THE FILM YAP » michael caine We Never Shut Up About Movies Thu, 20 Nov 2014 14:58:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Interstellar Wed, 05 Nov 2014 20:55:08 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Interstellar - inside

“Interstellar” sure is an odd, dense, occasionally brilliant and occasionally maddening cinematic experience. The latest from director Christopher Nolan continues the mind-trippyness of “Inception” and marries it with an outer space story about astronauts from Earth exploring other galaxies and dimensions, in between disastrous explosions and human frailty.

It wants to be the thematic and aesthetic inheritor to “2001: A Space Odyssey” but registers several orders of magnitude lower on the scale of worthiness. It plays out as one long (nearly three-hour) space ride with a lot of mind-boggling science and pseudo-science mixed into the humanist blender.

The movie never failed to engage me, but it didn’t leave me very satisfied, either. Nolan and his cast and crew get the quantum mechanics of their space tale right, but the human element never makes it off the launch pad.

The story — Nolan and his brother, Jonathan, wrote the screenplay — is set in a typically vague near-future where things have gone awry for humanity. An agricultural blight is wiping out the Earth’s crops one by one, and dust storms blow in from time to time like biblical revelations.

Cooper (Matt McConaughey) is a pilot/engineer-turned farmer. There’s not much use for science guys these days, just those who make food. Cooper resents the way humanity has bookended its ambitions; we’re supposed to be explorers and pioneers, he laments on his dirt-caked porch, not tenders of sod. His son, Tom, embraces the agrarian future but his 10-year-old daughter, Murph (Mackenzie Foy), dreams the dreams of her father.

Through a quick, not entirely coherent succession of expository scenes, Cooper is recruited to lead a NASA mission that represents humanity’s last hope. It seems a stable wormhole opened up near Saturn 50 years ago. Previous astronauts were sent through to scout out a habitable new home world for the species. Cooper and his crew, chiefly Anne Hathaway as astrophysicist Dr. Brand, are supposed to link up with them.

The space travel scenes, through wormholes and gravitational slingshots and whatnot, are transcendently beautiful and awe-inspiring. Aided by Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography and the familiar pounding musical score of Hans Zimmer, Nolan has captured the notion of space wrapping in itself in an ingenious way previously unseen on the big screen.

I won’t give away too much about what they find on the other side, other than to say the passage of time is a primary consideration. The theory of relativity states that time travels at different speeds depending on where you are, so the team must complete their quest before everyone on Earth starves. Meanwhile, Cooper frets upon the children he left behind, who transmit video messages into the ether unsure if he’ll ever see them. (Jessica Chastain and Casey Affleck play Murph and Tom as adults.)

Unfortunately, the Nolans’ script suffers from similarity lapses in relativity, though on the narrative rather than the temporal plane. The story races ahead heedlessly at times, testing the audience’s ability to keep up based on half-garbled dialogue. Then it will go into a slow spin, as the characters get all moony and contemplative, and we wish they’d fire up the jets or blow a hatch, or something.

(I should also mention I often had difficulty hearing the dialogue — not understanding it, but just hearing it. I’m not sure if was the speaker system in the particular IMAX theater where “Interstellar” was screened or the film’s sound mix, but Zimmer’s music blasts at you in waves of organ chords that overpower the actors’ voices like lily pads caught in a tidal wave.)

There’s power and majesty in “Interstellar,” but also smallness and limitation. The film’s sheer grandiosity serves to expose its inability to coherently line up the X-Y-Zs of its plot. Nolan & Co. aim for the stars, quite literally, and if they don’t reach them, they provide us enough of a glimpse to leave us dazzled and befuddled. It’s like being knocked out of your regular orbit, teetering off to points unknown.

4 Yaps

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A Bridge Too Far (1977) Mon, 06 Oct 2014 04:16:06 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Richard Attenborough directing a scene from "A Bridge Too Far."

Richard Attenborough directing a scene from “A Bridge Too Far.”

Recently this column focused on “Theirs Is the Glory,” a fairly unique film in which the actual participants of the failed Allied stratagem to end World War II by Christmas 1944, Operation Market Garden, returned to the site of the battles one year after the fact to recreate the action for a motion picture. The same military operation later became the basis for the 1977 feature film, “A Bridge Too Far.”

In my essay on “Theirs Is the Glory,” I mostly concentrated on the similarities between it and “Bridge,” wondering if screenwriter William Goldman or author Cornelius Ryan, on whose book the latter film is based, were influenced by the earlier picture. That inspired me to go back to “A Bridge Too Far,” and see how it has held up to my memory.

It only reinforced my opinion: “A Bridge Too Far” is one of the great WWII epics, and an incredible marriage of narrative structure, inspired direction, gritty performances and technical mastery from the support crew, particularly the musical score by John Addison (who himself served as a soldier in Market Garden).

Market Garden would remain a forgotten bit of history for 30 years until Cornelius Ryan wrote his book about the adventure, in which the Allies dropped 35,000 paratroopers behind enemy lines to capture a series of bridges. The plan was to have XXX Corp, the British armor column, punch up the road to connect the bridges, thus creating a hole directly into Germany.

Except, the Allies ignored evidence of a great deal of German resistance along the route, including an entire Panzer tank division near Arnhem, the last and most important of the bridges, since it spanned the Rhine River and the border into Germany itself. The British paratroopers, who were only supposed to have to hold the bridge for two days, gave up after nine, leaving behind 80% of their men as casualties or prisoners of war.

That’s a lot of story to cram into a feature film, even a three-hour one, but Goldman’s screenplay is an exercise in elegant structure. The story begins and ends with generals, both Allied and German, as they plan bold stratagems and then later try to pick up the pieces of where things went wrong. The middle section focuses on the lower ranks of soldiers, the dogfaces who actually have to carry out the fight their superiors dreamed up.

You’ve heard of “all-star casts,” but this one is simply jaw-dropping. For the Brits: Anthony Hopkins, Dirk Bogarde, Michael Caine, Edward Fox, Sean Connery. For the Germans: Hardy Krüger, Maximilian Schell, Wolfgang Preiss. For the Americans: Robert Redford, Elliot Gould, Gene Hackman, James Caan, Ryan O’Neal. Not to mention Liv Ullman and Laurience Olivier as Dutch civilians, and Denholm Elliott and John Ratzenberger turning up in bit roles.

Redford, arguably the biggest movie star in the world at the time, doesn’t even show up until after the two-hour mark.

I found it interesting how the script is laid out into essentially four sections. The first is the planning of Operation Market Garden, in which British heads are swelled and the first seeds of doubt creep in. Frank Grimes has a terrific role as a nervous major who unsuccessfully points out the presence of tanks, and is sent on medical leave as a result. The second section is the actual drop, a beautiful and daunting ballet of parachutes — more than 1,000 men jumped out of planes for the sequence — and the Allies’ initial success in taking their objectives. The third is what I call the “American vignettes,” and the last act is when everything goes to hell.

The vignettes are a quick succession of three stories centered around American characters. Gould is up first in a semi-comedic bit about his regiment failing to take the first bridge before the Germans blow it up, necessitating the building of a claptrap “Bailey bridge” to get the tanks across — but not before delaying them 36 hours. Gould is terrific and charismatic, chomping on a cigar and shouting jokes in between the orders. Addison’s music goes into a jazzy, bouncy mode.

Then we get Caan as a nearly monosyllabic sergeant who protects his young captain — he doesn’t put on his coat at first, so we think he’s just a punk private or something — even guaranteeing the officer that he won’t die. He appears to fail in his mission, as the captain is left for dead after being shot in the head. But the sergeant carries the body in a jeep through enemy lines to a mobile Army hospital and, at gunpoint, forces the surgeon (a spot-on Arthur Hill) to examine the wounded lad, revealing that he’s still alive.

(This may sound like Hollywood bullshit, but other than the part about being chased in a jeep by German soldiers, it really happened.)

The last and most harrowing of the vignettes is Redford as the major tasked with crossing the Waal River and taking the bridge at Nijmegen. Due to logistical snafus, they had to make a daytime crossing in flimsy portable boats, the wind blew away their smoke cover, and the unit was cut to pieces. Watching Redford with his helmeted head tucked down, pulling his rifle butt through the water like an oar, all the while chanting “Hail Mary, full of grace …” remains one of my seminal cinematic moments. (Again, this really happened.)

Connery also gets a mini-vignette of his own as Major General Roy Urquhart, commander of the British airborne division dropped near Arnhem, who gets cut off from his own command and has to hide out in a little Dutch enclave, dodging from house to house, during which time he is presumed dead.

Lieutenant-General Frederick Browning, played by Bogarde, more or less acts as the heavy, playing the gung-ho Brit general who will not cancel the operation for any reason. Those who “rock the boat” are encouraged to clam up or suffer the consequences.

At the end of the film, Browning is depicted as duplicitously claiming to always have been skeptical about the operation — “As you know I’ve always thought we tried to go a bridge too far” — rather than an unreserved booster. In reality, Browning raised his doubts prior to the operation, and he and his family — Bogarde actually served alongside Browning during the war — were outraged at his villainous portrayal.

It being only three decades and a bit after the events depicted, many of the actors had an opportunity to talk with and even befriend the men they were playing. Fox knew Lt. Gen. Brian Horrocks, commander of XXX Corp, prior to filming and later cited it as his favorite movie role. Caine changed some of his dialogue after asking his counterpart how he would have issued orders, and the real Lt. Col. Johnny Frost had to explain to Hopkins that he would never have run too quickly between cover, because he had to show his men how contemptuous he was of enemy fire.

The production of “Bridge” is a Homeric story unto itself, and one others have already told better than I could — notably by Goldman himself, who wrote a making-of book, “Story of a Bridge Too Far,” and also included an entire chapter about it in his seminal showbiz tome, “Adventures in the Screenwriting Trade.”

(Extremely short version: Joseph E. Levine, a lifelong maverick producer, personally financed the film’s $22 million budget — about $86 million in today’s dollars — himself, then convinced some of the biggest global movie stars to participate by all accepting the same weekly pay rate. He recruited Richard Attenborough (him again) to direct, undertaking an incredible logistical and artistic challenge. Then as some of the amazing footage of the airdrops and battle scenes started to come back in, Levine showed the rushes to distributors who bid on the international distribution rights to the film. As a result, “Bridge” was already in the black before the first ticket was sold.)

The ultimate result was surprising, and not. Everywhere but the U.S., the film was a smash hit. Here, American and audiences and critics used to rousing pro-Allies depictions of the war collectively shrugged their shoulders at a massive production about a colossal military screw-up. Thus, “A Bridge Too Far” is barely known on these shores.

Their loss; “A Bridge Too Far” was perhaps the last of the great World War II epics.

5 Yaps

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The Eagle Has Landed (1976) Mon, 05 Aug 2013 04:38:12 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The Eagle Has Landed - inside

“The Eagle Has Landed” is a pretty preposterous movie based on a ridiculous premise, but a terrific cast almost pulls it out of the garbage heap. Director John Sturges — veteran of several terrific pictures including “The Great Escape” and “The Magnificent Seven” — has a keen eye for composition and knows how to stage action scenes very well.

But this was also his last film, ending his career on something of a sour note (though the movie was quite commercially successful).

I’m not sure what Sturges really could have done with the material, based on a novel by Jack Higgins. The setup is that the Germans come up with a cockamamie plot to kidnap Winston Churchill. In late 1943, the war is considered already lost by most high up in the Third Reich, but they figure capturing the bull of England can at least delay the inevitable for awhile and increase the morale of the Axis.

Robert Duvall plays Radl, the colonel charged with coming up with a plan to grab Churchill. The idea came from the real-life rescue of Benito Mussolini by German paratroopers from the mountain ski resort where he was being held by the Italians who deposed him.

His commander (Anthony Quayle) gives Radl the assignment out of disgust, calling it a silly joke. Write up a contingency plan so somebody can stick it in the bottom of their desk is how he puts it. Radl laughs along, but as he pokes into the intelligence, he learns that the idea actually has merit. Churchill is scheduled to vacation in the remote (fictional) coastal town of Studley Constable. It would be a simple matter to sneak in a team of soldiers, snatch him up and get out on a disguised ship.

I liked the Radl character quite a lot — a decorated hero now relegated to unimportant duties by his wounds; he’s missing an eye and, apparently, his left hand is a prosthetic. Duvall gives him a sad, noble quality, the weary soldier who knows he serves a corrupt and loathsome regime but offers his full loyalty nonetheless.

Michael Caine plays Steiner, the disgraced paratrooper colonel selected by Radl to lead the mission. When we first meet Steiner, he and his men are returning from a tough fight on the Soviet front and encounter German soldiers putting Jews aboard a train.

Inexplicably, Steiner goes into a rage, strikes another officer and helps a woman captive attempt to escape. Instead, she’s shot and killed. He and his men are court-martialed and assigned to suicidal duty in the English Chanel, so Radl’s offer is their only chance to be regain honor.

Why would a loyal soldier of the Reich object to the well-known plan for the Jews? It’s never really made clear, and the Steiner character remains something of a mystery until the end. Caine and Sturges reportedly battled during production, and it resulted in the main character remaining distant and unrelatable.

Donald Pleasence also has a terrific little turn as Heinrich Himmler, who personally authorizes the Eagle mission via a letter signed by Hitler himself, which may or may not be a forgery. It’s soon clear that Radl is Himmler’s catspaw, to be used and disposed of based on the outcome of the operation.

Donald Sutherland has a corker of a role as Liam Devlin, an IRA insurgent who gets recruited into the mission by the Germans. He’s a red-headed charmer and brawler, sent ahead to infiltrate the town as a marsh warden — a position of dubious meaning to these American ears. He carries a shotgun and patrols the countryside, so I gather he’s a constable of some sort.

While spying things out, Devlin falls for local lass Molly (Jenny Agutter), almost 19 and an accomplished equestrian. Their affair is perhaps the most outlandish aspect of the whole over-the-top story. Despite knowing Devlin for a grand total of two days, Molly is somehow willing to betray her countrymen, and even kill one of them, to protect a German spy.

Devlin gets into trouble with a local tough who has a sweet eye on Molly. Upon their first meeting at the local pub, he refuses Devlin’s offer to buy him a drink. After Devlin pummels the man in a bout of fisticuffs, the old gravedigger throws a bucket of water on the man’s face to revive him, and offers the movie’s funniest line:

“Well, Arthur, looks like he bought you a drink after all!”

The whole cast acquits themselves well, and all of the half-dozen leads are terrific in their roles, even as the script (by Tom Mankiewicz) requires them to do and say some pretty zany stuff.

I should point out that this is a rare World War II movie in which English and American actors play Germans, which makes for some strange audience dynamics as the action plays out. Late in the game, we’re introduced to an imbecilic American reserve colonel played by Larry Hagman, who frets about the war ending without him getting any combat experience.

When he learns about the Churchill plot, he declines to inform his superiors and rushes off with a few men to take on the Germans himself. Steiner’s seasoned men quickly dispatch the Yanks in a sequence that almost reaches Keystone Kops levels of comedy — until we remember these are American soldiers fighting and dying (poorly).

The film ends as absurdly as it progresses. Steiner, his entire command decimated, refuses to flee and impersonates an American soldier (Jeff Conaway), continuing the mission to kidnap Churchill alone. He manages to make it to the mansion where they’ve hidden him, sneak up and kill him, dying himself moments later when guards arrive.

The young American captain (Treat Williams) marvels at his audacity to singlehandedly murder the British leader — but then we learn that the dead man is the double of the real Churchill, who’s actually meeting with FDR and Stalin in Tehran.

In other words, the entire enterprise was a ruse. It’s a fitting end for a movie about a made-up plot that was a joke until it became something more.

I loved the cast of “The Eagle Has Landed,” but it fails Gene Siskel’s test of whether you’d prefer to watch the same people doing almost anything else instead.

3 Yaps

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Battle of Britain (1969) Mon, 22 Jul 2013 04:19:46 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Battle of Britain - inside

Made nearly three decades after the events it depicted, “Battle of Britain” is an exercise in deliberate hagiography. It’s a British movie extolling the heroism and and strategic thinking of their own kind during the summer and fall of 1940, when the over-matched Royal Air Force stopped Hitler’s planned land invasion of the U.K. long before it even got started.

It’s a big-budget spectacle with an all-star cast, including Michael Caine, Laurence Olivier, Trevor Howard, Christopher Plummer, Susannah York, Robert Shaw, Ralph Richardson and Edward Fox. A young Ian McShane even turns up as a novice pilot with a family of young children who are imperiled during the London bombings.

The cast is distinctly subservient to the aircraft, however, with very few characters getting any sort of development. Pretty much the lone exception is Plummer as a Canadian pilot married to a British section officer. He needles her to ask for a transfer so they can be nearer, but bound by a sense of duty, she puts him off.

It’s notable that York wears a short, poofy bob haircut and modern makeup, resulting in a look that transposes 1969 for 1940. She could easily be one of Austin Powers’ flower-power girls via a quick wardrobe change.

Director Guy Hamilton and screenwriters James Kennaway and Wilfred Greatorex (working from the book “The Narrow Margin” by Derek Dempster and Derek Wood) approached the material with the apparent goal of making the most historically accurate account possible. Much of their efforts went toward recreating the airborne battles, gathering together a sizable air force of actual WWII craft or close approximations.

They also used a large number of realistic replicas, both life-size ones on the ground and flying models. The special effects are decent enough for 1969, although it isn’t too hard to detect the shifts between real and replica aircraft.

Explosions on the ground look too much like rigged effects — such as how a lone airplane on the ground will be hit dead-on by a single bomb, with no other explosives landing nearby. That’s simply not how cluster bombing of that era worked; that tactic involved hordes of bombs being dropped at once, hoping a small percentage would detonate on target.

They also employ not-very-special effects for the flying explosions, which appear to have been hand-drawn directly onto the celluloid. The result looks something like when you successfully hit your target in an early 1980s arcade game.

Coming out a year after “2001: A Spacey Odyssey” and only eight years before “Star Wars,” the effects in “Battle of Britain” were already anachronistic.

The film is mostly fair to the German side, though the lack of comparable Teutonic stars as counterparts to the English ones belies the notion of a truly balanced depiction. But we get to see how the cockiness of both sides’ pilots soon crumbles into fatigue and despair.

The movie does illustrate how the tides of war, and even human history, can be changed by the smallest of events.

Hitler had expressly decreed that London was not to be bombed, with the Luftwaffe instead concentrating on wiping out the British airfields along the coasts. But during a run, a German Heinkel bomber goes off-course and the pilot decides to dump their payload before heading back. In retaliation for some minor damage near the outskirts of London, the Allies organize a bombing run of their own on Berlin — something the leaders of the Third Reich had vowed would never happen.

Vexed, Hitler and company shifted the focus of their airborne attacks from the airfields to the British capital. This resulted in terrible loss of life, but it also gave the RAF a chance to recover sufficiently and start mounting a serious air defense. Most historians regard this blunder as a turning point in the war.

At the start of the movie, Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding (Olivier) had unctuously predicted that they would have to inflict losses on the German attackers in the neighborhood of four to one to have any hope of winning the air battle. Eventually, the German losses indeed became too high, and the plan to invade Great Britain was scrapped.

I think “Battle of Britain” is one of those movies that recedes as time goes by rather than its reputation swelling. Seen now, it’s an often dull litany of aerial sequences interrupted by talky exchanges of dialogue on the ground with little impact. The film’s only real enduring legacy is the fact that its aerial footage was reused many, many times in other cinematic portrayals — including “Midway” and “Hope and Glory.”

Part of this had to do with the considerable skill with which those sequences were shot (minus the hokey fake explosions), but also with the fact that the airplanes used in 1969 simply weren’t available later on.

A serviceable if unremarkable WWII war film, “Battle of Britain” exists mostly as a marker of great deeds rather than truly capturing them.

3 Yaps

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Now You See Me Thu, 30 May 2013 23:06:53 +0000 Continue reading ]]>  


There’s undoubtedly a psychological, mathematical or even editorial explanation of how and why “Now You See Me” suckered me with its very first shuffle of the cards.

Not caring much to read a fun-sucking deconstruction of this visual deception is at least a sign this magician movie has done its job (unlike frowny-faced yawners “The Prestige” and “The Illusionist”). Although it persuasively justifies its reason for existing by the finish, the end-credits song spells it out: Phoenix’s “Entertainment.”

It’s in the pursuit of that word that magic and movies aren’t entirely dissimilar. And they share an immutable truth: You see what you want to see. So, if you want to see a nimble, snappy caper so bantamweight it might start floating from your mind a few hours after it’s over, “Now You See Me” fits the bill.

The film’s prologue introduces four magicians of varying skills and successes. Danny (Jesse Eisenberg) is a mid-level prestidigitator not above a street-magic hustle; Henley (Isla Fisher) is his former assistant turned Harriet Houdini. Merritt (Woody Harrelson) is a once-famous mentalist who couldn’t foresee his bankruptcy. And Jack (Dave Franco) exploits a crowd’s skepticism for some fleet-fingered pickpocketing.

After they’re summoned to an abandoned New York apartment, the film jumps forward a year. Now known as the Four Horsemen, the quartet has set up shop at Las Vegas’s MGM Grand under the financial aegis of Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine).

There, they pull off what seems to be a transatlantic teleportation of $3 million in Euros from a Paris vault. It’s the only trick the crowd sees that night, but they can’t complain … not when the money rains down on them to stuff in their pockets.

Naturally, their act draws the ire of the FBI and Interpol, whose investigation is fronted by Alma (Mélanie Laurent), a rookie French agent entranced by magic, and Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), who can’t believe he’s been yanked from a big mob takedown to tend to a seemingly small-time case. The heist also draws the interest of Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), a former magician who turned to exposing performers’ secrets for money and sees the Horsemen as his next big payday.

It’s not quite a spoiler to say the Four Horsemen adhere to their promise of staying several steps ahead of the increasingly frustrated Rhodes — on whom they fling very public piles of Job-like misery. And as they flee to New Orleans and New York, the question becomes: Why exactly did the Four Horsemen join forces … and who among this cast of characters brought them together?

Too often in movies like “Now You See Me,” great actors are minimized in service of misdirection and a constantly moving plot. Here, Eisenberg and Harrelson barely exchange glances let alone rekindle the affectionately antagonistic jiving from “Zombieland.” Fisher sounds like she’s got a laryngeal affliction that led to fewer lines. And Franco is merely a functionary in the film’s most furious action sequence.

Although it’s got nothing up its sleeve for any of the Horsemen, their pursuers get to play up some idiosyncrasies. There’s a believable spark between the bewildered Laurent and the beleaguered Ruffalo, and Caine and Freeman trade spiced barbs like old-pro, Oscar-winning character-actors emeriti.

It’s in their stories that the film pumps the brakes for slight subtext amid director Louis Leterrier’s go-go-go pace — about whether being mentally fleeced is all that bad if it draws a fleeting smile, and that perhaps we seek superiority in spoiling magic only because we feel powerless to conquer some of our other earthly miseries.

But Boaz Yakin, Ed Solomon and Edward Ricourt’s screenplay is far more interested stuffing sundry switcheroos into its sleight-of-hand story. It effectively primes your psyche to ferret out every little detail. And “Now You See Me” achieves the best that can be asked of it. More or less, the movie plays fair — if fanciful, fast and loose — and lets us choose the trail of first-act crumbs we want to follow in trying to figure out the final reveal.

If, as “Arrested Development” asserts, a trick is something a whore does for money, “Now You See Me” is a cut-above illusion. As it would be after a visit to a curbside card shark, your wallet will feel lighter by the end. But that’s the cost of good entertainment.

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The Dark Knight Rises Tue, 04 Dec 2012 05:39:38 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

The conclusion of the Batman collaboration between director Christopher Nolan and star Christian Bale is a big, ambitious film just like “The Dark Knight.” And also like its predecessor, “The Dark Knight Rises” is overburdened with too many supporting characters and secondary plots.

As the story opens, it has been eight years since Bruce Wayne last donned the Caped Crusader’s cowl. Peace has reigned throughout the land, but then a mysterious terrorist named Bane (Tom Hardy) arrives. He handily defeats Batman in personal combat and takes the reins of Gotham City.

Meanwhile, super-thief Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) plays the lines of loyalty between the two, whispering ominously about a storm brewing to wipe away the city’s veil of security.

The biggest problem with Bane, other than the fact that he pales in comparison to Heath Ledger’s Joker, is that his motivations never really come into clear relief. Hardy’s choice to play him with an odd speech cadence, coupled with Bane’s metallic face mask, also makes him difficult to understand.

Familiar faces return, including police commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), loyal Wayne family butler Alfred (Michael Caine) and weapons guru Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman). New on the block is Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a young police detective whose importance becomes clearer late in the going.

It’s still a worthy piece of filmmaking, especially for those who like their superhero tales in the dark-and-portentous mode. But I can’t help thinking a stripped-down, sleeker finale would’ve been better.

In terms of extras, Blu-ray is the only way to go for the serious videophile. The DVD comes only with a single featurette chronicling Bruce Wayne’s journey from zero to hero.

The highlight of the Blu-ray edition is “Ending the Knight,” a comprehensive making-of documentary examining virtually every aspect of the filmmaking process, from the story concept to special effects. It also includes a gallery of images and a documentary on the Batmobile, chronicling all five of the Dark Knight’s motorized chariots.

Film: 4 Yaps
Extras: 4.5 Yaps

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Bob Hoskins: His Notable Roles Wed, 29 Aug 2012 08:16:45 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Bob Hoskins — one of Britain’s most distinctive and recognisable actors — has retired recently due to an ongoing battle with Parkinson’s disease. Known for his hard-man portrayals in a few top-quality British gangster films, Hoskins does have a bit more variety on his film list. People in the United Kingdom also became familiar with Hoskins because of his TV ad work for BT in the early 1990s and their famous catchphrase, “It’s good to talk.”

Hoskins’ modesty and warmth frequently shines through the gangster act seen on the big screen. He famously received a cheque for £20,000 and a thank-you note from director Brian de Palma after Robert De Niro was chosen for a role in 1987’s “The Untouchables” over him. His modest nature dictates that he was most likely first choice and that that cheque was a lot larger.

The Long Good Friday (1980)

In his breakthrough role, Hoskins plays Harold Shand, a leader of the London underworld who has big development plans for the docklands area he owns. Over the course of one weekend, Shand’s efforts to legitimise his businesses are shattered by a serious of bombs from an unknown enemy — one in his Rolls Royce, one in his pub and another in his casino. The attack threatens to ruin his big real estate deal with the American mob. Despite looking dated, this is one of Britain’s most exceptional gangster films, carried by Hoskins’ affectionate and brutal performance as a gang leader. In the end, you’ll end up rooting for him.

Mona Lisa (1986)

George (Hoskins) is tough on the outside and full of sentiment on the inside in this seedy thriller from director Neil Jordan. After serving a term in prison for his gangster boss, Denny (Michael Caine of 1999’s “The Cider House Rules”), George takes a job as chauffeur to high-class prostitute Simone (Cathy Tyson). The pair follows the well-worn route of an unlikely relationship that, over the course of the film, turns into something more. Ferrying her from client to client, George becomes increasingly protective ofSimone and, touched by her devotion, delves further into the criminal underworld to help her find her best friend. “Mona Lisa” is a fun film that rightly earned Hoskins a Golden Globe and a BAFTA award for Best Actor. His excellent performance and pairing with Tyson makes this film a great watch.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)

The first film in history to successfully combine live action with animation is also a mix of slapstick comedy, noir and buddy movie that only director Robert Zemeckis could pull off. Hoskins is lovable Detective Eddie Valiant, the man caught in the middle of a bigger plot to get rid of Toontown. He manages to inject a lot of heart into a role which, without Hoskins, would feel rather shallow. He’s also great on screen with Roger Rabbit (voiced by veteran voice talent Charles Fleischer) and manages to stand out amid a plethora of famous ‘toon characters. His reluctant-hero detective wouldn’t be out of place in any big-name noir.

Hook (1991)

For everyone, film fan or not, there is a mental list of films that, as a kid, they watched time and again (probably at Christmas) that, in adulthood, bring back sentimental feelings. If you were young enough at the time, Steven Spielberg’s “Hook” is one of those films. Dustin Hoffman (of 1996’s “Sleepers”) takes the lead baddie role as Captain Hook with Hoskins as his right-hand man (and confidant), boatswain Smee — or “SMEEE!!” as frequently Hook calls upon his sidekick with frustration. The show is stolen by Robin Williams’ (“Night at the Museum,” 2006) performance as a middle-aged Peter Pan revisiting his childhood in Neverland and training for a duel with Hook and take back his kidnapped children. Hoskins, though, is perfect as a sidekick, adding charm and touch of comedy to his pirate character.


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The Dark Knight Rises Thu, 19 Jul 2012 20:19:34 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

And so the Batman saga ends not with a bang but an allegory. Director/co-writer Christopher Nolan has made it clear “The Dark Knight Rises” will be the last movie about the Caped Crusader — at least that he will make — and this knowledge seems to have freed him to make a superhero movie that’s different from any other in the genre, one in which the superhero has grown tired of the mask and has to be convinced to put it on again.

It’s notable that Christian Bale spends far more screen time out of the Batman costume than in.

It’s a big, epic, sprawling movie that, like the last entry four years ago, is too overstuffed with tertiary plot lines and secondary characters for its own good.

And, of course, nothing can replace Heath Ledger’s unique, disturbing presence as the Joker. Even though he was captured at the end of the last movie and, at one point, Gotham City’s prison is busted open for all the criminals to escape, there’s no half-hearted (and misguided) attempt to cast another actor in that now-iconic role.

As the story opens, eight years have passed since the events in “The Dark Knight.” Bruce Wayne has not donned Batman’s cowl since then, with the populace mistakenly believing that he killed Harvey Dent, who actually went mad and became Two-Face. Dent has become a symbol of the peaceful good times that have endured since — thanks in part to some draconian laws put in place in Dent’s name.

When we first see Bruce, he seems to have aged 20 years. He has graying hair and a lined face, and walks around with a cane and a severe limp. He’s become a recluse, rarely leaving his mansion despite the urging of loyal butler/henchman Alfred (Michael Caine) to do so. You quit being Batman, Alfred tells him, but you didn’t start a new life.

The villain here is Bane, played by Tom Hardy underneath a strange metal mask of tubes and 30 pounds of muscle he put on for the role. Bane is a brilliant terrorist who’s utterly unnerving but whose motives never really come into clear relief.

He emerges from a mysterious past, supposedly growing up in darkness inside a pit of a prison, and seems to have dedicated his entire life to destroying Batman and the city he loves. Why? We’re never really sure.

When Bane first appears on the scene, Bruce resolves to get back in the game. He is cocky and confident in his gadgets and combat abilities despite a doctor’s assessment that he has no cartilage in his knees and scarred internal organs. He shouldn’t even be skiing, let alone tangling with super-strong madmen.

Bane easily defeats Batman in personal combat and exiles him. Bane then steals something really, really powerful that belongs to Bruce Wayne and turns it against Gotham. And then he … waits five months to unleash the destruction, which just happens to be enough time for Bruce to convalesce and return to foil his plans.

Hardy makes a few bold performance choices, some of which pay off and some don’t.
Much has been made about his voice, occasionally difficult to understand
behind the metallic echo of his mask, which resembles a shark’s maw coming at you. Beyond the comprehension issues, Bane speaks in an oddly inflected pattern with a stiff sort of formality to it. He also has a habit of placing his hands on the lapels of his coat or armor, like a Dickensian barrister puffing himself up.

The other big addition is Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle, a slyly seductive jewel thief who tries to walk a risky line between loyalty to Bane and Batman. Neither really trusts her, or her either of them, but there’s a connection between her and Bruce. He represents the 1%, and she makes Occupy Wall Street-ish threats about “a storm coming” to wash away the privileged, which supplies an edge to their banter.

I should mention that no one ever actually calls her Catwoman, and she doesn’t wear a costume other than some minimalist sartorial adornment. It’s a surprisingly beefier role than you’d expect, and Hathaway has a strong presence in it.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is another important new character as young police detective John Blake — or, at least, seemingly important. Blake seems to be everywhere during the movie, popping up to assist Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman) with a key bit of evidence or even fight alongside Batman. But after the movie, I started thinking about what purpose Blake plays in the story and decided he’s really not that pivotal at all, except for that part at the end where … well, you’ll see.

Matthew Modine is another new add as Gordon’s right-hand man, Ben Mendelsohn plays a mercenary-minded industrialist making a play for Wayne Enterprises, and Marion Cotillard plays Miranda Tate, a former business partner of Bruce’s who got burned on a bad business deal.

Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), Bruce’s R&D man, returns to the fold and apparently has spare Batman suits and gear stuffed in just about every corner of Gotham. Most notably is a flying machine that’s part helicopter, part jet and all seriously badass.

I saw this film in a genuine IMAX theater at the Indiana State Museum. More than an hour of the 165-minute film was shot on special IMAX film, and when that entire picture opens up from widescreen to a massive six-story wall of spectacle, it’s quite tremendous. This one is definitely worth the ticket upsell.

“The Dark Knight Rises” isn’t as good as the last film, but I wouldn’t call it a disappointment. If anything, its faults arise from being too ambitious, too big and too much. A shorter film that focused on the dynamic between Batman, Bane and Selina Kyle might’ve been a better fit for this material. But that’s the sort of movie you make when you’re starting out something big, not wrapping it up.

4 Yaps

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At the Mountains of Movie Madness — Week Two Tue, 26 Jun 2012 03:40:14 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Last year I took part in an experiment in recommendations. When a friend recommends me something, I typically remember it, but I also get to it when I get to it. So I spent one month last year sampling every TV show people recommended to me. I found that to be a blast, so I’m stupid enough to do it again this summer, but this time with movies.

Since so many movies were recommended, I’m not going to be able to get this done in a month. Every Tuesday, I’ll write about which ones I’ve watched and what I thought about them. The only rule to the recommendation was that they had to pick a film I haven’t seen. Some used that to pick great movies they know I haven’t watched yet and some used that to pick movies that look so awful they know I wouldn’t watch it. Either way, I’m watching them now.


Week Two — It Gets Awkward


Madagascar (Eric Darnell & Tom McGrath, 2005)

Recommended by Josh West

I typically like to ignore Dreamworks. Their films rarely impress me because their stories are so basic, the voice talent is unimaginative and the scripts are filled with so many pop-culture gags that don’t fit with the characters. What do you know? “Madagascar” is a similar mess. Having domesticated zoo animals sent to Africa is actually a great premise …that is never explored in this movie. This is more about Alex the Lion being a complete jerk to all of his friends, a powerful theme that you shouldn’t be yourself especially if you’re a carnivore, and an obnoxious trend in which all of the characters put their face really close to the screen. I laughed once when the chimp said he was going to throw poo at Tom Wolfe. The rest was tedious. Good work again, Josh!

Counter-Recommendation for Josh: Flirting With Disaster

1.5 Yaps


Pirates (Joone, 2005)

Recommended by Robbie Mehling

I said I would review anything that was recommended. Oh, boy. “Pirates” is the most expensive porno ever made at its time, with a budget of $1 million. IMDB says there are more than 300 effects shots in a film shot on the actual HMS Bounty. There are two versions of this film, the XXX one and another re-edited into an R-rated romp available through Blockbuster and Netflix. Yet despite all this, it’s still a Pinocchio. It wants to be a real movie, but it’s impossible to critique it as one.

The plot is surprisingly not porn-y. It’s not something dumb like “There’s a pirate on the loose who keeps having sex!” It’s about a pirate who kidnaps a guy with an important legacy that will help him find treasure and the bumbling pirate hunter posed to take him down. That’s just stale, not erotic! This would just be a silly lame movie with awful acting, but the sex adds a new level of confusion. For example, the first scene is actually about characterization and romance. (By the way, this whole movie is all about love and romance, not degradation or disrespect. Honestly.) The newly married couple is awkward around each other and worried whether they even find each other attractive. But then their sex scene does not reflect that this is either partner’s first time in bed with someone. The breast implants also add character contradictions and period-piece anachronisms.

So it’s hard to judge this as a regular movie because it’s lame, and it’s difficult to judge this as a porn because that’s not too great in that area, either. What’s left is an amazingly ambitious movie that really wants to be a real boy. Did I mention there’s even a score to this movie? Like a decent one. This is just bizarre.

Counter-Recommendation for Robbie: Zack and Miri Make a Porno

2 Yaps


The Night They Raided Minsky’s (William Friedkin, 1968)

Recommended by Alan Gordon

OK. Let’s move from the awkwardness of the porn to this ’60s comedy about…the first ever strip tease. This is just getting silly. On the bright side, this movie is awesome. This is exactly what I was hoping for out of this marathon: a great movie that I’ve never heard of before. This is one of those crazy 1960s comedies that almost has too much style. The editing choices are sporadic, and that’s part of its charm. Elliott Gould owns a ragtag burlesque theatre that houses Jason Robards as a BFC quick-witted playboy comedian. Robards is at odds with his comedy partner when a new naïve French Amish girl wants to become a dancer and they both have a thing for her. There are so many great lines in this movie that I wish I was taking notes.

Counter-Recommendation for Alan: Sex and the Single Girl

4.5 Yaps


Forbidden Zone (Richard Elfman, 1982)

Recommended by Ian Shepherd

I guess if there’s one genre of film I don’t really get into it’s the wacko movies. These are the crazy midnight movies in which nothing makes sense and there’s a guessing game about which drugs the director is on. I like weirdness like “Childrens Hospital,” but not Tim and Eric. Maybe it’s because this weirdness is so emotionally based. I can’t judge the story of “Forbidden Zone,” in which a suburban girl falls into the sixth dimension in her basement and now must get away from Queen Doris. It’s all just madness — a student can’t give the pledge because he keeps clucking like a chicken, the sixth-dimension Princess is always topless, there’s a singing Danny Elfman Satan. So did I have fun? A bit. It’s very watchable and silly even if the film can’t keep the insanity up for the full 73 minutes.

Counter-Recommendation for Ian: The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra

3 Yaps


Red Eye (Wes Craven, 2005)

Recommended by Molly Raker

Scarecrow: “I’ve been watching you for eight weeks. I know everything about you: what you drink, what you do, how you work, your family situation, everything. Now that you’re on a plane WHICH I KNOW YOU’RE SCARED OF, I’m going to reveal my entire plan and demand that you switch this guy’s room so I can kill him easier.”

Mean Girl: “What?”

Scarecrow: “What?”

Mean Girl: “You did all of this work and threatened my father just to get me to change one of the rooms at my hotel?”

Scarecrow: “Yes! BWAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!”

Mean Girl: “Why didn’t you just call me, say you were working with that guy and you want a room change?”

Scarecrow: “Hmmmmm.”

Mean Girl: “Or even just skip me all together. Get the easiest hacker to switch rooms. Or my employees are pretty stupid. Just pretend to be the guy and tell her you want to switch rooms. You obviously know your way around the hotel if you tampered the room already.”

Scarecrow: “Shows what you know! We have a rocket launcher that we’re just going to aim at the room! BWHWAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!”

Mean Girl: “Just aim it at the different room, you idiot! How will that even be accurate? Forget it, AIR MARSHAL! THIS GUY IS THREATENING TO KILL ME!”

Scarecrow: “Air what? Aghahhahhahahah” (He was tazed)

Counter-Recommendation for Molly: Air Force One

2 Yaps


Get Carter (Mike Hodges, 1971)

Recommended by Ed / Matt Leer

You know who’s cool? Michael Caine. If you’re thinking, “Yeah, I never really thought about it, but Alfred is pretty cool,” shut it. Caine is always one of the go-to actors to automatically add sophistication to a character, but I like it when he’s a bloody badass. “Get Carter” showcases all that’s cool about Caine. Talking cool in a suit, smashing a car window into a guy’s head … he is even cool during phone sex. The rest of the film is just as slick as he is as a gangster trying to figure out who murdered his brother. A great watch.

Counter-Recommendation for Ed / Matt Leer: The Long Good Friday

4.5 Yaps


Next week, I’ll finally get around to an acclaimed British film from last year, finally watch what Joe Gideon was editing for so long and figure out how a ghost can ride anything. Shouldn’t it just fall through?

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Cars 2 Tue, 01 Nov 2011 04:08:59 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

“Cars 2″ is certainly an entertaining movie, but there’s no denying the tang of disappointment that clings to the latest release from Pixar, the king of animation studios.

It may not be fair to judge a movie on anything other than its own merits, but Pixar has set such a high standard that anything less than a wondrous film that delights the soul and mind of children and parents alike registers as a drop-off.

Considered amidst its peers, “Cars 2″ is the cinematic runt of the litter.

The sequel takes a bold turn in shunting aside the main character of the original — hotshot race car Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) — in favor of his hillbilly sidekick, Mater the tow truck (Larry the Cable Guy). The story is that McQueen has been challenged to a series of three races all over the world, but Mater steals the show when he’s mistaken as an international super-spy.

As Finn McMissile, a snooty British agent (Michael Caine) puts it, “They’re fooled because they’re too busy laughing at the fool” — not realizing Mater really is that dense.

It’s all just an excuse for one set of action-packed hijinks after another, with the bad guys divided between a loudmouthed Italian racer and a mysterious pack of the worst lemon cars in history — Yugos, Gremlins, Pacers, etc.

“Cars 2″ is a fun bit of animation, but compared to “Toy Story” or “Finding Nemo,” it’s missing a gear.

It’s notable that “Toy Story” is the only other story Pixar has seen fit to sequelize. Whereas last year’s “Toy Story 3″ was a heartfelt romp with a beloved set of familiar characters, “Cars 2″ feels slapped-together and hasty, a merchandising opportunity with a movie attached.

“Cars 2″ arrives on video in four different versions, with goodies ramping up as you move up in price point.

The DVD and Blu-ray/DVD combo pack come with the same features. There’s “Hawaiian Vacation,” a cartoon short, plus another all-new short, “Air Mater,” and a commentary track by director John Lasseter.

Opt for the five-disc 3D combo pack, and you add deleted scenes, set exploration around the globe, short documentaries and a sneak preview of “Cars Land,” a new showcase at Disney’s California theme park.

Or you can go all in for the 11-disc Director’s Collection, which includes both the original film and sequel plus all the extras.

Film: 4 Yaps
Extras: 4 Yaps

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