Feminist Friday: Feminist Disney Movies?

Since last week’s post was a little heavy, I decided to lighten it up a little bit with today’s post. Remember a few weeks back when I mentioned that I absolutely love Buzzfeed? Well, I really do, and when they post articles like this, that love just grows stronger.

I grew up on Disney Channel Original Movies, so when a friend sent me a link to a post that Priya Krishna and Kate Taylor at Buzzfeed wrote entitled, “50 Disney Channel Original Movies, Ranked By Feminism” I knew I would love it. I think my favorite one in the list is probably “Kim Possible: So The Drama”, because Kim is a bad*** and, well, Ron is adorable. Which movie on the list was your favorite?

Feminist Friday: My Top Five Favorite Feminists

I like making lists. Grocery lists, favorite movies, a summer bucket list, my favorite types of macaroni and cheese, you name it, if I’m interested in it, I’ve probably written a list that quantifies it in some way. This week, you get to peek into my brain space and find out who my top five favorite Feminists are. Ready, GO!

1. Sylvia Plath

Let’s face it, I was an English major. Books and literature and authors are my lifeblood. Before I even identified as a Feminist I knew I loved Sylvia Plath and her poetry. Plath was a modern American, Feminist, confessional poet and novelist who committed suicide in 1963 when she was only 30 years old. Sylvia suffered from depression for a good chunk of her life and it is definitely reflected in her poetry. I first discovered Plath’s poetry during a Summer course I took at Southern Virginia University called “Modern American Poetry”. I was struck by Plath’s honest, at times shocking writing. The way she wrote about her family, her relationship with her father, her thoughts of life and death, I loved all of it. By choosing to write poetry that was raw and, at times, harsh, Plath cemented herself as a strong female writer and helped lay down the path for others to follow.

2. Laverne Cox

Laverne is amazing. She is a star in the amazing Netflix original series, “Orange Is the New Black”, an advocate for trans rights, a producer, an amazing public speaker, the list goes on and on. Here’s a short excerpt from her personal website talking about one of the many projects she has worked on.

Her documentary Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word aired on MTV & Logo to impressive ratings. The hour-long documentary explored the lives seven transgender youth from across the country and their determination to lead their lives as the people they are meant to be. Laverne was the host and executive producer of the ground breaking documentary which was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award.

Laverne is also producing another documentary titled Free CeCe in order to heighten visibility and awareness surrounding CeCe McDonald, a transgender woman who was controversially sentenced to 41 months in prison for second degree manslaughter after allegedly defending herself against a racist and transphobic attack. The documentary will focus on McDonald’s case, her experiences while incarcerated in a men’s prison and the larger implications of her case for the transgender community.

She is truly amazing and I can’t wait to see how many more wonderful things she accomplishes…also, I can’t wait to watch season three of OITNB because I know she will be fabulous.

3. bell hooks

bell hooks is actually the pen name for Gloria Jean Watkins “an American author, feminist, and social activist. Watkins derived the name “bell hooks” from that of her maternal great-grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks. Her writing has focused on the interconnectivity of race, capitalism, and gender, and what she describes as their ability to produce and perpetuate systems of oppression and class domination. She has published over thirty books and numerous scholarly and mainstream articles, appeared in several documentary films, and participated in various public lectures. Primarily through a postmodern perspective, hooks has addressed race, class, and gender in education, art, history, sexuality, mass media, and feminism.” (Thanks Wikipedia for such a concise introductory bio!)

I have loved everything I have ever read that she has authored and I have a personal goal to read her book “All About Love: New Visions” before the end of the year!

4. Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Do I even have to elaborate on why The Notorious RBG is amazing? She’s an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court, she has battled cancer, she is a fierce advocate for women’s rights, she was a volunteer lawyer for the ACLU and was on it’s board of director in the 1970’s, and she has an extensive jabot collection, what’s not to love!  I’m so excited for her biography to come out in October.

5. Amy Poehler

Not only is Amy Poehler hilarious and talented, she is also a very outspoken Feminist. As the star of the TV show, “Parks and Rec” a cast member on Saturday Night Live and the creator of Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, she has a lot of accomplishments under her belt. Amy encourages girls and women to step up, be assertive and take control. I truly love her and her sense of humor. Also, how can I not love someone who is best buddies with Tina Fey!

Who are some of your favorite Feminists?

We Are Actually Living In “The Age of Ultron” (SPOILERS)

I saw Avengers: Age of Ultron last night, because that’s what we do now, as a species. All hail the Marvel Overlords, they will forever entertain us.

The series, so far, manages to incubate a cohesive, believable world full of interesting characters and exciting sci-fi action, yet it is increasingly difficult to form an opinion about the Avengers films. That’s because they are increasingly good at avoiding anything substantive enough for discussion. We are drawn to the films because they are maddening spectacles of achievement in entertainment, but after subjecting us to nearly three hours of heroic deeds and Hulk-smashing previously unimagined by humanity, the films give us very little to think about.

This is by design. Not the filmmakers’, or studio executives’, or writers’ design. This is by design of the franchise itself, the ethereal intelligence that has the next decade of our summer movie spending planned for us. This weekend, the Marvel Universe becomes self-aware.

In the film, Ultron comes into existence and takes over the world and follows a protocol of needless self-destruction with seemingly no motivation whatsoever. He becomes self-aware out of a necessity to drive the plot. Much like the franchise itself, which is moving along simply because it has nothing else to do, and we couldn’t stop it if we tried.

If you’ve seen the trailer, you have as much understanding of Ultron himself as you do by the end of the film. He is an evil robot who likes to sing Disney songs, much like Wall-E. Sure, there are hints of an internal struggle or a plotted vengeance against his ‘creator,’ Tony Stark, but it manifests as a cartoonish plot to create a meteor and crash it back down to Earth. The character exhibits no depth apart from his Spaderisms.

I half suspect James Spader didn’t even read the script, they just put him in a motion-capture jumpsuit and filmed him complaining about it.

Wikipedia tells me the comic book version of Ultron suffered a homicidal oedipus complex, and focused in on destroying his creator while also developing an obsession with his lover. But, since the cost of hiring Gwyneth Paltrow went to blowing up half a dozen CGI robots, that opportunity for complexity is vacant.

They couldn’t even incorporate the Pinnochio mythos–you know, the source of the “There Are No Strings On Me” song that Ultron sings throughout the whole film–by developing Ultron’s maniacal evil out of a desire to please his creator only for Tony to express disappointment, rather than an instantaneous need to kill him outright. Did nobody working on this film bother to think about subtext?

The Avengers films are so formulaic and expensive they simply cannot defy expectations and truly deliver the storytelling necessary to elevate the series. It desperately needs it, but cannot deliver. The film’s best moments (Vision, the Black Widow/Hulk romance) are smothered by its incessant need to cutaway to the Avenger’s World Destruction Tour. Ultron lives up to the established pattern of exposition/action/tension/action/resolution/action, and grows increasingly tiresome for it. Mostly because the character development is merely an inversion of “we can’t seem to get along” that brought the ensemble together in the last film, but without a clearcut goal and focus. The intersecting plots in Ultron just turn it into a mess. Nothing builds on anything else, and every promising moment of character arc is left irksomely unresolved, with one or two exceptions.

It’s a shame, since the film centers on a sequence where Scarlet Witch exposes the team to their darkest fears. But rather than explore what those fears mean to each of them, they just move on and try to punch more bad guys. Well, we do find out that Black Widow can’t have babies. And Thor’s vision-quest leads him to a magic pool that gives him the secret of… actually, I’m not quite sure how his bath revealed that he was supposed to electrocute Vision to life, probably because there was just no other way to incorporate the larger gem-mythology. But that’s it. Scarlet Witch makes Thor hallucinate, which leads him to take a bath, and then he does some lightning trick and now we have Vision. That’s Thor’s entire story in Age of Ultron. 

The decision to introduce the Maximoff Wonder Twins as mere plot points, and in the end to kill off Quicksilver (who Marvel fans are quite happy to pretend never existed in the first place, since Days of Future Past already established the gold standard for that character) proves that the Marvel film franchise has very little fear of death, and much like Ultron sees it as just a method of purging real emotion from a soulless reality. Why not kill off someone who matters? Because the franchise sees itself as indestructible. Despite knowing that it must raise the stakes to get anywhere interesting, Avengers has to play it safe and keep them all in the game, endlessly dodging bullets and lightning bolts and energy beams and boulders and Hulk smashes because that’s essentially what these films are built on. Great-looking people doing poses and not getting killed by the millions of things that should be killing them.

Which means there are just no more stakes to raise. The problems with Age of Ultron begin literally in the first moment, an overlong single shot of the team in action picking off Secret-Nazis in the snowy fortress level from Inception: The Video Game, utilizing some of the laziest CGI  the Star Wars: Special Editions and more witty banter. By the way, this film’s dialogue is nothing but witty banter. Wittier and wittier, and banterier and banterier. 

The imagery of the opening sequence is meant to remind us of the final battle from the last film, where we follow a tracking shot through the skyline of New York City to focus on each Avenger slaughtering interstellar henchmen. The thing is, that film–not particularly keen on subtlety itself–spent the majority of its runtime building up to that moment of harmonious violence. Age of Ultron shoves it out of the way, clunkily, in the first five minutes. Where do you go from there?

Nowhere. Just change the scenery.

The Avengers franchise is running on its own momentum, and will take no prisoners in its train wreck of a serial. Plots are increasingly dependent on a myriad of sources, inevitably giving rise to contradictions, confusion, and watered-down ideas. Heroes that once inspired us are reduced to a soulless existence, living out an endless battle with forces unnamed and irrelevant. We are subjected to overblown violence to prove the reaches of our arrested imaginations. We are living in the Age of Ultron. The biggest film franchise in the world is an unstoppable algorithm of crowd-pleasing factors. It is infected with its own self-importance, feeding us the exact amount of visual and aural stimuli to null our minds to the existence of a massive entertainment conspiracy that will inevitably lead us down a path of self-destruction, as we worship the hero-gods of our own creation and neglect the dreams and hopes that we need to sustain us for another generation. The end of the world will come, and we’ll be comfortably snacking on popcorn in the air-condition tomb of the cinema.

Vision was pretty damn cool, though.

This is your daily reminder that we are all just tools in a giant marketing machine

So these hit the Internet, and apparently they’re part of the Imax release of the trailer (the one that’s already online):

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So, the marketing campaign for this looks like a lot of fun. Or, at least as fun as marketing campaigns for bloated blockbusters can get. Making them look like posters pasted on alley walls and lamp posts is neat, but it also seems like they’re maybe hoping that it will become some sort of fake guerilla marketing campaign. Which is annoying. It’s always kind of neat, kind of annoying when movies do that.

I don’t actually care too terribly much. These do seem nice because they break away from the normal superhero flick posters. You know, the ones that cram pretty much everyone (even Hawkeye!!) into the same poster in the least artful manner possible.

Batman has a solid history for posters though. In fact, plenty of comic book franchises do. Sometime I’ll write a whole blog post about how I think Dick Tracy had probably the greatest poster of all time. The greatest Batman poster, IMHO, is this one from Begins:

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Of all the Bat-films, I think Batman Returns had, cumulatively, the best posters (the one on the far right actually hangs in my office):

 

The Dark Knight had good posters, but they’re very blue. Too blue for my blood. And every poster from The Dark Knight Rises looks like a fan poster to me. Same goes for Man of Steel. (the character posters from BvS that have been released remind me of those). So at least these are definitely a step up from the last two Nolan-produced DC comics adventures.

Also, interesting thing I was not aware of — Chris Terrio co-wrote BvS with David Goyer. Terrio worked with Affleck on Argo.  So maybe that will make a difference. Maybe it won’t. In a statement of clarification, I do want to make sure that everyone knows I think the BvS trailer is awesome, but that could mean very little for the actual film. I’m way more optimistic now, and I love the direction it’s growing, but I remember when they released the trailer for X-Men: The Last Stand, and that was awesome too. Everyone was crazy skeptical about Brett Ratner as director, and then they released that trailer and it was awesome. Then the movie came out and it was terrible.

 

Journey Through Twin Peaks

One of the most engrossing films I’ve seen in recent years is Room 237,  a film essay exploring the depths of critical analysis on Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. The Shining is one of my all-time favorite films, because it carries an atmosphere that is almost intangible, but careful viewers have pieced together the various tricks that Kubrick used to create that atmosphere. A lot of people focus on the moon-landing theory behind The Shining, but that’s only one interpretation of the film among many, and it’s the least plausible. It doesn’t fit in with the some of the other more plausible analyses, but leaving it in certainly helped spread the word about Room 237. 

Mostly, I just love the idea of film criticism as entertainment. So much so that I immediately planned on a similar treatment of another work I find as equally open to interpretation, Twin Peaks. If you couldn’t tell, since this is not the first blog I’ve written about the TV show, and until JJ does another layout change you’re looking at some heavy Peaks imagery directly to the left, I’m a little more than obsessed with the franchise and will needlessly fit it into unrelated conversations. “Oh, you love the new Batman vs. Superman trailer? You know what else is dark and brooding? Twin Peaks. Go home and watch it. Yes, it is on Netflix.”

If I couldn’t make the film essay myself, I at least wanted to present my interpretation of Laura Palmer’s struggle as a powerful symbol of ending a cycle of physical and sexual abuse. Laura is the hero of Twin Peaks because she refused to let the horror that tormented her continue, whether it was by some demonic presence or something closer to home.

Joel Bocko beat me to it. His series, “Journey Through Twin Peaks,” presents a thorough and beautiful analysis I could never pull off on my own. Unlike Room 237, however, he did it all himself and threw it up on YouTube, instead of submitting it to Sundance. But I think that’s fitting, because it turns out there is quite a bit more to Twin Peaks than the feature-documentary format offers.

I’ve watched Twin Peaks in its entirety about four times since 2010, and Bocko highlights points in the series that I never noticed. It’s the loving criticism the series deserves. He presents a coherent thesis, that the magic formula of Twin Peaks is a child of the tension between David Lynch and Mark Frost, and backs it up with specific examples of the different ways they treat characters and situations. I wouldn’t recommend doing so, but someone could easily watch his series without any knowledge of Twin Peaks and have a clear understanding of what makes the show work.

But there’s no good excuse for not watching Twin Peaks. I particularly like the analysis of the end of Fire Walk With Me, though he credits it to someone else (spoiler, obviously) that the flashing light on Laura’s face as she sits in the Red Room with Dale Cooper is actually Laura watching the entire series and reacting to the impact her life had on the town, both good and bad. Seeing it through that lens completely decimated me emotionally. It could easily be one of David Lynch’s most beautiful moments. (Update: Joel provided the source of this theory in the comments below.)

Bocko also suggests that everything Lynch has done since is not only influenced by Twin Peaks, but actually about the experience of making Twin Peaks. That’s a powerful realization, especially since I was also under the assumption that Lynch never lingered on projects, and for years seemed too willing to put the series behind him.

However, I think he and I would disagree about whether the series should continue without Lynch. I think Frost’s vision of the series is underrated, as does Bocko, but I also think it’s only fair that he gets a crack at developing his ideas on his own, since Lynch had a chance to go back and explore Laura Palmer’s character. I stand by it. Twin Peaks without David Lynch would still entice me.

Anyway, the whole series is on YouTube, in 28 different videos, divided into four parts. He covers the entire series with surprising depth, explains some background on the mystical influences on the mythology, and defends Fire Walk With Me as a crucial masterpiece to Lynch’s entire career. I’ve been waiting for a satisfying treatment of Twin Peaks like this, and if I couldn’t do it myself, I’m at least glad it’s done so well.

Let me bat-splain this for you

First thing’s First: I think that Batman vs Superman trailer is killer.

Now, I’m fully aware that the Internet is confused about how it is supposed to react to all this, but I’m not. I was so skeptical when they first announced this thing. Sooooooo skeptical. First there was the fact that this was happening at all and then there was the whole Batffleck freakout. I just assumed that WB was getting into an arms race with Marvel Studios (which it clearly is) which would push them to try and lighten things up. Add some sassy banter, make a movie about how Bruce and Clark are buds but their alter-egos just argue too much or something. Maybe even Thor would show up, I don’t know.

That’s clearly not what’s going on. DC is running in the other direction. The opposite direction, really. Don’t get me wrong, this is still just a grab at trying to keep up with Marvel, but the fact that they’re willing to go this dark is pretty exciting. It’s not going to work, financially that is. At least I assume it won’t. The Avengers was such a big hit because it was the kind of movie anyone could go see. Your grandmother, nieces and nephews, teenage cousins, whatever. They all liked that movie.

That probably isn’t going to happen with BvS. Remember how Batman Returns made people cry and caused McDonalds to freak out over merchandizing? We could be looking at 2.0.

“But JJ, people loved Batman Returns! It’s a fanboy favorite that critics adored because everyone loves a dark Batman!” That, my dear friend, is revisionist history. People hated that movie — even many fans, because it deviates a lot from the comic and is really really strange. Now it’s basically a cult classic among Batman fans (a cult classic that made $250 million at the box office).

This is where the excitement comes in, and some fanboy obnoxiousness on my end. If the stars align just right, we might have another crazy cult film on our hands. If Snyder really lets loose — releases the darkness, if you will — and if there are enough think pieces about how it’s time to lighten up Batman (more on that later) this could be a really great thing for Batman fans. Batman’s more fun when his grimness is alienating.

This is all such a pleasant surprise. I was so so so so so skeptical. But when Zack Snyder tweeted out the Batsuit, stuff started shifting around in my mind. Because that Batsuit looks Amazing.

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Where does this one measure up? I’d put it either first or second (understand, this ranking could certainly be influenced by the simple newness of the whole thing. Either way, it’s an amazing suit).

For suits, I’d say it probably goes:

Batffleck (see above)

89

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Begins

BATMAN BEGINS

Returns

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Forever

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TDK/TDKR

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B&R.

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I know what you’re thinking. The thing is, The Dark Knight is most definitely the best Batman movie (in terms of quality) but the suit is so functional that it really loses the iconography. In some scenes, he just looks like he’s wearing an outfit for motorcycle racing but with a cape.

So there’s that. That’s what began the warm up. Then there was the batmobile reveal. This one looks pretty great, but I like The Tumbler, 89 and possibly even BF more (but we’ll have to see it in action to really know).

So there were these little bursts of buzz here and there, set pics, whatever. But now we have the first trailer. A lot happens in the 2 minute video. Voice overs and stuff (here’s a good breakdown)  but I just want to focus on the Bat-stuff I’m excited about.

First off, you had me at “dark urban nightmare”:

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This is apparently a rebuilt Metropolis, and it looks gorgeous. The whole movie looks dark and gorgeous. One reason I love this is because it reminds me of this:

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And this:

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I don’t know if Gotham is in this movie at all, but the trailer implies that this is Metropolis at night time. I love that. So much do I love that. I love that so much. Batman movies should be at night. The City As Hell is a strong recurring theme in Batman books, and it’s something that I’m excited to see again. Nolan’s Gotham was wonderful, but it was real. It was basically Chicago. I miss Anton Furst’s bleak fantasy land.

And this apparent plot line (at least from what we know of it), that there are many people afraid of what Superman’s power could mean, is wonderful to me. Music to my ears. Delightsome.

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This is so DC. Superhero movies, The Dark Knight included, are typically concerned with exploring the nature of heroism. But in the 1980s, Alan Moore started to examine in wonderful ways the limits of power, and it helped set the tone for how DC would tackle their heroes in the comics for years. Hallmark stories like Kingdom Come, Tower of Babel, The Dark Knight Returns and John Byrne’s Man of Steel all break down what it means to have all that power. The most important example, of course, is Moore’s own Watchmen.

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While the X-Men films have dabbled in it — the fantastic Days of Future Past dove in head first — other comic book movies have shied away from tackling the darker elements of what it would mean to have such powerful men and women roaming the earth. Stan Lee’s approach to comics in the 1960s was to create heroes we could all relate to. DC in the 80s decided to embrace super heroes as our Greek gods, with all the potentially nasty implications that come with it.

Aaaaaannnnnd here’s Bruce brooding while staring at his suit, which to me means he’s probably considering coming out of retirement (CAN I GET A DKR?!?!).

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But lets get one major big time thing strait: This is clearly not an actual adaptation of TDKR. It just has some glorious references. In that story, Superman is revered by the people. Batman fights him because he’s become the tool of an ignorant and dangerous government. In this film, it appears Batman faces off with Supes because he thinks he’s a danger to society.

In The Dark Knight Returns Batman and Superman have a long history together. When they meet up to fight each other, there’s a lot of baggage that comes with it. In BvS, it’s clear that the tension comes from the fact that they don’t know each other yet. It’s basically an inversion of Miller’s comic.

Also, lets get another thing strait: Despite emerging popular opinion, Frank Miller’s Batman hasn’t actually been explored that much on film.

In a piece for Vulture last year, Abraham Riesman tossed out this idea, claiming that

Every single Batman movie director has paid fealty to Miller’s ’80s tales. His grim and gritty take on ol’ Batsy has crowded out all other cinematic approaches to the character.

While his main beef seems to be that he doesn’t like Batman to be dark (more on that later) he also thinks Miller’s work has overshadowed everyone else who has ever worked on the comic. This is an absurd statement, but one that apparently has plenty of supporters.

There are really only two Bat-movies that draw directly from Miller in any substantive way: Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises. Begins draws heavily from Miller’s Batman: Year One in it’s action and characterization of Jim Gordon. But even with Begins, Batman himself is not Miller’s Batman. He’s Denny O’Neil’s Batman. He’s a Batman with a very level head. One’s that’s emotionally raw and vulnerable. That is not Miller’s Batman, who is basically a moral tyrant.

In short, Begins was (like all of Nolan’s bat-films) a mishmash of a bunch of different Bat-stories. In fact, Nolan cited The Man Who Falls and The Long Halloween as often as he did Year One (The Dark Knight  was so heavily influenced by The Long Halloween you could basically call it an adaptation). The ones from Year One stick out the most, because Year One is one of the most famous Batman books of all time. So if that’s the only one you are familiar with, you might be tricked into thinking that it “crowded out all other cinematic approaches” to the character.

The same goes for The Dark Knight Rises. There are certain references to The Dark Knight Returns that no fan could miss (primarily, just the whole idea that Bats had been retired, and “you’re in for a show, kid”) but there are a lot more references to Batman: Cult, No Man’s Land, Knightfall, Batman: Legacy and a bunch of others.

And lets not forget the elephants in the room: The movies from the 90s. References to Miller’s work are few and far between in those films. And in fact, Riesman’s argument is essentially “the guys who made the movies in the 90s said they read Miller’s stuff and liked it.” Batman ’89 has one little Easter egg (Corto Maltese!) and it’s dark so I guess that counts. Batman Returns is the closest thing we’ll ever have to a Doug Moench/Kelley Jones inspired film, and has nothing in common with any of Miller’s stories. If you can find the hard evidence that Forever and B&R were Miller-esque, please convince me (reminder: The Dark Knight Strikes Again came out after Schumacher’s run).

So what I’m saying is, fanboys like me are kind of freaking out that the most celebrated (and most effectively bizarre) Bat-book of all time is actually getting some direct love on the big screen. The Miller-esque batsuit looks amazing (there’s also a little Time Sale in it, I think). And this Batman promises to be that tortured moral fascist.

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This, right here, is just strait from DKR:

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And then, there is of course this. Which people are calling Lego Batman because that’s actually pretty funny, and because apparently a lot fewer people have actually read DKR than I previously assumed.

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But, of course, the Lego Batman will stick. Because the Internet.

Also, I seriously hope it rains through the whole movie.

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Now, I didn’t really get into how I feel about the Superman stuff in this movie, and that’s mostly because I feel like I’ve run out of things to say about this version of Superman. I like him a lot. I think Man of Steel was an exceptional super hero movie. People don’t like it and I still can’t figure out why, but I guess I’ll just have to live with that.

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Now some more comments on tone: There’s a cycle to all this, which I’ll get into in a minute. But We’re at that point where people are arguing again about how dark super heroes should be. Personally, I like them dark. The darker the better. And if not dark, at least have atmosphere. Give these guys some feet of clay, for heaven’s sake. My favorite Batman is either the noirish brute who only sees life in black and white (which seems to be what they’re going for here), the Nosferatu gargoyle (from Burton’s films and Kelley Jones’ stuff) and then the classic Denny O’Neil incarnation, who is a true hero. That’s what Nolan created onscreen.

Everything else is just whatever to me. Make hime dark. Make him complicated. Make him tortured about the death of his parents and the depravity of his city. that’s my guilty pleasure. Dark, brooding, obsessed Batman.

This is the very first Batman comic I ever read:

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It opens with Killer Croc, mumbling in the sewers of Gotham City. He bites the head off a rat, and then reminds himself that he lives in hell on earth.

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Then Bane beats him up and it ends. That pretty much set the standard for what I expect to get out Batman, as far as tone is concerned. The first movie I ever Remember seeing is Batman ’89. That’s a bleak movie, and I gobbled it up.

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The first movie I ever remember seeing in a movie theater (well, it was drive-in) is Batman Returns. Which is an insane movie.

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So excuse me if I’m indifferent to your arguments that Batman just needs to lighten up.

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Now for my explanation as to why the Internet is so confused about this little trailer.

There was a time, not too long ago, when people couldn’t really see how a Batman movie could possibly be any good. Batman & Robin was terrible, and it basically spoiled it for everyone.

But in those days (I’m talking like 2002-ish) most people I knew, and most stuff I read on the Internet, didn’t really blame Joel Shumacher. They just thought Batman was dumb (it was a very different story for comic fans). Pretty much every conversation I had about comic books with people who didn’t actually read comics books always came around to “he’s not even a super hero. He doesn’t have any powers. That’s dumb.”

There was a pretty understandable reason for all this. Not only had Shumacher muddied the waters, but Sam Raimi was already well into his work on Spider-Man. I remember seeing the first Spider-Man in theaters with a big group of friends on opening day (at least I think it was opening day). This was not the first movie in the Great Comic Book Film Revival of the early aughts, but it was the one that got people who otherwise had no interest in comics really interested their film adaptations.

The first two Spider-Man movies were great, the last two Batman films were not. So for a spell there no one besides the die hard Batman fans cared much, if at all, about the prospects of a new Batman film.

Back then, I used to frequent this website called Batman-On-Film (it’s still around, but Internet gossip has become so much more accessible that I don’t visit as often as I used to). When we got Internet in our house, the first thing I ever remember using it for was surfing around looking for rumors on the next Batman movie, and BoF was my site of choice. For the first little while, it was mostly just updates on whether or not Batman Triumphant would ever actually happen, the dish on that crazy Darren Aronofsky Batman: Year One adaption, some swirling rumors about Clint Eastwood doing The Dark Knight Returns and, of course, stuff about that Wolfgang Petersen directed Batman vs Superman (yes, Warner Bros. has been obsessed with doing that for a very very long time.)

But in 2003 it was announced that the dude that did Momento would be heading up the next Batman movie. Those were exciting times for Batman fans, but no one else really seemed to care. Because Batman was dumb.

People forget that Batman Begins was not a mega smash hit that critics adored. It had its champions, and a pretty solid critical response, but there were still plenty of people who were indifferent to the whole ordeal. Even fans were pretty skeptical at first. I remember reading an article in Entertainment Weekly (I still have the issue somewhere) where Kevin Smith — the Old Faithful of being absurdly wrong about pretty much everything  — said he had a friend who was working on the colorization of the film and he was skeptical about what he heard. Then he went on to talk about how he had seen a prescreening of Revenge of Sith and it was the best movie ever and any fanboy who doesn’t agree is lying and he cried because it was so great or whatever.

When they released the first images of Bale in the Batsuit online, a lot of people didn’t know how to feel (including me). The first pictures looked cool but strange. Really understated.

Anyway, I’m saying all this because these things go in cycles. Everyone knows the history now. The Dark Knight came out in 2008 and the rest is history. Batman was once again a cultural phenomenon. People who didn’t read comic books or particularly care about the 90s movies or cartoons (but maybe the 60s TV Show) were suddenly significantly more interested in Batman. That’s just how these things go. The same thing happened with Spider-Man, X-Men, The Avengers. Everything. It’s what the studio wants, to drum up interest.

But that interest always has a life span and it’s usually pretty short. And within that lifespan there are usually subcategories. I think the most prominent one is “how serious should comic books be?” Because it always goes through spells, especially with Batman. If Batman comics or movies have been dark and serious for too long, people really start getting antsy. It happened in the 90s. After Burton did Batman Returns, people kind of freaked and said it was too dark. So Batman became lighter. After Batman & Robin, people freaked out and said Batman had no business being campy.

Well, we’ve gone full cycle once again. My biggest beef with Warner Bros. doing another incarnation of Batman is that people are tired of Batman. I’m not tired of Batman (I don’t even know what that could possibly feel like) but pretty much everyone else who isn’t a big bat-fan is definitely tired of Batman.

You know what else they’re tired of? Comic book movies that take themselves too seriously. Christopher Nolan made three like that and apparently that was enough. I had my hopes that maybe everyone’s learned their lesson because of how embarrassing The Amazing Spider Man 2 was, but nope. People still toss around “c’mon, it was fun!” because that’s just where we are. The next Avengers looks “dark” with super air quotes around it because you know there’s gonna be plenty of ScarJo camera mugging and a delightful Shawarma after credits scene.

So what I’m saying is, Batman vs Superman couldn’t have come at a worse time. Which makes it kinda fun. There is a select few who have interest in seeing a dark pessimistic version of Batman, or Superman for that matter. I could go the whole rest of my life without seeing some lighter version of the character put on screen. But it will happen eventually. Jeet Heer will tweet about the aesthetic virtues of camp or whatever and it will ignite a revolution and Joss Whedon will finally be able to exhale and say “’bout time we’re done with the postmodern stuff” and then Warner Bros. will produce Batman and Son starring Will Ferrell and Jonah Hill voicing a CGI 12-year old and people will think it’s great because the very notion of a grown man dressing up like a bat is ridiculous in the first place, right?

So the issue here isn’t so much that Batman vs Superman will actually be a disappointment, it’s just that it’s off cycle. That’s on you, Warner Bros.

Streaming: Amadeus

In a strange twist of fate, I was watching Milos Forman’s Amadeus when the news broke that the film’s cinematographer, Miroslav Ondricek, had passed away. 

The news only seemed to intensify the experience for me. The film is about death. The glory and tragedy of death. It is also about the virtues of chaos and vulgarity, the paradoxes of genius, and the violence of tradition. All of which were beautifully explored in Ondricek’s images. For the cinematography alone, Amadeus is a masterpiece.

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Because it is a Milos Forman film, there is also plenty on the nature of freedom — an asylum is featured, and much as it was in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, it plays a good stand-in for Hell — and an examination of what it means to be crazy. Crazy is the key, I think, to enjoying the film. Or rather, learning to enjoy crazy.

 

Speaking of crazy, Amadeus is, in its most complete form, three hours long. I am slowly but forcefully beginning to believe that all movies should be three hours long.

But despite its length, Amadeus is not an epic. Well wait, it actually is an epic, but it doesn’t really match the modern qualifications for a three-hour movie. That is to say, for some reason we tend to be forgiving of strained time when there is plenty of fighting. Each film in The Lord of the Rings trilogy can be as painfully long as necessary because ¼ of each movie is just orcs dying. James Cameron’s Titanic gets a pass because somewhere near 50 percent of its somewhere-near-eternal running time is used to show a giant boat sinking (and it is truly wonderful).

But not so for Amadeus. Amadeus is three hours long because for three hours characters have interesting interactions.

—–

It is a film that wanders. As I alluded to before, it is a poem of sorts, epic in the Greek sort of way. It tells the tragic story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (played by a giggling Tom Hulce), a genius manchild who makes music that people learn to appreciate more after he’s dead. He has enemies, and the story is told by one of them. A fictionalized version of Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) tells the whole movie to a very patient catholic priest, who is visiting him in an insane asylum [hell].

Salieri is one of Mozart’s less talented, but genuinely ambitious contemporaries whose jealousy for the masterful manchild’s gift drove him to do (fictitiously) despicable things.

In that sense, Amadeus is a simple story about jealousy and creativity and genius and music (and also basically slander on Antonio Salieri’s name). But there is also a sorrow to it that I love. Everything is beautiful and elaborate, juxtaposing Mozart’s childishness with empty sophistication. Morzart giggles and prances through a life filled with poverty, death and apparent failure. Excess is a character in this film. Layers of color and textures of wealth and poverty paint a rich picture of a mysterious world. It’s a glorious thing to look at.


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God also plays a major role in the film.

One of the most interesting parts of the script — which was adapted by Peter Shaffer from his own stage play — is a question hinted at by the bitter narrator: Does god gift creativity? If so, why does he gift it to Mozart, who is vulgar and unworthy? The name Mozart means “one who loves God,” and in a small but interesting way the film explores what it might mean to love God.

Salieri prayed all his life for the ability to worship God through song, but it wasn’t enough. He did not please God. He focused on his own piety, hoping it would draw him closer to the gifts God would surely bestow on him. Seeing Mozart, in all his profanity, achieve a level of sanctified artistry that he could recognize but not emulate drove Salieri to resent God. And who wouldn’t? Mozart never mentioned God. Music was his God.

But Forman is clear about his version of piety. The film worships excess and creativity and decries the false God of refinement. It is refinement that betrays Mozart and kills him, but his creativity made him immortal. The Mozart of the film craved a democratization of art, but his contemporaries sought to keep the divine gift only for the stingy upper-class. Mozart was Jesus. The emperor, the the Pharasies — the gatekeeper of orthodoxy. Salieri was his Judas.

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One of the most engaging scenes is when Mozart is explaining why he chose to adapt the story of Figaro into an extravagant opera. Figaro was a story deemed vulgar by the emperor, but Mozart finds it to be simple and beautiful — an obvious parallel for his own life. They press him on why such a common story might be worth attention, and his answer bursts from him as though it were the central thesis to the film:

“Which one of you wouldn’t rather listen to his hairdresser than Hercules? Or Horatius, or Orpheus… people so lofty they sound as if they shit marble!”

These days it might be said that we worship Mozart as scripture, which is why the film’s reminder that treating his work with cultic reverence misses the point is such a release. In his day, a prophet is never accepted in his home country. Jesus, Abraham Lincoln and Mozart came unto their own and their own received them not. For that reason, it’s a feel good story, but also a devastatingly dark one.

The feel good part is the reminder that just because you aren’t accepted, doesn’t mean you aren’t great. The dark one is the realization that talent and beauty and craft might mean nothing to those around you. Like Mozart, your exuberance and appreciation for beauty won’t keep you from a common grave.