Thursday, June 23, 2005

For a bored friend

Since someone is in need of something to read, I will oblige. After all, she did it for me a few days ago when I was bored and in need of entertainment.

Batman Begins is a definite hit out of the park and beyond. This one left orbit. Welsh actor, Christian Bale is very believable as the young man conflicted about his parents' death and his own guilt in the matter, but even more so as the dark avenging bat out to protect Gotham from its worst instincts. With a cast like Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman and Tom Wilkinson, not to mention Michael Caine playing the every proper British butler Alfred with his own unmistakable Cockney accent, it would be hard to go wrong. Where this version of the comic book legend surpasses all other adaptations to the big and little screens is in the end product. Director, Christopher Nolan has taken the comic out of comic book characters and made them very real. Gotham retains its dark and crumbling atmosphere but falls far shy of Tim Burton's Gothic/Art Deco scenery, thus cutting the mean and shadowy streets from the cloth of any modern major city. Even the elevated train swooping and curving through the Gotham skyline looks less like fantasy and becomes believable reality.

Christian Bale retains a certain dignity even as he trawls the depths of the international underworld seeking to understand the criminal mind, but never sinks to melodrama. He definitely works hard for his craft while making it feel and play as stark reality, deftly and gracefully walking the fine line between overdone intensity and parody.

Where Batman Begins forges new territory and resets the bar is in translating a comic book hero onto the screen sans the comic book feel. Even the Scarecrow, Dr. Crane of Arkham Asylum, fails to be anything but believable. Nolan's Gotham is just around the corner in every major American city waiting for panic and hysteria to give way to justice as meted out by Batman.

It is, however, amazing that a British director and British actors have a better feel for Americana than the American directors who preceded them. Comic book heroes have never been so true to life.

As for The Longest Yard, you are in for a treat. Especially if you enjoyed it the first time around with Burt Reynolds in the key role of Paul Crewe.

Adam Sandler is not my favorite comic actor, although I have enjoyed some of his movies. He will always be the SNL comedian who sings the dreidel song for Chanukah. He was endearing as The Wedding Singer and usually creative humorous, but this time he deserves to be recognized as a creative force. The wry Sandler is still in evidence throughout and Chris Rock is great as Caretaker. The only unfortunate part of the movie is Burt Reynolds. He really needs to hold back on getting his next few face lifts. He's beginning to look like he's perpetually in a wind tunnel and that is not a good look, even with the new DaVinci porcelain overlays on his false teeth. The cons are predictably convict-like. They are also funny, interesting and surprising.

The only visible tune-up is in the dialogue, which was updated with more timely social references, and it still works. The convict can-can she/he cheerleading line is hilarious and provocative and the whole ensemble cast engages the audience completely.

If you find yourself rooting for the Mean Machine, don't say you haven't been warned. You won't be alone.

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