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.

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.

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.

Touch of Evil (1958) Review

Director: Orson Welles

Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Thriller

Runtime: 95 minutes (original theatrical cut), 111 minutes (restored cut)

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Touch of Evil, released in 1958, was one of the last films noirs from the golden age of that style in the 1940s and 1950s…and it’s one of the best. The story’s about American cop Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles) and Mexican police officer Mike Vargas (Charlton Heston) investigating a fatal car-bombing along the border between their two countries. The most critically-acclaimed movie from director Orson Welles may be Citizen Kane (1941), but, to be honest, I’d rather watch Touch of Evil, which he helmed and starred in.

In addition to the talented cast, the cinematography is a major star of the show. The long, one-shot opening sequence, depicting the car-bombing that sets off the plot, is a doozy and is rightfully famous. Shadows and interesting camera angles are used incessantly. The flick has a seedy, sleazy, nocturnal atmosphere that works wonders (although a few too many scenes take place during daytime).

This boundary-pushing classic is no action picture, but those moments where the shit hits the fan warrant a chef’s kiss. One murder scene is just as intense and ferocious as anything you’d see nowadays. It’s an edge-of-your-seat part of a fantastic film, with another one of those staggering sequences being the one with the hopped-up hoodlums at a remote motel. Some have raised issue with Charlton Heston playing a Mexican character, but it’s handled very tastefully for that sort of thing (no cheesy accent here).

If I must find any fault with Touch of Evil (other than the aforementioned complaint about too much sunlight at times), it’s that the plot can feel a bit vague in the opening scenes (even if the first thing the audience sees in the entire picture is a bomb). While films noirs generally aren’t my thing, this one is harsh, in-your-face, reasonably easy to follow, not overly talky, and satisfying. This is a movie that any self-respecting cinephile needs to check out.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

No Time to Die (2021) Review

Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Thriller

Runtime: 163 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

No Time to Die is unconventional for an official James Bond film, which is why it’s my favorite of the series at the time of the writing of this review. It won’t appeal to all fans of 007, but its audacious, risk-taking nature makes it a winner in my book. The movie’s plot, one of its least important and remarkable components, concerns British super-spy James Bond (Daniel Craig) fighting to stop creepy terrorist Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek) from developing a world-threatening bio-weapon.

This is Bond for the age of COVID-19, but the flick’s biggest strength is that it has a lot more heart than one might expect from a 007 picture. The audience is actually invested in the characters and their struggles here, instead of just munching popcorn to the latest action-adventure spectacle (something this feature still has lots of, though). Previous Bond films have been adolescent fantasies, but this one feels different. It’s more mature, with actions having consequences.

The action scenes here (some of which appear to be inspired by the John Wick franchise) are quite good, with some prime-cut stuntwork, but they’re secondary to the characters. Speaking of characters, they are well-defined, although the villain’s motivation could’ve been expounded on more. The pacing in No Time to Die is somewhat erratic, but manages to stay on track fairly well for a nearly-three-hour flick. The third act is almost guaranteed to have you on the edge of your seat.

No Time to Die successfully pulls off for the James Bond series what Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017) less fruitfully attempted for its franchise. It shakes up the formula, but still gives the viewer something satisfying to latch onto. This is a fresh and different 007 movie that did what it took to stand out from the rest of the pack. Sure, it’s got the big-body-count carnage we’ve come to expect, but it also provides quite a bit of heart and soul.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Duck Soup (1933) Review

Director: Leo McCarey

Genre(s): Comedy, Musical, War

Runtime: 69 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

“The Marx Brothers go to war” could be seen as the hook to their 1933 film Duck Soup, which was the last movie to feature Zeppo Marx (who plays Bob Roland here). The other three Marxes would continue making motion pictures, but straight-man Zeppo had had enough of acting. Widely considered the Marx Brothers’ magnum opus, the flick in question is about the four siblings finding themselves in the middle of a brewing war between the fictional countries of Freedonia and Sylvania.

For those unaccustomed to the Marx Brothers’ style, the opening scenes of Duck Soup might seem a little creaky and odd, but the work soars when it finds its groove. The kooky and fast-paced comedy, whether it be oriented around bizarre slapstick or witty puns, doesn’t slow down once the movie starts to pick up speed. There are no piano or harp solos to stall the jokes, and the iconic mirror scene has occasionally been referenced in pop culture.

My three favorite types of humor – slapstick, surrealist, and satire – can all be found here, but I’d like to talk about the third one (satire) as it applies here. Some commentators have said the Marx Brothers here are tearing holes in the brand of totalitarianism that would lead to World War II. Despite the film in question being banned in Fascist Italy by that nation’s dictator, Benito Mussolini (who saw the picture as a personal insult), I actually think that Duck Soup is more likely to be lampooning the stuffy, old-timey monarchies from the World War I era. Nonetheless, Groucho Marx (who plays Rufus T. Firefly here) essentially shrugged off the claims that Duck Soup was a brilliant satire, saying “We were just four Jews trying to get a laugh.”

Regardless of what this comedy is parodying, it’s still one of the funnier movies out there, and probably the funniest film I’ve seen yet from the Pre-Code era (the time period from 1930 to 1934 prior to the enforcement of the Hollywood Production Code). Running only sixty-nine minutes, it barely wastes a second and never overstays its welcome. It wasn’t the first Marx Brothers flick, but, if you’re considering jumping into their movies but are skeptical of watching something stagey like The Cocoanuts (1929) first, Duck Soup might be a good entry point.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

12 Angry Men (1957) Review

Director: Sidney Lumet

Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Thriller

Runtime: 96 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

12 Angry Men, director Sidney Lumet’s first feature-length movie, may not have the most exciting-sounding premise in the world. Trapped in the piping-hot jury deliberation room, Juror 8 (Henry Fonda) works to convince the rest of the twelve-man jury that a seemingly open-and-shut murder case isn’t what it looks like. There’s no explosions, no car chases, and no shootouts. It’s set almost entirely in one room and nearly in real-time, but the execution of this picture is nothing short of superb, making it feel like more than just a stage play somebody decided to film.

This movie is a gripping lesson in economical storytelling. Barely a second is wasted. The characters’ distinct personalities are mostly made obvious within the first half, even if we don’t actually know a single one of their names until the very end. 12 Angry Men does a much better job of fleshing out its characters than, say, The Dirty Dozen (1967). That being said, I felt that Juror 6 (Edward Binns) could’ve been given a bit more to say and do. The film really shows how different people react differently to the civics-related challenges around them.

12 Angry Men is terrifically made, with just the right sense of claustrophobia. The cameras start out above the eye level of the actors, but they slowly lower and look up at the people onscreen as the flick progresses to help escalate tension. The musical score (by Kenyon Hopkins) is kept to a near-absolute minimum. The performances are convincing all across the board. According to the Goofs section for this work on IMDb, not everything that happens in the deliberation room is legally sound, but I don’t think that it holds the finished product back much.

This picture is a powerful lesson on good citizenship, but it never feels like a lecture. It near-perfectly balances entertainment value with inspiring educational value. Not every question that the audience has is answered when the end credits roll, but I suppose that some are beyond the scope of the feature. Overall, 12 Angry Men is definitely recommended, being more than just another talky courtroom drama. It is not related to the similarly-titled Seven Angry Men (1955), from two years earlier, which is a biopic of John Brown.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Network (1976) Review

Director: Sidney Lumet

Genre(s): Comedy, Drama

Runtime: 121 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Did the 1976 dramedy Network predict how sensationalistic, trashy, and cynical (in the sense of trying to make a fast buck) television, especially the news, would become in the twenty-first century? This biting satire feels awfully damn prescient these days, even if it probably felt ridiculous to those watching it in the 1970s. At the T.V. network UBS, suicidal anchorman Howard Beale (Peter Finch) becomes a ratings sensation when the powers behind the scenes allow him to go on insane rants on air.

For a film released in 1976, this movie feels shockingly relevant. It’s a powerful indictment of demagoguery that doesn’t forget to be funny, too. In some ways, it almost feels like a comedic version of All the King’s Men (1949) set in the world of news media. Network shows just how easy it is to manipulate a crowd (or mob) that’s unsatisfied with the status quo. In case you’re out of the loop, this is the flick where the quote “I’m as mad as Hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore” came from.

This picture is often chaotic in nature, with people talking over each other or multiple goings-on vying for the viewers’ attention. It makes the feature feel even more modern. If I have a quibble with Network, it must be the b-story, revolving around an affair between Max Schumacher (William Holden) and Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway). It does flesh out these characters, but I find it to be far less interesting than the antics of Peter Finch’s character and the behind-the-scenes wranglings over whether to keep him on the air or not.

Network builds up to a bold and surprising finale that definitely leaves an impression on the audience. With the exception of some of the scenes dealing with Holden’s character’s affair, this movie is still immediate and fresh, wryly predicting the future of trash television. This classic was nominated for many awards (including Best Picture at the Oscars), including being nominated for Best Science Fiction Film at the Saturn Awards. Wait…what?!?

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015) Review

Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Thriller

Runtime: 131 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

In the fifth Mission: Impossible movie – Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation – super-spy Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) goes rogue (is that even a pun?) to try to take down an organization of renegade ex-secret agents known as “the Syndicate.” The stakes don’t feel quite as high as the will-there-be-a-nuclear-holocaust? tension of the previous entry into the series (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol [2011]), but this installment really plays to the franchise’s strengths. Excellent action, insane stunts, and lots of badass teamwork are center-stage.

The Mission: Impossible flicks at this point feel like modern-day Indiana Jones features without the archaeology. This picture has plenty of cliffhanger high-jinks and heroic globetrotting. The action scenes are appropriately high-impact, with some how-did-they-do-that? stuntwork to keep audiences on the edge of their seats. On the down side, I think that they might’ve “saved” the best major stunt for first (it’s, of course, the one with Tom Cruise and an airplane taking off).

This fast-paced action-adventure film, like the rest of the movies in the series, benefits from the team dynamics on display. You see, Cruise couldn’t do this all by himself, so he backs himself up with one of the best damn squads of agents possible. There’s Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), who provides the comic relief, and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), the tough tech expert. William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) handles the political wranglings over the Impossible Mission Force’s future. A newcomer is Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), whose allegiance is questionable.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation wisely doesn’t try to immediately top the end-of-the-world stakes of its predecessor, but it still lays a lot on the line. The stakes, if anything, feel a bit more personal this time around, as evidenced by the finale, which is relatively small in scale, yet still huge in intensity. The fourth and fifth Mission: Impossible features are definitely a formidable one-two punch.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011) Review

Director: Brad Bird

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Thriller

Runtime: 132 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol definitely upped the ante for the series upon its release in theaters in 2011. It still might be the most purely fun entry into the franchise at the time of the publication of this review. The story’s about secret agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) fighting to prevent a nuclear war and clear his name after being blamed for a massive terrorist attack.

Some of the scene-stealers here are the gadgets. The endless, inventive pieces of imaginative technology on display in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol really put the James Bond series to shame. Hell, this could be seen as the movie where this series really began to surpass the 007 franchise in excellence. The wonderfully-crafted, nail-biting energy of this feature makes any Bond adventure look lethargic in comparison.

Another aspect of Ghost Protocol that grabs the viewer by his or her lapels is the stuntwork. This action-packed flick is home to the now-iconic Burj Khalifa skyscraper sequence, where Tom Cruise, with the help of some digitally-erased cables, climbed around the outside of that huge superstructure. It’s an amazing set-piece that’s probably one of the very best action scenes of the 2010s. The movie’s go-big-or-go-home attitude really pays off.

In addition to being pretty violent for a film rated PG-13 by the MPAA, Ghost Protocol is probably one of the better action-adventure pictures out there. Okay, maybe it’s a hair too long, but the individual scenes making up the film are terrific. Will future installments into the Mission: Impossible series manage to recapture the magic here?

My rating is 8 outta 10.