The Darkest Knight

The Batman

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

The question is plenty familiar.

“Who are you?”

But the answer isn’t the one we’re expecting, and it’s an early declaration that there’s a new cape in town.

“I am…vengeance.”

Talk about your dark knights. Director/co-writer Matt Reeves and star Robert Pattinson make Mr. Nolan feel like Mister Rogers in comparison. Anyone looking for the recent superhero giddiness of No Way Home will find none, while comic purists may finally discover the treatment they’ve been clamoring for all along.

For the rest of us, The Batman delivers a defiant, somewhat overstuffed vision, one that embraces darkness of theme and palette while crafting several truly dazzling visual set pieces.

Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In, Dawn of and War for the Planet of the Apes) wisely skips the backstory intro, giving us Bruce Wayne (Pattinson) some two years into his “Gotham Project.” Alfred (Andy Serkis) worries about the family finances, while Master Wayne is only interested in feeding his vigilante alter ego.

But while Bruce is watching the city, the mysterious Riddler (Paul Dano, taking the legendarily comic villain in a terrifying new direction) is watching The Batman, leaving personalized messages with each new assassination.

His puzzles draw Batman, Commissioner Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) and a resourceful waitress with hidden talents of her own (Zoë Kravitz as Selina Kyle) deep into the Gotham organized crime scene run by Carmine Falcone (John Tutturo ) and Oswald “The Penguin” Cobblepot (Colin Farrell under some astounding makeup). There is no shortage of characters at play, and Reeves struggles to justify all of them in one film.

At stake are long-held secrets about Gotham that the Riddler wants “brought into the light,” some of which will challenge what you think you know about the birth of the Bat. And that seems only appropriate for a film that challenges expectations of its genre with a narrative more reminiscent of Seven than anything we’ve seen from DC or Marvel.

So dark, and so rainy.

Pattinson’s Emo Batman works well within the structure and aesthetic Reeves develops. He carves out a very different crusader, one more introspective and heartbroken than righteous. This Bruce Wayne views the bat signal as both a call and a warning, and Pattinson is able to effectively keep the tortured soul’s head above self-pitying water.

Dano’s exceptional, Farrell’s fun, and Kravitz develops an intriguing antihero of her own. People talk about Joker’s lineage, but Catwoman is another iconic villain. Eartha Kitt, Julie Newmar, Michelle Pfeiffer and Anne Hathaway have all left their mark, but Kravitz sidesteps broad stroke villainy in favor of something nuanced and human.

But ultimately, what makes this film most interesting is the way Bruce Wayne struggles to justify the consequences that The Batman has had on Gotham, and the surprising side of hero worship. Where is the line separating savior and sinner? And who gets to draw it?

Reeves isn’t the first to pull Batman into these relevant questions, but he raises them with a commitment fierce enough to generate excitement for yet another trilogy. And though there’s no surprise waiting after the credits here, keep an eye out for a villain to be named later.

Fright Club: Skeletons in the Closet 2022

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Yes, each spring we get to dig around Oscar nominees’ closets to find the bad horror lurking behind those glittery ball gowns. And this year it’s a fine season!

Here are five of our favorite bones from Oscar nominee skeletons.

5. Aunjanue Ellis (Best Supporting Actress, King Richard): The Resident (2011)

Ellis alone is reason to see King Richard. She’s breathtaking. But she hasn’t always had such luck with roles. In Antti Jokinen’s lifeless voyeur horror The Resident, she gets little to do but be the supportive bestie while a slumming Hilary Swank struggles with her new landlord.

Christopher Lee makes an appearance in what might be the only interesting thing about the film – not his performance as much as his presence. This was one of Hammer Studios modern releases, reuniting Lee with the studio that made him (or was it Lee who made the studio?).

Other than that, Jeffrey Dean Morgan misses the mark, Swank degrades herself and Ellis goes underutilized.

4. Ciarán Hinds (Best Supporting Actor, Belfast): The Rite (2011)

Veteran character actor Ciarán Hinds gets his first Oscar nomination this year for Belfast. No stranger to horror, Hinds has starred in the good (The Woman in Black), the bad (Mary Reilly) and the underseen (The Eclipse).

He does what he can to class up Mikael Hafstrom’s pedestrian 2011 possession flick The Rite.

Hoping to help a seminarian find his faith, Hinds’s Father Xavier sends him to learn exorcism from the best: Hanibal Lecter. No, it’s Anthony Hopkins as Father Lucas Trevant, but they know what you’re thinking.

Hopkins hams it up, trying to resuscitate Michael Petroni’s script with as much bombast as he can muster. It doesn’t work. Hinds is wasted, but so too are Rutger Hauer, Alice Braga and Toby Jones.

3. JK Simmons (Best Supporting Actor, Being the Ricardos): The Snowman (2017)

If we were weighing by disappointment, The Snowman would be #1. Tomas Alfredson followed up Let the Right One In and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with this Norwegian crime thriller and he packed his cast with heavy hitters: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Val Kilmer, Toby Jones, Chloe Sevigny, and 2022 nominee for Best Supporting Actor in Being the Ricardos, JK Simmons.

Why does it feel like there are gaping holes in the plot? Because the film was released, but they didn’t shoot the entire script. Who needs all the pieces to a mystery, anyway?

The actors do what they can, but the source material trades in darkness for misogyny and nonsense. Gainsbourg, Sevigny and Ferguson all play thankless roles while Simmons’s character appears, seems like a bad guy, disappears and never makes a dent in the storyline.


2. Kirsten Dunst (Best Supporting Actress, The Power of the Dog): The Crow: Salvation (2000)

Sure, we could have gone with fan-favorite Interivew with the Vampire because, after all, it was not very good. Kirsten Dunst, Oscar-nominated this year for The Power of the Dog, was great in it, though.

She’s the best thing bout The Crow: Salvation, too, but that’s not saying a lot.

The third installment sees a surprisingly stacked cast (including Walton Goggins and Fred Ward) conspire to let a scapegoat die for their sins. He comes back as the single blandest Crow ever.

Dunst is the victim’s sister and she does what she can, but the writing is god-awful, the makeup is laughable, the staging, action, set design and direction are all just sad. It made us sad she took the role.

1. Kristen Stewart (Best Actress, Spencer): Twilight: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 (2012)

Before we start, we want to point out that, like her Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson, Kriten Stewart has proven to be a dependable, remarkable talent. She’s shown adaptability and range across a ton of great indie films, some of them very solid genre efforts. We were thrilled to see her nab her first nomination for Spencer.

But before all that, there was Twilight. This series could be the whole podcast. Do you know why? They SUCK. Shiny vegetarian vampires? Mopey, special teens? YA fodder with the most profoundly backwards, disempowering message? Yes to all four films, so which is the worst?

The last one is the worst one because of 1) that creepy baby, 2) the imprinting. The CGI on that fast-growing Renesme is diabolically bad, but not nearly as heinous as the plotline where a grown man chooses an infant for his future spouse and that infant’s parents are good with it. So wrong.

Real Time Nightmare

The Desperate Hour

by George Wolf

With a main character spending most of the film alone, interacting with other characters only through a cell phone, The Desperate Hour (previously titled Lakewood) has the look of a production born out of quarantine.

But writer Chris Sparling is just returning to his framework for Buried from 12 twelve years ago, and tweaking the specifics with some sadly recognizable plot points.

Naomi Watts is Amy, a suburban mom who’s taken a personal day off from work as the anniversary of her husband’s fatal car accident approaches. Amy sets off on a long jog to clear her head, and as she winds deeper through the wooded area surrounding her neighborhood, multiple police sirens give the fist clue that another tragedy has occurred.

Veteran director Phillip Noyce (Rabbit Proof Fence, The Quiet American, The Bone Collector) sets a nice hook, layering disorienting camera movements and increasingly frantic cell phone calls to convey Amy’s growing panic as more details become available.

There’s a shooter at her son Noah’s (Colton Gobbo) high school, the area is on lockdown, and the police want to know if Amy keeps any guns in the house.

It’s difficult to overstate how quickly this premise would collapse with a lesser talent than Watts in the lead. She’s emoting with a smart phone and voice actors, but damned if she doesn’t make Amy’s desperation downright palpable, subtly conveying the chilling realization that a uniquely American epidemic is no longer happening somewhere else.

As the real time ticks by, though, the organic tension gives way to increased contrivance and emotional string pulling more befitting a TV movie-of-the-week. And with a mid-credits epilogue that is well-meaning but simplistic and preachy, the final minutes of The Desperate Hour comes dangerously close to undercutting the seriousness of the film’s intentions.

But there’s no doubting Watts. It is her commitment that won’t let us turn away from Amy, or completely give up on this film.

The Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts

by George Wolf

Fair warning: you’re not going to find many laughs in this year’s crop of Live Action nominees. But these fantastic short films come from all over the world to deliver important and consistently compelling statements.

Ala Kachuu (Take and Run)

Kyrgyzstan 38 mins. Writer/director: Maria Brendle

A young Kyrgyz woman (Alina Turdumamatova, excellent) has dreams of pursuing higher education with a scholarship. But when she’s kidnapped and forced to marry, her quest for freedom runs counter to long held traditions. Filmmaker Maria Brendle calls attention to a shockingly common practice with a stirring, sympathetic narrative.

The Dress

Poland 30 mins. Writer/director: Tadeusz Lysiak

In rural Poland, Julka (Anna Dzieduszycka, heartbreaking) works as a maid and dreams of a better life. A handsome truck driver (Szymon Piotr Warszawski) stirs hopes for romance, so Julka searches for the perfect dress for date night. In just 30 minutes, writer/director Lysiak delivers a fully crafted take on loneliness with a devastating final shot.

The Long Goodbye

United Kingdom/Netherlands 13 mins. Director: Aneil Karia Writers: Aneil Karia, Riz Ahmed

During a busy, laughter-filled family gathering, a TV news report delivers subtle foreshadowing about the brutality that will soon be at the family’s front door. The question is “Where are you from?” Karia and Ahmed deliver the answer is blistering, defiant fashion.

On My Mind

Denmark 18 mins. Writer/director: Martin Strange-Hansen

Henrick (Rasmus Hammerich) stops in to a nearly empty bar for some badly-needed shots of whiskey. He spots a karaoke machine, and will not be denied the chance to be filmed singing “Always on My Mind.” Have the tissues handy for this lovely take on love, death, and the power of great song.

Please Hold

United States 19 mins. Director: KD Davila Writers: KD Davila and Omer Levin Menekse

In the near (very near?) future, a young man named Mateo (Erick Lopez) is walking to work when he’s arrested by a police drone threatening force. Unaware of the charges and desperate to talk to a human being, Mateo is thrust into a completely automated justice system with a focus on profit and proficiency. It’s thought-provoking, darkly comic and completely terrifying.

Driller Killer

The Burning Sea

by Hope Madden

Man, understatement makes all the difference.

We don’t often see understated disaster films. The idea seems counterintuitive. We need greedy villains, a swelling orchestra, quick movements, passionate embraces…explosions…tidal waves! Falling rocks! Loud noises!!

John Andreas Andersen is having none of it. Even the imdb plot summary is low-key: An oil platform dramatically goes down on the Norwegian coast, and researchers try to find out what happened when they realize this is just the start of something even more serious.

Ooooo…even more serious.

Andersen is really underselling the dire situation facing his characters in The Burning Sea.

Kristine Kujath Thorp is Sofia, a scientist working with a robotics company in collaboration with Norway’s government and oil industry. She and colleague Arthur (Rolf Kristian Larsen) are called to use their tech to investigate a platform that’s gone down, only to discover an impending disaster worthy of Big Disaster Movie overstatement.

The filmmaker doesn’t avoid every trope with his oil rig catastrophe. The Burning Sea begins intriguingly enough with talking-head style interview, but immediately embraces the typical structure of a Hollywood popcorn muncher.

Still, by scaling everything back a bit Andersen leaves room for his cast to anchor the calamity at sea with honest performances of dimensional characters.

Thorp convinces you that Sofia is made of the stuff that defines heroes, but she does it quietly and without bluster. It’s an interesting approach, one that mirrors Andersen’s and gives the entire film a “based on true events” quality, even though it’s entirely fictional.

Thank God.

Andersen cut his teeth in the industry as a cinematographer, boasting some remarkable work. Morten Tyldum’s 2011 thriller Headhunters, in particular, is gorgeous and incredibly tense. It’s no surprise, then, that The Burning Sea looks great. The film basks in the rugged beauty of the Norwegian seaside before being stricken with the claustrophobic doom of creaking hulls and labyrinthine shipboard ducts.

In many respects, The Burning Sea is just another by-the-numbers disaster flick. But in dialing down the bombast, Anderson’s film creates a level of authenticity that’s much scarier.  

Hell Bent


by Hope Madden

Unusual family dynamics tend to be at the heart of movies made by Adams Family Films, a collective that shares writing, directing, and acting duties.

They’re also a family: co-writer/co-director/co-star/mom Toby Poser, co-writer/co-director/dad John Adams, co-writer/co-director/co-star/daughter Zelda Adams, co-star/daughter Lulu Adams. No word on Cousin It.

The clan’s 2019 horror The Deeper You Dig centered on the bond between mother and daughter, both outsiders in a rural mountain town. The Family’s latest, Hellbender, orbits similar territory.

Poser — again cutting an impressive cinematic figure — is a mother who keeps her teenage girl Izzy (Zelda Adams) far, far from prying eyes. The two enjoy each other’s company, even playing in a 2-person punk band (bass & drums, hell yeah!) called Hellbender.

But Izzy is lonely, and she’s beginning to distrust her mother’s claims that illness prevents socialization. Izzy doesn’t feel sick.

It turns out, Mom isn’t trying to protect Izzy. She’s trying to protect everybody else.

A soundtrack full of the band’s music creates an effective atmosphere of rebellion, anger and evil. Zelda Adams haunts the film, a central figure of awkwardness and naivete blossoming with power.

There’s barely another face onscreen and even fewer behind the camera. Aside from Trey and Samantha Lindsay, who pull crew duties, every role from costume design to sound, editing to cinematography to music is handled by a member of the family.

They are impressive. Hellbender looks great. It sounds great. The story is fluid and creepy, punctuated with psychedelic carnage and informed by lived-in relationships.

A muddy backstory and slight anticlimax keep the film from utterly beguiling, but the coming-of-age center impresses. Hellbender delivers a moral ambiguity that questions society’s fear of female power.

The Adams Family doesn’t represent a gimmick or a “good for you for trying” brand of filmmaking. These people are the real deal and I look forward to their next effort.

More Geezer, Less Teaser

Gasoline Alley

by George Wolf

“Hey, Bruce Willis, how many movies do you have coming this year?”


In the month or so since the last Willis project with writer/director Edward John Drake – American Siege– was released, I’ve learned of the term “Geezer Teaser,” which is a perfect summation of how this genre usually operates. An aging star is featured heavily in the marketing, while their tangential character often just disappears midway through the film due to the star’s 1-day shooting schedule.

The good news for Gasoline Alley is that Willis hangs in ’til the end, and it’s clearly the best of the Willis/Drake collabs.

Luke Wilson joins in this time as well, playing Detective Vargas to Bruno’s Detective Freeman, and these two guys have four big problems. The bodies of four dead hookers have turned up, and a lighter found at the scene leads the two cops to Gasoline Alley, the L.A. tattoo parlor of ex-con Jimmy Jayne (Devon Sawa). Jimmy was also the last person seen with the dead hooker named Star (“If you forget it, just look up”), but do you think Jimmy’s going to sit back and just accept being framed?

Damn right he’s not. He’s going to let Willis and Wilson (Willison!) take some scenes off while he conducts his own investigation, sleuthin’ and shootin’ with an ever-present cigarette dangling perfectly from his steely pout.

Most everything about Drake’s films is varying degrees short of authentic. And though Gasoline Alley shows progress, details such as the set design, score and faux news reports still seem carelessly thrown together, which don’t give the forced noir dramatics much of a chance to cast a spell.

But if you’ve seen all of the Drake/Willis (Drillis!) catalog (and this is number five, with another currently in post-production), Gasoline Alley is a pleasant surprise.

Drake’s script (co-written with Tom Sierchio) has moments of self-aware humor – even poking fun at one of his previous films. And while Willis is again on autopilot, Wilson seems to be enjoying the “no F’s to give” attitude of his character, Sawa is commendably committed and Veep‘s Sufe Bradshaw turns in some fine support.

Is it ridiculous, overwrought and amateurish in spots? Sure, but this one is actually watchable.

Bravo, fellas, keep it up.

Totalitarian Noir


by Christie Robb

Set in 1980s totalitarian Czechoslovakia, director Ivan Ostrochovský’s Servants follows teenage Catholic seminarians at Bratislava Theological Faculty. Here even religious texts are prohibited, banned as a threat to state security.

A real-world association of priests outwardly loyal to the Communist leadership, Pacem in Terris, controls the school and works in tandem with the government to uphold the Communist party line. This forces freethinkers who want full access to religious texts to go underground, exchanging books and meeting in secret.

The film starts with a noir-style drive along a secluded road. Eventually, the car parks under a bridge,  two men emerge, and a body is dumped from the trunk.

One of the men is a priest, the other a State Security operative. Although they claim the dead man was a victim of a hit and run, it’s clear he’s been brutally tortured to death. The rest of the story is told mostly in flashback and relates the events of the previous 143 days.

Servants is a spare film. Shot in black and white, the camera often lingers—the white curl of smoke against a black background, the security operative’s bleak little apartment, overhead God’s Eye shots of the seminary boys playing in the courtyard, or agonizing behind the prison bar-like frames of their bunk beds about whether they should collaborate with the government and become informants or put themselves at risk of becoming targets.

A lot of the lingering shows the routine minutiae of life—eating, bathing, practicing a musical instrument, for example. This is in contrast to the oppressive feel of constant surveillance and possible eruptions of violence.

Combined with a very understated score, this illustrates how normalized the culture of censorship and menace became. But it also makes Servants a little hypnotic. It can be easy to let the mind wander to other things. Other banned reading materials. Other stirrings of authoritarianism.

Tongue Tied & Twisted


by Hope Madden

Filmmaker Joe Wright hits and misses, but always with panache, which is why I look forward to each of his films. His take on Cyrano was especially appealing because Peter Dinklage plays the titular poet, and he never misses.

If your only experience with this material is Steve Martin’s 1987 rom-com Roxanne, prepare yourself. Wright’s reimagining is a musical version of Edmond Rostand’s 19th Century play, with an adaptation courtesy of Dinklage’s wife, Erica Schmidt. And it’s definitely not funny.

Originally, Cyrano de Bergerac was a man with a massive nose. Too ugly for his beloved Roxanne, he agrees to feed brilliant lines to the dim-witted Christian so that he may instead woo the lovely lady.

Molding the tale to fit Dinklage is the film’s greatest accomplishment. The brash, angry romantic has never been so heartbreaking or sympathetic, with every flash of pain, indignation and outrage playing across Dinklage’s face. Plus, he can sing!

Wright’s staging sometimes beguiles, sometimes bores. One musical number boasts intoxicating theatricality, the next resembles a seasonal fragrance ad. Still, the set design is astonishing throughout, and there is no denying this cast.

Haley Bennett’s sumptuous Roxanne cannot help but seduce you, while Ben Mendelsohn’s unseemly De Guiche drips with villainy. Kelvin Harrison Jr. brings sincere tenderness to the role of Christian, and the infamous scene where Cyrano speaks for Christian, winning him the first exquisite kiss, takes on a beautiful tenderness thanks to Harrison Jr.’s chemistry with Dinklage.

Schmidt’s script streamlines wisely enough, but something feels unbalanced in the material. The result is unwieldy and messy, though Wright captures a number of remarkable sequences. Every moment between Cyrano and Roxanne is exquisite, and the balance of the cast wrings emotion from each interaction.

Aside from one, the songs by Aaron and Bryce Dressner of The National are forgettable, and the one that does hit feels contextually tangential—as if they had a great song that had little to do with the story, but they wedged it in, anyway.  

This new Cyrano is another hit and miss for Wright, but Peter Dinklage retains his crown as the most endlessly fascinating and watchable actor on the screen. He’s reason enough not to miss this movie.