Tagged: Michael Keaton

Box Office Democracy: American Assassin

I don’t really know what it’s like to be an actor and even less what it’s like to be an aging actor, but I have to wonder what made Michael Keaton take this role in American Assassin.  He signed on to play this role after being nominated for an Oscar for Birdman and having wrapped production on The Founder, so he had done two big meaty acting roles in a row and he chose…this.  Maybe the money was too good (and he didn’t know he would sign to be The Vulture a month later), maybe the phone just isn’t ringing off the hook for older actors if you aren’t in the Clooney-tier.  American Assassin is a bad movie and it makes Keaton look like a dime store Liam Neeson.  He should be doing better things than this, everyone in this movie should. Movies should be better than making movies like this.

American Assassin has all the narrative nuance you would expect from a movie based on a book written by a consultant on 24.  Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) is a man haunted by the murder of his fiancée by terrorists and turns himself in to a one-man terrorist vigilante.  He can speak Arabic, do MMA, and shoot a gun so he’s definitely capable of single-handedly infiltrating big secretive organizations and immediately talking to big-name terrorists.  He’s arrested in the middle of one of his operations and recruited in to a secret CIA terrorist-hunting squad led by Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) who also does not play things by-the-book but also hates Mitch for not following the rules.  There’s a big hunt for a nuclear weapon that is being sold by a former protege of Hurley’s who also does not like following the rules.

The CIA depicted in this movie is an organization full of people who constantly belittle each other, don’t follow procedure or even direct orders, and play fast and loose with each other’s lives and the lives of millions of people if we take the whole atomic weapon thing seriously.  It’s kind of inconceivable to imagine this organization is capable of stopping any kind of foreign plot.  I understand that they want our protagonists to feel like rugged individualists (why else put “American” in the name honestly) but there’s never any contrast.  I can appreciate the plays-by-his-own-rules characters only if I have a baseline to compare them to.  This works in cop dramas a lot more easily because I know what a standard police officer looks and acts like; I have no such standard for black ops CIA operatives.  If all you ever show me are the iconoclasts they don’t stand out at all.

I honestly thought we were past the point of making movies as overtly racist as American Assassin but it would seem I am just naive.  There is one Middle Eastern person in this movie with lines that is not working with terrorists, and even he is working directly contrary to the interests of the US government but is just honorable about it.  Moreover, while all of the bad guys who get few lines and exist just to be chased and die are Middle Eastern, the grand schemer behind the whole plot is another white guy.  They made a movie about how all these brown people are evil and didn’t even have a meaty villain role to give to an Iranian actor.  It’s insulting, it’s sad, it makes the movie more predictable, and it shouldn’t be ok in this day and age.

Even if the politics weren’t a garbage fire, American Assassin just doesn’t have interesting action beats.  The very best scene in the movie would be the worst action scene in the most recent Bourne movie.  There’s a sequence where an agent gets murdered in the field and it leads directly in to a car chase where nothing happens and there’s no interaction between the two cars.  There’s an MMA-style fight that features someone getting a full mount on their opponent and then that same opponent immediately kicks them in the face.  I’m not a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu expert but that doesn’t seem possible.  Even the big finale featuring a live nuclear warhead doesn’t seem particularly important or impactful and I cared so little about the characters that as soon as the effects shots were over I was ready for them to fade to black.  I could not make myself care about the fates of these characters.

There’s no shortage of spy thrillers out there right now— I can’t imagine what made anyone look at the movie landscape, then look at this script, and think they had something worth making.  The best thing I can say about this movie is that it’s usually boring and only occasionally racist and/or confusing.   American Assassin is a movie with nothing interesting to say, nothing interesting to show you, and only a couple of reasonably interesting ways to point a camera at something.  This is a movie everyone involved with should be embarrassed about and if we’re lucky maybe everyone will just forget it ever happened.

Marc Alan Fishman: A Tale of Two Trailers

This week, the gods of the interwebs granted us a look at two dichotomous trailers for a pair of blockbuster comic book films soon to be hitting the mega-multi-plexes. Spider-Man: Homecoming and Justice League gave us somewhere around four-minutes total of titillating three-dimensional text, brief respites of prose, and the best action snippets CG could render. But beyond those stark generalities comes two massive worlds apart.

This should come as no surprise to any of us. Spider-Man is packed with wit, charm, and street-level action amidst the hints at bigger set pieces. Justice League is a dark and sordid affair – not without its own charm and wit, but punctuated with the Synder-trademarked sepia-hued gravitas and angst. At this point, would it be enough to say I was ear-to-ear smiles at one trailer… and terribly nervous about the other?

Two guesses which is which. Then again, if I give you two guesses you’d guess right no matter what.

Spider-Man presents a balanced picture that has me in giddy anticipation. Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is presented as we saw him in Civil War. He is as close to the original source as we may ever get in an adapted character from comic to screen. He’s young, funny, nerdy, and oozes those immortal words of his late Uncle Ben between his not-quite-adult pores.

The story we’re presented seems rote. Following Civil War, Peter returns home to Queens to be the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man as per the direction of his would-be father-figure, Tony Stark. But, in the 616 Cinematic Universe, we already know what evil lurks in the shadows. Enter Birdman. Err, Batman. Err, Michael Keaton. Before the trailer ends we’re given what appears to be the entire plot of the movie. Destruction, loss, redemption, snark. It’s almost too easy; I anticipate several key turns before we resolve to whatever happily-ever-sequel there is to come.

Meanwhile in the DCU, Justice League leaves us with a much murkier picture – not counting the actual cinematography. From what we’ve been given, we can safely assert that Batman is assembling a team (let’s go ahead and call them a league) of super-powered individuals to fight some unseen threat. Diana of Themyscira, Barry Allen, Vic Stone, and Arthur Curry appear to be on board to fight said threat. That aside, we really get nothing else specific. Of the snippets we are given though, a few streams of light pierce the typically dark DCU movieverse. From the sneer-grin of Aquaman as he rides on the exterior of the Batmobile, to Bruce Wayne revealing his super power (“I’m rich”), Justice League seems to at least made some minor commitment to be a slightly more mirthful affair than Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Sadness.

Unlike Spider-Man, Justice League’s trailer leaves me more guarded than enthusiastic. League’s teaser is simply too short to get a feeling if we’re taking a step forward or laterally. While BvS was quite profitable, the fan consensus was one of great disdain. What should have been billed as an Avengers level tour-de-force was more or less a maudlin, middling meh-fest. And far be it from me to throw a stone here, but Suicide Squad was a solid popcorn flick – but not one that moved the needle of fan-appreciation that DC desperately needs. Wonder Woman … you are our only hope.

So here we are. Four minutes of film, and we’re right back to where we started. While Marvel revels in whatever phase they’re in at present, DC seems to still be stuck at the starting block trying to impress everyone with how badass they are. And therein lies the truest sentiment of all.

While Marvel leaned into their inner nerd and gave us straight-faced superb tertiary titles like Ant-Man, and Guardians of the Galaxy, DC can’t get out of its own shadow. Spider-Man already feels like a homerun two minutes and several posters in. Justice League is somewhere between an intentional walk… and a beaned batter.

John Ostrander: Spotlighted

John Ostrander: Spotlighted


Having missed it in the theater, I finally caught this year’s Oscar winner for Best Picture, Spotlight, on Blu-Ray. I thought it was mighty impressive, deserving of all the kudos and awards it has gotten.

Directed and co-written by Tom McCarthy and starring Michael Keaton (having a brilliant career renaissance), Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci and a whole slew of really good actors, it tells the account of the breaking of the pederast priests story in the Boston Archdiocese by the Spotlight investigative team of the Boston Globe. The four journalists working for Spotlight are long form investigators who can work on a story over a long period of time, sometimes years.

The movie is both riveting and appalling, making clear how the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Boston – and elsewhere – covered up the sexual abuse of children. It’s a scandal that continues to rock the RC church on a world-wide basis. It’s not only a RC problem, as Josh Duggar proved; fundamentalists also get in on the “action”.

The movie is “entertaining” in that it tells an important story and tells it well. There are comparisons to All The President’s Men, the movie about the breaking of the Watergate scandal by the Washington Post that lead to the impeachment of Richard Nixon and these comparisons are apt; Spotlight even has a sort of Deep Throat character who we hear on the phone but never see.

One of the important points hammered home is the importance of newspapers in our Body Politic, which is worrisome since newspapers are a dying breed. It takes time and money to do this kind of investigation and I’m not sure who is willing to commit to that kind of investment any more. Staffs get cut; there’s just not enough revenue coming in to support it in such a case. Investigative journalism may be seen as a luxury by cash-strapped publishers and their boards.

Is investigative journalism important? Yes. You can trace the history and importance of it back through the “muckrakers” of Teddy Roosevelt’s time. The admirable Doris Kearns Goodwin (my favorite living history writer), in her most recent book The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism, shows – among other things – the rise of McClure’s Magazine at the turn of the last century and how its groundbreaking use of long-form investigative journalism helped usher in the Progressive Era. It is a fascinating and scary read; it has too many echoes with today.

We don’t have this kind of investigative work as much these days. The Internet is great for opinion but opinions are like assholes – everybody has one and, sooner or later, everybody is one. Investigations such as shown in Spotlight rely on facts, facts that are meticulously and painstakingly gathered and checked. The goal is to get the story right and get the right story. As the movie shows, the story wasn’t just about the child abuse in the Catholic Church but how the hierarchy knew about it and covered it up.

Why is that important? This is a Newsweek report from this last February: “During a presentation for newly appointed bishops, French Monsignor Tony Anatrella said they don’t have a duty to report abuse because it should be the responsibility of victims and their families to go to the police.”

The movie tells us, in title cards at the end, that the Boston Globe published 600 articles on the topic and that pederast priests and brothers have been found in many cities, not only in this country but around the world. It was hard to read that list and not feel a little sick.

Finding the story, getting it right, and getting it out there is more important than ever in this election year. Politicians know that they can blatantly lie and get away with it. What they say hits the front page; the correction (if any) comes on page three. Perhaps a lot of people these days just don’t care; they know what they think and don’t need no stinkin’ facts.

They’re wrong. The Body Politic needs to know those stinkin’ facts. The movie, Spotlight, shows how hard it is to get them and the impact they can have. We need to know the story that the facts tell even if it makes us uncomfortable. The scary question is – how much longer will we be able to get them?

Mike Gold: Batman Resurrected

Michael KeatonNo, that’s not the title of the next Batman movie. Well, it might be. I suspect Warner Bros. hasn’t thought that far ahead. They’re too busy trying to make their Aquaman movie without giggling themselves to death.

A couple nights ago I was watching Batman Returns – you’ll recall that was Michael Keaton’s second and final Batflick. At the time of release, which was 1992, I thought it was an uneven movie. By and large, I liked the Catwoman stuff but I thought the Penguin parts were… foul. It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen the movie, so when I surfed past it at a quarter-to-two in the morning, I thought it might be fun to check it out with my older and even more jaded eyes.

I was amused to discover the movie was broader than I remembered, but just as dark. It was almost as if Stanley Kubrick made the movie as a tribute to the 1960s teevee show. The Catwoman scenes weren’t as strong as I remembered, the Penguin scenes were better acted (but no better realized) than I thought, and the scenes with Michael Keaton that didn’t include either villain were, by and large, really good.

So what happened in the past 22 years? Certainly most of us enjoy the avalanche of Marvel Studios movies, the so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe that, properly, excludes Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four. But the tone and texture of the DC Movie Universe should differ from the tone and texture of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, just as your average DC Universe comic book differs from its Marvel counterparts – when done right.

(Yes, you read that right: I referred to the DC movies as a separate “Universe” from the DC teevee shows for one simple reason: they are separate. Completely separate. Needlessly and confusingly separate.)

So… what changed? Batman Returns really isn’t dated. Why would I be so taken with Keaton’s work this time around?

One word. Birdman.

You know the concept: an on-the-ropes actor best known for his playing a costumed superhero on the big screen tries to resurrect his career and give his life meaning by directing and starring in a Broadway play. For this effort, Keaton has been awarded top acting honors from the Screen Actors Guild, BAFTA, the Independent Spirit Award, the Satellite Award (from the International Press Academy, not to be confused with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Golden Globes) and the AACTA International Award for Best Actor – that’s the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts.

Keaton has also received an Oscar® nomination for Birdman, in a particularly tough category this year. “It’s an honor just to be nominated…”

I always liked Keaton, and he really knocked me over in Clean and Sober. But Birdman surpasses his previous efforts because he knows we will conflate his character with his career. He relies that pre-existing relationship, and he pulls it off magnificently.

I don’t think Keaton’s career has been on the ropes, but it was no longer as high profile. I suspect he liked it that way. But, post-Birdman, he is an A-Lister once again. And this is strictly because he decided to do Batman in the first place – and because he thought it over and appreciated what that meant to both him and his audience.

All top-drawer superhero actors age… with a few unfortunate exceptions. The plot to Birdman is all about what you do with yourself after you shed your tights. Keaton figured it out.


(“Oscar” is a registered trademark of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, so watch your ass.)


Box Office Democracy: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

There is a scene near the end of Birdman’s second act where Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton) delivers a brutal tirade against the idea of theater criticism. He talks about how safe the life of a critic is and how audacious it is of them to judge the work of actors. This puts me in a bit of a precarious place as a critic because these are words coming out of a strong character in a brilliantly executed film and they’re basically calling me an asshole if I have a problem with any of the performances in this film. Fortunately I have hardly any complaints about Birdman, acting or otherwise, and I can continue my life as a critic free from fear of the ire of Michael Keaton. (more…)

Dennis O’Neil: Tim Burton and the Bat

Film Director Tim Burton Portrait SessionAbout 25 years ago I was walking from a screening at a Third Avenue theater onto a bustling Manhattan street with a Time Warner executive. My companion thought the movie we’d just seen, a movie that would be opening in a few days, was too dark for a summer entertainment and so would probably fail. Later, another kind and generous exec told me that there had been a snafu in getting the comic book adaptation I’d written to market and that my royalties would probably be impacted by the screen version of the story beating the comics version to the public. He said he’d try to get me a little extra money to ease my loss. It was a very generous offer, but in the end, an unnecessary one. The royalties were quite satisfactory, thank you.

And the movie? A hit. A big, juicy and – okay, we’ll admit it – dark hit.

It was directed by Tim Burton, starred Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton and was eponymously titled Batman. Short, punchy. Fit on any marquee inn town.

It wasn’t Batman’s first venture into theaters. In the 40s there had been two serials, aimed at the Saturday matinee kid audience, and in 1966, a comedic take on the character adapted from a television show. I guess that those efforts did whatever they were supposed to do. But the 1989 Batman… that was something else. I don’t have the profit/loss statements – I guess those Warner folk misplaced my phone number, back then in the 80s – but I’ll happily guess that the BurtonBat exceeded box office expectations, maybe by a long stretch.

Why do you think that is? Batman wasn’t the first big production that took the superhero genre seriously. There had been the four Superman movies, with A-list directors and actors. And Supergirl. (I’m not counting Superman and the Mole Men, which sprung from yet another television program, nor the movies-of-the week, yet more television programming.)

But Burton’s stuff seemed to me to have been a game changer. Again, why? Maybe because it was a tipping point, which is defined by the excellent writer who popularized the term as “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.” The writer, Malcolm Gladwell, says that “…ideas and products and messages and behavior spreads like viruses do.”

So maybe the idea of superheroes as a legitimate genre, equal to westerns and crime drama and the rest of the generic amusements, had been seeping into our collective psyche for years. But the genre wasn’t quite validated until…voila – it was! Tim Burton and his collaborators delivered what audiences didn’t realize they were waiting for – a movie that had enough familiar elements to be acceptable as mass entertainment, but was also not quite like anything that those audiences had seen before, which made it a novelty.

It was a winning combination, one that’s unlikely ever to be repeated. And a bonus: I rewatched the movie last night and can report that is holds up well. After all these years, it still does the job. Does it darkly, but does it. Nice.