The Man in the Iron Mask (1998, Randall Wallace)

Now here’s an interesting Stop Button pick. (It was the fiancée’s choice, actually). Most of what I know about Wallace’s 1998 adaptation. It knocked Titanic out of the top spot in the weekend box office… That’s it. And the preview was bad, playing up DiCaprio as… a bad guy?

The bad king and the good twin present a difficulty to turning the novel into a film (I have no idea what Dumas did, but I’ve only read The Three Musketeers and I was fifteen). The ideal, of course, would to do something similar to what Boyle did in World’s End. Wallace doesn’t do that, however. This film is also interesting because it’s from the writer of Braveheart, before he became the writer of Pearl Harbor. Oddly, for all the (undeserved) shit Pearl gets, no one ever points the finger at Wallace.

Watching Man in the Iron Mask, it’s obvious MGM didn’t do anything to it in light of DiCaprio’s Titanic success. He’s barely in the damn thing and he ranges from inoffensively bad to decent, or maybe I just got used to him as the film moved along. I cared about the character (the good twin, of course), which means he accomplished something.

But, really, besides the first and third acts, it’s all the Musketeers’ show. Played by Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, and Gérard Depardieu, one almost thinks Wallace intended it that way (given that DiCaprio’s most commercial venture to this point was probably The Quick and the Dead). All three are excellent and Gabriel Byrne has a few nice moments as D’Artagnan (but he’s not one of the original Musketeers, which I do remember from Dumas’ novel, which was the perception of the three through his eyes).

The Man in the Iron Mask offers no depth in the end. There are some nice moments about growing old, I suppose, but no more than something like Space Cowboys. Instead of a message, instead of any solidity, Wallace offers us the Three (Four) Musketeers kicking ass. Wallace got a really naive composer for the film, so the music sounds like the Salkind productions from the 1970s… hmm, maybe that was the point.

It’s fun to watch. Irons and Malkovich hover on hamming, but never take it up fully, and it was nice to see them resisting it in this one. Mostly, however, the film reassured me that the Salkind films might be all right, as I was planning on watching them soon.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Randall Wallace; screenplay by Wallace, based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas; director of photography, Peter Suschitzky; edited by William Hoy; music by Nick Glennie-Smith; production designer, Anthony Pratt; produced by Wallace and Russell Smith; released by United Artists.

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio (King Louis XIV/ Philippe), Jeremy Irons (Aramis), John Malkovich (Athos), Gerard Depardieu (Porthos), Gabriel Byrne (D’Artagnan), Anne Parillaud (Queen Anne), Judith Godrèche (Christine) and Peter Sarsgaard (Raoul).


28 Days Later (2002, Danny Boyle)

Why is Hollywood making Cillian Murphy the bad guy? He’s got to be the best everyman Hollywood’s seen since–who, Roy Scheider or something, except a better actor? No offense to Roy, I love Roy, but Roy’s a little bit of a movie star. Cillian Murphy’s not a movie star….

It’s impossible to really talk about 28 Days Later without talking about the ending. I could give a shit about the three alternate endings, by the way. I figure, a DVD release, Boyle could have thrown one in and labeled it director’s preferred and been done with it. So we’re talking about the one that’s on the DVD. It’s the only ending the film could have had for me to give it the four too. That last shot, that last breath. It’s a beautiful moment in an unexpected place.

A friend compared 28 Days to Winterbottom’s Wonderland while talking about digital video. 28 Days doesn’t even look like video. It looks like film with really neat rain effects (which are probably only possible with video). Incidentally, Wonderland doesn’t look like video, it looks like a hi-res 16 millimeter.

I can’t explain how happy I am following this film, how elated. It’s under two hours, takes place over a handful of days, and it manages to have six distinct parts to it. Six distinct “stories.” Well, no, five distinct stories. The last two are rather linked… though wouldn’t necessarily need to be.

Unfortunately, the same thing that happened after the last time I watched Trainspotting is happening again. I’m falling in love with Danny Boyle’s filmmaking. It won’t last, of course, all I need for a cure is Shallow Grave or, ugh, A Life Less Ordinary, but I still haven’t seen The Beach, though I have been warned… Maybe Millions. Boyle’s not a young Turk, either. I think he was at least in his forties when he made Trainspotting, so he’s probably in his fifties now. (Miramax always seemed to present Trainspotting as a young Turk film). Trainspotting is better, I suppose, though Boyle’s a better filmmaker now than he was then. He’s less reliant on dialogue to move things, much more comfortable with the effect of his visuals.

Making a shot empty of people matter is difficult. It puts a lot of weight on the fellow going through the whole experience. Vanilla Sky doesn’t really count as an example and The Pianist failed miserably (I was terrified when I started 28 Days Later, fearful it would be a zombie movie like The Pianist, the lead going around, running, exploring ruins, all without any real emotional impact, hiding behind a calamity). So, now’s when I could rain praise on Murphy, who’ll maybe someday find a good role in Hollywood, but until then I need to track down that friggin’ one of his Nicheflix carries. I don’t know the female lead’s name, but she’s really good. So’s the girl. So’s Christopher Eccleston, which surprised me, especially since he was so bad in Shallow Grave.

28 Days Later, while definitely delivering a good “horror” film, a good “zombie” film, one ups even Romero’s best. While his Dawn of the Dead was about people and their struggles in a situation created by zombies, Boyle and screenwriter Alex Garland (do I have to see Halo now?) tell a story about some guy. (Romero tends to let his commentary overwhelm the story, no matter how effective the story–or commentary–might be, Martin for example). So now The Stop Button is all about 28 Days Later and Danny Boyle and Cillian Murphy and shit….

At least until I see The Beach.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Danny Boyle; written by Alex Garland; director of photography, Anthony Dod Mantle; edited by Chris Gill; music by John Murphy; production designer, Mark Tildesley; produced by Andrew MacDonald; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Cillian Murphy (Jim), Naomie Harris (Selena), Christopher Eccleston (Maj. Henry West), Megan Burns (Hannah) and Brendan Gleeson (Frank).


Blade: Trinity (2004, David S. Goyer)

I imagine you’re thinking, why would he watch that? And I agree, Blade: Trinity is hardly Stop Button material. Except… I have been insulting David S. Goyer a lot lately (because he sucks) and I wanted my insults to be more informed and, also, because I enjoyed Blade II. I’ve never seen more than fifteen minutes of Blade and I’ll never see more than an hour of Blade: Trinity, but Blade II is fine. It’s Guillermo Del Toro, who’s never worthless. Also, we’re house/dog-sitting and they had Blade: Trinity. I’m reading its source material, Tomb of Dracula, and I had time to kill… And, honestly, I never thought I’d get through it.

Oddly, Blade: Trinity starts out fine. Well, almost. It starts with Parker Posey waking up Dracula, except he’s not called Dracula because that’s not cool enough. So he’s called Drake. David S. Goyer has a lot of machismo issues to work out, further evidenced in Drake’s open shirt and gold chains apparel. Posey, who was recently so good in Personal Velocity, seems to have taken some rather naughty pictures that Goyer has gotten his hands on.

But, really, the scenes after that–at least the ones starring Blade and Kris Kristofferson, are all right. The style keeps Del Toro’s cinematography from the last film, but in a 1970s cheap police movie. It’s fine. In fact, I sat thinking, “Maybe I was wrong about this one.” But, no, thank goodness, soon enough, Jessica Biel and Ryan Reynolds arrived.

As bad, as unbelievably terrible, as Reynolds is in this film, Jessica Biel is two or three times worse. You have to have more presence to work a drive-through. She’s really the pits.

Reynolds, the object of Goyer’s man-crush, is bad. And the man-crush is pretty clear–Reynolds, idiotically, narrates the prologue. The character is written as Brodie, from Mallrats. Amusingly, Mallrats bombs, but Brodie becomes the archetype for all future twenty-something male characters. Reynolds even plays the character like Jason Lee would–except without being funny or being a good actor.

I can understand why Wesley Snipes sued Goyer. Blade: Trinity is not about Blade, it’s about Goyer’s little teeny-boopers. What’s incredibly sad is that Blade: Trinity has the best Snipes acting in years. Snipes is an amazing actor–One Night Stand. All this action movie crap, action comedy crap, does a real disservice to the quality of film. More apparently, Blade was about a kick-ass black guy. It was a movie black guys could go to–black men are the great lost comic book reader. I just listened to former “New York Times” film critic Elvis Mitchell go on and on about his love for the Thing in the 1970s Marvel comics. Comic books have lost black males (probably because they eschewed the newsstand for the direct market). Blade: Trinity is a movie for fanboys. Fanboys tend to be white. I imagine Wesley Snipes was a little distraught over appearing in American Pie 4….

It’d be nice if I could avoid Goyer, just ignore him, but he’s the guy non-Marvel comic books go to. Besides (following Batman Begins) being DC’s golden movie boy, a couple really good comic book writers have film projects going through him. I find that particularly amusing since, in Blade: Trinity, the characters frequently deride the source material, Tomb of Dracula, at one point tosses an issue aside as trash.

This twit writes “song and dance” in his dialogue. He makes James Remar a cop and has him say “song and dance.” That’s Dante’s fifth ring of Hell right there. Check your copy of Inferno, right there. “The fifth ring was filled with suck-ass filmmakers who made James Remar a cop that says ‘song and dance.'” Obviously, it sounds a lot nicer in the Italian. “Il quinto anello è stato riempito di criminali che hanno reso a James Remar un poliziotto che dice la canzone ed il ballo.

I certainly hope Remar used his paycheck to take a Tuscan vacation….

Anyway, Goyer isn’t some harmless twit. He’s going to ruin some good writers’ works. I keep thinking about the 1990s, pre-Independence Day and post. In and of himself, Emmerich isn’t even that bad (no, I haven’t seen The Day After Tomorrow), but the film revolution he birthed with ID4–the feckless blockbuster–has ruined American cinema. So, although no one really takes Goyer seriously (only internet sites interviewed him as co-writer of Batman Begins), he’s here to stay… and he’s going to make film worse and, eventually, I’m going to feel it.

Just wait….

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by David S. Goyer; written by Goyer, based on the Blade character created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan; director of photography, Gabriel Beristain; edited by Howard E. Smith and Conrad Smart; music by Ramin Djawadi and the RZA; production designer, Chris Gorak; produced by Peter Frankfurt, Wesley Snipes, Goyer and Lynn Harris; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Wesley Snipes (Blade), Kris Kristofferson (Whistler), Jessica Biel (Abigail Whistler), Ryan Reynolds (Hannibal King), Parker Posey (Danica Talos), Dominic Purcell (Drake), John Michael Higgins (Dr. Edgar Vance), Natasha Lyonne (Sommerfield) and James Remar (Cumberland).


The Shadow (1994, Russell Mulcahy)

The Shadow is not a perfect film, but there’s so much good about it. Besides that its great cast–Jonathan Winters is the only weak link–besides that its beautifully constructed screenplay–the best constructed one I can think of… I haven’t seen this film since the theater, so I was sixteen. I don’t remember liking it. I didn’t like Alec Baldwin back then. Actually, my opinion of him has only changed with his recent work, but he’s good. I do have to dislike The Shadow a little, since its commercial and critical failure ended Penelope Ann Miller’s career….

Russell Mulcahy always gets a measure of respect from film people. Even film snobs. Well, the film snobs I used to work with, anyway. Highlander is a terrible film with bad writing and Christopher Lambert. However, Mulcahy did a great job directing (and Clancy Brown was great). If anyone deserves a $150 million movie, it’s Mulcahy, or at least the Mulcahy of the 1990s. The Shadow is a textbook example of good, engaging filmmaking. Mulcahy has a number of long-shots of Baldwin and Miller on darkened sidewalks. Sure, Steven Spielberg used to be a better director and maybe–maybe–he still is, but I can’t remember the last time Spielberg’s composition engaged my brain. Oh, wait. Yeah, no, I do. Close Encounters.

About halfway through The Shadow, I realized my post was going to be a lot more positive than I originally thought. The film starts with silly scene of Baldwin going native in 1920s China as a warlord and I spent a while wishing that scene away. A half hour later, I wasn’t thinking of that scene or its failings at all. The Shadow moves. There are a lot of characters and a lot of scenes–but the most memorable scenes are still quiet ones, except the finale, when Baldwin looks more like Howard Chaykin’s ultra-violent Shadow from the 1980s DC Comics revival. The memorable scenes are the ones between Miller and Baldwin–the romantic ones–and Baldwin and John Lone, who is the bad guy. The screenplay is exciting to experience. It’s why I went into Panic Room thinking it would be good. Because I loved David Koepp in the 1990s. I’m going to rewatch Carlito’s Way again, I loved this screenplay so much.

As frightening as it sounds (even to me)–The Shadow has reinvigorated my interest in film, I’m adding DVD after DVD to both Netflix and Blockbuster queues. It’s amazing storytelling….

I can’t explain it. You’ll just have to sit down and watch this film.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Russell Mulcahy; screenplay by David Koepp, based on the character created by Walter B. Gibson; director of photography, Stephen H. Burum; edited by Peter Honess and Beth Jochem Besterveld; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Joseph C. Nemec III; produced by Martin Bregman, Willi Baer and Michael S. Bregman; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Alec Baldwin (Lamont Cranston / The Shadow), Penelope Ann Miller (Margo Lane), John Lone (Shiwan Khan), Peter Boyle (Moe), Tim Curry (Farley Claymore), Ian McKellen (Dr. Reinhardt Lane) and Jonathan Winters (Wainwright Barth).


Cold Comfort Farm (1995, John Schlesinger)

Do the Brits have any major film movement? In the 1920s, the Germans had the expressionist movement. In the (what?) 1960s, there was the French New Wave. In addition to contributing more Greenhouse Effect-causing pollutants to the atmosphere, the United States has perfected the over-produced blockbuster. The British, however, have never really had a movement. There are some great (and good) British filmmakers, but the Archers never caused a revolution…

Cold Comfort Farm has no distinct style. It’s inoffensively directed, with a poor narrative structure, and some decent performances. It might be–obviously silly ones aside–Kate Beckinsale’s worst performance, because her character is as flat as an LCD screen. Rufus Sewell (whatever happened to him?) turns up with a similarly depth-less character. On the other hand, Ian McKellen has a lot of fun with his character. I always find it amusing when Ian McKellen’s good, since he’s since become such a ham (thanks, in no small part, to Bryan Singer).

So, while British cinema seems to lack any spectacular definition, Britain itself certainly contains quite a bit. There’s something charming about the British countryside, it’s a very definite setting and very obvious. Batman Begins used a British manor for an American mansion, something quite impossible. See, I’m even using words like “quite” and “definite.” That’s a bit of the problem with Cold Comfort Farm, it tries really damn hard to be charming. Even the theme. I listen to the theme and think, how charming. But that’s because of the theme, not because it’s the Cold Comfort Farm music.

Beckinsale improves (somewhat) throughout the picture, but she’s miscast. There’s no mischievousness, not even the hint of it, and the character needs some. Without it, she’s boring (and wholly unaffected by the momentous changes–though for good–she’s causing in people’s lives).

In the end, Cold Comfort left a defining plot thread undefined, something that gets it brownie points, but not enough to really change my opinion of it. Damn nice music though and British countryside. Shame about their cinematic output.

I realized, during the film, Britain’s best efforts seem to be in television, not film. Makes you wonder what PBS could do if nitwits weren’t trying to kneecap it.

Still, Cold Comfort is one of the last undefined films… Made in 1995, I don’t watch and think about that production date, something hard to do with current film output. Hmm. Maybe not “one of the last,” but certainly a fine example of an undated film.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by John Schlesinger; written by Malcolm Bradbury, based on the novel by Stella Gibbons; director of photography, Chris Seager; edited by Mark Day; music by Robert Lockhart; production designer, Malcolm Thornton; produced by Richard Broke and Antony Root; released by Gramercy Pictures.

Starring Kate Beckinsale (Flora Poste), Joanna Lumley (Mrs. Smiling), Rufus Sewell (Seth), Ian McKellen (Amos Starkadder), Stephen Fry (Mybug), Eileen Atkins (Judith Starkadder), Sheila Burrell (Ada Doom), Freddie Jones (Adam Lambsbreath) and Maria Miles (Elfine).


Over the Rainbow (2002, Ahn Jin-woo)

Lee Jung-Jae starred in the first Korean film I watched, Il Mare, and I’ve seen another one with him in it. Some bad one that was half-gritty cop movie and half English Patient. I probably did I write up, I remember typing that slight before.

Over the Rainbow is, therefore, his first good film. You can’t followed many actors anymore–even Meryl Streep throws you a curve these days–but it also gave me a nice introduction to Korean cinema. I go on and on about Korean films right after I watched one, then I say nothing about them for months, watch another and then go on and on for a while again. This film has a lot of problems. A lot of third act problems. It’s a cutesy mystery with a lot of flashbacks.

And some of the film doesn’t make sense. The flashbacks are to college, but it’s never specified how much time has elapsed since then to the story’s present period. It’s also predictable, but reminds me a great deal of the back of my old Sabrina (the remake) laserdisc. The conclusion is inevitable–you know what’s going to happen going in the door–but watching the film, seeing the people and their relationships develop–is what makes the experience rewarding.

Another review, somewhere I saw online because IMDb didn’t list writing credits, pointed out that, though Lee is good, the female lead, Jang Jin-Young, sort of walks off with the film. She’s excellent but the film coddles her for the first half or so, before you realize what’s going on. There’s nothing like watching a film and having no idea what you’re going to get in terms of a story. The last time I felt like that with an American film was Liberty Heights. And even though I had a rough idea what Over the Rainbow was about, I still got to experience it fresh. The only other way–besides foreign films–to get this feeling tends to be the “forgotten classic.” Wild River being my perfect example of that experience.

Warren Ellis, a decent comic book writer, said that he wasn’t all that impressed with Korean films because they were like Hollywood films, only not made by committee. Or something to that effect. I agree to a point, but Korean films seem to still love cinematic storytelling. They’re still excited about it. When Judy Garland sings “Over the Rainbow” and you lay it over some action, there’s power to it. Same with “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head,” which the film does in another scene. Both these songs, if they appeared in an American film, would likely be redone by Madonna or Jennifer Lopez or something. They’d be jokes. Ha ha, look at these sentimental fools. The sentimental has an important place in cinema. The most sentimental moment in American cinema in last–what, ten years?–came in Magnolia of all films. Certainly not regularly recognized for its sentimentality.

Over the Rainbow is a good example of exuberant, rewarding filmmaking. With one exception (the shitty cop/English Patient movie), all the Korean films I’ve seen are exuberantly made, in love with medium. So, I can’t say if you see one Korean film, see Over the Rainbow. But if you see three….

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Ahn Jin-woo; director of photography, Kim Yeong-cheol; edited by Park Gok-ji; music by Clarence Hui; released by Kang Je-Kyu Film Co. Ltd.

Starring Lee Jung-jae (Lee Jin-su), Jang Jin-young (Kang Yeong-hie), Kong Hyeong-jin (Kim Young-min), Jung Chan (Choi Sang-in) and Uhm Ji-won (Kim Eun-song).


Turn (2001, Hirayama Hideyuki)

The modern Japanese drama tends to be emotive. Even when they aren’t good, they succeed in making the viewer care for the characters.

Turn is, ostensibly, a Japanese Groundhog Day. Only not funny. Where Groundhog Day was about Bill Murray interacting with people with no consequence, the character stuck in turnover in Turn is alone. She spends about fifteen minutes with no character interaction.

A character alone is a difficult proposition. She doesn’t have a dog and she doesn’t have a ball with eyes on. She makes some comments–really forced ones for a while–but the first twenty minutes are hard to get through. Without some voiceover, which would have done Turn a great deal of good, you feel too much like you’re watching a movie. It’s hard to identify. The character is a preschool teacher and her experience could have been turned into story for her charges. Turn also provides one with a lot of opportunities to conceive a superior remake (or adaptation, as it’s based on a Japanese bestseller).

The characters and their performers are likeable. There’s the unexplored relationship between the woman’s mother and her sort of suitor. A relationship, I suppose, left for a better film. It’s a fantastic situation, so getting me to care about it–especially considering the film has two principle and two supporting actors–is hard. A film that nullifies itself with its ending has to be careful not sacrifice all that the characters have struggled to achieve. Honestly, Turn was never going to be higher than a one and a half, but when it cut itself off, when it made those struggles secondary to resolving the fantastic situation, it dropped–immediately–to a one. Then the movie ends moments later. It’s not even a twist ending–it’s predictable after a certain point–and Turn manages to suffer most of the downsides of the twist ending.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Hirayama Hideyuki; screenplay by Murakami Osamu, based on a novel by Kitamura Kaoru; director of photography, Fujisawa Junichi; edited by Okuhara Shigeru; music by Micky Yoshino; released by Asmik Ace Entertainment.

Starring Makise Riho (Maki), Nakamura Kanatrou (Youhei), Emoto Akira (Matsubara), Kawahara Ayako (Yukari), Kitamura Kazuki (Kiyotaka) and Baisho Mitsuko (Maki’s mother).


Speaking of Sex (2001, John McNaughton)

Let me annotate the opening cast crawl with my thoughts at the time….

James Spader–great, love him on “Boston Legal.”

Melora Walters–from Magnolia, love her, she’s in nothing.

Jay Mohr–liked him in Picture Perfect when I saw it, now can’t believe I liked it…

Catherine O’Hara, Bill Murray… solid people.

So what happened? It’s actually not all John McNaughton’s fault, which is a big thing to say. I mean, I loved McNaughton when I was sixteen. He did Mad Dog and Glory and that film is a great “adult” film to appreciate when you’re sixteen. Especially if you love Richard Price. Then he did Normal Life, back when having Ashley Judd in a film meant good things, and I waited years to see it. It premiered on video and it sucked. It was terrible.

McNaughton’s direction is fine, though it’s the modern “comedy” directing that comes from commercials. The script is awful and the performances are awful. Spader is playing his character from Mannequin or something. Walters is awful and it pains me to say that. Mohr was fine.

Lara Flynn Boyle shows up and a lot of the weight of the first eight minutes is put on her. She can handle weight for about… no, I’m wrong. She can’t handle any weight.

I rented Speaking of Sex from Nicheflix and it’s probably the first film from there I’ve turned off. It’s never gotten a US or UK release and the DVD is from Germany. The Germans appear to have no taste in cinema, which is painfully obvious. I’m not sure Germany has produced a decent film since Das Boot. That’s twenty-two years.

And it was a TV mini-series.

So, all that excitement I had for the first three minutes, all that promise Speaking of Sex got from its cast, it’s all disappeared and I’m reminded of those fond days when I wanted to hide my head under a rock for ever saying nice things about McNaughton.

Sometimes, you find a jewel in a film that’s unappreciated in its country of origin. Sometimes you find a beautifully cast turd. And Speaking of Sex is a big turd.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John McNaughton; written by Gary Tieche; director of photography, Ralf D. Bode; edited by Elena Maganini; music by George S. Clinton; production designer, Joseph T. Garrity; produced by Alain Sarde and Rob Scheidlinger; released by Studio Canal.

Starring James Spader (Dr. Roger Klink), Melora Walters (Melinda), Jay Mohr (Dan), Nathaniel Arcand (Calvin), Megan Mullally (Jennifer Klink), Lara Flynn Boyle (Dr. Emily Paige), Catherine O’Hara (Connie Barker) and Bill Murray (Ezri Stovall).


Batman Begins (2005, Christopher Nolan)

Well, now, I’m surprised. Batman Begins is not terrible.

It’s not good either. Not good at all. It has damning faults in three areas, and since this film is the first critically praised one I’ve thrashed–at least the first critically praised one currently still in the theaters–this post is going to be a little more “formal” than we’re used to around here.

I’ll get the good stuff out of the way. Christian Bale is good. Now, that’s not actually the biggest surprise–though I imagined it would be since Christian Bale has long been my candidate for the worst working “serious” actor (Hayden Christiansen or someone like him doesn’t count). For evidence, I offer Velvet Goldmine and Shaft. Still, I’m not surprised, since I thought as much from the trailers. Bale might belong in this sort of film–something big and emotionally empty. Whenever he tries to act “real,” he as convincing as … oh, Samuel L. Jackson. No, the big surprise of Batman Begins is Katie Holmes. She’s good. She has some terrible lines and the way she says “Bruce” is annoying, but she’s actually quite good.

Nolan’s direction is adequate. The “epic” shots of Bruce Wayne in China are between annoying and stupid. Never knew so many Chinese people spoke English, I guess those recent college graduates who go over to teach English really get into the boonies. There are a few excellent shots in Batman Begins, but the direction is in no way superior to Tim Burton’s take on the material and I don’t even like Burton. Nolan shoots Batman really well. The costume, in the publicity shots, is incredibly silly. It might not have nipples but it obviously has limited motion. Nolan hides it in the dark.

Now for the damning faults. I made notes during the film, so let’s see if that provides any structure (I doubt it).

Firstly, the guy who plays Bruce Wayne’s father. He sucks. The kid who plays young Bruce Wayne, he sucks too. I hated him. I wish the mugger had shot the little British twit who couldn’t keep his accent. And what was the deal with the mother? She had three lines. For the entire movie, it’s all about Papa Wayne. Apparently, Bruce didn’t love his mother very much. Oh, and there’s some awful exposition explaining Gotham City to young Bruce and the audience (in the film’s only incredibly offensive CG portion). If the Adam West TV show did an episode about the death of the Wayne parents (it didn’t, but if), it would have done a better job.

Damn, I wanted to segue into the next point from that one, but I got all caught up in Adam West’s tighties… Basically, Gotham City is the most important city on the face of the globe. Everything that’s anything is all about Gotham City. And, conveniently, Wayne Enterprises or Industries or whatever the movie calls it, is the world’s most important company. Batman Begins has no concept of scale. Robocop took place in Detroit, but managed to convincingly set-up the huge corporation effecting the film’s world. Batman Begins doesn’t do any such convincing. In fact, it goes so far to tell the viewer Wayne Inc. is the huge corporation that effects everyone. In dialogue.

But for such a huge metropolis, again, Gotham City seems to have only one neighborhood, just like in the other movies. There’s the skyline, of course, which looks a lot like Chicago on a bright day, but the only neighborhood where anything ever–visibly–happens is called the Narrows. And it’s small. But Batman actually doesn’t need that much space to play with. Because he doesn’t actually fight crime. He fights corruption and he fights masterminds, but only if it’ll further the plot along. Batman’s first fight is the drug importers who clue him in to the larger scheme at work, his next fight is to save Katie Holmes, who he makes his wary ally–who’s being attacked by agents of said importers’ boss. I think the next fight is with the film’s only supervillain, the Scarecrow, a psychologist gone evil.

There’s no “first night out,” which shows the audience the hero doing all sorts of heroic shit. Superman is the perfect example (and where the name for the sequence comes from). Batman doesn’t show any concern for the people of Gotham themselves. He doesn’t beat up any spousal abusers or average muggers, it’s all got to be about furthering the lame story. And it is a lame story. Batman Begins is all about Bruce Wayne “becoming” Batman. Well, we all know he’s going to become Batman. Somewhere along the line, shouldn’t it be a choice? Shouldn’t we think, oh, not everything is predestined, that there’s a living, breathing, thinking character at work here? Not just someone who can be an action figure and be slathered on underwear… But there’s not and that’s one of the major reasons Batman Begins fails. It asks the audience to take the character seriously, then refuses to do so itself. Would Bruce Wayne have become Batman if he didn’t have body armor or finding the “batcave?” The film never convinces us he would. It’s all about synchronicity.

Did I mention the annoying little kid he meets in the bad neighborhood who reappears later in the film? Because Gotham City–though the world’s sparkling jewel and the only place a serious terrorist would attack–has a limited number of SAG card-carrying citizens.

Now for the actors. Let’s call them the Pork Pack. I though the Ham something or other, but couldn’t think of a second H-word. I didn’t want to give this one away at the beginning, but Bale and Holmes turn two of the five acceptable performances in the film. Liam Neeson is awful. Michael Caine is slightly less awful. Gary Oldman (who’s got terribly written scenes) is bad too. These three suck, nicely put. They’re silly. Neeson in particular is giggle-inducing. Morgan Freeman is fine but has nothing to do. Rutger Hauer does good. He has shit to do, but he spins it interestingly. Mark Boone Junior (anyone else remember this guy, he was great in Trees Lounge) has a small role and is a welcome breather. Cillian Murphy (Christopher Nolan’s great discovery) sucks. Tom Wilkinson sucks too. Most of the Brits in the film playing Americans can’t hold their accents the whole way through, I think Bale is the only one who does…

The film has some nice sequences. I’m not wild about the entire car chase, but some of it was good. There was no weight to it, of course, it was just an excuse for them to use the Batmobile. The end is particularly hilarious, because the whole thing boils down to an over-the-top Steven Seagal Under Siege movie (just without the good acting). There’s a bomb on a train business. What else… Oh, the DC logo at the beginning. This addition is the saddest. Warner’s is doing it to counter the familiarity of the Marvel logo before their movies. Warner is doing it, not DC. Batman belongs to Warner Bros. From 1989 to 2002–with that first Scooby-Doo teaser–audiences around the world have associated Batman with the Warner Bros. logo. And now they’re supposed to associate it with the new DC logo? Why, because the DC logo will be on the underwear? Because no one who sees Batman Begins and is unfamiliar with the comic books is going to find anything they like in the comic books. If you want to read a Batman comic book, you’ll have to spend a few hundred bucks just to understand what he’s talking about–reborn Robins, brainwashing and whatnot. Batman Begins has little to do with the comic books and nothing to do with the spirit of the current Batman character. Anyone who says otherwise is either stupid, a salesman, or an deliberate liar.

Batman Begins tries to present the audience with a Batman we can identify with. A “realistic” Batman to identify with. Because the whole thing about identifying with Michael Keaton’s pains and human struggles, well, to hell with all that, he can’t compete with Tobey Maguire. And there are moments when Batman Begins almost succeeds. Unfortunately, none of them are when Bale’s in costume (though he’s fine as Batman too) and most involve Katie Holmes being around.

Except, it’s not called Tom Cruise’s Fake Girlfriend Begins. And, yeah, the title is lame. At best it’s a sentence fragment, at worst it’s a grammatical offense to the language Coca-Cola’s ad department (the people who said that the average American doesn’t understand the difference between “everyday” and “every day”) would appreciate.

Oh. I forgot to mention the shitty music. It’s really shitty.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Christopher Nolan; screenplay by Nolan and David S. Goyer, based on a story by Goyer and characters created by Bob Kane; director of photography, Wally Pfister; edited by Lee Smith; music by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard; production designer, Nathan Crowley; produced by Emma Thomas, Charles Roven and Larry J. Franco; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Michael Caine (Alfred), Liam Neeson (Henri Ducard), Katie Holmes (Rachel Dawes), Gary Oldman (James Gordon), Cillian Murphy (Dr. Jonathan Crane), Tom Wilkinson (Carmine Falcone), Rutger Hauer (Richard Earle), Ken Watanabe (Ra’s al Ghul) and Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox).


White Dog (1982, Samuel Fuller)

I kept getting sad during White Dog, probably for a few reasons. First, the film is effective: it’s about people faced with a reality (a racist training his dog to attack black people) they can’t fix, but they’re going to try. I have a bootleg from Denmark (everyone’s bootleg is from Denmark), but hadn’t watched it. Only the end.

Second, because White Dog is a different Sam Fuller. It’s an early 1980s Fuller telling a contemporary story, using more advanced filming technology (location cranes and steadycam), with an Ennio Morricone score. I kept getting sad because White Dog‘s Fuller had a lot of interesting films in him and folks ran him out of the country without even seeing his film.

And White Dog has a lot going for it. The only Paul Winfield-lead I’m aware of–he’s so good. Unless black guys star in action movies, they never get any recognition… Kristy MacNichol proves cutesy actress icons used to be able to act. Burl Ives is good. White Dog is a good film. It’s not a great film, however, because it’s too short. It runs about ninety minutes and there are two ideas never developed on–MacNichol’s boyfriend, played by “Simon and Simon” star Jameson Parker–yeah, he’s good too–was supposed to write something about her and the dog and some tranquilizers got replaced with regular darts but never showed up again. The tranquilizer scene probably was lost when Fuller absconded with a print over to France. With the writer part, I’m just correcting it in my head–ol’ boy writes an article, brings out the dog’s proud owner (who shows up in the third act for a second, letting MacNichol show why “son of a bitch” can be a great descriptor), and lets the characters get some sort of closure. I made up all of the parts past the darts. Fuller never intended of those–that I know of. Maybe I’m sitting here eating chocolate cake, drinking soymilk and channeling him, but I doubt it.

Before the film started, the college kid introduced White Dog as criminally under-seen and criminally unreleased on DVD. He was right on both parts, even though they’re really the same thing. I always hate seeing films about race in America and realizing that things have gotten worse. No one talks about it anymore, but there’s more division than there was when I was a kid. White Dog tries to talk about it. In contrast, Crash tries to tell you about it….

As for White Dog and you good people getting to see it–there’s always shitty Danish bootlegs and there’s always a chance the French will save it.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Samuel Fuller; screenplay by Fuller and Curtis Hanson, based on a story by Romain Gary; director of photography, Bruce Surtees; edited by Bernard Gribble; music by Ennio Morricone; production designer, Brian Eatwell; produced by Jon Davison; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Kristy McNichol (Julie Sawyer), Paul Winfield (Keys), Burl Ives (Carruthers) and Jameson Parker (Roland Gray).


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