Category Archives: Films – 4.5 stars

Batman Begins

What struck me most about Batman Begins, and what still resonates most with me, is how realistic a film it was. That might sound strange, considering it’s a superhero flick, but Batman is a hero without special powers. He draws his strength and determination purely from his anger and guilt, rather than from a mutation or otherworldy force. With director Chris Nolan at the helm, this film does a great job of exploring that side of the character, and giving it equal weight with the action story, which is, incidentally, also driven by very human motives of greed and power, rather than gratuitous insanity and fancy costumes. Even the production design is gritty and down-to-earth, inasmuch as it can be with locations like Wayne Manor and the Batcave. Much though I love Tim Burton’s Batman I have to say that I vastly prefer Nolan’s vision to Burton’s gothic stylings.

The casting is great, and all the actors give excellent performances. Christian Bale in particular shines from inside the costume and mask. His face may be hidden, but he drops his voice a notch, adds some gravel, and pumps all of Bruce Wayne’s anger and frustration into short, punchy sentences. The moment when Bale first utters the words “I’m Batman” sent a shiver up my spine and left me with goosebumps for a good minute after.

(Did anyone else notice, by the way, the near total absence of American actors in the headline cast? You’ve got Morgan Freeman, Katie Holmes, and…er…that’s it. Christian Bale is Welsh, Michael Caine, Tom Wilkinson, Gary Oldman, and Linus Roache are all English, Liam Neeson and Cillian Murphy are Irish, Ken Watanabe is Japanese, and Rutger Hauer is Dutch. When was the last time a Hollywood summer blockbuster was ever cast with so few American stars?)

The one thing that let Batman Begins down for me, and this is the only thing that knocks it down from a perfect 5 stars, is the microwave generator plot device. Nnggggnggaarghhh. Did they have to do that? It is the single thing that puts this movie beyond the realms of the plausibly realistic. A secret society driven to purify Gotham City by destroying it is far-fetched, but no more so than, say, The Da Vinci Code (hack, spit). A sinister figure using a weaponised hallucinogen to instil fear and madness in his victims? Yeah, I’ll still buy that. Bruce Wayne using prototypes from his own company’s advanced weapons lab to build the persona of the Bat? It works.

But a microwave emitter capable of selectively targeting water supplies, without cooking every man and beast nearby? Sorry, you lost me there. I see how the device needs these properties to sustain the final chase sequence, but damn it, this could have been the greatest superhero film ever. It could have been utterly unique in not resorting to hand-waving mumbo-jumbo. But it just…quite…isn’t. I badly wanted to give this five stars, but I just can’t forgive the microwave device. Sorry.


Clever, bizarre, self-referential, and wonderfully structured story from the same writer/director team that did Being John Malkovich. It’s an apparently sensible adaption of Susan Orlean’s book The Orchid Thief (a real book, despite having a touch of the S. Morgenstern to it), wrapped in the story of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman struggling to find a way of writing the film adaptation of same…until it goes totally off the rails, straying beyond the boundaries of the book, and into an off-kilter pseudo-thriller. Brilliant stuff.


Stanley Yelnats IV (Shia LaBeouf) is the latest in a long line of Yelnatses who suffer from impossibly bad luck as the result of an old gypsy curse. While walking under a bridge one day, he is hit over the head by a falling pair of sneakers. After taking them home, he is arrested and wrongly convicted for stealing them from a charity auction. The judge sends him to Camp Green Lake, an institution for young offenders to “build character.” Green Lake turns out to be a bizarre forced labour camp, run by the cranky Mr Sir (Jon Voight) and a mysterious warden, where the kids are sent out into the desert to dig holes every day.

In parallel with Stanley’s story, another tale is being told: that of Kissin’ Kate Barlow (Patricia Arquette), a school teacher turned bandit from Green Lake as it was a hundred years ago. Hers is a tragic love story, and it gradually emerges that her history is wholly entwined with that of the Camp, and Stanley’s own family curse.

Right from the opening scenes, it’s clear that Holes is much more than simple kids’ film. The initial flashbacks are just a taste of the multi-layered story that is to follow, and when all the threads are tied together at the end, the only word that fits is “magical”. For an extraordinary modern fairytale, and a beautiful example of cinematic storytelling, look no further.


I can’t think of a purer cinematic interpretation of the modern private eye story: the detective starts with an apparently simple case that leads him to discover a much greater conspiracy or crime, which can only be untangled or resolved by getting to the heart of the original mystery.

Polanski tells the story in a slow and measured fashion. There is no rushing around from action scene to cliffhanger to fight sequence, as would be required in a Hollywood detective film today. J.J. Gittes (Jack Nicholson) doesn’t have to be a buffed-up hero; he just has to stand up for his principles, and try to uncover the truth. His moral code binds him to the plight of Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway), and compels him to take his investigation all the way to its inevitable conclusion, no matter how much it may cost him. A beautiful film, and a deserved classic.


I’ve struggled to decide whether to give Collateral five stars or just four and a half. On the one hand, it’s a nearly flawless thriller. On the other hand, would I really describe it as an all-time great? Michael Mann is clearly at the top of his game, directing the action with cool grace when the mood requires it, and with clinical precision in the action sequences. Some of the intense close-up camera work brings new new meaning to the term “in your face”, while other scenes act as a moving poetic tribute to loneliness in the heart of the City. Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx both shine in their roles, and none of the supporting cast put a foot wrong. It’s one of the very best films I’ve seen this year…but I think it stops just short of being seminal–the kind of film that will stand out as a landmark in years to come. So, four and a half it is.

Lost In Translation

Bob (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) are two Westerners in Tokyo. Both are lonely, lost in a foreign culture, and adrift in their own lives. Through a subtle romantic friendship, they try to find out who they really are, and what they really want. It’s a beautiful, meandering, funny, melancholy, and sweet film about life, love, and loneliness.


Simple plot, great script, and solid performances from comic actors who know how to deliver a funny line. Ben Stiller is fabulous as White Goodman (“Here at Globo Gym we’re better than you–and we know it!”), Gary Cole brings just the right amount of absurd professionalism as the sportscaster, and Rip Torn is hilarious as the crusty former dodgeball champ Patches O’Houlihan. Vince Vaughn keeps a cheeky but straight face throughout, and provides forward momentum to keep the to keep the whole thing from sliding into farce. Dodgeball doesn’t try to be fancy, or deep, only funny, and at that it succeeds admirably. Go see it now. (And stick around for the credits.)

Spider-Man 2

I’m a big fan of superhero stories, so I’m pretty biased, but Spider-Man 2 just rocks. It has great action scenes that show off Spidey’s powers to their fullest, and great close-in personal scenes to show the hero at his most human. Even at their most flashy, the CGI effects remain believable and slot into the story, rather than being showpieces in their own right. Simply glorious.

The Pledge

Intense and thoughtful drama about a policeman who, on the day of his retirement, promises the mother of a murdered young girl that he will find her killer. Not a happy film by any means, but the story is powerful, and the performances from the truly stellar cast are excellent. The emotions on display are strong and raw. Almost every moment of the film is filled with some kind of pain, but it’s not a tear-jerker. It left me feeling drawn out and harrowed, yet emotionally satisfied at a fundamental level. Highly recommended, if you’re prepared for it.

Kill Bill, Vol 2

Vol. 2 is a very strong film, but not as immediately arresting as Vol. 1. The first thing that sets it apart from its predecessor is that it’s not an action film. It contains action sequences, but Vol. 2 is all about exploring the characters it presents–and then ending them in a burst of savage violence. In this regard, however, it is also a very unbalanced film, because the main character revelations come in the last half hour. Taking the two films as a whole, the pacing makes sense: strong build-up followed by a measure of reflection, and concluded with a twisty flourish. Yet however much sense it made for Tarantino to split the film where he did, and regardless of the emotion sting in the tail, this structure inevitably leads to Vol. 2 being the weaker of the two. Having said that, it is a beautifully shot and acted film, filled with the quirky directorial touches for which Tarantino is justly famous. It is crammed with in-jokes, cinematic references, and loving parodies. The core family dilemma that Bill and the Bride have to confront is not original, but Tarantino’s brutal treatment of it is unique and powerful.

Update: Upon reflection, I think this deserves an upgrade to 4.5 stars.