[Batman Day] Batman Begins (2005)

Director: Christopher Nolan

Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, Ket Watanabe

Screenplay: David S. Goyer, Christopher Nolan

140 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense action violence, disturbing images and some thematic elements.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Cinematography

IMDb Top 250: #116 (as of 9/14/18)

 

Happy Batman Day, everyone! Celebrate with some comic books, cartoons, and Batman movies, like Batman Begins.

The Batman franchise was in a bad place in the early 2000s. After the trainwreck that was Batman & Robin, the franchise was limping and needed to be fixed. Even myself, a hardcore non-retconner, can say that there was no other way. In stepped Christopher Nolan (Interstellar, Dunkirk).

Batman Begins takes the story of Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale, American Hustle, Hostiles) all the way back to its not-so-humble start. By now, we all know the big piece, the death of Bruce’s parents, but Batman Begins delves into his complex relationship with butler Alfred (Michael Caine, The Quiet American, Sherlock Gnomes), his combat training with The League of Shadows, led by Ra’s Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe, The Last Samurai, Isle of Dogs), and the mistakes he makes along the way to the hero we all know and love. As Bruce is honing his skills, crime boss Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton, Denial) and corrupt psychologist Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy, 28 Days Later, TV’s Peaky Blinders), working for an unseen nefarious foe, are setting Gotham City down the path to destruction from within, and Batman, with the help of Sergeant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour, The Hitman’s Bodyguard) may be the only one who can stop them.

This was the kick in the ass that the Batman franchise needed to stay fresh. Something I’ve learned in the years since Batman Begins is that there will always be a new Batman. He’s like Robin Hood and Peter Pan. They just keep coming back. This comeback, however, is just that damn good.

Christian Bale kicks ass as both Bruce Wayne and Batman. He chose to portray each half of his persona as a completely separate character, as it he had multiple personality syndrome and Batman is just another person living within him. Then there’s The Voice. I’m a firm defender of The Voice within Nolan’s realistic take on the Caped Crusader. Otherwise someone would eventually be able to figure it out. It is notable that he packed on the muscle for the role, the insane method actor that he is, having just come off The Machinist.

Speaking of the realism, Nolan took special care to craft a Gotham as realistic as possible. The gothic tone of the World’s Greatest Detective is still there, but Batman’s tech is as grounded in reality as possible. Even its villains stick to somewhat tangible backgrounds, with Crane’s Scarecrow become a truly horrific legend. Murphy’s portrayal is near and dear to my heart with the Scarecrow being my favorite Batman villain, and while originally I took issue with the way Nolan elected to recreate this character, I soon found myself heavily engaged in his frightening take. Ra’s Al Ghul is another character that usually takes on an otherworldly visage in that, if I am correct, he is often shown as having survived for over 600 years, dying and reviving due to The Lazarus Pits. Now, it could be true of the character we see in the finished film, but Nolan never once brings it up. In fact, the way he portrays Ra’s Al Ghul is haunting in its simplicity.

What’s great about Bruce Wayne is how compelling he is without the Batsuit, and how driven he is, just like his counterpart. Being the World’s Greatest Detective is something that applies to both Wayne and Batman, and Nolan, alongside co-screenwriter David S. Goyer, gave us time to connect with Bruce before introducing his superheroic other half.

I think if there was one thing I didn’t like about the film, it falls to some marketing mistakes and the fact that the film doesn’t firmly enough plant itself as being a reboot. Much like the ill-fated Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, Batman Begins almost plays itself up as a prequel to the 1989 Tim Burton Batman. There are clues as the film goes on, most notably in the death of Bruce’s parents, but as the convoluted mythology of the previous Batman series never really had itself nailed down, one wondered if the film was connected, and it wasn’t until its follow-up, The Dark Knight, released in 2008 that we finally got our answers. I just think fans struggled throughout the film’s runtime trying to figure out what it was.

Nitpicks aside, Batman Begins is nearly perfect. There are some slight issues with things like placing the film within a franchise timeline and a few acting slips (looking at Katie Holmes on this one), but all in all, Batman Begins isn’t just one of the best Batman films, it’s one of the best films of any kind.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, click here.

For my review of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, click here.

 

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[#2018oscardeathrace] Baby Driver (2017)

Director: Edgar Wright

Cast: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Eiza Gonzales, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal

Screenplay: Edgar Wright

112 mins. Rated R for violence and language throughout.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Film Editing [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing [Pending]

 

I missed out on Baby Driver last year. I made the attempt several times to get to the theater to catch it, but each time, I ended up missing out on it. It hit home video and I picked it up, and for months, it sat on my watch pile. Thankfully, I needed to check it off my Oscar Death Race. So here we are.

Baby (Ansel Elgort, The Fault in Our Stars, Allegiant) is a getaway driver who works somewhat freelance for Doc (Kevin Spacey, American Beauty, TV’s House of Cards). He suffers from tinnitus, and he plays music to drown it out. He is working his way toward paying off a debt to Doc and finally being free when he meets Debora (Lily James, Cinderella, Darkest Hour), an attractive diner waitress he falls head over heels for. Baby sees a future for him and Debora that is without crime, but when Doc pulls him back in, Baby finds himself in a situation where he is forced to betray everything he knows to escape.

This is the first film from writer/director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) since completing his Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy, and it’s a hell of a way to break out of the wheelhouse. Wright’s direction is strongly tuned to the music (he reportedly wrote each scene with a specific song in mind and sent an iPod with a playlist out with each copy of the screenplay) so that the film feels like a big concert action film. His writing gives the feeling of larger-than-life characters existing within a realistic landscape.

Ansel Elgort shines as Baby with a performance mostly physical. Elgort uses his body language as dialogue here to react to the building tension, especially in the final act of the film, but everyone in this film feels so strongly placed, from Lily James’s Debora to Jon Hamm (Marjorie Prime, TV’s Mad Men) as Buddy (Buddy was written with Hamm in mind, and rightfully so). I also really liked Jon Bernthal (The Wolf of Wall Street, Pilgrimage) as Griff, though I would have liked to see more of him. To be fair, though, Jon Bernthal should be in every film.

I wasn’t all that taken with Jamie Foxx (Ray, Sleepless) as Bats, though. It just felt like he took his character from Horrible Bosses and reused him here. He isn’t terribly interesting and I would have liked to see someone else embody that psychotic thief.

But the real star of the movie here is the soundtrack and Wright’s expert handling of the action set pieces. This movie got my toes tapping more than once throughout the runtime. Wright’s focus on practical driving over CGI as much as possible helps to maintain a good pace for the film, one that doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Baby Driver is one of the best action films of the last decade. It’s an enjoyable romp with terrific performances and a lot of heart both in front of and behind the camera. A passion project from Wright, the movie is similar to the director’s previous work in that it’s wholly rewatchable and endlessly fun. This is one to seek out if you missed it.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Edgar Wright’s The World’s End, click here.

 

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[#2018oscardeathrace] Darkest Hour (2017)

Director: Joe Wright

Cast: Gary Oldman, Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup, Ben Mendelsohn

Screenplay: Anthony McCarten

125 mins. Rated PG-13 for some thematic material.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Picture [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actor [Gary Oldman] [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Production Design [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Cinematography [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Makeup and Hairstyling [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Costume Design [Pending]

 

I had been under the belief that Darkest Hour would not score a Best Picture nomination. While it seemed to be trending for it late last year, that steam was lost by 2018’s start. I don’t think there were any doubts of its nominations for Best Actor in Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Hitman’s Bodyguard) and Makeup/Hairstyling, but the question looms: is Darkest Hour worthy of Best Picture?

Darkest Hour recounts a small but important slice in the life of Winston Churchill (Oldman), specifically his appointment to Prime Minister to his fateful speech at Parliament. His strained working relationships with secretary Elizabeth (Lily James, Cinderella, Baby Driver) and King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, TV’s Bloodlines) are particularly highlighted, as is the disdain felt by his predecessor Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time) and Edward Wood, Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane, The Hours, TV’s Game of Thrones).

Darkest Hour is a damn fine character piece. The work given by Gary Oldman here is exemplary, and I dare say it like we always do, it may be his best work to date. That’s truly saying something about the prolific actor who seems to get better and better with each outing. He deserves the Oscar. I’m calling it.

That isn’t to take away from the amazing work from the entire cast. Lily James shines in her scenes, Dillane and Mendelsohn are fully fleshed out adversaries, and Kristin Scott Thomas (The English Patient, Only God Forgives) is terrific as Clementine Churchill. It only breaks my heart that we didn’t get to see the late great John Hurt as Neville Chamberlain. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing bad about Pickup’s performance, but I feel like Hurt was perfect for the role and the film’s dedication to him proves how missed he is as a screen presence.

Director Joe Wright’s film is an ambling presentation of the stellar work of its cast. The faults come with the pacing of the film. The movie loses its focus as it inches closer to its finale, and I feel like the film was nominated purely because of Oldman stellar achievement. The pacing doesn’t kill the film, but I think it does lose its Best Picture quality with it.

Overall, I won’t fault this tremendous achievement. Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour is a great movie, and it works even better if you double-feature it with Dunkirk or, hell, put The Imitation Game in there too for a WWII marathon. While the film gets a little too meandering at times, this is high-quality film-making from Wright. This timely film is definitely worth your’s.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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[#2018oscardeathrace] The Nominees for the 90th Academy Awards

 

My favorite time of the year for film: The Oscar Death Race. I’m ready for it this year, are you?

The Oscar Death Race is a yearly attempt to see all or most of the Oscar Nominees. It officially kicks off after the nominations, which were announced early this morning.

Here are the nominations for this year’s Academy Awards, hosted again by Jimmy Kimmel.

 

Best Picture

 

Best Director

 

Best Actor

  • Timothee Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name
  • Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
  • Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
  • Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
  • Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

 

Best Actress

 

Best Supporting Actor

 

Best Supporting Actress

  • Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
  • Allison Janney, I, Tonya
  • Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread
  • Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
  • Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water

 

Best Original Screenplay

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

 

Best Animated Feature Film

  • The Boss Baby
  • The Breadwinner
  • Coco
  • Ferdinand
  • Loving Vincent

 

Best Foreign Language Film

  • A Fantastic Woman
  • The Insult
  • Loveless
  • On Body and Soul
  • The Square

 

Best Documentary Feature

  • Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
  • Faces Places
  • Icarus
  • Last Men in Aleppo
  • Strong Island

 

Best Documentary Short

  • Edith + Eddie
  • Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405
  • Heroin(e)
  • Knife Skills
  • Traffic Stop

 

Best Live Action Short Film

  • DeKalb Elementary
  • The Eleven O’Clock
  • My Nephew Emmett
  • The Silent Child
  • Watu Wote/All of Us

 

Best Animated Short Film

  • Dear Basketball
  • Garden Party
  • Lou
  • Negative Space
  • Revolting Rhymes

 

Best Original Score

 

Best Original Song

  • “Mighty River” from Mudbound
  • “Mystery of Love” from Call Me by Your Name
  • “Remember Me” from Coco
  • “Stand Up for Something” from Marshall
  • “This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman

 

Best Sound Editing

 

Best Sound Mixing

 

Best Production Design

 

Best Cinematography

 

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

  • Darkest Hour
  • Victoria & Abdul
  • Wonder

 

Best Costume Design

 

Best Film Editing

 

Best Visual Effects

 

There you have it. I better get started.

#2018oscardeathrace

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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Dunkirk (2017)

Director: Christopher Nolan

Cast: Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D’Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy

Screenplay: Christopher Nolan

106 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense war experience and some language.

IMDb Top 250: #209 (as of 1/16/2018)

 

Dunkirk is a departure for Christopher Nolan (Inception, Interstellar). The director is known for his high-concept sci-fi epics and comic book adaptations like The Dark Knight. Now, he turns his keen eye for storytelling to history in a film based on the Dunkirk evacuation of World War II.

Dunkirk’s story is laid out in three different perspectives. First, on the beach, where Tommy (Fionn Whitehead, Him, The Children Act) and other soldiers await rescue from the sea. At sea, Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies, The BFG) and his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney, TV’s The Last Post) are joined by Peter’s friend George (Barry Keoghan, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, ’71) in their small civilian boat headed from Weymouth to the beach to rescue the stranded soldiers. In the air above the beach, the pilot Farrier (Tom Hardy, The Revenant, Mad Max: Fury Road) flies his Spitfire plane and tries to take out as many enemies as possible with his limited fuel depleting. As the three plots intermingle, director Nolan shows a multi-layered view of the intense rescue mission that could save or doom the lives of 400,000 men.

As per usual, Nolan picked an interesting layout for the film by introducing the triptych nature of three interwoven stories that each runs on a different timeline. For example, the story of the pilots occurs over the course of an hour or so but in the film, Nolan runs this concurrently with the story of Mr. Dawson, which takes place over the course of a day. The time on the beach runs about a week in length. The nature of the timeline can get rather confusing for some viewers, but in running all three pieces together, it gives equal weight to everyone’s contributions and creates an interesting puzzle to put together, one I rather enjoyed.

The characters in the film have virtually no dialogue and no character development, something that I grew to appreciate on my second viewing of the film after understanding Nolan’s intention, but I feel like having something, anything, to make us care about these characters outside of their present debacle would have been better.

Dunkirk is a technical masterpiece, and if you missed the chance to see it in IMAX 70 mm, then I am sorry. The film is run time makes it a tight and exhilarating marvel to behold, and, combined with Darkest Hour, would be a splendid double feature. My heart jumped several times during the viewing, and even with the loss of character-building, I was entertained wholly by the film’s presentation. This is a powerful story that I knew very little about until seeing Nolan’s film. Dunkirk comes highly recommended.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, click here.

 

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