My weekly movie reviews. You can also read these on letterboxd.
The Batman (2022)
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Stars
Am I the only viewer who felt as if the latest Batman played more like a limited series than a major motion picture? What I mean is the pacing, the structure, and of course the length seem reflective of the popularity of series in our culture versus the blockbusters of old. I was literally cutting it into 30-45 minute episodes as I watched because, though filled with expensive and sometimes impressive production value, the movie does not feel grand at all and that might be my ultimate criticism of The Batman.
It’s uneventful. It didn’t “wow” me in any single moment. I was never astonished or impressed. It’s entertaining enough to have kept me engaged for it’s super indulgent runtime but that’s not much to be said for this kind of movie. Though the size of the film hints to a spectacle, it feels more fitting for the small screen where the filmmakers could explore Batman’s investigations and that leads to my second complaint.
They attempt to make the caped crusader more of a detective here, an idea I’m quite fond of. Another reviewer said it best (paraphrasing): he isn’t very good at detecting. Whereas attention was clearly paid to cinematography and set design creating a Gotham City that feels closer to Blade Runner than other adaptations, it doesn’t seem like much effort was given to the story. The mystery plot is thin at best and as that wise viewer pointed out, Batman doesn’t come off as very sharp. Watch some Sherlock Holmes or Hercules Poirot for god’s sake. Or take a page from Sam Spade and Marlowe if you really want to explore the detective angle. Again, I like the concept but the execution is poor.
I also don’t understand the casting. Why use Colin Farrell if you’re just going to cover him in makeup? He’s not that good of a character actor to justify making him unrecognizable. Why not just cast a great character actor of that type? And why hire a skilled performer like Paul Dano if you’re going to keep him masked for most of the movie? The best scene, and by best I mean the truly only good scene, in the movie is the interrogation between Batman and Riddler once he is finally unmasked. You just have to watch for two hours or more to get there… Casting is perverse these days. Long gone are the old studio bosses who really understood type, who was a leading man/woman, which character actors fit which parts, and used them to maximum effect. Now it’s misguided and pretentious.
My final gripe with this movie is that it just wasn’t fun for me. Not only does it fail to be “edge-of-your-seat” but it’s also humorless. The whole time I kept thinking of how good the Tim Burton/Michael Keaton film was. The perfect Batman adaptation? No, but it got the darkness, the craziness of the villains, and made it all a good time at the movies. I think these filmmakers and many others have lost sight of that concept too.
P.S. I am curious to go back and watch the animated film Mask of the Phantasm, which some say is still the best Batman movie. I loved it as a kid and I’m curious to see if it holds up.
Watched on HBO Max.
Thieves of the Wood (2020)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
I’m not much of a series watcher, even of the limited variety, but this period piece from Belgium about their own Robin Hood-like folk legend Jan de Lichte caught my interest. Stories about Robin Hood and similar outlaws have interested me since I was a child. I’d never heard of Jan but the film got me reading about this fascinating historical figure and I plan to eventually explore the source material this series was based on. No doubt this portrayal is highly fictitious but if nothing else, it alerted me to part of history I wasn’t aware of.
What I enjoyed most about the show was the harsh reality of the setting and lifestyle. It’s dirty, it’s raw. We see some details that are usually glossed over in similar period films, such as how the whores and their clients stay “clean”. I love the atmosphere created by the filmmakers and found that attention to world-building the most enjoyable part of this watching experience.
In addition, I think Matteo Simoni should be an international star. His quiet charisma and natural grit makes him the perfect leading man here and I have no doubt his career could and should flourish. Tom Van Dyck, as his complex lawman adversary, is also quite good and I hope to see more of both of them in the coming years.
Watched on Netflix
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
For the first half of this “extreme” French horror film I found myself asking, “What’s the big deal? Why did this film cause so much controversy and walk-outs in Cannes when it premiered?” Beyond the brutal shootings, that first 45 minutes isn’t very successful in my opinion. It feels repetitive and the whole monster in the mind concept is one I’ve seen too many times to find compelling.
Then the film changes midway and becomes something else altogether, something still brutal but brilliant as well. I won’t spoil where it goes but the last half of Martyrs is incredibly disturbing, thought-provoking, and a showcase for the master craft of the filmmakers. I wish this section had dominated the film’s length and the philosophy behind the torture had been explored further. Still, the film really shows how humans could intellectually reach the level of barbarism we’ve seen in history’s most horrific moments.
Watched on Shudder.
The Driller Killer (1979)
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
This messy early attempt from Abel Ferrara does have a few memorable moments. They all come in the second half, which is where the movie should really begin, after an aimless and ineffective first hour. The best is when Ferrara grotesquely devours half a pizza, a moment worth watching the entire film for.
I suspect that the young director learned from this experience not to cast himself in the lead part, just as I did after one of my early features, because as far as I know he never did it again. As mentioned before, the movie staggers through scene after scene until it finally gets going when the killing begins. From then on it has selective scenes that work quite well including an ending that I’m still thinking about. However, overall this is a disjointed film that neither succeeds to be a gritty thriller like Taxi Driver, a biting satire of the art world like Bucket of Blood, or a fun portrait of New York punk culture like Smithereens.
Watched on Tubi.
Visions of Light (1992)
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
When I watch a documentary about film or filmmakers, I’m looking for new information or at least a fascinating behind the scenes story I hadn’t heard before. Overview docs about cinema just don’t do much for me. That being said, Visions of Light would be fantastic viewing for anyone just getting into film or for someone who hasn’t explored film history in depth. You’ll really understand the craft more and probably end up with a long list of new movies to check out.
I will say that the one part I enjoyed most about Visions of Light was being able to put a face to the name for so many cinematographers I’ve liked over the years. It was nice to see and hear them.
Watched on rarefilmm.com