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Sunday, June 19, 2005

Bummer Man Reviews Crash and Batman Begins

I took in another double feature, this time catching Crash and Batman Begins... two movies that made all the critics swoon... except this one. Equipped only with my own powers of skepticism and critical thinking I've managed to find fault even with these two fine films. Welcome to Bummer Man's Movie Reviews: Popping your Balloons since 1992.

Crash should win Don Cheadle a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. His performance stands out as the most balanced, believable and moving of the entire movie. He's also the only actor that has made me crave a cigarette in years.

With that out of the way, this film is a moody patchwork of sophomoric emotional exploitation. Perhaps the film should have been called, LA is Full of Stupid People Behaving Stupidly and That Makes It Hard to Live Here. Or perhaps, I'm Going to Push Every Race Button I Can Think of to Make Sure That You Find Yourself Affected. Lastly, I submit this potential title: I'm Going to Make an Ensemble Picture ala Robert Altman and Hope No one Notices that Most of the Story Arcs are Shallow and Two Dimensional. Everyone that I've talked to that loved this movie warned me that I should bring a box of Kleenex... apparently in case I needed to blow some boogers out of my nose. The most shameful aspect of the film is that while is seems to want to show all sides of racism (hanging its hat on this shockingly un-PC approach) it wimps out in one significant way: it balks at showing a Hispanic character in a bad light. Sandra Bullock's maid, Don Cheadle's partner, and the locksmith Daddy are all portrayed just shy of sainthood. This seems pretty significant as California's biggest racial conflict centers around the Latino community. Why did the filmmakers forget to show the dark face of the Latino community along side those of the Black, Asian and White communities?

The best quality of the story is the sadly underdeveloped principle theme, which gives the film its title. While attempting to dice up every possible racial interaction you can think of, the movie is actually based on a novel idea that we live such isolated lives that we "crash" into each other. We behave in stupid, racist and violent ways just because we are so desperate to connect. This theme gets some attention in the beginning and again when Sandra Bullock finally hugs the Latina maid that she's been verbally abusing for the rest of the movie. The maid, being almost saintlike, accepts the hug graciously, rather than bitch-slapping her and telling her that she's getting what she deserves for being so evil for all these years.

Bummer Man's Bottom Line: Still worth seeing, but don't believe the hype.

Batman Begins suffers mostly due to the raising of the bar for comic book films. Marvel's X-Men and Spider-Man franchises have set a new standard of excellence. A film that would have once been considered a great comic book movie now seems weak. The first big victim of this phenomenon was Daredevil. Panned by everyone from the haters of Ben Affleck to the haters of Jennifer Garner, it was probably one of the five or six best comic book to movie adaptations yet made. But it couldn't match the tight scripting, perfect casting and outstanding special effects of Marvel's biggest two properties.

So now here comes Christopher Nolan's dark vision of Batman and every comic fan is drooling to see what the genius who made Memento has come up with. The result is sadly predictable... It's better than any previous Batman film, but fell short of what I was hoping for. Just like Daredevil, it has brilliant moments of darkness and intensity undermined by pathetic moments of bad acting, cheap one-liners and stupid special effects.

The casting is mostly solid. Despite his speech impediment Christian Bale impresses as Batman, especially physically. Michael Caine is perfect as Alfred the Butler, and he's the only source of effective comic relief. Surprisingly, Liam Neeson owns the screen whenever he appears (as Ras al Ghul, principle villain.) Cillian Murphy seemed too young to be The Scarecrow, but channeled creepiness like Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator. Gary Oldman and Katie Holmes, however, are painfully bad in their parts. This would be forgivable (barely) if they weren't playing such key roles (the young Commissioner Gordon and the main love interest.) Also several flunkees and minor villains are terrible in their performances. This is a MAJOR MISTAKE that DC and Marvel need to correct if they want their movies to be more successful. Daredevil was NOT undone so much by Ben Affleck or Jennifer Garner. It was ruined by letting Joe Pantoliano near it; And it was almost redeemed by the brilliant work of Jon Favreau as Foggy Nelson. Lesser (but key) characters make or break these films... and Batman, like Daredevil, is sabotaged by the weak performances of half of its cast.

As for the actual plot, Batman Begins takes a great approach. It retells the origin story but doesn't linger on the death of Bruce Wayne's parents (and didn't adhere to Tim Burton's stupid idea of having them killed by a young Joker.) Instead it focuses on the darker, Eastern mysticism of Batman's history. Like the Shadow, the Batman mystique is tied up in his ability to incite panic and fear in his prey. The approach is a little bit Ninja High School, but it's still more interesting and more philosophically provoking than any other film treatment that Batman has received. The prologue of the film builds the idea of a troubled young adult seeking to understand the criminal element that he hates/fears so much by living amongst them. The true origins of the Batman aren't about his parents' deaths but rather about how he builds his skills and refines his approach to vigilantism. These scenes are high in the Himalayan Mountains (presumably) and filled with a rich darkness. Imagine Luke Skywalker's training with Yoda (down to the hallucinogenic spirit journey) if Yoda were a lot more bloodthirsty.

The leitmotif of fear is strongly present throughout as Bruce Wayne defines his role as the Batman. He fights his own fears, uses "fear against those who would prey on the fearful", and fights a primary villain named Scarecrow, who uses a drug-induced fear state as his weapon. Ras al Ghul chastises Batman for being afraid to accept his ubermench approach to justice. As a theme, analyzing the different roles fear takes in a vigilante-style superhero film is a unique and largely interesting approach. Again, more could have been done to play with this theme, rather than to just keep ramming it down our throats. And if they just wanted to artfully facefuck us, the filmmakers missed a huge creative opportunity when they portrayed the paranoid hallucinations of people exposed to the Scarecrow's drugs. They hit the nail on the head a couple of times, but my God, somebody should have jumped on that rollercoaster and really lit it up. Better that this was a sin of omission. Christopher Nolan apparently opted to understate things (which is some relief after Joel Schumacher almost overstated Batman to death.)

Bummer Man's Bottom Line: Comic book movies will grow up, like comics themselves, only when audiences turn toward the independent offerings of great artists. Go see this film, but make sure to rent Sin City, Hellboy or Ghost World. It will increase your karma, and you'll see some great examples of what comic-to-film adaptations are capable of outside the compromises of the Marvel and DC universes. _Cinema

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7 Comments:

At 6/19/2005 02:28:00 PM, Blogger walaka said...

Hrm. Reminds me of this. http://www.livejournal.com/users/willworks/16206.html#cutid1

 
At 6/20/2005 09:38:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's a link to intelligent reviews of the movie crash, as to John's review, blame the educational system and his adult oppositional defiant disorder:

http://www.metacritic.com/film/titles/crash

As to Batman, the lead actor's name is Christian Bale, not Christopher. Also, no self-respecting comic book lover would go see this movie let alone offer a review, nothing subtracted from nothing equals nothing.

hugs and kisses

 
At 6/20/2005 09:51:00 PM, Blogger Johnbai3030 said...

Thank goodness you pointed out my misspelling... now my post is perfect.

 
At 6/21/2005 06:10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, it won't be perfect until you get help with your AODD.

 
At 6/21/2005 06:12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Bummer Man,

"Fear leads to anger.
Anger leads to hate.
Hate... leads to suffering." --Yoda

Speaking of Yoda, I can't wait to read your review of a widely-agreed-upon bad movie, such as "Revenge of the Sith."

Anyway. Regarding your thinly-veiled intestinal seizure disguised as a movie review:

"it NEVER shows a Hispanic character in a bad light."

You must open your eyes and see past the obvious racist themes on the surface of the movie. You must look deeper. The little Hispanic girl under the blanket was very poorly lit, nevermind the color tinting from the fabric.

"This is highly significant as California's primary race problem centers around the Latin community."

This world hasn't had a "Latin community" since the Roman Empire, and I am so offended by your lack of consideration for my ancestors and their Latin language and community that I think I need some chocolate.

Soapy

 
At 6/21/2005 06:22:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've tried helping John with his AODD, but don't have enough of an engineering or hydraulics background to make any real progress. If anyone would like more info regarding AODD, check here:

http://www.versamatic.com/aodd/index.asp

I don't know about the rest of you, but when I think of John, I think of Air-Operated Double Diaphragms. Which coincidentally is the name of the house band here at Stave It Off.

Soapy

 
At 6/21/2005 06:50:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's ADULT OPPOSITIONAL DEFIANT DISORDER (AODD), basically it's what The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fourth Edition, (DSM IV) says about behavior in children, with one key exception, it refers to an adult Johnbai.

Here's the link: http://www.emedicine.com/PED/topic2791.htm

Hugs and snuggles

 

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