Tag Archives: Batman

Top 10 DC films

Even though the superhero genre, with its cinematic universes and CGI moustache removal, feels like a modern invention, it’s worth remembering that DC films have been around since 1978, with the release of Richard Donner’s Superman. Since then, DC has left numerous, indelible marks on comic book filmmaking — the Academy Award-winning Suicide Squad, multiple sets of Bat-nips and this scene from Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, just to name a few. Oh, and The Dark Knight too. All jokes aside, DC’s filmography includes some of the best comic book adaptations of all time. Here are ten of them.

10. Superman

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Richard Donner’s Superman defined the superhero film and its sterling illustration of optimism, idealism and sacrifice on screen has yet to be recreated in a similar comic book property, and for good reason. The genuineness with which each actor portrays their character, the reverent aura beget by Donner’s steadfast direction and John Williams’ iconically melodious score all work in cohesion to portray the quintessential cinematic take on the Man of Steel. Make no mistake, Christopher Reeve is Superman, and from the moment he exits a revolving door clad in red, blue and yellow, no one can deny that the presence he exudes is inspiring beyond belief. While Zack Snyder and David S. Goyer might think that the character needs to be deconstructed and morally-conflicted to be interesting, Donner knows that Superman is captivating in how his selflessness is innate, ingrained in his very being and staunch at the expense of a normal life. Simply put, he’s Superman because he wants to be and not solely out of a sense of duty to his adopted homeworld. It may have been released in the ‘70s, but Superman is timeless. No matter when you watch it, “You’ll believe a man can fly.”

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

9. Superman II

Warner Bros./Courtesy

What presents more of a threat to the Superman than a villainous plot revolving around the California real estate market? Three revenge-driven Kryptonians, an escaped arch-enemy and an introspective dilemma between want and responsibility — that’s what. Despite the uphill battle it was fighting after the character’s first stellar outing, Superman ll differentiates itself from its predecessor by grounding the Last Son of Krypton while upping the narrative ante. Superman’s hard to empathize with, given the, y’know, God-like powers and such, but director Richard Lester (and Richard Donner with his, arguably, better cut of the film) captures the mortality of the character by stripping him of his abilities and reminding audiences what truly makes him so super. Combine such a personally conflicted performance by Christopher Reeve as a now de-powered Clark with the mad zealotry of Terence Stamp’s Zod, and the film beautifully depicts two sides of a moralistic spectrum. Returning favorites such as Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, Perry White and Eve Teschmacher round out one of the few great examples of a sequel done right.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

8. Road to Perdition

DreamWorks/Courtesy

Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, Daniel Craig, Stanley Tucci, Jennifer Jason Leigh, a young Tyler Hoechlin, director Sam Mendes and legendary cinematographer Conrad Hall? Road to Perdition is, surely, the most starry DC production ever.

Thankfully, it’s also one of the best. The film wisely uses everyman Tom Hanks against type as a ruthless mob enforcer seeking vengeance for the murder of his whole family, except for his young son played by Tyler Hoechlin. Like A History of Violence, the film asks the viewer to confront how violence becomes embedded within our families and, ultimately, creates the downfall of many people’s lives. Featuring Oscar-winning, exquisitely framed, lit and shot cinematography by Hall — this ended up being his last film prior to passing away — Road to Perdition is the most beautifully designed film on this list.

— Levi Hill

7. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

Warner Bros./Courtesy

As this list makes evident, there are more great Batman films than there are canonical Robins. The Nolan films are genius interpretations of classic characters, and the Burton films helped define what a cinematic Batman could be, but only one film on this list definitively represents a truly comic-accurate version of Batman; only one film here makes a deep dive into the psychology of the Dark Knight. That film, of course, is Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, the cinematic extension of the classic Batman: The Animated Series. The creative team from the television show, including Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, lend their iconic art style and mature storytelling to this film, which coalesce to dramatically redefine Batman’s origin story with heaping amounts of genuine pathos. Just as he’s making his first forays into vigilantism, Bruce Wayne finds true love in Andrea Beaumont (voiced by Dana Delany), and we see a Batman who is conflicted. “I didn’t count on being happy,” he says, as he crumbles in front of his parents’ graves. In this sense, the film pits past and present against each other, each vying to consume Batman. Thematically, this film is as rich as The Dark Knight, and arguably much more emotional — whereas most Batman films are content to let the Caped Crusader brood for the entire runtime, this film translates mere gloom to a nuanced, emotional sense of melancholy. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill voice Batman and the Joker, respectively, cementing their statuses as the definitive portrayals of both characters. Much has already been said about this film by more articulate fans than myself, so I’ll just link one of my favorite analyses here. Check it out, or better yet, just go watch this absolute gem of a movie.

— Harrison Tunggal

6. A History of Violence

New Line Cinema/Courtesy

Who would have thought that David Cronenberg’s best (arguably) and most humanistic (not as arguable) film would be an adaption of a graphic novel about the nature of violence? Yes, most of Cronenberg’s films tend to explore society’s obsession with violence, but typically with surreal trappings. For example, think of Videodrome’s satirical takedown of TV’s reliance on sex and murder to get audience’s invested, or the sex-crazed car crash survivors in Crash.

A History of Violence strips away most of the pretense, and focuses on how one small-town man who lives an upright life with his family can be haunted by violence. After a group of gangsters come to the town, threatening to hurt him or others, Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) acts without hesitation with a stunning amount of brutal violence, killing the gangsters before they harm any innocent bystanders. While heralded as a hero by the local community, what happens after, though, is the quick realization that Tom was a former gangster himself, with a deep past of horrific crimes that are going to catch up to him. Using the deeper ruminations of the source material, A History of Violence is likely the most mature DC-adaption yet.

— Levi Hill

5. The Dark Knight Rises

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Christopher Nolan’s final Batman film has received plenty of flack, but it’s hard, in retrospect, to feel as though the intense derision is fully warranted. We don’t view a film in a vacuum; The Dark Knight Rises followed not only arguably the greatest superhero movie of all time, but also one of the most influential films, period, of its era. The lens with which Rises has been viewed is different than most, the standards higher than most.

With that said, The Dark Knight Rises is an undoubtedly epic finale, expanding the scope and scale immensely while maintaining a firm grasp on the gritty realism that is thematically central to Nolan’s take. While The Dark Knight was more about Batman/the Bruce that’s behind the mask, this final installment places a raw Bruce front and center — and Christian Bale embraces the vulnerability and pain. This Bruce wants death; we can see the weight of his life on his tired face, and, when he finally can let go of the anger, it’s an immeasurably joyous feeling to see him at peace.

On top of all of that, The Dark Knight Rises deftly avoids the pitfall of bigger-but-emptier. The thematic idea behind Bane, a sort of re-emergence of the League of Shadows, but also a slight shift in its principles, is consistently engaging, and a layered look at the political manipulations that would allow for Bane to take over Gotham as he does. And while many complain about Tom Hardy’s voice, Bane is one of the better comic book villains of recent memory. Due mostly to Hardy, he’s physically intimidating unlike most antagonists we’ve seen, and his strange, almost Eastern European accent lends an aura of gravitas to the character too.

The detractors likely won’t sway too far from their positions, and that’s their right. But, no matter how flawed, The Dark Knight Rises still succeeds in capping the arc of the trilogy and of Bruce in a thematic and emotionally satisfying way, an absolutely massive and underappreciated accomplishment that few comic book trilogies, let alone trilogies in general, have accomplished.

— Kyle Kizu

4. Batman

Warner Bros./Courtesy

When it was first announced, 1989’s Batman received its fair share of skepticism from fans and general audiences alike. Can you blame them? The director of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and the lead of Mr. Mom (what a decade the ‘80’s was) aren’t the first duo to come to mind when bringing Batman to cinematic life. However, with a certain teaser trailer, Warner Bros. was able to bide time and assuage moviegoers that this was going to be a dark, epic take on the Caped Crusader: how right they were. From its visually resplendent gothic aesthetic to Danny Elfman’s classic, rousing yet somber score, Batman ‘89 established a filmic experience for the character like never before. Tim Burton’s sets a simultaneously adventurous and tragic environment, anchored with committed character work by Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson, which infuses the film with a larger-than-life attitude that’s both entertaining and narratively fulfilling. Burton and company don’t shy away from their comic book roots, but, at the same time, don’t simply execute fan service scene after scene. This is a movie where the Joker realizes his appearance is both an extension of his own subconscious identity and a tool with which he can shift the status quo in Gotham City. This is also a movie where the Batwing flies in front of and recreates the Bat Signal against the moonlight. This is Batman ‘89.     

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

3. Batman Begins

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Christopher Nolan’s first Batman film quickly became the landmark superhero origin story, and for good reason. Grounding Bruce Wayne in our world and committing to an intertwined idea of story, character, setting and theme — all living and breathing as one — Batman Begins is a gripping drama about grief, fear and justice. Applying his trademark sense of nonlinear structure to the beginning of the film, Nolan thoroughly impresses upon us one of the most three-dimensional characters the genre has seen, and proceeds to surround Wayne with nearly as equally defined supporting characters in Fox, Gordon and Alfred.

Batman Begins has influenced countless films after it, with many directly citing the film and Nolan in their approach. But what so many fail to understand is that the brooding darkness and gritty realism alone are not what make this film so special. It’s that both of those aspects are informed for what the story holds intrinsically. Bruce Wayne is just a man with no real powers, so of course his equipment would come from the military. He’s just a man with no real powers, so of course he would get bruised and beaten quite easily and extensively.

We’ve yet to get another origin story like it and it might be a while before we do.

— Kyle Kizu

2. Wonder Woman

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Just as Wonder Woman saved Batman from becoming bat-toast in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, her first solo film saved the DCEU (for the time being, at least) when it needed it most. Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman gives us a hero that kicks as much ass as Batman, and still embodies the sense of hope that defines Superman — a combination that made Wonder Woman the commercial and critical hit that the DCEU needed.

Essentially, Wonder Woman is a film about empowerment, and it’s downright inspirational, which, ironically, isn’t an adjective that’s often bandied about when speaking of superhero films. The immense impact of the film on younger viewers is already evident — you can click here to have your heart warmed, or just rewatch the film, or do both.

— Harrison Tunggal

1. The Dark Knight

Warner Bros/Courtesy

The Dark Knight is not only the best DC film of all time, but it’s also arguably the best superhero film of all time and one of the best films, in general, of all time.

On a craft level, the film is masterful. So often do all of the elements coalesce — the score, the editing, the sound design, the cinematography and more — to create astounding action sequences that leave us absolutely breathless, like the opening bank heist and the underground police chase.

But where The Dark Knight steps to the next level is in how its craft executes its story. The film has four main characters — Bruce Wayne/Batman, Harvey Dent, Commissioner Gordon and the Joker — and works them all into an immensely profound narrative of morality and sacrifice, especially in our post-9/11 society. We see our heroes manipulated by the Joker, and forced to bend their rules to stop him, but we also see that something is lost every time a rule is broken. The film has no hardline stance on morality, what’s just and what’s worth it, which ends up being for the better as it truly dimensionalizes these characters in ways that other films don’t. It also ends up making the Joker such an terrifying, effective and memorable villain.

Heath Ledger’s turn is one for the ages. It is the definition of transformation; every aspect of physical, verbal and mental performance is taken advantage of to leave us with a being that feels so abrasive, tangible and real — something made all the more stunning considering that the character is offered no backstory. Ledger’s Joker is the face of terror in the 21st century, and it’s one we won’t soon forget.

The Dark Knight is one of the great films of our time. It’s a film about a guy who dresses up as a bat, but it’s also a city crime drama as epic as The Godfather. It’s a superhero film that embraces the best of its genre, but also transcends it in every way imaginable.

— Kyle Kizu

 

Featured image via New Line Cinema/Warner Bros.

‘Justice League’ Review: A cleaner, but more jarring and hollow failure

On a storytelling level, Justice League is a better film than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It’s more cohesive, better paced and easier to follow. But it comes at a steep cost.

What the DCEU had gotten right up to this point — maybe not with Suicide Squad — was an investment in theme and how character and story both shape theme and are shaped by it. Batman v Superman is a mess of a film, but it’s an interesting story. It’s ideas of man vs. god, of the repercussions of Superman and the lengths to which Batman’s anger would take him in response, which feels like a continuation of Man of Steel, offers some semblance of narrative satisfaction.

Justice League, seemingly a continuation of Batman v Superman, a third film in this trilogy, is jarringly hollow in comparison. Superman’s death and Batman’s guilt are hardly investigated, and if they are, they’re parsed through in ways that don’t make sense with character; supposed steps taken in regard to those themes turn out to be more circumstantial, convenient and simple than actual elaboration on the story’s previous interests.

In essence, the film abandons what it was set up to be in order to be a cleaner film. It’s slightly, slightly understandable considering the position of Warner Bros. and DC, but it is such a disappointment. There’s nothing to latch onto in Superman’s character (surprise, he’s in the movie). He leans Christopher Reeve in tone, which, to some, might be exciting — but that’s not the Superman that’s been built in this universe. A short moment after his resurrection has the potential to take his character in a frightening, complicated direction, but that potential is quickly passed on and we get a one-dimensional figure that doesn’t even feel like a character.

The same can be said with villain. Batman’s visions of impending doom in the previous installment move nowhere with Steppenwolf, a monstrosity that falls flatter than the horrific CGI that creates him. He’s a typical, bland god-like bad guy spouting boring, cliched lines of fate for the “primitive beings” he’s fighting.

There aren’t many dimensions anywhere in Justice League. The Flash, while decently snappy comedic relief (which, itself, becomes tiresome), is barely two-dimensional. Aquaman’s motivations and backstory are washed over. Wonder Woman’s arc feigns at actual interest in the character — she’s dealing with the grief of losing Steve Trevor and the subsequent struggles she has with being a leader — but the timeline difference makes it difficult to swallow and, in horrifyingly gross fashion, the film sexualizes her and submits her to the filmmakers’ male gaze.

The only character that’s remotely fleshed out is Cyborg. His biomechatronic body has a brain of its own and he’s struggling to learn how to control it. But, considering that Ray Fisher gives a strong performance, it only ends up as disappointing that that arc is traversed here and not more thoroughly in a solo film.

It’s strange because one can almost feel that Justice League wants to be a cleaner movie. Too much of the plotting is expedited and, in turn, easy, leaving us with a lot that’s clean and digestible — until we realize that there’s no substance to any of it. But even in its attempts to be clean, it ends up as a messier looking film than most blockbusters in general. It’s embarrassing that we can tell where the reshoots are, not only narratively but visually. Literally, we see where actors are digitally inserted after the fact and where continuity is interrupted.

And Henry Cavill’s digitally removed mustache leaves his face as… by god, there’s no excuse.

Even the DCEU’s inarguably greatest element, its scores, halts dead with Danny Elfman’s work. We hear, perhaps, ten seconds of Wonder Woman’s theme before it never shows up again. We never hear Junkie XL’s Batman theme as Elfman opts to use his original one. We never hear Hans Zimmer’s Man of Steel theme. Elfman leaves us with nothing memorable about his score. The use of original themes don’t make  auditory sense for where the characters are meant to be, which, even worse, results in music that fails to serve the narrative on any level.

The film is cheap. It inserts quirky quips here and there to induce laughter that can, momentarily, help us forget its shortcomings. But even those quips wind up yanking us out of the film. They’re infuriating. They’re tonally imbalanced and out of character — especially for someone like Batman. The film also shoves in comic book references to help some of the comic book familiar folk look over its cheap nature, most of which will be missed by audiences not familiar and create no difference as none of the nods have narrative implications.

Some of the fight sequences work and work well. Characters are clear and distinguishable, and the overall battles are well shot in regard to spatial geography.

But it’s difficult to even want to talk about that with any layer of enthusiasm. Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy notably lacked well-composed action, but they’re still some of the best superhero movies of all time because of their unparalleled execution of storytelling.

Cumulatively, Justice League is overbearingly cheap. It’s a middle finger to the audience, a “course correction” that does no correcting.

Grade: D+

 

Featured image via Warner Bros.

Opinion: Why I value ‘Batman v Superman’ more than a film like ‘Thor: Ragnarok’

*Spoilers for ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ and ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’*

To be necessarily clear, Thor: Ragnarok is a far better film than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. There is no debate. But that’s not the question here.

The question is of value — something that’s rather subjective and, thus, changes from person to person. In regard to both of these films, I personally see a difference in what value they add to the superhero genre, and in what value they hold as films in general. There’s no doubting that Thor: Ragnarok has great value if only considering the fact that more people now know who Taika Waititi is. The film is also stunning to look at, a visually beautiful and coherently composed comic book movie — a rarity among the miles of grey muck that have become a staple in the very universe that I’m about to make a case for.

But when thinking about which film I value more, I quite easily gravitate to Batman v Superman. Again, to be clear, it’s not a good film. It’s a perfect example of sloppy storytelling. But I find myself hooked by the story Batman v Superman wants to tell more than the story Thor: Ragnarok does. The third Thor film is rather clean, generally well-executed storytelling — yet I feel so little depth in its ideas. With Batman v Superman, I’ve yet to mine all of the intricacies behind its ugly mask.

Thor: Ragnarok is not without its share of fascinating ideas. Introducing Hela as Thor’s sister and revealing that Odin did not come to Asgard in peace, but rather as a conqueror, present brilliantly complex conflict for both the story and for Thor, our main character. Smashing Thor’s hammer in the first act is a necessary kind of superhero deconstruction, asking who this character is without his most powerful weapon. And using biblical and immigrant imagery, to the tone of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, sets up the climax to be gripping and emotional.

But Ragnarok gets lost in its second act and fails to execute what it wants to do with its third. The planet of Sakaar has the ingredients to carry the story’s thematic concerns along through the film’s middle — a dictator who subjects his people to Roman-like arena death battles while most live in poverty. It had the chance to be a mirror to Asgard and to help Thor learn what he must to be able to come back and dethrone Hela.

But the film’s greatest asset, its comedy, also washes over this potential. While moments such as Thor and Hulk bantering in Hulk’s room or Korg being the one of the most hilarious characters in the MCU are entertaining, they’re given too much time. The film tips overboard in its improvisation without considering what that might do to the development of the story and to the arc of Thor.

To be brutally honest, I feel as though the second act flatlines in hindsight. It’s fun, but once we get to the third act and realize that Thor has to defend his people, take down Hela and make the choice to leave Asgard behind, we realize that the second act wasn’t enough — not even close to enough. Thor taking on Hela should’ve held so much more weight; this is his sister and, if he can love Loki like a true brother, he should be much more conflicted about Hela. It shouldn’t feel as though we’re watching Thor “beat” her, but more so overcome this part of his family that naturally leans toward ruling rather than leading. Thus, the thematic imagery at the end, of the people of Asgard fleeing across the bridge, doesn’t hit home emotionally.

In essence, I find only so much value in Thor: Ragnarok as a superhero film. It’s hilarious, but even the jokes fall flat once the story does.

While the way in which it tells its story is muddled, on a conceptual level, I see a consistency of interest in what Batman v Superman wants to do throughout its entirety.

The opening does so much work, driving home the character motivation of Bruce Wayne with harrowing, 9/11-esque visuals. It perfectly juxtaposes the two characters and sets up the dynamic between Batman and Superman — a man and a god.

Throughout the film, in every layer, this is what’s at stake. Bruce Wayne fears the power of a god, that, at any moment, this god could wipe out millions of lives. Each moment with Bruce Wayne is gripping as his character traverses an arc of growing anger. On the other hand, Superman grapples with the fact that he’s provoking so much fear. He’s a character who believes in good and is challenged when he sees that his efforts for good don’t inspire more of it in mankind. Some have contended that Zack Snyder’s portrayal of Superman goes against who the character is and, to be fair, I’m not aware of who exactly the character is in the comics. But there’s a logic to the direction of his character in this world that Snyder created.

This tension is extended to Holly Hunter’s Senator Finch and to Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, as both are concerned with the same thing — Superman’s power — but tackle that concern in different ways. Luthor’s backstory, having a German father who “had to march in a parade and wave flowers at tyrants,” which is heavy with implications, informs this intensely vengeful distaste for a figure with such tyrannical potential. Seeing Luthor force this god to his knees by threatening his humanity — his mother — is the kind of superhero imagery I want; it’s visually brilliant on an aesthetic level, but even more so because of its thematic level.

In regard to Superman’s humanity, Batman v Superman’s climax, the Martha moment, is horrendously executed. It’s terrible, and there’s no defending how it was portrayed. But it’s unfair to write off the concept there as equally terrible because it’s consistent with the story’s development. The only way Bruce can overcome his anger for Superman is to see him as Clark, to see him as a human being. So while the execution is poor, the idea is admirable. And to have man actually best god is even more admirable.

And, once Batman and Superman have reconciled, to then have man and god face the devil — Doomsday, who is created by man — is another sign of thematic consistency, and becomes even more engaging when it’s god who sacrifices himself for a mankind that never truly believed in him.

It may sound like I’m touting Batman v Superman as a brilliant movie, but I’m not. I’m simply admiring the deep fascination and care it has for story and character, regardless of how bad its storytelling is. That’s where the difference is for me. In Thor: Ragnarok, I see adept storytelling, but so much less care for character and story. While its execution is cleaner, it feels more hollow.

In essence, I’m admiring ambition. I value the attempt of Batman v Superman more so than the success of Thor: Ragnarok. I want superhero films that genuinely want to do something great with its characters.

 

Featured image via Warner Bros.

When Harry Met Movies: Breaking Out the Nostalgia Goggles — Column

I remember going to see Ex Machina with my parents, and pointing to a standee in the movie theater lobby. It was Chris Pratt riding a motorcycle with a pack of velociraptors flanking him. I don’t remember what exactly I said, but it might have been something like this. I was excited, not just because I was about to see Oscar Isaac get his disco on, but because in a month, Jurassic World was going to take me back to Isla Nublar, a place where I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time cavorting about.

I am speaking figuratively, of course, but I’m sure toddler Harry would refute that statement. Donning my Alan Grant fedora — I never called it an “Indiana Jones hat” — I would spend untold, infinite hours on that island taming (plastic) dinosaurs, watching them fight and sometimes feeding them Batman and Han Solo.

If you couldn’t already tell, Jurassic Park has always had a special place in my heart. It’s one of the first movies I ever remember watching, as evidenced by the chewed-on, mostly destroyed cardboard sleeve that barely houses my VHS copy of it. Why my parents let their three year old watch a movie featuring Samuel L. Jackson’s severed arm, I’ll never know, but they’re awesome because of it.

Fast forward to November 25, 2014, and I was a senior in high school. I was in the midst of college applications, one of which was destined for the University of Chicago, where I was hoping to take Paul Sereno’s (more or less, Alan Grant in real life) paleontology class, go on a summer dig, discover some new and fantastic species of dinosaur and make all those hours spent in Isla Nublar worth something. But at the moment, none of that mattered, because I was trying to hide the fact that I was watching the Jurassic World teaser trailer in class. There it was, at 2:12, Chris Pratt riding a motorcycle next to freaking velociraptors. For a hot second, I was three again.

Actually watching Jurassic World was a different experience entirely — I wasn’t three years old with a too-big fedora on; I was a crotchety old man waving his fist in the air, smelling vaguely of prune juice, yelling at Colin Trevorrow to get off my lawn. The film didn’t resurrect dinosaurs as much as it did nostalgia for dinosaurs, and if anyone was going to buy into it, it would have been me.

And yet, the nostalgia goggles didn’t make the film’s characters seem any less two dimensional. Moreover, there’s an insidious cynicism that such nostalgia inspires, as if to say remember the good ol’ days? Great! Because it’s not going to get much better than that. Nostalgia makes progress impossible, setting standards so far back in time that the laws of physics and the fictionality of a time-hopping DeLorean make them impossible to achieve.

Yearning for glory days long past, rather than imagining ones still to come, makes Jurassic World seem like the guy that hangs out in the high school parking lot next to the football field, futilely trying to retain some tenuous grasp on a history that will never be repeated. And somewhat frustratingly, nothing sells quite like nostalgia — the current cinematic landscape thrives on it.

Of course, not every film that looks fondly on the past is doomed to mediocrity. It, steeped in 80’s culture, is proving to be one of the biggest critical and commercial hits of the year, and later this week, Blade Runner 2049 promises immaculate, mind-bending sci-fi. But it’s worth remembering that nostalgia also gave us the MAGA cap.

Nostalgia shouldn’t be something to eschew completely — I’ll always look back fondly on my childhood obsession with Jurassic Park, but I’m not going to bust out my Alan Grant hat, and start lassoing plastic dinosaurs. I’ll write about it instead.

‘When Harry Met Movies’ is a bi-weekly column from Associate Editor and Co-Chief Film Critic Harrison Tunggal about movies that shape us and why we love them.

 

Featured image via Universal Pictures.

Redemption, redefinition and renaissance: When actors change their path

This Friday, Michael Keaton will appear in ‘American Assassin,’ and we are forever grateful that he is continuously gracing the big screen today. For a long while, Keaton seemed to be an actor of the past, someone stuck with the haunting specter of ‘Batman’ and ‘Beetlejuice.’ But in ‘Birdman,’ one of the most meta films of recent memory, a comeback tale informed by the past of the actual man himself, prompting the actor’s own comeback tale, Keaton returned to prominence. And that got us thinking.

There are so many brilliant stories of similar nature: actors who fell off the map only to gloriously resurface, actors who redefined themselves in entirely unexpected ways, actors who turned their careers around with that one special performance.

In honor of Michael Keaton, we posed the following question: What are your favorite redemption or redefinition acting stories? Here are our answers:

Channing Tatum — 21 Jump Street

Sony Pictures/Columbia/Courtesy

We almost all were aware of Channing Tatum prior to 21 Jump Street. He was the guy from the Step Up movies and one of the many charming male leads of a Nicholas Sparks adaptation, his being Dear John. There were rather judgmental notions of him, but it’s fair to say that, at that point, he hadn’t displayed particularly strong acting talent, and he hadn’t appeared, at least notably, in genres outside of romance and action.

But then came Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s comedy with Tatum and Jonah Hill — and an entirely new side of Tatum was unveiled, along with a massive hotbed of potential moving forward. Granted, Lord and Miller’s script and direction, the source material and Jonah Hill all provide much of the circumstance within which Tatum is able to shine. But it’s Tatum who, himself, also elevates Hill and the material. It’s the revelation of his intensely perfect comedic timing, of his pitch perfect rapport with an actor familiar with the genre that is so shocking from someone who hadn’t showed any indication of such. And, even better, it all comes with a film that works, a rated-R vehicle that can not only show off these comedic talents, but display them in their peak form.

Many may point to Foxcatcher for Tatum, which is undoubtedly a fascinating dramatic turn. But the build of the dramatic seemed to be more evident. 21 Jump Street through us all for a loop. It was perfect chemistry, almost as if one particle of unobtainium had a nuclear reaction with a flux capacitor — carry the 2 (of course) — changing its atomic isotoner into a radioactive Channing f*cking Tatum.

— Kyle Kizu

Steve Carell — Foxcatcher

Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy

When you’re casting the role of millionaire murderer and recluse John du Pont, one doesn’t think to gravitate toward an actor who’s played a regional manager of a paper company, a mid-life virgin or the world’s greatest villain or, in Steve Carell’s case, all three. Known worldwide for his comedic chops, the actor had begun delving into more dramatic parts in such films as Little Miss Sunshine and The Way, Way Back when he was cast in Bennett Miller’s biographical drama, Foxcatcher. As the psychologically and socially stunted du Pont, Carell sheds any hint of past comic stylings while commanding the screen with a somehow paradoxically timid yet forceful performance. In lieu of caricature, upon which, arguably, his career was founded, he crafts a portrayal of subtlety – both exuding and manipulating pathos for du Pont’s own unnerving ends. Though he was denied a Best Lead Actor ‘W’ at the 87th Oscars, Carell’s grace in transitioning from comedy to drama was not lost on his long-time and newfound fans alike. He made doing something really hard look easy as hell (that’s what she said).

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

Kristen Stewart — Clouds of Sils Maria

Sundance Selects/Courtesy

In Kristen Stewart’s defense, she actively resisted falling into a boring Twilight acting rut from the very first movie, with mixed results. The world may have seen her as lovably awkward Bella Swan for a good five years after she first swooned at Robert Pattinson, but Stewart herself never got that memo. Between starring in increasingly bad installments of the Twilight saga, Stewart started exploring indie roles in Adventureland and The Runaways. It took a few years after her final Twilight performance, however, for Stewart to really reinvent herself as one of the most surprising, talented young actors in Hollywood. The words “Kristen Stewart” and “Oscar buzz” would have seemed preposterous in 2012, but after a turn in Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria in 2014, those were the exact words on everyone’s lips. Since then, Stewart has re-teamed with Assayas in Personal Shopper, turned heads in Certain Women and Cafe Society, and has a long list of prestigious projects lined up (starring opposite Laura Dern in a JT Leroy biopic? Yes please.) It’s worth noting that Stewart has also thrown off the expectations that her early roles placed on her personal life — from adopting an androgynous personal styl  to speaking out about her sexuality. A recent hosting stint on SNL earlier this year prompted the iconic line, “I’m, like, so gay, dude.” You do you, Kristen.

— Kate Halliwell

Robert Downey Jr. — Iron Man

Marvel/Courtesy

Robert Downey Jr’s comeback might be partly responsible for the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and there are almost as many ramifications as there are MCU films. So that means something in the ballpark of 57,328,000 ramifications for the film industry. Obviously, not all of them are good — Universal threatened us with the Dark Universe, and studios’ focus on building cinematic universes takes resources away from mid-budget films. Whatever the long term consequences of the first Iron Man movie may be, RDJ’s comeback in that film heralded the modern age of comic book movies. He heralded it with the same all-in enthusiasm of a Stan Lee “excelsior!” Since this week’s question is about a favorite comeback acting story, I couldn’t respond with anyone besides RDJ, since his tenure as Iron Man has yielded the onscreen realization of my geek dreams, time and time again. Kevin Feige might be the mastermind of the MCU, but without RDJ’s first performance as Iron Man, I doubt we’d have gotten modern comic book gems like Deadpool or Wonder Woman. On a more personal note, my love for the MCU kickstarted my general love for film, so thanks RDJ, for bringing me into a world of blogging, trailer-analyzing, Oscar-predicting and pretentiousness.

— Harrison Tunggal

Featured image via Fox Searchlight.