Batman: Year One Review

 

Some time around last winter I made a little vow to myself not to watch anything Batman-related, with the intent of saving all my Batman movies and cartoons for about a month before The Dark Knight Rises’ release to best psych myself up for what is sure to be an unforgettable motion picture event. This of course excluded comic books and video games. Living a life without having played Batman: Arkham Asylum is not something I want to fathom. I broke my little vow by watching Batman: Year One earlier this week.

 

 

It’s a decent animated film. It alternates between focusing on Batman/Bruce Wayne and Lt. James Gordon, it establishes the characters, their personalities, their morals, and the events that lead up to affirming the relationship between the two that we all know and love. There’s a little Catwoman thrown in, too.

 

 

It’s a fair enough adaptation of Frank Miller’s story, an artist to whom many Bat-fans feel indebted, though maybe it doesn’t translate quite perfectly. The foundation of the story is all there, we have the characters we know, we have the elements of corruption in Gotham City and the never-ending battle for justice, but I don’t know, I can’t quite put my finger on it, it just doesn’t flow as naturally and as satisfyingly as it should. Everything here feels included by obligation and not structure. Maybe it just doesn’t translate that well. Nolan’s films took but only hints from Miller’s stories and the end result is infinitely more memorable. Well, duh.

 

But it’s not as if the movie has the mega-budget of a Nolan film, so we have to give it credit in that department. The animation is pretty good. Good, not great. I mean, there’s nothing really wrong with it. But it’s not like “this is the beginning and end of all Batman animation” kind of amazing or anything. The action scenes are pretty cool at least. Hello shaky cam.

 

 

Before watching it I had heard the voice acting wasn’t great. This is a criticism I have to agree with. It’s not that compelling, is it? I have no idea who this Ben McKenzie dude is but his Batman sucks. Really. Deal with it. So much for being constructive.

 

 

With these DC movies I think all you can do is hope for the best, hope for something grand, and at least be willing to compromise when it doesn’t exactly deliver on everything you wanted. There’s nothing at all wrong with Batman: Year One, it indeed gets the job done but running at barely an hour in length it’s not is if there’s all too much detail so you can’t really expect a magnum opus. Keep in mind that cartoons like this have to appeal to kids, too. Though I wonder what kind of kid may love this movie, cheering on Gordon as he deals with domestic issues. Whatever the case that’s probably a pretty awesome kid.

Movie Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

 

The makeup effects in the original PLANET OF THE APES film were revolutionary in 1968. The Tim Burton-helmed remake, now a decade old, pushed the art as far as it could go under the masterful control of Rick Baker. Now the newest “Apes” movie, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES has taken things a step further with visual effects from WETA. The apes look just like apes, act just like apes, but are digital creations that can do things that you probably couldn’t train an ape to do on film in a million years. Besides, training apes seems kind of cruel.

The appeal of these makeup effects in the original as well as the sequels is that the performances of great actors could burst through those ape faces. Many people would associate PLANET OF THE APES immediately with Charlton Heston, but those who have affection for sequels such as “ESCAPE,” “CONQUEST,” and “BATTLE” would unflinchingly tell you the franchise truly belongs to Roddy McDowell, who played Cornelius and Ceaser to great effect. The guy was a fantastic and skilled actor but he could also really ape it up. It was a winning combination and it made the series stand out. But the days of makeup and McDowell are over, and now for the most recent “Apes” film we have CGI and Andy Serkis (no stranger to playing simians), which isn’t a bad trade-off at all.

 

 

It’s sort of a prequel to the 1968 film. But the timeline became so messed up and so full of paradoxes that this could precede that film, it could stand on its own as a complete fresh start, or, Hell, you could probably place it somewhere in-between in an alternate universe. With all the time-and-space-bending presented you could probably even fit in Burton’s film into the continuity somehow. But if you want to say, “hey, this is what happens that led to what we see in the first movie,” then that’s agreeable, and there are some hints scattered about that would fit that frame of mind in place.

The movie begins innocently enough, with scientists experimenting on animals to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease but things don’t go exactly as planned (which is exactly the same plot of DEEP BLUE SEA by the way). The formula doesn’t work too ideally on humans but it takes to apes very nicely, causing advanced intelligence. Enter Caesar.

We have James Franco in the movie, we have Frieda Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Draco Malfoy, but make no mistake: Andy Serkis is the star. Caesar is the main character, the story is about his struggle, and it is a deeply facsinating study of a primate endowed with extraordiary intelligence; who is blessed and cursed with cognition and self-examination of a man, wondering how and why he is, recogonizing he’s an anomoly, and feeling some entitlement to be a little higher on the food chain.

 

 

It’s not as sci-fi heavy as some of the other movies in this series but it gets the drama right and treats the material seriously and cautiously, avoiding anything too silly. I wouldn’t say there’s much racial or social allegory going on here but it tells the story of the ape uprising very well. You could argue that maybe the intentions of the little revolution shown here aren’t incredibly justified, like, why would the apes turn and mistrust all of mankind just because a few assholes at an animal shelter gave them a hard time? Well, I don’t think that’s entirely the point. Sometimes movies like this just consider what it would be like if our time staying as the most dominant beings on the planet were through. Could be aliens, could be apes. But it’s fascinating since apes are so similar to us, seeming just a little removed from the evolutionary line, so why couldn’t there be an alternate universe where they were in charge and we were the ones in cages? If apes are as similar to us as we think they are then we’d know they wouldn’t want to share the rule of the world.

 

 

A good story was told with modern effects that were very convincing and the drama was very well played out. Andy Serkis was incredible and pulls off a wonderful performance as Ceaser. The references to the original films are fun and not too overbearing, and it pays a much better service to the franchise’s fans than the remake did. It has the same kind of spirit as those movies but it is a fresh take on the general story so whether you’ve seen every single one and know the overall plot detail by detail or whether this is your first venture into the series it successfully satisifies in just about every area. It wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t the best one, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’d love to see more.

Knowing and the end of the world

Harold Camping is a religious scholar who predicted that Judgment Day would arrive some time in 1994. That didn’t happen. He claims he made an error in his calculation, and now, he is ever-so-certain that he has the correct date: May 21st, 2011. This Saturday.

The gist of his calculation is that in May of 4990 B.C. God gave the warning that in seven days, he would bring forth his great flood and abolish all the sinners, saving the chosen few true believers. In the Bible we are told “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” So 7 days would equal 7,000 years.

4990 + 2011 – 1 = 7,000 (subtracting 1 because there is no year 0)

Time’s up.

You can read this flawed theory more thoroughly here if you like.

Analysts have estimated that the folks at Family Radio have spent over 3 million dollars on their billboard campaign spreading the word. That sounds like a lot but when you think about it, it costs more to produce and promote and episode of Family Guy. If you wish to make a donation to Camping’s cause, you can do so here.

Anywho, all this got me to thinking about the 2009 film KNOWING, starring Nicolas Cage. It also has a good deal of calculations and omens, all that ominously lead to mankind’s final days. A very underrated movie in my opinion. I decided to watch it tonight and had some thoughts. Spoilers ahead.

The story begins in 1959 when a troubled girl who hears mysterious voices writes down a series of seemingly random numbers on an assignment paper for a school time capsule, the students were instructed to write/draw what they think the future would be like. It was kept underground in the capsule for 50 years. Flash forward to 2009, when Nicolas Cage’s character’s son receives this paper with all the numbers when the school opens up the capsule and lets all the kids take a look and what their predecessors thought life would be like 5 decades prior. Nicolas Cage acquires this sheet and discovers the numbers translate to dates and numbers of deaths for major global disasters. Some have past, and some have yet to come.

It sounds like your pretty standard Nick Cage thriller, with plenty of room for Nicolas Cage to run around and try to prevent these disasters, and blah blah blah. And part of it feels exactly like that. But this time around it’s quite different. It’s actually unbelievably incredible how the movie unfolds and unfolds, shit gets pretty crazy. It defies all expectations and formulas for this kind of movie.

Cage goes around trying to prevent all these disasters (unsuccessfully) until he stumbles upon the final prediction: the end of everything.

So naturally you think he’s going to figure out some kind of way to stop mankind’s doom in some exciting final sequence, but, nope. He comes to the realization that whether he likes it or not, the world is going to end and there is nothing he can do about it. And then there’s aliens or something.

It isn’t your typical thriller. It treats the audience like they actually might have brains, it asks questions, it has intriguing ideas. There’s themes of science vs religion, random events vs predetermination, aliens vs angels. You could make a strong argument for either case and you’d probably be right. It treats both sides with respect. And I’m hesitant to listen to the director commentary. I wouldn’t want to ruin its ambiguity.

But even if you don’t feel like buying into its provocative themes, just think about how much balls this movie has to end the fucking world. No exciting heroics. No last minute save. The world ends. How many big budget blockbusters like this can you name that have actually done that?? And it truly is alarming just how fast it’s all over. The whole destruction scene is probably under a minute. There’s no amazing CGI shots that linger on all the destruction and mayhem to be seen, it’s over in a quick flash.

And when all is said in done, when his son is brought to start over to a new world by the aliens or angels or supernatural beings or whatever, there’s nothing much else the Cage character can do but find his way home to his father, mother, and sister and say his last goodbyes. The family embraces and then the solar flare hits the earth. The movie has enough taste to not show their gruesome evaporation, but that last image of them all is burned in my mind. It’s a sad and beautiful movie.

But anyway, sometimes you just can’t help but fear the end of the world. I don’t think we’ll be seeing the Rapture this Saturday. May 21st will come and go like any other day. But warnings like this always make me a little nervous. We’re all fascinated and terrified by our own destruction. I’ll be anxiously tugging my collar before Saturday, and even every day before December 21st, 2012 (what is it with the 21st?). The end will come eventually, that’s just a fact. Whether or not it will happen in our lifetime, I do not know. And will it be a random occurrence, like a solar flare or asteroid or something? Or is there a grand purpose behind it all, and that every event since the beginning of mankind has been leading up to it? I don’t know. Sometimes shit happens.

Trailer analysis: Yogi Bear, and Thor

If you need further proof that Hollywood has become a parody of itself, then by all means check out the teaser trailer for Yogi Bear. Be sure to feast your eyes on the trailers for the Smurfs movie and the Jack Black version of Gulliver’s Travels while you’re at it.

The special sneak preview of the the upcoming live action Yogi Bear movie hit the net last night. Needless to say, it looks fairly by-the-numbers. Let’s see:

  • Live action blended with horrendous CGI? Check!
  • Genuinely talented actor taking a paycheck by voicing the titular character? Check!
  • B-Grade talent in the human roles? Check!
  • Animals dancing and shaking their butts to pop music? Check!
  • Tedious slapstick humour? Check!
  • In FUCKING 3-D?? Check and mate!!

I can’t say I’ve ever been a fan of the Yogi Bear cartoon, but I’m pretty sure taking your kids to see this should equate to child abuse. It looks like absolute garbage, and will probably kill your kids’ brain cells. You may as well toss them a bottle of Jack Daniels and tell them to have at it.

Do kids really like seeing these shitty-looking CGI animals dance to pop music so much? Like, really? Teach your kid to read, participate in team sports, plant a fucking tree for God’s sake, or at the very least just stay at home and watch the original cartoon! How can they possibly fill an entire movie with picnic basket stealing gags? It’s filler, fodder, junk food for the brain. Any kid going into this movie is going to walk out of it a little dumber.

The trailer may as well contain a voice over saying: We think kids today are stupid. We’re going to take a beloved cartoon character and shit out a lousy movie with him, fill it with pretty colours, lots of dancing, and lame jokes, because today’s kids just love that stuff!

Kids aren’t that stupid, are they? Take them to see the Pixar stuff, take them to Harry Potter, they can handle that. But this movie looks like it will be shit. Stop taking kids to see this worthless trash and they’ll stop making it!

Ugh. Whatever. It’s a stupid kids movie. Not the first. Not the last. But I’d never take my (theoretical) kid to see something like Yogi Bear. I’d have too much love and respect for my offspring.

It breaks my heart to see Anna Faris in this movie. I do think she has talent, and she’s really hot, too. It’s  also disappointing to see Dan Aykroyd sell out with voicing Yogi the bear, and not doing all too great of a job of it, either.  He’s a gifted actor, writer, and comedian. He’s one of the original cast members of Saturday Night Live, a true comedic pioneer, he’s an Oscar nominated dramatic actor, he’s a Ghostbuster for God’s sake, and hey, his wine brand is pretty good, too. So it’s really come to this, huh?

In addition to the exciting Yogi Bear news, some leaked footage of a 5-minute Thor trailer has been popping up as well. Good luck finding it, though. It gets pulled as soon as it gets uploaded. I can’t say I’m a big Thor fan or anything, my familiarity with the character really only extends to the “BY THE HAMMER OF THOR” line repeated so hilariously in various TV shows and films, namely Anchorman. Ha, ha. Personally I can’t really see the appeal of a space viking that has a big hammer as a weapon, but whatever.

Some thoughts on the trailer:

  • It’s never occurred to me until right now how much Anthony Hopkins sounds like Marlon Brando, and his role gives off a Superman/Krypton opening kind of vibe.
  • I have no idea who the actor playing Thor is. He must be new. I’d swear he was an ex-wrestler or something if it weren’t for the fact that he’s British and can apparently act without grinning into the camera.
  • “For a crazy homeless man, he’s….pretty cut.” Tee hee, funny line.
  • Natalie Portman alone should get my ass in the seat.
  • The best thing about the trailer was the Iron Man reference.  Oh boy, I can’t wait for Iron Man 3. When’s that coming out??
  • The costume design is impressive, but not too surprising considering the film is helmed by Kenneth Branagh, director of Shakespearean adaptations such as Henry V, Hamlet, and As You Like It. I’d say Branagh’s involvement in the project would be an encouraging factor, but then again, this is the same guy who voluntarily acted in Wild Wild West.

So I’m sure the verdict isn’t quite in yet. Some folks are hella excited for this movie and died of nerdgasms upon viewing the trailer, but I think a lot of people are still waiting to make up their minds. I guess we’ll have to wait and see if Thor is any good or not.

Movie Review: Inception (2010)

Inception is a very impressive movie in that it works spectacularly well as a big action/thriller blockbuster with plenty of awesome, edge-of-your-seat sequences, and as an original, thought-provoking science fiction film. All too often a film like this may scrap its ideas and resort to mindless action, or fall under the weight of its own story. Inception presents an extremely ambitious plot and follows through with it admirably, not once taking any shortcuts or cheating the audience. It was immensely satisfying from beginning to end.

The cast is fantastic, featuring some of the best actors working today: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Cillian Murphy, and Ken Wantanabe. When you think about it, they’ve all taken on thankless roles here. It’s not as if most of them have the opportunity to show their skills as actors with a variety of emotions or long, dramatic monologues, which they are all perfectly capable of doing. They accomplish something arguably much more difficult: they guide us through this world that Nolan has created and make ideas that must have seemed a little silly on paper completely believable. These are real people at real risk. But, then again, maybe they aren’t? Yeah, Inception will no doubt inspire endless theorizing, especially about its ending.

Leonardo Dicaprio plays the main character and he has the meatiest part. He plays a complex and truly tragic character, as we learn more and more about him as the movie goes along. He was incredible in his role and reminds us once again why he is one of our most talented actors. It would be terrific to see his work here recognized come Oscar season as one of the nominees for Best Actor. It might not happen, but you can be sure that the movie itself will find its way on to the list of the Academy’s 10 best films of 2010.

So, yes, Inception lived up to the hype. Yes, it was worth the wait. Yes, Christopher Nolan has done it again. It is definitely one of the best science fiction films of our time. The best works of science fiction are all about ideas, whether they explore where we’re going with technology, or the possibility of life of different planets, or alternate realities, etc. Nolan’s film makes the bold choice of exploring the mind, and the mind is absolutely infinite.

STAR WARS, A review by Armond White

STAR WARS
Reviewed by Armond White
May 24th, 1977

George Lucas’ STAR WARS is essentially a B-picture amped up with state-of-the-art special effects, disguising itself as a big blockbuster, in an attempt to trump the success of the popular killer fish movie, JAWS. Audiences will no doubt revel in its escapism, though what Lucas has really done here is sell us trash painted gold.

The plot borrows elements from just about everything under the sun: 1950’s science fiction serials, Samurai films, and even The Wizard Of Oz. The story follows two robots, very obviously meant to represent black slaves. They are loyal, obedient, they cater to every whim of the white man, and only prove useful up to a certain point. The film is much more interested in the white men, a young boy named Luke and an older “Jedi” named Ben Kenobi, who retrieve important information from the slave robots- information crucial to protect the entire galaxy. What this information is to be exact, I’m not sure, it’s more a macguffin and an excuse to embark on Luke’s wondrous adventure through the galaxy, where we meet even more white characters (including the beautiful white princess), while vile, disfigured alien beings (the black man) are settled into the background. More decoration than importance to the preposterous plot.

It troubles me greatly that even with all the progress the black community has made with civil rights, Hollywood is still reluctant to cast a perfectly capable African American actor in the lead role of its big event pictures. What if instead of the rosy-cheeked all-American white boy playing Luke, they cast Fred Williamson or Billy Dee Williams? They’ve made names for themselves, and they could draw their audiences. Though maybe the wrong audience. God forbid suburban Drive-ins would start to look a little darker. No, an actor such as Fred Williamson would display too much confidence and self-awareness in the role. Having a young, white boy as the lead feeds audiences of white America exactly what they want to consume: a plucky, ignorant character, with a good heart, but apparently no soul. America is in trouble.

It offends me personally that the only actor of color included in the film is James Earl Jones, who does not actually appear on-screen, but rather as the voice of the villain, Dark Vader. Dark Vader is dressed head to toe in black, has a bad temper, and kills/assaults other characters at the drop of a hat. Naturally, it would only be deemed appropriate to have a black man voice this character. This character alone has pushed the black movement back decades.

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Its heart is not in the right place. It may win over young ones with its dazzling adventure scenes and loud noises, but be warned: when you approach that ticket booth, you’re not just handing over hard-earned cash, you’re exchanging your soul. Underneath its despicable racism and its shoe-string of a plot, STAR WARS also prides itself in its godlessness. No character believes in God, instead worships “the force”, energy that surrounds every living being and gives them power. Give me a break. Time magazine has stated that God is dead. With STAR WARS, I’ve seen the future, and it only gets worse.

The special effects may interest children and white men with low I.Q.s, but at the end of the day, it is a very disposable piece of distraction. The movie will make its money and be done with, making room for the next trend in shallow entertainment. I award the film 0 stars, it is an appalling mess that is easy on the eyes. I hated it. I was offended by it. God help anyone in line to see it this weekend. Instead, may I recommend John Boorman’s brilliant EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC, a sequel every bit as good as the original. It is compelling, provocative, and allows James Earl Jones to actually show his face! It will be the more talked about and higher regarded film of the summer.

0 out of ****

©1977 The New York Press

If you’d like to learn more about Armond White, please consult your local Library or pay a visit to Rotten Tomatoes.

NOTE: This is not an actual review written by Armond White, just a mere tribute to his excellent logic and writing craft.

Movie Review: Kick-Ass (2010)

Kick-Ass is more grim of a movie than I thought it would be, and not as much of a laugh-riot satire that I expected. It has the teenage situations, potty mouth, and pop-culture references of something like Superbad, but gradually takes a nose-dive into the morose, blood-lusting atmosphere of The Punisher.

Two stories collide in the movie. One is that of the title character, Kick-Ass, who doesn’t like the wrong that’s going on in the world and is tired of being passive, and being a comic-book geek, naturally his logical solution is to become a super hero himself. I liked this half of the story. It was unique, and very funny. The other half of the story, with heroes Big Daddy and Hit-Girl, is the typical self-righteous hero getting revenge on a mob boss plot. Can you really call them super heroes at that point? How about just murderers in capes? They’re not fighting any crime per se, just doing everything possible to make this mob boss’ life miserable. Killing everyone on his payroll. Burning down warehouses. Crushing a defenseless henchman in junk compacter. You know, the average super hero stuff. If they’re going through all this trouble, why not just skip all the theatrics and sneak into the mob boss’ house and slit his throat while he’s sitting on the john? Sometimes you gotta ask yourself: what would Batman do? Batman would not be happy with these guys.

And that really brings us to one undeniable fact: any movie released after 2008 that is even remotely related to super heroes will no doubt be compared to the quality of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. When one comic book adaptation does everything so well, naturally you’re going notice glaring flaws in other comic book adaptations. One huge flaw in the movie, to me personally, were the villains. Mob bosses? Really? The Super hero chain of challenge usually goes from petty thieves, to professional thieves (the mob), to super villains. I can understand that. It’s practically sacred scripture. But seriously, the main villain played by Mark Strong is not compelling whatsoever. The role is so undemanding it could have been played by a cardboard cut-out. Hell, that goddamn, greasy Russian in The Dark Knight had more personality than any villains in Kick-Ass! The entire rogues gallery in this movie is about one step away from being the type that trips over wacky traps set up by Macaulay Culkin. When the most intriguing bad guy is played by McLovin, you know you have a problem.

But relax, the movie is still pretty good. Despite all of its flaws, it works. And the characters are a hell of a lot more likable than they have the right to be. The acting is good too, particularly Aaron Johnson as Kick-Ass and Chloe Moretz as Hit-Girl. Consider Kick-Ass the revelations of these two actors, who will surely have great careers ahead of them in hopefully better movies. Nicolas Cage and his wacky Adam West impression are a welcome addition to the movie as well, and rest assured: Cage was able to work in some hilarious, hammy screaming scenes. “SWITCH TO KRYPTONIIITTTTTEEEEE!!!!”

I liked Kick-Ass. But I didn’t love it. The plot is a little stupid but it at least tries to give new twists on old ideas, but the main reason to see the movie is the action. I suppose I liked the icing better than the cake itself. The action scenes rock, especially when you see Hit-Girl kicking some serious ass. It’s absurd, hilarious, and just awesome. I predict that when the movie hits home video there will be a lot of chapter skipping just to the action scenes.

Kick-Ass finds itself somewhere in the middle of the pack when it comes to super hero movies/comic book adaptations. There are better ones out there, but there are also much much worse ones, and the fact that Kick-Ass is so un-apologetically off-the-wall with its violence and bad language is something to celebrate. It’s a wild ride. It’s funny, action packed, and features an 11-year-old girl mercilessly slaughtering bad guys. Fun for the whole family!

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