Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises! Review! Cross-Promotion!

It wouldn’t make much sense to not actually review the damn movie, right?
Well, I did. Just not here. Click below and head over to the Off Duty Mime.
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Three Batman Ideas You Don’t Care About

 
It should go without saying, but SPOILERS BE AHEAD.
 
Ask half of the IGN Comics staff and they’ll swear to you that Alex Pappademas of Grantland definitely wasn’t the first to conceive of a Gotham Central weekly procedural, but if there’s one way The CW will get my attention it’s definitely with a Law & Order meets Batman television series:
In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by 
two separate yet equally important grops: the police, who 
investigate crimes; and the district attorneys, who prosecute the 
offenders. 
 
There’s also a Batman.



If Mariska jumps on board, all the better. Take my money, Warner Bros. Here! Just take it already, dammit!

Alas, I fear the days of a live action Batman show are no more, and the most realistic options remain another animated incarnation and the — dare I say dreaded? — franchise reboot. This was inevitable, right? Nolan gives much more than an inch, and the universe promptly requests a mile in return. I don’t think sticking the mask on Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the obvious choice here, though, and that’s for several reasons:

They have very little. 

Let’s face it; the future of DC Comics on film doesn’t look so bright without Batman. Man of Steel is due out next summer and there’s that Green Lantern sequel (?) waiting in the wings. Other than that, though… With its half-assed Justice League announcement, Warner Bros. is obviously looking to exploit DC’s other comic properties before bringing out the caped crusader again. Creative could definitely make a filmic iteration work, too. For Aquaman you could play up the King of Atlantis stuff and th- pfft who am I kidding? This would never work. Remember how Twentieth Century Fox nixed Wolverine’s bright yellow spandex for Hugh Jackman? Well, Warner Bros. has like, seven Wolverines to deal with. On that note…

They’re already behind.

As in both financially and figuratively. Fortunately, the studio has little excuse not to slap that oh so pleasing 3D post-conversion stamp now that Mr. Nolan is moving on. That’s a good thing, yes? No? And despite The Dark Knight Rises‘ impressive first week showings, even hyped IMAX demand can’t compete with those damn 3D gla$$es. The Avengers are the box office overlords this summer, and they’ll probably stay on top for a while. DC and Warner Bros. are going need to do some serious thinking if they want to stay relevant in this superhero genre with more than two properties. And let’s not even consider the success of another Avengers movie in two years. By that point, if Stan Lee is still kicking, let’s just throw the man on the next presidential ballot and pledge national servitude.

Closure.

Talk until you’re blue in the face about how Joker is Batman’s greatest enemy; for any comic book tent pole, the biggest baddie will always be Captain Closure. Despite that ending montage, it turns out The Dark Knight Rises ties everything up quite nicely. John Blake is there at the end, but he’s a thematic thread, not an excuse for a sequel. I read his character as more in service to the idea of a symbol’s power to inspire, to be “more than just a man.” The “Robin” wink was either cool or groan-inducing, depending on who you talked to. Personally, I wish they would’ve said his legal name was “Nightwing.”

More to the point, give me a story idea in this pre-constructed universe that wouldn’t feel derivative. Can you think of one? Can any member of this courtroom today think of one? The prosecution rests, your honor. *cues Gotham Central theme*

We’ll see another Batman movie before the end of this decade. That’s a fact. While those 3D price hikes put Marvel in first place this year, Batman remains the most popular hero. Sure, Tony Stark has his snark, and you can’t go wrong with your friendly neighborhood Spider-man, but Bats takes the cake. Hands down. Even my parents, grown adults in their mid-fifties, saw The Dark Knight in theaters. These are two people who normally think 100 minutes is “pushin it” for a 4 o’clock Sunday matinee. Joss Whedon’s great and all, but Avengers is no cultural phenomenon. A cultural phenomenon happens when a baseball podcast gets sidetracked talking about The Dark Knight Rises. Which it did.

Maybe Twins fans just need all the entertainment they can get this summer, or maybe my ears are just pressed to the wrong channels. I doubt it, though. Batman rules, so here are three obligatory possibilities:

Blake-man Begins

Won’t happen. Hit me up on PayPal if you really want to test this. Still, I enjoy these self-indulgent blog posts oh so much, and I’ve spoken with others who have seen it and suggested this route, so it wouldn’t seem fair to breeze over such a huge possibility. 

I like Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Judging from the buzz about Rian Johnson’s Looper, I think he would make a fine action lead. That said, I’ll repeat my previous question: What story is there left to tell in this universe?

I don’t think there is one, not one worth a $150 million investment. Judging from the hype/backlash machine Rises has spawned, Christopher Nolan was his own biggest threat to delivering on such high expectations. So really, what schmoe would have the balls to step into the Nolan-verse and add a fourth film to this much finality? Maybe Shyamalan. So like, we get Drew Barrymore for Poison Ivy right, but she’s actually Bruce’s mother because get this, his parents AREN’T dead. So when Mark Wahlberg comes back in the twist… 

These last three films are neither conclusive nor are they final, but they are pretty damn definitive. If you’re trying to match Jordan’s threepeats, switch to tennis. Obligatory sports analogy.

Introduce Robin

Not “that” one. The actual Robin. Or an actual one, I guess. If Rises proved one thing, it’s that there are situations where Batman can’t win by himself. But start with the team already intact. No more origin stories for the love of Jeebus. Make Batman and Robin already a thing before credits even roll. Give me a cold open where they tag team Killer Croc in the Gotham Sewers.

This is also an easy way to not stray too far from Nolan’s films while still keeping the material fresh. Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely did just that and more. Not only did they put milquetoast Dick Grayson under the Batman cowl, but Robin was the badass little shit. They also upped the weird factor with their story arcs: one of Bruce’s ex-girlfriends survives a gaping gunshot wound to the head and seeks revenge on the Dynamic Duo; Jason Todd, the lamest, deadest Robin, returns from the grave as Red Hood to tarnish Batman’s standing in Gotham; Batman and Robin go up against Professor Pyg, a psychopath obsessed with body mutilation, and his Circus of the Strange, where Gothamites are controlled by psychic doll masks permanently glued to their faces. Awesome.

Morrison & Quitely even devised a “Batman VS. Robin” story arc where, well you get the idea.  Batman and Robin doesn’t have to be this awkward, homoerotic codpiece thing either, especially if you were to mind the age gap between the two. But then maybe that would be too Greek.

Batman Beyond

Forget those other ideas. This is what Warner Bros. should do with the Batman property, because as far as I’m concerned, every board exec diligently follows me on Twitter. For an animated series, Batman Beyond is one dark and brooding meditation on its predecessor.




It’s hard to argue that the futuristic Matrix-steam punk thing wouldn’t visually set this apart from the Nolan-verse. But if Warner Bros. gets antsy about straying too far, Beyond has the built-in convenience of staying grim in tone. It also gives the studio a chance to inject more humor into the franchise. I laugh out loud plenty watching The Dark Knight, but it’s no Tony Stark Roasts The Avengers. Enter Terry McGinness, a smart ass punk who dons a futuristic upgrade of the Batsuit under the begrudging mentorship of, yup, bitter old Bruce Wayne. McGinness is much more Spidey with a cowl than he is Kevin Conroy’s gloomy take on Wayne. A wise-cracking Batman with a crotchety veteran’s limitless resources? I’m in.

You could even introduce all those villains that probably wouldn’t work as well before like Clayface or a Mr. Freeze that doesn’t blow ass. Not to mention the series has plenty of its own villains to mine ideas from. And for those clamoring for it, here’s a chance for a different take on The Joker, and one that wouldn’t be a slight on Ledger’s performance. Hell, throw in Harley Quinn while you’re at it. Give directorial control to District 9‘s Neil Blomkamp or Duncan Jones from Moon. Better yet, give it to Fincher and tell him to bring his Se7en sensibilities along.

When’s this movie supposed to be coming out?

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My Buddy is a Cage – Matchstick Men (2003)

I’ll watch anything with Sam Rockwell in it. Duncan Jones safely saw to that. It’s through fortunate happenstance then that this week’s film has Nic Cage in it, too. And yes, this is the form my delusion is taking.

On the subject of my many delusions, I feel I must admit to another one, for my prior understanding of Cage needs an addendum. Before I believed that nothing short of a gag and a commanding director were required to keep the hammy actor at bay. I was wrong:



Roy Waller (Cage) is a con man in a perpetual state of half-insanity, as he suffers from a series of nervous tics and a terrible bout of obsessive compulsive disorder; not the best combo for soloing a heist. Fortunately, his partner Frank Mercer (Rockwell) is a much better public face for this two-man operation. At the behest of Frank, Roy sees a new psychiatrist (Bruce Altman) who suggests the eccentric matchstick man come to terms with past mistakes, a process that leads him to connect with his now teenage daughter Angela (Alison Lohman).



I would divulge into more of the plot but it’s really best if one goes into this film knowing as little as possible. Ridley Scott’s adaptation of Eric Garcia’s novel fancies itself a sleek, smart-assed heist film, and if you were to switch to Olympic basketball exhibition games after fifteen minutes, you’d probably agree. Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mercer, and Bobby Darin all saturate Matchstick Men, nearly to the point of watering it down as a derivative copycat hot on the heels of 2002’s most excellent Catch Me If You Can. To its credit though, this is a film that works very well on two separate levels. 

As evidenced by that half-synopsis, there is a human element to the relationships explored here. Alison Lohman is convincing as all hell, playing a 14 year old girl despite being 22 at the time. With Cage’s nervous tics and a sanitary penchant that would even rival Howard Hughes, this script faced a very real threat of devolving their bond into a clone of I Am Sam. Fortunately, it never goes there, and that’s mainly thanks to that second level.


After all, it wouldn’t be a heist film without a con. Rarely do I miss an opportunity to polish Christopher Nolan’s cinematic shaft, but it’s not a stretch to suggest that Matchstick Men is the ‘grifter’s equivalent’ of The Prestige. The latter is a cerebral fable of obsession and dedication, specifically to magic illusions, and precisely because the film itself doubles as sleight of hand. Matchstick’s story is a ruse, too, right from that slicked back opening credit sequence. You might think you have this film figured out, as did I, but probably only a portion of it. 



One of at least 150 “Best of Nic Cage” YouTube videos out there — if I were making an educated guess — features a scene from Matchstick Men, and while it is very Cage-y, it occurs when Roy is at a breaking point, so I buy it. Having just botched a pretty big con, Roy discovers that he’s all out of the pink pills Bruce Altman’s been handing him under the table. Of course, all those twitches and kicks eventually catch up to him. And of course, one can pass time by obsessively sterilizing apartment furniture for only so long. Thus, Roy Waller’s trip to the pharmacy:

Spielberg will always have a sleak, polished feel that so rarely delves into the controversial. At first, I didn’t understand what attracted to Scott to this project, but I think this might be part of it. Despite the easy listening soundtrack and its starched and collared presentation on the surface, Matchstick Men ain’t afraid to get its hands dirty, so the sly touch of menace here separates it from Catch Me If You Can. This isn’t a feel-good story so much as it is a balancing act, a temporary one of course, as all good heist films show the temptation of that EXIT sign. By the end, we know Roy’s winking at us; it’s just before then where those winks might be tics.

* * * * *

Want more Cage? You got it.

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How a Few Serious Men Beat Ridley Scott to the Punch

Prometheus is hardly the topic on anyone’s mind right now; that honor goes to another film. However, in revisiting the Coens’ 2009 release, A Serious Man, I was struck by how much more I got out of a second viewing. This is a densely complex, Book of Job-ian tale from Joel and Ethan Coen that weaves in very bleak humor as much as it questions the values of tradition in Judaism. It also does a much better job answering questions from Ridley Scott’s latest sci-fi monster mashup, even if it replaces a mysterious planetoid with 1960’s Minnesotan suburbia.

Let me back up.

To say that Larry Gopnik is a man constantly tested isn’t an understatement; it’s almost a lie. His wife is leaving him with the added bonuses of his home, savings account as well as sole custody of two children. Larry also might not get tenure at the university. Oh and Larry’s brother, Arthur, loafs about his house, squatting for what seems to be an eternity while he finishes writing The Mentaculus, his “probability map of the universe.” And because this all is simply not enough, Larry’s son is a pothead with a penchant for slipping cash out of his wallet, and maybe signing up his father for a steady barrage of bills from the Columbia Record Club. There are moments in A Serious Man that play out, as mentioned earlier, like the Book of Job. At other times, its desolation plunges so deep that we can’t help but laugh at the darkness it shows us. It certainly doesn’t help that Larry is as feckless as they come.

That said, he isn’t spineless enough not to at least ask questions, and Larry has a lot of those. To simply catalogue the barrage of uncertainty Larry’s faces would be a disservice to the sudden avalanche, but the philosophical essence of A Serious Man does beckon attention by way of a lone query: Why? Likewise, Prometheus dances around a similar question, and regardless of Larry’s trivial minutiae in comparison to galactic exploration, to world seeking, there’s nothing less noble about his pursuit for answers.

A great deal has already been said about Ridley Scott’s summer thriller earlier this year, much of which objects to Prometheus’ haphazard and almost derivative third act. To stretch an obvious metaphor, the film is a ship that departs on a noble voyage, yet its discovery is the blackest of coal, quite literally but also thematically. There’s no real payoff. Scott’s ultimate failure in Prometheus isn’t not answering the why’s and wherefore’s of human existence; rather, I think buried under Lindelof and Spaihts’ half-baked mystique lies an intriguing thesis that suggests there is no answer behind humankind’s place in the universe.

It’s a shame then that the film ultimately sweeps that answer under the rug in favor of delivering contrived slasher beats. Run for your lives! Prometheus‘ characters assume they find meaning in science and rules, as does our own Professor Gopnik. Where the former story fails is when its own characters fail, specifically in adhering to their own rigid, supposedly rational economy. A scientist doesn’t remove his helmet when an atmosphere ‘seems’ hospitable. A scientist doesn’t coo at strange new life with an outstretched hand. Above all else, a scientist learns exactly what kind of space mission they’re embarking on before they actually leave.

In his physics lessons, it’s clear Larry follows similar rules and rational principles. yet he receives nothing but disappointment in return. Nudging his television antenna one way fixes the fuzz on channel 4, but now 6 is all blurry. There’s a moment when Larry lectures on the irony of the uncertainty principle, a theory that hints how everything we think we know might not be so. We may never know the answers. Sound familiar? Larry, as any professor of theory might be, is genuinely excited by this concept, but his failing isn’t like the crew of the Prometheus. Larry plays by the rules, even when the obvious shortcut is staring him straight in the face: We may never know the answers.

Once again contrary to Prometheus, when Larry accepts a failing student’s bribe to up his final marks in the grade book, it makes sense. This man is at the end of his wits. He’s served Hashem, listened to sage wisdom, even smoked some pot. Larry’s done everything right, and now, to paraphrase a Romany Malco line, ‘it’s time to try a little wrong, dawg.’

Danny Gopnik is Larry’s son, but his narrative function is that of a double for Larry himself and the choices he makes. After all, the recently bar mitzvah‘ed boy is technically a man now, too. It’s sloppy string theory, but in Danny lies the key. Danny does everything Larry doesn’t, maybe short of smoking some pot. Forget seeking advice from the rabbis; Danny barely chokes his way through the Torah reading, and yet the miscreant who sneaks a radio bud in one hear whilst feigning interest in Hebrew lessons is the one granted permission to see the famed Rabbi Marshak. Rabbi Marshak’s requisite bar mitzvah advice to Danny goes as follows:

When the truth is found to be lies
and all the joy within you dies

And that’s it. A line from Jefferson Airplane. Marshak tells Danny to “be a good boy” before returning his confiscated radio and sending him on his way. All that from the man Larry Gopnik wasn’t important enough to see. Even when we get answers, they’re often not the ones we want much less the ones we understand, and that understanding applies as much to Marshak as it does to Larry’s baked offspring.

I failed to mention that A Serious Man begins with a musty polaroid of a prologue, where a Jewish man invites a family friend, Traitle Groshkover, over for dinner. However, the man’s wife objects on the grounds that Groshkover has long been dead, so when Groshkover does come knocking for soup and hospitality, she plunges an icepick into his chest. Still bleeding, Groshkover walks out into the blistering cold. Was he in fact alive? Or was Groshkover really an evil spirit as the wife suspected? A dybbuk? We’re never told. Rather than fail at giving an impossibly satisfying answer, the Coens would ask questions and let them hang. They’re never met with explanations or elaborations or even the unexpected monster chase, and thank God for that. 

We can, right?

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At a Loss

Given the gut punch in Aurora, CO early this morning, there are more important things to reflect on than a Batman movie today. I have nothing profound to say, but I think sometimes saying nothing is maybe the best action to take.

On that note, I’ll leave you with a single sequence from its predecessor should you go see The Dark Knight Rises at some point this weekend:

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Reflections, Erections on Four Years of Batman Speculation

Habitual viewings of bad Nicolas Cage movies on a weekly basis bring with them an inevitability of turning stale. Just like Batman. Well, maybe. After all, I’ve spent the better part of four years thinking (and SOMETIMES WRITING) about just what in the hell was going to happen after 2008. Three trailerbreakdowns were probably excessive, sure. Just be glad I didn’t keep that going with the “exclusive” Nokia one or the 37 TV Spots that have come out since. Fortunately, I can’t recall any ESPN tie-ins like Prometheus. Call me crazy but I have zero desire to listen to Jalen Rose tell me how a Ridley Scott film relates to Russell Westbrook’s double-double.

Sadly, the Majestic Wolf Blog wasn’t my first outlet for an exercise as futile as Bat-blogging (it’s a thing). My sophomoric ambitions jizzled into a thankfully now-defunct Batman sequel blog. As in, well, you get how sad that is. Too bad those whopping seven posts (count it) couldn’t hide from the powers of Google. Rereading douche “auteur” Davesie has made two observations very clear:

  1. Spring semester ’09 was more of a social desert than I chose to remember
  2. Having friends be damned, I was right about a lot!

A LOT! I’ve even screencapped the best bits so you could see how professional I’ve gotten after repeat senior years:

I’m surprised I wasn’t just calling him “Chris” given how much of an in I apparently had. Yeesh. Totally called Two Face biting the big one, though, and I bet I was a righteous dickwad to any naysayers: Bitch, please. If they wanted it to be “ambiguous,” Gordon wouldn’t have eulogized the shit out of that ending. And if anyone scrounges up a lost Facebook photo of “Chris” and I at what was clearly one of many social soirees at the BFI, do let me know.

That’s two, yo. But really, did anyone think a production operation as classy as Legendary Pictures would swap in Johnny Depp for a sequel? BLASPHEME. So you go right back to your next Tim Burton carnival of horrors project, Johnny. Right back.

The hell was I thinking?! That’s the BEST of ideas. Although as I mention, I can’t take credit for it. Joker-meets-Rosemary Kennedy was drunkenly gurgled out one summer on a buddy’s boat. A part of me thinks they should’ve canned David Goyer on this last one and just brought in a few cases of Bud Select.

So yeah, got waaay into Batman. My memory fails me but I recall my super-blazed self typing out the world’s most self-indulgent treatment of a sequel where Catwoman and Black Mask draw Batman out of seclusion. Black Mask provided a threat to Bruce Wayne not Batman, and Catwoman totally messed with boundaries between good and bad, all with the built-in luxury of replacing the ghost of Katie Holmes’ side smile. Because fuck that thing. Let this serve as public record of how right I was so come midnight I can sit back with a smug smirk on my face at all you mouth-breathers who thought Riddler would totally fit, man. EASE UP, NEWBS. Three years ago, I had like… 7% of this shit figured out.

I can still hold myself accountable, though. Here are a few predictions for The Dark Knight Rises. And none of them involve Hathaway side boob. Ya pervs:

1. Bruce Wayne will NOT die

Why? Just why? Death is an escape in these movies, not a noble end. Everyone who dies goes out like a punk, too. Most of them aren’t even fortunate enough to blow up in a massive train ‘splosion or fall off some scaffolding shit. You know what? Commissioner Loeb’s kind of a dick. For this next one, Joker should off him. With… ACID BRANDY.

2. Gotham WILL find out Bruce is Batman, proceed to crap its collective pants

Durr.

3. Bane knows the League of Shadows

I’ve written enough on this already, so double durr right thur.

4. “I will find you, and I will kill you. And also maybe make a cameo.”

I’m 97% percent sure on Ra’s being dead, but “Chris” likes his flashbacks and time jumps as much as the next director. Liam Neeson’s in this thing, albeit for minutes only.

5. ‘Miranda Tate’ my ass.

I don’t care if they change it to “Tandy” or “Tasha” or “Twiddley Twat,” but if Talia al Ghul ain’t bringing Gotham to its knees by reel 6, HEADS WILL ROLL.

6. Alfred or Lucius WILL die

This last one’s more of a shot in the dark but hey, we all take risks. Amiright, Sony? You better believe Christopher Nolan has the cajones to kill off Red or Muppets Scrooge. Stakes, man. Stakes.

One last thing. I’d be remiss in failing to mention IndieWire’s Matt Singer and a reference he made to a tweet from yours truly earlier this week:

Does minor Twitter fame last more or less than fifteen minutes? Please do read his update on the diarrhea-inducing saga of The Fanboys vs. The World.

As Joss Whedon saw to, the comic book movie genre now exists in a post-Avengers world, like it or not, and as Nolan’s movies take a bow and exit stage right, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious as to Batman’s direction in the future. At the same time, I think this stuff is beginning to tax my interests as of late. I’m just not as thrilled for a Bhor or Cap sequel as much as say, The Master this fall. But even if after all this hype The Dark Knight Rises turns about to be more Episode I than Episode V, this has been a tremendously thrilling four-year distraction. And now, all that’s left is waiting. 

MY BODY IS READY.

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Comic Cons

I unfollowed 12 Twitter accounts this afternoon, many of them comic book-related. Call it cynicism, maturity or even overexposure, but I am quickly beginning to tire of caped crusaders and their hyper-marketed dominance in today’s movie theaters.

I know. I know. Glaring hypocrisy. But something happened earlier this afternoon that was absolutely inexcusable.

Film critic Marshall Fine posted  — as of 15:45 PM Monday — the only negative review on Rotten Tomatoes. Within hours, a deluge of negative comments, including death threats directed specifically at Fine, were posted on the page. And why?


Because he compared The Dark Knight Rises to a Transformers installment. 

Honestly, get a life. This zealous fanaticism — the same kind that ten years ago birthed rabid Phantom Menace nerds and their quest to give Titanic a “1” as much as possible on iMDb — might be the real turn-off from comic book movies. Obviously, not all (and I’d like to think not the vast majority) of True Believers engage in this behavior, but it is absolutely ludicrous to reject criticism on a film 99% of the world hasn’t even seen yet. Come Thursday night, while I doubt I’ll agree with Marshall Fine’s viewpoint on the film, I know that the ad hominem attacks are despicable. More importantly, Fine’s actual review, as far as I can tell, has been taken down, so now I can’t even read it.


Film criticism exists for a reason: to generate valuable discussion. For the millions of people who adore The Godfather, I guarantee there are those who find it a long-winded bore. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s amazing how many doors the internet age has opened up in the last twenty years, maybe the most dangerous of which is the sheer anonymity commenters gain.

For more on the story, head over to IndieWire. Ugh.

Update: Matt Atchity, Rotten Tomatoes’ Editor in Chief, has released a statement on this mess. Along with temporarily disabling all comments for Dark Knight Rises reviews, Atchity maintains that Fine’s review will still count, even if his site has temporarily crashed from angry traffic:

“But the score will not be affected. His Rotten review still applies to the score, even if the link isn’t active at the moment.”

“If a critic often goes against the majority, but has well-reasoned arguments, it’s unlikely we’re going to ban them, at least not just for having a different opinion. We’re not looking for groupthink here.”

Amen. Comments have not been disabled on Atchity’s piece, so feel free to express yourselves there.

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