Tag Archives: Christian Bale

Vice (2018) Movie Review By Gianni Damaia

Vice

Director: Adam McKay
Writer: Adam McKay
Stars: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell

Adam McKay has always been one to watch. His transition from an inspiring bro-comedy director to the creator of an Oscar winning educational, political dramedy has been astounding to observe and grow with. From the second The Big Short ended, I was eager to see his next move. Sticking with the latter of his skill set, McKay has followed up with Vice, a political satire with a dash of lunacy and frenetic drama. Unfortunately, I didn’t find Vice to have nearly the same level of appeal as McKay’s previous works.

Vice follows the story of Dick Cheney, the famed enigmatic political mastermind, so to speak, behind the Bush administration. Of course, by the movie’s own admission in the opening title card, liberties had to be taken. The lines between historical accuracy and fiction are blurred, with the approach aiming to use its self awareness to its advantage in order to separate itself from your typical biopic. From the jump, McKay guarantees a polarizing experience, knowing full well his political leanings will influence the story. I only mention this to acknowledge that certain biases exist. Some audiences will appreciate them while others won’t, but in terms of objective criticism (if such a thing exists), I believe it bares no weight on my review of the film. What does, however, is McKay’s incessant need to make his film chaotic to avoid it being boring.

Vice utilizes an ‘objective’ narrator, title cards, and even voiceover from the inner monologue of Cheney himself. It has several sequences of entirely satirical circumstances, poking meta textual fun at the real life events. If you ever wanted to watch Cheney and his wife spontaneously bust into Macbethian soliloquy’s, you can find it in Vice. If you ever wanted to see an entire sequence of fake final credits, you can find it in Vice. And hell, if you want to see Christian Bale stare straight into the lens of the camera and talk directly to the audience in a way that would make you wish House of Cards had been remade and recast, then you will get that in Vice. The point I’m making is that McKay utilizes a lot, and I mean A LOT, of storytelling devices to keep his film new and entertaining, but it doesn’t mean it makes his film better. I’d argue it makes it worse.

The frenetic pace established early in Vice has no identity. The aforementioned opening title card hints at a comedic opening, but it takes nearly 20 minutes for another joke to land. Why? Because Vice can’t decide whether it wants to be a straight political satire or a dramatic character study. The occasional display of satirical showmanship detracts from the credibility of the storytelling. McKay’s previous work, The Big Short, played its hand similarly. In fact, it’s fingerprints are all over Vice. The difference is that The Big Short wisely separated it’s self referential moments from the story at work. It used those meta conversations to propel and strengthen the core narrative. Vice can’t separate the two, and as a result the audience can’t either.

Perhaps my biggest contention with the film is that by its end, I don’t really understand Cheney. Dick Cheney is intimidating and calculated, but he’s constantly being resorted to a figure as opposed to a character. I never get to watch him think because I’m busy being told by the narrator that Cheney is thinking. Despite him dominating the screen time, I don’t exactly know much about him beyond what he’s done according to the film. As far as I can tell, the moments and decisions that propel Cheney in this film are little more than a strong desire for power.

Rarely do characters ever sit and have a straight conversation because McKay is constantly playing with the frame, throwing images at it to see what sticks. The timeline is another point of contention. There is a flippancy to which Vice works with Cheney’s past. At any given point, we are constantly being tossed from one period in his political career to another. Sometimes, McKay finds life and significance in this choice. For example, Cheney looking upon the Oval Office after being elected Vice President juxtaposed with a memory of Cheney getting his first ever office, essentially a desk and walls and no windows. Other times, the story changes timeline with no discernible rhyme or reason and detracts from the storytelling and momentum of whatever previous scene came before it.

My contentions with Vice aside, this isn’t a film void of impressive features. It should come as no surprise that Christian Bale is immersive and utterly brilliant. Not only is it a role with intense focus on the nuance of Cheney’s mannerisms to capture his persona, Bale also finds plenty of opportunities to pursue the character’s wants and desires with little more than a glance. This is a performance that completely elevated the character beneath it. With Bale at the helm, Cheney becomes almost appealing, despite being a villain for much of the film. This may be the most intimidating presence Bale has ever portrayed, and I’m including Bruce Wayne in that hot take. Generally, I avoid performance bashing in my reviews, because actors are so often front facing and have such little to do with the larger picture, so all I’ll add is this: The other performers do relatively well, but Bale is undoubtedly the highlight. For all that I have to say against McKay’s frantic display, he does make impressive storytelling choices. Tethering themes of fishing and heartlessness into the greater narrative takes a bold, ambitious mastermind. The handheld camera work adds to the story, creating an atmosphere of intimacy for a character that can seem so ‘larger than life’.

The most important thing to note is that despite all my gripes, Vice still managed to keep me entertained. I enjoyed Vice more than the rating I’m giving it, and while I can’t argue that my enjoyment makes it better, I can argue that it might still be worth your time. Maybe. But Christian Bale is definitely worth your time.

6.5/10

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Rescue Dawn (2006) Movie Retro Review by Stephen McLaughlin

RESCUE DAWN

Director: Werner Herzog
Writer: Werner Herzog
Stars: Christian Bale, Steve Zahn, Jeremy Davies

I sometimes have to remind myself that between Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008) Christian Bale was keeping himself busy with excellent movies such as “I’m Not There”, “3:10 to Yuma”, “The Prestige” and “Rescue Dawn”.

In fact the latter is the one out of these movies for me that slipped under my radar and thankfully I have now watched this tale about A U.S. fighter pilot’s struggle of survival after being shot down on a mission over Laos during the Vietnam War and captured.

“Rescue Dawn” isn’t an all guns blazing “Rambo” type Vietnam War movie where our hero saves the day. In fact, it’s more like “Cast Away” in the Jungle. Bale plays U.S. Pilot Dieter Dengler who is thrown in a prisoner of war camp being subjected to torture and humiliation. Dengler befriends fellow soldiers who have been captured over the years in Duane (Zahn) and Gene (Davies) and a plan to escape is already in motion in Dengler’s mind.

Werner Herzog Directed and wrote this movie. I have always believed when the director is in the writing chair it is a match made in moviemaking. Herzog “the writer” gives us a beautifully written script and character based storyline that is interesting, funny and heartbreaking. Herzog “the Director” gives us a movie that appears to have given the actors an amount of freedom to portray these poor souls only out to survive before their mental torment takes over their minds.

As far as casting goes, the three main actors have great chemistry from the moment they meet on screen Bale, Zahn and Davies all portray different versions of prisoners of war and for me Zahn is the standout in “Rescue Dawn” his portrayal of the troubled Duane is a thing of beauty and there are some touching scenes between him and Bale as Dengler.

As the story unfolds, Duane’s mind is breaking down gradually and becomes dependent on Dieter which to me is a testament to the acting abilities of Steve Zahn who I have always enjoyed watching in previous movies. His portrayal is a patient and gradual decline that the audience will only realise by the end of the movie when you think back to his opening scene.

This is not to say that Bale is outdone in any fashion. Christian Bale is and always will be an excellent actor but his role in the movie is somewhat a master of ceremonies in the middle part of the film where I felt Zahn shines. Bale as Dieter Dengler is brilliant and his character physically and mentally is the sharpest due to the others spending more time in the POW Camp than him and carries the story along with conviction.

Jeremy Davies should also be commended as Gene. His character is more cynical but at the same time sharp witted with an edge to him. Physically Davies must have starved himself to appear as a long suffering prisoner of war and his appearance is shocking although perhaps not as shocking as Bale in “The Machinist (2004)” but nevertheless is committed to the character and again like Zahn portrays a long suffering mentally disturbed individual who appears to be ready to break.

“Rescue Dawn” is a brilliant character based movie that has invested in its characters and its storyline with a beautifully haunting soundtrack by Klaus Badelt and stunning Vietnamese scenery by Peter Zeitlinger the films Cinematographer.

The film is an escape movie to an extent but in a realistic fashion that relies on limited resources and no disposing of soil from a freshly dug tunnel is to be seen. If you haven’t saw this movie I would recommend giving it ago and although it is now over 11 years old it is a movie as I previously mentioned that got away from me. Highly Recommend.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012) Movie Retro Review by Stephen McLaughlin

DARK KNIGHT RISES

Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Jonathan Nolan (screenplay),  Christopher Nolan(screenplay)
Stars: Christian Bale,  Tom Hardy,  Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman

The Dark Knight Rises is the concluding part of the Dark Knight Trilogy by Christopher Nolan released in 2012. Four years had passed since the epic The Dark Knight left fans of the franchise satisfied and flabbergasted and although we wanted more I think deep down we all knew this couldn’t be topped.

I previously mentioned in my last review that in 2008 I felt it should have ended with The Dark Knight as I felt that instalment couldn’t be matched never mind surpassed. By 2012 I was interested to see where “Rises” could take us and to be fair I never went into the IMAX theatre thinking this was going to be better than it’s predecessor. In fact my expectations were contained for the time being.

I’m not going to beat around the bush here. Is The Dark Knight Rises better than The Dark Knight or Batman Begins? Of course it isn’t. Is it a bad film? Of course it isn’t. Is its conclusion satisfying to the audience? Well…..perhaps. (I’ll come to that)

Before this review grows arms and legs I’m not going to compare this movie with its previous instalments any further as I feel it’s unfair and to be honest, it’s a pretty great film when you isolate it from the other two.

Christopher Nolan has a real knack of throwing the audience right into the thick of it and here is no exception. The opening shots of the aeroplane flying over a beautiful landscape (partially Scotland I may add) gives us the big reveal on who the villain is this time and Tom Hardy’s “Bane” is a force to be reckoned with. Hardy packed the pounds on to “fill” the role and really looked a menacing figure with the famous breathing apparatus but with a slightly peculiar voice. If fans moaned about Batman’s voice previously then a lot of justification on the criticism of the voice effect on Bane’s mask was correct. Again on a first time showing you may miss some dialogue because of this and I admit I struggled at times. Having viewed this movie several times it is fair to say that some of Bane’s lines are easily quotable now and again, we as fans just love to nitpick don’t we?

8 years have passed since Harvey Dent was murdered and Batman took the blame for this event in hope that Dent’s “White Knight of Gotham” would give the people hope and remembrance on what Harvey stood for. Since that night Bruce Wayne became a recluse (with a limp and a cane, due to injuring himself) and hung up the Bat Cape. With a fund raising function at Wayne Manor Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) poses as a maid who under the strict instructions of Alfred is to deliver dinner to Bruce’s quarters with a key to access a room leave the tray and leave immediately. That wasn’t going to happen as Selina had other plans in breaking into Bruce Wayne’s safe. Although we are lead to believe that she is after Martha Wayne’s pearl necklace, she is in fact after Bruce Wayne’s finger prints.

Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle is never mentioned as “Catwoman” throughout the movie but it is heavily hinted through newspaper clippings “The Cat Burglar Strikes Again” etc. Also the wardrobe for the character is similar that to a cat complete with goggles that double up as little cat ears when placed on top of her head. Hathaway really excels in this role and is a far cry from her role in “The Devil Wears Pravda” Selina is hard, cold and knows exactly what she wants and warns Bruce that a storm is coming. Hathaway really fits into Nolan’s Dark Knight vision and it’s fair to say she was perfectly cast in the role as witnessed in those opening scenes for her character.

Bruce Wayne really took a step back in The Dark Knight compared to Batman Begins (sorry I’m not comparing, honestly I said I wouldn’t do that) but The Dark Knight Rises is drawing from the origins of Batman Begins when it is revealed where Bane came from and what his plan is for Gotham and Batman. If the Joker physiologically tormented Batman, Bane’s intents were physically. Bruce Wayne having been in seclusion for so long and pointed out by Alfred wasn’t the same person he was. Alfred’s concerns for Bruce where heartfelt and feared Bruce becoming Batman again because Bane’s stature and more so his training with “The League of Shadows”

The Dark Knight Rises takes us on a journey on Bruce Wayne’s spirit and will and how this character must rise to take on Bane. I’m not going to detail keys sequences for anyone who hasn’t watched this movie but the scenes in the “pit” really is where the key to where Bruce was physiologically and where he was physically also.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt was an excellent addition as Blake to the already superb cast and carried those composition sequences perfectly. The character of Blake is key to the movie and is the connection between all of the characters, you could say the character is the master of ceremonies and has a fitting set up at the end of the movie that Christopher Nolan threw in there for the fans which although is a little cheesy is a nice touch and leaves us wondering “what next for this character?”

In summary this movie was never going to top the previous sequel but surprisingly links more to Batman Begins and bookends the Trilogy perfectly. On the whole Christopher Nolan gave us a near perfect Trilogy which is an achievement after the last incarnation (Batman and Robin (1997) left a bad taste in fans mouths. Spanning 7 years from beginning to end showed the commitment from the director and now having been involved and adding input into the DCU’s version as an executive producer highlights his fondness for the character and cares enough to still be involved although Ben Affleck’s “The Batman” is again another take on the character. For fans it’s a pleasure to revisit the Nolan Trilogy and for me I can’t recommend it enough. Thank You Christopher Nolan.

The Dark Knight (2008) Movie Retro Review by Stephen McLaughlin

THE DARK NIGHT

Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Jonathan Nolan (screenplay),  Christopher Nolan
Stars: Christian Bale,  Heath Ledger,  Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy

Christopher Nolan really did leave us hanging at the end of Batman Begins (2005) with the Jim Gordon / Batman scene at the very end teasing the audience with the “has a taste for the theatrical, like you. Leaves a calling card.” with what we could look forward to in the next instalment of “The Dark Knight Trilogy”

Within those three years slowly but surely little pieces of information began to leak online on who would portray “The Joker” and it’s no great secret that when Health Ledger was announced it caused a bit of backlash amongst the fans that hadn’t been seen since pre-internet days of Tim Burton’s announcement that Michael Keaton was portraying Bruce Wayne in the 1989 version of the caped crusader. In fact, we as fans still haven’t learned our lessons for in 2013 a similar backlash happened with the announcement of Ben Affleck taking the Wayne mantel in the upcoming sequel to “Man of Steel” that would soon becoming title “Batman Versus Superman”

We need not worried as most folk know about Ledger’s now iconic portal of “The Clown” and more importantly the tragedy surrounding the actors untimely death on 22nd January 2008 aged 28, six months before the premier of “The Dark Knight”

The hype and publicity surrounding the release of the movie in the summer of 2008 probably would have tainted the movie in a way that with all the publicity into Ledger’s death may in fact leave a massive shadow hanging over the sequel. Going into the theatre to watch the follow up to Batman Begins, any fear of this was put to bed within the first 10 minutes of the movie as we watched a bank heist taking place and The Joker’s reveal was straight to the point was also shocking as we see and hear this portrayal say “I believe whatever doesn’t kill you, simply makes you stranger” the theatre may have been in complete darkness but you couldn’t sense the audience rubbing their hands knowing what was in store for the next couple of hours.

One thing I noticed and have always applauded Christopher Nolan for was the focus is taken away from Bruce Wayne in the movie. Batman Begins was always about Bruce Wayne and the development of that character so much so they didn’t give us one of the “main” villains in the opening instalment (although The Scarecrow was excellent) as the Director was in every sense rebooting the franchise. In “The Dark Knight” this was never going to be the case. Here we saw a man “Who just wanted to watch world burn” in The Joker and also we see the Rise and Tragic Fall of Harvey Dent who went from “Gotham’s White Knight” to “Two Face” gradually and even more so tragically.

The pacing of this movie is something that has always impressed me, from those opening IMax designed shots moving over the city to the end is so consistent and the tone never changes although there are some lighter tones of dialogue, particularly with Bruce and Alfred or Bruce and Lucius Fox but overall the darkness of the film accompanies the audience throughout its duration.

Christian Bale did receive a little flak for his Batman “voice” in this movie and I can understand that on the first viewing you might miss a few of his lines due to his voice but overall it really is just nitpicking as Bale’s Wayne is really finding it difficult to deal with a man who has no plan and has nothing to lose. Also his portrayal of the billionaire’s personal life an in particularly the relationship between him and Rachel Daws continues to develop. The actor again shows us all why he was cast as Bruce Wayne in the first place and barely puts a foot wrong throughout.

Health Ledger as previously mentioned, it is very difficult to say where after this performance would have taken him. Receiving posthumously an Oscar for best supporting actor in his portrayal of the The Joker was bittersweet and heartbreaking as his performance was up there with the best of them and to this day his lines are still as memorable as they were 9 years ago. Ledger takes the character in a different direction from previous incarnations of the legendary villain. Not as much theatrics or parlour tricks but a more edgier and gripping portrayal is witnessed as the actor turns “The Clown” into a really disturbing figure that even the “Mob” fear.

Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent. Could I think of anyone else to portray the new DA in Gotham? Well no. In fact I don’t think Eckhart has come close to reaching these heights before or since this movie was released. Eckhart’s performance matches Christian Bale’s scene for scene and the character gives Bruce Wayne hope that the day of Batman being Gotham’s saviour is coming to an end, much to the delight and relief of Wayne. Eckhart’s performance is terrific is his almost whiter than white portrayal of a good man wanting to better his city and rid Gotham of the disease that was slowly dragging it back down to the days of Falcone. Eckhart’s “turn” is almost as tragic after losing everything becoming “Two Face” I have to admit I was excited when it was announced that “The Joker” would be the villain in this instalment, but admittedly I was concerned that having Two Face in there too may be a little overkill. My fears were put to bed after the first viewing of the film as the handling of the character was more sympathetic and tragic than the out and out villain of the movie.

Again the supporting cast of Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy was very similar to Batman Begins with all these characters playing their parts for the right amount of time and used correctly. Even Maggie Gyllenhaal replacing Katie Holms for the part of Rachel didn’t really distract in anyway and that’s down to good writing and obviously the acting of Gylenhaal who had a larger part to play than Holms did in Batman Begins.

Overall this movie is perfection and I didn’t think Batman Begins could be topped if I’m being honest. The tone of this film is trademark Nolan and Hans Zimmer’s collaboration with James Newton Howard is a piece of art itself adding to the already darker tones and adding to the feel and texture of the movie. As most of you know this is the middle part of the trilogy, but I couldnt help but feel at the time how this movie would be equalled or bettered with a concluding part to it as in 2008 I really felt this movie hit the Dark Knight’s peak and I have to be honest and say in 2008 I didn’t want another one after this as I did regard this as a masterpiece and anything after it would be inferior. If you haven’t seen this movie yet I can’t recommend it enough as it is in my all time top 5 movies to see.

Batman Begins (2005) Movie Retro Review by Stephen McLaughlin

BATMAN BEGINS

Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Bob Kane (characters), David S. Goyer (story)
Stars: Christian Bale,  Michael Caine, Ken Watanabe, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy

Batman Begins opens with young Bruce and young Rachel playing in the grounds of Wayne Manor when Bruce accidentally falls down an old well landing in a cave full of Bats. Here we realise his fear and this plays well later and throughout the movie and basically is the theme of this first instalment of The Dark Knight Trilogy.

Let me take you back to a time when Batman, The Caped Crusader, The Dark Knight etc etc wasn’t cool. I’m not talking about BvS here either, as Batman was one of the plus points of that movie. No I’m talking about….. the year is 1997 and Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin is released. Enough said? Well not really, some consider that incarnation of DC’s Superhero almost killed the franchise and if you witnessed this train wreck I wouldn’t hold it against you for thinking that way.

So when Batman Begins was announced I have to admit I wasn’t overly keen devoting much time back into the Saviour of Gotham City. I personally felt that not enough time had passed by at this point and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one thinking things were still too raw to even go there. The choice of Director wasn’t exciting me enough either because in 2005 I think my only Christopher Nolan movie that I had viewed was Memento which although is a good film, I wasn’t sure if Nolan would be able to handle such an occasion (The Rebirth of Batman you say?) bare in mind up to this point the only other movie I had heard of him doing was Insomnia staring Al Pacino and Robin Williams that I had gone back and viewed once I jumped on the Nolan Gravy Train and hadn’t looked back since. The choice of playing the lead role is the young boy Jim from Empire of the Sun and more recently that creep Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. Again what the hell are they doing at Warner Bros was my war cry.

You see folks, this is why I write movie reviews and why I don’t attempt writing movie screenplays or scripts. Now my war cry is (out with The Dark Knight) Batman Begins is the greatest superhero movie made ever, yeah hindsight is a great thing and I never claimed to have 20/20 hindsight anyway.

Nolan’s journey for Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is styled on going back and forth throughout his younger years leading up to an established Bruce Wayne complete with training ready to share his fear with his enemies but before then we travel through the terrible tragedy of Thomas (Linus Roache) and Martha Wayne’s (Sara Stewart) murders at the hands of Joe Chill (Richard Brake). An angry Bruce seeks revenge on Chill years later when he is released only to be robbed of killing his parents murderer when one of Falcone’s (Tom Wilkinson) hench woman intervenes and silences stone dead Chill before he even gets out the courtroom. Bruce confronting Falcone only to be set on his way with Falcone taunting the billionaire saying “you got spirit kid, I’ll give you that. More than your old man had. Chill told me the night of your parents murder that your father,he begged Chill for his life….begged….like a dog”

This is the turning point for Bruce as he realises he isn’t prepared to tackle the corrupt in his city just yet and disappears for seven years (presumed dead by the people of Gotham) in this time Bruce seeks direction and purpose ending in brawls and being in the wrong place during a stake out ending up in prison where he practices his fighting on the inmates until a man who goes by the name of Ducard (Liam Neeson) offers Bruce a chance to add purpose to his life and join him in training to become a member of the league of shadows.

The scenery in this section of the movie is stunning and visually beautiful and captures the isolation of these warriors who are cut off from civilisation but insist on controlling civilisation throughout time. The training of Bruce Wayne has never been explored until now on the big screen and this is one of the most enjoyable sequences in the movie, not only for the terrific fighting choreography but the dialogue between Ducard and Bruce and how they differ on how far they will go in terms of vengeance explains on the differences between both of them and you know at some point they aren’t going to agree on something.

We don’t have long to wait until that “something” happens. When Bruce has basically convinced the League of Shadows and Ra’s Al Ghul that he is ready to face the trials to become one of them he is faced with a moral test that will deter whether or not he is ready. When Bruce is asked to execute a local man for theft, Bruce beliefs in the justice system of being triad for his crimes angering his mentors and a battle between the League of Shadows and the young prodigy begins when he refuses to execute the thief.

Now Batman Begins……

The second half of this movie is so nicely set up in a way it’s like climbing a mountain (much like Bruce had to do) to reach the peak to admire the view before grabbing a sledge to slide all the way back down for the sheer enjoyment of it all. That’s exactly what the second half of this movie is like. We begin to see a superhero in the making from working along side Lucius Fox’s (Morgan Freeman) “Applied Sciences” a division of Wayne Enterprises that is basically how Batman gets his suit, gadgets and car…..or in this case “The Tumbler” I always love moments like these in movies whether it be in Bond or more lately The Kingsman. Who doesn’t like gadgets?

Bruce is also reacquainted with his oldest Rachel Daws (Katie Holmes) who is now the assistant DA of Gotham City who is in hot pursuit of Falcone and Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy) also known as “The Scarecrow” who is conveniently sectioning half of the mob as part of his experiments into hallucinogenics with fear.

I personally think the “Comic Book” villain of this film is the right choice. Batman Begins is an origins story of not just Batman but more so Bruce Wayne and his story. So it was correct in using “The Scarecrow” as a go between the Mob and the League of Shadows. Murphy almost plays Crane as slightly unhinged and creepy but with an arrogance. Cillian Murphy is a reliable actor who Christopher Nolan uses so well in all the movies he has directed the actor in. The Scenes with The Mob and in particular Murphy and Wilkinson are clever as we begin to see who’s role is who in the grand scheme of things. Wilkinson is a credible Falcone and throws his weight around in the beginning but when we see Dr. Jonathan Crane arrive on the scene we begin to see who is bossing who and there is a slight fear on Falcone with Crane when he describes “The Scarecrow” in the third person that Falcone doesn’t realise are but of the same person. It doesn’t stop there as we then discover Crane is actually a pawn himself for the League of Shadows and Ra’s Al Ghul.

Liam Neeson is that good he doesn’t have to do accents in any of the movies he appears in. As Ducard and as the villain is so persuasive in his theory that Gotham must be wiped and rebuilt that he is able to use villains as The Scarecrow to contaminate the water system in Gotham and using microwave currents to vaporise that water to create a hallucinogenic steam that will send residents of the city into chaos and fear tearing them apart. It’s not only the weak minded that Ducart can manipulate but I sensed that he even had Bruce Wayne thinking about it and convinced him to join the League of Shadows in the first place. This is one of my favourite films with Liam Neeson and his character is well developed as we get a glimpse of his backstory too as well as his beliefs.

Throughout all the chaos in the story it is always comforting to know that in most films you have the calming influence. The character in the movie who can see clearly through the muddy waters and someone Bruce can trust and rely on. The Character is of course Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne’s Butler. In Batman Begins Alfred is portrayed a little more than just Wayne’s man servant though and in the earlier scenes we discover how Alfred acted as the guardian of young master Bruce and becoming confident to him later in his adult life. Michael Caine portrays the character so perfectly and gives of the vibe that there is more to him than just serving tea to the rich. You can sense (and it’s confirmed in The Dark Knight) that his has seen some action in his younger days and is a tough old nut. That’s down to Caine and his delivery of the character and body language. The scenes between Bruce and Alfred at times are very light in tone to keep that calming presence preserved and there are some touching scenes between them.

The climatic last third of this film is stunning and Christopher Nolan really gives us an insight to ground zero Gotham. The tones and style of this part of the film reminded me of the 1993 film “The Crow” starring Brandon Lee. The City is a dark place in Batman Begins and I just don’t mean the time of day. The people are repressed and almost downtrodden. The villains are sinister and manipulative and this third act really shows you where Nolan is going with this franchise. The battle between Ducard and Batman on the train is so memorable and quotable “I’m not going to kill you, but I don’t have to save you”. What a line eh?

Batman Begins is wrapped up without me giving too much away in the most perfect way that isn’t really a spoiler as we know there are sequels.

Jim Gordon: We still haven’t picked up Crane or half the inmates of Arkham that he freed.

Batman: We will. We *can* bring Gotham back.

Jim Gordon: What about escalation?

Batman: Escalation?

Jim Gordon: We start carrying semi-automatics, they buy automatics. We start wearing Kevlar, they buy armor piercing rounds.

Batman: And?

Jim Gordon: And, you’re wearing a mask. Jumping off rooftops. Now, take this guy.

[pulling out a file]
Jim Gordon: Armed robbery, double homicide, has a taste for the theatrical, like you. Leaves a calling card.
[shows Batman a plastic evidence bag containing a Joker card]

Batman: I’ll look into it.
[turns away and walks to the edge of the roof]
Jim Gordon: I never said thank you.

Batman: [looks back at Gordon] And you’ll never have to.

As previously mentioned this is almost the perfect comic book film and one that I revisit every couple of years. The casting is phenomenal and balanced and everyone plays their part brilliantly. The Direction of Nolan is one of the greatest witnessed on the big screen and in 2005 you wouldn’t believe could be topped. Even if you aren’t a comic book fan you will enjoy this first part of the Dark Knight Trilogy and it really sets up the two sequels in a way that maintains its tone throughout the larger story and tone of these films. I highly recommend anyone who hasn’t watched this to do so now.

The Big Short (2015) Movie Review by John Walsh

BIG SHORT

Director: Adam McKay
Writers: Charles Randolph (screenplay), Adam McKay (screenplay)
Stars: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling

Known mostly for his comedy work alongside good friend Will Ferrell on both the Anchorman duo-logy and Step Brothers; Adam McKay opts to go with a slightly more serious brand of comedy in The Big Short. Boasting a stellar cast and based on the Michael Lewis book of the same name, the film attempts to cast light on the 2008 financial crash, seen from the insider perspective and successfully utilising a more grown up, darker humour to bolster what is a pretty compelling story.

It follows the trials and tribulations of three separate ‘groups’ for want of a better word as they all become aware of the impending financial crisis of 2008 and attempt to ‘short’ a housing market teeming with unsustainable, sub-prime mortgages by gambling huge sums of money on its collapse. This of course draws ridicule from the unbearably smarmy banks and the litany of plebs working within, who at this point think themselves untouchable, and blinded by arrogance, blissfully unaware of the danger on the horizon. The same can’t be said for Doctor Michael Burry (Christian Bale); a brilliant analytical thinker and hedge fund manager, he spots the patterns emerging and predicts the crash way ahead of anyone else within the industry. It’s really his character, something of an introvert and rather socially awkward, who bears the brunt of the ridicule at the beginning, as he effectively gambles $1.3bn by convincing (there wasn’t much needed) pretty much every financial institution to let him set-up investments on bad loans going, well… bad.

Hot on his heels and alerted by the bemused gossiping spreading around town of Burry’s sudden investing is Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling); a sly, egotistical, salesman at Deutsche Bank, the ultimate profiteer and the narrator throughout. Seeing the potential of massive profits on the horizon, he immediately sets about encouraging Mark Baum (Steve Carroll); something of a rentagob and a disenfranchised worker at Morgan Stanley, still reeling from his brothers recent suicide into purchasing credit default swaps from his bank. Baum harbours a growing resentment towards Wall Street and despite being suspicious of Vennett’s motives, he agrees to look into the viability of the venture, setting out with his team of underlings to investigate the growing bubble of sub-prime mortgages. This reasonably short sequence begins with them encountering a pair of cocksure, perma-tanned, mortgage brokers that draw the chagrin of the increasingly aghast Baum and ends with the latter, looking decidedly uncomfortable, as he grills an exotic dancer at a strip club. This eye opening conversation, where the woman openly admits to owning five separate houses that she can’t possibly afford, convinces him to get on board with Vennett.

McKay then introduces the third and final group of money chasing desperadoes, the two college friends, Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock); entering the story in the lobby of an unnamed bank as they get a rather gentle and quite humorous rejection from an amused employee, whilst trying to arrange an ISDA, but failing to meet the requirements by the meagre sum of $1bn and spare change. The Brownfield fund they started is very much small time and they’re left cursing their luck until they discover the existence of the potential ‘bubble’ by picking up Vennett’s discarded dossier on the table before one of them turns to the camera, as the film quite often does, and explains that this didn’t actually happen in real life. With the two of them now on the scent like a randy, Blood Hound, they require the assistance of an old acquaintance to help get them a seat at the ‘big-boy’ table. Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) is that man. Highly suspicious of his incoming calls being tapped, the pair initially struggle to get a hold of him, but after finally succeeding they manage to convince him to help out after he admits that the statistics they earlier sent him were concerning.

The film then juggles all three perspectives around as things begin to progress, with frustrations quickly manifesting themselves, as all of them, well technically not Burry because he got it out of his system early, begin to invest more into the shorting financial gamble, whilst in the meantime they face having to fork out on costly premiums attached to their investments, with the inevitable crash seemingly refusing to materialise. During this point the moral beacon and voice for the regular joe is very much Rickert, out of the game and with nothing to really gain himself, he berates the excitable Charlie and Jamie after they successfully trade on AA rated loans, reminding them of the human cost that a huge financial crash brings. It soon becomes evident that the entire system, built on a Jenga like ticking, time bomb of a foundation as Vennett eloquently visualises earlier, is highly fraudulent with unscrupulous deals being done to maintain AAA ratings on clear sub-prime mortgages. This has the double edged effect of infuriating the protagonists and fooling the top cat bankers into a false sense of security. Of course, with the clear benefit of hindsight, the viewer know fine well that entire thing imploded shortly afterwards, but neither the film nor the people directly benefitting from it gloat when it finally hits (except Baum who can’t resist nailing a banker who’s the complete antithesis of himself), choosing instead to focus on the innocent parties effected.

There’s some very good performances here in what is a pretty excellent ensemble cast. Christian Bale does exactly what you’d expect him to do, transforming into the almost unrecognisably awkward Michael Burry, a man that walks around bare footed, in shorts and a t-shirt, whilst locking himself in his office and listening to heavy metal. He perfectly encapsulates this with all the nervous, little quirks you’d expect in such a man. Normally known for his comedic roles, Steve Carrell delivers a smashing performance as the incongruous Mark Baum, a man riddled with guilt at his brothers untimely death and steadfastly determined to bring some moral equilibrium to a bent system. Ryan Gosling is decent too, adding some comedic flair to the film with his narration of the events and intermittent turns to the camera. Both John Magaro and Finn Wittrock put in solid portrayals too, whilst the strong supporting cast headed up by Brad Pitt, who makes a fleeting appearance, Marisa Tomei, Jeremy Strong and quite a few others really help make this what it is. The film also unusually turns to brief cameos from celebrities, most notably Margot Robbie, Anthony Bourdain and Selena Gomez, to explain the finer details of CDO’s and credit-default swaps. These don’t effect the pacing of the film or take you out of it in way.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Big Short and given the nature of the films subject matter, it was perhaps extremely important for McKay to get across the seriousness of it all whilst lightening the tone with comedic moments. It could’ve quite easily became a bore fest if he strayed in one direction too much, but I think he got the perfect blend between the two. I would have no problem recommending this film, if like me, you somehow managed to miss its original release.