Saturday, July 21, 2012

Signal Re-Watch: The Dark Knight (2008)

Friday evening pal JuanD brought over his dog, Levi, to join Jamie and I for our pre-Dark Knight Rises screening of The Dark Knight (2008).  I mention Juan not just because Juan is a terrific fellow, but because our post-screening discussion should really warrant him a co-writer credit on this post.

I'm not very fond of my original review of the movie from 2008, and was sharing with Juan how I was so rattled by the movie's very existence that it took a viewing or two more to begin to appreciate everything Nolan was trying to accomplish, and that, in many ways, the best way to watch these movies is to turn off everything I know about Batman (which is a lot, and runs near constantly as a background subroutine) and instead come at the film as if I weren't playing comics-fan-connect-the-dots.  At some point it may be more useful to start looking at the movie as employing archetypes to relate a fable of duality on an operatic scale.  Chaos vs. Order.  Liberty vs. Security.  Lies vs. Truth.  Personal Duty vs. Public Duty.

all that and a motorcycle that goes VROOOM!  VROOOOOOM!  VROOOOOOOOOOM!!!!

You can feel a great leap in the quality of the film from Batman Begins during the first scene of Dark Knight, and the decision to dump the studio backlot feel of the previous Gotham for the very real streets of Chicago shot in punchy, deep focus, free of the filters and mood enhancers that dominated the look of the first movie.  And it's that realism and stepping away from the comic page that seems to give the movie some it's immediacy and edge.  Gotham is Chicago in this film - lived in and real, not a set made to look dank.

It Begins. Two "Man of Steel" Teaser Trailers Arrive.

We're sticking through this blogging thing at least until the release of 2013's Man of Steel.  And we're seriously considering a blow-out party for the release, so start booking your flights now.

Keep in mind, this movie just finished shooting and has 11 months of post-production to deal with, so all they can do at this time is show footage that doesn't require a lot of CGI, etc...

This is not what was shown at Comic-Con, which included an extra 30 seconds or so of action-y type scenes.

The music, as I understand it, is from The Thin Red Line.  This also confirms what I'd heard about Clark's post-high school voyage to become a salty seaman.  It's not comics canon, but nothing really is anymore.

These are two different trailers - one with the voice of Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) and one from Jor-El (Russell Crowe) - following the path left by Glen Ford and Marlon Brando.

In reviewing the origin of Superman, it's impossible not to see the connections between fathers and sons, and that became the overriding theme of 2006's Superman Returns.

But it's also the story of what it means to send all your hopes and dreams sailing across the cosmos in rocket.   Or to look at what you have a chance to shape as you look at the future through the eyes of the boy in front of you.

Looking forward to seeing more footage, especially after that last shot.

Friday, July 20, 2012

On the events in Colorado at the screening of "The Dark Knight Rises"

You see the phrase "we are saddened" expressed by PR wings when a tragedy strikes.  We can read between the lines and know that in many cases, the employees of the company may well be saddened, but the need to create a quick press release that admits participation while denying culpability is at the core of the statement.

But today, I am actually and truly saddened by the events at the screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Auroroa, Colorado.  As of this writing, what information I have found states that 12 to 13 people are dead, and many more wounded.  A gunman took the opportunity presented by a darkened theater and a room full of people with their attention elsewhere, and he took it upon himself to unleash horror.  Words fail me.

I arrived at work in a Batman t-shirt today and had not checked the news aside from the weather report.  Jim, the manager at the coffee shop, is a former comic geek (and now a barista by day and a reservist soldier on the weekend.  Great guy.) asked me if I was wearing the shirt "because of Colorado".  And then he saw my blank stare.  "You haven't heard..."  And he explained what he knew to me.

I'm not buttoning up the sport shirt I'm wearing over the bat symbol.  Batman didn't kill these people.  And despite my misgivings about some of the messaging about Batman and taking the law into one's owns hands that I expressed yesterday, part of why I think I can continue to embrace Batman as symbol is that Batman is , at the end of the day, a statement of defiance against cruelty and terror.  I haven't seen the final installment of the trilogy, but I can say that in mining the Batman mythos of the past 70 years, what Christopher Nolan dug up was the ability of a man to confront fear and let it pass over him and through him and let it become nothing.  In Dark Knight, we saw what seeming chaos looks like as a man wants to watch the world burn, and the choices we can make, even supposedly the worst of us, in those moments where we're put to the test - whether we give in to fear - those moments matter for all of us.

So, I put on the shirt with a smile on my face when I got dressed today, but now I'm wearing the shirt in mourning.  And, if I'm allowed to use the word, in defiance.

Be prepared for American politics to go crazy today talking about how the other side made this possible.  But those are cowards seeking an opportunity.  Nobody made this crazy person pick up guns or smoke bombs.  This was a person looking for an excuse and an opportunity.  This is when we decide how we'll react, and how we choose to respond shows who we really are.

Today we should be looking to Colorado not for answers, nor for blame, but out of respect for the dead and wounded.  I am very truly saddened, and I am very truly sorry.

Prep for Dark Knight Rises: How to Keep This Movie from Bombing

Well, clearly only one man can save us!

for the most fulfilling 2:34 of cinema you will ever see in your life:

That there's not an 8-Bit game of this scene absolutely blows my mind.

So, this weekend, go to your local cinema and join Batman as he saves Gotham from the vile machinations of yet another super villain!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Signal Watch Watches: The Third Man (1949)

First of all:  Nathan, I'm sorry.  You told me, and I just got lazy.  And now I have finally seen The Third Man (1949).

I've been intending to watch this movie since I saw Heavenly Creatures in the theater, but somehow it never happened.  That doesn't mean I haven't seen Birdemic five times in the interim, and hopefully that informs why my new policies regarding movie watching are about trying to rectify some past sins of omission.

Suffice it to say, I throw myself at the mercy of the folks who would tut-tut me for having never seen this movie before.  I am sorry.  But I have now seen it.

So, I think last summer's "Oh my God" movie was The Hustler.  You hear the names of these movies, and you catch them, and if it's a 50 or 70 year old movie people are still discussing, there's usually a reason why the audience hasn't let the movie go like the hundreds of others that came out around the same time.  But, as with all narratives (or, perhaps, art...  a word I sort of balk at using around here because...  gnngh.), you can recognize quality without something necessarily fitting neatly in your wheelhouse not really resonating with you on a any personal level.  And those are things that are hard to quantify in discussing movies.

Neil DeGrasse-Tyson Helps Confirm What I Already Knew

That the original USS Enterprise is an amazing starship.

thanks to Jordan for the video and link.

Apparently this was a fun panel at SDCC 2012 in which a bunch of folks have a sort of spirited but mock debate over whether this or that geek item is better. Tyson was attending the Con, but he was simply attending in the audience for this panel. However, one does not simply just have Neil Tyson in the room and not have him weigh in on matters of import such as "which spaceship is the coolest?".

Prep for Dark Knight Rises: I May Love Batman, But It's a Complicated Thing

I love Batman.  I do.  Most importantly, Batman has always been with me, and Batman will be around in some form long after I'm worm food.  Whether the idea will endure like Arthurian legend or disappear like so many other pulp characters, I can't say.  I do occasionally imagine a future in which it's a bit of trivia where people find out that the stories of Batman and Superman originated in comic books, their roots in the pages of comics long since lost the way, say, Paul Bunyan's legend spread as part of an ad campaign.

But as I grow older, I move further and further from a place where the repetition of the stories in the comics has appeal and find myself in a place where the character works better for me in movies or in the occasional graphic novel or some such.  While the comics kind of make a joke about it and ask the reader to engage in willing suspension of disbelief, after reading Batman comics since the mid-80's, it's hard not to notice that whatever state Gotham is located in has done a simply terrible job of managing its prisons and mental health care, and that the people of the state seem to have an incredibly low bar for what they expect their politicians to do about the fact that a clown-faced killer routinely exits a supposedly high-security mental institution under his own recognizance.

somehow this movie did not feed my need for believability in my superhero franchise movie
There's the small matter of child endangerment that's hard enough to ignore on the first go-round, but by Robin #5 (2 of whom have been "killed"), one would expect Superman would take Batman aside and suggest he give the kid sidekick idea a rest for a while.

There's the whole "how has nobody figured out that Bruce Wayne is Batman" thing, especially once you add in the "youthful wards" that keep rotating through Wayne Manor, placing Man-Bat on the things that feel more likely to happen than Bruce to not be considered the Michael Jackson of the DC Universe.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Movie Watch Checkbox: Shup Up and Play the Hits (2012)

I'll be brief.

I attended the screening for LCD Soundsystem's farewell concert film Shut Up and Play the Hits, and while the film delivered and will be lovely on your home entertainment system, the crowd at the Alamo South Lamar and the odd decision to let the audience act like obnoxious hipsters at a club inanely chatting throughout the film was a major @#$%ing letdown.

They've already received my pissy email.  And responded.  Apparently they were having a terrible night with that crowd, too.

There's not much to say about a concert film, and you're either a fan of LCD Soundsystem or you're not, so there's that.  There are two framing pieces.  1)  A crew follows Murphy around on the day after the concert, the day after he's put his band to rest.  2)  Chuck Klosterman interviews James Murphy, and it's a pretty solid, getting under the skin Chuck Klosterman sort of conversation.

The focus is entirely on Murphy, which does feel odd as, whether he wrote all the parts or not, he did tour with the rest of these people.  But perhaps that wasn't what they wanted to focus on.  Nobody gets a sub-titled explanation of who they are.  You either know who Arcade Fire is when they show up, or you don't.  I didn't recognize some people the film seemed to think I would, and Matt mentioned to me that Johnny Marr was in the film when we walked out.  Who knew?

Anyway, mostly I'm going to miss LCD Soundsystem and any future albums they might have created.  Oh, well.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Signal Re-Watch: Batman Begins (2005)

I do recall that when Batman Begins was released, it wasn't really an event.  I certainly didn't rush out to the theater to see it, and when I finally did catch it, the theater wasn't packed.  I believe the common mythology is that Batman Begins did fine at the box office, but nobody would mistake it for a spectacular game changer.  Then the movie hit home video and cable, and people sort of freaked out about the movie at that point.

Honestly, I remember a lot of people I worked with in Arizona asking me about the movie around Christmas when the DVD hit the market.

We're the franchise you need, not the franchise you deserve.  Or something.
In anticipation of Saturday's viewing of Dark Knight Rises, Jamie and I are re-watching the first two Chris Nolan helmed Bat-flicks.  If you'd like to join us Friday for Dark Knight, we'll be here with bells on.

The bottom line is that I think this movie is really a pretty darn good Batman movie, especially in 2005 when the last Bat-flick I had seen at the time was Batman and Robin.  However, I'd argue that once Nolan was able to cast off the shackles of WB studios and make a Batman movie without producer notes, their "help" casting the film, etc...  He made a movie that a whole lot of people liked better, and that stands up a bit more strongly upon review.

Dark Knight Rises Prep: Pre-Movie-Experience Management

So, something I've been doing of late is just basically not bothering to learn much about a movie before I go see it.

There's a lot of press out there about Dark Knight Rises.  Entertainment Weekly arrived in the mail with, seriously, a horrendously designed cover.

I'm not going to read the articles on the movie because, well, at some point I'd like to just sit back, watch a movie and tear it apart on it's own merits.  I don't need to read what Christopher Nolan was thinking until after the movie.  If I care at that point.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Why can't I do a Kickstarter or Indie-Go-Go to fund my home repairs?

I walked into work around 12:00 today, slouch shouldered and bummed.

"How's it going?" asked CoworkerKristi.
"@#$% my life," I replied.

You see, Austin has not experienced much weather other than Arrakis-like heat and the occasional Degobah-like humidity for about, oh, two years.

Not so long ago, in May, the sky tried this thing called "raining" again, and at first we were overjoyed.  And then one night I was about to go to bed when I noticed a large puddle had formed on our dining room floor.  I immediately blamed Lucy, but even her mighty bladder wouldn't have held that much, and besides, she hasn't had an accident in years.  So I looked up and a chunk of plaster was missing from the ceiling where we had a drip.

Dark Knight Rises Prep: Bat Bat and The Bug Wonder

For reasons unknown to science, in the late 1980's someone let Ralph Bakshi and John Kricfalusi (of Ren and Stimpy fame) make a Mighty Mouse cartoon.  It's run was brief, and it went down in a hail of PMRC bullets when some killjoy thought Mighty Mouse smelling a handful of flower petals was him snorting Scarface piles of cocaine.  Which it was not, but this was Nancy Reagan and Tipper Gore's America, airing in the same time when people really believed in hidden messages in metal albums, and so the show disappeared.

World's Finest?

If Mighty Mouse is a Superman analog (and he is), then he needs a crime-fighting pal. Bakshi and his crew obviously had their eye on Batman comics at the time, giving us a pretty well post-Miller Bat Bat, but with more than a hint of Burt Ward in The Bug Wonder (the red, tick-like fellow atop Bat Bat's shoulder). 

This was all during an era where Bart Simpson was still considered terribly edgy and bad for children, when cartoons were mostly considered strictly juvenile entertainment. The goofy satire and riffing on old serials and whatnot was surely lost on the kids who were supposed to be watching the show. But with a soft spot in my heart for Mighty Mouse, I'd tuned in - and I thought the show (when I could catch it) was pretty great.

You at least need to skip to 0:49 to see Mighty Mouse calling upon Bat Bat for assistance.

You also have to like how he drives the "Manmobile".

In my possession I still have the Wendy's Kid's Meal collectible Bat Bat.

The Weekend in Signal Watch (and the week ahead)

If I didn't do all that much this weekend, give me a break.  It's been a long six weeks or so, and Sunday night my air conditioner quit.  Again.

Me and the service company are going to have words.

  1. I read Grant Morrison's SuperGods
  2. Jamie and I trekked to see Moonrise Kingdom
  3. I continue to watch Crank movies
  4. And I tried to prep you guys a bit for the release of Dark Knight Rises

The big news out of San Diego as I saw it:

Odd Moment of Realization of How Badly DC is Handling Themselves At the Moment - courtesy, Randy

So, Randy IM's me:
Hey, did you hear they're making a Guardians of the Galaxy movie?  With Rocket Raccoon?
And I wrote back about how I was excited, even though I hadn't loved the comic, but the movie might give the neat idea a second lease on life.

Then, about three minutes later I realized:

Rocket Raccoon will get a feature film before Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman, or any of DC's other staple players.  

Rocket Raccoon.

Look, I LOVE Rocket Raccoon as a concept, and I loved his early appearances.  I read all that mid-00's Marvel cosmic stuff til I got bored at some point during some cross-over or other and noticed I wasn't really missing the series.  That, and having your cast just standing around glowering isn't characterization.  Just saying.*

Batman ain't got nothin' on Rocket Raccoon

But, man...  Despite Marvel's fairly well mapped ability to turn themselves into a brand and studio, DC just simply cannot get their act together enough to simply copy Marvel.  Even the comments at Comic-Con from WB employees read basically as "if Superman fails, we're done".  Now, they didn't say that exactly, but there's no bold plan on the table at DCE or WB.  It's all conservative number crunching - and the problem with that is that there's no magic formula for making a blockbuster.  Instead, you wind up with a paint-by-the-numbers movie like Green Lantern that's greatest weakness was the utter predictability and 90's checkbox storytelling mentality of the movie.  Every decision was a "safe" one, from casting the supposedly bankable Ryan Reynolds to the pat telling of the origin to casting Angela Bassett as Amanda Waller.  

In the end, the movie arrived as a lifeless husk.

And the hiring of Zack "I did comic movies before!" Snyder for Superman?  WB wears their risk aversion on their sleeve.

The fact is, Marvel has put out more duds than big wins, but the big wins help build the brand so you'll at least give their flicks a chance.  And they've been willing to do some interesting hiring, from Sam Raimi to the Crank guys on the latest Ghost Rider (wait, Ghost Rider has had two movies and Shazam has had none?), and all that means they're constantly mixing up the formula to get new blood and excited talent in there.

Anyway, if you told 14-year-old-me that I'd be looking at a Rocket Raccoon movie in 2014, I would have burned you for a witch.

*I went to high school in North Houston.  I associate standing around glowering with drunk red necks sizing me up to see if I'm some uppity city folk they might need to learn a few things

Happy Birthday, Ms. Barbara Stanwyck

Ms. Barbara Stanwyck would have been 105 today.

She played all sorts of rolls, and had an amazing career, from Ziegfield Girl to film and eventually to television.  But we'll always love her best for Double Indemnity.  

Playing it cool in the grocery aisle

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Prep for Dark Knight Rises: The Danceable Batman

As we head toward Wednesday and the release of the much-anticipated Dark Knight Rises, I cannot help but reminded of a simpler time when the average person on the street did not associate inverted semi-trailers and Christopher Nolan with The Dark Knight Detective.

The comics are, of course, silent.  We imagine the lonely street sounds of Gotham, and we can believe the sound effects splattered across the page in beautifully rendered and colored lettering.  But never do comics cross over with music, not unless they're brought to the screen.

I was at basketball camp in the week before the release of Tim Burton's highly anticipated Batman.  In fact, I had read the novelization of the movie during my downtime at camp that year.  The session ended mid-day on Friday, the day Batman hit theaters and it was a whole thing making sure I got to the movie that night (which I did.  Thanks, Peabo's Mom!). 

It's hard to explain exactly how Bat-Crazy I was (very publicly) in 1988, and what a big deal the film felt like at the time.  I'd been following Batman's production via magazines, newspaper articles, notes in the comics and other places, had taped the trailer and watched it over and over...

The camp took place at the University of Texas and we stayed in the dorms at The Dobie, and I still very much remember everyone stopping in the cafeteria line to watch the video for "Bat Dance" (there was a TV on MTV for some reason near the door).   The video was appreciated, but not as much as in 1987, when the video had been for George Michael's "I Want Your Sex".

Like anyone else born in the 1970's, I had a warm spot in my heart for Prince, but found him an odd fit for Batman. It's only in cold hindsight that I have to assume this was neither Tim Burton nor Prince's doing so much as that of WB executives.  But who knows?  (Probably Prince, I guess.).

Signal Watch Watches - Crank 2: High Voltage

Ha ha ha ha.

Oh, mercy.

Happy 70th Birthday to Mr. Harrison Ford

Happy B-Day to my imaginary friend from at least three movie franchises, Mr. Harrison Ford.  On Friday the 13th he turned 70.  

Far be it from us at The Signal Watch to ignore the birthday of the Greatest Living American.