Monthly Archives: July 2012

Dear Steven: A response to “The Dark Knight: Gravel and Gadgets”

By Nathanael Griffis

[A few days ago Steven wrote an open letter to me in an attempt to denigrate the greatest superhero film ever made. I will now respond to his attempt at an argument.]

 

Dear Steven,

As The Dark Knight Rises approached, I considered the implications. Full disclosure: I anticipate nothing. I don’t prepare for, or experience life, as most people do. I merely let life experience me. What does that mean? This is the question Steven is probably asking himself, and will continue asking. Upon not being able to discover the answer he’ll probably make some silly quip about my hair being too curly, or my eyes too captivating. It’s understandable; I avoid mirrors so I don’t embarrassingly hit on myself in public.

Moving on, Steven brings up some interesting points. You know, like how a teenage girl might point that Twilight is a good movie because a lot of people relate to it. It’s interesting, in that it’s fun to watch a tween pout and try to have an adult conversation, but really they’re just playing around with words. Steven aptly points out that the Joker is a brilliant character, and Heath Ledger’s performance is legendary and transcends acting. After which follows a sentence describing how tomatoes are red.

Next in our journey down Steven’s hair-salon-conversation-level argument, we get “Michael Keaton is the best Batman ever.” This “my Dad is stronger than your Dad” presentation further proves that Steven needs to spend more time considering what he’s writing rather than watching Big Time Rush. He fails to recognize Tim Burton’s own admission that “the whole movie is mainly boring to me. It’s OK, but it was more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie,” a quote made three years after the film. This is a film that pays little heed to the idea of being loyal to the Batman mythology, going so far as to make the Joker the killer of Batman’s parents and Alfred a pushover who allows Vicki Vale into the Batcave.

Michael Keaton may play Batman seriously, but the film, while dark, still has a Burton silliness to it, which is why Keaton is so out of place as Bruce Wayne. Burton doesn’t know what to do with Bruce Wayne. The film seems more eager to get back to the Joker and Batman. Bale and Nolan see Bruce Wayne as a chance to play off another mask. Bruce Wayne becomes another image that the man behind Batman is not. He is forced out of bed to attend parties and throw fundraisers, by Alfred, who’s shockingly a relevant character.

You see, Steven (consider this an internet pat on the head), when Bale seems to switch so quick and put on an air of acting, Christian Bale did exactly what you said he does: acts like Bruce Wayne is acting. The only flaw in your argument is that you forget this is what Bruce Wayne is supposed to be doing; it is something a man who spent time training in the ninjitsu art of deception would be thoroughly capable of.

Now, a kind ideological father would hand you a virtual cookie, which you may delete later under internet options in your favorite browser, IE, and let you continue on your way up the stairs satisfied and happy to know the world is safe with such a mind as mine on the prowl. But, as the puppy I ate for breakfast can attest to, I am not kind, and so we continue. If you need to take a break to cry or punch a pillow I understand, but I don’t empathize since I make pillows punch each other.

As far as the commonly complained about gravel-throated speech of Bale’s Batman, I say, lay off. If you understand the purpose, which is for him to hide his identity, why are you complaining? It simply comes down to a sense of taste. Steven, you simply don’t like it when people talk all deep and manly, but one day your body will start to change and your voice will get deeper, hair might sprout in places you’ve rarely been concerned with, and you’ll start to smell funny. There’s a video you can watch if you’re curious to know more.

Now, gadgets seem to cause you trouble. I understand. You don’t like physical things. You’d prefer a Batman who simply downloads an app that defeats the Joker. What’s he doing with all these silly gadgets? What is a gadget? I know the idea of an ancient weapon like a boomerang frightens someone when they start to consider the possibilities that a well placed projectile can in fact demolish one’s non-physical media. It’s probably a terrifying thing to think that you’re non-physical structures are in fact vulnerable to physical ones. But wait, wouldn’t that mean that they’re physical too? (I’ll wait until you screw your head back on. If you need to wait till they invent digital screws, screws with LED lights in them made to placate your self-inflicted madness, that’s fine as well. All good? Okay.)

You also fail to realize that nowhere in The Dark Knight does Batman use a bat-a-rang; that was Burton and Schumacher’s Batman. Granted, he does use one once in Batman Begins, but that was a different movie. He also never uses a zip-line or a glider. A zip-line is a taught rope between two points that one rides along. The Joker’s thugs use one at the beginning of the film, but you were probably up getting coffee at this time or grooming your pet chihuahua so you missed that. His cape is capable of gliding, but also functions as a fashionable, well, cape. A glider, strictly speaking, is a singular object for a singular purpose. I don’t remember Batman ever renting a glider and dashing off cliffs with his frat buddies, but maybe I was too busy holding my rare exotic bird and missed that. (I’ll let you determine who gets the point for coolest pet, that way the shame will simmer deeper into your psyche.)

You seem to have gotten you’re mythology of Batman confused with Nolan’s pristine revision of the Batman story. Here are the few select tools he uses: his cape, his Batmobile/Batcycle, his grenade launcher, and his fists, which were on loan from Chuck Norris. In a word, you’re wrong.

If this all seems like too much for you Steve, you’ll understand when you’re older.

-Nate

 

P.S. I also found this picture of you.

This is a true, extra-real historical document.

 

 

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The Dark Knight: Gravel and Gadgets

By Steven Moore

[In trying to write an article on The Dark Knight and its flaws, I decided to write it in the form of an open letter to my fellow podcaster, and Rant Pad contributor, Nate Griffis, to finally put down his gleeful exuberance and appalling joy whenever this film is casually mentioned in conversation. It’s a flawed film, and here’s why:]

 

Dear Nate,

In anticipation of The Dark Knight Rises, I’m going to try to explain why The Dark Knight isn’t the flawless masterpiece you think it is, in hopes of tempering some of your enthusiasm for the last installment (as well as my own). I have tried to make this case many times, but you are always too busy writing articles on obscure Korean cinema to listen. I realize that deep down, you probably avoid the obvious flaws in The Dark Knight because you feel guilty about your self-absorbed billionaire playboy lifestyle and 16-pack-a-day cigarette habit. There was also that incident where you accidentally picked me up from work, and your girlfriend got blown up. Whatever the actual reason, you and many other  misguided people seem to think that The Dark Knight is one of the greatest movies ever made.

I must admit up front, The Dark Knight is easily in the top five superhero movies. The problems I have with the film are small flaws that only become more glaring because they detract from Christopher Nolan’s otherwise immaculate look at the hero’s sacrifice in the face of pure evil. In fact, all my problems with the film are directed solely at Nolan’s portrayal of Batman, and Christian Bale’s execution of him as a character. I think we can both agree that Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker is not just brilliant, but enlightening. No villain has ever encapsulated evil for evil’s sake like the Joker, and Heath Ledger embodied that sensibility. Often we uphold artists who have died young above their actual accomplishments. I don’t know that Ledger would have gone on to do anything as amazing as this role, but I cannot overstate the quality of his performance in this particular case.

Another admission in the spirit of full disclosure: I believe Michael Keaton to have been the best-cast Batman in the history of the character. If you need a moment to cool down, perhaps punch a pillow, I understand. One of the reasons Keaton was so great, and Christain Bale is not, is that Keaton never seemed at ease in the playboy role. He played Bruce Wayne as someone who doesn’t quite fit into the life he was handed. Keaton doesn’t quite look the part, and his attempts at nonchalance have a brusque edge. Bale is such an amazing actor that he forgets that Bruce Wayne is not also an actor. His switch from narcissistic philanderer to altruistic hero is too polished. It’s as though he has truly become a different person, something a trained actor is accustomed to, but not someone who has spent his life studying martial arts and technology.

 

Well, that's because... you know... I'm Batman.

 

The common complaint against the movie is Bale’s deep gravelly Batman voice. While I find it distracting, I understand the intention. Unfortunately, Nolan has set a high bar for himself, and if I am considering intent instead of story and character while watching the movie, that’s a flaw in the film. I understand how you, Nate, as someone who also uses technology to enhance your voice, might appreciate the time and energy Nolan took to convey an idea with Batman’s voice, but art should never come before entertainment. (Trivia: Nate actually sounds like a 87-year-old woman who has smoked cigars all her life. He alters his voice with filters for the podcast.)

My final complaint about the film is the sheer number of gadgets Batman has available to him at any given moment. Nolan is careful not to have the Deus Ex Machina utility belt, giving us a more gritty, vulnerable look at Batman and Gotham City. The gadget-laden Batman of previous films and television doesn’t fit the new vision of Gotham where the Joker is more than just a supervillian foil. Here he is the personification of a brilliant mind gone off the rails. The face of chaos attacked by a projectile shaped like a bat is weak, if only because it reminds me that this is a comic book movie where things are silly sometimes. Bat-zip lines and gliders feel out of place in this world. A Batman who relies instead on his training and perhaps a few select tools seems a more appropriate Batman for the tone of the world Nolan has built for us.

Again, The Dark Knight is an amazing film, and I’m sure Rises will be equally amazing. But I’m slightly nervous that the trailers seem to display more of the gadgety-ness and not one, but two over-wrought character voices. We’ll see if Nolan is able to make it less conspicuous in the context of this movie. I’m sure you’ll love every minute of it, and I will love about 89.5% of it, which incidentally is also roughly the score I would give X-Men: First Class.

The Dark Knight is an amazing supervillain movie, not an amazing superhero movie. It’s not me, it’s you. I hope we can still be friends.

–Steve

 

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Why I’m worried about “The Dark Knight Rises”

By Tom Kapr

 

Like any good movie nerd, I have been eagerly anticipating the release of The Dark Knight Rises since Batman escaped into hiding during the final scene of The Dark Knight in 2008. That’s four years ago. In this day and age, that’s almost an eternity to wait for the next chapter in whatever epic saga one is currently into. And Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy (as it is now known) is the epitome of the modern epic saga. In fact, this is a first for the comic book superhero genre. Bryan Singer is the only other filmmaker to approach this success, in artistic terms, with the first two X-Men movies. Unfortunately, he decided to forgo directing the third one in favor of helming Superman Returns, leaving X-Men 3 in the hands of Brett Ratner. (Wow. I think I actually felt you shudder.)

This actually brings me to my first point in why I’m worried about The Dark Knight Rises. Traditionally, if the first two films in a series are great, the third will tend toward a huge drop-off in quality. This is especially true in the superhero genre. I’ve already mentioned X-Men: The Last Stand, which was frustratingly close to good, but only because it had a handful of great scenes surrounded by some truly dreadful ones. Spider-Man 3 was nowhere near the quality of Sam Raimi’s first two, which is a pity since everyone was really looking forward to Spider-Man fighting his great arch-nemesis Venom. Superman III doesn’t belong in the same category as Superman and Superman II. And when it comes back around to Batman, while I am no fan of the excessively unpleasant Batman Returns, it almost looks like a masterpiece compared to the cartoonish Batman Forever. I’m even going to throw Return of the Jedi into this, because while it will forever be a childhood favorite, if I look at it objectively, it’s not nearly as good as its predecessors.

 

This is actually the LEAST of my problems with JEDI.

 

Hey, Batman Forever is a stupid name for a movie, isn’t it? Superhero movies, and blockbuster sequels in general, tend to generate some stupid movie titles, usually because, rather than just slapping a sequential number on the title, they’re trying to go for something that stands out a little more. I could launch into a long tirade about stupid movie titles, but let’s stick with Batman. While it may not be as dumb as Batman Forever, The Dark Knight Rises is a stupid title. The Dark Knight Returns might have been a more fitting one, but then it would be the same title as Frank Miller’s 1986 graphic novel, which, while clearly having inspired Nolan’s vision of his trilogy, tells a much different story (involving Two-Face, Green Arrow, Selina Kyle as the madame of an escort service, a metaphorically castrated Superman, a female 13-year-old Robin, and the Joker going so far as to — SPOILER ALERT — chemically annihilate a Boy Scout troop). But hey, Batman Begins is an even worse title, and that was a great movie, so I’m just splitting hairs here.

I think the thing that worries me the most is that this follows The Dark Knight, which is possibly the greatest superhero movie ever made. (I personally think The Avengers beats it, but I have to at least put Dark Knight in a Top 3 of all time with that and X-Men 2.) And while it has some flaws, The Dark Knight isn’t just a phenomenally superior superhero movie — it’s one of the best thrillers ever made, period. It will rival any great crime thriller or psychological thriller you can put up against it. And this is largely due to the presence of the Joker. The Joker, as written by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer, and as performed by the late Heath Ledger, is the best depiction of this iconic villain ever put on the screen. Not only is this one of the greatest and most memorable characters in the history of film, I would argue that Heath Ledger gave one of the all-time greatest performances of any genre, ever. That’s a lot of superlatives, I know. But while The Dark Knight is a good movie, it’s really the Joker, more than any other ingredient, that makes it great.

 

 

How can Nolan follow that? This isn’t necessarily a matter of topping oneself, but he has to at least be up to the standard that he himself created. While I can envision Rises being of the same general quality as The Dark Knight, what I can not envision is anything coming anywhere near the performance and the overall presence of Heath Ledger’s Joker. No disrespect to Tom Hardy, an actor I admire, nor to Bane, the formidable villain he portrays in Rises, nor even to the writing and directing talents of Nolan, who’s probably the greatest director of complex epic thrillers of the past decade. But just, how could he possibly live up to his own quality?

 

Then there's this. Whatever this exactly means for Batman, it indicates some degree of tragedy, and it is extremely difficult to make tragedy dramatically satisfying.

 

I guess I just have to hope for the best. And as I said, that is what Nolan is — the best. He has a better track record over his career than any other director I can think of. Memento, The Prestige, and Inception, the underrated Insomnia, and including of course Batman Begins and The Dark Knight – the man has never made anything less than a good movie. And with the exception of his much quieter and more difficult-to-love first film Following, he has never made a film that has been anything less than awe-inspiring.

I have to put my faith in Nolan’s abilities. I know that if I go in expecting another Joker, I’m going to be disappointed, so I have to limit myself to expecting, at least, another engaging villain and another engaging plot. I do have enough faith to know that Nolan will not re-tread what he has already done in the first two films. Every film he makes is its own film, and engages me in unique ways, so that is what I will be expecting from Rises. Take into account the established pillars that are Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, and Michael Caine, as well as the considerable talents of Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and what you have is a cast at least as formidable as that of either of the first two films. (If you subtract Heath Ledger, of course.)

 

I also have this to look forward to.

 

At the very least I expect nothing less, but nothing more, from Christian Bale, who I sometimes forget is even in these movies.

The Films That Made Us — The Adventures of the Shining Black Stripes

By Kevin McCabe

What movie had the biggest impact on me?

Whether it’s movies, music, art, or writing, it’s an almost impossible task for me to choose a favorite or the most influential. I have been losing myself in these media since the late 70’s when I was about five years old. One of my greatest pleasures is to see how creative someone else can be. So, to make this topic simpler for myself, I’m borrowing the same format of questioning I recently read in Entertainment Weekly in an interview with Emma Stone. Let’s hope my answers are different than a 23-year-old actress.

The first movie I remember watchingThe Adventures of the Wilderness Family (1975). Back before cineplexes, multiplexes, mega-theatres, etc., there were small town theatres with one or two screens. My home town had one and I loved going there with my family. I can almost remember driving there in our family truckster (nod to the original Vacation, another personal classic) and sitting in a room that had 50-60 seats.  I’m not going to lament about the low cost of the ticket, but I know the candy and popcorn were still reasonable for those days.

 

 

The first movie I watched at a drive-in: The Black Hole (1979). It was an RKO drive-in where you’d pay one price for a car stuffed with kids. This was the first film that scared me and made me cry, for different reasons. That night I was crying and couldn’t sleep because the robot V.I.N.CENT. died in the movie, and my older sister came into my room. This was the first, and last, time I can remember her being truly nice to me. Who could really blame her though, I was a younger brother.

 

 

The first R-rated movie I ever sawStripes (1981). I was about nine when I saw this. Don’t blame my parents though, it was during a sleepover at a friend’s house. Blame his parents. Shortly after this came the Porky’s trilogy, then Kentucky Fried Movie, followed by a plethora of B-movie softcore porn flicks. But on a serious note, to this day I love the work that Bill Murray does, whether it’s comedy or drama. If I ever went into acting, I would probably try and conjure my inner-Murray to pull off a scene.

 

 

The scariest movie I ever saw: The Shining (1980). I saw this on HBO at home at night by myself, and I loved it. To this day I compare most scary movies to this. Do they have as much suspense, drama, horror? Shortly after watching this I also saw The Making of the Shining, and that documentary had an even bigger impact. Now I could see anything and it really didn’t SCARE me. I would see Freddie’s signature hands and wonder how the make-up artists constructed them. I could watch The Exorcist and laugh when Linda Blair vomits all over the priest. Sure they still scared me sometimes, or made me gasp, or spill a little popcorn when I jumped in fright. But it stayed in the theatre or on my couch. I never took those moments into my dreams. I wish there were more horror movies like The Shining. Today it’s all about gore.

 

 

I guess it worked. Without trying I’ve pretty much narrowed it down to these films. They really have made me partially who I am. I love going to the movies and escaping into the minds of the director and the actors. The sense of peace and joy it brings me stems from my adolescence and the great times I had with my family. Before this exercise I also didn’t really know why my two favorite genres were comedy and horror.

Now if you ask me this same question in another ten years, I’m sure it will have something to do with parenting or children growing up. I honestly believe that each day brings us new experiences that change us, hopefully for the better. And it’s not until we look back far enough that we can see just how much we’ve been impacted.

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The Films That Made Us — The Horse Whisperer

By Brian Slattery

I am not going to tell you about my favorite movie. I am not going to tell you about a movie that affected me in any positive fashion. I have not seen this movie more than once and have not seen this movie since it was released in 1998. The Horse Whisperer, directed by Robert Redford, is the first movie I saw in theaters that I remember not liking. Did it have anything to do with the fact that I was a 12-year-old boy watching a romance movie? Of course. But the effects of me watching this movie run deep.

For those of you who do not know, The Horse Whisperer starts off with a girl named Grace MacLean (played by Scarlett Johansson) and her friend Judith going out to ride horses in the early morning. On the ride, Grace and her horse Pilgrim are hit by a truck, causing serious physical and psychological harm to both of them. In an effort to rehabilitate both Grace and Pilgrim, Grace’s mother Annie (played by Kristin Scott Thomas) takes them to Montana to visit the widely renowned “horse whisperer” Tom Booker (played by Redford).

The next hour of the movie is dedicated to the rehabilitation of both Pilgrim and Grace. Pilgrim must allow people to ride him again. Grace needs to regain her courage, both to ride Pilgrim and to take risks in general. The movie’s two main problems, solved. Great, roll credits, we can go home, right? Wrong. Turns out that Annie has fallen in love with Tom and is having an affair. This leads to an entire second half of Annie trying to decide if she wants to stay with her new flame or return home to her husband and family.

Imagine yourself as a 12-year-old boy. Is this the kind of movie you want to see? Of course not. You want to go see Godzilla destroy New York as Matthew Broderick tries to kill the beast. To this day I make my displeasure in Redford’s film known. People complain The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King has too many endings; I tell them it could have ended and started an entirely new film in which Frodo has an affair with Sam’s new wife.

 

In this metaphor, Scarlett Johansson's look of injured memory represents Brian's theater experience. The horse represents Godzilla, naturally.

 

Since that fateful day in 1998 I haven’t been able to take the idea of romantic films seriously. There have been a few that I can say I’ve enjoyed. Overall, the thought of me having to sit in a theater and watch some people fall in love, have relationship issues, then get back together, is cringe-worthy. I go to movies to enjoy myself; if I wanted to watch a couple fight with each other and then make up I’d walk around the mall all day.

I am probably giving The Horse Whisperer a worse rap than it deserves, but that does not mean that I am going to watch it again. It has taken nearly three hours of my life from me. I shall not allow it to have any more. It also stole an opportunity to see Godzilla, which I had to watch a few days later than I had wanted.

And that is why Godzilla holds a special place in my heart — for being Not The Horse Whisperer.

 

I come to destroy New York and to heal your heart.

 

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Buried Cinema — The Raid: Redemption

By Nathanael Griffis

Now just you spend your eight-story fall thinking about what you've done, Mr. Drug Dealer.

I admit it: I’m an action junkie. I like nothing better than to sit back and watch some fool dare challenge Jet Li, and then watch his bones break. America has been sorely lacking in the action department since the 90’s ended and audiences started demanding plots. Thank goodness for films like The Raid: Redemption. What is this ridiculous demand for plots anyways? Plots are great for thrillers, but for an action movie, I want to see a man with a gun shoot other people with guns. I say guns because, let’s face it America, we don’t stand a chance against Asia, so we should just admit defeat and accept that we’ve got hand guns and tough guy faces. Sorry Chuck Norris fans, he lost to Bruce Lee. There’s video evidence.

The Raid is just further evidence that Asia is much more concerned with action choreography than we are. And sure, while we all stick our noses up and parade around Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and their ilk, I can’t help but look at action classics like Die Hard, Face/Off, The Rock, and Speed, and sigh. What happened? When did we stop caring about pulp action films, or when did we forget what they were? Well director Gareth Evans has a reminder.

Here's story for you: a bad drug dealer needs to be stopped. What more do you want?

The Raid doesn’t waste time building up five different story lines of building character. It opens on a young rookie cop getting ready for a raid (hence the title). There are a few shots of his pregnant wife, so good, we have pathos and motivation to stay alive. That’s it. We don’t need the wife’s character to be built up, or a weird subplot where she’s somehow tough too and maybe she kills one bad guy or something. No, just a few clips of her and him kissing, and good, got it, they love each other. I’m joking here, but in all honesty I was impressed with the smart decision Evans made as director. He doesn’t waste time with the superfluous. He paces the film perfectly.

I’ve heard a lot of jokes about how this film has no plot, but it’s plot was surprisingly deeper than it needed to be. It’s about corruption, family loyalty, and personal identity. If you’d prefer to see bad drug dealers and such get pummeled, this has that, yep it definitely has that. The action is obviously what you come to a movie like this for, and it doesn’t disappoint. I’ve watched a lot of action films, and this is the most exciting thing I’ve seen since Tony Jaa. Iko Uwais will definitely be a name a watch out for. Uwais introduces American audiences to Pencak Silat, a traditional Indonesian martial art.

Ouch, from now on I'm wearing knee pads on both sides of my leg.

The style defies exact classification, or maybe they were just moving too fast for me to understand what was going on. Normally, kung fu movies slow down the movements a little (see Fearless and Ip Man) so you can better catch the beauty of the movements themselves. There’s something about the raw brutality and speed with which this movie executes its action scenes. They physically hurt to watch. I was in shock, because you can’t fake the hits they take. Uwais and his fellow actors all take many, many hits. There’s a scene where he jumps out a window falls at least two stories, bounces off the wall and lands on a fire escape. It does not look pleasant, and I can’t see how you do it without just physically throwing yourself out a window.

The fighting is wonderfully frentic and claustrophobic at the same time. The fighting moves from hallway to stairway to broken-down apartment seamlessly. It was really a feat of editing and cinematography to put this film together; there is so much going on at any minute and yet it all flows. It’s brutal beyond belief. I would never get in a room with Uwais and a sharp object. The man seems friendly enough, but why take the chance. There’s also plenty of gun play if you’re into that. It’s fascinating how much is on display here. This is a hard R-rating for violence, definitely. I can’t go into detail, because my head’s still spinning trying to reason out if you really can impale a person that many different ways. What impressed me most was the one-on-one fights, though.

He better hope his face didn't scuff Rama's boot. Wouldn't want to make him angry.

Good martial arts films always break down to climatic fights between masters. In this case Uwais’ rookie cop Rama must take on Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian) along with some help from his (spoiler alert) criminal brother Andi (Doni Alamsyah). These final fight scenes are harder to do than large fights I think, because they can lack tension as they go on. It’s hard for a fight to not seem stale, for the moves not to seem like the same we’ve seen, literally, a hundred times already. Somehow though Uwais keeps finding new ways to hit another person. Who knew we had some many appendages that could bend in such bizarre ways to cause damage to another person. The final fight is at least five minutes long, yet the tension is maintained and I’m completely enraptured as blows are traded. It’s strange, it’s almost beautiful to watch men snapping limbs and spewing blood.

This film is nothing short of action bliss. It easily becomes one of the greatest actions films I’ve ever seen. It’s a great step for Indonesian film and makes me curious to look through the rest of their films. A new series perhaps? Listen just watch this film. You’ll understand after your mind is blown.

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Movie Match-Up — Network vs. Rocky

By Tom Kapr

I recently watched Network for the first time. I knew plenty about it: that it was written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet; that it starred William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall, and Peter Finch; that it was about producing a news show for television. I knew the classic scene about standing up and going to the window and screaming, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” I also knew that it was nominated for Best Picture of 1976 but lost to Rocky.

 

Howard Beale (Peter Finch) gets mad as hell.

 

My initial response after finishing Network was this, which I wrote along with my 5-star rating on RottenTomatoes.com:

Network is one of the best written, best acted movies of all time. Writer Paddy Chayefsky and director Sidney Lumet crafted a timeless incrimination of the dark side of television, just as current now as it was in 1976. See William Holden, Peter Finch, Robert Duvall, Faye Dunaway, and Ned Beatty deliver performances that rank among their best. They speak into existence some of the greatest dialogue in the history of the media, an obvious precursor to the work of Aaron Sorkin, who picked up Chayefsky’s satirical themes and conversational stylings and ran with them. (And we can all say a prayer of thanksgiving.)”

After thinking about it for a day or two, I decided to knock it down to a 4 1/2-star rating, for two reasons: First, there is an awful lot of yelling in Network, and an awful lot of monologues, and often the two go together, and there just came a point when I said to myself, gosh, there’s a lot of yelling in this movie. It’s almost to the point of parody. (However, most of it is pure brilliance.) And second, the ending, while impactful, is cynical and cold and, in my opinion, needed a dramatic emotional response. One could argue (and I have argued with myself) that the cynicism of the final scene is off-set by the hopeful tone of William Holden’s exiting speech a couple of scenes prior; however, my heart wanted something a little more, something more human, from the final scene.

My heart wanting something that my head didn’t need is the crucial factor in my internal debate over which film, Network or Rocky, was more deserving of the Academy Award for Best Picture. Whenever I see a film for the first time, I add it to my Flickchart, and if you don’t know what Flickchart is by now, you’re missing out on one of the greatest gifts to movie lovers on the internet. When I added Network, the site gave me about a dozen films already on my chart against which to compare it, and one after another film was easily knocked down. Network was quickly moving toward the top ranks of my all-time great movies chart. And then came Rocky, the only thing standing between Network and my Top 100.

It is almost poetic to have it come up against that particular film. I paused. I just sat staring at my computer screen. Network or Rocky? My feelings on the matter are complicated. There was a distinct moment while actually watching Network when I thought to myself, Why didn’t this win the Academy Award? Even after the credits rolled, I was still high on the thought that this is the best film of 1976. But when it came to looking at the two side by side, I didn’t know what to do. And then it hit me. It was a matter of my head versus my heart. Intellectually, yes, Network deserved the award over Rocky. But Rocky truly is an amazing film. It may not be as important in terms of impact on what came later, but it is no less valuable a work of art.

 

Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) may LOOK mad as hell, but really, he's just flying high nooooooow!

 

So when it comes to the year in cinema of 1976, it is no longer a matter to me of which is the better film. Network is my head; Rocky is my heart. Let the two stand side by side. Of course, on Flickchart, a decision must be made, and I admit that at first I chose Network. Perhaps I chose it just to let it into my Top 100. But if they come up again, I’m almost certain I’ll pick Rocky, because once it gets to comparing films that are that close in quality and importance, I tend to vote with my heart.

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