The Dark Knight

May 3, 2017

The Best of Armond White: (A Retrospective) Part One

Who doesn’t like a great troll? Well, I guess the people being trolled, and in a day and age of knee-jerk reactions and people triggered at the slightest comment made against something that they love and hold dear, it’s both an art and game to keep trolling at a high level.

Me, of course, can care less. I’ve always said “don’t feed the trolls” and I’m usually someone that jumps into the fray to try and burn the bridge where that troll is hiding, or I just knock on their mom’s door, head down to their basement and unplug their Ethernet cable while they try to run after me, but they can’t get out of their chair because their legs have atrophied and all the Sun Chips crumbs are weighing them down.

But one “troll” stands alone when it comes to Film Twitter and just film in general, and that master troll is Armond White.

Personally, I think White is hilarious, he knows how to get under people’s skin and create a conversation, and his points, even though most of them are ridiculous, are at times interesting and break up the constant love of things. He’s The Joker of Film Reviews, he wants to see the world burn.

This got me thinking. Why don’t we take a look back at some of his reviews in a Four-Part series. The basic premise of this series will be to look at his more infamous reviews where he either reviles a beloved film, praises a film that was universally hated on, and in those special moments in time, a film that was loved by White and the rest of the community and hated by White and the Community. Keep in mind, this series will be based on the Tomato-Meter and his reviews on RottenTomatoes.com 

In Part One, let’s take a look at some of Mr. White’s take on some of cinema’s most beloved films.


Up (2009) 98% Approval on RT 

Armond Says: All this deflated cinema and Pixarism mischaracterizes what good animation can be (as in Coraline, Monster House, Chicken Little, Teacher’s Pet, The Iron Giant). Up’s aesthetic failure stems from its emotional letdown.


Matt Says: I understand his point when it comes to alt-animation that isn’t Pixar, which can also pack an emotional punch. But there isn’t much wrong with “Up.”



Gone Baby Gone 94% Approval on RT

Armond Says: So far this year, no other movie has more risible dialogue.

Matt Says: Maybe he’s referring to the accents, because yes, people from Boston do talk funny. Maybe I need to revisit this one because he might have a point on this one.




The Wrestler (2008) 98% Approval on RT

Armond Says: Aronofsky inflicts as much pain on the audience as self-flagellating Ram Jam does when brutalizing/mutilating himself in and outside the ring.

Matt Says: As a wresting fan, especially throughout the 1990s, maybe White just doesn’t understand life inside and outside of the wrestling ring. I mean, I don’t either, but I can see how well acted and great this film is, and yes, seeing he pain of Ram Jam is important to the story, and necessary.



In the Loop (2009) 94% Approval on RT

Armond Says: Instead of inspiring geniuses, Iraq war backlash has only resulted in snarky self-righteousness that — from Charlie Wilson’s War and now British import In the Loop — has demonstrated the low ebb of modern comedy.

Matt Says: I’m sure my cohort, DJ, would have reservations about this opinion, and to a degree I do as well. The banter is genius, and Peter Capaldi’s linguistic gymnastics are great. However, I do agree with using the Iraq War as comedy can be grating and just overall dull. 




Get Out 99% Approval on RT

Armond Says: Get Out is an attenuated comedy sketch in which serious concerns are debased.

Matt Says: While I can agree that this film could be suited for an actual sketch on “Key and Peele,” that doesn’t take away that “Get Out” works on a lot of levels and rightfully makes it awkward for white people. Could you call it divisive and perpetuate the paranoia that African Americans have for white people? Absolutely, but someone had to do it.



Moonlight 98% Approval on RT

Armond Says: Moonlight’s best moments come in Little’s reaction to Juan’s affection, but later scenes of Chiron’s erotic confusion and Black’s maudlin self-pity (he wears muscular drag yet succumbs to weakness) insist that viewers feel sorry for black gay males.

Matt Says: I’m pretty sure the point to “Moonlight” wasn’t to make people feel sorry for black gay males, it was to raise awareness that these people exists, and they are in fact…people. Sure, I feel like the third act of the film might be it’s “weakest” I’m not seeing the correlation that viewers are supposed to be bad for Chiron, they are supposed to understand that other people exist in this world and to be uncomfortable getting out of their safe little bubble and small-mindedness.



The Dark Knight (2008) 94% Approval on RT

Armond Says: The generation of consumers who swallow this pessimistic sentiment can’t see past the product to its debased morality. Instead, their excitement about The Dark Knight’s dread (that teenage thrall with subversion) inspires their fealty to product.

Matt Says: My response; It’s a comic book movie, relax sir.


Come back next week folks, and we’ll try and get an understanding of why Dirty Grandpa deserves to be higher than it’s 11% RT Score.

August 27, 2014

The 10 Best Superhero Films of All Time Blog Relay

We here at Simplistic Reviews are honored and happy to be apart of the Top 10 Superhero Films Blog Relay…mainly because we have this same conversation amongst ourselves nearly twice a day.  The rules are simple….well actually they aren’t.  They’re a bit more complicated and elaborate than our feeble minds are use to.  However it is all in an effort to make a rock solid, no doubt about it, objective/subjective list.  Here are the rules:

1. The list of movies will be passed to another blogger who will post their list within a week.
2. The blogger will take their list, remove 3 movies – with explanations, and replace with 3 new movies – with explanations.

3. If a movie lasts five rounds without being removed, it is locked into place.
4. If a movie is removed three different times, it is locked out and can no longer be chosen by someone else. 
5. Once four movies are locked into place, bloggers will replace 2 movies. 
6. Once eight movies are locked into place, bloggers will replace 1 movie. 
7. Once all ten movies are locked into place, the relay will be complete.

Confused yet?  Good.  Let me explain…no…there is too much.  Let me sum up.

Bubbawheat from Flights, Tights & Movie Nights began with a list of The Avengers, Batman Returns, The Dark Knight, Hellboy 2, The Incredibles, Iron Man, Spider-Man 2, Superman, X-Men,Unbreakable, Batman: Under the Red Hood & Blade 2.

Andrew from A Fistful of Films rearranged things by removing Batman: Under the Red Hood, X-Men and Hellboy 2 and adding Chronicle, Mystery Men and The Rocketeer.

Ruth from FlixChatter yanked Blade 2, Chronicle and Mystery Men, and replaced them with Batman Begins, X-Men 2 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Terrence from The Focused Filmographer pulled out The Incredibles, Batman Returns and X-Men 2, before adding Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, V For Vendetta and Guardians of the Galaxy.

Jay from Life Vs Film dropped Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Superman, and Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm then put back in Incredibles and X-Men 2 and finally handed the ball over to us. Whew!!!

Our criteria was based primarily on overall quality, difficulty of concept, impact on the genre, and a 10-point must system.  That last one was probably a mistake.  Lets get started with a few thoughts on the films sticking around this round.

1. The Avengers (Locked)

The Avengers because…well…duh…it’s the f%*king Avengers!  This film…hell…that moment above was thought to be just a geek fever dream that was impossible to make, let alone, work as a film.  Whedon and company made the impossible…jaw droppingly possible.  The Avengers is a manifested representation of our childhood imaginations.  What?  Too much?

2. The Dark Knight (Locked)

Chris Nolan took the skeleton of the great crime drama Heat and put Batman and The Joker in it.  Are you freakin’ kidding me?!  As a result, came one of the finest performances we have ever, and maybe, will ever see.

3. Spider-Man 2 (Locked)

Still holds up in our opinion and nails Spidey’s world, look, motivations, and characters…which is more than we can say for its two bastard stepchildren The Amazing Spider-Man 1 and 2.

4. Iron Man (Locked)

The unquestionable birth of a cinematic superhero icon.  Close your eyes and try to come up with an actor who could play Tony Stark better than RDJ did in this…NOPE…you’re wrong.

5. Unbreakable (Locked)

Hey, remember when Shyamalan was good?  Hey, remember when Bruce Willis tried?  This film explores and breaks down the mythos and archetypes of superheroes and supervillains in a way we’ve probably never even thought about. IE: It’s literally superheroes for dummies.

6. The Incredibles  

Not only is this a terrific superhero film, it is one of the best family films centered on family that Pixar has probably done.  And it is the closest we are going to get to a good Fantastic Four movie for the foreseeable future.

7. The Guardians Of The Galaxy
A movie that went from low or no expectations to exceedingly high expectations in a matter of one trailer…and it still delivered Marvel’s riskiest success yet.  It felt more like Star Wars than the last 3 Star Wars films.  That has to count for something.

8. Watchmen
Matt’s Zack Snyder hate is high, but even he cannot deny the awesomeness that is Watchmen.  Watchmen was thought to be an unfilmable masterpiece.  However, Snyder’s efforts here are the closest and truest interpretation of Alan Moore’s material we’ll ever get to see on the big screen.  Don’t think so.  Read up on what Fox wanted to do with Watchmen when they owned the property.  It’s scarier than a visit from Rorschach himself.
9. V For Vendetta
Any other time we wouldn’t consider V For Vendetta as a top film in the superhero genre, but after the events in Ferguson, MO and how Anonymous and other hacker groups have taken the mask of Guy Fawkes that or our “hero” V wears, and turned it into a symbol, this film carries even more meaning in this turbulent time. V is also another great adaptation of the works of Alan Moore and offered us a look at the future that we actually might not be that far away from.  Plus, there’s nothing wrong with seeing Natalie Portman in a baby doll dress.
10. The Rocketeer
Usually when there is no pressure and expectations are low, you get something great, case in point The Rocketeer.  Before Joe Johnston was able to bring justice back to Captain America: The First Avenger, he brought us another hero that kicked some Nazi ass.  Before we had The Shadow and The Phantom, The Rocketeer was the first big stab at creating a superhero from the days of radio serials.  From the iconic score of James Horner to the slimy turn of former James Bond, Timothy Dalton, everything works for this film.  It still captures the imagination of kids and adults because a guy flying around with a jetpack punching Nazis in the face is absolutely awesome.

Now, the superhero films we decided to substitute in are as follows.
 

11. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

We know this movie has only been out since April, but after watching it multiple times since then, we can’t possibly leave it off this list.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier is arguably the second best Marvel film ever made.  It has a hero whose righteous indignation actually feels real and earned, a black comic relief character that manages to bring charm, dignity and usefulness to a role no one expected anything from, an enjoyable and self-reliant female lead who doesn’t fall into any stereotypical or lazy love interest scenario, an actual scary villain that, which has been poetically said before, may be better at killing people than the hero is at protecting them, and has probably some of the best and grittiest action scenes of any film on this list. (Cap’ and Winter Soldier street fight fo’ life!) It’s one of the few Marvel films and superhero films that feel genuinely important to the grand scheme of its own universe while still overcoming the obstacles of an early release date, a jumping of genres, and being directed by people primarily known for comedy.

12. Batman ’89

Say what you will about Tim Burton, but there hasn’t been a better marketed movie in the past 30 years than 1989’s Batman.  It was the birth of the “Dark Knight” and made many people forget about the Bill Dozier “Batman” series from the 1960s.  Everything is iconic about this film; from the sets by Anton Furst, the score of Danny Elfman, and of course Jack Nicholson’s Joker.  Batman ’89, despite some shortcomings, created something that hadn’t been seen before in cinema and gave us a Batman we could all be proud of.

 Now, the superhero films we decided to give the chop.

Batman Begins

It’s never easy to cut a film that not only made up for the mistakes of the past but put us on course for one of the most iconic film trilogies of all time. It’s not that Batman Begins is a bad film.  Quite the contrary.  However, there is still something uneven in it tone-wise that Nolan got a better handle on in The Dark Knight.  Um…and it’s hard for us to get past the fact that the weapon created by Wayne Enterprises in Begins (Essentially a dehydration machine) is eerily similar to a weapon used in 1966’s Batman film.

X2: X-Men United

Again, another tough one to remove from the list since X2 was able to fix all of the problems with the first film and add to the X-Men mythology.  Even with Hugh Jackman giving his best turn of Wolverine and Brian Cox proving to be one of the X-Men’s greatest foes, one film had to go, and X2 is unfortunately the casualty.

In historic Olympic fashion, we are going to hand the baton over to our friends over at Insession Film to make their choices.  You have one week.  Although, we’d like to think our list is pretty close to perfection so there is no need to change absolutely anything…YOU HEAR THAT JD, BLAKE, and BRENDAN?!?  NOT A FINGER!!!!

April 5, 2013

The Simplistic Reviews March Madness Bracket of Good and Evil Elite 8 Results: FILM BAD


HANNIBAL LECTER (1) WINNER
THE JOKER (2)

Two master manipulators, but there can only be one winner.  Bottom line; The Joker is just a mad dog off the leash.  Hannibal knows how to train any canine no matter how deranged or psychotic.  The good doctor sets the table, opens a bottle of Chateau d’Yquem, proceeds to filet the Clown Prince of Crime with a linoleum knife, and feeds the rest to his pooches.  It’s going to take a lot of explaining on how he got THESE scars.

April 2, 2013

The Simplistic Reviews March Madness Bracket of Good and Evil Sweet 16 Results: FILM BAD

HANNIBAL LECTER (1) WINNER
DARTH VADER (4)

If there was any Star Wars character in need of psychotherapy it would be Anakin Skywalker.  Mommy issues, daddy issues, inferiority complexes, obsessive behavior, night terrors, megalomania, depression, mental trauma, and so on.  All gravy for Dr. Lecter.  Anakin has also proven to be easily duped by the kinder older gentlemen hiding a dark secret.  They don’t get much darker than Hannibal.  Not even Palpatine dined on his enemies.  

THE JOKER (2) WINNER
KHAN NOONIEN SINGH (3)

A man out for revenge is a scary thing.  A man out for chaos is even more frightening.  Khan’s relentless linear thinking eventually makes him predictable.  There is no telling what depths or what ends The Joker would go to.  The Joker’s intellect is also very comparable to Khan’s.  The difference is Khan isn’t certifiably insane.  A genius level intellect in the hands of a mad man is the personification of chaos.  

March 29, 2013

The Simplistic Reviews March Madness Bracket of Good and Evil Round Two Results: FILM BAD

HANNIBAL LECTER (1) WINNER
ALEX FORREST (8)

Being rude to Dr. Lecter is essentially like poking the proverbial bear.  And nothing is ruder than an obsessed woman who won’t be ignored.  Alex can cook all the bunnies she wants.  It doesn’t stop Hannibal from making a special stew of his own…out of her.

THE JOKER (2) WINNER
ANNIE WILKES (7)

As Batman said, a crazy person like Annie Wilkes is the type of person The Joker attracts.  However, does Annie really want to be stuck in a cabin in the dead of winter with the clown prince of crime?  I don’t think so.  Go ahead, break his ankles.  The Joker would literally laugh it off.  Wilkes has nothing to threaten Mr. J with and is slowly driven even more mad.  Misery?  Poor choice of words.

KHAN NOONIEN SINGH (3) WINNER
COMMODUS (6)
Khan’s superior intellect is too much for the patricidal prince to handle.  Death smiles at us all Commodus.  Just be thankful Khan didn’t want to use any Centaurian slugs to drive home the point.  
DARTH VADER (4) WINNER
JOHN DOE (12) 

Vader finds John Doe’s lack of faith disturbing.   Doe asks for wrath and Vader grants him his wish and then some.  Jar-Jar’s head in a box, ironically, was something filmgoers were begging for during the prequels.

February 9, 2013

London Calling: V For Vendetta

FORGOTTEN

With the Oscar season here and the summer movie season fast approaching, I wanted to talk about a film I think fits into both.  Now comic book films are usually shrugged off as just popcorn fluff.  Most times, they are.  To this day, however, there hasn’t been a comic book film that has challenged me intellectually more than V For Vendetta.  It is one of the most intelligently made, beautifully shot, well performed films of the genre.  But sadly for some reason, it is FORGOTTEN.
V For Vendetta plot revolves around a knife wielding masked terrorist/freedom fighter trying to take down an oppressive British government in the not too distant future.  I put terrorist/freedom fighter because the film blurs the line between the two.  It makes you question the difference and presents the perspective of people on either side of the chaos.  Some would argue that the character of V is clearly the hero and the government is bad.  However, when you really get into the specifics of V’s acts, it is hard to paint him as a true blue hero.  Even an antihero for that matter.  Robin Hood robbed from the rich and gave to the poor.  V is out for vengeance, admittedly so.  He kills in cold blood.  He kills innocents.  He kidnaps.  He tortures.  He does whatever it takes to accomplish his goals.  You might say the ends justify his means, but his acts seen through a different spectrum can easily be construed as terror.  That is why I love this film.  It can be dissected and analyzed even to this day.  The Avengers is my favorite comic book movie of all time, however, V For Vendetta is much meatier when it comes to substance.
Comic book legend Alan Moore is famous for angrily dismissing and disavowing any adaptations of his work.  This is thanks primarily to the abysmal League Of Extraordinary Gentleman.  I wish he’d take a slightly lighter stance on this though.  It might be easy for me to say but, films aren’t bad solely because the filmmakers take liberties with the source material.  I detest Michael Bay’s Transformer films and Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man not just because they changed things.  I detest them because they are poorly written, horribly performed, lowest common denominator catering tripe.  Their changes weren’t done to add anything new or stimulating to the material.  They were made for convenience sake.  The same cannot be said for V For Vendetta.  Yes, V is a warmer character in the film than he was in the comic book.  However, I think that makes him even more complicated when compared to the coldness of his methods.  Yes, the fascist vs. anarchist theme was more liberal vs. neo-conservatism.  However, that is a lot timelier for today’s political atmosphere and still has the nod to the fascist’s ideas of purity from the comic book.  My point being that the alterations made in V For Vendetta do not weaken it as a story.  It merely updates it. 
The Wachowskis, the source material meddlers in this case, exist in a weird place for me as a film fan.  I was highly disappointed with their conclusion of The Matrix trilogy, but still respect the fact they always take crazy chances.  They entrusted the directing duties to long time collaborator James McTeigue, while staying on to write and produce.  However, their fingerprints are still all over this picture.  Finding and concentrating on the heart of their cinematic worlds is a common Wachowski m.o..  Where a film like V For Vendetta could have just fallen into the basic action vehicle cliché, the Wachowskis don’t let it.  There are genuinely moving moments in the film that still stun me.  The action scenes are terrific, but always serve as a tool to tell the story.  Not the other way around.
Before The Dark Knight came along, V For Vendetta was my choice for best ensemble cast performance in a comic book film.  Strange category, I know.  However, it is always a relief and a thrill for me when I see great talent trying to do great work in a genre film such as a comic book movie.  It thrilled me in History Of Violence, it thrilled me in The Dark Knight, and it thrilled me in V For Vendetta.  It is still a common misconception that the genre should be treated the way Schumacher treated Batman.  But there can be some amazing work turned in with the cape and cowl subset.  For example, this is by far my favorite performance by Hugo Weaving.  Yes, even more than his iconic Agent Smith.  Odd, seeing as we never see his face and that he was a last second replacement for James Purefoy.  Despite his Oscar, I’d put Weaving’s V right up there with Ledger’s Joker.  To accomplish the subtleties of V’s rage, anguish, humor and theatricality through an emotionless mask with only a voice is no small feat.  Portman, who I’ve loved since Leon: The Professional, seems to be playing a stereotypical damsel at first.  Much like she did in Thor.  However, Evey has the strongest arc in the film.  Her performance highpoint happens during the film’s big twist.  Her emotional journey during the four minute long scene hints at the Oscar caliber performance she had in her in the years to come.  Other than the leads, you have stellar supporting performances from John Hurt, Stephen Fry, Roger Allam, and the unsung anchor of the film, Stephen Rea.  There is absolutely no phoning it in here.
V For Vendetta doesn’t get nearly as much love as it should.  Even from it’s creator.  It seems to get misplaced amongst it’s lesser comic book movie brethren   For me, however, it is a film that shall never be FORGOT.  Remember, remember…to watch it….then tell me I’m wrong.  

November 13, 2012

Double-ovember: Skyfall (DJ’s Take)

STIRRING
See what I did there?  But no, my above one word review of Skyfall is not a joke.  Well, maybe a little bit.  Bond 23 is easily the most dramatic Bond film of the franchise.  It finishes an origin trilogy of Bond, M, MI6, Q branch and many other elements of Ian Fleming’s universe.  Yes, a nutshell synopsis of Skyfall has fairly been labeled, “What If Bond, Not Batman, Had To Stop The Joker?”  I personally think that concept is an interesting one.  The events of The Dark Knight and Skyfall are similar.  However, the two heroes in it are not.  Bruce Wayne is not James Bond.  Bruce is a bit of a softer character than Bond.  That doesn’t make Bruce weak by any means.  That just shows you how hardened Bond actually is.  Where Bruce’s childhood trauma made him somewhat bipolar, Bond’s made him somewhat sociopathic.  He is way closer to the line than Bruce.  So much so, that his constant defiance is the only thing that keeps him from crossing it.  That dynamic is what differentiates the two films. 
It is a pleasure to see such an accomplished director like Sam Mendes and a living legend cinematographer like Roger Deakins take on James Bond.  This is a franchise that thrives on creativity and style.  Something that is totally brought to the table here.  Both men show off how excellent action scenes and films can be when they are put in capable hands.  Deakins displays such a mastery of composition, color, and shadows, you’ll want to gorge yourself on each well painted frame.  That is a little too technical for a film review, so let me just say your eyes experience is all the better for having this duo at the helm. 
I sort of guessed beforehand as to the ultimate role of Naomie Harris in Skyfall.  However, she still makes her part feel surprising and memorable.  Her chemistry with Craig is great and provides some of the lighter moments of the film.  The other buxom Bond girl, Sévérine, does not make that great an impact unfortunately.  Her story, though interesting, is rushed.  This was assuredly done to make room for the biggest Bond girl narrative of Skyfall.  That is the M, played by Dame Judi Dench.  I may just be showing my bias toward the franchise here, but I wish people could recognize the absolutely perfect performances Dench has been delivering as M since Goldeneye for crying out loud.  This is the heaviest lifting she’s had since her arrival and she does not disappoint.  I would bet green money there was a hesitation at first to focus a large part of the film around M.  A hesitation quickly followed by the chuckling realization that M wasn’t being played by some minor character actor, but Dame Judi f*#king Dench!  Casting  a women as M was unheard of back when Goldeneye came out.  Now her presence is as comforting as a warm blanket.  
This brings me to the Joker of this picture, Raoul Silva.  Javier Bardem needs to do another comedy immediately.  If he continues to convincingly play these raving psychotics, he’ll be typecast forever.  Silva is easily the best villain Craig’s Bond has faced and possibly one of the creepiest Bond has ever faced.  His path, his plan, his will is frighteningly focused.  Bardem’s choice to make Silva always appear friendly on the outside while hinting at the extensive damage underneath is terrific.  Unpredictability is the ultimate foil for any hero.  
Some critics have also been wary of the new Q, played by Ben Whishaw.  Mainly, because he is younger than Bond.  However, I think it represents the new generational dichotomy of modern technology.  In the 60s and 70s technology was stereotypically run by the old and lost on the young.  Nowadays it is the complete opposite.  Don’t believe me?  Ask your parents to input their name and number into your smart phone.  As long as Bond has zero respect for the effort Q puts into his work, the age swap doesn’t matter.  And besides, Whishaw is great in the role.  His lecturing of Bond feels just as natural as when Desmond Llewelyn did it. 
Skyfall will critically be a victim of its own hype.  It will be harshly judged because of its 300 commercials a day, its 10 beer related contests, and bold claim to be the best Bond ever.  Resentment towards hype should not influence what you see in Skyfall.  It is action packed, surprisingly moving, franchise faithful, and most of all, fun.  Renew your license to kill…sing along with Adele the song that is a lock for a Best Original Song Oscar nod…take the bloody shot….watch it….then tell me I’m wrong.   

September 15, 2012

Sleuth

SLICK

Sleuth is SLICK.  Sleuth is stylish.  Sleuth is surprising on many levels.  It is the ultimate game of cat and mouse with stakes that are always fun to explore cinematically.  Adultery.  Revenge.  Murder.  You know, the classics.

The first thing that grabs you when watching Sleuth is the look.  Director Kenneth Branagh does a marvelous job structuring the set ups and set pieces.  He’s more the directer of Hamlet here than the director of Thor.  Haris Zambarloukos’s cinematography is very clever, with specific visual elements that make every shot interesting.  This is a huge treat for the avid cinephile, and a huge help for the antsy.  I say this because Sleuth is based on a play.  And that means that it is a very dialogue heavy film.  However, the dialogue between stars Michael Caine and Jude Law is excellent.  Sorkinesque.  The late great Harold Pinter’s words and conversations form a maze of clues, hints, and misdirections that always lead us to fun places.  

Branagh can be given a pat on the bum for getting great performances from the aforementioned Caine and Law.  Michael Caine has never been better.  Those of you who only know him as Chris Nolan’s Alfred….SHAME ON YOU!  You should have known him first as Alfie….or Carter…or Lawrence.  He gives those that did a reminder of how great an actor he is.  And is there anyone out there who can legitimately question the talents of Jude Law?  Love him or hate him, his ranging body of work and performances in them are undeniably solid.  A fact that doesn’t change here.

I would be remiss in not mentioning a comparison to the original 1972 Sleuth with Sir Laurence Olivier and a younger Michael Caine in the Jude Law role.  The easy answer is that the original is better.  Of course its better.  It has Sir Laurence F*#KING Olivier for Christ sakes!  However, watching Caine swap roles in the newer version and seeing what he does with it gives the newer film value.  Not to mention, seeing modern day filmmaking techniques used to do things the original could not.

I’m sure people were aware when Sleuth came out in theaters, but few went to see it.  That is a real shame because films with style AND substance need to be seen more in Hollywood so they can be made more in Hollywood.  Give it a butcher’s…then tell me I’m wrong.

September 12, 2012

The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 (DJ’s Take)

UNFLINCHING

Lets face it.  Despite Nolan’s Batman run, when it comes to bringing their creations to the silver screen, WB/DC Comics sucks.  This is a company that owns the rights to ALL of their creations, unlike Marvel….can cross over WHOEVER they want with WHOEVER they want without legal obstacles….unlike Marvel…has a roster of A-list heroes nearly double the size of Marvel’s.  But the only movie they can manage to make that isn’t a failure lately is Batman.  Singer’s Superman…sucked and underperformed.  Watchmen…though great….underperformed.  Flash movie…in development hell for years.  Wonder Woman movie….in development hell for years.  Wonder Woman TV series….cancelled in the pilot stage.  Jonah Hex…blew chunks.  Catwoman…a joke.  Green Lantern…set up to be WB/DC’s new tent pole but subsequently shoved a tent pole right back up their ass.  Its gotten so bad that their third attempt at Superman seems to be copying the tone of Nolan’s Batman Begins, in the obtuse thinking that it is the ONLY way to do a superhero movie right.  However, the real puzzle of the matter is that the WB/DC direct to dvd animation films seem to always be amazing.  Sometimes even better than their motion picture counter parts.  I’m talking to you Green Lantern.  That brings us to The Dark Knight Returns Part 1.

Before comic book writer Frank Miller went crazy and did The Spirit (Boy, I got to stop bringing this film up), he had a pretty good track record of awesome.  Sin City, 300, Big Guy and Rusty.  But before those was perhaps his crowning achievement, The Dark Knight Returns.  It was the story of an older retired Batman putting on the cape and cowl once more to take back the streets of Gotham.  It was gritty.  It was gruff.  It was great.  Now over a quarter of a century later, DC animation brings it to life.  And the results are amazing.  Director Jay Oliva, who has done previous work on other great DC animated films like Under The Red Hood and Batman: Year One, really gets the feel of Miller’s graphic novel.  The dark tone and the brutal violence in it is so UNFLINCHING and raw, I found myself several times checking the rating on it.  In live action, this film would be rated R without question.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the performances in this as well.  There has always been one quintessential Batman for me.  Its not Bale, or Clooney, or Kilmer, or even Keaton.  It is Kevin Conroy.  His portrail is the first one that pops into my mind when I hear someone mention Batman.  Bruce Greenwood has done a great job recently with a very similar voice.   However, Peter Weller’s grizzled old Batman in The Dark Knight Returns fits the material like a glove.  His use of “Son” will put a smile on your face for sure.  David Selby also turns in a strong performance as Commissioner Gordon.  They both hit all the familiar beats and add some new ones as well.  The credit should go to long time casting and voice director Andrea Romano.  If you ever want to be wowed, take a look at her filmography.

The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 delivers in every way a Batman fan would want and gives WB/DC’s animation department another homerun project.  WB/DC might want to consider using the braintrust over there (Executive Producer Bruce Timm Especially) to help get their meandering motion pictures off the ground.  Turn out the lights…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.

July 24, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises (Matt’s Take)

The Dark Knight Rises – Scope

Growing up, I could give a damn about DC Comics.  I couldn’t relate to Superman, Wonder Woman was a chick, and I didn’t have any jewelery, so screw the Green Lantern.  Hell, I’ll say it, I didn’t even care about Batman.  It took me a long time to really develop a relationship with The Dark Knight being that I was way more of a Marvel Man anyway.  I don’t remember going to the theaters in 1989 to see the second “Batman” movie (yes, I’m still counting the Adam West “Batman” movie as the first one) but I distinctly remember going to the movies in 1992 with my parents to see “Batman Returns.”  It wasn’t like anything that I had seen before: Dark, moody, Gothic, and the music (don’t get me started, I’ve been a Danny Elfman mark since “Beetlejuice“)  But even while being impressed by “Batman Returns,” I never got into the comics, I still cared way too much about X-Men and even Image Comics’ “Spawn.”

This brings me to Chris Nolan, the man who took over the Batman franchise after it had been thoroughly fisted by Joel Schumacher and his bat-nipples.  Nolan, who had already made a name for himself with “Memento,” was the last person you would have thought could helm a Batman re-boot, but people thought the same thing about Tim Burton after he did “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” and the aforementioned, “Beetlejuice.”

Within Nolan’s Gotham City, the Scope increased movie by movie, moving away from one man’s fight against crime to a city finally banning together to fight against a force so big that it even overwhelmed Batman.  “The Dark Knight Rises” takes many of its cues from three books in my opinion:  “The Dark Knight Returns” “Knightfall” and “Vengeance of Bane II.”  Moving away from the fantastic elements of these books, Batman, and Bruce Wayne, face real world problems such as lost friendship, hopelessness, and bankruptcy, and it is just enough to wear him down to the point of Bane being able to “break him.”  With Batman out of the picture, the movie points the focus directly on Gotham, its police force, and average citizens, and this is my biggest problem with the movie.  The point of the Batman is to inspire average citizens to step up and take on an enemy greater then them and fight.  The movie really only comes down to a few characters, mostly cops, who fight, while the citizens are huddled in their home, hiding.  I have a problem with this, and while Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) tries to inspire the citizens drawing Batman insignias on walls, it seems like a forced act from Nolan.

But this is a small gripe, and takes nothing away from what Nolan has created;  a living, breathing city that you actually care about and don’t want to see destroyed.  There are points in the movie where you completely forget that this is a Batman movie, which is amazing, and tells you something about the filmmaker, who has crafted a story that could, unfortunately, happen.

As far as acting and characters go, I enjoyed Tom Hardy as Bane, even if he did sound a lot like an out of breath Sean Connery.  I thought his eyes told his story, and despite the fact that he was a ruthless terrorist, you still saw a human being looking for his place in the world, very much like Batman in the counterpoint.  Anne Hathaway was fine as Selina Kyle, and you did see some sassy Michelle Pfeiffer in her acting and mannerisms, and the more I think about it the addition of an extra “hero” in Gotham did lighten the load for Batman.  But the standout for me was Michael Caine.  He has brought more to the Alfred character then any other actor and his portrayal in “Rises” was heartbreaking and got me choked up a few times.  You finally see how much he cares about the Wayne family and their legacy to the city of Gotham.  Overall, the acting was as strong as you’re going to get from a comic book movie.

As far as Easter eggs go, there were quite a few that I thought worked very well.  The inclusion of Lazarus Pits were told in an interesting way with Bruce Wayne giving Selina Kyle the “Clean Slate” program, a practical way of explaining exactly what the Pits do.  Also, the little mention of “Killer Croc” by Blake was awesome and shows that the writers love to throw little bones to the comic fans.

Overall, the first true Batman trilogy was a complete success.  All three movies exuded different emotions, “Begins” with hope, “The Dark Knight” with apprehension, and “Rises” with dread, but the Scope of the movies grew and grew until Nolan had created a series of movies that will be held up as a litmus test for not just comic book films, but film in general.

Fun Fact:  “The Dark Knight Rises” has the biggest ensemble of Batman’s rogues gallery (not counting the Adam West “Batman”)  Bane, Catwoman, Killer Croc, Ra’s al Ghul, Scarecrow, Talia al Ghul are all seen or mentioned in the movie.  And I’d like to believe that Bane’s right-hand man who was an expert sniper is a nod to “Deadshot.”  Just saying.

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