Posts Tagged ‘The Dark Knight’

From ‘Superman’ (1978) to ‘The Dark Knight’ (2008): Comic Books Come to Life and (finally) Come of Age – over 30 years: Part II

December 31, 2008

The continuation of my Top 10 comic book movie adaptations (once again, the likes of Road To Perdition, American Splendor and A History Of Violence simply exist on such a different plane that I’d rather not consider them in these rankings, as excellent as they are).

5. Spider-Man 2 (**** ½; A-)
This film really surprised me. I saw the first one in theaters and found it a tedious, boring, unimaginative and poorly executed endeavor, and naturally expected more of the same from the second. But it soared majestically on a well-realized love story that became the crux of the film, never mind the rather ridiculous A-story with Doc Ock’s incredibly lame plot. It has gained staying power with its lovely insight into Parker’s real world problems. On top of that it managed the excellent monorail battle, which is one solid action sequence more than either the prequel or the sequel could muster (and the less said about the travesty that is Spider-Man 3, the better).

4. Batman Begins (**** ½; A)
Now this is where the gloves come off. Batman Begins marked the first true live action incarnation of the Caped Crusader on the silver screen – all prior were just flashy impostors dressing the part. Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan gave us a fully realized Bruce Wayne, brimming with palpable and gripping angst that carried over fantastically into the psyche of the Dark Knight himself, finally giving audiences an inkling of what it was for him to do what he does. There have been endless complaints about the cutting and shooting of the action sequences, but I’m having none of it: that’s the way I’ve imagined Batman handing out his beatings (it just sucks when you see it in IMAX). On top of that, it’s perhaps the best plotted film on this list, and the pyramid scheme of multiple villains (knock off one to find another bigger and badder underneath) is very richly orchestrated. Definitely took its cues from the best origin story of all (see #2).

3. Superman II (*****; A)
This is the near-perfect blueprint of what a sequel should be: more of the same, but bigger. It fleshes out the Lois-and-Clark love story, introduces us to a troika of villains as powerful as our esteemed hero, and raises the stakes from saving California to saving the Earth. This is the Godfather Pt II of superhero movies – on par with the original on so many levels, but just missing that very negligible X-Factor that will always make it a second generation. But what really stops this film from being the A+ that it should have been, is knowing what this film could have become. Director Richard Donner had shot the bulk of this but was fired to be replaced by Richard Lester (a shared first name was about as close as these two came to matching talents), he who wrought upon us Superman III. Do yourself a favor and pick up Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut; there are one or two inferior elements there, but everything else is on a grander, more incredible scale. And even in its rough cut, the climactic interaction between Jor-El and Superman (sans his superpowers) is absolutely heartbreaking.

2. Superman (*****; A+)
The film that started it all, and that for 30 years held the top spot uncontested; I naturally expected that would never change. It took its subject matter seriously, creating a fully-fleshed out universe where you could honestly believe a man can fly. It’s almost three movies in one: the opening on Krypton, the second phase in Kansas (I remember being so fascinated and so moved by this part, especially around Father Kent’s death), and the bulk of the story in Metropolis. And these boast three different tones, with three different looks, that blend into a delicious, mind-boggling whole. Whether it’s simple but spectacular set pieces (the helicopter rescue, the pursuit of the nukes, spinning the world on its axis) or the well-plotted narrative that focused on character above all else (Clark in Kansas, or Superman’s midnight flight with Lois), it worked on level few blockbusters could. And the music – who could forget the music? Easily John Williams’s greatest ever score, from the Krypton theme to the main title to the incredibly moving Love Theme (‘Can You Read My Mind’?); all this showed that this was the kind of superhero movie that would (and perhaps could) never be undertaken again. And there’s no justice without mentioning Christopher Reeve’s bravura performance as Kent/Superman – you’ve got to watch carefully to realize the slight of hand and amazing ability he brings into the role. Watching his physical transformation (that encompasses emotional and psychological) when he contemplates spilling the beans to Lois? Priceless. It’s the best bit of casting since they got Brando as the Godfather, and the best acting ever in a movie like this (until the next, equally tragic case, 30 years on).

You'll believe a man really can fly, which is all we ask of the great movies

You'll believe a man really can fly, which is all we ask of the great movies

1. The Dark Knight (*****; A+)
There’s not possibly enough I can say about this movie. It’s epic; it’s personal; it’s brooding; it’s thrilling; it’s violent; it’s hopeful. What it is not, however, is just another blockbuster. From its phenomenal score (of course no threat of comparison to Maestro Williams’s Superman symphony) to its phenomenal cast’s phenomenal performances to its ridiculously epic (in a great way) set pieces to its well-oiled plotting, deep-seeded themes and impactful emotional resonance, there’s little this cinematic achievement is lacking. Nolan has done the unthinkable among beloved indie directors: top even his most cherished low-budg masterclasses with a gigantic spectacle of a summer blockbuster. It represents genuine hope for the future – that big-budget blockbusters can be crafted with indie flick thoughtfulness and sensibilities: caring for characters, justifying their every controversial move, fleshing out the world they inhabit and drawing strong parallels to ours. It is the most intense blockbuster I’ve ever seen in theaters; probably one of the most intense and relentless ever. Once it gets its screws into you, it doesn’t let up or let go, and returns haunting you, with resonance and sometimes heartbreaking clarity, long after the lights have flickered off the screen. Here’s to 30 years (at least) at the top of the food chain; Superman has (barely) lost to a very worthy adversary, and it might take just as long if not longer for such a realistic and sustained challenge to rear its head. Yes, I said it: these two films represent quality that’s almost once-in-a-lifetime, so enjoy them as you’re privileged to. Chris Reeve and Heath Ledger (among a worldful of others) never got to.

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From ‘Superman’ (1978) to ‘The Dark Knight’ (2008): Comic Books Come to Life and (finally) Come of Age – over 30 years

December 24, 2008
It took 30 years, but Superman, director Richard Donner’s seminal 1978 superhero saga – and my favorite film of that year – has been toppled from the top of the standings of the genre it founded. By Christopher Nolan’s sweeping morality play/action-adventure masterpiece (a term I don’t use lightly) The Dark Knight.

Coming up with my favorite comic book adaptations is a bit tricky, given the presence of films like American Splendor and Road To Perdition which are, let’s face it, real movies (most of the others, with the exception of my Top 4, can’t comfortably claim that). So I’ll leave the non-fantastical out and label them honorable mentions (alongside the surprisingly endearing combo of Hellboy/Hellboy 2).

10. Batman Returns (*** ½; B+)
A huge favorite of mine when I was a kid, my taste in it waned a bit as I fell more and more in love with the comic book incarnation and recognized layers of depth Tim Burton couldn’t be bothered unearthing (with his focus on garish sets and fetishistic nipple-bearing costumes, Joel Schumacher couldn’t be bothered with anything at all).

9. X-Men II: X-Men United (*** ½; B+)
Much better than its solid predecessor (and much better in hindsight after seeing Brett Ratner’s atrocious third entry), this exciting and intelligent film was still missing a spark, a secret ingredient of some sort…oh to hell with it – it was missing its X-factor. There, I said it.

8. Batman (****; B+)
I suddenly feel conflicted naming this one ahead of Returns. Maybe my memory’s a bit fuzzy and I’m mixing up my love for both (the more I think about it, the more likely it becomes). I would’ve gone back to watch them to make sure, but Christopher Nolan’s kinda burned those bridges now. After his Batman movies, “there’s no going back”; he’s “changed things forever…” Ok, I’ll stop now.

7. Sin City (****; A-)
Rodriguez’s stylish noir jaunt is the auteur’s best film since his debut: hard-boiled, hard-fisted, and wonderfully shot and cast. Its three-story structure is a bit of a flaw, but at least it opens with a bang with the audaciously over-the-top and awesomely cool Marv, proving that Tarantino isn’t the only one gifted at single-handedly resurrecting film careers from the grave. Act II is its weakest by far, before Bruce Willis taps into one of his more affecting performances in a lifetime (plus Jessica Alba doesn’t suck! How shocking is that!)

6. Blade II (**** ½; A-)
Is that shock I register on your face? Well pick up your jaw and revisit this bloody vampiric action tale and you’ll realize it does more than pass muster. Wesley Snipes is perfectly cast (as he was in the first one), but the introduction of Guillermo Del Toro at the helm raises the style and furious pace to borderline unbearable highs. Add a wickedly cool yet tragically sympathetic villain, a decidedly badass (and pre-Hellboy) Ron Perlman, some excellent plotting and slick fisticuffs, plus a near-heartbreaking finale, and you’ve got the perfect template for the legendary vampire hunter. Before David Goyer emasculated him and handed the third film over to two pretty white people. The horror.

I’ll finish with my Top 5 after Christmas, but will leave you with some excerpts from Roger Ebert’s review of Blade II – not to bolster my case, but merely because this man’s a writing genius, and for him to exert those energies on a film like this pleases and tickles me senseless:

Blade II” is a really rather brilliant vomitorium of viscera, a comic book with dreams of becoming a textbook for mad surgeons. – Roger Ebert

"Pure action, bloody well done" - Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

"Pure action, bloody well done" - Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

The Dark Knight comes home

December 18, 2008
It’s been a hectic while away since I posted anything – I moved out west (far, far out west) to start school (again), torn between my freelance script development stint back in Toronto, and then doing all sorts of heinous things to raise money for winter tuition. But it is very fitting to return with another piece on the thing that most changed my life in 2008, and prompted the creation of this blog in the first place: The Dark Knight.

This marked only the second time I’ve purchased a DVD on its release day (the other being The Last Samurai…shhhh!!!) since I was in England when Million Dollar Baby was released (and who needs those DVD region issues?). I picked up a limited edition 2-Disc Steelbook case copy at Future Shop for $27.99 (Cdn), and stepped right next door and saw it on Blue-Ray for $24.99. Now, I’m no fool (oh wait, I am) but I do know a good deal when I see one. Even if I don’t own a Blue-Ray player. So I picked up a copy, and probably won’t open the regular DVD till Christmas (I know, I’m so blasé about the whole thing). I might still end up giving it out, b’cos if reviews of the special features are to be believed, there could be a special special edition coming in the none-too-distant future to stores near you.

The Meaning Of Life (from ‘The Dark Knight’, not ‘Monty Python’)

August 12, 2008

The Dark Knight is the gift that keeps on giving, as I continue to draw inspiration and ideas and concepts from it for my writing, my political and ideological sensibilities, and my personal life. That it would spur my renewed probe into the Meaning of Life is no surprise given the not negligible role it played in averting my attempted suicide some 35 days ago; that, in doing so, it would edge me over the precipice into a full-blown existential crisis is an expected side effect.

The Joker, the film’s magnificent central villain, espouses Chaos as the only fair way to live in the world. Harvey Dent, its impeccable hero fallen from grace, prefers Blind Chance. Neither truly exists in an unadulterated version in our world due to manipulation from the powerful elite in our society, who “make their own luck”. (Chaos negates a powerful elite, but remember that power vacuums are only temporary, and must eventually be filled).

That said Chaos, pure or contained, is the order of our existence, and Chaos is here to stay. In light of this, can life truly have any meaning? Because Chaos negates any true Meaning, the highest worldly calling is to reign in Chaos, which is where peace officers, aid workers and (allegedly) governments come in. Bruce Wayne is all of this in one, answering to a higher calling – the meting out of ‘Justice’ and ‘Order’ and serving the Public Good – than few of us will ever realize. This gives him Purpose, the only true Purpose in life with any concrete meaning: Self-Sacrifice. But what makes his special is scale; he truly lives for it, and if his methods are questionable, his impact is not.

Who else can have such significant or lasting impact on society at large? World leaders are quickly relegated to history books or celebrity fodder when their tenure expires, except when they serve in times of unmitigated Chaos, or – worse – when they cause unmitigated Chaos. It’s hard to swallow – but impossible to dismiss – that leaders or regimes like Hitler, Stalin, Pinochet, or the Khmer Rouge have stronger Purpose, greater impact (and by extension more Meaning) than well-meaning ones like Clinton or Carter or even Kennedy (himself magnified by tragedy).

Bruce Wayne’s tortured quest as Batman may give him Purpose, but it doesn’t really give him Meaning, which is why Harvey Dent surmises that Batman can’t want his job forever. Wayne’s hope for Meaning lies in a much more attainable (or not, depending on your outlook) source: Love.

A pivotal moment: he agrees to turn himself in to stop the Joker, and there’s a sense of relief as he asks Rachel if they can now be together. Her response is a telling one:

“Bruce, don’t let me be your last chance at a normal life.”

She is his Love, but she’s also his oldest friend, and understands his heart the way Alfred understands his logical and philosophical machinations.

So it is that I propose the only way to can glean any sense of personal Meaning in this haphazard, chaotic existence is the fulfillment we can only gain from those we love, and those that love us back.

Mind you, I do believe in a Greater Plan, but also accept that on ground level it can only look like Chaos to our untrained eyes. And only in God can we find true peace and fulfillment. My point is that, as a Christian, it’s necessary to care for the overall betterment of people – a quest the Realist in me knows is fundamentally impossible. No matter what we do or believe, bad things will happen to good people, and at times like that, when Meaning and Purpose seem hollow, do we need the fortitude of those we love.

I believe this is why I fell in love, and as my outlook on the Human Condition grows bleaker and bleaker, I become more entrenched in my feelings, desperate for a crutch to lend me stability and guidance. The fact that it hasn’t been requited in a while hasn’t stopped the slide, or the growing ache that has accompanied it. It only makes sense, I suppose – if anything can provide an existence with Meaning, it shouldn’t be easily attainable if at all; that would cheapen the Meaning. I mean, can you seriously see Bruce Wayne quitting cape and cowl to live Happily Ever After with Rachel?

Christians know true Meaning can only be attained through true communion with God, something I’ve found myself woefully short on for years now. Valerie, the appointed LOML, is a devoted, inspiring but humanly flawed Catholic herself, which was perfect: through a Meaningful relationship with her, I’d find a Meaningful relationship with God – a rather reckless notion: Now I was burdening Valerie with the task to literally Save me – my sanity, my spirituality, my sense of being. It’s naïve and unfair – how do you tell someone that? There’s no way she can let you down easy.

Bruce doesn’t voice it, but Rachel senses it, and lets him down – easy. As hard as her loss was on him, it is the impetus to throw himself more blindly into his calling, so Purpose will consume a lack of true Meaning. For me, I’ll admit that my goal of writing and filmmaking are nowhere near as noble or high a calling, but I hope it can be every bit as consuming, to keep me functioning in this existence I am shackled to.

When I opted to kill myself on July 8th, 2008, thinking instead of the impending Dark Knight made me realize something: as Meaningless as life often felt, death was even more so by a landslide. And nothing drove home that point like Heath Ledger.

A promising career, a father and thoughtful soul, cut down in literal prime. Sure, he’s immortalized on screen like few others – his Joker is a vibrant, affecting portrait of sheer genius. There will be accolades, maybe even an Oscar, but so what? It doesn’t change the fact that he’s gone, forever separated from the adulation that he would’ve surely, despite himself, gladly – and deservedly – basked in.

‘Achievements’ are no measure of Meaning. Maybe Love is an oversimplification, but oversimplification could be what’s needed to attack such a large concept. I personally have never felt anything so strong, as to be unbearable – insomnia, anorexia, depression – and because I’ve so mangled it, never want to feel it again. Yes – even if I’ve got Purpose with no Meaning. Better than me have resigned themselves to such a fate.

The last lesson lies in Ledger: for all his very intelligent use of a God-given talent, from where I sit all I see is tragic waste. And from my personal vantage point, Life on Earth as we know it is one frenzied, frenetic activity devoid of Meaning, and then you die.

Realism vs. Idealism: The Politics of ‘The Dark Knight’

August 11, 2008

There is nary a medium like film, that possess the uncanny ability to entertain and enthrall, to move, engage, provoke (thought, feelings, ideas, debate, passions), stimulate, question, answer, provide wake-up calls or flights of escapism, all in the same breath.

The Dark Knight belongs in such a heady pantheon. ‘Message movies’ can often be too preachy/pedantic and heavy-handed; blockbusters are typically stillborn and brain-dead. TDK manages to avoid both, espousing heavy logic and weighty themes while remaining fleet-footed and breathtaking. It’s already inspired me to much thought and contemplation (as anyone who’s read anything I’ve posted can attest to, i.e. no one). But I never thought it would lead me to question the nature – and meaning therein – of life.

It’s quite the weighty concept, so I shall try to explain what I mean. The core is in the dynamic of Batman vs. The Joker, two beings so alike yet so disparate, as well as in the crime-fighting triumvirate of Batman-Jim Gordon-Harvey Dent. In The Joker you have a rare character that is an absolute: no half-measures, no self-doubt or second-guessing; he believes in unbridled, unrestrained chaos. He has no real sense of personal gain, except to mete out his philosophy (which sadly has a degree of merit to it) to the unsuspecting, “civilized” masses.

Batman represents Order, but is by no means unconflicted. Seeking ‘Order’ as a vigilante? That’s a contradiction in itself. But in this character you find one of the great contradictions in modern popular entertainment, an embodiment of the uneasy marriage of Idealism and Realism. He believes in weighty concepts like Justice, Freedom, Honor, and personal codes; these make him an Idealist, because these concepts are really fabrications of a society that knows it has to aspire to be more than mere wild animals and cannot come to the realization that, on a societal scale, they are Subjective and humanly Unachievable. Only a Realist will dare admit how pathetically unmanageable humans as a species are, how basic traits can never be washed out, and how drastic measures must be taken to maintain some measure of Discipline, Harmony, and ‘Order’.

Batman’s voice of Idealism is the beautiful (in either incarnation) Rachel Dawes, the perpetual Assistant DA and his lifelong friend. Lucius Fox (aka head of ‘Q’ Branch) chimes in when Batman unveils a secret surveillance system so comprehensive it would give the entire Bush cabinet woodies for months. But this is Batman the Realist, as spurred on by uber-butler Alfred, his voice of Realism and the person that “knows him [best].”

When The Joker subjects Gotham to a crime wave designed to force Batman’s hand, Alfred advises him to “endure.” Endure, even as people die? Bruce Wayne baulks at this, not because of codes but conscience. Even Rachel can spot this. But ultimately Harvey Dent, an even more layered and complex character – who yells at Batman, “You can’t give in!!” – makes Wayne realize that there is more to Batman than “giving in to the whims of a madman.” Batman does what any person in a position of great power and responsibility must – he keeps his Ideals in check and faces Real World problems with Real World solutions. Debates and codes and ‘honor’ never solved anything by themselves.

Then there is of course Harvey Dent. Lt. Gordon goes as far as labeling himself a Realist (implying Dent is an Idealist), which is interesting because while they both start out that way, neither ends as is. Going above and beyond the call of duty (e.g. faking his death without his family’s knowledge for their protection) displays Gordon’s Realist tendencies. But he loses the plot after the disfigurement of Dent.

Gordon ditches a raid on the whereabouts of The Joker in order to evacuate every threatened hospital in the city and protect Coleman Reese, letting the Idealistic notion of the sacredness of every solitary life overhaul the very Real World answer to the city’s woes: capture (and kill) The Joker. When Batman wants time to precede a later raid on the Joker’s hideout, Gordon disagrees, wailing heartbreakingly, “We need to save Dent! I, need to save Dent…”

Back to Dent. He’s an Idealist par excellence. Nicknamed ‘Two-Face’ for the appetite he nailed dirty cops with, he believes in speechifying and Justice and Hope and Peace; in Nolan’s incarnation, the only character in the DC universe more Idealistic than Dent is the flying boy scout himself, Superman. He believes in Batman’s vigilantism, calling Gotham “proud” and admitting he would be honored to continue the crusade if he’s “worthy.” But he shows Realist tendencies worthy of mention. He alludes to Rome’s system of suspending democracy and handing control to one person in times of crisis, essentially supporting ideas like Martial Law and suspensions of freedoms in the face of grave threats. And later, when he defends Batman to a press conference (Idealistically, I might add), he gives a speech that sounds Idealistic but, at its heart is Realist (things get worse b4 they get better: “The (k)night is always darkest before the dawn.” I could so see G.W. saying that).

Which brings us to the real world. I’ve been reading the most fascinating book: The Coming Anarchy, by Robert D. Kaplan; who knew doomsday prophecies could be so page-turning? It espouses such controversial ideas (most of which I’ve supported since time immemorial) as the pointlessness – nay, the flat-out dangers – of exporting ‘Democracy’ to the developing world, the dangers of peace (and wanting it above all things; just look at Prime Minister Chamberlain’s shameless appeasement of Nazi Germany), and how Idealists debate and teach but Realists must rule. He largely defends uber-Realists Kissinger and Nixon while chiding them for often going too far. And of course, he wins true hero status with me by rightly placing the burden of guilt on the West for majority of the mess in the so-called Third World – from Sub-Saharan Africa to the Middle East and Latin America. It’s a harrowing, intelligent, fascinating read.

A Realist's Guide to Doomsday Prophesy

A Realist's Guide to Doomsday Prophesy

From what I can tell, Disaster brings about Realism, Debacle Idealism. WWI was a debacle that “delegitimized” war according to Kaplan (Kaplan points out that, before the 20th century, war wasn’t seen as a bad thing; think of all the things achieved through revolution and battle). This ushered in a phase of Idealism never before seen, which allowed such things as Nazism and Imperialist Japan and, eventually, the USSR to gain an oppressive grip on civilization. WWII was a disaster, a wake-up call, after the most old-school of Realists Winston Churchill had to step in and clean up Chamberlain’s mess (notice that this didn’t stop Churchill from later being ousted, though). The Cold War kept us on our toes, and for the first time in a while the world realized that sometimes, to keep Order and Sanity, you had to do the unthinkable, if it was necessary (that said, I still think The Cold War was blown hideously out of proportion by paranoia and idiocy).

The end of the Cold War made everyone realize just how stupid we were to exist for decades just a hair away from nuclear annihilation; this Debacle led to renewed Idealism, which in turn led to disasters such as the genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia. But these were still sufficiently far away to induce a lull, leading us to poo-poo such ‘drastic’ anti-terrorism attempts as those weighted against Osama bin-Laden and friends. Of course until the disaster of September 11th.

Harvey Dent, the ‘White Knight’ of Gotham and unflinching crusader, is “brought down to our level” with stunning ruthlessness by The Joker. Does he go off the hinge as in the old incarnations, becoming an outright evil criminal? Not at all – he remains a crusader, logically; what changes is his 180-degree swing from ardent Idealism to murderous Realism. He goes after the dirty cops and the mob – people responsible for his disfigurement and the death of his beloved. Then he goes after Gordon.

Why, you ask? It’s the battle between newfound Realism and newfound Idealism. But the irony is that Realist Dent is punishing Idealist Gordon for mistakes that Realist Gordon made (i.e. trusting a crooked police squad). Dent seeks to shatter Gordon’s belief system(s), and teach him a very cruel lesson that he learned at the hands of The Joker: life is cruel, hard and unfair, and it’s pointless trying to be “decent men in an indecent time.” When Batman points out he doesn’t want to hurt a child to get his point across, Dent answers that it’s “not what [he] want[s], it’s what’s FAIR!!” And that’s true. Because the world is an unfair place, where bad things happen to good people – regardless of what you believe. It’s the true “Chaos Theory,” because ‘true’ ‘justice’ or fairness can only come from chance: “unbiased; unprejudiced…fair.” In this sense Dent – like the Joker – tempers his ruthless Realism with a touch of Idealism.

Dent ends up taking a swan dive, and Batman takes the fall. This is the most crucial part of this thesis. Why does this happen? Merely to give us a deep, dark Empire Strikes Back-esque ending and set up a sequel? You vastly ‘misunderestimate’ this film. Batman has finally – after 2 movies – learned the only way to make grounds in a world that’s as broken, corrupt, and misguided as ours. You’ve got to be a Realist decision-maker, while marketing Idealist tendencies to a lost public.

Kaplan points out how most politicians thrive on selling an Idealistic image to voters, who love someone who stands for their belief systems. But who can actually – effectively – govern that way? Leaders are those able to make tough decisions everyday that we wouldn’t even dare contemplating in a game of ‘Would You Rather?’. It means often doing the unpalatable, for the greater good.

Churchill knew that, and Batman does now, too. Give the people something to believe in (in this case, Harvey Dent) but do what needs to be done if you’re in a position to take the punishment and repercussions. The perfect marriage of Idealism and Realism. Because too much of the former can in itself morph into an unsightly dose of the latter. Just ask Hitler, or if he’s out of reach, try The Joker.

Agents of Chaos: The Greatest Screen Villains of Our Time

August 8, 2008

Now that seemingly the whole world is writhing in the throes of the post-orgasmic glow of The Dark Knight (at least I am; the global box office seems to be backing me up on this one), it seems like a good time to address the best bad guys in Hollywood history.

AFI’s list of 50 Greatest Villains is over 5 years old, and while it’s a largely credible one, its age leaves a lot of highly qualified candidates with lengthy, impressive resumes of staggering evil out in the cold. AFI just recently rejigged their Greatest Films list with no other apparent purpose than to fuck with viewers’ minds, so why not redo this one when there’s great credence? So, leading the charge to stake their claims in the splendidly burnished hall of infamy that would make Stalin groan in envy, are these fine young gentlemen, these Agents of Chaos:

5. Anton Chigurh (Played by Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men)
Why: He’s an unstoppable, unflappable killing machine, a menacing presence with an insatiable appetite for destruction and misery. If the Terminator were Latino with a fucked-up hair-do and took a maniacal delight in killing people (and wasn’t a cyborg from the future; who the hell’s gonna buy that?)…he’d have some serious Green Card issues. Other than that, he’d be Anton Chigurh.

What’s Against Him: Said fucked-up hair-do.
Accolades: Best Supporting Actor Oscar, in the Best Picture winner; my #3 film of 2007.

4. Daniel Plainview (Played by Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood)
Why: Well, let’s see…he ruthlessly exploits, manipulates and cheats everyone, and when he finds someone may have done likewise to him, he shoots the guy dead. His little son (and partner) is wounded in a freak industrial accident, so he ships him off to boarding school to be rid of him. He gets baptized so he can get drilling rights. Cuts off his son at the knees when he learns the lad wants to go into the business on his own (thus becoming a competitor, the one thing red-blooded capitalists can’t stand). Mercilessly taunts a fallen preacher over supper, then puts him out of his misery by bludgeoning him to death. With a bowling pin. But perhaps the most biting indictment is that he is the embodiment of the no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners capitalism that is America. ‘Nuff said.
What’s Against Him: A borderline homicidal fascination with milkshakes. The naked irony of the American Film Institute picking a character embodying the worst excesses of America. Played by a Brit.
Accolades: Best Actor Oscar, in my #2 film of 2007.

3. Captain Vidal (Played by Sergi Lopez in Pan’s Labyrinth)
Why: Amon Goeth (he of Schindler’s List fame), meet your long lost Spanish twin brother, identical in maniacal levels of unbridled evilness. Not since Ralph Fiennes scared audiences shitless with his chilling Nazi (are there other kinds?) in Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (wow that sounds odd) have we been presented with a villain this wicked and grounded in ideological and historical believability. This guy isn’t evil – that’s merely what he eats for breakfast, which is made short work of by a digestive system that’s no stranger to cracking walnuts whole. And what’s worse is that he’s never over-the-top or losing his cool (even when his servant takes a page from the Joker’s book and tries to “put a smile on that face”). And holy shit he shot a child – a little girl, in cold blood. Wrestle 30 alligators or be interrogated by Captain Vidal? The choice is obvious: I’ll fancy my chances with the gators.

El Capitan; a true G

El Capitan; a true G

What’s Against Him: TheSpanish actor in the Spanish film by Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro isn’t American enough for the American Film Institute.
Accolades: He sure as shit wasn’t American enough for an Oscar nom, in my best film of 2006.

2. Bill The Butcher (Played by Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs Of New York)
Why: First off, does Day-Lewis need a hug? Not getting enough love from Rebecca Miller? This vicious meanie outdoes even poor Daniel Plainview, who at least has table manners (and likes milkshakes). Bill is riveting to watch; unpredictable, unscrupulous, unrepentant, and totally bat-shit out of control. And the best part? He’s not insane, unlike some people (hate to mention names…Plainview…). This probably has to go down as one of the best lead performances this decade; watching Day-Lewis in action is like watching a magician play, if such play constituted impaling puppies and kittens and embalming them alive.
What’s Against Him: Leonardo DiCaprio. In a film that was a mangled mess. But more significantly: Leonardo DiCaprio. And Cameron Diaz.
Accolades: Apparently the Oscars couldn’t overlook the sorry mess that was DiCaprio and Diaz trying to act. That and Adrian Brody as yet another Holocaust survivor; can’t pass those ones up.

1. The Joker (Played by Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight)
Why: He is the epitome of an Agent of Chaos. Everyone else on AFI’s list would look up to him with a mixture of awe, admiration, and dread, as evinced by the growing puddle around their Hush Puppies. I’ve never experienced as awesome, grandiose (yet grounded), frightening, menacing, haunting, brilliant, riveting a presence in a film as the first time I saw The Dark Knight. We’re talking about a guy so badass that, despite being a gal-lovin’ kinda guy (forget Brokeback Mountain and stick with me here), would gleefully fuck you in the ass and cum in your eyes and tell all your friends about it. Suddenly Jack Nicholson’s hammy incarnation of the uber-villain (#45 on AFI’s list) remembers a hernia appointment he really has to get to. But seriously: Heath disappears into this character like no other actor (not even Daniel Day-Lewis, or Jamie Foxx in Ray) ever, since perhaps Ben Kingsley as Gandhi (The Joker’s opposite in every way imaginable). It’s frightening, it’s daring, it’s mind-blowing, it’s brave, and, yes, more than a little tragic.

The new face of villainy and chaos

The new face of villainy and chaos

What’s Against Him: Nothing; even the Bat-Man’s had to install Bat-Diapers into his suit for every time he encounters his arch-nemesis.
Accolades: An Oscar, dare I say…? Wickedly deserving, in my #1 film of 2008 and #2 of the decade.

Requiem for a ‘Dark Knight’

August 8, 2008
This marks the first weekend since it opened that I shall not be seeing The Dark Knight. I bought my ticket for the July 17th midnight screening several days in advance, and was thoroughly enthralled by the film – so much so that I never once sat back during 152mins, and didn’t even notice there was no AC in the burning building until an enraging power outage during the Joker’s monologue to Harvey Dent brought us all crashing back down to earth. (We got 2 free passes for films and concession items for the 5min disruption; I don’t intend to go see The Dark Knight for free though).

I almost saw it again that Sunday but decided to let the anticipation fester, and I was chomping at the bit by the next Saturday, when I finally got to watch it for a 2nd time. Not sated, a friend and I purchased tickets to see it in IMAX the following Friday, the Experience of which I shall elaborate on come Monday.

But now I’m worried of over-saturation, of dulling the impact of this masterpiece by seeing it 4 weekends in a row. So now I’ve made the Herculean decision to abstain for at least another week, until the anticipation bubbles over again.

It seems that it is not only for me that Dark Knight fever is slowly relinquishing a grip on. Every day to and from work I pass through Union Station, one of the busiest ports on Toronto’s subway line (which isn’t say too much about a transit system about as elegantly designed as a root canal or about as functional as the CN Tower). For a couple of weeks before The Dark Knight opened, its posters ran the entire length of the walls of that stop, on both sides. There was one of the Bat-Pod crashing out the side of a building, one of Batman in front of a burning skyscraper (‘Welcome To A World Without Rules’), and one of the Joker in all his fiendish glory. And every morning and evening after I passed through there, I found myself wishing I’d brought along a change of underwear.

It started gradually, the removal of the posters, about a week after its release. But nothing sullied the walls where the fallen TDK posters had been; they were left blank, along with the few others remaining. And even though I knew they were on their way out – it’s almost 4 weeks now; in today’s world, that’s less modern than Ancient Greece – I still wasn’t prepared for the disappointment of pulling into Union yesterday only to be greeted by the affront of all the TDK posters completely replaced. By ads for Telus mobility. That’s like swapping the euphoria of the Nexus (only Star Trek fans will get this) for the allures of a head-splitting aneurysm.

And now – oh the horror – The Dark Knight is on the cusp of being knocked off its lofty perch atop the box office. Pineapple Express and Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants 2 (of all things) edged it into 3rd place on Wednesday, which should be how standings hold up by the end of the weekend.

Nothing remains new forever, and people are fickle, but it’s sad that The Dark Knight seems to be becoming just another film. For me it was an event, an earth-shattering experience that literally saved my life and, hopefully, changed it for the better (not that big a feat, admittedly). With so much emotion and time invested in this film, I really have no idea what I’ll do with myself if, as Valerie told me tonight, I “get sick of it.” Might as well be sick of everything else, too, and be rid of it all; no?

‘The Dark Knight’ Box Office Watch

August 5, 2008

And so it happened – more records fallen by the wayside as TDK stormed on with its take-no-prisoners raid on the North American box office. Having just held off The Mummy 3 for top spot (marking its 3rd weekend up there, a feat in these vicious summer weeks), Christopher Nolan’s superhero saga sat some $6 mil shy of $400m domestically – after only 17 days. The question now is whether it can pull in the necessary bread on Monday to finish off the job in 18 days, handily beating out the previous record held by Shrek 2 – which took a (relatively) whopping 43 days for that milestone.

So now I’m refreshing http://www.boxofficemojo.com every hour or so, waiting in bated breath to find out if it’ll happen today or tomorrow (yeah I know – big difference). And all the talk at the moment is whether or not it will catch up to – and sink – Titanic.

Not to be mistaken: I’m a pretty bloody big fan of Titanic, and an even bigger one of James Cameron. There’ve been better films over the years by far, but somehow Titanic’s ludicrously lofty position in B.O. history feels…right. Biggest film, biggest risk (and don’t come saying LOTR; the hype around those films was phenomenal and it was always going to make it’s money back), biggest budget, biggest Oscar-haul, biggest B.O. It just felt right – still does, actually, so there will be a ping of regret if it is toppled, a mere 10+ years since it soared to the summit, a skilled marathon-runner vs. today’s top-heavy sprinters.

But The Dark Knight seems a sprinter with the endurance of a marathon runner, a combination never truly seen since the juggernaut days of the first Star Wars films. And I’m not saying that it’s going to surpass Titanic ($200m is still a lot of bread), but if it did, it would be the perfect film to do so. Its combination of brain and muscle, hope and tragedy – both filmic and, sadly, real – is just so palpable, making it one of the best summer movies of all time, and my 2nd favorite film overall this decade. Either way, The Dark Knight is a beautiful anomaly, a truly special film, and – if it were to take Titanic’s crown – it would just feel…right.

ADDENDUM:
According to http://www.boxofficemojo.com, The Dark Knight raked in $6.2m on Monday, pushing it to $400,038,494 – just a handful of cash past the magical 400m number. Too perfect.

A Super Hero: How ‘The Dark Knight’ literally saved my life when I tried to kill myself after seeing ‘Hancock’

July 29, 2008

Don’t get me wrong – I actually enjoyed Hancock. It was fun, throwaway, with some solid turns by solid actors and an intriguing finale from the end of the 2nd Act to the 3rd. No, my sudden desire to end my participation in the dog race known as life was triggered by what happened after Hancock ended.

My very, very good friend, who I was (am/will be; who knows?) in love with – despite that phase of our relationship being over for some years now – sent me a text just before the closing credits, so I called her up. We’d been a wee bit on the outs, considering that I had earlier pointed out to her that she was – as all people invariably are to differing degrees – a tad racist, citing her admitted fear of black men among other things. Plus there was my tactless marriage proposal 10 days earlier, following Germany’s devastating loss to Spain in Euro ’08 (Blog Post: Pain Is So Close To Pleasure).

Well we talked, a little tentatively and awkwardly, with her apologizing for a non-existent argument over said proposal. It didn’t stop her from divulging a secret to me that damn near fractured my fragile little mind – all with the casualness of an invite to a Sunday school picnic. Now, I’m not one to kiss and tell (seeing that I do none of the former and too much of the latter); suffice it to say that it’s the very last thing you need to hear from someone you’re so in love with you proposed to her even though you knew you’d get turned down and wind up with egg on your face.

So there I am, on the bus and trying to string together coherent sentences as she talks away and I’m dying on the inside – yet it’s like deja vu, seeing how something identical had occurred 5½ years ago. But it was so much worse this time – and the timing couldn’t be more – how shall I put this delicately? – fucked up. So I broke down and made up my mind even before she’d hung up (she somehow caught on that I wasn’t very talkative) to finally take matters into my own hands and end this debacle of an existence before fate conjured up even more colorful ways to mock my very being.

Unfortunately I was heading across town to meet a good friend who’d driven all the way from Fredericton, so I had to stay my hand. I didn’t get to his place until well after 11pm, but fate was smiling (albeit morbidly) on me this time as there just happened to be a Shoppers Drug Mart on the corner of his street. I promptly helped myself to an OTC (Over The Counter) bottle of sleep meds, before opting for 2 in case the one didn’t quite pan out. I had long figured that slashing the wrists was a girlie cry for help, while mouthing a shotgun – Hemmingway style – was the man’s way to go. Having neither the weapon nor the compunction to use it, I settled on a fair halfway point.

I was at my friend’s for over an hour, and by the time he kindly drove me back I was so drowsy it seemed like I’d popped half the pills already. I got back, left a message for my boss at work that I wouldn’t be coming in anymore and wishing him all the best of luck and shit like that, and then popped a fistful of pills.

And promptly threw them up. Don’t get me wrong – not like I gagged or choked or anything. But a series of very strong and interconnected thoughts crossed through my mind with such clarity, all almost at once. For starters, I realized why I’d chosen sleep meds – because they were, in part, responsible for Heath Ledger’s death, an actor I admired even before he was cast in The Dark Knight. I had mourned him for weeks, and the indelible image of him cut down in his prime had stayed with me subconsciously.

But his was an unfortunate accident; he fully expected to awake later that day, which made it all the more tragic. By willfully offing myself this way, I was committing sacrilege to his memory, and mocking such a monumental loss.

Secondly, and much more selfishly, I realized that I was killing myself 10 days before The Dark Knight was due to open. Considering I had never anticipated any film like that in all my days, it seemed like a fucking stupid thing to do at the time. I imagined how awesome that film would be, how blown away and enraptured I would be by it – or not, since I’d be fucking freezing on a coroner’s slab with a belly full of pills and a roomful of mocking spectators. Dweeb, they’d say. He could’ve at least stuck around for the midnight screenings of The Dark Knight. Most awesome film EVER. Then they’d leave the scalpel in my midsection as they rush to catch a screening before it’s sold out. And my cold dead ass would envy them from the grave.

And, with those thoughts racing through the fractured microchips of my mind, I regurgitated the pills I’d mouthed, caught in two minds about the validity of my decision either way.

And I of course have not regretted that decision. The Dark Knight is the most rousing piece of entertainment I can recall, easily my favorite and most indelible theatrical experience ever. I shall see it anywhere between 7 and 15 more times, and only ‘til I am full sated will I even consider finishing what I started on Tuesday July 8, 2008 – precisely 3 weeks ago today.

Until then, I adhere by more words of wisdom from The Joker; for I believe whatever doesn’t kill you simply makes you…stranger.

Pain Is So Close To Pleasure Part II: aka Don’t Wear Your Heart on Your Sleeve and blah blah blah…

July 24, 2008

This being a sequel (hence the ‘Part II’ in the title), it would be advisable – if you’re even going to take the time to sit through any of this – to scroll down a touch further (ok, a touch more than a touch) to fill in the blanks with the prequel.

Football (soccer – keep up) is my other great love, and after seeing Nigeria’s Super Eagles flop at the African Nations Cup and Arsenal of the English Premier League (my ‘hometown’ club) capitulate in the closing stages of the season, all my hopes were on Germany – my other favorite soccer team. And I watched live, butt clenched in tension, as they lost in the Euro 08 final. 1-0. To Spain.

So I went a little apeshit – enough to call it a last straw, bite the bullet, and do something incredibly stupid that could alter the course of things.

I proposed to Valerie. By text. If you’d known our relationship, you’d have seen why this wasn’t quite the faux pas it seems to be (plus – it rhymed! “Marry me, Valerie”? A syllabic palindrome).

She was perplexed, and we didn’t really talk until I sent another text 2 days later asking “Why So Serious?” She asked if I was serious since I thought she was racist (I had merely pointed out that all humans are at least slightly racist, and when she denied having a racist strand in her DNA, I glibly pointed out that she was scared of black men, had twice made derogative remarks about Indian people – out of anger, to be fair – and thought the Chinese were trying to kill Westerners, which may very well be reciprocal). Admittedly it was an odd thing to ask shortly after the worst fight of our 7-year friendship (one it hasn’t recovered from), but I was deathly serious.

So what does this have to do with The Dark Knight? Well, a week later I almost killed myself but for its intervention (for another post), and then waited eagerly ‘til opening night, nabbing a ticket for a midnight screening. So it was on Thursday July 17th that I last spoke to Valerie, with the intent of either kickstarting things from their depressing doldrums or terminating them. It panned out as I’d expected, so I surreptitiously ended the conversation with her for good before heading out to see The Dark Knight, more pumped yet emotionally fragile than I recall ever being.

I have never been more infatuated with a film – I’ve seen better films, but never been as moved and enervated as this before. The Dark Knight is all things – beautiful, haunting, memorable, quotable, intelligent, passionate, tragic, energetic, ambitious, successful, bloody rich – that you could want in a love interest. And I am well and truly in love. So it is that I traded one love of my life for another within the space of 2 hours. They are both fascinating yet inaccessible mistresses, and will burn – brutally – because they cannot return the love that I unblinkingly fetter on them (believe it or not, The Dark Knight is just a movie). I’m obsessed, but I’ll love her long after she stops giving (which is a ways away), and be fascinated with the richness and communion of the experience that lasted only 152mins but feels much longer (especially after I see it 10 more times or so).

Yes, I have found the new love of my life. She is The Dark Knight, and she is lovely.