Archive for Batman: The Dark Knight

Wayne, Bane & Michael Caine

Posted in Comics, FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 11, 2012 by dcairns

Fiona wasn’t sure she wanted to see THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. I said I’d go myself, but she forbade me. So we eventually saw it together (and in IMAX) and in fact she liked it best of all three films — mainly for Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman/Selena Kyle, the only reliable source of humour and sexiness. She was  fan of Michelle Pfeiffer’s work in the role, but Hathaway, though less feline, is more woman-shaped, a fact Nolan even accentuates by having her ride a motorcycle in the doggy position.

This one does seem to me to succeed better than the previous two films, and in fact it could be argued that Nolan’s series defies most if not all historical precedent by improving from film to film.

There’s nothing maybe as extraordinary as Heath Ledger’s remarkable Joker — but to my own surprise I enjoyed Tom Hardy’s Bane, with his ridiculous voice (sounding at times, more in phrasing than accent, like James Mason talking into a polystyrene cup). For a man who’s been through so much (spending his life in the world’s worst prison, having his face smashed off), Bane seems to be constantly very, very happy — I’m judging more by his vocal delivery than by his facial expressions, admittedly. He’s quite inspirational in that way. Of course, he does murder almost everybody he meets. I’m reminded of James Coburn’s diagnosis of CIA assassin Godfrey Cambridge in THE PRESIDENT’S ANALYST — “That’s why you’re so well-balanced: you can get out you’re hostility by actually killing people!”

The film is dotted with favourite actors — Nolan even finds a good use for Matthew Modine, an appealing thesp who seemed to go out of style once his eternal boyishness ceased to match his biological age — and striking faces (stand up, Burn Gorman).

Fiona always maintained that Christian Bale’s Batman voice is that of the dog who can say “sausages” (and “Anthony” and “a jar”) –

It’s nice here to see Bayle given what seems like more talking scenes as Bruce Wayne, who talks like a person and doesn’t require a cheerful northerner to manipulate his jaw muscles.

I did feel a bit sad for Michael Caine, who does too much blubbering in close-up — the kind of big emotion that would play less unpleasantly from a distance. I’ve never had any desire to see Caine blubber (Billy Wilder suggested that strong emotion is best filmed from behind). Incidentally, Alfred the butler in the comics is usually written as a sardonic geezer who masks his devotion to Bruce Wayne with his cutting wit — make him sentimental and the character really loses all depth.

The film is generally better at emotion on the grand, operatic and epic scale rather than the human — which is true of most blockbusters these days, but particularly Nolan’s. Still, it matters than Nolan can deliver the excess required to do this kind of thing well, as attested by the opening aeroplane stunt (featuring a welcome Aidan Gillen) which is gloriously absurd yet put over with po-faced conviction.

Nolan’s shooting and cutting of action has been a talking point throughout this series. There was a cunning plan behind the incoherent cutting of the fights in the first movie — make the audience as confused as Batman’s enemies. The trouble with that idea is that an action movie audience would rather see a stunning action sequence than be plunged into the confusion felt by the third goon from the left just before the caped crusader punches his lights out. The second film was altogether less messy, although by delayed effect it picked up most of the bad reviews for confusing staging (I think only the truck chase really lost me), though I’d agree there was room for improvement.

This time round, we get a chance to see the fights in wide-ish, waist-high shots that actually last more than one punch. Unfortunately, Bale or his stuntman in that heavy outfit can’t really move as fast as we always imagined Batman should be able, so the fights (some set in broad daylight) feel clunky at times. And Batman has a disconcerting way of going in without a plan and getting his ass kicked. The Batman written by Grant Morrison in the comics would never do that, and certainly not twice in a row with the same opponent. It not only makes the character seem dim-witted, and it’s dramatically unsatisfying to see him fail to learn.

But I’m being a touch over-critical — I enjoyed the movie’s sweep, and felt the plot delivered some good surprises that shouldn’t have been possible with such  well-known mythos. Some of this is done by changing character names, and some of it might not have worked if I were more quick-witted, but it felt satisfying to me to find a couple of familiar comic book figures, hiding in plain sight.

“Why so serious?”

Perception

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 19, 2010 by dcairns

If there’s a problem with Christopher Nolan — and I submit, ladies and gentlemen, that there IS a problem with Christopher Nolan — it’s perhaps that, with all his impressive gifts for visualisation, he doesn’t always make the best choices in what to visualise and how to visualise it. My Nolan Problem dates back to his over-cutty, bowdlerized remake of INSOMNIA, and came back to bite me with the incoherent set-piece fights in BATMAN BEGINS (which I mulled over here). I liked THE PRESTIGE a good deal, but had a nagging feeling that the last shot could have crystallized the story a whole lot better if we’d seen clearly the contents of lots and lots of big jars. Instead of a great “Ah-hah!” we get a big “Ah-hah… I think.” But maybe he likes that — the end of the new one could be described as aiming for just that feeling.

Anyhow, I liked THE DARK KNIGHT fine, for what it was — “Big movies have got to get better,” said Soderbergh, before making OCEAN’S 11 thru 13, increasingly proving his own point without solving the problem — and Nolan is closer to attaining this improvement than most of his contemporaries. The problems with TDK are perhaps inherent to the comic book action thriller, which is to say they’re not problems at all for the audience that digs those movies… I like my action sequences to advance the plot, personally…

My INCEPTION Problem has a little to do with clarity — I see no reason why the set-up of the equipment used for dream invasions couldn’t make it pictorially quite clear just WHO is invading and just WHO is being invaded, which would help in the early setting up of the rules. But then I did quite like having to struggle occasionally to follow the story, which is an unfamiliar sensation in modern cinema.

I find the title slightly comical, but here I have to digress and explain why. A few friends were talking movies, and they came up with what seemed at the time like a pretty good thriller idea, set on an oil tanker in the North Sea. One of them suddeny became very excited: “Oh, oh! I know what it should be called! The perfect title!” Drum roll. His friends lean forward in suspense. “CONTAINMENT,” he says.

To me, INCEPTION is like CONTAINMENT — it comes on quite strong as a word sound, but it doesn’t follow through on the level of meaning. It’s not an exciting word.

But my REAL Problem With Inception — which essentially I enjoyed, I have to say — is that the rules set up in the training sequence seem to allow for some fantastic visuals that you couldn’t get in another movie: folding Paris, for instance. And the scary, paranoid threat of all the extras turning hostile when you do things like that. And that isn’t followed through in the action climax, or not to a satisfactory level. The Escher staircase and its variants are very nice, but shouldn’t there be something even bigger than the Paris roll-up? And the way everything explodes when a dream collapses — shouldn’t that have been repeated? Instead we get some well-staged action sequences with guns and explosives. The problem here is that those kind of sequences could occur in any movie — Nolan could have saved the snow attack for a BATMAN movie and we’d be none the wiser.

(My dinner companion of Wednesday night shrewdly points out that this big shoot-em-up seems inspired by Anthony Mann’s THE HEROES OF TELEMARK, but there’s nothing to compare to the wordless, music-less, hushed advance through the snow in that movie, which is sheer poetry.)

So while I enjoyed Joseph Gordon Levitt fighting on the ceiling like a two-fisted Fred Astaire, I wanted more of that kind of thing. A really interesting story world is summoned up here, but the pay-off is overly intercut action sequences (shades of Lucas) which don’t sufficiently exploit the unique qualities of that vision.

Still — the pluses are a really strong supporting cast for Leonardo DiCaprio (who’s not having much luck with the ladies lately) — the very lovely Ellen Page gives it warmth, Tom Hardy and Dileep Rao (most compulsively, amusingly watchable Hollywood new discovery of this century?) give it humour, Watanable and Postlethwaite and Caine and Berenger give it class, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives it that indefinable Joseph Gordon-Levitt Feeling — some fantastic environments, including of course the crumbling city (give me a crumbling city and I’m a happy fellow) and the full-blooded, if derivative, bombast of Hans Zimmer’s score.

Straight to Hell

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 13, 2008 by dcairns

A few spoilers ahead.

Guillermo del Toro with cast. I like Abe Sapiens’ posture here.

Fiona’s a massive Guillermo del Toro fan, and I generally like him. Our favourite is THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE.

So it was with some excitement we sloped off to a preview screening of HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY, but with disappointment we sloped out afterwards. The excellent reviews seemed as if they were written under the spell of PAN’S LABYRINTH, which got the raves that DEVIL’S BACKBONE deserved.

While HELLBOY suffers from too little variety on the monster front, but is somewhat redeemed by a genuinely sweet love story (a complete departure from Mike Mignola’s endearingly simplistic comic book) and some imaginative visuals, the sequel has more monsters than you can shake a Fist of Doom at, but the emotional side is distinctly lacking, while the plot is pretty thin too. It reminds me more than anything of Clive Barker’s NIGHTBREED, a film so packed with monsters as to boggle the mind. Beautiful monsters. But the moviemakers don’t have the slightest idea what to DO with them all.

It all leads me to consider the difficulty of the action movie. The supposed formula of delivering some kind of action every ten minutes (does anybody really do this? I think maybe they do, although the action needn’t be a huge set-piece) creates particular problems for this kind of cinema, since rarely does the action progress the plot or develop the characters, so that the film takes twice as long to tell what’s probably a simple enough story. BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT may be complicated as these things go, but it could probably accomplish its narrative goals in 90 minutes if it didn’t have to keep suspending the plot for another spot of rubber-clad judo.

Extreme examples: Anthony Waller’s AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS, which kind of sank his briefly-promising career, features an extended escape sequence with a chase, a  fight, and a recapture, resulting in the character back where they started, absolutely no further forward in the story; Peter Jackson’s KING KONG, in which the character who can’t shoot a gun can suddenly shoot brilliantly, the goddamn screenwriter is a vine-swinging super-Tarzan and the chubby film director can outrun a raptor.

It’s perfectly possible to use an action sequence to move the plot forward, by having the characters progress towards a goal. And it’s not only possible but NOT HARD to have them stay in character while they do it. One positive thing about HELLBOY is how good Ron Perlman is at doing superhuman stuff in a human way (but the catchphrase “Oh crap,” needs to be retired).

An action movie can obey the rules of basic narrative and still not be particularly good, but it certainly helps if attention is paid to human nature and storytelling and those things. The only alternative would be a kind of playfulness, as attempted in the CHARLIE’S ANGELS films, which are actually kind of radical in the way they ignore all but the most basic story concerns and try to get by on variety: colour, sexiness, jokes and music. But that is hard, almost impossible to sustain over feature length, and even if you manage to pass the time there’s a danger that the audience won’t feel it’s really experienced anything.

HELLBOY II’s weakest scenario may be the fight with the elemental, a giant Miyazaki-like abstract tree spirit, conjured by bad guy Luke Goss (!) for no real reason, and killed by Hellboy without affecting the outcome of anything else. The sole purpose of this expensive set-piece seems to be to show the public turning on Hellboy, an X-Men / Spiderman trope that was, incredibly, handled better in both those series.

There’s also a lot of slightly crude “humour”, much of which is jarring and unfunny. Throwing in “schwanstucker” references after the story’s quasi-tragic denouement just seems crass. New guy Johann Krauss has an interesting look (del Toro’s sketches have been transformed into great costumes by Sammy Sheldon) and a cool backstory (not given in the film), but basically becomes the pretext for a bunch of lame German jokes.

Probably the most foolish decision was to announce a major character’s pregnancy and then do nothing with it. Watching Hellboy deal with the prospect of fatherhood is all very well, but can’t compare to the fun we could have seeing the actuality of Red as a proud pop. Del Toro is obviously saving this up for the putative threequel, which seems a parsimonious approach to this paying customer. If you’ve got a better story to tell, TELL IT.

It doesn’t help that the direction seems lacklustre. Wipes are usually a sign of a film in trouble — here they’re a development of that cutting pattern deployed in PAN’S LABYRINTH, where the camera passes behind something dark and emerges in a new scene, but the device has been amped up to the level of nervous tic. Del Toro does it so often I started to expect a slick digital transition whenever anybody walked past the lens.

Being overpraised for weak work can be as damaging to a filmmaker as being slated for good work. My best hope for del Toro is that he abandon series-based films (his next project, THE HOBBIT, fills me with foreboding) and settle down to tell some complete stories again.

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