Tag Archives: Tim Burton

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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10 reasons why I’m looking forward to September (part 2)

By Tom Kapr

In part 1, I wrote about seven films being released in September that should be getting wide release, but there are three more films I’m looking forward to next month that are listed as getting a limited release–meaning I’m not sure if they’ll be coming to a theater near enough for me to go see them, or if they do, when exactly that will be.

Nevertheless, here are the three limited releases to round out my 10 reasons:

Director Gus Van Sant’s new film Restless is getting a limited release on September 16. The IMDb’s synopsis reads, “The story of a terminally ill teenage girl who falls for a boy who likes to attend funerals and their encounters with the ghost of a Japanese kamikaze pilot from WWII.” Come on, that plot sounds fantastic. And that teenage girl is played by Mia Wasikowska, who after her phenomenal performances in The Kids Are All Right and Jane Eyre is one of my favorite newcomers. (She was also one of the better ingredients in Tim Burton’s misguided Alice in Wonderland.)

The other two films get their limited releases on September 30: writer/director Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter and Eli Craig’s Tucker & Dale vs. Evil. In Take Shelter, Michael Shannon plays a family man who starts seeing visions of the apocalypse, but doesn’t know whether they are real portents of things to come from which he must protect his family–or if he himself is the impending threat to his wife and children. Another of my favorite up-and-coming actresses, Jessica Chastain, co-stars. (I recently saw her in The Help and The Tree of Life, and she was amazing in both films. I’m hoping she gets an acting nomination this season for The Tree of Life. I hope the same for Mia Wasikowska for her Jane Eyre performance.)

This final film on my list not only has one of the best titles ever, but has a premise that excites me more than maybe any other for this month. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil stars Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, and Katrina Bowden, known for their characters on the TV shows Reaper, Firefly, and 30 Rock, respectively. Now here is the premise from IMDb: “Tucker & Dale are on vacation at their dilapidated mountain cabin when they are attacked by a group of preppy college kids,” turning the entire genre on its head. I love it already. Add Alan Tudyk to anything, and you automatically make it better (he had the one truly inspired comedic moment in Transformers: Dark of the Moon); and it will be fun to see Katrina Bowden out of her 30 Rock short-shorts (that sounded better before I wrote it) and in a different setting where she can show off her comic timing.

So there are 10 reasons why I’m looking forward to going to the movies next month. The Rant Pad will be back on its regular schedule come September, with Steve’s articles appearing on Mondays (he’ll be into the home stretch of his apocalyptic film series), Nate’s appearing on Wednesdays (he’ll be continuing with his series on adaptations), and my own articles appearing on Fridays. I’ll be starting a new series called “The Old Toy Chest,” where I’ll be looking at movies that I haven’t seen since I was a kid that had a big influence on my childhood. Also look for more Buried Cinema articles, and possibly more reviews of terrible horror movies (though nothing on the scale of what I did last October).

Thanks for reading!

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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Korean films: a look back.

By Nathanael Griffis

A while back someone, I believe it was Steve, asked me if I could identify any patterns in Korean filmmaking after watching a few Korean films in a row. They all speak Korean and there’s a lot more kicking than in American movies, I thought. Neither truly felt accurate, and I doubt I’ll be able to give an accurate description of prevailing themes, styles, techniques, or ideas.  I did, though, begin thinking about my whole experience and how to discuss Korean films in a general sense, at least as much as one can after having seen ten films. There were five main things I took away from this experience that I was impressed with in Korean films: little color correction, strong female characters, bold unhampered violence, a concern for the framed shot, and experimentation especially in editing for narrative. These things are not unique to Korean cinema, but they stood out to me as something that was of a primary concern within most of the films I watched.

This is the country I've been talking about.

The lack of color correction–by which I mean no computer enhanced color palette (i.e. Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd’s gray scale and red palette, O Brother, Where Art Thou?’s sepia palette, Amélie’s sun-drenched yellow and green, or the blisteringly annoying steely blue of most sci-fi action films like Transformers)–was refreshing. At first it was disconcerting in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance; it felt unpolished. I grew to really appreciate it though, in that film especially, because it lends a realistic feel to the images . Color correction isn’t hard to do. It’s a matter of a few dials, buttons, and toggle switches and you’re all set, so this is not something beyond the filmmakers’ abilities. They consciously choose to shoot with realistic tones. This style is a rarity in American filmmaking. I’m not calling for them to change; I like the difference between the two countries. The use of color correction signals certain themes and genres and allows a director another added level of artistic control. It can be annoying though, especially in poorly made sci-fi and horror, when the color scheme is simply there because that’s the accepted color scheme of a genre. It’s even more annoying on television where, with the exception of reality TV, most procedurals on CBS are given blue tones (just watch an episode of CSI), ABC is garnished with reds and greys, and FOX tends to go with whatever the genre calls for. Sometimes, all the color correction done needlessly all the time becomes tired so I appreciated these films’ decisions to avoid it.

Strong female characters are another large cross-cultural difference. Korea, as I understand it, is much more of a matriarchal society than America, which is almost so individualistic as to be neither patriarchal nor matriarchal, but we tend to slide towards the male-dominated end of character development. Every film I watched, with the exceptions of The Good, the Bad, the Weird and Painted Fire, had female characters at the focal point of the film, and they had depth that is rarely seen in American movies. When a film like Black Swan, which presents strong complex female leads, is released in America, it’s seen as daring and different. (Mind you, Black Swan is daring and different for so much more than just strong female characters, but you get my point.)

In case I never mentioned it, Kang-ho Song = amazing.

Films like Lady Vengeance, Mother, My Sassy Girl, and 3-Iron were striking. The difference to me is that both sexes are given equal consideration and complexity. Female character are not used to bolster the male character, but to play off of each other. The actress’s story is just as important as the actor’s. There is little sense, except in Painted Fire, that women are objects men use, or that men are objects strong women use. Having strong, well-written characters of both genders has removed objectification to some extent in these cases. (Mind you, I’m watching what is considered the best of Korean cinema; it could be different if I watched less highly regarded films.) This is something I wish American films would take a cue from, because strong female characters just improve your story as a whole.

Something where both countries are similar though is in their presentation of bold unhampered violence. By this I mean that violence isn’t pulled away from. It’s a visual experience that causes a visceral reaction. American films have always been preoccupied with violence. It is sometimes a popular criticism of them, but both countries have been moving towards a stark presentation of violence. The Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men is the perfect example of this. Along with David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, we’re seeing more realistic violence in film. The difference is that violence is forthrightly presented as more horrifying instead of the slow-motion glorification of the late 80’s and early 90’s. This is not the period of the John Woos and John McTiernans of earlier.

Korean films follow this trend as well–Chan-wook Park, Ji-woo Kim, and Joon-ho Bong especially. Ji-woo Kim is unique in this category, because he still seems to be glorifying violence and presenting an enjoyable spectacle in The Good, the Bad, the Weird, but he uses the stark violence to make the presentation more fluid and exciting. Park’s use of violence is without a doubt horrifying and grotesque at times, while Bong has a sense of grace and beauty built around the extent of the violence he is willing to show. I personally prefer this style and technique for presenting violence. Gore should disturb; it should frighten the audience. We should cringe and turn away from it, not jump up and clap. (I say this, yet I still love a good action flick, but that’s my own personal struggle to contend with.)

The final two things I noticed go together: a strong concern for the framed shot (which most American cinematographers and filmmakers still have) and a desire for experimentation go together. The things Chan-wook Park and Ki-duk Kim do with editing to control the movement of time in their film is fascinating. All of their films have a strong sense of framing. Every detail is placed within the frame for a purpose. This is more than merely skilled filmmaking; it’s really a persistence to continue bettering the art of film. Ji-woon Kim reminds me of early Spielberg, with a panache for exciting stories and a gift for visual presentation. Joon-ho Bong is like Robert Altman reborn and mainstreamed. Chan-wook Park has the gifts of Martin Scorsese, if Scorsese made sci-fi horror movies. I think these filmmakers will be studied in the future for their editing and framing and their impact on film as an art form.

The greatest thing I’ve taken away from this experience is a greater love for the universality of film. Everyone loves stories, and films are such an amazing way to present something as dense as a novel but only as time-consuming as a short story. I want to keep watching more. I missed several, like J.S.A., Peppermint Candy, Simodo, The Man from Nowhere, Secret Sunshine, A Bittersweet life, The Show Must Go On, Barking Dogs Never Bite, and Thirst. If I had to recommend one film that you must watch from the ten I saw, it would have to be Memories of Murder–it’s an amazing and unique experience in film. If there’s one I’m sure people will love, it’d be The Good, the Bad, the Weird.

I don’t know what I’ll do next, but that’s half the excitement of writing.

James Cameron, Part III: The Future of 3D & Visual Effects

by Nathanael Griffis

So I’ve talked about James Cameron’s past, and Avatar, his present; now is the time to consider his future. He has prophetically spouted his greatness across the land. As annoying as that is, it is hard to deny. The evidence stands undeterred by the critical masses hoping that 3D is not the wave of the future, hoping that movie studios will just make normal films, hoping that we’ll still have money in our wallet at the end of the year. I hate having to pay four dollars more just because the movie is in 3D, and I have only seen two 3D movies (Avatar and Resident Evil: Afterlife) for that reason. Yet, I found myself regretting at times that I was so cheap and didn’t suck it up for, say, How to Train Your Dragon.

You’d think for a million-dollar camera they would have included red-eye removal.

3D is here to stay as long as it keeps making money, and there is no sign of it slowing. Some 3D films are losing at the box office, but others are taking in massive profits. Cameron’s Avatar would have kept on going if it hadn’t been for Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, which stole the 3D screens from him. There is another reason 3D is here to stay, and the reason is simply James Cameron himself.

Seven years ago Cameron decided he wanted to develop a 3D camera that allowed for better control of the depth of field. The issue with most 3D cameras is that they use side by side images. The idea comes from the way our eyes perceive depth, which works when something has actual depth, but film does not. Cameron realized the old red-green filtered images of 3D were stagnant and did not show continuous depth of field. What he needed was a camera that allowed one to adjust the focal point exactly. Enter the Cameron/Pace 3D Fusion camera, and by “enter,” I mean walk down a seven-year-long hallway.

Two cameras for the price of... two cameras.

The Fusion camera differs in that it does not film two side by side images. It utilizes a beam-splitting 50/50 mirror that cuts the actual singular image, giving it depth. It places one camera lens inside the other, essentially. The most amazing thing about the technology is that it is not some massive rig. It’s a small 28-pound camera that’s silent and handheld. The cameraman has complete control of the 3D focal point as he films, and he has to be aware of how he’s filming, because the point needs to shift as the camera moves.

Cameron explaining to his cast something that proves he’s smarter than them.

It’s fascinating stuff, and what’s all the more amazing is that, from everything I’ve researched at least, it was Cameron who worked on it. It wasn’t someone under him; it was him. He also did all the handheld shots in Avatar to make sure the focal point was where he wanted it. (This is not unusual for Cameron, who did most of the camera work for The Abyss, Titanic, the Terminator films, and Aliens as well). The innovation he’s developed has reinvigorated the technological presence of 3D. It’s not a false pseudo-3D with the red-green image. Yes, it still requires glasses–I’ll get to that. There is an actual focal point in the film that our eyes adjust to. This focal point is the main cause of discomfort when you’re watching a 3D film. Your eyes see the depth of the screen and the depth of the image. They are then confused by the fact that there are two conflicting focal points, making your head hurt.

Owwies and boo-boos aside, these innovations will matter, mainly because it will open the door for more innovation. Already, Nintendo is risking a 3D handheld system that eliminates glasses. Televisions are being released with 3D capability. Would any of this have been possible without Avatar? No. Avatar was the movie that the industry was waiting to use as a litmus test for how they should move forward with 3D, and it blew the door down. A note on the glasses: I think they will eventually be eliminated because that is still the major complaint of viewers. Will Cameron be the one to do it? I don’t think so. Too many companies are interested and invested in this technology now. Cameron had seven years without much competition to develop the Fusion camera; this is not the same environment now.

The beauty of Avatar is that the 3D is used, not forced. It never felt like a movie that had to be in 3D. A sword didn’t fly out of the screen at you. It shows the difference between gimmick and technique. It made audiences, and filmmakers, aware of the proper usage of 3D and encouraged a demand for the non-gimmicky display. Cameron’s place in film has long been solidified as a director. Now, unless unexpected events crop up in the next few years, we’ll have to accept that his place as a technological innovator is all but solidified as well. He started off in special effects, and it’s to his credit that he’s never left that behind but improved the entire art form.

–Nathanael Griffis

30 Days of Madness, Day 5: The Black Cat

Oh God! can I not save

One from the pitiless wave?

Is all that we see or seem

But a dream within a dream?

–Edgar Allan Poe

The Black Cat (2007) Written by Dennis Paoli & Stuart Gordon. Directed by Stuart Gordon. Starring Jeffrey Combs as Edgar Allan Poe.

“The Black Cat” is an episode of the Masters of Horror series created by Mick Garris, who was also a writer on Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories series in the 80s. Masters of Horror ran for two seasons on Showtime from 2005 to 2007–two seasons of 13 episodes each, appropriately. Each of these hour-long episodes was a stand-alone horror mini-movie, helmed by a director known for previous work within the horror genre. This particular episode was directed by Stuart Gordon and stars Jeffrey Combs, the director-actor team best known for their work on the 1985 film adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft short story, Re-Animator.

“The Black Cat” is one of Edgar Allan Poe’s most notorious short stories, a typically first-person narrative of one man’s descent into madness, which in this case leads from mutilating his cat’s face with a pen knife during a drunken stupor to an escalation of violence that culminates in a confrontation with his wife in their cellar. This episode of the same title is based in part on the short story and in part on the actual events of Poe’s life in 1840s Philadelphia around the time his wife Virginia (played by the beautiful Elyse Levesque) began showing signs of tuberculosis. They might even have titled it “Edgar Allan Poe in Love,” were “The Black Cat” to Poe as Romeo and Juliet was to Shakespeare. The episode’s plot hinges on Poe’s struggle with writer’s block and on his relationship with the woman he loves and how she, and their pet black cat named Pluto, influence his work. As Virginia descends into disease and Poe descends into alcoholism and depression, his grasp on reality begins to slip away and he experiences the madness that would lead him to write “The Black Cat.” The inception of several other of Poe’s works are also expertly and subtly worked into the plot.

Jeffrey Combs, the man who played Lovecraft’s Herbert West a quarter of a century ago and is best known for that role, was, it seems, born to play Edgar Allan Poe. Not only is he pitch-perfect in his portrayal of the writer’s descent into madness, but he looks so unnervingly like Poe that one may entertain thoughts that the filmmakers had taken a cue from their Lovecraftian work and re-animated the man from his grave. The look of the film is appropriate–almost monochromatic in its hues–appropriately foreboding and appropriately Philadelphian. It is reminiscent of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow in its color scheme, all grays and muted colors until a sudden splash of red that all but glows against its surroundings. In both films, it is this which makes the eventual and inevitable blood all the more vivid.

This would be Pluto's "after" photo--as in, after daddy attacked me with a penknife.

“The Black Cat” is one of the most relentlessly horrifying films I’ve ever seen. It starts with a dramatic reading of “A Dream Within a Dream,” the scratch of a cat’s claws, and a mere speckling of consumptive blood on a white pillow. From there the tension is slowly ratcheted up minute by minute until there is an occurrence of violence, that first fully bloody scene which had me squirming in my seat; but each occurrence of violence only heightens the horror until the next, and the next, escalating in the ferocity of the violence until the thoroughly terrifying climactic confrontation in the cellar. I have rarely been so on edge watching a film, and this for almost its entire running time. It is also, however–and partly because of these things–one of the best horror films I’ve ever seen. It must be one of the closest approximations of bringing the horror of Poe’s writing to life; and, in the tradition of the best horror films, the focus is on the escalation of terror and suspense, as opposed to so many horror films which are only on gore.

I want to be clear on this: “The Black Cat” is an immaculate horror production, one of the best I’ve ever seen, but it is also one of the most horrific and violent I’ve ever sat through. I took a couple of short breaks during its 58-minute running time just to collect myself before I could proceed.

“Yet, mad am I not–and very surely I do not dream. But to-morrow I die, and today I would unburden my soul.” –Edgar Allan Poe, “The Black Cat”

My Netflix rating: 5 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