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BATMAN BEGINS (2005)
CORPSE BRIDE (2005)
LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER (2001)


Batman Begins Starring:  Christian Bale, Liam Neeson, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Katie Holmes. Director: Christopher Nolan.  Screenwriters: Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer.
Batman Begins is probably the most expansive version of Batman’s origin ever put on screen.  It’s a handsomely mounted and brilliantly presented film. 

I admired it a great deal while I was watching it, and it’s a memorable ride.

So why do I remember it so coldly?

It’s hard to tell.  But I think it’s the performances.

Liam Neeson, who always strikes me as a pretty cold performer, comes off well in the film; Michael Caine, similarly, is too much the well-seasoned pro to do badly.  (Though Alfred as a working class bloke strikes me as wrong.)  Rutger Hauer and Morgan Freeman do well in smaller roles.  Gary Oldman was excellent.  And Cillan Murphy was very good too, though I kept being distracted whenever I saw him, trying to place his face.  (I’ve decided I don’t like keeping the credits until the end of the film.  It pulls me out whenever I think, Where have I seen that guy before?)

So, a hatful of good to great performances.  But you’ll notice I left a couple out.

Katie Holmes left so little impression it was hard to remember anything she did in the film.  I was talking about the movie with someone who saw it after I did, and I asked if “the girl” made any impression.  My friend said no.  At that point, even I couldn’t remember.  “She was…the plucky reporter?” I asked, and everyone agreed that was wrong, though it took awhile before we remembered what she did in the film.  We all agreed it wasn’t much.

That leaves Christian Bale.  He was good as Batman, but being a good Batman means being able to brood under the mask.  Even someone like George Clooney could manage that, so that’s not that hard.  I don’t think we’re too far off from the world’s first all-digital Batman.

No, the heart of Batman is Bruce Wayne.  Batman is, after all, just a mask.   Unlike most other superheroes, Batman was a choice, and it’s never anyone but Bruce Wayne under that mask.

So when the mask comes off, there has to be someone other than a repressed power.  You know the Flash, Green Lantern and Superman are just biding their time between super-heroics; Spider-Man and the Hulk wish they could give it all up. 

Batman is unique, in that I think he would rather give up Bruce Wayne than anything else. 

So when the mask comes off, the person there has to be more “powerful” a personality than Batman.  Batman is vengeance and rage; Bruce Wayne needs to be everything else.

Blah blah blah.  So, Christian Bale.  His problem is that he’s not really memorable as Bruce Wayne, although he tries pretty hard and it’s hard not to give him points for that.  But me giving him points doesn’t change much. 

It’s starting to become a depressing refrain, but the sequel should be far better, now that the ground rules have been laid.  Yadda yadda yadda.

I’ll tell you this, though.  The animated Batman has kicked the “real-life” Batman’s butt each and every time, in each and every way. 

So, if they DON’T get Mark Hamill to play the Joker for the sequel set up here, I doubt if I’ll go see it.

As for this one, it’s good.  I’d like to recommend it more than I apparently have, but I’m recommending it anyway.  

Have fun!



Corpse Bride a/k/a Tim Burton's Corpse Bride Starring the voices of: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Emily Watson, Richard E. Grant, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough. Directors: Tim Burton and Mike Johnson.  Screenwriters:  John August, Pamela Pettler and Caroline Thompson.
The best film I’ve seen this year is a second cousin to Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas.  As with that film, the characters are all realized through stop-motion animation (or as they are referred to in the credits, motion control). 

With any technique as slow, difficult and time-consuming as stop-motion, I imagine the temptation must be enormous to let the film simply ride on its technical achievement.  There, the damned thing’s done.  Who cares if there aren’t any characters or story?  It’s stop motion, the fans will eat it up.

(I must confess I missed Nightmare in the theatre for that very reason.  I was afraid it would be all technique.  Well, while the technique was outstanding, it was there to support a story.  Nightmare remains a personal favorite to this day.)

Many technically innovative films have fallen into this trap.  The follow up to Nightmare, James and the Giant Peach, is one such example.  Gorgeous to look at and very clever, the only things it lacked were interesting characters—anything beyond “Hey, look, it’s stop motion!”

Thankfully, that isn’t the case with Bride.  This film is imaginative, touching, funny and romantic in all the best ways, and it’s populated by a group of wonderful characters (both live and dead).  Even the characters in the smallest roles are interesting, and the main ones are complex individuals with motivation, desires, fears…the whole gamut of human and formerly-human experience.

Victor, a nervous, easily rattled young man, makes a shambles of his wedding rehearsal.  Going out into the woods to think (much as Jack Skellington did), he practices his vows, finally placing the wedding ring on what he thinks is an old tree branch.  With this simple, unconscious act, he sets the events of the film in motion. 

The characters are all first-rate, and brilliantly (if grotesquely) designed.  They’re like a combination of Charles Addams, Edward Gorey and Gahan Wilson. 

But they’re also real people as well.  Victor, his fiancé Victoria and the Corpse Bride herself are all decent, honorable people who wouldn’t hurt another person for the world.   The way their lives intersect is very cleverly set up and just as cleverly resolved.   The Bride herself is gorgeous, both in spirit and, remarkably, appearance.  She has a beautiful face that even the holes worn through it can’t dim.  Shortly after she first appears, she’s so completely happy that her emotion washes over one.  Well, it did over me, anyway.  Of course, all three of our leads want to be happy, but they all face heartbreak, but all three would never threaten the happiness of another, so…it all gets a bit complicated.

I really hate to say any more.  Except to note that the film’s villain (you’ll spot him right away, don’t worry) looks a lot like Mr. Incredible for some reason.  (A pretty mean-faced Mr. Incredible.)

This is a film that really needs to be experienced on its own, with no preconceptions, and just enjoyed from the first frame to the last.  The scenes in the “normal” world are monochromatic, with huge, empty buildings everywhere, and a pervasive feeling of coldness that isn’t just coming from the snow.  Underground, on the other hand, everything is lively and colorful, and the people down there are having a great time.  No doubt this is meant as some kind of statement, probably regarding social mores and class differences that are rigidly clung to on the surface but are entirely lacking underground, but it’s certainly not blatant and I may be completely wrong.  Perhaps Tim Burton just likes contrasting color schemes. 

Danny Elfman provides the score and the songs, as he did with Nightmare, and there are far fewer songs this time around (I think there were four all together).  I found them less memorable than those in Nightmare, but then, they probably just need time to grow on me.

Some movies are just images on the screen.  Others tell a story of people confronting themselves and their world.  Still others, very rare, are complete portrayals of whole new worlds, complete and compelling, where the possibilities are endless and everything is a new discovery.   Corpse Bride definitely falls into this last category.

See it.  Today.  Highly recommended.



Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
Starring: Angelina Jolie, other people, special effects. Director: Simon West.  Transitions between action scenes:   Patrick Massett, Johm Zinman.
Remember The Fifth Element?  If you haven’t seen it, I recommend it, it’s a fun look at a future world with great action sequences and cool characters and, remarkably, a story to go with all the stuff happening. 

If you took out the story, and the cool characters, and the reason for anything happening…in other words, if you took out everything but the action sequences, you’d end up with Lara Croft, Tomb Raider.

Honestly, this is the silliest movie I think I’ve ever seen.   The silliness climaxes when Lara Croft has a bungee ballet while Bach plays on the stereo.  Then bad guys attack, and the fact that she’s still bungeeing about is to her advantage.

There’s still a lot of movie to go through after that, but it’s pretty much the same stuff. 

To be fair, the action sequences are great, intricate and kinetic.  To be fair, as well, the film drags when the scenes are just dialogue or plot. 

I mean, there’s not really a story.  Oh sure, there’s some device that can destroy the world, so there's a quest, and Lara Croft misses her dad, and some past lover has either betrayed her or not, and all kind of whatever-ness. 

When Lara Croft kicks assembled butts (human or not) then the film comes to life.  Otherwise, it’s pretty tiresome.  There’s a lot of posturing and “moments” when characters confront one another.  Oh, there is a way cool robot at the beginning.  That robot was great.

On a side note, shortly before this film was released, a co-worker read some article which proclaimed that this film was going to usher in a new era of films, when little girls had a new action star that they could look up to, and aspire toward. 

That didn’t happen, did it.  One suspects, had the film a bit more substance to it, it might have.  But everyone took the easy way out.

My recommendation?  Well, it’s fun if you don’t attach any seriousness to it. 

Take that as you will!