Tag Archive | "The Dark Knight Rises"

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Is Joseph Gordon-Levitt Being Looked At For GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY?

Posted on 02 January 2013 by William Gatevackes

JosephGordon-Levitt His work in The Dark Knight Rises appears to have made Joseph Gordon-Levitt stand out on the comic book film rumor mill. First, there was the rumor that he was going to play Batman in Justice League, now rumor has it that he is in the mix for a starring role for a Marvel Studios film.

Deadline is reporting that Gordon-Levitt has been “added to the list” of actors considered for the role of Peter Quill, the Star-Lord in Marvel’s new franchise, Guardians of the Galaxy. 

The website doesn’t go much further into it than that. It is unknown if Gordon-Levitt signed a screen test deal like Lee Pace, Joel Edgerton and other actors did, is just on a wish list, or has actually signed on for the role. But Deadline insists he’s in the mix in some way.

Gordon-Levitt is coming off a busy 2012 that has raised his profile in a big way. He had prominent supporting roles in blockbusters such as Lincoln and the aforementioned The Dark Knight Rises and leads in Looper and Premium Rush. 2013 has his writing and directorial feature debut with Don Juan’s Addiction, set to debut at Sundance later this month.

Guardians of the Galaxy is set to hit theaters on August 1, 2014.

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STATE OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: The Highest Of Highs, The Lowest Of Lows.

Posted on 07 December 2012 by William Gatevackes

Back in May, I couldn’t wait to write this column. I started this yearly recap of comic book films mainly as a counterpoint to the number of articles in the mainstream media bemoaning the fact that comic book films exist at all and the journalists who are trying to speed up them going out of favor.

So, when The Avengers broke big, setting all sorts of box office records and becoming not only the highest grossing film of the year, but also the third highest grossing film of all time, I thought 2012 was going to turn out to be one of the best years for comic book films in their entire history.

And it was. But it was also one of the worst years as well.

In the early morning hours of Friday, July 20, James Eagan Holmes entered the crowded Theater 9 of the Century 16 multiplex in Aurora, Colorado. The theater was full of fans eager to be the first to see The Dark Knight Rises, the last film in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. They would become victims of one of the most violent crimes in recorded history. Holmes, dressed in armored clothing and carry numerous firearms with him, opened fire in that crowded theater. By the time shooting had stopped, 58 people would be injured, and 12 people would be killed.

It is impossible to talk about the year in film in any context without talking about the Aurora shootings. The joy of seeing a film in a crowded theaters full of your fellow fans is forever tainted. This type of exuberant film fan became prey that night.

Now, four months on, it is still easy to look back on that night and see only the darkest part of human nature. An evil man methodically came up with a way to kill as many people as he could. It doesn’t get more sinister than that.

But I found that when great darkness shows its face to the world, there is always a bright and shining light that rises up to greet it. It’s natural to focus on Holmes and his despicable acts. But I also look towards the example of Matt McQuinn, who shielded the bodies of his girlfriend and brother with his own, sacrificing his life to save theirs. I look to Jarell Brooks, a young man who was wounded getting a woman and her two small children, people he didn’t know, to safety. I look to Emma Goos, who stayed in the theater to tend to the wounds of an injured victim while the shooting was going on. I look to All C’s Comics Collectibles, the Aurora comic shop that started the Aurora Rises charity to help benefit the victim’s and their families and I look to the numerous comic artists and writers that helped make that charity an ongoing endeavor  I also look to Christian Bale, who, on his own with no fanfare and publicists in tow, visited the Aurora area after to shootings to give his fans whatever comfort he could.

Yes, the Aurora shooting gave us a glimpse of the worst that humanity had to offer, but it also gave us a glimpse of the best that humanity has to offer as well. And while we filmgoers will never be free of the paranoia that night in July caused (especially when just two weeks ago a plot to do a similar shooting in Missouri during a showing of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2 was, thankfully, stopped before it could be put into fruition), we should never let that fear stop us from doing the things we enjoy. We might never be able to stop bad things from happening, but we can always be there to help each other out when they do.

Now that I’ve said what I needed to say on that, let’s go back to the frivolous world of comic book films.

List taken from BoxOfficeMojo.com (http://boxofficemojo.com/yearly/chart/?yr=2012&p=.htm)

As of last night, comic book adaptations hold three of the top five spots on the yearly highest grossing films list. I’m sure Skyfall and the aforementioned Breaking Dawn, Part 2 might have some say if The Amazing Spider-Man stays in the Top 5, but even if it does fall out, we will have three comic book adaptations in the Top 10. And that has never happened. The closest we came to that was in 2008 when The Dark Knight and Iron Man were one and two and the original superhero comedy Hancock was number four. Add to that the fact that a sequel to another comic book adaptation, Men in Black 3, was #11 this year and you have a very good year for the comic book film.

Even Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, a film with a well-deserved 18% fresh over at Rotten Tomatoes and which debuted an underwhelming third in its opening weekend was able to make over $132 million worldwide against a $57 million dollar budget. Yes, I am a fan of comic book movies and even I am stunned by that fact. That’s why Nicolas Cage keeps on getting to make movies.

The only true flop of this year’s six comic book adaptations was Dredd, whose $30,931,946 worldwide take was considerably less than its $50 million budget. I can only assume that the Sylvester Stallone version killed just about any interest anybody might have had in the character, which was a shame. I found the film a faithful adaptation of the original source material which held up well as a film on its own.

As lucrative as this year was for the comic book film, it is a year in flux. The Avengers marked the end of the first phase of Marvel’s film slate, and Phase 2 begins next year with Iron Man 3 in May and Thor: The Dark World in November. It will be interesting if they can carry any Avengers momentum over into those releases, or will fans force the studio to prove itself all over again.

And The Dark Knight Rises closes the Nolan era on DC/Warners’ Batman property. They start anew with their Superman franchise with The Man of Steel in June. There’s a lot riding on this new take on the character, as Warners is looking to not only get a franchise to replace Nolan’s Batman films on their docket, but also potentially use the film as a springboard into their planned Justice League film and to bring other DC comic heroes to the big screen.

In addition to those three films, there are at least nine other comic book adaptations scheduled for next year, including Hugh Jackman returning as Logan in The Wolverine, sequels to Red, Kick-Ass,300 and Sin City, and properties from publishers such as Dark Horse, Boom! and other smaller companies. 2012 proved that people still are willing to go to see comic book films. However, odds are that not all of the films released next year will be great successes, so we can expect the mainstream doubters to start the chorus of the comic book films doom next year. But for now, let’s bask in the highs the comic book film rose to, and take a moment to contemplate the lowest lows they experienced this year.

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A Look At The Poster For STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS

Posted on 03 December 2012 by William Gatevackes

It looks like the designers for the first look poster for May’s Star Trek Into Darkness were quite taken with The Dark Knight Rises’ poster’s use of property damage to form the outline of the franchise’s recognizable logo, because they have done a version of it here.

Plot details for the second film of Paramount Star Trek reboot has been kept a secret. However, the studio has revealed this plot blurb:

In Summer 2013, pioneering director J.J. Abrams will deliver an explosive action thriller that takes Star Trek Into Darkness. 

When the crew of the Enterprise is called back home, they find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization has detonated the fleet and everything it stands for, leaving our world in a state of crisis. 

With a personal score to settle, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction. 

As our heroes are propelled into an epic chess game of life and death, love will be challenged, friendships will be torn apart, and sacrifices must be made for the only family Kirk has left: his crew.

This synopsis led many to believe that the film will be adapting “Where No Man Has Gone Before,”  the third episode aired from the Original Star Trek TV series. In that episode, Gary Mitchell, an old friend of Kirk’s and helmsman of the Enterprise, comes in contact with a cosmic force that gives him immeasurable telekinetic powers. He promptly declares himself a god and it comes down to Kirk having to kill his friend to save the universe.

Star Trek Into Darkness opens may 17, 2013.

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New Releases: August 29, 2012

Posted on 28 August 2012 by William Gatevackes

1. Lawless (The Weinstein Company, 2,565 Theaters, 115 Minutes, Rated R): Usually, when Hollywood does a crime story set in Prohibition-era America, it’s usually focused on the Al Capone-type figures who were the face of the opposition in big cities. This film takes a look at the rural bootleggers that did the grunt work on the back roads of the country during this period.

The film has an intriguing cast, including The Dark Knight Rises‘ Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman, Oscar Nominee Jessica Chastain, and, sticking out like a sore thumb, Shia LeBeouf.  Okay, that was a bit cruel. LeBeouf has done good work in films other than the big-budget blockbusters, so he’s not that awkward of a fit.

This film was adapted by rock star Nick Cave, whose last screenplay was for The Proposition, which was also directed by John Hillcoat and starred Guy Pearce.

 

2. The Oogieloves In The BIG Balloon Adventure (Kenn Viselman Presents, 2,160 Theaters, Rated G): Good lord, where to begin with this utterly bizarre movie.

As the father of a three-year old, I have seen a lot of entertainment aimed at kids. A lot. And the prevalent theme in a lot of this entertainment is its sheer stupidity. Not “simplified so kids can understand it” stupid but “kids aren’t worth it so why even bother trying” stupid.  For every Sesame Street there’s a Teletubbies, the creator of which, coincidentally, is the creative force behind this film. That should tell you something.

I saw the trailer for this film before Brave, and I was saddened about what so many of my favorite actors have to stoop to. Christopher Lloyd was Doc Brown! Cary Elwes was Westley! Chazz Palminteri has an Oscar nomination for goodness sakes! And yet, on the other hand, these are the biggest names the producers could afford to make a fool of themselves on the films paltry budget.

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New Releases: August 24, 2012

Posted on 23 August 2012 by William Gatevackes

1. Hit and Run (Opened Wednesday,Open Road Films, 2,870 Theaters, 100 Minutes, Rated R): This film is a vanity project. And not a vanity project in the sense that Tom Cruise or Tom Hanks has an important work only their star power can bring to the screen vanity project, but rather a D-list celebrity wants to make a movie with his girlfriend vanity project.

Upset that I called Dax Shepard, who wrote and co-directed this film,  a D-list celebrity? Okay, name me one A-list film he’s been in? The closest he’s come has been either Zathura or When in Rome (where he worked with and possibly first met girlfriend Kristen Bell) and neither of those films made any cultural or box office impact.

This film has a basic plot. Shepard’s character is in the witness protection agency, but goes on a road trip with his girlfriend (Bell). This brings him to the attention of the Feds and his old gang, both who want to catch up with him for different reasons.

When the “funniest” scenes you put in the trailer, which should be the best scenes film so as to entice the audiences in, include a discussion about a character being raped in prison and a grown man dropping the F-bomb in front of small children, eh, I’m not really sold.

2. Premium Rush (Sony/Columbia, 2,255 Theaters, 91 Minutes, Rated PG-13): 2012 is turning out to be the the year of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, or at least the last half of it is. Between this film, last month’s The Dark Knight Rises, and the forthcoming Looper, he has the makings of a Michael Caine/Gene Hackman/Jude Law type of omnipresence at the cineplexes.

In this film he plays as bike messenger who gets a envelop he has to deliver across town in less that 90 minutes. Unfortunately, in addition to having to deal with crosstown traffic, he has to deal with a dirty cop who wants to steal the package from him. High-speed chasing ensues.

Judging by the running time of the film, the action might unfold in “real-time.” That’s fairly interesting.

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Opinion: NEWSARAMA And The Infuriating Power of Lists

Posted on 03 August 2012 by William Gatevackes

In this day and age, if you are a form of media that covers another form of media, eventually you will come up with a list. Rolling Stone has put out special, oversized volumes about what songs, albums and guitarists are the best in their eyes. Entertainment Weekly can be counted on at least one issue a year feature a list of some kind, most recently it was the “50 Best Films You’ve Never Seen” and “25 Best Cult TV Shows From the Past 25 years.” And VH1 and E! have made it a staple of their programming.

The reason why they turn to list making is simple–because it’s popular. In a world full of opinionated people, any collated list  that represents the authoritative ranking of anything will get attention. People want their tastes validated. Or, they want to see how wrong these media outlets are. These lists sell copies.  They garner high ratings. They get shared on Facebook. They get linked to. And the more controversial the better, For example, take Sight and Sound‘s yearly poll’s swapping of Citizen Kane with Vertigo and the furor that kicked up.

But sometimes, it appears that there’s more that goes into constructing these lists than just picking the best or worst of a particular medium. Some lists seem to be compiled just to garner controversy. Yes, there will be “no brainer” items on the list, but there will also be notable omissions as well. There will be items included that seems to serve no other purpose than to make people angry. And even if you agree with every item put on and left off, you have the rankings themselves to quarrel over.

A sterling example of this are two lists that have appeared on Newsarama.com, one of the oldest comic book news sites on the Internet, over the last week. One was the “10 Best Comic Book-Based Movie PERFORMANCES Of All Time” and the “10 Worst Comic Book-Based Movie PERFORMANCES of All Time.” Both lists were compiled by the “Newsarama Staff,” and both are controversial in their own right. At best, the lists were sloppily compiled with mind-numbing gaps of logic, at worst, the list were compiled deliberately to anger comic book movie fans and generate controversy.

Here is Newsarama’s 10 Best List:

  1. Heath Ledger, The Joker, The Dark Knight
  2. Robert Downey, Jr, Tony Stark/Iron Man, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, & The Avengers
  3. Gary Oldman, Commissioner Gordon, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises
  4. Hugh Jackman, Wolverine, X-Men, X2: X-Men United, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men First Class
  5. J.K. Simmons, J. Jonah Jameson, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3
  6. Tom Hiddleston, Loki, Thor & The Avengers
  7. Chloe Grace Moretz, Hit-Girl, Kick-Ass
  8. Andrew Garfield, Peter Parker/Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man
  9. Anne Hathaway, Selina Kyle, The Dark Knight Rises
  10. Chris Evans, Jensen, The Losers
And here’s their 10 Worst:
  1. Most Everyone and Anyone in Joel Schumacher’s Batman movies
  2. Halle Berry, Storm, X-Men & Patience Phillips/Catwoman, Catwoman
  3. Billy Zane, The Phantom
  4. Matthew Goode, Ozymandias, Watchmen 
  5. Nicolas Cage, Ghost Rider & Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
  6. Julian McMahon, Victor Von Doom/Doctor Doom, Fantastic Four & Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer 
  7. Seth Rogen, The Green Hornet, The Green Hornet 
  8. Tobey Maguire, Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3
  9. Christopher Reeve/Brandon Routh, Clark Kent/Superman, Superman, Superman II, Superman III, Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, Superman Returns 
  10. January Jones, Emma Frost, X-Men: First Class

I have serious problems with these lists, problems that go way beyond differences of opinion (although I’ll have to comment on one glaring disagreement because if I don’t, my head will explode). The problems cause me to question the validity of the lists and Newsarama’s intentions. I’ll create my own list of where Newsarama’s logic went wrong, perhaps deliberately.

The lists are “best comic book-based performances” not “Best SUPERHERO comic book-based performances”: Granted, Newsarama focuses mostly on the mainstream superhero genre, and adding another word to the already gangly title would have made it even ganglier, but we have to take the titles of these articles to heart. That means, this should be the definitive list of ALL performances from ALL movies based an ALL kinds of comic books. Yet, there is no Paul Giamatti from American Splendor on this list. Nor is there Thora Birch or Steve Buscemi from Ghost World or Tom Hanks, Paul Newman or anyone else from Road to Perdition. 

I could go on. But what these titles are doing is advertising one thing and selling us another. And that is a recipe that is custom made to generate the kind of “you left XXX of the list” controversy that builds up links.

The Green Hornet? The Phantom? Comic Book-Based?: You’d think a news website with 10 years of independent coverage of the world of comic books would be able to tell what films were made from comic books and which ones weren’t. Baring that, you’d think they’d be able hire writers with an active connection to the Internet and the ability to access Google from it. Newsarama apparently is able to do neither.

The Green Hornet was based on a radio program that began in January1936. The Phantom was based on a comic strip that began in newspapers a few weeks after the Hornet made his first broadcast. . While both were adapted into comic books, neither originated there nor were their comics their most remembered incarnations. Calling The Green Hornet and The Phantom “comic book-based” would be like calling Star Wars and Star Trek comic book-based. And you can find far worse actors than Seth Rogen and Billy Zane in those franchises.

This might seem to be just a matter of semantics. But I believe it is indicative of the hap-hazard way these lists were constructed. Because you don’t have to look too hard to find two more bad performances in a film that was actually based on a comic book.

To Newsarama, “all time” means “within the last 12 years”: With the exception of The Phantom, the Schumacher Batman films, and the early Superman movies, all the films on the list were made after 2000. That means out of over 70 years of comic books being made into films, only a little over a decade of films were being seriously considered.

Yes, there have been a whole lot more comic book films to chose from in the last 12 years. But, as I realized doing my History of the Comic Book Film feature, the comic book film did not begin with X-Men. What? Newsarama couldn’t find a top ten worthy bad performance in SheenaRed Sonja, Howard the Duck or in Dolph Lundgren’s Punisher? And on the good side, what about Brandon Lee’s Crow, Jack Nicholson’s Joker or Wesley Snipes’ Blade? The fact that there wasn’t one performance from the above that made either list is a disservice to what Newsarama was trying to create. It shows tunnel vision, something that handicaps any attempt at creating a comprehensive list.

Their selection process is dubious and abitrary at best:  They pay lip service to the quality work Chris Evans has done in a number of comic book films, yet make a point of telling us that they can pick only one performance of his for the list (and the pick his least well-known role at that). Yet, Hallie Berry gets slammed for playing both Storm and Catwoman. They lump the combined casts of two films as one entry, and two actors who had played the same role almost 20 years apart as another selection.

You get the feeling they were making up the rules as they went along. Or, rather, constructing the rules of selection so that it suited them best.

Take, for instance, this “ground rule” from the introduction to the worst list.

…it would be way too easy and frankly not all that much fun to pick-on a lower class of Hollywood actor in barely feature-quality train wrecks like Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four or the 1980s Captain America. So yes, Shaquille O’Neal, you get immunity this day.

Okay, I’m no fan of Shaquille O’Neal, and I’m sure he would want his being left off a list of bad actors argued, but the reason Newsarama left him of the list just doesn’t make sense. When Shaq made Steel, he had already made two feature films (Blue Chips and Kazaam). And Steel was a $16 million dollar film made by Warner Brothers, not some film made for $200 and a bag of potato chips in someone’s basement. Could Shaq be considered a “lower class of actor”? Probably. But so could Billy Zane, king of the B-movie. Maybe if Shaq had a small part in Titanic, then Newsarama would have considered him worthy of inclusion.

This is how they defend their position:

Well, Tobey’s Peter Parker was naive and earnest enough, but he just didn’t have Parker’s inner beauty.

Yes. Really.

Putting Christopher Reeve on the list of worst actors might have been done just to anger people: I’m trying not to believe that they’d do something so wrong just to generate site hits, but Newsarama is not making it easy by how they open their defense of their opinion:

Yes, we’re going there, and in advance, we’re genuinely sorry you’re upset.

Yes, they went there, but did they go there thinking their opinion would be controversial, or knowing it would be controversial and get a lot of reaction?

Listen, whenever you have a list like this, there will be items on it that butt up against conventional wisdom. But seldom has there ever been a case where something flew in the face of overwhelming public opinion like Newsarama is is doing here.

If you are going to “go there,” then you’d better have an incredibly strong argument to back up your position. Unfortunately, Newsarama doesn’t.

…Reeve just wasn’t that accomplished a film actor.

In defense of this position we could point to his lack of much of a post-Superman resume, but the truth is now 30-plus years later with a more critical eye we simply don’t find his portrayal of Superman and Clark Kent very much like any Superman or Clark Kent we know… or like, for that matter.

His Clark wasn’t mild-mannered, he was a cartoonish buffoon. His Superman far too earnest and eager-to-please for someone with the power of a god. In short, he was a mild-mannered Superman, frankly lacking in the charisma you’d expect from an actor playing a cultural icon. A more theatrical rather than natural actor, Reeve’s Superman was a caricature of a comic book Boy Scout superhero and not a fully developed character.

Where to begin. Hmmm.

I wonder who this editorial “we” is? Perhaps it is someone who  is 12 and has only known the John Byrne interpretation of Superman. But, the character was around for 50 years before Byrne revamped him. Back when the film was made, the comic book Superman was a more staid version of the one found in the film. The mental image the editorial “we” has of Superman is so contrary to what the character’s image really is that it makes it seem that this entry came from a website that wouldn’t know a comic book if it fell in their lap, not a “respected” comic book news site.

I’m so glad they didn’t use Reeve’s lack of a post-Superman career as their only defense for their position, because is a defense that could be swatted away with one word–typecasting. Typecasting is the reason why Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher had less than stellar careers after Star Wars, and why Harrison Ford’s post-Star Wars career is so extraordinary. It is what the cast of the Harry Potter films are struggling with now, and what the cast of Twilight is working hard to avoid. Once you become so associated with such an iconic character, it’s hard for Hollywood to see you in any other role. This was the reason for Reeve’s lackluster post-Superman career, not lack of talent.

But Reeve’s performance was pitch perfect as Superman. I don’t know what the editorial “we” was thinking, but Superman doesn’t stand “Sarcasm, Bullying and Badassery”, he stands for “Truth, Justice and the American Way.” Yes, Reeve’s Superman was earnest–and honest and forthright–but that IS Superman. And Reeve played him in such a way that he never was hokey or corny.

As for Clark Kent, Reeve played Kent as a role Superman was himself playing. Superman portrayed Kent as an awkward and bumbling fool so no one would see through the flimsy disguise and put two and two together. It’s a brilliant piece of acting, and if you aren’t able to pick that up, then you have no business talking about acting performances whatsoever.

I have to laugh at the  “30-plus years later with a more critical eye” part. Like that is supposed to win us over, that they’re looking at the performance in a serious manner as an adult, and therefore, he is right. That might have held more water if Chris Sims and David Uzumeri didn’t take a similar look back on the first Superman back in March for rival comic book news site Comics Alliance.  They ripped the film to shreds, but still called Reeve’s performance, and these are direct quotes, “amazing” and “darn near perfect.” So much for that argument.

Taking this into consideration, it’s hard to not believe the trashing of Reeve was done purely to garner controversy. If so, at least it worked. Not only am I talking about it, but also many comic book professionals, the people Newsarama make a living covering, took umbrage with the list as well.

Creators like Amazing Spider-Man writer Dan Slott:

Marvel Comics editor Steve Wacker:

And legendary comic writer Mark Waid:

That tweet set off a Twitter war between Waid and Newsarama editor Lucas Siegel,which is not the behavior you expect from an editor who should be keeping a journalistic distance from one of people he would be covering, but it is the kind of behavior you’d expect if you want add more controversy to the already controversial matter.

Another sign that this whole thing might be hit bait is that they spun of the controversy to another article on the site, an OP/ED piece by frequent Newsarama contributor Vaneta Rogers , glorifying Reeve’s performance and giving yet another page full of ads for Newsarama from the controversial list.

I hope this isn’t the case, that Newsarama is manipulating the popularity of lists to gain hits for itself. Presenting honest, well-formed and well-thought out opinions is always something that should be striven for. But putting out incendiary opinions in a clumsy and hap hazard manner isn’t. And it looks like Newsarama did the latter and is trying to pass it off as the former.

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Review: THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

Posted on 21 July 2012 by William Gatevackes

The core of The Dark Knight Rises is a fairly sloppy movie. Large chunks of dialogue are devoted to exposition. Plot points in the first half of the film clearly telegraph the “surprise” plot twists in the second half. And the plot itself, while loaded with twists and turns, is fairly simplistic.

But, even while taking all of this into consideration, The Dark Knight Rises is a great movie and fitting end to the trilogy Christopher Nolan started in 2005. This is due to Nolan’s direction, the stellar acting by the wonderful cast, the great editing by Lee Smith, and the powerful score by Hans Zimmer.

The film takes place exactly eight years after the end of The Dark Knight, and Harvey Dent’s death on that night has become a citywide holiday. Crime is at an all time low, yet all is not well in Gotham. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has retired his Batman identity, but, without a purpose to his life, he has become a virtual recluse. Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) is wrestling with his conscious over glorifying Dent, a man who tried to kill his son, and demonizing Batman, the man who saved his son’s life.

Things take a turn for the worse for Gotham with the arrival of Bane (Tom Hardy). Bane is a dangerous and bestial mercenary who at first appears to be a soldier in a corporate war between Wayne and an evil business rival by the name of Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn). But things aren’t what they seem with Bane, and his true intentions will have dire consequences for both Gotham and Batman, consequences not even Bruce/Batman’s new allies–honest cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), eco-friendly business woman Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), and cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway)–can help Batman stop from coming.

This film is more a sequel to 2005’s Batman Begins than 2008’s The Dark Knight. While the latter was one of the most successful films in movie history, only two plot points–the death of Harvey Dent and the cover up afterwards, and the death of Rachel Dawes–are mentioned yet the Joker isn’t. Of course, there would few actors able, or willing, to follow in Heath Ledger’s shoes in that particular role, and to recast the part would be sign of disrespect, but his storyline in that film has interesting parallels and contrasts to the plot of this film. It would be a stronger film is these comparisons were addressed or even acknowledged. But as it stands, the film closes the circle and makes the series a true trilogy, telling one wide-reaching story arc.

The film is almost three hours long, yet nothing is wasted. There is no fat or gristle here, just meat. Every scene serves a purpose. And while this means that, yes, there are a lot of Chekovian guns being introduced that many savvy film goers will be able to figure out how they will be used by the third act, that is not necessarily a bad thing. In a summer where there are films that barely introduce plot points and often forget to follow up on them, it’s refreshing to see so much forethought and planning put into a script. And the long running time allows moments for all the characters, and there are a lot of them, to grow and become fleshed out. Even minor characters get juicy character moments.

Editing and score are vital parts of any film, yet are often overlooked by audiences. They say the only time you notice editing was when it is bad. Not so, as I noticed Lee Smith editing and how good it was. When there is a lengthy patch of exposition-laden dialogue, he inserts a beautifully shot (by cinematographer Wally Pfister, once again in top form) scene that shows what the actor is describing. During action scenes, the narrative shifts back and forth from character to character, location to location seamlessly and at just the right time building tension along the way.

Hans Zimmer is an old pro at scoring and naturally his score here is top notch. It adds layers and dimension to the story, evoking the perfect mood at the ideal moment in a great compliment to what is going on on the screen.

Trying to single out an actor in the cast for special acclaim is like trying to pick just one player from the 1927 New York Yankees to be on your All-Star team. When a cast has 15 Oscar Nominations and five Oscar wins between them, there is little doubt that there will be a plethora of great performances to choose from. But if I had to pick one cast member to give an Oscar nod out of only one member of the cast, I’d choose Anne Hathaway.

Her Selina Kyle, the character comic book fans know as Catwoman, is a multi-layered, complex character. Hathaway’s Selina is a woman who must wear a number of different masks, a tricky thing for any actress to play. But Hathaway knocks it out of the park. I can’t say that I’ve been overwhelmed by anything I’ve seen Hathaway do in the past, but I was overwhelmed here. Hathaway plays Selina as bold and naive, strong and insecure, coquettish and earnest, usually within the span of a one scene. The other characters are kept guessing as to what persona Kyle is presenting, but the audience is always kept in the loop. Hathaway puts a more realistic stamp on the “bad girl with a heart of gold” archetype. It’s a brilliant piece of acting.

Tom Hardy’s Bane will be unfairly compared to Ledger’s Joker, so I am not going to compare the two (if I was going to compare Bane to any film villain, it would Darth Vader, if only for the breathing apparatus dialogue). Hardy plays Bane with the gusto of a Shakespearean actor playing Hamlet for the 49th time. He owns the role with confidence and bravery. In a world where every superhero movie can’t wait to remove the masks from their characters, you have to give credit to Hardy for working with half his face covered. Hardy will also be unfairly criticized for having his words swallowed by the mask. But, in truth, I didn’t find him any harder to understand than I did Gary Oldman, and all Oldman had blocking his dialogue was a mustache.

If there was one weak link in the cast, it was Mendelsohn as Daggett. It might be just me, but his performance annoyed me so much that I had to mention it here. He played the role more like a caricature than a character, chewing scenery and employing body ticks in lieu of developing any form of true characterization. Thankfully, he’s not in the movie for long, but whenever he’s on screen, I found it painful to watch.

As for the other cast members, you can expect your typical excellence. Michael Caine doesn’t have a lot of screen time this time around, but he makes the most of it. Gordon-Levitt plays what could be a boring role–the honest cop–with nuances and facets that makes John Blake interesting.

Christopher Nolan combines all of these elements in such a way that makes for a satisfying film. You willingly overlook its flaws because the trip Nolan is taking you on is so interesting. He sets an epic tone for the film while keeping it grounded in reality.

This supposedly is Nolan’s last time directing Batman, although he does leave an obvious opening to continue this story (albeit in a way that I doubt Warner Brothers would be interested it). But if this is Nolan’s last time at “Bat,” then he went out in a grand fashion. This film is a fitting end to an era.

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New Releases: July 20

Posted on 19 July 2012 by William Gatevackes

The Dark Knight Rises (Warner Brothers, 4,404 Theaters, 164 Minutes, Rated PG-13): This will be a sad weekend. An era of unparalleled excellence is coming to an end, and leaving an uncertain future.

There seem to be some people, for no other reason than their own unfounded hatred of Christopher Nolan, who spend most of their time on the Internet in a crusade to let everyone know that Nolan’s Batman films aren’t really that good. Quality is in the eye of the beholder, and if they really truly believe that, well, more power to them. I beg to differ. But I think Nolan’s trilogy is more important than just its quality.

The Nolan Batman films were one of the most valuable tools in getting respect for the comic book medium from a wider audience. Nolan tried to make this trilogy a great movie first, a great superhero movie second. He was able to wring as much pathos and angst from character as he could. The result is a weightier take on the character, which caused those who were only familiar with the BAM! POW! BOFF! era of Batman to completely rearrange their way of thinking.

This might be Nolan’s last Batfilm in the director’s chair, but he will producing the inevitable franchise reboot. Hopefully, Batman’s cinematic future will be as bright as his past.

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HISTORY OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: Batman Begins Again

Posted on 18 May 2012 by William Gatevackes

In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. This time, the Bat-franchise goes back to the beginning with Batman Begins and to the Academy Awards with The Dark Knight.

After the debacle that was Batman & Robin, Warner Brothers was looking to start over at square one. Joel Schumacher thought that was an excellent idea, and said as much in a 1998 interview with Entertainment Weekly:

It’s unlikely the studio will stick with the shticky tone of Batman & Robin. But if it does, count Schumacher out. ”The only way I would do another Batfilm is if we went back to the basics,” says Schumacher. His ideal Batman movie would be based on Miller’s Batman: Year One, a prequel to The Dark Knight Returns, a no-frills account of Batman’s first year of crime fighting. ”It would be nice to take the bigger-is-better concept out of it,” he says, ”and just go pure.”

Schumacher had originally wanted to adapt Frank Miller’s legendary origin redo when he signed on for Batman Forever, but Warners’ executives, wanting a more kid accessible piece, ignored his wishes. They would ignore his wishes again. But this time, it would be with him doing a reboot based on Batman: Year One.  The studio thought that was a good idea, but were looking to Miller and director Darren Aronofsky to handle it.

While this seemed like a comic fans’ dream—Miller co-writing a script with a hot, up-and-coming director in Aronofsky—it was not meant to be. The version of Miller’s script I read had more in common with his Sin City comics than his 1987 storyline that the film was named after. This version found Bruce Wayne living on the streets, working as a mechanic at a garage in the bad part of town, directly across the street from a whorehouse. It was heavy on violence and adult themes, something that would have been perfect for the Martin Scorcese/Robert DeNiro pairing in the 1970s but ill fitting for a 2000 Warner Brothers studio looking for a PG-13 film to bring in the teens.

The studio, after briefly considering a Batman vs. Superman film, would turn to Christopher Nolan next. Nolan gained much acclaim for co-writing and directing the inventive indie drama, Memento. He was still a relatively unproven director—this film would only be his third big studio film he directed—but Warners made an excellent choice. The film Nolan made, Batman Begins, ranks up there with the best comic book films ever made.

Nolan paired with David S. Goyer, a Hollywood screenwriter with comic book writing experience, to create a film that while wasn’t  directly adapted from any one particular comic book, drew pieces from the overall Batman comic book history to create their narrative. The plot involves Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne’s training to become Gotham City’s protector, eventually saving it from destruction by his former mentor, Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson).

The entire cast of the film is the best cast any comic book film has had or likely will have. It was chock full of Oscar winners (Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and, eventually, Bale), Oscar nominees (Tom Wilkinson, Ken Watanabe, Neeson) and quality actors like Cillian Murphy and Gary Oldman. Oldman, who would eventually get an Oscar nod too, was especially good as the film’s moral center, James Gordon. Playing against type as a decent, honest man, Oldman gives one of his best, if somewhat underrated,performances of his illustrious career.

It seemed like it would be almost impossible for Nolan to top what he did with Batman Begins, but he did it on The Dark Knight with the help of a spectacular addition to the cast—Heath Ledger.

Heath Ledger’s untimely death of an accidental prescription drug overdose has added a mythic quality to his performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight, that his deep immersion in the character scarred his psyche in a manner that led to his overdose (the drugs found in Ledger’s system are commonly used to treat anxiety and insomnia). It feels unseemly even to bring it up, but I do so to make the point that the performance would have been mythic even if Ledger survived.  His Joker is the defining Joker. And I am saying that while having the utmost respect for the work Jack Nicholson and Mark Hamill have done with the character.

The Joker is written in the movie as a force of nature, an agent of chaos. He exists to destroy the fabric of society. He is a cipher—his history is unknown and his motives are unclear.  This is not an easy role to play. It could be the perfect opportunity make it hammy or give a portrayal that was out of place with the film as a whole. Ledger gave a scary, realistic performance that was totally believable. All the posthumous accolades that Ledger received, including becoming the first star from a comic book movie to win an Oscar, are all well deserved.

However, all the accolades that Ledger receives takes away from a great film and the solid performances of the other new additions to the cast—Aaron Eckhart as the tragic figure of Harvey Dent/Two-Face, and Maggie Gyllenhaal replacing Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes (a vast improvement, I must say).

The Dark Knight set yet another impossible task for the next sequel to try and top it. That task begins in a few weeks when The Dark Knight Rises is released.

This film promises to be the last in the series, introducing Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) and Bane (Tom Hardy) into the mix. It looks like Ra’s Al Ghul will be returning as well, either in a flashback or, well, if you knew the comics, you’ll know of another way he could come back. The plot is timely too, supposedly tying into the disenfranchised poor versus the entitled rich that was the basis for the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Where the franchise goes from here is anyone’s guess. While Nolan is staying on to produce the next phase of the Batman film life cycle, it looks like whatever comes next will be a fresh start.

Next time, we look at a time when everything Marvel touched cinematically did not turn to gold. In fact, movies were made that we never seen at all.

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HISTORY OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: Holy Failures, Batman!

Posted on 04 May 2012 by William Gatevackes

In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. This time, we come to the dark ages of the Batman franchise—Batman Forever and Batman and Robin.

I can trace the moment I knew the Batman franchise was in trouble to one particular scene in Batman Forever.  Batman, now played by Val Kilmer, had just finished a heart to heart with Dr. Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman) and as he leaves, Meridian tells him to be careful out there. Batman, whose back is to Meridian yet facing the camera, flashes the goofiest grin you would ever see. No, not a subtle smile or a acerbic smirk, but the type of grin the school bookworm in an ABC Family telefilm would grin if she was just asked out by the star quarterback. You can see the grin around the 1:47 mark on the trailer.

I don’t know if this was a particular director’s note from new franchise director Joel Schumacher or a sly bit of sabotage by Kilmer (who’s combative relationship with Schumacher doing filming was legendary), but the smile was so glaringly out of character that it made me fear for the franchise’s future.

Warner Brothers was not happy with Batman Returns’ $266,822,354 box office take, and put the blame for what they felt was a lackluster performance on the dark tone Tim Burton gave to the film. Warners convinced Burton to move to producer and brought in Schumacher with an eye on making a more kid-friendly (and toy generating) flick. Michael Keaton bailed on the franchise once he found out the direction it was going in. Smart man.

Schumacher replaced Burton’s dark moodiness with a garish, neon soaked cyberpunk look. Batman Forever was a loud assault on the senses. We begin to see more campy elements make their way into the film, including, but not limited to, the Batmobile being driven up a wall, the over-the-top performances of Jim Carrey as the Riddler and Tommy Lee Jones, who stepped in for Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent/Two-Face, and a painful, self-referential gag about “holey rusted metal” at the bad guy’s hideout. Schumacher also added nipples to the batsuit and an uncomfortable focus on generous codpieces and vinyl clad buttocks of Batman and Robin during the inevitable “suiting up” montages—a bit too hyper sexualized for what was supposed to be a kid’s film, in my opinion.

Batman Forever was a success, making $336,529,844 at the box office. A sequel was put on the fast track, with George Clooney replacing the contentious Kilmer as Bruce Wayne/Batman.  And, thusly, Batman & Robin was unleashed onto an unsuspecting world.

Batman & Robin was unabashedly, unapologetically campy. It was also horrible. Those of you, the lucky few who didn’t see the movie, might be asking a few questions. How campy was it? How bad could it really be? Let me show you:

I wonder what he does when he tries to use it at places that require a form of ID to verify the card. Does he toss a batarang on the counter? A typewritten list of all his daddy issues?

Clooney often speaks in a self-deprecating way about his performance in the film, like he’s solely to blame for how awful it is. He’s not. His portrayal of Bruce Wayne is a bright spot in the film. And his performance as Batman is hampered by the horrible screenwriting of Akiva Goldsman, who unbelievably would later win an Oscar for writing 2002’s A Beautiful Mind.

What did Goldsman and Schumacher get wrong this time around? Well, are you sitting down? You have to start with lame gags like the Bat-Credit Card. Then the lame puns spouted by all the characters, especially Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze (it’s like Goldsman took all the “ice” related puns he could think of and put them all, good or bad, into the film).

Then you had Chris O’Donnell, who gave the worst performance by a grown man (he would turn 27 six days after the film opened) pretending to be a teenager overacting his way through an immature, crybaby tantrum (he’d hold the title until Hayden Christensen’s performance in 2002’s Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones). The film also introduced Batgirl in the personage of Alicia Silverstone, who played Bruce Wayne’s British butler Alfred’s niece, who came directly from her studies in London to visit her uncle, leaving all traces of any kind of British accent behind. She did have nipples on her batsuit and a lingering shot or two of her curves during her suiting up montage, proving that Schumacher is an equal opportunity fetishist.

There were also too many characters this time around. In addition to those already mentioned, you had Uma Thurman playing Poison Ivy as the second major villain (because you had to have two major villains in a Batman film). Plus, you had Bane, a character who broke Batman’s back in the comic books, a character that Christopher Nolan felt strong enough about to make a main villain in The Dark Knight Rises, relegated to a mindless, brutal lackey of Poison Ivy. An even bigger waste was the character of Jason Woodrue, who was an awesome character in the comics by the name of Floronic Man and was portrayed by the excellent actor John Glover. His only purpose was to establish Poison Ivy’s origin by being the mad scientist who gives her superpowers as a result of trying to kill her. He is killed off after only five minutes of screen time.

The film was critically lambasted and while it earned $238,207,122, it was the lowest grossing Batfilm to date and, therefore, a failure. Positive response to the rushes put a third Schumacher sequel titled Batman Triumphant into pre-production with Clooney and O’Donnell reprising their roles and the Scarecrow as the main villain. The disappointing response cancelled that film and caused Warners to look towards rebooting the franchise. It also garnered an apology from Schumacher himself.

The Scarecrow would become the villain of the next Batman film, one which would come closest to capturing the comic book feel on the big screen. But before that, a legendary comic book arc almost made it to movie theaters. We’ll tell you which one next time.

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