Friday, July 18, 2008

The Dark Knight? More Like The Dork Knight, Am I Right Guys? Guys? Nuthin? Ah Well


Yes, The Dark Knight is all these things and much more. First, let me get the details out of the way for those of you living under a rock that don't pay attention to movies. This is straight from the front page of IMDB, because I got less than four hours of sleep last night and there's no way I can be this succinct this morning.

The Dark Knight reunites director Christopher Nolan with star Christian Bale, who returns to continue Batman's war on crime. With the help of Lieutenant James Gordon (Gary Oldman) and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), Batman sets out to destroy organized crime in Gotham for good. The triumvirate proves to be effective, but they soon find themselves prey to a rising criminal mastermind known as The Joker (Heath Ledger), who thrusts Gotham into anarchy and forces the Dark Knight ever closer to crossing the fine line between hero and vigilante.
Not listed are Maggie Gyllenhaal playing the absent Katie Holmes character Rachel Dawes, more on her later. Morgan Freeman as Wayne's tech man and head of Wayne Industries (or whatever they call the company in the movies,) Lucius Fox. And of course, Michael Caine as Bruce's butler and confidant, Alfred Pennyworth.

Before I get any further, allow me to confirm the hype, or add to it more, depending on your point of view, about Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker. Like others, I thought that much of the praise built around Ledger's role was influenced by the tragic circumstances of his death. I was wrong. I also have some inkling of the dark places Ledger had to go to get into the character on the screen. He was creepy, dangerous, insane, funny, and deadly. To put it into perspective, Heath Ledger's Joker is to Jack Nicholson's Joker as Christian Bale's Batman is to Adam West's Batman. I have never seen a more chilling portrayal of the character, nor do I ever expect to again. Hollywood can never bring The Joker back, because no one can follow Ledger's performance without unfavorable comparison. A posthumous Oscar is the least Ledger should receive.

And that's part of what was so exhausting about the movie. Ledger's performance was so in-depth and emotional, that I couldn't help but be drawn in emotionally as well. Not to mention watching new life breathed into this old character was so exhilarating that coming down from that couldn't help but be draining.

I did not expect the extent of the Harvey Dent/Two-Face story that we got as well. Eckhart was good. Not as good as Ledger, but who could be here? Not only was he good, but the special effects made him Two-Face. I'm not talking about cheesy latex prosthetics a la Joel CRAPmacher's Tommy Lee Jones Two-Face. I'm talking, "Good lord! You can see his cheek muscles! His eye is totally exposed! His teeth are completely visible! Is that a jawbone! Gross! Awesome!" You can tell Eckhart understood Two-Face's insanity and captured the character's particular unhinged dichotomy.

He's another reason this movie was exhausting. That is especially true considering his climactic scene, of which I will give nothing away, nothing, I tell you!

Unfortunately, I don't have all good to say about the latest Batman installment. Maggie Gyllenhaal? Really, Nolan? Really? You can't get Holmes so Gyllenhaal is your choice? Seriously? She looks horrible through the entire movie. There's a scene, part of which is in the previews, wherein The Joker encounters Gyllenhaal's Rachel at a benefit at Wayne's penthouse. He reacts to her as if she is the most beautiful woman in the room. Only she's so not. It's not that she's ugly. She's not really. But attractive? No way. She looks old and tired. Her hair is a limp mess through the entire movie. She can't fill out a dress half as well as the extras in the same scene. It was sad, really it was. She doesn't have any chemistry with either Bale or Eckhart, the latter of which plays her current beau in the movie. She's an average actress to boot. I really don't understand this casting decision.

Bale does a great job as Wayne/Batman yet again. Stacy and Jamie both mentioned that he looked really skinny. Can't say that it bothered me. His costume was a little odd. In order to make the turning of his head easier, presumably, they cut the cowl inward very close to the chin. The effect was to make his head look more round. I suppose I'm used to the cowl going straight into the cape, so it was a little jarring. Hardly much of a complaint considering past Hollywood interpretations of the character. The only real complaint I had about Bale's Batman was his final conversation with The Joker (the previous ones were all entertaining, oh and exhausting,) Bale doesn't so well with the voice change to Bats. He tries a little too hard to make it gravelly. This isn't a problem unless he's shouting, then he sounds a little silly. Still not much of a complaint, but it was a little jarring.

My final comment about the movie was the message it delivered, sometimes subtly, sometimes in your face; people are inherently good. While I generally don't like people, the message of hope still appealed to me. It was one of the scenes that delivered this statement that was extremely dark and exhausting, but ultimately satisfying and a relief. I hate being so cryptic, but I'm really trying to avoid being spoilerific. I think you'll know the scene when you see it. It's not the only one with the message, but the one where it is most clearly delivered.

The plot was chilling and twisty, the action was intense, the comedy was dark, the acting was superb (except where noted,) and the cinematography was excellent. Oh, and the Bat-bike was cool. I give The Dark Knight thirteen out of fifteen cat-proof batsuits on a scale that I just made up that doesn't mean anything.

Did I mention that I'm watching it again tonight? Jon and I discussed it after last night's advance viewing. Can we watch it two nights in a row, as emotionally exhausting as it was? Of course we can, because it was awesome.

P.S. Damn them for making a Watchmen trailer that actually makes me want to see the movie.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Hancock and Hellboy, It Was a Good Week and a Half

Within the past couple of weeks, I've been to see both Hancock and Hellboy II. Here are my (un)timely reviews.

Why So Bitter, Critic?

Hancock has received a pretty miserable 37% at Rotten Tomatoes for reasons unknown (read: I'm too lazy to read through their reviews.) All I can figure is that as children, the reviewers were thrown bodily into the upper atmosphere by a scruffy super-powered wino. I'm sure each of them stumbled off to cry to momma and vowed to pan any movie based on their experience when they became a big powerful

Yeah, you ain't so big, critic. Plus, you're mother dresses you funny.

Will Smith, Charlize Theron, and Jason Bateman star in this superhero story surprisingly not based on a comic book. It was directed by Peter Berg, currently directing Dune (another one?) Smith plays Hancock, a perpetually drunk, bitter, amnesiac super "hero" that is known for causing more damage than good when he tries to help people. One would wonder why he bothers if that particular point was not covered briefly in the movie.

While it is a super hero movie, replete with the trappings that come with the genre, Hancock is also one of the best examples of High Concept Done Right (TM) that I've ever seen. I can't really boil down the concept without giving away key plot points that would truly spoil the movie. The action scenes were good. We get some nice enjoyable Superman Amongst the Mortals moments as well as a little brawling between supers.

Bateman, as always, plays a great straight man, although this is not a comedy. In Bateman we get to see the everyman interacting with the superman. He's the audience's proxy, almost. He reacts with much more heart and compassion than I would attribute to your average movie going population, though.

Theron is sexy, no denying it. She even gets to try on different sexies throughout the movie. What? You say "sexies" isn't a word? Hey, if Justin Timberlame can bring sexy back, then I can treat the darn thing as a noun, too! I had my suspicions about Theron from the trailers that were confirmed as the movie progressed, though not nearly in the way I expected. What I liked about her character was how devoted she was to her husband, played by Bateman, and his son.

Smith's Hancock progresses dramatically through the course of the movie, which at heart, is more a tale of one (super)man's struggle to find his place in the world. I can dig that. Since this is the Fresh Prince we're talking about here, that progression treats us to some comedic gold as well as the usual tugging at the heart-strings. If there is one thing Smith has proved as one of Hollywood's leading men over the past thirteen or so years, it's that he can play both sides of that line.

Hancock was a lot more entertaining than it had any right to be, satisfying both my need for super powered badassery (I suppose you're going to tell me that's not a word either, eh, smartypants?) and emotional depth. I give it fifteen out of eighteen eagles inexplicably soaring through downtown New York on a scale that I just made up that doesn't mean anything.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army
About Time! Now Where's Hellboy III?

I had high expectations for this movie well before it even reached production. Those were escalated even more by early reports of its exceptional quality. Since seeing the movie (88% on Rotten Tomatoes, in case you were wondering,) I have talked to people that rate the movie as good or better than the original, but none below that. I think this speaks highly of director/writer Guillermo del Toro and creator/writer Mike Mignola's obvious love of the material.

What contributes even more is the cast's immersion into the characters. Almost all of the old cast returned for the sequel, thankfully. Joining them is a new "face" as well. We have Ron Perlman reprising his role as the titular Hellboy, Selma Blair as the pyrokinetic Liz Sherman, Doug Jones as the enigmatic Abe Sapien (this time with speaking part as well!) Jeffrey Tambor as the blustery, but somewhat diminished Tom Manning, and John Hurt as Hellboy's adoptive dad Professor Trevor 'Broom' Bruttenholm via a flashback.

What is there to say about Perlman? Once you see him in the role of Hellboy, there is no doubt that it was meant to be. Few people are as well-suited for a role as Perlman for Hellboy. Blair is one of those odd actresses that can come off extremely well or tragically horrible. Jon and I discussed that briefly. We're not sure what it is about her that causes that. Another actress that suffers from the same problem is Dina Meyer, at least for my money. Blair brought her A game this time, though. The moments of pure relationship between her and Hellboy are entertaining not just for the novelty of a demon and a human having everyday couple issues but also because of how dead-on they were.

It was not jarring at all to hear Jones' voice coming from Abe's mouth. That is probably because he voiced Abe in the two animated Hellboy movies that came out on DVD after the first movie. With David Hyde Pierce not reprising his voice over work, Jones was the natural choice. He is the actor underneath the mask, after all.

Tambor is a pleasure. I have never seen him in a role that I did not like, from his slimy Vance Crasswell in Life Stinks to his harmless sidekickery in "The Larry Sanders Show" and all his voice work between. However, his character seemed a bit less authoritative in this one. I had thought his relationship with Hellboy would have improved after their moment of bonding in Rasputin's tomb at the end of the first movie. Perhaps his castration was to open up the way for the newest member of the BPRD.

In an odd move, at least it seemed to me before watching the movie, Del Toro cast Seth MacFarlane as the gasbag Johann Krauss. Johann is a great character with a great concept behind him. He is a cloud of sentient ectoplasmic vapor, contained in a modified dry diving suit. Let that high concept soak in for a bit. His form gives him some pretty entertaining and useful abilities, the least of which is beating up on Hellboy with a bank of lockers. While the cinematic character differs a bit from the comic's, I still enjoyed Johann's presence.

That brings me to the movie itself. Hellboy stories are about good versus evil in a primal, beatdown sense with a large dose of matter-of-fact humor thrown in for good measure. Del Toro and Mignola deliver it like a sizzling fastball pitch right over the plate and into your face. The creature effects are fantastic, especially the tumor. The story is solid. The plot pacing is impeccable. The character development begs your investment. Hellboy II is all good. Well, all good except for one thing. It was over well before I was ready for it to be.

I do agree with Jon, though. Not nearly enough of those damn robot nazi gorillas! Seriously, though, what wasn't in this movie, I can only hope will be in a sequel. I really want a sequel. I give Hellboy II: The Golden Army ten out of ten robot nazi gorillas on a scale I just made up that doesn't mean anything.

You Buy Now!

Jon already posted this, but for maximum exposure, (hah! As if I can contribute towards that!)