Tag Archives: DC

Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins

These days we take the abundance of DC/Batman films and TV series for granted, but back in the first half of the 2000’s there was a massive drought left on the land thanks to Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin, which we won’t go into here. Then Christopher Nolan came along and changed that forever, not with necessarily a bang, but the thoughtful, moody, introspective Batman Begins, a film that served as catalyst to one of the most celebrated motion picture trilogies of today. That’s not to say it didn’t blast into the scene with a bang, this is one seriously fired up action film that left iMax screens reeling and sound systems pumped. It’s just that Nolan gave the Batman legacy the brains and psychological depth that it deserves to go along with the fireworks, while Schumacher & Co. were simply making live action Saturday morning cartoons, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing either but after two films seemed a bit beneath the potential of what Batman could be.

Nolan bores into the roots of Bruce Wayne’s anguished past to expose themes of fear, not only facing his childhood fears but eventually becoming them to release the anger he’s harboured since that night in the alley. Christian Bale finds both the cavalier flippancy of Bruce and the obstinate, short tempered dexterity of Batman and yes, he makes an impression with a voice that has perhaps since become more well known than the films. Trained in the heartlands of the Far East by mysterious Ducard (Liam Neeson), Bruce returns to Gotham years later to find it rotting from the inside out with crime, corruption and poverty. Nolan shows the rocky road he sets out on and the failures he endures in his first few ventures onto the streets in costume, crossing paths with Cillian Murphy’s dangerous Dr. Jonathan ‘Scarecrow’ Crane, uneasily aligning forces with Gary Oldman’s stalwart Jim Gordon and assisted at every turn by Michael Caine’s Alfred Pennyworth and Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox. Nolan assembles a cast full of roles both big and small including Richard Brake, Mark Boone Jr, Ken Watanabe, Linus Roache, Rade Serbedzija, Joffrey Lannister, Rutger Hauer and more. I have to mention Katie Holmes because she gives one of the most underrated performances in the whole trilogy. I’m not sure what went on behind the scenes when recasting her with Maggie Gyllenhaal for the next film but it did no service to the character, Katie made it her own, is full of personality and will always be the real Rachel to me. Special mention must also be made of Tom Wilkinson as mob boss Carmine Falcone, who is only in a handful of scenes but scares the pants off of everyone with his off the cuff blunt dialogue, violent tendencies and shark-like personality.

I can’t say this is my favourite film in the franchise or even the one I’d call the best (Dark Knight holds both those honours), but it is definitely the one that stands out to me the most when I think of the trilogy as a whole. Why? Visual aesthetic and production design. With the next two films Nolan cemented a very naturally lit, real world vibe that became his signature touch on the legacy, but Begins is different. There’s a burnt umber, earthy, elemental, very gothic tone he used here that just isn’t there in the next two, and whether intentional or not, it sets this one in a Gotham slightly removed from Knight and Rises. The mood and story are also rooted far more in mysticism and the fantastical as opposed to the earthbound, economically minded, concrete edged sensibility of what’s to come. Just a few observations.

In any case Nolan pioneered an arresting new Gotham for Batman, his friends and foes to do battle in, he injected the smarts, philosophy and character development that the franchise had been thirsting for a long time before. Wally Pfister’s swooping cinematography, Hans Zimmer’s cannonball original score, Nathan Crowley’s spooky, cobwebbed production design and every performance in the film work to make this not just one hell of a Batman film, but an overall excellent fantasy adventure that truly transports you to its world, the mythology, development and destruction of which leaves a lasting imprint on the subconscious. Brilliant film.

-Nate Hill

Advertisements

The King has risen: A Joyous Appraisal of AQUAMAN

Now the dude in the video above isn’t singing about the movie I caught today (and I’m not denying the fact that that is a damn tasty burger he has there) but his song along in the words of the film’s charismatic lead: “That was awesome,” is kinda how I feel right now.  Yes folks, despite any negative press you’ve heard, read, whatever – Aquaman is a feast – a thrilling adventure that really transported me. Not merely into the sumptuous and glorious undersea kingdoms created by the filmmakers involved – but back to the fun, exuberant times I ‘used’ to have at the movies – before the dark clouds engulfed us, trapping us in the forgotten seas where the dark creatures of the trench started forcing us to feed on one franchise after the next. Dark, moody, brooding, shit. That is not the joy I remember in that magnificent dark place we call the cinema – where worlds merge and the magnitude of the movie-maker’s vision takes me into it’s care, placing me, willingly, under it’s spell.

What a spell indeed, let me tell you. James Wan had me when I read his response to a question regarding the tone of Aquaman: “I’m a film fan, I’m a product of the 1980s and 1990s, and a lot of people have said that  Aquaman has a very 1980s quality to it. Especially the high-fantasy of the 1980s, like Flash Gordon and Krull.”

DSC_9698.dng

Flash Gordon meets Krull! Vibrant, fantastical, magical world building on a big canvas. I don’t chiefly give to much of a fiddler’s fart about the MCU or the DCEU and their never ending cavalcade of chicanery, but, when I read Wan’s response to that question I was, hands down, not missing this picture. And it’s become a common phrase of late – “see it on the biggest screen possible” – but, meh, they’re right. Aquaman is a big picture, so that’s the best advice I can give.

aquaman__2018____japanese_poster_by_williansantos26_dct9sqg-pre

The cast are wonderful in their parts, and I get the feeling they understand the kind of ride they’re crafting. The exposition is fluid like the oceans that dominate the movie. You feel carried along on a current if excitement and wonder as the story advances. But, one the best parts truly, in terms of constructing this film which Wan did so masterfully, is that he simply shunned the Marvel formula of tying it together with all that has come before – a line of dialogue sorted that out. It’s a freeing maneuver that allows this exciting director to do what he does best, which is to flex is visual muscles and take us into a world that makes anything James Cameron has done thus far seem a little flaccid. The production design, the gliding camera, the effortless action. Oh my God – I love it.

aquaman-poster

Momoa brings a grand juxtaposition of the boy unwilling to take up his trident, mixed with a guy just playin’ it cool. His nonchalant approach is great, and I caught myself smiling at his delivery more than once. He is supported by strong players all. Patrick Wilson’s power-mad dictator, Dolph Lundgren on his seahorse (sorry, sea dragon). Willem Dafoe, always dependable, Nicole Kidman, getting better with age (love that fish suit), Amber Heard, feisty-sexy, badass Black Manta and hell, his dad is Jake ‘the Muss’ for Christ’s sake – and he can drink Fishman under the table.

It’s a whale of a tale I tell you lads, a whale of a tale that’s true. ‘Bout the flappin’ fish and a mother’s love – stoppin’ a deep sea war with the shores above. I’d swear by my tattoo if I had one but put simply – scintillating, sensational, spectacular. Home might be calling, but they’ll need to leave a message ’cause I’ll be out . . . watching Aquaman . . . again. GO SEE IT NOW!

As always, dig your movies . . .

flat,750x1000,075,t.u1

That Dude in the Audience.

The Return of The Return of Swamp Thing: An Interview with Jim Wynorski by Kent Hill

 

tumblr_mj4d6kSY7X1rvofayo1_640

Jim Wynorski is the man I want to be when I grow up. He is a sharp, prolific, terrific guy that doesn’t suffer fools and makes movies ’cause that’s what he loves – and that’s what he does best.

He has made over one hundred films, directed my beloved Deathstalker 2, and even written a foreword for my tribute/homage DS2 book Sword Dude 2 . He is a top bloke, as we say Down Under, and it had been a while since we last spoke ( for our chat on Deathstalker 2 click here: https://podcastingthemsoftly.com/2016/11/15/is-that-your-first-name-or-your-last-name-remembering-deathstalker-2-with-jim-wynorski-by-kent-hill/ ), so when I heard about the glorious reissue of Jim’s The Return of Swamp Thing I took a chance and phoned up this perpetually active filmmaker to see if he could spare the time to talk about the release.

IMG_3010.jpg

Thanks to my much improved recording setup, this time there is no transcription. This time you get to hear the man himself, and listen in as I touch base and hopefully convince a couple of you to check out the fantastic re-release of the awesomeness that is Wynorski’s  take on the comic that he loves.

The ever candid Jim always has surprises for me when we talk. Sadly some of the cool news he tells me I can’t share – it’s a for-my-ears-only kinda deal – but fear not, he does deliver many a splendid anecdote.

(GET THE DVD https://www.amazon.com/Return-Swamp-2-Disc-Special-Blu-ray/dp/B0791TR1S5 AND THE SOUNDTRACK https://www.amazon.com/Return-Original-Motion-Picture-Soundtrack/dp/B07FHLZZFQ/ref=sr_1_2?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1533815456&sr=8-2&keywords=RETURN+OF+SWAMP+THING+SOUNDTRACK&dpID=61ZcXsCkJ1L&preST=_SX342_QL70_&dpSrc=srch)

Long before Marvel and DC dominated the popular consciousness, Jim Wynorski was directing a DC movie. Before we see the proposed, rehashed series spearheaded by Aquaman’s Jamie Wan, take a trip back to the sweaty swamp and see Dick Durockthe original and still the best – rise from the murky depths and fight evil mutants, seduce Heather Locklear and give the thumbs up. The return of The Return of Swamp Thing

1tjA

SWORDDUDECOV

https://www.amazon.com/Sword-Dude-2/dp/B07G4L9J3P

“God wants you on the floor.” : Remembering Hoosiers with Angelo Pizzo by Kent Hill

3c05cbcd25d647509480b2fb6c04b151

It’s hard not to be romantic about the sports film. From classics like The Natural and Bull Durham to more modern efforts like The Blind Side and Moneyball. They range across all genres and all sports. Football (Rudy, Any Given Sunday), Golf (Tin Cup, The Legend of Bagger Vance), of course, Baseball (Field of Dreams, For Love of the Game) and in the case of Hoosiers, Basketball (Blue Chips, He Got Game). But Hoosiers, and I happen to share this sentiment, is one of the finer examples of the sports genre and is, for my money, the best basketball film ever made.

559438377_o.jpg

Now, I use the term sports film very loosely. Yes all of the aforementioned contain the listed sports as part of their narratives. But, the games are not really what lies at the heart of these tales. The true centerpiece are themes like redemption, romance, the search for self, the search for acceptance – all these things within the characters either as player, coach, fan etc.

1933d997c12688e5647d03693629694a

So why do I think Hoosiers is the best example of this genre? Well, it’s simple. Hoosiers has all of these working within it. Comedy, romance, drama, redemption, the search for self, the search for acceptance. Okay, so it doesn’t have a crazed Bobby De Niro terrorizing any of the players to feed his grossly misguided obsession and distorted view of the world – but that doesn’t mean that it lacks thrilling, intense and impactful moments that keep you watching and ultimately cheering for the underdog, the little team that could. One could argue that this is a key ingredient in these kinds of films. A down-on-his-luck former golf pro, a disgruntled former player trying to manage a failing team, a boxer with all the odds stacked against him or a basketball team from a town in the middle on nowhere that couldn’t possibly take on the big schools and win.

Then there are the characters – all looking for second chances. Hackman’s coach, Hopper’s alcoholic father, Hershey’s teacher. They all have something to prove, something to gain from the victories the home team are accumulating. And, they are all masterful turns by each of the three principals. Indeed from all concerned with the production. None more so than that of first-time screenwriter and my guest Angelo Pizzo.

The man who was headed for a career in politics eventually ended up going to film school. After graduating, and spending sometime working in the arena of television, Angelo felt the need, at last, to make a film about a subject he was passionate about – basketball. And, being unable to find writer for the project . . . well . . . he decided to have a crack at it himself.

This wonderful film, under marvelous direction, David Anspaugh, from a great script with a stellar cast and punctuated by a phenomenal Jerry Goldsmith score is a small miracle that has, not unlike the team portrayed in its story, taken on the giants and carved out its place in cinema history.

If you haven’t seen Hoosiers, I urge you to do so. Don’t get caught watchin’ the paint dry…

SUICIDE SQUAD – A Review by Frank Mengarelli

suicide-squad-trailer-image-79-600x252

“Will you live for me?”

SUICIDE SQUAD is a complete mess, yet it is a total glory. I know, relax. Hear me out. Since the resurrection of Christopher Nolan’s Batman, there has been a forceful push to ground a superhero film in reality. Sometimes it works, other times is does not. SUICIDE SQUAD removes itself from that universe and takes place within movie world.

wp-1470375845553.jpg

 

There’s a lot that is blatantly strange and oddly incoherent about the film. Whether it was from studio tinkering (panic) or that everyone was on acid while making the film. None of that matters. The film has a great soundtrack and devilishly fun performances from the entire cast.

The film isn’t bright and glossy with a drumbeat joke every five minutes, it’s sloppy and dirty with perverse humor that will curl even the most uptight hipster’s mustache, while he’s passive aggressively using the Oxford comma to demean this film.

wp-1470375812740.jpg

Will Smith’s overly stereotypical ghetto jive, the over objectifying of Margot Robbie’s butt, the uppity bitch mode of Viola Davis, and Jared Leto’s insane transformation into a Joker that’s feverishly in love, are a step away from the safe mediocrity we’ve seen in recent tent-pole films.

wp-1470375831463.jpg

Director David Ayer has received so much critical flack for this film, it isn’t even funny. This wasn’t a film made for critics, nor was it seeking the approval of top ten lists. It’s loud, it’s obnoxious, it’s gratuitous, and it’s everything that the new DC Universe should aim for going forward. Let other studios play it safe with their glossy sheen, DC; keep forming a lewd and egregious world for the rest of us.

A Suicide Squad review by Josh Hains

Don’t worry, the following review is a spoiler free zone.

Appalling. Bad. Very, very bad. Trash. Garbage. Stupid. Incoherent. Incomprehensible. Dumb. Boring. Awful. Mediocre. Disaster. Rotten. I don’t agree with words such as these being used in reviews for Suicide Squad to describe the movie as whole. I’m not being blindly dismissive like some social media users out there who are mad that this highly anticipated movie isn’t getting a great critical reception. I just don’t agree, I had a different experience, and this review will reflect that experience.

Suicide Squad has a pretty straightforward plot: government spook Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) assembles Task Force X, a motley crue of super-villains plucked from prison, and let loose in a city under attack by a malevolent meta-human. Kill the bad guy, save the city, and get some time off your prison sentences, that’s honestly as deep as it goes. But that’s not a detrimental aspect of the movie. In many comic book movies, the plot takes a back-seat to the action, humour, and character development, and Suicide Squad embraces that trope with wide open arms. With these team oriented comic book movies, it’s kind of expected that the story takes a back-seat to the character interactions and action, and if you need proof of that look no further than The Avengers movies. You don’t need an over complicated plot with far too many sub-plots for this kind of movie (I’m looking at you Batman V Superman). Simplicity is key, so by the time the plot gets thrown out of the window late in the second act you really won’t mind because director David Ayer makes up for it with great character moments, irreverent Deadpool style humour, and a wallop of fun action. Think of this movie as the DC equivalent of The Expendables, with way more humour but no gore, and you’ll be fine.

Speaking of character moments, many of the best belong to Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), and El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), all of whom are given just enough screen time (or more than enough) to make us care about the characters as they contend with their dire mission. I was initially worrisome about the casting of Smith as Deadshot, I thought he might end up becoming overbearing and even over the top, but he proved me wrong with a subtle and believable performance, his best since the Pursuit Of Happyness. Joel Kinnaman matches Smith’s performance, bringing a naturalistic touch to what could have been a stereotypical stubborn leader role. Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is exactly like the Harley I grew up watching in the animated series that her creator Paul Dini wrote (minus the jester costume), and a total scene stealer. More on her later. El Diablo, the “fire guy” as Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) tauntingly dubs him, has the biggest emotional journey of any of the Squad members, though not as much screen time as the trio of aforementioned characters.

Captain Boomerang gets a solid amount of time to do his thing, which is make plenty of jokes and jabs, and kick a few asses along the way, but he isn’t given quite enough to do, which is a shame because he’s quite a lot of fun. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Killer Croc, Karen Fukuhara as Katana, Cara Delevigne as June Moon & Enchantress, and Viola Davis as Amanda Waller, don’t get much to do, and neither does the sacrificial lamb Slipknot (Adam Beach), who follows in the footsteps of other villains in Suicide Squad comic and cartoons whose sole purpose is to prove that the bad guys aren’t playing around. Davis, a blank slate lacking charisma and passion behind her delivery of lines, doesn’t do much more than manipulate a few minds and give orders, and Delevigne’s characters aren’t fleshed out enough for us to care all that much about her. Killer Croc and Katana have minor moments of asskicking, and Croc gets a couple of funny lines, but neither of them are all that relevant to the plot, and easily could have been removed from the movie altogether without hurting the final product. However brief they may be, the two much hyped cameos, which includes Batman himself (Ben Affleck), fit naturally into the movie, and lack the feeling of being shoehorned into the movie for the sake of having them there.

Now back to Harley. Margot Robbie, equipped with a believable Bronx accent, and a fresh take on the New 52 Suicide Squad comic iteration of Harley, brings life and a lot of love for the character to a performance many were worried would fall flat. She looks, sounds, and behaves exactly like the Harley Quinn fans know and fondly love, and it’s a joy to see her steal scene after scene. She’s also fortunate enough to have some of the funniest lines in the movie, which Robbie delivers with a glint of pure enjoyment in her eyes.

In my eyes, the performance I was most drawn to belongs to Jared Leto as the Clown Prince of Crime himself, The Joker. Seemingly drawing from previous Jokers such as Caesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, and Heath Ledger, as well as the vast number of animated incarnations, Leto gives us a fresh take on the iconic villain that doesn’t feel like any Joker that came before it. I’d equate the performance to that of taking all the best elements of the aforementioned Jokers, and building from the ground up a composite of what that may look like. He’s not better, or worse than Heath Ledger’s Oscar winning turn as The Joker, he’s just different in his own unique fashion. I do think he’s better than the Jokers pre-Ledger though. Leto is gleefully over the top, cackling and growling like a tiger waiting to tear the face off his next unsuspecting victim, but not too over the top. This Joker’s as unpredictable, crafty, and brutal as ever before, but not overbearingly so. Sadly, Joker’s vastly underused, with much of his screen time left on the cutting room floor. I’d love to see more of this new Joker. The relationship between he and Harley, while volatile and unhealthy, is perfectly reflective of the one seen in the pages and frames of various DC comics and cartoons, and seeing it come to life was also a rather joyous experience.

Throughout the second and third acts of the movie, the editing seems to be a bit on the choppy side, more predominantly in the third act than the second act by a mile. It became pretty clear to me that the push for a two hour crowd pleasing comic book movie got in the way of giving the sidelined characters more depth and more impactful screen presences. Somehow, despite the clunky nature of the editing (which isn’t very distracting, thankfully), these scenes that are affected by it still work fairly well until the editing seems to get back on track and working just fine.

Beyond the quibbles I have with the editing, the story, the character development, and the casting of Amanda Waller, I still enjoyed this movie a lot, in some ways more than I thought I would, and in a couple of ways, less. I do not feel that this is a bad movie by any means, I think it’s actually damn good, but it’s not quite as great as it could have been, though I wasn’t always wanting or expecting it to be great anyways. If anything, all I ever wanted was yet another fun comic book movie I could lose myself in while watching these badass villains kick all kinds of ass six ways to Sunday. David Ayer gave me that in spades.

Now where’s the sequel?