Tag Archives: Batman

This Bat-Channel is coming in fuzzy

By Brian Slattery

For the first time in my life I’ve watched 1966′s film version of Batman starring Adam West. I’m no stranger to the television show and as a child would find myself tuning in at that Bat-time to watch the Caped Crusader save Gotham City time and time again. The show was magical, bringing in many memorable villains and other characters to keep the crowd happy. And with the teaming up of four of the show’s top-notch criminals there is no way this movie could fail. Except for the fact that it did.

Batman the TV show’s charm was its camp feeling. Robin saying “Holy [insert pun-type word here], Batman” every four minutes still sticks with me to this day. But the most memorable part was the comic-styled onomatopoeia that appeared during every fight scene in the show. The movie hardly had any of that. In fact, the movie uses this gag only once in its 105-minute run time. There are essentially three episodes of the series stitched together, and you only use your bread and butter once in the entire film? We see four riddles from the Riddler, and two exploding sea creatures from the Penguin in that time period. I just cannot fathom a reason for such a discrepancy in these numbers.

 

 

As we’ve learned with Joel Schumacher’s horrific Batman sequels, the more villains, the less screen time each is going to get. We get riddles from the Riddler, and jokes from the Joker, but aside from that, this is a Catwoman/Penguin film. The Joker and Riddler take a far back seat to the other two. Which is a shame because Cesar Romero can put on such a fun show as the Joker. This is not to take away from Burgess Meredith or Lee Meriwether, they each played their roles well, but to promise a showing of four villains and only truly delivering on half is not acceptable.

The movie is not without its high points, however. The show’s other claim to fame is splattered all about this movie. The gadgets. Batman has to have his gadgets, and back in the 60s every gadget had to be labeled. How else would Robin know which Bat-Spray in the helicopter was Shark Repellent and which was Barracuda Repellent? The Bat-Cave is filled with futuristic technology as well. And with the heroes returning to their lab several times, some of their equipment needs to pull double duty, and the labels help us know which box with blinking colors does what.

 

 

Batman does bring some of the joy provided by the show, but it sets its goals to loftily high for the Caped Crusader to conquer. I recommend those of you looking for a little Adam West nostalgia to stick with the television series, or watch the episodes of Family Guy that feature him as mayor of Quahog. The shenanigans he gets into on that show are all I need to bring back the fond memories of Batman THWACK-ing a guy right in his ZOCK-ing jaw.

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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.

Iron Man: A look back

By Nathanael Griffis

It was the summer of 2008, an eerily similar summer to this one. The behemoths of film were being released. Indiana Jones returned. It was last time Will Smith was in a blockbuster. We had two of the greatest animated films ever (WALL-E and Kung Fu Panda). There were comic book sequels: Hellboy II, The Incredible Hulk,  and of course, The Dark Knight. Even the Wachowskis were offering us a movie. Prince Caspian brought high hopes. Tropic Thunder looked like a match made in heaven. While some films left the bitter lingering taste of disappointment and have since become despised, several became some of my favorite films of all time. I’ve still never had a better time in the theater than the midnight showing for WALL-E. It’s strange to think this year again starts us off with a Marvel comic movie, that Will Smith is back for essentially the first time since Hancock. Twilight, which was also released that year, is ending (may God be praised). The Wachowskis are releasing their first film since 2008.  And, of course, we have The Dark Knight Rises on the horizon, as well as The Amazing Spider-Man. It’s shaping up to be an even better comic book movie year than 2008. Well, perhaps, the jury’s still out and, strangely enough, the tipping point may be Iron Man.

 

Now what did that mountain ever do to him?

 

I didn’t see Iron Man opening weekend, which is unusual for me. I could have even seen it for free, but I’m ashamed to say I wasn’t excited. I barely follow comics. I like Batman, Superman, X-Men, and Spider Man, and that’s it. Iron Man as a character was off my radar. I didn’t care for a man in an iron suit. Wasn’t that just a rip-off of Batman, minus the menace and terrifying villains? It took a friend dragging me on a Tuesday 12:20 p.m. showing, which I only agreed to because it was free and I had nothing better to do, to get me to go. I saw the film three more times that week, more than any other film that summer. For comparison, I never saw The Dark Knight or WALL-E, two of my Top 20 films of all time, more than once in the theater.

 

Yeah, it's gross in there.

 

It’s a nearly impossible thing to take a subject as fantastic as the superhero and turn it into a socially relevant topic. Iron Man, though, accomplishes this. During the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, we were presented with a charming, brash arms dealer. As a viewer, I was surprised how appealing this war profiteer was. Robert Downey Jr.’s acting and the script by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, and Matt Holloway deserve a lot of the credit here. Downey brings a tragic narcissism to the role that deftly reflects some of his own personal demons. The script plays off this and balances humor in such a way as to make you laugh and consider the implications of the joke at the same time. It takes a threat to Stark’s own life to awaken him to the horrors his company allows and profits from. He questions his own complacency and compliance in the deaths of thousands. This is brilliant writing, because it’s consistent with a  narcissistic character and yet allows Tony Stark to change in a believable, sympathetic way. It also not-so-vaguely challenges the exceptionalist spirit of Americans to consider our own responsibility for military action.

 

Have I mentioned explosions, yet? Because... cough cough... explosions.

 

What’s equally challenging, but nessecary to a comic book movie, is Stark’s solution. He builds a weapon. Stark builds a nuclear deterrent, a suit of armor so powerful it’s nearly indestructible.  Violence as a solution now becomes a primary argument, but we don’t go to comic book movies for philosphical musings (sorry, Ang Lee). I want to see things explode. Iron Man satisfies this amazingly well. I get enormous flamethrowers, tanks being destroyed by a single projectile, aerial combat, and a duel between two iron suits. Through all this blood and destruction, director  Jon Favreau asserts that it’s not the weapon but the wielder that is the issue. It’s an age old debate: is war spurred on by the gun makers or the gun slingers? Do we make laws about weapons to protect the people, or to allow for more freedom of firearms to provide the freedom to protect oneself? There is, wisely, never a judgment made about the current overseas conflicts. Instead the film asks us to weigh our choices as to how to wield our power. The film supports our military, skirts a political subject without being polarizing, and entertains through depth and humor.

Iron Man turns the superhero into a weapon himself. It starts to beg the question, are superheroes weapons to be controlled? This theme, which albeit is a fanciful one that depends on the existence of superheroes, is further explored in Iron Man 2 and The Avengers. Iron Man is human, and we see this as his greatest flaw. His narcissism is his arch enemy. He’s blinded by pride and can’t see that his own company, let alone his mentor, played by Jeff Bridges, doesn’t want peace. In those several viewings of Iron Man, the character became, for me, as fascinating as the haunting morality of Batman, the humanized strength of Spider-Man, and the heroic symbolism of Superman.

 

Dude just wanted his rug, man.

 

I love the depth of the film, and with each watching it holds up and grows all the more engrossing. There’s the now-trademark Marvel balance of humor, action, story, and theme. Coming out of The Avengers I was riding a high, but as I started to think, which is always dangerous, I began to pull back. Iron Man takes a tricky issue, a modern issue, and uses the superhero story to discuss a relevant topic. It’s the modern day myth. I didn’t see that in The Avengers. There’s something to be said for the genius of the film’s sheer fun and balance of complex story lines and character arcs. Don’t get me wrong, I love The Avengers and reserve the right to change my mind on everything I say, but it lacks the socially relevant depth of films like The Dark Knight and Iron Man.

If you haven’t seen Iron Man in a while, watch it again and challenge yourself to consider the issues it’s addressing. While the world has changed in four years, it’s stunning to think how much these issues still matter.

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I’m glad you liked The Avengers, but it should have been better

By Alban Yee

I liked the Avengers movie.  I thought it was entertaining, and I would watch it again.

However, this movie had its problems. And here, I give you three.

1) Scarlett Johansson was the weakest link. She wasn’t weak in terms of power or contribution; her script created a character who contributed significantly (persuading the Hulk to join the team, bringing Hawkeye back to the team, and – spoiler alert! – closing the intergalactic portal with the magic stick); her director, Joss Whedon, is renown for creating and directing powerful female leads (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Dollhouse). Scarlett, however, failed to fill her role. For a character who was supposed to steal the spotlight, her most significant contributions were a pretty face and looking good in a skin-tight suit.

 

And how.

 

I was severely disappointed by how little she brought to her role. While every other actor embodied and radiated his character, Scarlett had to constantly remind us who she was, sometimes literally. Her lines such as “I’m Russian, remember?” or “This isn’t that bad” (in reference to some terrible war scenes she’s seen in Russia) were painfully injected into the script to remind us that she has a back story as a Russian spy, and not an American one. While I am glad that a female lead had such a significant role to play in this film, I was disappointed by how little I was enraptured by the woman who played her. It should have been so much more.

2) The petty invasion. First of all, as Brian Slattery pointed out, this was the Transformers 3 take-over-the-world plan. They’re planning to take over the world from one city? With that army? How embarrassing! I was more intimidated by the alien invasion force from Independence Day. Those were aliens I actually believed could take over the earth. These aliens were far weaker and fewer than even the feeble threat posed by the Decepticons in last year’s catastrophe. Tell me again why we needed the Avengers to stop this? This could have been handled by Will Smith and an iPhone (Macbook reserved for more threatening aliens).

 

"Welcome to... wait a second, someone just texted me...."

 

3) The lack of internal consistency. I present to you two things. One, how did the Hulk change from a raging, uncontrollable monster to a raging, controllable monster who takes orders from Captain America? How? Can someone explain this one to me? One minute, he’s trying to kill Scarlett Johansson. The next minute, he’s one of the good guys. The pals.

 

"Because I choose to SMASH!"

 

Secondly, where was the military? We have already established that we are living in a post-9/11 world where America, and Stark industries, battle terrorists and scramble jets at the drop of a hat. If the military can send jets to fight a bogey the size of a flying man (see: Iron Man), you’d think they would send a couple of guys to check out what’s going on with Manhattan when its getting destroyed by an alien force. Right?

On the scale of recent Marvel movies, I put The Avengers below Iron Man and above Thor and Captain America.

If I expand it to include other comic book movies, I put it above all the Spider-Man and X-Men films and below the Batman trilogy for quality and consistency. In terms of rewatchability, The Avengers wins for pure entertainment.

All in all, a pretty high rating for this movie. It was great with a few flaws. I will remember it fondly, laugh at its jokes, and occasionally dream about what could have been.

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Scary Movie Alien Countdown #6: “She says the jungle… it came alive and took him.”

By Tom Kapr

A long time ago, in a federated state far, far away, I began a countdown of the ten scariest movie aliens ever. Then my world turned a little bit sideways, and two months and two thousand miles later, I landed in Colorado. Now life has calmed some, so it’s time to turn back to the wonderful horrors of the silver screen with a film that caused one of the most heated debates ever on the Buried Cinema podcast. And though it still loses my Flickchart vote to Shaun of the Dead, here is number six on the countdown…. (You can read the list from the beginning here.)

Predator is a paradox. Written by brothers Jim and John Thomas (who went on to write a handful of other, poor-to-middling thrillers) and directed by John “Die Hard” McTiernan, Predator is one of those big, dumb, loud, vulgar, testosterone-fueled action flicks for which the late 80s are known. Machismo runs rampant and cheesy dialogue seeps from every seam, not least of which is that immortal line uttered by Jesse “The Body” Ventura, “I ain’t got time to bleed.” However, what makes Predator such a paradox is that it is also one of the coolest and most brilliant science fiction films ever. And it gave us one of cinema’s all-time great antagonists: the Predator himself (played by the seven-foot-two Kevin Peter Hall).

Other Predator aliens have gone on to battle everyone in film from Danny Glover to Adrien Brody to the xenomorphs from the Alien films–even Batman. But when it all began, it was one terrifying, unseen presence lurking in the Central American jungle, picking off platoon commandos one by one as easy as if it were swatting butterflies. As the line from the movie suggests, it was as if the jungle itself had become a sentient, hostile force. Eventually it came to one of the great climactic showdowns in cinema: Predator vs. Schwarzenegger. And when Schwarzenegger finally got the upper hand and saw the Predator up-close, personal, uncloaked, and unmasked, it turned out to be one of the most fearsome alien beings ever conceived–and one of the ugliest (though I’m sure he was very handsome to the ladies back on his home planet).

It’s true what they say, that a picture is worth a thousand words:

[Editor's note: I forgot to mention Stan Winston, who is responsible for the awesome design of the Predators and the special effects in the first two films, as well as many other memorable creatures in some of the greatest science fiction films ever made. Stan Winston, the world of the movies will never be the same without you.]

Next on the countdown: “Across the gulf of space, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic regarded our planet with envious eyes and slowly, and surely, drew their plans against us….”

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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30 Days of Madness, Day 16: The Burrowers

The Burrowers (2008) Written & directed by J.T. Petty. Starring Clancy Brown, Jocelin Donahue, Karl Geary, Doug Hutchison, William Mapother, Tatanka Means, Sean Patrick Thomas.

If Ethan Edwards was chasing graboids, it might’ve looked a little something like this. That’s a loose analogy, but it’ll give you an idea of the premise without going to much into the unfolding plot, which is better left unexpounded upon. A ranch is attacked in what appears to be a Sioux raid, most folks are killed, a few are taken, and a posse of gunhands go after them–except that the “them” they’re chasing may not be Sioux after all. Something is leaving strange holes in the ground.

2007 New Mexico fills in for 1867 Dakota Territory, and it’s passable enough not to be distracting. Old West horror is rare, and well-made Old West horror even moreso, but The Burrowers actually comes across as a decent Western and a decent horror-thriller instead of a cheap set-up for cheap scares, as one would expect from such a premise.

The cast is an interesting one, and a capable bunch of actors at that, including three of my favorite “hey, it’s that guy!” guys. And they are:

1. Clancy Brown. Chances are, you’ve seen Brown in something, and chances are even greater that you’ve heard him. He’s Sgt. Zim from Starship Troopers (the officer nobody likes who goes a little nuts and ends up getting smeared across the ground by a giant crash-landing bug); he’s Victor Kruger, a.k.a. “The Kurgen,” from the original 1986 Highlander film; he’s Kelvin Inman from Lost (the guy pushing the button before Desmond Hume comes along); he’s “Brother” Justin Crowe from Carnivale; he’s John Danziger from Earth 2 (anybody remember that show?); and perhaps most classically speaking, he’s Captain Hadley from The Shawshank Redemption (who WILL toss you off a roof unless you happen to be a tax wizard who can save him some money). He’s also the voice behind Lex Luthor on the Justice League and Superman animated series; Mr. Freeze on the more recent series The Batman; Long Feng on Avatar: The Last Airbender; Mr. Krabs on SpongeBob Squarepants; and, of course, who could forget his work on Street Sharks, Biker Mice from Mars and Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go!

2. Doug Hutchison. He usually plays creeps. He played Davros, one of the creeps from Day 8 of the real-time thriller series 24. He played Percy Wetmore, the prison guard creep in The Green Mile. He played Eugene Victor Tooms, one of the most memorable creeps from the early seasons of The X Files (he was the guy from the classic episode “Squeeze” who could squeeze into really small places–usually to steal someone’s liver so he could ingest the bile so he could build a nest and hibernate for another 30 years). But he also played Horace Goodspeed on Lost–and Horace Goodspeed wasn’t a creep. Or was he?

3. William Mapother. William Mapother is a cousin of one of the biggest movie stars of all time, Thomas Mapother, and has appeared in several of Thomas’s major blockbuster films, like Born on the Fourth of July, Magnolia, Vanilla Sky, Minority Report, and Mission: Impossible II. (You know who Thomas Mapother is.) However, he has also had a few decent roles in movies that aren’t suspect of nepotism, including World Trade Center and In the Bedroom. William Mapother also played Ethan Rom on Lost–and Ethan Rom wasn’t a creep. Or was he? Yeah, he was a bit of a creep… or was he… that Lost can be so darn inscrutable.

(For those keeping track, that makes three “that guy” guys who appeared on Lost.)

The Burrowers is a really interesting, very different kind of Western that wraps up with an unfortunately confusing climax followed by one of the biggest downers of a denouement ever. If it weren’t for the last 15 minutes or so, this would have been a great movie. As it is, I would recommend it only for hardcore Western or horror followers.

My Netflix rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

–Tom Kapr

Buried Cinema, Artifact #001: The Dream Team

By Tom Kapr

My goal for Buried Cinema is to dig up the unjustly forgotten and the obscure, to unearth gems that have been buried under the sediment of cinematic history, to shed light upon the lesser-known, and to give the underrated their due respect. These are the treasures that deserve a wider audience. –Tom Kapr, Editor

Michael Keaton made a welcome return to comedic form this year as the put-upon police captain who moonlights as a Bed, Bath & Beyond sales manager in Adam McCay’s hilarious but undercooked The Other Guys.

For the past decade or so, Keaton has been working largely under the radar in limited-release dramas or as Katie Holmes’s/Lindsay Lohan’s/that Gilmore girl’s dad in whatever crazy teenage-girl comedies those crazy Hollywood screenwriters have been coming up with lately. He’s also become a recurring vocal talent for Pixar, with little fanfare. (See Chick Hicks in Cars or Ken in Toy Story 3.)

During the 80′s, Keaton had made a name for himself as an adept comedic star in movies such as Mr. Mom, Beetlejuice, and, one of my personal favorite quotables, Johnny Dangerously. He turned that persona on its head at the end of the decade when he donned the mantle of a decidedly darker-than-previously-seen Caped Crusader (at least, darker than was familiar to the general movie-going public) in Tim Burton’s Batman.

But only a couple months before Batman‘s release in 1989 (and, I suspect, overshadowed by that landmark film and its massive hype), Keaton appeared in a little comedy called The Dream Team.

Written by Jon Connolly & David Loucka and directed by Howard Zieff, The Dream Team is a thoroughly enjoyable character-driven comedy featuring brilliant, subtle physical humor and some of the most quotable lines ever. Michael Keaton, Christopher Lloyd, Peter Boyle, and Stephen Furst play four psychiatric patients who meet for group therapy every week.

Billy Caufield (Keaton) has a temper and enjoys concocting elaborate lies. Jack McDermott (Boyle) is a former advertising executive with a Messiah complex and a tendency to disrobe in public. Albert Ianuzzi (Furst) is verbally shut off from the rest of the world, speaking only in baseball-announcer metaphor. And Henry Sikorsky (Lloyd) is an obsessive-compulsive under the delusion that he is his fellow patients’ doctor.

Wanna buy some Thin Mints? Samoas? Lemon Chalet Cremes? Dulce De Leches?

Their therapist, Dr. Weitzman (Dennis Boutsikaris), decides that a day trip to Yankee Stadium would do them all a world of good. While making a pit stop in an alley in New York City, Weitzman witnesses a crime and is beaten unconscious. The only witness is Albert, who doesn’t know how to tell the others what he saw. The four are left to their own devices in the big city, eventually learning of their doctor’s fate and getting embroiled in the perpetrators’ scheme.

It sounds contrived (and as a premise for a comedy, it is), but the plot actually unfolds rather naturally. The four protagonists are so fully engaged in their characters and so interesting to watch, and have such great chemistry with each other, that it doesn’t matter how ridiculous things get (and things do get a bit ridiculous). The performances keep it grounded. These four actors know how to get the maximum amount of situational comedy out of their characters without resorting to hammy antics or breaking character for the sake of the joke (something I’ve talked about in the podcast recently regarding Dinner for Schmucks and The Other Guys).

The supporting cast is, if not memorable, at least believable and capable. Prolific character actors Philip Bosco and James Remar play a couple of heavies, and Lorraine Bracco (of Goodfellas and The Sopranos fame) plays Keaton’s character’s old girlfriend, Riley. She even manages to be sexy, an adjective I’ve never before applied to Lorraine Bracco.

The Dream Team‘s title may not be particularly germane to the plot (another possible factor in the film’s obscurity), but the tagline is great: “Four guys on a field trip to reality.” It’s a sadly forgotten little gem that more people should see, and I’d like to make a special mention and thanks to my brother Dan for introducing it to me.

(The Dream Team at the IMDb: http://imdb.com/title/tt0097235)

–Tom Kapr