Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Batman Begins d. Christopher Nolan, 2005

I understand the elation - really, I do - but what about the rest of us? A boon to comic book nerds the world round (and I use the term nerds here endearingly), the new Batman film (apparently) hugs the rails of the original storyline. Wry one-liners punctuate the gravitas, Batman himself fights in a throng of blurry & indecipherable melee, and the thin barrier separating vengeance & justice is carefully teetered upon. Now: I am left with two possible courses of action 1) To maintain that I just, on the whole, do not dig Batman 2) To maintain that someone, in the midst of this faithful adaptation, screwed up in the act of making a good film. In the interest of not sounding like an elitist pop-culture curmudgeon, I'll go with the latter.

It is the last of these ("the thin barrier separating vengeance & justice") that proves the most problematic for Batman Begins. The spirit of justice is one of righting wrongs, of protecting innocents. When Bruce Wayne (Batman's alter-ego, for the cultural illiterate) refutes the idea of vengeance, opting instead for vigilante justice, his demolition car ride through the nighttide city of Gotham becomes laughably ironic. So justice is great and vengeance is bad - wouldn't want a bunch of innocents, partial or otherwise, without retribution, would we? Nor would we want some caped idiot running around destroying anything that sneezes, right? - but then the Man in Black Rubber himself, auto-professor of justice, instead of vengeance, inadvertently uses his tank of a Batmobile to destroy these innocents and their city, thereby nullifying any sense of justice. In justice's stead: bedlam. This wouldn't be problematic in the slightest if writer, director, or otherwise decided to spend a bit more time on the issue, maybe noting the hypocrisy of the situation, but not a thought is given. Nor would it be problematic if Batman Begins were a slight summer blockbuster - flashy, theatrical, and thematically puerile. Rather, Batman Begins clearly has ideas on the brain. This Vengeance v. Justice idea is only a decent one - thoroughly mined by all mediums - but it still deserves to be treated with more respect than Nolan gives it.

Add to this mess a grab bag of Hollywood cliches (the meaning-pregnant reiteration of a phrase uttered previously in the film, embarrassingly dorky one-liners, blatant cash-cow open-ended sequel mongering) and an inexplicably indecipherable action palette, and you have a film of divided halves. There are two films here: the serious, philosophical film about Bruce Wayne's inner struggle with Batman, and the summer movie* that blows stuff up. Each individual film has the equal potential for quality, but together they equal only sullied waters.

*And just to clarify, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a summer movie, or a rom-com, or anything of that sort. A good movie is a good movie, w/ all genres carrying the potential for greatness. Be it Citizen Kane or Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!, if the earmarks of a well-made, quality film are there, great. Unfortunately, they're simply missing in Batman Begins.

Monday, June 13, 2005

gone fishin'

Gone for summer. Will post every two weeks or so, 'k? K.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith d. George Lucas, 2005

It reveals - pretty conclusively, at that - that the whole, great big thing is about the bedfellow proximity of good & evil. The Light and Dark Sides of the force, instead of being opposites, are part of the same scale, extremely close to each other. Anakin = Luke, really, with just one decision separating them. Therefore, Anakin's decision leads him to the dark side (you knew this already, no bitching about spoilers) and Luke's keeps him on narrow, windy road of light. There's a bunch of religion stuff, too. Also, the Special Effects were great - with Lucas tossing in every trick he knows. Moreover, as a director he proved to pretty solid. Still, he has no ear for dialogue and his incessant use of parallel editing is really frustrating (this might be strictly a personal gripe - I've always hated parallel editing. D.W. Griffith can go soak his head.)

Ok: if you're with me thus far, you're now caught up on over 1000 (probably well-over, I haven't counted and I'm not going to) internet-exclusive (!) reviews by fanboys, hacks, professional and would-be critics. From what I've read (which amounts to about 50 or so first paragraphs and one complete review), there's really only one review of Epi. III worth reading, and that wroth has much less to do with any film analysis than the theatre experience described therein and the really fun prose used to describe it. Let's be honest, ok: we all know that this one is darker than the first two [abominable train-wrecks], ergo better, cause how can one completely screw up something so damn depressing? And it isn't screwed up; on the whole, Revenge of the Sith is a good film - thoroughly entertaining & well executed. But dontcha think enough webspace has been devoted to it already? (Yes, ok, wait: I do understand the irony here: I'm writing about Epi III while telling you not to. But it's like picketing the act of picketing - you gotta' embrace the idea to demonstrate your outrage with it, or how else will people know you're outraged? Same thing with the 60's & Altamont: all those hippies had to provide one last act of hippieism [sic] in order to show the rest of the hippies what imbecilic dumbasses they were.) And this isn't just a problem w/r/t this one film. No, it's rampant; people writing everywhere, regurgitating the same tired ideas. If you have nothing worthwhile to say, do a favor and don't say anything. (Once again, irony noted.)

See: online critics/reviewers/film buffs/et cetera have a reputation of being biters. The aggregate corpus of writing (quantity) far outweighs its own worth (quality.) By adding review after redundant review (past examples: Sideways, Million $$$$ Baby, Fahrenheit 9/11) we're only supporting this auto-disparaging mentality.

So: stop. Please.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Two-Lane Blacktop d. Monte Hellman, 1971

What strikes me about many films of the late 60's/early 70's is how they capture a specific time so well while simultaneously remaining timeless. In and of itself, the hippie generation became a laughable self-parody; peace, love, and dope quickly waxed ironic. But the emotions it exposed - deep-seated pathos, apathy, disgust - are right at the core of what it means to be human. I'm not quite sure the majority of the people subscribing to this emotional set were entirely certain of what they were buying into. Conversely, I am quite sure Monte Hellman was.

All characters in Two-Lane Blacktop are known by broad, impersonal nouns - girl, mechanic, driver, GTO. Wilson and Taylor's (Mechanic & Driver, respectively) acting is amateur, but note-perfect for this film. Their impersonal, dehumanized actions fit the model of men with one thing on their minds, but a good deal more in their hearts. Taylor, in particular, is pretty much magnetic, exuding the kind of cool only lanky folks musicians can. Seen as character types used only to convey the director's ideas, these characters are flat and increasingly irritating. But they're more than vehicles for the director. The Driver and The Mechanic speak, almost exclusively, gearhead. They practically breathe their auto-tuned '55 Chevy; carbs, jets, pistons, valves - what is mechanical supersedes the organic.

A digression, but with a point: the road movie is often about escape. Something - responsibility, Johnny Law, a girl, etc. - is bringing you down, so you get out on the open road and live. Driver & Mechanic's laser-focus on all things engine is their form of escape. When GTO (Warren Oates) attempts to tell Driver about his own struggles and whatnot, Driver cuts him short. He doesn't want to hear about trouble. Now: what would one be escaping from in the early 70's, something so troublesome that to hear of trouble of any other kind would be too much to deal with? Of course, Vietnam and the shifting nature of the government at the time. Driver & Mechanic are archetypes of sorts, representing an entire bewildered generation, but they also work as believable people, driving away - quickly - from what ails.

If Driver and Mechanic are the aging youth of the sixties, then GTO is The Man. The ethos, Don't Trust Anyone Over Thirty, is often a divider in films of the 60's & 70's. The youth are good, the old are bad; the youth "get it," the old do not. Oates' GTO doesn't "get it" per se, but he's not a mono-dimensional bad guy either. Instead he represents the entire gamut of the over thirty crowd: he wants desperately to be hip, he scolds the youth when he's not accepted as one of their own, and - in a brilliant piece of writing - his story is constantly changing. GTO never tells the truth; depending on the passenger he has picked up, his car is stolen, won, or bought. He sizes up the person and tells them what they want to hear. It is an indictment of the lying, veiled government, but also an endearing portrait of the older set. GTO's intentions are kind enough - it is clear that he intends no harm - but his methods are out of touch, outmoded in this new progressive era. Frankly, Oates deserved an Oscar. Playing the schizophrenic catchall for a loathed generation - while straddling the line between parody and sincerity - took nerve and skill both.

All metaphor aside, Two-Lane Blacktop is a portrait of the road and the eternal itinerants that call it home. It's a simple story of life - beautifully photographed, elegantly Spartan.

(Aside: so it seems that the general consensus is to see this as an existentialist road film. And it is that, but I also think there's merit to the social milieu of the thing. Whether intended or not, Two-Lane Blacktop is very much an overview of its social clime. Or maybe I'm wrong again.)