Tag Archives: Paul Dano

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.

The Snack that Smiles Back

Okja

by Hope Madden

That lovely period of youth, close enough to childhood to be magical, near enough to adulthood to be tinged with longing – it’s that moment where people like Spielberg made their greatest mark.

Filmmaker Joon-ho Bong takes us there with the story of a super pig – a genetically engineered and yet utterly adorable hippo-like beastie bred to feed a lot of people cheaply – and her best friend.

If you haven’t seen the films of Joon-ho Bong, you should. All of them. Repeatedly.

This versatile Korean filmmaker is as comfortable with dystopian fantasy as he is creature features, with dark family dramas as police procedurals. Whatever he makes, he edges it curiously with humor and shadows with a bit of horror. It’s a heady mix, but in Bong’s hands, it never ceases to satisfy.

In this case, we tag along as Korean farm girl Mija (Seo-hyun Ahn) wiles away days in the rural mountains with Okja. Ten years earlier, the Mirando corporation left the tiny piglet with Mija’s farmer grandfather. It’s now time for the company to take her back.

What opens as a beautiful story of magical childhood friendship a la E.T. or some kind of live-action Miyazaki film turns, in Act 2, into something far darker. Once Tilda Swinton (glorious – and playing twins!) and Mirando Corp come calling, Okja becomes satire of the most broad and brutal sort.

Though Bong peppers the prolog with a couple F-bombs, there’s still no way to be ready for the pivot his film makes. Not every actor is prepared for the shift, either.

Swinton – so breathtakingly brilliant in Bong’s 2013 flick Snowpiercer (Be a shoe!) – is characteristically fascinating as Mirando’s mogul, and Paul Dano offers a startlingly unpredictable eco-terrorist.

The generally reliable Jake Gyllenhaal can’t seem to nail his part, kind of a Jack Hannah patterned after a crackhead version of Richard Simmons. It’s less interesting than it sounds.

Otherwise, though, the collision of styles and gut punch of a third act guarantee that the film will stick with you.

Okja is the first film in which Bong clearly states a prescribed purpose, rather than simply writing and directing a fine, if politically astute, film. That doesn’t take away from his movie’s power, and only cements his position as a filmmaker at the top of his game.

Verdict-3-5-Stars





Day of the Dead

Swiss Army Man

by George Wolf

Makeshift toy boats drift out to sea, carrying cries for help ranging from “I don’t want to die alone” to “I’m so bored.” Swiss Army Man sets its off-kilter tone early, and then things get weird. Fart-powered motor boat weird.

Hank (Paul Dano) is stranded alone on a deserted island, quite literally at the end of his rope. While contemplating his end, he spies a body (Daniel Radcliffe) in the surf and suddenly, Hank has a new friend. His name is Manny, and he’s dead.

Turns out Manny has plenty of uses (like the fart-powered motor boat thing) and before long the stranded pair is singing songs, putting on shows, and ruminating on reasons to live.

In their feature debut, the writer/director team of Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (aka “Daniels”) crafts a wild, imaginative odyssey alive with color and wonderful set pieces. Swiss Army Man has abundant charm, occasional hilarity and a few moments of magic, but the Daniels directing vision is always two steps ahead of their scriptwriting depth.

Excessively revelatory music heralds layers of resonance that never come, and we settle instead for warmed over sentiments about disconnection and vulnerability. The approach is often just too cute for its own good, the Daniels seemingly confident their earnest outlandishness will win you over.

They’re pretty much right.

This is a film that will tweak your curiosity as often as it tests your patience, and the Birdman-style ending may leave you struggling to come up with any reaction other than “that was weird,” but you will be entertained.

Dano and Radcliffe complement each other well, both delivering committed performances that turn Hank and Manny into some sort of bizarro Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

Sure, Swiss Army Man chases too many windmills, but I’m still anxious to see what Daniels might come up with next.

Verdict-3-0-Stars





Make Sure You’re Prepared

 

by George Wolf

 

Pre-game warmups aren’t usually part of the moviegoing experience, but Prisoners may require a little preparation.

Quite simply, it will wear you out.

Director Denis Villeneuve and writer Aaron Guzikowski have crafted a relentlessly intense, utterly engrossing mystery/thriller that will bludgeon your nerves, tease your sensibilities and leave your morals in disarray.

Hugh Jackman is unbelievably great as a father desperate for answers after his daughter, and his neighbor’s daughter, are abducted on Thanksgiving Day. The assigned detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) believes a troubled local man (Paul Dano) is to blame, but can’t find the evidence to hold him. Jackman’s character, overcome with rage, takes matters into his own hands.

That’s all the info you need, but just a tiny fraction of the complex chain of events set in motion by the crime. Guzikowski, who adapted the Contraband screenplay last year, delivers a twisting, intelligent script that lulls you with the familiarity of the premise all the while it’s leading you places you may not want to go.

Villeneuve, best known for writing and directing the Oscar-nominated Incendies three years ago, makes a stunning English language debut that succeeds on many levels. If a thriller was all it was, it would be a good one, relying on a substance that recalls years of Hollywood films from Death Wish to Gone Baby Gone.

Prisoners transcends the genre in the way it forces its audience to face the same moral ambiguities the characters are up against. The stupendous cast, which also includes greats such as Terence Howard, Viola Davis and Melissa Leo, fills each character with gritty realism, allowing actions that seem justified in one set of circumstances to be easily called into question.  As surprises mount,  the film lands solid blows to perceptions of torture, fear-mongering, religious fanaticism, and even basic parenting.

Sound like a lot? It is, and the film earns every minute of its two and a half hour running time. It is a dark, cathartic journey that is not for the squeamish, and the film’s length only serves to reinforce the hell these people are going through.  They want it to end, and so do you, but only because the film has hooked you so deeply.

You’ll need to pay attention and listen hard, and though you probably won’t figure things out early, the clues are all there in front of you. Prisoners is a breathtaking ride that rewards the effort it demands, ultimately providing a satisfying payoff, capped by an unforgettable final scene that may very well find its way into your dreams.

 

 

Verdict-4-0-Stars