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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

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Batman Forever: A Review by Nate Hill 

It’s true, Batman Forever is a silly, overblown, cartoonish riot of buffoonry.  But so what? It’s also awesome in it’s own way, and inhabits a certain corner of the Batman culture, the side of things that is rooted in camp and unhinged wonderment. Now, there’s an important and discernable difference between taking things far and taking things too far. That difference is delineated on one side by a willingness to be goofy, colorful and not take this superhero stuff too seriously. The other side of that of course is a disregard for limits, throwing every ridiculous line, costume and awkward scene into it you can imagine. I’m referring to Joel Schumacher’s followup to this, Batman & Robin. Everything that is weird, wonderful and extravagant about Forever just revved up to much in Robin, resulting in a piss poor typhoon of mania and over acting. Not to say that Forever doesn’t have over acting. Ohhhh boy is there over acting. Between Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey, the thing is liable to give you epilipsy. But it somehow works despite its madness, a lucky stroke that Robin couldn’t have cared less about adhering to. Val Kilmer is the sedating antidote to Jones and Carrey, a remakably laid back Bats and a pretty solid casting choice, both as Brooding Bruce and Buttkicking Bats. Eternally broken up about the death of his patents, Bruce fights off Harvey Two Face Dent (Jones) in a garish, disarming Gotham City that resembles Mardi Gras in Dr. Seuss land. Jones’s Two Face is so far over the top, so rabid that it’s a wonder he didn’t give himself a bloody heart attack in the first take. Anyone who’s interested can read up on his performance, and how he pushed himself right to the heights of bombast in order to try and out-Carrey the Jim. Carrey, playing the Riddler, is a ball of twisted nerves himself, set loose on the wacky sets and basically given free reign to.. well.. go fucking nuts. It’s one of his most physical performances too, prancing around like a loon in green spandex that leaves nothing to the imagination. Aaron Eckhart’s Two Face may have had the edge for grit, but Jones has the rollicking clown version, and runs away to kookoo land with mannerisms that even call to mind The Joker in some scenes. The only thing I’ve seen him more hopped up in is Natural Born Killers, but shit man its hard to top his work in that. The story is all over the place, involving a nonsensical subplot with a mind control device, multiple elaborate set pieces, endless scenery chewing and the eventual arrival of Robin, played by Chris O’Donnell who is like the cinematic Buzz Killington. Michael Gough and Pat Hingle dutifully tag along as Alfred and Commissioner Gordon, both looking tired at this point. Debi Mazar and Drew Barrymore have amusing dual cameos as Two Face’s twin vixens, and Nicole Kidman does the slinky love interest shtick for Bruce as a sexy psychologist. Watch for an uncredited Ed Begley Jr. Too. There’s no denying the silliness, but one has to admit that the achievment in costume, production design and artistry are clear off the charts with this one, and visually it should be a legend in the franchise. Say what you will about it, I love the thing. 

Tim Burton’s Batman Returns: A Review By Nate Hill

Tim Burton’s Batman Returns is my second favourite Batman movie thus far. It’s pretty underrated, stylishly cheeky and full of ornate, wonderfully oppressive, melancholic set design and drips with a gothic sensability that only Burton included in his versions, and seems to be missing from the franchise these days. It’s dark, comical and just a little bit campy, always a winning combination. Michael Keaton steps back into the batsuit for a second time, and he’s even more somber and downbeat than in Burton’s original 1989 film. Keaton is so talented, and one only needs to look at his zany work in Beetlejuice and compare it to the heft and restraint he shows as the caped crusader to see this. Here he’s faced with a snowy, blackened and endlessly corrupt Gotham City, this time under siege from three wildly different villains. Danny Devito plays Oswald Cobblepot, a.k.a. The Penguin, in what is probably the most outlandish character in the otherwise grim film. He’s a bad tempered, knobbly little gremlin, encased in sallow makeup and sporting disgusting, pasty little flippers. It’s hard to tell it’s even Devito at all until that little smart ass mouth opens up to hurl calculated obscenities at anyone and everyone. He aims to be mayor, and only in freaky deaky Gotham would a plan like that ever be taken seriously, from a sewer dwelling, animalistic mobster with an army of clowns following him. Christopher Walken plays evil, ghoulish Max Schreck, an amoral monster of a businessman with nefarious plans of his own, and a haircut that would make Andy Warhol run for cover. Last and most memorable is Michelle Pfeiffer as Selina Kyle, Schreck’s awkward, meek secretary who eventually becomes Catwoman. And what a Catwoman she is. Forget Anne Hathaway, Julie Newmar take a number, and we won’t even mention Halle Berry. No one played the pussy quite like Pfeiffer. She’s got a shiny, skin tight outfit with the body to match, a sassy, sexy attitude, a whip smart mouth on her and just a hint of psychosis, making her my favourite film incarnation of the character. “Meow” she purrs sensually as an incendiary bomb detonates behind her. Damn. They all get wrapped up in various schemes and scams. Penguin wants ultimate power, which apparantly involves kidnapping a bunch of infants. Schreck wants ruthless progress to tear Old Gotham up in worship of the almighty dollar, and Catwoman is content to slash and burn everyone’s plans, until she gets a bit of a smolder in her eye for Batman, providing some electric sexual tension between the two of them that’s a highlight of the film. Neither of them are sure whether they want to kiss or kill, fight or fuck the other, and it’s devilishly entertaining watching them hash out their hormones in naughty little action sequences and slow, slinky intimate scenes, involving both Bruce and Selina as well as their feral alter egos. Their chemistry revolves at the center of the piece, with all manner of circus sideshow madness happening around them. Pat Hingle and Michael Gough diligently put in work as Commissioner Gordon and Alfred Pennyworth, with Doug Jones, Michael Murphy, Andrew Bryarniarski and Paul Reubens rounding out the roster. Burton outdid himself with style on this one, his trademark eye for loving detail laboriously employed here to the point where it surpasses the artistry of a comic book and starts to look like some mad dream of Vincent Price. He dipped his toe in the water of the Batman universe with his first outing. Here he plunges headlong into it and fully commits to a style and tone that’s distilled to a satisfactory point that he wasn’t quite at with Batman 1989. A treasure in the franchise, and a wicked fun film at that.