Tag Archives: Christian Bale

The Batman

4 Mar

‘The Batman’: The Dark Knight gets darker

By Tom Meek Wednesday, March 2, 2022

“The Batman” is a dark, deeply emotional affair that’s got a lot going for it and a lot going on – perhaps too much. (It’s almost three hours long.) We could also call it version 3.5 of the cinematic dark knight, with the Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher films in the 1990s and Christopher Nolan trilogy being 1.0 and 2.0 and Ben Affleck’s donning of the cowl in the “Justice League” films the 0.5 splitter. It may be 4.5 if we take into account the spoofy, goofy BAM! POW! fun of the Adam West television series.

What drives this reboot is a succession of grim murders of municipal higher-ups, beginning with the mayor and working its way over to the heads of the police and district attorney’s offices. Personally, if I was orchestrating such sinister deeds I would have saved the top cat (the mayor) for last – it just feels more operatic. The thing that links the macabre deaths are the signatures left at each crime scene: a riddle punctuated with a giant question mark, an encrypted cipher, a card addressed to “The Batman” and some spray painted (or blood painted) messaging about a web of lies or some such thing.

Given that Paul Dano plays The Riddler, you can probably guess who’s behind the acts that play out in sadistic fashion like a sin-atoned-for in David Fincher’s “Se7en” (1995) or a Jigsaw trap from one of the “Saw” films. The Riddler here just may be darker and more demonic than the spins on Joker performed by Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix: One clue leads to a thumb drive with a severed thumb attached to it, so those recovering it can unlock it via thumbprint, and it clearly takes a lot of work to be that twisted. But wait, this film’s about the bat, right? Well yes, and you get plenty of Robert Pattinson in the beefy Kevlar suit, which turns out to be a bit of a double-edged sword. We get to embed with him more, but the tease of enigma that has been the traditional draw dissipates. Director-writer Matt Reeves (“Let Me In,” “Cloverfield”), co-writer Peter Craig and Pattinson paint their Batman/Bruce Wayne as a deeply tortured soul, a monomaniacal tool of vengeance with no trace of mirth or joy and no bifurcation of personalities; what we drink in is all dour, sullen anger, underscored by the incarnation’s theme song, Nirvana’s broodingly depressive “Something in the Way.”

What carries the film are the sly intricacies of The Riddler’s misdeeds, the mysterious intent behind them and the stunning set designs that range from the crowded, rain-slicked streets of Gotham to the gaping Batcave and an Edward Hopper-styled diner lit in green neon. The cumulative effect is a strange, wonderful fusion of Walter Hill’s “Streets of Fire” (1984) and Ridley Scott’s future noir, “Blade Runner” (1982). The other aspect of “The Batman” that largely works is that our bat here is something of a master sleuth, a tech-age Sherlock Holmes, if you will. It’s a little off-putting to see him sniffing around a live crime scene CSI style, but part of the joy comes in looking beyond the obvious, going one level deeper and admiring the acumen of our hero. Caught up in the mix too is the updated version of Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz), though she simply goes by her birth name of Selina and works in a nightclub owned by Oswald Cobblepot, aka The Penguin, played beguilingly by Colin Farrell under gobs of makeup. He’s something of a brotherly incarnation of Robert De Niro’s portly Jake LaMotta in “Raging Bull” (1980).

The rest of the impressive supporting cast includes a perfectly coiffed Andy Serkis as a dutiful Alfred who’s killer at decoding ciphers, John Turturro as the local crime boss all trails seem to lead to, Peter Sarsgaard as the sleazy DA and Jeffrey Wright, channeling his cagey investigative reporter from “The French Dispatch” (2021) as Lt. Gordon, the guy who fires up the bat signal and may be the only clean cop on the force. The new take on the Batmobile is something of a throwback to the muscle cars of the 1970s; it’s like someone bat-tatted a classic Dodge Charger and strapped on a jet engine turbo boost like one of those nitro-infused junkers in “The Road Warrior” (1981).

Pattinson and Kravitz look fetching together, and given their raw charisma you’d think the two would click together like Legos (there is that “Lego Batman Movie”), but the romantic undercurrent between them feels postured and unearned. Then again, this is a brooding, relentless lad who takes his mission as a higher cause – “I am vengeance” gets tossed around a lot. Batman’s most genuine connections are those with Gordon, who for reasons not on screen trusts him emphatically, and his lifelong loyal butler and caregiver Alfred, though that ultimately gets challenged as “the veil is pulled back and the lie’s exposed.” I grew up near Connecticut cities where corruption scandals were an annual “wait for it” event that didn’t disappoint, and of course we had infamous mayor Buddy Cianci just down the way in Providence. Gotham’s not much different: dirty cops with drug money washing political hands. What it does have is that dashing millionaire orphan who likes to dress up, break out the bat toys and take out the trash.

Ford v Ferrari

13 Nov

‘Ford v Ferrari’: Keen to outrace the Italians, team’s truer enemy is signing their paychecks

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Friendship and faith abound in this take on the fast and furious arms race between an automotive giant and chic auto boutique on the boot of Italy. Back in the late ’50s, Carroll Shelby won the grueling Le Mans 24-hour auto race, something few Americans up to that point had ever done, as the race had long been dominated by Team Ferrari. After winning Le Mans, Shelby (Matt Damon) is informed of a cardiovascular condition that will prevent him from racing while Ford, the mega conglomerate, is looking for ideas to jump-start the brand. The automaker’s upper echelon, painted as a collection of stiff, square suits, has recently kicked off the Mustang line – thanks to Lee Iacocca, played by Jon Bernthal – but wants to appeal hipper to the blossoming Boomer generation by taking down the glamorous and glorious Ferrari team at the French-hosted, daylong drive fest. For the cause, and for a lean and efficient approach, Ford taps the maverick Shelby to build car and team.

Based on true events, “Ford v Ferrari” revs across the finish line mostly because of the yin and yang relationship between the affable Shelby and his driver, Ken Miles (Christian Bale), and the external pressures put on them by Ford. Ken’s a hothead and a family man, and both he and Shelby face crushing financial pressures – over at shop Shelby, the renowned race car driver sells the same sleek collector’s item to multiple buyers on the same given day, with the mantra “Get the check but don’t let them drive away with it.” Extreme auto wonks Shelby and Miles go about their work with innate knowhow, lightening and quickening the car – Ford loads the initial GT with a clunky computer for diagnostics, which Miles unceremoniously rips out and opts for scotch tape and yarn to determine drag. As it turns out, it’s Ford that’s the film’s biggest villain with higher-up Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas, nailing the smarminess) a creepy control freak sharking around who wants Miles out (he’s not a Ford man) and Shelby to bow to him on every decision. Even more telling is Ford’s botched acquisition of Ferrari (viva la Fiat!) and the overbearing, near Trumpian portrait of Beebe’s boss, CEO Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts).

Directed serviceably by James Mangold (“Logan” and “Girl, Interrupted”) “Ford v Ferrari” marks one of the better (not that there’s a bevy) of recent racing flicks. It’s akin to Ron Howard’s surprising “Rush” back in 2013 as it careens along the roadway of friendship and rivalry at top speed. The race scenes and era are recreated impeccably, but “Ford v Ferrari” goes on a bit too long (two and a half hours) for its own good. Damon’s game thinker and Bale’s mercurial Brit carry the film from start to finish with a juicy contribution from Letts (the scene in which Shelby takes Ford II for a spin in the GT40 is priceless, though a bit over the top) and a more somber and uplifting turn from Caitriona Balfe as Miles’ wife, Mollie. Bernthal’s Iacocca, however, feels a bit lost as the film seems to wrestle with the icon’s legacy and complicity in Ford II’s tyrannical leadership. I’m sure the scion’s family and the current corporate brass at the automaker may have different takes; as told, the division from within proves the biggest obstacle to job No. 1.

 

Joker

3 Oct

‘Joker’: Phoenix tries to hold it all together, but eventually film lets loose, breaks down

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Throughout Batman’s long history, the Joker’s been played by some pretty mighty performers. Standouts include Jack Nicholson, who pretty much hijacked Tim Burton’s “Batman” (1989), and Heath Ledger, who won a bittersweet, posthumous Oscar for his deeply felt portrait of derangement in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” (2008) – and let’s not forget the comic genius of Cesar Romero during the 1960s TV series. Nolan and Burton felt like the right hands to shepherd a dark superhero/villain origins tale, but Todd Phillips, with such swinging steak comedies as “Old School” (2003) and the “Hangover” films to his credit? Odd as it may seem, it’s a somewhat logical evolution from drunken vomit awakenings to blood-splattered foyers with a panicked dwarf who can’t reach a chain bolt to escape.

The real reason Phillips’ “Joker” succeeds is simple: Joaquin Phoenix makes the anti-antihero psycho-saga all his own. There’s also the script by Phillips and Scott Silver that plays with the Batman mythology artfully without getting bogged down in the bigger picture – though we do briefly see Bruce Wayne at a young age, when dad and mom are with us – but without Phoenix, I don’t think “Joker” takes flight. It’s a bravura go, and Phoenix should be right up there at year’s end (like Ledger was) with Brad Pitt and Leo DiCaprio when Oscar nods are called out. With maybe the exception of Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator” (2000) it’s hard to find a movie in which Phoenix doesn’t shine with brilliant quirk and dour doses of menace. He delivers all that here and more; it’s a total immersion. For the part of clown turned Gotham icon and sociopathic perp, Phoenix lost a ton of weight, something done with equal austerity by Christian Bale (who took up the bat cowl for Nolan) in Brad Anderson’s “The Machinist” (2004) or, inversely, when Robert De Niro added 50 pounds as Jack LaMotta in “Raging Bull” – and if as on cue (send in the clowns), the Martin Scorsese-forged actor shows up in “Joker” as beloved late night TV show host Murray Franklin, whom Arthur Fleck (the Joker’s birth name) and his not-quite-all-there mother (Frances Conroy, excellent in the small complicated part) watch religiously. Continue reading

Vice

27 Dec

‘Vice’: Bale submerges self into role of Cheney for an overall shallow look into the Bush years

 

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For all the gonzo intelligent narrative devices laid down in “The Big Short” (2015) – a film rightfully regarded for its unconventional tact and devilish skewering of Wall Street greed – “Vice,” the latest from “Short” director Adam McKay, takes a stumble into the pool of smug self-indulgence.

First it must be said that Christian Bale, under tons of makeup and with a harsh, whispery intone – almost like his Batman voice – brings the incarnation of former “Vice” President Dick Cheney to life with astonishing credibility. What doesn’t work in this “W”-esque biopic is the singular throttle of Cheney as the Darth Vader of backroom politics. The film is a series of vignettes: The young Dick, an underachiever working on oil rigs, drunken and failing out of Yale, but then the rise in business, the union with wife Lynne (Amy Adams, underused in the thankless role of garnish) and Halliburton raking it in after Desert Storm. The Cheneys are rich and, at 45 minutes in, the credits roll. That’s one of the many McKay-infused shenanigans (like Margot Robbie in a hot tub with a glass of champagne to explain complex investment vehicles in “Short”) that don’t quite aid the satire, but more stoke the flame as things begin to wane.

After the “fake” credits roll, the call from W comes. During a man-to-man backyard barbecue Cheney casts a dark spell over Bush (Sam Rockwell, restrained and spot-on in the small part) growling about special power if he signs on as VP.  From there it’s a mad shell game, pulling strings from behind the curtain, undermining foes with glee and raking it in. That weapons-of-mass-destruction declaration goes ka-ching to Cheney’s ears.

The Scooter Libby scandal and that infamous shotgun blast all make it in via campy digs that feel more vindictive and skewed than they are of validating some truth. The whole film’s narrated too by some kind of Nick Carraway voice, and when you finally find out who it is, you might have a heart attack over the revelation. Kitsch is where the heart is.

The Cheneys’ biggest humanization comes in the defense of their gay daughter at multiple turns, but even there, McKay paints Cheney as an arduous manipulator worming and working for the win-win – giving the conservatives ins on the gay marriage issue while taking his daughter off the table.

If you’re looking for the real Dick Cheney, there’s probably plenty of nuggets here, but the portrait is so lopsided and skewed you’d almost think it was Michael Moore behind the lens. Bale, while totally convincing and immersed, is afforded only the opportunity to do SNL skit impersonations. Besides the bro barbecue with Bush, Cheney’s not much more than a hiss or a head cock from his Vader throne, using his force to manipulate the universe for evil gains.