Category Archives: movies

“American Sniper” a modern American fable

Much like Achilles from Ancient Greek mythology, the story of Chris Kyle is presented in Clint Eastwood’s thrilling film as one of growth and acceptance, the tale of a warrior who fights the battle, returns home and must adjust to his new life. It is a classic story, but also a timeless one.

Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) is a Navy SEAL who takes his expert marksmanship to the war in Iraq. As he becomes the best sharpshooter in American history, with a body count reaching into the hundreds, he struggles to adjust to his family life with his wife Taya (Sienna Miller) and kids, not understanding the toll that his desire to help his comrades takes.

A simple PTSD story is in itself not that new or interesting, but what Eastwood and screenwriter Jason Hall manage to create is something more than that. By basing the film on a mythical structure and viewing Kyle as the prototypical warrior sent to defend the homeland, they make something universal. By taking that same story and molding it around current events, they give the film greater meaning. The two together paint a picture of a highly relatable man that defines an American era.

It is not surprising that the film made so much money as it appeals to so many people. Regardless of its historical accuracy, it presents us with the American ideals we strive for and the cost those ideals take. It gives us the American hero we all root for and the flaws in him that we feel in us.

It is not a perfect film. The story is not that original when taken solely at its plot. The Iraqis in the film are not given full representation and are often marginalized. And it’s not as though there are any real surprises throughout the film. It’s pretty easy to see the plot points before they happen. When compared to other war films, it’s not even the best war film about the recent Iraq/Afghanistan wars (“The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty” are superior in my opinion).

It does strike a core though, right in the American spirit. It is a great example of the sacrifice for freedom, something that will always be an American ideal.

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“American Made” a solid ride

The 1980s seem to be the decade of nostalgic choice at the moment. With “Stranger Things” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “The Americans” all paying homage to the style and attitudes about the times, that trend continues with director Doug Liman’s “American Made.”

Tom Cruise stars as Barry Seal. He’s a commercial airline pilot with a yearning for danger and excitement. When he’s approached by CIA operative Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson) to take pictures over rebelling Central American countries, a series of events leads him to the drug empires, the Contras and a personal fortune that threatens to doom him with every branch of the US government.

The film is a lot of fun as we see Barry’s illegal deeds escalate over the story. It does a good job of building dramatic tension through Seal’s riskier and riskier behavior.

There is always a lingering sense however that we know that most of the story presented to us is fictionalized and dramatized. The real Barry Seal does not look like Tom Cruise. Nor did he have a wife who looks like Sarah Wright or a perfect family. Nor was he so personable and charismatic in his run-ins for and against the law. The lack of belief in the possibility of the narrative holds the story back somewhat, but if you just take it as a well-told spy story and throw logic to the wind, the experience is enjoyable.

Much in the same vein of similar stories like “The Wolf of Wall Street” or “Goodfellas”, the film glorifies crime as an American ideal. Filmmakers see the 1980s as an era of  capitalism run-amok and this film fits in well with that nuance. Whether or not that is necessarily true is up to interpretation.

While the film is not the most original story in terms of narrative, it is fun to watch and experience. As confidence in the United States government continues to erode, stories like “American Made” and the issues it represents seem to grow greater significance.

Batman Begins Analysis

Director: Christopher Nolan

Writer: David S. Goyer, Christopher Nolan

Cast: Christian Bale, Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman, Katie Holmes, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine

Synopsis: Bruce Wayne, reeling after the murder of his parents, learns the tools necessary to become the Batman.

Protagonist: Bruce Wayne

Desire: Save Gotham and prevent more crimes like the ones that took his parents

  • Inciting Incident: Bruce’s parents are murdered in front of him.
  • Act One Climax: Bruce decides not to become a criminal and journeys to the Far East to learn how to control his fear.
  • Midpoint: Having trained with Ra’s al-Ghul, Bruce becomes the Batman and takes down the crime lord Falcone.
  • Act Two Climax: The League of Shadows burns down Wayne Manor and leaves Bruce for dead. He overcomes this loss to try and save Gotham.
  • Act Three Climax: Bruce defeats Ra’s al-Ghul and creates the image of the Batman.

Other Storylines:

Alfred Pennyworth

Desire: Protect Bruce

  • Inciting Incident: Bruce’s parents are murdered and he must take care of Bruce.
  • Act One Climax: Alfred agrees to Bruce’s plan to become the Batman.
  • Act Two Climax: Alfred saves Bruce from the fire and lets him know he’ll never give up on him.

Ra’s al-Ghul

Desire: Destroy Gotham

  • Inciting Incident: Ducard’s wife is taken from him and he embarks on the journey to rid the world of crime.
  • Act One Climax: Ducard takes in Bruce and works to complete his training.
  • Midpoint: Bruce betrays the League and burns down their headquarters.
  • Act Two Climax: Ducard reveals himself as Ra’s al-Ghul and brings the League together again and works to destroy Gotham with fear gas.
  • Act Three Climax: Bruce as Batman defeats Ra’s.

James Gordon

Desire: Save Gotham

  • Inciting Incident: A cloaked figure approaches Gordon and lets him know his plan to restore order to Gotham.
  • Act One Climax: Gordon teams up with Batman to save Rachel from Crane.
  • Act Two Climax: Gordon teams up with Batman again to save the city from Ra’s.
  • Act Three Climax: Batman and Gordon are allies and Gordon creates the Bat signal.

Rachel Dawes

Desire: Help Gotham and Bruce

  • Inciting Incident: Bruce’s parents are murdered and she sees injustice in the world. She tries to be a friend to Bruce, but he is going through trauma.
  • Act One Climax: Working as an Assistant DA, Rachel works to put criminals in prison. Crane stands in her way.
  • Act Two Climax: Rachel prosecutes crime lord Falcone until he goes insane.
  • Act Three Climax: Rachel helps Gotham during Ra’s attack. Rachel talks with Bruce about his identity as Batman and how the city needs him.

Wayne Enterprises

Desire: Bruce and Lucius look to retake control of the company.

  • Inciting Incident: After the Waynes’ death, Earle takes control of the company.
  • Act One Climax: Earle decides to take the company public and declare Bruce Wayne dead to free up his shares. He moves Lucius Fox, loyal to the Waynes, to a dead end department.
  • Act Two Climax: After Bruce returns and befriends Fox, Earle takes the company public and fires Lucius, looking to take total control over the industry.
  • Act Three Climax: Unbeknownst to Earle, Bruce has bought most of the shares of the company and has installed Lucius as its CEO, pushing Earle out.

Jonathan Crane

Desire: Cause fear

  • Inciting Incident: Unknown- Presumably a traumatic past that leaves him reveling in the fears of others
  • Act One Climax: Crane accepts a business proposition from the League of Shadows to smuggle drugs into the city and contaminate the water supply.
  • Act Two Climax: Crane poisons Falcone.
  • Act Three Climax: Batman poisons Crane with his own fear gas and drives him insane.

Carmine Falcone

Desire: Control crime in Gotham

  • Inciting Incident: Unknown- It drives Falcone to control Gotham through fear and intimidation
  • Act One Climax: Falcone moves to assassinate Rachel Dawes and bring in the last drug shipment.
  • Act Two Climax: Falcone is beaten by Batman and left for the police.
  • Act Three Climax: Falcone is poisoned by Jonathan Crane.

Themes:

Gotham as the Legacy of Thomas Wayne and Bruce Needing to Inherit It

  • Gotham is shown as a thriving metropolis under Thomas Wayne’s tutelage in Bruce’s youth. When Thomas dies, the city dies with him, tying itself in to the Wayne legacy. By accepting Gotham and his father as one cause, Bruce saves both by becoming the Batman.

Fear as a Tool

  • Bruce’s journey is to conquer fear. The fear of the bats in the cave haunts him and comes to represent fear that keeps him beholden in life. Only by conquering fear and learning how it controls him can Bruce hope to flourish after his parent’s death. What Bruce ultimately fears is taking his father’s place and becoming Gotham’s savior. By taking that place and utilizing fear to inflict fear in others to save Gotham, Bruce becomes a master of fear and achieves his destiny.

The Value of Life

  • To Ra’s al-Ghul and the League of Shadows, life has become wasted in Gotham and should end. To Batman and his moral conscience, Rachel Dawes, life need not end but be redeemed. This conundrum between the ultimate purpose of life, to save it or end it, presents an intriguing theme of life’s purpose. Humanity in Gotham is often circumspect. Evil exists and permeates into everyone lives. The desire to save it, exemplified in the film’s heroes, illustrates that mankind at its core is good and worth fighting for.

Scene Breakdown:

  1. Bruce Falls in the Pit
    • A field of bats morphs into a young Bruce Wayne running through the woods after his friend, Rachel. They play finders-keepers with an arrowhead found in the garden. Bruce falls down a well and is attacked by a swarm of bats. Modern-day Bruce awakens after the nightmare of his past. He is in a far-eastern prison.
      • Bruce is presented as the picture of innocence: a kid in a big mansion, rich, playing. This will contrast against the journey he is about to undertake.
      • The arrowhead is a representation of the warrior. By taking it, Bruce symbolically ushers himself into the realm of adolescence and the process of growing up, similar to an Indian initiation. This is further emphasized by his falling down a well, hurling himself into an unknown world, a terrifying world that he initially fears.
    • There’s a slight pause before the rush of bats, this new world leering at Bruce for a moment, the anticipation building in the audience. The bats are terrifying, more a rush of fury than singular beasts. It is not really the bats themselves that terrify Bruce, but what they represent; fear itself and the process of maturation Bruce must undergo as we all must.
  2. Bruce Fights a Horde
    • Bruce is in a Far Eastern jail for an unknown reason. A confidant tells him that a group will attack him and try to kill him. Against six men, Bruce fends them off and is put in solitary confinement.
      • The viewer is kept in mystery about what has happened to Bruce. How has this rich kid ended up in this far away prison with nothing? The mystery keeps us interested as the story is set up.
      • The scene shows Bruce’s strength and his loss. He stands up to an angry horde, beating them off, showing his fighting ability against a seemingly stronger opponent. At the same time, we sense he is rash and fighting without cause. He does not fight for honor or even to survive. He dubs the main fighter “practice.” He is fighting because he can, but even he doesn’t know why.
  3. Bruce Meets Ducard
    • In solitary, Bruce meets a strange man named Ducard. He offers him the chance to join the League of Shadows and find a higher purpose.
      • Ducard sticks out from the mucky surroundings of the prison in his pristine suit and articulate goatee. He represents the apex of fulfillment while Bruce huddles in the mud, dirty and low. Ducard standing over Bruce further shows how much Bruce has fallen morally.
      • Ducard articulates what the audience suspects: Bruce is lost. He fights anything, he has no purpose and he is hiding from the world. Why we still don’t know. The question further keeps us engaged as we wonder how a rich, young, naive boy has ended up in this hell hole.
      • Ducard first articulates what Bruce will become: a legend. He offers him an opportunity to climb out of his wandering and fill his life with purpose. In mythological terms, he is the herald, inviting a young protege towards the fulfillment of an adventure. He will also serve as the mentor and the shadow in Bruce’s journey.
  4. Bruce Climbs the Mountain
    • Bruce climbs the mountain to Ra’s al-Ghul’s fortress, delivering the blue flower Ducard told him to. Ducard tells Bruce that to manipulate the fears of others he must first master his own. He challenges Bruce to combat and Ducard wins easily. Ducard asks Bruce what he actually fears.
      • Bruce passes huge mountains and icebergs as he climbs up to the fortress. The expanse shows the remoteness of Bruce’s location. Symbolically, he is delving deeper into his own subconscious, climbing into his very soul to discover his fear.
      • The temple Bruce enters is a foreign world. He does not belong in it yet.
      • Ducard’s challenge illustrates how far Bruce has to go to become the symbol he wants to become. Bruce has not purged his fear and therefore can not fight against others. This scene is a mirror to the finale of the film. While Bruce fails here, he will succeed in the end.
      • Ducard Act One Climax: Ducard takes in Bruce to purge him of his fear. (Ducard’s Inciting Incident will be revealed later).
  5. Young Bruce Recovers
    • Thomas Wayne rescues his son from the pit he fell into. Bruce has nightmares of bats, but his dad helps him recover. They take the family’s shiny new monorail into the city.
      • Young Bruce has been traumatized by the bat experience. He has felt true fear for the first time, and it is this fear that will drive the rest of his journey. His father becomes his support system, someone he can confide in and who helps him deal with his fear.
      • We see the power of the Wayne family. They are rich, they live in a mansion, they have a butler. We also see their generosity and love. Thomas buys his wife a necklace. He is a doctor. The family invests in public transportation. It serves as an inspiration to Bruce. This generosity and power will intimidate Bruce later on and drive his fear that he is unworthy to take his father’s place.
      • The wealth and power of the Waynes is strong, represented in the family manor, the bright Wayne tower and the new metro train. Once Bruce’s journey changes, these symbols change as well. As Bruce’s soul turns dark, these structures change with him.
  6. The Opera and the Shooting
    • The opera the family goes to features bats, scaring Bruce. He asks if they can go and Thomas acquiesces. Outside, Thomas and Martha are shot and killed by a mugger.
      • Bruce’s inherent fear still drives his actions. Despite the coddling of his father, he is still a scared little boy. His fear leads him to leave the opera and in so doing causes him tremendous guilt when his decision ultimately results in a chain of events that leave his parents dead.
      • The mystique of the opera and the Wayne life are counterbalanced by the decrepit street the Waynes walk out to. This is the world Bruce must overcome, one of muck and vile. The mugger is disheveled and unkempt, a symbol of that vile percolating around Bruce’s life. The location is a further extension of the bats that Bruce has encountered. The alley is even framed as the first bat encounter in the cave, with the two alley streets matching the walls of the cave and the mugger coming out where the bats had been.
      • Bruce Inciting Incident: Bruce’s parents are murdered, leaving him an orphan and in search of a path. He must learn how to conquer the fear inflicted upon him.
  7. Young Bruce Meets Gordon
    • At the police station, Officer Gordon offers Bruce comfort and puts his father’s coat on his shoulders. The police commissioner comes in to tell Bruce that the mugger was arrested.
      • This is the first time we meet James Gordon. He is kind to young Bruce in a way that reveals he understands what he’s going through. His journey will begin later.
      • The act of putting his father’s coat on Bruce’s shoulder symbolizes how young Bruce must become a man now, a man like his father. He is so small in an adult’s coat, showing how much he has to grow to become someone like his father.
  8. The Wayne Funeral
    • Bruce attends his parent’s funeral. Earle, a businessman, tells Bruce that he will be watching over his financial empire. Bruce cries with Alfred.
      • The funeral, fittingly, takes place in the rain. It is obvious what that represents.
      • There’s a shot of Bruce waving good-bye to Rachel from his bedroom window. He appears very small against the huge backdrop of Wayne Manor, again symbolizing how much he has to grow to fill his family’s legacy. His distance from Rachel, his moral compass, also shows how much he has to grow still.
      • Alfred at this moment also becomes Bruce’s surrogate parent. The divide between master and servant melts as Bruce rushes forward to hug Alfred in his despair and Alfred comforts him as a parent would.
      • We are also introduced to Earle. He seeks to use Wayne Enterprises to make a lot of money, disregarding the humanitarian vision of Thomas Wayne. The death of the Waynes set him on his desire.
      • Rachel Inciting Incident: Spurred by the crime of the Wayne’s death, Rachel decides to fight crime through the law.
      • Wayne Enterprises Inciting Incident (Off-Screen): Earle decides to change Wayne Enterprises to make money.
      • Alfred Inciting Incident: Alfred must now care for young Bruce.
  9. Bruce’s Training
    • Ducard trains Bruce in the ninja arts. He also reveals a bit of the League of Shadows philosophy: crime can not be tolerated, theatricality is a valuable tool, pushing yourself to the brink is necessary. Ducard tells Bruce that it is his father’s fault for the shooting and that supreme will is the most important thing. Ducard still beats Bruce in combat.
      • The trials of Bruce test his determination. The philosophy of the will to act is drilled into him; only through choosing to act and never wavering from that commitment can Bruce achieve anything. This lesson is his key to becoming the Batman.
      • Ducard laying the blame at Thomas Waynes’ feet is more of a driver of Bruce than the truth. Ducard is testing Bruce again and again, through holding his balance over logs, to swordfighting, always pushing him and testing the will he preaches. Bruce is still behind, unable to catch up to Ducard’s mastery, a child on the ice, slipping and sliding, unable to keep his balance and walk upright.
  10. Ducard Talks about the Past
    • Ducard talks to Bruce about his past. He once had a wife who was taken from him. Vengeance was able to quell his anger.
      • We see more of the nurturing side of Ducard. He cares for Bruce as he tells him how to recover from falling through the ice. He is presented as another father figure to him, someone Bruce looks to for guidance.
      • Ducard’s Inciting Incident is explained here. Off screen, the story of his wife’s death is what drives him. Learning how to deal with his anger and gaining vengeance and teaching others in the same way is his motivation.
      • Ducard Inciting Incident (Off-Screen): Ducard’s wife is murdered. He kills her killer, achieving vengeance and now teaches others how to deal with their pains.
  11. Lost Bruce
    • We flash back to young Bruce, returning home from Princeton to attend the mugger’s parole hearing. He espouses his anger to Alfred, telling him he wishes he could burn the whole mansion down. Alfred refuses to give up on him.
      • We see Bruce lost. Princeton doesn’t want him back. He’s angry, his parent’s death leaving him rudderless. Not the physical specimen at film’s opening, he is more of a whiner, a coward unable to see past his own demons. When Alfred offers to prepare the master bedroom, Bruce refuses. He still can not take his father’s place in the world.
      • The mansion is a mausoleum, the furniture cover in drapes. This shows that Bruce his turned his back on the Wayne name. It rots away.
      • Alfred’s devotion to Bruce exemplifies his character. Even though he is not physically a member of the Wayne family, he serves as the caretaker of the estate and a symbol of the Wayne’s legacy. His devotion to the Waynes sets his path to protect and look after Bruce.
  12. Rachel and Bruce
    • Rachel looks over his parent’s things, including a picture of them and his father’s stethoscope. He packs a gun into his pocket. He talks with Rachel about the past and how her boss has instituted a deal for the mugger, Joe Chill’s, release in exchange for information about a crime boss, Carmine Falcone. He is against the decision.
      • Bruce remarks himself how his parent’s belongings are relics. They serve as reminders of a past he is trying to hide. A small flashback to the past shows a young Bruce using his father’s stethoscope to listen to his heart. In a way, Thomas’ heart, his soul, still echoes to Bruce, showing that Bruce can still live up to his father’s legacy. It lives in him.
      • Rachel and Bruce are older now, farther apart. Rachel has her head on her shoulders, working in the District Attorney’s office, trying to do good in the world. Bruce is lost and petulant, planning murder. Her moral compass will become Bruce’s guide as the story progresses.
  13. The Trial and the Aftermath
    • Bruce watches Joe Chill’s court appearance and sees him set free. He waits in the hallway, a gun in his hand, ready to kill his parent’s killer. A woman hired by Falcone instead shoots and kills Chill before Bruce can. Rachel escorts him away.
      • Bruce’s anger is directed right at Chill. His eyes never leave him in the courtroom. Chill himself can not bring himself to look at Bruce, his murder obviously haunting him.
      • There’s a steady buildup to Chill’s murder. Bruce is obviously struggling with the decision to take a life, but his anger drives him. Just as Ducard will later warn him about, if Bruce had murdered Chill, his anger would have destroyed him.
  14. Rachel and Bruce in the Car
    • Bruce tells Rachel that he believes vengeance is justice, but Rachel reminds him that justice is about balance. She tells him that the crime lord, Falcone, is destroying everything his parents held dear and is creating the exact conditions that created muggers like Joe Chill. She drops him off at Falcone’s house, telling him that if he wants to thank him for killing Chill, he can. Bruce reveals that he was going to kill Chill and is not one of Rachel’s good people. Rachel slaps him and tells him his father would be ashamed of him. Bruce hurls his gun into the river.
      • Rachel here also serves as the herald in mythical fashion. She points out the poverty and the crime permeating in the city that his father tried to save and in so doing, pleads for his help. Bruce’s eyes are therefore awoken to the desire to do good, but he is so wrapped in anger and disillusionment that he can’t see his part to play yet. Only after conquering fear can he succeed.
      • Rachel presents Bruce with a choice: to be a good man like his father or to let life bring him down. Bruce, thinking about how the gun he holds would lead him down a similar path to Joe Chill, throws it away and decides to change. His hatred changes from hating one man to an entire system of crime and corruption.
  15. Bruce Meets Falcone
    • Bruce threatens Falcone, who taunts him. He says that he uses the power of fear to have control. He tells him that he’ll never understand the criminal underworld because he is rich and has never tasted desperation.
      • Bruce’s transformed anger directs him to Gotham’s underworld. He realizes that this is a world he doesn’t understand and if he can’t understand what made Joe Chill, how could he beat it?
      • Falcone is a shadow. He uses fear in much the same way that Batman will need to. Bruce is powerless against Falcone’s hitmen and thugs, dragged away and punched. For him to succeed in changing Gotham and becoming something his father would be proud of, he must embark on a spiritual journey.
      • Falcone Inciting Incident (Off-Screen): Unknown, but it sets him on the desire to control Gotham.
      • Bruce Act One Climax: Bruce casts off the identity of Bruce Wayne and embarks on the journey to end crime in Gotham.
  16. Bruce’s Test
    • Ducard tells Bruce that what he actually fears is himself and his power to do great or terrible things. He tests him by having Bruce breathe in the smoke of his exotic flower, causing his fears to come to life. Ducard challenges Bruce to catch him in a moving array of ninjas, his fears washing over him.
      • Ducard teaches Bruce the power of fear, using it against him and teaching him how to harness it. This is the same tool that Falcone uses to instill power of Gotham. Bruce learns its value through his trial with Ducard. Through ingenuity and courage, he is able to overcome.
  17. Bruce Reject the League of Shadows
    • Ra’s al-Ghul tells Bruce that to complete his training, he must prove his commitment to justice by executing a fugitive. Bruce refuses. He learns the League intends to destroy Gotham to preserve the dignity of mankind. Bruce breaks out, burning the League headquarters down. He saves his friend, Ducard.
      • Bruce being handed a sword to execute a man is akin to him loading a gun to execute his parent’s murderer. The same cowardly act of injustice stirs in him Rachel’s condemnation. He realizes that he has adopted her worldview and must adapt it to his training rather than let the League’s principles change him.
      • Upon learning of the League’s plans, Bruce chooses to act. He has chosen to save Gotham, utilizing his training with the League and his moral cleansing. His first action: to stop the League from destroying Gotham.
      • Ducard Midpoint: Ducard’s prime student, Bruce, turns against him and destroys the League’s base of operations. Ducard must regroup to complete his mission.
  18. Bruce and Alfred Talk
    • Bruce meets Alfred for the first time after 7 years. He relays his plan to help Gotham, to create a symbol that transcends flesh and blood. Alfred acquiesces to his plan and lets him know that Earle is working to transform the Wayne company for himself.
      • Bruce continues to implement the lessons he has learned in his fight to save Gotham. Both Ducard and his discussion with Falcone taught him the vulnerability of human life and the need to create something elemental to enact change. Bruce has taken this lesson to heart.
      • The relationship between Bruce and Alfred remains strong. Alfred’s desire to keep Bruce safe has permeated throughout the years and gives him the motivation to help Bruce with his plan.
      • The storyline around Wayne Enterprises continues as Earle moves to take full control of the company by declaring Bruce dead and taking the company public, something Thomas Wayne would not have done and something that will taint the Wayne legacy. We will also learn later that Earle has removed his prime competition, Lucius Fox, from the board to expedite the process.
      • Alfred Act One Climax: Alfred agrees to help Bruce enact his plan to save Gotham.
      • Earle Act One Climax: Earle forces Lucius out, declares Bruce dead and moves to make the company public.
  19. Crane Introduction
    • Dr. Crane testifies to get another of Falcone’s thugs put in his asylum. Rachel tries to call him on his apparent attachment to Falcone’s men, but he threatens her. Rachel’s boss, Mr. Finch, tells her to lay off because Falcone is too strong. Bruce listens in.
      • Rachel is still fighting the good fight against Falcone through the courts, but Falcone seems only to have grown in power since Bruce left. He apparently has a new ally in Dr. Crane. Something seems a bit off about him, but the viewer can’t quite figure out what. He is shown in strict headshots pretty much, isolating him, showing how distant he is from the world around him.
      • This scene catches the viewer up to the situation in Gotham. Falcone is in charge, he is using this Dr. Crane to keep his thugs in an asylum instead of prison and Rachel is still fighting him against tough odds. We see the situation through Bruce’s eyes. We learn as he learns.
      • Crane Inciting Incident (Off-Screen): Crane is attracted to torture and madness and fascinated with creating fear. We don’t know why, but something has set him off on his desire to torture others for his own amusement.
      • Rachel Act One Climax: Rachel commits to saving Gotham by fighting the mob.
  20. Bruce Rediscovers the Bat
    • Bruce finds a bat in his house. He returns to the cave of his youth that frightened him so much. Bats swarm him, but he is no longer afraid.
      • Bruce returns to the same fears of his youth, but he has changed. Under the guidance to control his fears from Ducard, when the bats swarm around him, he embraces them, showing the conquering of his fear. He will harness the bats to achieve the liberation of Gotham, turning his fear into strength.
  21. Crane and Falcone
    • Crane and Falcone discuss business. Falcone is bringing drug shipments into the city. Crane’s boss is coming to Gotham. Crane asks Falcone to take care of Rachel.
      • This scene illuminates several important plot points. Crane and Falcone are working together, but Crane works for someone, someone even Falcone fears, and he’s coming to the city. And Crane wants Rachel dead because she is interfering too much. We also get a hint at Crane’s character. He pretends to be a straight-shooter, but Falcone can see that he gets off on being evil.
      • Crane Act One Climax: Crane enlists Falcone to take Rachel out to keep his operation running.
      • Falcone Act One Climax: Falcone moves to keep control of the city.
  22. Bruce and the Family Business
    • Mr. Earle talks about taking the company public. Bruce crashes the meeting and talks with him about his shares. Earle introduces him to Fox.
      • We begin to see Bruce take on his new persona: dumb, obnoxious, womanizing billionaire. This is the shield he will use to deflect any suspicions that he is Batman.
      • Earle moves to change Wayne Enterprises. He is condescending to Bruce and doesn’t view him as much of a threat. Bruce is already manipulating him.
      • Wayne Enterprises Act One Climax: Earle moves to take control of the company once and for all.
  23. Bruce Meets Lucius
    • Lucius Fox introduces Bruce to technology that he could use to turn into the Batman. Lucius agrees not to tell anyone.
      • The viewer can begin to see how the pieces of Batman are put together. Lucius and Bruce’s partnership will bear fruit as the story continues.
  24. Bruce Builds the Cave
    • Bruce sets up lights and navigates the tunnels of the cave under the mansion. He puts together parts of his suits and orders new pieces.
      • The viewer can see how the Batman mythos they are aware of begins to form. They recognize pieces of the character and how Bruce finds them and their importance to his overall scheme.
  25. Gordon and Flass
    • Gordon works with his partner, Flass. He doesn’t take the mob’s money. Bruce disguises himself and talks to Gordon. He learns what he needs to take down Falcone. Gordon tries to catch Bruce, but he runs away.
      • Gordon is an honest cop. He doesn’t take the mob’s money and looks down on those who do. He continues to fight against crime and corruption in Gotham, but is disheartened.
      • Bruce recruits Gordon in his fight against crime. Gordon doesn’t trust this masked vigilante, but seems nevertheless intrigued.
      • Gordon Inciting Incident: Gordon’s meeting with this strange cloaked man alerts him that something is coming to Gotham that could change things.
  26. Bruce and Lucius Continue
    • Lucius introduces Bruce to memory cloth and the Tumbler, further building his arsenal.
      • This scene doesn’t change much about Lucius and Bruce’s relationship, but it shows the continued trust between them.
  27. Flass and Falcone
    • Falcone gives instructions to Flass about the last drug shipment and the ordered murder of Rachel.
      • The viewer now knows that Flass is working directly with Falcone. This takes the level of corruption in the city to a new level.
  28. Bruce Finishes the Final Touches on Becoming the Batman
    • Bruce finishes creating his mask and his wings and various other parts of his costume.
      • Bruce finishes creating his “symbol” for Gotham. His explanation to Alfred underlies how this is a journey long in the making.
  29. Batman Attacks the Drug Point
    • Bruce takes the mantle of Batman and attacks the drug point, beating the criminals and Falcone, leaving him to the police.
      • We can see everything Bruce has built up to this point come to fruition. All the tools of Fox, the training of Ducard and the inner moral compass of Rachel combine to create this new symbol of Batman.
      • Batman is seen less as a man and more as a force of nature. The camera highlights his ferocity and mysteriousness, and we see the Batman from the perspective of the criminals rather than Bruce. This enables us to see what Bruce has created to others.
      • Falcone Act Two Climax: Falcone is beaten and left for the police by Batman.
  30. Batman Saves Rachel
    • Two “muggers” try to kill Rachel. Batman stops them and gives her the evidence to convict Falcone. Gordon arrives at the docks and finds Falcone delivered to him.
      • Bruce’s plan for taking back Gotham begins. He has announced himself as the Batman, delivering a significant blow against organized crime in the city.
      • Bruce Midpoint: Bruce creates the Batman and delivers Falcone to the police.
  31. Fall-Out
    • Police commissioner Loeb condemns the actions of the Batman. Rachel and her boss work to prosecute Falcone.
      • The effects of Bruce’s actions reverberate across the city, testing the loyalties of characters. Gordon and Rachel must figure out how they deal with a vigilante working outside the law.
      • Rachel Act Two Climax: Rachel works with the DA to prosecute Falcone.
  32. Bruce and Alfred Come Up with Alibis
    • Alfred remarks that Bruce needs to come up with a persona to hide the possibility that he is Batman. Bruce agrees, as long as he doesn’t have to learn polo.
      • Bruce being covered in bruises shows that there is a cost to his crime-fighting. As much as he appeared as a force of nature during the night, he is still very much a man.
  33. Wayne Enterprises Loses the Microwave Emitter
    • An employee to Earle announces that a prototype microwave emitter weapon has been stolen.
      • This is purely an informational scene. All we know is that a weapon has been stolen that will pay off later.
  34. Bruce’s Persona
    • Bruce acts like a pompous billionaire playboy in front of the Wayne higher-ups to deter from his true self. He dallies with beautiful women and buys things that don’t belong to him, all part of Alfred’s suggestion. He meets Rachel and tells her that there is more to him, but Rachel tells him that it’s not who you are underneath but what you do that defines you.
      • Rachel again presents herself as Bruce’s moral compass. His last connection to his childhood, she sees his inner soul in a way no one else seems able to. In a way, she is reminding him not to lose his sense of rightness.
  35. Crane Poisons Falcone
    • Falcone, trying to get put into Crane’s asylum, feigns insanity. To keep him quiet, Crane poisons him with a form of fear serum. Falcone goes insane.
      • The viewer gets a closer look into Crane’s psychology. He is calculating and vicious. He seems to enjoy torturing Falcone and driving him mad, dressing up in theatrics, setting up the situation. For Falcone, his journey is over. Crane has destroyed his mind and therefore his journey.
      • Crane Act Two Climax: Crane poisons Falcone and secures his boss’ wishes.
      • Falcone Act Three Climax: Falcone is driven insane by Crane’s poison.
  36. Batman and Gordon
    • Batman talks with Gordon about the drug shipments. Gordon tells Batman that Flass may know where the other half of the drug shipment went. Gordon lets on that he is trusting Batman more, but has reservations.
      • Gordon starts to trust Batman more now that he knows he is trying to help. With all the corruption around Gordon, he is willing to give a man dressed as a bat a chance to change things.
  37. Batman Interrogates Flass
    • Batman scares Flass into revealing the location of the drugs.
      • The viewer sees again how Bruce uses fear and intimidation to get into the heads of others. Flass rolls over without much push.
  38. The DA is Killed
    • Rachel’s boss is shot dead when he discovers the missing Wayne Enterprises weapon in Gotham.
  39. Batman is Poisoned by the Fear Gas
    • Batman discovers the location of the drugs. Crane is there and poisons Batman with the fear gas. Batman collapses and must be rescued by Alfred.
      • There’s an interesting interaction between Batman and a little boy who sees him on the side of the drug building. In a way, Batman is still young Bruce, fighting to keep his fears away. This appeals to the young boy who sees the same struggle in him.
      • All of Bruce’s fears come rushing back to him when Crane’s toxin hits him: bats, responsibility, the death of his parents. This is a reminder to Bruce that his fears still ultimately drive him. In a way, he is afraid of fear itself and is fighting to keep fear from finding him.
  40. Alfred Tends to Bruce
    • Bruce wakes up from the effects of the toxin. Lucius explains to him what happened and that he has devised an antidote.
      • Bruce appears weak and frail from the effects of the drug, again showing that Batman underneath is still just a man. The viewer can begin to connect the dots into what is happening: who does Crane work for? What is the purpose of the weapon from Wayne Enterprises doing in Gotham? What is this fear toxin?
  41. Bruce and Rachel Reconnect
    • Rachel drops off a birthday present to Bruce: the old arrowhead from their youth. She tells him that her boss is probably dead and that Crane has put Falcone on suicide watch. She rushes to Arkham. Bruce, as Batman, chases after her.
      • The arrowhead represents lost youth for both characters. They remember their past as friends, but are kept apart by their respective duties to the present. Each is fighting crime in their own way and as long as that occurs, they can not be together.
  42. Earle Fires Lucius
    • Earle fires Lucius after he asks too many questions about the missing microwave emitter.
      • The battle for control over Wayne Enterprises takes another turn. Earle has never liked Lucius, viewing him as a protege of Thomas Wayne, whose company he is trying to twist to his own means. The missing microwave emitter is a matter he is trying to hush to keep the company looking good despite the potential damage it could cause. Eliminating Fox gets him one step closer to securing the financial profit he seeks.
      • Wayne Enterprises Act Two Climax: Earle moves to take over the company by removing Lucius and going public.
  43. Crane Kidnaps Rachel
    • Rachel visits Falcone in the asylum and questions Crane’s methods. She witnesses cronies pouring drugs into the sewer system. Crane poisons her with the fear gas and she collapses. Batman and Gordon team up to save her.
      • The viewer knows what Crane is capable of and senses the danger as he goes after Rachel. This creates tension throughout the scene.
      • Crane Act Two Climax: Crane reveals that he is bringing drugs into the city and poisoning the water supply.
  44. Bruce Saves Rachel
    • Batman storms Arkham Asylum to save Rachel. He poisons Crane with his own fear serum and Crane tells him that he works for Ra’s al-Ghul. The police arrive and Bruce uses the cover of bats and the Tumbler to break out and take Rachel back to the Batcave.
      • We again see Bruce use the image of the Batman to instill fear into Gotham. The use of bats and theatrical deception serves him well against the criminals and the police. We again see the Batman through their eyes to see the full effect of Bruce’s scheme.
      • The tumbler’s power and resourcefulness is displayed. This is a setup to the payoff later on in the movie where Gordon must use it to blow up the train.
      • As Bruce rushes past the cells of the inmates at Arkham, one can’t help but wonder that perhaps Bruce himself belongs there. If the crazies think you’re crazy, that should tell you something.
      • Crane Act Three Climax: Crane’s fear gas is turned against him and he goes insane.
      • Gordon Act One Climax: Gordon’s team-up with Batman signals his readiness to take in the Dark Knight’s help.
  45. Batman Talks to Rachel
    • Batman tells Rachel about the drugs in the water supply and how he saved her. He tells her he doesn’t have the luxury of friends.
      • Bruce’s loneliness is illustrated in his distance from Rachel. His Batman cowl keeps them from truly connecting, a barrier between their relationship. When he takes off his cowl when she falls asleep, he appears vulnerable and distant from the camera, showing how he is utterly alone in his new role.
  46. Alfred Chastises Bruce
    • Alfred harshly reminds Bruce that he has to live up to the Wayne family name. Bruce tells him he doesn’t care about his name.
      • Alfred is afraid of losing Bruce to this vigilante he has created. Bruce replies that he doesn’t care about his vestige as a Wayne, echoing the conversation they had in Bruce’s youth. In a way, Bruce is using Batman to escape the mantle of his father. He still feels unworthy about wielding his father’s influence.
  47. The Party
    • Bruce’s birthday party begins. Earle comes to him and tells that with the company going public, the future is secured. Bruce meets Lucius. They figure out that the microwave emitter is going to be used to poison the city. Bruce discovers Ducard, now revealed to be Ra’s al-Ghul, at the party. He threatens him and everyone there. Bruce manages to make his guests leave. Ra’s knocks him and sets the mansion on fire.
      • The mystery is revealed as Ducard presents himself as Ra’s al-Ghul and unveils his plan to destroy Gotham. Bruce must now confront his mentor in order to save the city, but deeper than that, it is also a fight to save his vision of humanity. Is humanity a failed experiement that must be cleansed or is it a race that needs the just rule of law and a moral code to survive? Ra’s vision or Thomas Wayne’s/Rachel’s? Bruce must dig deep within himself to fight for the ideals instilled upon him through family and friends.
      • Ducard Act Two Climax: Ducard reveals his plan to destroy Gotham and sets it in motion.
  48. Alfred Saves Bruce
    • Arkham Asylum’s gates are opened by the League. Alfred rescues Bruce from the fire at the mansion and takes him to the Batcave. Bruce loses hope in himself, but Alfred inspires him to keep going.
      • Alfred takes his role as Bruce’s protector and comes to Bruce’s defense. He will never give up on Bruce.
      • The burning of the Wayne Mansion is hinted at in the beginning of the film. Bruce tells Alfred that he wishes he could burn the mansion down to forget about his past. Now that it is burned down, Bruce worries that he will lose all the remnants of his past. It is this final fear, a fear that Bruce has withheld, that brings Bruce acceptance: his fear of being a Wayne.
      • Alfred Act Two Climax: Alfred saves Bruce and lets him know he’ll never give up on him.
  49. The Final Battle
    • Rachel and Gordon team up in the Narrows as the inmates wreak havoc. Rachel finds the child from earlier and keeps him safe. Batman appears and teams up with Gordon, giving him the tumbler. Batman and Rachel share a moment where he lets her know his identity. Both Batman and Gordon rush and stop Ra’s from finishing his plan.
      • Bruce, reunited in combat with Ra’s, must overcome his failure to defeat him earlier in the story. Ra’s taunts Bruce, repeating that he shouldn’t be afraid, the last words spoken by his father. In a way, Bruce has two fathers, Thomas and Ra’s, one light and one dark, each trying to help him conquer his fear. By defeating Ra’s, Bruce conquers the dark, and by accepting his Wayne name, he embraces the light, becoming one.
      • There is an irony that to save Gotham, Bruce must destroy the monorail. In a way, to rebuild the Wayne legacy, Bruce must physically build back the physical structures that have been demolished: the mansion and the train.
      • Gordon Act Two Climax: Gordon and Batman team up to save the city.
      • Ducard Act Three Climax: Ducard dies as Batman stops him.
      • Bruce Act Three Climax: Bruce saves Gotham and establishes the image of the Batman.
  50. Lucius Reinstated
    • Bruce reveals that he has bought the public shares of Wayne Enterprises and is now once again the owner. Earle has been forced out and Lucius is now the head of the company.
      • With help from Bruce, Lucius retrieves his rightful status. His placement and his connection to Thomas Wayne represent Bruce taking back his family’s name and reputation.
      • Wayne Enterprises Act Three Climax: Bruce takes over the company, reinstates Lucius and forces Earle out.
  51. Bruce Rebuilds the Manor
    • Bruce meets Rachel and promises to rebuild the mansion. She tells him that they can be together once Batman is no longer needed, Bruce Wayne being a facade and Batman being the real person in her eyes. She is proud of him.
      • Bruce’s first act of rebuilding his mansion is sealing up the cave he fell into. This is Bruce healing the hurt that fear inflicted on him.
      • Rachel recognizing that Bruce Wayne is still missing hints that Bruce still has a journey yet to finish. Until Batman’s role in the world is over, they can not be together. As the sequels prove, this is a tragic storyline. However, for the moment, he has regained her trust, trust lost until he cleansed his fear.
      • Bruce finds the stethocope from earlier, remembering his father’s heartbeat. Burned in the wreckage, it may have sent the younger Bruce into a tailspin. But imbued with confidence, Bruce decides to rebuild the house and in essence, his father’s legacy, taking the mantle he had been afraid to embrace for so long.
      • Rachel Act Three Climax: Rachel recognizes Batman and hopes to see Bruce again.
  52. Bruce and Gordon Plan
    • Bruce and Gordon make their plans to bring Gotham back.
      • Gordon now fully trusts Batman, seeing the good he can bring to the city. They are now partners, giving hope not only just to Gordon, but to the whole city.
      • Gordon Act Three Climax: Gordon has hope in making good of the city again as he enlists the Bat signal and accepts Batman.

Overall Analysis:

“Batman Begins” is a terrific film that features a strong connection to the mythic structure of the hero’s journey. The characters are all detailed and necessary, each with interesting arcs that tie into the themes of justice, vengeance and fear. The character examination and journey of Bruce is deep and interesting. The duality of two father figures and their visions really gives the film a rich palette of ideas.

There are a few changes that could have produced a more unified story. Once Bruce completes his training in the League and returns to Gotham, the pace slows as there is not a great internal confrontation to drive Bruce. He has purged his fear and therefore has little left to prove to himself. The process of becoming Batman through the technology and such may be fun to watch, but is not emotionally engaging.

A ticking clock scenario would have proven useful in this instance, something driving Bruce to become the Batman with a deal of pressure. Perhaps the mob has ordered a hit out on the mayor or Bruce sees the young boy of the film abused by his father and needs to save him. In the sequels, this ticking clock scenario is used to great effect with the Joker and Bane’s plans driving the action. Without the League of Shadows storyline in the middle, there is a loss of tension and Bruce is not personally challenged as much. Crane is used somewhat as a challenge to Batman, but he lacks a connection with Bruce and their confrontations never escalate beyond simple hero vs. villain.

In addition, the character of Martha Wayne is given a relatively short stick. She doesn’t really even have a speaking role and her character could have been utilized more to drive Bruce’s anger.

The Earle storyline could have been trimmed somewhat as it is not that important to the overall story or fleshed out a bit more to make it more interesting.

Overall though, the film is a sterling example of what can be accomplished in the superhero genre. Bruce Wayne is a fully dimensional, emotional character that the audience greatly empathizes with, and the film’s themes of personal justice and overcoming fear are heavy and elemental, making the story very memorable and moving.

“Minions” is a boring cashgrab

The appeal of the minions in the Despicable Me series is that they’re funny. When the action and drama takes place, they are there for the comic relief and for a bit of heart as well, reinforcing the emotion of Gru or his adopted daughters. So when they are given their own separate film minus their usual co-stars, something is inherently missing right off the bat. They’re not funny anymore. And that, for an animated film, is deadly.

Minions begins with the formation of the minions, at the dawn of life on earth. They have always sought out the biggest, baddest being to serve, but almost always unwittingly causing their leader’s downfall. They go into a form of self-exile, lost without their life’s purpose. Three minions, Kevin, Stuart and Bob, set out to find a new boss in the summer of 1969. They find Scarlett Overkill (Sandra Bullock) and her husband Herb (Jon Hamm) who stage a plan to steal Queen Elizabeth’s crown.

There was such heavy promotion for the film that nearly all of the best parts have already been seen by the viewer by the time they get to the theater. The result is a harmless and pretty forgettable outing with everyone’s favorite sidekicks.

This is the main problem: the minions are sidekicks. They work best when they are reacting rather than initiating the plot. Viewers will yearn for Gru, Agnes and the others and the emotional pillar they represent. For reference, think to Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow or the Hulk; they work best as part of an ensemble, a supporting player, not as the main character (to highlight just part of the problems with Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and the two solo Hulk films).

The rest of the film is uninspired. That may actually be worse than being a terrible film; you at least remember a terrible film. Minions is instantly forgotten upon leaving the theater.

“Love and Mercy” an alright film

Love and Mercy is the dramatized version of two different parts of The Beach Boy’s Brian Wilson’s life. In the 1960s, he is abused by his father as he attempts to create a “new kind of music” while a burgeoning psychosis and a drug habit start to take hold of his life. In the 1980s, he is broken and under the tutelage of a maniacal therapist (Paul Giamatti) who over-medicates him to keep him in line until he meets a car saleswoman, Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks).

Needless to say, this is heady stuff.

Paul Dano and John Cusack do a commendable job as past and future Brian Wilson and Elizabeth Banks is strong, the heart of the story. Newcomer director Bill Pohlad also does a very good job in screen direction and utilizing his frame.

The issue however is that this is not a new story. It seems that all biopic films about musicians of the 1950s and 1960s feature the same tropes: parental drama, drugs, an unlikely romance that saves the soul of the artist and the allure and depredation of fame. One need only look at films such as Ray (2004), Walk the Line (2005), I’m Not There (2007) and La Vie en Rose (2007) to see the formula used again and again. Granted, there’s only so much filmmakers can do when so many artists have had similar pitfalls and career trajectories, but it has become so repetitive. The film does offer a twist on the formula by showing how manipulation by a close friend (Paul Giamatti as Eugene Landy) can overtake someone’s life and presenting a dual view of Wilson’s issues, but it is still an ‘overcoming drugs and fame through love’ story.

And the film offers little in terms of happiness. It succeeds brilliantly in putting us in Wilson’s shoes (a tribute to the strength of the acting and directing), but it is such a sad and sorry point of view that it’s a bit hard to feel uplifted at the film’s ending since we never really see Wilson happy. A few moments of joy along the way would have gone a long way towards making the emotional conclusion really work.

In addition, Melinda Ledbetter’s role is a little too perfect. She is more representational of “feminine virtue” in a role that could be more dimensional.

Love and Mercy is not a bad film nor a great film. It does some things well and misses at others. You’ll remember some parts and forget others. You’ve seen it before, and you’ll probably see it again. But it illuminates another one of the classic musicians of the 1960s, and you can’t help but feel closer to Brian Wilson at the film’s conclusion. That is at least worth an interest.

‘Logan Lucky’ a steady if unoriginal film

There’s a lot to like about “Logan Lucky.” It features a smart script, some good direction and strong performances. But it isn’t really anything you haven’t seen before. A brother team of robbers? A heist during a sporting event? An elaborate plot to pull of that heist? A dad trying to prove himself to his daughter? All checked.

Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) is having trouble taking care of his daughter, Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie), who lives with his ex-wife (Katie Holmes). He hatches a scheme with his brother, Clyde (Adam Driver) to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway during a race. They enlist the help of their sister, Mellie (Riley Keough), and a prison convict, Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), and set up an elaborate plan. FBI agent Sarah (Hillary Swank) investigates near the end of the story.

The story itself and its execution are solid. There are some funny moments, some good characters bits and some tense situations. It all adds up to a solid film. Director Steven Soderbergh hasn’t lost any of his filmmaking acumen and delivers some solid work.

The problem is the story isn’t all that original or memorable. There’s nothing that really makes it stand out which is a shame because there is some quality work here.

“Logan Lucky” is a lot of fun and worth your time. You may not remember much of it afterwards though.

 

“mother!” is a bunch of crap hidden behind supposed artistry

Darren Aronofsky has made some good films. He’s made some okay films. And now with “mother!” he’s officially made a bad film.

“mother!” tells the story of a woman (Jennifer Lawrence) trying to rebuild a house while her husband (Javier Bardem) struggles to write. As inadvertent guests keep arriving, demanding more and more of her, and her husband’s fame continues to grow, her spontaneous pregnancy becomes dire.

Jennifer Lawrence makes the best out of role that really doesn’t have a lot going for it. None of the characters transcend themselves beyond stereotype and, in effect, it’s hard to feel anything for the characters since they are so uninteresting. The film utilizes style over substance.

The “substance” that the film goes for feels clumsy and outdated. That man will trade in his woman, “his everything”, for the glamorization of others and that woman lets him feels downright anti-feminist in today’s environment. The film is a startling example of the male gaze, viewing woman as treasure, as a symbol of birth and virility, rather than as fully-dimensional characters. Lawrence’s character never stands up for herself, never calls her husband out on his shit and just sort of rolls over at the end of the film. Her “stand” at the end is rather pedantic and uninteresting, something that the audience senses should have come long before. In a way, it’s insulting.

There’s also a lot of hamfisted, over-the-top religious metaphors that are practically useless. Perhaps Jennifer Lawrence is supposed to be viewed as Mother Earth? Who knows. That’s pretty dumb too.

Aronofsky seems to be trying to channel his inner David Lynch. Lynch knows how to make the weird and subliminal work in a motion picture. Aronofsky seems more like a bratty kid in the backrow throwing a temper tantrum to get your attention.

That the film beats its message over your head is painful enough. That its message is downright stupid makes it all the worse.