Batman Begins

Beginner's Luck

10 Reasons Why Batman Begins Is the Best Batman Movie

Catch Batman Begins this month on IFC.

Posted by on
Photo Credit: Warner Bros./Everett Collection

When it comes to Batman movies, there are divided camps as to which is the best of the film adaptations. Most believe The Dark Knight to be the superior film, thanks to a story fraught with moral ambiguity and riveting action, not to mention an Oscar-winning performance by Heath Ledger as The Joker. Tim Burton’s original Batman has its fans, with its signature Burton visuals, iconic Danny Elfman score, and epic Joker performance from Jack Nicholson. But bet your bottom Batarangs, an argument can be made that Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan’s first installment from his Bat trilogy, is the best Batman film to date. (Hey, it’s not like we said Batman & Robin was the best.) Before you catch Batman Begins on IFC this month, take a look at some reasons why Nolan’s 2005 film is still the ultimate Bat-flick.

1. It’s a Batman movie that is actually about Batman

After the disaster that was the aforementioned Batman & Robin, the franchise was in need of a full-blown makeover. Nolan and company chose to reboot the whole system, starting from the ground up with an entirely fresh take on Gotham’s hero and his origin. This allowed the focus in a Batman movie to be on…wait for it…The Bat-Man himself. Nolan and coscreenwriter David S. Goyer would go to meticulous depths to create a Gotham City grounded in reality while still having room for comic book-friendly stuff like a creepy psychiatrist who dresses like a scarecrow.

For the first time in a Batman film, Bruce Wayne also got as much screentime as his caped counterpart. Bruce’s journey from rich kid to crimefighter for once is the focus of the movie, allowing a level of character depth that previous big screen Waynes lacked. (Bruce isn’t merely the bland playboy from the Val Kilmer/George Clooney years.) The depths that Batman Begins goes to in explaining what Bruce’s life was like as an orphan, where his fears came from, how he tried to throw his life away, how he transformed himself, how he became the manifestation of all his sadness and fears and anger and a force for good is comic book storytelling at its finest. For the first time in a Batman movie viewers are emotionally invested in Bruce Wayne.


2. It’s an origin story closer to the comics

Finally we can all forget the whole “Joker killed Bruce Wayne’s parents” thing from Tim Burton’s Batman. Nolan and Goyer’s screenplay hews closely to Bruce’s comic book origins, depicting Thomas and Martha Wayne’s death at the hands of street thug Joe Chill. And while the Wayne family attends an opera on that fateful night instead of a screening of The Mark of Zorro, the change actually works plotwise (Bruce is scared by the bat-like creatures onstage) and adds an interesting wrinkle to Batman’s famous origins.


3. Christian Bale Is The Best Bruce Wayne/Batman (Despite the Voice)

Christian Bale Batman Begins
Warner Bros./Everett Collection

A revamped Batman franchise was only going to go as far as the new Caped Crusader could carry it. And apparently where he carried it to was the gym. Christian Bale got seriously ripped for his turn as The Caped Crusader, working out every day, and gaining nearly 60 pounds of muscle and mass. This physical transformation, when paired with Bale’s tremendous Oscar-nominated acting chops, made for a Bruce Wayne turned Dark Knight like we’d never seen before. Damaged, vulnerable, handsome, sensitive, ferocious and vengeful, he brought an intensity to Bruce both under and out of the cowl. Even if everyone wasn’t on board with Bale’s in-need-of-a-lozenge Bat growl, it has become an iconic part of the Batman cinematic universe. Fun game: try ordering drive-thru in a Bale Bat-voice. It’s never not fun!


4. Liam Neeson + Mentor Role x Sword = WIN

Liam Neeson Batman Begins
Warner Bros./Imgur

Before he began giving half of Europe’s henchmen a karate chop to the throat in the Taken series, Liam Neeson put on display a certain set of skills — skills that make him ideal to play a sword-wielding mentor and father figure. As Henri Ducard/Ra’s Al Ghul, Neeson took the quote-filled master who finds a young reclamation project and makes him a legend to the next level. He’s got the voice. He’s got the presence. He’s got the moves. And above all, he’s got the quotes. He’s the human equivalent to every inspirational poster, handbook and mantra ever written.


5. It Has an Amazing Cast Stocked with Great Actors

Batman Begins
Warner Bros.

Nowadays, it’s standard for comic book movies to be filled with incredible actors. But this wasn’t always the case. Batman Begins started the trend of casting acting legends in supporting roles, something that still happens today. (How else do you explain Holly Hunter’s role in Batman V. Superman?)

To give this new Batman series depth and roots, Christopher Nolan assembled an all-star cast, quite possibly the best to date seen in a comic book movie. Michael Caine, Tom Wilkinson, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman? That sounds like a list of recent Academy Award nominees, not the supporting cast in a Batman movie. These actors took a heroic action movie and brought it to life, infusing it with soul, style and substance throughout. Add in a throwback action favorite like Rutger Hauer, and a then rising star like Cillian Murphy, and you had a super hero team of acting talent in Gotham.


6. Batman’s “Wonderful Toys” Actually Make Sense

Batman Begins Lucius Fox
Warner Bros.

Ever wonder where Batman got the suit, or how he came up with his weapons, tools and gadgets? You can’t exactly just swing by the local Target and shop the Super Hero Department. In keeping with their grounded and dynamically realistic approach, Nolan and his team gave this Bruce Wayne his own Q (the famous James Bond gadget maker) in the form of Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman). Fox was a techie buried deep within the recesses of Wayne Enterprises who, when discovered by a Bruce Wayne looking to enhance and outfit his bat-inspired hero, gave life to everything Batman wore, carried, threw and rode. And the science behind it all was explained, showing us that it is possible to be Batman, provided you have vast amounts of wealth and Morgan Freeman at your disposal.


7. Holy Batmobile!

All our preconceived Batmobile notions were torn apart like the rooftops the new Bat Tumbler raced across. Gone was Adam West’s iconic open top two seater or the sleek roadster from the ’90s Bat films. The new Batmobile was part Humvee, part tank, and all awesome. When it first races out of the darkness, ripping up the streets of Gotham, its engine enhanced by a lion’s roar, audiences were like, “BRB. Might have just soiled my pants.” The Tumbler’s militaristic style was aggressive and practical, and matched this new version of Batman perfectly. Plus, it actually works! It took months to build a working model of the Tumbler, and it was a huge hit with fans. Even noted car enthusiast Jay Leno took it for a spin.


8. Even Katie Holmes Can’t Ruin It

Batman Begins Katie Holmes
Warner Bros.

Maybe we’re in the minority here, but we didn’t hate Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes. Most fans were not enamored with her performance, some thinking her acting was not up to snuff of the likes of Bale, Neeson and Caine. Tall order to run with those big dogs — hence the switch Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel for The Dark Knight. But for the role of Bruce Wayne’s childhood-turned-adult love interest, the call was for someone with experience playing a childhood love interest, someone who had experience on, say, Dawson’s Creek? Someone whose doe eyes recall the innocence lost, giving us a glimpse into the inner conflict Bruce/Batman feels. For that Holmes seemed perfect. Don’t like it? Hey, don’t cry about it.


9. For Once, Two Villains Isn’t Overkill

Scarecrow Batman Begins
Warner Bros./Everett Collection

Finally a comic book flick proved having dual villains CAN work in a comic book movie. The two villains competing then working in cooperation against our hero angle had been worked before, especially in the Batman franchise, but to far less successful effect. Most fans would agree either Catwoman or The Penguin would have been enough for the moody and grimly atmospheric Batman Returns, and both Joel Schumacher entries featured double villain overkill, with the over-the-top Riddler and Two-Face combo in Batman Forever, and the hilariously pun-tastic Poison Ivy/Mr. Freeze dastardly duo of Batman & Robin.

But The Scarecrow/ Ra’s al Ghul combo was great, mostly because they actually both made sense to the plot and each had plenty of character development. (As great as The Dark Knight is, most fans would agree Joker outshines Two-Face.) When you add villains you up the risk/reward factor because we can wander dangerously into taking away from our hero and drifting into an overstuffed plot. Like how sometimes you just want a burger and don’t want it served on a donut, right? Well, Batman Begins gave us burgers and donuts in equal measure, and who doesn’t love that combo?


10. In The End, It’s A Father/Son Story

Even though people go bananas for the minefield of moral quandaries that drove the narrative in The Dark Knight, there were an awful lot of feels dished out with the often overlooked father/son storyline in Batman Begins. The scenes with young Bruce and his father are poignant and touching, giving an unexpected emotional depth to the movie early on. Thomas Wayne was a dad, a friend, moral compass and mentor for Bruce, all the things Bruce would eventually seek in his international journey of rediscovery. (And later find in Alfred.)

By controlling his sadness, re-routing his anger and manipulating his fear, Bruce was able to improve on and complete his father’s work, as well as be the man his father would hope he’d become…albeit one who wears a cape and a costume. Bruce gains closure on his loss, his life as an orphan and his place as the main Wayne in Gotham by movie’s end. Bruce lost his hero, but eventually becomes one to a entire city, a storyline that plays out through Nolan’s Batman trilogy. From his very first outing, Christopher Nolan’s Batman is the hero Gotham (and fans) deserve.

Watch More
Rocky IV Paulie Robot

Mr. Roboto

5 Reasons Rocky IV Is Too Rotten to Miss

Catch Rocky IV Friday at 8P during IFC's Rotten Fridays.

Posted by on
Photo Credit: MGM/UA/YouTube

When Rocky IV was released in 1985, the critics were not kind. (While it wasn’t around back then, the film’s 39% ranking on Rotten Tomatoes speaks for itself.) Less of a movie than a jingoistic music video starring a robot and a steroid-addled, monosyllabic Russian baddie, Rocky IV is a far cry from the Italian Stallion’s humble origins.

Still, more than any movie ever made, it exemplifies the whole “so bad its good” genre. This movie was made for us, the great-unwashed masses of the 1980s, who loved the band Survivor and hated those Commie bastards. Before you catch Rocky IV on IFC’s Rotten Fridays, let’s take a look at some moments that make this flick a “too rotten to miss” classic.

5. That Opening Shot

Rocky IV
United Artists

It takes all of 30 seconds for the audience to know they’re in for one ridiculous rollercoaster ride through a Cold War conniption fit of good vs. evil. Gone is the subtle tone and grounded reality of the first Rocky. In its place we see two gloves, one emblazoned with the American flag, the other with the Soviets’, hurtling toward each other. When they collide, sparks fly, and we witness an explosion decades in the making.

In case the symbolism is too subtle for you, director/writer/star Sylvester Stallone is trying to hint that this movie will be the clash of civilizations we’d all been waiting for, but instead of nuclear bombs, a humble palooka from the streets would be duking it out in the ring with the ultimate representation of coldhearted Communism. If it were up to us, this opening shot would’ve won Best Picture all by itself.


4. So Many Montages

Rocky IV has a running time of 91 minutes and 20 seconds. Its eight montages (yes, EIGHT) run a total of 29 minutes and 10 seconds. That is one third of the movie solely dedicated to montages. (Considering Stallone’s contempt for all things Soviet, we have to wonder if he knows it was a dirty Ruskie who invented the montage.)

During one of the many, many montages, director Stallone actually flashes back to a scene that had happened a minute and half prior, creating the impression that he might actually flashback to the montage we were just watching in the same montage. Stallone clearly loves a good montage set to an inspirational ’80s song, and so do we. Which brings us to…


3. A Soundtrack Full of Pumped Up ’80s Jams

Speaking of montages, they are set to the score of some of the cheesiest hits from the mid-’80s. For once, we’re spared tracks from Frank Stallone, with Stallone replacing his rocker brother with synth-y singles from Survivor, John Cafferty and Kenny Loggins. And of course, Robert Tepper, possessor of an ’80s mullet that could topple empires, crooning “No Easy Way Out.” The music in this movie is one step away from being a parody of the music in this movie. If you ever want to know what cocaine can do to the human mind, just listen to this soundtrack.


2. Rocky Ends the Cold War

Rocky IV speech
United Artists

In one of the most misguided, self-congratulatory, and immediately dated moments in cinema history, good ol’ galoot Rocky Balboa single-handedly ended the Cold War four years before the Berlin Wall came down.

To quote the Italian Stallion himself: “In here…there were two guys… killing each other. But I guess that’s better than millions. What I’m trying to say is… if I can change… and you can change…everybody can change!” And just like that the Soviet public, generals and even the Premier himself rose to their feet in applause, realizing what fools they’d been. This guy beat Mr. T for Heaven’s sake. He knows what he’s talking about!


1. Paulie’s Robot

Okay, let’s all take a deep breath and really consider this for a moment. Rocky IV has a robot butler in it. A movie franchise that began back in 1976 exploring the gritty reality of a bum fighter trying to prove himself somehow limped along long enough to turn into a weak Short Circuit rip-off in which an alcoholic mooch with a history of domestic abuse now gets his coffee served to him by a robot. A robot that he has programmed with a “sultry” lady voice!

Stallone was inspired to include the real life robot Sico in Rocky IV because of the work it did to help autistic children like his son Seargeoh. That’s all very moving, but doesn’t explain why he decided to write a scene where Paulie dubs poor Sico “the love of my life.” It’s a testament to Rocky IV‘s “too rotten to miss” status that Paulie’s robot girlfriend/personal servant isn’t even the craziest thing that happens to Rock and the gang.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” movie Rocky IV this Friday at 8P on IFC. 

Watch More
Swimming To Cambodia Spalding Gray

Gray's Anatomy

Everything You Need to Know About the Movie That Inspired “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”

Brand new Documentary Now! airs Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

Posted by on
Photo Credit: Cinecom Pictures

This week Documentary Now! spotlights a master monologist with “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything.” Before you tune in at 10P this Wednesday on IFC, check out our guide to Swimming to Cambodia, the 1987 film that captured writer/performer Spalding Gray’s acclaimed one-person show.

Spalding Gray 101

Swimming to Cambodia
Cinecom Pictures

Actor and renowned monologist Spalding Gray spent two years on stage perfecting his Obie Award-winning “Swimming to Cambodia” monologue. In it, Gray tells the story of his eight weeks in Southeast Asia while shooting the 1984 Academy Award-winning movie The Killing Fields. He had a small role, but the experience gave him several anecdotes about hanging out with the film crew and experiencing the local culture, all while searching for “the perfect moment.”

Directed by the Silence of the Lambs Guy

Hannibal Lecter
Orion Pictures/Everett Collection

Acclaimed filmmaker Jonathan Demme took Gray’s two-night, four hour performance and crafted it down to 85 minutes. His use of dramatic lighting, stylish camerawork and a score by performance artist Laurie Anderson was praised by critics and earned the film a cult following. No stranger to groundbreaking docs, Demme also directed the 1984 Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense, which Documentary Now! pays tribute to in this season’s episode “Final Transmission.”

All about the Voices

While it may have been a one-man show, Gray created a repertoire of characters all with distinctive accents. (He portrayed conversations between himself and others just by turning his head.) Our favorite impressions are of his demanding girlfriend Renee and Ivan Strasberg, the South African director of photography on The Killing Fields who, as depicted by Gray, sounds a bit like a Jamaican surfer.

The Original Cranky New Yorker

In one memorable scene, Gray rants about how his noisy upstairs artist neighbors are driving him and Renee crazy. Even in the mid-’80s, there were New Yorkers complaining that the city wasn’t what it used to be.

Show and Tell

Swimming to Cambodia
Cinecom Pictures/YouTube

A big fan of visual aids, Gray used pull-down maps to illustrate his travels. This helped to bring Swimming to Cambodia to life, since he’s basically sitting at a desk the entire time.

Inspired One-Person Shows

Gray’s groundbreaking performances in Swimming and other documentaries like Monster in a Box and the Steven Soderbergh-directed Gray’s Anatomy (about Gray’s struggle with a rare eye condition) paved the way for future one-person shows. (We wouldn’t have everything from Carrie Fisher’s “Wishful Drinking” to Mike Birbiglia’s “Sleepwalk With Me” without him.) Even Doc Now! star Fred Armisen got into the one-person show act for his recent SNL monologue.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Spalding Gray when “Parker Gail: Location Is Everything” premieres Wednesday, September 28th at 10P on IFC. 

Watch More
Rocky IV Stallone Lundgren

Burning Heart

10 Reasons Why Rocky IV Is the Ultimate Rocky Movie

Catch an all-day Rocky movie marathon this Friday, September 30th on IFC.

Posted by on
Photo Credit: United Artists/Everett Collection

Sure, most people love the first Rocky for its heart, gripping boxing scenes and the classic training montage. Or, you might love Creed for being both a return-to-form and a new exploration of the Rocky mythology. Maybe the thrill of seeing Mr. T and Hulk Hogan in the same movie makes Rocky III your top pick. Well, sorry, you’re wrong: Rocky IV is the greatest of all the “Italian Stallion”‘s movies.

Before you watch the all-day Rocky movie marathon this Friday, September 30th on IFC (with Rocky IV airing at 8P as part of Rotten Fridays), check out a few reasons to appreciate the fourth installment as the king of the series.

1. The Greatest Opening Ever

How many openings are able to sum up the entire conflict of the film in less than a minute and without a single line of dialogue? And how many of those movies have exploding boxing gloves? Just try to watch the opening sequence above and not be completely psyched for the pumped-up flick to come.


2. Montages!

We all know that the best part of any sports movie is the montage, and Rocky IV doesn’t give you one measly montage. There’s a recap of the previous films montage, a getting to Russia Montage, two training montages and an ending fight montage. That’s five montages! There’s probably a montage of montages snuck in there, too.


3. There’s a Full James Brown Musical Number

This movie is so packed with memorable moments, it’s easy to forget one of the first things that happens in the film: Apollo comes out to fight Drago dressed as a shirtless Uncle Sam, while James Brown and a full band play “Living in America.” To drive home the number’s patriotism, there are dancers in tuxedos and top hats, weird unitards and bowler caps, and bedazzled showgirls with headpieces for miles. Oh, and don’t forget the giant tentacled dragon statue on the stage. This is how every boxing match should start. Heck, this is how we always want to enter a room.


4. The Soundtrack

The Rocky IV soundtrack doesn’t just feature James Brown — it has rock anthems galore, all of which make you immediately want to hit the gym. From “Heart’s on Fire” by John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band to “Sweetest Victory” by Touch to multiple Survivor jams, you’ll get pumped and stay pumped. Even the instrumental score rocks! Sure, sometimes it sounds like it was made on a kids Casio, but this soundtrack never quits and — to quote Robert Tepper — never takes the easy way out.


5. Abs!

Rocky IV weights

Every Rocky movie shows off Stallone’s incredible physique, but Rocky IV really ups the game. Not only do we get Dolph Lundgren mostly shirtless looking like a man machine, but we get a wide variety of scenes of Stallone doing impossible tasks. Stallone’s crazy dragon fly crunches, aka a thing no human should be able to do, automatically take this movie to the top.


6. Two words: Ivan Drago

Ivan Drago
United Artists

Not only does Rocky IV explore the global conflict between the US and the Soviet Union, but it encapsulates all of our fears of the Cold War in one perfect villain. Ivan Drago only trains with machines and science and looks like he stepped out of an Aryan Nations recruitment poster. He also only responds in short, cold phrases like “If he dies, he dies,” or “I must break you.” There’s never been a villain who we so clearly want to get the crap beat out of than Ivan Drago.


7. Rocky Makes Chores Look Badass

Rocky saw
United Artists

Rocky doesn’t need to be hooked up to machines to become the perfect fighter. All he needs are huge tires and some outdoor chores to do. No one’s ever looked cooler chopping wood and using tractor parts. Half of his training is lifting an old wagon, probably to fix a broken axle. If anything, this film inspires us to take care of that gardening work we’ve been neglecting.


8. Rocky’s Beard

Rocky IV Beard

Stallone’s beard game is truly on point in Rocky IV. And this isn’t some “I forgot to shave, here’s a little stubble” look. No, we get full out, lumberjack-style beard action. Does any other Rocky movie have our hero looking like an old Russian aristocrat? Another point for Rocky IV.


9. There’s a robot!

Again, there’s so much to Rocky IV, you probably forgot about the robot. Well, Rocky has some money now and he’s not going to spend it on frivolous things for himself. He’s going to buy Paulie a robot! The best part of this scene is how truly disturbed Paulie is by this new technology until he gives it a sexy lady voice.


10. Rocky Ends the Cold War

If you’re still not convinced that Rocky IV is the greatest, answer this question: Does any other Rocky movie bring peace between the US and Russia?

By the end of the film, Rocky rises up to beat the seemingly undefeatable Drago. He fights so well, that even the Russians begin to appreciate his skills. Then, instead of using his victory to prove America’s superiority, he gives a rousing speech of “If I can change and you can change, everybody can change!” The whole crowd goes wild, including all of the Russian government, who we assume give up Communism immediately based solely on Rocky’s words. Stallone’s call for international reconciliation through brutal fighting and a variety of montages makes this if not one of the greatest films of all time, certainly the greatest Rocky of them all.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” movie Rocky IV this Friday at 8P on IFC. 

Watch More
Powered by ZergNet