Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Suicide Squad (2016)

Suicide Squad (2016)

Director: David Ayer

Cast: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie,Viola Davis, Common, Jai Courtney, Ezra Miller, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye Agbaje, Cara Delevingne, Joel Kinnaman, Karen Fukuhara, Ben Affleck

The thing about Suicide Squad is that it’s neither a good nor a bad film. Sadly, this is what Hollywood is doing a lot of these days, films that are neither here, nor there, they simply exist somewhere in the realm between good and bland. That being said, I had a decent time with Suicide Squad; it entertained even through its flaws. I was surprised to discover that it had moments of brilliance, few as they were yet was extremely dissapointed that a writer/director of David Ayer’s caliber delivered such an average film. But before we get into anything, I want to let you guys know that this review is coming from a true blue comic book fan, so I’m not one of those people who went into Suicide Squad already hating it. Actually I was truly looking forward to it. I even saw it opening day. The main draw for me were all the cool possibilities the concept of villains as heroes had to offer, plus we had director David Ayer behind the cameras which gave me a lot of hope. The result wasn’t as disastrous as some reviews make it sound, there’s some fun to be had with Suicide Squad. But I’m sure you’re wondering exactly what these pesky flaws everyone keeps talking about were, so let’s get down to it shall we? 

Suicide Squad is all about this top secret government project called “Task Force X” that unites a group of villains who are under the custody of the federal government (read: in jail) in order to have them do the governments dirty work. So as it turns out, these villains end up being the heroes, because an even more villainous witch called ‘The Enchantress’  is hell-bent on taking over the world. In order to achieve this, she brings to life her once dead, but equally powerful brother. The Suicide Squad’s supposed to stop this all powerful entity. Will they achieve their mission? Or will their collective insanity tear the group apart?

If you have seen Ayer’s body of work, then you will know why I was a bit disappointed here. I mean, Harsh Times (2005)? An amazing picture! End of Watch (2012) and Sabotage (2014) were both highly watchable in my book.  Let’s not forget that Mr. Ayer was a great writer before successfully transferring his talents to the directing department. Before becoming a successful film director, he wrote amazing scripts like Training Day (2001). So yes, I’m perplexed as to why Suicide Squad didn’t blow me away story wise. With Ayer at the helm, I was expecting more of an edge to this film. When the film starts, you are first lambasted with a ton of background stories for each character, which I thought was a mistake because what ends up happening is we get a bunch of fast forwarded versions of each characters origin story. Hollywood’s forgotten that mystery is one of the major elements of cinema, we don’t need to know every single little thing about every single character; especially not in an ensemble piece like this one. I mean, if we’re watching a solo Harley Quinn movie then fine, give me that full blown origin story. Otherwise it’s too much, too fast. As it is, you get these little snippets of everybody’s story squeezed into an already cluttered film. That’s problem number one.

 It’s The Joker and Harley Quinn that you want to see the most of. Sadly, the Joker isn’t on the film as much as you’d think he is. Don’t know what the general consensus on Jared Letos Joker is, but I do know that the decision to make him The Joker divided fans. Me? I was happy with the choice; I’ve always thought he was an underused actor. In my book he is one of the greats of his generation. His Joker is the first to feel like a real gangster, like a crime boss, a guy who’d dabble in selling drugs in a night club while screwing his hot psychiatrist, I mean, he wasn't so cartoony, he felt evil. Each representation of the Joker has been special for different reasons, but I like where Leto is going with it. He wasn’t so much a comic book character, he felt closer to the kind of gangster you’d find on the streets, only with make up on his face; loved whenever Joker and Harley were on screen. That scene of Joker rescuing Harley Quinn while shooting a machine gun from a helicopter while laughing maniacally? Yes please! More of that!

Where the DC cinematic universe is failing is in not giving equal importance to each character. Some are the stars of the show because they are played by the big stars, while characters like Killer Croc, Katana and Slipknot are treated like throwaways. That’s something that Marvel movies never do. Even the smallest, weirdest characters are given their moment to shine in a Marvel movie. While in DC, the weird characters are simply that, weird. Sometimes the way they are portrayed makes you wonder why they are even there. That boomerang throwing villain, why was he there? He does very little. Oh, he’s supposed to be the comic relief? He doesn’t do a good job of it either. Then there’s Slipknot a character introduced at the last minute, like that nameless character that comes along for the mission on an episode of Star Trek, the one you just know is going to bite the bullet. And so on. By comparison, in Marvel movies even Ant-Man gets epic!

On the positive side of things the film does have its moments which for me dealt with Harley Quinn and The Joker, and let’s face it. These two characters are the main draw of the film; it’s why the kiddies are going to see it. You think they care about a Boomerang throwing dude? Nope, their butts are in those seats to see Joker and Harley fall madly in love. The visuals that come out of that origin story are some of the best the film has to offer. I would have preferred seeing a Joker/Harley Quinn solo film instead of this film, but whatever; maybe Warner Bros. will wise up and release it for next Valentine’s Day or something. The squad goes up against powerful villains, almost too powerful for the Suicide Squad, but that’s what this film is all about, it’s less about super powers and more about the tricks these characters have up their sleeves. In the end, the film is told in a choppy manner. It’s messy story wise and doesn’t flow. Some scenes feel forced, so much so that you can practically detect where they squeezed in those re-shoots. Still, though troubled in certain areas, there’s fun to be had with Suicide Squad and thanks to Harley and The Joker, it’s a success at the box office, but I’m going to have to side with the general consensus on this one, DC needs to start making better movies instead of making mediocre ones.

Rating: 3 out of 5 

Friday, July 8, 2016

The BFG (2016)

The BFG (2016)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Rebecca Hall, Bill Hader

The BFG is Steven Spielberg’s first official box office flop, which is a rare thing because ever since he kicked off Summer Blockbusters back in 1975 with the creation of Jaws (1975), he’s been on the good side of box office success for most of his career. Even his bad ones make money, just look at the disastrous Indiana Jones sequel, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) or Spielberg’s failed attempt at a war comedy, 1941 (1979) both made their money back even though they stunk. So The BFG (2016) is a landmark movie for Spielberg, but only because its his biggest failure. Yet, did it deserve to fail? Is it a stinker? We’ve seen Spielberg half-ass a movie haven’t we? Just the other day I was watching The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) and realized how truly lame it actually is. Sure it’s got gee whiz special effects, double the dinosaurs (oh wow, two T-REX’s!) and lot’s of action, but at its core, the tepid script doesn’t even compare to Jurassic Park (1993) in terms of overall quality, there was no meat with those potatoes, dare I say no heart! But we forgive Spielberg because then he turns around and makes another great film and well, we forget all about his last bad one. But is The BFG one of his bad ones? Was Spielberg half-assing it with The BFG? Why did it tank so spectacularly at the box office?

The BFG is all about this little girl called Sophie who resides at an orphanage in London. She likes to stay up late at night reading, organizing the mail and doing all sorts of things while everybody is sound asleep. She’s a night owl. On one of these late nights, she sees a giant walking through the fog filled streets of her sleepy London town. Realizing he’s been seen, the giant snatches Sophie and takes her with him to the “Land of the Giants”. While at first Sophie is scared, she soon befriends the big friendly giant. Together they go on dream catching adventures. Sadly, there are other giants who are bullies and want to eat Sophies and all the little boys and girls in London. Sophie and The BFG must devise a way to stop their cannibal ways. Can Sophie and her Giant find a way to stop them?

The BFG is based on Roald Dahl’s book of the same name. Dahl was also the author behind such children’s classics as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Witches and Matilda, all of which have also been adapted to films. So just to make thinks clear here, this film is based on the book of a beloved author, directed by one of the greatest directors of all time and produced by Disney the most successful movie studio at the moment. So why did it flop? I was curious about this myself, the trailers made the film look magical, and truth be told it is. It’s a fairy tale that involves giants, the origin of dreams and true friendship. It felt like a mix between Peter Pan and  Jack and the Beanstalk. So, with all these good things going for it, why the failure? I guess the only true reason I can think of is that it’s not all that exciting. Sure not every movie has to be action packed. In my book, there’s also space for films that are quieter in nature, films that slow things down, that feel like someone is whispering a story under the covers of your bed in the middle of the night. The problem is that today’s audiences are so jaded, so used to superheroes smashing buildings in half, that when a film comes along about a gentle, friendly giant, an old man who weaves our dreams together, then it’s considered too slow. Then the films target audience tunes out. And it’s true, this is a slow paced film, but it’s my opinion that this is exactly what Spielberg was aiming for, a sleepy sort of fairy tale. So be ready for that kind of film.

What took me by surprise where the themes of the film. I had no idea that this movie was going to be all about belief, faith and God. Oh wait could the letters B.F.G. stand for the words belief, faith and God? Could I be stretching it? I don’t think so, the films themes are fairly obvious. This movie is quite similar to the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe books, they address issues of faith, they push the idea of believing in a magical, eternal being that’s watching over all of us, taking care of us, wishing goodness upon our lives. That this magical being is there even though we can’t see him, that all we have to do is “feel him” in our hearts. That all we have to do is take that magical leap of faith, blindly believing the notion and that if we do, then he will be there when we need him the most, when we are in pain, lonely or sad. Thankfully, Sophie is inquisitive. After all her name is Sophie, an allusion to philosophy which in itself means the search for knowledge which explains why Sophie likes to ask lots of questions to the giant, like how old he is. The giant tells her he’s an eternal, that he’s always existed, the biggest allusion to God in the entire film, which is why there’s no doubt in my  mind the giant in The BFG represents ‘God’.

I’ve always found the idea of God a fascinating one. Every society, every culture has their idea of God and to me that’s fascinating on its own. How no matter what country we are from or what society we grow up in, we all end up thinking that there’s something bigger than us, something more powerful. The idea that there’s an eternal, magical being watching over all of us is a comforting one and I understand why a lot of people choose to believe in it. I personally can’t blindly believe in something I’ve never seen. I can be open to the idea of it, or the possibility, but I can’t say ‘God’ exists because there’s no way of proving it. Which is why it rubs me the wrong way when this type of idea is reinforced, especially in children’s films, as if they’re trying to incept these notions early in childhood.  At one point Sophie jumps of a balcony because she “feels” the giant and “knows” he will be there to rescue her. Of course the giant appears and saves her, but in real life, it would be another story. No magical giant is going to come out of nowhere and save you, in real life you have to save yourself. In real life you jump of a balcony, you’ll end up as a big grease spot on the pavement. The point the movie is trying to make is you have to take that leap of faith and believe in God. You have to believe he’ll be there to save you.  “I do believe in fairies, I do, I do” comes to mind for some reason, yet fairies are a fantasy, same as this movie. The reason I dissect these themes is not because I’m nitpicking, it’s because movies are about us. Same as books or songs, they always have something to say about human nature.

But anyway, theological themes aside, I still managed to enjoy the film because it can be interpreted in other ways as well. Maybe that magical being watching over Sophie represents an adult, your father, your mother, or whoever chooses to take care you and guide you through life. I chose to see the film this way. Sophie is an orphan, and The BFG chooses to bring some goodness into her life, he felt her loneliness and her need and chose to be a friend to her, the father that she never had, a step father of sorts and though step fathers and mothers are often times vilified in films and books, a lot of times they can be more of a father and a mother then the biological one. So that’s another way to see the film. Ultimately, I think this movie was actually rather sweet. Basically, an old man and a little girl find a way to connect, to become friends in spite of generational barriers. They learn to appreciate each other past  generational gaps. The old have a lot to learn from the old, and vice versa, so that’s another level on which the film works.

Technically speaking, the film is amazing, the special effects flawless. The giants look truly gigantic. Spielberg here once again demonstrates his uncanny ability to work with children. Ruby Barnhill does an amazing job here playing Sophie, she comes off as an intelligent child, who likes to read and use her head to come up with solutions for any given situation. The problem with the film is that though Spielberg works great with children and has made some wonderful children’s movies like Hook (1991) and E.T. The Extraterrestrial (1982), I think The BFG is a tough pill for kids to swallow in terms of pacing; many children will undoubtedly find it “boring”. I was watching it in a theater filled with about 10 people and this woman kept telling her boyfriend she wanted to leave because she couldn’t understand what was happening on screen. That she was bored and this was a grown woman! She was pleading to her boyfriend to leave the theater! They did about half way through. I guess your enjoyment of this film will depend on your attention span. If it has a short fuse, you’ll probably walk. If on the other hand you have patience and can take a shorter paced film, you’ll probably stay and enjoy it. 

Rating: 4 out of  5

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Gods of Egypt (2016)

Gods of Egypt (2016)

Director: Alex Proyas

Cast: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Courtney Eaton, Brenton Thwaites, Elodie Young, Gerard Butler, Rufus Sewell, Geoffrey Rush

Every once in a while a movie tanks at the box office, when it shouldn’t have. I mean surely, most of the films that get the shaft by audiences usually deserve it, but in the case of Alex Proyas big budget fantasy extravaganza Gods of Egypt, it didn’t. I kick myself in the ass for listening to that first batch of negative reviews that accused the film among many things of “white washing” the cast, which means that a group of people got angry because characters that were Egyptian (and therefore should look Egyptian) where being played by white actors. I don’t really care about that sort of thing; I’m just enjoying a movie here. Weren’t we past the whole skin color thing? Guess not. Anyways, reviewers decided to spew their hatred at this one and well, no one went to see it. This is the kind of film that was badmouthed even before it was released. And so, it only made back 31 million dollars on a 140 million dollar budget, which means it was a gargantuan flop. It’s sad because a box office flop of this magnitude cold  spell the end of Alex Proyas career, which means no more big budget films for him. The worst part is that this movie, in my opinion, is an excellent action adventure fantasy extravaganza that deserved to be embraced by audiences.

The story is multi faceted, on the one hand it’s about Horus, the God of Wind, trying to recover his god hood and his kingdom. On the other hand, it’s a story about a young man named Bek, trying to recover the love of his life from the icy grips of death. You see Set, the God of Chaos has taken over the land and rules it with an iron fist. Since this is a full on fantasy film, Set can do things like changing the rules of what happens after you die. Where in the past all you had to do was be a good citizen and work to go to heaven, now in order to earn your way into the afterlife you have to pay! If you don’t have something of value you are sent to hell, but if you got the goods you go to heaven with the Gods. This of course spells certain doom for poor people who have nothing to give to the Gods. Will order be set again? Can Horus learn to fight for the rights of the people? Will the Gods learn to care about humans? Or will they remain self centered and egotistical?

This film was awesome for many reasons, number one, it has a good story. It grabs you from the get go because it pits the despotic ruler vs. the unpredictable rebel trying to fight for his rightful place in the world. Unfortunately, Set the despotic ruler cares nothing for “the little people”; he only cares about power and riches. So it’s that classic class struggle story, the powerful vs. the working class. They had this awesome visual idea for this movie where ‘The Gods’ look slightly bigger than the humans, so it’s like they aren’t gigantic, but they are a few inches bigger than the regular humans, which made for a cool visual. I’m sure it must’ve been hell to film though, this visual effect makes practically every scene in the movie a special effect! And speaking of effects, they are top notch on this show! It's a visual feast, more so for lovers of fantasy and escapism.

Gods of Egypt is one of those movies in which most of the surroundings are computer generated. In this sense Gods of Egypt is like the Star Wars movies, which is normally something that I frown upon. I’ve always resisted “all CGI” movies, where only the actors are real. Sadly, this is the face of the new Fantasy/Science Fiction film. They’ve evolved into this; we might as well accept it. Stop motion, matte paintings and the use of miniatures have all been replaced by computer generated images, which is fine. It’s just another form of art, thought if I had to choose, I’d choose practical old school effects. Call me old fashion but they had more artistry to them if you ask me. I have to admit that this “all CGI” element of this film was the main reason why I didn’t go see it in theaters. Yet I have to admit that like all types of special effects, when done right, they can (and should) blow you away.  I have to say that on Gods of Egypt the effects worked extremely well. There’s this show stopping scene with these two giant monster Cobra snakes attacking Horus that was just awesome.  Actually, what Gods of Egypt feels the most like is those old Ray Harryhausen Sinbad movies, with all the monsters and creatures.

Alex Proyas brought Egypt to life in grand fashion. Gods of Egypt feels like one of those big budget bible movies like Ben Hur (1925) or The Ten Commandments (1956), you know, films with thousands of extras and huge sets, only this time the sets and the extras are mostly digital. Alex Proyas is famous for directing dark moody films like The Crow (1994) and Dark City (1998), so Gods of Egypt is a change of pace for Proyas. This is a huge fantasy, action adventure, which in my opinon Proyas directed with gusto, with an affection for this type of film. If only it hadn’t tanked so spectacularly at the box office…it’s one of those films that didn’t deserve to fail at all, I’m sure it will connect with audiences down the road. I place it among the cream of the crop of new fantasy films like Immortals (2011), 300 (2006), 300: Rise of an Empire (2014) or Brett Ratner’s extremely underrated Hercules (2014).  One of the things that Gods of Egypt is being accused of is of being “dumb”, and while I won’t be the first to admit it’s not Shakespeare, I have to say that it does play with its fair share of important themes. I mean, here’s a movie in which the Gods learn to care for the people, they learn the value of humans, of the ones they consider less than them. Here’s a movie where Gods die and tyranny rules the land as the people suffer. Here’s a film where true love conquers even the cold arms of death itself. All these themes, embellished by awesome effects, a quick pace and likable characters, I ask: what’s not like? I say give this one a chance, you probably overlooked it, same as I did.

Rating: 4 out of 5 

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Conjuring 2 (2016)

The Conjuring 2 (2016)

Director: James Wan

Cast: Patrick Wilson, Vera Fermiga, Madison Wolfe, Frances O'Connor, Franka Potente, Simon McBurney

The Conjuring (2013) was one of 2013’s best horror movies, it harkened back to those serious horror movies of the 70’s that made audiences gasp and scream in the theater, then go to church the next day. It was the kind of movie that took advantage of people’s fears of the supernatural, of demons, of Christian mythology. Which means that if you’re a church goer, you’d find movies like The Conjuring extra scary because suddenly demons, possessions and supernatural shenanigans become that much more real. The Conjuring was the kind of horror film that got people talking, it had that “buzz” around it, which always translates to big bucks at the box office. And of course, one successful film is always followed by a sequel that will usually stick to Hollywood’s rules of giving us more of the same, only bigger and louder and with double the budget, which is exactly what they did for The Conjuring 2. Did it manage to be entertaining anyways? Does it avoid the trappings of ‘sequelitis’ a term us movie buffs use to refer to sequels that tend to go down in quality as a franchise moves along? Did The Conjuring 2 suffer from this ailment?

The Conjuring franchise is based on the supernatural adventures of The Warren’s, a couple that specializes in helping others deal with their supernatural problems, in other words, if you ever have any trouble with ghosts, demons or poltergeists haunting your home, you don’t call the Ghostbusters, you call The Warrens. In case you’re not up to date with who The Warrens are, well, let me enlighten you.  Ed and Lorraine Warren are real life paranormal researchers. They’ve been helping families deal with their supernatural troubles since the seventies. Their popularity grew when they visited the real Amityville home, there are pictures of this! Look them up, on your search, you’ll probably stumble upon pictures of the Raggedy Ann doll that had the habit of moving by itself and scaring the living shit out of some family. Said doll ended up being the basis for a film produced by James Wan called Annabelle (2014). Of course, many of these stories are total bullcrap and don’t have an ounce of truth to them. In fact some of them having been proven to be hoaxes. But whether these stories are real or not doesn’t matter because it gives the filmmaker an excuse to put the “based on a true story” slogan on the poster and boom, audiences are crapping their pants even before the movie has started.

For the Conjuring 2 James Wan decided to focus his story on one of the many cases that The Warren’s got involved with, the one commonly referred to as ‘The Enfield Poltergeist’. Do a little search on this case and you'll find pictures of these cases, the families, their homes, their frightened faces, of course, these pictures will only make the film all the spookier, because these people existed and supposedly experienced something like what we are watching on the film, albeit a bit exaggerated for dramatical purposes. You can even hear the voice of Janet, the little girl who was supposedly possessed by the ghost of an old man. In the recorded interview, this little girl talks in a scruffy voice which will have you believing in demons and possessions in no time flat. The premise for the film is that an angry ghost is terrorizing a family in England and The Warren’s are called in by the Catholic Church to be their unofficial eyes and ears on this thing, to make sure that it’s not a hoax. Of course it turns out to be super real and they end up fighting the specters. Question is,  will they survive the ordeal?

What I’ve always liked about James Wan is that he is a master at orchestrating a good scare. He might not be all that original in terms of the stories he chooses to tell, because most of the time you can tell exactly which films he is feeding from, but when it comes to scaring your pants off, he knows how to do it beautifully! If you've seen other James Wan films, like say the Insidious films, then you'll feel a familiarity here, he uses some of the same scares, but some of the scares are pretty original and well orchestrated, so expect a little bit of the old (like toys moving on their own) and a little bit of the new. And speaking of how Wan feeds off other horror films, The Conjuring 2 feels like a mix between The Exorcist (1973), The Amityville Horror (1979) and Poltergeist (1982), but that’s probably because all of these films are feeding off the same source materials, three  of the most famous “supernatural” stories out there. The possession of Anneliese Michel, which served as the basis for The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) and The Exorcist (1973), ‘The Enfield Poltergeist’ which is the case that inspired Poltergeist (1982) and the most famous case of them all, The Amityville Horror case which spawned a whole series of films on its own. What James Wan has done is, he joined all these cases in one huge hodge podge of a supernatural film. Hell, we even get demonic nuns on this one! So when people say that Wan has thrown everything but the kitchen sink in there, they aren’t kidding.

James Wan started his directorial career as a horror director with SAW (2004) and Dead Silence (2007). He even kicked off a successful horror franchise by directing Insidious (2010) and Insidious:Chapter 2 (2013). The Conjuring (2013) was his most successful horror film to date scaring in more than 137 million at the box office on a 20 million dollar budget. When your horror film makes more than six times its budget back, Hollywood tends to give you free reins on what you want to do, they also tend to throw big budget projects at you which is why Wan ended directing Furious 7 (2015). Wan even hinted at quitting horror for good, but I never bought it. It’s interesting he chose to go back to his horror roots with The Conjuring 2 (2016). It means he’s a real horror nut at heart, without realizing it; he’s becoming a true blue horror director, could he turn out to be one of the greats of his generation? Time will tell if he sticks with the genre. His next film is Aquaman for Warner Bros, yet another big budget film that’s sure to be successful, so it looks like we’ll be seeing Wan directed films for a while. But will he return to horror? All I can say is he’s demonstrated great ability at telling horror stories, He’s shown great command over choosing the right angles, the appropriate lighting, the camera movement, the control of atmosphere…he knows how important these elements are, how important it is for it to be raining, for those skies to look gray, for that wind to be blowing and those leaves to be rustling through the grass. He understands the importance of sound and music in a horror films, he knows how these elements work best and he uses them to tell his stories in the spookiest way possible. Here’s hoping he doesn’t give up on the genre!

Rating: 4 out of 5

Patrick Wilson and James Wan

Friday, June 17, 2016

Batman (1989)

Batman (1989)

Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Jack Palance, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough

Well, as I write this review, I’m right in the middle of Summer 2016 and I’ve decided to focus my attention as a movie buff on mind blowing Summer Blockbusters. You know, big budget, loud movies released in Summer time. Inevitably, my mind went to Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), one of the biggest Summer Blockbusters ever; period. Now every time I think about Tim Burton’s two Bat films, Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992) I go into this mental struggle as to which one is the better of the two. I ultimately end up using the argument that parents use to refer to their children “I love them both for different reasons”. A lot of kids growing up nowadays don’t realize the kind of phenomenon that the release of Burton’s Batman (1989) meant to the world. I mean this movie quite literally took over the world! “Bat fever” took over the nation, the bat insignia was on everything from t-shirts to sneakers and Prince’s monster hit “Batdance” played nonstop over the airwaves! There was video games, comic books, costumes, anything and everything based on the movie. I mean, I remember people getting hair cuts that resembled the bat insignia! It was crazy, but of course, it all came as a result of Tim Burton’s fantastic movie, which I must say still retains that sense of spectacle even by today’s standards.

The story revolves around Jack Napier, a gangster who is transformed into a freak when Batman throws him into a vat of toxic chemicals. The chemicals turn Napier’s skin white and leave a permanent smile on his face. From then on, he calls himself “The Joker”, to him life is now one big bad joke. He wants to take over Gotham by making a mockery of them first; he wants to kill Gothamites with a chemical that kills them from a laughing fit and leaves their corpses with a big fat grin on their face. What thrusts this films villain is his hatred of society, to him society is a joke meant to be laughed at and squashed like a cockroach. He uses society’s greed against them, criticizing a society that revolves around the love for money. To him their lives are “failed and useless” and they have to be relived of them. Moving the story forward is the classic good guy mirrors the bad guy motif, one created the other and vice versa. It’s the classic “freak vs. freak” storyline culminating on top of a gothic church, with a duke out between the two freaks. In the balance is the life of Vicky Vale, Bruce Wayne’s love interest and the life of all Gothamites.

At the center of this film’s success is director Tim Burton. Having directed two back to back box office winners: Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985) and Beetlejuice (1986) he was chosen to direct the new Batman film; which had been under development at Warner. Two comedies like Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and Bettlejuice don’t exactly scream “dark gothic comic book film!”, but we need to remember that Burton was gothic and dark from the very beginning when he was making short films like Vincent (1982) and Frankenweenie (1984). So in many ways, he was the perfect choice for taking on the rigors of directing a film that takes place in the ultra gothic Gotham City. Actually, Burton embraced that Gothic element of the comic books better than any director before or after him. Nobody has gone as gothic as he did, which is what sets his bat films apart from all others. Yet, on hindsight, and considering what the producers wanted to achieve with this movie, I think they chose him precisely because of the comedy. You see, the producers of this here film wanted to make a Bat film that was closer in tone to the television show, so I’m thinking that when they hired Burton, they thought they’d get this guy who’d make a campy film, a la the television show. What they got instead was the soon to be master of goth.

Having Burton as a director actually saved the film from campiness hell because producers were always pushing for the campy sense of humor from the television show because they thought that’s what people remembered about Batman, they thought that this is what people would want and would expect from a Batman movie. Yet for his take on Batman, Burton went for the darkness seen in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, a graphic novel that has gone on to influence almost every single Batman film to date. Hell, we even see images from Miller’s seminal graphic novel in Zack Snyder’s Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)! With his graphic novel, Miller stepped away from the campy vibe of the show and what DC had done with the character up to then to present us with a dark, aged, pissed off Batman. Burton latched on to that rather than the campiness and audiences loved it. Gotham City streets looked shadowy and dangerous, not colorful.

But producers didn’t give up on the campy television show vibe. The finally found a director who gave them exactly what they wanted with Joel Schumacher, who made the franchise killing Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997). The death of that first run of Bat films proved that Burton had made the right choice in stepping way from the campiness. Without Burton’s creative force behind the films, they became exactly what the producers wanted: silly children’s films. We have to remember producers are more interested in marketing capabilities of a film, the deals, the toys, the cartoon shows, the action figures, which is probably why a lot of companies where upset at Burton’s film, they felt it was too adult to create merchandising for kids; though most companies later gave in due to the films gargantuan success.

After the films success, it was Bat everything! And it’s true, when we look at Burton’s Bat films, there’s something very adult about these movies, the themes, the dialog. In Batman, Bruce Wayne and Vicky Vale have sex, Jack Napier was screwing Grissom’s girl, there’s tons of double entendre, more so on Batman Returns (1992) .Yes my friends, this Batman film was a strange bird, though it seemed tailor made for kids, Burton gave it an adult twist. Sure Batman has its origins in comic books, which for the longest time were associated as something strictly for children, but to everyone’s surprise Burton’s film was dark, “adult” and sexual. What makes it a strange bird is that it didn’t lose that fun comic book vibe either. We still had the bat mobile, the bat jet and the utility belts! Usually films that defy their target audience end up as huge failures (The Monster Squad for example), but Batman walked that fine line and came out winning in the end.

The film has a violent edge to it, its heroes and villains were not squeaky clean, in fact, they were on the edge of insanity! For example, The Joker electrocutes someone to the point where he becomes a charred skeleton. Characters aren’t afraid to kill and be insane, I mean, villains like Nicholson’s The Joker are rarely seen in films these days, today studios prefer to be extremely politically correct, which is just a bore when it comes to a big bad villain. Back in the 80’s villains were over the top, sometimes taking over a film as was the case with Batman. It’s Nicholson who steals the show, who gives the stand out performance. Nicholson said on many occasions that this was his favorite character, and one can clearly see he is having a blast playing the clown prince of crime. It’s so refreshing to go back and see these films, villains feel more intense, more evil. Even Batman was a little more intense than expected, he actually tells The Joker that he wants to kill him; something that goes against what Batman is all about in the comics. Batman doesn’t kill villains, he brings them to justice, he sends them to Arkham Asylum. He doesn't end up killing The Joker, but you could hear it in his voice that that was his intended to do and he would've done it, had the Joker not done it himself.

Actually, many comic book fans were enraged with this film, starting with the choice to cast Michael Keaton as Batman. I have to admit, like most, at first I agreed. How the hell was Beetlejuice going to play Batman? The two didn’t go together in my mind. But then I saw the film and boom, Keaton is Batman, there was no doubt about it. Now, most people agree that Keaton’s take is the best. I screened both of these films (I screen movies at a local dive bar) and to my surprise, a lot of people came to see both of them. At a certain point in the night one guy said “that’s the real Batman!” We can’t forget Danny Elfman’s amazing music, which is just harrowing. It honestly is a huge part of this films success. We can’t leave out the art direction which is so gothic, so grimy! By the way, the art direction won the film an academy award! Who would’ve thought it right? A comic book movie winning an Oscar!

Since then, comic book films have come a long way. Today we get a comic book film every few months, but back then? A good comic book film was a rare thing! And we have two great films to thank for this, Richard Donner’s Superman (1978) and Tim Burton’s Batman (1989). Both of these films were two giant steps for comic book films! They showed that comic book movies, when done right, had huge money making potential. People embraced them. Between these two important comic book films, it was Batman (1989) that elevated things to another level, it was simply put an incredibly lucrative hit, the biggest comic book movie of its time, an incredible success all across the world. The phenomenon took a life of its own, but we need to remember that the phenomenon came as a result of an amazing movie, which remains, in the eyes of this comic book fan, a timeless film worth revisiting  time and time again.  

Rating:  5 out of 5

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Behind the Scenes Awesomeness! Total Recall (1990)

Total Recall (1990) director Paul Verhoeven and Arnold Schwarzenegger show their appreciation to each other.

Make Up Effects genius Rob Bottin working his magic.


Related Posts with Thumbnails