Thursday, December 1, 2011

Capsule reviews: Batman, Moneyball, Piel que habito

Holy captivating capsules, readers! It’s another series of capsule reviews!

Batman (1966, Leslie H. Martinson)

Recently I have stumbled upon a television station named Teletoon Retro, which runs a series of family oriented cartoons dating back to the 90s, 80s, 70s and even the 60s. For some weird reason they also show a few live action programmes, one of them being the 60s Adam West Batman series. Seeing a few episodes brought back happy memories, and when I saw the blu-ray movie for a few bucks, I picked it up as a blind buy, no hesitation.

Batman (Adam West) and Robin, the Boy Wonder (Burt Ward) must face their tallest challenge yet: all four of Gotham’s most feared criminals at once, as they have aligned their maniacal minds together and captured a submarine off the coast of Gotham which carried a new secret weapon which may change the face of the Earth forever! The villains are the Joker (Cesar Romero), The Penguin (Burgess Meredith) Catwoman (Lee Meriwether) and the prince of puzzles, the Riddler (Frank Gorshin).

This movie is absolutely ridiculous. Even more so than the television series upon which it is based. The programme had its moments of sheer tongue and cheek comedy and cheesy attempts at action, but I felt the film amped the ante in those two departments exponentially. Batman, the film, seemed way, way dumber than Batman, the programme. Granted, I loved almost every moment of it, only that there was a clear distinction between the levels of ridiculousness in both versions. The larger budget, which allowed for more silly props and simply more time to make a silly world feel larger than it ever was on tv, most likely played a large role in producing such results. Suddenly the Dynamic Duo have a Batcopter, a Batbike, a Batboat and they still find the time to use the good old Batmobile. For crying out loud, the Batbike is hiding out in the middle of nowhere under some fake looking leaves! It’s just sitting there!!! The dialogue, character interactions and quirks are unquestionably the highlight of the movie, again, upping the ante of childish tomfoolery. Batman and Robin are in Commissioner Gordon’s (Neil Hamilton) office after a failed initial attempt to intercept the captured submarine:
Commissioner Gordon: It could be any one of them... But which one? Which ones?
Batman: Pretty *fishy* what happened to me on that ladder...
Commissioner Gordon: You mean where there's a fish there could be a Penguin?
Robin: But wait! It happened at sea... Sea. C for Catwoman!
Batman: Yet, an exploding shark *was* pulling my leg...
Commissioner Gordon: The Joker!
Chief O'Hara: All adds up to a sinister riddle... Riddle-R. Riddler!
Commissioner Gordon: A thought strikes me... So dreadful I scarcely dare give it utterance...
Batman: The four of them... Their forces combined...
Robin: Holy nightmare!
If you thought that was too stupid for you to enjoy, skip the film. If you laughed at that (as I did), you have to see this thing.

Moneyball (2011, Bennett Miller)

Following a solid if ultimately unsuccessful 2001 campaign, American baseball Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) pleads with his team’s owner for more funds, especially given that many of his squad’s finest players have been picked up by larger market clubs in New York and Boston. Given what sort of market Oakland is, the money simply isn’t there. Beane’s hopes of building a championship season in Oakland seemed destined to remain an out of reach dream, that is until a fateful meeting with a rival general manager during which he makes the acquaintance of the quiet mathematician, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), who has some ideas of how to build a truly successful ball club with as little money as possible. He immediately hires young Peter and together work to rebuild the A’s in a way nobody seems to agree with. Time to play some moneyball!

Moneyball caught me off guard. The hype surrounding the film prior to its release was sky high, and yet the reception it receive was lukewarm for the most part, with nonetheless a decent amount of people championing it. I intended to see for the longest time, yet kept putting it off. Having now finally watched the darn thing over two months after its release, I stand firmly in the camp of those who love it. The fact that it is about sports helps, seeing that I am big sports fan (although baseball is far from my top priority), but the film goes such a further distance than any typical sports story would. In fact, it can be argued that Moneyball is not really a sports themed film. It’s a film about running a business, about finding new ways to be successful and overcoming difficult odds along the way. It’s about the adversity one can face when adopting new strategies to an old game, and above all else, it’s about the inherent drama that exists in backroom business dealing. Are these people dealing with piles and piles of money on a daily basis for something that, in the grander scheme of life, does not mean much at all? Yes. Does it make for great drama? Yes! The whole ‘baseball’ angle is there from start to finish, but it never becomes the film’s true focal point, which is why I believe just about anybody can enjoy the picture. Pitt, as the rambunctious and temperamental Beane, gives a swell performance, as does Jonah Hill, playing a character unlike he has ever had to play before in his career. Bennet Miller directs superbly, never being too showy, but still making the film look very, very handsome with some simple lighting tricks and editing.

La piel que habito/The Skin I Live In (2011, Pedro Almodovar)

The film tells the complicated, emotionally disturbing tale of a rich and revered plastic surgeon named Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas), who uses one of the second story rooms of his private home as a chamber for an incredibly special patient of his, Vera (Elena Anaya). His mother (Marisa Peredes) works around the home as a maid of sorts, but she has he reasons for mistrusting her son’s entire operation. Clearly, there is something bizarre going on between Robert and Vera, but what exactly?

This is only the second Almodovar film I have seen, the other being 2002’s Habla con ella/Talk to Her. While I recognize he has written and directed many other films, having watched two entries of his oeuvre, it feels safe to start drawing conclusions about sort of stories he likes sharing and the manner by which he goes about telling them. The Skin I Live In is so amped up on emotions and the venues the director chooses to pump those emotions into the audience are so frequently audacious that one might wonder is anything he does should be taken seriously at all. The funny thing is, it still comes off as fine entertainment. Not all of the director’s little quirks suite me, but on the whole the man knows how to get his points across, or, should I say, how to get the significant dramatic beats of his stories across. His latest is very well acted (it was nice to see Banderas, an actor I’m fond of, be in a movie that’s actually good for once), looks very pretty and has a great score. If there is something I take issue with, it is the structure of the story. The film is ostensibly split into two halves, with the second revealing everything that has led the characters (and the audience) up until the midpoint of the picture. By the halfway mark, we sort of know what is going on, but the second half reveals what’s really going on, and, now a few days removed from my viewing experience, I’m not sure that sits as well with me as it did immediately after the film. The only reasons why the second half provides such stellar punch is because of what is explains about the first half. If the story had been told in normal, chronological order, I doubt the film would have made such an impact on me. Its success is a deliberate, manufactured decision on the part of the filmmaker to screw with the chronological order of events, little else. I still think it’s good, and if one enjoys genre-esque films (Skin I Live In is kind of a genre picture, no?), I’d say seek it out. 


Anonymous said...

Oh man, you bring back the memories of watching Adam West's Batman as a kid. What a bizarre, hilarious film. I watched some of it a few years back and there's something compellingly strange about the whole affair. The '60s. What a decade.

edgarchaput said...

@cinemasights: It is terribly good. Both terrible and good.

That stupid scene in the Batcave, so hysterical, when Batman wants to confirm with Robin if the Boy Wonder interprets Riddler's riddles the same he does:

-Batman: What has yellow skin and writes?

-Robin (thinks for a sec): A ballpoint banana!

-Batman: Right.

What the fuck!?!?