Hornswaggler | The culture, the humor, a bit of the sports, not so much the politics, and the workplace distraction

Hornswaggle is an alternate spelling of hornswoggle, an archaic word that means to bamboozle or hoodwink. I take my pronunciation from the late Harvey Korman in "Blazing Saddles" --

"I want rustlers, cutthroats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperados, mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, halfwits, dimwits, vipers, snipers, conmen, Indian agents, Mexican bandits, muggers, buggerers, bushwhackers, hornswagglers, horse thieves, bull dykes, train robbers, bank robbers, ass kickers, shit kickers and Methodists!"

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Joker and that other guy


I was amazed recently when I read The A.V. Club's list of the top films of 2008 and found that four of their five reviewers had "The Dark Knight" in their top ten lists. One of them, Nathan Rabin, listed it as the second-best movie of the year. Guess it shouldn't have come as a surprise, seeing as "Knight" got a 94 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but still, the Onion's reviewers are usually pretty reliable when it comes to separating the shit from shinola.

"The Dark Knight" is simply not a good movie, though it's not terrible either. It's just sort of meh. And I say that as a fan of director Christopher Nolan, whose "Memento" is one of my favorite films. I mean, "Knight" looks nice, is mostly well-acted, and there's nothing horribly wrong with the screenplay, but all that it adds up to is two-and-a-half hours of numbing, thudding, pointless violence.

This is the main problem with "Knight" -- it's about 45 minutes too long. I'm reminded of being dragged to "Out of Africa" at age 11 and thinking that thing was over during the airplane-flamingo scene, only to realize I was sorely, sorely mistaken. The whole transformation of Harvey Dent into Two Face takes way too much time. Nolan ought to have found a way to radically shorten that story or given up and saved it for the next sequel.

"Batman Begins," Nolan's first Batman outing, was also overly long. I lasted about 40 minutes into the ultra-long origin story, which put me to sleep during the part where Christian Bale is practicing his samurai sword deal on a frozen pond in the Himalayas, or something. Maybe there should be a warning on the label of the DVD to the effect of: Do not watch while having a couple glasses of wine on a Friday night -- you will pass out.

The last straw for me with "Knight" was the drawn-out sequence towards the end, long after the movie had lost its narrative steam, in which the Joker's mischief squad plants explosives on two ferries, one carrying prisoners and the other bearing civilians, and gives each the power to blow up the other. They're told that if neither boat elects to push the button, both ferries will be detonated. What should they do? Would the regular people in boat number one prove to be more ruthless than their presumed moral inferiors in boat number two? I did not care. I just wanted outta that theater, pronto.

Nolan has been applauded by critics for his dark and gritty approach to the "Batman" franchise. He takes his subject very seriously. By doing so, however, Nolan invites the viewer to ask some questions he might not like, such as, why does Christian Bale's voice drop a full octave as soon as he puts on his rubber suit, making him sound mentally challenged?

And how does the Joker have more money and power than a small industrialized nation? How is a psychopath who hasn't showered in a year able to think 10 steps ahead of his opponents and maintain such airtight organizational discipline?

As for Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker, it's good, but hardly worthy of the Oscar it appears he will inevitably win. The lip-licking tic is overdone and distracting. And am I the only one who thinks he sounds like Stuart Smalley? ("I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, I must destroy the Batman.")

I say this having been surprisingly affected by Ledger's death. His performance in "Brokeback Mountain" was the only time I've seen him in a film from start to finish. But his portrayal of Enis was so sublime, and the film itself was so terrific and heart-breaking, that I was truly saddened when I learned that he had died. He deserved to win in the Oscar in 2005 over Philip Seymour Hoffman, whose fine performance as Truman Capote was a neat little impression by comparison.

So anyway, it won't be a crime if Ledger wins the Oscar. But his performance in "The Dark Knight" is about as overhyped as the movie itself.

.: posted by hornswaggler 12:25 PM

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