Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Batman


Jesus, what a bore. I knew Tim Burton didn't know how to shoot action, but it'd been so long since I'd seen this that I'd forgotten what garbage it is. Burton shoots in his usual static shots of everything, which to me give the movie a feeling of the world not existing beyond the frame of what's currently on screen. I felt this a little in Zack Snyder's devotion to the frame of the comics in Watchmen, but this is a whole other level of lack of vision. Also on Burton is the movies awful pacing, as Bruce Wayne isn't even seen until 20 minutes into the movie when every other major character, and many minor ones, have long been established. Even Batman himself has only been on screen for maybe 90 seconds at this point.

Nicholson's Joker is nothing menacing and his characterization is really just a gangster who laughs too much. I watched many of his villainous things like destroying the art museum, the clown gags and whatnot thinking "Why is this guy a villain? He's not remotely frightening. Batman is scarier, and that's not how this should be working." None of the character's humor is funny, and none of his bad deeds are scary. So what is the point of him? Hugo E. Blick, who plays the young Jack Napier in flashback, was much more menacing and interesting in his seconds of screentime.

Very few things come out of the movie unscathed. Michael Keaton certainly does, and I liked him even more now than I did then. His humor comes through in the same way Kevin Conroy's did in Batman: The Animated Series (which is what this movie wanted to be, but of course the series wouldn't exist without this movie) and is a big part of what makes him great. The design of the Batmobile is just so fucking cool and so is the Batsuit and symbol. It really is awesome, and the Batplane is as well (though the cheesy ass part where he flies above the clouds just to make the Bat-symbol in the moon was cringingly bad). I liked Kim Basinger more than I expected to, seeing as I didn't remember her in the slightest going into it.

But mainly I put this movie's failings at the feet of Tim Burton and Jack Nicholson. I supposed the screenwriters as well, since they're the ones who wrote such an uninteresting villain into the main character of a Batman movie. Actually, come to think of it, a big part of it has to go to Sam Hamm and Warren Skaaren as the writers, because Batman/Bruce Wayne only becomes the main character in the second half of the movie. Up until then, he's 4th lead behind Jack, Basinger, and for God knows what reason Robert Wuhl, who is simply awful. But still, with some directorial panache the movie could've been truly impressive. Sadly, Tim Burton is a production designer and animator that has never really figured it out as a real filmmaker.

Previously I'd rate this a 4/10 or so. But I'd lower it now to a 3/10. Not as bad as the truly unwatchable sequel, but not something I will probably ever revisit.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Ashes and Diamonds


Andrzej Wajda's 1958 masterpiece Ashes and Diamonds was a really terrific time at the movies. It stars "The James Dean of Poland" Zbigniew Cybulski as Maciek, an assassin at the end of WWII tasked with taking out communist leaders in Poland, alongside his friend/mentor/superior officer Andrzej (Adam Pawlikowski). However, Maciek soon falls for the sexy barmaid Krystyna (Ewa Krzy┼╝ewska) at the hotel in which they are staying. The man they're supposed to kill is staying there too, and there are a lot of close calls as Maciek and Andrzej try to figure out how to assassinate this man, or if with all the killing done in the war if it is even worth it (in this way it's very much a precursor to Spielberg's brilliant Munich).

Shot like the noir films that had lost their popularity at the time, but with a realism in acting and setting that really grounds everything as much as possible. It's a beautiful movie to look at, one that Martin Scorsese has listed as one of his 10 favorites ever made. I would and will watch this masterpiece again over the years, as there really isn't a single weakness in it. It's a pretty perfect movie.

The Hourglass Sanitorium



Wojciech Jerzy Has' 1973 surreal opus The Hourglass Sanitorium is one of the few Polish movies I've seen. Despite my local Museum of Art hosting a series of 16 films Martin Scorsese selected as "Masterpieces of Polish Cinema", I've only been able to go see 2. I'd only previously known this movie by its odd and amazing poster. When I read more, it sounded intriguing even though I'm very hit and miss on surreal art. I must say that while this suffers from some of the drawbacks of all surreal films, it is one of the most beautifully shot and put together movies I've ever seen and one that I'd happily see again any time.

The "story" as much as one exists, is that of Joseph (Jan Nowicki) riding a train to visit his ailing father Jacob (Tadeusz Kondrat) in a sanitorium. From there we are led on a series of surreal adventures such as being arrested by soldiers for having a dream, confronting living plastic mannequins of historical figures, reliving childhood memories of many different things. All with Joseph leading us through, even through the childhood segments, the adult stands in for his younger self.

Unfortunately, like too many surrealist films, we're not given a base to go from for Joseph as a character, so we don't know why things are happening (sometimes what is happening at all), or what it means to anyone or anything. If they're not relative to the main character leading us through them, and the sequences are meant for the audience and not the character then what's the point of the character in the first place? Just string the segments together like a book of short stories (which is how this movie was adapted in the first place). Another side of this is that there's no narrative momentum leading us from piece to piece, so even though the movie is only 2 hours long, it feels much, much longer.

However, this is easily one of the 5 or 10 most visually splendid films ever made. Though I wasn't always engaged narratively, there wasn't a single second I wasn't fascinated visually. The way Has moves from sequence to sequence has an incredible flow to it, as sets seem to almost disappear, or open up into the next segment. It's truly astonishing filmmaking on every technical level. I am not always one to say go see a movie just for the visuals, but if you can see this movie, do it, even if it's only for the visuals.