The Batman

Viewed – 30 April online rental

This long running franchise has always been one of my favourite series of movies, and the character remains probably my go-to comic book hero. So when I heard they were rebooting the franchise once again, I was curious / nervous where they could possibly take this character. Turns out director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, War for the Planet of the Apes) was an assured choice for this new era. Twilight’s Robert Pattinson takes on the role of Bruce Wayne / Batman who we hear has already been at the caped vigilante ‘game’ for over a year. A series of murders of political figures have started occurring in Gotham City. The killer, calling himself The Ridler leaves cryptic clues for the police and especially Batman to follow in a race against time as the bodies pile up. Embroiled in proceedings is small-time burglar Selena Kyle / Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz), as well as local mobster The Penguin.

Reeves’ direction is suitably moody and highly atmospheric. I especially liked how he brought back Gotham as an eerie character in itself, something Tim Burton presented so well back in the day but Christopher Nolan mostly did away with in place of realism. This rendition of Batman successfully marries both the Gothic fantasy of Burton whilst retaining some of the grit of Nolan … and it works. Wayne / Batman is this time portrayed very much as a human being, capable of injury and mistakes and letting his emotions get the better of him. In this respect Pattinson is excellent – delivering a complex, damaged portrayal whilst still looking an absolute badass in the costume. I’d have like a bit more of him as Bruce Wayne though. Another surprise was Zoe Kravitz, an actress I only know as being the daughter of rocker Lennie Kravitz, but her portrayal is possibly the most complex and interesting version of Catwoman for years. Support from Jeffrey Wright as (inevitably) Commissioner Gordon and John Turturro as mob boss Falcone both bring plenty of personality also. A barely recognisable Colin Farrell is also decent as Penguin even if his character is kind of a side note. That just leaves The Ridler then, and with this role Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood) is chilling and malevolent – even if he’s no Heath Ledger (although his grand-scheme bares similarities).

I had a great time with this. It was a bit long, and may have benefited from some scenes being trimmed down, but I can’t say I ever got bored. Pattinson turned out to be a great choice and I am eager to see what more he can do with the character. The story was gripping, with an intricate plot that bared resemblance to the Zodiac murders whilst also echoing the Saw movies. This was also different enough to stand on its own yet retains enough of the mood and aesthetic to still very much be a Batman movie. What more could you ask for?

Verdict: Recommended

Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen

Viewed – 08 July 2009  Cinema

I loved the first Transformers movie, released to an unsuspecting cinema audience two years ago.  It was a surprisingly effective action sci-fi yarn based on the Hasbro children’s toys that, while not taking itself too seriously, still felt like a proper pop-corn movie.  Thanks in no short way to at-the-time new kid in town Shia LaBeouf and the commendable action credentials of director Michael Bay

This admittedly very quick follow up has much the same cast, including Lebouf’ and his unlikely girlfriend Megan Fox (who for some reason has become a bit of a name since the first movie, but remains tits & ass and nothing more here), and Michael Bay returning, albeit this time leaving his stabilizers off – as unlike the first film which had the sense to gradually build up to some jaw-dropping action set pieces, this movie is pretty much 2 and a half hours of explosions, robots, car chases and an overload of special effects.  I loved the first film because it was paced just right.  Pacing here is more akin to ‘throw everything at the screen and see what sticks’.  Well I can tell you this – it gave me a headache, and with a weak story about a long lost weapon and an old enemy thought to be dead laying the smackdown against the Autobots on Earth … this can’t match the first film.  Saying that the effects, if anything are even more astonishing, the action superbly realised, and the whole show does look the nuts.  But I dunno, I was just hoping Michael Bay would have remembered the personality and character interaction that made the first Transformers stand out.  A weak ‘say you love me’ sub-plot between Shia & Megan does not count!!  On a side note though, the Transformers did seem funnier (especially the ‘twins’ and that little jive-talking thing), but the Decepticons were almost side-lined this time around with much of the villainous showmanship blurring into one.

Still, as far as a trip to the cinema goes, this was still good fun.

Verdict:  3 /5

Do The Right Thing

Viewed – 4 August 2008  DVD

Criterion Collection

Spike Lee’s powerful 1989 ghetto drama always seemed to me like a poor man’s Boyz N the Hood at the time when I first saw it – where’s all the Mo Fo’s and the Gats?  But seriously, this is a very different and believable portrait of racial tension and ignorance that gradually builds up during one hot summers day in suburban Brooklyn.  The film revolves around a Pizzeria known as Sal’s and is owned by Italian Danny Aiello and his two sons (with a stand out John Turturro as the bullying Pino) with Lee’s own Mookie as the Pizza delivery boy.  After one of the local black guys spots that Sal only has Italian celebrities on his wall of fame, a boycott of the pizzeria is started, and although the film mostly focuses on the comings and goings of a bunch of very vivid characters, trouble soon erupts, leading to a startling climax.

This thought provoking film really pulled me in, and is an intelligent look at different ethnic cultures in modern America and the ignorance and bigotry that can be caused.  From a personal viewpoint, I find it hard to sympathise with some of the black characters, who play the victim when they themselves are stirring it up.  Although Sal’s boys and some other bystanders don’t exactly make things any easier.  Overall this is fascinating, often funny and challenging cinema that really should be seen by the widest audience.

The DVD from the good ‘ol boys at Criterion is a deluxe two disc set, with a wealth of documentaries on the second disc (including a fascinating return to Brooklyn sequence by Spike Lee and producer Jon Kilik) and we also get a commentary track with Lee again and the crew.  Picture and sound are first rate, and although the film looks a little grainy in the darker scenes, its vibrant colours are shown off brilliantly.  Oh and Public Enemy’s Fight The Power will blow you away, despite the basic 2.0 surround soundtrack (to preserve the film’s original recording).

Verdict:  5 /5