Sunday, July 20, 2008

Why So Serious?: "The Dark Knight" Review

I willingly admit that I am a movie marketer’s dream as I am easily seduced by the flash and glamour of movie trailers and well-orchestrated hype. I am addicted to the anticipation and the wonder that goes with seeing a movie. “The Dark Knight” had the perfect storm of hype from fans who loved the sinister and intelligent revamp of the Batman franchise with Chris Nolan’s “Batman Begins;” glowing acclaim from critics and fans alike that centered mostly on Heath Ledger’s Joker and the tragedy of Ledger’s untimely death. Therefore, it wasn’t hard for me to decide to go to see the 12:01 a.m. screening of “The Dark Knight.” Yes, partially because of the snowballing Oscar-buzz surrounding the late Ledger’s portrayal of the The Joker, but also because Batman is my favorite superhero (sorry, Spiderman), Christian Bale is my favorite Batman (sorry, Clooney, Keaton and Kilmer), and finally “Batman Begins” only scratched the complicated, gritty surface of the superhero’s gritty mythology.

After seven commercials and five trailers, "The Dark Knight" started and ended with raucous applause, because it defies all odds (and some laws of physics in those action sequences) and actually lives up to the hype and buzz. It plays like a true-life legal drama in which Gotham City is smothered by crime and the brave few—Batman, Commissioner Gordon, and the new pretty-boy D.A. Harvey Dent—fight to cure the city of its malignancies. Batman is simultaneously hated as a careless vigilante and emulated by crazy followers in hockey pads. While his heroic efforts have made progress, the crime bosses stubbornly try to maintain control in the most gruesome of ways. And they are even frightened by the new painted face on the Gotham crime circuit, a menacal villain who moves like a marionette and speaks like Lucifer.

The Joker is Batman's nemesis— as unpredictable as Batman is methodical—and arguably the best villain I've ever seen on screen as his motive is not based in the age-old money or power. It's mayhem and anarchy. He lives for pandemonium the way a terrorist might, and feeds off the soul-shattering terror of others.

I did feel that the inescapable coverage of the film made me much more aware of Ledger’s performance, and consequently I scrutinized every frame of the Joker's scenes. It's hard to believe that such a psychopath was created by the soft-voiced Aussie, who once confessed to wanting to dance like Gene Kelly. I promise this review will be spoiler free, but I can say this: yes, this film belong to the Joker; yes, Ledger underwent an almost impossible sinister and complete transformation: the eyes, the movements, the smooth, creepy voice. Do I think this is the role that drove Ledger to his untimely death? No. The Joker is a sick, twisted mass murderer, but he is also jester; at the heart of this character is a love of practical jokes, and he gets more laughs than Batman and Alfred combined. Ledger looks as if he is having a ball onscreen and while we can celebrate that performance, it makes me sad that it will be his last. It makes me sick to think that with the next movie, they may have to recast the Joker. The movie is predicted to open with an astounding $155 million take (and replace “Spiderman 3 as the highest grossing opening weekend ever), so that is a real possibly.

Nolan realizes what a lot of moviemakers have not: while CGI is a money-saving solution to pump up the action, moviegoers see it as a cop out and it’s uninteresting to watch a pixilated superhero fight off pixilated bad guys. The movie does use CGI in a very inventive, but sparing ways. Most of the stunts were done the old-fashioned way with cables, ingenuity, explosives and crazy stuntmen. The writing and acting are just as spectacular as the action sequences. Bale and Ledger have extended scenes together, and are equals in both the characters they play and the amazing actors they are.

The only criticism I can possibly dredge up (besides Bale’s super-rasy, over-the-top Batman voice) is that I felt that Maggie Gyllenhaal, an Oscar-nominated actress, was terribly unused as Rachel Dawes, Harvey Dent’s current girlfriend, and Bruce Wayne’s/Batman’s love. Gyllenhaal is a talented actress and while she was a vibrant improvement to Katie Holmes’ sleepy, uninspired turn at the same A.D.A., I wish she had more scenes with Bruce Wayne and Batman to further solidify their relationship and the push-pull of the dramatic love triangle between Bruce, Rachel and the coin-flipping Harvey Dent, (who suffers his own tragic transformation).

“The Dark Knight” is an excellent, realistic film that feels more like a true-life thriller than a fantastical tale about a superhero. It is tragic that the movie will forever be shrouded in grief due to the untimely passing of an extremely talented actor in Ledger, who gives the performance of his life.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Snapping Snap Judgements: "Tori and Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood"

How often do you pre-judge something or someone? If you’re anything like me, you do it all the time and swear on a stack of Entertainment Weeklys that you don’t. This is especially true for all things entertainment—the business that’s built on snap decisions and those elusive fifteen minutes. We can judge within the first few seconds of a teaser whether we will like the highlighted movie, television show or even an album enough to invest more of our time, money and passion into it (Embarrassing Confession #316: I am a trailer/preview whore. I absolutely love them, and 99.9% of the time, the trailers are better than the movie that succeeds it).

So naturally I wrote off Tori Spelling’s “Tori and Dean: Inn Love” and “Tori and Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood” as the mindless goings-on of the quintessential spoiled heiress who finally had to work for a living, and factor in Tori’s insta-book deal, I pretty much hated her (her as in her public, celebrity persona and not the actual person). As I was making my top secret Memphis-style rib rub this past holiday weekend, I flipped to Oxygen and left it there even though the Tori’s alarmingly muppet-esque face was all up in my 32-inch screen. I was surprised when I saw that not only is Tori Spelling remarkably down-to-earth for someone who grew up with a father who literally made it snow in California for Christmas, but she is also very hardworking and pretty entertaining. Her husband is cute and her son, Liam, is an adorable carbon-copy of Tori’s younger brother, Randy (Where is he, by the way? He was awesome on the short-lived soap“ Sunset Beach”).

Granted, “Home Sweet Hollywood” is probably more scripted than “The Hills,” but its absurdity and over-the-top solutions to surprisingly common problems (i.e., when a pregnant Tori, desperate to outbid other couples on their already overpriced dream house, runs/waddles to try to catch Dean he descends into the Pacific Ocean in full SCUBA gear) make the show addictive, playfully absurd and oddly touching. This week’s episode catalogued the grueling launch of her [insert my jealous groans] book tour and the planning for Liam’s first birthday party. Like most celebrities, promotional days are scheduled back-to-back-to-back with appearances, parties and photo calls, which I’d imagine can be mentally and physically draining on anyone, let alone a very pregnant wife and mother. It was also endearing to see Tori genuinely emotional when Liam’s former baby nurse came for his money-themed birthday bash.

The fab factor came, of course, at Liam’s party. Tori Spelling heralded the event with a soiree that boasted a monkey cake bigger than the actual child (and it scared his diaper full), a very-late moon-bounce castle, tables, ice cream stations, gift bags, members of the press, friends including Carmen Electra, Denise Richards, Loni Anderson, Zachary Quinto and the late Aaron Spelling’s brother.

Ultimately, Tori and Dean successfully demystified common misgivings about her life while keeping me entertained and emotionally involved. This is a secret she needs to bottle and sell to all of the other reality shows that failed to do anything but reinforce my snap judgments…yeah, I’m looking at you Dina Lohan, The Osbournes, Gene Simmons, Hulk Hogan, and Pam Anderson…has her show even started yet…don’t care, still hate her!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Pop Culture Closet's Summer Media Mishmash

Back by popular demand (Read: no demand at all) is the Pop Culture Closet’s Media Mishmash! If you’re unfamiliar with this amazing feat of blogdom, it is when I, the ever opinionated K, write little blurbs about several of pop cult’s juiciest morsels, instead of just riffing crazily on one topic. Aren’t you excited? I know I am. Let’s begin!

1. Kathy Griffin: “My Life on the D List” and her GRAMMY-AWARD WINNING CD, “For Your Consideration.
This season of “My Life on the D-List” is the best one yet! Kathy performing on a 14-hour Pink flight to Australia; went to the zoo with Lance Bass; marrying a cute, fun couple from New Jersey with a foulmouthed ceremony; Kathy “popping off” with real, live Bad Girls! It doesn’t get much better than that. The show has seriously made my summer. Also help making my summer is her first-ever comedy CD. As I listened to her zingers that ranged from her own mother to newly-named deity, Oprah Winfrey to Marie Osmond, I wondered why she hadn’t recorded a CD before, and why she doesn’t do weekly podcasts. I’d gladly buy ‘em!

Britney’s younger sister isn’t the first teenager to get pregnant and she won’t be the last. The Spears family has dished up a crapload of crazy in the last decade, but Jaime-Lynn has seemed more balanced than her older sister and even her mother. She even handled her unexpected pregnancy with more poise than Britney did with her own. It angers me that the media has named her predicament and “Juno” as the cause of a spike in teen pregnancy, instead of using them to make a dialogue about teenage pregnancy newsworthy again. It has been a problem for years, and it always will be, especially when our government approves hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on abstinence campaigns—a technique that has been proven to not work. The entertainment industry has gone from cute, sexual innuendos to pure raunch, weekly sextapes, and Bratz dolls complete…of course our kids are having sex earlier.

3. “The Hills” Are Alive With Stupidity.
I normally watch various forms of entertainment news shows while I’m cooking dinner or writing this blog, but lately they’ve been inundated with inane “stories” on the girls from “The Hills”—a show I loathe almost as much as She-Who-Won’t-Be-Named (rhymes with Blaris Bilton). I tried to watch the show, and I was appalled and offended by the stupid dialogue, whiny nasally voices of the girls, and they’re ridiculously manufactured drama. It’s damn obvious that three twenty-somethings who haven’t gone to college couldn’t possibly live in a mansion, manage huge events, magically finance clothinglines or pay for all of that plastic surgery. The fact that these girls are making serious bank because daddy bought them reality shows makes me even angrier! And entertainment is my escape. So get this shit off my shows! Get it off the air! Tht includes you too, Dina Lohan and Denise Richards!

4. Christie Brinkley is a woman scorned, and she wants everyone to know it!
And we all know they have fury to spare! She happily has allowed her custody hearing to be open to the public (opposing a motion by her slimy, cheating ex-husband to close the proceedings), thus airing their dirty laundry and Brinkley’s “emotional” cheesy recaps of the end of their marriage to the entire nation. Now cheating is obviously a disgusting, hateful act to commit against the person you vowed to faithfully share your life with, however, it does not mean that you should willingly let the details of your marriage be disclosed for voracious public consumption. It is sullying the name her children’s father, which is a selfish and heartless thing to do to your children ontop of naming one of them SAILOR. I know you live in the Hamptons, but what the fuck is that about? I’ve never been the biggest fan of Brinkley, who looks great for her age, but you can be right without getting even. Her children are ultimately paying the price for her parents mistakes.

5. The Dark Knight starts at Midnight…
I have decided to attend my fair city’s midnight screening of “The Dark Knight” in just a couple of weeks. I’m insanely excited about it after falling prey to all of the Oscar-hype surrounding Heath Ledger’s final performance. I’m also a sucker for a good Superhero movie, and “Batman Begins” was amazing! I’m aware that this confession makes me the biggest geek with a blog, but I don’t care! Oh, and I’m going alone. I know, I can’t even look at myself in the mirror. LOL!

6. Hancock gets my seal of approval…
Because it honestly wasn’t that bad. On Friday, I headed out to see “Hancock” with my sister who just wanted to ogle Will Smith in a leathery/vinyl body-glove…and honestly, who can blame her? I was a bit nervous after reading many a review that hollered about shoddy writing and the weak dramatic turn. After seeing it, I admit “Spiderman” it is not, but all of the other superhero movies have had decades to sculpt a unique and dramatic mythology. Time also allowed those series to edit and re-craft its own history. “Hancock” is a modern superhero created probably as a vehicle for Will Smith. With that said, I enjoyed the movie. It is a flufftastic, lighthearted movie that boasts amazing special effects and is a fun way to spend a Friday night, judging by the $107 million it took in in five days, a lot of other people thought so too.

Will Smith is even more entertaining when he’s rough around the edges, surly, and threatening little kids and old ladies. The complaint that the villain is forgettable is completely true. But this movie isn’t about the villain’s. The writers have (stupidly) made Hancock seemingly invincible, so it’s not about subduing a mere mortal human with a hook-hand. Also, the major, dramatic turn in the movie wasn’t telegraphed by the writers so much as it was the casting. But who could say no to the sexy and talented Charlize Theron? I don’t blame them for casting her, but I think if they cast another, less empowered female lead, the twist would have been far more unexpected. However, all of the cast, which includes the ever-adorable Jason Bateman, had fantastic chemistry and while this movie will never be a “Batman Begins,” all involved did a GOOD JOB!