23 October 2011
Batman: Year One is a fan favorite series of comics written by Frank Miller. The comics were originally printed by DC Comics issues of Batman #404-407 from February through May. I have read this four issue storyline a few times, like ten. The issues have since been complied and printed in a graphic novel binding.
Year One is a great story that centers of the first appearance of Batman in Gotham City and his interaction and relationship with Lieutenant James Gordon. The miniseries works well in comic form. Yet, DC Universe Animation screwed it up. How bad? Completely. The main reason for this problem stems from making it frame for frame from the comics. While this may seem like a good idea, it makes the story excruciatingly boring. There is very little action, and tons of dialogue. This is not fun to watch. It felt more like I was watching an audio book rendition.
It opens on Gordon (Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad) arriving in Gotham ahead of his pregnant wife, Barbara. He knows that the Gotham City Police Department is corrupt. He is a clean cop that has no problem taking down dirty cops. This does not fly with fellow office Flass and the current Commissioner Loeb (Jon Polito, The Big Lebowski).
In the mean time, billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne (Ben McKenzie, Southland) makes his return to Gotham after a long absence. He decides that he is going to start cleaning up the streets of Gotham to help avenge the murder of his parents. After some trial and error, Bruce decides to go with a bat costume.
While out on patrol one night, Bruce runs into a pimp. After a brief altercation with him, a woman working for him jumps down to confront Bruce in disguise. This woman is Selena Kyle (Eliza Dushku, Buffy/Angel). She later leaves the pimp to take down some crime lord Falcone and runs across Batman trying to do the same thing.
As time passes, Batman becomes hunted by the corrupt police. Gordon becomes a local celebrity due to his crime fighting. Selena Kyle becomes Catwoman. And the movie keeps getting more and more boring. In the end, it works out and all is well.
Batman: Year One has influenced the Batman franchise in many ways. As you can tell, some of the stories have been used in Nolan’s Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Some of it can even been seen in 1993’s Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. It is a very important story to the Batman mythology.
It has been destroyed in this short 64 minute film. This was the first Blu Ray that I have purchased new in a very long time. Needless to say, I was very disappointed. If you are a Batman fan like I am, you are going to watch this anyway. If you aren’t, and you want to know if you should spend your hour watching this, I cannot recommend doing so. I can, however, recommend renting the vastly superior Batman: Under the Red Hood.
21 October 2011
I love westerns. They are few and far between. Lately, they have been worth the wait. Each of the last few years has had a decent entry into this dying genre. Blackthorn is the latest theatrical release, but it pales in comparison to other recent movies such as 3:10 to Yuma, Appaloosa, and True Grit.
Blackthorn tells the fictional story of what happened to Butch Cassidy after he faked his own death against the Bolivian Police in the shootout famously portrayed at the end of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. There are conspiracy theories supporting the idea that he did not die in the gunfight. This concept was explored in Young Guns II, with the possible survival of Billy the Kid.
Blackthorn picks up in Bolivia in 1927, 19 years after the shootout. Butch Cassidy, now using the name James Blackthorn (Sam Shepard), is a farmer and horse breeder. Blackthorn decides it is time for him to return to the U.S. of A. and meet Ryan, who is the child of either Cassidy or Sundance, and a woman that rode with them as an outlaw, Etta Place (Dominique McElligot).
As Blackthorn makes preparations to leave South America and return the States, he comes across a Spaniard mining engineer, Eduardo (Eduardo Noriega). Eduardo mistakenly thinks that Blackthorn is chasing him, and accidentally scares off Blackthorn’s horse. Unfortunately, all of Blackthorn’s money was on the horse. Eduardo then explains that he has stolen money from a wealthy mine owner, and for Blackthorn’s help, he will split the money fifty-fifty, coming out to about $25,000 each. Since his money rode off into the sunset, Blackthorn agrees to help Eduardo retrieve his money, and cross the border into America. Hot on their heels rides a posse of bounty hunters.
Throughout the film, flashbacks tell the story of what happened to young Sundance (Padraic Delaney) and Butch (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) after heading to South America in 1907. These flashbacks are really the only aspect that this film has going for it. It is no secret to the viewers that Blackthorn is Butch Cassidy, but they withhold that information from the rest of the characters until very late in the story. This scene is one of the best scenes in the film. An old Pinkerton (Stephen Rea) that chased Cassidy and Sundance is summoned by a doctor to identify Blackthorn as Cassidy. The interaction between the two aged men is some of the only touching dialog and acting in the entire film.
The biggest downfall of Blackthorn is its feel. It feels like a TNT Original movie made back in the late nineties similar to Dollar for the Dead and Purgatory. It does not feel like a theatrical release. The acting is what you would expect from a TV movie. The directing is what you would expect from a TV movie. This is Mateo Gil’s second feature-length, non-TV movie. This is Miguel Barros’s first feature length screenplay. Sam Shepard’s acting feels over the top and forced at times. Eduardo Noriega’s acting feels like he came off the set of a Telemundo soap opera.
I was hoping for a good old fashioned western. What I got was a glorified TV movie that will be forgotten before it even opens. If I had recorded Blackthorn on my DVR off of TNT, and watched in the comfort of my own home, I think I would have enjoyed it. Sadly, I saw this in theaters. I am not saying that Blackthorn is necessarily a bad movie, it’s just not a great one by any stretch of the imagnation. It will most likely be dead on arrival. It seems I will just have to wait until next year’s Django Unchained by Tarantino for a decent western.
I thought I knew what I was getting into with J.C. Chandor’s directorial debut, Margin Call. The trailer looked like a cross between Glengarry Glen Ross and Wall Street. I am a fan of both of those classic films. Margin Call is not on the same level as those. It is not even on the same ladder. Margin Call is 105 minutes of my life that will never get back.
Margin Call opens with a corporate firing squad arriving to clear house at a large fictional investment banking firm called MSB. They fire a large percentage of employees, including Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), the head of the risk management department. He leaves his work in the capable hands of his junior analyst Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto). Peter finishes the work that Eric started to find out that the company is about to go ass-up. He calls his co-worker Seth Bregman (Penn Badgely) to get their new boss Will Emerson (Paul Bettany) back to the office to see his findings. They call Will’s boss Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey) who in turn calls his boss Jared Cohen (Simon Baker) who then calls his boss and President of the firm, John Tuld (Jeremy Irons).
The whole time, we are not let in on what they do, or really what the problem actually is. All we know is that it is not good, and it affects everyone, even us poor common folk. Somewhere in all this mess, Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore) and Ramesh Shah (Aasif Mandvi) are brought in to double check the numbers, which are confirmed true. When John Tuld appears, we are finally let in on what is going on. The firm has a lot of money invested in mortgages, and the bottom fell out on the housing market, making them the proud owners of lots of dog shit worth less than dog shit.
On the most basic level, Margin Call is a movie about rich people who lose money and how it will affect their rich lifestyles. They talk about how they spend their hundreds of thousands of dollars and how much money the boss at each level of the company made in prior years, and if they will still have a job when all this mess is over. No one ever stops to wonder how it will affect the middle class. This is a film made by rich people about rich people. The biggest douche character in recent film comes in the likes of Seth. What a whiney little bitch. Throughout the movie, he whines that he made over a quarter of a million last year, and that he is only twenty-three -- What is supposed to do now? Who gives a shit?
The script, written by Chandor, is one of the worst I have ever heard. If I had known, I would have kept tally marks for how many times the phrase “Fuck me” was uttered. It has to be about fifty. FIFTY TIMES! Who wrote this? An angry angst-ridden teenager? Margin Call suffers from a lack of plot. By forty-five minutes in, I was bored. By just over an hour, I spotted the first viewer who was actually sleeping in the theater. I am sure she wasn’t the only one.
When we were finally released from this torture, a friend and I decided that we would rather watch all of Michael Bay’s films twice than watch this hunk of junk again. I cannot believe the magnitude of the lifeless acting, terrible script, and uninspiring directing. If you cannot tell, I did not like this movie in the least. Margin Call will be the first film since Skyline that I will bestow the “zero” rating on. There is just no redeeming this pompous pretentious film. Here’s hoping that Chandor never makes another film.
20 October 2011
Real Steel sets a new high for boxing tropes. If you take every Rocky film and roll in Over the Top, you will have some idea of what to expect from Shawn Levy’s latest film. The only difference? This movie features robots. Underdog story? Check. Down on his luck protagonist? Check. Has bad debt from gambling? Check. Bad father? Check. Old love interest? Check. Entertaining anyway? Indeed.
Real Steel opens with Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman), a former pro boxer, waking up to a phone call from his bookie about a debt he owes. He then proceeds to take his robot boxer Ambush out to a fair to fight a bull. As it turns out, the fair is run by Ricky (Kevin Durand, Lost), a former boxing champ that once defended his title against Charlie. Charlie and Ricky up the stakes by making a winner-take-all bet that of course Charlie loses when the bull tears Ambush to shreds.
Now, even farther down on his luck, Charlie finds out that his ex-flame has passed away, and that their son Max (Dakota Goyo) needs a place to live. Charlie makes a deal with his former lover’s sister, Debra (Hope Davis), and her husband, Marvin (James Rebhorn), to give them custody for $100,000. Like all good movie deals, there is a catch; Charlie will get $50,000 now while he watches Max while Marvin and Debra go on vacation for the summer. The other half will be paid in August when Max moves in with Marvin and Debra.
With his new found money, Charlie buys a second robot boxer, Noisy Boy and returns to his old training gym run by his previous trainer’s daughter Bailey (Evangeline Lily, Lost, The Hurt Locker) with his son in tow. It turns out that Max is a fan of robot boxing, so Charlie takes him to an underground boxing fight. The fights are run by Finn (Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker), an old friend of Charlie. Despite young Max’s advice, Charlie takes the main fight against local favorite Midas. As you can guess, this fight does not go well for Charlie.
That night, Charlie and Max break into a junkyard to find parts to rebuild a robot. Max comes across Atom, an old training robot built to take abuse without giving out a lot of abuse in return. Now we have an underdog. The rest of the film plays out as cliché as possible. The film culminates in an epic-wannabe boxing match pitting the proverbial David against Goliath.
I thoroughly enjoyed myself despite the lame the premise. As I mentioned, there is nothing new in Real Steel, but it is clear that writer John Gatins is a fan of sports films. He has written a few second-tier sports films like Summer Catch, Hardball, Coach Carter, and Dreamer. The script is not as tight as it could have been since a lot of the prophetic thoughts are nothing more than obvious drivel. The score by Danny Elfman keeps the movie moving nicely. The soundtrack is made up of old songs, Eminem’s “Till I Collapse”, and new Bad Meets Evil’s “Fastlane.”
Despite offering nothing new and hitting every cliché on the way, I still found Real Steel worth the watch. I got to this movie late, but it has already topped the US Box Office two weeks in a row. It will not accomplish the three-pete because Paranormal Activity 3 will be opening this weekend.
14 October 2011
John Carpenter’s films are always a blast. I say always, and I know that people are going to disagree. That is what is so great about film. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, even if it is wrong. Carpenter is also a multi-talented man of film. He writes, directs, composes, and sometimes even acts. His roles are usually small like when Hitchcock puts himself in his own films. His creative mind has given us such classic characters as Michael Myers and Snake Plissken. He directed Halloween and its first sequel as well as Escape from New York and its sequel. Carpenter also scored both. Halloween has that haunting theme that if you hear it, you know it.
In 1982, John Carpenter reteamed with Kurt Russell to make The Thing. It is based on a 1951 film The Thing From Another World. The Thing is a staple in horror films. The killer is not a psycho, a slasher, or even human. The plot is very reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic Alien. A group of people are isolated from the outside world and have to deal with a killing machine. The stakes are a bit higher in The Thing, but I do not want to take anything away from Alien.
The Thing opens with a mysterious spacecraft entering Earth’s atmosphere. It then cuts to a husky running through the Antarctic tundra. Hot on its tail is a Norwegian helicopter with a rifleman shooting at the dog. The dog makes his way to an American camp, where it finds refuge and the Norwegians find death. The lovable characters of misfits in the American camp include MacReady (Kurt Russell), Childs (David Keith), Blaine (Wilford Brimley), XXXXX. It quickly becomes obvious that the dog is possessed, and now some of the people in the camp could be, too.
The Thing focuses heavily on the paranoia. Everyone in the camp suspects everyone else of being the “thing.” A brief expedition to the remains of the Norwegian camp does not provide the answers they were hoping and looking for. Tension mounts as people are killed by each other and the alien. Tests are made. Tests are given. In the end, a final plan and last ditch effort is conceived.
John Carpenter does a wonderful job making you feel trapped with them. The shots that are outdoors are short, and full of wind and snow. A few shots even have the entire frame in focus, giving them an eerie feel. The score does a good job in heightening the feeling. The visual effects were top notch, for 1982. The hold up well enough. The scene of the head falling off and climbing under the desk is priceless and my favorite scene in the whole film. The movie is completely 1980’s. There are no doubts about it. The computers are reminiscent of my family’s old Commodore 64. The computerized chess match is a nice touch.
The “prelude” comes out this weekend. It fills gap of what happened at the Norwegian camp after they discover the alien entombed in ice. I do not understand why they are making the film, let alone letting it be helmed by a nobody. The trend lately to remake movies with cult followings need to come to an end before they really piss off the wrong crowd. What is the line that they shouldn't cross? I am not a huge fan of The Thing, but I would advise renting this one again before spending the price of admission to watch a shitty “prelude.”
13 October 2011
Alfred Hitchcock is a genius filmmaker. That fact is irrefutable. The only thing he never achieved was taking home the coveted golden Oscar on awards night. He had five nominations in his lifetime, but not a single win. This seems like an absolute travesty. Hitchcock was a film pioneer, and his 1948 film Rope was no exception.
Rope opens with a high outdoor shot of a New York street for the duration of the opening credits. According to some, Hitchcock himself is the man that walks through the scene. The camera then pans over to a window, where the serenity of the outdoors is broken with a jarring scream by David Kentley (Dick Hogan) as he is strangled to death by his two boyhood friends Brandon Shaw (John Dall) and Phillip Morgan (Farley Granger) with a rope. They then conceal the body in a chest.
After they hide the body, Brandon and Phillip discuss what it means to murder someone. They talk about how killing is an art - how many people talk about it, but only a few actually do it. From the get go, it is obvious that Brandon is more confident and pleased with what they have accomplished. Phillip, on the other hand, feels guilty and nervous. Brandon’s confidence and brazenness leads him to move the focal point of the dinner party that he throwing from the dinner table to the chest.
While they are moving the tablecloth, candelabras, silverware, and napkins, Brandon’s housekeeper, Mrs. Wilson (Edith Evanson), returns to the apartment. She promptly complains about the change of venue for the dinner party. As preparations come to an end, the first dinner guest arrives. Kenneth (Douglas Dick), a boyhood friend of David, Brandon and Phillip, asks why they are celebrating with champagne. Brandon simply explains that it is a going away party.
Next to arrive is the beautiful Janet Walker (Joan Chandler). She is the ex-girlfriend of both Brandon and Kenneth, though the latter still wants to be with her. She is also the current girlfriend of David. Following her arrival, David’s father Mr. Kentley (Cedric Hardwicke) comes with his sister, Mrs. Atwater (Constance Collier), instead of Mrs. Kentley, who was unable able to attend due to illness. Mr. Kentley has come to see some first edition books that Brandon owns. With four of the five guests present, the discussion turns to the whereabouts of David. He is never late. No one has heard from him. He told some that he would meet them there.
Finally, the last party attendee, Rupert Cadell (Jimmy Stewart), arrives. Rupert was the head master at the school that all four of the boyhood friends attended. He relays stories from their boyhood days. Apparently, while they were in his school, they discussed death and murder. They believed that the superior people of the world could and should kill the inferior people. This discussion leads to some comedic relief by talking about how long lines would be eliminated if society created “Cut Her Throat Week” and “Strangulation Day.” In the end, the discussion came back to David and the peculiarity of his absence. As the party continues, Rupert starts to suspect Brandon and Phillip are hiding something leading to the apex.
Rope is based on a play by Patrick Hamilton titled “Rope’s End.” It was adapted by Hume Cronyn and the screenplay was written by Arthur Laurents. I could very easily see this being performed on a stage. Sadly, that is also why the movie did not work that well. The suspense was not as palpable as one would expect from a Hitchcock film. Vertigo, Psycho, North by Northwest and Notorious are all very suspenseful. I did not find myself on the edge of my seat while watching Rope. With the long takes, I would have expected to feel uncomfortable, but I actually felt more like I was watching a stage play instead of a motion picture.
Back in 1948, the most film that a camera could hold was ten minutes. So, Hitchcock shot Rope in ten minute continuous shots. In total, there are only ten cuts in the film, and a lot of them are hidden. I watched intently to see if I could catch all of the cuts, and I only missed one. A lot of them were hidden by crossing behind a character or object blacking out the screen. A few were pan shots. After consulting Wikipedia, I realized the only one I missed was a still shot of the hallway with no movement in the scene.
By filming it this way, the story is told linearly and in real time. The real time aspect is rarely done, and I quite enjoyed it here. It did have a High Noon feel to it. Filming in ten minute segments also put a lot of pressure on the mise-en-scene and keeping everything in focus. I was amazed at the smoothness and flawlessness achieved in the zooming. The actors also impressed me, specifically Dall and Granger. They had the most lines, and had to deliver them all flawlessly for minutes at a time. Most actors today do not have to memorize more than a few seconds of dialog and movement. While Rope is not on par with his other classics, Hitchcock’s first color film and first collaboration with Jimmy Stewart still finds a way to impress.