Is it weird that I’m actually a little more excited about the upcoming animated version of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns than I am about the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises?
Not that I have zero interest in seeing The Dark Knight Rises (quite the opposite). It’s just that I’ve been waiting for one of my favorite graphic novels, and one of my favorite Batman stories, of all time to finally be realized as a film. Let’s forget about stuff like Miller’s deranged OWS rant, the awful All-Star Batman and Robin The Boy Wonder or the disappointing (but intriguing) The Dark Knight Strikes Again. I’m even willing to go ahead and forget how the sight of Samuel L. Jackson chewing scenery in a Nazi uniform wasn’t nearly enough to keep The Spirit from being one of the worst superhero movies I’ve ever seen. As far as I know, Miller has nothing to do with this project beyond the fact that it’s going to be based around his 1986 mini-series.
I’ve secretly harbored the dumbass dream that The Dark Knight Returns would be adapted into a live-action film, but I don’t imagine people are especially keen to see a near-psychotic Batman in his mid-to-late 50’s. Or there just wouldn’t be enough people to justify making a huge live-action spectacle out of it.
It’s probably best that The Dark Knight Returns finally see life as an animated film. Its visuals (read the comic if you never have, or at least Google some images) would lend itself well to animation. The early pictures I’ve seen at least suggest that to me. It looks like it will do justice to the source material. The same can be said for the voice talent. I have no idea what Peter Weller (Robocop, Naked Lunch) will sound like as an aging, weary-but-maddeningly-dedicated Batman. I’m going to guess that he’ll probably have a better Batman voice than Christian Bale (I have a better Batman voice than Christian Bale, but that’s because I really do smoke two packs a day, and I’m not just trying to sound like I do). I like the rest of the cast, too. Everything is seemingly in place for a worthy adaptation. I love what Christopher Nolan had done with Batman. His final word on the subject should be fantastic, and I’m almost willing to brave the noisy, raving madness of a midnight show.
But I’m still looking forward to The Dark Knight Returns more. If for no other reason than because I’ve been anticipating it for several years. DC Comics has been adapting everything under the sun into animated features over the last couple of years. It was just a matter of time before they got to this.
There’s a point in all this. It’s just kind a loosely-constructed one. It’s just that one of the things I love about movies is that I can get excited about a lot of different projects, and they aren’t always going to be the big ones. Those can be great, too (like, say, The Hobbit), but it’s a reminder, much like a point I made in a past column about Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, that there are a lot of different ways to dig on my movie geekdom. There are a lot of different ways, and there movies of every style, country and budget that can make it happen for me.
Either that’s the point I’m trying to make here, or I’m just so excited about The Dark Knight Returns that I can’t shut up about it. Not even in a column.
You can take either theory.
Men in Black 3 (2012): C+
I saw Men in Black 3 on my birthday. It occurred to me after the movie had started that it’s been nearly ten years since I saw the second film in a crowded theater in Chicago, IL. Time flies, but I can still remember wondering just what in the hell had happened to the great, endlessly entertaining concept established in the first movie. I don’t dislike Men in Black 2 as much as some, but there’s no denying the pretty steep drop in quality from the first film to that one. I always imagined a third movie would be made. I just didn’t have a big interest in seeing it after the disappointment of the second film. MIB 3 won out on my birthday simply because I wanted to see a movie, and it was the only thing available to me. Even the trailer I had seen looked dull, so I didn’t hold on to a whole lot of hope for a great movie. Will Smith traveling back in time to save Tommy Lee Jones from a space criminal (Flight of The Concords’ Jemaine Clement) trying to eradicate him from the present? The concept of him meeting up with a younger version of Agent K (Josh Brolin)? I could see that being fun, but my minimal expectations remained intact once the movie started. Anything even remotely better than MIB 2 would have been a triumph and just shy of a complete waste of a birthday. I was pretty surprised then that it was actually a lot better than MIB 2. Don’t ask me how many more times I can get into a time travel story (probably not very many more), but it was a shockingly well-done and enjoyable here. It might have been all of the time spent away from the franchise, but Jones and Smith appear to be having a lot of fun here. It’s been a long time since they last played off their phenomenal chemistry, and it was actually possible for me to imagine how they would be doing with each other after being partners for over a decade. Jones is only in it but so much though. The bulk of the movie is dependent on its solid story, excellent visuals (although I didn’t see it in 3D), the action sequences (the first and final ones have as much energy and excitement as anything from the first installment), great Rick Baker alien makeup effects, and just as importantly on re-creating the chemistry of Agents J and K with Smith and Brolin. I guess it just might be guys from Texas (see W.), but Josh Brolin seems to have a knack for eerily-accurate impersonations. I didn’t forget for a moment who he was, but his performance was more than enough to get that healthy, necessary suspension-of-disbelief going. It’s a very good thing in a movie that has a lot of very good things going for it. Jermaine Clement and Brolin are definitely two of those very good things. It was nice to have a villain in the MIB universe who was actually fun again. And fun would definitely be the best word to describe what I felt as I greeted the unbearably warm late evening. I wasn’t elated. I was just glad I had gone to see it. That’s pretty good for a veteran franchise.
Heist (2001): B
David Mamet has written and directed a few films at this point. I’ve been intending to see them for ages, and I decided his 2001 writing/directing effort Heist was a good place to start. Some of my favorite plays are ones written by Mamet, and they never lack sharp, lively dialog and characters grabbing your attention every time they fire off a line. Heist has dialog that honors the best of Mamet as a writer, but it also honors the very best of the noir films of the 30’s and 40’s. Gene Hackman is the kind of actor who could play that awful son-of-a-bitch as well as he could play the weary underdog (and he sometimes plays both). As the leader of a crew of professional thieves he’s more than capable of playing a tired, older man with his back against the wall, but with just enough to go for one last job, make that big score and retire with a few years of dignity. Mamet’s dialog is well-written, but it certainly is dependent upon good actors to give it a steady heartbeat. The story with all its double and triple-crosses is reliable, established terrain for Mamet to play on, Heist will keep you involved with a cast that includes Hackman, Delroy Lindo, Sam Rockwell, Danny DeVito (who can play that scumbag he’s known for with a pretty dark edge), Ricky Jay and Rebecca Pidgeon. All of these people can be great, but with Mamet’s dialog they’re great and impossible to not watch. That’s the pleasure of Heist, and the story is handled well enough to breeze you right through its 109-minute run.
Action in the North Atlantic (1943): C-
This was the second part of that Bogart kick. There’s not a lot one can really say about this. It’s Bogart in a WWII spy film, and he’s the reluctant hero aboard a ship of military officials and ragtag blue-collar types (including Alan Hale Sr., father of “Gilligan Island’s Alan Hale Jr.). There are lots of patriotic speeches about the war, and some pretty decent (especially for their time) battle scenes when Bogart’s ship goes head-to-head with the Germans. It’s a little slow, and the propaganda aspect hasn’t aged too well, but this again comes under the whole matter of how much you like Humphrey Bogart. If you’re a big fan, or if you find yourself becoming one, you’ll probably get to this eventually, and you’ll probably be fine with all of it. Still this is another one I would personally put a few rungs down that same ladder I mentioned above.
Buffalo Bill and the Indians (1976): C+
Robert Altman’s revisionist Western struck me, from the description, as a movie that could stand with the best I’ve seen of his prolific filmography. It didn’t, but it still has a cast full of appealing performances, Altman’s trademark in many of his films of sending them wandering through an episodic landscape that more or less keeps itself intact from start to finish. Nothing in Buffalo Bill and the Indians is awful. I’ve never seen a Robert Altman film that was completely beyond redemption. It’s just that this one fails to sustain itself all the way through. It tells the story of Buffalo Bill, Chief Sitting Bull and Bill’s chaotic Wild West show. That story focuses largely on Bill realizing that Sitting Bull is much more than Bill initially takes him for, but it also goes to a lot of other places over a running time of two hours. Unfortunately a lot of those other places lead to moments that drag enough that the movie’s point feels muddled by the end. Buffalo Bill and the Indians isn’t the best example of that Altman trademark, but there’s plenty for Paul Newman, Frank Kaquitts, Joel Gray, Burt Lancaster, Geraldine Chaplin, Shelley Duvall, Harvey Keitel and the rest of the cast to do. They keep the movie’s sluggish pace from sinking the parts that are actually very good.
A Dangerous Method (2011): B
David Cronenberg doing a movie about the psychological (which would make sense), complex and strange triangle between Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) is quite frankly a pretty damn intriguing concept to me. Cronenberg has done some beautiful and savagely unsettling work with the psychological in his career. I could see there being enough material in this true story for Cronenberg and the cast (even Knightley, who I’m finally starting to warm up to) to create something remarkable. It mostly lives up to its potential. Cronenberg is a master of making it seem like we’re a part of something we shouldn’t be. His best movies have that element, the additional aspect of making us feel increasingly uncomfortable in our own skin and actors to cement both of those things through their acting. All of that is here, and A Dangerous Method only occasionally fails to live up to all that potential. Like most Cronenberg movies, it probably wouldn’t hurt to watch this a couple of times.
Bottle Rocket: A
It made sense to finally watch Wes Anderson’s first feature-length film. Moonrise Kingdom remains quite high on the movies I want to see this summer. Bottle Rocket has a lot of the elements Anderson would build upon and do much more with in other films. Some people are not big on Anderson’s brand of cinematic quirkiness, so, if you have that opinion, Bottle Rocket’s story of two friends (Luke and Owen Wilson) embarking on a seventy-five year plan, one that’s supposed to include several heists and eventual fame and fortune, is probably not going to change your mind. Anderson’s more ardent fans have likely been treasuring this movie for ages. People who love his work but haven’t gotten around to seeing this, like me, should do so as soon as humanly possible. Why I waited so long to see this, I have no idea.