An Ode to The Dark Knight

An Ode to The Dark Knight

(Originally posted on my Letterboxd account, But thought I’d share here as well.)

If you know me, you’ve probably heard me talk about Batman, and quite often, you’ve heard me talk about The Dark Knight. I have a lot of things to say about this movie, I love this interpretation of Batman. I love the way Christopher Nolan bring Gotham City to life in a realistic setting while keeping Batman grounded, but with moments of grandiose. Some people have heard me (albeit while I was very drunk) talk about how important the movie is for superhero films and filmmaking in general, and how all movies should give thanks to The Dark Knight. I don’t remember everything I said, but I’m sure it was all very compelling.

Finally, you have heard me talk about Heath Ledgers spine tingling and larger than life performance as The Joker. The last full performance of the late 28 year old actor. Ledger actually passes away 9 years ago today. So I thought today was the day to revisit this film that has always been very important to me.

The Dark Knight is the film I would credit with really pushing me into the person I became today. As a kid, I watched some Batman and was always interested in him, but my brother had been the big Batman fan growing up. I had recently seen Spider-Man 3, and I was starting to read Spider-Man comics. At the time I probably would have called him my favorite superhero.

One day in Social Studies, our teacher put on “A Knight’s Tale”, we started it and all the girls talked about how dreamy the lead was. I was 13 and thought “That’s so gross.” Then the next day, when we were about to finish the movie. My teacher mentioned that Heath Ledger, the lead actor, had just died the day before. That was a strange coincidence. I read about Heath Ledger in an issue of Entertainment Weekly and learned he was playing The Joker in the next Batman movie. I remembered Batman and always thought the Joker was cool and funny. So, I very quickly started reading up and absorbing everything having to do with the movie. it sounded pretty cool, a new version of the Joker who was more murdery than funny, sign middle school me up.

And then on July 18th, 2008, I was blown away and witnessed a movie I had never imagined possible. It was simply the coolest thing. Before I had felt like I was more mature watching crappy PG-13 comedies made by Adam Sandler (We all have to start somewhere), this was new, this was exciting, this was a work of art.

After that film, I was obsessed. I wore Joker T-shirts to school as often as possible, many people believed it was the only shirts I owned. I was The Joker for Halloween, my planned future involved me buying the Batpod and driving it everywhere I went, and I started reading all the Batman comics I could find. Back then, if you didn’t think The Dark Knight was cool. I thought you were absolutely insane. I didn’t think it was possible for you to be a good person, and not like this gift from god.

The year it wasn’t nominated for an academy award I was so furious. The Academy later opened the Best Picture Nominees to 10 films due to the backlash they got from not giving The Dark Knight the acclaim many believed it deserved. That’s about the time I really started paying attention to things that were well received by critics. I was reading reviews in every issue of Entertainment Weekly and that was how I decided what was worth my time. 15 year old me thought this was the most logical way to be. I even started listening to a podcasting website called Spill.com, there they helped form my taste. They were also big fans of The Dark Knight, and my obsession was further justified in my mind.

So, let’s talk about the movie, because the thing is, it lives up to the hype. It’s so well paced and strong in it’s theme and directing. It’s stunts are big and practical, and it’s acting is top notch across the board. Christian Bale is still the best Batman brought to screen. His Bruce Wayne is sharp and brooding, and his Batman is intense and foreboding. Yeah, his voice is silly. But it’s so ingrained with this version of the character, I will love it as I watch it, and still laugh and make fun of it too.

Of course we need to talk about Heath Ledger, because what he does with the Joker is something not found in any other superhero film in the past 9 years. His character has the spirit and imbodiment of the character from the comics. He is menacing and darkly humorous, most of his jokes are things meant for HIM to find funny, not as much us. He’s also incredibly different from the Joker proper and that still makes his one of the strongest interpretations. He’s an unempathetic, unhinged genius in clown makeup who knows what he wants and will do whatever he needs to do to accomplish his goals, those goals being total mayhem. There still hasn’t been a modern superhero villain to rival this Joker yet, not from Marvel, not from DC, especially not the newest version of The Joker. Just the way Ledger’s Joker talks to Batman and the people around him is so different from other versions. He talks to everyone like they’re shells of people and he knows what is best. The fact that we will never see more of this character is truly unfortunate.

The action in this film is so iconic. It put Christopher Nolan, a quiet reserved director of thrillers and dramas into a premier high art action director title that hasn’t always worked to his benefit since the Dark Knight trilogy. His minimal use of CGI set a standard for comic book films. I will always get chills watching the 18 wheeler flip scene. Rising in my seat as it becomes fully vertical and dropping as it falls onto its back. Then topped with Batman flipping the Batpod around on a wall brings a big stupid grin on my face.

The film has so many little moments that give me chills, as a fan of movies and a fan of these characters. Listening to Gordon field questions about Batman in Dent’s office is exactly what I want from the Batman/Gordon relationship, a man taking a chance on this vigilante enigma and keeping it so close to the chest. The off screen sound of a serving tray dropped by a caterer who sees the Joker, that serial killer clown from the news, appear in Bruce Wayne’s penthouse. Something they probably never imagined and now they’re scared for their own life. The way Alfred cares for Bruce and tries to lead him down a path he know’s he can’t stop. The film is full of these moments. And if I had more time, I’d never stop talking about them.

Now the film isn’t perfect, because no film truly is. I understand these imperfections, but I don’t let them ruin my enjoyment. There are several moments of confusing screen direction and bad ADR, some mildly lazy, others obviously difficult because of Ledger’s passing. Sometimes Batman’s come back lines are usually kind of forced (None as bad as Rises “No I came here to stop you,” but still), and from a modern perspective, this film would have been chastised for it’s one real female character, and she dies. I accept these flaws, and while I don’t forgive them, I still love the film almost as much as I did when I was 15 and could afford to have my only real concern in life be “Who’s going to be the villain in Batman 3?”

Watching the film tonight really brought it home as to why I love this film and Batman. Batman in film right now is kind of piss poor, with Zack Snyder not really understanding the character, and Ben Affleck being a fun Bruce Wayne, but a far too murderous Batman. I have hope of course, I probably never won’t, but the character is nowhere near where he once was on screen. Along with The Joker who I will only describe as, what would happen to me if I didn’t get a hobby outside of The Dark Knight and did a shitty Heath Ledger impression forever. I hadn’t actually seen the movie in almost 2 years. So I had gone through the dark age of 2016 DC without a good Dark Knight pallet cleanser. I was grateful to have it back in my mind fresh.

In closing, since that time of Dark Knight fever, I have found many other films, some are probably better than The Dark Knight, and many very unlike the film. Saying I have a favorite movie now has become kind of passe for me. I see so many great movies that only singling out one from 9 years ago is silly. But this film will always have a nice comfy spot in my heart. I hope the film can be a touchstone for others as well. When I grow old and possibly have a son or daughter, I want them to watch this film and have similar experiences. I can’t wait to make my own feature film and through everything I learn, see what The Dark Knight offers me. I’ll always have great movies, but I don’t know if there will ever be a film that will ever match what The Dark Knight is to me.

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CJ Reviews Popstar and Why Do General Audiences Hate Original Comedies?

CJ Reviews Popstar and Why Do General Audiences Hate Original Comedies?

Comedy is really hard to pull off. It takes a lot of time and effort; And if someone doesn’t think a comedy isn’t funny,  It will be judged incredibly harshly no matter how hard someone worked on it. I write this as a person who both reviews and critiques films, while also enjoys making films a lot. I’m not saying that comedy shouldn’t be critiqued or to be given a handicap. Let’s not forget that unfunny comedy exist and are painful. But I mainly say this because I feel like comedies get strung out when they don’t appeal to all people. And Popstar may have been a recent victim of this trend.

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Popstar follows the daily life of Superstar Conner4Real (Andy Sandberg) and his struggles as he tries to stay relevant after his newest solo album tanks. We follow Conner on tour, trying to keep tickets sales up, and we see his past as a member of a pop group, The Style Boyz, where he broke off and went solo from his friends Lawrence and Owen (Played by Sandberg’s Lonely Island team Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone respectively.)

The film is a send up of current celebrity culture and the music industry. The film is loaded to the hilt with cameos from real life popstars, rappers, music producers, and celebrities. All of which are pretty funny and deliver some really good digs at real life popstar customs or at themselves. All of which are mainly talking heads.

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)

All of this is possible thanks to the networking team of The Lonely Island, seven years on SNL along with friends in the music industry, and Judd Apatow being king comedy producer. The film is packed with so many funny people. That there are actually several underutilized characters. Bill Hader as a roady comes to mind first, whose entire scene in the movie is basically shown in a trailer. I won’t reveal who else is in the film, but it shows you the problem with getting too many cameos.

The film itself though? I found it to be pretty funny. Conner4Real is Justin Timberlake if he had the personality of Justin Bieber. He’s wild, arrogant, dangerously stupid, but a natural star. Andy Sandberg’s history has given him plenty of practice at playing a ridiculous character like this. He absolutely nails it here, playing Conner just the right amount of stupid, but keeping him interesting to follow.

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The supporting cast is also used pretty well. Everything with the other members of Lonely Island is really solid. The chemistry is there and they know how to play off one another. Tim Meadows and Sarah Silverman have pretty decent parts as Conners manager and PR Rep. They both make the most out of their parts. My personal favorite was someone I didn’t recognize, Chris Redd, playing a rapper who is brought onto Conners tour to help sell tickets. He has a lot of charisma, along with being a really good rapper himself. I’m looking forward to seeing more of him.

Probably the best part of the film is the music. The Lonely Island is really skilled at writing funny songs that sound great. Many of which sound like they could be real billboard singles. “I’m So Humble” starts out the movie and is one of my personal favorites. The Lonely Island does all of the music here and brings on other musicians (Linken Park, Adam Levine, and Pink to name a few) to help, like any standard Lonely Island album. The soundtrack of the film is also being marketed as the next Lonely Island album.

Now, I want to talk about something I brought up earlier. This film as a whole is funny. It’s not perfect, but that’s normal for any comedy. Popstar was the best reviewed wide release film last weekend (76%). It was also the only original film released. It was put against Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 and Me Before You, both of which got poor to middling reviews (36% and 56% respectively.) But if you look at those two films, they both made the most money last weekend at the box office, along with X-Men: Apocalypse (48%), Need I say more?

Popstar came in at #8. To make matters worst; It’s Cinemascore (a ratings system that determines how audiences respond to movies) was a B. That’s the rating Audiences gave Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and when movies like Ninja Turtles can get an A-, a B rating is pretty bad. What’s interesting here is that other original comedies this year like The Nice Guys and Keanu also got B’s. While I didn’t really care for Keanu, The Nice Guys is one of the best films to come out this year. Why do general audiences seem to avoid original films? And when they do see them, they dislike them.

The answer can possibly be they aren’t marketed properly, or dare I say it, people don’t want to see something a couple IQ points higher?  Popstar isn’t a very hard film to follow, but what it’s making fun of and how it presents itself is fairly clever. Why it didn’t click with audiences will be a mystery for a while. Hopefully it will find an audience in the future on Blu-Ray.

After defending this movie, you’d probably expect me to absolutely love this movie. But the truth is, It’s not my favorite comedy this summer. But damn it, It’s a really cool movie that I did have a total blast in. I think if you want to have a fun time in a theater this summer that doesn’t involve empty explosions, this movie will do the job.

3.5/5

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CJ reviews X-Men: Apocalypse

CJ reviews X-Men: Apocalypse

 

(I know this is a week after release, but this is the first time I’ve ever not seen a superhero opening weekend. So forgive me)

(Very Minor Spoiler Alert)

The X-Men is one of the few mainstream superhero properties I don’t know a lot about. I’ve always called myself a fan of both Marvel and DC (If you put a gun to my head, I’ll always say DC first.). But even as a huge fan of the world of Marvel, X-Men was always on the outskirts for me. That’s not to say I haven’t read anything X-Men. I very much enjoyed Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men run, but that’s the most I’ve really read. They had their own world and conflicts that didn’t need the rest of the Marvel Universe proper. It’s one of the reasons I never thought they needed to try and bring the X-men characters into the Marvel Studios films, I believe they work better as a separate unit than part of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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Despite all of that. I’ve been really happy with the X-Men movies as of late. The new trilogy has produced some of the best X-Men films in the series 16 year history.  First Class brought the series new life in a 60’s period piece after the one two knock-out of The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The film brought along a new and exciting cast, while simultaneously elevating the rising stars of Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender (Playing Mystique and Magneto respectively.) The Next Film, Days of Future Past, brought together the new and old cast into a spectacular time travel mash of post-apocalyptic action and 70’s intrigue. All the while resetting the continuity to atone for the mistakes of past films.

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Now we are brought to X-Men: Apocalypse, the third film in the second trilogy of X-Men films. This time the eponymous villain, played here by Oscar Issac, has risen after centuries of being buried under a rug store to cleanse the earth of the weak, so only the strong will survive. It’s up to Professor X and his team of super duper people to put a stop to Apocalypse and his schemes.

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There are a lot of things to unpack here with this film, but the most glaring issue with this film is that it’s lazy. It’s lazy in multiple facets. Each film in this trilogy has been a period piece of some kind, each one taking place in a new decade. First Class Started in 1962, and this one takes place 20 years after those events. The filmmakers don’t even pretend to care that it’s been 20 years. Characters that should be about 40 years old all still look like they’re in their mid 20’s. Nicholas Hoult as Beast shows up talking about how he’s a professor here and you don’t believe it for a second. Speaking of Beast, he and Mystique rarely look like they’re blue selves throughout the movie. That could be an actor/prosthetic thing, but for the 6th proper X-Men film, you’d think they’d care enough to keep the characters looking like…. THE CHARACTERS! Even when they do have their prosthetics on, they don’t even look that great. Mystique’s makeup looks way dumbed down from how she looked in First Class, even the first X-Men in 2000 had better Makeup.

But those aren’t the biggest problems with the movie. The worst problem with this film is that it’s so freaking tedious, that again comes with laziness in a way. The film brings out Apocalypse as the new antagonist who’s going to destroy the world and cleanse everything (Cleanse it of humans? No, he wants to kill mutants too… Ok…). But this is a prequel, we already have seen the X-Men proper in the old movies going about their lives. Apocalypse is never a big deal because of this. It’s just the same old superhero bullshit. “There’s a guy who’s going to destroy the world! Can we stop him? Yes. Yes we can. Easily.” That’s the movie. Sorry, but if I told you that they beat Apocalypse, would anybody really call that a “spoiler?” No. Because it’s the same old crap, and this time they don’t even deliver the goods.

A glaring issue with this movie is its inability to show the X-Men as a working team. Civil War showed superheros fighting in giant groups can be done masterfully. Director Brian Singer has made five X-Men films and seems to have no clue how to direct a large scale action sequences involving the whole team. In the third act taking place in the open streets of a destroyed Cairo, The fights only manage to focus on two or three mutants at a time, while two other mutants are far away in another corner fighting, and everyone else is just standing around looking tired. it’s embarrassing how little they make it work.

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Apocalypse doesn’t discriminate. He’ll choke whoever he feels like.

Along with  having a cliche “plot”, the film also just has too many elements to juggle. Along with the titular villain are 4 mutants known as his “Four Horseman”, they are hand picked by Apocalypse to help him reign over the world. These consist of past mutants Michael Fassbender’s Magneto, younger mutants Storm and Angel (Alexandra Shipp and Ben Hardy respectively), and a new mutant named Psylocke played by Olivia Munn. The four horsemen are staples in any comic featuring Apocalypse, but here they are given nothing to do except make angry faces, have a fight scene, and say nothing. Or in Psylocke’s case, stand around in a purple bikini and say nothing. All of these characters except Magneto are new faces to this series of movies, but we are given little reason to care about any of them. Worst of all, the first 60-75 minutes of the film is all buildup, including each character getting an introduction into the movie, and it’s all for nothing.

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The New Mutants on the good side aren’t much better. Tye Sheradin plays the new Cyclops and is sat in a corner like he has for every X-Men Film. Brian Singer has a strange hatred for Cyclops throughout his time as the director of these films and he keeps up his track record to make sure Cyclops continues to suffer. Sophia Turner plays the new Jean Grey and appears to be bored out of her mind. She is too young to be sleep walking through a movie, but I have a feeling she wasn’t given much direction. Only real standout for me was the new Nightcrawler played by Kodi Smit-Mcphee, He was the most entertaining character out of the bunch and he appeared to be bringing something extra to his character.

New mutants

The two unsung heroes of the film appear to be Michael Fassbender and Oscar Issac. Both have so little to work with, yet they put their all into it. They are total professionals. Michael Fassbender has long been my favorite part of this series for a while. Days of Future Past is one of his best performances as the character personally. Here he doesn’t stop giving it his all. Whether he has to cry over his family after the silliest death possible, or he has to destroy Auschwitz with underground metal next to Olivia Munn wearing a purple bikini. He doesn’t embarrass himself in this as much as the material tries. Oscar Issac performs similarly, but sadly with a more embarrassing aftermath. Issac screaming with a voice modulator in blue plastic armor just looks really silly. I think Issac will be fine, but he deserves much better than this very empty role.

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There is so much I could say about this movie (I haven’t even mentioned Quicksilver or the forced Wolverine Cameo), but all I can really leave you with is that it’s just so damn lazy. After two solid X-Men movies, this one is a big disappointment. The movie bit off more than it can chew and I can frankly say I think this movie shouldn’t have happened. Days of Futures Past gave the best ending to the series it could have asked for. They probably could have just ended it there. But people wanted more, so they will keep churning it out. This is objectively not the worst superhero movie this year, Batman v. Superman is still a spectacular failure, but at least that one has a wow factor, there’s something amazing with how terrible BvS is. This one is just dull and moronic. I don’t know what’s worse really.

2/5

If you read this whole review. Here is some official marketing of the film according to IMDB.

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Straight from Olivia Munn’s Instagram