The Batman (2022) Review

Director: Matt Reeves

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller

Runtime: 176 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Man, these Batman movies just keep getting darker and darker, don’t they? Set in Gotham City, superhero/masked vigilante Batman (Robert Pattinson) fights to stop the twisted murderer the Riddler (Paul Dano), who’s been bumping off members of the city’s elite. It’s a superhero actioner, an underworld neo-noir, a serial killer thriller, and a psychological drama all in one, without ever feeling hastily assembled or scattershot.

Robert Pattinson makes a surprisingly fearsome Batman, but a mediocre Bruce Wayne. Paul Dano’s Riddler is hold-your-breath scary, not just for his gruesome murders, but also for the philosophical threat he poses to Batman’s brand of justice. James Gordon is played by Jeffrey Wright, who knocks it out of the park with this role. The plot sometimes threatens to become convoluted, but it mostly stays understandable for somebody who’s bad at following intricate stories (like myself). The sinister musical score by Michael Giacchino sometimes resembles a high-tech, high-powered dirge.

The action sequences in The Batman might seem a little reserved at first compared to those in other entries in the Caped Crusader’s filmography. However, they feature clear camerawork, exciting choreography, and high stakes. The fist fight illuminated by automatic weapons fire, the harsh, pulse-pounding car chase, and the finale are the highlights in the action department. Pushing the MPAA’s PG-13 rating to its limits, this flick sometimes gives the audience am-I-watching-something-illegal? vibes, especially during the scenes involving the Riddler’s “dark web” presence.

The Batman is one of the best films in the superhero’s franchise. It features a solid blend of Batman doing detective work and outright battling his foes. Sure, it’s dark, intense, and oppressive, but this gamble paid off big time here, with the picture pulling off a real sense of danger and a desperate need for heroism. There are plenty of ace movies set in the Batman universe out there, and this is a welcome addition to that growing filmography.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Mulholland Drive (2001) Review

Director: David Lynch

Genre(s): Mystery, Thriller

Runtime: 147 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The story here is about aspiring Hollywood actress Betty (Naomi Watts) trying to help amnesiac Rita (Laura Harring) uncover her true identity. Look, I love surrealism…I truly do, but there’s a time and place for it, and I think that its use in Mulholland Drive is out-of-place and hinders the flick. I wish that I could’ve liked this one more than I did.

Sometimes feeling like it should’ve been titled “David Lynch’s Greatest Hits,” this is a psychological thriller that starts out weird-but-not-too-weird before jumping off the surrealist deep-end in the second half. The blurb for James Berardinelli’s review on Rotten Tomatoes sums it up better than I could: “Lynch is playing a big practical joke on us. He takes characters we have come to care about and obscures their fates in gibberish.” Ouch. The impenetrable second half of the movie offers no real, accessible answers to the puzzles of the first part, only bizarre and random episodes.

To be sure, there’s some good stuff here. Some of the “sketches” in the film, like the one involving the world’s most incompetent hitman or the one with a man recalling a dream he keeps having in a diner are choice. A mysterious character simply known as “The Cowboy” (Monty Montgomery) steals every scene he’s in. There are a couple of sequences that suggest that this could’ve been an excellent showbiz-drama-from-Hell picture. A lot of the redeeming value is drowned out by the craziness of the second half.

I enjoy movies like Un Chien Andalou (1929), Castle Keep (1969), and director David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977) that make you feel like you’ve stepped into a dream. Mulholland Drive, on the other hand, starts off as a compelling mystery story that you want to see satisfactorily resolved, before throwing all of that out the window in favor of oneiric madness. I wish it would’ve chosen one or the other, because this work had a lot of potential. Many people love this one, and I’m disappointed that I couldn’t be one of them.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Lost Highway (1997) Review

Director: David Lynch

Genre(s): Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 134 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Is “Lost Highway” a great title for a surreal psychological horror-thriller movie or what? The plot here is about saxophonist Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) and his wife Renee (Patricia Arquette) receiving VHS tapes in the mail of what appears to be somebody stalking them at their home. This is a David Lynch film, so that is the normal part of the picture. Things are going to get much stranger from there.

This flick is driven by a wonderful sense of dream logic. People act and talk as if they’re trapped in somebody’s dream…or nightmare. Everything’s mysterious, and the pale-faced Mystery Man (Robert Blake) makes the biggest impression. It’s one, big mood piece, and that mood is unease. Violent and depraved, this thriller’s primary concern is making the audience feel like they’re having a fever dream. Gary Busey (as Bill Dayton) and Richard Pryor (as Arnie) show up in relatively small roles.

There’s a lot to like about Lost Highway, but the film does feel its length (about two-and-a-quarter hours). Like an actual dream, it does seem a little lightweight, with details that are easy to forget. This work of cinematic surrealism is mighty cryptic, feeling a little too opaque at times. It’s actually possible to decipher the events that take place during the runtime (the rest of the Internet can fill you in), but I shouldn’t have to visit a website to get a movie’s full experience.

This striking thriller is one of the more oneiric films that I’ve seen. If you’re looking for a coherent, easily digestible piece of cinema, this may not be it. It’s too dark, dream-like, and demented for that. However, it’s a must for David Lynch fans and those desiring something off the beaten path. I’d recommend it, but brace yourself for something odd.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

First to Fight (1967) Review

Director: Christian Nyby

Genre(s): Action, Drama, Romance, War

Runtime: 92 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Loosely based on the real-life story of American Marine John Basilone, who became a U.S. war hero, First to Fight is a solid, if somewhat unremarkable, entry into the war genre. World War II is raging, and U.S. trooper Jack Connell (Chad Everett) is sent back to the United States to drum up support for buying war bonds after becoming a hero at the Battle of Guadalcanal in the Pacific Theater. There are some similarities with other war flicks that have been made throughout the decades, but it still manages to be watchable.

The grenade-chucking battle scenes stick out in memory. The opening, nighttime firefight is especially fearsome. The battles have some careful choreography and are fairly violent for a 1960s movie. A few blood squibs are briefly visible during the hectic action sequences. The war zone takes up a great deal of the runtime in the first and third acts, with an okay romantic subplot occupying the middle act.

When the main character is on the home front, he spends most of his time romancing Peggy Sanford (Marilyn Devin). These scenes are not intolerable, but I think that most viewers would rather see what’s going on on the front lines. The movie masterpiece Casablanca (1942) ends up getting referenced quite a bit during this section of the picture. Hell, the characters even watch it in the theater. However, all of this just makes you want to view that film instead.

All in all, First to Fight is reasonable entertainment. I’m actually a bit surprised that it’s not remembered more fondly. The action scenes alone should’ve prevented this one from being almost completely forgotten. There’s one element to the work that I haven’t commented on yet, and that’s the presence of Gene Hackman as Tweed in one of his earliest roles. This flick was released the same year as his breakout film Bonnie and Clyde (1967), and it shows his potential to be a great movie star.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Kelly’s Heroes (1970) Review

Director: Brian G. Hutton

Genre(s): Action, Comedy, War

Runtime: 144 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

The 1970 World War II comedy Kelly’s Heroes could easily be thought of as It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World Goes to War. During the Second World War, clever American soldier Kelly (Clint Eastwood) convinces a U.S. platoon to go on an unauthorized raid behind Nazi lines in France to rob a bank holding a fortune in gold bars. Despite its rampant silliness, this is probably one of the better war films out there.

Yeah, Kelly’s Heroes is a comedy, but it was armed with a massive budget that makes it feel like a true war epic. It seems like no expense was spared. It should be noted that this is a highly cynical movie, with Allied troops having to do some serious looting during World War II to get anything out of that conflict. Maybe they’ll even cut the vicious Nazis in on the deal? Its unglamorous look at the 1939-to-1945 war is tempered by its upbeat nature. An upbeat anti-war flick? Yes, it exists, and its name is “Kelly’s Heroes.”

The combat sequences here are excellent, like everything else about this picture. Despite being a comedy, the action scenes are mostly played straight (although the tank assault on the trainyard has plenty of dark humor), giving the production a tough edge. Lalo Schifrin’s musical score is fantastic as well, and the film greatly benefits from the inclusion of the not-so-1940s song “Burning Bridges,” performed by the Mike Curb Congregation. The all-star cast is top-drawer, featuring the aforementioned Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas (as Big Joe), Don Rickles (playing Crapgame), Donald Sutherland (bringing Oddball to life), Carroll O’Connor (he’s General Colt), Gavin MacLeod (in the role of Moriarty), Perry Lopez (as Petuko), Harry Dean Stanton (portraying Willard), and Karl-Otto Alberty (playing a Nazi tank commander).

Kelly’s Heroes is a rootin’, tootin’, lootin’, shootin’ good time. Packed with familiar faces, intense battles, and big laughs, this movie just about has it all. It’s not meant to be a literal recreation of World War II, even though the inclusion of a 1960s-style hippie tank commander, Oddball (Donald Sutherland), has thrown many viewers for a loop. Please don’t take this one too seriously. Go with the flow, and you’ll be rewarded with one Hell of a war picture.

My rating is 9 outta 10.

Vera Cruz (1954) Review

Director: Robert Aldrich

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, War, Western

Runtime: 94 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

During the Franco-Mexican War, American gunslingers Benjamin Trane (Gary Cooper) and Joe Erin (Burt Lancaster) are hired by the French-dominated Mexican government to escort Countess Marie Duvarre (Denise Darcel) across rebel-held territory in Mexico. One of the better movies that either Gary Cooper or Burt Lancaster appeared in, this action-adventure-western is not just highly engaging, it was also very influential on the western genre. Wikipedia currently claims that The Magnificent Seven (1960), the westerns directed by Sergio Leone, The Professionals (1966), and The Wild Bunch (1969) all owe a little something to Vera Cruz.

This war-time western has a mean, tough demeanor that would help inspire the tones of various western works to come. Its casual violence, amoral personalities, and stylized gunplay would all be noted by upcoming filmmakers. Vera Cruz feels ahead-of-its-time, more like a 1964 flick, than a 1954 one. The cast is also stacked, featuring the aforementioned Cooper and Lancaster, as well as Cesar Romero (as Marquis Henri de Labordere), Charles Bronson (playing Pittsburgh), Ernest Borgnine (showing up as Donnegan), and Jack Elam (as Tex).

This heightened war/western feature has tremendous action…and lots of it. The big, final battle is a highlight. Gary Cooper really gets the opportunity to show off his inner John Rambo. The runtime is only a little over an hour-and-a-half, so Vera Cruz crams plenty of action scenes and an innumerable quantity of double-crosses into its package. This is nothing if not entertaining.

Vera Cruz is essential viewing for fans of the cast and the genres. The only element that really ages the work is some “Lost Cause”-style reminiscing about the American South (due to the fact that Cooper’s character was a plantation owner). However, this is offset somewhat by the presence of the badass Ballard (played by Archie Savage), a Black gunman who used to serve in the Union military during the American Civil War.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) Review

Director: Wallace Worsley

Genre(s): Drama, Romance

Runtime: 133 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Lon Chaney solidified his position as one of the greatest actors of the silent era with the 1923 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Set in fifteenth-century Paris, France, an ugly-looking hunchback living in Notre Dame cathedral named Quasimodo (Lon Chaney) finds himself wrapped up in a plot to start a revolt by the French underclass. This silent film was directed by Wallace Worsley, who also helmed the exceptional The Penalty (1920), the gangster drama that was Lon Chaney’s breakout motion picture.

This big-budget historical epic has production values that still impress. The sets made for the flick are absolutely incredible. There are a few I-wonder-how-they-did-that moments, such as when Quasimodo is clambering all around the exterior of Notre Dame. Chaney’s performance is mesmerizing. He was forty when The Hunchback of Notre Dame was released, but he has the physicality of someone half that age here. He truly was the Man of a Thousand Faces.

Chaney’s a sight to see, but the film around him isn’t always doing him favors. There are a lot of characters to keep track of here, and the hunchback of Notre Dame almost becomes a supporting character in his own movie. The plot of the flick is pretty typical silent-era melodrama. Remove Chaney and the sets, and nobody would remember this picture. Fortunately, those two things are present, making it a rather good production overall.

Okay, the story in the 1923 adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame isn’t its strong suit. Acting and spectacle are what it does best. Seeing Chaney fight a mob by dousing them in boiling lead is worth watching the film for. The movie’s politics are certainly undercooked (is it saying that battling against royalist oppression is a bad thing?), but Chaney is one of the all-time greats, so I’d say “watch it.”

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) Review

Director: Michael Curtiz

Genre(s): Crime, Drama

Runtime: 97 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

James Cagney returned to the role of gangster in 1938 with the popular crime-drama Angels with Dirty Faces. Here, a group of inner-city kids find themselves torn between the influences of tough mobster Rocky Sullivan (James Cagney) and virtuous priest Jerry Connelly (Pat O’Brien). Who will they follow in the footsteps of? Who will survive to the ending? Is James Cagney the best basketball referee of all time? Humphrey Bogart also shows up as corrupt lawyer James Frazier.

Cagney gives one of the strongest performances of his career here (he was given an Oscar nomination for Best Actor). The acting is terrific across the board, and the use of light and shadow is excellent. Overall, this movie is not as nitty-gritty as The Public Enemy (1931), action-packed as ‘G’ Men (1935), or ferocious as White Heat (1949), but Angels with Dirty Faces has a clear identity of its own.

This is a very well-paced gangster film, with it moving from scene to scene with amazing grace. On the action front, things are pretty solid. The big action moment, the final shootout, has got to be one of the very best gunfights in cinema up to that point in history. Cagney apparently had actual bullets fired in his general area during filming. Director Michael Curtiz (who would later helm Casablanca [1942]) is no stranger when it comes to exciting action.

It’s not quite up there with the aforementioned White Heat or The Public Enemy, but Angels with Dirty Faces is still one of Cagney’s best flicks. The picture’s ambiguous ending has been debated by fans for decades, and the acting still holds up. This one is certainly recommended. In Home Alone (1990), a movie titled Angels with Filthy Souls is watched on television, and, in its sequel, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992), a film named Angels with Even Filthier Souls makes an appearance.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Dune (1984) Review

Director: David Lynch

Genre(s): Adventure, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 137 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

The 1984 version of Dune could be seen as director David Lynch’s attempt to break into the mainstream following the success of his The Elephant Man (1980). He was, of course, not exactly successful, and Dune became a notorious box office bomb. The complicated plot of the surreal sci-fi movie in question is not easy to sum up, but I’ll give it a shot. In the distant future, Paul Atreides (Kyle MacLachlan) leads a revolt against the galactic forces of tyranny on the desert world of Arrakis. This synopsis only scratches the surface of the intricacies of the story.

David Lynch loves the bizarre and the grotesque, and Dune has these in spades. It would be a mistake to go into this flick expecting Eraserhead: In Space!, but it does feature Lynch’s trademark sense of the surreal and the uneasy. However, it can be difficult to tell what is dream logic and what is convoluted storytelling. There’s a big exposition dump at the beginning of the picture that’s reasonably easy to understand, but the lore of Dune‘s universe gets deeper from there. For a movie that frequently has voice-overs giving the inner thoughts of characters, this sure can be an impenetrable work.

This cold science-fiction-adventure production has some visuals that make you feel like you’re having a damned stroke. The special effects are impressive, as is the set of talent assembled. I mean, rock band Toto and Brian Eno did the music. That’s just nuts. There are some familiar faces in the cast, such as rock star Sting (playing villainous henchman Feyd-Rautha) and Patrick Stewart (as soldier Gurney Halleck).

So, is Dune worth watching? David Lynch completists obviously need to check it out, but most others will be turned off by the complex plot and lore and the general weirdness. It does feel a little awkwardly structured at times, but I found it to be mildly entertaining once it found its groove. It does feel a little torn over whether it wants to be a grand sci-fi epic or a Lynchian freakshow. I’d say “approach with caution.” Fun fact: before settling on Dune, Lynch was offered the role of director on Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983).

My rating is 6 outta 10.

I Walk the Line (1970) Review

Director: John Frankenheimer

Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Romance

Runtime: 97 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Gregory Peck stars in a rural crime-drama with a soundtrack consisting of tracks from Johnny Cash? Yes, this film exists…and it’s not too bad either. In small-town Tennessee, Sheriff Tawes (Gregory Peck) falls in love and has an affair with Alma McCain (Tuesday Weld), the daughter of local illegal moonshiner Carl McCain (Ralph Meeker). Blood will be shed before this story is over.

Of course, the most famous element of this picture is its Johnny Cash soundtrack (“I Walk the Line” is unsurprisingly present). It’s not enough to make the movie worth watching by itself, but it does improve the scenes that it appears in. There isn’t much action here, but there is suspenseful excitement at the very end. This is far from Gregory Peck’s best role, but he’s fine in I Walk the Line.

Even though I Walk the Line is about the main character’s personal dilemma, it isn’t a particularly inspiring (for the lack of a better word) one. How about not having an affair, especially with a moonshiner’s kid? How about that, Mr. Peck? Think! Gregory’s character’s wife, Ellen Haney (Estelle Parsons), and his deputy, Hunnicutt (Charles Durning), probably end up suffering the most from his affair, even if both of their roles are pretty forgettable.

According to the IMDb Trivia section for this work, it is “[c]onsidered by many to be Peck’s worst film.” Ouch. Okay, I don’t think that it’s that terrible (haven’t these viewers seen Marooned [1969]?), but it doesn’t give you very many compelling reasons to set aside some time for it. I Walk the Line is watchable, despite being neither-here-nor-there in the recommendability department. Normally I’d say “Gregory Peck fans might enjoy it,” but, considering its reputation, I’ll just keep my mouth shut.

My rating is 6 outta 10.