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: Batman Begins (2005)

Also known as: Batman 5 (working title), Batman: Intimidation (script title), The Intimidation Game (fake working title)
Release Date: May 31st, 2005 (Tokyo premiere)
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: 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, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, Ken Watanabe, Mark Boone Junior, Jack Gleeson

DC Comics, Syncopy, Warner Bros., 140 Minutes

Review:

“But I know the rage that drives you. That impossible anger strangling the grief, until the memory of your loved one is just… poison in your veins. And one day, you catch yourself wishing the person you loved had never existed, so you would be spared your pain.” – Henri Ducard

When this first came out on DVD, I watched it almost weekly for a few years. I loved this film and to me, at least at the time, it was the greatest Batman film ever made. Hell, before the DVD release, I think I saw this at least three times in the theater.

I would end up liking The Dark Knight even more but the Nolan trilogy started with this film and it was a great introduction to his more serious and realistic Batman film series.

In retrospect now, I like the 1989 Batman slightly better but it’s magic was undone by the later films that followed and even though it took eight years, Batman Begins was the cinematic reboot that we needed after the Schumacher Batman pictures.

This film is so good, as are the ones that follow, that I’ve kind of accepted that no one will ever make a Batman film series as great. Frankly, these are the best films that Christopher Nolan has made and while the first film in a trilogy can often times feel like a practice run, this one is fairly close to perfect.

My only real gripe about it is that the pacing feels a bit disjointed at times. But there is also a lot of story and a lot of characters to balance here. I think that Nolan got much better with that in the next film. These aren’t things that break the film in any way but if I can’t give this a perfect score, I feel that I should explain why.

This is still energetic and every scene feels necessary. But it also feels like so much was wedged into it that it could’ve actually benefited from an extra 20-30 minutes. And that’s not something I’m usually a fan of, as I love 90 minute running times and this picture is already well over two hours. But when a film is this good, I never seem to mind that it requires more of my time.

Nolan got the best possible performances out of all of the actors involved and everyone in this is absolutely perfect. This was well cast and even Katie Holmes, who was replaced in the sequel, pulled off the best performance of her career. Normally, I wouldn’t put her at the same level as everyone else in this movie but she held her own and I was disappointed that she was recast in The Dark Knight.

In closing, this is a stellar motion picture where everything just works in the right way from the direction, cinematography, acting, the musical score by Hans Zimmer and the great character development.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in The Dark Knight Trilogy.

Film Review: RoboCop (2014)

Also known as: OmniCorp (fake working title)
Release Date: January 30th, 2014 (Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan)
Directed by: José Padilha
Written by: Joshua Zetumer, Edward Neumeier, Michael Miner, Nick Schenk
Based on: character by Edward Neumeier, Michael Miner
Music by: Pedro Bromfman
Cast: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Jay Baruchel, Zach Grenier

Strike Entertainment, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Columbia Pictures, StudioCanal, 118 Minutes

Review:

“This, my friends, is the future of American justice. How many like Thomas King will pay for their crimes now that RoboCop is here? Yes, let’s not shy away from what this means, people. Men weren’t up to the task, but Alex Murphy, a robot cop, was.” – Pat Novak

I had no urge to see this when it came out, even if I was a big fan of the first two RoboCop films and a lot of the comic books since then. This looked terrible, boring and like every other shitty remake that’s trying to milk a classic without offering up anything new or entertaining.

I wasn’t wrong. This is exactly that.

The only reason I watched this is because I just revisited the original trilogy of films and if I could sit through RoboCop 3, I could at least try and sit through this. That being said, this is better than RoboCop 3 but that doesn’t really say much about the quality of this picture as the aforementioned movie is absolute dogshit.

The only thing that makes this movie a little bit palatable is the cast. I was kind of intrigued that this attracted so many high profile actors to it and they really are the best part of the film. Gary Oldman owned all of his scenes, Michael Keaton was neat as a baddie and Samuel Jackson was the most entertaining element in the entire picture.

Sadly, none of the charm from these three solid actors rubbed off on Joel Kinnaman, who was the main star and the one thing in the film that had to work if this movie wasn’t going to be a complete dud.

The problem is that there really wasn’t a difference between human Alex Murphy and RoboCop Alex Murphy because Kinnaman played this like a robot from start to finish. He was a charisma vacuum that sucked so hard that he drained the charisma out of the more talented actors around him. As good and emotionally effective as Abbie Cornish was as RoboCop’s wife, she was stifled by her co-star’s complete inability to play his role convincingly. It’s like a wrestling match where the guy getting beat up doesn’t sell for the wrestler doing all of his signature moves.

There are other problems as well.

For instance, there are no memorable action scenes. I guess the part where RoboCop storms OmniCorp and fights a bunch of ED-209s is the highlight but its really kind of forgettable. By comparison, the two times RoboCop confronts an ED-209 in the original film, it is more memorable than this. So maybe less is more? This film kind of Michael Bays it up with an over the top action sequence that doesn’t serve much of a purpose other than wrecking RoboCop’s armor so that he looks cooler for the final showdown.

Also, the emotional journey of Alex Murphy is confusing and really sloppy. It’s not portrayed in a fluid way and I think we’re just supposed to guess at his emotions as Kinnaman gives blank stares while flashbacks overtake his circuits. Every now and then a scientist explains what’s happening but we really didn’t need this in the first two films, as Peter Weller conveyed real emotion regardless of being a robot.

There also aren’t any clear cut villains in this in the same way that there were in the other films. Sure, you suspect that Michael Keaton is evil but there isn’t a “big evil” that you need to see vanquished like Clarence Boddicker, Dick Jones or Kane from the first two movies.

Also, Alex Murphy’s death in this is weak and completely lacks the effect that his death had in the original film. Which also means that I need to point out that this film also completely lacks any real violence. The first film had a huge impact because you believed that the world RoboCop inhabited was extremely dangerous.

There were no montages of RoboCop cleaning up the streets like we got in the first two films. Those were always important sequences that helped build the world RoboCop lived and worked in. I don’t see this new version of Detroit as dangerous at all.

I did like the intro to the film though, which saw a bunch of ED-209s and RoboCop-like drones deal with a terror threat in Tehran but this felt like it was ripped right from the first act of the video game Metal Gear Solid 4. Granted, I love that game so seeing what appeared to be an homage to it was kind of cool.

Ultimately, this was pretty much a pile of shit. I think most people agree with me, as there haven’t been sequels to this and the next RoboCop movie, which is currently entering production, is a direct sequel to the first film and ignores this snoozefest completely.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: skim milk and cardboard.

Film Review: Darkest Hour (2017)

Release Date: September 1st, 2017 (Telluride)
Directed by: Joe Wright
Written by: Anthony McCarten
Music by: Dario Marianelli
Cast: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup, Ben Mendelsohn

Perfect World Pictures, Working Title Films, Focus Features, 125 Minutes

Review:

“You can not reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth.” – Winston Churchill

Now that there are nine or so films nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, there is more competition and it opens the floor up to more films that may otherwise get snubbed. But on the flip side of that, sometimes there are pictures that work their way onto the ballot that shouldn’t be there. Actually, it’s pretty common now. Darkest Hour is one of those films.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it enough to leave with a positive opinion of the film but if a movie is nominated for Best Picture of the Year, it had better be pretty damn exceptional.

Darkest Hour boasts some incredible acting but to be brutally honest, even great acting can’t save a disjointed and oddly paced film. While I was pulled into Gary Oldman’s Churchill, as he dominated nearly every scene, the film just shifted around like loose marbles in a shoe box. I felt like a cat watching a laser pointer.

While the film has also been nominated for Best Cinematography, I didn’t like it at all. The picture was dark and smudgy. Maybe the projector was on the fritz in my theater but the trailers before the movie all looked normal. This was a film shot with boring colors in dark places with high contrast lighting. While that can be presented well, I felt like I was watching a big television event from a major network in the ’90s and not a major motion picture on the big screen in 2018. The presentation made it feel like a mid-’90s BBC docudrama.

The strength of the film is the performances by the actors, especially Oldman and Ben Mendelsohn, as the King. The two women, Kristin Scott Thomas and Lily James, also did fine work but were limited in their roles, as Churchill was always the film’s primary focal point. Another strength was the presentation of Churchill, as Oldman’s transformation looked seamless and perfect.

The film only covers the few weeks between Churchill’s rise to the role of Prime Minister to the moment where he decides whether he is going to go to war with the Nazis or negotiate a treaty. We all know how this ends but it’s how he came to his decision that is the gist of the film’s story. While parts of the film drag and should have been whittled down, the last twenty minutes or so were really solid.

Darkest Hour was a good movie but it lacked in a lot of areas that a Picture of the Year nominee shouldn’t. But the Academy is incredibly political and that could very well be the reason why this is getting major accolades.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Dunkirk, I mean… they happen at the same time and both films came out in the same year.

Documentary Review: One Night In Turin (2010)

Release Date: May 19th, 2010 (UK)
Directed by: James Erskine
Music by: Stuart Hancock
Narrated by: Gary Oldman

New Black Films, Northstar Ventures, 90 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2014.

I’ve been watching a lot of soccer movies and shows, as it is World Cup season. Last night, I finally got around to watching One Night In Turin, an English soccer documentary narrated by Gary Oldman.

The film covers the violence and mayhem surrounding English soccer and how the Brits found themselves banned from competing in European soccer. It then goes into their 1990 World Cup performance and how they regained the respect and acceptance of Europe, which lead to the lift of their banishment.

While England made it to the final four in the 1990 World Cup, they did not make it to the championship or the championship game. However, their story was one of being underdogs with an army of hooligans. Through their perseverance and success in the tournament, the rest of Europe’s view on the British in the sport of soccer changed. This film does a pretty good job of painting the picture, as it went from disgrace to embrace.

The editing was okay, as the pacing of the film seemed weird at times. Certain chapters would drag, while others would go by in a flash. A lot of the film was made up of still photographs, as there didn’t seem to be a lot of footage acquired for the film. I understand that getting the permission to use such footage can be a massive headache but the lack of video at times, took away from what should have felt like a more action packed story. They did a decent job with what they had though.

One Night In Turin is still a pretty good film on a very interesting subject, especially for soccer fans. Regardless of the editing hiccups and lack of footage, the story was still well told and the narration by Gary Oldman was quite stellar.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

Release Date: June 26th, 2014 (Palace of Fine Arts premiere)
Directed by: Matt Reeves
Written by: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Based on: characters created by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Pierre Boulle
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Judy Greer, Kirk Acevedo, James Franco (cameo)

Chernin Entertainment, TSG Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 130 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2014.

“I always think… ape better than human. I see now… how much like them we are.” – Caesar

I was a little late going to see this one in the theater but I’ve had a lot going on. Regardless, here I am a week late with my two cents on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

To start, I know that this is a pretty profound statement, but this may be the best Planet of the Apes film to date. There have been seven films before this one and a television series but this film really captures the essence and the whole point of the franchise better than anything else before it. Sure, Charlton Heston fighting apes is a bad ass scenario and the focal point of the original film, unarguably a classic, but this movie trumps it in character, in story, in action and in soul.

The first film in this reboot series was a breath of fresh air after the mediocre Tim Burton attempt at a reboot a decade earlier. Dawn takes that story even further and with the origin already established, is able to throw it all on the line and just get down to business. From the opening scene all the way to the epic end, this film is action filled and drama filled. Both are perfectly balanced and very well executed. The drama gives you more than enough to truly care and the action gives you more than enough to pump your fist to.

The acting is superb but the greatest performance comes from Andy Serkis who plays the lead ape, Caesar. Serkis deserves an Oscar for this and really most of his performances, most notably Gollum from the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films. Unfortunately, the Academy doesn’t yet recognize the performances of actors who play digital characters. However, they aren’t just digital characters, they are created by using motion capture technology – digitizing the actors’ movements and facial expressions. When you see Caesar’s body language and facial expressions, you know that you are looking at a great performance that brings a level of realism and humanity to what would otherwise be a flat digital creation. Hopefully films like this get the Academy to introduce an award for these performances.

Back to the topic of the film itself, director Matt Reeves made his best film to date. That makes me incredibly excited for the upcoming sequel, which he is also directing. Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Gary Oldman did a phenomenal job as the three main humans in the film. Toby Kebbell, who played the ape Koba, performed on a level very close to Andy Serkis. Koba and Caesar’s interactions were very real and compelling.

As far as special effects, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes relies heavily on CGI over more practical effects but it doesn’t overemphasize it more than it needs to. The effects are also fluid and fine tuned to the point that you get lost in the story and the action, as nothing feels out of place or so artificial that it is really noticeable.

As good as X-men: Days of Future Past was, this may be the best film of the summer and possibly the year.

Rating: 8/10