Batman & Robin (1997): Bad Puns, Writing, Acting and an all Around Disaster

Batman and Robin

    “Batman & Robin” is the worst movie I have ever watched. Rarely have I ever seen something that had no redeemable aspects to it, as even Michael Bay films have explosions and action when you can actually see the action happening. This…the actors, script, score and characters are all awful. I usually try to look for something positive to say about a film as some bad things have some redeemable traits in the end, this was film where I couldn’t find any. I’m honestly surprised this film didn’t kill more film careers…at the very least Schumacher should have realized that he can’t direct. This film is a travesty.

    The film was directed by Joel Schumacher, written by Akiva Goldsman and produced by Peter MacGregor-Scott.

    The story, if it can be called that…involves Batman (George Clooney) and Robin (Chris O’Donnell) working to stop Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and the new villain Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman) from destroying Gotham. Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone) arrives in town as well when Alfred falls ill (Michael Gough).

  There is nothing good to say about this film so I won’t even bother listing Pros and Okays, this film sucks all the way through.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack doesn’t know if it wants to be Burton or Adam West’s “Batman” score. It’s chaotic and unfocused and doesn’t do anything to present our characters and scenes and just blends together in a score of awfulness. Elliot Goldenthal did a horrible job.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is awful…we get close ups of people’s faces and other times we have shots that are just bland and boring. There is no character in any of the scenes and it brings the entire thing down further.

The Writing – Akiva Goldman is an awful writer…maybe this film was just a fluke, but it is a pretty horrendous fluke. None of the characters have clear motivation, the drama is contrived ranging from love venom to contrived family drama…nothing works, it sucks.

The Characters – Related to the writing, the characters are nothing like their comic counterparts…and I would have settled for corny Adam West versions of these characters as that could have worked if that was the story we were given. Instead our characters kill and are supposed to be intense and cool, and just come off looking silly…from the designs of the suits, to the dialogue…nothing works about them.

Bane – Bane is a skinny prisoner who is pumped full of venom to become a big guy. He can just repeat words and is just muscle. There is nothing good about this character and he is easily defeated by the tube on the back of his head getting pulled out. What a waste of a fascinating character from the comics. This one is just muscle and could have been replaced by any goon.

Alfred – Alfred is dying, and I wish I cared but we never see our characters deal with him dying. He looks pained at times but Schumacher can’t give it the weight it deserves so it just becomes a footnote in the script as Alfred is relegated to just another body at Wayne Manor. Also they save him thanks to Mr. Freeze so what drama was there in dealing with mortality just goes away. Poor Michael Gough for being in this…

Barbara Wilson / Batgirl – Batgirl like Robin is presented as a rebel and badass but just comes off as stupid. The way she speaks makes her sound like an airhead and she doesn’t really help her case when random goons she is racing trick her and Robin leading to them almost getting killed. Making her Alfred’ niece was just contrived too. We learn nothing about this character and she contributes nothing to the picture.

Dick Grayson / Robin – Chris O’Donnell, you are an awful Robin. Your character was annoying in “Batman Forever” and here you are even worse. In this his punk tendencies and clashing with Batman are played up as he “loves” Poison Ivy. Seriously, this guy a joke of a character. Everything he does nearly leads to him getting killed and he just ends up getting captured or hurt. Screw this character.

Bruce Wayne / Batman – George Clooney is the worst Batman. His dialogue feels stilted and unnatural, he doesn’t feel disconnected like Bruce Wayne should and the only defining trait he has is that he is protective of Robin. His suit is also awful too as it has nipples and a cod piece. Clooney looks the part but he can’t act it at all, and he’s a great actor and this crappy script ruined him too.

Dr. Pamela Isley / Poison Ivy – Uma Thurman is a good actress but she is awful in this. Her character is a walking sex object and she has no character but a strange crush on Mr. Freeze and wanting to kill humanity. Her motivations are never fully explored and she’s all the worst aspects of what Hollywood does to their female villains. She only fights using sex and she is the only villain who gets punished in the end. Seriously, this script and this presentation of her character are awful. Poison Ivy is an interesting character (like Bane) but this script clearly didn’t know how to write her at all.

Mr. Freeze – Arnold makes bad puns, he loves his wife who is frozen but it’s unbelievable because his performance feels completely phoned in. It doesn’t help that he changes immediate at the end after learning about Poison Ivy’s betrayal…the tragedy of Mr. Freeze is one of the best stories to come out of animation and the comics but all of that is turned to crap as Mr. Feeze is just a gigantic buffoon whose plans change on a whim and is easily manipulated by clearly untrustworthy people (Poison Ivy). Also his costume looks awful and his goons fight with hockey sticks…really. Screw this movie for ruining another great character who may never see good live action film because of the film.

The Jokes – This film has so many bad puns, and they are one liners. It is just awful as there is no charm to any of it and all the puns feel forced. I am huge fan of puns as anyone who knows me can attest, but it is possible to do them wrong and this movie is a shining example.

The Ending – The power of friendship beats the baddies and Freeze implies he’s going to torture or do worse to Poison Ivy, you know a kids movie.

     How could so many things go wrong? Shumacher’s “Batman Forever” was at least mediocre, this doesn’t even strive for that. I can see why Tim Burton didn’t want to produce this crap and feel bad for everyone connected to this film. The acting, writing, filming and soundtrack are all just awful and there is nothing redeemable in this. The film even tries to kill Alfred but we care so little about the characters around him it doesn’t matter. Even with that, they just bring him back to life. This is a movie that could have done camp well, instead it didn’t know what it wanted to be and became an atrocity of a picture. This is a film that is only worth watching to take down as all the things not to do in film making are on display here. Seriously, Schumacher showed just how bad of a director he could be in this and Akiva Goldsman’s script is just a travesty. Let this film be a cautionary tale that it doesn’t matter how great your characters are in the comics (all the characters in this film) they can still be ruined on screen if their stories are put into the wrong hands.

Final Score: 0 / 10. Worst film I’ve ever watched.

Hail, Caesar! (2016): A Satire and Celebration of Hollywood’s Past

Hail-Caesar-poster_1200_1752_81_s

     The Coen Brothers continue to make gold. This film is a really good satire that isn’t as great as some of their older films, but still would easily make my Top 10 Films of the Year (whether it’d make Top 5 remains to be seen). This is a film that captures the Coen Brothers’ humor, western feel and detachment that makes up so many of their films. It also does a great job illustrating the craft of making a film and all the art and messyness that goes into it as it explores it through the lens of Hollywood’s “Golden Era” during the 1950s.

    The film was written, directed and produced by Joel and Ethan Coen with the other producers being Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner.

SPOILERS ahead

      The story involves Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) the head of Production at Capitol Pictures and the drama of the life he lives as his star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) of “Hail, Caesar” is kidnapped, the pregnancy of one of his star actresses DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) and two rival gossip column sisters Thora and Thessely (Tilda Swinton) which puts the choice Lockheed Martin is offering him as an out into perspective as he must make a choice to take the offer or stay with Capitol.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful as old style ways of filming are captured…whether it is the epic open shots of the Roman Epic “Hail, Caesar” or the small black and white of the comedy western Doyle is in, or the stark, sterile large rooms of a Laurence production. Roger Deakins truly does a fantastic job.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is amazing too. Just like with the cinematography all the different styles of 1950’s films are captured. From the epic trumpets of “Hail, Caesar” or the more action adventure of Doyle’s western. Carter Burwell did a great job once again.

The Writing – The Coen Brothers are great writers and though there is a narrator we never see narrating the life of Mannix, it never interferes with the story going on. We are shown and not told most of what happens and that is part of what makes the brothers so great at what they do, as the script is usually the strongest part of their films.

The Characters – The Characters are easily the strongest part of the film. This film was really well cast and each of the side characters has their moment to shine at different points.

Laurence Laurentz – Ralph Fiennes is wonderful as an uptight director doing Victorian style films who has to use Doyle, a cowboy with a very strong accent as the star of his show. Over the course of his scenes you see him slowly lose control of his calm nature and finally explode at Mannix before keeping Doyle to only two lines to make the film work. He really is a fun character.

Thora and Thessely – These two (both played by Swinton) are a lot of fun as they reveal the underbelly of everything and the drama. They have a relationship with Mannix too in that he does throw them bones to keep scandals from getting out of hand. I wish we could have seen what got them into the circuit as they are both extremely driven.

Baird Whitlock – George Clooney plays the naive star who gets kidnapped by a communist cell of writers and comes around to their way of thinking. He’s an example of the pseudo-intellectual (like many cell) except he’s largely an idiot and you get the idea he’s doing what he’s doing for the attention as him going on benders and getting into trouble is a huge part of his character. He gets his act back together though after Doyle rescues him and Mannix knocks some sense to him as we see that all he really wants is to be a star (and the attention that comes with it).

Hobie Doyle – Alden plays Doyle who was a rodeo guy who was picked up by Mannix and when he got the chance to sing became the star of westerns. He’s a kind and naive guy like Baird but also serious about his work. He doesn’t make it out of being in the westerns and he likes it that way as it gives him a chance to celebrate the western background he comes from. He’s the hero of the picture besides Mannix as he is the one who finds Whitlock and brings him back to the studio.

Joseph Silverman – Jonah Hill is awesome as the no-nonsence fixer who is a legal person so that Moran can get legal control over her child. They end up falling in love though as she’s tough and he fits what she wants in a man as they get married and leave the child behind and send it into foster care.

DeeAnna Moran – Johansson is awesome in this role and I wish we’d spent more time with her. She doesn’t care about anyone but herself and is a huge diva but in the end finds love with the most un-person person, showing that there is more to her too, though she is still extremely selfish and the character we’ve known all along as she has her child go into foster care rather than raising it. I wish we could have got more of her backstory. She steals every scene she’s in.

Eddie Mannix – Josh Brolin plays are main guy who is a rough manager facing a choice of stability with Lockheed or the chaos of the studios and making pictures. In the end he stays as he loves the challenge of it and feels he is main for it as he is made to be the Christ Figure as he is born in light (Film) and will live forever because of it. He is a smooth operator and is able to fix everything, which in the end we learn is why he likes to do it so much. It’s difficult but he’s good at it.

The Satire of Hollywood – The satire is in layers, whether it is the sisters focusing on stupid actor pairings and hookups, the communist cell intellectuals are aren’t changing anything and just hanging out in a vacationesque home and how every film we see captures the hammyness of those early productions where everything was big and overdramatic.

The Celebration of Hollywood – The very things that are being satired are celebrated too as the humanity of characters is shown. “Hail, Caesar” is a film I would watch as it has heart to it and the overdramaticness fits the film, same with the westerns that are played largely for comedy but find something more sometimes. In each thing being satired there is a celebration of the arts and film and this is shown the most when Mannix chooses Capitol Pictures of Lockheed (Where the guy kept insulting films as useless and a dying industry), making this one of the biggest love letters to the art of cinema and Hollywood’s past and present.

The Cons: Pacing – At times it goes really slow and this really hurts the overall quality of the production and keeps it from rising higher.

The Communist Cell – I felt that these guys weren’t explored as well as they could have been. They were a group of intellectuals who never got beyond that and that was a shame given that they kidnapped a person because of their beliefs.

More Character Exploration – If the script had been tighter we could have explored more of these characters more. In my opinion Manix is one of the weaker characters of the story and because the focus is on him we lose sight of the fascinating characters like Moran or the Sisters who had a lot more potential to be explored within the confines of the script.

   This was a solidly great film and well worth checking out. It isn’t the greatest of the Coen Brothers films but it doesn’t need to be. Within the confines of the story it explores all the themes and characters it means to and it presents it beautifully through the soundtrack and cinematography. This is a film well worth your time and I’m glad that this was the film that kicks off my film reviews for the films of 2016.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009): A Fun Tale of Finding Freedom Through Struggles

Fantastic Mr. Fox

     “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is in no way the best of Wes Anderson’s work…but like all of his works it is a lot of fun and has some pretty amazing characters. There aren’t many characters in it, but the characters who do have arcs get the time and attention they deserve that shows just how complex they are as well as giving some great threats to face as they are all forced to grow.

      The film was directed by Wes Anderson who was also one of the producers and screenplay writers. The other writer was Noah Baumbach and the other producers were Allison Abbate, Scott Rudin and Jeremy Dawson. The story came from the same Roald Dahl book of the same name, which I hope to read.

     The premise follows the story of Mr. Fox (George Clooney) and his wife Felicity (Meryl Streep) getting caught in a fox trap where Mr. Fox learns she is pregnant. She makes him promise if they escape to give up stealing food which he agrees to. They settle down in the Tree that is close to three dangerous farmers and are raising their son Ash as Mr. Fox begins to get back into the stealing business with their neighbor Kylie Opossum which gets more complicated when Ash’s cousin Kristofferson arrives making Ash feel like even more of an outcast as he is rejected by his father who pulls Kristofferson into his stealing plots. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: Production – Everything is miniatures and is done with stop motion animation making the film really unique and cool as the animals move like animals and it gives an organic reality to it you would be more hard pressed to find it was done with animation or cgi.

The Script – Wes Anderson’s script is quick and witty and he does a good job paying tribute to Roahl Dahl as there is a dark survivalist undercurrent through the script and the characters are all reckless in different ways as the war with the farmers gets more intense.

The Soundtrack – Alexandre Desplat does a fantastic job with this soundtrack and gives the world a very lived in feel while paying tribute to bluegrass and country which fit with the survival themes of the film.

Badger – Badger is voiced by Bill Murray and is Mr. Fox’s lawyer and he is the one who should have been listened to. He was right about how dangerous the house in the tree was by being close to the farmers and because he was listened to (and his client Mr. Fox harassed the farmers) he and the rest of the forest creatures became refugees. He holds Mr. Fox accountable and like Felicity forces Mr. Fox to take action to right the wrongs he did by his selfish actions.

Kylie Opossum – Is voiced by Wallace Wolodarsky and is one of the folks who sees the big picture in a lot of ways. He has a credit card and good credit, he is happy in his life but is pulled into Mr. Fox’s schemes because he above all else is a follower looking for identity and fun. In the end he finds both as he comes up with his catchphrase (like Mr. Fox’s whistle and wink) and dances with all at the end.

Ash – Ash is played by Jason Shwartzman and is a disgruntled teen through most of the film. His arc is accepting that he is different as he glares and spits a lot but he learns from his mom Felicity that weird runs in their family and when he makes peace with that he is able to accept responsibility in regards to how cruel he was out of jealousy to Kristofferson. His arc is the most solid as when he accepts himself he is able to have a relationship with everyone else around him and shows that it is the strange stuff about us that are part of what make us who we are.

Kristofferson – Kristofferson is one of my favorite characters. He is a calm, talented fox who does yoga who Mr. Fox adopts as a son by pulling him into his schemes. Kristofferson clearly feels grateful as he eventually gets caught by the farmers and used as bate to catch Mr. Fox. He makes peace with Ash as the end and teaches him to meditate. He doesn’t really have an arc but is mostly put together (more so than Mr. Fox) so others learn from his cool. He was voiced by Eric Anderson.

Felicity – Mr Fox’s wife Felicity is the character who is just as reckless as him until she is pregnant with Ash. We learn she always had that risk taking in her though and see that she sees beyond herself more easily than Mr. Fox as she cares for the forest refugees and pulls Mr. Fox out of himself to where he sees the consequences of his actions and works harder to care for others because of it. I really liked her character and Meryl Streep is fantastic.

Mr. Fox – George Clooney owns this role as his addiction to the thrill of the hunt and experiencing great food and drink lead him into trouble. He is a good person at his core but extremely selfish as the farmers were minding their own business until he began stealing from them again. He justifies it initially as he is a wild animal but when he’s reminded he’s also a father and husband he gets his act together and works on making the refugees a home. His arc is getting outside of himself and he eventually gets that as others risk for him forcing him in turn to risk for others.

Okay: Agnes – Is the fox love interest of Kristofferson who makes Ash jealous. She exists mostly as a plot device and isn’t much of a character sadly beyond supporting Kristofferson and eventually becoming friends with Ash.

The Other Minor Characters – There are Otters and Rabbits and a few other creatures who are mostly background. They have great design but aren’t memorable as characters, they aren’t bad either for what it is worth.

The Cons: The Farmers – The farmers are a good threat but they aren’t all that complicated. They are just defending their property and going to great extremes to do so. The fact that they aren’t complicated is one of the things I didn’t like as they weren’t super memorable and could be interchanged with any farmer threat in a film that follows the story of forest creatures…and they are as complex as their last names (Bean, Boggis and Bunce).

    This was an extremely fun film and my second time watching it. My favorite parts were the interactions between Ash and Kristofferson and Mr. Fox and everyone as he is a selfish guy who creates most of the conflict in the first place, and realizes it so much of his arc is trying to make amends. There are constant consequences and there aren’t really any happy endings…it’s bittersweet as the animals are living in the sewers now and the three farmers are still seeking their destruction, but it has hope. Part of what I always like about Wes Anderson films is how bittersweet they are as well as fun and this film captures both those things beautifully. If you like Wes Anderson, chances are you will like this film.

Final Score: 9 / 10. Solidly great.