FlixChatter Review: FRENCH EXIT (2020)

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I saw this movie a while ago but I just kept getting distracted by other films to finally got a chance to review it. The story is based on Patrick deWitt’s elite-society satire novel of the same name, with the author himself also penning the screenplay. Now, not having read the book, I can’t compare the two, though on paper I could see how the premise could potentially work as a movie. Whether the book translates well onto screen is another matter entirely however,  but one thing for sure, Michelle Pfeiffer is perfectly cast as the protagonist. Frances Price is an elegant and eccentric Manhattan widow who after a mere dozen years after her husband’s death has ran out of her inheritance. She manages to convert whatever left off her assets into cash before she jets off to Paris to stay in her fellow socialite girlfriend’s apartment, taking her sullen son Malcolm (Lucas Hedges) and her black cat in tow. The oddly named cat Small Frank proves to be a significant plot point that takes an even bizarre turn later in the movie.

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Frances is the kind of woman who doesn’t seem to let anything ruffles her… she didn’t break down or cry even when her accountant informs her that all the money’s gone. The role seems to be made for Le Pfeiffer who’s effortlessly charming and can beguile you with simply a look or a subtle gesture. She also looks amazing in her opulent attire, I especially love her fringed black dress and fur-lined camel coat. There’s always an air of mystery about her and I have to admit that’s what helps keeps me engaged in this movie. Hardly anything happens and some of the bizarre things that do happen, such as when they encounter a clairvoyant (Danielle Macdonald) on the ship, it’s done in such a nonchalant way that one can’t help but just shrugs it off.

The mother/son pairing of Pfeiffer and Hedges seems interesting at first, given how defiantly passive he is. He seems devoid of emotion as he casually dumps his fiancée Susan (an underutilized Imogen Poots) to accompany his mother. After a time, Malcolm grows more baffling and deeply unaffecting, and I wish there’s a better chemistry between the two. Now, Malcolm’s dullness is more of the fault of the script than Hedges’ acting. In fact, I think all the actors did their best to elevate the material and its skeleton thin plot. Director Azazel Jacobs peppers the film with lovely Parisian scenery, but it can only distract me for so long before I long for something meaningful in this movie. In the third act, suddenly the small apartment is crowded with people Frances meets along the way. Valerie Mahaffey as Frances’ quirky French neighbor Madame Reynard, Isaach De Bankolé as the private investigator have some memorable moments. Even Susan suddenly turns up with her boyfriend (Daniel di Tomasso) and things gets pretty chaotic.

There are some supernatural elements in the final act that makes the film even more surreal. Frances asks Madeline to channel Frances’ dead husband, in the apartment bathroom of all places! It’s also here that we learn why Small Frank behaves the way it behaves and why he’s given such a bizarre name. This revelation is seemingly random, instead of something that’s been an organic progress from the beginning. The few moments between Frances and her caring best friend Joan (Susan Coyne) is quite amusing as Frances is self-aware that ‘her life is riddled with clichés.’ There’s also a rather poignant scene of her reaching out to a homeless person outside her apartment, perhaps her last desperate attempts to find meaning in her hollow existence. It all feels a little too late however, thus it doesn’t really carry any emotional resonance.

Overall, despite Pfeiffer’s delightful performance, this movie doesn’t really stick in my mind long after its closing credits. It’s as if the writer is only interested in making the characters bizarre for its own sake instead of people we can connect or relate to in a meaningful way. I do like seeing Pfeiffer in a more comedic role, and she’s truly the reason this movie is worth a watch.


Have you seen FRENCH EXIT? Well, what did you think?

March Viewing Recap + Movie of the Month

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HAPPY SPRING!! We already hit 70 degrees earlier this week, 20 degrees warmer than what it’s supposed to be in late March in Minnesota. Of course we went back to the 30s immediately, but a 30-40 degree swing is pretty common here, but hey I’ll take even the occasional 60-70 degree early Spring day and today we almost hit 70 again, woot!!

Well, March turns out to be a pretty busy month work-wise that I managed to only watch 10 new-to-me movies! Partly because I had been invited to be one of the jury for an intercollegiate shorts film festival for a local university, Augsburg College. My short film HEARTS WANT had been shown at an Augsburg event a couple of years ago, and since it’s partnering with Twin Cities Film Fest which is near + dear to me, I just had to take part. In additional to this list below, I watched about 18 or so short films this month.

In any case, so here’s what I watched in MARCH:

NEW TO ME MOVIES

French Exit (2020)

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French Exit is a 2020 surreal comedy film starring Michelle Pfeiffer as a Manhattan heiress who moves to Paris with her son (Lucas Hedges) with the little money they have left. It’s a bizarre film and at times I have no idea where the filmmaker was going w/ it, but still worth a watch for La Pfeiffer’s elegantly-quirky performance.

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Where Hands Touch (2018)

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A rites of passage story of a bi-racial teen struggling for survival in Nazi Germany. I had missed this back in 2018 and given I loved Amma Asante’s work (especially Belle), I decided to finally watch it. The performance of Amandla Stenberg as Leyna is terrific, but the forbidden romance story between Leyna and Lutz (George MacKay), a member of Hitler Youth, isn’t as compelling as Asante’s previous work. It does highlight the history of Afro-Germans, but I think that story deserved a better film.

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The Courier (2021)

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Cold War spy Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his Russian source try to put an end to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Stay tuned for my full review coming up next week!

Sentinelle

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Some people on Twitter were calling this female John Wick, but it’s nowhere near as fun. Olga Kurylenko plays a trained French soldier suffering PTSD after a combat mission and uses her lethal skills to hunt down the man who hurt her sister. Started out promising and it tries hard to be edgy, but falls flat and overall a pretty boring, predictable movie with a weak ending.

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Crisis (2021)

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Check out my full review AND interview with writer/director Nicholas Jarecki.

Waking Ned Devine (1998)

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I watched this as part of my St. Patrick’s Day post and it’s such a delightful, funny and quirky movie!

 4=

Justice League – The Snyder Cut (2021)

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I only watched this as my hubby was curious about it. I really tried to be neutral about this, though I absolutely abhorred the original Justice League. Can’t say this one is much of an improvement other than the fact that they improved Cyborg’s character development. But seriously, the darn thing is 4 hours long, if they can’t flesh out at least a single character in that time frame, then what the heck is the point?? Visually it’s just not a beautiful movie either, garish and overly morose.

Honestly I don’t see much artistic merit in this movie, I’m just mourning that $70 mil wasted to do another version of this. I mean, it could’ve made like a dozen indie films that are much more compelling story-wise.

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One Night in Miami (2020)

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I’m so glad I finally saw this! I’ve been too swamped to write a proper review of this but props to Regina King (in her directing debut no less) and screenwriter Kemp Powers for adapting his own play into a solid film. It tells this fictional account of one incredible night where icons Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown gathered discussing their roles in the Civil Rights Movement and cultural upheaval of the 60s. All the actors portraying those historical figures did a terrific job here.

4/5 stars

Arsène Lupin (2004)

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I came across this title on Amazon Prime and given how much I enjoyed Netflix’s LUPIN series, I decided to give it a shot. Romain Duris played the charming gentleman thief, involving a love triangle between a seductive sorceress (Kristin Scott Thomas) and the lovely girl from his childhood (Eva Green). Just the cast alone is intriguing, but the movie is pretty weird and borderline bizarre at times, but the French scenery and costumes are wonderful!

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AUDREY (documentary – 2021)

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I grew up watching Audrey Hepburn and still am in awe of her beauty. It’s fascinating watching this documentary told by those close to her, including her own son Sean Hepburn Ferrer. The ballet scenes are beautiful, evoking her past life as a ballerina, but I think it’s a bit overused. Overall I feel like the documentary feels a bit style-over-substance, which I can see why they did it given Audrey was such a style icon. Still I think the film was made with love and I’m glad it also highlights her remarkable life off-screen as a passionate humanitarian.

 3.5=

 


TV SERIES

Ted Lasso

I just LOVE this series!! I’m going to dedicate a post for it one of these days! It’s rare to see such a defiantly positive show that actually celebrates a good guy and being good to others, there are so many shows that are way too dark + violent these days, so Ted Lasso is just so refreshing!


The Falcon & The Winter Soldier

It’s only two episodes and I’m enjoying the series thus far! I actually reviewed the premiere episode here if you care to check it out. The third episode is the best so far, with familiar faces from MCU.


REWATCHES

MI: Fallout

Greatest Showman

Moulin Rogue!

Civil War

Endgame

The African Doctor


March MOVIE OF THE MONTH

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Yet another film based on a play that ends up being my favorite of the month (last month’s fave was The Father). I’m hoping a local theater would stage the play of this one, given how the commentary on Civil Rights Movement is so timely these days.


Well, what did you watch this past month and what’s YOUR favorite film you saw in March?

FlixChatter Review – Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019)

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil was at once my most anticipated and most dreaded film of this year. Disney has a long history of over saturating the market with quickly produced sequels, prequels and even midquels of films that have been successful. These sloppily made seconds have left me with a bad taste and a severe distrust of Disney sequels.

I loved the first Maleficent and feel rather protective of it. In a pre-me too and pre-times up world, Maleficent brought us face to face with the disturbing reality of our culture and wrapped it up in a way that would be understandable and affecting to young children. The violence during the wing scene is as confronting as a Brothers Grimm tale and just as truthful, exploring the ideas of betrayal and assault, and the subsequent psychological toll, as well as the ideas of consent, choice and ownership over one’s body. Although it was widely panned as an over produced mess, it addressed some heavy issues of our time and for that reason is still very valuable. Would the sequel do the same?

Directed by Norwegian filmmaker Joachim Rønning, Mistress of Evil has an amazing cast of Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning, with Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert Lindsay playing Phillip’s parents with Chiwetel Ejiofor, Ed Skrein, and Sam Riley in supporting roles. Distractingly, Brenton Thwaites as Prince Phillip has been replaced by Harris Dickinson due to scheduling conflicts.

Like its predecessor, this film is a bit of a jumbled mess. It starts off with with Philip proposing to Aurora and we are dragged into rom-com inspired dinner scene. In a painful exchange Aurora asks Maleficent to cover her horns and lessen parts of herself that make people uncomfortable. Although watching Maleficent practice her smile and tone is meant to be comedic, it is also a very pointed assimilation. Aurora and Maleficent are expected to change in order to fit in.

Despite her best efforts to be a cordial guest, Maleficent is as impulsive and quick tempered as ever. Queen Ingrith gets the fairy queen so upset she flies the castle, ultimately seeks refuge in a hidden community of dark Fey. The last of their people, they come from all over the world.

Like Maleficent, they have been cast out and marginalized. Although overreaching, Disney is transparent in their intention that the Fey are meant to collectively represent all marginalized groups where Aurora, Phillip, Ingrith and other “humans” in the film are meant to symbolize  western colonial/imperialists. A narrative that is all too easily resolved by the end.

It is here with the Fey that a new side of Maleficent comes to light. A more introspective, open and vulnerable character emerges. She often sits alone, her wings engulfing her in a protective cloak; standing as a champion of morality while the world would yet again cast her as the villain.

Ejiofor as one of the Dark Fey leaders

This film follows the first, challenging the idea that women must be at odds with one another and can share deeply intimate bonds. Maleficent and Aurora relationship breaks boundaries and is constantly under attack by patriarchal forces hiding in a legend (Sleeping Beauty) that is also a lie.

At the same time, back at the castle, King John mysteriously falls ill and in reaction, to their king’s sudden demise, the entire and kingdom is armed and ready to wipe out the fairy kind. SPOILER ALERT [highlight to read] This genocide is particularly frightening to behold as one watches a room full of creatures ravaged by a poisonous powder. Thus begins the war movie phase of our film that culminates in a completely unnecessary epic CGI-rich battle (similar to those found in Marvel movies.

The socio-political themes in Maleficent are a bit mature for this film to address, which, unsurprisingly, doesn’t make the film fit together well. Nevertheless, I think it raises important issues and creates a space to safely have discussions with children. I really appreciated that Philip and his fathers are cast as allies and work to fight the stigma and spread love and understanding. I think the representation of their relationship, love and accountability as males and leaders in their community in itself is a huge paradigm shift in cinematic feminism.

– Review by Jessie Zumeta


Have you seen Maleficent: Mistress of Evil? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: Ant-Man and The Wasp (2018)

I can’t believe it’s been three years since Ant-Man came out. Perhaps because we saw the character in Captain America: Civil War, it felt like I had just seen him recently. This movie actually takes place following the aftermath of Captain America 3, which explains why Ant-Man isn’t fighting with his fellow Avengers in Infinity War.

The immensely likable Paul Rudd returns as Scott Lang and here he grapples with the consequences of being a superhero and a dad. I love the opening sequence of Scott playing with his adorable daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) at his well-equipped home as he’s in house arrest (due to his involvement with the Avengers). He’s only days away of being a free man when suddenly he’s dragged back into his life as Ant-Man and re-team with Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lily) and Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas).

I’m not going to mention what the urgent new mission is, but those who saw the first film could probably guess what it is. Speaking of which, Michelle Pfeiffer shows up as a prominent character and she’s always lovely to watch. I wish the film would just focus more on that storyline, instead of overcrowding it with multiple plots. In fact, one of the main plots involving a ghost named Ava (Hannah John-Kamen) who can phase through objects is so boring and the serious tone feels off compared to the rest of the movie. Thankfully, for the most part Peyton Reed succeeded in creating yet another fun-filled Marvel adventure, thanks to the fantastic cast.

I love that this time Ant-Man sort of play second banana to The Wasp in many ways, especially during the action scenes. Hope is such a take-charge woman-with-a-mission character that she’s a natural born leader, while Scott is always one step behind. The dynamic works well and makes for some hilarious moments. Rudd is such comedic gold, even just him doing ordinary things around the house is funny! I truly can’t imagine anyone else in the role (another spot-on casting that Marvel Studios have done, just like Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man). The supporting cast are a hoot just like the original. I gotta say Randall Park as an FBI agent & Lang’s parole officer and Michael Peña (with his mad rapping style) as one of Lang’s bff/business partners are especially hilarious.

The quantum realm ‘science’ of the shrinking and expanding of the characters is never clear to me but what I love is that this movie knows that full well and uses it to its advantage. “So you just put quantum in front of everything?” Scott Lang quipped at one point during the discussion w/ Hank Pym’s former assistant played by Laurence Fishburne (ahah so now we’ve got Samuel L. Jackson‘s arch rival joining Marvel too, awesome!) I think the movie’s low point is the villains, what’s with Walton Goggins playing yet another lame villain after seeing him in the Tomb Raider reboot. He plays a low-level blue-collar criminal who wants to steal Pym’s technology to sell it on the black market. He’s once again outsmarted by a woman here as his character is absolutely idiotic. That said, and even with the plots and subplots piling up, this movie still moves along at a breezy pace with dynamic action scenes. I don’t normally care for 3D but this time I didn’t mind as it actually looks good.

I thoroughly enjoyed all the action scenes, especially the main chase scene through San Francisco, showcasing some of its landmarks. All of the shrinking and expanding scenes are hilarious and a joy to watch, especially when big Ant-Man rides a pick-up truck like a kiddy scooter! Oh and I’ll never be able to stop giggling every time I hear the name Antonio Banderas now 😛

I gotta hand it to Marvel Studio honcho Kevin Feige, under his leadership the Studio really thrives in creating a plethora of movies that have its own individual style yet ties in as a whole to the Avengers’ story. Like Thor: Ragnarok, this movie is mostly a comedy but more family-friendly instead of the more sardonic style of Taika Waititi’s humor.

The Ant-Man may be tiny but this sequel sure is a huge dose of fun! I don’t even mind watching it again on the big screen. Definitely check this out if you enjoyed the first one, but even if you hadn’t seen the original, I think you’d still enjoy it. Oh and Marvel fans, you want to stay for the mid-credit scene 😉

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So have you seen Ant-Man and The Wasp? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

There are films you’d readily see just for the cast and this is one such a film. I’m familiar with Agatha Christie’s work though I can’t claim I’ve actually finished even one of her books from start to finish. I did however, see the episode from British ITV production of the Agatha Christie series starring David Suchet a couple of years ago, so the plot is still quite fresh in my mind. The latest adaptation featured Kenneth Branagh as the Belgian super detective Hercule Poirot. Branagh also served as director, based on a script by Michael Green (who’s had quite a year as he also wrote Logan and Blade Runner 2049).

The opening sequence in Jerusalem seemed too whimsical and decidedly over-the-top, and I’m not just talking about Poirot’s outlandish mustache. I read in a review somewhere that Branagh can’t decide which fake mustache given to him from the makeup department so he basically just wore them all in a row. I think that enormous mustache probably has its own trailer, too! That establishing scene introduced us to a god-like figure who’s an absolute genius in cracking criminal cases. It also revealed his quirky OCD personality, so obsessed he is with balance that when he stepped one foot on manure, he immediately had to do the same with the other foot.

For a story famous for being set on a train, the film took its time to finally get there. But once there, the train set pieces is really quite glorious, filled with lavish set pieces and even more gorgeous passengers decked in 1930s costumes. Despite the rather sluggish pacing, I enjoyed myself thanks to the amazing cast. A movie with Dame Judi Dench is an automatic must-see in my book, though sadly she didn’t get to do anything in this film. But to be fair, most of the actors here seemed to have spent more time in costumes than learning their lines. She’s still memorable here, as is Olivia Colman as Dench’s German maid.

It’s tough to be memorable in a large ensemble cast as this one, but I’d say the film’s MVPs are Michelle Pfeiffer as Caroline Hubbard, Daisy Ridley as Mary Debenham, Josh Gad as Hector MacQueen, and Leslie Odom Jr. as Dr. Arbuthnot. Oh, and hello Tom Bateman as train director Bouc (never seen this tall, dark and handsome Brit before but I sure hope I’ll see more of him!) It’s interesting casting to have Johnny Depp as Ratchett given his dire reputation of late. Branagh’s performance is often borderline over the top as well which in itself can be distracting. But I thought his monologue after the big reveal is pretty good and provides the high emotional point of the film. I love La Pfeiffer in this scene too, I’ve missed seeing her in movies. She’s one of those veteran actresses I wish would still get many intriguing roles.

I’m not going to talk about the plot here, but Branagh took some interesting creative licenses with how the story came to the big reveal. He also tried to vary the scenes of each passenger interrogation as to not bore the viewers, some work better than others. I love Branagh’s direction in Cinderella but here he seems too preoccupied with camera work (esp. the bird’s eye view angle) that the film feels rather haphazard at times. The dynamic camera angles adds energy to an otherwise stuffy whodunnit drama, but at times can be quite distracting as well.

Overall it’s a decent adaptation, but I’m not sure if it’s really all that necessary. I feel like the rich story would’ve been better served as a miniseries. There are parts that feel emotional, especially as we get to know who the passengers really are, but I think the film lacks any real suspense. That said, I still enjoyed it thanks to the committed cast, the stunning set pieces and the gorgeous score from one of my fave composers (and Branagh’s regular collaborator) Patrick Doyle. The ending seems to hint at ‘Poirot will return’ a la another titular character James Bond. Not sure I’d be so eager to return to another Poirot adaptation from Branagh though. I guess I’d recommend this if you like the cast, though if you’re a Christie fan you’d probably be more satisfied with re-reading the novel.


Have you seen the latest adaptation of ‘Murder on the Orient Express’? Well, what did you think? 

Wordless Wednesday: the unrequited love of ‘The Age of Innocence’

WordlessWednesdayIn honor of the double birthday of Michelle Pfeiffer (57) and Daniel Day-Lewis (58), I thought I’d highlight their work (and scorching chemistry) in Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence. It remains one of my all time favorite period dramas (and one of my faves of the 90s), and that unrequited love story never fails to move me to my core.

Words fail me to describe the beauty of this story… so I’m going to borrow the words of Roger Ebert: “It was the spirit of it — the spirit of the exquisite romantic pain. The idea that the mere touching of a woman’s hand would suffice. The idea that seeing her across the room would keep him alive for another year.”
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Newland Archer: You gave me my first glimpse of a real life. Then you asked me to go on with the false one. No one can endure that.

Ellen Olenska: I’m enduring it.

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Ellen: I think we should look at reality, not dreams.

Newland: I just want us to be together!

Ellen: I can’t be your wife, Newland! Is it your idea that I should live with you as your mistress?

Newland: I want… Somehow, I want to get away with you… and… and find a world where words like that don’t exist!

ageofinnocence_still2This may not be a violent film from Scorsese in physical term, but it’s certainly a vicious one in terms of matters of the heart. Certainly one of the most painfully-exquisite portrayal of unrequited love.


What’s your thoughts on The Age of Innocence?

Merry Christmas! Reminiscing on the alternative Christmas classic: Batman Returns

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It’s December 25 and I thought I’d take the time to wish you all a wonderful Christmas… wherever you are. It’s not quite a White Christmas here in Minnesota. The snow that’s supposed to hit us today seems to have shift to Friday, which is a bummer as for once I don’t mind having a snowy Christmas day as I don’t have to travel anywhere. It’s been a while since we actually have a truly mellow Christmas where we get to relax at home, eat home-cooked meal and watch movies in the comfort of our own home.

After church on Christmas eve, we wanted to see a Christmas-themed movie. At first we’re going to see Bill Murray’s Scrooged, but ended up rewatching Tim Burton’s 1992 Batman Returns, as this TOR.com blog cleverly dubbed …‘Twas the Dark Knight Before Christmas...

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Hey, even Alfred’s getting into the Christmas spirit putting up the Christmas tree in the Wayne Mansion whilst Bruce snuggles up by the fire. It’s the calm before the storm, as it were. The real action begins as soon as miss Selina Kyle enters the picture…

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(although a kiss can be even deadlier if you mean it…)

I had seen it ages ago but I couldn’t remember much of the details other than Michelle Pfeiffer‘s stunning and iconic portrayal as Catwoman. She still is one of the best things about this film, and I don’t think anyone’s topped her performance yet in that role [sorry Anne Hathaway, you’re good but not THAT good].

The Christmas setting in Gotham City is gorgeous to look at and definitely got me a bit nostalgic of spending time in New York City last year.

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The festive Christmas lighting ceremony in Gotham Plaza is basically modeled after the giant tree in Rockeffeler Center, and there’s even that lavish holiday masked ball where Bruce Wayne gets to slow dance with Selina Kyle and discovering who their real identities are.

Keaton and Pfeiffer had quite a scorching chemistry, more so than Christian Bale did with any of his female co-stars. It’s a complicated and ultimately doomed relationship that’s beguiling and surprisingly emotional.

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“Does this mean we have to start fighting?”

Tons of great performances too, Danny Devito is effectively creepy yet funny as Oswald Cobblepot aka The Penguin, and Christopher Walken is always fun to watch as the slimy businessman Max Shreck. Danny Elfman‘s score is absolutely terrific, too, I should feature it in the next Music Break 😉

Though I’ve come to love Nolan’s Batman’s trilogy that’s more solemn and realistic, I have to admit I enjoyed Burton’s decidedly more circus-y and theatrical approach. Glad I rewatched this tonight, Batman Returns is definitely a fun albeit bizarre alternative Christmas flick if you’re not in the mood to watch It’s A Wonderful Life for the zillionth time. Though the story may be dark and even tragic, I wouldn’t call it an anti-Christmas movie. In fact, the finale ends on a hopeful note, with a subtle hint that the Christmas spirit isn’t entirely lost on them …

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Good will toward men… and women.


So folks, once again I wish you a MERRY & BLESSED CHRISTMAS.
What’ll you be watching this Christmas break?