There is a bit of context to all of this but feel free to skip down to the review.Long Live the New Meme
David Cronenberg and Andy Warhol are not artists, they are prophets. Videodrome has become reality; only, we're not all living within the satellite transmitted airwaves of television but the fiber-optic cables that give us the internet. If there is one thing I've come to learn in the past few years, it's that there certainly is no spoon; instead, there is only face book. We are all now minor celebrities of our own making, all desperately clamoring for our 15 minutes of online fame in a culture that has come to celebrate mediocrity, a culture that transforms horrific tragedies into jokes. We laugh at funny reaction videos of our grandmothers watching women eat each others' shit. We chit chat and tweet on actual live feed snuff videos. Man Bites Dog has lost most of its bite as it's no longer satire. We've reached the point where we can be face book buddies with real live serial killers, and their crimes are now memes.
We are the collective result of a generation of free loving hippies who grew up into overly sensitive pseudo intellectual faux humanitarian yuppies who imbedded the idea into all of their children that they were special and capable of being anything. We can all be famous actors, models, writers, or whatever without having to develop any discernible talents, we merely have to have extreme enough of a gimmick to be noticed.
But reality is far harsher than that and the evidence of it is no more apparent than at Comic Con. Everything has become disposable, although, wandering through the crowds of media obsessed, costumed, wannabe super heroes, I can't help but imagine that these people may have misinterpreted their mothers when they were called "special."
My news feed on face book is already flooding with tweets from comic con. Now that filmmakers, artists, and the like are required to promote themselves rather than have a distributor or agent to do the heavy lifting, we are no longer judged by our work, but by our lifestyles. Being bi polar with possible aspersers, I was fucked before I even graduated film school. I wonder how Vincent Gallo or Harmony Korine would fair if they begun their careers now.
An attractive female filmmaker whose work I enjoy has been tweeting preview pictures of herself in her comic con costume nearly every hour to the delight of her sexually frustrated male face book friends with hundreds of comments for each picture. "Hot." "Sexy." "Damn."
"Oh my god, marry me."
I don't really know her personally, but something about this strikes me as off-putting. Do we really need this type of vindication every hour of every day? I feel the urge to do some de-friending. Hell, I shouldn't be wasting my time with this shit anyhow.
And yet, here I am.
I've decided that if anyone should ask, I'm cos-playing as a bitter, nihilistic, alcoholic film blogger and I've already decided that my costume may in fact be the most accurate of the bunch here.
I came more as a lark. I haven't written in months with an ever declining interest in pursuing an active future in film criticism or media journalism. I'd hardly call anything I've ever done journalism anyhow. In fact, believe or not, I've never enjoyed critiquing films, it always felt kinda of like cheating. Those who can't do, troll online. But I had submitted the paperwork for my comic con press badge nearly a year ago purely out of curiosity. When my press clearance was approved, I figured there wouldn't be a chance in hell I'd go. What reason was there for me to travel from one coast to another to write redundant and benign coverage of an event that every geek press member in the world is going to be at? And it's not like I'm going to be paid and the thought of spending my own cash earned from a degrading day job to pay for travel expenses in order to promote commercial films, media, and products was just too bitter of an irony pill to swallow. With whatever relative and subjective success I've had, it's become too embarrassing to answer my friends' and family's question with "No, I'm not actually getting paid for any of this." "Yes, it's just another internship." "No, I'm only a P.A.; it's not worth putting that on IMDB." But this is what people are doing to get ahead, paying out of pocket to provide free advertising for conglomerates or working as an unpaid accountant intern, doing important bookkeeping for a certain ballet film
. That's not what I signed up for when I went to college.
But through a long string of strange circumstances, I found myself on a plane to the Mecca of contemporary geek culture.
I can't decide which is a more appropriate analogy for what Comic Con has become in recent years, a roman orgy or a massive brothel? I know I'm not comfortable being videotaped posing with some desperate model paid to dress up as a sexualized teenage cheerleader zombie slayer character from a game that made me cringe to play.
What I see before me is the ultimate experience in capitalist consumer culture, a feeding frenzy of geeky sheep, star fuckers, and wannabe industry insiders all slurping out of the same trough in a vomitorium of fabricated hype. I never would have imagined ferial crowds in the thousands all fighting to get their posters of a cheap Delta Force knockoff signed by B-list action stars and then running to the nearest WI FI spot to tweet about it twenty years ago.
Really? What the fuck? I'm glad I brought my flask, half an ounce of prime Montreal cannabis, and some bath salts to spice things up.
Part of me was tempted to come in costume as a face eating bath salt zombie. Not because I think that would be funny or clever; it's not. I wanted to do it as performance art, some type of meta post modernist shtick where I would publicly shame anyone who dared to come up laughing and ask to have their picture taken with me. We've reached far beyond post modernism into a new era where we can define our culture by placing infinite "posts" before the modernism. But then again, I feel like an angry troll humiliating others in such a fashion, as if I'd be turning my actual life into a Todd Solondz film. And that sounds stupid to me already, so I give up on the idea as soon as it comes.
But really, Comic Con reminds me most of Romero's Dawn of the Dead, so maybe it really would have been appropriate. I could go into interviews asking Stallone if I could have a nibble at his arm, his entire body looks like dried beef jerky anyhow.
Regardless, I had initially planned on writing nothing about comic con. I found a way to get here for free and simply wanted to bask in the madness for my own personal enjoyment.
I spent my first day wandering the convention so blasted I can't recall much beyond trying to dry hump everything in a vinyl corset. Oh yes, the nerds have won and we're all worse off for it. There's something disconcerting about seeing so many beautiful yet undoubtedly insecure women walking around in public half naked, dressed as their favorite super hero being photographed sleazily by way of cell phone by thousands of random man children with hard ons. Although, I've already learned that 50% of these women are professional cosplay models who have no attachment to the material and dress in costumes funded by their fans... Oh, who's the trick and who's the john here? I'm not on the soap box; I'm just as much to be blamed for all of this.
I think I may have been acting like an asshole to a lot of random people because I now remember talking to one such cosplayer. Entranced by one woman's extremely skimpy Psyloche costume, I couldn't believe what I was seeing, throes of geeky boys waiting in line to have their picture taken with this random girl. Tomorrow, her picture will be plastered to thousands of websites, millions of weirdos around the world will be masturbating to her, her picture will be manipulated and redistributed on horrid file sharing sites like 4chan. Is she fully aware of the proverbial rabbit hole she is allowing herself to fall into? Does it even matter? Probably not, but I'm already slurring out offensive remarks.
I ask her how old she is and am immediately relieved when she replies that she's 27.
"Because I was scared I might have been gawking at a 15 year old's camel toe for the last two minutes."
And then I realize, that's no camel toe, I'm actually bearing witness to the folds of this stranger's labia peeking out from the thin purple thong thing she's wearing. Her outfit is so tight it must be cutting off circulation because the skin around it is a slight shade of purple too which is why I didn't notice initially. Is she aware? She must be.
"So is your vagina naturally bald, or did you shave it for the costume."
"Naturally bold no, but I got my bikini area lazered. No hair will grow there again."
"Is there a video of that online somewhere I can watch?"
She hands me a business card.
At the Bar Again
I came to San Diego to meet up with an old friend whom I worked with in the DGA in New York and now based in L.A. She's coming to San Diego for a high paying day player gig and was able to get me a flight and room with all of the extra frequent flyer miles she's acquired in the last 15 years as a first A.D. We used to run to Forbidden Planet during lunch breaks on Law & Order and talk comics and trade graphic novels when we worked on set together. It was her recommendation that I come to this.
I still have 2 days before her arrival and I'm already sick of the mass hysteria around me. I've found myself spending more time at the Holiday Inn bar than amongst the armies of storm troopers stomping their way from Hall to Hall hoping to get the latest buzz on the newest properties.
If there's one way to summarize the experience of being at Comic Con, it's "hurry up and wait." You rush from one place to one another to stand in line for hours at a time so you can watch boring press junkets where celebrities make boring answers to boring questions. Standing in lines becomes increasingly hard when you're on bath salts.
Well, there are the vendors, but in the age of the internet, there's no need to attend conventions to acquire rare items, everything is two mouse clicks away from being purchased.
And there are the DIY underground artists, hoping for their big break, but it's easy to see that they don't stand a chance. Make your way over the indie section and it feels like you wandered into the basement where the bastard, mutant child has been chained to a wall to keep out of the limelight.
"Are you supposed to be Hunter S. Thompson or something? That's not really very geeky, or original?"
I'm mumbling to myself again and when I notice someone's talking to me. I turn to find a gorgeous woman in an elegant black blouse and Gucci skirt that probably costs more than two weeks pay of my salary. She reeks of PR; probably some big firm based in L.A. but probably spends most of her time in Austin. That's where the hype machine lives full time now.
I didn't even realize that I was wearing an open Hawaiian shirt and white hat with green tinted sunglasses. The chain smoking probably isn't helping either. It wasn't intentional but it certainly feels appropriate now. I've been awake for over 48 hours from the bath salts and only a slight sense of panicked hysteria has started to set in that I'm now trying to treat with top shelf bourbon. I haven't felt the urge to jump across the bar and eat this very pretty woman yet, well, not her face at least.
I mumble something incoherent. I don't think it registers. Whatever I said was probably garbled nonsense. I'm not even sure if I was able to mouth out actual words. Instead of leaving, she actually gets up and moves closer to me. I take another swig of my Johnny Walker Black on the rocks and pinch my thigh hard in a futile effort to regain focus. She talks like PR folk talk, fast with little infliction of tone.
"You're wearing press credentials. Who do you write for?"
"I know Todd Brown, he's a good friend of mine."
I can see it her eyes, she's full of shit. I've played the networking game long enough in the film festival circuit to know when someone is name dropping. I've been writing for the site on and off for four years and I've shared maybe two sentences in person with my editor. But sure, I've played the same angle when I'm cruising for preferential treatment at festivals. "Oh, so and so is great, drank with him at the Alamo, partied at the High Ball." It's the game we all play in this wacky industry but being a crazy Greek man from West Philly, I also like to fuck with people. I make up fake names of fake children for Todd and she responds exactly how I'd expect.
"Oh, I met his daughter, Lilly, at Fantasia. She's lovely."
"What's your name, should I know who you are?"
Something about the question irks me, am I someone whose name is worth knowing? I tell her and it's clear that it's drawing a blank.
"I write those stupid, angry, drunken reviews."
She pretends to know what I'm talking about but I can see that she's Googling my name on her smart phone as we speak. This is where we've come to. My value as a writer is determined by the almighty Google search. It makes bullshitting a lot harder, but then again, she probably should've Googled Todd Brown too earlier.
I open a pouch of White Lightning and do a line off the bar. She looks at me with her mouth agape. Hell, it's technically legal though, it's not cocaine, but it's actually far worse.
"Are you doing bath salts?"
"Yeah, thought I'd try something new to spice up my writing."
"Is it working?"
"There is no spoon."
"It doesn't matter."
"Oh, you're a wild one huh? I bet you're trouble."
Women love trouble. I'm short, hairy, and just as geeky as any LARPer playing with foam swords out in the parking lot, but I'm now the also the guy paying for overpriced whiskey while fucked up on synthetic drugs at 2pm in the hotel bar. I'm a loner, a rebel. And I hope I didn't just say that out loud. She tells me more about her job but plays coy. She tells me she's repping for a very big PR firm, that she's organizing a big secret screening that's invite only, she won't tell me what, but it doesn't really matter since there's a press embargo on it.
"So the screening is pretty much pointless since it can't legally garner any press anyway. I don't even know why I'm getting paid to be here."
"Well, I'm not getting paid to be here, so I don't think I technically qualify as press really."
"Yeah, but if you were to put a review up before the embargo is lifted, I could lose my job regardless."
"Am I still invited?"
"Yeah, I'm dying to see what you will end up writing when the embargo's up."
"There is no spoon."
THE COOL KID TABLE
As I enter a small screening room, I'm immediately stopped and searched by a gorilla of a security guard. He takes my cell phone and camera and promises they'll be returned afterward. I feel fortunate that he doesn't confiscate my flask, nor does he find the one hitter tucked into my shoe with another baggie of Pure Ivory.
I look around and see a bunch of familiar faces, the usual assortment of bloggers, curators, programmers, and acquisitioners. You see, the film festival and comic convention world have converged and really just become an extension of high school with all sorts of elitist social clicks. It's like that cliché montage scene in every teen comedy where someone walks across the cafeteria and points out all of the insular social groups that occupy the tables. I got into this scene hoping to evade that bullshit. All of those warm memories of talking about character arcs in comics with fellow geeks at some dingy hotel convention and making new best friends while volunteering for major film festivals have long faded. This isn't about sharing a passion, and finding a forum to socialize with other socially awkward nerds, this is about status, it's about being noticed, and it's also about buying a lot of shit we don't really need, and I'll take high school over this horse dong any day.
Small groups of film people are spread about the room. A group of overly attractive and tanned men and women in their early 20's are in one area. They are dressed like members of the Jersey Shore cast if the members of Jersey Shore actually had an actual hint of class which tells me they're likely to be paid interns from L.A. They probably work for some casting agency and came here on a free ride. This isn't business, purely pleasure, their bosses are too busy for this shit.
I see the tattooed, pierced hipster blogger set, all surrounding one of the head writers of a supremely popular website from Texas. They've descended upon this guy like vultures, all hoping to make a good impression, all hoping this can lead into an in for Fantastic Fest in two months, a big sycophantic circle jerk if I ever saw one. I see one peer who's built a reputation of being the crazy asshole from Philly. It annoys me as he actually lives an hour outside of Philadelphia and in my twenty years of working in the scene there, I've never seen him in attendance at a single fucking Philly film festival or film related event,he's become a big name internationally but does absolute nothing to support his own city. He's like George Clooney in Up in the Air. This guy pretty much spends his entire life traveling from one fest to another, he's really given up HIS Philly street cred, but he sure as hell milks that image when he pops up at these things.
I see a group of New York producers and film buyers. They stand in the back of the room, they speak in whispers so us lowly writers can't eaves drop. I've known a few of them for years but I can't even get a verbal greeting from them, barely even a head nod which is followed by rolled eyes. I see one particular asshole taking a call on his cell phone. I guess you don't get searched if you live in Manhattan.
I see a larger middle aged man sitting alone off to the side in the front row. He looks like he hasn't shaved or showered in days. He's wearing a ruffled dress shirt and a dirty tie. I wonder if he's on bath salts too and decide that he's going to be my new best friend. Birds of a feather flock together. The assholes all find each other and so do the disenfranchised drunks. I like that he tried to look professional at some point but later gave up. I offer him a sip from my magical flask and an indelible bond is instantly made. No words are spoken, none are needed, we both glance over at the cool kid table and nod our heads in silent agreement.
And then I slip the Pure Ivory out of my shoe.
The PR woman from the bar comes out and makes her announcement full of disclaimers and legal jargon I don't bother to listen to before telling us what we're about to watch.
Everyone else in the room loses their shit. This is the most hotly anticipated and tightly veiled film of the year and we're seeing it before everyone including the Associated Press. But I fail to see the big deal. I'll get to see this thing on my own at any theater in American in 5 short days.
Shit, I was hoping it was going to be John Dies at the End.
THE DARK KNIGHT PUNCHES THE 99% IN THE FACE!
Warning to the weak: lots and lots of spoilerzz.
So here's the thing about The Dark Knight and Batman in general. Yes, Nolan's follow up to the lackluster, Goyer scripted Batman Begins was very very good, and Batman is an iconic symbol within the pantheon of American popular culture. We all love Batman. But, Batman also represents a lot of fascist, conservative America ideals we probably otherwise would like to ignore. Batman is about the threat of anarchy against the rich and powerful. Superman was a Jew, Spiderman was a geek, Captain America was patriotism, the hulk is our own struggle with our inner demons, and Batman is a powerful rich wasp protecting the establishment of other powerful rich wasps. Batman is the Republican Party. And it's unsurprising that Frank Miller made negative remarks about the occupy movement last year, because let's face it; his Batman is too macho for all of that passive protesting bullshit. This is an aristocratic white man who beats up on impoverished urban criminals. He's never able to catch the main villains, and spends most of his time knocking the teeth out of henchmen, faceless guards who aren't evil so much as desperate.
Actually, Batman Begins inspired me to write a horror superhero mash up from the perspective of a young petty African American thief being chased through the dark labyrinth of a public housing community by a racist Batmanesque hero. Let's face it, in slasher movies, the killer is the protagonist. Jason, Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, Leather Face, they're superheroes; we go into their films rooting for them to murder those hedonistic slutty kids. I always figured if you actually called them a hero within the story, it could lead to a role reversal where they'd actually become a hated villain. For that one scene in Batman Begins, where he stalks a group of men at the docks, Batman became a feared monster of the night, I wish Nolan took that farther and turned the a tentpole superhero franchise into a horror film. But I'm ranting here, fucking bath salts.
Let's not forget that Batman in The Dark Knight was essentially a positive analogy for the Bush administration. He was the hero we deserved, not the one we needed. He was a martyr for making the tough, morally gray decisions that ultimately lead to him being vilified even though those same decisions also saved the general public. He invaded the public's privacy, he allowed innocent cops to die, and he took the blame for Harvey Dent's death. But no one wants our favorite hero to be a metaphor for one of our most despised presidents.
The Dark Knight Rises takes it so much further and while I can't agree with the politics, it's kind of brilliant. How this thing got made blows my mind.
But here's the thing, The Dark Knight isn't Batman's story, nor is it Bane's. Their conflict takes place within the background. The Dark Knight Rises is John Blake's story. Joseph Gordon Levitt plays a beat cop that is the son of dock thug #2 from Batman Begins. Don't remember him? He was only a faceless henchman that Batman pummeled. He's no criminal mastermind, and through flashbacks, we learn that he was a good man, a down and out factory worker who lost his job and took to working for the mob to provide for his family. He's not a murderer, or malicious thief, just a poor goof who took the wrong job protecting illegal shipments of drugs so he could put food on the table. But Batman ended that. Batman might not kill, but he unknowingly broke the thug's back, an act that mirrors Batman's own demise. He ruined this man's life, unable to find work or do much of anything with a broken back and no health insurance, he took his own life, orphaning his only son, John Blake, who has continued volunteering for the orphanage he was raised in.
Joseph Gordon Levitt's Blake initially blamed Carmine Falcone and became a cop to justly seek his revenge. At some point on the street, Blake is recruited by the league of shadows to purge Gotham of crime. And through Bane, he learns to blame and hate Batman just as much as Falcone. And even the children of the orphanage are enlisted in Bane's army. That's right, Batman has to fight poor children in order to maintain the order of American capitalism.
Initially, Bane indeed brings justice to Gotham, and unites the poor and underprivileged. Bane finishes D.A. Dent's work and takes out Maroni and all of the other mob bosses left unattended in the Dark Knight.
The film can be said to loosely follow the Nightfall storyline. Although, if we want to get all geeky here, Batman Begins also referenced Nightfall with the massive jailbreak at Arkham that flooded the city's streets with every criminal in the city.
Regardless, Bane breaks the bat, but you know this already.
Nolan combines and manipulates a lot of different canon story lines. On paper, it may seem overcrowded, like this could a repeat of Raimi's Spiderman 3 but it works.
Anne Hathaway shines as Selina Kyle and while she may be leather clad, she is never referred to as Catwoman. She may be a "cat" burglar who steals from the rich, but it's not diamonds she's after. Like Leonardo's character in Inception, she steals from the rich not for profit but as financial, corporate espionage. Her name is really only an alias. Selina Kyle is the alter ego, not Cat Woman. You see, she's a member of the league of shadows, she's really Thalia Al Ghoul, the daughter of Ra's Al Ghoul, and she does fall in love with Batman even though her mission is to destroy him.
Christian Bale has famously joked that Nolan better not have Robin in any of these films, and while Joseph Gordon Levitt never dons the outfit, he does becomes a bit of a surrogate for Robin. If we must use a reference point for his character since nerds love that, he could be likened to Jason Todd, the second Robin who famously died at the hands of the Joker. Todd was a character lead by anger. Although he's also technically an orphan, Levitt does end up donning a sort of armored costume that could be compared to Azrael, though that name is never used. Come to think of it, Tim Drake, the third Robin, also had a similar arc. Wait Wait Wait. John Blake. That's like some weird anagram of (J)ason Todd and Tim D(rake). Hmmmm....
And all the nerds collectively creamed their pants. Oh and Ra's Al Ghoul is indeed alive, but he hasn't been revived from the dead by a Lazarus pit, he's essentially been re-cloned and engineered into Bane.
The Joker may have represented anarchy, but Bane and the league of shadows is the evil that is socialism/communism. He is a more violent embodiment of the occupy movement. He rallies the poor against the political, capitalist machine, and Batman is symbol of that machine that must be destroyed. Joker wanted to watch the world burn, Bane simply wants to put an end to political and economic corruption. Bane attacks the Gotham stock exchange and cripples market trading leading to chaos within the business district. For much of the film, I was rooting for Bane, but then he takes out a stadium of innocent people during a football game because communists hate personal freedom and fun. There is no fun in communism, and destroying sports is representative of that. Goddamn communists.
Bearing witness to the slaughter of countless families, John Blake realizes that Bane must be stopped, but he's already broken the bat. Thalia, I mean, Selina Kyle who has now come to love and believe in Batman. She introduces Blake to Lucious Fox, who constructs an Iron Manesque suit in order to battle the seemingly invincible Bane.
Some critics compared the Dark Knight upon its release to The Godfather as a sprawling crime epic. If that's the case, The Dark Knight Rises is Gomorrah and Elite Squad. This is heady, multi-layered nihilism where there is no hero. Our government is fucked, our heroes are fucked, and so are we, corruption is imbedded within the human spirit. It's difficult to fully discern which side Nolan is on at times, although, ultimately, I guess we're supposed to root for Batman even though he's left defeated in the end. The fact there are children's popup books and Slurpee cups for this film brings a big shit eating grin to my face. I can't wait to see how the public reacts.
Or maybe I imagined the whole film. You see, it's not the bath salts themselves that cause intense hallucinations, it's the sleep deprivation that results from taking too much that leads to the much publicized dementia. All I know is that I somehow woke up in a roach motel on the outskirts of San Francisco two days later with no recollection as to how I got here and it burns when I pee.