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A View To A Kill (1985)

Up until about a month ago, I had only seen the James Bond films from The Living Daylights onward.  So, this became my first exposure to Roger Moore as Agent 007.  I was mainly attracted to the film because I got hooked on the title song by Duran Duran.  While A View To A Kill received a very negative criticism in its day, and even Moore himself holds it as his least favorite that he did, I found the movie to be quite enjoyable.  It’s clear that Moore likely did have far stronger outings, but other Bond actors would have far more ill entries in the franchise.

British spy Agent 007, James Bond (Roger Moore), retrieves a high-tech silicon chip from the U.S.S.R., a chip that is identical to a prototype British design capable of withstanding a nuclear electromagnetic pulse.  The British suspect industrialist Max Zorin (Christopher Walken) of leaking details of the design to the Russians. When Bond is sent to investigate he finds that Zorin is stockpiling silicon microchips, and is secretly planning to corner the world microchip market by literally wiping out Silicon Valley.  In addition to Zorin himself, 007 must contend with the madman’s beautiful and deadly companion May Day (Grace Jones), but is aided by the lovely geologist Stacey Sutton (Tanya Roberts).  Bond’s mission will take him from the heights of the Eiffel Tower to the towering danger of the Golden Gate Bridge to stop Zorin’s maniacal scheme.

What always turned me away from checking out Roger Moore’s Bond films was the stated campy nature of them.  I didn’t want to see a silly James Bond.  However, if this film is any evidence as to Moore’s overall best quality approach to the character, I find it quite entertaining without betraying the integrity of the character’s legacy.  I certainly do prefer Bond actors who put more dramatic weight into their performances, but Roger Moore is far from giving a bad performance in this film.  While his 57 year old age was clearly evident in this film, which was partly to blame for the film’s negative criticisms, Moore still brings a charming, suave sensibility mixed with a fine wit and levity.  The only real downside to his age is the fact that he couldn’t be highly involved with the action scenes.  Right from the pre-credits sequence, you can tell it is a stunt double doing the rigorous work while the filmmakers edit in close-up shots of Moore done on a soundstage.  It gets more seamless in later action sequences with much better close-ups, but it varies, especially with the rear screen projection shots in the San Francisco chase sequence.  Regardless of this, I think Roger Moore is quite enjoyable in this portrayal of Agent 007.

Now, I really like the opening title sequence.  Obviously, Duran Duran’s title track ensnared me into watching the film, and it is a great collaboration with composer John Barry which became a classic for the band.  I really like a couple of Duran Duran songs, but this one really hits up another level with a mysterious and seductive quality with an exciting sonic punch.  It definitely has the feel of a Bond title track, but with a sound distinctive of its times.  The credits sequence goes along well with the lyrics with the use of fire and ice, and using some very 1980s black light effects to create a series of vibrant, stylized images against black backgrounds.  As the best of these sequences do, it sets up a very exciting and intriguing tone for the movie as a whole.

Overall, the action scenes are pretty good.  They are thrilling and imaginative as well as well plotted, shot, and executed.  While they often have a little dash of humor from Bond ultimately driving a car that’s been sliced in half to comically hanging off the back end of a fire engine in San Francisco, I don’t mind them.  They are well done, and just added to the entertainment value of the film.  These moments never become ridiculous, thankfully.  The closest we get is during the pre-credits sequences where Bond begins snowboarding down a mountain, and the Beach Boys’ “California Girls” begins to play.  It certainly could rub you the wrong way, but I was able to roll with it.  Once you grasp the tone of the film, and come to accept it, you shouldn’t have a problem with these quirks.

That tone is mostly focused on the dramatic aspects and implications of the plot, but it’s a film that is able to have some fun with itself, when appropriate.  It maintains a serious threat level with Zorin’s plans, and the film flows very nicely.  Like most Bond films, it makes the most of its runtime keeping everything focused on the plot, and moving it forward in very efficient and smart ways.  It doesn’t have as much dramatic weight as some of my favorite Bond films do.  Instead, it does try to maintain some levity throughout, but balances everything very well.  It never goes too far in one direction or another, but never really excels in either direction.

The plot is pretty standard with some megalomaniac wanting to destroy in order to benefit his own greed.  It is nice that it’s actually a corporate mogul at the head of this scheme, wanting to dominate industry instead of dominating the world.  So, it has a somewhat more believable approach, but still has its unique Bond quirks which make the characters entertaining and the film nicely exciting.  I wouldn’t classify A View To A Kill as any adrenalin rush, but again, it has its fair share of danger and action which properly support the story.  The climax on the Golden Gate bridge has some fantastic visuals which I’m sure there must have been some optical effects work done, but the shots were entirely seamless to my eyes.  The action is definitely suspenseful as Bond hangs perilously from high atop the bridge, fending off Zorin’s attacks.  Ultimately, it’s an explosive finale that is quite satisfying, and tops the film off spectacularly.

Christopher Walken’s Max Zorin is an all right villain.  He’s certainly better than some of the misconceived ones I experienced in the Pierce Brosnan era, but Walken’s performance is pretty lightweight when compared to many of his later, more prominent roles.  Being familiar with Walken’s string of heavies from King of New York, Batman Returns, True Romance, The Prophecy, and Suicide Kings, I anticipated something much more impressive here.  I had wanted to see A View To A Kill since the VHS rental era because Walken was the villain, and so, there was some anticipation to see him really deliver something meaty as Zorin.  His performance is certainly not substandard, but it’s not as fascinating or intimidating as I had hoped.  In the least, it’s obvious that Walken was having a lot of fun on this movie resulting in a villain who is entertaining to watch.  There is plenty of charisma flowing out of Christopher Walken here.  I do think the blonde hair was a nice touch which gave Walken’s appearance a little more distinctiveness.

Tanya Roberts is a fairly decent Bond girl as Stacey Sutton.  There’s not much substance for her to dig into, and thus, her performance is also a little lightweight.  She plays well off of Roger Moore, but I’m sure the obvious twenty-eight year age difference between them might not work so well for some viewers.  Despite that, Roberts and Moore have fine chemistry that I feel is effective, and helps enhance the peril they fall into together.  I could honestly feel the genuine feelings between the characters in those moments.  Tanya Roberts is also quite gorgeous and charming, making her welcoming to look at.

Quite interesting is Grace Jones as the henchwoman May Day.  I think she complements Walken very well.  They seem like a peculiar couple with a shared mind for villainy.  They definitely have a solid, natural chemistry that puts them on an equal footing.  May Day rarely feels like a subordinate, but someone Zorin respects quite a bit, to a point.  Jones showcases some very good physicality, likely doing most if not all of her own stunts.  She proves to be a unique villain with an original fashion sense, but the film has her take a turn when Zorin leaves her to die in a mine explosion.  It does rob the audience of an appropriate comeuppance, but it can be nice to see a villain change sides.  She at least has a solid farewell scene.

Overall, I find A View To A Kill to be a generally enjoyable Bond film.  As I said, I’m sure Roger Moore had far stronger outings, in both performance and story, but this really doesn’t deserve the scorn it was originally met with.  It’s a fun adventure with plenty of wit and charm, but not much else to speak of.  Yes, it was time for Moore to bow out for a younger actor to revitalize the franchise, and maybe it’s not the swan song Sir Roger Moore would have preferred.  Despite that, A View To A Kill is a very competently made film that is very expertly shot with a fine score and entertaining action.  It maintains enough integrity for the series and the characters to be respectable.  It wasn’t an ambitious entry in the franchise, but there’s nothing at all wrong with that.  For me, it was an enjoyable ride that opened the door to possibly check out earlier James Bond films starring Roger Moore, but as 007 Week moves forward, so do the reviews.  With that said, James Bond will return in The Living Daylights.


The Dead Zone (1983)

Adapted from the novel by Stephen King, and directed by David Cronenberg, The Dead Zone is definitely one of the best films based on King’s work.  It has always been heralded with acclaim for many excellent reasons.  Not the least of which is an incredible lead performance from Christopher Walken.

Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) is a young and charming school teacher with a bright future ahead of him with a woman he loves and intends to marry.  Yet, after leaving her home one night, he is involved in a car accident which leaves him in a coma for five years.  Upon awakening, Johnny discovers he has gained the power of psychic visions where he see the past, present, and future with just the touch of a hand.  This frightens Johnny, and he feels only more isolated from the world when he learns that Sarah (Brooke Adams), the love of his life, has married another man and had a child with him.  After Johnny physically recovers from his coma, he becomes more and more reclusive until Sheriff Bannerman (Tom Skerritt) enlists his help to find the vicious Castle Rock Killer.  However, when Johnny later shakes the hand of young and upcoming political candidate Greg Stillson (Martin Sheen), he is confronted with a frightening vision that shakes Johnny down to his core.

To say the least, Cronenberg has been a very original director with a unique perspective and style which comes out in science fiction or horror fare.  Although, what he gives us with this film is a much more subtly clever and psychologically powerful over overt strangeness.  Instead of going for the throat like he did with Scanners or Videodrome, he really hones in on the heart of this story, and he does it magnificently well.  Every element he brought together truly merged with the heavy, somber tone he was going for.  That was an excellent direction to envelope the film in as it puts us right into Johnny’s headspace.  I think it was a stroke of genius that he made Johnny’s visions fully enveloping.  He put Johnny inside the vision as if he was right there as it happened, but unable to affect change within the vision.  It created a far more strained experienced for the character than if it just appeared as a dream state.  With the first vision, he could probably feel the heat and flames just as if he was there in the burning house.  During the vision of the Castle Rock Killer, Johnny is adamant how he was right there watching the murder, but unable to stop it.  This forges Johnny into a darker, more reclusive state.

This is the earliest film I’ve seen of Christopher Walken’s career, and it shows that, no matter the age, Walken delivers his all.  Johnny starts out as a kind, lively man fully in love, but the accident forces a turbulent change in him.  He feels like a man out of sync with the world, and is now haunted by his new abilities.  He’s angry that five years of his have been taken away, and that the woman he loved moved on with her life while he has none to return to.  Walken is able to convey the deep emotional turmoil of Johnny with so much humanity that you can’t help but feel his pain.  The tragic sense of the character really comes through in such strong, brilliant ways.  Walken subtly mixes in the charm of the pre-accident Johnny underneath that somber, unstable exterior.  The well of emotion in his face and eyes honestly becomes heartbreaking many times over.  When the visions occur, Walken goes into an intense trance which is immensely riveting.  Walken actually had Cronenberg fire off a gun, loaded with blanks, to elicit his startling reaction in those moments, and that was greatly effective.  Walken can be very intense, at times, as the fear of his knowledge of the future boils over, but he’s always able to return to that heartfelt side.  I could really go on and on about all the nuances and profound qualities of Christopher Walken’s performance, as he is always so rich with, but suffice it to say, he is absolutely stunning in this role.

Another great talent on display is Tom Skerritt who brings his strong presence of authority and sense of compassion to Sheriff Bannerman.  He feels very authentic as the lead police officer of a small New England town.  He really invests you in Bannerman’s plight where he has exhausted all avenues of investigation, and is willing to put his faith in the extraordinary to protect the people of his town.  Herbert Lom does a very interesting and relatable performance as Dr. Sam Weizak with the genuine care of a physician.  I really like the candor and humanity he brings to the role as Johnny’s doctor.  He’s about the only one Johnny can confide in about his abilities, and that creates some very strong scenes which show Johnny’s pain and struggles.  It’s very strong and intriguing work.  Brooke Adams is very lovely and beautiful in the role of Sarah.  She is very sweet and smart showing a simple, very caring woman that would endear herself to the younger Johnny who was bright and full of life.  Adams does the same to an audience showing warmth and tenderness, and really striking up a genuine, heartfelt chemistry with Walken.  The great Anthony Zerbe has an admirable turn as Roger Stuart, who hires Johnny to tutor his son, and also, bridges Smith with Stillson.  Zerbe has a screen presence of respect, intelligence, and sophistication which serves the character excellently.

Martin Sheen is awesome as Greg Stillson.  While he is perfectly stereotypical of a politician, and seemingly an exaggerated one, it entirely works for the role.  Stillson is megalomaniacal, as is revealed to Johnny.  He’s full-tilt insane, and Sheen revels in that madness.  He has thinly veiled unhinged mentality which many voters would perceive as zeal, passion, and charisma, but Zerbe’s character perceives the danger he poses, which is a very nice touch to motivate Johnny’s and Stillson’s paths to cross.

While I have not read the novel, it seems like it had just a series of generally episodic events, which could have proven complicated to translate into a coherent screenplay, but I believe the filmmakers did an excellent job of weaving them together with Johnny’s plight being the through line.  How he goes from feeling angry and cursed to slowly realizing the potential good he can do with his powers is a fascinating approach.  Yet, he’s never really a man at peace.  There’s always an emotional or psychological turmoil swirling inside him.  Because of this, The Dead Zone is more a character-driven movie as there is no overarching main plot, aside from Johnny’s internal struggles.  The film gives us a series of otherwise unrelated events that deeply affect and mold Johnny towards a powerful ending.  While it could use a little more meat on the bone, in terms of a more rigorously involved plot in the Stillson centric segment, this really seems like the best approach to the material, and it is done exceptionally well.

The film’s score was done by the late, great Michael Kamen, who was a masterful composer and musician.  Here, he produced a brilliant score that is powerful and haunting.  It really has a strong presence which really digs deep into the emotions abound in the film, reflecting the sad, bittersweet feeling Cronenberg captured on screen.  Even in the beautiful moment, he still manages to keep that heavy, foreboding tone present.  It’s really a mesmerizing piece of music which is undeniably one of Kamen’s finest and distinct works.

The winter setting of The Dead Zone is marvelously brilliant.  It reflects the cold, lonely, isolated sensibility that come to define Johnny Smith.  It also perfectly Stephen King.  Cinematographer Mark Irwin shot this film amazingly well.  There are some sequences with wonderfully moody lighting such as the tunnel crime scene with the headlights reflecting off the ice, or the green tinge inside the Dodd residence.  Johnny’s visions are all very visually strong, especially the ice break sequence.  Overall, Irwin captures the power of this picture beautifully and compellingly.

The horror aspects in this film are very psychologically and visually based.  Certainly the most graphic and startling is the Castle Rock Killer segment.  We get violence and some disturbing imagery with this part which is very expertly executed.  The rest of the film focuses on the fearful knowledge that haunts Johnny, and creates a troubling foreboding tone which leaves the audience unsettled.  It’s a cerebral film built on a solid, somber atmosphere that can leave you saddened.  I do think it’s a film that goes beyond the confines of horror, and pursues something much more fascinating and deeper.  That was much of King’s intention.  He wanted to write a story that didn’t delve into creatures or spirits or other things that come out to scare you in the dead of night.  The Dead Zone was a sad, turbulent journey for a man that never asked for these extraordinary powers, but had to somehow cope with these experiencing jarring, haunting premonitions of death.  They lead him down a chilling path that would be frightening for anyone.

As is obvious, I really like The Dead Zone.  The only thing that pulls it away from a perfect rating is that I don’t think the build up to the climax is quite strong enough.  A bit more time taken for Johnny to deep down struggle with his decision, or to really reflect upon himself would’ve given it a more dramatic swell.  The ending is excellent, though.  It really hits the right, powerful emotional beat.  I wouldn’t change a frame of it.   Christopher Walken puts in a rock solid performance that runs through a wide array of emotions that he brilliantly wraps into a single package.  David Cronenberg had already proven he could go way far out with his concepts, and really deliver very bizarre, yet profound films.  Here, he proves he get deep into the soul of a story and character, and deliver something equally profound on a much more intimate human level.  I really, strongly recommend this film.  It is expertly crafted by a great team of wonderfully talented film artists.


Sleepy Hollow (1999)

I haven’t been a loyal follower of Tim Burton’s career, but the films I have seen from him, I very much do enjoy.  Sleepy Hollow is a very pleasant entry in his career, collaborating with Johnny Depp, that strikes the right balance between Burton’s quirky humor and dramatic gothic storytelling.  It’s fun, exciting, and scary all at the same time.

Constable Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) of the New York police arrives in the small village of Sleepy Hollow in 1799 to solve a mystery of murders. With all the victims found with their heads missing, everybody in Sleepy Hollow is talking about the ghost of the “Headless Horseman.”  He is supposedly out in the woods seeking revenge for his murder many years ago.  Crane, believing only in logic, refuses to believe the public’s theory about the horseman and begins his investigations, only to find his faith shattered when he himself encounters the headless horseman.  Yet, he is compelled to resolve his investigation after falling deeply in love with the beautiful young Katrina (Christina Ricci).  Their fates intertwine as Ichabod attempts to unravel the supernatural and wicked mysteries that threaten everyone’s lives in Sleepy Hollow.  It’s a magical tale of sense against myth.

While I think general audiences today are a little worn out on the repeated Burton-Depp collaborations, Sleepy Hollow is an excellent piece of work that’s worth your while.  Depp does a brilliant job as Constable Crane.  He brings a certain young naivety to the ambitious investigator.  He has bold new ideas about using science and intellect to deduce crimes that his superiors lightly dismiss.  The contrast of everyone’s grim, fearsome attitudes to Crane’s more upbeat mentality creates an amusing dynamic.  Crane is definitely intelligent and educated, but Depp’s clever, delicate balance between the serious and the tongue-in-cheek tone of Crane makes him such a delight.  True to the source material, Ichabod is somewhat cowardly, but he can muster up courage when it counts.  Beyond all else, he’s determined to resolve this twisting mystery that seems to have an air of conspiracy about it.  That’s what makes him a character to invest yourself in.  Despite his own trembling fears, he picks himself back up and pushes forward to finish what he began.  Depp shows a lot of sweet charm and humor making Ichabod a pure hearted hero that both amuses and inspires.

I will absolutely admit that I once had a fascination with Christina Ricci.  She’s a beautiful and highly talent actress who doesn’t shy away from challenging material.  What she gives us as Katrina is a lovely, graceful young lady that is indeed bewitching.  She carries an ethereal aura about her reflecting Katrina’s depth and purity of soul.  Ricci and Depp have a gorgeous chemistry that really lights up the screen, and enraptures an audience with their magic.  They are such an excellent fit that I’d love to see more of them together.

At the time of release, it was kept a secret that the Hessian Horseman was portrayed by Christopher Walken.  It was an added pleasant surprise when I first saw the film in 1999.  Aside from some animalistic grunts as he slays his victims., the Horseman has no lines of dialogue, and doesn’t need any due to how he is portrayed and presented.  It was a great idea to tell the Horseman’s story early on to have the bloodthirsty psychotic face embed itself in the audience’s minds.  The Horseman filed his teeth to a razor sharp point that made him appear more frightening in his enemies’ eyes.  It’s an amazing, ferocious design that sends a chill up your spine, especially in conjunction with Walken’s charismatic physicality.  It’s also great that the Horseman is not the ultimate villain, but a weapon used by a treacherous conspirator.

Tim Burton really culled together a magnificent cast with several veterans of stage and screen as well as some fine young talents such as Casper Van Dien.  Adding in some Hammer Films alumnus like Christopher Lee and Michael Gough was a very nice touch.  Miranda Richardson has a wonderful turn in this film that she seemed very enthusiastic about throwing herself into.  Her overall performance is marvelous.

The visual effects of Sleepy Hollow are astonishingly good.  Just getting the Headless Horseman to become a reality on screen was a big challenge, I’m sure, and there is nothing but top notch quality on display here.  The various decapitations and other gory slayings are phenomenally done.  What else would you expect from Industrial Light & Magic?  The effects never cease to impress throughout the entire movie.  The film has a generous helping of blood and gore to make some squirm or jump in their seats while others will simply relish its exquisite glory.  The practical effects are seamlessly integrated with the digital effects for a visually amazing experience.  I cannot praise this work highly enough.  While there are some silly moments with the visual effects, they are perfectly at home in a Tim Burton movie.

The gothic aesthetics of Tim Burton are realized in a magnificent way.  The film has a slightly desaturated, gritty look giving way to a more grim feeling of looming danger.  Sleepy Hollow is shot beautifully, strongly maintaining that dark tone of horror and tension.  Yet, there are plenty of picturesque sequences, such as a series of dreams Ichabod has which further enrich the fantastical, and sometimes, enchanting aspects of the movie.  This truly is a visually gorgeous film in a style that could only come from the imagination of Tim Burton.  And of course, Danny Elfman created a powerfully grandiose score that fits perfectly with Burton’s gothic stylings.  It is a stunning, sweeping piece of work that enhances all the dark, lovely, and magical atmospheres of Sleepy Hollow.

This movie really is a lot of fun.  Burton doesn’t take it too seriously as he applies his own dark comedy to the more violent, gruesome moments.  So, while the Horseman is chasing down and chopping off the heads of hapless victims, there’s usually a humorous quirk in there, but Burton keeps it in check.  He never allows it to compromise the dramatic integrity of the story, and instead sort of does it at Ichabod’s expense, which is entirely fitting.  Said story has plenty of mysterious aura and thrilling moments of tense horror and suspense.  The Horsemen, head or no, is very scary and intimidating.  He’s mercilessly violent and very smart.  There are superbly executed plot twists that are never cheap.  This is a smartly crafted screenplay which weaves its way around these solidly conceived characters.  The secrets and manipulations abound under the surface of this quiet village make for a fertile ground for this sort of story.  How everything is unraveled in the end is quite wicked.

That said, this has a hell of a great climax with plenty of fiery action and dramatic revelations.  Characters are kept in serious peril as it becomes a race to save lives while the Horseman in unleashed once again.  Action and suspense build up to a highly energetic and exciting level, and the pay-off is quite ironic and fitting.  It is all very satisfying tying up all the plot and character threads with that classic Tim Burton wit and charm.

This is a beautifully crafted film in every aspect.  It’s a visual masterwork backed by an excellent script written by the deeply talented Andrew Kevin Walker with a story co-developed by Kevin Yagher.  The latter of the two also worked on the creature effects here, and doing a remarkable job at it, too.  There are many tried and true Tim Burton talents who were involved with this film which instilled it with an amazing depth of artistry and talent.  The film definitely delivers on exciting tension and fearsome scares with a light air of dark, quirky humor.  It also weaves an enchanting love story through its haunting and startling mystery.  I really, really like Sleepy Hollow because, beyond everything else, it’s just a fun watch with plenty to take pleasure in.  This is truly one of Tim Burton’s finest outings, and I’m glad that Johnny Depp was along for the ride.  They both do a brilliant job through every frame of this film.  I give Sleepy Hollow my full recommendation.  It’s more than worth your while.


Batman Returns (1992)

This is the first Batman movie I saw theatrically, and at twelve years old, I loved it.  I think it’s a much more polished movie than Tim Burton’s 1989 film with a number of charismatic, excellent performances.  I’ve never perceived the film as weird or strange like many do.  I just see it as a damn good movie that I highly enjoy.  I think Batman Returns is far more of a Tim Burton style movie than the first, but in my opinion, that doesn’t make it a lesser Batman movie.

Gotham City calls upon its greatest hero, Batman, to combat its newest threats.  From the sewers, the deformed and hideous Penguin (Danny DeVito), head of the criminal Red Triangle Circus Gang, forges a fiendish alliance with the corrupt business mogul Max Shreck (Christopher Walken).  Penguin is discovered to be Oswald Cobblepot, the outcast son of a wealthy Gotham couple, and Shreck looks to set him up as the city’s Mayor to force his deceptive power plant upon the city.  However, the Penguin has his own schemes to wreak havoc upon Gotham.  Meanwhile, Max Shreck attempts to murder his frumpy secretary Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer) after poking around too deeply into his shady business plans, but she is resurrected as the dangerous and sexy Catwoman who seeks revenge on him.  Batman races into action to combat these villains, but as the caped crusader begins to put a dent in their plans, Penguin and Catwoman plot to discredit Batman, making him a criminal in the eyes of Gotham’s citizens.  While the Bat and Cat are at odds, Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle quickly become romantically involved which further strains Selina’s already fractured psyche.  Batman must battle to stave off the treacherous, twisted plans of these eccentric villains before rampant destruction is inflicted upon Gotham City.

This is truly one of the very few superhero films that is able to balance out having multiple villains.  The plotlines are all interconnected smartly through the Max Shreck character.  The Penguin is the main villain while Catwoman is more of a subversive wild card, as she should be.  Her motives are more passionate while his are particularly methodical, but do later delve into the maniacal.  This film seems more character driven than the first, and has some stronger emotional context.  Selina has a wild ride that takes her through a slew of emotional states.  She is very conflicted between her vengeful psychotic side, and the one that is gradually falling in love with Bruce Wayne.  Michelle Pfeiffer just does a stunning job in this role ultimately making Selina grossly sympathetic.  The Penguin is fueled by spite for society for being rejected by it all his life, and goes through a character arc himself.  First, wanting to be accepted as man instead of a monster, but later, embraces the monster he has become to wreak havoc upon Gotham City.

I also love the plot of the villains launching an elaborate smear campaign against Batman.  They frame him for murder and more to position Cobblepot as the new face of hope for the city.  It makes for a more dire and interesting circumstance for Batman to deal with, but Bruce decides turnabout is fair play.  It’s all an excellently crafted story progression.  Daniel Waters and Sam Hamm really conjured up a great story that takes plenty of twists and turns that maintain excitement and interest in the characters.  It’s not just some colorful madman terrorizing the city, it’s more complex and involved than that.  There are numerous motivations at play with the main characters that create a more personal set of conflicts.  The Penguin does provide the larger scale threat near the end, but it’s still perfectly in line with his agenda.  He reaches a boiling point, and decides to let loose upon this city that has turned on him.  Everything builds up to him becoming that monster, and I believe it’s all greatly executed.  In general, the film is amazingly well paced always keeping a consistent energetic rhythm going.  At no point does the film feel like it drags.  There’s always something developing because of the multiple main characters and interwoven plots.  It never gets confusing either.  It’s all competently and tightly strung together.

I love the subtle detective aspects in Michael Keaton’s Batman.  While everyone else is very much buying the altruistic façade of the Penguin, he sees something that just doesn’t fit right.  Something nags at that inquisitive mind of his, and that is extremely faithful to the psychology of Batman.  He hardly needs to vocalize his intellect.  What is said is conveyed very succinctly as Keaton did a lot of trimming down of dialogue to keep Batman’s words sharp and telling.  The film also shows a little technical prowess with Bruce both having the forethought to record the Penguin’s rantings to cleverly use against him later, and showing Bruce attempting to repair the damaged Batmobile.  They are just subtle things which show that Bruce has these diverse skills.

This time out, Michael Keaton was given a wider canvas to stretch his talent across.  He still executes Batman amazingly well.  He is able to convey so much just through those intense eyes, and that sells the demeanor and intimidation of Batman so powerfully.  Of course, with the Catwoman dynamic, Keaton has more chemistry to strike up under the mask, and a few appropriate humorous exchanges while fighting with her.  Keaton has rich chemistry with the whole cast, and is able to offer up more as Bruce Wayne as well as Batman.  His relationship with Michael Gough’s Alfred is a little more light hearted and open.  One has to love the little jab about Alfred letting Vicky Vale into the Batcave.  Opposite Christopher Walken, Keaton holds up quite well, but Walken never makes it easy for anyone to stand up to his charisma.  Still, there’s a nice contrast in Keaton’s more grounded, respectable businessman to Walken’s wheeler and dealer type who definitely has skeletons in his closet.  What really shines, though, is that Michael Keaton and Michelle Pfeiffer have electric chemistry both in costume and out.  The romantic relationship is perfectly complicated as Batman and Catwoman are supposed to be.  There’s always some ethical or moral divide between them that cuts the pinnacle of their love short.  You can feel the affection Keaton puts into the performance to have the emotions strike deep within Bruce’s soul, and create the powerful connection Bruce and Selina are meant to have.  Even as Batman, Keaton shows that sparkle of fascination and intrigue for this seductive and dangerous Catwoman.  She, figuratively, hits him very close to the heart, and he sees someone possibly cut from the same jagged mold that he was.  There is much less of a sense of the brooding lone man in Batman Returns, but with the stronger love interest aspect and the story ties with Max Shreck, it naturally pushes Bruce Wayne out of the shadows and into a more active situation.  He no longer feels like the recluse he seemed to be in the first film.  He feels both like a real executive businessman and a human being here.  Bruce Wayne does have that dark shadow on his soul, but he has loved many woman in the comics and has been a responsible and quite public businessman.  So, it’s all perfectly in line with the source material, and Keaton, nor anyone else, could have done it better.

Danny DeVito is fantastic in this grotesque version of the Penguin.  In the comics, he’s just a short, stout crime boss dressed in a tuxedo and top hat with an affinity for birds.  Here, he’s made into a freakish man in both appearance and psychology.  DeVito just throws all of himself into this role making Penguin a disgusting, crude villain full of gross rage and despicable deceitfulness.  It seems like he purely enveloped himself in the character, and had the time of his life with it.  He puts on a sinister performance of a man who revels in his own vile intentions, and it couldn’t be better.  DeVito is immensely entertaining and charismatic.  The make-up design of the character is equally excellent creating a look that can be effectively unsettling.  Still, DeVito is easily able to show the wide range of subtle and verbose emotions of the character through the prosthetics.  It’s a masterful execution all around.

However, the absolutely stunning standout in this cast is definitely Michelle Pfeiffer.  She passionately embodies all phases and mental states of Selina Kyle.  From the meek and mousy secretary that awkwardly blends into the background to the bolder, more aggressive and seductive woman to the playful, sultry Catwoman to the ultimately fractured person whose emotions are strained between the love she has found with Bruce and the bloodthirsty vengeance she is driven towards with Shreck.  When she is that more lowly woman at the start, there is such a timid, oppressed quality about the character that you can’t help but feel bad for her.  Nothing seems to go right for Selina, and she couldn’t be more undeserving of Max Shreck’s intimidating and belittling treatment of her.  Then, when that nervous breakdown occurs, Pfeiffer turns on a truly manic performance that shows the traumatic transformation Selina has now gone through.  It’s the character violently breaking free of the restraints she’s had all this time, and out the other end of it comes this confident, aggressive woman.  This is a Catwoman that excites.  Beyond just the sizzling hot sexual aspects, she is electrifyingly dangerous between her ferocious fighting skills, the razor sharp claws, and the leather whip.  Pfeiffer slinks very smoothly into being Catwoman lusciously embodying her feline grace.  As Selina herself, she shows an amazing ability to subtly shift tone from humorous or casual to just plain dark and unsettling.  That venomous dark side seeps through beautifully.  Michelle Pfeiffer brings out such intense emotional pain and conflict which forges together an immensely fascinating and sympathetic character.  There’s so much subtle texture and emotional range in her performance that one could go on all day detailing it all.  Simply said, she put in a remarkably diverse and emotionally intense performance here, and greatly enhances the depth of the film.  From what she did in this role, you can definitely see why Selina Kyle had such a strong emotional impact on Bruce Wayne by the film’s end.  Pfeiffer absolutely left me wanting more in absolutely every good way imaginable.

Of course, you can never go wrong with casting Christopher Walken, and in Batman Returns, he’s definitely at his best.  He has fierce charisma that forces the character of Max Shreck vibrantly into the meat of the film.  He never gets lost or brushed aside in favor for the more fantastical villains.  There’s just too much weight and excitement in what Walken brings to the role for an audience not to welcome his presence.  Walken is massively intimidating when threatening Selina just before attempting to kill her.  You feel like Max Shreck is a powerhouse heavy.  He’s masterfully manipulative with a mesmerizing skill of twisting people’s minds with his words.  Walken just has such a fascinating delivery of lines that is a signature for him, but I think he adds something specially dynamic to this role.  He could carry this whole movie as the main villain if it had called for it.  Shreck is not damaged goods like Batman, Catwoman, or the Penguin, and that probably makes him the most condemnable villain of the film.  He’s a corrupt, deceitful, murderous human being wrapped up in the guise of a respectable businessman.  He’s an unethical vacuum of morality that will go to any crooked lengths to further his agendas and strengthen his legacy in Gotham.  He’s cutthroat to no end, and Walken embraces the unsettling, shrewd nature of the character powerfully.

Again, the look of Batman Returns is much more polished than the 1989 movie.  There is not as much grit in the visuals, and instead, has a stronger contrast.  Blacks are thick and rich.  They maintain a striking appearance as the shadows are nicely balanced with the light.  Burton and his Edward Scissorhands director of photography Stefan Czapsky give this movie its own visual identity.  I very much like the blue tones seen throughout which offer up a very complementary tone.  Batman Returns certainly doesn’t have quite as much iconic imagery as its predecessor, but it surely has its dramatic moments that are beautifully captured.  The snowy appearance of the film was a gorgeous choice as it further adds to the visual contrast and beauty.  It’s strange that while the subject matter is definitely darker than the first, Batman Returns actually doesn’t look nearly as dark as the 1989 movie.  It appears to be generally brighter and more inviting.  It has plenty of moody visuals, but moves away from the muted color schemes and grim aesthetics.  It’s definitely a pleasant experience for the eyes.

The production design is much sleeker, and that is reflected in the redesigned Bat suit.  It has a cleaner, more art deco armored design which makes sense.  Batman would likely evolve his suit into something generally more durable.  From a production standpoint, it just looks more refined and streamlined.  Gotham City looks more updated with a generally more modern feeling, but still showcasing an gothic industrial look as well as some 1930s or 1940s artistic mentalities.  It’s a beautiful city no longer tainted by grime and trash, but still has its darker qualities.  Even the Batcave gets a fine upgrade with more up-to-date technology and refined lighting schemes.  Plus, the Bat-Ski boat is a sleek addition which gives the film a little extra something near the climax.  The wardrobe is just wonderful all around.  The gorgeous pinstriped suits of Max Shreck have an excellent 1900s turn of the century class to them.  They make him feel like an iconic captain of industry, and the full grey head of hair was a nice touch to his look.  The Catwoman outfit could not be sleeker or more sexually charged.  It’s absolutely perfect for a character of this slinky nature, but also, reflects her fractured psyche with the stitched together look.  Even Penguin’s more upscale outfits, somewhat reflective of Shreck’s style, still have a grungy feel to them.  It creates a nice texture and contrast for the character.  Penguin’s lair is exceptionally moody, decrepit, and dank perfectly reflecting the striking image of the character.

Danny Elfman really broadens the musical landscape of the franchise with this film.  With more main characters come some very distinctive and marvelous themes that richly reflect the complicated natures of these characters.  Catwoman’s theme is so wonderfully complex representing the chaotic and unbalanced nature of the character, and throwing in a dash of sorrow and sympathy here and there.  Elfman adds a chorus into the score to enhance the operatic sense of everything, and the slight rearrangement of the main title march is very pleasing.  It is a heavily and finely textured score that is vibrant and epic.  The Christmas season setting of the film truly weaves its way into the score every so often, and makes for a very colorful and haunting listen.  While I’ve never seen A Nightmare Before Christmas, I have to imagine there’s some correlation between those musical styles from Elfman.

There is also a vast improvement in visual effects work here.  Before watching the featurettes on the Special Edition DVD, I never knew that the opening title sequence was entirely done with miniatures and effects work.  It always looked entirely natural to me.  Matte paintings are still great, but have a little more life to them with some extra color and integrated motion.  Since digital effects had progressed into the forefront, we definitely get the benefit of that higher end work here.  Being released in 1992, it was sandwiched right between 1991’s Terminator 2 and 1993’s Jurassic Park.  While the digital effects are not used on a massive scale, they are very seamless with both something like the armored shields on the Batmobile, and more so with the digital replication of the penguin soldiers late in the film.  Overall, it’s a very fine accomplishment from the visual effects department.  Stan Winston also provided his studio’s talent with creating numerous animatronic penguins that seamlessly blend in with the real life ones.

Tim Burton continues to show a great sense of action in this sequel.  Every single action sequence is choreographed and shot amazingly well.  They are smartly scripted making sure each one is organically different without forcing it.  With the eccentric nature of the Red Triangle Circus Gang, Batman has plenty of gimmickry to combat from the sword swallower to the fire breather and many more.  He handles each one with originality packed with some ironic entertainment value.  Igniting the Batmobile’s flaming turbine engine upon the fire breather is just too priceless.  Then, things get more interesting when Batman combats Catwoman.  She’s immensely skilled and agile making for a dynamically dangerous adversary that gets some stinging shots in.  Mixing that in with the sensuous aspects of their peculiar relationship, it creates a great twisting psychological unpredictability to their confrontations.  The climax of the film just blows me away.  There’s so much slam bang awesomeness packed into it which Burton handles with so much competency and balance.  The race to halt the Penguin’s missile attack on the city creates the fast paced excitement with the Bat Ski boat rocketing to its desination.  The explosive and poignant conclusions to the Penguin’s storyline are nicely balanced on either side of Selina Kyle’s own emotionally charged climax.  This entire sequence is tightly paced, and hits all the plot and character beats perfectly on the mark.  Everything is powerfully wrapped up to a highly satisfying degree.  Many superhero films with so many villains usually end up in a mess, but Batman Returns handles all of them exceptionally well all the way through to the end.

The film certainly has more impact upon Bruce Wayne than Batman, but it all ties in very nicely.   The parallels of Batman and Catwoman versus Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle was an excellent idea.  How both are tied into one is exceptionally strong.  Just a simple unassuming line of dialogue is what triggers the revelation to them both, and injects a much stronger emotional element into the climax.  It also does create a fine arc for Bruce Wayne / Batman.  Seeing him connect with this woman that is very much like him, and how he ultimately wants to be able to save her from the vengeance that’s eating her alive is wonderfully done.  The Batman / Catwoman relationship has always been one of the most fascinating and complex ones in comics, and I believe Tim Burton and his screenwriters did an excellent job bringing that to the screen while Keaton and Pfeiffer made it exceed any expectations.

After watching Batman Returns again, I think this might be my new favorite Batman movie.  While it’s not really faithful to all the characters as, in the comics, Catwoman is just a cat burglar with no mystical type powers or psychological unbalances, and Penguin is just a sort of quirky, non-freakish crime boss, I really like what was done with these characters, and all the concepts were executed with depth and intelligence.  If it was all done poorly or just fell short of its potential, I would surely have some gripes with it all, but everyone involved just couldn’t have done a better job.  The tight pace is really what excites me about the movie.  It’s constantly moving somewhere with one character or another, and they are all logically and organically tied in together instead of some slap dashed plot to force multiple villains into the same movie.  It’s this tightly wrapped sordid web of interconnected characters and plotlines that are smartly interwoven.  I will say that there was a slight missed opportunity by Batman not having to really deal with being framed for murder by Penguin and Catwoman.  It is an unresolved plot point that is brushed aside rather effortlessly, and it’s a shame too.  It’s a storyline that could be very fascinating to explore, but the film just didn’t have room to resolve it.  Any such resolution can only be implied, likely through Batman’s rescue of the children from the Red Triangle Circus Gang.  However, for the trade off we get for it, I can generally overlook this issue.  I enjoy Batman Returns thoroughly now, and I think it’s gotten some bad press over the years.  People seem to act like 1989’s Batman was this bright, happy, fun adventure film for the whole family in comparison, but like I said in that review, at nine years old, my parents did not let me see it in the theatre.  It was a dark movie that could be unsettling to a young audience.  Batman Returns at least has a bit more levity via light, appropriate humor and great chemistry to balance out the dark characters and subject matter.  I would venture to say that this sequel is more fun and more exciting than the first movie.  I just find this more satisfying on numerous levels.  It has a stronger, more layered story with more rousing action, and a tighter rhythm and pace held together by an incredible cast.  I believe Batman Returns is an amazing movie, and a great sequel.  I won’t say it’s perfect, or that it will give you everything you want from a Batman movie, but it’s a damn good one, regardless.  I know it almost certainly will never happen, but I would be very interested in seeing Tim Burton and Michael Keaton return to the franchise with a proper sequel to their Batman movies.  I think they could still do a great job if collaborating with the right creative talents, and Burton could likely use a change of talents these days.


The Prophecy (1995)

I have been a major fan of this film for fifteen years for many reasons, the foremost of which is the blockbuster performance of Christopher Walken as the Archangel Gabriel.  Performed with sadistic malice, a fine mix of humor, and overall electrifying delivery, Walken created a memorable, classic character that would help to bring fans back for two sequels.  The film is filled with great themes and a solid mix of acting talent that is surprising, but never disappointing.

The Prophecy begins with a somber monologue by Simon (Eric Stoltz), a redheaded angel.  He speaks of his fear and sorrow that a second war has broken out in Heaven.  Simon has come to Earth to head off the plans of ‘the other side’ who wish to claim the blackest human soul on Earth to fight for them in Heaven.  Our protagonist here is Thomas Daggett (Elias Koteas).  Once set to become an ordained priest in the Catholic church, but a violent and bloody vision of Heaven, complete with the sight of slain angels, tests his faith.  A test which he fails.  He is now a police detective that has long lost his faith, but has just met an angel.  Simon to be exact.  Simon tells Thomas that he was in the church that day when he got his brief glimpse of a war torn Heaven, and certainly leaves him with much to think about.  However, when Simon returns to his rented out apartment, he is attacked by another angel: Uziel (pronounced ‘Oo-cie’), but Simon dispatches of him, leaving quite a mess for the police to clean up with Daggett now on the case.  Unfortunately, for Simon, because Uziel is now dead, Gabriel (Christopher Walken) soon comes to succeed where his underling failed.

Meanwhile, Daggett and coroner Joseph (Steve Hytner) examine Uziel’s corpse.  Many bizarre revelations are discovered, but for Thomas, it’s the discovery of possibly the oldest Bible in existence which contains extra chapters that shouldn’t exist.  They speak of the aforementioned second war in Heaven, a war over us, humans.  As Gabriel arrives at the empty crime scene, Simon has already found the aforementioned soul within the recently deceased Colonel Hawthorne in a small southwestern town, and Gabriel is soon to follow.  In this small town, we meet school teacher Catherine (Virginia Madsen) and a little Native American girl named Mary (Moriah Shining Dove Snyder).  Simon encounters them both while he attempts to hide this black soul from Gabriel, but the Archangel is hot on his trail along with Thomas.  While Gabriel tracks down the soul and Simon himself, Thomas attempts to unravel this mystery before him, and ultimately, discover what is ‘faith’.

Gregory Widen once brought us the screenplay for the original Highlander showcasing a blend of adventure, romance, love, pain, and epic action.  Here, in 1995, he wrote and directed this film, and brings that same level of depth and quality to The Prophecy.  He created an engaging, compelling world filled with fascinating and entertaining characters that are brilliantly realized throughout the cast.  His directing skills are not at all in question as he obviously knows what he wants with crystal clarity.  He knows the world he created well, and handles the various elements of drama, fantasy, humor, and action with ease and grace.  Everything flows together exceptionally well making this a must-see film.

As I said, Christopher Walken delivers a performance unlike any before seen, and demonstrates many sides of his acting abilities throughout.  It’s mesmerizing watching him work each and every scene.  How he can go from quiet calm to vilely sadistic and evil, even heated and angered.  It’s an intense portrayal that will gravitate you towards watching this film many times over because you just can’t get enough of it.  It’s all there, and it’s juicy stuff.  Elias Koteas has always done fantastic work in the few roles I’ve seen him in from the guilty pleasure of Casey Jones in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to his psychotic role as Edgar Reese, opposite Denzel Washington, in Fallen.  Elias does solid work no matter the character, and becomes very much a chameleon as an actor.  He continues that here as a man who has his faith in God, broken and tested throughout the film.  He beautifully portrays the depth of Thomas Daggett on a journey, not only in hopes of restoring such faith, but understanding just what it means to have faith.  Eric Stoltz is an actor I really haven’t seen any other work from, but if this performance is any indication, he does some fine work.  He brings a simple warmth, heart, and charm to Simon.  You truly do care for him, and what he chooses to sacrifice in order to protect that which HE believes in.  Whether he’s sharing a scene with Koteas, Walken, or the little Moriah Snyder, his heart and warmth remain strong.  It’s a truly human performance, especially considering he’s portraying an angel.

Virginia Madsen (Candyman) brings us another strong, consistent performance here.  She holds her ground, even when Walken pulls out his truly dark side as Gabriel.  Also, her character is well connected to the Native Americans of the land, and conducts the church choir.  Her faith is intact, but as the true underlying theme here continues to be the testing of one’s faith, she confronts her own perceptions of it all.  Moriah Snyder is not one of those kids in a horror film that gets on your nerves every second they’re in a scene.  She is clearly a highly talent young lady, and I’m sure that talent has continued to develop over the years since this film.  Here, there’s much here for her to work with, more than I’ll elude to in this review, but trust in that she has a significant role in this film that she handles quite well.

And then, you have two smaller, yet significant, and certainly memorable roles.  The first is that portrayed by Steve Hytner (Kenny Bania from Seinfeld).  He portrays the coroner Joseph with a light-hearted charm, but with a professional manner.  It’s just the sort of character to slightly lighten the mood when Daggett is talking about wars in Heaven over human souls, and dead angels sitting in Joseph’s morgue.  It’s a quite needed and welcomed character that Hytner plays perfectly.  He doesn’t go remotely over-the-top with it, and keeps a nice balance between the mild humor and the professional mind of the character.  It was nice to see his character carried over into the following two sequels.  Of course, the real juice comes with the appearance of The Lord of the Rings’ Viggo Mortensen as Lucifer.  Viggo portrays the Prince of Darkness himself with as much character as Walken does with Gabriel.  Mortensen brings a genuine disturbing and sadistic sense that just oozes from his being.  The role is small, but Viggo makes it no less significant than any other main character.  He brings to Lucifer a casual, evil manner.  He speaks of the most vile and sadistic acts with the casualness of us talking about the weather.  He needn’t be theatrical or overly dramatic to sell it.  His chilling presence is felt the instant he enters the scene, and remains even after he leaves.  When he and Walken do briefly meet, the two just eat it up.  It’s devilishly delicious (no pun intended).  The two with their hot breath and cold blood just makes such a scene so rich with character, and it’s only a shame Viggo didn’t return for The Prophecy II when Lucifer makes a brief, shadowy appearance near the beginning.  The role may have been expanded upon if he had.

I also really have to hand it to the cinematographer Richard Clabaugh.  This is one beautifully shot film between the lighting, angles, and the subtle camera movements.  He does all he can to give the picture a strong cinematic sense capturing both the epic and introspective qualities of its dramatic stories.  The 2.35:1 aspect ratio frame holds a lot of weight with much religious iconography, and captures some beautiful vistas in the American southwest.  A gorgeously shot film through and through.

All in all, this is one fantastic film that I strongly encourage everyone to see.  It’s a gem of a thriller that touches on many different levels with superb acting with a rock solid cast.  Gregory Widen, for his directorial debut, put together an array of fantastic talent in front of and behind the camera.  This is a beautiful and fantastically talented production.  The Prophecy brings you a great film on so many levels, and is a MUST for any Christopher Walken fan.  I strongly recommend this film.  It gets my highest praise with a solid 10 out of 10 rating.