An Eye for an Eye (Red Eye, 2005)

The same year as Cursed, Craven gave us Red Eye. An entirely different creature than Cursed or Scream, Red Eye is a thriller set primarily on a plane. Rachel McAdams is hotel concierge Lisa, returning home to Miami after a funeral.

While waiting for her flight, she meets the charming Jack. And, for awhile, he seems to be a friendly guy…but once the flight is in motion, he reveals a dark motive. He tells Lisa that if she does not do him a favor, he will have her father killed.

Red Eye is, in contrast to Curse, a tight and tense story that never overstays its welcome. In the course of ten minutes, we learn that Lisa has been devoted to her job and has a “always serve the customer” ethic. When the young woman filling in for her, Cynthia, struggles with demanding regulars, Lisa politely chastises her. Lisa serves and as the film goes on, we discover there are reasons for her having chosen this attitude.

McAdams is someone you root for in the film, she is kind and loves her dad. Her increasing determination and Jack’s ability to interfere keep you at the edge of your seat. There is a moment early in the film where Lisa tries to calm down an irate and impatient person in line and Cillian Murphy’s Jack steps in when he continues to be rude. He is excessively polite with the man, but then gives him this look that suggests he could end the guy in a second, causing the man to back down.

Honestly, I cannot understand why we did not get some more of these from Craven. Effective and exciting smaller films would have paid off wonderfully for Craven, I suspect. He does such a terrific job here,I feel like we missed out.

Hope in Retreat (Dunkirk, 2017)

Dunkirk_PosterThe Nazi’s are on the march across Europe.  In the French city of Dunkirk, the Allies have been beaten back.  The British and the French are trying to get out before they are overtaken by the Nazi armies.

The British are waiting for ships to arrive and bring the troops home.  But they are facing regular air barrages from the Germans.

The Allies recruit boats from local small boat captains.  They go on their way to try and retrieve the soldiers, and at the same time, a small group of British pilots try and provide the boats cover.

The film starts with breaking down the story into three parts.  Earth (where the soldiers wait), sea (following a boat on it’s way to Dunkirk), and air (following three pilots).  When you see the immense number of soldiers waiting for rescue, it becomes clear why Nolan made this choice.  On the ground, we follow Tommy and Gibson, two very young soldiers.  They are trying to get on a ship, and end up getting bumped to the front of the line when they risk their lives carrying a wounded soldier on a stretcher to a medical boat.  But the soldiers face a horror as German planes bomb the ship and they can only watch as a ship full of wounded men sink into the sea.

We also get to see the concerns of the top officers who are trying to get their soldiers out.  While they are making every effort, they are given some instructions that trouble them.  Specifically, they are told to leave the French soldiers behind.

The sea focuses on a small vessel driven by Mr. Lawrence, Peter and George.  Early on, they pick up the only survivor of another ship that has been sunk.  This soldier (Cillian Murphy in a role credited only as “Shivering Soldier”) is terrified when he finds out they are going to Dunkirk.  We never see exactly what he has witnessed, but he is adamant they return to Britain.

Air is focused on pilots Farrier and Collins.  They are two of three planes trying to shoot down as many Germans as they can and save as many soldiers as possible.

On it’s face, Dunkirk seems like an odd choice of World War 2 Events,  Most World War 2 films seek to focus on the great victories, especially against great odds. And, certainly, there is an aspect of that here.  But Dunkirk was a moment in which the Allies faced a defeat and had gone into retreat.

However, it is clear to see why the British see this as such an important moment of their history.  This is about finding hope and unity in moments of great defeat. It does not shy away from the cruelty of war, even though it is never as graphic as say, Saving Private Ryan.  Nolan looks at the demons of war, but also sees where humanity can shine.  We see men, both soldier and citizen uniting to survive.  To get back alive and rebuild.

Nolan’s use of audio, both in sound and the music, are in top form here.  The intensity is constantly building as music blends with the sounds of ships and planes.  Much of Dunkirk was actually filmed on the beach of Dunkirk, adding to the reality and weight of the film.

Nolan has created a powerful epic that looks at the destruction, both physical and emotional, war will do…and sees where humanity can triumph in the face of that adversity. And he manages this looking at a moment when the good guys were facing a resounding defeat.

When It All Goes Wrong (Free Fire, 2016)

Free_Fire_PosterOrd and Justine have brokered a black market arms deal with Chris and Frank.  Just as the deal seems done, a beef between two of their henchmen breaks out that results in a shootout.  An hour long shootout. And then things get bad.

I am not joking…a solid hour of the film is the shoot out.  First we see it divided between the two groups, but then it takes a twist bringing them together, only to throw everyone into “every man for himself” insanity.

Free Fire is playing with a tongue in cheek attitude and a seventies low budget action feel. The opening credits have a grindhouse movie feel.  You also see this in the clothing styles and hair.

And the lighting aims to give a feeling of grit. In fact, I am a little surprised they did not add an extra bit of “film grain” for an authentic aged movie look.

The film kind of stumbles in it’s tone.  It is going for “action Comedy”, but the long and bloody shootout feels to serious for the lighter dialog.  Which makes the most violent and comedic scene (as the two underlings that caused the shootout to begin a man to man fight to the death set to a John Denver song) almost feels out of place.

Free Fire also starts to just get tedious as it goes on, because one long fire fight just starts to wear thin after awhile. The high point is the cast.  Especially especially Sharlto Copely and Armie Hammer. Cillian Murphy is dependable, though Brie Larson feels wasted as her character seems to lack much personality.

While the trailer seemed promising as a wild and crazy action comedy, the film never finds firm footing in the comedy camp, as the comedy usually gives away to extended action.  But the action lacks a lot of humor.  And one of the most important things in action comedies is that the action and comedy intersect.

 

Rage Against the Machine (The Dark Knight Rises,2012)

Batman_dark_knight_rises_posterIt was becoming clear that Nolan was planning to form a trilogy.  The Dark Knight ended with Batman on the run, taking the blame for Harvey Dent’s death.  It suggested Batman would be hiding in the shadows in his fight against crime. There were no real casting controversies this time.  Generally, people seemed okay with announcements of Tom Hardy and Anne Hathaway.

After the Dark Knight, people seemed to trust the team making these films.  So there was much anticipation when the Dark Knight Rises arrived four years later.

And right from the start?  The film kicks off with a nice little plane hijacking by the villain Bane.  This Bane appears to be a pretty brilliant criminal and Occupy Terrorist.  And yet?  The terrific setup from the Dark Knight is not used at all.  The film picks up eight years later with Bruce Wayne having retired Batman.  The police did their job, so Bruce retired the persona shortly after the events of the Dark Knight.  Apparently, no weird bad guys appeared after the Joker.  Wayne is in rough shape, physically speaking.   The years as Batman took a real toll.  He catches Selina Kyle busting into his safe during a party,  Kyle is a morally ambiguous character.  She is a thief of course, but she is not entirely without conscience.

Commissioner Gordon is deemed a hero, but this is eating away at him…and he keeps a letter on himself at all times confessing what really happened to Harvey Dent.  This certainly could have been a real damning situation.  Admittedly, I felt it would have been better to bring Two Face back as the central villain, out to humiliate and expose (and destroy) Gordon and the Batman.

Bane starts to wreak havoc on Gotham’s social and financial districts.  Forcing Batman out of retirement and into a confrontation, Bane breaks Batman’s back and  tosses him in  hole.  Ultimately Bruce Wayne must climb to the top to get free.  The film is a bit on the nose.

It turns out that Bane is teamed up with another villain, who is revealed to have ties from the first film.  And their plan just makes no sense.  They trap the entire police force underground and plan to blow up a bomb.

What makes the Dark Knight Rises so disappointing as a followup is that it is incredibly sloppy in it’s storytelling.  How and why things occur are not fully thought out.  The film is full of exciting sequences…but they don’t bring the film together.  The film is heavily focused on being a “last Bruce Wayne” story for the Nolan version.  But the villains activities don’t really have a satisfying connecting moment.  There is, technically, an “Ah HA!” moment.  But it still leaves a lot of Bane’s overly elaborate scheming kind of pointless.

As a follow up to the Dark Knight (and Batman Begins) this is a well cast movie full of plot-holes to the point of Swiss Cheese.  Catwoman is a fun character, and Hathaway’s performance is great, without drawing on earlier film versions.  Freeman, Cain and Oldman are great in their roles, vital to the enjoyment of this film.  As a fan of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, he is always welcome, and his tenacious cop  Blake (in spite of a “groaner” of a name reveal at the end) is likable…he is also pretty obvious the out of they wanted to make a fourth film without Bale, as the Bale Batman seems to have run it’s course.  That Bat Voice starts to grate on a viewer, especially after three movies.

I wish Nolan’s series could have ended on a higher note, but that was not meant to be.  We have a movie with some fine performances, some good action scenes and a rather hard to buy into massive plan by villains even taking into account this is a movie about a guy dressed as a bat.

It Was a Dark and Stormy Knight (the Dark Knight, 2008)

batman-the-dark-knight-posterThe recasting of Rachel Dawes with Maggie Gyllenhaal might have been the biggest casting controversy if not for the announcement of Heath Ledger as the Joker.  Oh, the internet exploded.  And then the movie came out and made a lot of people eat crow.  The late Heath Ledger gave one of the best takes on the Joker.  An anarchist who just wants to watch the world burn, The Joker starts out appearing like he is trying to take over the mob, only for them to be shocked as he proves he does not care about their goals at all.

The Dark Knight improves on the action scenes, showing how much Nolan learned.  The story is mostly quite strong.  They introduce the heroic Harvey Dent, a new DA with no fear of the mob…causing Bruce Wayne to question if Batman will be necessary any more.  Of course, Dent is doomed to be twisted into a brutal caricature of justice.

The Dark Knight is full of twists and turns, as well as challenging questions in regards to spying and information gathering.  How far do you go to stop someone?  Admittedly, the film tries to have it both ways, allowing Batman to go to far, but for it to be a one time deal.

The film also struggles a bit with exactly what it wants to do with Two Face…and it really squanders an opportunity that could have played into the next film.  While the Joker story line seems so carefully plotted, the Two Face story line just feels rushed.  But in the end, the overall film ties together nicely.

As noted, Ledger’s Joker borders on brilliant.  The performance is downright unnerving, helped by musical queues that make it feel all the more disturbing.  The returning cast are all excellent, and Gyllenhaal holds her own (as pretty much the only woman of consequence in the film) with heavyweights like Oldman, Freeman and Caine.

Nolan has shown Great vision for Batman, and only improved on Batman Begins.  It is an intense and  exhilarating ride of a film.

When I Was a Kid (Batman Begins, 2005)

Batman-Begins-posterIt took until 2005 for Batman to return to the big screen.  From the start, we knew this was going to be a more serious take on the character than the previous films.  They were starting over and taking their inspiration from Batman: Year One.  Warner Brothers brought in Christopher Nolan (director of Following and Memento) to craft a Batman for the modern movie age.  They started to announce their cast and people started to get excited.  Christian Bale. Gary Oldman.  Liam Neeson.  Literally the most controversial casting choice was Katie Holmes…and that was more after the film was released.

Batman Begins is a refreshing take on the character.  It followed closely the stories such as Year One.  And instead of going with villains we had already seen, they opted for two that had not been used in film before.  Ra’s Al Ghul was a longstanding comic book Bat Nemesis who ruled over the elite league of assassins.

Young Bruce Wayne struggles to come to terms with the death of his parents at the hands of low level thug Joe Chill.  He plots to kill Chill, but is convinced by Rachel Dawes (Holmes) to not give into the revenge.  So Bruce drops off the grid and wanders the planet  getting into scrapes and apparently lots of prisons…until he meet Ducard, the mysterious emissary to Ra’s Al Ghul.  After training with the league of assassins, Bruce discovers that the League has plans to erase Gotham off the map, believing it is beyond saving.

When Bruce returns to Gotham, he decides that he needs to use his training to combat the decay of the mob and other criminal activity.  The film also focuses on Detective Jim Gordon and his attempts to deal with corruption inside and outside his force.  As Batman, Bruce Wayne realizes he has an ally.  Of course, the League of Assassins has no intention of giving up their plan.

Nolan was not known for being an action film director prior to this, and it shows.  Sometimes things are to tightly framed making the action hard to follow.  There are great action sequences, but there are times where they are not as easy to follow.

The story is not hard to follow, and unlike previous Batman films, the multiple villains  does not ruin the pacing.  And how the villains are tied together makes sense.  Nolan and his time understand how to intertwine the elements of a tale.

The film is also nearly perfectly cast.  Bale sells the notion of a man with a singular purpose.  Michael Caine’s Alfred is a new and unique take on the character in film and television.  He is a bit rougher and has a military background.  You can see he was hired as much for his strength as his support.  He can be tough, wise and gentle when it is called for.

And then there is Gary Oldman’s Detective Gordon.  He is struggling to try and keep things together, but not out of incompetence, but simply because Gotham is falling apart and the seems, and at times, he seems alone in trying to stem the tide.  It is great to see the movies finally elevate his presence.  He is a far more important to the Bat Mythos than Burton or Schumacher ever seemed to realize.

As Ducard, Neeson brings an self righteous arrogance that sees him in a role of dangerous judge and jury.  Lucius Fox is played by Morgan Freeman in one of those Freeman roles where he is wise and underestimated.   Cillian Murphy’s psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Crane is creepy, even before he dons his Scarecrow mask.  Holmes is the weakest link.  It is not that she is terrible, but she is out of her depth with the rest of the cast.

Gotham is no longer a hyper stylized city with crazy architecture.  Instead, it is a rundown city, with a recognizable look that could be the streets of a large metropolis.  It is very effective.

Batman Begin’s is a solid start to a new series of films.  It is the path I wish Bryan Singer had followed with Superman.  We are introduced to an exciting world with much potential (as hinted in the final moments of the film).

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