Greg Sahadachny


it seems like it’s come up randomly over the last 6 months. and it’s not like it’s very often. but when it does come up, it’s with the intensity of a rabid wilderbeast’s fangs digging deep into my humble giblets.

i’m of course speaking about a film debate. DEBATE. ARGUMENT. FIGHT. all out World War III sometimes, especially if i’m arguing with Fernando, timid as he might seem.

mallrats1

today, Fernando and i revisited an old argument: the suckiness of Kevin Smith’s “Mallrats.” this is a debate i don’t think will ever be put to rest. Fernando sticks to his guns: “Mallrats” is not only terribly bland and run-of-the-mill, but it’s the worst in Smith’s canon. i take the side that it’s incredibly entertaining albeit flawed. i appreciate it for trying to add to the R-rated titty comedy subgenre that “Porky’s” movies once dominated. i also recognize its interweaving of suburban high school trials-and-tribulations movies which John Hughes put on the map. it’s a purely autobiographical entry in my favorites because of the time and place i discovered the film; i, along with most of my friends, were slackers, skaters, suburban white kids with no plans but to hang out. the MOST interesting thing that happened in Bowie when i was a teenager was relationships or their crumbling. so, for a lot of reasons, i identify with the directionless comedy of “Mallrats.” and its quotability.

i do agree with Fernando’s assessment that it’s shitmade. but, i also believe Kevin Smith isn’t that great of a filmmaker, and his films have been pretty hit-or-miss since “Clerks.” he has his “independent” eye, but it’s never really evolved; he’s not doing anything but paint-by-numbers editing and plotting in most of these movies. every film of his that has an agenda or tries to marry comedy and drama are badly paced and uneven, with the exception of “Clerks 2.” “Chasing Amy” and “Dogma” are the worst offenders; some great moments, great characters, but unfulfilled potential on screen. i think Smith is a great writer and lecturer, one of the funniest and down-to-earth dudes i’ve ever seen. his screenplays have great monologues. but besides an infrequent collab with cinematographer David Klein, ALL his films are run-of-the-mill formula by now: nerds arguing about nerdy things (hey, like us!) and gross-out humor. add a romantic interest and boom, you got Generation X Independent Movie 101.

so, this argument with Fernando coupled with…

1) an exhaustive debate over Two-Face’s fate in “The Dark Knight” some months ago (on this very site, no less)

…along with…

2) an article i read about movie arguments over at The A.V. Club today (which is perfect timing as well as poignant for this post’s goal)

…and not forgetting…

3) Bart wanting to find topics for he and i to do point/counterpoint on

…has all led me to an idea.

LET’S ARGUE!

~~~~~

Topic #1. This is for everybody.

What is your guilty pleasure movie of all time and why? (Prereq: it has to be a black sheep, something most people balk at) Give good support for it because I’m sure someone, including myself, is gonna rip it down.

Topic #2.

Are Generation X/1990s filmmakers (like Kevin Smith, Richard Linklater, Spike Lee, Quentin Tarantino, Alexandre Rockwell, Tom DiCillo, etc.) still relevant? Or even good anymore?

The polls are now open.

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hopeful. ecstatic. happy. optimistic. interested.

obamathese are the words that i’ve used all day when referring to the historic moment we lived through yesterday. we’ve elected someone to President of the United States of America that encompasses all the progressive desires and needs we have as a country right now — reactionary needs to international crises, and, of course, a little man named George W. Bush. a failing economy, a struggling healthcare system, a crumbling environment, a sky-rocketing energy predicament, a tragic state of war in the Middle East and the Muslim world…the list of problems facing President-Elect Barack Obama is unenviable and intimidating. and regardless of what cave you’ve been living in (with no money, no healthcare, and no electricity), you know that these seemingly unsolvable issues dominate Americans’ beliefs in a secure future.

but, what happened last night has, if only momentarily, renewed hope in combatting these stresses. to finally get rid of the worst President since Nixon and maybe harken closure to the most unpopular war since Vietnam should give anyone hope for the future. hell, hope for the American Dream. we are in the lowest nadir, in terms of both domestic and foreign opinion of this once Great Land, since 1975. people hate us — America — because our poster child has been, well, a child. i don’t need to explain the worst possible aspects to G.W. Bush; you’ve heard, you’ve seen, you know. America meant something when it was founded. it was full of idealists who knew we had the best plan going, who wanted it to be not just the “land of the free,” but a place where The People made the decisions; not the Kings, Dictators, or Tyrants. over the centuries, these ideals have been misread, twisted, or glossed over by the greedy, racist, and power-hungry. ideals are usually called “ideals” because they’re unrealistic. in a perfect world, Democracy would work, critics would say. why, then, has America been stricken with so much strife? compared to other countries, we’ve had a cakewalk. it just seems like the Perfect Storm of issues and problems are hitting us all at once, right now.

but, November 4th, 2008. the times, they are a-changin’. we had record voting numbers, including a large percentage of young people. the kids identify with what many have realized is the most promising leader since JFK.

a young idealist with an edge in international relations. someone who can change the world and has his ear to the people. a man willing to tax the wealthy to support our poor. a man willing to finally get us fair and on par with the world concerning Universal Healthcare. a man willing to take troops out of Iraq. a man willing to work on a renewable energy way of life. these are hopes. this is Obama. check out his stances here.

the first black President. the first bi-racial President. this is history i’m glad i was alive to experience. we need to not only connect with those ideals that made this country great but represent our country justly, fairly. we’ve needed a person of color in the White House since the bitch was built (and not just cleaning it, kidding kidding), since we decided that “all men are created equal.” i mean, the years of slavery, no rights to vote, constant racism, harrassment, murder and social injustice warrants being equal, doesn’t it? well, finally, a glimmer of happiness can be had. the goals of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., the sacrifices of the civil rights movement, and the tragedies the world over concerning slavery and apartheid have yielded a leader that can serve as a beacon of racial equality and justice. he’s like a superhero.

now, if only we could get “The Wire” back on air. i think the country’s ready for a show about black people.

Barack Obama has changed my opinion of what this country can do, at least what a vote can do. his election gives me new interest in politics and the future.

it takes balls to make a statement about the world’s continued decline based on financial and political corruption. (sarcasm, “The Wire” did it for five years. of course, no one listened to them.) idealism, hard-fought beliefs, and even care about international events are all impacted by the price to sell and the amount of money one can saunter away with at the end of the day. pile on top of that motivation bursting stress points like global warming and environmental tragedies, meaningless and directionless wars, the rise of the new world Communism (sprinkled with a little capitalism for good measure), and, of course, the impending denouement being brought on by the Large Hadron Collider. all of these are important issues. serious issues. but it’s always good to filter sociopolitical nihilism into the greatest satirical art form of our generation: the video game.

i have stated on many occasion that “Mercenaries” was one of the funnest gaming experiences i’ve had since “Castlevania: Symphony of the Night” back on the PS1. i had so much fun playing any and every side of the boiling point in North Korea — Allies, China, Russian Mafia, South Korean Army — that it’s one of those games, even with all its faults, that i return to play at least once annually. in fact, it’s a game that falls into the weird realm of edutainment while remaining utterly sloppy, dumb action. it created a fictional story around a real crisis in North Korea, one which everyone is at least a little familiar with. upon that backdrop, however, is an amoral game design marrying the open world structure of “Grand Theft Auto” with the blow-shit-up attitude of a redneck military program (i’m looking at you “Future Weapons”). if you want an even better analogy, it was the “Rambo IV” of video games, a violent b-movie with an agenda.

having watched “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” for the umpteenth time recently, while at the same time finishing “Mercenaries 2,” i was struck by the similarities in both’s definition of “good” and “evil.” really, both have a “good” protagonist — Clint’s Man with No Name and whichever character you choose among Mattias, Jennifer, and Chris — but there’s nothing within the majority of that characterization to distance the One to Root For from the One You Hope Dies. the good guy’s a killer for hire, willing to ally himself with anyone, and kill anyone in his way, to reach the greedy goal of money. the end ALWAYS justifies the means. this isn’t your John Wayne or Gary Cooper; there’s no shining light, there’s no pure hero. Clint isn’t the bad guy because he stops to give a dying soldier his last cigar? the main character of “Mercenaries 1 &2,” whomever you choose, isn’t bad because they save VIPs, rescue WMD blueprints, and get cash penalties for killing innocents? that’s humanity peeking through on both counts…i guess.

both stories are heavily influenced by Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo,” in which a ronin plays both sides in a gangster feud in order to reap the rewards. and where Kurosawa’s classic was making a statement on a particular period in samurai history, as well as virtuous greed vs. immoral greed, the others deviate noticeably. Clint is as amoral as Angel Eyes and Tuco (the Bad and the Ugly, respectively), but his code decrees not hurting any innocents on the way to his fortune. i mean, he’ll definitely fill up some body bags with the outlaw sonofabitches, but they’ll all be gunning for him. and, where Mifune, the protagonist of “Yojimbo,” shows his true colors by almost sacrificing himself to save a family caught in the middle of the gang war, Blondie (Clint Eastwood) does good deeds only if they aid him in his quest; or, in terms of the dying soldier scene, if his stoic veneer is starting to chip in a momentary rest before the final showdown. i mean, this is a guy who blows up a bridge so that the North and South will go somewhere else to fight and he can get to the gold unimpeded.

now…in terms of “Mercenaries 2,” this attitude and fortune hunting has been taken to the extreme degree. again, just like in the original, you are playing all the sides in an unfolding conflict to reap lots and lots of money, and more weapons to make alot more money with. this time you’re in Venezuela, taking contracts and sub-missions from the Allied Nations, China, the Pirates, the People’s Liberation Army of Venezuela, and United Petroleum, a CIA-funded, mercenary-employed front for American colonial interests. see, the politics are already shining through. you can kill soldiers of one faction, or blow up their assets, or destroy their vehicles, or go on a homicidal rampage to appease the faction of your choice.

for example, rampantly killing the AN forces gains you Friendly standing with the Chinese Army. P.L.A.V. forces, fellow Communists, are friends with the Chinese Army, so taking a P.L.A.V. aircraft into Chinese territory won’t get you shot down. also, side quests like destroying Venezuelan Army propaganda billboards makes you a quick friend of the P.L.A.V. this is the type of tug and war you, as a mercenary, must compete in. you have to make wise decisions who you want to piss off and who will get you the best vehicles, artillery strikes, and weapons to kill the other guy with. but more on that later. some of the difficulty of the game comes in pissing off and making up, or bribing, factions to get back into good standing with. otherwise, you get no work. the only restriction in this mission-based open world structure is not killing innocents, which you get penalized as little as $5k for. more on that TOO later.

carried over from the original, you get to choose a character to play through the game with. Mattias Nilsson, voiced by the incredibly dry Peter Stormare (who is quickly becoming the new quotable Walken for the 21st century), is a Swedish mercenary with a biker attitude and a lust for destruction. Chris Jacobs, voiced by über-video-game-and-anime-voice-actor Phil LaMarr (of MadTV fame), is a tough ex-Delta Force operative. And, Jennifer Mui, voiced by video game queen and Samus Aran actor Jennifer Hale, is a half-Chinese/half-British ExOps agent known for her intelligence and athletics.

this time around, “Mercenaries 2” has a thin but labored revenge plot centering on hitting back at the President and General of Venezuela who — butt buddies as they are — tried to kill you — a shining beacon of heterosexual western ideology — and instead humiliatingly shot you in the ass. (i can just hear Alonzo from “Training Day” now. “you shot me in the assssss!”) it’s a good skeleton to the game and keeps it based in some constantly moving scenario. but the missions are so open world and faction-oriented, the only time the plot creeps back in is when you find evidence or a trail to the bad guys at the end of escorting, killing, or blowing something the fuck up. this isn’t much of an improvement in execution over the original “Mercenaries,” which had you capturing or killing 52 “cards” in a “deck” of terrorists, led by 4 “Aces.” what results in both scenarios, if you split your gaming up over more than 2 days, is the sputtering out of a followable story into chapters in a book with pages ripped out (a.k.a. the GTA syndrome). still, is plot necessary in a sandbox game? to each his/her own, i say.

what shines in “Mercs 2” is the sheer brilliance and awe of blowing shit up. it’s simple. it’s Summer Action Movie. it’s Michael Bay. but it’s fucking entertainment. there’s no bigger satisfaction as a gamer than taking down a force of a hundred or more soldiers, along with the helicopters, turrets, and RPGs they’re using, as well as their castle fortress, all with the steady laser of a targeting beacon. what results is a gigantic, sometimes nuclear-sized explosion, leveling shit like it’s Hiroshima. that’s 90% of the pleasure right there. and imagine, the only thing standing in your way is a) money and b) fuel, both of which are liberally dispensed, stolen, and won with the least engagement of a few minutes drive or a ballsy act of terrorism towards a faction you do not like. the ease of getting money and fuel guarantees having all the artillery strikes, vehicle fly-ins, and weapons crates dropped that your little villainous heart could desire. you want a Bunker Buster, a gigantic building-scattering bomb, to help you along? do it. you want a fuel-air RPG that hits a target with a donut of dust and, 3 seconds later, destroys everything in a hundred yards? jump on that.  this all keeps the fun up, and believe me, i have trouble wiping the smile off my face when “Mercs 2” is at its best, but it’s at the expense of any real challenge. it’s like showing a kid with A.D.D. bright, shiny colors, when you know it’s fleeting and unrewarding to both parties involved. if you sacrifice nothing, when does it mean something to you? still, the stories about that “one kill” or “one mission” or “one explosion” that totally rocked your world will be the centerpiece of conversations with friends for many a year to come.

besides the destruction, the many missions and variations on gameplay available, the challenges to unlock with factions, and the numerous vehicles you can utilize, the blemishes on “Mercs 2” make it look like a 16-year-old nerd discovering oily skin. The splashy controls are not tight and not nearly as responsive for a game that’s been delayed a year more than its original release date. Driving a car, a boat, a helicopter, or a motorcycle all feels the same. The only difference are the sports car and bike, which have acceleration to balance out the clunky movement and pivoting system. This is a hold over from “Mercs 1” which was based on the “Star Wars: Battlefront” engine LucasArts and Pandemic made popular. However, EA’s takeover of the franchise has not updated or changed the oft-lacking design. Vehicles hit obstacles and corner in a weird way that makes the player feel like they are controlling a box of matches on wheels (but not Matchbox cars, shut up!). On foot is not any better; you still jump and run like Boba Fett with a booster on your back. The gun aiming is an improvement, but that’s offset with a frustrating Grenade/C4 combo menu interface, along with an inability to fire most on-board vehicle weapons at 360 degrees, and a stupid vehicle acceleration using the A button which occupies the thumb you need for controlling camera panning. The result is a bumpy ride, driving blind into fire fights and obstacle courses hoping luck will save you 50% of the time. EA, take a note from “GTA 4” and “Halo,” copy their vehicle and weapon controls!

and don’t get me started on how hard it is to die in the game. you’re lucky if a point blank explosion takes you to 1% health. the only real way to die is getting overrun with enemies. one notable addition not in “Mercs 1” is the grappling hook, allowing your character to grapple passing helicopters. this adds alot to the gameplay since it’s just a matter of hooking on and completing a “God of War” type mini-game to hijack the ability to fly. in the first game, the player had to fire on and coax a helicopter to within jumping distance to steal. it’s still one of the most frustratingly fun aspects of the original.

the graphics are pretty, especially the explosions. light and fire are the strongest suits. but is it really polished enough for a XBOX 360 game in ’08? it looks like an awesome XBOX 1 title or a 360 launch title. the graphics are on par with “Hitman: Blood Money.” there’s no sign of night time like in “Mercs 1,” but if you’re cup of tea is sunsets and mid-afternoon, your chops will be salivating. things have a jaggedness about them. Building detail, because of the size of the playable world, pops in randomly. You’ll see odd shapes at 100 feet and defined grit at 50 suddenly. Clipping ahoy, too. Imaginary borders, getting stuck in walls and floors. It’s all fun to me. No, no, it’s not. But you can live with it. It’s abrasive but not completely offensive. Distance hazing is realistic as is the world and its components, like trees, wetlands, and dirt roads. Again, it’s sexy, but in a fat girl with nice eyes kind of way.

audio is good. the music is strong. the SFX are excellent. but that was the best part of “Mercs 1,” so i didn’t expect anything less. the voice acting is great but the repeat of lines is obscenely obnoxious. for the main characters, there might be an hour of dialogue in all the cut scenes, with another 2 minutes of extra lines they throw out during gameplay in the actual world. most of these lines are funny…the first 15 times. NPCs have a good mixture in the cut scenes, conveying the plot with attention to detail and playing over the top stereotypes. (again, this is like a b-movie in terms of characters.) the background characters have all but 5 lines recycled with different voices. you’ll tire of these after a couple hours. the worst offender is Fiona, the secretar…ahem…mission coordinator for the Private Military Corporation you belong to. imagine the same 10 lines spit at you, like the Voice of the Agency did in “Crackdown,” but with a more annoying, British posh attitude.

the game’s world continues the pokes and jabs at real world politics and events. you collect “Spare Parts” which end up being weapons, blueprints, secrets, and other “coins” just to open new vehicles with your resident auto guru. there are nods to real world scares, Chinese manifest destiny movement, colonialism, war ending the world, and even a little in-joke about Office Space’s TPS reports. The American soldiers of the AN forces all sound like they are auditioning to play Keanu Reeves, throwing around “dude” liberally, and speaking hippie/surfer idiot lines like “i just don’t understand why everybody’s so hostile.”

but with the good, is the absolutely terrible and frustrating. the A.I. is dumb as a brick mold. god save you if you’ve got an NPC on gunner in a vehicle you’re driving or helping you in a mission. they like the pawns, they get capped quick. one of the stipulations is you can’t kill innocents in the game without getting a penalty. it’s difficult to avoid them when they jump in front of your car randomly. in fire fights, i’ve had civilians just hanging around in the middle of crossfire. down they go, along with my bank account. in a mission i played with Dan, a VIP we were supposed to rescue went from being freed from his handcuffs to taking a 20-story dive off a building as soon as he got up to stretch his legs. it was impossible to get him in the helicopter with me and Dan. we repeated the mission more than 20 times before i was able to coerce him with blocking his ability to walk forward. he had no choice but to get in the chopper right behind him. missions come in two flavors: fun and fucking hell. either way, you’ll do a mission as little as once early on in the game and as much as 30 or 40 times in the latter half. even the ones you repeat…if they are fun, you’re cool with it. but it’s like learning Chinese while getting your teeth pulled to play a stupid mission over and over again because of the lackluster A.I.

in addition, side quests and escort missions are abound in “Mercs 2.” i hope you like delivering shit at least 3 times because there are 3 levels to unlock for each faction “challenge.” these CAN be fun depending on the goal. a simple delivery can be brisk, with thousands of ways to complete them.

Dan and I, for instance, had fun C4ing a bridge, only to realize it was the only bridge between our faction’s HQ and the destination where we were delivering human organs. we thought up a grand plan that involved driving to the gapped bridge’s edge, ordering in a helicopter, and winching over both trucks holding the said cargo. unfortunately the sensitive winch would jumble the contents sitting in the open truck beds, spilling them onto the highway or into the river. this resulted in many mission fails until we finally got it right, but it was a genius idea…on paper. hilarity ensued.

but escorting something or participating in a race can come down to cheap obstacles, cheaper enemy A.I. with rockets, and vehicles that you can swear are made from C4 with nitroglycerine in the gas tank, and sparklers in the rocker panels. for the most part, these sub-missions are busy work to unlock more fuel storage, a weapon, or a vehicle. they can be fun, but in playing, they were some of the most frustrating moments in the game for me. traversing the large world is only a smidgen better than sailing in “The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.” the speed of helicopters and cars and boats all feel sluggish so i hope you like checking and rechecking your map for destination points, it’s the only variety you’ll get.

some of the best gaming i’ve had while playing “Mercenaries 2” has been playing 2-player co-op with friends, particularly with Dan recently. the game really creates a better 2-player, cover-my-back scenario than “Army of Two.” the best part tends to be devestating a faction and getting all the money and fuel saved to your character, even when you’re playing a friend’s game. with all the moments of destruction and hilarious turns in fire fights and missions, the only thing missing would be multiplayer with a larger team. however, even with an extra player, the game doesn’t scale up. it’s noticeably easier with 2 people but it’s not like double the amount of enemies come out of the woodwork. also, with all these great moments, “Mercs 2” would have jumped a grade in my book to have the Save Film Theater that “Halo 3” has. i want to watch those moments over again and share them with my friends.

all in all, it’s a fun time. not all that it could have been. certainly not fully realized or polished. but it has a lot of great gameplay that keeps your attention until the end. and it’s worth it just to see a bunker flattened with a mushroom cloud. for all its faults, “Mercs 2” is a game worth playing.

Grade (including +’s and -‘s): B

considering i have nothing really to review or talk about, but still have the desire to keep the sword sharp, i’ve decided to rewind and do the thing i didn’t do in my original introduction: a self-obsessed doctrine of my opinions. i’ve lengthened it. i’ve made it as controversial as i can, in as much as this group’s concerned. and, completely to balls end, with no reluctance, these are my Beliefs. at least Volume 1 of my Beliefs. and, luckily, they’re all numbered for easy perusal.

  1. “The Wire” is the best television show ever made. Taking into consideration what kind of lightning was caught in that bottle, I feel comfortable saying it will be the “best show ever made” indefinitely. Even when it misstepped, it was the smartest, best written narrative ever broadcast. The seasons, best to worst: 3 (stringer bell), 4 (marlo, bodies & the kids), 2 (sobotka, the greek & the docks), 1 (jimmy mcnulty & the one that started it all), 5 (proving all the pieces matter). And, worst is only relative; one can only compare “Wire” episodes and seasons to other “Wire” episodes and seasons. Otherwise, it’s no contest.
  2. Two-Face is alive, regardless of what the Nolan brothers wrote in the script and what the “Dark Knight” novelization states as Two-Face’s demise. The script is the first draft of the final cut, and many intentions fall by the wayside by the time the switch is flipped on a projector. Given the particular shots and inserts used in said final cut, the Batman franchise’s love for twists and faking out the audience, and Nolan’s dedication to representing an accurate Batman universe…Two-Face is, until further notice, alive and…not well.
  3. The makers of the “_____ Movie” franchise think hilarious jokes really begin with taking a character from a popular movie’s TRAILER and dropping a large object on them, or hitting them with a car, or re-contextualizing them in mind-numbing mimicry and impressions. Sorry, no. Results just came in, that’s not hilarity. It’s not even parody. It’s the Wrestlemania equivalent of burlesque satire. It’s the no-cal alternative to genius.
  4. There are bad movies and crap movies. Bad movies have an intention, either to entertain purely (camp) or to complete the simple goal of finishing the production. Just by wrapping, regardless of the final product, some would label that a success. Bad movies can have great dialogue, characters, scenes, style…even a great ending that leaves you with a feeling “hey, that wasn’t as bad as i thought it’d be.” Bad movies don’t have to hit all the points of what defines film art — in fact, it’s better if they don’t hit any at all — but they all HAVE to be entertaining. Otherwise, they are crap movies. Crap movies are rehashed, mundane, xerox copies of other movies that did everything better. The biggest crime a filmmaker can commit is mediocrity. If someone can say “oh, that’s just like [plug-in better movie], but not as good,” then you’ve failed. Next project. NEXT project. The least a film should be is not boring.
  5. I can’t wait for “Mercenaries 2” to come out. It looks like it’s going to be a helluva experience. Until then, “Bionic Commando: Rearmed” and “Braid” are rocking my shit. Check them out on XBOX Live.
  6. Keanu Reeves is not a good actor. Stop trying to convince us, Hollywood. Either you start making a bunch of Bill & Ted sequels or you assassinate that guy. Seriously.
  7. Will Ferrell has been losing his golden edge. Why does it feel that “Semi-Pro” and “Step Brothers” are only ghosts of that arrogant spirit of Ferrell’s comedy, and “Blades of Glory” is an oft-overlooked gem? Story, that’s why. There’s no point in having 90-120 minutes of silly, nonsensical frat comedy, if it has no real story skeleton to follow. Just because a movie has some great parts does not make it a good movie (i.e. “Dewey Cox,” “Pineapple Express,” “The Incredible Hulk”). Since when are the parts more important than the whole? Yet, “Blades of Glory” is panned by critics, when it’s one of the funniest, best paced and shot comedies Ferrell’s ever done.
  8. If i were going to do a comedy, i’d want it to be like “In Bruges,” down to the tone of the whole piece.
  9. Network television cannot hold a candle to cable TV, particularly HBO. There is no way in the foreseeable future that a genius character piece, say, with deliberate pacing, is going to get green lit for ad-space broadcast. There’s great stuff, sure, but it’s 95% plot-driven week-to-week bite-size morsels. Possible outcome: filler episodes, bad episodes, bad plot twists, bad character arcs, etc. Still, give me serial and i can be happy (i.e. ❤ you “Lost”), but don’t think you’re “The Wire” or the TV equivalent of “There Will Be Blood” in my heart. You’re good going down, but our relationship is on a progress report basis. I might have to eventually cheat on you with a co-worker; might not. Biggest offenders, failing me since 1983: Benson, A-Team, 227, Macgyver, Living Single, Ghost Writer, St. Elsewhere, New York Undercover, 24, Dr. Quinn, Grace Under Fire, Home Improvement…nah nah, i’m joking. Some of those fit the bill, but mainly i just wanted to list shows i could think of.
  10. I love boobies. i’m not going to lie. i could play with them all day.

that’ll do for now. as a first chapter in my doctrine, i think we’re off to a good start.

Next Time: back to reviews and maybe a little exploration of one of the best eras for movies, the 1970s.

Fernando has stated that he got most of the inspiration for this blog from Alan Sepinwall’s TV blog, “What’s Alan Watching?”

for me, a writer who enjoys pretentious art, cynical quips, obscure references, and baseline snobbery, my eden has always been The Onion’s A.V. Club. over the last 3 or 4 years, it’s been the headquarters for no nonsense, no bullshit reviews of the latest Hollywood has to offer. in addition, the writers have been in the trenches at every independent film festival and concert worth writing about. running the gamut from indy rock to comics, from TV to art house, from video game to the written word, the A.V. Club has come to be a geek’s special hideout. if it weren’t for a shitload of stupid forum cunts, it’d be perfect.

anyway, the thing i appreciate the most about the site are the ongoing series a certain writer or group of writers posts to on a weekly or monthly basis. some favorites: “Commentary Tracks of the Damned,” an analysis of the tone and information gathered from DVD commentary tracks on generally the worst movies of all time (“Miss Congeniality 2,” for instance); “I Watched This on Purpose,” a similarly themed re-evaluation of a terrible movie (“Rambo IV” most recently); the independently named “Inventory” installments, usually tallying a Top 10 or 20 relating to particular topic question (“What’s Up with the Smoke Monster?: 16 Unanswered TV Questions,” “The Darrin Effect: 20 Jarring Cases of Recast Roles,” etc.); and my most recent pleasure, “The New Cult Canon,” an in-depth exploration into a particular movie’s worth, whether it holds up or is dated, what ground it broke, and whether its influence is still felt. most recently, “Showgirls.”

well, it seems “The New Cult Canon” is wading through some gangster movies over the next two weeks, “Sexy Beast” and “Sonatine.” the latter reminded me of a revisit i wanted to make to Takeshi Kitano’s widely influential gangster movie, one i feel was applauded on its release, assimilated into western style and reference (by none other than Tarantino and his followers), and overshadowed by the latter day successes of both Kitano and British gangster pictures (which “Sexy Beast” is one).

"Don Logan" means Bad Motherfucker in English.

“Sexy Beast” and “Sonatine” have much in common:

  1. they are both paying homage to a very well traveled genre in their respective countries (in Britain, the cockney gangster films of the ’60s and ’70s – “Get Carter” anyone? – and in Japan, the yakuza pictures made famous by Kinji Fukasaku – “Battles without Honor and Humanity” to name one).
  2. they are re-contextualizing the gangster genre with art house, character-oriented drama and camera style; both are also lower budget personal projects of their directors, Jonathan Glazer and Kitano.
  3. they handle the violence of the gangster world in a viciously comedic way, the dark comedy and destructive force of Ben Kingsley’s Don Logan and Kitano’s Murakawa drive both stories.

“Sonatine” marked a watershed time for Kitano. He had gained notice as a director when he took over for Fukasaku on “Violent Cop” in 1989, a Dirty Harry type vehicle in which Kitano played the lead. As a director, he created a vibrant balance between the stillness of well-composed shots and the hectic movement of action (a style he would later credit to Akira Kurosawa for influencing him). With “Boiling Point” and “A Scene at the Sea,” Kitano took a bigger role behind the camera, even though many viewers’ favorite scenes in “Boiling Point” include Kitano’s short, violent cameo.

Showing he's the brains of the operation.

With “Sonatine,” Kitano became an international name, both as the film’s star and director. The film was a hit with the “Reservoir Dogs” crowd, egged on by the young auteur who helmed that movie. The typical fans in the U.S. and U.K. were those John Woo fans enjoying a heavy diet of Hong Kong action but lamenting the director’s move to America (his first gift to his fans: the Van Dammage epic, “Hard Target”). With only the likes of heavy hitters Jackie Chan and Tsui Hark, and the arrival of notable gangster epics from Johnny To (the current fan favorite in HK) and Takashi Miike nearly a decade off, many Eastern Action fans either started broadening their tastes to more traditional gong fu and wuxia or they followed the bullets across the pond to Japan.

How curious the choice of Takeshi Kitano is in retrospect. Kitano wasn’t a bullet opera director. He didn’t do wire fu. The characters in his movies didn’t have an endless supply of ammo or an endless will to live. If someone got shot, it was out of the blue and definite, they died. It’s no surprise that Western culture reacted to this type of sudden, brief, gory violence. It was everything we got from “Rambo” movies but more calculated and compressed. Imagine a crack habit with 3 or 4 killer doses, instead of 75 weak ones. That’s “Sonatine.” But how weird that many viewers were willing or persuaded into watching what boils down to art house cinema, just for a fix. Compared to Woo’s continual berating of “pop-pop” beats, Kitano’s a bit out of rhythm.

“Sonatine” is straightforward and easy to follow, as any good genre picture should be. Along the way, we get a healthy dose of “Beat” Takeshi, Kitano’s acting personality, as well as comic touches he will make his signature over the next decade.

Kitano in "Hana-Bi"

In terms of his acting style, Kitano fans run the gamut, but it doesn’t surprise me when you get two camps: those who prefer pre-accident Kitano and those who prefer post-accident. in 1994, he got into a motorcycle crash that caused paralysis to the left side of his body. he had extensive surgeries to save the muscles in his face but the damage has been noticeable ever since. the difference in personalities is black and white: pre-1994, he’s wily and vibrant, at once a big kid and a psychotic clown; post-1994, he’s reserved to stillness and silence, accented by facial twitches and scary calm. it’s like Al Pacino in reverse, though Kitano never screamed the Japanese equivalent of “Hoo-Haa” while driving a Ferrari through the streets of SoHo. if you want tangible examples, compare “Sonatine” to the Golden Lion award-winning “Hana-Bi” (“Fireworks” in the U.S.) or his awesome performance in “Battle Royale.”

Kitano as oddly named "Kitano" in "Battle Royale"

“Sonatine” in and of itself is a solid gangster picture and a literal homage to Kinji Fukasaku’s “Sympathy for the Underdog.” Murakawa, played by Kitano, is an underboss in a Tokyo yakuza syndicate. When an ally clan in Okinawa goes to war with another, he and his crew are sent to back up his fellow “aniki,” or brothers. Murakawa does this reluctantly since several of his men were killed on a similar assignment in Hokkaido, an outcome that he won turf for in apology from his boss. since then, the turf has become a yakuza gold mine, rich in protection money and illegal vices. Murakawa is happy and feeling it is time to retire. but, against his instincts, he departs on the mission.

on the sun-drenched beaches of Okinawa, similar to the Miami we saw in “Scarface” and “Miami Blues,” the gang of city hoods balances their time between sudden assassinations and terrorist bombings of their hideouts…and geisha dancing…and childish antics. as the war cools down, boredom sets in. they kill time by hanging out. but in the moments of no need and no goal, Murakawa starts realizing the pointlessness of being a gangster with a worthless code, serving a “brother” who doesn’t give a shit about you. as the betrayals stack up and his men all get gunned down, the gangster descends into empty revenge. even the inclusion of a murder-obsessed groupie who’s crazy for bad boys does nothing to dampen Murakawa’s fascination with his own suicidal downfall. to some, this is Kitano’s depressed artistic hand, a nihilism throughout his early work that signaled the motorcycle accident to follow the next year, an event Kitano admitted was a suicide attempt. to others, this is the moral code Kitano has made famous in interviews and EPKs ever since: bad guys got to die. it’s distinctly cold but something he has campaigned for in the same way Kurosawa advocated compassion.

the movie’s indelible mark can be felt as it was digested into the “cool killers/cool guns” subgenre in the U.S. these are just a few movies that borrow the masterless ronin image of a nihilistic killer (“Le Samouraï”) somewhere in their stories:

  • Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Kill Bill (all of which borrowed from Kitano as much as they borrowed from Woo, Melville, and 1940s noir)
  • Smokin’ Aces
  • The Matrix (quiet asians kick ass, anyone?)
  • Léon, the Professional
  • El Mariachi, Desperado, From Dusk til Dawn, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Sin City

in the U.K., as stated before, Hong Kong and Japanese gangster movies became the exotic trend in the absence of good cockney yarns. from the 1980s until Guy Ritchie came on the scene, the genre had all but taken the road of the Western in the U.S. the calm, cool, vengeful gangster from the East made his mark; even these days, way after “Snatch,” “Sexy Beast,” and “Layer Cake” became part of the British recolonization of gangster chic.

“Sonatine” serves as a benchmark in Kitano’s gangster canon, which includes the dirty cops of “Violent Cop” and “Hana-Bi” as well as the good-natured teddy bear of a yakuza in “Kikujiro.” it delivers on genre expectations — blood, betrayal, bullets, and broads — and creates an emotional character study that is as artistically shot as it is plotted. it combines moments of childish adventure, in scenes of playful sumo contests and fireworks battles, with dark comedy and ultraviolence. it also served as another installment in Kitano’s acting company, as friends and mainstays Susumu Terajima, Ren Osugi, and Tetsu Watanabe show up as soldiers in Murakawa’s crew.

even when it’s slow, there’s a point. i think it should be given another chance. Kitano’s whole catalog, including the romances, dramas, and slapstick comedies, should be celebrated…just like Michael Bolton’s.

***MAJOR SPOILERS as usual…nothing about the actual movie i’m reviewing, per say, but Fernando gets mad at me for not slapping a disclaimer on my references to other movies and TV shows. so if you don’t want to read anything about…say…”Lost,” turn back now.***

in this excellent sequel to 2004’s “Man on Fire,” Creasy manages to evade the Mexican mob, get stitched up, and find his way back into the loving arms of Pita. the two move to Baltimore and Creasy joins the BPD’s Major Crimes Unit. the whirlwind love affair, however, ends in tragedy; Creasy is arrested for faking serial killings and is sent to jail. inside, he gets too talky and, in a twist of irony, he is set on fire.

no, no…

see, my original title for this review was derivative of “Not Penny’s Boat,” the poignant words Charlie uses in his dying moments to warn Desmond that a rescue boat isn’t what it seems. on “Lost,” a sign with a straightforward statement like that manages to have a couple meanings: once one realizes it’s not Penny’s (Desmond’s old flame) boat, then whose is it? and what danger does that signify? or is Charlie just a ponce with a hand cramp who forgot to include “…it’s the Coast Guard” in his last words? of course, fans know now what that message meant….anyway, where was i? see, i wanted to title this review “Not Denzel’s Movie” because of the similarity and my sophomoric amusement with the title. but, it would have required an explanation. wait…

fuck it, moving on…

Man on Wire

(2008, Dir. James Marsh)

“Man on Wire” refers to the brief note scribbled by an NYPD officer on the arrest papers of Philippe Petit on August 7, 1974, after the Frenchman walked a high wire strung between the north and south towers of the recently completed World Trade Center. Petit, an accomplished bohemian circus performer, had made news by doing similar stunts between the steeples of Notre Dame and the trusses of Sydney Harbor Bridge, but the WTC adventure gained him fame and admiration, as well as notoriety with New York law enforcement.

the fact is that the playful acrobat, Petit, committed major felonies to fulfill his dreams of walking a wire atop the highest building on earth at the time. breaking in, entering restricted areas, hiding from security, tying on over a thousand dollars worth of wires and anchors, and, of course, engaging in an act most would label “suicide” are just a few of his crimes. suicide, after all, is illegal. but when one considers how far they’d go to fulfill their dreams, Petit’s stunt is rather, well, beautiful. he wasn’t directly causing any danger to the structure or other people, making his crime endearing as an example of “when you want something, nothing is impossible.”

the documentary is the most engaging and fun experience i’ve had since “The King of Kong” and “The Aristocrats.” like those two docs, “Man on Wire” does not have a social or political agenda to absorb. it is simple entertainment. you observe the subject, follow a story, and come away feeling happy. the footage and pictures of Petit laying precariously a quarter mile above earth is at once scary and utterly amazing to behold. if you think it’s impossible to be awed by a movie these days, i present you with the unfiltered and unsafe reality captured in “Man on Wire.”

if that wasn’t enough, the documentary’s impact hits another level post-September 11th. unlike depictions of the horrors that occurred at and to the World Trade Center since 1993, this whimsical event gives a glory and magic to the buildings as the backdrop to human endeavor. this was a sign that supported the WTC’s goal of being a positive symbol for change the world over. the beautiful sentiment boils below the surface of the movie, even though you might not pick up on it while you delve into childlike glee.

Petit’s personality only helps matters, as he acts like a crazy man between witty remarks and broken English. this is the black sheep of the family. this is the odd cousin. this is one of Santa’s little helpers all grown up. and the friends and family interviewed fill out a picture of a determined and unstable individual you just want to follow to see what he does next.

the inspiring and fun story has some bittersweet aspects that make you appreciate it for maybe being the first fantasy documentary, a perfect blend of realistic underpinnings and dreams come true.

Grade: A

(Note: Major Spoilers!!!!!, if you don’t want to know what happens, stop reading now)

this is the second part of my review for “The Dark Knight.” read the first part here. as a special treat today, i also decided to post a review of the new animated movie “Batman: Gotham Knight.” i actually watched it a week or two before it got released on DVD (online bootleg, shhh), but was waiting for a venue to share some thoughts. and, this seems like the perfect time. so, let’s get on with this.

you know the story. you know what happened. you know where he came from. you know what he’s going to do.

the work of Frank Miller, Tim Burton, Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski, as well as many other talented legends in the biz, solidified Bob Kane’s “Batman” — one of the most successful crime fighters in comic book history — as the prototypical anti-hero for the end of times. the gritty underworld explored in 1930s gangster pictures and 1940s film noir became the habitat for a detective dressed as the very symbol of fear he hoped to strike into the heart of evil.

Gotham City was re-imagined as the sister city to Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” and “Blade Runner”‘s Los Angeles 2019. and somewhere in all of this, the technology of the 1980s and 1990s met the fashion and architecture of 1930s New York. the darkness, the despair, the corruption that swallows Gotham City has but one enemy: the survivor of the kind of street violence that makes Batman necessary.

Bruce Wayne becomes a man with fears and a lust for violence to solve those fears. he justifies violence by telling himself that it is the only way to combat true evil. (think those Kung-Fu Monks) revenge might have been part of it, in one movie or one comic book, but the blueprint for how we know Batman now was undoubtedly drawn up in Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One. in terms of matching the noir tone, Joker’s vague origins in Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke made the picture complete.

we see Batman as a vigilante, as a fugitive from the law, as an unwilling hero, as a self-destructive myth, and as a killer, regretful as he might be. for all in him that is good, there is ability to do evil.

same with the Joker. Alan Moore’s jester is a complicated thug, someone pushed into doing terrible things after the grief of a dead wife and child strike him. his slip into lunacy is a sympathetic and frightening one.

wherever it started, it remains true: Bruce Wayne and Joker are opposite sides of the same coin. Batman’s greatest villain was, is, and always will be the Joker.

so, i decided to see if this year’s blockbuster could continue the dark tradition and commercial success begun in Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins.” can Heath Ledger match Jack Nicholson’s highly revered performance as the Joker in Tim Burton’s first “Batman?” can Christian Bale finally make the role of the Bat his own without a raspy voice ruining it? is it possible to keep the series from slipping into the “Diamonds are Forever” depths of “Batman & Robin”? Check it out.

The Dark Knight

(2008, Dir. Christopher Nolan, Scr. Jonathan & Christopher Nolan)

there’s something glorious and almost unsettling about a film like “The Dark Knight.” first, let’s get it out of the way; in this honest reviewer’s opinion, this is the end all, be all comic book movie adaptation. the best superhero movie. blah blah blah. but did you expect anything different? showing about 71% (more fun with odd fractions later) of what a neo-noir Batman could be, “Batman Begins” managed to muster a Bruce Wayne in rebirth, a legendary hero born, and a taste of the true crime saga boiling beneath the surface. sure, we knew Gotham City was on a decline, but to what depths, we hadn’t seen nothing yet, trust me. the unsettling remark i made is the fact that it’s taken this long to capture it — this hero might’ve been, after all, more suited played by Humphrey Bogart with a cig in his mouth and a .32 in his fist. where there’s “The Dark Knight,” i point you, fair readers, to Red Harvest; a book about a single man against a town where everyone’s crooked, extortion and murder included. Gotham City is a better name for Poisonville.

and where “Spiderman” got a faithful adaptation, and some would argue “The Incredible Hulk” did as well…and, let’s not forget the excellent “Iron Man”…we have not seen a “Batman” movie at once, SO exacting and faithful to the comic and SO accessible to casual viewers. this is an almost flawless movie. the bullets i’ll shoot at it won’t even braze the kevlar.

agenda aside, “The Dark Knight” is like Christopher Nolan’s version of “Heat,” with a little “Seven” thrown in for good measure. this is an incredibly intense PG-13 movie…and i fucking love it. what makes it such an exciting film is that your expectations are there, and most likely high, and the bombastic action grabs you from the outset. by the time a quiet scene happens, you’re already fascinated by the Joker and all that he does. with scene after scene of bank robberies gone a wry, hostage situations escalating, gangsters and innocents getting wasted, and the media frenzy reaching fever levels, it’s a difficult ride to stand back and criticize. for some, that would be evidence that there’s a broken rail or something to uncover how “The Dark Knight” is fundamentally flawed. but those action scenes are built around a very tight narrative: the rise of law and order, the addition of chaos, the fall of “vigilante” justice, and hope prevailing.

Heath Ledger is a fulfilled promise. he’s fucking maniacal in every scene. over-the-top but in a good way, in a “There Will Be Blood” way. seriously, this is the best performance i’ve seen since Daniel Day-Lewis’ last year. you’ll get hints about the Joker’s past, but are they true? those who’ve read “The Killing Joke” and other Joker-centric installments get the in-joke punchline. for those who haven’t, it’s the heart of the character: evil spawned with little explanation or origin as a response to Batman’s brand of justice. and i’m glad they don’t spoon feed us where he’s come from. though, i’m sure, if you’ve read the news, you know where he’s going…probably to a two-bit Jim Carrey impersonator in Brett Ratner’s “Revenge of the Bat Man” (2013). just kidding. one can only hope Nolan holds onto this franchise with the grip of a crackhead. and the loss of Heath Ledger is a tragic one, for more reasons than just this performance. but, what a frightening note to leave hanging in the air. it’s masterful.

and while Joker is the catalyst for all this chaos, without a doubt, the story centers on Harvey Dent, now Two-Face, played by Aaron Eckhart. the rise of “the face” of justice, no longer “the symbol,” is a very important one. Bruce Wayne realizes he must take a backseat to an efficient crimefighter who uses books and courtrooms to clean up the streets. it’s an interesting side of Wayne, someone who laments the violence he must use as well as the love that he lost. Eckhart plays the white knight of Gotham in a sad way too. if you feel sympathy for anyone’s change into a monster, it’s him. they got that tone about his story, one similar to Mr. Freeze’s, dead on.

as a crime movie, especially drawing so much from “Heat” and other cops-and-robbers shoot-’em-up’s, what works the most in its favor is making Batman a detective again. along with Lt. Gordon, who’s got a bigger part this time, the two approach the Joker crimes by collecting evidence and testing theories, and ultimately casting a trap to capture him. it’s old school Batman lore, where he’s always ahead of the reader/viewer.

there are some cons to “The Dark Knight,” and unfortunately they have to do with Christian Bale. all the baddies and gadgets and action scenes aside, Bale still plays Batman like it’s amateur hour. once suited up, he’s got a sore throat and the expressionless mouth of a stroke victim. this isn’t all his fault, i know that suit takes away his eyes and brows, and it’s not like he can mime Vaudevillian-style in 2 inches of rubber. but considering Batman has always taken a backseat to “bad guy of the week,” logically because said bad guy(s) were only going to be in one installment, this lack of a strong protagonist is hurt even more by getting shuffled to the bottom of the deck. as Bruce Wayne, he’s 100%. as Batman, he’s 56%, maybe 57% on a dark night (see what i did there). Michael Keaton talked in a lower, whispery voice, but it wasn’t a dramatic change from his Wayne. across the board, Keaton’s Wayne was consistent. even Kilmer’s was, probably the most consistent performance, whether that’s good or bad. Clooney, i don’t quite remember. my point is Bale speaks normally, but, as Batman, he’s “playing” it over the top for what effect? to strike fear into criminals? it just comes off as jarring and unnatural.

but that’s one little gripe. “The Dark Knight” is the best comic book movie, hands down. and one of the best crime dramas since “The Departed.”

Random Notes:

  • the Two-Face makeup effects are amazing and disgusting. they really were my favorite thing about the movie. they captured that “Animated Series” look so perfectly. you see the tendons and the teeth, AND THE EYE BALL. awesome.
  • i liked maggie gyllenhaal as the new Rachel Dawes. she has a certain real world beauty that matches a childhood friend of Bruce Wayne’s. Katie Holmes was too glamorous for “Batman Begins,” more like a Bond girl.
  • whenever i can get more Gary Oldman in a movie, i’m happy. i liked Gordon — the Commish, finally — actually having a spine this time around, taking charge, being The Man.
  • Joker in the nurse’s outfit, priceless. good callback.
  • the coin flipping of Two-Face, another good callback with fond memories.
  • jesus fucking christ, how many knives does Joker have on his body at any one time?! he reminds me of a childhood toy i had, Rio Blast. motherfucker had lasers hidden all over his body, IN his body, in muscles, in arms, in his calves.
  • good cameo by Cillian Murphy as the Scarecrow. adds to that suspended reality that all these criminals go on doing their thing when Batman isn’t directly chasing them.
  • Michael Jai White and Eric Roberts. b-movie kingpins becoming a-list crime lords? i’ll buy it. great scenes with both actors.
  • another great cameo by none other than Nicky Katt, one of my favorites along with Timothy Olyphant (pre-Die Hard 4). always plays comedy so straight and under the level.
  • Gordon and his Major Crimes Unit? what the hell happened to Daniels? did they get disbanded AGAIN?

Grade: A

Batman: Gotham Knight

(2008, Dir. Shojiro Nishimi, Scr. Josh Olson, segment “Have I Got a Story For You;” Dir. Futoshi Higashide, Scr. Greg Rucka, segment “Crossfire;” Dir. Hiroshi Morioka, Scr. Jordan Goldberg, segment “Field Test;” Dir. Yasuhiro Aoki, Scr. David S. Goyer, segment “In Darkness Dwells;” Dir. Toshiyuki Kubooka, Scr. Brian Azzarello, segment “Working Through Pain;” Dir. Jong-Sik Nam, Scr. Alan Burnett, segment “Deadshot”)

given its art style and concept, the new animated movie, “Batman: Gotham Knight,” doesn’t hide its pedigree. moreover, it wears it like a war medal; you know, the one your grandfather wanted you to ask about so he could jump into a well rehearsed but no less fascinating story about his courageous adventures? “Gotham Knight” benefits from being compared to “The Animatrix,” as well as recent hits, “Steamboy,” “Tekkonkinkreet,” and the anime segment of “Kill Bill, Volume 1.” with anime more in the mainstream consciousness of fanboys’ sisters these days, most viewers can draw comparisons if not know exactly where they’ve seen this kind of crisp CG animation before (companies like Production I.G. are to credit).

“Gotham Knight” works much like “The Animatrix” did, with each vignette taking on an aspect or idea of the caped crusader’s universe, or a character trait not fully explored in the comic franchise. this works well for the most part, giving each short at least narrative substance to follow and enjoy. however, what results is the same Achilles’ Heel “The Animatrix” had: some segments are deep and interesting, but not long enough to be satisfying; others are ephemeral and come off like shiny placeholders.

“Have I Got a Story for You” and “Deadshot” are the best of the bunch; the first and last vignettes, respectively. the first one is concerned with Batman folklore, the symbol he represents and the tall tales he breeds among Gotham City’s residents. it’s the most interesting because it depicts the stories we’ve heard about Batman, particularly from criminals (i.e. the “great big bat” conversation between the two stick-up men at the beginning of Tim Burton’s “Batman”). three skateboarders, our protagonists, lead us down a “Rashomon”-like road dissecting the incarnations of Batman: one a literal liquid shadow flowing back and forth while fighting a bad guy, one an actual flying bat decapitating fools while squealing through the air, and one a technological wonder of weaponry reminiscent of Robocop. it’s entertaining throughout, as each kid tries to make “it more colorful, yo,” exaggerating the events to epic status. one even protests “i ain’t scared of you, man” as a burglar with a rocket launcher aims him down.

the last vignette, “Deadshot,” is a straightforward narrative, with Batman trying to stop a super sniper named Dead Shot from assassinating Lt. Gordon. there’s nothing deep here, but the story and animation are very smooth. it reminds a viewer of a mini episode of “Batman: The Animated Series,” which is fucking awesome if you remember.

the rest of the collection has some notable additions. “Crossfire” is about two M.C.U. detectives delivering a prisoner to Arkham Asylum. it deals mainly with the feeling that Gotham City P.D. “runs errands for a vigilante.” its art style is very “Hellsing” for you anime fans out there. “Field Test” finds Bruce Wayne and Lucius Fox testing out a electromagnetic pulse gyro that creates a force field around Batman that deflects bullets and projectiles. it’s a good little detour into Batty’s technology and moral values. “Working Through Pain” feels like an extension of the League of Shadows training in “Batman Begins.” it traces Wayne’s journey to control and strengthen his pain threshold by becoming a student of a Fakir outcast in India. some good moments.

the worst of the bunch is “In Darkness Dwells,” unsurprising to me since it is penned by David S. Goyer. i’m not a fan of Goyer. he tries too hard to make his dialogue and pacing poignant, like the bastard child of Dashiell Hammett and George Lucas. what results is wooden characters and eye-rolling plot developments. though he manages to draw up stories true to their source material which i like (“Blade,” “Batman Begins,” and “The Dark Knight”). there are a couple good noir exchanges between Batty and a bum in the sewer tunnel, but the Scarecrow/Killer Croc adventure isn’t memorable at all.

overall, the collection is beautiful to watch and there are some good folklore explorations in the six stories. but, nothing is going to stay with you when you eject it from your player. rent it.

Grade: B-

The Batman Warner Bros. Franchise (best to worst)

  1. The Dark Knight (2008)
  2. Batman (1989)
  3. Batman Begins (2005)
  4. Batman Returns (1992)
  5. Batman Forever (1995)
  6. Batman & Robin (1997)

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