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The Bat, the Cat, and the Penguin Tim Burton’s Batman Returns

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The Bat, the Cat, and the Penguin: Tim Burton’s Batman Returns

Warner Bros.

The Bat, the Cat, and the Penguin: Tim Burton’s Batman Returns

The current draft of film history states that the DayGlo abomination that is Batman & Robin is directly responsible for not just putting Batman on film into an eight-year coma, but poisoning the idea of comic-book film adaptations altogether, to the point where the X-Men movie that followed three years later felt like a cowed, fearful gamble. Time, distance, and no small amount of insider stories have since provided some measure of vindication. Batman & Robin was simply a life-threatening complication stemming from a malignant fear struck into the hearts of Warner Bros. execs by letting a completely unshackled Tim Burton make Batman Returns.

Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions: Actor

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Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions: Actor
Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions: Actor

First, praise be to the brave Oscar pundits who have Bradley Cooper in their crosshairs. Indeed, given how close this race probably is between Eddie Redmayne and Michael Keaton, it’s easy to see how Cooper could benefit from a vote split, not unlike, some have argued, Adrien Brody did back in 2003 when this award was anticipated to go to either Jack Nicholson or Daniel Day-Lewis. But we don’t have the courage to rally behind Cooper, terrific as he is in American Sniper, as this and adapted screenplay seem like the two categories where the contentiousness surrounding the Clint Eastwood film’s ostensibly mythmaking depiction of Chris Kyle is most likely to hurt. Which is to say nothing of the fact that, unlike Brody, Cooper enters this race without SAG, BAFTA, and Golden Globe nominations.

Holy Moly! Batman TV Series Now on Blu-ray and DVD

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Holy Moly! Batman TV Series Now on Blu-ray and DVD
Holy Moly! Batman TV Series Now on Blu-ray and DVD

It’s easy to forget that there was actually a time when Batman was fun. That time was 50 years ago, when the ripples of Fredric Wertham’s despicable anti-comic diatribe Seduction of the Innocent were still being felt. His book claimed that comics were sinful trash that converted the children—by God, the children!—into homosexual deviants. The television series Batman, which ran from 1966 to ’68 on ABC, knowingly acknowledged and lampooned Wertham’s seething, masturbatory harangue in a way that defied the era’s TV standards. Starring Adam West and Burt Ward, two unknowns cast largely for their affable faces, the series (now available for the first time on DVD and Blu-ray in a snazzy, wallet-purging boxed set from Warner Home Video) remains one of the format’s great cultural touchstones. Replete with double entendres for the parents and giddy inanity for the kids, it’s everything Susan Sontag loved and loathed about camp amalgamated into a half-hour lark.

Telluride Film Review: Birdman

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Telluride Film Review: <em>Birdman</em>
Telluride Film Review: <em>Birdman</em>

Birdman may just prove that there are second acts in life, American or otherwise. Not only Michael Keaton’s best role in more than a decade, it also represents a surprisingly mellow Alejandro González Iñárritu, whose worldview, if not especially brighter, has at least been filtered through a comic lens. It may be wishful thinking, but the global nihilism of his earlier projects now seems mere prelude to a surprisingly poignant meditation on fame and its lingering aftereffects.

Which isn’t to say that the film could in any way be described as “feel good.” Starring Keaton as a past-his-prime superhero actor looking to regain credibility and relevance by adapting, directing, and starring in Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love on Broadway, it’s an exercise in a Murphy’s Law-level of absurd occurrences besieging its play-within-a-film. Birdman, né Riggan Thomson, has to be told of the importance of social media by his fresh-from-rehab daughter (Emma Stone) while also dealing with his manager (Zach Galifianakis), ex-wife (Amy Ryan), last-minute-replacement co-star (Edward Norton), co-star whom he’s sleeping with (Andrea Riseborough), and co-star whom he actually gets along with pretty well (Naomi Watts) on the eve of their first preview. Iñárritu manages to give each of these characters something interesting to do, the power dynamics between them constantly shifting.

Summer of ‘89: Batman

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Summer of ‘89: <em>Batman</em>
Summer of ‘89: <em>Batman</em>

Returning to Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman in light of Christopher Nolan’s recent, remarkably successful Batman trilogy turns out to be quite a fascinating experience—though, surprisingly, as much for their convergences in vision as for their divergences. Certainly, the stylistic differences are almost blindingly obvious: Burton the playfully macabre merry prankster, Nolan the deeply serious philosopher. And yet, both visions unmistakably flow from the same unsettling bedrocks: a world drowning in moral rot, one in which a self-appointed hero who takes the form of a human bat is, at heart, as deeply disturbed as the more overtly screwed-up villains he takes it upon himself to defeat. It’s just that these two artists view these characters and this physical and emotional world through different lenses.

The contrast is immediately apparent in the music. In stark contrast to James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer’s loudly generic bombast for the Nolan films, Burton opens his Batman with the operatic strains of Danny Elfman’s full-orchestra heroism, slyly suggesting the unabashedly heroic way Batman sees himself. After its opening-credit sequence, during which Roger Pratt’s camera roams around what is eventually revealed to be a metal Bat-Signal, Burton establishes his vision of Gotham City: an unabashedly surreal environment that owes more to the dystopian sci-fi visions of Metropolis and Blade Runner than to any of the notions of noir-ish realism that underpins Nolan’s films. Then there are the differing acting styles, with Burton’s actors generally eschewing the internal brooding that Nolan’s performers exhibit in favor of archetypal broadness. This style doesn’t just extend to Jack Nicholson’s galvanizing hamminess as the Joker, but also trickles down to its supporting players (William Hootkins’s wearily deep-voiced Lt. Eckhardt, Robert Wuhl’s enthusiastically pushy journalist, and so on).

That RoboCop Trailer and the Folly of Paul Verhoeven Remakes

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That <em>RoboCop</em> Trailer and the Folly of Paul Verhoeven Remakes
That <em>RoboCop</em> Trailer and the Folly of Paul Verhoeven Remakes

Even amid the troubling trend of remaking films that have barely collected a speck of dust, there are still movies that can surprise you. I know quite a few colleagues who were plenty keen on last year’s Dredd, a cohesive reimagining (or whatever) of the character whose first screen outing was an ill-fated, 1990s Stallone vehicle. Most often, however, in recent times, these remakes reek of desperation—evidence of Hollywood’s tendon-stretching reach for anything remotely tied to a known, sellable brand. Yesterday, the trailer for the RoboCop remake hit the web, and anyone born after 1995 probably didn’t even flinch. “Oh, look—there’s Samuel L. Jackson, that guy from The Avengers. And there’s some robot with a gun who kinda looks like a Transformer.” Following Len Wiseman’s banal-as-bathwater take on Total Recall, the new RoboCop (set for release on Feb. 7, 2014) will mark the second re-telling—I’m running out of “re” words here—of a Paul Verhoeven movie in as little as two years. By all evidence, these two films stand as testaments to the hollowness of mainstream cinema’s brand regurgitation, as their inspirations didn’t necessarily gain notoriety for their concepts, but for their director’s knowing, satirical, just-north-of-B-movie sensibilities.