Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Dark Knight

(Fanboy mode on) WOW! (Fanboy mode off :-)

Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is amazing. It balances the requisite action-adventure set pieces with a script that delves into the thin lines between heroism and villainy, between chaos and order, between the evil that men do because they can and the evil that men might do in the name of justice or for the sake of survival.

It’s atmospheric (it’s Gotham City after all), explosive and kinetic, fast-paced (despite its 2+ hour running time), brooding, brutal, and, yes, unabashedly over-the-top (we’ve had the discussion about the inherent preposterous in super-hero movies in this space before so I won’t bore you with it again.)

Christian Bale’s Batman is much more seasoned than he was in Batman Begins…he’s also more conflicted as his caped alter ego threatens to subsume his life; he’s also afraid that Batman may be the catalyst for as much madness as he is for goodness. Bale is great (especially when he puts on the Batman “growl” when he’s in the cape and cowl.)

The late Heath Ledger gives a bravura performance as the Joker. Where Jack Nicholson’s Joker did crazy with an impish wink, Ledger’s Joker is a full-on nihilist, a rampaging id bent on nothing less than creating as much chaos as possible. Ledger’s Joker is frightening, unpredictable, wily, disturbing, and mysterious (he gives a couple of different explanations of his origin along the way.)

Gary Oldman has some really nice moments as the conflicted Police Lt. Gordon and the other returning old pros…Michael Caine as the acerbic Alfred and Morgan Freeman as the wise Lucius Fox…also shine in their moments. Aaron Eckhart gets to display a wide range of emotions in his role of crusading District Attorney Harvey Dent (comic book fans will probably know where he’s headed and the movie goes there full on) and Maggie Gyllenhaal steps ably into the role of assistant DA Rachel Dawes (taking over the role from Katie Holmes who played the character in Begins.)

The Dark Knight tickled this fanboy’s jaded heart with an ending that, almost as a matter of course, leaves the door wide open for yet another sequel. Bring it on.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Two Men with the Blues

Two musical titans…the amazing Wynton Marsalis and Willie Nelson, one of the coolest guys on the planet…came together last year with a crack band (including Nelson’s ace harmonica player Mickey Raphael, drummer Ali Jackson, bassist Carlos Henriquez, pianist Dan Nimmer, and saxophonist Walter Blanding), a handful of standards, and a playful, laidback vibe to produce the delightful music that fills this fine, fine CD.

Recorded live at the home of Jazz at the Lincoln Center in New York over two nights the principals are all relaxed but totally in the groove…Marsalis swings with such casual authority that it is almost breathtaking and Nelson’s mellow vocal phrasing and his fluid guitar lines fit the jazzy/bluesy music to a tee.

Kicking off with a sprightly take on Jimmy Reed’s “Bright Light, Big City”, the 10 tracks include songs written by Nelson…a very fine “Night Life” and a tasty romp through “Rainy Day Blues”…along with standards Willie is well acquainted with…delicate readings of “Georgia on my Mind” and “Stardust”…along with other classic tunes…including rousing versions of “Basin Street Blues” and “Caldonia”.

Wynton even takes vocal turns on infectious “My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It” and a stately stroll through the Fats Waller chestnut “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” (featuring fine solos by Nelson, Marsalis, and Blanding.)

The disc ends with a sly, gospel tinged version of Merle Travis’ “That’s All” (which features an enthusiastic drum solo by Jackson.)

Two Men with the Blues is easy as Sunday morning and as cool as the other side of the pillow (thanks, Mr. Scott :-)…and I hope Wynton and Willie get together to do it again sometime.

Friday, July 04, 2008


Hancock requires a lot of leaps of faith…it is a super-hero movie after all. I’ve read comic books most of my life so I didn’t have a problem suspending disbelief where and when necessary while enjoying the movie. And enjoy it I did…Hancock is a kinetic, funny, violent, occasionally quite touching action-adventure thrill ride of a movie.

Hancock, as played by Will Smith (in fine form), is a hard-drinking, disagreeable, amnesiac superman who causes millions of dollars of damage as he fights crime and saves lives in Los Angeles. The people of Los Angeles revile the unkempt, foul-tempered super-hero until he’s taken under the wing of Ray, an idealistic PR man (Jason Bateman, whose solid performance gives us the emotional anchor of the film.) Ray’s wife (Charlize Theron, both radiant and mysterious) is wary of her husband’s involvement with Hancock for reasons that become clear as the movie unfolds.

The early lighter hearted scenes are starkly contrasted with the darker tone the movie shifts into during the second half. There is, speaking of suspending disbelief, a plot twist about two-thirds of the way through that will test the patience of some (I’ve read some reviews griping about it) but I didn’t have a problem with it at all (there’s that super-hero comic book experience coming into play again :-)

Hancock (see trailer below) is a briskly paced (it runs a pretty taut hour and a half or so), exciting, emotionally-engaging and occasionally preposterous (what super-hero movie isn’t?) entertainment that holds your attention (most thanks to the performances of the three leads) from its jokey beginning to its brutal (but still hopeful) climax. Simply said, it’s fun.