17 June 2006

Batman Begins

Holy crap, this movie was so unbelievably bad. I mean, I'm straining to think of a worse movie. Daredevil. That was worse. But then again, Daredevil starred Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, not Christian Bale, Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Tom Wilkinson... seriously, how on Earth did so many excellent actors manage to make such a horrifically bad movie?

Let's start with the biggest problem - it was boring. 140 minutes, and you felt every single one. About an hour in, I started shifting in my seat, and at two hours, I was twitching and begging to turn it off. I didn't give a shit how the movie ended (not like I couldn't guess) - there was no chance of redemption. Even a random zombie attack couldn't have saved this movie, and I LOVE zombies.

Second problem - the dialogue. It was painful. "Why do we fall down? So we can pick ourselves back up?" "It's not who you are underneath, but what you do that defines you". Excuse me, I think I just threw up into my mouth a little bit. I can't stand trite, bullshit, pseudo-profundity like that. It's obnoxious, and goddamnit, it's NOT profound. It's not that I'm jaded, it's that if you're really the kind of person who can say that kind of tripe with a straight face and find it inspiring, you are... not someone I'm interested in watching a movie about, to put it mildly. Action movies should not preach the wisdom of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Cheesy dialogue is fine - when the Scarecrow tells Batman to lighten up, and promptly sets him on fire, THAT'S funny. That's cheesy, and totally appropriate. It's super. But this voyage of self-discovery garbage has got to go.

Which brings me to the next point, the ridiculous attempt to add depth to the movie by making it about Batman's process of self-discovery, how he learned to conquer his fear, face his fear, figure himself out, whatever. It's stupid. And it contributes nothing to the plot. First off, it's never really made clear what Batman is actually afraid of. He does seem to have some kind of bat-phobia, but it's not clear how conquering that fear - emblematized by him standing in the middle of a swarm of bats - really makes him a better person. It provides him with a convenient cover for escape, sure, but so would an explosion, a smoke machine, a less conspicuous costume... whatever. The fact that he frightens other people doesn't really drive in the point that he's apparently turning his fear against others, whatever that means - it's just what a badass ought to do. The Transporter sneaks up on people too, and he doesn't back it up with a load of bullshit. Wolverine can slash you to fucking pieces, and he doesn't need to conquer his inner demons to do it. The whole psychological portion of the movie is totally superficial, and completely unnecessary. It happens entirely through trite dialogue, but doesn't have any real bearing on the action. The folksy wisdom espoused by Batman is mostly common sense veiled in pretentious, pop-psychology language. Ugh.

Final problem - the plot is ridiculous. WARNING PLOT SPOILER. So they want Batman to end up having to fight his former mentor - fine. So they need to give this mentor some kind of evil project that will necessitate his destruction. This is tricky, given that he's supposed to be a good guy. So what do they do? They create this bizarre scheme whereby Liam Neeson and Co. are unleashing an ungodly shitstorm in order to purge the city and start anew. Huh? That's so painfully stupid, it's not even funny. Not only that, but their plan, while quite evil, is totally ridiculous. Making everyone in the city insane isn't going to help them in this goal at all - it's just going to leave them with a city of quivering schizos. Why not just nuke them and be done with it? It's not like they're going to be of any use once you've melted their brains. The idiocy of the endeavor, alas, obscures its bad-assness, in that their panic drug is actually pretty sweet, and the first time you see it in action, it really is fucking terrifying, and very awesome. It's the one good thing about the movie, really. The whole water mains plus vaporizer thing is a bit whack, but whatever, I can suspend some disbelief. I'd be willing to go with it if it weren't such a totally counter-productive plan.

Incidentally, what in the fuck is Wayne Industries supposed to do? It's never made clear in the movie. It seems to be some kind of creepy organization that makes the Wayne's very rich, basically. Oh, and they have some really awesome toys in the basement. And a water vaporizer kicking around. So perhaps they sell such products, but on the other hand, all the ones that they have, apparently nobody wants to buy. So where's all the dough coming from?

See, the thing is, I've enjoyed plenty of movies that have gaping plot holes. I even enjoy movies with trite, cliche dialogue. Why not this one? Well, for one thing, the action wasn't all that hot. The fights were pretty blah, the car chase was boring, I wasn't even that impressed with the body armor or the batmobile. I was watching the shit on a gigantic plasma screen tv - it's not like I was straining to see it on some tiny tv, where I couldn't really appreciate it because I couldn't see it. No no, I could see it all with absolutely gorgeous, sparkling clarity. For another thing, the movie didn't really invite you to laugh at it's shitty dialogue - there was no subtle wink, or sense of campiness. It was in deadly earnest. But then again, so was the final Matrix movie, and I still managed to laugh my way through that. So I dunno. Maybe I was just in a bad mood, or feeling uncharitable. Still though, man did that movie suck.

16 June 2006

Roddy Doyle, The Woman Who Walked Into Doors

A striking book (wow, what a terrible choice of words to describe a book that focuses on domestic abuse...).

This novel is surprisingly difficult to describe. It's written from the perspective of a poor woman living in a trailer outside of Dublin. Near the beginning of the book, we find out that her husband, whom she had kicked out perhaps a year earlier, was shot by the police, after he killed a woman during a robbery attempt. Incidentally, a very similar robbery attempt appears in the Irish movie Intermission - I wonder if it's a coincidence? Anyhow, the novel is narrated by this woman, and is a kind of memoir. She writes about her childhood and her relationship with her husband. The present sort of intrudes as she talks about her family life now, her urge to drink, etc.

What's notable about the text is that it comes from the perspective of a person who is almost a cliche - the poor alcoholic, victim of domestic abuse, etc. The woman's life is absolutely wretched, but at the same time, the book doesn't make a bid for pity. It's fascinating, the way you can't seem to get an angle on the characters. The husband, for instance, alternately seems like a pretty great guy or a complete monster. Perhaps this is because the narrator seems to vacillate between the two views. Also interesting is the way in which the text sort of chronicles the collapse of subjectivity - you watch her lose utter faith in herself, and her ability to remember, and describe accurately. The text begins to seem frantic, repetetive, as though she is insisting that it was this way, and trying to convince both the reader, and herself, that she can speak reliably.

It's an incredibly grim story, and yet, even despite lengthy sections detailing pretty horrific violence, it's not heartbreaking. Not that it's a light, entertaining read, but it's not deeply disturbing, and I really can't figure out why. It's very well written, and very interesting. You somehow feel that you've genuinely gotten access to another person's inner life. It's not a warm cuddly feeling, particularly given how awful that life is, but it's somehow... touching, perhaps? Not in the sappy sense. Maybe it's that you feel moved, not in the sense of, overwhelmed with emotion, but rather, moved from your own headspace into someone else's. It's like you're dispassionate, but highly interested, observer. In any case, a very curious book.

02 June 2006

X Men 3

Warning: If you haven't seen the movie yet, you might not want to read what follows, because it will give away substantial portions of the plot. By the way, if you haven't seen it, be sure to stick around to see what happens at the end of the credits.

What a strange movie. I can understand why the reviews have been so mixed - it reflects the odd blend of quality in the film itself.

The premise is quite interesting; in the third installment of the X-Men films, the government has created a cure for the mutant gene. Magneto is certain that they will soon use it to eradicate the mutants, and wages war. The somewhat hapless X-Men are opposed to war, and thus, fight Magneto. What makes this tricky is that Magneto's concerns seem totally valid - despite the government's claims to only offer the cure to mutants who want it, within 20 minutes, they're firing syringe-loads at Mystique. But it gets more interesting still: when Hank McCoy, who is some kind of political representative of the mutants, discusses this issue with the president, portraying it as a threat to democracy, the president's response is that he fears for the state of democracy in a world where one man has the power to vaporize a city. This point is excellently borne out by Phoenix, the resurrected Jean Gray, who has a devastating amount of power, and no ability, or real willingness, to control it. Her character is bit sketchy - at times pure id, at times tormented Jean Gray, her motives are sort of puzzling, and for most of the movie, she just glowers in a corner. That's when she's not haunting people's thoughts, or getting pissed off and unleashing the apocalypse. In any case, as I said, the premise of the film is interesting, and skillfully handled. It's not an obvious good guys/bad guys split, it's actually quite nuanced. One has the sense that it's an allegory, but it's not a heavy handed one. You can't set up obvious parallels, like "mutants equal terrorists", or anything like that. Rather, the film stages the problems of multiculturalism and power imbalances, and provides a space for reflection.

However, while the plot is somewhat elegant and interesting, the dialogue is hamfisted, and the acting is awful. I was really puzzled by the fact that I was really irritated by the corny jokes in the movie. As I said in my review of The Transporter 2, below: "The real secret to an entertaining action movie, after great action, of course, is puns. Great puns." So why did the ones in this movie irritate me so much? My friend Russ, I think, figured out the answer. Puns, or corny jokes of that kind, are best used in a situation where there are some comic undertones, and with a kind of wink and smirk to the audience. They need to be somewhat ironic, even if not explicitly so. Also, I think, they should be a moment where you laugh/groan with the character, not at him. For instance, in Commando, when Arnold is asked what happened to a dude whom he droppedoff a cliff, he says "I had to let him go". That works. It's hilarious, and great, and Arnold knows it. In contrast, when Wolverine and Cyclops are arguing, and Cyclops storms down the hall, then pauses, and says "Not everybody heals as quickly as you do Wolverine", and then flounces off, it doesn't work. Cyclops seems totally oblivious to the cheese-factor of the line, as does Wolverine. The situation isn't a humorous one; the line just serves to add inappropriate humor to a melodramatic context, which prevents you from getting absorbed in the melodrama, making you realize how cheesy the whole scene is. Even when Charles says "You of all people, Storm, should realize how quickly the weather can change" - he kind of smirks, but it's a serious scene - the comedy is totally inappropriate.

This was the main weakness - shitty dialogue, and generally poor acting. The script was melodramatic and flat, and the actors, it seemed, couldn't decide whether to play it campy, seriously, or what, and ended up just kind of hanging out, occasionally acting distraught.

The movie certainly set itself up for an X-Men 4. I wonder if it'll be better, or worse.