Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) reunites his In Bruges stars Colin Farrell & Brendan Gleeson in TheBanshees of Inisherin. I’m really looking forward to this one. The Banshees of Inisherin places two friends at odds when one decides he’s suddenly had enough of the friendship.
The film also stars Kerry Condon (also from Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) and Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk, The Eternals)
The Banshees of Inisherin is set to release on October 21st.
I slept on it before writing this, to let the euphoria pass.
Matt Reeves’ The Batman surprised me in a number of ways, some of which can’t be mentioned without throwing spoilers. I’ll perhaps write a second piece on this, but for now, understand that this film has effectively pushed The Dark Knight to the side as my favorite live-action Batman film (The Lego Batman Movie stands on a pedestal all it’s own above all the rest). My favorite Batman stories are the detective tales. Gotham by Gaslight. The Long Halloween. Hush.
On film, the Caped Crusader has moments of investigation, but they often took a backseat either to the action or the resolution came as quickly as a Batcomputer search. For me, The Batman had closer ties to films like David Fincher’s Seven, Alan J. Pakula’s Klute, Bruce Malmuth’s Nighthawks, and even Shane Black’s The Nice Guys to some degree. It does all this legwork while finding a way to avoid giving us the same clip of the Monarch Shooting of the Waynes. That alone is worth it for me. This is Batman. After more than 9 films, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone on the planet younger than maybe six who doesn’t know how he got that way.
Living in NYC, I can relate to Gotham City. On the surface, it’s beautiful. For those who can afford it, there are tons of amenities available to its citizens. Peel back that layer, though, and you’ll always have Crime in a city holding 9 million people. It’s a constant as rain. Gotham City is on the verge of breakdown. Looking at the torn poster filled streets and I was reminded of a cross between Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire and Alex Proyas’ The Crow .and the way most of Manhattan looks now with it’s closed down stores. The city almost serves as a character itself in The Batman. It’s a throwback to some of the classic black and white detective movies my parents grew up on like 1947’s Kiss of Death. For all his gadgets and resources, there’s an argument suggesting the Batman can never really save his beloved city, though we love his efforts.
“Forget it, Bruce. It’s Gotham.” one might as well say.
Visually, the movie is a little dark, but that makes sense given the tone of the film. Cinematographer Greig Fraser (Dune, Zero Dark Thirty) is somewhat new to me, but I’m liking his work, which felt a little like Janusz Kaminski’s Lost Souls. It wasn’t dark to the point where I couldn’t make out elements (and I was sitting in the front row, far left side in my theatre), I’ll say that much. I’ll keep an eye on him in the future.
The Batman takes place in our hero’s second to third year, according to an early narration (much like Blade Runner). Batman has a good rapport with Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright, No Time to Die) and his butler, Alfred (Andy Serkis, reuniting with Reeves since Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), for the most part, there are some results. Criminals flee when the bat symbol shines in the night sky, because no one really knows where The Dark Knight will strike. A new murder brings both Gordon and the Batman into play, as his opponent leaves various riddles for them to solve. The mystery brings Batman into various circles, including those of Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz, Kimi), crime boss Carmine Falcone (John Turturro, The Big Lebowski) and Oz (Colin Farrell, The Gentlemen). They all bring in great performances, including Peter Sarsgaard (Green Lantern), but it’s Paul Dano (Ruby Sparks, There Will Be Blood) who really runs away with things as The Riddler. I’ve never considered The Riddler to be a creepy villain, but this was quite dark, even for DC’s standards. I can’t imagine how it would have turned out if this was a Rated R film. I’m really curious to know.
Bruce Wayne has never been an easy character to handle on screen.
There are whole books written on the Psychology of the Batman. Here you have an individual who witnessed his parents being murdered as a kid and grows up in a near empty mansion with butlers and maids. The individual decides to dedicate his life (and vast resources) to studying criminal investigation techniques, martial arts and even Ninjitsu for a singular focus: To rid Gotham City of Crime. Add to this the concept of instilling fear in one’s enemies, and dressing up like a Bat to pummel thugs with fists and gadgets just adds to Wayne’s madness. Pattinson honed in on this and turns Bruce Wayne into a pretty isolated and brooding individual. For someone with nearly unlimited resources, he doesn’t seem happy with any of it at all. At least Keaton pretended to party and Clooney’s Wayne truly did party. Bale’s Wayne let Fox focus on research and development. Hell, even Affleck’s Wayne recognized he was rich and flaunted it like a superpower all its own. Pattinson’s Batman is lean and really looks like the kind of guy you might find stepping out of the shadows just past Wall Street late at night. No offense to Affleck’s Batman, who for some is the pinnacle of what the character should be, but I’ve always associated that look with the older, fresh out of retirement Batman of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.
Together, Pattinson and Kravitz’ chemistry was really nice on screen. I’ll admit, I enjoyed the romance between the two. Both characters accept tha they’re Creatures of the Night, and there’s this sweet give and take between the two as they nudge each other. Selina doesn’t have to do crime, and Batman doesn’t have to be the spirit of Vengeance, but they’re caught up in what works best for them. I enjoyed that aspect.
At first listen (about a week ago), I thought Michael Giacchino’s theme needed something outside of the four note motif it had. Hearing the music with the movie is a different beast, and I have to say, it works really well here. In some places, it’s as minimalistic as Hans Zimmer’s Nolan scores.
Now, a little Devil’s Advocate. The main problem I had with The Batman was the same I had with Spider-Man: No Way Home. I understand DC & Warner Bros. want to draw people into the theatre, but in this age where every element of a trailer is scanned and studied, I’d argue that 40% of the action you watched on screen were already somewhat spoiled by the trailer (or trailers, if you watched every one the Warners released). I’m not saying one should refrain from watching trailers – I only watched the teaser and the main trailer – but I would have liked if they held some scenes back. One might also argue The Batman was lighter on action than the other films, but it’s the detective work and the character performances that make up for it.
There’s also a lot of rain. Almost too much. Remember the sequence in Jurassic Park with the first appearance of the T-Rex? I would say that most of The Batman is set under somewhat similar conditions. It felt like it either just rained, was about to, or you were in the middle of a downpour. Then again, so did The Crow. Perhaps that’s just a nitpick on my part.
Also, clocking in at 2 hours and 56 minutes, it’s a long film. You might not really notice it, but I’d go so far to say that the time didn’t feel wasted. I noticed 3 or 4 people who left for the restroom in my showing, if that’s any indication.
Overall, The Batman was a wonderful surprise from the DC side of things, and I’m liking the direction it’s going. It might not be a completely connected universe like Marvel’s lineup, but they’re proving they can still weave some amazing stories with the characters they have.
Basically, it opens with news reports about the home of millionaire businessman Artemis Fowl (Colin Farrell) being raided by the police and the discovery that Fowl has apparently been stealing ancient artifacts from across the world. A bearded man named Mulch Diggums (Josh Gad) is arrested at the house and is interrogated by …. someone. I guess he’s being interrogated by an intelligence agency, I don’t know. Mulch explains that he’s a dwarf and that he’s about to tell a story that will prove that magic exists which …. okay, I guess.
The story is about Artemis Fowl’s 12 year-old son, who is also named Artemis Fowl (Ferdia Shaw). The younger Artemis Foul is a criminal mastermind, just like his father, and he wears a suit and dark glasses and basically, he looks like a 12 year-old who dressed up like one of the Men In Black for Halloween. Artemis Fowl the younger is investigating the disappearance of Artemis Fowl the older which leads to a search for a missing magical object. Somehow, it all involves faeries and other magical figures. Judi Dench pops up a few times, looking stern. There’s a lot of chase scenes and a few fight scenes, none of which really make much of an impression.
The plot of Artemis Fowl is pretty much impossible to follow, especially if you haven’t read (or, in my case, recently reread) the books on which the film is based. A huge part of the problem is that the film itself doesn’t really develop any sort of individual personality. For a film about a 12 year-old wearing a suit and concocting criminal schemes, Artemis Fowl is surprisingly bland. It feels like a collection of scenes from other YA adaptations. We get the slow motion fight scenes. We get the magical scenes that feel as if they were lifted from a lesser entry from the Harry Potter series. Indeed, a huge chunk of the film seems to be made up of discarded scenes from director Kenneth Branagh’s previous excursion into the world of fantasy and vaguely defined magic, Thor. The film moves quickly but since nothing interesting or unusual is happening, you find yourself wishing that maybe the film would slow down for a just a minute or two and spend a bit of time exploring the world in which the two Artemis Fowls live. It’s a remarkably undetailed fantasy world that Artemis Fowl presents us with. I spent the majority of the movie wondering whether Judi Dench was supposed to be an elf or a faerie. One of the great actress, Dench spends the entire film wearing pointed ears and looking rather annoyed.
Much like Dolittle, Artemis Fowl ends with the promise of more cinematic adventures, though it’s doubtful that promise will actually be fulfilled. Also — and again like Dolittle — it’s hard not to feel that Artemis Fowl would have worked much better as an animated film than as a live action spectacular. Unfortunately, Artemis Fowl is just too bland and borderline incoherent to really make much of a lasting impression.
Ava tells story of Ava Faulkner (Jessica Chastain), who has a troubled past, a turbulent present, and an uncertain future.
As we learn via a series of still frames during the film’s opening credits, Ava was the valedictorian of her high school class but her bright future was derailed by her own alcoholism. She killed two of her friends while driving drunk and, presumably to avoid prison, she instead went into the army. In the army, she was noted for being an efficient killer while, at the same time, being a bit unstable. She has issues with authority. Well, don’t we all? When she got out of the army, she was recruited by Duke (John Malkovich), who taught her how to be an international assassin!
Unfortunately, since Ava screwed up her last mission and has gotten into the habit of talking to her targets before she kills them, Simon (Colin Farrell) wants her dead. Simon also used to be a student of Duke’s but now he is Duke’s boss or something. It’s all a bit vague and, to be honest, I found myself spending way too much time trying to figure out the corporate structure of whatever group it was that everyone was supposedly working for. Apparently, Duke works for Simon but Simon still has to get Duke’s permission before trying to kill Ava or, failing that, try to kill Duke so that Duke won’t complain about it. Duke spends a lot of time fishing and Simon spends a lot of time with his adorable family. I liked Simon’s house.
Anyway, Ava has returned to Boston, where she’s trying to reconnect with her family. It turns out that teenage Ava discovered that her father was cheating on her mom and that’s what set Ava on her downward spiral. Mom (Geena Davis) is now a hypercritical semi-recluse. Meanwhile, Ava’s sister, Judy (Jess Wexler), is a singer in a band and she’s engaged to Michael (Common, who, for some reason, keeps getting cast in all of these extremely wimpy roles), who just happens to be Ava’s ex-boyfriend. And Michael is a gambling addict who owes a ton of money to Toni (Joan Chen). It’s hinted that Toni and Ava also have a past but then again, everyone in the film has a past with Ava. It’s get a little bit difficult to keep track of it all.
Ava gets off to a bad start by making us sit through one of Ava’s jobs. She kills an accountant but first she asks him a lot questions about why anyone would want him dead because apparently, she’s an ethical assassin. The scene goes on forever and it features Jessica Chastain trying to speak with an Arkansas accent. Things picked up a bit during the opening credits, which was largely made up of still frames from Ava’s past. However, once the credits ended and the film’s actual story got started, things quickly went back downhill.
The main problem with Ava is one of sensibility. Both Jessica Chastain and director Tate Taylor have totally the wrong sensibility for a film like this. Ava is essentially a work of pulp fiction but Chastain takes herself far too seriously to actually bring a sense of fun to the title role. Meanwhile, Tate Taylor directs as if he’s never had a single subversive thought in his life. (In Taylor’s defense, he was a last minute replacement for the film’s original director, Matthew Newton.) Ava is a film that cries out for a star like Gina Carano and a director like John Stockwell, people who have no hesitation about totally digging in and embracing the silliness of it all. Instead, we get Chastain and Taylor trying to give us a semi-realistic look at a woman battling her addictions and trying make peace with her past. Malkovich, Farrell, and Chen all seem to get the fact that Ava should be a fun B-movie, unfortunately, Taylor and Chastain apparently didn’t get the memo. (Of course, Chastain produced the film so maybe it was her co-stars who didn’t get the memo. Who knows?)
Ava commits the sin of taking itself too seriously. Check out John Stockwell’s In The Blood or Phillip Noyce’s Saltinstead.
Before I really get into talking about Oliver Stone’s 2004 film, Alexander, I should acknowledge that there’s about four different version of Alexander floating around.
There’s the widely ridiculed theatrical version, which was released in 2004 and which got terrible reviews in the United States, though it was apparently a bit more popular in Europe. This version of Alexander was a notorious box office bomb and Oliver Stone’s career has never quite recovered from it. Though Stone’s still making movies, it’s been a while since he’s really been taken as seriously as you might expect a two-time Oscar winner to be taken. The box office and critical failure of Alexander is a big reason for that.
There’s also the Director’s Cut of Alexander, which is slightly shorter than the version that was released into theaters and which apparently emphasizes the action scenes more than the original film did. For an Oscar-winning director to release a director’s cut that’s actually shorter than the version that he originally sent into theaters is rare and it shows that the film’s subject matter was one that Stone was still trying to figure out how to deal with.
There is also the “Final Unrated Cut,” which lasts 3 hours and 45 minutes and which Stone described as being the Cecil B. DeMille-version of the story. At the time the Final Unrated Cut was released in 2007, Stone announced that he had put everything back into the movie and that we were finally able to see the version of the story that he wanted to tell.
However, Stone apparently still left some stuff out because, in 2009, we got the Final Cut, which goes on for 206 minutes and which, once again, apparently includes everything that Stone wanted to put in the original cut of the film. The Final Cut has actually received some positive reviews from critic who were not impressed by the previous three versions of Alexander.
For the record, I saw the Director’s Cut. This is the second of the Alexanders, the one that runs 167 minutes. Some day, I’ll watch the four hour version and I’ll compare the two films. But for now, I’m reviewing the 167-minute version of Alexander.
Anyway, Alexander is a biopic of Alexander The Great, the Macedonian ruler who took over a good deal of the known world before mysteriously dying at the age of 32. The film jumps back and forth in time, from an elderly Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins, going about as overboard as one can go while playing an ancient Greek historian) narrating the story of Alexander’s life to Alexander (Colin Farrell) conquering his enemies to scenes of Alexander’s mother (Angelina Jolie) and one-eyed father (Val Kilmer) shaping Alexander’s outlook on the world. Along the way, we discover that Alexander was driven to succeed and forever lived in the shadow of his father. We also discover that he may have been in love with his general, Hephaistion (Jared Leto), even though he married Roxane (Rosario Dawson, who gets to do an elaborate dance). We also discover that no battle in the ancient world could begin before Alexander gave a long speech and that all of the Macedonians spoke with thick Irish accents. Stone has said that the Irish accents were meant to signify that the Macedonians were working-class. Other people say that, because Colin Farrell’s accent was so thick, the rest of the cast had to imitate him so he wouldn’t sound out-of-place.
And here’s the thing — yes, Alexander is a big, messy film that is often incoherent. Yes, the cast is full of talented actors, every single one of which has been thoroughly miscast. Yes, it’s next to impossible to keep track of who is fighting who and yes, it’s distracting as Hell that all of the Macedonians have Irish accents and that Angelina Jolie uses an Eastern European accent that’s so thick that it almost becomes a parody of itself. All of these things are true and yet, I was never bored with the director’s cut. The sets were huge, the costumes were beautiful, and the cast was eccentric enough to be interesting. Val Kilmer, Angelina Jolie, and Anthony Hopkins all go overboard, chewing every piece of scenery that they can get their hands on. Colin Farrell alternates between being determined and being wild-eyed. Jared Leto allows his piercing stare to do most of his acting. Even Christopher Plummer shows up, playing Aristole with a North Atlantic accent. No one appears to be acting in the same film and strangely, it works. The ancient world was chaotic and the combination of everyone’s different acting styles with Stone’s frantic direction actually manages to capture some of that chaos.
Oliver Stone apparently spent years trying to bring his vision of Alexander’s life to the big screen. Watching the film, it’s a classic example of a director becoming so obsessed with a story that they ultimately forgot why they wanted to tell it in the first place. Stone tosses everything he can at the cinematic wall, just to see what will stick. Is Alexander a tyrant or a misunderstood humanist? Is he a murderer or a noble warrior? Is he in love with Hephaistion or has his borderline incestuous relationship with his mother left him incapable of trusting anyone enough to love them? The film doesn’t seem to know who Alexander actually was but it’s so desperate to try to find an answer among all of the endless battle scenes and lengthy speeches that it becomes undeniably compelling to watch. If nothing else, Alexander gives us the rare chance to see an Oliver Stone film in which Stone himself doesn’t seem to quite know what point it is that he’s trying to make.
Alexander is a mess but there’s something fascinating about its chaos. It’s a beautiful wreck and, as with all wrecks, it’s impossible to look away.
Returning to their hometown in Missouri in the days following the end of the Civil War, former Confederate guerrillas Jesse James (Colin Farrell) and Cole Younger (Scott Caan) are disgusted to discover that the railroad companies are trying to take over everyone’s land. After Cole’s cousin and Jesse’s mother are killed by railway thugs, Jesse and Cole take revenge by forming the James/Younger Gang and robbing banks. Soon, the members of the James/Younger Gang become folk heroes and the railroad company resorts to bringing in Alan Pinkerton (Timothy Dalton) to track the outlaws down. However, even as they try to remain out of the clutches of Pinkerton’s men, there is growing dissension in the ranks of the James/Younger Gang. Cole feels like Jesse doesn’t respect his opinions while Jesse is falling in love with Zee (Ali Larter) and it’s hard to court a girl when you’re constantly having to hide out from Alan Pinkertson. Meanwhile, the other members of the gang wonder why their wanted posters never look as good as Jesse’s and Cole’s.
There have been many movies made about the James/Younger Gang and this is certainly one of them. What sets this telling apart from other versions of this familiar tale is that American Outlaws is the feel-good version of the story. Bob and Charley Ford are nowhere to be seen in American Outlaws and Jesse James doesn’t get shot in the back while straightening a picture. This approach misses the point of what makes the legend of Jesse James so memorable in the first place. Jesse James was the greatest outlaw in the west but he was ultimately taken down by a coward who shot him in the back. Take out that part of the story and the story loses all of its power. Jesse James just becomes another outlaw.
In real life, the James/Younger Gang were reportedly a rough group of outlaws who didn’t hesitate when it came to killing. In American Outlaws, they come across more like a boy band with a side hustle robbing banks. Jesse is the soulful leader, Cole is the rebel, and the other members of the gang are the interchangeable backup vocalists. There’s been many good and even great films made about the James/Younger Game. American Outlaws is not one of them. For a good movie about the life and times of Jesse James and his associates, I would suggest checking out Walter Hill’s The Long Riders or Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.
Tim Burton’s remake of Dumbo actually wasn’t that bad.
I know! I’m as shocked as anyone. Usually, I’m against remakes on general principle and I’m certainly not a fan of the current trend of doing live-action versions of classic animated films. (There’s a reason why I haven’t seen the new The Lion King.) Dumbo is one of my favorites of the old Disney films, one that’s always brought tears to my mismatched eyes so I was naturally predisposed to be critical of the remake. Add to that, I’m not particularly a huge fan of Tim Burton, a director who too often seems to be coasting on his reputation for being a visionary as opposed to actually being one.
And yet, I have to admit that I enjoyed this new version of Dumbo. To call it a remake is actually a mistake. It’s a reimagining, as I suppose any live action remake of an animated film about a flying elephant, a talking mouse, and a group of sarcastic crows would have to be. So, the crows are gone, which is understandable as I doubt you could get away with a bird named “Jim Crow” today. And sadly, Timothy the Mouse is gone. He’s been replaced by several human characters, including Colin Farrell as a one-armed, former equestrian, Eva Green as a French trapeze artist, and Danny DeVito as the rough-around-the-edges but good-hearted ringmaster. However, Dumbo’s still present and he’s still got the big ears. He can still fly, as long as he’s holding a feather.
Dumbo’s only a CGI elephant but he’s still adorable. Of course, I should be honest that I’ve always loved elephants. I even rode one at Scarborough Fair once! It was like a totally bumpy and somewhat uncomfortable ride but, at the same time, it was also totally cool because I was on top of an elephant! The other thing I love about elephants is that elephants form real families. They love each other. They look out for each other. They mourn their dead, which is one of many reasons why ivory poachers are some of the worst people in the world. Elephants may not fly but there’s a sweetness to them that makes the story of Dumbo and his mother extra poignant, regardless of whether it’s animated, CGI, or live-action. Anyway, the remake’s version of Dumbo is absolutely lovable, from the minute he reveals his ears to the triumphant moment when he soars through the circus tent.
As a director, Tim Burton has always struggled with pacing. Watching his films, you always dread the inevitable moment when he gets distracted by a red herring or a superfluous storyline because you know that, once it happens, the entire film is going to go off the rails. Dumbo starts out slowly and it seems like forever before the baby elephant actually shows up. Fortunately, once Dumbo does show up, Burton’s direction becomes much more focused. The story stops meandering and, for once, Burton actually manages to maintain some sense of narrative momentum.
Visually, the film’s a feast for the eyes. Even though it’s a live-action film, the sets and the costumes are all flamboyantly and colorfully over-the-top, giving the film the feeling of being a child’s imagination come to life. I mean, when you’re making a film about a flying elephant, there’s no point in trying to go for gritty realism. While the film does mention some real-world tragedies — Farrell lost his arm in World War I and his wife to Spanish Flu — Burton plays up the fantasy elements of the story. He’s helped by Danny DeVito and Michael Keaton who both give cartoonishly broad performances. Fortunately, they’re both good enough actors that they can get away with it.
So, the live-action reimagining of Dumbo is not that bad. It has its slow spots and it really can’t match the emotional power of the original animated version. But, with all that taken into consideration, it’s still an undeniably entertaining two hours.
Widows is one of those films that I’ve been looking forward to seeing since I first read about it. Based on a BBC miniseries and featuring an amazingly talented cast, Widows is also director Steve McQueen’s first film since the Oscar-winning 12 Years A Slave.
The film deals with four women whose husbands are all killed during a failed heist. The widows, under the leadership of Viola Davis, join together to pull off the heist themselves. That may not sound like a typical Oscar movie but Widows has got tremendous buzz. Plus, you’ve got a cast that’s full of past Oscar nominees and winners (Viola Davis, Robert Duvall, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver, Liam Neeson) and actors who seem to be destined to be nominated some day (Colin Farrell, Michelle Rodriguez, Andre Holland, Carrie Coon, Garrett Dillahunt). All in all, there’s a lot of reasons to get excited for this one!