Monday, July 28, 2008 

Mono Loggin'

Ben Affleck and Al Pacino both have a serious bone to pick with The Man Upstairs...

1 a: soliloquy 2 b: a dramatic sketch performed by one actor c: the routine of a stand-up comic
2: a literary composition written in the form of a soliloquy
3: a long speech monopolizing conversation

On the DOGMA DVD the chapter is entitled simply "Epiphany." It is, of course, describing Ben Affleck's Bartelby -- who, up until this major turning point, was the peacemaker of our angelic duo compared to his bloodthirsty companion-in-exile, Loki (Matt Damon) -- coming to the sudden realization that in order to get back into the Heaven from which he has been banished for all eternity that he, an angel, may have to actually kill a human. And not just any human, but the Last Scion (Linda Fiorentino), the last living descendant of Jesus Christ himself. For me, it was the realization that despite being a part of this low-budget but highly entertaining Kevin Smith-directed movie and talented ensemble, Ben Affleck is capable of shining BRIGHTLY if given the right opportunity. I'll admit to his leading man good looks but I never took Affleck seriously as an actor until I saw this scene. An odd movie to reach that conclusion, no question, but below is the scene and Affleck's star-making perf in its entirety.

DOGMA, (1999), "He gave them more than He ever gave us. He gave them a choice. They choose to acknowldege God or choose to ignore Him...They were favored best among all His endeavors and some of them don't even believe He EXISTS! And in spite of it all, He has shown them infinite fucking patience at every turn. What about us?"

In a movie that features a cardboard and blank-faced Keanu Reeves as hotshot Southern lawyer Kevin Lomax and the sublimely beautiful Charlize Theron sobbing uncontrollably when she's not flat-out weeping through the vast majority of her onscreen time as his neglected wife on the verge of a nervous breakdown, it seems as if the final fifteen minutes of DEVIL'S ADVOCATE with a scenery-chewing Al Pacino might be the only minutes even worth watching. Unfortunately, Mr. "Hoo-ha"'s classic and inspired tirade simply doesn't work without everything that precedes it. But make no mistake, all roads lead here. This scene is what it's all about, what every single event in DEVIL'S ADVOCATE has been building towards. And you'll find that the final act, this "hellish" climax, was worth every second. It's the over-the-top Pacino we've come to at least know if not love (see: SCENT OF A WOMAN, HEAT) but in this instance, his fire (heh) and his passion make perfect sense. Ingest a tiny bit of it for yourself.

DEVIL'S ADVOCATE, (1997), "Let me give you a little inside information about God. God likes to watch. He's a prankster...He's a tight-ass! He's a sadist! He's an absentee landlord! Worship that? NEVER!"

Tuesday, July 15, 2008 

Three More Days...

Batman: Gotham Knight

Similar in spirit and intent to The Wachowski's THE ANIMATRIX and George Lucas' CLONE WARS, Batman: Gotham Knight consists of six interlocking animated shorts that serve to bridge the gap between BATMAN BEGINS and the upcoming THE DARK KNIGHT. Japanese directors, studios and production houses handle the animation duties while American writers already intimately familiar with the Caped Crusader tackle the storytelling. Below are images and a synopsis of each individual tale.

Have I Got a Story For You
Josh Olsen (A History of Violence)
Studio 4°C (Spriggan)

A lone child coasts up and down the concrete bends of an empty skate park, waiting patiently for more of his friends to arrive. "You won't believe where I've been!", his three friends say as they show up one after the other, each one just a little more eager than the next to tell their stories and one-up the last (very similar to the "Legends of the Dark Knight" episode from Season Four of BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, which is included, along with three other classic episodes, on the bonus disc of the 2-disc edition). The first child to spin his yarn, coincidentally, looks like a member of the mutant gang from THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. In his story, Batman is a demonic and gaseous apparition. "Dudes, he's like this living shadow! Every time the guy gets a hand on him, he disappears back into the other shadows...then pops out somewhere else!" The next story, told by the girl of the group, imagines Batman as a living, flying human bat. She exaggerates, describing Batman decapitating his enemy. When one of her friends calls her on it, citing that Batman doesn't kill, she shoots back, "I'm making it more colorful, yo!" The third story has a mechanized, combat armor-covered Batman thwarting a robbery atop a skyscraper tourist attraction, arriving in a huge flying fortress. Just as the last story ends and the fourth friend complains of "missing all the action", Batman and his nemesis from the three previous stories, The Man In Black, come crashing through the window, continuing their fight. Just as the bad guy is about to get the drop on Bats, the fourth kid saves Batman by clocking the criminal from behind with his skateboard and he's able to see Batman for what he really is: just a (extraordinary but still very much human) man in a suit. "Nice work, kid. Looks like I owe you one."

Greg Rucka (Batman, Detective Comics, Gotham Central)
Production I.G. (Ghost in the Shell, Blood: The Last Vampire, Kill Bill Vol. 1, Jin-Roh, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Blue Seed, Patlabor)

Jacob Feeley, an escaped inmate referred to as The Man In Black and "the high-tech psycho" from the first story, gets mysteriously dropped off in Lt. James Gordon's office by the Batman. Gordon chooses two detectives from his hand-picked Major Crimes Unit who have been partners for six weeks, Crispus Allen (who is very vocal about his distrust of Batman) and Anna Ramirez (who disagrees and appreciates what Batman has done for Gotham -- "Because of him, I'm not ashamed to be a cop anymore.") to drive Feeley across the Narrows (which Ramirez refers to as "a whole island abandoned to madness" and still shut off from the rest of Gotham due to the events at the end of BATMAN BEGINS) and to Arkham Asylum to be incarcerated. Throughout the dangerous trip, (which Allen resents and considers to be "running an errand for a vigilante") the two clash repeatedly and Allen reveals his intentions to transfer out of Gordon's MCU after dropping off Feeley. When Ramirez pulls their car over to talk to Allen and perhaps change his mind, the two find themselves directly in between a confrontation between two rival gangs, Salvatore "Sal" Maroni's men and the men of a gangster known simply as "The Russian." Maroni's men are mowed down and Maroni hides behind Allen and Ramirez's vehicle, which The Russian obliterates with a rocket launcher. Everyone gets clear in time just as the Batman arrives on the scene, easily dispatching The Russian and his men and saving Allen's life. Maroni tries to take Ramirez hostage but Batman rescues her and upon recognizing her, notes that Lt. Gordon is a good judge of character before disappearing into the night. Allen, who has his pistol trained on Batman, can only watch in shocked amazement from a distance.

Field Test
Jordan Goldberg
Bee Train (Wild Arms, Noir)

Lucious Fox, the gadgets guru and head of Research & Development at Wayne Enterprises, invents a device that can deflect bullets. Bruce Wayne attends a charity golf tournament to get closer to businessman Ronald Marshall and discuss the recent mysterious death of a woman, Teresa Williams, who was a thorn in the side of Marshall. During the tournament, Wayne steals Marshall's PDA using Fox's new toy. Later that night on his yacht, Sal Maroni dresses down his men for not locating and killing The Russian. Suddenly, Maroni's boat is taken over (hijacked remotely by Batman), and crashed into another yacht, one occupied by The Russian and his men. Recognizing each other, both gangs immediately open fire. Batman leaps into action, Maroni's men's bullets being stopped by Lucious' invention. After taking out all of each boss' men, Batman, his hand around their throats, attempts to arrange a truce between Maroni and The Russian until he can accumulate more concrete evidence on both. An accord is reached but a Maroni man Batman must have missed fires a shot at him which is automatically deflected and ricochets into another of The Russian's lackeys. Batman rushes the young man to a hospital in a tense drive. "You killed me," the punk says. Batman gets the boy to help in time but Wayne has a talk with Fox the next day about the device, "It works too well, I'm willing to put my life on the line to do what I have to. But it has to be mine. No one else's." Lucious puts the device away, into a box and closes it, where we have to assume it will stay.

In Darkness Dwells
David Goyer (the Blade trilogy, Batman Begins)
Madhouse (Ninja Scroll, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, Trigun, Highlander: The Search for Vengeance, Hellboy Animated, Todd McFarlane's Spawn, Perfect Blue, Wicked City, The Boondocks)

This segment opens with Lt. Gordon and MCU Detectives Ramirez and Allen investigating an incident of sudden mass hysteria at a cathedral where the preacher, Cardinal O'Fallon was abducted mid-sermon by a "lizard man." Alone, Gordon and Batman bounce ideas off of each other. Batman suspects Jonathan Crane aka The Scarecrow is responsible for the congregation's uncontrollable fear, stating that Crane has been at large since that night in the Narrows at the end of BATMAN BEGINS. Gordon confirms his suspicions by saying that CSI found traces of the weaponized hallucinogen Crane is known to use. Batman gives Gordon a communication device ("And in case you're tempted to try and track me with it, don't bother. The signal is locked with quantum cryptology. The signal bounces off a dozen different satellites. You'll never be able to follow it.") to keep in contact with him while he tracks O'Fallon's abductor down into Gotham's sewers. He's heard an urban legend about a "Killer Croc", a cannibal and he believes it to be true. "I've found some footprints. Based on the size and depth of the depressions, I'd estimate our monster is weighing more than three hundred pounds." As Batman makes his way through the murky, dimly-lit labyrinth, Gordon updates him from a helicopter flying overhead. It turns out that Killer Croc (real name: Waylon Jones) is a former circus sideshow freak and an inmate at Arkham Asylum where he was a test subject in Dr. Crane's fear aversion therapy program (his fear? Bats). Croc appears, Scarecrow's fear toxin boiling in his veins, and attacks Batman. Batman defeats him but not before he can bite Batman with his razor sharp teeth, infecting him with toxin as well. Batman finds Cardinal O'Fallon being put on trial by the Scarecrow for attempting to help the homeless, whom the Scarecrow states he doesn't want helped. Batman easily handles the Scarecrow's men, even with his judgment impaired, and uses the methane in the room to spark an explosion that allows him to escape with the Cardinal. Back on the surface, Gordon's helicopter arrives to usher the Cardinal to safety. He offers Batman a hand, but the injured Batman merely says, "Maybe next time" and flies off on his own.

Working Through Pain
Brian Azzarello (Batman, 100 Bullets, Hellblazer)
Studio 4°C

Back in the sewers, Batman is confronted by a fear toxin-infected man so frightened at the sight of him that he shoots Batman and runs away. Batman staggers to a secluded corner and pulls a device from his utility belt that cauterizes the wound. In a flashback, we see a young Bruce Wayne volunteering at a makeshift hospital, assisting doctors performing surgery without anesthesia. Back in the present, Batman attempts to climb his way up out of the sewers but is too weak. Another flashback finds Bruce at a market in India, looking for training. The group he wishes to train him won't accept him so he becomes the student of a woman named Cassandra, who is an outcast for deceiving the group that declined Bruce and teaching their secrets to outsiders. As a montage of Cassandra teaching Bruce skills that eventually sees him sleep on a bed of nails and walk on hot coals, Batman contacts Alfred and arranges to be picked up. Lying under the grate where Alfred is coming, Batman discovers a gun in the garbage. In flashback, Cassandra is harassed late one night by a group of young men at her home, calling her a betrayer for teaching Bruce. Before going outside to confront them she begs Bruce to stay inside but he disobeys her, taking on the group of men and using his martial arts skills (and his newly-learned skill of withstanding pain) to send them running. When he goes back inside looking for Cassandra, however, it is him who is sent packing. "It's time. You have learned what you wanted to, haven't you? You shouldn't thank me, Bruce. I failed you. You came asking for help in dealing with your pain. But your pain is beyond my abilities. Perhaps yours, as well. For your pain is leading you down a path you desire." In the present, Batman burrows deeper into the garbage beneath him, finding more and more guns. When Alfred finally arrives, he looks down into the sewer and asks for Batman's hand only to find Batman staring back up with two arms full of pistols. "I can't." Those final words and that final image of him staring up helplessly at Alfred is such a great metaphor: he can't reach out to even help himself because of the pain and the burden of the guns, which he won't leave behind so that they don't hurt anyone else in the future.

Alan Burnett (Batman Beyond)

"Deadshot" opens with Bruce reliving the night of his parents' murder. In his gym he does one-armed pushups to let off some steam but Alfred arrives with a large bag of pistols which he refers to as Wayne's "gun collection." Bruce reaches in, pulls one out and cocks it. "You have to know your enemy, Alfred. I'd never use one but even I can appreciate the attraction of a gun. The heft, the sleekness, the cool steel, the precision and the power. The power to change lives, history. The power of God." As he says this, somewhere else, a masked hitman is assembling his sniper rifle as he rides a ferris wheel. He fires a single shot, which goes several blocks and finds its mark, Mayor Manning, at a party holding a champagne glass. The bullet goes through his head, killing him instantly. The assassin leaves a single shell casing, engraved with the initials "D.S." on the amusement park ride. The next day, he sips drinks on a yacht with the man who contracted him to carry out the killing. He has another job, this time in Gotham. "The place is changing," the figure tells him. "The police are developing a backbone which is why we need this hit. Our Russian associates have been having difficulties there. His removal would alleviate most of their problems." Back in Gotham, Batman talks to Detective Crispus Allen on a rooftop where Allen reveals that Lt. Gordon has been targeted by the Russians for assassination by a mercenary named Deadshot. Batman vows to do his part to protect Gordon and hints that Deadshot may have been in Gotham before. He tosses Allen the PDA from "Field Test" that he stole from Ronald Marshall at the golf tournament. He says that in it there is evidence of a wire transfer made to someone just before Teresa Williams was killed. As Gordon's motorcade moves through the streets, Batman watches and Alfred lends satellite-assisted support from back in the Batcave. Gordon's car passes by two subway trains, one of which houses Deadshot, who has Gordon in his sights. Batman is able to deflect the bullet meant for Gordon but that is when Deadshot reveals his true intentions: to flush Batman out by going after Gordon and then kill Batman for his client. The climax takes place in a tunnel atop a moving subway car where Batman rushes Deadshot and uses the razors on his gloves to dislodge the machine gun mounted on his wrist and best him hand-to-hand. "It was just like that night in the alley, Alfred," Bruce says later. "The closeness of the walls, the gunfire. It seems I've been trying to stop those two bullets all my life. It's a fool's dream, Alfred. Sometimes I think I should just be done with it." But Bruce wanders to an open window where he sees the Bat-Symbol in the night sky and we know that his crusade will never end.

Friday, July 04, 2008 

Why So...Villainous???

It's hard to believe that the last time Bat-Mania gripped this country in such a way was almost 20 years ago. On June 23, 1989 Tim Burton's whacked-out vision of Bob Kane’s most culturally significant creation opened in theaters with Michael Keaton as eccentric billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne/caped crusader and Jack Nicholson as the Clown Prince of Crime, The Joker. By the time the BATMAN movie and the multitude of subsequent marketing tie-ins (everything from toys, t-shirts, the Skidz pants, MTV's Batmobile giveaway and anything else you can think of) had taken the world by storm, I had ingested nearly everything I could get my 13-year old hands on in the year and a half prior since learning the film was being put into production, including the campy albeit still entertaining ‘60s Adam West/Burt Ward television series. As it turns out, it was an excellent time to kick my comic collecting into full gear. '87-'89, whether intentional or not, turned out to be the most creative and influential years in the Batman mythos as I had ever experienced as a collector of any single comic book character. Beginning with BATMAN: YEAR ONE (Batman issues 404-407, written by Frank Miller and is the work that inspired me to go back and find individual issues of '86's THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, also by Miller) in '87, followed by the Alan Moore (V FOR VENDETTA) Joker "origin" story/graphic novel THE KILLING JOKE, The Joker murdering the second Robin, Jason Todd, in '88's A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (Batman issues 426-428) and finally Grant Morrison's (HELLBLAZER, which was adapted and became the Keanu Reeves vehicle, CONSTANTINE) ARKHAM ASYLUM.

As a nearly lifelong fan of all things Batman, never in my wildest imagination did I ever think that a movie this mature with such a great cast of acting talent featuring these characters would ever be made or that someone would care enough or be able to give such a great portrayal of Bats' most famous nemesis that it would potentially garner attention from the Academy. But right now, that's the buzz. And honestly, it comes as no surprise. Ever since I first saw stills of Heath Ledger in his rained-on, wind-streaked Joker makeup and especially after I heard his voice in the first THE DARK KNIGHT teaser trailer, I had the utmost confidence (confidence Christopher Nolan rightfully earned with BATMAN BEGINS) that Ledger (who I am not ashamed to admit won me over in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN) would commit himself to the type of performance that would make moviegoers all but forget Jack Nicholson's hammy and over-the-top performance and finally portray the Joker correctly; as the psychopathic murderer and violent sociopath that I remembered from his appearances in the comics I named above that I loved so well. The more footage I see and the more word-of-mouth I hear from people who have been lucky enough to see advanced screenings, the more my suspicions are confirmed. There are those that say the odds are against him. They cite that only one actor has ever won an Oscar posthumously (Peter Finch, Best Actor in 1976 for NETWORK) and conventional wisdom says that the Academy generally doesn't award actors who are playing the "bad guy." That may have been the case in the past but in my lifetime, that stance has significantly, substantially and obviously softened. Here are five notable winners who weren't exactly sympathetic or heroic yet still took home that golden statuette:


Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lector (Anthony Hopkins) mentally breaks down FBI Agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster): "You know what you look like to me with your good bag and your cheap shoes? You look like a rube."


Crooked cop Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) shows his rookie partner, Jake (Ethan Hawke) the ropes on his first day: "You lucky..If I ain't have more pressing business I'd cut your fuckin' dick off and stick it right up that little funky ass of yours, bitch!"


Director Kevin McDonald talks about casting Forest Whitaker as reviled and brutal dictator Idi Amin: ”He actually said to me, 'You don't think I can be angry enough, do you?'"

BEST ACTOR – 2007 – DANIEL DAY-LEWIS, THERE WILL BE BLOOD (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)

Ruthless oilman Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) finally enters the relgiously fanatical Paul Sunday’s (Paul Dano) church to seek “salvation”: “I am a sinner. I AM A SINNER. I’m sorry, Lord.”


Unsettling hitman Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) creepily toys with a potential victim, a small gas station owner (Gene Jones): "What’s the most you’ve ever lost on a coin toss? Call it. Just call it. You need to call it. I can't call it for you. It wouldn’t be fair.”

Of course, I’m reserving final judgment until I actually see THE DARK KNIGHT on July 18 but I’d say Heath Ledger has more of a shot at Oscar gold than people seem to think.