Monday, July 21, 2008

And the stupid award goes to ...

David Denby for his wrongheaded review of The Dark Knight in the New Yorker.

He starts off with a long catalog of the ultraviolence --

"In the new Batman film, The Dark Knight, many things go boom. Cars explode, jails and hospitals are blown up, bombs are put in people’s mouths and sewn into their stomachs. There’s a chase scene in which cars pile up and ..."

And on and on and on. Oh the humanity.

Which is sorta like saying, “In Hamlet there’s incest behind the curtains, a stabbing behind a curtain, lots of stabbings right out in the open, an adolescent girl who drowns herself, a bipolar nutcase talks to ghosts and a skull, a little poison and plenty of blood, blood, blood.”

All that slaughter supports the conclusion:

“In brief, Warner Bros. has continued to drain the poetry, fantasy, and comedy out of Tim Burton’s original conception for Batman (1989) …”

Tim Burton didn’t invent Batman. Bob Kane and Bill Finger did.

OK, stupid. I enjoyed Burton’s two movies. That said, they’re a dead end. Nolan’s concept is better. Here’s why:

Christopher Nolan takes the premise of Batman seriously. (The original premise, however retooled.) Tim Burton didn’t. What Burton created was ultimately arty and operatic, not a self-consistent reality.

Here, Burton runs into a basic law of comic book physics: If the Batman universe gets too disconnected from our own, it inevitably turns into the campy Batman. If you don’t take the concept seriously, inevitably, your audience starts to laugh at it. You can tell yourself “It’s a post-modern” all you want.

Burton’s two Batman movies had damn good scripts and creepy sets echoing Brazil and Blade Runner. Burton started out dark, atmospheric and operatic. But where do you go from there? The basic building block: mood. Not causality, character, plausibility and logic. Burton’s world was dark, but it wasn’t believable. You know it’s not real. It stops being scary. That makes it funny.

So, in the first movie, when the Joker zaps a crook with a joy buzzer and starts rapping with the fried corpse, it’s a hoot. He kills people with consumer products. He tries to gas Gotham with Macy’s balloons full of Zyklon B. He fights Batman on a belltower and whips on a pair of funny specs. “You wouldn’t hit a man with glassses, would you?” Wham!

By the end of Burton’s second movie, he gave us a march of the penguins with RPGs strapped to their backs. Waugh. Waugh. From there, it went to other directors and devolved to candy colored kaka and a batsuit with nipples

We're not that far away from Batman and Robin in the toaster.

--Holy hotpoint Batman. I think we're toast!
--Hold on, old chum. I think there's a way out of this.

Mercifully, the campy TV series died. Mercifully, the latest incarnation of the Batman movies died. Mercifully, Nolan is taking it in the right direction.


Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Dark Knight kicks ass

The Dark Knight sticks a bat hook in the problem of evil. Then it pulls. Meaty question rip out: What is the nature of evil? To fight evil, do you have to become evil? Not bad for a comic book movie. I guess that makes it a philosophical comic book movie.

It gets off to a slow start. Act I has some clunky dialog and force-fed exposition. Or maybe it just seemed that way. The trailer may have distorted my perception. The good guys are winning — then the Joker shows up. Surprise! But I knew the little creep was coming.

Not to spoil the surprise, but the movie kicks into overdrive and takes you on a hellish ride into dark psychological territory. The Joker’s territory. Then it keeps getting darker.

Heath Ledger’s Joker makes Jack Nicholson’s Joker look like Mr. Rogers. He is one mean mofo, the king of cinema's insane clown posse and very, very smart.

As are the co-screenwriters: Christopher Nolan (also the director) and Joseph Nolan, his brother.

The character details are spot-on. This Joker doesn’t have bleached skin. He wears pancake makeup over his scarred face. The Nolans dispensed with the vat of acid backstory. The Joker's mouth has been knifed wider into a permanent smile, like that poor bastard in The Crays. Why? The Joker’s story keeps changing. His father did it. He did it to himself. Exactly what a crazy clown would say.

The Joker starts out wanting to get rid of Batman. Then he changes his mind.
He takes a ton of money, makes a pyramid of it, puts a witness on top of it, and
sets it on fire. He’s a nihilist. He's not in it for the money. Like Alex before him, he hurts people because he likes it.

Clowns just want to have fun.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Wall-E and the babies in space

Welcome to the future: the earth is a big pile of garbage. When Al Gore makes this dire warning, whining like Mr. Timbertoes turned into a real boy, your eyes glaze over with boredom. Director Andrew Staunton's CG animated film doesn't tell you. It shows you. No preaching, no elbowing you in the ribs with a message. Just visuals. Here's the earth, folks, 700 years in the future. We've consumed ourselves to death. Your eyes, whether you like it or not, fill with tears.

The hot bot plot: Sometime in the future, an evil corporation called Buy-N-Large (as opposed to say, Engulf and Devour) fills the earth with the crap from the ass end of the production cycle. Mankind leaves the planet on a giant starliner for a five-year cruise. Trash-compactor bots ("WALL-E" units, natch) stay behind to clean up the planet. But humanity doesn't return. 700 years later, only one Wall-E unit still functions; it's still cleaning up. He's been doing the job so long that he's developed self-consciousness and a sense of artistry — making towering arcology sculpture out of his trash-compacted cubes.

Humanity periodically sends probes to earth to see if anything’s growing, in which case, us naked apes return. In 2710, a probe arrives, an EVE unit, pregnant with symbolism. She’s all curvy and white like an iPod. Wall-E is boxy. Fembot and guybot find each other. Then Eve finds something growing in Wall-E’s refrigerator. And, faster than you can say "Break into ACT II," the excitement begins.

Back up in space, humanity (its every need met by bots) has turned into big babies floating on anti-grav barcaloungers. Eve and Wall-E return to the mamma ship. They immediately smash a hole in the starliner and watch as the helpless screaming blobs of protoplasm are sucked into …

Well, no. Even a toaster can guess where the story goes, but that’s not the point. Ulysses goes home. Papillion escapes from jail. Romeo and Juliet kiss and die. Yeah, yeah. That’s not the damn point.

Staunton tells the story with silent movie rhythms, riffs ripped off from Keaton, Chaplin and the rest. The first third has no dialogue, the rest has little. Chuck Jones used to bitch that most animation was “illustrated radio” — nothing but talk, talk, talk accompanied by redundant visuals. Close your eyes and you still get everything — but not with WALL-E. Illustrated radio it ain’t.

The pictures tell the story. Who needs words?

The section on the ruined earth is haunting. Not a Blade Runner vibe — more like the awesome banality of Idiocracy, minus the idiots.

After the poignant beginning, the film kicks into start-and-stop action comedy once the bots land on the starship.

B-N-L's starliner has the look-and-feel of Star Trek and 2001 filtered through a PlaySkool toymaker’s sensibility and the design vocabulary of McDonald’s and Kwik-E-Mart. Curvy, sterile white walls accented by screaming primary colors; hologram signs full of happy faces and blobby letters, endlessly selling you shit. The banality of evil? That’s been done.

The evil of banality?

“Wall-E” nails it.

Beautifully and hilariously.