The Dark Knight

I went to see The Dark Knight on Monday and it was really good.  Heath Ledger’s performance was amazing – this is what a truly psychotic mad man is supposed to be like!!  I highly recommend going to see it for that alone.  I also loved the messianic under/overtones.

My only criticism is that since the batman films had to abandon the comic book world perpetuated cinematically by Tim Burton and enter the real world, the costume doesn’t quite fit.  That said, Batman without the costume is just ‘Man’.

Some people can take it a little too far though.

PS I still wont place a DC Comics catergory on my blog 😆

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I Am Iron Man.

So those of you who read my blog regularly may be starting to realise that I am a bit of a fan of Marvel comics.  I would say that it is a bit of a throw over from childhood but that would denigrate the whole comic book experience.  Some of the best social commentary of the last century has been done through the medium of comic books.  The writers and artists who produce much of the Marvel Universe have used this vehicle to produce some magnificent insightful into the human condition.  Some may say that comic books are for kids but they have obviously been reading the Beano.  Perhaps it is time to put aside the milk and move on to solid food.

Whilst I advocate the Marvel Universe on a regular basis, it does sometimes appear a little inconsistent in its quality.  There is no greater example of this than the way in which some of the greatest comic book characters have been translated onto the big screen.  Until recently all attempts were thwarted by the inability to portray super powers in a convincing manner.  We can probably all remember the Spider-man films of the 1980s and the cringe worthy wall climbing escapades worthy of Adam West and Burt Ward.  However, the world changed when technology caught up with the imaginative possibilities of living in a world of the super human.  Finally Spider-man was able to bounce around and swing from walls believably in a live action film where previously this was only possible in cartoons.  However, in spite of this there have been many cinematic let downs.  My previous post about The Hulk is a prime example of something that offers much promise and fails to deliver.  Who can forget the horrific plastic fantastic portrayal of Ben Grimm?  Modern Marvel movies tend to inhabit the extremes of the quality spectrum.  Either we are in for a cinematic treat or a huge disappointment.

It was this in mind that I went to see Iron Man last night.  There were several considerations that made me uneasy about the experience.  Firstly, Robert Downey Jnr had been cast as Tony Stark.  Now Robert Downey Jnr has a list of credits as long as your arm and everything I have seen him in was good… but the last I heard of him in recent times was that he had been thrown off the set of Ally McBeal and into jail for his recreational drug use.  Would he have the screen presence to present Tony Stark in a credible way?  Would he be able to convince us of the depth of character that is needed to portray a personal transformation?  To add to this concern, when characters have been translated from the page to screen we have seen some visual disasters.  Would Iron Man become another foray into the world of dodgy costume design and bad CGI?  My main concern about anything cinematic is always the depth of story.  Will the film speak to us about anything important?  Will it change the way we view ourselves or the world around us?  In short, would the film live up to the great expectations that should come with any Marvel outing?  Of course there was the most important question of all, would Black Sabbath feature in the sound track?  Of course they would!!

I have to say I was greatly impressed by how good the film was.  Robert Downey Jnr gave a great performance as Stark.  His outlandish playboy lifestyle was shown in a truly extravagant manner.  His moral transformation was believable and showed a depth of character develop throughout.  It was obvious that on many levels he had been cast for his looks, being a dead ringer for Stark.  It was good to see that the effects used to bring his alter ego to life were well thought out and allowed him to develop the character without being taken into a purely computer generated world.  One of the best things about the film was the way in which the suit was developed from a rudimentary escape plan to a high tech, hotrod red vehicle for Starks crusade against the illegal arms trade.

The film was great and it would seem that Robert Downey Jnr as Tony Stark is set to become a greater fixture in the Marvel world as individual stories of the films, as with the comics, become intertwined with each other.  He is already credited as appearing in the upcoming Incredible Hulk movie.  S.H.I.E.L.D. appeared in the film and there were allusions to an Avengers movie after the credits in a cameo scene by Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury.  It looks like we are set for even more of Marvel’s big budget, big screen blockbusters staring all our favourite characters.

On a personal note: Oh the shame that my wife had never heard of Stark Industries or Iron Man!

Beowulf

Last night we donned our coats and ventured into the cold nigh air of Leeds to watch the late night shoppers over a cup of coffee.  This was followed by the one daily showing of Beowulf at the cinema.  This is a film I have heard a lot about of hype about it on the run up to its release but it appears to have been received in the same manner as a damp three year old firework.  It appears to have disappeared from cinemas with the lightning pace of a speeding bullet.

As you may be aware, the whole film is created in CGI utilising the features of the actors.  This means that Ray Winston is able to portray a tall naked young fighting man with a six pack.  Something he himself was concerned about when he was sent the script to look over.  Whilst this style of cinematography is becoming more and more commonplace, Beowulf is not shot in the obvious cartoon animation style of the likes of Shrek.  The intention here is instead to be able to show a realistic but obviously ‘other’ realm complete with monsters and dragons.  My initial reaction to the cinematography was deep scepticism and I was worried greatly by the first scene.  This was mostly because party in the hall of Hrothgar felt as though we were watching the animation between level one and two of a fantasy based computer game.  Obviously this made me a little apprehensive about the rest of the film.  However, as the film progressed and more and more actors were blended into the animation it became much more believable.  At some points in the film the action disjointed as main characters seemed to move much more easily that the bit part characters who occasionally looked like robotic dancers.  I am glad I saw it at the cinema as it would definitely feel like a computer game if I saw it on the TV next to a playstation!

The tale itself is based upon the Anglo Saxon epic poem and feels like the stories you would tell around a camp fire after battle whilst quaffing ale.  It is important to bear this in mind whilst watching the film otherwise the story can become “thin gruel” as one critic penned.  The tale is one of the quest for redemption as the main characters struggle with their past weakness.  The monster Grendle wreaks havoc in the kingdom as a result of the kings earlier failings.  The hero Beowulf defeats the monster but then succumbs to the same temptations as the king.  This results in a similar turn of events as the kingdom becomes victim of the same fate as once again a monster preys upon the people.

The story highlights the cyclical nature of history as one generation follows in the footsteps of the previous.  This was left to the imagination of the audience as the final scene sees the third king struggling with the same temptation that defeated his forebears.  It is so difficult for us to all remember that our past does not define our future. 

For me, the character of Beowulf brilliantly illustrated the ‘front’ that people use to hide their inner vulnerability.  His whole life was spent building ‘a name’ and persona called Beowulf.  His character became a separate entity to his reality.  For the four corners of the Earth his name was known as the one who killed Grendle and Grendle’s mother.  He was tormented by the knowledge of the truth about how he came to be such a powerful ruler through his deception.  This came to a head as he sought to make right the situation.  Eventually he gave up his life to make up for these inadequacies but not until he had chopped off his own arm and fallen to his death.  As he dies he is assured by his closest friend that people will tell his tale down the ages to which he responds with his dying breath “It’s too late for lies”.  If only he had found the redemption he was being offered.  He had became the most well renowned person in the region and yet the ‘front’ he had created provided him with no joy.  With the current celebrity culture and cult of personality this seems to me like an important message to hear.

The Golden Compass

Ruth and I went to see The Golden Compass as people seem to be making such a hoo-ha about it.  I fist came across Pullman’s Dark Materials a few years ago when the school librarian thrust it at me demanding that I read it.  He was convinced that the book contained the answers to life the universe and everything and I must be converted to Pullmanism.  There has been much talk in the media about it and much discussion between Christians about it’s apparently Antichrist tendencies.  Some would say that this is enough of a reason for me to go and see it.  However, they would be wrong.  The most compelling argument for going to see the film came from a colleague who once declared “I can’t wait for the revolution to come.  That is when I get to roam the wasteland with an axe”.  His reason for seeing The Golden Compass was simply “fighting bears wearing armour”.

I really enjoyed the film – particularly the fighting bears.  I did find it a little disturbing to see one of them punched so hard his head came apart.  I certainly wasn’t expecting that from the PG certificate and warning of “mild peril”.  I don’t think I would have batted an eyelid if it hadn’t been a film that was obviously aimed at children.  That aside there was a lot of fun and enjoyment to be had in the film.  Dakota Blue Richards gave a sterling performance as did many of the other child actors.  After seeing the other children’s book to film phenomenon of Daniel Racliffe disappoint on so many levels this came as a welcome surprise.

In spite of the huge pleasure that I had in watching the film, on reflection, the biggest problem I have with the film is that the plot seemed surprisingly thin and very reminiscent of 101 Dalmations.  The film in many ways relied upon it’s brilliant cinematography and computer animated graphics of fighting bears to resell the tale of the kiddie-snatcher.   

I had been hyped up by many on the internet to see a tale destined to shatter the church and bring about a new world order.  Whilst this may be evidenced within the books, on the cinema screen I did not convincingly see this.  The tale sets the academics against the ‘establishment’ but this does not come across as the church but instead governments.  If it were not for the use of the word ‘heretic’ it would be impossible to tell who is really the intended target.  Even when I think of it as an “attack” on the church, I am struck with how outdated the view of the church is.  At any time you could imagine Simon McBurney bursting onto the screen and declaring that “no-one expects the Spanish Inquisition”.

Ruth of course had a totally different take on the film.  She believes it is all Jungian psychology.  She spent 10 minutes regaling me with tails of male/female animus,  archetypes, completion of self and separation.  She seemed to make sense but if I also had a doctorate in clinical psychology I may have understood it better…

The final point that the film taught me is about myself and my relation to the world around me.  The older I get the better I find the acting prowess of Tom Cruise and the worse I find that of Nicole Kidman.  How queer!