Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Dark Knight

Heath Ledger was a fantastic, brilliant actor and his performance as the Joker was the best, most amazing moment of his all too short career. Let's just get that out of the way right now. Not only was his performance sublime, engrossing, and nuanced, it was one of the most dead-on portrayals of the character -- in or out of the comics -- and will no doubt go down in history as one of the most indelible, iconic villains ever seen on film. He was somehow funny, scary, and tragic all at once. It is sad that such a talented young actor was killed so early in his career, but at least he went out with a performance that will live forever.

I just wish the film that took place around Heath Ledger's performance hadn't, kinda, sucked.

I suppose I shouldn't say it sucked, since it is currently the highest rated film on the IMDB and has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 95%. I suppose I should just say that this film wasn't for me, since I don't seem to agree with director Chris Nolan's view on Batman or comic books in general.

I know, I know... it's going to be me against the world on this one, but hear me out...

While I definitely agree that a more nuanced, intelligent, and dare I say "realistic" portrayal of the Batman universe should be a breath of fresh air after the campy nonsense seen in the previous two (or maybe three or four, depending on your opinion) Batman films, Nolan's films have just been pretentious, overplotted, overcooked messes. But, worse than that, they just weren't Batman films.

Here's the thing, just because you put a guy in a cowl with horns and call him Batman, that doesn't mean you made a film based on Batman. That just means you called it Batman.

Here, in my opinion, are some important rules that Chris Nolan broke when adapting his version of Batman to the big screen:

1. Don't Mess up the Costume
This one seems like it would be a no-brainer, and yet almost every incarnation outside of the comics has gotten it wrong. Granted, a drawing of a character probably isn't easy to translate into a real world costume intended to be worn by an actual human being, but some of these costume designs didn't even try.

Let's start with the colors: In May of 1939, Batman premiered in Detective Comics #27 wearing a gray costume with a black cape and cowl. As printing and color quality improved over the years, the black cape and cowl gained blue highlights to show better detail and shadowing. Eventually, the entire costume turned blue and gray, and then black and gray again, and so on, mostly depending on the ear in which the story took place, what book he was in, and the whims of the current artist and editorial team.

So, sure, it's always been changing so I don't have a problem with changes made from page to screen. But at least in the comics it always looked good (except for the unfortunate period where he dressed like this, but that was Jean-Paul Valley, not Bruce Wayne), which can't be said for the films, which more often than not, have usually looked bad, with Christian Bale's Dark Knight being the worst. Seriously, he doesn't even look like Batman. He looks like a guy in a Hefty garbage bag with two bumps on his dead. You almost never see him full on, he's usually just in shadow or in extreme close up. Worse, his costume's color scheme is black on black with a black bat logo, so it's impossible to see.

This was a Batman costume designed by people who are embarrassed to be making a film about a guy in a costume. So... why are they making this movie?

2. Batman is a Detective
Now, this is something most people who have never read the comics couldn't be expected to know. In the comics, Batman is a detective with skills on par with -- and perhaps even rival -- Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, and the like. He uses deductive reasoning, collects and analyzes forensic evidence, and just plain uses his brains as much, if not more, than he uses his brawn.

You wouldn't know this from the movies, of course. Just like you wouldn't know from the Tarzan films that the character in the novels is actually incredibly intelligent, well spoken, and fluent in at least three languages. Most people who think of Tarzan think of the dumb, lumbering oaf who mutters "Me Tarzan, you Jane" popularized from the movies. That's not Tarzan. And the guy who prowls the city beating up muggers isn't really Batman.

The most we ever really get from any of the movies is when he'll enter some data into his computers and it will tell him what to do. At least in this film he actually visited some crime scenes and exchanged words with the cops, but he didn't really learn anything or act on evidence collected or gleaned.

3. Batman is a Martial Arts Expert
I know, I know... I just complained about how the films emphasize Batman's fighting over his brain, but now I'm complaining that there isn't enough fighting?

Well... yeah. Because, you know... there isn't.

Don't get me wrong, action-wise, Dark Knight is a million times better than Batman Begins, but that's only because Batman Begins has some of the worst action scenes in any major Hollywood movie. Seriously, it's terrible. All of the fighting scenes were basically just close up shots of Christian Bale's face and fists, edited terribly while punching sounds play in the background. The scene with the tumbler was cool, but all of the fight scenes were terrible.

Dark Knight is a little bit better, especially with the big truck chase set piece in the middle of the film, but the handheld fighting scenes are still pathetic and horribly choreographed and edited. A lot of that has to do with the fact that Chris Nolan doesn't know how to direct action effectively, but it also has to do with the fact that their Batman is wearing so much padding and armor he can barely move!

4. Batman Doesn't Fly
Why is Batman always flying around in these movies? Because it looks cool? But it doesn't. It looks lame and doesn't make any sense. He's not a real Bat. He doesn't have to fly around in every scene.

5. It's Batman and Robin, dammit!
Robin gets no respect. Robin is something of a litmus test for finding real Batman fans. Here's the thing... I'm not going to say that "real" Batman fans love, or even like, Robin, but "real" Batman fans don't hate him. The idea that Robin is a dumb, annoying, Jar Jar Binks like character that drags Batman down was invented by movie-goers who think they're smarter than comic book fans.

Here's the deal: Robin is a cool, fun character who compliments Batman. They're the Dynamic Duo! I'm not saying that Batman always needs to have Robin in every story. In fact, I usually prefer the solo stories, even thought I like Robin and think he has his place in the Batman universe.

Do I think he should be in all the movies? Of course not. However, in most of the interviews and production articles I've heard from the cast and crew of Nolan's Batman films, they've talked smack about Robin, said he has no place in anything to do with Batman, and isn't a character that can be taken seriously. It's as thought these people think they understand Batman better than the people who have been writing and drawing his stories for the past 70 years.

Even Frank Miller used Robin as an integral part of his Dark Knight Returns.

Ok, Donald, so you thought Chris Nolan's past two Batman films haven't shown much faithfulness or fidelity to the source material. Get over it. How does it work on its own terms? Forgetting the comic, was the Dark Knight, when taken by itself and in a vacuum, a good film?

No! It sucked!

This over bloated mess of a movie wouldn't have worked as an episode of Law and Order, let alone a film based on one of the most beloved comic book characters of all time. I'm not a dumb person. I'm able to follow multiple plot lines and a diverse cast of characters, but sometimes too much is just too much.

-- Warning!! There May be Spoilers!! --

Why was Eric Roberts in this movie? What purpose did his character serve?

Why was that guy from Hong Kong in this movie? Did we really need to spend another twenty minutes on that pointless scene in Hong Kong?

What was the point of the copy-cat Batman vigilantes? That plot line when nowhere.

Why was Maggie what's her name in this movie? Here's a tip for Chris Nolan: If you can't get Katie Holmes to reprise her role, rewrite the script so it's a new character. Rachel Dawson isn't even from the comics, was there really such a huge fan demand to bring back that character? And, no, the love subplot didn't serve any actual purpose. Bruce Wayne was going to give up being Batman if she'd only agree to marry him? Huh? So the Batman from this movie isn't fighting crime because he feels obsessed with bringing justice to the streets of Gotham city, but because he's a bored bachelor with nothing better to do? That's just dumb. And so is the idea that he was grooming Harvey Dent to be his successor so he can retire as Batman. That's just too moronic to even get into.

And why was all of the dialogue in this movie so pretentious and unbelievable? You either die a hero or live to see yourself become the villain? Oh shut up. How about option 3, where you live a long and happy life as a good person? And don't get me started on Gary Oldman's ridiculously over the top, cheeseball speech at the end about how Batman is Gotham's noble Knight. If that had been in any other movie, the fan boys who ate up this film would've laughed it off the screen.

Oh, and why did Batman have to take the blame for those murders anyway? As long as they're going to lie to cover up Dent's image, why not blame those murders on the Joker? Wouldn't that have made more sense and been just as easy to get people to believe?

But, then again, the idea that they had to lie about what a monster Harvey Dent had become was moronic anyway. They did so because they knew that the people of Gotham would never have any hope had they known that the once beloved District Attorney had turned to a life of crime. Pffffft. That was the dumbest, most impossible to believe plotpoint from this entire, ridiculous, impossible to believe movie.

First of all, an entire city can't lose hope and turn to crap simply because a public authority figure is revealed to be corrupt. Look at the real world that we live in. We have no heroes and just about everybody believes that most of our cops, politicians, and district attorneys are evil. Obama seems like a really wonderful, admirable person, but you can't expect me to believe that the whole world would go crazy if it was revealed that he went mad and murdered a bunch of people.

So, no, that made no sense. And since that was the stunning denouement, the entire story pretty much fell flat and served no purpose.

But what did work? Well, the visuals were stunning. There's no doubt about that. This was a beautiful film. Some of the action scenes were also ok. The Hong Kong abduction scene in particular was really clever and cool, even though it served no purpose in the overall story and just bogged down the plot with more useless minutea. Also, the Bat-cycle thing was really cool. I hope they bring that back.

Oh, and the Joker was awesome. As I said, Heath Ledger was brilliant and their interpretation of the character was flawless. Then again, it's not really a hard character to mess up. He's every bit as one dimensional as he comes across. He just likes to kill people and piss off Batman. And he definitely did a lot of that in this movie, so he was great. Ledger and Nolan even managed to take the character to another level by making him far more terrifying that he has ever been before. Seriously, this was the scariest, most unnerving character since Hannibal Lecter. I honestly never knew what he was going to do and I shifted nervously in my seat uncomfortably everytime he was on screen.

Unfortunately, the filmmakers never seemed to know what he was going to do either, or at least they never seemed sure of his motivations or what purpose he actually served in the overall story. But that actually worked for the character in the long run. So it was fitting that the supreme agent of chaos would be the defining character from this chaotic, overblown mess. In fact, I think the Joker may actually have written the screenplay.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Ipod Touch 2.0

I'm slightly ashamed to admit I actually paid the 10 bucks to update my iPod Touch to the newest software. But I'm more than slightly annoyed that I had to pay anything to update my iPod at all. By charging Touch users and not iPhone users, Apple is basically creating a tier system that says I'm a somehow inferior consumer of their products. It's somewhat insulting, nonsensical, and lacking sense from a business perspective. Sure, I paid the ten bucks, but it left me slightly resentful and with a bad taste in my mouth. Why charge for the ability to pay to download more applications?

But that's neither here nor there. There's no sense complaining about the charge since I was the sucker who forked it over the first day of release.

No wait... I paid on the second day, since the itunes store was down for the first 24 hours. So not only did I have to pay for the new software, but I had to wait a day to pay for it.

But, again, that's beside the point. Let's talk about the software itself. Was it worth the ten bucks?


There were some interesting updates to the OS and functionality of the device, almost all of which are for the better, most of which are most beneficial for the iPhone, and all of which are too boring to discuss here. The real meat of the update, and the reason why I, and most people, downloaded it was for the App Store.

And it's pretty cool. But, frankly, it's also something that should've been available since day 1. And it shouldn't been free. But there I go again...

The App Store is just as easy to navigate and use as the Music store and everything else Apple has invented. Browsing is easy, downloading is easy, and syncing the iPod with my Mac is easy. You can download apps to your computer or directly to your iPod via wi-fi. Everything is sorted and ranked the same as on the music store, by category, popularity, etc.

The pricing structure seems a little wacky though. Lots of stuff is free, and much is so cheap it may as well be free, but some is just way too expensive. According to the App Store, Super Monkey Ball is the most downloaded game so far. I'm sure it's a fun game and all, but there are actually enough people willing to pay 10 bucks to play a game on their iPod?

There isn't even a way to play a demo for any of these games. You just have to purchase them on faith. That's ok if the game is 99 cents, or even a couple bucks, but ten dollars? No thanks. Especially considering the fact that playing games on a touchscreen isn't actually much fun. Here's a note to all of the game developers: Rubbing your finger back and forth across a glass touchscreen is actually really unpleasant. Try rubbing your finger tip against your monitor right now for a few minutes and you'll being to understand what I mean.

Anyway, I've stuck with all of the free stuff, and thankfully there's a lot of it. Here's what I've tried out so far:

This sucks. Touch the screen and bubbles appear. Touch the bubbles and the disappear. They don't pop mind you, even though they make a popping sound effect. They just vanish from the screen. The animation is bad, the look is garish, and the fun factor is non-existent. I thought there'd be some kind of pleasure from popping bubbles, but the control is so far removed from what is actually happening on screen that it just doesn't feel right. I don't expect much from a free game designed for the iPod, but this one fell short of even that.

Check Please:
A slightly obtuse but functional tip calculator. Once you get used to the design, it's actually really useful and powerful, as tip calculators go anyway. You can set the tip percentage, tax, and even the number of people in your party. I like this one and recommend it.

Jirbo Break:
This is basically Arkanoid, or Brick Breaker, or whatever else it's been called over the years. You rub your finer along the screen to move your cursor under the ball. You've played it before. It's fun... but not on an iPod. As I said above, rubbing your finger along a screen over and over again just doesn't feel good. In fact, it feels bad. Play this to long and you'll get caluses.

Jirbo Match:
This is a kind of fun match game. You know the drill: You get to uncover two cards at once, until you find and make matches. It's cute and addictive. I like it and recommend it, if you know that you like match games.

This is completely pointless. It's a "flashlight" application that turns the screen all white... so you can see in dark rooms. There's nothing to say about this. It works and it might even come in handy. And I'm sure it doesn't take up much memory. Go ahead and download it.

Tap Tap Revenge:
This is actually a really fun, really clever music game. It's sort of like Guitar Hero, but on a touchscreen. You have to tap the dots as they fall down the screen in time to the music. It's hard to explain but it's easy to get into. This is actually a great game and I recommend it. It's just fun.

Urban Spoon:
Unsure of where to go for dinner? Download Urban Spoon and let it decide for you. It logs through a wi-fi connection to access information about restaurants in the area. Then you just shake your iPod (or press a button if you're in public and don't want to look like an idiot) and it randomly picks a restaurant, offering links to reviews information, etc. You can enter parameters that limit your search to certain cuisines or price ranges as well. This application is awesome.

And that's all I've downloaded so far. Was it worth the time and money I spent to upgrade the software? Probably not at this point, but as the App Store grows and the applications get better and more plentiful, I'm sure it will be a worthwhile investment.

But let's hope version 2.1 is free.


This is the best movie Pixar has ever made, so by default that puts it pretty high on the short list of the best movies ever made.

If you're like me, it'll make you laugh, cry, and want to jump out of your seat with excitement.

Just go see it.

Quick Movie Round-Up

I saw a few movies over the past few weeks. Here are my quick thoughts on each:

Speed Racer

Speed Racer is one of the worst TV shows of all time. I've met people before who describe themselves as fans and who actually claim to have made it through an entire episode. Some of these "fans" have even sat through multiple episodes. I've never been able to do that. I've tried. And I've failed. To begin with, I'm not a fan of Anime. Let me be more frank: I think Anime sucks. Especially bad Anime, a subcategory in which the Speed Racer series most definitely falls. It sucks big time.

But when I saw the trailer for the new movie based on Speed Racer, I thought it looked pretty cool. So I saw it.

In Imax.

I'm not sure if it was the enormity of the Imax screen or if it was all of the excited kids in the theatre who couldn't stop laughing and hollering with excitment, but I had a blast. It isn't going to win any awards (and judging by the box office, it probably won't even make much of a profit, if at all), but it was actually a really clever, really well done kids movie.

Rent it.


You know what would've made this movie less annoying? If it had been called "Jar Jar" and was just two hours of a pregnant Jar Jar binks wise-cracking in his Gunganese creole.

"Meesa Jar Jar Binks. Meesa forshizz up the spout!"

Seriously, this was one of the most annoying, awful movies I've ever seen. People liked this? This won an award for best writing? If you thought Daria and the collected works of Jenneane Garrafalo are the crowning achievements of Western Civilization, you might enjoy this movie. Otherwise, you'll find it as obnoxious and impossible to believe as I did.

There just wasn't one character moment, one piece of dialogue, one single epiphany that didn't seem forced, over written, or the least bit genuine. Call me crazy, but I enjoy hearing actors recite dialogue that sounds authentic and as thought it might actually come from a character's mouth, not straight from a pretentious, trite screenwriter's Macbook.

What a piece of crap.

The Incredible Hulk

I'll admit right from the start that I was one of the four or five people who actually liked the original Ang Lee Hulk film from a few years back. It was over written, over produced, and had one of the worst finales I've ever seen, but it was a pretty good comic book movie and the Hulk scenes were awesome. You can read my review of that film here.

I honestly wasn't expecting much from this film. It didn't look as cool as the first film, it didn't have a director as well known and respected as Ang Lee, and -- frankly -- Ed Norton is no Eric Bana. Eric Norton is actually really overrated and kind of annoying.

But this movie pretty much kicked ass.

The story wasn't really a sequel to the first film, so it was able to start fresh without any baggage. In a way, it owed as much to the TV show than it did to the first film. There were even cameos by Lou Ferrigno and Bill Bixby (in a roundabout way, by a quick clip from an episode of the courtship of Eddie's Father.)

But who cares about all that? What really sold this movie, other than the obvious love for and fidelity to the source material, was the amazing, comic book action scenes. For my money, the Hulk didn't look quite as good as he did in the first film (he was a bit too monstrous), but the set pieces were off the hook, each better than the last, all culminating in the best comic book style fight finale in film history. When the Hulk and the Abomination finally went toe to toe in the streets of New York City, I nearly wept in my seat. It was everything I've ever wanted to see on screen since Marvel first started making films in the first place.

Go see it. Go see it multiple times. I want to see another sequel.