Archive for the ‘Motorcycles’ Category

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Like everyone else who writes about films, I’m working on a year-end top-ten movies-of-2014 list. Here are some short pieces I wrote throughout the year about some of the contenders:

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014)

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014)

That cover image encapsulates THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL — and maybe even Wes Anderson’s entire career so far — so perfectly: It’s an invented monument of a building in the countryside of a nation that does not exist, soaked in color and leaping out from its drab surroundings. That bright pink hotel looks to me like a rich, fancy dessert, the kind that you can’t attack all at once, not even back when you were a candy-craving kid.

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is the most Wes Anderson-y of all the Wes Anderson movies to date — he has with each subsequent film come up with an intricately-designed, entirely invented realm in which his casts of eccentrics and potty-mouthed poets take refuge from the world the rest of us know — Max Fischer’s school plays, Royal Tenenbaum’s mansion in the middle of Harlem, Steve Zissou’s ship (the Belafonte), the Darjeeling Limited (the finely-painted train traversing India), every minute of THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX, Sam and Suzy’s secret cove (which they call “Moonrise Kingdom”).

This time around, the sphere of existence inhabited by the film’s characters travels beyond the titular location — Anderson has invented an entire country! Not only that, but the story is a flashback within a flashback: Tom Wilkinson plays the older version of Jude Law, who plays a writer interviewing the owner of the hotel who is played by F. Murray Abraham, who in turn recounts the escapades of his younger self (played by the winningly expressive Tony Revolori), the apprentice to a charismatic iconoclast named Gustave H. (a thrillingly unlikely comic performance by Ralph Fiennes — twice as funny here as he was in 2008’s IN BRUGES), who has a flair for theatrics and a lust for geriatrics. Credit for outstanding achievement in protrayal of the latter arena goes to Tilda Swinton, who appears in beautifully grotesque make-up and luxe costuming.

It’s even more whimsical than it sounds, and normally I can’t stand whimsy. But the effusiveness of THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, and nearly every performance within it, is contagious. The cast is a menagerie of wonderful actors, most of whom have at least once worked with Anderson before. The newcomers fit right in with the stock players — even Harvey Keitel, perhaps the most unlikely casting choice of them all, who nimbly plays past his characteristic gruffness, as a heavily tattooed gulag lifer. Keitel has rarely been this animated and enthusiastic.

Don’t mistake this for an unequivocal rave — THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL continues the odd trend of Anderson underusing Bill Murray, which has been going on since THE LIFE AQUATIC. (I get the feeling Bill Murray keeps showing up just because he enjoys the company, and Wes Anderson keeps finding a place for him just because he’s goddamn Bill Murray and if you’ve got his number you use it.)

But I did enjoy the time I spent with this movie, particularly any of the scenes with either Tilda Swinton or Willem Dafoe, both of whom add unforgettable new grotesques to their lengthy repertoires. I also liked that THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is the most violent Wes Anderson film  since THE LIFE AQUATIC; the moments of darkness are essential to counterbalance the otherwise madcap nature of the proceedings, and they disarm the common argument (one I’ve flirted with at times but invariably discounted) that Anderson as a filmmaker is merely an indulgent quirkster.

I’m really not sure where Wes Anderson can go next, since THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL goes so far up into what he does that I’m not sure he can go any further. I’d love to see him attempt a hardcore genre picture — maybe science-fiction or even horror –but I won’t count my chickens.

Follow me on Twitter for constant movie chatter:

@jonnyabomb

Manborg

The bad news is that sometime in the near future, the armies of Hell are coming to Earth.  Mankind simply does not currently have the resources to withstand their necro-technological might.  The seas will run with the blood of billions and the SuperBowl will presumably be cancelled.

The good news is MANBORG.

A soldier who is mutilated and left for dead by the ravenous hordes of Hell, the hero who will be come to be known as Manborg is reconstituted and outfitted with a cybernetic weapons system powerful enough to turn the tide.  He is re-captured by the Hell armies and forced to fight in an arena alongside a trio of super-powered martial artists — #1 Man, Mina, and her brother Justice — who will become his new friends and help him combat the overwhelming forces of Count Draculon, and at this point I admit I kind of lost the plot, but who cares?  MANBORG is so silly it’s beautiful.

This is a real movie I’m describing. I’ve seen it.  (Three times now!)  It wasn’t a dream.  I’m awake, and stone-sober.  MANBORG is an actual thing that exists.  You can experience it too, and I highly suggest that you do.  I can’t answer all of the questions you will probably have.  For one thing, the origins of the film remain hazy to me, as if shrouded by Hell-fog or the smoldering fires of an infernal battlefield.  IMDb lists the film’s creation date as 2011.  It traveled the festival circuit in 2012.  It appeared in stores on DVD in 2013, where I grabbed it immediately.  Could you resist that poster artwork?

MANBORG was made by a Canadian filmmaking collective known as Astron-6. They’re a bunch of guys who make movies on the cheap, pitching in on each others’ projects in every function including stepping in front of the camera.  The director of this particular outing is Steven Kostanski, who shows an impressive command of genre-cinema film-checking.  The movie, like Manborg himself, is a lumbering patchwork Frankenstein’s monster of other movies: ARENA, HARDWAREROBOCOP, TERMINATOR, TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY, MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME, RETURN OF THE JEDI, HOWARD THE DUCK, ROBOT JOX, DR. STRANGELOVE, THE FIFTH ELEMENT, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, MORTAL KOMBAT, G.I. JOE, and TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE.  To name only a few.  If you, like me, spent countless sugar-fueled late nights in front of a TV screen mainlining action movies, you will be in hog heaven with this flick.  It’s not quite accurate to say that MANBORG is a snug fit on a shelf with some of the more esteemed films on that list, but it would be absolutely true to maintain that MANBORG completely captures the giddy rhythms of euphoric movie-love.  The way you felt when you were talking about these movies, the way you still may feel when talking about them; that’s the spirit in which MANBORG was made.

Another thing about the making of this movie:  The production budget for MANBORG was somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,000.  That probably wouldn’t even cover the price of the yellow tarp for a Scientology tent on a Tom Cruise movie.  It’s hardly any money when you’re talking about mainstream filmmaking.  However:  In absolute sincerity, I insist that this is incredibly impressive work for that budget.  Sure, it’s goofy-looking, but that’s intrinsic to the charm of the thing.  It says a lot about these filmmakers that they could stretch the money as far as they do.  It suggests that they have a future in so-called serious movies, if that’s what they want, although I kind of hope they don’t.  I want to see more movies like this one, although I’m fine with re-watching this one until then.

There’s something fantastically charming about this movie, the way it simultaneously feels like a bunch of film-fanatic friends getting together to make a movie and still invites just enough suspension of disbelief to enjoy as a somewhat corny, bizarrely sincere addition to the ranks of bizarro action movies.  In other words:  Even as you know it’s a goof, you still feel like going with it.  Because it’s just more fun that way.  And I don’t know, man — there’s even something touching to me about the fact that I could walk into Best Buy and see MANBORG sitting on the shelf.  Right in between MAGNUM FORCE and MARS ATTACKS!  This is one for us.  The weird kids.  The movie freaks.  The up-all-nighters.  We made it!  Feels like home.

 

P.S.  Be sure to stay through the credits for the trailer for… BIO-COP!

 

Read more about MANBORG at the official MANBORG site: http://www.astron-6.com/manborg.html

 

Listen to Brian Wiacek’s authentically-radical score here:  http://manborg.bandcamp.com/

 

 

And say hi to me on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

 

 

 

 

manborg  ManborgTeaser_Mina Scorpius

lilguy   Baron

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.

______________________

Talia

TALIA:

Sarah Shahi.

Sarah Shahi.

Because that’s a movie star waiting to happen.

______________________

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.

______________________

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.

______________________

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.

______________________

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.

______________________

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.

______________________

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.

______________________

Poison Ivy

POISON IVY:

Amber Heard.

Amber Heard.

Because hotness. And because DRIVE ANGRY.

______________________

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.

______________________

Clayface

CLAYFACE:

Dwayne Johnson.

Dwayne Johnson.

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

______________________

Ventriloquist

THE VENTRILOQUIST:

Jeff Dunham.

Jeff Dunham.

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

______________________

Scarecrow

THE SCARECROW:

John Hawkes.

John Hawkes.

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

______________________

Mr. Freeze

MR. FREEZE:

Jonathan Banks.

Jonathan Banks.

Because look at him.

______________________

KGBeast

KGBEAST:

Scott Adkins.

Scott Adkins.

Because of Boyka, obviously.

______________________

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.

______________________

Maniac Cop

MANIAC COP:

Robert Z'Dar

Robert Z’Dar

Because why the beautiful fuck not?

______________________

_________________________________

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

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

Sometimes movies like X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE make me sad, because they give me time to reflect on how all the money going into these huge-budget movies could have been spent on important and worthwhile things like medical research, or wildlife conservation, or food for the needy, or reimbursing me for the allotment of my meager salary I used to purchase a ticket.

Let me back up:

X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (which I am now going to refer to only as WOLVERINE, in order to keep my word count down), is the supposed origin story of the previously-mysterious, eternally-popular mutton-chopped mutant from the Marvel comic books and the three previous X-MEN feature films.  It’s meant as a prequel to that trio of movies, explaining how Wolverine got to the point in which we initially meet him at the beginning of 2000’s X-MEN.  As usual, Wolverine is played by Hugh Jackman, in a performance that has very little to do with the source material, but with an Eastwood-esque charisma that, for a while at least, had effectively anchored this increasingly unwieldy film series.

I had some hopes going into this movie because its initial screenplay credit goes to David Benioff, the novelist who wrote the books The 25th Hour andCity of Thieves, and the short story collection When The Nines Roll Over (all highly recommended).  On the other side of seeing this thing, I can’t believe that a single word of Benioff’s draft was used.  Or maybe he did write it after all, but only after being hit in the brain with one of those ‘amnesia bullets’ that wipes Wolverine’s mind clean in the penultimate scene.  (Sorry, I ruined the ending.)  Wolverine is lucky to have the amnesia though.  If this was my origin, I wouldn’t want to remember it either.

Look, I’m not by nature a negative guy; I know from first-hand experience how much effort goes into making any movie, no matter how it turns out, and I have no interest in denigrating the hard work of anyone involved.  However, in the interest of honesty, and in the hopes that something can be learned from the experience, here are some quick [amnesia] bullet points to explain why X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE is – an understatement here – no classic:

Will Ferrell proved that this doesn't work.

Will Ferrell proved that this doesn’t work.

*  Shockingly clichéd dialogue.  If the humor was intentional, they would have called it AIRPLANE.

“You look like a man fixin’ to do a bad thing.”

“Colonel, this is turning into a disaster.”

“All of their strengths, none of their weaknesses.”

(Actually, I know exactly where they took that last line from – an earlier Marvel movie called BLADE!)

Blade

*  Incoherent action geography and by-the-numbers plotting.

But toothy yelling? We got that on lock.

But toothy yelling? We got that on lock.

*  A charismatic performance from Ryan Reynolds, who dominates every early scene and, naturally, is punished for it by being removed from the movie for an hour, only to return at the end with his mouth sewn shut.

Ryan Reynolds

*  Dominick Monaghan and Kevin Durand, both so good on Lost, also unnecessarily wasted.

"I've got a bright idea: Get me the fuck out of this movie ASAP!"

“I’ve got a bright idea: Get me the fuck out of this movie ASAP!”

*  An atrocious debut performance from Will.I.Am, who also has an atrocious number-one hit right now.  He’s a double-threat!

"Look on my silly cowboy hat, ye mighty, and despair!"

“Look on my silly cowboy hat, ye mighty, and despair!”

*  A complete lack of continuity with the X-MEN movies goes without saying, but I was still hoping that they’d at least TRY to explain how the great actor Liev Schreiber would one day become a pro-wrestler.

Sabretooths

*  Unintentional laughter abounds in this movie.  I listed the times when I laughed out loud:

1.  Opening credits freeze-frame on Liev Schrieber as Sabretooth, bounding like a bunny rabbit though a SAVING PRIVATE RYAN homage/ D-Day flashback.  Really, any time he jumps around the movie is almost worth the cost.  Hysterical.  Not meant to be.  But hysterical.

Sabertooth

2.  Naked CGI Wolverine jumping into a waterfall.  (Hard to explain and we don’t have the time. None of us here are immortal.)

Nuditay

3.  Aunt May and Uncle Ben, from the SPIDER-MAN movies, cameo as the kindly old couple who take Wolverine into their home.

(Not actually them.)

(But maybe.)

(If not, it’s Ma & Pa Kent for sure.)

Old Folks

4.  Adamantium bullets, Wolverine’s only weakness.  He’s a werewolf now.

Wolferineman

5.  The Blob gets his name from mis-hearing Wolverine when he addresses him as “Bub.”

(So how come Wolverine calls Gambit “Blob”?)

Blob

6.  Ryan Reynolds’ sad eyes when he reappears as Deadpool with his mouth sewn shut.

Sad Eyes

7.  Patrick Stewart cameos as a weird old guy who invites a group of kids into his helicopter.  Creepy!  (Imagine if I hadn’t seen the other movies yet and I didn’t know why this was happening, seeing as how the movie doesn’t really explain it.)

Patrick Stewart

Again, apologies for the spoilers, but not really.  If you’re an emotionally mature adult and you haven’t yet seen this movie, I’m actually helping you.  I’m saving you time and money.  This is a bad movie, not that it brings me any joy to say so.

I recognize that this movie wasn’t made for me.  Clearly.  It was made to swallow up the allowances of thirteen-year-old boys and to sell overseas to foreign audiences that will hopefully get better dialogue on their subtitles.  A movie like WOLVERINE only has to be just good enough to meet those standards, and not any better than that – that’s just how business works.  It also should be acknowledged that the movie isn’t made for girls either (let alone women) – the only female character in the entire movie exists solely to get killed (twice!) so that the title character has his excuse to wreak bloody vengeance all over the place (but not too bloody, since it has to come in under a PG-13 rating so all the kids can get in.)  The movie’s not sophisticated.

Still, it could’ve been.  I’m a comic book guy.  At least, I was, for my formative years.  I appreciate the artistry and energy of superhero comics, and for some time I was wrapped up in the compulsive appeal of them also.  I read all the X-Men comics throughout the 1990s, although that wasn’t necessarily a golden era for comic books.  That decade was dominated by flashy yet hollow characters such as Gambit and Deadpool, who coincidentally have been crammed into this WOLVERINE movie.  Comic book fans know what I mean when I say that X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE is like a shoddily-drawn issue of a spinoff X-Men comic – it has some of the characters you like in it, and it’s got explosions, so you’re gonna get your fix.  But you will not remember it as fondly as you do the better issues.

It would be a copout, though, to suggest that this is the best we can expect.  Look at SPIDER-MAN 2.  Look at THE DARK KNIGHT.  Look at the LORD OF THE RINGS movies.  There is a precedent for huge-budget movies of this sort that still manage to engage a large audience emotionally and tell a coherent story cinematically.  It takes a monumental amount of hard work and good luck, but it can be done.

In fact, one just opened.

Star Trek (2009)

Given the choice, absolutely go see the new STAR TREK movie.  You don’t need to be a fan of the series from before.  I’m not, never was.  Although I guess I am now!  JJ Abrams’ STAR TREK is that good.  I have a minor conflict of interest here, in that I know, have met, and very much like some people behind the scenes, but that will only hinder me so far as to stop me from writing a full-length rave review.  I admit that I want to see this movie storm the box office so that nice people get paid and the rest of us frequent a quality movie, but if I didn’t truly think it was good enough to recommend, I wouldn’t.  It’s a really fun time at the movies, and a much better way to forget your troubles than an amnesia bullet.

@jonnyabomb

You know why this is showing up here now.  This is here because, try as I might, there was no way I was going to be able to let 2012 pass without any comment on THE DARK KNIGHT RISES.  That will be up soon enough.

But first, my thoughts on 2008’s THE DARK KNIGHT, since it was one of the first movies I ever wrote about online.  As far as the public record is concerned, I never have gotten around to writing anything about 2005’s BATMAN BEGINS, though maybe I should.

What follows is a condensed version of two separate posts I wrote on the same movie — you’ll see as you read it how, even in 2008, I was trepidatious about voicing any reservations about such a critical and popular prize-hog.  As some have since found out the hard way, my initial instincts weren’t too far off the mark.

People were in a frenzy over these movies before they even arrived in theaters.  And then things got even worse.

For some reason, while many people seemed to be comparatively lukewarm on BATMAN BEGINS (I loved it, by the way), there are many who seem to take THE DARK KNIGHT and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES even more seriously than they do those two presidential elections that happened in 2008 and 2012.  Let’s put it this way:  I’ve never met an “undecided voter” when it comes to Nolan-Batman fans.

Maybe it’s fitting that fearsome madness should erupt around a character who primarily exists as a storytelling prism by which to examine madness and fear.  But he’s also a character whose best stories involve conquering those twin demons, and that, I think, is why he means so much to so many of us.

So these are my opinions about some Batman movies.  That’s all they are.  You can agree or you can disagree.  I’m sure I’ll hear about it either way.

 
________________________________________________________________________________

The Dark Knight (2008)

THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)

Directed by Christopher Nolan.

Written by Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan.

Starring Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Tommy “Tiny” Lister.

About THE DARK KNIGHT, an ocean has been said.  My pontifications may be just another drop in that ocean, but it’s a pretty damn sincere drop.  I love Batman.  Have done ever since I was shinbone-high.  This is a character close to my heart, so what the hell, here it is, my two cents on THE DARK KNIGHT:

Mostly, I totally loved it.  There were a lot of great moments, and when I say great, I mean astounding.  I can’t recommend strongly enough that this one be seen on IMAX, where the full-screen city establishing shots and most of the action sequences reclaim that overused word “awesome”.   And hard as it is to do nowadays, ideally one should go in knowing as little about the plot as possible, because this movie has the power of surprise.  I did as good a job as I could do of blocking out such knowledge prior to the fact, but it wasn’t easy.  The pre-release thunder was deafening.

And it’s great.

But it’s not perfect.

It comes so close.  THE DARK KNIGHT is the most like Icarus of all superhero films; it just almost touches the sun.

We all know by now what’s so incredible and superlative and timeless about this movie – Heath Ledger’s uniquely intense and committed portrayal of the Joker, about which I can write absolutely nothing that hasn’t already been said by more influential writers; the portrayal of Batman by Christian Bale, just as good yet way underrated by comparison; Wally Pfister’s crystal clear cinematography, even more breathtaking when seen on IMAX screens; the deceptively simple, sharp production design by Nathan Crowley; the fantastic score by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard — a marvel of simplicity with its ominous theme for the lead character (that cresting wave of just two notes) and its even more ominous theme for his nemesis (that dirge of just ONE note) — and of course, the overall vision of Christopher Nolan, a director uncommonly interested in big ideas and engaging the widest possible audience with them.

By all rights this should be my favorite comic book movie ever, and in many of its many incredible moments, it almost seizes that title.  But the flaws hold it back, for me.  They are sizable flaws or I would not have honed in on them.  There are three in total.

1. Two-Face coming up out of nearly nowhere.

Everybody noticed this problem; that’s how you know it’s a problem.  The movie did a great job setting up valiant district-attorney Harvey Dent’s rise and fall, but then abruptly fast-forwarded him into the murderous Two-Face in the third act and [spoiler] killed him off.  Why?  Because somebody had to die.  SOMEBODY had to pay for [spoiler] what happened to Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Obviously there was initially a plan to keep the Joker in these movies, so when real life events cruelly made that impossible, it was apparently deemed necessary by the powers that be (whether they be the Nolans or the higher-ups) that the other major villain had to die.  This is part of the weird, hypocritically-puritanical morality of big-budget Hollywood movies.  For some reason, the vast majority of these major comic book movies don’t seem to be narratively satisfied until they have blood; until they kill off a villain at the end.  The Jack Nicholson Joker, the Danny DeVito Penguin, the Willem Dafoe Green Goblin, the James Franco Green Goblin, the Alfred Molina Doctor Octopus, and so on — all killed off, even at the weighty expense of the merchandising opportunities of the future.

So now this new Batman franchise has the terrible conundrum of having killed off a well-developed villain character onscreen, when the remaining well-developed villain character survives onscreen but has been tragically lost offscreen.  (Don’t get me started on how awful that situation is.)  And now the fans are heatedly debating which villain from the fifty-years-stale rogues gallery should be dusted off for the inevitable sequel.

My humble suggestion?

Forget Catwoman.

Forget the Riddler.

Forget the Penguin.

PLEASE forget the Penguin.

Forget them all, and let the Nolans create an entirely new villain.  You know they can do it.  They made Ra’s Al Ghul compelling, and who besides the most devoted fans and the working comics folk remembered him before BATMAN BEGINS?  A new villain is the answer.  The most important character in this series has always been Batman, and the first two movies have been built around him.  The next one should follow suit.

2. The vacuum where a love interest should be.

The other major problem with THE DARK KNIGHT, and I hate to say it because I really have liked her in other movies, is Maggie Gyllenhaal.  The character is what it needs to be, but the performance is a dead zone.  If the smart, sarcastic, lively Maggie Gyllenhaal from STRANGER THAN FICTION had shown up for THE DARK KNIGHT, than there wouldn’t be a problem.  But here she seemed entirely disengaged, apathetic, bored.  I didn’t believe for a minute that both Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent would be so into this dull woman, and I didn’t feel her loss to be as tragic as it very much needed to be.  On a narrative level, this movie needs the audience to fall in love with Rachel Dawes so that when we lose her, we understand why it sends Batman on the path he takes at the end.  In that role, neither actress who’s played it has cut the mustard.

Why do these comic book movies have so much trouble finding an equally compelling female lead?  Strong man need strong woman.  Would we care as much about STAR WARS if Carrie Fisher didn’t bring cojones to Princess Leia?  I don’t think so.  Don’t cram a love story into my Batman movie if you can’t make me care about the lady involved.

Without that, no, you don’t have the greatest comic book movie ever.  You have a very good comic book movie, but not The Greatest-Ever Comic Book Movie. That’s hopefully still to come.

Do I have a suggestion?  Yes.  Just off the top of my head:  Michelle Monaghan continues to strike me as an easy answer to a whole lot of problems.

3. The mumbo-jumbo.

This is a tough argument to make, because it’s one of the things I appreciate so much about the Nolan approach to these movies.  These are films built to house expansive ideas, about fear and heroism and governance.  I respect that.  It’s a far nobler thing, in every way, than the standard overheated empty-headed blockbuster.   In a world of TRANSFORMERS movies, I can’t believe I’m about to complain about a movie being too smart.

But it gets to be a little much, I think.  For my tastes, anyway.  There’s SO much talk, so much speechifying.  It’s not as if the terrific action scenes don’t make up for it, of course, but I feel like the movie is weighted down with a lot of weighty talk.  Nowhere is this clearer than the prison barge scene, where the Joker threatens to blow up one of two ferries, one carrying civilians and one carrying inmates.  After several fraught moments of dramatic pauses and much debate, the inmates make the first move to act — but properly.  This is all very well-written and I do get what Nolan is trying to do — to portray the city of Gotham and its people as much as their caped protector.  But, to me, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a long, very talky sequence in the middle of what, at its core, had better be an action movie.

In this movie, everybody’s got a whole lot to say about masks and capes and chaos and order and family and legacy — does anybody else feel like they’re auditing an undergraduate lecture in moral philosophy being given a guy in a Batman costume, or is it just me?

The Dark Knight (2008)

In light of these three not-minor complaints, I quietly suggest that this DARK KNIGHT is not exactly the perfect movie I heard tell of before I went in to see it, that best-of-year, best-of-decade, flawless masterpiece to be raved over for the last couple weeks and onwards until eternity.  It’s a strong B-plus.  It’s a flickering A-minus.  There’s just a little bit of all-the-way excellence missing there.  However: I do still feel that if we are yet to see a perfect Batman movie, Chris Nolan will be the one to deliver it.  This time around though, my eyes, mind, and butt, and the A-plus grade of the movie itself, coulda used about twenty minutes shorn from the run-time.

And I’m going to stop there for now, because we’re on the internet after all. Here on the internet, people get threatened with death, or worse, for writing less offensive sentiments than the simply suggestion that THE DARK KNIGHT may not actually be the be-all and end-all of superhero movies.

Trust me when I say that I do not fear death, but nor do I much see the need to, before my time, invite death over for a chat about politics.

Find me on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

Now THIS is how you do homage. When I talked about 1986’s LINK, I mentioned how Australian director Richard Franklin was a devoted acolyte of the work of Alfred Hitchcock. You wouldn’t know it from watching LINK, but you’d absolutely know it from watching 1981’s ROAD GAMES.

ROAD GAMES, sometimes known under the more claustrophobic title ROADGAMES, stars Stacy Keach as Pat Quid, an American trucker making his way through the dry plains of Southern Australia in order to deliver a freezer full of frozen meat. His only companion is a dingo, which Quid has named Boswell, who rides shotgun. (Attention, English majors…) This is the first clue that Quid is an unconventional guy. It’s not exactly legal in this time and place to be riding with a dingo, no matter how docile and domesticated Boswell seems to be. Also, Quid is a bigtime chatterbox. He barrages poor Boswell with constant conversation, which for us viewers is a pleasure, since these monologues are delivered in the plummy stentorian register of Stacy Keach. Keach has come up with names for all the fellow travellers who he spots recurring along the highways, including Benny Balls, Fred Frugal, Captain Careful, Sneezy Rider, and, most ominously, Smith Or Jones.

Smith Or Jones is the driver of the dingy olive-green van that Quid spots driving suspiciously at the same time he’s hearing radio reports of a deranged killer at large. It’s a long time before Quid himself gets a look at Smith Or Jones, but right from the outset we the audience know that Quid’s not crazy, due to the eerie early scene where a young woman is strangled in a motel room with a mean-looking length of wire. For better or worse, and probably the latter, we know, we’re going to see that guy again. It’s when Quid picks up a young hitch-hiker (Jamie Lee Curtis, just a year fresh off THE FOG and three off HALLOWEEN) who he nicknames “Hitch” that the trail really starts getting warm.

Quid calls this young lady “Hitch” A) because it’s what he calls hitch-hikers and he likes nicknames for everyone, but to the film fanatics in the audience it’s a clear nod from Franklin and his writer, Everett De Roche, to the master filmmaker who made a movie much like this one in spirit. (And it’s no accident that Quid’s first name, “Pat,” was the also name of Alfred Hitchcock’s daughter. Nice little gender-reversal on the shout-out, there.) If you’ve seen 1954’s REAR WINDOW, there can be no doubt which Hitchcock movie Franklin and De Roche have taken as inspiration. REAR WINDOW is also a film about a hero stuck in an enclosed space, who catches wind of a crime and is deemed crazy by the authorities, leaving him to take matters into his own hands. Both movies make effective use of diagetic music, which means that you sometimes see the source of the music on screen — Stacy Keach plays the harmonica throughout ROAD GAMES, and at times his playing blends in with the score (which is a very good one, by Brian May of THE ROAD WARRIOR fame). Both movies have fun with nicknaming. And both movies are very romantic, despite all the bleakness and the overcast of murder. ROAD GAMES is romantic not just in the nicely-played relationship between Quid and Hitch, but also in the romance of the open road, of that dream some of us have of gassing up a truck and driving down highway as far as the eye can see — it’s a bonus if you’ve got a dog and a pretty girl riding shotgun.

I suppose it’s a minor stretch to classify ROAD GAMES as a horror film — it’s more of a suspense thriller than anything else, although Smith Or Jones is a truly spooky presence in his few fleeting appearances throughout the film. I feel justified grouping ROAD GAMES into horror because of its prime status in the genre of “Oz-ploitation” and because of its interesting proximity to HALLOWEEN. Richard Franklin was reportedly friendly with John Carpenter (I’m still looking for more information on this but it seems they studied at USC at the same time), and Franklin cast Jamie Lee Curtis in ROAD GAMES after meeting her on the set of THE FOG. And of course, the same year Jamie Lee Curtis appeared in ROAD GAMES she would soon appear in HALLOWEEN 2.

Much is said about John Carpenter’s affinity for the work of Howard Hawks, but less is said about how much Carpenter’s sensibilities also reflect a love for Hitchcock. (One clue is how HALLOWEEN‘s Dr. Loomis is named after a character in Hitchcock’s PSYCHO.) While Carpenter was subtly — and stylistically — paying homage to Hitchcock in HALLOWEEN, Richard Franklin would go on to do so directly with the sequel to PSYCHO, 1983’s PSYCHO 2, which I’ve not seen personally but if you’re interested to read more on it, you should read this review by the great Vern.

All of which is to say that if you loved John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN, and who doesn’t?, you will most definitely love Richard Franklin’s ROAD GAMES.

Ride with me on Twitter: @jonnyabomb

 

After Night Of The Creeps, Night Of The Comet is the best “Night Of The” movie of the 1980s.  (There were many of ’em.)  These are the kind of movies you hope for, every time you venture off the mainstream path looking for something out of the ordinary.  These are the kind of movie there just plain aren’t enough of, although if there were, I suppose coming across them wouldn’t feel quite as special.

Night Of The Comet is about two sisters, Regina (Catherine Mary Stewart, from The Apple) and Sam (Kelli Maroney, later of Chopping Mall fame).  Regina works at a movie theater where she sometimes hooks up with the dickhead projectionist (Michael Bowen, eventually of Magnolia and Kill Bill).

Meanwhile, Sam is younger, so she’s stuck at home with their shitty stepmother on the night when parties are gathering to watch the approach of a rare comet.  Sam is sent to her room, and Regina is holed up in the projection booth, so they’re not outside with everyone else when the comet turns whole cities to zombies and dust.

Let me clarify:  The comet mostly turns everyone to red dust, with a red haze coating the already-considerable haze of L.A. smog.  Those who aren’t turned to dust are turned into zombies, which Regina discovers when her dickhead boyfriend ventures outside in the morning and is immediately killed by one.  The zombie chases Regina out into the alley, where this exchange transpires:

ZOMBIE IN ALLEY: Come here!

REGINA: Come here your ass!

Two things:  Talking zombies, which is something I’ve always wanted to see in a movie like this, and also, what a great female protagonist!  Smart-ass, super-pretty, and unafraid of any back-talking red-dust zombie.

So Regina escapes and finds Sam, hiding out.  They discover, with a reaction somewhat more in stride than horrified, that everyone they know is dead.  Apparently if you were inside during the comet’s approach, you lived.  If you were outside, as most people were, you’re dust.  If you got caught in between, you’re zombified — but not for long; dust is in your future.  Of course, it strains credulity that Regina and Sam would be the only ones who managed to stay inside, but if you go with it, the movie works.  It’s really Dawn Of The Dead, with a much lighter tone and an uber-sarcastic lead girl.

The cool thing about Night Of The Comet is that it isn’t a standard zombie-apocalypse movie.  Where you might expect the typical zombie hordes, here the zombies are very rare.  This movie is even more sparsely-populated than any of the I Am Legend iterations.  Eventually, Sam and Regina meet another survivor, Hector (Robert Beltran), a likable enough guy who helps them arm up before heading out for a while.  Sam and Regina go foraging at the local mall — after Dawn Of The Dead, it was hard to escape that mall — where they encounter another group of zombies and are then captured by a brigade of scientists.

The scientists, led by cult fixture Mary Woronov and Eastwood mainstay Geoffrey Lewis, are fixated on “the burden of civilization.”   Their nominal goal is repopulating the earth, but like any grown-ups in a 1980s teen movie, apocalypse or no, they can’t be trusted.

For me, the movie falls apart, or at least lags, in this final third, as Regina and Sam have to escape the evil scientists.  It would be hard for any movie to maintain the camp energy, eerie setting, and arch dialogue that Night Of The Comet initially established so well, and while some fans will disagree, I don’t feel that the last half hour or so stacks up to what came before it.  However, I don’t want to dwell on any criticisms for long, because there’s so much to enjoy with this movie.  It’s fun, silly, highly quotable, and surprisingly convincing, and I have to suspect that it was a partial inspiration for Buffy The Vampire Slayer.  It certainly helped set the precedent for smart, self-aware teen heroines.

 

Night Of The Comet is an underrated, under-remembered cult movie, and a neat accomplishment by its creator, Thom Eberhardt.  It’s a fun genre mash-up with an influential tone.  It has its flaws, but it’s way more fun than many so-called perfect movies.  You’re gonna dig it, if you haven’t already dug it.  So go dig it.

And follow me on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

 

NIGHT OF THE COMET plays in Brooklyn this evening at BAMcinématek as part of their Apocalypse Soon film series, celebrating the fact that according to the Mayan calendar, we’ve only got two months left.