SD/NP 06/08/08 – A Bat, A Thing, A Trip, And Some Hoopla

Every time we watch a film, or a tv programme, or I read a book, I decide that there is loads of stuff I want to write here on my blog about it.

And every time, I fail dramatically. I don’t know whether it’s the Twitter dramatic post disorder stress that Tom Reynolds has alluded to before, and I think I’ve mentioned somewhere – wherein I find that everything I desperately wanted to say, I’ve already tweeted about in a fit of urgency, and as it happens, and so writing a proper post about it doesn’t seem as urgent any more – or if it’s something else, like my chronic disorganisation.

In my continuous quest to try to force myself to write, though, I have decided to adopt – by which I mean steal – a format that Lee at Quit Your Day Job sometimes uses. I don’t watch as many movies as he does, so I’m going to have to expand on the theme a little, but here goes, my first attempt to wrap-up a week of film watching – Seven Days/No Popcorn, and this week you get an extra day, because I’m nice.

Dark Knight

There’s not much to say about this film that hasn’t already been said, by people better at this sort of thing then me. Also, I haven’t much time to get this done before close of day, so I’ll keep it short.

I loved this film. But I suspect it isn’t going to stick with me as one of my favourite films of all time, and it pains me to admit that I’ve become this cynical. It has everything it needs to have – great actors, a smart script that almost never compromises between plot and dialogue, intelligent direction and perfect visuals. There were some great uses of sound, too, although you had to take a guess on that – less then a week out of the gate when we saw it, and our local cinema had already dropped the ball on sound quality, so that it popped and dropped out randomly once every ten or twenty minutes. Only for an instant, mind, but it isn’t really right, is it?

Particularly terrifying, and again I’m aware that I’m treading old ground with this, is Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker, and many of the film’s bravest decisions are in dealing with this character. For a start, the fact that we don’t get an origin, while important to maintain the themes of chaos and otherness around the Joker, is so unusual in a movie based on a mainstream comic that it is refreshing. It adds to the feeling one gets throughout, that this is a genre defying film that uses comic-book tropes, rather then a pure comic-book movie. Saying genre defying is a little misleading, actually – there’s horror and action, to be sure, and at it’s core there is a well-rounded and nerve-wracking thriller.

This is never more apparent then when the soundtrack chooses audio cues over scored ones – at least, one of the things I noticed most about the film is how it takes the very non-Hollywood route of using non-diegetic rising sound rather then melodramatic orchestral themes to unsettle the audience before the Joker does something off-kilter. This isn’t a film that makes things easy for it’s audience.

Heath Ledger does a great job, too – there’s truth to Rol’s assertion that the role is a gift to any actor, but Ledger does something quite amazing with the character, that helps elevate the film to that genre-defying state I talked about before.

I’ve heard a couple of long-time Ledger fans complaining that the world seems so surprised, and suddenly so willing to sing the praises of the actor that they have always found pretty good, and it’s almost a fair complaint – except that Ledger did something in this film that was a level beyond anything that I had seem him do before. I haven’t seen many of his films, I’ll admit, but he’s always done a solid, dependable job in them.

But his Joker is a step beyond doing a decent job of convincing an audience that he is a Heath Ledger-shaped cowboy, or high-school badass, or a British officer and gentleman. This is full-on theater, and method work that you don’t get to see much in film. It’s beyond an actor making themselves look different, although the make-up certainly helps with that. Ledger inhabits the role, which is one of those bits of hyperbole that always makes me roll my eyes when I hear it, but it’s true.

It’s sad that it didn’t happen until his last film. Brad Pitt has managed to do it a few times, Leonardo Di Caprio did it the once, most memorably, in his first major film, and then spoiled it with subsequent and shite mugging performances – and it’s true to say that it’s easier to notice when a heart-throb does it because it’s against type, and it’s fair to say that it’s easier to do with the mentally ill or disabled, because there are more physical tics or behaviours to get hold of, but the fact remains, Ledger did it in this film, and none of the movie-goers really knew he had it in him, so it was a pleasant surprise.

It isn’t often that I notice someone else’s performance over Christian Bales, is what I’m saying.

The reason I have reservations about Dark Knight’s place in my top movies, though, is simple and probably a bit daft – it’s that in retrospect, what other reviewers have said about the disjoin between what seem to be two different films stuck together feels true – and that’s why, even though I was riveted for the length of the film, and kind of didn’t want it to end, it still seems like there was a problem with the running time afterwards.

It’s a dumb complaint, because I don’t know how it could have been fixed. Maybe one more run at the script, to tighten up the middle section? Or a bit of real baby-killing to make sure that the themes run consistently throughout? It couldn’t break down into two films, even though the abrupt change in focus once Harvey Dent finds himself in a dilemma seems to jar – because it is fitting that it does, and the two halves complement each other perfectly.

I don’t know. It’s just that slight uncertainty that is keeping me reserved. I guess I need to see it again!

The Thing

This has been on the pile to watch for a couple of weeks – like many films in the collection, it’s one that Girl One hadn’t seen, so we needed to address that quickly.

I had no trouble putting this down for it’s year in that recent meme, and I was glad to find that Girl One felt the same.

Even after all this time, and after many slicker, more bombastic films have explored similar settings and themes, John Carpenter’s monster movie still stands up to scrutiny. This time round, the effects are starting to look that tiny bit worn round the edges – not so much because they look dated, as that the creature designs and effects have inspired so much that has appeared since that they lack the shock value that they once did, but the tension, the claustrophobia, and the fear that takes over the men in the film is pitched so perfectly, and paced so well, that you’re completely absorbed into their situation.

Carpenter’s theme, as well, is a terrific use of sound – while it has it’s aesthetic appeal, and is nicely rounded out by Ennio Morricone’s work, it works perfectly alongside the visuals, and exists purely to build tension – it isn’t ever distracting, which is unusual outside of Carpenter’s earlier classics.

The Hudsucker Proxy

A bit of a disappointment, this. Not to me – if anything, I loved it more this time out, after years without a copy. It’s a beautifully filmed piece of work, has Gilliamesque scope and vision, but hasn’t aged a day. Also, the Capraesque charm of Tim Robbin’s Barnes, alongside the note-perfect 50s inspired dialogue and delivery of everyone else, wins me over more with each viewing, and I found myself enjoying Jennifer Jason Leigh’s fast-talking reporter more then I ever have before.

There are so many themes and flourishes running through the film that it is difficult to keep up, but every second of dialogue and plot is intricately scripted to build or repeat them, and I found myself noticing references to previous scenes and noticing patterns that I hadn’t before.

The let-down, really, was that Girl One didn’t like it much. She tried, and seemed to be enjoying it to start with, but after around half an hour, I could tell that her appreciation was dwindling. If I had to put it down to one thing, it might have been the introduction of the newsroom, and the shift in pace that it creates, and especially the speed and abrasiveness of Jason Leigh’s delivery. It’s necessary, of course, but that doesn’t stop it being agitating and maybe even a little irritating.

To me, though, this is one of the Coen Brother’s best, only really beaten out by Fargo, although I have to wonder how I’ll feel about No Country For Old Men, down the line, because that was amazing.

Euro Trip

I’m out of time, which is just as well, because I don’t have much to say about this film.

Some friends recommended it, because they knew that we liked a decent, daft comedy once in a while. We watched Superbad with them, we’ve talked about the virtues of the American Pie series and Road Trip, so it probably seemed like a good bet.

We hated it. It wasn’t the crudeness, although there was plenty of that. Or the stupidity of it, although again, there was a lot, and it was pretty damn stupid. And it wasn’t that we were offended by the meanness of the stereotyping as the youngsters travel around the various European countries, although there was something quite offensive about the ignorance of it all.

If I had to pin it down to one thing, I’d say it was the cynicism of it all. The film had nothing genuine to say, instead choosing to pull lame imitations of jokes from other, more heartfelt movies in the genre. If the dumbness of the representations of the various countries was supposed to be a satire about the American experience or understanding of other countries, it didn’t come across that way – and even the “outrageous” scenes, the moments where these films sell themselves to the juvenile, were short on imagination or any real shock value – an incestuous misunderstanding leads to a weak snog on a dance-floor – a run-in with a mime on the streets of Paris, and a scene where our heroes wander into a pub full of football hooligans, play out like badly paced revisits of the Gay Club scene in American Wedding, and none of the nudity really comes off as particularly naughty, which is kind of the point of nudity in a comedy like this.

Despite all this, I found myself really wanting to like the film. The four main characters in it are likeable enough, and they do a good job with what they’ve got, and there are maybe ten minutes worth of really good jokes in the whole film, but ultimately, it was a depressing waste of time. It’s difficult to imagine that the guys who made this are shoulder-deep in the Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm talent-pool, and it leads me to think that this film was just a tragic misfire.

There, over-ran. Bugger. Will try not to spend so much time wondering what to call the thing, next time!

Please do tell me what you think in the comments, if you’ve made it this far!