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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Reviews

Movie Re-Review:

The Dark Knight

****

Holy Phenomenology Batman!

What a difference the IMAX made. Sure it was twice as much picture, the quality was amazing, it was a feeling of immersion into the world, the sound was amazing, and you’ve gotta love a film that changes aspect ratios (and Bruce Bloch would agree with me).But more than anything I was impressed with how Nolan used the IMAX. What shots and what scenes he chose to fill the entire 60ft screen with.

There have been some famous second reviews in contemporary film criticism. Roger Ebert’s second review of Bonnie and Clyde, Pauline Kael’s second review of The Empire Strikes Back, are the two most famous. Not saying this review is as important as either of those respective situations, but more so setting up the precedence.

It could also be that there is so much happening on the surface of this film, that I made the mistake of trying to read subtext on the initial viewing, and missed a number of metaphors and nuances I found obvious the second time around. More than anything, I realized this was a great film when Nolan chose to fill the IMAX screen almost equally between action sequences and to highlight the emotional pyrotechniques of the film’s characters. This will, if anything, change the way filmmakers decide to use the emerging format in mainstream films. Nolan uses the larger aspect ratio like a filmmaker would use music or lighting, as not a novelty but another element. So seeing it in a standard 35mm format is like seeing a film without a score (I have no idea what they’ll do for the DVD release). Especially devastating is the way Nolan uses the format to highlight a rather quick but emotionally integral conversation between Alfred and Bruce. It speaks to the emotional development of the characters, and was a powerful indication to me that Nolan cares every bit about his characters as he does the plot, which was my initial fear. That said there is still too much going on in the plot, a few resolutions feel anti-climactic, and I still feel like I wanted more time with the secondary characters. But for what this is, which is a summer popcorn flick, and what it also is, a nourish exploration into the shadowy areas between morality and immorality.

Some have stated that this is a rather sympathetic portrayal of the war on terror. But the archetypes, and Batman’s as full of them as Jonathon Crane’s sketchbook, are much deeper. Batman here is made a scapegoat and not in our modern use of the word. I mean in the Old Testament or Pauline use of the word. Batman here is made “sin” because he can take it. Not that he’s Jesus, though he may be the Jesus Patti Smith sung about. Batman’s always has and has to be an anti-hero, though the film doesn’t really explore what damage this does to his psyche (maybe the next one will) which is one of the more interesting re-occurring themes of the comics.

The film also, thanks to Gary Oldman, establishes the existential superhero in the world of Batman. The one man Camus would say is the closest thing to what we would call a hero in all this, and that is Jim Gordon. He does his job, does it well, has made decisions, and will not break them no matter how easy that would be or how much he suffers because of those decisions (and if the next film follows the Batman lore he suffers a whole heck of a lot).

A lot has been made of this being the top film of all time on IMDB. Then again, it would make sense a sleek crime film based on a comic book with Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine would appeal to the IMDB demo, and especially the way they weight their votes. My reaction was twofold. I’m glad it pushed Shawshank down, and I could go on with a litany of reasons that’s one of the few films I fundamentally despise, and second, that at least these fanboys and the popcorn A/C crowd are getting exposed to some rather adult, bordering on art-cinema discussions of philosophy. I doubt it will make them want to pick up Nietzsche or Hegel, or debate the two barge’s reactions (whether middle-class Democracy or morally informed anarchy was the correct course of action) but maybe it will allow for more mainstream, big-budget films, to have added levels of complexity and ambiguity (so, maybe it’s fitting I did mention Bonnie and Clyde and Empire which did something similar, though Bonnie and Clyde is one of the all-time all-time greats).

Finally, I don’t think I did enough justice to Heath Ledger’s performance in my first review. The first time I saw the film I probably trying to be too sensitive about his death, and also too immersed by the character to fully experience the performance. The second time I was able to see the small things he does, from the way he carries himself, how he moves, to the accent he chose, even the way he swallows. This is a deeply thought out and masterfully executed performance. All of this is best shown in the sequence where he talks to Dent in the hospital and then has difficulty with a detonator shortly after. He’s sadistic, insane, self-aware, playful, demented, and pathetic. In that scene he IS the Joker.

I’ll make sure I’ll see the next one in IMAX first. Then again by then maybe they’ll do 3-d. But please don’t.


Wall-e

****1/2

Those who read me know that recently I’ve not been a fan over CGI animated films. Nothing with their quality, but partially for the residual effects, for every Finding Nemo you get three Space Chimps, but it also seemed to get to the point where the whole thing felt like pretentious formula. A formula that nonetheless worked but that was a little annoying, and overly clever, like some of the films toward the end of the French New Wave or the latest Sufjan Stevens album.
The fact that I went to a CGI animated film was a big compliment to Wall-e to begin with. And I was not disappointed. This is Pixar’s best film and the first one since Toy Story where I really felt that the emotion and the craftsmanship matched the concept and delivery.

Wall-e is about the detail: the small gestures, the mechanical duties, the startlingly real atmosphere, the use of secondary characters that play parts larger than comedic relief. The attention to detail is stunning, both visually and emotionally and makes this as engaging as anything concerning two human characters that has come out so far this year.

I was afraid that this might be another Pinocchio inspired robot film (cf. AI, though that’s a great film that’s half Pinnochio half Wizard of Oz), but there isn’t a need for these robots to become human. I’m not sure if they’re even self-aware, then again, in a very interesting reversal, most of the humans aren’t either. These robots have the traits and the capacity for human emotions as experienced through function, shown in tiny physical gestures. And while this may seem like nothing, this is a huge and beautiful existential statement on duty, love , and what all that means.

Obscure Album Spotlight:

The Further Adventures of Charles Westover

Del Shannon

Liberty Records (1968, Out of Print)

****1/2

Shannon’s probably, and fittingly so, remembered for his song Runaway. I probably would have passed this album over had I not recently listened to Runaway again and just been in awe of how perfect a pop song it is. While Del had a career for another decade after that, it’s about all anyone knows about him. This 1968 album finds Shannon not trying to re-define himself as a psychedelic song-wizard, but rather using new layers of sound to create a pop album which has aged quite well considering the time/place it was made. It helps that its lyrics are emotional rather than metaphysical or nonsensical (ie. about girls and love rather than gnomes or colors) and that the songs drive the backing devices rather than trying to sound like The Beatles.

“I Think I Love You” has a driving beat that would work well without the sitars and strings which accompany it, but having them in doesn’t hurt or date it like many psychedelic compositions; a bluesy guitar solo doesn’t hurt.

The biggest surprise on this album isn’t just the relative subtlety of the psychedelic touches but how well he creates lush and complex instrumental arrangements without hurting the strength of the song. The overly serious yet unintentionally funny Magical Musical Box is really the only misstep on the album, though it’s nearly a pratfall. Some songs, like Conqueror especially, recall John Cale’s early solo work in craftsmanship, and the entire album plays like a Todd Rundgren album done with the care and cohesion of a Wilson brother.

3 comments:

whitney said...

The Batman archetype does go beyond the Iraq war, but I think it's more political than religious. Batman is a fascist, and he's willing to step back and become the bad guy while still attempting to run the entire city according his own morals. That's why I like what Frank Miller did with the series so much, he makes Batman much more unlikable, I think, connecting him to his fascist agenda. I like Batman because he's like the anti-anti-hero.

Eric Anderson said...

Reading this, I am really glad I went to see it in Imax first.
Plus, I totally agree with your estimation of the film this time around.
You're too smart for your own good!
Keep it up.

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