Why I Wet Shave.

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Shaving was a chore. When I first started shaving as a teenager, I was using a Gillette Mach 3 razor. I never found shaving enjoyable, but all the commercials on television told me that it could be a great experience. So I upgraded to more blades in my cartridge. Then I got a razor that pivots. It still wasn’t enjoyable. So I switched to electric to make the whole process go by faster, but I found that I wasn’t getting the close shave that I wanted, so I switched back to a cartridge razor.

A few years ago I stumbled on a company called Harry’s that made inexpensive razor cartridges with stylish handles. I bought one of their razors with a shiny metal handle and thought that maybe if I introduced a bit of “artistry” into my shaving routine, I might begin to enjoy it a bit more. I ordered some old-fashioned shaving cream and a badger hair shaving brush and decided to learn how to build a lather.

I hit YouTube for tutorials on lather building, and I discovered that none of the videos featured cartridge razors. In fact, all of them referred to something called “wet shaving.” I researched it more and more and ended up completely enthralled by the idea. There were double-edge razors, single-edge razors, straight razors. There were creams, soaps, balms. It was like a brand new world had been opened before my eyes. So I decided to give it a try.

I’ve been wet shaving with a double-edge razor for almost three years, and I can honestly say that I’ll never put a multi-blade cartridge razor against my face again.

Here are the reasons I enjoy wet shaving.

  1. It’s better for your skin. Contrary to popular belief, more blades on a razor does not lead to a smoother, closer shave. In fact, the extra blades lead to more tugging and more damage to your skin. Additionally, the extra skin care required to effectively wet shave provides added benefits to facial health.
  2. It’s less expensive. Okay, so this is entirely dependent on how much of a hobby this can become. In the most utilitarian sense, it is far less expensive than standard cartridge razor shaving. While the initial investment can be pretty high (a good double-edge safety razor can cost around $30, a badger-hair brush can cost $40), the maintenance cost is a lot lower. A pack of 100 razor blades will cost around $10, and that can last up to two years. A shaving soap can last almost a year, and they cost around $15. But if you start collecting shaving accoutrements, it can certainly get expensive.
  3. It takes practice. It’s a skill, and like any skill, it requires practice. I spent time learning technique, and that gives it a sense of ritual for me. I learned to appreciate the discipline it takes to get a perfect shave, and mastery has become a goal I look forward to attaining.
  4. It’s therapeutic. There are so few rituals we have these days; everything needs to be done as quickly as possible. With wet shaving, there’s a ritual that is both distinctly masculine and beautiful. I love taking the time to build a good lather from a tallow based soap, the steady strokes with a weighty razor, and the aromas of my shaving soaps and post-shave balms.
  5. It’s better for the environment. Cartridge razors are often made of a lot of plastic, and the razor cartridges create a lot of plastic waste. The aerosol cans that are often used with cartridge razors also create hazardous waste. Double-edge safety razors, on the other hand, are made almost entirely of stainless steel. The blades are also stainless steel and are easily recyclable. The shaving soaps and creams used are often organically made, providing a healthy alternative to the chemical goo that comes from a can.

I could probably list a dozen more reasons, but these are the basics. While I’m not naïve enough to think that wet shaving is for everyone, I do believe that everyone should give it a try. The experience is definitely worth the effort. If you’re interested in giving it a try, let me know. I’d love to hear about how it goes for you.

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Batman & Robin (1997): Figures and Vehicles Sold Separately. Batteries Not Included.

This is part of my “Batman on Film” blog series. To read other entries in this and other Batman-related blog series, head over to my Batman page.

Batman_and_Robin_PosterBackground & History
After the success of Batman Forever, Warner Bros. decided to fast track a sequel. They hired Joel Schumacher to return as the sequel’s director, and work quickly began. Most of the cast from Batman Forever returned, with the notable exception of Val Kilmer, who was replaced by George Clooney.

Production
Filming began in September 1996, and wrapped the following January. Much of the film’s production set the stage for what the final product would look like. When asked about his work on the film, Chris O’Donnell said, “On Batman Forever, I felt like I was making a movie. [On Batman & Robin], I felt like I was making a kid’s toy commercial.”

O’Donnell’s sentiments were echoed by John Glover, who played the character of Dr. Jason Woodrue: “Joel [Schumacher] would sit on a crane with a megaphone and yell before each take, ‘Remember, everyone, this is a cartoon’. It was hard to act because that kind of set the tone for the film.”

batmobile-batman-robin-1997Warner Bros. also hired several toy companies to help with the film’s visual design.

The movie was released on June 20, 1997 and had a record opening, but declined rapidly after its opening weekend.

Schumacher blamed much of the problems with the film on Warner Bros. constant desire for a more “family-friendly” film, along with the decision to fast-track a sequel. He took ownership of the disappointing film, however, apologizing for its shoddy workmanship: “If I’ve disappointed [Batman Forever fans] in any way, then I really want to apologize. Because it wasn’t my intention. My intention was just to entertain them.”

Film Analysis
Rather than break this film down as I have for the previous three Batman films, I thought I’d just discuss my reaction to this movie.

277297-batman-robinI have to admit, this was a very difficult movie to watch. It’s been said ad nauseam, so the assessment is hardly a novel one, but I figured I’d add my voice to the choir of other voices reciting this refrain: Batman & Robin is a two-hour toy commercial. It’s so blatantly toyetic that I couldn’t help but wonder if the movie hadn’t been written by a couple eight-year-old children who were given a bunch of Batman toys to play with. The opening sequence of the movie is riddled with phrases like, “Batman, a new villain has commandeered the Gotham Museum” (Are you sure that’s the right context for the term commandeered?), “Hi Freeze, I’m Batman” (Yes, Batman introduced himself to the “villain”), “Kill the heroes!” (SMH), “Destroy everything!” (It keeps getting better), and “It’s the hockey team from hell!”

Here’s the plot in a nutshell: Poison Ivy wants to destroy everyone in the world and hand the planet over the the plant kingdom. Mr. Freeze wants to destroy everyone in the world because he’s angry and wants his wife back. So they team up and try to destroy the world together. But Batman and Robin stop them. Roll credits.

Les-coiffures-les-plus-WTF-du-cinemaIt’s painfully obvious that this movie is fighting itself at every turn. It’s trying to be more family friendly, but then it’s trying to appeal to adults. It’s trying to be funny, but it knows that the over-the-top campiness is tiresome, so it throws in some drama to give the audience a break, like a bizarre reversal of comic relief.

Which brings me to an interesting point about this film. There’s an arresting subplot regarding Alfred (which actually makes me sad knowing that Michael Gough’s finest performance as Alfred was stuck in this mess of a movie) that could have created some thematic elements for the film to build from and structure around, but these elements are tossed to the side because this movie doesn’t exist to explore themes and ideas. This movie exists to sell toys.

0013708_batman_and_robin_deluxe_blast_wing_batman_action_figureIf you’re around my age, you might remember the old Kenner Batman toy lines that came out. There were dozens of different action figures featuring ridiculous costumes Batman would never actually wear. There was Deep Dive Batman. There was Street Racer Batman. There was Lightning Strike Batman. In this movie, Batman actually wore these kinds of costumes.

Ridiculous costumes aside, what I think makes this movie so terrible is that it can’t decide who it’s for. It tries to be a kids movie, but it contains weird sexual humor that’s aimed at adults. The plot is completely outlandish and clearly written for (and probably by) children, but it has these moments that appear to point to deeper thematic elements.

ff562f_847a34274bad9373b6d0be10467ae404These dramatic moments, as few as they were, seem to be that reversal of comic relief I was referring to earlier. Comic relief in a film, when done properly, alleviates the dramatic tension to allow the audience a moment to breathe. What appears to have happened here is that the film is essentially a live-action cartoon, and moments of realism attempt to break through. The problem is that drama needs to be earned, and this movie spends most of its time in a flashy cartoon land instead of earning those dramatic moments.

In Batman Forever, there were several scenes that were overly silly or comical, but there was an attempt to balance the dramatic and the comical. The dramatic moments here in Batman & Robin serve as a break from the comedy, almost as if the movie knows how obnoxious it is. This is really not a good sign.

I think I would have loved Alfred’s scenes had they been in a different context. He actually has a powerful statement about the essence of Batman in Bruce’s psyche. “Death and chance stole your parents. But rather than become a victim, you have done everything in your power to control the fates. For what is Batman, if not an effort to master the chaos that sweeps our world?”

Batman Forever was taking time to explore Bruce Wayne’s motivation and how his parents’ deaths continued to cast a shadow over his existence as Batman. Alfred’s words would’ve carried weight and poignancy in Batman Forever. Here in Batman & Robin, his words are lost in the cacophony of this action-JTOQ87Y3gk0figure showcase. But had this been a foundation thought for the film’s storyline, we might have had a different movie entirely.

As it stands, however, Batman & Robin exists as the most notorious comic-book movie to date. Thankfully, it was awful enough for the studio to try something completely different.

Batman Forever (1995): A Splash of Color

This is part of my “Batman on Film” blog series. To read other entries in this and other Batman-related blog series, head over to my Batman page.

batman_forever_ver1_xlgBackground & History
In 1993, the Batman film franchise faced a turning point. Just four years earlier, Tim Burton achieved the unthinkable: bring a darker, more comic-book-faithful adaptation of Batman to the big screen. But with Batman Returns in 1992, the studio felt the franchise was headed in a very dark direction and wanted to move toward a more “family-friendly” tone. As a result, Burton stepped back into the role of producer, and Joel Schumacher signed on as the director.

Michael Keaton didn’t want to work on a Batman film with anyone other than Burton, so he left the franchise. Val Kilmer was cast in 1994 to take on the iconic role.

Production, Release, and Reception
Filming began in September 1994, and the film released on June 16, 1995. While it surpassed its predecessor in box office intake, the film received mixed reviews with many saying that it lacked the pain and darkness of the first two films while others praised it for the faster pace and better action sequences.

Storyline/Plot
The movie opens with Two-Face robbing a bank and Batman foiling his operation. A Wayne Tech employee named Edward Nygma designs a device that manipulates brainwaves in order to create immersive 3D entertainment. Bruce Wayne denies Nygma any funding due to his misgivings about the morality of manipulating people’s brainwaves. Nygma continues his experiments anyway, and while working on his project, discovers that he can actually gain brainpower from other people’s brainwaves. He then murders his supervisor at Wayne Tech but makes it look like a suicide. Wayne is unconvinced.

Bruce attends a benefit circus with Dr. Chase Meridian, a psychiatrist assigned to the Harvey Dent/Two-Face case, and who also is obsessed with Batman. Two-Face and his henchmen show up at the circus with a bomb threatening to blow everyone up if Batman doesn’t turn himself over to him.Flying_Graysons

The “Flying Graysons,” a family of trapeze artists, attempt to stop Two-Face. Dick Grayson, the youngest in the family, successfully removes the bomb, but his family is murdered while he’s outside.

Bruce Wayne takes Dick in, and the young Grayson finds his way into the Batcave. He tries to help Batman, and even saves his life at one point, but Bruce decides to give up being Batman for the sake of protecting Dick’s life. Dick, on the other hand, wants to become Batman’s partner for the express purpose of killing Two-Face for his family’s murder.

Visuals/Cinematic Design
Batman Forever is a drastic departure from the design and style of Batman Returns. Where Batman Returns was almost a black-and-white film, Batman Forever is full of bright colors and neon lights. It still plays up the 1940’s art-deco design incorporated in the first two films, even taking it a step further.

batmobile-batman-foreverThe Batmobile (and other bat-vehicles) gets a major overhaul for this movie. Gone are the shadowy black, sleek steel, panther-like designs of the previous two films. Now the Batmobile (and the Batwing and Batboat along with it) looks like a tiger that ingested a few too many blue LEDs.

The Batsuit also received a slight redesign. The main suit Batman wears in the film returns him to the molded look from 1989’s Batman. I was disappointed to see that shift because I loved the Batman Returns plated-armor look. The Batsuit this time around is much sleeker. It’s a lot more form-fitting and streamlined than the previous two Batsuits and would probably be fantastic despite two massive oddities: bat-nipples and bat-ass. Schumacher decided to mold the armor in such a way as to accentuate Batman’s ass crack and added nipples to the Batsuit. I won’t go any further into it lest I get angrier as I type.

Robin’s Batsuit was pretty cool. I liked how it matched Batman’s armor while remaining true to what was introduced in the comic books and modified in Batman: The Animated Series (which is my personal favorite version of Robin’s Batsuit onscreen).

Batman-ForeverI might be alone in this, but I thought the modified Batsuit that Batman wears at the end of the film is actually pretty cool. I love its sleek design, removal of bat-nipples, and the slight gray tint it has that hearkens back to the black and gray suit Batman wears in the comics and animated show.

Main Characters
Batman/Bruce Wayne: Val Kilmer
Val Kilmer’s portrayal of Batman is quite good. While I certainly miss Michael Keaton, I appreciate Kilmer’s approach to Batman’s internal conflict. In his scenes as Bruce Wayne, I found him to be more honest in his characterization and more willing to explore what makes him tick.

Unfortunately, the screenplay included some poor dialogue choices. Kilmer delivers these lines weakly and without conviction, and I can imagine his own turmoil at having to recite lines like, “I’ll get drive-thru,” or “It’s the car, right? Chicks love the car.”

valKilmer’s Batman is the first one where we get to see a glimpse of why he became Batman and what motivates him to continue his crusade against crime. There’s a deleted scene (that I think is crucial and should have been left in) that gives us an even deeper look into what Bruce Wayne is motivated by. Sadly, the crew thought that scene made the movie too heavy, so they cut it out.

Overall, Kilmer’s Batman was excellent. He wasn’t as mysterious as Keaton, but some of that might have more to do with the screenplay than with Kilmer’s performance.

Robin/Dick Grayson: Chris O’Donnell
Dick Grayson in this movie is the vehicle for a very complex idea, and Chris O’Donnell does a good job of getting that across. He knows that Two-Face killed his parents, but he doesn’t want to kill him simply because of that. He wants to kill him because he also feels personally responsible for his family’s deaths. In other words, he feels that he could have done something to prevent them, but they were killed any way.

Batman_Forever_-_Robin_6This conflict bleeds over into Batman’s conflict as well. Like Dick Grayson, Bruce Wayne lost his parents to a murderer; and again like Dick, Bruce didn’t do anything to stop it so he feels responsible for their deaths as well.

Batman got his revenge when Jack Napier died (despite its drastic differences, Batman Forever still exists in the same universe as 1989’s Batman, so Napier was the one who killed Bruce’s parents), and it has only brought him further remorse. He tries to convey this message to Dick, but it only strengthens the young Grayson’s resolve.

Dick Grayson’s journey is one of the more fascinating points of this film, and I’m grateful it was included and fleshed out as well as it was.

Chase Meridian: Nicole Kidman
This character seems like a joke. I don’t think Nicole Kidman did a particularly bad job playing her, but the character appears to exist just because they needed a romance in the movie. She’s a psychiatrist who develops an obsession with Batman that’s C6jNyx3little more than a schoolgirl crush. Her introduction to Batman is so bizarre, and she comes across as continually turned on that it’s a wonder Bruce Wayne could possibly find her attractive as a person.

She suddenly falls in love with Bruce, but then attempts a midnight tryst with Batman only to tell him that she’s in love with someone else (Bruce).

She’s supposed to be a professional, but she only appears as such in a few scenes. Throughout the movie she just shows up to be a pretty face (no offense to Nicole Kidman of course). I didn’t dislike her, but I didn’t really see the point of her involvement in the film.

The Riddler/Edward Nygma: Jim Carrey
While Jim Carrey’s Riddler wasn’t a terrible character, he was far too much of a Jim Carrey character. In the 1990s, Jim Carrey was the type of actor who needed to be reigned in (unless he was in the right type of movie, of course).

Batman_Forever_-_The_Riddler_13You can certainly see how Carrey took a number of cues from Frank Gorshin’s portrayal of the Riddler, and I’m appreciative of that. He definitely fits in this film, but he’s not as interesting a villain as I had hoped he might become when we were introduced to him.

His riddles leave a lot to be desired as well; I wish they were more difficult so as to showcase Bruce Wayne’s detective prowess even better. But that’s more the screenwriters’ fault than Jim Carrey’s.

Two-Face/Harvey Dent: Tommy Lee Jones
Two-Face is difficult to understand in this film. According to the comic books, he’s bound to the coin-toss because that’s what he believes true justice is: random happenstance between two options. He even states as much at the beginning of the movie. However, we see him time and time again going against this belief. The core of his character is that an alternate, obsessive personality has taken over Harvey Dent, but his obsessive behavior is more in line with complete comical insanity. He doesn’t truly rely on the coin for anything.

There’s a scene in which Two-Face has the opportunity to shoot Bruce Wayne, but he goes to his coin. This incident is in line with his character; however, he continues to flip the coin when he doesn’t get the desired outcome. For someone who is obsessed with the coin toss, his actions should be dictated by the coin toss. Yet he flips the coin seemingly for no reason because he goes ahead and shoots Bruce Wayne anyway.

Batman_Forever_-_Two-Face_4Tommy Lee Jones was pretty bad in this role. It seems like the only type of villain Batman faces in these movies are simply different versions of the Joker. Two-Face spends the whole movie laughing hysterically and whining like a small child. He isn’t the complex character from the comics at all.

Granted, Two-Face is an extremely difficult character, and despite how interesting he is, has rarely been handled well by screenwriters and comic book writers alike. Alan Burnett did a good job with him in Batman: The Animated Series, and Christopher Nolan’s approach to Harvey Dent as the tragic hero of The Dark Knight was a novel idea which paid off very well.

This version of Two-Face is annoying, and could’ve been any other Batman villain while still having the exact same impact on the plot.

Alfred Pennyworth: Michael Gough
Once again Michael Gough reprises his role as Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s faithful butler. He had more of a role in this film than in Batman Returns, allowing him to flex his acting muscles a bit more, and the payoff is great. I love how he takes on a fatherly role in Bruce’s and even Dick’s life. He’s clearly much more than just a butler to Wayne Manor—he’s the house’s mentor and dad.

Themes/Motifs
Unlike 1989’s Batman and 1992’s Batman Returns, 1995’s Batman Forever attempts to give its audience more to think about. While it works surprisingly well, the campy atmosphere and silly one-liners really detract from the movie’s thoughtfulness. Additionally, the villains are so over-the-top that they distract the audience from seeing the layers of thematic depth the film presents. Themes like revenge, remorse, and responsibility all swirl through the movie, and they present us with some discussion material afterwards.

Reaction & Impact
I’m rather ambivalent with regards to this film. On the one hand, it leans heavily in the direction of camp, which is something I was thankful had disappeared in Tim Burton’s Batman films. The flashy design, silly one-liners, and over-the-top characterization and plotlines were rather annoying. This was also the movie that introduced bat-nipples and bat-ass, which are unforgivable.

On the other hand, Batman Forever presents some depth of character that was lacking from Batman and Batman Returns. The film attempts to explore Bruce Wayne’s psyche, and while it remains fairly lighthearted, it presents some fascinating material.

Batman Forever serves as something of a soft reboot. It doesn’t entirely do away with story elements and ideas from its predecessors, but it acts as a sort of “start here if you wish” presentation for those unfamiliar with the previous films.

batman-forever-batman-8649509-700-380I have to commend this movie for introducing some themes and trying to run with them, despite being relatively unsuccessful. Instead of just tossing superheros and villains into a movie and making them fight (with a dash of romance in there to attract a female audience), Batman Forever gives the audience something to chew on. It’s easy to write a villain who’s out for revenge (which they do with Two-Face and utterly fail), but they also write a protagonist who’s out for revenge, and I have to give them props for that. Dick Grayson’s journey is what propels this film, and it’s actually pretty good.

I liked the movie to a degree. The villains were weak and annoying. Bruce Wayne’s love interest was frustrating and lacked seriousness. But Dick Grayson’s inner journey and the slight exploration into Bruce Wayne’s motivation are almost worth the price of admission. They don’t cover the multitude of other sins this movie commits, however.

The deleted scene I alluded to earlier was beyond necessary, in my opinion. The scene ties together a number of incomplete plotlines, and gives motivation for Bruce Wayne’s actions in the film. Without it, we’re given almost no explanation for why Bruce decides to become Batman again after “retiring” from crime fighting for a while. It explains why he no longer feels obligated to don the cape and cowl and why he chooses to wear it as part of his identity. It also explains why he brings Dick Grayson on as a partner. Early in the film, Bruce resists the idea of a partner, but by the end of the film he welcomes Dick. Without the scene, the audience has no idea why he changes his mind. I might have considered this a pretty good movie had this scene been left in. Without it, the film is just okay.

Batman Forever is often maligned thanks to its successor, but there’s actually a good story in there with some themes to chew on, halfway decent character development, and tolerable acting. All in all, it’s not as horrible a film as some might remember it as. No, it’s not a great Batman film; it’s not even a that good of a film. Love it or hate it, don’t lump it together with what came next. Batman Forever is definitely worth spending the time to sit down with the movie.

Batman Returns (1992): The Burton Before ‘Nightmare’

This is part of my “Batman on Film” blog series. To read other entries in this and other Batman-related blog series, head over to my Batman page.

Batman Returns (1992) PosterBackground & History
After the commercial success of Batman, Warner Brothers once again turned to Tim Burton to helm a sequel.

“Batmania” once again gripped the nation, and people everywhere wanted to get in on the Batman action. Toys featuring Michael Keaton’s Batman were flying off the shelves. I even remember eating Batman breakfast cereal! A sequel was inevitable.

Production
Burton initially refused to return for a second film due to mixed emotions about the first one, but when the studio agreed to give him more creative control over the film, he relented.

Filming began in June 1991, and the film was released on June 19th of the following year. Batman Returns had a budget nearly twice as much as the previous film, but the film grossed only half as much. Because of this, and a handful of other reasons, Burton was removed from the director’s chair for the forthcoming Batman Forever.

Storyline/Plot
Batman Returns opens with the birth of a baby to the Cobblepots. The baby turns out to be a deformed, monstrous child, and the parents throw him into a river. The baby’s carriage floats through the river and ends up in the care of—you guessed it—penguins.

Thirty-three years later, this mysterious child is the leader of a terrorist group known as the Red Triangle Circus Gang. The gang appears in Gotham City during the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony and causes a riot. Batman arrives to put a stop to the riot and help the police clean things up. During the chaos, the gang kidnaps one of Gotham’s most prominent businessmen, Max Shreck.

The Penguin uses Shreck as a way to gain notoriety in the city, while Shreck uses the Penguin to try to remove the mayor from office.

Meanwhile, Max Shreck’s secretary, Selina Kyle, stumbles upon Shreck’s secret plan to use a new power plant to suck power from Gotham. Shreck catches her and throws her out of a window, effectively killing her.

batman-returns-crop-2

While this film doesn’t suffer from the glaring plot holes its predecessor does, several of its characters have unusual, outlandish, or confusing motives. The Penguin plans to kill all of Gotham’s firstborn children, but then he wants to become mayor. Next thing you know, he wants to kill children again. The whole time I was watching the film I kept wondering why he was doing what he was doing. He seemed to have very little stated reason for his actions except revenge against his parents.

Catwoman teams up with the Penguin in order to eliminate Batman, but there’s no explanation as to why. Her first fight with Batman seemed completely unprovoked, and then following that fight she wants to get rid of him. Why? Because he’s a crimefighter and she’s a criminal?

The film works well if you view Max Shreck as the primary villain, but it’s still confusing and messy.

Visuals/Cinematic Design
Visually the film departs drastically from the tone set in the previous movie. Batman seemed interested in creating a very dark world, but it maintained a level of realism and relatability that is completely gone from Batman Returns. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; Batman Returns has a beautiful visual style all its own. Where it suffers is in its lack of connection to its predecessor.

The movie seems to be set in a fantasy world. Where Batman sought fairly realistic explanations for things, Batman Returns enters a much more fantastical realm. Oswald Cobblepot is a deformed, elephant-man type of creature. Catwoman is someone who has evidently returned from the dead.

The world these plotlines are set in is a gorgeous fantasy world full of varying levels of blacks and whites. The stark contrasts are quintessentially Tim Burton, and even Danny Elfman’s score departs from his work in Batman to more closely match Tim Burton’s work. While it still draws on the themes created in 1989’s Batman, it’s less “Batman” and more “Burton.” I couldn’t help but think of Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, and The Nightmare Before Christmas when listening to this score.

CJ8rJQfWIAAMYrLThe Batsuit received an upgrade as well. As cool as the suit in Batman looked, I never was too fond of the “molded-armor” look. The mask fits Batman’s face better and the plated-armor look is sleeker and more modern. It seems much more utilitarian and less showy, which I personally like. You might disagree, but I appreciate the change.

Main Characters
Batman/Bruce Wayne: Michael Keaton
Keaton returned to portray the titular character yet again, and his performance as Batman is even better this time around.

Catwoman/Selina Kyle: Michelle Pfeiffer
This version of Catwoman is interesting, to say the least. Pfeiffer does a fantastic job with the role, but I wasn’t convinced that this was the best way to portray the character. I think she had great chemistry with Batman, and her batman-returns-lickquirkiness fits well with Bruce Wayne’s own oddity. I’ve always seen Catwoman as a femme fatale, but in this movie she comes across as a woman perpetually in heat. It’s somewhat overblown and at a few points a bit unnerving. I think the performance was good, but the character wasn’t written too well.

I think at this point it’s good to note that the characters in this movie do not reflect their comic book counterparts at all. Whereas in Batman, the characters resembled the originals to a degree (backstories not withstanding), in Batman Returns, Burton seems less concerned with sticking to the source material. It works in some places, but in others, not so much. Catwoman is a great example of that. In the comic books, she’s a cat burglar who also happens to fight for social justice in Gotham City’s slums. She’s a spokesperson for equal rights and a champion for those living in poverty. In Batman Returns she’s an angry zombie-woman seeking revenge against the corrupt mogul who killed her.

penguin-surprisePenguin/Oswald Cobblepot: Danny DeVito
While I thought that DeVito did a tremendous job playing the Penguin, this is another case of my desire to see the comic book version of a character come to life getting trumped by Tim Burton’s desire to create a sympathetic monster. In the comics Oswald Cobblepot is a high-society, high profile crime lord who owns a casino and uses it as a cover for his black-market weapons dealing. The only reason he’s referred to as “The Penguin” is that he’s short, rotund, and likes to wear tuxedos and black suits.

In this movie, the Penguin is effectively an Elephant Man. He’s society’s outcast due to grotesque deformities, and Burton plays that up quite a bit. It’s rather ineffective though. It’s almost as if Burton wants us to feel sorry for the Penguin by the end of the movie; he’s a misunderstood, mistreated monster whose only true friends were the flightless birds from whom he derived his name. However, it’s extremely difficult to feel sorry for a character who devises a plan to kill all of Gotham City’s firstborn children.

pfeiffer5Max Shreck: Christopher Walken
While the movie’s marketing machine didn’t talk about him at all, this was the film’s primary villain. I enjoyed him as a character. He was conniving, misled, and quite evil. Christopher Walken’s performance was good (albeit a little too “Walken-esque”), and he convinced me to hate him by the last scene.

Alfred Pennyworth: Michael Gough
Alfred takes a step back this time, which I think hurts the movie to a degree. Michael Gough’s version of Alfred is still one of my favorites to this day, and it’s a shame he didn’t get more screen time. I definitely appreciated the banter he had with Bruce Wayne at several points during the movie. Particularly when Bruce brings up Vicki Vale. Fantastic moment between the two characters.

Themes/Motifs
The film is certainly dark, which was one of the major complaints of the movie, but I don’t think that was as much an issue as people made it out to be at the time of the film’s release. The real problem with this movie is that it’s needlessly grotesque. The character of the Penguin is frightening and cringe-inducing, but we’re supposed to feel sorry for him.

It’s been said many times before, but I’ll go ahead and add my voice to the din: Batman Returns isn’t as much a Batman movie as it is a Tim Burton film that incorporates characters from the Batman universe. Everything from the stark visuals to the fantastical world and the grotesque, misunderstood monster character left me feeling more like I was watching an amalgamation of Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Sweeney Todd, and Beetlejuice.

Like the first film, it’s hard to find any real themes or character arcs in the movie. The attempts are there, but they tend to fall flat. Batman/Bruce Wayne doesn’t evolve much in the movie. The Penguin doesn’t either. Where it improves over the first film is in the fact that there is a bit of an arc that we get to witness. Catwoman’s arc is probably the most interesting we’ve seen in any modern Batman film thus far (from 1989-1992, I mean. I still haven’t touched anything between then and now.), and while it isn’t great, it’s still nice to see.

Reaction & Impact
Batman Returns is an odd movie. I started the film really wanting to enjoy it, but I finished feeling confused and annoyed by it. In one sense I actually liked it better than Batman. Its art deco evolved to a more gothic feel. The visuals are beautiful and the film feels much more personal. But with any superhero sequel, the stakes need to be raised from the previous movie, and that doesn’t really happen here.

batman-returns-bat-signalBatman Returns received a lot of criticism from parents for what they called a darker and more violent tone than the first film. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s darker, and Batman Returns was never meant to be viewed by children. It was certainly more grotesque, however, and I can understand how that would bother many parents. The studio reacted harshly though, and Burton was removed from directorial duties on any future Batman movies. With Burton no longer directing, Michael Keaton decided to step away from Batman as well. A big change to the franchise was about to occur.

Batman (1989): A Dark Knight Emerges

This is part of my “Batman on Film” blog series. To read other entries in this and other Batman-related blog series, head over to my Batman page.

Batman (1989) PosterBackground & History
Prior to this film’s release, Batman had gone from a dark detective character in the 1940s to a silly, cartoonish superhero in the 1960s. Public perception of the character was one of bright, gaudy colors; fatuous one-liners; and outrageous plotlines. While the 1960s Batman television series and subsequent movie served to bring the comic book character into the mainstream eye, fans lamented the long-time departure from the Batman comic books of old: haunting stories, creepy characters, and a dark motif.

During the 70s and 80s, the comic books began to shift back towards Batman creator Bob Kane’s original vision for the character, but public perception had not yet caught up. Books like Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One betrayed a longing inside the comic book industry to take the popular franchise back to its dark and haunting roots.

Fans and industry insiders received what they asked for in 1989’s Batman. Despite early misgivings, particularly surrounding the casting of Michael Keaton as the titular character, fans embraced the renewed vision of a somber and shadowy vigilante. Batman was a creature of the night once again.

Production
Batman began production at Pinewood Studios in October of 1988 and wrapped the following January. The original production budget was $30 million, but that quickly jumped to $48 million during filming. Much of the production was kept a secret; the police were contacted when two reels of footage went missing.

Batman opened on June 23, 1989, grossing $43.6 million in 2,194 theaters during its opening weekend. The film would go on to gross $411.35 million globally.

The movie was received well by critics and cinemagoers, who praised the “new” take on the Batman franchise. Some casual Batman fans were bothered by the dark and violent tone, and many disliked certain facets of the story, but overall, reception was positive.

Storyline/Plot
The film opens with a look at Gotham City’s crime problem. Two thugs mug a family in a dark alley. After they commit their crime, a shadowy figure attacks them and requests that one of them “tell all your friends about me.” When the thug asks, “What are you?” the figure replies, “I’m Batman.”

The film then shifts focus to the problem of mob control in the city. Police Commissioner Jim Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent are working to stop the crime problem prior to Gotham City’s bicentennial celebration.

Meanwhile, news reporter Alexander Knox and photojournalist Vicki Vale investigate reports of a giant bat terrorizing Gotham’s underworld. Vicki Vale finds herself personally caught up in her subject matter as she is dating Bruce Wayne, Batman’s alter ego.

Mob boss Carl Grissom finds out that his second-in-command, Jack Napier, has gotten romantically involved with his mistress, and in response sends Napier to a setup where he arranges with corrupt police lieutenant Bob Eckhart to have him murdered. Upon arrival, Napier discovers that he’s been set up and murders Eckhart. Batman disrupts the shootout, accidentally causing Napier to fall into a vat of chemicals.

The film sets up its plotlines well, but it unfortunately doesn’t deliver on them. Unlike its counterpart, 1978’s Superman, this movie avoids the “hero’s journey” storyline, but to its own detriment. Director Tim Burton decided to steer clear of Batman’s origin story, which in a way works well for the film; it provides a sense of mystery surrounding the character of Batman and gives other characters a reason to fear him. I loved how we saw the criminal world’s superstition surrounding him along with journalism’s skepticism and disdain of him. The Batman is a polarizing figure in this movie.

However, what’s missing in this movie is a clear direction. If Burton wanted to avoid the “hero’s journey” arc, another genre or trope should’ve been selected. I personally think a mystery story would’ve gone along well with this film’s tone. But as it stands, it doesn’t really know what it’s trying to accomplish, and a film without goals tends to fall flat.

4223383-batman-1989-batman-confronts-the-jokerThere were several moments that I found myself scratching my head. Why did the Joker visit Vicki Vale’s apartment? Was it just to intimidate her? He wasn’t there to kidnap her or anything. Why is Batman going around the city kicking criminal’s asses? What is his motivation? Sure, his parents were murdered, but we are offered no reason for his existence. That’s fine if we’re viewing this story through the lens of another character, but the perspective characters in this movie are Bruce Wayne/Batman and Jack Napier/Joker. The filmmakers owe it to the audience to offer an explanation for Batman’s existence.

When Vicki Vale goes digging into Bruce Wayne’s past, she comes across the story of his parents’ murder. What’s strange is that this isn’t public knowledge. Bruce Wayne is supposedly a high-society billionaire. I might’ve bought the secrecy if the movie made him out to be a rich recluse, but I would think that one would have to be pretty high profile to host a city-wide benefit at his own mansion with the mayor in attendance. And I find it extremely hard to believe that Vicki Vale didn’t immediately recognize Bruce Wayne upon meeting him, but maybe that was the film’s way of trying to get the audience to believe that Wayne isn’t as high-profile as your average billionaire.

The third act of the film is sloppy, particularly as the story comes to a close. The Joker takes Vicki Vale up the bell tower of an old cathedral, but for what reason? And as Batman follows him up to the top of the tower, he comes across resistance from the Joker’s henchmen. Where did they come from? Did the Joker somehow know that he was going to end up at that particular location? When did he have time to get his henchmen to wait in the shadows for Batman to arrive?

Overall, the story lacks cohesiveness and a sense of direction. The plot is full of holes (pardon the old cliché), and the movie stretches the limits of plausibility in many areas. But a weak plot doesn’t a weak film make.

Visuals/Cinematic Design
One of the things I continue to love about this movie is its ambiguous design. Architecture is very 1940s, hearkening back to the era of the Batman’s creation by Bob Kane. The film carries a 1980s tone while still holding up to today’s style (though that could have something to do with the fact that 80s fashion is back in at the time that I rewatched the movie).

The “art deco” style introduced in the film went on to influence the next few decades of Batman design on film and television. The film was beautifully shot and framed, and if there’s one hallmark of Tim Burton’s work, it’s his ability to create visually stunning setpieces. Batman is no exception.

The costumes in the film are great as well. The Batsuit’s design, though ubiquitous today, was a vast departure from what was commonly associated with Batman previously. Bright colors and tights were set aside for an all-black, molded body armor. The look was sleek and menacing, creating a chilling interpretation for the Dark Knight.

The Joker’s look is just as terrifying, albeit for different reasons entirely. The eerie frozen smile solidified my fear of clowns growing up, and even watching it as an adult, I’m left with chills running down my spine.

Batman-1989-07-gI would be remiss to not mention the Batmobile. Few cars have as storied a history as the Batmobile, and this iteration of Batman’s iconic set of wheels is one of this film’s greatest achievements. It fits perfectly inside the world Burton created for Batman, and it stands as the perfect representation of it. Few pop-culture items are more instantly recognizable than the 1989 Batmobile, and its association with Batman is indelible.

Main Characters
Batman/Bruce Wayne: Michael Keaton.
I thoroughly enjoyed Keaton’s portrayal of Batman. He does a great job of being dark and menacing. I wish that this version of Batman had utilized his detective skills a bit more. He figures out the Joker’s plan for spreading a “laughing virus” that kills Gothamites, but beyond that, we don’t really get to see the comic book industry’s greatest detective at work.

Keaton’s Bruce Wayne is a bit confusing. He’s an odd character, and we don’t really get a sense for why he acts the way he does. Why does he pretend to not know who Bruce Wayne is when he first meets Vicki Vale? Why does he go crazy when the Joker shows up at Vicki’s apartment? Why doesn’t he fire Alfred when she brings Vicki into the Batcave?

The Joker/Jack Napier: Jack Nicholson.
The Joker is the real star of this movie. Nicholson’s portrayal of the character is impressive. He’s frightening, deranged, and mesmerizing. While this is indeed an excellent performance, I couldn’t help but feel that the character was typecast. Nicholson basically performs as an exaggerated version of himself in this film. That’s not to say that it was a bad Joker; quite the opposite, actually. Nicholson was the perfect choice for the Joker at the time, and it seems as though the role was made for him.

Vicki Vale: Kim Basinger.
Vicki Vale is a frustrating character. Kim Basinger did a great job here, but I didn’t feel like there was any real chemistry between her and Bruce Wayne. Their romance was rushed and short-lived, yet Bruce is ready to bring her in on his deepest secret. She played an authentic photo-journalist, but she doesn’t seem to have much to do in the movie except as a damsel in distress.

Alfred Pennyworth: Michael Gough.
Michael Gough’s Alfred is one of my favorite versions of the character. He’s a butler, but he clearly has raised Bruce and loves him dearly. Gough plays the role with such heartfelt honesty that I found myself wanting him as a butler. My biggest issue with the character is his decision to bring Vicki Vale into the Batcave. How long had Bruce been dating her? In the film’s perceived timeline, not long. I’m surprised Bruce didn’t fire Alfred after that.

Themes/Motifs
This film is fascinating. Like most of Tim Burton’s movies, Batman lacks narrative strength and instead opts for tones and themes. The movie isn’t preachy by any measure, but it doesn’t provide the rich and cohesive storytelling that 1978’s Superman drips with. Despite the lack of a “hero’s journey” narrative, the film still works thanks to Burton’s ability to create a visually engaging world.

I enjoy the idea of Bruce Wayne/Batman as a late protagonist; he remains somewhat ambiguous until almost the third act. Batman serves as a backdrop for the protagonist of Vicki Vale (who wasn’t a particularly well written character, but still holds her own in the film) and the antagonist of Jack Napier/Joker (who serves as the perspective character for much of the movie).

Reaction & Impact
It’s difficult to understand the impact that Batman had on the film and comic book industry unless you actually lived through it. I was just five years old at the time, so I wouldn’t consider my perspective worth as much; however, I did have the opportunity to see the shift. Until this film, Batman was perceived by general audiences as a broad-daylight, self-aware, transparent good guy who existed in a lighthearted, campy world. Sure, the comic books told a different story, but most people weren’t familiar with Batman from the comics; they only knew him from the 1960s TV show. This 1989 film changed all of that.

batman15I enjoyed this movie. What it lacks in narrative coherence it makes up for in authentic acting, stunning visuals, beautiful cinematography, and a rich score. Batman might not be a perfect movie, but it’s certainly a triumphant one.

Batman on Film (2005-2012)

Batman_Logo_2005The early 2000s gave cinemagoers a more relatable, purposeful vision of Batman. The on-screen Batman began to reflect the Batman from the comic books of the 1980s. I’m collecting on this page links to my retrospective analyses of the three films that comprise Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Saga. Keep checking back as I’ll be updating this page regularly until its completion.

Batman Begins (2005)
The Dark Knight (2008)
The Dark Knight Rises (2012) Coming soon. . .
A Literary Analysis of The Dark Knight Saga (2005-2012) Coming soon. . .

Batman on Film (1989-1997)

Batman_Logo_1995The 1990s saw a return to Batman’s roots as a dark, brooding character, but over the course of the decade, it became evident that he would not permanently escape the camp that had been introduced in the 50s and came to define him in the 60s. I’m collecting on this page links to my analyses of the four live-action Batman films that make up the “Burton-Schumacher” era of Batman films.

Batman (1989)
Batman Returns (1992)
Batman Forever (1995)
Batman & Robin (1997)