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Batman Begins (2005)
A fresh, realistic take on the Dark Knight!
It takes nearly an hour before you see the bat-suit in BATMAN BEGINS, which leaves plenty of time for this new bat-flick to tell the full story of Bruce Wayne and the reason behind his obsession with crime-fighting. Skilled director Chris Nolan (MEMENTO) and comic fan David S. Goyer (BLADE) collaborate to bring a Batman that seems a lot more human and real than any previous incarnation of the Dark Knight. Instead of going for cheap action and silly one-liners (like Joel Schumacher) or channeling all their attention on set design and costumes without paying attention to story or character (like Tim Burton), Nolan and Goyer retell the origin of Batman in a relatively "real-world" type setting that helps to humanize the mythic superhero, much like what Richard Donner did in the first SUPERMAN film and what Sam Raimi did in the SPIDER MAN films...in all of these films, we got to know the characters as people first and then as superheroes.
The movie looks fantastic...it scraps the Gothic look of Burton's Gotham City and the shiny neon look that Schumacher gave it in favor of a more anonymous, realistic look. This could be any big city in America. Nolan's Gotham, while not as visually arresting as previous versions, offers an appropriate backdrop to his gritty, down-to-earth origin story, which was obviously inspired by Frank Miller's BATMAN: YEAR ONE graphic novel. It not only depicts the deaths of Bruce's parents but also provides reasons why he became such a good fighter or how he gained his philosophy of crime-fighting, and even explains why he chose the bat as his symbol. Everything about Batman's origin in this film rings true and humanizes the character just as much as it sets up the legend.
The movie's first hour is the best introduction I've ever seen in a comic-book movie...it's so good that the rest of the movie is a bit of a letdown, because it's all stuff we've seen before: we're introduced to the villains, Bats beats up a few goons, the girl is kidnapped, blah blah blah. The action and the story are all very well done...it just seems a bit of a letdown after the excellent first part of the film.
The performances in the film vary in quality. Christian Bale makes a very competent Batman, Liam Neeson is, well...Liam Neeson as Bruce's mentor, Henri Ducard...and Tom Wilkenson emanates a convincingly scummy charm as Gotham's crime boss Carmine Falcone. Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are very good as Bruce's butler Alfred and R&D man Lucius Fox, respectively. The only real disappointments are Katie Holmes as the love interest and Cillian Murphy as the villainous Scarecrow. Katie just doesn't offer much in her thankless "damsal in distress" role, while Murphy plays the Scarecrow with the patented super-villain craziness.
While definitely not perfect, this is the most satisfying BATMAN film yet. The producers of BATMAN BEGINS were wise to start the franchise over from scratch...it has all but erased my memory of the bat-nipples in BATMAN FOREVER that all but killed the franchise for me. In the current comic-to-film renaissance of the past five years, they finally figured out how to portray Batman as he was meant to be portrayed. Here's hoping they stay wise and don't go campy with the sequel.
Walk the Line (2005)
Great performances...okay movie
Let me begin by stating that I am a HUGE Johnny Cash fan and was really looking forward to seeing this movie. I read Johnny's autobiography, so I had a lot of outside knowledge about him and his relationship with June Carter, which is one reason why this movie just didn't do it for me as much as I'd hoped it would. Like all Hollywood biopics, WALK THE LINE glosses over a lot of facts, plays around with chronology, and just leaves out a lot of details that fans like me would have enjoyed seeing. That's not to say that the movie is not any good...the performances by Phoenix and Witherspoon are superb, the set design and costumes were very impressive, and the music, of course, was wonderful...the true flaws lie with the screenplay and the editing. Maybe it's because I'm familiar with the story, but the film seemed a little too hurried to get through all the details of Cash's life in two hours...more time should have been devoted to Cash's outsider status in the country music world and his "man in black" persona, which in this movie seems to take a backseat to his drug addiction and recovery with the help of his true love, June. All in all, the film is played as more of a love story and less of a portrait of a legendary artist, which is what I hoping it would be. Perhaps if the film were longer and had a better director, it could have balanced the many aspects of Cash's fascinating life a little better. All in all, the film was very enjoyable, but I'd be more interested in an extended version with more music.
P.S.: I still don't understand why this movie wasn't called "Ring of Fire"...maybe the producers didn't want it to be confused with that dragon movie that came out a few years ago.