Tag Archives: Batman

Todd Phillips’ Joker

Gotham City, 1981. Sanitation services are on strike, leaving piles of garbage curb side. Mounting inequality and rampant poverty poison the collective climate and spur on bubbling unrest. Billionaire Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) makes the kind of callous comments on live tv that don’t help anyone’s situation much. “Is it just me or are things getting crazier out there?” laments Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck. He’s more right than he knows, both in terms of ‘out there’ and closer to home. Todd Phillips’ Joker is a brilliant, flammable, uncomfortable, thought provoking, beautifully crafted piece not only on its own terms as a standalone character study but also as part of the Batman universe as well.

Arthur lives with his ailing mother (Frances Conroy) in a shit box apartment, works as a street clown for an agency that resents him, sees a dour social worker until funding is cut along with access to his medication. He idolizes a funny-man TV talk show host (Robert Deniro in scenery chewing mode) until the guy cruelly mocks him for laughs. Arthur is as close to snapping as the entire city around him and one can almost use his gradually disintegrating grasp on reality and coherence as a barometer for that of Gotham itself and the world outside the cinema that we know too. Phoenix is indescribably good in the role, shedding pounds and growing a shaggy mane to portray this beyond iconic antagonist and giving us a portrayal that is so well built up, so scarily developed that by the time he has incarnated into the full fledged clown prince of crime we feel like running for the door in terror. But he’s also madly human too, a man repeatedly stomped down by the forces around him until a combination of stress, untreated mental illness, hurt and humiliation push him over that edge in a startling act of violence. Joaquin is the star here but Phillips also populates his Gotham with a variety of faces both new and familiar including Douglas Hodge, Zazie Beets, Brian Tyree Henry, Josh Pais, Bill Camp, Shea Wigham, Glenn ‘The Yellow King’ Fleshler and more.

So, about that elephant in the room. I don’t usually like to address this kind of thing in my reviews but this film has inexplicably whipped up a hilariously misguided fever of opinions, so read loud and clear folks: The Joker is a comic book character. This is a film. The way he’s written here is as a mentally ill victim of an would be standup comedian who is pushed to the brink, left to stew in his own mind as well as a horrifying cycle of abuse and finally loses it. This film in no way glorifies, condones or puts lone wolf violence onto a pedestal and if you think otherwise than you either haven’t seen the film or gravely misunderstood it’s themes. This maniacal, dogmatic, woke-a-cola nonsense has no business here and those peddling it should be embarrassed of themselves, shut both their mouths and their laptops, go into the corner and count to ten. Got it? Good.

Philips has created quite the vision of Gotham and The Joker here, drawing inspiration from Martin Scorsese’s work, lovingly observing key touchstones of the Batman universe and adding his own stylistic flairs that help this thing do a dance all its own. This is not a crowd pleaser or a pleasant experience though. Gotham has none of the Hammer aura of Burton or Broadway kitsch of Schumacher, but is simply a weary, dirty, worn out avatar for late seventies New York with just a tad of 30’s/40’s atmosphere present in the soundtrack choices and a terrific cameo from Charlie Chaplin. Phoenix owns the film and can’t really be compared. I love every Joker portrayal so far in cinema (yes even Jared Leto) for a host of different reasons and Phoenix adds another incendiary notch to the belt here with his psychologically shredded howl of a performance. Add to that gorgeous, gritty urban cinematography by Lawrence Sher, stunningly grimy and beautifully lit production design by Mark Friedberg and a surprisingly ethereal, skin crawling score from Hildur Guanodóttir and you’ve got quite the package. One of the best films of the year so far.

-Nate Hill

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Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Gary Oldman Performances

Gary Oldman is both one of my personal favourite actors and an absolute champion of the craft, an adaptable master of any role thrown at him who can take words on a page and lift them to magnificent heights in his work. Intense, implosive, focused, hard working and super dynamic in front of a camera, he’s always an actor to watch and an undisputed master of his craft. I love each and every performance this man has given us so far in a brilliantly diverse career, but here are the ten characters that stand out the most for me:

10. Charlie Strom in Sin

Bear with me on this one. Like any actor, Gary has appeared in a few duds, and overall this happens to be one of them *but* his performance in it is fantastic. Ving Rhames plays a tough ex cop whose sister (Kerry Washington) is raped and brutalized on Oldman’s orders as some kind of underworld porn king. A deadly game of cat and mouse ensues in which Rhames seeks revenge for the atrocity but discovers that Oldman targeted him for reasons of his own going back into both their pasts. It’s a decent script given the scrappy low budget treatment but Oldman’s tormented villain is worth sitting through for. He has a conversation with Rhames midway through the film that gets philosophical in nature and overall he just nails the haunted persona of this role.

9. O.W. Grant in Bob Gale’s Interstate 60

This is a playful role in one heinously overlooked hidden gem. Essentially an existential road trip movie with supernatural elements and enough cameos to launch a pilot, Gary plays a mysterious genie like deity who grants everyone he sees one wish by blowing green smoke from his monkey shaped pipe. He also has no reproductive organs, as a hitchhiking nymphomaniac chick hilariously discovers. It’s light, easygoing work from the actor who isn’t doing any heavy lifting with the performance yet still makes a terrific comedic impact and seems like he’s having a lot of fun.

8. George Smiley in Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

John Le Carré’s chilly Cold War thriller sees Oldman take on the role of an MI6 lieutenant embroiled in the treacherous search for a soviet spy amongst his own ranks. Restrained and opaque, one begins to see the keen scrutiny hiding behind the character’s initially withdrawn nature. When an event causes him to almost lose that composure, he expertly shows the emotions bursting forth and the efforts to keep them within, reaching a pitch perfect note of performance that gets better and more detailed every time you revisit the film.

7. Jackie Flannery in Phil Joanou’s State Of Grace

One of the great crime dramas he has taken on, this one sees him play a volatile, unstable Irish gangster in NYC’s brutal Hell’s Kitchen, stick between his mob boss older brother (Ed Harris) and childhood friend (Sean Penn) who is now an undercover cop infiltrating their ranks. With a mop of greasy hair and the mannerisms of an untrained dog let off the leash, this is a ballistic tornado of a characterization with childlike notes, a good dose of rambunctious restlessness and primal violent nature uncaged.

6. Sirius Black in Alfonso Cuaron’s Harry Potter & The Prisoner Of Azkaban

From the moment we see gaunt, haunted eyed convict Black onscreen Gary makes him a magnetic, spooky presence to be reckoned with. Even before that we see him howling out of moving wanted posters in Diagon Alley and off the front page of the Daily Prophet. Oldman makes juxtaposed genius out of his work here and the shift from scary fugitive to compassionate friend and mentor to Harry is handled beautifully. It’s also nice to see him and fellow British thespian David Thewlis collectively chewing scenery, they have palpable chemistry and I’d love to see a buddy cop thing with them one day, or something like that.

5. Jack Grimaldi in Peter Medak’s Romeo Is Bleeding

The ultimate corrupt cop, Oldman’s Jack is a loose cannon dirtbag who discovers that his ways have consequences when his life is made into a living hell by terrifying femme fatale Mona Demarkhov (Lena Olin) and ruthless mafia don Falcone (Roy Schneider). He inhabits the sweaty, desperate neo-noir palette of this great film very well, especially in sly, mournful voiceover as he literally narrates his own story as if it didn’t happen to him.

4. Dracula In Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Francis Ford Coppola outdoes himself with this lavish, baroque piece of eye candy that for me is the best film version of Dracula ever made, likewise for Gary’s knockout performance as the titular vampire king. He has several incarnations here from armoured Transylvanian knight to skeletal senior citizen to dashing foreign prince to full on nine foot gorilla werewolf hell-beast thing and he rocks each one with full blooded embodiment and spectacular verve. Surrounded by solid players like Anthony Hopkins, Winona Ryder, Sadie Frost, Keanu Reeves, Cary Elwes, Richard E. Grant and Tom Waits in an encore as the lunatic Renfield, this is a magnificent dark jewel of a film and a horror masterpiece.

3. James Gordon in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises

The actor goes inward here for a fierce, gritty turn as the legendary police commissioner, giving the character all the salt of the earth integrity and brooding charisma we could hope to get. In a career full of extravagant portrayals and amidst a trilogy riddled with flamboyant villains and people who dress up in costumes, ironically he gets to play the most down to earth and level headed guy, comparatively. His Gordon is a straight arrow cop who is fallible, tactical and compassionate.

2. Drexl Spivey in Tony Scott’s True Romance

A white pimp who thinks he’s black, this has to be the single most impactful performance ever filmed that only takes up one five minute scene and another brief thirty second one. Dreadlocks, gnarly scars, a dead eye, leopard print housecoat, this guy couldn’t be more visually ridiculous but for all the flourish and swagger, it’s Gary’s mannerisms that shine through and win the day. The goal of his scene is essentially to circle and intimidate Christian Slater before pouncing on him like a pissed off coyote, and he succeeds in freaking him out plus the rest of the world watching on their screens. This film is filled with memorable moments scene after scene but his mad dog portrayal of this reprehensibly hilarious Detroit gutter-rat piece of shit stands out.

1. Norman Stansfield in Luc Besson’s Leon The Professional

I’m not sure what Besson’s direction to Oldman was in playing this spectacularly corrupt DEA agent but he kind of just runs off and does his own thing to the point where other actors in the scene look scared of him for real. Casually homicidal, easily distracted, highly unstable and so intense he frequently goes red in the face, this is a villain that would frighten most others into submission. Contrasted with Jean Reno’s and Natalie Portman’s more contemplative performances he’s the wild card of this tale and fills it to the brim with madness, firepower, dark humour and that trademark white suit that you better not get blood on or he’ll shoot you after he’s already killed you in a crazed tantrum of scenery chewing that only Gary Oldman is capable of.

Thanks for reading ! Please share you favourite Gary Oldman performances as well!

-Nate Hill

“I never touched a legend before.” : Remembering Nightbreed with Nicholas Vince by Kent Hill

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Seems to me NIGHTBREED had been out for a while before I made a point of sitting down to watch it. I’d seen the trailer a bunch of times, been curious, but it wasn’t until I read the illustrated screenplay that I admit to really becoming hell bent on checking it out.1411764498435

It is at once a phantasmagoria, a dark fantasy, a love story – a rich, self-contained world that seemed on the verge. But, as I would discover, the powers that be didn’t receive from Clive Barker what they were hoping for. He had produced for them two Hellraiser pictures, thus they made the mistake of assuming they were set to receive yet another study in fear. Especially with a title like, Nightbreed. Hence you have the reason for the fractured state of the movie and all the subsequent releases and restorations – the producers attempting to fashion the movie into something it was never meant to be.

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What you ultimately take away from Barker’s monster-piece is the feeling of wanting more – and not just a re-cut of the existing elements. I suppose that’s why the idea of a Nightbreed series, I feel, would work better than another motion picture. There is so much to mine, so many characters – along with my favorite, Kinski (played by my guest Nicholas Vince), that I would love to see make a return.

So, kick back and enjoy our discussion on all things concerned with the tribes of the moon. God’s an Astronaut. Oz is Over the Rainbow, and Midian is where the monsters live.”

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BEFORE YOU GO, CHECK THIS OUT…

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FOR MORE INFO: https://www.facebook.com/HailThePopcornKing/

Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins

These days we take the abundance of DC/Batman films and TV series for granted, but back in the first half of the 2000’s there was a massive drought left on the land thanks to Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin, which we won’t go into here. Then Christopher Nolan came along and changed that forever, not with necessarily a bang, but the thoughtful, moody, introspective Batman Begins, a film that served as catalyst to one of the most celebrated motion picture trilogies of today. That’s not to say it didn’t blast into the scene with a bang, this is one seriously fired up action film that left iMax screens reeling and sound systems pumped. It’s just that Nolan gave the Batman legacy the brains and psychological depth that it deserves to go along with the fireworks, while Schumacher & Co. were simply making live action Saturday morning cartoons, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing either but after two films seemed a bit beneath the potential of what Batman could be.

Nolan bores into the roots of Bruce Wayne’s anguished past to expose themes of fear, not only facing his childhood fears but eventually becoming them to release the anger he’s harboured since that night in the alley. Christian Bale finds both the cavalier flippancy of Bruce and the obstinate, short tempered dexterity of Batman and yes, he makes an impression with a voice that has perhaps since become more well known than the films. Trained in the heartlands of the Far East by mysterious Ducard (Liam Neeson), Bruce returns to Gotham years later to find it rotting from the inside out with crime, corruption and poverty. Nolan shows the rocky road he sets out on and the failures he endures in his first few ventures onto the streets in costume, crossing paths with Cillian Murphy’s dangerous Dr. Jonathan ‘Scarecrow’ Crane, uneasily aligning forces with Gary Oldman’s stalwart Jim Gordon and assisted at every turn by Michael Caine’s Alfred Pennyworth and Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox. Nolan assembles a cast full of roles both big and small including Richard Brake, Mark Boone Jr, Ken Watanabe, Linus Roache, Rade Serbedzija, Joffrey Lannister, Rutger Hauer and more. I have to mention Katie Holmes because she gives one of the most underrated performances in the whole trilogy. I’m not sure what went on behind the scenes when recasting her with Maggie Gyllenhaal for the next film but it did no service to the character, Katie made it her own, is full of personality and will always be the real Rachel to me. Special mention must also be made of Tom Wilkinson as mob boss Carmine Falcone, who is only in a handful of scenes but scares the pants off of everyone with his off the cuff blunt dialogue, violent tendencies and shark-like personality.

I can’t say this is my favourite film in the franchise or even the one I’d call the best (Dark Knight holds both those honours), but it is definitely the one that stands out to me the most when I think of the trilogy as a whole. Why? Visual aesthetic and production design. With the next two films Nolan cemented a very naturally lit, real world vibe that became his signature touch on the legacy, but Begins is different. There’s a burnt umber, earthy, elemental, very gothic tone he used here that just isn’t there in the next two, and whether intentional or not, it sets this one in a Gotham slightly removed from Knight and Rises. The mood and story are also rooted far more in mysticism and the fantastical as opposed to the earthbound, economically minded, concrete edged sensibility of what’s to come. Just a few observations.

In any case Nolan pioneered an arresting new Gotham for Batman, his friends and foes to do battle in, he injected the smarts, philosophy and character development that the franchise had been thirsting for a long time before. Wally Pfister’s swooping cinematography, Hans Zimmer’s cannonball original score, Nathan Crowley’s spooky, cobwebbed production design and every performance in the film work to make this not just one hell of a Batman film, but an overall excellent fantasy adventure that truly transports you to its world, the mythology, development and destruction of which leaves a lasting imprint on the subconscious. Brilliant film.

-Nate Hill

The Man behind The Dark Knight rises by Kent Hill

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How did this wonderful film slip through the cracks? There was little to no word about this utterly enthralling and compelling story about the ‘other’ man behind the bat.

I admit to you now – I was in the dark. While comics were a staple of my formative years, as that time receded, my interest had diminished to ‘casual’  by the early 2000’s. Even then I was far from what you would refer to an an aficionado. Comics were flame bursts in the dark. Most of mine were not pristine, and I collected them by the bundle when my Grandmother would take me along with her to the Book Exchange and allow me to parlay a stack of her used paperbacks for a pile of superhero awesomeness.

But, back to the topic at hand. I read comics without much regard for who created them (that attention to detail I reserved for my first obsession, the movies). I was there to indulge, pure and simple. Still, as our awareness grows, so do we seek out ever greater detail – the mechanics that make our preferred mode of escapism tick and thus our experience is enriched and the depths of our interest continue to descend into the pop culture sea that abounds, seemingly fathomless.

Such is the story brought to life by Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce. Like the equally incredible Searching for Sugar Man before it, Batman & Bill traces the steps of the elusive Bill Finger – the man who, in case you didn’t know, co-created Batman with Bob Kane. And, like Sugar Man, the plot, which on the surface might seem to have a logical conclusion, just keeps unraveling as the real life seeker of justice, Marc Nobleman, tracks down and lets the sun shine brightly on the life, labors and legacy of Finger.

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Now I’m not going to spoil this at all. You must, must, must seek out this glorious unfolding of a sad, arduous, but ultimately triumphant saga which is predominantly about rewriting history, but at its heart there is a drum that beats and reminds us to stand tall in the face of adversity, and the film depicts this, in the form of the mammoth uphill battle to place Finger’s name next to Kane’s as a creative force behind one of the truly monolithic heroes from the realms of illustrated storytelling.

All I will say is that the end broke me up like Field of Dreams always manages to. Yes, strong men also cry, to quote The Big Lebowski, but you’ll walk away from this film ever changed and with a sense of pride having seen honor restored, a name reclaimed and a final note so satisfying it’ll touch your heart.

Read the book, see the film, and as for right now enjoy my chat with the extraordinary team who have captured beautifully this tale of a watchful protector who fought with a pen mightier than any sword to see the ‘other’ man behind the Dark Knight, rise…

 

https://www.hulu.com/press/show/batman-and-bill/

https://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/video/1360261187749/batman-and-bill (for Aussie viewers only)

https://www.amazon.com/Bill-Boy-Wonder-Secret-Co-Creator/dp/1580892892

 

Tim Burton’s BATMAN

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Frank is joined with filmmaker and recurring Podcasting Them Softly co-host, Derek Wayne Johnson to discuss one of their favorite films, Tim Burton’s BATMAN. Derek also speaks on his current projects in post-production, STALLONE: FRANK THAT IS and his documentary on the original ROCKY.

Tim Burton’s Batman

Tim Burton’s Batman has to be of one of the most unique caped crusader films ever made. One villain, where in every other outing there’s a handful. A Prince soundtrack. The craziest gothic production design this side of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. It’s one of my least favourite in the string of cinematic Batman films, probably falling somewhere under Nolan’s efforts and Burton’s superior sequel Returns, but that doesn’t mean much because on it’s own terms, it’s really something special. The aesthetic employed here is important not just in comic book films but in the realm of special effects in general. Burton carefully composes a world that reminisces on the grainy Hammer horror movies of the 50’s and infuses that with the stark trench coat noir from 30’s gangster flicks. He’s a director who has always understood that atmosphere is key above most other things in a production and it’s thick as a fog bank here. Then there’s the casting of Michael Keaton, a physically unassuming choice for Batman who seized the moody aspects of the character and took them to new introspective heights, barely uttering three words as both Bruce and Bats. The hook of this film was obviously meant to be Jack Nicholson’s rowdy, boisterous Joker, so much so that he got billing above Keaton. In a subdued, musty Gotham city, he’s the one splash of psychotic colour that stands out, a relentlessly cartoonish yet very scary ignoramus who cements the aforementioned old school gangster vibe, especially in an origin prologue where he’s just Jack Nicholson sans makeup and fanfare, which is when we see some of his best work of the film no less. Kim Basinger feeds off of Bruce’s sullenness as Vicki Vale, a news reporter and obligatory love interest, but Basinger dodges the cliche a bit and simmers underneath the sex appeal, especially when she falls into the Joker’s clutches and we see past trauma burning in her eyes, whether it’s Vicki’s or Kim’s, we’ll probably never know. Robert Wuhl, Billy Dee Williams as a pre Two Face Harvey Dent, Pat Hingle, and Michael Gough all make vivid appearances, but I especially enjoyed Jack Palance as a nastily corrupt kingpin/politician who’s partly responsible for Nicholson’s epic caterpillar into sociopathic butterfly metamorphosis. The real star of the show here though is Gotham City itself, seemingly conjured up from the darkest shared dreams of Count Dracula and James Cagney. It’s a monumental achievement in set design that has influenced countless other projects since and serves as one of the textbook urban hellholes in cinema. This may not be my favourite Batman flick as it is for some, there’s a few things that stand out. The celebratory score by Danny Elfman, although brilliant in it’s own right, seems to clash a bit with the dingy, cobwebbed vibe of Gotham and I’m always curious how the atmosphere would have been if they went with something a bit darker. A minor quibble in an overall picture that’s a stroke of genius though. From that baroque Batmobile catching air through a giant waterfall to the inky black and deep purple silhouettes of Bats and Joker atop a cathedral loft, this film has since been engraved into legend and stands as one of the most iconic comic book flicks.

-Nate Hill