Wednesday, July 16, 2008


"All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy", he says. Well then he must have had one hell of a rotten week. They call him the Clown Prince of Crime, decked in purple, with a chalk white death mask of a face, filthy green hair and a painted on smile of sadistic glee. He’s played arguably the largest role in my youthful inspirations, and has continued to fascinate, frighten and entertain me for over twenty years. He may be dressed as a circus comedy act, but no one’s laughing. This entry is dedicated to the individual who deserves the fair share of the credit for Batman’s continued success, the freak who stands high above all other villains in his genre and the demonic prankster who tops my list of favourite fictional characters. His name is the Joker and this is 7 Days Of The Bat – Day 7.

When I was pre-planning this whole countdown to Dark Knight thing, I knew I wanted it to be a weeklong celebration. I also figured that, as film criticism is my ultimate passion, it would consist of film retrospectives. But there were only five truly notable Bat-films. After toying with, and discarding, the idea of including the Adam West 1966 Batman flick, I began to think of decent substitutes. Mask Of The Phantasm was a surprisingly late addition, actually. In the end, though, I decided to make the final instalment, the culmination of my tireless work (These things take longer than you’d expect!) to be a love letter, of sorts, to the initial kernel of interest that drew me to the franchise to begin with.

When I was around 6 years old, my mom introduced me to Adam West’s classic campy Batman TV series. It was like crack for a hyper-imaginative child obsessed with the villains of Star Wars and He-Man. It pulled me in immediately with its endless stream of memorable bad-guys (I found the Dynamic Duo kinda dull). Out of the plethora of evil-doers, Burgess Meredith’s Penguin and Otto Preminger’s Mr. Freeze had a pretty big effect. Frank Gorshin’s The Riddler was even more appealing, with his hyperactive giggle and, to my odd young mind, awesome outfit. But even he couldn’t hold a candle to the genius of Cesar Romero’s (moustachioed) Joker. I remember feeling strangely crestfallen whenever I turned the show on and he wasn’t featured.

Watching Batman: The Movie was like a dream come true. Riddler and Joker together! And Joker was kicking all sorts of ass. I recall feeling unusually proud of the fact that Joker put up the best fight on the climactic penguin-submarine fist-fight. He sent Robin into the drink, for Pete’s sake! That’s hardcore.

Mr. Romero even inspired my first ever home movie where I, at the age of 7, wearing a home-made Joker mask, played the Clown Prince of Crime and battled the likes of Batman (My sister Janine) and Robin (One of the neighbour kids). I did some serious stunt-falls that day, and am still entertained watching myself, in love with the character I was portraying, prat-falling around like a mental patient and even getting clocked in the face by my over-enthusiastic little sister.

I even had a Joker sweatshirt. I can’t remember if it was my mom or Grandma that bought it for me, but if was black and was emblazoned with a picture of my hero, laughing maniacally (With “HA HA HA’s all over the place), and pointing a gun outwards. My fourth grade teacher, the far-more-evil Ms. Harrington (Picture the Crypt Keeper... Only scarier!) gave me hell for wearing it on Canadian Remembrance Day. She may have had a point about the inappropriateness in honouring our fallen veterans by wearing a shirt depicting a homicidal clown, but whatever! I was a just a dumb kid who couldn’t see past his own twisted hero worship.

1989 was an amazing year, as it thrust my purple-adorned idol into the spotlight. The commercials, the toys, the advertisements... My mom bought me an 8X12 glossy photo of Jack Nicholson as Joker, wearing sunglasses, in a beach-chair holding a can on Smilex. Later that year she would get an artist friend of hers to replicate the photo on the top of my 9th Birthday cake. Best cake ever! I still have that glossy photo, although it’s a tad dog-eared and worn now (My cousin maliciously scribbled on it with a black crayon. Thank God for her health that it came off!), on my mirror. I also had a Batman Choose Your Own Adventure-type book and would purposely skip ahead to make sure that I followed the paths that led to Joker being involved in the story.

I didn’t actually make it all the way through Batman (On video, not in theatres) on my first go-around. Being a fairly sensitive child, the sight of Joker gleefully blowing Jack Palance to shreds, stabbing that fat gangster with a pen and then frying another to a crispy skeleton was a bit much for me. Cesar Romero never did stuff like that! I’m gonna guess I made it about 50 mins. in and then chose to go upstairs and decorate the Christmas tree instead. It wasn’t until ’92 that I actually made it all the way through and was able to fully appreciate the brilliance that Jack Nicolson brought to the character. To this day, his take on the role is in the upper echelon of my favourite performances of all time. He made the Joker scary, which was something I didn’t realize was important until later in life.

The Animated Series continued the love affair, and Mark Hamill’s flawless voice-work thrilled me to no end. An episode featuring a Joker-created cloud of laughing gas making its way through Gotham was a major favourite. I also, as mentioned in my Mask Of The Phantasm review, was blown away by his role in that excellent feature. Joker’s insertion into a Batman story always raises the quality level by about half.

As the years rolled on, Batman became less of a creative force in my life. I never really read the comic-books. I was a Marvel guy. But the Joker would always loom large in my creative thoughts and writing. I wonder now if my love for the character was a major catalyst for my appreciation and fandom of the music of Marilyn Manson. The similarities are definitely striking: the garish wardrobe, clown-like make-up, emphasis on the blackest humour and catharsis through anarchy. Attending his concerts was likely the closest I would ever come to seeing Joker in the flesh (Although why would I want to?).

A few years ago, after a long vacation from comics, I began getting back into that world. I started by picking up a copy of Batman: Riddler & Two-Face Tales. My appetite was whetted! I began to hear the lure of the lunatic’s laughter, and picked up Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, and then Greatest Joker Tales, then The Killing Joke and onwards. Those three masterpieces were all chillingly effective and only made me love the character even more. I was discovering another facet of him that I had, for some unknown reason, never bothered to explore in the past. Recently I’ve flown through Mr. J’s appearances in Jeph Loeb’s top-notch Long Halloween and Dark Victory, Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum and Ed Brubaker’s The Man Who Laughs. I also have a lot of love for Michael Green’s Lovers And Madmen which, in my mind, captured the relentless and frightening insanity of ol’ green hair almost as much as his first appearance waaaaaay back in 1940. When he sees Batman for the first time, the sinister smile of joy as he proclaims “He looks... Ridiculous!” Great, incisive stuff. Batman saving him from certain death, and then him tearfully declaring “You do care!” is a brilliant peak into Joker’s psychology. He needs Batman as much as Batman doesn’t need him.

Whether played as a flamboyantly gay psychopath, or as a vicious genius, I truly believe that what makes him so hypnotic is the unspoken fact that he is the only person who truly terrifies Batman. That moment, in Killing Joke, where Batman pleads with Joker, begging him to let him help him to rehabilitate himself, you can feel the fear within the Dark Knight. This is a man who he cannot predict, can’t control and will always have his moral code questioned when dealing with him. I think that he is destined to one day kill the Joker, and when he does, the Clown will have the last laugh, as he will have finally broken his only equal. For this reason, any Batman tale featuring the Joker becomes a deeper study into the main character, and gives the work richer nuances and themes than other non-Joker efforts.

This year looks to continue my life-long addiction, with Heath Ledger’s (apparently definitive) take on the character in The Dark Knight. I’ll be there opening night, clad in my Joker baseball hat and t-shirt, waiting to be transported into the sickest of minds, and finding excitement in the sheer madness of it all. I’ll cover my feelings towards this performance in my upcoming review, but on the basis of what I’ve seen I’m thrilled.

It’s impossible for me to recall a time when the Joker didn’t have a mysterious influence over my life. He's charismatic and exciting but also scary. He's embodies the worst mankind has to offer, and he finds it... hilarious. Many of us find ourselves compelled by artistic works, be they classic novels, paintings, music or films. I, like many, just had the fortune, and personal tastes, to reach into the pile and pull out the Joker card.

And I know he’s laughing about it still...


“It's not who I am underneath, but what I *do* that defines me”, he gruffly barks. And how true is that? For two previous films, he has been a subject of ridicule and blasphemy. A big public joke, playing grab-ass with Robin in a series of increasingly homo-erotic horror shows. Yet, he’s here, back in black, and being handled with the sort of respect and mystery that he deserves. That quote is very true when you think about it. No matter which actor is under the cowl, it’s his action and behaviour that characterize him. So long live the Dark Knight, winged scourge of the underworld, and prominent figure in the cinematic dreams of millions. His name is Batman, his re-emergence as a vital pop-culture icon occurs in Chris Nolan’s majestic film, Batman Begins, and this is 7 Days Of The Bat – Day 6.

Remember what an unexpected delight it was to return to the murky streets of Gotham back in 2005? I went into Batman Begins with zero expectations, prepared for emotional abuse and visual battering, praying for something to restore the faith. And I got it, in Bat-Spades (OMG, LOL)! Not only was it a complete reinvention of what a Bat-film should be, it was as perfect a Batman film as there ever was. It packed the seriousness of the Animated Series, the atmosphere of the Burton flicks and none of the nipples of a Joel Schumacher trainwreck!

Batman Begins is a startling work of superhero adaptation that has only grown stronger with subsequent viewings. Christopher Nolan, the genius behind Memento and Insomnia, was the ideal man for the job, and buried Batman in a gritty world of moral ambiguity and madness. And fear. The reason why Batman Begins works so well is that it emphasizes the mythic nature of the character, while providing an absorbing and plausible character study of the man underneath the big ears. Tim Burton got it half right. Nolan pointed for the horizon and swung away.

But it might all be for nought if Christian Bale had never come into the fold. Has there ever been a better casting job for a comic book hero? Robert Downey Jr., Tobey Maguire and Ron Perlman are definitely aces, but none have the level of gravitas and intense dedication of Bale. His Bruce Wayne is the trickiest of characters, a likable and identifiable man who is quite mad and dangerously delusional. Make no mistake about it, Batman is a necessary evil for Gotham, but the man underneath is treacherously unstable. And Bale not only understood this, but ran with it, making Bruce Wayne, the man, every bit as fascinating and entertaining as the Batman.

The emphasis on Bruce’s journey was a key decision in the franchise; as it toned down what many felt was the chief distraction of the series: the colourful villains. Nolan realized that the greatest foes work in small doses, leaving the audience wanting more. For this reason, I find Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow to be one of the most entertaining trouble-makers in the Batman cinematic canon. The wonderful sleaze and ruthlessness in Murphy’s portrayal, and when Dr. Crane finally does go cuckoo and becomes the Scarecrow we all know and love, makes him an A-class adversary. His lack of screen-time had me, and many others, desiring more. That’s proof of his success.

Liam Neeson’s Ra’s Al Ghul is more intriguing, as he is the most human of Batman’s on-screen rogue’s gallery. There’s nary a dash of eyeliner or prosthetics on him, and as fiercely (and physically) portrayed by the Irish actor, he’s also the most noble and “grey”. Ra’s makes a lot of sense, and is, in many ways, no less loony than Bruce Wayne. Is his fatalistic plan all that more brutal than the onslaught of evil that will result from Batman’s vigilante quest? His final battle with Batman, the most physically brutal fight in any Bat-film, is dirty, painful and punishing. And when Ra’s fate hits him like an out-of-control mack truck, it’s a strangely cathartic moment of on-screen violence. He was a noble and dangerously intelligent man. If only he had been able to shift his ideologies a hair to the left.

Another important shift from the previous Bat-flicks, was Nolan’s emphasis on a great supporting cast of compelling characters. Michael Caine’s Alfred? Leagues ahead of Michael Gough’s one-note caricature. Gary Oldman’s Jim Gordon? A series casting high-point. Who’d have thought that a professional nut-job like Oldman would be the perfect candidate to bring the working-class dignity of the future Commissioner to the big screen? He’s brilliant, and sets the high mark for future entries in the, no doubt, endless franchise. Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox? An absolute ball, playing to Freeman’s strengths as a mentor and warm personality. Freeman has rarely been as mischievous and fun. Even Katie Holmes, who I feel was unfairly criticized, imbued her Rachel Dawes love interest with a level of emotional truth never before seen in the series. She felt like a real person, as opposed to a stage-prop. Plus Tom Wilkinson, as mobster Carmine Falcone, chews the scenery with relish, yet makes his villain mesmerizing whenever he’s on-screen.

As an origin tale, Batman Begins is among the best. The shooting of Bruce’s parents, the discovery of the Batcave, the meeting with Carmine Falcone? Each moment captured and portrayed the required shades of pathos and authority. We understand the trip, not just the destination. The moment when Bruce, fighting back apprehension, slowly rises to his feet, enveloped in a swarm of frightened bats, causes a chill flashes up by spine upon each viewing. It’s a perfect mixture of visuals, sound design and haunting score (by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard). I dare say it’s my favourite single moment in the whole damn thing.

There has been rampant online whining about the shift that the plot undergoes in the third act. Myself, I’ve never had any sort of trouble with it. It’s perfectly fitting that Bruce, who has thus far recklessly raced the Tumbler around downtown Gotham, and viciously taken down mobsters (Especially in the glorious dock-side smuggling scene), would go into action mode when necessary. After the half-way point, when Batman comes to fruition, all bets are off and things are going to get ugly. He's young, clumsy and careless - Not graceful and precise like he will be later. As well, Ra’s Al Ghul’s master plan (Which is hinted at, not hammered upon, throughout the film. Nice touch.) is cruel, messy and determined. And I appreciate that Nolan doesn’t shy from highlighting the human cost that occurs from it. A lot of people are killed, and Gotham can only hope to clean up the mess. It’s a daring move to leave these threads hanging, and I’m glad Nolan had the conviction to do so.

As we stare down the gun towards the impending Dark Knight (Which I’ll be seeing in roughly 12 hours), we can only guess how this set-up of Nolan’s Bat-universe will pay off in the future. But as it stands, Batman Begins is a master-stroke of a film: Dramatically gripping, darkly funny, wonderfully acted and viscerally rousing. It’s my favourite Bat-film, and the one that is the closest approximation of Bob Kane’s original universe. Now let’s see what happens next!

Best Batman Dispatch:
Batman leaving Ra’s Al Ghul to ride the crazy train straight to hell.
Technicality!: Rachel Dawes’ taser takedown of Scarecrow. Funny and awesome!

Best Villain Dispatch:
-Gotta love how Ra’s (posing as Henri Ducard) hands Bruce’s ass to him when he arrives at the mountain top sanctuary.

Best Batman/Bruce Wayne Lines:
“Swear to me!”
“It's not who I am underneath, but what I *do* that defines me.”
“You’re not the devil. You’re practice.”
“I won’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you.”

Best Villain Lines:
“Now, I wouldn't have a second's hesitation of blowing your head off right here and right now in front of 'em. Now, that's power you can't buy! That's the power of fear.” – Carmine Falconi
“Dr. Crane isn't here right now, but if you'd like to make an appointment...” – Dr. Crane
“Would you like to see my mask?” – Dr. Crane
“Gentlemen, time to spread the word. And the word is panic.” – Ra’s Al Ghul

Best Iconic Bat-shot:
Batman crouched on the subway railing, with the taser charge stuck in his armor.

-When the prisoners are all released from Arkham, briefly visible is Mr. Zsaz, a serial killer from the comics with tally marks scarred into his skin, representing each of his victims. Mr. Zsaz also appears in the courtroom in the beginning of the film where he is being transferred to Arkham.
-A pair of Batman pajama bottoms can be seen hanging from the line in the scene where Batman talks to the little boy in the Narrows.
-The three notes Bruce, and then later Alfred, play on the piano to open the entrance to the Batcave are the same three notes that begin Black Sabbath's "Black Sabbath"; 1970. These are known in music theory, ominously, as "The Devil's Intonation".
-The calling card that Gordon shows Batman is a replica of the Joker Card from the 1989 graphic novel "Arkham Asylum".

Worst Moment:
Ummm... Errr... That is has to end???

Success As A Batman Film:
5 out of 5

Success As A Film:
5 out of 5

Film Review - HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY: Make Way For The REAL Hell-Raiser!

“It isn’t easy being green”, Kermit the frog famously stated. But it turns out that being red is no walk in the park, either. That’s just one of the many profound thoughts that crept into my head during my recent viewing of Hellboy II: The Golden Army. I also came to the conclusion that director Guillermo del Toro (Who previously birthed Pan’s Labyrinth) didn’t simply have a single monster in his childhood closet. No, he must have had an entire community in there. But instead of scaring him into a catatonic state, they have inspired the most thrilling and bizarre creations of adult fantasy (Not THAT type of fantasy!) in modern cinema. Hellboy II is lush with grotesque spectacle, and follows in the proud tradition of Spider-Man 2 and X2: X-Men United as comic-book sequels that far outdo their introductory instalments.

As you may or may not recall from the original Hellboy, the title character is a demon, escaped from another dimension, who got a lift into our universe courtesy of a Nazi supernatural portal experiment. As played, under truckloads of red make-up and prosthetics, by Ron Perlman, Hellboy is a gruff, wise-cracking tough guy with a fondness for candy bars, beer, cats and Selma Blair. A card-carrying member of The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD), a secret government task force trained to combat otherworldly trouble-makers, our horned hero frequently finds himself knee deep in ectoplasm and demon drool. Fortunately he isn’t alone, and can count on the aid of his BFF Abe Sapien (Doug Jones), a mastermind fish-man, as well as combustible lady love Liz Sherman (Blair).

Hellboy II: The Golden Army picks up shortly after the events of the first film, with Hellboy and Liz now uneasily living together, and BPRD bureaucrat Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor) trying desperately to keep a lid on his attention-hungry horned avenger. His solution is to add a new team-leader to the unit, a stubborn German gas cloud, contained within a mechanical suit, named Johann Krauss (Voiced amusingly by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane). However, a deeper threat lurks in the form of the Elvin Prince Nuada (Luke Goss), a blonde Marilyn Manson clone, who has grown tired of mankind’s disrespect for his race and aims to settle the score. His methods range from releasing a swarm of man-eating “tooth-fairies” in an auction-house, to a giant tentacle-like plant monster in downtown Manhattan. His ultimate goal though, is to retrieve the three pieces of a magical gold crown which will give him control of the mighty Golden Army, a massive squad of indestructible robotic warriors who will allow him to rule the free world. Unfortunately for our petulant Prince, his twin sister Nuala (Anna Walton) has escaped with the last piece and found shelter with our lovable team of mystic misfits, who are now charged with the task of pulling humankind back from the brink of certain doom.

*Whew*. Anyhoo, as an exercise in summer action dynamics, Hellboy II is a welcome addition to an already over-crowded marketplace. Not content with merely delivering explosions, del Toro has actually done something fairly unique: he’s managed to create an intimate personal film that still manages to exhilarate and amuse. Pay close attention to the climax of the monster plant attack scene. After we get all the requisite creature-feature stuff there is a moment of stunning beauty and poignant solemnity that is a far cry from the turbo-charged inanity of Wanted or Hancock. This is a film where the effects are used for the actual purpose of story-telling, and we see some amazing sights: the aforementioned “tooth fairies”, Death (with wings coated in penetrating eye-balls), a majestic rock organism that provides a subterranean passage for our heroes and a remarkable Troll Market sequence that is on par with the Star Wars’ Mos Eisley Cantina scene.

At the center of it all are our fearless, yet strangely human, heroes. Perlman’s Hellboy continues to be an extremely compelling lead beast, with Blair a wonderfully moody foil. But the true star here is Abe Sapien. His romantic relationship with Princess Nuala is the real heart of Hellboy II, and what pushes the film past its genre boundaries. There is a drunken heart-sick chat (and Barry Manilow sing-a-long) between the gilled intellectual and Hellboy that is riotously funny. Indeed, Hellboy II is packed with witty character-driven comedy that had my audience erupting in thunderous gales of laughter.

Through it all, we have Guillermo del Toro, the madcap master of the mythical, peering through every frame and grinning ear-to-ear. Hellboy II: The Golden Army is the best carnival ride of the summer, an idea-driven odyssey through the realms of the uncanny, and a tribute to the very best that the human imagination can conjure. Who says magic can’t exist past childhood?

4 out of 5

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


“Men, always doing things the hard way.” She’s right and she knows it. She’s got sass, spunk and a whole lotta attitude! Some would call her bossy or a pain in the bat-butt, but she’s independent, dammit! She’s gonna pay her own bills, dominate the weaker wills and kick bad guy keister straight across the hills! She’s both a clumsily portrayed modern woman and the embodiment of all that Joel Schumacher hath horribly wrought. From hardcore biker bad-girl to rubber-suited avenger goddess, she’s a firestar amidst a world of ice, snow and lame puns. Her film is Batman & Robin, her name is Batgirl and this, regretfully, is 7 Days Of The Bat – Day 5.

Well, we all knew what was coming this-a-time around. There were no illusions of classic Bat-action or intrigue. No chances of feeling anything other than resentment and spiteful hostility. Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze? Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl? Batman and Robin on bat-skates? The return of the neon street gangs? Yup, we all knew what we were in for.
And yet we mostly all still showed up. Why? Cuz it’s Batman, that’s why! And a Batman film, no matter how disastrously desecrated, is still worth my $10. That is why I have money management problems... But anyways, I recall being annoyed by the repeat of the “chicks dig the car” bit (Who decided THAT was worth recycling???), and Mr. Freeze’s groan-inducing punny business, but then a funny thing happened: I began to find enjoyment in the frenzied inanity. Oh, it was awful alright, but absorbingly so. There was hardly a single moment that didn’t feel like being kicked in the crotch with steel toes, and yet I was transfixed. I was also amused how much of a recycle job it was of Batman Forever.

As with Forever, we get the same type of Warner Bros. logo /credit sequence. Then we get Batman (now with Robin) in the Batcave, with Alfred giving exposition, and the Physical Villain being introduced (Two-Face in Forever, Mr. Freeze here.) We then suffer through a lousy fight scene with said villain, in which Batman (and now Robin) end up trapped in a rapidly elevating cylinder shaped object (Safe suspended by helicopter/Rocket thing-a-majig). The villain’s flying vehicle is destroyed, and the heavy escapes by parachute/glider wings. Only this time we get sky-surfing scenes (Batman and Robin defy gravity A LOT in B&R) that is a veritable mess-hall of pixels. Villain then gets away, and so forth. Then, as Villain A is being discussed, and their intentions discovered, the Manipulative Villain (Villain B) shows up. They are bespectacled, nerdy, and obsessive about their life’s work (Brain box/Plants). They are dressed down by their wacko bosses, and mentally/physically hurt. Then there is a transformation, they kill their boss and dress in green. Now they are the Riddler/Poison Ivy. Oh, and there must always be a scene where their geeky alter-egos beg Bruce Wayne for scientific funding (He always turns them down!). I could keep on going, but I don’t want to. Brain-freeze. Though I will recommend you pay attention also to the similar simplistic reasons behind villain A&B teaming up, as well as the stunning resemblance with both Manipulative Villain’s final fates. Look, I don’t mind formulaic flicks. Just recycle the good stuff, not the insufferably dreadful.

I’m not going to highlight too many specific terrible moments. There are far too many, and this flick ain’t worth the space. So instead let’s examine the characters. Batman, as played by George Clooney, is not a far-cry from Adam West’s Batman. He’s goofy, prone to excessively light-hearted line-delivery, and not above skin-crawling gags. The Bat-Credit Card for example (Cha-Ching!). My favourite moment is when Batgirl shows up and, after Robin essentially saying “Can you keep a secret? Cool, you’re on the team!” he simply shrugs and calls out something like “Let’s go gang, we got work to do!”.

Schumacher may have not quite killed Batman, but he drove a neon stake through the heart of the Dark Knight. (The Dark Knight would never hang out at a cheesy charity ball...) Yet, as wretched as Clooney is in the cowl, he’s a pretty good Bruce Wayne. He is arguably one of the best at playing the playboy aspect of Wayne. As well, his scenes with Alfred are effective and in dire need of a watchable movie. Shame on the producers for only really using Michael Gough’s butler until this film!

Arnie’s Mr. Freeze is one cool customer. He likes to kick ice and then fill up his car... With anti-freeeeeeze! He says a lot of stupid stuff in Batman & Robin. In fact, that’s basically his whole character. Well, there is the dying/frozen wife thing but the film’s campiness takes a baseball bat to the knees of any encroaching poignancy. To this day I am baffled by the scene in which he leads his ridiculously attired henchmen (Another swipe from Forever) in a sing-a-long to an old frozen dessert jingle. Is this guy a brilliant, evil scientist or a brain-damaged man-child? Only Schumacher knows for sure. Mr. Freeze does look kinda... cool, with his icy blue and silver muscle suit, but he loses all potential fearsomeness once he bellows “The Iceman Cometh!”. Schwarzenegger is fine, I suppose. I mean he does what he can with sub-Conan The Destroyer material, but he's completely miscast. Patrick Stewart or Ben Kingsley would have been a better choice. Basically someone who could play "smart".

Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy is another misstep, as she is a complete rip-off of Catwoman. Demure, neurotic professional woman? Yup. Pushed to her doom by a weirdo boss? Double yup. Awoken by her catalyst of choice (Plants/Cats) and reborn as a sexually dominant femme fatale? Triple yup. Manipulates a bigger, stronger ally? Quadruple yup. Draws the romantic interest of Batman? Well, you get the point. She also uses a whip (Okay, fine, a long vine. But it cracks all the same!) as a weapon! But while Catwoman was a worthy opponent, Poison Ivy is just really, really tiresome. There are, like, 75 shots of her love-vapours drifting around the screen. And, just to add that extra injection of irritation, her scenes are accompanied by ghastly quasi-After Hours jazz music. Oh, and her sidekick Bane is a waste of a potentially cool character. He could have just been called “retarded hanger-on”.

Chris O’Donnell takes his semi-okay Robin from Forever, and makes him a whining snot. No really, this guy cries more than an over-tired girl scout. And his weird come-ons aimed at Batgirl? Creepy.
Ah, Batgirl. What can I say? Alicia Silverstone. Street-racing. Martial arts combat. Please. I don’t even know how much to blame the actress, as she shouldn’t have been cast (Along with Elle MacPherson), and the fact that, as a character, Batgirl sucks. I love how all she has to do is discover the Bat-cave and she’s immediately promoted to de-facto super-heroine. What if MacPherson’s Julie Madison had found it too? Would she then be the Huntress? Or what about Commissioner Gordon? The Oracle? Yeesh. And despite no formal training she’s immediately given a suit and sent to battle three insane madmen bent on world domination. Jesus...

The entire film can basically be summed up by its repeated Bat-ass/crotch/nipple/breasts shots. Ooooh! Also its super-human cod-pieces. I have this icky feeling that Joel Schumacher was only using the franchise to advertize his own personal fetishes. Regardless, I have made it my first order of business to avoid the man, at all costs, for the rest of my shameful existence. At one point Batgirl asks Robin “What should we do now?” to which the Boy Wonder curtly responds “Pray!”. I imagine there was a lot of praying going on in the audience for a future when Batman flicks wouldn’t make their eyes bleed. Well, those prayers were answered. But that is another story, for another day...


Best Bat-Dispatch:
That inexplicable scene where Batman crashes through Mr. Freeze’s vehicle’s wind-shield, followed by a cut to Batman standing over Freeze, enveloping him in his cape. It’s like he’s incubating him or something. Maybe he mistook his shiny blue head as a Dodo egg...

Best Villain-Dispatch:
When Mr. Freeze grabs a security guard’s head, and uses it to pummel another guard in the face.

Best Lines:
“In this universe, there's only one absolute... everything freezes!”– Mr. Freeze, apparently having never encountered Twinkies.
“BOMB! BOMB! BOMB!” – Bane

-Street gang dressed like the Clockwork Orange thugs at motorcycle race.
-Bane’s creation scene echoes the classic Frankenstein.
-Riddler & Two-Face costumes hang in Arkham Asylum. Do ya think they went to all the effort of dredging Two-Face’s watery grave simply for his duds?
-Ivy’s pet plant is an homage to Little Shop Of Horrors.
- Dr. Jason Woodrue (Ivy’s evil boss) appeared in DC Comics as another plant themed super-villain called The Floronic Man.Yup.
-Governor (and Predator co-star) Jesse Ventura plays an Arkham prison guard.

Worst moment:
-Aforementioned commercial jingle sing-a-long with tragic misuse of Vivica A. Fox.
-The Bat-Credit Card. Expiration: Forever. *Barfs*
-Robin leaving a Robin-logo-shaped hole in the wall after crashing through the museum wall on his motorcycle.
-Elizabeth Sanders (Bob Kane’s widow) as Gossip Gerty. Acting lessons, stat!

Success As A Batman Film:
1 out of 5

Success As A Film:
1.5 out of 5

Monday, July 14, 2008


“If knowledge is power, than a God am I!” he declares, an alarming flash of sadistic brilliance flickering in his eyes. He prances to and fro, clad in a form-fitting green uniform that is as snug as his mind is broad. He embodies the classic archetype of the trickster, an individual who lives only to cause mischief and play mind-games with all who would even attempt to stop his sick little game. He has no great wish to commit violence, though. No, he’d rather force his opponents to their knees in cerebral defeat, hence providing a satisfying boost to his enormous, and troublesome, ego. He speaks in puzzles and ciphers, a master of the con and an artist in the methods of tomfoolery. He’s also the only appealing aspect of Joel Schumacher’s first foray into Bat-world, the focus of today’s spotlight retrospective. He goes by the devious name of The Riddler, the film is Batman Forever, and you are reading 7 Days Of The Bat – Day 4.

Ah, how great it all could have been... I remember those blissfully ignorant spring days of 1995. I was a model of youthful excitement. Batman was coming back to movie screens! Robin was gonna be introduced! (Not sure why I was excited by this. I never really liked Robin...) Two-Face would be there! He was never on the old Batman show, and I wanted to see him in the flesh! And, my God, they were gonna have Riddler! My second favourite Bat-villain! And he would be played by my young idol, the man behind Ace Ventura and The Mask, Jim Carrey!!! Would wonders never cease??? Sure, Michael Keaton was gone, but Val Kilmer was an okay replacement I figured. He was the Ice Man! ...And the whole thing was being helmed by the former costume designer responsible for the definitive Corey Haim/Feldman vehicle... No Tim Burton for sure, but how much would THAT matter?! So, decked out in a custom made white Batman Forever t-shirt (Which I still have. I don’t know why...), I took my seat on opening night for an evening of unforgettable spectacle.

I think that may have been the moment that my childhood innocence died a horrible, twisted death. Optimism, naivety and joy were forever cast into the blazing hellfire of destroyed expectations, and I was left the bitter, cynical creature of critical bile that now presides over this petty little corner of the blog-verse. This is the house that Batman Forever built.

I don’t know where to begin, so let’s just wander through the bedlam together. In place of the dark, sinister majesty of Burton’s Gotham City stood an ugly, synthetic tribute to neon decadence that immediately removed any sense of danger or intrigue. It’s hard for Batman to be cool when it looks like he exists within an absurdly opulent Las Vegas hotel (and showroom). But then, this wasn’t the same Batman. He was gonna get drive-thru! In the Batmobile! Preposterous! I remember being annoyed, and not sure if this jokey crap was supposed to fly. Hell, if it isn’t making a hyper-active 14-year-old laugh, then it must be pretty damn lame.

And it was. The opening sequence featured a cringe-inducing, broadly-played caricature with a tad too much bizarre facial alteration. Yep, Nicole Kidman was terrible. Her opening scene, hurling ludicrously slutty come-ons at the Caped Crusader was nothing short of painful. The movie appeared to stop dead in its tracks... Until Tommy Lee Jones showed up as Two-Face and it actually did.
Look, I could go through the film scene by scene, marvelling at the sheer awfulness of every single frame, but that would be a lot of work for me and I’m lazy. Although, I’m tempted. So, instead let’s focus on the central flaw of the film, in my opinion: Batman is out of place in his own damn movie. The film’s world is a cartoonish environment where neon street gangs reign, goofy sound effects spontaneously occur and characters behave as if they are in Looney Tunes. So, Batman’s tortured plight, fighting to recall the details of his father’s red book (Zzzzzzz....), has zero weight. It’s actually stunningly dull, creating this weird dichotomy where half the film is a flamboyant camp-fest (which is far too sci-fi-ish), and the other is a shallow, stolid psychological study. And due to this lousy contrast, both sides cancel each other out. Bruce’s emotional turmoil, and his hilariously solemn therapy scenes and dreamcatcher nonsense with Kidman’s Dr. Chase Meridian feel like big ‘ol time wasters until the next horribly staged (But ultra-bright) action scene. And what exactly is solved by any of these developments? That Kilmer's droning, catatonic Bruce learns he can love a trampy and professionally unethical sorority-girl shrink?

*Slow hand claps*.

But I could forgive this hopeless conceit if the action stuff was fun and exhilarating, but it isn’t. Look, I’m quite aware that Tim Burton is no master of fight choreography. But he’s John Woo compared to Joel Schumacher. There’s a sorta cool moment when Batman crashes through a wildly elaborate skylight into a wildly elaborate fountain and does a wildly elaborate backflip and kick-down to two of Two-Face’s goofily dressed (What’s with the facial piercings?) henchmen. Now, in itself, the shot is fine, though wildly elaborate (Did I mention that?). However, any observant viewer will notice that Batman’s kicks come nowhere near making contact with the two tumbling lackeys. This is a common flaw in the film: very few hits actually look like they’re making contact. The other flaw: most of them are stupid. Robin and Batman’s fight with neon street gang? Off-puttingly weird and tedious. The brawls with Two-Face’s goons? Reach-for-the-fast-forward-inducing. Oh, and that lousy Batmobile chase, scored to something resembling 50’s era dance-hall music, which begins with Two-Face in drag pushing a carriage, and ends with the damn car racing up a building? Hair-pullingly ghastly. What happened to Batman?

He’s been lost in the excess. The villains are the ones running the show here. Tommy Lee Jones, the worst offender, behaves like a crack-head on speed, railing on in loud, nonsensical tirades which grow old after his first scene. Too bad he has about twenty others. Riddler is a little better. His origin stuff is bad. Really bad. Carrey seems to be trying, but hyperactive goofiness is not scary or interesting. So, his Edward Nygma Wayne Corp. stuff dies, but as the Riddler he’s actually pretty damn good. I like the way he seems ten steps ahead of everyone else, and infectiously excited about it. The cane twirling? The flamboyance? Pretty accurate actually. His first meeting with Two-Face is probably his best moment. On the flipside, that scene in the Batcave where he tosses around bombs with the accompaniment of “wacky” sound effects should have been furiously rejiggered. Oh, and Two-Face and Riddler invading Wayne Manor by posing as trick-or-treaters at the front door? Bah, I don’t want to get into THAT genius decision.

So, what works? Aside from the Riddler, of course. Well, I like the opening credits and Warner Bros. morphing Bat-logo bit. Sets a great tone... To a whole other movie. It’s well done though, much like the iconic closing running shot, and deserves mention. Also, I really like how the introduction to Robin is done. The Grayson acrobat material seems ripped from the comic pages, and deserves to be in a film without a martial-arts laundry scene (set to heavy metal music, natch). It must also be said that I think Chris O’Donnell is a half-decent Robin. Yeah, he’s too old, but his determination and attempts to create an energetic dynamic with the rigamortus -afflicted Kilmer deserve praise. He almost succeeds in making Robin cool, which is a nothing less than miraculous. I also appreciate the slight attempts at showing Batman’s detective skills, as well as introducing Arkham Asylum into the series. Oh, and I also really liked... No wait, my bad, that’s all.

Batman Forever is a film that, like its green-clad villain, fills me with questions: Why is the Statue of Liberty in Gotham? Why does Batman have a slow-mo shampoo commercial-like video of Chase Meridian on the Bat-computer? Why is there so much 50’s era sci-fi music? Why does a manila envelope stop flesh-eating acid? Why is Batman in the courtroom when said envelope gets its work out? Why does Chase Meridian have a punching bag in her office? Why do people say things like “Oh no! It’s boiling acid!”? Oh, and who the hell wrote that “chicks dig the car” line? They deserve a punch in the face!

It’s a terrible film that deserves the public shunning it routinely receives. It paved the way for tomorrow’s crime against humanity, and reintroduced the world to the campiness of the 60’s TV show (Watch how the camera is always on an angle when showing the villains. Cuz they’re crooked!) For me, it’s the worst in the series due to how dull it is. At least tomorrow’s entry is so bad it’s fascinating. It’s fitting that this film introduced the butt-shot, as this flick is all kinds of ass. And yet it’s now the longest blog entry I’ve ever written. Go figure.

Riddle me this, riddle me that, look at what Joel Schumacher shat.


Best (Worst) Batman/Bruce Wayne Lines
“I don’t blend in at the family picnic.”
“Tell me doctor, do you like the thircuth?”

Best Villain Line(s):
“Riddle me this, riddle me that, who’s afraid of the big black bat?” – Riddler
“Like the jacket? It keeps me safe when I'm... jogging at night!” - Riddler

Best Iconic Bat-shot:
The closing shot of Batman and Robin running toward the screen.

Bob Kane’s widow Elizabeth plays Gossip Gerty.
Robin suggests Nightwing as a nickname, a nod to Dick Grayson’s future moniker.
“Holey Rusted Metal, Batman!” – Ugh.
The initials “HD” (Harvey Dent) are carved into Two-Face’s coin.
Batman mentions Metropolis, home of Superman.
Chase Meridian makes a sly reference to Catwoman.

Worst Moment:
Acrobatic ninja laundy folding scene, hands down.

Success As A Batman Film:
2 out of 5

Success As A Film:
1.5 out of 5


“Your Angel of Death awaits!” it says, floating ominously out of the fog. It’s like being in a nightmare, chased by a relentless force that seems to operate on an inhuman level. Bargaining and pleading aren’t an option, and escape is highly improbable. Its charcoal grey cloak sweeps majestically behind it, while a bladed gauntlet points perilously in your direction. An eye for an eye, it declares. It’s glowering, triangular, white eyes are the soul and mystery of Batman’s first major animated theatrical feature, a moody gothic journey into a Gotham we’ve only ever dreamed of seeing realized. It calls itself the Phantasm, the film is called Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm, and this is 7 Days Of The Bat – Day 3.

It’s amusing in retrospect to realize that, despite the many film and television adaptation of Batman prior to 1992, there had never been a proper translation of the Batman mythos outside of the colored panels. Sure, the Tim Burton films, serials, and Adam West series had gotten certain aspects correct, but none had accurately portrayed Batman, the Dark Knight... The World’s Greatest Detective. This streak ended in 1992, when producer/writers Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, and Bruce W. Timm, along with a gaggle of other talents, foisted Batman: The Animated Series onto the unsuspecting public. An immediate hit, due largely to the popularity of the Keaton Bat-films, Animated Series kept a fair deal of the dark beauty and foreboding menace of the films, but also dug deeper into what Gotham City (in brilliant art-deco design) and Batman really should be.

Gone was the neurotic, awkward Bruce Wayne, now replaced by a charming, square-jawed playboy (Voiced expertly by Kevin Conroy). Also kicked to the curb was the emphasis on colorful villains over the title character. This is BATMAN, dammit, not KILLER CROC! Arguably the greatest change, however, was the weight given to Batman’s relationship with Commissioner Jim Gordon (Bob Hastings). Oh, and Batman actually used detective skills now! The success of the afternoon show led to the creation of a theatrical feature in 1993, the film we are discussing and it ranks near the top of the Bat-canon.

Telling a deceptively simple story that blends a star-crossed love affair with a mystery tale centered around a series of brutal gangland murders by the shadowy title character, Mask Of The Phantasm makes the most of its source’s rich history. We get to delve deep into the heart of why Batman is, arguably, the richest (No pun intended) comic-book creation of all time. Rewatch the scene when Bruce Wayne, distraught and desperate, falls to his knees in front of his parents’ grave pleading for a normal life with lady-love Andrea Beaumont (Dana Delaney), free of revenge and vengeance. It’s moving and tragic, and yet also frightening as we truly get a glimpse into Bruce’s psychosis. He is a good but disturbed man who needs help, not a weird recluse with a rubber and violence fetish. The loss is so much stronger here, where Wayne has a great deal going for him, and so much to lose. He hurts because he is irreparably damaged, and, I sense, because he knows he’ll never find peace. Heavy stuff for a kid’s flick...

The contrasting of this nobler Wayne with the adventurous, beautiful Andrea is a major triumph for the production. She is his perfect mate, and yet fate is against them both. He has winged rodent problems, but her troubles are equally tragic. Her father, a good man involved with the mob, is in serious trouble. Before long they’ll have even more in common than they’d think. And could there be some link between her plight and the mysterious Phantasm?

Tossed into the mix, a frenetic time-bomb of hyper-active insanity, is Mark Hamill’s awesome take on The Joker. Lacking the disturbed gentleman artist shadings of Batman, this Joker is a flat-out nightmare, and far more frightening than the Phantasm. There are two moments in Mask Of The Phantasm that dead-on exemplify exactly what the Joker’s true nature is. The first scene, a struggle with Batman in which he is being strangled over a table, and his hand reaches out, with the option to grab either a butcher knife or a bologna sausage, chooses the sausage and smacks the Caped Crusader across the face. This is a perfect example of the Joker’s twisted humor, where joy is best derived from pain drawn through “hilarious” means. The other moment, and it’s a showstopper, is when he is finally captured and being taken to his death by the Phantasm. His hideout, the old Gotham World’s Fairground, erupts in fames around him, and the Phantasm has him down on his knees, ready to end his life, and he can’t stop laughing. So he laughs, and laughs and... Laughs. Louder and louder, his insanity manifesting itself in a brilliant display of horrific glee. Psychotic derangement has never been so compelling.

The bravura final Joker battle aside, in terms of spectacle, Mask Of The Phantasm, sure doesn’t disappoint. There’s a great truck chase with Batman tossed to and fro, before laying out the misbehaving driver. As well, a scene featuring the dispatch of a gang of toughs ends with a thrilling slow-motion takedown. Perhaps the greatest moment, while not an action beat, is the corrupted city Councilman Arthur Reeves’s exit. A victim of Joker’s depraved poison experiments, it begins in giggles and snorts, before erupting in a crescendo of screaming maniacal laughter, with a look of terrified desperation in his eyes. It’s easily far more disturbing than a similar scene in Burton’s Batman, and possibly the highlight of the entire film.

And that is quite a feat, considering that the whole shebang is presided over by a hooded Grim Reaper with a Jason Voorhees-like Mask. The Phantasm, whose scenes seem inspired by the great Universal horror films, is more of a force than a character. There isn’t any witty banter or conversation. It’s mostly silent, deadly and determined. Only at the conclusion, when the character’s identity is revealed, is any dimension added to this portentous antagonist.

Watching the Mask Of The Phantasm reminds us of the best Batman stories, the ones that walked the fine line between gripping and nightmarish. Its unfortunate the film is so brief (76 minutes with credits), as it robs the movie of the epic sweep it so deserves. With that said, it’s a uniformly strong effort that is a something of a buried gem. I can’t recommend enough that Bat-fans who haven’t seen it seek it out. It’s a riveting journey through the world of the Dark Knight, and superior to all the straight-to-video animated follow-ups (Although Subzero is well worth a look as well). One has to wonder if Christopher Nolan was taking notes here when he was beginning the early stages of scripting and designing Batman Begins as, like that film, Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm understands what it’s like inside the cowl... As well as outside.

Best Batman Dispatch
The Showstopper: The slow-mo blow that dismounts a biker thug from his ride.
The Throwaway: Crunching a homicidal mobster under a heavy table.

Best Villain Dispatch:
-Councilman Arthur Reeve’s cackling departure.
-Bronski’s graveyard goodbye courtesy of the Phantasm.

Best Batman/Bruce Wayne Lines:
“This madness ends NOW!”
“Is my shirt too big, or is that my flesh crawling?”

Best Villain Lines:
“Sal Valestra, your Angel of Death awaits...” – The Phantasm
“That's it. That's what I want to see, a nice big smile.” – Joker
“What a photo op: The city councilman and his wacky pal!” – Joker
“You can’t be too careful with all these weirdos around!” – Joker

Bonus Hall-Of-Fame Quote:
“Why you're the very model of sanity. Oh by the way, I pressed your tights and put away your exploding gas balls.” – Alfred

Best Iconic Bat-shot:
Batman’s silhouetted cowl upon Thomas and Martha Wayne’s tombstone.

-Joker’s jetpack is the exact same model as James Bond’s in Thunderball.
-The names “O’Neil” and “Adams” names are mentioned – Tributes to the great Batman writer Dennis O’Neil and artist Neil Adams.
-Batman and Joker’s World’s Fair tussle includes a cheeky tribute to classic Godzilla films.
-A Warner Bros. logo is seen in the World’s Fair’s city model.
-When the Joker shoots the robots in the "World's Fair", the sound of them winding down is the sound of the Millennium Falcon winding down from The Empire Strikes Back.
-Bruce and Andrea’s martial arts love scene is a nod to the James Bond/Pussy Galore romantic tussle in Goldfinger.

Worst Moment:
Actress Tia Carrere’s cheese-tastic closing credit number “I Never Even Told You”.

Success As A Batman Film:
5 out of 5

Success As A Film:
4 out of 5