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.

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.

Wild at Heart (1990) Review

Director: David Lynch

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

Runtime: 125 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Wild at Heart is a crime-thriller from director David Lynch about two lovers – “Sailor” Ripley (Nicolas Cage) and Lula (Laura Dern) – who find themselves on a road trip to Hell while trying to escape the latter’s mother, Marietta Fortune (Diane Ladd). This is David Lynch we’re talking about here, so this is a deliberately weird work that won’t appeal to viewers looking for something – well – coherent. However, I love surrealism, so will Wild at Heart do the trick for me?

First of all, those expecting this to be Eraserhead: Road Trip! will be sorely disappointed. Yes, there are scenes in this flick with an oneiric feel to them, but I don’t think that the movie went far enough off the deep-end to be truly memorable. There’s this strange sense of unease throughout many sequences, but there isn’t a whole lot of dream logic. Some may be thrown off by the film’s odd sentimental streak and dark humor.

With allusions to everything from The Wizard of Oz (1939) to Elvis Presley, this picture’s approach can feel scattershot. Try something surreal, and, if that doesn’t work, try another surreal trick. Nicolas Cage’s hammy performance is amusing at first, but it’s not enough to sustain the two-hour runtime. Willem Dafoe (as killer Bobby Peru) is a highlight. Just look at that bastard’s moldy-mouthed grin beneath the bank-robbing stocking he’s wearing over his face! Terrifying, isn’t it?

There were times where I think I understood what David Lynch was going for here, but I just didn’t care enough to appreciate it. I totally dig movies that make you feel like you’ve stepped into somebody’s dream, but I couldn’t get on the same wavelength as this one. It’s a little repetitive and not quite surreal enough. Some plot threads don’t really go anywhere. I like the idea of this movie more than its actual execution.

My rating is 5 outta 10.

This Gun for Hire (1942) Review

Director: Frank Tuttle

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

Runtime: 81 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

The 1942 film noir This Gun for Hire was the breakout movie for tough guy actor Alan Ladd. Here, Philip Raven (Alan Ladd), a moody, cat-loving American hitman, becomes caught up in a scheme to sell national secrets to the Axis Powers during World War II. This is a surprisingly good flick, which is high praise coming from me, since I usually don’t fancy straight film noir.

The first of four pictures to feature both Alan Ladd and actress Veronica Lake, this crime-thriller greatly benefits from a relatively short runtime (eighty-one minutes) and a decent amount of action. Despite being in black-and-white, it’s rather colorful, and it also has a plot just about anybody could follow. The pacing slows down a tad as the Alan Ladd character finds himself hunted down in an industrial park, but that’s only a very minor complaint.

It’s interesting to note that this film noir could also be considered something of a war movie, since its villains intend on dealing with the Axis Powers of World War II. This level of intrigue makes the work more fun to watch. This Gun for Hire also feels somewhat daring for a flick released during the days of the Production Code. I mean, how many other American motion pictures from this time period have a hitman as their hero?

A focused crime-drama, this movie is an enjoyable watch. Alan Ladd really sells it in the role that made him a star. Even if you’re not typically a fan of noir, I’d recommend giving this one a shot. Now it’s time for some trivia. Footage from this picture was edited into the Steve Martin noir spoof Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982), and it was later remade as the mediocre Short Cut to Hell (1957), the only film ever directed by iconic actor James Cagney.

My rating is 7 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.

The Double Man (1967) Review

Director: Franklin J. Schaffner

Genre(s): Adventure, Thriller

Runtime: 105 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

The Double Man may not be as famous, action-oriented, or spectacular as the James Bond films of the 1960s, but I think that it can hold its own against them. Like the 007 movies, this is an adventure-thriller about a badass government agent trying to stop the baddies while in an exotic location. Here, CIA operative Dan Slater (Yul Brynner) travels to the Austrian Alps after learning that his son has died in a mysterious skiing accident there (the current plot synopsis on IMDb contains what could be considered spoilers, so avoid reading it if you want to go into this one blind).

I wouldn’t consider The Double Man to be an action flick, but there is some decent action in it once things start escalating. That being said, there’s a lot more footage of people running around, chasing each other, than actually fighting one another. Despite not having a lot of exciting physicality for most of the runtime, I find this to be an engaging motion picture that sticks the landing.

A big part of this feature’s charm comes from its intense leading man, Yul Brynner. You could think of him as a more stoic and less hedonistic version of the aforementioned James Bond. He’s dead-set on finding out what happened to his son and spends the entire movie giving people icy stares that could kill you if you make eye-contact with them. He does sort of engage in some stalker-ish behavior in one scene (not cool, Yul!).

The Double Man is not a wild thrill ride of an action-adventure film like the 007 flicks from around the same period, but I think it holds up just as well. It’s more focused and the main character has a more personal stake in the plot (something that the Bond flicks sometimes struggled with). If you’re a fan of Brynner (and why wouldn’t you be?), check this one out. Yul be glad that you did (pun!).

My rating is 7 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.

Looper (2012) Review

Director: Rian Johnson

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Drama, Science-Fiction, Thriller

Runtime: 113 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Half of a decade before he was trolling Star Wars fans with Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017), director Rian Johnson unleashed the sci-fi-thriller Looper on the world. The movie concerns itself with mob hitman Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who kills people sent back in time from the future via time travel. However, what’s he supposed to do when an older version of himself (Bruce Willis) is sent back to his time for him to execute?

The performances in Looper are often singled out for praise, and rightfully so. Wearing facial prosthetics to help him resemble Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt does his best impression of that movie star. The real M.V.P. of the flick has got to be Willis, though. He has a reputation for looking bored in many of his more recent roles, but writer/director Rian Johnson actually manages to coax a committed performance out of him here. Jeff Daniels, playing gangland boss Abe, also deserves a shout-out.

This movie has plenty of ideas, but there may be too many for one film. Take the issue of telekinesis in this picture, for example. It’s introduced relatively early in the runtime, but largely forgotten about until the third act or so. To the feature’s credit, it doesn’t get bogged down in the nitty-gritty science of time travel. I couldn’t tell you if Looper‘s version of that fictional science holds up to scrutiny, but it makes it believable without wasting too much time on exposition.

This flick, which was partially inspired by The Terminator (1984), has some pretty average action scenes and some pandering to China. I did enjoy the abrupt ending, though. It felt reasonably ballsy. Overall, Looper is one of those movies that exists in the Twilight Zone between being recommended to watch and being recommended to pass over. I suppose audiences looking for solid performances in a sci-fi-action picture will find much to write home about, but the story may be a bit too formless for others.

My rating is 6 outta 10.