{Film Review} Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)

“Oskar (Thomas Horn) is convinced that his father (Tom Hanks), who died in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, has left a final message for him hidden somewhere in the city. Feeling disconnected from his grieving mother (Sandra Bullock) and driven by a relentlessly active mind that refuses to believe in things that can’t be observed, Oskar begins searching New York City for the lock that fits a mysterious key he found in his father’s closet. His journey through the five boroughs takes him beyond his own loss to a greater understanding of the observable world around him. — (C) Warner Bros”

When I settled into my seat in the cinema last night with three of my friends, waiting for the movie to begin, I honestly did not know what to expect. I have heard of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close as a book, and I knew all about the movie production, but I never read it and I know as much as the next person about the plot. I only knew that Rotten Tomatoes scored it as rotten, but I defiantly decided to just forget everything and just enjoy the film. 

It didn’t take long for me (or for anyone else, at that matter) to realize that Oskar, the main protagonist, is, well, different. Not only in the sense of the possibility of his having Asperger’s Syndrome (it wasn’t really clarified in the film), but apparently he’s a kid who has a temper, getting away with cursing, shouting at elders, and throwing tantrums. A lot of people found issue with that, but I don’t mind. I have a soft spot for characters who are different from normal people, since I have first-hand experience with people like them every day (my brother is autistic, and my one of my college organizations, SPEED, deals with special children). I think Thomas Horn did a good job of embodying the moody Oskar, with his quirks and mannerisms and all those really annoying things that should annoy me but doesn’t.

Despite Tom Hanks’s name being placed prominently on the poster, I think he actually had more screen time in his dying moments than any scene that could have developed his character. He’s probably just there because, well, he’s Tom Hanks. It’s a shame because his character seemed like a very interesting dad. I’m not sure if it was this way in the book, but book-to-movie adaptations are known to change several things in their productions anyway, so why not? Sandra Bullock did an incredible job as the suffering surviving parent, and her character’s scenes with Oskar were among the most touching parts of the film. Max Von Sydow was brilliant in his portrayal of the mute old man who eventually became Oskar’s companion in his search within the city. The twist regarding his character was not unexpected, though. 

There are some things I find skeptical in the plot. (Beware: SPOILERS AHEAD! Scroll down until you see another line in bold.

Oskar began his search of that single Black out of 472 Blacks in the city by knocking on Abby Black’s door. Abby Black (Viola Davis), it later turns out, is the person Oskar has been looking for all along. Really, now, movie? And the poor kid had to go through hundreds of other people before he found out. And what are the odds of that happening anyway? Okay, I’m not enraged at this, but it’s something I find really weird; it totally triggers some eye-rolling here. Anyhoo, SPOILER OVER. I’m okay.

From the beginning of the film, I can’t help but notice (as I always do) the score. I really liked it. It adds to the whole Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close meaning, in a literal sense. I didn’t really listen for it, but if I’m not mistaken, there’s music all throughout the film, with the meager silences covered by Oskar’s constantly jangling tambourine. If anything, this was the aspect I loved the most. (Edit: I just found out that it was Alexandre Desplat who composed the score. He was also the composer of the score of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by the way. I am not surprised why I love it now.)

I was stumbling as usual around the Internet and found this chart from The Whole Garden Will Bow and I am marveling at how accurate it was. 

I can see where people are getting at with the film getting emotionally manipulative. Believe me, I could practically feel the movie screen’s extended tendrils alighting on my face and dragging the tears down (it did not succeed, no matter how much I wanted to let it), and I can understand how people can feel enraged by that, but I don’t see much fault in it. I was totally ignorant of the events that occurred during the 9/11 incident when it happened, as I was only six years old then, and I could never imagine the full extent of how terrible it must have been to everyone who witnessed it, but somehow watching this movie made me understand a bit more. This movie is about moving on, a concept hard enough to grasp for people having to accept it, and for a kid with Asperger’s (still not sure if that what he has), it’s something that takes longer to understand. And I really can’t imagine how hard it must be for Oskar’s mother, either. I have experienced special children having problems and the emotional turmoil it causes their family (my brother is autistic, and it breaks my heart to see my mother crying over him when he has tantrums that won’t subside for days) and I know other people with this problem as well, and seeing it play out in the movie felt so real and raw and honest to me. So, weighing my earlier complaints against everything this movie made me feel, I’m more inclined to like this movie. 

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is not without flaws, but the solid acting and the score make up for it. I am not surprised that it is an Oscar nominee. There is much to be desired in the script, so many questions I want answered, and I suppose that’s the crippling aspect for me. Otherwise, I like this film. Definitely not perfect, but it is a movie that is beautiful in its portrayal of coping with one’s loss. I may be one of the minority who liked it, but give it a try and see if you do, too.

In a nutshell…

Rating: 3/5
Runtime: 129 mins.
Released: 2012
Directed by: Stephen Daldry
Written by: Eric Roth (screenplay), Jonathan Safran Foer (novel)
Executive Producers: Benjamin Melniker, Sam Register, Bruce W. Timm, Michael E. Uslan
Producer: Lauren Montgomery
Co-Producer: Alan Burnett
Music: Alexandre Desplat
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Spoken Language: English
Country of origin: United States of America
Genre: Animation, Action
Oskar Schell – Thomas Horn
Linda Schell – Sandra Bullock
Thomas Schell – Tom Hanks
The Renter – Max von Sydow
Abby Black – Viola Davis
Oskar’s Grandmother – Zoe Caldwell
Stan the Doorman – John Goodman

{Review} Batman: Prey

The front cover of Batman: Year One. I love how creepy and awesome it looks!


“Set in the Year One time frame, Batman must confront the sinister Dr Hugo Strange, a man with a deadly secret, out to stop and, if necessary, kill the Dark Knight. Who is the bloodthirsty Night Scourge, how does he link in with the police department, and where exactly does the mysterious Catwoman fit into all this?” *

I have been meaning to follow the Batman chronology for a while now, but I’ve only really come round to doing it fairly recently (this year, in fact). I love how, with every Batman story I read, I learn something new about him! Reading chronologically really helps, but I’ve been using this as my guide. As far as I know, there are no official DC listings for a Batman chronology, despite the wealth of comics about the Dark Knight that have been around for more than seventy years (Batman was first introducted in 1939). It suggested that after Batman: Year One (review here), I read Batman: Prey, so I dutifully obeyed.

Prey is estimated to occur shortly after Year One, so it is no surprise that we still see Batman as the dark, brooding hero coming to terms with his new mission as protector of Gotham City. Despite his best efforts to prove that he is actually one of the good guys, he is still a highly targeted vigilante for many of its citizens, particularly the Gotham City Police Department (GCPD). At the moment, his only friends (and the only ones who know his real identity as Bruce Wayne) are the ever-loyal butler,  Alfred, and the detective-turned-captain James Gordon.

Prey begins with a police sting operation designed to catch a drug dealer who could reveal the syndicate behind it all. Before the GCPD could close in on the guy, though, Batman has shaken the guy and disrupted the whole operation. One of the officers, Max Cort, gets thoroughly infuriated by this and reports to an indifferent Gordon, who defends Batman by insisting that he is actually good for morale. In the next scene, Gordon is shown at a television show, being interviewed along with Gotham City Mayor Kauss and Dr. Hugo Strange, a well-known psychiatrist. Dr. Strange offers some insight against Batman, analyzing why he wears a costume, etc. The Mayor is very much impressed with him that he hires the man for his services in a newly-enforced “Task Force Vigilante” against Batman, unbeknownst to anyone in GCPD prior to Kauss’s announcement on-air. Against Gordon’s wishes, the Mayor assigns him as the head of said task force. As the story unravels, we get to see different sides of this Hugo Strange, as well as Max Cort, and even glimpses of Catwoman in between.

Even though I did not finish Prey in a day as planned, it stuck with me long enough for me to really get a kick out of it. I especially liked the latter parts, where the climax of the story is. The characters seemed very real, and were very convincing in their roles. Dr. Strange was, well, really strange, but more than that, he was downright creepy with his obsession and, to say the least, he was insane in the worst sense of the word. Max Cort proved to be as idiotic as Gordon thought he would be, all brawn with little brain, believing he could actually beat Batman! Tsk. As if. A thing that I would have liked to see more of was Catherine, the Mayor’s daughter. She was established at the beginning to be a very opinionated woman, but later on she just served as a pawn in the power play between Dr. Strange and Batman. Her faith in the Dark Knight was pleasantly unexpected, which naturally made me want to see more of her in a setting that gave her freedom to do whatever she liked. 

On the other hand, the art was, for me, exquisite. The illustrations by Paul Gulacy and Terry Austin and the coloring by Steve Oliff were brilliantly done, and the fact that it was made in the 90’s made it even more impressive. I was rereading some parts of Prey for this review earlier and I thought, ‘This is what comics should look like’. Probably part of what made me gush about the art was how I really love vintage style comics, especially from genuinely vintage comics. They just look so fine! Anyway, I really loved Prey. I was already dead set on loving Batman anyway, but reading stories like this made me remember why I love him so much. Really. 

In a nutshell…
Rating: 4/5
Writer: Doug Moench
Artist: Paul Gulacy, Terry Austin
Colorist: Steve Oliff
Letterer: John Costanza
Publisher: DC Comics
Published: 1990, New York 
Genre: Superhero, Crime

{Film Review} Batman: Year One (2011)




Batman: Year One is an animated film released by DC and Warner Brothers Animation last year (gosh, it still feels weird saying that). It chronicles the transition of Bruce Wayne to Batman, and how Jim Gordon’s adjustments in his newly inhabited detective position in the Gotham Police Department. The movie is based on the four-part comic book series of the same name by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli (see previous post). It was co-directed by Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery, with the voices of Bryan Cranston, Ben McKenzie, Eliza Dushku, Jon Polito, Alex Rocco, Katee Sackhoff, and Jeff Bennet as Jim Gordon, Batman/Bruce Wayne, Selina, Commissioner Loeb, Falcone, Det. Essen, and Alfred the butler, respectively.

If you have read the comics, you would be delighted to know that the movie follows it faithfully. It’s like seeing how you imagined it all this time – well, it was for me, anyway. If you haven’t, fear not. This is a brilliant way to ease into the series (if you ever plan to) while also serving as a good background primer for the esteemed Dark Knight.

The story begins with two of the main characters entering Gotham City. Bruce Wayne is returning to his hometown after twelve years of staying abroad; The media is in a frenzy about the return of their charming and undeniably rich “native son”, as they call it. Jim Gordon, on the other hand, arrives quietly by train, with only a Detective Flass to greet him. Despite the stark contrast between Bruce’s and Jim’s welcomes, the two men share one thing in common: they do not really hold Gotham in their highest esteem. As both men struggle with their new lives, they learn some things you would only learn in a messed up city like Gotham.

I really liked how the movie stayed faithful to the graphic novel. It serves as a good companion to the series, and it doesn’t really matter if you read the book or not. This is as complete and true to the story as you could expect of any film adaptation. Despite that almost panel-by-panel animation, I couldn’t help but miss David Mazzucchelli’s vintage style. Still, this is a tiny scruff on a spotless film. If you haven’t read it in a while, you could watch this instead if you’re pressed for time. Whether you are a comic veteran or not, I am sure this movie would prove to be a delight.

In a nutshell…

Rating: 4/5
Runtime: 64 mins.
Released: 2011
Directors: Sam Liu, Lauren Montgomery
Writers: Bob Kane (creator), Frank Miller (original story), Tab Murphy (screenplay)
Executive Producers: Benjamin Melniker, Sam Register, Bruce W. Timm, Michael E. Uslan
Producer: Lauren Montgomery
Co-Producer: Alan Burnett
Music: Christopher Drake
Studio: Warner Bros. Animation, Warner Premiere, DC Entertainment
Spoken Language: English
Country of origin: United States of America
Genre: Animation, Action
Cast (voice):
Bryan Cranston – Jim Gordon
Ben McKenzie – Bruce Wayne/Batman
Eliza Dushku – Selina Kyle/Catwoman
Jon Polito – Commissioner Loeb
Alex Rocco – Carmine Falcone
Katee Sackhoff – Det. Sarah Essen
Jeff Bennett – Alfred the butler
Source: IMDb

{Book Review} Batman: Year One

“A young Bruce Wayne has spent his adolescence and early adulthood, traveling the world so he could hone his body and mind into the perfect fighting and investigative machine. But now as he returns to Gotham City, he must find a way to focus his passion and bring justice to his city. Retracing Batman’s first attempts to fight injustice as a costumed vigilante, we watch as he chooses a guise of a giant bat, creates an early bond with a young Lieutenant James Gordon, inadvertently plays a role in the birth of Catwoman, and helps to bring down a corrupt political system that infests Gotham.”*

I’m relatively new to comic book reading because of the scarcity of comic book stores here in the Philippines, but I got an opportunity to read this because I knew someone who had a copy and shared it with me. I really like this comic book because I always wondered how Batman started out. I mean, I knew how movie-wise, but really reading them on the actual comics they were based on is a whole other experience. There is also an animated movie of the same name released just this year. I haven’t watched it yet, but I heard it is faithful to the comic book.

You’ll find in Batman: Year One Batman at the infancy of his planning stage. Eighteen years after his parents’ death, the business empire heir thinks that he is now ready to “clean up a city that likes being dirty”, the infamous Gotham City. The city really needed a hero at this time since it was wrought with crime and danger everywhere. This book also chronicles the life of Lieutenant Gordon, a detective, after his arrival to Gotham City and his interactions with the Dark Knight.(view spoiler). I really liked the story since it provides a good, solid background for people who want to know more about Batman. This is the first comic book I’ve read that was written by Frank Miller, and I can’t wait to read more.

As I advanced through the pages, I couldn’t help but admire the graphics as well. I mean, it’s a comic book! I love the old-school feel of David Mazzucchelli’s illustrations, reminiscent of the superhero comic strips in the comic sections of newspapers that I religiously followed as a child.

Even if it’s more than two decades old, this book is a must-read for everyone, not just DC or Batman fans. It’s easy to follow for new comic book readers, and if I’m not mistaken, I think this comes first if the Batman comics were to be read chronologically. I’m seriously considering buying the physical version of this book, not the digital comics, and hopefully the 4 issues instead of the compilation. I don’t think it will come cheap though. Then again, for such a brilliant series, it deserves it. Let’s support the comics industry! Not much people buy anymore, and it would be a shame if the industry died out.

In a nutshell…
Rating: 5/5
Writer: Frank Miller
Illustrator: David Mazzucchelli
Colorist: Richmond Lewis
Letterer: Todd Klein
Publisher: DC Comics
Published: 1988, New York *originally published in single magazine form as Batman: Year One 1-4, (c) 1986-1987
Genre: Superhero