Archive for Batman Begins

Wayne, Bane & Michael Caine

Posted in Comics, FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 11, 2012 by dcairns

Fiona wasn’t sure she wanted to see THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. I said I’d go myself, but she forbade me. So we eventually saw it together (and in IMAX) and in fact she liked it best of all three films — mainly for Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman/Selena Kyle, the only reliable source of humour and sexiness. She was  fan of Michelle Pfeiffer’s work in the role, but Hathaway, though less feline, is more woman-shaped, a fact Nolan even accentuates by having her ride a motorcycle in the doggy position.

This one does seem to me to succeed better than the previous two films, and in fact it could be argued that Nolan’s series defies most if not all historical precedent by improving from film to film.

There’s nothing maybe as extraordinary as Heath Ledger’s remarkable Joker — but to my own surprise I enjoyed Tom Hardy’s Bane, with his ridiculous voice (sounding at times, more in phrasing than accent, like James Mason talking into a polystyrene cup). For a man who’s been through so much (spending his life in the world’s worst prison, having his face smashed off), Bane seems to be constantly very, very happy — I’m judging more by his vocal delivery than by his facial expressions, admittedly. He’s quite inspirational in that way. Of course, he does murder almost everybody he meets. I’m reminded of James Coburn’s diagnosis of CIA assassin Godfrey Cambridge in THE PRESIDENT’S ANALYST — “That’s why you’re so well-balanced: you can get out you’re hostility by actually killing people!”

The film is dotted with favourite actors — Nolan even finds a good use for Matthew Modine, an appealing thesp who seemed to go out of style once his eternal boyishness ceased to match his biological age — and striking faces (stand up, Burn Gorman).

Fiona always maintained that Christian Bale’s Batman voice is that of the dog who can say “sausages” (and “Anthony” and “a jar”) –

It’s nice here to see Bayle given what seems like more talking scenes as Bruce Wayne, who talks like a person and doesn’t require a cheerful northerner to manipulate his jaw muscles.

I did feel a bit sad for Michael Caine, who does too much blubbering in close-up — the kind of big emotion that would play less unpleasantly from a distance. I’ve never had any desire to see Caine blubber (Billy Wilder suggested that strong emotion is best filmed from behind). Incidentally, Alfred the butler in the comics is usually written as a sardonic geezer who masks his devotion to Bruce Wayne with his cutting wit — make him sentimental and the character really loses all depth.

The film is generally better at emotion on the grand, operatic and epic scale rather than the human — which is true of most blockbusters these days, but particularly Nolan’s. Still, it matters than Nolan can deliver the excess required to do this kind of thing well, as attested by the opening aeroplane stunt (featuring a welcome Aidan Gillen) which is gloriously absurd yet put over with po-faced conviction.

Nolan’s shooting and cutting of action has been a talking point throughout this series. There was a cunning plan behind the incoherent cutting of the fights in the first movie — make the audience as confused as Batman’s enemies. The trouble with that idea is that an action movie audience would rather see a stunning action sequence than be plunged into the confusion felt by the third goon from the left just before the caped crusader punches his lights out. The second film was altogether less messy, although by delayed effect it picked up most of the bad reviews for confusing staging (I think only the truck chase really lost me), though I’d agree there was room for improvement.

This time round, we get a chance to see the fights in wide-ish, waist-high shots that actually last more than one punch. Unfortunately, Bale or his stuntman in that heavy outfit can’t really move as fast as we always imagined Batman should be able, so the fights (some set in broad daylight) feel clunky at times. And Batman has a disconcerting way of going in without a plan and getting his ass kicked. The Batman written by Grant Morrison in the comics would never do that, and certainly not twice in a row with the same opponent. It not only makes the character seem dim-witted, and it’s dramatically unsatisfying to see him fail to learn.

But I’m being a touch over-critical — I enjoyed the movie’s sweep, and felt the plot delivered some good surprises that shouldn’t have been possible with such  well-known mythos. Some of this is done by changing character names, and some of it might not have worked if I were more quick-witted, but it felt satisfying to me to find a couple of familiar comic book figures, hiding in plain sight.

“Why so serious?”


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 19, 2010 by dcairns

If there’s a problem with Christopher Nolan — and I submit, ladies and gentlemen, that there IS a problem with Christopher Nolan — it’s perhaps that, with all his impressive gifts for visualisation, he doesn’t always make the best choices in what to visualise and how to visualise it. My Nolan Problem dates back to his over-cutty, bowdlerized remake of INSOMNIA, and came back to bite me with the incoherent set-piece fights in BATMAN BEGINS (which I mulled over here). I liked THE PRESTIGE a good deal, but had a nagging feeling that the last shot could have crystallized the story a whole lot better if we’d seen clearly the contents of lots and lots of big jars. Instead of a great “Ah-hah!” we get a big “Ah-hah… I think.” But maybe he likes that — the end of the new one could be described as aiming for just that feeling.

Anyhow, I liked THE DARK KNIGHT fine, for what it was — “Big movies have got to get better,” said Soderbergh, before making OCEAN’S 11 thru 13, increasingly proving his own point without solving the problem — and Nolan is closer to attaining this improvement than most of his contemporaries. The problems with TDK are perhaps inherent to the comic book action thriller, which is to say they’re not problems at all for the audience that digs those movies… I like my action sequences to advance the plot, personally…

My INCEPTION Problem has a little to do with clarity — I see no reason why the set-up of the equipment used for dream invasions couldn’t make it pictorially quite clear just WHO is invading and just WHO is being invaded, which would help in the early setting up of the rules. But then I did quite like having to struggle occasionally to follow the story, which is an unfamiliar sensation in modern cinema.

I find the title slightly comical, but here I have to digress and explain why. A few friends were talking movies, and they came up with what seemed at the time like a pretty good thriller idea, set on an oil tanker in the North Sea. One of them suddeny became very excited: “Oh, oh! I know what it should be called! The perfect title!” Drum roll. His friends lean forward in suspense. “CONTAINMENT,” he says.

To me, INCEPTION is like CONTAINMENT — it comes on quite strong as a word sound, but it doesn’t follow through on the level of meaning. It’s not an exciting word.

But my REAL Problem With Inception — which essentially I enjoyed, I have to say — is that the rules set up in the training sequence seem to allow for some fantastic visuals that you couldn’t get in another movie: folding Paris, for instance. And the scary, paranoid threat of all the extras turning hostile when you do things like that. And that isn’t followed through in the action climax, or not to a satisfactory level. The Escher staircase and its variants are very nice, but shouldn’t there be something even bigger than the Paris roll-up? And the way everything explodes when a dream collapses — shouldn’t that have been repeated? Instead we get some well-staged action sequences with guns and explosives. The problem here is that those kind of sequences could occur in any movie — Nolan could have saved the snow attack for a BATMAN movie and we’d be none the wiser.

(My dinner companion of Wednesday night shrewdly points out that this big shoot-em-up seems inspired by Anthony Mann’s THE HEROES OF TELEMARK, but there’s nothing to compare to the wordless, music-less, hushed advance through the snow in that movie, which is sheer poetry.)

So while I enjoyed Joseph Gordon Levitt fighting on the ceiling like a two-fisted Fred Astaire, I wanted more of that kind of thing. A really interesting story world is summoned up here, but the pay-off is overly intercut action sequences (shades of Lucas) which don’t sufficiently exploit the unique qualities of that vision.

Still — the pluses are a really strong supporting cast for Leonardo DiCaprio (who’s not having much luck with the ladies lately) — the very lovely Ellen Page gives it warmth, Tom Hardy and Dileep Rao (most compulsively, amusingly watchable Hollywood new discovery of this century?) give it humour, Watanable and Postlethwaite and Caine and Berenger give it class, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives it that indefinable Joseph Gordon-Levitt Feeling — some fantastic environments, including of course the crumbling city (give me a crumbling city and I’m a happy fellow) and the full-blooded, if derivative, bombast of Hans Zimmer’s score.

Previous Film Syndrome

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 10, 2008 by dcairns

Weakening at last, Fiona and I trotted along to our local megagooglegigaplex to see THE DARK NIGHT, and against expectations, rather enjoyed it. As far as the weaknesses go, David Bordwell expresses it pretty-near perfectly in this post on his astounding blog.

What surprised me pleasantly was how visually coherent it was. BATMAN BEGINS annoyed the seven hecks out of me with it’s illegible, chaotic fight scenes, shot with a long lens on a wobblecam and edited by a crack team of epileptic speed-freaks with a digital bacon-slicer. Christopher Nolan, perhaps history’s most boring human, has droned at length about the purpose behind this “plan” — since he was introducing Batman to the audience and to the criminals he’s battering the lungs out of, he wanted a sense of not quite being able to catch how fast and effective this guy is. Nolan, as INSOMNIA showed, is a gifted guy with a weakness for the False Good Idea, as producer David Brown calls it (in INSOMNIA the F.G.I. was to cut very rapidly to give a sense of sleep-deprived Al Pacino’s disorientation. Of course the effect was headache inducing and indistinguishable from very poor filmmaking, causing me to wonder if Nolan was just trying to protect a bad central performance: was Pacino back on the sauce?). In BATBEG the F.G.I. was the assumption that we’d be more interested in getting a sense of the bad guys’ perspective than we would be in WATCHING THE ACTION in what’s supposed to be AN ACTION MOVIE.

What puzzled me at the time was how nobody seemed to mind: I can’t recall any critics mentioning this rather unusual, extreme approach (which pre-dates Paul Greengrass’s action fiascoes with the BOURNE series). I guess somebody probably did, but I read a bunch of reviews and was still surprised when I saw the movie. Theory: critics were so surprised at the film’s contrasting approach to the Joel Schumacher dayglo roller-disco BATMAN AND ROBIN, they shut down most of their faculties to prevent neural overload.

Fast-forward to right now, and scarcely a review fails to mention the incoherence of Nolan’s action scenes in DARK KNIGHT. Yet the film is not particularly fast-cut, by modern action movie standards, and only twice did I have any trouble following what was happening. (1) The truck chase, which has some impressive stuff but goes on so long it outlasted my ability to concentrate on BIG THINGS CRASHING INTO EACH OTHER and (b) a brief skirmish in Eric Roberts’ (Yay! Eric Roberts!) night-club, where the strobe lighting and a fairly clear Roberts’ POV make it obvious that the incoherence is an intentional effect, and I didn’t mind it.

What’s going on, of course, is the title of this post. Reviewers have caught up with their misgivings about the previous film, and are now pouring them over this one. Some filmmakers have actually said that reviewers ALWAYS review the previous film, although I think it’s at least as common for them to attack a current film for not doing what the preceding one did. I first noticed this when leafing through old issues of the Monthly Film Bulletin, and then elsewhere. Reviews of Richard Lester’s elegiac ROBIN AND MARIAN were kicking it for not being as funny as his THE FOUR MUSKETEERS. Turning to a previous issue, I found reviewers of THE FOUR MUSKETEERS smacking it around for not being as funny as THE THREE MUSKETEERS. Now, since M4 has a somewhat tragic ending, it’s just possible that this lessening of belly-laughs was intentional. Since ROBIN AND MARIAN has a totally tragic ending (maybe the original title, THE DEATH OF ROBIN HOOD, would have helped) and very few jokes, most of them early on, it should have been apparent that humour was less central this time round. But no. “Nothing to laugh at at all,” moaned Leslie Halliwell.

It should just be a warning to anybody looking at a movie, to look at it clean, without projecting another movie on top. I’m certain I’ve been guilty of this myself, but giving the syndrome a name, with a catchy abbreviation — P.M.S. — may help avoid it.

As for THE DARK KNIGHT, it’s far from perfect, but of course Heath Ledger is scarifically grand (you can see him thinking, Imagine if Brad Dourif had too much saliva…) and Aaron Eckhart, in his Two-Face mode, looks like Kirk Douglas cartooned by Basil Wolverton. Which is an agreeably eccentric choice in a film that seems to be at pains to avoid any trace of comic-bookiness.


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