Monthly Archives: July 2012

Batman Begins (2005) Review: The weakest in a strong trilogy

Directed By: Christopher Nolan 

Written By: David S. Goyer

Cinematography: Wally Pfister

Starring: Christian BaleMichael CaineKatie Holmes

I’m always nervous when a comic book is launched as a blockbuster. I cringe at the potential of it to being nothing more than somewhat impressive visual effects, cheesy dialogue, insincere characters and a hollow storyline. I’m thinking of Superman Returns, the original Spiderman series and the string of horrible Marvel films such as Thor, The Hulk and Iron Man (Iron Man was the only one vaguely worth watching). So when Batman Begins came out in 2005 I wasn’t interested. It was only in more recent years after discovering the genius of Christopher Nolan (Memento and Inception) that I decided to go back and give Batman Begins a go.

The story of Bruce Wayne is handled tastefully, interspersed along the contemporary narrative as Bruce finds himself in a Tibetan type monastery with the League of Shadows. To be honest, the League of Shadows was a little unbelievable. Thankfully Liam Neeson didn’t completely ruin the film for me (as he does in every one of his other films), but the idea of a group of ‘ninja assassins’ just sounds too immature to be believable. The idea that the League of Shadows wants to eliminate the city of Gotham through dispersing water vapor laced with toxins reminded me that I was watching a comic book film. I would have preferred a more realistic scenario (albeit not another nuclear armageddon story please). Having said this, the motif of fear added to the entire story, starting with a young Bruce and culminating as the weapon for destroying Gotham. It seems that Nolan was doing something more than just blowing millions on creating a blockbuster but there was a clear message to be told. I appreciate that.

The performances and characters are central to the success of the Batman franchies. Christian Bale is a stellar performer of the damaged yet resolute Bruce Wayne. He’s appropriately arrogant when he needs to be which turned me away from him, but he was then tough as nails as Batman. This is also an ode of praise to Nolan’s directing. Michael Caine seems to have been made for the role of supportive and witty Alfred and Morgan Freeman did an excellent job as Fox to Batman as Q was to James Bond. I particularly enjoyed Cillian Murphy’s character, The Scarecrow. He was dark and edgy and Nolan’s treatment of him as a villain was truly engaging and harrowing.

The direction and handling of the Batman character was superb by Nolan. Batman was made to be a plausibile character. Granted he was funded by billions, but at the heart of who he was, he was sincere and believable. In addition the great handling of the characters and plot, the overall filmmaking was class. Hans Zimmer brought the film to life with the soundtrack and the cinematography of Wally Pfister was breathtaking at moments. The writing and dialogue had the right balance of witty yet realistic. Alred in particular had some great lines that brought his character to life.

Something tells me that Batman Begins will be the weakest in the trilogy, much like Bourne Identity. It serves the purpose of setting the scene and establishing the characters but failed to have the Oscar winning magic that The Dark Knight had with the Joker. Despite all this, Batman begins was a highly enjoyable film and one that handled the story and characters in a sincere and intentional manner which came through strongly.

Plot/Plot Development: 7/10

Performances: 8/10

Direction 8/10

Entertainment Value: 8/10

Quality Value: 76%

Advertisements

Warrior (2011) A storytelling masterpiece

Directed by: Gavin O’Connor 

Written by Gavin O’Connor, Anthony Tambakis and Cliff Dorfman

Cinematography: Masanobu Takayanagi

Starring: Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, Jennifer Morrison  and Nick Nolte.

*Spoiler alert*

David O’Connor’s Warrior tells the story of two estranged brothers, Tommy and Brendon Conlon who enter into MMA’s (Mixed martial arts) highest stakes contest. The brothers’ father, Paddy (Nick Nolte) acts as a loose go-between the brothers, however his relationship has both been strained from years of alcoholism and abuse. Inevitably, the two brothers will face eachother in the final round for the chance to win $5,000,000 but the beauty of this film is not in its plot but in its masterful delivery.

There was a good chance that I was not going to enjoy this film upon watching it. The only reason I did choose to watch it was I had watched the final sequence of the film – inevitably the final fight – and thus had found out who won. Despite knowing how it all came together I was very quickly pulled into the story of this dysfunctional and struggling family, my mind moving at the pace of the film and not jumping ahead to the conclusion.

Sports drama’s are inevitably going to be predictable. Act one and two tend will create a backstory and a buildup to the final showdown between the protagonist and antagonist. We don’t watch these films to find out who wins, thats pretty much a forgone conclusion, instead we watch to experience the drama and emotion of the journey to that final and ultimate result.  Warrior, whilst fairly predictable does offer a margin for surprise. It’s not quite clear which of the brothers is the protagonist or antagonist and even then, there is room within the plot for an upset. This uncertainty literally brought me to the edge of my seat whilst watching and that is something any director can be proud of.

Tommy  (tom Hardy) is a troubled and disgruntled prodigal son returning home from deserting his unit in Iraq. His return is not prompted by lost relationship as much as returning to his former wrestling coach. Tommy asks his dad to take him under his wing and train him to fight again. Their relationship is somewhat of a cage fight itself. Tommy is incredibly harsh and unforgiving towards his father, who has made a turn around in his life, coming up on 1000 days of sobriety and wants to try and rebuild some of the burn bridges in their relationship. Despite Tommy’s rather unlikeable nature, there is a ray of light in his character. It emerges that he is somewhat of a war hero for saving the lives of fellow drowning soldiers. He’s wanted by the military for deserting his unit, but his at the same time loved by the public and comrades for his heroics.

Across the state, Brendan (Joel Edgerton) is a high school physics teacher and is loved by his wife Tess and students alike. His family have troubles of their own. Medical bills have meant they are struggling to save their home from foreclosure, placing enormous strain on him as a father and provider. Like his brother he has a history of fighting and in his new family suburban life will secretly enter into amateur cage fights to earn some extra cash.

Ultimately both Tommy and Brendan begin training for SPARTA – the high stakes MMA contest for the chance to win five million dollars. Both brothers have their reasons for the money. Brendan needs it to keep his family from falling into bankruptcy and Tommy wants to support the widow and family of his fellow soldier killed Iraq.

The direction and performances brilliant. Personally I found Tommy to be a bit more believable than Brendan. Tommy’s back story seems fitting whilst I could never quite picture brendan as a cage fighter. Perhaps that simply adds to the drama of the underdog story. Nick Nolte gives a superb performance throughout the film. If anything, he was slightly too like-able. I would have liked to have seen a flair of aggression, hinting back to the old days. A result of this however is that I felt genuinely aggravated towards Tommy who wouldn’t give his dad a break. Tommy quickly established himself as the antagonist as opposed to his brother Brendan who is a loving and devoted father struggling to keep his finances together and pushed literally to the limit as he puts his body on the line for them.

The true genius of the storytelling and directing is revealed at the final fight. Tommy has destroyed every opponent he’s faced to make it to the final whilst Brendan has barely survived each round to miraculously win each fight as a the true underdog hero. The combination of the backstory, the emotion on Tess and Paddy’s faces and the soundtrack of The National’s ‘About Today’ left me in tears. What was truly brilliant is that in the final scene the viewer finds themselves feeling truly compassionate for Tommy as he fights on in vain. Brendan finishes him off before repeatedly telling him he loves him. As the audience you are left feeling elated for Brendan who can now pay off his debts but broken for Tommy who was only ever interested in helping another family.

Warrior is a great film. The story resonates with working class America today, struggling to stay afloat in these financial strenuous times and dealing with the effects of two long and bloody wars. The performances are seriously impressive and the ability for O’Connor to flip the viewer from disliking Tommy to feeling genuine compassion for him a single scene is incredible.

Plot/Development 7.5/10

Performances 8.5/10

Cinematography 8/10

Directing 8.5/10

Quality Rating 81%

Entertainment Rating 90%

Master and Commander Review

Master and Commander (2003) 

Screenplay and Directed By: Peter Weir

Cinematography by: Russell Boyd

Starring: Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany 

Russel Crowe has a made a habit of finding himself in some very good films and pulling off a remarkable performance each time. In Peter Weir’s Master and Commande Crowe plays Captain Jack Aubrey as he engages in a high sea pursuit of Napolean Bonapartes phantom ship – the Achelon. Each time I’ve watched this film since its 2003 release I’ve been held to attention and excitement from beginning to end. There is simply so much to enjoy about this film, whilst retaining the qualities of a well produced and well directed film.

I found the storyline to be engaging from the very beginning if not entirely original. Interestingly enough 90% of the film is set on the ship itself with only a few moments unfolding on the Galapagos islands. Yet despite the lack of diversity in scenarios and locations the performance and plot keeps one captivated throughout. The plot is developed in a measured manner. There are no major twists and surprises, just the linear tale of the adventures of Captain Aubrey’s ship. The story beckons the childhood adventurer in the viewer as the almost fantastical tale of high sea battles between mighty ships unfolds.

For me the most impressive and entertaining aspect of the film were the performances and characters. Yes, on reflection the whole thing is quite Hollywood and feels like a fairy tale with its charm and its comical wit, but I found that this added to rather that subtracted from the film. Without the great scriptwriting and performances by Russel Crowe and Paul Bettany, the film would have been lost in a sea of dull and boring historical retelling. The tale of friendship between Aubrey and the doctor is elegantly told  and revisited throughout the film. The interaction between Crowe and Bettany is central to this telling as well as the overall elegance of the film itself.

Whilst it’s not the best film ever made but it definitely is entertaining with a fresh perspective, something I really appreciated.

 

Plot/ Plot Development 8/10

Characters/Performances 8.510

Production: 8/10

Entertainment 8.5/10