Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Spaced Case

If you have never watched Spaced, it almost defies description. Simply, it is a British sitcom about Tim and Daisy, pretending to be a professional couple in order to rent a small flat. But the show is so much more than that. It transcends the limitations of a conventional television series and became a meditation on all things British, pop culture and your mid-twenties. Believe me when I say that if you’re reading my blog, Spaced is right up your alley.

Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes (nee Stevenson) star as the title characters and wrote all fourteen episodes of both series. What’s remarkable about the show is that each series is written almost as a stand alone since they never knew if they would be another series. So, instead of ending with a big cliffhanger, each series ends with a more satisfying resolution. Also, every episode was directed by Edgar Wright, a rarity anywhere in television. He brings his style to Simon and Jess’s sensibilities and they created a show with a huge cult following in England and abroad. Finally, the show is available on a Region 1 DVD.

And what a DVD package it is. Not only are all the commentaries and extras from the Region 2 release included, but oh so much more. All new commentaries have been recorded for the American release with notable American fans coming into the booth. Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith, Diablo Cody and Matt Stone all discuss and share with Edgar, Simon and Jess on several episodes. For my money though, I like the commentaries in which Edgar is joined only by Patton Oswalt or Bil Hader. This lets them really talk more about the show instead of just branching off into other things as most Kev Smith commentaries tend to do. Patton, Bill and Edgar get to geek out over the Star Wars references, cursing and smoking on television and the lovely Daisy Steiner. There is also a feature length documentary about the making of Spaced which includes all the original cast members and key crew members, as well as a few critics and fans. Edgar, Simon and Jess revisit different locations and discuss all the hard work and fun that encapsulated the series’ run for three years.

So, what is the show all about? Simon and Jess pitched it as The Simpsons, X-Files and Northern Exposure. But, I think if you have ever wondered what a live action Family Guy might look like, imagine it with British accents and its almost as good as Spaced. Filled with references to film and television as well as cutaways, circular comedy and constant callbacks, it’s better than 30 Rock and as good as Arrested Development. Its chock full of great lines, big sequences and relatable characters. For anybody who has ever danced like a chicken, lived every week like Shark Week or used the phrase “Worst. Anything. Ever.” then you simply must see Spaced. I cannot say enough good things about this show that I am really a huge fan of it and want to give it the Big Mike Bump so that more people see it, love it and share it. Currently, BBC America is rerunning episodes nightly, so you can get a free taste of the show and I promise you, you will want to get the DVD set. It is art of the highest level, a prime example of the medium being used to transcend its means and touch the core of its audience on a very personal and intimate way. “Rabbits, rabbits, rabbits, rabbits, rabbits!”

It’s not finished!

It’s finished.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Coming Out of my Criterion Closet

Can I bare my soul to you, dear readers? (Yes, I am a Stephen King fan.) I have something bothering me, plaguing me. It's like Morpheus said, 'a sliver in my mind, driving me mad.'

I haven't gotten around to watching all the DVDs I own.

Sure, maybe that's not so abnormal. I mean, there's a few discs left untouched in that Marilyn Monroe box set, I don't watch the special features laden second disc on every movie and I got some Blu-Rays in anticipation of getting a Playstation 3 soon. But, there is a much more serious collection that I have been ignoring and it is time for me to do something about it.

I own the Essential Art House: 50 Years of Janus Films Box Set.

Click on the picture to view the list of fifty films that make up this box set. I have owned it for almost two years. It represented a significant investment for me and I bought it at a point in my life in which I decided to take my films studies more seriously. To date, I have watched six films, two of which I have seen before.

Six. Barely ten percent. For shame.

I have written before about working at DVD Planet. If you don't live in the Southern California area, you should check out their website. Until the middle of next week, they are selling Criterion discs, buy one, get one free. If you don't already own at least ONE Criterion, you are missing out on the very best DVD available. The Criterion Collection is an ongoing collection of important classic and contemporary films gathered from around the world and presented in the highest technical quality with award-winning supplements. Yes, I wrote that directly from memory. So, because of DVD Planet's sale, in the past week, for less than one hundred dollars, I obtained The Red Shoes, Life of Brian, The Blob, The Killers, The Leopard, Hoop Dreams, Le Samourai and Breathless.

Now, I will not be turning my blog into an exclusive Criterion blog, for that has been done already by Matthew Dessem at the Criterion Contraption and he does so very well. No, instead I implore you to try to keep me busy. It is not a chore to sit down and watch one of these films, but I do need to set aside time to enjoy them and not watch them while checking email or doing laundry. No, that's what I got Waiting for.

Please readers, help me help you. If I don't get out one of these reviews a week, call me out on it. I need to refocus myself and get serious again. No funny schtuff. Time to get work.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

12 Movies Meme

Tag! I'm it! Fletch has tagged me for his turn in the game called 12 Movies Meme, which originated from Piper at Lazy Eye Theatre. The game is simple. Pick twelve films that break into six double features and explain away. Then tag five more people. So, here are mine, in no particular order, but in the order to be played. Here are the movies of my life.

The Prestige & Bowfinger

I love movies. And these are my two favorites movies about movies. One is clearly about making movies and the other is a more cerebral look at the creative mindset of filmmakers.

North By Northwest & Children of Men

In my life, I have always felt like I'm being pursued. These are my two favorite chase movies. And I think they both have feel-good endings.

Dark Knight & Empire Strikes Back

Life isn't always sweet. Sometimes, things turn to shit before getting good again. These two films exemplify that.

Rushmore & Back to the Future

These two movies always remind me of my high school years. High school was about rejection and fear of being inadequate.

Dogfight & Stripes

These movies remind me of being in the Marines. I was a smart ass, but trying to be myself and do the right thing. Although, Jarhead is the closet film I've seen to the real thing.

Young Frankenstein & Goodfellas

Just my two favorite movies.

Now, who do I tag? Hmmm...

Alan at Daily Film Dose
The Mad Hatter at Dark of the Matinee
Jen at Jen Reviews Movies
Ibetolis at Film for the Soul
Graham at Movie et al.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Like A Midnight Cowboy

This post is part of the Film Ignorance Feature at Movies et al with a grade of 'Yep, It's A Classic.'

Watching Midnight Cowboy for the first time and taking in the historical context of the film, while people might inevitably compare it to Brokeback Mountain, I was reminded of Raging Bull. Raging Bull was made at the end of the Seventies and became regarded as one of the greatest movies of the Eighties. Likewise, Midnight Cowboy, released during the summer of love in 1969 became an indication of the direction films would take in the Seventies.

The ‘gay cowboy movie’ of my parent’s generation, Midnight Cowboy was important in many different ways, the least of which was its subject matter. Jon Voight stars as Joe Buck, a na├»ve young Texan who goes to New York City with dreams of becoming a male hustler. It’s not long before he realizes that it won’t be beautiful women paying him for his body, but the Jackies on Forty Second Street. Then he meets Ratso Rizzo, played by Dustin Hoffman who after scamming Joe out of money, tries to take him under his wing and manage him in the ways of the New York hustler. That’s the movie in a nutshell, with the pair becoming closer as they get more impoverished and desperate for cash.

Both Voight and Hoffman were nominated for Best Actor for their performances. Voight plays the part of the dumb hick to perfection and you can get a sense of the hungry, young actor inside, yearning to please and be accepted. This movie would catapult him from a struggling New York theatre actor to a star, like The Graduate had done for his co-star the year before. Hoffman’s role has become almost the stereotype of a New Yorker by now, but it was miles removed from Benjamin Braddock and cemented his status as a serious actor in only two years in Hollywood.

Directed by John Schlesinger, whose claim to fame had been the Julie Christie movie Darling, he made the film more personal than people knew. He was in the closet at the time and was constantly under the stress of keeping his private life private. I was struck by how he shows us clips, montages and flashes of Joe’s life in Texas and a violent event that has changed him, but we’re never told explicitly what happens. Schlesinger shows us without telling us. In a way, I could understand his motivation and he desire to share secrets with us, but holding back from giving away too much. It was this style of filmmaking that really made it remarkable to me.

The movie was released with an X rating for the sexual content and brief nudity. Eventually, it was changed to R in 1971 without having to change a frame. However, it would win the Oscar for Best Picture carrying the X rating, the only film with that distinction. It helped the fight for freedom of expression that continues to this day and also won Oscars for Best Director and Screenplay (Adapted).

I couldn’t help but notice how cyclical the movie was. In the end, Joe is basically back where he started from, geographic location notwithstanding. He is alone in a new city, but his experiences have changed him and his outlook on life. Joe didn’t change to adapt to the city, but tried to remain true to himself and while some may think he failed, I believe he succeeded by surviving and moving onto the next chapter. It almost seemed to me like the film predicted how the Seventies would go for Hollywood. After the big budget, star driven films died off to be replaced by the films of people like Schlesinger, Voight and Hoffman; the studios would eventually regain control to put out large budget, star driven movies of the Eighties. Sadly, thirty years later, Schlesinger would be reduced to directing romantic comedies for Madonna and as for Voight and Hoffman… I only have two things for you. Karate Dog and Mr. Magorium. Like a friend of mine wrote earlier this week, both of them should be ashamed of themselves. Between the two of them, they were in Midnight Cowboy, Catch-22, Straw Dogs, Deliverance, Marathon Man, Coming Home and Papillion. In the past FOUR years, they have made TWO National Treasures, Lemony Snicket, Bratz and Meet the Fockers.

For shame.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

An Internal Monolouge About The Conversation

This post is in conjunction with the LAMB's Movie of the Month for July.

How does one write about a film that has been analyzed and dissected for over thirty years? Especially when the film maintains as much social and political resonance as when it was made? Can I dig too deep into a movie and make something out of nothing? Maybe Troy really is NOT an allegory for the war in Iraq and maybe The Conversation is just a movie about paranoia and the invasion of privacy. But what if it’s more?

What if the movie is trying to show me what I am becoming as a viewer, as a voyeur? What if my drive and ambition is not focused on what the movie is about, only the ‘larger picture’? What if, as Harry says, “I don’t care what they’re saying, I just want a nice, fat recording.” Could it be that I forsake the entertainment value of pictures in order to find a deeper artistic meaning, something that can satisfy me on another level that might not be intended at all? Perhaps I should just enjoy Transformers rather than debate the merits of bloodless combat and the attempt to make us identify with inanimate objects.

I have sat alone in a darkened room, and played over and over again a piece of plastic in order to find something that I believe it there, but cannot pinpoint. At times, I have become sick of perfectly good movies because I have merely spent too much time with them, albeit, by my own doing. At that point, I wonder if have become like Harry Caul. Clearly, Harry is terrific at what he does and enjoys it to a certain extent. However, he can never take full satisfaction by his accomplishments since he pushes himself to do better and distances himself personally from the subject matter.

Have I done the same? In order to try to become a better writer and critic, have I given up been entertained by entertainment and instead become obsessed with what I perceive to be underlying themes, subliminal messages and nods to current events? How can I enjoy The Dark Knight when I’m marveling at the commentary on society’s values instead of a tricked out Bat-pod? When I worry that censorship will infringe of the basic human rights to make some dick jokes? How can I think about The Conversation as a simple movie by Francis Ford Coppola and Gene Hackman when the morality and ethical questions raised by the subject matter are political fodder for our current presidential campaigns? Or whether or not Harrison Ford’s character was gay? Will it make a difference at all? Probably not.

Have I become so ensconced in my own world that I cannot let anyone in? Sure, I like going to movies by myself or with select friends, but when Harry lets people into his world, it comes crashing down. What if the same thing happens to me? What if Harry is showing me that the end result might be the destruction of my world, at my own hands, with nothing to show for any of it? Does the paranoia people perceive in Harry perhaps play as protection for actor and director? If Harry has nothing else but his work and his privacy and his work has been taken away from him, will he stop at nothing to defend his privacy? Of course, there could have never been a bug in his apartment, but that’s not enough to convince Harry. If you told me tomorrow they were going to remake North by Northwest, I would be furious until my dying day, never convinced that it would NOT happen, only waiting for it TO happen and it would be enough to push me over the edge.

Where did I go wrong? Should I have just listened? Or like Harry, should I dig deeper? Is it prudent to go looking into situations beyond your control for answers you might not like? I’m not involved in any capacity in the films I watch, except as an audience member, so why should I try to become an active participant? Why can’t I take a step back and maintain my distance as an observer? Why can’t I just call them ‘movies’ every once in awhile? Will I succumb to the same fate as Harry when I become tortured by my own thoughts and imagination and impotence to affect change in these movies and give it all up for the saxophone? Will anyone remember that I used to play the trombone in grade school? Am I getting way too existential? Do I even know what that word means? Do I sound like I do?

Will I ever enjoy movies like I did when I was young? Or has being behind the curtain and seeing the strings, learning the rope trick, the three ring trick and the disappearing coin trick jaded me to the movie magic that filmmakers are trying harder than ever to deliver to me and the masses?

Well, Dark Knight did make me feel like it was 1989 again.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Study the Seventies

Yesterday I posted a review of Mark Harris’ book, Pictures at a Revolution, about the film industry at the end of the Sixties. With so many changes going on both the world and Hollywood, the five films nominated for Best Picture in 1968 propelled American films forward into the Seventies, one of the most exciting decades in cinema. It’s my theorem that the great decades come every twenty years. The Thirties, the Fifties, the Seventies and the Nineties all have me looking forward to new movies in a few years time. Isn’t it interesting that forty years after those films, The Dark Knight is changing how we think about comic book movies, summer blockbusters and 70mm prints? But I digress…

I got Seventies on the brain so here are a few quick lists for those of you unfamiliar with the extraordinary films of that time. I’m talking about the teenagers who populate IMDB message boards and whose top ten lists include no films A) in black and white, B) older than fifty years OR C) more than two Tarantino films. So, here come some of my thoughts, in no particular order at all. Sorry, no pictures. If you’re not willing to read it all, sadly, this information is probably just what you need.

Top Five Movies from the 70’s

1. The Godfather/The Godfather Part II (1972/1974)

Sorry, but if Dark Knight reminds of us anything, it’s that these two films both stand the test of time and are almost always talked about as a pair. Brando, Pacino, DeNiro and Coppola, along with Gordon Willis, Nina Rota and many others created one of the consummate American myths.

2. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

For anyone who has ever wanted to fight the system, Jack Nicholson fights for you in this movie. Whether he’s absconding mental patients for a fishing trip or watching a baseball game on a television set that isn’t even turned on, he has never been better, except in…

3. Chinatown (1974)

What can you say about this movie except that it’s like Mary Poppins. Practically perfect in everyway. Direction, acting, writing, camerawork, everything in this movie works together to achieve something that they just can’t seem to make anymore.

4. Taxi Driver (1976)

In the year of the Bicentennial, nobody had ever seen a film like this before and I don’t think we have since. Martin Scorsese, Paul Schrader and Robert DeNiro collaborate to tell a very disturbing, very involving story of alienation that grows more important every time I watch it.

5. French Connection (1971)

When does an action movie win Best Picture? When it is the precursor to all modern action cop films. Billy Freidkin directs Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider with shaky hand held cams, brutally realistic dialogue and yes, one of the greatest car chases ever.

My Five Favorite Movies from the 70’s

1. Young Frankenstein (1974)

My favorite Mel Brooks film, I can watch it over and over again. Plus, Gene Hackman is in it! “Sedagive?!”

2. Star Wars (1977)

Yes, the second one is the best, but we never would have had it without the first film. And who doesn’t want to leave home and join the Rebellion?

3. Alien (1979)

This film took science fiction in a different direction from the previous movie on this list and we are all better for it. And Ridley Scott gave us Sigourney Weaver in her underwear. Thank you, Sir Ridley.

4. A Clockwork Orange (1971)

I may be slightly disturbed for wanting to watch this movie over and over, but in my formative high school years, this film grabbed me with its style, then bashed me over the head with its message. I think I am better for it.

5. Apocalypse Now (1979)

Huh. Same thing goes for this one.

Top Five Films from the 70’s You Might Not Have Seen, But You Really Should.

1. The Conversation (1974)

Don’t want to go too much into this one, but Coppola + Hackman= Awesome.

2. Five Easy Pieces (1970)

Jack Nicholson is great again as Jack Nicholson, but he’s given so much great stuff to do in this script and turns in an ‘anti-Jack performance’ like we would not see again for thirty years.

3. The Last Detail (1973)

Another great Nicholson film, showing us how great he really was. Featuring a young Randy Quaid, it doesn’t really matter. Jack spits out Robert Towne’s profanity with such venom, he might pull out that horse cock and go upside your fucking head! “I am the motherfucking shore patrol, motherfucker!”

4. Mean Streets (1973)

The good thing about this film is that it’s one of those that even if you haven’t seen it, you probably have. Martin Scorsese’s first film with Robert DeNiro and second with Harvey Keitel, it works as a matter displacement device and puts you in Marty’s neighborhood of Little Italy with Johnny Boy, pool halls and The Rolling Stones.

5. The Last Picture Show (1971)

Another one of those ‘they-don’t-make-‘em-like-they-used-to’ films, every aspect of this film is excellent. It is an American masterpiece in the European style and universal in its appeal and endurance.

Five Films that Could Not Have Happened Without the 70’s

1. Boogie Nights (1997)

2. Jackie Brown (1997)

3. The Ice Storm (1997)

4. Zodiac (2007)

5. (tie) A Decade Under the Influence (2003) AND Easy Riders, Raging Bulls (2003)

Best Actor to Come Out of the 70’s

Gene Hackman – You need only look at the dreck of the past two decades produced by his counterparts DeNiro, Nicholson and Hoffman to see that when Hackman was in danger of succumbing to the same pitfalls, he stopped making movies.

Best Actor Who Never Made it out of the 70’s

John Cazale – He only made five films, including Dog Day Afternoon and Deer Hunter, before he passed away in 1978 from cancer.

Best Director to Come Out of the 70’s

Martin Scorsese – Fuck Spielberg, Marty is still the money. Robert Altman said before he died, “When’s the last time you got excited for a movie? Besides the newest Scorsese film?

Best Director Who Never Really Made it out of the 70’s

Peter Bogdanovich - I love this man and his ascots. Probably known now for his work on The Sopranos, Peter is an accomplished writer, director and actor who never really rebounded from his failures as well as others. Luckily for us, he still does all three of those things very well.

What do you think readers? Give me some of your opinions.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Pictures At A Revolution - Book Review

Back when I worked at DVD Planet, there were always discussions about creating a ‘Classics’ section. Customers always wanted to know where our classics were and although we had our AFI Top 100 on one wall, everyone thought we should have a separate area as well. When I was asked how I would classify a classic, I said “Any great movie before 1967.”

“Why 1967?” I was asked.

“That was the year Bonnie and Clyde came out,” I replied.

That film along with a few others, helped to usher in the ‘New Hollywood’ and my favorite era of film, the 70’s. Arthur Penn, Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway,Robert Towne, Gene Hackman, as well as Mike Nichols, Dustin Hoffman, Conrad Hall, Haskell Wexler, Hal Ashby and many others were all key in making the five movies nominated for Best Picture at the 1967 Academy Awards. The stories of these productions make up Mark Harris’ Pictures At A Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood.

The book starts in 1963 with David Newman and Robert Benton coming up with an idea for a movie that would become the screenplay for Bonnie and Clyde. From there, Harris interweaves the narration through Beatty, The Graduate, 20th Century Fox and Doctor Dolittle, Sidney Poitier and both In The Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? Harris interviews almost of the people involved with the five films and they open up very candidly about the work, the times and the relationships.

For those interested in the any of the films or the stars, the book is certainly an entertaining read. It moves along at a steady pace, bouncing easily between the stories about the mostly harried shoots of all of the movies. None of the films came about easily, although some of them had deeper pockets than others to help them along with the bumps in the road. However, perhaps it’s my overgeeked brain, but for any casual film fan, whom I assume the book was written for, is probably familiar with most of the stories in the book. Whether it’s the beginning of Beatty’s near megalomaniacal producer’s ego or Hoffman direction to book a room as if he were buying condoms, most of the stories here are retreads of Hollywood legend. Faye Dunaway was flightly, Rex Harrison was an ass and both studios and filmmakers were looking to ‘push the envelope’ in terms of censorship.

However, where the book got interesting for me was in the story of both of the Poitier films. It was enlightening to read about the constant conflict of color, consciousness, creativity and criticism that circled Sidney throughout his career in the 60’s. As a minority, I could only imagine what he endured as a black icon but to discover what he faced from people within his own community was truly disheartening. Poitier struggled to find his place as an artist and an activist under the barrage of scathing remarks that he was doing very little as either or more importantly, that his weaknesses in one directly affected the other. The only comparable comparison for me is that of Tiger Woods, who dominates his field but falls under the occasional scorn of the black community that he simply ‘doesn’t do enough’ for black people, as though breaking through the glass ceiling of a sport once reserved for ‘whites only’ is not enough for one man in his lifetime. Poitier did not want to be Harry Belafonte or Martin Luther King or Jackie Robinson. Throughout all his struggles to get In The Heat of the Night made, to work through a role that battled back against stereotypes and to carry over that to the Herculean task of acting opposite Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in what would be Tracy’s final film, I gained a whole new respect for the man. And at the end of the book, when he is quoted as saying, “I made not have made peace with the times, but I have made my peace with myself,” it speaks volumes to the content of his character.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight is everything is has been hyped up to be. Any perceived flaws in the film were invisible to my eye, which may have been looking through rose colored lenses. But, I think it only speaks to the film’s story, characters and grip on my attention that I could not see past what was directly in front of me.

And I saw it in IMAX.

I know that I have helped in building this film up before even seeing it, but I can honestly say that it was the greatest movie going experience of my life. Better than seeing T2, Revenge of the Sith or The Departed. Never before have I wanted to see a film so badly and held such high expectations for it, only to have those shattered by the film giving me everything I hoped for and more. The Dark Knight delivers in ways that I have never seen in my life. It is The Godfather Part II and it is The Empire Strikes Back. It will be the film that turns the generation behind me into film makers.

I have to start with the sheer technical brilliance of the film and Christopher Nolan’s incredible job of directing. There is not a split second, not a single frame wasted in the movie’s entire run time. He directs the film brilliantly and effortlessly through the story, really making it much more of a crime drama with a few action sequences, rather than the other way around. The story informs the manner of storytelling and Nolan makes sure that we are given everything we need to understand our characters and their motivation. I used to say that Nolan is a master at what he didn’t show you. I still think its true, but he pulls the curtain away in this film and brings us even deeper into Gotham. It is true that the city becomes a character itself and for good reason. Like anyone else in the film that we are meant to care about, Gotham City is what Bruce, Harvey, Gordon and Rachel all love so much that they are fighting with their lives to protect it. The city is their home and by showing us so much of it, Nolan would have us identify with it and care about whether or not it would be burned to the ground by anarchy.

We will never be able to say enough good things about Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker. Yes, it is brilliant, yes, he steals the movie and yes, he deserves every award he will and will not win. I still cannot say for sure if his death has affected my judgment in anyway, but I could not take my eyes off him and marveled at his talent. I never forgot that Heath was underneath that makeup, but I did forget that he was gone. I celebrated that man’s life tonight and I think he would have preferred that to the alternative.

Everyone in the cast is outstanding, but will be overshadowed by Ledger. I’m sure they’re fine with that, but kudos to Christian Bale for giving us real heart and pathos to Bruce Wayne that are usually only reserved for scenes of him as a child. Never before has Bruce been so tortured by his deeds and so willing to pull of the cowl and lay himself bare for the good of others concerned. He is the best Bruce Wayne. Likewise, though they are given much smaller roles than the first time around, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Maggie Gyllenhaal are superb in their roles, supporting Batman. We know that they empathize with Bruce, but cannot even come to grips with the best way to help him or to show him that he is not alone. As for Aaron Eckhart, he comes across as a revelation. He plays Harvey Two-Face as he was always meant to be. A twisted man hell bent on his own sense of justice. He is perfect, making us truly empathize with Harvey and so regretful when he becomes Gotham’s fallen white knight.

I walked out of the film slightly unsure of it. I knew that I had seen one of the greatest films I had ever seen. I knew I would be back the next day to watch it again. And I knew that Heath’s Joker had become the new Jack Sparrow. I was delighted that a huge summer blockbuster ‘comic book movie’ had not only become a masterful example of the true capacities of the medium, but had really, truly had something to say about our own world. Gotham City was a mirror of our own society and everything that was said about its citizens, about us as a people rang true to me. Sadly, I think most of this will be lost on a younger audience who will not see the forest for the trees. Nolan has been amazingly subversive in using his huge Warner Bros. franchise to explore our morality, our darker side and ourselves as well. I hope as many people go to see it as I plan to, because maybe then, they can discover the real meaning behind the title. Perhaps when we can see what we make of our heroes and the people brave enough to defend us, we can begin to change our world into one where those people can take off their masks and live a life in which the risk they put themselves in is no longer necessary.

Batman Blog-A-Thon Day 5

- Ok, so our final entries to the Batman Blog-A-Thon come from Son of Double Feature and dear jesus. Please show them some love and I want to give thanks to both of them, Blog Cabins, Dark of the Matinee, Fantastic Adventures of Furious D and He Shot Cyrus as well as good friend Alex and my brother Matt for participating in the blog-a-thon. You guys rock the casbah.

- Saw the Dark Knight, loved it, review up soon.

- If you can a chance to see it in IMAX, you must. I'm going back again tomorrow.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Who Is Batman?

This blog was written by special guest blogger Alex 'The Kid' Valencia. He grows his beard in an effort to be mistaken for Alfonso Cuaron.

As a young child, my obsessions and interest always changed. From watching Reading Rainbow to obsessing over space travel, only one thing stayed the same. My love for Batman. Unlike most of my friends I wasn’t able to watch the first Batman on the big screen nor was I able to watch the second film on the big screen. Lucky enough for me, my parents had a VCR and a VHS copy of Batman Returns which played on repeat over the next couple of years along side Beauty and the Beast (No shame in that). To this day I am one of the few people who considers the second film a superior film then the first Batman. Maybe it was the darkness, my attraction to Catwoman or the simple fact that I couldn’t believe I was watching this film without my parents covering my eyes but because of this film, my views on the Batman universe are a bit different then my fellow Batman loving friends.

Who is Batman? Surely its man extraordinaire Bruce Wayne, who holds the hard job of being a millionaire playboy and big boss at Wayne Enterprises. But who is Bruce Wayne? Bruce Wayne comes in as the most tragic figure in all comic books. Wayne joins the ranks of Hamlet (Hamlet), Solid Snake (Metal Gear Solid), and Jack Bauer (24). No matter the amount of good he does, his story will not end with a happy note.

Why do we love Batman? He is a human being (sorry Superman) with no super powers like Spider Man or the X-Men. He has gadgets that would make James Bond cream in his pants. Like Tony Stark, he has power, money, and women… or is that Tony Montana? But the reason why I love Batman is not because of his wardrobe or his taste in women but his inner beast. Bruce Wayne set out to rid Gotham City of the cancer that holds the city captive, but along the way Bruce Wayne is killed and out came a demon trying to find a replacement soul.

I know what you’re saying…”Alex, wait up, but Batman is nothing but good, he doesn’t even kill the bad guys.” True my dear friends, but there are several reasons why that might be so. You could go the popular route and say he doesn’t kill because he isn’t a monster like the Joker or Bane. I, on the other hand, think he doesn’t kill because if he rids Gotham City of its plague then Batman wouldn’t exist. Batman needs Two Face, the Joker and the other villains in order to fight them and imprison them. How many times in the animated series, the comic books, and the films have the villains escaped from the Asylum. Countless times. Batman knows that they can’t be held, yet he does that same routine over and over again. Batman is addicted to fighting crime.

In the case of Batman and his villains, Batman isn’t only fighting the evils of Gotham City but fighting himself. Everyone of the villains resembles Batman in a different way. Two Face (battling with two personalities), Poison Ivy (longing to become what they pretend to be), Mr. Freeze (on a personal vendetta because of the loss of a loved one), Scarecrow (use of fear as a weapon) and Ra’s Al Ghul (fighting for the greater good); Then there is Joker, who is the complete opposite of Batman. They are like peanut butter and jelly, eggs and ham, Neo and Agent Smith; everything from their morality to their shoe size is the polar opposite. Except for one big similarity. They both need each other more then Bruce would like his parents back.

Joker has been around since the first comic came out, so the Joker and Batman were born on the same day. I see the Joker as the scariest incarnation of evil ever put on any type of media. The Joker would make Lee Marvin and Steve McQueen soil their pants. What I also love about the Joker is how much of us is in him. He is self destructive, ignores the rules/laws, and hardly does he ever think twice about his actions. To sum it up, he loves to have fun. If that doesn’t sound too complex then chew this for a while, Joker is in love with Batman…How that does that taste? The Joker would never kill Batman for the same reason why Batman won’t kill the Joker; They complete each other. Joker killed the second Robin, paralyzed Batgirl, and killed one of the wives of Commissioner Gordon in NO MAN’S LAND (to strain Batman's and Gordon's relationship) because he is jealous and doesn’t want to share the fun he’s having with Batman.

Every time I see any of the films or read the books, I see Batman as someone who doesn’t find pleasure in anything sometimes even fighting crime. But he is good at it and he knows it. Just like John McClane he knows that if he won’t do it, then no one will. That’s what makes Batman, THE BATMAN.

Batman Blog-A-Thon Day 4

- Make sure you check out the blog-a-thon entries from Fantastic Adventures of Furious D and He Shot Cyrus. Both of them have some really good stuff to say about Batman and Robin!

- Thanks again to everyone who contributed to the blog-a-thon. Matt and Alex and all my fellow LAMBs. You guys are great!

- Heard there's a line forming at the theatre, so I'm out like a fat kid in dodgeball!

In Defense of Joel Schumacher

What happened? That was the question many of us asked after Batman Forever and the question we didn’t even bother with after Batman & Robin. After a marketing campaign built around a question mark, the movie provided little answers.

The two films in the Batman canon from director Joel Schumacher were regarded first as something different, moving the franchise in a lighter direction and then as an unmitigated disaster, a movie to be ignored and apologized for. While I share those feelings as well, perhaps now is the time to look back at the Schumacher films and try to figure out what really happened with the movies, from the people involved to the creative process behind them.

To place the blame squarely on Joel Schumacher is completely unfair. People judge him as a director on these films alone. Briefly, the man has made The Lost Boys, Falling Down, Tigerland and Veronica Guerin. He can be just as dark, serious and violent as Tim Burton and I think, pushes himself to try different genres and styles with his films. So, why did Schumacher turn in two movies that were less Lost Boys and more unlike anything he had done at that time? I think we can attribute that directly to Warner Bros. After the dark nature of Batman Returns, they were clearly looking for a return to the lighter feel of the Batman TV show. It has been well documented that both Burton and Michael Keaton were interested in coming back for a third film. But, the studios had concerns about getting another movie like Returns. When director Kevin Smith was brought onboard by the studio to write for their new Superman movie, he described the script they were developing as “very campy, like a Superman version of the old Batman TV show.” The studio wanted bright colors and smiling faces to put on their posters. And Schumacher gave them what they asked for, right up to the canted angles on the villains. But, he also had some creative freedom on the films and while he did ramp up the camp, he also tuned up the sexuality of the films, taking it from black latex, whips and Kim Basinger to lingerie, plunging necklines and Elle MacPherson. And yes, of course, nipples of the suits.

This is undeniably sexy.

This... not so much.

Furthermore, Warner Bros. flexed their muscle when it came to casting. They wanted huge names for their third Batman movie, the one they would have the greatest control over. Besides bringing in Oscar winner Tommy Lee Jones and the hottest movie star on the planet (at the time) Jim Carrey to play the new villains, they cast Val Kilmer as Batman. They got a movie star to play a role bigger than any movie star. The casting of Keaton and later, Christian Bale tapped into the belief that an action star was not needed to play Batman, but someone who could tap into the emotional pathos of Bruce Wayne to give a performance that would gives audiences someone to care for under the cape. Which is not to say that Kilmer or George Clooney are not good actors, because both of them are very talented. But, they have larger than life personalities that most people were not able to dismiss when watching them on screen. Bruce Wayne is anything but public.

But, more importantly, maybe we should look at the stories themselves. In the third movie, by introducing the Robin character, the film had an opportunity to greatly expand on the Batman character and universe, by showing us the lighter side of Bruce. Sadly, this chance was missed. By casting Chris O’Donnell, the movie garnered zero sympathy for a twenty five year old orphan. The scripts moved away completely from the tone of the comics from Two-Face flipping his coin until he lands the desired result to using super soldier serum in completely changing the character of Bane. From skates and surfboards to the Batmobile climbing walls, even the action sequences could not suspend the belief of comic books fan, who live and die under the idea that a mask changes your facial features enough to avoid identification from loved ones. After Batman: The Animated Series had brought about a gradual change back to the tone of the books, the movies reversed course one hundred and eighty degrees from that and gave us one dimensional villains with complex costumes and dreadful dialogue. Courtesy of Akiva Goldsman, who has admittedly gotten better, the chilling villain dialogue went from “Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?” to “Ice to see you” and other cold weather puns.

So, the movies sucked. Who cares? Tonight at midnight all those memories will be erased. Talk to you tomorrow, same bat time, same bat blog.