Friday, July 27, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan 2012)

Spoilers of course.

Just like the Lord of the Rings films, the three in Nolan's Batman trilogy get progressively worse until it's hard not to wonder whether the first one was really that good or it just got the benefit of the doubt because it wasn't a complete botch.  In Nolan's case he definitely focused more on the more ill-considered aspects of the first film, perhaps reading his own press too much.  All the good parts of the first two films basically came out of The Long Halloween but left without the structure he mostly picked and weakened from there Nolan for this film was left to his own devices.

It's hard to argue that The Dark Knight Rises should be 164 minutes especially considering that it's not at all a complex or involved story - bad guys steal a bomb, good guy doesn't think he can take care of business.  Trim all the brooding and elaborate discussions of things nobody should need to talk about ("We need The Batman!" "No, no we don't." "Yes! We do!") and about an hour of useless material would be gone.  Nolan, though, is nothing if not a ponderous filmmaker.  My guess is that he believes he's telling a Hero's Journey but he follows the Lit 101 conception so closely that there's hardly any point.

To have needed years of work, the script is remarkably sloppy.  Its most clever twist is the apparent change to Ras al-Ghul's child - Bane?  Nope, it's Talia after all though it's obvious that we won't be getting a Damian in future films.  I was never quite sure what prompted Bruce's vision of Ras that revealed some of this.  We get one person who figures out Bruce Wayne is Batman simply by looking at him but another trained in observation and critical thinking who doesn't realize this until the end.  (Actually I thought the film was making a point that everybody knew considering how often this is discussed - did none of the thugs who heard Bane say this not talk with anybody else?)  There's a nuclear explosion right offshore that apparently has no negative effects.  Alfred sends some unknown hired help to take dinner to Bruce's quarters (well actually an entire wing but still).  Who on earth would send their entire police force underground?  Why was Bruce sent to The Pit instead of simply being killed?  (Which I think may have been explained but am not quite sure.)  Why did nobody in The Pit mention that The Child was a girl?  The big conflict at the end is pretty tension-free considering that it starts with lots of activity in one day and then everything pauses for five months, clearly so that Batman can find some way to escape The Pit and make his way back from wherever that is located.  This almost seems to be two scripts mashed together which may also explain the length - after cutting large parts of both nobody realized much more still needed to go. (And I can't help wonder if the name of the potential new Robin was deliberate - James/Jim Blake vs Tim Drake.) 

Other parts of the script are pure Hollywood default thinking (the very implausible bomb timer), done for visual reasons (police making a frontal assault on an entrenched position when there are clear options), unnecessary characterization in the mistaken belief that's what serious storytellers do and so forth.  Sure much of this is true of some quite good films but those were either entertaining (which TDKR almost never is) or were in some way grappling with whatever art grapples with (which TDKR completely fails to do).  It doesn't help that motivations are often fairly opaque and not in a nice way.  So Talia and Bane want to destroy Gotham to complete her father's mission?  Which is what?  Urban renewal?  Are we supposed to think they're insane or that there's some actual reason?  And on the other end Bruce Wayne's fiancee dies and he goes on an eight-year pout?  Yeah ok this is actually some form of depression but somebody that out of shape and damaged just can't jump back into the game.  (And while it's cool to see Thomas Lennon in a high-profile film he seems out of place as a doctor.)  What we get of course is Batman saying that really "Batman" is supposed to be an inspiration for anybody, anybody at all, but what are shown is that only billionaires with cool toys can do this. 

Which makes me wonder if the digs on the Occupy movement were deliberate.  No matter how much was in the original script clearly Nolan & co had to decide to leave much of this in, leaving TDKR as Romney's most expensive campaign ad.  The conservative slant of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns has often been noted but Miller created a complex, resonant story while Nolan's borders on propaganda.  The only good news is that he's done with this though an executive producer credit on the upcoming Superman film doesn't bode well.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Prometheus (Ridley Scott 2012)

There are a few moments when you can almost convince yourself that this will turn out to be a decent, perhaps even watchable film but really that’s just hope overriding what’s on the screen.  The whole thing feels like it was written by a high school student and not even a particularly sharp one at that.  Who else would care so much about the Silence of God?  Other than Bergman fans of course.  That’s not how it’s phrased in the film but really that’s the point of questioning the Engineers, especially since for a group of scientists they have remarkably little interest in anything else.  Even what seems to be humanity’s first contact with non-terrestrial intelligence creates less response than a random sitcom viewing. 

And also:

*  The opening creation sequence (geddit?) is quite impossible.  Beings that advanced could surely come up with a more effective method than one involving suicide (or maybe he already knew what it’s like to watch the rest of the film).  But the DNA bit doesn’t work – throwing frog DNA into a pond doesn’t create frogs.  If the point had been that this started the evolutionary process then how could human DNA possibly match the alien’s since the intervening species’ DNA would not?

*  Drawings from pre-literate cultures are the best that these aliens could do?  Cultures who have no interest in or even concept of realism but are still expected to reproduce a dot pattern accurately.  You’d think the aliens would be better off sending a message with, oh I dunno, a black obelisk on the moon.

*  Theron’s entire part has no purpose.  The character could have been completely removed and it wouldn’t have affected the film at all with the one exception of the death she caused which could easily have been assigned to another character.

*  There’s so little else going on that when early scenes mention a lifepod and an automated medical machine you know they will play an important part later on.  Screenwriters might mention the Chekhov principle but really this just indicates scanty background and unimaginative writing.

*  What was the point of having a young actor play an elderly man?  Particularly with such unbelievably ineffective makeup?  There are after all plenty of older actors around.  I was certain there would be a rejuvenation sequence because that’s the only reason this made any sense.

*  I thought the last season of 24 pushed the amount of abuse we’re expected to believe a character can handle and still function but this ups it – woman has major abdominal surgery (competely unmentioned is the damage such a large growth in “ten hours” would have caused) but manages to run around and yell and run around and run some more and then crawl up into a ship and then lower a heavy body down and so on and so forth.

*  What was David the android doing giving the black goo to the scientist anyway?  He acts like there was a purpose but surely there’s no way he could have known any of what would happen.  Either way the film leaves this completely unexplained, apparently more from clumsiness than artistic ambiguity.  Maybe the extended director’s cut (saints preserve us) will re-instert deleted scenes explaining this, explaining everything.

*  Ridley Scott et al also don’t bother to explain any of the major questions driving the story – why did the Engineers do this, why Earth, why the message, etc.  I suspect they were trying for a sort of naturalistic openness but really it comes across more like they never bothered to finish the script. 

*  Why is Ellie surprised that David knows how her father died?  He explains it’s because he watched her dreams but more likely he just read her file.

*  I’m not much bothered by coincidences when they make the story more efficient.  So when the ship first lands on the planet they just happen to find buildings immediately and then just happen to first go into the one that has the elements that will drive the story – ok let’s go with that.  Why spend time showing the ship flying around.  Except that when you realize the point of the film is searching (or Searching) then it would be appropriate to show.  A few dissolves, maybe a title like “five days later” and really any half-way decent director wouldn’t have needed any more screen time but would have deepened the story.

*  And while we’re on coincidences don’t you like how the hologram just happens to show only the specific portions the ship’s crew needed to see?  And in much lower quality than my cell phone?

*  Stories usually break down if pressed too hard, even ones that happened in real life.  (This need to put a fiction-type closure on actual events is what drives conspiracy theorists.)  The poster child for this of course is the chauffeur in The Big Sleep but it's so common that this isn't even really a problem.  Prometheus is a different situation - there's almost nothing but narrative gaps, unmotivated actions, implausible behavior (biologist trying to pet a toothy alien worm anybody?) and just sheer unblinking stupidity.  This is starting to repeat the point but it's hard not to wonder how all these people with all this money managed to create something like this when there was supposedly a high level of creative control. But then you yawn and think it's time for pie.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Sorta found poetry

At work we have a new system that emails a text transcription of voice mail.  Below are two passes with the same text, trying to speak very clearly and distinctly.  The interesting things are that they aren't very close and that the system kept one as a sentence but broke the other into three (I must have paused more that time).  OK, not interesting at all but noted nonetheless.


Now is the winter of our discontent make glorious summer bye this some of your and all the cloud Florida put in our house and the deep but some of the ocean buried mail or are brown bound with victorious three used numbers and arm signed up for monuments stern how runs strange tamari meetings are dreadful Marches delightful measures.


Now is the one to rob our discontent thank glorious summer by this I know you're in all the clouds that larder on our house in the deep but some of the ocean buried.

Now our our browse down with Victoria so we.

Are breeze it arms hung up for my name at our stern how're I'm change to marry meetings are dreadful Marches delightful measures.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Jack Chick Hellboy

No, not really a Jack Chick Hellboy but when I saw this image for an upcoming miniseries that's definitely the first thing I thought about.  Those rectangular dimensions, the balance of admonishing text with an image - actually it's hard to believe this is accidental.  But as far as I can find out that's just what happened.