[Batman Day] Batman Returns (1992)

Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Michael Murphy

Screenplay: Daniel Waters

126 mins. Rated PG-13.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Makeup

 

On this day in which we celebrate the caped crusader, let’s take a look at the strangest, and dare I say, greatest, live-action Batman film, Batman Returns.

It’s Christmastime in Gotham City, and the rich businessman Max Shreck (Christopher Walken, Catch Me If You Can, Irreplaceable You) is showing his holiday spirit by secretly trying to get a power chemical plant built in the city. When he gets kidnapped by the sinister Oswald Cobblepot (Danny DeVito, Matilda, TV’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), a man more known by his moniker, the Penguin, Max sees a way for each of them to get what they want as he attempts to get Cobblepot into public office as Gotham’s mayor. It’s during this time that Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton, Birdman, Dumbo) begins looking into Cobblepot’s background and see him as a threat to the city.

There’s a surface-level love for Batman Returns that springs out of the fact that it was my first experience with Batman of any level. I hadn’t read any of the comics when I saw the film, I hadn’t watched the cartoon, I hadn’t seen any of the other films. It was my first and most memorable experience of the caped crusader.

Michael Keaton has always been the actor I’ve most associated with the Batman and Bruce Wayne role, and I think he’s the actor that’s always embodied the conflict of the two roles and the sacrifice that he feels is necessary for him to give to Gotham for its protection. He’s better in this sequel than the previous film because here he’s even more conflicted about his role. He’s put through trials that test his commitment to Batman, most notably through his interactions with Selina Kyle and Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer, Hairspray, Avengers: Endgame).

Director Tim Burton (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Beetlejuice) put a lot of himself into this film, more than its predecessor, and it’s especially apparent with the villains. Danny DeVito’s Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman both have some altered history with their origins, and there are liberties taken with a lot of what makes them villains, and part of that is likely from Burton’s very obvious disinterest in comic books. While that can be a death knell for a film, I really like his take here, and I think he is able to juggle multiple villain arcs alongside his hero in a way most superhero films cannot.

There’s another accomplishment to Batman Returns that most reviewers and fans tend to overlook regarding its villains. Returns features a third villain, remarkably made from scratch, in Max Shreck. Yes, he’s just as much a villain in the film as Penguin or Catwoman, perhaps a little less zany, but a villain all the same, made by a terrifically unhinged performance from Christopher Walken. Without Walken, the film may not have worked at all. In fact, I would say that I remembered Shreck more than the other two as a child. He was frightening because he was very real, and the role he plays in both the Penguin’s master plan and Catwoman’s origin makes for an effective creepy character.

After the success of his first Batman film, Tim Burton was able to really explore his version of Gotham City and its inhabitants with his special visual blend of gothic and supernatural influences. This is a very arty Batman film, and that’s mostly due to Burton being at the top of his game here. He’s playing with his cinematography, he’s exploring the sound and music of Gotham, and he’s relishing in a classical costume design within the confines of this world.

Batman Returns is perhaps the most unique of all the Batman films in that it is really experimenting with its tone, look, feel, and world. It’s hard to find a flaw, but if there’s one, it’s that the film does take a little pushing at the beginning to get it moving, and in the modern superhero landscape, some of its zanier elements might seem laughable, but revisiting this film in honor of Batman Day has reminded me of how rich an experience Batman Returns is. I highly recommend a rewatch if it’s been awhile.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Tim Burton’s Batman, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Dumbo, click here.

Dumbo (2019)

Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Alan Arkin, Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins

Screenplay: Ehren Kruger

112 mins. Rated PG for peril/action, some thematic elements and brief mild language.

 

Tim Burton (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Beetlejuice) seemed like an odd choice for Dumbo, right?

When Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell, The Lobster, Widows) returns from the war, his job at the circus is gone, and circus owner Max Medici (Danny DeVito, Matilda, Twins) assigns him to the elephants, where he meets baby Dumbo, an adolescent elephant ridiculed by many for his unusually-sized ears. When Holt’s children, Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins), discover that Dumbo is able to fly with the aid of his ears, they set forth to save the failing circus, attracting the attention of the sinister salesman V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton, Birdman, American Assassin).

I want to start by saying I love it when Disney actually takes a property and updates it for a live-action release. As much as I enjoyed Beauty and the Beast, I would rather have a different take on the film, like what Cinderella and Aladdin did. This is done again here, but it doesn’t work as well. Dumbo 2019 is a different film than its predecessor, and I respect that, but the results are hit-or-miss. It all boils down to the screenplay by Ehren Kruger (The Ring, Ghost in the Shell), which doesn’t really revive as much magic from the source material as one would like. It feels very straight-forward and, in that process, loses some of the magic and soul that a film like Dumbo should have. Events just kind of happen, and with a more muted Burton directing the film, it feels hollow at times.

Now there is magic, particularly to the central relationship between Farrell, Parker, and Hobbins, who are trying to reconnect after war and tragedy have decimated their family. I also really enjoyed DeVito’s Max Medici. At this point in his career, DeVito knows how to play to the circus performance character, and he really collaborates with Burton quite well.

Michael Keaton’s zany performance as Vandevere starts out strong but really never goes anywhere. He is quirky because he’s in a Tim Burton movie and not for any particularly villainous reason. He’s unlikable, and maybe because he’s a villain, that’s a good thing, but it didn’t really work entirely for me.

Now, the scenes involving Dumbo are crafted very nicely by Burton. His visual take on the CG elephant works really well, and it makes for some truly captivating moments. It’s here where the film shines, and in that way, it is quite similar to films like Godzilla and Transformers in that the CG stuff works better than most of the human characters, but not to that extent, I suppose.

Dumbo is a mish-mash of elements, some that work really well and some that don’t. It’s uneven in this way, with a screenplay that doesn’t reach the heights a flying elephant should be able to rocket it, a director who feels somewhat asleep at the wheel or possibly incorrectly hired, but a group of performers and a cute-as-a-button flying elephant make for an enjoyable experience. It’s a scathing critique of Disney culture made by Disney that doesn’t always know who it should be appealing to; kids will like the Dumbo stuff but the rest of the plot mostly services adults. Still, I enjoyed myself and find the film to be a rather fair addition to Disney’s live-action shelf.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Batman, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, click here.

[Early Review] Late Night (2019)

Director: Nisha Ganatra

Cast: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow, Max Casella, Hugh Dancy, Denis O’Hare, Reid Scott, Amy Ryan

Screenplay: Mindy Kaling

102 mins. Rated R for language throughout and some sexual references.

 

Late Night had a lot of strong buzz coming out of Sundance earlier this year, most of it focused around Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility, Missing Link) and the screenplay from co-star Mindy Kaling (A Wrinkle in Time, TV’s The Office). I was able to catch the film last night at an early screening, and the buzz is absolutely correct.

Katherine Newbury (Thompson) has been the host of a late night talk-show for decades, but she comes to realize under the ownership of new network president Caroline Morton (Amy Ryan, Birdman, Beautiful Boy) that she has lost her passion, and she learns that she is soon to be replaced. Challenged by this fact, she hires a woman, Molly Patel (Kaling) to her writing staff with no writing experience. Molly’s equally challenged by the entirely male-dominated writing staff. She buts heads with Monologue Writer Tom (Reid Scott, Venom, TV’s Veep) and starts up a fling with the handsome Charlie (Hugh Dancy, Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return, TV’s Hannibal). But Molly quickly learns that she is in the lion’s den, and the leader is Katherine, a host who has never brought her personality, beliefs, or background, into the show, and the two women slowly find that they can learn a lot from each other, if they can survive each other.

This is Thompson’s movie, hands down, and it’s one of her most surprising and charismatic performances in a long and varied career. Her take on Newbury is interesting and nuanced. She says early in the film that she only ever really cared about two things: the first being her husband Walter (John Lithgow, Pet Sematary, TV’s 3rd Rock from the Sun) and the other being her show. It’s sad to hear her say it because of how she is frequently on the edge of losing both, Walter to his illness and the show to a younger, dumber host. At the same time, she fails to understand that she is self-sabotaging herself. It is only in her struggle to find an understanding of Molly’s feedback that she is able to grow, if she decides to listen to it.

Molly’s an interesting character. For the most part, her character’s inclusion in the film is a bit of a conceit, and not very realistic, but I was able to push past it for the needs of the narrative. Her character and Kaling’s performance shine in the ways that Molly is so much like Newbury. She knows not to hook up with the handsome writer she now works with, and she states that this is her dream job, and then she too self-sabotages.

The writer’s room cast of characters are all quite funny here. It’s great to see Paul Walter Hauser show up; he’s an absolute delight in everything. I think we get a nice crew of writer/showbiz archetypes that never feel flat because of the diverse collection of performers placed in the roles. Kaling’s screenplay gives most of them something to do without resorting to grouping them all together.

Director Nisha Ganatra (Chutney Popcorn, Pete’s Christmas) capably handles the film, and while her style here is nothing flashy, it is her focus on the characters and relationships that keep the whole thing afloat and moving, and the film just flies by thanks to some strong editing and tight storytelling.

Late Night showcases another powerhouse acting performance for Emma Thompson, one I expect that will be talked about in the next few months as we tick closer to the awards season. Kaling’s screenplay doesn’t provide as many laughs as I had expected, but there’s so much heart to it, and some of the funnier bits come out of the real situations she places her characters. It’s a sweet and occasionally funny trip to a part of our entertainment process not so often looked at. This comes highly recommended.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Battle of the Sexes (2017)

Director: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris

Cast: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming, Elisabeth Shue, Austin Stowell, Eric Christian Olsen

Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy

121 mins. Rated PG-13 for some sexual content and partial nudity.

 

I’d been looking forward to Battle of the Sexes ever since I heard that Emma Stone (The Help, The Croods) would be playing Billie Jean King and Steve Carell (Foxcatcher, Despicable Me 3) would be playing Bobby Riggs. The two performers worked so well together for their limited time in Crazy Stupid Love. In fact, Emma Stone also appeared in Birdman with Andrea Riseborough  and Superbad with Martha MacIsaac. She’s built quite the incredibly portfolio, but is Battle of the Sexes up to snuff?

Battle of the Sexes is more about Billie Jean King than her opponent. It covers her strained relationship with husband Larry (Austin Stowell, Whiplash, Colossal), her secret relationship with lover Marilyn (Riseborough) and her fight against Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman, Independence Day, The Equalizer) over women’s rights in professional tennis. But when she finds herself head-to-head with the showboating Riggs, a man who is about to lose his wife Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue, Leaving Las Vegas, Chasing Mavericks) due to his lies and gambling addiction, she finds herself fighting for more than just bragging rights in this film from directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine, Ruby Sparks).

Battle of the Sexes is a classic character study and a great showcase for numerous incredible performances, led by Stone and Carell. Emma Stone disappears into her role, proving that she is one of the best actresses working in the business today. Her role as King isn’t imitation or caricature but rather a true interpretation by one artist of another. Steve Carell too is tough to spot in the charismatic Riggs, a feat for the performer who could’ve turned to other comedic performances to channel. Instead, his humor is met with a nuanced characterization of a man who understands what he is doing wrong yet cannot stop himself. It’s like he is watching a car accident, unable to turn away.

The screenplay comes from Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire, Everest) and, for the most part, it is quite strong. I found the film dragging a bit in the second act, which could’ve been fixed easily in the editing bay or with a tightening of the script.

The director duo husband and wife that is Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris have delivered a film that feels like a documentary. The style and tone is something that could’ve come straight out of 1973. An event like this could very easily have turned satirical or lampoonish, and the filmmakers ride the line very well.

Battle of the Sexes is Emma Stone’s movie, and that’s a really good thing. In fact, this could be the best she’s ever been. That doesn’t excuse her costar Carell from an amazing turn as the showboating aging tennis star, but it just proves the acting caliber of the stars. If you get the chance, check out Battle of the Sexes while it’s still in theaters. This is one to watch come awards season.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Director: Jon Watts

Cast: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Tyne Daly, Marisa Tomei

Screenplay: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers

133 mins. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive content.

 

Spider-Man is back. For the third time. In 15 years. Good lord, I hope this one works out.

The MCU proudly welcomes Spider-Man to their slate of Phase 3 with Spider-Man: Homecoming, featuring a teenage Peter Parker (Tom Holland, The Impossible, Edge of Winter) trying to prove to de facto mentor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Chef) that he has what it takes to be an Avenger. Peter also the task of balancing his heroics with a failing social life and his schoolwork. Meanwhile, Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton, Birdman, American Assassin) has been acquiring alien tech with the help of his villainous crew and a mechanical winged suit. Peter thinks he has what it takes to unmask the Vulture and defeat him, but Tony knows better. But as Peter makes foolish mistakes that risk his own safety as well as the safety of his aunt May (Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler, Spare Parts), he finds himself coming closer to the Vulture…and closer to losing it all.

Spider-Man: Homecoming proves that as a franchise continues, it doesn’t necessarily have to get bigger. The Vulture is a real villain (with unreal tech) who only wants to provide for his family. There is a heart to his mission even if it is a villainous one. He’s relatable, except that he flies around in a Vulture suit.

The tone of the film is nicely executed by director Jon Watts (Cop Car, Clown) and gives off John Hughes vibes which was the goal of the film. Spider-Man: Homecoming never gets bogged down by heavy exposition or darkness. It always stays light and fluffy and fun.

And did anybody miss the origin? I didn’t, and the film is better for not being an origin story. Spider-Man fans and non-fans all know the origin, and if they don’t know it, they can just watch one of the other Spider-Man films. We don’t need to be reminded of Uncle Ben. We don’t need an unnecessarily convoluted subplot with Peter’s parents or with Aunt May. In fact, Tomei’s portrayal of Aunt May is fresh, too. She comes off like a big sister. Ignore the origin. And don’t force Oscorp in just because it’s Spider-Man. I’m curious to see how they play Harry Osborn if they ever do it, but it would have been unneeded in this film.

Overall, Spider-Man: Homecoming is imperfect, but it does make a lot of gains for the character and franchise now that he is firmly in the MCU. I didn’t feel like every joke landed and there are some untied up plot threads I would rather see finished, but overall, this is my second favorite Spider-Man film (I really love Spider-Man 2 and Doc Ock). A worthy addition to the MCU.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

So what did you think of Jon Watt’s Spider-Man: Homecoming? Is the MCU the right home for Peter Parker? And what’s your favorite Spider-Man film? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

 

 

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.

For my review of Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk, click here.

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2, click here.

For my review of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.

For my review of Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, click here.

For my review of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Captain America: Civil War, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, click here.

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

“The Revenant” about to unseat “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” this weekend!

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Reports have been coming in all weekend claiming the bitter feud between Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s new drama The Revenant and J.J. Abrams’ newest entry in the Star Wars franchise, The Force Awakens. It would seem though, according to the numbers I have been seeing, that The Revenant is out in front, if only slightly.

We were all wondering what film would unseat The Force Awakens, and many, like myself, saw February’s Deadpool as the first likely contender, but perhaps we were wrong, as many in the box office tracking community saw The Revenant coming in at a respectable but lower $20 million. It now appears like the possible Best Picture contender is racing for somewhere around $37-38 million.

For star Leonardo DiCaprio, the recognition must feel good. DiCaprio, often thought to be cursed from ever getting a Best Actor Academy Award for his countless wonderful performances, seems to be, for now at least, considered one of the front-runners.

The Revenant, a definitely on-the-radar film for the Oscar season, is directed by Inarritu, known for last year’s Best Picture winner Birdman, and stars DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, and Domhnall Gleeson, and was in a very limited release starting Christmas Day before opening wide on Friday.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is, of course, the newest entry in the long-thought-dead film franchise, renewed by Disney in their purchase of Lucasfilm. It also feature Gleeson, who, no matter what this weekend, comes out a winner.

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Both films are in wide release right now.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

So what do you think? Does Star Wars deserve another week at the top or are you out in the wild with Leo fighting to take the #1? Let me know!

Jack Frost (1998)

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Director: Troy Miller

Cast: Michael Keaton, Kelly Preston, Joseph Cross, Mark Addy, Henry Rollins

Screenplay: Mark Steven Johnson, Steve Bloom, Jonathan Roberts, Jeff Cesario

101 mins. Rated PG for mild language.

 

Hey everyone, another year, another 12 Days of Christmas! I’m glad you joined me on this ride again. Let’s begin by looking back on a film that I initially didn’t care for but wanted to revisit: Jack Frost.

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No, I’m not talking about the horror film, but yes, one day I’ll show you that. This is the Michael Keaton (Birdman, Spotlight) film.

From director Troy Miller (TV’s Arrested Development, Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd) comes the story of a musician named Jack Frost (Keaton) who hasn’t been able to juggle his personal life with that of his family, including wife Gabby (Kelly Preston, Jerry Maguire, Casino Jack) and son Charlie (Joseph Cross, Lincoln, Milk). Then, one fateful snowy night, Jack is involved in an accident while driving home to set things straight with his family and dies. Yeah, you heard right, he dies. Deadzo. Then, the following year, as the Frost family struggles to cope with the anniversary of Jack’s death, something magical happens. We don’t really know what, but the important thing is that Jack Frost comes back in the form of a wise-cracking pun-filled living snowman. Jack has little time to set his affairs in order and right the wrongs of his life, so with help from his son Charlie, Jack sets out to prove he’s the “coolest” dad ever (hot damn, even I can’t believe I just wrote that).

On second viewing of Jack Frost, I was sad to find that my initial thoughts on the film hadn’t changed. I felt this strange feeling of disappointment that so much could go wrong here. I happen to think that Michael Keaton is one of the greatest and yet underappreciated actors currently working (and I love that he received such notoriety for last year’s Birdman), but I don’t think he had much to work with here. The script is so poorly written, giving way for too much fluff in a film that should be a dad trying to right his wrongs. For one thing, a ball is dropped by never letting Jack interact with his wife. Being a man back from the great beyond, I would want to see my wife, tell her I love her, and give everything I could to make her understand that I’m okay up there, but Jack doesn’t get to do that. Instead, he has a snowball fight, and a sledding scene, which could be fun, but give me something here.

I didn’t have a lot of problems performance-wise because I don’t think the fault can be placed on the performers. This script is riddled with disappointment.

And don’t tell me that the film is meant to be a heart-warming tale of a father and son, because I see what it wants to be and raise it a level by asking why the story exists. What’s the why here? Why did Jack come back? Why as a snowman? And why not let him have the chance to do something about this? This story seems like the biggest fudge-up in existence and makes whoever or whatever is responsible for Jack’s return seem like a jerk.

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In the end, I had a lot of questions hanging after finishing the film even on the second view. The visual effects were pretty good for the time and haven’t aged that poorly, but under better scribes and the work of a better director, this story could have given our actors a playground to explore, but instead, we get a botched attempt at schmaltzy sentimentality that fails to connect to viewers.

 

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 12 Days of Christmas, click here.

31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 17 – Beetlejuice (1988)

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Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Michael Keaton, Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Jeffrey Jones, Catherine O’Hara, Winona Ryder

Screenplay: Michael McDowell, Warren Skaaren

92 mins. Rated PG for adult situations/language and violence.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Makeup

 

I remember really enjoying the animated Beetlejuice television series as a kid. When my mother finally introduced me to the idea that it was preceded by a live-action film, I just about went crazy. When she told me that it was going to be on television that night, I lost it. I saw it. I loved it. I still love it.

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Meet the Maitlands: Adam (Alec Baldwin, The Departed, Aloha) and Barbara (Geena Davis, Thelma & Louise, In a World…). They just died and now confined to an afterlife in their home. But when Charles (Jeffrey Jones, Sleepy Hollow, 10.0 Earthquake) and Delia (Catherine O’Hara, The Nightmare Before Christmas, A.C.O.D.) Deetz move in, accompanied by outcast daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder, Black Swan, Homefront), they are forced to go to extreme situations to haunt the Deetzes into moving out. In steps Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton, Birdman, Minions), a bioexorcist who specializes in getting people to move out of their dwellings, but the self-described “ghost with the most” has an agenda of his own, and the Maitlands have just gotten in too deep.

Beetlejuice came after director Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Big Eyes) greated great success as director of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and used his clout to reveal his true genius with the visual medium as a gothic director of merit. Beetlejuice is an excellent exercise in tone, cinematography, storytelling, and excitement.

It seems as though everyone knows their place in this film, from Baldwin and Davis playing the timless Maitlands to the big city quirky Deetzes, and especially an often overlooked performance from Glenn Shaddix, who plays the smug and cynical Otho (after Shaddix’s death in 2010, the famous Day-O from the film played at the end of the funeral). Otho’s role in driving the plot with his hubris-filled attempts at showing his wide array of skills gives the story so much flavor.

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From a storytelling perspective, Beetlejuice proves that you don’t have to explain away the mysteries of your film. The script from Michael McDowell and Warren Skaaren was rewritten from being a straight horror film with several cliché plot points into the afterlife character study that it is today. It is arguably one of Tim Burton’s finest works, and is easily viewable to any audience in any time, even if some of the effects have not dated well.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Batman, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, click here.

[Batman Day] Batman (1989)

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Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance

Screenplay: Sam Hamm, Warren Skaaren

126 mins. Rated PG-13.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration

 

Happy Batman Day! I think, in honor of the legendary Caped Crusader’s special day, we should look back on the 1989 Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Big Eyes) film, Batman, featuring Michael Keaton (Birdman, Minions) as the tycoon-turned-hero.

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On the dark criminal-filled streets of Gotham, tough guy Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson, The Shining, How Do You Know) has been betrayed by his boss, villainous gangster Carl Grissom (Jack Palance, The Swan Princess, Tango & Cash) and now, disfigured by a vat of toxic chemicals, he has donned a new persona, the Joker. Commissioner James Gordon (Pat Hingle, The Land Before Time, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby) and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Billy Dee Williams, Star Wars – Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Fanboys) are powerless to stop him, but there is hope in the guise of the near-mythical masked vigilante Batman (Keaton) to stop the incoming crimewave.

Batman is a strange but not entirely out of line choice for director Tim Burton, who had previously worked on dark horror-comedies like Beetlejuice and the short film Frankenweenie. Burton had a very tall order to deliver on, having a pantheon of stories to honor is his depiction of Bruce Wayne and his story, and fans were not too thrilled with the decision to cast Keaton in the role.

I think I can say wholeheartedly that fans were proven wrong. Michael Keaton kills it in this role. His decision to play Bruce as an unhinged man, fully committed to his insane lifestyle is what drives his performance home. He fits perfectly in Burton’s over-the-top occasionally overtly-goofied version of Gotham.

Add to that an absolutely bonkers portrayal of The Joker given by a perfect casting choice in Jack Nicholson. Nicholson almost passed up the opportunity to play the villain, but thankfully, due to a considerable offer, he signed on. This is also the first time ever that viewers received a Joker origin story. Up until that point, and in many subsequent versions of the character’s tale, we do not get the answers to why he is the way he is. This origin is perhaps not as powerful as the mystery surrounding the character, though.

Now, from a technical perspective, Batman is hit-and-miss. The set decoration, for which the film won an Oscar, is incredible, but from a sound perspective, I believe the film mostly misses the mark. The sound mixing is a real loss, and the idea of jamming a great theme from Danny Elfman (I can’t believe I just said that) with original music from Prince was a huge mistake.

I should point out that I do love the opening titles. How about that fantastic theme? Am I right? Another interesting tidbit from this film is in the sequence where an underground doctor is fixing up Napier after the incident with the toxic chemicals. The tools used to operate actually came from the Little Shop of Horrors props, which was remade from a 1960 film featuring Jack Nicholson way before being famous. Movies are fun, eh?

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Batman wouldn’t have worked if it were made in a different time period. It is darker than the overtly campy 1960s iteration and yet still embraces the silliness more so than Christopher Nolan’s self-contained trilogy. I still find the film, despite its shortcomings (seriously, how do people not know who Bruce Wayne is), to be an interesting and enjoying piece of pop art, and it was a ton of fun to revisit.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

  

For my review of Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, click here.

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

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Director: Louis Letterrier

Cast: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, Tim Blake Nelson, Ty Burrell, William Hurt

Screenplay: Zak Penn

112 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence, some frightening sci-fi images, and brief suggestive content.

 

In 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe began in a silent but deadly fashion with two superhero releases: Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. The former was a major box office winner and critical darling. The latter was largely dismissed, like every previous incarnation, and hasn’t been referenced much since, due in large part to the difficulties in crafting the film and the replacement of the title actor in The Avengers. The difference between this version of The Incredible Hulk and the previous 2003 film Hulk is that the 2008 film is actually pretty damn good.

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The film is presented in a “Requel” of sorts, chronicling Bruce Banner (Edward Norton, Fight Club, Birdman) and his journey off-the-grid. He has estranged himself from his love Betty Ross (Liv Tyler, TV’s The Leftovers, Armageddon). Betty’s father, General “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt, Into the Wild, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them), continues his obsession with finding Banner and tearing him apart. Ross enlists Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth, Pulp Fiction, Selma), a military mercenary, to help hunt down Bruce. In the process, Blonsky is given some of the same gamma radiation that turned Bruce into the raging creature known as The Hulk.

First off, I’m not going to try and convince you that this is a Best Picture quality superhero film. It isn’t. 2008’s The Incredible Hulk is still, to me, a far superior film to Iron Man, but most won’t agree. I find Bruce Banner to be a more likable character. The relationship between him and Betty Ross is powerful and layered. I also find Tim Roth’s portrayal of Emil Blonsky to be a strong and villainous performance and it helped start the trend of strong villains in Marvel films. Director Louis Leterrier (Now You See Me, Clash of the Titans) even helped set up future villains in the process (though so far none of these have come to pass).

Norton’s portrayal of Banner is great, but the problem with him came from constant rewrites and the fact that Edward Norton is a terrible person to work with on a film set (see Birdman for more info). I can completely understand his replacement with Mark Ruffalo, though it still was a bad way to create this character.

As far as this film’s relationship to the MCU, there are references in there, but they are very quick and underplayed. A lot of references are found to Stark Industries in the opening credits. Then there is the major callback to Tony Stark in the final scene. There are also some moments of setup to the future Captain America: The First Avenger, even a cut scene revealing his fate. Captain America and The Incredible Hulk have a lot in common, so it helps to introduce both at the same time. We will get to finally see some more connective tissues in next year’s Captain America: Civil War when William Hurt returns as General Ross.

The majority of callbacks and references in the film actually highlight the long-storied past of the Hulk on film. There are many moments that call back The Incredible Hulk television series by way of the score and the cameos.

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The Incredible Hulk works as a Requel, meaning it could be a sequel if you enjoyed 2003’s Hulk. If you didn’t, it’s a great opening act. Director Leterrier isn’t anything special, but the film employs some great performances and a terrific screenplay from superhero screenwriter Zak Penn (TV’s Alphas, X2: X-Men United). If you skipped The Incredible Hulk when it came out, take some time to visit it. If it has been a while, take some time to revisit it.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.

For my review of Anthony & Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.

 

You can find Kyle A. Goethe on Twitter @AlmightyGoatman

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