Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)

ExodusOn an official visit to Pithom to meet with Viceroy Hegep (Ben Mendelsohn), Moses (Christian Bale) — adopted son of Seti I (a miscast John Turturro) and brother to Prince Ramesses (Joel Edgerton) — encounters a slave (Ben Kingsley) who reveals his true lineage: Moses himself was born a Hebrew slave. Following the Pharaoh’s death, the now King Ramesses confronts Moses about the rumour and banishes him to the desert. Nine years later, while living in exile with his wife and son in Midian, Moses is contacted by Malak (Isaac Andrews), a boy claiming to represent God. Following the encounter, Moses leaves Midian and returns to Egypt where he plans to use his military experience to train an army of slaves. When Ramesses refuses to grant his people’s freedom, Moses and Malak unleash an attack not just on Memphis but the entire country.

We all know not to judge a book by its cover, but when it comes to cinema we aren’t always as open-minded. The movie poster is an art form in itself, and it’s often the case that forgettable films are preceded by similarly uninspiring posters — whether it’s the infamous rom-com lean, the latest Brit-flick with a white background or whatever happens to be plastered to the nation’s buses. This year there has arguably not been a worse poster than that for Ridley Scott’s latest film, Exodus: Gods and Kings. Featuring its two leads rendered in an incongruous combination of grey-scale and gold, poorly photo-shopped onto a backdrop of cloudy skies and a black and white pyramid, it’s the sort of nightmarish image usually reserved for only the worst kind of straight-to-DVD rubbish.

It should come as a surprise then, that not only is Exodus: Gods and Kings competently coloured, composed and photographed, but it’s actually rather good. Scott may have fallen into disrepute following the one-two of Prometheus and The Councelor, but there’s no denying that he isn’t an esteemed director with more than a few classics to his name. Exodus may not reach the heights of Alien or Blade Runner (or even Gladiator), but it shows enough storytelling prowess and proves sufficiently intelligent to be considered seriously: not least for the strong performances given by Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton and an unrecognisable-in-all-but-lisp Ben Mendelsohn, the impressively implemented 3D special effects and the innovative and interesting approach taken by the director in adapting such a well-known story. Why does the river run red? Why, that would be the crocodile-eating crocodiles, of course.

If Darren Aronofsky’s Noah recast Genesis as a treatise on environmentalism then Scott’s film uses Exodus to discuss terrorism. He invites his audience to side with Moses, a freedom fighter who orders an attack not on Ramesses but on the latter’s people: those who serve his palace. When this proves ineffective, Moses turns to God for help. Innocent people are then subjected to a series of increasingly devastating plagues: first their water supply is tainted, then their crops fail and their livestock are culled, and finally their children are killed by a mysterious affliction. Many have criticised Scott’s decision to anachronistically cast Caucasian actors in Middle Eastern roles, but if his intention is to draw parallels between Western (predominantly white) excess and Egyptian godliness, or Jewish justice and Muslim jihad, then it serves him well. How are these attacks any different from those perpetrated by modern day terrorists? We may not have to worry about the wrath of God (‘theirs’ or ‘ours’); nowadays people don’t have to turn to the heavens for comparable weapons of mass destruction.

Then again, this is little more than interpretation and inference (on the part of someone with only a limited understanding of the Bible story itself); Scott might have had other intentions for his film, but the fact that Exodus: Gods and Kings is provoking such questions stands it in better stead than most. After all, Moses is an important character in a number of faiths, and whatever Scott’s intentions it is nigh impossible to comment on one iteration without commenting on others. Even as an atheist it is difficult to ignore the political, philosophical or moral implications of Scott’s film. This isn’t a parable; it’s a premonition.

3-Stars

American Hustle (2013)

American HustleDespite owning a chain of dry cleaning stores in New York City, businessman Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) makes most of his money flogging fake paintings on the side. When he meets stripper Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) at a party in 1978, the two become partners with Sydney adopting the guise of British aristocrat Lady Edith Greensly in an attempt to ensnare investors. They attract more than just clients, however, and are soon under investigation by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), though he has bigger fish to fry; in exchange for their freedom Irving and Sydney must help to implicate four other criminals. Suddenly, they, along with Irving’s wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), become embroiled in a plot involving seemingly corrupt politician Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) and mob boss Victor Tellegio (Robert De Niro).

Like some strange composite of last year’s awards contenders, recycling the cast of David O. Russell’s own Silver Linings Playbook‘s and recalling both the setting and tone of Ben Affleck’s Argo, American Hustle struts into cinemas just in time for 2014’s Golden Globes. The whole thing stinks of award bait, from method actor Christian Bale’s continued yo-yo diet to cinematographer Linus Sandgren’s preoccupation with the production’s extensive hair and make-up. Watching Russell’s latest it’s hard not to mentally compose your own “For Your Consideration” montage, even for the most technical of categories.

That’s not to say that American Hustle isn’t good — there is undoubtedly much to admire in its 138 minute running time, as there should be — just that it’s often more concerned with being worthy than either engaging or enjoyable. For what feels like much of the movie’s first act, dialogue is often eschewed in favour of lengthy voice-over, giving the film a detached quality that is perfect for explanatory soundbites but perhaps less conducive to immersive storytelling. This uninterrupted stream of exposition is necessary, however, as unlike Affleck’s Oscar winner Russell’s film doesn’t simplify events so much as complicate them. The introduction of the Arab Sheik should have been funny in its absurdity, but unless you’ve been keeping notes you’ll be too busy waiting for him to explain his purpose to get the joke.

It’s a shame because when the jokes do hit their mark they’re often very funny indeed. Cooper, though recently revealed to be a capable dramatic actor, is first and foremost a gifted comedian, and his passive-aggressive relationship with his boss Stoddard Thorsen (played beautifully by Louis C.K.) — a mentor figure who keeps trying and failing to impart wisdom through a fishing anecdote — is a joy to behold. Lawrence also shines in her capacity as unstable housewife and accidental arsonist Rosalyn Rosenfeld, and she — along with Stoddard — may be the closest the film comes to sympathetic characters. Bale and Adams aren’t anywhere near as much fun, though the latter still manages to impress thanks to a note-perfect English accent and an irrepressible innate charm.

Impressive and occasionally entertaining, American Hustle is decent enough comedy-drama — more admirable perhaps than Anchorman 2 but nowhere near as enjoyable. Strong performances and even stronger production values guarantee that there is always something to look at, but once the credits have finally rolled you’re unlikely to recall more than Bale’s comb-over, Adams’ cleavage and Cooper’s curls. At least until awards night, when the montages start.

3-Stars

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Blamed by the citizens of Gotham for the death of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart – in flashback) eight years previously, Batman has been retired from duty while Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) exiles himself in the family manor with only butler Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine) for company. The truth is that Batman is no longer needed, the city’s streets the safest they’ve ever been thanks to the Dent Act, a precursor to peace-time that has left the police growing complacent and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) racked with guilt over the hidden truth behind Dent’s demise. Both are therefore caught off guard by the arrival of Bane (Tom Hardy), a masked monolith who has been rallying an army in the city’s sewers. When Batman is dragged out of retirement by a mysterious cat-burglar (Anne Hathaway), a collision course is set that could spell the end of Gotham once and for all. Read more of this post

Batman Begins (2005)

Blaming himself for his parents’ murder years before, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) bides his time until the man responsible is up for parole and then sets out for revenge. Robbed of absolution when somebody else beats him to it, Wayne forfeits his family’s empire and exiles himself in a Bhutanese prison, where he is eventually courted by Ra’s al Ghul’s (Liam Neeson) The League Of Shadows. Trained as a ninja and taught to overcome his childhood fear of bats, Wayne returns to butler Alfred (Michael Caine) and his family’s fortune when the organization’s true intention – to destroy Gotham, ridding it of its evils – becomes clear. With pawn Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy as Scarecrow) already in place, the newly created Batman will have to seek assistance from DA Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes) and Sgt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman) if there is to be much of Gotham left to save. Read more of this post

Why I Never Wanted To Be Batman

I’ve taken some stick in the last few years – ever since Christopher Nolan released Batman Begins on an inexplicably adoring public – over my complete and utter disinterest in his near-complete Bat-trilogy. It seems to have taken over my life, as an inordinate number of film-related conversations since have broached the subject, often leading to a lecture on why it is exactly that The Dark Knight (the 2008 sequel, as if you didn’t already know) is one of the best movies of all time. I’m as guilty as anyone, I suppose, as I duly rise to the challenge and recycle my counter argument almost verbatim.

While I have myriad problems with Nolan’s films – that Batman looks out of place in his own movie, that Gotham never looks the same twice, that the Lucius Fox character is completely superfluous, Rachel Dawes in general, Christian Bale’s growly performance, that half of the character’s mythology is abandoned as it doesn’t fit with Nolan’s gritty and realistic take on the character, that Nolan’s gritty and realistic take on the character nevertheless includes bat-ears, mobile phone sonar and (as of The Dark Knight Rises) a flying tank – my issues go far deeper than that. I’ve simply never been that interested in the character. As a kid, I never wanted to be Batman.

“Why should this matter?” I hear you ask. “You liked Jaws, but I bet you never wanted to be the shark?” True, except I’m not sure that anyone else has, either. The superhero (vigilante, whatever) genre is different, you see, as it uses as its source material revered comic books that have helped inspire generations of fans, prompting a loyalty, dedication and following that most movies simply don’t enjoy. Through action figures, playing cards and even fancy dress nights at your local nightclub, people have been putting their feet in their favourite characters’ shoes for years, making them more than just traditional characters. They’re icons. For me it was always Peter Parker’s Spider-man who captured my imagination most; a superpowered teenager finally able to turn the tables on his bullies, win the affections of the girl he likes, and who could escape his many concerns and issues by web-slinging his way to the top of the tallest skyscraper. It inspired me as a child, as a teenager, and still does to this day.

But with Batman I’ve simply never understood the appeal. A middle-aged billionaire playboy who aims to clean up the mean streets of Gotham in order to avenge the death of his parents, Bruce Wayne dresses like a bat – a caped crusader – so that he can tackle the city’s criminal underbelly by night, hiding his identity to protect those that he loves (well, Alfred). That’s about it, right? Nothing much else to add? Personally, I’ve always found the supporting cast more interesting: the morally ambiguous cat-burglar, the clown-faced psychopath, the poison-lipped eco-terrorist and the adoring side-kick acrobat. As such, the films of Burton and Schumacher (though even I’ll admit Batman and Robin was pretty terrible) were at least able to distract me from the charisma-vacuum at their centre with a campy tone, Gothic aesthetic and diverse gallery of villains. I suppose I like Batman Returns most because the Batman/Catwoman dynamic is genuinely interesting.

Enter Christopher Nolan, a filmmaker keen to take Batman back to his “roots” and re-establish the character as a dark, brooding detective. Sadly, Nolan’s rebooted universe had no use for the more outlandish characters of the Batman past, the director refusing to use the likes of Penguin, Mr. Freeze and Robin through fear that they might make the whole thing – a grown man in a cape punching another man dressed as a scarecrow – seem a little silly. Whilst the other comic book characters living it up in multiplexes the world over are engaging in feats of great daring, love, self-improvement, friendship, wit and superheroics, then, Christian Bale is wearing designer suits, disingenuously trying to win the affections of an underwritten Rachel Dawes or growling through his cowl as he intrudes on an otherwise perfectly reasonable crime procedural. Who am I rooting for again?

My protests usually provoke the suggestion that I don’t want complexity from my comic book movies, that I’d rather forego maturity, intelligence and depth in favour of “slapstick, primary colors, and just plain old fun.” This is simply not true, I merely struggle to see why there needs to be a distinction between the two in the first place. The X-Men franchise deals with prejudice and acceptance, while featuring characters in yellow jumpsuits who are as at home with witticisms as they are with angst;  Hulk addresses the psychological concept of “the self”, while having a big green rage monster lay waste to an army of tanks; and Spider-man deals with the guilt of being responsible for a relative’s death, while making full use of the character’s sharp tongue and irrepressible optimism. None of which sacrifice complexity for fun or entertainment. And, even if they had, it’s not like one is fundamentally worthier than the other, anyway.

Nor do I have a problem with the fact that he’s a vigilante, lacking in any super abilities or powers. After all, billionaire playboy Tony Stark built himself an armoured costume (and he didn’t need Morgan Freeman to do it for him), widowed mercenary Frank Castle stockpiled weapons and Dave Lizewski bought a bodysuit off of ebay – not a radioactive spider-bite between them and yet they’re three characters that I find just as interesting and evocative as many of their superhero peers. Kick-Ass in particular is an interesting example. While Bat-fans argue that Nolan’s films are among the most ‘realistic’ in the genre, Batman’s struggles apparently all the more impressive due to his relative normality, it is impossible to deny that Bruce Wayne is nothing compared to Lizewski: a kid who takes on a superhero persona “just because”, who has no fortune, no friendly police chief and no weapons genius to fall back on.

But each to their own, and if you ran around your living room pretending to be Batman as a kid then I fully respect why you can enjoy Nolan’s films – or the Batman franchise as a whole – without feeling completely underwhelmed and uninvolved (incidentally, I don’t doubt that my love of Spider-man played a part in my above-average enjoyment of Marc Webb’s film). You don’t need a reason to like the character, you already do, and therefore the franchise’s inability to provide an emotional entry point will not hinder your enjoyment. It’s just that for me the character is dull, tedious and one-note – “cool” rather than interesting. The films, however supposedly complex, simply don’t engage me. And the fact that every superhero franchise going is now being rebooted in The Dark Knight‘s darker image is doing little to invite me to give it another try. Six films in and I still don’t have any real sense of who Wayne is as a person.

Still, there’s always a chance that the next one will be different; that The Dark Knight Rises will engage on an emotional level instead of exclusively an intellectual one. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s in it, after all. Maybe Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman (sorry, Selena Kyle) will bring some personality to the role of female foil in a way that neither Katie Holmes or Maggie Gyllenhaal could ever manage. Perhaps Tom Hardy’s Bane will provide a viable physical threat instead of just a cerebral one. And even if it doesn’t, this is the end of the road for Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale; maybe the reboot’s Justice League-compatible incarnation won’t be quite so self-serious, pretentious or impenetrable.

Regardless, let’s agree to disagree and leave it there. You can be Batman, and I’ll be someone else.

Ten 2012 Movies I Could Take Or Leave…Preferably Leave

With the year mapped out and the requisite drool reserves allocated to each of the releases I am most highly anticipating, I am left with a near-equal list of movies I don’t care much for at all. The cinematic landscape for the coming year is awash with bile, as Judd Apadow returns with another hateful bromance, Christian Bale’s career survives to let him grumble another day and G.I. Joe gives Development Hell the slip for a completely unnecessary second instalment. While other critics have their evil eyes set firmly on the upcoming 3D rerelease of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (let it slide, world. It’s time to make peace), I have other, decidedly less enticing things on my mind. Namely: Adam Sandler’s Jack and Jill.

Man on a Ledge

Hollywood has had its fair share of the-clue-is-in-the-name film titles, with Snakes on a Plane, Cowboys & Aliens, We Bought a Zoo and (*spoiler alert*) The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford all springing immediately to mind. Man on a Ledge, however, manages to be so remarkably uninteresting that it instantly stands out from the crowd. We’ve already seen Man on Wire, after all. Sam Worthington wasn’t even interesting in 2010, the year in which he inexplicably starred in all of the movies, only Avatar surviving uniform dismissal by virtue of director James Cameron’s extraordinary vision and all of those flashing pixels. How he has been chosen to front another movie after the dismal Clash of the Titans is beyond me, even if all Summit Entertainment expect him to do is stand on a ledge. I bet he doesn’t even jump.

Jack and Jill

The latest Katie Holmes movie is never something to get particularly excited about, there was nobody camping overnight to see Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, but Jack and Jill takes this barely concealed indifference to a whole new level. Joining Lady Cruise on this occasion is Adam Sandler. And Adam Sandler. Apparently labouring under the delusion that The Nutty Professor I & II (along with every other Eddie Murphy movie produced in the 90s) was actually funny, Sandler has cast himself in the dual roles of Jack and Jill Sadelstein for little reason other than to herald some impending apocalypse. Shoot me please. In one eye for every character played by Adam Sandler.

Safe House

I’m sorry, but is it just me or have we seen this movie before? Like everything else in his back-catalogue, Ryan Reynolds stars as a low-hitting ubermensch who we – the imperfect masses – are supposed to root for simply because he is adrift in a completely fictitious job. Watching Ryan Reynolds under normal comedic circumstances is always trying enough, but the prospect of sitting through two joyless hours of him trying out his serious face opposite Denzel Washington (WHAT ARE YOU DOING, DENZEL WASHINGTON?) is nearly too much to bear.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

I don’t know about you, but when Nicolas Cage was first cast as the flame haired, leather-coated vengeance demon Johnny Blaze, I caughed a little bit of sick into my mouth. I’m sorry, what?? Naturally, the first Ghost Rider movie – with its boring story and Eva Mendez – was utterly terrible, and for the past four years we have been permitted the right to pretend that it was never in fact allowed to happen. Tasked with essentially rebooting the franchise, however, the filmmakers have somehow managed to make the same mistake AGAIN and have returned Cage to the role for another go at the character. Also, after Drive Angry, shouldn’t this really be Ghost Rider 3?

The Three Stooges

Having no doubt acclimatised to Development Hell during its decade-long stay, The Three Stooges aims to update the mid-20th Century sketch comedy of the same name for contemporary (read: even stupider) audiences. Boasting a plot that, for all intents and purposes, makes you want to kill yourself, the film focuses on Moe, Larry, and Curly, who inadvertently stumble into a murder plot, and wind up starring in a reality TV show while trying to save their childhood orphanage. I’m not even joking. Did I mention that it stars Sean Hayes from Will & Grace?

Battleship

Do you remember Battleship? It was the tactical, grid-warfare game that you could play on a page of squared paper if you really wanted to; the one that the Grim Reaper challenged Bill and Tedd to during their bogus journey. Do you remember the aliens? No? Oh, wait, that’s probably because there were no aliens. Hear that, Hollywood? NO ALIENS! Regardless, an upcoming adaptation housed at Universal Pictures is set to pit Liam Neeson, Rihanna and their boat against a myriad of extra terrestrial invaders. Naturally, the filmmakers were inspired by the financial success of MICHAEL BAY’s Transformers trilogy, and therefore, naturally, the film is going to be headache-inducing nonsense.

Snow White & The Huntsman

While most might laud Snow White & The Hunstman as fairest of them all in this, the year of the seven dwarves, I am forced by my utter hatred of this infernal darker is better movement to side with Mirror Mirror, however soul-shittingly awful it might appear to look. While it is impossible to get too riled by the absense of happy-clappy show tunes (the original fairy tale was, after all, a completely different beast), the rampant miserableness and unfathomable presence of body armour on show in the film’s trailer nevertheless have my heckles up. There’s already one Twilight movie due this year, we really don’t need another.

Ice Age 4: Continental Drift

The release of a new Ice Age, Blue Sky Entertainment’s flagship property, has always ranked pretty low on my must-see list. About as historically accurate as The Flinstones, the franchise proposes a history in which early man appears only initially, dinosaurs dawn AFTER the ice has melted, and a saber-toothed squirrel has continued adventures despite having been frozen in ice at the end of the first instalment. With nothing left to do but pair off the remaining characters (who wrote this, JK Rowling?), the ice age itself having ended whole movies ago now, this is one series of films that is practically begging for an extinction event.

The Dark Knight Rises

Oh shoosh, you must have seen this one coming. While it might indeed be the hype and the inevitably of the automated acclaim that I am dreading more than the actual movie (nobody’s suggesting this will be worse than Jack and Jill), there is still no denying that I would like nothing more than for Christopher Nolan to trot off back into the shadows and take his blasted interpretation of Batman with him. Now three movies in and not a single superhero in sight, I have spent the last – oh I don’t know, how long has it been since the last one? – listening to fanboy after fanboy ejaculate over every smidgeon of news pertaining to Bane, Catwoman and when the teaser for the viral for the trailer might hit. I just don’t care.

Halloween 3D

Torn arbitrarily between whether to include The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D or Halloween 3D on this list that nobody will read (or if they do, they will unlikely get past the previous entry), I finally settled on the latter on account of how unscary I have found the entire franchise to date. At least the story of an inbred maniac who wears the faces of his victims held interest over the course of a few movies (and even the requisite remake), Halloween, however, has been tedious from pretty much the beginning. A man named Michael Myers – ooh, the guy who played Shrek? Wearing an inside-out Captain Kirk mask? Scary – stabs babysitters with a knife. The end. Any acclaim received by the original Halloween movie was courtesy to John Carpenter’s direction, and John Carpenter’s direction alone. The fact that this one hasn’t even started filming yet just says it all.

The Dark Knight (2008)

Batman returns, but he has once again left his comic book beginnings in the closet with his tights and boy wonder sidekick. Picking up where Batman Begins left off, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is on the case of the Joker (Heath Ledger), an agent of chaos who has set his sights on Gotham and its knights: both white and dark. With Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes Maggie Gyllenhaal) struggling to choose between two tie-strewn jawlines, the plot mechanics are left to Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), who is being relentlessly undermined by the corruption in Gotham’s police force. Luckily, the Joker isn’t doing very much, contented at first to kill his fellow antagonists in an attempt to try and find out just what makes the man in a bat costume tick. Oh, and there’s a bit set in China.

Having spent nigh on three years now bemoaning the film’s popularity, I suppose it’s about time I revisited The Dark Knight with fresh eyes. Having refused to buy the film on account of not liking it very much, I was finally afforded the opportunity to give it a third and final chance upon arriving home to my brother’s own, different yet equally extensive DVD collection. And you know what, I’m glad I did. Aside from reaffirming my belief that it is not the masterpiece many believe it to be, this third viewing also let me warm to the film in a way I hadn’t expected to. It might not be brilliant, but it’s certainly not terrible either.

Christopher Nolan’s characters are very good at wearing suits. They parade around office blocks and court rooms and roof-tops completely at home alongside the other finely dressed businessmen and women of Gotham City, saying intelligent things and generally being suave and well groomed. The opening scene depicting a beautifully executed bank hiest smacks of Nolan’s trademark narrative prowess, the entire film an intricately crafted thriller which allows those same suited ciphers to trade machismos (“If you want to kill a public servant, Mr. Maroni, I recommend you buy American”/”No more dead cops!”) and pander to some ideological sermon on realism.

And then there’s Batman, our joyless playboy’s masked alter-ego: a bat-eared relic of a bygone superhero age. The Dark Knight is less an ode to a comic book icon than it is an apology, robbing a once great character of all that once made him super in the blind and boring pursuit of grit. A respectable – if unremarkable – crime drama is trundling along affably when all of a sudden a growly Welshman in a plastic fancy dress costume tumbles on-set with a stiff neck and a larynx full of gravel. At this point Nolan’s worshipers proclaim The Dark Knight to be the greatest superhero ever made, a claim I’d put more stock in if Nolan had the confidence to portray the character in all his bat-nippled glory, and not just the elements which gelled with his own personal dogma.

Don’t get me wrong, there are elements that work; Lucius Fox interjecting with “submarine” before Bruce Wayne can ascribe his sonar technology to the echolocation of bats is a nice touch. I’m not saying superhero movies can’t be well-made and tackle serious issues, but they work best as allegories, rather than locking their more fantastical elements in the closet and interpreting darkness as a less-than-subtle absence of light. X-Men works because it isn’t a lecture on equality, but a story which addresses it subtextually.

It’s as though all involved ploughed their quota of character complexity into Heath Ledger’s outstanding Joker, leaving Batman to shout incoherently, Michael Caine to play Michael Caine and Maggie Gylenhaal to flesh out Plot Point #13. You see, as able as Nolan is to pander to his largely male demographic with cool choreography, moral quandaries and big explosions, the director is less confident with his female characters; clearly viewing his women as a remedy to criticisms over his films’ sterility. Rachel Dawes emotes and swoons on cue, but without evoking very much of anything. The kiss she shares with Wayne smacks of storyboarding rather than any identifiably human affection; he never earns it and she then never alludes to it.

But my issues with The Dark Knight go way beyond its poor lighting and emotional negligence. You may see this as nit-picking, but when you put something up on a pedestal by calling it a masterpiece, any and all criticism becomes valid. I’m not some kind of gravitas-hating sentimentalist, I appreciate that there is a time and a place for a serious and considered approach – I was hardly criticising United 93 for its absence of laughs – but Gotham? If you want to make a serious crime drama then create one, don’t shoe-horn it into a superhero movie, apologetically brushing the titular character aside so you can have serious discussions about the nature of heroism. All I know is that if I’d been 12 and Nolan had made a Pokemon film about institutional reform, I’d be livid. Anyway, my concerns.

Where did Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow go? Considering how much thought has obviously gone into the screenplay, shouldn’t Dr. Jonathan Crane have been on the boat of criminals seen later in the film? I realise that after having recast Rachel and optioned to model Gotham on an entirely new city there was need for consistency, but it is a jarring omission nonetheless. Why “pretend” to kill Commissioner Gordon? It adds nothing to the film, except for yet another unneccessary plot development that ensures The Dark Knight rises is a few minutes short of neverending. What annoys me most, however, are the double standards required by the film’s supporters. So The Dark Knight is so amazing because it is so ruthlessly realistically? What about the flying? The skyhook? The voice? What about the ridiculous mobile sonar device? These things shouldn’t stand out in a Batman film, but they do.

The Dark Knight is perfectly serviceable; but as a crime drama it is undermined by a man in a bat-costume, and as a superhero movie it is heavily devoid of superheroes. It is over-long, one boat-set display of moral high-fibre too many. The character arcs – on paper – sound highly intelligent and complex, but in reality fall flat? The Dark Knight isn’t the best comic book movie ever made, it’s not even the best Batman film. It’s a good movie, an ambitious movie, but a flawed movie. Like Inception it is an idea, lacking the emotional resonance of a work of art. As a great man once said: why so serious?

The 83rd Academy Awards


Last night saw the annual 83rd Academy Awards crash into a room-full of endangered animals and explode all over a visiting class of schoolchildren. As James Franco and Anne Hathaway took to the stage to punish humanity for Eve’s taste in fruit, the scene was set for a slew of nonsense awards that made the Razzies look hugely original. Thankfully, however, not all of my predictions came true: while Toy Story 3 won best animation, Christian Bale scooped Best Supporting Actor and How To Train Your Dragon was unforgivably overlooked, the Best Director and Best Film awards went to a film that actually deserved them. Here, then, lies a full list of the nominees and respective winnners – or at least as full a list as I could manage at 5 o’clock in the morning. Yes sir, I am a mental person.

Best Picture

The Social Network – Winter’s Bone – The King’s Speech – Black Swan – True Grit – The Fighter – The Kids Are All Right – Toy Story 3 – Inception – 127 Hours

The Oscar which last year went to The Hurt Locker (blah!), this year was awarded to The King’s Speech, an unassuming but deeply incredible movie about overcoming obstacles in the face of one’s duties. While I would have happily seen Black Swan or 127 Hours take home this award – to Nina Sayer’s mirror world or Aron Ralston’s hole respectively – I, unlike most people, can live with The King’s Speech. At least, for example, it didn’t go to The Fighter, True Grit or Inception, becoming in the process a celebration of utter averageness.

Best Director

Darren Aronofsky – Tom Hooper – David Fincher – Joel & Ethan Coen – David O. Russell

Rather than breaking another taboo, and – say – being awarded to a hermaphrodite (equal opportunities!), this years Best Director once again went hand in hand with Best Film. Tom Hooper may have directed a TV movie, but it was the best, most engaging and outstandingly cinematic TV movie of the year.

Best Actor

James Franco – Colin Firth – Jesse Eisenberg – Javier Bardem – Jeff Bridges

Yes, James Franco can look dehydrated; sure, Jesse Eisenberg can invoke the God of awkwardness; and sure Jeff Bridges can move his chin but only Colin Firth gave a performance worth walking onstage about. Conveying a believable stutter, both technically and emotionally, and following up A Single Man with arguably his most inspiring performance yet, Firth had this one coming. In case you needed more proof, however, he is also the only actor to have not starred in Cursed, Tron: Legacy or Eat Pray Love.

Best Actress

Natalie Portman – Annette Benning – Jennifer Lawrence – Michelle Williams – Nicole Kidman

Natalie Portman trained for almost a year to ensure she convinced as ballet protégée Nina Sayers in Black Swan. She also made V for Vendette which, in my book, means has been a dead cert for years. Sure, each of the other actresses gave mightily depressing performances in their respective vehicles, but Portman was the only one who managed psychotic, turning into a black swan in front of our very eyes. With Julianne Moore sadly snubbed, there was no other choice.

Best Supporting Actor

John Hawkes – Christian Bale – Mark Ruffalo – Geoffrey Rush – Jeremy Renner

Oh Jeeze, with the big four firmly out of the way, it really is all down hill from here. Earned entirely by Geoffrey Rush, Best Supporting Actor was sadly mis-awarded to Batman’s teeth. Thanking everyone he had ever met with the worst in mockney accents, Bale appears to have won for mimicking the mannerisms of another human being – some parrots can do that – while giving one of the least likeable performances of the year.

Best Supporting Actress

Hailee Steinfeld – Melissa Leo – Jacki Weaver – Amy Adams – Helena Bonham Carter

Grabbing two out of five nominations, The Fighter was unfortunately a shoe in for Best Supporting Actress. Going to the entirely convincing mega-bitch Melissa Leo, Helena Bonham Carter was robbed of recognition for what might have been her first sane performance in years. It is telling that Leo’s accomplishment is already outshone by one ill-advised Bible-belt-baiting F-bomb.

Best Original Screenplay

AnotherYear – The Kids Are Alright – The King’s Speech – Inception – The Fighter

Thi is, perhaps, the first ever time I have begrudged The King’s Speech one of its awards. Best Original Screenplay? A film which Tom Hooper, in his acceptance speech for Best Director, attributes to his mother’s attendance of a play and which is based on historical fact? Much more deserving was the beautifully devastating  Another Year or the light, yet utterly compelling The Kids Are Alright.

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Social Network – 127 Hours – Toy Story 3 – True Grit – Winter’s Bone

The Social Network was good in an alright kind of way. Yes the opening scene stung with its razor-sharp dialogue, but after that it was all a bit ass-numbing really. 127 Hours, however, took a challenging and confined story and edited the shit out of it until it shone of greatness. Danny Boyle is a genius.

Best Animated Film

The Illusionist – How to Train Your Dragon – Toy Story 3

DreamWorks did some sterling work last year, rejuvenating their flagging Shrek franchise, outshining the much-hyped Despicable Me with the far superior Magamind and blowing every other pixel out of the water with How to Train Your Dragon. Their efforts, as predicted, went unrewarded at this year’s Academy Awards, however, as Pixar’s third Toy Story movie stumbled into the limelight for an award that should have gone to one of its far superior predecessors many moons ago. This was the year of the Dragon!

Best Art Direction

Inception – Alice in Wonderland – The King’s Speech – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I – True Grit

You know what, say what you like about Alice in Wonderland but it was a wonder to behold. While The King’s Speech may have been all period, True Grit may have had a decent costume or two and Inception had a few beats Escher would have been proud of, Alice in Wonderland boasted example after example of glorious design. While I would have liked Harry Potter to win something, you could have done a lot worse than the splendour of Wonderland.

Best Cinematography

Black Swan – The Social Network – Inception – True Grit – The King’s Speech

Inception? Really? While it may be the best pick of this sorry bunch, this year’s best cinematography – in my opinion – was showcased in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I. Gorgeously shot, and breathing life into endless hillside, old tenements and Daniel Radcliffe’s face, Deathly Hallows: Part I was absolutely gorgeous to behold.

Best Visual Effects

Hereafter – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I – Iron Man 2 – Alice in Wonderland – Inception

I’ll give Inception this one, that scene in which the city folds in half is still absolutely breath-taking. Had it fully utilised its dream setting, however, its deservedness would have been far more striking. Iron Man 2 might have been pretty meh, but the opening tsunami in Hereafter, the opening escape from Privet Drive and Alice’s fall down the rabbit hole were all similarly awe-inspiring. For stand out moment, however, I’d have to give it to Black Swan for that transformation!

Best Original Score

How to Train Your Dragon – Inception – The King’s Speech – 127 Hours – The Social Network

The Social Network? Really? How the Hell did it go? At least Inception‘s bombastic foghorn made it all the way to Top Gear, cropping up in just about every movie trailer since. The real winner, however, was undoubtedly John Powell’s How to Train Your Dragon score, a beautifully elegant, eloquent and uplifting piece of music which fits the action entirely. A mainstay on my playlist ever since, “Forgotten Friendship”, in particularly, is one of the all encompassing, heartfelt and utterly moving scores you will hear all year. Robbed I say!

Best Makeup

The Wolfman – Barney’s Version – The Way Back

While I can just about forgive Alice in Wonderland: Oscar winner, there is no way I can accept a now acclaimed The Wolfman, possibly the year’s worst feature film (Airbender was not that bad!). Barney’s Version and The Way Back may not have featured an entirely unconvincing wereworlf, but at least they weren’t completely irredeemable.

So, there you have it: the Academy was wrong…again! Not worth the sleep hangover, there was at least brief evidence of talent onscreen. For a fleeting moment, Billy Crystal took to the stage with personality and the evening’s first and only trio of jokes. May I take this opportunity to congratulate The King’s Speech, and voice my wish that Spielberg next year wins Best Director for Tintin. Tune in next year, and watch as I am wrong again.

Five Oscar predictions and why I hope they are wrong.

Every film journalist worth their salt has spent today making a checklist of their Oscar predictions, a near unanimous set of winners that once again fills me with dread, and leaves me longing for less predictable times.

Rather than dealing with each award in turn (there are, like, loads!) and duplicating said list once more, I have instead opted to make five simple predictions along with the reasons that I will throw things when they inevitably come to pass.

You see, the academy and I rarely see eye to eye; last year, for example, a considerable number of the chosen winners sent me into a rabbid frenzy (The Hurt Locker for best film? Up for best animation? Are you friggin’ kidding me?). This, then, is my last chance to voice my disagreement and lull myself into a fraudulant belief that I have done all I can to change Hollywood’s mind.

1) Inception will win everything.

There was universal outrage earlier this year when the nominees were announced. “Where’s Inception?” cried a legion of Nolanite’s in unison as Inception was only nominated for a handful of awards (it got best picture, what more do you want?), their blind assurance that it was, like, the best film ever falling on decidedly deaf ears. It was an alright blockbuster that didn’t treat its audience like lesser primates, not the most intelligent movie ever made.

It was humourless, pretentious and hugely unambitious. As a movie set in the realm of the imagination it was notably unimaginative – wow, a train…is that really all you’ve got? A Nightmare on Elm Street made better use of its dream setting and it was shit!

2) Toy Story 3 will win best animation.

Are you kidding me? Sure Toy Story 3 was an undoubtedly worthy addition to the Toy Story franchise but was that ever really in doubt? Not to sound ungrateful, but isn’t the whole point of awarding best animation to single out the single greatest animated movie of the year, regardless of whether or not it was directed by Pixar? It was bad enough when Up won the category last year, but to grant another ‘good’ Pixar movie with this accolade is to do their better offerings a huge disservice. Toy Story 3 was fine but it was as much the greatest Pixar movie ever made as it was the best animated movie of 2010. Last year, as you well know, had its very own Wall-E.

I don’t care what the judges say, How to Train Your Dragon was the best animated movie of the year. As big a surprise to me as it no doubt was to you, How to Train Your Dragon blew me away with its utter perfection. Escaping DreamWorks’ penchant for inferior animation, it is all the more worthy of attention for its expectations-blowing majesty.

3) Christopher Bale is going to win Best Supporting Actor for The Fighter.

So Christian Bale can imitate mannerisms, whoop-de-doo. Is it not bad enough that the man recieved undeserved praise for growling on cue for The Dark Knight? Must he really rob John Hawkes, Geoffrey Rush and Mark Ruffalo of the actor in a supporting role award (I’d include Jeremy Renner if The Town had been any good at all)?

The Fighter was an incredibly average movie, complete awards-bait which only serves to illustrate how unimaginative and predictable the Academy Awards have become. Should the award have been for the least sympathetic supporting character since Jar Jar Binks, then I’d be as behind Bale as the rest of you are now. I have honestly never wanted a character to shut up more, Mark Wahlberg is trying to speak!

4) The Coen brothers will win best director.

First of all, there’s two of them. How exactly is that fair. Second of all, isn’t it bad enough that True Grit took up room in the cinematography category that is better deserved by David Yates’ Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I? Third of all, what the Hell was so great about True Grit in the first place?

Sure they may have persuaded Jeff Bridges to “growl even less coherently”, but True Grit was as slow and uneventful as the very worst exercises in entertainment. Yes the kid acted bluntly, yes I believed that Matt Damon has bit his tongue, but is that really all that is required for a best director nomination? Where the Hell’s Danny Boyle!?

5) How to Train Your Dragon will not win best score.

Competing against serious movies such as Inception, The King’s Speech, 127 Hours and The Social Network, there is no way the academy award is going to go to a cartoon about dragons and a little viking named Hiccup. This is, of course, regardless of the fact that I have been humming How to Train Your Dragon‘s score since the first time I saw it on the big screen. The first time of five, that is.

In fact, the only other score I can actually call is that of Inceptions, a series of ominous fog horns that could have belonged to any Christopher Nolan movie to date. John Powell’s endlessly uplifting How to Train Your Dragon score, on the other hand, breathed so much life and originality into the movie that, in my opinion, it is easily on a par with the instantly recognisable Indiana Jones, James Bond, or Harry Potter themes.

So, reader, think of my hoarse exasperation as Inception cleans up everything but best director (HA!), Toy Story scoops best animation, Christian Bale picks up more undeserved recognition, the Coen brothers do their thing and How To Train Your Dragon falls victim to its own brilliance. Why am I watching the Oscars tonight? Masochism, apparently.

The Fighter (2010)

The Fighter charts the rise of Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg)  in the wake of his brother Dickie’s (Christian Bale) fall. Taken advantage of by his family’s imposing matriarch (Melissa Leo), Mickie is given the opportunity to put his recent string of failures behind him and start afresh with a new manager and a girlfriend (Amy Adams) who actually cares about him. As Dickie once again finds himself in jail, apparently betrayed by a documentary that exposed his drug addiction instead of charting his comeback (what a douche), all is looking rosy until real life gets in the way and mother dearest returns to lay down the law.

There is no way of saying this without coming across in a poor light, I didn’t like  The Fighter and I can’t for the life of me peg it down to a single rational reason; leaving me with little choice but to rant away. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some cheese-loving simpleton who eats Cookie Dough ice cream who needs his movies to end happily, comprise fart-joke after fart-joke or erupt into song on an improbable number of occasions. I do, however, require enjoyment from cinema in order to sing its praises and I definitely wasn’t entertained by The Fighter. In all honesty, I think I would have attained more enjoyment from an actual boxing match – and I hate boxing.

The Fighter is an absolutely joyless affair, but as it is based on a true story, it is impossible to blame the film’s lacklustre plotting. Centring on a series of thoroughly unsympathetic characters – including, but by no means limited to, the worlds worst mother and her drug addict, larger than life son – and sidelining any actual boxing for the decidedly anticlimatic finale, The Fighter has clearly set out to be more than your average sports movie.

Just as well, I suppose. While I understand that some people may gauge thrills from watching others kick a ball, throw a javelin or thump someone else, I really am not one of them. All due respect to someone at the height of their physical prowess, undeniably skilled and mercilessly trained. My sympathies end, however, with the overweight supported shouting insults at his TV in ‘support’ of the action or the endless tagger-ons providing needless commentary or, worse, taking advantage of their talented charge. The Fighter follows a town besotted with its resident boxers and the dysfunctional family of half-wits dedicated to exploiting their sons while the daughters and matriarch form a harem of she-vultures.

Boasting every element of the general coming of age movie, in which a small town nobody overcomes overwhelming odds to escape his humble, but limiting, beginnings, The Fighter is a cuckoo egg, hidden in the midst of a genre to which it doesn’t belong. Real life provides no such luxury, as the dénouement struggles under the weight of reality and its inherent disappointment, unfulfilling entirely. By film’s end I was more than  happy to watch Christian Bale’s Dicky Eklund rot in prison and Mark Wahlberg’s Micky ‘betray’ his poisonous family and sign the deal with that nice chap from Las Vegas. Instead, I had to watch the characters reconvene as if nothing had happened, safe in the knowledge that in the final five minutes, nobody had tacken crack or acted like a total bastard.

So, whereas other sports movies end with the underdog triumphing over some thuggish opponent, The Fighter ends with the stoic calm at the centre of a desperately unlikeable storm beating the crap out of some random with little relevance to all that came before. Choosing to focus on life outside of the ring, The Fighter begs to end with Wahlberg flooring his irksome and washed up brother and giving his bitch-mother the finger, but instead denies the audience the satisfaction as he instead decides that family is more important than his future. Is this departure from convention really all that makes The Fighter Oscar worthy? Sure it’s based on a true story but why is this particular story so worthy of my time, sure the parts are well portrayed but it only makes me dislike the characters more, there innumerable movies released this year and a considerable multitude of them were better than this one.