American Hustle

Last night, American Hustle won the BAFTA for Best Original Screenplay and that got me thinking: “How the hell did American Hustle win the BAFTA for Best Original Screenplay?” I’ve also been contemplating “Why is American Hustle nominated for Best Director at so many awards shows, including yesterday’s BAFTAs and the upcoming Oscars?” They’re questions I can’t really fathom an answer to because, as far as I can recall, it wasn’t a very good film, and the main aspects that let it down were the direction and the script. Continue reading

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The Dark Knight

What can I say about the Dark Knight that a thousand others before me haven’t? Of all modern films, this seems to be the one pored over most closely and often, heralded as the saviour of the summer blockbuster, superhero movie and crime thriller, all rolled up in the tightest of scripts. So, to take a fresh perspective, I sought out some people who didn’t like the film (thank the lord for the Internet, it makes people who don’t like something so easy to find) and found myself furious after reading just one and a half 1/10 reviews on IMDb. The sheer level of nitpicking and miniscule plot-hole unravelling proves just how far people are willing to go to disagree with the masses and stand out from the crowd, even when the crowd is so undeniably correct.
Not that this is a perfect film. There are flaws, including the Joker’s plan being at times a tad too pre-emptive, some ominous camera angles and music cues hinting unsubtly a character’s true motives earlier than should have been done, and the bit with the cellphones, which is a bit silly, but is that really enough to warrant a 1-star rating? The fact that these reviewers (I won’t give them the satisfaction of names or links, only seek them out to feel the rage bubble inside you) fail to note even one positive point in a movie overflowing with brilliance negates any opinion they deem worthy of sharing. I personally find it impossible to find nothing good in a movie – The Adventures of Pluto Nash is an abomination unto film, yet Randy Quaid is a delight as Nash’s robotic assistant; Big Trouble in Little China is easily one of the worst films I’ve reviewed from the list so far, but it has imaginative (if insane) monsters and mythology, some dialogue that surpasses cheesy to being inspired, and features Kim Cattrall back when she was attractive. Therefore, with such damning reviews as these ‘people’ have offered, they are in fact unwittingly proving how good a film it is.
Leaping from the tantalising springboard ending of BatmanBegins – Gary Oldman’s Jim Gordon showing Batman a playing card left as the mark of a new criminal, calling himself The Joker, we dive headlong into a wonderfully executed bank heist, as six masked goons effortlessly separate mob money from the vaults it was stored in. Director Chris Nolan has made no secret that Heat, Michael Mann’s superb DeNiro/Pacino cat and mouse crime epic, was a huge influence on the Dark Knight, and it shows, from a William Fichtner cameo to a central meeting of the hero and villain, even mentioning a cup of coffee.
Nolan wisely improved upon some mild mis-steps made in Batman Begins here, replacing Katie Holmes with Maggie Gyllenhall as love interest Rachel Dawes, giving Batman’s mask a cowl so he can turn his head, and giving Batman himself (Christian Bale, good but no Adam West) a little less screen time, allowing alter ego Bruce Wayne and his various accomplices and nemeses some breathing room. Aaron Eckhart is spot-on as Harvey Dent, Gotham’s shining hope against the mob, and Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine remain on hand to add a touch of old school class and grandeur as Wayne’s dependable CEO nad curmudgeonly butler/moral compass, but justifiably most of the praise has been directed at the late Heath Ledger’s Joker. A creation for the ages, his layered performance of a truly maniacal genius reveals more with each viewing, and it is unfortunate that the role showcased the true acting abilities of a man previously thought of merely as a rom-com heartthrob only after he had passed. Plus, it gave us all another Hallowe’en costume to use.
Unusually for Nolan, the film is actually quite funny. It’s not exactly laugh-a-minute (there’s certainly less than 152 jokes here), the script is still a lot more humorous than you might remember. There’s also absolutely no filler, with every strand being integral to the plot; a true achievement when you consider just how engaging the story is, even when new elements are being added right up until the last few scenes.
As always with Nolan’s films, there’s a couple of cinematography moments that I’d have tried differently (see Inception), most notably the scene where the Joker leaves a hospital, which could have looked truly tremendous had it been one unbroken shot, without needlessly cutting away to some pedestrians nearby, but this is a small matter that is more of a personal niggle than a criticism.
Anyway, for those wondering if they should watch the film again before the upcoming trilogy closer The Dark Knight Risesthis summer, the answer is a resounding yes. Even if you don’t intend to see part 3 (I assume you’re planning on gouging out your own eyeballs, just in case it isn’t any good, there’s no other reason not to see it) you should watch The Dark Knight again, just because it’s probably the best film to have been released in the last 5 years, if not more.
Choose film 9/10

Public Enemies

Michael Mann likes the central plot of Heat – expert cop and master thief and their teams on a destructive path towards one another with disregard for their personal lives – that this is the third time he’s made it, after the TV-movie L.A. Takedown, the DeNiro/Pacino classic and now this depression-era take, pitting Johnny Depp’s public enemy number one John Dillinger against Christian Bale’s FBI man Melvin Purvis (whose name is almost an anagram of Mr Evil Penis, but is one for vermin pelvis). (For all I know this is also the plot of Miami Vice and the Last of the Mohicans, I haven’t got round to watching them yet but it seems unlikely.)
The parallels with Heat run deep – the first criminal act, an opening prison break, is almost botched by a trigger happy accomplice soon removed from the group – but the key difference is the pivotal central scene where our two leads meet. In Heat, DeNiro’s thief McCauley and Pacino’s cop Hanna share a mutual respect, that they are dealing here with the other side of their own coin, a talented man with opposite morals. Here, Dillinger and Pervis despise one another, disgusted that they are within the other’s presence or mentioned in the same breath. This complex central relationship was key to the layered texture of Heat, and its absence is felt.
Depp has always been better at characters (Scissorhands, Sparrow) than he has emotions, and Dillinger is bland and lifeless in his hands, yet still more likeable than Bale’s cold, business-like Pervis. DiCaprio would probably have been a better fit for Dillinger, but as FBI director J. Edgar Hoover appears here as Billy Crudup this would have made DiCaprio and Clint Eastwood’s current biopic of the man problematic.
All this in account, this is still an entertaining action/crime movie, with plenty of period gun porn for those that way inclined. Mann’s attention to detail is perfect, and there is some of the best comedy ever seen in a 1930s set cop movie – see Dillinger wondering around the offices of the FBI department out to catch him, casually asking the score of a sports game. Smarter and more thought provoking than most gun-happy movies, this is definitely worth a watch.
Choose film 7/10

Batman Begins

As the title suggests, this predominantly covers Batman’s origin story, from the death of his parents after he becomes scared at the theatre, through his training by Liam Neeson’s Ducard, his development of a crime-fighting persona and his confrontation with his former mentor in a city ridden with toxin-crazed criminals and madmen. This is arguably the most realistic, or at least vaguely plausible comic book movie ever made, with the only real superpowers on display being a gas that makes people insane and a ridiculously vast fortune to funs Bruce Wayne’s double lifestyle. Granted, the secret passage in Wayne Manor is operated by hitting a coded sequence of piano keys, but this can be forgiven, and is at least a variation from the classic sliding of a secret book on a shelf.
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The Prestige

Fittingly, The Prestige is a trick of a movie, a plaything, director Chris Nolan toying with the audience like a cat with a ball of string. Everything, from character motivation to the narrative timeline is entangled for the audience to figure out, as the tale of two rival magicians, Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale, unfolds. Jackman’s Robert Angier is a showman, but lacks the skill of Bale’s Alfred Borden, himself too concerned with the technicalities of the illusions to be entertaining. Hell, even the film’s genre, seemingly a period drama, reveals itself to be more science fiction who-dunnit (not to mention what-dun-and-how). Nothing is as it seems, but on a repeat viewing you pick up the clues, noticing that Nolan did indeed signpost the way, but the plot, characters, setting and acting was too mesmerising, too engrossing for us to notice.

Choose film 8/10