loses the trial, she is validated by what she is, a caring, feeling person. The good woman is a good lawyer even though she lost, as the unbeaten lawyer opponent is ridiculed for being too slick to care. Similarly, the civil rights champion (Morgan Freeman) who initially refuses Ted’s case because Ted hasn’t done anything for anyone, changes his mind when he sees the love between Ted and John. That’s the crux of the civil rights controversy in America: people deserve full rights not because of what they have done or how they are classified but because they are human beings.

 

7 out of 10 stars

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The LEGO Movie (2014) – Movie Review

‘The Lego Movie’ is directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller and stars Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Will Arnett, Morgan Freeman, Alison Brie, Liam Neeson and many more.

This film follows Emmet, an ordinary guy who lives his life completely by the book (or “by the instructions”, if you will). This all changes when he becomes the center of an ancient prophecy that claims he is destined to save the world and become a ‘Master Builder’.

The first thing I’d like to point out is just how much attention is payed to detail in this film, I mean everything looks and feels magnificent. The creators obviously had a clear vision of how they wanted things to come together and I think everything came together brilliantly, this astonishing land of plastic bricks made me want to believe it was real.

Almost every character in this film is lovable in their own way and they’re brought to life by the near flawless cast that was assembled, every actor’s voice fits their respective character perfectly, especially Will Ferrell as President Business and Liam Neeson as Good Cop/Bad Cop, who, in my opinion, gave the strongest performances of the whole cast.

The humour in this film is spot on, pulling off the task of being funny for all ages without being completely stupid. Animated movies should be an exquisite blend of funny dialogue and visual humour and thankfully, ‘The Lego Movie’ is just that. The plot is solid for the first two acts, but the third act contains a touching twist that will make you realise that this story is actually completely different than what you first thought it was and honestly, it’s a twist that pays off greatly and adds some much needed emotional depth to the film. (Let’s be honest, Emmet and Wildstyle falling for each other was a tacky plot device to add a slight element of romance to the film and we all know it.)

I have practically nothing but good things to say about ‘The Lego Movie’. It’s a charming, witty, visually stunning film that proves you can make awesome movies out of just about anything, even Lego blocks. The characters are the most enjoyable bunch that I have watched in recent years and the overall message that it sends to audience members is a great one.

 

9 out of 10 stars

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3 Days to Kill (2014) – Movie Review

I’m not quite sure what this movie set out to be – a serious CIA thriller, another Bourne/Reacher/Ryan attempt to duplicate what James Bond achieved and spawn a remarkable franchise, or a slapstick comedy that didn’t take itself too seriously, but delighted in the thrill of action and explosions in the same manner as films like Die Hard, Mr and Mrs Smith or This Means War did. But whatever its intention was, it failed.

Starting off as a set up to what could be a serious albeit cliched film – the journeyman agent, the one evil genius still at large, that one last job before calling it a day – the film quickly loses itself in a way that it never quite recovers from. With a wooden performance by Amber Heard, and scenes and dialogue that belong in a Robert Rodriguez film, 3 Days to Kill never lives up to the potential of what it could’ve been. Not quite action, not quite spy thriller, not quite comedy, and so many botched attempts at sentimentality that it becomes almost like a soap opera in its execution.

A solid performance by Kevin Costner, who’s gone along the lines of Liam Neeson in perfecting the senior bad ass role, but even Costner wasn’t enough to give this film plausability. I’ve watched it once and I think that was enough.

 

4 out of 10 stars

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