Tag Archive: Christian Bale


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Although horror generally doesn’t fall under the purview of films that I attempt to review for this blog (which is a thousands films long list of award-nominated movies), I make a special attempt to sneak them in here when I get the chance. Ever since I was a child, horror has been a guilty pleasure of mine, and the nights I wasn’t able to sleep in elementary school after my parents mistakenly let me watch A Nightmare on Elm Street still stick with me nearly 20 years later. And, over this blog’s two and a half year lifetime, I’ve often mused about what was the greatest horror film ever made. I’ve reviewed classics like The Shining, The Exorcist, and Poltergeist, as well as modern greats like Let the Right One In and Paranormal Activity. But after much thought and debate, I think my heart belongs to 2000’s American Psycho.

Perhaps it’s unfair to even discuss American Psycho in rankings of the great horror films because under any real inspection, American Psycho is a horror movie in only the most superficial and surface ways. Because despite the buckets of blood, slasher film tropes, and skin-crawlingly creepy performance from Christian Bale, American Psycho is as much a pitch-black comedy and satire of the greed, narcissism, and general misogyny of the 1980s as it is a retread of the familiar serial killer tale. In fact, were the film meant as a straight horror, it would be mediocre at best because it’s not scary in the slightest, but as a brutal evisceration of the dark underbelly of the Reagan years and Wall Street avarice, American Psycho turns itself into a horrific, dark mirror of the worst sides of American life.

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Patrick Bateman (The Dark Knight Rises‘s Christian Bale) is the embodiment of the 1980s American dream. He’s a young successful Wall Street executive on the rise. He has a perfect body, perfect skin, and the perfect NYC high rise apartment. He has a gorgeous girlfriend, Evelyn (Reese Witherspoon), a willing mistress (Samantha Mathis), and absurdly rich friends whose biggest problems in life seem to be whether or not they can get a reservation at the swankiest New York City restaurants and passive aggressively loathing one another over who has the best business card.

But, beneath his perfect exterior, Patrick hides a dark, dark secret. He is a serial killer and an absolutely unhinged one at that. Taking great pride in beating and mutilating prostitutes and the homeless, Patrick unleashes his misogynistic, anti-woman hatred out whenever he can. And when professional jealousy towards one of his colleagues (Jared Leto) ends in a Huey Lewis & the News preceded murder, Patrick finds himself tailed by detective Donald Kimball (Faraway, So Close!‘s Willem Dafoe) who is investigating the man’s disappearance. Will Patrick be able to keep his dark nature in check or will he explode in an orgiastic bloodlust of violence and mayhem?

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Christian Bale has become one of the most consistently intriguing and promising stars of his generation, and alongside the much earlier Empire of the Sun, this was one of the films that put Bale on the map. Alongside his role in The Fighter, I still believe that American Psycho is the premier performance of Bale’s career. Some might be put of by just how bizarre his characterization of Patrick Bateman becomes. This odd combination of yuppie misogyny, misanthropy, and vanity alongside a terrifying milieu of true psychotic behavior seems outrageous at first, but it’s this same horrific otherworld-ness that comes to define how fantastic Bale is at playing men on the fringe of sanity.

Mary Harron’s direction places American Psycho right alongside Wall Street and Bonfire of the Vanities (the book, not the god-awful film) as one of the most accurate satirical looks at the Reagan years. With long, lingering shots of suits, business cards, lavish parties, fancy restaurants, and even fancier apartments, American Psycho has the attention to detail of a Merchant/Ivory film or Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence, but within that framework, the film never fails to remind you of the hollowness of these characters’ existence.

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Because American Psycho is a pitch-black comedy/satire, you would be forgiven for thinking that its humor wouldn’t be of the “laugh-out-loud” variety. But it most certainly is. There’s a moment late in the film where Patrick discusses eating the brains of some his victims; I’m not sure if it’s meant to be as funny as I found it, but at that moment, I found myself laughing absolutely hysterically. I was on the verge of tears. And the film is full of little moments of subtle humor that are played just right to elicit big laughs. An ATM machine tells Patrick to feed it stray cats, the insanely narcissistic poses he makes having sex to Phil Collins’ “Sussudio.” The list goes on.

I watched this several nights ago and have been writing the review off and on for a couple days now. Work has kept me from finding the time to actually finish it so I’ll draw this review to a close. I haven’t given this score out in a while. In fact, it’s been three months since I reviewed my last “A+” film, The Master. But American Psycho totally deserves this honor. I am unable to come up with a single flaw to this film, and having watched it dozens of times at this point in my life, it keeps getting better and better. If you want to watch what I believe is the greatest horror film of all time and arguably one of the best satires of the last twenty years, American Psycho is it.

Final Score: A+

 

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(Quick side note. Sorry for the long hiatuses between reviews. I had three exams last week and I worked every day of the week but Monday and Wednesday. I’m pretty sure my last review went up Tuesday. You get the picture. I have a lot more free time this week. So expect me to do some catching up. I also have a review to put up for Uncharted 3 so that should be fun. Also, lo and behold, my hot streak of really good films finally came to an end on the film I actually thought I’d enjoy the most out of the movies I was sent.)

How do we cover historical travesties committed by a group of people in the modern day without making a film that comes off as racist? Or is the simple truth that presenting historical facts about something that really happened can be construed as racist a sign of our over-sensitive times? You can’t make a movie about the Holocaust where Germany isn’t going to come off in a bad light, but Schindler’s List was never accused of being anti-the German people. Hotel Rwanda was a brutal look at the Rwandan genocide, but it too hasn’t been accused of being racist against the African people. The “Rape of Nanking” is one of history’s most infamous war crimes, but its presentation in The Flowers of War is so gung-ho in its presentation that one would expect this from a 1950s propaganda film right after the war, not a modern examination of one of the most horrific city sieges of all time.

First things first though, some historical context for those unfamiliar with their Sino-Japanese relations circa World War II. Although the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime in Europe get most of the attention, Stalinist Russia and Imperial Japan committed their own fair share of horrors. Stalin was responsible for the deaths of roughly 10 million of his own people, and when the Japanese invaded China, they employed a scorched Earth strategy that would have disgusted William Tecumseh Sherman. Their actions in the Nanking Massacre were especially atrocious as the Japanese army murdered over 300,000 civilians after the Chinese army had already fled and engaged in barbaric acts of rape and pillaging. To this day, the actions of the Japanese military in Nanking (and the rest of China) are a point of extreme tension between the two most powerful Asiatic nations.

The Flowers of War doesn’t falter because it portrays what actually happened in Nanking during that dark page in world history. It falters because of its almost messianic portrayal of the Chinese people struggling to survive against the Japanese who are worse than demonic in this film with absolutely nothing in the way of redeeming qualities. If you can imagine every single war film cliche in terms of cinematography (not necessarily plot which is where the film finds its successes), you have an idea of how The Flowers of War is shot. Gratuitous use of slo-motion? Check. Admittedly gorgeous but often inappropriate lighting? Check. An omnipresent swelling score that would make John Williams proud? Check. Infantrymen capable of remarkable/impossible feats of markmanship? Check. When the film is focused on the battle for the city, it’s hard to find an original storytelling bone in the movie’s body, and the movie is guilty of the most unforgivable war film faux pas of all. It attempts to beautify the horrific.

Thankfully though, that’s not the main story of the film. John Miller (Christian Bale) is an American mortician living in China in 1937 as the Japanese invade the city of Nanking. A drunkard and a selfish louse, Miller takes a job during the invasion itself to bury the Father of a local Catholic cathedral. However, by the time he arrives, the Father has been destroyed by a mortar shell, and Miller is left to look after a group of 12 year old girls that are students at the convent. When a group of local prostitutes show up looking for refuge, John’s initial response is to just look out for himself, but after seeing the Japanese army’s barbarism (which includes attempted rapes of the 12 year old girls), Miller pretends to be the priest of the parish and takes actions to get the little girls and prostitutes to safety away from Nanking.

Usually Christian Bale is one of the better actors of his generation (one need only go back as early as Empire of the Sun to see his talents as a child and then move up to The Fighter or American Psycho for his adult talents), but I wasn’t impressed with his performance in this role. At times you saw hints of the manic charm and explosive energy that is always resting right below the surface of Bale’s otherwise calm demeanor, but a lot of the time I felt as if he was just dialing his performance in. It didn’t help that the dialogue he was reading often felt stiff and unnatural. Chinese actress Ni Ni was more charming as the madam of the group of prostitutes, but even her performance required her to ratchet up the melodrama in a film that was already overflowing with cliche emotion.

Credit must be given for the film’s ability to generate a visceral emotional reaction when it called for it though. Like any film about genocide or mass murder, The Flowers of War is incredibly difficult to watch. I’m not sure how much credit can be given to the film or the filmmakers there though. The subject matter itself is is innately horrifying to anyone who has anything remotely resembling a conscience. There were many moments in the film where I was awestruck with the horror these young girls were facing and reminded yet again of the terrible atrocities that have been committed just in the last 100 years alone. The film does not shy away from graphic depictions of the deaths and murder of soldiers or civilians, and for the faint of heart, it may be too much to take in.

Usually, I’m all about films that embrace cinematographic beauty. A quick scan of the rare films to receive an “A+” on here will show that most of them are visual wonders as much as storytelling wonders. However, there’s a time and place for that kind of poetic flourish, and a war film isn’t it. Although the film takes great pains to set up a dichotomy between the quiet beauty of the small moments with the brutal horror of the wartime realities, it has an unfortunate tendency to blur those lines in ways that I would find highly offensive if I were Chinese and from Nanking. Although maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about since this was one of the biggest films to come out of China last year.

My dad really enjoyed this film, and his recommendation was the reason that I watched it (although I just discovered it was actually on my list [in the 1000’s range order wise] because it was nominated for a Golden Globe). So, perhaps I’m just yet again too cynical and jaded to enjoy this melodramatic of a film. We had similarly differing opinions about the quality of War Horse (which I found to be an overbearing bore but he loved. We both sobbed when watched it though). So, perhaps here’s the best summation of the film. If you’re a jaded, cynical type like myelf, go ahead and give The Flowers of War a pass. But if you’re still capable of genuine and raw emotion, you may find more here to love than I.

Final Score: C+

This review is dedicated to the memory of everyone who lost their life in the senseless violence in Aurora, CO.

It’s been eleven years since the 9/11 tragedy left its immeasurable imprint in the American psyche. With a seismic shift in American foreign policy and the lengths that Americans were willing to go to guarantee their own safety (even if it meant sacrificing their own liberty), the terrorists changed the American way of life whether we’d like to admit it or not. With the PATRIOT Act, unmanned drones, and a government with the power to assassinate its own citizens (if and when they’re considered foreign enemy combatants), the America of today is radically different than the America pre-that fateful Monday morning. It isn’t just our political culture that reflects the post 9/11 world. It is our arts and popular media. Would Jack Bauer have been so beloved in a world where his questionable tactics weren’t deemed (by some) a rough necessity? More than any other superhero, Christopher Nolan’s Batman has become the the superhero of the post 9/11-world, but the very British (and cynical) Mr. Nolan (Inception) turns the concept of the American hero completely on its head.

Starting with Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One as well as his iconic The Dark Knight Returns (which TDKR‘s title is a more than apt homage/subversion), Batman has seen a slow, steady disintegration from the stalwart hero of the Silver Age to a more morally and psychologically complex anti-hero. Some writers even went so far as to paint Bruce as an aristocratic vigilante whose crime fighting masked serious mental illness (or at least highly repressed neuroses). What else is Watchmen‘s Nite Owl but a sexually repressed playboy/Batman stand-in who decides to fight crime because he’s bored? When Christopher Nola resuscitated the Batman franchise in 2005 (eight years after Joel Schumacher nearly destroyed it), he took the darker Batman mythos as a jumping off point for an examination of one man who represented both the best and worst in the American character.

The Dark Knight hinged thematically (the Joker without question drove the plot) entirely on this debate as framed between Harvey Dent and Batman. Dent was the idealistic crusader. He would stop at nothing to battle crime even if it meant crossing moral lines to get there. Bruce hadn’t become quite so cynical yet. The tipping point (which began Nolan’s almost too subtle commentary) was the arrival of the Joker who pushed Dent to his limits. He broke the man Gotham had invested considerable authority in and turned him into a force of nihilistic destruction. And although the Batman was able to stop Joker’s reign of terror, the Joker won. He made Bruce compromise. Batman took the blame for Dent’s death (and kept his transformation into Two-Face a secret) and went into hiding. Bruce even turned into a recluse because without Rachel Dawes and without Batman, he had nothing. Gotham chose to invest all of its power (as we find out in TDKR) into stopping criminals and honoring the legacy of Dent. It turns out the Joker knew what he was doing after all.

The Dark Knight Rises picks up eight years after the death of Harvey Dent. Although the streets of Gotham are safe, organized crime has simply moved from the mob to the boardroom. In one of the film’s best scenes, a young and highly capable cat-burglar, Selina Kyle (Brokeback Mounain‘s Anne Hathaway), breaks into Wayne Manor to steal finger prints from Bruce Wayne (as well as a pearl necklace that caught her fancy). After she’s betrayed by those that she was working for in the first place, we quickly learn that one of the largest shareholders in Wayne Enterprises is one of Gotham’s most merciless killers. It is, in fact, this same man who has hired the film’s Big Bad in the first place to wreak havoc on the streets of Gotham in an attempt to wrest control of Wayne Enterprise from Bruce Wayne. Unfortunately for Mr. Daggett, Bane is not an animal that can be controlled.

Bane (Inception‘s Tom Hardy) is a hulking brute with no code other than to watch the world burn. His malicious and unyielding penchant for evil even managed to get him excommunicated from the same League of Shadows that wanted to destroy Gotham in Batman Begins. In the film’s opening set piece (which isn’t fully understood until much later in the film), Bane intentionally hands himself over to the CIA in order to capture a Russian nuclear scientist in a mid-air hijacking where one of his men gladly volunteers to die in the wreckage so there’s proof who committed the crime. After a daring robbery of the Gotham Stock Exchange which effectively brings Batman out of retirement, the fight between Batman and Bane can barely be categorized as such. In their first physical confrontation, Bane doesn’t just beat Batman. He destroys him, breaking his back and tossing Bruce in an inescapable eastern European pit to force Bruce to watch the destruction of Gotham.

Which leads to the heart of the film. Before Bruce went into seclusion, he had been working on a nuclear fusion energy source that could completely power Gotham forever. He was doing this with the financing of wealthy philanthropist Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard). However, after studies showed how the device could be weaponized, Bruce and Lucian Fox hid the reactor away beneath the city. After Bane breaks Bruce, he commandeers the reactor and turns its core into a slowly ticking time bomb. After blowing the bridges out of the city (and trapping most of the police in the sewers), Bane takes control of Gotham, and it’s up to Commisioner Gordan (Nil By Mouth‘s Gary Oldman) and the few remaining cops, including idealistic and driven young cop John Blake (Brick‘s Joseph Gordon-Levitt), to lead the resistance as the city prays for the return of the Batman.

It’s difficult to discuss the thematic turning point in the film where it suddenly became more clear that Nolan was trying to recreate the superhero story as a post 9/11 allegory (which led to the retroactive recognition of all of the other themes I’ve already pointed out) without spoiling the end of the film. Here goes. It finally struck me that Batman was meant to stand for the unchecked power and vigilantism of the post 9/11 America when he (probably not a huge spoiler) finally returns to Gotham after escaping the pit. Bruce failed to stop Bane because Bane represented a force that the Batman couldn’t defeat on his own. His complete lack of faith in the decency of others and his refusal to ask for the help of anyone else (including isolating his closest friend, Alfred) meant he was doomed to failure. As soon as he returns to Gotham, he immediately enlists the help of everyone he can which shows Batman’s transformation into a leader who isn’t too proud to admit when he needs help.

All of the franchise’s villains represent some breed of modern terrorist (which should have been painfully obvious) though the series subverts traditional conservative propaganda by showing what true (near) nihilism looks like as opposed to religious/state-sponsored terrorism. R’as Al Ghul was a cynic who thought the only way to fix the world was to destroy it. The Joker committed violence for violence’s sake. He was more interested in making everyone recognize what he saw as the futility of existence and the absurdity of morality. Bane saw himself as the successor to R’as Al Ghul’s legacy but instead wanted a vicious anarchism through a destructive cleansing. While the franchise has created a world of good vs. evil, it’s also a world of flawed heroes versus grand existential philosophies on the meaninglessness of modern life.

As fascinating as the film is at a thematic level, it’s also still a superhero movie, and, thankfully, it also succeeds in that era (though it’s length becomes a bit of a problem). The film is overflowing with masterfully staged action set pieces. Whether it’s Batman leading the entire GCPD on a manhunt when he first returns (before his good name is cleared), Batman and Selina Kyle fighting off Bane’s men or a shoot-out between the GCPD and the forces of Daggett and Bane, the film has enough action to counterbalance it’s overt social themes even before the marked shift in pace in the film’s final half. The film’s last half sees The Dark Knight Rises transform as much into a war film as it is a superhero movie. Gotham has been occupied, and Batman and all of the decent forces left in Gotham have to take up arms in a gorgeously constructed and choreographed fight to the death.

Nolan’s dedication to character-driven storytelling is just as great in this film as it has been in the past. With TDKR as his last chance to speak on these characters, it is great to report that he brings all of the remaining characters full circle in their respective arcs. Without wanting to spoil the film, it’s safe to say that Bruce’s arc is immensely satisfying and brought to an acceptable close. No matter where the Batman franchise goes from here, Christopher Nolan will always have left his mark on the Batman mythos. The most surprising aspect of the film was Nolan’s totally original creation, Joseph Gordon Levitt’s John Blake. An orphan like Bruce, Blake was an instantly endearing and charming creation that showed the human decency that Bruce Wayne thought was mostly extinct in Gotham. In a film with so many established characters, it was wonderful that a new character made the deepest emotional impact.

Not everything about the film is a winner though. As effective a villain as Bane is (he accomplishes far more damage than the other two Big Bads combined), he is pretty dull. Ignoring the fact that his breathing apparatus makes it impossible to understand half of what he says, he simply lacks the presence of the Joker or even Ra’s Al Ghul. It’s probably unfair to compare him to Heath Ledger’s Joker which will likely go down as the all-time greatest superhero villain in cinema. Yet, I couldn’t help feeling that with such a grand and epic film, Christopher Nolan could have done better than a hulking brute with no real personality other than a terrifying evil. He nearly reminds one of Marlo Stanfield, the cold and calculating killer from The Wire who could never live up to the high bar set by Stringer Bell. Except Nolan’s rendition of Bane makes Marlo Stanfield look like a nuanced creation from a Jonathan Franzen novel.

Similarly, despite her major role in the film’s final act, I still firmly believe that The Dark Knight Rises could have done without Marion Cotillard’s Miranda Tate. It’s not that Cotillard isn’t a wonderful actress. She’s phenomenal (and incredibly gorgeous), but Miranda was just another female placeholder until the film’s end. Her romance with Bruce in the film’s first act made about zero sense even if you take into account that he had been mourning the loss of Rachel Dawes for eight years. Where The Amazing Spider-Man deftly explored romance with Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy (which was ultimately more interesting than the film’s actual heroics), The Dark Knight Rises shows the same romantic understanding and life as George Lucas in Revenge of the Sith (which is to say not at all). I will for the life of me never understand why writer’s try to shoehorn romances into stories when they have no idea how to write a good love story.

In surprisingly American fashion, the Brit Nolan also tries to have it both way when he both lampoons and defends the modern economic strife in America. I have heard people refer to Bane as an allegory for the “militarm of the Occupy movement” and have also heard people read into the greed and corruption that would foster that sort of resentment in the first place. Nolan doesn’t handle economic malaise with the same sure-eyed clarity that he uses to take aim at terrorism, national security, and unchecked power (benevolent or not). Also, the simple fact that he tries to please both sides of his audience rather than coming out and just saying what he believes is a bit of Hollywood commercialism that he is usually better than.

Despite the film’s flaws, Nolan’s film is so ambitious that only the most hardened cynic would focus so hard on them as to not see the forest for the trees. Yes, the film is too long. Yes, Bane is a mush-mouth of the highest order  and simply lacks an imposing emotional presence. But, with the entire Dark Knight Trilogy, Nolan has reshaped the possibilities of the mainstream superhero movie. He aims a little higher. He believed that you could entertain and educate. He took the risk that you could transform the modern American myth, the superhero, into a reflection of the society that spawned the myth in the first place. The Dark Knight Rises may not be perfect, but as a summer American blockbuster, you couldn’t possibly ask for much more.

Final Score: A-

Ever since Rocky climbed up the steps of the Philadelphia Public Library, there has been something about the under dog story that has enchanted movie-goers ever since. Seeing somebody who is put down, not expected to succeed, up against insurmountable odds, and seeing him succeed fulfills a certain amount of catharsis and escapism that everybody needs to feel every once in a while. Generally speaking (Rocky being the most notable exception), a lot of these under dog stories are based off true events because the story might be too happy and escapist if it were fictional. So, 2010’s The Fighter, while not necessarily being a great film, serves as another fine entry into the classic under dog genre.

The Fighter is the true story of Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg), a boxer who is suffering from an extended losing streak and is on the verge of his career falling apart due to disappearing from the radar. Mickey is trained by his older brother Dicky (Christian Bale in an Oscar-winning performance), who was a semi-successful boxer in his hey-day but has descended into self-destructive drug abuse. The film focuses as much on the dysfunctional relationship between the various members of this family including the brothers controlling mother Alice (Melissa Leo in an Oscar-winning role), the veritable army of daughters, and Mickey’s new girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams) as it focuses on the comeback story of Mickey’s career. The film offers a pretty harrowing and heart-breaking look at the way the drug problem tears apart families.

The films story isn’t something you haven’t heard before and it left more bored on occasion and waiting something more interesting to happen. However, this is a performance film where there are several performances that if you’re a fan of great acting, this movie is a must watch. This is easily Christian Bale’s best performance since American Psycho. He is terrifyingly accurate in his portrayal of the junky brother. He looks, acts, and just radiates the part. He inhabited the character and just became Dicky. Melissa Leo was great as the mother, but I was actually much more impressed with Amy Adams performance as Mickey’s girlfriend. She should have won the Oscar in my opinion. Mark Wahlberg was also great, but this wasn’t as good as his performance in The Departed or Boogie Nights.

I can recommend this film to any body who likes a good sports movie, or if you’re a serious Christian Bale fan, then you definitely need to watch it. I’m sure that if the Academy was still only nominating 5 films a year for Best Picture instead of the current 10, this one wouldn’t have received a Best Picture nomination, but it’s still worth a watch. I’ll probably forget a lot of things about this film years from now, but Christian Bale’s incendiary performance will stay with me for a long time.

Final Score: B