Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Film Review: The Dark Knight

Let's get a few things straight, shall we?

Heath Ledger's performance isn't the greatest of all time. It's not the best portrayal of a villain of all time. It’s not the best performance in this movie. Frankly, it's not even the best portrayal of a villain in this movie.

Similarly, The Dark Knight isn't the best film ever made. It's not the best superhero movie ever made. It’s not the best superhero movie of this year. Shit, it’s not even the best Batman film ever made.

What The Dark Knight is, is a very enjoyable film that suffers from being seriously overhyped and seriously overlong.

The movie opens with Gotham (all too obviously modern day Chicago) in a mess. By attempting to bring order to the city, Batman has provoked the thugs. The mob are running riot and have corrupted the police department. The Joker, who cares not for money and only for chaos, looms large - intimidating everyone, including the gangsters.

Bruce Wayne and the noble Lt. James Gordon decide to rally behind new District Attorney Harvey Dent and position him as Gotham’s true crime-fighting hero. Batman even contemplates retirement but the Joker won’t let him; he needs him to play with, telling the caped crusader, “You complete me.”

It’s a terrific conflict; arguably the best dynamic in comics and it’s unfortunate that only half the duo have turned up here. Ledger, while not quite living up to the over the top posthumous praise, trumps Jack Nicholson by delivering the definitive screen version of the Joker but Christian Bale turns in his worst ever performance as a placid, ineffective Bruce Wayne.

The silly, raspy Bat-whisper returns from Batman Begins but the unvaried inflection grates even more than it did last time out. As Wayne, Bale also falls short, certainly when stacked up against the summer’s other billionaire superhero playboy: Robert Downey Jr’s exceptional take on Tony Stark.

Bale aside, the rest of the cast are superb. Having traded-up from mong-mouthed Scientology fertility chamber Katie Holmes to Maggie Gyllenhaal, the character of Rachel Dawes finally has meaning. Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine clearly relish their roles as gadget guru Lucius Fox and Wayne’s faithful butler Alfred. But while it’s Ledger who has stolen the plaudits, it’s Gary Oldman and Aaron Eckhart who truly steal this movie.

Oldman’s James Gordon is the moral centre of the piece and is played masterfully by a man who has made a career from playing psychopaths, while Eckhart’s descent from handsome, righteous Harvey Dent into twisted, bitter Two-Face is thrilling and terrifying to watch. You suspect had either one died during the post-production, they’d be ahead of Ledger in the queue for an Oscar.

With such a stellar cast largely at their top of their game, it’s a real shame that the story doesn’t reach the same heights. At 152 minutes, The Dark Knight is at least half-an-hour too long and there are entire sections of the film (notably the Infernal Affairs-esque jaunt to Hong Kong) that should’ve been left out of the final edit.

The other, larger problem is that The Dark Knight is in a constant state of climax; sprinting from one set piece to another with no pause or respite to amp the tension back up. The perpetual frenzy means even the outstanding Batpod chase scene is exhausting and suffocating, while the bass-heavy score from Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard thuds and pounds frantically along even when nothing is happening on the screen.

Christopher Nolan spends a lot of film’s final moments setting up the series’ third instalment but by basing his vision of Gotham on the comics Year One, The Long Halloween and Dark Victory, he needs the presence of the Joker. Will Nolan see it as disrespectful to recast? And, if so, would anybody want the role? It’s easy to imagine Johnny Depp having the balls to step into the face paint but Heath Ledger lookalike Joseph Gordon-Levitt might prove a better substitute. Nolan has already ruled out using Robin in any of his films, but Lucius Fox’s line about the new Batsuit being “cat-proof” would suggest that Catwoman will be making an appearance.

Though The Dark Knight is too arrhythmic and indulgent to be considered the consummate Batman movie, Nolan has already worked wonders to make us forget about Joel Schmacher’s Batman & Robin debacle. If he can do the same with Halle Berry’s equally execrable Catwoman, he’ll have performed a miracle.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Monkey-faced pig

A piglet with the face of a monkey has been born in the Chinese village of Xiping.

The owner, Feng Changlin, said "It's hideous. No one will be willing to buy it, and it scares the family to even look at it!"

More here at Ananova

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Lego album covers

The Toy Zone have recreated 20 album covers in Lego.

The rest are here

Wednesday, 23 July 2008


I've just got back from a blissful time in Benicassim.

I'd love to offer my comprehensive thoughts about the festival, which remains my favourite in Europe, but I can't really add to this great piece by my friend, Kai Jones.

Although The National - who absolutely rocked the tent - and Sigur Ros would definitely have made my top 5.

Read Kai's Benicassim blog at Virtualfestivals here

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Film Review: Hancock

A shambling, misanthropic boozehound with anger issues, the character Hancock is nearly as big a mess as the film that bears his name.

Unsure of whether it’s a frat boy comedy, summer family blockbuster, love story, adult action flick or dark superhero character portrait, a film that shows substantial early promise collapses in a schizophrenic seizure after thirty minutes and never recovers.

That the film becomes so muddled is a real shame because it begins in such a promising manner. Ignoring the unnecessarily censored use of Ludacris’s Move Bitch in the opening scene, Hancock opens with a succession of genuinely funny moments. Smith, as a drunk, flying version of his character from Bad Boys, is in his element, cracking wise as he whupps ass on a car full of Koreans.

Hancock, hated by the Los Angeles public for being so reckless in the pursuit of saving lives, stops a train from killing Jason Bateman’s character, Ray. Ray is a likeable publicist – the kind of big-hearted PR schlub that exists only in fiction – who decides to repay Hancock by making the public love him.

Ray’s plan is to make the people of Los Angeles realise that they need Hancock by making him voluntarily enter prison. Whilst inside, Hancock shoves one inmate’s head up the ass of another, kicks his alcohol habit and has a shave.

Soon enough, the crime rate in Los Angeles rises and the mayor requests the release of Hancock. Willcock’s release from jail marks the point where it’s no longer possible to enjoy this film.

Having foiled a bank robbery by severing the hand of the lead baddie with a lampshade, the public finally embrace Willcock, but before he can enjoy his newfound adoration, Ray’s wife – played by the always hot Charlize Theron – is revealed to be a superhero too. Only, as she tells us, they’re not superheroes, they’re gods or angels or something. And they’re immortal. Oh, and if they spend a lot of time together, they both lose their powers. Only Charlize waits until Hancock has been shot twice in the gut before telling him of his new mortality.

So, in the film’s dreary conclusion, Hancock is in hospital when the now hook-handed bank robber, who has conveniently escaped from prison, tries to murder him. He shoots Charlize, who is now mortal too having spent a bit of time in Big Willy’s company, so the two superheroes are sufficiently weakened that Jason Bateman has to finish off the one-handed twat.

In the epilogue we see that Willcock has legged it to New York so that he and Charlize can both be immortal again. Meanwhile, Ray and Charlize are living a happy life in Los Angeles, Ray seemingly not giving a shit that his missus is immortal and could also kick the living fuck out of him at any moment.

If I’ve made the second half sound remotely interesting, I’ve done a terrible job of explaining it, for Hancock is a totally misconceived movie - a bizarre and confused amalgam of comedy, action and romance that completely fails to mesh properly.

And yet, you suspect it wasn’t always so. Preview versions of the film featured much more swearing and gags involving statutory rape and, yes, super-spunk, indicating that the original intention was for Hancock to be a dark, adult comedy. By searching for that all-important PG-13 rating, Sony’s studio executives have absolutely castrated what could’ve been a good film.

While Bateman and Theron invest more integrity into this incoherent script than it deserves, Hancock is a $150m debacle that will leave audiences confused and insulted.

After this and the similarly flawed I Am Legend, it might be beyond even the greatest superhero to get Will Smith’s career back on track.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Film Review: The Bucket List

The Bucket List is about the importance of living life as if each moment could be your last.

Anyone who believes there’s any truth in that sentiment should make sure they steer well clear of this soulless, sappy and groaningly immature film.

Jack Nicholson plays Edward, a cocksure gazillionaire whose success in business has come at the cost of his own family. When felled by cancer, Edward is treated in a hospital that he owns and, for reasons best left unexplained, instead of having his own private ward, he winds up sharing a tiny, dingy room with Morgan Freeman.

Freeman plays Carter, a bright academic who was forced to trade his dreams of becoming a history professor for a career as a car mechanic when he accidentally knocked his girlfriend up.

Suffering from the same illness, the two become unlikely pals and when it turns out that Carter has a list of things he would like to do before he kicks the bucket, Edward embraces the idea. “Hell, all I have is money,” the rich white man announces, as he offers to treat the poor black man to a round the world trip. The list consists of skydiving, getting tattoos, driving fast cars, visiting the pyramids and climbing a Himalayan mountain.

Freeman and Nicholson wheeze and stagger around the globe, trotting out a load of juvenile drivel (“We live. We die. The wheels on the bus go around and around”). The two, who lets not forget, are convalescing from courses of chemotherapy, are somehow able to jump out of planes and climb mountains. It seems more likely that their primary concerns would’ve been keeping down a full meal and having a triumphant bowel movement. That might not have made for a great movie, but it wouldn’t have been any worse than this one.

Another huge failing is that Edward and Carter’s grand world tour obviously never leaves the Hollywood soundstage. When the pair are stood in front of the pyramids they don’t look any more convincing than the horse from The Village Of Gwangi.

The underused supporting cast consists of Sean Hayes, Beverly Todd and Rob Morrow, but the focus remains on our doddery leads throughout. Nicholson, his shaved head making him look uncomfortably similar to Gary Glitter, has never been less inspired. Freeman, ever the ersatz screen-sage, is at his stiffest and most banal, evoking neither complexity nor earthiness with his words, merely boredom.

On and on this terrible film trundles, bringing with it tears, laughter and family reconciliations, before reaching its all-too-obvious conclusion. By the end it has said nothing about dying, nothing about dignity and nothing about mortality.

In fact, there’s only one thing you can take from this film: cancer might be awful, but it’s not as bad as The Bucket List.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Catface Comedy

My friend, comedian and radio presenter, Leanne Diggins launched a new comedy show at the Slaughtered Lamb in Clerkenwell last night.

She has, predictably enough for her, called it Catface Comedy and, if the first night is anything to go by, it'll be a big success.

The first couple of comics, whose names I annoyingly can't remember, were clearly a bit nervous but they were decent enough. However, the show was absolutely stolen by Catie Wilkins who did an absolutely wonderful 7 or 8 minute set about dirty talk. Her disaffected, sarcastic tone really lent itself well to her material. She could be a huge star.

There's another Catface night coming up on 7th August. I'd definitely recommend it. Oh, but there is quite a lot of dancing and you are kinda expected to get involved, so considered yourself warned.


Thursday, 3 July 2008

Krispy Kreme Bacon Cheeseburgers

Currently being served up in an unnamed New York diner are these Krispy Kreme Bacon Cheeseburgers.

More here