Joker

Someday a rain will come and wash all the scum off the streets….Oh, wrong film.

Sorry, that was a cheap shot. Bad joke. Lets try again.

joker1As I write this, Joaquin Phoenix has last night won the Oscar for Best Actor, after last week winning the BAFTA for best leading actor, for his role as Arthur Fleck/Joker in Joker. That’s really some achievement for a comic book movie and a sign that either the film industry is taking such yarns seriously now, or that those yarns have taken over Hollywood regardless. Well, with 22 Marvel movies now (or 23? I’ve lost count, but I suppose it really depends on when you are reading this- it could be 30 or 40 someday), I suppose it was inevitable.

A long continuous chain. Then suddenly, there is a change. Ah, sorry, there I go again.

You know what really bugs me about Joker? Its that on the whole, its quite brilliant. Sure, it owes a lot – an awful lot- to other, better movies, and sure, one film in particular but that’s not really a problem (other than THAT films director really not thinking much positive of comic book movies), I mean, lots and LOTS of films owe a lot to other, older, better movies. The important thing is, Joker is intended to be a thing, a certain film, and it is that thing, it manages it. It is what it is. Its really quite brilliant; it has this philosophy, this heart of darkness thing that, love it or loathe it, separates it from everything else Warner/DC has done (except perhaps parts of the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight films., and on the whole, Joker does it better).

So last night I watched Joker on 4K UHD and it looked absolutely gorgeous. I doubt it looked quite that good at the cinema. Beautiful, gritty detail, lovely use of HDR that just exudes such a sense of depth to the image. Just fantastic image quality, with a great soundtrack, and to top it all, it turned out to be a pretty great movie. Not perfect by any means, but it really pretty much measured up to all that hype this thing has had since its cinema release last year. I really enjoyed it.

But what bugs me, is that they are going to ruin it. This thing turned out to be not only a pretty great movie, it turned out to be one that made lots of money -over $1 Billion in fact- and no studio can leave that alone. You’d have to be someone like Spielberg to have sufficient clout to block a E.T. Returns or a James Cameron to block bringing the Titanic back to the surface with a frozen Jack ready to thaw out.

I don’t know. That’s about the dumbest thing I ever heard. Damn, sorry, couldn’t help it.

I hope we don’t get another one. Maybe one is really enough. Its a dark and empty film, a film for our times, where all the complex issues of our society can get narrowed down and simplified into soundbites and truth turned into fake news, and anything can be ‘right’ if the right person says it often enough. Joker is a monster, and I think that perhaps the film dangerously reaches a point where it forgets that, exults in sudden violence and murder in just the same way as Taxi Driver does, but that film had a point, a message, and proved a document of its time. If Joker proves a document of our time, well that’s pretty depressing, and that thought is enough to set me digging a deep hole I can hide myself in.

But yeah, I enjoyed it, it was pretty fine. Not many films can carry so many nods to a classic like Taxi Driver and get away with it.

joker2Sadly though, we’d have to be as crazy as Arthur Fleck to think that there’s not going to be a Joker2. They might call it Joker: Still Laughing, but that is probably the limit of the imagination involved when its really going to be about the money.  Whats to stop Warner smelling the money and making Joker into some kind of anti-hero? Sure, okay, a sequel might come out and it might be just as brilliant as the original, hell, it might be able to go somewhere new, but really, the odds are against it.

Shaking off the weary, darker Batman of Batman v Superman and Justice League, Warner is currently off making a brand-new rebooted Batman with Robert Pattinson playing a new, younger Batman with the Catwoman and a parade of villains like The Riddler and The Penguin and will somehow try to stop itself looking as silly as the Adam West show.  I hear they are shooting it in Glasgow or something. Gotham’s really going downhill.

Todd Phillips’ Joker is from some other alternate universe, it doesn’t fit in with that kind of Batman saga… mind, what kind of Batman with his cape and pointy ears could measure up to Joaquin Phoenix without being laughed (sorry) off screen?

One thing that Phillips got tellingly right in Joker is that they really are brothers. Two sides of one coin. Sure, the film wisely backtracked from breaking with established mythology regards parentage etc but fundamentally, it was right. Arthur Fleck and Bruce Wayne are two brothers on the same Stygian boat into Darkness. Imagine if Joker had been three hours long, and had gone on to examine Bruce Wayne after his parents deaths in the same way as it had Arthur’s fall into madness. They could have called it Joker and Batman. What a film that might have been, a deconstruction of that most famous comics mythology. Ends with Bruce Wayne becoming Batman and Joker getting out of Arkham Asylum. Fade Out. The End.

I got some bad ideas in my head. Hmm. Anyway, moving on… 

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

kings2I quite enjoyed Kingsman: The Secret Service, a confident, zany twist on the James Bond spy genre based on a popular comic/graphic novel from Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. It enjoyed considerable success and a sequel was quickly greenlit, which I’m a little late finally getting to (I think they are currently filming a prequel).

In the tradition of sequels, this one is bigger, louder and zanier, and while on those terms its enjoyable enough it simply isn’t better– indeed, it’s quite inferior to the original film. Something is missing. I suspect it’s just too bigger, louder, zanier, going far over the line into the ludicrous – sort of dafter, sillier, madder. I’m pretty sure it has its fans and in some ways those fans that loved the first are just as likely to love the second for exactly the same reasons that I found it lacking.

But any film that can waste Jeff Bridges has a bad mark against it in my book. It could be anyone playing his part in this and that’s a crying shame, and it’s somewhat curious to see Halle Berry in a largely wasted role too – with talent like this involved, the film really should have been better. Which is to say nothing of the waste of Julianne Moore as the villainous drug dealer Poppy Adams, a daft pantomime performance that Moore likely thought was fun but leaves the film lacking the balance and drama of what I would consider a proper villain/bad guy. She’s crazy in the grand tradition of many of Bonds’ daftest megalomaniacs but she’s surprisingly bereft of any threat. Sure, she promises the death of millions of people but these are reduced to blatantly animated CGI characters (there’s actually far too much CGI in this, distancing us from any real dramatic tension either in the OTT fights or the grand establishing shots that look false and cartoony- only accentuating the strange distance I felt from the action). Indeed, it slipped uncomfortably close to the kitsch camp of the Adam West Batman show of the 1960s, and that may have been intentional, but it didn’t help the film at all in my view. Afterall, when a bullet to the brain doesn’t mean death, how seriously can you take anything that happens, or much less even care? I half-expected to see Mark Strong limping around in a post-credits sequence…

 

Party Like it’s 1989: Batman (4K UHD)

Its difficult for me to seperate the memories of that summer of 1989, and how big an ‘event’ film it was, from Tim Burton’s Batman itself. Its all wrapped up in the same thing- Batdance playing in the charts, Prince’s Batman album, the news reports about its release Stateside, all the marketing/tee-shirts/toys etc. I don’t know what the marketing budget was, but Batmania was huge that summer, with the Bat-logo seemingly everywhere. In some ways the film was a corporate juggernaut, from the casting choices to the use of Prince etc; it’s a testament to Burton’s efforts that the film still feels like it has a singular voice and vision in spite of the demonstrably hands-on studio behind him. 

Batman was the first film I saw in a cineplex, when the Showcase opened up nearby and consigned the old dilapidated ABC cinema in town to history forever (and eventual closure). So Batman remains more a memory of time and place than just a movie that could ever be judged on its own terms- it’s the quintessential ‘event’ movie, in the same way as Star Wars was and Jurassic Park was. Some films are never ‘just’ films.

Its also worthy to note that Batman wasn’t influenced by Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, as later versions were (Miller’s opus cast a long shadow over Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and Snyder’s Batman v Superman). Instead, it definitely appears more focused on the very first comic books prior to Robin featuring- something evidenced particularly by its oddly 1940s ‘look’ which seems to set the film in some strangely timeless world, a curious mix of period fashions and art deco sets and futuristic gadgets mixed will all sorts of retro stuff. In this respect, it’s a lot more like Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie, which itself had a very dreamy, almost lost-Americana feel in which even the films ‘present day’ had a strong sense of early-1970s kitsch even in 1978. Both films of course are commended for taking the original sources very seriously indeed- thanks to endless re-runs on tv of the camp 1960s show, Tim Burton’s film in particular had a big weight around its neck in this regard which is possibly hard to envisage now, all these years later.

The production budget for the film was $35 million, which in today’s money would equal something around $75 million- not as high as might be expected in this age of $150 – $200 million budgets, perhaps indicating the surprisingly smaller scale of the Burton film compared to the later versions (Batman Begins was budgeted at $150 million in 2005, about $198 million in today’s money). The scale of the film is also impacted by the technology of the time. The CGI of the post-Matrix era has really enabled film-makers to open up the possibilities and trickery in superhero films, leaving Burton’s film rather dated with its matte paintings and model shots.

But of course films are always of their time, and I recall even in 1989 being underwhelmed by some of the visual effects and opticals; Batman was always an old-school, overwhelmingly analogue film even in 1989, with obvious nods to German expressionism in film and Citizen Kane and Vertigo. In this respect it remains a certain achievement and a curiously beautiful artifact.

Indeed, it looks damn gorgeous on this amazing 4k release- I’m really quite astonished at how beautiful this film looks now in 4K. Sure much of the fakery still looks fake, but some of the matte painting extensions of Gotham are just breathtakingly beautiful to look at, with new detail and colour breadth. And the sets. Good grief the sets. The interiors are pretty astonishing in detail and lighting (the HDR really benefiting the shadow detail) and the exteriors are really a wonder (the Gotham streets built on the Pinewood backlot and shot at night really impress here with all the added detail). In some ways this Batman is one of the most impressive catalogue 4K UHD discs I’ve yet seen- the HDR isn’t distracting (you’re not blinded by bright lights etc like you can be in some rather revisionary remasters) but simply increases the sense of depth and detail throughout. Its really tastefully done, clearly retaining the intentions of the original film-makers but looking, frankly, better than it ever has, even during its original theatrical presentation in 1989.

An interesting thing rewatching this film after so many years (I really can’t recall when I last saw it, but it was possibly on DVD) is the casting- after seeing Heath Ledger’s Joker, I expected Jack Nicholson’s version to pale in retrospect, but Nicholson’s Joker still impresses, surprisingly still perhaps the definitive Joker so far. There’s something real and fascinating and gritty about him- of course Nicholson is a great actor with real charisma in front of the camera- it’s almost magical here. Jack Napier is clearly a Bad Guy, a self-centered criminal working his way up the crime-syndicate ladder who becomes distinctly unhinged once he becomes the Joker, with what I assume are Nicholson’s ad-libs elevating the movie in just the same way as Robin Williams Aladdin several years later. His Joker is mean and scary and funny in a really fine performance, and yeah, he actually kills people in this- I was surprised when watching this again to see both Joker and Batman kill people. Its a surprisingly violent film considering it also lacks some of the CGI hysterics/stunts etc that later contemporary superhero films are afforded now. Burton actually wanted to cast Brad Dourif as the Joker- boy would that have been a different movie.

Jack Palance of course is brilliant, the only problem with his Carl Grissom is that he’s not in the film enough, Palance having a huge weighty gravitas in the few minutes of screentime he has. Kim Basinger and Jerry Hall remind us just how old the film is/when it was made, Basinger reduced to just screaming damsel in distress most of the film and Hall simply a trophy moll, it’s clearly all stuff they wouldn’t get away with today (Basinger replacing Sean Young as original choice for Vicki Vale, how weird would that have been for me as a Blade Runner fan). I always liked Robert Wuhl as reporter Alexander Knox, a finely tuned comic performance that is quite measured and successful considering its in the same film as Nicholson’s Joker. Wuhl has always been one of the things I liked most in this movie.

Batman is curiously dated- as I have said, it was dated even in 1989 in some ways, and hasn’t ageed well since, but I did enjoy rewatching it. The saddest thing is that so much was dropped/changed when the sequel was made, and while many seem to think Batman Returns is superior I really don’t like it. I preferred the originals big Pinewood exteriors and interior sets, and really hurt by how much of the cast that we lost (I always thought Batman 2 should have reprised Billy Dee William’s Harvey Dent and featured Two-Face as the villian, it’s such just a lost opportunity). Batman Returns just felt like too different a film, and the title oddly ironic, as it wasn’t the return of the Batman I had so enjoyed in 1989- it actually felt like a reboot.

You will have noticed I haven’t mentioned the biggest issue I always had with this film- Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne and Batman. His Wayne is okay I guess, but his Batman really seems limited. Maybe it was the suit. It looks okay but it was clearly a bitch to shoot, it looks like he can hardly move in the bloody thing. The cape is almost a funny throwback to the 1960s show how it flaps around much of the time, and any fighting sequence is hampered by the suits inability to actually do anything in it without falling over. I always watch the film thinking about Spielberg’s ordeals shooting the mechanical shark Bruce in Jaws and feel that Burton must have had similar sleepless nights with that damn Batsuit. They managed to light it okay in most scenes, with the film’s expressionistic approach and deep shadows helping hide many of its failings, but it’s not the suit a real crime-fighter would employ without being put to death by the first serious super-villain. Its one of the things that dates the film really, but what the hell, it was 1989 I guess.

And of course, even as a big Prince fan, it really does seem weird, his music featuring in this. With it 1940’s looks it always seems funny to see Joker’s goons lumbering around with a 1980’s boombox and Partyman blasting out of its speakers. But yeah, what the hell, it was indeed 1989 afterall. Party on.

 

Best Batman Movie Ever

Aha, clickbait infects ghostof82. Well, maybe not. All will be revealed with my review of the just-arrived Batman 4K UHD, sometime soon. I haven’t seen Tim Burton’s comic-book hit from 1989 for, oh, well over ten years. Might actually have been on DVD, last time I watched this, so I’m pretty curious how well this holds up.

Mind, that is fairly hideous box art, giving the 4K UHD of Alien a run for its money. What were the Warner artists thinking, or was it farmed out to some art design studio that frankly didn’t give a shit?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

verse1Some have described this as the best Spider-Man film yet. I’m not so sure about that- I suppose that really depends upon your own history with the character, which has been in print now for over fifty years. For myself, well I read the run from 1963 through to the late ‘seventies, from the Ditko years through to the Romita and Andru years and all had their own pros and cons. For myself, the definitive Spider-Man would be one set during the 1960s, like an episode of Mad Men sprinkled with Ditko’s noir-ish sensibilities, full of period songs and stylish fashion and design. Something like the Batman tv show but done all adult and serious. Clearly, thats never likely to happen, and Spider-Man films are made for today’s readers carrying all the baggage of the 1980s run to the present, which I’m utterly ignorant of (hence my rather clueless bemusement of the Venom film and a strange distance from much of what goes on in recent Spider-Man films- a young ‘hot’ Aunt May? Wtf?).

But you never know- if there’s one thing that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse demonstrates, anything can happen.  Quite a few times while watching the film I had to ask myself if this thing was real, where it had possibly come from. Its an exciting, exhilarating, breathlessly entertaining and imaginative slice of comic-book joy. Its an absolute blast. Back when the film was announced, I wondered what the hell they were thinking of (maybe my thoughts were shadowed by memories of that awful cheesy Spider-Man animated show of the 1960s) but this thing… well, it’s quite gorgeous, and it has a witty script… its great, a real treat. Its a slice of genius really, how it manages to press some kind of ‘reset’ button on everything that’s come before it, and make everything seem so new again- it does make me wonder, infact, where the live-action Spidey movies go without seeming old-fashioned and almost redundant. I’m quite ignorant of the character of Miles Morales having his own comic-book series but I gather he does, no doubt part of all the mythology in the comic I’ve missed since I stopped reading it decades ago. I have the feeling that I had the Spider-Man of my generation, that we deserved back then, and it’s somebody else’s now. I’m fine with that, and while I’d not really be interested in reading the current comics, it’s fun to watch something like this and get a glimpse.

I’d also love to read a Spider-Man Noir book (at last Nicolas Cage is brilliant again, who’d have guessed his true destiny was self-deprecating voice casting? His career could be revitalised for years). This guy deserves a spin-off movie… but then so does Spider-Gwen; it’s part of the genius of this film, how it can appeal to so many different groups of people not naturally ‘into’ the usual Spider-Man.

Did I say it was gorgeous? Its like one of those old Motion Comics (remember them? I tried watching the Watchmen one and retired to the original book in confusion), but on steroids. Its breathtaking really, riddled with all sorts of clever touches, whether it be squiggles or comic panels and lettering, different styles, as if somehow a comic-book drawn by different artists was brought to animated life by some kind of Frankenstein cine-sorcery. I’m sure having only seen it once there’s all sorts of touches/details/geek easter-eggs (I spotted a few) that I’ll pick up on repeated viewings. Its wild and nuts and beautiful.

Its funny, DC could have done something like this with its Batman series- have the old matinee-serial b&w Batman meet up with the Adam West Batman and the Michael Keaton Batman etc. Its a funny thing how even the movie mythologies of these comic-book characters are as convoluted as the original comic ones are. I guess it’s all those years, decades going by.

Into the Spider-Verse almost makes all those reboots and remakes make sense. Maybe it’s making some kind of commentary on the industry and how all these franchises twist and turn in an effort to keep themselves relevant and topical, and, er, make lots of money. I suppose a sequel would be almost an afront, like selling-out almost..

 

Soundtrack Shelf: Edward Scissorhands OST (Danny Elfman, 1990)

int7146_booklet.inddSaw this just sitting there, looking awfully pretty as most of these score expansions do, and I hadn’t played the disc for awhile so I dropped it into the CD deck in the spare room to listen to a few tracks and… it took a longer time than usual to spin and read the disc and after awhile it refused to even play. Hmm, cause for alarm. Checked the disc, it looked fine, and fortunately a little later it played okay on my main player, so all was well (some players just don’t like certain discs, or maybe that old deck is on the way out).

The light was falling outside, damp and dreary, as if more Autumn than Spring, and I had the house to myself (other than Ed, who sitting by the window was more concerned with what was going on out in the darkening night than what I was doing). So I ended up listening to Danny Elfman’s magical score for longer than I had intended to, the music fitting the mood of the fading light outside and the warm glow of the lamp in the corner…

I saw Edward Scissorhands back when it released in 1990 at the cinema, and I really enjoyed it, although I haven’t really watched it many times since- it is likely Tim Burton’s best film, and it certainly boasts Danny Elfman’s best score. I recall, like most people I would imagine, being quite captivated by the score, a huge part of the film’s success. My cousin bought the original OST on CD, and as many of us did back in those days, I did a copy on cassette which would suit me fine. I didn’t buy it on CD until this edition was released by Intrada back in 2015, celebrating the films twenty-fifth anniversary (yes, another film anniversary). Its not massively expanded, as I think the original OST was about 50 minutes and featured the majority (and best) of the score- this disc totals 71 minutes, including the trailer music, an alternate and some Christmas source music and, er, that Tom Jones song. For once though, thanks to my cousin buying that 1990 edition, this was my first purchase rather than the dreaded double-dip upgrade that so many of these score expansions have been of late (it’s now OOP unfortunately, but I don’t know what the limited run was). I noticed that it was produced by the late Nick Redman, another sober reminder of how much fine work he did over the years.

Its a funny thing though, that I bought this disc when it first came out and have seldom listened to it over the three years since, even though the music is very beautiful and it remains one of the most distinctive film scores ever released- its music often features on tv commercials and you can tell when films have been temp-tracked with it, as Edward-like moments frequently turn up scores in a ‘I know what you’re doing there’ kind of way.

I really enjoyed just sitting back and listening to it. Years ago in my youth I used to sit back on my bed and listen to scores intently- maybe I simply had more time back then, maybe there’s just too many distractions now. Too often these days my soundtrack and general music listening is in the background or during my commute to/from work- perfectly fine but its not actually old-style ‘proper’ listening. I found the Edward Scissorhands score quite relaxing, and quirky and fun in that particularly Danny Elfman way.

So it occurs to me I really should dust off a few more CDs on my soundtrack shelf that I somehow fail to play much (instead of just looking at them all the time, thinking, ‘yeah, I really should play that again’ but seldom getting around to it).  So we’ll see; this then is the inaugural post of my ‘Soundtrack Shelf’ series, where I’ll make a point of listening to those scores and writing about them here- we’ll just see how successful I am in listening to them. But I think it’s rather fitting that the first one is Edward Scissorhands.

(I own only two Danny Elfman scores- the first being the original OST CD of his Batman soundtrack. Unfortunately, as thirty years of buying discs is wont to cause, I have no idea where that Batman disc is, and I never bought the expanded edition released by La La Land Records (twice), so unless something fairly miraculous occurs and it somehow arises from whatever dark corner/box it is in, this will be the only Danny Elfman score in this series.) 

 

 

Party like it’s 1989

I’m always slightly amused by studios and/or their marketing departments focusing so much on anniversaries when releasing or re-releasing films on disc. I’d buy a copy of Alien on 4K disc whatever year it came out, it doesn’t have to be the film’s fortieth anniversary, but hey ho, there you go. So anyway, this year we seem to be getting reminded of certain film’s 30th anniversaries this year- The Abyss appears to be getting a new 4K scan or master for release later this year (originally released 9th August 1989, I guess it will slip a bit later than that for a disc release in the Autumn), and Field of Dreams is getting a 4K disc release in May. Unannounced but surely coming is Tim Burton’s Batman, another film from 1989 (looking back, I always feel like 1989 was the year of Batman– it was all over the place in the media, a huge ‘event’ film in the same way Star Wars was). Before all these, Pet Sematary gets a 4K release next week, partly due to its thirtieth anniversary but also thanks to an incoming remake/reboot (hey, before you watch the new one, here’s the old one to watch first so we can make a bit more money out of it).

So anyway, its been getting me a little nostalgic for 1989, which on the face of it never occurs to me as a great year for films, but now that I think of it (and consider those 4K disc/Blu ray release schedules) I have to admit, maybe it wasn’t such a bad year at all. I used to go to the cinema quite a bit back then, and can vividly recall shedding a tear or two to Field of Dreams (in a good way, it’s not as if it was a terrible film or anything, I’d reserve that kind of emotional reaction to something like Black Rain), and coming out of a matinee screening of The Abyss into a full-blown storm, torrential rain lashing across the cineplex car-park in a tempestuous gale that was like I’d brought the film out there with me, one of those disorientating moments that last with you forever.

I remember watching Born on the Fourth of July and Glory on the same day. We went to see Born on the Fourth of July in the afternoon, went home to have a chip tea then went back in the evening to see Glory. Now, the funny thing about that was, we all expected July to be the better film, but were totally amazed by Glory, really swept up by it. It had a phenomenal score by James Horner, and a great score is something I always react to in films, no doubt a big part of why I enjoyed it so much. Another film I saw at the cinema that year with a great score was The ‘Burbs, and I remember scouring record stores looking for that soundtrack for months in vain. Yeah, it was a good year for soundtracks, as I recall, though it would take years for me to finally get a copy of The ‘Burbs score on disc.

Not every cinema trip was as thrilling, mind. 1989 was also the year of Star Trek V: The FInal Frontier, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and, yes, Black Rain, and The Fly 2. Not films I recall really enjoying at all. I remember coming out of Pet Sematary more impressed by the music than the film- I bought the Varese CD and years later the La La Land expansion, but never actually saw the film itself again at all. It was also the year of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, a film I enjoyed at the time but has really worn thin on me over the years since. Its a funny thing, how films you were once wowed by later lose their charm, but films you didn’t ‘get’ the first time around sneak up on you (Munchausen is such a crazy maddening folly of a film I eventually couldn’t help but fall in love with it).

Thirty years, though- scary. Mind, I was looking up both Glory and Born on the Fourth of July online and they were released in December 1989 in the States, and it certainly wasn’t December when I saw them, so suspect it was later in 1990 when I saw them that day over here in the UK- release dates could be really staggered back then. After so many years it’s hard to remember very clearly, although I can remember sitting in the cinema at the time and looking over at my mate Andy after Glory ended, both of us shell-shocked by having watched not just two war films at the cinema that same day, but two damn good films at that.  It would never happen again- it’s funny sometimes, you just never know, in the moment, just how special/unusual or unique a day really is. They just come and go but perspective lends us clarity- and thirty/twenty-nine years, whatever it is, it’s certainly some kind of perspective.

Superhero movies ain’t easy

supGood superhero movies don’t come easy, it’s hard, really hard, no matter how effortless Marvel makes it look sometimes- in any case, not every Marvel film has been great (although they are always at least ‘good’). But making a superhero movie, and making it good, is supremely difficult. Just look at Justice league. To be fair to DC, there’s all sorts of superhero capers over the decades that have been pretty terrible. Superhero movies ain’t easy.

Inherently, one has to consider that the idea of superhero movies is ridiculous. They are children’s comics that we should all grow out of, wishful power fantasies in universes that are moral playgrounds of plain good and evil, hardly any shades of grey in the four-colour worlds they depict. I am certain that most adults who love superhero films would never dream of ever reading comics, thinking them silly and beneath them.

The fundamental issue for any film is showing a grown adult dressed as a bat without it looking as silly as the Adam West show, a series which at least nailed the absurdity of superhero comics. Someone comes at you dressed as Batman to accost you for littering? You’d either run a mile or call the police. Superheroes transferred to the real-world inherently look like clowns.

spidrBeyond the silly costumes, the superpowers themselves are crazy. When you really think about them, they are plain nuts, no matter how realistically the films portray them. How does someone fly? How does that work? How does someone cling to walls? How does someone shrink to the size of an ant and yet maintain his original mass without falling through the floor? The Flash whizzes around grabbing people stationary and pulls them to safety- if you were standing still and were hit/picked up by someone travelling 1,000 mph, it’d hurt- if he took took you instantly from stationary to 1,000 mph to move you to safety, your brain would be mush, your bones smashed. So some superpowers are more realistic than others, some superheroes easier to translate and suspend disbelief in than others.

I’m a huge fan of Snyder’s Watchmen. I think it was impressively faithful to the original, and most issues with the film are simply that- issues with the original. It’s a dark film with superheroes in the real-world (or at least, a real-world alternate 1980s America), because that’s what the original was- a critique of superhero comics about people who dress up as a bat and asking the question what would it be like to have a superman in the real world? Unfortunately Snyder missed the point regards Watchmen‘s uniqueness and has been asking that same question in all his subsequent movies.

I don’t blame Snyder entirely. Christopher Nolan, coming of his Batman trilogy, was a producer on Man of Steel and his real-world angle from his trilogy constantly impresses on Man of Steel. I’ve no idea how much of this was the studio trying to catch the zeitgeist of Nolan’s trilogy, or Nolan trying to lend the approach to our fave Kryptonian, or if it was just Snyder continuing his approach from Watchmen. But real-world costumed heroes doesn’t always translate across the medium- Marvel may lend some real-world angles to their movies but it’s all superficial, it’s clear their films are not in our world, they are comics brought vividly to life but it’s not Watchmen-style agonising about fitting Captain America in our world or how he impacts on America. It’s a world close to ours, but it isn’t ours. It’s Marvel-world.

Whereas Snyder always seems focused on the DC heroes being in our world, a sense of gritty reality that is constantly at odds with the subject-matter. DC films lose the joy of the Marvel films. It’s fine if you are making Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy (although I’d argue the third film was a crushing disappointment that imploded the trilogy, unable to sustain that real-world/comic mythology balance) but if you’re making a Superman movie like a variant of Watchmen you are entirely missing the point. Worse still, this approach infects every subsequent outing. BvS has some kind of God-complex towards Superman, a grimly semi-religious tone that its Batman bristles at and questions/refutes. Our real-world doubts regards the role of America in the modern world, its values and ethics, our doubts and distrust in our leaders, it all infects the modern Superman, who in 1978 represented “truth, justice, the American Way,” an ideal that no longer seems valid. It’s quite daring really as an intellectual exercise, but it’s also very Watchmen.  In anycase, devoid of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ source pages, Snyder seems lost trying to pull it off. It’s also telling that for all its real-world agonising, Watchmen doesn’t take place in our real world, it’s that 1980s alternate-reality.  Snyder’s trying to manage something even Alan Moore wouldn’t dare, a rabbit-hole even he wouldn’t risk plunging into.

A rabbit-hole, unfortunately, that DC has jumped into and are trying desperately to climb out of.

There ain’t no Justice: Justice League

jl.jpg2017.60: Justice league (2017)

Oh dear. This was terrible. I came out of the cinema feeling how Charlton Heston looked at the end of Planet of the Apes, on his knees, fists clenched, screaming at the heavens about the damned fools who had finally bloody well done it; “You Maniacs! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!”

Yes, they’ve made a superhero film worse than Batman v Superman.

I suppose Justice League never had a chance, doomed at birth by the critical and public response to Batman v Superman, but the terrible waste here is just bewildering. Ben Affleck is possibly the best Batman we’ve ever had, Frank Miller’s Dark Knight brought vividly to life, but he’s now been wasted in three bad films, and Affleck looks as if he’ll kill someone to get out of making a fourth. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is possibly the only DC success story, but even she looks tired here; “I’m working with children,” she muses at one point- damn right girl. As for Henry Cavill, I like the guy, I’ve enjoyed him in earlier stuff like The Tudors etc and his Superman should be a great fit, but at this point everyone has to admit it just doesn’t work. I don’t know if it’s the direction he is being given but his Superman just doesn’t work. His Clark isn’t a bumbling alter-ego, it’s a Superman as topless hunk, the same character completely, utterly missing the entire point of the Clark character.

Anyway, Justice League is only just out so I’ll spare any spoilers. But it is terrible. Horrible. Surely a movie based on a comic deserves/needs a story more sophisticated than a children’s comic? The crass stupidity that, what is it, anything north of $200 million has been spent on is just bewildering.  It’s one thing to bring Superman back and explain that ‘miracle’ off to the public, but how does Clark Kent get away with a return from the dead when he turns up for work on Monday at the Daily Planet? This film is so S-T-U-P-I-D. The awful dialogue, the desperate need to give every character their ten/fifteen minutes to shine, the pithy one-liners, the jokes that fall flat, the villain who may yet rank as the worst villain to ever ‘grace’ a superhero movie, some of the shoddiest effects work I have seen in a tentpole blockbuster…. I could go on.

But dear God the abysmal story.  It’s almost part Lord of the Rings in its cartoony backstory/mythology of ancient wars battling ancient evil. I’m not quite sure that didn’t come from some completely different movie altogether, it was so weird. Three glowing rubik’s cubes spell death for humanity.  How long did they spend dreaming that up? It’s so infantile and crude, so many characters come and go for no reason at all, side stories come to the fore then simply disappear. Maybe there is a three-hour cut that will fix everything, there is simply too much movie here for two hours, but a three-hour Justice League sounds right now like a recipe for torture.

Yet this mess will get more bums on seats than BR2049. There is a lesson there. But the DC extended universe is surely in real trouble now. Such a pity, such a waste. Where can it possibly go from here?

We are all getting old, Bats…

bat1Today is Danny Elfman’s 64th birthday. Incredible. I always thought of him as a youngster, one of the young turks that was threatening the thrones of Goldsmith and Williams etc… and he was, I guess. The shock of learning he is now 64, it’s just me forgetting how much time has passed since he came on the scene. My favourite Elfman scores are Edward Scissorhands and Batman… but of course, Batman is some 28 years old now. I really struggle to get my head around that- Tim Burton’s Batman is 28 years old… thats two years shy of the inevitable 30th Anniversary set that Warners will no doubt drop on us. But goodness me… 28 years?

I’ve noted before my tendency to judge the passing of time by film release dates, as if the films and their summers are markers of my life. Which they are of course. I am certain it is the same for everyone who loves film, except that where Star Wars or Blade Runner fit in with my childhood and youth respectively, I am sure that Terminator 2 or Titanic – or even Avatar, I guess, at this point in time- do for others.

But crikey. The idea that Danny Elfman is 64 years old today, and that this year Tim Burton’s Batman is 28 years old…  Yes, its a sobering thought: I’m getting old too.

Holy Anniversaries Batman. And happy birthday Mr Elfman.