"Of all the arts, movies are the most powerful aid to empathy, and good ones make us better people."
-- Roger Ebert, The Great Movies

Monday, February 10, 2014

Man of Steel

·           Title:  Man of Steel
·           Director:  Zack Snyder
·           Date:  2013
·           Studio:  Warner Brothers
·           Genre:  Fantasy, Action, SF
·        Cast:  Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Kevin Cosner, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, Laurence Fishborne, Christopher Meloni, Michael Shannon
·        Format:  Color, Widescreen
·        NTSC, Region 1

"Can't I just keep pretending I'm your son?" – Young Clark Kent
"You are my son.  [long pause] But somewhere out there you have another father too, who gave you another name.  And he sent you here for a reason, Clark.  And even if it takes you the rest of your life you owe it to yourself to find out what that reason is."  -- Jonathan Kent

"For 100, 000 years our civilization flourished, accomplishing wonders." – Jor-El
"What happened?" – Clark
"Artificial population control was established, the outposts and space exploration were abandoned.  We exhausted our natural resources, as a result our planet's core became unstable.  Eventually our military leader, General Zod, attempted a coup, but by then it was too late." – Jor-El

"The people of Earth are different from us, it's true.  But, ultimately, I believe that is a good thing.  They won't necessarily make the same mistakes we did, not if you guide them, Kal.  Not if you give them hope.  That's what this symbol means.  The symbol of the House of El means hope.  Embodied in that hope is the potential of every person to be a force for good.  That's what you can bring them." – Jor-El

Man of Steel starts on Krypton with Jor-El and Lara insuring the survival of their son, when their planet is about to be destroyed.  The background on Krypton, and the exact means of its destruction will also be expanded upon, during encounters between an AI hologram of Jor-El and others – including Clark, Lois Lane, and even General Zod.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  After introducing us to Jor-El, Lara, the Kryptonian government Council, and Zod and his coup – which fails, as well as the launch's escape from Krypton and Krypton's destruction – Man of Steel actually skips forward a bit.

We see a lobster harvesting ship, and a young man everyone calls "Greenhorn".  Only from the trailers do we realize this is Clark Kent.  The ship receives an SOS from an burning oil rig.  When they arrive, the Coast Guard has declared the rig a lost cause and the lobster ship's captain says the guys inside are dead already.  Clark leaps into the water, gets the men to the rig's deck that's still somewhat free of flames, and they are rescued by the Coast Guard.  Clark ends up falling into the water below the flames.
The film flashes back to Clark being overwhelmed by his senses as school.  His mom helps him to focus.

The film flashes forward to Clark – he's awakened below water by whale song, then gets to shore and borrows some dry clothes.

The film flashes back to a slightly older Clark on a school bus, where he's being bullied and taunted by school-mates.  The bus has a tire blow-out, loses control, goes through a guide-rail and lands in a river.  Clark pushes open the back door, then lifts the bus to safety on the shore.  Some of the kids have seen what happened.

One of the parents confronts the Kents.  Jonathan Kent tells Clark he can't use his powers.  He shows Clark the space ship and gives the S-shield key to Clark.  He explains that Clark has another father out there, somewhere, who sent Clark to Earth for a reason, and Clark should strive to find out who his father was and what the reason may be.

The film flashes back to the present.  In a rough and tumble bar, one of the oil workers harasses a waitress.  Clark tells him to stop it.  The customer throws a beer in Clark's face and taunts him.  The waitress tells Clark it's not worth it.  Clark walks off.  The guy throws a can at him and hits him in the head.

Clark walks down a highway, carrying a bag, and hitch-hiking.

Lois shows up to investigate an "anomaly".

Clark finds a Kryptonian ship buried in ice that's over 18 thousand years old.  He uses the S-shield key to deactivate the automatic security system.  The key is an command key.  Lois also follows Clark and gets attacked by the security system – Clark uses his heat vision to cauterize her wounds.

The ship departs.  Lois narrates her story but Perry won't print it.  She gives the story to a conspiracy theorist website.

Meanwhile, Clark meets an Artificial Intelligence-hologram of his father, Jor-El.  Jor-El gives his son, Kal-El a lesson is Kyptonian history.  They had expanded across the galaxy, built outposts, even terraformed planets.  Then the empire withdrew back to Krypton, abandoned its outposts and space exploration, began using genetic engineering to predetermine everyone's role in society, and eventually exhausted Krypton's resources.  This lead to mining of Krypton's core, which caused the core to collapse and the planet to explode.

Jor-El and his wife Lara sought a different path.  They risked much to have a natural birth, the first in generations, and when Krypton's doom was nigh, they put Kal-El in a spaceship with the Codex of Krypton's citizens and sent the ship off, towards Earth.

The film flashes back to a teen-aged Clark, who wants to be something greater, something more than a Kansas farmer, like Jonathan Kent.  He's arguing with his father, when a tornado hits on the freeway.  Thanks to Jonathan's actions, most everyone gets to shelter, but he, himself, ends up trapped in a car (after freeing their dog).  Clark goes to rescue Jonathan, but Jonathan yells at him to stay with his mother.

Clark goes home to visit his mother.

General Zod shows up and gives Earth an Ultimatum – turn over Jor-El or face the consequences.

Another flashback, as Clark remembers being bullied and conversations with his Dad about not reacting to the bully.

Back in the "present", Clark turns up at an army or air force base, and offers to surrender if he can speak to Lois and if the military guarantees her freedom.

There's another flashback/dream sequence of Zod's history.  Zod explains how the destruction of Krypton released him and his fellow insurgents from the Phantom Zone.  They retrofit a ship with hyperdrive and search for Kal-El.  Not finding anything on Krypton's old outposts for thirty-three years, they pick up a signal from the scout ship that was sent automatically when Clark entered it. Zod's plan is to take the Codex and then use a World Engine to terraform Earth into New Krypton.  This will, of course, destroy every living thing on Earth.

Lois and Clark are taken by Zod, and put in cells on Zod's ship.  They are tortured and experimented upon.  Lois, however, has the command key – and when she uses it, Jor-El appears to her and guides her through what she has to do.

Clark manages to escape from Zod's ship, and rescues Lois – who's escape pod has been hit by weapons fire and is spiraling out of control towards the ground.  But Clark rescues her.  Zod, his female lieutenant, and his other cronies attack Martha Kent and do considerable damage to her house.  Clark and Zod have a show down on main street.  But before they can re-play High Noon, the military arrives and in trying to shut down Zod and company make things worse.

There's a massive battle between Zod, Superman, Zod's lieutenant, the military, and Zod's forces.  Needless to say, Smallville, Kansas doesn't fair well.  Eventually, Zod and company leave.

But, Zod orders the release of the World Engine.  Having discovered that Jor-El bonded the Codex to Clark's cells – and that it's recoverable whether Clark is alive or dead, Zod will use his machine to terraform Earth into New Krypton, kill everything on the planet, and take the Codex from Clark's corpse.

Lois and Clark bring his capsule ship to the army, and he, Lois and Col. Hardy explain how the capsule can be used to destroy Zod's ship.  Superman will go to the second site and destroy the other half of the World Engine terraforming machine in the Indian Ocean.

The plan basically works, though Zod survives and Clark has to fight him.  Eventually, Superman kills Zod.

I thought Man of Steel  was better on second viewing, than when I first saw it in the theater last Spring or Summer.  The film works best in it's quite moments – Lara and Jor-El on Krypton trying to save their child, Clark talking to his father – Jonathan Kent, and Clark learning from his other father – Jor-El.  But, at times, some of the action sequences seem overblown and thus almost boring.  They can just be too much and too long.  I also found the constant flash backs and flash forwards to be somewhat distracting.  Not that I never knew "when" I was – that was perfectly clear, but I think the film would have worked better if it was presented in chronological order, or largely chronological with only the tiniest of shots back to scenes we had already seen.  I think it would have made Clark a stronger and more interesting character, and the audience would have been able to follow his journey – and route for him more.  I also think some of the action sequences could have been trimmed a bit, there's only so much CGI of collapsing buildings and flying cars that one can take.  The cast was good.  Henry Cavill made for a more vulnerable take on Clark Kent, and the surrounding cast of experienced actors made the film work.  Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, and Kevin Cosner were all brilliant as Clark's parents.

Recommendation:  See It
Rating:  3.5 to 4 Stars

Next Film:  Not sure, probably Star Trek:  Into Darkness.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Les Misérables

Title:  Les Misérables
Director:  Tom Hooper
Date:  2012
Studio:  Universal
Genre:  Musical, Drama
Cast:  Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Aaron Tveit, Samantha Barks, Colm Wilkinson, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen
Format:  Color, Widescreen
DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

"But remember this my brother, see in this some higher plan, you must use this precious silver, to become an honest man." -- The Bishop

"But the tigers come at night, with their voices soft as thunder, as they tear your hope apart, as they turn your dream to shame. ...  There are dreams that cannot be, there are storms we cannot weather.  I had a dream my life would be, so different from this hell I'm living.  So different from what it seemed, now life has killed the dream I dreamed."  -- Fantine

"You know nothing of Javier, I was born inside a jail.  I was born with scum like you, I am from the gutter, too!"  -- Javier

"...how your world might be changed in one burst of light, and what was right seems wrong and what was wrong seems right."  -- Marius

"But now there's a higher cause.  Who cares about your lonely soul?  We strive towards a larger goal, our little lives don't count at all." -- Enjolras

Les Misérables is a sung musical, meaning that nearly every line in the film is sung, rather than the majority of the film being spoken and acted, only to break for the musical numbers.  However, because everyone is always singing everything in the film, the singing quickly becomes part of the reality of the film, and the audience becomes used to it and accepts it.  Also, the characters are often singing their hearts out, and many of the best songs in the film are actually soliloquies.

The film is based on the long-running stage musical (which ran in both New York on Broadway, and in London on the West End), which is turn is based on a novel by Victor Hugo.  The story though is about redemption, about mercy, about love for one's child, and about how tiny kindnesses or tiny slights can have vast effects on a person's life.

The film opens with Jean Valjean and a group of convicts in the rain pulling ropes to right a capsized ship.  Inspector Javert looks on, then orders Jean Valjean to bring him the French flag.  Valjean does this by lifting the entire broken ship's mast -- a very heavy, long, wooden mast.  Javert then gives "Prisoner 24601" his yellow ticket of leave.  Jean Valjean is at first excited that he has finally gained his freedom after nineteen years a slave to the law - his crime breaking into a house to steal bread to feed his sister's starving child.  However, he is only placed on parole - ordered from place to place by the French police and military.  Jean Valjean soon discovers no one will offer work to a convict, and he can't even find food or a place to sleep.

Still desperately trying to live, Jean Valjean, drops into a local church, where the bishop (Colm Wilinson, originator of the role of Jean Valjean on Broadway), offers him food and a place to sleep for the night.  Yet, in the middle of the night, he awakes and steals the bishop's silver.  He's immediately caught and brought in front of the bishop.  The bishop shocks Jean Valjean by lying for him, confirming his story to the police that he "gave" his silver to him.  The bishop then also gives him his silver candlesticks, and dismisses the police.  But for his mercy, the bishop demands that Valjean must become a better man.

Valjean goes into the church to contemplate his fate and his future.  He ends by tearing up his yellow papers which brand him a convict.

Eight years later, in Montreul, Valjean, now using the name M. LeMer, owns a factory employing hundreds, and is mayor of the town.  In his factory, Fantine is one of the female workers.  She continues to refuse the advances of the foreman.  When she receives a letter, a rival female worker steals it and reads it aloud.  Upon learning Fantine has a child, she attacks her.  The two fight and Fantine shouts back that the woman has a husband and "something on the side".  Enraged, the woman attacks again.  Valjean arrives and is about to deal with the problem - then he sees Javert and goes to his office instead, leaving his foreman to settle matters, though he admonishes him to show mercy.  The foreman sacks Fantine, and kicks her out in the cold.

Meanwhile, Valjean meets with Javert who introduces himself, remarks that he's been noticed as an excellent mayor, and gives him papers introducing himself and his transfer as officer of the law for the town.  Valjean is a bit nervous, but accepts him.  There's a shout from the street and Valjean runs outside.  A man is trapped under a collapsed cart.  Though the cart is quite heavy, Valjean lifts it to free the man and save his life.  Javert looks on, suspiciously.

Meanwhile, Fantine struggles to support herself.  She sells her jewelry, her hair, her teeth, and finally gives in and sells herself.  Fantine's soliloquy, "I Dreamed a Dream", tells her story and contrasts the golden summer of her youth with the hell she's now living.  Hathaway's performance is strong and makes the audience feel sympathetic to her, rather than feel sorry for her.  And won her several "Best Supporting Actress" awards.  Later, wearing the sleeveless red dress of a prostitute, a man attacks Fantine.  When Javier arrives the man claims she attacked him.  But Valjean also arrives, and upon learning the woman once worked in his factory, he takes pity on her and takes her to a hospital.  He also learns she has a daughter, living with an innkeeper and his wife.

Later, Javert presents himself to Valjean, admonishing himself for making a false report, and telling Valjean that "Prisoner 24601" has been caught, so he apologises for thinking "M. LeMer" was Valjean.

This leaves Valjean in a moral dilemma.  He cannot allow another man to go to prison in his place, yet his workers depend on him.  In the end, Valjean decides he cannot allow an innocent man to be jailed in his place.  He goes to the court, and admits he is "Prisoner 24601".  But then he leaves the court and goes to the hospital to see Fantine.  There, he finds Fantine dying.  He promises to find and care for her child.  She promises her to his care.  At the hospital, Javert arrives.  They confront each other.  Jean Valjean pleads for three days to find, take care of, and make arrangements for Cosette.  Javert pretty much says, "Are you kidding?" and draws his sword.  Valjean defends himself with a wooden beam and escapes by jumping into the water.

Jean Valjean travels to the inn, and pays the Thénerdiers' fifteen hundred for their "sacrifice" of keeping Cosette.  Madame Thénerdier had been abusive of Cosette, treating her like a slave while spoiling her own daughter, Éponine.  M. Thénerdier had cared so little for her - he couldn't get her name right.  Valjean and Cosette leave, taking a horse-drawn couch to Paris.  The flight to Paris features the one new song from the film that isn't in the original musical, "Suddenly, You're Here".

Javier, having lost Valjean again, sings "Stars", his own soliloquy.  He's on a roof, and the song begins with a large, stone eagle behind him.  As he sings, he walks on the top of the stone balustrade, seemingly careless of the result if he fell.  He swears he will catch Valjean.  "Stars" is a beautiful song, and one of my favorites from both the film and the musical.

In 1832 Paris, Valjean and now teenaged Cosette, have made a life for themselves.  Times are hard, as the people are suffering.  Marius, Enjolras, and a group of students are disgusted with the state of affairs, and try to raise the people in rebellion.

One day, Marius sees Cosette on the street.  She and Valjean are handing out alms to the poor.  They also run into the Thénerdiers.  Meanwhile, Éponine lives in the same rooming house as Marius, and knows that his father is rich.  She's also trapped in the gang of thieves led by her parents, the Thénerdiers.  Javier is also in Paris, and still obsessed with catching Jean Valjean.

When Marius arrives in the wine shop, his fellow students tease him about falling in love at first sight with a girl whom he doesn't even know.  But his best friend, Enjolras, is actually angry.  As staged in the film, "Red and Black" actually becomes an argument between Marius (who's just fallen in love and is beginning to re-think things) and Enjolras and the other students, who want to start a revolution.  When young Gavroche arrives to tell them the people's hero, General LeMarque is dead, the students all agree - they will raise the barricades at his funeral.

Cosette gets her turn at a soliloquy, "In My Life", as she realises she's also fallen in love at first sight.  The song, "In My Life", transitions from Cosette to Marius, to Éponine, to a duet of Cosette and Marius.  That night she and Marius meet in her garden.

The Thénerdiers' gang plans on robbing Valjean's house, Éponine stops them by screaming to attract attention, but Valjean thinks Javert has discovered him, and tells Cosette they must leave and move on.  Cosette is angry and hurt, as she's just fallen for Marius.

Éponine, realising that Marius will never fall for her, sings her soliloquy, "On My Own", in the rain.

Everyone then sings, "One Day More", anticipating the coming battle in the morning.

At General LeMarque's funeral, the people sing, "Do You Hear the People Sing?" and the barricades are raised.  The students rush to the barricades.  Javier sneaks around to discover what is going on, and wears a French tricolor boutonniere.  Javier lies to the students about the army's plans.  Gavroche however, recognizes him, and tells everyone he's "Inspector Javier".  The students attack Javier who attacks back, and finally he's at the students mercy as the soldiers advance.  Battle breaks out.

Éponine sacrifices herself to save Marius from being shot.  She gives Marius Cosette's letter.  Marius gives Gavroche a letter, who gives it to Jean Valjean.  Valjean has to figure out what to do, and he decides to go to the barricade.  Enjolras gives Javert to Valjean.  Javert taunts Valjean to kill him.  Valjean sets Javert free with no conditions, he evens offers his address.

As night falls, the students drink wine and sing the melancholy, "Drink with Me".  Valjean also sings, "Bring Him Home", praying for Marius' safety, for Cosette's sake, and sees him as his son.  In his prayer, Jean Valjean offers his own life to save Marius and bring him home to Cosette.

The next day, Marius and the students are the only barricade left.  The people never rose up, not liking the odds.  The rain has ruined their gunpowder.  Enjolras, knowing their situation to be hopeless, urges those who wish to, to leave.  Gavroche sings one line of "Do You Hear the People Sing?" and the students stay for a desperate last stand.  Gavroche then goes out to get ammunition from the dead bodies before the barricade.  He's shot dead by an French army soldier.  One of the older students, presumably his father, is devastated.  The soldiers give them the opportunity to give up.  Enjolras encourages a last stand.

There's a last minute battle.  One by one the students die.  The soldiers bring in cannons to blow-up the barricade.  The rest of the students are killed, Enjolras raises his banner, and is shot dead.

Javier sees the death, walking among the row of impossibly young people lying dead in a row on the street.  He pins his own medal on Gavroche, and is completely disgusted by the death and waste.

Jean Valjean carries a wounded Marius away through the sewers.

In the sewers, Thénerdier steals from the dead.

Javier and Valjean confront each other.  Valjean pleads for mercy for Marius, so he can get him to a doctor.  Javier lets Valjean go, then commits suicide by jumping off a dam.  Javier's final soliloquy makes it clear that he can't stand Valjean's mercy, that Valjean had saved his life, or that his entire life dedicated to law and order has become such as sham, as so many young children were killed in the rebellion.

Marius is brought to a doctor.  Marius sings "Empty Chairs and Empty Tables", a lament for his friends he's lost, though the film does not use the "ghosts" behind him, used to great effect in the stage musical.  Cosette comes to Marius.  Marius offers Valjean a home with he and Cosette.  Valjean refuses, and explains who he really is.  Jean Valjean leaves and goes to a convent, seeking sanctuary.

Cosette and Marius marry.  The Thénerdiers  arrive to cause trouble, and to bribe Marius, but Marius realises instead that Valjean had saved his life at the barricade.  At the convent, Valjean is dying.  He hears Fantine's voice, then she appears.  Cosette and Marius arrive and say their final farewells.  Fantine leads Jean Valjean to the light.  "Do You Hear the People Sing?" is reprised as Jean Valjean joins Fantine, Gavroche, Enjolras, and all the other dead characters on the barricade, singing in the sun.

I saw Les Misérables on opening night in 2012, in a packed theater, with people of all ages.  I think I started crying during "Red and Black" and I don't think I really stopped until the end of the film.  Every time I started to not cry, the woman next to me started, and before long we were both sobbing again.  But I don't think there was a dry eye in the house.  I cried when I saw it the second time in the theater.  When I bought the DVD, I watched the commentary track first -- and still managed to cry while concentrating on Tom Hooper's description of making the film.  Even while taking notes in preparation for this review - I cried during, "Do You Hear the People Sing?"  The film is that moving and beautiful and stirring.  But it's also a very moral film.  By giving his silver to Jean Valjean, the Bishop shows him mercy that he had never seen and completely changes his life.  Later, Valjean must sacrifice everything to spare an innocent man mistaken for him, to rescue Fantine (who's downfall was his own fault - he'd been too wrapped up in his own problems to notice hers) and most importantly to save Cosette.  Raising Fantine's child, not only does he come to love her, but he rescues Marius and gives him to her because he loves her, and knows he must let her go.

Meanwhile, Javert, as played by Russell Crowe, is considerably more sympathetic than in the two stage productions of  Les Misérables, I've seen.  Javert isn't evil, but he's overly concerned with fulfilling the letter of the law, without any care to extenuating circumstances.  Javert at the beginning of the film, doesn't care that Valjean stole to feed his sister's starving children.  He honestly believes it's better to starve and die then  to resort to crime to live.  When Valjean shows him mercy, letting him go at the barricade, and covering it up with a gunshot directed away from the inspector, Javert cannot understand it, and begins to become unhinged.  When he catches Valjean and Marius, and Valjean pleads for mercy - Javert grants it, but decides he cannot live in Valjean's world.  Javert is incapable of seeing the grey of the real world, and only sees black and white.  However, whereas such a character is often portrayed as "evil" or "hated" - Crowe gives him depth and makes him understandable and sympathetic.

This is a beautiful film.  It's not to be missed.  I highly, highly recommend it.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Iron Man 3

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Goldfinger


  • Title:  Goldfinger
  • Director:  Guy Hamilton
  • Date:  1964
  • Studio:  United Artists
  • Genre:  Action, Drama
  • Cast:  Sean Connery, Honor Blackman, Gert Fröbe,  Harold Sakata, Bernard Lee, Richard Vernon, Desmond Llewelyn
  • Format:  Technicolor, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

"This is gold, Mr. Bond, all my life I have been in love with its color, its brilliance, its divine heaviness.  I welcome any enterprise that will increase my stock."  - Goldfinger

"Do you expect me to talk?" - James Bond
"No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die." - Goldfinger

"You can turn off the charm.  I'm immune." - Pussy Galore

Goldfinger really is the quintessential James Bond film.  Even those who aren't big fans of James Bond have likely seen it, or parts of it.  The image of a girl painted in gold, dead on a bed, and the immortal line - "Do you expect me to talk? / No, I expect you to die." have slipped into popular culture.  And it really is a good James Bond film and a good film, over all.

Goldfinger, unlike other early Bond flicks, does not feel overly long (hello, Dr. No), overly complicated, or overly boring (yeah, Thunderball, I'm looking at you).  It moves at a good clip, and the plot is easily followed.  The opening gambit takes place in Jamaica, where Bond uses some nearly laughable Really Big plastique and nitro to blow up a building.  Later he's with a girl and is attacked.  He fights the guy, hand to hand, ending with tossing his assailant into a bathtub filled with water.  The guy gets the jump on Bond, pointing his gun at him.  Bond tosses a lamp into the water, electrocuting him. "Shocking," says Bond.

Felix Lighter, Bond's contact in the CIA then shows up and gives him his assignment from MI6.  He's to keep track of a British national in Miami, by the name of Goldfinger.  Bond catches Goldfinger making money by cheating at cards, gets him to lose on purpose, and steals his girl, Jill.  However, Goldfinger kills Jill by having her painted gold.  She dies from skin suffocation.  Bond reports to MI6, where he's informed that Goldfinger is suspected of smuggling gold.  He's kitted-up with equipment by Q - in a scene that will become expected in every Bond film thereafter.

Bond is then sent to Scotland, where he discovers Goldfinger also cheats at golf - though Bond gets him back.  Bond then uses a tracking device to follow Goldfinger to Switzerland.  Bond meets a girl who is trying to kill Goldfinger.  It's Jill's sister.  The two try to get into Goldfinger's estate.  The girl is killed by Odd Job, Goldfinger's mute Korean manservant.  Bond is caught, and ends up spread-eagled on a gold table, with an industrial laser pointed at his privates.  Bond gambles, claiming to know more than he does, and is not killed.

However, he is knocked out and wakes up on a plane, meeting Goldfinger's pilot, Pussy Galore.  She goes to great pains to explain to James Bond that she is only Goldfinger's pilot, and she's not at all taken in by Bond's flirting.  The plane lands in Kentucky, at Galore's Flying Circus - where all the pilots are women.

In Kentucky, Bond discovers Goldfinger's plot.  He's gotten a group of mobsters to smuggle all the various things he needs to break into Ft. Knox.  Only one of the mobsters named Solo wants his gold million dollars rather than the promised ten million payday.  Goldfinger gives him his gold bullion, but has Odd Job kill Solo, then crush his car at a junkyard.  The crushed car is returned to Goldfinger.  Goldfinger gasses to death the rest of the mobsters.

Goldfinger's plan, however, isn't to break into Ft. Knox to steal the gold, but to irradiate it with a nuclear bomb, thus making the gold useless and making all the gold he's stored overseas even more valuable.

Galore's pilots drop nerve gas in the area around Ft. Knox - knocking everyone out.  It's eerie to see all the slumped over people, as Goldfinger heads into the building.  But Bond had convinced Galore to help - she had switched the canisters to something less deadly, and called Washington.  Bond ends-up in a hand-to-hand with Odd Job, and defeats him by electrocuting him on a fence in Ft Knox.  He barely defuses the bomb in time and it stops at:  007.  Bond sets off for Washington, DC, in a plane piloted by Galore, but Goldfinger confronts him on the plane.  During the fight, a bullet is fired, air is sucked out, Goldfinger is pushed out of the plane, and the plane starts to crash.  Bond and Galore escape by parachute and the film ends with the two in each other's arms under the parachute.

Made in 1964, Goldfinger has some huge and impressive sets, especially the Ft. Knox set, with it's vaults of gold.  This also is the quintessential James Bond film.  It has pretty girls, including the improbably-named "Pussy Galore".  It has car chases.  It has gadgets.  It has Bond's Astin Martin car.  It has the M and Q we know and love.  It stars Connery as Bond.  Goldfinger, with his German accent, and his mysterious servant Odd Job are perfect villains.  And the plot holds together and is big - really big.  I mean, break into Ft. Knox?  That's big.  But everything about Goldfinger is big - the sets, and the props in them are all huge.  It's impressive, in that sense, and even now, I wondered how they did some of the stuff they did - and marveled at the huge sets - no CGI extensions here!  However, some things in the film did seem out of date, from the huge Nitro barrels and regular (non-digital) clock detonator, and toothpaste-like plastique, to the truly really big bomb Goldfinger brings into Ft. Knox - it felt out-of date.

But one surprising thing about the film to me was Pussy Galore.  This is a woman who doesn't immediately fall for Bond.  She's feisty, and tells him she's immune to his charms.  Over and over she pushes Bond away.  And she's not with Goldfinger either - not in that way.  Galore is a pilot, a difficult profession for women today, in 2013, and virtually an impossible one for women in the early 1960s.  All the pilots in her flying circus are women as well.  Galore wears pants, trousers, and jodphurs throughout the film - we never see her in a skirt or dress.  She's a very different Bond woman.  She also knows judo, and defeats Bond once in hand-to-hand combat.  Later, they fight in a barn, and throw each other into hay.  Bond eventually gets on top of her - she resists, - he persists, and eventually she gives in.  It's after their literal "roll in the hay" that she decides to help Bond, and is crucial in defeating Goldfinger.

Looking at it now, Galore, who surrounds herself with women, and is contemptuous of men, might be a lesbian.  Yet, Bond forces himself on her, despite her cries of protest.  The scene in the barn made me squirm, because to me Bond raped Galore.  And in sexist 60s fashion, this "converted" her to be on his side.  In a sense, it nearly ruins the film for me.  At the very least, it adds an uncomfortable subtext, that Bond is not the hero he pretends to be.

Bond himself doesn't seem to be the perfect spy in Goldfinger either.  He's constantly getting beat up, caught, tied-up, and locked in cells.  He gives the impression he has no idea what Goldfinger is up to.  He doesn't care about the women he uses and sleeps with.  He's only interested in Pussy Galore because she resists him.

Still, it's a good film overall, especially if  you ignore the subtext.

Recommendation:  See it!  It is the James Bond film after all.
Rating:  4 out of  5 Stars
Next Film:  Inception

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Great Gatsby

Warning this review includes spoilers.  If you have not seen The Great Gatsby and don't want to know the end, there are spoilers below.  You have been warned. 
  • Title:  The Great Gatsby
  • Director:  Baz Luhrmann
  • Date:  2013
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers
  • Genre:  Drama
  • Cast:  Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey MaGuire, Carey Mulligan,  Elizabeth DeBicki, Isla Fisher, Joel Edgerton
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
"By which I mean no one except me ever received an actual invitation to Gatsby's.  You see, the rest of  New York simply came uninvited.  The whole city packed into automobiles, and all weekend, every weekend, ended-up at Gatsby's."  - Nick, narrating

"He gives large parties and I like large parties.  They're so intimate.  Small parties, there isn't any privacy."  - Jordan

"It was also the night that I became aware of Gatsby's extraordinary gift for hope.   A gift that I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again."  - Nick

Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby is a stunning visual masterpiece.  The party scenes especially are reminiscent of Luhrmann's hyper-real style used to great effect in Moulin Rouge.  But where Moulin Rouge is a story about love.  The Great Gatsby really is a story of obsession.  Visually, it's an incredible film, and a must-see.  The crisp images, sweeping camera moves, editing, and color bring the viewer into the story. Again, Luhrmann uses modern music to make scenes, especially parties, feel the way they would have then. For example, Gatsby's parties are wild affairs, with a mixture of modern rap music and more traditional 1920s jazz.  At his parties, the (illegal) alcohol flows freely, and there's confetti, streamers, dancing girls, live music, drunk guests, and fireworks.  People dance, drink too much, and jump into the reflecting pool in their clothes.  It short, it's wild.  But even the smaller party at a brothel that Tom invites Nick to, in order to show off his mistress and his power and influence, is a wild party where Nick gets extremely drunk.

But not only does Luhrmann uniquely re-create the feeling of a time and place, but he tells the story of six people, all of whom become victims of obsession.  Nick Carraway narrates the story as a story he tells his therapist in a sanitarium.  Nick's from Chicago, and puts aside his dreams of being a writer to make his fortune on Wall Street.  It's his doctor who suggests he work out his issues by writing.  Nick does, and at the end of the film, he pulls the cover sheet out of his typewriter, and places it on the top of the stack of paper that will be his novel.  The typewritten title is, "Gatsby", but he adds two words by hand in pen and it becomes, The Great Gatsby.

Structurally the film actually starts and ends with the same image, a green light blinking in the distance across the water, in the darkness and mist.  This green light will represent Jay Gatsby's dream and obsession.  He met Daisy when he was a young, penniless, officer in the army at a party.  They fell in love and had an affair, but then he went off to war.  Daisy swore to wait, but Gatsby disappears.  She marries instead the very rich, very old money, and very prejudiced and sexist, George Buchanan.

Gatsby, meanwhile, has decided that in order to pursue Daisy properly, he needs to make his fortune, so he can keep her in style.  He fights in the war (World War I), attends Oxford, rescues a millionaire who's yacht nearly sinks on Lake Superior, learns to be a gentlemen, and finally ends up in New York, where he buys the mansion directly across the bay from Daisy's house.  He gives his wild parties, hoping one day she will simply show up.  Everything he's become and everything he does - Gatsby's done to impress Daisy.

Meanwhile, Tom Buchanan, Daisy's husband is a philanderer.  Even on their honeymoon, he had his way with a hotel parlour maid.  He has a mistress on the side, Myrtle, and he flaunts it.  His dinner conversation consists of putting down the new rich (like Gatsby), insisting there's an order to the world, and insulting "negros" as he calls him.  Tom is basically a bully, and he thinks his money gives him the right to treat everyone else terribly.  He wants to own Daisy, and keep her from anyone else, but it's doubtful he really loves her or Myrtle.

George is Myrtle's husband - he owns a garage in The Valley of the Ashes, a dump and coal loading station half way between West Egg and New York.  It's where New York's garbage goes.  He loves his wife, but freaks when he realizes she's been having an affair.  He's rough, and lower class and we know little about him.

Jordan is a female golfer who seems to live at the Buchanan's residence.  Daisy tries to push her together with Nick.  Their story isn't central to the film.

What is central, is the story of Gatsby and his obsession with Daisy.  Nick moves in next to Gatsby at the beginning of the summer.  Before long, he's acting as a go between for Gatsby and Daisy.  Gatsby is, at first, extremely nervous around Daisy.  But soon the two are having an affair.  Gatsby, however, insists that Daisy tell Tom she never loved him.  Daisy tries to do this but can't.  She does tell Gatsby that she loves him now, and she no longer loves Tom -- she does this in front of  Tom.

Tom doesn't take it well, and begins to repeat all the gossip and stories told about Gatsby.  There's a fight and Gatsby and Daisy leave the hotel in Gatsby's custom yellow car.  Meanwhile, George confronts Myrtle about her affair - having found a string of pearls that George gave her.  (Pearls had also been George's wedding gift to Daisy).  The two fight, and a distraught Myrtle runs into the road -- to get hit by Gatsby's yellow car.  Later, Nick learns that Daisy was driving it, rather than Gatsby.  But it's Gatsby who takes the fall.  Tom, Nick, and Jordan arrive moments later at the accident site.  Tom pretends he doesn't even know Myrtle, and hints to George that it was Gatsby having the affair with her.  He tells the police that Gatsby drives the custom yellow car that witnesses saw.

Needless to say, it doesn't end happily.  George kills Gatsby, then commits suicide.  Daisy, who had picked up the phone to call Gatsby that morning, ends up trapped in her loveless marriage to Tom.  Nick ends up in a sanitarium hopelessly addicted to alcohol.

The Great Gatsby is a terrific, stunning, gorgeous, achingly beautiful film.  The images... from the blinking green light in the mist, to the blue sign for Dr. TJ Ecklesburg looking over the Valley of Ashes, to the incredible filming of Gatsby's parties are memorable and really must be seen.  Luhrmann as a director has an excellent gift of mastery of the visual sense - and of incorporating the modern with the historic to make modern audience's truly understand what a time was like.  I originally saw this film last May on opening night, and the theater was packed.  It was a sold-out show in the largest theater at my local multiplex.  The audience was filled with people of all ages, and many of them even dressed-up in 1920s fashions.  It was more than a movie premiere -- it was an event.

However, the theme of the film isn't love.  This isn't a impossible romance.  And it's not a tragic romance either.  It's a film about obsession.  Jay Gatsby is obsessed with Daisy.  He wants to make her his wife.  He has a perfect life planned out for them in his head, and he's obsessed with doing everything he needs to do to get what he wants.  Thinking she wouldn't marry him if  he was penniless or struggling, he leaves her to marry Tom, and goes off to make his fortune.  Everything, literally everything in his huge mansion - he put together for Daisy.  His wild parties were only given in the hopes that Daisy would come.  Everything is for her and to create this image in Gatsby's head.

Tom is also obsessed - he wants to own people, like he owns things and his station in life.  He owns Daisy.  He owns Myrtle.  He owns his servants.  They may not technically be slaves, but in the way he treats people, Tom sees people as possessions, to be tossed away when they are no good.  He condemns the New Rich, and exalts his own old money class.

The Great Gatsby is similar in many ways to Moulin Rouge.  Both have a sense of hyper-reality and mix modern music and film techniques with the clothes and set dressing pieces of the past.  Both films have a writer narrating the story.  Both films have tragic endings. The Great Gatsby has a crispness and cleanness of both image and line.  There's no fantastical elements here.  There is sweeping, nearly impossible camera movements, and a use of the Art Deco colors of  black, gold, and silver.

I also found similarities between The Great Gatsby and one of my personal favorite films of all time, Sunset Blvd, directed by the Film Noir great, Billy Wilder.  Both Gatsby and Sunset Blvd are narrated by a writer.  Both are tragic stories, in Sunset Blvd a writer becomes a kept man of an aging silent film star and cannot escape her clutches, before finally being killed by her.  Though Nick Carraway escapes the excesses of Gatsby, Daisy, Tom, and Jordan, it isn't without cost.  But the most direct link between the two films, is they both end with the same image, a dead man, who's been shot, floating in a swimming pool.  If you haven't seen Sunset Blvd, watch it, it's a great film, but there's a visual symmetry between the shot looking upwards at a dead Joe Gillis (William Holden) in the pool, and looking up at a dead Jay Gatsby (Leonardo Dicaprio) in The Great Gatsby.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Goldfinger

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Cloud Atlas


  • Title:  Cloud Atlas
  • Directors:  Tom Wykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
  • Date:  2012
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers
  • Genre:  SF
  • Cast:  Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, James D'Arcy, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
"The world spins from the same unseen forces that twist our hearts."  - Robert Frobisher (The Composer's Assistant)

"Our lives are not our own.  From womb to tomb we are bound to others, past and present, by each crime and every kindness we birth our future." - Sonmi-451 and also Prophetess

"Knowledge is a mirror and for the first time in my life I was allowed to see who I was and who I was meant to be." - Sonmi-451

Cloud Atlas is a visually stunning and mind-blowing film.  I loved it when I saw it in the theater last November, and it's no less appealing on DVD.  Cloud Atlas takes the theme of reincarnation and treats it seriously, by weaving together six stories, with often the same actors playing different roles.  The acting in this is phenomenal.  The actors, collectively, don heavy make-up, different clothes, different hairstyles, and sometimes even switch genders as the same "souls" are re-born over and over again.  This film is also unique in that all the scenes in "the Valley" on the Island, 106 years after The Fall - are largely in Pigeon.  (Pigeon is a real language, and it makes sense that a Pigeon would develop in a situation where the few survivors of a presumably nuclear holocaust would need to communicate with each other despite initially not speaking the same languages).

A birthmark re-occurs, as does a certain piece of music, but this film doesn't go the obvious route to bang into your head who is who.  Often, it's more a matter of recognizing an actor over and over despite how different he or she looks.  And sometimes the same "soul" is implied to have switched not only races but genders - if the shooting star birthmark is meant to suggest he/she is the same person.

I'm not much of a fan of Tom Hanks - but in this, he really manages to bring a number of different characters to life.  Halle Berry is incredibly good, and a far cry from the "sex kitten" roles she usually plays.  British character actors Jim Broadbent and newcomer Ben Whislaw (whom I had seen in the BBC's "The Hour") are awesomely good.  And Hugo Weaving  gets to play a number of villains, including a mad nurse and an assassin.

Visually the film is stunning, and mind-blowing.  The imagery, especially in the sections of the film in New Seoul, is incredible.  But even in the historical sections, or the opening shot of an ancient, aboriginal Tom Hanks telling a story are unforgetable. Identical women, in identical outfits, walking across a fishpond, Tom Hanks' face as he speaks in firelight, a ship tossed in a gale at sea, Whislaw and D'Arcy trashing all the china in a shop -- over and over the images are just breath-taking.  This is a film to be seen.

The first hour or so of Cloud Atlas may seem confusing, though it does pull you in quickly, but stick with it, it is well-worth the long running time to see the story play out.  Any one of the six stories would have made a good or even great film, woven together like an intricate tapestry, they form an incredible, cohesive whole, that is simply brilliant and must be experienced.  A true must see!

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Goldfinger

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey


  • Title:  The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey
  • Director:  Peter Jackson
  • Date:  2012
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers, New Line, MGM
  • Genre:  Fantasy, Action, Drama
  • Cast:  Ian Holm, Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Sylvester McCoy, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis, James Nesbitt, Benedict Cumberbatch
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

"For he had seen dragonfire in the sky and a city turned to ash, and he never forgave and he never forgot."  -- Old Bilbo describing Thorin Oakenshield

"I've never used a sword in my life." -- Bilbo
"And I hope you never have to.  But if you do, remember this:  True courage is about knowing not when to take a life but when to spare one."  -- Gandalf

"Saruman believes that it is only great power that can hold evil in check.  But that is not what I have found.  I found it is the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the blackness at bay.  Simple acts of kindness and love."  -- Gandalf

The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey opens with old Bilbo (Ian Holm) reminiscing, speaking to Frodo, but only in his head as he goes through some of his old souvenirs of his adventures.  Bilbo's narration includes the famous first line that Tolkien wrote about Hobbits, "In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit..." and background information about the Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain and the kingdom of Erebor.  When Frodo does arrive he brings in the mail, most of which are responses to Biblo's birthday party -- and Bilbo gives him the sign to hang on his garden gate, "No admittance except on Party business".  The screen then transitions to the title card for "An Unexpected Journey" and young Bilbo (Martin Freeman).  This neatly ties The Hobbit in with the previous Lord of the Rings film trilogy.  JRR Tolkien wrote The Hobbit first, then The Lord of the Rings which was so long, his publisher suggested publishing it in three volumes, which became:  The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King.  Now, you can get LotR in either a single volume or in the traditional three-book version, and often it's packaged in box sets with the prequel, The Hobbit.

In the Shire, Bilbo is standing around outside when Gandalf arrives and tries to talk Bilbo into accompanying him on an adventure.  Bilbo dismisses the idea.  Later, one by one, then in groups, a total of twelve Dwarves arrive at his Hobbit hole.  Finally, Thorin Oakenshield the Dwarves leader arrives, as does Gandalf.  The Dwarves are rather chaotic house-guests, but they tell Bilbo of their quest -- to return to Erebor and re-claim their kingdom under the mountain from the dragon, Smaug.  Bilbo is reluctant.

The Dwarves sing, "The Song of the Misty Mountains", their anthem, and each of the Dwarves stands to sing.  This somewhat convinces Bilbo, but when he gets a look at his "contract"  he's shocked at all the ways he could die, and ultimately he refuses.

The next morning, Bilbo awakens and his home is sparkling.  He finds the contract, signs it, and runs out his door to join Gandalf and the Dwarves on an adventure.  As they travel, the scenery is beautiful and gorgeous.  Stunning, really.

One night, when they've stopped to camp, Balin fills Bilbo in on more of  Thorin's background.  His Grandfather and Father had attempted to re-take Moria which was filled with Orcs.  Not only did they face an horde of orcs, but a pale orc beheads the king, Thorin's grandfather, and Thorin's father runs off, driven mad by grief, anger, and fear.  The pale orc, Azog, also attacks Thorin, who defends himself  with an oaken branch.  Thorin rallies the Dwarves, but though they "win" the battle, the cost is much too high, with the piles of Dwarven dead on the battlefield, and the death of the Dwarves' king.

Gandalf, Bilbo, and the Dwarves continue their journey in the rain.  Bilbo asks Gandalf about other wizards. Gandalf mentions Saruman the White, the two blues, and Radagast the Brown.  The film transitions to Radagast, who is investigating mysterious occurrences in the Greenwood.  Radagast travels by way of a sled pulled by rabbits.  The film transitions back to Thorin's company.

Again, the Dwarves camp for the night.  Two ponies go missing.  Fili, Kili, and Bilbo investigate and find trolls.  While the the trolls, are gross, stupid, and acting like the Three Stooges, Bilbo sneaks over to free the now four taken ponies.  Bilbo is caught and the trolls threaten to eat him.  Kili and the other Dwarves arrive to the rescue.  There's a fight, but in the end, Bilbo is caught and the Dwarves have to put down their arms.  The trolls plan on eating the dwarves.  Bilbo tries to delay the trolls.  At dawn, Gandalf arrives and the sun turns the trolls to stone.  Bilbo's playing for time had saved the Dwarves as much as Gandalf's arrival, but Gandalf  has to point the fact out to Thorin.

The company finds the nearby troll hold of  treasure and weapons.  They discover three fine Elvish swords, Gandalf takes one, he gives Thorin another, and Bilbo takes a third, a knife that is just the right size for him to use as a sword.

Radagast arrives and tells Gandalf that a darkness has fallen on the Greenwood, and spiders have invaded it.  a dark power, the shadow of an ancient horror, the Necromancer is now there.  Wargs (giant wolf/dog-type animals) and orcs attack, and the ponies bolt.  Radagast draws off the Wargs.

Gandalf  leads the Dwarves to a secret passage, Thorin covers the retreat.  Suddenly, someone arrives and attacks the orcs, a group of Elves.  Gandalf  leads the Dwarves through the path and they arrive in Rivendell.
Elrond arrives, he is back from hunting Orcs.  Elrond and his Elves exhibit impressive horsemanship, and Elrond's red-tinged armor is gorgeous!  Elrond greets Thorin by name, and by the names of  his father and mentions knowing his grandfather.  The Elves offer the Dwarves food and shelter.  Thorin reluctantly accepts, still holding a grudge against Elves because they did not aid the Dwarves when Smaug attacked Erebor.

Elrond recognizes the Elvish swords that the Dwarves found, telling Thorin his is, Orcrist - the Goblin Cleaver, and he tells Gandalf, his is, Glamdring, the Foe Hammer.  Elrond tells them a little of the swords' history.  Bilbo looks up with expectation, but he's told his "sword" is too small to have done great deals, that it is probably a "dinner knife" or child's toy.  The Dwarves are treated to a meal and music, but are uncomfortable.

Elrond explains the moon runes on Thorin's map to Gandalf and Thorin.  Elrond discovers the company's quest and refers to Gandalf as a "Guardian of Middle-Earth".  Gandalf shows a council of  himself, Elrond, Galadriel, and Saruman the Morgul blade as proof  of Radagast's news that something is going on in the Greenwood.  Saruman dismisses this news, and Radagast himself, but Galadriel takes Gandalf more seriously and offers her help if he should ever need it.

The Dwarves leave Rivendell, and continue their journey.  On a black mountain cliff, in the rain, they wander into a battle between storm giants.  Bilbo nearly falls from the cliff.  In rescuing him, Thorin is nearly lost.  In a fit of anger, he tells Bilbo, "He's been lost, ever since he left home.  He should never have come.  He has no place amongst us."  The Dwarves move into a cave to rest.  Bilbo's about to leave, to go home, but he talks to Bofur who convinces him to stay, then his sword glows blue - indicating orcs or goblins nearby.  The company is attacked by goblins (orcs).  The Dwarves are captured, but Bilbo is over-looked and left alone.  There, he is attacked by a goblin and fights, then falls down a cavern.

The captured Dwarves are brought to the Goblin king.  Thorin comes to defend the Dwarves.  The goblin king threatens to send Thorin's head to the pale orc.

Bilbo wakes in the dark.  He sees Gollum.  Gollum loses the ring while attacking a goblin, which he drags back to his underground pond to kill and eat.
Bilbo finds the ring, and pockets it.
Once Gollum has killed the goblin, Bilbo's sword ceased to glow blue.  He and Gollum meet.  Slowly Bilbo and Gollum get into a game of riddles.  Biblo asks Gollum to show him the way out if he wins, and if  he loses, Gollum wants to eat him.  Gollum alternates between his "Gollum" and "Smeagol" personalities throughout the scenes between he and Bilbo.  It's extremely well done!

Since Bilbo wins the game, Gollum must show him the way out.  Gollum also realises with a panic that he's lost his precious, and also realises that Bilbo has it in his "pocketses".

Gandalf arrives to rescue Thorin and his Dwarves.

Bilbo escapes a wrathful Gollum by squeezing through a tight passage in the rock - so tight the brass button pop off  his waistcoat (or vest).  The ring falls on his finger and he's dropped into "wraithworld" without warning or understanding.

Fighting the goblins, the Dwarves and Gandalf move to escape but they are confronted by the goblin king.  Gandalf defeats him.  The Dwarves and Gandalf, however, fall off a wooden bridge, into a cavern and land in a heap.  They run for the exit.

Bilbo, in the wraithworld, sees the Dwarves running by, who, naturally don't notice him.  Bilbo is unable to kill the helpless and pathetic Gollum.  This will be very important later, in The Lord of the Rings, where Bilbo's mercy has great consequences.  Bilbo runs for the exit, and Gollum doesn't really know what's happened.

In the woods, Gandalf counts the Dwarves, sees they are all there, then asks after Bilbo.  Bilbo takes the ring off and appears.  Wargs and orcs attack, Bilbo kills a warg.  The company escapes into the trees.  Gandalf speaks to a Monarch butterfly to call for help.  Azog arrives.  Gandalf attacks the wargs with fire, setting pine-cones alight and throwing them.  Bilbo and the Dwarves also throw flaming pine cones at the wargs.  But the forest of trees bursts into flame and the Dwarves nearly fall off  the cliff.  Walking through the pale trees, Thorin attacks Azog, the pale orc.  Azog strikes back and knocks Thorin out.

Bilbo attacks the orc sent to take Thorin's head and kills the orc.  The Eagles arrive to rescue the Dwarves.  The Eagles attack the wargs and orcs.  One eagle picks up the still unconscious Thorin in his talons.  All, including Bilbo, are rescued.  The eagles carry everyone to a rocky cliff face at the top of a mountain.  Gandalf goes to check on Thorin and heals him.  Thorin is grateful to Bilbo for saving him, and admits to being wrong about him.  From the cliff, they can see Erebor, the Lonely Mountain.  Under the mountain, is Smaug.

I enjoyed The Hobbit.  Yes, it is a long film, and  there are several complex action sequences, as one would expect from Peter Jackson.  But the emphasis and heart of the film is the characters, especially, Bilbo, Gandalf, and Thorin.  Tolkien's original novel is only about 300 pages, and it's a straight-forward, there-and-back again tale of adventure.  So, I wondered how Jackson was going to take that and make first, two films, and later, it was announced, a new trilogy of films. However, one of the things he does in An Unexpected Journey is he changes the emphasis of the Dwarves' quest from one for gold -- the gold horded by the dragon, to a quest to re-take their home.  Making the quest about home means it's easier to identify with the entire story, and it gives Bilbo a reason to accompany the Dwarves on their quest.  He tells Thorin that he has a home but he will help Thorin take his home back, if  he can.  Bilbo can understand and emphasize with Thorin's quest to take back his home.  I'm hoping 2013's The Desolation of Smaug will also be as good, though I have no doubts that it will be.  Anyway, this film is excellent, highly enjoyable, and highly recommended.

New Zealand again  plays Middle-Earth, and the scenery is stunning, absolutely stunning.  Howard Shore's score, which I was anticipating last year almost as much as the film itself, is perfect.  It's new, but has a quality that lets you know this is the same Middle-Earth as in Lord of the Rings, though a younger, more innocent time, with only a hint of the darkness to come.  And the Dwarves' choral piece, "Song of the Misty Mountains" is beautiful, I really loved it.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Cloud Atlas

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Avengers


  • Title:  The Avengers
  • Director:  Joss Whedon
  • Date:  2012
  • Studio:  Paramount, Marvel Studios
  • Genre:  Action, Fantasy, SF
  • Cast:  Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany, Alexis Denisoff, Clark Gregg
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
"The cube is a doorway to the other end of space, right?  Doors open from both sides." -- Clint Barton

"I'd like to know why S.H.I.E.L.D. is using the Tesseract to build weapons of mass destruction."  -- Dr. Bruce Banner

"Is this the first time you lost a soldier?"  -- Capt. Steve Rogers
"We are not soldiers!" -- Tony Stark

The Avengers takes several heroes from previous Marvel films and brings them together into a team-up movie, as a new super-hero group, The Avengers, is assembled to combat Loki's challenge, find the mysterious Tesseract cube Loki has stolen,  and ultimately to fight an army of creatures from another galaxy.

The film opens with an attack by Loki on a secret S.H.I.E.L.D. facility.  He uses his staff to take control of Clint Barton (a.k.a. Hawkeye) and succeeds in taking the Tesseract cube.  In the chaos, the facility is destroyed.  Recognising that the special circumstances call for a special team and a special response, Nick Fury calls for Agent Phil Coulson to assemble a team who will become The Avengers.  The beginning of the film introduces and assembles this team, all of whom are in the midst of their own problems, but they put them aside to combat Loki's threat.  The team is:  Black Widow (Natasha Romanoff) an assassin, Dr. Bruce Banner (the Hulk), Tony Stark (Iron Man), Captain America (Capt. Steve Rogers), Thor, and S.H.I.E.L.D. itself.

Once the team is assembled, they begin to look for Loki and the Tesseract.  They easily find Loki in Stuttgart, Germany.  Captain America and Ironman fight and capture Loki, with some help from Black Widow, a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicopter, and Thor.  However, once they take Loki to S.H.I.E.L.D.'s heli-carrier (remember the Valiant from the Doctor Who episodes:  "The Sontaran Stratagem"/"The Poison Sky"? - it looks like that.) it seems that Loki wanted to be taken.  He plays the team, attempting to get Dr. Bruce Banner so angry that he turns into the Hulk and smashes the carrier in flight.  Despite the Avengers figuring out this plan, it works.  Hawkeye, still under Loki's control, also attacks the carrier.  Stark and Rogers have to work together to prevent the entire carrier from crashing.  Agent Phil Coulson is killed by Loki.  Both Thor and Hulk fall out of the heli-carrier, but are un-hurt when they land.  Prior to his turning into the Hulk, Banner and Stark both got along very well.  Stark treated Banner well, complimented his scientific work and papers, and even inviting Banner to Stark Tower to work in R&D.  The same cannot be said of Stark and Rogers - who strongly dislike each other at first.  Loki successfully escape, though Stark and Rogers are able to prevent the carrier from crashing.

Recovering from their losses, and the death of  Agent Coulson, the Avengers plan their next move.  After a discussion with Rogers, Tony realises that Loki will use the new Arc Reactor self-perpetuating green power source at Stark Tower to accomplish his plans.

The film moves to New York, where Loki has already opened a portal to another galaxy.  Alien creatures go through the portal and start causing chaos - attacking everything, destroying buildings, and killing people.  Tony first challenges Loki, then co-ordinates the counter-attack.  Eventually all the Avengers join the fight. S.H.I.E.L.D.'s shadowy cabinet decides to cut their losses and target a nuclear missile on the city.  Fury is, well, furious, at the very idea and refuses to comply with the order.  The cabinet sends out a fighter jet to send in the nuke anyway.  Fury informs Ironman, who informs the other Avengers.  Tony then takes the missile and carries it into the portal.  He sees it blow-up, cutting off  the alien's power, then falls to earth.  Stark barely makes it through the portal before Natasha closes it with Loki's staff.  Hulk catches the powerless, falling Stark.

Tony and Pepper are adorable and cute together at the beginning of the film, when Coulson comes to bring Ironman into the mission.  When he's heading for the portal and thinking he will probably die, Tony agrees, at Jarvis's suggestion, to call Pepper.  She, however, misses his call.

News clips round-up the story, with man-on-the-street type interviews with those saved by the Avengers, as well as political pundits who criticize the destruction of the city.  Thor takes Loki and the Tesseract; Tony and Banner ride off together, Steve leaves on his own motorcycle, and later Tony and Pepper are in his lab re-designing Stark Tower.  The Avengers have split apart but they will draw together again when  needed. 

The film is a great ensemble piece, with crackling, snappy dialogue.  I enjoyed it very much.  I really liked the "science bromance" of  Tony Stark and Dr. Bruce Banner.  Stark is a genuine admirer of  the other man, and is not in fear of  the green "rage monster" as he calls it.  He's shocked when Banner admits he had once attempted to shoot himself, only to have "the other guy" spit out the bullet. Natasha and Clint also seemed to have a history, though Hawkeye spends most of the film in Loki's thrall, she is, eventually able to break that and he joins the Avengers for the final battle.  Overall, this was a great summer "popcorn" movie.  It's fun, the actors all did a great job, and the characters were very cool.  When I saw it last year, the only other Marvel films I'd seen were some of the X-men movies and the (Tobey McGuire) Spiderman films (which aren't connected at all), and Thor (which was).  This film got me to see the Ironman films, largely due to Robert Downey Jr.'s excellent performance, which I enjoyed (see reviews on this blog).  The Avengers shows that an ensemble piece with several characters with elaborate backstorys can still work as a film.  Warner Brothers are you listening?  Make Justice League!  Anyway, it's recommended.

Recommendation:  Go see it!
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Third Man

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Australia


  • Title:  Australia
  • Director:  Baz Luhrmann
  • Date:  2008
  • Studio:  20th Century Fox
  • Genre:  Romance, Historical, Drama
  • Cast:  Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, David Wenham, Brandon Walters
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
"That strange woman, she fire Mr. Fletcher....  He can't hurt Momma no more. ...  From that day on, we call her, 'Mrs. Boss'.  -- Nullah, narrating

"We can't let them win." -- Lady Ashley
"We won't." -- Drover

"Sarah, I'm as good as Black [Aboriginal Australian] to that lot up there.  Now I don't mix with dingos or duchesses.  They keep out of my way and I keep out of theirs.  That's the way it is." -- Drover
"Just because it is, doesn't mean it should be." -- Lady Sarah Ashley
"But that's the way it is."  -- Drover

Australia is a grand sweeping epic.  It has elements of an American Western, strangely enough (the first act involves a cattle drive) but the second act is where the film really shines.  Australia is beautifully filmed and the land itself  is often the star of the picture.  The cast look fantastic too, especially Hugh Jackman (at his sexy best as the rough Outback drover, Drover) and Nicole Kidman (who looks incredible, whether she's wearing traditional English clothes, or something more suited to Australia's climate).  David Wenham, as Mr. Fletcher, is playing a real s.o.b. -- and relishing it.  And newcomer, Brandon Walters, is incredible as Nullah - the half Aboriginal / half white child, who narrates much of the story.

Australia begins with a brief introduction narrated by Nullah, who's spear fishing with his Grandfather, "King George", the magician.  A man (who we'll later discover is Maitland Ashley) is killed.  Then the film transitions to England, and Lady Ashley.  A pampered young aristocrat (played by Kidman), she's annoyed her husband has yet to sell 'that ranch in Australia'.  Convinced her husband is fooling around in more ways than one, she boards a plane and heads for Australia.  Just prior to landing, she receives a telegram that she's to meet Drover (Hugh Jackman) who will take her to Faraway Downs, their ranch.

But all is not well in Darwin when she arrives.  It's a rough town, war is on the horizon, and a cattle baron named King Carney has bought up all the land in Northern Australia, except the Ashleys' Faraway Downs.  Yet the price he offers her is far below what it's worth.  Lady Ashley meets with Drover, who takes her to the ranch.  When they finally arrive, she finds her husband's been murdered.  She also discovers her husband's most trusted cattle-hand, Fletcher, has been beating the native women and children who live on the ranch, stealing cows and driving them across the river to Carney's land, and that he's also responsible for her husband's death; most of which she can't prove to the law.  To her credit, Lady Ashley fires Fletcher.  She then gets Drover to agree to drive 1500 head of cattle to Darwin to sell to the Army.  Needing at least seven people for the cattle drive, they assemble a motley crew and head off.

The drive is an adventure, and Australia itself shines in untamed glory. Fletcher uses under-hand tactics against the drive, such as spooking the cattle with fire towards a cliff.  But despite the challenges, Drover and Sarah make it to Darwin.  There, Carney has just gotten the Army representative to sign a contract, as Sarah and Drover arrive with the cattle.  However, the contract isn't valid until the cows are loaded onto a ship, and Sarah and Drover manage to get them on the ship first.  Sarah wins her contract.

Sarah invites Drover to the ball to celebrate, but he refuses, stating he isn't one of  the upper crust of  people.  Sarah nearly sells Faraway Downs, but Drover arrives at the ball, cleaned up and in a suit.  The two dance together and decide to make a go of it, taking the half-Arboriginal/half-white child, Nullah, into their unofficial  custody.

Nullah narrates much of the story, and Sarah comes to love the child, especially as she can't have children of her own.  Drover also loves the child, as his first wife was Black (or Arboriginal) but she died of untreated TB.  Drover, Nullah, and Sarah are happy for a time, enjoying the "wet" season, and Sarah even understands that Drover will be off droving during "the dry" season.  Soon however, the trio's happiness is shattered.

Fletcher kills King Carney, making it look like an accident.  Nullah wishes to go walkabout with his grandfather.  Drover, understanding the custom, wants him to go, but Sarah disagrees, thinking the child's too young.  When Nullah disappears, Drover thinks he's gone with his grandfather anyway, but Sarah thinks something is wrong.  Nullah and his grandfather are arrested by the local police at Fletcher's insistance -- Nullah to be sent to the Mission School for assimilation, and King George to be tried for the deaths of Maitland and King Carney.

Sarah goes off to Darwin to try to get Nullah back.  Drover is off working in the Outback and has no idea what's going on.  The Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, then Darwin, hitting the mission island first, then the small army town itself.  Sarah's right in the middle of things.  Drover arrives too, but he's too late.  He's told Sarah died in the communications tent.  Drover is completely bereft.  However, a young priest finds him and asks for help getting to the mission island to recover any children they can.  Drover, not knowing that Nullah was sent to the island, and having nothing to lose, agrees to help the priest, as does Drover's close friend and brother-in-law Muggery.

They get to the island and rescue Nullah and some of the other children.  Muggery is killed by Japanese soldier as they make their escape in a boat.  Meanwhile, Sarah is helping with the evacuation of Darwin, unaware that she's been reported dead or even that Drover is in town.

Drover's ship sails through the fog and smoke back to Darwin.  The children land.  Sarah hears the children's singing, refuses to get on the convoy truck and runs to find the ship pulling in.  She's reunited with Nullah and Drover.

As a last act of mischief  Fletcher fires a rifle at Nullah.  He hits the child, but Nullah's grandfather kills him with a thrown spear.  Nullah recovers and he, Sarah, and Drover return to Faraway Downs.  Later, Sarah allows him to go walkabout with his grandfather.

This is an excellent movie.  It's beautifully filmed, both the wild scenery and the people.  The story is a bit typical romantic plot, but the child Nullah, lifts the story out of  romantic drama cliche'.  The cast is excellent. I highly recommend seeing it!

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Avengers

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Batman The Dark Knight Returns Part 2 (Spoilers)


  • Title:   Batman The Dark Knight Returns Part 2
  • Director:  Jay Olivia
  • Voice Director:  Andrea Romano
  • Date:  2013
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre:  Animation, Action, Drama
  • Cast:  Peter Weller, Ariel Winter, Michael Emerson, David Seltz, Mark Valley, Robin Atkin Downes, Maurice LaMarche, Michael McKean, Conan O'Brien, Rob Paulsen, Frank Welker, Tara Strong
  • Format:  Windscreen, Color Animation
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
"Look, either shut it down, or one of these days someone with authority is going to tell me to come stop you.  And when that happens..." -- Clark
"When that happens may the best man win." - Bruce

"Come on, finish me.... Doesn't matter, I win, I made you lose control ... and they'll kill you for it." -- Joker

"Tonight, I am going to maintain order in Gotham City, you're going to help me!  But not with these [guns]!  These are loud and clumsy!  These are the weapons of cowards!  Our weapons are precise and quiet!  In time, I will teach them to you.  But for tonight, you will rely on your brains and your fists.  Tonight we are the law!  Tonight I am the law!"  -- Batman

Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns is a classic graphic novel that's been in print since it's original publication in 1986.  It's excellent, and truly raised the bar for graphic story-telling and changed comics forever.  It's the first graphic novel I ever read and one I occasionally re-read.  I'm very glad Warner's allowed two movies to be made from this big and complicated graphic novel.  I was worried though that Warners would "wimp out" with the more controversial aspects of the story.  I'm happy to report they did not.  The political aspects of the storyline are here in full.  Hazzah!

Whereas the first part (film) focuses on Bruce putting the Batsuit on again and Two Face and the Mutant gang Leader as villains, the second part focuses almost exclusively on The Joker as primary villain, though there is still a lot going on.  Even more than Part 1, television newscasts are used as a narration device in Part 2.  

In Part 2, the remainder of  the Mutant Gang has split into various groups.  The Sons of Batman, with their blue face paint, declare Batman as their leader, and attempt to save Gotham City from other criminals - violently.  The Nixons, with their tall blonde female leader, "Bruno", rob and steal without remorse.  Bruno has red swastikas painted on her breasts.  Batman sets up a sting to catch her, and succeeds.  Superman arrives in Gotham and saves a blind man who's fallen into a subway track in the path of an on-coming train.  But the reason he's there is to encourage Bruce to hang-up the cape again.  However, the majority of  the film concerns Joker.

Jim Gordon retires.  The new police commissioner, Ellen Yindel, as her first act as Comissioner, issues a warrant for Batman's arrest.  When Clark and Bruce talk, Clark has a bald eagle on his arm, and Bruce pets Clark's white dog -- which is a great image!

Joker is in an asylum, being treated by Dr. Wolper.  He manipulates Wolper to get him a pass and an interview on the Dave Endocrine Show.  Wolper does this, and soon Joker is free.   He kills Wolper with a coffee cup during the show's taping, as well as Endocrine and his audience with his deadly Joker gas.  Batman and Robin (Carrie) had gone to the show's taping to try to stop Joker, but Yindel's police attack Batman.  The police spend so much time trying to catch Batman that they fail to stop Joker.

After escaping the chaos at the television studio, Joker finds Selina Kyle, and uses hallucinogenic lipstick to control her mind, as well as one of her girls.  The girl gets a Congressman to declare the country should declare open war on the Soviets before falling to his death (while wrapped in an American flag). 

The president announces on TV that American troops are battling Soviet troops in the South American Island country of "Corto Maltese".  As in the graphic novel, the president looks like Reagan, and he's voiced in the animated film to sound like Ronald Reagan, including his "folksy wisdom".  He announces a war by saying, "Now those Soviets would like to see us turn tail and run, but we've got to protect our interests, I mean, stand up for freedom and the good people of Corto Maltese.  So don't fret... we've got God on our side."  This political conflict forms the backdrop of the entire film.  News is blacked out "due to severe weather".  

Batman finds out about the connection to Kyle Escorts.  He finds Selina, dressed like Wonder Woman, and tied-up.  She tells him about Joker and the mind-control lipstick.  Batman is too late to save the Congressman.

Batman also finds out Joker's next target is the local amusement park, which is just opening.  Batman and Joker fight in the house of mirrors, where Joker shoots Batman in the shoulder.  Joker escapes into the tunnel of  love, and he and Batman fight again.  Joker knifes Batman across the stomach and stabs him several times.  Batman beats Joker, who finally collapses against a wall.  Joker taunts Batman, then breaks his own neck.  Batman passes out.  Later, Batman awakes.  He places incindiaries on Joker's body and disappears, as Yindel's police troops close in.  Joker's body burns and the entire tunnel blows up.

Carrie rescues Batman and takes him to the Cave where Alfred does surgery.

Reagan announces from an "undisclosed location" via television special report, American troops won in Corto Maltese, but the Soviets are "poor sports" as a missile's been sent towards the Island nation.  Superman deflects the missile and it blows up over Gotham City.  Superman is irradiated, crash lands, and kills everything he touches -- flowers, trees, grass, etc.

Gotham is blacked out and everyone panics.  Bruce realizes it was an EMP blast.  Batman and Robin ride on horseback into Gotham.  Batman rallies the Sons of Batman, and later citizens and even formal members of the Mutant Gang into keeping order in the city.  Meanwhile, Jim Gordon, organizes people in his own neighborhood to put out fires.

The country is buried under a cloud of smoke and ash.  In Gotham, there is no sun, but electricity is slowly coming back on.  Gotham is the only city not torn apart by crime, rioting and looting.

The president (still Reagan) enforces martial law, and sends a recovering Superman after Batman.  Batman works with Carrie, Oliver Queen (formerly the Green Arrow), and Alfred on a plan.  He fights Superman in Crime Alley, distracting him until Queen can fire a Kryptonite arrow at Superman.  The arrow doesn't kill Superman outright, but weakens him.  Batman somewhat defeats Superman, but then he falls victim to a heart attack.  Superman, Diana (once but no longer Wonder Woman), Selina, and Jim Gordon attend the funeral.  At the end, Carrie, heavily veiled, is the last to stand by Bruce Wayne's grave.

Wayne Manor has burned to the ground, after Alfred, following Bruce's instructions, hit the self-destruct.  Alfred escapes the house but dies of a massive stroke.

There's a cut to the sound of a heart monitor.  Then, Oliver Queen begins to instruct the Sons of  Batman in cleaning up the Bat Cave.  Bruce arrives and states he will instruct the Sons of Batman (as well as former Mutants and other citizens who joined him the first night after the missile fell).  They are now Bruce's army.

I liked Part 1 slightly better; Part 2 seems like more of a slug-fest.  However, kudos to Bruce Timm, Andrea Romano, Warner Brothers Animation, and DC Premiere for not shying away from the darker and more political aspects of  Frank Miller's classic book.  The second half of Part 2 works really well.  In the first half,  Batman's final confrontation with Joker seems almost anti-climatic.  However, though the film is dark and violent, it is also really good -- with an adult story, and incredible animation that evokes the art of Miller's classic.  Recommended.

Recommendation:  See it!  (Though not for young children)
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Third Man

Friday, February 22, 2013

Batman The Dark Knight Returns Part 1


  • Title:  Batman The Dark Knight Returns Part 1
  • Director:  Jay Olivia
  • Voice Director:  Andrea Romano
  • Date:  2012
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre:  Action, Animation
  • Cast:  Peter Weller, Ariel Winter, David Selby, Wade Williams, Maurice LaMarche, Michael McKean, Rob Paulsen, Tara Strong, Frank Welker
  • Format:  Widescreen Color Animation
  • DVD Format:  R 1, NTSC

"We must believe we can all defeat our own private demons." -- Bruce Wayne, during press conference

"Two abducted children were found alive in a riverside warehouse along with six critically injured members of the mutant gang.  The children describe the gang's attacker as, 'a man dressed as Dracula.' "-- Female Newscaster

"If  it's suicide you're after, I have an old family recipe.  It's slow and painful -- you'd like it." -- Alfred, to Bruce

"I played along as long as I could, while you and the docs had your joke.  you got everyone to smile and keep their lunches down when they looked at me, pretending I looked normal. ... Just look at me and have your laugh.  Get it over with.  At least both sides match now, right?  Look at me, and have your laugh." -- Harvey Dent

Batman The Dark Knight Returns is based on Frank Miller's incomparable graphic novel of the same name. Miller's work changed comics for a decade, and it's effects are still being felt.  The animated film starts quickly, with no credits (they will appear at the end).  Commissioner Gordon is weeks from retirement, and the Batman hasn't been seen in Gotham City for ten years.  The city is in a grip of a crime wave, mostly caused by the Mutants, a gang dedicated to horrific violence even more than crime.  Bruce Wayne and James Gordon are having dinner.  Gordon lightly inquires about Batman, and then brings up Dick and Jason. Bruce insists he's given up his old life fighting crime, but isn't happy that Gordon's brought up the Robins.

Bruce leaves his meeting with Gordon and walks through Crime Alley, there he is reminded of his parents' deaths and his one-time vow to stop crime.  Some Mutants approach to attack Bruce, but he frightens them off.  That night, he dreams about his experiences.  He remembers falling down a well, and being scared by bats.  Unable to sleep, Bruce goes to the Batcave and stares at Robin's shrine.  Alfred arrives, concerned.  to Bruce's own surprise, he has shaved off his mustache.

Meanwhile, at the Arkham Home, a Dr. Wolper (Michael McKean) works with Harvey Dent, to rehabilitate the criminal once known as Two-Face.  Joker is also in Arkham, but completely comatose.  Harvey, his face  restored, and supposedly cured of  his criminal bent, is released, but then disappears.

Meanwhile, back at his manor, Bruce Wayne is flipping TV channels in the middle of  the night.  He keeps finding news reports of Gotham's escalating violence.  But he also comes across a late night showing of The Mark of  Zorro, the film he saw with his parents That Fateful Night.  The film brings back bad memories of his trauma.  But even as he tries to escape his memories by flipping channels, he only hears more bad news of crime and violence.  Even the weather report of the on-coming storm seems dire.  Bruce's memories mix with the Voice of  the Bat, calling him to return.  A bat breaks through his window.

Meanwhile, Carrie and her friend Michelle have taken a short cut through The Arcade to escape the rain.  Michelle is nervous because she has heard it's a Mutant Gang hideout.  Carrie pooh-poohs her fears.  Then the lights go out and Mutants attack.  Batman confronts the Mutants and rescues the girls.

He also catches an armed robber the cops are chasing.  TV news clips and reports are soon covering the story of  the return of  Batman from a number of perspectives.  Ever Carrie and Michelle are interviewed.

Alfred helps Bruce with his physical injuries, and chides him that he really is getting too old for this kind of thing.

The next day, one of  the thugs Batman had captured and beaten up is in Gordon's office with his lawyer, claiming "police brutality".  Gordon simply releases the guy.  This turns out to be Batman's plan, who follows him and tortures him to get information on Two-Face.

Meanwhile, Carrie listens to her parents whining and gets sick of  it, she sees the Batman symbol on a building and is heartened.

Gordon meanwhile has contacted Batman.  He tells Batman two helicopters were stolen the previous night.  Batman responses he didn't get much out of  Two-Face's lackey, just that the crime was going down the next day.  Gordon responds that it makes sense, since it's Tuesday and the second of  the month.  Then Two Face breaks into the television signal of a news report.  He claims to have two bombs and he will destroy the Gotham Life Building (which has two towers) unless he's paid off with Twenty-two million dollars, and he gives the citizens of Gotham twenty-two minutes to comply.

Batman defuses one bomb, but he's attacked when he tries to cross on a line to the other tower.  Harvey Dent (Two Face) and Batman crash through a window into the other building.  There Batman pulls off Harvey's bandages, but he looks normal.  Harvey, however, is delusional, and thinks that both sides of  his face are horribly disfigured and scarred.

On TV, a point-to-point debate pits pro Batman Daily Planet managing editor, Lana Lang, against anti-Batman author Dr. Wolper.  More news clips follow the rising debate.

Carrie dresses as Robin.

A newscaster reports that James Gordon has been killed, then admits she "read it wrong", James Gordon killed a Mutant gang member.

Carrie tries out being Robin, and discovers her fear of  heights, but slowly she starts to get it.

The Mutants kidnap a wealthy family's two-year-old heir; Batman rescues the child and defeats the Mutants.

The screen goes completely dark as Batman questions a suspect, eventually he takes his hand away from the man's eyes, and reveals he's holding him over the Gotham city streets far below.

Carrie stops a purse snatching.

Batman confronts the general who sold military-grade arms to the Mutants.

Batman and separately, Carrie go to the Gotham dump to confront the Mutants.  Bruce is badly beaten by the Mutant Leader.  Carrie manages to get him inside the Batmobile, which looks like a tank.  Bruce orders the car back to the cave, despite Alfred's pleas to go to the hospital.  He takes Carrie with him and tells Alfred she will be trained as a Robin.  Alfred isn't hot on the idea.  Bruce also goes deep into the cave, alone, to confront his demons.  He decides to continue as Batman.  He flashes back to the loss of  his parents.

On TV, again Lana Lang and Dr. Wolper debate about Batman.  Carrie stares at the Robin memorial in the cave.  The mayor appoints a female, anti-Batman police commissioner, Ellen Yindel.  The mayor also offers to meet with the Mutant leader to arrange appeasement.

Alfred tries to talk to Bruce about his plans.  When he doesn't appear to be getting through, he brings up Jason.  Bruce refers to Jason as a "good soldier" but that the war must go on.  He has Carrie undercover as a Mutant pass along a message for all the Mutant gang members to meet at "the Pipe".

Gordon talks to Yindel, trying to explain to her why he approves of  the Batman.  When the mayor is killed by the Mutant leader during their "peace treaty", Gordon agrees with Batman's plan, and sees to it the Leader is able to escape.

Batman again confronts the Mutant leader.  They fight in the mud by the Pipe, in front of  all the Mutant gang members.  Batman uses his smarts as well as his fighting abilities to defeat the Leader.  As a result, the Mutant gang is broken up.  Gordon's officers arrest several, others break off  into other splinter gangs.  One gang, the Sons of  Batman, insist on "actions not words" and attack other criminals.

Gordon turns in his badge and gun, retiring.  Ordinary citizens start to stand up to violence, a man stops a mugging in front of  his store.  The TV news clips runs other clips, both pro and con Batman and the new reality.

The Joker awakes as he hears the news.

The story will be continued in part 2.

Batman The Dark Knight Returns is awesome!  The story is straight from Frank Miller's classic graphic novel, and the animated film does not hold back.  This is a dark, and violent story with lots of  blood.  But the animation is also awesome.  Many of  the images are truly memorable, and often it is the images that tell the story, especially Bruce Wayne's flashbacks to his parents' murder and becoming Batman.  Meanwhile, Gotham City is a mess -- without Batman, violence, especially gang violence, has taken over the streets and ordinary people have no hope.  The constant TV news cashes in on the violence and "bad news", offering no reprieve from the sense of  gloom and hopelessness.

The film realistically portrays an older Bruce Wayne, with lined face, who groans and creaks when he returns to the life of  Batman.  Commissioner James Gordon is also considerably older, and ready to retire.

Television news dominates the lives of  everyone in Gotham, and even Carrie gets on TV to tell the story of how she was rescued in the Arcade (by a man -- seven feet tall!).  Like the graphic novel, much of the structure of the actual story is told in the comments of  the newscasters, and people they interview.  Much of this is also full of  irony and dark humor, such as the man who advises that criminals need to be rehabilitated back into society -- then acknowledges that he "doesn't live in the city".

The animation in the film is incredible!  Not only is it very real-looking, but it's dark and has the slightly "washed" look of the original graphic novel.  Great images abound, as well as novel things such as a scene that's completely black, with only audio to tell you what Batman's doing.  Uses of flashes of  lightning or gunshots or other bright, sudden sources of  light are also used in other scenes.  The over-all effect is of watching a moving graphic novel.

The plot of  the film is an excellent adaptation of  the graphic novel.  Not only is Batman brought back after a gap of  ten years, but he confronts two main villains beyond his own age:  The Mutant gang, notably their leader, and Two Face (Harvey Dent).  Both these villains are psychologically interesting an complex.  The Mutants look like punks, and act like them too -- committing horrible acts of  violence not for money or to survive, but because they can.  In other words, they are bullies - pure and simple.  And like any bully, when Batman defeats their leader in front of  the entire gang, the gang itself falls apart.  And, some members of  the gang decide to follow Batman instead.  The other villain is Harvey Dent.  This film doesn't go into too much detail about Harvey's backstory, however, Bruce Wayne has personally paid for Harvey's rehabilitation.  Harvey's face is rebuilt, and a "psycholigist" is employed to help re-build Harvey's broken psyche.  Yet when he's released from Arkham, Harvey goes straight back to his life of crime.  When Batman catches up to him, Harvey is completely delusional - convince his face is now horribly scarred on both sides, and that's how it was made to "match".  Bruce is crushed - in a way he's sympathetic, because he also can only see himself  as  Batman.

The film is very violent, and there's just a lot of  blood.  If you've read the graphic novel, this isn't surprising, but if you're only familiar with the DC animated universe and original films -- this one is considerably more adult in tone and imagery.  The rating is PG-13, and it should be at least that, if not limited to 15-year-olds and up.  But overall I highly, highly recommend it.  And if you loved the graphic novel, you will really love this film.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Batman The Dark Knight Returns Part 2