Posted in Film Commentary

Review: Across the Universe

And now, ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you Across the Universe! I’m going to admit, I’m reviewing this because I see it as the anti-Batman film. It’s bright and colorful, everyone is singing, all you need is LOVE, and of course there’s this scene:


Now if any of you remember Batman Begins, you remember Rachel giving Bruce crap because “it’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you”. Honestly, I think both of these films have legitimate points in these lines, but I’m not going to go into that here. If you want to discuss it feel free to leave me a comment, but for now I’m going to go ahead to the actual review.

Being a musical comprised of Beatles songs, I think it’s appropriate to start with the music. While I personally love all the renditions of the songs done for this movie, I don’t think all of them belong. The songs themselves are great all things considered, I just feel like a few of them weren’t tied to the story very well if at all. For instance, Prudence singing “I Want to Hold Your Hand” long before she becomes an integral part of the story seems pointless. The only useful knowledge gained from that scene is that Prudence is a lesbian, but this gets explained later during “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”. In fact, more than one person I have talked to did not realize that Prudence was a lesbian from this scene so it’s only purpose isn’t even very clear. While “I Want to Hold Your Hand” is a great song, it was not necessary to have this scene.

Another song that was guilty of being good but pointless to the plot was “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite”. Eddie Izzard did a great job improvising during the song and it was a neat scene, but it did absolutely nothing for the story. One of the main things I learned in college was never, under any circumstances, should you include scenes that do not add to the story in some way. In fact, not only does this scene not add anything to the story but it is completely separated from it. The film does not go back to the overall storyline until after “Because”. Sure, these are good songs, but they should have been kept as bonus tracks on the soundtrack.

While not every song was important to the story, the songs were for the most part fun and well-placed. Some served as montages that lead into and explained things that were coming up, so it was nice that those songs had purpose. For instance, “Let it Be” was a great scene in this movie as it captured the emotional side of two historical events while bridging two completely separate plot points (Lucy’s boyfriend dying and Jo deciding to leave for New York).

Overall, most of the songs added to the story (as well they should, since the story was derived from them to an extent) and I think the performances were about as good as can be expected from people that aren’t The Beatles themselves.

Anyone that knows me knows that I usually can’t stand love stories or relationships in movies. People have really horrible expectations about how they’re relationships should be because of movies and most of the times movies don’t show you anything past the “Honeymoon phase”. Thus, people think as soon as things start to settle down and get normal and comfortable that their relationship is failing and terrible and this can’t really be love. I actually really appreciate this movie for not fully perpetuating this idea. I can’t say it skips this entirely because of the “All You Need is Love” ending, but the rest of the movie does a pretty good job of portraying a fairly accurate relationship between Lucy and Jude.

The nice thing about the portrayal of their relationship is that it shows their entire initial relationship and not just how they got together. Yes, that is a part of it too, but most movies would end at the “If I Fell in Love With You” scene and make it seem like the stars had realigned because the two main characters got together. We get to see Lucy and Jude become content, then bitter, and then resentful. We get to see the realization from Lucy that maybe Jude isn’t who she thought he was, and we get to see Jude’s reaction to feeling like he’s not as important to her as the anti-war effort and wondering if he ever will be. I honestly feel like the ending of this movie is perfect because they can sing about how “All You Need is Love” all they want, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re standing on separate rooftops. This is the physical representation of all the things they have gone through and how much they have hurt each other. They are not going to be able to bridge that gap easily and it will take time to become the loving couple they once were. It will be hard and it will be full of tears and hesitant forgiveness, but they will try because they love each other. That is what “All You Need is Love” really means, it’s being willing to put up with all the hard stuff because in the end you love each other and you don’t want to give that up just because things are difficult.

The rest of the plot points and characters are basically just used as foil. Daniel dying and Max getting drafted are meant to show why Lucy cares so much about the anti-war effort in the first place, Prudence is there to show Lucy’s initial hesitation about whether she should let herself love Jude, Jo and Sadie go through nearly the same relationship curve as Jude and Lucy, Jude’s relationship back in London is meant to show how he’s never experienced true love before, etc. I’m not saying these characters and plot points aren’t important because they definitely are. But one must keep in mind that at the end of the day, their purpose is to make you reflect on and understand Lucy and Jude’s relationship.

Finally, we have the visuals. Julie Taymor is known for her movies being eccentric due to her involvement with theater among other reasons. I could probably write an entire article about the visual effects in this movie alone but I don’t have the time so you’ll have to accept a condensed version. Being a movie derived from songs by The Beatles, it is practically required that this movie feature crazy visuals and this movie delivers. There are plenty of scenes that are simply idealistic versions of 60s New York, but there are also a ton of scenes that are meant to represent the mindset of the characters and/or what they’re thinking.

This movie is as much a fantasy as it is historical fiction and I think the way the two were blended was pulled off well. The fantasy scenes do imply drug use, but this is a movie about the 60s so it is not unbelievable or jarring. In fact, it is welcomed to an extent. If this movie were a solid, straight representation of 60s New York it would be boring, but adding these scenes with more colors than you think you can handle or situations most people would never actually find themselves in gives your eye a break from all the browns and muted colors that represent the real world.

There are plenty of movies that use drugs as a gateway to explore other topics or feelings, but this film did a really good job of making the audience feel like you were along for the drug trip with the characters without feeling uneasy. Without the crazy visuals, we would simply be voyeurs watching a bunch of 60s hippie kids get high. Because we are able to witness these crazy scenes, we feel invested and intrigued instead of left out.

Honestly, I would have to say that this is one of my favorite movies because it breaks the molds that so many movies adhere to so strongly. The love story is realistic despite being set in a half-fantastical setting and the ending isn’t some ridiculous climactic scene where everything is perfect. There is still so much left to be done by the characters at the end of the movie, but it does not need to be explained because we already know that they’re going to try to make it work. This movie has a lot of personal attachments for me so I hope it is clear that I pushed emotions aside for this review as much as I could.  Either way this movie is great and you should watch it.

Favorite Scene:

Posted in Uncategorized

ANNOUNCEMENT TIME!

 

So I’ve been noticing in the past few weeks that with my current schedule it is getting really difficult to write well thought out posts by Wednesday. Thus, I have decided that starting this week I will be posting my reviews on Fridays. Sorry to be saying this on a Wednesday, as I do understand this sort of looks like a cop-out and in a way it is. I didn’t get time to watch the movie for this week until yesterday and you all deserve reviews that are a little more planned than that.  I’ll see you all on Friday!

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Words Cannot Express My Sadness. Prayers to Colorado.

Originally, I was going to write a “rants and raves” post about The Dark Knight Rises. I am not going to do that now for many reasons. As many of us now know, a twenty-four year old neuroscience graduate student planned out a vicious attack for last night’s premiere of The Dark Knight Rises. So far news reports are saying that twelve people have died. This entire situation makes my heart sink and I cannot express my condolences enough.  I am thankful that I was able to attend a midnight screening last night with my loved ones and arrive home safely.

 

However, there is word around the rumor mill that people are calling on Warner Brothers to cancel screenings of the film, if not pull the film from theaters entirely. There was an article posted on cinemablend.com earlier today by Mack Rawden stating that we cannot give in to fear during this time, as it is exactly what the shooter would want us to do. I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. Pulling the movie from theaters will not bring the victims back. As tragic as this is, we cannot blame the movie for the deranged thinking of one man. We must stand together as fans, friends, families, and even Americans. I will not post a review of this film because I feel that you should all go see it for yourselves. If not for the sake of a summer blockbuster, for the sake of the lives that were lost while simply trying to have fun. Fear cannot run our lives. Go see the film and enjoy yourselves in the way these victims were denied. To quote the film, “sometimes a man rises up out of the darkness”. We must rise out of this darkness and not let this shooter win.

 

Posted in Film Commentary

Review: The Dark Knight

As promised, here is the second portion of my Nolan Batman trilogy review! I have seen this movie more times than I can count and I feel different about it every time I see it. I honestly don’t think I can do this movie justice, but I will try. This review is sort of difficult for me because this movie is so complex. This review may not be perfect and I encourage people who disagree to message me with constructive arguments. Without further adieu let’s talk about Batman!

Well, actually, let’s talk about The Joker. While Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker has been called more terrifying than funny (but not in a bad way), I honestly think his portrayal was enhanced by the writing itself. Many of the things the Joker does in this film are inspired by if not completely taken from Joker comics. Everything from Batman #1 to The Killing Joke gets referenced in this film, and I truly appreciate that. Once again, the Nolan brothers wrote the film in a way that shows just how much dedication they had to preserving the feel and the tone of the comics. For instance, one of the most iconic scenes in the film is when Batman has just caught the Joker and he begins to explain what he did to Harvey Dent. The line he says here is “Madness is like gravity, all it takes is a little push”. To anyone who is already a Joker fan, this might sound familiar.

While I am not trying to say that Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker was only good because the writing of the character was great, I do think it had a lot to do with why people got so attached to this incarnation of the character. It felt true to the character in the comics because it was genuinely just like the character in the comics!

That being said, I do think Heath Ledger’s portrayal was fantastic. He put literally all he had into making sure this character was perfect. He did a fantastic job, specifically with how he took the “true to comics” writing and was able to translate that into the gritty, “real” Nolanverse. Many incarnations of the Joker have shown him as over the top to the point of being obnoxious. Ledger, on the other hand, portrays him as over the top in his schemes and plans but not so much in his general actions. He is very good at making things happen that are larger than himself and taking all the credit. Harvey Dent may have believed that he wasn’t a schemer or a planner, but if you take a close look at everything he does throughout this film it becomes clear that he is the biggest schemer out of all of them.

Harvey Dent, of course, is the other major character in this film. Aaron Eckhart did a fairly good job of portraying Two-Face/ Harvey Dent, but I do sort of feel like the writing for Two-Face in particular was somewhat forced. While this isn’t Eckhart’s fault, I find it hard to believe that Dent would be so able to accept the Joker at his word. After seeing everything the Joker has done, why would Dent be so willing to believe that he wasn’t responsible? There is a point to be made about him, Gordon, and Batman being responsible for not taking down The Joker sooner, but I don’t think Dent would have believed the Joker even after losing Rachel. With that being the way it was written though, Eckhart did a wonderful job of portraying Two-Face as a sad, broken man just seeking revenge before he inevitably dies.

Not only did Aaron Eckhart’s performance during the scene where he’s threatening Gordon’s son give me chills, but I want to mention the score. Hans Zimmer did an amazing job with the score for this movie, and I mention it first with this scene in particular because the music is haunting and chilling without drawing too much attention to itself. The rest of the score is similar, adding to the intensity or the solemn atmosphere at just the right moments. A perfect example of this is what Zimmer did for scoring the Joker. I honestly can’t explain this better than he did on the special features of the DVD, so watch this for a moment:

If you watched the video, you will understand the absolute genius that is what Hans Zimmer did with this score. The score is minimalist when it needs to be barely noticeable, and yet it gets you directly into the action when the moments in the film are the most dire, complicated, and suspenseful. There is nothing more I can say about it other than I love this score and personally, I think it is perfect. Ok, moving on.

Ahh, yes, the political messages! Ok, I know this is a rough topic for a lot of people so I’m only going to say this once. These are MY OPINIONS about the movie. You are more than welcome to disagree with them. That being said, I do not think this movie was promoting the Patriot Act or trying to compare Batman to Bush. Context clues are important, and one of the last things Bruce says to Rachel is “I’ve seen what I would have to become to stop men like him”. He knows from the beginning that in order to stop the Joker, he’s going to have to do something terrible. He nearly gives up being Batman at all in order to preserve his conscience from supposedly having blood on his hands and understanding what he is going to have to do. This is why he programs the device in the R&D department to only be operational by Lucius, and it’s the same reason he puts in a self destruct mode once they are done using the program. I did not get the feeling that this was promoting the Patriot Act or wire tapping in any other sense, but was rather an attempt by the filmmakers to say “ok, the situation was terrible but it’s basically over now. You can stop wire-tapping, everything will be ok”.

A lot of people have also said that this movie promotes fascist ideals by portraying Batman as a force that will be unpopular and even hated, but can be allowed to “do the right thing”. Fascism is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition”. With how quickly Bruce nearly dropped the mantle in the beginning, I find it hard to find him as a fascist character. He doesn’t want to control Gotham, he wants to do what is best for Gotham and follows the advice and actions from people that believe in the Batman and are too scared to lose him themselves. I think if Batman were truly a fascist character, he would not have thought to give himself up at all. Other people, like Alfred and Harvey Dent, put him in a position that forced him to continue being Batman even when he wasn’t sure if he should be.

On the plot as a whole though, I am always thrown off by this film. Not necessarily in a bad way, but the plot never hits me the same way twice. Sometimes I watch this movie and I feel disjointed because so many other things are going on in the movie that it is hard to keep track of all of them at once. Other times, plot is the only thing that stands out to me and it all makes perfect sense. To me, the plot of this film is like a puzzle and if you’re too busy trying to track down other details like bloopers or camera angles or scene transitions, you’ll miss a few pieces. But if you pay attention and just enjoy the movie without trying to dissect it like a frog in seventh grade science class, you’ll get to the end and put in that last mental piece and everything makes sense. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy the last scene when everything that has happened gets wrapped up so neatly despite all the terrible things that have happened.

The truth isn’t good enough? Burn Rachel’s letter. Faith deserves to be rewarded? Lucius gets to the destroy the machine in the R&D department. Bruce still struggling with whether or not it is ethical to continue being Batman? He gets to give up the cowl in a way that still helps the city. Even after all that has happened, everyone gets what they wanted but it doesn’t come off as cheesy or unbelievable. Not many movies can pull that off, but this one did. With all of that being said though, I’m going to stop fangirling and call this review to a close before I write the equivalent of a doctoral thesis. I leave you with two favorite scenes this week! One featuring the Joker and one featuring Two-Face. I hope everyone enjoys The Dark Knight Rises whenever they get a chance to see it!

Favorite Scenes:

Joker:


Two-Face:


Posted in Film Commentary

Review: Batman Begins

With the release of The Dark Knight Rises coming ever closer I decided I would start getting everyone ready by reviewing the first two movies in the trilogy. I originally wanted to review every Batman movie that has ever been made but I ran a Batman film series from January-March and didn’t want to sit through every single movie again. I don’t think anyone would want to see The Dark Knight Rises by the time I finished, as too much of a good thing is a bad thing, even with Batman. Anyway, I of course start with Batman Begins, the first film in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. This takes Batman movies in a completely new direction and shows us a side of the story that is normally reserved for the comics. Honestly, I’m not sure where to start so I’m just going to wing it.

Normally editing is something that either catches my eye way too much or I don’t notice it at all. Batman Begins, however, does a really good job of using the editing to help tell the story without being overly obnoxious. If you’re a Batman fan to any degree, you know very well that Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed while he watched helplessly as a child and it was this moment that inspired him to become the bat. The nice thing about Batman Begins is it goes into more detail about how he became Batman rather than simply why. While that is important, it is even more crucial to note that during the first “act” of the movie, the story trades off between Bruce’s “how” and “why” moments from his past and present. Editing the first act this way actually goes a long way for the story. If the movie spent the exposition act saying “this is why he became Batman, and now we’re going to show you how he became Batman” it would have taken a lot longer and been a lot more boring. By telling the two stories interchangeably the movie becomes a lot more interesting and reveals more about the characters in a shorter span of time.

Speaking of switching between past and present, the way this is done is also really clever. In the present when we want to switch to the past, Bruce is presented with a question. This allows us to not only get our answer in a more interesting way than if Bruce had just told us, but it allows us inside his head for a little while. In switching back to the present, we are brought into existing conversations about the topic at hand taking place at a slightly later date in time, allowing the timeline to move forward smoothly and quickly.

Using visuals to aid in storytelling is always a good way to go for a film rather than telling the entire story through dialogue. Comic books have to do this all the time, of course, and one thing that this movie does very well is use frames from various comics as influence on how to frame the shots. (Note: this movie references a lot of comics but none more than Batman: Year One. For simplicity, I am only going to be showing frames from that one. Sorry guys!) So, remember when Bruce’s parents die and his father tells him not to be afraid, then the camera pulls out and shows Bruce on his knees next to his parent’s bodies? That shot is one of many inspired by the comic and really helps cement the fans into the story. Note: all images that are not from the movie link to the pages where I found them.


Batman Begins doesn’t just use Year One for shot reference, however. Various plot devices were also pulled from the comic, yet another nod to the original medium and a welcome show of respect for comic storylines not normally seen in film-making. While the circumstances of the scene are different, the “bat back-up” scene was crucial to the Year One storyline. While there was no introduction of the technology for this scene in the film, it wasn’t necessary because it was a nice surprise for comic book fans everywhere who understood the reference.


Of course, I can’t mention the comics if I don’t bring up the ending. Gordon and Batman are officially allies (under very different circumstances between the film and the comic, but allies nonetheless). A new villain is popping up that calls himself the Joker, and Gordon needs Batman’s help.

As a comic book fan and a movie enthusiast, I always get annoyed when the filmmakers tackling a comic character barely read the comics, let alone do them justice for the film. One of the reasons this Batman film is among my favorites is because Christopher Nolan and everyone else involved in this film took the time and effort to make sure they weren’t pulling the entire story out of nowhere. They did their research, they included things from the comics that they liked and they lightly changed things they didn’t like. Story and visuals alike, this movie is a Nolan film and  Batman film in one, unlike the atrocities of the Schumacher films that just so happen to have Batman in the title.

Being a Nolan film, he is welcome to take some liberty with the existing characters and add new ones as he pleases. Rachel Dawes, a character we all know was added for the “Nolanverse”, is very rough in this film. It is a bit troubling that she is one of the few female characters in this entire movie and is portrayed as having an unshakable sense of right and wrong. I’m not saying that she is a bad character because she is a good person, but the fact that the movie attempts to show her as flawless because she is female/the love interest is very troubling. It is often disappointing to see writers who are unable to write good female characters because they are too hung up on their gender role, and this seems to be the case with Rachel. Because she is the love interest, she gets to be what a perfect woman should be and not what a woman actually would be.

Other than all that, her logic is completely inconsistent. I will never understand why she claims to have thought about Bruce the whole time he was “missing” when the last time she saw him she had to slap him for wanting to kill someone. I can understand her disappointment in him becoming a selfish playboy when he returns, but essentially this disappointment is not in what he has seemingly become, but what he has seemingly remained to be. The playboy bit is a little new, but before Bruce left he was pretty much an insufferable twit. He could not see past his own problems regarding his parent’s death and did not care that other people were suffering until she pointed it out to him. When he returns she is disappointed and even goes so far as to return the spearhead they fought over as kids as if to say “you can take it, I’m done with this”, but insists that Batman is not the man she loves, but Bruce is. I guess this is turning into a rant but all I’m trying to say is that Rachel is a very poorly thought out character.

As far as Bruce being completely insufferable before he leaves, I actually admire this about the film. I find it more realistic as this is how most victims of homicide or manslaughter react. Bruce wanted to kill Joe Chill, which is not altogether an uncommon reaction to a loved one suffering at the hand of another. This is, to an extent, why we have the death penalty. Not only is this more realistic though, but it adds so much to Bruce’s character. He is not just some guy that decided at the age of ten that he was going to become a crime fighter. He is a man who had to struggle to get over his own selfishness to realize that other people were still suffering and didn’t always do bad things because they were bad people. He is a man who had to redefine himself entirely in order to become what he wanted to be and pulled it off surprisingly gracefully. There is redemption in becoming Batman for this incarnation of Bruce Wayne (as there are in many others, I’m not trying to blow off other great storylines here). I like that Bruce gets to redeem himself, and it is also (sort of) a reference to another franchise that came before! Oh Christopher Nolan, I see what you did there.

            Aside from this, I do have some problems with Batman in this film, namely “I won’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you”. Granted, this is mostly a problem for me as a Batman fan. It makes sense for this movie, but in Batman lore it is widely known that Batman does not kill people, no exceptions, not even for The Joker. By creating the circumstances that lead to Ra’s al Ghul’s death (blowing up the train tracks before the train can get to Wayne Tower) he is essentially killing him by refusing to save him. I will admit this is a pet peeve of mine, but the only movie that portrayed Batman’s unwillingness to kill with any kind of accuracy was Batman: The Movie from 1966, and we all know how corny that was. It is disheartening to see this character trait portrayed so poorly in the film adaptations.

While this movie does have a few faults, I must say it is a better attempt at making a Batman film than any other. If you don’t respect the medium from which you are making your movie, what you will get is an unrelated movie with a familiar title. This type of filmmaking has disappointed comic book fans for years, and we are finally in an era where comics are being taken seriously by filmmakers. It is possible to make a good comic book movie that entertains comic book fans, movie buffs, and even the general public. This movie, in my opinion, was one of the first to succeed at this and I hope the legacy this film leaves is long lasting.

Favorite Scene: