Pinki: a modern fairy-tale of self-discovery through memories of old technology

Hyunsuk Kim, “Pinki” (2018)

Initially looking like a Korean mash-up of Neil Blomkamp’s “District 9” and “Chappie” with The Transformers film series and Joonho Bong’s “The Host”, “Pinki” turns out to be a charming urban fairy-tale about the importance of memories in forming our identities and giving us motivation and purpose in structuring our lives. Korean salaryman Taehwan (Sungchun Han) is chased through the narrow streets of a city neighbourhood by a huge scrap-metal monster (Daekwang Lee) and is almost crushed until a mystery pink-haired girl (Serin Kim) comes between them. The girl and Taehwan manage to get away; in those moments where the junkyard horror is far away, the lass puts Taehwan into a trance that transports him back to his childhood and adolescence in which he is playing with his portable cassette player and later a portable CD player. When the monster catches with the pair and threatens to drag Taehwan’s new friend and saviour away, the businessman must try to figure out the girl’s name to save her from the monster’s clutches by delving back into his childhood memories.

The film is based on an old East Asian idea that items improperly disposed of and forgotten have a way of haunting their owners as ghosts. Only when properly acknowledged and respectfully let go – which may mean also honouring the role they played in their owners’ lives in the past – will these old items stop plaguing their owners. There are other themes present in “Pinki”: through rediscovering his precious pink cassette player, affectionately called Pinki, Taehwan rediscovers his youth, and all the feelings, motivations and ambitions he had then. Viewers may see the inklings of a transformation from everyday generic office-worker to an individual more fully in control of his life and his destiny, one who has rediscovered his childhood imagination with the objects of that childhood and the memories they evoke. There may also be a gentle reminder that precious items – and people, animals and plants as well – should be valued and not given up for trash when their immediate utility has passed.

The film is notable for good acting with very minimal dialogue. Characters establish themselves through their actions and the decisions they make. Initially Taehwan is a coward, an empty vessel, in abandoning the girl and running for his life from the monster; he later becomes a hero when he throws himself between the monster and the girl once he understand the girl’s importance to him. The other characters – the girl and the monster – are not so clear-cut and are one-dimensional but their roles turn out to be those of teachers and mentors to Taehwan, urging him to take control of his life by remembering where he came from. As with so many science fiction short films picked up by the DUST channel, there is a twist in the plot but for once it’s a twist with a happy ending.

Final Offer: implausible plot made enjoyable by great acting and fast minimal dialogue

Mark Slutsky, “Final Offer” (2018)

The premise is the height of implausibility but great acting from Aaron Abrams and Anna Hopkins as protagonist and antagonist lawyers make the film enjoyable to watch. Henry (Abrams), an alcoholic traffic ticket attorney, is picked up by mystery lady Olivia (Hopkins) at a bar; next thing he knows when he wakes up, he is in a windowless room with Olivia who presents him with the biggest deal in his life. He has been chosen to represent the human species to negotiate and sign away the Earth’s water resources to a giant space-fish species whom Olivia represents. Naturally Henry is horrified and refuses to sign anything but he has no choice: he has only a few minutes to agree and to sign the deal, and the document itself is the size of a legal textbook.

At least Abrams and Hopkins have good chemistry and they also have an advantage in having worked with Slutsky previously. Abrams deftly makes Henry quite plausible as a drunken and rather sleazy attorney down on his luck through the demon drink for much of the film, and then suddenly give his character a razor-sharp mind that finds the crucial flaw in the document that (spoiler alert) scuppers the whole deal. Olivia’s face falls and the space-fish client, seen through a window that opens up in a far wall, rumbles angrily.

The big surprise is that, having defeated Olivia and the alien, Abrams proposes a date with his attractive rival who may or may not be human. This opens up the possibility of a series of short films in which Abrams finds himself doing battle either at the negotiating table or in a courtroom with extraterrestrial judges, lawyers and their equally xenomorphic clients in situations where some aspect of the Earth or its solar system is up for grabs in dubious proposals. Maybe we should stay tuned.

All flash and style but little substance in “Occupation: Rainfall”

Luke Sparke, “Occupation: Rainfall” (2020)

Here’s a brisk and flashy science fiction action film done on a small budget with plenty of Australian bravado and no little ambition to prove that the Australian film industry can compete with the big guns in Hollywood. The film is the sequel to the even lower-budgeted “Occupation” in which Kali aliens first landed in Australia and humans began forming resistance cells to fight them off. The action in “… Rainfall” takes place a number of years later after intense war between the Kali and the humans has left Sydney a smouldering wreck, the aliens having done their best to obliterate decades of bad urban planning and the humans living in the sewers like rats. Refugees, human and Kali alike (some Kali having decided to become allies of the humans), have come into the sewers but the extent to which they can live in peace varies, with some humans being more accommodating than others. The Australian military command discover from some aliens that the Kali enemy in the skies is planning a final offensive and is also seeking a mystery object hidden somewhere near the former US military base known as Pine Gap, in central Australia. The humans decide to evacuate everyone out to refuge in the Blue Mountains region west of Sydney and to send a team out to Pine Gap to find the object before the Kali enemy does.

The film then splits into two parallel plots, one in which the Sydneysiders just manage to reach their Blue Mountains haven, having narrowly escaped being blown up along with what remains of Sydney … amazing that the substandard buildings in Sydney managed to resist years of bombardment by aliens wielding far superior technology and firepower than what can be mustered by humans … and the other being a good cop / bad cop plot in which human Matt Simmons (Dan Ewing) and the Kali alien nicknamed “Gary” (Lawrence Makoare) must put aside their mutual suspicions and prejudices in order to work together and succeed in their mission to reach Pine Gap and discover what it is that the enemy wants. With stowaway Marcus (Trystan Go) in tow, Matt and Gary fight the Kali in an improbable aerial battle and take on a huge alien spider before finding refuge with a group of humans living in a country settlement. They meet the Bartletts (Temuera Morrison and Izzy Stevens) who decide to accompany the trio on their mission to Pine Gap.

In the meantime the Sydney refugees must contend with their own internal quarrels between Wing Commander Hayes (Daniel Gillies), who rules the Blue Mountains haven like a fascist leader and who has sent all the aliens into underground cells where they are starved, tortured and experimented on by people loyal to Hayes, and the more compassionate humans led by Amelia (Jet Tranter), the older sister of Marcus, and Abraham (David Roberts).

The plots run at a brisk pace and are very straightforward in execution with no twists, save for one where Matt, Gary and their followers reach Pine Gap and discover two loopy American misfits (Ken Jeong and Jason Isaacs) running the place. There are continuity issues – how are Matt, Gary and their team able to reach Pine Gap in a matter of two or three days through rugged countryside even with the help of Kali alien horse substitutes? – and both plots are heavy on delivering moral messages about tolerance, how adversaries become brothers in arms through mutual suffering, being humane to all and layering on the identity politics but light on character development and battle strategy. The misfits provide comic relief to the intensity of the film’s actions and main characters although the jive stuff sometimes holds up the action. Fighting sequences have all the reality of video-game battles and Hollywood fights in which the good guys are always vastly outnumbered 10 to 1 by the bad guys yet when the dust settles the good guys are the one standing tall among a heap of fallen baddies. At least the actors put in solid and straight-faced performances with little histrionics in roles that are little more than stereotypes.

While visually impressive, and at times breath-taking in the scale of its sets and the use of Australian landscapes to give the film a distinct style, “… Rainfall” turns out to be an ordinary flick in its story-telling with an ensemble cast not given very much to do. At least the film has plenty of breezy energy and gusto, and barely bogs down for very long.

Tribes: fast, witty lesson on identity politics as tool of control

Nino Aldi, “Tribes” (2020)

In societies obsessed with categorising people on the basis of arbitrary and artificial criteria such as race and gender self-identity, this short film comes as a breath of fresh air satirising separatism as a method of keeping people apart and afraid of one another, all the more so they can be dominated by their real unseen enemy. Three inept thieves working together on the New York subway system – their names are Kevin (Jake Hunter), Ahmed (Adam Waheed) and Jemar (DeStorm Power) – hold up a bunch of commuters with intent to take all their money, watches, jewellery and smartphones. However Jemar sees a couple of passengers are Afro-American like himself, so he makes an exception for them as members of the same historically victimised collective as himself. Ahmed overhears and sees what Jemar is doing and from then on, the film dives into bizarre surrealism as the thieves start splitting up and then reshuffling the passengers, making them run from one end of the carriage to the other, on the basis of various polarities: among others, gays versus straights, cat-lovers versus dog-lovers and “Moonlight” watchers versus “La La Land” viewers. The passengers themselves offer helpful hints as to how they should be divided and several admit having many allegiances, making the three ditzy robbers’ task even more difficult.

What makes this farce work is the fast pace and the tight focus of the three main actors, in particular Power as the black thief and Ahmed as the Arab thief, as they trade quick barbs and witty remarks that ensure the film does not fall too far into silliness or sentimentalism. Quick editing and the film’s focus on close-ups and snappy dialogue, dependent on the thieves’ use of slang, drive the plot energetically. Though the film is short, the action is fast and the goal is to drive home a particular message, the thieves’ characters come across fairly clearly: Jemar and Ahmed do most of the talking and Kevin is not too smart though he gets the best lines. Eventually the thieves realise that they and their victims are all connected in a common humanity and Kevin remarks that many years ago his mother drilled into him this lesson about caring for one’s fellow human being and how hurting others can hurt oneself – just before she shot dead a meth dealer.

The film clearly shows in whose interests identity politics works at its climax when the robbers discover that the train has stopped and someone outside the train has targeted them with red dots of light. The robbers and the passengers are jolted back into the real world as police outside the train take up positions with their weapons. Will the passengers feel pity for the robbers and try to save them – or will they let the young men hang? In this respect the film goes beyond the narrow arena of identity politics and demonstrates briefly how the obsession with identity politics is used by political / economic / social elites to divert people’s attention away from the real issue of who has the power and the control in society.

The Goddess of Fortune: how the passage of time and random events change people and relationships

Ferzan Özpetek, “The Goddess of Fortune / La Dea Fortuna” (2019)

On the surface, this very visually stunning and colourful film appears to be a heart-warming comedy that with some adjustments could be remade by Hollywood. Delve a bit deeper into its narrative and its characters, and the film reveals a great deal about the nature of families, both conventional and unconventional, the passage of time and what it can do to people in love, and the necessity of change and random events in shaking up old patterns and routines, and revealing their weaknesses – and the pain and emotion that emerge as a result. Arturo (Stefano Accorsi) and Alessandro (Edoardo Leo) have been a couple for 15 years despite their different backgrounds, Arturo being a translator who once aspired to be a writer and academic but failed at both, and Alessandro being a plumber who brings in most of their income. The two are part of a happy little community, all living in the same neighbourhood, of various misfits including a married couple, one of whom suffers memory loss and must be reminded of who he is each day, a transgender woman and an African refugee. Arturo and Alessandro’s relationship seems to have hit the rocks for some reason, the two no longer feel the passion they used to have for each other, and they’re starting to get on each other’s nerves. All of a sudden, out of the blue, an old mutual friend, Annamaria (Jasmine Trinca), turns up at a party with her two children Martina (Sara Ciocca) and Sandro (Edoardo Brandi) in tow. She asks Arturo and Alessandro to mind the kids while she stays in hospital for a few days for tests.

As might be expected, the presence of the two children upturns Arturo and Alessandro’s routine and the two men have difficulty adjusting to their roles as foster parents, even though the arrangement is temporary. The neighbours believe that the children will help the two men get on better but in fact the children inadvertently drive the men’s relationship to boiling point. Alessandro discovers Arturo has been having an affair with a painter behind his back. Annamaria is forced to stay in hospital for longer than she had been led to believe. Her health goes from bad to worse and the two men, now unable to stand each other’s company, contact Annamaria’s next of kin – her mother Elena (Barbara Alberti), in Palermo – to see if she can take care of the children. Elena agrees and the men take the kids on a ferry trip to Sicily to meet their grandmother who turns out to be a harsh conservative Catholic matriarch of a noble family in decline.

The plot is not outstanding but what makes it work is the energy and enthusiasm the lead actors throw into their characters. Arturo and Alessandro become much more than two gay men having mid-life crises in their personal and professional lives; they become two very real individuals with particular faults and quirks that they must confront and come to terms with if they are to revive their relationship and continue living together, and at the same time care for Annamaria’s children. Accorsi and Leo give what may well be the performances of their careers in fleshing out these characters and giving them complex emotional lives; Leo in particular does outstanding work in portraying a gruff working-class plumber whose outward toughness belies a sensitive emotional nature. Trinca doesn’t have a lot to do as Annamaria and most of what audiences learn about her come very late in the film when the character has disappeared from the scene. The child actors do what they can but their characters aren’t quite bratty enough to give their foster parents the headaches needed to push their relationship into open conflict so there is something of a forced quality to the plot.

Özpetek’s direction emphasises the use of close-ups to capture emotion and character in his actors’ faces, and makes excellent use of the film’s settings in Rome and Palermo. Rome is portrayed as a vibrant, sunny and colourful place, where people of all backgrounds and proclivities can come together and form impromptu families and communities. Palermo looks rather sleepy and provincial, and the scenes set in Elena’s dilapidated mansion seem to feature Mafia character stereotypes. Here the film takes a dark comedy turn as Arturo and Alessandro discover rather more about Annamaria’s family and what made her run away from home and become a flighty single mum than they would have liked. At this point the film ratchets up to another level and becomes more sombre Gothic drama than comedy as the two men try to save Annamaria’s children from falling into the same fate that befell Annamaria and her long-lost brother.

The film’s resolution is actually rather less happy and secure than it at first appears, and one can imagine after the credits start coming up that the two men and the children will still have to work out how they can all live together without driving one another completely nuts. At least Arturo and Alessandro come to realise that they must put their self-interests aside if they are to make their relationship work and be able to care for the children.

While the plot tends to be rather patchy and has the look of several skits sewn together with a few seams and loose ends showing, the film’s characters and themes hold them together. A strong theme is acceptance of the random curve-balls that life throws at people and helps to make them and their connections with one another stronger – if they recognise the opportunity presented. The film makes constant reference to the Goddess of Fortune who throws such curve-balls at Arturo and Alessandro. The challenge for them both is how they use chance occurrences in their lives as opportunities for growth – provided they recognise them as such in time.

Nullarbor: laconic little road movie on the need to work together

Alister Lockhart, Patrick Sarell, “Nullarbor” (2011)

Across the longest stretch of straight road through the flat desert that is the Nullarbor Plain in southern Australia is raced this animated riff on the classic Aesopian fable “The Tortoise and the Hare”. A brash young man (we’ll call him Bernie) driving through the Outback in his souped-up convertible nearly has an accident with a semi-trailer while distracted by an elderly motorist (we’ll call him Waddy) in his decrepit old motor vehicle. Blaming his near-disaster on Waddy, Bernie seeks to outrace the old codger but ends up encountering one obstacle after another, including one memorable one where his convertible is prevented from crossing a railway line and the endless line of train carriages with the word “HA” painted on their sides passing over the line appears to be laughing at him. Eventually catching up with Waddy, Bernie and the older fellow agree through their facial expressions and gesticulations to a race across the featureless desert. The race though has unexpected consequences for both men and they end up humbled by the harsh physical environment of the desert and the sea.

Old age is pitted against youth, and the slow and steady approach is held up against the speedy (and also hasty) in this very likable animated character study. Ultimately Waddy is not any wiser than Bernie when it comes to taking care of his car or pushing it beyond what it can handle. The two men eventually come to a compromise and an understanding (that likely results in a real and long-lasting friendship) when confronted by the immensity of the Australian landscape and the results of their foolish rivalry.

The film’s humour relies a great deal on slapstick and exaggeration, and there is some crude and even violent humour at Bernie’s expense, but all the humour adds individual flavour to the men’s characters and advance or underline the plot in some way. The problems Bernie encounters illustrate how out of depth he is in the Outback. Sooner or later we know he will need the old man’s help. While Waddy has a more laid-back personality and he and his car have seen and experienced much in this part of Australia, even he cannot always rely on experience and familiarity with the environment and this leads to an oversight on his part that results in his car’s unexpected demise. The destruction however leads to an understanding between the two men and from then on they start to work together to get out of their common predicament. Nature always bats last.

The animation is spare and emphasises the isolation and vastness of the Australian desert and its brilliant colours as day changes into night. The laconic tone of the film – there is no dialogue and the characters communicate with body language – is distinctive and highlights its Australian character. The stereotype of Australian masculinity and men’s behaviour comes under the spotlight in this very concise little film.

Retouch: a character study about struggle and sudden unexpected freedom

Kaveh Mazaheri, “Retouch” (2017)

A stunning character study of a married woman, submissive to her bullying husband, who is unexpectedly given a new lease of life when he suddenly dies in an accident at home, “Retouch” examines what she actually does with her newfound freedom – and what she does turns out to be rather ordinary, though in real life many of us would do the same. Much put upon by her badgering husband, Maryam (Sonia Sarjani) patiently juggles his demands and petulance with raising their toddler daughter and going to work at a publication agency. One day though, while working with a barbell, the object slips and pins hubby Siavash (Mohammed Ziksari) to his exercise bench on his throat, effectively cutting off his air. Maryam tries to help get the thing off Siavash but he dies agonisingly. Maryam has no choice but to watch him die.

After that, viewers see from the expressions flitting over her face that while Maryam knows what she ought to do, she also seems to realise that she could just flee the situation, taking the baby with her. So she goes to work as usual, popping the child in at the childcare centre, and gets stuck into her work of retouching pictures of female celebrities for Iranian magazines by digitally dabbing black over their decolletages, shoulders and arms so they look appropriately modest. As the day passes, Maryam takes calls from people wanting to know why Siyavash isn’t answering the phone – and she even makes calls and text messages to him herself! Eventually she is persuaded by work colleagues to go home early and see what Siavash is up to. Maryam picks up her baby and pops into the apartment, half-expecting Siavash to be up and about.

The denouement descends into bizarre comedy as Maryam rehearses what she will say to the neighbours and eventually the ambulance officers when they arrive. Whatever Maryam does though, seems completely credible thanks to the superb portrayal by Sonia Sarjani who fully inhabits the character. Her acting is minimal, reflecting the character’s shy and submissive behaviour, even with female colleagues while having lunch together, yet the expression on her face – the camera does many close-up shots of Sarjani’s face – quickly changes from shock and upset to something resembling quiet satisfaction that at last a major burden has been removed, to guilt and shame at having such feelings. Right up to the end, Maryam constantly seems to be rehearsing her feelings, thoughts and actions, so that even when she repeats coming into the apartment and seeing Siavash dead, the repetitions appear entirely credible. The implication seems to be that Maryam appears something of an empty vessel, with no genuine feelings to call her own, because all throughout her life she has had to suppress her real individuality and character and adopt behaviours expected of her as her own – to be constantly “retouching” herself and her life so everything about her agrees with social expectations.

The style of the film is quietly minimal and naturalistic, throwing the spotlight on its lead character Maryam. This approach and the surrounds – director Mazaheri filmed the apartment scenes in Sarjani’s own apartment – set down a situation and environment most Iranians can identify with, all the more to unsettle them when they see Maryam behave “irrationally” when confronted by the sight of her dying husband. Such a confrontation between what a character actually does and what she is supposed to do clashes with a hitherto downtrodden woman’s beliefs about herself and her place in the world, creating a cognitive dissonance within the individual – so it should be no surprise that Maryam acts strangely for so much of the film.

At once minimal and naturalistic, yet bizarre, awkward and funny at times as well, this film is well worth watching for its depiction of an individual who has had to struggle all her life under heavy burdens – and faces a struggle of a very different kind when suddenly those burdens are lifted.

Fill Your Heart with French Fries: dark comedy about grief, social media celebrity and exploitation

Tamar Glezerman, “Fill Your Heart with French Fries” (2016)

Based on an actual incident in China, in which a woman jilted by her boyfriend ended up staying a week at her local KFC outlet, this comedy short is at once sad, sometimes bitter, a little bit too cute and biting in its social commentary. It seems at once profound in its examination of the nature of grief, particularly in exploring how dealing with grief needs time, a sympathetic ear and even rational examination to come to acceptance and only then can the grieving person face life and move on. At the same time the film appears a little shallow in how it addresses the way society itself deals (or not) with grief and other significant and complicated emotions, and its playing time of 20 minutes ends up wearing quite thin.

Emma (Lindsay Burdge) is rejected by her girlfriend Amy at a FryBaby’s outlet; too depressed to do anything and in obvious shock, the young woman lingers at the table for several days and nights. An employee, Samantha (Auri Jackson), takes pity on Emma and offers her free food while fellow employee Craig (Scott Friend) takes photos of Emma and uploads them to social media platforms where her plight captures the attention of hundreds, if not thousands, of viewers. Before long, Emma becomes the cynosure of all eyes at the FryBaby’s outlet and on social media. Two women surreptitiously film her. An evangelist takes advantage of Emma’s downbeat state to try to preach the gospel. An acquaintance tells Emma to go home, look after herself and “move on”. A salesman makes a proposition to sponsor her if she will promote an eccentric anti-romance product. In the end, a police officer (Tom O’Keefe) shows some sympathy and compassion for Emma’s feelings and a little boy (Finn Douglas) unwittingly shows her how to get out of her depressed fug.

Burdge does good work in conveying Emma’s grief without overacting and the general tone of the film is respectful in its handling of the grieving process. It is not quite so good in dealing with the parade of people who impinge on Emma’s grief and mourning, and the social issues that arise with each and every intruder are toyed with briefly and in a shallow way. Evangelical religion and the way in which it preys on vulnerable people get short shrift, as do commercial exploitation and social media voyeurism. Only the police officer breaks a stereotype about the nature of law enforcement by refusing to arrest Emma for loitering or trespass. The film reaches a surreal level once the small boy starts addressing Emma. While Emma is eventually able to come to a resolution and resolve her problem, the way in which this process is initiated seems unreal and too tidy.

The world in which Emma’s dilemma plays out seems rather bleak, which adds to the bitter atmosphere of the film, and when she finally leaves the fast food outlet, she steps into an environment that seems even more sterile and uncaring, with dog poo left on the pavement and snow that the local authorities should have removed still on the street.

Little character development occurs and viewers are not privy to Emma’s feelings and emotions beyond what is conveyed on her face, leaving the protagonist blank and flat at the end of the film. Nevertheless there is potential for a full-length movie out of this film: a definite character study could be done and each new encounter the protagonist has while in the fast food outlet could be the basis of a sub-plot or an examination of an aspect of modern life.

Men in Black II: some good ideas go to waste in a cheap sequel

Barry Sonnenfeld, “Men in Black II” (2002)

Five years after the events of the original “Men in Black”, at the end of which Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) retired from the Men in Black agency – the secret intelligence unit that monitors the activities of exterrestrial beings living and working on Planet Earth – his former MiB protege Agent J (Will Smith) is called upon to investigate the mysterious death of an alien at his (the alien’s, that is) pizza restaurant. There, Agent J interviews Laura (Rosario Dawson) who tells him her employer was killed by two aliens, Serleena (Lara Flynn Boyle), a shape-shifting monster in the form of a lingerie model, and Charlie and Scrad, Serleena’s two-headed assistant (Johnny Knoxville), who are hunting for the Light of Zartha which Serleena needs for her own nefarious purposes. Agent J is attracted to Laura and decides not to neuralyse her.

As he investigates the crime, Agent J discovers nearly all leads go back to his mentor so he brings the former Agent K back to MiB headquarters for re-neuralysation. Before Agent K’s neuralysation is completed, Serleena and her minions attack the building and seriously trash it so Agent K’s memories must be restored clandestinely. Having regained his identity and memories, Agent K remembers that he partially neuralysed himself to erase what he knows of the Light of Zartha but left some clues to follow in case he needed to find out again.

Putting Laura under protection with various aliens, Agents J and K recover a video containing a fictional dramatisation of how, long ago, Queen Lauranna of Zartha entrusted the MiB agency to guard the Light from her enemy Serleena. Agent K could not save the Queen from the murderous Serleena so he neuralysed himself in order to forget his grief and at the same time forget what the Light of Zartha was and where it was held. The agents return to the place where they placed Laura but discover she has been abducted by Serleena.

While Smith and Jones work very well together – indeed, the movie limps along until Agent K recovers his memories (although the speed at which they come back is unconvincing and much potential fun is lost along the way) – and do what they can to maintain the old zing and energy from the previous film, the plot is flat and the entire film has a cheap and cheesy tone. Gags such as the talking-dog gag quickly wear thin and even scenes featuring Jeff the giant monster living in the NYC subway are not very scary. While Laura plays a significant part in the film, the romance angle between her and Agent J is very brief and superficial, and the heartbreak climax in which Laura discovers her true heritage and must go to Zartha does not give the film the emotional edge it could have had.

The message that once someone becomes an MiB agent, s/he is always an MiB agent, and the corollary that MiB agents can never be normal people with normal lives and normal relationships, but are permanently wedded to their employer, is present but unfortunately the script does not make more of it than it does. Similar could be said for characters like Laura, Serleena and Charlie and Scrad: what are their motivations, why exactly is Serleena interested in the Light of Zartha, and what do Charlie and Scrad hope to get out of working with Serleena? There are many interesting ideas in this film that could have made it much more entertaining, a little bit on the scary side, and perhaps even a bit thoughtful. What a pity that these ideas were not allowed to help write what could have been a good script.

Batman & Robin: so one-dimensional, it should be called “Flatman & Ribbon”

Joel Schumacher, “Batman & Robin” (1997)

Some folks probably call this film “Flatman & Ribbon” for the fact that the Dynamic Duo (played respectively by George Clooney and Chris O’Donnell) get well and truly steamrolled by a lousy stereotypical script in which two villains become a megalomaniacal tag-team with no motive other than to literally remake the world to their desires and hog screen time with their over-acting, silly puns and outlandish costumes. A big part of the blame must go to director Schumacher for steering the Good Ship Gotham Universe too close to the camp live-action television show that starred Adam West as the Dark Knight. The cast of actors which include Arnold Schwarzenegger as chief villain Mr Freeze, Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy and Alicia Silverstone as Barbara Wilson / Batgirl does what it can but the movie is far too crowded with them all and most of their characters end up so one-dimensional they may as well be paper cut-outs. “Flatman and Ribbon” indeed.

At least the script tries to inject an emotional element in a sub-plot about the importance of family and family loyalties by having Bruce Wayne’s faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Gough) fall ill with the same mysterious ailment that befell the wife of Mr Freeze who desperately needs money for research on a cure for the illness which puts her in a permanent coma. Mr Freeze embarks on a life of crime stealing diamonds that power his suit to keep his metabolism at subzero temperatures due to a laboratory accident. With Schwarzenegger as Mr Freeze, the villain’s desperate quest to revive his wife takes centre stage but Alfred’s illness is always in the background to remind Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson of the importance of being partners and working together, and to rope in Alfred’s niece Barbara Wilson who comes to Wayne Manor to look after her uncle. The scenes with Alfred are very touching and feature some good acting from Clooney who otherwise provides a sunny and not so tortured interpretation of Bruce Wayne / Batman throughout the film.

While on his mission to steal more diamonds including one from an observatory that Wayne Enterprises sponsors, Mr Freeze meets Poison Ivy, herself created from a chemical laboratory mash-up, who gets him out of jail and tries to wangle her way into his cold-hearted affections by pulling the plug on his wife. Together the two plot to freeze Gotham City and then the entire world with the assistance of Poison Ivy’s subordinate Bane, a huge monstrosity created with a drug called Venom. Fortunately the Dynamic Duo and Batgirl foil the Dastardly Duo’s plans and put them back into prison, but not before an endless and tiresome series of explosions, enough car crashes to turn all of Gotham City’s scrapyard merchants into millionaires, lots of dead bodies and other collateral damage, and too many implausible dramatic situations that would be impossible for even the most well-prepared superheroes to survive – or at least not risk shoulder dislocations or arms ripping off – all culminating in very sudden climatic change in negative Centigrade temperatures for Gotham City.

Little touches such as a conversation between Bruce Wayne and Alfred about being able to control the chaos around oneself – always an ongoing issue with Batman and those like him who view the world as essentially needing constant repair lest it fall back into even more evil and corruption – and Batman himself offering Mr Freeze a chance to redeem himself at least make some parts of an otherwise tired and bloated film franchise in need of new ideas bearable. Little surprise then that this flatlining film did not do so well at the box office and the film franchise ended with it.