Thursday, June 30, 2005

War of The Worlds review

Holy crap, War of The Worlds was amazing.


SPOILERS AHEAD:

This is going to be one of those movies, I can already tell, where you either get it or you don't. I'm not sure exactly why some people don't seem to be getting it. Maybe it's because it mixes somewhat antiquated, literay Wells-ian imagery with a very modern setting. Maybe because it strays from every typical action movie convention that we associate with alien invasion movies like Independence Day. Maybe because people are too wrapped up in Tom Cruise's public craziness to get fully immersed in the movie. But for every Harry Knowles who raves about this movie's awesomeness, there seems to be a Roger Ebert who looks at it with a more cynical eye and states the mantra of which many films are desrving of - overhyped - but, no, not this one. This one surpasses the hype. Still, there will be those who hate on it. I've already heard 'em.

Whatever.

This movie rocked, and rocked hard.

Visually, this is simply one of the greatest movies I have ever seen. Every action sequence, every set piece, every visceral, kinetic motion is triggered by one thing - fight or flight, live or die, survival of the fittest, RUN! Never before in a movie has it been so apparent that, even though every rule of movie convention states that these characters will live, to us, at any given moment, it is clear that they are SCREWED. Sure, the Hollywood way is for a bunch of action heroes to ride up in humvees and start shooting flamethrowers or some crap at the aliens, showing them that their otherworly technology is no match for good ol' American know-how. We expect to see Will Smith punch out ET and crack wise, to see Sigourney Weaver take it to those alien bastards, to see Jeff Goldblum plant a friggin' computer virus in the alien's sytem. Now don't get me wrong, I love Independence Day for what it is. It's a brilliantly fun, pulpy look at Us vs. Them, all-out war. Despite it's title this film is not about war. It's about what happens when you know you're gonna die. When you're a regular guy and there's no superhero to save you from the Big Bad. And that feeling pervades every moment of this film, thanks to Spielberg's literally awe-inspiring direction.

The alien tripods in this movie are amazing looking. They sound like the digital trumpets of the armies of hell. They are the sadistic cousins of the aliens in Close Encounters. We don't know what their deal is, and that's a good thing, because in that way they are truly alien. These creatures don't have some elaborate plan to take over earth. Okay, well it's kind of elaborate. But basically, all we really know is that they want us dead. And they will use huge-ass tripod war machines and instant-vaporizer rays to do it. The fear that Orson Welles must have projected into the hearts of listeners during his War of the World's broadcast? This is that fear, personified, brought to awesome life. Spielberg has always excelled at putting storybook-like images on screen, at capturing moments as if ripped from paintings and children's illustrations and putting them in motion on screen, yet retaining that timeless quality that burns specific still moments into the inner facets of your brain. Consider my brain burned. This is old 1950's scifi pulp novel covers brought to life and made real. This is Spielberg's Norman Rockwell Americana destroyed and crushed. This is every fear of terrorism, genocide, helplessness, destruction - combined with every fantasy of aliens, death-rays, and intergalactic invasion. It looks amazing. It sounds amazing.

I don't care if Tom Cruise has lost it in real life. He's great in this movie. Sure it's not a complex part, but the main thing here is that his portrayal of a man who is numb with fear is spot on. I don't think most of us know how we'd react when faced with certain death and the end of the world as we know it - but Cruise does a great job of making us believe that this is how we'd feel and act if faced with these extraordinary circumstances.

Dakota Fanning is seriously an amazing actress for her age, and in general. She is completely convincing in this movie and like Cruise, her fear and shock and utter trauma is totally absorbing and believable and shocking - we are shocked along with her, and traumatized along with her. To have an audience's emotions channeled through the wide eyes of an eleven year old girl is pretty incredible.

The rest of the cast is excellent as well, but again it's the set pieces - the dazzling imagery, iconic sounds, and feeling of being right there, in the moment of danger and certain death, that makes this movie great. Some might compare it to SIGNS, but please, don't. War of the Worlds OWNS that movie and is leagues better, no comparison.

But yes, there are complaints.

Spielberg has always been a sentimentalist, but here, as in his last few movies, that sentimentalism takes away from the final product. In a lighter adventure story like Jurassic Park it worked. In a bleak dystopian fairy tale like AI, the Spielbergian ending REALLY detracted from what had been a potentially classic movie. While Catch Me If You Can was great, and Minority Report avoided some of AI's cheesier inclinations, The Terminal was flat out frustrating because of its unrelenting sentimentality and ultimately unconvincing and contrived plotline. Now let's get one thing straight - most of War of the Worlds is dark, unrelenting, and absolutely, gloriously BRUTAL. A few moments though, notably the rushed and impossibly happy ending, are just WTF moments that really took away from what have could been a much more poignantly bleak and thought-provoking conclusion. Most of the movie did exactly what Spielberg wanted - it kept the audience in a hushed, tense, nail-biting "oh my god" mindset. But at the end he asked us all to go "awww, isn't that nice!" when it just wasn't the right time. Does this slightly cornball ending ruin the movie? Hells no! In the end the human drama aspect of the movie has been mostly overshadowed by the spectacle, by the sheer awe of what has happened. So while it is a bit jarring to see the bow-tied, gift-wrapped fate of the main characters, really, it's secondary to everything else. As for the final fate of the aliens themselves, after some thought, I love it. First off, it's true to the book by H.G Wells. Secondly, it makes a damned interesting point - if not for a fluke of nature, humanity would have been completely screwed at the hands of these aliens. Essentially, we as a people, had a bare minimum chance of actually stopping these dudes before they all but wiped us out. Our guns, our tanks, were basically useless (even if Cruise does take down one tripod with a well-placed grenade ...). Hubris and poor intelligence were what ultimately brought down the alien behemoth. Hmmm ... interesting ...

Other complaints? The Tim Robbins scenes drag on a bit. Again, the final few scenes seem rushed and have some weird time gaps that stretch credibility a bit. The scene where, Cruise, Fanning, and Robbins evade an alien probe is too reminiscent of the Raptor hide-n-seek scene from Jurassic Park, and is easily one of the more contrived action scenes in the film, not to mention way too long. The aliens themselves look a bit too familiar and not quite as unique as we'd expect from the crazy cool look of their tripod war machines. But come on, in the wake of the sheer devastation this movie portrays, these are all minor complaints. There is no quickly cutting motion blur here. No unrealistic, cartoony CGI f/x. No action hero one-liners or other lame-ass garbage that you expect from most summer blockbusters. This is an assault on the senses in the best possible way. You are there. You're running for your life and there's an alien tripod stomping its way towards you, incinerating everything in its way with a blast from its cannon, as strange, horrible noises pierce your eardrums and nightmares become reality. This movie is the real deal, classic Spielberg, and despite some clear and obvious flaws, it shows all the pretenders how blockbuster action sci fi dramas should be done. Get it? Good.

My grade: A

Friday, June 17, 2005

Full Batman Begins Review, and: A Whole Lot More

Wow was today one of those days.

For some reason I was sure that I had to be at work at 10:30 today, and yet I overslept, woke up at like 9:55, and realized I had to be there at 10. I threw my page uniform on, hauled it down to NBC, and called to let them know I'd be slightly late, but would still be able to do my 10 am tour. So of course my supervisor is right there in the room when I called, and heard the whole thing, so my plan to quietly slip in at 10:10 and get on with my tour was thrown out the window. So it turned out there were two 10 am tours, I didn't even have to do one, yet I was still chewed out for being late, and awkwardly sat in the ticket office for an hour and a half trying to make myself busy and useful, too out of it to engage in any form of pleasant conversation. But I still had another tour to do, and the Tonight Show. And my tour overlapped with Leno, so I had to run right from one thing to the other without a second to collect myself. And I was Admitter, meaning a lot of counting was involved. I don't like counting.

So tonight I'm taking it easy because I am freakin' exhausted.

Today on the show: Michael Jackson's attorney Tom Mezzero (sp?), some American chopper dudes, and some wannabe Sheryl Crow named Courtney Jay (sorry but her song today was ripped right off of a Crow album or something, which isn't saying much in the first place). I thought Mezzero was very well spoken and seemed pretty convincing in explaining how poor the case against MJ was. His statements combined with Stephen King's EW editorial today about the Jackson trial coverage goes to show how the media really created much of the hype about this case and turned one highly eccentric guy's life into a media circus that blew things way out of proportion and was basically a self-perpetuating feeding frenzy.

Yesterday: Craziness ensued as Lindsay Lohan and the Backstreet Boys came to the show. Some of the other pages had some horror stories about dealing with crazy fans and whatnot, but I didn't really have any bad experiences and most of the fans I dealt with were very nice people and didn't cause any real problems. Sure, seeing people tattooed with pics of the Backstreet Boys and wearing handmade garments emblazoned from head to toe with screened photos of the band was little creepy, but hey, it was an easier bunch to deal with than those wacky Gerard Butler fans (I love you guys but you are totally freakin' nuts!). Barely saw Lohan but she seemed a little less emaciated looking than in recent tabloid photos. Kind of surreal to be standing in front of a girl who is such a huge pop cultural star yet at first glance could easily have been just another one of us NBC pages.

Wednesday: Pre-Batman Begins, the I got up close and personal with Paris and Kathy Hilton who appeared on Leno. Unlike her daughter, Kathy was very articulate, dignified, and possesing that old school upper class snobbery, not that new-school red carpet MTV-ified club girl image of her daughters. But seeing Paris up close is so weird. It's like she is just constantly posing. Like every little adjustment, leg cross, turn of the head, and smile is some carefully timed gesture made as if to accomodate some everpresent fashion photographer or something. Just very weird and Stepford Wives-ish. Unlike say, Jessica Simpson though whose vacant eyes led me to believe she wasn't quite all there in the head, I think Paris may be a little bit smarter than she lets on, and maybe even a lot smarter - I mean look at the success she's had basically from doing nothing ...

Basketball:

What a crappy NBA Finals this has been so far. Every game has been a blowout, first by the Spurs and now by the Pistons. And yet, intriguingly, it's now a tied series at 2 games a piece. They have gotta be due for a close game at this point ...

Movies:

Oh mang, today's EW cover story on Bryan Singer's Superman movie has me more nervous than ever that this movie is going to suck. First of all it, it's going to follow the continuity of the first two Superman movies? What the hell? Take a lesson from Batman Begins - those movies are almost 30 years old - START OVER. While the first two movies are classics, they are by no means the end all be all of Superman movies - they can be done MUCH BETTER in the right hands. Second, Singer's already talking about all this allegorical stuff, like Superman as the messiah, something about the plot being an analogy for Singer's relationship problems over the years ... What the ..?!?! Singer, put down the crack pipe and give us a kickass Superman movie, not this crap! Dammit, if he screws this up ... oh, and Brandon Routh still looks retarded in that lame-ass version of the costume in the pictures they've released so far.

Batman Begins Review:

Well, in Wednesday night's initial Batman reactions I covered the basics: namely, that the movie rocks. But there's a lot more to say than that. Really though, I don't think it takes a lot to explain what's good about Batman Begins. It's dark, takes itself seriously, is mature, dramatic, and focuses on something very important that the other films largely glossed over: the character of Bruce Wayne - who he is and why he became Batman. Because Batman is a unique superhero in that his persona is entirely of his own creation. There was no freak accident, no alien origin - he is a self-made, self-styled hero whose abilities were gained through work and persistence and dedication, and the whys of that transformation are finally and satisfactorilly explained in Batman Begins.

The acting in this movie is almost universally phenomenal. First off, Christian Bale IS Bruce Wayne. He pulls off the tortured nature of Wayne expertly. He adapts to the different personas - the billionaire playboy, the driven student, the emotionally stunted victim - effortlessly and flawlessly. Never before have the many faces and facades of Bruce Wayne been explored so thoroughly in a movie. Bale looks iconic as Wayne, right off of the comic page and onto the big screen. Bale as Batman is almost as good. He does "the voice" well, for the most part, though in a few scenes he over does it a bit and sounds too cartoonish when he takes on that trademark gravelly Batman tone. While Bale is good, it's still Kevin Conroy of the Animated Series who is the definitive Voice of Batman. Now in certain shots, Bale as Batman looks hella freakin' cool. In long shots, in side shots, in sillouette, in shadow, standing atop the Gotham rooftops with the moonlit cityscape framing his flowing cape, this is the best, most iconic looking Batman yet. Closeup though, the costume still looks kind of goofy, and appears too tight and constraining, giving Bale some very awkeard-looking facial expressions while under the cowl. The costume itself is still too detailed and strange and rubbery looking when seen in close up shots. Still, that's more of a nitpick than a big omplaint, but damn I wish they would just drastically change the way the costume looks for the next movie, but I doubt that is gonna happen.

Aside from Bale though, some of the supporting characters really almost steal the show. First off, Morgan Freeman is great as Lucious Fox, a character who is actually pretty two dimensional in the comics but who here has a lot of great, humorous one-liners and is pretty interesting addition to the Batman mythos. As Morgan Freeman so often does, he makes you really get behind Fox as a character and root for him throughout the movie as a kind of sly underdog mentor type. Sure, it's par for the course for Freeman, but I'll take it.

Michael Caine is great as steadfast Butler to the Bat and father figure Alfred Pennyworth, a character who is much more intriguing and well rounded in this movie than in previous efforts (even if the late great Michael Gough did imbue the character with much needed class in the previous films). What can you say, it's frikkin' Michael Caine, the man is a legend. As a longtime Alfred fan from the comics, I have but two small fanboyish complaints that about five other people in the world will care about. One: Alfred is supposed to have a mustache, dammit all! I want to see Alfred with a mustache, he just isn't right without it! Two: He calls Bruce Wayne "Master Bruce" not "Master Wayne." Sorry but I had to get that out.

Now, Katie Holmes could have been a disaster here. She does fine as Rachel Dawes, the idealistic DA, but she is simply outclassed by the great actors around her and just seems miscast in a role that should have probably gone to an older actress with a stronger screen presence. As is though Holmes does okay in the ole and doesn't really detract from the movie. I was happy to see that the romantic subplot was kept in the background, but overall it seemed mostly pointless and was kind of put in there to throw a bone to marketing types who think any Batman movie must have a love interest, even though it doesn't really fit with Batman's intensely driven persona as a loner with no time for love.

Gary Oldman is awesome as James Gordon, and does a great job with the material he's given, and I can't tell you how great it is to finally, finally see the real Jim Gordon on screen - the one with an old school cop 'stache and overly big glasses, the one with a Chicago accent and a heart of gold, the one who is the one good cop in a corrupt city, who is Batman's one ally in his war on crime and his one true friend. But, sadly, Oldman is underused. So much of this movie is based on the great Batman: Year One, that it's just a shame that they couldn't have at least touched on Gordon's backstory which is so prominent and well-written in that Frank Miller-penned tale. Hopefully in the sequel we can see more of Oldman as Gordon, this time played more for drama than comedy, with a bit more of a chance to shine (if they adapt The Killing Joke at all then he may get that chance ...). Still, Oldman as Gordon just made me happy that they finally were starting to get the character right.

Now, as for the villains ...

First off I have to talk about Liam Neeson, who I am really starting to like as an actor who can pull off those key dramatic yet slightly over the top roles so well. His performance here reminded me slightly of Kingdom of Heaven, where in a short time on screen he stole the show and delivered some of the best lines of the movie with some much needed gravitas (been hearing that word a lot lately ...). Neeson as "Ducard" is great, and his strong performance in the early part of the movie makes his return in the latter half, and the revelation of his true identity, that much sweeter. Neeson is a great, old-school, pulpy villain with a modern twist. He plays a multi-faceted character who still delivers his villainous lines with vigor and relish when the time is right. Like Gordon though, more could have been done. Neeson's motivations are murky throughout the movie, and his backstory is only hinted at in the briefest of ways.

And that's the thing - Ra's Al Ghul is one of Batman's best and coolest villains in the comics, and yet many of the things that make him so great - the immortality-giving Lazarus pits, his demonic appearance, his conflicted daughter Talia - are conspicuously absent here. Sure, the basic essence of Ra's Al Ghul is intact, but there could have at least been some nods to his rich backstory as was so memorably crafted by the likes of Denny O'Neal and Neal Adams.

Cillian Murphy as the Scarecrow is friggin' sweet. Again, the character kind of comes out of nowhere and gets lost in the shuffle a bit, but Murphy does an awesome job of portraying a legitimate insane, psychotic Batman villain who is still believable and works in the more realistic context of the movie. The digitally-created hallucinations brought on by the Scarecrow's fear gas are great and provide some spectacular imagery - particularly an amazing shot of Batman as seen by a criminal - as a sick-looking demonic Bat-being that looks way cool. Murphy, like Neeson, delivers his lines like he means 'em, and really invigorates every scene he's in.

Ken Watanabe is barely in the movie, as it turns out, but hey, he looks cool when he's there and as usual kicks some ass when called upon.

Also for the comics fans it was sweet to see Mr. Zsasz, one of the sickest and most twisted Batman rogues from the comics appear in a small role, menacingly played by the lead singer of British band James no less! Rutger Hauer is always good as a badguy and his role here was no exception, and the character of mob boss Carmine Falcone was used to good effect as well.

The action in the movie ranged from great to subpar. The Batmobile car chase scene was brilliant and a lot of fun. But the frustrating part was that the overly quick cuts and shaky camera movement made you want to slow things down to really get a feel for the fight scenes, which are just too quick and confusing to allow the viewer to really get into them and get a sense for what exactly is going on. While this technique works well for some of the early scenes where Batman is portrayed almost as a monster, surprising his prey and attacking stealthily from the shadows, it really detracts from the later scenes, particularly the final battle with Ra's, where the action becomes way too obstructed due to the nonstop cutting and camera shifts.

The music in the film is powerful and moving at times, though it can't hold a candle to Danny Elfman's classic score for the original and his later work on The Animated Series. While I realize they wanted to separate themselves from the previous movies, and justifiably so, I would have loved for them to have retained that classic soundtrack from the original, which really is perfect for any incarnation of Batman.

Visually and aesthetically, the movie looks awesome. Gotham looks realistic yet futuristic and slightly surreal. While I did miss the stylized gothic cityscape of Tim Burton's Batman, this Gotham was still cool in its own right, though they still should have had a gargoyle or two for Batman to stand on ominously in the night sky. Also this is a small nitpick, but the color scheme of the movie in my opinion was too predominantly monochromatic, with everything a kind of sandy tan color. I couldn't help but think back to the classic stories drawn by the likes of Neal Adams, Norm Breyfogle, and others - stories that the movie drew much of its material from - and remembered the vivid blues and purples and blacks that his Gotham was colored in. The movie though did a great job of establishing a realistic, gritty, dramatic look and feel early on, with its snow-covered mountainsides, dank prison camps, and sweeping camera shots. Once Batman entered into the picture, they had all the iconic shots done very well - Batman standing on the rooftops, interrogating criminals, crashing through glass skylights, scaling walls, and emerging from the shadows all looked as they should - dark, iconic, and memorable.

As far as plotting goes, I really have to give credit Christopher Nolan and David Goyer for crafting a story with excellent pacing, dramatic weight, and character. The big moments felt big, the beginning - the fall of young Bruce into the batcaves underneath Wayne Manor, was great, just as I pictured it would and should be. The fateful night when young Bruce's parents are shot in cold blood before his eyes was also great - the best version on screen ever of the dark night that birthed the Batman. Additionally, while the climactic action scene felt rushed and overly confusing, the subsequent ending to the movie was, in a word, PERFECT. Right out of Year One, setting up things for future sequels and leaving the audience wanting more, tantalized by the possibilities of what comes next, demanding that Nolan and Goyer get to work and bring it on, cuz we want more Batman and we want it now. Again, where it counted, dramatically, this movie plain and simply got it right - it did justice to Batman and fit everything together to create the ultimate setup for a potential franchise that seems like it can only get better because now that the origin is out of the way it looks like business is really set to pick up.

As a diehard Batman fan, certain details of this movie bugged me. Like Gordon being the cop who consoled Bruce Wayne after his parents are killed - that makes no sense, he'd be like 70 by the time the main action of the movie takes place if that were the case, and anyways Gordon is supposed to be a recent transplant from Chicago, thrust into a hopeless situation with Batman as his best and only ally. That kind of shoehorning of plot elements into the movie's timeline really gets to me. But again, a minor point in the larger scheme of things. I also take issue with the fact that the movie was almost exclusively focused on Batman's training and abilities as a fighter, when so much of his persona is that he is a brilliant scientist, criminologist, and above all, Batman is the WORLD'S GREATEST DETECTIVE. He debuted in Detective Comics and 700-something issues later still stars in it today. Hell, in the comics and Animated Series, Ra's Al Ghul ALWAYS calls Batman "The Detective," so it's ironic that in a movie featuring Ra's, the detective aspect of Batman's character is really nowhere to be seen. Again, not the beiggest deal, and something that can be addressed in the sequels, hopefully, but something conspicuously absent from the movie. The only other real complaint is that, as I said before, the backstories of Gordon and Ra's could really have used an extra scene or two to help flesh out their characters.

Keep in mind though, all my complaints are partly due to me having, in my head somewhere, the ultimate Batman movie planned out, envisioned as I see it from my own ideas of what Batman should be and my own inspirations from the comics and other sources. But as a movie, apart from anythign else and taken on its own, Batman Begins was damn good. It more than holds its own against Spiderman, X-Men, Superman, and any other comic-based movie. As a pure drama, it succeeds. This isn't just a great comic book movie, as many have pointed out, it's a great movie, period. But more importantly for me, it is a great Batman movie, that above all else nails the Bruce Wayne / Batman character and makes him the focus of the film, which is exactly the direction that this franchise desperately needed to go in, and is why most of my criticisms are insignifigant compared to the larger accomplishment that is this movie, taken as a whole. Which is why even though some of those criticisms might ordinarily drastically lower my opinion and grade of the movie - my complaints are simply overwhelmed and overridden by the sheer sense of relief, enjoyment, and hope that this movie provides, because yes - this is the Batman we've been waiting for. This is a benchmark achievement in comic book movies. And it's one of the best overall movies of the year. Finally, the real Batman is back, the Dark Knight has returned, and I have a very good feeling that like the title says, this is only the beginning.
My grade: A

A few other quick Batman notes:

- Over on IGN.com they did a list of the 25 greatest Batman graphic novels that ended up being pretty similar to my own (hmm, maybe some of those IGN'ers are chcking out my blog?). But their list isn't bad either, and does include a few stories that I admit I have yet to actually check out, such as Batman: The Cult. It is amazing though just how many good or great Batman stories have been written though.

Comics' Influence In Batman Begins:
- Nice to see many tributes and nods to some of the great comics that shaped Batman through the years. While Year One is clearly the biggest comic influence on the movie, there are a few other little references to certain stories scattered throughout the film. Here, for the curious, are a few quick notes about stuff in the movie directly lifted from or influenced by the comics ...

- Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli was clearly the biggest comic influence on the movie. The scenes of Bruce Wayne's parents' murder were very reminiscent of Miller's version in Year One (though traditionally the Wayne's are exiting from a showing of The Mask of Zorro). The look of Gordon was from Year One, as was the gritty, starkly colored feel of Gotham itself. The inclusion of crime lord Carmine Falcone is a plot element taken from Year One and expanded upon in Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's Long Halloween. Interestingly, the ending scene with Batman and Gordon discussing the Batman's effect on crime in Gotham and the emergence of new more dangerous villains like the Joker, is almost a straight adaptation of end of Year One.

- The character of Henri Ducard hasn't appeared in the comics in a while, but ironically was created in the late 80's by writer Sam Hamm, best known as the writer of Tim Burton's original Batman movie. Hamm did a brief stint as a writer of the Batman comic where he introduced Ducard as a French mercenary who trained a young Bruce Wayne in the use of firearms, combat, and other skills. Ducard later popped up as an adversary for Robin, but hasn't been seen or heard from in years. His Sam Hamm-penned appearances are actually collected in the Batman: Blind Justice trade paperback.

- Ra's Al Ghul was created in the 70's by Denny O'Neal and Neals Adams, though the movie discards with the supernatural aspects of the character (though does sort of hint at them) and does not include Talia, Ra's' daughter, who is a key element of the character and a longtime on again off again love interest of Batman, who she calls her "beloved." Ra's has been featured in a number of big event stories over the years. He takes on Batman in Batman: Tales of the Demon, Batman: Legacy, Batman: Birth of the Demon, and Batman: Evolution. He actually died in the recent story Batman: Death And the Maidens, leaving his daughter Talia and her sister Nyssa as the heirs to his secret organiztion, which in the comics is known as the League of Assasins, not the League of Shadows as in the film.

- Bruce Wayne training on snowcapped mountains with secluded sects of warriors is at least visually similar to scenes from Denny O'Neal's "Shaman" storyarc in the Legends of the Dark Knight comic, collected in the Batman: Dark Legends book.

- The bridges to Gotham being raised as citizens attempt to flee is similar to a scene in the "No Man's Land" storyarc with a similar visual. Also, Batman talking to Jim Gordon in his small garden outside his home is an image that occurred often throughout No Man's Land.

- The surreal image of The Scarecrow riding on a black horse with flames surrounding him is similar to a splash page drawing by artist Tim Sale in Batman: The Long Halloween, a story which like Year One seemed to be a big influence on the plot and tone of Batman Begins.

- Arkham Asylum has been a part of the Batman mythos for some time, but it was really fleshed out by writer Alan Grant, who created the serial killer Mr. Zsasz (who plays a small role in the movie) in his Batman: The Last Arkham storyarc from the Shadow of the Bat comic. The idea that the batcave was used by Bruce's ancestors as a means to trasnsport slaves for the Underground Railroad is an idea that was also established in the comics by Alan Grant in the pages of Shadow of the Bat.

- Many aspects of the movie's Joe Chill plot, and Bruce's decision on whether to avenge his parents' murder, were lifted from Batman: Year Two by Mike W. O'Barr, a story which is actually considered out of continuity in the current Batman timeline, as it has since been contradicted by other stories where Batman never actually discovered the identity of his parents' killer.

- The idea of Wayne Manor as Bruce's father's house is a thread lifted from The Long Halloween, but the scene where Bruce decides to rebuild his detroyed mansion "brick by brick" as it was is a scene lifted from the Batman: Cataclysm storyline where Wayne Manor is destroyed by an earthquake. In the story, as in the movie, Bruce contemplates letting the manor stay buried in the rubble, but ultimately decides to rebuild it as a testament ot his family's legacy.

And there you have it.

Alright, that officially concludes Batman Begins week. It's been fun - a lot of writing - but fun.


Have a good weekend everyone, take 'er easy.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Just Saw Batman Begins ...

...

...

...

and yes, dammit all, it friggin' kicked ass.

Now it's late and I have to wake up crazy early tommorow, but I'm sure I'll be dreaming dreams of Scarecrows and batcaves and genial English butlers. Yep, this is going to be one of those movies that stays in your head for a long while. Awesome, kickass, excellent.

Sure as a fanboy and Batman afficionado I have a list of nitpicks and grievences and comparisons to other canonical works. I have some problems with the aesthetics, the quick cuts, the costumes or lack thereof, and some backstories that remained conspicuously unexplored. I'll tell you those later.

For now I'm just going to reflect and smile as I think about that final scene, straight out of Batman: Year One, perfectly nailed by Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, and director Christopher Nolan, which plain and simple GOT IT RIGHT - nay, got it PERFECT, it felt right, it looked right, it sounded right, and it left you wanting more, leaving the audience with no choice but to spontaneously burst into uncontrollable applause signifying pure, unadulterated appreciation - appreciation that yes, it was finally all so clear - this, THIS, was the Batman movie that we had all been waiting for.

More later ...

Thursday, June 9, 2005

Fightin' Foo, and: The Best Obscure Batman Movies

Well I wanted to write some more and do another hardcore all out balls to the wall Batman entry tonight but, crap, I gotta wake up at freakin' 6 am tommorow and once again man the damndable ticketboxxxx. It's a hard knock life.

But some quick stuff:

TODAY:

Foo Fighters rocked on The Tonight Show! Best musical performance I've seen on Leno probably since Billy Idol. But seriously (actually I was serious in my last statement, but anyways ...) they kicked some ass.

Today's show actually really fired on all cylinders. Former Melrose vixen and Wayne Campell's second favorite babe, Heather Locklear made a great appearance as the lead guest. John Leguizamo turned up despite food poisoning and was very funny as usual (well, I mean, as usual except for in movies he's in ...), and the enigma wrapped in a grotesquely effeminate conundrum, Ross the Intern, delivered a hilarious yet distrubing opening segment. Good stuff, for once. Even the monologue seemed funnier than usual.

MTV Stuff:

MTV Movie Awards tonight. Damn I remember when this was a must-watch, along with the video music awards back in the day, when comedians like Mike Myers and Ben Stiller used the show as a hilarious showcase for their absurdist sense of humor. So tonight's "awards" show actually wasn't too bad. It mostly succeeded in entertaining me, which was necessary since tonight's opening round of the NBA Finals between Detroit and San Antonio was, yes, a defensive showcase, but also really really boring. Jimmy Fallon was the most tolerable he's been in a while, and even occasionally kinda funny. Some of the sketches were decent. And the show gets points for 1.) a random yet hy-larious cameo by NAPOLEON DYNAMITE in the opening Batman-themed movie parody and 2.) a very nice tribute to The Breakfast Club, which saw Ally Sheady, Anthony Michael Hall, and yes, Molly Ringwald come out to accept the honorary award. Those two things alone elevate the show to the B- ish range, and make up for unfunny appearances by the likes of Andy Dick, Vince Vaughn, and Owen Wilson doing the same tired schtick they've been doing every year for the last five years or so. Maybe one day MTV will be cool again. Until that happens, we will have to accept that according to them, Lindsay Lohan is the year's best actress. Riiiiiiight. The MTV of old would have gone with Uma Thurman in a heartbeat.

TOMMORROW:

Ticketbox allllllll durn day. To quote Darth Vader: "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

And because it is BATMAN BEGINS WEEK on my blog ...

I present to you:

The TOP 3 OBSCURE BATMAN MOVIES, WHICH MAY ACTUALLY BE THE ACTUAL 3 BEST BATMAN MOVIES EVER MADE ...

3.) The Batman / Superman Movie: Yep, forget the WB's axed big-budget live-action version that was going to be directed by Wolfgang Peterson. They already made this movie, in animated form, and it was actually pretty damn good. Done in the classic Paul Dini / Bruce Timm animated style, DC Comic's two biggest icons team up in an epic adventure that combines the best of both heroes' worlds. Check it out on DVD.

2.) Batman: The Movie: No, I don't mean the Tim Burton one starring Michael Keaton. I'm talking the classic ADAM WEST version. In this movie, widely and cheaply available on DVD, Batman and Robin set the bar for superhorics very high as they take on EVERY ONE OF BATMAN'S VILLAINS AT ONCE! Yep, the Joker, Penguin, Riddler, AND Catwoman (okay so it's not every villain, but hey that's quite a team!) all band together to combine their forces in a dastardly plan. And no, they aren't trying to take over Gotham or anything weak-ass like that. Nope, they are only trying to throw the WHOLE WORLD into chaos by turning EVERY MEMBER OF THE UNITED NATIONS INTO DUST. Badass. This movie is action packed, freakin' HILARIOUS (it features the debut of the BAT-SHARK REPELLANT) and is psychedellic 1960's Batman at his Bat-best. Sure, it's not my ideal version of Batman, but just like how some days you can't get rid of a bomb, some days you just gotta watch Batman at his campiest.

1.) Batman: Mask of the Phantasm: Shortly after Burton's movies came out, this animated feature-length film came out in theaters, but it only got a limited release and has since been seen mostly on home video and DVD. But whoah, hold the phone, this movie by the Animated Series team of Dini and Timm is awesome. This IS BATMAN AS BATMAN SHOULD BE. And guess what? This is, EASILY, the BEST BATMAN MOVIE EVER MADE. Hell, Batman Begins will have to be pretty damn good in order to be better than this underrated gem. If you want to see a dark, epic, adventure that delves into Batman's haunted psyche, pits him against a deadly cadre of villains, and features huge action, look no further than this movie. And I have to give a shout-out to my middle school English teacher, Mrs. McDonnell, who showed this movie to our class one day and made us write about it, one of the coolest things I ever did in school, and my first exposure to this awesome movie. Note: I hear that a couple of other animated Batman flicks, Batman: Subzero, and Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, are pretty great as well, though I have yet to actually see 'em. So that's on the ol' to-do list. Thoughts?

Anyways ...

Must rest. Tommorow may suck, especially between the hours of 6 am and 11:30 am (my lunch break).

Tuesday, June 7, 2005

Holy Blog Updates, Batman! Batman Week Begins

Dude, I saw THE BATMOBILE today! The new, tricked-out one from Batman Begins! It was at NBC for a piece they were doing for Access Hollywood, right there, in the parking lot! The worst part is that as I took my tour group by it, practically nobody cared! Holy lord, I mean it's the frikkin' batmobile from a movie that's not even out yet. Plus even if you don't give a crap about Batman, it is like the most badass vehicle you've ever seen.

So now it is official. After reading a few reviews, notably over at Ain't It Cool News.com, seeing more of the hype, and seeing the durn Batmobile in person, I am HYPED for this movie. But more on that in a few.

QUICK ASIDE: Hmm, thought there'd be more of a reaction to my Ben Savage sighting the other day. What, people don't get worked up about beloved, D-list childhood actors from ABC's once-legendary TGIF lineup anymore?

So, on MONDAY:

Well in practice it wasn't all that exciting, but in theory it was pretty darn sweet that i got to MEET WILL FERELL and escort him along with his wife and son (hilariously and tragically named MAGNUS!) to his Tonight Show dressing room. Didn't really get to say much to him, as Leno came out to greet him personally. But hey, he was dressed in a bright orange suit. Also briefly met comedian George Lopez and his wife, who commented on how much she liked my NBC tie.

TODAY:

Saw the band The Bravery perform during their dress rehearsal before the show. Didn't recognize the name at first, but immediately knew their song from it's heavy play on K-Rock here in LA and presumably on other modern rock stations all over. Pretty kickass song and performance in the style of The Killers and other such neo-80's rock bands, so very sweet to see the band do such a fun and catchy song.

TOMORROW:

Mr. Jumpy Jumpy himself, Tom Cruise, visits NBC for the Tonight Show. Should be interesting. Still, setting aside all the tabloid-y stuff, which in truth I don't really care about, War of the Worlds, barring a major disaster, is locked and loaded and set to rock, so can't wait for that one.

And NOW ...

DANNYBARAM.BLOGSPOT.COM PRESENTS:

BATMAN BEGINS WEEK ... BEGINS!

WARNING: If you're not into this nerdy stuff or don't like my long, seemingly pointless rants, stop reading now.

READY? OK, LET'S DO THIS:

One week until the movie-going main event of the summer (sorry Star Wars), Batman Begins. Now I am a pretty big Batman fan. Okay, I am kind of a hardcore Batman fan. Sure, as a kid I loved the old Adam West TV show and whatnot, but what really got me hooked was the same thing that got me hooked on Superman - the comics. It all started in Camp Jewel in about 5th grade or so. Every week our counsellors would go into town, and among other things, they'd bring back the new issues of Batman and Superman, both of which were going through some major changes at the time. See, Superman was dead (!) and Batman, well, he had his back broken and was replaced by some other guy who became the NEW Batman. Suffice to say, I was hooked, and have been ever since. Now I've read some incredible Batman comics over the years. I've seen Batman brought to TV in an amazingly genious interpretation, in Batman: The Animated Series. But what I have NOT seen is a live-action movie that really, truly does justice to what is perhaps the greatest fictional character of all time. Sure, the first Tim Burton movie, known simply as Batman, was pretty cool at the time. Jack Nicholson tore up the screen as the Joker, and Michael Keaton was better than anyone expected in the title role. Burton's stylized, Gothic vision was perfect. But still, the movie leaves most real fans of Batman feeling kind of empty, and it's hard to pinpoint exactly why. It just felt too over the top, too corny, too concerned with STYLE to really focus on the SUBSTANCE. While the imagery was striking, the character was lacking. And character is a vital part of the equation. Plus with so much amazing history to draw from, it just felt like too much was MISSING. Where was Jim Gordon, for example? Only a few years prior to Burton's Batman, Frank Miller revolutionized the character with Dark Knight Returns and Year One, and yet his influence was nowhere to be felt in the move, which in retrospect is very disappointing. From there, it all went downhill. Batman Returns, again, had some good moments, but became so twisted and grotesque that it lost all dramatic gravitas and became altogether removed from reality. Batman Forever, well, this was the Joel Schumaker era, in which Batman, as a movie franchise, was utterly, completely, decimated, humiliated, and disgraced. Joel Schumaker made Batman into a joke. He turned the Dark Knight into a rubber suit wearing clown who was mere set decoration in some kind of crazy acid-trip parody. At least the Adam West series had a real sense of wry humor and inspired, campy lunacy. This was just unequivically terrible. And just look at the talent that was wasted. Jim Carrey as the Riddler, Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy, Tommy Lee Jones as Two Face, hell, even Ahnold as Mr. Freeze. All could have been good, if not great, in those roles. But the writing, directing, and overall vision was pure, unadulterated crap. Not to mention the awful turns by George Clooney as Batman, Chris O'Donnell as Robin, and (shudder ...) Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl. Batman had hit rock bottom. There was nothing left to do but hit the cosmic reset button and begin again.

Ironically, even as Batman limped along in movies, he was kicking ass elsewhere. The animated series under the guidance of Paul Dini produced several seasons of pure, classically told, artfully animated, and brilliantly voice-acted Batman stories - some of the absolute best ever, in any medium. In the comics, Batman's ongoing adventures were written by a continuing parade of some of the best writers out there, and drawn by some of the field's best artists. The Knightfall saga saw Bruce Wayne crippled, only to eventually return and reclaim the mantle of the Bat from his psychotic replacement, Jean Paul Valley, aka Azrael. In later years, great writers like Greg Rucka and Ed Brubacker enjoyed long runs on the Batman comics that will go down as classics. Jeph Loeb teamed with superstar artist Jim Lee to create the Hush saga, which returned Batman to number one on the sales charts. Loeb and artist Tim Sale also produced The Long Halloween, regarded as a classic tale of Batman's early years. Frank Miller returned to the fold to do a sequel to Dark Knight Returns. Chuck Dixon, Gail Simone, and others brought new life to Batman's supporting cast, fleshing out titles like Robin, Nightwing, Catwoman, and Birds of Prey. You get the picture. The only thing left was the movie. The one we'd been waiting for. A new spin on classic Batman. One that incorporated the great stories like Year One and The Long Halloween. One that had the great supporting cast characters like Jim Gordon. One that was dark. That was serious. Dramatic. Intense. One that was true to the spirit of Bob Kane and Bill Finger's classic creation. A man who was born out of fear on one tragic night, who made a promise on his parents' grave to rid his city of evil. An ordinary man who nonetheless became a symbol of the peak of human potential, a dark knight on an endless, grim crusade. Now, finally, this could be it. More stuff to come ... potentially including: The Best Batman Writers, The Best Batman Artists, and The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told!

Tune in next time ...

(you guessed it ...)

Same Bat-Time. Same Bat-Channel.