[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.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

March 2015 Preview

 

I hope you all enjoyed the Academy Awards. Now we are deep into 2015 and away we go!

As I say every month, these are my predictions based on buzz, trailers, and my abilities at reading into these things.

Don’t hate the player. Hate the game.

 

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Chappie

Director Neill Blomkamp, fresh off the news that he will next be helming a new Alien film with Sigourney Weaver, returns to creating culturally significant science fiction with Chappie. Chappie is an artificially intelligent robot created help mankind. Chappie must defend himself from enemies of robot life. I love Blomkamp’s work from District 9 and from the early trailers, I am absolutely stoked for Chappie. Definite good buzz.

 

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Faults

Faults is a cult that has taken Claire into its commune. Claire’s parents hire an expert on mind control to successfully free her from the cult’s clutches. Faults comes from the producers of You’re Next and The Guest, and I certainly enjoyed those films, so I am leaning towards the better side of Faults.

 

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Unfinished Business

Vince Vaughn plays a small-business owner who has traveled to Europe with his associates to close a major deal. On the way, their trip becomes unrailed by sex fetish event and a global summit. Vince Vaughn’s recent work has been a major disappointment but he does have the added abilities of Tom Wilkinson and Dave Franco, who could pull this film in the right direction. Still up in the air.

 

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Cinderella

Director Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella reimage follows the standard story of a young girl and her abusive stepmother. When the prince throws a ball inviting every unmarried young woman, Cinderella desperately wants to go, and with the help of a Fairy Godmother, may just get it. I like Branagh’s directing style but I was disappointed by Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. I also don’t like the recent attempts by Disney to make remakes of their classic animated films. Maleficent was one of the better ones (for its alternate take) but I’m still not feeling this one.

 

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Run All Night

Liam Neeson stars as Jimmy Conlon, The Gravedigger, a high-profile hitman working for the mob, until his son, Michael, has a hit put on him. Now Jimmy and Michael has to survive the night filled with mob bosses, gunfire, and lots of explosions. I have found that Neeson’s low-budget action flicks are pretty hit and miss. I’m inclined to enjoy his engagements with Ed Harris. The higher part of the bubble here.

 

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Do You Believe?

This is essentially Valentine’s Day with religious intersections. Not going to be good. And don’t get me that whole thing about religion. I’ll point out, I’m a fairly religious guy, but these kinds of movies mostly fall flat by bad production and poor abilities from the crew. Skip.

 

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The Divergent Series: Insurgent

Insurgent follows the further adventures of Beatrice Prior after she escapes from the city with Four and the other lawbreakers. I was a tremendous hater of Divergent. I thought it was boring and unoriginal and riddled with plotholes. I’m willing to give Insurgent the benefit of the doubt but I’m still not recommending it yet.

 

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The Gunman

Equal parts Taken and an attempt to make American Sniper, The Gunman stars Sean Penn as a Special Forces member with PTSD who must save the woman he loves. Sorry, but I’ve seen Taken already.

 

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Get Hard

Will Ferrell returns to raunchy comedy with Get Hard, where he plays James King, a millionaire who is going to prison for fraud. He enlists Darnell Lewis to train him for jail. I think it looks kind of funny but Kevin Hart, while hilarious, is usually a movie-killer. I’m thinking better, though.

 

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Home

Home is essentially an animated version of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, and while I love Jim Parsons, I do not love Rihanna, and I’m not feeling this one.

 

And here we are at the end. Final tally:

Best Bets: Chappie

On the Bubble: Faults, Unfinished Business, Run All Night, The Divergent Series: Insurgent, Get Hard

Likely Misses: Cinderella, Do You Believe?, The Gunman, Home

 

Enjoy yourself at the movies this month. See Chappie, and maybe take a bit to catch up on the Oscar films as it is pretty sparse this month. See you in April.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2015oscardeathrace] Selma (2014)

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Director: Ava DuVernay

Cast: David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo, Andre Holland, Tessa Thompson, Giovanni Ribisi, Lorraine Toussaint, Stephen James, Wendell Pierce, Common, Alessandro Nivola, Keith Stanfield, Cuba Gooding Jr., Dylan Baker, Tim Roth, Oprah Winfrey

Screenplay: Paul Webb

128 mins. Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material including violence, a suggestive moment, and brief language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year [Awards Not Yet Announced]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song (“Glory” by Common, John Legend) [Awards Not Yet Announced]

 

Selma is the story of a key moment in the life of Martin Luther King, Jr (David Oyelowo, Interstellar, A Most Violent Year): the fight for the right to vote. King has tries to get help from President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson, Batman Begins, The Grand Budapest Hotel), but to no avail. His wife, Coretta (Carmen Ejogo, TV’s Zero Hour, The Purge: Anarchy), would hope to keep him out of harm’s way. But in Selma, Alabama, a woman named Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey, The Color Purple, The Butler) can’t even get registered to vote. King takes his civil rights movement to Selma in hopes of swaying Governor George Wallace (Tim Roth, TV’s Lie to Me, Pulp Fiction) to let them vote.

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While the film Selma isn’t perfect, it does contain some of the more perfect casting and performance work of the past year. David Oyelowo is the spitting visage of the late Dr. King. He has the look, he has the voice, and he has the mannerisms down to a science. Tom Wilkinson plays the former President filled with self-doubt and delusion. Rapper Common (TV’s Hell on Wheels, Smokin’ Aces) gives one of his best roles as James Bevel, as does Wendell Pierce (TV’s The Wire, Parker) in the position of Reverand Hosea Williams. We also get some great turns from some major Hollywood players, like Martin Sheen and Dylan Baker (Spider-Man 2, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues), in small roles to elevate the craft of the other actors to something truly great.

Director Ava DuVernay’s camera is more stoic than static, offering what feels more like a live docu-drama than a sweeping picture, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it did mess with the flow slightly.

I really enjoyed the song “Glory” from Common and John Legend that plays over the closing credits. It displays a plethora of African-American cultural music from the time of Dr. King to present day.

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Ava DuVernay’s Selma is a film that must be watched, if only for the powerful messages it conveys. I honestly did not know as much about this facet of the Civil Rights Movement, in particular the events in Selma, Alabama, and so I found the film engaging and shocking at times, and definitely worth your time.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

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Director: Wes Anderson

Cast: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Edward Norton, Mathieu Amalric, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Lea Seydoux, Jeff Goldblum, Jason Schwartzman, Jude Law, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Tony Revolori

Screenplay: Wes Anderson

100 mins. Rated R for language , some sexual content and violence.

 

Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom, Fantastic Mr. Fox) has a style. It is easy to tell when a movie is a Wes Anderson movie. He has tells. He has a visual sense that he knows he wants. The Grand Budapest Hotel has this notable visual sense that Anderson is known for. It is told in a frame device of a frame device. In the present, a girl opens a memoir by “The Author” (Tom Wilkinson, Batman Begins, Belle) who recounts a tale of his meeting with Zero Moustapha (F. Murray Abraham, TV’s Homeland, Amadeus) who further recounts a tale of his time working as a lobby boy for M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, The Invisible Woman) who is framed for murder. The entirety of the film revolves around this whodunit as Gustave claims he had nothing to do with the death of Madame D (Tilda Swinton, Adaptation, The Zero Theorem). Her family is fighting over her fortune, and one of them may be the one responsible for her death.

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This movie is all over the place. I enjoyed the central premise but I didn’t feel as though the plot stayed in one place long enough to be interesting. I prefer the more calculated Moonrise Kingdom to this piece, which just goes too far out.

Of the actors involved here, I really liked a lot of what was brought to the screen from an acting perspective. I particularly loved Ralph Fiennes as Gustave, who may be more worried about the state of his hotel than about the murder to which he is framed. F. Murray Abraham is a great narrator here. I also really like Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man, John Wick) as the hitman Jopling who has been hired to take out the leads that could link authorities to the true culprit. Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park, Morning Glory) steals absolutely every scene he has here, and I wish he had more screentime. The film also contains a cadre of Anderson cameos from previous collaborators.

Anderson does display a gorgeous cinematography here, the only fault being with the editing job which spends too much time dragging out too many subplots.

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I liked The Grand Budapest Hotel. I didn’t love The Grand Budapest Hotel. It was merely enjoyable but Wes Anderson has done better and can do better. I can see several actors getting nods from the Academy for this film, but you will not see this film on the list of Best Picture nominees.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

What did you think of Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel? Did you stay for the night or check out early? Let me know!

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