Wednesday, July 23, 2008

THOUGHTS INSPIRED BY BLOCKBUSTERS AND THE PEOPLE WHO LOVE THEM (or are in them…)



THE CRIMES OF MSSRS. EDELSTEIN AND UHLICH

Just how big an offense is it to not love (or lurrrrrrvvvvv) The Dark Knight? Well, David Edelstein and Keith Uhlich might have some thoughts on that. I have not yet seen the film myself, and though I very much appreciated Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan’s first foray into Gotham City geography, I find it strange how predigested the anticipation has been about this blockbuster, so much so that fans who hadn’t even seen the film yet were roasting Edelstein for not rubber-stamping their excitement and the other pre-release raves. And of course those that had seen it and took exception to a dissenting view let both Edelstein and Uhlich know just how unqualified they were as reviewers because of their opinions.

What’s odd/amusing/disturbing about the (over)reaction here is that many of the folks who have condemned these writers have done so on grounds of highfalutin’ pretentiousness, usually sparked by the critics' use of big words (words that these angry mobsters probably don’t understand themselves—Edelstein dared invoke George Bernard Shaw and a vocabulary that included words like “verbiage”). The commenters are, essentially, pissed off at these guys for taking this movie seriously, something which, I suppose, would be okay if their own views on it were being validated. Personally, I understand the hype that surrounds just about any big Hollywood release as being the work of masterful publicity machinations which seep into the blood of those prepared to dig the scene—that’s business as usual. But there’s something different going on here, and fan reactions to dissenting views like Edelstein’s and Uhlich’s often seem more like Joker-esque dementia than protectiveness over a pet film. (Not all, of course—some who like/love the film and find Edelstein and Uhlich’s arguments weak have said so with relative eloquence and lack of fury, but they seem to be the exception.) Does a spectacular with a $185 million production budget, probably at least that much in an advertising budget, and a record-breaking opening weekend really need such a vehement, hypersensitive defense? I mean, my goodness, on the other end of this scale rave reviews for this film have not been exactly hard to come by, and the most enthusiastic of them are tossing around phrases like “masterpiece” and “best American film so far this year” and “best American film since The Godfather Part II.”

So why the rage when one or two critics offer a dissenting perspective? (One of my favorite comments comes from Edelstein’s blog The Projectionist, where he ends with this: “*Note to readers: You blunt the force of your attack when you write to an author to say, “No one cares what you think” — because, uh, at least one person does.”)

When I do see The Dark Knight, if I’m as enthralled by it as some seem to be I will have no qualms in saying so. But in the face of such build-up, forgive me if I allow myself not to get swept away just yet, because I will have just as few qualms about saying so if I end up not.

*************************************************************************************

FILM CRITIC AS PHYSICIST

Eric Riddle of NBC-TV, Seattle would like us to know something about the new family-oriented action epic Journey to the Center of the Earth (3-D) that may rattle the very foundations of those quantum physicists who couldn’t get tickets to see The Dark Knight this week and instead found themselves putting on a pair of keen polarized glasses for a Saturday matinee:


Who knew that just another Brendan Fraser CGI epic would have such serious repercussions for decades of scientific theory? But how exactly is 3-D redefined? Will I be able to actually touch the molten lava that erupts from the volcano, or feel the hot breath of the T rex as it stomps its way into my popcorn bucket? Shrek 4-D already exists, as we well know, so that’s out. Is Riddle intimating some fifth dimension waiting to explored? No, we’ve already checked that out by way of a beautiful balloon. Then what? If only Hal Fishman were alive, he’d be on this tighter than Christian Bale’s bat suit. But his bosses would still make us wait for the report until after sports and the scheduled 10:56 p.m. report on the water-skiing squirrel. Guess I’ll just have to take my girls and find out what 6-D is all about…

*************************************************************************************

MAKE UP YOUR MIND, JEAN-PAUL SARTRE!

Maybe that whole redefining 3-D thing has something to do with being two opposing things at once:


Or is this just the first existential movie blurb? Oh, well, by itself or in a group, Hellboy II: The Golden Army was truly enthralling, a spectacular fantasy epic that feels almost hand-made...

*************************************************************************************

THE SWEDE WHO WOULD BE REUBEN KINCAID

I find it interesting that, in all the discussion about the merits of Mamma Mia (or lack thereof), no one has yet mentioned the movie’s single most disturbing and inexplicable occurrence—somehow Stellan Skarsgard (far right-- click to enlarge) has become Dave Madden.


My thoughts on Mamma Mia coming soon...

68 comments:

Peter Nellhaus said...

I wrote a piece on M. Night Shyamalan's difficulties last year for another site last year. I essentially agreed with Disney for denying him carte blanche based on basic film economics. The response from his fan based also bordered on hysteria.

bill said...

But I thought that Shyamalan was persona non grata since The Village. I didn't think he had a fan base anymore.

I would like to say, though, that David Edelstein does deserve a few insults thrown his way. Not because he didn't like The Dark Knight (which I truly loved, by the way), but because on his blog, in a post about the ridiculous response his negative review had received, he said, in response to one particular charge, that he had never written any review with the purpose of making himself famous. He began that statement by saying "I swear on Heath Ledger's grave". That's just flat-out tasteless, and shabby. He's an asshole for saying that, not for giving The Dark Knight a negative review.

Filmbrain said...

Fantastic piece, Dennis.

As I mentioned in my post today, I find it more than a bit disconcerting that Nolan's film is already #1 on the IMDB top 250. What is it about this film that drives people into a state of ecstatic fervor? I'm seeing it tonight, and maybe I'll walk away a better understanding.

bill said...

It shouldn't be in the IMDB Top 250, but I think it's easily the best movie of its type ever made.

bill said...

Sorry, shouldn't be at the top of that list. Whether it should be on that list at all, hell, I don't know. I think I'd put in there somewhere, but I don't know where.

But I don't know why everyone is so surprised. If IMDB had been around when any of the first three Star Wars movies came out, the same thing would have happened.

Cde. said...

Not sure if you're joking about not knowing which review called The Dark Knight "the best American film since the Godfather Part II", especially since you link to that very site, but in case you're not it's (surprise, surprise!) Walter Chaw.

I wasn't crazy about the film. I thought it was muddled and awkward visually and narratively. Looking at the reaction it's received, saying I'm in a minority looks like an understatement.

The bombardment of The House Next Door, one of the last bastions of intelligent discussion about film, with hoards of incoherently babbling holy crusaders whose only weakness is the dictionary was both depressing and sad. While I don't begrudge anyone who loved the film, seeing that this formidable force had been assembled prior to the release date only adds to the sense that the rapturous reception this has received was predetermined.

drveindude said...

I love it when individuals blast the supposed "hoards of incoherently babbling holy crusaders whose only weakness is the dictionary" and then turn the other cheek and use stuff like "rapturous reception" with a straight face!

I also tend to agree with Bill's opinion on Edelstein. The quote Bill & Dennis attribute to D.E. about Ledger's grave is nothing more than grandstanding. It's the ol' "Look how clever I am" mentality.

blaaagh said...

I love this piece--I don't know whether I laughed harder at the 3D riff or the Reuben Kincaid rebirth.
Thanks!

p.saga said...

Dennis, your blog stands alone as one of the best ever!

Anonymous said...

I think the roasting of Edelstein/Uhlich is all in good fun. The critics have every right to like or not like a film, and the readers have every right to react to those public reviews.

The fact that so much has been made of the attacks on the tiny number of bad reviews for "The Dark Knight" says more to me about the thin skin of certain reviewers than it does about the rabidness of certain fans...

Krauthammer said...

As I keep saying, the new Batman is only Great when the villains are onscreen. Ledger's IS the performance of the year in my opinion, the reimagining of the Joker is inspired, and the rest is good enough(although Bale's Batman voice is hilarious)but hardly deserving of "best movie ever" talk. Even though I agree with bill that Edelstein treads the line of good taste, the reaction by the fanboys is kinda scary, I mean scarier than usual. You cannot just LIKE this movie, not even Like it a lot, you must think that it is one of the greatest movies of the past ten, nay 25 years, if not all time. And it's not even the best movie of the YEAR.



P.S In my humble opinion, the first two Spider-Man movies are still the pinnacle of the genre. Hell, I even thought the third one was pretty damn good.

bill said...

I do think many reviewers have thin skin. I thought the irony of this statement from Uhlich...

It hurts a little to see something I labored over deemed meaningless.

...was pretty hilarious, especially given how savage his review was.

Possibly even better is the fact that, a while back, Matt Zoller Seitz and Uhlich did a fascinating sort of "point/counterpoint" about Quentin Tarantino, in which the following exchange occurred:

KU: I understand, and that gets at my hesitation in having this discussion. A lot of the people who’ve shaped me as a critic, people whose opinions I respect – you, Armond, and friends like Jeremiah Kipp and Ed Gonzalez – don’t like Tarantino. And for whatever reason, when I hear that, I feel this twinge of, “What am I missing here?” I blame that on feelings of inadequacy, which I think everyone feels at certain times. But I also wonder if I am being willfully blind because of how I feel Tarantino himself influenced me.

But still I hold to the conviction that what Reservoir Dogs did to me was important, and I think, “Don’t belittle it. Don’t think less of it.” There is something very important about that. I listen to your arguments. I see --

MZS: But you don’t agree.

KU: Theoretically, I can see them. But --

MZS: I know what you mean. In Tarantino’s case, I hear the words and the melody, but I’m not feeling the music. The way that you feel when people run down Tarantino is the way I feel when I hear people complain that Wes Anderson’s movies are too cute and flashy, or that the Coen brothers are all style and no substance, that they have no heart, that they’re insincere in some way. It’s like a knife in the heart.

KU: It is like a knife in the heart.


I know what they mean, but it seems as though Uhlich can't imagine that feeling travelling out to regular movie-goers who loved The Dark Knight, felt genuinely moved, charged up, and exhilerated by it, and then come across his review, which just tears the thing to pieces. It works both ways, Keith.

But, yes, I definitely wish that more of the commenters out there who share my very high opinion of The Dark Knight would at least attempt to make their points with some degree of intelligence.

Peter Nellhaus said...

The Dark Knight on top of the IMDb list when it's just a few days old? Most these people would probably skip pristine prints of Vampyr or Metropolis even if it was playing across the street.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Cde.: Believe it or not, I just missed the quote in Chaw's review when I was scanning it again last night. Thanks for the tip on what was RIGHT IN FRONT OF MY BLEARY EYES! I have adjusted the piece accordingly.

I can't take much time in check in now, but I will say that I'm hoping to see the movie tonight (and I am looking forward to it!) so I can say something about the movie itself. It does seem to me that The Dark Knight being number one on that IMDb list is both symptomatic and silly, and yes, Bill, Star Wars sure would have topped that list too, if it had existed in 1977. Which is why the instant gratification of the Internet is best countered by a little thing they call "the test of time"...

Dan E. said...

Dennis, I'm glad we had the same first thought on seeing that Journey to the Center of the Earth quote.

As for The Dark Knight, I find it slightly disappointing that so many reviews coming out now only see the film through the prism of its current hype and reception. That sort of review is really only good for the time capsules.

bill said...

I've been noticing what feels like a certain glee from some quarters that the negative reviews are ticking people off. Not from Uhlich, I'll admit, but I do think it's out there. As though angering a certain segment of the fan community was part of the point.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Hey, Bill, I'd be interested in hearing more about this sense you're getting from some of these reviewers that have not liked the movie. I didn't get it from Uhlich either, and I felt Edelstein was kind of bracing himself for a negative reaction (based on previous experience-- he got death threats, for Christ's sake, for panning The Mummy Returns), which to my mind is not the same as relishing the opportunity to stick it to the fanboys. The only other critics I know of who made no secret of their dislike of the movie have been Stephanie Zacharek and Michael Sragow, and I haven't read either one yet, although as I mentioned in my piece on Speed Racer there was definitely a vibe in Zacharek's attitude toward that movie which suggested not kind things about those who liked it.

Larry Aydlette said...

Oh, enough, about this Dark Knight folderol. That Skaarsgard-Madden comparison is brilliant! God, how I miss the Laurel and Hardy-esque banter of Reuben Kincaid and Danny Partridge.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Larry, that bell-tinkling sound you heard signals the wings you just earned from my wife for your fond Reuben and Danny acknowledgment.

I'm serious.

Regarding Skarsgaard, I wish he, and Mamma Mia, had a tenth of the spunk and joy that could be found in an average Partridge Family episode. But alas, watching the movie is like being forced to endure someone's home movies in which they forgot to accent the beauty of their surroundings and instead documented each and every desperate/exuberant moment of every drunken karaoke adventure they had on their exotic island holiday. And Skarsgaard looks sullen and trapped under glass throughout... More to come, I promise...

Cde. said...

"I love it when individuals blast the supposed "hoards of incoherently babbling holy crusaders whose only weakness is the dictionary" and then turn the other cheek and use stuff like "rapturous reception" with a straight face!"

I'm not sure what you're getting at, or if you understood what I said. My point was that the people who descended on THND are afraid of big words. I'm not. I say things like 'rapturous reception' in face to face conversations all the time, and myself and the people I've been speaking to have so far always managed to keep a straight face.

The point has been made that 'it works both ways', and that if a critic savagely criticises a film they should be able to accept savage criticism themselves. I agree completely, but the problem is that the response negative reviews for this film have been receiving isn't equal at all to their content. While the reviews are often intelligently stated and well argued, the commenters often fail to rise above the moronic 'your penis is small!' type response. If, for example, Keith Uhlich's review had said "this movie was retarded and anyone who likes it is a faggot who doesn't know shit about movies", then yes, I would think the kind of response that the review as it stands has received is appropriate. But really, Keith's review and some of the other negatives deserve better than that.

And yikes, the Edelstein quote about Ledger is tasteless.

patrick said...

Hellboy 2 was fun; for sure that director has an amazing imagination, reminded me a lot of his work in Pan's Labyrinth

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised by the abuse here, of all places. I don't call people "assholes" in my reviews and I don't expect to be called an asshole even by people who don't like my work. As for saying "I swear on Heath Ledger's grave," I'm sorry if I gave offense but I think you should lighten up and stop being such moralists. It's a common expression--I could have said "I swear on my grandmother's grave" and no one would have cared--and given the amount of ghoulishness surrounding Ledger's death... What exactly is tasteless about it? I WOULD swear on Ledger's grave that I didn't write the review to get attention--which is another way of saying I know how momentous his overdose was to some people and I give you my word I wouldn't exploit it (certainly not the way some critics have, the ones who are getting attention for themselves by vowing to mount a campaign for a posthumous Oscar). I hope that people would look at the body of my work before commenting in this manner. David Edelstein

bill said...

To be perfectly honest, Mr. Edelstein, I have read your work beyond the post I quoted, and used to listen to you frequently on NPR. And based on that experience, and the context of the Ledger quote, I'm not really buying your explanation. It was meant to get a laugh. I didn't laugh.

Calling you an asshole was out of line, and I apologize. I'll stand by "tasteless", though.

driveindude said...

cde said:
"I'm not sure what you're getting at, or if you understood what I said. My point was that the people who descended on THND are afraid of big words."

I understood you completely but you have to understand that when reading it, it sure reminded me of this verbal judo exchange from a beloved children's classic:

Violet Beauregarde: [while digging in a nostril] Spitting's a dirty habit.
Willy Wonka: I know a worse one.

Don't get me wrong... I completely agree with what you said but I do find it a little elitist (not just you) to stomp on people for being slightly vocabulary impotent. I mean, they do mean well but they just can't deliver the goods.

Now David said:
>As for saying "I swear on Heath Ledger's grave," I'm sorry if I gave offense but I think you should lighten up and stop being such moralists. It's a common expression--I could have said "I swear on my grandmother's grave" and no one would have cared.

Come on David! If you had used your mother's grave instead of Heath's, would anyone have cared? Of course not. No one would have looked at it twice. But you did say it. People did read it and it came off in very bad taste and you know it. Don't be surprised at the backlash. You have found yourself in a very comfortable position and I know and have met people just like you.

I've never met you and God knows I probably would get along with you just fine. However, sometimes we believe that when we say things, people in general will understand it's meaning completely. Yet it's people outside that generality that will react and react badly at times. They will hold you to your word or your words.

I just wish people who review movies would review the movie and not get caught up in the hype. It makes them just as guilty as the fans boys.

How about Danny Bonaduce as the Joker in Batman/Dark Knight 3? :)

Dennis Cozzalio said...

I need to step in here and say that the response David offered here about using "my grandmother's grave" instead of "Heath Ledger's" is one that I was going to suggest myself yesterday. I tend to avoid trying to speak for others, and if I had I probably would have been accused of sucking up to a writer I admire, an accusation to which I certainly would have taken the opportunity to respond.

But now that David himself has offered his own comment, regardless of whether my thoughts come across as genuine or opportunistic, I feel compelled to say that the reference to Ledger never felt gratuitous and inappropriate to me as it does to some of the folks writing in here, for the reasons he stated. Maybe I'll feel differently after I've seen The Dark Knight, but I kinda doubt it-- I've seen Brokeback Mountain and Monster's Ball.

Anyway, my point is, I've always been kind of proud of the fact that this blog has never been one to degenerate into the kind of nonsense that is currently being visited upon on Keith Uhlich and David Edelstein, or that you see on any random chat board every day when contrary opinions are expressed. I agree that that anyone who writes criticism ought to be able to handle being criticized him/herself, and I don't think any critic would say differently. But neither can any critic in this discussion can be accused of stooping to the level of returning some of the mudslinging that has been directed their way. Critics like David Edelstein and Keith Uhlich are not playing the same game as some I can (and have) named for whom trash-talking is a crucial part of their M.O., and it is disconcerting to see some of that going on here. And as I said before, I can't believe that David and Keith didn't know full well that they were in for some bashing by taking on this movie in this way. Why would anyone court that kind of response? What kind of glory would a writer imagine could be attained by garnering such attention? The only reason I can think of to write a negative review of The Dark Knight is because the writer sincerely had problems with it and is attempting to explain them. (That certainly explains my Mamma Mia review.) And I think David's point about the way other critics have relentlessly stumped for posthumous Oscar attention for Ledger is one worth tumbling around with in this context.

My ultimate point is, I guess, that I don't want anyone to feel unwelcome here-- not David Edelstein, not Bill, or anyone else whose presence here and ability to voice their opinions intelligently and with civility I value so highly. I like a good argument, but I'd be sorry indeed if anyone came away from time spent here feeling personally insulted. And I apologize for not saying anything about it until now.

bill said...

Dennis, I apologize for stirring this up, though stirring anything up was never my intention.

Just to clarify: the offense I took had nothing whatsoever to do with The Dark Knight, or even Ledger's acting abilities, so I'm not sure what Brokeback Mountain has to do with it. My problem was that the phrase was worded in a way that made it seem like a cheap, tasteless joke regarding Ledger's death. And, frankly, Edelstein's claim that I should "lighten up" seems to bolster that reading.

Anyone can hate The Dark Knight as much as they want without being insulted for holding that opinion. The fact that I don't hate the film is irrelevent here. Mr. Edelstein was being discussed, as was the over-the-top reaction to his review. I merely wanted to point out that I thought he did deserve a few harsh words for making that joke.

I found the joke tasteless. I still think it is. I will admit again that I never should have called Mr. Edelstein an asshole, and I regret that.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Thanks, Bill. I appreciate your thoughts.

I may be speaking out of turn here, but maybe the difference here is that the comment wasn't intended as a joke, but as a way of dealing with how Ledger's death, as much as his performance, is being exploited by TV and print media as a way of hyping the movie, and it's always done in a very gingerly, "respectful" way. (I saw a woman interviewing people on some crap TV show this week asking breathless moviegoers on their way out of TDK if it made them sad that they'd never see another movie with Ledger's Joker in it.)

My invocation of Brokeback Mountain was my way of saying that a comment like the one David Edelstein wrote, whether I thought i was tasteless or not (I don't), wouldn't change the way I felt about Ledger as an actor or my limited feelings about him as a person, and that I would hope the only thing that would matter, or that would be expected to matter to me, when I see the movie is Ledger's performance.

At any rate, thanks for your concern and your convictions!

Sharon said...

Let me preface this by saying that I loved Batman Begins. I saw The Dark Knight last Friday and really didn't care for it at all. There is a genuinely interesting story in there somewhere, but somehow the filmmakers did everything they could to obscure it. I won't go into detail as to why to avoid spoiling it for people who haven't seen it yet, but it is truly the disappointment of the summer for me. There have been so many great movies thus far, that I never expected the TDK would turn out to be the bottom of the barrel.

And I recognize that I'm once again in the minority in my opinion. It's okay. I'm used to standing over here in the corner by myself. ;-)

driveindude said...

Dennis, I think your presence as the "moderator" of this discussion might put a damper on any future commentors who may have felt compelled to chime in, but may now feel the room has grown a little chilly.

At any rate I also agree with everything you said (am I flip-flopping?) but as they say, "to each his own" and no truer statement could be made in reference to criticism of any kind.

You and I both know that we have often times not agreed on what constituted a good movie (Can you say ACROSS THE UNIVERSE?) but there have been pleasant surprises along the way, namely "Roscoe Jenkins" to name one.

Still it's a slippery slope to defend one critics opinion against the opinions of those that disagree with them, however rabid that rebound criticism may seem.

It's all very interesting. Once again Dennis, you picked a great topic.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

"I think your presence as the "moderator" of this discussion might put a damper on any future commentors who may have felt compelled to chime in, but may now feel the room has grown a little chilly."

I hope not, DID. That was not my intention. I just wanted to reiterate that I value the civil tone that has always characterized the comments that everyone leaves here, agree or disagree, and I just wanted to try to make sure things stayed that way. I have no reason to believe that won't be the case, and I hope no one has been discouraged by my words from expressing whatever view they want in the spirit of respectful argument.

driveindude said...

I still can't get over your daughters caricature of you. it's absolutely brilliant.

Regarding my comment about the potential chilly room, I don't think it will affect any future comments or discussions. It just seems to have silenced the room on this particular subject.

Like I said before, it was an excellent observation on your part to make this a point of discussion. Also equally brilliant.

Campaspe said...

For whatever it is worth, I saw Edelstein's Ledger joke as Dennis did -- a sideswipe at the hysteria over his death, not a slam at the actor himself.

Day before yesterday I read--or tried to read, I do have kids to feed in the same 24-hour period--the response to Keith's review and I still can barely believe what I was scrolling through. The review was negative, but hardly vicious. Keith backed up his points with examples. It wasn't an off-handed dismissal, he took the thing seriously and wrote about it as a seriously flawed movie. As did Mr. Edelstein, for that matter. And the worst part was that even some of the literate, intelligent responses were vituperative and personal in the extreme.

In a way, it's nice to know film critics, in an age where the very necessity of our existence is questioned, can still piss people off to that degree. But there's an alarming note in these responses, the idea that it isn't enough to disagree. People want the fellow writing the review to shut up altogether. I have to say I admire Edelstein and Uhlich both for not turning off the comments. After the first physical threats rolled in, I think I might have taken the whole site down until the hordes found another castle to storm.

Keith Uhlich said...

Hi Campaspe-

Just thought I should mention that I ultimately did turn off the comments to the "DK" thread at The House. I was getting on average about 25-30 comments every hour, a good many of them variations on "faggot," a few others a bit too explicit death threats ("come to your house and stab you in your sleep" was a particular gem, repeated in subtle variation).

Part of it was the comment moderation was distracting me from other work I needed to do, but I'd be lying if I said the scrutiny didn't cut deep. (Moreso than I realized, actually.) I'm all for being discussed, even vilified, but I felt I had a right to put a stopper on things when it came to the site, the "house," that I live and work in.

Thanks for your comments, and to you too Dennis for your thoughts in this post. :-)

Dennis Cozzalio said...

"In a way, it's nice to know film critics, in an age where the very necessity of our existence is questioned, can still piss people off to that degree. But there's an alarming note in these responses, the idea that it isn't enough to disagree. People want the fellow writing the review to shut up altogether."

Campaspe, this is an interesting thought, and it's one that David was getting at in his comment that I quoted in the piece. Why are these people who would respond so viciously to a well-articulated point of view that disagrees with their own even reading critics like David or Keith or anyone else when there's so little patience displayed when those views don't fall in line? I don't think it's the writing that's striking a nerve here, and unfortunately the Internet makes it easy for those who don't have the power to use words well to blow off steam in a primitive way, in relative anonymity. It's a reaction not against well-reasoned point of view, which would be slim reason to take some cheer from all this, true, but instead as a symptom of intimidation, I think.

Keith, thanks for speaking your mind and speaking it well. I saw the movie over the weekend, and as it turns out I didn't think much of it either. I hope to be able to write something about it soon, but by then I suspect, for good or for ill, the howling mob may have cooled down a bit.

Anonymous said...

this batman hoopla is pretty funny. i saw in last thursday then saw the fantastic 'hud' in a revival house two days later. calling batman 'the greatest movie ever' is funny to me, it wasn't even the best movie i saw at a theater in the span of three days.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Anonymous, all:
My own reaction to the movie (I finally got a chance to see it over the past weekend) was, to begin with, indifference. After about an hour or so the whole gloomy weight of the thing began to wear on me. I thought Ledger's performance was fascinating-- at once desperate and confident, like an actor on a high wire. But it's of a piece with what I felt was the movie's fashionable morbidity and way over-studied bleakness. I'm beginning to find this kind of anything-goes chaotic villainy, where anything can happen because, oh, my God, he's not playing by anyone's rules, tiresome. If anything can happen, then anything will happen and I begin, as a viewer, to expect the unexpected. (Of course, it's this kind of parallel with real-world terrorism, plus the movie's deep-dish pronouncements about the proximity of heroism and villainy, that have helped to serious inflate the movie's reputation.)

And speaking of tiresome, the whole dystopian urban nightmare-scape is an angle that's developed here with surprisingly little visual stylization and imagination, which doesn't help the movie's overarching glumness. (Maybe I've tired of cynicism and dystopia in general, but then again, I was tired of it before the previews were even over-- after slogging through previews for upcoming grim pop fantasias like Babylon A.D>-- a glowering Vin Diesel tromping through yet another would-be Blade Runner cityscape-- Death Race-- amped-up hyper-violent and ugly-looking Death Race 2000-- and of course, Watchmen, I'd already had my fill, and I still had 165 of dark night to get through.) Would it have killed Nolan and company to have injected some humor that wasn't of the disappearing-pencil variety? I know it might sound petty and shallow, but I thought the movie failed on a very basic level-- it, unlike Batman Begins, was no fun whatsoever. And whoever made the decision to instruct/encourage Christian Bale to do his best Mercedes McCambridge impersonation when he puts on the bat cowl made a huge mistake. I know he altered his voice in the first movie whenever he was Batman, but was it this extreme? I honestly couldn't understand what he was saying by the second half of the movie.

I'm hoping to write in more detail later this week, if I can find the time, about the movie in light of another summer effects spectacular that I thought managed a wonderful balance between urban chaos and unexpected emotion, beauty and lightness of spirit, Hellboy II: The Golden Army. But until then I have to say that the indifference I left the theater with this past weekend after The Dark Knight has, the more the movie has stirred around in my heart and my head, turned to active dislike. The suffocating seriousness with which it has been conceived seems not so much a sign of its depth but instead of its lack thereof. To paraphrase the old bromide, grim is easy, genuine beauty, especially in the context of the modern action spectacular, is hard.

bill said...

"I'm beginning to find this kind of anything-goes chaotic villainy, where anything can happen because, oh, my God, he's not playing by anyone's rules, tiresome."

Yeah, but...that's The Joker. Maybe you feel differently, but I personally wouldn't have wanted them to alter the character so drastically in order to make him stand out from all the movie villains who've stolen his schtick over the years.

"Would it have killed Nolan and company to have injected some humor that wasn't of the disappearing-pencil variety?"

Such as? I mean, there was a lot of dialogue that was meant to be funny -- maybe you didn't think it was funny, but it was there. Beyond that kind of humor, and the sick/uncomfortable kind provided by the Joker, I don't know what other type would have been appropriate. The humor in Hellboy II is inherent to that character (and some of the humor in that film was so bad it really made me squirm); trying to shoehorn too much of it into a Batman film would be to take the character in the wrong direction.

"And whoever made the decision to instruct/encourage Christian Bale to do his best Mercedes McCambridge impersonation when he puts on the bat cowl made a huge mistake."

Well, it ain't perfect, I'll give you that. I buy into the logic of it, and find that the voice does sometimes genuinely work. However, when it doesn't work it's pretty jarring. Although, for the record, I didn't have any problem understanding him.

"And speaking of tiresome, the whole dystopian urban nightmare-scape is an angle that's developed here with surprisingly little visual stylization and imagination, which doesn't help the movie's overarching glumness."

Again, you seem to think Nolan is trying to do something he's actually not interested in. "Dystopian nightmare" implies some sort of Gothic SF landscape, but that's not what's on Nolan's mind. Big city grime and corruption, yes, but as it exists in the real world (but exaggerated for a Batman movie), not as it would exist in a dystopia, or a nightmare. Or a dystopian nightmare.

Nolan's always said that he wants to ground Batman in reality as much as he can. I feel he's pulled that off brilliantly.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

WHOA! We just had a pretty big shaker here in L.A. 5.8.

But back to what's really important:

“Yeah, but...that's The Joker.”

True. But whether or not it’s because the Joker’s nihilistic act has been co-opted to death by every villain, cheap and grand, in every action thriller from Schwarzenegger and Stallone on up, the fact is that after 25 years of this kind of thing, no matter how brilliantly realized by Heath Ledger, the shtick is starting to reek.

I really feel to some extent that this movie represents a kind of critical mass for me in terms of how much noir is too much noir is this big-budget fantasy context. (And this is, for all of its grounding in the real world, a fantasy.) Maybe dystopian isn’t the word for you for this movie because much has been made about the movie’s Gotham City being a thinly-veiled Chicago. But this isn’t movie isn’t Medium Cool, or even The Blues Brothers. This is a movie Chicago built to emphasize the director’s desire to ground a character drawn from graphic novels in a realism that is, whether it’s sci-fi or not, by its very nature stylized. And what’s more, this movie definitely felt like a nightmare to me. That’s the kind of imagery it traffics in. (Though, ironically, I found the Scarecrow in Batman Begins much more effective in terms of generating real fear than anything in this new movie. Curious that The Dark Knight has room only for a blip of a cameo for Cillian Murphy.)

Maybe it’s my age, but I find myself falling closer behind Jonathan’s contention that an overstated, portentously bleak point of view is no indicator of a movie’s worth, especially in this kind of fantasy/sci-fi context. And I’m not asking for inappropriate humor shoe-horned in where it doesn’t belong so much as an acknowledgment that there are impulses in this world beyond the most cynical and negative and hopeless. It’s this pandering to “grim reality” that I think earmarks the movie as less than the sum of its parts, some of which are impressive. (I liked how Maggie Gyllenhaal seemed to channel Patsy Kelly in the looks department, even if she didn’t have much to do, and again, Ledger is very entertaining.)

At the risk of putting words into your mouth, it seems you appreciated Nolan’s attempt to make a Batman movie worthy of Michael Mann. Myself, I’d rather see Miami Vice or Heat.

Or Adam West and Burt Ward.

bill said...

Well, you're right that it's a fantasy. But -- and this is all off the top of my head, so it might not come out as clearly as I'd like -- I would say it's closer to the kind of dark fantasy (sans supernatural elements) that was pioneered by writers like Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson (and Bob Kane...). They were among the first to take fantastic elements (shrinking men, vampires, ghosts) and put them in everyday settings, highlighting the strangeness and dread (Matheson's novel A Stir of Echoes takes place in Chicago). I've always responded to that.

And I'm having trouble understanding how you can criticize the "bleak" and "hopeless" tone. For one thing, I would say "dark" before I'd say "bleak" and "hopeless", because it would be very hard for me to apply those words to a film that features as one of its big moments the realization that human beings are inherently good.

So, for the sake of argument, let's just say that you don't like this film's particular brand of "dark". Well, that's all really a matter of taste, isn't it? I assure you that it's very much in keeping with the tone of the Batman comics for the last 20+ years, and if it's not your thing, then it's not your thing, but is that really Nolan's fault?

I wholeheartedly agree that such a tone is no indication of quality, in this or any other film. But the implication seems to be that Nolan is striving for that tone because he wants the film to seen as important. However, that's not what he's doing. That tone is there because that is quite plainly the appropriate tone for Batman, and it's especially the right tone for a movie about Batman facing off against the Joker.

"At the risk of putting words into your mouth, it seems you appreciated Nolan’s attempt to make a Batman movie worthy of Michael Mann."

Yes. Although you call The Dark Knight "portentous" and "overstated". Have you listened to Al Pacino's dialogue with his wife in Heat lately? I love that movie, but "portentous" and "overstated" are words that can be very easily applied to that film, as well. It can really be applied to most of his crime films.

"Myself, I’d rather see Miami Vice or Heat."

Speaking for myself, I wouldn't want to have to choose between Heat or The Dark Knight. Miami Vice, though, you can keep, with my blessing.

"Or Adam West and Burt Ward."

Well, then you were never going to like this movie.

They Call Me Mr. Tibbs said...

There was an earthquake in L.A.? Damn, I just missed it.


Well, I'd have to say that the "Adam West or Burt Ward" statement was very revealing.

Once again, no one should anchor an opinion based on emotions because your having your "unbiased opinion" called into question.

It seems to me that in reading all of these posts, the original intend was to defend a trusted colleague who's "life" had been threatened. I can understand the fear that this may have raised in all critics minds but to me it all seemed a threat with no real teeth.

Yet, the film that was the catalyst for all this discussion has received the best reviews on any film in the last 20 years. This fact cannot be argued however emotionally jarring it may be to Edelstein or Dennis.

The film is also making huge amounts of money and we can all agree that this fact alone will piss off critics in general.

Plus, being at Comic-Con this past weekend I was able to speak with dozens of comic book writers and some very well know producers who are all in the same opinion that The Dark Knight is possibly the Best Comic Book adaptation ever produced with Heath's portrayal of The Joker being an original, inspired and brave interpretation.

This is not my opinion.

However, the question should be asked: "Can millions of people be wrong?" Sure they can, but it's sure hard to deny the facts.

Dennis, having read this post and it's comments along with your Animal House celebration I can truthfully state that you are an excellent writer... no question about that.

Yet, if you aspire to become a critic that can be respected you should try to do two things.

1) Try to see the movie you intend to review when it opens so you are not inadvertently influenced in your own experience of watching the film. We all tend to believe we can separate the outside elements that seep in, truthfully this is virtually impossible.

2) Keep your personal emotions separate from professional opinion. This will always keep you honest.

This last part is of course, my opinion.

bill said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bill said...

Good Lord. Mr. Tibbs, that's not helping my case.

While I agree that The Dark Knight is the best comic book film ever made, and that Ledger's performance is original and inspired (I don't know about brave), those are, in fact, opinions. How can they be anything else?

"Yet, the film that was the catalyst for all this discussion has received the best reviews on any film in the last 20 years. This fact cannot be argued however emotionally jarring it may be to Edelstein or Dennis."

Over at Rottentomatoes, The Dark Knight has a 94% positive rating. No Country for Old Men, which I believe came out within the last 20 years, has a 95% positive rating.

I loved this movie, but this kind of talk doesn't get anybody anywhere.

Jamie said...

i think the comments many are saying about 'the dark knights' overstated 'darkness equals serious equals masterpiece' is very interesting (and i agree with it). my problem after leaving the theater was movies like this always upset me. they act very dark, remain dark but then somewhere cash registers ALWAYS come into play and the bleakness is never fully flushed out. it's a tease basically. in a film thats described and marketed as 'real' and 'dark' then cops out for the warmer and fuzzy ending every time. sure it's darker then most comic movies but that isn't saying much.

if this movie was actually "dark' one (or both) of those boats are blown up-- then we can actually think about the affects and aftermath of real terrorism. innocent people die in real life terrorist situations. here joker kills and reeks havoc all movie, but who does he really kill? all gangsters right? it seems to me that joker here is nothing more then a one note, violence-as-titillation performance.

then after all this we are left with joker being captured (by the same keystone kops who bumbled his arrest and capture before).

in burton's version of 'batman' i remember one scene where joker is creating dada like photo collages and he speaks a bit about a woman he now admires. it's a great scene and you learn much about joker inadvertently. i understand nolan and co. didn't want to reveal to much about joker (thinking this mysteriousness would equal fear in the audience) but as he's done currently he is at best a caricature of a real psycho. i suppose he could have been more flushed out, but then you would have to lose one of the eight (!) other story lines going on. (herein probably contains my problem, the movie should have been at least 2 films)

as i said earlier i saw 'Hud' (1963) in a revival house two days after 'the dark knight', all i can say is Hud is a way darker character then Joker, and he is also someone who feels real as day.

bill said...

Jamie - No, the Joker does not kill only gangsters. He also kills cops (yeah, some are crooked, but many are not), and at least four other innocent people, who I'll have to refrain from naming, because they're spoilers.

And if the argument is going to go from "the film was too dark" to "it wasn't dark enough", then clearly there are some people who simply weren't going to be happy with this film.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Whoa! Looks like there's been some activity here. Bill, this was written in response to your earlier comment. I will try to catch up with the rest of this thread when I get off work. I have been not so productive in the office today and must refocus. But for now...

“If it's not your thing, then it's not your thing, but is that really Nolan's fault?”

Maybe not. But what is Nolan’s fault is the way the movie’s action geography devolves in the second half from merely disorienting and fast-cut to flat-out incoherent. At first I thought the movie had just worn me down, but I could not follow the action in that whole SWAT recovery operation sequence. Batman Begins had a rationale for the jarring editing—the Batman existed in the shadows for the populace and when he appeared it was a disorienting event. (I’m very interested now to go back and see how that movie feels in light of this new one, considering that I liked it quite a lot. Just what is the difference for me?) Don’t get me wrong—I’ve liked plenty of movies that have a pretty harsh view of the human condition, but they’re often leavened with either an alternative point of view, one which the movie may validate or not, or humor that doesn’t seem so mired in juvenile shocks. When a movie spends two and a half hours trying to convince me of the despairing tenor of the condition of our souls and then makes an attempt to suggest that people are capable of goodness after all, I hope I can be forgiven for thinking that it’s probably more interested in the despair. If so, it needs to be more compelling crafted as a narrative than TDK is.

“Have you listened to Al Pacino's dialogue with his wife in Heat lately?”

Absolutely right you are. I was thinking mainly of that movie’s set pieces. The movie as a whole has its problems, to be sure, not the least of which is Pacino’s tendency to shoot for the moon with Mann’s rather overliterate dialogue and overplay in general with that patented Pacino shout. I will take Miami Vice over that movie.

As far as West and Ward, all I can say is: POW! ZAP! OOF! How I loved that show.

They call me mr. tibbs said...

I would refrain from using Rottentomatoes as the bench mark for this kind of discussion.

Jamie said...

you didn't listen to my critique... i am hardly a person that is impossible to please. this movie, simply put, does not fulfill its promises. as i said it is more of a tease.

all this being said i still did not hate this movie, i want to be clear on that. i just do not think it should be heard from come award season, and that it will not be remembered as important in 15 or 20 years time. of course it doesn't need to do either of these things to be 'good' it's just that as 'art' that is being talked about around-the-clock, as it is, i expect it to do both of these things.

Flower said...

Dennis--

Well gee whiz. I liked Hellboy II, The Dark Knight, Heat and BOTH cuts of Miami Vice so I'm not really sure how to jump into this subject!

I'll start, though, by saying that I think it's a little unfair to accuse Nolan of pandering just because you don't care for the tone of his film. You obviously don't have to like it or feel that it works in TDK's favor - but unless you really think Nolan is just a total fraud in what he's after thematically with this film, the pandering thing seems a little too pointed. Even if you think he completely misjudges his subject and entirely misses the mark, he can still be sincere in his efforts, can't he?

On the tone question... It's personal taste. I feel it's appropriate to the material and goes very directly to the film's themes. But I totally relate to your comment that your feel like you've reached critical mass on noir in sci-fi and fantasy. Fair enough. If that's the case (and if you're looking for Adam West and Burt Ward-style hi-jinks), then this was definitely never going to be a movie that worked for you.

But theme is something else.

So, related to this, isn't the movie actually about acknowledging the non-cynical, positive, hopeful impulses in people? Not just in the boat sequence, either. Harvey Dent is pretty explicitly the representation of people's hopes and desires. That he falls from grace by the end doesn't mean those hopes and desires, people's better impulses, don't exist, just that there's a lot of negative stuff to be overcome, and that life is, y'know, difficult.

Love the site, as always. You're still running one of the best games in town.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Thanks, Flower.

Nah, I really feel like the movie is really about trussing up an essentially silly conceit with all the bells and whistles of what increasingly passes for important cinema these days-- loud, overbearing, brutishly edited set pieces masking a story that at best moves in fits and starts. I see what you're saying about the statements about the value of humanity in the movie, but given all the evidence in the movie I'm not sure the movie really believes it. Oddly enough, I was always able to buy Harvey Dent's conversion in the comics, but here Eckhart is so convincing in his righteousness throughout that his flip-flop seemed equally unconvincing, a plot point rather than character development.

And I don't think Nolan is a hack. I just don't feel his heart in this movie, whereas I did in something like Insomnia and The Prestige, both flawed movies that I think are much, much better than The Dark Knight.

And I stand by my love for the 1966 Batman series, which I don't think pre-empts me or anyone from seeing the material don't differently. I would just like to see it done in a way that I feel works on an emotional and narrative level. (For the record, I didn't much care for Burton's Batman movies either, though they were preferable to the Schumacher era.)

Michael Atkinson, another latecomer to the TDK debate, checks in. Not exactly a conciliatory voice, his. (Thanks for the link, Newk.)

bill said...

Mr. Tibbs -

You're the one who said that it was a "fact" that TDK was the best reviewed movie of the last 20 years. I was simply pointing out how silly that statement is.

bill said...

This from Michael Atkinson:

"It’s time, I’m afraid, to let loose the dogs of apocalyptic cultural complaint, this time upon the throat of The Dark Knight, which I was coerced into finally seeing despite my official moratorium on voluntarily watching superhero movies, or any film in which someone puts on a mask or has "special powers," the latter of which is all by itself a dead giveaway, as a narrative device, to the film-culture mess we find ourselves in."

Sort of sounds like he'd made up his mind before going in, doesn't it?

And if that's your game, Dennis, here's Manohla Dargis:

http://movies.nytimes.com/2008/07/18/movies/18knig.html

Jamie - I read your critique. My point was simply that with Dennis coming from the "too dark" school, and you coming from the "not dark enough", I'm really at a loss as to what to say. Which is it?

And did you read my point about the variety of the Joker's victims?

Dennis again -

"When a movie spends two and a half hours trying to convince me of the despairing tenor of the condition of our souls and then makes an attempt to suggest that people are capable of goodness after all, I hope I can be forgiven for thinking that it’s probably more interested in the despair."

Sure, but that's not the same thing as calling the movie "hopeless".

"If so, it needs to be more compellingly crafted as a narrative than TDK is."

And I found it very compelling. It seems we may be at an impasse.

Although, I will add: the SWAT sequence at the end was a bit muddy, I'll grant you. But at what other time was the action disorienting? I don't see that at all.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

I love Manohla Dargis' writing (and I didn't used to so much, back in her L.A. Weekly days), and I appreciate her writing about this movie because I know she's not coming at it from a Comic Con-approved standpoint. (I could say the same for you, Bill.) Atkinson definitely had his armor up going in, but I can very much relate to his sense of frustration and exhaustion over the whole trajectory of what gets green-lit by movie studios these days.

The Dark Knight may not be hopeless, but I did find it to be a bit of a wallow. The action was not so much incoherent throughout as undistinguished-- I really do feel like anyone could have staged and shot these sequences, as they seem so much like anything you could find in the post-Die Hard era of action moviemaking. But that SWAT sequence really went over the line-- I really do feel it was a mishmash.

bill said...

If you were to ask me if the action was my favorite part of the movie, I would say no (although I really liked the biggest setpiece, involving the armored paddywagon, the circus truck, the Bat-cycle, etc. -- did you think that one was fuzzy? -- and Batman coming down on top of the Scarecrow's car). I never said the movie was perfect, and there was so much more to it -- the tight, winding story, Harvey's character (and they show indications of him snapping before his accident, so I don't think that was as out of the blue as you claim), the moral ambiguity, and, above all, Heath Ledger's magnificent performance -- that I felt more than compensated.

And I was going to ask you if you liked The Prestige. I love that movie, and I think time will be extremely kind to it (far more so than to The Illusionist).

Flower said...

Hi again--

No, no! I don't think your love of the 60s series pre-empts anything! Quite the opposite, I was conceding the style/tone argument entirely - I don't think the style or tone of The Dark Knight is objectively good or bad (okay, except in some of the action sequences), and I was more interested in the thematic questions you were raising. I'm sorry if what I wrote suggested otherwise.

"but given all the evidence in the movie I'm not sure the movie really believes it."

well... I don't think the matter of which impulses will ultimately win out is at all answered, and it's possible that this leaves the film ultimately feeling out of balance in favor of the negative. But the humanity, the values they're fighting for are still there - even if they have to lie to preserve them. That constant complicating of theme is what I most admire about Nolan's work here...

I half agree with you about Dent. I thought they laid the groundwork for the change just fine, but Eckhart's performance does emphasize his righteousness in a way that doesn't *quite* work.

Also - in half hearted defense of the Batman vs. SWAT team finale - it does make much better sense the second time through.

And finally, because I'm running long here:

"the movie is really about trussing up an essentially silly conceit with all the bells and whistles of what increasingly passes for important cinema these days"

Yeah, but so is Hellboy 2! The comic book genre - and science fiction and fantasy and the musical and lots of others - is fundamentally silly, but that's what makes it so wonderful when talented filmakers (Raimi, del Toro, Nolan) take it seriously, isn't it?

they call me mr. tibbs said...

Bill, once again... stating that my statement was silly based upon what rottentomatoes has to say about it... equally silly!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

"Yeah, but so is Hellboy 2!"

The difference for me, Flower, is the difference between Del Toro, and Peter Jackson, and Sam Raimi as directors, and Christopher Nolan, at least in regard to what he brings to a party like The Dark Knight. Silliness is to be embraced, as you suggest, and I think that these other directors do so in a way that honors the intentions and spirit of genre filmmaking, and all its tonal possibilities and thematic flexibility, without smothering it in a blanket of self-seriousness that saps the movie in question of the element of fun. I take Del Toro's and Jackson's and Raimi's films far more seriously, without denying their low-down origins and qualities, than I ever could The Dark Knight. A movie like Hellboy II speaks more to me about the crossroads of imagination and thematic resonance in a work of artful entertainment than anything in Nolan's movie, with perhaps the exception of Ledger's fine work. (And don't forget, my favorite movie of the year so far is still Speed Racer!) :)

I hope the level of distraction I've been experiencing today hasn't diminished my ability to think clearly or express myself clearly about how I feel about this movie. I wrote more in this thread today than I probably would have if I'd just posted about it, so I may leave it at that. And frankly, my head is starting to hurt from thinking about this movie too much, kind of like it did after I finished watching it. Isn't there something else playing?

bill said...

"Bill, once again... stating that my statement was silly based upon what rottentomatoes has to say about it... equally silly!"

At least you admit your statement was silly. Now I can move on.

bill said...

"Silliness is to be embraced, as you suggest, and I think that these other directors do so in a way that honors the intentions and spirit of genre filmmaking..."

Dennis, that's something I just can't buy into. Why is it so important for genre films to have an air of silliness? I'm not against silliness -- Hellboy and Abe Sapien getting drunk together was one of the highlights of Hellboy II -- but to say that it's necessary seems to imply that the material should only be taken seriously up to a point, beyond which the filmmaker is being pretentious.

Flower said...

Leaving The Dark Knight aside, then, you're right about Hellboy 2. On a story level it struck me as somewhat overly familiar, but individual scenes and sequences offered some wonderful surprises (Hellboy and Abe drowning out their sadness and dueting, the sad fate of the forest spirit thing).

Oh, and Speed Racer is still my favorite movie of the year too.

Jamie said...

Dennis--i'm happy 'Speed Racer' is still your favorite film of the year. actually your fantastic review of that film (then diving headlong into the past reviews) is what made me a fan of this blog to begin with. my favorite film this year is still probably solid with 'In Bruges' but 'Speed Racer' is still in my top 3 or so. now there is a film with a style all its own. the fact that it did so poorly and TDK will probably exceed half a billion dollars says all i need to know about mass audience film tastes.

much has been said about the end sequence of TDK so i won't add much. what i will say is the problems i had with the actual craft of this film is the quick cutting and (over use of) a cliche sound design. these problems for me are probably have more to do with how big budget films are made nowadays in a post-Bruckheimer culture. bill, since i take your comments as valid, i'd urge you to see the film again and watch (or would it be listen?) for sound effects that accentuate camera moves. perhaps this critique shouldn't be put on nolan, it is just something that i think is vapid, showy, and unnecessary. as for the cutting, this is an action movie i understand that, but over cutting in dialogue scenes (our last chance for thematic rest in this busy film) drove me up a wall. what are your thoughts on this?

i feel this film should have ended with jokers head out the cop car window, making the films best set piece (the one bill also pointed out), the armed truck chase the climax. that makes the remaining 2 or 3 reels expanded from about 45 minutes to 2 hours in the 3rd picture (which is what the last 45 badly needs).

bill said...

"bill, since i take your comments as valid, i'd urge you to see the film again and watch (or would it be listen?) for sound effects that accentuate camera moves."

I've seen the film twice, and I don't know what you're referring to. Did you hear "wooshes" or something?

"my favorite film this year is still probably solid with 'In Bruges' but 'Speed Racer' is still in my top 3 or so. now there is a film with a style all its own. the fact that it did so poorly and TDK will probably exceed half a billion dollars says all i need to know about mass audience film tastes."

You mean like Manohla Dargis? Andrew Sarris? Nick Shager? That giddy populist Walter Chaw? I'm sorry, but that statement is more than a little annoying. You say that you think my comments are valid after implying that the fans of TDK have no taste. If I'm misreading you, I apologize, but...

I haven't seen Speed Racer. Dennis has single-handedly convinced me that I need to give it a chance (which, at this point, will unfortunately have to wait until the DVD comes out). If I end up not liking it, I think it will be an indication that we (me, Dennis, Jamie) go to these sorts of movies looking for different things. If I do like it, well, who knows what that will mean. That I like everything I guess.

Jamie said...

bill, i apologize you received my comments as somewhat back-handed. it was not the intent. what i meant was some films have a very personal stamp on them from the director. you can tell a godard movie from say a lynch one very easily. i was just saying that the wachowski's fingerprints are more evident on 'Speed Racer' then nolan's are on 'the Dark Knight'. i am not sure nolan has a definite voice, if you think he does i'm all ears. this doesn't mean you have vanilla tastes, i was just thinking that the style movies are the ones that should do better, but that is rarely the case. i guess my archetype for a bland paint by numbers movie shouldn't have been 'the Dark Knight' (as i don't think it is that vanilla) perhaps i should have used 'the Iron Man', a movie that was enjoyable enough but as it looks now it could have been directed by a programmed robot.

Jamie said...

i also forgot to add:

"I haven't seen Speed Racer. Dennis has single-handedly convinced me that I need to give it a chance (which, at this point, will unfortunately have to wait until the DVD comes out). If I end up not liking it, I think it will be an indication that we (me, Dennis, Jamie) go to these sorts of movies looking for different things. If I do like it, well, who knows what that will mean. That I like everything I guess."

yes, i have accepted that as well, thats why i said earlier i see all your comments as valid--it falls into the 'different strokes for different folks' category. i have also accepted that what i think TDK should have been can never be (that is a heavy character very dark noir piece-- a sort of 'taxi-driver' meets 'un flic') because $160 million--or whatever--is at stake, and they would lose there ass (for lack of a better term) on the thing. this is the real world and i understand that. you invest that much in a film, it will be by almost default somewhat populist.

i would like to see a smaller film made before the next nolan opus gets made. maybe throw 20-35 million at an art house guy (or girl) and have then make the great dave mckean illustrated 'Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth' (since scare crow and joker are there now). this could be a good stop gap that would allow the director to take chances, the fan base would have something to calm the waiting period... and it would make lots of dough as the overhead is pretty low. this idea is kinda being done right now with 'the clone wars' CGI star wars movie (it also is taking place between the 2nd and 3rd films). just a thought.

bill said...

Jamie - But didn't you say earlier that you agreed with the idea that "dark and serious doesn't equal good"? Now you're saying you want a Batman film that evokes Scorsese and Melville? That doesn't really compute.

Just to double back a little, I know that your big complaint about the film is that it doesn't have the courage of its dark convictions, and you point to the boat sequence. That is a pure Batman/Joker comic book situation and outcome, which is one of the reasons it worked so well for me. But given the fate of Harvey Dent, I really don't see how you can say the film is not dark enough. I mean, Christ! What happens to him is awful!

But -- and here's my point -- the tone of the film is one of a crime epic (Michael Mann has been mentioned a lot here, and by Nolan). A somewhat exaggerated and grotesque crime epic, but a crime epic nonetheless, and I feel that the level of seriousness and darkness is pitched at exactly that level. Would one of those ferries have exploded in Mann's version? I don't know that it would have. (All of which is pure speculation, of course, but I hope you still see my point -- if not, let me know.)

So, does it bother you that Nolan went for a crime epic feel? Because by mentioning Morrison and McKean's Arkham Asylum, it sounds like what you would really like to see is a Batman horror film. And, brother, if that's what you want, then you and I have finally found something we can agree on, because I would love that.

Over the years, those have been the two main genres referenced and played with in the Batman comics: crime and horror. Nolan has connected to the crime element. If someone can get the horror film version off the ground some day, then God bless 'em.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

“Why is it so important for genre films to have an air of silliness?”

I’m not sure that’s what I was trying to say, and again, I apologize if throughout the day my comments were less than focused themselves. I don’t think silliness is necessary in a genre film—westerns and crime dramas are usually better without it, in my opinion, but it’s not unheard-of that it can work. (No Country for Old Men certainly had grim humor, but I don’t think you could call it silly, and we’ve already talked at length about what it does with its genre.) Horror is one that strikes the balance more easily and fruitfully, at least for me. But when you’re talking about a crime drama in which a vigilante hero dresses up like a bat, well, that’s not exactly Dirty Harry, and after a while all the grim posturing starts to seem kinda silly for all the attempts to muscle it up—not exactly the response Nolan and company were shooting for, I don’t think.

(This makes me think I’m probably not the audience for the original graphic novel either, but my best friend and I were talking about the way a viewer can separate or process the stylization of a graphic novel differently than when one is being subsumed into a crushingly loud wide-screen interpretation of that imagery. There’s an automatic distancing that takes place, an opportunity to stop down and digest a sequence or think about its implications that a big blockbuster doesn’t afford; that makes me think I might have a better time with this material on the page.)

Obviously, the idea of a beefed-up demon from another dimension fighting otherworldly crime in New York City is on its face pretty silly too. But the way Del Toro renders that universe, with its attendant imagination, spirit, humor and emotional core allows me to access it on many levels, including one that enjoys its goofiness. That doesn’t cancel out the fact that I do take it seriously either. But something like The Dark Knight seems so single-minded and works (when it works) on pretty much one level, which makes it at the very least less imaginative for me and certainly something that I have a much more difficult time taking seriously for all the efforts it makes to convince me of its seriousness.

By the way, I think the single most beautiful, exciting thing in the movie is that shot of Ledger sticking his head out of the cop car after his escape, feeling the wind in his hair. That made the hairs on my arms stand up.

Not to change the subject or anything, but I’ve heard In Bruges mentioned in several different contexts over the past month as being well worth seeing. I know the reviews were pretty mixed when it came out, and what with my time being kinda limited I didn’t see it, but I think I’m going to pursue that one based on some things I’ve heard lately.

bill said...

I don't care if you change the subject, Dennis. I'm getting a little worn out, myself, and I'm not sure if I'm making sense, or responding to your or Jamie's posts the way I intend to anymore. Or reading your comments as closely, for that matter.

But hey, as far as this goes...

"By the way, I think the single most beautiful, exciting thing in the movie is that shot of Ledger sticking his head out of the cop car after his escape, feeling the wind in his hair. That made the hairs on my arms stand up."

...we can agree. A marvelous image.

I haven't seen In Bruges either, but plan to soon. I've actually heard mostly very good things about it, and I've gathered it's not quite the lark the previews made it appear to be.

PS - Less humor in horror! That's my campaign slogan for '08. So we're back to disagreeing, I guess.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Less humor in horror? I think I can get behind that, as long as that can also mean less reliance on the kind of relentless gore that many directors seem to mistake for horror at this particular moment. (This from the guy who hated Hostel but liked Hostel II.) I wait breathlessly for the horror movie that can strike real fear into my heart again. The Strangers had moments that made me feel that it might be the one, but it didn't add up to much in the end, which I suppose was the point.

bill said...

Less relentless gore!? We agree again! Would you like to be my running mate?