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Batman Begins
The Review before the previews

By Naveed Islam

To the non believers (take that Stan Lee) who haven't kept themselves updated, the rough draft of the script for Warner Bros. latest adaptation of the iconic Batman mythology, aptly titled Batman Begins, has been released on the web prior to its official unveiling on June 17th. The story chronicles the events leading upto a thirty year old Bruce Wayne donning the cape and cowl and stealing into the night to battle the criminal underworld of the fictional yet eerily real premise that embodies Bob Kane's imaginary Gotham City. If I were to answer your question, “can this movie really revive the dying series?” after my own evaluation of the script I will give you a solid “most probably”.

For those of you unfamiliar with the legend, let me brief you: Batman is a comic book which originated from the mind and illustrations of creator Bob Kane, sometime in the '50s, about a man dressed in the image of a Bat who goes about the city solving mysteries and fighting crime. While without super powers, Batman backs up his act with his knowledge of the criminal mind as well as his sharp detective skills, quick fists and an impressive repertoire of sophisticated gadgets which would probably even put James Bond to shame. However, that's just the surface. The many faces and forms that the Batman comic books have taken show us how different he is from your typical Supers or Spiders. What's undoubtedly the series' true stand out, are the psychological aspects which separate a boy who has lost his parents to the nocturnal façade he inhabits in his adulthood. In society, Batman would be referred to as Bruce Wayne's separate identity but in truth it's the same duality shared in all humanity, the struggle of conscience, a darker side behind even the most righteous. In some ways, the Bat, drawn from Bruce's childhood fears, is his own darkness, an outlet for his anger that he could do nothing to stop his family's murder and his dedication to preventing such atrocities to befall others is slightly more selfish than noble, since it is his own psyche venting its emotions. To sum up, in contrast to others in this line of vigilante justice, Batman is as “human” as they come.

To quote an old joke set in the New York Times shortly after the release of Tim Burton's first Batman, “one man says to the other, 'Hey, did you see how much money the new Batman movie made?' to which the other, with conviction, replies 'Yeah, imagine how much cash it would have made if the film had actually been any good.” Indeed, while the past four entries (especially the last one) seemed to have poured the last ounce of dirt onto the series' lonely grave, writer David Goyer has attempted to pull it six feet upwards to shine once again and rightfully so. What set it apart from the preceding films and possibly all others from the superhero franchises of Marvel and DC Comics is the fact that it's hard to place it into one particular genre. Initially, it will seem more of a drama, as much of the beginning is devoted to exploring the character of Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), through the ages of 8, when his parents died, to 20 where, without giving too much away, his journey 'Begins'. But slowly the story will manifest itself as a Caper/Gangster flick while inevitably reaching its true purpose as an entertaining Action Adventure. Along his path to 'realization', Bruce will encounter the likes of Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson), a ruthless Marlon Brando wannabe out to run the streets of Gotham, Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy), a psychologist at the local nuthouse, Arkham Asylum, Bruce's mentor the mysterious Ducard (Liam Neeson) and the enigmatic Ra's Al Ghoul (Ken Watanabe), while being helped by his allies Dr. Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), Assistant D.A. Rachel Dodson (Katie Holmes) and the always by his side Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine).

The cast is an obvious yet noteworthy difference between this and any of the earlier movies. Directors Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher gave us a helping of some of the titans of the '90s box office, from the Terminator and his 'Twin', Arnold and DeVito to Oscar winners Tommy Lee Jones, Jack Nicholson and Kim Basinger as well as nominee Nicole Kidman. Chris O' Donnel, Alicia Silverstone, Uma Thurman, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, Danny Ocean himself, George Clooney and rubber man Jim Carrey also add to an already stellar line up and if you paid attention in the third installment, Drew Barrymore has a relatively small yet significant role as one of the deranged Two Face's “companions”.

That is not to take any props away from the new cast, on the contrary, while some of the names on this extremely talented list will leave the laymen with a dumbfounded “who?” movie enthusiasts and Bat fans alike will immediately identify with the actors as well as the fitting roles that they each play in Batman's saga. The film is backed more by talent than by star power which, can even be highlighted in the film's teaser poster.

As opposed to the traditional Batman movie style of highlighting the big names involved in the movie in one wall hanging, the poster only shows a lonely and sorrowful Batman seemingly with the weight of the world on his shoulders against a golden sky. Christian Bale's face isn't even illuminated, only the Bat's silhouette is apparent. What's most intriguing is that its not just cool, it shows us in its own obscure way how the series has taken a new turn and from the draft of the script that I've had the pleasure of reading, it seems David Goyer has succeeded in putting the 'Dark' back in the 'Dark Knight'. It highlights Bruce's journey as a man and shows how his childhood experiences inevitably mirror themselves onto the darkness shown in his later life, and an element which had once again gone missing from the previous movies, the detective work, has made its way here as opposed to the usual feeding of 'super hero beat em ups' that we expect. The acting is as powerful as the new Bat mobile (which when compared to the previous models, looks like its on steroids), and adds humanity to the imaginary comic book setting.

What struck me most about the storyline, other than its brilliant writing, would be the message it sends to a world caught in chaos. Unlike your typical super hero flicks (this is one of those cases where the conflict in genre arises) the police aren't 'Just that DUMB' that they can't stop a lunatic in a silly costume trying to take over the world. Instead it shows a necessity of such a vigilante in a city caught in a downward spiral of fear, corruption and decay (much like our own tsunami spared metropolis). And yet, it leads us to hope that there is some good left in such a damned place and in the course of dialogue and elaborate action sequences (a particularly fun read involving the Bat mobile and one fight atop a monorail) we feel compelled to cheer for the man in black. There are purposes behind the introductions of each of the characters, that can be found by simply listening to the tones and conversations that the writer has managed to incorporate and associate to these roles. Carmine Falcone, for example, is meant to portray the more real, less fictional, criminal darkness that plagues Gotham where money and fear is power while Rachel Dodson's purpose was to steer a vengeful and angry Bruce onto a path of justice. Jim Gordon remains the honest cop amidst a population overwhelmed with deceit, and while not adorned in red and green tights with an 'R' on his suit, he is in one word Batman's “sidekick” for most of the film.

Ra's Al Ghoul's conceit for mankind traverses through the environmental issues that contaminate our world today, condemning the self destructive human race to an eternity of 'fear' (you'll get it once you see the movie). One reader of the script even coined a tiny note, which went so far as to compare Al Ghoul, an Arab and leader of a gang of rogues, to Osama Bin Laden. Mind you that the movie is in no means again deeming us as terrorists since in the true comic book series Ra's did have Arab roots, but even then I believe there is some ground behind that comparison. The shady villain operates his network from a secret location high atop the peaks of the Himalayan ranges and while his presence is strongly felt he is never always quite there. It's definitely a welcome change from seeing too much of Arnold in the last movie. It's inspiring to watch Bruce Wayne a youth hungry for vengeance to grow into the symbol of justice for a distraught populous and his enmity with Ra's will keep fans on the edge of their seats till the movie's end.

The film finally answers series pioneer, Tim Burton's question “If this guy is supposed to be so strong then why couldn't he have just taken a gun to his parent's killer's head?” This was an issue left up in the air in the previous movies which actually strayed from the storyline to go on and say (in the first movie) that he does kill the killer by throwing him from a building and later to say (the third movie) that he chose his integrity. The latter is true but not in the ways that you would expect. It shows us more of Wayne's past and re introduces us to more human roles for Martha and Thomas Wayne and the establishment of a friend and father figure in Alfred. What surprised me was the lack of screen time given to Ken Watanabe. Still he manages to retain importance and storyline value until the end which, if you can interpret its meaning, will undoubtedly leave you itching for a sequel.

In short, Batman Begins is worth the purchase and will definitely be one of the hot movies of 2005. Hopefully I'll be spending the summer at my sister's in America so I can see it in a hall, but I'll still be content with watching it on DVD. I don't normally enjoy movie reviews here since they're usually extract from web sites, but I felt that this movie was more personal than one should expect but I must warn you this is not for everybody. If you're looking for a straight forward action film with 'little less talk and a lot more super hero action' than you might risk the disappointment since some of the action sequences are worth the wait. But if you're a “true believer” and follow the comics or are just looking for a good film, this is the movie you've been waiting for.

One man's dream of becoming the Greatest Teacher in the World, and that one man just happening to be Ekichi Onizuka, ex biker-gang leader and karate champion extraordinaire. Foul-talking, crude, shallow, and single at 22, he doesn't seem likely to ever do anything other than drive trucks until one day he gets hired by a school on conditions that aren't particularly to his liking: as home room teacher to the most feared bunch of troublemakers in academic history…

GTO's been around for some time. The wildly popular manga, the even more popular anime (which we're looking at) and now the live-action series. Evidently Japan can't get enough of Ekichi Onizuka, and for good reason: the GTO story is probably the single best blend of drama and comedy ever. And with the likes of Kare Kano around, that says a lot.

GTO screams attitude at you from the get go with the immensely refreshing in-your-face opening credits, and the way you're introduced to the characters. I don't recall seeing any other anime that knew how to switch between taking itself seriously and being hilarious so seamlessly, or with such appropriate precision; the breathtaking amounts of character development are spaced to perfection by the hilarious antics of Onizuka and his interactions with the cast.

Speak of the cast, and you're instantly astonished at how well fleshed out every character in the show is; while Onizuka himself is a gem (rebel, perverted, and probably the biggest idiot ever), his pupils never fail to impress you with how real they are and how they grow throughout. Every single one of them is focused on, from the rather craven Yoshikawa to the brilliantly psychotic Kanzaki, and their development as people is one of the strongest features of the anime. The rest of the cast (Onizuka's fellow teachers and the school administration, and others who make appearances) are also equally believable and entertaining throughout.

The artwork is an experience in itself; generally very high quality, occasionally crude (to the benefit of the comedy) and with a style that's as pseudo-graffiti and brash as Onizuka himself. The animation is likewise fluid and only occasionally over the top.

Of special mention are the opening credits, both of which are as eloquently irreverent that you can't help missing them the day you finish the series. The music is another highlight; the opening and ending themes, all four of them, are a treat to anyone, and the rest is fitting till the end.

So you've got a show with a truckload of good characters, a simple but well executed plot, all the style in the world, pacing to die for, and a not-too-shabby piece of Japanese culture, all garnished with side-splitting comedy and deep drama at the same time. GTO not only lives up to the hype, but manages to surpass it by far. Greatest Teacher ever? You bet.

Assault on Precinct 13

Review Ghokra

Assault on Precinct 13 is a remake of a brilliant 1976 cult classic about cops and convicts trapped in an L.A. precinct station about to close down, forced to form unlikely alliances to fight off the bloodthirsty street gang surrounding them. John Carpenter's 1976 original was close to perfect pitting a mad dad against the vicious LA street gang that killed his little girl.

This time the scene is in snowbound Detroit police station besieged not by street gangs but by rogue cops.

The plot:
It's New Year's Eve and Precinct 13 is scheduled to close forever at midnight. Its run by a motley skeleton crew headed by burnt out desk Sgt. Jake Roenick (Hawke) traumatized by tragic police raid where two partners died. Also there are a handful of cops soon to retire Jasper O'Shea (Brian Dennehy) and lusty secretary Iris Ferry (Drea de Matteo)

Everything changes as cop killer criminal Bishop (Laurence Fishburne) has been arrested and is being transported by police bus with some other detainees, including the motormouth Beck (John Leguizamo), a crew-cut girl crook (Aisha Hinds) and a counterfeiter named Smiley (Jeffrey Atkins, a k a Ja Rule). It's New Year's Eve, there's a storm brewing outside and people want to go home fast. Add to that a road accident that blocks off the road and the detainees are shipped off to Precinct 13 instead of the jail they were headed to. Things start turning bad as Bishops men want to set him free while a set of rogue cops want to kill Bishop before he spills the beans about their shady dealings.

You see, Bishop is the longtime partner of crooked cop Marcus Duvall (Byrne) and is now a danger to Duvall's rotten crew and, as soon as the mobster/murderer is ensconced in jail, Duvall begins assaulting Precinct 13 with everything at his disposal: his squad of dirty cops and high-tech weaponry.

Also Jake's hot but antagonistic psychiatrist, Alex Sabian (Maria Bello) drops in as she is also blocked off by the accident on the road.

To make matters worse the station's radio and phones are out of order. Heck even cell phones are pretty much useless. Makes you wonder that maybe they were using no network phone connection offered by Bangladeshi operators. As Precinct 13 is on its own Jake must decide if he trusts his dangerous prisoners enough to enlist them in the battle

The original "Assault on Precinct 13" was a low budget no-star show that was a big hit. The remake has a great cast and lots of technical firepower, along with an engrossing story and lots of genre savvy.

Fishburne's Bishop is a simmeringly cool killer. With his infinite wisdom, unflappable demeanor, and awesome action-movie skills, he actually seems to have dropped by from the Matrix. Watch it and you will know what I mean.

The '76 original was a gritty movie low on dialogue and high on the action. That served it very well as the whole situation was so intense that speaking would be out of the question. The remake has a lot of chatty moments which do fit the bill albeit with a jarring usage of the ''f" word as if its synonymous to breathing.

There's a lot of action that gets a little silly at times. As with most movie there are plot holes such as a scene where there is a chase though an abandoned and forgotten sewer that is very well lit. Somebody is busy changing the bulbs. Despite that it's an engrossing action movie. Its old material but the director takes it and makes it work with strong performances and a couple of new twists.




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