Get Popped: The Dark Knight 10 Year Anniversary Retrospective Bonus Bananza Extravaganza

I was invited onto a recent Get Popped podcast to discuss the tenth anniversary of The Dark Knight‘s premier on July 18, 2008. We cover the movie’s impact on us as well as our perceptions of its ongoing legacy, we dish out some hot and not-so-hot takes, and we talk about Spider-Man more than we should on a Batman podcast.

For more Batman-related content, please check out our Batman department.

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Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Directed by Kevin Reynolds

 

Many years from now, when my children’s children ask me what movie I last saw Alan Rickman act in before he died, I’m gonna have to say this one.

Rickman was always great at playing the villain, but even a bad guy’s gotta have fun once in a while. His portrayal of the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves borders on the absurd, a quality shared by many of the characters in this film. The cheerful tone and groan-inducing jokes make it easy to role your eyes at this movie, but overall I’d say it’s held up pretty well over the last quarter of a century.

Robin Hood starts out with Robin of Locksley (Kevin Costner) and Azeem (Morgan Freeman) fighting baddies in Jerusalem and returning to England from the crusades. Azeem is a Moor who owes Robin a debt because Robin saved his life, which means now he gets to put up with xenophobia from a bunch of drunk white people. Azeem accompanies Robin back to his home, which has been burned to the ground. His father was hanged for practicing witchcraft or summat. Out of the shambles stumbles Duncan, who’s had his eyes gouged out for his loyalty. Robin spends the rest of the movie supplying Duncan with meaningless tasks so that he can feel useful.

The proprietor of this blog compared the acting in the beginning of this movie to a screen test: the characters come off as experimental, containing too much of the actors themselves. It gets better as it goes along, although Kevin Costner tried about as hard at his British accent as I tried on my statistics final in college. It seems he remembered only sporadically what was being asked of him.

(By the way, Morgan Freeman’s freckles are on fleek in this movie. I heard rumblings that he shared a makeup artist with Pippi Longstocking.)

morgan freeman

Next we meet Marian. I was impressed by the director’s progressive choice to cast a typically unattractive woman in such a prominent role… until this woman is revealed to be Sarah, Marian’s handmaiden, who is impersonating her mistress so that the real, hot Marian can sneak up behind Robin and attack him. You may remember that women are not as physically strong as men, so a little subterfuge was necessary to level the playing field. Moving on.

Essentially, it is revealed that the Sheriff has been abusing his power since King Richard left for the crusades; the Sheriff has the hots for Marian; and the Sheriff doesn’t know what ‘no’ means. The whole movie he’s commanding women—saying things like, “My room, 10:45, bring a friend!”—and it’s very unclear how much consent is involved.

While the Sheriff is busy molesting ladies-in-waiting, Robin meets up with the Lost Boys. Initially they tease him for being rich, but eventually Robin proves he can chill, so they accept him and let his Muslim friend come, too. By uniting against a common enemy, taxes, Robin and his new friends set out to make Nottingham great again. They build an Ewok village to help train and defend themselves against the Sheriff’s forces. Robin and Marian share a romantic evening. There’s a birth scene. Unfortunately, all that comes crashing down when Duncan inadvertently leads the enemy to their secret fort, resulting in flames.

Many of the gang are kidnapped, including Marian. Things get very tense because a bunch of people are on the gallows waiting to be hanged. I was really hoping that everyone would break out into “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” here, but that never happened. Maybe reading this before you watch the movie can help save you from some disappointment.

A battle ensues, and it is revealed that all of that archery training has come in handy. Robin and Azeem make it into the castle where Marian is being held. Rickman’s status of rapist versus demanding polyamor is ultimately clarified in the final fight scene, wherein he tries to force himself on Marian while a priest standing ten feet away reads out wedding vows. I think we all can agree that the 12th century in England was a weird time.

Ultimately, Azeem fulfills his obligation to Robin by helping him defeat the Sheriff, and Marian escapes without forfeiting her value as a woman. Robin and Marian are married. “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” by Bryan Adams, which has been playing subtly on pan flute throughout the latter half of the movie, becomes impossible to ignore.

And then… Guess who shows up! JUST. FUCKING. GUESS.

007_winking

Although this movie is silly and at times feels dated, I thoroughly enjoyed it. There’s a wealth of quotable dialogue, and the actors are clearly having a good time. Rickman’s Sheriff is vain, ridiculous, and a lot of fun to watch. If for no other reason, watch it to enjoy an off-beat performance from a phenomenal actor who was taken from us far too soon.

This review is dedicated to the late, great Alan Rickman. Minimal thanks to the DC Public Library for providing a locked copy of the DVD.

Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates

by Tom Robbins

 

“Physical intimacy is only a device for opening the floodgates of what really matters: words.” – Andrei Codrescu

I got into Fierce Invalids because a friend of the family lent it to me last spring. I’m not sure what it is about this strange book that made Cody think I had to read it, but I’m glad he did nonetheless. I think I was too young to “get” Tom Robbins when I first read his work back in high school. It took me a long time to appreciate a simply beautiful phrase… and Fierce Invalids is full of them. I don’t think I’ve ever dog-eared, underlined, or read aloud more sentences in any novel than I did this one. Sorry Cody, I promise I’ll erase all my markings before I return it! I just had to keep track of some of the wonderfully worded witticisms and criticisms so that I could attempt to do them justice in my review.

Fierce Invalids follows a CIA former-operative, Switters, who has a great appreciation for words and speaks many languages. Fierce Invalids Home From Hot ClimatesHe is an independent, self-proclaimed “angel” who listens to none but his grandmother, Maestra. Our first adventure with Mr. Switters begins when he agrees to accompany Maestra’s pet parrot down to Boquichicos, Peru to be released into the wild. The trip goes awry when he meets a peculiar Shaman who places a taboo on Switters, confining him to a wheelchair.

When he returns to Seattle, his work with the CIA is put on hold, permanently. After several failed attempts to court is 16 year-old stepsister, he grows restless and bored, and 100 pages later ends up in Syria at a convent full of excommunicated French nuns. This is the most interesting part of the story, in my opinion. As a bond is formed between Switters and the “nuns”, there is a complexity revealed in the relationship between religion, sex, belief, and freedom. These nuns are chalk full of contradictions – almost as much so as Switters himself.

While the plot of Fierce Invalids is frivolous and absurd, it is the prose that sets Tom Robbins apart. Every sentence is strung together with such wonderful intention that I could (and did on several occasions) open the book up to any page, give 10 seconds of context and then dive in with a friend, reading out loud and basking together in the beauty of the English language. Each line is poetry, and I recommend reading Robbins for that fact alone. The quote that I chose to begin this post is one that Robbins quotes within the novel, and I think it sums up both the character of Switters and the writing of Robbins nicely. In the end, the action-packed plot is irrelevant when it is but a gateway to what lies underneath: the most beautiful verbiage.

Watchmen

by Alan Moore (illustrated by Dave Gibbons)

Watchmen 1986 - Chapter 1 CoverEvery once in a while, a book or movie or, in this case, comic, comes around and totally changes the game for all future books/movies/comics. In the comic book world, Watchmen (1986) is the best example of that. Watchmen is the wild brainchild of Alan Moore, who built a completely new world around the modern Superhero in this franchise. Ditching the hero vs. villain concept, Moore forces us to see a spectrum of morality in which heroes sometimes look and act like villains and villains sometimes look and act like heroes.

The premise is that superheroes are real – they just don’t have super powers. In the 1940s and 1960s, there forms a band of masked vigilantes known as the Minute Men. The game changes when a research physicist is exposed to a blast of radiation. He uses his immense brain and will power to bring his atoms back together and build himself a human-esque shape. Now able to transport himself through space and time, Jon (now the blue Dr. Manhattan), becomes the first true super human, leaving the rest of the world in a vulnerable state.

The nonlinear story is told with flashbacks and subplots throughout, sometimes in the same panel. The main plot takes place in 1985 New York City: The United States is on the brink of nuclear war with Russia, and vigilante crime-fighting is now illegal. Most of the Minute Men have retired, except for the two government-endorsed heroes, the Comedian and Dr. Manhattan, and one outlaw, Rorschach. The story begins as Rorschach discovers that the Comedian has been murdered. He believes that this, along with allegations against Dr. Manhattan, is evidence that someone is seeking to take down all past and present vigilantes. This becomes the main storyline: Rorschach seeks out the other Minute Men to share his suspicions and track down their shared enemy.

This is paralleled throughout the graphic novel through a kid who reads a comic, “Tales of the Black Freighter”, in which a sailor floats home on the backs of his dead crew to warn his town of approaching pirates. Let us pause and take a second to appreciate Alan Moore’s genius in this: the kid is reading pirate comics. In a world where superheroes are real, almost commonplace, kids read pirate comics instead of superhero comics – How clever! Anyway, as the unnamed kid reads Tales, the comic reflects events going on in the world around him. Meanwhile, there are several flashbacks in each chapter, explaining how and why the masked men (and women) took on their second persona, and how they all came together to fight crime.

In the end, what makes Watchmen so special is the psychology of Moore’s characters. Superheroes are, underneath it all, just human. They make choices, mistakes, sacrifices. They choose to compromise their morals, or not, in the face of dire circumstances. Despite immense power and influence, there are consequences. Ultimately it is unclear which character is morally superior. That is the brilliance of Alan Moore. He doesn’t tell you which character does the right thing. He has the characters ask the question, and allows the reader to decide for herself – what price should we pay to avoid war? Is the preservation of human life worth sacrificing our humanity?

Who watches the watchmen?

Timequake

by Kurt Vonnegut

 

Timequake (1997), the last novel that Vonnegut published (so it goes), is what I would classify as semi-autobiographical meta-fiction. The story is presented as if Vonnegut were re-writing a previously published work, dubbed Timequake One, in which on February 13, 2001, everyone is suddenly zapped back to February 17, 1991. The nature of this “timequake” is such that every person must relive each minute of each day exactly as they did the first time. This means that every mistake you made in 1993 the first time, you make again the second time, and though you are aware that it is a rerun, you are unable to alter your personal history. Essentially, free will is completely lost during those ten years.

Much of the novel is told through the mouth of Vonnegut’s alter-ego Kilgore Trout, an eccentric writer that has great ideas for stories, but has never had a successful writing career. TimequakeTrout is a fascinating character. To me, he is the epitome of human bleakness, or what I like to call the existentialist’s burden. He is not so bothered by the timequake, as he spends most of those ten years writing, and “rerun or not, he could tune out the crock of shit being alive was as long as he was scribbling”. Throughout the novel, Trout talks Vonnegut through his unorthodox views on human existence. For an example, read Trout’s explanation of the rapid spread of diseases such as AIDS (found here). My other favorite Trout-ism is his version of the Book of Genesis, but I’ll let you read the book to find that one.

Back to the plot. After the rerun ends (on February 13, 2001, Take 2), Kilgore Trout realizes without a shred of doubt what has happened. But as he begins to execute free will again, he also realizes that nobody else seems to have figured it out. Everyone has grown so accustomed to playing out a script that they do not know how to carry on after the timequake. Ting-a-ling. So he begins spreading the mantra “you’ve been sick, but now you’re well again, and there is work to do” to encourage people to grasp a hold of their lives again.

Trout, however, is not a huge fan of free will. This is exemplified when, at a writer’s clambake post-rerun, Vonnegut asks Trout his opinion on John Wilkes Booth. He responds that the murder of President Lincoln was “the sort of thing which is bound to happen whenever an actor creates his own material”.

There are a few moments in Timequake in which Vonnegut mentions that he is getting old, older than he ever expected to be. There are many side-stories culminating in last words — by characters in history or characters in Vonnegut’s life. My personal favorite is a fictitious account of Hitler’s final moments, in which he considers his options for last words. He ends up saying ” I never asked to be born in the first place”, then shoots himself.

I think Vonnegut knew this was going to be the last novel he published. I think this book is his way of making sure his readers grasp his philosophy on life, as though he wants to get his final two cents in. As he puts it, when thinking about writing, Vonnegut asks himself “why bother?”, to which he responds, “Many people need desperately to receive this message: ‘I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.'” He uses Kilgore Trout as a device through which to describe all of his eccentric and extremist views, to find comfort in determinism. He uses the last words of others to say goodbye to his life as a storyteller. He uses the clambake as a goodbye party, and Trout’s speech as an epitaph for himself, written by himself. Perhaps he is just “much too old and experienced to start playing Russian roulette with free will again.”

For any Vonnegut fan, Timequake is an absolute must-read; it is so unique and special. The premise of the blip in time followed by a ten year rerun is not fully formed, but I was very willing to look past that. Vonnegut’s fictional anecdotes (as well as some autobiographical ones) are enough to make this book well worth a read. His philosophy is presented so hilariously, and parts of this book would make great short stories. As important as this novel was for me, I think it would not appeal to anyone who is not already a fan of Kurt.

If this isn’t nice, what is?