Decades Blogathon – Batman Begins (2005)

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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

Nightcrawler

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Release: Friday, October 31, 2014

[Theater]

Written by: Dan Gilroy

Directed by: Dan Gilroy

For anyone reeling in nostalgia for the days of Donnie Darko, boy do I have some good news for you.

Jake Gyllenhaal is back and at least for the moment seems untouchable once more, playing the consummate weirdo very few of us are likely to be jealous of being incapable of mimicking. We are, however, gobsmacked by his talents again; in awe of a star’s willingness to go so far in the opposite direction of who they likely really are for the sake of seeking the truth in performance art.

Or, perhaps it’s not that big of a stretch. Maybe the male Gyllenhaal is naturally drawn to the darkness, as a fly to a light. This time he’s called upon by first-time director Dan Gilroy to don a façade whose ability to identify with humanity is often overridden by a need to separate from it. Self-sufficiency is the name of the game.

Meet Louis Bloom. He calls himself Lou, along with a number of other more professional and less personal adjectives. He’s first seen scouting a deserted construction site for some materials he will later try to sell back to the construction company for a small profit. The act functions as both microcosm — first he’ll try to take over a scrap yard and soon it will be the city — as well as a crucial first step towards chasing after much loftier ambitions. Audaciously he would go on to ask the man behind the desk about any available positions within the company, but the guy won’t hire a thief and so it is back to the drawing board for Lou.

It was probably for the better, anyway, as he soon encounters a television crew on the highway covering what appears to be a fatal car accident. It’s still early on in the film’s impossibly fluid two-hour runtime and we are getting to a place where we understand already subtlety is not a word in Lou’s vocabulary. He quickly makes his presence known at the scene and brushes up against Bill Paxton’s accomplished camera man to see if there’s any work for him with them. No, there’s not. But there is money in this racket, he’s told.

Lou quickly gets his hands on a cheap camera and he even hires a staff. . . .of one. He comes into contact with a slightly scruffy-looking man from the streets, a young fellow named Rick (Riz Ahmed) whose wide-eyed naivety and desperation for work makes Lou’s goal-setting seem an impossible quest for wealth and popularity rather than an act manifested out of necessity. Make no mistake, one certainly seems more desperate than the other.

They may seem an odd-couple like any other you’ve seen before, though the tandem quickly come to epitomize the term ‘nightcrawlers’ — workers looking for the good money by filming the stuff that makes early morning news — bloody and if possible, fatal vehicular accidents, home invasions, shootings, things like that — using any means necessary. Stalking the night. Gyllenhaal’s mesmerizing work as a man who blurs the line between bystander and active participant in a crime scene is the butter to Gilroy’s toast. And his toast, of course, is a truly original and compelling screenplay that conjures up characters who live and breathe death and destruction for another paycheck.

Paired with focused and intense direction that often thrusts us into the middle of the street without any hope of knowing what’s to come next — this is a brilliantly unpredictable adventure even if the opening shots are more than foreboding — the story allows us to never entirely hate this character even if we know we are morally bankrupting ourselves by doing so. We are actually capable of something even sicker: understanding his motives. Even if we can’t rectify what gets sacrificed. Come the film’s bullet-riddled conclusion, we’ll see the genius in Gilroy’s creation in a new light.

Speaking of which, Nightcrawler is bathed in all kinds of beautiful lighting, despite its ostensibly exclusive nighttime setting. It has the feel of a noir but on a much grander, almost blockbuster scale. It’s a rare kind of film performance-wise as this is a role that may supersede the psychological perturbation of Donnie Darko. If I’m gushing over him, I should probably apologize, for there are others who turn in strong work as well. One of those is Rene Russo, playing the morning news director Nina, who strongly encourages Lou to pursue freelance journalism.

Nina’s a force to be reckoned with and operates within a very difficult realm, a gray area in which station ratings are directly related to how good the material is. (But be careful to not show viewers anything too graphic, they’ll be watching this stuff with their breakfast.) Never before has the media mantra “if it bleeds, it leads” been twisted to fulfill such a haunting cinematic vision. Also compelling is Riz Ahmed, Lou’s assistant, who is eager to get to work and earn some kind of wage for himself. He deftly conveys a nervous apprehension to the job being asked of him, while avoiding falling into the ‘sidekick’ trope. Paxton isn’t in it for very long but exists in the frame long enough to leave an impression.

Nightcrawler is, thanks to its performances and solid narrative pulse, one of the best movies of the year and another solid reminder that Oscars season is upon us. After experiencing one of the year’s most unforgettable characters, and if I am speaking honestly I am glad I made the money to buy this ticket.

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4-5Recommendation: It is hard to imagine anyone not getting sucked in by the curious trailers heralding a return to weirdness for Jake Gyllenhaal. How can anyone resist that soul-burning stare of his, sitting perched before a backdrop of the L.A. area bathed in sunset (or rise)? He is positively chilling in the role and 100% the reason you should see this film. And if the trailer isn’t quite enough to sell you, maybe the fact he was Donnie Darko will. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 117 mins.

Quoted: “My motto is, if you wanna win the lottery, you’ve gotta make the money to buy a ticket.”

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 

Night Moves

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Release: Friday, May 30, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

You can feel it creeping in on you like a cold, dense fog. There’s a chill in the air, and although that’s just the air conditioner in the theater you’re noticing it more, for whatever reason. Your inability to sit without fidgeting in your seat for longer than a moment’s notice is a testament to the nerve-shattering apprehension and suspense that lurks around every shady twist and turn in Kelly Reichardt’s fifth directorial effort.

Compact and light on dialogue, Night Moves spells out a menacing cautionary tale about three environmental activists seeking to make a statement in their local community about a certain ecological issue. The film’s trio — comprised of Josh (Jesse Eisenberg in what might be considered a temperature tester for his villainous turn in 2016. . .), Dena, a literal independent who has severed all ties with friends and family (an excellent Dakota Fanning) and an ex-Marine, Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) — converge on Harmon’s backwoods trailer to form a plan of attack.

What they are planning to attack is less-than-subtly referenced in the foreboding opening. Rumors circulating that Riechardt’s film is suspenseful from beginning to end any day now will cease to be rumors because it is absolutely true.

Unfortunately, Night Moves also proves to be an incredibly difficult film to review without giving away information that would break much of the tension. The narrative is built like a house of cards, precariously balanced with each successive event hugely dependent on the events that have come before. There may be few of these but they certainly are there and are pivotal, and this is due to the emphatic, almost obsessive focus on humanity.

Josh is presented by a perhaps never-scragglier Eisenberg who quickly establishes his deeply unpleasant personality. He’s quiet, awkward and constantly on edge. He has a past that’s not made readily available and therefore his character arc endures a great level of drama that serves as the movie’s main heartbeat. Barring a significant event, Night Moves focuses primarily on this character and how his actions shape his present and future, with the emphasis largely on the latter. With a deeply unsettling performance from the former Facebook magnate, the film remains compelling despite a clear lack of major dramatic occurrences, a fact which is easily forgotten just as much as it may become noticeable in other places.

Fanning’s character is similarly disturbed and frustrated by a world which she largely disagrees with. Her part in this mission signifies a chance to make her mark as well. While the film’s characters don’t really get along, they strangely bond over this weekend outing which includes a motorboat (with the film’s title painted on its bow), a flat water canoe, and 500 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer. Just your typical quiet night on the lake, really.

In addition to maintaining the perfect blend of restless/resting camera angles and anxiety-inducing imagery, Riechardt manages to divide her film beautifully into two distinct tonal halves: that of everything pre-mission and that of everything post. In the first we experience a steady build-up of tension mostly generated from trying to figure out what it is these angsty individuals are up to. Once that quickly becomes clear, there’s something of a teeth-clenching  transition into a second half whose tension is comparatively unbearable. It wasn’t exactly comfortable during everything leading up until here, but expecting it to get any better as things progress is the same as being in hell and asking them to turn the heat down.

It’s hard calling these characters likable (this possibly explains why the film hasn’t taken as well with general audiences as it has with critics) but the nagging thought that these characters start to carry with them, effectively becomes your cross to bear as well. There is a desperate longing to rewind the clock and undo what has been done. The reality is too brutally obvious that this cannot be accomplished.

Night Moves may not sport the most affable cast of characters and some of its thematic presentation is rather overt, but your inability to stop watching things spiral out of control speaks even more to the quality of its construction of both story and atmosphere. Without the involvement of overly theatrical elements — sci-fi/supernatural etc — Night Moves may stay in the shadows a lot but it always remains steeped in reality.

Through unflinching bleakness Riechardt is able to assess the true cost of extreme points of view and what happens to misplaced idealism once its challenged. Her intriguing film is a documentation of human beings making horrendous decisions while having only the best intentions at heart.

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4-0Recommendation: The film may be a little prickly for some as it can be hard to empathize with these hardened individuals. Strangely, though, empathy isn’t the desired emotion Riechardt is going for here. If anything it’s the opposite. If you’re seeking out a compelling and consistently tense drama, Night Moves delivers and delivers big.

Rated: R

Running Time: 112 mins.

Quoted: “One person. . .that’s all it takes.”

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