Film Review: The Dark Knight (2008)

Also known as: Batman Begins 2 (working title), Rory’s First Kiss, Winter Green (fake working titles)
Release Date: July 14th, 2008 (Buenos Aires & New York City premieres)
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer
Based on: characters by DC Comics
Music by: Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard
Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Cillian Murphy, Nestor Carbonell, Eric Roberts, Anthony Michael Hall, Ritchie Coster, Michael Jai White, Colin McFarlane, Tom “Tiny” Lister, William Fichtner, David Dastmalchian

DC Comics, Syncopy, Legendary Entertainment, Warner Bros., 152 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t talk like one of them. You’re not! Even if you’d like to be. To them, you’re just a freak, like me! They need you right now, but when they don’t, they’ll cast you out, like a leper! You see, their morals, their code, it’s a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. I’ll show you. When the chips are down, these… these civilized people, they’ll eat each other. See, I’m not a monster. I’m just ahead of the curve.” – The Joker

I was a bit apprehensive about revisiting this for the first time in a long time. The reason being, is that I remembered it as being perfect and it was the movie I saw in the theater more times than any other. But with so much time passing, I had worried that my take on it now could have soured a bit.

I’m glad to say that it didn’t, as this is still a masterpiece of crime fiction and social commentary.

As far as superhero films go, I still think that this is the greatest one ever made. I think a lot of that has to do with the realistic approach of the film and just how real and plausible it comes across even though it features a man in a bat costume and a criminal in clown makeup. Not to mention a guy with half his face burnt off and some wonky sci-fi gadgets like the incredibly high-tech sonar surveillance computer.

This is a film where just about everything went right. It was a perfect storm of great writing, great direction, great acting, stellar cinematography and an incredible musical score.

It was well balanced between action and drama and even with its somewhat lengthy running time, there isn’t a wasted moment in the film. Every scene has meaning and every scene does exactly what it needs to without dilly dallying and slowing the pacing down. At the same time, the timing is impeccable and this film perfectly creates tension when it needs to. The whole film is about escalation and the final product is a perfectly curated example of that.

It’s sad and tragic that Heath Ledger died before this was released. It would’ve been cool for him to have seen the final product and to have enjoyed the fanfare and praise his performance as The Joker got. It’s hands down one of the best performances of that decade and even though his death gave the role an added level of mystique and importance, it stands on its own as one of the greatest villain portrayals in motion picture history.

Additionally, I also really liked Ledger’s version of The Joker, as he kind of did his own thing with the character and it forced Nolan to kind of portray the character differently than what was originally intended. And while it might not be a perfect adaptation of the comic book Joker, which no film has done thus far, it kind of exists as its own, great thing and it added so much to this already stellar trilogy.

My only real complaint about the film was how growl-y Bale’s Batman voice was. I much preferred his voice in Batman Begins and I think most people did, as well. I’m not the only person to point this out and in fact, it sort of became a social meme after the movie’s release.

That being said, the Batman voice doesn’t wreck the film and I still think it’s a damn near perfect movie that transcended the superhero genre, forever changed it and hasn’t yet been eclipsed regardless of some of the superb comic book movies that have been released since.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in The Dark Knight Trilogy.

Film Review: Weird Science (1985)

Release Date: August 2nd, 1985
Directed by: John Hughes
Written by: John Hughes
Music by: Ira Newborn
Cast: Anthony Michael Hall, Ilan Mitchel-Smith, Kelly LeBrock, Bill Paxton, Robert Downey Jr., Robert Rusler, Suzanne Snyder, Judie Aronson, Vernon Wells, Michael Berryman, Wallace Langham (as Wally Ward)

Silver Pictures, Hughes Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“So, what would you little maniacs like to do first?” – Lisa

This was one of those films that I used to watch constantly when I was a kid. I loved this picture and, at the time, it was one of the coolest movies I had ever seen.

It’s been quite some time since I’ve seen it but I still really enjoyed it, even if it’s much harder for me to suspend disbelief as much as this film requires. But it doesn’t really need to make sense if you just surrender yourself over to the absurdity of it.

However, it has not aged well and it almost feels like a relic from the ’80s in a bad way. Also, out of John Hughes’ four big teen movies of that decade, I’d have to consider this one the worst, even though it was once my favorite.

The story is just absolutely bonkers and doesn’t make a lick of logical sense but the spectacle of it makes it entertaining.

My main problem isn’t that two teens make a girl using “science” it’s just how half-assed and convenient the whole process seemed. As a kid, you don’t think about this shit. However, as an adult, you do and if most people are like me, your brain will get more literal thinking with age. That’s not really going to bode well for this film’s longevity, as its audience has grown up and moved on. Well, maybe not those that are so addicted to nostalgia that they have to continually live vicariously through the past.

It probably sounds like I’m shitting on the movie and I don’t mean to. It’s fine for what it is and for its era, especially considering the age of its audience at the time. But even seeing this now, it’s hard not to like these characters, even if their journey seems kind of pointless and they don’t seem to actually learn anything important other than boners can make a man brave.

Kelly LeBrock is great in this and honestly, she’s the glue that keeps this movie from falling apart. But, as an adult, you start to see her character through a new lens and her story is pretty tragic and incredibly fucked up.

Here we have a supremely intelligent woman that was created by two horny teenagers that take her for granted, use her and then dump her less than 48 hours later, leaving her to wander the Earth with her magic powers and no real human connection with anyone. Sure, she’s Einstein level intelligent with beauty and personality but this sounds like the origin of a horror monster. And maybe, just maybe… there’s some sequel potential there. Just send me a check, I’ll see myself out and go straight to the bank, Universal.

Anyway, this is a fun, dumb movie that might not work as well in 2020, as it did in 1985, but it still probably deserves the beloved status it’s built up over the years. Despite my new take on it, I’ll still probably revisit it once in a while. But that’s also because it’s hard for me to sometimes resist the nostalgia bug even though I can see it for what it is.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other ’80s John Hughes movies, as well as ’80s and ’90s teen comedies.

Film Review: Sixteen Candles (1984)

Release Date: May 4th, 1984
Directed by: John Hughes
Written by: John Hughes
Music by: Ira Newborn
Cast: Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Michael Schoeffling, Paul Dooley, Justin Henry, Gedde Watanabe, Billie Bird, John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Jami Gertz, Brian Doyle-Murray, Zelda Rubinstein

Universal Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Can I borrow your underpants for 10 minutes?” – The Geek

This was the movie that put John Hughes on the map and made him one of the most prolific directors and writers of the ’80s and ’90s. While not my favorite Hughes film, it still has some charm, resonates today and set the stage for his better films that would follow.

One thing Hughes was really good at doing was tapping into the teenage psyche and making it relatable to audiences of any age. In a way, his approach makes his films feel timeless, even if they are bogged down in ’80s cliches and tropes. While his films may feel like a cultural time capsule they still feel genuine and his characters still feel authentic.

While the teen comedy genre was already booming by the time that Sixteen Candles came out, it was this film that created some of the tropes that became synonymous with the style. While Fast Times at Ridgemont High predates it by two years and set the stage, it was a much more serious film at its core. Sixteen Candles keeps things fairly lighthearted and it also doesn’t delve into the teen sex comedy well as deeply as most of the similar films of the time like Private SchoolThe Last American Virgin, etc.

This was really Molly Ringwald’s breakout performance. She had appeared in a few films and was on the early episodes of the sitcom The Facts of Life but it was here that she became a major bankable star in the ’80s.

This film also helped Anthony Michael Hall become a household name, even though he had already done National Lampoon’s Vacation, by this point. He would be a pivotal part in two more of Hughes’ teen films: The Breakfast Club and Weird Science.

It’s worth noting that the sibling duo of John and Joan Cusack also had roles here.

Sixteen Candles was a great foundation that Hughes used to propel his career forward, thus giving us several great pictures. Without this movie, Hollywood in the ’80s and what became known as teen comedies, would be very different. Hell, everything today could still just be Porky’s and Meatballs clones.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: The Breakfast Club (1985)

Release Date: February 15th, 1985
Directed by: John Hughes
Written by: John Hughes
Music by: Keith Forsey, Gary Chang
Cast: Emilio Estevez, Paul Gleason, John Kapelos, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy

A&M Films, Channel Productions, Universal Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

I got to see this on the big screen thanks to Flashback Cinema, who are doing a fantastic job at bringing classics back to participating theaters.

It is really a rare thing for a film to transcend its time. For a film that is so very much 80s, it is even rarer.

The Breakfast Club is certainly a representation of the era in which it came out in but it carries a message and a feeling that is timeless. Frankly, 1980s American teen life is on display here but John Hughes created something so deep that it reflects the attitude and feeling of the youth from any generation. While I don’t think that was his intention, at the time, his magnum opus The Breakfast Club, over thirty years later, still gives a voice to teenagers struggling with their growth into adulthood.

Being shot in under two months, primarily in a high school gymnasium made to look like a school library, the film far exceeds its spacial and production limitations. The first cut of the film, before heavy edits, came in at 150 minutes. It’d be great to see that version but an extended cut has never been released, even though it still supposedly exists.

Hughes also assumed that this would be his first film, as he had no directing experience and wanted to create it in a single space in quick time. However, he did do Sixteen Candles before The Breakfast Club, which thankfully lead to the casting of Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall, after their performances in that film.

Hall played Brian, the brainy character. Ringwald was originally supposed to play the recluse Allison but she begged to be Claire, which lead to the casting of Ally Sheedy as Allison. Emilio Estevez was initially slated to play the rebellious John Bender but was switched to the jock Andy after the casting of Andy didn’t go well. Judd Nelson beat out John Cusack for the role of Bender, as he was able to come off as meaner. He also took the method acting route which caused Hughes to want to fire him due to how he treated Ringwald off camera. The cast ultimately stuck up for Nelson and he stayed in the film.

I don’t often times describe the casting process in the films I review but when you have an ensemble that is near perfect, it is interesting to see how things came together in that regard, especially with all the shifting that happened in pre-production. The end result was a perfect storm that gave us characters that are bigger than the film itself.

The acting was superb, even though some of the dialogue is 80s cheesy, primarily the insults. This was a quintessential Brat Pack movie though and they weren’t all famous because they were cool kid actors, they were famous because they had acting chops. Compare the Brat Pack starring teen flicks of the 80s with those not starring Brat Pack members and there is a huge gap in talent and quality. Granted, Fast Times At Ridgemont High is a rare exception to this point.

I have watched this film many times throughout the years but each time is a reminder of just how good it is. The characters are all pretty relatable in their own unique ways. And as I move into middle adulthood, it is kind of a character check on myself, as I am reminded of the struggle that teens go through and how they view older people and authority in general. I’m not a parent but I hope that this film at least opened the eyes of many of the young teens who grew up and are parents now. It is hard to remember your emotions and thoughts from your teen years but somehow The Breakfast Club brings it all back.

The Breakfast Club is the finest film John Hughes ever made, which is a pretty big deal when almost everything he did became iconic. He didn’t just define a teenage generation, he defined all teenage generations. And all these years later, the film still resonates pretty profoundly.

Rating: 9.25/10