Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Awkward Knight

What you won't see in the new Batman movie...

Oh, there are a few more deleted scenes after the jump.

Read on, faithful few!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Because absolutely no one demanded it...

The Den of Mystery Proudly Presents: Buck and Hooper's Somewhat-Delayed-and-Kind-of-Choppy-and-Awkward-Since-It-Was-Conducted-Via-E-mail Tag-Team Review of The Dark Knight!

Be warned, there be spoilers ahead!


I guess I'll start with a general, address the elephant in the room item: Ledger. In my opinion, probably the definitive cinematic Joker, though Mark Hamill's voicework will always stand just behind him. Your thoughts on how he approached it?


Hamill voices an older Joker, and one more "clown" oriented. Also very straightforward. Ledger's Joker trumps any other screen attempt because of its scope. There is the criminal mastermind, the "freak" who paints his face, and the truly insane rage underneath it all - that "agent of chaos" factor. From a performance standpoint, it's terrifically unique. It more closely mirrors what I'd wager a lot of people think the Joker acts like in the comics. I can see the old Joker from The Dark Knight Returns coming from this Joker.

Oh, absolutely. The way he took those various tics and mannerisms and constructed such an amazing performance is an incredible accomplishment. As you'd mentioned in another conversation, when he's videotaping the faux-Batman...he's speaking very quietly to the man, then lets loose that booming, frightening "LOOK AT ME!" To turn on a dime like that is a real testament to his ability.

Let's move on to a two-fer (no pun intended, though it would have been a good one) and hit our other two main characters: Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent. I thought Bale was even better this time out as he showed how, through Harvey, Bruce saw a light at the end of the tunnel. Dent symbolized an end to the need for Batman, and the possibility of a normal life with Rachel. Bale played it perfectly. And Eckhart was simply great as Harvey Dent, especially when you consider that he needed to make us love Harvey Dent in a very short amount of time, considering what was around the bend.

Bale's Bruce Wayne is exactly what it should be: smarmy, knowingly rich, the stereotypical playboy - all that as public image. Privately, he's a tormented soul, to a degree, and you get every note of that sad song with Bale's performance. I know some have had a problem with his Batman voice as too rough, too much like a growl, but can't you imagine that's what Frank Miller's Batman sounds like?
I enjoyed Eckhart's Dent because it was exactly - exactly - what I'd imagined Harvey "Two-Face" Dent to be like. He'll be the unsung actor of the bunch until people get a chance to rewatch it and see how much it's his movie as equally as it's Batman's and Joker's.

An aside, I did enjoy the duality of voices between three of the four mains - Batman/Bruce Wayne, Joker and Harvey Dent/Two-Face. Each had their higher pitched, civilized voices, and then when in their darker (or true, in the Joker's sense) persona, the throaty, deep-pitched tone comes out. Only Gordon, the fourth main, doesn't have this duality, because he is balanced the best, probably the "whitest knight" in the whole story.

That leads us to Gordon, and the rest of the cast, before talking general production and then how it adapted the source material.

A quick final comment on Bale's Batman voice...I got the impression a couple of times that he was actually wearing some sort of mouthpiece, which may have impacted the voice. But it makes sense, if you think about it. Most of his body's protected, but if he takes a shot in the jaw...

Gary Oldman was great, but show me a movie where he wasn't. I was unaware until recently that he hadn't wanted to reprise his role (Conflicts with studio? Director? Fellow actor? I have no idea.), but we're so lucky he did. And should he not come back for the inevitable third installment, it will be a shame. Gordon is our true connection to Gotham, and the best case one can make to fight for that city.
As for the rest of the cast, why don't you kick us off for this one? We'll hit Caine, Freeman, Gyllenhaal, and the rest in one fell swoop.

Caine and Freeman are professionals, bringing a legitimacy to anything they're in. That being said, here they don't need to bring anything but their great characterizations of two people trying to help a friend do all he can to achieve a noble goal. Of course they show three dimensions with these characters; they aren't just personifications of Bruce Wayne's conscience. I like how Alfred was fleshed out and given a more...controversial background that better makes him able to understand what "Batman" is going through.

Mags G. does what she needs to make us forget Katie Holmes. Not a bad thing. Her take on Rachel Dawes is more of a Chicagoan - or Gothamite - than Holmes, someone that grew up in a city beset by corruption as opposed to the almost-bratty Holmesian Dawes who you expect to stomp her foot when something doesn't go her way. Gyllenhaal is an adult in an adult role.

Always nice to see Nestor Carbonell getting work.

Can't really add anything to what you've said, other than to say that Batmanuel as the mayor of Gotham is inspired casting.

On to the story. For a 2.5 hour film, it doesn't really feel fat. I know I mentioned the Hong Kong sequence could have been trimmed, but there's nothing inherently wrong with it. The film on the whole is very well constructed and plotted, taking lots of inspirations from classic Batman stories. I saw some references to The Killing Joke, and what may have been elements taken from the very first Joker story from all the way back in 1940. The Two-Face set-up was also well-done. The backstory for why Harvey has the coin wasn't nearly as ham-fisted as it could have been.

The Hong Kong sequence just showed what Batman could do. It wasn't superfluous, could've been handled differently, but I thought it effective.

As much of the story deals with the Two-Face origin, it stays close to the "crusading DA with a dark side" stories that have been told about Dent since his first appearance. Thinking back to Batman: The Animated Series, while the agent of change is different, the end result isn't. And to preserve the coin - like you say, not a goofy gimmick, but a clever bit of character, later twisted.

Killing Joke, Year One and The Dark Knight Returns (for some Joker characterization) are used. I enjoyed the Gordon crisis at the end, as it mirrored the last issue of Year One, probably the best written origin/early days-story of Batman. I don't know if Year Two was drawn from, or what other story beats were referenced. I haven't read enough of the comics.

Having listened to it a half-dozen times through since I purchased it, I can say the soundtrack is on par with any I've heard in recent memory. I don't know what rules govern nominating a sequel's score, but hopefully they can be tiptoed around, because this is deserving recognition. I'm not a fan of atypical instrumentation, preferring regular orchestra, but whatever they're doing - synthesizers, razors on violins, guitar pedal effects applied to a string section - it's terrific.

How do you feel Nolan's grown, as both writer and director?

As writer, he continues to improve, honing his A-game. I loved the interrogation room scene between Batman and the Joker. ("You complete me!") Direction-wise, I think he's moving into another level (the prisoner transfer chase sequence was incredible), and he'll be there once he can get those fight scenes down pat. Better than in Batman Begins, but still a little sloppy to my eyes. I'd love to see Paul Greengrass film a Batman film given the fight scenes in the Bourne films (even though I know you don't care for that sort of fight choreography).

I'll have to check out the soundtrack. I really enjoyed Batman's musical cue in this one.

Over the last few nights, I re-watched Batman Begins, and I have to say the fights look better than they did originally. I also wasn't opposed to what we saw in The Dark Knight, though there were too many quick cuts that diluted some of the effect.

It may be the quick cutting that I have a problem with. Which makes me sound somewhat hypocritical given my adoration for the last two Bourne films (which feature lots of quick-cutting in their fights), but I think I follow the editing in those films better than in the Batman films.

Another note on the score: There are stretches that might as well be called "hopeful swells" and it seems that with little exception they end without a full "major chord" release, letting either a melancholy theme bleed in or else something related to the Joker's theme. The music then matches the narrative, of every good deed, all hope, coming under fire from something operating beyond the spheres of regular logic.

Nolan has evolved his action framing, and directs a car chase the likes of which we haven't seen in thirty + years. But we don't want to talk about just the action. What about everything else? I'd say he shows the realized potential seen in Memento.

While not made as an "award-bait" film, The Dark Knight is a miracle of summer movie-going: great from the ground up, invigorating and entertaining without talking the audience for granted at any step in the process. Despite the bleak prospects and tragic character arcs, I couldn't help but feel refreshed after leaving the theatre. I'd seen the next step in comic book adaptation, in "mainstream" movie-making. This is a fusion film, like Star Wars or Indiana Jones, taking raw, pulpy, genre source material and forming something greater than its origins, while at the same time without condescending to those same tomes that birthed the characters, concepts and dynamic stories.

I would like to comment briefly on the final scene before my wrap-up. The choice that Batman makes, to take the fall for the wrongs Harvey commits after his accident, is exactly the right one. Gordon's little speech to his son sums it up perfectly: "Because he's the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now...and so we'll hunt him, because he can take it. Because he's not a hero. He's a silent guardian, a watchful protector...a dark knight." Batman should be respected by the people he protects, but he doesn't want their love or adoration. One thing that still bothers me about Spider-Man 3 is that he becomes a celebrity to the people of New York. That never sat right with me, because it didn't feel like Spider-Man. Likewise, Batman being fawned over by the public wouldn't feel like Batman. Let him take the heat for what Harvey did, because the people still need to believe in Harvey Dent. They need to believe in what he stood for.

More than just a great comic book movie, The Dark Knight is a great movie period. Nolan & Co. have taken material that used to only appeal to a small portion of the viewing public and craft something truly wonderful. Of the first X-Men film, Bryan Singer said something to the effect of, "I didn't make an action movie. I made a character-based movie that has action in it." The Dark Knight isn't a comic book movie. It's a serious crime drama that happens to feature characters from comic books. Simply put, it's a damn good film.

Read on, faithful few!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Buckshot: Pain? Try aspirin. Bored? Try Dr. Horrible.

Continuing what has been my most productive stint (at least in terms of regularity of updates if not actual content), I bring you: Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog! More info after the jump.

The brainchild of Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel/Firefly) and his brothers and written during the WGA strike, the goofy mini-movie stars Neil Patrick Harris as the villainous Dr. Horrible, who seeks to rule the world while trying desperately to work up the courage to talk to the girl of his dreams (Buffy alum Felicia Day). Fellow Whedon alum Nathan Fillion (Firefly/Serenity) plays Dr. Horrible's buffoonish archnemesis, Captain Hammer.

Acts I and II are already online, and Act III goes up on Saturday. They'll all stay up until midnight on Sunday, July 20th, after which time you'll have to catch them via iTunes. Joss has said there's a DVD in the works as well.

This will likely be my last post until at least Monday, as tomorrow I'm off to the Acura Sports Car Challenge/Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. 'Twill be a weekend of inebriated fun, wherein I expect to lose intellectual molecules in direct proportion to the rate at which I gain courage molecules (Thanks to Dr. K for the line I paraphrased there. Also, is my math terminology correct there?). Hooper can surely keep you occupied until I return. I know he's got some manner of travelogue in the works so he can regale us with tales of his recent trip to Hilton Head, SC. (He claims to have been attacked by a shark. We can't confirm that, but we can guarantee it was no boating accident.)

Oh, and 1,000,000 bonus points to the lucky reader who identifies the movie I'm ripping off in the title of this post.


Read on, faithful few!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Buckshot: A Day at the Races

Over the weekend, Mrs. Buck and I visited Ma and Pa Buck down in southeastern Ohio. On Saturday we visited downtown Marietta, nestled in the intersection of the Ohio and Muskingum Rivers, to watch some of the powerboat races at the 8th annual Riverfront Roar. Saw a rookie driver (pilot? I have no idea what the operators call themselves.) absolutely shred his boat into several pieces, though he was unharmed. Sadly, I have no pictures of that. The night ended with us hanging out with friends, watching fireworks from the beer garden while listening to a decent cover band. (When they covered Clapton, they played it fairly safe with "Layla." The band we heard Friday night covered "Crossroads." I remarked to Mrs. Buck that if you're going to cover Clapton, you might want to steer clear of what some consider the greatest guitar solo of all time.) Quite an enjoyable weekend, all told.

Should you find yourself in the Marietta area and are thinking about trying a local restaurant, Mrs. Buck and I recommend Tampico and The Marietta Brewing Company. If you happen to visit the Brewing Company, ask them why they no longer offer the Brew-ito on their menu. Mrs. Buck was devastated.


Read on, faithful few!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Buckshot: And now, Dr. Howser for Old Spice.

Something amusing for your Friday morning:


Read on, faithful few!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Buckshot: Summer Viewing

With most of our favorite shows in reruns, Mrs. Buck and I have been making prodigious use of our Blockbuster Total Access account, along with the occasional trip to the theater. Here are the cinematic offerings of 2008 we've seen so far, along with some TV recommendations.

Definitely, Maybe
Grade: A-
A rather good romantic comedy anchored by a very strong performance from Ryan Reynolds. It didn't hurt that it came from the producers of Love, Actually, which I love...actually. (Yes, that was a terrible pun.) Recommended

Fool’s Gold
Grade: B
Hudson and McConaughey had better chemistry in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, but this was a fun diversion nonetheless.

In Bruges
Grade: A
At times hysterically funny, at times almost heartbreakingly sad. Outstanding work by Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, and Ralph Fiennes. Recommended

The Incredible Hulk
Grade: B+
I didn't hate Ang Lee's 2003 Hulk venture, but it wasn't everything it could have been either. This year's Hulk was tons of fun, with good work from Norton, Tyler, and everyone involved. Recommended

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Grade: B+
Like I said in a previous post, it's still better than half the films that get released. A little goofier than I might have liked, but still a fun flick.

Iron Man
Grade: A
There's no doubt about it, one of the best superhero movies yet. Downey was superb, and the effects were great without completely disregarding realism. Recommended

Grade: B+
A fun action ride from director Doug Liman, but it almost feels like half a story at times. I wouldn't have minded another half hour or so of movie with some beefed-up backstory.

The Other Boleyn Girl
Grade: B+
I'm not normally one for the period romance, but this was pretty good. Eric Bana was excellent as historical asshole Henry VIII.

The Spiderwick Chronicles
Grade: B+
Our chief complaint was the that movie barely pauses to catch its breath after it gets going. You could almost call it a chase movie, except the characters hardly leave their house; it just has that sort of feel. Freddie Highmore was great, though. I look forward to seeing if he can carry his child stardom through adolescence and become a truly great actor.

27 Dresses
Grade: B+
Heigl's not bad, but James Marsden really stole the show (much like he did in Hairspray). A not-too-shabby date movie.

We've also been watching our recently-purchased first season of Psych, and I imagine I'll soon pick up the just-released second season DVD. And wouldn't you know it, the third season premieres next Friday. We don't get USA with our cost-cutting cable plan, but I'll be sure to catch it online. And speaking of season premieres...

Monk also starts its seventh season on Friday the 18th. I haven't been watching for a couple of years now, but I would like to catch the first few episodes and see how they deal with the absence of Stanely Kamel's Dr. Kroger (due to the actor's untimely passing) and the introduction of Hector Elizondo as Monk's new psychiatrist. I've always liked Elizondo, so I'm looking forward to it.

Finally, this very evening sees the second season premiere of USA's spy series Burn Notice. I got caught up on the show over the last few weeks thanks to Hulu, and can't wait to start streaming the new season online. It's got good action, gadgets that would make MacGuyver envious, and great humor to boot. It also stars this dashing fellow, so I am duty-bound to watch it.

So what are you watching?


Read on, faithful few!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Buckshot: Best Wishes

Please join me in wishing Mr. and Mrs. Hooper J. McFinney a happy second anniversary. And while we're publicly congratulating ourselves (a staple here at The Den of Mystery), an extra happy anniversary message to Mrs. Buck, who three years and two weeks ago made an honest man out of me.


Read on, faithful few!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Buckshot: Scattershot 7/7/08

Mostly film related this time around, with some webcomic goodness sprinkled in for good measure.

Film News

* The action comedy Pineapple Express opens next month. I'll give any Seth Rogen-starring feature a fair shake, and when I hear they're going for a Midnight Run vibe, its gets an even fairer shake. Continuing the 80's action/comedy homage, they got Huey Lewis to do the film's theme song. Head over to the film's MySpace page to hear some of the tracks. Classic.

* In the last week or so, Hellboy II has had some interesting television ads popping up. This one is probably my favorite of what I've seen:

If you root around YouTube and sites like CHUD or ComingSoon, you can find Hellboy hanging out with Chuck Bartowski from NBC's Chuck, or being interviewed by James Lipton from Inside the Actors Studio.

* Movie trailers! The trailer for the next James Bond installment, Quantum of Solace, is online at the official site. Looks like we pick up right where Casino Royale left off, with Bond interrogating the villainous Mr. White. Can't wait for this one.

There's also a teaser up for the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, with Keanu Reeves in the role of Klaatu, the alien harbinger. Now while I, like many, feel the original didn't need a remake, I must admit this teaser has me interested. Looking forward to seeing some more footage.

Finally, there's a red-band trailer for Burn After Reading, the next film by the Coen Brothers up at YouTube. It's been a while since we've seen Brad Pitt in something approaching the total buffoon mode he's in here, and I welcome it. Looks like a good one.

* While I don't really have any desire to see the film, this poster for Rob Zombie's next offering really cracked me up:


* PvP's Scott Kurtz introduces us to the next great superhero, LOLBat!

* Hooper and I are both big fans of the webcomic xkcd, and this recent installment continues to elicit chuckles.

* Finally, Tycho and Gabe over at Penny Arcade are in the midst of an epic storyline, "Paint the Line 2." In their words, a 1980's sequel to a movie that never existed. Start here for the whole experience. They went all-out, creating an outstanding theme song and poster for their nonexistent feature film.

That'll do it for this installment of Buckshot. Excelsior!


Read on, faithful few!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Mildly Popular Blog to Eliminate Political Coverage

Just kidding. But Hooper is on vacation for the next 10 days or so. I'll try to get some good stuff posted for you in the meantime. Who knows? Maybe I'll get a Buckshot together by the end of the day. To tide you over, enjoy a few photos from Mrs. Buck's and my trip to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo last month. Note the three-headed Hydra Giraffe. We were lucky to capture such a rare beast on film.


Read on, faithful few!