July 09, 2008

Fuck Yes

David Cronenberg and Howard Shore make an opera out of their operatic 1986 masterpiece The Fly.

I was thinking about this flick recently anyway for two reasons:

1. because Guillermo Del Toro's Hellboy II plays like an opera, too, thus unlocking Del Toro's films for me in a different way.

2. because I'm also in the middle of reviewing 1986's Blue City with Judd Nelson and Ally Sheedy, reminding me that while 1986 was one of the best years of film in that decade (and many others - Blue Velvet, Down By Law, The Mosquito Coast, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Sid and Nancy, Aliens, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Fly, Big Trouble in Little China, Something Wild, Mona Lisa, Night of the Creeps) it also hosted that trilogy of Brat Pack suck: this one, The Wraith and Wisdom.

76 comments:

Walter_Chaw said...

P.S. - just watched Unbreakable again, inspired by Hancock and, as it happens, I wanted to know if I was nuts for remembering it as great after the Shyamalan of pretty much every film since.

Unbreakable is wonderful.

Bill C said...

Apropopos of not much, I finally got around to picking up "In Rainbows" today, the first Radiohead album since their first that I didn't buy the day it came out. (I wasn't all that big on "Hail to the Thief".) Haven't digested the whole thing yet because I can't stop hitting "repeat" on "Reckoning." Man that's beautiful music.

permazorch said...

Can't wait to see Hellboy II.

Unbreakable is still my favorite superhero origins movie (if not outright favorite superhero movie), ever.

And John Hughes was a horror visited upon my youth, so much that I'd fantasized about my own video store being called, "No John Hughes Video".

But that's because I'm a hater, I guess.

jer fairall said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jer fairall said...

I ran a similar test on Unbreakable recently and was relieved to get a positive result.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't Hellboy II Walter's first four-starrer of the year so far?

And no discussion of Brat Pack suckage of 1986 is complete without the appalling Youngblood.

Anonymous said...

Oh man! Looks like someone wants me to go one of my patented Radiohead-is-the-worst-band-ever-and-completely-ruined-indie-rock rants! Tempting, but I think I'll pass.

-Kim

Bill C said...

Said the guy who likes Justin Timberlake. Was he the third or fourth Mouseketeer? I can never remember.

Rant away, dude. I'm well-stocked on grains of salt.

DaveA said...

Haven't digested the whole thing yet because I can't stop hitting "repeat" on "Reckoning."

Wait till you reach Videotape... Probably my favourite Radiohead song ever.

jacksommersby said...

As for '86, I quite agree, Walter. And here are some other notable ones: Manhunter, At Close Range, The Best of Times, Murphy's Romance and The Hitcher. (For the record, I've never been a fan of Platoon, which capped Best Picure that year.)

And, hey, Youngblood and Blue City are two guilty pleasures of mine that are damn entertaining on an undemanding level.

Anonymous said...

get Rainbows out of the stereo and pop in Can's Tago Mago.

rachel said...

I just saw Hancock and am surprised by your take on it, Walter. Not because I liked the movie less than you did. It just seems out-of-step with your usual criticism.

Hancock is the second summer tentpole you’ve awarded three stars seemingly on the basis of its interracial content. Obviously, you can’t stick enough pins in the anti-miscegenation crowd. But the spirit in which it’s done still matters. Hairspray is sly in its frivolousness; Hancock is adolescent in its self-seriousness. In other words, it suffers from the exact self-righteousness you call out in your Stop-Loss piece.

(As an aside—I think you’re wrong when you cast the lack of gay acts in Hairspray as a misstep. In that film, miscegnation is ultimately a metaphor for homosexuality. (Notice how it’s always the best friend who gets carried off by aberrant urges?) Walken and Travolta kissing would have weakened the conceit.)

Which is its real problem: Hancock takes itself too seriously, and consequently, imagines itself above all this superhero shit. The filmmakers show open disdain for even rudimentary myth-building, forgoing any flashbacks. Yet they still feel obliged to throw us a bone in the form of Theron’s constant, repetitious blather. ("We were made a LONG TIME ago. If we get together WE’LL DIE.") It’s the worst kind of exposition, the kind that’s all subtext, looking down on you for even desiring text. In that way, its closest comic-book relation is probably American Splendor.

Or take Bateman’s character. Going by convention, he’d be the villain. A film respectful of its superhero roots, if not having him personally deliver two slugs into Smith’s chest, would at least have confronted him with the option of perfidy, so that the film’s moral landscape might be complicated. Of course, Hancock can’t walk that particular line, because its main interest lies in rising above convention. What we get, then, is a shitty, cookie-cutter villain, and a main character whose moral agency ends once the main conflict emerges. (Wow, you get to be flummoxed at, then reunite with your superhot wife? Those are some tough decisions there, Sport.) What’s particularly frustrating is that, by absolving the audience-surrogate of responsibility, the film lets the audience off the hook for its racism. It’s the Other that discriminates, that is always tearing this perfect couple apart. It’s all the fault of those damned crack and/or skinheads.

My last complaint has to do with the "funny" first half. Although I did my share of laughing, looking back on it, the humor isn’t particularly clever, just the Nice Guy(TM) being rude for yuks. More importantly, the comedy isn’t likely to enjoy a long shelf life, as it all relies on the audience’s intimate knowledge of the Will Smith mythos, which seems an obnoxious thing upon which to base all your film’s humor. I can’t wait for my grandkids to ask me what the crap was so funny.

Alex Jackson said...

Or take Bateman’s character. Going by convention, he’d be the villain. A film respectful of its superhero roots, if not having him personally deliver two slugs into Smith’s chest, would at least have confronted him with the option of perfidy, so that the film’s moral landscape might be complicated. Of course, Hancock can’t walk that particular line, because its main interest lies in rising above convention. What we get, then, is a shitty, cookie-cutter villain, and a main character whose moral agency ends once the main conflict emerges. (Wow, you get to be flummoxed at, then reunite with your superhot wife? Those are some tough decisions there, Sport.) What’s particularly frustrating is that, by absolving the audience-surrogate of responsibility, the film lets the audience off the hook for its racism. It’s the Other that discriminates, that is always tearing this perfect couple apart. It’s all the fault of those damned crack and/or skinheads.

Yech! I hate that rewrite. Might be true to "superhero conventions", but I wouldn't believe that character behaving in that way. I'm sorry, but inside every middle class white guy isn't necessarily a racist threatened by black sexuality much less a ready-made murderer. Save the reductively reactionary white guilt for Alan Ball, man. And I think you grossly overestimate the audience's identification with the Bateman character. Rather than implicating the audience in their latent racist feelings (don't really buy that either), I think making him the villain would more clearly pave the way for a reunion between Theron and Smith-- by far the more comfortable ending.

Maybe I'm Pollyannish, but I actually think that the filmmakers don't see that Will Smith is black or at least want you to think that they don't see that Will Smith is black. I think they work hard to push any racial tension under the rug and make the claim that the only reason they cast Will Smith and Charlize Theron is because of their acting chops and box office draw. I think the film has some dishonesty along those lines, but it was only a minor problem for me.

More serious, Rachel, is your accurate complaints about the film's lack of real... physical conflict. I like Hancock a whole bunch, but more as tragic love story or a "quirky" superhero spoof. What it ain't is a good action film and it doesn't really pay off on those lines. Yeah, the villain was indeed pretty shitty and cookie cutter.

I think one of the reasons that I liked the film as much as I did is actually because I'm already kind of sick of superhero movies. After the dull by-the-numbers Incredible Hulk and Iron Man I found it pretty refreshing to see a superhero film that consciously places itself over the genre. (Good God, I can't tell you how grateful I was that Superman Returns started off with Superman returning, leaving a ton of back story in the back and respecting the audience enough to trust us to catch up).

Anonymous said...

What gets you the most money, when your book is purchased from Lulu or from Amazon.ca (for us Canucks)?

Bill C said...

Well, we make more from a Lulu purchase, but last time I checked their Canadian shipping rates were pretty exorbitant compared to Amazon's, so I couldn't really recommend Lulu to Canuck readers in good conscience. (Ironically, Lulu is a Canadian creation.)

Anonymous said...

So how long until Chaw's four star review for The Dark Knight?

Walter_Chaw said...

not long

Berandor said...

I finally saw "3:10 to Yuma" and "Eastern Promises" this weekend. I really enjoyed 3:10, it reminded me a little of the "Jaynestown" episode from "firefly", which is always a good thing. Also, it reminded me again how much I like Russel Crowe (at least on screen, and as long as he doesn't turn out to be the next Scientologist). I kept expecting Christian Bale to prove to be a badass shooter – good that he didn't.

Also, James Mangold in the director's cut tells how he had the script lined up and both Crowe and Bale attached, but couldn't get financing from the studios for the film. Looking at what kind of shit gets produced, that's really a bummer. Is the studio system broken? Or just flawed?

As to "Eastern Promises": Great acting, great film, awesome final shot. Also nice to see Armin Mueller-Stahl again, whom I like a lot more than fellow exports Prochnow or Udo Kier.

Finally, an example of the "well-stocked" rental store in my neighborhood: they have Kill Bill vol. I, but not II. And people wonder why more and more business moves online...

Jefferson said...

Ian, I feel for you having to sit through a chat with Eric Brevig and Brendan Fraser, both of whom are obviously just shilling and have no amount of heart or passion invested in Journey to the Center of the Earth. Too bad, because Verne deserves better. If it helps, I've read other reports of Fraser acting weird and off-kilter during this junket, so apparently you weren't his only victim. I'm glad you're doing the work, however unrewarding it may occasionally be.

Bill, regarding In Rainbows, Radiohead is one of only two bands that's able to make me feel like I've heard their songs someplace before, in my dream hours. (Yo La Tengo is the other.) "Reckoner" is Exhibit A in that thesis.

Jefferson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Love Gorilla said...

Can't wait for The Dark Knight review. I'm considering The Dark Knight to be the anti-Iron Man. One is a stupid film that decides the solution to the world's problems is a rich guy who can fly around in a metal suit and kill bad guys (who are stupid, two-dimensional and stupid). The other is a film that identifies lots of problems with a vigilante who lives above the law; it lacks easy answers but includes villains just as intelligent - if not moreso - than the heroes. Characters are shades of grey rather than black and white, individuals are fleshed out rather than poor stereotypes, and people actually bleed. And die. Actions have consequences.

Also, Iron Man rides on the performance of its star - there's no movie without RDJ. Yet even without the amazing performance by the late Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight is still the best goddamn film of the year.

Rick said...

Wow, Brendan Fraser has such a tough life haha.

Walter_Chaw said...

http://filmfreakcentral.net/screenreviews/darkknight.htm

Love Gorilla said...

Thank you - that was excellent.

Related/unrelated q - review over at Slant Magazine quotes the line "It's about sending a message: Everything burns." I don't recall hearing "Everything burns" - can someone confirm this was in the film? These two words perfectly define this Joker.

BLH said...

So, um, it's pretty good?

The Master Of Unlocking said...

Not sure what I dislike about Armond White's review more....the fact that he claims to have some sort of special gift to reading films because he's 42 and I'm in my 20's, or that he tried to defend Black Dahlia. I'll just go with both for now.

Ian Pugh said...

"But I'll try" would be my favorite sentence there, Master. Oh, Mr. White, thank you so much for deigning to speak to me on a level that I'll understand.

Of course, I'm still trying to process Dark Knight. Thought it was holy-shit brilliant, but for some reason I was struck by the occasional feeling that it would have been an even better film if it featured less of Batman and more Dent/Joker--but then, maybe I was just surprised by the interpretations of the colorful, larger-than-life personalities that I grew up with.

I feel a little silly saying it, but I gasped at the Two-Face reveal. The character design is simple, logical, almost screamingly obvious, but it genuinely threw me with how it emphasized our flesh-and-blood mortality. And the way Eckhart plays it--stripped bare of everything except rage and disgust--you could probably call it a direct descendant of Claude Rains, popping off his fake nose to show off an "empty" head.

Have to see it again, post-haste.

Berandor said...

So here's why being in Germany sucks:

Dark Knight will open in theatres (in a doubtlessly badly dubbed version) on August, 21st, and Wall-E (in which it seems at least they can't ruin too much with bad dubbing) will open September 25th.

And here's why being me sucks: I just "got around" to seeing Ratatouille (after I had watched an online thing filmed off the theatre screen for about an hour) – Brad Bird is a genius! Damn, that's a good movie. Which makes waiting until the end of September for Wall-E even harder, and then not in the original language. Grr.

Anonymous said...

Had to comment on the last lines of Mr Chaw's review. It is so similar to how I feel about In Rainbows, but where TDK feels like a howl at the coming dark age, In Rainbows is the whispered lullaby from others who know the despair we are to face. It's just struck me as odd coincidence that the album was mentioned "apropos of not much" by Mr Chambers.

Bill C said...

WATCHMEN trailer. Like 300, looks like half the movie's in fucking slo-mo.

Dave Gibson said...

"Hey--someone didn't like the new Batman movie! Doesn't he know that WE LIKE THE BATMAN MOVIE. IT IS THE FILM THAT WE LIKE.. Nah-nah-nah-nah...Leader! Burn him! Burrrrrnnnn Himmmmmmm"

- Gist of 4,567,000 web comments appearing today

Good or not. Beloved or no. It appears that many still didn't get it.

This would be a good death.

Anonymous said...

While I have not yet witnessed The Dark Knight, the review here has further whetted my already-keen anticipation. Nothing like an apocalypse here and there to keep the summer lively.

Meanwhile, I can echo Bill's apprehension at the Watchmen trailer, which indeed displays all the soupy languor of an aerobics class in a swimming pool. Here's hoping that some of Moore's satirical wit and somber psychology survives the thrill of watching anarchic panoramas and ambiguously fascist iconography in all their digitized glory.

-- Dan

corym said...

Berandor

Try being in Armenia. The only hope I have to see The Dark Knight before 2009 is Russian bootlegs. And the Russians do not take pride in their bootlegs.

Berandor said...

Corym: thanks for some perspective. What kind of wine would go with that?

O'JohnLandis said...

It's unfair to name Iron Man alone when the subject is the banality of superhero movies. It's not at all ambitious, but its performances are as good as possible and other than not to have made an Iron Man movie at all, what better approach would there have been? Grim can't possibly work for everything. (As it is, Iron Man is better than every Reeve Superman.) The Dark Knight, as great as it is, only barely avoids failing at its juxtaposition of a completely corrupt society where hope is the ultimate psychosis AND a billionaire superhero in a cape. It doesn't fail because of the skill of everyone involved and because Batman is a big enough character, but the reason one kinda gets the feeling that Batman should have been in less of the movie isn't so much the "villain is always cooler" argument that's been around for a while, but simply that THIS Joker is a legitimate fictional character and Batman is still a bit silly.

I'm really stunned that Walter is wondering if this is the best American film since Godfather 2, mainly because Godfather 2 isn't special. However, it's an interesting series to bring up in this context. Godfather 2 has many good scenes, but it's an elaboration of the first Godfather that wasn't at all needed. The Dark Knight is an elaboration of Batman Begins, in that so many of the themes and goals are the same, but the result is that Batman Begins is hardly needed, except as a foundation for our empathy.

By the way, much of what Armond White says is true. But he's never more wrong than when he assumes that a simpler good vs. evil is what's missing from Batman. This is the type of Batman movie that we should have had all along: forget origin stories and just deal with the implications of a superhero in the real world. If real has to be shortened--for time--to ugly and nasty and corrupt, I can accept that. So what's wrong? SPOILERS FOLLOW AND END WITH THE NUMBERS.




1) Dent is finally a worthy character and Eckhart's really good, but if we're to believe that Batman believes in him enough to make the choice he makes (after everything that happens in the first film) then Dent needed to have been at least twice as special. And by that, I think I mean twice as good and completely uncharismatic/bullshit-free and probably established as such in the first film.

2) There is a huge leap in story logic so that the thesis fits in a bit better. Batman needn't have been blamed for the murders. There are a dozen other options that make more sense, and the possibility of Bruce Wayne being identified as Batman and thrown in jail is a massive risk. At the very least, the murders should have been staged so that Batman and Dent were the only two possible killers.

3) The last three words of narration should have been a bit earlier in the speech: the second word being "take." Cut to credits after that simple explanation and it's the perfect gut punch.


END SPOILERS


Still, this is likely to be the film of the year. It's not at all perfect, and probably better because of it, in that the seat-of-your-pants anarchy truly disrupts and makes for, if nothing else, the least predictable of all superhero films. Even if the scenes on the ships aren't likely, based on the Gotham we think we know, they surprised the hell out of me in the best way possible. What I'm saying is it's a masterpiece, and if I don't think this is the best film of the last two years, let alone thirty, I'm more than willing to say it's better than Godfather 2. So there. And I can't stop thinking about it:

I wonder what this film would be like if it didn't have to be PG-13. I wonder how I'd feel if I watched The Prestige in a theater right after I saw this. (OK, I guess I also wonder if Nolan is capable of making something great that isn't depressing.) But mostly, I wonder how the hell someone is going to make the NEXT great superhero movie.

jacksommersby said...

Knowing you, Walter...

am I going too far to say that this might be the best American film since fellow sequel The Godfather Part II?

...I thought that film would be The Conversation, which came out the same year.

BLH said...

Well, The Godfather Part II was released later in the year than The Conversation. So, technically...

Love Gorilla said...

It's unfair to name Iron Man alone when the subject is the banality of superhero movies. It's not at all ambitious, but its performances are as good as possible and other than not to have made an Iron Man movie at all, what better approach would there have been?

Perhaps. I'm not going to pretend Iron Man isn't well-made and watchable; it's just subtextually vapid, lacks conflict (our boy RDJ is pretty much invincible and omnipotent as soon as he escapes our Middle Eastern Terrorist stereotypes, with the "final battle" as arbitary, pointless and boring as possible) and achieves diddly squat. I mention it only because The Stupids (Ebert and Co) keep drawing comparisons between The Dark Knight and Iron Man - the suggestion being that, before now, superhero movies have lacked maturity. Fuck me, unless we all saw a different Iron Man, the RDJ vehicle is a far cry from "maturity". The Spider-Man series, the Hellboy series, Superman Returns, Batman Begins, to my mind even the X-Men movies are all mature films. They have themes, they deal with issues, they have character development, narrative with a point; that The Dark Knight does all of these better, and is much more ambitious, doesn't discount any of them. But reading the majority of critics (many of whom are having difficulty writing a paragraph without mentioning Heath Ledger) you'd have thought every superhero film prior to Iron Man was Batman and Robin.

As of writing this, The Dark Knight is #4 on the IMDB's Top 250, and I'm pretty sure it's the highest rated film on Rotten Tomatoes for the year.

What non-American releases have been better this year?

djr said...

If nothing else, Walter seems to have his finger on the pulse of the average IMDB voter, since TDK currently resides as the fourth best movie ever, right behind The Godfather Part II.

Ian Pugh said...

(Here there be spoilers.)

But, John, wasn't Dent's whole problem the fact that he bought into his own publicity? He was never that special to begin with; he didn't have much to him beyond a lot of feel-good bluster wrapped up in a package that was a little too self-consciously handsome. Once he was elected, he subscribed to this whole white knight malarkey just as much as anyone else. The Nolans' real masterstroke was to give Dent the two-headed coin, instead of Maroni--which nicely sums up the prickish overconfidence that he would always do the right thing, which was only dictated by his ability to remain in control. Whether or not Batman knew that the interrogation was rigged, what makes Dent's actions so appalling is that it presumes that there are no variables. Dent could talk about dying a hero or living to become the villain all he wanted, but the real kicker is that he never really understood the second half of that equation, what it meant to be the villain. He always expected to die a hero, to become the martyr.

The thing is, even the transformation into Two-Face fails to change him much. It only accentuates him: after the Joker introduces him to chaos and Dent becomes a self-appointed agent of chance, he still needs to be in control--a flip of the coin may be judge and jury, but Dent must be the executioner.

That's what makes White's review so wrongheaded: he takes Dent at face value. (Har de har har.) He was never a hero; he's a prick and he always was one--it only took the Joker's "little push" to expose his underlying madness. And after all that, he wins his martyrdom anyway! For all his talk about the dearth of good and evil, hope and faith (what about the Arkham/boat scene?) is White arguing that we don't sometimes end up worshipping/decrying the wrong people? That our moral fabric doesn't require any sort of serious test to be worth a damn?

(Here there be no spoilers.)

Re Watchmen: I should have been more worried when Snyder cast Patrick Wilson as a sleek, kickass Nite Owl instead of an aggressively middle-aged actor playing a pathetic, wistful fool who once paraded around in a fucking stupid owl suit. But I'm still going to hold out some hope that the trailer is purely asses-in-seats functional, far and away from the actual film--that there will be some indication that the origin of Dr. Manhattan actually approaches the idea of ripping a man apart at the molecular level instead of just something that looks like, fucking awesome, yo!

Walter_Chaw said...

Sort of surprised that the review reads like I believe in Harvey Dent. Ah well. Agreed in any case that he was always a prick - makes casting Eckhart's persona a master stroke.

Nice companion piece to Hellboy II in that that "hero" is also destined to facilitate the apocalypse.

Good talk-back.

The Master Of Unlocking said...

I don't mind at all if someone doesn't big TDK. I just don't like to be spoken to like a child. I'd look up Armond's review of The Black Dahlia, but I bristle at the high minded insults he would toss my way through the page. That's what this kind of discourse does, ya see? I won't even hear the guy out on something he may or may not have a legitimate point on. He should just cut to the chase and start every review with "Listen up you pre-historic cretins..."

Still speechless about The Dark Knight, by the way.

Dave Gibson said...

“Hell is other people” indeed. And if you don’t believe it, watch the “Dark Knight” and it’s repeated approximately forty-eight times; long after Luke has left the Dagobah cave, with nary a philosophical tete a tete with Princess Leia to hammer the point home. (See Stephanie Z’s blackboard) Here on Nolan’s watch, (Or to be fair, Nolan/Warner Brothers/The Western Economy) it will be repeated and hammered home repeatedly, in dead-weight set pieces invoking Ethics 101 (the boat scene is the action sequence as mid-term question) and in the final, iambic declamations of the great Mr. Oldman who will sum it all up on the fly to his son. A child who like many others, probably had Batman figured out years ago. Armond is a bit of a boob, but I can’t help but uneasily agree with his sense that if the “Dark Knight” is ‘our’ Batman movie, then that really can’t be a good thing and I don’t think it has anything to do with age. It’s just what passes for good; about what I’d expect from a culture thinks the guy in “Saw” is a philosophical genius and celebrates the gruesome violence and hateful misogyny of Frank Miller’s ersatz noirs. “The Dark Knight” is not daring. It is what sells. That “The Dark Knight” manages to somewhat evoke the “Sartrean paranoia” which Walter admires is some kind of modest victory, especially for a film which is still, on some level, designed to sell Dominos pizza. My major problem with both of the Nolan films is that his formidable talents are so obviously stifled by the straightjacket of producing a mass entertainment; it is a marriage that could work, but not here. I was a big admirer of his “Insomnia”, a glossy vehicle that posited a similarly ambiguous study of light and dark; but evoked with enough subtlety that---um, no one paid any attention. Nolan’s wrongheaded approach to Batman is that he inherently mistrusts the iconic power of the glorious children’s fable and instead feels compelled to heap his obvious thesis on his poor bogeyman (‘like so much sauerkraut on a hotdog’ as Eye Magazine’s Jason Anderson so succinctly put it’) thus diffusing them of their power. Putting Batman in the “real world” is not only beside the point—but a Batman in the “real world” is not Batman at all. Maybe that’s the point, but it’s still ultimately a cheat. For all of its alleged darkness, TDC still occupies a universe where dogs and children get away free. In a real fairy tale, they would be eaten. Great flipping bus though.

jacksommersby said...

And Armond still found a way to insult There Will Be Blood in that review. His hatred of Paul Thomas Anderson could fuel a thousand nuclear reactors, I swear.

Alex Jackson said...

I'm a tad bit non-plussed that everybody seems to have seen The Dark Knight less than 24 hours after it opened in theaters. I'm waiting until Sunday so I can go with my wife and sister throwing me badly out of the loop.

But anyway on Watchmen, probably telling that the Dr. Manhattan stuff looks the most impressive. Very "dreamlike". I'm very pleased with the Manhattan-in-Vietnam shots, reading the novel I somehow imagined that it would be kind of hokey when rendered on film. The rest of the superheroes do look less "mortal" than in the book however, so that is certainly cause for concern. I still find myself upset that Zack Snyder has done the film instead of Peter Greengrass.

O'JohnLandis said...

I'd likely run out of things to say to Armond White in five minutes or so, as his taste and style is alien to me in the least interesting way possible. Pauline Kael wrote well, sometimes, but so did Ebert in his day, and there is at least some sense that Ebert's pleasure isn't calculated and distant. Armond White doesn't even write very well. Still, as strangely as he worded it, suggesting that age plays a part in aesthetic criticism and that the young sometimes fail to "get" things isn't much of a scandal. It's not even in his Unique Instances of Batshit Paranoia Top 100. He's crazy; I wish he was fun-crazy.

And Ian, I absolutely agree that Dent is a prick who's only useful as a symbol of optimism in hell. That's why I don't accept Batman's choice. A slimy Dent might be interesting in a different story, but this one is Big Tragedy, and Dent needed to be a better man for me to buy it. If he really was a great man, I think his turn becomes a deeper wound, and the hopelessness of Batman making the right choice and failing anyway would be unique and powerful.

And Dave, I agree with the Salon staff that it's structurally messy, a bit redundant, and not clever enough. I also agree that the plot dilemmas can fairly be called scholastic--though more Ethics 201 than freshman year--but I'll stand by the boat scene as a neat reversal regardless of thesis. I've already expressed a bit of disappointment about Batman's big choice and Oldman's big speech, but I prefer the original Insomnia and I think I still would call The Prestige Nolan's best film. And I raced through these items as quickly as possible because I wanted to focus strongly, and vehemently disagree with you, on exactly one of your points:

Putting Batman in the “real world” is not only beside the point—but a Batman in the “real world” is not Batman at all.

Years ago, I remember you having a similar negative reaction to Superman Returns and saying something like, "at least Christopher Reeve would have smiled." This is an indefensible position and the absolute foundation of my problem with your Dark Knight opinion. Why does a superhero story HAVE to be a fable? Why does Superman HAVE to be a grinning idiot in the face of constant chaos? Why is a superhero adaptation a literary ghetto in which NO detail can be changed? Why can't someone examine a superhero as a new and helpful and inferior quasi-evolutionary step in a real world? And why can't a supervillain be an agent of anarchy and entropy instead of a tool to tell the same fable the same way for the thousandth time to an audience rapidly running out chances to figure out the difference between the Joker and Jigsaw?

Tell me that The Dark Knight failed to do these things and I'll agree with a few points and argue others and finally suggest that no one has ever tried anything like this before or come this close. But tell me that it failed in all these little ways AND it doesn't really matter because its perspective was false from the start? You're simply wrong.

This movie might sell some pizza, but is there anything in Nolan's career that suggests this tone was fashionable or commercial? Sometimes a scar is just a scar.

Bill C said...

You think that's bad, Alex, for reasons too Byzantine to explain, I won't be seeing TDK for another week at least. I think it's actually chipping away at my soul.

Jefferson said...

Mine too. Deferred till Friday at least. Owww.

BLH said...

The one theatre screen within 500 km of my (thankfully temporary) place of residence is curently showing You Don't Mess With the Zohan. I'm not sure The Dark Knight is on the immediate horizon.

Rick said...

Ethics 101...not sure what you wanted out of this experience? I guess I would rather see The Dark Knight with someone who wouldn't be mumbling about Milgram-lite during the boat scene. Call me stupid.

prashin said...

In spirit of some of Ian's posts in past few months, I must add that the only guy who could've given Ledger a run for his money playing the Joker would probably be Nick Cage.

Markus Rauchenwald said...

Some additional thoughts about TDK, which was good and thrilling while watching but now diminishes from minute to minute:


If you want to read the film in a political way, then there’s a right-wing element to the whole enterprise in that it assumes an overwhelming terrorist evil, that can only be defeated by breaking all the rules (The theme of good is bad etc.) If that is supposed to be read as an analogy for the current war, the movie had better be set in Iraq. Also there’s support for wiretapping, "enhanced interrogation techniques”, and an ending that makes a martyr out of Dirty Harry.


If you want to ignore the political undercurrents, because they are really only half-baked, and have your comic book movie, then really, it delivers too little payoff. The action, except for the great truck sequence, is just frantic and jumbled. There’s no real climax with the Joker. All joy is drained out of the movie. (Batman Begins was exhilarating, because it deepened the characters, but also delivered on pure spectacle.)


I think the movie tries to have his cake, and you know. It uses melodramatic comic book devices, like those kidnappings, and the bombs in two ferryboats, and disfigurements to create villains, and a BATMAN for chrissakes, but then pretends to play in the real world, as a crime drama, as The Untouchables, or rather, toward the end, as Die Hard With A Vengeance.


The moral dilemmas here are like those posed to replicants in Blade Runner. You know, to evoke a reaction. Which they do, I have to add. When the movie works, it does as an opera, like Walter pointed out for Hellboy II (which is just soul crushing fanboy crap, by the way).
It works through the brilliant score, and the build-up, and the all-encompassing dread the filmmakers evoke. But once it’s over, so little remains. It’s a cliffhanger at the end of a soap opera.


So for all its accomplishments, which are there, I reject it as a serious movie. I have already seen No Country For Old Men.

Anonymous said...

This is going back a bit but, re: 'Batman needn't have been blamed for the murders'.

Batman's one rule, as the Joker discovers at the end of that truck chase (a pretty brilliant reworking of the penultimate Batman - Joker faceoff from Burton's BATMAN if you ask me), is that he doesn't kill people. If the Joker figured that out, it's reasonable to assume that other criminals would figure that out eventually as well. And that would, as it did the Joker, give those villains power over Batman in a way that he could not afford. Because even though that is his greatest strength (or at least the one that I believe has made him such an enduring character), it is also a huge flaw.

So even though the choice is a terrible one, Batman needs to become, in the minds of the criminals he would hope to stop, as unpredictable and dangerous as the Joker.

So whether or not there were other reasonable ways for Gordon and Batman to avoid pinning the murders on Dent, they had to blame Batman for them in order for him to be as effective a force for good as the Joker was for anarchy and evil.

-john m.

prashin said...

Also about 'Batman needn't have been blamed for the murders'

The reason I thought that was important was because of the copycats in the beginning. This accusation would obviously make him less of a 'hero' and so lesser people would want to emulate him, receding the main problem he had in this one which was his fame propagating more crime and attracting 'better class of criminals'.

Also, I've heard him being compared to Dirty Harry and being called a vigilante, which I think is idiotic. One, because his only rule is that he never kills anyone, even not the Joker who was responsible for death of his only love. And two, because he isn't a public avenger as much as he is an executor of justice, something that was strongly established in the first movie.

prashin said...

Also this movie doesn't 'pretend to play in the real world, as a crime drama', historically it always had.

I find that most people who criticize this movie for being 'too real' are those that haven't read a comic book in their life. They went in expecting Chronicles of Narnia and came out with Chicago. Get your shit right, folks.

Dave Gibson said...

Superheroes are fables. I don’t know why you’d want to resist this. Fables are not synonymous with ‘intractable’, ‘trite’ or ‘silly’ (see Orwell and Kafka) and they are definitely not ‘static’. Batman has been reinvented and rejigged throughout every decade since his first comic book appearance. If the new film concluded with Harvey Dent strapping Batman to an oversized coin which he planned to catapult into a vat of lava, many would cry foul---but that’s just as ‘faithful’ as the Freudian train wreck that folks seem to prefer these days. We’re talking about movies here, big expensive Hollywood movies. What “real world” are you referring to? All the Nolan movie does is transport the fabulist characters from a different universe into another, equally unreal world of the big-budget policier (or ‘real world’©); albeit the PG-13 version where people are shot bloodlessly and hospitals are evacuated handily (Btw-it’s not a mistake that we’re reminded of that fact a couple of times, that’s a couple of studio meetings right there). The thesis is not one of: ‘How would Batman match up in the real world?’ it’s really: “What would happen if Batman got dropped into the airplane edit of a Michael Mann film’. Genre films have always been the leaders in providing politically astute messages. (See Burton’s Batman for many of the same messages, same duds with far less smirk) However, here, it’s just so damned obvious. No subtext here. It’s all text. Did anyone walk out of “The Dark Knight” this weekend and not ‘get it’? How smart is it then? As for the Joker? Ahhh…my favourite clown has always been an ‘agent of anarchy and entropy’ it’s just that Nolan’s version seems to insist on having him say: “Hey! I’m agent of anarchy and entropy” every five minutes in between those awesome flipping buses. Comic books have always been big; it’s the pictures that made them smaller. OK.

And the Joker trundling away from the exploding hospital was pretty awesome; I’m not made of stone

Alex Jackson said...

Could we please never use the phrase "Ethics 101" again. What is the difference between a simplistic ethical question and a complex one? Am I an idiot? It seems to be just a really glib way of dismissing anything at all related to ethical issues.

Anyway, whatever else you say about the film it IS deeply nihilistic. The boat scene is a metaphor for the entire movie. The only heroic act in this universe is martyrdom. The Joker represents life. He's the most alive character in the film. And the most enlightened. The most fun to watch. The one we must want to emulate. And without contradiction, he is also the clear villain of the piece. If you want to be a good person you essentially have to die. There are no other options.

jacksommersby said...

So even though the choice is a terrible one, Batman needs to become, in the minds of the criminals he would hope to stop, as unpredictable and dangerous as the Joker.

Amen. I thought the same thing as I watched it for the first time today. I mean, just imagine how delicious the conflict would have been if the Joker had gone up against Christian Bale's electrifying creation in the underrated Harsh Times! Now there's a glorious match-up I'd have loved to have seen.

prashin said...

Dave:

I don't see what is wrong with 'everyone getting it', especially if its as smart as TDK. Its not elitism as much as it is just irrational anti-populism. The fact that you hold that against the film requires more introspection on why you go to see films than anything. I call this ailment: 'Jonathan Rosenbaum Syndrome'.

Luckily, Nolan doesn't make films so that you can write its review.

Dave Gibson said...

Jonathan Rosenbaum syndrome?

Yeah--I have that. Might even be terminal. God willing.

prashin said...

I think I got a little carried away there.

All I'm saying is, a villain who knows what he is doing and does it anyways is far scarier to me than one who doesn't, or at least doesn't let me know that he does.

Jonathan Rosenbaum Syndrome: An ailment which causes the patient to like films that they can write about more than write about films that they like.

Anonymous said...

The newly-coined diagnosis of Rosenbaum Syndrome would have more polemic heft in my eyes if Mr. Rosenbaum were less consistent in his ability to wrest worthwhile insight from the jaws of his contrarianism.

Meanwhile, I don't think that there's anything anti-populist about questioning a film that so frequently positions its characters to rattle off metaphysical soundbites. For instance, I couldn't shake the feeling the Nolan basically buys into the Joker's view that social chaos is the truth we all struggle to forget, but this manifesto seems disingenuous coming from a character who so meticulously plots and plans in order to unleash the chaos he posits as the universal arche, as the background noise to all plots and plans. On the one hand, I guess that makes him a liar. On the other, I'm not sure that the film gives us room to distinguish the Joker's grim naturalist conceits from Nolan's grim naturalist conceits. They both seem to be preoccupied with dogs.

There's no denying that The Dark Knight is a handsome film, in full command of the visual sensibility that Nolan has borrowed from Michael Mann, but I haven't been able to decide whether it processes our fearful climate or merely reflects it.

-Dan C.

prashin said...

I would've agreed with what you said about alignment of Joker's and Nolan's POV, had one of the ferryboats blown up. It is a stealthy manipulation on part of Nolan to have us be fascinated by Joker and shift towards his perspective, until the rug is pulled from under us. Joker doesn't want to kill Batman because he would acquire higher narcissistic quotient by converting him to his own views. However he loses in his final 'social experiment' and Batman's faith in Gotham is restores, even if comes at the price of Dent as the collateral damage. I've heard this comparison to Mann before too, which seems ridiculous to me given that Mann seems to believe that what separates cops from robbers are the clothes they wear; in complete contrast to Nolan whose beliefs are more polar and ontological. Just because their films look alike (I would argue Nolan's look better), doesn't mean they think alike too.

Berandor said...

So I "watched" Dark Knight. I can't say I liked it in terms of pure, visceral enjoyment. So it's not really the normal summer comic film.

I also think it's a cop out. If you want to make "Departed 2: Batman's gone", then the police should have a problem with Batman even before he "kills" someone. Batman is Jack Bauer, he comes in to extract people in foreign countries, to beat up terrorists in their holding cell just because they deserve it (the Joker would have talked anyway, and he couldn't be intimidated into telling more than he wanted to). That's the thing: we may need the Batman, but we can't allow him free reign. Or can we?

I thought the moments where that was hinted at was not much more than window dressing. Batman can't have the power of echolocation via mobile phones? Well, okay, just this once, and he won't abuse it anyway. So it's alright, really.

Also, the boat sequence to me was pure Hollywood bullshit. Because in the end, people are good, really, and that's why they deserve to be protected. But is that true? Would that really happen, everybody sitting around for an hour, nobody pulling the trigger?

The joker was great, but he really suffered from Pg-13, I think. Nobody died at the hospital, the boats didn't blow up, he didn't cause any carnage at the fundraiser except for throwing whats-her-name out the window – he just killed a few criminals and cops, and that's part of their job, isn't it?

Oh, and he killed whats-her-name, the flimsiest excuse of a female character since Mary Jane Watson. Watch Rachel being rescued, or told what to do, or deciding to marry the wrong guy and die. Poor thing.

Maybe I shouldn't have watched Gone Baby Gone right before, but to me *that* was a movie posing the hard questions. Batman wasn't.

Nice to watch, anyway, and slick and well done. And probably as far as a summer blockbuster can come in that regard.

jer fairall said...

Maybe I shouldn't have watched Gone Baby Gone right before, but to me *that* was a movie posing the hard questions. Batman wasn't.

I could kiss you for making that comparison.

Berandor said...

Okay, but no tongue.

renfield said...

then the police should have a problem with Batman even before he "kills" someone.

It's mentioned towards the onset of the film that the police dept's official Batman policy is "arrest the vigilante on sight." Dent questions the legitimacy of Gordon working with Batman, and Gordon is required to do so behind-the-scenes, as it were. There's no point where Batman is assumed to be a public hero...I don't understand the basis for this comment.

Berandor said...

Hmm... let's see. Maybe in the big batsignal that Gordon likes to switch on? In the way Batman appears at crime scenes and is not arrested or anything, even in broad daylight (in the bank)? In the way Batman may interrogate the Joker at a police facility? I really don't know where that idea came from.

Rick said...

Also, the boat sequence to me was pure Hollywood bullshit. Because in the end, people are good, really, and that's why they deserve to be protected.

I do not believe the people on the boat were good per say, most of the people on each boat abandoned personal and moral accountability by letting someone else make the decision. It seemed like each person thought that the decision maker would blow up the boat, so I do not see everyone as being "good".

Anonymous said...

How did they suspend personal and moral accountability by voting?

I think what berandor was commenting on was the fact that even the loudest advocate for self-preservation on the civilian boat had an attack of conscience and couldn't turn the key; in essence, when push comes to shove, people are good.

But really, who actually believes that such a dilemma would be resolved as it was? Keeping in mind that up until this point the Joker has been a man of his word, do we honestly think that on a boat full of civilians there would be no one brash enough to blow up the other boat given their certain death if they did not? We live in a society of crumbling community values, ineffective leadership, and the pursual of instant satisfaction, but a random sampling of people will not reflect this environment and they will choose the noble route in spite of the fact that the majority of them agreed to do otherwise? I'd like to think so, but...

Call me cynical, but I find it easier to believe the choice of the one prisoner over that of the businessman.

Rick said...

Call me cynical, but I find it easier to believe the choice of the one prisoner over that of the businessman.

The businessman blowing up the boat would have been a nice touch. But hey, your depression-influenced sociological views did not align with the ending, it happens.

Alex Jackson said...

I find it completely irrelevant if the choices made in the boat scene are realistic. I don't think that's a discussion that is worth having. What is relevant is that this behavior is idealized by the film as being "good". That the film puts martyrdom as the highest moral choice.

Again, the film is deeply nihilistic. It says that it's impossible to have a meaningful life and the most one can hope for is a meaningful death. This deals more directly with September 11th, an act of martyrdom that was countered with another act of martyrdom courtesy of the passengers of United 93, than with any superhero movie in recent history.

What the Joker was suggesting through the boat bombing was that self-preservation really is the higher moral choice as it means delibrately choosing life as opposed to passively accepting whatever fate that has been lined up for you. Prashin described the Joker in terms of Nietzche's ubermensch and indeed you have to understand that he's not a nihilist but rather fighting against the nihilism that informs Gotham morality.

prashin said...

See I don't understand that line of thought. How is not wanting to kill thousands of other fellow men an act of "passively accepting whatever fate that has been lined up for you"? That is a fairly cursory reading of the scene. The choice in the scene is not that of 'live vs. die', but that of 'kill vs. die'. It doesn't say that it is impossible to have a meaningful life (the assertion of two-face and joker, who for some incomprehensible reason both you and Armond White seem to consider the moral center of the film, when it is in fact the opposite because the film is about Batman), but that a life lived on the expense of another's is meaningless. It does say that a meaningful death is better than a meaningless life, but it doesn't say that a meaningful life is impossible. That is the opposite of nihilism, because it asserts that the escape from the void, lies in the escape from the Ego. That the only Absolutely True action, is a selfless one. That the only way Batman can become the True Hero is by becoming the Dark Knight, the hero that Gotham deserves but does not need.

prashin said...

The highest ideal of the film is not martyrdom, it is a meaningful life.

Anonymous said...

Sure, but the sermon-like ending of the film celebrates what Prashin (with whom I must respectfully disagree) has called "the escape from the Ego" in a form that resembles what psychoanalysts have called the Death Drive, the flattening of man into principle -- living martyrdom. Of course, the difference between "meaningful life" and "living martyrdom" is more tonal than anything, but there seems to be more meaning than life available to Bats at the conclusion.

Batman's dilemma seems clear enough when he must choose between Harvey and Rachel, a decision in which he loses Rachel either way because Harvey represents his only hope for the usual life that she demands of him. He gets to choose between the chance for a private life and his reason for living it. The Joker's reversal of the victims plays out the double-bind, the unavoidable loss, that's already built into the choice from Bruce's perspective. Besides which, Rachel's letter appears motivated by the difference between Bruce's refusal to unmask and Harvey's choice to shoulder the burden -- the film's most spritely figure, apart from the Joker, is drawn to self-sacrifice. Besides which, the extent to which her character is underplayed in the film shows the degree to which the entire structure is magnetized toward the Joker.

-Dan C.

prashin said...

That was my first impression at the end of the film as well, that where Joker seemed to be someone who had fully realized his Ubermensch (hence he had no backstory) at the beginning of the film; Bruce realizes his Ubermensch (Batman) during the course of this film. In that way this film seemed like the second act of this saga. In Batman Begins, like in any first act, we are introduced to this character and a mission statement is declared: " People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy and I can't do that as Bruce Wayne, as a man I'm flesh and blood I can be ignored I can be destroyed but as a symbol, as a symbol I can be incorruptible, I can be everlasting.". In TDK, Bruce is confronted with the reality and challenges of what being a symbol (Ubermensch) entails and it ends with him realizing that he is Batman and Batman is him and it can't be any other way. The only thing holding him back to his previous life, Rachael, is taken out of the way. Now for the third act, they have to have his final and biggest challenge, but I can't possibly see how they can top this.

I lost my point in all the tangents... yeah, when I said "meaningful life", I did not mean that of Bruce Wayne, but that of Batman.

Jefferson said...

I still haven't seen Dark Knight, so ... Stephanie Zacharek on the Death of the Critic.