Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Weekly Wish List 7/31: classic films and classic filmmaking

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes - Howard Hawks
Hawks is quite simply in my top five directors of all time. He mastered all genres, and constantly explored all aspects of cinema. Here he works with the legendary Monroe, who actually was a damn funny actress, to create a musical about two friends on a boat to Paris being tracked by Monroe's suspicious father-in-law and his private detective. Hilarity ensues

Le Havre - Aki Kaurismaki
I caught this wonderful little film at last years New York Film Festival. This tale of finding meaning late in life is full of charm and interesting characters. Here's my original thoughts.

Grande Illusion - Jean Renoir
One of the greatest films of all time by the French master of Poetic Realism. This story of two soldiers trapped in a POW camp, make numerous escape attempts only to be captured by the great Von Stroheim. Jean Gabin leads the cast in what many consider the best anti-war film ever made. Absolutely one of Renoir's best and if you liked this I strongly urge you to see The Crime of Monsieur Lange, and The Rules of the Game.


One last thought - for the rest of the MAUSketeers.

"Because some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn:" The Dark Knight

Film Foray RETROspective Vol: Seize: The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight took Batman and made the Nolan version of the character and made it him into a phenomenon. For fans of Batman and the man known as Christopher Nolan, Hawk and I expected the film to be good, very good but we never expected it to be extra super great. It marked yet another departure from the comic genre and firmly placed Batman in the environment of the crime drama. Then end result was a film that drew comparisons to one of the greatest sequels of all time, The Godfather II.

The Dark Knight not only redefined the genre that Batman Begins destroyed but literally revolutionized the character of Batman. It marked the first time that Batman could move his head from left to right without moving his shoulders. Which does not mean much to many people but marks a wild modification of the iconic cape and cowl.

It would be doing a disservice to the legacy of this film and the memory of Heath Ledger to not discuss his performance in The Dark Knight. There were those who doubted the actor had the proverbial acting chops to portray Batman's most iconic and fearsome adversary, the Joker. Frankly, I never really doubted it, Nolan does not seem like a gent that takes needless risks. He seems like an altogether pragmatic fellow, who knew what he was doing when Ledger was cast as Batman's nemesis. The rest (of course) was history.

In many ways, Christopher Nolan and company side stepped the land mine that is the comic film sequel. Certainly, they expanded the universe of Batman and made a larger film in scope, yet by remaining grounded in the real world kept them from making the same mistakes. Twenty years from now, nobody will be talking about Iron Man II or the countless other crappy films based on Marvel properties... They will however talk about The Dark Knight. Which from start to finish is a classic American film.

Rooney Rating:

Monday, July 30, 2012

New Tune Tuesday (7.31.12) - Passing the ketchup (catch-up) with the Gaslight Anthem, Fiona Apple, Old Crow Medicine Show and more...

It's been a while since I threw out a New Tune Tuesday for the music lovers out there, and between work and multiple trips to see The Dark Knight Rises, can you really blame me? However, it hasn't stopped me from visiting the local record shop to brush through the aisle crops and find some fresh ear bud. So we're gonna pass the ketchup and play a little ketchup with some recent releases, some good, some bad, all with someone out there this very moment, listening to them with thoughts it's the greatest album they've ever heard...yes, even the bad ones. Therein lies the beauty to music: Even stupid people can find something to enjoy. Anyhow, let's dig in...
Handwritten - The Gaslight Anthem
"Pull it out, turn it up, what's your favorite song? / That's mine, I've been crying to it since I was young / I know there's someone out there feeling just like I feel..." Sings Brian Fallon alongside scorching guitars on the title track of the groups 4th studio album and first on a major label. Fallon is as dedicated a songwriter as he is a diesel-powered lead singer, and it's pedal is to the metal while never losing grip on the melancholy and sincerity that makes Fallon's lyrics hit home, the same way they don't lose track of how to produce a pop-hook hidden in a rock song greased in punk. Educated by Springsteen, brought up on the Clash, and molded by the Replacements, that's the Gaslight Anthem in a orgy of music influences type explanation. Not just going off of what they literally say when listing influences, but you hear all those elements in their music, and they don't lose it when getting the chance to put out a record on Mecury. This isn't a sell-out your sound for gold-records indie darling turned major label run ala Arcade Fire, their roots remain in-tact. 

Brendan O'Brien is behind the producers table, and with experience working with everyone from Neil Young and Dylan to Paul Westerberg to Korn to Springsteen to Rage Against the Machine. O'Brien lent a 12-string to Fallon for the flip switch on the Pixies "Here Comes my Man," one of the groups most courageous songs yet, a stand-out track from the angle of it's appealing sound and rich vocal harmonies, daring from the angle of some punk rockers singing from the viewpoint of a woman. Jenny Lewis pulled off the vice versa, and they do just fine here. The opening track, the tough but radio friendly "45" and it's witty and clever in the way the lyrics bring together music and memory, "drop the needle again / and I'll dance with your ghost," or the clever chorus refrain of "turn the record over / I'll see you on the flip side." "Keepsake" is something that, from the themes, could be from Everclear with it's father leaves family (Fallon's father left the family when he was at a young age) retrospect, full of lyrics like "It's been thirty-one years since she's been in your arms / But don't worry about Mama, Mama's got a good heart / and I'm not looking for your love," it's the type of stuff that if you listen to closely, can hit deep, no deeper than near the end when he almost gasps "I just want to love someone with the same blood." They turn up the power-ballad dial for "Too Much Blood," a song in which Fallon recognizes the power of lyrics and truth, wondering what will happen if "If I put too much Blood on the Page." Just as they can dial it up, they dial it down for the beautiful but strong "Mae" or the acoustic, slightly-Springsteen-esque "National Anthem" a haunting track of retrospect and melancholy which ends the regular studio-album with thoughts on "living with too many ghosts" and "what's left for God to teach from his thrown? / Who will forgive us when he's gone?" The iTunes bonus "Teenage Rebellion," another acoustic track, is worth seeking out in all it's teenage angst turning you into something you never thought you'd be glory. It's as if the 16-year old Westerberg sings to in "Sixteen Blue" has grown up, and this is what he has to say. The regular deluxe edition (which features liner notes by the great Nick Hornby) is rounded out by solid if a little too safe covers of Nirvana's "Sliver" and Tom Petty's "You Got Lucky." The worst element found here is track listing, which is a little strange at times. 
Available On: 180-Gram BLUE Vinyl, CD, Deluxe-CD, Deluxe iTunes MP3 with Bonus Track
Carry me Back - Old Crow Medicine Show
It's been a while since Old Crow has dropped a new record, back in 2008 with Tennessee Pusher. Things have changed a lot since. Shortly after the 2011 Railroad Revival Tour the band went on an indefinite hiatus, they came back soon enough, though without key member Willy Watson but with old member Critter Fuqua back. Though it's almost a year later since then as this album drops, it's obvious chunks of this record have been in the can for a while, as Watson is plays (and sings) on enough of the tracks he's listed as a regular musician while Critter is listed as a special guest musician for two of the albums 12 tracks. In that sense, you could very well look at it as an 'end of an era' type album, as Watson always seems to be co-in-comman with Ketch Secor, and while he didn't write or add lead vocals to as many tracks as Secor did and does, Watson will certainly be missed. The band does sound amped up though, it's opening track, "Carry me Back to Virginia" (from which the album partly takes it's title) might not be as memorable as the "Subterranean Homesick Blues" inspired opener on their last LP, "Alabama High Test," it's a fine song that sees the band delving back into history for the roots of it's songwriting, also evident in "We Don't Grow Tobacco" and "Bootlegger's Boy." If you want romp and stomp Old Crow, it's here in songs like "Mississippi Saturday Night," and Old Crow also shows their modern conscience again with the Iraq war veteran inspired "Levi," one of the album's standout tracks. "Ain't it Enough," though a little hammed up in naivety at times in the same vein as John Lennon's "Imagine," stands alongside "Ways of Man" as more traditional, straight forward tracks (they seem to do one or two of these every album out) that many will find to be album highlights. It doesn't top 2006's Big Iron World, but it's another solid outing from the group. 
Available On: Vinyl, CD, MP3 Download
The Idler Wheel is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords will Serve you more than Ropes will ever Do - Fiona Apple
Pre-teens and teens alike today get to view videos where Lady Gaga dresses up in meat and Selena Gomez shows why most girls should eat more of it. Me? I was alongside so many boys who decided they wanted to be men when they saw a teenage Fiona Apple in panties and shirt, in some seedy party bedroom, letting us know she had been a "bad, bad girl." We were in love, and those still listening still are, and when she sings "wake me up, gimme gimme gimme what you got / Got in your mind in the middle of the night" it's like she's speaking to 13 year old me all over again. Apple is a weird chip, no more evident than her choice of album title (though she's actually put out longer album titles) and any interview you can see she lives in strangeness, and we love her for it, check out the music video recently released for "Every Single Night" and see exactly what I mean as she woders why "every single nights' a fight with my brain." She started work on this album basically in secret, not even letting her label know she was at work on her first LP in seven years. It's art-pop on the piano, Regina Spektor on steroids, which is why her energy alone get the album through any bumps in the road. She's not for everyone, this is a challenging album and can be hard to swallow if you go in eyes unopened, that's for sure, but those fans who've waited seven years for another record should be enjoying it. My favorite track? Maybe "Every Single Night" or "Hot Knife." 
Available On: Vinyl, CD, Deluxe CD with Poster and DVD and Book, MP3 Download
Invisible Stars - Everclear
Let's be honest, in their radio-hit-heyday, most people probably didn't really pay attention to what exactly Art Alexakis was writing about. Sure, "Father of Mine" may have been a little obvious, but have you really paid attention to the lyrics of "Wonderful?" As he creepy crawls into his 50's, Art isn't holding back nor is he trying to find his youth by singing about how great the bar is. No, it's still about failure and the search for those days when you were happy. "We never had a chance / we want what we can't have / be careful what you ask for / I know you get mad at me / I know that you want to leave / I know this isn't what you wanted when you married me" he sings on the albums standout track, "Be Careful what you Ask for," a song about "burnouts in the dark" and how drinking can take the pain away. Robin Wilson of the Gin Blossoms said it's his favorite son Alexakis has ever written. While that might be a stretch, this is an album for fans, really, the album fans have been waiting for. If you liked "Sparkle and Fade," you'll love this album. The best studio effort from the band in sometime. 
Available On: CD, MP3 Download
Overexposed - Maroon 5
I do wonder, did the band title this album after the excess play "Moves like Jagger" had? Speaking of Jagger, it seems the band has been huffing The Rolling Stones disco era from the late 70's and early 80's like high priced cocaine. I'm not one to rip a band for trying to do something different, but the Stones were STILL that blues rock band when they went disco. There was still a "Start me Up" or "Undercover of the Night" for every "Emotional Rescue." The problem here? It doesn't sound like a band doing disco, it sounds like some electronics doing disco with Adam Levine adding in some vocals. This is bad, it's over-produced and there's not even a hint of the band from just under a decade ago living here. 
Available on: CD, Deluxe CD, MP3 Download
Living Things  - Linkin Park
From one band straying a bit too far from sounding anything like itself, to a band that only knows one sound. Fans, they'll love it, even if they can't tell the difference between any songs. This album could be titled "More of the Same," though it's sure to find  a few radio hits. Their almost a parody of themselves by this point, but as I said, you fans will love it. The opener, "Lost in the Echo," sounds like every other radio hit they've had, and it really made me wonder how repetitive their greatest hits album will sound. 
Available on: CD, MP3 Download
Days go By - The Offspring
I loved the Offspring once upon a time when I wore a younger mans clothes, but I fear those days are long over. They're still getting by, but they're chugging fumes, sort of Weezer-esque in that they're still releasing average at best albums, that newer fans love not realizing how good the earlier albums were. Upbeat punk rock fans will still enjoy it, because they're not gonna comb over the lyrics like I will and see how unfunny and cliche they are. If you like the Offspring of today or the last few years, you're honestly not seeing that they're a pale shadow of what they once were. I think a lot of fans will be disappointed here as well. "The Future is Now," um no, your future was yesterday. 
Available on: CD, MP3 Download

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Movie Night: The Monster Squad or Post-Modernism is way cooler than Reboots

Universal is releasing a lovely blu ray set later on this year, providing us with hi def prints of their greatest monsters, and us here at the Maus could not be more excited. In fact Hawk and I were engaging in some good old fashioned social networking and discussing the set a few days ago. This got me thinking about my history with the monsters of Universal. Truth be told I did not like horror movies as a child, at least not the slashers from the eighties. My dad would praise Dracula and Lon Chaney time and time again, so they were on in some form or another throughout my childhood. But my real first exposure was the post modern mash up The Monster Squad from Shane Black and Fred Dekker. With the various reboots and rehashes plaguing our cinemas I thought it only fitting to discuss my first foray into some of the most classic film Monsters of all time. Just like my son has a new Spiderman, The Monster Squad was my introduction to these monsters that my dad used to watch as the terrorized Abbot and Costello(an absolute classic by the way and should be required viewing for everyone of all ages). I loved this movie growing up because of the way it played with horror comedy and obviously being a kid I loved the idea of children overcoming these legendary creatures of evil. So I just wanted to take some time to look at this Eighties classic.

Fred Dekker loved Abbot and Costello and had the idea of doing a film in the vein of Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein, but with the Little Rascals instead of the classic comedy duo. He went to his friend Shane Black at the time to help him write the script and thus the seed for The Monster Squad was born. Bringing the Little Rascals to modern times we have a group of relatively misfit kids that could be found in any city in America. He gives the kid distinct personalities while at once fitting them into archetypes. You have the leader, the rebel, the fat kid(aptly called "fat kid", the young one, the girl and so on and so on.

Black and Dekker made sure the kids spoke like real children. They're rude to each other, they swear, they dream big but get scared when reality smacks them in the face. Sure it's the eighties and there's plenty of cheese and amazing(not amazing) fashion, but the kids are still more real than anyone on that other Mouse network. Even the parents here are treated more than just screen filler, here they have real problems the way any couple would have. They're not necessarily headed for divorce but things aren't altogether peachy at home either. This all helps to give us characters we care about. These two know the draw is the monsters, but it's the characters that keep us engaged. They make us want to believe that this group of kids can rise up an defeat the most evil of evil doers. Otherwise you end up with soulless shine like Van Helsing.

It's amazing looking back at how beloved the film is in the nerd community that this film was not embraced by Universal at all. They denied Dekker the rights to their monsters, meaning he had to be very careful at the depictions and designs of these famous foes. With the help of genius movie magic maker Stan Winston, the two took on the unthinkable task of recreating Universals legendary monsters. Dracula was obviously inspired by the Lugosi Dracula with his garish cape and aristocratic demeanor. Dracula does some severely evil stuff including calling a little girl a bitch. Tom Noonan of genre fame takes on Frankenstein and imbues him with the heart and soul a lifeless monster should have. Some great scenes inspired by the original movie get a great homage in this film, and the kids and Frankenstein walking off into the sunset is a great image. The wolf an receives a much more feral and animalistic update as opposed to the more furry man look of Lon Chaney. This another example of not holding back as a teenager is responsible for killing the wolf man.

This is an absolutely wonderful childhood memory and I still love watching it today. In an age where imagination has all but died and remake and reboots are on everybody's lips, it's interesting to see how they approached such things in times past. It was never about remaking something, here it was about honoring and paying homage to these great creatures and giving a new generation their own version. You get the sense that the film is filled with love and passion rather than say the business calculations of an executive at The CW who heard of a film called Battle Royale that sounds awfully familiar to a recent hit starring Mystique and Laser. The point is there was a purity in motivations that you can feel throughout the film. It felt like it was made by a fan for fans. You look at someone like Whedon and whatever your thoughts are of his recent magnum opus, it's undeniable that he reveres the source material. A favorite from my generation, one that I'll show RC when he's a bit older. Maybe even back to back with Abbot and Costello.


One last thought - genius.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Weekly Wish List: "July"

Time to catch up on a few weeks of releases.

Margaret - Kenneth Longernan
Longernan's long in development follow up to You Can Count On Me, topped many critics best of lists for last year. This is the story of a woman who sees an accident and the results of the aftermath. This is the release I've been most looking forward to and I'll definitely be back with my thoughts. People have given this film an exorbant amount of praise, hopefully it's all true.

Intruders - Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
Some less than stellar reviews for this film, but I'm always willing to give directors I like a shot. Fresnadillo made two great genre films with Intacto and 28 Weeks Later. Here he gives us a spin on the ghost story as two girls are haunted by some faceless figure. Hopefully this works out

Flowers of War - Zhang Yimou
Bale just knocked it out of the park with his best portrayal of Bruce Wayne yet. Here he stars in Asian powerhouse Yimou's story of prostitutes and Bale posing as a priest. I didn't get a chance to view this in the theater so I'm excited to finally get around to it.

The Deep Blue Sea - Terence Davies
People are having some Oscar talk about the ex Mrs. Aronofsky. I've always like Weisz and Hiddleston has definitely showed his talent in the past year. This story about adultery and the drama it creates has been a treasure trove for actresses over the years with its successful theater productions.


One last thought - for you Hawk, what better way to celebrate tickets going on sale than this documentary of footage from the first Railroad Revival tour.

Monday, July 23, 2012

"Theatricality and deception, powerful agents for the uninitiated. But we are initiated, aren't we Bruce?:" The Dark Knight Rises

Film Foray Cavalcade Vol. Cinquante Six: The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises

I do not know if you know this but love Batman... Not enjoy or merely like. I love Batman, so much so that every other superhero is second class. That is quite the statement considering the only genre of comics that I read religiously contain superheroes. With that being said, it is not a surprising that 3/4's of the Maus was at the midnight IMAX screening (Biggest screen in the Southwest, no less) this early Friday morning. I have spent a long four years for this moment and it was no surpise that I was grinning from ear to ear the entire time.

For those wondering why it has taken nearly a week to discuss this film, I did not know to approach this epic (which is the right term to describe the scope of the film) from a critical perspective. Certainly, this film is as different to The Dark Knight as that film was to Batman Begins. I am going to put it out there, this film is arguably the best film of the trilogy from all angles (Acting, writing, special effects, cinematography, you get the picture). The Dark Knight Rises is an interesting film because of its lasting impression on the viewer... Here it is about five days later and it is still at the forefront of my mind.

A lot of this has to do with the story of the film, while aligns itself more closely to Begins by picking up with the influence and legacy of that film's main villain, Ras Al Ghul. Namely, he trained Bane (as he had Batman) and the former is fulfilling the mission that Bruce Wayne declined. The interest twist to this story is that brothers Nolan crafted a film that borrows from Charles Dicken's A Tale of Two Cities and it's portrayal of the French Revolution. I am in awe by this choice, it brings an unparalleled level of intelligence to a genre (comic movies) which sorely needs it.

Messrs. Nolan and Nolan have crafted a script that allowed the actors really take the characters further emotional. I need only point to Alfred's speech to Bruce about Italy or Commissioner Gordon's response to Blake regarding the Dent conspiracy. Moreover, the body language and emotion shown through eyes alone by Christian Bale during Batman's first fight with Bane was gut wrenching (the man with the heart of coal almost teared up). Tom Hardy also does much with both as well considering his face is covered the entire time that he is on camera.

The last films in trilogies are usually the most difficult to create and history is rife with bad final sequels (I need not name any, we all know the ones). The Dark Knight Trilogy was in the same situation as the Godfather and the original Star Wars trilogies, stellar second film that is impossible to top. Where both of those series failed, Christopher Nolan has created a perfect trilogy, where all three films are great in their own right. The Dark Knight Rises expands the Dark Knight universe and brings it to an emotionally satisfying conclusion. In many ways with TDKR, Christopher Nolan shows you not only how to make a blockbuster but a good film as well.

Parting Thoughts:
Academy thinks this film only deserves technical awards to which Manny Funkowitz responds, "Return of the King... Come on!"

Rooney Rating:

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Summer Preview UPDATE: The Dark Knight Rises

I'm not really sure how to write this review. I'm not entirely sure what I just saw. In fact I'm scared that it's over and that this really is the last time we will see this universe. This might be something to revisit later on. But for now this is the best ending I could've have hoped for, and quite possibly the best "third" film in a series I have ever seen. Nolan has stuck the landing and done it without losing any of the class and power that carried him through the first two films. Before we get started if you're waiting for me to tell you if this film is better than Begins or Dark Knight, don't hold your breath I was talking to Manny and I feel it's impossible to compare the films. They are so vastly different, comparison would just yield ungrounded statements. You know what lets start there.

This film is something completely different for the Bat universe. It is as epic and grandiose as Nolan has been touting. It takes our beloved hero to some incredible lows and the result is easily the most emotional of the three. It completely caught me off guard in that it is such a different beast than the other two. Nolan has crafted such an incredibly trilogy that each piece stands alone as small miracles of comic book cinema, yet when combined they tell such a beautiful and exciting story that this is undoubtably the cinematic milestone of my nerd career.

And I think that's what I've been having trouble dealing with. I can't remember a time when I've had such a personal vested interest in the characters on screen. Going in like everyone else I had such high expectations, and the film arguably delivered on that. But I can't convince myself that what I saw was that incredible, let alone one of the most incredible experiences I've had watching a film. To think that Nolan actually delivered such an incredible film is near impossible. And it's forcing me to scrutinize the film as much as possible. This has led me to two conclusions.

One, the film is not perfect. Especially when analyzing the plot, there's story beats that feel a bit perfunctory and act as merely a means to get to the end. Thematically the political stuff never lands as strong as I wanted it too. These are nitpicky things but when you want to say hyperbolic statements about a film it needs to hold up to the magnifying glass. I'm not going to harp on this because there are plenty of other reviews that go into detail about the problems they have with the film.

Two, this is easily one of my favorite movies of all time. There's nothing wrong with not being perfect. Because damnit the filmmaking on display is so incredibly masterful and everything Nolan s doing is like seeing my dreams come true in celluloid magic. The cinematography is just jaw dropping in what Pfister was able to accomplish. The visual tone of the film is nothing less than epic and heroic. There is so much to discuss and argue about with this film and my absurd love of it clouds any ability to really look at its flaws.

Nolan has done the impossible and brought closure to his masterpiece trilogy. Everyone is given a fitting end to their story and in proper Nolan fashion, he leaves you plenty to think about at the end. Everything comes full circle and the payoff is so incredibly emotional that I constantly was fighting back tears. Alfred's speech about Italy was such an intimate moment, and it defines how this film revels in its bombast yet soars when it plays the scene small. Nolan has balanced his characters and spectacle in ways no other modern director can.

This in many ways is the loosest he's played with story, while every other piece he works on is tight and concise, this is the opposite. He lets his characters loose on the world and we see the chaos and violence that ensue. We see a sense of control lost and it mirrors perfectly Bruce Wayne's journey. Bruce was always in control and here he meets a villain that is physically his superior and while he went toe to toe with the joker, Bane is more powerful than the Bat. Bruce loses control over everything and from beginning to end we see him fight to regain his place in the world. We see a legend being forged against the fires of hell. We see legacies being created and a battle for the soul of a city carried out across time. This is the definition of broad and epic, there is no tight or concise here.

I know I keep rambling and jumping from point to point but the film struck me in such a way that I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. Flaws and all(I'll never believe Alfred would leave Bruce, or that Bruce would let him leave) this film is a living organism. Flying towards the finish line Nolan slips here and there, but the ultimate result is nothing short of sublime and brilliant. I wish I could go and on(Bale deserves a whole article focused on how amazing his work here is.) but like I said maybe I'll come back and revisit the film soon. There's one last thing I want to discuss and it gets into extreme spoiler territory. So by now I imagine most of you have seen the film, but just in case you might as well leave now.

Still here? Alright. So like I said extreme spoilers. I love Robin. I always have. The definitive sidekick, Robin has been one of my favorite characters along with Bats. Representing the legacy that Batman has created, Robin has always been the voice of reality pulling Bruce back from the darkness time and time again. Stories of the student becoming the teacher have always intrigued me and I love the paternal relationship Bruce has with each of his Robins. It'd be hard to say Drake is a better Robin than Grayson, but growing up he absolutely was my favorite. I remember reading Drake' story unfold as he discovered Batman's identity and tried his hardest to convince Dick to put back on the costume. Drake was my Robin, one that was born at the same time I was reading. And now Nolan has given us a Robin that fits perfectly within the universe he's created. Levitt plays John Blake, a character who is clearly inspired by Tim Drake, with his dad being murdered by the mob for debts, and discovering Batman's identity on his own, and being a great detective. Levitt's Robin is passionate and smart, he is dedicated to fighting for justice and he does it all without the mask. It's obvious from the first time he appears that he will be the legacy Bruce leaves behind. I don't think they ever had to say the name, but it didn't bother me to use the word Robin. I did however love the few scenes we get as Levitt discovers the Batcave. These were some of the most iconic images from the series, and here we see the next generation following in the footsteps of Bruce. I never thought I would see such a great representation of Robin onscreen and here Levitt and Nolan have given us an interpretation of the character that I absolutely love.

Alright I've succumbed you all to my ramblings for long enough. Completely blown away by what Nolan has done with the series. He has created a legend and it will live on in the annals of cinema history for many years. I'm still not sure if I would ever say anybody the films are better than one another, but The Dark Knight Rises is my favorite by far, and as of now easily creeping into my top ten favorite films of all time. Flaws and all the film speaks to me in that it brings so many dreams to life in ways I never thought possible. I'm sad to see it end.


One last thought - stop comparing his work to Ledger. Hardy does amazing work here with half of his face covered. Terrifying and charismatic Bane receives redemption for Schumacher's sins.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

"To all of you, uh, all you phonies, all of you two-faced friends, you sycophantic suck-ups who smile through your teeth at me, please leave me in peace. Please go. Stop smiling. It's not a joke. Please leave. The party's over. Get out." Batman Begins

Film Foray RETROspective Vol. Quinze: Batman Begins

Batman Begins

From the day that first picked up a comic book, no other character has had a greater impact on my life than Batman. His origin story is unparalleled, his rogues gallery is the envy of comics and the most powerful man in his universe is scared of him (in addition to many others). What other character can say that... Spiderman? Pshaw! In short, I love Batman, always have, always will and there is a reason my son is named in part of the second best Robin. I suppose nobody wants to hear me wax poetic about the Caped Crusader, you all want to read about the film that took Batman from being a cinematic joke to the ideal or standard to aspire to. Ironically, no one comes close, it is all a sad mimicry.

Most people contend that The Dark Knight is the greatest comic film and I will venture to say that it is the second best. After all, TDK owes much to its predecessor, which if it had not performed to expectations would not have existed. Even a life long fan of Batman did not expect the veritable masterpiece that Christopher Nolan presented the public. He did not simply give us a comic book movie but a world in which Batman could actually exist. That is if they owned a multinational corporation and has several billion dollars in personal assets.

In many ways, Batman Begins effectively killed the genre of comic book movies (Most basically because it is a film, note that distinction) and The Dark Knight put the nail in the coffin. It is the archetype for how to revitalize or "reboot" a franchise and it shows that one cannot emulate it (Amazing Spiderman, I am looking at you).

Batman Begins is an exercise in fantastic storytelling, it leaves no loose ends in plot points and the dialogue at no point draws an eye roll (See any one of Marvel's modern "classics") from the audience. This is the curse of this film and the franchise borne out of it, it transcends DC, Warner Bros. and makes their other comic movie offerings inferior by its mere existence in their standard collection.

I have barely begun to scratch the surface of this film and its impact on cinema (no other comic movie can boast this). It attracted a level of talent (on all sides of the camera) that previously would have shunned the genre. Even calling it a comic film is doing it a disservice, it is a noir, a crime film, thriller and drama. It is this ability to be multifaceted, while containing a massive depth in terms of quality that has made Batman Begins an enduring (and yet, forgotten) classic. Yes, I said classic and I stand by this statement.

Editorial note: I am aware that this came across as a love letter to Batman (the character), I meant it to be one.

Parting Thought:

This man gets no love...

Rooney Rating:
Do you even need to ask?

Bittersweet Celluloid Memories: Saying good bye to Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy

Like BENCE I should probably be writing about recent music releases but, as it were, I'm here with nothing to talk about but movies about men in masks of the literal and figurative kind. About 12 hours away now - 12 hours away from Gotham's reckoning, 12 hours away from cramping into the biggest theater of the southwest with a bunch of fair-weather fan nerds, 12 hours away from the end of the most critically successfully comic book film franchise in history. It's bittersweet and I don't want to forget that. It was an 8 year wait for Batman Begins, more like a 15 year wait if your'e talking about not just waiting for the next Batman movie but waiting for the next GOOD Batman movie, it was 3 years for The Dark Knight and it's been 4 for this final installment, The Dark Knight Rises. It's been great, the discussions, the hype, the rumors, waiting for trailers like a starving man waiting for his last meal. It's been a journey almost as enjoyable as the films themselves. Nolan brought back the 7-year old in me who watching Batman: The Animated Series like it was cartoon Charles Dickens, he brought back the 3-year old who went Jack Nicholson Joker to my Dad's request to come over to him with a wide open armed reply of "Come on, come get me you sonofabitch!" We'll get Batman on-screen again, but like those of us who may have been tied in deeply with Lord of the Rings, The Matrix Trilogy or the Star Wars saga, it's a bittersweet thing to knowingly go into the last of something that means so much to you. We'll get Batman on-screen again, but will it ever mean so much? This is our generations Bats, and that's nothing anyone can take away.

I still remember how I felt in that IMAX theater seeing the "Dock scene" for the first time, and feeling that for the first time since the animated series a Batman in action scene was done right outside of comics. Those who said they were confused by the shooting/editing of the scene honestly just. don't. get. it. 
Begin: Batman Begins - First off, I want to mention to the "TDK only made buck cause of Ledger's death" naysayers, look at the box office - Begins opened with a decent amount (there was a lot of doubt on if Batman could be good again) it should have finished up with an X-Men-esque $150 million or so US, yet not only passed $200 million but sold MAJORLY on DVD (I still remember driving all over the city trying to find the Deluxe special DVD set with the comic, I finally found one at K-Mart of all places). Going back to the beginning of Begins, I still remember hearing that "the Memento guy is doing a new Batman!" It was exciting news, because hey, it's Batman on-screen again! Memento was also an important movie for me, it was one of the key movies in what I call my bridge phase. The moment my movie buff ways bridged over from Speilberg and Lucas and Cameron to a whole new world of more serious films, it also made me want to be an editor. However, I won't lie, I had my doubts, or more, reservations. That's what happens when a friend tells you Batman & Robin is the best in the series so you go see it only to go "What the f**k was that?" Here years later I was in college as hype built, and I remember a friend, we'll just call him Dave for names sake, brought Manny and myself over to show us "the new Batmobile." We weren't particularly impressed with what we saw, well, before we saw the movie or any trailers anyhow. I went on opening day in the early afternoon, a brand new IMAX nearby, the first movie it was showing? Batman Begins. It was a group of college kids and my excitement built as it really hit me: We're seeing Batman on a huge screen again. Begins is an underrated film, the most underrated and undervalued of the series. It's the perfect origin movie, and it's non-linear storytelling is brilliantly put together by editor Lee Smith. The dock scene where Batman first reveals himself is probably my favorite scene of the first two films, because as I watched it, for the first time since the aforementioned Batman: the Animated Series I felt someone had gotten a Batman "in action" scene right. I also was excited that Nolan and Goyer had decided to tackle Bruce's "lost" years where he was gone from Gotham, and they did it right. For the first time in a Batman film, Wayne had a psyche that made us interested in why he was willing to make himself look like an idiot in front of others to battle his demons - and crime. Scarecrow was always my favorite villain and while the definite Scarecrow role has yet to be done (no offense to Cillian Murphy, I don't mean his acting, I mean the depth of role) it was great to see it on-screen, specifically when he gives Batman his first taste (or inhale) of defeat in the Narrows. Also, Nolan taking from James Cameron and going the "4th act" route gave the film a sense of epic and above and beyond it wouldn't have otherwise had. Leaving the theater, most of us felt we had to go back and re-watch 1989's Batman to be sure but we knew...this may have topped it. It did, and that Friday while filming a short called Phantom Reflection  we stood around in between shots wondering if whoever would be Joker could top Jack Nicholson's then definitive performance. Well...

Chris Nolan has gone in-depth about this being his favorite scene from the second in his trilogy. It may or may not be favorite scene in the film, it's certainly the most iconic. DP Wally Pfister shot it 4 F-Stops over-exposed which was later brought down in post on the Avid, it gives a very unique look to the scene's lighting.
Falls: The Dark Knight - Going back to those naysayers who like to believe this film was a phenomenon based solely on the hype of Ledgers death, lets look at some things again: First off, Begins  ultimately grew quite a fan base, second off, this was not the first, not the second, not the third but the FOURTH time a Batman film set the record for biggest opening weekend gross. America loves Batman, with or without Heath Ledger, so get over that. Ledger's performance was hyped MAJORLY the summer of filming and even more-so after the prologue debuted in front of I Am Legend, all before Ledger's untimely passing. I'll be honest though, Ledger's death did add to the hype and box office total, but it didn't create a blockbuster, it was already there. This film was lighting in a bottle, and while Dark Knight Rises may top it as a film and financially, it will not be the pop culture phenomenon it was, you cannot re-create the summer of 2008, but we can re-live it in our minds. From the moment Nolan went against fan outcries ("Mark Hamill!" "Paul Bettany!") with Heath Ledger as the choice of Joker (at this point after Memento, Begins and The Prestige I was in "trust Nolan until he fails us" mode) we knew were not getting what we expected, or even THOUGHT we wanted, we got the Batman film we needed but didn't deserve. Just as Blade Runner served as the film playing in the back of Nolan's mind during filming of Begins, he had Michael Mann's Heat playing there this time around. Great film, but inspiration for a comic book film? Awesome. Hype built over the cryptic teaser at Comicon (our first taste of Ledgers Joker voice) a cryptic picture of Joker and ultimately what is still the greatest viral campaign a film has ever had. The websites, the falling Joker cards, it was truly astonishing what went into it, all the way up through the genius of releasing a prologue attached to a big Christmas blockbuster and then maybe the greatest trailer in the modern era, and yes, Ledger's unfortunate death. I remember sitting in a diner, dressed as Batman in a suit (my idea was he was dressed up for his own movies premiere) with Manny as we waited for our midnight showing.  Maybe 15-minutes into the movie Manny looked to me, and referring to an earlier conversation we had about if we liked it we'd go see it again soon, and said "I'm thinking about taking off tomorrow and watching it again. I mean, going to see it as many times as we can tomorrow." It was pretty much all we spoke to each other for the 150+ minute runtime, something our mutual friend said was the most silent he ever heard the two of us in a film. Why? Because it was done right, it truly was the Godfather II of comic films. A film that stood as comic film AND as a standalone crime thriller. While Bruce's story took a bit of a backseat, but it's hard for it not to be. The key in the film for Bruce is that he is now lost in his monster, his soul exits solely for those crime fighting nights, Bruce Wayne has truly become his mask as Rachel says at the end of Begins. The main arcs are the rise and fall of Harvey Dent and the idea that Gotham is evolving from a Mob-controlled crime to a Crazy-Controlled crime. The movie starts in high gear with it's bank robbery and just keeps adding and escalating (escalation being the key theme of the film) and just when you think the film may finally be slowing down - the truck chase and Joker's capture for instance - it's just beginning. I saw The Dark Knight 9 times during it's theatrical run, by far the most I've ever seen a film in theaters. 8 of those 9 trips I literally got goosebumps at the end, after Gordon's speech, as Batman rides off on the Batpod, a hint of lens flare comes in the camera and it cuts to black. The movie still hits me in that way, re-watching it last night the goosebumps were there again. My favorite scene or moment is hard to choose - the pencil trick? Truck flip? Two Face's reveal? Bank Heist? Scarecrow's cameo? My favorite moment is maybe the multi-story ramp-up editing we see as Joker takes out a Judge, a Commissioner and sets himself up to meet Harvey Dent. My favorite scene is when Joker sets a huge pile of cash (with a Mob accountant hog-tied on top of it) on fire, declaring that "it's not about money, it's about sending a message" and that "this town deserves a better class of criminal - and I'm gonna give it to them." Just like that it was over though, three years of waiting, 9 times of viewing, and we really didn't know what to expect next. Would Nolan ever rise to the occasion of making another Bat film?

Nolan has said that technically speaking this is the biggest film since the silent era. From the huge six-month shooting schedule, the thousands of extras, and his love of practical effects (even in a scene that required CGI additions like the football stadium scene we'll see) and 72 minutes in the 70MM 18K resolution IMAX format you have to believe him...
Rises: Dark Knight Rises - "Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves back up." A phrase and theme important to Batman Begins and seems it's a theme - and probably a saying - that will spike it's away into this film. With the end of the last film being built on so many lies (Batman and Gordon's lie about Dent; Alfred burning Rachel's letter) we know the fallen Dark Knight will rise, and we can speculate, but it'll be fun to see how Batman picks himself back up, then gets beaten down by Bane and then picks himself up again. It can also be said of this franchise. Who ever knew after falling to such low lows it could soar to such high highs with this re-boot. Like Dylan going electric for rock, Nolan taking a hold of Batman has changed the shape of the comic and blockbuster film. And It's been another fun four years in which we got another Nolan film in-between (the excellent Inception) and it's finally here. I'm not gonna say much, in fact I'm not gonna say anything, though I did go into my thoughts on the PROLOGUE (another fun part of the marketing once again). Just that as excited as I am for that wait to be over, I'm sad to see this journey end. Team Nolan is done with Batman, and while I'm not done enjoying Batman, this series, which started when I was in college, is over now. It's been fun, it's bittersweet. In 12 hours the reckoning is here. The end is hear. The film is here. I'll be there.