Darik Houseknecht (itbegins2005)The Deepest, Darkest Reaches of the Unfathomable Abyss
Darik's Recent Reviews
There is a big difference between an unnecessary remake and a BAD remake. Just because Hollywood has devoted itself to tirelessly, heedlessly mangling every single popular film from the past fifty years, it doesn't mean you can't occasionally end up with a decent new take on a classic film at the end of the day. And while the new RoboCop isn't nearly the well-oiled model of cinematic perfection that its predecessor was... nor is it nearly as smart or as challenging... it is something you're hard-pressed to find in this day and age: a simple, well-told story. Jose Padhila's RoboCop is one of those remakes that does the smartest thing you can do when rebooting a classic film franchise: it doesn't try to be the original movie. While the 1987 film was a razor-sharp satire of '80s corporate culture and a gore-filled action-sploitation extravaganza, the new film is an earnest sci-fi actioner, slick and polished and inoffensive, and with a surprisingly human heart beating at its core. It's awkward and lumbering at times, and suffers from a serious lack of personality throughout (the toned-down color palette and bland compositions make one wonder whether the film was directed by a robot), (more to come)
Darik's Favorite Movies
This is the movie I have been waiting for since I first became a devoted film fanatic. It takes a perfect distillation of everything I love about truly great cinema (e.g. "the classics"- Godfather, A Clockwork Orange, Silence of the Lambs, etc.)- the depth of emotion, the layered plot, the thematic consistency, the dramatic intensity (ESPECIALLY the dramatic intensity)- and seamlessly fuses with it my favorite genre character of all time: the Batman. The result is the first film based on a superhero that takes itself 100% seriously, never condescending the integrity of its own premise and, in the process, creating a brilliant work of action, drama, and suspense, a crime thriller that just happens to center around a hero in a cape and cowl. As a viewing experience, it's a white-knuckle affair; there is really nothing to prepare you for how powerful this film is, from the shocking intensity of the violence to the dark tragedy of the characters. It's a film that wrings you out, keeping you breathing hard and bolted to your seat, and finally leaving you emotionally drained and, bizarrely, wishing for more. Picking up shortly after Batman Begins left off, we find Bruce Wayne diligently working to bring down the mob as the Batman, joining forces with Lieutenant James Gordon and the newly-elected District Attorney Harvey Dent to stop organized crime in Gotham City for good. Everything seems to be going to plan, until a recent rash of mafia-bank robberies brings to the attention of the mob a criminal called the Joker, a madman slathered in clown make-up who offers to rid them of the Batman once and for all. Suddenly, no one in Gotham is safe, and as the Joker's chaotic rampage through the city racks up more and more victims, Batman finds himself struggling with the moral code he's set for himself in the light of the Joker's limitless cruelty. For his second go-round as the Dark Knight, Christian Bale has got his character down pat, from the vapid playboy facade (that creates some of the lighter points of the movie) to the dark, gravelly-voiced creature that is Batman (who gets much more screen time than Wayne does, actually); but as the real Wayne, who so few are privileged to see, Bruce is deeply conflicted about his double life, torn between the desire to leave it all behind (an opportunity presented by the rising star D.A. Dent) and his need to fulfill his self-appointed mission. Things become even more complicated when the Joker turns his double identity against him, shifting public opinion against the Dark Knight and trying to force him into turning himself in. Working with Batman this time is Harvey Dent, as played by Aaron Eckhart- a public crusader for justice who personifies the hope for a better future in Gotham City. Harvey is a truly good, decent man, trying his best to do the right thing in the mire of corruption and politics, but unfortunately he still is just a man, and every man has a breaking point; Dent goes through a major character arc through the course of the film, one that twists his ideals against themselves and transforms him into a tragic, all-too-plausible monster, and Eckhart plays the descent into darkness phenomenally. The third man of our trio of heroes in this film is Gary Oldman, back for round two as Lieutenant James Gordon. This time, his skills as an actor are put to much better use, as Gordon has much more to do here than before: he is a father, a friend, a cop, and a man of action in this film, and especially near the end his character is put through the wringer, but Oldman delivers like he always does. And then, there's the Joker. There really aren't enough good things I can say about the late Heath Ledger's turn as the Clown Prince of Crime- he IS the Joker. He manages to craft a completely unpredictable character, one that is both amazingly scary and surprisingly funny at the same time (as perfectly captured early on in the film: "How about a magic trick?"). A self-described engine of chaos, everything about him is chaotic, from his often violent actions and statements (he describes several different scenarios for how he acquired his scars, investing himself intensely into each one) to his facial tics and mannerisms; Ledger disappears completely into the role, so much so that it's hard to connect the tragedy of Ledger's death to the character when you're actually watching him (which is both a great relief for the audience and a hell of a compliment to his performance, when you think about it). Even though he has the least screen time of all the principal leads, his presence looms over the entirety of the film (kind of like Thomas Wayne's in Batman Begins, but much more potently), creating a disorienting sense that absolutely ANYONE can die at any moment. As for the rest of the cast, they are all expanded upon from the previous film, and they are ALL fantastic: Michael Caine's Alfred has the unenviable task of keeping Bruce's spirit intact through the pain he's subjected to, Morgan Freeman's Lucias Fox faces up to an ethical dilemma of his own when Batman's quest to fight crime pushes past the boundaries of basic human rights, and Maggie Gyllenhaal, infinitely more pleasant as Rachel Dawes than Katie Holmes was, is stuck in a love triangle between childhood friend Bruce and the handsome, likable Dent. The script is tight and powerful, despite the film's long run time; there is not a single scene that could have been left out, and the intricate plot that's constructed is incredibly elaborate, thematically rich, and deeply engrossing. The character work and dialogue is fantastic: the dramatic highlight of the film would have to be the interrogation room scene between Batman and the Joker, in which we learn a lot about the Joker's twisted ideology and his perceived connection with Batman. The action this time around is astonishing, too; Christopher Nolan, apparently tired of complaints about the shooting style of the fight sequences in Batman Begins, now shoots simple, straightforward angles of the energetically choreographed clashes, making them much more effective. The stunt work and effects are blazingly good, keeping C.G. use to a minimum to maintain maximum believability (they flipped a semi truck. For real. Even seeing it in the trailer doesn't diminish the awe inspired by that moment). The cinematography trades the golden hues of Begins for colder blue tones, which creates a bleak landscape for our heroes to fight in; the music, by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, is electrifying, conjuring the twisted darkness of the Joker while holding true to the heroism of Batman and Dent. All around, the Dark Knight is a quantum leap forward from its predecessor (described aptly by some as the Godfather II of superhero films); Christopher Nolan has really stepped up his game with this one, creating for the first time a rich, deeply layered cinematic experience that centers around a superhero, albeit one that's as flawed and human as any other film protagonist. This is the first superhero film that could rightly be categorized as an achievement in film as an art form, and not simply a commercial venture, and I hope that it gets the recognition that it deserves. Frankly, my only real concern is with how Nolan is going to top it, especially without Ledger around to conjure his magically sinister Clown Prince of Crime anymore (there is no way they can recast that role), but even if this were to be the last Batman film ever produced, I think it would be a hell of a good way to go out. Ultimately, this movie is everything I've ever wanted in a film- it's as simple as that. "Why so serious?"
Not quite a horror movie. Not quite an action movie. Not quite a comedy. Just what is Evil Dead 2, anyway? To put it simply: awesome. Evil Dead 2 is an exercise in style, slapstick, and over-the-top, almost cartoonish violence. Not pretentious in the least, Evil Dead 2 embraces its status as low-budget schlock and, as a result, has a great time going as far out as it possibly can in terms of effects, camera movements, and lighting. While the first film was almost a wrote execution of the "Ten Little Indians" formula (with only five Indians, at that), Evil Dead 2 eschews any attempt at horror with comic hyperbole and, in the latter portion of the film, pure pulp action, typified by our chainsaw-wielding hero, Ash. Bruce Campbell as Ash is the Charlie Brown of horror films- all the shit in the world lands squarely on his shoulders, and you can't help but laugh at his misery. Between the pansy preppy-boy from Evil Dead and the square-jawed he-man of Army Of Darkness, Ash actually has a character arc in this film (!)- though it's obvious in the viewing that character is the last thing on director Sam Raimi's mind. Instead, it's all about pushing the envelope, both in terms of tone and technique. When does horror become comedy? And more importantly, just how much crap can happen to one guy in only two days? As far as acting goes, the performances from everyone involved are so far from believable that just watching them say their lines is hilarious, and yes, that includes Bruce Campbell. Sam Raimi takes center stage in this movie instead, as the film is loaded with camera work that would prove to be the director's trademark. The evil force camera POV returns in a chase scene that just gets better every time I watch it, and Raimi seems to get his kicks from composing the most extreme shots that he can imagine. Lacking almost anything resembling a plot, the movie is more along the lines of a series of sketches set in a cabin, but that only adds to the deliriously disjointed nature of the film. In fact, most of the movie's appeal comes from the main character, who, like the audience, constantly struggles to get his bearings while being bombarded by one freakish thing after another; besides, it's a nice change of pace to see a horror film in which the hero is cooler than the villain. In truth, it's merits can't justly be put into words; Evil Dead 2 is an experience, an experiment with the limits of good humor and taste, and you will either like it right off or hate it immediately. Either way, you'll only know it if you see it.