Spider-Man: Homecoming

Release: Friday, July 7, 2017

[Theater]

Written by: Jon Watts; Jonathan Goldstein; John Francis Daley; Christopher Ford; Chris McKenna; Erik Sommers

Directed by: Jon Watts

The only thing that’s slightly unconvincing about the high school experience as depicted in Jon Watts’ re-re-freakin’-re-boot is the distinct lack of oily skin and pimples. Nobody ever looks as liberated from acne at this stage, not unless you have a parent working for a skin-cleansing company. Or maybe you were just more amazing than Spidey himself way back when.

Otherwise, holy crap. Spider-Man: Homecoming gets it. Tom Holland definitely gets it. The high school awkwardness. Being so young and impressionable. Being willing, perhaps overeager, to prove yourself. These clumsy first steps toward adulthood are so earnestly rendered this played out as a flashback of my drifting through Farragut High, a school originally designed for 1,800 but whose population was, at the time, swelling to over 2,100. I was reminded of the cliques and the cliches, of Toga Nights and canned food drives that epitomized our silly little rivalry with the Bearden Bulldogs. And, more generally, the undeveloped idealism that inspires 18-year-olds to “change the world.” And, of course, how few school dances I went to wasted time and money on.

Although Spider-Man: Homecoming almost made me nostalgic for those days, it’s not a film completely defined by its knack for triggering trips down memory lane. It’s a superhero origins film, through and through. It’s far less formulaic than many are inevitably going to give it credit for. While significant chunks of character development take place within the confines of the fictional Midtown School of Science and Technology, the story follows a proactive Peter Parker (Holland) as he attempts to stop a newly emerging threat and thus prove himself worthy of Avengerdom. He’s also taking part in academic decathlons and learning how to drive and talk to girls. Because of its placement within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Watt (along with half of Hollywood’s screenwriters, apparently) choose to keep the world of . . . World-Saving on the periphery, effectively ensuring the film has a personality and trajectory all its own.

This is undeniably one of the most assured installments in the MCU yet — some feat, considering we are nine years into this thing now. It’s thrilling because of what it suggests for the future of the MCU and future standalone films, yet the production remains fully connected to the present and focused, careful in the way it blends spectacle with human drama. In the process it leapfrogs past Andrew Garfield’s two outings and at least two of Tobey Maguire’s. Arguably all three, for as cuckoo as Doc Ock may have been, Michael Keaton’s villainy is far superior both in terms of impact on the story and the menace introduced. Spider-Man: Homecoming may be about teenagers, but it carries a surprising amount of gravitas. Driven by the exuberance of the youthful Londoner, the saga is bolstered further by the mentor dynamic established earlier between Tony and Peter in Captain America: Let’s All Hate Each Other Temporarily.

We’re first introduced to one Adrian Toomes (Keaton), who has been profiting from the salvage of scrap metal and precious recovered alien technology in the aftermath of the Battle of New York. Shut down by the intervening Department of Damage Control, jointly created by Tony Stark and the feds, the already desperate Adrian finds himself turning to more shady activity all in the name of providing for his family. Cut to eight years later, and to the unassuming residential sector of Forest Hills, Queens, New York. The architectural wonder that is Stark Tower looms large on the Manhattan skyline. Peter, in a makeshift outfit, sets about fighting pick-pocketers and other small-time crooks after school. To satisfy his ever-curious Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), he explains that he’s busy taking part in “the Stark internship.”

We know the drill by now. Secrets don’t stay secrets for long when you are living a double life. The tension’s familiar — Peter having to come up with ways of defending Spider-Man (“he seems like a good guy”) all while excusing himself from his normal activities with little to no warning. But the execution here is confident and creative, a consideration of what must be in place first before one goes from part-time to full-time superhero. Several recurring motifs are presented, but they’re buried convincingly within the drama more than they ever have been. Keaton redefines the role of the antagonistic father with a mysterious alter ego all his own. Best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) is the first Average Joe to become privy to Peter’s abilities. The girl is right there in front of Peter, yet she couldn’t be further from reach.

Mercifully, the film avoids a retread of the “great power” lecture. Tomei and Holland brilliantly internalize the pain created in the wake of the death of Uncle Ben. This frees up the quasi-origins story to explore the specific challenges of maturing into a bona fide superhero. Feeling suppressed under the supervision of Tony’s personal assistant, Happy (Jon Favreau), Peter is often left frustrated by the red tape he must deal with from his idol, a point of contention that frequently paints him, no matter how naturally aligned our perspective is with his, as a kid with a lot of learning ahead of him — an homage to the Tony Stark that was before he engineered his way out of a terrorist cell. One of the best scenes in the movie is when Tony chastises the 16-year-old for not fully understanding the consequences of his actions.

Question is, does director Jon Watts (Cop Car; Clown) realize the consequences of his? A bar has been raised. Will it remain out of reach? It’s no accident that Spider-Man: Homecoming is the most solid MCU offering since Iron Man (in effect, the inception of the MCU itself). It’s a fluidly paced, two-plus-hour movie that passes by in what feels like five minutes. It balances dramatic elements with high entertainment value, all while introducing highly advanced tech, with yet another new, sleek suit sporting over 500 different web combinations (thanks, Dad!). More compelling than the suit, though, is the way Holland acquits himself with regard to the burden of expectation placed upon him. Maybe that’s what reminds me most of Iron Man. That movie wasn’t supposed to be that good.

So, yeah. With great power comes . . . well, you know the rest.

What a fun movie.

Spidey chillin in HisTube

Recommendation: Buoyant, heartfelt, surprisingly moving. Spider-Man: Homecoming proves that not only was a new iteration possible, it was essential to our understanding of where the MCU goes from here. Speaking from the point of view of someone who never read the comics, I just fell in love with Spider-Man. I really did. I can’t wait to see more. With any luck, the more committed come out feeling the same way. It’s a testament to the quality of the film when it thrives even without J.K. Simmons. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 133 mins.

Quoted: “What the fu — ” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Kong: Skull Island

Release: Friday, March 10, 2017

[Theater]

Written by: Dan Gilroy; Max Borenstein; Derek Connolly

Directed by: Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts becomes the latest to cash in on the recent trend of indie directors gone Hollywood, going from The Kings of Summer to a blockbuster that reimagines the king of the apes in all its primal glory in Kong: Skull Island, a fun throwback to creature features of the 1960s and 70s.

In it, a group of intrepid explorers comprised of government agents, Vietnam vets and various other useful experts travel to a remote island in the Pacific on a surveying expedition. The mission runs into a bit of a snag when they encounter the 100-foot-tall hulking ape known as Kong, whose territory they have begun bombing in an attempt to “learn about the landscape.” His retaliatory action lays waste to a fleet of choppers, killing several of the hapless tourists in the process and scattering the rest across the prehistoric jungle.

Kong: Skull Island proves antithetical of its Monsterverse sister Godzilla in almost every way. The focus is on more beast, more noise, more general mayhem. Less on those little threads of humanity that made each encounter with the nuclear lizard back in 2014 that much more interesting. The characters here merely serve to get us closer to the action, which is appropriate considering what the artists over at Industrial Light & Magic have accomplished. Kong: Skull Island is a visual effects delight and it should be allowed to show off a little. Did you see the number of names listed in the Visual Effects column in the end credits?

The biggest mystery surrounding this movie involves budgetary allocations rather than Kong himself. This monster movie’s cast is monstrously huge and yet only a triumvirate seems required. John Goodman plays Monarch agent Bill Randa, a man just crazy enough to get Senator Richard Jenkins to help fund his monster-hunting habit. Goodman’s a pro and makes his part enjoyable. Then there’s Samuel L. Jackson as Lieutenant Colonel Packard who has been tapped with providing Randa and some of his friends aerial support to the island. Packard’s function is to be the overbearing alpha male who wants to drop Kong himself after that initial attack cost him some of his men. Turns out, Packard has left Vietnam but only in a physical sense.

John C. Reilly is the only other significant role player here. He’s arguably the only one that really matters. He plays a World War II pilot who has been stranded on the unforgiving island and has ingratiated himself with the native tribe that also happens to be hiding out there. Luckily, it’s John C. Reilly who is given a role that ends up carving out significant space within the narrative. In the manner that SLJ plays SLJ and Goodman does a great Goodman impression, Reilly is reliably himself. Collectively the three have enough acting chops to take on Kong themselves and make it a rollicking good time.

But then there are talents like Tom Hiddleston and Oscar-winner Brie Larson stuck in acting purgatory, filling supporting roles that could have gone to anyone. The former plays a British tracker and ex-military man here to say “You can’t bomb this island” and Larson’s pacifist photographer succeeds in annoying more than just the fiery Packard. Meanwhile, Toby Kebbell gets a slightly more robust part but the actors who played Dr. Dre and Easy-E in Straight Outta Compton are totally expendable. And apparently Thomas Mann had a part, too. Who else did I miss, Kevin Bacon?

Fantastical, formulaic and occasionally frustrating, Kong: Skull Island isn’t an adventure epic that’s built to withstand the test of time or particularly intense scrutiny but what it offers is good old-fashioned, smash-mouth entertainment. Buy the biggest bucket of popcorn you can — you’re going to need it.

Kong SMASH!!! +500 pts

Recommendation: Kong: Skull Island is a bonafide crowd pleaser with its big special effects, trumped-up 3D marketing campaign and a list of famous actors longer than your arm. It’s all a bit over-the-top but then again this IS a movie featuring a 100-foot-tall gorilla. And for those who lamented the way Gareth Edwards handled his monster movie, maybe Jordan Vogt-Roberts will be your new best friend.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 118 mins.

Quoted: “I’m going to stab you by the end of the night.” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.posterspy.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Ghostbusters

Dont answer the call man

Release: Friday, July 15, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Paul Feig; Katie Dippold

Directed by: Paul Feig

It’s fun, and perhaps more than anything inspiring, watching a foursome of funny women transforming and transcending in what was supposed to be a god-awful Ghostbusters reboot. Yeah, I said it — I enjoyed the new movie. Bring it on, man. I ain’t afraid of no haters.

Before things get out of hand I have to say Paul Feig is no Ivan Reitman. And as fun as this truly becomes, the diaspora of knee-slappers and laugh-out-loud one-liners are still no match for the collective comedic genius that is Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd. Comparing the two — and I’m going to have to try hard to avoid an overdose of comparisons in this review — is like comparing . . . well, I just don’t want to do it. We are living in a completely different era. An era, mind you, that’s without Harold Ramis. We have lost our beloved Egon. But his spirit can live on. I’m not naming names but . . . Kristen Wiig. Damn she’s brilliant.

The set-up is familiar but far from derivative. Wiig plays Columbia University lecturer Erin Gilbert. Her past comes back to literally haunt her as she sees that her former paranormal research partner Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) has made available for purchase online a book the two worked on years ago that posited the existence of ghosts in a world parallel to our own. Seeing this as a potential road block to her success in academia, Erin confronts Abby and asks her to take the book off the web. That’s when she makes the deal to join Abby and her eccentric engineering pal Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon — remember that name) on a quick adventure to see if their life’s work is legitimate or not. In exchange, Abby will honor her request to stop publicizing said book, as much as that may hurt Abby on a personal level.

They visit an old, haunted mansion that still offers guided tours, as one of their tour guides (the perpetually creepy Zach Woods) claims he saw something spooky. There they encounter a ghost, confirming that their life’s work is indeed legitimate. Abby’s psyched, Jillian goes berserk and Erin . . . well, she just gets covered in ghost vomit. A recurring theme, we’ll come to find. The team starts to take shape and quickly. Perhaps too quickly, but delaying any further isn’t an option for a movie not planning on breaching the two-hour mark. Now they need a work space. They can only afford the upstairs loft above a crummy Chinese restaurant, one that seemingly can’t grasp the concept of properly portioned wonton soup. The trio take on the services of Chris Hemsworth‘s Kevin, nothing more than a good-looking but incredibly dumb blonde. (We’ll get into the reversal of sexist stereotypes in a bit, because it’s better that I keep you in suspense.)

Meanwhile a lonely MTA worker, Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), witnesses an isolated ghost-related incident on the subway line and reports it to the fledgling “Department of the Metaphysical Examination.” Having extensive knowledge of the city she makes a pitch for joining them in their efforts. She can even provide transportation. They end up creating what amounts to a nuclear reactor mounted atop a hearse that may or may not still have bodies in the back. It even comes complete with a “very un-American siren.”

Life in the ghost busting world is pretty interesting. Friendship dynamics are as well-defined as they are compelling: whether it’s the stunted growth in both the personal and professional relationship between Erin and Abby, the general insanity of Jillian or Patty’s confidence, there is a lot to latch onto here. Feig manages to create an environment in which his actors can really flourish. Strong positive vibes emanate. The camaraderie between the four is contagious, even if it waltzes often into goofy territory. McCarthy dials down her sass to affect a genuine personality we can actually cozy up to, necessarily establishing this as her best work to date. Wiig continues to perfect the deadpan. McKinnon is just plain fun. Jones has less work to shoulder but she’s nowhere near as boisterous and overbearing as her SNL résumé would have you believe.

I wish Ghostbusters handled its themes more delicately though. I guess subtlety goes out the window when you’re dealing with hundred-foot tall Stay Puft Marshmallow Men and thousands of other spirits. The casting of an all-female team should be enough to suggest it is doing something about the glaring gender inequality in modern cinema, but apparently it’s not for Feig. He, along with MADtv writer Katie Dippold concoct a fairly thinly veiled critique of the negative reaction to their own film by frequently drawing attention to the Youtube comments section on videos the ghost busting ladies have posted, in an effort to spread awareness of a potentially apocalyptic threat in New York at the hands of freak/genius Rowan North (Neil Casey).

Couple that with the fact that every significant male character is either a villain (the aforementioned Rowan is one particularly weak link) or just an idiot (the annoyance Hemsworth creates is absolutely intentional which in and of itself is annoying) and you have the recipe for a million “I told you so”‘s from anyone who has been against such a film in principal from the moment it was announced.

No, Ghostbusters is best when it’s focused on the friendships (the ghosts are pretty cool but largely forgettable, as they were in the first). McCarthy and Wiig are at the center of what eventuates as a heartwarming tale of loyalty and not giving up on lifelong goals. Their comedic repartee is energetic and surprisingly wholesome, even if the comedy they’re working with is largely inconsistent. It is true that what passes as comedy today barely passes as watchable, never mind as the stuff that elicits the kind of belly laughs the originators could. But there is so little of that limp in Ghostbusters. Instead it kind of struggles to keep the greatness going, occasionally succumbing to a lesser script and less experienced principals. That said, I wasn’t prepared to endure the hardest laugh I have had in a theater all year. Wait for that metal concert to go down. Wait for that scream. Oh my god, that scream.

Look, trying to convince anyone who has taken it upon themselves to let Akroyd and Murray personally know they suck just for endorsing such a thing, well that’s just a fruitless endeavor. To those people I’m sure I’ve betrayed something or other. I am not even going to address those who think bringing women in to do what was once done by four men is a mistake (although it is ironic that the film couldn’t dispense with sexism entirely). The original was apparently the paragon of excellence and therefore is lesser just because 2016 happened. A reboot just seems sexy and trendy and the cool thing to do, and maybe it is, but there’s one thing I know for sure: Ghostbusters is not another regurgitated, passionless affair. It likely will never garner the nostalgia the 1984 film did, but it is much farther from being the movie that an alarming number of fanboys seem to assume it is.

Ghostbusters gif

Recommendation: Massively negative hype is unfortunately going to impact box office intake, but my advice is this: don’t skip out on the movie based on hear-say and an admittedly poor trailer. It would be a shame to think millions missing out on this just because of the power social media gives people. Ghostbusters is well-acted, funny — unfortunately not consistently but the good bits hit hard — and surprisingly moving when all is said and done. I really had a good time and in the interest of full disclosure I wasn’t expecting to at all. Not because of the cast. But because most modern comedic adventures turn out to be a bust. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 116 mins.

Quoted: “It smells like roasted bologna and regrets down here . . .”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.weknowmemes.com 

Decades Blogathon – Casino Royale (2006)

 

Ruth from Flixchatter stopped by to give us her thoughts on 2006’s Casino Royale, the epitome of James Bond. Head on over to Three Rows Back and have a read!

three rows back

Decades Blogathon Banner 20162006It’s week two of the Decades Blogathon – 6 edition – hosted by myself and the awesome Tom from Digital Shortbread! The blogathon focuses on movies that were released in the sixth year of the decade. Tom and I are running a different entry each day (we’ll also reblog the other’s post) and I’m thrilled to welcome the one and only Ruth from FlixChatter. I’m sure many of you will know of Ruth’s brilliant site and for our little event she is reviewing Daniel Craig’s first foray into the world of Bond with 2006’s Casino Royale.

I can’t believe it’s been a decade since Casino Royale came out. I just rewatched it this weekend to refresh my memory, though I had probably rewatched it a few times in the last 10 years. It’s still as good as the first time I saw it, and I still would…

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Pan

Release: Friday, October 9, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Jason Fuchs

Directed by: Joe Wright

We’re off to Never, Neverland, but unfortunately not quite like in Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman.’

No, Joe Wright’s reboot of a Disney classic is a lot more subdued. This spirited adventure is, at best, an acoustic interpretation of that song and, come to think of it, why didn’t they use that as one of the crazy chants Blackbeard’s band of lunatic pirates sang with all their hearts in the beginning of the movie? Rather than going with a more overt but potentially hilarious modern metal classic they went with Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and The Ramone’s ‘Blitzkrieg Bop.’

Oh no, it’s another The Great Gatsby — all flash and flesh but no heart or soul; production value worth millions but a story that’s worth a dime a dozen. While Baz Luhrmann’s stylistic flourishes served at least some purpose — the life and times of not only the great Jay Gatsby but the indomitable spirit of the roaring twenties coincided beautifully with his lavish and dynamic directorial style — the excess of excess here in Pan more often than not distracts from a story that has very little new to say, despite being an origins story.

Pan begins in literal darkness, in a London orphanage where young boys just like Peter (Levi Miller) have been dropped off at the stoop and bid adieu by their parents for various reasons. Bomber planes are attacking the city during the height of World War II but amidst all the aerial chaos there swoops and dives, glides and gallivants a flying pirate ship in search of more boys to abduct. The orphanage turns out to be the last stop for these poor boys in this world as they are systematically turned over to the evil Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman) who then transports them to Neverland, a mystical realm he rules over with a mischievous grin and magnificent wig.

Eventually Peter is snatched up as well and taken to this land beyond space and time, but when he gets there seemingly nothing exists beyond the vast expanse of mines and misery as Blackbeard is still searching for more fairy dust, the only thing that will allow him to live forever youthful. After only a single day in the mines, Peter proves himself a rebellious tyke as he gets into a confrontation with several of Blackbeard’s minions over who was the one to find the most recent chunk of fairy dust. When he fails to convince anyone that it was in fact him, he’s forced to walk the plank. Instead of dying immediately upon impact, Peter finds out at the least ideal time possible — right before he hits — that he can fly. (Aren’t movies great?)

Blackbeard, meanwhile, is convinced this is the moment he feared: when the prophecy of the son of a human female and a male fairy returns to Neverland to kill him is fulfilled. The relationship between Blackbeard and Pan is tabled in favor of the gravitational pull Peter feels towards his mother whom he’s never had the chance to know. I suppose that makes sense given where we are on the Peter Pan timeline, but the former relationship would’ve been so much more interesting to explore. Striking a deal with fellow miner James Hook (Garrett Hedlund), Peter says that as long as Hook helps him find his mother he will help Hook and his goofy accomplice Smee (Adeel Akhtar) escape Neverland for good.

That’s before they get lost in the surrounding jungle and find themselves at the mercy of Rooney Mara’s Tiger Lily, who’s unfortunately become the bane of many critics’ experiences, and her clan of untrusting Piccaninnies, all donned in garb that wouldn’t look so out of place in an old-fashioned Gatsby get-together. Mara, while remaining a likable enough presence, absolutely does not justify the film’s awkward quota of white women as her emotive power becomes reduced to flat and uninspired line readings. And while this radical bit of casting does stick out, it’s not as offensive as Pan failing to justify itself as anything more than another cash-in on the current trend of remaking classic animated films as live-action spectacles.

Pan, despite its visual wonder — the exploration of the Fairy Kingdom ought to earn the film at least an Oscar nod for Best Production Design — is a chore to sit through, frequently lapsing into giddy fits of excitement or faux-terror that are aimed squarely at the little ones while willfully ignoring the grown ups in attendance. Its many characters come across as stenciled cut-outs of virtually every children’s movie version of the good guys and bad guys. Children probably won’t recognize their genericness, but their parents should. The parents who thought Pan could actually massage their initial hesitation into bittersweet nostalgia.

The child inside me thought it could work. The child inside me is a little disappointed. At least Jackman and Miller fare pretty well. The former is suitably sleazy while the latter is an inspired choice to play the titular character. Hopefully we’ll see him in the sequel(s). Considering how poorly Wright’s reimagining has already performed, I’m not sure how long the wait will be for future installments but something tells me it could be longer than a single night’s sleep.

Recommendation: Pan‘s a film for kids of this generation but unfortunately not for those growing up with Peter Pan. A loud, colorful and rushed production filled with silliness but lacking in heart or originality. I’m starting to think that while Peter himself may never age, remaking and rebooting his story has had its time. 

Rated: PG

Running Time: 111 mins.

Quoted: “Have you come to kill me, Peter?”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Decades Blogathon – Batman Begins (2005)

Screen Shot 2015-05-17 at 10.17.43 PM

They say all fun has to come to an end sometime. Here we are at the end of the first ever Decades Blogathon and I know Mark has said it already, but I would just like to reiterate how much fun it’s been getting to read everyone’s contributions and seeing the variety with regards not only to genre but to the years in which they came out. It’s been a great time, and Mark and I thank you for participating. We hope to be back next year with another version. Let’s round out this year’s version with a look at 2005’s reboot of Batman in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins

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Release: June 15, 2005

[Theater]

Distributor: Warner Bros.

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

From Wikipedia: [Batman Forever‘s] tone is significantly different from the previous installments, becoming more family-friendly since Warner Bros. considered that the previous film, Batman Returns (1992), failed to outgross its predecessor due to parent complaints about the film’s violence and dark overtones.

Poor Joel Schumacher. Pressured by an industry where — not unlike many others — the bottom line is defined by the dollar bill, he was only trying to expose Bob Kane (and yes, Bill Finger)’s creation to broader audiences. Unfortunately (and naturally) in so doing, he lost the trust of more than a few of the long-been faithfuls. Though everyone regards the variations on cape and cowl as a singular symbol of hope for a city desperately needing it, very few are likely to conjure images of Val Kilmer in the process. Michael Keaton is to this day more often than not understood to be that presence lurking in the shadows, occupying the space between hero and antihero.

How to explain the 2005 re-boot? How do we go from Batman and Robin to Batman Begins? And how did they do it without coaxing Keaton back? Batman Begins, representing a heightened sense of thematic and literal darkness, is on one level a natural progression of a long-running story. Other proposed continuations of the saga (what about a Batman Triumphant, or perhaps Batman: DarKnight?), looking back now, just don’t feel . . . right. On another level, Batman Begins is highly memorable cinema independent of the legacy preceding it throughout the decades.

Call it a culmination, call it enigmatic, call it what you want. Me? I call this film the best thing Christopher Nolan has ever done. He may be a filmmaker by title but what Nolan really is is a magician. Wave a little magic wand and presto! Memories of a family-friendly era of Gotham’s Knight in not-shining armor, who hunts down the vilest criminals from the rooftops and down back alleys — they’re all but gone. Christian Bale is in as the handsome but aloof billionaire Bruce Wayne, a man who has a legitimate fear of bats because of a childhood trauma. And the metaphorical rabbit to be pulled from the hat? Setting the film in our world, our reality — or at least paralleling it with remarkable precision.

Batman Begins operates fundamentally as one of the most celebrated reboots in all of cinema . . . or at least in an era where reboots and revisitations became an acceptable trend. A proper origin story that affords the night-abiding vigilante a plausible and compelling resurgence. The story, and eventually the titular hero, thrives on fear and the instilling of it in others. For Bale’s Bruce (and by extension, in Nolan’s interpretation) fear goes far beyond those nocturnal little creatures. Having lost his parents at an early age and fled to all corners of the globe to seek justice — this isn’t the kind of grief you might mistakenly label as teenage angst in things like Spiderman — Bruce Wayne is afraid not so much of life beyond his parents but of one devoid of meaning or purpose.

That a film — a Batman film, no less — plays so well to people’s fears (you don’t have to have any special powers to deduce the simultaneous death of Mr. and Mrs. Wayne was a pretty horrible event) speaks to the power of good storytelling. Nolan has proven himself a talent in that regard with previous films like the mind-bending Memento and perhaps it was a matter of inevitability that he took the Batman legend and bolstered its image for an entirely different generation, a generation more tolerant (is that the right word?) of violent and brooding imagery and action that fails to become cartoonish.

Passionate requests from reinvigorated fan bases notwithstanding, Nolan’s take could also function as a comic in and of itself. It’s not difficult to imagine an overhauled DC strip based upon this new chapter in Gotham history, one that would see the introduction of Rachel Dawes and versions of Ra’s al Ghul and Scarecrow that no longer need revamping. Given the way The Dark Knight trilogy eventuates, this too might be a matter of inevitability. This is all assuming such a comic doesn’t exist already.

Batman Begins is a sign of the times. The first installment in one of the most commercially and critically successful trilogies in cinematic history is a challenge to the status quo, at least when it comes to first comprehending and then translating to the big screen such celebrated super-heroic beginnings. 2005 is the year Warner Brothers realized taking a drastic step away from Batman’s more cartoonish roots — no more Bat-turn or Bat-nipples, folks — not only could work, but had to work. Realism blends with the fantastical in Batman Begins in ways that, while not expected, when all is said and done, just feel . . . right.

If it seems a little hypocritical for the same studio that tried moving away from the ‘darker’ side of Batman is now passionately embracing the box office numbers in the same way fans have embraced the gritty new films, it’s because it is. But I don’t know how anyone can blame Warner Brothers for reversing course. Blame is not even the right word. We should, in some ways, be thanking the studio for greenlighting these very dark, very real stories and recognizing the power laying dormant in this legend. Perhaps Warner Brothers ultimately decided the timing just felt . . . right.

Recommendation: Dark, moody and yet unbelievably enjoyable, Batman Begins is the film that started it all (again) for the Dark Knight et al. I challenge anyone to watch this film and not have a great time. Of course, fans of the comic version should find even more to latch onto with Christopher Nolan’s stunning attention to detail, and it should go without saying that fans of his directorial CV have this one high up on their list of favorites. For me, personally, a film doesn’t get much better than this.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 140 mins.

Quoted: “It’s not who I am underneath . . . but what I do that defines me.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.dcmovies.wikia.com

TBT: The Hills Have Eyes (2006)

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OooOooOOOoooOOoooOo the chills are running down my spine as we enter into October for the. . . second time on TBT. I’ve got the chills because of the films I know I have to watch and/or review in the coming month; I’ve got the chills because I’m not looking forward to days in my car without heating when it gets cold. I’ve got the chills because horror films are, aside from religious films, probably my least favorite genre. But I’m always up for a challenge and will happily sit through four new films this year once again for a Halloween-themed month of throwbacks! 

Today’s food for thought: The Hills Have Eyes. 

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Scaring the hill out of tourists since: March 10, 2006

[DVD]

Okay, so maybe there are worse things to fear than the state of the nearest gas pump you come across when breaking down in the middle of nowhere. Carnivorous bastards, for one.

The relatively recent remake of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes, the story of a most unfortunate family who are left to fend for themselves against monstrous hill-dwelling creatures after being tricked into taking a “short cut” and subsequently stranded, will forever be remembered by this reviewer for its excruciatingly brutal trailer-invasion scene. Ick ick ick ick ick ICK!

French director Alexandre Aja (who will be helming the forthcoming Horns, starring Daniel Radcliffe) set his sights on making his film a brutal and gruesome one. Between the grotesque appearance of the cannibalistic beasts — ostensibly humans with a bad case of nuclear mutation, in this case — the savage attack sequences and the desolate wasteland upon which Aja has set his pawns, I. . . uh, yeah. . . the guy succeeded.

The stockpile of victims here is the Carter family (same as in original version), spearheaded by Bob and Ethel, who are on their way across the country celebrating their anniversary. It might go without saying for the uninitiated that the characters aren’t bred to be much more than sitting ducks, awaiting their grisly fate at the hands of these sadistic. . .things. Sure they may not have to do much but scream and meet their maker in the form of creepazoids named Jupiter, Pluto, Lizard and Goggle, but the relatively unknown cast turns in what is necessary in order to effect desperation and terror as they succumb to their isolation in this former nuclear testing site.

*Shudder.* This movie is just gross. (Thanks for these memories, Tom.)

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3-0Recommendation: The Hills Have Eyes might not be what I would call essential viewing but it is if you’re into horror. Then again this might be a redundant recommendation as I might imagine this film has been ticked off somewhat quickly after having seen Wes Craven’s 1970s version. As a horror skeptic, I find the end result of this film to be an adrenaline rush that I don’t particularly need to experience again. I’m appreciative of the first time around and will save my eyes for some other hillside terror. Again, *shudder.*

Rated: R

Running Time: 107 mins.

TBTrivia: The development of condominiums in the original desert location of Wes Craven’s film forced the film crew to scout other areas. 

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TBT: The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)

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After throwing out my back last Thursday, I return from some much-needed time off here on TBT. And you know, even after only one week gone here I feel kinda rusty and couldn’t think of something for the longest time to write about. After filtering through several great suggestions on Facebook I’m here to announce those are going to surface VERY soon because the responses I got were numerous (and I haven’t seen any of them, which is a bonus). In the meantime, I’m sure some are going to be surprised to find out what I’ve chosen for 

Today’s food for thought: The Thomas Crown Affair.

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Getting off on ripping off museums since: August 6, 1999

[DVD]

Undoubtedly, some are going to be surprised to see a lack of a certain Steve McQueen here. I know, and while we are on the subject, I may as well get this off my chest right now rather than let it loom over this review at large. I have not seen the original.

Okay, please stop throwing fruit at me.

Thank you.

Sooner rather than later, this issue is going to be resolved. I’m fairly sure I’ll fall in love with the original cast as much as I have this modern one: I mean, come on — a young Faye Dunaway, who happened to appear in this modern touch-up from John McTiernan as well. She assumed the role of Thomas Crown’s psychologist, seen at the beginning trying to assess the current emotional state of a billionaire playboy finding his interest in being able to purchase (or do) anything he so desires on the wane. And of course, then there was Steve McQueen, doing Pierce’s work in 1968. The mischief, back then, was inherent in the name alone.

I can only assume Pierce had to work for it a little bit more here, though he hardly had to break a sweat. As Thomas Crown, he cranked up the sophistication to 11 and kicked up his feet, relaxing into one of the more casual roles of his career. In the midst of his James Bond fame, Brosnan had to have relished getting to chew scenery in a lighthearted crime-caper/romance flick.

Rene Russo reprised Dunaway’s role as a sumptuous insurance investigator who had become involved in the recovery of a precious Monet painting that was lifted in a seemingly random heist at the New York Metropolitan Museum. (There arose another key difference: rather than a museum heist, the old version hinged on a situation involving a Boston bank.) Her insertion into the scene proved simultaneously an amusing foil for the authorities currently working the case — mostly for Denis Leary as a abrasive but ultimately lonely detective heading up the investigation — as well as a worthy adversary of sorts for the brilliantly evasive Thomas Crown.

Director John McTiernan’s jigsaw puzzle may not be as iconic or even half as witty as what might be accomplished in a match-up between the mighty McQueen and the gorgeous Stun-away; however there’s undeniable charm between Brosnan and Russo who tumble headlong into a passionate romance bound for an uncertain, unsafe future together. Or not?

This place is pretty much spoiler-free, so I won’t put too fine a point on that.

But here’s one I can’t avoid mentioning: The Thomas Crown Affair was a great deal of fun. Still is. Between the exotic locales, damn near tantric-levels of heavy-petting, and an unrelenting sense of freedom cultivated through the performances and fluid direction, this film had all the hallmarks of a guilty pleasure. The only knick in this production is once you’ve experienced it the first time, the magic in the trick slightly dissipates. Still, being able to predict what happens next is merely a byproduct of a film that can be watched over time and again. This deviation, this joyride, is certainly worth its weight in gold.

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3-5Recommendation: The Thomas Crown Affair is a great escape for the crime-thriller lover who is not opposed to a little sappy romance here and there. It features solid performances from Brosnan and Russo, whom this reviewer would personally feel more comfortable with being insured by; as well as a sufficiently engaging mystery/adventure plot to justify an hour and forty minutes’ worth of material. This is a film that entices on more than one level. I highly recommend it to anyone a fan of either actor, though it’s just a little odd the director of things like Die Hard and Predator would say yes to something like this.

Rated: R

Running Time: 113 mins.

TBTrivia: The idea of unusual heat in the museum rendering thermal cameras useless came from McTiernan’s Predator. In that movie, McTiernan’s actual thermal cameras began to fail when the jungle temperature broke 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

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The Franco Files – #6

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Welcome to July, and the sixth edition of The Franco Files! No good and thorough evaluation of an actor’s career would really be complete without taking a turn to negative town once in a while. In order to appreciate the good, you must experience the. . .well, the shit, to go all Charles Barkley on ya’ll. There’s almost no getting around the stinkiness of today’s performance, and, not to air Franco’s dirty laundry or anything, but this is certainly not his finest hour and it’s good to get this over with right now. Right? Or will you see this is as the great tainted TFF. . .a.k.a. TTFF???

Eh, it’s not a real big deal, I suppose. When I stop to consider the damage caused by this über-unnecessary 2013 re-boot of The Wizard of Oz in which the usually-reliable Franco inexplicably elected to take part, I feel just a little bit better. One negative TFF surely won’t taint this feature forever. . . will it? And compare that to the pain of this CGI-loaded, cheese-stuffed (sounds like I’m talking about pizza) experience that feels something akin to the teeth-kicking-down-throat that Ryan Gosling “vaguely threatened” in Drive. I kind of know what that feels like. . .along with anyone else who got to see this and didn’t really like what they were handed!

Well, no. That’s all rather melodramatic. This movie’s pretty bad, but I think I can still defend Franco. . . . within reason. It is not his greatest performance by a mile but it is also not entirely entirely ENTIRELY his fault. This shall be a tricky little evaluation, though. No two ways of getting around the fact that objectivity gets much harder when things tend to. . . well, suck. (Man, I’ve really been watching a lot of Inside the NBA lately, haven’t I . . . )

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Francophile #6: Oscar Diggs/Oz, Oz, the Great and Powerful

Role Type: Lead

Genre: Sci-fi/Fantasy

Character Profile: Oscar is part of a small-time traveling circus racket performing magic. He’s rather dissatisfied with what his life is, yet has no real motivation to better himself. Franco imbues this character with the requisite smugness that goes along with being able to pull off what he considers ‘simple acts of magic,’ often using the stunts to attract women, although he comes off perhaps too sleazy. When he does this to the wrong woman, he’s chased down by the circus strong man, forcing Oscar to escape in a hot air balloon that gets caught up in a gigantic storm, whisking Oscar away to seemingly an entirely new world. Oscar is soon discovered by a beautiful woman who incorrectly assumes him to be a great and powerful wizard, a vision prophesied to come save the people of Oz, the strange land his journey has taken him to. What will he do to prove who he really is inside?

If you lose Franco, the film loses: one really bad performance out of a slew of bad performances. Ouch. . . this really pains me to say this. We’ve come to the inevitable negative review, boys and girls. And this stings, because there is no getting around the fact that Franco’s performance is a stinker in this awfully wooden, sleazy lead role in which he has few redeeming qualities but until the very end, at which point they are generally bestowed upon him in the most contrived of ways possible. He’s not entirely to blame, given the script isn’t worth a penny. But there is something inside me that thinks that perhaps Oz, the Great and Powerful might have benefitted from another actor in this role, one who might have been able to make the schlockiness of the character actually work for them. Sorry James, but the more I think about this outing, the more I want to toss this one down the garbage chute.

Out of Character: “I can’t say that my attraction to [the film] was identifying with any of the characters as much as it was being transported to a fantastical world. If I look back on the kinds of books and movies that I was interested in when I was younger, I’d say that the common denominator was this feeling of being transported to a fantastical land.”

Rate the Performance (relative to his other work):

2-0


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TBT: Casino Royale (2006)

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. . .as if it was going to be anything else! Or maybe the choice isn’t as obvious as I think it is. Despite the fact that 2006 doesn’t seem like much of a ‘throwback,’ per se, and that I just sent in a Guest List for the 007 Best Moments in this very film to The Cinema Monster, this still feels like one of the ultimate James Bond films.  . . a natural and perfect way to cap off a month of James Bond Throwbacks. Disagree? Well then you can do what the Puritans did: get the eff out! 😀 😀

In the spirit of getting out, indeed that is what happens today: out with the old and in with the new; a brand-spanking new style and tone to a franchise long since in decay with the advent of simply over-the-top technological devices and crummier and crummier stories. Much as I don’t want to call Brosnan one of the worst, he certainly had the unfortunate luck of being surrounded by some of the poorest material to date. 

Today’s food for thought: Casino Royale

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Status Active: November 17, 2006

[Theater]

Mission Briefing: Fresh off an assignment in which he must eliminate two targets in order to achieve double-0 status, Bond is now faced with the prospect of tracking down Le Chiffre, a cunning and merciless terrorist financier whose grip on the black market grows more powerful with each passing second. A high-stakes poker game set up in Montenegro will be Bond’s best chance of outwitting the dangerous man.

Mission Support: 

  • Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) — fiercely intelligent and every bit as poetically disdainful as the young, trigger-happy 007; represents the British treasury and keeps a watchful eye over Bond in the poker game; a close friend of 007 but whose true identity may not be entirely trusted
  • René Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) — 007’s Montenegro contact and a shady fellow, also not to be entirely trusted; approach with caution
  • Solange (Caterina Murino) — girlfriend of Le Chiffre henchman Alex Dimitrios; possible distraction who could be in possession of some useful information; interrogate using any means necessary
  • Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) — American agent on behalf of the CIA
  • Alex Dimitrios (Simon Abkarian) — sinister second-tier threat to operations leaders, but is a known associate of Le Chiffre; approach with extreme prejudice
  • Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) — financier to several of the world’s most dangerous terrorists and a mathematical genius who likes to prove it playing his hand at cards; cold and emotionless, he is an excellent calculator of human behavior and persistent at getting what he wants; must be stopped at all costs
  • Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) — liaison for third-party organization whose identity is not yet identified; at this time MI6 holds Le Chiffre in higher priority than Mr. White, but he is nonetheless a figure of significance; approach with extreme prejudice

Q Branch: [ERROR – file missing]

Performance Evaluation: As if to give the Bond of old a mercy kill with this necessary re-booting of Britain’s most dangerous spy, director Martin Campbell set his sights on recapturing the cold steely pain of James Bond, bastard child and loyal protector of England. His selection of Daniel Craig and decision to dispense with much of the cheese that was beginning to bog the films down, were key in distinguishing Casino Royale as a truly compelling recounting of how Bond was born.

Not only does he wear the single-breasted Brioni dinner jacket — as noted by a certain perceptive British treasurer — with a level of disdain we aren’t used to witnessing before, but Craig’s willingness to sacrifice his body effects determination and aggression more in line with what readers of the beloved novels have consistently expected and even more consistently been denied. Not to mention, screenwriters smartly take advantage of contemporary issues such as post-September 11 paranoias and use them to champion relevance and gravitas that’s more convincing than Bond’s previous scuffles with the Soviets.

As Bond takes it upon himself to insert himself into the Bahamas and other exotic locales in an effort to track down MI6’s latest target, the man known as Le Chiffre, a brilliant and determined banker who earns his riches by funding global terrorism. Because he’s fresh on the job, M (played by Judi Dench in one of the film’s more frustrating yet ultimately understandable moves) finds herself with her hands full as she attempts to keep tabs on her fledgling 00 agent. Packed with spectacular action sequences — the opening parkour scene is particularly memorable — perhaps never more exotic locations, and possessing a refreshing level of vitality for both the character and the franchise, Casino Royale has managed to overcome the wave of skepticism initially facing it by delivering one of the sexiest and most thrilling installments yet.

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5-0Recommendation: It’s funny thinking back on the controversy surrounding the casting of Daniel Craig now, as he has continued to make the role his own ever since, following up this solid performance with equally convincing turns in Quantum of Solace and of course, most recently in Skyfall. He may not be everyone’s cup of tea; he’s certainly more callous than Brosnan and more physical and possibly more brutal than Connery, but it’s difficult to imagine the series persisting had it not been for Craig’s introduction. This first outing for him finds the spy at his most vulnerable. Anyone a fan of the books is sure to find great enjoyment in watching him develop here. Not to mention, this film suits fans of solid action films. They don’t get much better than this.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 144 mins.

Quoted:  “All right. . .by the cut of your suit, you went to Oxford or wherever. Naturally you think human beings dress like that. But you wear it with such disdain, my guess is you didn’t come from money, and your school friends never let you forget it. Which means that you were at that school by the grace of someone else’s charity: hence that chip on your shoulder. And since your first thought about me ran to orphan, that’s what I’d say you are. Oh, you are? I like this poker thing. And that makes perfect sense! Since MI6 looks for maladjusted young men, who give little thought to sacrificing others in order to protect queen and country. You know. . .former SAS types with easy smiles and expensive watches.”

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