About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Holy Tzatziki, Batman!

The Dark Night, seen Sunday July 20 at the AMC Empire 25, Screen #6, 4 Slithy Toads

Mamma Mia!, seen Sunday July 20 at Clearview's Ziegfeld. 3 Slithy Toads

After 44 years of waiting, I can finally say I've seen a good Batman movie. And in fact not just a good Batman movie, but a truly great one. Wow!

The first Batman movie of my acquaintance, the '60s one spinning off from the Adam West TV show, is not bad for what it is. It fairly faithfully replicates the considerable pleasures of the TV show. But it's more an extended TV episode than anything else.

The 1989 Batman wasn't very good. I remember it being the launch movie for Dolby Digital sound in New York City, and I saw it at the Toys R Us in Times Square, or the Criterion Theatre as it was known at the time. I've always been very fond of the Dolby Digital "sounders," those spikes being driven into the train tracks and then the train driving thru the theatre.

1992's Batman Returns, I'm pretty sure I saw it, but I can hardly remember a thing about it. Maybe also at the Criterion?

1995, Batman Forever? I guess I saw it?

Batman and Robin, 1997? Now that, my friends, was a true classic. So good that it didn't even get better for having been seen in my late lamented Loews Astor Plaza. It contends for being one of the worst movies I ever saw at the Astor Plaza.

Batman Begins (2005) was a huge disappointment to me. It had so many good ingredients and got so many good reviews but I thought it fell flat on pretty much every level. I particularly disliked Cillian Murphy's Scarecrow, which was Batman villain by way of Bugsy Malone.

Recounting this dismal history, I think I'd enjoy watching 90 minutes of the Dolby Digital Choo Choo Train more. Spike on the back left, spike on the front right, here comes the train. On a double feature or triple bill with SDDS and DTS sounders.

For all the good reviews for The Dark Knight, it is safe to say I went in with trepidation, and almost with duty-bound reluctance. And to say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement.

Two small quibbles: did they even attempt to explain the plan regarding Commissioner Gordon's death, and I don't think I've ever liked the way the Batman voice sounds in any of the Batman movies since the 1966, and this one is no exception.

Other than that, what's not to like?

When I commented on Sydney Pollack, one of the elements I praised in Tootsie and The Firm was the across-the-board goodness of the casting, and this has that. The earlier Batman movies had a lot of people doing villainy for a paycheck, and Christopher Nolan has gone well beyond that. If you look at Lucius Fox in an old Batman comic book, can you see anyone but Morgan Freeman in the role? Bill Cosby, maybe? Roscoe Lee Browne? Freeman is Fox, and his put-off when a Wayne Enterprises employee starts sniffing around the accounts that point toward Batman/Bruce, it's the definitive line delivered in a definitive way by the definitive actor for the role. Michael Caine as Alfred? Well, of course! The role of Bruce/Batman has always been an odd duck in these movies because there's so little for an actor to do when he's tucked in the batsuit, and Christian Bale was one of those interesting ideas last time around that didn't quite seem to work. Surrounded by a better movie, it works. However much I disliked Cillian Murphy last time around, the idea of casting him was better than the idea of casting Tommy Lee Jones or Arnold Schwarznegger (I don't dislike Murphy, by the way, I just didn't like him there). Here, the same idea is applied toward casting Aaron Eckhart, and the performance is boffo, bam, excellent. Maggie Gyllenhal, excellent. Eric Roberts and Anthony Michael Hall in small roles? I'm starting to warm to Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon. Enough has been said about Heath Ledger, and I don't need to add to it. This is a well-acted movie.

The music is instrumental. Yay! No superhero rap song over the end credits. See my comments on Indiana Jones.

The special effects are excellent. The movie always looks real. See my comments on SFX here.

But most important, the movie is dark. Batman has often been a darker kind of superhero in the comic books, and sometimes as with Tim Burton or even in Batman Begins, this darkness has played out on the screen as muddy cinematography. Sometimes, that darkness has been wedded to a campy homage to the old TV show. Show how modern you are by showing a "dark" batman, show how you remember Burgess Meredith as the Penguin and Tallulah Bankhead as Black Widow, and it's not a good combination. This is the Dark Knight by way of the Untouchables, and I'm surprised I haven't read more on the similarities. Al Capone gets his point across to other mobsters by killing with baseball bat, the Joker gets his point across by doing magic trick with pencil. You don't bring a knife to a gunfight, and Batman is challenged if he can really fight with the Joker on his level. But also like De Palma's Untouchables, this is suspenseful film direction with tick-tock precision. One good set piece after another after another, well-acted and well-scored and well-edited and well-photographed and nail-biting.

Maybe I should see it again in Imax!

A short time later I took in Mamma Mia. Talk about seeing two very different movies in one day. Mamma Mia isn't particularly well-crafted. I'm not quite as down on this as some of the other reviews I read, many of which sounded to me like critics who complain about choppily edited musicals with too many close-ups where you can't see the characters' feet now complaining about this for having too many wide shots where you just see everyone dancing. But there's one shot that's so egregiously bad with the sun coming thru a window and drowning out 10% of the image of the screen that does't look like intentional craft. The casting is up-and-down. I don't understand how you do an Abba musical without using Fernando. There was something in the air that night, the moon was white, the stars were bright, Fernando, and if I had to do it all again, I would my friend, Fernando. Though he does get a brief shout-out in the movie in a briefly glimpsed poster. Or were the stars white and the moon bright, and if I had to do it all again I should get the lyrics rght my friend Fernando. The casting is a little bit odd. Meryl Streep I thought was good. No doubt all of the critics who've been criticizing her just wish she'd be doing boring serious movies like Out of Africa or were back in the days when it seemed she just did accents. Pierce Brosnan can't sing. The daughter seems off. The boyfriend/fiancee doesn't have the right chemistry and spends too much of the movie seeming like a best friend, but Julie Walters and Christine Baranski are having the time of their life in their roles. But so what. The movie is fun. It is lively. The music is sweet to listen to. It's fun. And as with Wanted, fun is good.


Peat said...

Well, for the record, the two animated Batman movies (Mask of the Phantasm and Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker) were excellent, but you're right on the money with the live action ones.

With regards to the Batman voice, I agree it sounded hokey to someone sitting comfy in an air conditioned theater with a warm popcorn, but Bale did it pretty much just as it is described in the comics, and I imagine if you're hearing it in a dark alley at night, coming from a guy in black who just kicked your ass and left you clutching a broken limb, it's probably scary as hell.

I hope Jack Nicholson and Tommy Lee Jones see this movie and feel ashamed of themselves. Heath Ledger's spirit is resting easy. It's nice to know that, like Brandon Lee, he went out on a high note.

It's a good day to be a comic geek.

Bryce's Ramblings said...

Going to see Dark Knight tonight, after rewatching Batman Begins last night. I'm really hoping I'm not overhyped for this movie. IMDB has it ranked as the #1 movie of all time right now, beating out the likes of The Godfather for that top spot. You have to figure it's going to sink some as time goes by, but I'm very much looking forward to the screening.

And in unrelated news, I found the promo poster for True Blood on one of the movie sites I regularly read. Makes me wish I had HBO.

Maria said...

I advised my parents to go see Get Smart--I thought it would be a funny, "safe" movie for them--not too much violence, swearing or gratuitous scenes...

I now owe them 8 bucks! Thankfully they got the senior rate and ate lunch before they went so they didn't bulk up on popcorn and sodas...

Mom and dad informed me that there were only two funny spots and dad's overall comment was, "I can't believe I sat through the WHOLE thing!"

Strike one.