Mann’s Chinese 6, Hollywood
Sunday evening, June 19
6:30pm show of Batman Begins
1. We begin with an ad for the American Express Tribeca Shorts Film Festival. Ellen Degeneres does her fumbling Ellen schtick as she tries to make a movie camera work. It seems more about making the upscale AmEx users in the audience feel cool and hip than persuading aspiring short filmmakers in the audience to enter the contest.
2. An ad for HBO’s second season premiere of "Entourage."
3. An ad for FX’s new Iraq War series "Over There."
4. A grainy ad (probably made for TV, then cheaply transferred to 35mm) for the Air National Guard. One of those gung-ho military spots that A) makes warfare seem about as risky as a Playstation video game or an Outward Bound wilderness hike and B) suggests that the military isn’t about war at all, but really about training you how to do cool things with electronics.
5. An ad for Sony Ericsson. This is a fairly clever spot about how artists and engineers (singing a foreign language version of The Carpenters’ “Close to You”) work together to give you a Really Cool Phone.
6. A spot for Dolby Digital. An animated Curious George shows us how amazing the theater’s sound system is.
7. A spot for JBL sound. While the Dolby Digital element is created during the production and post-production process, the JBL system is the physical arrangement of the theater speakers. I think.
8. A spot for the Los Angeles Times Calendar section. This is a hyped-up energetic ad full of big flashing text and trendy, colorful photographic stills bending and streaking by. You know, just like the city life at night. Get it? A lot more enjoyable than those insufferable “behind the scenes” spots that the Los Angeles Times used to run before the movies in Southern California that involved animating garden gnomes or giant human popcorn kernels.
9. and 10. Two Pepsi spots back to back. One of them features cavemen trying to “film” a spot for Pepsi but having a hard time of it because... well, they’re just dumb cavemen. It’s one of those ads that’s kind of funny until you deconstruct it and realize it’s a spot about cavemen making a TV ad with cameras made of rocks. In the end, it’s A) stupid because it's so anachronistically impossible and B) has nothing to do with Pepsi.
11. A spot for the upcoming Los Angeles Film Festival. A typically quirky festival promo, this one featuring conversations at a late night convenience store that consist solely of movie titles.
12. Finally, one of those beautiful green MPAA headers. You know the one: “The following PREVIEW has approved for ALL AUDIENCES.” The first trailer is for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The more you see of this, the weirder it looks. Fingers are crossed that it's good.
13. A trailer for The Brothers Grimm. A new Terry Gilliam movie about the brothers Grimm who scam small towns with stories of monsters only to find one small town with a real monster problem. Matt Damon doing a British accent.
14. A trailer for The New World. Four words that strike fear in the hearts of non-pretentious moviegoers: “A film by Terrence Malick.” Colin Farrell as John Smith in 17th century America. With Malick directing, count on sublimely beautiful images and a completely impenetrable storyline.
15. A trailer for The Devil’s Rejects. The sequel to rocker Rob Zombie’s B-horror film The House of 1000 Corpses. Suitably grimy and deranged. The kind of thing that does very well on video and plays to a very loyal genre audience.
16. A trailer for Spielberg's War of the Worlds. This movie looks bad-ass. Anything less than sci-fi/horror perfection will be a letdown.
17. A trailer for The Dukes of Hazzard. Some in the audience mocked this spot, but it seems to have just the right kind of goofball tone this kind of thing needs.
18. A promo for the Manns Theater Chain. It’s always funny to see how cheesy and cheap-looking theater promos can be considering A) how much tickets cost, B) how sophisticated filmmaking has gotten, and C) how discerning moviegoing audiences have become. It's always fun to see how each theater chain in its own way tries to tell audiences to A) throw all trash away and B) don’t talk.
19. The audience favorite: a THX spot with the deafening weeeeeeaaahhhhhhh sound.
20: Batman Begins begins.
If you figure 30 seconds each for the first 11 commercials, then an average of 2 minutes for the six movie trailers, plus another minute for the Manns and THX promos, you get 18½ minutes of pre-movie material. That seems like a lot.
After the garish bubble-gum nonsense that passed for 1997’s Batman and Robin – a film that cast a twinkle-eyed, smirky George Clooney as the hero, turning the brooding Dark Knight into the kind of guy who’d seem more comfortable hanging out at the Playboy Mansion than fighting bad guys – it would be understandable if most moviegoers approached Batman Begins with more than a little trepidation. The tired legend of Bruce Wayne and his superhero alter ego is so well known that one wonders what could possibly be interesting about rehashing the whole story all over again. But low expectations, it turns out, can yield high satisfaction because writer-director Christopher Nolan’s re-imagining of the Batman story is a slam dunk, wisely doing everything possible to root Bruce Wayne in the real world in the same way that Sam Raimi’s Spiderman films have done with Peter Parker. With only minor suspension of disbelief, it’s easy to see how this maybe, possibly could sort of happen in the real world. Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman was a pop-culture phenomenon, incongruous Prince songs and all, and is something of a minor masterpiece, but no one would ever mistake that movie’s exaggerated art deco style for reality. Nolan (and co-writer David S. Goyer) takes great pains to show the inner torment that, coupled with Gotham City’s rampant corruption, drives Bruce Wayne to dress up in a cape and go after crooks. Indeed, the film’s all about the fine line between justice and revenge, between law and order and vigilantism. That thoughtfulness gives this film a nice sense of import. Also a fun kick is the way Nolan shows how scary Batman can be to the criminals who aren’t exactly sure who or what he is. Most notable is a horrific rainstorm scene in which Batman interrogates a crook, demanding answers with a frightening intensity you never saw from Michael Keaton or even Adam West. The only real criticism of Nolan is the film’s confusing fight scenes, which are all blurry close ups and quick cuts, making it impossible to see exactly what’s going on. Soothing that sting is the outstanding cast. There’s no Chris O’Donnell gumming up the works here (with the possible exception of poor Katie Holmes). Everyone is at the top of their game. This is particularly true of Christian Bale, whose Bruce Wayne is all chiseled anguish and gritted determination. Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine seem to be having a lot of fun as well. All in all, though there may not have been much of a clamoring for another Batman movie outside of comic book geek circles, if Warner Bros. was going to insist on making one, this is a pretty good one to make.