Archive for Christian Bale

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?”

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Raging Bale

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on February 2, 2011 by dcairns

To start with the obvious — what a great idea, pairing David O Russell, whose tantrum on the set of I HEART HUCKABEES became the stuff of YouTube legend, with Christian Bale, something of a laughing stock after his meltdown on the set of TERMINATOR SALVATION (and, looking back on it, can anything connected to that film justify taking yourself so seriously?), but before he went nuts and beat up female family members. Throw in Mark Wahlberg, a man with a criminal record for racially motivated attacks in his youth. And Amy Adams once shot a man just to watch him die, so don’t look to her as a steadying influence.

Whatever. THE FIGHTER is still a welcome return for Russell, who made a film about the Gulf War (THREE KINGS) so astute it pretty much makes most of the films about the present war(s) redundant. I didn’t really know what to expect from this new one, which is one of the fun things about Russell. Fiona had been to see THE KING’S SPEECH in the daytime: audience largely populated with pensioners. “That looks exhausting!” says one lady. “And it did!” reported Fiona. Oh, and she enjoyed THE KING’S SPEECH: “Just what I was expecting: a very classy TV movie.”

The most exhausting element in THE FIGHTER is Bale, as motormouth Dicky, crackhead brother and trainer of great white hope Micky (Wahlberg). It’s a very good, big performance. Everybody is big and loud in this movie, with the exception of Wahlberg, who does his speciality: the honest, simple man who’s puzzled by all the wrongness around him. Wahlberg genuinely excels at this, whether it’s in THREE KINGS or PLANET OF THE APES (where a puzzled frown would be an actor’s only survival mechanism), and he brings out the irony of the film’s title: in a family where mother, brother and sisters live their lives in a whirl of expletive hysteria, and in a profession based upon pummeling work colleagues into unconsciousness, Micky is a man who intensely dislikes personal conflict. His reluctance to engage in battle with loved ones in order to carve out just a little corner of control over his own life is the film’s most moving feature.

The film is also funny, with Melissa Leo and her brood of appalling daughters getting most of the laughs. The downside of all this is the danger of the flick devolving into a kind of Jerry Springer marathon, but I don’t think this quite happens — there’s enough insight into the characters to stave of the migraine of white trash pandemonium. Leo’s ability to conjure moments of “How has this happened?” angst never gets old, either, the joke being that How This Has Happened is generally (a) entirely self-apparent and (b) entirely due to Leo’s character’s own actions.

Oh, and this might be my new favourite Amy Adams performance: I’ve sometimes found her a bit mannered, like she’s making unusual stylistic choices when just being straight with us would be better. Here she seems extremely real, within the movie’s slightly hyped-up melo reality. Her most “interesting” moment is a love scene, where we see how the character uses sex as a kind of dramatic performance, which is interesting and sweetly observed.

As much as I enjoyed this, I’m more psyched to see Russell’s next project, NAILED, which he’s a writer on (unlike here), and which sounds properly bonkers. THE FIGHTER is, at core, somewhat conventional, and this really emerges during the boxing stuff, which eventually turns into a ROCKY sequel style tale of underdog triumph. Nobody since RAGING BULL seems to have come up with a stylistic palette that doesn’t seem cribbed from Scorsese (Michael Mann tried, in ALI, didn’t quite make it), no doubt because Scorsese’s approach was so varied and so effective. Russell uses TV-style lo-def video, which is nice, but the onscreen titles announcing each fight, the slomo, the swish pans, all seem drawn from Scorsese’s model, without the really gothic excesses or the tactile qualities of black & white or the subjective feel created by Jack Warner’s sound editing.

I don’t want to sound like I’m down on this movie: I actually found the shamelessly manipulative final fight extremely entertaining and exciting. There’s an excellent chance you will too, and I’d like you all to see it. I just think this isn’t quite the complex and weird film DOR has in him.

Oh, and Bale should probably stop getting worryingly thin for indie movies and then bulking up for BATMAN movies. He’s going to die.

They’re Young, They’re in Love, and They Bore People

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 3, 2009 by dcairns

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Johnny Depp fulfills a lifelong ambition by having his name printed laterally across the shaft of his penis.

Sometimes I wish I were just an ordinary audience member (not that I’m removed from that by anything other than conceit and a WordPress account), so I could look at Michael Mann’s PUBLIC ENEMIES and just say “Blah… what a tedious film.” For in many ways that would be the correct response, and such is the film’s deadening aspect that one does wonder if any critical analysis can produce anything worthwhile from this flat spectacle.

Johnny Depp is John Dillinger, celebrity bank robber, who says things like “You can either be a live coward or a dead hero,” and “I like baseball, fast cars, whisky and you,” which is nice. But Depp is somewhat muted, the way he was in THE NINTH GATE: an actor dedicated to flamboyance, he’s at sea in Mann’s world of low-talking hard men. And Mann is at sea with the showbiz side of Dillinger. He’s a stranger to gusto.

Here’s one problem: how is this film different from HEAT? If you like HEAT, I guess you won’t care, but for me, both films are long, unexciting films about low-affect thugs who talk a lot about how professional they are, and then act like idiots. In HEAT, DeNiro decides to kill a guy who’s threatening him with exposure, so he attacks the guy very publicly in a car park, using only blunt instruments, such as his fists and wits. One of those situations where I always think, “If a witness shows up and spoils things, I’ll be annoyed. And if a witness doesn’t show up and spoil things, I’ll STILL be annoyed.”

A witness shows up. DeNiro stops kicking the guy, acts innocent (he doesn’t quite rolls his eyes up and hang his mouth open like Harpo Marx looking innocent, but it’s similar) and when the witness (I think maybe a COP CAR) drives off, he gets set to resume the beating, but his prey has somehow crawled off and vanished. Even though he was right there.

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Christian Bale lost 63 pounds, and then put them on again, to play Special Agent Melvin Purvis.

In PUBLIC ENEMIES it’s the Bureau of Investigation guys who do the stupid stuff, disobeying direct orders and getting killed, repeatedly letting Dillinger go by — Christian Bayle’s college-boy agents let him down continuously. So he gets some veterans from Texas, and the ignores their advice. Dillinger escapes again. It’s one of these combat-hardened vets who actually plugs Dillinger at the end, and he’s one of the few good characters in the film: Stephen Lang is steely-eyed and magnetic, and his character is actually competent, amid an ocean of assholes.

Mann could have used the factual catalogue of blunders to poke fun of the formative FBI, or he could have used the scenes of torture and reckless trigger-happy public endangerment to condemn them, but he doesn’t seem to want to say anything. I felt like yelling through the film at him, using it as some kind of Hi-Def ear-trumpet, quoting Graham Crowden in IF… — “Do You Have An OPINION???”

All this might pass if the film had an appealing aesthetic, but I struggled, I really did, to find anything worthwhile about it. Mann has spoken about how he tested the digital cameras for a lark, and found that on film, his test scene looked like a movie set in the ’30s, whereas on digital it looked like he’d gone back in time and was IN the ’30s. Which sounds nice, but it doesn’t play that to me. To me it looks like a YouTube video in fancy dress. Digital has advanced to a point where you often need expertise to tell it from film, but Mann succeeds in making it look fuzzy and dead.

(Full disclosure: my local gigaplex, the Vue Ocean Terminal, underlights its projectors, has disfigured screens, and lets light spill onto the screen from the exit. So the film wasn’t looking its best. But I still think this is one that’ll look better on DVD.)

Mann juggles oddball angles looking up under machine guns at faces, uses handheld shots to create a sick-making motion blur whenever he can, and cuts things into what Roman Polanski has called “that fruit-salad style…” The art deco locations are often dazzling, but the camera is never in synch with their cool splendor.

The “great romance” aspect of the film, not really borne out by history, is shot dead execution-style by the limp playing of Depp and Marion Cotillard (all her concentration is going on not sound too French) and by Mann’s total disinterest in women, which also results in the pathetic wastage of Lilli Taylor. Since Mann, like Cotillard’s character, is completely unconcerned with any moral view of what Dillinger does for a living, you’d think he’d have more identification with her.

(Roger Corman, in BLOODY MAMA and THE ST VALENTINE’S DAY MASSACRE, both of which I saw recently, is likewise uninterested in preaching or taking sides, but he IS ripping the veil from off the American capitalist dream. You can’t accuse him of not having a point of view. All Mann has is a viewfinder, generally aimed up at somebody from under their armpit.)

Thing about MM is, he has lots of ideas, but they generally work better in his head than on the screen: the jump-cuts in MANHUNTER, the long-lens confusion of LAST OF THE MOHICANS. Of course, nobody with Mann’s sense and budget could make this movie without hitting some good points: the phone-tapping room, a constellation of little glowing lights; and Dillinger’s last night with his girl, in a barren moonscape lit by chill morgue-rays — such moments suggest that a ’30s digital movie COULD look beautiful.

And Dillinger’s sly visit to the offices where his case is being investigated — which I assume to be at least partly poetic license, since we never see him tell anyone about it, so how would the screenwriters know it happened? — is a nicely mythic and romantic moment, like Dillinger’s last words… a few moments of this kind impress, late in the day.

Oh, there’s another impressive actor in the thing: Peter Gerety as Dillinger’s lawyer. I wonder if his dialogue in court is straight from the historical record, because he sure talks better than anybody else in this film. Maybe such able thesps as Billy Crudup, Stephen Dorff, Marion Cotillard and Giovanni Ribisi make such little impact because of the weedy dialogue, which is devoid of all period zing (in the zingiest slangiest era in American history!), stranding the cast in a neutral zone of slow, emphatic delivery. (I know pastiche is the last thing on Mann’s mind, but folks in ’30s flicks talk FAST, and that would be a wonderful thing to offer modern audiences.)

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Got home and slung an authentic 1930s crime-flick, THE BEAST OF THE CITY, in the old Panasonic, and within minutes was exulting in lines like ~

Cop: Mind if I ask you some questions?
Jean Harlow: Sure, if you don’t ask them in Yiddish.

And ~

Jean Harlow (embracing cop): Are you going to reform me?

Cop: What for?

EVERY line in that film seemed to sparkle and crackle with lust, malice and wanton throwaway wit. By contrast, the verbiage emanating at snail-speed from the kissers of Mann’s barely-dramatis personae cuts about as much mustard as a hash-slinger with hooks for hands. See?

Still, Mann’s usual stumbling-block is music — I recall with rising nausea the synth-pop atrocities of MANHUNTER, the smorgasbord of ethnic stylings in THE INSIDER (“The most heterosexual movie ever made! It’s nothing but angry men shouting into HUGE PHONES!” – Ben Halligan) and the somnolent Tangerine Dream drones of THIEF. Here he does about as badly as you could do in a rich musical decade, but not half as badly as he normally does. The bluesy humming is actually quite nice, although it’s diluted with lots of other effects which don’t mesh into a whole, and every time the radio is on its Billie Holliday, which is fine but limited.

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As in ALI, Man shows an interest in resurrecting history but never illuminates it. Dillinger appears to have escaped from prison in Indiana by carving a gun from a bar of soap, blackening it with shoe-polish, and holding up the guards. Woody Allen parodied this in his first film, TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN, where Allen’s home-made side-arm dissolves into a lather during a rainstorm. But Mann includes the incident without explaining the fake gun at all. (An alternative theory, from cult author Robert Anton Wilson: Dillinger meditated real hard, and teleported out of his cell. I’d watch THAT movie. Twice!)

Likewise he shows a judge taunting J. Edgar Hoover for never actually arresting anyone, without showing the punchline, which is included in Larry Cohen’s THE PRIVATE FILES OF J EDGAR HOOVER: Hoover stage-managed an arrest and turned up to snap the cuffs into place, a troupe of tame news cameramen in tow. Mann exposes himself as a filmmaker with no sense of humour — or storytelling.

A closing title tells us that (predictably dead-eyed) Christian Bayle’s real-life character resigned from the Bureau a year after Dillinger’s death, and killed himself in 1960. And I wondered, why tell us that? The movie hasn’t done anything to explain such actions, we barely even know this guy, so what’s the point of telling us?