Batman

Director: Tim Burton

1989

Batman“In this blockbuster movie version of Bob Kane’s classic comic, director Tim Burton reimagines eponymous superhero Batman (last seen on screen in the campy 1960s TV incarnation) as a dark and conflicted character.” (767, Joanna Berry 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) Not only am I a massive Tim Burton fan but I’m also a comic and superhero fan and my introduction to the cinematic visions of the classic superheroes (I was already a massive fan of the X-Men cartoons on TV) was through this movie so it will always hold a special place in my heart. While it was a much darker re-imaginging of the ‘Caped Crusader’, especially when held up against the camp Adam West incarnation, I’m not sure that it really holds up all that well when you take into consideration the multitude of Batman movies that have now graced the silver screen – each one seemingly getter darker and more brutal than the one before. When I watched this recently I realised that there is a much more heightened fantastical element to this version of the DC hero than in say Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy or even the more recent reboot featuring Ben Affleck in the titular role. There is a camp, almost cartoony, feel to this Batman that was not there in the same way when it first came out and for me that takes something away from it as a film.

Every aspect of this film screams Tim Burton, from the highly stylised sets and costumes to the insane parade through Gotham with enormous inflatable balloons. batmanfloat3.2817And it is very much situated in the era of its creation – namely the 1980s. Big hair, big shoulders, big songs … just everything in excess. For me Michael Keaton, as Batman, was something of a revelation as I had only really seen him in Bettlejuice (1988, Tim Burton) where he is almost unrecognisable as the manic title character. It was great to see him take on a more serious, conflicted and emotional role. Joanna Berry has got it completely right when she says, “[W]hile Burton gives his Caped Crusader depth, darkness, and even romance (in the form of Vicki), the show is almost stolen from his hero by the villain of the piece, the Joker, played with gusto by Jack Nicholson. Resplendent in purple suit and clown-like makeup, dancing to the Prince songs that pepper the soundtrack, he was surely the most enjoyably unlikable bad guy to hit the screen in a long time.” (767) Jack Nicholson was outstanding as Batman’s nemesis, The Joker. tim-burton-batmanHe’s maniacal while at the same time being anarchical. And he just roars onto the screen in his extraordinarily bright costume – an instant icon! There is a charm to him as well though – you can’t help but be drawn in to his personality. And yet for me the ultimate Joker, as I said before in my post on The Dark Knight (2006, Christopher Nolan) will always be Heath Ledger. While Jack is clearly insane there seems to be more of a sense of innocence or jokiness about his antics – yes he’s out to cause chaos but he does it in a humorous way that doesn’t involve much maliciousness or even bodily harm. The same cannot be said of Ledger’s Joker – he’s all about the hurt and really does want to see the world burn. There is a more visceral and realistic feel to Ledger’s Joker than Nicholson’s. However it cannot be denied that Nicholson did indeed pave the way for all following cinematic incarnations of arguably the most recognisable bad guy in the DC universe.

I would say that Burton’s Batman has now become one of the best films to introduce kids to the world of Batman and Gotham as it is, retrospectively, light-hearted enough not to cause any issues. It’s definitely still a great film to watch – you just have to approach it with an expectation that it now reads as rather tongue-in-cheek.

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Dangerous Liaisons

Director: Stephen Frears

1988

“Frears leads us into the boudoirs and drawing rooms of the wealthy aristocracy, each one dripping with elegance and wickedness in equal measure.” (763, Joanna Berry, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) I actually came to Dangerous Liaisons fairly late in the game – and more importantly after having seen the modernised remake that is Cruel Intentions (1999, Roger Kumble) What remained with me is how close the two films actually are. However if I was to choose one to watch it would always be Cruel Intentions. dangerous_liaisons_nbt_270Now that’s not to say that Dangerous Liaisons isn’t any good. Far from it. Dangerous Liaisons is sumptuous and rich, full on intrigue and questionable morals, coupled with absolutely gorgeous period costumes. Throw in a stellar cast and you have the perfect recipe for an enjoyable film.

“Glenn Close steals the show as the vicious and vindictive Marquise de Merteuil, whose main enjoyment in her bored, rich life is to conspire with the equally cynical Vicomte de Valmont (John Malkovich).” (763) gefaehrliche-liebschaften-dangerous-liaisons-glenn-close-john-malkovich-D1K58NThe companionship of Glenn Close and John Malkovich is only heightened and strengthened by their competitive nature. They’re continually trying to one up each other, which with their complete lack of compassion for other people just makes for an interesting narrative. Michelle Pfeiffer is the perfect mixture of naivety and backbone to avoid becoming nauseatingly simpering – something that could have too easily happened with her character. There is something about the combination of the aristocracy and their callous nature that is fascinating to watch – you don’t like these characters but you can’t help but watch their machinations with a sense of both disgust and admiration for their gall to behave in that way.

I know I mentioned it earlier and technically it isn’t in the book but I couldn’t leave a review of Dangerous Liaisons without doing a quick comparison to Cruel Intentions. I don’t know if it is because I watched Cruel Intentions first or if it is the more modern setting of the story but I can connect more with Cruel Intentions than Dangerous Liaisons. The setting is modern-day New York city although admittedly still situated within the upper classes. Gone are the lavish period costumes and the ballroom settings to be replaced with the effortless elegance than seems to be synonymous with wealth. 74OOkCoNbMb5bDg1AVXQxmGUTexThe characters are much younger allowing the narrative to be moved into the tumultuous setting of a high school. Despite some significant changes the thing that struck me is that so much of dialogue remains the same. And yet it is these significant changes that make the remake much more approachable for me as a viewer. The lavish nature of Dangerous Liaisons actually makes it much more fantastical, and therefore far more removed from my experiences. I also found the characters more forgiving and more relatable than their original counterparts. And let’s face it Ryan Philippe, Resse Witherspoon and Sarah Michelle Gellar are excellent in their roles, particularly Sarah which is such a departure from her role as Buffy the Vampire Slayer (arguably her most famous role, certainly at the time of this film!)

“A handsome look at lust, betrayal, and guilt, Dangerous Liaisons is both lavishly mounted and beautifully portrayed.” (763) As much as I enjoy Cruel Intentions I would still recommend Dangerous Liaisons as it is a stunning visual experience and the play between Glenn Close and John Malkovich is wonderful to watch. And then go watch Cruel Intentions and see how they compare.

The Purple Rose of Cairo

Director: Woody Allen

1985

“This sublime nostalgic comedy avoids the usual Allen formula of “goofy New Yorkers having trouble with relationships. Both Woody Allen and his famous neurotic monologue are absent this time […]” (716, Dana Duma, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) This would explain why I actually liked The Purple Rose of Cairo! I was a little reluctant to watch this when I realised it was by Woody Allen as in my opinion he is one of the most overblown, egotistical writer/directors in Hollywood. So you can imagine my surprise when it turned out that I actually quite enjoyed The Purple Rose of Cairo. And I think it’s precisely due to the lack of Allen’s signature moves that this film was somewhat of a delight rather than a chore.

purple-rose-of-cairoIt’s a strange little film set in Depression era America so everything is a little bit muted and washed out, a little broken, and yet there is a charm to it all. Mia Farrow’s Cecilia starts out as this quiet, almost dejected young woman, continually put down by her louse of a husband and through her love of cinema blossoms into something entirely different. You can’t help but respond to Cecilia. And she really is the focus of the film – she’s the character that develops the most.

It’s quite a kooky thing which breaks a number of the norms of cinema such as breaking the fourth wall. And then there’s the combination of colour (the ‘real world’) and black and white film (the film Cecilia falls in love with) which adds some interesting dynamics to the  aesthetics of the film. Jeff Daniels is wonderful in portraying two very different characters, both leading men (one imaginary and one the actor responsible for creating him) each with flaws that somewhat diminish through their interaction with Cecilia.

While it is a somewhat ludicrous storyline – a character walks off the screen in the middle of a film because he falls in love with a member of the audience – there is something magical about it. As a cinema lover myself you can tell that this film was created by someone who does indeed love cinema. There is a reverence to the film although Allen is not afraid to make fun of the cinematic universe with some brilliantly tongue in cheek performances but some splendid actors such as the enormously talented Edward Herrmann.

“Above all, The Purple Rose of Cairo is about love, perhaps Allen’s greatest love of all: for cinema.” (716) I would definitely suggest this to people – especially if, like me, you have found Woody Allen’s work pretentious and overwrought in the past – as this turned out to be a wonderful little film.

The Princess Bride

Director: Rob Reiner

1987

“Rob Reiner’s friendly fairy-tale adventure The Princess Bride delicately mines the irony inherent in its make-believe without ever undermining the effectiveness of the fantasy.” (739, Jonathan Rosenbaum, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

The Princess BrideNow The Princess Bride has an enormous cult following but it is one of those films (much like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, 1986, John Hughes) that I ever really understood the appeal of. I have given it a number of tries across the years and it just does not appeal to me. You would think that a fantasy film from the 1980s would be right up my street but this one really isn’t. The humor is reminiscent of the Monty Python films, which as you may know I am equally ambivalent of. It’s not the sort of humor that makes me laugh, I think it is base and juvenile and it just does not seem funny to me in the slightest.

“The colorful characters and adventures are, at their best, like live-action equivalents of Disney animated features, with lots of other fond Hollywood memories thrown in.” (739) The characters may be live-action equivalents of Disney animated features but they do not translate very well. Animation gives the directors and writers the leeway to do things that would appear completely ridiculous in a live-action movie. The Princess Bride attempts to make these larger than live characters fit in the real world but falls short in my opinion. I’m not saying that it cannot be done because it can – but it is nominally done most successfully by Disney (the most recent success that jumps to mind is Enchanted, 2007, Kevin Lima) There has to be a subtlety to the performance that results in a successful film, which seems to be severely lacking in The Princess Bride.

“Not even the crude ethnic humor [-…-] pricks the dream bubble, and the spirited cast has a field day.” (739) They certainly do go for it – overacting seems to be the watch word. While I guess the mood Reiner was going for was very much a tongue-in-cheek one but it just doesn’t wash with me. There isn’t really anything that made any sort of positive impression on me. But please by no means let my opinion colour your perception of the film – watch it for yourself and come to your own conclusion. After all that’s what makes cinema, and the arts in general, so interesting – everybody has their own opinions and one person’s masterpiece can be another person’s disaster.

Wall Street

Director: Oliver Stone

1987

“In an age of bombast, where the money men of the world’s financial sectors were the rising stars of a new form of capitalism, Oliver Stone was perfectly suited to direct a story about the rot at the core of a very big apple.” (744, Ian Hayden Smith, 1001 Movies You Must Watch Before You Die)

Wall Street 1987It took me a couple of times watching Wall Street before I could begin to form an idea of what I wanted to write – and I’m still not entirely sure what it is I have to say about it, so bear with me if this post seems a bit haphazard. Wall Street is one of those films that has an instantly recognizable quote – “Greed is Good!” – that you feel you know even if you haven’t seen it as everyone knows the basic plot etc. which is probably why I took so long to get around to watching it.

It’s not a film I particularly enjoyed but then I don’t particularly enjoy watching films with either Michael Douglas or Charlie Sheen in and Wall Street obviously  has a double whammy. And than there is the subject matter – the corruption at the heart of the financial sector, fat cats getting fatter through illicit means. Not only do I not have any reference for that world – as Hayden Smith says “It reveals little of how this world works, but feeds us enough so as not to be confused.” (744) – but as everyone knows (unless they’ve been living under a rock for the last few years) we’re kind of in the midst of a tenuous financial situation pretty much world-wide. So yeah, watching a film about bankers using illicit means to ensure they get richer without the worry of blame should it all go wrong is not really my idea of fun given the current climate.

I find almost every single character in Wall Street abhorrent! The only character I have any sort of respect for is Martin Sheen’s – as Bud Fox’s long-suffering father. I do enjoy watching the interplay between Martin and Charlie Sheen in the same fictional relationship as their real life relationship. Carl Fox is the only person in the entire film who has a modicum of decency and more importantly retains it throughout the film. Bud even has a go at him about his morals and his views and yet that is ultimately what makes Carl the most likable character and the moral compass of the film.

Everyone else in the film has serious character flaws. Bud is weak, gullible and unhappy with his lot in life – the perfect target for the very unsavory Gordon Gecko. I mean yes he does come to his senses but it does little to redeem his character and both he, and the audience, isn’t given any time to really grasp the magnitude of his actions. Darien Taylor, played by Daryl Hannah, is shallow, superficial and has, like everyone else in this film and its world, questionable morals. This is most evident when once things start going downhill for Bud she abandons him as the money is almost certainly about to run out. She’s an awful role-model to women as she perpetuates the gold-digger image!

And then we come to Gordon Gecko – the awful spider at the centre of this web of deceit and lies manipulating not only the stock market but all the people around him too. Gordon Gecko is probably Michael Douglas’ most recognizable role. He is deplorable and only sees people for how they can be of use to him. He is a master at manipulating people but particularly Bud Fox. There isn’t anything that redeems Gecko in my eyes and he gets everything he deserves. 

While watching Wall Street I kept comparing it to The Wolf of Wall Street (2013, Martin Scorsese) and I’ve come to the conclusion that I much prefer Scorsese’s portrayal of banking in the boom of the 1980s. Indeed if I had to recommend just one financial film to a friend it would be The Wolf of Wall Street over Wall Street despite the latter being seen as on the great films of the 1980s. I think that is because there is a humor and levity to The Wolf of Wall Street that is missing from Wall Street.

An American Werewolf In London

Director: John Landis

1981

“Filled with gruesome, blackly comic scenes (most memorably, the werewolf pursuit through an underground tube station, and Naughton meeting his decaying – and rather annoyed – victims in a cinema), and great performances (including ex-Railway Children [1970] star Jenny Agutter as the nurse and Brian Glover as the grumpiest of the Slaughtered Lamb‘s patrons), the movie also boasts extraordinary werewolf effects from Rick Baker” (Joanna Berry, 663, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

An American Werewolf In LondonI didn’t enjoy An American Werewolf In London – having now seen it I don’t think I would watch it again. It didn’t grab my attention enough to warrant multiple viewings on my part.

I also wouldn’t have classified it as a horror movie. Nor did I really find it that humorous although the indignation of his victims in the dirty cinema is rather amusing. The Slaughtered Lamb is a great example of one of the staples of horror films – an entire village full of crazy, almost backward, people. Their unwillingness to interact with, let alone accept, outsiders really is the catalyst for the entire narrative of An American Werewolf In London.

Jenny Agutter does give a good performance but I found it to be a much more secondary one despite being the love interest. I think she is much underused.

The narrative is pretty standard fare for a werewolf movie although Landis does throw in a zombie element. I have to admit that the zombie element did kind of bug me – why did David’s victims become the undead after his attack?

The one saving grace of An American Werewolf In London is the makeup effects. They really are masterful. Yes they are quite dated now but somehow that improves them. The ability to instantly transform someone into a monster through the magic of computer generated wizardry has lessened the pain of transformation. That is the one thing that still comes through strongly. You can’t help but feel for Naughton as he undergoes his first transformation. I found myself cringing at the breaking bones and shying away from his agonized screams. It is a striking sence and probably the only one I will take away from the film.

Brazil

Director: Terry Gilliam

1984

I am finding it really difficult to actually form a review about Brazil which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the film (all 7 times I have watched it in the last 6 months in order to try to write this post!!) I just can’t really work out how to put what I want to say into words. I think part of this stems from the fact that Kim Newman wrote a really good piece on it in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and I agree with most of his points. In fact so much so that I can’t think of a better way to put it then he does. So below are the points I connect with the most from Newman.

Brazil“Made significantly in 1984, and in parallel with the Michael Radford film of George Orwell’s eponymous novel, Brazil is set “somewhere in the twentieth century,” in an imaginary but credible oppressive state that combines the worst features of 1940s British bureaucracy, 1950s American paranoia, Stalinist or fascist totalitarianism, and the ills of the 1980s (such as an obsession with plastic surgery).” (Kim Newman, 712-713, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) So it is very much a backward looking film despite being set in the future – a common theme in dystopian narratives. The color palette reflects the dystopic nature of the film with everything being very washed out, uniform and grey with the exception of Sam’s mother, Ida, and her friends lifestyle which is the complete opposite and embraces all of the technicolor excess of the 1980s.

“Whereas Orwell’s Airstrip one is built on an impossibly and horribly effective system of state surveillance, the worst aspect of Gilliam’s invented dystopia is that it doesn’t even work. The plot is kicked off by a farcical mistake as a squashed bug falls into a printer so that an arrest warrant intended for terrorist heating engineer Tuttle (Robert De Niro) is applied to an innocent Mr Buttle (Brian Miller), and the grimly utilitarian city is falling apart even without the possibly state-sponsored terrorist bombs that periodically wreak appalling carnage.” (712-713) The cast is made up of numerous notable actors with Robert De Niro, Ian Holm, Bob Hoskins, Jim Broadbent, Michael Palin (a Monty Python alum) and Jonathan Pryce as the protagonist, Sam Lowry.

Brazil Sam Lowry Jonathan Pryce“Sam enjoys romantic flights of imagination (scored with the Latin-flavored title tune) in which he is an angelic superhero knight facing up to Gilliamesque creations […] in order to rescue a dream girl (Kim Greist), one whose waking-life doppelgänger is a truck driver intent on shaking things up to redress the wrongs done to the Buttle and his family.” (712-713) There seems to be a recurring theme in Gilliam’s work – one where a dream or a fantasy world exists side by side with reality (like in The Brothers Grimm, 2005, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, 2009, and to some extent Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, 1998) And Brazil certainly fits into that theme. The main thrust of Brazil is Sam’s increasingly frantic attempts to escape the grey drudgery of normality for the brightly colored dream world and his dream girl. Sounds simple enough although along the way these two worlds have a habit of merging resulting in the fantastical, if creepy, elements transporting themselves into the mediocre paperwork obsessed world Sam currently inhabits.

Brazil Ida Lowry Jim Broadbent“The gruesome black humor and bizarre visuals (embodied by Katherine Helmond as a surgery obsessed matron with a succession of shoe-shaped hats) exist alongside a credible – and horribly fact-based – depiction of a regime that charges its victims for the electricity and labor that goes into their own torture, as represented by the family man specialist from “Information Retrieval” (Michael Palin) and the desperate, middle-management paper-shuffler (Ian Holm).” (712-713)

Apologies for such a mediocre review but I really struggled with this one. Hopefully it won’t put any of you off watching Brazil if you haven’t seen it before because it really is a film worth watching. I would suggest going into it with an open mind and just letting the film take you where it will. It’s an unusual one but then would you expect anything less of Terry Gilliam?