Posts Tagged ‘Christian Bale’

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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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).