Archive for the ‘Batman’ Category

Blu-ray/DVD Review ‘The Dark Knight Rises’

December 2, 2012

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As a longtime fan of the Batman character in print and on screen, I’m happy for the zillions of Bat-fans who adored the finale of director Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, due Tuesday from Warner Bros. on Blu-ray and DVD. I’ve never told anyone they shouldn’t enjoy a movie just because I didn’t, and yes, I didn’t particularly enjoy this one. Of course, I hope the same tolerance of taste extends to me and I don’t get savaged for having my different opinion. (more…)

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DVD review: Heath Ledger is great, but ‘The Dark Knight’ is action-misery

December 9, 2008

Will Heath Ledger win a posthumous Academy Award for best supporting actor for his portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight, the sixth modern Batman movie, new on DVD today from Warner Bros.? A better question is, should he?

This shouldn’t be a sympathy vote. Ledger either deserves an Oscar, or he doesn’t, and much of that entitlement may stem from your personal preference for his film. In my mind, as good as Ledger was, this role and this performance are not Oscar caliber. Like the movie, they’re too one-note. To me, far better work was done by Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder, who showed layers and nuance, made me laugh out loud repeatedly (a feat) and was amazingly charismatic. But comedies get no Oscar respect, so that’s just me dreaming.

Besides, The Dark Knight wasn’t about Ledger’s acting or the Joker’s deranged, smudged “smile.” Rather, it was about action-misery.

What’s that? Well, it’s not action-adventure, where an action film is enjoyable, thrilling or regaling, but without being repellent. In the case of The Dark Knight, a PG-13 rating got slammed hard up against an R, and for almost 2 1/2 hours, the film engrossed more than entertained, punishing its audience by relentlessly killing people, torturing people, placing innocents in constant peril, blowing things up, setting fires, threatening small children in front of their mother — you name it. Sorry, but this is not well-rounded storytelling. And as impressive as it is in execution, The Dark Knight is less entertainment than an ordeal.

Such punishment comes from the film’s ceaseless cruelty, savagery and murderous bloodlust. Is there any offsetting humor, heart, romance, character development or even wit? Forget it. In fact, though I greatly admire Christian Bale as an actor, what did he do here but phone in a mindlessly guttural and growling performance as Batman, and a pretty-boy stoicism as Bruce Wayne. Despite being given two roles in effect, the guy hardly registers in either one.

Yes, Ledger is great, so that makes up for it in part. His Joker doesn’t joke, but rather makes psychopathic mayhem just to prove a point: We’re all as sick as him. Only it doesn’t quite turn out that way.

The remaining cast is largely about marquee value actors (Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman) getting little to do, though the impressive Gary Oldman has a blessedly larger role as Commissioner Gordon, perhaps the most heroic man in the film. In fact, Oldman seems to have more screen time than anyone. Aaron Eckhart also is good as the handsome Harvey Dent, if not so much as the grotesque Two-face, which is more of a makeup performance than acting. And Maggie Gyllenhaal is woefully miscast as a woman who’s supposed to inspire romantic passion in him and Wayne.

So it’s easily Ledger’s picture to run away with, and run he does, eclipsing Jack Nicholson’s wacky, crazy-funny turn in the same role with the kind of tortured, twisted character to which Danny DeVito aspired as the Penguin in Batman Returns. Basically, both men respond to childhood abuse with mass murder in adulthood. Not exactly an even karmic trade, but at least you know where they’re coming from and why they’re so wicked.

But as good as Ledger is, and as powerful as The Dark Knight’s action can be, I just can’t embrace this moviet with the critical and box office consensus that it earned, because for me, it’s action-misery, not action-adventure, and the world is miserable enough now without wallowing in the worst of it. Director and co-writer Christopher Nolan took the graphic novel source material far too seriously and squelched any sense of pleasure or fun. Right now, we need fun — at least, I do, and if you can’t have fun watching a movie about a guy in a bat costume, something is wrong with that movie.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I respect this movie for its craftmanship, I love the legacy of its title character, and I really wish I could embrace it. If you did — if this suits you — then great, enjoy. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t. I never say that. Besides, we’re all entitled to our opinions — including me.

Now, as Downey’s character-within-a-character says in Tropic Thunder, “We cool?”

You never know: ‘Iron Man’ on DVD is a big winner

September 30, 2008

The enormous box office success of Iron Man (a $318 million haul) only goes to show that you never know about superhero flicks.

After all, Fantastic Four was “the world’s greatest comic magazine,” as Marvel proudly dubbed it in 1961, and it launched the entire Marvel universe now populated by Spider-Man, Hulk, X-Men, Iron Man and so many more. But FF’s two theatrical films haven’t exactly been smasheroos.

And after all, if you shake up the equation by starring an Oscar-winning dramatic actor — say, Nicolas Cage for Ghost Rider — that doesn’t always work, either. But Oscar nominee Robert Downey Jr., whom no one envisioned as a superhero before Iron Man, pulls it off brilliantly in this film, now new on DVD from Paramount. And Michael Keaton, while first known for comedy, wasn’t bad in his two Batman stints, either. So you see, you never know.

And beyond that, who’s Iron Man in terms of name value, especially among the likes of Spider-Man, Batman and Superman? Oh, I know. In fact, I know quite well, because I was a Marvel kid. In fact, I even purchased the first appearance of Iron Man in a comic book, which was Tales of Suspense, issue No. 39.

Then, Iron Man didn’t even have the whole comic — just the first story, followed by little five-page thrill yarns. So who’s Iron Man, anyway?

Try the most popular new superhero in the solar system. More than 40 years after his modest four-color comic book debut, Iron Man, on screen, knocks it out of the park for Marvel in its first foray into self-financed films.

So you see, you never know — and since you never know, and since the stakes and potential rewards are so high, we’re bound to find many more movie misfires with men and women in tights than we find Iron Man-worthy winners. But that’s show biz.

At any rate, well done Marvel, Robert Downey Jr. and director Jon Favreau. As the embodiment of adolescent power fantasies, the superhero genre can grow old, stale and thin, but it also can be alive, vibrant and energized, and Iron Man, more than any other superhero flick of late, gets that job done.

Despite rush to judgment, Heath Ledger’s ‘Dark Knight’ was no death sentence

July 17, 2008

In today’s world, certain terms and phrases get used far too much — if I never again hear the lame monkey-hear, monkey-say “at the end of the day,” I will be a happy man — while some get used far too little. And among the latter is the term, or the concept, of “reserving judgment.”

Reserving judgment means to wait until you can weigh more facts, if not all of them, and then make a judgment based on them. It’s a calm, reasoned, intelligent approach which is all about truth, unlike the term’s opposite, which is “rushing to judgment.”

But in this Web-driven world of flash-fire rumors, rushing to judgment is about all most people do. They hear that Heath Ledger is dead and pills were in his room, and they rush to the judgment that he died of an overdose of recreational drugs. Or they hear he’d just played a twisted, dark Joker in The Dark Knight, and they rush to the judgment that Ledger was overly affected by his role and perhaps suicidal.

It’s only later, after autopsy reports surface, but long after the initial rumors and rush-to-judgment frenzy, when we learn that, no, Ledger wasn’t tripping fatally, nor did his mental state — apart from insomnia — make him roll up into a tightly-wound suicidal ball. Instead, he apparently unwisely took too many doctor-prescribed medications, and he took them in the wrong combination, and he succumbed — accidentally.

Of course, even that now-old news doesn’t stop more dark rumors from flying now that The Dark Knight is poised to open tonight on the heels of a full-bore marketing campaign.  And as Ledger’s intense performance emerges, some again speculate — or rush to judgment — that the dark role he played had its own dark role in his demise.

As Gary Oldman, Christian Bale and others on the Batman shoot assert, no, that didn’t happen. They say Ledger was chatty, grounded and fine between takes, not brooding and remote. And Oldman would know something of this, having launched his own career with obsessive immersion in characters, but then evolving from that.

I’ve interviewed Oldman twice — in person for JFK, when he was indeed tightly wound, and then again years later for Batman Begins — and I can tell you that he’s no longer a tortured actor, but just an actor — and a damn good one, yet without becoming completely absorbed by roles. He seems to have learned, as Anthony Hopkins likes to put it, that the key to good acting is simple: Just say the lines.

Nonetheless, Ledger death rumors are flying again, as so many people — too many — rush to judgment about which they know very little. Don’t confuse us with the facts, they seem to say, we’re busy rumor-mongering! And if it concerns a poor man who died young and no longer can defend himself, then so much the better.

Yes, it’s a sad world, but it’s the world we live in. And all we can do, in our own small way, is to show some shred of restraint.

Yes, ask questions. Yes, show concern. Yes, seek understanding. But in doing so, especially for big issues such as Heath Ledger’s sad demise, we also should reserve judgment, instead of needlessly, blindly and hurtfully rushing to it.