Posts Tagged ‘Neil Patrick Harris’

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I’m going to proceed with a fair degree of  caution as I write this, and you should probably do the same while reading it, because I’m about to level a pretty serious charge at a film I generally liked, and try to avoid too much by way of “spoilers” while doing so, even though it’s a pretty safe bet that almost anyone who’s interested in seeing David Fincher’s highly-acclaimed Gone Girl has probably already done so. Why the tip-toeing, then? Well —  call it a courtesy simply because, hey, not everyone has seen it yet, as evidenced by the fact that I just caught it at the local discount house (the Riverview in Minneapolis, for those interested in such details) tonight and the joynt was packed to the rafters.

First, the good : Fincher is certainly in top form stylistically here, and handles both his actors, and his admittedly combustible subject matter, with the deft touch of a skilled and schooled veteran. He doesn’t go overboard on the “flashy” stuff as he did in his generally failed take on The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and he shows a previously-undisclosed penchant for handling humorous material (parts of this film are actually very funny) with a degrees of subtlety and sympathy that you never would have guessed at based on his work on, say, Se7en or Zodiac (no offense to either of those modern crime masterpieces, but let’s face it — one thing they most assuredly lacked was any sort of comic relief, and for good reason). The “how he goes about his job” is most definitely not in question here — but the nature of said job certainly is.

As for the cast, Affleck has rarely (if ever) been better, Rosamund Pike delivers a performance that should finally get her on the Hollywood “A”-list, and some eyebrow-raising choices that Fincher has made, most notably in casting Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry, pay off big-time, especially in Perry’s case, who proves once and for all that when he’s given good material — my polite way of saying “stuff he didn’t write himself” — he can really hit the mark.

But ya know what? For all that, I feel more than just a bit guilty for liking Gone Girl  as much as I did for one simple reason : it’s the most blatantly , nakedly, and unapologetically misogynistic flick to come down the Hollywood pipeline in ages and makes notoriously anti-woman fare like, say, any “slasher” horror franchise, seem positively  tame in comparison.

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Yeah, I know — I actually like most “slasher” flicks, so who am I to cast stones, right? The key distinction, though, is that there’s no pretense involved there — you know exactly what you’re getting into, and I admit : I’m capable of locking my conscience away in a strong box and going along for the ride when it comes to indulging my way-too-numerous-to-mention cinematic guilty pleasures. Gone Girl, on the other hand, is a film buried under layers of “importance” and “respectability” — the self-appointed arbiters have taste seemingly all judged it to be an “important” movie, one with a “message.” Unfortunately, that message is : women are deceitful, calculating shrews who will do anything to twist and shape a man into exactly what they want them to be and then trap them, via marriage and pregnancy, into mundane, emasculated existences that they never asked for and certainly don’t deserve. They’re heartless ball-busters, I tell ya, the lot of ’em.

“But wait,” I hear you say, “isn’t this movie all about a guy who may or may not have murdered his wife?” Sure it is — for a time. And here’s where that whole avoiding “spoilers” thing gets tricky : yes, for about the first half of the film, that’s definitely the “big question.” But once Fincher resolves the issue of whether or not Nick Dunne murdered his wife, Amy, the whole enterprise takes a massive 180 that’s definitely exciting from a purely narrative standpoint, but more than a bit nauseating from a psychological and sociological one. Sure, Nick’s a rotten husband — he’s inattentive, self-absorbed, and is even carrying on an affair with one of his students behind his wife’s back, but the clear editorial viewpoint taken Fincher and screenwriter Gillian Flynn (who also wrote the novel on which said screenplay is based) is — the bitch had it coming.

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Scene after scene (much of this films is told via flashbacks) shows Amy to be a calculated schemer, a petty and resentful nag, an ambitious social climber, a sociopathic puller on the heartstrings of several men, an inveterate liar, an accomplished con artist, and a remorseless manipulator. Sure, her old man’s a bastard, but as any good crisis manager will tell you, the best way to control the public’s perception of a situation is to “get out in front of the problem” early on, and then rebuild your image and credibility later. The phrase “own it” is generally PR shorthand for “pretend to take responsibility so people will buy your excuses later,” and that’s precisely what Fincher and Flynn do here : they show all of Nick’s flaws first, so that we can forgive him for being such a dickhead once we learn that his “long-suffering wife” is anything but. It provides for a nifty and unexpected plot twist, to be sure, but it’s all in service of a toxic as hell message.

Whether or not Nick is actually guilty is a revelation — shit, the revelation — I’m taking such pains (it hurts, dear friends, it hurts!) not to give away here, but  I can safely say this much : once the fact of his innocence or guilt has been established, he becomes the victim of the story all the way.

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To be honest, the only reason I think Gone Girl isn’t being more thoroughly raked over the coals for its obvious (and frankly sick) biases is because Flynn is a woman herself, but that’s no excuse — I don’t recall anyone giving anti-female crusaders like, say, Phylis Schlafly a free pass just because her gender matches the same one she’s trying her damndest to oppress, and by the time Flynn ends her story on a “maybe the two of them deserve (or deserved — again, don’t want to give anything too crucial away here) each other” note, the damage has been done. Women — particularly educated, self-actualized, strong-willed women like Amy — are dangerous. They exist only to slowly wear men  down and those magical days of early courtship? Guys, don’t buy it — she’s just buttering you up for the ultimate defeat that is domesticated family life.

In the world according to David Fincher and Gillian Flynn, anything a guy has to do in order to escape that is perfectly acceptable. It doesn’t even matter whether Nick Dunne killed his wife or not — she had been killing him for years, and  hey,if he did what everyone thinks he did, then he was just fighting back.  After all, men gotta do what men gotta do, right?

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If you’ve not been keeping up with DC comics on a month-to-month basis lately — and I can’t say I’d blame anyone for that given the hopelessly derivative, editorially-fucked-with-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life state of most of their output — you may not be aware that Robin recently died. Again.

I know, I know — it’s getting to be old hat by now, isn’t it? At least the Batman of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight had the decency to put his cowl in mothballs for awhile after getting one of his teen sidekicks killed, but in the DC universe proper, he just seems to keep on going no matter how often he reverses the typical “worms are food for robins” course of nature. To make matters even more grim/depressing/tasteless, the latest Robin to be violently ushered out the side door was Bruce Wayne’s own son, Damian, and he was killed by his mother, Talia al Ghul. Couldn’t they have all just gone on Jerry Springer and tried to work out their differences in at least a somewhat less deadly or embarrassing fashion?

Obviously, as is usually the case in comics these days, this latest Robin death is, blatantly and on its surface, little more than a crass ploy to generate extra sales for the army of Bat-books cluttering up the racks — but believe it or not, in that regard it still has a long way to go to match the brazen commercial pandering and expiloitive, “we’ll kill any character for a buck” crudeness of the first  Robin death, back in 1988.  Ya see, that was the time,  as you may have heard (if you weren’t following along yourself), when DC decided to bump him off based on the results of a fucking telephone survey.

You only think I’m kidding, but I’m not — The Joker rigged a an bomb at a warehouse with Robin bound and gagged inside, the building went “boom!,’ and readers were instructed to call one of two 1-800 numbers (at a cost of 75 cents a pop) to register their “Live or die” choice, then come back next month and find out which option won out (this morbid trope was wonderfully spoofed by Rick Veitch in his seminal deconstruction of the entire “teen sidekick” phenomenon, Brat Pack).

Without lingering too long on the disturbing implications of a bound-and-gagged teenage boy in tights being abused by a man with a face full of makeup (all this is a Code-approved book, no less), let’s just consider what it says about a comic book publisher that they’re willing to kill kids in their stories to bump up sales, and what it says about comic book fans that more of us voted to see Robin get bumped off than have Batman save the day. I’d say the message is clear : publishers are cynical, manipulative, and utterly without conscience, and readers are sadistic bastards. No wonder mainstream comics are in what basically amounts to a two-decade-old death spiral.

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Still, if you know DC and Marvel, you know that no death lasts forever, and it was only going to be a matter of time before Jason Todd (who was, in actuality, the second Robin, the first being Dick Grayson, who miraculously-in-retrospect survived the job and went on to be a proper superhero in his own right, operating under the handle of Nightwing) somehow turned up again — the only surprise is that it took almost 20 years for his “resurrection” to happen.

For the better part of 2005, and a pretty good chunk of 2006, several of the monthly Bat-titles were consumed with a seemingly endless storyline by writer (and former contest on MTV’s The Real World) Judd Winick, and illustrated by a bevy of artists (most notably Doug Mahnke, co-creator of Dark Horse’s The Mask) that detailed the apparent return of a one-time super-criminal named The Red Hood (who was actually, in his former incarnations, a collection of several different hoodlums, one of whom was none other than The Joker himself back when he was, relatively speaking, “more human” — but that’s another story for another time), who was keeping himself busy by screwing up the operations of a Gotham City crime boss known as The Black Mack (so called because, well — he wears a black mask).

This wasn’t a bad story, even if it dragged on for waaaaaay too long, but it was hardly an all-time classic, either. Most of the investigations into Red Hood’s “secret identity” undertaken by Batman and Nightwing (who plays a big part in the proceedings) were go-nowhere run-arounds and it was fairly evident fairly early on that this latest Red Hood was, in fact, Jason Todd.  The only question was — how the hell did he survive? The answer was pretty uninspired — Ra’s al Ghul utilized one of the infamous “Lazarus Pits” that give him immortality (or close enough to it) to resurrect the freshly-dead youngster, and Jason ends up going on to form his own sorta-super-team called, blandly enough, The Outlaws. Which, I guess means that the second Robin is now a zombie. At least technically speaking, But whatever.

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When Warner Premiere released its direct-to-video animated version of Batman : Under The Red Hood in 2010, it’s fair to say I wasn’t expecting much beyond a reasonably competent little run-around, but truth be told, truncating this tale down to a manageable 75 minutes actually makes it a much stronger and more effective story, and while any “surprise” as to who is, indeed, “under the red hood” is lost, it’s really no big deal since, as mentioned, it was never that “shocking” a “revelation” anyway. Perfect voice casting helps — Bruce Greenwood is one of the better actors to give Batman’s vocal cords a go, Jensen Ackles is flat-out superb as Red Hood/Jason Todd, John DiMaggio is a terrific Joker, Jason Isaccs is suitably dour as Ra’s al Ghul, Wade Williams is obviously having a blast as Black Mask, and Neil Patrick Harris is a more or less perfect choice to deliver Nightwing’s lines — but all in all it’s the smart work done by director Brandon Vietti and Winick, who adapts his own story for the (small) screen here, that turns a decent multi-part comics story into an excellent (and concise) animated adventure yarn.

Going in with suitably low expectations probably leaves me feeling more generous about the quality of the finished product here as well, I suppose, but honestly, this is pretty good stuff, and while the more grim aspects of the story aren’t glossed over, they’re not celebrated in agonizing detail, either, as is too often the case with many of Batman’s “darker” storylines of recent vintage.

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As is the case with Batman : Year One, there are no less than three different home viewing options out there for the discerning viewer who wants to give Under The Red Hood a go : standard, single-disc DVD; single-disc Blu-Ray; and two-disc “special edition” DVD. All three feature extremely-well-done widescreen picture and 5.1 sound and come with a rather uninspiring Jonah Hex short (remember when it looked like he might be DC’s next “hot property”?) as well as some promo spots for other DC Universe titles, while the Blu-Ray and “special edition” DVD packages also include a behind-the-scenes featurette on the making of this story in both its print and animated versions and a selection of four cartoons from various iterations of the Batman animated TV series that have at least some bearing on the lead feature here.

At the end of the day, then,  Batman : Under The Red Hood is far from the out-and-out classic that either Year One or The Dark Knight Returns are, but it’s a solid-enough little piece of modern superhero storytelling that treads the fine line between being “heavy” and “too heavy for its own good” more or less successfully, and greatly benefits from having a lot of its fat cut for this abridged animated retelling. I got a kick out of it, and if you have any love for/interest in these characters, chances are that you will, too.