Edward Zwick’s Legends Of The Fall is sweeping Hollywood grandeur at its finest. It’s a raging typhoon, one part family high drama, one part war film, wrapped in a nostalgic, old world romance that hearkens back to the golden age of cinema. It’s an epic as only the pictures can show us, blowing a gust of storytelling wind at us and depositing us on the endless plains of the 1900’s, in the monumental Rocky Mountains of Montana. The story focuses on Colonel William Ludlow (Anthony Hopkins, gnarled nobility incarnate), living with his three sons in the desolation of an old world making way for a new, as the four of them deal with love, loss, war, nature and interpersonal conflict in a story that plumbs the chasms of human nature and spits out characters that bleed raw feeling, reach out to one another in the clamour of a nation only just being formed (like the land itself), and clash in tragic harmony, spanning years in their lives and showing us desperation, grief and brotherhood. Brad Pitt, in the fiercest performance I’ve ever seen him muster, plays Tristan, Ludlow’s half Native son with a wild streak a mile long and a kinship with the tangled wilderness he calls home. Aiden Quinn plays the middle brother Alfred, a reserved, analytical type. When their younger brother Samuel (Henry Thomas), arrives home with his beautiful fiancé Susannah (Julia Ormond) sparks fly between her and Tristan, and an immediate rift is formed in the family that Ormond sees all too well, but cannot deny her love for Pitt. Samuel is a fragile, easily traumatized man, and when the boys are driven from their lands to fight in the war, it dampens his soul with a ruining force of horror that leaves him scarred forever. Tristan, being almost animalistic at heart, sinks into the carnage of combat with the keen resilience of a wolf, and is transformed in a different fashion. This to me is the penultimate sequence of the film, as it strays from the picturesque grandeur of their life before, removed from the world of conflict, into the sheer reality that befalls a country in formation, representing a loss of innocence so to speak. Neither of them are the same after that, and the cracks in their brotherhood only etch further after tragedy befalls Susannah, blackening their idealistic home life as well and tainting the memory with aching sadness. Tristan tries to move on, either to wrap the hurt in a cloak of new events, or because his instinctual nature spurs him on, but he almost seems to be cursed, and more hardships step into his path as well. I don’t want to deter you from seeing this by laying all this doom and gloom into my review, because it’s actually a very beautiful film to see unfolding, it just deals with incredibly tragic subject matter that will leave you breathless with tears, like Titanic, or Romeo & Juliet. Pitt.. What can I say. He’s outstanding, giving Tristan the fearsome gaze of a wounded animal, and the love struck longing that’s shot down by fate, turning him into a prisoner of his own ephemeral love for those who are taken from him. It’s my second favourite of his roles (it’s hard to top Twelve Monkeys) and he shines in it like a silver star over the Montana horizon. Montana itself basically screams to be pored over by a camera, and the cinematography will make you feel every gust of mountain air and gasp at the looming crags and sun dappled glades that leap out from your screen at you. It’s one of the last of a dying breed: the romantic epic. Like Titanic, or Gone With The Wind and Doctor Zhievago before it, it posses that untouchably bold quality that showcases emotion, tragic happenstance and deep longing all set in a breathtaking setting that is meant to move and astonish you. A classic.
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.