Friday, July 18, 2008

You Know You'll Be Seeing Me Soon...

It's going to be a dark night tonight! Images lurk on screen, and through the twisted underworld! See you around, Bats!


UPDATE...Now that I have seen it, here's the review:

It is too early to say, but I suspect Dark Knight will be the comic book action movie of the decade. Meticulous in the timing, selective in casting, pseudo-technical regarding Batman gadgets, the swift action and punching dialogue all make for a ticket well worth it at the theatres (if only the lines weren’t so long).

The movie is a reinvention of Batman. As such, it takes the opportunity to take previous origins and turn up the volume, without simply doing a remake. It’s loosely based on the many Batman-Joker sagas dating back to the original comic released in May, 1939, but the characters have free reign to do what they have never done before. (I was initially confused during the lead up to the movie, thinking it would be based on Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, which is set ten years after this plot).

Doubt not that Joker and Batman need each other. They are so perfectly aligned, or should I say complimentary? It keeps the film’s tension taut like a Heraclitian bow. No CGI that I could detect, this movie was shot on real streets that sit in for a majestically dark Gotham city. It was a refreshing watch compared to say, the X-Men, which is good for what it is, but can never be Dark Knight. Costing $185 million to make, it seems the most value-added features were those that were truly priceless (although the Motorcycle-transforming Batmobile, armor and stunts are cool). But it made records and topped sales over other comic book hero blockbusters like Spiderman 3.

Of course, no critic can ignore that most of the movie is eclipsed by the brilliantly bang-on performance of late actor Heath Ledger. Rumors circulate that the Joker character itself was what drove him to suicide, or that Jack Nicholson, who previously played Joker, had warned him about its darker side. Supposedly Ledger locked himself in a room, perhaps the set for his character’s interrogation, until he had mastered Joker’s voice. His immediateness as the Joker, with all his scarred-smile-licking lips and cool, twisted humour, and the fact that you can watch him and lose yourself in the moment, forgetting that poorly missed Heath is dead, is an ironic example of a true artist in his prime. Although the Joker spends the majority of the time off screen, the little surprises and quirky appearances make you ever suspicious that he is up to something behind the scenes. It is this sense of sneaky omnipresence that is the most riveting aspect of the movie.

It’s also what works so well with the theme of darkness and lightness, two sides to each coin, good disguised as evil, and vice-versa. Bruce Wayne is the generous and wealthy bachelor-playboy who is constantly trying to rebuild Gotham city from a sense of despair, disorder and apathy. He tries, through works of philanthropy and coordination and with considerable help from Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), who gives Batman his legal backing, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) who conducts Bruce Wayne’s business when he’s too tired from being Batman and fresh orange juice and Psychotherapy provided by Wayne/Batman’s empathetic butler, Alfred (Micheal Caine) to rid Gotham of its corruption.

The best dynamic is possibly between Batman and Alfred. Batman’s temper scorches beneath the surface, but Alfred puts him in check, warning him that analyzing Joker is like dealing with an entirely different species, void of human emotion. “Some men just want to watch the world burn” is thus a fitting key to Joker’s psyche.

The coordination and rigging of the plot by both Batman and Joker can only be explained by their keen intelligence and resourcefulness of their respective teams (although, of course Joker would never rely on anyone else and has no loyalty to anyone). Joker is an exceptional planner, as any modern terrorist would have to be. Batman’s use of sonar is a good reference back to the Bat character as well as an analogy of his blind faith, or an intuition based on feeling that he must do what he must, though it brings with it an unethical comparison to wiretapping and surveillance at the cost of liberty. (This troubles Morgan Freeman's chacter, Lucius Fox)

District Attorney Harvey Dent is quickly appointed by Wayne to be the “white knight” of the future. He’s seen as the hero “with a face” who will watch over Gotham, once Batman is gone. But if you know what happens later, you realize that the frequent reference to faces in conjunction with the good guy lawyer played by Thank You For Not Smoking actor Aaron Eckhart, isn’t just a coincidence. Unlike Batman, Dent doesn’t break the law to fight for it, but works within the system to try to reform it, at least until you see his other side.

Director Christopher Nolan, for whom this is the second Batman movie, doesn’t waste an opportunity to comment on the current global climate of terrorism, fear and paranoia. Joker is a criminal to boot, a criminal without dignity, a criminal’s criminal, who doesn’t believe in rules. “This city deserves a better class of criminal” says Joker, and Ledger delivers. There is an ongoing dialectic throughout the movie of what society “deserves” whether it be fiend, friend or hero. It is a nagging argument for and against fate.

The Joker is so scary because he has no second thought about others or himself. It is as if he does crime more for the fun of it than for any material reward, and that's a proven. He’s also so unsettlingly charming as a comedian that you can’t help but laugh at his “jokes”. As long as he has his thumb on the detonation button, he will get what he wants, or no one will. Throughout the movie, he playfully tests out the limits of human vulnerability, with his sociopathic games.

On the other hand, Batman stubbornly prefers order and obsesses about control, not wishing to waste one second of his time. Christian Bale does well as the duplicitous figure, altering his voice in and out of costume, to keep with his disguise. The only distinguishably consistent thread between Batman and Bruce Wayne are perhaps Bale's tightly packed bat teeth. Batman's impatience is reflected throughout the movie by having him stick around just long enough to say what he wants to say. After Batman promptly disappears mid-conversation, Commissioner Gordon remarks to his colleague “He does that.”

All in all, this movie really “gets to you”. I think Eckhart’s performance worked better during the first rather than the latter half of the movie, but then again the halves were lopsided. Critics have complained that the action happens too fast for viewers to understand what’s going on, but considering that this is most noticeable in the opening scene when you are waiting to be blown apart by the action, I think it’s warranted. Like a post-911 clean-up crew member, you put the pieces back together, as you go along. Joker’s one-liners have already stuck with me much longer than Heath has. I certainly think he is deserving of the posthumous Oscar. I couldn’t have anticipated a better summer movie full of surprises.

Movie Reviews

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Getting Out of the Rough Patches

Do you recognize this girl? I think she is cute, even when she's going through a rough patch. This commercial won the Best TV Creative Award at the Uncommon Courage Global Johnson & Johnson James E Burke awards 2008. And I'm going through a patch of intense learning right now, getting trained at the company that made it.

Some of our commercials get a lot of complaints. For example, another Nicorette commercial features a little smoking monster whom some smokers believe is intended to stigmatize them. When you lend artistic creativity to an idea/situation/current event by "making fun" of, in the sense of either making something more entertaining or by putting something down, you are going to have people sitting on either sides of the freedom of expression fence. Take Obama's caricature on the latest issue cover of The New Yorker, as an example. Though, it is important to keep in mind that often for every person who calls in to complain about a commercial (or a product, a label, how to dose, for smoking cessation counseling or to find out where they can get Rogaine for Women) there is someone else who happens to like the way things are, who doesn't bother to call. That's just how market research works.

If something works, you don't need to fix it. On the other hand, as a responsible organization...we're always looking to consumers for tips on how we can improve. Our first responsibility is to listen. No matter how irate and insane someone sounds. After all, there is a thin line between insanity and genius. We have to listen. We can't simply assume that the person on the other end of the phone is...just going through a rough patch.

Friday, July 04, 2008

The Tastiest Dinner Ever, on Independence Day

I come home weary from the week and ready for the weekend even though there were only three work days. But within those three remaining days I learned much about Tylenol and Motrin, two pain assassins that work in very different ways, so that I can respond to consumer questions at my shiney new job. I clean the apartment, half awake, turning my brain off and my radio on, using lots of chemicals, putting on my weekend hat. But first there is something I need to do before I can relax. I clean hard. So much so that it is steady and lasts for about two hours. When I am done, I feel dirty in comparison, needing to shower myself after touching all that filth. Now I smell as good as the floors and sinks do. I love the smell of chemicals like I love the smell of gasoline. That's not the only reward. It's dinner time. I pour a gingerale on ice head out to survey the city from my balcony. I begin picking away at the assortment of food that I've arranged on my plate.

red pepper slices dipped in artichoke and asiago cheese dip
ripple regular chips
Carr's garlic and herb crackers
on Danish blue cheese and
some tomato boats
sprinkled with pepper

A sprig of parsley

PS-Happy Independence Day Americans!
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