Thursday, June 23, 2005

Posted by Mark at 10:05 PM

Mark at the Movies: Batman Begins (again?)

My movie reviewing friends are going to kill me, but tonight I went out and watched Batman Begins, starring Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman. My sister and I hadn't spent any time together recently, as she has been going to honors camps and such, and I have been busy at the new homestead and with the work. Well, we got together and went to see the film. I must say I was most impressed with the story, the acting, and the faithfulness to the comic which inspired the film.

Of course, everyone and their mother knows the story of Batman. Rich boy Wayne watches as his doctor/philantropist father Dr. Wayne and his mother are murdered by Joe Chill in an act of mugging gone bad. This inspires Wayne to begin his quest for justice. We have seen it retold in Burton's Batman, with the character of the Joker being responsible for the murders.

In this telling, the murders do not immediately lead to action. Young Bruce grows up to feel like a vagabond, wanting to lash out but also not wanting to take up his father's mantle to help Gotham. He travels the world, learning the criminal mind by performing some heists, and meets Ducard (played by Liam Neeson--yes, Qui Gonn is also Bruce Wayne's mentor). Ducard shows him how to fight even more so, giving him the training and tools for his quest. He is invited to join the order of Shadows, run by Ra's al Ghool, but turns it down, finding their justice to be a bit on the unbalanced side.

Returning to Gotham, Bruce sets out to prove that there is hope in Gotham, that it can be saved. He seeks to become a symbol that will strike fear into the criminals, and bring hope to the masses. Much as the comic book Batman used Zorro as his inspiration (in the comic, the Mask of Zorro was the movie the Waynes went to see when the murders took place, but not in this film--it was some dopey opera with bats), Bruce seeks to right wrongs and bring the street criminals and the corrupt to justice. He enlists the aid of his Butler Alfred, played by Michael Caine; and Lucius Fox, played by Morgan Freeman. He comes to find there is a good cop in the corrupt town of Gotham, Sgt. Jim Gordon, played by Gary Oldman (yes, Dracula would one day become commissioner Gordon).

Without giving too much more away, this film is excellent. Christian Bale (of Reign of Fire and American Psycho fame) surprisingly fit in quite well as Batman/Bruce Wayne. Coming into this film, I was unsure of his portrayal. I felt, and to this point still feel, that Michael Keaton defined the modern role. However, I feel Bale could be the next great Batman. His rendering brought forth both the anguish of Wayne and the thirst for justice tempered with reason. His facial expressions and mannerisms played well in creating a character with dual lives, a character who has something to hide, but for all the right reasons.

Neeson's character was in the beginning, the typical mentor type he seems consigned to playing since Star Wars Episode I. However, there is more to Mr. Ducard than meets the eye. But, Neeson misses the mark with the duality of his character. Seeing the turn in Mr. Ducard, I do not think Liam was the right choice, but he did pull it off as well as he could. He was a gamer, but I just did not see anything but Qui Gonn in this film. I will leave it to the viewer to decide on the rendering, but Neeson did not appear to be well cast for his total role in this film.

Bale is excellent, as is Michael Caine as the butler Alfred. He combines the classic Caine humor with some sparkling moments of parental sincerity. He comes across as the stately butler with a heart of gold for his master Wayne.

The plot? Well, it is one comic fans will be familiar with. If you would like a primer on Batman Begins, you can basically read the story in the classic story by Frank Miller-- Batman Year One, an endeavor Miller undertook in the 1980s to modernize Batman's origin. While weaving in some new characters and nuance, this script is basically an homage to Miller's classic work of redefining the Batman mythos for the modern age. The director and the screenwriters remained true to the essence of the story, from the uneasy friendship between Sgt. James Gordon and Batman, to the struggles of Bruce Wayne to pretend to be a fop while being the Dark Knight of justice. It is a well conceived plot, and I was a bit miffed that Miller wasn't paid some respect for it, as this story was basically his story with some minor changes. I know there are some other story elements from other comic epics about the Batman, like the freeing of the Arkham inmates, the ride of the Scarecrow....but I don't remember the references. If someone in the comments would give me a refresher, I would appreciate it.

Some more character observations. Morgan Freeman did great work as Lucius Fox, Bruce's confidant inside Wayne Enterprises, and a character to watch for in any future Batman movies. Katie Holmes as Rachel, Bruce's childhood sweetie, was just too cutesy in my book for a tough DA. Couldn't we get someone who looks like they would not be carded in a bar? Very yummy to look at, but puh-lease! At times I wanted to arrest Batman for robbing the cradle! Gary Oldman did a great job as Jim Gordon, the future commissioner Gordon. The Scarecrow actor, Cillian Murphy, must have been told to look and act like Johnny Depp. I was not impressed with the character or the acting. It seemed like I was watching Edward Scissorhands meets psychology today....However, overall, the casting was great in the roles that mattered, even if Liam Neeson was not fully up to his "dual" role.

If this is the restart of a franchise, I must say I am looking forward to future cinematic adventures of the Dark Knight. Bale was delightfully surprising, and the story, while well known, was told in a very modern yet faithful way, which led to the great overall feeling I have about the film. I highly recommend this film, especially to those, like me, who grew up reading Batman and Detective Comics in the 1980s and loved the character, and who hated to see it destroyed by the likes of George Clooney and Val Kilmer, not to mention Joel Schumacher directing. The franchise became even more campy than the classic 1960s show, but that is the past.

With a new face in the suit (which I must say, Bale has a great look for Batman with those chiseled facial features, so angular and eyes full of emotion), and a director and creative team that seems to want to portray the character in a faithful rendering, this franchise is on good footing. Especially the ending which leaves you wondering, is this the last we will see of the Dark Knight on film? I, for one, hope not. And I hope it is Christian Bale who brings Batman to life on the screen for the foreseeable future.

I give this film my highest recommendation and encourage all to go see it. It reminds me of the classic Superman film of the 1970s, in that like the Chris Reeve film, there was no hurry to see Batman. We developed the character and the supporting players did their part to create a world where we see Bruce Wayne go from angry but somewhat cowardly person to the Dark Knight. It breaks the detritus of the Burton/Schumacher camp away and brings the character back to his pulp/comic book roots. It is a must see, for while it is a redefinition of the movie character, it is essential Batman!

I have got to get one of those Batmobiles!

And guys, at least I haven't seen it in IMAX let's go see it, huh? Whuddya say?

Monday, June 13, 2005

Posted by Mark at 11:50 PM

2nd Congressional Race Rundown in Ohio

As we get ready to go to the polls in Ohio to replace Rob Portman, here is my final rundown of the Candidates for the Republican Nomination:

Pat DeWine--former Cincinnati City Councilman, currently Hamilton County Commissioner just recently elected. Known as someone who claims to be a "proven conservative." Son of Mike "RINO" DeWine, one of Ohio's two useless Senators. Known for finding wasteful spending and cutting it. Known for wanting to cut taxes. Has a good pro-life stance. However, on the flip side, this man has not been fully honest with the people. He was asked point blank when he was running for commissioner if he would seek Portman's seat if it became available, and he stated then: no. When the seat became available, he decided to go for it. Well connected politically and financed by some heavy hitters. Claims to be more conservative than his father, but is financed by some of the same people. His tardiness in distancing himself from his father's betrayal of the Constitution hurt him, along with his decision to go negative first in ads. Has the problem of marital infidelity hanging over his head, which has caused some religious conservatives to stay away, including Football Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz.

Bob McEwen--former Representative in US Congress. Was part of Reagan revolution. Solid conservative past, to a point. Voted with some democrats to repeal some of the Reagan tax cuts. Also, was implicated in the House Check Bouncing Scandal, but the validity of such chargesare nebulous, as evidenced by the Dayton Daily News articles as well as other sources I have close to the candidates. Helped bring the William H. Harsha Bridge to Southern Ohio to help stimulate commerce with Kentucky and improve travel. On the flip side, when he lost to Portman in the primaries for this very seat he now seeks, he left Ohio politics to work in VA as a lobbyist. Ran a very expensive office as Congressman.

Has political experience in Washington. Backed by some prominent folks, including Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz, Dr. James Dobson, and very popular former district rep to Ohio's Gen. Assembly Rose Vesper. He has also been endorsed by Brown County Republican Party Chair Paul Hall and Brown County Bush/Cheney Chair Mr. Bill Herdmann. Ethics and loyalty could be questions.

DeWine and McEwen decided to sling mud and allowed the next two folks to sneak into contention, when they should never have been anything other than 2nd tier.

Jean Schmidt--former Rep to Ohio's General Assembly. Heavy hitter in Clermont County Politics. Known as Mean Jean for her past vicious attacks against opponents and her singleminded, almost dogmatic devotion to her own vision. Claims to be for lowering taxes and being pro-development, but caved and voted for the increased state taxes in Ohio that have driven businesses and population away.

Claims to be for conservative honest values, but ran a very questionable campaign against Tom Niehaus in the primary for State Senator. Used alliance with former Speaker Householder to get extra campaign funds (Householder told those special interests who supported him that if they gave to Niehaus, they would lose access; they had to give to Schmidt), which is highly questionable. Uses deceptive campaign material which portrays her as having the endorsement of Rob Portman. Also used a conversation with State Rep. Danny Bubp as a claim she had his endorsement when he issued no such endorsement. Later bragged to party officials how she pulled one over on people for making it look like Bubp endorsed her. Now seeks to run so she can challenge Pelosi, Clinton, Boxer, and the other women of Washington. Blindly ambitious, and will do anything to win. Is known for attempting last minute charges which cannot be substantiated by the election. Sounded like AlGore when she lost to Niehaus after mandatory recount. Many disillusioned by her tactics, despite her attempts to soften image.

Tom Brinkman--General Assemblyman. Lifelong resident of the area. Local businessman. Known as a taxcutter. Known for slashing taxes and voting against high spending. Negatively--he is against the Patriot Act. He is against the death penalty for terrorists. Has some interesting ideas about taxation and spending, but his stance on national security disqualifies him in my view.

The other candidates on the Republican side are just there to get their names out and will not be factors.

I originally saw this as a race between McEwen and DeWine, and I still think it will come down to that. Both have their "issues" shall we say, but Schmidt's poor reputation outside of her home county dooms her, unless the two front runners' negative attacks turn people off to both of them. Going into this race, DeWine had the best organiztation and money, but McEwen came on fast. I don't much care for any of these candidates, as all seem to like to come up with "phantom endorsements" and make rather misleading statements, but I believe come election day, it will be a close race between DeWine and McEwen. I am still undecided, but right now, as I turn in, my vote is hedging toward McEwen. Check out their websites before you vote, check out their backgrounds and beliefs, then decide for yourself.

And on the Democratic Side, the two front runners are Paul Hackett of Milford and Charles Sanders of Waynesville. The state party tried to get Sanders to not run, as he has been pasted three different times by Portman and is considered a loser in the District, so to speak. Hackett presents, on the surface, some interesting developments. He is an Army reservist, who has had some time in Iraq, where he says he helped bring freedom (didn't he read the party handbook, we can't be saying the war brought freedom--because Bush is EVIL(tm)!) He served on city council in Milford and says he is against higher taxes. However, when you look at many of his supporters and some of his other views, you can see the true liberal coming out. He even, according to one report, inflated the number of wounded in Iraq, just to please his largely partisan audience. Sanders is a nonstarter. Hackett has the veneer of a conservative democrat, but beneath the surface, he is a liberal. A frugal liberal, but a lib nonetheless.

Neither of these two Ds will be able to beat a DeWine or McEwen, but they could seriously hammer Schmidt or Brinkman.

That is the handicapping of the candidates as I see it. Now get out and vote in the primaries. Turnout will be low, and the winner in both parties will be the one who gets their workers out to get out the vote and beat some doors to draw out voters....