Film Review: Batman Returns (1992)

Release Date: June 16th, 1992 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Daniel Waters, Sam Hamm
Based on: Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Michael Murphy, Vincent Schiavelli, Andrew Bryniarski, Cristi Conaway, Paul Reubens

Warner Bros., 126 Minutes

Review:

“My dear penguins, we stand on a great threshold! It’s okay to be scared; many of you won’t be coming back. Thanks to Batman, the time has come to punish all God’s children! First, second, third and fourth born! Why be biased? Male and female! Hell, the sexes are equal with their erogenous zones blown sky high! Forward march! The liberation of Gotham has begun!” – The Penguin

When I was a kid, other than Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Back to the Future, Part II, this was my most anticipated sequel. This was also the second and final time that Michael Keaton would play Batman, as well as being Tim Burton’s last Batman picture.

While I don’t quite love this chapter in the film series as much as the original, it is still really damn good and certainly better than the two Joel Schumacher films that followed.

We lose Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl and Jack Palance but we gain Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, as well as small parts by Vincent Schiavelli and Paul Reubens. Plus, Michael Gough and Pat Hingle return to accompany Keaton.

The two top billed villains in this story are the Penguin and Catwoman, although when you really analyze the picture, Walken’s Max Shrek is the true villain and his name was an obvious homage to Nosferatu actor Max Schreck. By story’s end, Catwoman is more of an antihero like she would become in the comics.

Danny DeVito was probably a perfect choice for the Penguin back in 1992. He had star power, charisma and definitely a similar body type. However, in this adaptation of the Batman mythos, he is reinvented to be more grotesque and much larger in girth. While he comes from wealth and opulence, this version of the character was rejected as an infant and went to live out his life in the Gotham City sewers where his only friends were sewer penguins and eventually the circus themed gang that he controls.

Catwoman also has a different origin. Here, she is a pushover secretary who gets in over her head and is shoved out of a high rise window, presumably to her death. There is a sort of mystical moment where alley cats swarm her body and she is magically reborn with cat-like reflexes and confidence. It’s pretty silly but Tim Burton made this film more like a dark fairy tale than his previous Batman movie.

Even though Gotham City is a massive place, the sets and design of this film make it feel pretty confined, even when we are in what are assumed to be wide open spaces. Maybe it was designed this way, intentionally. But the film feels smaller than the previous Batman movie, even though it cost a lot more to make: $80 million, as opposed to the $35 million budget of the first chapter.

Still, the cinematography is pretty good and the world looks much more like a Tim Burton world than the first film, which had tighter controls on it from the studio. It was the Burton elements though that I feel bogged this picture down a bit. Plus, the film was considered less family friendly and caused the studio to make drastic changes to the franchise after Burton was booted before the next picture. Granted, the followup movies were pretty horrendous.

This is a pretty good Batman picture, even if it does take some tremendous liberties in altering the source material. The right kind of spirit was there and this really just sort of exists in its own Tim Burton universe. That’s not a bad thing and if it wasn’t for the Burton Batman movies, we would have never gotten the near perfect masterpiece that was Batman: The Animated Series.

Film Review: Batman (1989)

Release Date: June 19th, 1989 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Sam Hamm, Warren Skaaren
Based on: Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger
Music by: Danny Elfman, Prince
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance, Tracey Walter

Guber-Peters Company, Warner Bros., 126 Minutes

Review:

“You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?” – The Joker

Sure, there are several movies that had a major impact on me, as a young kid. However, none of them, except maybe Star Wars, quite hit me like 1989’s Batman. This was the cinematic event of my childhood that probably shaped my life for quite some time and is responsible for me still being a massive Batman fan today.

After seeing this, I got into comic books a lot more, started drawing my own and even had a comic publishing company in middle school with some friends. And to this day, Batman is still my favorite hero and he also has the coolest villains, hands down.

I was so excited to see this, being that I was ten years-old. I bought the novelization when it went on sale and read it in a day. Then I read it a few more times before the film actually came out. Was I worried about spoilers? Nope. Seeing it come to life in the flesh was all I really cared about, even if I knew the story, inside and out.

All these years later, this is still my favorite Batman film and Michael Keaton is still my favorite Batman. Adam West is a very close second though, as I discovered him and the ’60s show alongside this film.

As a ten year-old, I had never seen anything as perfect as this. When it came out on VHS, my cousins and I watched it three or four times in a row, until we passed out from exhaustion. The next day, we probably watched it another half dozen times. This was the cherry on top of the summer of 1989, which is still one of the best summer movie seasons of all-time.

Watching it in 2018, I still absolutely love this film. Sure, I see some of the minor flaws it has, like a sometimes nonsensical plot and weird developments that don’t make a lot of sense when you think about it. But this is a comic book come to life and for the time, it was some top quality stuff and it has aged really well.

The film sort of has a film-noir and a German Expressionist style. Gotham City looks timeless because of the film’s style and that style helps to keep this grounded in its own reality. While some things are over the top, it feels much more plausible than most of the comic book films today. Batman and the Joker could both exist in some way because no one here has super powers. This is really a crime thriller where the hero of the story just has a lot of money for cool gadgets and a sweet jet.

Over the years, some people have complained that Jack Nicholson’s version of the Joker is corny or just a retread of the ’60s Cesar Romero incarnation. I think Nicholson was fantastic and it is one of my favorite roles he has ever played, right alongside Jack Torrance (The Shiningand Jake Gittes (Chinatown and The Two Jakes). Maybe Nicholson didn’t look like the perfect comic book version of the character but he made up for it in his madness and his ability to come off as convincing, scary and cool.

Michael Keaton is my Batman simply because he was my first and well, he is the perfect balance of Batman and Bruce Wayne. His Wayne wasn’t the best but it was acceptable while his Batman was exceptional. In later years, we got Val Kilmer, who I thought was too dry, and George Clooney, who did a great Wayne but a not so good Batman. Christian Bale was grunty and just sort of there and Ben Affleck hasn’t really wowed me, although he hasn’t disappointed either.

1989’s Batman is still a perfect storm, as far as I’m concerned. Within the context of what it is, a living comic book, there isn’t a whole lot that one could nitpick about. Then again, some writers and critics over the years have tried to call the film out for not being as good as it is remembered. But some people on the Internet survive by posting clickbait articles and whining. Some people just think they need to show how cool they are by trashing something they will never be as cool as.

While I would also go on to love the direct sequel to this, Batman Returns, this chapter in the Tim Burton Batman duology is the best. While I am a fan of directors being able to convey their vision and Burton had more control with the sequel, I like how this one turned out compared to its followup. It’s more of a studio movie, sure, but it has just enough of that Burton touch to make it fairly unique. Plus, the score by Danny Elfman mixed with the sweet tunes of Prince created one of the most iconic soundtracks of all-time.

Batman has a few problems but they pale in comparison to a lot of the blockbusters today. The film didn’t try to be too big, which is what every contemporary blockbuster does. It also has a dark edge to it, coming out of a decade where Reaganomics and new wave music had most people acting cheery and cheesy. This was a precursor to the edgier ’90s where darker indie films and grunge music became the pop culture of the time.

Film Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Release Date: June 28th, 2017 (TCL Chinese Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Jon Watts
Written by: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers
Based on: Spider-Man by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Tyne Daly, Marisa Tomei, Robert Downey Jr., Tony Revolori, Bokeem Woodbine, Logan Marshall-Green, Martin Starr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Chris Evans, Paul Rudd, Jennifer Connelly, Hannibal Buress, Kenneth Choi, Selenis Leyva

Columbia Pictures, Marvel Studios, Pascal Pictures, Sony Pictures, 133 Minutes

Review:

“You need to stop carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders.” – Aunt May

For lack of a better word, Spider-Man: Homecoming was amazing.

While it isn’t a perfect film, it is the best that any of the Avengers related properties have produced in awhile, minus the Guardians of the Galaxy movies.

Finally, we get a Spider-Man that looks and feels the appropriate age. Tom Holland was magnificent and a perfect choice to play Peter Parker and thus, Spider-Man. Tom Holland brought something special to the role and he was the first actor to truly feel like the Spider-Man of the comic books.

Bringing Spider-Man into the bigger universe that has already been established by Marvel was long overdue and thankfully, the famous webslinger fits right in. The chemistry between the young Holland and veteran Robert Downey Jr. was uncanny. I hope we get to see them come together more often in the future, even if Downey Jr. feels like his time as Iron Man is winding down. Ultimately, even if Avengers: Infinity War fails to deliver like its two predecessors, at least these guys will make it fun. Assuming they aren’t an afterthought with all the heroes that are getting squeezed into that picture.

Michael Keaton stole the picture, though. He played the villainous Vulture but only went by his real name: Adrian Toomes. It was cool seeing him play the bad guy and it was a stark contrast to him being the hero in the Tim Burton Batman films from 1989 and 1992. He was chilling and bad ass and was the best on-screen villain for Spidey since Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin back in 2002. Keaton may have surpassed Dafoe overall but Dafoe was just pure intensity and a maniac, which worked really well for his character, fifteen years ago.

We also get other appearances by other Marvel characters. Jon Favreau returns as Happy Hogan, in his first appearance since the solo Iron Man films. Gwyneth Paltrow also makes an appearance as Pepper Potts. We even see Chris Evans in some really funny cameos as Captain America.

The film also gives a few small roles to some of my favorite people from television. Silicon ValleyParty Down and Freaks & Geeks‘ Martin Starr plays a teacher. Other teachers are played by Kenneth Choi from Last Man On Earth, Selenis Leyva from Orange Is The New Black and Hannibal Buress.

The plot of the film benefits from not being an origin story. Spider-Man already exists with his powers and how he got them is just casually mentioned and then the movie moves on. Everyone already knows the story, just like any future Batman films don’t need to show Bruce’s parents being murdered.

The movie is about Peter Parker becoming a hero. Not just a masked vigilante but truly learning and understanding what it takes to be a real Avenger. There is friction and tough love from his mentor Tony Stark and for good reason. This picture is really Spider-Man’s training wheels. It is his first big test to see if he has what it takes to stand alongside Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Thor, Hulk and the others.

Everyone in the film did well with their roles. The story was entertaining and there was a good balance between action and the coming of age drama that fans can expect from a Spider-Man story. It doesn’t get bogged down in the romance side of things and Parker isn’t chasing either Gwen Stacy or Mary Jane in this version.

There is a good twist in regards to his romantic relationship in the film but that relationship is just used to add a bit more weight to the bigger story and the emotional and heroic development of our beloved main character.

Spider-Man: Homecoming may fall a bit short for some when compared to the first two Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies but I think it stands above them. It is more genuine and closer to the roots of the comic series, especially the old school stories. Plus, seeing him enter into a larger universe opens a lot of doors for what’s next for the spectacular wall crawler.

Also, comic book fans will probably be happy to see cameos from villains the Shocker, Scorpion and the antihero Prowler.

Film Review: Birdman (2014)

Release Date: August 27th, 2014 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Written by: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr., Armando Bo
Music by: Antonio Sánchez
Cast: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts

Regency Enterprises, New Regency Pictures, M Productions, Le Grisbi Productions, TSG Entertainment, Worldview Entertainment, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 119 Minutes

birdmanReview:

Alejandro G. Iñárritu seems to be making the sort of films that the big wigs in Hollywood seem to love. Michael Keaton seems to be having a real career resurgence over the last few years. So seeing the two collaborate is really interesting. Throw in an all-star cast on top of Keaton and you might find yourself with something truly special, at least on paper.

Birdman is a fairly refreshing film. It has some very unique elements to it but it doesn’t necessarily tread new or daring territory. It is a movie that I’m on the fence with.

Let me talk about the positives, many of which should be quite obvious, even without seeing the film.

To start, the acting is incredible. This is one of the best performances of Michael Keaton’s career. He truly shines and really lets loose. He also looks like he is intimately enjoying his craft.

Zach Galifianakis is a guy I’ve never been a fan of. However, he shows that he has what it takes to reach the next level and I enjoyed him in Birdman. Edward Norton gives one of the best performances of his career. Granted, he is always great in just about every role but this is up there with his part in Fight Club for me. Emma Stone, as good as she is, has never been better. Naomi Watts was also solid but didn’t have a lot of screen time, which is also how it went for Amy Ryan and Andrea Riseborough. These three women were stellar but needed more time to shine. Riseborough especially won me over.

The direction was very good and Iñárritu got the most out of his cast. The cinematography was phenomenal; the color palate and the lighting were stunning. The score to the film was perfect, as the jazz drummer flawlessly built up the right kind of tension and mood from scene-to-scene.

Now as far as the plot goes, there wasn’t much there to captivate me. Sure, Keaton’s Riggan is a good character with a lot of complexity but I’ve seen this story before. It is about an old actor, past the prime of his career, trying to hold on to his fame and asking himself, constantly, what the meaning of everything is. It is a midlife crisis playing out on film from a self-absorbed, sometimes douchebaggy man, that seems more like a spoiled child that can’t handle it when reality starts to set in. Therefore, he creates a fantasy world in his head, which sometimes teases that it might be real but never is. In fact, the teases get kind of annoying, as the overall story is more interesting than these little psychotic flourishes throughout the picture.

People often times question the film’s ending, asking if he actually did have these special powers or if there was some hidden meaning. The final scene sees his daughter look to the sky and smile, supposedly confirming that her father can fly like Birdman, the famous superhero he played twenty years prior. Throughout the film, you see people react to Riggan’s use of his powers in his fantasies. Why would the ending be any different? I think it is to signify that Riggan is still slightly mad, as opposed to it proving that he isn’t actually crazy and that he truly has superpowers. In fact, I feel like that was absolutely obvious but people want to read too much into things and have debates for the sake of debating. I don’t see it as an ambiguous ending at all. But it’s good for the filmmakers, as people will discuss it for years to come.

I did enjoy the film, despite the things that just didn’t grab me. It is certainly a showcase of great acting, directing, the use of music in film and cinematography. It is the type of film that a film lover loves. However, from a writer’s standpoint, it just feels very thin and not as unique as it tries to be. So many other films have walked the line between the real and surreal and done it much more effectively. Look at Terry Gilliam’s work for example.

It is also hard to not see the similarity between Birdman, the fantasy character, and the bird wings sprouting from the back of Jonathan Pryce’s character, in the midst of his fantasies in Gilliam’s Brazil.

Film Review: The Founder (2016)

Release Date: December 7th, 2016 (Arclight Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: John Lee Hancock
Written by: Robert D. Siegel
Music by: Carter Burwell
Cast: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Linda Cardellini, Patrick Wilson, B.J. Novak, Laura Dern

FilmNation Entertainment, The Combine, Faliro House Productions S.A., The Weinstein Company, 115 Minutes

the_founderReview:

I finally got around to seeing The Founder. I had heard nothing but good things about it. Also, I have been a Michael Keaton fan for a long time and would like to see him eventually win an Academy Award. Unfortunately, he wasn’t nominated for this picture, which got a lot of people upset. So that added more incentive for me to check out his performance in this picture.

Having now seen it, I can say that Michael Keaton really knocks it out of the park in this film. This is up there with his performance in Birdman as one of the best of his career. But it doesn’t stop with Keaton though.

Nick Offerman gives the performance of his career and it was really nice seeing him get such a prominent role that wasn’t just comedy. He was stellar as the legendary Ron Swanson on Parks & Recreation but his role here, as one of the McDonald brothers, is truly the highlight of his already great career.

The other McDonald brother was played by John Carroll Lynch, a guy who can do just about anything. From being one of the best one episode characters ever on The Walking Dead to a psychotic serial killer clown on American Horror Story to a really lovable and gentle guy in The Founder, Lynch proves that he is one of the best and most versatile actors today. Frankly, he should be better known than he is.

Linda Cardellini, Laura Dern, Patrick Wilson and B.J. Novak round out the cast and they all give their characters a bit of gravitas. The picture was well cast and well acted all around.

The story of Ray Kroc and how he “founded” McDonald’s has been fairly known for quite some time but seeing it play out so dramatically on the big screen, is a treat. I think some people may have dismissed this as two-hour McDonald’s propaganda. It isn’t. That was already tried and it ultimately failed in 1988 with Mac & MeThe Founder can almost be seen as anti-McDonald’s in certain respects, not that it is trying to give the corporation a bad name, it is just trying to convey the story of its creation in an honest way. But ultimately, one has to feel bad for how the McDonald brothers were played by Ray Kroc.

The Founder is compelling. It is a truly American story about the rise of one of America’s biggest corporations in the most American way possible, whether that’s seen as good or bad. It had a good pace and featured solid direction and great acting from all those who appeared in the film.

I wouldn’t consider it a Picture of the Year candidate but the performances by some of the cast should probably have been looked at more carefully, especially Keaton, Offerman and Lynch.