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Posts Tagged ‘I don’t get it’

Joker, Joker, Joker

July 20th, 2008 No comments

Folks are all in a lather over The Dark Knight. Over on the Invincible Super-Blog, comics blogger extraordinaire Chris Sims sums it up with a two-word review: “Fucking Awesome.” I don’t intend to dispute that, but I do take issue with the sentiment expressed by one of those who commented on his post:

But Ledger is the joker (sic). Not the most convincing joker, not the definitive joker, not even the best joker. He just simply is the joker.

No, this is the Joker.

And this is the Joker.

And this is most certainly the Joker.

I don’t know what this is…

…but it’s not the Joker.

Bless me Father, for I have sinned. I am guilty of the sin of hypocrisy, as I have regularly railed against those who would whine that Spider-Man shouldn’t have organic webshooters or that Bumblebee should be a Volkswagen, yet I would myself get my panties in a bunch about Heath Ledger not being a legitimate Joker. I’m also guilty of pretending to be a Catholic, but hear me out anyway.

The trademark of the Joker isn’t his white skin, green hair or poor dress sense, but his rictus grin. His look was originally based on Conrad Veidt’s makeup in the silent film The Man Who Laughs. Like Veidt’s character, the Joker’s mouth is unnaturally wide and permanently frozen in a parody of amusement. And his preferred method of murder is a lethal toxin that draws up the lips in a similar mocking grimace.

So, right off the bat I’ve got a problem with Ledger’s Joker, whose smile is merely suggested by facial scarring and a wide smear of red makeup, and who never once leaves his victims laughing to death. I could accept it as a valid alternate-universe interpretation of the character–the film equivalent of one of DC Comics’ Elseworlds books–but the real deal?

The Joker, as portrayed in The Dark Knight, is supposed to be an avatar of anarchy. Yet his plans are intricate and meticulous; he spends most of the film four steps ahead of everyone. His actions aren’t random or mercurial, they’re thought through and designed to make a point. Since when does The Joker have a point?

Robbing banks and knifing people is beneath him. This is a character who once attempted to copyright fish. The Joker is motivated by irrationality and a sick sense of humor. By contrast, the villain seen in The Dark Knight rarely goes for a laugh. (Admittedly, the “faulty detonator” scene was pretty funny, and the flaming fire truck was a nice visual gag. But those were exceptions.)

That’s not to say that the film is bad. Honestly, it’s got an awful lot going for it, including a well-crafted plot that if anything is perhaps a bit overdeveloped. Its themes are convincingly followed through. The pacing of individual scenes is excellent, even though the overall movie is too long. (Two-Face enters the story very late. I would’ve cut the entire subplot about the investigator who attempts to reveal Batman’s identity, which is never fully resolved. It’s also redundant, as the Joker’s attempt to coerce ordinary people to become murderers is repeated more effectively later on.)

The Dark Knight does an awful lot right, including Two-Face’s reliance on random chance and the curious relationship between Batman and the Joker, eternally locked in combat yet each unwilling to kill the other. Contrast to Tim Burton’s film, which had Bats launching air-to-ground missiles at the Joker’s head.

It also had several punch-the-air moments, and an uplifting, inspirational scene that was welcome if oddly out-of-place in what was otherwise an unrelenting orgy of bullets to the head. (I mean, Jesus, wasn’t there any better plan for luring the Joker into the open than running a gauntlet that saw dozens of cops butchered?)

But all this talk of an Oscar for Heath Ledger? Really? He was good enough, I guess, but I don’t see what’s so spectacular about the performance. Most of the time, I thought he was channeling Christian Slater.

Must be the laughing gas.

I Don’t Get It

May 10th, 2008 No comments

Right now, I’m having one of those moments in which I feel that I’m really not in synch with the people around me.

Look, I knew that I was more jazzed about the Speed Racer film than most, but I’m boggled by the chilliness of its reception. Sure, the critics didn’t like it, but that’s what critics do. They were gunning for it from the moment the first trailer debuted. (I maintain that pre-tumor Roger Ebert–the guy who praised The Phantom Menace for being an empty spectacle–would’ve loved it. Post-op Ebert, however, did not.)

I honestly thought that there would’ve been an enthusiastic reaction from the middle-aged geeks who grew up on the cartoon, plus every ten-year-old boy in the U.S. And so I was not prepared to see perhaps twenty people in the theater at 7:00 pm Friday on opening night.

The crowds didn’t seem much more numerous today, even though Saturday should be more conducive to family viewing. Meanwhile, Iron Man was packed.

Yeah, I know: everyone loves Iron Man, critics and fanboys alike. Having just come from seeing it, I don’t quite get the passion. It’s a solid film, sure, but I was being told that it was in the upper echelons of the superhero genre. I felt it was more Spider-Man than Spider-Man 2, but what do I know? The first Spider-Man film made a metric fuckton of cash, whereas I thought it was “okay.”

The problems I had with Iron Man were two-fold. First, it’s an origin film, which meant that a whole lot of running time was spent in setting up the background. That’s understandable, but it’s still “seen it.” Second–and the filmmakers admit as much–Iron Man doesn’t have a strong villain roster. Here they pretty much go the easy way out and make him fight a bigger version of himself. How RoboCop 2 of them.

Again, it’s by no means a bad film. Downey was very good, as was Paltrow. The comedy bits, especially the ones involving an overzealous fire-extinguishing robot, were fun. I liked the in-jokes: Stan Lee being mistaken for Hugh Hefner, Tony Stark’s phone playing the old Iron Man cartoon theme, and Rhodey (who becomes the hero War Machine in the comics) looking at Stark’s first armor suit and saying “Next time.” It’s just that the film seemed much less than I’d been led to expect.

Speed Racer, on the other hand, was more or less just what I expected. That’s not to say that it’s a better film than Iron Man, but I certainly did have more fun with it.

Contrary to the reviews, I didn’t find the graphics to be that eye-searing, and I never had any trouble following the racing action. As Vic pointed out, Speed’s gonna win; what else do you need to know?

The reviews seemed unfair on one point: a number of them made the point that while the film itself was firmly anti-corporate, it was made and marketed by one of the world’s largest media groups. (Unlike every other mainstream movie, I guess.) And your point is? That because you don’t like the messenger–or rather, the company who paid the messenger–the message itself was invalid?

I thought that the Wachowski brothers did a fine job of capturing the spirit of the cartoon, though I realize that this may have also been what put off potential viewers. Still, no one went broke underestimating the tastes of the American audience: Transformers (which I also enjoyed) did very well and it was no deeper or less frenetic than Speed Racer. I don’t know, maybe adults just didn’t want to see a movie with a monkey in a starring role.

I enjoyed the look of Speed’s world, even though the Wachowskis took considerable liberty from the old show in turning it into a gigantic, psychedelic skate park. The racing scenes, with the cars spinning madly along the course and even grinding the rails, were like none ever seen before.

The cast did a good job with what they had to work with, but I thought that the young actor playing Spritle was the standout. I found most of his comic relief bits playing opposite the aforementioned monkey legitimately amusing.

As a fanboy, I would’ve liked perhaps a bit more fidelity to the original series. Some of the names–Snake Oiler, Cruncher Block, Inspector Detector, the GRX–were familiar, but they were playing different roles in the film’s plot than they did in the cartoon. And since they wound up racing in some locales that were similar to those seen in the show, why not use the names? Those are silly quibbles, I know.

What really does surprise me about Speed Racer vs. Iron Man is that the latter seemed to have attracted more parents with small children, yet the former seemed far more appropriate for them. Iron Man was a bit dark and gruesome at times, what with its Afghan terrorists and scenes of torture. Plus, it had some very long stretches between the action scenes. Speed Racer dragged a bit in the middle too, but it was so bright and cheery that I would think kids would find more to keep themselves engaged.

But again, what the heck do I know? I am clearly out of touch with what other people like.