'2' for 2

Well there you have it- two solid films made for grown-ups over two consecutive weekends. I loved The X-Files: I Want to Believe, though I'm sure this enthusiasm won't be shared to any Dark Knight degree.

Most reviews of this film deemed it 'low-budget-looking' and 'underwhelming'; though Roger Ebert, who in his recent infirmity seems to have developed a level head, was wise enough to call it what it was. So many popular reviewers are contradicting themselves more and more, dissing 'Event Movie' culture, yet when a low-key, solid film with a franchise title such as this comes along, the flip-flops roll right in.

Having rewatched the first X-Files film within the last year, free of its juxtaposition with the ongoing television phenomenon, I was struck by its straightforwardness and purity of narrative- it, like this, like The Dark Knight, are akin to films released regularly in the 1970's- thrillers that thrill with their story and character, and not, as Ebert says in his review, with "villains the size of buildings".

Audiences may have forgotten, or never even seen, the early style of The X-Files. Shot in and around Vancouver, often using gritty, shitty locations, it looked- well, kind of awful. Most of the rinky-dink effects added to these episodes appeared to come out of a Video Toaster program. Yet the filmmakers involved used this to their absolute advantage- a simple, tightening shot of a silent telephone, accompanied by Mark Frost's scoring, was enough to titillate and inspire welcome goosebumps.

As the series progressed and gained popularity, rinky-dink was replaced with razzle-dazzle, and proved that epic shots of black helicopters firing missiles couldn't really work the same way as a single actor running down a rainy Vancouver alleyway. This film is epic in a reserved way- the money's there, Gillian Anderson still looks like a superstar instead of a neophyte, but Chris Carter shows enough directorial restraint that the whole affair harkens back to his simplest styles of storytelling.

The case has been made for a bigger, boomier, Event film; one where, say, a friggin' huge UFO appears to millions of people and Mulder has to be pulled, completely vindicated, from exile, but I for one feel liberated by this story's lack of X-mythology. I watched the series finale the night before the film- the one where Mulder is put on trial, clip-show style, with AD Skinner as his defense, and all of his former Deep Throats, etc. rattle off the Alien Conspiracy in plain language- and agreed after the first witness that Skinner should have been thrown out of court. When fully revealed and plainly told, the series arc- involving supersoldiers, bees, black oil, etc. seemed downright ridiculous. X-Files worked best when you didn't know a thing- unlike Lost, which is becoming richer the more its secrets are revealed, the exposed secrets of the shadow government ground things to a halt. I call it the 'Boba Fett Effect'- dude works best when he keeps his helmet on; we don't need to know his family history.

And that's why this film works- the mystery is pretty much secondary to themes of faith and belief that the series developed- evidenced by that mystery's simple conclusion even as the film goes on to follow Mulder and Scully's personal reflections on what they learned from it. Though if I do have a major criticism it actually involves this- these themes are presented so deeply 'In-Universe', to use a geek phrase, that they barely escape the character's minds and motivations enough to make an audience truly think about anything but The X-Files. The Dark Knight, on the other hand, used its characters' familiar traits to provide themes that leaped screaming out of the Batman myth. There is another problem, endemic to cult stories that get tied up in their own concerns, about uncharacteristically straightforward information from the final episode that reveals an alien takeover will take place in 2012- if this is so, why is Scully so concerned about saving the life of a child who will inevitably be extraterrestrial lunchmeat? But this is a minor quibble. Perhaps, if the budget was low enough on this for it to turn a profit, we'll see that 2012 story told.

This is just a movie. And that's pretty refreshing. Like Ebert said, don't expect a kung-fu, Big Boss ending like most every other franchise movie this summer. If you're feeling like everything in theatres, good or bad, this year is being thrown at you with the crazy fervor of an Olympic ceremony, relax and enjoy this little thing.


Finding Balance- 'The Dark Knight'

Why... so... SERIOUS?
Yeah, really- I've been harping on every film and trailer going all summer long. And was it just me, or did I feel a continental gust of true enthusiasm at about 2am on Thursday morning, as the first preview screenings of
The Dark Knight let out?
Iron Man, Hellboy, Indiana Jones- all trumped and lost in the wake of cathartic darkness this film spread across the land. I can see the three of them sharing a flask of whiskey on some lonesome hilltop as they watch the Bat Signal sweep the sky.
But I'll stop short about the cultural shakings a truly great film can inspire. Blogs should be dedicated to personal experience, no?
I can't recall a single film, studio-backed or not, that has been brave enough to investigate the dark hearts we all harbour and so seldom admit to having. This wasn't a 'super-hero' movie; this was a movie about humans. As I watched this I tried to recall a single American film about the darker side of existence that wasn't couched in an agenda (eg. Platoon) or propped up as an American allegory (Goodfellas); a film that stared with an unflinching eye at a fact so many North Americans have buried inside themselves to the point of complete denial, even post 9/11- and couldn't come up with one. And what fact is that? That horrid, diabolical, randomly evil shit goes down in completely equal amount to all the kissy, privileged, yuppie goosestepping depicted in so many Hollywood films. I've already been practically lambasted by one individual for daring to mention that I found this film liberating and cathartic, but as I see it, if you can't take the darkness, you have no right in claiming the light.

I risk losing all credibility in this comparison, but during the spot-on dialogues between The Joker and the Batman, I was reminded of the 'temptation' scenes between Anakin Skywalker and Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith, dialogue I assume was doctored by Tom Stoppard and actually had me convinced that Palpatine was in the right. Of course this was an argument that had to be strong enough to turn Anakin into an unfeeling mass-murderer, and similarly (dammit I wish I had this screenplay), during The Joker's soliloquies I found myself thinking "He is, he's absolutely right."

Somebody has to say it, especially in this day and age. The Joker's "social experiment" with the two ferries had me thinking about just how we're going to behave in, oh, four months, when oil's too expensive to heat homes, and in four years, when water becomes a commodity. And during the film's closing comments about having faith that something, anything, good will happen, Barack Obama's face literally drifted before my mind's eye. Not too often that a film like this makes one think real-world thoughts instead of fanboy irrelevancies.

But all that said- on to the fanboy irrelevancies. The incorporation of Two-Face's coin backstory into this film's plotline- brilliant. The labyrinthine turnarounds involving Commissioner Gordon's shooting- great. The sequence in Hong Kong- amazing. And Heath Ledger- watching him place as much as he did into a single word- "Hi" - (dressed as the nurse, at Harvey's bedside) says all I want to say about that performance.

I wonder how kids these days are taking this film. Will something like this will live on to be revisited as they grow up, revealing more and more of its secrets? Kind of like how I didn't realize Star Wars was a coming of age film until I, well, came of age?

I'm just so happy a good movie came out this summer. If you wait, and wait, and have faith...


Watchmen Movie Trailer

Alright- if you're reading this you may be convinced you're witnessing my real-time (de?)(e?)volution into a full-blooded geek. I've been hurt by watching a goddamned movie trailer. Yet I refuse to be branded a nerd for this- Watchmen has for 21 years been one of my favorite pieces of literature, period, and only recently have I been able to cease defending it and join the status quo, as mainstream culture now tends to agree.
Yet today the internet is full of jizz-bombs over the debut of the ad for its film adaptation, which features a plodding Smashing Pumpkins song and a washed-out, completely unoriginal revamp of the novel's vivid images into what looks like every other gloomy, shitty b-action film since Seven darkened things down.

Once people started calling Iron Man 'amazing' I truly began to wonder when acceptable standards for inspiring entertainment went right down the toilet. Now that people are getting more excited over an image like this

than an image like this,
I'm beginning to believe that I've entered my curmudgeonly, 'they'll never make 'em like they used to' phase. But no, I'm not going to cave to that either- because they don't.