Sunday, July 20, 2008

Good evening Commissioner...WHY SO SERIOUS!!?

I know I haven't gotten around to my impressions of the Sony E3 Press Conference but I was pretty indifferent towards it and at this point I don't really think it would be worth it for me to really write anything apart from the "I didn't really find anything too captivating or offensive about it" at this point in time. I'd rather write about the several films I've seen over the past month that I've never really gotten around to blogging about because I was still unsure what exactly my impressions were on them...and I also saw The Dark Knight today, a film that I've been following the hype for over the last two years.

As of writing this I'm over in the Cape Cod, without anything beyond a stack of my DVDs and my MacBook Pro without an internet connection. I really wanted to see The Dark Knight on Friday night especially after hearing all the positive buzz from both the critics and a handful of my co-workers that were lucky enough to catch a midnight showing of it. My hype for the Dark Knight started immediately after I saw Batman Begins, at that time I was unfamiliar with the other works of Christopher Nolan and I used bouts of multiple viewings of Memento and The Prestige to pass the time in-between what little details existed for The Dark Knight. I followed the viral websites, between the first e-mail campaign unlocking the first image of the Joker one pixel at a time and the I Believe in Harvey Dent viral websites. I even went to see I Am Legend in IMAX solely to catch the first seven minutes of The Dark Knight. In fact when I first heard of Heath Ledger's death I was devastated not for his Academy Award winning performance in Brokeback Mountain but more because he was the first actor that I really felt "got" the Joker and it would be the last time I'd really see the role achieved so perfectly.

Onward to the geekery:
The Dark Knight - As you could tell from my blurb above, my bar was set ridiculously high for this film. Even more than what I had for Batman Begins and for that it was a culmination of all my Batman: The Animated Series watching as a kid. Luckily, The Dark Knight did not disappoint and it did to Batman Begins what the Empire Strikes Back did to Star Wars. The Dark Knight did more than just apply the "more of the same" formula to the already successful Batman Begins, nor did it give us something totally different, rather it perfected what was introduced in the previous film and gave us an elaborate crime drama that is completely believable and realistic, something that you'd rarely see in a superhero movie.

One of the smartest choices Nolan made in The Dark Knight was the ideal of not giving the Joker an origin story and rather just have him exist. While the Joker implies that he may have had domestic problems, he changes the story of his scar several times throughout the movie. This gives us the portrait of an intelligent psychopath, it was best described in the bank heist scene in the beginning of the film where he was called "a nutjob who painted his face white". Even his walk would have both the grace of a Cirque du Soleil performance mixed in with the clumsiness of Cosmo Kramer. From the Joker however, we're given the story of Harvey Dent's transformation into Two Face where he originally starts as a public and cleaner cut lawyer version of Batman and then becomes a criminal mastermind. Nolan's depiction of Two Face is about as disturbing and grotesque as something can get in a PG13 rated movie, with the revelation of his face after the acid burn being one of the highest points in the movie. While Two Face is given a fair amount of screen time its pretty obvious that they were building him up to be the villain of the next movie much like how they built up Batman's character in the previous film. A quick note to anyone who's going in to watch the film, I was trying to find out whether or not Two Face did or did not have his wisdom teeth, you can see his full jaw and I tried to count how many teeth he had, I couldn't tell sadly :(

The use of 3D animation for Two-Face's burnt face and real-life pyrotechnics for the explosions and stunt doubles was also very commendable. While they weren't able to pull off anything a third as over the top as something you'd see in a Spider-man film, it was also a lot more immersive. For what stunts they did have, you'd see trucks flipping over and buildings blowing up, for all of this the lighting, the camera's focus and the physics were all exactly on the mark which is a refreshing change for someone who's used to looking back and seeing Spider-man immediately transition into 3D animation when swinging around buildings. For the parts when they used 3D effects such as Harvey's face (much comparable to the octopus guy from the Pirates of the Caribbean films) it was not used to recreate an actual human but rather to create something creepy, moving the negative effects with the uncanny valley over in its favor.

The Dark Knight was an incredibly sophisticated film for something of its budget and I'm really surprised they decided to stick to the PG13 rating instead of going for an R. I doubt your average mall going consumer would even have the attention span for this movie, with most of the writing being focused on the drama with an occasional splash of action. It never felt like it held back because it was written around the confines of a PG13 leaving most of the really disturbing stuff offscreen but I wonder how different it would have been had they decided to show a few of the more graphic areas of the film and maybe treated it more EXACTLY like a crime movie and put a few splashes of profanity here and there. I'm not saying the movie needed it but when going for realism, criminals are far from role models and I doubt they'd exist in the 1950s era values of the MPAA. Many reviews compared The Dark Knight to The Godfather Part II and Heath Ledger's performance of The Joker to Hannibal Lector from Silence of the Lambs.

Overall, the Dark Knight is EASILY one of the best movies of the year in a firm second place to WALL-E. While it may not be the typical lighthearted subcomedy superhero film, Batman is not your typical lighthearted superhero. While I don't know if this movie would be too dark for young children, I'd give it a whole-hearted recommendation to anyone else who wouldn't mind sitting through a 2 and a half hour long movie with the occasional action scene thrown in.


Other movies:
Batman Gotham Knight - Much like what the Animatrix was for The Matrix: Reloaded, Batman Gotham Knight is an Anime adaptation of the Batman Begins universe (Batmanime?). Produced by Bruce Tim and featuring many of the writers and voice actors from Batman The Animated series mixed in with six different anime directors ranging from companies like Studio 4c (the opening short looks very close to Michael Arias's Tekkonkinkreet), Satoshi Kon (Paprika, Tokyo Godfathers) and the guys behind Ghost in a Shell. In theory, this could be liberally the best thing ever. Despite its pedigree, the biggest flaw in this comes from the fact that it tries to have six different self-contained short films that all tell one overarching story. This works, sort of well but ultimately it limits each team into telling a very specific kind of a story. While the dialogue heavy portion from the Ghost in a Shell creators made sense I would have rather had Studio 4c work on something more fluid and action oriented than just three skater teens reminiscing about their previous Batman related experiences. There was also some inconsistency between the teams with some portraying Bruce Wayne as the tough guy that he should be while others shown him as a pretty boy. I guess this is exactly what you'd get if you asked American's to make a Godzilla movie (which happened in 1998), while we'd understand the basic idea of the character we wouldn't really have much reverence for him because he was not a solid part of our popular culture. None of the shorts featured The Joker either, which is a huge disappointment in my mind. To have a Batman movie without the Joker is like a Superman movie without Lex Luther. He would also be the best character for multiple interpretations from the Japanese. Instead we were left with Dead Shot, Killer Croc and The Scarecrow, all are pretty firmly on the B-list of Batman.

The 2-Disc DVD and Blu-Ray releases of this film also include five episodes from Batman: The Animated Series that were hand-picked by Bruce Tim. Pair that with the collectable tin and art book from Best Buy and you have a solid purchase for your average comic book geek and otaku. I can't quite recommend this though because maybe only half of the shorts in the film I'd really consider worth watching while the other ones aren't particularly offensive but they aren't really memorable either. Its worth seeing for the multiple very different interpretations of Batman but they sadly are all very short lived. The anime idea was much better suited for The Matrix.


Wanted - Dear lord! this was one of the most derivative non-comedy movies I've seen in a long time. In fact, me and my friends were laughing pretty consistently throughout the entire movie in the theater. With a very little amount of rewriting this could have become an Edgar Wright style satire movie on the entire hardboiled action genre that was created by the one-two punch of The Matrix and Fight Club. For what it was though, it was a fairly amusing movie that will probably entertain 90% of the beef-heading crowd that would go to see it. You still got to hear Morgan Freeman say a few very awesome four-letter words, there are a lot of fast cars, a few good action scenes and Angelina Jolie shows a lot of skin, which is probably a plus for the celebrity gossip reading monkeys that would probably go out and see this film.

The real problem with Wanted was that it didn't really have much of its own unique vision but rather it was just trying to be exactly like something else. Like you even had a deadpan Ikea obsessed Narrator who joins an underground anti-corporate society where he gets punched in the face and beaten up by his peers. Factor in hundreds of slow-motion shots and bullet time effects and you have something that's trying a bit too hard to be Fight Club with the commercial success of The Matrix and 300. Say what you want about either of those films being overrated, but they at least knew what kind of movie that wanted to make.

On top of that, halfway through Wanted I felt like they were running out of tricks. While its cool to see a car skid into someone with a door open to pick them up, its only fun the first time you see it and when you do it a few more times it felt tired. Even the fairly lame sequence where two bullets collided with each other in midair could have been forgiven had they done it just once, but after four times I couldn't hold in my collective shrug anymore. If they were going to do that, they should have included it in the narrator's intensive training and them make it out to be kind of like swordplay with guns. Factor in a couple of sex scenes that reeked of "Oh, SEX!!! yeah, I've had that" and you have a movie that is only good for 13 year olds who are trying too hard to be "cool" or "edgy" but don't have the capacity to be either of those things.

For what it was, Wanted was a fun movie as long as you lower your expectations for for just a dumb action movie that has a few moments that are kind of fun.


Hancock - This is NOT a movie I'd want to pay money to see so I'm glad that I saw someone uploaded a handicam version of it onto Veoh, going into it I knew it was going to be terrible but I was hoping it would be more the Wild Wild West kind of terrible and less I, Robot bad. I recognized Jason Bateman was in it, and he's been the biggest tool in Hollywood since Teen Wolf Too and even his good roles in Arrested Development and Juno, they had him play a fairly door matt-esque character. Hancock actually was a really dumb and fun movie for the first 40 minutes but then when decided to try to be a "serious" superhero movie.

Without spoiling too much, Hancock started to add rules to Will Smith's heroism such as a weakness to his invulnerability, only to use them a scene later. While Hancock had a few really funny parts in the beginning and the idea of a Superhero that no one wants is an interesting concept, ultimately Hancock falls apart with a hashed together ending which just served as an excuse for the inevitable Hancock 2.

Though, on the bright side of things, P. Diddy's review of Hancock is funnier and more entertaining than ANYTHING in the movie.

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