Movie Review (THE BATMAN)

Earlier this past week, I watched THE BATMAN, released a few months ago, for free at home. This was a pleasant surprise. HBO Max made it available this way for a brief promotional period, or so it seemed. Now, the movie appears to be permanently available to stream for free. I don’t know what factors into certain blockbusters becoming free to view far sooner than others. I thought I’d be having to wait for a good while longer before maybe paying $5.99 to view this impressive, engrossing production, a price I would have gladly paid.

I did not at all care for Ben Affleck’s anemic, tired-looking corporate executive portrayal of Batman/Bruce Wayne in a recent handful of DC Films, so the more elegant and mysterious Pattinson stepping into this superhero role was welcomed by me. THE BATMAN takes place relatively early in the Caped-crusader’s masked vigilante career. Pattinson plays dark and brooding extremely well, so he is excellent as the title character, a billionaire traumatized as a child from losing his parents during a violent robbery. I appreciated how this seminal event is not shown in flashback on screen, but simply referenced in dialogue and print. Batman’s origin story has already been well covered in earlier movies.

Zoe Kravitz plays Selina Kyle, who does not yet go by Catwoman in this screenplay. She is effectively written as sympathetic yet morally vague/gray, which I found believable. And she is svelte and beautiful. However, Kravitz is no match to Pattinson’s gritty gravitas, coming across as rather girlish in tone of voice and lacking in rough depth next to him. Perhaps that is intended. I grew up with watching the witty and mature-sounding Julie Newmar portraying Catwoman for two seasons of the 1960s campy show BATMAN, followed then by Eartha Kitt in that iconic role for the show’s third and final season. And while I think Julie Newmar reigns as the best on-screen portrayal of Catwoman ever, Eartha Kitt comes in as a close second, with her own unique feline moves and sultry woman’s voice. Alas, dear Ms. Kravitz had big shoes to fill, at least for myself and probably many other viewers who are, say, at least over forty. And while, perhaps, Kravitz plays a younger, less seasoned/roughed up by life Catwoman (to be) than her lovely predecessors, I have a hard time imagining Kravitz evolving to someone with a deeper, more nuanced voice, even more slinky and seductive moves, and a jaded yet humorous perspective on life. It is hard to believe that Kravitz and Newmar were pretty close in age while portraying Catwoman in their respective eras. Kravitz comes across as, well, an annoyed adolescent rather than smoldering, dangerous, and seductive like Catwoman should naturally be and Newmar and Kitt conveyed so well. But, enough with these comparisons. I’ll wait and see if Kravitz can bring more edgy maturity to the archetypal part, even though she likely will still not quite measure up to Newmar or Kitt.

Paul Dano plays the Riddler, a long-time arch villain of Batman’s. He is completely unlike Jim Carrey’s sexy and hilariously campy portrayal of this previously seen character in 1995’s very fun BATMAN FOREVER. In THE BATMAN, Dano and screenwriters Matt Reeves and Peter Craig make Riddler a comparatively more realistic obsessed and hyper sociopath. He posts on the Internet, garnering a devoted following, as he kills off Gotham City’s corrupt government leaders. Dano brings much thought and passion into the role. He effectively matches Pattinson’s quiet, often seething intensity.

The rest of the cast is generally stellar, with the exception of Andy Serkis as Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s devoted butler and assistant. He is solidly competent in the role but lacking a seasoned British elegance that others, namely Alan Napier, Michael Gough, and Jeremy Irons all brought to the part in previous incarnations. I think the creators were going for a younger Michael Caine kind of portrayal, with Caine and Serkis having a more working class English accent and style, which is fine, of course, but not the Alfred I grew up watching. To me, Alfred’s calm, measured, dignified demeanor adds a beautiful juxtaposition and complementarity to Batman’s more physical, hard-edged presence. This dynamic is lost between Serkis’ more earthy version of Alfred and Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne. Ah, well, ’tis a relatively minor area of lack in an otherwise solidly good work of cinema.

Batman is in ruthless, tough detective mode against a backdrop of a dark and dreary, crime-ridden metropolis, very much clearly inspired by 1930s through 1950s film noir genre productions. The sets, often enhanced by LED backgrounds, are largely made up of impressively high, foreboding buildings from a bygone era, influenced by the Art Deco style, still in fashion when the BATMAN comic debuted in 1939. Like Batman and Selina Kyle themselves, many of the sets are darkly beautiful, intermittently placed against expansive skylines, high rooflines, and claustrophobic interiors and exteriors (such as an outdoor train station). Much of the movie takes place at night, though daytime scenes are dimly lit or filtered. One cannot help but to feel a mix of overwhelm, constraint, and isolation that the characters experience in this grim world of THE BATMAN. Rain is initially used to set up the movie’s dreary mood while Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne/Batman dourly narrates an introduction. Kurt Cobain’s haunting recording of “Something in the Way” is effectively used twice in the movie, which boasts an incredible original musical score that I can only describe as powerfully suspenseful and beautifully intense.

The story of long-time political corruption and massive citizen neglect, which the Riddler destructively works at uncovering in Gotham and Batman comes to discover there, fits America’s and much of the world’s current political situation. Things are falling apart and new vision and leadership are desperately needed. As depressed as Pattison’s Batman/Bruce Wayne is, he holds onto hope and steadily begins to heal from his past, a human work in progress like, hopefully, we all should strive to be.

Movie Review (SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME)

SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME (released in December of 2021) is the latest installment of Marvel Studios’ and Columbia Pictures’ Spider-Man series, within and part of a larger arc of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). The movie has been one of the most financially successful (make of that what you will) mainstream studio productions to date. British pretty boy actor Tom Holland continues to portray American high school student Peter Parker/Spider-Man with a sunny disposition and wholesome sincerity that I appreciate. His enthusiasm, emotional sensitivity, and well-meaning naivete come through again, with the actress Zendaya (Holland’s real life girlfriend) affirming these qualities of his through her role as Michelle Jones-Watson (mainly called MJ), Parker’s love interest. For my taste, the on-hand funny quips to criminals and police officers could have been laid on even thicker by Holland’s Parker to better match Stan Lee’s comic book character creation’s way of speaking that I remember fondly reading while a child in the 1970s. But, I’m not complaining. Holland is so naturally adorable, offering up the lightest movie portrayal of the daring web-slinger in comparison to his two predecessors, Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. And in such a historical time of social upheaval and chaos, this unique screen presence of grounded, sincere, yet bubbly lightness is exactly what I need for good, fun cinematic escape. Let other tights-wearing crimefighters, such as Batman and Wolverine, be the dark tortured souls. Spidey is a likable, innocent-hearted, fun-loving kid– even though and in spite of experiencing more than his share of loss and alienation. Refreshing.

This latest Spider-Man story, which picks up right where its 2019 prequel SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME leaves off, is largely unremarkable and formulaic. In order to clear his name from being both exposed to the world as Spider-Man and wrongly slandered for murder and other misdeeds by the recently defeated criminal Quentin Beck (Jacob Gyllenhaal), Peter Parker enlists the help of the mighty sorcerer superhero Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). As has occurred in many science fiction/fantasy films and TV shows, the big plot device is to change the past somehow so that the present and future are different for the protagonist and, by extension, everyone else. Often, for example, a time machine of some sort is used or a divine being, such as an angel (think of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, which still gets aired on TV around Christmastime, I imagine), steps in and uses magic. In this case, it’s the impatient and authority-wielding Dr. Strange who is to be that convenient change agent via having all people forget that Peter Parker is Spider-Man– with a few exceptions. The spell Dr. Strange casts gets bungled because of Peter’s repeatedly interrupting him to fine-tune/modify his request. There are some cute, mildly amusing exchanges between Spidey and Dr. Strange, eliciting associations in our own lives so many of us viewers have of witnessing an older, condescending authority figure chastising a younger underling. In any case, this bungling mysteriously opens portals of two other universes between them and the one in which Tom Holland’s Peter Parker exists, thereby introducing us the audience to the “multiverse.” That’s where the fun begins, particularly when the two other Peter Parkers/Spider-Mans show up.

I had vaguely heard that Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield would reprise their roles in this movie, but, honestly, I wasn’t sure. Five actors also reprise their super villain roles from earlier Spider-Man movies, making this latest show a reunion fest of sorts. Maguire’s quiet and pensive Peter Parker of three Spider-Man movies between 2002 and 2007 gets to dialogue with Garfield’s especially insecure and comparatively less defined but more overtly sorrowful Parker. These two men’s brief exchange shortly before the final fight scenes against the powerful antagonists had me smiling and laughing, such as when Maguire’s Parker repeatedly tells Garfield’s that he is “amazing,” a blatant reference to the latter actor’s starring in two “Amazing Spider-Man” films in 2012 and 2014. Such self consciousness of writing whereby a movie acknowledges and jokes about itself can be witty and clever or fall flat. Fortunately, the decent script writing in this instance and terrific, tongue-in-cheek delivery by Maguire and Garfield make for great entertainment and some moments of uniqueness in an otherwise cliche-filled story. Those handful of minutes– along with other brief, funny bits of dialogue and warm affection expressed between the three Peters — wonderfully stand out within a nearly two-and-a half-hour film. However, and in addition, the sweet, heart-felt chemistry between Tom Holland and Zendaya elicited my inner romantic, which cast a pleasant feel-good mood over this generally routine spectacle of action cinema. Finally, worth mentioning among the mind-numbing handful of CGI-enhanced super villains, Willem Dafoe adds a big dose of fun camp as the sinister, over-the-top Norman Osborn/Green Goblin. His demonic, dramatic face is fabulously Medieval.

I’m glad I waited to rent the movie to stream on my TV instead of needlessly raising my anxiety over risking Covid-19 exposure to watch it on a big screen. This was not that great a movie by any means. But, then, no movie is worth me going through such extra stress these days. Besides, I paused it often to take assorted breaks. As I age, I more appreciate the practical control that comes with having a remote on hand over passively watching moving pictures on a large screen, all encompassing that that so often is. For something lost, there’s something else gained.

Mini Movie Review (GERONTOPHILIA)

Queer filmmaker Bruce LaBruce’s quirky and sexy indie movie GERONTOPHILIA (2013) stars the beautiful, sensual Pier-Gabriel Lajoie as Lake, a French Canadian in his late teens who is sexually attracted to elderly men. I was not expecting much, so felt pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying this cinema gem of sweetness. Lake and his stylin’, old queen love interest, Marvin Peabody (Walter Borden), meet in a nursing home. They soon exude a believable emotional chemistry. I cared for both of them.

There is one disturbing dream sequence that left me wondering what LaBruce and his cowriter of the screenplay (Daniel Allen Cox) were thinking, but it did not taint my feelings for the characters.

The acting quality by many of the supporting cast members leaves much to be desired. However, this did not damage the production’s overall effectiveness for me, thanks to the sincere and compelling portrayals by Lajoie and Borden and the mostly succinct, riveting storyline.

If you like off-beat films about love and the human condition, this might be of interest to watch.

Mini Movie Review (THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS)

THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS (or what I’ve renamed THE MATRIX NON-ERECTIONS) was ridiculous and progressively lame with its self consciously making fun of itself unevenly mixed in with an often earnest narrative. Keanu Reeves as Neo, the protagonist, looked tired and miserable, which mirrored my own sense of weariness over this emotionally hollow, pointlessly action-packed movie. I could not help but wonder if, like his character, Reeves felt reluctant to be in such a nonsensical drama.

Neil Patrick Harris was increasingly annoying as a deceitful, smug psychiatrist, the Analyst, who controls much of what goes on in the Matrix.

I found myself not caring about the characters and overproduced CGI visuals of the film’s portrayal of a heavily mechanized dystopian future, from out of which the computer created world of illusion, the Matrix, exists. I can see why one of the two Wachowski sisters, both of who wrote and created the first three MATRIX movies, had nothing to do with making this fourth— and hopefully final— installment. The series ran its creative course by the third movie. I suppose this is ultimately an infomercial for the latest MATRIX video game. Ah, what still gets made anyway in hopes of squeezing out more profit from an idea and concept run dry.

Mini Movie Review (WEST SIDE STORY, the 2021 remake)

I finally watched Stephen Spielberg’s new remake of WEST SIDE STORY. To my surprise, I was very moved and impressed with the whole production. The acting, singing, and dancing were all top notch and the overall look of the movie felt believably 1950s vintage. There was just enough tweaking to properly update the story for our times, such as having a female-to-male trans character trying to join the Jets. I didn’t think I’d care so much about dramatis personae from out of this already long-done musical, but I very much cared and even found the viewing experience fresh and vibrant. Go figure.

Movie Review (SECRET ADMIRER)

When I was a teenager in the 1980s, I didn’t have much interest in romcoms, even the ones with adorable teen heart throbs like C. Thomas Howell, who’s my same age. I was too occupied keeping up with all the fantasy/sci-fi and (to a lesser extent) action blockbusters. Now, nearly four decades later, I finally watched SECRET ADMIRER, which originally came out in 1985, the year after I graduated from high school. At the time, I filed this movie away into my “to someday see” list in the back of my mind. With my tastes in assorted art media having softened and expanded with age, I find myself pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable this light, funny, and heartfelt film is. It has held up well with time because of a cohesive, easy to follow storyline with non-stop humor and an underlying innocence that is both refreshing and comfortingly escapist in such especially strained and trying times.

For me, SECRET ADMIRER evokes big-time nostalgia about living near Los Angeles in the 1980s where I wore clothes and hairstyles like the young guys in this movie, which takes place in LA. I found myself wondering if the high school at the beginning of the film was Santa Monica High, where my sister went in the early to mid 1990s. Neighborhoods and streets looked familiar. And C. Thomas Howell, the star of this often delightfully silly production, brought me right back to those moments I secretly lusted over him while doing my best to go about the business of school, work, and enduring an awkward, queer youth of loneliness, navigating a sprawling metropolis I hadn’t grown up in. Talk about a little time warp. Dee Wallace Stone (of E.T. and CUJO), who plays Howell’s character’s mother, is another 80s screen icon for me, pleasantly appealing. And then there’s a handful of other thespians in the cast, whose names continue to elude me as they did back then but whose faces are comfortably familiar like, well, several blocks of Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica or the Santa Monica Pier (which does not appear in the film, though some section/s of Wilshire might).

The plot is nothing particularly original: love triangle with many supporting characters, who offer lots of comedic moments. Boy (Howell) has a crush on a superficial blonde girl (Kelly Preston), whose good friend (Lori Laughlin) is also best friends with said boy. One of the two females leaves an unsigned love note in the locker of this boy and all sorts of misunderstandings and intrigue humorously ensue. Both the boy’s and blonde girl’s parents get drawn into the narrative as the love note makes its way around via being stashed in different belongings that travel to other places, where it is systematically read by supporting characters. A few other unsigned love notes get written, which keep the intrigue and various jealousies going. Finally and predictably, order and old balance between the players are restored and true love prevails.

At the end of a busy work week, I loved this feel-good fare– wholesome, pleasant comfort food for my eyes and brain. If you came of age in the 1980s and grew up in or near a large city (bonus points if it was LA or nearby), it’s possible you’ll especially enjoy this sweet, benign film, which was a walk down Memory Lane for me.

Mini Movie Review (TO SIR, WITH LOVE)

To wind down from the work week and honor the recently deceased Sidney Poitier, I watched TO SIR, WITH LOVE (1967), which I last saw in 1983 on a little black and white TV. While Mr. Poitier was elegant, beautiful, and poised, as he always comes across on screen, this script was sadly dated in places and largely idealized fantasy. Mr. Poitier’s character’s slut shaming comments and sexist remarking about the importance of makeup for women had me cringing inside. And the sudden conversion of the rough, inner city students into devotees to their teacher (Poitier) was, well, verging on silly. That said, such an unrealistic, feel good story was just what I needed, like eating comfort food, but in this case for my eyes and brain. What was believable were all the women in the film— be they passengers on a bus, students, and a few other teachers— who all found darling Sidney’s character very attractive. He was easy on the eyes and listening to his pleasant voice and laugh felt soothing. The movie was a good excuse to showcase a particularly gorgeous, graceful person, where nothing else really mattered (even though this is ethically, politically neglectful). Sometimes I just need a dose of 1960s superficiality. Lulu’s singing the adorable, wholesome title song and the British setting and supporting cast were all lovely bonuses.

Movie Review (SPENCER)

The movie SPENCER, starring Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana about five years before her tragic death, is purposefully claustrophobic, ponderous, and angst-ridden. The sound track underscores this overarching mood theme as the music creatively transitions in and out of being melodious classical to gentle jazz to cacophonous, irritating jazz before looping back to classical and so on. This effectively brought me the viewer into Diana’s troubled state of mind. Frequent closeups emphasize a sense of the heroine’s longing for intimacy and understanding from people in a family who largely have no clue about either. In this frigid relational desert, she finds an oasis of genuine connection with her two young sons and her favorite dresser (movingly played by Sally Hawkins from THE SHAPE OF WATER), a woman carrying a secret of her own. The result is a somewhat uneven, occasionally forced, narrative that takes place from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day at Sandringham House with the British Royal Family.

The Princess is clearly an outsider experiencing life with her in-laws as imprisoning and invalidating so much so that she feels driven to the edge of madness. Ms. Stewart performs excellently with what she is given to work with here, which sometimes is over-the-top melodrama and histrionics, while other times is compelling melancholy and sympathetic frustration and rage. The interiors of wherever this was filmed, which may actually have been Sandringham House, are exquisite. The physical coldness of the place, which Diana and her sons often make reference to, is an extension of the Royal family’s perpetual emotional iciness as well as that of a scowling, skulking old servant (an equerry, powerfully played by Timothy Spall) who is charged with keeping Diana on schedule and generally in line.

The acting by all the supporting players is superb, as British casts so often are. I felt proud of dear Ms. Stewart holding her own with all the talent around her. She clearly continues to hone her craft, and most certainly so with playing the tragic heroine trope.

This is a movie one needs to be in the right mood/head space for, especially for viewers who are used to constant on-screen action and/or rom com light fare. This is art house (or tries to be) psychological (melo)drama, and some of us like that sort of thing now and then.

Mini Movie Review (ETERNALS)

I just saw ETERNALS. Now, there’s recycled story and characters, which I think can sometimes result in something interesting, even good. But, then there’s overly-recycled to the point of vapid inanity, which this movie largely is. The big ensemble cast is filled with too many glamorous chiefs and not enough Indians, making for unwieldy, tedious watching of poorly thought out characters lifted and twisted from Greek and Sumerian/Babylonian mythologies (and maybe from one or two other ones as well). The Avengers have these comparatively after thoughts of demigods/super heroes beat in every sense, including with costumes and the villains they fight on screen. The lackluster Eternals have schlocky, uninteresting, unoriginal Deviants (CGI effects seemingly whipped up by a mind-numbed video gamer) to fight. I felt briefly embarrassed for the starring actors. But, then I remembered they’re each likely laughing all the way to the bank. I can just imagine this production’s swollen, often plodding script coming out of a brainstorming session of Disney brass, the goal being to simply make more money as safely, predictably as possible, no other reason.

The one colorful moment that stands out for me is a splashy Bollywood dance scene, which lasts for maybe all of two to three minutes. Now, if this movie had been made into, say, a steady stream of Bollywood and Kabuki dance numbers, that would have been a fun spectacle to see. But, no, this overly long, dull drivel of a film about trying to save planet Earth from total destruction by some all-powerful patriarchal force (yet again) lacked both spectacle and fun, not to mention intrigue.

I look forward to seeing the movie SPENCER (as in Princess Diana) next week, which will be a refreshing change of pace from these latest bloated and cumbersome sci-fi/fantasy blockbusters, which also includes DUNE: PART ONE, that seem to go nowhere.

Movie Review (VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE)

VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE was quite fun. I enjoyed the banter between the alien symbiote Venom and his host Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy). More than what I remember in the 2018 prequel (VENOM), Eddie’s symbiote endearingly expresses vulnerability and warmth next to his usual savagery. I laughed out loud fairly often, such as when Venom enters a night club where all the patrons are in costumes. There, he grabs the mic from the singer onstage and encourages everyone to be who they truly are. For once, he fits right in and is a big hit with the crowd.

The special effects are decent and playfully fantastical. The age-old concept of a person coming to better terms with an inner voice and energy that’s more impulsive, wild, and uninhibited than how they outwardly identify as being is humorously played out here. We all have our shadow sides.

The villains are competent enough, but barely worth mentioning. Ultimately, fighting fire with fire is the premise here, for Venom has to battle a red symbiote, Carnage, arising from his own blood. Darkness, like light, exists on a spectrum of intensity. Carnage, inhabiting a serial killer (Woody Harrelson), embodies pure chaotic evil while Venom is, well, like an intelligent wild carnivore steadily evolving with the help of his sympathetic human host.

I would rate this production a close second in quality to the first VENOM movie. It helps that the running time is just a little over 90 minutes, short and intense like a roller coaster ride. These two films are dark, guilty pleasure fun, the violence appearing quite theatrical, quick, and unrealistic. Some people, such as myself, enjoy this twisted fantasy cinema that cleverly balances gritty yet colorful darkness with much levity, including a good dose of camp. You fellow aficionados/appreciators of this high trash know who you are.