Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

I want to say that I loved The Dark Knight Rises. It was a dense, complex movie with a lot going on. This was both what made it great and what gave it flaws that perhaps made it not quite as incredible as The Dark Knight which came before. This is going to be rife with SPOILERS, so beware of this going in.

Gotham's Reckoning

First off, I'm going to talk about what made the movie awesome, and then nitpick it from another angle. I loved Bane. I think they did an excellent job of turning him into a fearsome villain with presence, a force that moves through Gotham like a knife through butter. It is remarkable what Tom Hardy was able to do with only body movements and the use of his eyes. And, what's more, Bane is Batman's superior in almost every way, and it shows. There isn't a fight in the film where Bane doesn't kick Batman's ass, thoroughly. The only way he is overcome is through the cheap trick of punching his mask, which felt about as rewarding as beating Darth Vader by bitch-slapping his respirator.

It is worth noting that Christopher Nolan improved on the Bane of the comics by, on top of making Bane deadly, turning him into a sympathetic character. It is truly touching that Bane, a prisoner, essentially sacrificed his humanity to save the life of one little girl. Doing so turns him into what is clearly a monster, unable to connect with people and discarding them like sacks of worthless flesh. It is only with Talia that he is able to become a protector and show a scintilla of compassion. I wish they had spent more time on this dynamic, but given the twist of Talia's appearance, it could not be.

Al-Ghul Resurgent

One thing important to note about this movie is how important the events of Batman Begins are to the plot. Indirectly, Liam Neeson's Ra's Al-Ghul drives the entire story; Bane is trained by the League of Shadows and his plan mirrors their twisted philosophy of purging civilizations in order to purify them from corruption. Bane's excommunication from the League tells us two things: it requires us to take him seriously since this is akin to someone being kicked out of the Soviet Spetsnaz (an infamously dangerous special forces) for being too violent; it also illustrates that Bane is a dark shadow of what Batman could have become. It is also worth noting that Talia's parasitical entrance into Gotham's society would not have happened without Batman allowing Ra's to die at the end of the first movie. Revenge drives the movie, with Ra's Al-Ghul a specter above it all.

The Dark Knight Rises also returns us to the Asian and Middle Eastern influences of Batman Begins. I thought that one of the most powerful moments of that first movie arose from Bruce Wayne's time abroad in the Tibetan mountains, training with the League of Shadows. Similarly, Wayne's time in captivity in this movie, as well as the backstory surrounding where he is imprisoned, includes many of the more poignant scenes in the film. It's interesting that the most intriguing moments for me in this trilogy were the moments where we aren't in Gotham and when we aren't dealing with Batman; instead, it is those moments where we confront the psyche of the man behind the mask. We get a great deal of that in The Dark Knight Rises, possibly more than any of the movies that came before.

The Breaking of the Bat

Speaking of which, let's talk about Batman. Christopher Nolan does three things that are shocking for a comic book movie like this. First, he cripples Batman's spirit; the first half of the movie is a trail of Batman seeking a purpose in a world that hates him, and then being destroyed for it against the immutable wall of Bane. Second, he cripples Batman's body; Bane's thrashing of Batman is so brutal that he must spend months retraining his body and popping his freaking vertebrae back into place. Lastly, he kills Batman. Who does that? The only apparent way that he gets out of it is by some weird factor of Christian Bale being immune to nuclear explosions or Alfred being so mentally deranged by the events of the movie that he hallucinates Bruce Wayne's appearance in Europe. However, this is another area where I wished that they would spend more time allowing events to resonate with the audience. Things moved so fast that it was hard to connect with Bruce Wayne's anguish; we were too swept up in Gotham going to hell that it was more difficult to mull over the more quiet moments of the prison and Batman rising from his slump.

The French Revolution

One thing which I thought very daring on the part of Christopher Nolan was making clear references to the French Revolution. That same French Revolution that brought on the guillotine, the execution of Marie Antoinette, the kangaroo courts, and an atmosphere where you could be killed for any reason; a barely controlled anarchy. I have long regarded the French Revolution as the most terrifying event I've ever read about in history. Imagine going for a walk and being branded a traitor, brutally raped and murdered, just because you wore a watch. This was a time period where the lower class's hatred of the rich grew to such levels that they would lynch, torture, and kill anyone who had even the barest hint of privilege. If you spoke in a refined and polite manner, you'd likely be pointed out and killed. People reported their neighbors, old rivals, and anyone who pissed them off that day as traitors to the new order. And, because the desire for a purge of nobility was so powerful, it made absolutely no difference whether the claims were true or false; they'd guillotine you anyways. People accused one another just to focus the mob somewhere, anywhere, else. It was worse than living under some warlord's or drug lord's yoke; it was humans murdering one another for expressing rational thought, a bloodbath that targeted civilization itself.

We see that same sort of spirit in the revolution that Bane brings to Gotham. People are encouraged to replace the existing order, to kill those in charge and to overturn old idols. It is exemplified clearest at all in the monstrous court created by Jonathan Crane, the Scarecrow of previous movies. He seats himself atop a ruin of thrown papers, books, chairs, and tables, the same devastation which Bane has brought to the order of Gotham. And, from this perch, he listens to people try to explain why they aren't guilty, but sentences them to death regardless, a mockery of the justice system of old. The fear that overtakes replacement Commissioner Foley is indicative of the same fear that overtook the average person during the French Revolution; people hoped that by remaining quiet and suppliant they might escape the carnage when, in fact, what was needed was a gathering of the silent majority in opposing it.

This was unexpectedly impressive food for thought but, like with the meditation of Batman repairing his sense of self, I felt that the French Revolution aspect of Bane's agenda came by so fast that it wasn't allowed to fully resonate with the audience. I'm willing to bet that the average movie goer completely missed that this was a perfect cautionary warning of how the excesses of groups like Occupy Wall Street could cause them to radically deviate from their agenda. It also is a perfect fictional illustration of the fact that, throughout history, we've seen populist movements before and that they must be taken with a grain of salt or risk spiraling dangerously out of control.


Altogether, I enjoyed The Dark Knight Rises immensely, but I can't help but wish it had been a longer movie or that it had tried to tackle a bit less. All the points and characters that it brought up were incredibly interesting, but I found myself wishing for some longer scenes, for things to slow down just a little bit so some of what was happening could feel more fleshed out and less frantic. This is, perhaps, a hilarious complaint for a movie that's already three hours long. Perhaps this nitpick should be rescinded in favor of the fact that this will lend itself well to multiple viewings, which is always good for any movie.

But The Dark Knight is probably the better movie, if only barely. I say this just because, upon leaving The Dark Knight, I felt awed and thoughtful. By contrast, upon leaving The Dark Knight Rises, I felt overwhelmed and that I had a LOT to process. This isn't necessarily bad, but it's worth noting that I didn't find myself reaching that cathartic moment where the movie ends and everything feels tied together. But, then again, it isn't like we had that moment with the movie, Inception, either. It's a truly tough call.

If nothing else, I did want to comment that I find the idea of Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a new Batman to be a little bit ridiculous. It isn't that he doesn't have the acting chops, it's more that he looks so young that I can't picture him in a Batsuit without laughing. Also: Catwoman was well done by Anne Hathaway but, like I predicted, I never felt like her presence in the film was really necessary. Batman didn't have to be trapped into a fight with Bane; he was going to fight him anyways. And someone else could just as easily have saved him and helped him out in the final confrontation. Her only salient point was giving Batman a sort of curious kick in the pants at the beginning, prompting him to stop being Howard Hughes and to put the Batsuit on again, if only to recover a lost necklace.

Anyways, enough nitpicking. All in all, it's a fantastic movie and I'll definitely be seeing it again at some point. I'd be curious to hear other impressions in the comments below, if anyone wants to contribute.

Monday, July 23, 2012


Written by Joe the Revelator

Cop shows and police dramas have never been a big interest of mine.  CSI, CSI Miami, NCSI, ASDF-CSI, Miami Heat...It's a game for people who like to guess who the killer is, why the killer went on a spree, and what evidence will turn up to convict them. The same vindication can be had from reading Encyclopedia Brown novels, or if Jeopardy had a killers and victims episode, and the audience could guess at the categories without feeling dumb when Alex Trebec hits them with "Who Is: Ed Gein?"

Luther is all the crime drama and the police politics interplay without the feeling that you're being brought for a squad-car ride along, or that you're a lab tech fumbling through last year's cutting edge crime analysis tools. Luther, played by Idris Elba the captain in Promytheus, is a cop-on-the-edge, spiraling out of control after catching one too many kidnappers.

His first real breaking point and the opening scene is of a child predator hanging from a catwalk in a warehouse like the Joker, waiting for the good-guy detective to haul him to safety. Without knowing the inspector's background it's still evident he's struggling with the notion of upholding the law when he has the opportunity to remove an infected limb of society by simply not lending a hand. Dirty cop? That's the whole magnificent package, from seasons one to two.

Offices are made to be broken.

The foes Luther faces are as stunningly strange as the rivals in a Sherlock Holmes novel. Alice, played by  Ruth Wilson, is a sociopath extreme. Her flop of a case is one of many recent failures Luther is faced with, which somehow earns him a companion, albeit a very disturbing one. And the challenges get stranger, between men he's known and worked with turning the guns on him, to a severe case of Role Playing, which a pair of 'Gamers' roll dice to see which weapons and methods they'll use to slaughter groups of innocents.

I honestly don't know why Luther works at the police station at all. Any real stumbling block in the case, any argument with his wife, results in a broken window or a smashed keyboard. Watch the series on Fast-Forward and you could make a drinking game out of the show. Every time he breaks something take a drink. If he does something ludicrously self-destructive (playing Russian roulette, dousing himself with gasoline, running into gunfire) take a shot.

That's what the killer said.

If my judgement of Luther so far sounds overboard, that's because it is. It's amazing they've kept up the tension this long. Any real cop would have been suspended, killed, or just plain retired after making so many back alley deals. The third season should have Luther sitting in a doctor's office complaining of high blood pressure and a ulcer. Watching this show could give you both. But like me, you might love every minute of it. Despite having the drama in the red for every minute of every episode, Luther manages to come off smart and compelling. You may feel you need a hot bath and an antidepressant, but it's worth giving it a spin.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Long Halloween

Continuing the Batman addiction in preparation for The Dark Knight Rises, I thought I'd try my hand at reading some Batman comics that are regarded as the best of the best.

An Offer He Can't Refuse

The Long Halloween is primarily the story of how Harvey Dent became Two-Face. It is also a gangster story, a Catwoman story, and a story that manages to include just about every single one of Batman's villains, while not having any of them be the culprit of the ongoing mystery. With a feel reminiscent of The Godfather, The Long Halloween is probably the first time I've ever read a Batman comic that feels genuinely like something out of film noir. It is gritty, hard-boiled, and the mystery is incredibly hard to crack. And it simultaneously manages to call into question everything we know about Batman, as well as many of the people he surrounds himself with.

The premise of The Long Halloween is initially simple. A serial killer is killing people on holidays, leaving souvenirs at the scene of every crime that are themed to each holiday. On Christmas, he leaves a snow-globe. On St. Patrick's Day, a leprechaun statue. On Thanksgiving, a cornucopia. And nobody can figure out who it is. Jim Gordon, Harvey Dent, Batman... Each of them investigate the killings and are completely stymied.

Simultaneous to this are the intrigues of the Falcone and Maroni crime families. You've got the whole Godfather-esque picture: low-level thugs, seemingly refined gentlemen of the upper echelons, and the Italian weddings and celebrations. Because of their schemes, their members seem prime suspects. However, there's also the problem that, for the most part, Falcone family members are the only ones being killed off by the Holiday killer. Why would the gang be killing their own?

On top of this, other villains in the city actually get to the point where they feel they have to act out because of all the attention the Holiday killer is getting. The Joker decides that nobody is allowed to supplant his position as primo-criminal, and so tries to stage a grand crime that will revert attention back to him. Other villains, such as Poison Ivy and the Riddler, hire out their services to the gangs, who appear to be trying equally hard to find the Holiday killer themselves. In addition, Catwoman is slinking around, seemingly always hiding and watching wherever Batman appears to be.

The result is an insane shitstorm where villains are lashing out, the gang families are getting increasingly disruptive, and the Holiday killer flits about without anyone able to figure out who he is, much less stop him.

I Believe In Harvey Dent

The Long Halloween is a story that manages to tackle an enormous amount of tricky story elements and still manage to come out amazing. Not only is there a lot of stuff going on, but it also manages to make time for contemplative character moments that surprise you with their poignancy. There's a moment halfway through the comic where Dent and Gordon realize that, like Batman, they are leading double lives in how often they stay away from home to bring criminals to justice. We end up seeing a good deal of their home lives, their wives; and the dichotomy between the characters is remarkable. Gordon somehow manages to maintain being a caring husband and father despite his constant absences. By contrast, Dent's marriage is constantly under strain, heartbreakingly so. Gilda Dent (his wife) is so deeply in love with him that she finds it hard to cope with Dent's career and, as things get more dangerous for him and he inevitably snaps, it's genuinely hard to watch as she tries so hard to help him and for it all to be in vain. This is a marriage that should be perfect and the stuff of movies but, instead, is twisted by the events around them to the point of fading away, no matter how much Gordon and Batman try to help.

To that point, I would say that The Long Halloween handles Harvey Dent's fall with more depth and passion than The Dark Knight. The Harvey Dent of this story is zealous to the point of being willing to break the rules, making more sense that he would take matters into his own hands when his mind breaks. In addition, with the character of Gilda, we genuinely yearn for Harvey to succeed so that he may return home as if, through hope and will alone, we may ignore the fact that Harvey is doomed to fall. He is essentially Batman if Batman didn't have money and was bound to operate within the rules of law. And that's interesting to think about because, in another life, Harvey Dent could have been Batman.


Altogether, I loved every minute of this comic. The mystery managed to cast suspicion on every single character (including Batman himself, at one point), and I was completely unable to predict who the Holiday killer turned out to be. Throughout this trail of crumbs, we're treated to one epic race after another, as Batman and the others try their damnedest to find the killer before each holiday comes to pass. On top of this, we're treated to the romantic back-and-forth of Catwoman, the efforts of Bruce Wayne to combat the gangsters economically, one villain encounter after another, and more. And, finally, the art is both beautiful and gothic; Batman has never looked so fearsome and inhuman.

If you're looking for a really good, effectively written, and gangster/mystery/noir/Batman story, this is one comic definitely worth buying.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises - Background and Influences

The Dark Knight Rises is just around the corner and, despite my efforts, it's been impossible to not read about it and get incredibly psyched. After all, we remember the awesomeness of The Dark Knight, and Christopher Nolan has shown us (with Inception, if nothing else) that he can create one intense movie.

Yet as I've read of this upcoming movie and of its apparent inspirations, it occurred to me: most people probably don't even know who Bane (the villain-to-be) is. And it might not be immediately apparent why this new movie is set a full eight years after the previous one. So, given my immense repository of useless information (which includes comic book lore), I thought I'd make an effort to create a sort of background primer explaining the source material that Christopher Nolan appears to be working with.


Believe it or not, we have seen Bane before. In the godawful Batman & Robin movie, Bane appears as a skinny little git who grows into a tank of a minion, when fueled to the gills with some nasty greenish compound known as Venom. His sole purpose in that movie is to serve as a giant bruiser for Batman to fight and, more or less, easily dispatch, serving merely as an idle distraction before getting to the 'main course' of Poison Ivy. What you need to do now is forget that this iteration of Bane ever existed. I thought about putting a picture up of what that Bane looked like, but I'm not going to. It's about as accurate to the source material as if Batman were some dog dressed in Bat-tights.
It liiiiiives!
Anyways, what makes Bane special among Batman's eclectic coterie of bad guys is that Bane is the only villain who has ever completely and utterly defeated Batman. Not only did he beat Batman in a viciously brutal fistfight, but he destroys Batman emotionally as well. He's the only one who pushes Batman past his limit and, by doing so, messes Batman up so thoroughly that Batman gives up and lets someone else take the Batman moniker.

How does this happen, you ask? In comics, the story is called Knightfall. A complete unknown at this point in Batman's history, Bane realizes that attacking Batman directly is futile, and so decides to stage an enormous breakout of Arkham Asylum, the place where all of Batman's villains are imprisoned. Batman doesn't know who did it or how, but the result is close to absolute anarchy, as foes such as the Joker, Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, Two-Face, and more spill out into Gotham and create their own little pockets of tyranny or madness. The police are completely unable to cope, hundreds of people are dying as victims in various insane schemes, and it's all up to Batman. He takes them down one-by-one and is driven to exhaustion. He is injured and shot repeatedly, and nearly runs out of his stock of gadgets and paraphernalia.

Thinking it all over after recapturing the last villain, Batman returns home to the Wayne mansion and finds Bane waiting for him. It turns out that, in Batman's haste to stop all the bad guys who escaped, Bane has been able to track Batman's whereabouts and discover both the location of the Bat-cave and the fact that Batman is actually Bruce Wayne. Despite Batman's determination to fight Bane regardless, you can tell that Batman doesn't have a chance. He looks haggard, his face worn and unshaven, and he's shuddering, unable to shake off his exhaustion. And Bane, a villain who he's never even seen before, would arguably be Batman's equal in a fight, even if Batman were fully rested and armed. Thus, in short order, Bane brutalizes Batman, toys with him like he would a child, and then breaks his back and turns Batman into a paraplegic.

While, eventually, Batman recovers years later and defeats Bane personally, it's important to note that Bane is a combination of brute force and cunning. Unlike others, Bane is smart enough to weaken Batman and push him beyond his endurance before Bane even thinks of facing him. What will Christopher Nolan do with his version of Bane? Well, I'm willing to bet that the drug Venom won't be mentioned. In the comics, Bane does in fact have this compound that boosts his strength, but it's so secondary to what makes him a threat that it would just be pointless to bring up, especially considering that Christopher Nolan's Batman universe likes to have a firm grounding in reality.

Old Batman

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, The Dark Knight Rises takes place eight years after the events of The Dark Knight. In what is perhaps the most fitting homage to Heath Ledger's crazy and epic take on the Joker, the Bruce Wayne of this third movie is going to be one who is legitimately damaged from the encounter. Batman is older, he looks gaunt, he's regarded as having murdered Harvey Dent, and is essentially a pariah, both among the police and in the media. In fact, Batman is regarded as "missing" for all of those years. It wouldn't be surprising if along with this trauma comes a strong dose of cynicism.

All this reminded me of The Dark Knight Returns, a comic that basically asks, “What if Batman became so overwhelmed with crime fighting that he gave up, retired for a dozen years, then came back, much older, to try once more in a Gotham that's become far more corrupt and dark in his absence." And I've read an article or two that suggests that this comic is one of those that was used for prime inspiration in the making of this particular film. This got me incredibly excited as The Dark Knight Returns is one of the most intense, cutting, and impressive comics I've ever read, and any nod to it is undeniably good.

To summarize, The Dark Knight Returns has an old, unhappy sixty year old Bruce Wayne realize that, without the brutal vigilantism of the Batman alter-ego in his life, he's doomed to die alone and unhappy. So, despite the impossibility of one man turning about a truly twisted dystopian Gotham, an aged Bruce Wayne dons the cowl once more and fights crime again. What makes The Dark Knight Returns unsettling, however, is how the cynicism of this unhappy old man comes against Batman's thou-shalt-not-kill mentality. Batman becomes more brutal, more willing to push the line, and ends up dying for it. (For more details, see my old review)

While Christopher Nolan is obviously not going to follow the events of The Dark Knight Returns (it climaxes with Batman and Superman fighting to the death, after all), it's worth noting that the atmosphere and mood of that comic will almost certainly be employed. It's also interesting to note that the Bat-Tank that we've seen already was directly inspired by the same vehicle in The Dark Knight Returns. Lastly, if it's a major inspiration, it's more likely that Batman will die by the end of the movie. It would be a suitably intense end to the series, but we'll see...


Unfortunately, I haven't quite decided what to make of Catwoman. I've read a fair amount of comics in my day, and I've yet to read a great Catwoman story. She's the femme fatale, the mischievous flirt of a thief, and basically serves as a lighthearted foil to Batman's serious justice-must-be-done mentality. She flip flops back and forth between helping Batman and helping the villain of the week, whoever provides the cleanest and most exciting adventure with moneybags at the end.

What concerns me is that, based on the trailers we've seen, Catwoman seems to be more enthralled with arguing the philosophy of a pretty Occupy Wall Street drone more than anything. On the bright side, this might manifest as her serving as a beautiful, buxom female Robin Hood. Or it might result in her operating as a one-note political message, much like how Morgan Freeman's Lucius Fox in The Dark Knight's only purpose was to remind us that wiretapping is unconstitutional and evil. It could go either way.

But what really concerns me with Catwoman is the fact that, as mentioned above, there's already a LOT on the plate already when it comes to characters and the plot. Batman's deterioration of spirit combined with the enormous, existential threat of Bane is going to dominate the movie, as it should. Is there truly room for Catwoman? I've no problem with Anne Hathaway prancing about sexily and stealing things but, given what I've outlined, she just sounds out of place in a story like this. I only hope that Christopher Nolan has an ace up his sleeve on this one.


In the end, I have great hopes for The Dark Knight Rises combined with unending caution. This movie is going to be hyped to high hell, and it has a huge hurdle to jump with regard to just how awesome The Dark Knight was. But the director is one of the best and has yet to disappoint us. The source material is very strong and intense stuff, so my fingers are crossed. I'm just hoping that the addition of Catwoman (not to mention Marion Cotillard and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as new characters) doesn't cause the film to keel over under the weight. Time will tell, in just over a week!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Assorted Reviews - 7-11-12

To Rome With Love

Woody Allen has always been very touch and go with me. Sometimes, he absolutely wows me with movies that are both artistic and thoughtful, while having a distinctly European air that adds weight and a desire to travel to the story that he creates. Other times, he creates an annoying piece of crap that slaps the audience in the face repeatedly with his uniquely annoying brand of comedy. Match Point and Midnight in Paris represent the former category. Scoop and To Rome With Love represent the latter.

In a film that could be renamed Casual Infidelity: The Movie, we are treated to a handful of two-dimensional shallow short stories that almost utterly fail to engage. This would be tolerable if it did a good job of capturing the city of Rome and what it must be like to travel there, but instead we are treated to a sequence of simplistic plots that seem out of some college teacher's Intro to Fiction 101 syllabus that just happen to take place in Rome. In short, my theory holds true: if a movie created by Woody Allen also stars Woody Allen, it is destined to suck.


I had zero expectations for this movie. A movie about a CGI teddy bear? Does nobody remember the failure of Garfield and every children's movie that's been made on a CGI animal before? And Seth McFarlane? I must admit, I'm a member of that tiny minority that sees Family Guy, American Dad, etc etc ad infinitum, and cringes. I've never been a huge fan of that type of humor for quite some time.

But then the movie turned out to be rather charming. Oh, I know. You were expecting the worst. But it actually managed to convincingly make me care for that damned teddy bear, even when it was being a vulgar, furry little fuck. Despite my fears, it was a rather touching movie that told the story of one guy's childhood friend, how they grew up together, and how they affect each others' lives, for better or worse, now that they're adults. For anyone who has ever had a friend who was considered a “bad influence”, you'll empathize with Ted. It isn't the greatest comedy I've seen, but it was pretty damn good considering how terrible it could have been.

Winston's War: Churchill – 1940-1945

This book is spectacular. Essentially, what it is is a narrative of World War II from the perspective of Winston Churchill, and boy is it a great one. Winston Churchill is one of the most epic figures I've ever read about in history, and Max Hastings' writing succeeds brilliantly in capturing Churchill's indomitable spirit, romantic bent, and utter determination.

This is a man who, despite a country that flip-flopped between wanting to negotiate surrender with the Naxis and wanting to just let the rest of the world worry about Hitler, wrested control of the spirits of Great Britain to hold out against the most fierce military machine the world had ever seen. It's hard to convey the sheer amount of obstacles that confronted the Prime Minister at every stage of the war; he had to deal with a population that found “Uncle Joe” (Stalin) and Communism more likable than the Americans, people harassing him to open up a second front in Europe by himself, despite the impossibility of doing so, and a United States President (Roosevelt) who constantly undermined him in order to insure that the U.S. Achieved dominance, materially and influentially.

Sadly, due to the failure of my Kindle, I got only 70% into the book before having to 'put it down', but I would still recommend this as one of the most addicting and inspirational biographies/histories I've ever read. It is even better than Hastings' Retribution, in my book, as, unlike Retribution's smorgasbord of different stories from different civilians and soldiers, Winston's War has a more singular and effective narrative that keeps you hooked.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Batman Begins

When I heard that The Avengers was coming out, I instantly light-bulbed with the concept of watching the prequel/tie-in movies and reviewing them before it hit the theaters. Unfortunately that didn't work out but, on the bright side, it isn't like many of those tie-in movies were that good anyways.

But now we have a new monster coming, The Dark Knight Rises. And, unlike with The Avengers, the prequels to TDKR are really good movies. Christopher Nolan has truly managed to capture what makes Batman great. And so, without further ado, here is my review of Batman Begins.

The Hero's Journey

Batman is a badass. We all know it. This is the movie where the focus is on him, his psyche, and where he gets his drive. Like any origin story, we see why Bruce Wayne is driven to fight crime, as well as where he gets his gadgets and skills. But, unlike most origin stories, with Batman Begins we go a great deal deeper.

At the beginning of our story, Bruce Wayne is in a prison in Asia, as far away from home as possible. He's living every day to the next with no clear idea of where he's going or what he's doing. For all we know, he's just going from one fight to another. Soon enough we learn that he's trying to understand what killed his parents (criminality) by immersing himself deep within it. It isn't until he's released by a mysterious man named Ducard that Wayne is set on the path of discovering how to harness his hatred of crime and conquering his own inner fears.

Batman Begins makes for a fantastic first half of the movie. Christopher Nolan raises all sorts of interesting questions that make us understand that things aren't black and white for Batman. Through Wayne, we see that vengeance can mislead people into deviating far from where they started. Through Ducard, we wonder if the end does not always justify the means. Through Falcone, we question how different criminals are from the everyday people we see everyday. And through Rachel, we ask ourselves whether trying to do good within the system is ever really effective.

It's remarkable how many aspects of Batman we get, and we get to see many different criticisms of his methods and their efficacy before he even dons the cowl. However, what prevents the movie from being the masterpiece, in my book, is that this only applies to the first one-half or two-thirds of the movie. At a certain point, things swing back into motion that remind you that this is just another superhero movie. The villain returns and sets into action his nefarious plan, and Batman swoops in to save the day.

The League of Shadows

Ra's Al Ghul is one of the most interesting villains in the Batman universe, mainly because everything he says is true. He serves as a foil to Batman, a dark counterpart who represents what Batman could be if Batman had no moral code. And even that is a simplifying of matters. Ra's Al Ghul represents a neoconservative viewpoint on how to deal with injustice and crime in the world; he maintains that criminals should be made a brutal example of since they show no attachment to society's laws. The theory is that if the world is not harsh with people who disobey, then the rules which we maintain will slowly be corrupted in time, leading to the decaying of civilization.

This is a controversial subject, but this point-of-view hasn't been proven wrong, even today. Fact of the matter is that we have differing perspectives on how we should treat criminals in this day and age. Some nations like to do their best rehabilitate them, with considerable success. On the flip side, those nations with harsh penalties such as public humiliations or the death sentence provide an immense discouragement to anyone thinking of breaking the law. There is not yet a definitive right answer, and the middle ground arguably causes just as much harm as good. This is important as, if Ra's Al Ghul is correct (and there's nothing that can definitively disprove his philosophy), then Batman is genuinely serving as an impediment to human progress by prolonging a system that perpetuates corruption.

However, I wish that the movie had found a more ambiguous way for Ra's to serve as a villain in the end. I say that because, near the end of the movie, we discover that he is going to cause the whole city of Gotham to devolve into a bloody anarchy by spreading fear toxin everywhere, likely killing thousands of people. This seems very odd for someone who declares earlier in the story to have lost his wife to criminals; one would expect such a man to have more empathy for those members of Gotham who aren't corrupt. But, hey, any movie can't be perfect I suppose.


Batman Begins is a great movie that could have been greater if only it had had the balls to deviate from the superhero origin formula that requires a climactic battle at the end. That may be silly to say, and it isn't like the action wasn't awesome, but it made it so that a movie that was genuinely thought provoking turned into a more mind-numbing thrill-ride at the end.

Lastly, I had one nitpick. Do you remember the scene where Batman is being forced to execute someone at the League of Shadows' fortress, and instead chooses to blow up the entire fortress, killing everyone inside, instead of taking the man's life without a jury? Did it occur to anyone that, by blowing up the whole freaking place, Bruce ended up killing the guy anyways, and dozens of others besides? Also, for someone who says he'll never take a life, I find it hard to believe that he didn't kill any policemen in that one chase with the Bat-tank. At two separate points, he smashes a cop car underneath his huge rover and blows up two of them with explosive caltrops. How did nobody die? It seemed a bit unbelievable.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Dark Visions by L.J. Smith

by DionysusPsyche

Extraordinary people live among us, but you may not know it. You may just call them witches or freaks or losers. But they can read your mind. Or predict your future. Kaitlyn Fairchild lives in such a world—one where her gift of seeing the future is more of a curse. It manifests itself in her art, an itching she gets in her hands to draw. Yet, what she draws troubles her and others in her small town. She's an outcast left to a lonely existence. One where she has no friends, and her fellow students are afraid of her. All from a talent she can't control.

One day an outsider comes to her based on some nationwide testing she's done. A private company wants her for their research project. Then Kait discovers a life that she's always envied, and one that puts her in danger.

In this three part series by L.J. Smith, five teenagers are chosen by researchers for the Zetes Institute. They each have different gifts, but together, they are an unstoppable force. They are told it is to better hone their powers, because they are special. But what is the motive behind the head of the institute?

Contradictary Emotions
The book talks a lot about this topic. From the very first paragraph Kaitlyn, who is listening to other people plan a party, is torn—between disgust and desire. She wants to go to the party, but she hates the girls who are planning it for shutting her out. Not inviting her in. Not accepting her as one of them.

Throughout the novel, although Kaitlyn is increasingly accepted by her friends, she still seeks out acceptance. It could be because Kaitlyn wants to help people, or it could be that she worries about what will happen if she doesn't help.

Everyone has conflicting opinions and feelings about the people they meet. Teenagers more than most. Kait is drawn towards two characters in particular in the book, both for clear reasons. The first is the most positive, giving boy that Kait has ever had the pleasure of meeting. The second boy is described frequently as troubled and handsome. Kait aspires to be like Robb—the salt of the earth, the best of the best. Yet, Gabriel is the one she wants to save more than anyone—more than any of their friends. To most, he's just a screwed up boy with a broken and terrible past. Kait sees potential in Gabriel, and while everyone else is afraid of him, Kait sets out to help him. To rectify his soul. She sees good in him when no one else does and believes he's meant for something better.

Light and Dark/Fire and Ice
The colors described are very vivid, and all the kids are described like elements. Kait is fire with aquamarine eyes. Rob is always spoken of as full of light in a few ways. He's physically blonde with golden eyes, often naïve, and has an energy that flows into others that causes bright properties and feelings. Anna's last name is Whiteraven, describing her goodness, heritage, and connection with all living things. Gabriel Wolfe is dark, with dark actions and brooding moods. Lewis Chao is the only one who doesn't seem to match any of these.

Kait and Gabriel moreso than any of the others exhibit signs of fire and ice. Gabriel goes back and forth between angry outbursts and icy silence. Kait is strong, like fire, but also prone to occasional outbursts (wildfire?). Gabriel is especially torn between good and evil. Kait wants them all together, and she wants to bring out the best in Gabriel. One of her goals throughout the books seems to be to prove to him that you don't have to be perfect to be good.

When there is a harbinger of evil in the air, the group feels suddenly cold. They suddenly start getting cold for no reason, and then something weird happens. There are also warm feelings that are associated with tenderness, romance, and passion.
Sir Ian McKellan, sorry, I picture you as the villain...who is melting their brains!
Control: Good vs. Evil
Supernatural story telling is always about a struggle for control. There's always a villian who's trying to usurp the world's resources and use them for evil. Taking the innocent and turning them into monsters. An excellent example of this is Gabriel who seems to go back and forth between the two, between being a good guy and a bad boy.

Not unlike X-Men First Class, one of the challenges is learning to master talents. Wielding someone who's labeled an outcast and turning them into a threat or a powerhouse of either extreme. It is also up to each individual in the novel to decide whether or not they want to be good or bad.

There is also the aspect of mastering your talents and taking charge of your life. Regardless of intention, all the characters in this novel strive to take control of their life. Rob and Anna always do the best thing possible, Kait and Rob are the leaders, although Rob struggles with controlling the good in others more than Kait does.

Dance, Magic, Dance”
Emotional intelligence
Because they have extraordinary talents, the crew end up linked telepathically. This gives each character in the pentagon (not to be confused with a pentagram which is a pagan symbol) the ability to connect mentally with one another even if people who are not linked to them are physically present (the ordinary equivalent of passing messages during school). They learn how to block thoughts from coming in or out and how to direct messages at each other without the rest of the group knowing. This causes a heightened awareness that teens may not necessarily experience due to hormones and their brains being only mostly formed (not done forming until they're 25). Additionally, they bury feelings they don't even know they have to avoid being “heard” by other members of the group. Some members even alienate themselves from the group to avoid overloading themselves, because with distance comes freedom and stress relief.

They also become good at reading each other's feelings, and their own. By the end, the group seems to have mastered themselves in more than just their talents and are beginning to know what they want out of life or how to make the world a better place. The two main characters grow over the course of the three part story, and are better able to read others' intentions as evil or good.

Sexual Energy and Healing
Since this is primarily aimed at teenage girls, the author has to be careful regarding views upon physical encounters while continuing to appeal to a younger age set. The answer, of course, is psychic vampires. Vampires that are not your average blood sucking type, but the kind that are mentally energetic and can drain their victims of life.

It also gives certain individuals the power to heal each other spiritually. One way is through holding one another while kissing, another is touching an area (i.e., a knee or elbow) that is in pain. Yet, when the transfer of energy occurs, so does emotional attachment. Power draining can take a life, but giving energy to another is an incredibly bonding and dangerous action. It's beneficial to both parties, but also is causes side effects of varying extents.

Mythology and Religious Tradition and Folklore
The novel contains lots of history on legend and story telling. Anna, the Native American girl, is extremely tied to her past and her culture. The others are very well versed on the magical tendencies of other cultures. The book draws on these to add strength and pride in tradition and also a respect that comes with it. At the same time, the message that breaking tradition to make way for better things is stated. There's an emphasis on being neither passive nor aggressive but using resources to enforce good and destroy evil.

Below are the characters I picture in my mind when I read the book to go along with the description. Don't let the pictures fool you into thinking some amazing (or disappointing) movie is being made.

Anna Kendrick
Kaitlyn Fairchild
Spirited, beautiful, and intelligent, Kait discredits her power as it is initially uncontrollable. Through her mentors and friends, she is better able to hone her power and to use it to benefit the group. Unlike most of the group, Kait isn't afraid to go against expectation if it means bettering her friends and the people they meet along the way. She also grows as a woman as she discovers love and learns what it really means to love another.
Natalie Kelley
Anna Whiteraven
While she's a picture perfect sidekick, she doesn't overshadow Kait by any means. At times I felt frustrated, because she and Lewis weren't as well developed as some of the other characters, but Anna in and of herself is shy, sweet, and calming. She can't truly be the heroine like Kait; her traits that are better for supporting and nurturing. The force to be reckoned with and the mysterious sneaky side of Kait aren't things that would come naturally to Anna, although she does change over time to become bolder.

Ian Somerhalder
Prince Zuko from the animated tv series Avatar: The Last Airbender
Gabriel Wolfe
His very name is a contradiction. I actually did think of Prince Zuko's voice every time Gabriel speaks since his character is so conflicted and full of anger. Gabriel brings to mind the angel or Saint Gabriel who was the patron saint of messages (since Gabriel is a telepath, this works). The surname is also helpful for making one realize his/her spiritual destiny. His last name conjures fairy tales. A sheep in wolves' clothing or whether or not he is to be trusted. Of course, wolves also have a foreboding reputation that precede them, not unlike this one, and cannot be caged. Like Prince Zuko, Gabriel is also a contradiction, a boy with a dark past torn between good and evil.

Damian McGinty. Yes, I know he's from Glee. No, I don't know why I pictured him.
Rob Kessler
He has the ability to heal which is both convenient, extremely beneficial, and a main attraction for the ladies. He's morally just with a wholesome and optimistic outlook. He believes in a common good, would never do anything to hurt another, and he's very trusting. In many ways, he's the opposite of Gabriel—they're light and dark as the book says.

I never really connected with Rob's character after the first book. In some part, that's intential, but Rob didn't have the situation or circumstances to grow like the rest of them or wasn't able to due to his complete belief in what is "right." His friendship with Kait changes significantly over the three stories, but it's necessary. They do something to “tidy up” his character at one point that I disliked.
Wang Lee Hom
Lewis Chao
In a lot of ways, I felt like Lewis was just “there.” He's telekinetic, but I could count on half a hand, if that, the number of times he uses his powers. I'm not sure if there just wasn't an outlet for him, but I would've liked to see him more involved in the story—most of his character is laid out in the first half of the first book. He's described on several occasions as being “uplifting,” but his situational negativity seemed to surprise the others, while I was practically yelling at the book that Lewis wasn't mentally prepared for these things and that he was pessimistic given the situation.

I was pleasantly surprised by this find. It's not my usual genre of entertainment, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. I'm not normally interested in stories about vampires, psychic or otherwise, but the supernatural intrigues me.


Written by Joe the Revelator

I apologize in advance for my infrequent posts of late. A demanding work schedule combined with my choices of entertainment have left me with little to talk about; re-reading old books, half-watching episodes of old sitcoms, and of course, playing the devil's game, Minecraft.

Why I Shouldn't Play Minecraft

My relationship with Minecraft could be likened to a recovering alcoholic living in a brewery. Whenever I start a new game, any game, I find myself rushing to the character creation options, tweaking my way through the customization menus, and eventually spending hours on whatever home-base layouts offered within the game. I'm an anal retentive freak about building my lair. When I bought a home in Skyrim I became a nesting bird on heroin. I spent more time looking for shiny objects and glowing weapons to adorn my Hall than I did worrying about the main quest line. By the end of the game I had so many bloody helmets on my shelf, ripped from my victims for no reason other than their decorative value, that my wall looked like the interior of the Predator ship.

In Neverwinter Nights 2 I maxed out the build-chain of Crossroads Keep with the highest quality garrison, best commanders, and top-notch defenses. In Mass Effect 2 my ship had the highest upgrades before mid game. In Morrowind I converted my "Tower" into a town, using teleport spells to import exotic dancers, merchants, and guards. For Fallout, I reverse-pick pocketed every citizen of Megaton, so my home would be surrounded by power-armored yokels brandishing alien blasters. In Guild Wars my clan hall had every vendor upgrade. My guild had one member.

A game that allows near-infinite construction possibilities with the ever-present threat of zombie invasion was the last thing I should install.

My First House

Cube-Ist Art

For those who don't know, Minecraft is a low-graphic 3d construction game. The player looks like one of the blockheads from Gumby and the world around him is composed of cubes of various colors. Brown blocks with black lines represent tree bark. Grainy tan blocks are sand. Pink blocks with eyes that emit "oink" noises are pigs. Etc. The game stretches the limits of what one can do with simple textures and effects, creating vast landscapes of mountains, oceans, and subterranean caverns with lego-like surfaces.

The only threat to your character, aside from drowning, falling off your construction, falling off mountains, falling into chasms, and falling into lava, are the zombies. Whenever the sun goes down the zombies spring up, filling the land with milling, shambling monstrosities that moan and groan endlessly. They vary from green-skinned walking horrors, to skeletons with bows, to black mini-Cthulu's who can teleport into your lap and re-adjust your spinal column in one hit.

Without anyone else in the game I can only assume this is an "I Am Legend" scenario, wherein I'm supposed to invent a vaccine for the brain-eaters who are lucky enough to seek shelter before the sun turns them to ashes. Unfortunately my character is (as well as everyone else's character) more of a stone mason than a blood pathologist. The only cure I can offer comes in the form of a rock to the skull.

This is the face of addiction.

Stuck in the Stone Age

From what I've seen online, the character can slowly advance to higher tech levels of equipment and buildings; from mud huts to steel skyscrapers, with levers, electronics, and pig-frying bacon dispensers. Unfortunately I've never gotten past the iron age. Most of my tools are stone until I run into a patch of raw iron. I've mined the other minerals available in the game; gold, diamond, coal, "red dust". But what's the fun in building something small and high-tech, when you can create monolithic towers with glass-encased lava flows and deathtraps? Or giant stone god statues with phallic shaped heads?

Having said this, I can fully recommend playing Minecraft to anyone, anywhere, for any reason. I could also just as easily recommend getting hooked on crack, demolishing your house, and constructing a monument to yourself out of the rubble.