03 November 2012

Movie Prowlin: October 2012

Hello readers who haven't yet given up on this blog, and for that, I say thank you! Schoolwork and procrastination are my greatest enemies, and constantly, they're stopping me from having any inspiration to write about movie stuff. But slowly and surely, that spark of sanity is coming back to me. Only a month left of school! Well, a month and eleven days, but still, nearly in the clear!

I'm still a good ways away from my goal of 210 flicks watched in 2012, but I reckon I'll be able to hit that number. If I really dedicate my weekends to it. Weekdays are designated primarily for TV shows (my addictions, sad to say) and, every once and a while, homework.

October has been a weird month. Lots of catch-up (Magic Mike, Expendables 2) and rather decent releases. Frankly wish there were more horror titles released this month, could use a genuinely horrific horror fix.

November already looks to be craazzzyyyy. And now that I work at a movie theater, pretty sure I'm going to be contemplating running way to another universe instead of suffering through customer satisfaction. Oh well, bring it on. Already survived five Black Friday's, I can survive a whole month of Black Friday's, can't I?

Andy's Watch List: October 2012

146. Pitch Perfect - By the previews and clips, looked hilarious. The actual film? A missed opportunity. Everything it needed to be was right there in its DNA, yet the actual product was all-around fun, but could have been loads funnier and clever. As it stands, just a nice, decent, entertaining flick that I wish was better than it was.
147. Taken 2 - Fewer action scenes than the first film, but I still enjoyed this sequel. Maggie Grace kicks ass, Neeson is his usual awesome self, and I'm a sucker for revenge tales. Not bad.
148. Sleepy Hollow - Revisiting the Burton film, and I never get tired of the freakiness of Christopher Walken as the Horseman whilst still having his head.
149. Sinister - Not genuinely scary, but I DID love the design of the main demon, Bagul, and all the Super-8 footage was creepy enough to send shivers up and down my body.
150. Argo - Good.
151. Magic Mike - Not all that good, actually. And I blame Soderbergh for that.
152. End of Watch - A movie that doesn't even follow it's own rules! At least Anna Kendrick was still all kinds of gorgeous.
153. Lola Versus - I feel like I've seen a movie like this before. A couple times before even. If anyone's interested in checking this out, rent/watch (500) Days of Summer instead. It'll be a far better and worthwhile experience.
154. Paranormal Activity 4 - Eh. It was alright.
155. Safety Not Guaranteed - Wanted to like it, but turns out . . . didn't like it at all.


156. The Master - Long, long, long, and all kinds of boring. Yes, Joaquin Phoenix is mesmerizing, and it's old news about Hoffman by now with his also amazingness, but this flick lacks a script, it lacks coherency. Thus, it's the perfect example of how even brilliant, fantastic performances can't save a shitty script. Blah.
157. The Expendables 2 - Whereas the first one was long, bloated, and boring, this sequel is short, concise, and entertaining. That said, sorta depressing that the Governator has seemingly lost his spark for one-liners, they fell ridiculously flat, but Bruce Willis was more than happy to take up the mantle.
158. Dark Shadows - This is, I think, my third or fourth time watching it all the way through, and although I'm not becoming more aware of the pacing issues and areas where the script could improve, I still love the hell out of this movie. I can say, probably a first for a Tim Burton production.
159. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World - Like Pitch Perfect, what I expected wasn't what I got, and also just like that film above, I'm slightly disappointed by what we did get. Steve Carrel's character hardly evolved in 21 days, there were loads of character/plot contrivances, and an noticeable lack of the funny. Don't think I'll make it to a round 3.
160. Cloud Atlas - A week later, and I'm still uncertain how I feel about this flick. Even for a near three hour running time, I guess it comes down to: it's not enough. Sure, it's visually beautiful, every frame is absolutely necessary, and it's absolutely fun to see Hugo Weaving and Hugh Grant in crazy diverse roles, but I wanted more from the stories. Otherwise, as a piece of cinema, this flick is gorgeous.
161. Frankenweenie [3.D] - As a huge fan of the 1950's black & white sci-fi monster movies, I found myself enjoying all the throwback references more than the actual film, but the movie itself was fine. No huge complaints. Pacing issues, here and there, but I find that happens a lot in Burton movies. Surprise, surprise, two Burton flicks in one year I actually didn't mind!

M O V I E     O F      T H E       M O N T H

May not have been the sweeping epic that I was hoping for, making me swell with emotion and become utterly engrossed in every tiny, minute detail, but there's no denying that Cloud Atlas is one of the biggest, most ambitious productions of the year, and that alone deserves admiration and applause. Not one frame should be cut, not one line from the movie is useless (although redubbing Halle Berry's work would be greatly appreciated), and it's nearly three hour running time honestly doesn't feel that long. Plus, any movie that has Hugh Grant playing against his customary roles is well worth giving notice to. There are some fine ideas in this narrative, I just can't help but feel that those ideas needed to be fleshed out a bit more, and there are some things that really did need some splainin' (Hugo Weaving as a tormenting visionary leprechaun, hunh?. Can't say I'm going to revisit Atlas anytime soon, but it's a pity that it won't be as successful as it should be. [B]

18 August 2012

FANTASTIC DINOSAURS: The Loch Ness Horror

[Welcome to the return of The Rambling of a Minnesota Geek's project to watch every and all movies from the trailer-compilation video Fantastic Dinosaurs of the Movies. My goal is to locate and view all the films that were trailed in the video, and review 'em as honestly as I can. I love me monster movies, and I love me dinosaur movies, and this allows me the opportunity to visit some classic oldies of the sci-fi/monster genre. There's gonna be some winners, and undoubtedly some clunkers, but that's part of the excitement, innit? Enjoy 'em, mateys!]

THE RAMBLINGS OF A MINNESOTA GEEK

proudly presents


In this Fantastic Dinosaurs of the Movies set, the one trailer that really pushed me into the territory of wanting to actively seek out and watch all of the movies included in this compilation, was The Loch Ness Horror. For some odd reason, the trailer left quite the impression for my four-year old self. The dark colors and the scary underwater cinematography of a Nessie mouth itching towards the camera, unmistakably ready to kill me! I was captivated by the trailer, someway, somehow, so finally finding a copy of the film - no mere easy task - was met with loads of exuberance. All excited like, I threw in The Loch Ness Horror on my television, and within minutes, I hated it, and within the first twenty minutes, I was already bored, and continued being so for the remainder of the movie.

It was that enormously sad moment when something you were so excited to see for a long while is finally screened and it turns out to be a giant festival of utter shit. This is The Loch Ness Horror.

Frankly, my attention span was all over the place, so I can't necessarily tell anyone a good premise of the movie, but based off what I could cobble together from the narrative and online sources, there's this Nessie egg that is important to this "Yankee" scientist (*) and Nessie wants it back, an airplane that crashed into the Loch in the '40's becomes of enormous importance to some soldiers in the '80's, a group of teenagers convene at the Loch for purposes unexplained (although there is a nice slideshow about the monster, so I assume it's some sort of, er, expedition to check the place out), some mad old man who kidnaps a gal, this gal being one of the most upright button-up proper gals in all of sci-fi/horror cinema, and there's a trillion actors with horrible accents spouting off nonsense that doesn't propel the plot. Basically, airplane is a big deal to some military guys; Yankee scientist and proper chick have a connection whilst searching for Nessie; Nessie terrorizes random folks (I'm unclear if this is the first time Nessie has done this or if it's a common thing, which I would think would attract more attention than the Loch does now) and wants her egg back, and, er, I think that's it. Stupid people talking and wasting screentime until the titular monster comes onscreen.

*Each time a character says "yank", take a shot. I guarantee you'll be drunk before the film reaches its halfway point.

Nessie seems to have forgotten its body under the neck.
The single greatest disappoint - worse than finding out a movie I was eagerly anticipating turned out to be a load of shit - is the titular monster itself, the Loch Ness Horror: Nessie. Composed of nothing more than a bumpy hump and a long head on a stick (view right), Nessie is nothing horrific or monstrous, except in the level of laziness that went into the animal. That said, the Nessie face seems to have a mouth that can partially move and, when it roars (which is actually a pretty cool sound, terrifying in its own right) breath can be seen leaving, a simple aesthetic that somehow impresses me. To put it simply, Nessie sucks. I sought out The Loch Ness Horror because I wanted to see Nessie in action, and instead, we're treated to ninety percent lame human talky stuff and limited, embarrassing shots of the monster. Ugh. At this point, I'm quite looking forward to what The Crater Lake Monster has to offer. It seems the special effects team took the extra mile to use stop motion to visualize the creature in its entirety.

The conclusion reminds me of Jaws 3 and Jaws: The Revenge, with unnecessary slow motion implemented at chaotic times to make everything seem grander and more intense than it actually is. Taking place in the Loch, deep in its trenches, lots of red blood and extreme close-ups convey a battle between man and monster that ends in an stock footage explosion! Except I wasn't entirely sure what the hell happened, so I had to, once again, consult the interwebs to explain everything. Either I needed to pay more attention (which I blame pretty much everything about the movie for making me lose interest every minute) or the flick did a piss poor job explainin' what the hell was going on. I give up. 

Cast of characters include Spencer, the aforementioned Yankee scientist, who is a bit of a douche and lacks proper conversational skills, Jack the old Scotts man who boasts the most irritating accent of all creation, pressing his 'rrrrr's' too hard making him an instant nuisance, and Kathleen, Jack's granddaughter, the uptight proper gal who schools Spencer in all things Scotland and niceties. All these characters are annoying and deserved a most gruesome death, especially the grandfather. Some other characters include a crazy old man who kidnaps Kathleen, a Scottish scientist who spouts off science-y stuff to basically say 'I Believe in Loch Nessie', and two all-important teens who decide to get their whoopie on but end up plesiosaur chow.

Loads of bad sci-fi/horror movies can get away with positive reviews because the watcher genuinely had a fun time watching the flick, whether it be because the movie is just so bad it's good, or the watcher really does enjoy himself bad creature features. Unfortunately, I can't regulate Loch Ness Horror as one of those 'gems' that are simply so bad they're worth watching. The movie doesn't quite reach that level. If it wasn't for the absolutely rubbish script - the clunky dialogue, the sexist remarks, the subplots upon subplots, the incoherency, the clunky dialogue - there just might have been a chance this movie could be recommended on sheer bad-but-fun levels. Instead, in the end, it's all just one, big, boring mess. Despite the obvious budgetary restrictions and severe lack of a complete Nessie or proper screentime, it was a pleasure watching the monster in action, and that's about all the positive I can get out of this experience. Long to the point that every minute is felt, performances by folks who would make Hayden Christensen cringe, and uninteresting to the point that I was only half paying attention to the actual movie and instead concerned myself with matters far more important, like securing a copy of 20 Million Miles to Earth, next on my list of creature features to sit through.

Really, properly sorry to say firmly: skip this one, not worth the effort to find a copy and watch it. Instead, resign yourself to replaying the trailer, as found in the Fantastic Dinosaurs of the Movies compilation, which is far more creepy, horrific, and interesting than a single second of the movie itself. Just...ugh.


16 August 2012

FANTASTIC DINOSAURS: King Kong vs. Godzilla

[Welcome to the return of The Rambling of a Minnesota Geek's project to watch every and all movies from the trailer-compilation video Fantastic Dinosaurs of the Movies. My goal is to locate and view all the films that were trailed in the video, and review 'em as honestly as I can. I love me monster movies, and I love me dinosaur movies, and this allows me the opportunity to visit some classic oldies of the sci-fi/monster genre. There's gonna be some winners, and undoubtedly some clunkers, but that's part of the excitement, innit? Enjoy 'em, mateys!]

THE RAMBLINGS OF A MINNESOTA GEEK 

proudly presents


King Kong vs. Godzilla

There are two movies that general audiences typically associate to Godzilla: [1], that piece-of-garbage-Godzilla-in-Name-Only American translation GODZILLA from 1998 that was both a blessing and a curse to North American Godzilla fans, and [2] King Kong vs. Godzilla, arguably the most widely known piece of giant monster entertainment and has thoroughly placed itself into mainstream pop culture. Similar to [1], this is a good and bad thing. On the level of good, this is a damn fine entertaining flick with plenty of monster vs. monster action, and on that level, will definitely entice younger viewers to pursue more Godzilla productions (fingers crossed), and is overall a well made movie. Downside: there's a high probability that folks will tune into this movie and this movie only, thinking that this is all Godzilla is and leave it at that.

Off the heels of its recent 50th Anniversary (as of August 11th), I thought it appropriate to breathe new life into this Minnesota Geek feature with this little gem. In the simplest of histories, based purely off my memory, how King Kong vs. Godzilla came to be is a result of this: Willis O'Brien really wanting to bring back King Kong, and proposed a concept called King Kong vs. Frankenstein, with the intent of realizing it himself via stop motion animation, the same technique that O'Brien received a few accolades for with his 1933 production. Apparently, no dice. American producer John Beck got his hands on the proposal and shopped it around, still with O'Brien on board but who, it seems, wasn't very "in" with the meetings. Eventually Beck brought the project to the attention of Toho Studios, and a joint production was initiated. Dropped was the idea of Frankenstein's monster as the co-villain (although the Monster later shows up in a Toho production titled Frankenstein Conquers the World), and instead Toho inserted their own monster into the mix: Godzilla. Premiering in 1954, Toho's Godzilla was a behemoth both in physical appearance and in profits, so much so that within five months the sequel, Godzilla Raids Again, landed in cinemas in '55, but that didn't go over so well. It was one of those obvious rushed productions. Thus, Toho looked at this as a opportunity to bring back their ace in the hole. With Beck and O'Brien seemingly having no involvement in this production whatsoever, Toho did what they did and Beck was handed the final product. Instead of stop motion there was the more cost-effective special effect of suitmation, with King Kong now a man in a rubber suit and extendable arms. The original 1962 King Kong vs. Godzilla still had a underlying sense of satire that translated well into the Americanized version, but a lot of the seriousness of the script was lost by Beck's meddling. Through Beck, King Kong vs. Godzilla received an extensive overhaul, with newly filmed scenes inserted into the narrative, over twenty minutes of the original movie lost, and the dialogue essentially rewritten. No other film in the history of Godzilla productions, with the sole exception of the original 1954 film, has been manipulated/changed as much as this one. 

*Also, just to note: the score has nearly entirely been exercised from the Japanese version. Composer Akira Ifukube's work only remains in the Faro Island dance/worship, otherwise the film cobbles together cues from several other prominent science fiction titles. Most recognizably, tuned ears will be greeted with Creature from the Black Lagoon more than once. Hell, far too often. And this is a huge shame, as Ifukube crafted one of his true masterpieces with this flick. Sigh. Oh well. All we can hope is that the original Japanese makes its way somehow to the U.S. market.

So it's nothing short of a miracle that King Kong vs. Godzilla, the American version, turned out as well as it did. Satire and pure science fiction cinema rolled into one, it's the Big G's most financially successful outing, and, as stated above, the most widely recognized Godzilla film. Today I'll be talking about the American version, currently readily available on DVD (packaged along with the other Toho King Kong-suitmation epic, King Kong Escapes).

Also before venturing further, a nasty rumor and commonly held belief is that a major difference with the Japanese and American versions is the ending. For the Japanese, it is said, Godzilla swims away victorious from his melee with Kong, while the Americans get to see their crowned gorilla as savior of all mankind. Truth be told, the same ending is in both versions. Godzilla and King Kong plummet off a cliff and into the ocean, a giant tidal wave erupting around a nearby town, and as reporters and citizens look on with shock at the sight, King Kong emerges from the depths, and only Kong, slowly lumbering towards (presumably) his island home. The idea of different endings is a neat one, but entirely false. Sorry, folks.

These days we got Freddy vs. Jason which wasn't the colossal misfire many expected to be, and we have Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, which is about as low on the totem pole as you can get. King Kong vs. Godzilla is one of those rare times when two franchises mesh together so well, the whole experience is a damn good one. Since I'm reviewing the American version, let's get right down to it:

First and foremost, with repeated viewings, there's few scenes in the Godzilla franchise as annoying as these constant 'newsroom' interruptions and the terribly made-up set these scenes were shot at. The first five minutes is nothing but one guy on the phone with another guy giving us the plot, and this happens at least even eight minutes afterwards. What I'm most angry about is that the American version refuses to allow the story to speak for itself. Instead, we're told it, and shown only select bits, it feels like. Of course, this is all a consequence of heavy meddling and editing, but taking it as the final product we have, it's freakin' annoying.

But everything else? Solid fun. The dubbed dialogue hits all kinds of fantastic comedic moments, such as a character's tendency to ache and complain about his 'corns' or the behavior and stuttering of Mr. Tako, the guy who takes over custody of Kong (bet he wishes he didn't do that now, eh?). Normally I'd be a bit peeved at the infusion of comedy in a monster movies - I tend to like my monster flicks taken seriously - but considering that the humor and satire is part of the script's DNA, well, I don't quite mind it at all. And that adds substantially to the overall funness of this flick. This really is one of the franchise's better dubs (interestingly not handled by American International Pictures, but by Universal), and with the exception of the obnoxious American-added scenes mentioned above, it's one of the movie's best qualities.

Why care about dub and dialogue when the real reason to watch this movie is for none other than watching Godzilla, King of the Monsters, and King Kong, Giant Gorilla from Faro Island, kick and beat the shit out of each other? The two times these titans meet up, it's well worth the price of admission/purchase. First round is short and sweet, cementing Godzilla's upper hand with that whole atomic-ray-coming-out-of-his-mouth thing, and Kong beginning to understand exactly how deep in shit he's in. But then the last twenty-five minutes come about, where Kong basically wrestles himself free from his captors so he can get his revenge on the giant dinosaur. And ladies and gents, for twenty-five minutes we're treated to giant monster gold.

Sure, I got problems with Kong apparently gaining strength from a all-too-convenient lightening storm, and the horribly obvious and badly done long shot puppet work, but overall, we got two men in rubbersuits punching and kicking and doing all these amazingly fun stunts. It really is a knock around, drag-out fight. We even have this ridiculously humorous and horribly well done can't-turn-away stop motion moment where Godzilla pushes himself up with his tail and uses his feet to kick Kong backwards! I would have rather like to have seen it done with suitmation, but I understand the limitations of such a effort, so I'm happy with what we got. For now. Pity that Toho's efforts to make a sequel/remake have yet to pan out. So in a nutshell, forget about Freddy vs. Jason, these two monsters wrestling up in the mountains is glorious, absolutely, mind-boggling glorious.

As for the suit designs, well, I weirdly have a fixation with this Godzilla suit, "kinggoji", even though he looks a bit like a doofus. Special effects wizard Eiji Tsuburaya was quite intent on making Godzilla and King Kong lighter and heavily kid-friendly, so naturally the harsher design from the original movie and sequel were toned down considerably. These monsters are bright, bulky, and cartoonish, all deliberately, and in the context of this, shall we say 'world', that King Kong vs. Godzilla inhabits, it all works. I personally have my own issues with the King Kong design, but realistically, if you're going to film a rubber suit Godzilla engaged in combat with a big but not nearly as giant gorilla (as is the case of the original '33 King Kong, who is substantially smaller than the monster king), you are sort of forced to modify it accordingly.

Overall, I cherish this movie. I remember throwing in my Goodtimes VHS into the player over and over (mostly for the monster scenes, of course) and loving every minute of it. And this movie boasts one of my favorite introductions to Godzilla ever (clawing apart his icy prison). It's funny, it's extravagant, and the American version is pretty well put together all things considered. If you haven't had the luxury of experiencing this monster match-up, I'd recommend you get on it right away. Of course I wouldn't hesitate to emphasize the superiority of the Japanese version, but if that's not possible, this variation will do just fine.

Happy 50th Anniversary, King Kong vs. Godzilla.


08 August 2012

The Watcher: July 2012


Awkward, Season 2. Episodes 2-5
I fell in love with Awkward. back with the very first episode, and as I said before, it's absolutely fantastic seeing it back on my screen. Well, computer screen. Don't have cable. It sucks. But even though I'm over the moon with its return, five episodes in, I'm just not loving it nearly as much as I have. And I can't pinpoint the culprit. The writing is just as strong and full of zingers and new words describing human genitalia, the actors are just as funny and angsty as before, and Ashley Rickards is hotter than ever. So where's the problem? Right now, the one thing making rounds in my head is the Jenna/Jake dynamic, that is so full of Jenna second-guessing herself and her feelings that the pair never seem to really 'click' for us. In season one, he was that fantastic, special Prince Charming that genuinely cared for Jenna, and this year, he's still the guy who cares for her - perhaps a overbearing too much - but the fireworks just ain't blastin' and blowin' as they have before. Amazingly, despite how nice of a person Jake is - and I can't believe I'm thinking this - I'm becoming more and more a fan of Matty. Blimey! And I would like for Jenna to assert her independence more, show that the letter her mom wrote has made a substantial, life-altering impact, that she's a better person because of that letter. She's no longer the awkward girl who wouldn't stand up for herself, but she's not as strong as I would like her to be, either.

Luckily, Ming and Tamara are given substantially more time to develop as characters, and they've been a blast. Tamara is still boy obsessed and fast-talking, but she's coming into her own. Ming was the most underdeveloped of the friendly trio, and this year she's maturing into a gal who is very forthright in what she wants and what she says. It's much appreciated.

Season two doesn't have the beat-by-beat comedic and dramatic brilliance of its freshman year, but it's still fantastic to have Awkward. back, and with its recently renewed 22-episode third season, the show isn't going anywhere anytime soon. So for now I'll sit back and enjoy the ride, because we have more of Jenna Hamilton and her voice overs to look forward to, and I'm absolutely giddy bout that. Grade: B

Breaking Bad, Season 5. Episodes 1-3
With season four ending with a literal bang, a jaw-dropping collection of episodes that became increasingly more and more intricate and compelling, Breaking Bad's final season was one of my most eagerly anticipated shows of the summer. Three episodes in (four as of the time of this writing, but three in July), that same intense speed of the previous arc has been expunged for what is, understandably, a slow build. The season begins with a year jump ahead, as a bearded and disheveled Walt purchases a machine gun from Jim Beaver at a Denny's, apparently running from something, or perhaps towards something. As for the present, Walt is soaring on a ego-trip from his dispensing of Gus Fring and, with the assistance of Jesse and Gus' previous right hand man Mike, slowly starts up the methylamine business again. Estranged wife Skyler silently accepts the reality of her situation, but the mute exterior is slowly eroding as she's reaching a breaking point. There's a inevitability of badness coming, but right now creator Vince Gilligan and the writers are content with building this new arc of Walt rising to the top and the family complications that come out of his status.

Only eight episodes make up this half of the shows final season in 2012, and with that knowledge, I'm holding out hope that that same intensity of the previous year and promised villainy of Walter White comes into play. Many commentators have said that Walt has already passed the Point of No Return, and although I do agree with them, I don't exactly feel Walt's darkness or the Heisenberg persona coming through too powerfully. We see Walt as a intelligent man who thinks every action through several steps ahead, but as far as a man who could convincingly take over a drug empire, just don't see that yet. But as for what we do have here, there's three exquisitely written and performed episodes. Bryan Cranston no longer has the strut of a man who displays nervousness or fear, he walks like he owns the ground he walks on and is in complete control of every situation and word. Aaron Paul is obviously relishing going back to the calm and easy going Jesse from the earlier seasons, though in episode two his acting chops are on full display as he breaks down in front of Walt over 'locating' the cigarette full of ricen that resulted in a sticky situation last season.

Walt and Jesse are currently buddy buddies, and with Mike in the mix - a excellent addition, I must add - these are the Three Amigo's who are keeping the meth business alive and lucrative. Already, however, we can see the cracks in Walt's readiness to part with a substantial amount of money, hungry for more. Equally as engaging is Hank's vindication in his search into Gus Fring and his newfound celebrity status at his department. I am so very eager for the time when Hank faces off against Heisenberg, only for the face under the black hat to be revealed as his brother-in-law. At least, here's hoping. And finally, the looks and movements of Skyler and all the unspoken feelings beautifully portrayed by Anna Gunn. Now, with the addition of a new female co-star with Lydia, a tightly wound, paranoid gal, the series is expanding its universe to what will either be Walt's impending partners or adversaries.

It's exciting times being a Breaking Bad fan. We're still in setup mode, with the best yet to come, but these amazingly talented writers and actors who never settle for anything less than a perfect note continue to create some of the most compelling television ever made. So here's me not complaining. Breaking Bad is back - for a truncated period, but still - and I couldn't be happier. Excited to see where this all leads... Grade: A-

Bunheads, Season 1. Episodes 4-7
Three fantastic introduction episodes, and a handful of so-so episodes, I'm still at the 'I like it, but it has its problems' phase with Bunheads. Naturally, as a Gilmore Girls fan and overall digging this series, I want it to succeed creativity and with its ratings, but there's less and less appealing elements of the series to make it appointment television. With the first three episodes, a lot was accomplished - there was a wedding, a death, a inheritance, and a introduction to several supporting characters. Now that the world is, for the most part, established, it would be expected that Michelle would begin to gel and assert herself in that world. Seven episodes in, after some rather directionless installments with her revising the past and uncertain about the future, I think it's time for Michelle to make a decision and start a new chapter in her life. Of course I'm rooting for the series to be picked up for a second season, but if that's not the case, I want Michelle's arc to be as developed as it possibly could be in these circumstances.

Michelle's growth is getting there, but the most rewarding part of the series has been the cast of teenage characters at Fanny's dance school. Boo, Ginny, Sasha, Melaine - these four teenagers have their typical teen angst and problems, fantastically executed by these tremendously talented actresses and great scripts. I love these characters, and if the show doesn't move past season one, the real shame will not be seeing these girls grow as individuals and actresses. Kelly Bishop's Fanny is slowly coming to terms with the death of her son and moving on with her life. She's still not the biggest fan of Michelle - the two of them bicker constantly, and not in the fun, entertaining way.

Overall, I still quite enjoy Bunheads, it just seems to be in a holding pattern right now. Well worth the time of any interested viewer, I believe in the show and hope it hits a second season. Just right now - I want more. Grade: B+

Parks & Recreation, Season 4
This will be, perhaps, a sort of cop-out review of Parks & Recreation, a claim I won't entirely refute, but this series doesn't need reviewing. What I will say is this: I have avoided this series over and over, never one to be all that interested in that sort of Office-documentary style sitcom. Through happenstance, I saw a episode. This lead to renting the first three seasons from the library. In one week, I watched every episode. I laughed and laughed and, most importantly, I fell in love with this show. With 22 or 24 episodes each season, there were maybe only one or two that didn't hit all the right notes, and for a sitcom, that's fantastic (by comparison, 24 episodes of The Big Bang Theory, I loved maybe no more than 5, mildly enjoyed 12, and strongly disliked the rest). I immediately downloaded all of season four, and just a hour ago I finished my obsession.

This is comedy gold. If anyone is unsure of pursuing this show, I present to you the above screencap. Ron Swanson (standing) and Chris Traeger (meditating) are the two single most funniest characters in a sitcom I have ever had the pleasure of watching. Rob Lowe has literally had me laughing at his speech patterns and obsessive behaviors, and Nick Offerman has forever redefined my ideal boss. Lovely, lovely show. Watch it. Now. You'll literally love it. Grade: A+

True Blood, Season 5. Episodes 4-8
Getting weirder and weirder and more interesting and interesting. Sure, there are still those subplots that simply annoy me with their idiocy or irrelevance to everything else in the narrative, but that's small potatoes compared to the multitude of very interesting ideas that I hope pay off big by the finale. In succession, I'll just quickly say the stories I dig: (1) Sooki's arc this year has nothing to do with men and romance, it's her confronting her inner faerie abilities and that really weird world which opens one gigantic question, what really happened to my parents? They didn't die as reported, instead, the culprit is a vampire who latched onto the scent of Sooki's faerie blood. Cool. Now, where does this lead? (2) Tara as a vampire working for Pam and adjusting to her new station in life has been fantastic, especially when Pam captures a woman that ridiculed Tara for far too long, allowing the newly turned vamp to exact her revenge. For four years Tara has been hit and hit and hit with nothing but tragedy, and now, through tragic circumstances, she's for the first time strong and in charge of herself. It sucks what happened to her, but I've never liked Tara more. And that's not just because of the pole dancing. (3) Jason Stackhouse is all over the place this year, but his digging up the murder of his parents and really messed up dynamic with Jessica has been well worth watching. (4) The Authority, run by several old vampires who worship the old vampire god Lilith of whom all vampires originate. Their politics and religion has been quite interesting, and with Russel back in a prominent way leading the Authority, it's really compelling drama.

(5) Eric is beginning to suspect something's up, thanks to a visitation from ghostly Godric, and I can't wait to see where this leads, while Bill allows himself to fall deeper and deeper off the wagon, into this belief of Lilith. At one point, Bill, Eric and all members of the Authority look up as a bloody, naked figure rises from carnage - Lilith, the original God reborn on earth. Ultimately, it's revealed to be nothing more than a hallucination, but imagine how utterly fantastic and interesting having Lilith, a God, walk on this earth again. Now that would be a season-long arc worth exploring alone. (6) It has its ups and downs, but Terry's thing with the vengeful spirit has promise.

Now, for the shit: (1) Lafayete. Just leave the show already. You suck and have overstayed your welcome. (2) Hoyt, grow up. You suck and have overstayed your welcome. (3) The Obama Patrol, these group of thugs who hunt and kill vamps as a political statement. Ties into the Authority storyline (barely), but not worth it. (4) Everything Alcide and werewolf and shapeshifter. Pointless.

Overall, though, the positives outweigh the negatives. This fifth year has by far been the most intriguing, with the fourth right behind. I like where most of these characters are going, and showrunner Alan Ball has concocted quite the story to leave the show with. Honestly, it sucks that there's only a few episodes left and then we have to wait a whole 'nother summer for more, but until that unfortunate hiatus, I am genuinely enjoying the ride. Grade: B

02 August 2012

Movie Prowlin: July 2012

Doing these month-by-month reports on what one has watched seems to have quickly become a 'thing', and by golly, this Minnesota blogger will not be the odd man out of writing a 'thing'! Thus, instead of doing four volumes a year, I'm making this monthly, with some comments (because all the cool kids are doing it) and humorous asides, and pictures! Before going on, I must apologize - July has been superhero month, and anyone who knows me even the slightest know I love me my superheroes, so, um, there's a lot of Spider-Man and Batman this month. Rewatched. Frequently. August should be more diverse. Enjoy!

Andy's Watch List: July 2012
90. The Amazing Spider-Man - Initial thoughts: Wow, that was worth it. Not the 3D, but the remakingness. Well worth the time and energy, and I frankly am not super looking forward to a sequel!
91. The Amazing Spider-Man - Again, thought it was great. Andrew Garfield is Peter Parker.
92. Top Gun - Movie theater had a Classics Night, and this was my first time seeing this Tom Cruise vehicle, which, for the most part, was pretty enjoyable. However, confession: whenever it was flight time, I became terribly lost at who was who, and completely lost during the climax with some bad guy jets, where I gave up figuring out the good guys from the bad guys. Still, enjoyable flick.
93. Snow White and the Huntsman - Charlize Theron still owns this movie, but I found myself less impressed with a second screening. But gee, the digital work on the elves continues to make me giddy at how well it was done.
94. The Amazing Spider-Man - Double feature with the above movie accompanied by a friend, who, to my happiness, liked Amazing Spider-Man more. What can I say? Director Webb and the screenwriters know how to build character, and those first forty minutes are superb.
95. The Dictator - Stupid, like really, really stupid, but I hate to say this, I actually enjoyed myself and laughed here and there. But if you ain't a fan of Sasha Baron Cohen, this isn't for you. At all.
96. Moonrise Kingdom - A miracle has happened: the second Wes Anderson movie I liked, the first in live action! A sweet blossoming love story with two great young leads, and a style that didn't pull me out of the film like I feared.

97. Batman -Still strongly, strongly dislike Jack Nicholson. Still feel there are problems with the movie. Still not my favorite. But I favored it more now than ever before. So, progress (?).
98. Batman Returns - When folks complain this movie is too dark, I think they refer to the lighting, because there is barely any light in this flick whatsoever. Oh, Selina Kyle and Bruce Wayne's chemistry was pretty good. Otherwise, meh.
99. Batman Forever - Go ahead and hate me for saying this, but of the older movie productions, this one is my favorite. It's just so...fun!
100. Batman & Robin -If one looks at this as a big budget homage to the 60's Adam West series, than this movie is Batman gold. But that's only if you taint the film in a specific way. By all other avenues, this is a piece of trash, and I was hoping I wouldn't feel nothing but disdain towards it when I rewatched this '97 disaster, that perhaps I would find some value in its content. Nope.
 101. Batman Begins - Still what I consider the best of The Dark Knight Trilogy. Had to watch this and...
102. The Dark Knight - ...this before heading out to see....
103. The Dark Knight Rises - Initial viewing: disappointment and satisfaction. Weird night.
104. The Dark Knight Rises - Still has problems, but y'know what? Worthy ending to Nolan's vision.
105. The Dark Knight Rises - Back-to-back screening, nothing new gained.
106. The Dark Knight Rises - Now that's more like it. Fourth time's a charm. Official stance: really good conclusion, but still boasts noticeable problems that drive me a bit bat-y.


107. Ted - Still as funny as the first time
108. The Watch - Baffling, really, how little I laughed and liked this garbage. This group of comedians facing off against alien invaders sounds, to me, like comedy gold. Instead, it's reduced to dick and sperm jokes. If you're going to do that, give this material to Kevin Smith who can infuse some damn heart and coherency to your story. This is what not to do, folks. .. ... ... still, those aliens did look pretty cool.
109. King Kong vs. Godzilla - [American Version] Preparing myself for a month of monster movies, this film is both absolutely hilarious and absolutely fantastic fun. Anyone not seen this flick needs to remedy that pronto.
110. The Raid – Redemption - As amazing as everyone has said, this flick has some of the most extreme, original fight scenes I have ever seen, I was glued from start to finish. Can't recommend this enough. Amazing.
111. Abduction - Wow, this was bad. Taylor Lautner, please don't pursue acting after your tenure as Jacob concludes. Please.
112. God Bless America - America is shit, and one old guy who thinks he's dying decides to buy a gun and take out his aggression towards the people who make America a piece of shit. Had potential to be something truly phenomenal, but it doesn't push itself as far as it should, and the overall film isn't as deep as it should be. Missed potential, but for the overall product, not bad.
113. Jeff Who Lives at Home - Just when I was feeling that Jason Segel was starting to repeat himself and not really offer audiences anything new, he springs this on us. Fantastic work by Segel as Jeff, a dude who sees signs around him and seizes control of his life, the movie has one great performance after another, and these characters are so richly realized I didn't want the flick to end.
114. Johnny English Reborn - Was hoping for something funny and enjoyable, instead I was left with a movie that made me embarrassed for everyone involved and for all the folks that saw it and liked it.

M O V I E        O F        T H E      M  O  N  T  H
Yeah, like this was much of a surprise. When the title card hit the screen at the climax of The Dark Knight (2008) as Batman takes the fall for the crimes of Harvey Dent, right that second, that's when my anticipation for what would become The Dark Knight Rises began. And then the title was announced. And then the villain. And slowly plot details. And then pictures. And trailers! Lots and lots of trailers! Frankly, I'm not sure if my own future wedding will have me as excited as this event motion picture did. Ultimately, even after four viewings, I still don't quite know what to make of it. My expectations were met in some areas, and were not met in others, areas that I thought were critical to the trilogy narrative (e.g., Bruce and his arc in relation to Gotham's arc). But this is what we have. And although I'm less than over the moon with The Dark Knight Rises, I still cherish the damn film. I will always remember the anticipation, the pre-release buzz and hype and viral marketing and hours upon hours of podcasts I listened to debating what exactly was going down in Nolan's final Batman movie.

This may be blasphemous to say, but Christopher Nolan did present to this generation the Ultimate Trilogy. There's the original Star Wars movies, or The Lord of the Rings trilogy, or The Godfather trilogy, but this Dark Knight Trilogy, three consecutive movies of sheer, utter brilliance - it's one hell of an accomplishment, and I'm glad to have been a part of it. So in conclusion, no, I'm not in love with The Dark Knight Rises, but there's no way on this planet 2012 will be remembered as anything less than The Year of Batman.

30 July 2012

DARK KNIGHT LEGEND: Batman: Earth One [Comics]

Batman: Earth One [Hardcover]
Release Date: 10 July 2012
Creative Team: Geoff Johns (Writer), Gary Frank (Artist)

Over four years ago, DC announced over two Earth One books to be released in the not-too-distant future, Superman: Earth One (released in 2010) and Batman: Earth One, and while the re-imagined Superman origin story has been out for what feels like eons [the second volume is already well in development and close to release], eager fans have finally gotten their/our hands on this gem. With one of the most prolific writers in the industry tackling a new origin of the Caped Crusader, and with some absolutely stunning artwork, the anticipation for this was nearly as equal as The Dark Knight Rises. But the most important question regarding this book is, were the changes interesting enough to warrant this new saga?

While I could easily take in any twist of the Superman origin story out of curiosity, I'm much more protective of Bruce Wayne and his journey - no offense to Kal-El, but anything to make his arc richer and more interesting is well worth the effort. In regards to Bruce, he already has such a complex, nuanced, engaging beginning that the idea of twisting it in someway seems...well, unnecessary. So, naturally, as a rather sizable Batman fan, curiosity drove me to check this baby out as soon as possible, and overall, yes, this is a different (not exactly new, just different) take on Bruce Wayne that makes his journey diverse enough from other mythos to make it worth a read. This is truly a Bruce driven by revenge, not justice, a young man who can think of little else but the death of his parents and has zero experience fighting in the real world, leading to disastrous results as he engages Gotham's criminals.

Two character bits that interested me the most, right off the bat: a Jim Gordon that doesn't push, that does what he's told and minds his own business, controlled by fear, and Mayor Oswald Cobblepot, who seems to have been implicit in the Wayne murders over fifteen years ago. Taking Jim Gordon, the only man Batman could ever really trust (next to Alfred), and making him a shell of what he could be, trying to stay under the radar and not attract the attention of scary men, is a twist well worth exploring in its own book. For the first half of the narrative, Gordon remains the frightened cop, but thanks to his worst fears becoming realized, we see the birth of the Gordon we all know and love. Perhaps it happened too quick in the life of these Earth One books, but when Jim is pushed too far and turns into the man with a renewed moral code, it's a beautiful sight to behold. And the first exchange between Gordon and Batman is equally fantastic.

And Mayor Cobblepot. Now I'm not very hip with the intense, detailed mythology of the Batman comics, so I don't know if, when, or how often the Penguin was mayor of Gotham City, but regardless, I like this plot point, and I like the overall story to it all: his role in the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. That is interesting, and the plot of a conspiracy to murder the Wayne's is absolutely gripping in its own way. Additionally, as the books narrative comes to a close, Cobblepot meets his maker, and his death is publicly blamed on Batman. Nice twist to the narrative, and leaves Batman in a familiar place in the eyes of the Gothamites and with his resolve to be better, to improve, Bruce Wayne and Batman are well placed to become the dark knight we all know he can be.

So we have a Gordon as a servant to the corrupt, and Cobblepot as mayor pulling strings around the city. Another fantastic re-imagining of a character in good ol' Wayne Manor butler Alfred Pennyworth, who is no longer the old, frail man who spouts off the exact right advice Bruce needs, but instead is a kick-ass fight instructor who has mentored Bruce into a thinking, calculating, vengeful fighting machine. The dynamic between these two is so different from what we as fans are used to, that these two engaged in discussion is well worth picking up the book alone.

The world around Bruce is different from what we're used to, but the character himself is still very much the recognizable icon we all know and are intrigued by. In the category of differences, the most substantial element is that he is motivated purely by revenge in this narrative, a passion that Bruce has felt in all Batman stories, but has given way to justice. Bruce isn't quite there yet, but it's a hurdle that's on the horizon. For now, Bruce is obsessed with the notion of a conspiracy revolving around his parents death, and Batman is the instrument of fear that he will use to bash the truth out of guilty parties. The Batman is forming, slowly, but he's in there.

As you can see from these sample pages to the right and bottom center, the art is exquisite, and worth the price tag alone.

In the end, Batman: Earth One is different just enough and investigates alternate aspects of the narrative to the point it justifies the new series. Hopefully, whenever the next Earth One book lands in stores, it won't be another four years after its announcement. Strike while the iron is hot type of thing. Anyway, good beginning, setting the stage for some unique developments to come, and I, for one, am looking quite forward to whatever Johns has in store. Grade: B+


27 July 2012

DARK KNIGHT LEGEND: 5 Fantastic Scenes in The Dark Knight Rises

THE RAMBLINGS OF A MINNESOTA GEEK

proudly presents

THE DARK KNIGHT LEGEND:
A JULY 2012 BATATHON

ANDY'S FRIDAY FIVE:
FANTASTIC SCENES IN THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

Hello all, and thanks for continuing to check out our coverage of the Batman movies! Today is, as the title clearly says, a list of five fantastic scenes from The Dark Knight Rises, officially out a week ago. And tomorrow concludes a look at the movies with my ranking of all seven flicks, best to worse (I bet you think you know what the worse is! Eh, yeah, you're probably right). Following that, reviews will be forthcoming of the newly released re-imagining of the Batman mythos, Batman: Earth One, followed by the critically acclaimed The Dark Knight Returns.

I hate that I even have to say this, but in this day 'n age where people bitch and complain a lot about spoilers, I'm forced to emphasize this duhness: the following post contains explicit SPOILERS, both visually and in writing. So, ignore this if you haven't seen the movie, and then feel bad that you haven't seen the bloody movie.

Enjoy!

24 July 2012

DARK KNIGHT LEGEND: The Dark Knight Rises [2012]

THE RAMBLINGS OF A MINNESOTA GEEK

proudly presents

THE DARK KNIGHT LEGEND:
A JULY 2012 BATAHTON


The Dark Knight Rises

At the time of this writing, I've only had one screening of the movie to build my thoughts on. This is not enough. Therefore, instead of structuring this as a real, thoroughly written review, I'm going to resort to the simple and elegant Liked/Disliked format. Also, before continuing, people should know that I like to discuss a movie as a whole, which includes lots and lots of plot details. Thus, if this must be said, there are spoilers ahead.

I fully expect my opinion and outlook of The Dark Knight Rises to change after time, so perhaps before the month is out I will write a detailed review of the movie (like that would be necessary by that point, but it's worth posting for the sake of writing it as a Batman fan), but for now, enjoy the following, and hand me your thoughts!

I Rise

- Selina Kyle very easily owns this movie, as played to perfection by Anne Hathaway. It's funny, that the single aspect I had the most trepidation about ends up being the single aspect I am most readily giddy to praise. If not for Hathaway, the costume, and the character's arc, I'm not sure exactly what my #1 answer of what I liked would be. She's surprising in her delivery, she's swift in her ass kicking, she's brutal in her performance - she's everything Selina Kyle needs to be. And her rapport with Batman is nothing short of fantastic. Similarly to Heath Ledger, it's always the people Nolan casts that I find most bizarre that end up blowing it right out of the water. She is stunning, not only in her absolute gorgeousness, but the ferocity she brings to the role and the flirtatious side she has with Batman. I love with Michelle did with Selina in Batman Returns, but I think we just may have got our true, definitive Selina Kyle. After all, Hathaway's doesn't die and is resurrected by magical cats. Cat food for thought.

- Flying solo this time, Hans Zimmer had a lot to live up to after the brilliant score for The Dark Knight (co-written by Begins collaborator James Newton Howard), and he more than lived up to expectation. Although, in all fairness, any movie that frequently uses a tribal chant to create a sense of all-out war and terror has already booked me. I love me some chorus work, especially when it's all epic-sounding. And on a sorta related topic, I do want to make brief mention of how I like the deliberate absence of score during the first Batman vs. Bane fight. It added immensely to the uncomfortable, eerie, brutal melee that went down. There's tons of cues from the previous movies, and tons of brand new cues for this flick to make this movie feel like the tying up of a cohesive whole. A listen to just the soundtrack captures that same mood splendidly. Great job, Zimmer, great job.

- However, Zimmer, now I'm friggin' chanting 'Deshi deshi basara basara' all frakkin' day long!

- Cinematography was, once again, top notch. Nolan seems to favor medium shots over all other types, and I think it serves him quite well. Gives his movies a style all of their own.

- Like everyone else, I knew John Blake was more than meets the eye. He couldn't just be some idealist cop who makes it good with Alfred. Nah, there had to be more to it. Plus, casting Joseph Gordon-Levitt for just a bit part? Forget it. But even before the final minutes reveal - JoGo made me Believe in John Blake, and wherever his character was going, I was following. Wherever Warner Bros. brings this series after Nolan's tenure is long gone, I'm confident in thinking that this is the last we'll see of John Blake, or anything related to the Nolanverse. Which is a shame, because this would be a brilliant direction to continue forward. That said, if this is, indeed, the only appearance of Levitt and Blake, it was presented in marvelous fashion. Reminds me to say:

- I really, really liked the dialogue-heavy scene between Blake and Bruce Wayne, where he flat-out tells Bruce that he knows he's Batman, and lists why. The dialogue here is spectacular; talking about being an angry child, and how people can tolerate that anger for only so long before they grow tired of it, so to make everything alright in the world, he had to adopt a smile, to hold that anger in, and it's a similar face to the one Bruce Wayne, billionaire orphan of Gotham, wears wherever he goes. One hell of a strong scene.

- Bane is not as strong as a presence as he has a right to be, and when all is said and done, he's basically Talia's bitch, but I would be remiss to put this in the negative column. Although Bane didn't live up to everything he could be from a character/story standpoint, my god, if Tom Hardy didn't deliver perhaps one of the most chilling performances. And I cannot state enough how much I am deeply in love with the Bane voice. Screw the complaints about it being muffled and shit, it's spine-chilling, it's unusual, it's sorta Darth Vader-y, and it's the voice of "pure evil." Freakin' A, Hardy and that voice were pure brilliance.

- Bringing things full circle was a very clever idea. So, major kudos to the writing crew for making that decision. I love when endings harken back to the beginning.

You Fall
- The single most important function of The Dark Knight Rises is serving two masters, two stories that are of the utmost priority: the resolution to Bruce Wayne and his journey as The Batman, and the stability of Gotham City. One of these are addressed, the other is unfulfilled. Bruce Wayne finds the peace he deserves, he finds the strength to die as Batman and to live as Bruce Wayne. But Batman was born to save the city, to bring it out of its corruption and the devices of evil men. With Bane's revelation of the lie the city's peace was founded on - the lie of Harvey Dent murdered by Batman - there should be outcry, or at least a major consequence. After all, hundreds (if not thousands) of inmates were imprisoned under the Harvey Dent Act, that alone should have ramifications for the future of Gotham. Where we leave Gotham at the end of this movie is a place that still very much needs help, that's in some form of disarray. And although I have no problem with the path they have set for John Blake, I do have problem with Bruce Wayne officially retiring before his single goal had been fulfilled: his peace should be directly linked to Gotham's prosperity, I feel. Perhaps I am alone in this feeling, but I think Gotham didn't get the resolution it deserved.

- Compared to the previous two movies, Gary Oldman's Commissioner James Gordon seems very off from the place of a performance. Even his voice doesn't seem the same, it's changed movie to movie. But despite how he was acted, which I didn't like, I thoroughly enjoyed how he involved himself in the narrative. Gordon was very kickass and instrumental in everything after his brief stint in the hospital. 

- Batman has been entirely out of work for eight years? So, okay, the lie was established to create something for Gotham to be united in, to create peace, blah, blah, etc. Got it. And the cops would be after him, leading to some danger if he were to go out and do his thing. But he's Batman, ladies and gents, and this is the one and only time I feel Nolan didn't get a grasp on the character. Batman needs to be out in Gotham and fight crime. He has to. Okay, fine, peace is in the making, but there's still a mugging a few streets away, there's still a child who will be a orphan one night because The Batman wasn't there to save his soul or what have you. The Batman was very much needed, and Bruce hanging up the cape and cowl for eight whole years, becoming a recluse - that part just doesn't make sense to me.

- Overall, what was the purpose of having Taggert in this story? I mean, I know his plot functions, but as far as unnecessary characters are concerned, Taggert could easily have been cut in favor for more time with Bruce.

- So for five months Bane takes control of Gotham, although he's telling the people of Gotham that it's a free city, do with it as you please, seeming like the good guy, yet all this time he's planning on having that nuke go off and everything (including himself and Talia) get blown to bits? Why not just blow the shit out of Gotham right out of the ballpark? Maybe I'm missing an integral part of the plan (wanna 'xplain it to me?), but it's Bane and Talia's whole 'Screw over Gotham' thing that just...doesn't jive well...

- This is more of a nitpick that I noticed: the opening introductory scene for Bane (widely regarded as 'The Prologue') features a far different dub than what previewed before Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol in December. At this point, I've memorized the tonality and inclinations of Bane's dialogue in that prologue, and with the exception of two lines, Bane's voice was different in the movie than it was back in December. After all the backlash Nolan got for making his voice too muffled and nonsensical, his solution was apparently to up the sound quality of Bane a hundred percent over the necessary limit and choosing alternate takes from Hardy that didn't quite capture the same menace from Bane as before. Sigh, oh well.

- I was a little disappointed by the fights, not going to lie. But by the same token, I understand from a story level that we can't have a long-dormant Bruce suddenly able to offer something of a worthwhile brawl with a strong, lethal, calculating Bane. That said, and maybe this calls more to how it was filmed, but the rematch was nowhere near as epic as I was hoped it to be, either. This was the literal fight for Gotham's soul, I expected it to be something more - amazing. Still, parts of it were quite spectacular, such as a growing ruthless Bane just swatting about, laying everything he's got at Batman, who isn't ready to back down.

The Journey
If there is one single thing about all else that I very, very much like/love from The Dark Knight Rises, it's the prison subplot. It's ingenious, I feel, one of the most brilliant strokes of the entire Trilogy. What this subplot represents on a thematic level, let alone character level, is staggeringly genius. We begin with Bruce Wayne very much in a prison of his own making, a recluse, whispered by society as a crazy man with scars and golem-like features. The first level of 'rise' we get is Bruce deciding to get back into the game after Gordon's hospitalization, but it's not entirely successful. He hasn't thought things through. He's a bit reckless. He's not the man he once was. He was unprepared, and in his rush to aid Gotham, Bruce ended up with a dislocated vertebra and locked in Bane's prison thousands of miles away from Gotham. Broken in body, desperate in soul, with the aid of fellow inmates, Bruce begins to rise.

"Sometimes, a man rises from the darkness" is what Alfred tells Bruce concerning the backstory to Bane. Supposedly only one has ever made it out of the prison, and that was a child. The why is the secret. In one of the TV Spots, Bruce remarks "I'm not afraid, I'm angry." After being purged of that fear in Batman Begins, he's used fear as an instrument, but he wasn't subject to it. The wise doctor in Bane's prison reveals Bruce's folly: how do you strike harder, fight faster and longer, if you aren't driven by the biggest human motivator - the fear of death. He needs to tap back into that fear, the fear of loss, of failing the city, of dying in Bane's prison. And without a rope, without aid, Bruce make a third and final climb. And when we arrives at the most important moment of the narrative, Bruce looks at where he needs to jump, and from behind him, in the wall, a group of bats burst forth and startle him. Whether they're real bats or just a part of Bruce's psyche doesn't matter, what matters is that he's feeling fear again, he's tapping into it, and that will be his saving grace. He closes his eyes. He breathes. He jumps. He catches.

Bruce Wayne rises.

Bruce rises from the pain of Batman, of all the tragedy and the loss in his life, and Batman rises from the criminal nearly every member of law enforcement sought to capture or kill to become a symbol of hope and inspiration. The hero Gotham needed. He never became the "hero with a face", as many surmised may be the case after all the emphasis on that notion in The Dark Knight, where Gothamites fought alongside Bruce Wayne on the steps of City Hall or Bruce the billionaire saving the world in a shinning mirror of Harvey - but we did get a different iteration that, for Gotham, they don't need the face underneath, they have their "hero with a face", and that face is Batman.

Thematically, and from the title alone, rising from the ashes is what this whole Trilogy is about, originating with the 'Why Do We Fall?' line from Begins. And this movie, I think, would have benefited just a little bit more if time was spent with Bruce in captivity, because this scenario wasn't ever one I'm sure fans were treated with before.

However Batman has left Gotham, whatever Bruce Wayne does with his life, and whatever becomes of John Blake and the choices he makes - Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer have crafted a trilogy that is to my generation what the Original Star Wars Trilogy no doubt was for the earlier generations.

Thank you, Chris, Jonathan and David, crafting one of cinema's great epics, 2003-2012.


T H E     E N D

17 July 2012

DARK KNIGHT LEGEND: Batman & Robin [1997]

THE RAMBLINGS OF A MINNESOTA GEEK

proudly presents

THE DARK KNIGHT LEGEND:
A JULY 2012 BATATHON


 Batman & Robin

Some sixteen years later, and Batman & Robin is universally heralded as the Apocalypse of Batman, so, so, sooo bad that it beat the shit out of the franchise and left it dying on the ground. The horrible puns, the lame one liners, the beyond ridiculous script and gadgets and everything that encompasses this movie. Not one iota of the flick is considered even halfway decent by the fanbase and general critics alike. As for me, I think it all comes back to the feeling of Batman Forever - it depends entirely on how you enter the party.

Looking back at all four of the Original Movies (encompassing 1989-1997), we see the Dark Origin of the character, where the mysterious masked man dressed as a bat strikes fear into the hearts of Gotham's criminals and works with the police - in the shadows. And as Gotham enters a new generation, so does the dark knight, no longer secluded to the darkness and whispers of fearful bad guys, but a front and center symbol of justice. Gotham's icon, boasting incredible gadgetry and friends, stopping at nothing to save Gothamites. Enter Batman & Robin, the conclusion of Batman's 'journey'. No longer the instrument of fear, Batman is a celebrity, One of the People, and the manner in which his exploits are dramatized resort to humorous sound bites, sulty villains and one-liner villains, and a tongue-in-cheek tone that, 'hey, isn't this fun? Let's have an nifty adventure with all these cool new toys!' We've come full circle. Batman, the celebrity icon of the late 60's on television, now once again the crown prince of jocularity and bafoonery on the cinema screen.

Taking it in as a Batman fan who immerses himself in the world that Christopher Nolan realized and the dark and gritty graphic novels that celebrate the ambiguous, obsessed crime fighter, watching Batman & Robin is very, very difficult. So the only way for me to be okay with it, to not just hate on every second of the movie, is to recognize that the Batman brand evolved. At the time these were made, audiences didn't want a genuine character, or a genuine story of the man behind the mask or his motivations behind that life choice. They wanted a comic book, on the big screen. And that's exactly what they got.

But because this is Batman & Robin and thousands of words have been written on it in both a comical and serious manner, chronicling exactly how shitty the film is, I'm going to approach this review more in a bullet point, topic-like manner. So, let us begin:

* "You must be new in town. In Gotham, Batman and Robin save us. Even from plants and flowers." This is spoken to Poison Ivy before she becomes a insatiable vixen by a reporter, in response to Uma Thurman's plea to Bruce Wayne that action must be done to save Mother Earth (!). I dare say that this quote from the reporter just about sums up the entire tone of the film. It blatantly speaks to the duo's celebrity status, and considering that the woman is speaking with complete earnestness, it seems that plants and flowers as big bad's is just another day in the park in Gotham. More than that, it speaks volumes to a Gotham that is content with sitting back and letting Batman and Robin do all the work for them. They "save us", meaning that Gothamites - well, they don't seem to really make any effort to take care of themselves. So, corny line, but surprisingly lots can be taken from it.

* I'm perfectly fine with a character using a pun or two, or saying "freeze" a lot because his newly christened name is "Mr. Freeze", but there's a lot, and there's the amount Arnold Schwarrzzennegger says it. I (stupidly) didn't tally it all down, but I would not be surprised at all if the number of times "freeze" was said by Arnie's mouth alone would be in the hundred range.

* "What is Batman, if not an effort to master the chaos that sweeps our world? An attempt to control death itself." Oh my God, screenwriter Akiva Goldsman is actually trying to bring some sort of drama and pathos to Batman in this movie? Futile, but bravo Akiva for making the attempt. Still, it's a interesting way to look at the character. Batman making himself Master of Death, refusing to allow anyone to die on his watch. And in this universe, Batman isn't against killing, so there's a tad more credence to that. But still, how are we supposed to take Batman seriously in a movie that features this:


* George Clooney is a great Bruce Wayne. He has the charisma, that look of a billionaire playboy who couldn't give less of a shit about the city, and the New Random Girl to have his arms all over. But as Batman? Horrible, horrible casting. His face looks all freaky deaky as the Bats, and just not representative of the dark knight. That said, I need to recognize the tone change from Kilmer to Clooney, and then maybe I'll be okay with it. Outlook, not so good.

* Barbara Wilson? Alfred's niece? Okay....

* Speaking of Alfred, I'm beyond glad Goldsman gave the fantastic actor some genuine material to work with. I love how Barbara comes into the mix and tries to shame Bruce and Dick for having Alfred in this line of servitude, and Alfred's response later, that he has the greatest honor to serve heroes - that's tremendous writing and acting. Michael Gough really owns this movie, and makes it a far memorable experience than the goofy one liners and obvious action figure cash-ins.

* Horrible one-liners aside, Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze were actually kinda fun villains. All pretense of being serious movie monsters was dropped, and Uma and Arnold where given free license to just ham it up and just go nuts. This makes for Uma's Poison Ivy to be the second most entertaining bad "person" of the Original Films. Bane, though, is a disgrace. It's insulting to the original intention of Bane, and it's an insult to all moviegoers. Even at the age of seven, I know for a fact - I was un-freakin'-amused.

* I could get into suit designs and how they're absolutely ridiculous (see pic below), but as we all know, they're all simply meant to be flashy, with absolutely no desire to think of them in a real world setting. They look the part, but they aren't really the part. Many have remarked that Schumacher designed the costumes to have similarities to Greek sculptures, make them akin to the heroes of the past, I take it. Then what might one gather from the pic below? Greek heroes changed outfits between one scene to another for a more splashy effect before they head back out in battle?

* Batman & Robin is a pretty shitty movie if you're coming to it from the viewpoint of someone who worships Batman Begins and everything Christopher Nolan has done for the saga (such as myself), but it helps - barely - to understand that the intent of this movie wasn't to be good, even. Which is a monumental shame. It's that aim which killed the Bat franchise for several years. The dark knight became a laughing stock, an embarrassment. We've reached the pinnacle of its 1960's cartoonish glory, and when it's resurrected eight years later, audiences and fans were treated with the pinnacle of Batman being Batman, for good. Just sad it had to come to this before we came to that.


16 July 2012

DARK KNIGHT LEGEND: Batman Forever [1995]


THE RAMBLINGS OF A MINNESOTA GEEK

proudly presents

THE DARK KNIGHT LEGEND:
A JULY 2012 BATATHON

Batman Forever

"Because I Choose To Be" | Full disclosure right now: this review of Batman Forever is going to be a predominantly positive review, because of the fact I saw it for the first time at the age of five and I loved every little second of it. The hilarious jokes, the thrilling opening sequence with Two Face at the bank, the Batmobile, the over-the-top performance from Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey, the vibrant colors, the fight scenes, the ending, Robin, the riddles - everything about Batman Forever I loved unabashedly and to this day, despite its many problems and just plain badness, I can't hate it, because Batman Forever made me fall in love with the caped crusader. This was my movie, and although this film signals the beginning of the end of the Batman series on the movie screen for quite some time, I find myself constantly going back to it and, at times, defending it.

So that's what this is going to be. Me saying, I like Batman Forever, and this is why.

First and foremost, let's look at the films depiction of Bruce Wayne. What they could have done is make this character unrecognizable to the one began by Keaton, or turned him into a super muscular dude with snark, or given him super powers, or something. Point is, they could have messed up this character majorly. They did not. In fact, they kept Bruce Wayne very much grounded and in tune with Keaton. Michael Keaton brought a darkness and damage to Bruce Wayne, and in Returns there was a bit of comedy to the role, and all these elements remain true in Batman Forever. More than that, this film pushes the psychology of Bruce Wayne further than any film outside of Batman Begins [2005].

The memories of his father's journal that will never be written in again. The singular bat that emerged from the darkness and heralded the beginning of his destiny. The choice and drive to ensure that no one would ever have to endure what he endured ever again. The lecture to Dick about revenge and the countless faces that become your victims. Right there, the basic elements that constitute Batman are explicitly stated. This is Batman. So anyone saying that Keaton is the definitive representation of Bruce Wayne and Batman, I daresay take a closer look at Kilmer and this films interpretation. For all intents and purposes, it's the same guy. Keaton could just as easily walked into this role. But the point is that whatever negative press directed towards this movie, they got Batman and Bruce Wayne down. So that leads me to believe these are the areas people hate:

- The nipples on the batsuit. Honestly, it wasn't distracting, so I didn't care too much. It will become more dominant and obnoxious in the next one, so I'll probably complain during that review, but here, it doesn't hurt it. A commenter I read frequently brought up that women's garments are sexualized by heterosexual males in the comic strips, sporting nippes or giant breast plates that don't really serve the character well. A understandable argument. After all, including nipples on the batsuit makes no sense. Guess we'll chalk it up to artistic liberties taken by Schumacher for his own personal reasons.

- Two Face and the Riddler. Understandable hatred directed towards these two, and I won't fault anyone for hating the film because of them. But, again, I'd probably just say, your enjoyment or hatred of these two, and much of the movie, depends on how you approach Batman Forever.

- The jokes. Y'know, I didn't mind 'em too much. They were chuckle worthy. Again, this is a hammy Batman movie, not Burton's dark and serious tone. This was to be expected. So reflecting the mood of the film, it fits right in home. Can get to be a little much, that said...

Er, nevermind, actually. I feel like I'm rambling too much and not making a point. So, in essence, Batman Forever, it's a favorite of mine. Why? Because as a child, it made me fall in love with the Bats. I enjoy that the writers continued making attempts at analyzing Bruce Wayne (there's apparently a deleted scene after the attack at Wayne Manor that has Bruce with temporary amnesia and is reminded of who he is by the visage of a giant bat - I'd like to see that, gorgeous symbolism). I enjoy the wackiness of Two Face even though the Batman fan in me should absolutely hate it. I love the nifty gadgets and rides Batman and Robin use to thwart evil. I just have fun watching the flick.

If we were to look at these four original movies as a timeline of storytelling evolution, we've now exited the dark, somber, moody, analytical part of the character and are now in the transition period to something far, far worse than anyone could have expected, but at the same time, a movie that excels mightly at what it is....

Val Kilmer as Bruce Wayne/Batman | You either love him or hate him. Kilmer says every line of dialogue as Wayne and Batman in the same measured, deep, kinda sleepy tone. His face never changes with the sole exception of a far-too wide grin spread across his face when Dr. Chase reveals that, instead of Rubber Nipples, she actually fancy's a normal bloke for once. But it works. By the same token, though, by maintaining the same manner of physicality and speech pattern, there's so little to discuss about Val Kilmer's portrayal as Bruce Wayne/Batman, that, in actuality, it's the script I'm most impressed by and not so much him. Perhaps it's the strength of the script that sorta....transferred that haunted, tortured persona onto the screen instead of Kilmer himself.

Concerning the character of Bruce Wayne, I have two objections about what happens in this movie: [1] Bruce states that he's never been in love, which goes entirely against the established mythology of the first Burton Batman movie. And really, what does Chase offer that the other gals didn't? More directness? And [2], what sense in the universe makes Bruce quitting being Batman so he can enjoy his love-fueled days with Dr. Chase reasonable? It's a stupid subplot, and at the very least, if a writer is going to make this action reality, it deserved more than just one brief scene before he dons the cape and cowl again. It needs to be a monumental decision, not a simple, 'well....I think that's about enough of that being Batman thing...cos this chick, who I've only been on a few dates with....yeah, gotta give up everything to be with her...' Ugh.

But enough negatives. Kilmer was fine as Bruce. And even though Keaton emoted more, there's just something about Kilmer that - despite what I wrote above - I find him to be the second most enchanting Bruce next to Christian Bale.
Tommy Lee Jones as Harvey Dent/Two-Face | This is a pretty big area where my opinion tends to differ from pretty much everyone else. See, I flippin' love what Tommy did here. It's as if he saw what Jim was doing, and thought, 'Screw you, you aren't going to over-top me!' and bolstered his performance up several pegs. This is Tommy Lee Jones as a unbridled psychopath who is very much treating Batman Forever as nothing more than a comic book movie (and, perhaps, deservedly so). Obviously I wouldn't call this the definitive portrayal of Harvey Dent as a character [since there's very, very little of the true Harvey Dent in this character at all], but it's an absolutely hilarious, totally fun interpretation of Harvey using his one-side deformity as a sort of excuse for MPD. The key to just enjoying Two Face and the Riddler is resigning yourself to just sitting back on your couch, and just allowing these two actors to simply ham it up times a billion, because they aren't playing characters, they're reinforcing the cartoony cultural depictions of villains. Exaggerated movements, lots of yelling, obsession with money and jewels, scantly clad ladies at their service, a lavish, secret lair, and in the Riddler's case, some Ridiculous Evil Scheme. But where Jim Carrey is annoying, Tommy Lee Jones is just brilliantly crazy.

In this day 'n age where there's shorts every once in a while before the movie (typically before Pixar flicks, I know, but still...), I would have loved to see some five minute mini-thingy with Tommy's Two Face stuck with another dweeb of a villain and teaching him the ropes or something. Overall, in the end, I loved Tommy's Harvey Two-Face because he's just so much damn fun. He's silly, he's psychotic,and he's a memorable nutters villain. Yes, he's not the Two Face he should be, but under the context of this movie, he's exactly the Two Face he needs to be.

Nicole Kidman as Dr. Chase Meridian | Three ladies in three movies. Batman moves fast. So now we have a psychiatrist, Dr. Chase Meridian, who wants nothing but to bone the rubber out of Batman. But then she encounters Bruce, and realizes that he's a cool dude, and to make things even more nice, he's a bit of a damaged bloke, that he's got some darkness in him. At night, Batman arrives outside her door for a booty call, but Chase, ever the tease, declines the rubber monster and instead decides she fancies herself some dark and brooding turtle-neck wearing Bruce Wayne. Things get even better when it's revealed that she really doesn't have to choose at all! She can have both Bruce Wayne and Batman all in one! So she's got a damaged psyche she can assist nursing back to health, and she's got a tall, dark and handsome billionaire ready to quit his profession as a hero and spend his days immersed in a love fest with her! Life is good to Dr. Chase Meridian.

Surprisingly, despite what I wrote above, Kidman's Dr. Chase actually isn't all that bad of a character. She seems to be able to take care of herself (minus the being captured part in Act Two), she likes to wear sexy outfits instead of casual, comfy ones, and in regards to the plot, she helps peel layers of Bruce's mind to reveal memories he's long suppressed. So Dr. Chase isn't a rubbish female protagonist, or worthless or unnecessary for that matter. It's a good character who just seems to be very outwardly horny (good for you, luv). But as for the connection between Bruce and Chase, that comes across as a little less believable, especially the whole leaving-Batman-behind-cos-I'm-in-love bit. The scenes these two share don't emphasize enough of a connection to make that subplot make sense.

Jim Carrey as Edward Nygma/The Riddler | Just wanna note, The Riddler laughs more often than the Joker ever did in Batman [1989]. Just sayin'. Alrightey then, I think we can all agree that Jim Carrey was cast as the Riddler only for star power. As to whether it was the right choice or not, in the context of what this movie is, I'd say yes, absolutely. If I were to objectively look at the character of the Riddler (who Carrey's Edward Nygma hardly shares any similarities to), then Carrey and this Riddler would be one epic fail of epic proportions. Carrey exaggerates every tiny thing. His eyes. His hair (!). His legs. His arms. His head. His words. His vocals. This is a man who approached the character not as some sort of performance, but more like, 'How fuckin' crazy can I get?' And with an approving nod from Mr. Schumacher, amped up his insanity even more. These are caricature villains, and deserve to be looked at such. I mean, c'mon, let's take a gander at the Riddler's big, brilliant evil plan: using his device thingy to channel the brains of Gothamites watching the tele and taking their bank accounts and credit card number information so they can rich and happily ever after. Laaammmee.

Chris O'Donnell as Dick Grayson/Robin | If Robin were ever to be resurrected in the Batman reboot following this Friday's The Dark Knight Rises, this is a model example of how to do it. O'Donnell is wonderful in the role, full of rage at the death of his parents, finding purpose in fighting crime, battling with his desire to kill Harvey, trying to one-up Bruce, etc. This is how Robin needs to be done. If there's one bright spot for fans, I would think it would be O'Donnell's Dick. Sure, he might not completely adhere to the character established in the comics, nor the circumstances of his family's death, but O'Donnell sells the character quite well. It's a shame the script doesn't seem to have too much time for him, though, and O'Donnell does the best he can with what he's given. All that emotional character stuff is handed to Bruce, leaving Dick very little room to change as a person. In the Third Act as the decision comes whether to allow Two Face's death or save him, Dick makes the choice we all expect him to....because that's what's expected, not because it comes organically from his character. So as Robin, he looks great, and this is the right way to go. Just sad thing is, they should have done better with his character.

Gotham City | Still a combination of miniature work and digital imagery, Gotham stays very much in line with the design of the Burton Era, but, y'know, everything that was once dark, is now lit up like a freakin' Christmas tree - times a thousand. Vibrant colors abound. If we're under the assumption - as the movie is - that Batman Forever takes place in the universe first established by the Burton movies, then I guess we can surmise that Gotham entered a new period where the dark and brooding Gotham instead celebrated lights and decorated its gothic architecture with lush designs and...I dunno, glowy stuff. And it's populated with its own unique-to-this-generation gang of Neon/Blacklight street thugs with glow sticks and other sparkly weapons ready to take on anybody who enters their turf. So it's a different vibe to Gotham, but it's still very much the same, and I respect that creative decision. Pretty awesome, I dare say.

 Notes, Quotes and Discussion |
  • Riddler: "Was that a little over the top? I can never tell." Yes, Carrey, your entire performance can be constituted to a little over-the-top.
  • Chase: "You like strong women. I've done my homework. Or do I need skintight vinyl and a whip?" Very nice reference to Batman Returns, and also emphasizes that, despite how jarringly different in tone these Schumacher movies are to the Burton films, they are, nonetheless, supposed to constitute one single universe/chronology. 
  • Batman Forever. Quite often I hear/read folks who absolutely despise this title. What does it mean? That's rubbish! Who makes these titles? To me, I think it's a great title, and better than Batman Returns. With that title, it makes no sense in the context of, well, he never left! Batman's been swinging around Gotham doing his own thing, y'know? Now if it were the case of Dark Knight Rises, when he's gone from the spotlight for a period of time and then re-emerges in Gotham, that title would be apt, but as it is, it ain't so much. Anyway, that aside, this title makes great sense in context of some nifty dialogue. In the Third Act Batman tells The Riddler, "I am both Bruce Wayne and Batman. Not because I have to be. Now, because I choose to be." This about sums up the Schumacher interpretation of Batman and explains away the title. He chooses to be Batman, and he will be Batman to his dying breath. Or if that isn't satisfactory enough answer, who Batman is, what he symbolizes, Batman, in life or death, will be forever.
  • Two-Face: "Yes of course you’re right, Bruce. Emotion is always the enemy of true justice. Thank you, you’ve always been a good friend." These simple lines allude to a greater relationship between Bruce and Harvey than is ever realized in the movie, and that's a big, gigantic pity.
The Final Word | Let's say, if I was a teenage or adultish Batman fan in 1995 and I saw Batman Forever, my initial reaction to watching the film unfold before me on the screen would be utter outrage at the blasphemy and ridiculousness that's tarnishing the Batman name. As it is, I was five, and this movie seemed, in its own weird way, designed for me. I loved The Riddler, Two-Face, the gadgets, the whole damn lot. I can also say the whole Dr. Chase Meridian having a hard-on for Batman flew over my head, thankfully, nor did the thought cross my mind of 'damn, Bats, you're cycling through girls at a pretty quick rate, dude.' Point is, Batman Forever is the type of movie that's very dependent on your taste. As opposed to Batman & Robin, which is a bad movie no matter what way you slice it, there's actually some genuine good fun and depth here, making it not entirely a piece of crap. I genuinely like the movie, but I can entirely understand why others wouldn't. Acquired taste. RATING: 8/10