Archive for the ‘Movies (D)’ Category

 

 

 

DEVIL'S EXPRESS (1976)

 

THE DEVIL'S EXPRESS

 

THE DEVIL’S EXPRESS is sometimes known as GANG WARS, I guess because there’s one or two scenes where gangs fight each other. Truly, it is the tale of a man named Warhawk Tanzania — that’s not his name in the movie, but some details are destined to be lost to time — who encounters an ancient Chinese demon monster who has been mauling unfortunates in the tunnels beneath New York City. Only Warhawk Tanzania, with his kung-fu mastery, is brave enough to battle the demon.

 

DEVIL'S EXPRESS

 

Quite obviously GANG WARS is one of the greatest movies ever made. It’s BERRY GORDY’S THE LAST DRAGON meets THE WARRIORS meets THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE meets THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, or whichever monster movie you feel fits in there best.

 

Warhawk and Rodan in happier times.

Warhawk and Rodan in happier times.

 

Actually it’s not all that great, and there’s no way the reality of THE DEVIL’S EXPRESS will ever match up to the movie you are no doubt imagining right now. But it’s still one of the more fun movies we’ve covered on the Daily Grindhouse podcast so far, and our conversation about it was most definitely a ton of fun.

 

Click here to listen!

 

 

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And now here is the growing list of our previous episodes, in case you’d like to catch up. I’m a couple episodes behind, having been slow to update my personal site in general, so you’re in luck — if you’re not already aware, there are two newer episodes after THE DEVIL’S EXPRESS, which I will put up in separate posts right after this one!

 

 

STREET WARS (1992)

STREET WARS (1992)

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Vigilante Force

VIGILANTE FORCE (1976)

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GHOSTHOUSE (1988)

GHOSTHOUSE (1988)

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THRILLER: THEY CALL HER ONE EYE (1973)

THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE (1973)

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Raw Force (1982)

RAW FORCE (1982)

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Ganja & Hess (1973)

GANJA & HESS (1973)

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Never trust a poster.  Enjoy them, admire them, put them on your wall, but don’t you ever take their words as gospel.  My point:  If DEADLY FRIEND is “Wes Craven’s Most Terrifying Creation,” well then I’m an eight-foot-tall fuck machine.  Truth in advertising would read more like, “Wes Craven’s Most Inadvertently Hilarious Creation.”  Because otherwise you’re misleading people.  Imagine if somebody’s first exposure to Wes Craven’s work was DEADLY FRIEND!  They’d think he was a modern-day Ed Wood.  Actually, that’d be an awesome prank.  Show a young person DEADLY FRIEND first, and then show them THE HILLS HAVE EYES or A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET.  Nice way to demolish someone’s sanity.

 

 

 

scooby

 

 

 

Wes Craven is a vitally important yet somewhat problematic figure in horror cinema.  He’s made some viscerally horrifying movies that easily earned him a spot in the pantheon, yet he seems to yearn to  scare us in other ways, such as making some movie with Meryl Streep called “MUSIC OF THE HEART” and in this case, making what seems to be a kids’ movie about yellow robots and street basketball that takes a sharp right turn into some kind of weird BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN zombie movie.  Put it in chronological perspective and there’s some truly inexplicable stuff going on:

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1984, Wes Craven released A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET onto the world. Pantheon spot assured. Just two years later, the fatally-compromised DEADLY FRIEND threatened to revoke his horror-master status.  What a thundering misfit of a film.  Clearly several people along the way had drastically different ideas about the movie they were making.  Is it a horror movie?  If so, what kind?  Is it a suburban nightmare vision like Craven’s previous film?  Is it a science-gone-mad story like Mary Shelley’s classic Promethean myth?  Is it an R or a PG-13?  No one knows!  DEADLY FRIEND only works as a comedy, but if you look at it that way, it’s absolutely phenomenal as a comedy.  The movie concerns one of those genius kids you could only meet in the 1980s who teaches college courses and invents a bright yellow robot named “B.B.” (voiced by the same guy who voiced Roger Rabbit).

 

 

 

robot v. punks

 

 

 

 

The robot, which is like a big yellow Johnny Five from SHORT CIRCUIT if Johnny Five had less motility but still a decent pickup game, and if he’d lacked Steve Guttenberg as a calming influence and thusly been willing to crush the nuts of neighborhood punks in a vise-like grip, is the equivalent of problem dog. The kid loves him, but he bites, and eventually he’s got to be put down. The one holding the shotgun is the one-of-a-kind Anne Ramsey – you know her from THE GOONIES, THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN, and SCROOGED. She plays the mean neighborhood lady who shoots up the kid’s robot. A sad day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, the kid has managed to befriend his troubled next-door neighbor, who is played by a very young, distressingly-cute Kristy Swanson. The girl, Sam, suffers under an abusive father, who ends up knocking her down the stairs, which sends her into a  coma. Insanely, the doctors comply with Dad’s decision to pull the plug.  Having now lost his two only friends in the world, what else can the science kid do but put B.B.’s robot personality into Kristy Swanson’s body? If this were any other 1980s teen movie, there’d be sexual overtones concerning having your very own Kristy Swanson robot at home, but it’s a Wes Craven flick, so the robot Sam has to end up going on a killing rampage, despite the fact that, no offense, Kristy Swanson isn’t all that scary.

 

 

 

yowza

 

 

 

Come for the STORY OF RICKY-esque scene where Kristy Swanson destroys Anne Ramsey’s skull with a basketball, stay for the hilariously non-frightening end-credits song where B.B. the robot raps his own name over ominous synthesizer strains.  There’s no way to tell what on earth anyone was thinking, but the end result is a nutball classic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is an expanded version of an article that appeared on the great movie site Rupert Pupkin Speaks. Please go visit! 

 

 

And me on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

 

Days of Thunder (1990)

The sky always looks like it’s on fire in Tony Scott’s movies.  Everything looks like it’s taking place at magic hour, but it’s like the most intense magic hour ever captured and it lasts the entire movie.  In DAYS OF THUNDER, the action takes place on raceways which lends to the notion that all the gasoline on the concrete ignited from the sparks given off from the earthbound drama and is burning up the atmosphere.

Days of Thunder (1990)

Not everyone is a Tony Scott fan — too much style, they argue — but I definitely am.  [You can read a lot more about the reasons why here.]  Honestly though, my Tony Scott fandom doesn’t begin until a year after DAYS OF THUNDER, with 1991’s THE LAST BOY SCOUT.  I’m not so into 1983’s THE HUNGER (an anomaly, his only horror movie), 1986’s TOP GUN (not my kind of macho), or 1987’s  BEVERLY HILLS COP II (I know, I’m surprised about that too.)  There were two Tony Scott movies released in 1990; first the far-lesser-known REVENGE and then DAYS OF THUNDER in the summer.  Then he got hold of a Shane Black screenplay, and after that one by Quentin Tarantino, and the rest was action-movie history.

Days of Thunder (1990)

Stylistically, Tony Scott was doing what he did from the very start.  He arrived in features fully-formed in that respect.  But it could be argued that something resembling a worldview, or thematic preoccupations, didn’t start gelling until later on.  What I personally respond to in Tony Scott’s work is a healthy distrust/ disrepect/disregard for authority and bureaucracy and an affinity for outsiders and loners.  I suppose that is present in his earlier films, but there (in TOP GUN and DAYS OF THUNDER) it’s coupled with the Tom Cruise machine, which represents something different than Scott’s most frequent muse, Denzel Washington.

Days of Thunder (1990)

I like Tom Cruise as an actor and as a star, but he’s never been anything resembling a favorite.  My favorite Cruise performances are in MAGNOLIA and COLLATERAL, both rare instances where he submitted his usual star persona to the whims of a great director.  He’s worked with plenty of great directors, of course — Spielberg, Scorsese, DePalma, Stone, Levinson — but usually by coupling his engine to their formidable powers, by partnering with their vision rather than being a part of it.  That’s how DAYS OF THUNDER, like TOP GUN before it, works.  Tony Scott’s energetic style flatters Tom Cruise, in a way that Tom Cruise himself, as a movie star, is the story being told here.  Contrast that to any of the movies Scott made with Denzel, which, whether you enjoyed them as much as I did or not, were more like character pieces.  Tony Scott only ever worked with huge stars, but the mechanism is different when you’re talking about the ones he made with Tom Cruise.

DAYS OF THUNDER was written by Robert Towne, from a story by Towne and Cruise.  That is the highest possible caliber of screenwriter.  This is how Tom Cruise got to his rarified level.  He made a point, smartly, of working with the best.  You want a script that’ll showcase your starpower?  Hire the guy who wrote CHINATOWN!   In his review of DAYS OF THUNDER, Roger Ebert picked up on the early Cruise formula, which we now know was very much by design:  Cruise plays a super-talented hothead who eventually achieves his goals through the aid of an experienced mentor figure and the love of a beautiful woman.  Here he’s untrained but naturally talented racecar driver Cole Trickle (note the TC initials flipped), who links up with a semi-retired pro (Robert Duvall) to conquer the NASCAR circuit.  After an early accident, he meets a beautiful doctor (Nicole Kidman) who nurses him back to health.  There’s a ton here for armchair psychologists, but I’m not going to go there.

Days Of Thunder (1990)

I was never bored by DAYS OF THUNDER (credit there to Tony Scott) but I also didn’t care too much at any point, due to the fact that, as a true-blue Yankee, I don’t really get the appeal of stock car racing.  It’s a bunch of cars with advertisements stencilled all over them, driving around really fast in a circle.  How is that more fun than reading?  Maybe this movie plays better with fans of the sport.  Apparently the story is very loosely based on some actual racing professionals, including Dale Earnhardt, and the presence of real-life NASCAR luminaries as announcers and so on (not to mention producer Don Simpson in a creepy cameo) makes the whole thing feel gaudily believable.  It also helps that Cruise and Kidman are supported by a murderer’s row of character actors, including John C. Reilly (way before TALLADEGA NIGHTS), Cary Elwes (THE PRINCESS BRIDE) as a surprisingly nasty villain, a surprisingly serious Randy Quaid, and a pre-JUSTIFIED Nick Searcy and Margo Martindale.  One of my favorites, Michael Rooker, plays Tom Cruise’s main-rival-turned-BFF (Val Kilmer style) who engages him in a wheelchair race — obviously the single most enjoyable part of the film to a weirdo like me.

The entire thing is held together by Robert Duvall, a bedrock if the movies have ever had one.  His unflappability and steadiness provide a nice counterbalance to the typical borderline-scary Cruise self-determination and high-achieving.  It does make one wonder, since Cruise once benefitted so much from older co-stars such as Duvall, Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, and Paul Newman, why he doesn’t seem as inclined to do the same for younger stars, now that he’s hit fifty (!).  Cruise’s last three action films — MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL, JACK REACHER, and OBLIVION — are moving him further away from his co-stars, and back towards lone-wolf stature.  Advancing age suits a guy like Robert Duvall.  It didn’t much hurt the appeal of Nicholson, Hoffman, or Newman either.  What will it do to Tom Cruise, whose stardom is founded on forward momentum?  What’s the guy going to do when he can’t run anymore, and on top of that, they want to restrict his driver’s license?

Days of Thunder (1990)

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Days of Thunder (1990)

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.

____________________________________________________

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.

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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.

______________________

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.

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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.

______________________

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.

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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.

______________________

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

DAILY GRINDHOUSE BANNER

Daily Grindhouse would be pretty much my favorite website even if I weren’t writing for them, but since I am, here’s a collection of all my work so far.  It’s some of my very best stuff. Enjoy!

25TH HOUR (2002) 48 HRS. (1982) 52 PICK-UP (1986) 88  THE ACT OF KILLING (2013) ACT OF VIOLENCE (1948) Alex Cross (2012) ALIEN (1979) ALIEN ZONE (1978) ALPHABET CITY (1984) american sniper  AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981) ANACONDA (1997) ANTS (1977) The Apple (1980) ARMY OF DARKNESS (1992) ARTISTS & MODELS (1955) Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) BADLANDS (1973) BAIT (2012) A Band Called Death (2013) BASKET CASE (1982)  BATMAN (1989) BATTLE ROYALE (2000) The Baytown Outlaws (2013). Beetlejuice (1988) BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (2013) BEST WORST MOVIE (2009)The Big Lebowski (1998) Big Trouble In Little China (1986) BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) BLACK DEATH (2011) THE BLOB (1988) BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) The Brides Of Dracula (1960) brothers-2009 BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING (1965) untitled CARRIE (1976) CB4 THE MOVIE (1993) CEMETERY MAN (1994) Charley Varrick (1973) CHEAP THRILLS (2013) CHOPPING MALL (1986) class-of-1984-poster The Colony (2013) COMPLIANCE (2012) CON AIR (1997) Conquest (1983) THE CONTRACTOR (2013) Creature (2011) CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) CRIME WAVE (1954) THE CROW (1994) DARKMAN (1990) DEAD & BURIED (1981) DEADLY FRIEND (1986) deranged-1974-movie-review-jpeg-35312 THE DESCENT (2005) THE DEVIL’S EXPRESS (1976) dillinger-1973 DIRTY HARRY (1971) Django (1966) Django Unchained (2012).  DOG SOLDIERSDOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944) DRACULA (1931) Dredd (2012) DRIVE (2011) Drive Angry (2011) End of Watch (2012) EQUINOX (1970) Escape From New York (1981) Evil Dead (2013) THE EXORCIST (1973) Eyes Without A Face (1960) FACE-OFF (1997) Fast Five A tumblr_n2u9s565B11rscnczo1_500 Fist Of Legend (1994) FRANKENSTEIN (1931) GANJA & HESS (1973) the-gauntlet-1977 Get Carter (1971) ghostbusters GHOSTBUSTERS 2 (1989) ghosthouse 1988 GI Joe Retaliation (2013) THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011) GOD TOLD ME TO (1976) GONE GIRL (2014) THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY (1966) The Great Silence (1968) Gremlins 2 - The New Batch (1990) The Grey (2012) Halloween (1978) Hannie Caulder (1971) Hardbodies (1984) Hardware (1990).. Henry (1990) High Crime (1973)  THE HILLS RUN RED (1966) . IMG_8699 THE HIT (1984)Hit Man (1972) hobo with a shotgun HOMEFRONT (2013) The Horror Of Dracula (1958) the host - no words HOUSE (HAUSU) (1977) The Iceman (2013) The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus (2009) IN A LONELY PLACE (1950) THE INNOCENTS (1961) THE INSIDER (1999) The Invisible Man (1933) Iron-Man-3-2013 I SAW THE DEVIL (2010) Island-of-Lost-Souls-19331 Jackie Brown (1997) jaws jennifers body  JUAN OF THE DEAD (2011) The Keep (1983) KILLER JOE (2011) The Killers (1966) Killing Them Softly (2012) The-King-of-Comedy-1983 LADY IN CEMENT (1968) LADY TERMINATOR (1989) THE LAST CIRCUS (2010) BERRY GORDY’S THE LAST DRAGON (1985) Lawless (2012) LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962) the-leopard-man-movie-poster-1943-1020199765 Leprechaun (1993) A LIFE LESS ORDINARY (1997) LINK (1986) Liz & Dick (TV, 2012) Lockout (2012) The Lords of Salem (2013) Lost Highway THE MAGIC BLADE (1976) MAN OF STEEL (2013) THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE (1997) The Man with the Iron Fists (2012) Maniac Cop (1988) THE MANITOU (1978) MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE (1976) men-in-war-1957 MIGHTY PEKING MAN (1977) MILANO CALIBRO 9 (1972) MULHOLLAND DR. (2001) MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3-D (2009) My_Darling_Clementine_1946 NakedSpur-1953-MGM-one navajo-joe-1966 NEAR DARK (1987) NEON MANIACS (1986) night of the comet NIGHT OF THE CREEPS (1986) THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955) Night of the Living Dead (1968) NOSFERATU (1922) NOTORIOUS (2009) OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN (1983) ONLY GOD FORGIVES (2013) OUT OF THE PAST (1947) PACIFIC RIM (2013) pet-sematary-1989 Phenomena (1985) POOTIE TANG (2001) POSSESSION (1981) PREDATOR (1987) Premium Rush (2012) PRIVATE SCHOOL (1983) PULP FICTION (1994) Pursued (1947) q-the-winged-serpent-movie-poster-1983-1020195479 quick-change-poster BERANDAL (2014) RAVENOUS (1999) RAW FORCE (1982) Raw Meat (1972) RE-ANIMATOR (1985) Rear Window (1954) RED RIVER (1948) RED ROCK WEST (1992) Relentless (1989) RIDDICK (2013) tumblr_njo3upN5tn1sy67obo1_540 the road  ROBOCOP (1987) ROBOCOP (2014) SCANNERS  Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) SCROOGED (1988) Shaft (1971) Sheba, Baby (1975) SHOCK WAVES (1977) shogun_assassin SORCERER (1977) source-code Spring Breakers (2013) SQUIRM (1976) STARSHIP-TROOPERS-1997 story of ricky  STREET TRASH (1987) Streets-Of-Fire-1984 THE STUNT MAN (1980) SUDDEN IMPACT (1983) Super (2011) SUSPIRIA (1977) switchblade_sisters_poster_02 (1) TAXI DRIVER (1976) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013) THE THING (1982) THIS IS THE END (2013) thriller TORQUE (2004) touch of evil The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976) TREMORS (1990) TRICK ‘R TREAT (2007) THE TWILIGHT PEOPLE (1972) THE UNKNOWN (1927) Under The Dome VAMPIRE’S KISS (1988) VERTIGO-1958-649x1024 Vigilante (1983) vigilante force THE VISITOR (1979) WHICH WAY IS UP (1977) WHITE HUNTER  WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL THE WICKER MAN (1973) winters-bone WITCHBOARD (1986) worlds-greatest-dad-2009 ZODIAC (2007) ZOMBI 2 (1979) ZOMBIELAND (2009)

Make Daily Grindhouse your daily destination for genre movie news, reviews, and interviews — there’s a ton of truly great content over there, beyond just the parts with my name on ’em.

And follow me on Twitter for updates!: @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.

 
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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

DEAD & BURIED strikes me as a film underrated even by the crowds who usually stand up for films that are underrated. DEAD & BURIED was directed by Gary Sherman (RAW MEAT, VICE SQUADPOLTERGEIST 3) and written by Dan O’Bannon & Ronald Shusett (ALIEN, TOTAL RECALL).  These aren’t household names by any stretch, but neither are the guys who built the George Washington Bridge, and tens of thousands of people drive over that every single day, get me?

Jason Zinoman’s 2011 book Shock Value does a heroic job of making the case for O’Bannon’s place in the pantheon of important horror filmmakers of the 1970s and 1980s.  However, if Zinoman’s terrifically readable book has an obvious flaw it’s that it’s far too short for such a rich subject.  When I went back to the book to see what it had to say about DEAD & BURIED, there was literally nothing there.  This is a project O’Bannon and Shusett wrote before ALIEN, and got to make (with Shusett producing) once ALIEN conquered the world.  It features early effects work by the legendary Stan Winston (PREDATOR).  It’s a movie worth considering, for its historical import alone.

O’Bannon and Shusett wrote ALIEN and adapted TOTAL RECALL.  O’Bannon, a classmate of John Carpenter at USC, made DARK STAR with the director who would soon take off with ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 and HALLOWEEN. And O’Bannon wrote and directed RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, the movie that introduced talking zombies with a taste for brains to punk music.  Dan O’Bannon is as valuable to the sci-fi and horror genres as just about any more famous hyphenate worshipped by genre film fanatics.  Ronald Shusett has obviously earned his bones as well.

DEAD & BURIED was originally a short story and script by Jeff Millar and Alex Stern, which O’Bannon and Shusett rewrote and then gave to Gary Sherman to direct.  Sherman’s previous film, RAW MEAT aka DEATH LINE (which I will cover at greater length in a future column), is what got him the director job on DEAD & BURIED.  The story needed a director who would go all the way in, and it got one.

DEAD & BURIED opens on an overcast beach in Maine (actually Northern California), where a photographer has stopped to shoot some local scenery. He’s approached by a striking young woman (Lisa Blount), they flirt, and she starts posing for cheesecake snapshots.  She spontaneously opens her blouse, and just when the poor guy thinks his day is made, a mob of locals appears, seizing his camera away and snapping disorienting flash photos as they beat and kick him mercilessly.  They wrap him around a wooden pole with a fishing net, splash gasoline on him, and burn him alive.

It’s a mightily unsettling scene, even to modern eyes (like mine) who have seen three decades of horror hence.  The romantic music, the sudden boobage, and the jarring transition to such savage violence make one powerfully disturbing cocktail.  And the scene isn’t even done with us yet:  The local sheriff, Dan Gillis (James Farentino), and the town mortician (Jack Albertson) arrive on the scene to examine the burnt and deformed body of the photographer.  They kneel in close, looking for the cause of death, and the skeletal figure SCREAMS.  It’s an ingenious and upsetting scare, the likes of which we’ve seen several times since, in films as great as David Fincher’s SE7EN, but DEAD & BURIED has that film beat by a decade and a half!

DEAD & BURIED is full of unnerving moments like that one.  It’s a movie that was actually pared down in many markets due to its gruesome violence.  The scene that was cut, surprisingly, wasn’t the one I just described, but instead a rather infamous act of cruelty that befalls that poor photographer a little later in the film, as he lies helpless in the hospital.

This is only the beginning, by the way.  Sheriff Gillis is called to a new crime scene every morning after that first one on the beach.  The spookiness really kicks in when those murder victims start reappearing in town.  Don’t go picturing zombies — these folks are as unharmed and as generally pleasant as they had been before an angry mob bashed their heads in and set them on fire.  The practiced horror viewer will likely figure out the mystery before the sheriff does, but it’s the journey, not the destination, that makes DEAD & BURIED so indelible.

The story crafted by O’Bannon and Shusett parcels out surprises cleverly, in a way that can be surprising even three decades later.  Director Gary Sherman and his crew make the most out of their locations, making the town of Potter’s Bluff feel like a tangible environment.  The music by Joe Renzetti contributes mightily to the creepy atmosphere.  The ensemble cast, including a young Robert Englund (pre- NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET), is never less than fully invested.  But no discussion of DEAD & BURIED would be complete without mention of its two lead performances.

When I found out that James Farentino (who died in January of this year) was a native New Yorker, I wasn’t surprised: He has a direct, grounded presence that we as the audience depend on to keep us steadily moving through a story that becomes increasingly, horrifyingly unhinged.  He’s a low-key Everyman in the early goings, a regular guy whose very sanity is tested by the town’s journey into darkness.

But if we could retroactively award Oscars to unheralded performances of our choosing, I might have to commandeer the time machine to ensure that Jack Albertson would get his due.  If you’re like me, you either know Jack Albertson as Manny Rosen in 1972’s THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, or more likely as Grandpa Joe in 1971’s WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY.  Especially if you’ve seen either of those roles, in which he played the definition of the kindly old Jewish grandfather, Jack Albertson’s portrayal of the morbidly sardonic coroner Dobbs will be a revelation.  He’s there to help in the investigation, but he irritates the sheriff as much as he entertains him (such as the comical moment when Gillis arrives at the morgue and Dobbs loudly mentions where his young assistant stashes his weed.)  This was one of Jack Albertson’s final roles, and according to the director’s commentary on the wonderful Blue Underground DVD, he knew he was dying while filming the movie.  So Jack Albertson, a vaudeville performer from way back, clearly relished the black humor and irony in the role, and played it up to the hilt.  Dobbs isn’t just an eccentric with a nostalgic affection for big-band music — there are many more shades to the character, and Jack Albertson’s nimble performance alone is more than reason enough to take another look at DEAD & BURIED.

In addition, I think we can all agree that Jack Albertson has the greatest IMDb profile picture of all time:

 

DEAD & BURIED is playing tonight in Los Angeles as part of Cinefamily’s Video Nasties series.

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