THE BATMAN (2022)

February 28, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Riddle me this: does “The Bat, The Cat, and The Rat” sound more like an opening line to a joke or the title of a Dr. Seuss book? In fact, those are three core elements of this new, COVID-delayed, and highly anticipated film from writer-director Matt Reeves and co-writer Peter Craig. I’ll confess to being a huge fan of Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy (that concluded 10 years ago), and being a bit skeptical to a new version featuring Robert Pattinson in the titular role (I’m choosing to totally ignore the in-between portrayals in the “Justice League” movies). Knowing full well how important it is for fans to watch these films with fresh eyes and a clear head, this review is purposefully vague on what will surely prove to be some of the more popular and contentious discussion points.

Let’s start with a general description and the setup. The film is dark and gloomy and gritty and grimy. Gotham is a cesspool of corruption and crime, and we get no glimpse into the other side, assuming there is one. Billionaire Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) is still in his second year as the Batman, often referred to as “Vengeance”. There is substantial backstory for Mr. Wayne, who lives in relative seclusion with his trusty manservant Alfred Pennyworth (Andy Serkis), while the Batman prowls at night in his efforts to clean up the city. Of course he is unable to keep pace with crime and corruption, even with the close alliance he has built with good cop, Police Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright). It takes Batman’s Poirot-like detective skills to solve a riddle left as a clue in a particularly high-profile murder case. Soon it’s obvious a serial killer is at work and he has purposefully drawn the Batman into his game.

The caped crusader proceeds to cross paths with Selena Kyle/Catwoman (a terrific Zoe Kravitz), Oswald Cobblepot/Penguin (an unrecognizable Colin Farrell), District Attorney Gil Golson (Peter Sarsgaard), and crime lord Carmine Falcone (John Turturro). As city VIPs begin showing up dead, it’s a masked Edward Nashton/Riddler (Paul Dano) who always seems a step ahead. All of the above receive their chance to shine on screen, and while none let us down, it’s not until the mask is ripped from Riddler, and Dano really shines, that we are left wanting more. It should be noted that Farrell (with his facial prosthetics and fat suit) is kind of a second fiddle here, but it’s surely intentional and meant to set the stage for more Penguin antics down the road.

Pattinson will certainly receive the most scrutiny. I found him to be an excellent Batman, with black eye makeup smeared by sweat under his cowl, maintaining the grungy tone. His whispery voice differs from Christian Bale’s gravely growl, but works for the character’s withdrawn nature and preference for detective work over than fighting. Staying true to the premise that this is only his second year, there is a significant shortage of “wonderful toys”, and the batmobile is less rocket ship and more souped-up coupe. The contrast to these is a batsuit that seems quite advanced (and looks cool). It’s Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne that didn’t work for me. I respect the reclusive billionaire aspect, but he mostly looks like someone on their way to a Nirvana gig, leaving us wondering how the heck could anyone not connect the dots between a creepy rich guy and a nearly identical creepy guy in a bat suit. It’s a minor complaint, but one that stuck with me.

Oscar-winning composer Michael Giacchino (UP, 2009) takes a more classical approach than the dramatics of predecessors Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman. Giacchino has been a frequent Pixar contributor, and scored some well-known blockbusters in franchises like ‘Jurassic World’, ‘Star Trek’, ‘Planet of the Apes’, ‘Mission Impossible’, ‘Spider-man’, and ‘Star Wars’. His work fits nicely here. Adapting characters and stories originated by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, Matt Reeves and Peter Craig have found a way to put their own stamp on the work. Mr. Craig is Oscar winner Sally Field’s son, and his previous scripts include THE TOWN (2010), parts 1 and 2 of THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, and upcoming high-profile projects in TOP GUN: MAVERICK and GLADIATOR 2. Director Reeves has previously helmed the excellent horror film LET ME IN (2010), as well as DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014) and WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017).

This marks the first in a planned Batman trilogy, and a couple of the last scenes seemingly set the stage for what’s to come. Although this is an odd movie, here’s hoping the franchise maintains this tone and avoids the typical Marvel/DC overblown CGI approach. After all, the Batman is but one man, not a God of superpowers. This film is an unusual blend of noir-horror-detective-action-psychological thriller wrapped in a gray box with a black bow, and though it will likely be divisive among fans (isn’t everything?), this 3-hour epic leaves us anticipating the next ‘bat time’ and ‘bat channel’.

Opens wide in theaters on March 4, 2022

WATCH THE TRAILER


GLORIA BELL (2019)

March 21, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. Having previously mentioned my general annoyance at the frequency of which the ‘Americanization’ of World Cinema projects occur, I was initially dismayed to hear about the remake of the excellent Chilean film GLORIA. That 2013 featured a terrific performance from Paulina Garcia, and provided a grounded look at life of a single woman of a certain age. However, when it was announced that the American version would be directed by Sebastian Lelio, who also directed the earlier version, and that it would star Julianne Moore in the lead role, the idea became much more palatable.

Oscar winner (and 4 time nominee) Julianne Moore has been one of our more interesting actors since she jumped off the screen (in a supporting role) in 1992’s THE HAND THAT ROCKED THE CRADLE. She’s now approaching 60 years of age, and is a true master at capturing the essence of a character. She brings Gloria Bell to life in the most believable and grounded manner possible. Rather than a movie caricature, Gloria is a real woman. She plugs away at her daily work in the insurance business. She belts out the songs on the radio as she drives her car. She gets annoyed at the stray cat who sneaks into her apartment. She smokes and drinks. She tries to be part of her adult kids’ lives. She tries to ignore, but ultimately reports the loud noises from her upstairs neighbor to her landlord. She loves dancing in clubs with men she doesn’t know, or even alone. In conclusion, Gloria lives her life.

Much of the film focuses on the odd developing relationship Gloria has with Arnold (John Turturro). Their eyes meet across the dance floor, spend some time chit-chatting, and soon, his Velcro-back brace is being ripped off. As with many folks, Arnold’s baggage is more burden than history. He seems to be in an unhealthy marriage with ultra-dependent grown daughters and a wife who can’t get through a day without his help. The cell phone ring becomes a running gag … one Gloria finds little humor in.

Supporting work is provided by Sean Astin (a Las Vegas mistake), Brad Garrett (Gloria’s ex), Jeanne Tripplehorn (Garrett’s new wife), and Holland Taylor (Gloria’s mom). Each of these characters get a brief sub-story, as do Gloria’s grown kids, played by Michael Cera and Caren Pistorius. With the son’s marriage in shambles, and the daughter heading to Sweden to live with a man, Gloria experiences the trials and tribulations of life while still looking for meaning and companionship … each a search worth pursuing.

Alice Johnson Boher adapted the screenplay for this version from the original by director Sebastian Lelio and Gonzalo Maza. She refrains from the usual American melodrama or corniness, and instead delivers something to which the actors and viewers can easily relate. The fine line between independence and loneliness is in a delicate balance, and one that’s deftly handled here. And of course, there are scenes that are elevated thanks to the brilliance of Julianne Moore’s performance. All in all, fans of GLORIA will not be disappointed … just lay off the post-yoga cigarette.

watch the trailer:


EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS (2014)

December 12, 2014

Exodus Greetings again from the darkness. Two huge Old Testament epics in one year (Noah being the other) is quite unusual in this era of superhero overload. But then, if you squint just right, there is a dash of superhero in both Noah and Moses, and each of their stories plays equally well as an action-packed adventure or bible scripture. If you are the type to analyze all the religious errors, you might first consider that the three male leads are played by an Australian, a Welsh, and a Knighted Sir. So a grain of salt is in order; and you should understand that director Ridley Scott (Gladiator, 2000) is more interested in the cinematic “wow” factor than he is in biblical accuracy.

Moses (Christian Bale) and Ramses (Joel Edgerton) are raised as brothers in Egypt circa 1300 BCE. Ramses’ father is the ruling Pharaoh Seti (John Turturro) who believes Moses to be the better leader of people than his own son. But in those days, blood ruled, and soon after discovering that Moses is actually Hebrew rather than Egyptian, Ramses cast him into the desert.

A few years later Moses chats it up with God (actually Metatron archangel that looks like a schoolboy), and the next thing we know, fish are dying in poisoned waters, giant crocodiles are chomping on fisherman, an impressive onslaught of frogs and locusts attack, followed by massive swarms of flies, and finally the darkness of death. Ramses finally ends the streak of plagues by agreeing to free the Hebrew slaves. Moses then leads the masses on the infamous trek … a not so enjoyable trip that peaks with the parting of Red Sea – a very impressive movie effect, even when compared to the wall of water seen recently in Interstellar.

The movie is dominated by Bale and Edgerton, with only minor supporting roles from John Turturro, Sigourney Weaver (maybe 3 lines of dialogue), Aaron Paul as Joshua (lots of quiet eye-balling of Moses), Sir Ben Kingsley as Nun, a hilarious Ben Mendelsohn, the always energetic Ewen Bremner, and the very classy Hiam Abbass.

Director Ridley Scott has dedicated this one to his brother Tony, and it’s sure to be one of those movies that some critics will enjoy bashing, just because they can. And there will be the nostalgic viewers who fondly recall Cecil B DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (either version), and the pomposity displayed by Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner. But for those movie goers looking for an adventure movie in the form of a throwback biblical epic with eye-popping special effects, it seems the answer will be a resounding “yes” to the question of … “Are you not entertained?”

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are really into special effects and plagues OR you were a fan before “the pictures got small”

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are looking for a literal interpretation of bible scripture OR you expect anyone other than the extras to bear even a slight resemblance to ancient Egyptians

watch the trailer: