Michael Keaton

Blast From The Past: Batman Returns (1992)

Before Christopher Nolan all but completed the Batman franchise with his reimagining of the legendary comic book figure, there was the gothic interpretation, with Tim Burton directing and Michael Keaton returning as the Caped Crusader, after the 1989 Batman film.

One of my local cinemas occasionally puts on films of yesteryear, usually cult classics, so I’ve started a new segment called ‘Blast From The Past’ and this is the first one I’ve caught. Batman Returns was probably my favourite Batman from the 90s, but all I remember was that featured the grotesque-looking Penguin villain.

I forgot how dark the opening is, as a young Cobblepot is born but discarded into a river on Christmas. Fast-forward 33 years, and there are rumours floating around, that a Penguin-Man has been sighted and living in the sewers. And in true Tim Burton style, the film is filled with gothic stylisation and shadows aplenty. From the opening scene with costumes the Cobblepots are wearing, to the tall shadowy buildings that surround Gotham City, Burton has really dressed the screen in his gothic imagining.

Michael Keaton continues his role as Batman and protecting Gotham City, but doesn’t actually show up until the Red Triangle Gang cause havoc during the annual turning on the Christmas tree lights, with a speech by Max Shreck (Christopher Walken). Shreck is kidnapped and blackmailed by The Penguin (Danny Devito) in the aftermath, to make sure he becomes an up-standing citizen of Gotham City after being cast away by his unknown parents.

The character of The Penguin reminds of Nolan’s interpretation of The Scarecrow, being a character that has a dark persona hidden by the public figure, especially as he discovers his true name of Oswald Cobblepot. Shreck in an effort to get his dodgy power planet authorised pushes Penguin to run for mayor so they can aid and abet each other. And Danny DeVito and Walken play these characters to perfection, as you become to dislike them as people and their slimy exterior.

And of course Tim Burton continues to dress the screen in dark colours throughout the 2 hours+ running time, otherwise would it even be a Tim Burton film? But some of the sequences included within Batman Returns are incredibly dark and strange. I mentioned the opening scene, where the child is abandoned to the sewers, but also Selina Kyle’s (Michelle Pfeiffer) transformation into Catwoman, but as Hello There transforms into the statement Hell Here is just brilliant imagery by the director.

Selina Kyle does becomes integral in this story, as she discovers why Shreck is a dodgy dealer when it comes to the power plant, but also the transformation becomes one of the key turning points in the struggle for Gotham City. And that’s what happens, you become wrapped up in this film and feels like you’ve been there for hours, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing because of the enjoyment from watching a nostalgic classic on the silver screen.

That being said though, Tim Burton loves to drag out an ending doesn’t he? The climax of this film feels like it does drag on for a good half hour, but this is probably down to the three narrative interjections coming to a close. There are some cringey moments within Batman Returns from it’s one-liners, to the tight clothing of the Princess. But these issues do not necessarily overshadow the film as a whole.

The choreographed action sequences are what you would expect from the early nineties, but they are fun, especially the aerial efforts from the Red Triangle Gang. It was fun to see this film up on the big screen after all those years of not watching it, and it’s richness in texture and laced with the gothic imagery that Tim Burton just adores.

The film is not one of the classics, it’s fair to say. It’s just not. It hasn’t aged well at all. But it doesn’t matter, because the enjoyment trumps that completely. It’s two hours of over-egged performances from the star-studded cast, but it’s a fun way to spend two hours. And it’s not just Christian Bale that seems to be a moody Batman, Michael Keaton does his best at this as well.

6.9 Bats out of 11.

Spiderman: Homecoming (2017)

Spiderman: Homecoming marks the third incarnation of the character after Sony have finally allowed the Marvel Cinematic Universe to have their wicked way. Another sign that the MCU is showing no signs of releasing the stranglehold it currently holds over Hollywood.

I’m not going to lie, I enjoyed Sam Raimi’s imagining of Spiderman with Tobey Maguire at the helm and disliked Andrew Garfield’s take on the character in the rebooted follow-up. After his appearance in Captain America: Civil War, Tom Holland gets his own standalone adventure in the MCU canon.

Tom Holland’s casting does bring about the youth and innocence that the character of Spiderman was missing in the previous films, and the film itself accentuates this as he tries to harness his own powers for good. This is all but helped by his interactions with Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) and Tony Stark. (Robert Downey Jr.) (yes, Ironman makes yet another appearance in a Marvel film, bore)

But rather than having Ironman as the knight in red armour coming to save the day, he takes on the mantle of the father figure mentoring Peter Parker and goads him into becoming the neighbourhood friendly spider. And that is where we find Tom Holland as Spiderman, some time has passed since the events of Civil War took place and he’s vying for the next superhero call-up.

That is until he stumbles onto the weapons being harnessed from Alien technology by The Vulture (Michael Keaton playing a different kind of Birdman) and his cronies. And suddenly (and unsurprisingly) Spiderman: Homecoming falls into the framework that has been used time and time again. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fair bit lighter than the previous Marvel ventures due to the youth, innocence and amateur-hour display from Peter Parker, but its does follow the pattern that is expected.

What has also become a staple for the Marvel Universe is the use of comedy throughout the film, and that is channelled through Ned (Jacob Batalon). Again it is a very over-egged choice of comedy, but for some reason with Spiderman: Homecoming it worked. Ned channelled the Michael Pena-esque Luis from Ant-Man, continually talking and just being hilarious with his quips.

Michael Keaton’s hard done-by Vulture character was really intriguing, especially with his backstory and how neatly the narrative fits in together. But he does rip and tears through everything Spiderman throws at him, but ultimately as it’s a Marvel films you know what is going to happen. Jon Watts did do a masterful job of building tension though between Keaton and Holland during that scene.

Spiderman: Homecoming is a largely enjoyable film in the cinema, but afterwards it becomes largely forgettable one as I’m struggling now to find memorable areas within the film. (aside from that tense scene with Keaton) What it boils down to is a coming-of-age story, especially with the Tony Stark father figure shooting him down. But the believability of this coming-of-age story weighs on Tom Holland’s shoulders. Which does work as he does struggle to find the right way to go about stopping the baddies and does mess up but it’s all with the hope of doing the right thing.

Jon Watts’ reimagining of Spiderman for the Marvel Universe was a fun way to spend the best part of two hours plus, but don’t forget the film itself is less than memorable after you’ve left the cinema. That tense scene between Michael Keaton and Tom Holland was absolute genius but is that the only take away I got? Yes, yes it is. If you’re a big fan of the overconsumption that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you’ll probably take more away than I did, but nonetheless, it’s decent enough for a Spiderman film, definitely better than the Andrew Garfield lot.

Spotlight (2015)

It’s quite amazing to think that a year removed from the very Adam Sandler-y The Cobbler, Tom McCarthy produced Spotlight. One of the finer films to come out of 2015, and taking two Oscar wins with it. Being based on a true story is always tricky as well considering potential implications that come with it.

Spotlight revolves around the Spotlight team of The Boston Globe that head the charge to uncover the child sex abuse scandal that is seemingly rampant in the Roman Catholic Church and dates back a few decades. If Boston is famous for something that isn’t the Red Sox, it has to be its attachment to the church. The Boston Globe’s new editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) insists the spotlight team head the investigation.

McCarthy enlisted quite an ensemble to help portray this heavy subject matter. Taking on the role of The Boston Globe Spotlight team, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James and Michael Keaton all deliver fantastic performances. The trouble is with a heavy subject matter such as this, the film will naturally be dialogue-heavy, but the performances delivered by Ruffalo and co only help this cause and keep us emotionally invested in the team.

pg-31-spotlight-boston-4-hayes

Being only 9 or 10 years old when this scandal was unearthed, this is completely new ground to me in regards to learning and the way McCarthy reveals the information is incredibly smart and intuitive to keep us watching and demanding more.

A trouble I have had recently when watching the bigger films of years gone by is the familiar connection to the films stars. Spotlight is nothing but connection to these real-life people going about to uncover the dirt that lies beneath this story. From Brian d’Arcy James’ Matt Carroll finding a ‘treatment centre’ yards away from his home, to Ruffalo’s Mike Rezendes exclaiming it could have been any of them that could have been abused. The reality of the situation is certainly a striking feature of this film and I don’t believe for a second it wasn’t intentional by McCarthy.

spotlight1

There is a feel of a certain institutional vice grip that the Church has on the town, and this comes vivid in the unbelievably smart editing by Tom McArdle. When the Spotlight team are canvassing for their investigation, you can see a vast amount of churches within a stones throw of the victims being interviewed.

The important thing to consider with this film is not much happens with regards to spectacular gritty action shots, but rather the team literally bunkering down and doing some investigative work. But the way McCarthy continually keeps this tense and the uncovering of the story being fed drop by drop is an absolute master class.

Spotlight easily comes down to the story and the compelling cast working hand-in-hand and that is perfectly conveyed through the screen. As the story runs through the touch over two hours run-time, the actors look more grizzled as they unearth this dark secret being kept by the church. And their efforts to keep the story running and it revealing darker secrets is just riveting, but also quite frankly horrifying.

maxresdefault

McCarthy alongside the enigmatic crew of Ruffalo, Keaton and co have created one fascinating film and handled the sensitive subject excellently. Concentrating the story through the Spotlight team was the best approach and of course Schreiber being the glue guy pushing the team forward. The story and the editing is only helped on heaps by the evocative score produced by Howard Shore was just beautifully composed and fitted perfectly with the editing.

The impact that the story had on myself and my friends from the viewing was intense. McCarthy’s direction was great and McArdle’s editing alongside Shore’s score was just brilliant and really made the film worth watching. Having the sensitive subject matter at the centre of the film handled so superbly was excellent and I don’t think McCarthy could have done a finer job.