School Ties (1992)
★★★ / ★★★★
David Greene (Brendan Fraser), a Jewish high school senior in Scranton, Pennsylvania, is invited to attend St. Matthew’s, a renowned school in New England, because the academy needs a talented quarterback who can win them games. Despite some of the faculty’s knowledge that David is from a Jewish family, an uncommon recruitment given the prejudices in the ’50s, they are desperate to have him. When David meets his fellow athletes, readily spewing words of bigotry in the locker room, he figures that his life in the prep school will be easier if he makes an attempt to hide his background.
“School Ties,” based on the screenplay by Dick Wolf and Darryl Ponicsan, looks at the ugliness of intolerance with fastidiousness. While it is very unpleasant to hear phrases like “Christ killer,” “dirty Jew,” “Hebe,” and the like, it is also challenging, sometimes more so, to try to relate and sympathize with a person whose lips utter these words, especially when he stands like a proud giant after making the room laugh for being “daring” enough to use such unnecessary slurs. The film allows us to observe the close-minded individuals, think about some of the reasons why they might be the way they are, and be open to the possibility that they can learn to be more open-minded over time.
One them is Charlie (Matt Damon). He is under a lot of pressure from his family to get into Harvard. He sees himself as mediocre and having David enter the picture being surrounded by all sorts of adoration makes him jealous and angry. The screenplay makes a good move in allowing Charlie and David to connect before they are torn by circumstances, one of the reasons involving a girl (Amy Locane), and become enemies. Charlie’s confession to David at the jetty is moving because Charlie is able to lay out his insecurities to someone who feels more like a stranger than a friend. He is not yet aware that David is Jewish.
I felt Reece (Chris O’Donnell) needs more screen time given that he is David’s roommate and one of the students who is prejudiced. There is something surprising about him and it is a shame that the screenplay chooses not to take full advantage of it.
Despite the power of the film’s message, it meanders from time to time. The scenes with the tough French teacher (Zeljko Ivanek), for instance, has a wonderful build-up but weak resolution. Much of these scenes are played for laughs but there is nothing amusing about the ominous halls where one person with the wrong intentions might discover David’s secret.
Directed by Robert Mandel, “School Ties” is appropriately titled because of its multiple meanings. Ties are designed to make people look formal or appear to have a high status. It is a tool that allows David to keep a front in order to belong. The other type of ties involves the camaraderie among the students. There is a bond among the seniors that David can never be a part of, no matter how hard he tries, and it has nothing to do with being Jewish. Their bond is made strong by the accumulation of experiences that the students shared in the institution. Lastly, it is about family connections–knowing the right people to get ahead in life, a concept that the boys rely on as a fallback every time they feel insecure or if things do not work out. David has very little connections. He has a lot to lose.
Batman & Robin (1997)
★ / ★★★★
Dr. Pamela Isley (Uma Thurman), a horticulturalist stationed in South America whose project involved cross-breeding animal and plants, caught Dr. Woodrue (John Glover) creating a super soldier named Bane (Jeep Swenson) for bidding. When she expressed her disapproval of her colleague’s indiscretions, Dr. Woodrue tried to kill her by pushing her into a batch of chemicals. This altered Dr. Isley’s DNA and gave her, now Poison Ivy, the ability to manipulate plants. Pairing up with Bane, the duo headed to Gotham City to demand answers from Bruce Wayne (George Clooney) for cutting funds out of their project. Written by Akiva Goldsman and directed by Joel Schumacher, “Batman & Robin” suffocated from too many plots which was unfortunate because there was a hint of good material lost in a jungle of bad. The strand which involved the decline of Alfred Pennyworth’s (Michael Gough) health was interesting because prior to this point, he had nothing much to do except being a butler to Bruce and offering a wise commentary when Bruce struggled for answers in terms of the dichotomy between his personal and professional life. Even though Alfred was only the help of the Wayne manor, it was tough to see him looking frail and lackadaisical because he was our protagonist’s only father figure. Unfortunately, the film put more weight in having fun in the form racing motorbikes which was aimed to symbolize teenage rebellion, Poison Ivy winking at the camera and mentioning how her action figures always came with Bane, and Bruce appearing in social functions with a woman (Elle Macpherson) we knew absolutely nothing about but marriage was apparently on the horizon. This confusing, cheesy pot of doldrum was heated to a boil so slowly and so painfully, it threatened the integrity of the project and the franchise. Furthermore, while I believed Clooney as Bruce the multibillionaire with that winning smile, I had an incredibly difficult time believing him as Batman. The ultimate challenge that Clooney had to face did not occur during the action scenes when he had to throw a punch and utter laughably trite lines of dialogue. It was in the silent moments when Clooney, dressed as Batman, stood next to Robin (Chris O’Donnell). I knew there was a big problem when I found that my eyes gravitated toward O’Donnell more often even if he wasn’t saying anything. Unlike Clooney, O’Donnell was a good choice to play Robin because he could just scoff and I knew exactly what his character was thinking. This error in casting proved very distracting. Notice that Clooney continued to sport a little smile when discussing Alfred’s affliction. That smile made me very angry because it communicated apathy. The scene should have had an air of seriousness because, after all, Alfred raised Bruce like a son. I wondered if the director even reshot the scene. From the looks of it, more attention was put into the special and visual effects of the chases and explosions which were, admittedly, admirable for their colors and detail. Meanwhile, Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger), eventually teaming up with Poison Ivy and Bane, was reduced to delivering puns, referring to himself as a “villain” and Batman and Robin as “heroes.” Well-established antagonists with real goals don’t consider themselves as villains; they don’t feel guilt toward what they do because they believe what they’re doing is right. Knowing a bit about the deeper and touching details of why Mr. Freeze turned to a life of crime, which involved his wife in cryogenic sleep, it made me angry that the picture mostly portrayed him as a cold-blooded automaton. Wouldn’t it have been more interesting if, despite his intimidating appearance, he was actually portrayed as having a heart, someone who didn’t enjoy hurting people, but he felt he needed to in order to get one step closer in saving his love? The action sequences in “Batman & Robin,” one occurred in the Gotham City Museum of Modern Art looking like an ice rink on acid, were quite a sight at times but it had no heart. It wasn’t cool to give the audience such a cold shoulder.
Batman Forever (1995)
★★ / ★★★★
While checking up on Wayne Enterprises’ electronics division, Bruce Wayne (Val Kilmer) was approached by the nervous Dr. Edward Nygma (Jim Carrey), a brilliant scientist and a longtime fan of the humanitarian, about a project that needed funding. Dr. Nygma wished to put a device in every home in Gotham City which would send beams from the television signal directly to the brain, allowing the viewers to feel like they were inside the program. Bruce detected that the underlying assumption involved mind manipulation so he refused to continue Dr. Nygma’s project. The outraged scientist, eventually turning into The Riddler, promised to get revenge on Bruce for turning down his proposition. Directed by Joel Schumacher, “Batman Forever” was so cartoonish in just about every respect and yet it might have held up if there was something else behind the glitter, sensuality, and explosions. The events that transpired felt so disconnected from one another. Characters entered and exited scenes which served little point in moving the story forward. For instance, Dr. Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman), a psychologist specializing in multiple personality disorders, and Bruce were supposed to discuss the trauma that the latter experienced due to his parents’ death. This was a golden opportunity because up to this point, the audience was offered no in-depth explanation of the tragedy. However, their sessions came off so laughably phony. With every other line uttered, Dr. Meridian outwardly flirted with her patient. Kidman’s decision to sport a sultry bedroom voice made her character appear meretricious when she was supposed to be, first and foremost, smart and knowing. I just hate it when women are supposed to be intellectuals and yet their hair glowed as if they were in a shampoo commercial, their red, puffy lips were always prominent every time the camera focused on their faces, and, if the camera somehow managed to pull back, it was all about the curves and featuring the most desirable angles. I like women exuding raw sexuality but if that is the only factor that the film focuses on about the character when clearly she has something more to offer, it looks completely ridiculous. Worse, it took me out of the experience. On the other hand, I did somewhat enjoy the introduction of Robin (Chris O’Donnell), how he came off as an ungrateful brat after Bruce provided a home for him when he had no one else. O’Donnell and Kilmer shared good chemistry when they argued. However, in terms of offering excellent reasons as to why Batman needed a partner to fight crime, the screenplay by Lee Batchler, Janet Scott Batchler, and Akiva Goldsman proved lackluster. The same problem applied as to why The Riddler needed Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones) to hunt Batman. The former may not rely on guns but he had the brain in setting up ingenious traps. Meanwhile, Two-Face, formerly known as Harvey Dent, provoked chaos so randomly, he came off like a pest that desperately needed pesticide more than an antagonist with clear motivations. Unlike The Riddler, very little background information was offered about Two-Face. “Batman Forever” occasionally showed a glimmer of interesting material, such as Dr. Nygma’s creepy obsession with Bruce, but it was unfortunate that its priority was on expanding the elements that didn’t work. At least the riddles made me think.