Thursday Movie Picks: Amateur Sleuth

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy almost Friday! It’s TMP time! The Thursday Movie Picks blogathon was spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog.

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. This Thursday’s theme is… AMATEUR SLEUTH.

This is a fun topic and there are tons to pick from! I always like to mix classic and contemporary movies, so that’s what I’ll do again here.

SPELLBOUND (1945)

Spellbound Poster

A psychiatrist protects the identity of an amnesia patient accused of murder while attempting to recover his memory.

Any chance I can talk about Gregory Peck I’ll jump at it, ha! This is the film I fell for the ridiculously handsome classic actor with a swoon-worthy deep voice, who was only 29 at the time in his fourth feature film. It set off an obsession for the next year, now I owned pretty much ALL of his movies!

Gregory Peck Ingrid Bergman Spellbound

Can’t believe it’s a decade ago since I saw this, I have to rewatch this soon. It’s actually the first time I saw Ingrid Bergman as well, and both of them light up the screen as they fall in love. I like the double mystery of solving Peck’s character’s amnesia issue through psychoanalysis, and figuring out the killer of the real doctor. Classic Hitchcock in terms of direction, camera work, visual style, mood, etc. featuring a brief but memorable the dream sequence by Salvador Dali. I also love Miklós Rózsa‘s astounding score, perhaps my fave of all Hitchcock movies. The final sequence is indelible as well, which has been copied many times over by other filmmakers.


REAR WINDOW (1954)

Rear Window Poster

A wheelchair-bound photographer spies on his neighbors from his apartment window and becomes convinced one of them has committed murder.

I hadn’t planned on picking two Alfred Hitchcock films here, but well, he was the master of mystery noir. This one also features one of my fave classic actors, James Stewart, and another classic beauty Grace Kelly. 

This is definitely one of the best films confined in a single location, and the set design is absolutely astounding. Apparently the set was constructed specially for this movie, on the whole they built about 30 apartments and about half was fully furnished! I also love the costume design by the legendary Edith Head (notably all of Grace Kelly’s gorgeous dresses), I’m shocked she was NOT nominated for an Oscar for her work here.

Rear Window Costume Design

This movie was my January 2015 Blindspot pick, and I loved it! Despite the lighter, playful tone, the film packs a lot of interesting themes about psychology, human nature that are intrinsic in most of Hitchcock’s films.


BATMAN BEGINS (2005)

Batman Begins poster

After training with his mentor, Batman begins his fight to free crime-ridden Gotham City from corruption.

I gotta include one of my favorite comic-book films here. Bruce Wayne aka Batman is an amateur super sleuth and crime fighter. The first of Christopher Nolan‘s The Dark Knight trilogy shows Bruce’s foray as a detective, teaming with up with Gotham City’s police commissioner Gordon. I LOVE the dynamic between Christian Bale and Gary Oldman, two of the best actors working today.

Batman Begins -Batman Commissioner Gordon

Batman didn’t just bring down crime lord Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) but also exposed the real villain Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson), the radical leader of League of Shadows who wants to destroy Gotham. It wouldn’t be a stretch to think of this film as a noir thriller that happens to have a superhero character in it, and I’m excited that the upcoming THE BATMAN will show the caped crusader in his detective mode than what we’ve seen in other films!

ZODIAC (2007)

zodiac-fincher-movie

In the late 1960s/early 1970s, a San Francisco cartoonist becomes an amateur detective obsessed with tracking down the Zodiac Killer, an unidentified individual who terrorizes Northern California with a killing spree.

I caught this one almost a decade after its release, which apparently didn’t do too well at the box office. It’s surprising given the star-studded cast, but then again this was a year before Robert Downey Jr. became Iron Man and long before Mark Ruffalo became his fellow Avenger as the Hulk. Interesting how the three leads have now become Marvel stars!

Jake Gyllenhaal Robert Downey Jr

At almost 2.5 hours long, this David Fincher murder mystery is more of a slo-burn film but an effective and suspenseful one. There are some lighter moments too between Jake Gyllenhaal and RDJ, as the film focuses on the life of the detectives on top of being a whodunnit type film. The sinister part is that the story is based on real events in the San Francisco Bay area, adapted from Robert Graysmith’s non-fiction book of the same name (Gyllenhall played Graysmith in the film).


So which are YOUR favorite movies about amateur sleuth?

FlixChatter Review: The Dark Knight Rises

In an era where seemingly every Summer we get a superhero cinematic event, Christopher Nolan still manages to kick it up a notch with The Dark Knight Rises. Really, even without the ruckus over death treats over negative reviews and the tragic event that happened in Aurora, CO, during a midnight screening, the hype over the final chapter to Nolan’s Batman saga is still a colossal one. The over-exposure is really quite overwhelming, to the point where I have to make extra effort to tune it out and be as fresh as possible.

Well, I’m happy to say that it paid off to know as little as possible about the plot as I was surprised a couple of times watching this. I think those of you that still have not seen this yet, I suggest you do the same and avoid reading about it as much as you possibly can.

Now, the gist of the story is actually pretty simple… it’s eight years after Bruce Wayne has hung up the Batman mantle, still haven’t moved on from his lost love Rachel who perished in The Dark Knight. But suddenly a disturbance of great proportion threatens to destroy his beloved city of Gotham, and so he feels compelled to help its citizens, even at the risk of facing an adversary that’s even greater than he had faced before. So the gist is simple, but somehow, Nolan and his team of writers concocted a complicated storyline involving a myriad of characters that at times I was left discombobulated trying to make sense of it all.

Before I go further with my critique, let’s start with the positive first.

Nolan has certainly done a remarkable job in maintaining the tone and quality of all three films that they work seamlessly as one spectacular trilogy. In keeping most of the cast intact and most importantly, the writers, we are already fully invested in the story and characters, and when new characters are introduced, there is no dissonant.

Two of the new main characters are both impressive — Anne Hathaway as the masterful thief Selina Kyle [she was never described as Catwoman though she essentially is one] and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as rookie policeman John Blake. Both actors bring something new to the table and I’m happy to say that my doubt about Hathaway’s casting was quickly erased the moment she appeared on screen. She was sassy, strong and playful but yet has that vulnerable side to her for the emotional moments in the film. Marion Cotillard as a philanthropist businesswoman Miranda Tate doesn’t have much screen time by comparison, but her character is certainly a crucial one.

As for Bane, now I think he’s a pretty formidable villain though not the character itself and Tom Hardy‘s performance is not as iconic as the one from the previous installment. Yet I think he’s quite a force to be reckoned with and there are some scenes that made me shudder just on the sheer of physical strength he had.

The rest of the returning cast (Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman) are in top form as well, but if I were to rank my favorite Nolan’s Batman saga characters, I’d say Alfred Pennyworth will be in my top five. Michael Caine brings so much heart into the story, and there’s one pivotal conversation between him and Bruce Wayne that makes me cry. He’s such a father figure to Bruce, and as I’ve said in this Father’s Day post, Alfred really is the one who helps shape Batman to be the kind of hero we’ve come to know and love. Christian Bale proves once again he is the perfect choice to play the conflicted, tormented hero and he even looks like he’s aged a bit here, eaten up by such deep sense of grief.

As Ted mentioned in his review on Saturday, I also think the action scenes are brilliantly-executed. There are not as many of them but once they appear, it is so thrilling and fun to watch, especially the moment Batman first appeared with his brand new toy, the flying tumbler fittingly dubbed The Bat. I feel like I was one of Gotham’s citizens happily cheering my hero once again! As for the mano-a-mano with Bane, well this moody poster with the broken Batman’s cowl on the ground certainly delivers its promise. That fight scene is brutal! Nolan is not afraid to make the hero suffers and Batman has never been more in peril than he is here, both physically and emotionally. Yet we will see why the title ‘Rises’ is aptly used here.

Visually it’s a wonder. Seriously, it’s worth every penny seeing it on the giant IMAX screen. Over an hour of this movie was filmed on 70 mm IMAX film and boy did it show! I was ooh-aahing throughout seeing those gorgeous aerial shots of Gotham, I am certainly glad he chose this format instead of 3D. His longtime collaborator, Wally Pfister ought to get an Oscar nod for his cinematography work here.

At 2 hours 44 seconds, the film also able to keep me engrossed the entire time, which is quite a feat.

So, what doesn’t work here?

A couple of them is on the technical level, such as Bane’s often unintelligible voice that makes it even impossible to comprehend when Hans Zimmer’s score is blaring so loudly in the background that it drowns out everything else happening in that scene. There are moments where I wish they’d turn the volume of the music down a bit so I could hear the sound of the environment the scene is set in and more importantly the dialog! Even when the characters are screaming, I still have trouble hearing what they are saying. I think the score is good, but because it’s so irritatingly loud, I can’t appreciate it as much as I would otherwise.

Now, plot-wise, seems like in seven years, the complexity level has quadrupled since Batman Begins and as I’m watching it, I feel like Bane is not the only one having trouble breathing as Nolan doesn’t seem to give much room for us to come up for air. This film is sooo jam-packed with layer after layer of plot, and whilst it has the power to thrill, it also can be quite frustrating at times. Now, I don’t mind the complexity of the story, but I feel that Nolan seems to be more concerned with the bigger picture of the plot that the *smaller details* seem to have gone by the wayside.

Interestingly, I just read this well-written article on Anomalous Material by Nick Prigge that talks about how the Nolan brothers certainly know their set-ups and payoffs. That is, with every small set-up in the movie, even a seemingly trivial one, there’s always a pay-off, which is always a good rule of thumb in screenwriting. Yet I feel that the writing team drops the ball a few times in this final installment. I’m only going to mention those examples in the spoiler section below for those of you who have seen the movie, but let’s just say that the suspension of disbelief is often stretched too far, and I’m saying that because Nolan has pride himself in creating such a realistic universe in his Batman films that I expect more from him. It’s not a deal-breaker in the grand scheme of things, but yet it’s big enough that I’d have to take into account when I rate the film.

Final Thoughts:

Is this THE best Batman film of the three? I’d say no, and not only because Heath Ledger’s The Joker was such a more compelling villain, but more because of the lack of inconsistencies in the way Nolan set up the universe of Batman and Gotham. I guess I scrutinize this film more because I have come to expect so much more from Nolan and the director himself has set the bar so high to justify such expectations.

Still, overall The Dark Knight Rises is a satisfying finale to a fantastic [and lucrative] franchise, and it boasts such a WHOA ending to boot! The conclusion mirrors that of the spinning totem in Inception where we’d be endlessly discussing what we *think* happens at the end [that darn Nolan does it again!!]. I’m also glad that there’s surprisingly a lot of heart beneath such an exhilarating, rip-roaring superhero blockbuster.

4 out of 5 reels

SPOILER ALERT!

Highlight the text below to read this section:

As I stated in my review above, my beef is that Nolan is inconsistent in the way he set the universe of Gotham. In this final movie he suddenly introduces the notion that Gotham is part of the United States, hence that televised presidential speech, but yet the city seems to function as if it’s on its own and no other states exist. I mean how could the cops be trapped under the rubble for three whole months and NO Federal aid comes to the rescue?? I mean all they had to do is to have a Pentagon-like military headquarter send some kind of help by air (since the bridges are burned down) and just blow up those rubble so the cops can get out?? Instead they had to wait for Batman’s aid to do so. I find that really hard to believe.

Another thing is about Bruce Wayne. Now, why is he wearing a walking stick for eight years walking around in Wayne manor and suddenly when he’s back as Batman again, he no longer has a limp and can withstand such brutal beating from the brute force that is Bane. Even the back-breaking thing, well, we’re entering incredible fantasy territory again with how speedy his recovery is and even if that is plausible, my suspension of disbelief is already stretched thin to see him able to walk normally again, but he can actually make such a giant leap to escape the prison of the League of Shadows?? Wow, I think that’s asking too much because everything in this movie is already set up in such a realistic tone. I mean Gotham itself doesn’t have the fantastical element like in Tim Burton’s Batman movies, it’s set up just like an ordinary metropolitan city like New York. So the inconsistencies feel jarring to me.

Lastly, there’s that part where Miranda, a.k.a. Thalia Al Ghul stabs Batman up close with a big knife and it’s clear Batman is hurt as she sadistically twists the knife before she pulls it out. Yet in the subsequent scene, Batman doesn’t show ANY sign of pain whatsoever, it’s like the stabbing never happened. Make that what you will, but I think that’s sloppy writing, no?? I mean tell me where the payoff is on that one, maybe I’m missing something??

I’m curious to hear what you think about Gordon-Levitt’s character. At the end of the movie, his real name is revealed to be Robin [unlike in the comics where Robin is actually an alias] and seems as if based on Blake’s conversation with Bruce Wayne, Batman is grooming him to take over his mantle as the protector of Gotham. I wonder if there’s going to be a follow-up to that in the future with perhaps Nolan serving as a ‘mentor’ of the project, like he does with Man of Steel.

Now lastly… do you think Batman perished at the end? If so, then that scene at the Italian cafe, is that just Alfred’s imagination of wanting his master to finally have a normal life or was Bruce really there with Selina? Well, my hubby reminded me at brunch today about that auto-pilot thing that Bruce apparently fixed, unbeknownst to Lucius Fox. So that piece of seemingly trivial scene might imply that perhaps the Bat had been flying on auto pilot which allows Batman to rescue himself to safety. So my position is that Batman lives! What do YOU think?


Soooo, what did you think of the movie? Do you agree with my assessment? Feel free to discuss about the spoilery stuff but please state a warning in your comment as a courtesy 🙂

The Good & Not-So-Good about The Dark Knight Rises – Ted’s Review

Well it’s finally here, The Dark Knight Rises opens in theaters everywhere this weekend. I was lucky enough to have seen it at an advanced screening Wednesday night. Since not many people have seen it yet, my review won’t go into any plot points or spoil anything for you.

The movie is set eight years after the events of The Dark Knight and Bruce Wayne/Batman is still mourning the death of his true love, Rachel Dawes, while Gotham is living the high life because their White Knight, Harvey Dent, died to keep the peace. For those who went to see M:I-4 last winter at the 70mm IMAX theater, you’ve already seen the opening scene of the film. It starts with Bane high jacking and then clashed an airplane. The first half hour of this film started out kind of clunky but once Bane started his chaos and Batman shows up, you’re in for a treat. That’s all I’m going to say about the story, for this review I’ll go through what I thought worked well and what didn’t.

The Good:

Performances-wise, most of the actors did a great job. I was surprised how effective Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle/Catwoman was in the film. She played a key role and I thought Hathaway did a great job, he role is much more serious and “realistic” than Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman in Batman Returns.

The returning players are great as always, especially Michael Caine’s Alfred. His one particular scene with Bruce Wayne was quite emotional, well it was to me. But in my opinion, this movie belongs to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, I know it sounds strange to say that but when you see the film, you’ll understand. Whatever speculations you’ve read or heard about his character, let’s just say you’ll either going to be excited or not surprised by it. Bale of course was great as always, in fact Wayne has more screen time than Batman.

Just like all of Nolan’s films, the cinematography in this film was nothing short of spectacular. As you’ve probably already heard, half of the movie was shot with IMAX cameras so if there’s a true IMAX theater in your area, do please see it there. Some of the set pieces were quite stunning on the giant screen. You’d be surprised that the film didn’t have as much action as you’d think but when the action does happen, there were well-staged and no shaky-cam or fast-editing. Thank you Nolan for actually filming action scenes that were exciting to watch. The mano-a-mano fight scene between Bane and Batman was pretty awesome, those who’ve read the comics Knightfall series won’t be disappointed.

Also, I have to mention Hans Zimmer’s thunderous score, the theme is very similar to The Dark Knight‘s but it was still good.

The Not-So-Good:

I know it’s hard to top Heath Ledger’s The Joker but I was hoping Bane could at least be as good but unfortunately I thought Bane was kind of underused as the main antagonist. Even though they fixed some of his voice, sometimes it’s hard to understand what he was saying. Now again I can’t say more without spoiling it for you, so I’ll let you judge his character for yourselves.

Marion Cotillard’s Marinda Tate was also underused, I think the film would’ve worked better had her character was fleshed-out more, her character sort of reminds me of Harvey Dent/Two-Face in The Dark Knight.

With that said, I still think this is one of the best big summer films I’ve seen in a long time. Is it better than Batman Begins and The Dark Knight? I can’t say that at the moment, I plan on seeing it a few more times, then maybe I can decide whether it’s better than the previous two films or not. When Nolan said this film will wrap up the trilogy, he meant it. To me it felt like he finally finished his take on the Caped Crusader.

– review by Ted S.


Well that’s it, for those who’ve already seen it, do you agree with my review? And for those who’re planning to go see it this weekend, hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

Music Break: The Dark Knight’s End Credit Score

Happy almost weekend, folks!

I’m flying to Chicago Friday night for a few days to attend my best friend’s graduation, so for this week’s music break, I choose one of my favorite movies filmed in that city. That Nolan film is extra special as my hubby and I were actually in town when they were filming some of the scenes. I’ve posted the behind the scenes photos when I was on the Wendella’s Architecture Boat Tour along the Chicago River. They actually stopped the boat for about a half hour as they were filming the chopper scenes, and I kept hoping that Christian Bale would actually came down in a harness or something onto our boat. Yeah, dream on, right? 😀 Still it was nice to see all those tanks and cars with Gotham markings on them!

Anyway, I LOVE The Dark Knight soundtrack and the one used in the finale really gives me goosebumps. This music by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard just fits PERFECTLY with the scene of Batman disappearing into the night, cape flowing in the wind, as the Gotham police chase him down. He took on the blame from Harvey Dent in order to restore hope that the city desperately need. It’s such an emotional scene and the music has that morose tinge to it that gets me choked up every time. Though chased like an escaped convict, to Gordon and his young son — and to us watching in the audience — our dark knight certainly exemplifies what true heroism is all about, giving up his reputation for something he truly believes in, for the sake of the people he loves.

He may be batty, but one can’t accuse him for not giving his all he could to the people of Gotham… though according to the Dark Knight Rises trailer, he hasn’t given ‘everything’ yet. Listening to this makes me anticipate the final film of the trilogy all the more, can’t wait to see how it all comes together.


Thoughts on the soundtrack and/or the movie? Are you as pumped about TDKR as I am?

The ups & downs of Christian Bale’s career

In light of Public Enemies release this past week (which I’m hoping to see soon), everybody’s talking about Johnny Depp as Dillinger. Hey I like Johnny as much as the next guy, but it’s Christian Bale whose career often leaves me perplexed at times. I mean he’s obviously a gifted actor from the moment Stephen Spielberg discovered him 22 years ago in Empire of the Sun. And he’s got the chiseled good looks to go with such enormous talent.

Yet his film choices over the years teeter between obscure (Reign of Fire, Capt. Corelli’s Mandolin) and spectacular (3:10 to Yuma, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight). Still it’s fascinating to follow what the folks at Moviefill calls the Bale roller-coaster career.

ChrisBaleRollerCoaster
Click to see a larger version

Source: Tumblr

A few films were omitted which includes a couple of my personal faves: The New World and Equilibrium. They’re on opposite ends of the spectrum as far as story and role goes. On the first, he played a wealthy 17th-century gentleman who fell in love with Pocahontas, and in the latter he’s an elite super-soldier trained to be devoid of emotion in a futuristic world. Yet Bale can play both convincingly. Now if only he’d cave in and do a comedic role one day, ok maybe not a rom-com but a smart comedy (um, something like A Fish Called Wanda perhaps?) Come on Christian, you’ve got it in you!