Tag Archives: Michael Keaton

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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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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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