Batman vs. Superman: Who Won?

It helps going into the theater with low expectations, especially when the concessions worker handing you popcorn has only the phrase “it could have been better” to offer when you realize the next 2 1/2 hours and $8.74 of your life might have been better spent elsewhere.

Perhaps diehard DC Comics fans, or just average moviegoers anticipated Zack Snyder’s latest film to hit theaters. With all of the negative attention surrounding this film (Sad Affleck, that Rotten Tomatoes score, and who could forget DC surrendering its original set theater release date to Civil War?), I couldn’t possibly rev myself up enough to even fake excitement to see this film. I anticipated some mild entertainment at best, but I think what made me really want to see the movie was curiosity.

Curious about how 32-year-old Jesse Eisenberg would fare as Lex Luthor. Or how Wonder Woman would be making her first live appearance in film in the form of Gal Gadot. Or if Amy Adams might actually step up to the plate and give us a performance worthy of the character she’s portraying (spoiler alert: she didn’t).

The best way to judge this Batman vs. Superman is to determine the winners and losers, like the format MSN presents those of the GOP debates. Shall we begin?

Winners

Hans Zimmer

Music Composition may not be the hottest topic discussed among friends, even in major film nerd circles. But Hans Zimmer has established himself as a household name. And while he lent his talents to Christopher Nolan’s batman films that were suits those films, he creates a score for Batman vs. Superman that transcends the film, making some wonder why he would agree to a project so unworthy of his talents.

Wonder Woman / Gal Gadot

In some respects, Ms. Gadot could pose as a loser. It’s not her performance that’s lacking as much as her limited screen time. Batman vs. Superman was in desperate need for a strong female character, and we get way too little of her. She brings the only element of mystery to the screen, and gets placed in scenes only when the script demands her presence.

Joker from The Dark Knight

Jesse Eisenberg didn’t play the typical Lex Luthor many filmgoers aren used to seeing. And that’s OK. Technically, he doesn’t make this list, and it’s not for giving us a bad performance. In many respects, he made the movie slightly more bearable to sit through. Apparently Zack Snyder likes to borrow from preceding Batman films. And while this isn’t a sin committed on screen, it reveals a lack of originality. Presenting the villain as maniacal, interesting, “thinks 10 steps ahead of heroes,” character, what we’re getting is a tiny version of the Joker character in Nolan’s Batman trilogy. The main difference is that in this adaptation, Jesse Eisenberg is playing the only intelligent primary character in the film.

Marvel

Marvel’s reasons for winning are twofold. One, DC Comics lacks a foundation, for all of the Superman and Batman movies made over the past two decades. The people at Marvel thought things through before laying out their foundation, bringing their ideas to screen, and showing moviegoers that superhero movies didn’t have to be boring. They could be funny, interesting, compelling, and completely ridiculous, all at the same time. And in the end, we care about the characters because we’ve gotten to know them after seeing them in multiple successful films, both with critics and viewers. Two, Batman vs. Superman’s lackluster performance at the box office has proven that if it attempted to compete with Captain America: Civil War, well, you already know the end of this sentence.

Iron Man

If there’s something Batman vs. Superman prevailed at, it was borrowing from its predecessors as well as its enemies. And this isn’t a bad move when making a movie. It’s arguably smarter. So how does Iron Man benefit overall? If you compare the dynamics of Tony Stark coming into leadership with Batman vs. Superman’s Bruce Wayne helming the ship of the Justice League, you’ll notice similarities. Earlier adaptations of Iron Man don’t always portray the snarky billionaire as the original leader of the Avengers, but the first Iron Man film and Robert Downy Jr changed all of that. RDJ might be the oldest of the gang, but he fits that leadership model, even if Captain America was the more common leader in both the comics and cartoons of the past. And then you have Ben Affleck playing Grandpa Batman, posing as a leader for the Justice League, a group that doesn’t really play by the same rules Batman does. So for this Superman “sequel,” we get Ben Affleck handed top billing, attempts to recreate the beginning scenes in Batman Begins, and an aged, washed-up version of Batman claiming the leadership position for the next gang of crime-fighting superheroes. Tony Stark 1, Bruce Wayne 0.

Harry Lennix

Because he has to make this list. Any other person who’s a fan of his (he’s rocking on The Blacklist right now) would be happy to see him hit the big screen again.

Batman and Superman’s grandparents

Thank God they both named their daughters “Martha.” Imagine Batman needing an additional reason to not hear out Superman!

Richard Roeper, the film critic

OK, I know what you’re thinking . . . he wrote some awesome review for the film, right? Actually, I wouldn’t know since I haven’t checked it out yet. But if you ever make it the theater before the previews, you get to see those other previews about upcoming TV shows, or interviews with actors. And there’s this neat miniseries to preview on AMC featuring Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie, one of whom plays a character named “Richard Roper.” You can’t pay for that good of marketing, am I right?

Sad Affleck

Because it’s Sad Affleck.

Losers

Ben Affleck

This was a given, right? I’ll save you some reading time and just ask one question: what happened to the guy who gave us Argo?

Lois Lane

What happened to this great female character? I think Amy Adams is a great actress, but she really doesn’t play the strong character Lois Lane was written as. In this film adaptation, we get a weak, helpless woman who resorts to relying on Superman to rescue her every time she makes a thoughtless mistake. Is there a petition to hire Erica Durance? Or maybe just some new writers?

Batman and Superman

Where’s a hero to root for when you have two guys whining over the other making him look bad? Oh right, there’s Grant Gustin from The Flash (tsk, tsk, Zack).

Final Thoughts

There are actually some positive things to say about this film. It really wasn’t all bad. I thought the special effects were great. Visually, it’s a powerful film. And it brings up some very thoughtful ideas about how the world views a higher being, a god, and how it affects their worldview. I wish Batman vs. Superman would have dug deeper into this idea, because we might have gotten a superhero film that was more than subpar.

Who do you declare the winner and loser for Batman vs. Superman? What did you think of the movie?

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My Hometown Blogathon: Chicago

So first, I owe one huge apology to Caz over at Let’s Go to the Movies for being severely late in posting for her blogathon, since it was due right around Thanksgiving. I loved the idea that she came up with for a blogathon, and being from (the suburbs of) Chicago, I was excited to post about some of my favorite films that feature the Windy City.


Here are five of my favorite films that highlight the city of Chicago:

5. My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997)

My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997) is not only one of Julia Robert’s funniest films, in my humble opinion, but it also features multiple Chicago locations, including a very famous chase scene that ends in Union Station. The picture above cracks me up because the girl fight goes down in a bathroom at U.S. Cellular Field (Comiskey Park), home of my favorite baseball team, the Chicago White Sox. Although My Best Friend’s Wedding appears on the surface to be just another bland rom-com, there are some hysterical moments, and it sets the tone for future romance films that don’t end happily ever after. But hey, at least there will be dancing.

Below is one of the most memorable scenes from the film, where Julianne (Julia Roberts) and Michael (Dermot Mulroney) are on a boat, passing under some of the bridges in Chicago.


4. While You Were Sleeping (1995)

Another rom-com that makes my list is While You Were Sleeping (1995), because its most pivotal scenes take place at an L train station in Chicago, the most memorable scene when Peter (Peter Gallagher) falls onto the tracks with an incoming train. Bullock makes for a believable character who could live in the city, and I think she does so successfully in While You Were Sleeping.

I didn’t have the easiest time finding clips from the film, but the trailer for the film below shows that most of the background and setting for the film takes place in the Windy City.


 3. The Blues Brothers (1980)

I have Ryan at The Matinee to thank for pushing me to finally watch this beloved film that features almost more of Chicago than any other film I have seen thus far. So much Chicago scenery, roads, and famous landmarks are shown in the film. One of my favorite scenes is the opening scene in which John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd jump the 95th Street bridge over the Calumet River in a police vehicle.

 

At the time, this climactic final scene (at the “Palace Hotel Ballroom”) was performed at a country club, but later became the South Shore Cultural Center, receiving its name from the neighborhood in Chicago where it started. The Hollywood Palladium is where the indoor concert scenes were shot.


 2. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

John Hughes, the director, writer, and producer for Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), felt very strongly about the city of Chicago when penning and directing the film.

He’s quoted, saying,

“Chicago is what I am. A lot of Ferris is sort of my love letter to the city. And the more people who get upset with the fact that I film there, the more I’ll make sure that’s exactly where I film. It’s funny—nobody ever says anything to Woody Allen about always filming in New York. America has this great reverence for New York. I look at it as this decaying horror pit. So let the people in Chicago enjoy Ferris Bueller.”

I never realized that Hughes was under fire for choosing Chicago over New York. His passion to have the city play a character in the story shows, as its architecture, well-known tourist attractions, and features are grandly put on display.

I wonder what Ferris would have thought of the 360 degree TILT ride now offered at the John Hancock Building.

 

I never had an experience quite like Ferris’s and his friends at the Art Museum, but it’s still one of my favorite places to visit in the city.

 

And I couldn’t not include the video of the parade scene with Matthew Broderick on a float belting “Twist and Shout.” The scene took two Saturday to shoot in the middle of downtown Chicago. Apparently radio stations announced that people could play extras in a “John Hughes movie,” and 10,000 people showed up for it.


 1. The Dark Knight (2008)

When Caz first announced this blogathon, I immediately thought of The Dark Knight (2008). It’s one of the most well-known films to have been shot in Chicago, probably because Chicago gets to play Batman’s city, Gotham, and that is pretty awesome.

As someone who grew up near Chicago, not in, but visited it often, there are certain areas in the city that I can pick out more easily when I’m watching a film. One of the most prominent locations was Lower Wacker Drive, as well as the Metra entrance at Millennium Park, where Batman (Christian Bale) was chasing the Joker (Heath Ledger).

 

The Gotham General Hospital, which the Joker blows up in the film, was actually the old Brach’s Candy Factory located on North Cicero Avenue. You can check out the explosion below.

 

Of course, there are so many notable films that have been filmed in Chicago, that I just chose five films that I really enjoy. Other major films that were filmed in Chicago include the following:

Sixteen Candles (1984)
The Untouchables (1987)
When Harry Met Sally (1989)
North by Northwest (1959)
Nothing in Common (1986)
Home Alone (1990)
Road to Perdition (2002)
Public Enemies (2009)
The Company (2003)
The Fugitive (1993)
Risky Business (1983)
Hoop Dreams (1994)
High Fidelity (2000)

Thanks again to Caz for hosting this blogathan, and apologies for the tardy post.

It’s your turn now. What is your favorite(s) film(s) filmed in Chicago? Are there any prominent films shot in your hometown? Please join in on the fun below!

Five Film Trends in the Last Five Years

While the past decade has boasted higher ticket prices at the theaters, the art of film, or plainly stated, the box office records, have show some major trends in movies over the past five years. While this list can easily exceed five trends, these are ones I have noticed and researched.

5) Dystopian book-to-film adaptations on the rise

Recently, I published a post on a comparison of The Hunger Games (2012) and Divergent (2014) films. Those two movies are part of only two of the major book-turned-film franchises to hit the box office over the past five years. Most film fans are no stranger to the dystopian film genre. The Matrix (1999) series started in the late ’90s. Tom Cruise’s film The Minority Report (2002) was based on Philip K. Dick’s short story. Blade Runner (1982), Total Recall (1990), and Twelve Monkeys (1995) are only three offerings of the genre we were offered in the 1980s and ’90s. But in the past five years (2010-2014), I have noticed many dystopian books get a movie deal.

Never-Let-Me-Go-30929_5

The first one in the past five years I thought of was Never Let Me Go (2010), a British sci-fi drama that focused on the lives of three clones who exist for the purpose of donating their organs to others. Another popular, although unsuccessful film, is Atlas Shrugged Part 1 (2010), a dystopian film based on the controversial novel by Ayn Rand. One book that, while may not be considered dystopian in nature, nevertheless has its film adaptation fit well enough into the dystopian genre is World War Z (2013), starring Brad Pitt. Two other noteworthy films to include in this category are Dredd (2012) and Oblivion (2013), each based off graphic novels, the latter inspired by Joseph Kosinski’s unpublished manuscript of the same name.

Of course, the most well-known dystopian book-to-film adaptations include the box-smashing The Hunger Games series, with the final two movies getting released this year and 2015; Divergent, the movie based on the popular YA series written by Veronica Roth; The Giver, an unsuccessful film adaptation that didn’t sit well with critics, yet was inspired by a prominent book written in the early ’90s (you can see my review of the movie here); and The Maze Runner, the the first of three popular James Dashner novels that will be released next month in theaters.

4) Female protagonist films lead the box office

In the 1950s and ’60s, there were women-centered films and female protagonists. They were marketed in a much more sexist way then, but the times have changed, and more films have starred women. But in the last five years, films with female-protagonists have led the box office. According to Time‘s article “5 Things We’ve Learned in 5 Years of Box Office Reports,” published just this past April, the year 2012 included three movies in the top eight that starred women: The Hunger Games, starring Jennifer Lawrence; Breaking Dawn Part 2, starring Kristen Stewart; and Brave, starring the talented voice work of Kelly Macdonald. The same article notes that last year, three of the top six films had female protagonists (Sandra Bullock in Gravity, Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and Indina Menzel in Frozen).

Perhaps the most notable fact that supports the idea that female protagonist films are leading the box office is that 2013’s highest-grossing film was the Jennifer Lawrence-starring film The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the first movie since 1965’s The Sound of Music (starring Julie Andrews) to fill that top spot.

Of course, The Hunger Games franchise are not the only female-starring movies to make a splash at the box office over the past five years. Salt (2010), Hanna (2011), and Haywire (2012) were all female-led movies that obtained positive scores with both critics and viewers alike, with Angelina Jolie’s action film leading the box office with over $100 million.

3) Comic book movies no longer niche genre

When Sam Raimi’s first Spiderman (2002), I thought it was a special case. Personally, I loved that movie. My family regularly rented it from Blockbuster. It was the first superhero movie I had seen that wasn’t about Batman or Superman. The first Batman movie was released in theaters in 1966. I was amazed how odd it was that in 2002, it wasn’t considered a usual thing for a movie to be based on a comic book character, unless it was Superman or Batman. Blade 2 (2002), Daredevil (2003), Hulk (2003),  Hellboy (2004), and Catwoman (2004) were all released in the next three years following Raimi’s first Spiderman, just a few of the comic-based movies to get released in the early 2000s. It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized the first X-Men film, directed by Bryan Singer, was released in theaters in 2000.

In the early 2000s, there’s a sense that many film critics didn’t take the comic book based film as seriously as other film genres, such as dramas, biopics, and comedies. But times have changed, and there has been a new acceptance of comic-based films as Marvel has mapped out its future in movies for at least the next six years. (This is a fun article worth checking out, Marvel fans.) DC seems to take note of Marvel, now working on its own agenda for a Batman vs. Superman movie along with a Justice League film franchise in the works.

While it isn’t perfect, I found a list that compiles every superhero movie released, both on TV and in theaters, including both animated and live-action films. A quick view of the list would prove that comic book movies are no longer niche, but far more commonplace as they have found a place at the movies, considerably expanding its audience. I would personally credit Christopher Nolans’s The Dark Knight trilogy for giving audiences and critics a darker, more serious adaptation of comic based films, proving that just because the movie is based off a comic book character, doesn’t mean it can’t be a stylistic, entertaining, and bold film worthy of praise.

2) Sequels and remakes lead the way

Perhaps this trend has existed more than just in the past five years, but I imagine most anyone can agree that few original screenplays make it to the big screen today, and if they do, they usually do not sell the most tickets or perform as successfully. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, such as 2010’s Inception, the original screenplay penned by Christopher Nolan, but let’s get back to the point.

Fan art that just makes you laugh 🙂

Here is a non-exclusive, incomplete list over the past five years of major sequels, prequels, remakes, and reboots that premiered each year:

2010: Clash of the Titans (sequel), Why Did I Get Married Too? (sequel), A Nightmare on Elm Street (remake), Iron Man 2 (sequel), Shrek Forever After (sequel), Sex and the City 2 (sequel), The A-Team (remake), The Karate Kid (remake), Toy Story 3 (sequel), The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (sequel), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (sequel), True Grit (remake)

2011: Scream 4 (sequel), Paranormal Activity 3 (sequel), Fright Night (remake), The Hangover Part 2 (sequel), Rise of the Planet of the Apes (reboot), Kung Fu Panda 2 (sequel), Transformers: Dark of the Moon (sequel), Fast Five (sequel), Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (sequel), Cars 2 (sequel), Happy Feet 2 (sequel), Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules (sequel)

2012: The Dark Knight Rises (reboot, sequel), The Amazing Spider-Man (reboot), The Expendables 2 (sequel), The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (sequel), Men in Black 3 (sequel), Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (sequel), Prometheus (prequel), Wrath of the Titans (sequel), Total Recall (remake), G.I. Joe: Retaliation (sequel), The Bourne Legacy (sequel)

2013: Iron Man 3 (sequel), Carrie (remake), Despicable Me 2 (sequel), The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (sequel), The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (sequel), Kick-Ass 2 (sequel), Man of Steel (reboot), Monsters University (sequel), Red 2 (sequel), Evil Dead (remake), Scary Movie 5 (sequel), The Great Gatsby (remake), Star Trek Into Darkness (reboot, sequel), The Hangover 3 (sequel)

2014: Annie (remake), 300: Rise of an Empire (sequel), Captain America: The Winter Soldier (sequel), The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (reboot, sequel), Godzilla (remake), X-Men: Days of Future Past (prequel, sequel), How to Train Your Dragon 2 (sequel), Transformers: Age of Extinction (sequel), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (reboot, sequel), Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (sequel)

What’s even funnier about it is that if you google “remakes and sequels for the year [fill in year],” every year for the past five years contains articles similarly titled to “[insert year]” is the year of remakes and sequels!

1) A billion dollars isn’t a billion dollars anymore

A quick check at recent box office records, or the same Time‘s article I’ve been citing throughout this post shows that the billion dollar list, James Cameron’s Titanic (1997) becoming its first entry, has now grown to a whopping 19 movies, including both last year’s Iron Man 3 and Frozen.

List of Highest Grossing Films

Image taken from Wikipedia’s page “List of Highest Grossing Films.” Green indicates the film is still playing in theaters around the world.

Looking at that list, you’ll notice that only three of those movies were released in the 1990s. Twelve of those films entered the list during the 2010s. But what’s most interesting about the list is that it isn’t adjusted for inflation, which changes everything, especially the list of highest-grossing films:

Highest Grossing Films Adjusted for Inflation

Image taken from Wikipedia’s page “List of Highest Grossing Films.”

Now it’s your turn, folks. What trends have you noticed in film in the past five years? Which trends do you find to be most dominant? Have some trends lasted longer than others? Please join the discussion below, because I would love to know your thoughts! 

August: The Dead Month of Movies?

For a year that was highly-anticipatory for film, January through April took its sweet ‘ol time passing through, delivering only one fairly memorable film–The Hunger Games–and made all us viewers wonder if 2012 was really going to deliver, or just release a few biggies during the summer and Oscar seasons.

Finally, May rolled around and The Avengers blew everything away for the past 4 months. Then June opened up with some fun summer films, notably Prometheus and Snow White and the Huntsman (would everyone please stop talking about Kristen Stewart already?!), and The Dark Knight Rises showed up in July along with The Amazing Spider-Man. And now we’re sitting in August, dealing with 80s remakes and unsuccessful franchise continuations and not a whole lot of films to look forward to until October/November/December sweeps.

All of this begs me to ask, is August the “dead” month of movies? Both Total Recall and The Bourne Legacy came with their disappointments, though the latter succeeded the former with its storyline and acting alone (talking to you, Jeremy Renner!). Premium Rush is the only film I see with a hint of promise for the month. There’s a little hope with Lawless, watching Shia Labeouf attempt to win people over after his run through the Transformer films.

The only film I feel gipped for missing is Celeste and Jesse Forever, which opened only in very limited release, Rashinda Jones’s first writing project that performed successfully at Sundance.

We’re in that busy month of the year where everyone’s going back to school, and no one’s really focused on going to see a good film, with studios optimizing on the summer and Christmas breaks to release the films people most look forward to.

So ease my mind and tell me, have you liked any of the films August has offered so far? Or is it really the dead month of the year for film? What do you look forward to for the rest of the month? 

The Comic Book Movie Debate: the Serious, and the Not So Serious

I credit Christopher Nolan for sparking the ever-growing debate circling comic book films: colorful, or dark? campy, or serious? true to form, or realistically-based?

It must have been the release of Batman Begins in 2005, when the world was introduced to a comic book character–Bruce Wayne/Batman–and it wasn’t a pretty look. It was dark. It was a crime film. It was a serious take on a fictional character that had previously been rooted in a show that used “Bam!” and “Pow!” as the sound effects for Batman’s left and right swings.

Few, if any, could not at least admire the beauty and purposefulness of Nolan’s Batman films. Nolan is a student of Kubrick, using intent and style to craft his films. But let’s get down to the debate.

When Avengers was released this past May, it was a smash. Creative and geeky writer-director Joss Whedon was finally put forward to make something mainstream. The Avengers was a huge success at the box office. But the debate isn’t about whether Avengers was financially and critically successful or not. The question is, which comic book films are better–the Nolan approach (as I like to think of it) which uses a more realistic take, bringing a critical eye to a story that is written with far more intent than desire to entertain; or the truer-to-form, source-material based comic book films that honor the comics more so in their character traits and settings, such as Thor and Captain America?

I know people on both sides of the debate. But maybe it’s people’s perspectives, rather than opinions, that ought to be altered today. On one end, as a person who appreciates a good film, you lower the importance of “source material” (which happens to be comic books in this case) because you prioritize the art of the film. It ought to be stylized. It should have all the marks of a good film, from following a good storyline, to reaching beyond mere entertainment. It should influence and inspire while bringing more to the table than just explosions and snarky one-liners. This kind of movie should treat the audience like more than just a bunch of superhero-wannabees; it should reach out to an intelligent audience, one that is capable of drawing its own conclusions. More critics respond to this more “realistic” approach.

From the other side, you have the readers, the comic book geeks, the writers, the superhero nerds (have I stereotyped people in this post enough yet?) who expect these films to live up to the comics they love. The actors should reflect the characters they’re playing. The mood shouldn’t be so stiff and serious as to detract from the true tone of the comic. They should include that lightness and fluff, because that’s how the comics were written! Yes, a good villain is necessary, and plot points should closely reflect that of the comics. The film should reach out to a more universal audience, because that’s what the stories of most comic books are all about–everyone either needs a hero or wants to be a hero at some point, right? It should entertain, because after all, you’re attending a comic book film, not a war film or something “based off a true story.” Comic books serve as a form of escape; shouldn’t you be allowed to turn your mind off for a couple hours, sit back, and relax?

In every attempt to not sound politically correct, I personally try to go by a single rule: the film ought to fit the format. Unfortunately, that rule can be applied multiple ways to comic book films, as we have seen various takes, from the more family-friendly popcorn flick, The Avengers, to Nolan’s darker shades, The Dark Knight Trilogy.

When it comes down to it, I can’t call one style or one method, better or worse than another. They’re all different visions for these fictional characters. While some comic book films exceed and others fall flat, while some are entertaining as hell and others force me to sit and think, I have enjoyed and appreciated films that fly on both sides of the fence.

Perhaps it has been the explosion of superhero films taking over summer theater seasons these past 2-3 years (X-MenGreen LanternGreen HornetThorCaptain America, Iron ManBatman to name a few) that have caused people to question whether comic book movies ought to take a more serious approach, or be what the comic books always intended the characters and stories to be.

Or, one has to ask, did the comic books ever propose a specific tone to be applied? I mean, after all, serious events do take place in comics. Serious crimes committed, serious truths implied, serious moral questions asked. Is it all within the way a person (read: reader or viewer, not director or writer)  approaches said comic book or film? Do we need to go back to the original comic book writers and ask them what their intent was when writing? Most likely there were multiple purposes: both to entertain, and to influence.

Both light-hearted and more serious comic book films do both of those actions, do they not? The Avengers offered food for thought–what about working together as a team? how much do people need to be stripped down before they can rally together? should your special abilities allow you to have a big ego? what about self-sacrifice, giving of yourself?

And doesn’t The Dark Knight Rises offer up a bit of entertainment as well? “Oh, so that‘s how that feels.” Catwoman screaming. “And yes, Mr. Wayne, it comes in black.”

At the end of the day, a good film is a good film. But isn’t determining what a “good film” is mostly subjective? Maybe I should just stop asking questions, grab a bowl of popcorn, and watch a movie that isn’t about a superhero. 🙂

It’s your turn now. What say you? Should comic book films be serious, or not so serious? Does it even matter? What makes a comic book film good, and what makes it not so good?

AEOS Review: The Dark Knight Rises

Not Avengers. Not The Hobbit. Not the first of The Hunger Games or the last of Twilight produced the most anticipated hype for movies in 2012. I still believe that The Dark Knight Rises was the most anticipated film of the year. You can even add in a Tom Hooper and Quentin Tarantino flick near Oscar movie season, and I still hold firm in casting Nolan’s ending Batman in that top spot.

And with so much hoopla surrounding a film, only the inevitable seems probable, right? In other words, it’s not really possible for a movie to fulfill the impossible expectations that we, as film viewers, critics, audience, or even your average, everyday film-goers, have placed upon the film and shoulders of one Christopher Nolan, right?

Code language aside, The Dark Knight Rises was faced with an uphill battle the moment The Dark Knight hit theaters back in 2008. With a Batman movie receiving that kind of critical acclaim and love from critics and audiences together, how could the now much-recognized director deliver on an even higher and better level? He still has all the same people in his pockets–his brother, Jonathan, as co-writer; his cast with Christian Bale and Michael Caine leading; his composer, Hans Zimmer; his executive producer, Michael Uslan–the list goes on of course. But can the same team of people create an even better film?

With the unexpected death of Heath Ledger, perhaps there were minor (or major) script changes following The Dark Knight. Regardless, following TDK‘s massive success came the decision to finish the series with a final film, thus creating another trilogy film set–and according to some (and me in that group)–the best film trilogy made yet. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

This Is Not a Summary

I met up with my film buddy, Fredo, from FilmYarn yesterday to record a podcast on the film. When he posts it, I’ll be sure to include a link here. Before recording, one idea we talked about was how oftentimes many film reviews are just pretty summaries of the film. Am I guilty of doing that? Oh yes. Multiple times, in fact. But in order to offer something I hope will be a little fresher, I’m working extra hard with this “review” in order to make it not just a film review reiterating plot points, but something a little different, and hopefully something that will boost some outside-of-the-box thoughts and discussion from you guys.

My Initial Reaction(s)

I forced myself to not write this review until I had seen the film at least twice. Often when I see a film a second time, I have a very different reaction. I’m happy to say that this was the case, even though I didn’t even allow 24 hours between my two viewings.

After I saw TDKR for the first time, I loved it. Thought it was great. But I couldn’t dispose of the nagging feeling in my head that TDK was better, superior, and overall the better film of the two. And that was frustrating, because this was the END! Never again will I get to see a new Nolan Batman film and compare. Regardless, I went back the following day and caught an afternoon viewing with a friend who had yet to see it. The result this time?

Still, I loved it. But my complaints had narrowed considerably. I liked it probably ten times better than the first viewing. Partly, because I caught quite a few more things the second time around, and was able to better relax while watching. Any movie that has a decent amount of depth and plot usually requires me to view it twice minimum in order to get out as much as possible about a film.

Comparison to Its Older Cousin, Spiderman 2

Although this may seem like an odd comparison, I felt like I kept seeing parts of Sam Raimi’s Spiderman 2 while watching. Spiderman 2, was, in fact my favorite of Raimi’s Spiderman trilogy, as well as the best-reviewed of the three. That point aside, consider the plot of Spiderman 2. In the opening scene, Peter Parker loses his job. Mary-Jane is with another guy. Peter gives up being Spiderman for a short time. The guy is picked apart and stripped down. It isn’t until he hits his lowest point that he regains speed, reclaims his title as Spiderman, fights the bad guys, and reunites with the girl.

In TDKR, in an effort to not spoil or give anything away (in this section), I’ll hold off on revealing too much. Essentially, however, the same idea takes place; any person who has viewed the trailer can piece that together. The idea is in the title–the action on Batman’s part, “rises”–implies that he must be low in order to rise. This idea moves me into the next thought I had . . . .

Metaphorical vs. Heavy-Handed

Fredo and I argued about whether TDKR treated its theme as a metaphor in a literal sense, or was it really just Christopher Nolan being heavy-handed in over-exaggerating the theme? I, for one, vote on the side of metaphorical. Picking up where I left off, Batman is in a low place, and therefore must rise. Several parts of the film adopted the idea of being low in order to rise. Various scenes were filmed underground. Bruce Wayne/Batman started off the film in a low place–weak mentally, physically, and emotionally. Even the time of day/weather played a role in literally rising.

Fredo saw this use of emphasizing the theme of rising as more like banging the audience over the head with a hammer constantly. It wasn’t just enough to have Batman rise to the occasion, to rise to the problems of Gotham and put his best foot forward; Nolan had to emphasize the idea of rising in multiple outlets and formats throughout the film. While I very much appreciated the purposefulness of it all, others, like Fredo, did not.

For those of you who saw the film, would you consider the film more metaphorical, or handled far too heavy? For those of you who have not seen it, please take this idea in mind and let me know what you think when you do see it!

It’s Such a Nolan Film

Anyone who has seen multiple Nolan films will agree that TDKR follows the same formula of his other films. Every scene, every piece of dialogue, every action, every tangible and intangible element has a purpose and point for being in its place at its time in the film. Everything is planned out. His films are literally puzzles, and each scene acts as a piece that must be placed at a specific time and place in the correct space.

The element of time, while is important for the film, doesn’t bear the necessity it does in his other films. In Memento, the time functioned in a more nonlinear structure. In Inception, time could be extended in various levels of dream stages, thus elongating itself in order for certain actions to take place. Nolan’s Batman films don’t quite restructure time like his others; however, time plays an essential role in certain actions needing to take place.

The film contained quite a few flashbacks in order to successfully tell the story. Nolan loves him some flashbacks. He makes great use of the device in The PrestigeInception, and Memento. The flashbacks tell a great story that reveals pertinent information in the film. 

Ensemble Cast from Heaven

In his review of the film, Richard Roeper called watching this cast work as “movie heaven.” Even with TDKR‘s flaws, the cast really pulled out all the stops. There wasn’t a weak force on screen. Anne Hathaway was a stand-out just for not screwing up the role. Viewers went into the film with the lowest expectations for her, and she turned around and surprised many of us, including me.

Complaints have been made regarding Tom Hardy’s Bane. I talk more about his motivations in the Closing Thoughts/Queries section, but speaking just on his performance, I’d have to say he was nothing short of excellent. Talking with that device over his face had to be pretty difficult to deal with. He was menacing and expressed himself through his eyes, and while he might not have “stolen” scenes, he certainly took center stage when he was on screen.

The scenes shared between Christian Bale and Michael Caine were some of the strongest. My one big frustration (SPOILER) was Alfred going MIA the entire second half of the film.

Full Circle . . . for the Fans

SPOILERS AHEAD! 

And now I can’t hold back from spoiling parts, because in order to appreciate the idea that TDKR fulfilled Nolan’s Batman in such a satisfying way, one has to point out those lovely gifts Nolan wrote into the film. Getting to see Liam Neeson in a few short scenes as Ra’s al Ghul was such a treat. To learn of his connection in TDKR with Miranda Tate as his daughter, his heir who desires to finish his legacy, really makes it feel like we’re watching a finished, fulfilled version of Batman Begins.

Cillian Murphy returning for a couple short scenes as a crazy version of himself (was he really being Scarecrow?) felt like Nolan just saying to the fans, “Here ya go, fans. Enjoy.” Even when the prisoners were released to run about and eventually engage in battle, I was again reminded of Batman Begins. I felt like TDKR had quite a few parts that mirrored Batman Begins.

Closing Thoughts/Queries

SPOILERS AHEAD!

  • What did you think of Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robin? Do you think the idea of leaving the Batman legacy to Robin was a smart choice? I, for one, enjoyed the reveal at the end, even though there were little hints dropped throughout the film if you hadn’t already caught on that JGL fit the Robin profile exactly.
  • Did the ending feel like Inception to anyone else aside from me? Two different people afterwards asked me if that end scene was a dream. I’m not sure whether to laugh or consider the possibility! But really, I don’t believe it was a dream.
  • Can someone please fill me in on what exactly Bane’s intention was? He kills, kills, kills. He constructs these nearly flawless plans to destroy Gotham and its inhabitants. You can’t tell me he did this all for the love of a woman. While the fake-out at the end revealing Miranda Tate as the villain was a little surprising, it really makes Bane’s motivations fall apart at the seams.
  • Did anyone else wish that the Joker story would have been closed? Every villain in all three films–except the Joker–was brought up in some way. Ra’s al Ghul, Scarecrow, Two-Face/Harvey Dent, and of course the two in the film, Catwoman and Bane, all had a place.
  • So many films end with the hero sacrificing himself by destroying something bad in order to save a place. In Lord of the Rings, Frodo sacrificed himself to destroy the Ring to save Middle-Earth. In The Avengers, Iron Man sacrificed himself to destroy a missile to save New York City. In Captain America, the captain sacrificed himself. Even Jack Bauer in 24 was about to fly a plane down in order to save the world, or something like that. The Dark Knight Rises follows suite: Batman sacrifices himself to destroy a time bomb to save Gotham. Yet all the heroes live in the end. Would it have been a better ending for Batman to die?
  • We have to compare (of course), so did you dig The Dark Knight or The Dark Knight Rises more? Was either one a better film than the other? While in some aspects I consider The Dark Knight the better film, I couldn’t imagine Rises being any better than it was. It completed a trilogy. It brought the series full circle. It even had hints of humor that the previous two films lacked. It pulled out all the stops, was epic in almost every proportion possible.

I’ll really miss this series. I believe it’s the best film trilogy made yet. Although the goodbye is bittersweet, I can’t help but wonder, what is Christopher Nolan going to do next?

The Boy Who Loved Batman — Up Close with Executive Producer Michael Uslan

Little did I know a few weeks ago that meeting Michael Uslan, executive producer of all batman films, that I would find some of the greatest inspiration to pursue my passion for film. After finding my way into the right building at Harper College, I paid the seven dollar fee, saving myself a few bucks by handing the teller my college student ID that I unfortunately still seem to resemble. I grabbed a seat in the front middle section, not knowing what to expect.

But this post isn’t about me, it’s about Mr. Uslan, the 8-year-old son of a stone mason, who, through his love of batman and comic books, latched himself onto one of the greatest film series to have hit screens.

Michael Uslan’s Story, As He Told It

Michael grew up loving comic books. He said by the time he graduated high school, there were over 30,000 comic books stacked up, sitting in the garage. He knew he loved comics, especially about Batman. I don’t think he knew entirely what he wanted to do with his life, but I will never forget how much he spoke of his parents supporting him in whatever endeavors he wanted to pursue. His brother and he watched as his dad would get up early to work hard every day, staying out late working oftentimes, both of them desiring to have that same drive to spend their lives being passionate about their work.

One day in college, Michael said he decided he wanted to pitch the idea of teaching a comic books class at the university. He needed a department to back him before he could make the pitch. After having accomplished this, he stood before a group of professors and deans gathered to hear this idea–that comic books could be considered art–and that Michael was capable and qualified to teach this class. He described himself as having long hair and wearing a Spider-Man t-shirt. I can only imagine what the teachers must have thought of his appearance. About 2-3 minutes into his pitch, the head dean stopped him, telling him that he didn’t need to go any further. Whatever this silly idea was that Michael was pitching, the dean considered it irrelevant. Can you imagine taking a comics book class at college? At the time, that was unheard of. The dean dismissed Michael, telling him that he had read Superman comic books as a kid; they certainly weren’t art then. Why would they be now?

At this point in his story, Mr. Uslan slowed his story, looking at the audience. With a bit of frustration lingering in his voice, he said, “I wanted to walk right out. I wanted to turn around and leave. But I didn’t.”

Michael then respectfully (so I assume) asked the dean if he could ask him two questions. The dean hesitantly agreed. First, Michael asked, “Do you know the story of Moses?” When the dean replied yes, Michael then asked him if he could recall a summary of it for them. The dean then went on to tell the story of Moses, starting with how the Israelites were slaves to the Egyptians, and that in order to save baby Moses’ life, that his mother placed him in a basket which she put in a river. There, an Egyptian family raised him as their own. Later, Moses grew up to be a leader to save the Israelites from the Egyptians.

After the dean’s summary, Michael then reminded the dean that he was knowledgeable on Superman, given that he had read the comics as a kid. He then asked the dean if he could recount the story of Superman. So the dean gave in again, telling how the planet Krypton was about to be destroyed, so his parents put him in a ship in order to save him, sending him to earth. There, a family found him and raised him as their own. As Superman grew older, he eventually became a leader and savior to the people.

As soon as the dean had reached that point, he stopped mid-sentence, telling Michael, “Fine. I get it. You can teach your comics book class.”

And that’s how Michael Uslan became the first professor to teach a comic books class.

But as he was walking away, happy to have successfully convinced the board of deans and professors to accept his proposal, he said he recalled words of wisdom from his mother: he ought to market himself. From there, he said he went home and called a news station. When he was finally able to get a reporter on the phone, he changed his tone. He was angry, and he started shouting phrases regarding America’s youth, and how news people should not have let things get to such a bad place. The reporter on the end was thoroughly confused. The reporter then asked what Michael was so upset about. Michael started again with lines like, “You really don’t care about taxpayers’ dollars do you? Do you have any idea what’s going on? Our kids in school should be getting a proper education!” When the reporter failed to follow where Michael was going with all this, Michael responded, “Did you know that the university is allowing students to be taught about comic books? I heard they just hired someone to teach them a comic books class! This is ridiculous!”

Mr. Uslan said it took three days following that phone conversation for that reporter to make it to the university to find out what was going on. And from there on, Mr. Uslan said that there were multiple reporters, camera men, even celebrities who would pop in and sit through one of his classes. He made it in a large article in multiple newspapers across the country and even in Europe. His phone was constantly ringing with newsreporters and job offers. And one day soon following his overnight fame, Michael received a called from Marvel, offering him a job in New York City.

For the first few years, Mr. Uslan didn’t say that he did anything all too significant at Marvel. Then one night, when he was just about to leave for the evening, he heard yelling and screaming. He walked over towards the sound and found one of the editor’s furious. Apparently the editor had a script assignment for the Shadow comic due the next day, and he could think of nothing to write about. Fortunately for that editor, Michael said he had an idea. After some pulling and tugging away and random ideas that came to mind, Michael had convinced the editor to let him write the script. Michael pulled an all-nighter, and handed in the script the next morning.

A few weeks later, one of the major writers at Marvel walked by Michael. He stopped Michael, saying that he had read his Shadow comic. He commented that it wasn’t bad. Michael was about to keep walking, but the writer stopped him again. This time, he asked him a question: “Would you be interested in writing Batman comics?”

Clearly, Michael’s answer was “yes.” At this point, Mr. Uslan transitioned his story, remarking that he reached a point in his life–and at an early stage–where he had achieved his dream. The big question lingering in his head was, “What now?”

Michael wasn’t able to answer that question for himself until the first Batman show premiered on TV. Mr. Uslan mentioned how excited he had been, with all the anticipation leading up to this. FinallyUnfortunately, Michael didn’t totally dig the silly, light-hearted, slap stick humor of the show. He wished Batman would be taken a little more seriously. He wanted to see that human, realistic side to Batman. After all, Batman really was just a human. He wasn’t bitten by a radioactive bug. He wasn’t an alien sent to Earth to save all of humanity. He was a human, who just happened to have a lot of money and desire to help other people.

Mr. Uslan said it was that moment that he vowed to himself that somehow, some way, he would bring Batman to the big screen in a big way. But not just in a big way–he wanted the world to see the raw and humanistic side of Batman. He wanted the superhero who had influenced and inspired him as a child to influence and inspire other people in a way where they weren’t just laughing at him. So he set out to do just that.

To shorten this seemingly long story, I’ll cut the final part of this short. Mr. Uslan described how he went about buying the rights to Batman. He got married. He went to school again and became a lawyer for four years. He quit his job, moved to California, pitched the idea of a Batman movie to every studio and was turned down by every single one of them. It was another ten years until someone by the name of Tim Burton thought a lot of Michael’s idea.

And according to Mr. Uslan, the rest was history.

After the Story

Following his story, there was a short question and answer time. I was lucky enough to have caught his eye, having him answer my question. I asked him about breaking into the film business, specifically screenwriting. He gave short, but thoughtful advice that I truly appreciated.

When the Q/A time came to a close, I stood in line and bought his memoir, getting one of the last three copies there. I then had him sign it. The batman symbol he drew was awesome! As he was drawing, I talked to him, telling him a little bit about how I grew up not being allowed to watch movies. He was encouraging and kind, and strangely answered that Wes Craven grew up the same way. I really wonder about that now.

From the post, you can also see that I got a picture with him. I have yet to think or imagine another moment in my life when I was as inspired to go after my passion like Michael Uslan did. With no connections to people, he still got to where he wanted to be. He kept his promise to himself to do what he wanted to, or to at least try, try, and try again, knowing he gave everything within himself to his dream. It’s neat to think that his life somewhat mirrors that of batman’s–he fell so many times, but he fought his demons. Now he’s rising.

So if you have yet to see The Dark Knight Rises, look for Michael Uslan’s name in the credits. And when you do, think about how I got to meet him up and close and personal, and get to talk to him about achieving dreams. It’s people like Michael Uslan rather than actors or celebrities, that I look at and call successful, because it wasn’t a name or connection or physical appearance that got him to where he wanted to be. His drive and determination and desire to fulfill his dreams were what got him to where he is now. And possibly the coolest part about it all? He said people were looking into the film rights for his memoir. Keep a look out for that one, folks.

I couldn’t help but find it most appropriate to be posting about the executive producer of the Batman films with The Dark Knight Rises opening this weekend. I’ll be leaving to see the film in less than four hours.

I can’t wait.

Batman Films Combined in Trilogy Poster

It’s been out for a little bit now, but I saw this poster and thought it was a great way to show the fluency of Christopher Nolan’s three Batman films, Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), and this year’s The Dark Knight Rises. Normally, I don’t pull a picture or poster and write a post about it, but I think this one gives a nice illustration of how the three films fit together to become a single unit, which Nolan has confessed to be his goal all along in making the trilogy.

I really love this poster. When the original teaser trailer (and poster) came out for The Dark Knight Rises, there were a lot of comments that it looked too Inception-like. The dark, drained colors, the building falling apart, it all supposedly screamed Inception, partly assumed since both films are CNolan creations. I think this view will open up the thought that each poster was intentionally made to fit into this bigger picture.

I like looking at each of the movie posters separately to see how the “bat” part fits well into the single, compacted poster. First, there’s sepia colors used for Batman Begins. Then, some darker colors are used for The Dark Knight, and then the poster for The Dark Knight Rises is the darkest in color, but it also has the “light at the end of the tunnel” idea at the top. The poster gives a point of view from the ground that would imply an urge to rise, which works well with the title of the film.

Do you like the progression of the film posters? Do you think they’re good representations of the film? What do you think of the combined poster?


Still Buzzed from the Complexity of Inception

It’s December. It’s the end of the year, and in terms of the film world, the best movies–and potentially the most Oscar-nominated-hopefuls–are rounding themselves out this month. And along with those movies, we also have Christmas-themed movies as well as big entertainment blocks for the holiday crowd that comes in during the month.

I was thinking about what my next post should be about, and I couldn’t get Inception out of my mind (pun not intended). I recently bought the Blu-ray copy of it (finally got a Blu-ray player!), and watched all the extras on the disc. I still haven’t gotten to seeing the movie this year yet (and it’s almost over!), but I plan to have at least one more viewing (in addition to my four theater visits last year) before year’s end.

Last year, when the movie first came out, I was blown away. I hadn’t seen a film like this in a really long time, and at the same time, I was moved by the emotional tone of it. That, with the complexity and the beautiful visuals and the creativity, I wondered if I had ever seen such an awesome film on screen. Since then, I have waited to be “blown away” by another film. I went to the last Harry Potter flick and attended screenings of all the big superhero films and the action movies of the summer. I didn’t really care if other films didn’t include the complexity that Inception contains–I was just waiting to experience that “blown away” (in a good way) feeling from watching a movie. Most people experience this feeling from time to time in different amounts–it’s common, although depending on the person, it doesn’t come around very often.

The closest I have come this year to feeling that “blown away” feeling was from seeing 50/50. It’s nothing like Inception in any way or context (oh wait, I guess it has JGL in it too), but it was one of those movies that was marketed to be a bro comedy, and when the credits started rolling, I sat there, stunned at how moved I was from it. The feeling that you get when you might have average expectations, and when you leave the theater, you realize you were completely wrong for not having the highest of expectations from a film because it was just that good when you saw it.

But even so, 50/50 doesn’t shine a light to that “blown away” feeling that I experienced after seeing Inception. Perhaps it is because there was no Nolan film to fill the year, and I’m especially attracted to his style of filmmaking. I still remember seeing The Prestige a few years back and thinking about what a great movie it was. And no one should be able to say that they weren’t at least partly impressed with both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. All three of those movies have been ranked on my top list for a while now. When I saw Memento, I wondered if there was a more complex film ever even created. CNolan has a sharp, dark, and tight filmmaking style that makes his movies dark, monumental, and beautiful simultaneously. I just hope people’s expectations don’t break through the roof before The Dark Knight Rises hits theaters.

All of that to say–I look forward to breaking that Inception ice and being blown away by another film, even if I have somewhat high expectations going in to see a screening of it. But until then, I remained buzzed from the sheer greatness of Inception, and perhaps secretly wonder if another movie will ever make me feel like that again.

The Man. The Movies. The Memento.

There’s been a lot of hype recently (especially today) about how Christopher Nolan has been snubbed once again – this time, by that warped Academy that makes all the decisions concerning the Oscars. This time around, it’s the 83rd Oscars, and Nolan has been rejected his much-deserved honor of being a Best Director nominee.

So instead of harping on the constant snubbing from said Hollywood Foreign Press Association and American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, let’s remember why we love CNolan.  After all, being snubbed means you must be pretty darn good at what you’re doing in the first place.

Far more than a triple threat. Yes, we all know he’s a fantastic director. But he’s also a screenwriter. And a producer. And a cinematographer and an editor (Following, Doodlebug).

Has a handful of quality A-listing actors to fill his movies with (Michael Caine, Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, and Cillian Murphy to name a few).

Created the most popular, and by many, considered the best Batman series thus far.

Established connections with professionals within multiple film fields: Hans Zimmer, composer; Emma Thomas (his wife), producer; Lee Smith, film editor; Jonathan Nolan (his brother), screenwriter.

Takes complex ideas and adapts them for the average film-goer. (MementoThe Prestige, and Inception).

Nolan’s IMDB file and Wikipedia (for what it’s worth) contain a lot of this information, but more and more of it is becoming knowledge among even amateur movie-goers. It was Christopher Nolan’s name, not Leonardo DiCaprio’s that brought people into the theater to see Inception, his latest flick, this past summer.

Check out the textual part of a common Inception poster: 

The words “From the Director of The Dark Knight” stick out. And while Leo’s name is in bright lights as well, it was the obscure, ambiguous trailer and the idea that the director of The Dark Knight could create another film as high quality as The Dark Knight, that made the film compelling enough to go see. Judging by most critics’ and audience’s reviews, it was.

Nolan may not have the nod of the Academy, but he has fans. And their respect.