The Batman

Catwoman and Batman

The Batman. Let’s get the plot out of the way first, since it’s the most straightforward aspect of the latest bulletin from Gotham City. A caped crusader, a trio of villains in the shape of Paul Dano’s Riddler, Colin Farrell’s Penguin and John Turturro’s Carmine Falcone, a campaign of murder being waged against city officials. The mayor dies first, in the opening moments of the film, forcing Commissioner Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) to call in Batman – he rates the mysterious vigilante but no one else does. Along the way Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz) becomes involved, a good girl in this version, and a crimefighting sidekick, should Batman want one, which he doesn’t seem to. And possible love interest, again if Batman wants one.

As someone whose favourite Batmen are Adam West and Ben Affleck, this Batman is quite a challenge – RPatz as the caped crusader. In fact, as co-writer/director Matt Reeves discussed when news of the film first broke, the choice of Robert Pattinson brings some useful casting baggage with it. Like Bruce Wayne, Pattinson has grown up in public, has learned to adjust to great fame early on and has developed a strategy of dealing with the whole damn thing. In Pattinson’s case, just getting on and making films one after the other, starring in some, taking support roles in others, always aiming to do decent work – the jobbing actor. As for this iteration of Bruce Wayne, the poor once-orphaned billionaire has become a recluse, allowing his alter ego, the masked near-psychopath Batman, to represent him.

Bigger, darker, more gothic. There, I said it. It’s been the standard line on all the Batmans since Tim Burton re-invented the character for the screen all those years ago. And somehow, Reeves has managed to find a way to make his Batman – The Batman, goddamit – even more sombre, gigantic and stygian.

But beneath all the murk, The Batman is a plea for a return to normality. For governments to govern, for city officials not to be corrupt, for Batmen to be allowed to go about their crime-fighting business. Intercession is its overarching idea – what is Batman but an intermediary in the whole process of crime and justice? – and composer Michael Giacchino makes this clear with his choice of musical theme, Schubert’s Ave Maria, a sung prayer beseeching a higher authority to pray for us, help us, now and at the hour of our death.

Bruce Wayne with shirt off
Bruce Wayne, emo kid



If Christian Bale was the growling Batman, Pattinson is the whispering one, a 1970s Clint Eastwood calmly and impassively going about his business with narrowed eyes, while his villainous opponents function almost as Scorsese criminals – they’re gangsters more than anything else, most obviously in the shape of Turturro’s Carmine Falcone, the goodfella crime boss. As for the other two, there is no Lycra or fancy attire here. Paul Dano’s Riddler wears a kind of gimp mask with spectacles and is a creepy and original re-invention of an old favourite. Dano refers vocally to Frank Gorshin’s Riddler (Adam West era) a couple of times, but otherwise this is all his. Colin Farrell, unrecognisable under the latex, is a much more straightforward bad guy, a hoodlum. For all Farrell’s brilliance in the role, Penguin suffers from the same affliction as Falcone. The unwritten rule of Batman states that there’s only really room for one fleshed-out villain in each story, and this time out it’s not him.

For all its fantastic parts, the actors, the acting, the set design, The Batman a lumpy and formless whole. There is no real story. It’s a fairly event-free zone, and largely comprises Batman turning up at the scene of a crime, not saying very much, and then standing there like a big lump before heading off to glower at the scene of yet another crime. At various points we see that Bruce Wayne wears also black eye make up beneath the mask, to complete the effect. Along with Pattinson’s floppy longish hair dyed dark, it’s tempting to see Wayne as a shut-in emo kidult, a My Chemical Romance fan who’s never quite grown up. Bruce Wayne has daddy issues. So, too, does Catwoman, we later learn. So, almost inevitably, does Riddler. Penguin, Falcone… this isn’t their story.

It’s a fascinating film rather than a really entertaining one, never boring but oddly not gripping. It’s probably worth watching more than once, not least to drink in Reeves’s stylistic borrowings from epic movies of the silent era – all those vast tableaux, a colour palette tending to the monotone, cameras far more static than usual. This is only fitting – 100 years ago, in his mask and cape, Douglas Fairbanks invented all this stuff with The Mark of Zorro, after all.







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© Steve Morrissey 2022









The True Adventures of Wolfboy

Wolfboy in pensive mood

 

The True Adventures of Wolfboy. Sounds like it might be a superhero movie – Wolfboy as a junior Wolverine. Or a supervillain movie – a Mini-Me Werewolf. In fact it’s neither. This is the everyday story of a teenage boy covered in hair, lots of it. And before we go any further, yes, he’s tried depilatory products, but the hair just comes back twice as thick.

“I’m normal, I”m a normal kid,” says Paul (Jaeden Martell, who was going by the name Jaeden Lieberher last time I saw him, in 2016’s Midnight Special), a 13-year-old bullied by the horrible other kids, cowed into wearing a balaclava, a freak in his own eyes as much as anyone else’s.

He has parents of the helicopter variety – dad (Chris Messina) hovers about fairly ineffectually, offering team talks and suggesting Paul go to a special school for kids like him. Together they watch a promo video for the institution which places way too much weight on diversity and is fronted by a principal so chummy he’s scary. Mom, meanwhile, has helicoptered herself right out of the situation, having bolted once she caught sight of what she’d given birth to.

 

Dad and Wolfboy at the carnical
At the carnival, before it all kicks off

 

Wolfboy Paul’s “true adventures” are kicked off by a particularly nasty bit of bullying at a carnival, which ends up with him running away from home and setting course for Pennsylvania, where his mother is supposedly living.

As he meets one oddball character after another en route, what then plays out is a tidied-up, slimmed-down but still recognisable reworking of the Pinocchio story, except Paul doesn’t want to be a real boy, just a normal one.

The circus master in Pinocchio pops up in the shape of Mr Silk (John Turturro), owner of a travelling carnival who sees in Paul a chance to bring back the olde tyme freak show. Later, Pinocchio’s Fairy with the Turquoise Hair also becomes a significant part of the story, now transformed into a young nightclub singer called Aristiana (Sophia Grace Gianni), a reminder of where she came from in the turquoise bathing cap she wears when she performs.

Both Mr Silk and Aristiana treat Paul as neither freak nor child – alcohol and cigarettes figure in both sets of interactions – leading to the “but of course” conclusion that the hairiness is none other than a stand-in for puberty, which does seem just a touch crass.

Talking of one thing standing in for another, this whole film seems to be set in a slightly parallel version of present-day America. It’s realistic, but not entirely plausible – where are the people huddled over their smartphones? Where are the CCTV cameras when Paul and Aristiana embark on a life of heisting convenience stores with latest new friend Rose (a rather good Eve Hewson)? As they speed away from yet another robbery in Rose’s van, no onlooker even seems interested in taking down the departing vehicle’s number plate.

It took me a while to click with this not-quite-thereness of the portrayal of everyday life. But slowly the whole thing grew on me, this optimistic picaresque, fairy tale in structure and populated with flawed characters.

Chloë Sevigny turns up, playing Paul’s compromised mother, right about the point when things start wrapping up in a way that’s satisfying both on an emotional level and in terms of plot – the hairiness is explained and a new spin is put on the “learning to love yourself” formula.

Wolfboy – not a hero, not a villain, super or otherwise, in a film where everyone, at some level, is exactly like him.

 

 

 

The True Adventures of Wolfboy – watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2020

 

 

 

 

Quiz Show

John Turturro, Hank Azaria and Ralph Fiennes in Quiz Show

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

10 September

 

 

The “Coughing” Major, 2001

 

On this day in 2001, Charles Ingram, a former major in the British army, won £1,000,000 in the UK TV gameshow Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. But before the payout could be made, accusations were already flying that he’d been tipped off as to the real answer to various questions by two plants in the audience – his wife, Diana, and a friend, Tecwen Whittock – who would cough when the right answer was read out. Ingram did not cough himself, nor was he any longer a major, but tabloid newspapers, preferring a story to the facts, dubbed him “the coughing major”. The case went to trial and lasted four weeks, at which point Ingram, his wife and Whittock were convicted of “procuring the execution of a valuable security by deception” (ie cheating). Whittock proclaims his innocence to this day.

 

Quiz Show (1994, dir: Robert Redford)

Robert Redford’s interest in the “unofficial” version of American history is very apparent in one of his best films, which picks apart one of the great scandals of the 1950s, when a nationally syndicated TV quiz show turned out not to be a contest to find the smartest but a set-up designed to keep the most attractive guy on TV – as defined by the ratings – until a more attractive one came along. John Turturro and Ralph Fiennes are the stars, Turturro the brusque Jew who’s been on a hot winning streak, Fiennes the refined Wasp chosen by the show’s sponsors to replace him, both lured into playing along with the deception that they were genuinely answering brain-bustingly difficult questions by the promise of fame, fortune, the usual. Quiz Show is unusual in coming right out and saying what has to be said – the network was NBC, the sponsor was Geritol, the show was 21, the host was Jack Barry and the two dupes were called Stempel (Turturro) and Van Doren (Fiennes). Names are not changed to protect the guilty. There’s a reminder of All the President’s Men in the late-night procedural business as lawyer Dick Goodwin (Rob Morrow) starts burrowing to reveal what’s been going on. But does Quiz Show have a broader resonance? It’s a Redford film, so of course. To drag in the title of another Redford movie, it’s about “the way we were” – when probity in public affairs seemed to matter, when broadcasters were interested in more than the overnight figures, when the broader public believed in education for its own sake.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • The great cast includes Paul Scofield
  • Cameos from directors Martin Scorsese and Barry Levinson
  • One of Redford’s best – heart not worn too overtly on sleeve
  • John Turturro’s best ever performance?

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

Quiz Show – at Amazon