Wednesday, March 30, 2011

It sure suckered me - but kinda in a good way

Sucker Punch
My rating:

I am not particularly a fan of Zack Snyder. He had a solid debut with the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, but with his next film 300 got pegged as The Guy Who Makes Comicbook Movies. His adaptation of Watchmen was eagerly anticipated by yours truly, but I found it wholly disappointing; in his obsession with capturing the style of the Alan Moore-Dave Gibbons graphic novel, he completely lost the substance. Style over substance is pretty much Snyder's calling card nowadays (and his last film did nothing to change that), so I wasn't expecting much from his latest. Revoke my geek credentials, but it takes more than a trailer featuring sword-wielding fuku-clad hot chicks fighting samurai robots and dragons to get me excited.

Sucker Punch has all that and more - and less. But surprisingly, it does have substance.

A young girl (Emily Browning) is admitted to an insane asylum by her abusive stepfather (Gerard Plunkett), who then bribes an orderly named Blue (Oscar Isaac) to forge papers that will have her lobotomized in five days. She escapes from the misery of her surroundings into her own mind, creating a fantasy in which she is Babydoll, the newest addition to a bordello run by Blue, and in which Madam Gorsky (Carla Gugino) trains the girls in their burlesque dance routines. She discovers that when she dances, she enters yet another layer of fantasy in which she is a powerful warrior, charged by a Wise Man (Scott Glenn) to find five items that will earn her her freedom. Babydoll recruits four other fellow inmates/prostitutes - sisters Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) and Rocket (Jena Malone), Amber (Jamie Chung) and Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) - in her plan to steal these items, both from the bordello and the war-torn fantasy world.

Let's get this out of the way first: the action scenes, inspired by anime/videogames/fantasy/sci-fi/dieselpunk/the kitchen sink, are exactly what you'd expect from the trailers. Yes, Babydoll wears a midriff-baring sailor suit and wields a katana. She fights giant robot samurai, then joins her fellow girl warriors in WWI-esque trenches to fight zombie Nazis (yes yes, it's WWI, but they might as well be Nazis) along with a mech that has a bunny painted on the front. Later there's orcs, and a dragon, and a futuristic train, and killer robots. If I sound less than utterly wowed, it's because I ain't quite down with Snyder's approach to action scenes, which is to shoot them in one gorgeously-composed, frame-worthy shot after another. He just wants it to look cool. I want choreography in my action scenes; I want to see tactics, reversals, moves and counter-moves. Fight choreographer Damon Caro did his job, but Snyder just wasn't interested in showing us all that.

Which is not to say I wasn't somewhat wowed. I was. They were fun. Especially since the non-action scenes were often not fun; as a matter of fact, they were pretty draggy. It takes its own sweet time establishing the brothel setting, which wouldn't be so bad if Snyder wasn't so deficient in basic storytelling craft. The characters were all flat, and even the ones we get to know the most - Babydoll, Rocket and Sweet Pea - have little personality. The other two were practically not in it at all (and not surprisingly, their actors were the two worst among the five). Babydoll's plan for escape consists of obtaining four items ("the fifth... is a mystery") but doesn't include how to use them, and the others never question this minor omission. The dialogue throughout is just dull. ("If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything"? Yeah, that's new.) And never showing what Babydoll's supposedly mesmerizing dances look like is never anything but a cop-out.

So, fun action scenes but fail everything else - why then did I rate this higher than World Invasion: Battle Los Angeles? Because of its ending. That is a pretty damn ballsy ending, and probably the last thing the trailers would've led you to expect. It's an ending that calls into question everything you've seen before, and ties into things established from the very beginning - and yes, the comparisons to Inception are apt, even beyond the multiple-layers-of-unreality thing. It's that rare ending that's unexpected yet appropriate, and I gotta hand it to Snyder and his co-writer Steve Shibuya for even attempting it. It almost justifies Snyder using it as a tissue-thin platform on which to hang all his nerdgasmic fetishes.

I said almost. Because this movie clearly wants to be all about the female empowerment, and not just with the kickass action heroines - both the brothel and asylum settings are clearly meant to emphasize the downtrodden girls rebelling against the evil males. And yet Snyder has them dress in bustiers and hot pants and fishnet stockings even in the fantasy action sequences, when they're supposed to be all empowered and emancipated and doin'-it-for-themselves. This isn't the biggest incongruity for me, honestly (I'm proudly feminist, but I don't happen to think that women in sexy outfits automatically equals sexual exploitation of women); what is is the fact that Snyder then piles on the mechs and Nazi zombies and dragons and robots and stuff that appeals to teenage boys. Who are you targeting your female empowerment message to, Zack? Did you honestly think those trailers show anything that could possibly appeal to young girls?

Well, they appeal to me. Both the wildly imaginative fantasy sequences as well as the female empowerment. It's terribly flawed in both execution and conception - and intent - and I didn't even like it all the way through, but I still liked it. And that ending had a lot to do with my liking it. I said this movie has substance, and that substance is in the message that that ending drives home: when things are at their bleakest and most hopeless, your only recourse is defiance. Even if it is futile. Even if it cannot save you. Even if you still lose in the end. Because even when all choices are taken away from you, you can still choose to defy. Because defiance is all you have. And sometimes, defiance can even make a difference. Mr. Snyder, I'll high-five you just for that.

NEXT REVIEW: Cun!, finally

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Well, it sure ain't Dialogue Los Angeles or Character Development Los Angeles

World Invasion: Battle Los Angeles
My rating:

Parallel development strikes again! Just four months after the last alien invasion movie, we get another one. I hesitate to call this a trend, since with only two films it could just be a coincidence (unless you count outliers like District 9 and Monsters - a U.K.-produced indie that sadly never made it to our screens). (Although there is Cowboys & Aliens coming out later this year...) Pundits may speculate on what it is about the cultural zeitgeist that is giving rise to all these movies with evil extraterrestrials, but I don't think there's anything worth thinking about there yet. Skyline aimed to be nothing more than a dumb-as-rocks fun thrill ride with aliens, and Battle: Los Angeles (it's original title) looks to be just as profound and meaningful. Just look at that title. Seriously, it's a ridiculously unimaginative title.

And it's a ridiculously unimaginative movie. But at least it's decent fun.

Just days before U.S Marine Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) is due to retire, several meteorites crash off the coast of the world's major cities. They are in fact heralds of an alien invasion, spearheaded by ground troops who kill every human being in their path. Nantz is recalled into a platoon led by Lt. William Martinez (Ramón Rodríguez), and tasked with evacuating citizens from a Los Angeles police station. Later joined by Air Force Tech Sergeant Elena Santos (Michelle Rodriguez), the marines will have to fight a running urban battle with the alien forces, find a group of civilians comprising two adults (Bridget Moynahan, Michael Peña) and three children, and get to safety before an Air Force bombing run levels the entire city. But Nantz will also have to live down a personal shame - several members of his former platoon were killed in action in Iraq. And the brother of one of them is now under his command.

This movie runs 116 minutes, but I reckon a good 90 of them are made up of constant action scenes. It's been described as "Black Hawk Down meets Independence Day", and watching it proves it was also conceived as just that. And the action scenes are pretty good. I was worried about the shaky-cam, which director Jonathan Liebesman employs even in the opening pre-invasion scenes of the marines on an ordinary, non-alien-battling day; but when the bullets (or whatever the aliens use) start flying, it didn't bother me. And considering how much time it spends on the battle scenes, it's a damn good thing that there's plot to all of them. It's not just a mindless cacophony of explosions (*coughMichaelBaycough*); the heroes' objectives and the threats they face were always clear, and I could always make out what was going on. (I feel sorry for Roger Ebert who couldn't.)

However, everything other than the action scenes were pretty much fail. The dialogue is terrible, the characters are blank slates, and the "emotional" moments are tired old clichés. Guess what, the Lt. is fresh out of officer training, whereas his sergeant is a grizzled old veteran! Oh em gee, I wonder how they'll fare in combat? Also, one character has a pregnant wife, and writes a letter to her after he finds out he's going into battle. It's oh so suspenseful wondering if he'll get to see her again! A scary noise turns out to be a dog, so of course there weren't really aliens behind that fog, oh no. And when some of the wounded marines are being airlifted away, surely they won't suddenly get shot out of the sky, riiiight? To be honest, even stuff like this could work if Liebesman and his screenwriter Chris Bertolini weren't so po-faced about it, as if they're unaware - or think us unaware - of how hackneyed it all is.

And they certainly didn't develop the characters enough to make it work; I didn't even bother mentioning the names of the rest of the platoon in my synopsis, because none of them have any personalities to speak of. Among the civilians they rescue are two little girls, and it's telling that we never even learn their names (In fact, Liebesman keeps cutting to teary close-ups of the younger and cuter one, and completely ignores her older sister.) People die, and the film wants you to think it's sad and tragic when it's just dull. There's a long bit in the midsection in which Nantz's subplot is dealt with, and it's supremely corny and slow. Did no one in Hollywood learn the lessons of Aliens, in which a similar troop of jarheads were given brief but effective characterizations that made it all the more effective when they started dropping like flies? This movie does all that wrong where James Cameron's sci-fi classic went right.

Also, it's dumb. Not just its dialogue, which even in basic tough-guys-trading-quips form is sorely lacking in any real wit, but also its science fiction aspects. At one point, we are presented with the hypothesis that the aliens are invading us for water, because it is so rare and precious in its liquid form. Quick science lesson: there's plenty of water right here in our solar system, albeit in frozen form, which you can convert into liquid by melting it, durr. There are bits in which the aliens seem blind as bats, letting the marines sneak by right under their noses unmolested, because apparently it wasn't quite time yet for another action scene. And finally, there's just no getting past this: it makes no goddamn sense for an extraterrestrial force bent on exterminating the local populace not to employ orbital bombardment. These morons achieved interstellar travel before we did??

Wow, that's a lot of carping for a 3-star movie. I did say the action scenes are fun, and that there are a lot of 'em. And Aaron Eckhart continues to be one of the most underrated leading men in Hollywood (but even he doesn't know what to do with that "I'm sorry your brother died" scene). But that alone is a pretty low standard to hold a movie to, even an action movie. I don't adhere to the "who needs plot and character in a movie like this?" school of thought; character development, dialogue, and basic respect for the audience's intelligence are the basis of all movies. And damn right an action movie can have those things, just look at the acknowledged classics of the genre like Die Hard, Terminator 2 and yeah, Aliens. World Invasion: Battle Los Angeles shouldn't get a pass for skimping on them, just because it delivered on the thrills.

NEXT REVIEW: Sucker Punch
Expectations: not much, frankly

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Don't bring the kids

My rating:

This is an odd movie. It's not just the first animated film for director Gore Verbinski, he of Pirates of the Caribbean fame, but also for Industrial Light and Magic, which is better known as one of the great SFX houses. Its first teaser trailer was exceedingly weird; followed by a full-length trailer that was more conventional, but not exactly inspiring. Then came glowing reviews from Roger Ebert and James Berardinelli and even a positive one from AV Club, which finally tipped the scale to from "run-of-the-mill animated cartoon from a non-Pixar studio" to "interesting movie I should catch". Still, the fact that it's neither a Pixar nor a DreamWorks production, nor even one helmed by anyone with any experience in animated filmmaking, left me with no idea what to expect.

It's still an odd movie. But an original and entertaining one at that.

A pet chameleon (Johnny Depp) with identity issues gets accidentally stranded in the middle of the Nevada desert. After an encounter with a spiritual pilgrim armadillo (Alfred Molina) and a hungry hawk, he comes upon the run-down desert town of Dirt, populated by a cosmopolitan community of toads, rabbits, mice, and other critters. Thinking to reinvent himself as a Wild West hero, he adopts the name Rango and spins a tall tale that the gullible townsfolk fall for easily. And when he (accidentally) kills the hawk, he is hailed as a hero and appointed sheriff by the Major (Ned Beatty) - although the rancher's daughter Beans (Isla Fisher) remains skeptical. Because what Dirt needs isn't a sheriff, it's water; the town faces a severe water crisis, made worse when a clan of hillbilly moles led by Balthazar (Harry Dean Stanton) steals their last remaining water reserves. Rango sets out to save the town - but when the vicious gunslinger Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy) comes a'callin', he'll find his self-spun heroic reputation doesn't hold water. (And throughout the film, a band of mariachi owls foretell Rango's doom.)

Well, it's definitely not for kids, despite being a 3D-animated cartoon. The character design is your first clue; none of the characters are deliberately "cute", not even the little mouse girl voiced by Abigail Breslin, although they are all beautifully designed and characterized. Your second clue is that it's very much an homage to westerns, a genre that not a lot of kids are familiar with; it's packed with references to dozens of older films, not all of which are even westerns. (I'm told there's a Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in-joke somewhere in there.) I fear for its commercial prospects - and the harried parents bringing their hyperactive kids to watch this - because I thought it was a lot of fun. For one thing, as I have previously mentioned, I like westerns.

For another, the movie is frequently hilarious. I laughed out loud a good three or four times in this; I don't know what it is about the "western" accent that makes funny dialogue funnier, but it just does. In fact, I'm pretty sure I missed a line or two, and I sorely wished it was in Digital 2D, which affords sharper picture and sound. The humour is often of a slightly more sophisticated sensibility than your average Pixar or DreamWorks effort, though there are still plenty of sight gags - and action scenes, at which Verbinski is an old hand. The standout bit is a canyon chase scene that pays homage to both the Star Wars Death Star trench run and old-fashioned western stagecoach robbery sequences. That one was a lot of fun.

It's just too bad that it's not fun all of the way. The AV Club review is right, its basic plot is terribly formulaic and predictable. And I suspect Verbinski, and his screenwriter John Logan, think their theme of identity is a lot more profound than it really is, which might explain the interminable late second act. This is most likely the point where anyone who still thinks this is a kids' cartoon would get turned off completely; it is surreal and dream-like and culminates in Rango achieving a spiritual epiphany via yet another movie reference that's gonna sail over the heads of anyone who isn't a fan of classic westerns. Oh, and there's a mystery plot (that's a takeoff on Roman Polanski's Chinatown - y'know, that children's classic) that also takes its own sweet time to unfold but doesn't turn out to be particularly clever.

Clearly, Verbinski didn't set out to make a typical family-friendly animated film. The director has rounded up a star-studded cast of character actors, and had them record their lines while acting out the scenes as if it were a live-action film, complete with props and costumes. It looks like they had a ball doing it, and it comes through in their performances. It also helps that the character design doesn't do the thing where they try to mimic the actors' features; thus folks like Isla Fisher and Bill Nighy are practically unrecognizable, and you can just focus on their voices. (And besides the ones I mentioned, there's also Ray Winstone, Stephen Root, Gil Birmingham, and a Timothy Olyphant cameo, and I'm betting you won't recognize any of 'em.)

I'm calling it now: Rango is a cult film in the making. It's too weird and idiosyncratic to make much box-office - especially if Nickelodeon Movies, of all studios, are trying to sell it to kids - but it's that same singular uniqueness that'll inspire the kind of rabid following a cult film gets. One might criticize Verbinski and Logan and co. for being self-indulgent, making what looks like a children's cartoon but most assuredly is not. And one could certainly criticize them for that slow midsection, and for taking their subtext a little too seriously. But one could also commend them for having a wildly original creative vision, sticking to it, and pulling off a movie that succeeds at entertaining just the right kind of audience. Which includes me, so that's what I'm gonna do.

NEXT REVIEW: World Invasion: Battle Los Angeles
Expectations: yes yes, the trailers were cool, but that title

Monday, March 21, 2011


Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa
My rating:

Enough ink has been spent on how ambitious this movie is, what a major leap forward it is for the local film industry, how we should all be proud of it, yadda yadda yadda. And it's that last that raised my cynicism levels, because seriously, why should we be proud that Malaysia made a historical epic film? Why not a good historical epic film? Because every review I've read of it so far has noted its shortcomings, but ended by saying we should be proud that we've finally made a movie like this, which I don't buy for a hot second. KRU Studios made a fantasy musical that I thought was decent, but a historical epic action-adventure is a whole nother ball of twine - because I like historical epic action-adventures, and I know what makes a good one. So damn straight I'm gonna judge this movie by international standards, and not make weaselly comments like "bagi filem tempatan, kira baik jugaklah".

And by those standards, Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa - sold overseas as The Malay Chronicles: Bloodlines, an utterly meaningless title - just doesn't cut it.

It is the year 120AD, and a marriage has been arranged between the world's greatest kingdoms of the time, China and Rome. Prince Marcus Caprenius (Gavin Stenhouse) and Princess Meng Li-hua (Jing Lusi) are to meet on neutral ground and a "kingless land" - the Golden Chersonese. But the Roman expedition meets with misfortune along the way, and are forced to hire their passage in the Indian port of Goa - and thus they meet the vagabond sea captain Merong Mahawangsa (Stephen Rahman-Hughes). He brings Marcus to the Golden Chersonese safely, where they rendezvous with Admiral Liu Yun (Craig Fong) of the Chinese entourage, and Marcus meets his betrothed bride and her handmaiden Ying Ying (Nell Ng). But then a tribe of sea pirates called the Gerudans attack, led by their sorcerer Taji (W. Hanafi W. Su) and his general Kamawas (Khir Rahman), kidnapping the Princess and leaving Merong for dead. Until he is rescued by Kesum (Dato' Rahim Razali) and his daughter Embok (Ummi Nazeera), who inform him of a prophecy that foretells his great destiny.

At its best, it's reminiscent of old-fashioned Hollywood swashbucklers like 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood and 1940's The Sea Hawk. That'd be high praise coming from anyone but me, because I didn't much like either of them. There was an affected pageantry to costume epics of that era that I often found campy and artificial, and I felt the same way about Hikayat - though I'm pretty sure that "affected pageantry" wasn't what director Yusry Abdul Halim was going for. Because at its worst, it's like a school play put on by a fresh-out-of-Maktab-Perguruan teacher with more enthusiasm than sense. Everyone, Yusry included, seemed like clueless kids trying to play grown-up.

Oh okay, it looks good. The best thing it has going for it is its production design, with some neat-looking sets (or neat-looking CGI compositing, which is fine either way). But when it comes to actual flesh-and-blood people, it is mostly LOL and facepalm. For one thing, the Chinese characters are saddled with this ridiculous accent that has Princess Meng saying things like "I wan you to hell me wizzis". For another, everyone speaks English. No, not English for the benefit of modern audiences that is understood to be Mandarin or Latin or whatever period-and-culture-appropriate language they're supposed to be using - because there are parts when they speak actual Mandarin and Latin and helpfully inform us when they're doing so. And when they do so, the dubbing is painfully obvious.

And Stephen Rahman-Hughes is fail. The London-based actor claims to be unfamiliar with BM, but he delivers his English lines in the same stilted and self-conscious manner, and his overly-theatrical body language betrays his stage training (which doesn't work for screen acting, brudder!). All he does is swagger about shirtlessly, mug shamelessly, toss his perfectly-coiffed kutu rock hair, and generally behave like an epic hero without actually doing anything heroic. The first we see of him is beating up the brother of some Indian princess he seduced, and this somehow qualifies him for the position of ambassador for the Roman royal wedding party. Later, he becomes king of the proto-Malay tribes of the Chersonese via prophecy, the favoured trope of Designated Heroes everywhere. Some achieve greatness, some have greatness thrust upon them; Merong lives in a world that automatically assumes he's great.

Which is as much the fault of the screenplay as it is of Rahman-Hughes. Now, screenwriter Amir Hafizi sounds like a smart guy (and has excellent taste in reading material), and perhaps his faux-Shakespearean dialogue might have sounded better coming from actually capable actors. But the nuts-and-bolts of the plot are weak. It isn't till a third of the way in that the story for Merong, the ostensible protagonist, actually begins; and when it does, it takes too many shortcuts in turning him into a leader of an entire kingdom. His romance with Embok makes no sense, and is told through a narrator VO - the same shortcut The Last Airbender took, which is a movie no good filmmaker should emulate. And it ends in a head-slappingly abrupt manner, leaving unresolved every plot thread and character relationship it took pains to develop.

But frankly, most of the blame ought to go to Yusry. His direction is simply asinine, and never misses an opportunity to pick the entirely wrong shot or angle. He overuses digital colour correction to the point where certain scenes - one that used the day-for-night technique, in particular - turned out noticeably grainy. I wasn't at all impressed by the fight scenes either; the choreography was decent, but they were shot and staged with no inkling of how to make them exciting or dramatic. (And features a 1st-century Roman warrior displaying impressive skill with, of all things, Eskrima sticks.) The large-scale battles failed to hide their low-budget limitations, and there's always a LOLworthy extra in the background (sometimes foreground) who doesn't know what he's supposed to be doing.

Worst of all is how he directs his actors, which is to say, not at all whatsoever. It's clear that he simply left it up to them to do their own thing. Craig Fong is wooden. Gavin Stenhouse is blandly earnest. Jing Lusi wants to be a kickass kungfu heroine in a movie that doesn't have one. Nell Ng would much rather be in a Jack Neo comedy. Dato' Rahim Razali phones it in. (And I have no idea why Kesum wasn't in the climactic battle, seeing as how the story already set up his vendetta with Taji.) I was about to give kudos to Ummi Nazeera, who displayed a glimpse of talent, until she got relegated to the background. I suppose Khir Rahman was alright as the villainous heavy, and the dialogue I see quoted in the reviews I've read (that are far more generous than mine) are all his. He does get a pretty cool exit line - he uses his dying breath to gloat about raping his killer's woman.

See, it's stuff like that that I was hoping for. Some genuine awesomeness, some legitimate epicness, something that would've justified making a historical epic action-adventure. But there's precious little of it; all we get is a grab-bag of clichés and ideas stolen from other movies, listlessly strung together. If a comparison is to be raised between this and Puteri Gunung Ledang, I'd say that one was better, even with its many failings. At least it attempted to be a uniquely Malay historical epic film, with its own lush and stately tone. Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa is a poor imitation, a wannabe with no personality of its own. I'm sure I'll be the lone voice of dissension in the wake of all the "bagi filem tempatan, kira baik jugaklah" praise being heaped on it, but someone has to keep an objective eye. Yusry and KRU Studios have made a historical epic. They haven't made a good one.

Expectations: wow, what's with these great reviews it's been getting?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Love is the most powerful force in the universe, yo

The Adjustment Bureau
My rating:

Ever since the seminal sci-fi film Blade Runner adapted his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? in 1982, Philip K. Dick has enjoyed a reputation as The Sci-Fi Author Whose Works Get Made Into Movies. There have now been nine that were based on his novels and short stories (eleven if you count a French film and a direct-to-DVD sequel); it's a pity he died before he got to enjoy the massive amounts of money they would've earned him. Why his stories are so popular with filmmakers, and what makes them inherently filmable and/or commercial, I will leave to those who've read them to examine; I'm just gonna focus on this movie. But here's a review of The Adjustment Bureau from the excellent sci-fi site io9 that takes the angle of how the film compares to Dick's story, and how faithful it is to his themes and style.

I guess I liked it more than they did. But they're right in that it could've been a lot more faithful.

The day that New York Senatorial candidate David Norris (Matt Damon) loses his election, he meets, and instantly falls in love with, a woman named Elise (Emily Blunt). Then on the same day he runs into her again by chance, he also makes a shattering discovery: the world is constantly being "adjusted" by a group of strange men in suits, with the power to affect reality itself. One of them, named Richardson (John Slattery), threatens to "reset" him if he reveals their existence, and furthermore tells him he cannot be with Elise; later, a sympathetic Adjuster named Harry (Anthony Mackie) tells him more about the plan that they follow, a plan to shape the entire world - dictated by their mysterious Chairman - that forbids David and Elise from being together. But David continues to defy the plan and pursue the woman he loves, who loves him in return just as strongly. Until another Adjuster named Thompson (Terence Stamp) intervenes and shows him the consequences of deviating from the plan.

Okay, I may not have read much Dick, but I've read of him, and I know that free will - the limits of it, and the illusion of it - is one of the themes he often writes about. This movie isn't about free will, or at least it's not just about it; it's about love, the power of love, and how defiant it can be in the face of even cosmic forces. Which I can dig, yo. Honest to the Chairman, underneath this facade of the cynical, hard-hearted film critic lies a hopeless romantic. David and Elise are willing to fight for their love to the point of defying God Himself - which is of course who the coyly-named Chairman is, with the Adjusters being His angels. The film is more a love story than anything else, and it succeeds quite handily in this respect. Matt Damon and Emily Blunt have great chemistry, and it's easy to root for them to get together.

But it's questionable whether emphasizing the romance aspects over everything else was the wisest choice. Because a story about mysterious men in charge of our destinies - the thought of not having free will - is freaky, yo, and that's a huge vein that the film just doesn't seem interested in mining. What we learn about them is pretty cool; its depiction of celestial forces as modern American corporation, complete with yes-men and small-minded middle management, is almost satirical, and there are fascinating little details about their weaknesses, their means of travel, even their hats. (I thought it was going somewhere by having three Adjusters named Richardson, Donaldson and Thompson.) Early trailers even seemed to paint it as something akin to The Matrix, and among the long list of movies that owe huge debts to Dick, that one's near the top.

Still, I found myself swept along by the romance, and the titanic struggle that our hero and heroine undergo for love. Unfortunately, it fails to stick its ending; in fact, it falls into the same pitfall that bedevils* many a story about God and His omnipotence. I'll not reveal it since it's a spoiler, but it is woefully anticlimactic, and even Damon's largely solid performance falters in this scene. It was enough to knock a good half-star off my rating, and brought into sharp relief a number of flaws I was otherwise willing to overlook. Harry's motives for helping David aren't very clear, and it seems awfully convenient that his help is what gives David a chance against literally godlike forces. (And Anthony Mackie always seemed a little off-key). Elise is also something of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, a hoary old cliché that I can no longer not notice.

Damon and Blunt are, as mentioned, terrific. Terence Stamp only needs to show up to be sinister. I haven't watched Mad Men, the TV series for which John Slattery is most famous, but he's a lot of fun to watch here. And writer/director George Nolfi is most famous for having had a hand in writing The Bourne Ultimatum, and there are times when his direction generates the suspense and tension of a good old-fashioned thriller. But he is ultimately just the latest in a long line of filmmakers who simply didn't know what to do with a Dickian story. And ultimately, The Adjustment Bureau didn't really have to sacrifice the metaphysically paranoiac elements of its premise just to give us an affecting love story. There's no reason why a sci-fi romance has to downplay the sci-fi.

Which reminds me of The Time Traveler's Wife, another sci-fi romance that did the exact same thing, to its detriment. But I liked The Time Traveler's Wife, and I quite liked this movie too, because once again: TMBF = starry-eyed, bleeding-heart, hopeless faggoty romantic. It's a good date movie, although it could've been much more. But in the interests of providing the kind of thought-provoking that this movie neglected to, here's some food for potentially inflammatory thought: The Adjustment Bureau is a profoundly Christian film, because love is paramount in Jesus' teachings. It is also a profoundly un-Islamic film, because submission to the will of God is paramount in Islam. Discuss!

NEXT REVIEW: Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa
Expectations: not much, frankly

* Pun not really intended, despite my firm belief that puns are a form of humour that's at least in the mid-upper range.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A farewell to arm

127 Hours
My rating:

(Sorry if you were expecting my review of Cun! That one's only getting released on the 31st, so I think I can keep my review on the backburner for a while. Also, re: that post title: Thank you! I'll be here all night!)

Thus endeth the spate of award-nominated movies in our local cinema circuit. Distributors were kind enough to bring in 5 of them in the past few weeks - The King's Speech, True Grit, Black Swan, The Fighter and 127 Hours - which leaves only Winter's Bone and The Kids Are All Right out of the 10 nominees for this year's Best Picture Oscar that we never got to see in theatres. I guess kudos to them are in order. Anyway, this one's the last of them, or at least the last one I chose to watch.

And as good as it is, it's definitely near the bottom of the list.

In 2003, Aron Ralston (James Franco) went canyoneering alone in the Blue John Canyon in Utah. He meets two hikers (Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn), but after leaving them, an accident pins his arm against a fallen rock and traps him at the bottom of the canyon, with no one for miles around - and no one even knowing where he went. He rations his food and water and attempts various means of escape, but hunger and exhaustion - and despair - begin to take their toll. Realizing he may die here, he starts reminiscing - and hallucinating - about his parents (Treat Williams and Kate Burton), his sister (Lizzy Caplan), and his ex-girlfriend (Clémence Poésy). Eventually, summoning his will to live, he cuts off his own arm with a blunt multi-tool - and this is not a spoiler, because Aron Ralston's story is entirely true.

I am less familiar with the films of Danny Boyle than I wish. I have only ever seen A Life Less Ordinary (liked it a lot, think it highly underrated), The Beach (interesting but erratic), 28 Days Later (genre classic, probably his best to date) and Sunshine (great for sci-fi buffs like myself, but erratic). I haven't seen the other two films he's most famous for, Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire (I have the DVD for this, and it's there on my I-really-ought-to-get-to-it-someday list). Sunshine proved that Boyle is a genre fan, and I really wanted him to tackle horror or sci-fi again, perhaps maybe a thriller or action film or fantasy or period adventure. Instead he chose to adapt Aron Ralston's ordeal into film, which I guess I can't blame him for because it is certainly a movie-worthy story. But all things considered, I would've preferred he make something else.

Don't get me wrong, it's a good movie. James Franco gives the performance of his career, and together with Boyle and his co-writer Simon Beaufoy, make Ralston an instantly sympathetic and relatable character. Boyle's direction is as flashy and imaginative as ever, giving visual flair to a story of a man stuck in one spot for five days. The early scenes are lots of fun, combining Boyle's direction with A.R. Rahman's propulsive score to put us in Ralston's outdoor-loving, thrill-seeking mindset. And the infamous amputation scene is pretty damn powerful; it didn't make me faint or require medical attention like some people, but to me - since I am usually quite squeamish about gore - this means the film dealt with it just right, making it intense and painful to watch without being exploitative.

The thing is, I expect more of a film hailed as one of the year's best and nominated for a slew of... Academy Awards? Okay, I take that back; their choice of this year's Best Picture confirms yet again my low opinion of their credibility. But perhaps I expect more of a film based on this story, one of the most extraordinary feats of survival ever recorded. As I have previously said about Buried, to which this movie bears many similarities, the best (only!) way to watch a film is to let it get under your skin - to put yourself fully in the shoes of its protagonist and imagine everything that happens to him happening to you. So if I were to find myself trapped at the bottom of a canyon, faced with the choice of either slowly dying of starvation and dehydration or cutting my arm off with a dull knife... I imagine I'd reexamine my life to a far deeper extent than Ralston did (at least as this film shows).

Now, perhaps Boyle and Beaufoy wanted to stick closely to Ralston's experience, as depicted in the book he wrote about it. And I suppose it's admirable that they resisted the temptation to Hollywood-ize the story. But really, whatever soul-searching the cinematic Ralston went through is really kinda shallow. His dad introduced him to his love of the outdoors; he regrets not picking up the phone when his mom called just as he was leaving on his trip; and he used to play piano duets with his younger sister. That's about the sum total of all that Aron Ralston is. Even what seems to be his biggest regret, a bad break-up with his former girlfriend, is dealt with perfunctorily, because we never see why they broke up. Boyle's restless camerawork tries to give all this some energy, but it doesn't hide how slow the movie feels in its mid-section.

The closest it gets to profundity is when Ralston determines that the rock has been waiting for him throughout its existence, just as his entire life has brought him to the moment it fell and trapped his hand. That's something I can imagine myself thinking, and perhaps realizing that this is my life's single greatest challenge might be my impetus for doing what Ralston did to free himself. It isn't Ralston's however; he is roused to action by something else entirely, which I thought was a better idea than it was executed. It's kinduva spoiler, so I'll put my thought on it behind this SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read): the kid was creepy-looking.

But yes, it really is a good movie - it's just not a really good movie, and nowhere near one of the year's best. Ralston comes across as just this really ordinary dude - crazy about the outdoors, loves his family but doesn't call his mom often enough, had a girlfriend, broke up - who underwent an extraordinary ordeal, and it's this ordinariness that makes it a less-than-gripping story. Perhaps a Hollywood-ization (give him a troubled past! A long-lost love! And a road to redemption!) may have made it better - or maybe not. Still, the extraordinariness is what makes it a worthy film despite everything else. Because if I were to be really honest with myself, if I were to end up trapped like Ralston was... I'd probably just lay down and die.

NEXT REVIEW: The Adjustment Bureau
Expectations: not another Bourne movie, that's for sure

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The white trash of Lowell

The Fighter
My rating:

I have just recently discovered something about my tastes in movies (which is something to discover, since most people only know what they like or dislike without knowing why): I like stories about good people. Intelligent people, talented people, noble and selfless people, capable people who nonetheless go up against overwhelming odds that challenge all their wits and skills and principles. They may be flawed people, and they may pay a price for their flaws, but they are still worthy of respect and admiration - which is what makes them worthy of me watching them for 2 hours. This is probably why I liked Fair Game so much.

And this is probably also why I don't see what's so great about The Fighter.

Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) is the half-brother of Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), a former boxer whose claim to fame is knocking down Sugar Ray Leonard once years ago. But now Dicky is a washed-up crack addict living off his former glory - and Micky has his own struggling boxing career, incompetently managed by his mother Alice (Melissa Leo) and ineffectually trained by his brother. When he is defeated in a bad match-up with a much heavier fighter, he finds comfort in a romance with a fiery bartendress named Charlene (Amy Adams) - and when Dicky is arrested for a hare-brained money-making scam, Micky begins to realize that his loyalty to his dysfunctional family is tying him down. He finds a new trainer and manager, and although Dicky and Alice regard it as a betrayal, he starts winning fights and grows more successful. But still he yearns to reconcile his family, his girlfriend, and his career.

I believe director David O. Russell owes an apology to the real-life Alice Ward and her seven daughters, sisters of Micky and Dicky. Because oh em gee, the film portrays them as horrible people. Alice is nails-on-chalkboard annoying, and the sisters are played by the most unattractive actresses you'll see in any movie this year. And Dicky is obviously a self-deluded loser, but what makes it even harder to watch is how much his family and the entire town of Lowell, Massachusetts enables him in his delusion. There's a subplot of an HBO documentary crew filming him, and he thinks they're making a film about his comeback to boxing - when they're actually making a cautionary doco about the horrors of drug addiction. This is not presented as a big shocking reveal; the film crew director says, "I told you before" when he tells the family what their film is about.

So the level to which these people refuse to see the obvious comes across as contrived and on-the-nose. How could Dicky actually be surprised when he finally sees the documentary? How could anyone tolerate Dicky's blowhard self-aggrandizing, when they know he spends all day at the local crackhouse? Why is it that Micky only now thinks of breaking away from his family, when we're told they've been (mis)managing him for the past 10 years? It all feels like these are movie characters that only just popped into existence, instead of real people with real histories. And there's an inexplicable bit in which Dicky attempts to soothe his mother, who has "discovered" his drug habit, by serenading her with "I Started a Joke". This scene should have explored the relationship between the two, in which Alice is confronted with how much and how long she's been making excuses for Dicky. I thought it was a cop-out.

Even the good people in this story weren't easy to get behind. Micky is weak and gutless; when he fires his mother and brother, he barely has the balls to speak for himself, letting Charlene do most of the talking. And Charlene, the one person closest to him who truly has his best interests at heart, again seems more like a screenwriter's creation than a real person. They fall for each other after only one date; she leaves him because she can't stand his family, then comes back at just the most opportune moment when he needs a shoulder to cry on (and also to further the plot). I did start to like the movie more when these characters finally started pulling together, when the better angels of their natures came to fore for Micky's sake. But it was a hard slog to get there.

So yes, I totally failed to see why this movie is being hailed as among the best of the year. I can give props to Christian Bale and Melissa Leo; Bale's flamboyant and scenery-chewing performance is a testament to his commitment, and Leo likewise so thoroughly inhabits her character that you simply cannot imagine her as anyone else. Amy Adams is also fun to watch, especially when she stands up to Micky's family with all her foul-mouthed fire-spitting fury. The acting is uniformly excellent - with the exception of Mark Wahlberg, whom I still think is the dullest leading man in Hollywood. I've never thought him good in anything besides The Departed, and I think he's only suited for character roles rather than leads. And he hasn't a whit of chemistry with Adams. (Frankly, Wahlberg couldn't generate chemistry with a flint and tinder.)

In many ways, The Fighter is a formulaic underdog sports movie, and it works well enough as that; the boxing scenes are pretty effective. And I appreciate that it aims to stretch out of the formula by focusing on the protagonist's family dynamics, and the unique local colour of its setting. It's just that I found it a largely unpleasant watch, and isn't well-written enough to justify spending time with so many ugly, ugly characters. I almost want to apologize for giving such a low rating to such a highly-acclaimed film (although honestly, I'm mainly giving it 3 stars because I cannot in good conscience give it the same rating I gave I Am Number Four) - but screw it, a critic's gotta stand by his opinions. I'll concede that my issues with it are largely personal, so hey, go watch it if you wanna see what all the fuss is about. Just be ready to take a shower afterwards.

Expectations: does not look good

Monday, March 7, 2011

You are a mediocre movie

I Am Number Four
My rating:

So here's the what's what: I Am Number Four, the movie, isn't so much based on the book as it is based on a concept that has always been meant to be a book, a movie, a line of merchandise, possibly a TV series, perhaps an album of "songs inspired by" and maybe a franchise of themed fast-food restaurants and anything else that could separate people from their cash. It was authored engendered by James Frey, who wrote a so-called autobiography that was exposed for being entirely fictional, and now spends his time running an outfit called Full Fathom Five. This article is a fascinating look at how it operates, by signing up gullible young writers to contracts that make them write for no credit, swears them to secrecy under pain of legal action, and pays them US$250. Which may mean nothing to you, but to me, it means James Frey is a craven little bastard and this film is only making him richer.

It's... actually not as bad as its provenance might indicate. But that just makes it all the more depressing.

In Florida, he went by the name Daniel. But after moving to the small town of Paradise, Ohio with his Guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant), he adopts the name John Smith (Alex Pettyfer). John and Henri are aliens from the planet Lorien, which was destroyed by the evil Mogadorians - and John is one of nine whom the Mogadorian Commander (Kevin Durand) is hunting down. The first three have already been killed, and John is Number Four. In Paradise, he falls for Sarah (Dianna Agron), befriends Sam (Callan McAuliffe) and earns the enmity of Sarah's ex-boyfriend Mark (Jake Abel) - and at the same time, his extra-terrestrial superpowers begin to manifest. But the Mogs are hot on his trail - as is a mysterious girl who turns out to be Number Six (Teresa Palmer).

This movie is directed by D.J. Caruso, who made the Shia LaBeouf vehicles Disturbia and Eagle Eye. It was written by Al Gough and Miles Millar of TV's Smallville, and Marti Noxon who worked with Joss Whedon on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It's produced by Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg through DreamWorks Pictures, cost US$50 million, and involved the talents of probably a few hundred Hollywood film crewmembers. It's slick, it's shiny, it's professionally made, and it is completely and entirely soulless. There's not a milligram of real passion and feeling in this film, and every time it attempts it it fails. Everyone, and I mean everyone, involved in this was content to do a minimally competent job and go home with their paycheck.

Take the storyline. Standard-order Campbellian hero's journey-cum teen wish-fulfillment fantasy, with a side order of highschool romance and jocks-vs-geeks drama. But it's all very superficial and perfunctory. The John-Sarah romance, John's longing for a home and family, Sam's longing for his missing father, Henri's mentorship of John (and you probably already know what usually happens to the hero's mentor in this kind of story); none of this evokes any greater emotional reaction than "meh". And I gotta take issue with the movie's sense of pacing. More than once I was wondering why on earth are we spending so much time on this particular scene, or this particular subplot, when supposedly the fate of the world is at stake. It's dull, and quite a long slog at 114 minutes (about 24 minutes too long for this kind of movie).

Even the cast all seem to be sleepwalking. Alex Pettyfer is all gorgeously sculpted cheekbones and nothing else. Dianna Agron is famous for Glee, but I remember her as a queen bee cheerleader in a few episodes of Heroes. She had this outward sweetness that masked the usual bitchy meanness, but here she's just sweet, which makes her so much less interesting. Callan McAuliffe is wooden. Timothy Olyphant is usually a lot of fun to watch, but here he's got nothing to do. Teresa Palmer is pretty awesome as the Number who actually knows how to kick ass with her powers, but that's more credit to the stunt and SFX teams. Oh okay, I suppose Kevin Durand is having fun playing the brutish evil alien.

But the thing is, when a team of consummate professional filmmakers come together, they usually produce something, well, competent. It takes a misguided creative vision to really make something that sucks, and you can bet there was none of that here. Occasionally there's a funny or clever bit in the script. There wasn't too much Marty Stu-izing of John. And the superpowered action scenes (when we fiiinally get to them) provide some thrills, although they're marred by inexplicable shaky-cam. Then again, there are some stupid plot holes that someone who actually cared about this story might've noticed. When these aliens die, they dissolve into dust, and so do their clothes. Are they alien clothes? If the Numbers are stronger when they're together, why split them up in the first place? And if they're always meant to develop superpowers, why doesn't John know about them?

So no, it's not an entirely bad movie. It's just very very apathetic and artificial; it's not a story that aims to edify or enlighten or even just entertain, it's a product calculated to make as much money as possible. Which, regardless of the scant merits of the film itself, is a pretty bad thing. Do you want more movies like this? Do you want more movies made in this assembly-line, trend-forecasting, market-approved, by-the-numbers manner? Read that article on James Frey (here's the link again!) - do you think he deserves to get rich off this kind of thing? I was once forwarded another article on Frey's Full Fathom Five, raving about how innovative its approach was to publishing and how it might be the new business model for entertainment product across all media. To this, I invite you to join me in a hearty and impassioned cry of Do Not Want.

NEXT REVIEW: The Fighter
Expectations: *shrug*

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A swan dive into madness

Black Swan
My rating:

I am less familiar with the films of Darren Aronofsky than I wish. I have only ever seen Requiem for a Dream (a long time ago, remember little about it, and it was on a crappy VCD copy anyway) and The Fountain (didn't understand it at all, but found it moving and profound all the same); I haven't seen Pi ('cos I can't bloody find it anywhere) or The Wrestler (I have the DVD and I really ought to get to it someday). And the man is, of course, one of the most innovative and original filmmakers working today. So no, I'm not gonna review Black Swan in terms of how it fits with the rest of Aronofsky's oeuvre.

I'm just gonna say whoa, it is powerful.

Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a dancer in a prestigious New York ballet company led by Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), who announces that they will be performing Swan Lake. Nina is shy and timid and lives with her overbearing mother Erica (Barbara Hershey) - a former dancer herself - and desperately wants the lead role of the Swan Queen. But her joy at winning the role is short-lived, as she struggles to meet Leroy's exacting standards; she is perfect as the pure, fragile White Swan, but lacks the passion and sensuousness of the evil twin, the Black Swan. And then there is Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder), the company's former star, bitter and broken over being discarded by Leroy - and Lily (Mila Kunis), a newcomer to the company who befriends her, who is everything Nina is not and therefore embodies the Black Swan perfectly. As Nina contends with her punishing training, Leroy's sexual advances, her mother's smothering affection, and Lily's possible conniving to replace her, she starts losing touch with reality. Her waking dreams and hallucinations of horrific bodily transformations all point to one thing: she is slowly and irrevocably going insane.

So based on the recommendation of the good k0k s3n w4i, I watched this on DVD first, intending to then watch the butchered censored version in cinemas. After my first viewing however, I balked. Partly because I am shamefully behind on my reviewing schedule, and watching movies twice would only waste time. But mostly because this is the kind of film whose merits I can acknowledge, but I don't really enjoy, and am not particularly inclined to watch again. It's a harrowing experience, watching a young girl gradually lose her mind, and it's made so skilfully and forcefully that you can almost feel every strand of Nina's mind snapping.

But yes, I did watch it again, if only to report on how badly the cinema version is chopped up. Two of the most overtly sexual scenes - one where Nina masturbates, and the lesbian tryst between Nina and Lily - were cut short, but not really too badly; all you lose is a not-very-titillating bit of Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis making out, and a couple of somewhat more prurient shots of Portman's shapely and writhing ass, so I daresay you'll still get the full effect of the film. And the full effect was every bit as stunning the second time as the first, and helped clarify a few of my thoughts regarding it. See, my personal preference is not for bleak endings; I don't like movies that invite my sympathy for its protagonist only to shatter my hopes for his/her fate at the end. (Ask me about The Mist and Oldboy sometime.)

But Black Swan is different. Y'see, the fact that Natalie Portman is playing Nina, and that Portman has played any number of emotionally healthy and well-adjusted characters previously, blinded me a little as to what kind of person Nina really is - which is an extremely naive, sheltered and fragile little girl in an adult woman's body. She's like a mui mui chai from some small town in Kedah coming to KL for the first time, and both Portman's performance and the script (by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John McLaughlin) bear this out. She is friendless in her own dance company, and says only childish things in a high, little-girl voice; she's only ever articulate and self-assured when she's with her mother. It's not inconceivable that someone could be as kind-hearted as Lily seems to be, to go out of her way to befriend Nina and both protect her from the big bad world and get her to open up to it a little.

Which would make Lily a better person than me, since I didn't particularly like Nina at all. She is weak and simpering, bursts into tears at the tiniest slight, and occasionally given to as much cattiness as she gets from her fellow dancers. And while it's beyond doubt that her mother's smothering love made her this way, I actually thought Erica wasn't all that bad; her concern for her daughter's welfare supercedes any thwarted ambition she may have placed on Nina's shoulders. I hesitate to say Nina deserves her fate, as if she were some villain whose comeuppance you cheer; as I mentioned, the film does an incredible job putting you in her skin, so you couldn't help but feel for her. But what happens to her feels inevitable - even appropriate.

But what does happen to her? I fear I'm doing no better a job at telling you about this movie as every other review I've read. Okay, this movie is a mindfuck - and in the great tradition of mindfuck movies, the reality of everything you see is called into question. But unlike, say, Shutter Island, there's no final twist ending to reveal the "truth". I'd say it's pointless to try and puzzle out what's real and what is merely a hallucination in Nina's tortured mind, because everything that happens to her drives her toward a single goal: to perform the Swan Queen, in both its White and Black incarnations, perfectly. Even the revelations of the falseness of her memories are aimed at driving her to the despair she needs to portray on stage. It's as if her own desire for perfection has betrayed her, in exactly the same way the Black Swan and Rothbart the sorcerer betrays the White Swan in the tale of the ballet.

As such, nothing we see may be real. Lily's overtures of friendship, Thomas' sexual advances; even her uncanny resemblance to both Lily and Beth may all be in her mind. (And yes, you can bet that Portman, Kunis and Winona Ryder were all cast because they look alike.) Which brings us to the cast, who must all walk a fine balance between two or more characterizations. Vincent Cassel's Leroy; warm mentor, hard taskmaster, and/or sleazy sexual predator. Barbara Hershey's Erica; loving mother and/or emotionally abusive shrew. Kunis' Lily; seductress, conniving bitch, concerned friend and/or innocent bystander. They're all good - and in Kunis' case, more than just good, and hey, did you know Kunis trained in ballet just as long and hard as Portman did? - and I mention them because they're all getting overlooked in the wake of the praise Portman is getting.

Which she of course deserves. It's a showy role, given to broad and extravagant emoting, exactly the kind of performance that wins Oscars. But she is magnificent in it, exerting the same precise control over her most demanding scenes that Nina probably would. There's another dimension to her casting too; just like Nina, she has always been known for playing White Swan roles, never Black Swan. Has she ever played a seductive, destructive character? She did onesuch in No Strings Attached, and indeed, she wasn't very convincing in it. If this role - and the confidence borne of winning an Oscar for it - has grown her range enough for her to tackle other things besides all the nice girls she's played, we could expect even more great things from her*.

Oh, and one last thing: it is not for nothing that I put the "Horror" label on this review. Black Swan is very much a horror movie, not least because there are quite a few very effective jump-scares. Primarily because it is a horrifying movie, as a gradual and inexorable descent into madness would be. Few films have gripped me as tightly as this one did in its final act, and I was no less enthralled during my second viewing as my first. So yes, I think I will recommend, strongly, that you go see this in cinemas, censorship be damned. The local 20th Century Fox distributors deserve to make good money back on their excellent decision to bring this movie to our screens.

NEXT REVIEW: I Am Number Four
Expectations: need a little dumb fun, as a break from all the Oscar-nominated stuff

* I just had a thought that, if the current Batman movie series ever gets that far, Portman might make an excellent Harley Quinn.