July 22, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

Brutal, overlong, redundant, needlessly complex, and mostly Batman-free. My grade: C-plus.
My feeling walking out of the theater was that Christopher Nolan did not have a strong need to make a third movie. DKR retreads many of the same ideas explored in Batman Begins, but with a scarier villain than Ras Al Guhl.
Stub Hubby Review: Batman Begins & The Dark Knight
Ann Hathaway nailed it,
and the costume looks
less fake than this too.
What did I like about DKR? Bane is menacing, Anne Hathaway's Catwoman is just as I remember her from Frank Miller's Batman: Year One, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is strong as a passionate, hotheaded cop. Burn Gorman (Torchwood, Bleak House, Layer Cake) is a creepy-looking minion. I liked the imagery of the prison pit, even if this Jungian metaphor was covered already in Batman Begins. There's only so much "freshman year philosophy" (as my wife calls it) I can take before it becomes meaningless. Bruce Wayne is strong because he doesn't fear death. No wait, fearing death makes you strong? Either way, I don't think you can repair a compound fracture of a back vertebrae by hanging the patient from a rope and punching them in the back, no matter how many push-ups you do afterwards. What's the co-pay for that? The last act takes place in wintertime, and the snow was very realistic, and I loved the drifting, floating snowflakes a lot. Very convincing.
I have not read Bane-Batman comics before, and neither have millions of moviegoers, so what he's like on the page isn't relevant. Bane is a force of nature. He is an implacable pile of deadly muscles. He moves slowly but with complete economy of motion. Each death by his hand (or boot, or knee) is a model of efficiency. Bane wears a gas mask and speaks through it like Darth Vader. I know secondhand that in the comics Bane's strength comes from the gas, but I think we're told in DKR that, also like Vader, the gas mask merely keeps movie Bane alive. I repeat this Vader comparison because no one has ever complained about comprehending Vader's dialog in the Star Wars movies. I could only make out about half of what Bane said in DKR. At first, I just wrote it off- as long as I got the gist of his dialog, I could keep up, right? This turned out to be not good enough. Bane's worldview is the engine for all the action in the movie. It was impossible for me to get behind the purpose of the chaos if I barely understood why it was happening in the first place.
In a pivotal scene -- a scene that sets in motion the last 45 minutes of the movie -- Bane addresses a football stadium via a referee's radio headset. I literally thought to myself- how is anyone going to be able to make out what he's saying? This is like talking at the McDonald's drive-thru intercom, with a walkie-talkie!

Also, the tenor and accent of Bane's dialog was completely inconsistent. Sometimes the rich aristocratic melodic tone was there, sometimes not. Sometimes it sounded like he was talking into a red Solo cup, sometimes a tin can. I was baffled by this. Looking at Darth Vader as a model, I'm stunned that this essential component to the success of the film was botched so badly. Tom Hardy is so compelling in Nolan's previous movie, Inception, it's a shame his portrayal, while magnetic in the physicality and sheer terror, was ultimately flawed.

Also- Stub Hubby Review: Inception

I like surprises. I like twists. I just complained in my Brave review last week that the whole second half of Brave was a pedestrian "let's get it over with" slog. So how did DKR surprise me in a bad way? This might be hard to explain without giving it all away, but I'll try. I am all in favor of twists and reveals. You can have twists where characters are keeping secrets, and when they're revealed, what came before becomes more powerful. Unfortunately, the big reveal in DKR undermines what came before, and serves only as a clever misdirection on the part of the screenwriter. The big secret, revealed in the last half hour, makes the main conflict at the heart of the movie hollow and irrelevant.

Just as Nolan avoided sequel-itis with The Dark Knight, DKR has all the symptoms of the dreaded affliction in this third installment:
  • Characters from the last movie return for no good reason • Actually, Dr. Crane coming back for no good reason isn't a bad thing- it's a brief dose of levity in a relentlessly grim third act.
  • The protagonist gets less screen time than the antagonist • Worst case ever- Batman is barely in the first act of the movie, Bruce Wayne is literally absent for the entire second act of the movie too.
  • The superhero gets new gadgets or vehicles • Batman gives the Bat-cycle to Catwoman, and Lucius Fox gives Wayne a new Bat-plane. It's too bad, because the arrival of the Bat-plane explains how the movie is going to end for us.
  • Too many opponents • Too many everyone in this movie- Nolan has to keep the following major characters moving:
    1. Batman - kept on ice for whole middle of the movie
    2. Bane - the real star of the movie
    3. Catwoman
    4. Comissioner Gordon - he's missing in the hospital for the whole first half of the action
    5. Alfred - He retires halfway through. What was the point of Alfred leaving if he doesn't reappear at the most opportune moment to rescue Bruce when he needs helping the most?
    6. Lucius Fox - Explaining plot details real folksy-like
    7. Marion Cotillard - Her part of the movie is boring yet essential to moving the plot along.
    8. Joseph Gordon Levitt - A hotheaded GPD cop, no surprise here, he's the Robin character, even if Nolan thinks we're supposed to be surprised.
Really terrific.
 Setting: Batman Begins and TDK looked like they were filmed in Chicago- aerial shots looked like a more intricate New York City-ish coastline. DKR looks and feels exactly like New York City. The aerial shots look like NYC, the Empire State Building is featured, I think I saw One World Trade Center too. Uninventing a fictional Gotham is weird when Wayne Manor in Batman Begins looks like the pastoral countryside of England, transplanted to New Jersey's Palisades in DKR. It was completely disconcerting to watch all the bridges to Manhattan blown up. It crossed a line between comic book Gotham City and a world where 9-11 happened.

Stub Hubby & Batman

July 21, 2012

138 Seven Day Weekend

  1.  "Seven Day Weekend" Elvis Costello & Jimmy Cliff; the opening titles song from the terrible 1986 comedy Club Paradise
  2. "Awake" Letters To Cleo, from their major-label sophomore debut, Wholesale Meats & Fish. I didn't remember that I knew this mid-90s nugget until I heard it again.
  3. "Always On The Run" (aka the "My mama said..." song) Lenny Kravitz, featuring Slash
  4. "Merry Happy" I heard this Kate Nash on a TV show, but I don't remember which.
  5. "Easy Heaven"  Brat's MasterMix mashes up "Easy Like Sunday Morning" with "Just Like Heaven". It's flawless.
  6. "Losing My Religion" (live) R.E.M. did not tour to support Out Of Time, but they did a TON of live acoustic TV appearances, plus a handful of concerts. I have two different live recordings of this song from that period, released as B-sides. I forget which this is.
  7. "Overflow"  O Positive are channeling The Cure on this track from the Theodore Alternative Music Sampler.
  8. "Call Me Maybe" I paid 25c for Carly Rae Jespen's megahit.
  9. "The Right Thing" (extended version) Simply Red, from the twelve inch single. A far better arrangement than the version on the Women & Men LP.
  10. "Dancing In The Dark" (live) Mat Kearney; I heard a solo acoustic performance of the Springsteen song in a tee shirt shop in Provincetown on vacation. My SoundHound app could not identify it. I found a bunch of covers on iTunes, and this recording sounds like it might be the one I heard that day. I used to call this Bruce's "sellout" song, as it was written by the request of Bruce's manager Jon Landau to be the leadoff single from Born In The U.S.A. Some years ago I realized I was holding a grudge against this song for no good reason, and started to like it again. Also, I saw Bruce perform it on his London Calling Live DVD, where the arrangement makes it sound almost like Born To Run!
  11. "Truly Truly" Grant Lee Buffalo; another mid-90s song I forgot I knew until I heard it again.
  12. "The Cave" Mumford & Sons
  13. "Octopus's Garden" An exciting re-arrangement from The Beatles LOVE Cirque du Soleil album.
  14. "Saints" The Breeders; "Summer is ready when you are."
  15. "Little Head" John Hiatt
  16. "You Make It So Hard (To Say No)" Boz Scaggs
  17. "Heavy Dream" Parlour Bells are a Boston-based cabaret-rock band, reminiscent of Duran Duran, if they'd liked Roxy Music more and disco less.
  18. "Come Inside" Orbit
  19. "Birthday" Paul Weller covers Paul McCartney for his birthday.
  20. "Mercy" Duffy
  21. "New Slang" The Shins 
Parlour Bells, live at the Paradise June 30th,
the night I saw them at the WFNX farewell party.

July 15, 2012

Brave

Over the last twenty years, Pixar has upended Disney's traditional dominance of animated features with its modern and progressive filmmaking. Ironically, when a female protagonist finally gets her own Pixar film, it's the most old-fashioned and "Disneyfied" film in Pixar's history. And I, The Stub Hubby, feel like a knuckle-dragging "guy" for not connecting with the mother-daughter dynamic at the heart of the film.
Pixar has mastered the art of convincing CGI hair, but this is showing off.
The Disney feature Mulan covered this same ground 14 years ago, and better too- if memory serves. I may need to rewatch it! This column on Time.com covers the feminist failures better than I can. What I will say is that the reason that more movies don't have female protagonists, is that Hollywood believes that men won't go see a movie about women. That's why the red-headed teenager pictured above is barely in the TV spots- you'd think the movie was wall-to-wall adolescent hijinks based on the commercials that aired during the NBA Finals. People like to think that Pixar is some untainted artist's enclave on a mountaintop, but their movies need to make money too.
Brave feels like an aggressively traditional movie, and not just because it's set in ancient Scotland. It's a true fairy tale, the first fairy tale movie Pixar has attempted, and I was surprised and disappointed when the teenage princess with the modern ideas about free will and independence believes in faeries, fate, witches, and spells. I couldn't reconcile a young woman who wants to break convention and choose her own path in the world, with a land where faeries lead you to a witch with a magic spell.
Just as the queen was about to swallow the magic potion, I was eager to walk out. Dusting off the "magic potion" framework removed all drama for me. The remainder of the film was a "let's get it over with" chore, since I knew that the princess and queen would, in the nick of time, successfully fufill the rules of the magic and break the spell. If your response to this is "this is a movie for children", then that means I have to hold this film to a lower standard than all the previous Pixar films...except Cars and Cars 2, which also only succeeded as children's entertainment.
I have to give Brave a C-plus. Your totally male film reviewer, The Stub Hubby, apologizes, and is off to watch Field Of Dreams.
(Landmark Embassy Theater Waltham)

ALSO ON STUB HUBBY: I Attempt To Rank All The Pixar Movies