Archive for October, 2016

I know that Halloween is practically over, but you have to write when the Muse is with you, so I’m posting this now.

I’m about to admit something that I haven’t admitted to anyone in years, but here goes: I walked out of Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before ChristmasIt almost pains me to admit it now, but also, it was 1993, and I was a cynical high school junior. My friend Brian and I bought a ticket to see it, not really knowing what it was about, but we liked the first two Batman movies enough (and I always had a soft spot for The Fox & The Hound) to see the name Tim Burton and figured it was worth a try. Then there was singing, and we walked out and went into Sylvester Stallone’s Demolition Man instead. And after that we snuck into Judgment Night, starring Emilio Estevez and Denis Leary. Yes, high school juniors. I am unbelievably, retroactively ashamed.

The years, however, have been very kind to this movie. Not only have I gained a great appreciation for Danny Elfman’s music (who also sang the Jack Skellington parts), but thinking about the lost art of stop-animation, which was how this entire movie was made, it’s amazing that people don’t laud this movie even more. Even with all the CGI now, which is cheaper but still doesn’t look as real, The Nightmare Before Christmas holds up extremely well. Certainly better than Demolition Man.

The story is a simple one. Burton was always a fan of those classic Christmas cartoons, but because he was also an obvious fan of the macabre, he asked himself, “What if there was a Halloween version of the Christmas villages and Whoville and what-not?” And so began the story of Jack Skellington, the man about Halloweentown, and the Bone Daddy who plans the Halloween celebration there every year. The only problem is Jack is getting a little bored with the same old Halloween stuff year after year. By sheer luck he stumbles one night into Christmastown, and discovers that there is a holiday where people don’t try to scare each other, but exchange gifts, instead. Jack is swept up in the idea of Christmas, but doesn’t quite grasp the spirit. He tells his fellow townsfolk about his findings, but they don’t grasp it, either.xmas

While agonizing over the spirit of Christmas, Jack builds a sleigh, reanimates some reindeer and decides to have Santa Claus (but since he’s the King of Halloween, he think it’s pronounced “Sandy Claws.) kidnapped, telling him that he can take the night off and Jack will bring presents to all the girls and boys. The real issue (besides kidnapping Santa), is that  Jack had asked everyone in Halloweentown to make the Christmas presents that he wants to give out and, well, they just don’t have the knack:


The other issue is that Santa has been taken by the arch-villain of the movie (re-kidnapped?), the evil Oogie-Boogie, who appears to be nothing more than a burlap sack of bugs. Sally, a bride of Frankenstein-esque doll with the hots for Jack attempts to rescue him, but is also taken hostage, so jack must rescue them both. He does, rather easily, as he really only had to pull a loose string on Oogie and he came apart, literally, at the seams. As Jack is worried that Santa can’t complete his run and he has now ruined Christmas, Santa shows him the true meaning of the holiday by telling him that it ain’t just about the presents. So whether he finishes or not, Christmas will come. Of course, he will do it, because he’s Santa and he’s awesome. Also, Jack realizes that Sally is pretty cool, and that he is actually the Halloween guy, and he should stick to what he knows, which is scaring people.tumblr_mubkfcxgfl1rrhs85o1_500

You can look past the simple plot when you think about how long it must have taken to complete this movie, as the stop-animation wizards would sometimes get mere seconds of the movie filmed in a day. For the uninitiated, a film camera shoots at 24 frames per second, meaning that they animators had to simulate that by physically moving a model of the characters in the tiniest ways and take a picture of them, twenty-four times just for one second of the movie. It’s a wonder that the movie isn’t ten seconds long. You really have to admire the work that went int it, even if you’re the type of person who would walk out of the theater during the first few minutes.

One of the reasons this movie holds up, however, isn’t even the movie-making magic that is taking place, but the themes, and the age-old question, “Is it a Halloween movie or is it a Christmas movie?” At least, it’s an age-old question in my apartment. It definitely has the creepy, crawly characters that you find in most Tim Burton movie. But it also shows Jack discovering the true meaning of Christmas, like a lot of Christmas movies. And it’s because of this duality, because it works as both, that the movie stands the test of time. So watch it whenever you want. Whether you’re young or old, high school junior of grumpy old man. To admire the craftsmanship or enjoy the music or the simple holiday story, there’s really no other movie like it.


With all the Suicide Squad talk  that was floating around about what was cut and why, I thought it might be a good time to turn back the clock to a time when Warner Brothers actually made good comic book movies.

Maybe “good” is too light a word. And I honestly think that “comic book movie” pigeonholes this movie into a genre that immediately screams “low expectations.” I’m going to say right here for the record that Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is one of my favorite movies of all-time. Not comic book movie, or movie that involves homicidal clowns. Just in general. Take every movie that I have ever seen in my 40 years of living, and this is probably top

But is it? Does it still hold up in the wake of all the other blunders put out by Warner Brothers since? Or does it just shine brighter because those were so bad? Let’s find out.

After the events of Batman Begins, Gotham City has seen the crime rate drop, as criminals cower in fear when they see that signal light up the night sky. They also have a new District Attorney, Harvey Dent, who has vowed to put the mob out of business. Between Dent, Batman and Lt. James Gordon, crooks are on the run.

However, Batman has also brought out a little crazy in Gotham. One man in particular was so inspired that he decides to start painting his face like a clown and leave a Joker playing card at the scene of all his crimes. But the real crazy part of his M.O.? He’s robbing from the mob! This “Joker” then has the guts to crash one of their big boss meetings and tell them that, for enough dough (whatever he hasn’t stolen already), he’ll kill Batman for them. After Dent and Batman put the squeeze on the mob’s money launderer, they agree and hire the clown. And the dance begins.

Because this Joker is a lot more devious than Jared Leto’s (at least, the few minutes we saw of Jared Leto’s), he publicly dares Batman to unmask and show the world who he is, or he’s going to murder someone each day until he does. He then proceeds to blow up a judge that was scheduled to preside over the mob guys’ trial, poison the police commish, and then he tries to whack Dent (all in one night!), only to be thwarted by Batman. That encounter, however, only serves to heighten Joker’s obsession.

Because he knows that Batman can’t give in and reveal his identity, Dent tells the world that he is the Caped Crusader, and is locked up for vigilantism. During his transport to prison, Joker and his men attack, but the real Batman comes to the rescue, and they catch and arrest the Joker. Of course, this isn’t Cesar Romero’s Joker here, so it is revealed that both Dent and his fiancee’, Rachel Dawes (who also happens to be the love of Bruce Wayne’s life), have been kidnapped by Joker’s men while he was sitting in a cell.

This leads to the amazing interrogation scene between Batman and Joker, where Batman tries to get him to reveal their location, and Joker tries to break Batman down into a murdering psychopath like him. Joker finally tells him where they are, but knowing that Bats really will want to save Rachel, he lies and switches the locations, because there won’t be enough time to save them both. Oh, did I mention they are strapped to gallons of gas, set to blow? Not even Jack Nicholson’s version would have been that conniving. Probably.

Batman arrives at the spot that he thought Rachel would be held at, only to find Dent. He pulls him to relative safety and Dent survives the explosion, only half of his face was coated with gasoline and is severely scarred. Rachel Dawes wasn’t that lucky, and she is blown to bits in spectacular fashion, to the horror of Bruce Wayne, but the delight of movie audiences everywhere. (In case anyone forgot, Katie Holmes played Rachel Dawes in Batman Begins, but was so reviled that she was replaced by Maggie Gyllenhall in this one. Too late, it seems, because even though the actress was an improvement, people seemed to really hate Rachel Dawes no matter who was playing her.)

While Batman and the Gotham Police are rescuing people (badly), Joker easily escapes, not only blowing up the entire Major Crimes Unit, but also absconding with the mob’s money man, who gives him the all their cash. Joker then burns him alive, on top of the giant pile of mob money, because as the Joker himself puts it, “It’s not about money. It’s about sending a message.”


Joker then tells the people of Gotham that he’s going to blow up a hospital, but again that is just a smokescreen to kidnap a bunch of people, and have a little conversation with Harvey Dent about chaos theory. Harvey, who is already pretty broken anyway, realizes that Joker’s advice to “introduce a little anarchy” is dead-on, and begins his own life of crime, using a flip of the coin to decide if his potential victim lives or dies.

Meanwhile, Joker stages his final battle with Batman, using the kidnapped hospital folks, and two boats as his staging ground. One boat is filled with the worst kind of prisoners, while the other holds regular citizens, and Joker gives each boat a detonator, asking them to choose which one should be blown up. Because there has to be some happiness in this movie, the prisoners surprisingly refuse to blow up the regular citizens, and the regular citizens also decide to spare the prisoners. It illustrates the philosophical difference between Batman and The Joker as far as the film goes, but let’s face it, if this were real life, I’m betting both of those boats would have been blown to smithereens in seconds.

Joker has also dressed all the kidnapped doctors up as his clown-faced minions, and dressed his minions up as the kidnapped hospital workers, hoping that the police will fire on the wrong people. A good plan until Batman sticks his nose in, rescuing everybody. In the end, Batman does best the Joker in single combat, but that is to be expected. Joker doesn’t even seem to mind, really, because he has already won the war by corrupting  Gotham’s “White Knight,” Harvey Dent. Batman ends up confronting Dent and Dent is killed. Since no one but he and Gordon knew that Harvey had gone bad, and a murdering D.A. would have meant all those mobsters would have been set free, Batman nobly takes the heat for Dent’s death and is declared public enemy number one.

Wow, a lot happens in this movie. I probably could have glossed over some of those details and just said “Batman and Joker fight and Batman wins in the end. Yay!” But would that really have covered all the bases? There’s a lot of underlying stuff here, between Batman’s moral ambiguity and Joker’s revelation that Batman and criminals he fights aren’t all that different. During the interrogation scene, Joker rightly points out that Bats let five people die before Dent came forward and took his place, which he also allowed to happen. That’s the hero that Gotham deserves?

There’s also the whole Harvey Dent-Rachel Dawes-Bruce Wayne love triangle, which interestingly sees her choose the guy that isn’t Batman (just before her demise, but she did choose him), who also isn’t a complete scumbag. That is usually the case in Hollywood blockbusters, right? The new boyfriend of the hero’s ex is always a total jerk. Oddly enough, until the end, when he goes on a bit of a killing spree, Harvey Dent isn’t bad at all. He’s kind of the only guy in the movie that doesn’t have a bad streak in him. Even Jim Gordon is working with cops that he knows are corrupt, since that’s pretty much all there is in this city.

But what I really would like to get into is Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning Joker, what some call the role that killed him. Please don’t think that I am making light of that terrible tragedy. But some do speculate that his dedication to the role at least partly contributed to him losing sleep, which lead to him upping his medication dose, and so on. But what was it about this Joker that lead him to that gruesome fate, while Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Jared Leto, and even Mark Hamill, are able to laugh through it and move on?

Because this guy was crazy!


Obviously, Jack was comic book villain crazy, and I’m not saying that he didn’t bring his own Nicholson-ness to the role, and blaze a trail for all future Jokers. And maybe Romero had his impact as well, although probably more in a “Don’t be like him” way. And Mark Hamill is an awesome Joker on the animated series, but it is animated, and I don’t think he’s really allowed to go full homicidal with that character. But Ledger? His Joker was nuts!

Or maybe not. Maybe he was brilliant. Despite what he tells Dent in the hospital scene about not having plans, claiming that he’s like s dog who chases cars, Joker does seem to have a few good ideas. He steals money from the mob, which only serves to wake the cops up to them so they can throw them in jail. He then takes out a couple mobsters for good measure. He also tries to get his “frenemy” Batman into the game by asking him to reveal who he is. And then he converts Dent into the fold. As he says,”introduce a little anarchy… and everything becomes chaos.” And the best part? Chaos is fair. Did I mention that he’s wearing a nurse uniform while he’s saying all this? Maybe he is a bit off.

In the end, most of the mobsters are either dead or in jail, and the corrupt cops are all pretty much out of the picture, too. Harvey Dent is gone, and Batman goes into hiding for the next 8 years. As this redditor puts it, Joker is actually the protagonist of the movie. I don’t know about that, but he definitely restores balance to The Force, so to speak.

It’s been eights years since this movie came out, and we’ve seen a lot in that time. Even a new Joker and Batman. This new Joker acts a lot like the previous one, just with a few more tattoos, but he doesn’t really have any cool ideas, or theories on chaos, or anything to do with anything except he laughs and wears purple. And the new Batman? He’s just kinda old. But when I watched The Dark Knight again recently, I realized that we didn’t need those new ones, because these 2008 versions hold up just fine. In fact, I started thinking about the current state of the world. I thought about the corporate bigwigs that The Joker would probably call “schemers.” I thought about the current political climate, and the upcoming election, and how maybe someone needs to introduce a little anarchy into that (although, I wouldn’t call Trump a “schemer,” since he doesn’t seem to have any plans at all.) I’m certainly not abdicating violence, but maybe a little chaos wouldn’t be so bad right now. The Joker was right about one thing: chaos is fair, because, good or bad, we all get treated the same.