24 July 2008

Review: The Dark Knight - believe the hype ***No Spoilers***

I was lucky enough to go and see a preview of Christopher Nolan's latest Batman film last night, The Dark Knight (it opens in the UK tomorrow). There has been so much buzz about this film that, surely, it could live up to the high expectations: I think it exceeded them.

This is The Godfather of superhero films. The Hamlet. To even call it a superhero film seems to cheapen it - it is more a film about crime and corruption, like some of the great, gritty, dirty, intelligent movies of the seventies. Or the tussle between De Niro and Pacino in Heat. The twists and turns of The Usual Suspects. Yes, I'm naming a number of my favourite ever movies, It really is that good. I have to see it again to fully understand it's intelligent complexities. Thankfully there was very little CGI, which is another thing that makes it believable, though some are obviously far fetched, sequences are give a realism rarely seen in an action movie, let alone a superhero movie.

Yes, it's about a billionaire playboy with a tortured past who dons a rubber suit to act vigilante in a decaying city. Yes, it's main villain is the "Clown Prince of Crime", the psychotic war painted Joker. But it is the first film that lifts their motivations from that of the comic book characters. Bruce Wayne himself questions what the hell he is doing, wanting to pass the mantle of Gotham City's saviour over to idealistic District Attorney, Harvey Dent (a brilliant Aaron Eckhardt) It is as much Dent's film, who's character arc from incorruptible golden boy to the hideous Two Face, is not only believable, but totally understandable and tragic.

The way Nolan handles the film (he was also co-writer) is noting short of brilliant. I'm not going to give any spoilers other than what is already common knowledge, in this review but his introduction of the Joker is unforgettable. His reason for his madness and truly petrifying look is brilliant. He is no longer a camp, wise-cracking cartoon, he is one of the most frightening, convincing and dangerous movie villains of all time.

Much talk has been about Heath Ledger's performance, especially after his untimely death in January. Premature calls for an Oscar nomination have turned out to be justified, his crazy, twitching, (but honest and charasmatic, just like the character) almost lizard like performance as the personification if chaos is nothing short of immense. But it's not just Ledger's show. Christian Bale's Batman ying to the Joker's yang had to stand up to the performance and is brilliantly played, his anguish, conflicted loyalties and even jealousies as both Batman and Bruce Wayne flesh out a character that in the past just seemed like a moody teenager with a troubled past.

Roles that could have been consigned to bit parts in a lesser movie were integral and weighted perfectly. Gary Oldman's Captain (Commisioner) Gordon is the perfect foil to Batman's bending of the law for the greater good. A major part of the plot rather than the character who Batman saves the day for, Gordon is a fully fleshed out character.

The realism of the story is helped by two more supporting characters, Wayne's butler Alfred (Michael Caine) and tech specialist and Wayne's right hand businessman Lucious Fox (Morgan Freeman). A problem I always had was (despite being a billionaire) Bruce Wayne could create all his gadgetry without detection (even this is handled as a major plot twist). Batman couldn't be a one man team, Alfred and Fox make this possible. Taking over from lightweight Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes, Maggie Gyllenhaal has a tough job as the only main female role but brings out subtleties in lover Dent and ex-flame Wayne (she knows he's Batman).

The film even takes Batman out of Gotham, expanding the notion that the web of greed and corruption extends far beyond the streets, jails and loonies in Arkham Asylum. With Dent's passion for the same outcome as Batman and Gordon - of cleaning up the streets -overshadowed by the Joker's reign of chaos, the outcome is almost inevitable. Can their plans really succeed when they have a conscience and what they are fighting has none?

It's very difficult to write a review without giving away any of the delights of this film. It has it's brilliant action scenes but what stayed with me was the personal battles, the crime thriller plotting. Forget everything you expect from a superhero film, The Dark Knight has rewritten the rule book. The comic book movies can now be taken seriously.
A posthumous Oscar for Ledger? Absolutely, but also for best film, best director and best screenplay.


This post was a slight deviation from the normal list formula of this blog but I couldn't let the event pass without mentioning it. So here's a quick Dark Knight related list:

:: Today the film smashed the box office record after reaching the $200m (£100m) mark worldwide in just five days (former record was held by three movies, Spider-Man 2, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith, which passed the mark in eight days).
:: Taken more than $203m around the globe.
:: In less than a week it has made number 84 on the all time 100 blockbusters list
:: Already taken more than the last Batman movie, Batman Begins
:: Biggest US box office opening day ever ($67m)
:: Biggest opening weekend ever ($158m).
:: Set a weekend box-office record for IMAX venues with $6.2 mil. Previous record Spider-Man 3.
:: Record midnight showings with $18.5 million. Former record Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith.

22 July 2008

Mercury Music Prize nominations 2008

On the day I finally got round to buying last year's winner Klaxon's Myths of the Near Future (in the HMV sale) this year's nominations for the Mercury Music Prize have been announced. With Amy Winehouse overlooked last year maybe one of the five female solo artists will scoop the prize. For the first time Coldplay haven't had their album nominated and The Ting Tings - a very "Marmite" band (I happen to love both) - have also missed out. It'll also be interesting to see Radiohead win it with their unique (at the time) way they released it, by passing the record industry - see here.

Considered to to one of the top awards in the British music calendar, the Mercury's always prompt discussion. Not owning any of the albums (I've been so slack this year, it's all been about live music)I can't comment on the list's possible winners, but here it is:

:: Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid
:: Radiohead - In Rainbows
:: British Sea Power - Do You Like Rock Music?
:: Robert Plant & Alison Krauss - Raising Sand
:: Burial - Untrue
:: Estelle - Shine
:: Adele - 19
:: Laura Marling - Alas, I Cannot Swim
:: Rachel Unthank and the Winterset - The Bairns
:: Neon Neon - Stainless Style
:: Portico Quartet - Knee-deep in the North Sea
:: The Last Shadow Puppets - The Age of the Understatement

18 July 2008

The Greatest Comic Book Movie Adaptions

With the release of the trailer to one of the best comic books (graphic novels) ever written, Alan Moore's Watchmen and the imminent UK release of the latest Batman movie, The Dark Knight - which is getting rave reviews in the States - (both of which I'm very excited about, I thought I would compile a list of the best films based on comics and graphic novels.

As a medium that almost apes the storyboard process of film making it's surprising that movies based on them didn't really take off until Christopher Reeve donned Superman's pants and, er, took off in 1978. With the advent of CGI and better technology, the superhero film has become become a lot more respected and quality has soared. As have comics themselves.

Of course, comics and graphic novels aren't just about lycra-clan vigilantes, as the following list shows. The list was compiled by taking the best scores of these movies from the excellent Internet Movie Database. All movies are voted for by members and an average (based on numbers of votes) is calculated.

The top comic book movies (according to IMDB):

  1. The Dark Knight average score 9.3
  2. Batman Begins 8.3
  3. The Snowman 8.2
  4. V for Vendetta 8.1
  5. Iron Man 8.1
  6. Hellboy II 8.0
  7. When the Wind Blows 7.9
  8. 300 7.9
  9. Spiderman 2 7.8
  10. X-Men 2 7.8
  11. Ghost in the Shell 7.8
  12. Akira 7.7
  13. Ghost World 7.7
  14. Road to Pedition 7.7
  15. A History of Violence 7.6
  16. Batman (1989) 7.6
  17. X-Men 7.4
  18. Spiderman 7.4
  19. Wanted 7.4
  20. Superman 7.3

  21. You can see the new trailer, released today, for Watchmen by clicking here

14 July 2008

Glastonbury: the DeeDubya Awards

This is my "greatest" list of this year's Glastonbury festival. What impressed me at this year, my awards if you like:

:: Best act:
The Swell Season
Runners up The Verve, The Raconteurs, Crowded House

:: Most disappointing act
Vampire Weekend

:: Best sing-a-long:
The Drugs Don't Work: The Verve
Runners up: She's So Lovely: Scouting for Girls, Weather With You: Crowded House

:: Best cover:
Newton Faulker: Massive Attack's Teardrop
Runners up: The Feeling: Aha's Take On Me

:: Best food:
Glastonbury Rugby Club Chili Wrap
Runners up: Welsh meat and gravy oggie, buffalo burger

:: Best fancy dress:
Officer's Tiger
Runners up: Bus and G's Smurfs

:: Best flag spotted:
A tiny pennant on a huge stick that read "flag"
Runners up: "I slept with Chris Moyles"

:: Loved:
The weather
Runners up: the company, the atmosphere

:: Hated:
Having to leave
Runners up: the bit of rain we had (meaning we missed The Levellers)

:: Best improvement to the site:
The bigger John Peel Stage with screens outside

:: Worst "improvement" to the site:
No speakers ouside the John Peel tent so you couldn't hear what was on screen

:: Glastonbury moment:
Arm in arm with friends singing Hallelujah with Leonard Cohen on stage, the sun going down over the Pyramid Stage, turning around and see tens of thousands of people in the field doing the same, smiles on faces. THAT'S why I go to Glastonbury.
Runner up: The Swell Season playing their Oscar winning song, Falling Slowly, The fingertip Mexican wave towards the stage, orchestrated by Neil Finn of Crowded House

06 July 2008

Glastonbury Festival - The Greatest

Well it's over for another year but the memories will last a long time. Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts 2008, the world's greatest festival, was a triumph, after the nay-sayers predicted doom. After a few years mud baths (especially 2005 mega-downpour and 2007 quagmire) and the controversial top billing of a rap artist for the first time (Jay-Z) the media were predicting that after the boom years of the 00's, Glastonbury was starting to show it's age, it's popularity waning (tickets didn't completely sell out until the Friday of the festival, when they usually sell in hours). Luckily, they pulled it out of the bag, the weather (more or less) smiled on Worthy farm and the atmosphere, bands and general all round organisation proved why it's the grandaddy.

After the last two washouts it was Sally's last chance and she said she wouldn't go again if it was wet. Apart from a bit of rain Thursday night/Friday morning the weather was glorious and she now knows what all the fuss is about. Any sludge soon dried up and it was easier to get round that before. I've been going since 1993 and she never believed what it was like dry but we managed to see more bands at more stages than ever: List number one, I saw bands on the Pyramind, Other, Jazz World, John Peel, Park, Avalon, Leftfield, Fire and Dance and Acoustic Stages).

Meeting up with loads of mates from our internet forum at the Cider Bus on Wednesday night and outside the Leftfield tent (fancy dress! photos here LINK) on Thursday prolongs the festival which the media would have you think starts with the main stages on Friday.

Ok, this is the Blog of Lists so on with the business at hand. Although Glastonbury is so much more than the music (it has comedy, cabaret, theatre etc) the music is the main draw for me. Nothing better than lying in a field in the sun, beer in hand listening to a wide variety of brilliant music. So, deep breath here's a list of bands that I saw/heard the whole or majority of their sets in order:

(from outside the Leftfield tent whilst having our fancy dress party! Married to the Sea, The Daisy Riots, he Seal Cub Clubbing Club, Elle S'Appelle, The Rascals, The Pie Tasters, The King Blues, The Slackers)
Hobo Jones and the Junkyard Dogs
Vampire Weekend
Alabama 3
The Ting Tings
Fun Lovin' Criminals
Franz Ferdinand (unbilled set)
Seasick Steve
Crowded House
The Wombats
The Raconteurs
The Swell Season
Carnival Collective
Dan Donnelly and Friends
Newton Faulkner
Jack Penate
Scouting for Girls
Leonard Cohen
The Verve

Also part sets of the following acts (either beginning after another act, the end, waiting for the next act or just wondering past on a journey elsewhere):

The Feeling. Jimmy Cliff, The Gossip, Martha Wainwright, Joan Armatrading, James Blunt, Will Young, Glenn Tilbrook and the Fluffers, Neil Diamond,plus random unknown acts on smaller stages like the bandstand, the fire show and a great Australian reggae duo in the Tiny Tea Tent!

See the next post for my "best of"s of the festival.

View my photo's here LINK