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So let's get a couple things out of the way up front.
First, Heath Ledger's Joker is a thing of brilliance. Utterly mad, completely evil, frighteningly real. This is a performance that might have gotten oscar nods if he were still around; it will certainly get them now. He steals the film.
Second, I have a major Batman bias. I'm a huge superhero comic fan; I grew up on 'em, collected all the major Marvel and DC titles in the seventies and eighties. So I have very strong image about who batman is and how he should be portrayed. This makes it hard for me to be objective about reviewing any movie about batman, because they're never my batman.
That said, The Dark Knight manages to do just about as good a job as anyone has ever done with Batman on the screen. Yet, they fundamentally still miss the mark.
Bringing Batman to the screen is difficult. Partly because there's a lot of baggage (the sixties tv show skewed how we see batman to the corny and campy; Frank Miller's Batman skewed our view the other way, to the dark and hard and disturbing). Partly, it's difficult because our studios (and DC comics) have a singular idea of how a hero should be portrayed. I think every one of the modern Batman movies has suffered from this, and not one of them has yet ventured into new territory. They all reek of artistic compromise.
Add to this the fact that Batman, even for superheros, is particularly absurd. No super powers, a weirdly silly outfit, a reliance on impossible technology. It's hard to portray a guy in a bat suit with ears and not make him look silly, even if we don't include nipples and tights.
Dark Knight manages to get it mostly right. They strip the suit down til it looks like something you could actually fight in, they give us some plausible idea of how one man mages all these bizarre inventions, and (with back story from Batman Begins) they've given us a character with with enough of a crazy streak that the obsession and the bat images make sense.
They've also given us a very strong cast. Ledger is amazing; he will give you nightmares. I can see this man walking around in real life, he's that convincingly insane. Never before has the joker seemed so completely believable as a homicidal, sadistic lunatic. Aaron Eckhart, while not turning in the kind of absolutely inspired performance Ledger brings, is still terrific. This guy keeps getting better ever time I see him. And obviously, with actors like Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, and Morgan Freeman involved, the cast just keeps hitting (though Maggie Gyllenhaal's performance is oddly lackluster; I absolutely adore her, though I kept wanting to slap her and say *wake up!*).
The action scenes are all look great, the fights are well choreographed, the effects are mostly terrific.
So what's wrong with it?
That's a hard one; my bias about Batman aside, something's missing. But I'm struggling with what.
I wanted the the entire thing to have more zip. I wanted the dialog to sparkle. I wanted to care about the characters. While the dialog was ok, and there were some decent one liners, most of it has a journeyman feel, like it could have been from any action film. I wanted a breathless pace; there were too many pauses to build character, and then not enough to do for the actors when they had space to act. They were playing characters, and because they're all good, the characters seemed real. But it felt like padding.
The middle of the film is mainly driven by Bruce Wayne's soul-searching over having killed people; to me, this rang utterly false. The core of the character, to me, is that he'll do whatever the fuck it takes to bring down the bad guys, even be one himself. He will kill, he will break laws, he will sacrifice. What he won't do is stop. The beginning and end work; but when Wane starts to fuss about wanting to inspire people, it feels like they've forgotten who they're making a movie about (who is this, fucking Spiderman?)
The film was also oddly bright. One expects Batman films to be dark and shadowy. Gotham is a gothic nightmare of a city. What we got was downtown chicago, with no attempt whatsoever to make it look like anything else. I assume this was to give the film a sense of realism, but the effect was of lazy film making and average cinematography. Worse was that they chose to put Batman in full, harsh light in much of the film, which just makes the bat suit look silly. Batman needs a sense of menace to make him effective; a rubber rodent head doesn't do it. The less you show of Batman, the more effective he is.
This isn't to say I disliked the film; it's easily the best Batman to date. But the fact that it reaches higher in some ways, perhaps, points out the deficiencies. It's quite a good film; but it could have been a great film. It misses the mark on greatness. That's a shame, because Ledger's performance is truly great, and deserves to be in a movie that stands up to it.
Now, as to the batman I want to see, one only needs to look to Frank Miller'sDark Knight Returns to see my vision of Batman.
The Batman I want to see isn't a hero; and that's where Hollywood always fails. They want to portray a darkly heroic, misunderstood figure. They err in casting mornful, broody types (when they don't cast George Clooney, anyway). What they wind up getting is a batman who looks self-involved and sulky.
Batman, my version of Batman, is crazy. Something in him broke when his parents were killed, and he's spent his life on revenge; not on one person, but on everyone, everywhere, who commits a crime. He doesn't care about laws, honor, morals. The irony is that he's become who he's fighting. He's a killer, a sadist. Yet, he's an agent for good, doing what needs doing. He knows he's down in the mire with the criminals, he's sacrificed himself to what he thinks is greater good, though he's driven by an obsession with revenge.
His alter ego isn't a light-hearted playboy; he's a dark, brooding recluse. More Howard Hughes than Tony Stark.
I want to see someone cast who can play batman as a semi-psychotic villain. Imagine Alan Rickman; imagine if Heath Ledger could have turned that air of craziness into a batman portrayal. Bale could have done it (he does crazy so well). But the part needs a villain at it's heart, not a hero. Batman isn't a hero; he's a bad guy who's on our side, and THAT is what every single movie portrayal misses.
My complaints about The Dark Knight are colored this, to be sure. But my real issues with it are not that it isn't my batman; it's that they so nearly turned out a great film. They missed by *that* much, and that's frustrating, because they almost had it.
I was going to write a detailed review but fuck it.
Iron Man rocks. Go see it while it's still in theaters. It is, in my opinion, the best superhero movie of the modern era. I loved it.
Iron Man was my favorite superhero comic, and the movie completely did justice to the character. I even loved Gwyneth Paltrow in the part, and that takes some doing.
Go see it twice.
Admit it. You love zombies. How can you not?
I mean - Night of the Living Dead. Do we have to go on?
Yes. We do.
It doesn't mater if they're darkly gothic and horrifying - The original, classic Night - or modern and stylish (28 days later). It doesn't matter if it's horrifyingly serious, or vaguely campy (Night of the Living Dead, with it's surreal shopping mall), satiric Evil Dead 2, or outright zany (Shaun of the Dead, Return of the Living Dead).
One of my great addictions - my only real video game addiction - is to the Resident Evil game series. Alone, only the most minimal weapons, and shambling, moaning monsters coming to get you from all sides. How can you not love this?
Now, these came out a while ago. They were published in comic form in starting in 2003, and the first graphic novel was published in late '05. And I vaguely recall seeing mention of them on BoingBoing. But I finally got around to picking up the first couple collections, Days Gone Bye and Miles Behind Us.
They're fantastic - beautifully drawn by Tony Moore. This is a graphic novel version of the way Resident Evil feels, while also getting into the heads of the people who've survived this un-named zombie holocaust and have to deal with living in a world where they're prey. The first issue is absolutely harrowing, starting with the protagonist, Rick Grimes, waking from a coma to find himself in the middle of a zombie movie.
They owe a vast amount to George Romero's films, as well as to many other classic zombie films (and I think to the survival horror game genre, I keep seeing things that look like Resident Evil 2 and Silent Hill); Kirkman isn't trying to break new ground here. What he's doing is trying to tell the ongoing story of the survivors, not in two hours, but, as Kirkman says in his intro, but the whole story, what happens to these people after the first night. How they live with this day after day.
It's grim. It's scary - which really isn't easy in a graphic novel. The end of the first volume left me almost gasping. These characters live in a world where violence erupts from nothing, absolutely without warning. And what might be scariest is watching what it does to the people who live through it.
I'm only a little way in so far. And I just had to go order the whole rest of the series (1-6 are out, 7 is due later this year). If it stays this good - wow.
Zombies. You just can't say no.
This is a really dumb quiz. But I happened to find it while I was looking up something about Sin City.
I came up Marv, but I also scored high as Dwight, and as Manute, and, somehow, as That Yellow Bastard. The fact that I'd like to whip jessica alba may have caused that last score to go up.
What Sin City Character are You?
created with QuizFarm.com
But forget the quiz. You tell Me.
Which Sin City character am I?
I was talking about the brilliant Sin City with a friend, and about the types of heros I am forever drawn to.
I was always a huge fan of heros when I was a kid; superheros, sword-wielding barbarians. Brave space captains. I was batman and captain kirk and rocket robin hood and flash gordon, wolverine and aragorn and tarzan of the apes, john carter of mars and dray prescott, lucky starr and conan and shang-shi.
Yet, also, I loved the anti-heros best. The rogues. One of the reasons batman and wolverine and robin hood spoke to me was that they were bad guys on the side of good; robbers and vigilantes and killers, yet, with a moral code.
And then there's the tragic, pointless quest. Bilbo and Sam facing the gates of mordor, knowing their mission isn't really to destroy the ring, for that cannot happen against these odds. Their quest is to die trying. All is hopeless, yet I give up not my hope, I will fight and die for my quest. I will die - but I will not give up.
These things speak to me, and that's one of the reasons I so love both Miller's original Sin City, and Rodriguez' brilliant film version. Because those are the characters who populate this world. Violent, angry, driven men, men who are damaged in one way or another. Men who feel doom weigh upon them, who know they're dead, and strive only to complete the mission before it's all over.
Miller's heros court doom. They love, and desire, and protect. They kill brutally and without remorse, yet they stand between absolute disaster and who or whatever they choose to protect.
These men live short lives in an angry, violent, beautiful world. These are the characters I see in my head; these are the people I feel driven to write. Speaking to said friend, she knew, as only one other friend know, how I felt watching sin city.
To paraphrase, "When you saw this film for the first time, you must have felt as though someone had taken your brain and soul and put then on the screen.". And so I did; this is what I want to write I said, when I was watching the first scene, the assassin and the beautiful woman in the rain.
This is who lives in my head, I thought, when Marv said:
'She smells like angels ought to smell, the perfect woman... the Goddess',
Aand I thought it when Dwight said:
'My warrior woman. My Valkyrie. You'll always be mine, always and never. Never. The Fire, baby. It'll burn us both. It'll kill us both. there's no place in this world for our kind of fire. Always and never. If I have to die for you tonight, I will.'
These people speak the way I feel.
This is how I want to be described, I thought, when Dwight says of Marv, 'He just had the rotten luck of being born in the wrong century. He'd be right at home on some ancient battlefield swinging an axe into somebody's face. Or in a Roman arena, taking his sword to other gladiators like him. They woulda tossed him girls like Nancy back then. '
Doom. Tragedy. Violence. Love and lust and desire. These characters are stripped down to the raw essence of these things; they will burn out brightly, tragically, and they will take you with them if you stand in the way. But they will save you if you need saving, no matter what the cost.
These are the people who live in my head; and I envy Frank Miller more than I can say, for he too carries these people in his head, but he has a way to let them out.
As yet, I do not. Not in action, not in word. I cannot be them, and i cannot write them. Not yet.
This is fucking brilliant.
I dunno how much I've talked about comics but i grew up on a steady diet of sci-fi pulps and comics. And Jack Kirby, more than anyone else, defined my early comic-reading days (Well, that and Gilbert Shelton, but that's spelled comix). My first comics ever were Kirby; an issue of Nick Fury, agent of S.H.I.E.L.D was the first comic I read, and Kamadi was the first one I bought.
There's a reason they call him King Kirby.
That's just a little sample, it's way bigger than this (sample thumbnail courtesy of BB).
The final conclusion - up front, newspaper style: When it comes to Batman on film, there's no pleasing me.
I finally got around to watching Batman Begins, after hearing over and over, from everyone from Olivia to the video store clerk what a great film it is.
I can't say it sucked. I really didn't suck. But it sure didn't rule either.
"She smells like angels ought to smell. ... The perfect woman. The goddess. Goldie."
-Marv, Sin City
Well, we're on the theme of comics, so we might as well talk about Sin City.