Thursday, February 28, 2013

Flight (and Bad Lieutenant)

It seems most likely that the inspiration for Flight came from the successful crash landing into the Hudson River by Chelsey Sullenberger.  Only to spice things up they have the pilot be not only a hero but a drug addict to boot (maybe writer John Gatins (Summer Catch, Coach Carter) also drew from Bad Lieutenant but we’ll get to that movie in a minute).

Smart idea, smart cast and smartly done overall.  I had no interest in seeing this until recently when a friend told me was pumped to check it out.  Oh, and I found out a little more about how much drugs Denzel takes (which is a lot).  I liked it. 

The trailer makes the film look a bunch lamer and tamer than it actually is.  The impression I got was that this was going to be sort of a mystery if this pilot, Whip, drank before the plane crash and if his drinking was the reason why the plane went down.  That’s not what’s going on here at all.  You know from the start that Whip is a mess but you also know from the get go that his shredded state had nothing to do with the plane malfunctioning.  There’s nothing to figure out, it’s an engrossing character study.

Denzel gives his best performance since Training Day, ironically where he played another wolf in sheep’s clothing.  He’s tip top when he’s high, no one can touch him when it comes to flying.  He’s so clear minded, collected, cool headed and totally fucked up.  It’s not over the top at all or even on the brink of being over the top like in Training Day.  Here Denzel plays just the right notes and knows when to turn on the devious behavior and the anger.  I wish he would’ve won best actor at the Oscars.  Oh well.

The only thing I didn’t care for that much was the very last scene.  It gets too cheesy and heavy handed but certainly doesn’t discount the rest of the experience. 

Could this be a new Bob Zemeckis?  It looks like he gave up on that remake of Yellow Submarine which is a good move.  This film definitely feels like when a teen pop or movie star tries to shed their goody two shoes image.  They start to dress more scantily clad, sing about drinking, get tattoos, have sex with a lot of other celebrities, do a nude scene, etc.  They essentially say “I’m not who you think I am, I have a wild side”.  After Polar Express, Beowulf and A Christmas Carol (by the way that motion capture shit creeps me out and I wish it would stop) Zemeckis wanted to say that.  And just like those young celebs that tend to gravitate towards the extreme to prove their badassness Bob decided to shoot the edgiest script he could get his hands on.  I mean the thing starts with a full frontal of some chick, Denzel taking a swig of beer, a hit of weed and snorting a line of coke.  Zemeckis: “See, I’m all grown up now.”

But good for Bob for doing something that’s clearly outside of his comfort zone and also for navigating through that unexplored area so well.  Hopefully this gave him a craving to do live action again and to also do non children’s movies.  I haven’t seen his three I listed above but years ago Zemeckis was so great at crafting pretty wacky stories that catered to both kids and adults like the Back to the Futures, Forrest Gump and Death Becomes Her (which is a forgotten classic).  I get that he’s a different person now but after seeing Flight it doesn’t look like he’s going down the same path Spielberg did.  Spielberg will never make an edgy action adventure type picture again where our charismatic hero unconcernedly shoots motherfuckers in the head.  Because he got older and has a family now he doesn’t want to portray violence with nearly as much glory as he did.  Bob, on the other hand, wants to dig into heavy shit like drug addiction.  Maybe he’ll tackle something really violent next.  

So this was good, even great at times.  We care about Whip because he’s charming, a goddamn amazing pilot and we can see the good underneath the alcohol, drugs and reckless conduct.  It’s like if we just give him a little more time he’ll sort it out and become the great man we know he is.  But at the same time we know the sonuvabitch will always give in and destroy himself.  It’s tragic man.

Now this is not the same character as the Lieutenant from Bad Lieutenant (either of ‘em but I’ll be talking about the 1992 one).  Flight kinda felt like Bad Lieutenant lite.  There are more differences than similarities but I’d like to go through some of them because…well…it’s a chance to talk about Bad Lieutenant which I haven’t done yet.

Whip and Lieutenant are similar in that they both love to do drugs and do their jobs while high as a motherfucker.  They’re addicts so they need this shit to function.  They would probably do a worse job without the help of drugs.  Each of their jobs involves positions of power and taking care of people.  They both seem to like their jobs too. 

I think that’s where the similarities end though.  While Whip is a redeemable figure Lieutenant is absolutely not.  The man has a very bad gambling problem (it’s kinda funny that he keeps betting against the Mets because that would normally be a good move, poor bastard), does way more drugs and a larger assortment than Whip, but most importantly he doesn’t help anybody.  At least Whip successfully landed a broken plane and saved people’s lives.  Lieutenant pulls two girls over and masturbates in front of them.  He never does anything good, respectable or valiant.  This guy is a despicable human being.  Lieutenant doesn’t even attempt to get sober like Whip.  Lieutenant stays in his crumpled state while things go from bad to worse.

It’s interesting that religion plays a role in both pictures.  In Flight I’m not sure what Zemeckis was saying.  I couldn’t figure out if it was an endorsement or a rejection.  Maybe it’s both.  More than anything it seemed like an acknowledgement.  Like Zemeckis was giving a nod to religion but also saying that we control our own lives and actions.  The whole thing is dealt with smoothly without much debate.  In Bad Lieutenant there’s more of a struggle.  One of the cases Lieutenant works on is the rape of a nun and it kind of haunts him throughout the movie.  At the end it’s Lieutenant yelling at Jesus, calling him a “rat fuck”.  Lieutenant believes in religion but is pissed that it doesn’t seem to be working for him.  This also falls into the acknowledgment category.  Writer/director Abel Ferrara is saying that he’s on board with religion but it’s frustrating to deal with and understand.

Where Flight ended on a relatively happy note Bad Lieutenant does not.  It’s grim and terrible but also realistic and extremely fitting.  I want to say that it couldn’t possibly end any other way but Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans proves otherwise.  Who the fuck knew the exact opposite ending could work too?  Pretty weird.

The original Bad Lieutenant is a masterpiece (Port of Call New Orleans is almost just as good).  Harvey Keitel is phenomenal (he does a full frontal by the way), Ferrara does an incredible job (it’s probably his best film, or at least my favorite of his), it lives up to the title and the NC-17 rating and it’s just a fucking crazy movie.  And Flight is cool because it shows that you can have the Bad Lieutenant spirit in a much more commercially viable film. 

With the magic that Werner Herzog pulled on the Bad Lieutenant remake hopefully he’ll reboot Flight next. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Into the Deep: America, Whaling & the World

Ever wondered what it would be like to go whaling?  Check out Into the Deep: America, Whaling & the World and you’ll get all the horrific details you’ve ever wanted.  Goddamn that shit sounded like a living nightmare.

Great doc by Ric Burns (Ken’s brother).  The story of the Essex, especially what happens after the whale attack, is nuts.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Batman & Robin

Well it looks like forever really only lasted for one more movie.  Hell, Val Kilmer as Batman was temporary which I’m pretty sure is the opposite of forever.  Anyway, this is the big dump that everyone loves to pile on to.  You often hear things like “worst film ever made” and “unwatchable” associated with this flick.  But not here.  If you want to read how this thing is worse than the holocaust then you’ll have to look elsewhere.  I really like this fuckin’ movie.

It’s such a whore though.  We all know about the Bat credit card blah blah shameless blah.  Fine internet, I got it.  Who Schumacher states as being major factors in the development of the script and the production design are the toy companies.  The film needed to be as “toyetic” as possible.  In other words they demanded that there be a lot of shit in here that they could turn into toys and sell to children (and adults).  That’s partly why there are unnecessary characters like Bane and Batgirl.  And also why there are a bunch of costume changes and a heavy emphasis on vehicular action.  I wonder how much the toy companies influence today’s comic book movies.

But that’s just one component in this perfect storm. 

The script, especially the dialogue, is trite and hacky.  However, it does feel like one person wrote it.  The tone and badness is consistent and spread throughout.

The cinematography and production design are totally wacked out.  There are tons of crazy angles, the lighting is even brighter and more neon-y than Forever, a lot of the sets and props look cheap and like they’re made of plastic, the vehicles and costumes are even tackier than in Forever, and unfortunately there’s a heavier usage of CGI this time.  The whole picture is like a surreal live action cartoon and I’m on board.  They pushed the look of Forever pretty much to the breaking point.  Everything is so exaggerated and made so flamboyant that you wouldn’t believe this shit could exist in the real world.  And this is part of the reason why I really dig this movie.  Just like how Forever is a visually beautiful film B&R is maybe even prettier.  The images are so vivid and flashy that they sear into your brain.

Now while the previous couple of items I listed are vital for any production perhaps the most important choice is who you stick in front of the camera.  Because man oh man, every actor was miscast in this.  First off Schwarzenegger can definitely play a bad guy.  He was excellent in The Terminator.  He not being a good guy isn’t the issue.  The things wrong with Arnold are his size and his approach to the role.  Schwarzenegger is a bulky guy by himself but to put that gigantic awkward suit on him is just too much.  He looks like he’s having a real hard time moving around in that thing.  It’s the most un-sleek superhero outfit I’ve ever seen.  Arnie looks like a body builder or a robot and not a scientist turned criminal.  And I don’t know if Schwarzenegger was the one that pushed for all the puns (it certainly is his kind of cheesy humor) or if it really was in the script.  This movie competes with Tango & Cash in the pun department.  Jesus are there a lot of them.  Schwarzenegger plays it too self-aware.  There’s so much “I’m the bad guy maw haw haw” shit that you forget this character is supposed to be a person who went through a life changing experience.  Schwarzenegger’s portrayal was grown in a lab and possesses few human qualities.  It’s different from Tommy Lee Jones’ Two-Face who focused on his villainous duties and didn’t wink at the audience.  Schwarzenegger comes off like he’s never acted before and he tries to emulate Nicholson’s Joker and Carrey’s Riddler too much with all the fuckin’ corny comedy.  The main problem is he basically plays himself.  Schwarzenegger didn’t try and it shows.

A lot of the same shit could be said of Uma Thurman too, very cartoony, very self-aware, it’s like she’s never been in a movie before.  She may give a worse performance than Schwarzenegger though.

You already know I think Robin stinks and Chris O’Donnell isn’t a great actor so let’s skip to Alicia Silverstone.  I’m not sure if she can really act or not because she’s terrible in this (surprise, surprise) but she was very good in Clueless.  I haven’t seen The Crush or The Babysitter yet so that one’s still up in the air.  Anyway, Batgirl is a superfluous character and perhaps the only real element in the movie that’s bad and stays bad.  She doesn’t make the full journey from bad to good.

Finally there’s Clooney.  I don’t think this was automatically a mistake.  Back in the mid 90’s, just thinking about all the possibles, he could’ve conceivably been a good Batman.  He’s kinda stiff, withdrawn, moody, mature and has a dominant stare.  It was totally worth looking into.  Now, I don’t know if they made him audition for the part but they should’ve because it would’ve been evident pretty quick that he doesn’t work.  They probably didn’t.  Clooney got it because was huge on ER at the time.  Maybe he was good on that show (never saw it) but every line that comes out of his mouth falls flat to the floor, and his would-be stoic presence comes off as someone who looks either kinda irritated or completely indifferent to the events happening around him.  I’ve come to realize that George Clooney is not a good actor.  He can only play one character: a smug, smooth, wise-ass dude.  It hit me about a year ago when I finally saw The Thin Red Line.  Clooney is only in it for like two minutes but he was so out of place that it struck me hard.  The only time I’ve seen him pull off a performance that wasn’t the usual guy he does was in From Dusk Till Dawn.  Ok, it was more like an exaggerated version but it was different enough.  This apparently isn’t what got him the role of Batman though.  Schumacher said that on a hunch he drew the Batman cowl on Clooney in a From Dusk Till Dawn ad in the newspaper but he doesn’t mention seeing the movie.  The point is Clooney was wrong for the part.

But as I said before, everything is wrong.  Nothing really works.  Freeze is such an uncool and unthreatening villain.  Like he’s a fuckin’ dork that’s annoying and makes lame ass jokes all the time.  Who the fuck would be scared of him or want to work for him?  Poison Ivy for all her talk of bringing shit back to the way Mother Nature intended acts so unnaturally.  Why would she wear synthetic tights, tons of makeup and partner up with someone like Bane whose existence is based on man-made chemicals?  Why does Poison Ivy need Freeze anyway?  Is she such a weak bad guy that she can’t handle an evil scheme all by herself?  She should’ve left his ass in jail.  Why are Batman and Robin in the public eye so much?  Wouldn’t it be beneficial to hang back so it’s harder for folks to figure out who these two are?  Working with the police is one thing but to be the centerpiece of a charity event makes no sense.  And I could go on with a million more questions.  Just about every aspect of this film is fucking baffling.  Like when Freeze turns Robin into an ice cube towards the beginning he could’ve zapped Batman too who was standing right there but doesn’t for absolutely no reason.

Schumacher gets all the blame for this and I guess in the end it does fall at his feet.  He’s the captain of the ship.  But instead of attempting to hang this albatross around other people’s necks he wants the public to aim their anger at him and away from everyone else who worked on this.  He’s acknowledged that no one forced him to make the movie and that it was all of his own accord.  Joel’s a standup guy that’s willing to take the hit for the entire cast and crew.  The vibe I get from him is that this wasn’t really the film he wanted to make but went along with it because of pressure from the studio and others who had influence.  He also must’ve been presented with the biggest paycheck he’d ever seen and he couldn’t pass it up.  But Schumacher wasn’t a mere hired hand.  He chose the cast, the crew and the villains were suggested to him by his godson who was like ten at the time.  This was still Schumacher’s show.  He just went a little crazy.

If you still think Schumacher is evil then maybe this will help.  First of all Schumacher said that he wouldn’t take over the Batman series without Tim Burton’s consent.  So to an extent (albeit a small one) Burton signed off on this.  Don’t forget, he produced Forever guys.  Second, Schumacher’s very honest and humble about his directing ability.  He’s admitted that (and I quote) “I’m not a great director”.  He’s said he likes some of his movies and doesn’t like others.  The man knows when he fucked up.  His advice that he tells people (that was handed down to him from Woody Allen) is “if I can do this, you can do this and you can do it better”.  A lot of people dismiss Schumacher but he’s a smart guy and he really loves making movies.  His heart is in the right place and I think he really is a great director (watch Falling Down).  It’s a little rash to toss him aside based on this one film.      

It’s interesting that the Burton sequel and the latter Schumacher sequel are the extremes of these four Batmans.  You have the darkest with Returns and the lightest with B&R.  It’s like a second Batman picture screws you up and makes you do strange things.  I’d say that’s even true for The Dark Knight.  I’m not a Christopher Nolan fan but The Dark Knight was fantastic.  I think he made a movie that even non Nolan fans enjoyed.  Speaking of the Nolan Batman trilogy The Dark Knight Rises is kind of like the B&R of that series.  It’s puzzlingly atrocious.  You know, in the grand scheme of things B&R is not the worst Batman film between its four and the new trilogy.  I think The Dark Knight Rises is (with Batman Begins finishing next to last).  At the very least B&R is nice to look at and stuff happens fairly frequently.  Rises is long, boring, has a pretty dull production design, ok cinematography and raises just as many questions about plot and character as B&R does.  (If you haven’t been doing so already I’m sure you’re yelling at the screen by now.  Well if you have something to say please leave a comment.  I look forward to reading them.)   

I can see why the public liked Forever but rejected B&R.  It does ask a lot of the audience.  But in my opinion Returns to Forever is a bigger leap.  It’s a totally different equation.  From Forever to B&R is an exponential increase but we’re still using the same set of numbers.  Sure, it’s a stupid movie but holy shit is it entertaining.  There’s always something weird to look at or some facet of production so inexplicably bad that makes this an amazing watch.  It’s awe-inspiring how awful yet fun this thing is.  It’s another anywhere anytime film for me.  I really do love this picture.

Fun facts: U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) is a huge Batman fan and made an appearance in this as well as The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises.

Gossip Gerty, the reporter woman that talks in an annoying way with the 60’s glasses, is Elizabeth Sanders Kane, Bob Kane’s (the creator of Batman) wife.  She appears in Returns and Forever too.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Batman Forever

Quite a change wasn’t it?  It hadn’t been a long while like it was between Batman & Robin and Batman Begins.  Only three years separate Returns from Forever.  I remember when I saw this in the theater I was surprised at first but was almost immediately drawn in and forgot about the previous two films.  My brain allowed me to hit the reset button on the franchise.  I guess after the cold Returns it was nice to be presented with a much warmer adaptation.  And it seemed a lot of people were cool with this as well because Forever was a huge fucking hit.  As I get older, and now that more Batman movies have been made, this one only seems to get better. 

It’s such an entertaining experience.  The design of Gotham is exaggerated enormously and also beautifully.  I dig those gigantic statues of Greek gods or whatever the hell those are supposed to be.  It’s a unique and striking look for a city.  A lot of you might think it looks too cartoony and you may be right but you sure as shit remember it.  It’s remarkable when an impression is left, good or bad.

They managed to have the lighting feel bright and dark at the same time somehow.  For instance Two-Face’s hideout has so many shadows but it’s also flooded in this neon pink light.  I saw a making-of not long ago and someone commented that the camera was constantly showing their own lighting rigs but the audience never noticed.  That was a forehead smacking moment.  The sonuvabitch was right.  If you look at the circus scene or the Riddler’s lair you can see the lights that would normally be off screen setting the mood.  And holy shit are those lights putting out a collage of colors. 

The camera work is really well done.  The first fight scene Batman has with henchmen off the elevator was shot particularly great.  You can understand what’s happening during the action sequences too.

And because this was done before CGI had a stranglehold, most things, except mainly some shots of the city, had to be done for real.  That’s a big plus. 

All of this stuff is a feast for the eyes.  Visually this film is gorgeous.

As far as the acting goes I only have a couple of qualms.  I wish Jim Carrey wasn’t cast as the Riddler because he made the character too jokey.  Essentially we get a shitty Joker here.  The way they did the Riddler in the animated series from the early 90’s was the direction they should’ve gone.  The outfit in Forever isn’t even right.  Was it because Two-Face was wearing a suit that they had to put the Riddler in tights?  But I have to admit that this portrayal bothers me less as time goes on.

The only other real problem with acting I have is Chris O’Donnell.  First of all Robin is fucking lame.  I don’t think I ever want to see him in a Batman picture.  Secondly Chris is not the best actor.  All of his emotions are too forced and I don’t buy the bad boy attitude.  You seem like a nice guy ‘n all but sorry man, you’re not good in this. 

Everyone else does fine.  Val Kilmer slips into his role well.  He looks the part and is pretty stoic both in and out of the Bat suit.  His performance may be lighter and cheesier than Keaton’s but it’s way better than Clooney’s. 

Nicole Kidman isn’t very good but it feels like she’s barely in this so she doesn’t bother me.

Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face is definitely the best person in this though.  Jones looks like he’s having a helluva lot of fun and Two-Face enjoys being evil so much that it rubs off.  From what I gather this is not what this character is supposed to be like at all but this works for me.  Sure they turned him into another Joker clone but oddly enough the change is more successful on Two-Face who’s supposed to be darker and more serious than the Riddler.  I can’t get enough of his brute force tactics either.  Two-Face’s destroy-everything policy doesn’t really ever work out but he’s tenacious and that’s great to see.  I couldn’t ask for much more out of a villain in a comic book movie.  Everything from the crazy split personality suit to him having to drink two different cocktails and smoke two different cigarettes at once to the purple shit on half of his face made out of fruit roll-ups, I fuckin’ love this guy.

The plot is actually really cool if you think about it.  The Riddler wants to take over the city by selling its citizens a device that secretly reads minds.  Two-Face is completely unnecessary in this scenario actually.  The only reason he’s there is because the studio said so (that goes for Robin too).  Two-Face is relegated to being just a thug, a very charismatic and amusing thug.  I mean his operation wasn’t going anywhere until the Riddler showed up.  But even though this scheme is all about the Riddler it feels like Two-Face gets more screen time than him.

My favorite scene is probably the opening robbery (which I always assumed was a bank but why would the vault be located on the top floor of a skyscraper?) and the ensuing helicopter sequence.  The reveal of Two-Face is excellent by, of course, only showing his regular non-mutilated side at first.  And then when we get a gander at that makeup job the light turns pink, Jones puts on that gravely voice and goddamn is he a sight.  The henchmen look brilliant too with the bi-color face masks, leather jackets, dog collars, piercings and neon on their guns (genius idea).  One aspect of an action movie I adore is when a villain reprimands or kills one of his own guys (possibly the best one ever is in Road House) and we get one here.  In the helicopter Two-Face shoots at Batman but his pilot gets in the way.  It’s always funny when a villain knows his own guys are expendable and is willing to eliminate them himself so he can get at his real target.  If the film were only the opening thirteen minutes I would be satisfied.  It’s constructed wonderfully.    

The new soundtrack is exciting and almost just as big as the Elfman ones.  It’s memorable too which is not the case with most pictures.  Also the U2 and Seal songs are both very 90’s sounding dating the movie nicely.   

It’s pretty interesting that Joel Schumacher was picked for this gig.  The two immediate films he did before this were Falling Down and The Client.  In all fairness comic book movies hadn’t exploded yet so it was a little unclear who was the right choice to make one.  Schumacher turned out to be, and I know you’ll hate me for this, the perfect pick.  The man’s a chameleon who will change his style depending on what he’s working on.  Almost none of his pictures look or feel the same.  I don’t know if there’s anyone else out there like him in that regard.  He brought so much style and a fresh perspective to Batman.  Whether you like that style and perspective is another thing entirely.

Forever truly is forever in my book.  It’s that Alien vs. Aliens thing where I say I like Batman and Returns better but most of the time I’d rather watch Forever.  It’s such an easy film to get engaged in and it’s not ashamed about the direction it chose.  One of the most important qualities this piece possesses is that it’s unpretentious (which comes from Schumacher’s personality).  It fully embraces the wacky ass shit that it puts in front of your eyes.  I don’t even know if it belongs in the so-bad-it’s-good category.  I honestly can’t tell.  It’s a well crafted piece of art that has its fair share of good, bad and ugly shit.

This is pretty fucking great film guys.  It’s an anytime anywhere movie for me.  It feels refreshing with every watch somehow.  If you haven’t seen it in a long time do yourself a favor and check it out again.

Fun fact: Tim Burton produced this.


Batman (1989)
Batman Returns
Batman Forever Laundry Scene
Batman & Robin

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Batman Returns

Batman Returns is a pretty dark film, huh?  I mean it starts with a mutant penguin baby being dumped in the sewer by its parents.  That’s a little edgier than the way the first one opens with a vacationing family getting mugged.  That kind of petty crime is the perfect way to introduce Batman because it shows that he cares about average folks, hell even non-residents of Gotham that just want to visit.  For him it doesn’t always have to be about some big plot to take over the city or the world or some shit.  He’s looking out for everyone, big and small.  That’s really nice.

For the sequel Burton had to try something different and I’m all for that.  It’s good to change things up.  And I think the best way to describe this change is how a buddy of mine put it: it’s a Tim Burton movie that happens to have Batman in it rather than a Batman movie made by Tim Burton (the only thing I would add is that he’s talkin’ about the Burton before Planet of the Apes).  There’s more drama and less action than the first one, the characters are more fucked up psychologically and the focus is more on relationships rather than some grand scheme. 

Let’s look at Penguin for a minute because this whole movie hinges on him.  Burton wasn’t terribly interested in making a sequel but he was given a lot of latitude by the studio so essentially he made Penguin into Edward Scissorhands.  He struggles with the man/beast thing.  He thinks he wants to be better than just some slime in the gutter but realizes he wasn’t meant to be among the citizens above ground.  He’s not some villain who wants to take over the city because [insert reason here].  It’s about a fight with his identity.  And because they made Penguin this way they had to create another bad guy who actually does want to run Gotham.  Max Shreck is the real villain here.  He manipulates Penguin to get what he wants.  Penguin only wants to kill all the first born sons.  Well, uh…that’s a pretty nasty plot actually.  Did I mention this thing was kinda dark?  Anyway, to have Penguin be more of a monster and not a monocle wearing, cigarette holder smoking intellect is quite a change.  Sure they had some of those aesthetic pieces in there because they had to throw the fans a bone but overall he’s a different character.  This Penguin works ok in the picture but not great.  He’s no Joker (Nicholson’s or Ledger’s).  He looks really cool and I like that he has a beastly side to him.  But I thought it was a shame that they had to add another bad guy (a made up one too just for this production) and give him equal footing with Penguin to help fill out the role.

The only other thing that’s of real interest is the ending which is tragic and a real downer.  After Penguin falls through the skylight he gets back up bleeding, scratched, hobbling and totally fucked up.  To actually show the final moments of his death and for it to be sorta gruesome is ballsy.  If you didn’t think so before then you’re thinkin’ at this moment that this sonuvabitch is pathetic.  And I don’t know about you but I didn’t want to see him go out like this.  He doesn’t buy the farm in a blaze of glory or dignified in any way.  Instead it’s a slow and agonizing couple of moments.  I guess Burton really wanted to see him suffer.

Also towards the end Bruce looks like he doesn’t want to be Batman anymore.  He seems tired and like he wants to give this shit up.  It’s a little depressing because I want his heart to be in his superhero work.  I guess he’s had enough of almost dying all the time and killing a lot of people. 

The original ending didn’t have Catwoman appear right before the credits.  She was supposed to die.  If I remember correctly the studio made Burton put her in but they had to use a double which is why you only see the back of her head.  Since Catwoman doesn’t appear again in this series of Batmans this move doesn’t make a difference to me.  In fact I would’ve preferred that she really was dead.  Whatever, it’s not a big deal.

This is a pretty funny looking screen capture. They
both look like they're waiting for a bus.
The last thing on Returns I want to mention is the CD player.  You already know what I’m going to say don’t you?  At one point Bruce scratches a CD like a DJ making a beat.  You can’t scratch a CD like vinyl.  That’s not the way that technology works asshole.  There’s no excuse for this.  Either Burton knew better and didn’t care or someone didn’t have the heart to tell him.  CD’s had been around for like ten years already so it’s completely baffling how this made it into the movie.  It would’ve been incredibly easy to just not have that shot in the final cut.  And don’t give me that this is a special Bat device where you can do that to CD’s.  That’s just bullshit.

CD scratching aside I like Returns.  It has good mood, a good look and the characters are interesting.  It’s also probably the least comic booky feeling comic book film I’ve seen.  Ironically Batman Forever is one of the most comic booky pictures I’ve seen.  And the two later sequels are really where I want to head.  I just thought I’d give a brief piece on how I view Returns to help bridge the gap.

Batman (1989)
Batman Forever
Batman Forever Laundry Scene
Batman & Robin

Friday, February 8, 2013

Lone Wolf McQuade

Do you guys remember that whole Chuck Norris phenomenon that happened a bunch of years back?  People thought he was the toughest motherfucker who ever lived and he was a big thing on the webbernet and in pop culture.  It was ironic to like him because he was a B action star from the 80’s (mostly).  Is that over now?  I think it is.  Anyway, I hated that shit and not just because it was extremely overdone.  It goes deeper than that.  I know this is gonna sound really snobby but that Chuck Norris thing showed the level of ignorance most folks have about action movies and the actors that star in them. 

I’ve only seen eight of Norris’ films but I think it’s enough to make the call that generally he doesn’t make good ones.  They’re not so bad they’re good either.  They’re just bad most of the time.  He’s not someone who deserved better.  He didn’t make a groundbreaking action picture or was better than the movies he starred in.  The man has virtually no charisma.  So to bring Norris back and shower him with praises of unparalleled toughness and awesomeness is unfounded. 

But I guess that’s what’s at the heart of the joke, right?  That it’s cool to like someone or something that’s actually kind of uncool?  Seems kinda fucked up to me.  You see, the worst part of this craze isn’t Chuck himself because he’s an innocent bystander in this mess.  I think someone like Dolph Lundgren could’ve just as easily been plucked out of relative obscurity and have his onscreen personas blown out of proportion too.  Nah, what bothers me is the attitude towards action as a whole.  Whenever someone tells you they love Chuck Norris because he can put his fist clean through your head while drinking a beer and grooming his beard or some wacky shit like that there’s an unspoken part that’s implied.  Underneath the comment they’re saying “Actually, Chuck Norris is kinda stupid and action movies are silly, aren’t they?”  It’s a slight to the action genre and not a genuine praise. 

Now of course I know not everyone feels this way.  Some people really do dig Chuck Norris and that’s fine.  But there are a lot of way better action stars and films out there.  Check out any Seagal film pre-1996 or The Running Man and hopefully you’ll see what I’m talking about.

And I know I rambled on for a while but this leads me to Lone Wolf McQuade.  This is a dumb fuckin’ movie.  And even though it’s not what most people think of when they think action film it has all the clichés and bad shit that make folks think it’s ironic to like action as opposed to being a sincere fan.

No one is good in this.  Norris is as wooden and uninteresting as ever and David Carradine (Death Race 2000, Kill Bills) isn’t threatening at all.  He looks and sounds like just some fuckin’ average guy that grins and squints a lot.  The fact that he dresses in slacks and argyle sweaters doesn’t help either.

Carradine's wardrobe isn't really workin' here
Most of what happens is confusing and a bunch of it doesn’t get explained at all.  Like the Falcon character (Daniel Frishman (Return of the Jedi, Night Court)) seems to only exist so that he can tell McQuade where the bad guy is located at the end.  Or there’s the love interest that’s maybe playing both sides but not really, she says she was forced…I couldn’t figure it out.  I don’t get Carradine’s character at all.  Who is he?  Why is he smuggling guns?  Why did he need the compliance of the love interest in order to carry out his scheme?

Some of the usual clichés include McQuade being a loner cop, he gets teamed up with an inexperienced cop, has an old cop friend that’s jolly and seems to love life, he gets in trouble with his superiors, he heals almost overnight, gets trapped inside a vehicle with seemingly no way out, he and the bad guy throw down their guns so they can fight hand to hand, etc.  The only cliché they didn’t go for is McQuade feuding with his ex-wife.  Instead they get along really well.

Some bad stuff includes McQuade rolling around and doing a quick draw during target practice, at the end McQuade has to decide between a hostage situation in progress or his family and chooses the hostage crisis, and the henchmen are really bad shots.  Usually the bad guys hit the things that the good guys are hiding behind or the surrounding area.  There were a couple of times in this picture when someone is out in the open and there are shots fired that clearly should’ve been hits but nothing happens.  This is like stormtrooper accuracy. 

However, I can’t deny it’s sort of an entertaining movie.  Things move along at a decent pace and there are a bunch of ok action sequences.  But the groaning moments are plentiful.  Sometimes in action pictures there are just too many clichés and it becomes overwhelming.  It doesn’t help when the filmmakers don’t try to do anything clever at all.  And that might be the real reason why this isn’t that great.  It’s very by the numbers and that makes things pretty dull.  It’s the kind of movie that doesn’t think and doesn’t want you to think either.  That’s insulting.  The thing was made competently but it feels like they didn’t try that hard.  I said it earlier and I’ll say it again: this is a dumb fuckin’ movie.      

I think this is Norris’ most popular feature and I can see why.  It’s easier to watch than a lot of his others but more notably it feeds into that fad that may or may not be still around.  If you haven’t seen a Norris flick before then this is going to support all of your preconceived notions about him and his repertoire.  If you think the action genre is mindless and made up of nothing but platitudes Lone Wolf McQuade will unfortunately cement that in your mind. 

This doesn’t mean that I despise Norris’ films or look down on them, not at all.  I just think they’re subpar action movies.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  The thing is I know what I’m getting with him but a lot of people don’t.  My advice would be to check out the A list stars first.  Chuck Norris is the totally wrong thing to kick off your lifelong journey into action.  He comes later when you’ve run out of better material.

For the Chuck fans out there you guys obviously get more out of his shit than I do.  All I’m sayin’ is, have you seen Hard Boiled?

A little addendum: for me this ranks third in the Norris ones I’ve seen so far.  Missing in Action is a little less dumb and more fun and Invasion U.S.A. is so dumb that it’s very fun to watch.   

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Original Gangstas

This is just a damn fun movie guys.  It’s your usual Walking Tall/Marked for Death type plot where Fred Williamson (From Dusk Till Dawn, MASH) goes back to his hometown of Gary, Indiana only to find it overrun with gangs.  He, along with Jim Brown (The Running Man, The Dirty Dozen) and some other friends, decide to clean up the city vigilante style.

Great job all around by Larry Cohen (The Stuff, It’s Alive) who surprisingly didn’t write this.  It doesn’t feel as gritty or dark as similar hood films but it has plenty of attitude and a lot of enjoyable moments.

Just as a side note, I had no idea Gary had such a high crime rate.  For nine straight years (1995-2003) it was the murder capital of the U.S. Although it looks like they’ve cleaned the city up in recent years as it doesn’t even crack the top 25 anymore.  It’s your move Flint.