V for Vendetta (2005)

“Remember, remember, the Fifth of November, the Gunpowder Treason and Plot.”  Happy Guy Fawkes Day, everyone!  Here’s my old review of this movie I love.

Directed by James McTeigue and adapted for the screen from Alan Moore’s comic book by the Wachowski brothers (I guess they’re um, not brothers anymore, but siblings), V for Vendetta tells the tale of a masked freedom fighter in a future London, and his mission to bring down the totalitarian government that has assumed control. It’s the kind of frightening future that George Orwell once wrote about in “1984” (which, coincidentally enough, also starred John Hurt). Please don’t let the involvement of the Wachowski brothers siblings deter you from watching this film. To do so would be a disservice to the film and every message it’s attempting to bring to the public. The Wachowskis might not be able to make great sequels (Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions are better left forgotten), but they’ve certainly got the ability to adapt a comic book masterpiece to the screen.

I mentioned that the film has a distinct “1984” feel to it, but there’s another story that it appears to owe a lot to, and that’s “The Phantom of the Opera”. V (Hugo Weaving) never appears without his Guy Fawkes mask on throughout the entire film, and it’s a testament to Weaving’s phenomenal acting abilities that the mask never seems to be a prop, just an extension of the character. The mask is worn both as a statement and as a disguise, though there’s probably no one that could identify V thanks to the experiments the government performed on V when he was a “political prisoner”. Well, thanks to the experiments and the eventual facility explosion that V probably engineered. V’s backstory is shrouded in mystery and if you don’t like movies that don’t explain the entire plot to you, you’re going to be frustrated by the lack of information.

Natalie Portman’s Evey is essentially Christine Daae to Weaving’s V as the Phantom of the Opera, though with far less romantic inclination on V’s part. He truly may love Evey, but he won’t take his heart off the mission for anyone, and thankfully the story teases the pairing up but never pulls the trigger. I’m finding it hard to write this review with a critical mindset since I really, really liked it. There you go, sorry for not putting in a SPOILER ALERT, but this movie is near perfect despite the differences between Alan Moore’s story and the Wachowski’s.

The movie looks gorgeous, with crisp colours and wonderful lighting throughout. The score keeps you in the scene, building tension or filling you with righteous anger at so many freedoms lost. The acting is top notch throughout, from Portman’s convincing accent to John Hurt’s maniacal Chancellor to Stephen Rea’s disbelieving Inspector and so on. I’m not sure if the movie was released for Weaving to be eligible for next year’s Oscars, but he definitely deserves a Best Actor nomination for his wonderful performance here (the film received no Oscar nominations at all.  Fuck the Oscars). A lot of actors rely on their looks and their facial expressions to convey certain things, but stripping Weaving of those crutches only displays what a remarkable talent he truly is.

I mentioned that the movie was near perfect, and for that I do blame the Wachowskis. Apparently they didn’t learn from the Zion Rave Party in The Matrix Reloaded and included a slightly pointless montage scene in this film as well. The domino scene is quite visually stunning, don’t get me wrong. But when the main character – the anti-hero that we’re all cheering for – is shown tipping over a bunch of dominoes that took 200 hours to set up in real life to form his logo from the fallen dominoes when he’s got less than a year to iron out the details of his master plan… wait… where was I? Oh yeah. Unnecessary, but cool looking.

4.5 / 5

Watchmen (2009)

Goddamn, do I ever hate Zack Snyder movies.  Apparently I’ve been in some form of denial for the past three years, as I had been saying that Watchmen was Snyder’s only good movie ever since watching it in the theatre (I still haven’t seen Dawn of the Dead and probably never will because fuck Zack Snyder).  I am still sort of right, as Watchmen is still his best movie, but I have come to the realisation that it isn’t even merely good anymore.

I have mentioned in other reviews how sometimes you have to disassociate the source material from the filmed material because certain elements might not work thematically.  Having just re-read the comic book maxi-series upon which it was based, I know for a fact that it would never ever ehhhhhhver work as a movie.  It could certainly work as a 12-part HBO series, but no, even as a lengthy movie (162 minutes), it will never work.  So yes, things have to be changed for it to even be filmable, and it is hard for me to say what changes did and didn’t work because I’m predisposed to hating Snyder’s work (Sucker Punch was a fucking abomination of a movie), and Snyder didn’t even write the adapted screenplay.

Look, this could just turn into an extended rage/rant about how fucking wrong the film adaptation of Watchmen was (and I think I’d be perfectly justified in doing so), but I’m going to try and find some positives here.  First, the movie looks pretty great.  The credit sequence that quickly establishes the Watchmen universe as different than ours works quite well.  Everyone looks like the characters they are playing (for the most part, it’s creepily spot on).  I just watched the Director’s Cut, and I can’t remember how different it was than the Theatrical version, but there seemed to be no shyness about displaying Doctor Manhattan’s (Billy Crudup) giant blue dong.  I think that’s about it for the positives.

I mentioned how everyone almost creepily looked like they were born to be these characters, right?  Well Snyder’s hallmark is that his films are all style, no substance, and that adage holds up quite well in Watchmen.  The entire cast (except for Malin Åkerman) are talented actors, but that doesn’t mean they were right for these parts.  It’s great that Patrick Wilson looks pretty close to the comic book version of Dan Dreiberg, but he can’t make me buy him as some schlubby guy.  Crudup is a great actor, but no, he’s no Doctor Manhattan.  Jackie Earle Haley is alright as Rorschach, but whatever direction Snyder was giving him was all wrong.

In fact, there are numerous scenes throughout the film that made me think Snyder thought it was some stupid comedy movie he was making.  Plus, the overall tone of the movie is JUST WRONG, especially the fight scenes.  Other than Manhattan, none of them have any special powers, but based upon how hard-hitting every punch and kick sounds/appears, all these costumed people hit like fucking Superman.  No.  The comic book series established them as fairly regular people that just started fighting crime for their own respective reasons.  And why the hell is the movie so unnecessarily gory?  It’s like Snyder thought it was a horror film too!  GAH so much wrong with this movie.

The first time I saw Watchmen, I left thinking that yup, that’s probably the best version of it that could ever be filmed.  Now I’m angered that yeah, that’ll probably be the only filmed version of it that exists and it certainly isn’t even close to the quality of the source material.  In closing, stop giving Zack Snyder money to make movies.  Give him money to make music videos, and when they stop making those, stop giving him money unless it’s payment for him not to ever make another movie.

1.5 / 5

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

I don’t even know how to go about starting this review.  Having just watched it, I feel both emotionally and mentally exhausted while at the same time thrilled and ecstatic over what I’ve just borne witness to.  The Christopher Nolan Batman Trilogy is one of the greatest accomplishments in cinema history, not just for a comic book movie, because as I stated in my Avengers review, the Nolan Batman movies are above just being classified as comic book movies.  Despite attempting to avoid any and all spoilers for The Dark Knight Rises, I had read a Cracked article last year that had mentally prepared me for anything Nolan might have in store for us.  At least I thought it had.

When we last left Batman (Christian Bale) at the end of The Dark Knight, he had told Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) to lay the blame for Harvey Dent’s death at the hands of Batman, thus giving Dent a martyr-like status in the eyes of the citizens of Gotham City.  Between Dark Knight and this film, eight years have passed and Gordon has used The Dent Act to clean up Gotham with his police forces, as Batman retired to his secret identity of Bruce Wayne rather than be hunted.  Wayne has become a recluse, appearing to only communicate with his butler Alfred (Michael Caine) in regards to affairs of the outside world.  When an attractive cat burglar named Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) makes off with a Wayne family heirloom, something is awakened in Bruce and he begins to come alive again.  All the while, a cerebral and brutal villain by the name of Bane (Tom Hardy) concocts a plan to bring the city of Gotham to its knees.  Then there’s also Officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a hotheaded young man who comes to the attention of both Wayne and Gordon.

That’s as vague as I can get without giving away any surprises in the plot, but also identifying the major players.  As with many Nolan films, he brings back a lot of familiar faces in his casting, and just take a look at all the tags if you want to see identifiable names jump out at you.  A couple of them are minor spoilers, but not really surprises at all.  While I’m writing this review, I’m taking time to read the Wiki entry for Dark Knight Rises and it says numerous times that Nolan was unsure about coming back for a third film.  Nolan might just be a great actor himself, because there are certain aspects of the story that would suggest just the opposite: that Nolan had been planning the entire Trilogy from the very first film.

There are few movie trilogies that I have given perfect marks to all of the installments.  The Toy Story Trilogy is the only one I can think of off the top of my head, and now even that is going to fall by the wayside since apparently Toy Story 4 has been announced to be in production.  The Batman Trilogy is exactly that.  Nolan won’t come back to make a fourth film, neither will Bale, neither will any of the principles.  Even the way Rises ends should not fill people with hope for that to happen.

Everything in Rises is excellent in my eyes.  From the casting, the acting, the set pieces, the direction, the writing (minus a couple little things that I won’t go into here, and may just be inconsequential in future re-watchings), the action, all breathtakingly great.  During the opening sequence I was legitimately catching my breath, wondering if my nerves could handle the end of this storied franchise.  The sheer menace that Bane brings with him is astonishingly well-executed, and Hardy doesn’t let the mask control his acting.  Hathaway is probably the best Catwoman/Selina Kyle ever, because she’s not used as just a vehicle for puns.  Bale and his familiar cast mates deliver exactly what they did in the first two films, sheer awesomeness.

Better film critics than me will write more detailed reviews than I did, because mine just seems to be what ultimately can only be construed as nothing more than a Thank You note to Christopher Nolan and the team he put together for these three films.

5 / 5

The Dark Knight (2008)

With The Dark Knight Rises releasing in less than two months, I figured the best way to get more hits would be to actually have a Dark Knight review up, and my old one went into far greater detail than a new one of mine would, so here it is:

The Dark Knight begins around six months after the events in Batman Begins, with Batman (Christian Bale) finally taking care of most of the criminal trash from Begins.  There’s a new District Attorney in town by the name of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), and he’s being proclaimed as Gotham City’s white knight, bound and determined to clean up the police force and the streets.  The newest terror enveloping the city comes in the form of a killer clown, a rampaging murderous criminal that pisses off the established mafia as much as he terrifies the citizenry.  The Joker (Heath Ledger) has been waging a humanistic war on the morality of Batman’s vigilantism, while further plunging the city into a desperate state of decay.  Or I could just describe it as “Batman.  The Joker.  Two-Face.  It’s not Batman Forever.” and that should be enough to give even the most jaded fanboy a shiver of anticipation.

What director Christopher Nolan crafts in two and a half hours is, in a word, breathtaking.  He gives us amazing action sequences and thoughtful meditations on what makes a hero a hero.  Some of those meditations might actually be too thoughtful for the megaplex crowd, since most comic book blockbusters aren’t really known for being too cerebral.  As well, it’s not the most colourful of movies, and while I appreciate the dark look and tones of the film, it makes for some confusing and occasionally muddled fight scenes (thankfully viewing it on Blu-Ray cleans it all up).

Christian Bale continues to be able to deliver two separate and believable performances as both Batman and his secret identity, millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne.  Maggie Gyllenhaal takes over the part of Rachel Dawes that Katie Holmes previously portrayed, and well, it’s essentially a damsel-in-distress role, what with Rachel becoming the girlfriend of Harvey Dent and the transformation of Dent into Two-Face looming over the whole relationship.  I really hope no one is spoiled by the fact that Harvey Dent actually turns into Two-Face, and oh by the way, Aaron Eckhart deserves some high praise as well for the grey areas he put into his portrayal of Dent / Two-Face.  He’s transformed but he doesn’t suddenly become insane, just righteously pissed off.

Michael Caine as Alfred and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox are two supporting players you never have to worry about and they performed admirably well, hitting all the right notes for their father figure character types.  Speaking of father figures, Gary Oldman is even more perfect as Jim Gordon than he was in Begins, and I don’t think enough things are being said about his performance since most of the audience only wants to see the freak show.

If you’re wondering whether or not the advance billing for Heath Ledger’s performance lives up to the product on the screen, well no matter how amazing you thought it may be, it will most likely surpass those levels.  Ledger’s fearless portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime is one of the most nerve-twitching, eye-catching, depraved and darkly hilarious acting displays in recent memory.  The previous year had Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men, and even Chigurh would be a little off-put by Ledger’s Joker.  There is little doubt in my mind that come next March, Heath Ledger will be awarded a posthumous Oscar for his part in The Dark Knight (and of course he was).

I’ve tried not to get myself all excited for movies these days, as too many disappointments have dampened many of my old fanboy tendencies.  The Dark Knight was the one exception, and I have to say that it lived up to the hype.  As an old school comic book fan and as a movie czar, I can appreciate it on both levels.  Christopher Nolan could spend the rest of his career making Batman movies and I doubt that I’d ever be disappointed by them.

5 / 5

Justice League: Doom (2012)

Weird that I’m posting this on this date, as a year ago today, writer and comic book creator (well character creator, he didn’t invent comic books~) Dwayne McDuffie died due to complications from his heart surgery.  What is most celebrated about McDuffie is probably something he didn’t want to be the thing that distinguished him from others, namely that he was black.  I never knew the man, never read his comics, hell I haven’t read anything comics-related since The Blackest Night DC Comics storyline a couple years back.  Anyways, he seemed like a decent enough dude, and he finished writing this DC Comics animated feature I guess shortly before he died.

If I remember my post-Crisis, pre-52-relaunch DC Comics history correctly, there was a storyline that took place with Batman and the rest of the Justice League of America wherein the rest of the JLA was super-pissed at Bats for spying on them or something.  I don’t know all the details, Wikipedia that shit if it interests you.  Apparently this feature is loosely based off that arc, and how thanks to someone snooping in the Batcave, they stole Batman’s contingency plans to deal with an out of control JLA and altered them in a villainous manner.

Because it’s a straight-to-DVD/Blu-Ray home release, there’s not the level of detail that’s in most theatrical features.  But this movie isn’t targeted at mainstream audiences, it’s for those that like DC features and bam, they’ve got this one.  The top notch Kevin Conroy returns as Batman, Nathan Fillion is back for more Green Lantern goodness, and there’s a lot of other famous in the voice actor industry familiar names populating the cast in their usual DC Animated Universe parts.

It’s an enjoyable enough movie, though it felt a bit rushed.  You won’t like it if you have no interest in superheroes or the like, and the animation isn’t enough to recommend the film solely for.  Sentence structure failing.  It wasn’t as bad as Emerald Knights was, but it’s no Batman: Year One either.

3 / 5

Batman: Year One (2011)

Here is another in the DC Comics Animation Universe, which has contributed some great and some not-so-great straight-to-DVD animated features based on their comics.  I think the last Batman animated movie was the very uneven Batman: Gotham Knights, which had numerous characters telling their own tales of interactions with The Dark Knight.  It featured differing animation styles for each story and the effect was unique, but also jarring.  Thankfully, Batman: Year One goes with telling one tale, and it’s an almost perfect adaptation of the Frank Miller storyline depicting Batman’s first year on the job.

The animation style is just straight up gorgeous, dark, full of deep shadows and it is on a level higher than most of these animated movies that get shuttled out into movieplexes each week.  This is one movie that I will eventually purchase because I could see myself enjoying it over and over again.  It’s not just a Batman tale though, as even though it tells the origin of how Bruce Wayne / Batman (Ben McKenzie) came to be, it’s also the first year that Jim Gordon (Bryan Cranston) is in Gotham.  Also, Selina Kyle (Eliza Dushku) ditches prostitution and becomes Catwoman.  There’s a lot going on in this movie, and it is nearly seamless storytelling.  Joel Schmuacher could learn something from this movie.

It took me awhile to realise that yes, it was Walter White, Bryan Cranston from “Breaking Bad” as Jim Gordon and that is as perfect casting of Gordon as Gary Oldman is in the Christopher Nolan Batman movies.  Dushku is also perfect as Catwoman, and there are almost uniformly excellent vocal casting decisions throughout the movie.  My only quibble is that Ben McKenzie – Ryan from “The O.C.” – is Bruce Wayne / Batman.  I understand that yes, it is Batman’s first year on the job, etc. but McKenzie just doesn’t embody the menace of The Bat.

Other than that little detail, it’s flawless and if you’re a Batman fan, check it out.

4.5 / 5

Green Lantern: Emerald Knights (2011)

DC Comics has been releasing these animated straight-to-DVD movies for a few years now, and they’ve been of varying quality.  Several of them that I’ve watched were actually quite good, and some middling to average.  I’m going to put this one in the latter category.

Much like the Batman: Gotham Knights release, Emerald Knights adapts a more anthology-based approach, telling stories of several heroic Green Lanterns throughout the universe.  The best way to do this is by having Hal Jordan (voiced by Nathan Fillion) narrate the stories to a new recruit, Arisia (Elisabeth Moss).  Unlike the Gotham Knights movie, the film doesn’t alter its animation style for each tale, sticking to a decent to average animation style.  It serves the purposes of the film, but it’s mostly forgettable and a slight step up from Saturday morning cartoons.

Some of the tales are alright, but they don’t really delve too deep into anything nerdrific or awesome.  The voice acting is again, decent to middling.  Roddy Piper and Henry Rollins have parts, as well as the excellent Jason Isaacs and the previously mentioned leads.  Again, this animated feature is alright and was meant to serve as something extra to the live action Green Lantern movie, but for the most part, it is instantly forgettable.

It was nice to at least hear Nathan Fillion as Hal Jordan though.

2 / 5

Green Lantern (2011)

Being a big fan of the DC Comics Green Lantern character, I was both looking forward to and scared of a film adaptation of the character.  Years ago there were rumours of the Hal Jordan part going to Jack Black, which would have been an absolutely shitty casting decision and doomed the movie right from the start.  Other actors were rumoured as well, and even though my pick for Jordan – Nathan Fillion – wasn’t picked, I was somewhat satisfied with the decision to cast Ryan Reynolds as GL.  Having seen the movie, while I’m not 100% pleased with the characterization (mostly due to certain aspects of the script highlighting Reynolds’ smart ass strengths), I was glad that the movie didn’t suck.

A lot of critics out there will tell you that it wasn’t that great, but I think it’s probably the best Green Lantern movie any of us could have hoped for.  I’m sure there was a desire to completely pack the movie with as many Green Lantern mythology as possible, but thankfully someone pulled the reins in on that.  What that ultimately provides is a stable foundation with which to build a franchise, and hopefully that is what happens.  Other than the unnecessary and stupid end credits Sinestro (Mark Strong) sequence, the movie is an exercise in not blowing its respective load.

Like I said, Reynolds was a decent choice for Jordan, though I think Ryan Gosling might have even been a better choice for the more serious Hal Jordan character, whereas Reynolds would have been an excellent Kyle Rayner GL.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t worry, it’s just comic book nerdery.  Director Martin Campbell puts together some visually stunning sequences, and there’s a strong supporting cast of, well, perfectly cast actors in Strong, Geoffrey Rush and Michael Clarke Duncan.  Peter Sarsgaard is at his smarmy and creepy best as Hector Hammond, and Blake Lively continues to surprise me with her performances.

It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s enjoyable and entertaining, and hopefully accessible to the non-nerds out there.

3.5 / 5