I know, I know… it makes me sound so fair weather. After all, she’s been in the biz for what seems like an eternity. I remember all the Orlando brouhaha, the talk about her “androgynous” looks and “gender bending” aura. I even recall her minor moments in Adaptation. and Vanilla Sky (sadly, I have yet to experience The Beach all the way through). No, the first time I can recall being really impressed with Tilda Swinton was when she played the archangel Gabriel in the oddball comic book movie Constantine. She was so luminous, so ambiguously a-human and completely heaven sent that I was compelled to know more about her. Sadly, what I came across (a bunch of self-serving arthouse malarkey with names like Conceiving Ada) did little to impress me.
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While I was waiting for my cherry coke at the theatre last night, the teenager who was serving popcorn asked me what this 42 movie was all about anyhow and why so many people were coming to the early show to see it. “Do you know who Jackie Robinson is?,” I asked. “No,” he said. I told the kid who Jackie Robinson was and felt an immediate wave of disappointment when I saw that why being the first black man to play in major league baseball didn’t seem like a big deal to the kid. Is it nice that he doesn’t process the segregation and prejudice implications of Robinson’s importance as a civil rights hero? Well…no. I want to scream yes! I want to think this means we live in a post-racial world where nothing matters but our character, perseverance and abilities.
True confessions time. I was not a fan of horror films growing up. As a matter of fact, it was safe to say that any genre title, no matter how well meaning or schlocky, frightened me to no end. I actually went to a slumber party when I was eight where the group decided to watch Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster as part of the “fun” and I could not sleep all night. Or the next. Or the next. Put another way, when Charles B. Pierce’s “classic” The Legend of Boggy Creek played at our local movie house, it was peer pressure mandatory to attend. When I eventually made my way into a seat, I spent more time under it (or out of it, in the restroom) than actually witnessing the dread.
I’m not sure why terror touched me so deeply. I can say that I was always a very impressionable kid (and teen, and young adult…). There was no real suspension of disbelief between myself and what was up on the screen. I tended to believe everything I saw on TV and in the movies was real and happening. It’s what led to my love of science fiction. I could instantly get lost in the worlds offered either between the pages of a speculative novel or on the small/big screen. But it wasn’t just the fantastical that hit me hard. I have a vivid memory of crying my eyes out over Jackie Gleason’s “death” in Gigot. The kindly deaf mute didn’t actually die, but I had been so wrapped up in the character’s story that I couldn’t distinguish between possible reality and dramatic manipulation.
I think Batman Begins is a better movie than The Dark Knight. There, I said it, it’s out there. And now you’ll know exactly where I stand on Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. Don’t get me wrong, I think The Dark Knight is a fantastic film, but it’s not exactly a Batman film. Really, Batman is just a side note to Heath Ledger’s masterful performance as the Joker. And Knight becomes, in its final twenty minutes, a tad overburdened with the bigger themes it’s trying to explore. So rather than a taut cinematic finale we’re treated to an expose on morality and justice in a chaotic world, most notably in that lumbering ferry scene that mostly serves to slows down the action.
But where The Dark Knight was all about The Joker, Batman Begins was all about Bruce Wayne. In Begins, we were treated to a complex hero struggling to overcome his fears and learning to use his rage at the murder of his parents into a force for good rather than vengeance. It was the very essence of the character of Batman, distilled into a perfectly scripted two hours and 20 minutes. It was possibly the finest origin story of any comic-book character we have yet seen, and likely will see again. The Dark Knight Rises flashes back much more to Begins than it does to Knight. It’s a good thing too, because the final installment in Nolan’s saga brings the focus back where it belongs: on the man behind the mask.
It rarely happens, but when it does, it definitely sets you back a bit. The other day, I was assigned an upcoming theatrical release for review. The title and the core concept sounded vaguely familiar, but in the realm I was dealing with - horror movies - that’s par for the spook show course. Thinking nothing more than beyond the upcoming deadline, I settled in with my screener, watched as the movie unfolded a bit like I expected, and marveled at the message buried subliminally within the standard haunted house (or in this case, haunted family) dynamic. By the end, I was mildly impressed, capable of coming up with the mandatory 600 words-plus to meet my obligation.
As I sat down to write the review, I felt odd, a bit uneasy. There was a weird sense of pseudo deja-vu running through my thoughts, an aura of undeniable familiarity…as if I had been here before, commenting on the exact same thing. Again, I chalked it up to the copycat conceits of the genre and the hundreds of movies I have seen over the years. In May, I will have been a quasi-professional film critic for 10 years, and in that decade I have seen close to 5000 films. I average between 7 to 10 per week (between theatrical and DVD/Blu-ray), not including the rare instance where I actually enjoy a movie for personal fun. Any sneaking suspicion I had could be chalked up to a kind of aesthetic repetitive stress disorder.
// Notes from the Road
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