The Batman

I have seen several comments in social media over the past few months, which question the need for a new Batman movie. That is a little understandable since the character has been trotted out a dozen times or more in the last thirty years and the D.C. Extended Universe has not made the best use of the character possible. That last bit has been rendered obsolete by the latest film which does in fact make “The Batman” a relevant character and which manages to give him something a lot more interesting to do than battle interdimensional beings from outer space. Instead of trying to fit Batman into a super hero story modelled after the MCU Infinity war, director Matt Reeves and co-writer Peter Craig have set him in what may be the most realistic version of Gotham City we have seen in the movies and given him a task that doesn’t require technology from the future. 

It seems that every iteration of the caped crusader in the last couple of decades has gotten grimmer and grimmer, and this is the current end point. The Batman is facing a job that makes him the equivalent of Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman in the movie “Se7en”, he must track down a serial killer who has a hidden motive and a set of elaborate clues that he leaves behind. This story goes to some bad places, and it might be appropriate to nickname our hero “The Darker Knight”. The killings are gruesome, the clues are also pretty forbidding. We are spared seeing some of the crimes, but we do see enough to be put off by the actions of the villain, even though some of the victims seem deserving of some kind of retribution. The killer is known as The Riddler because he leaves clues that are language puzzles, for the Batman to figure out. For two thirds of the film, the character is only seen in a get up designed to limit any forensic clues and to hide his face. There is a vocal performance but it may be enhanced through audio technology. When actor Paul Dano finally appears on screen as the character, he sparks up the movie considerably, having been built up so well in the first couple of acts, his mild mannered dementia is plenty creepy even though he is not a physical threat to the hero. 

This story is set relatively early in the career of “The Batman”, and we don’t get the usual origin story, we are simply dropped into the set up as if these activities have been going on for a while. Lt. Gordon has a tentative working relationship with the masked vigilante, and that connection is resented by most of the cops but the authority of Gordon allows Batman into crime scenes where he is both forensic investigator and  profiler. This film could aptly ne subtitled “C.S.I. Gotham”. The puzzles are sometimes answered quickly by our title character but just as often, he and Gordon struggle to come up with solutions and they follow a macabre path to the next clue to try and bring them closer to the killer. Gordon is played by Jeffery Wright, who is making a career out of playing second fiddle to the main characters in films (see James Bond and The Hunger Games). His low key persona and low modulated voice are good counterparts to the title character. “The Batman” is played by Robert Pattinson, who seems to have shed the “Twilight” baggage and is building a very credible resume of films, including “Tenet” from two years ago. Usually, the actor cast in this role gets his best moments as Bruce Wayne, but this is the least Bruce Wayne heavy Batman film I have seen. Wayne is a secondary character and The Batman is front and center for the key events in the movie. The Wayne Family plays a more prominent role in the film than Bruce himself does. 

Gotham is a dark place with lots of evil around every corner, but much like the Nolan Trilogy of films, the city looks fairly normal, except for the fact that no one turns on a light and it rains almost continuously. The thing that is disturbing is how much the corruption, feckless law enforcement, and gang related violence shown in the movie, mirrors the cities like Chicago. It is taken as a given that the politicians are craven tools of special interests, in this case the mob. Two characters that are known to officials, including the police, but for which no one seems able to do anything about are Carmine Falcone and his underboss known as The Penguin. It is an open secret that they run the city and why The Batman and Gordon should be surprised at who all turns up as a victim of the Riddler is unclear. The targets are pretty well marked. The Riddler is starting at the top of the Official List and working his way down. What is a surprise is how easily one of the victims fall prey to the serial killer when he should know that his role in the crime world is connected to the first two victims. The part of the Penguin was secondary, but it was significant enough to draw Colin Farrell to it, even though he is unrecognizable in costume and make-up. As a lynchpin to the story he does have a very solid sequence that includes our introduction to the new version of the Batmobile. 

The movie looks great when seen on a big screen, I am less confident that it will translate to home viewing, unless home audiences are willing to change the settings on their televisions in some dramatic ways to see what the hell is going on on screen. For a nearly three hour movie, there are not as many action set pieces as you might expect, although there are plenty of hand to hand fistfights where Batman punches the crap out of dozens of opponents. It’s not quite at John Wick levels of preposterousness. Pattinson’s Batman has a temper and he definitely takes it out on the bad guys. When he punches someone in the face, he is not doing so indifferently, he means to punish them, without necessarily killing them. There are no real light moments in the film, but the presence of “Catwoman” Zoë Kravitz, does give us some quiet moments with a hint of romance. Her character is like Farrell, a keystone for the story but not a main character. Wright and Pattinson are the dynamic duo in this film and Dano is the formidable opponent. There is a hidden villain who shines in the few scenes he gets and that is John Turturrow’s Falcone. Be aware that there is a surprise plot turn in the last half hour of the film, That storyline is only partially set up and it feels a little tacked on, although is is explained in a very effective way.

Some people have gone so far as to say this is the best Batman film ever, and have even called it a masterpiece. I can’t go quite that far but it is top tier and on a par with the Nolan trilogy, but be warned, the seriousness of the plot up until that final turn, will remind you more of “The Silence of the Lambs” than any previous Batman film. Not a lot of humor, but some good characters effectively realized and a main plot that is driven more by detective work  than the action man with the marvelous toys. 


“Voyagers” is a perfectly fine science fiction morality tale, that goes off the rails about halfway through and devolves into an average action film in space. The big ideas that it starts with get left behind for a replay of issues from some very familiar material. I think if they had stuck to the questions concerning the morality of the entire enterprise instead of becoming “Lord of the Flies” in space with sex, this could have been something special. As it is, you can enjoy it as a passable theatrical experience that will not sit long in your head.

Let me begin by telling you what I thought was intriguing about the concept in the first place. In order to allow the species to go forward, scientists have devised an ark, that they will send forth to populate a new planet. Since it will take 86 years to get there, and unlike other films in the genre, there is no hibernation technology, the decision is made to seed the galaxy with children derived from genetically manipulated and selected materials. The kids get raised in isolation so they do not know what it it is they are leaving behind. This is to spare them the emotional trauma of separation anxiety. Right there, you could stop and develop that storyline and have an interesting picture. That’s not what the script does. Instead, we go on an accelerated launch with only one adult to manage things for the three or four dozen four year old who are being set afloat. OK, that would make an interesting film also, but that section lasts five minutes and we then enter into teen world. Here. the emotions and biology of the passengers is being manipulated to sustain  resources, space and to avoid potential emotional conflicts. The ethics of that choice would also be a worthy trail to follow. Instead, we get the consequences of a rejection of the process and what we end up with is “teens going wild”. 

Much of what happens does not make sense given that the kids have been immersed in a controlled environment their whole lives. How do the genetic offspring of geniuses, go from docile well oiled parts of a grand plan to sex crazed maniacs within a short period of time. The story shortcut seems to be a little too quick. It also appears that in spite of their intensive education, starting practically out of the womb, they never studied ethics, philosophy, theology or any system that would justify a moral code. Some of these kids shed the veneer of civilization as quickly as taking off your coat. The main villain is practically leering with evil intent five minutes past a key point in the movie. His naked ambition remains hidden to almost all of the rest of the kids with the exception of our two or three heroic figures. There is one idea that works for a while, the rebel maniacs start exploiting fear and uncertainty among the whole crew about a possible outside threat. “The Thing” vide works well at building animosities but everyone gets pushed over the threshold so easily that it feels a bit laughable. 

The young cast is attractive but sometimes a little too mechanical. The characters are supposed to be somewhat level headed but it’s not until some really bad things happen that they wake up from the growing threat.   It was not clear why there was not more than one sustaining hand to guide these kids through the early part of their development, in fact at one point is seems as if they were going to be launched on their own. Fortunately Colin Farrell does go along for the ride, adding some credibility to the start of the whole process. I know it would be difficult to imagine him as impotent in the face of the growing problem, but the catalyst for the escalation seems to be a shortcut. Farrell certainly has a charismatic impact on the film, and that could dwarf the focus on the kids. Tye Sheridan has been solid in the things I have seen him in, and once the movie gets to the outburst of violence, he is a little more active, but early on he is playing it as a somnambulant. Lily-Rose Depp is new to me but she seemed very familiar as a type, I think if the movie was better this could have been a breakout part. As it is, she is simply the best in a largely bland set of performances. 

Production design for this movie feels a bit trapped in pre 1970s sterility. Most of the sets consist of well lit hallways with some trim on the doors. The ambient lighting reminds me of THX-1138 and 2001. The exteriors of the space vehicle are vague and brief, suggesting that the budget here was not quite as big as it might have been originally. It looks like someone who was trying to project something futuristic, but they never got past modern minimalism. There were only two of us in the theater for this screening, which suggests to me that the future is not long for this world.  

The Gentlemen

If ever there was someone who clearly benefited from the rise of independent cinema through the wedge of Quentin Tarantino, it was Guy Ritchie.  His take on English gangsters propelled him into prominence and he has had some great opportunities ever since. Maybe all of his films have not been successes, but after shepherding the live action remake of Aladdin to a worldwide box office of over a billion dollars, his failures will be overlooked for a while. He returns to his natural milieu with “The Gentleman”, a violent comical take on the economics of the marijuana business. It is filled with the sort of off kilter characters that “Snatch”, “Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Rocknrolla” also overflowed with. Even though Vinnie Jones and Jason Statham are missing, “The Gentlemen” will take it’s rightful place alongside those rough cut gems.

The cast is chock full of Richie regulars but features some newcomers as well. Co-producer Matthew McConaughey is given star billing and while he earns it, there are several standout performances along the way. Charlie Hunnam, who starred in the Ritchie misfire “King Arthur” is a sturdy second banana to McConaughey’s crime lord.  He is all quiet coiled professionalism, waiting to be provoked into action. Henry Golding who has made a name for himself as a romantic lead in “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Last Christmas” gets to play a heavy in this film and he is cynically effective as a self absorbed hoodlum on the make and maybe stretching past his reach too soon.  Eddie Marsan, a veteran of the two Guy Ritche Sherlock Holmes movies, plays a belligerent newspaper publisher. The resolution to his part of the story is one of the images we are fortunately spared from viewing.

It is two big names playing supporting parts that steal this movie and make it so enjoyable to watch. I could have sworn that Colin Farrell was a veteran of the crime films Ritchie made in his early days, but this seems to be their first film together. You know how Tarantino has filled the mouth of Samel L. Jackson with amazing dialogue in their collaborations? while this feels the same way. Farrel delivers the lines that Ritchie has written as if they have worked together for decades. He gets the intonations, relational status and emotional equivalency exactly right. Some things just go together perfectly. So to the list of milk and cookies, peanut butter and jelly, and James Bond and Martinis, add Colin Farrell to Guy Ritchie.

As great as Farrell is in his almost tangential role, there is another well established actor who basically steals the film in a wholly unexpected manner. Hugh Grant has been a light romantic comedian for most of his career. As he is aging out of the romantic lead casting, he has found his true niche as a character actor. In “Florence Foster Jenkins” he gave a sympathetic performance backing up Meryl Streep. In “Paddington 2” he delightfully plays the villain and deserved even more awards attention. Unfortunately, this fil gets a January release here in the States and by next December, people will have forgotten how great he is here. Grant plays a investigator/journalist/detective who tries to take what he finds out about the drug kingpin as a way of both blackmailing the gangster and breaking into the movie business. He is also the narrator of the film, who provides exposition, transitions and color to the events being described. Usually Grant has a proper sounding pronunciation and delicate manner of expression, but not his character Dexter. He is a foul mouthed, dirty minded, over confident and smug creature. Visually he is barely recognizable as the world famous actor he is, but vocally and with many mannerisms, you will not know that this is the same guy who wooed Julia Roberts, Drew Barrymore, Sandra Bullock and many more.

The dialogues, violence and complicated machinations of the plot are the things that you expect in a Guy Ritchie crime film. The elegant turns of phrase that McConaughey uses as he engages his potential business partners and his enemies is a great example of the screenwriter’s strengths. Hunnam and Farrell with their mild deferential styles contrasted to what we see both are capable of are a plus with the dialogue and the action. Although it seems that the events in the story are spinning out as a series of unplanned obstacles, there is always a way that those moments tie back into the plot, usually in a surprising way.  At least it will be a surprise if you have never seen one of Ritchie’s earlier gangster films. If you have, you know to expect the unexpected, but you will be able afterwards to say, Of course.

Dumbo (2019)

If you have not visited before, let me tell you something about myself that repeat visitors have already heard, I am a sentimentalist. I tear up at dog stories, mt throat constricts when I see the American Flag waving in the background of a patriotic scene, and a well placed song can send me on a nostalgia voyage that I might take days to return from. With all of that front loaded, “Dumbo” should have been catnip to me and just the kind of soft sweet film to enjoy on a family night out. That is what makes it so depressing to report that the film is a rather joyless and empty exercise in spite of all the emotional manipulation that it attempts. Tim Burton has lost something here, and it is not his unique visual style .

The film looks great. I was so in during the opening moments of Casey Jr. chugging down the tracks toward the home of the Medici Brothers Circus. The hint of the original theme, and the near face on the front of the locomotive, made me think of riding in the tiny circus cages pulled by the miniature train at Disneyland. That moment was fleeting however. When we arrive at the circus, we are rushed through an introduction of characters that tells us their names but nothing about who they are. Milly is a scientist supposedly trapped in a circus child’s body. How do we know this?, because someone says it. We don’t learn it organically from her actions, the character is being described to us. She fares better than her brother however, poor Joe is not given any character at all, not even a expository line about his personality. In a blink and you’ll miss it moment, we discover that they have been cared for by the circus magician and his wife after the death of their mother while their father was away in WWI. It is his return to the circus that starts the movie, and that feels like the wrong start. I can see the parallel being developed by the story structure of an absent parent and the need for connection. Colin Farrell as Holt Farrier, needs to re-establish with his kids, but we are seeing all of this out of any previous context and I mostly did not care because I had to emotional connection to anyone yet.

We should feel emotionally invested in Dumbo immediately. Baby animals are almost always cute and a baby elephant just screams “adorable”. The CGI creature that is the star of this movie is suitably appealing but somehow still fails to capture our hearts the way he should. When baby Dumbo is being sepearted from his mother, it should be a moment of heartwrenching drama, instead it is a moment of mild sadness that passes much too quickly. I’m not sure what Burton and screenwriter Ehren Kruger missed, but there is definitely a shortage of giving a darn here. I think it may be that the story of the kids and their father steps on the emphasis on Dumbo and his mother. It also does so without giving us enough emotional reward for the human story. We are supposed to care about the tragedy that has befallen this family, but there was no flashback to happier times or a current display of the family bonds. Once again, we are just told that this is what is happening, not really shown it.

The biggest missteps in my opinion come from trying to establish the villainous characters in the story.  Holt is supposed to take over the responsibility of the elephants in the circus, but a roustabout who doesn’t really like the elephants and has been in charge, resents having his authority undermined. That character is drawn so broadly, that you can tell he is evil from the moment he appears on screen. That his malicious treatment of the elephants and Holt, results in an on screen death in a kids movie, tales this away from being light hearted family fare. This has a dark edge to it, that might work in other Burton films but is a sour center to this piece of eye candy. It gets worse when the main villain, portrayed by Michael Keaton, comes on like a young John Hammond, all set to show the world something impossible and then he morphs into the standard shortsighted capitalist that is the easy parody for struggling screenwriters. Almost nothing Keaton’s character does after bringing everyone from the circus to his amusement center makes sense. Each choice he makes is counter intuitive to the goals he has and the supposed status he has attained.  The climax of the film comes as a result of a temper tantrum that takes place for no reason what so ever.

Give Burton and Kruger a little credit for playing a bit subversively with the Keaton character V.A. Vandevere. When we see the amusement park he has created, it is a send up of Disney himself and the legendary park that he created. The “Trip to the Moon” ride in the background is lifted from one of the early attractions in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland, as is the “Hall of Science” which has a futuristic display that anyone who remembers the “Carousel of Progress” will chuckle at. The ruthless businessman behind the warm hearted innovator is a caricature of Disney’s legendary duality. This idea would have worked so much better if there was a redemption arc to the story rather than a comeuppance. Stupidity in a character who has succeeded beyond imagination may be Burton’s attempt to get a little revenge in the complicated relationship he has had with the house of the mouse since the start of his career.

Danny DeVito is the ringmaster owner of the Medici brothers circus. He has played a similar role in other Tim Burton films so the casting works although his performance is a little outsized at times and the actions he is required to take to make the story move forward do not make much sense. Eva Green is an aerial artist who initially looks like a villain but moves into the role of ally effectively and love interest much less so. Her relationship with the children, their father and Dumbo himself is ambiguous when it should be more obvious.

So if a guy like me, who cries a little at the trailer for a chezy movie about a dog, can’t get worked up about a film like this, someone has missed a step. There are only two moments where I started to feel a connection to the characters and the story. First was the moment when the circus folk are singing the song that came from the original film, and the mermaid is plucking it out on her ukulele. That was a piece of fan service that was necessary and worked because of the previous connection. The second moment is when Dumbo is watching the bubble show that goes on right before his performance and his head nods with the dancing pink elephants that are faintly suggested by the bubbles. Had there been a little bit more of that magic, this opinion would be different. Unfortunately, we miss the comic antagonists of the cartoon and don’t care about the protagonists or antagonists in this re-imaging of the story.


A slow burn with a heist that does not carry much weight in the end. “Widows” is a quality film about a criminal enterprise, unfortunately, it is the political system in Chicago as opposed to the robbery that is at the heart of the film. The cast for the film is impressive and the story is full of unpleasant twists but there is something about it that holds me back from a strong endorsement. Those who want a slick crime film will be disappointed because this movie travels down some byzantine alleys and the thing that is around the next corner is usually a downer.

The grime and decay of the neighborhood featured in this movie should be enough to tell you this is not “Ocean’s 4”. There is nothing cute or charming or fun happening here. This is a story focusing on rich criminals robbing each other in the midst of urban decay and neglect. That the criminals are all politically connected should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with how things work in these big urban centers. One crooked deal makes way for another and the only thing more depressing is that everyone considers this de rigueur. The only thing that changes is who gets the power. This movie attempts to shift the power to a group of women by turning them into reflections of evil men. I’m not sure that is the best way to create a story of female empowerment.

It is a little hard to tell what the basis of the opening theft is. The story starts mid-crime when there is a shootout between the robbers and the security team for a local thug who has delusions of political grandeur. Half an hour later we see what happens to those crooks who were supposed to be providing security and got taken. They should have just asked to jump in the van and take off with the money. As it turns out, getting tagged and tracked down to a local warehouse is part of the plan. I can tell you that this detail was not included in the notebook containing the plans for all of the criminal masterminds plans. Viola Davis is an excellent actress and she shows her worth in a couple of grieving scenes. Her husband has been killed in the robbery and her moment trying to gather herself rings very true. In a flashback, we see another death that she mourns and again, it plays realistically although that death plays like a note from a producer on the film who is a little too “woke”.

As the widows begin to plan their robbery, there are several tasks they have to accomplish. Michelle Rodriguez has a very solid scene where she gets caught in a lie and still manages to get a piece of human behavior awkwardly into the moment. Had it gone any further, the moment would seem unrealistic but the guilt and the loneliness of the two people involved really does provide some emotional core for what is otherwise a very cold film. Elizabeth Debicki has the only moments in the film that could be thought of as light. As she tries to get a proxy to buy guns for her, she uses a story that is grimly amusing. Unfortunately, as we have learned, physical abuse at the hands of a man is not a fiction in her life. Cynthia Erivo who I just saw in “Bad Times at the El Royale” is equally good here as a babysitter/hairdresser who gets recruited for the job and turns out to be just the right touch of bad ass under the skin.

As for the rest of the cast, well there are a lot of them and most are solid. Lukas Haas who I just realized was in “First Man”, is a man with a cynically realistic view of romance who enables the women to get a key piece of information. Garret Dillahut makes a second appearance in a Steve McQueen film and this time he is a lot more sympathetic. Colin Farrel, Bryan Tyree Henry and Robert Duvall, dance around each other as political hacks with ambitions that confound each other. Jackie Weaver is the most cynical Mother you will ever hope to meet. It is Liam Neeson however who manages to turn a small roll into a strong performance and with one plot twist turn most of our assumptions around. What starts off as grief turns to long term resentment and finally to the worst sort of betrayal you can imagine. Finally, Daniel Kaluuya lurks in the background, menacing everyone with his crazy eyes and and reckless disregard for humanity.

The exposition that goes on in long conversations between the characters often reflects danger but it is not just physical danger but moral danger we are facing. Only the very last shot in the film provides any hope that the world might be an OK place to live.There was a point in the story where the worst crime we can see coming is directed at an animal, but at least the immorality of all of the characters is not taken out on the dog.

The Beguiled (2017)

What looks like is going to be a Gothic horror set in the Civil War period, turns out to be a psycho-sexual drama with a slightly demented finish. I was not fooled by the trailer or other marketing, because I’d seen the original version of the story from 1971. There are a few changes in the film which were supposed to alter the perspective from the soldiers point of view to that of the women in the story. I guess that would be the justification for remaking a film that was not particularly compelling the first time out. Let’s just say for the moment that they may have altered the perspective some but they have not overcome the issue of the film lacking a need to exist in the first place.

Sophia Coppola is a director that many admire but I have found most of the films by her, that I have seen, to be cold and disengaging. They are beautifully shot and “The Beguiled” is certainly beautiful. Set in Virginia during the last year of the War between the States, the story concerns a wounded Union soldier taken in by a girls academy. The school is run by matron southerner Nicole Kidman. She is assisted by a younger woman played by Kirsten Dunst and they are in charge of five young women and girls who are being educated in a traditional form for young ladies. As they learn French and penmanship and sewing skills, their life is disrupted by the war around them. The introduction of Corporal McBurney (a solid Colin Farrell) into their island  of antebellum etiquette throws things into a tizzy. Since it is a Sophia Coppola film however, it is done at a languishing pace with each frame posed as if it were a still life being painted for the wall of another plantation.


The pacing of the story is so agonizingly slow, but still interesting, because of the mores and cultural rules the people of that time operate in. Even when he is being chastised by Kidman,  the dialogue between the two consists of polite and well thought out vocabulary. The inflections and tones contain the reprimands more than any word does. McBurney slowly courts the Dunst character and again it is done in a manner reflecting the times. In the original film, Clint Eastwood is much more clearly manipulative and he is wooing multiple women simultaneously. Farrell’s version of the character seems sincere in his approach to Edwina, but Kidman’s Miss Martha is also drawn to him and Elle fanning as the recalcitrant Alicia is the most brazen of the girls who have sexualized the Corporal in their heads. The little girls are fascinated by him as well but it is his Irish Charm and status as a Union soldier that holds their interest. As the story gets closer to the dramatic elements, it feels like it wakes up in a burst of energy and tries to accomplish everything the movie set up in the first ninety minutes in a two minute segment. There is a betrayal on a couple of levels, but those come rapidly and are followed by a resolution that seems to have been arrived at capriciously. The film feels like it is missing the second act.

Farrell and Dunst are the two standout performances. They are tentative and then passionate and frustrated and anguished in very effective moments. Kidman seems a little miscast. She is older but certainly desirable rather than repressed and desperate. Her delicate bathing of Farrell when he first arrives was the strongest part of her performance but in the manner she shows herself during the rest of the film, she feels a little stiff. The biggest unpleasant surprise from the actors comes from Elle fanning, an actress that i thought was special in  Super 8, but here she looks like she is play acting and although she is an aggressive flirt, she does not give off the impression of lustfulness that would justify the Corporal’s behavior.

The only way I see this film as being a more feminist version of the original is that only one of the women completely falls under the sexual power of the man, and he is the one who is manipulated by two of the other women. That’s about it. This is a good film but not a great one. It retells the original story but without much justification for doing so. It also makes the languid pace of the original seem frenetic by comparison.  The only music in the film occurs on screen when the girls are singing or performing, with the exception of an occasional synthesizer note held for a long period as a prelude to a couple of moments near the end. That may be another reason the fil feels longer than it should, without a melody it feels plodding. This is a film for Coppola Completists  or someone who has missed the original and has already seen everything else playing. I am largely indifferent on it.