Archive for the ‘Cats’ Category

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

For the sake of argument, let’s say I’m in love with this girl, and I’m hoping, somewhere in the back of my mind, that we’re maybe going to get married one day. That too, for the sake of argument, judging from the public bickering of many married couples.

But this girl is special, the kind you marry — she’s smart, funny, pretty, one-in-a-million. So, on this speculative day in the distant future, I’m standing up there at the altar, and everybody who we love in the world is there — my parents, her parents, all my best friends, hers, and the sun is shining and the angels are singing…

…And she walks in wearing a live armadillo on her head.

Like a full-on, Lady-Gaga-would-be-envious costume choice. An armadillo.  The armadillo is on top of my beloved’s beautiful head. And the armadillo is wearing a little bridal veil. And my girl, she’s loving it. And everybody else in the room is busy telling her she’s never looked more beautiful.

Now, I happen to believe she’s looked plenty better.

But what can I say? I love her. I love all of these people. They’re all so happy. Who am I to tell them they’re wrong? Maybe the meaning of true love is letting your favorite girl parade around with an armored mammal on her dome. I wouldn’t know. I’m the surly jackass who always ruins it by opening his big mouth.

This imaginary exercise is a deranged illustration of my main point: There are plenty of people who loved THE DARK KNIGHT RISES — smart people, good people, people of taste. I cannot, nor would I ever, tell anyone that they shouldn’t enjoy a movie they love. Hell, I wanted to love it too. Could you understand that, please, before you start telling me how wrong I am? I didn’t walk into that theater as a skeptic. I walked in as a lifelong Batman fan, and as a fan of Christopher Nolan (read my rave reflections on INCEPTION!) and his work on BATMAN BEGINS and in (most of) THE DARK KNIGHT.

But I found the third to be the least of the three.  It is my personal opinion that these movies have grown progressively less thematically coherent and structurally satisfying while their running time has grown more oppressive and their tone more dour. I have many reasons for my overall disappointment in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, and I am about to list them all. Some of them are arguably a matter of personal preference, while others come from a perspective formed by my own experiences in filmmaking and storytelling. You certainly don’t have to agree with me. This is my take. Feel free to let me know where you think I’m right or wrong. I’m always willing to talk at length about Batman.

(Which is maybe one reason why that whole marriage-to-the-perfect-woman scenario described above has thus far remained hypothetical.)

NOTE: Spoilers abound. I’m assuming we’ve all seen these movies by now.

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The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The biggest problem, by far, about THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, is that we were promised a much more exciting movie than we got. At the end of THE DARK KNIGHT, Batman is an outcast, an outlaw, a fugitive. “Why’s he running, dad?” “Because we have to chase him.” Remember? “We’ll hunt him. Because he can take it.” Remember that whole thing? That dramatic shot of Batman taking flight, as Jim Gordon goes on about him being the “silent protector” — I’m bringing this up because some people seem to have forgotten about it, for example the guys who made the movie. THE DARK KNIGHT promises us a truly compelling scenario where Batman’s best ally, Jim Gordon, is forced to bring his entire police force to bear on tracking down the masked vigilante who supposedly murdered Harvey Dent, the city’s valiant district attorney.  It could have been THE FUGITIVE, but with Batman as Harrison Ford and Commissioner Gordon as Tommy Lee Jones. That sounds like a cool fucking movie. Why didn’t they make that movie? They had three hours and the gross national product of Mexico.

Instead, when THE DARK KNIGHT RISES opens up, eight whole years have passed and Batman has vanished. Bruce Wayne is a recluse. We don’t get to see a single second of the exciting chases and harrowing Batman-related escapes which may have happened towards the beginning of that timespan. He’s in a robe, with a cane. And a Caine. He’s quit being Batman. He’s quit on us. And not for the last time.

Let’s go at this mess character-by-character, starting with the titular case.

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The Problem With BATMAN:

Bruce & Alfred

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is so long it has time for Bruce Wayne to quit being Batman twice!

Okay.

Now.

I think I understand what this series of films is trying to do: To show the evolution of Gotham City away from very much needing a Batman, towards no longer needing him. To use Batman as a symbol, an idea, one that is greater than Bruce Wayne alone. I get that. However, this choice opens up two sizable storytelling problems:

1)  Dramatically speaking, the main protagonist drops out of the film for sizable amounts of running time. (It’s a Batman movie where Batman becomes a supporting character — or did you really buy a ticket hoping to see your favorite superhero hanging out in a hole in the desert for an hour?)

2) More egregiously, it goes against the one thing that makes Batman who he is, the one thing that sets Batman apart from all other superheroes: He doesn’t quit. Spider-Man might, temporarily. That’s his thing. Spider-Man wavers. Batman won’t, ever. Now Superman doesn’t quit, but he takes regular breaks. So does Captain America. So does Iron Man. So does Wonder Woman. Superman has a secret identity so he can have a personal life. That’s not Batman. Batman has a personal life exclusively to finance, enable, and justify his nocturnal activities. Batman never quits, never stops. His determination, his inexhaustible obsession, his monomania, his madness, these are his key defining characteristics.

Yes, that is evident in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, in the way he heals his own broken back to climb out of an inescapable prison, but that doesn’t to me excuse the fact that the movie opened with Bruce Wayne in retirement and it ends with him happily hanging out in a cafe with [someone we will get to in a moment]. Batman isn’t about happy endings and requited romance. If you want that, you can have any other superhero. He’s the Dark Knight. If a story doesn’t end with Bruce Wayne as Batman, it’s kind of defeating the essence of what makes the character interesting.

Even if I were to look at THE DARK KNIGHT RISES as an alternate-universe Elseworlds story, it still wouldn’t be my favorite one. Chris Nolan is a phenomenal filmmaker with phenomenal crews, and his Batman films are brilliantly orchestrated on a technical level, but that ending felt so goddamn false to me.  Ultimately, there are truer endings found in Tim Burton’s two BATMAN movies, where Bruce Wayne may have temporarily found romance (to satisfy the Hollywood beast) but still stands perched atop Gotham in costume in the final frame, and even Joel Schumacher’s BATMAN FOREVER, for fuck’s sake, which makes all kinds of mistakes, still has Batman and Robin running at the camera in the final shot. String me up and set me on fire for saying so, but these are the more satisfying Batman stories to me. They end truer to the character.

Quitter.

Quitter.

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The Problem With ALFRED:

WAAAAAAAAA!

WAAAAAAAAA!

He cries a fucking lot in this movie.  One might argue that all he gets to do in this movie is to cry.  At least in BATMAN BEGINS he got to whack a guy with some lumber or something.  Here he just lurches around Wayne Manor all weepy, and it isn’t any fun at all.  This objection may be a matter of personal opinion, but personally I did not sign up for a Batman movie filled with crying.  Maybe it’s a generational thing. Maybe it doesn’t bother younger men than me.  Of course I don’t think crying is wrong, but I do think there shouldn’t be crying in a movie about people in superhero costumes.  I think that’s one of the few places it is justifiable to expect a surplus of stereotypical machismo.

2012 was a rough one for rugged manliness of the sort I grew up on. Ernest Borgnine died, Clint flipped out, and they put out a Batman movie with a fucking lot of crying in it. If I am watching a tear coming out of Michael Caine’s eye, it had better be because he just watched a porno with his niece in it. And if you don’t get that reference, it means you haven’t seen Michael Caine in GET CARTER, which is precisely the problem.

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The Problem With SELINA KYLE A.K.A. CATWOMAN:

When I heard that the third Nolan Batman movie would have Catwoman in it, what I wanted was this:

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

But what I got was this:

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

Can we look at it without the funny ears?  It’s a little easier to take that way.

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

…Better. But not too much.

Anne Hathaway is a talented kid. (Kid? She’s around my age. Why do I write like an 80-year-old?) She was excellent in RACHEL GETTING MARRIED, still her best role to date. But she reads onscreen, to my eyes anyway, like a young adult, at best. She doesn’t play as a full-grown woman. In the costume pictured above, she looks to me the way she looks in almost every other role I’ve seen her in: Like the most enthusiastic member of the high school drama club.  The role of Catwoman, as historically portrayed and as written here specifically, demands a grown woman, who has lived a life she both regrets and takes perverse pride in. She’s got something to prove, and interests to protect. She uses sex as a weapon and is far more dangerous than she looks. I saw that in Michelle Pfeiffer, for sure. I could have seen that in Halle Berry, if that CATWOMAN movie weren’t so bad. I don’t see any of that in Anne Hathaway. In Anne Hathway, I see an actress giving her all, which I appreciate, but all I see is an actress giving her all — not the character of Selina Kyle.

Even if you don’t agree that Anne Hathaway as Catwoman is horrendous miscasting, you will have a hard time explaining to me why Selina Kyle needs to be in this particular movie at all. Nerds of the world, you cannot rail on SPIDER-MAN 3, which had three popular villain characters crammed into an already-crowded narrative, and then give this movie a pass. If Nolan’s Batman films are about the evolution of Gotham City and Batman as a symbol, then where does this character fit in thematically? Why, if Bruce Wayne is in seclusion because Batman is no longer needed, does a lady jewel thief suddenly appear? And why does she have a hat with funny ears on it?

All of that aside, turning her into a love interest for Bruce Wayne, as this movie does, was clumsy and silly. I liked where the movie seemed to be headed, that Batman and Catwoman were alternately adversaries and allies and you never knew where she stood, both morally and even sexually (that one scene where she’s embracing her female sidekick had more interesting intimations which of course weren’t pursued.)

But no, instead, proving that infernal Billy Crystal right, they couldn’t just be friends. Against all common sense, they end up together, despite the fact that it seemed to only happen because the movie wanted to end with Bruce Wayne together with a lady, just because the other one [to be discussed momentarily] was no longer available. Think of it this way, guys (and girls) — if someone sold you out to a giant masked monster-man who broke your goddamn back, would you keep on looking for the good in them? Or would you maybe, particularly since you’re the world’s greatest detective, succumb to common sense and move on? Don’t answer that, Rihanna.

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The Problem With JIM GORDON:

James GordonWhile

Gary Oldman’s quiet-storm performance is probably the single most consistently great thing about this trilogy, I hate hate HATE HATE what they do with his character in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES.  First they shoot him and stick him in a bed for half a movie.  Then they have Joseph Gordon-Levitt show up to judge him a bunch.  Put him in the hospital and then have an entirely new character show up to complain about the stuff he did in the last movie.  That sounds like fun!  It’s not the most cinematic choice.  It’s not all that exciting.  This is one of those areas where Nolan goes too much into the idea zone and not nearly enough into the popcorn side of it.  Does anyone really care about the alleged conspiracy wherein Batman and Jim Gordon colluded to lead the city into believing that Harvey Dent died a hero? That they hid the ugly truth, which is that Dent went insane and became the murderous Two-Face?  Who cares?  Who cares?  Who cares?  You who love this movie — do YOU care?  Really?  Don’t lie to me now.

At least Gordon gets a new police sidekick in this movie.  Foley!

FOLEY!

FOLEY!

As awesome as it would be to see Detective Axel Foley swagger into a Batman movie, this Foley is played by Matthew Modine.  It’s always nice to see Matthew Modine, although if this movie is really long enough to have space for actors from PRIVATE SCHOOL, I really wish they would have made room for Betsy Russell.  (As Poison Ivy?)  You may think I’m being too silly and maybe I am.  You know what else is silly?  A Batman movie that is so long it has time for a complete story arc for a secondary tertiary quaternary quintinary character.

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The Problem With BANE & “MIRANDA TATE”:

Bane Miranda Tate

Not gonna draw this one out: In THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, we spend an entire movie being introduced to, and watching everyone intimidated by, Batman’s most powerful adversary yet, the monstrous yet silly-voiced Bane (Tom Hardy). In the last few minutes of the movie, we find out that big bad Bane is not much besides a lovesick stooge, subservient to the woman who spent the rest of the movie until now being Bruce Wayne’s love interest, Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard).  Not only has the movie’s main villain been neutered, but he’s been replaced with a character we liked until this moment.

That’s some M. Night Shyamalan shit right there.

An audience should not spend the last few moments of an epic trilogy re-adjusting to a new major villain.  That is not dramatically satisfying.  I appreciate the attempts to link the enemy from the first movie (Liam Neeson as Ra’s Al Ghul) with the final movie, but — to me — it ultimately feels crowbarred in there.  It’s almost exactly like how Jeremy Irons’ character in DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE turns out to be Hans Gruber’s brother — neat trick in a Storytelling 101 kind of way, but not particularly emotionally involving (a fact which DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE deals with in a much craftier way).  I don’t care — in this movie — about Talia’s quest to avenge her father anymore than I care about the Harvey Dent conspiracy.

Which is too bad, because I automatically prefer Marion Cotillard, both as a love interest for Bruce Wayne in this movie, and as an actress in general, to Anne Hathaway.  Cotillard was arguably the best thing about PUBLIC ENEMIES and Nolan’s own INCEPTION, two movies I liked a lot better than this one and not coincidentally because they gave her more to do.  THE DARK KNIGHT RISES doesn’t need Catwoman.  It doesn’t.  What should have happened was that Nolan and his writers should have axed Catwoman entirely, and spent all that now-available screentime bolstering the Talia character.  Give us more time to know her and care about her, then her betrayal stings more.  Or better yet, make her the villain much sooner in the movie.  Even put in her in some kind of a Catwoman suit, if that makes the geeks happy.  There are ways to make that work.  (Bats are flying mice, so only a cat can stomp them out — or whatever. I’m spitballing but my spit is better than their shit.)  Instead, you have not one but TWO disappointing and underwritten female leads.

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The Problem With JOHN “ROBIN” BLAKE:

Robin Quivers.

Robin Quivers.

It’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt!  He’s terrific, of course.  What’s wrong with this movie is not his problem. Then again, if that was supposed to be a New York accent, he’s not entirely blameless either.

My main issue with this character is that his presence turns THE DARK KNIGHT RISES into an origin story for a movie that we will never see.  That didn’t work for me in Ridley Scott’s misbegotten ROBIN HOOD, and it doesn’t work for me here.  As much as I like Joseph Gordon-Levitt (good God, can you imagine how annoying it’d be with any other young actor in the role?), I still resent the fact that he’s taking away what should be Christian Bale’s movie.  It should be Batman’s movie.  It should be Bruce Wayne’s movie.  And Jim Gordon’s movie, but I already mentioned how intolerably Blake shits on Gordon.  This is already the longest post I have ever written, so I don’t need to repeat myself.  There is no way I can be satisfied with a Batman movie that ends with Batman quitting, so don’t on top of it ask me to get excited about some sassy kid taking over for him.  Especially if that inherit-the–mantle follow-up movie is — by definition — not ever coming.

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The Problem With DR. CRANE aka THE SCARECROW:

Scarecrow

Cillian Murphy is a terrific actor, and it’s cute that they keep giving him cameos.  But this is supposed to be the realistic take on Batman, isn’t it?  So isn’t it just a little silly that the Bane army of terrorists allow an escaped lunatic to preside over a court where he gets to sentence rich people to death by walking on thin ice?  I’ll answer that: It is silly.  It’s one of the silliest sentences I’ve typed in a long time, and I type a lot of silly sentences.  I venture to say that this is a scene that would better fit one of the Joel Schumacher movies, and with that, the point is made.

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The Problem With THIS DOCTOR:

Tom Lennon

He’s played by writer/comedian Tom Lennon.  It’s just a quick little cameo, you argue.  What can it hurt?  Well, no offense but this dude is not exactly a good-luck totem for movies.  Enjoy his IMDb page!

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Look, I understand why so many people love these movies.  Batman is the coolest character in all of popular culture.  Nolan’s movies treat Batman with the seriousness he deserves.  But it’s not the seriousness he needs right now.  After BATMAN & ROBIN left such an epic stink in all six of everyone’s senses, Christopher Nolan restored Batman’s dignity with a solid injection of seriousness.  It was a valiant achievement.  But in the short time between BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, we have been bombarded with superhero movies, most of which swiped Nolan’s approach.  So now we’re awash in superhero movies that take themselves way too seriously.  And since it obviously couldn’t counter them, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES instead annointed itself as the most super-serious one of them all.  And for a movie as riddled with conceptual mis-steps as I have argued that this one is, that is deadly.  There is nothing more pretentious and intolerable than a B-minus student who carries himself like a valedictorian.

So those are all of my qualms.  You don’t agree? Fire away!  That’s what comments are for.

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But.

I don’t want to tear something down without being willing to build it back up. After all: Why do we fall?

So let’s do another speculative exercise. This one is a bit more realistic than me getting married. This one has me as an insanely-wealthy, cigar-chomping (because why smoke a cigar when you can chomp one?), tuxedo-wearing big-shot Hollywood producer.

Here’s how it’s going to go:

My friends at Warner Brothers are gonna gather up a ton of money, and we’re gonna head over to the Formosa in order to dump huge bundles of cash on our first-draft guy: Quentin Tarantino. As far as I’m concerned, Quentin can do whatever the hell he wants to with it. He’s a comic book guy, but not the kind who’s overly worried about “staying true to the comics.” Staying true doesn’t mean the kind of literalism that only pleases the obsessive-compulsives with small libraries of Jim Aparo art in their attics. It means capturing the spirit of the character. I want the next Batman movie to be scary, I want it to be funny, I want it to be cool. I just want it to be crazy. I want it to be good, of course, but even more than that, I want it to be crazy.  I want it to be the work of a lunatic. I don’t actually expect Tarantino to ever go near a major-studio superhero movie, but in this alternate universe, he’s the kind of extreme artistic change the character could use.

Then I want Joe Carnahan to take that script and shoot the fuck out of it. I love Joe Carnahan above the majority of young directors out there, because he’s a guy who can do realistic criminology (NARC), and he can do colorful-crazy (SMOKIN’ ACES, THE A-TEAM), and he can can cover great big mythological emotional terrain too (THE GREY). Like Christopher Nolan, he’s a versatile filmmaker of many splendid talents, but most importantly, on top of all the technical requirements, he can do humor and emotion.

So that’s the dream director. Now here are a few casting notions:

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Batman

BATMAN/ BRUCE WAYNE:

Colin Farrell.

Colin Farrell.

Because we need to go lighter than Bale did it, but we still need a solid dramatic actor. I wasn’t always sold on Colin Farrell as a star, but then I saw THE NEW WORLD, MIAMI VICE, IN BRUGES, THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS, THE WAY BACK, HORRIBLE BOSSES, FRIGHT NIGHT, LONDON BOULEVARD, and SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS. Anybody who can do all of that in five years can also do Batman. And probably even deserves to.

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Alfred

ALFRED PENNYWORTH:

Ray Winstone.

Ray Winstone.

Because there would be no fucking crying.

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Gordon

JIM GORDON:

Paul Giamatti

Paul Giamatti.

Because I don’t even have to justify it with words for you to know I’m dead-on with this one.

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Ra's Al Ghul

RA’S AL GHUL:

Daniel Day-Lewis.

Daniel Day-Lewis.

Because in the comics, the character Liam Neeson played has been around for many, many lifetimes, so I like the idea of Daniel Day-Lewis getting to play all of his historical roles — Hawkeye, John Proctor, Abraham Lincoln, Newland Archer, Bill The Butcher, Daniel Plainview, and so on — in one movie. And he’d better like that idea too, because otherwise there’s no way this dude is doing a Batman movie.

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Talia

TALIA:

Sarah Shahi.

Sarah Shahi.

Because that’s a movie star waiting to happen.

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Catwoman

CATWOMAN:

Michelle Monaghan

Michelle Monaghan.

Because she could easily have been cast in any of the female roles in any of the previous three Batman movies, and probably should have been.

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Joker

THE JOKER:

Dave Chappelle

Dave Chappelle.

Because it’s time for a Joker who’s actually funny, and here is not only one of the funniest people on the planet, but also someone who I bet could pour genuine emotions like rage and pathos into his nearly-superhuman funniness if he were somehow persuaded.

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Two Face

TWO-FACE:

John Cusack.

John Cusack.

Because he can do caustic and scary-smart better than anyone, and he’s actually a fairly large dude, all of which make me wonder why he hasn’t played a villain in a huge-scale action movie yet.

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Penguin

THE PENGUIN:

Warwick Davis.

Warwick Davis.

Because if all six LEPRECHAUN movies have taught me anything, it’s that this guy is fully capable of playing a deranged and disturbing villain. I’m not even at all kidding.

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Strange

PROFESSOR HUGO STRANGE:

Christopher Plummer.

Christopher Plummer.

Because this is one of the oldest villains from the comics (at one time rumored to be in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES), and it’d be so cool to have a great older actor holding it down.

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Riddler

THE RIDDLER:

Johnny Knoxville.

Johnny Knoxville.

Because if it was up to me, I would re-envision The Riddler as a kind of Joker copycat. So I thought of an actor I like a lot and one who is funny, but not nearly as funny as the guy I chose to play The Joker.

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Poison Ivy

POISON IVY:

Amber Heard.

Amber Heard.

Because hotness. And because DRIVE ANGRY.

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Killer Croc

KILLER CROC:

Dolph Lundgren.

Dolph Lundgren.

Because the role needs a giant and one who can handle carrying all the prosthetic make-up on his back. And because he has proven to be the single best Expendable so he’s earned it.

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Clayface

CLAYFACE:

Dwayne Johnson.

Dwayne Johnson.

Because again, a large man is needed and there are only so many large humans with acting ability.

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Ventriloquist

THE VENTRILOQUIST:

Jeff Dunham.

Jeff Dunham.

Because I’d truly love to see Batman punch him in the face.

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Scarecrow

THE SCARECROW:

John Hawkes.

John Hawkes.

Because after how scary he was in WINTER’S BONE, anything’s possible.

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Mr. Freeze

MR. FREEZE:

Jonathan Banks.

Jonathan Banks.

Because look at him.

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KGBeast

KGBEAST:

Scott Adkins.

Scott Adkins.

Because of Boyka, obviously.

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Mad Hatter

THE MAD HATTER:

Johnny Depp.

Johnny Depp.

Because he, also, has played this role before. Which is why he, also, deserves a punch from Batman.

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Maniac Cop

MANIAC COP:

Robert Z'Dar

Robert Z’Dar

Because why the beautiful fuck not?

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And there you have it.  That’s my bigger, better Batman movie.  Am I crazy?  Most definitely.  But maybe we could use a little crazy right about now.  What would you rather spend three hours at the movies with — reality?

@jonnyabomb

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Some movies just can’t budge you too far if you get to them too late. If I’d seen PET SEMATARY when I was much younger, it would’ve ruined my sleep for days. But it somehow eluded me until adulthood, at which point horror is a different experience. A lot of horror-watching in adulthood is fruitlessly searching for frights that’ll shake you up anywhere near as much as the horror films of your youth did. You grow up, and you see first-hand how brutal the real world can be, and it becomes that much harder for something made-up to scare you. Personally, I can absolutely still be thrilled by the deranged excess and outsized imagination found in horror films (see my recent pieces on PHENOMENA and POSSESSION, for example), but to really mess with my head? That’s a mission all but doomed to fail.

Credit then to PET SEMATARY, for still clinging to its genuinely eerie moments, twenty years later, and occasionally making them work spooky magic. Director Mary Lambert made some of the most memorable music videos of the 1980s, and she gives this film a poppy energy that keeps it moving over some of the dodgier aspects. PET SEMATARY, is, of course, a Stephen King adaptation, written for screen from his original novel by King himself, with all the excellence and potential dodginess that implies. I love Stephen King and I grew up on his books, but whether or not it’s true that every great writer is just rewriting the same story over and over, it’s certainly true that Stephen King has certain elements he returns to with bizarre frequency, and some of those elements don’t always translate to movies: Sometimes a problem when you’re one of the most-adapted writers in modern literature. A Stephen King checklist might include: Toddlers with supernatural powers. Pets with supernatural powers. Mentally-challenged people with supernatural powers. Well-intentioned but somewhat patronizing portrayals of black people and country folk. Handymen in overalls. (In THE GREEN MILE, you get a king hat-trick of a character, with the mentally-challenged black man with supernatural powers. Also, he wore overalls.)

Fred Gwynne, PET SEMATARY.

Bill Fagerbakke, THE STAND.

Michael Clarke Duncan, THE GREEN MILE.

Stephen King, CREEPSHOW.

Hell, we all have our leitmotifs and odd peccadilloes. The overalls-wearing fella in PET SEMATARY is Jud Crandall (Fred Gwynne), neighbor to the Creed family, who just moved into the country house across the street. Jud doesn’t have supernatural powers but he knows about a plot of land that does: Out in the woods, there is a stretch of makeshift funeral plot where people bury their dead pets, but the area is said to be haunted, and things buried there have a way of coming back. (Canny mythmaker that he is, King both invokes the “Indian burial ground” trope while giving it a down-home spin — “Pet Sematary” is the colloquial way the sign is scrawled, and I think King knows that a portion of his broad audience may not even realize that the word “cemetery” is misspelled.) Louis Creed, the young father, is played by an actor named Dale Midkiff who resembles a less-doughy, less-charismatic Nathan Fillion. Louis is a doctor at the local hospital, and while he takes a liking to Jud and his amiable presence, he doesn’t buy the “Lazarus pit” ability of that place in the woods. Louis lives with his wife Rachel and their two young children, Ellie and Gage. Trucks are a major problem in this area, speeding through the farmland and causing a suspiciously high number of accidents in a short amount of time. One accident victim, a jogger named Victor, dies on Louis’s emergency room table, and soon begins appearing to Louis in ominous visions. This is probably my favorite character in the movie, if only because it’s not every day you see a zombie ghost in 1980s short-shorts.

These early sections of the movie may well owe a debt to John Landis’s 1981 werewolf classic AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, which also used a decomposing spectral figure as the bearer of approaching bad tidings. Honestly, I’m not sure it takes a zombie-ghost to predict where this is all headed. In 2012, we’ve seen so many horror movies that we can surely guess. The next to die is the Creed family’s cat, named Church. (The naming is a touch unsubtle.) Jud warns Louis against it, but after being plagued by the ghost of Victor, Louis is bound to experiment with the funeral plot. He buries Church there, and sure enough, Church comes back to the house, but he comes back changed, complete with an eerie-slash-comical visual effect around the eyes.

But even those who could predict where the movie is headed may still be shocked to see that it actually goes there. Little Gage wanders into the road and is run down by an inattentive trucker. The movie is pitched somewhere between pathos and camp at this point, complete with an empty child’s sneaker bouncing down the asphalt and Louis’s dramatic scream of “NOOOOOOOO!” — it’s certainly overwrought and kind of funny, but at the same time, this is a little kid, and I’m not made of stone here. Dad is so shattered by the loss that soon enough he’s contemplating the unthinkable. And once again, the movie goes there. I’m not a big fan of evil-kid horror movies, because I don’t generally find children to be at all scary, but again, damned if the over-the-top nature of the entire proceedings does manage to make little Gage a disturbing enough villain for just as long as he needs to be.

“Over-the-top” really is the description for PET SEMATARY. Part of it is because what works (terrifically) on the page sometimes seems a little much when it arrives on screen. Part of it is casting. Dale Midkiff and Denise Crosby, as the Creed parents, come off as rather stiff, except in the moments they explode with grief and hysteria. She, in particular, has a running subplot about her troubled sister Zelda, who was bedridden with spinal meningitis and apparently deranged — this might otherwise be an affecting tale, but only for the fact that Zelda is played by a man, and not one with a subtle acting style either. And then you have Fred Gwynne walking around. If you know who Fred Gwynne is, it’s most likely because you saw him as Herman Munster, high-spirited patriarch of The Munsters. Basically, Jud Crandall is a role Boris Karloff might have played, but since he wasn’t around, they got the next most recognizable Frankenstein’s Monster. The campiest possible version. This casting is key to the entire enterprise, I think. PET SEMATARY is meant to be taken at face value, surely, since so many people still count it among their favorite scary movies. But my guess is that you’re allowed to laugh and have fun as much as you’re supposed to be scared. It’s a “spook-a-blast,” the kind I can still happily enjoy even coming to it as an adult. If I’m wrong, and I’m not supposed to be laughing, then how do you explain the following picture…?

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Dig me up on Twitter: @jonnyabomb

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For all those who enjoyed Michael Mann’s PUBLIC ENEMIES, and even those who didn’t, here’s a somewhat lesser-known treat: John Milius’s DILLINGER, from 1973, starring Warren Oates as bankrobber John Dillinger and Ben Johnson as lawman Melvin Purvis.

There have been countless cinematic treatments of the Dillinger story, but this one is one of the most purely entertaining.  It was written and directed by John Milius, a contemporary of Spielberg’s and Scorsese’s whose work is a bit of a fascination of mine.  Milius co-wrote a DIRTY HARRY sequel (MAGNUM FORCE) and some scenes in JAWS, and directed the first (and best) CONAN THE BARBARIAN movie, among other things.  He was also the inspiration for John Goodman’s character in THE BIG LEBOWSKI.  So anything from the mind of Milius is worth parsing, to me.

As Michael Mann’s newer Dillinger movie illustrates, a cops-and-robbers flick is always at its best when it’s about two equal but opposing forces.  Milius’s movie has two incredible character actors centering his Dillinger film.  Warren Oates is best known to younger generatiosn as Sgt. Hulka from STRIPES, but in the decades before that, he built up a stunning career of dirty, often ugly character actor performances.  He’s sure not the prettier Dillinger that Johnny Depp created, but equally compelling.

Against him is the eternal Ben Johnson, the definition of a veteran actor who worked for the majority of the twentieth century.  Johnson was a large and amiable figure in literally tons of movies, mostly Westerns, mostly for John Ford.  He’s not prettier than Bale, but he smiles way more often.  Casting Oates and Johnson against each other is as watchable and as American as fireworks on the Fourth of July.  For fans of great movies, the casting has an added punch since only a couple years earlier,  in 1969, Oates and Johnson played the marauding Gorch brothers in Sam Peckinpah’s masterpiece, THE WILD BUNCH.  That cinematic memory only informs the experience of watching DILLINGER — to fans of THE WILD BUNCH, DILLINGER may carry a vague feeling of brother-against-brother.

Like Mann’s movie thirty (!) years later, the earlier DILLINGER film is full of still-recognizable supporting actors, such as singer Michelle Phillips as Dillinger’s girlfriend Billie Frechette, Harry Dean Stanton as Homer Van Meter, Clint Eastwood regular (and Juliette’s dad) Geoffrey Lewis as Pete Pierpont, and Cloris Leachman as Anna Sage, the low-down whore who sells Dillinger out.  Oh, and a very young Richard Dreyfuss as Baby Face Nelson.  You haven’t really enjoyed a manly gangster picture until you’ve enjoyed the spectacle of Warren Oates smacking around Richard Dreyfuss.

As that aforementioned pleasure implies, this is definitely more of a guy’s guy movie; whereas PUBLIC ENEMIES was constructed much more as a romantic story.  But for fans of guy’s guy movies, DILLINGER is almost a necessity, and anyone at all who enjoyed PUBLIC ENEMIES will find the similarities and contrasts to be compelling.

DILLINGER is tough to find on DVD and rarely screens anywhere, but Netflix occasionally has it.  Sometimes it’s available, sometimes it’s not.  (Netflix and DILLINGER apparently have a stormy relationship.)  Well worth the effort.

This piece was originally written and posted on July 7th, 2009.  I stand by my recommendation.

On Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

In the realm of faceless people writing about movies from the safety of the internet, I like to think I’m one of the more reasonable you’ll find. But I could be wrong. (See?) It’s a point that’s come up before, but it bears repeating: Unlike most people who write about movies online, I’ve spent A LOT of time working in all corners of the film and television industries in virtually every position there is. I know well how hard people work, around the clock, to bring every show to an audience. I try not to take that hard-earned knowledge lightly. Besides, I have friends who still work in film and TV, and I’m not even all the way out myself. I try mighty hard not to put anything on a computer screen that I don’t feel ready to say to someone’s face. On top of all of that, I grew up with movies. I love this stuff as much now as I did when I was young — if not more. It doesn’t make me happy to be unkind. I’m in this to share my enthusiasm, plain and simple.

All of that said, and try as I might, it’s way harder to find new ways to be nice. It’s certainly harder to be funny that way. And sometimes, a movie is put in front of me about which I just can’t find much nice to say and still remain honest.

These are the movies that forced me to be unkind.

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This is from August 5th, 2010:

It’s true.  I’ve seen Cats & Dogs: The Revenge Of Kitty Galore.  It really happened.  I was on a pretty good streak of seeing really solid movies there for a while, and such streaks are inevitably made to be broken.  The real reason why this occurred is that I am uncle to an adorable niece and I am bound by my will to honor her every request, within reason.  Hopefully the rest of you love the children in your lives significantly less.  Just this once, love is not the answer.

This Cats & Dogs movie is nominally a sequel to the previous movie called Cats & Dogs, but I’m not sure that there’s any kind of story to follow.  The first movie came out in 2001, which makes the gap between movies comparable to the time James Cameron took between Titanic and Avatar.  But whereas Cameron spent all that time working on new technologies and designing a movie that would appeal to the widest audience possible, Cats & Dogs does the opposite.  If anything, it seems like the makers of Cats & Dogs spent nine years accumulating all the crappy dog and cat puns in the world.  Seriously, I haven’t seen a movie with this many crappy puns since Batman & Robin, and we all know how that one went.

I’m not even going to bother recapping the plot for you, because… who cares?  The dogs and the cats are in some secret war, where this one police dog (voice of James Marsden) gets recruited by the dog side to stop this one evil cat (voice of Bette Midler), but it’s really all just an endless, crappy, James Bond riff.  Now there’s an original fount of comedy; no one’s ever spoofed James Bond before.  (Besides only Our Man Flint, In Like Flint, Fathom, the original Casino Royale, The Pink Panther, Get Smart, For Your Height Only, The Cannonball Run, Austin Powers, just about every cartoon ever made, and probably every third episode of Family Guy… just for starts.)  Can you possibly feel good about yourself as a creative person if you’re doing sustained James Bond spoofs in the year 2010?  Do you realize that kids, your target audience, don’t get the joke?  Do you realize that kids don’t actually find animal puns all that funny?  No, they don’t!  But more on that in a second.

Some of the voice cast is done by actors who I actually like (usually), such as Christina Applegate, Nick Nolte, Neil Patrick Harris, Michael Clarke Duncan, and comedian Katt Williams, but let’s face it, they’re all just cashing paychecks here.  And those people who complain about cartoons being aimed too much towards adults these days might be reassured by this movie.  There was nothing for me here.  There is nothing here for any fan of these performers.  Having Christina Applegate in a movie doesn’t do any good if I can’t look at her.  Having Nick Nolte in a movie doesn’t do any good if he doesn’t growl, “Damnit Reggie!” every once in a while.  Having Katt Williams in a movie will surely disappoint his many fans if he’s not allowed to use the N-word.  I mean, you see the name Katt Williams in the credits, and it’s fair to expect that the N-Word is going to happen.  I’m not saying that it’s right, or that anyone should feel good about it, but devil’s advocate:  Would this movie be any better if the pigeon voiced by Katt Williams was running around saying the N-word?  Well no, but it couldn’t have been any worse either.

So grown-ups will be miserable; that’s a given.  Then again, this movie isn’t not really for kids either.  It leans heavily on butt-sniffing humor, which seems to be leaning dangerously close to gay-panic humor at moments.  (The Bette Midler fans in the audience won’t dig it.)  The movie comes close to insinuating an interspecies romance. There’s a scene with stoner cats.  Good luck explaining that one to your kids.  The human performances are wincingly bad, particularly Jack McBrayer, who really better hope, employment-wise, that 30 Rock stays on the air for as long as possible.  But I’d rather cringe at human behavior than have to ponder the questionable morality of putting words in animals’ mouths.  It’s one thing if we humans decide to act like dickheads – at least that’s a choice – but these dogs and cats are not being given the option over how they’re portrayed.  I know it’s a big-philosophy question, but if this movie doesn’t have a brain in its head, that doesn’t mean I have to turn mine off.

Besides all that, here’s the only review you need.  On the way into the theater, my niece tugged at my hand and smiled, “This is going to be the greatest movie I ever seened!”

After twenty minutes or so, the fidgeting started.  Then it turned into full-blown roaming.  Somehow we made it through the whole thing.  But.

On the way out, she turned to me and said, “I don’t want to see Cats & Dogs again!”

This is a kid who can tolerate more hours of Dora The Explorer than even the toughest guy in the county (her uncle) can handle, and this one she couldn’t stand.  I think I just inadvertently told you that we’d both rather watch Dora The Explorer.  There can be no more dire condemnation of a supposed kids’ movie than that.

Happier news, usually, at: @jonnyabomb

In the realm of faceless people writing about movies from the safety of the internet, I like to think I’m one of the more reasonable you’ll find. But I could be wrong. (See?) It’s a point that’s come up before, but it bears repeating: Unlike most people who write about movies online, I’ve spent A LOT of time working in all corners of the film and television industries in virtually every position there is. I know well how hard people work, around the clock, to bring every show to an audience. I try not to take that hard-earned knowledge lightly. Besides, I have friends who still work in film and TV, and I’m not even all the way out myself. I try mighty hard not to put anything on a computer screen that I don’t feel ready to say to someone’s face. On top of all of that, I grew up with movies. I love this stuff as much now as I did when I was young — if not more. It doesn’t make me happy to be unkind. I’m in this to share my enthusiasm, plain and simple.

All of that said, and try as I might, it’s way harder to find new ways to be nice. It’s certainly harder to be funny that way. And sometimes, a movie is put in front of me about which I just can’t find much nice to say and still remain honest.

These are the movies that forced me to be unkind.

_______________________________________

There will be a particular breed of smartass who chooses to refer to Tim Burton’s new Alice In Wonderland project as “Tim Burton’s Avatar.”

A different breed of smartass may prefer to think of it as “Tim Burton’s Lord Of The Rings.”

Personally, I happen to be both kinds of smartass.

It’s reminiscent of Avatar because it’s longer than it needs to be, because there are dragons flying around all over the place, because there are weird computer-generated forests, and because the 3-D element is still new enough to make it feel like an event, which has led huge audiences to happily overlook its story flaws. (Avatar is a much better movie, for the record.)

It’s reminiscent of Lord Of The Rings because it’s longer than it needs to be, because characters who look ridiculous in body armor are forced to wear body armor, because it has charmingly pudgy little men skipping through scenes, because the great Christopher Lee plays a villain (even if he only gets one line, in voiceover, here) and because there are more walking scenes in it than there are in the average episode of Lost.

It’s a little disappointing that my smartass tendencies were roused by Alice In Wonderland, because Tim Burton’s movies generally dispel cynicism and invite enthusiasm, particularly from a daydreaming wackadoo like me. Tim Burton’s movies imagine worlds of darkness which are always strangely populated by optimism. Tim Burton is one of my very favorite directors and there are no shortage of proclamations to that effect all across the internet, but the main reason is that his movies celebrate all the things I’ve always been most captivated by: Skeletons, shadows, monsters, ghosts, freaks, aliens, pretty girls, old horror movies, heroic acts of stupidity, stupid acts of heroism, love, death, and monkeys.

Alice In Wonderland has a couple of those things, but not many of them, and while it wouldn’t be accurate to say that he has been sticking to re-envisioning exisiting properties of late (he’s always done that – only a fraction of his movies began from his own original concepts), it could fairly be argued that Tim Burton as a ‘cover artist’ is getting somewhat stale. For one thing, Alice In Wonderland as source material isn’t really a good match for Burton’s sensibilities. The original Lewis Carroll stories and most of the subsequent interpretations are all about maddening nonsense, verging on insanity. They’re somewhat nightmarish, honestly. By story’s end, Alice wants to get the fuck out of Wonderland. In contrast, Burton’s best movies have a playful sense of fun that you’d love to visit, even if you wouldn’t want to live there.

Beyond the mismatch of filmmaker to material, there are problems with the new Alice In Wonderland movie. To begin with, the script credited to Linda Woolverton is a mess. The story is nonsense, and not in that compelling, affecting, memorable Lewis Carroll spirit of nonsense. Just try to describe the plot of the finished movie in any coherent way. Can’t be done! The script tries to weld a heroic, Lord Of The Rings type of fantasy structure onto the original story and it just doesn’t work. Johnny Depp, as the Mad Hatter, has some fun and is fun to watch as usual, but his role, beefed up and altered from the original stories, is more noble warrior than infuriating troublemaker. That’s not just disloyal to the original story; it’s boring. The most memorable thing Depp gets to do as the Mad Hatter is breakdance at the end, and that’s more because it’s incongruous and bizarre than enjoyable. Depp is one of the great impish rogues of the modern cinematic age, but he’s confined by weak dialogue, off-putting make-up, and an ill-defined role here.

With a couple exceptions, the rest of the cast is similarly ill-served. The great weirdo Crispin Glover is wasted in a humorless villain role. Anne Hathaway, as the White Queen, gives a wispy performance lighter than air, which drifts from the memory as soon as she steps off-screen. Maybe one of the movie’s biggest problems is that its Alice isn’t particularly interesting to watch. I don’t know the actress Mia Wasikowska from anything else – it’s possible she’s a very lively actress elsewhere, but I wasn’t interested in her at all here, and I didn’t think she brought anything that hundreds of other girls could do just as effectively. The cinematography, by the otherwise fantastic Dariusz Wolski, is uncharacteristically dingy and unpleasant, and the 3D element is totally useless.

To me, a Tim Burton movie is never less than watchable, although this one comes closer than any before. What turned me off is that it’s unrelentingly grim, which isn’t what I expect or need from a Tim Burton film. There was enough that I enjoyed to make the time spent feel worthwhile – I loved the freakish character design and execution of The Cheshire Cat and Tweedledee & Tweedledum. Those characters in particular, and Helena Bonham Carter’s giant head, were fairly awesome. Alan Rickman, as The Caterpillar, is always a welcome presence, on camera or in voice alone. And I liked the dragon, but I’m notoriously easy to please that way. Still, it wasn’t the most impressive dragon I’ve ever seen, to say the least.

Long story short, I’m very glad to see that Burton’s next project is a feature-length retelling of his early Disney short, Frankenweenie. It may be another retelling of a pre-existing property, but at least it’s one of his own! What the world needs right now is not Tim Burton, big-budget interpreter. The world needs Tim Burton, modern-day imagineer.

Disagree somehow? Hit me here: @jonnyabomb

 

This recently-excavated cult classic is the weekend movie at Landmark Sunshine Cinemas here in New York.  YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS CRAZY GODDAMN MOVIE.  It’s great.  Here’s why:

Hausu (aka House, from 1977) is without a doubt, one of the weirdest fucking movies I’ve ever seen, and goddamn it but that really must be saying something.  It’s strange that standing in the face of this thing has reduced me to profanity, when it’s most certainly the most innocent ultra-violent horror movie that could possibly exist.  If profanity is the last refuge of the man with no wiser words to impart, then consider me speechless.  Here’s a clip:

Am I exaggerating?

Janus Films and The Criterion Collection have excavated this cinematic treasure and unleashed it upon the world in the form of frequent local screenings (including one this weekend, at NYC’s IFC Center) and a wonderful DVD/Blu-Ray package for those who can’t make it out in person.  GREAT crowd movie, though. See it with as many people as you can.

What this is, is the debut feature from Japanese director Nobuhiko Obayashi, who started out as an experimental filmmaker, transitioned into TV commercials, and then brought both contrasting disciplines brilliantly to bear in this one little-known landmark, which led to a career in features which continues to this day.

Hausu was written as a collaboration between Obayashi and his young daughter, Chigumi, which both makes perfect sense and none at all.  According to the supplemental materials on Criterion’s DVD, legendary Japanese studio Toho wanted Obayashi to make a popular mainstream movie for them, and this is what he did with that dictum.  (Dictum? Damn near killed ‘em!)

Hausu is the story of a group of teenage girls who go to visit the country home of the aunt of one of them.  The house is a mansion on a hill, and it’s haunted and angry, in the most bizarre of senses.  The girls are literally consumed, one by one, and spit out and toyed with in a dizzying escalation of joyous insanity.

Here’s the trailer:

 

In retrospect, it plays exactly like what it is:  the collaboration between a grown man and a young girl.  It feels like the dad made a horror movie, and the little girl went in and recut the thing to her own tastes while he was sleeping it off.  Hausu is chock full of insane, bug-eyed, not-entirely-nonsexual megaviolence, but there’s not anything remotely hateful or misogynistic about it: This is surely history’s most cheerful movie ever to feature dismembered limbs dancing across across the keys of a carnivorous haunted piano.  I mean, what’s the closest comparison?  Evil Dead 2?  Even Evil Dead 2 didn’t have a watermelon wearing a hat, or a killer lampshade, or a disembodied head with an appetite for buttcheeks.

Hausu makes Evil Dead 2 seem as restrained and mannered as one of those BBC Dickens miniseries.  The tone of this movie is like a pre-teen sleepover between giggy girls bouncing off a major sugar high.  It just happens to be a haunted house movie, with many of the conventions which that implies.  It’s a little bit like the G rated version of Sucker Punch and the R rated version of Sucker Punch and a box of Junior Mints all at the same time.  It’s a lot like the Hello Kitty version of The Exorcist.  There is literally not a second movie to resemble this one.  I guess there’s an art in that.

Find me on Twitter: @jonnyabomb

 
Yet another found-footage exorcism movie has hit big at the box office.  This weekend it was The Devil Inside.  Next weekend, who knows?  Some dork is probably planning one right now.  If folks can shell out hard-earned shekels to see that kind of exploitative junk, they should most certainly feel obligated to watch an underseen horror movie from one of the genre’s maddest practitioners, Sam Raimi.  Here’s a cluster of hype-man pieces I wrote regarding Drag Me To Hell back in 2009, both anticipating and then shouting the praises of its release.  This movie still feels underrated.  Give it a try if you haven’t. 
 
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So Drag Me To Hell came out on DVD today. I’m sitting here now with it in hand, and of course, I cracked that sucker open already, having just watched the unrated version. You can’t see me, but I’m smiling.

Horror movies, at their best, are the purest form of cinema. Drama must have speech to be effective, even at the expense of the pictorial end of the art. Comedies can coast on visual humor for a while, but even they eventually need a cushion of words. Horror, however, needs only the most basic tools of the cinematic vocabulary: Sound design and image and motion and as little meat on the bones as possible. Good horror movies are like skeletons that can walk and talk. (And some of them even feature talking skeletons. I have a special love for those, but that’s another story.) In the great Universal tradition, Drag Me To Hell is admirable in its simplicity. It’s a spectral locomotive, engineered expressly to deliver chills and laughs, and it is entirely successful in that goal, even when you’ve seen it before and you know what’s coming.

Less certain is what, if anything, Drag Me To Hell is meant to say. Some great works of horror are able to reflect and/or comment on the world around them and the people who habitate it. Examples of movies in this vein are The Exorcist, Night Of The Living Dead, and Invasion Of The Body Snatchers; examples of novels that do this are Dracula, I Am Legend, and much of Stephen King’s work. Horror can serve as social commentary if intended as such, or it can simply channel the unspoken fears or anxieties of modern society of its time. Thinking about Drag Me To Hell in that way, however, probably won’t lead to much. As sincerely as I adore Sam Raimi’s movies, I’ve always seen him as more of a showman than a philosopher. His movies are meant to entertain – sometimes to make you laugh, sometimes to creep you out, occasionally to make you feel – but always ever is the goal entertainment. 

Christine Brown, the protagonist of Drag Me To Hell, isn’t a bad person. She makes a snap decision that hurts someone, but she has clear motives and she regrets it immediately. She wouldn’t have needed the torment she goes through in order to feel bad about what she did, and she certainly doesn’t deserve her fate. Nor does her boyfriend, Clay, deserve what he ends up experiencing, even if he is played by Justin Long. Clay is written as a guy with specific social and personal pressures, ultimately a decent person – as is Christine. If Drag Me To Hell hasany morality message at all, it’d be that “deserve’s got nothing to do with it.” Honestly, I don’t think Raimi is even saying that much here. The personal details that we learn about the characters are only enough to make us care about them to the extent that Raimi needs us to – if we invest in them at all, it makes the ride that much more thrilling. But we’re not meant to leave the theater thinking about Christine and Clay; we’re meant to leave the theater with a smile.  Really, all we’re meant to do is jump and shriek and laugh maniacally.  Raimi isn’t trying to make us think; not during, and not afterwards. And that’s just fine. When a movie works as well as Drag Me To Hell, “entertaining” is all it needs to be. Sometimes entertainment without message or consequence can be cathartic on its own terms, and therefore is as valuable an experience as any movie with loftier aims.

That’s the scholar in me talking. Sometimes I get serious about these things because I believe that they deserve the consideration. Drag Me To Hell will not be talked about by critics or film students or Oscar pundits as one of the best movies of 2009, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t. Okay, got that all out of my system. Now let’s lighten the mood, huh?

 

Below are the two pieces I wrote this past summer on Drag Me To Hell. They’re interesting because one was written right before I saw it, and the other was written directly afterwards. I had a pretty secure feeling that I was going to like it, but I didn’t know how much. Neither are meant to be too serious. Enjoy them – then go see the movie [again]!

 

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Top 10 Reasons I Can’t WAIT To See *Drag Me To Hell* Tomorrow.
  
 
I won’t be writing a review of Drag Me To Hell, the new horror movie co-written and directed by Sam Raimi which opens tomorrow, because who am I to appraise the work of the master?
 
But I’ll tell you this much – I can’t WAIT.
 
I’m not a horror super-fan, I don’t think, but I’m a film connoisseur and a movie lover and I would argue that on the merits of Evil Dead 2 alone, Sam Raimi deserves mention with the greats. That movie is creepy and hilarious and pure and original and visually innovative. And that’s not all Raimi’s done, of course – I love that he’s experimented in many genres, and much of his mainstream work is incredible. I love his Spider-Man pictures (yes, even the deeply flawed third chapter), but since he’s been doing those for almost a decade now, I bet Raimi is amping to let loose some of the anarchic energy he’s revered for by movie nuts worldwide, and Drag Me To Hell looks like that ticket. I’m sold.
Here’s a couple more reasons, so that you’ll all join me:
 
10. Old lady monster. Last time we saw this in a Sam Raimi movie, it was Army of Darkness. Before that, it was Evil Dead 2. Before that, it was Evil Dead 1. This is a good sign.
 
9. Sam Raimi wrote it with his brother Ivan Raimi. Other movies written by the Raimi brothers: Darkman; Army of Darkness.
 
8. Demon hands from hell on the movie poster. Demon hands from hell on the poster mean hell-demons in the movie. Bonus!
 
7. Cinematography by Peter Deming. He’s back! Deming is the guy who shot Evil Dead 2 for Raimi (and Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive for David Lynch), so he knows his way around creepy and disturbing images. And his last movie was The Love Guru with Mike Myers and the comedy mastermind Justin Timberlake (sarcasm alert), so I’m hoping Deming is in a demolition kind of mood himself.
 
6. Ted Raimi cameo – duh.
 
5. In all the pre-interviews, Raimi keeps stressing that Drag Me To Hell is an audience picture. From what he promises, and from what I’ve heard, it’s going to be gory and goofy and wild. Be like me – find the biggest, most unruly audience in town and sit down in the middle of the theater.
 
4. A lead female role is rare, if not unique, in Raimi movies. Usually his female characters, particularly if they’re pretty, are idealized, less nuanced than the dudes, even dull by comparison – the best exception being Bridget Fonda’s Lady Macbeth update in A Simple Plan. It’ll be interesting to see how Alison Lohman fits into the Raimi tradition.
 
3. The title. Drag Me To Hell. It sings! It makes me sing. I’ve been crooning an imaginary theme song all morning. It’s fun for me, if no one else. Give it a try yourself!
 
2. Something truly horrible is bound to happen to Justin Long.
 
1. Seriously folks – if you have even a passing interest in horror movies and, I venture to say, in the art of cinema itself, you don’t need nine other reasons to see a Sam Raimi horror movie on opening weekend. The man is an innovator. He’s a crowd-pleaser and a showman, with the technical ability to keep the critics and the scholars just as happy as everybody else. Best of all, he’s a prankster and (on film at least) a madman, and we need as many of those as we can get, out there making movie mayhem.
 
05/29/2009
 
 
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Drag Me To Hell: My Knee-Jerk Reaction.
 
 
Promised I wouldn’t review Drag Me To Hell, and I’m holding to that. On the other side of seeing it for the first time, all I’d want to report is that it’s fantastic. Oh, did I love this movie.
 
Go see it! Don’t read about it. Go in blind, and go with the biggest audience you can. This movie works on an audience in such a primal way. It’s old-fashioned in all the best senses of the word – Raimi and his producers described it in all the pre-release press as a “spook-a-blast,” which is a William Castle-style appellation which totally fits. It’s a spook-a-blast! And that’s all you need to know about it beforehand – you wouldn’t read a review of a roller coaster before you hopped on, would you? There’s not much I can add to what is already exactly right on point, except of course my own absurd observations and ‘iconoclastic’ reflections.
 
Here’s just a few:
 
* Hey Justin: Why the Long face? (If I’m the only one who laughs at that one, I’m still good.)
 
* Along those lines: Drag Me To Hell turns out to be the rare cinematic argument AGAINST dating nerds. I will not explain, but let’s just say that a guy’s hobbies can undo his major plans.
 
* On the plus side, Drag Me To Hell will hopefully incite a spike inn generosity and kindliness towards ethnically ambiguous old crones. Be nice to gypsies, young’uns, else they curse ye…
 
* A lesson Sam Raimi has absorbed after nearly thirty years of filmmaking: Asn wonderful as terrorizing Bruce Campbell is, it’s even more enjoyable to throw tons of water and mud at a pretty girl in a tank-top.
 
* David Paymer has sad eyes. [That one is TM & © my movie-going compadre, but it’s too apt an observation not to share.]
 
* Repeated threatening of cats makes a movie good.
 
* So do goat puppets.
 
* I can’t wait for the transvestite community to embrace this movie. Expect an lot of “Drag Me To Hell” parties across Chelsea and West Hollywood this October.
 
* Since the movie was rated PG-13, I can’t be too bothered by the parents whon brought their baby along to the screening I attended. But I would enjoy the opportunity to speak with that baby a couple decades from now, just to see how this early developmental influence takes root.
 
Again, you MUST see this movie with a crowd. Some of the audience reactionsn I overheard were nearly as entertaining as the film itself. One in particular is likely to become my new battle cry:
 
“Put your hand on the goat! Put your damn hand on the fuckin’ goat!”
 
Drag Me To Hell is now playing in wide release.
 
05/29/2009