Monday, July 30, 2012

Revisiting Batman (1989) & Batman Returns (1992)!

With all the hype about The Dark Knight Rises this summer, and the fact that I have been toiling away determing my Top 10 superhero movies of all time, it seemed like an appropriate time to revisit the first two entries into the Batman franchise.  Aside from brief glimpses on TV, I haven't seen Batman or Batman Returns in at least 10-15 years.  To help put this in perspective, when I went looking for both movies I didn't even have them on DVD.  Down in the basement in a dusty old VHS cabinet is where both movies were residing.  I promptly placed Batman into my VCR and was instantly greeted with a Diet Coke commerical.  Talk about a flashback to the 90's!  Mind you this was NOT a bootleg copy.  I purchased my VHS tape from Suncoast for $19.95 or so when it was released and part of that low cost at the time was helped by Coke putting a commercial at the start of the movie.  Grrrr!  I hate commercials which is why (unlike Mrs. Jumper) I never watch movies on commercial TV.  Thankfully Batman Returns didn't repeat this blunder although the movie was a blunder unto itself.  In watching both movies I was thankful for technology and the advent of DVD and HDTV because VHS images stink!  I had to stop Batman 15 minutes into the movie and move my TV to run a new cord hooking up my VCR in a better manner to try and milk just a slightly better picture quality.

I have no intentions of providing any form of story synopsis for either movie.  If you haven't seen them, stop reading and earn your "genre-enthusiast credentials" and go watch them...and then return.

During the summer of 1989 I worked at a movie theatre and had the pleasure of seeing Batman some thirty or more times.  In fact the joys of being a theatre employee meant I saw the movie a day before the masses.  The added bonus was my good friend was the projectionist so he hooked the movie up so that both he and I had an entire theatre to watch it alone (kind of like a giant living room) while the rest of the employees were all drunk and rowdy somewhere else.  Batman did it's job.  It returned respect and greatness to the superhero franchise, something that had been utterly destroyed because of Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.  Audiences and expecatations were sky high for Batman and the movie solidly delivered.  Even today watching it on my lousy VHS copy, I was entertained.

Batman gets alot right.  The look of Gotham City is solid.  Keaton's Batman is great (one of the best to date...and to think how the fanboys were up-in-arms about his casting).  Nicholson's Joker is stellar (and although I prefer the creep factor of Ledger's) and it feels like he's come directly from the comic books.  The Joker is spooky and yet funny.  I had forgotten some of his solid lines so even in 2012 they managed to coax and smile or guffaw out of me.  The joy-buzzer scorching of rival mobster Torreli has always been a treat.  The origin stories for both Batman and Joker are well delivered.  Batman is allowed to do action, use detective skills, show off technology, and basically be a cool hero in a cool movie.  My grade for Batman back in 1989 was a solid "A+".  Today I'd rank it a solid "A-" (but it's still not cracking my Top 10 Hero Flicks of all time).

The only real issues I have with 1989's Batman are the characters of Alexander Knox and Vicki Vale.  Knox (or more appropriately Robery Wuhl) is just annoying.  Nothing made me happier than when he was written out of any sequels.  Vicki Vale is shallow, goes immediately for millionaire Bruce Wayne and spend far too much time screaming or "oohing"...I lost count around twenty times!  My other main issue with the movie is the sets.  Clearly Gotham City is on a soundstage.  No matter how scenes are feels tight.  The Batmobile drives by the same locales too often and there are times where I felt clautrophobia.  There's something to be said about taking the time to film scenes adds dimension.  Finally, even though Batman looks cool...watching it today you can see how heavy and clunky that costume is.  No way is anyone fighting crime wearing that cumbersome outfit.

In 1992 Batman Returns hit theatres.  The posters hyping the movie were awful but the previews helped build up excitement.  By this time I was a paying customer so no more free rides or multiple viewings.  I hated the movie!  Even after numerous rewatches the film should really be called BATMAN: FIGHTS FOR SCREEN TIME.  The movie is a mess with far too many villains and none with any form of coherent plans.  The Penguin looks decent but his storyline is a muddled mess.  The character of Max Schreck takes up far too much of the story and truly only exists to combine the plotlines of Penguin and Catwoman.  As much as people still swoon over Michelle Pffeifer's portrayal as Selina Kyle and Catwoman...I don't get it.  The costume is silly, her lines are atrocious...OK she can swing a mean whip...but that's about it.

The only real plus with Batman Returns is that Tim Burton progressed as a director.  The camera is more fluid which makes all of the action sequences more interesting.  Batman is allowed to do more in his fights/chases as well...and the suit seems a bit more mobile (sorta).

Of course with the one plus out of the way, the rest is all negative.  The sets issues are still present as Gotham City feels more confined than ever and we don't even get one or two landscape shots to show us what the place looks like as a whole.  The lines that the characters delivers are horrible!  Everyone is fighting to have a funny quip, even Batman - "Eat floor!  High fiber!"  It gets exhausting to listen to, much like reading a Dan Slott comic book where the only motivation for every character is to be funnier than the previous character.  When this happens there is no gravity to the plot or world that the characters engage in.  An hour into watching Batman Returns I felt my patience dying the end I was thankful when the credits rolled.  And before I'm labeled a "hater" let me say that I wanted to like this movie!  Every time I see it and Keaton first stands up in front of the Bat-Signal, I'm ready to be taken on a thrill ride...unfortunately much like the Penguin's self-built Batmobile Ride, this ride only makes me sick to my stomach.  My grade for Batman Returns back in 1992 was a "C-".  Today I would rank this movie an "F"...but since I know Batman & Robin is still around the corner I'll push it up to a "D".

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Maxing Out for MAD MAX!

The most iconic image of Mad Max!
I've been burned by pre-movie hype and excitement so many times that the neurons responsible for those feelings have melted away. Movies that should have been stellar (especially based on my pre-excitement levels) like: Robocop 2, Batman Returns, Alien 3, and The Lost World: Jurassic Park thoroughly did so much damage that a "wait and see" attitude was firmly locked into place in my psyche. And now, one movie is furiously working to chip away at my emotional movie void...MAD MAX: FURY ROAD.

The poster that I had wanted for close to
25 years and finally received in 2010.

To understand my connection to this franchise you have to go back to cable TV circa 1983-1987 when The Road Warrior was pretty much on a continual late night loop on HBO and Cinemax...not to mention the VHS copy that inevitably was ruined from slo-moing the final wreckage scene just to watch the dummy of the Humungus slide over the semi's hood. Safe to say that I watched Road Warrior LOTS! It has a special fondness as well since my father and I were sitting around the living room at 9pm on a Sunday when Road Warrior premiered on HBO. Neither of us knew anything about it and there we sat totally entertained for two hours. Watching bullets and arrows flying, bodies being ripped apart and run over, cars being crushed and burned, and a 20-minute semi chase that was a marvel (and still is) to behold!  It wasn't long before I sought out the original Mad Max and then the sequel Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Then when my best friend introduced me to a role-playing game called Car Wars, I had a new avenue to channel my love for the Mad Max movies.

The most mindless RPG ever!
Nothing better than successfully performing
The Bootleg Reverse!
Even people who are not fans of the Mad Max franchise should realize how engrained these three movies are in the public conscious. Any time a movie depicts automobiles that have been decorated with various spike and weapons...people go..."Oh, that's like Mad Max." When you watch any post-apocalyptic movie and people use football and hockey pads for personal armor...Mad Max is where it started. The term "Thunderdome" gets used all the time in TV, sports announcing, and various movies and most people will immediately make the connection as to what is being implied whether they realize the origin...Mad Max.

When Internet searching "Thunderdome" here was my favorite result...

That bad-ass cage where Mel Gibson faught Master Blaster with the chainsaw and bungee cords and there where all kinds of drunken Aussies yelling, "Two men enter, One man leaves."

The "Last of the V-8 Interceptors"...?

So, as I write this creator-director George Miller as finally begun filming is oft-delayed next Mad Max movie: FURY ROAD. The movie will star Tom Hardy (fresh from his role as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises) taking over the Max Rockatansky character from Mel Gibson. The movie will co-star a shit-ton of tripped out cars in spectacular chases and monstrous wrecks! As photos have begun leaking of the various vehicles, my excitement builds. As rumors circulate that there may indeed be a new restored "Last V-8 Interceptor", I find a smile creeping across my face. As I see interviews where George Miller stresses the need for practical effects instead of CGI, all I can think is "YES!" It'll be a long haul for me to wait out the release of this movie, and mixed with the excitement will also be a heavy dose of trepidation since there were probably a thousand ways this movie can go bad and only one way it can be done correctly. The three pictures below (from AICN) help keep my confidence levels high that this movie is progressing in the right direction.

I'd have to guess that this is the car of the main bad guy...
equipped with his theme music of course.
Another suped up semi!  Nothing wrong with that.
Shots like this harken back to The Road Warrior in a great way!

There's a reason I'm a true fan of the franchise. I love the character, the settings, the cars, and the high octane action that George Miller has been able to deliver. The movies don't try to deliver any social commentary or appeal to a wide demographic.  They're essentially Man with No Name Westerns but instead of horses there's healthy amounts of nitrous and turbo-chargers.  If you like action and carnage (and what American male doesn't?) then the Mad Max films are the perfect avenue for escape.  My man-cave has a framed Road Warrior poster adorning it because it's one of the most bad ass movies ever made! And MAD MAX: FURY ROAD could be one hell of a movie!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Road House and YOU! Life Lessons for Every Generation!

Recently my cable box has been aflame with showings of Road House.  The movie is like a rash on every channel akin to The Beastmaster in the 1980's.  Naturally I've watched the movie pretty much everytime it's flashed in front of my eyes.  In those hundreds of viewings it's dawned on me that there's some pretty serious life lessons that the movie is furiously working to impart upon the viewer.

One can say that Road House is a perfect primer for all father’s to show their sons (BE A MAN 101 if you will).  The movie flawlessly explores thousands of teachable moments while maintaining an outwardly appearance that it is nothing more than a simple modern day western about a “not so big” philosopher cleaning up a local watering hole.

What can your child expect to garner from sitting down and watching Road House?  Here’s just a sampling of the educational opportunities contained in this cinematic powerhouse:

1) Entrepreneurship – not everyone was made to be a CEO, some of us have to use the knuckle-busting philosophical skills that God gave us.  $5,000 down, $500 a night, and all medical expenses covered is an excellent start!

2)  Real Estate – never build your quaint farmhouse on the opposite side of the river from the town’s helicopter owning psychotic.  You and your horses are just asking for trouble.

3)  Fashion – what do you do with that old picnic tablecloth if you’re a high paid doctor?  Well turn it into a dress and then go down for some swill at the town’s worst bar…of course. (OK, not every father has a this one's for the daughter's out there)

4)  Automobiles – all bouncers own BMW’s – FACT!

5)  Auto-Finance – the best day to get a loan for your new BMW is the same day the local tuffs drive a monster-truck through the auto dealership.  Commission and paperwork tend to be reduced in importance for a few hours so you should be driving off the lot with your new car and a low rate in no time.

6)  Social Etiquette – “Be nice”.  When a guy comes at you and says, “I used to &*%$ guys like you in prison!”  You have two options…one of them is obviously the throat rip.

7)  Romance – not anyone can charm a girl into removing her clothes and immediately striking a submissive position by delivering lines like, “Oh baby, you gonna be my regular Saturday night!”  But with practice and patience…it’ll happen.

8)  Ballet-Kwon-Do – a seldom practiced martial art that involves kicking and prancing with your toes straight.  Fights often explode into well choreographed encounters that both inflict damage to your opponent and keep them entertained at the same time.

9)  Home D├ęcor – nothing spices up a riverfront property like a room filled with stuffed safari (aka poaching) kills ranging from antelopes to lions to the various body parts of people that didn’t agree with you.  The topper is always the polar bear…find yours and kill it while in your 20’s to maximize the number of years of enjoyment it will bring you.

10)  Shotguns – the best way to return a town to peace and tranquility - the pump action.

It is the civic responsibility of all people to be sure that the next generation learn these and all lessons imparted by Road House to help hone a better society.  For those interested in going the more literary route, I also recommend the books: COWARDS & BLEEDERS AND HOW TO REMOVE THEM FROM YOUR FRONT LAWN by Brad Wesley and THE TOURIST'S GUIDE TO JASPER: “OUR TOWN AND DON'T YOU FORGET IT!” by Tilghman, Stroudermire, Emmett, and Webster.