batman

[Movie Review] ‘The LEGO Batman Movie’ is the Hilarious and Heartfelt Hero We Deserve

In 2016 we saw Batman twice in theaters and for most of us, we left those two encounters less than enthusiastic. With Warner Bros. flailing wildly in need of a hit, in steps some tiny plastic toys to save the day. Even with as good as The LEGO Batman Movie is, it also amplifies how inept Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad were at the most fundamental level–being entertaining. In a way, the latest in the Batman universe acts as a sincere apology for the aforementioned disappointments.

To be fair The LEGO Batman Movie has the benefit of irreverent humor that leans heavily in meta territory. The film exists in a world where Gotham City and its citizens are kind of tired of Batman’s shenanigans. Years of fighting bad guys and yet crime rates are as high as ever. Even Batman’s greatest enemy, Joker, has decided that he must concoct a new scheme to get the Caped Crusader in touch with his emotions. With the help of a recently adopted orphan, Dick Grayson, and the city’s new commissioner, Barbara Gordon, Batman embarks on a mission to save his tarnished reputation and the city.  (more…)

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Movie Review: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

bvsdoj_tgofThere are those of us who willingly choose to avoid the paper representations of the immensely popular superhero films. In doing so, while unable to provide a glimpse into how faithful the adaptations are, can still provide a unique and still truthful outlook to the success of the filmmakers to present a story that is worthwhile and thrilling. Sadly, it’s filmmakers like Zack Snyder who make us realize how good we had it with Christopher Nolan and his uneven take on the cowled vigilante in The Dark Knight Rises. Nolan, provided a grim perspective on the Batman universe and Snyder too uses the grim approach, it also is more often than not…soulless.

For better or worse I approach each superhero flick hoping to experience a well told story. With any luck it’ll come together cohesively even without having read the comics. One should not have to have that knowledge to enjoy the film counterparts because it is the job of the filmmaker to present the story in a way that makes sense in its own right. Snyder has not done his due diligence in this regard- at least from this viewer’s perspective. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice certainly sets the table for DC’s own Avengers type formula, but does so in messy fashion. Consider Synder’s vision the Island of Misfit toys so to speak, which goes a long way in describing the film as a whole. It’s like a child playing with his toys and like a child they’re no sense or meaning to anything that happens, just the bashing together of plastic soulless figures because it’s fun. Plus this particular child has a $250 million budget so those plastic toys look a lot cooler.  (more…)

Movie Review: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 (2012)

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It’s no secret at this point that I am a fan of Batman in cinema. It’s also no secret that I am a ‘noob’ in terms of Batman on the pages of a comic- not to say I wouldn’t like it there either I just have never taken the time to familiarize myself. So why in the world would I even try to wrap my head around the animated adaptation of one of the most revered comic books ever published? The short not so eloquent answer is that I just love me some Batman. BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS PART 1 for an uninitiated comic nerd is often a welcome departure from the Gotham City Chris Nolan has portrayed recently even if at times and a joy to behold for anyone looking to surround yourself in Batman mythology.

PART 1 finds Bruce Wayne now 55 years old and has retired the cape and cowl after the death of his previous partner Jason Todd and now lives as somewhat of a recluse while his friend Commissioner Jim Gordon is now retiring from the force. The streets of Gotham are riddled with crime and constantly threatened by a gang that call themselves the Mutants. Dismayed by the constant violence inflected by the Mutants Bruce decides to hit the streets once again as Batman to stop the threat of crime in the city. Along for the ride is a young girl, Carrie Kelley, buys a Robin costume and goes in search of Batman in order to help the caped crusader fight crime.

Almost identical in the style of animation from BATMAN YEAR ONE, the new animated feature looks pretty great especially during action sequences. There are a lot of really cool action scenes stemming from Harvey Dent holding the city ransom with a bomb, Batman in an epic showdown versus hundreds of the Mutants and a final showdown against the leader of the mutants- all of these are a lot of fun to watch.

Essentially though, as fun as this is and as great as it looks it still doesn’t quite feel like a film so much as a cartoon I’d catch on TV sometime. As someone who watches a lot of movies though it might just be a bit of over judgment that I’m bringing down on the style and the quality of the voice acting which is at time much more Saturday morning cartoon sounding than unrelenting darkness or overly comic book sounding.

It’s not to say it doesn’t glow with all the glory of the comic pages because it quite simply does have the framing and timing of a comic book even coming from someone who doesn’t read them on a regular basis or at all. BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS PART 1 is definitely not an entry point for people looking to familiarize themselves with the hero, but a great time will be had by those who know and love the character. People with a passing knowledge of the Batman mythos may be a bit lost at times, but will see quite a few familiar faces and at the very least get an urge to check out the source material. As an appetizer to the eventual PART 2 continuation, this direct-to-video adaptation is a must watch for fan of the comic book hero.

Rating: B+

Movie Review: The Dark Knight (2008)

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I was sort of caught off guard by the release of BATMAN BEGINS way back when, but rest assured I did not make that mistake twice when it came to THE DARK KNIGHT. I followed all the news right up until the release and went through the gamut of emotions that came from the casting of Heath Ledger as Joker acceptance when he turned out to be pretty great in the trailers and sadness when the news broke he had died. After release the sadness grew deeper that this talent brought Batman’s most infamous villain to life in a way that stands as the greatest portrayals of that character and would never get to follow it up. THE DARK KNIGHT is a marvel of filmmaking that might still have a few minor hiccups, but otherwise is a tense and unforgettable crime thriller elevated even further by the riveting performance from Heath Ledger as the clown prince of Gotham, the Joker.

The film takes place an undisclosed amount of time after BATMAN BEGINS with Batman making headway to cleaning up the streets by making the crime bosses nervous, but so far has let a bank robbing psycho, Joker, fly under the radar to deal with the big fish. Once Joker makes himself directly involved with the mobs of Gotham Batman is forced to deal with the threat head. Joker’s motives are completely unknown except that he appears to just want to cause as much chaos as possible in order to send the city into fear and panic. Bruce Wayne sees the new District Attorney Harvey Dent as the future of Gotham and does his best to help him try to clean the streets of the mob while his alter ego attempts to silence the influence of Joker on the city and on the mob.

I have a few of the same problems that carry over from BATMAN BEGINS in regards to the acting of minor characters- which again is a minor beef- one that bothered me even less due to the phenomenal performance from Heath Ledger. Both films have somewhat muddled final confrontations that end in much more satisfying than they unfold. In THE DARK KNIGHT Batman’s final battle with Joker is hindered by an over use of Bat sonar that came very close to giving me a headache, but the entire scene is redeemed by the conversation between the two that caps it off while also serving as a chilling profile of the Joker as a character and the bittersweet end to Ledger’s portrayal of the madman.

The action still has its issues but improved from BATMAN BEGINS especially in the 18 wheeler chase scene that culminates with the massive vehicle being flipped and leading to the game of chicken between Batman on his Batpod and Joker screaming for Batman to hit him. There are many different dynamics on display here and aside from the scene stealing monologues delivered later in the film by Joker this is one of the more memorable scenes in the film.

The best parts of THE DARK KNIGHT revolve almost entirely around the Joker, which may also be to its detriment at times. For a Batman film, I found myself only occasionally drawn to Bruce Wayne and Batman’s plight while completely hypnotized by Ledger’s command over his performance and the film in general- something I find a bit odd when it comes to rewatching, because I often skip a lot of the film in favor of getting to scenes involving Joker. The opening bank heist, crashing of the mob meeting, storming the party thrown by Bruce for Harvey Dent, the interrogation scene and Joker visiting Dent in the hospital are all scenes that make THE DARK KNIGHT such a stellar cinematic experience- the tension in every scene with the bone chilling performance by Ledger nail home just how unforgettable the film is in spite of its lesser moments.

Another step up from the previous film is the use of score throughout. There are many of the same beats recycled from BATMAN BEGINS, but the addition of the Joker’s theme throughout really takes the overall scope and score up a significant notch, especially in the opening bank heist. I also find that restraining from using an overpowering score during scenes like when the Joker crashes a party in search of Harvey Dent a pretty effective choice, but is accented by the swelling score that leads up to it as Joker traps are taking out his potential victims.

With THE DARK KNIGHT Christopher Nolan not only topped himself in the Batman-verse, but also set the gold standard for cinematic superheroes. Nolan’s sequel to BATMAN BEGINS ups the intensity and dark tone of the series in incredible fashion with the help of an incredible villainous performance from Heath Ledger as Joker. The film continues to stumble just slightly in terms of action/fight choreography and in creating a truly breathtaking finale, but always finds a way to endear itself to me in spite of any of my perceived, but extremely minor shortcomings.

Rating: A

Last Call Spoilers: The Dark Knight Rises

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Last Call Spoilers is a post on which I talk about a movie- usually a current release- where I go in-depth to describe every book and cranny of the film and attempting to leave no stone unturned. This edition of Spoiler Corner might be a bit different as I discuss the spoilers of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES- different only because I’m not going to start at the beginning and go through every plot beat of the film and instead I’m going to spend a moment summarizing the biggest spoilers in reference to my initial predictions about the film and then talk in a more detailed way about what I liked or God forbid didn’t like about the film.

Before we get too far into the discussion, I want to express my deepest condolences to the families and friends affected by the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado during the midnight screening of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. I’ve read more than I care to about the monster responsible and hope for nothing more than swift justice and feel the guy deserves anything bad thing coming to him. I’ve had a chance to read about all the last acts of heroism on the part of several victims that moved me to no end and the reports coming out are heartbreaking and incredible. It is a sad day where something that is there to bring us all hours of joy and escapism can also be the setting for something so tragic and even sadder when our enthusiasm for the art form can be exploited by the seriously disturbed for seemingly no logical reason. I would hate to see this tragedy dim the light and passion of those involved and if any that has been affected happens to see this, know that as someone who attended a midnight screening you have nothing but my deepest sympathies and I hope that you all find peace as quickly as possible from this senseless tragedy. It could have happened to any number of us that ventured out that night and know that even though those of us in other locations were not there, we all suffer collectively with you (though most can’t possibly fathom the depth of your personal losses).

On with the spoilers…

So if you want to remain unspoiled about THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, first off why did you click on a link that features the word spoiler and second how have you gotten this far in a post that clearly states the word spoiler several times to this point. You now have no excuse to still be reading so from this point on, let the spoilers fly.

I wrote a few weeks before release about what to expect from THE DARK KNIGHT RISES- or what I was expecting and anticipated seeing just how right I was going to be. At this point I am both excited and only slightly discouraged to say, I told you so. Excited because few moments in my life as a married man can I literally say I was right about something, but discouraged because if I can call some of the plot beats that means a lot of other people probably could too- plus I’m not even well versed in everything involving Batman from the comics- it also means that a few things didn’t come as big of a surprise that me and many others would probably like.

So what was I right about, well here’s the main things- Bane being a member of the League of Shadows, Marion Cotillard’s character actually being Talia Al Ghul and Bane being her tool for destruction, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character possibly taking over as Batman or maybe being revealed as Robin and the possibility that Batman would be killed off. All of these things happen in some form or another. Some of them hit harder than others and I have my issues with some of it, but for me, I refuse to let minor nitpicks drag down an otherwise phenomenal experience.

I would like to start the more detailed discussion off with Bane as played by Tom Hardy. The thing about Bane approaching this movie is just how he would stack up to Heath Ledger’s Joker from THE DARK KNIGHT. I will preface everything I’m about to say by first pointing out that I believe that even Nolan knew he could not replace Ledger or have lightning strike twice- so what I feel he did essentially with Bane was take the Joker character and reverse almost everything about him. I feel that Bane as a character anchors the first two thirds of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES just like the Joker, but their differences are also what make their respective movies work. I loved Hardy’s performance, though I don’t think it’s quite the Oscar caliber performance Ledger gave- this comes mostly due to the fact that he spends the whole movie with more than half of his face covered in a mask and that you can’t always tell how much of the performance comes in the moment during the scene and what has been enhanced or added ADR since it is blatantly obvious adjustments were made to make Bane easier to understand.

Bane much like the Joker is psychotic and both have levels of intelligence, but what where Joker lacks the physical aspect as a foe to Batman, Bane more than compensates for. However, what Bane lacks is the sheer unpredictable nature of Joker’s psychosis and Bane is unflinching in his efforts to destroy Gotham based on a meticulous plan that has been over a decade in the making by Talia. The biggest thing that took Bane from being an extremely intimidating force was by making him the lesser of two evils in the overall plan and making Talia the mastermind- rendering him mostly as a goon that simply is pointed in a direction and he executes. It doesn’t necessarily negate his physical presence in the first half of the film especially in that first fight with Batman where he just owns Batman and breaks his back, but sort of feels like he is then second wheel in the last act and then removed completely when Selina Kyle/Catwoman straight up murders him- or so it seems

The last thing I want to say as Bane is that say what you will about the voice, but I personally loved it. The muffled sound combined with the accent and the way that is sticks out so distinctly from everyone else I found incredibly effective. It works to single out his character the same way that the Joker’s strange and deranged manner of speaking did in THE DARK KNIGHT- because without it, he could have easily been written off as generic British sounding buff bad guy, where his backstory and headgear give him the intimidating look and presence. Aside from the voice, Hardy does a lot with just his eyes and body language ranging from just a relaxed “I’m not scared of anything” look, anger and then something of a crazed disgust when he’s giving the speech about corruption in Gotham. I again won’t say it’s Oscar worthy and doesn’t hit the absolute brilliance of Ledger, but it’s close and I find it nearly as memorable.

Some of the only other complaints I have about the film have to do with the editing and how time is conveyed, but doesn’t harm the film overall to me as I was eventually able to catch myself up and find ways to connect the plot without it being layer out for me. I also have some issues with the way Talia is set up and revealed- I called it before the release, but I feel like it was telegraphed pretty easily during the film so the reveal itself wasn’t near as shocking. Showing the scar on her back when “Miranda” and Bruce were in the nude after conducting hanky panky by fireside was a pretty stark hint at showing this character might be more than she appears. It may very well be a calculated move and that the reveal is supposed to be known by the audience so that we are then screaming at the screen for Batman to not turn his back on her before she stabs him- I don’t know for sure, but that’s my take on it and also why it just doesn’t bother me like it does everyone else. I also feel like the telegraph of her possibly being Talia is there to serve the fact that with all the new characters it was hard to get a lot of her character in the film to flesh her out so the rushed romance and scar reveal is the compromise Nolan basically had to make in order to get the finale to where it has to go.

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES also hints several times how it isn’t hard for some people to connect Bruce Wayne to Batman as is evident in the John Blake character. So for me the whole film has tension that hinges on his identity falling apart altogether especially since Bane knows Bruce’s identity, Selina Kyle finds it out and of course Batman giving Gordon the hint and Gordan finally putting it together. In many ways Batman/Bruce Wayne seemingly giving his life by flying the bomb over the water is just a pitch perfect way to end the legend of Batman. Of course it is revealed quickly that Bruce survived because he fixed the autopilot feature in the Bat and fulfills Alfred’s wish of seeing him happy with a girl, Selina Kyle. I couldn’t have been more satisfied by that ending.

Now on to the John Blake character, which it is revealed that his first name is actually Robin in the end, was a nice nudge to fans- though I’m so happy he didn’t ever suit up and fight side by side with Batman. Instead, the ambiguous nature of all the set ups leading to seeing Bruce still alive leave hope for the future. There appears to be confusion that Gordon replaced the Bat signal in the end, but the way I read it was that Bruce replaced it with the intention that Blake was going to take his place- which to pat myself on the back once more I also speculated before the release. There is a line that Batman says to Blake saying that he needs to wear a mask in order to protect his family and loved ones- then there’s a moment of realization when Blake watches Batman fly away with the bomb and sees it explode and he then takes off his badge and throws it away. He then retrieves a bag and finds the entrance to Bruce’s Batcave- if none of that adds up to Batman/Bruce basically handing the reins to Blake I don’t know how else to clear it up for you. I don’t think Nolan is setting you up to think Blake will now be Robin, but instead just a set up for Night Wing- his name being Robin I feel is just a way to get the name recognition into the series.

I can agree that the film wants the audience to take some massive leaps of faith in terms of storytelling, time jumps and suspension of disbelief, but they are all leaps I was more than willing to take. The storytelling because in the 8 year gap we miss the development of Miranda into Bruce’s life when she helps to finance the tech that is then turned into a nuclear weapon, Bruce’s ability to fall so in love with Miranda in such a short period of time and trust her with control over his company and the fusion device and the extent in which Bane and company are able to seemingly make and place all these explosive devices all over the city. Suspension of disbelief comes from the creation and placement of the bombs and how some people seem to connect the Bruce Wayne/Batman dots easily and others just can’t or don’t care to, plus why Bruce continues to talk in Batman raspy voice to Blake even though Blake already knows who he is. The time gaps in addition to the initial 8 years since THE DARK KNIGHT are the amount of time from the initial plane heist, emergence of Bane in Gotham to when he finally blows up the stadium, activates the bomb to when Batman heals, returns and flies it out of harm’s way. There is never a time it tells you on screen how much time has passed, but if you pay attention time frames are expressed and it’s up to the audience to put them together.

Now getting into some of my favorite moments in the film- I really loved the first fight between Bane and Batman where absolutely no score is used. That scene is nothing but sound effects of two dudes throwing and landing fists leading up to the moment where Bane gloriously utters the line about wondering what of Batman/Bruce he would break first- his spirit or his body- before promptly breaking shit out of Batman’s back and pounding his face until the cowl breaks off. That whole fight I was in glee and even a little disturbed by the brutality Bane displayed when he was pounding Batman’s face as he was basically unconscious.

The biggest set piece of the film minus the final battle is the explosion on the football field. The lead up is fantastic even though if anyone saw the trailer, most knew it was coming, but what I wasn’t expecting was that all the explosions you see in the trailer happen simultaneously- including the bridges. The CGI there wasn’t as seamless as in Nolan’s previous films, but looked pretty damn good. It was also really cool to take that all in context since we got a snippet of Bane’s dialogue to the crowd in a spy video well before the release so seeing it all come together was pretty spectacular.

The final battle improved on what I didn’t love about THE DARK KNIGHT. I loved how escalated the stakes were for the film and overall how it was shot. I didn’t care for the entirety of the final battle against the Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT and the only aspects I enjoyed were the two boats deciding if they were going to blow each other up and the hostages dressed up like bad guys. The Bat sonar and darkness of the fighting kind of ruined that part of the finale and the actual abbreviated fight between Batman and Joker felt weak. Here there is just an all out war with Batman fighting with the cops against the thugs Bane has converted to his side and it was all just awesome to see in spite of some shaky editing.

I want to end on two other sequences that I enjoyed- one on a spectacle level and the other on an emotional level. The emotional scene is when Bruce is working toward healing his back and making the climb in the “Hell on Earth” prison Bane leaves him in when Bruce says he’s not afraid but angry and he’s continually failing at the climb. The moments leading up to his successful trek to the top I found to be absolutely triumphant and emotionally satisfying even if you knew he was going to make it and then his heroic return to Gotham when Gordon lights the flair that then ignores the Bat logo in flames to signal to Bane and his army that he was back perfectly capped those sequences. The spectacle scene I am referring to, though there are many is the scene where the Bat is dodging the missiles shot at it- though I didn’t see my screening at an IMAX I can imagine how awe inspiring that sequence is because I just loved it on a regular screen. Side note though, I do intend to see this again on an IMAX screen before too long.

I think for now that’s a about all I have to say as far as spoilers and discussion go. There’s been a lot of flack given for negative reviews on the film and all I have to say to anyone bummed about negative reviews is that the only opinion that matters is your own. Do not let someone else tell you what you like and definitely to not let someone else’s opinion drive you to the point of sending death threats- nobody wins in those situations. From what I can tell, expectations have been every viewer’s common enemy- the only advice I can give is to keep them in check because if you come out not liking it saying your expected more then what I will say to you is that its you’re expectations that let you down, not the film. It may not be the popular opinion, but always expecting something to be better than it actually is, ends with disappointment more than it doesn’t.

Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

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It’s been four long years waiting for Christopher Nolan’s return to Gotham City. A wait that has held in the balance where exactly he would take the series in the wake of Heath Ledger’s death and rather or not the expectations could possibly be met without the vice grip of a villain like the Joker to anchor the film. THE DARK KNIGHT set an incredibly high bar for comic book movies and in my opinion if anyone was up to the task it would be Nolan. So then, was Nolan able to follow up the masterful THE DARK KNIGHT with the concluding chapter in his series, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES? Read on to find out.

The film takes place 8 years after the events in THE DARK KNIGHT, where Batman shoulders the blame for the actions of Harvey Dent/Two-Face and has exiled himself. While Batman’s absence is obvious due to the allegations, the man behind the mask, Bruce Wayne, has also secluded himself from the world. Wayne still sulks about the loss of Rachel and has also let his company slide into financial trouble. Meanwhile, a new madman, Bane (Tom Hardy) has his sights on breaking Gotham into rubble and has forces Wayne’s hand to once again dawn the cape and cowl to attempt to take control of the city from Bane’s grip.

Wow, that was my first reaction, not necessarily to how incredible the film is, but first and foremost about the amount of story and set up this film has to sift through in order to come up with a finale and ending that does indeed invoke the wow factor. A handful of new characters that all have quite a bit to contribute to the plot, so much so that I can easily see how overwhelming and seemingly clunky it all can seem. During the extremely deliberate buildup I too had my worries about everything tying itself up, but in my opinion it all comes to an incredibly satisfying end, one that justifies its slow plodding first hour or so and rewards those who have patience. For some, I have no doubt it will test their limits of patience as well as how well hearing is due to some of the audio for Bane’s character.

If you’ve seen the film and are reading this and are livid about how much of the story I’ve left out of the premise, it is for good reason. For all the marketing material it felt like maybe we had seen far too much of the film. I am here to say that most of everything in those trailers is only the tip of the iceberg. I wrote about and speculated what may be going on in the film and while I did call out a few things that I’m sure a lot of other people probably also deducted, I also couldn’t have possibly predicted all of the different plot points and turns it takes throughout as well as the final hour. This is an extremely ambitious film and any suspected flaws in its storytelling might hinder certain folk’s enjoyment, it did not deter me at all- this film had me riveted from beginning to end.

Not to be outdone in creating a formidable foe for Batman, Tom Hardy as Bane really does command the screen. His presence is undeniable and in a moment where he asks a to-be victim if he really believes he is in control it is almost like Nolan asserting his own control over the audience. Bane is most certainly am overwhelming force that really makes you fear for the well being of Batman, let alone anyone else in his path. Hardy owns the role in a way that couldn’t be more different from Ledger’s role as Joker. Theatricality is what separates them, which is something Bane audibly voices his displeasure of and because of that and his physical presence and sheer brute force is almost just as memorable as the Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT. Bane’s voice will no doubt be a point of contention and I will admit to having trouble understanding every single word- but man oh man when he speaks does it resonate and demand attention. The dread and intimidation I felt at his presence was really what started to endear me to the whole experience.

So what of all those other huge names that returned or were added to the cast? Well in fear of giving away too much for how involved they are in the plot, I will keep it vague. Bale is just as good as in the previous films, although now people will have all sorts of new jokes to spout off in the gravely Batman voice. Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine all do their part well enough, but it’s the newbies that had the bigger question marks. Anne Hathaway is surprisingly great, given I wasn’t excited one bit about the idea of Catwoman in Nolan’s Batman universe- plus she’s never once referred to as Catwoman, but she is Selina Kyle after all. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a great actor and with all the mystery surrounding his role does a great job of bridging some of the emotional arcs surrounding Bruce Wayne and Batman. Finally, Marion Cotillard- used little in the marketing, is perfectly adequate, though I don’t feel like she’s fleshed out well enough- then again that may very well have been the point.

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES once again makes incredible use of a thumping score that make all the action scenes pop and create a tense and exciting tone that really takes hold for the last half of the film. Nolan again makes scarce use of CGI, but when he does they look phenomenal and nearly seamless. The film is overall just shot magnificently, with shot after shot of beautiful cinematography, wonderful set pieces and action that has improved quite a bit since BATMAN BEGINS.

I’m not here to sell anyone on the idea of the perfect movie- or to defend any type of bias I have to the franchise. I am here to do one thing and that’s express my opinion on how well this film worked for me and how it made me feel. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is a near perfect end to a legend that is more emotionally satisfying and groundbreaking than any other comic book franchise I’ve seen to date. Christopher Nolan has put together a film that’s so ambitious and epic in scope that some may not be able to stomach the immense buildup and storytelling. In the end, when everything comes crashing down and the dust settles THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is dark, emotional and incredibly heroic.

Rating: A

Movie Review: Batman Begins (2005)

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I talk all the time about how I am not a huge comic book reader- which is an understatement because the truth is I’ve only ever read a handful of comics in my life. As far as Batman goes I don’t have the clout to say I am an authority on the character or the universe, but I do consider myself a huge fan and he is my personal favorite hero in the whole scope of comic book supers. That’s why it is with a great deal of shame that I look back at the time that BATMAN BEGINS was released I was not hyper aware of its release- in my defense though it was a time where as they say, “Life gets in the way” and also I wasn’t seeing near as many movies as I do nowadays. That being said, BATMAN BEGINS punched me in the face to reawaken the Dark Knight fan in me, due to how profound and blown away I was by the film.

At the point of release in my lifetime I had never seen a theatrical rendition of the Batman origin, which is a touchy subject for comic fans- not just the Batman origin but superhero origins in general. Most know at least the story of why Bruce Wayne becomes Batman, but few have ever seen the process Wayne takes in actually turning himself into the vigilante. BATMAN BEGINS explores that very idea in great detail as Wayne exiles himself to foreign prisons testing himself to fights several foes at once until he meets Ra’s Al Ghul who teaches him to use his fears against his enemies and plenty of other extremely helpful stealthy fighting techniques. From there Wayne returns to a crumbling Gotham City where a new for by the name of Dr. Crane aka Scarecrow is planning a city wide takeover with the use of a toxin that turns peoples worst fears into a frightening reality. It is up to the city’s new crime fighter to win over the non corrupt cops for assistance and stop the menace before it’s too late.

Christopher Nolan’s take on the DC Comics hero brought a much darker and “plausible” look and feel compared to Burton’s more gothic take and especially to whatever it is Joel Schumacher was trying to do. I still love Burton’s BATMAN and still at least enjoy BATMAN RETURNS- I also do not necessarily hate BATMAN FOREVER or BATMAN & ROBIN, but let’s be realistic, they are not good films. For me Nolan got a hold of the series and made it something that demands the attention not just of hardcore Batman fans, but just fans of film in general.

Christian Bale was a fantastic choice to throw on the cape and cowl and is arguably the strongest actor in the film. Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Gary Oldman and Tom Wilkinson are all at least very good to great while the remainder of the cast varies from ok to borderline mediocre. The central cast anchors the film with the exception of Katie Holmes, who I guess you could say at least holds her own and helps serve the story, but the performance itself is instantly forgettable- it’s only her character’s connection to Bruce Wayne that gives relevance to her presence at all. Some of the minor chips in the film’s armor come from a few moments of subpar action in an otherwise stellar origin tale.

There is nothing flashy about Nolan’s approach to the Batman legend here. BATMAN BEGINS is a film that is dark and gritty and the action as well as special effects all mirror that sentiment. There are no huge insanely expensive long CGI sequences as Nolan relies a lot on the reality of the situation and when CGI does come into play they are brief and serve only to pull off anything that practical effects can’t do. The Gotham City in Nolan’s universe is filthy and filled with shadows, which is a perfect approach for a hero that relies on shadows to hide and spook criminals, but also pushes across a city in desperate need of saving or cleaning up. These are the details that hooked me instantly to the series and the direction Nolan and company would take it in the future.

This film looks fantastic for as dark and grimy as it appears, its acted perfectly if not for a few hiccups here and there, the action fits the story as well as the scope and I felt instantly connected to the character that by the end I was given goosebumps during the interaction between Ra’s Al Ghul and Batman during the finale. BATMAN BEGINS is a film I may have been biased for as soon as I stepped in the theater to see it, but there’s no such thing as a sure bet anymore in a world that consists of exaggerated cod pieces and nipple plated batsuits. Nolan successfully purges the previous two Batman films from our collective memories by revamping the story and giving it the shot in the arm it so desperately needed.

Rating: A-

The Dark Knight Rises Trailer Breakdown

Lots and lots of news, chatter, rumors and speculation about many things involving the highly anticipated THE DARK KNIGHT RISES lately. Topics ranging from casting, possible characters in regards to casting, villain talk, trailer premieres, poster reveals and poster controversy; one thing’s for certain, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is a hot topic with lots of fan interest twisting in the stirring maelstrom. This post will address everything I’ve followed to this point and my opinion/breakdown of what I know…or as you’ll see, don’t know.

Cast & Characters
I don’t even want to pretend to know if any character will or will not be a supplemental villain or catalyst of some sort, rather or not Batman will die or have some very tragic end of any kind or if the new Bane will be embarrassingly bad. I have complete faith in Nolan and as long as Bane’s character is anything more than “URRGH BANE SMASH” type dialogue as in BATMAN & ROBIN then I have no worries. I love Tom Hardy and I believe the film will be of very high quality even if it doesn’t come to surpass THE DARK KNIGHT.

Poster
I really like the teaser poster. It has shades of TDK’s poster with the Batman logo in flames on a building with Batman standing beneath and even shades of the fan posters. I have ZERO reaction to any of the claims as to if the poster copies any other poster in the movie universe, because I do not care. This is a poster for an entirely different movie, I see a Batman logo with falling debris from fractured buildings, and I don’t see morphing robots or a title card that says INCEPTION. Even if I were to admit or care about similarities it doesn’t matter because this is a THE DARK KNIGHT RISES poster and nothing more, so just like it or don’t on that merit alone.

Teaser Trailer
This is the biggest piece of recent news for THE DARK KNIGHT RISES and the most surprising for me, because I never expected to see any footage for this movie a year away from the release. I realize TDK had footage well before the release, but given the success that film had going into this release I wasn’t expecting anything footage/trailer wise for quite some time.

The truths of my reaction are that the footage did not completely blow me away; I do love it though. Nothing in this trailer hits the spot in me that makes me double over in excitement that the first Joker footage gave me, but there is quite a bit here that gives me goosebumps.

The beginning of the teaser is little more than footage that looks similar to that of images from BATMAN BEGINS along with dialogue Liam Neeson gave from that film with text indicating every hero has a beginning and an end. From there we see Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) lying on a hospital bed on his side seemingly in a lot of pain basically begging who we can only assume is Bruce Wayne to bring Batman back. This begs the question that apparently Gordon now knows Bruce is Batman? Also, we assume that Bruce will hang up the suit at some point or perhaps right from the beginning and will be pushed back into action with the powerful threat of Bane now terrorizing the city.

From here Gordon says Batman must come back, followed by a blurry image of Bane and then a much clearer image of him starring into the camera, wearing what looks like a leather jacket. Then we see the teaser poster image with actual falling debris as it zooms in until the screen is completely white and the title card fades in. The final shot of the trailer is an awesome and brief glimpse of Batman backing away and getting into a weak fighting position as Bane lumbers in from the left side of the screen and then cuts to text that indicates we will see the end of the Batman legend.

I’ve watched the trailer over and over, but specifically the last shot trying to soak every inch of it in as I possibly can. I kept wishing I could see more of Bane, more of whoever that is standing in the background of the right hand side of the screen, but more importantly, just wish that I could watch more of this scene play out. I don’t have a single answer for any of the questions the trailer presents and that’s why I love it and believe it succeeds as a teaser trailer. Teasers are not supposed to provide closure or give you everything you want, they are supposed to do exactly what it’s called, a tease.

I have read lots of descriptions about the trailer before it was released, and lots of post reactions now that it’s been released and here is my take of the last shot in general. I’ve seen a lot of people say that what they interpret is Batman backing away scared or terrified that Bane is approaching him; that’s not what I see. What I see is Batman backing away completely exhausted and trying weakly to get his footing to try and fight off an impending attack and Bane walking relentlessly towards him unconcerned about Batman’s defense. The look on Batman’s face to me says “I have no clue what to do” where as the look of Bane’s walk is that of determination and no fear whatsoever of Batman. This gets me excited because if that’s the case I think we are in for some really tense stuff for the finale. I also don’t think that what we see here is the final battle between Bane and Batman. We are a year from release and to think the first footage we see would be part of the ending would be disappointing to me and unlikely. I would call this similar to when the Joker crashes Bruce’s fund-raiser looking for Harvey Dent in TDK and ends up in a tussle with Batman; so I would think this is an early tift between the two.

My last assessment of this scene is what I think the context of the scene is. There were viral videos released depicting a mass escape of Arkham Asylum and chaos with lots of chanting, which can be heard in the trailer as well. I believe this scene to be Batman going to intervene with what might be a riot at Arkham only to be overpowered by an escaped Bane and that the guy in the corner is a guard or another prisoner maybe. My problem with my own assessment is that Commissioner Gordon appears to have been injured severely by Bane and is begging Batman to come back, which wouldn’t quite fit with my thoughts and would be a conflict in the timeline of events.

Regardless, I think the teaser is great, Bane looks awesome so far and I love the integration of the teaser poster into the trailer. It’s still too early to tell how the film is taking shape, we have yet to see Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard or Joseph Gordon-Levitt to see how they fit in, let alone how the dialogue of Bane will sound. I did see some shooting notes about scenes taking place in snow, which we haven’t seen in a Batman film since BATMAN RETURNS, which coincidentally featured Catwoman, but again I have no reason to believe Catwoman will be in TDKR. I always love scenes integrating weather elements like snow just because it gives all kinds of dynamics to the scene, so seeing Batman fighting and charging through snowy streets of Gotham has me pretty stoked.

What are your thoughts about the trailer and the final shot of it?

Strip To Script: Comic Book Heroes On The Big Screen

The summer of 2011 marks a big time of year for the superhero movies that will be bursting through theater speakers to fans all over the world. Each of these superhero characters were born on the pages of comic books and not with the camera. Each year the superhero movies draw large crowds and I’ve always wondered if every single person in the theater is turning out because they read the comics as kids or adults, they were dragged by a fan or if they like me are mostly associated out of context and have a natural curiosity. I didn’t take a poll on this subject, my curiosity is the inner workings of my mind as I’m a product of a sole interest in the visual are of movies, even though I’ve enjoyed the occasional comic here and there.

I’ve sat and thought about all the comics I’ve read in my life and I can really only think of a few. Yet, I find myself liking if not loving a lot of the comic based movies that get released. I love Batman and I get asked all the time what my thoughts on who the villains should be in the upcoming movies when they get made and I’m always going back to the ones I grew up with in the original Batman movies like Catwoman, Bane, Two Face, The Riddler and of course The Joker. Everyone once in a while I absorb information from articles I read or videogames where characters I was previously unfamiliar with are discussed and my memory bank grows a little bit. I often wonder if not being well versed in the source material makes me a less discerning viewer of the films and I would agree if someone said my opinion isn’t fully valid, but only to a small extent. I may not know all the characters and backgrounds but I am able to learn and can make distinctions of their ability to work on film, even if that distinction is not always going to be gospel. I am a member of a specific audience demographic that will see just about anything if it looks agreeable enough up to and including superhero movies that I may not have a thorough frame of reference on. Comic book aficionados may face palm whenever someone like me tries to talk about a comic book universe, but that doesn’t make my opinion any less valuable to someone who might have the same mindset as me.

As I mentioned, I’ve read only a few comic books in my life that include Batman, maybe one or two Spiderman stories and the entire series that makes up the Watchmen graphic novel. I would never even pretend to come off as knowing even slightly more than any random fan about any comic book character. The information I’ve retained over the years comes almost entirely from pop culture information that includes movies, video games and just random information I’ve picked up from friends and people I’ve had conversations with; none of this qualifies me as an expert in anything comic book related. So why is it that these comic book movies appeal to someone like me?

When directors approach the comic book stories they always begin with the origin story. If they were looking to appeal ONLY to the comic book lovers there would be nearly no point in pandering to the uninitiated. As a fan of movies and the possibility of grand special effects along with a hero’s journey, these superhero movies appeal to me a great deal. The opposite end of the spectrum is if the movies appeal to me, why don’t I feel the need to seek out the comic books that they originate from? I wish the answer was complex and controversial, but the fact of the matter is that I don’t actively avoid comic books; the plain boring truth is I just don’t rush out to get them. Movies have always been my escape and the most attractive form of entertainment. Reading always stimulated my imagination, being able to visualize the words on paper, but movies push things a little further by showing you the potential of one’s imagination. All forms of entertainment that includes books, movies and even radio serve as outlets of imagination and have always inspired me to explore my own thoughts and ideas; the choice from there is the medium that fits my personality.

As a kid movies completely captured my imagination. The technology involved and the way they made me feel when one connected with me emotionally or perfectly portrayed how fun going to the movies could be. My allegiance to movies is traced back to those days as a kid, cherishing those moments in the movie theater and waiting in excitement for the next trip to the theater. Reading also has a special place in my heart since I can create the printed world in my own head and in a sense direct the events with my own visual style. Comic books combine the print aspect with the visuals the book represents, giving one a little less control over the images your imagination would conjure up. Movies being my first love (entertainment wise that is) has remained so over the years, because I can connect with it more than I can in the time it takes me to read a book. I am not a fast reader; therefore, it takes me a little longer than most to read a book from cover to cover. Time consumption also factors into my love for movies over books; I can absorb the story told in a movie in the span of an hour and a half or more where a book could take me day, weeks or even a month to find the time to finish from beginning to end. In a world where most people are strapped for time between work, family and any other hobbies that take up time, sometimes finding hours of spare time to read is scarce. I do read books; it just takes a very determined mindset in order to do so.

Comic books are tricky for me. Comic books tend to be much shorter than a full on book, therefore take far less of a time commitment, yet I’ve read far more books than I’ve taken for comic books. If I were to be handed a comic book, I would easily sit down and read it and not feel guilty about what I could have gotten done in that amount of time. Over the years the comic book community to me is a very small but dedicated group of people that are very passionate and loyal to the work they read on a regular basis. In my opinion they are the people that have migrated to that medium in the same way that I migrated primarily to movies. However, more often than not the comic book readers probably love going to the movies just as much as any other person, which mirrors my attitude where if I’m given a comic book I’ll read it and I’ll either enjoy it or not. I’ve never felt the pressure that I must like a movie because that’s the popular consensus or hate a movie because people say that I should. Yet when it comes to comic books, because I am so out of my element in that community I wouldn’t be able to decipher quality from complete crap and the comic book fans would tear any opinion I had either way apart with due precision. Do people that enjoy movies as a secondary source of entertainment feel the same kind of scrutiny if they love or hate a movie?

This argument merges into the point of this piece because of the sheer amount of superhero movies exploding into theaters this summer. Each of them being heroes that I have not read a single comic of, yet will likely see and weigh an opinion on once I do, but without the comic book reference. This is topical because comic book lovers often read movie reviews like anyone else and will weigh their opinions of people’s knowledge of the character to their enjoyment of a movie about a character they were not previously connected to. If I liked a movie like THOR but didn’t read the comic and had critiques of something that a comic lover might have really enjoyed, does that mean that I might have liked it if I had read the comic, or had more bad things to say if it didn’t live up to a comic I might love and then hate how the movie represents it. I won’t lie, the argument I am presenting even gives me a headache.

The first movie I ever saw that was based on a comic book character was Tim Burton’s BATMAN. For the longest time that was one of my all time favorite superhero movies. Nowadays, superhero movies are frequent and thus audiences have much more to choose from. BATMAN BEGINS stole the thrown from BATMAN for me when it was released and then THE DARK KNIGHT came along and the changing of the guard continued. I’ve also enjoyed the likes of films like SPIDERMAN, IRON MAN, KICK ASS, THOR and most recently loved X-MEN: FIRST CLASS. Many of the universes certain characters inhabit have not clicked with me and I had no previous knowledge of, even just listening to friends talk about them. With THOR, the name and the hammer were the only recognizable characteristics and I know absolutely nothing regarding the mythology behind GREEN LANTERN. The upcoming CAPTAIN AMERICA film is another character I have little back story on beyond name and look of the costume. So for me the business behind comic book movies relies heavily on appealing to non-comic book readers and possible even converting those people in order to get them to KEEP coming back for sequels and/or prequels.

The question studios face with these movies is how do they make these superheroes appeal to people that may be looking for more realism than fantasy in their theater escapades. When I see a trailer for a superhero movie I do not always worry if the character’s background will connect with me; I can make the distinction of rather or not I like the mythology once I watch the movie. What I look for is a movie that at least looks like it will be fun, interesting and with enough substance that I will feel the need to see it opening weekend. If it goes down a path that resembles darker grittier tones like THE DARK KNIGHT it has more chances of getting that opening day ticket, but fun absurd superhero movies are not a deal breaker. I am a lover of gorgeous special effects, so when I see a trailer that shows me great special effects, I may not always see it with urgency, but I WILL see it at some point or another. Non-stop action is not always a must, and with the first film in a superhero franchise I expect that there will be a certain amount of character development, but that’s not a free pass to skimp on decent action here and there and a satisfying finale. People that read the comics already have the benefit of all the different character development stories and variety of action beats; the initiated don’t and studios know this so they can’t always please both the readers and the people going in blind.

My biggest problem with some transitions from the illustrated pages to the big screen is dialogue that doesn’t find my ears well. This is a personal preference and in no way reflects all moviegoers, but certain cheesy dialogue just doesn’t appeal to me. I love cheesy dialogue in certain movies, but it has a penchant for making me cringe as well. One example is a line from SPIDERMAN in which the Green Goblin is flying off after a battle with Spiderman and shouts “I’ll get you next time Spiderman,” followed by an over-the-top villainous laugh. In the right movie I’d be ok with that type of delivery, in that one though, I cringed; I can already hear the keyboards furiously typing to refute and berate my dismissal of such a line.

Comic book movies don’t always have to be superheroes though; SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD and 30 DAYS OF NIGHT for example. Of course, we’ve seen what ended up happening with the minimal theatrical success Edgar Wright enjoyed with his effort. SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD was a film I really loved but for whatever reason the idea just didn’t click with mainstream audiences. Was it because of the marketing? Was it because it wasn’t a superhero movie? Whatever the reason, it was a film that I feel had a wider appeal than any sales numbers reflected. The ratio of heroic movies to not so heroic movies is generally lopsided as is the box office.

It might seem pointless to state at this juncture but the point of this isn’t merely to force my views on anyone or even to make an overall point to begin with but just as a means to spark the debate. A debate as to rather or not reading the comic book of a character in a movie we are going to see heightens the experience hinders it or has no effect. My personal belief is that as long as the filmmakers deliver a fun well rounded movie, the source material is inconsequential. The argument then is that in the process filmmakers can betray the source material and alienate the comic fans. As I’m not a comic book reader I cannot comment on any film that has stayed true and complimented its source material, but I have heard opinions of movies that actually improved the source material (i.e. KICK ASS).

Over the next few years as these films continue to vary in quality and ticket sales it’s likely we will continue to see more and more hit theaters especially with THE AVENGERS being set up with a series of films (IRON MAN, THE INCREDIBLE HULK, THOR etc.). It will be interesting to see if attendance increases or decreases with the barrage of films as audiences either embrace or shun the efforts of Hollywood. With the sheer number over the course of the last few years the Hollywood machine appears focused on an unending assault of films based on previous works, board games and comics. On principle alone it is quite disheartening to see such a lack in creativity with the films begin churned out to make a quick buck instead of throwing money behind high concept original works, even if they don’t all succeed. Realistically the gamble would be equal on both sides since original movies like AVATAR and INCEPTION broke bank at the box office. Not everything is going to be a homerun, but at least with original movies the pitches are random enough to surprise us instead of hurling fastball after fastball till it becomes predictable and boring until one comes along every once in a while with a little extra zip to it.

What are your thoughts on this subject? What are your favorite comic book movies? Least favorite? What are some you’d like to see get made? What are ones that should never get adapted?