Posts Tagged ‘Action’

Review: ‘Public Enemies’

July 21, 2009

There are a few directors whose films, regardless of buzz, I will go see in the theater: Tim Burton; Christpoher Nolan; M. Night Shyamalan; JJ Abrams. Whether or not I like their latest film, I want to see for myself what these directors have done. It’s a short list, and even some of my favorite directors are noticeably absent (Woody Allen being the biggest omission). But there is one director that I didn’t realize I have seen all his movies in the theater (barring one) since 1992: Michael Mann.

After seeing Public Enemies, I went over to IMDb.com to see what films he had directed. Last of the Mohicans. Heat. The Insider. Ali. Miami Vice. I had seen all of these in the theater. Collateral was the only one I hadn’t. (I saw it on DVD, and now desperately wished I had seen it in the theater. It’s the one movie that I can honestly say had me on the edge of my sofa seat.)

Mann’s films brim with the right amount of intelligence and testosterone, and Public Enemies is no exception. And while Public Enemies wasn’t a knock-your-socks off action film, it is a solid entry–and better than 2006’s Miami Vice–in the Michael Mann canon.

Courtesy IMPAwards.com

Courtesy IMPAwards.com

What’s it about? The year is 1933. John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) and his band of…bandits steal from the rich and give to themselves. Even when he gets caught, Dillinger has the right connections (and amount of chutzpah) to escape. After breaking free from jail or robbing a bank, Dillinger will cross state lines, making it hard for state police to do anything.

The FBI is getting under way, doing what local law enforcement can’t do: catch guys like Dillinger. J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup), director of the FBI, assigns Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) to head the Chicago office with one goal: catch guys like Dillinger.

At a speakeasy in Chicago, Dillinger meets the Billie Frechette (Oscar winner Marion Cotilard), a half French-half Native American woman. The attraction is instant, and Dillinger, a man who gets what he wants, begins a whirlwind romance with Billie.

Eventually Purvis and his men, after numerous close calls with Dillinger, use Billie to get to him. It is when Billie is in FBI custody–and the fact that his bank-robbing skills are no longer appreciated by other criminals with bigger and broader illegal operations–that Dillinger’s days are numbered.

What’s good about it? Depp, as always, gives a charismatic performance as Dillinger. And Cotillard gives a devastating performance in what could have been a throwaway part. One sequence in particular–when she is interrogated by the FBI–is heartbreaking.

Colleen Atwood’s costumes are outstanding. (There’s at least one Oscar nomination right there).

I personally like Mann’s directorial style, which usually entails using digital hand-held cameras. It gives the film a sense of immediacy. Often times period pieces are romanticized or glamorized. But Mann gives the 1930’s a shot of adrenaline rarely seen.

What’s bad about it? I hate to say it, but Christian Bale’s quickly becoming Hollywood’s top second banana. After a ho-hum performance in Terminator Salvation (in which Sam Huntington stole the show from him), Bale is once again overshadowed by his costar.

The film tries to say a lot about celebrity, crime and the ethics of crime fighting. But even at a running time of 140 minutes, it comes up a little short. It feels as if some scenes to flesh out character got omitted to keep studio execs happy. Perhaps there might be a directors cut when it comes out on DVD?…

Perfect for: Depp fans, action fans, history buffs.

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Review: ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen’ – It really is as bad as you’ve heard

June 26, 2009

I had no desire to see Tranformers: Revenge of the Fallen. But my fiancee wanted to see it, so I knew I would eventually be dragged to the multiplex to waste my money and time on it. I didn’t really care for the first film–had it been an hour and a half of robots fighting, I would have been satiated. But no. They had to add characters and story (uninteresting ones, at that).

I usually don’t read reviews beforehand of movies I know I’m going to see (especially if I will review them), but because I didn’t think Transformers 2 would be worth writing about, I thumbed through some reviews to see how it fared. Here are a few quotes I found from some professional critics:

“This is so bad it’s immoral.”

“This celluloid abortion should be buried in a vault and shown to film students as an example of big Hollywood at its worst.”

“Not to damn it with faint praise, but ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen’ is a flaming pile of poo.”

Now, I’m not big fan of immorality, abortions or flaming poo, but my curiosity was piqued. How could a movie–one that will probably make $300 million before summer is through–cause such a vitriolic response? (When I told my fiancee of the bad reviews, she changed her mind. So now I’m the one to blame for going to see it.)

Sometimes I like a truly awful movie, like Catwoman, a film so bad you constantly say to yourself, “there is no way that this movie could get any worse,” and then it does. A truly awful movie is like watching a train wreck or one of those medical oddity shows on TLC: you’re fascinated even though you shouldn’t watch. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is much like Catwoman in that it is gloriously awful; a shining pillar of when movies are used for evil. However, unlike Catwoman, this movie. Never. Ends.

What’s it about? The Autobots (the good robots) now work with a secret military organization called NEST, which seeks out Decepticons (the bad robots) that have been in hiding because…I don’t remember. Meanwhile, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBouf) is heading off to college out East but leaving his girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox, a.k.a. the most robotic thing in this movie) back in California because…ah, who cares. All you need to know is that robots fight in between scenes of extremely tedious plotting.

What’s good about it? This movie does, in fact, have more robots fighting, which for someone like me who felt he was short-changed by the first film, is kind of a good thing. But the fight sequences are so CG-heavy and edited so rapidly, you’ll have a hard time fully seeing what’s going on.

Is the film an immoral flaming poo abortion? No. But it’s close.

What’s bad about it? Plenty. Everything you’ve already read or heard from your friends about the movie is true.

What I was most surprised by was the stale direction from Michael Bay. He’s made his career out of directing big, loud movies where things blow up (The Rock, Pearl Harbor, Armageddon, the first Transformers–and the under-seen The Island, which I actually liked), but now his trademark style (slow motion explosions, swooping aerials, dizzying shots of people mostly talking, music video-worthy moments of people having special time) feels…old. And with a running time of 150 minutes, Bay really tests the audience’s interest level. Most well-known directors branch out and push themselves after a few films because they know they’ve either proven themselves creatively or box-office wise (Scorcese is the former, Bay is the latter, Spielberg is both). Bay seems bored with his own film this time around. I personally would love to see what he would do with a character-driven comedy-drama or a straight-up kid’s film. Even if they sucked I would have more respect for him simply for the fact he’s trying.

Perfect for: pubescent boys. Everyone else will regret their choice. If you want the most ideal way to watch this movie (even though you shouldn’t), wait for it on DVD. That way you can pause to see what’s actually going on in the fight scenes and you can fast forward the extremely boring everything else.

Movie Review: ‘Taken’

February 6, 2009

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There are so many films I’ve been meaning to see.  Gran Torino.  Slumdog Millionaire.  Frost/Nixon (even though it’s directed by Ron Howard).  And yet, when I had some spare time last week, what do I end up seeing?  Taken.

Not that Taken is a terrible film.  It’s just that with so many Oscar-nominated films FINALLY playing in my neck of the woods, I felt a little disappointed in myself that I didn’t see what I really wanted to see.  (I did this once before a few years ago, when I was eager to see Clint Eastwood’s  Letters From Iwo Jima but instead–inexplicably–saw Pedro Almadovar’s melodrama Volver instead.)

Taken is the kind of action that has its heart in the right place but lacks any real dramatic weight, which for a film that deals with human trafficking is something it desperately needed.

20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox

What’s it about? Liam Neeson stars as Bryan Mills, a retired U.S. Secret Opps-type of guy who, after years of being absent on secret military missions, is doing his best to be a part of his teenage daughter Kim’s (Maggie Grace) life.  Unable to compete with his daughter’s mother (Famke Janssen) and stepfather (Xander Berkeley), Bryan reluctantly grants permission for Kim to go to Paris, France alone with only her cousin Amanda (Katie Cassidy).

While in Paris, Kim calls her father right when she witnesses Amanda being kidnapped.  (If you didn’t watch the trailer above, now’s the time to do it.)  Kim is taken too, and Bryan uses his Jack Bauer-like skills to bring his daughter home.

What’s good about it? Taken sheds some light on a dirty international secret: human trafficking.  (The girls are abducted, drugged, then forced into prostitution.)  It’s a deplorable, disgusting trade, and you can’t help but root for Neeson as he kicks, stabs and shoots his way through low-life thugs, up to the highest bidders.

What’s bad about it? Don’t get me wrong–you want Neeson to get to his daughter.  But had director Pierre Morel made Kim less of a spoiled rich girl (her stepfather gives her a friggin’ HORSE for her birthday) and more of a girl who’s never had a lot of friends or opportunities, I would have rooted for Neeson even more.  (It also didn’t help that Maggie Grace, while 25 in real life, is playing a 17 year-old who acts like she’s 12.)

I’m okay with Neeson plowing through thugs and lowlifes, but –SPOILER ALERT– in one scene, she shoots an innocent person in the arm to get a complacent frenemy to do something for him.  Shooting an innocent person to get to the bad guys?  That crosses the line.  And from that point on, the movie lost me.

Perfect for: fans of Liam Neeson and/or the Transporter movies.

Playing Catch-up, part 2: More movies I’ve seen of late

November 22, 2008

THE BAXTER

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A good friend of mine recommended I take a look at The Baxter, Michael Showalter’s 2005 comedy about a putz who tries to win back his fiancee from her high school sweetheart.  She noticed that I had not posted about The Baxter, and I told her I was hesitant because I really did not like the film.  (She was okay with it–she watched The Devil Wears Prada per my recommendation and hated it.)

The film feels like a big inside joke, like you need to be part of the New York improv/sketch comedy scene to enjoy it (writer/director/star Showalter is part of Stella, along with Michael Ian Black and David Wain; Black and Wain have small parts in The Baxter.)  Elizabeth Banks is the fiancee, Justin Theroux is the old boyfriend, and Michelle Williams is the girl Showalter wants to be with.  With the comedic pedigree behind The Baxter, you would think the film would actually be funny.  The only bright spot is a cameo by Paul Rudd, who can’t help but infuse energy into any film he’s in.

CHANGELING

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Clint Eastwood has become one of Hollywood’s most prolific directors; since 2003 he’s directed five films (including Changeling) and he still has another one–Gran Torino–coming out in December.  His recent films have been real showcases for actors, and Changeling is no exception.  Angelina Jolie plays Christine Collins, a single mother in 1928 Los Angeles whose son goes missing.  The LAPD, in need of some good PR, recovers her son…only it’s not her son at all.  (He’s three inches shorter.)  When Christine persists in refuting the LAPD’s claim, she’s thrown into a mental hospital against her will.

This is an exhaustive, heart-wrenching drama that’s not easy to watch.  Jolie’s performance is Oscar-worthy, and Eastwood’s direction is deliciously spare and restrained.  But Eastwood’s got to lighten up.  With Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima and now Changeling, Eastwood has become the King of Despair.  Doubtful if Gran Torino will buck the trend.

QUANTUM OF SOLACE

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I LOVE Casino Royale.  Hands down, it’s the best James Bond film.  Rebooting a franchise is always a risk, and Casino Royale gave James Bond a certain gravitas that the prior films (obviously) lacked.  It was dark.  It was intense.  And Daniel Craig’s Bond was a bit of a sociopath (after all, he’s a killer).

Quantum of Solace, however, is a much weaker sequel (the first in the series, really; this one’s a continuation of Casino Royale, not a standalone story).  The Villain?  Weenie.  The Girl?  Uninteresting.  The Action?  More of the same, but far less exciting.  This may also be the only Bond film that had locations that I don’t want to visit: Haiti?  The Bolivian Desert?  Russia?  Blech.

The film is watchable, but it definitely is missing something.  And coming in at around 105 minutes, Quantum of Solace is probably the shortest of 007’s adventures.  I wonder, however, what wasn’t good enough to make the final cut.

Netflix this: ‘Son of Rambow’

September 10, 2008

It’s been a while since I’ve given my “Netflix This” stamp of approval (Sweet Land came close).  Son of Rambow completely deserves such a distinction.  It’s a sweet little film about many things–movies, friendship, religion and family.  It truly is a feel-good film.

What’s it about? It’s the 1980’s England, and Will (Bill Milner) is a weird kid with not a lot of friends.  His mother (Jessica Hynes) has raised Will in the faith of the Brethren, a super-devout religious sect that shuns worldly influences.  As a tenet of their beliefs, Will is not allowed to watch TV–not even an educational video during school, which means Will spends a lot of time sitting out in the hall while the kids learn about wicked things like science.

Enter Lee (Will Poulter), the hellraiser from the class down the hall.  He gets kicked out often for…well, raising hell.  So much, in fact, that you can hear his classmates cheer every time he’s excused from class.  Lee gets Will into trouble, which leads to Will being bullied into becoming Lee’s friend.

Lee’s a crafty kid–he makes pirated copies of movies playing at the local cinema.  One day, while Lee makes copies of Rambo: First Blood in his family’s garage, Will ends up watching the entire film.  It changes his life.

Soaring on the sensory overload-high, Will let his imagination run wild.  He begins storyboarding his own Rambo-style film, and soon he and Lee are shooting “Son of Rambow.”  Their filmmaking process recalls that special brand of ingenuity that oozes effortlessly out of kids, where nothing seems impossible.  (The scenes of them shooting recalled to me the passion for do-it-yourself filmmaking that my little brother possessed as a child–and still does.)

The making of “Rambow” takes on a life of its own when the popular exchange student Didier (Jules Sitruk) discovers Will’s book of storyboards.  Pretty soon everybody wants to be in Will and Lee’s movie, which thrills Will but frustrates Lee who, as the film progresses, is dealing with some serious abandonment issues.  Will has trouble keeping everybody happy, and even more trouble trying to keep his movie a secret from his family and from Brother Joshua (Neil Dudgeon), a member of their church.

What’s good about it? Son of Rambow is one of those films that makes you laugh and also tugs at your heartstrings.  Outstanding performances all the way around, particularly from the two leads and Sitruk, whose deadpan delivery of the French androgynous new waver Didier is impeccable.  A scene at Didier’s exclusive party is the most hilarious scene in the whole film.

What’s bad about it? There’s a bit of language, and some kids-in-peril kind of stuff.

Perfect for: Anyone waxing nostalgic for the 80’s; anyone who loves movies about movies; anyone who’s dying for something different but not way out there.

My new guilty pleasure is ‘Incredible.’

August 20, 2008

So The Incredible Hulk has become my new favorite movie. It’s a guilty pleasure, but not in the sense that the film is so bad it’s good (like how I feel about the first Alien vs. Predator). While the film will never be mistaken for Best Movie Ever, it wasn’t boring like the 2003 original and walked away with pretty good reviews overall (RottenTomatoes.com has its freshness at 67%–not bad for a remake/sequel that no one was clamoring for). Still, everybody (including me) knows that The Dark Knight and Iron Man are better films. But Incredible Hulk has become my new favorite, even though there are candidates with better qualifications who deserve the coveted spot. I feel guilty in the sense that I’ve let something not completely deserving of my cinematic affection get the best of me.

I’m not even a Hulk fan. I can count on two fingers the Hulk comics I read as a kid. I never watched the 70’s TV show. I always thought he was kind of a boring character. So why has The Incredible Hulk won me over?

I think I like Incredible Hulk for a variety of reasons.

It has great pacing. How Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) becomes the Hulk is explained in the opening credits. This isn’t an origin story where we have to wait until halfway through the movie to get to the good stuff. The good stuff is already here. (I’m not saying that Iron Man and Batman Begins aren’t entertaining because they take their time building up to when the main character becomes the hero. I’m simply saying that the IH filmmakers keep things moving from the get go.)

It’s filled with ridiculous science jibba-jabba. Biological experiments! Gamma radiation! Crazy dialysis! I find all the science-y stuff in this film highly amusing. It’s not grounded in reality by any stretch of the imagination, but it seems like so much fun. Any world where LIv Tyler is a biology professor is fine by me.

Edward Norton is great as Bruce Banner. He’s such a tiny little dude, skinny and kinda’ frail, that the dichotomy of him turning into a big green monster (albeit a CG one) works for me. I’ve never been a big Ed Norton fan, but in this film I find him just as believable as Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne or Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark. (Sorry Brandon Routh. Your Clark Kent was pretty weak.) Banner’s yearning to be with his girl is the real dramatic pull in this film, and even when they finally reunite, a happy ending is nowhere in sight.

At the end of the day, I love watching things destroy stuff. This year I’ve seen my fair share of quiet, heartfelt films with dramatic heft (Bella, Under the Same Moon, Sweetland), and I’ve liked them all. But I love, love, love watching stuff get blown up, torn apart and smashed into bits. Needless to say, Incredible Hulk delivers.

It’s pure escapism. Watching Incredible Hulk means giving myself permission to not have to think about all the things going on in my life. I’ve got a full plate (hence the more sporadic postings than in previous months), and at times I feel a little overwhelmed with my responsibilities. I’m glad I can spend two hours without worrying about deadlines and homework.

The film has plot holes and at times feels like important things were cut out to keep the film at a decent running time. But I don’t care. Dark Knight may be the best movie I’ve seen this year, but Incredible Hulk is the most fun I’ve had at the movies of late. (Yes, I know in my review of Incredible Hulk I said that Iron Man had the edge in terms of fun-ness. I have since changed my mind.)

I’ve shared my guilty pleasure; what’s yours?

Review: ‘Hellboy II: The Golden Army’

July 22, 2008

I’ve only seen the first Hellboy once and didn’t care much for it.  And I’m a little puzzled as to why there would be a sequel to a movie that only grossed $99 million worldwide.  Yes, I am aware that it probably gained a following on DVD, but on the Movie Superhero Ladder of Awesomeness, Hellboy’s placed somewhere between the Fantastic Four and Daredevil (read: not very high). I’m also questioning Universal’s decision to open Hellboy II: The Golden Army in such a crowded marketplace; there have been numerous superhero films this summer (Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, Hancock and the 800-pound gorilla, The Dark Knight) with bigger followings (all the hero films have grossed over $100 million).

Hellboy II is not a terrible movie–it’s highly watchable–but it’s not that memorable, either.  It’s the perfect film for a September opening.

What’s it about? Hellboy (Ron Perlman), a self-loathing demon (sans horns–he’s files them down) is still fighting big bad monsters for the US Government’s Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense with Abe Sapien (Doug Jones), an amphibious telepath,  and his live-in girlfriend Liz (Selma Blair), a pyrokinetic (she’s a human torch).  A millennia-old truce between humans and elves is in jeopardy when elvish Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) wages war against mankind, pitting 4th-century tooth fairies (they eat your teeth), a menacing giant and an enormous plant monster against Hellboy and co.

What’s good about it? Director Guillermo Del Toro (who directed the first film and the Academy Award-winning Pan’s Labyrinth) has a wildly inventive imagination.  The monsters are great and great in number.  There are some fun action sequences and a great scene where Abe and Hellboy sing Barry Manilow.

What’s bad about it? For all the imagination crammed into two hours, Hellboy II feels kind of dull and not that memorable.  It kind of feels like you’re watching the season finale of a really expensive television series.

Perfect for: Hellboy fans, those who root for underdog movies.

Batmania Part 10: ‘The Dark Knight’

July 18, 2008

I had a lot riding on this movie.

In Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan proved that Batman’s story is worth telling.  Previous films had infused either style (Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns) or camp (Schumacher’s Batman Forever and Batman & Robin), but none had really established character development or believable writing.  Batman Begins raised the bar not just for Batman, but for all superhero films.  (Iron Man passed, Spider-Man 3 failed.)

Nolan set such a high standard for himself with The Dark Knight.  And prior to seeing the film, I told myself that if it’s almost as good as Batman Begins, I’d be satisfied.

I am happy to report that The Dark Knight is just as good–if not better–than Batman Begins.

My review will keep plot details to a minimum; I loved watching this movie because I purposely stayed away from reviews, news, buzz and hype relating to the film.  I hope you’ll appreciate that I’ll do the same.

What’s it about? Gotham City’s a safer place thanks to Batman, but also Lt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman) and the new district attorney, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart).  The bad guys don’t like the stranglehold these three have on organized crime and are forced to use extreme measures in order to maintain their operations.

Enter the Joker (Heath Ledger).  Nobody knows who he really is or where he came from.  But he’s crazy.  And oh, so evil.  He wants to tear Gotham City apart.  And, if things don’t improve for themselves, the mafia just might let him.

What’s good about it? Where Batman Begins established Batman as a character, The Dark Knight establishes Gotham City.  We dig deep into the politics of the city.  We see the struggle of Gordon against corruption in his own police force.  We see the legal red tape Dent and assistant D.A. Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) must fight to clean up Gotham’s streets.  Things are messy.  Things are not what they seem.  And things are never black and white.

Backing up Nolan’s expert direction is a phenomenal cast.  Ledger’s Joker is like nothing I’ve ever seen before–he is absolutely frightening.  This is a performance that will stick with you.  Whereas Jack Nicholson’s Joker is a scenery-chewing villain, Ledger’s Joker is truly bipolar, switching from manic to maniacal, often within seconds of each other.

Gyllenhall, replacing Katie Holmes (who played Rachel Dawes in the first film), brings a much-needed spark to what essentially was a throwaway part in the first film.  This time Rachel is less of the token damsel in distress but an integral part of the story.  Eckhart is also great as Havey Dent–he crackles with charisma.

Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, and Michael Caine as Alfred have less screen time than in the first film, but that is expected, seeing how we already know who and what they are.

Bale, as Bruce Wayne/Batman, also has plenty of screen time but less development, for the same reason as Freeman and Caine’s characters.

What’s bad about it? At two-and-a-half hours, The Dark Knight may feel a little long (because it is), but not to the point where you want the movie to end (because you don’t).  And it’s a hard PG-13; leave the kids at home.

Perfect for: anyone looking for an excellent movie, comic book-themed or otherwise.

Batmania Part 9: ‘Batman Begins’ – the best Batman film of them all…

July 17, 2008

Batman Begins is the best Batman film ever made. I say that even though Tim Burton’s Batman is one of my all-time favorite films and that The Dark Knight may be even better. (I purposely avoid publicity/advertising for Dark Knight, but even I can’t fully escape the buzz. I haven’t read any reviews but I hear it’s pretty good!) Finally, somebody got Batman exactly the way I’d always imagined–dark, complex, conflicted and sometimes vulnerable. Too bad Batman creator Bob Kane passed away in 1998 (after the dismal flop Batman & Robin); I would like to think he’d be proud of what director Christopher Nolan achieved with his creation.

Courtesy Warner Bros.

Courtesy Warner Bros.

What’s it about? Batman Begins is the story of how Batman…began. Billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) uses his resources and channel his fears into Batman, his vigilante alter-ego who’s figuring out the best way to weaken corruption in Gotham City’s police force and judicial system. He finds an ally in Lt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman), the only good cop in a police force owned by mob boss Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson).

Meanwhile, Dr. Johnathan Crane (Cillian Murphy) has been developing a fear toxin that causes severe hallucinations. He’s planning to put it in Gotham’s water supply at the orders of Bruce Wayne’s old mentor, Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson).

Ducard trained Bruce to become a warrior, but the two had a falling out (to put it lightly). Now Ducard is putting his ideals to the test, starting with the erradication of Gotham.

What’s good about it? The story is great. Batman doesn’t appear until halfway through the film and yet the story is so compelling, so entertaining, that the filmmakers could have called it good right there and set it up for a sequel. But wait, there’s more! Much more! And it’s amazing! The cast is, for the most part, outstanding (Katie Holmes being the exception, bringing nothing memorable to her role as Assistant DA (and Bruce’s love interest) Rachel Dawes).

Superhero films have the difficult challenge of making the audience believe in the world of the hero. (Spider-Man 2 completely had me; Spider-Man 3 was completely ridiculous.) Batman Begins succeeds in this regard. There are few, if any, “yeah, right” moments.

What’s bad about it? You really think I’m going to knock the greatest superhero film ever made?

Perfect for: restoring your faith in superhero films (especially after watching Catwoman).

Batmania Part 7: ‘Batman: Gotham Knight’

July 15, 2008

Originally I was only going to write reviews for the six Batman theatrical films, leading up to The Dark Knight which opens in theaters this weekend.  But then I wrote a short essay on how the 1989 Batman film changed my life, and so I decided to broaden Batmania to include other things related to Batman’s presence in film.  I recently watched Batman: Gotham Knight and felt it was worthy of being included.

It’s a direct-to-DVD animated movie, although it’s much better than DC’s most recent efforts, Superman: Doomsday (which was screaming to be made into a live-action feature) and Justice League: New Frontier (which needed to be a tv miniseries).  Batman: Gotham Knight is DC’s first foray into anime, with six different anime directors responsible for one of the six interlocking stories.  I’m not a far of anime by any means (I’m still scratching my head as to what the hell was Spirited Away about), but the animation style works exceptionally well for the subject matter.

What’s it about?  The six stories are as follows:

– “Have I Got A Story For You” A bunch of teenagers recall their eyewitness experiences involving Batman.  (All of them differ greatly.)

– “Crossfire”  Two Gotham City police officers debate Batman’s merits while caught between a violent gang war.

– “Field Test” An examination of the gadgets Batman uses when fighting crime.

– “In Darkness Dwells” Down in the sewers lives a mutant named Killer Croc who is poisoned by the Scarecrow’s fear toxin…and Batman just found him.

– “Working Through Pain” A glimpse into Batman/Bruce Wayne’s training as a young man in India.

– “Deadshot” Batman fights an assassin in the subways underneath Gotham.

All of these stories are much more interesting than I have described them.  I don’t want to say much because I knew nothing about Batman: Gotham Knight when I rented it and would like those who want to see it to have the same enjoyable experience I did.

What’s good about it?  Anime works really well for Batman because it’s a hybrid of comic book and film.  Some of the animation is absolutely breathtaking.  This is less of a cartoon than Batman Forever and Batman & Robin.  (It’s also cool that Kevin Conroy, the voice of Batman from the 90’s Animated Series, provides Batman/Bruce Wayne’s voice once again.)  And because it’s Batman and not some crazy weird fantasy crap, it’s easy to follow.

What’s bad about it?  This is more in line with Batman Begins than it is Superfriends.  It’s dark.  It’s violent.  It’s bloody.  People die.  This is a hard PG-13, so if you’re looking for something upbeat, you’ll want to pass.

Perfect for: All those eagerly awaiting The Dark Knight.  This is the perfect little treat to tide you over until then.