This is going to be a tough one to review no matter how I slice it, so I’ll be upfront with my thoughts and afterwards I’m open to any and all discussions regarding them: I finally got a chance to watch the entire miniseries of Stephen King’s The Shining from 1997 (not in the right order I might add, as the discs in my DVD set were somehow labelled wrong) and in quite a few ways I much prefer it to Stanley Kubrick’s film, which I also love and consider a stronger piece in some aspects as well. Please hear me out: it’s no secret that King prefers this one and that it follows his book far more closely than than Kubrick’s film, but this was irrelevant to me as I’ve never read the book. What I enjoyed a lot about this is that it dives far deeper into the character of Jack Torrence, here played by Steven Weber in a performance I much prefer over Nicholson’s, his alcoholism and inability to control the addiction and anger issues, how that mirrors the evil forces at the Overlook Hotel who are trying to win over his soul and prompt him to murder his wife Wendy (Rebecca DeMornay) and son Danny (Courtland Mead). Here we see Jack go from a loving husband and father and slowly disintegrate into the deranged, possessed lunatic that stalks his family through the hallways in the third act. But what struck me here is how we clearly see a good yet troubled man with demons in his past who encounters new and very literal ones in the present yet fights fiercely against them, we see a clear trajectory from decent man to stressed out cabin fever victim to unwitting host of dark forces to full on, mentally deranged homicidal maniac and it’s an actual *arc* as opposed to Jack Nicholson, who just seemed like a loony oddball right off the bat and never earns or even asks for your sympathy or understanding. Now, what falls flat here? I mean obviously it’s made for TV miniseries so it feels chopped up by the obligatory commercial breaks and just, you know, has that ‘TV feel’ that’ll knock it down a peg in the eyes of cinephiles by default alone. There’s some startlingly terrible CGI including hedge animals that come to life, that could have totally been done with practical effects and just look laughable. The weakest link though is this young actor Courtland Mead who plays Danny, he is just painfully unbearable to even look at and when he talks you just want to flip the coffee table over, *very* bad casting choice. The dynamic between Jack and Wendy is explored far more in depth here with entire sequences devoted to dialogue that feels like a beautifully dark stage play unfolding, scenes that are incredibly well acted and affecting. The supporting cast is terrific with work from Pat Hingle, Melvin Van Peebles, Miguel Ferrer, Shawnee Smith, Elliott Gould in a brittle cameo as the Overlook’s bluntly skeptical owner and Stanley Anderson in a chilling turn as the place’s former caretaker, the ghostly Delbert Grady. One way in which this truly outshone Kubrick’s for me is location: this was shot at the Stanley Hotel in Colorado where King actually wrote much of the book and my god does it ever show; breathtaking Rocky mountain vistas surround the place, the architecture is baroque and creepy and gorgeous all at once and there’s just this atmospheric alpine feel outdoors and this spooky, lived-in aura within the building that drew me right in. Weber is truly terrifying, deeply sympathetic and even frequently very funny and candid as Jack, it’s an overlooked performance that struck many chords with me and felt palpably threatening, despite the fact the he carries around a Denver croquet mallet instead of an axe. I could go on, but the simple truth is this is more up my horror alley overall, it feels like a campfire tale, decidedly genre and very hot blooded, dramatic and full of rich storytelling whereas Kubrick’s, no doubt an incredible film that I also enjoy quite a bit, simply comes across as colder, more detached, scant on King’s mythology and ideas with a far less developed and intriguing Jack Torrence and very much like an art film in many instances. I love both, but this version just vibes with me more, and I don’t know what else to say, really.
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.
I love scrappy little cop flicks like Clint Eastwood’s The Gauntlet, a short, trashy exercise in exploitation that’s not only a departure from the heady, cerebral detective flicks he does but also miles off of the focused, gritty machismo of the Dirty Harry films. This is a low rent B movie and is proud of it, which is a rare commodity in Eastwood land. Boasting a terminally silly plot, lovably incapable protagonist and more bullets fired than all three Matrix movies stacked together, it’s a great way to spend a Saturday night when you have a hankering for old school action. Eastwood is Ben Shockley here, a disheveled mess of a Phoenix cop, heavily on the sauce and in no mood for the mission his uptight commissioner (William Prince, needing a moustache to twirl in his portrait of unapologetic evil) dispatches him on. He’s to escort a troublesome hooker (Sondra Locke) from Vegas back to Arizona where she will testify at a high profile mob trial. Of course every bent cop and his mother is on their trail, they can’t trust anyone in law enforcement and they’re on their own, forced to run a gauntlet of gunfire and corruption to bring her in. There’s three very odd, very hilarious set pieces that involve gunmen just fucking unloading clip after clip after clip in a way that the you might see on the Looney Toons, until the house they’re firing at *literally* falls apart. That’s the sort of slapdash style the film has, but it works in its dense specificity. Eastwood and Locke have chemistry, and it’s always cool to see the chicks in his action films have their own personality and impact on plot, not just part of the scenery or eye candy. Prince is so nefarious as the Commissioner that one wonders how a man like that ascended the ranks to that position, but in a film where’s he’s allowed to shut down a city block and order the *entire* Phoenix police force to empty boxes of bullets into an oncoming bus that Eastwood rolls up in, it isn’t that much of a stretch to believe. It’s just that kind of film, and I dug it a lot. Oh and look at that epic one sheet of a poster, whoever designed that should get a few medals. Great flick.
It’s true, Batman Forever is a silly, overblown, cartoonish riot of buffoonry. But so what? It’s also awesome in it’s own way, and inhabits a certain corner of the Batman culture, the side of things that is rooted in camp and unhinged wonderment. Now, there’s an important and discernable difference between taking things far and taking things too far. That difference is delineated on one side by a willingness to be goofy, colorful and not take this superhero stuff too seriously. The other side of that of course is a disregard for limits, throwing every ridiculous line, costume and awkward scene into it you can imagine. I’m referring to Joel Schumacher’s followup to this, Batman & Robin. Everything that is weird, wonderful and extravagant about Forever just revved up to much in Robin, resulting in a piss poor typhoon of mania and over acting. Not to say that Forever doesn’t have over acting. Ohhhh boy is there over acting. Between Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey, the thing is liable to give you epilipsy. But it somehow works despite its madness, a lucky stroke that Robin couldn’t have cared less about adhering to. Val Kilmer is the sedating antidote to Jones and Carrey, a remakably laid back Bats and a pretty solid casting choice, both as Brooding Bruce and Buttkicking Bats. Eternally broken up about the death of his patents, Bruce fights off Harvey Two Face Dent (Jones) in a garish, disarming Gotham City that resembles Mardi Gras in Dr. Seuss land. Jones’s Two Face is so far over the top, so rabid that it’s a wonder he didn’t give himself a bloody heart attack in the first take. Anyone who’s interested can read up on his performance, and how he pushed himself right to the heights of bombast in order to try and out-Carrey the Jim. Carrey, playing the Riddler, is a ball of twisted nerves himself, set loose on the wacky sets and basically given free reign to.. well.. go fucking nuts. It’s one of his most physical performances too, prancing around like a loon in green spandex that leaves nothing to the imagination. Aaron Eckhart’s Two Face may have had the edge for grit, but Jones has the rollicking clown version, and runs away to kookoo land with mannerisms that even call to mind The Joker in some scenes. The only thing I’ve seen him more hopped up in is Natural Born Killers, but shit man its hard to top his work in that. The story is all over the place, involving a nonsensical subplot with a mind control device, multiple elaborate set pieces, endless scenery chewing and the eventual arrival of Robin, played by Chris O’Donnell who is like the cinematic Buzz Killington. Michael Gough and Pat Hingle dutifully tag along as Alfred and Commissioner Gordon, both looking tired at this point. Debi Mazar and Drew Barrymore have amusing dual cameos as Two Face’s twin vixens, and Nicole Kidman does the slinky love interest shtick for Bruce as a sexy psychologist. Watch for an uncredited Ed Begley Jr. Too. There’s no denying the silliness, but one has to admit that the achievment in costume, production design and artistry are clear off the charts with this one, and visually it should be a legend in the franchise. Say what you will about it, I love the thing.