Sunday, August 17, 2008

What's Up, Dark?

It took me a couple of tries, but I finally made my way through what has been rightfully termed THE movie event of the summer and that is THE DARK KNIGHT. When I say “a couple of tries”, I’m not exaggerating and its explanation will serve as a qualifier for the bulk of my review.

I chose to see THE DARK KNIGHT at a single screen cinema, mainly because I’m fed up with the whole multiplex experience especially with the bleed through of sound that eminates from neighboring auditoriums. besides, I'd rather support the little guy instead of a mega monolith like Regal or Century. So, I picked the Cinemagic, a cute lil’ joint in the Hawthorne district that has a gold lame curtain that, unfortunately, isn’t utilized any longer. About an hour into the film, the projector broke down and the owner told the audience that it would be almost a half hour before it could be repaired. This didn’t fit in with my day, so I opted to return, which I did two weeks later. This time, I had been distracted by some twit in the third row of the center section who must have been going through some sort of Ritalin withdrawal, bouncing up and down, backwards and forwards in her chair like a two year old on crack. At one point, this moron even had the audacity to turn around and wave at me. If that’s not a WTF moment in life, I don’t know what is. When the credits rolled, I stopped her as she trounced up the aisle to leave and thanked her for ruining the movie for me. “Sorry” was her pathetic response. Unbe-fucking-lievable.

But did she really ruin THE DARK KNIGHT for me? Not really, but it came real close to doing it to itself.

I found the film to be so goddamn bombastic that I felt pummeled by the midway point. I haven’t my senses so assaulted since that first crappy sequel to THE MATRIX (THE MATRIX UNLOADED). But that was a rotten film and THE DARK KNIGHT is far from that. On the other hand, it isn’t great either, as many have asserted. It falls far short of that mark as well. There is greatness in it and perhaps a great film in the middle of all this. But what is up there on the screen in this form is one big fucking mess. THE DARK KNIGHT gave me the impression that it is a work in progress. The editing does not flow together from scene to scene, particularly choppy in the first half (remember, I saw it twice). Sure the big chase scene is spectacular, probably the best action sequence of the past five years, but there’s nowhere to go from that. The final act with the two ferries is totally incomprehensible and drags this movie down to the ground, leaving the last confrontation with Batman, Lt. Gordon and Two Face flat and almost unnecessary, except for the denouement which isn’t strong enough to fully redeem it.

About Heath Ledger, I can definitely concur with the consensus. He was absolutely spectacular and the best screen villain since Hannibal Lecter. That reeks of political correctness, but I had to agree that he is indeed the whole show and the main reason to see this film. I only wished the movie served him better in the last half hour. Even he started to wear out his welcome, peaking with his stint at the hospital as the loveliest nurse since Daryl Hannah in KILL BILL. But in the end, he seems to be wearing a retread of the Cesar Romero suit and just treading water.

I also didn’t much care for the whole China sequence, a sub-plot I found bland and uninteresting since the wrap-up was so garbled. The Harvey Dent storyline also felt like a whole lotta piling on, with the courtroom scene where he disarms a thug in the witness stand being the dumbest goddamn thing I’ve seen all year. It seemed like a parody out of THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE. Aaron Eckhart did his damndest not to look the fool and rose above a lot of the doggerel he had been handed. Here lies some of the problems that has been inherent in the Batman film franchise since BATMAN RETURNS: Why the need for more than one villain? What, The Joker isn't a strong enough character on his own? Still, this Two Face was an vast improvement over the previous Joel Schumacher interpretation. He just paled in comparison to The Joker. Then again, anyone would have.

Christian Bale served to annoy me more than anything else and he’s the damn star of the movie. His Bruce Wayne, except with his scenes with Alfred, have become Johnny One Note, playing the arrogant prick card far too much for my liking. His Batman has become Throat Cancer Boy. Is this vocal inflection supposed to compensate for his short stature or does he just need a lozenge? I’m not getting the duality of human nature from this guy nor am I getting the conflicted vigilante that may not be mentally stable himself. I’m just getting impatient. Maybe that's why Bale pushed his mum around. She probably offered him a Ricola...or told him that she liked him in NEWSIES better.

The rest of the cast-the great Gary Oldman (thank you for keeping this man’s career alive and kicking), Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman-each and every one of them stalwarts.



Maggie Goddamn You to Hell Gyllenhaal gives the singularly WORST performance of this or any other year as the supposed paramour of both Harvey Dent and Bruce Wayne. The world-and in particularly the geek world-owes Katie Holmes an apology for what was said about her work in BATMAN BEGINS. She may have been wooden. She may have been miscast as an Asst. District Attorney, (kind of like casting Britney Spears as Maria von Trapp). But she didn’t fuck the movie up so much that you wanted to start yelling at the screen for an actress’ blood like Maggie Gyllenhaal does in the movie. She acted like a petulant substitute teacher in the midst of all this- drab, dull and just downright snotty like she just walked over from the SEX AND THE CITY auditions where she lost out to Jennifer Hudson. Jesus, what a lox.

The best part? She won’t be in the next movie.
Let's face it. The Batman franchise has had one decent female performance in six films: Michelle Pfeiffer. (I'll bet you thought I was going to say Alicia Silverstone, didn't you?)

Here are a few other things that bothered me and, because it’s 2008, I have to say this, at least for my own conscience:
What happened to The Joker? Oh, he was caught and that’s that? Something told me another scene exists out there, probably with his death. Maybe they didn’t want to kill Heath Ledger on screen. That’s pure speculation, but if that isn’t true, why not a final nod to the character, maybe even just a last laugh, hmmm? The whole movie is centered around The Joker and he get zilch. If you didn’t want to kill The Joker, then he’ll be back, right? Who’s going to play him next time? I hear Mike Myers isn’t busy at the moment. (heh-heh-heh)
Didn't the school bus driver behind The Joker see him drive out of the bank?
Why does the mayor of Gotham City wear eye liner?

Christopher Nolan, I was rooting for you all the way, believe it or not. Your first effort, BATMAN BEGINS, resurrected Batman from the ashes and you really aimed high the second time around. The problem is you went all out in almost every single scene and didn’t know when to quit or how to put together a cohesive whole. By the end of THE DARK KNIGHT, I felt frustrated and not the least bit weary. Nothing could have really lived up to the hype that surrounded this film. It’s been oversold since Day One (thank you, Rick Emerson). Still, I expected more, but the more you gave, the less I wanted. You ended up not overreaching, but burying your good intentions and interesting ideas in a Phil Spector like Wall of Noise instead of trusting the material before you. It's as if you cooked a fine meal only to smother it all in an overbearing sauce. That's not a crime. You just didn't know when to quit. As it stands now, THE DARK KNIGHT represented that more was less instead what should have been the other way around.

Of course, my new best friend in the third row of the Cinemagic didn’t help. She only made it worse.
Maybe I should have showed her the pencil trick.
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