Monthly Archives: July 2007

The Dark Knight, Terrorism, and the Joker Virus

The teaser trailer for The Dark Knight is up at WhySoSerious.com. This must be the first ever audio-only teaser, and only Bale and Caine could pull it off. (Actually Clive Owen and Daniel Craig have the most compelling voices alive and I wouldn’t mind if they did radio for the rest of their careers.)

The Joker sounds pretty chilling and his line “I’m a man o’ my word” sounds a bit like Jack Nicholson as well. Ledger seems to be really exaggerating the American accent, with the ‘L’s way back in his throat (in “people will die”) and the hard R in “word”. What’s especially creepy though is his breathing, not only at the end of sentences but in the middle, between “Starting tonight” and “people will die”. He seems very disturbed. 

It sounds like Nolan is continuing the terrorism theme of the last movie, if not making it more explicit, with Caine’s line that “some men aren’t looking for anything logical. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men j ust want to watch the world burn.” But lest anyone think The Dark Knight will offer a simplistic criticism of terrorism, Alfred responds to Wayne’s comment that “this is different, they’ve crossed a line” by suggesting that “you crossed a line first, though. You hammered them. And in their desperation they turned to a man they didn’t fully understand.”

If I had to predict the trajectory of Nolan’s trilogy, the focus of this second movie on Batman’s antithesis, the Joker, will be resolved in the third movie by some variety of moral relativism represented by Two-Face who synthesizes the noble desire for justice with its necessarily destructive means. Whether Nolan emphasizes the conflict in Two-Face or favors the image that his alter egos are “two sides of the same coin” remains to be seen, but I think the first movie already told us when Wayne defined “the means to fight injustice” as the ability “to turn fear against those who would prey on the fearful.” Unless Nolan manages to transcend ordinary oppositions as Team America: World Police did, the dualities inherent in the Batman mythos will necessarily keep the films locked into the unhelpful binaries that are usually insufficient to explain the world.

UPDATE: The following links are currently obselete as over the past few minutes every page at WhySoSerious.com has been redirected to Rent-A-Clown.com, which shows only the mugshots of the fans participating in the event described below. Luckily I downloaded the trailer before it disappeared!

Also on the site, the “police report” in the lower-right corner links to coverage of the flash-mob and scavenger hunt held outside the San Diego Convention Center on Friday morning that was incited by the same website when it looked like this last week. Anyway there are several links from this page that will let you piece together what happened.

I usually hate gimmicky websites promoting movies in “unique” ways but I love the way Nolan made up for the lack of visuals in the teaser but creating an event for fans to sort of participate in that is no doubt somewhat related to the plot of the movie. I love the concept, combining those online-originating flash-mobs with the disturbing fact that terrorist recruitment videos are disseminated publicly on the web and there’s nothing that can be done it.

jokermob.jpgI also love the conflation of audience and actor in the Joker’s mob walking around San Diego, their clown faces making them basically unpaid sandwich-board advertisers of the movie. Of course they’re being willingly exploited by Warner Bros. but that doesn’t diminish the fun of running around in Joker paint and pretending you’re part of a criminal gang for an hour. It’s the perfect kind of harmless, wish-fullment fantasy thrill, incorporated ex post facto into the Batman narrative by the website.

I know “viral” is the overused adjective of the moment, and The Dark Knight‘s “viral marketing campaign” is a contradiction in terms insofar as it is corporately generated, but a virus is an evocative metaphor for the self-replicating nature of the Joker meme  — another word o’ the mo — as fan(atic)s paint their faces to become increasingly anonymous but also individual, as the hundreds of variations of the Joker makeup in the online mug shots attest.

If nothing else, it’s much more exciting than the Guy Fawkes mask-wearing mob at the end of V for Vendetta, and it’s much more interesting insofar as its a thinly veiled metaphor for terrorism rather than explicitly terroristic as in Vendetta. Besides, the Guy Fawkes masks were just too slick to catch on, while Nolan has broken down the Joker face to three essential parts which are endlessly variable: white face, black eyesockets, and messy red lipstick.

Now we see that the very first image of the Joker online, fuzzy and closely cropped, was not a hastily prepared shot that was rushed online to appease fan interest, but the beginning of a meme intended to spread over the course of a year. What better way to promote a film than by building it up in the audience’s mind, augmented by an audio clip, rather than gratifying them with visual footage. As much as the Iron Man teaser excited me, it has only served to satisfy its audience rather than increase their anticipation as Nolan is doing for The Dark Knight.

Iron Man footage

I don’t care how cool The Dark Knight is going to be, I think the 2008 movie I’m most looking forward to is Jon Favreau’s Iron Man with Robert Downey Jr. — I mean, take a look at Tony Stark’s “Mark I” armor!

Sure, The Dark Knight is going to be great but we’ve already seen Nolan’s Batman so whatever it’s like won’t be that much of a surprise. But after seeing this footage (set to Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” of course) I can’t wait to see the final product:

The rest of the cast includes Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Terrance Howard, with cameos from Hillary Swank and Samuel L. Jackson, no doubt as Nick Fury (though it’s unknown whether he’ll be Sgt., Col., Director or just an Agent of SHIELD).

Greatest TV I’ve Ever Seen

BBC2 just kicked off the first season of Heroes with the first and second episodes back to back. It’s like Unbreakable x 7 but without Shyamalan’s languid pace. I don’t know how they managed to make every character interesting but they did! (Except for the politician’s younger brother.)

The cheerleader’s outfit was ingenious since it’s what superhero costumes basically look like. It was also great to see the cursed artist be just as talented as Tim Sale (who obviously painted the pieces and drew the comic books). The second episode cliffhanger that fastforwarded five weeks then returned to the series timeline was fantastic. I can’t pick a favorite character!

I know people have been talking about how great Heroes is but I didn’t even imagine it could be this good.

Mr. Shoop’s Surfin’ Summer School Midterm

Dennis Cozzalio posted his Summer quiz this week. I missed the Spring Break edition but I had a great time doing the Holiday exam (oddly enough seven months ago to the day). Here we go!

1) Favorite quote from a filmmaker

One of my favorites is Bergman’s observation that Melies was a natural filmmaker because “he was a magician by profession.”

Some of the context of the statement is:

When film is not a document, it is dream. That is why Tarkovsky is the greatest of them all. He moves with such naturalness in the room of dreams. . . . All my life I have hammered on the doors of the rooms in which he moves so naturally. Only a few times have I managed to creep inside. . . . Fellini, Kurosawa and Bunuel move in the same fields as Tarkovsky. Antonioni was on his way, but expired, suffocated by his own tediousness. Melies was always there without having to think about it. He was a magician by profession.

2) A good movie from a bad director

The Island by Michael Bay. Good only in comparison to the rest of his filmography, perhaps, but pleasantly unexpected insofar as the action was supplemental and not its sole raison d’etre.

3) Favorite Laurence Olivier performance

Rebecca.

4) Describe a famous location from a movie that you have visited (Bodega Bay, California, where the action in The Birds took place, for example). Was it anything like the way it was in the film? Why or why not?

San Francisco is my favorite movie city and the most photogenic, and visiting inevitably evokes a mental montage of images from Vertigo, Bullitt, Dirty Harry, even The Rock. But it was somewhat disappointing to find out on the tour of Alcatraz that there is no sewer system beneath the prison, just solid rock.

5) Carlo Ponti or Dino De Laurentiis (Producer)?

Sure, Ponti discovered Sophia Loren and married her and, in terms of their post-1955 careers, go ahead and give him credit for Le Mepris, Blow-Up, Zabriskie Point, and The Passenger.

But if not for Dino, would we have Diabolik, Barbarella, and Flash Gordon? I think not. Plus, he gets extra credit for the underrated Barrabas starring Anthony Quinn. And say what you like about the tonal inconsistency of The Bible but its omnigeneric quality reflects the source and, as Abraham, George C. Scott devastatingly fills the emotional lacunae of Genesis.

6) Best movie about baseball

I haven’t seen any baseball movies except Field of Dreams, so I’m sure it’s not it.

7) Favorite Barbara Stanwyck performance

Double Indemnity.

8) Fast Times at Ridgemont High or Dazed and Confused?

I have a soft spot for Milla Jovovich: Dazed.

9) What was the last movie you saw, and why? (We’ve used this one before, but your answer is presumably always going to be different, so…)

Secret Beyond the Door, Joan Bennett’s fourth movie for Fritz Lang. It turns out to be a rip-off of Rebecca, stuffed with cheap psychoanalysis and ornamented with a Bluebeardian conceit. Why? Because it was on BBC2 at 3:00 in the morning.

10) Whether or not you have actually procreated or not, is there a movie you can think of that seriously affected the way you think about having kids of your own?

I haven’t seen a movie that affected what I think about having kids some day, but I know I’ll never let my wife see Rosemary’s Baby just in case it affects her! I can imagine that movie singlehandedly destroying the trust in a marriage.

11) Favorite Katharine Hepburn performance

I couldn’t watch Star Trek: Voyager because of Capt. Janeway’s irritating Hepburn impersonation, but now I can’t watch Katherine Hepburn because she reminds me of Capt. Janeway.

12) A bad movie from a good director

The Good German, which I finally saw this week. What a piece o’ crap. Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid was a better recreation of 1940s filming practice.

13) Salo: The 120 Days of Sodom– yes or no?

Does not having seen it mean I’m ignorant, or innocent? I don’t know.

14) Ben Hecht or Billy Wilder (Screenwriter)?

Hecht.

15) Name the film festival you’d most want to attend, or your favorite festival that you actually have attended

I wish I could have gone to Paris for the Brian De Palma Retrospective at the Pompidou centre in February 2002.

16) Head or 200 Motels?

Haven’t seen either.

17) Favorite cameo appearance (Try visiting here and here for some good ideas! This question was inspired by Daniel Johnson at Film Babble)

David Bowie in Zoolander is the ultimate cameo because the movie stops for a moment to revel in what a great coup he is.

18) Favorite Rosalind Russell performance

His Girl Friday.

19) What movie, either currently available on DVD or not, has never received the splashy collector’s edition treatment you think it deserves? What would such an edition include?

Freebie and the Bean, with Alan Arkin and James Cann, is still unavailable on DVD. In 1974 it was the original buddy cop action comedy and made no attempt to hide its innate homoeroticism (or homophobia), rendering “revisionist” takes on the genre like 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang redundant from the outset.

It’s another great San Francisco movie, by the way.

20) Name a performance that everyone needs to be reminded of, for whatever reason

Often overshadowed by his larger parts, Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Brandt in The Big Lebowski. His every syllable is perfection.

21) Louis B. Mayer or Harry Cohn (Studio Head)?

LBM.

22) Favorite John Wayne performance

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

23) Naked Lunch or Barton Fink?

Barton Fink.

24) Your Ray Harryhausen movie of choice

Have to admit I haven’t seen Sinbad, Jason, or Titans, nor even One Million Years B.C.

25) Is there a movie you can think of that you feel like the world would be better off without, one that should have never been made?

Pleasantville. For all of the reasons that Robert Fiore already listed to describe Altman’s O.C. & Stiggs: “smug, self-satisfied cynicism, a contempt for his targets that defeats satire.” It’s so axiomatic it’s practically a punchline that analogies fall apart when taken too far, but Pleasantville took a semi-clever metaphor and extrapolated it to incoherent allegory.

24) Favorite Dub Taylor performance

The Wild Bunch.

25) If you had the choice of seeing three final movies, to go with your three last meals, before shuffling off this mortal coil, what would they be?

When it comes down to it, who wants to spend their final hours in this world watching Godard? Give me The Empire Strikes Back for the best music and best lightsaber battle of the most fun movie trilogy. Not to mention thematically appropriate, sorrowful yet hopeful.

For a light-hearted emotional release put on The Big Lebowski for me, a cheerful movie that even provides a degree of solace: “The Dude abides. I don’t know about you but I take comfort in that. It’s good knowin’ he’s out there, the Dude, takin’ ’er easy for all us sinners.”

Then if I needed some bucking up before facing the executioner, not much could equal the tear-jerking resolve of Ronald Colman in A Tale of Two Cities: “It is a far, far better thing I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest I go to, than I have ever known.”

Of course some of its impact would be lost if I’m being punished for a crime I committed, but it would presumably ensure I don’t resent it. Unlike Sydney Carton at least I’m getting what I deserve!

26) And what movie theater would you choose to see them in?

The Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool, where the screen rises out of the stage floor deus ex machina style.

8 Mile Stones

I’ve been tagged by both Pacheco of Bohemian Cinema and Matt of MereO with the Eight Random Biographical Anecdotes meme.

It’s interesting how memes evolve; this one arrived to me in two distinct permutations, similar in matter but different in form. Pacheco’s instructs:

  1. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
  2. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
  3. People who are tagged write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
  4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

Meanwhile, Matt’s is more terse, and rearranged:

  1. Let others know who tagged you.
  2. Players post 8 random facts about themselves.
  3. Those who are tagged should post these rules with their 8 facts.
  4. Players should tag 8 other people and notify them they have been tagged.

For better or for worse I haven’t seen a single blog that hasn’t already been assimilated by this blog-Borg in its inexorable march across cyberspace. When Pacheco tagged me a week and a half ago I thought, well at least I could tag Matt, but while moving distracted me from the internet last week he preemptively struck. Now it would be too much work to find eight fresh victims, so I’ll just follow Jim’s lead and blatantly flout Rule 4.

But without further qualification, here are eight tedious items of self-mythologizing by Nobody in particular:

1. Until this year I had never seen Pulp Fiction. Sorry to say I was unimpressed, so I can only imagine the “revelation” it was at the time. Unfortunately Willis was the only good actor; Travolta and Jackson were the worst, incapable of making Tarantino’s script sound unrehearsed. Can any human do? Or is his trademark dialogue simply inhumane?

2. Other “modern classics” I haven’t seen are Jurassic Park and Titanic. My flatmates think this is evidence of film snobbery. Then I remind them I see every comic book adaptation regardless of quality and consider Casino Royale one of the best three movies of 2006.

3. BC (before Craig), the only Bond films I’d seen were Tomorrow Never Dies and Die Another Day. AD (after Daniel), Casino Royale inspired me to get the Deluxe Editions of every Connery (and the Lazenby) Bond film and watch them in sequence.

4. For most of my life I intended to draw comic books for a living, but at 15 I realized there was no job security as a freelance artist and didn’t want to live the rest of my life with monthly deadlines.

5. Around the same time, I first entertained the thought of majoring in English instead of Art when I realized I could do a better job teaching my literature class after having to explain to the teacher in class the double-possessive of “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale.”

6. At 10 years old my obsession with basketball began, and for the next few years most afternoons and evenings were spent practicing in the driveway. I played in Park & Rec leagues for five years, and on my high school varsity team in 11th and 12th grade.

7. I had piano lessons from the ages of 5 to 10, when I discovered basketball.

8. I was awakened one morning at the age of 11 by a 7.3 earthquake whose epicenter was 30 miles away. (Since it was not in an urban area there were no casualties, but its magnitude can be demonstrated by the fact that the Northridge quake two years later caused 72 deaths, 11,000 injuries, and $12 billion damage with only a 6.7 magnitude.)

Needless to say this shook me up, but I endured the aftershocks for the next few hours with equanimity, comforted as always by the knowledge that the big stuff was behind me.

But three hours after the first quake there was a 6.4 follow-up that felt even more violent since it was only 5 miles away. This contradiction of prior experience kind of traumatized me. Now, it seemed, all bets were off: I was no longer safe in my bed. If you know me, ask me sometime how it affected my sleeping habits for the following months.

Set Faces to Stunned

Google Maps just added Street View! How cool is that?

LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD

I like the title Live Free or Die Hard insofar as it’s better than “Die Hard 4: Die Harderer” but it doesn’t have much to do with the movie which isn’t about personal liberty or anything, and as much as I hate the sound of Die Hard 4.0 (as it’s titled here), at least it alludes to the film’s cyberterrorist plot. But for a movie that advertised “an analog cop in a digital world” being the only hope when the country’s electronically controlled infrastructure is disabled, John McClane sure does rely a lot on his geeky charge to to do geeky stuff in between his physical heroics.

They, after all, are the point of an action movie, and this fourth Die Hard film delivers more than its expected share. The first time I saw the trailer I naturally went bonkers over the anti-chopper auto-projectile, but at the same time was disappointed that the money shot had been given away in the trailer. How could anything in the rest of the movie possibly be better?

I needn’t have worried. McClane kills the helicopter with his car by the end of the first act, and thereafter the movie somehow manages to top itself — more than once. Fans of the original will be glad to hear there is another elevator shaft scene, and this one is to end all elevator shaft scenes. By the time an F-35 shows up… heck, I didn’t even know there is such a thing as an F-35.

It admittedly feels different than the other Die Hard films, but that is mostly due to the pervasive blue saturation, no doubt an idiosyncrasy of Len Wiseman who also directed the Underworld movies. McClane himself also behaves somewhat differently than in his earlier adventures, but his abstinence from profanity seems due (besides box office considerations) to the maturing fatigue of age, as is his lack of the incessant smirk that was the second movie’s primary flaw. Somewhere along the line Bruce Willis learned not to purse his lips, and no longer looks deserving of a slap. But although Willis doesn’t reprise the role by simply mimicking his previous performances as he did in Die Hard 2, McClane’s personal habits of muttering to himself and trying to intimidate the villain by talking trash are still intact, even if he never lights up.

Storywise, the movie is an amalgam of the police escort plot of 16 Blocks and the hostage daughter plot of Hostage in the context of a terrorism plot worthy of 24 and sprinkled with a dash of parkour a la Casino Royale. But most importantly it doesn’t borrow the aesthetic of Bourne‘s hand-held camera, ensuring all the action can be appreciated. With its dark monochrome, DH4 isn’t as pretty as the gold and turquoise hues of Casino Royale, nor as good of a film, but it is more exciting and possibly even a better action movie (high praise from me). Moreover, Justin Long’s character isn’t as annoying as Mos Def’s 16 Blocks counterpart, and the geographically diverse plot works better than the silly scavenger hunt of Die Hard With a Vengeance. In other words, the best Die Hard movie since Die Hard. For a director’s third feature it is an impressive achievement.