Category Archives: Better Remembered

Better Remembered: Tim Burton’s Batman

By Steven Moore

Comic book movies have had a hard road to travel. Granted, most of the bumps and potholes along the way were of their own and Joel Schumacher’s making. Often, any step forward brought two steps backward. The recent endeavor by Marvel to create a film universe that parallels the comic universe adds a new level of legitimacy to the comic book genre, but I still don’t expect the Oscars to nominate X-Men: First Class for Best Picture (even though I think it’s deserving). One of the first comic book films to legitimize the genre was Tim Burton’s Batman. Burton took a superhero who had been bastardized into a cartoonish, so-bad-it’s-good schlock-fest, and brought him back to the dirty, gritty slums of Gotham.

Actual photo of Steve riding his bike home after the movie.

Batman holds a special place for me. Being a huge fan of the comics, my friend (who had incidentally never been to a movie before) and I rode our bikes several miles to the theater, through the scorching hills of Mission Viejo. Our parents knew nothing of what we were up to, and after we purchased our tickets with pockets full of change, we walked out of the 95-degree Southern California heat into the cool, stale butter-drenched air of the theater. One hundred and twenty-six minutes later we came bounding out, yelling “I’m Batman” to one another in our uneven attempts at a gravely voice. On our ride home, swooshing down the hills as the salt air screamed past us, we pretended our bikes were the coolest version of the Batmobile we’d ever seen. This film was everything we ever wanted Batman to be.

Watching it again recently with my daughter revealed that perhaps it wasn’t as close to perfection as my 12-year-old mind saw. Robert Wuhl, who plays the pushy Alexander Knox, easily gives the worst performance of the film. His character is supposed to be boyish and charming, but he comes off as an actor who can’t be boyish or charming. He delivers his lines like great lead weights he can’t wait to drop. Knox is a two-dimensional caricature of a reporter that stands out like a bad actor surrounded by well-rounded, interesting people.

Michael Keaton as Batman & Kim Basinger as Vicki Vale

Although the other characters are not immune from the cheese that radiates from Knox, many lines of the film are just plain bad. Vicki Vale, played by Kim Basinger, delivers the worst line in the film when she is coming to terms with her new beau’s hobby: “I just gotta know, are we going to try to love each other?” I can see the screenwriter trying to finish the script, just wanting to be done with it, wincing as he is writing this line, but hoping that it will get fixed somewhere during production. Michael Keaton delivers a few flat lines as well, most notably when he exclaims, “I gotta go to work.” I think this was intended as a cute, audience-cheering moment that might work if the superhero were Green Lantern, where expectations are low; but not Batman.

Many of the sets are clearly models, and in the age before CGI came into its own, it’s obvious that they are working around some scenes so as to avoid having to show Batman moving the way he should move. There are several times throughout the film when you can see the wires on Batman, although it’s almost as though they aren’t even trying to hide it in the museum scene. Overall, the effects, although amazing for the time, haven’t aged well, and an audience used to more sophisticated effects will easily spots the flaws.

Jack Nicholson as The Joker

Nevertheless, this movie has brilliant moments and humanizes Batman (and the Superhero) in a way never fully accomplished before, and it manages to do so while presenting a backdrop of social decay and human decadence. A lot of credit goes to Michael Keaton (who would have ever picked that one?) for playing an incredibly charming Bruce Wayne. The amazing dinner scene where he attempts a formal dinner for the benefit of Vicki Vale but gives up after revealing he usually just hangs out with Alfred in the kitchen could only have been pulled off by someone of Keaton’s acting caliber.

The museum scene, featuring Jack Nicholson’s oft-cited, inspired performance as the Joker, seems to fortell the future of art with a Banksy-esque revision of classic pieces. It’s almost as though Banksy watched this film as a kid and decided to base his entire art career on that one scene. It is a brilliant insight into the Joker, an artistic genius trapped inside the mind of a psychopath.

This film has done so much for comic book films and has shown serious directors that the superhero was a worthy subject. If not for this film, I doubt we would have Spider-Man or Iron Man films that treat their subjects with respect. We certainly wouldn’t have an X-Men movie that could actually be nominated for Best Picture. Batman is a film leaps and bounds above its predecessors. It forced the genre to move forward. Unfortunately, it pushed so hard, it’s fallen behind. In the end, I guess that’s a tribute to the film itself.



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Better Remembered: Canadian Bacon

By Steven Moore

Okay, so Canadian Bacon isn’t exactly a classic film that’s been overrated. However, it does represent a kind of film that this “Better Remembered” series is really targeting. It was one of the first films I saw that critically (or so I thought) examined American politics and culture. I remember watching Canadian Bacon  with a group of friends, laughing at its irreverence, quoting it as we played basketball. The more we remembered it, the better it became. Then I watched it again, recently.

Canadian Bacon is the kind of film that is held up almost purely by nostalgia rather than actual merit. It was just in the right place at the right time for me, and re-watching it revealed its many flaws. As Michael Moore’s only non-documentary feature film, Canadian Bacon involves everything you would expect from a Michael Moore film: anti-American sentiments, elitist satire, and unrepentant corporation-bashing. The late John Candy plays sheriff Bud Boomer, a well-meaning but over-zealous American that decides to lead the charge into a fabricated war with Canada. When his close friend, played by the terrifying Rhea Perlman, is captured and treated to the horrors of socialized medicine, Bud launches a rescue mission to save her. The group of friends travel through a surprising number of cameos by Canadian actors and actresses, while Alan Alda, playing the President, tries to both build and contain a fake war to bump up his ratings at the polls.

John Candy is doing the best he can with what he is given, but the script is pretty weak. Everything is driving forward impatiently trying to get to the jokes. Moore is obviously concerned more with his message than his plot and characters, which isn’t wholly unexpected. Even so, many of the jokes fall flat, such as the President’s small talk with foreign leaders he is trying to engage in war, or are just too mean-spirited to enjoy. When we first see Sheriff Boomer and his deputy, they are encouraging people to jump off of Niagara Falls because they get paid extra to fish the bodies out of the water.

Rhea Perlman’s character, Honey, is mean to everyone around her, even those that are being nice to her. She seems like a psychotic sadist who for some reason we are supposed to empathize with. Americans are portrayed as the stupidest bunch of ignoramuses to ever walk the earth, spitting in the face of everyone around them just because they don’t know any better. I love a good satire, especially when it points out serious social and political problems (a la The Daily Show), but there comes a point when you are just being a misanthrope. Much of the humor here crosses the line from satire to misanthropy.

Of course, there are scenes and jokes that still make me laugh. When Sherriff Boomer and his crew are stopped inside Canda and forced to write “Canada Sucks” in both English and French, or when they first enter Canada and are treated to the hospitality of the wonderful Steven Wright. Unfortunately, these few moments are only puncuations in an otherwise overly cynical look at American politics and society. In the end, this is Michael Moore at his worst, criticizing without analyzing. This goes in the pile with Fahrenheit 9/11, far from Bowling for Columbine.

Usually I try to point out the good in the film that I am revisiting, to find that nugget of good or beauty I was first attracted to. Unfortunately, I’ve grown up and realized that just making fun of people and pointing out how much everything sucks isn’t funny. It’s just a lazy way of trying to feel superior to everyone. Its unfortunate that this is John Candy’s last completed film. He deserved better.

Better Remembered: Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

By Steven Moore

We revere certain films that were important to us as children. Many of the films that we grew up with, watched over and over again, and think fondly of during our mid-life crisis years, are not just bad but downright awful. These films are better remembered than watched. This series of articles aims to destroy your childhood memories, taking away the nostalgia that warms you whenever you think of a terrible movie like Critters, or even classics like Star Trek: The Motion Picture. However, I also want to try to rediscover what it was about these movies that made me personally love them. I hope to come out the other side with a new, more honest appreciation of those films that helped form my cinematic maturity.

Beauty and the Beast is often cited as one of the better films of the Disney Renaissance decade beginning with The Little Mermaid. Some even consider it to be the greatest Disney film ever made, putting it over Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Sleeping Beauty, and even The Lion King as the pinnacle of Disney’s animated achievements. While Beauty and the Beast is a special film in the Disney canon, its true achievements are often sidestepped for a more nostalgic appreciation. While Beauty and the Beast is a special film, its numerous flaws prevent it from the #1 spot where some people, *cough*Alban*cough*, place it.

There’s no question that the animation of Beauty and the Beast was incredible for its time. The Beast seems to move like a real animal, head low and sweeping. The characters’ body language is expressive and emotive. When Belle realizes what she has given up to rescue her father, Maurice, her body shrinks and slumps in a way that few real actors can pull off. Beauty and the Beast was also one of the first Disney films to make extensive use of computer animation. I remember seeing the ballroom dancing scene and thinking that nothing would ever compare to it. However, the animation, when viewed against the eye-popping animation happening today, has aged poorly. You can argue that this is not a fault of the original film, but I would not say the same about Snow White or Sleeping Beauty. Despite the innovations in animation, the animation style of Beauty and the Beast has a less timeless feel to it than a film like Sleeping Beauty.

The plot of Beauty and the Beast is rife with holes and inconsistencies. While animated films historically tend to have lower standards for plot cohesion than other films, Pixar has elevated those standards. We expect more from our animated features these days, and that can’t be undone by simply saying it was made before the Pixar revolution. Small things like Belle’s magic book that keeps changing color or Gaston’s disappearing chair are easily overlooked. Seasons changing in the blink of an eye, or Gaston being able to find Beast’s castle, even though he had never been there before, cannot. There’s also the problem with time for anyone who knows how to add. The Beast would have to have been cursed at age 11 for not inviting a stranger into his home, which seems pretty cruel on the part of the witch, but okay, she was a mean witch. But he still ages, as do all the servants that were transformed, except for Chip, who can’t be more than six or seven. So he must have been born a teacup. And the father is… I don’t even want to know how that happened. The music, although wonderful, is pretty clearly a rehash of the music from The Little Mermaid. Go ahead, listen to “Be Our Guest” and “Les Poissons” together and tell me they are not almost identical. Alan Menken wrote the music for both, so it’s understandable, but it detracts from the classic status of “Be Our Guest.” The rest of the music in the film is a little lackluster when compared to the music from The Little Mermaid or Aladdin.

So why do people revere this film so much? Why do they put it above towering achievements like Pinocchio? Because of the characters. When you get past the plot holes, the slightly dated animation, and the sometimes uninspired music, the characters are unlike any others in the Disney canon. Let’s be honest: Belle is probably the hottest of all the Disney princesses, in part because she wants nothing to do with being a princess. She isn’t chasing Prince Charming because “one day her prince will come.” She is perfectly happy on her own, reading and dreaming of adventure. She’s bookish and simple, but also strong and intelligent. No other Disney princess has that. She’s the kind of woman that you would want to marry the moment you met her. In addition to Belle, the Beast is a deeply flawed prince, monstrous at first, and violent. His rage and self-loathing is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a children’s film, and his redemption is earned through a personal awakening, not by destroying some outside force. All of the “good” characters in the film are distinctly human in their quirks and idiosyncrasies.

The love story between Belle and the Beast rivals any romantic storyline. It is something that grows slowly on both sides, rather than something instant (Snow White) or one-sided (The Little Mermaid). It seems more pure and true, and perhaps made all the more beautiful because neither wanted it, but they couldn’t help falling in love. They were made for each other, and each sacrifices everything for the other.

Beauty and the Beast is imperfect, and perhaps doesn’t deserve the status it currently has over its peers. But now that I’ve pointed out its problems, it’s hard to look down on a movie for its flaws when the primary theme is looking past the flaws to find the good. Now I just feel bad.

Better Remembered: The Goonies

By Steven Moore

We revere certain films that were important to us as children. Many of the films that we grew up with, watched over and over again, and think fondly of during our mid-life crisis years, are not just bad but downright awful. These films are better remembered than watched. This series of articles aims to destroy your childhood memories, taking away the nostalgia that warms you whenever you think of a terrible movie like Critters, or even classics like Star Trek: The Motion Picture. However, I also want to try to rediscover what it was about these movies that made me personally love them. I hope to come out the other side with a new, more honest appreciation of those films that helped form my cinematic maturity.

The Goonies (from left): Kerri Green, Josh Brolin, Corey Feldman, Sean Astin, Ke Huy Quan, Jeff Cohen, and Martha Plimpton

A few months back a group of friends and I decided to watch The Goonies. This was a movie that I, as I’m sure many of you do, hold up high as one of the cornerstone films of my childhood. The desire to have a Goonies-esque experience of my own launched many ill-advised childhood adventures, one involving getting stuck on top of a water tower for an entire day. The Goonies is a cornerstone film for any child of the eighties, and there is no way to argue against that. However, The Goonies is an awful film. Somehow written by Steven Spielberg and Chris Columbus, the terrible writing is accentuated with bad acting and contrived slapstick comedy that comes together to produce a jumbled mess of a movie.

If you own the DVD and have watched the deleted scenes, you know about the octopus. While this scene was rightly cut from the film, it is a more extreme example of what is wrong with the movie as a whole.  The group has just splashed into the cavern where One-Eyed Willie’s ship has been trapped for hundreds of years. Suddenly, they are attacked by an octopus that just kinds of lies there while the kids wrap its tentacles around them. Eventually, the gang fends off the octopus by literally feeding it 80’s pop music, to which it can’t help but boogie down, while simultaneously fleeing for its life.

"Hey you guys!" (The late John Matuszak as "Sloth")

I feel like this scene was cut from the film, not because it doesn’t match the tone of the rest of the movie or because it’s too silly, but because the special effects are so bad. In other words, it wasn’t the supremely awful writing and filmmaking choices that left this scene on the cutting room floor; it was a technical limitation. Other similar scenes remain in the film. Most of Data’s gadgets are equally absurd. The pinchers of power he uses to save himself from a pit of spikes are awesome–when you’re ten years old. When Data greases the log to keep the criminals from catching him, we are treated to not one, but two crotch shots, which is hilarious–when you’re ten years old.

Of course, all the logic and aesthetic problems of The Goonies didn’t matter when I was ten years old. I wanted to go the goondocks and explore those caves and search for One-Eyed Willie’s treasure. When the group finds Chester Copperpot and realizes they’ve gotten farther than a famous explorer, it was a liberating moment for me. Just because I am an inexperienced kid and have no idea what I’m doing doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do it. In some ways, I’ve carried that idea through my adult life as well.

The Goonies instilled a sense of adventure in a generation of kids. It may have been a silly, unrealistic, badly conceived adventure, but it worked somehow. My kids felt the same way when I showed it to them. I’ll just warn them not to watch it again when they grow up.