October 20, 2008

Checkin' the flicks

There's been some viewing and some reading, but not a ton of either...

Batman: Gotham Knight - these six stories are designed to be a bridge between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, but I don't really see them working in that fashion. The six stories are of varying quality - one seeming like a rehash (primarily "Have I Got a Story for You"), one like a sketch ("Working Through Pain), one an interesting start that never really gets going ("Deadshot"), one too fantastical for the Nolan universe ("In Darkness Dwells"), and two actually right for the Nolan Batman world ("Field Test" and "Crossfire").

They certainly don't hold together with any theme as only two of the six tales have any connection other than Batman's presence, and I don't see any sort of information in these that would help viewers understand the second film. These come off more as continuations of Batman: The Animated Show but in shorter forms as each story only clocks in at about ten or fifteen minutes. They've even used Kevin Conroy who did Batman's voice on the 90's cartoon, as a further echo.

The combination of Batman's stories with the Japanese animation might've been a bit more revolutionary a decade ago, but now it doesn't even seem novel with so much anime and faux anime on everything from Saturday morning 'toons to Cartoon Network.


The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford - another in an outstanding if a bit small run of modern western tales...this would've been one to see in the theater as it's a gorgeous, deliberately-paced film telling the tale of Jesse James and the man who ended his life, Robert Ford.

Brad Pitt plays the titular James but feels more like a supporting character as Casey Affleck's Robert Ford is really the center of the story. Through the course of the film, we see Ford shift from boyish adulant, following James around like a devoted puppy to a man both envious and hating and admiring of James to, eventually, a man dealing with the consequences of killing one of the most revered outlaws in American history.

The cinematography is excellent and the film gorgeous and - at times - arduously paced, allowing us to see share in the intertwined lives of the two men, both of whom seem to be existing only as players waiting for fate to bring them together in the assassination. One man has lived his life heading to that point, and the other only seems to exist after the shot is fired and he becomes a part of American lore.

Strangers with Candy - This one'd been on the pull list for a while, and The Girl and finally got around to spending a Friday evening with the girl Sedaris child and her freakily, awkwardly hilarious Jerri Blank.

Blank's social reject opens the film by summarizing the backstory that got her into and subsequently out of jail - something that I can only assume would be known to fans who had followed the television series on which the movie is based. From there Blank shows up at home where her new step-mother, nearly grown step-brother, comatose father, and a mission to go back to high school and live her life again from the point where everything went wrong.

All of which would be standard after school special fare if it weren't for the fact that Blank is a former drug and sex addicted ex-convict in her mid forties who has some serious social issues.

Jerri's freakish behavior at the high school - vacillating between befriending and dumping the science dorks at the school, pursuing the popular crowd, coming on to the girl science geek - and the totally nutso staff of administrators and teachers at the school - anchored by Stephen Colbert, Matthew Broderick, Greg Holliman, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Paul Dinello - turn what could have been a very special episode into a tale filled with very special people.

The science teacher is a radical religious right who teaches that evolution is the devil's work but has a clearly un-PC relationship with the male art teacher. The guidance counselor - Jessica Parker looking more attractive than she has in at least a decade - throws herself at every available male staffer and a few of the students. The principal is fighting tooth and nail to not lose his job and have to pay back all the discretionary funds that he has seemingly misappropriated, and one school board member (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) spend most of his screen time openly and vocally pursuing the other (Allison Janney) with no success at all.

The jokes are hit or miss, though I found them to mostly fall on the hit side of the ledger. The pauses and situations can be very uncomfortable, which not every critic enjoyed but which I found mostly hilarious.

It was laugh out loud funny and fine medicine for a Friday evening.

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