Saturday, March 26, 2022

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1


When I started this blog twelve years ago, most of the Harry Potter films had already been released, so they were not featured posts here, with the exception of the final film in the original series, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2". I did visit a 20th Anniversary screening of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" just last year, so even though it was a revival visit, there is a post on it. I continue to write about the Fantastic Beasts series, but probably with less enthusiasm as I go along, next months entry does not have me particularly excited. Today however, I saw "Deathly Hallows Part 1" and this gives me an opportunity to go back to the original series and fill in another entry for this blog.

Starting with "Goblet of Fire", the Potter series grew grimmer with each episode. Of the last five films, this movie is the most despairing and saddest of the movies. It impressed me when it first came out in 2010, and I must have watched it at home four or five times over the last decade. Upon first viewing I felt it was a bit incomplete, but this is a movie that gets better with each additional visit. When the book of the Deathly Hallows came out, we complained about the three hundred page camping trip in the middle. It seemed long in the film as well, but on reflection it is handled extremely well by screenwriter Steven Kloves who did all but one of the original films. This is an adaptation that should have received awards attention because they ended up spitting the book perfectly into two films and each one got all of the essential information into the story, in spite of some of the complex written paths that had been laid out. 

It is true that a large segment of the movie is essentially the three main protagonists in a tent, it doesn't feel that way. First of all, the movie starts with two great sequences, one of which is so sad it might bring a tear to your eye. When Hermione obliviates her parents memory of her and she walks away from her home, you know this will not be a happy story. The escape from Privet Drive with all of the Harry poly juice variations is thrilling and contains a great deal of humor. It is finished off however with the loss of a beloved animal and maybe my favorite character in the series. When the story transitions to more narrative and exposition moments, it does not linger over all the talk. The wedding scene has enough snippets of information without bogging down the story, that we will be able to follow some of the threads later in this film and in the next. 

The raid on Gringot's happens  in part Two, but we do get a very effective sequence where Harry, Ron and Hermione, penetrate the now conquered Ministry of Magic, to recover the locket Horcrux. There is tension and humor and some great special effects moments in this segment, and it all happens before the camping trip. Even when they are hiding out in the woods, there are some good scenes. The dance of sadness between Harry and Hermione is a moment of relief from the doomsday scenario the characters are feeling. The trip to Godric's Hollow is also in this part of the film and it is atmospheric as heck and just what the movie needed at that point, and finally, when Ron returns to the fold and he and Harry destroy their first Horcrux, it is visualized in a disturbing manner that also suggests how adult the story has become. 

Hogwarts is a memory at most in this film, we never visit there directly, although there is a brief moment on the Hogwarts' Express. We are as isolated as the characters are from what is happening in the world, with the director and screenwriter deciding to hint at those events only through some headlines in the Daily Prophet and the radio signal from other outcasts from the school. The most beautiful moments in a bleak film are done in animation, telling the tragic story of the three Brothers and the origin of the Deathly Hallows, it is a terrific sequence that stands out for it's creativity at exposition in an interesting manner. 

The most dramatic moments of the film come at the conclusion as a narrow escape is accomplished at an exorbitant cost. The antagonist of the film has achieved his goal and our heroes are dejected at the conclusion of the film. In spite of how dismal the horizon looks, the story still suggests there is a path to success and that is, the only thing the audience can cling to at the end. I will add that the score by Alexandre Desplat, who was new to the series, was amazing. The music matched the mood throughout the story and it often made some of the tougher sequences emotionally bearable. 

So this is probably a little late for most of you, but as I said, I did not get the opportunity the first time around. "Half Blood Prince" is my personal favorite of the original eight films, followed closely by "Order of the Phoenix". "Deathly Hallows Part 1" would be next and as I wrote earlier, it gets better every time I see it. Next week, a second shot at "Deathly Hallows Part 2" .

The Lost City


This one should be short and sweet, it is a popcorn picture that for the most part succeeds and It's not trying to do anything too innovative. This is a combination Romantic Comedy/Adventure film, and if you hear the title of "Romancing the Stone" in more than one review of the film, there is a reason why, the premise is exactly the same. A romance writer gets caught up in a real life adventure and finds the man of her novels in the real world. The pitch for this movie would be word for word the same as the 1984 film.

Instead of Kathleen Turner we get Sandra Bullock, who may be just a little too long in the tooth for this kind of film, but she gets a pass because she is talented, funny, and has a long history of Rom Coms behind her. Channing Tatum is turning into a great utility player who can be both a romantic lead and a comic foil, and he is both in this movie. If you watch the trailer, you might for a moment believe Brad Pitt is the hero of the film. Pitt is great, don't get me wrong, he steals a scene with just his voice while doing his trademark munching,  but he is in the film very briefly. 

The big surprise is that Daniel Radcliffe, is a great villain and he has a wicked sense of comic timing in some key scenes. That's right, Harry Potter is the Voldemort of this story, if Voldemort was a victim of sibling rivalry and had a sense of humor. Even the moments where he plays it straight are pretty effective so good on him. I don't know why Da'Vine Joy Randolph is new to me, when I looked at her IMDB page, she worked in like eight TV series in the last couple of years, anyway she was very amusing as Bullock's agent, who takes a serious responsibility for her client. 

A lot of the best bits of humor are spoiled by the trailer but there are a few additional moments that you can still be surprised by. One of the things that surprised me were the clever lines that came every few minutes, directed at our culture of Instagram addicted, barely literate, and now aging millennials. You may find yourself the target a a few barbs here and there. Speaking of sibling rivalry, the movie was co-directed and co written by brothers Aaron and Adam Nee, who look to be in charge of the Masters of the Universe movie that has been promised for the last couple of years. If you are looking forward to that film, you should probably check this one out to get a sense of how these two visualize a story and try to bring humor to it. 

Except for one brief bloody moment, the film is mostly cartoon violence and you can feel pretty safe taking your teens and your Mom to see it. Just be sure you get the refillable bucket of popcorn, because this will keep you munching throughout and enjoying a couple of hours of empty calories for your eyes as well as your stomach. 

Monday, March 21, 2022

X (2022)


If there are any other films that come out in 2022, that I enjoy half as much as this picture, I will count this as a good year, because this movie is awesome. The world is full of low budget horror films, but it takes something special to stand out and this movie has that "X" factor. Although it is filled with the tropes of a hundred other horror films, it manages to make them work and feel fresh. Some of this success is due to the great cast who work really hard to make this work, but a lion's share of the credit will have to go to writer/director Ti West, who has taken this mash-up of genres and created something wickedly sly, fun, and creepy all at the same time. 

When you read about this film in other places, the two films that are likely to be referenced as the mash-up ingredients are "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "Boogie Nights". Those comparisons are completely understandable because the premise of both films are contained here. A group of young people in Texas, go to a remote location and bad things happen. It also so happens that the reason they are in that location is to make a pornographic film along the lines of "Debbie Does Dallas". It's perfectly fitting to nickname this movie the "Texas Boogie Massacre". The most delightful element of the film is it's fidelity to both the pornography of the era it is set in and the horror films of that time as well. The events in the story are set in 1979, and the film makers follow the rules of a 70s era film rather than a 21st Century movie. This is a slow burn that foreshadows for an hour before the crazy starts. There are no real shocks in the first sixty minutes, but a mood of anticipation, dread and sadness hangs over everything that does happen. This is a movie style that I can get behind and feel like my time has been well spent, rather than rushing me through the horror and trying to escalate it every ten minutes. The delayed gratification was tasty.

Most horror films that are memorable have a subtext that also stirs the audience. The slasher films of the 80s are often filled with sexual awakening being tied into the terror. Paranoia and identity were subjects of some of the great science fiction based horror of that time period as well.  Recently, sexually transmitted disease was transformed into monsters of terror for horror films. "X" has several subtexts that make it more than a simple slasher film. There are a couple of these which are so unique that the film will evoke horror at just a thought of those elements, when they get pictured on the screen they are even more horrifying. Let's start with the first and most obvious of these subtexts, sexual inadequacy. This movie stares into our insecurities about our sex lives and finds ways to disturb us with key questions about libido, promiscuity, and sexual adequacy. The young crew of pornographers that are shown on the screen are tussling over morality on occasion, but also the question of when is the sex in their movie real and when is it acting. Kid Cudi, who had a memorable secondary part in "Bill and Ted Face the Music" a couple of years ago, plays a stud called Jackson who is hired for the movie because of the size of his equipment. That appendage intrigues one character, intimidates another and it is treated indifferently by his co star, which sets him up for doubt as well. Everybody in this tale is getting a bit of a comeuppance before the violence starts.  The choices the characters are making feel like echoes of the choices made by the elderly couple that they are renting a boarding house from as the set of their movie. This is the territory of the second big subtext of the film, ageism.

The elderly in our culture are often ignored or treated as a joke by the younger generation. In this case, an old couple is regarded with some distain by the young film crew. One of the justifications for making the sex picture, that is given by one of the principles, is that you need to use it before you lose it (although not said in those words). In discussing the old man, one character suggests the old man has probably suffered from ED longer than one of the young girls has been alive. However it is the wife of the old man who really pushes the boundaries of our expectations, and the film makers know that the audience will find revulsion in the image of sexuality involving the aged. The characters will ultimately determine whether or not that instinctive reaction is justified. There are moments of great sympathy interspersed with scenes of depravity and maliciousness.

Skipping past the other subtextual issues, we should talk about the story telling techniques used by     
director West. If you watch the trailer above, you will see that the movie jumps back and forth between a widescreen format in natural colors and a 16mm format with saturated colors representing the film they are shooting "The Farmers Daughters". This clever alternating of the styles of photography allows some parallel story telling and a bit of foreshadowing as well. The filming of the sex scenes is less titillation than it is character development, as we learn how the players relate to each other and what they are doing. The elderly woman becomes a counterpoint to the story being told about the film crew, not so much the film they are making.  Outside of that trick, there were a couple of other very nicely planned shots, including the opening shot which reveals more information as the camera lens exits a barn and takes in a wider aspect of the scene at the start of the movie. Another sequence is shot from a very high perspective and it allows the audience to know fear that the character in the scene does not even realize exists. We also get a twist on the shower scene from "Psycho", without physical violence but almost as brutal in it's emotional impact. I liked that there was a moment in the film when one of the actresses makes a suggestion about how to shoot a section of film, it feels like something the director of this movie might have had happen to him several times in developing a plan for the cinematographer. 

The characters of Lorraine and RJ represent a portal between the sex workers/actors and the traditional world. At first we might see their naivete as amusing, but there are morality issues that get raised in the story, but the moral may not be what you anticipate. Jenna Ortega who plays Lorraine is in her third horror film that I have seen her in this year. She is the first victim in the "Scream" reboot and she has a small part in "Studio 666" from just last week. She is an innocent being changed by the experience of helping make the film in the story. Own Campbell is RJ, the University film student who wants to transcend the genre with his script and directors choices, but he can't escape his sense of  tradition in his own relationship and it tears him apart. Martin Henderson is Wayne, the entrepreneur who has brought the group together to fulfill his dreams of riches. Brittany Snow is the older and wiser actress Bobby Lynn, who is happy to have Jackson as a lover but not willing to concede that there is anything other than acting in her technique. The star of the movie however is Mia Goth, who plays a double role as Maxine the coke fueled stripper with dreams of celebrity and Pearl, who lives on the memories of her sexual past. The make up on this film is astonishing especially for the character Pearl. Stephen Ure, who has made a career out of being covered by make up in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, once again is hidden behind layers of effects make up that renders his performance appropriately creepy. 

On a side note, I saw the first hour and a half of this film, and then an alarm went off in the theater and all the cinemas were evacuated and they did not restart the films that were interrupted. The false alarm caused us to miss the last twenty minutes of the picture, which is when everything is coming together in a movie. My daughter Amanda coined the phrase "Horror Film Blue Balls" to describe our circumstances. We saw the complete film, twenty four hours later, so this perspective comes from seeing the film twice. The last line of the movie made me laugh really hard and solidified my opinion that Ti West knew exactly how to work his audience. The film did well financially this last weekend, but it would not surprise me at all that it improves on it's box office next weekend, the word of mouth on this should be really strong and it deserves to build an audience. By the way, if you stay past the credits, you will see a trailer for a follow up film that will be coming in November. I can't recommend this movie enough and I also strongly endorse sticking around for the stinger trailer. I don't know what it says about me as a person that I liked this film so much, but I'm not worried about that enough to keep me from singing it's praises. 

Thursday, March 17, 2022

The Quiet Man


I'm not sure there is a better way for a teetotaler like me to celebrate St. Patrick's Day than to spend two hours immersed in Irish  countryside with two great stars of the past. Skip the Blarney Stone and shamrocks, give me John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara in John Ford's "The Quiet Man" and I will feel like I have been transported to Ireland for a short time on this day.

John Wayne was the biggest star in movies for years and that is in large part due to his many appearances in Westerns. He made other types of films as well, War Movies, Historical Dramas but undoubtedly, his greatest  role outside of the oaters was as Sean Thornton, in this 1950 classic which is basically a romantic comedy. Paired with Maureen O'Hara for the second of their five on-screen performances, the two of them really manage to convey sexual chemistry in an otherwise staid setting. There is a moment when they are trapped by the rain in a ruin of a church, where she accepts his jacket for warmth and his white shirt clings to him as it gets wet, she seems to be doing the same thing.

While the romance is supplied by Wayne and O'Hara, the comedy is supplied by the cast of supporting players in a variety of ways. Barry Fitzgerald as Michaleen Oge Flynn, cabbie and matchmaker, has a dozen wisecracks that will make you smile and a sly take on all the romantic goings on. Ward Bond, Mildred Natwick and Victor McLagen all provide moments of laughter as well, and the dozens of townsfolk all add in their two cents here and there. It's certainly not politically correct but it is funny when a local woman provides Sean Thornton with a stick that he can use to beat his wife. As usual, context is king, so watch the scene before you judge. 

This really is a cultural journey as well into the country traditions of Irish courtship. One of the big conflicts concerns Sean's unwillingness to press the issue of Mary Kate's dowry payment. It is a big enough issue of face to her, that she refrains from the marital bed in spite of clearly longing for the physical presence of Sean. That it is resolved by her chucking the cash away after it has been obtained shows that the money was not the point but her status was. Of course no one other than the Protestant Minister knows the reason that Sean is reticent to raise a fist to his brother in law, and that probably contributes to the culture clash even more. An American audience would probably see the issue Sean's way, but he has to finally understand it from her perspective, which is what a real marriage is about anyway, and shows that they truly do belong together. 

John Ford won his fourth Oscar for Best director for this film and it is easy to see why. The romance, although nearly instantaneous in attraction, still plays out over the course of the film, letting us get to know the two characters really well.  There is just enough time with the townsfolk for them to be seen as charming rather than overbearing, and frankly the movie looks gorgeous. As Sean and Mary Kate escape their chaperone on a tandem bike and ride around the countryside, it is easy to see how someone could fall in love with a place and wish to be transported there. For the length of the film, that's what Ford manages to do, put us in the Ireland of our imagination and make us fall in love. Happy St. Patrick's Day all. 

Friday, March 11, 2022

Cyrano (2021)


An absolutely gorgeous film that is wasting away without an audience. Somehow, the studio has managed to botch the release of this film, and instead of having a solid adult hit, they have a shiny disappointment that someone should lose a job over.  "Cyrano" is a musical update of a classic tale with a variation on the main character that is reasonable and allows an actor who might otherwise never have had the opportunity, to take on a great role.

The film is based on a stage musical by Erica Schmidt, who is the screenwriter for this film. I found some reviews of this Off-Broadway version of the musical, but I did not see any information about it's success other than it was nominated for some stage awards. The one thing that is noteworthy is that the star has been transferred to the film, so we get the chance to see Peter Dinklage in a role that he originated.  None of the other stage actors mentioned in the New York reviews, made it into the film, but Haley Bennett , supposedly did play the part on stage, and the rest of the film casting is quite excellent. The parts all require some ability to sing and most of the cast acquit themselves admirably. Dinklage as Cyrano performs the songs in a low register and narrow range, much of his singing reminded me of Rex Harrison talk singing in "My Fair Lady". He is effective but it is not the musical moments that make him shine in the part. 

For most people familiar with the play, Cyrano de Bergerac, it is the language of the poetry that is memorable and makes us care about the character. That largely survives with one disappointing exception. The duel that contains Cyrano's witticisms about his opponent and even himself is lost in a musical presentation that surprisingly diminishes the moment instead of enhancing it. The duel itself is effectively staged and the resolution is dramatic and gives Cyrano a bit more cryptic personality, although he does quickly return to the arrogance that he started off with.  Dinklage is affecting in the dramatic moments and his winsome longing for Roxanne is best seen in the moments leading up to her request that he befriend Christian and protect him, you see he thought briefly she might truly have seen that he was in love with her and she returned the favor, but the false assumption comes crashing down on his face and it is a moment of sublime performance from our lead. 

Set in France, but largely filmed in ancient towns in Sicily, the environment feels completely appropriate for a time period before the Revolution. The production design is detailed without being overly opulent, but there are several elaborate scenes that will take your breath away. I was particularly impressed with the opening sequence set in a theater, with a rowdy crowd, a claustrophobic stage, and authentic costuming and make up for all the extras. There are several dance moments in the movie that are also elaborately staged. I have written before about the ability of Director Joe Wright to manage complex sequences of movement in dance, he did it beautifully in "Pride and Prejudice" and it is also true in this film.  The choreography contains a lot of arm movement that feels like an elaborate pantomime, and I was more distracted by that than intrigued. Because such a style was repeated a couple of times in the course of the film, it also felt less distinctive and more like a crutch.

 Haley Bennett, Kelvin Harrison Jr., and Ben Mendelsohn make up the rest of the cast as Roxanne, Christian and De Guiche respectively. Of the musical sequences they each get, I was surprised that Mendelson's was the most effective, but that may be because it focuses entirely on his character in that moment. The best number in the film is "Wherever I Fall" which is performed by supporting players in the battle sequence near the end of the film. It was quite dramatic and I noticed that Glen Hansard from "The Commitments" and "Once" was the lead guard performing the number. I find it interesting that unnamed characters get the most effective moment in the film, but it is a tribute to the integrity of the story that no effort was made to force Christian and Cyrano into the musical aspect of the scene. 

This film opened in Los Angeles for an Academy Award qualifying run, but has not been widely available until the end of February. The only nominations it has received are for the costumes, for which the acknowledgement seems deserved. The absence of Dinklage from the nominees seems to be a glaring error in retrospect. Once again, Joe Wright might also have been deserving of some attention, but if Denis Villeneuve was going to be ignored, than this oversite is not a surprise.  The film is available for streaming, but you shold make an effort so see it in a theater, you will be taken by it's beauty and the shared experience of the film with an audience, will make it more poignant. 

Thursday, March 10, 2022



Channing Tatum has become a reliable presence in films and with this release he takes another step in his ascent to an essential Hollywood Player, he co-directs the film with his frequent producing partner Reid Carolin. Together they have crafted an affecting story of two wounded warriors who find a way to help each other through the battlefield scars that are holding them in misery. This is a military story with a dog, and that was enough to get me into the theater, but what can Tatum manage to do to make me happy that I showed up?

If you have visited this site before, tou may see that I have a fondness for films featuring dogs.  This however is a bit different because the dog that is featured is not a lovable mutt or a friendly golden retriever, Lulu is a Belgian Malinois, trained as a military dog working with Army Rangers in middle eastern conflicts. The dog has been wounded ant traumatized, most recently by the death of her handler. She is on edge and dangerous, and sensitive to a variety of triggers. Tatum plays Jackson Briggs, a fellow platoon member of the deceased, who is himself trying to return to service after head trauma suffered in war has put him on disability leave. Lulu is an animal, so doesn't bother trying to hide her PTSD, but Briggs is all kinds of a mess and in denial that any real problem exists.

So this is a road picture, with the dog and soldier driving along the West coast to arrive at the funeral for their comrade in arms, and ultimately, Lulu will be assessed and likely put down because of the condition she is in. So it is no surprise that the film is really about how these two damaged creatures begin a healing process that is needed but was not being actively sought. The incidents along the road demonstrate that both of these warriors have skills that remain functional, but that they are also ill equipped to deal with their troubles on their own. Two sequences, one on a pot farm in Oregon and another in a hotel in San Francisco, give us some drama and a little humor. Each character dances around the other, setting off problems and adventures but ultimately bringing them closer to healing. 

Three different dogs are credited for the Lulu performance, and they do a good job showing her fierce personality, but also giving us glimpses of the companion and partner that she must have been to the deceased soldier. Between destructive moments, and fearful incidents, Lulu also shows us an animal who is well trained, capable of friendliness if approached correctly and even providing some lovable glances, in spite of her teeth being bared. Tatum is a natural as a soldier without portfolio, who is struggling with his place in the world. He exudes confidence but secretly is in turmoil and incapable of getting past some traumas. He is great with the comedic bits in the film, but he carries the drama also. 

At just over a hundred minutes, the film is paced well and it doesn't linger over the story it is telling. The screenplay, by Carolin and Brett Rodriguez, who has been a crew member on some of the films Tatum and Carolin made together, does a good job of showing rather than telling us the story of these two soldiers. Maybe the best example of this are two nearly wordless sequences when Briggs tries to connect with family. We get the dog's point of view, instead of a dialogue filled confrontation, and it helps keep the story focused on Briggs and Lulu. This film has been a success and that gives me hope because if a mid-level drama like this can pull in an audience, there may be hope for other films that are not Comic Book Spectacles. 


Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Studio 666 (2022)


So Foo Fighters+Horror+Comedy = Good?

I wish I could say that the formula above, which popped into my head the minute I saw the trailer, was true. Unfortunately, hopes and dreams are not always fulfilled by Hollywood or our heroes. There was fun to be had here, but not enough to recommend to anyone who is not a fan of Foo Fighters or schlock horror. In spite of the big swings the film tales, it just does not connect with the two genres it is reaching for.

There are plenty of films that mine the link between Rock and Roll and "Evil", I remember seeing a film back in the 1980s called "Trick or Treat", it had brief appearances by Ozzy Osbourne and Gene Simmons. That film was more of a straight horror film and it took the subject seriously, with a little bit of irony. "Studio 666" starts off with a few good rock and roll  clichés being sent up, but those drop off more quickly than is wise. The horror stuff starts but because the humor has been laid down and there is a lot of quick bits designed to show it is really a horror film, all of that gets undermined very quickly.

Much like "Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein", the horror elements of this film get undermined by the slapstick tone of the comedy. It also does not help that the band members are not really actors. They are playing exaggerated versions of themselves but the self parody wears thin and there is not any real tension as the movie goes on. Director BJ McDonnell, is a camera operator  who has worked on a ton of films, including a variety of horror films, but his strengths are not really in story telling. He is hitting the notes but it feels like a piano student who is playing a piece for the first time for their teacher. Everything is technically correct, but none of it connects. The movie is just flat. Maybe it would work as a sketch but as a full length film, it leaves a lot to be desired. 

Everyone goes all in on the death scenes, with lots of blood and body parts to go around. The gore never seems real however, because it is undercut by the silly situations. "Evil Dead 2" made the comedy and horror work together, here they work against one another, and it shows. I'm not a huge Foo Fighters fan, but I would have appreciated some of their songs in the film, and basically, there are two riffs of their material and that's it. There is an uncredited part played by John Carpenter, and the theme song for the titles, feels like composter Carpenter contributed, to get that 80s feel in the credit sequence. 

I don't regret going to see this and even paying for the privilege. I just wish I could be more enthusiastic about it. The movie is too long, the jokes are inconsistent, and the stars all feel like they are just having a lark, which is what they are doing, but it doesn't seem like the audience was as important to them as they would have been in a concert. Dave Grohl, continues to be a guy I admire, and he is the one Foo that seems to be putting in some effort, but it is not enough. 

Foo Fighters+Horror+Comedy = Mediocre at Best.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

The Batman


I have seen several comments in social media over the past few months, which question the need for a new Batman movie. That is a little understandable since the character has been trotted out a dozen times or more in the last thirty years and the D.C. Extended Universe has not made the best use of the character possible. That last bit has been rendered obsolete by the latest film which does in fact make "The Batman" a relevant character and which manages to give him something a lot more interesting to do than battle interdimensional beings from outer space. Instead of trying to fit Batman into a super hero story modelled after the MCU Infinity war, director Matt Reeves and co-writer Peter Craig have set him in what may be the most realistic version of Gotham City we have seen in the movies and given him a task that doesn't require technology from the future. 

It seems that every iteration of the caped crusader in the last couple of decades has gotten grimmer and grimmer, and this is the current end point. The Batman is facing a job that makes him the equivalent of Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman in the movie "Se7en", he must track down a serial killer who has a hidden motive and a set of elaborate clues that he leaves behind. This story goes to some bad places, and it might be appropriate to nickname our hero "The Darker Knight". The killings are gruesome, the clues are also pretty forbidding. We are spared seeing some of the crimes, but we do see enough to be put off by the actions of the villain, even though some of the victims seem deserving of some kind of retribution. The killer is known as The Riddler because he leaves clues that are language puzzles, for the Batman to figure out. For two thirds of the film, the character is only seen in a get up designed to limit any forensic clues and to hide his face. There is a vocal performance but it may be enhanced through audio technology. When actor Paul Dano finally appears on screen as the character, he sparks up the movie considerably, having been built up so well in the first couple of acts, his mild mannered dementia is plenty creepy even though he is not a physical threat to the hero. 

This story is set relatively early in the career of "The Batman", and we don't get the usual origin story, we are simply dropped into the set up as if these activities have been going on for a while. Lt. Gordon has a tentative working relationship with the masked vigilante, and that connection is resented by most of the cops but the authority of Gordon allows Batman into crime scenes where he is both forensic investigator and  profiler. This film could aptly ne subtitled "C.S.I. Gotham". The puzzles are sometimes answered quickly by our title character but just as often, he and Gordon struggle to come up with solutions and they follow a macabre path to the next clue to try and bring them closer to the killer. Gordon is played by Jeffery Wright, who is making a career out of playing second fiddle to the main characters in films (see James Bond and The Hunger Games). His low key persona and low modulated voice are good counterparts to the title character. "The Batman" is played by Robert Pattinson, who seems to have shed the "Twilight" baggage and is building a very credible resume of films, including "Tenet" from two years ago. Usually, the actor cast in this role gets his best moments as Bruce Wayne, but this is the least Bruce Wayne heavy Batman film I have seen. Wayne is a secondary character and The Batman is front and center for the key events in the movie. The Wayne Family plays a more prominent role in the film than Bruce himself does. 

Gotham is a dark place with lots of evil around every corner, but much like the Nolan Trilogy of films, the city looks fairly normal, except for the fact that no one turns on a light and it rains almost continuously. The thing that is disturbing is how much the corruption, feckless law enforcement, and gang related violence shown in the movie, mirrors the cities like Chicago. It is taken as a given that the politicians are craven tools of special interests, in this case the mob. Two characters that are known to officials, including the police, but for which no one seems able to do anything about are Carmine Falcone and his underboss known as The Penguin. It is an open secret that they run the city and why The Batman and Gordon should be surprised at who all turns up as a victim of the Riddler is unclear. The targets are pretty well marked. The Riddler is starting at the top of the Official List and working his way down. What is a surprise is how easily one of the victims fall prey to the serial killer when he should know that his role in the crime world is connected to the first two victims. The part of the Penguin was secondary, but it was significant enough to draw Colin Farrell to it, even though he is unrecognizable in costume and make-up. As a lynchpin to the story he does have a very solid sequence that includes our introduction to the new version of the Batmobile. 

The movie looks great when seen on a big screen, I am less confident that it will translate to home viewing, unless home audiences are willing to change the settings on their televisions in some dramatic ways to see what the hell is going on on screen. For a nearly three hour movie, there are not as many action set pieces as you might expect, although there are plenty of hand to hand fistfights where Batman punches the crap out of dozens of opponents. It's not quite at John Wick levels of preposterousness. Pattinson's Batman has a temper and he definitely takes it out on the bad guys. When he punches someone in the face, he is not doing so indifferently, he means to punish them, without necessarily killing them. There are no real light moments in the film, but the presence of "Catwoman" Zoë Kravitz, does give us some quiet moments with a hint of romance. Her character is like Farrell, a keystone for the story but not a main character. Wright and Pattinson are the dynamic duo in this film and Dano is the formidable opponent. There is a hidden villain who shines in the few scenes he gets and that is John Turturrow's Falcone. Be aware that there is a surprise plot turn in the last half hour of the film, That storyline is only partially set up and it feels a little tacked on, although is is explained in a very effective way.

Some people have gone so far as to say this is the best Batman film ever, and have even called it a masterpiece. I can't go quite that far but it is top tier and on a par with the Nolan trilogy, but be warned, the seriousness of the plot up until that final turn, will remind you more of "The Silence of the Lambs" than any previous Batman film. Not a lot of humor, but some good characters effectively realized and a main plot that is driven more by detective work  than the action man with the marvelous toys. 

Sunday, March 6, 2022



This is a week late, not because I was lacking enthusiasm for the film, but because I have been so busy this week, I really haven't had a chance to sit down and put it in writing. This film is based on a video game I have never heard of, much less played. The structure does feel a bit like we are leveling up at each juncture to where we get the next amount of action and reward, and that is fine. It also feels like a puzzle film, where there is a mystery to solve at the next sequence and that also makes it feel a bit episodic. That being said, it was a totally enjoyable experience and one that gives me a little hope for the near future of movie theaters.

I would still like it if people would go to adult dramas and comedies in a theater, but for the moment I will settle for an action film with big set pieces, well known stars and fun special effects. The theater owners will be glad that this movie showed up in February, so that there was a reason for them to remain open. This is a big dumb event film that fulfills your need for fun without insulting your intelligence. If characters are a bit too standard and the quest is overdone, that doesn't matter because the actors and the tech people seem to be putting their all into making it work for you. So maybe it does recycle "National Treasure", "Indiana Jones" and "Pirates of the Caribbean" , those are all fun pictures and the bits of each that show up in this screenplay are supplemented by some nice work from the actors.

Tom Holland is the poster boy of the cinema world these days. After starring in the biggest blockbuster success since the pandemic started, he shows up here and does what a movie star is supposed to do, brings some charisma to the events of the story. He is joined by the older more veteran version of himself, Mark Walberg, who has passed the stage of young lead to now take on the role of mentor, although still an active and well defined mentor as these stories will demand. 

Director Ruben Fleiser has made some films that I enjoyed, (Zombieland and Zombieland Double Tap), some that should have worked but didn't (Gangster Squad) and one huge financial success that is mocked by aficionados of the source material (Venom).  I think the action groove is where he fits best, but it is apparent to me that the scripts he is working with and the way he is shooting things, character development is not his strong suit. The flashback sequence at the start of the film is about as close as you get to something reflecting real character arcs, but what can you expect from a movie based on a video game?

This is a perfect movie for a weekend afternoon with the family, or maybe date night, followed by pizza or burgers at a local joint that you know well. You will have a good time, a pleasant memory of the experience, but you may not remember much of the story or even the action scenes. I did like that the female lead is not simply a love interest but a character in the film who adds some drama to the proceedings and reminds us that everyone can be a little good as well as being a little bad.