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Batman Returns (1992)
Good intentions not well executed
Batman Returns is in some ways an enigma as far as the overall opinions are on the film. There's one side that deems this movie to be one of Tim Burton's masterpieces, there are also people that think this movie is just okay, and then there's the side of the audience that really didn't like it. This film, despite such a split reaction, does have some definite qualities that adds some edge to the film. There's a very well executed consistent atmosphere the film maintains throughout the two hour run-time, as well as a killer score by Danny Elfman with memorable themes in it, as well as a few well cast parts. However where this movie tends to slide down is in the unfocused story, the sometimes irritating performances, and not enough focus on it's main character.
The film starts out like the dark fairy-tales we often see in a Burton film, with an infant Oswald Cobblepot, later The Penguin, being thrown into the sewers ending up in the aquatic display at the Gotham Zoo where he ends up being raised. In the present timeline of the film, thirty three years later (a Jesus reference put in there for no reason) people are in high spirits about the Christmas season, except for a few lonely people. One of them of course is Selina Kyle who's a very insecure secretary (later Catwoman) working for business tycoon Max Schreck. Then somewhere in the middle there's Bruce Wayne continuing his lone mission in crime-fighting as Batman, now going up against Penguin and his circus gang.
Right from the beginning we're able to be almost sucked to the visual style of the film, as the Christmas setting allows for an ironically creepy atmosphere with the snowy backdrops which greatly adds to the twisted tone the movie is going for. While I'm not necessarily a fan of the set designs in this film, as they look too cartoony as opposed to more filmy, I know there are people who love this style, and while these sets aren't my taste I will however give much deserved credit to the set designers for putting a lot of work into creating something of artistic value, which I'd much rather have in a film than a bunch of cgi sets.
While there are some semblances of important story elements such as motifs and symbolism as well as some character motivations, however there's a lack of sense to a lot of this, which ends up in a lack of a narrative focus. Part of this has to do with the movie trying to be too many things all at once. It's in some parts trying to be a political comedy with the Penguin running for Mayor, it's also trying to sometimes be a horror film with some of the more twisted characters as well as the creepy atmospherics, and it's trying to be a summer action flick with many special effects along with a hero who's there mostly for the action set pieces. Any one of those approaches could be done very well on it's own, but what it comes off as sometimes is the director having too much fun doing something that's so off the tracks as opposed to more of a collaboration or something more cohesive as a film. One of the things that should've been done is starting out doing a Batman movie first, then work off of that with original ideas, not the other way around which it seems was done with this film, which ends up with the title character not given anything interesting to do through most of the film other than stopping the villains.
There's credit I should give to some of the actors for actually trying to do some worthwhile work in the film. Danny Devito often does play character's with very strange or dark senses of humor, and he does seem to really enjoy himself in playing the role, which sometimes can be enjoyable, however what makes The Penguin not work is the director's intention of making him this very tragic character that we're supposed to feel for, as well as have some anger against because he's the big baddie of the film, which of course contradicts itself, but also makes the more grotesque humor of the character really annoying, as some of it isn't that funny as well as it sometimes feels forced.
Michelle Pfeiffer is definitely memorable in the film, and does have the right sex appeal for playing Catwoman, while also having some standout scenes. One of the coolest parts of her performance is that all of the scenes with the whip are actually her using it and not some stunt double. Some of her more twisted scenes are surprisingly done well, as it was slightly in tune with some of the movie's intentions, but where the performance gets lost for me is when she's playing the still insecure Selina Kyle, who in the end just needs to get over herself and actually be more assertive, and what it does the Catwoman scenes is make them feel inconsistent as the character starts to feel inconsistent. Another issue that's more of my bias, is the level of camp that went into this character with all of the silly cat puns and such which need I remind you, isn't to far removed from what the Adam West t.v show did as well as what the Catwoman movie did.
Batman Returns is really not a movie for everyone, but it does say something that it does at least has it's own loyal fanbase which appreciates the film. While I don't think it's a successful film, I will say it's a fascinating one due to all of the potential within in it, as well as it be entertaining. Maybe if this weren't a Batman film it could've worked much better, who knows. One thing is clear though, this film can bring up some good discussion.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
I feel almost the same way I did with the critics on Man Of Steel
Surprisingly, this movie has gotten a very mixed reception from film critics, many of them criticizing how much goes on in the plot, yet acknowledging how well the actors are in it. The percentage it stands at right now is around 54%, which if I'm recalling this right, Man of Steel is around 56%. Now, I'm going to be one of the people that is in favor of this film, the same way I felt with Man of Steel last year, and this movie greatly succeeds from its respect for the source material, great performances from the cast, and the best action in any Spider-Man movie thus far, despite a very busy plot.
While the movie definitely isn't 100% exactly like the comics, and takes a few liberties, the parts it does take from the comics, is handled very well. First off, we've never seen one of the spidey costumes from the films look so close to the comics than this one, and that is definitely worth geeking out about. Now there is one or two iconic moments taken straight from the comics that many will be pleased that they did, as it makes the movie avoid a few redundant problems that have become commonplace in the Spider-Man movies. A part of what makes this era of the Spider-Man franchise more refreshing than the Sam Raimi films is the characters are around the same ages they were in the comics, and despite the actors being older than their characters, they're more believable in the roles than some of the original cast members in the characteristics of their comic book counterparts.
What's for certain about this movie is how spot on the cast is with their performances. Andrew Garfield is the wittiest Spider-Man, a less whiny Peter Parker, yet still retains the charming geeky and human qualities we love about the character. Emma Stone is also the perfect casting choice for Gwen Stacy, and from what I understand the character was a little bland in the comics, however you wouldn't know that from how good Emma Stone is in these movies. Stone plays a very funny, sincere, smart, and self-capable character, which is much better than what we saw with Mary Jane played by Kirsten Dunst. The chemistry between Garfield and Stone is very believable to the point where we the audience feel like we're almost seeing a real relationship on screen, as much as we can in these type of relationships in these types of movies. Dane DeHaan blows James Franco's performance as Harry Osborne out the water, the strained relationship between Harry and Norman is more believable in this installment, as Norman abandoned Harry almost in the same vain as Peter's parents leaving him. It's the parallels played out between Harry and Peter, and their friendship which makes DeHaan so good in the role, as this role wouldn't have worked quite so good in less capable hands, since the story probably could've used more of the character. Jamie Foxx, while not standing out as much as some other actors, pulls off the role of Electro better than I would've expected, as the geeky man being rejected by the hero has been done to much lesser affect in movies like Batman Forever and Iron Man 3. While the character isn't as sympathetic as Doctor Octopus was in Spider-Man 2, you can still feel a little sorry for someone who's been forgotten and ignored his whole life, and just wants to be noticed. Sometimes Foxx's performance is over the top, but overall is still good in the movie, although he could've been better had they taken out maybe one of the many subplots and focused a little more on his character. Sally Field is still really good as Aunt May, however I think Rosemary Harris is better in the role, but that's mostly because there was more for Aunt May to do in the original movies. Paul Giamatti is probably the most shafted actor of the piece, he only gets two scenes in the whole movie, and is really hammy in the role of the Rhino, however it was kind of cool to see him in his armored suit at the end of the movie.
Marc Webb directed this movie with much skill indeed. One of the coolest uses of the special effects in this movie was how the Spider Sense was utilized, which wasn't used quite as often in the previous films. The scenes where Spider-Man swings on his webs probably has never looked better, as they seem to flow with much more fluidity than they usually do, and that is impressive, as they looked really good before. While there is use of slow motion in this movie, it wasn't as tired as it was in movies like 300 and many other action films today, I'm not sure why, but it seems to work pretty well here. Maybe the biggest flaw in direction in this film is the runtime, it was slightly too long, it definitely could've used more editing.
Although The Amazing Spider-Man 2 suffers a little from the busy plot, this movie has plenty of good performances, good action sequences, great direction, and sometimes great characterizations to make it succeed. This probably could've been the perfect Spider-Man film had one or two of the subplots been taken out of it.
An improvement on the character.
Captain America The Winter Soldier is definitely in every way an improvement on Captain America's stand alone films, and what that mostly benefits from is the sharp direction from the Russo Brothers, whom I've already known are talented by watching their work on the great t.v comedy Community. While this isn't necessarily a very comedic film, the Russo Brothers know how to handle characters and stories, but also they did a very excellent job with the film's action and stunt work with minimal CGI usage except for the third act of the film.
As you've heard from everyone else, this movie has the tone and style of a political thriller, with a SHIELD that Steve Rogers is becoming skeptical about with all of the secrecy they keep from him and even themselves at times. In all of this secrecy we're introduced to Alexander Pierce who's played by Robert Redford, who does at least give the movie a little more credibility. Anyways, even his character is a little shady, and soon we figure out that he has been apart of SHIELD as the leader of HYDRA, the organization Cap thought he destroyed in his first movie. I'm not going to give to much away on how this all is explained, but I will admit that the explanation had one or two things they definitely should've changed a little to have made more sense of it.
We also have The Winter Soldier, who in case you also didn't know is Buck Barnes, who was at one point Captain America's best friend. He presents a good conflict for Steve, as he's not sure that he's really up to stopping his friend from killing a lot of people. Some of the scenes with the two are probably among the strongest of the film, and that's mostly because of some of the emotional resonance coming from it. One scene in particular displays this very well in a flashback scene, from before they were in the war together, as it's implied Steve had trouble getting around in life to which Bucky says something along the lines of "I'm with you till the very end." Very good stuff, and I'll admit I think they could've used more of these scenes to lift the film back up when the action gets to lengthy.
Another cool addition to the movie was for sure, that of Anthony Mackie as the Falcon, he has some witty lines and a few back story details that at least makes us grow to like him, and he really plays off well with Chris Evans, I really enjoyed the chemistry they had. Also Scarlett Johansson was a little better in the role of Black Widow than she has been in the other films, and that's because we see more personality from her, but again disappointingly not enough back story on her or Nick Fury for that matter to care enough. That's not to say that Scarlett and Samuel are bad in the film, quite the opposite, but by this point I'd like to know those two characters more by now.
Overall I must say this is a solid superhero film, that will be enough to pass time for The Avengers Age Of Ultron (which there's a mid credits scene teasing it), and might be the best stand alone Avengers film since the first Iron Man movie.
The Godfather: Part III (1990)
I know that I'm in the minority in saying this, but I think The Godfather Part Three is a great movie. However I do agree with people that it isn't as good as the other two, which are undoubtedly two of the greatest films ever made. In retrospective you have to first think about some of the factors going against the movie, one: it's a movie trying to follow up the first two Godfather movies which is probably one of the most challenging tasks for a filmmaker to do, two: it's missing Robert Duvall's great presence as Tom Hagen, and three: Sofia Coppola isn't really a refined performer in that point in her career. Okay now that's out of the way the good things about this movie all starts from the fact that we're revisiting the characters of this world, characters we've come to really pity, despise, and sometimes even relate to. Al Pacino and Diane Keaton probably have the best chemistry between there performances in this movie than the first two in my opinion. At this point in the story Michael and Kay's relationship is definitely very strained, as Michael failed to make the family business legitimate and loses his wife and kids in the process, and with Kay really being the first person to really stand up to Michael in a way that no one else does, since she knows him better than anyone else. What makes the relationship between Michael and Kay even more interesting is that they still love each other, and it's heartbreaking to think that it will never completely work between these two. Although Talia Shire is definitely good in her role as Connie, I don't really think it's necessary that she's involved in the family business, and the movie kind of ignores that it's breaking a rule in the trilogy by doing that. Anyways, Andy Garcia is definitely a welcome addition as Vincent Mancini, Sonny Corleone's illegitimate son, and as the saying goes like father like son. The character of Vincent obviously shares some of the integral characterizations that made Sonny such an interesting character, he has very poor judgment and is a tad wacky at times, he's lustful towards women, and most importantly he loves his family dearly. It's definitely great seeing Michael mentoring Vincent in the movie, since this is what I'd imagine what Michael's relationship probably would've been had Michael been the oldest son. What definitely polarizes people the most in this movie is that of Sofia Coppola as Mary Corleone, and while it's obvious that the rest of the cast is out of her league for the most part, she isn't nearly as bad as some people say she is in this movie. Of course this is probably her first film performance and also had a hard time getting rid of her valley girl dialect, what her character of Mary required though is that she's not the brightest person in regards to how her family really is. Mary is the only one who doesn't know what the family business really is, and therefore loves her father more than anything and for this reason not many people take her seriously except for her cousin Vincent. And yes I know that the romantic relationship that happens between the two is really quite disturbing, all the characters around them consistently acknowledge how wrong it is, and analyzing both Vincent and Mary a bit closer, we know that Vincent has very bad judgment and can do very very irrational things, and Mary has never been taken seriously by most men or really ever pursued by one, so that's most likely why the two take to each other. Now, back to Michael his journey in this movie is very emotional as he's still dealing with all of the family he lost in the two preceding films, especially Fredo. This would make sense that all of this would weigh heavy on his soul, as he still loved his family and feels terrible for killing his brother who he loved dearly. Really I have to say that the ending to The Godfather Part Three might be the most emotionally powerful scene of the trilogy, and that mostly stems from us knowing Michael is one of the most tragic character ever, but also the agony that Pacino flawlessly portrays in the film's last moments.
Overall I think that if you separate this movie more from the first two, you might be able to appreciate it a little more.
Not bad, but not too good either
Batman (1989) without a doubt has its own huge fan base, considering that it's a film about Batman. The movie was a huge hit, and started another phase of Bat-mania that hadn't been seen for at least twenty years, and that was mostly thanks to how different it was at the time, no one had really seen a comic book movie that had a darkness to it. Batman wasn't the first successful comic book movie, as the world had already experienced Superman, and for sure wasn't the first one to make some big casting choices, as acting greats like Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman had already done that before as well as the leap of faith choice of then newcomer Christopher Reeves while Superman was made, similar to how Jack Nicholson was the seasoned actor of this movie and Michael Keaton was the leap of faith casting choice. Overall the visual appearance isn't disappointing (although how many superhero movies are visually disappointing), the casting choices are interesting, but there's not enough human appeal to really make this movie work.
Really the set of Gotham City might be the star of the film. The dark and murky tone the Gotham set gives off is so good and memorable that parts of it were integrated in other mediums for the Batman franchise. Also the vehicles that Batman gets to use have this really cool battle ready sense to them as the bat motif makes them candy to the eyes as you watch them in action, and even though the action maybe way dated it's still really cool to look at all of Batman's gadgets. What might be most impressive to the more film going audience in this movie, is the film-noir quality the art direction has, as the movie looks like it takes place in the '40s, even though it takes place in modern times. Overall these are the biggest pluses I can give this movie, which is a bit of a letdown considering what mythology it's adapting.
Back in 1989 Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson's Batman and Joker performance were all of the buzz in the summer, and I will admit there probably wasn't many other choices that the filmmakers could go with at the time for these characters. Michael Keaton in a few scenes really sells it when he's in the Batman costume and doesn't do too bad with all the constraints these costumes had at the time, but the big downside to his performance is his scenes playing Bruce Wayne. Tim Burton really wanted the duality of the character of Bruce/Batman to be big theme for the character, however he's to shut off, sometimes a little bored looking, and to broody to really make you feel like there is much humanity to this character, because the side of Bruce Wayne himself is pretty complex in itself, there's the public billionaire playboy (not in this movie) that's kind of funny to watch at times, but there's also the private Bruce Wayne where his character has the most problems as he can't pursue a content life, or settle down, and while they kind of explore the more personal side of Bruce Wayne with the love interest Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger), the chemistry is just so off and awkward at times, sparks really don't fly between the two.
On the flip side of the coin, as far as the character's & performances go, there is Jack's Joker, who definitely is well cast and does have some memorable moments in the role, but one of the flaws with the performance is that in maybe the last 45 minutes or so it got a little repetitive and tired after a while, and the film depended too much on his performance. I'm not at all saying that he wasn't good in the movie, I just think Nicholson's performance could of been much better had they pulled back a little bit with the screen time and let his menace sink in more.
Other than The Joker, the other people who provide conflict are very briefly used or under-utilized or just ignored for the most part. The subplot that I feel would've made this movie more interesting is the one with a corrupt police force, we're only shown one bad cop with Lt. Eckhart, but that character's taken out so early in the film that the whole subplot becomes an afterthought in the process. Although the whole journalist side of the plot was used quite a bit, I think as a big Batman fan, it would've been much more engaging to establish more of a relationship between Batman and the police force as opposed to an annoying journalist trying to crack a good story on all of the Batman sightings, and since Commissioner Gordon is one of the most relating character's in the world of Batman, but unfortunately Pat Hingle's performance as Gordon really doesn't have an imprint.
I really try to like this movie, but I just run into to many contradictions within the movie that I can't really let my mind run free in the world the filmmakers tried hard to create. I can understand any artist changing something already established to fit their style or interpretation of something, as most of the times that's necessary, but also I can see when there are very integral aspects that are supposed to be a big part of the art piece that are really not given much care to, as is the problem with this film. Tim Burton is a very intriguing director, his movies are usually very entertaining, but I think that a good argument can be made that he wasn't the right director for a Batman movie, as he himself has said many times that comic books aren't of interest to him. With all of the stuff Burton tried with Batman, I keep wondering how out there his version of Superman would've been.
The Dark Knight (2008)
Journey Into The Knight
For a long time movies about super-heroes haven't had much off an effect from regular movie going audiences, aside from the people who have interest in it. But, in the year 2008 super-hero movies not only got bigger, but also better. It was with the release of the much acclaimed Batman movie "The Dark Knight," which broke many box office records, as well as earning two Academy Awards. So, in knowing why it's such a phenomenal film, "The Dark Knight" succeeds from its great ensemble cast, and screenplay.
Without a doubt "The Dark Knight" is largely a great movie due to its cast. Just take a look at who all is in it. In his second turn as Batman, Oscar-winner Christian Bale leads the cast, while supporting roles come from other acting giants, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Gary Oldman. Although there's one role in particular that has become iconic in cinema, Heath Ledger's posthumous Oscar-winning role as The Joker. For certain everyone's good, but Heath Ledger's performance is the most memorable. With the creepy facial tics, sadistic sounding voice, and devilish laughing it gets under your skin. In fact I remember watching "The Dark Knight" in theaters on its opening day, seeing him sticking a knife in the mouth of a mob boss, or with the scene where he sticks a pencil through someone's eye socket, I was on the edge of my seat. The Joker that we see in "The Dark Knight," is probably the best movie-villain since Hannibal Lecter. Even though "The Dark Knight" has a great movie villain, Christian Bale also delivers the goods as Batman. By now everyone knows the Batman growl he does in the movie, which has been referenced plenty of times in pop culture, but one of the big reasons it works is the intimidation factor he brings. The voice sounds animal-like, and combined with the imposing all-black costume, you're able to buy that criminals would be afraid of him. Bale also does the alter-ego Bruce Wayne with gravitas, often sharing funny one-liners with Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine (who're also of course great.) Also with scenes such as the one where he's mourning over the loss of Rachel Dawes, we're able to see a well-rounded performance coming out of him with action, humor, and drama. And of the actors who also were perfect in the movie are that of Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon, and Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent/Two-Face. First off, to any of you that have seen Batman Begins, we can see how Gordon has changed since that movie, being a more tense and serious person than before, and I can't help but feel as if Oldman evokes Al Pacino's performance in Heat (another great movie), but also there are the more sincere scenes he has. One in particular that usually gets to me, is the one where he returns to his family who thought he was dead, we really feel for the character as in the fact that he has to be constantly be surrounded by danger in his job, but he's really doing it because he's a genuinely good person who want to protect and serve, and Oldman blends so well into it, that he really becomes the character. Then we have Aaron Eckhart playing Harvey Dent/Two-Face, who almost in the end is the main protagonist in the movie as well as its tragic hero. As I read from the book The Art and Making Of The Dark Knight Trilogy, Chris Nolan described heroes as characters that go through a major change, and this is very essential to the origin of Two-Face, and almost seamlessly, Eckhart really makes the character transformation buy-able.
Giving more strength to the already great movie, is its screenplay penned by director Christopher Nolan and Brother Jonathon. Since "The Dark Knight" is based off of the seventy-four year old comic book series "Batman", there's a large canvas of source material to pull from. But, rather than doing a straight on adaptation, the Nolan brothers add themes that parallel today's world, as well as themes about moral choice. Notably, the theme of how society reacts to terrorist threats is smartly woven into the chaos The Joker brings into Gotham. As you see images of large buildings blowing up, or Batman standing with firefighters at a destroyed site, it's hard not to think about 9/11. How this affects the rest of the characters can be summed up with the word fear. We were afraid of the horrific event 9/11, and responded aggressively by declaring war on Iraq, similar to how Batman, Jim Gordon, and district attorney Harvey Dent had an aggressive response to both the mob and The Joker in trying to eradicate all crime in Gotham. Upon the terrorist themes in the movie, the theme of moral choice is used to further show how these characters react to The Joker. Depicted in a scene where The Joker has two ferries rigged with explosives, he gives the passengers on both boats triggers to blow each other up, and whoever used the trigger first would be the boat of the people who survive, which as you'd think puts these people at this near impossible choice of whether to save their own skins or let the other passengers live. If a scene such as that actually were to occur, it'd be fascinating to know how we'd react to that, but for a film based off of a comic book to do this is stunning.
"The Dark Knight" is a movie that ascends preconceived notions of what a comic-book movie should be, and holds its place in cinema as an astonishing achievement. Aside from the Oscars, and praise it has gotten, the film was able to take a childhood favorite character of everyone, and present him in a mature context. Altogether, "The Dark Knight" is a phenomenally well-made film that's more than just entertaining.
Community: Repilot (2014)
A return to greatness
Rejoice all Community fans, this new season is definitely going back to what made the show great in the first place. The characters, although in different places in their lives, still act as themselves. There's also a surprise or two that you may or may not be expecting. But anyways, this is a very welcome comeback, after the disappointing season 4, and you can definitely feel from the clever writing that this is Dan Harmon's show again. All of the actors are on the top of their game, still bringing the charm, sincerity, and humor that we all love about them. Lets really make this last people, because I know that I really want six seasons and a movie for this masterpiece of a show. Long live Greendale Community College.