Bootler"s Yearly Random (But Interesting) Fact

7-Up was origanally named Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Dark Knight: A Film Review

Three years ago, if you had asked me what I thought of the Batman film franchise, I would have told you it was over. That Joel Schumacher was an evil, soulless fiend and had effectively raped millions of childhoods with Batman & Robin, a travesty not even Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg would bother referencing. Then Christopher Nolan had an idea, instead of trying to pick up the pieces and carry on, he’d just wipe the slate clean and start again. 2005 was an important year for me; it was the year my faith in the Batman movies was rejuvenated. It was very earnest, dark and closer to the feel of the comic books than any other in the franchise, and it answered the question “Why is he Batman?” in more ways than one. When I heard a sequel was in the works, I was both overjoyed and apprehensive. The fact that Christopher Nolan wanted to continue the series was wonderful, but the bar had been set so high that it was all too possible that he’d try too hard and ultimately slip and fall. Oh, how wrong I was...

The story begins not far from where the last left off. Batman and Commissioner Gordon are beginning to succeed in taking down the crime kingpins of Gotham City, thanks in part to the new DA, Harvey Dent, and Batman is beginning to think that perhaps his job is coming to a close. That’s when a psychopath in clown make-up, who only goes by the name Joker, appears, to challenge everything Batman has ever believed in and to test the limits of Gotham.

I’m at a loss as to where to put my praise first. Everything, from the acting, to the script, to the score, to the directing, to the cinematography is done at such a professional level that not only does it set a new benchmark for comic-book films, but it sets one for films in general. It makes the impossible possible. Well, that may be taking it a bit far. It makes the highly unlikely credible, and believable. Batman’s existence is given meaning to the point where you believe a situation like this could present itself beyond the movies. To an extent. It explains why we need heroes, and why they need to be more than we believe we can be.

Christian Bale returns with an evolved personality, as is only fitting. When Batman Begins finished, he’d firmly established himself as both the Caped Crusader and the head of Wayne Enterprises, so it’s only fitting that he should have more confidence this time around. But unfortunately, the terribly cheesy raspy Bat-Voice returns with a vengeance. At least it’s not the Bat-Nipples, I guess. The rest of the original cast does a great job continuing their character’s respective histories, especially Michael Caine as Alfred the butler. As for the newcomers, Katie Holmes thankfully sat this one out, and has been replaced with Maggie Gyllenhaal, a much more fitting choice. Holmes was terribly forgettable in her role, whereas Gyllenhaal gives Rachel Dawes life, and makes her a character you want to care about. Instead of having the film tell you she’s Bruce’s lifelong friend, Gyllenhaal just makes it seem right. Defense Attorney Harvey Dent is played brilliantly by Aaron Eckhart. Without revealing anything (but if you’re a fan of the comics, come on, you know what’s coming), he smoothly and meticulously sets up a character that knows what needs to be done, but doesn’t know exactly how to get it done. That’s about as ambiguous as I can get.

And of course, you all know who’s left to discuss. I’m going to be very honest here; I forgot that Heath Ledger was no longer with us while watching this film. The simple fact of the matter is his performance is that captivating, that terrifying, that...well, that good that he becomes lost in the role. You don’t see Heath Ledger playing the Joker while watching this film. You see the Joker. He plays the role with such a level of unpredictability and madness, that you are terrified by his very presence, even when he’s off-screen. But he’s not without his trademark sense of humour. There will be quite a few moments when you can’t help but chuckle, even though your conscience is telling you not to.

The way that the script has developed the Joker deserves a tremendous amount of applause as well. In almost every comic-book movie, even the excellent ones, the villain really only exists because of the hero. It’s always a case of “You’re the good guy, I’m the bad guy, so we’ve got to tussle.” Not the case in The Dark Knight. Yes, the Batman is in the way of Joker, and becomes his target more than once, but the Joker’s ultimate motive is far greater, far more ideological than just killing Batman. He knows Batman is a symbol, a small glimmer of hope in a city torn apart by crime, and that destroying the symbol is a great step towards introducing full-blown chaos to Gotham City. Hence, the Joker’s encounters with Batman are usually more examinations of his limits and his ideals as opposed to all-out brawls.

Taking into account the above, this is without a doubt one of the most complex, violent and disturbing comic-book films I’ve ever seen. It has some of the most graphic violence for a film of its rating, and Batman’s face on the poster is probably the only thing that saved it from an MA rating (R if you’re in the US, 15 if you’re in the UK, something else if you live somewhere else). From the moment it begins, each scene is treated with an unnerving sense of tension, leaving the viewer clenched-fist waiting for the inevitable, yet not knowing what the inevitable will be. This is assisted by the score Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard composed, enhancing the feeling that everything is leading up to something else, and that expecting the unexpected is pointless, because it won’t compare to what’s actually going to happen. Apologies for the ambiguity, but I don’t want to spoil a thing.

To say that The Dark Knight is an excellent comic-book movie is a gross understatement. The truth is this film is more than that. It observes almost every aspect of both Bruce Wayne and Batman, constantly examining his motives and reasoning. It questions the line he treads between being a vigilante crime fighter and a criminal. It defines his role as a hero and then poses the question “Should he be the hero that Gotham needs, or the hero it wants?” It’s both an epic crime saga and an intricate, dark and disturbing character study that met all of my expectations and then exceeded them by leaps and bounds. Simply put, it’s a masterpiece.

5 out of 5.

-- Kaboose.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Hancock : The Review (May Contain Spoilers)

Looked at my kingdom, I was finally there! Sit on my throne, as the Prince of Bel Air...

I love Will Smith, for the most part, I've enjoyed pretty much all of his post Fresh Prince exploits, except maybe Wild Wild West, and I love comic books and superheroes a great deal, so, in theory, this should be a match made in heaven?

As You can probably guess from that, Hancock tells the story of a washed up, alcoholic and all round bum of a Superhero (Will Smith). His attempts at rescues and crime fighting usually cause more in damages than the criminals he's apprehended. The worst part of it all? He just doesn't care. He either enjoys the random destruction he causes, or he has some kind of major beef with humanity. Eventually, Hancock sides with PR executive Ray Embrey, in an attempt to clean up his act, become more of a respected figure in general and be a loved hero of the people. His first act is to go to prison for his crimes to the world thus far. Despite being able to break out at any time, owing to his powers of flight and super strength, Hancock adheres to the regime, and a MONTAGE appears to show his passage of time within prison. On the outside, crime figures are on the increase, and eventually Hancock is pulled off his prison sentence to help combat the crime on the streets, with a new attitude, appearance and tight rubber outfit. Eventually, Hancock is beloved by the public again, but things start to turn sour as the reformed super powered Smith begins to fall for his saviour Ray's wife, Mary Embrey, and one of his previously defeated petty criminals begins massing a plot to take out the new American darling...

So, Hancock is presented as a comedy film, but it really lacks that much serious humour. Any one who's seen the trailer (such as myself, which was my major qualm with the film), will have seen about 80% of the jokes and gags that the film has to offer. This kinda makes them a loss for me, but they were still amusing. Without the humour, it has to pull out a great Superhero movie to justify itself, and it still falls short of the mark. It's an average superhero movie, made better by Will Smith, but still not great or unique. Hancock does however, manage to escape, for quite some time, the dreaded "Origin Story Syndrome" that plagues most comic book films: Either we make one film to explain the character, then the sequel to be the action blockbuster, OR we make the film longer to include both; The former of course, being the preferable option, painfully. Hancock emerges into the film with amnesia and an attitude, and the action roles from there, which is refreshing. When the origin finally has to be addressed, it's actually done halfway through the film, and in a pretty unexpected twist, which I personally enjoyed, and didn't see coming. The action sequences in the film are also fairly exemplary, with brilliantly believable use of CGI and live action blending. The film falls down in the second half, bringing in the idea of Hancock loosing his powers, which is a bit of a staple in Superherodom, and the dramatic tension kind of weighing so hard as to almost snap the film in half from it's opening comedic tone. The "Bad Guy" is also a tad pathetic. Given little to no back story, and barely more screen time, with some badly written "epic" sounding insightful bad guy lines which would be more convincing spouted from Gary Oldman or at least from a Character with the development to be cool enough to pull it off, rather than sounding like a pretentious prick. Ok, I've lost my train of thought now, so I think I'll stop it there.


Oz Rembrandt

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Diary of the Dead: The Review (May Contain Spoilers)

Om Nom Nom Nom... Brains... Diary of the Dead is 5th Zombie offering from grandfather of the zombie genre, George A Romero, after Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead and Land of the Dead. Tragically, in his old age, it seems the master is succumbing to a lack of subtlety which always set his movies apart from other shit fest zombie flicks.

So, in the style of Cloverfield, The Blair Witch Project and others, Diary of the Dead follows a group of teens (who else?) and their amazingly English stereotype college professor, as they open in the woods to film a project on a hand-held camera for their course. In this case, a take on the old style Mummy films (Not the ones with Brendan Fasier... They aren't old. I mean like, Really old, with Boris Karloff. Older than your parents. Unless you're like 48... Where am I going with this?). Filming is interrupted by confused news reports of the dead coming back to life and trying to eat the flesh of the living. Strangely, no-one goes "Shit, we're in a Romero movie!", but they do have the common sense to bundle into a large motor home and try to reach token screaming girl #2's parents house. On the way, there is gratuitous hospital based zombie violence all over the fucking place, with no attempt at scares what-so-ever. They also take supplies from a group of ghetto peeps of the streets who are about as token as there could ever get, get attacked by zombies, losing another faceless support actor, and get hijacked by the army and robbed of supplies (a part that could've been potentially a great insight into the shitiness of human behaviour under pressure, but because the "camera" is turned off, it's utterly missed, and summarised in a lame way afterwards... As if we couldn't work that out.) and more bland side characters are bitten, eaten and otherwise sprayed with amazing fake gore. Eventually, the group reach a friends house/mansion, where it turns out he's gone a wee but crazy. Zombies attack, the English guy uses a mother fucking bow and arrow, because apparently all us British are still experts in medieval weaponry. The narrator/cameraman is killed, as is pretty much everyone else bar the professor, Screaming Girl #2 and some Guy. The girl chooses to continue documenting the events outside the gargantuan panic room in the mansion. The other 2 aren't morons, and hide in it. Because she narrates the footage, and it's implied to have been found on youtube, we assume she survived.

Right... Good points are few and far between. The gore and violence is very very slick and impressive, but woefully overdone. No cut away's to imply horror and set the viewers mind racing, no, it's all CG and animatronic gore, which kinda reduces the impact of the whole thing. The film also lacks ANY scares. Not one. Not even a "Boo! ARGH!!!" moment, which I can normally admit to making me jump, even if it isn't really scary, which for a movie of the zombie subgenre, is a little weak. Every single character is a lame stereotype so 2D that it's amazingly difficult to feel sorry for them when some zombie is chomping down on their entrails, because to be honest, I couldn't even remember their names. The English Scotch drinking, pessimistic, sword wielding professor was possibly the worst of them all, although the ghetto kids the teens come across are a bit pathetic too with their "Now ain't no-one gonna stop us fo'shizzle" etc. I know Zombie films aren't well reknowned for their character development, but it's hard to create a sense of terror, when to be honest, you want the characters to get munched away just so you don't have to listen to their epically poor acting and scripting. The Camera technique... is a cool idea, and I liked it both the films I mentioned above, but here, it gets used to poor effect. For some reason, music is used over the top of the film... Which, unless the kids are being followed by a fucking symphony orchestra, is a little bizarre to say the least. The camera is often turned off or put away at times which would actually lend to some decent social commentary, almost as if Romero is to lazy to bother with any film direction. Unlike Dawn of the Dead, which utters slight, social ideas and stabbing realism into the zombie behaviour, diary attempts to work on the idea of the importance of the world wide media, spreading information through a touch of a button via the net. To be honest, Zombies all about, bbc news is the last place I'm likely to be. Nice attempt George, but it's all a little... In your face.


Oz Rembrandt