Friday, 11 June 2010

Riddle Me This...

The script isn't even finished yet, but already rumours are circulating that the villain in the next Batman movie is set to be the Riddler, and that Joseph Gordon Levitt is in talks to play him. While this would be excellent casting if it were true (witness Levitt in the excellent Brick for proof, and factor in that he's just worked with Christopher Nolan on Inception, and the rumour does gain a certain level of credibility), is Riddler the best villain for the piece? With Two-Face dead, and Nolan stating that he's not willing to recast the part of the Joker after Heath Ledger's tragic death, some websites and magazines are saying that the pickings for the next Bat-bad guy are slim indeed. One article I read basically said it had to be Riddler, Mr. Freeze or the Penguin, and that's it. No other options. This is actually a pretty shortsighted point of view. Take the time to look at Batman's rogues gallery, and you realise that it's actually one of the richest in comics, giving the films writers a plethora of weird, bizarre and downright scary characters to pit the Dark Knight against. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that maybe only Spider-Man has a list of enemies to match Batman's. With this in mind, I'm going to run through a few ideas for the new movie. If any of these come true, well, I'm not saying I want credit, but just remember where Nolan got the idea in the first place!

Thought it best to start here, given the rumour that prompted this piece. When he first appeared in the pages of Detective Comics #140 in 1948, Riddler wasn't a big deal. A second tier bad guy at best, it wasn't until his appearances in the sixties TV show, played by Frank Gorshin, that Riddler became one of Batman's most recognisable and popular foes. A criminal genius, Edward Nigma's compulsion to leave clues about his crimes in the form of riddles often lead to his defeat at the hands of Batman, making him a joke among the other criminals of Gotham City. Not even Batman took him particularly seriously, and he suddenly wasn't helped by the wildly over the top performance of Jim Carrey in Batman Forever. That is, until the Hush storyline, which ran through Batman #608 - #619 in 2002/2003, written by Jeph Loeb with art by Jim Lee. In Hush we were reminded how clever the Riddler actually is when he did something ver few others have managed to do before. He worked out Batman's secret identity. Suddenly, the Riddler was a major player again, and much more dangerous, despite his compulsion for riddles meaning he couldn't actually just come out and tell anyone that Bruce Wayne and Batman were the same person. Still, if they play up this clever, manipulative side of the character, then the Riddler could work very well in a new film.

While he may have started out as a waddling crook with a penchant for trick umbrellas, Penguin is these days played more as a major Gotham City crime boss, whose legitimate businesses are mere fronts for his more illegal activities. Both Burgess Meredith and Danny DeVito have played him wonderfully on screen before, but in both cases, there was an element of the buffoon about him. Okay, so DeVito was pretty creepy as well, but the strange Penguin man of the sewers isn't quite going to cut it in Nolan's Gotham. Instead, they should make Oswald Cobblepot into a dangerous and intelligent man with connections everywhere, and the money to buy off anyone. In the comics, he is Batman's Kingpin. In the films, he has the potential to be a character along the lines of Tony Soprano, and someone who could give Batman a serious challenge. And who looks like a penguin. But who to play him? I've been racking my brains on this one, and it's a tough part to cast. It's a bit out of left field, but how about Bob Hoskins? Hoskins has played a gangster before, managed to come across as menacing in Unleashed, and he can do a convincing American accent (see Who Framed Roger Rabbit?), but I think we can do better. Who do you see as Penguin?

Using Penguin, of course, still leaves some room to throw in a second bad guy, someone who can provide a more physical threat to Batman. Have Penguin hire someone like Killer Croc (maybe Rampage Jackson under prosthetics?), Deadshot (I'm thinking Tim Roth) or Lady Shiva (Michelle Yeoh, perhaps) to have a proper throwdown with Bats as well.

Forget the disastrous monstrosity that was Batman and Robin, and Arnold Schwarzenegger's worst performance ever. Mr. Freeze is, arguably, one of Batman's more sympathetic villains. Driven by a desire to cure his wife of a life threatening illness, he's actually a very tragic figure, warped by the accident which made him unable to survive in any temperatures above sub-zero. There have been some excellent comics featuring Mr. Freeze, as well as some of the best episodes of the numerous Batman animated series. However, he would be a very difficult fit indeed for Nolan's version of Batman, and it's highly unlikely we'll be seeing him on our cinema screens in the next few years. Of course, if Nolan were to prove me wrong, then he'd want to avoid casting someone like Schwarzenegger as a character who is, essentially, an armoured scientist. After playing the Green Goblin in Spider-Man, Willem DaFoe may seem a little obvious, but to me, he'd also be a natural fit for Mr. Freeze the way he should be done.

Very few villains have actually defeated Batman in the past. Some have come close, almost killing him numerous times, but actually beating him? That takes something special. And this brings us to Bane. Forget the lumbering henchman from Batman and Robin, Bane is intelligent, ruthless, and immensely strong. On his debut, he masterminded a plan which broke the Batman. Creating a massive jailbreak in Arkham Asylum, Bane unleashed all of Gotham's criminals on the city at once. In his quest to recapture them, Batman was drained to the point of exhaustion, both physically and mentally, leaving him ripe for a vicious beating at Bane's hands which left Bruce Wayne in a wheelchair with a broken back. When they met again, once Batman was fully healed and back at his peak, Bane came close to besting him again, and has continued to do so on numerous occasions. As clever and skilled as Batman, but stronger and with no morals holding him back, Bane would make an excellent on screen opponent for the Caped Crusader, so long as they stay close to the source material. As for casting, getting someone as large as Bane is in the comics would be difficult, but you do want to cast someone who can seem physically intimidating when compared to Batman. Michael Chiklis or Jeffrey Dean Morgan are among those actors who can play characters you don't want to mess with, no matter how tough you are, and can both act as well. Or, just say screw it, and cast Michael Clarke Duncan. He's quite big.

Return outings for the Scarecrow and Ra'S Al Ghul would also work. Cillian Murphy's Scarecrow already had a brief encore in The Dark Knight, and as any comic fan will tell you, it takes more than a train crash to permanently kill the immortal Ra's Al Ghul. Either of them could be brought back to challenge Batman again.

There are so many other options that could be considered as well, from Catwoman, to Clayface, to the Ventriloquist, to Hugo Strange, and on and on. However, personally, I think there's one bad guy who would work, particularly in Nolan's version of Batman, better than any other. I'll be honest, it isn't likely to happen, mainly because this character is more associated with a different superhero. However, he and Batman have clashed several times in the comics, and it's always fun when they do. As clever as Bruce Wayne, as scientifically gifted, and just as rich, with as many resources as Batman has, he's also as manipulative as they come, able to convince almost anyone to do his dirty work for him. He's a greedy bastard too. Come on Chris Nolan, pit the world's greatest detective against Lex Luthor in the next Batman film. No one will see it coming, and it'd make for a damn fine movie to boot!

So, there's my opinions on who they should use. I could've gone on, but then this blog would've been as long as the Knightfall storyline (geeky in joke alert!). What do you think though? Who should Batman go up against in the next movie? And why? And who should play them? Over to you.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Paddy's Going Dancing - part 2

I'm back from my first ever Street Dancing lesson, and I have to say, I'm completely converted. I learned the steps, I found the rhythm, and it turns out, I am a dancer. It's the kind of thing you're not ever going to find out until you try it, and you have to go in with an open mind, but by the end, I was back flipping with the best of them!

It was the back flip wasn't it. Too much. I had you until then!

The truth is, I'm not a dancer. I wasn't awful, not by any stretch of the imagination, but I struggled. By the end, I could just about follow half of what we were shown by Deb, the teacher, but I found it hard to remember the whole thing and keep time. I know, I know, no one who hasn't done it before is going to pick it all up and be great in only one hour session. That's not what I was there for.

I went along to try something new. And because Twitter ganged up on me. But mainly the first one. From this point of view, I'm glad I went. There was a certain amount of fun to be had, and while at first I was thinking "Oh no. I'm the only man here. I'm going to look ridiculous", that soon went away and I was gamely trying to join in the dancing. I even forgot I was "dancing" to Lady Gaga, an artist I almost loathe, and just went along with it.

Almost disappointingly, I didn't fall over or make a massive tit of myself once. When I lost it, I'd just stop and stand there until it finished, or until I was able to pick it up again. For the purposes of this blog, that's not particularly handy. I don't have anything major to report. No broken bones, no offending the other dancers until they wanted me dead, no surprise appearances from roaming bands of Monguls. Just me trying to learn a dance.

So, at the end of this, have I caught the bug? Am I going to go back?

No, I'm probably not. Like I say, there was some fun to be had, and Deb's a good teacher, but it's just not for me. I'm happy with my three categories of dancing (see part 1) and shall remain so until I'm rocking out in my wheelchair at the age of one-hundred and three. However, if you're interested in dance, and I know I have a number of friends who might read this that are, then I really think you should go along. You might learn something new, and you'll probably enjoy it.

Tell Deb I sent you.

Paddy's Going Dancing - part 1

So, you may have heard, I'm taking part in a Hip Hop dance class this evening. Yes, this is actually happening. I plan to write about it afterwards, but thought I'd also tell you my thoughts going into it, and how this came about.

Actually, I'm not entirely sure how it came about. Some friends on Twitter suggested I go, and then some more people joined in, mostly because they thought it'd be funny. I ended up promising the teacher that I would indeed go along, just as soon as I got back from New York. How that happened, I couldn't tell you. I'm not a dancer, I've never had any desire to be a dancer. I don't think I'm really built for it, being a tall, skinny, gangly sort of type who doesn't really move particularly gracefully. Those of you who have been (un)fortunate enough to be with me at a club, or a wedding, or some other location where dancing happens will have already witnessed my attempts at dancing. These can be boiled down to three categories.

1) Dad Dancing. Yes, despite not having any children of my own, I believe dad dancing is a fairly accurate description of what I actually do on the dance floor. Sway a bit, move somewhat awkwardly from point A to point B, then sway a bit more. Repeat as necessary, all the while feeling vaguely self concious and embarrassed about the whole ordeal.

2) The Piss Take. This usually happens after a few drinks. I suddenly lose the embarrassment and gain a level of self awareness. I know I can't dance, I think to myself, so fuck it, why not really let go! And I do. I start flailing away and moving wildly, taking up as much of the dance floor as I can. Sometimes this will involve me breaking out a ridiculous dance from my uni days, or busting some moves with my trusty air guitar, a stupid look on my face the whole time. It mostly gives the effect of a giraffe having an epileptic fit, but fuck it, it's fun.

3) The Rock Club. No one dances in a rock club. They kind of stamp around a bit and nod vigorously. I look less ridiculous in these environs. Why do you think I frequent them?

But tonight, I'm actually going to be attempting Hip Hop dancing, or Street Dance, as it's also known. I've seen it on the tele. Done well, it looks pretty impressive. Fair play to those who can do it. Am I one of them?

Not a chance in hell. But fuck it, I'll give it a go. For the last couple of weeks, knowing I'll be doing it, a small part of me has actually been looking forward to it. I have no idea what to expect from it, but it could be fun. However, as it draws inexorably closer (about an hour and a half now), I'm actually starting to get a little apprehensive. I'm not going to pull out, after all, I did promise, but dear lord, my category 1 moves probably aren't what they're looking for. And what if the natural high from the endorphins that excersizing gives you pushes me into category 2? No way that ends well! What if I offend the other dancers and they kill me? Rhythmically?

I suppose I'll find out soon enough. I'll do a post mortem later on. And hey, as a couple of people have pointed out, you never know. I might turn out to be really good at it!


Thursday, 3 June 2010

Review - The Losers

Don't Stop Believin' by Journey, one of those tracks which epitomises eighties rock music, plays a prominent role on the soundtrack to The Losers. It's fitting, in a way, that something so of its time, yet still universally loved, is not only used in The Losers, but used to far greater effect here than it was when given to the latest dreary X-Factor winner or the saccharine Gleenyboppers on the tele. This is the original version, and by far the superior version, doing one of the things that the eighties did best.

Which is also what The Losers does. The original comic, written by British scribe Andy Diggle (currently doing stellar work on Daredevil) and illustrated by Jock (who, with Diggle, crafted one of my favourite Green Arrow stories of all time in Green Arrow: Year One), tells the story of a group of special-ops military commandos who are framed for a crime they didn't commit, then fake their own deaths before going up against Max, the shadowy government figure responsible for their woes. The comic itself (and I'll admit, I'm a latecomer to it, having only now read the first two collections) has elements of a tense thriller, featuring corporate espionage, government conspiracy and characters whose motives remain unclear. It also has a sense of fun running through it, and plenty of action scenes to boot.

The Losers in movie form is a bit different. In certain areas, it's a pretty faithful adaptation. The Losers themselves are exactly like their comic book counterparts, and the storyline is basically the first volume of the collections, with bits of the origin thrown in for good measure. However, tonally, it's quite different. The film mostly jettisons the thriller elements, choosing instead to go down the route of a big, balls to the wall, flat out action movie. And a damned good one at that.

Gone is the idea of Max being a shadowy government figure, becoming instead a massively over the top bad guy, played with camp aplomb by Jason Patric. Also changed is Wade (Holt McCallany), a deadly mercenary in the comic, here he becomes Max's tough-guy, and not too bright, henchman, who you know from the off one of the Losers is going to have to have an epic showdown with. Both characters are straight out of movies like Die Hard, Lethal Weapon or Commando, and they both provide a lot of the fun of the movie.

Not to say the Losers themselves aren't fun. Quite the opposite. Chris Evans as Jensen, the Losers computer expert, probably gets the lion’s share of the laughs, but each of the Losers has their moment, and each is perfectly cast as well. Which is the other reason this film works so well. Instead of going for your usual action hero type, the producers have wisely cast actual actors in these roles, something which again worked quite nicely in the eighties (witness Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon, or Alan Rickman and, yes, Bruce Willis in Die Hard). The strength of the cast in the Losers means that, despite Evans best efforts, no one member quite steals the show. Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Clay, the Losers leader, proves once again why he was the best thing in Watchmen, and sparks up great chemistry with Idris Elba, playing Clay's right hand man and the Losers second in command, Roque. Likewise, Columbus Short as Pooch, the teams wheelman, and ├ôscar Jaenada as Cougar, the quiet sniper, are both spot on. It's hard to pick a favourite among the team, which is testament to the actors ability to work together, and, quite surprisingly, leads to The Losers having one of the strongest ensembles of the last few years.

Zoe Saldana as Aisha is also well cast, though like the bad guys, she’s changed a bit from the comic, being a bit softer, though by no means any less deadly.

Director Sylvain White handles the action well, without having to resort to all that shaky cam so prevalent in today’s action movies, but clearly also has an eye for comedy. He shoots with a confidence belying someone with such a relatively small amount of experience (prior to this, probably his biggest movie was I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer).

The Losers isn’t a film which is going to change your life in any major ways, but it is a lot of fun. This summer was billed as the summer when the action movie came back, just like they used to make, in the shape of The A-Team and The Expendables. Unfortunately for them, The Losers beat them to the punch.