Episode 248: Batman Begins

The film title says it all. Christopher Nolan’s incredible trilogy about The Dark Knight starts here and is the perfect kick-off to our Batman v Superman event over the next couple of months.

Batman Begins Spoiler Review – 0:07:57

The Connecting Point – 1:03:56

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MOVIE REVIEW: Made in Italy

Rating: R / Runtime: 1 hour and 33 minutes

The story in James D’Arcy’s directorial debut is a familiar one. A character estranged from someone they love learns the truth about why their relationship has fractured and finds reconciliation while spending time together away from their normal lives with a focus on reminiscing about the past. In this particular telling, Jack (Micheál Richardson) is facing an impending divorce and seeks his father’s help to fix up their old house in Tuscany, Italy in order to sell it so that Jack can purchase a London art gallery from his soon to be ex-wife’s family. The villa is in rough shape, requiring much more effort than Jack was expecting, thus increasing the amount of time he and his bohemian artist father Robert (played by Richardson’s real-life Dad, Liam Neeson) must spend together. They argue often about the prospects of selling the family home and a general air of frustration looms due to the inability of the two men to discuss the circumstances of Jack’s dead mother, who died in Italy while he was a young boy, and why his father has been so removed from his life since then. While in Italy, Jack also meets beautiful local chef, restaurant owner, and single mother Natalia (Valeria Bilello), who further complicates his feelings about the future.

With very little imagination, you can likely figure out where this story goes. It is predictable in the most obvious of ways, despite the occasional surprise reveal about Robert and Jack’s past. And yet, the emotional journey “Made in Italy” takes the viewer on goes through so many feelings. It’s got a fair share of sadness and anger but plenty of happiness and hope, as well. Though the characters aren’t deeply developed, Neeson and Richardson (a first-time leading man) pair well together on screen and deliver an extremely believable portrait of these two men and their strained, yet clearly loving, relationship. The film’s mostly a drama with some hilarious natural comedy, but its romantic subplots are also genuinely sweet, handled with respect, and don’t overwhelm the narrative.
Visually, “Made in Italy” is a lovely film to look at. Mike Eley’s cinematography is effective in close-ups of characters and interior locations but really shines when capturing the beauty of the Italian landscape. There is, however, a lack of magic that many associate with Tuscany. Despite showing a few local meals and one particularly wonderful scene where the town comes together to watch an outdoor movie, it felt oddly like a side character when the setting should have been a star. Alex Belcher’s score is one other highlight to note, bringing in just the right soothing sounds to match the emotional beats of the film, and complemented well by a solid soundtrack.

“Made in Italy” is unlikely to be a film that turns heads as it does nothing flashy at all, but it is the kind of movie we simply don’t see much of anymore. There is no sex, there are no drugs, there is no violence, and its characters deal with their very realistic and human problems with maturity, kindness, and understanding, leading to a sweet depiction of relationship restoration that parallels the restoring of the house. I unexpectedly found myself swept up in its uplifting charm and find it to be some good hearty medicine during a difficult time in world history.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

What We Learned This Week: August 25-31

LESSON #1: THERE’S PRICE POINT AND THEN THERE’S STEAL OF A DEAL THAT YOU SIMPLY CANNOT PASS UP— You regular readers know my usual stance on price point.  It is the ultimate decision-maker and motivator of consumerism and it always wins.  Just when you couldn’t think Disney could sweeten the pot more for its Disney+ streaming service, they drop another bombshell.  It’s price by itself AND with the ESPN+ add-in already beat Netflix.  Now, they hit us with the special rate for D23 fan club members that drops the price to under $4 per month when you commit to three years.  If this was a cell phone contract, we would all be wary of being locked into something for that amount of time.  That’s not the case here.  That’s a locked-in price for three years in a streaming business era that just loves to get you signed up early and then jack up the rates.  For less than the price of one expensive cup of exotic coffee a month, you get all of Disney+.  Folks, that’s a regret-free and zero excuse steal.

LESSON #2: ROTTEN TOMATOES DESERVES TO WIN A “MOST IMPROVED” AWARD— For all the Rex Reeds and David Ehrlichs that sink hopes and skew audiences with imagined power, the critical community of Rotten Tomatoes needed an infusion of new voices.  Last August, the Flixster-controlled site drastically updated their Tomatometer Critic Criteria and opened its ranks to a new breed of critics (myself included) that go beyond print journalism and stress inclusion of diversity.  One year later, they have reported their resulting data.  Adding 600 critics was huge. To have 55% of them be women, 60% of them be freelancers, and 10% come from video and podcast sources is even more huge.  Thank you, Rotten Tomatoes, for the impactful initiative and impressive follow-through.  What a facelift!

LESSON #3: THOSE WHO CANNOT DO, TEACH— Quite likely for just about every movie fan who has ever seen Matthew McConaughey work or talk about his craft, “scholarly,” I’m betting, was not the first or even the 100th word to come to mind.  Alas, after four years as a “visiting instructor,” the coolest of cool Academy Award winner has become a full-time film “professor of practice” at the Moody College of Communication within the University of Texas-Austin.  This looks like a true commitment and not a gloryhounding publicity stunt in any shape or form.  From one teacher to another, good for you!  The classroom can use your inspiring energy and voice of experience.  Now, all I picture are the hot-for-teacher students from Raiders of the Lost Ark that faun over and derail Professor Henry Jones with their eyelid mesages.

 

If that starts happening to you, Matt, that’s how you know you’ve made it.  I can hear it now: “I just love these college girls.  I get older and they stay the same age.”

LESSON #4: GERARD BUTLER IS A POOR MAN’S LIAM NEESON— The weekend box office victory of Angel Has Fallen has reminded us that Gerard Butler has a certain successful niche that people pay money to see.  Like the matinee idols of the 90s that came before him and kicked and punched (Van Damme, Seagal) their way victoriously through raucous R-rated action flicks, the 300 star and an arsenal of fireams can do the same thing.  He’s beginning the Liam Neeson route early, right before turning 50 this November.  Make a few more winners like the Fallen series and Butler can hope to equal and maybe supplant Neeson.  He’s found a fan romance in Vulture writer and critic extraordinaire Bilge Ebiri after his “I Think I Love Gerard Butler” editorial this past week.  Great read!

 


 

DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. His movie review work is also published on 25YL (25 Years Later) and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.  (#114)

What We Learned This Week: February 3-9

LESSON #1: LIAM NEESON IS IN BIG TROUBLE NO MATTER HOW YOU LOOK AT IT— And here I thought a few weeks ago in this column space, that John Lasseter was going to a big test for post-outrage career paths.  Matching the pulling of the actor’s PR appearances for Cold Pursuit this week, his situation, stemming from his poorly-placed personal admissions and steps towards change in the years since, has two impacts: personal and professional.  The forgiveness, recovery, and damage control are different for both worlds.  He may be able to show his face and make appearances to continue the soul-baring conversation he started, but he may be radioactive on the business side for a while.  I still say if Hugh Grant can be arrested for soliciting a prostitute two decades ago and be the Oscar-worthy villain of Paddington 2 years later, the zero laws broken by Liam Neeson can make redemption possible.  It definitely going to take more than good kissing.

LESSON #2: INTERMISSIONS ARE A WORTHWHILE IDEA— Word around the internet campfire is that the latest edit of Avengers: Endgame is still a mammoth three hours and Disney is considering building in an intermission into film.  I’m all for it. Trim no more. Pick a dynamite editing point for some exhaling and reflection. Give us a bathroom break and a rousing Alan Silvestri overture while we refocus.  Nail that tone. If any film could pull it off, it’s this future juggernaut. Intermissions would extend running time and prevent as many turnstile turns and showings compared to some 90-minute hopscotch movie, but plenty of long films have scored at the box office.  Avatar was 162 minutes.  Titanic was 195.  They made billions.  Bottom lines will be fine.

LESSON #3: FINDING THE RIGHT TONE— Speaking of tone, one of the reasons Universal Pictures’ Dark Universe failed was that it wasn’t dark enough.  The Mummy was a Tom Cruise vehicle, not a thriller.  Even though the old Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi classics aren’t anywhere near hardcore horror by today’s tastes, these characters (and others) are still monsters.  Give them some teeth and some edge, not sugary action fluff. Universal’s hiring of producer Jason Blum and Upgrade director Leigh Whannell for their Invisible Man remake is the right direction to go with smaller aims and horror expertise.  That’s the tone you need here.

LESSON #4: STEVEN SODERBERGH IS THE SMARTEST GUY IN THE ROOM AND GETS NO CREDIT FOR IT— The Oceans series director recently did an interview with Deadline talking about his career path.  One tangent delved into the underwhelming results of his last two films Logan Lucky and Unsane.  Both were well-reviewed films that were lost to audiences.  The grassroots and cost-minded Soderbergh saw marketing costs skyrocketing in the industry and considered it a threat to the success of true independent film working on small budgets.  Fascinatingly, Soderbergh wanted to try spending less (no junkets, talk shows, and more) on those two recent films, going more the viral routes. He found that the silly and preening attention that comes from late-night couches and more gets more attention than social media.  I wish he wasn’t wrong because the fluff is too much and too frivolously expensive. Fascinating interview from a guy with a heck of career arc.

LESSON #5: KNOW WHEN TO SAY WHEN— It looks like Vice Oscar nominee Christian Bale got The Matt Damon Diagnosis recently.  Here at 45 years old, the toll of the “yo-yo dieting” going back and forth between dramatic weight losses for The Machinist and The Fighter and unhealthy weight gains to play American Hustle, Batman, and Dick Cheney has caught up to the actor.  Citing his mortality, Bale says he won’t go through those swings again and let the makeup do the magic.  Wise decision, Christian. We want you to hang around for as long as possible.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a new member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over a year, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the special “Connecting with Classics” podcast program.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.

MOVIE REVIEW: Widows


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.