Movie Recommendations – Volume III

Movie Recommendations – November 2019

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‘Eastern Promises’ (2007) is an excellent film focusing on the role of a mysterious hitman / bodyguard for the Russian Mafia who is forced to be drawn into a situation which forces him to take drastic measures to hide his true intentions. He must do this while protecting a woman who cares for a baby born out of wedlock whose mother died of a heroin addiction after being forced into prostitution. The man must choose where his loyalties lie as he becomes more and more intertwined with his allegiance to the mafia and his affection for the woman caring for the baby and her family.

The man is Nikolai Luzhin, played by the brilliant Viggo Mortensen, whose Russian accent and tattoos make him as feared as he is believable as a Russian gangster caught in the middle between his obligations to his mafia superiors and those of to the British-Russian midwife, Anna Khitrova, played by the excellent Naomi Watts, who pleads for his help and assurance of safety, when she comes upon the newborn baby of mysterious origins. The film’s title says it all in many ways as both of the main characters struggle to hold on to the ‘Eastern Promises’ they are sworn to uphold either by allegiance or by a simple diary left by a dying woman who fears for the future of her baby.

From beginning to end, the film ‘Eastern Promises’ is unique in its subject matter, its portrayal of the inner workings of the Russian mafia, and for the dramatic storyline that leaves you in suspense until the final scene. There are a few plot twists that make the experience even more enriching along with the brutal and realistic fight scenes that are enthralling. Above all else, Viggo Mortensen gives a thrilling performance for someone who had to exert a lot of effort to play a Russian gangster with the tattoos and the accent to show for it. I highly recommend this film.


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‘Ad Astra’ (2019) was an underwhelming box office hit but it was critically acclaimed for a number of good reasons. There are a lot of well-done special effects, heavy themes, and good acting performances especially by the legendary Donald Sutherland and Tommy Lee Jones. While it has not gotten much press, I find it to be on par with other great science fiction movies about space that have come out in the past decade including Gravity, Interstellar, and The Martian.

 ‘Ad Astra’ is unique compared to those other films in terms of its plot line and its themes. Roy McBride (played by Brad Pitt) is a decorated and distinguished major in the U.S. Space Command, who is emotionally detached yet very good at what he does regarding being an astronaut. He has both fame and notoriety as the son of Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), who has been gone by Earth for 16 years and last heard from near Neptune from the last transmission. While he does not have a close relationship with his father, a new threat emerging from that part of the Solar System may be related to ‘Project Lima’ that his father captained. Roy is looking for answers and that is why he enlists to find his father, help save the Earth from these electrical surges, and even discover if we are in fact alone in the universe or not.

Without spoiling too much, this film ‘Ad Astra’ does a good job of showing the likely outcome of interstellar space travel to how Moon bases would shape up to be and how Mars would be used for research purposes among other missions. It also shows the dark side of human nature with rogue scavengers carrying out attacks, overt commercialization coming from Earth-based companies to turn the Moon into a shopping mall / food court, as well as the desire to leave Earth to colonize other planets when the one planet we have has all we need in terms of family, nature, and our search for meaning.

Roy’s character transformation throughout the film is the best part of the movie and he is a reliable narrator to show how space travel may change the course of humanity, but it does not change human nature. At the end of the film, you may be asking, why should we be asking if there is life on other planets when we should be valuing the life, we have here on Planet Earth?


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‘Joker’ (2019). What more can I say about a film that has garnered extensive media coverage, been on the subject of many debates, and been both acclaimed and scrutinized for many different reasons? All there is left to say is that one should see it for themselves and cast their own judgment. Overall, the film is a remarkable tour de force with excellent acting, cinematography, and direction along with a brilliant and moving soundtrack. Joaquin Phoenix is a shoo-in for winning Best Actor at next year’s Academy Awards and definitely deserves it. Any actor who can lose 60 pounds (32 kilograms) for a role, develop an insidious laugh, and show a huge range of emotions in all of one scene deserves huge praise and recognition.

I highly recommend seeing the film because it is more than just a movie about the world’s most famous fictional super villain. There are weighty themes that every audience member should think about such as the role of a society in producing a murderer and how we treat mental illness or the lack thereof. It is also about the gap between the rich and the poor as well as how we tend to live separate lives from each other based on our social status, which could lead to inevitable protests and unrest.

The film, in my opinion, does not condone the actions of Arthur Fleck or Joker (Joaquin Phoenix) but it holds a mirror up to the society that makes a man turn to madness and murder in that the very spot-on assumption that we too play a role in creating a monster like that. When certain people, especially the mentally ill, fall through the cracks, bad things can happen, and it is important to serve those people to get the help and care they need.

I think the main lesson of the film can also be that it is important to always do your best to treat others with kindness and respect because you do not know what is going on in their lives. While the ‘Joker’ is a monster and commits heinous acts worthy of severe punishment, this origin story shines a light on a society that fosters a man like him to turn to crime and murder to feel meaning and purpose. While ‘Joker’ is the one who pulls the trigger, it’s clear that had he gotten the help and support he needs as ‘Arthur Fleck’, there would be no ‘Joker’ to begin with.

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‘Batman Begins’ – Film Review and Analysis

I know what you may be thinking as you read out loud the title of this blog post. You’re probably wondering why I would choose to review and analyze a movie based off a super hero from a comic book series. It may appear to be juvenile but I made this creative choice for a couple of good reasons.

  1. Batman is not just any super hero. He is often ranked as being the most popular and well-known super hero worldwide up there with Superman or the ‘Man of Steel.’
  2. Batman isn’t your traditional super hero to make a movie about due to the fact that he has no super powers, and is an ordinary man who strives to be extraordinary.

A superhero who has been around since the early days of comic books in the early 1930’s, Batman is a popular cultural figure who until the 2000’s came around was never done justice on the silver screen. I remember as a kid watching the overly cartoonish and god-awful early film adaptations such as ‘Batman Forever’ and ‘Batman and Robin.’ The best film up until ‘Batman Begins’ was Tim Burton’s ‘Batman’, released in 1989, and even that movie was a bit goofy and contrived at times. Luckily, Batman on film earned a well-needed revival due to the masterful directing, screenwriting, and casting for Batman Begins, which was released over a decade ago in 2005.

Christopher Nolan, who directed Batman Begins, and helped to write the screenplay, did an amazing job in bringing Batman to life again as a superhero that comes from a realistic setting. Compared to The Avengers or X-Men, this is as close to reality as a superhero film can get. Compared to all of the comic book movies I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a good amount, ‘Batman Begins’ is the most realistic. It never gets too fanciful, and it takes itself seriously as a film that falls under the ‘drama’ genre.

For those readers who are unfamiliar with the origins of Batman, ‘Batman Begins’ does a great job of setting up the rise of this super hero from his childhood to his 30th birthday. You can see how much Bruce Wayne evolves into the role of the masked dark knight due to the painful tragedy that befalls him at an early age.

Bruce Wayne is a boy who grew up with everything a child could ask for: a loving family, a safe home, and a bright future. He has it all taken away from him when his parents are gunned down in front of him by one of the people they were trying to help. The Wayne family comes from immense wealth and they are tied to Gotham City through the generations. The Wayne’s are great benefactors to the city and try to help it out financially so that citizens can gain economic opportunities even during hard times.

The death of Bruce Wayne’s parents is the true beginning of his path to becoming Batman. This film does a great job in showing the phases that Bruce goes through after suffering a trauma such as the loss of his closest family members: his mother and his father. For many years, Bruce turns his deep-seated emotions onto blaming himself to feel the full guilt, the relentless anger, and the deep sadness fully. He is unable to use those powerful emotions, and turn them into constructive action.

An ever-present theme throughout ‘Batman Begins’ is Fear. As a young child, Bruce fell into a deep well near his parents’ mansion, and was unable to get himself out after experiencing a wave of bats surrounding him as they flew away into the sunlight. During an opera performance one night, young Bruce asks his father if they can leave the theater for a little while because he is frightened by the performers pretending to be bats in one of the play’s acts. Because of this fateful decision, for many years, Bruce blames himself completely for his parents’ death because they ended up being shot and killed by the mugger, Joe Chill, after Bruce asked them to leave the theater, and head into the nearby alley.

Bruce seeks out vengeance against the man who killed his parents and wishes to kill Mr. Chill as he leaves the courthouse. He buys a gun one day and wants to take justice into his own hands like a vigilante. Before he is able to do the grisly deed, Joe Chill is killed by one of Carmine Falcone’s men, a Gotham City mob boss. Although Mr. Falcone didn’t kill Bruce’s parents, the corruption befalling the city’s institutions, the unrelenting crime wave, and the lack of a respectable police force have led to more injustice than ever that has left Gotham City a shell of what it used to be.

One of the best scenes of ‘Batman Begins’ highlights the fact that Bruce has more to lose than he knows and should protect the people he cares about. He decides to use Batman as more than just a man flying around in a cape, but more as a symbol to be feared by criminals everywhere, and that anybody can become Batman if they have the will to act. Bruce is wise to use his fear of Bats and turn that fear into a powerful symbol, which criminals will one day fear themselves.

Despite the personal tragedy that befell him, men like Carmine Falcone lecture the young Bruce Wayne regarding his naivety about the world. “You always fear what you don’t understand”, and “people from your world have so much to lose.” Before becoming Batman, Bruce decides to travel the world, learn about the psychology of criminals, train himself in various martial arts, and harness the power of stealth to strike fear into the hearts of Gotham’s underbelly.

In order to learn fully about the evils of the world, Bruce has to go out there himself to experience what actually drives criminals to do what they do. He has to push himself physically and mentally in order to be able to stop them. In order to become Batman, he has to develop a strong moral code so that he can be incorruptible, and more than just a vigilante taking justice into his own hands. In this film, Batman doesn’t kill and he desires to make sure that all criminals face true justice to prove that it’s more than just vengeance for him.

In order to fully develop into Batman, he must complete his training under the tutelage of Henri Ducard (played brilliantly by Liam Neeson). Henri and Bruce have both suffered personal tragedies at the hands of ruthless criminals, but they decide to use their anger and pain to motivate them to strengthen, develop, and confront their adversaries whomever they may be. Bruce becomes Ducard’s best student and excels in different areas of physical and mental training. As Ducard imparts on Wayne, “Your training is nothing, the will is everything. The will to act.”

Batman Begins does an excellent job of showing the physical dexterity and the mental will needed to become a hero like Batman. In addition to that, the training scenes are spectacular in highlighting how Bruce must use deception, theatricality, and stealth in order to overcome his enemies with fear. Most similarly, he must play the role of an actual ninja. “In order to manipulate the fear in others, you must first master the fear within yourself.”

Batman is a symbol that cannot be bought off, corrupted, or killed. Ducard reminds Bruce Wayne of the fact, “If you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, and if they can’t stop you…you become something else entirely…A legend, Mr. Wayne.” However, Ducard and Wayne have a fundamental difference of belief regarding the nature of criminals that puts them on an adversarial footing with each other, which leads to an inevitable confrontation later on. Bruce desires to bring criminals to justice but with the support of the police and the criminal justice system. On a fundamental level, he wants to uphold the institutions of Gotham City to be free of corruption in all of its’ forms.

We find out that Mr. Ducard is no fan of granting any leniency to criminals and wants them to be punished without any hesitation or limits. For Ra’s al-Ghul, Henri Ducard, and the rest of the League of Shadows, an organization that helped train Bruce Wayne to become Batman, crime cannot be tolerated and that criminals thrive when societies indulge themselves by not having them pay the ultimate price of death. Even if the criminal is a despicable murderer, Bruce still believes in the rule of law, wants them to be tried in a fair court, and does not desire to become a singular executioner.

Batman wants to save Gotham City in the right way even though he finds it to be an almost insurmountable task given the lack of allies he has. However, he discovers that he has help with the incorruptible Officer James Gordon of the Gotham City Police Department and his friend, Rachel Dawes, a district attorney who won’t be bought off.

Batman comes up against another villain who desires to strike fear into the heart of Gotham’s citizenry: The Scarecrow (played by Cillian Murphy) who uses fear toxin gas to poison people, and make them do horrible things to each other out of their fear of each other. Bruce Wayne must lead a double life, keep his secret safe, weed out corruption, and be able to combat two villains who use fear to prey on the fearful (Scarecrow and Ra’s al-Ghul).

Instead of using fear against the citizens of Gotham, Batman uses his terrifying appearance to strike fear into the hearts of criminals and villains everywhere. While he understands that justice is never ensured for all criminals, he does not want to be a murderer himself who decides the fate of all those enemies he fights and stops.

‘Batman Begins’ is a deep superhero movie that asks some philosophical and psychological questions regarding the nature of true justice, and how far individuals and a collective society should go in order to stop crime. The film also probes the feeling of ‘fear’ and how a person can master their own fear in order to become mentally and physically stronger.

Christopher Nolan asks the question of how do we control our own fear and keep it from controlling us. Batman is a flawed superhero, but he is able to control his fear to become a legend. His symbolism helps Gotham City to rise up against corruption, crime, and to fight injustice. While he is only just a man without any real superpowers, he is able to inspire others to fight the good fight with his moral example.

In a movie where there’s not much hope, the Batman inspires others to believe in themselves and their city again. He is a regular man, driven into action after going through a terrible tragedy. Instead of being broken by what happened to him at a young age, he uses his pain and sorrow to motivate himself so that others don’t suffer the same kind of tragedy in life of losing a loved one. As a superhero and as a film character, Batman sets himself up as an example to follow for the audience even if it is a fictional story.

Making a super hero film is an extremely difficult process, which is why director Christopher Nolan should be given a lot of credit. Mr. Nolan has directed a lot of great films including Inception and Interstellar. Batman Begins is the first of three movies in the Dark Knight film series, and it may be the most underrated of them all. He and his team did a great job of bringing this character back onto the big screen in a big way.

It’s a realistic take on the Batman, and its’ a film franchise that has produced three excellent, unique films. For myself and many other fans, Batman Begins is more than just a simple superhero movie. It is a morality tale about hope overcoming fear, how to overcome adversity to become a stronger person, and how to set an example for others to follow in your footsteps.

Batman has survived in our popular culture for so long because you get the sense that he is a relatable character for many people despite the fiction behind it. Ultimately, he is a man who has his strengths, his weaknesses, yet he is ultimately fallible. Still though, he is a powerful individual that strives to fight for justice, hope, and wants to bring the best out of others. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to become a superhero like Batman to emulate those characteristics. You just have to do the right thing and be a good person.