Thursday, March 27, 2014

Batman and Robin


Things have settled back into routine here at Chateau Maine. The floral tributes have been tastefully arranged; Patrick, the cat, has eaten only a few of the less poisonous varieties - he uses plants as self medication for his bulimia but I don't think it's working. I have suggested therapy with Dr. Mazursky, the famous pet analyst, but he continues to be most resistant. I'm currently in the process of packing up some of Norman's career mementos for display at Planet Hollywood which will give them the tasteful surroundings they so richly deserve. 

Joseph, my manager, has suggested that a redoubled work schedule may be the best therapy for my grief so we are working hard on an extended cross country tour of my Ssssoundssss of Ssssilence concert which opens tomorrow night at the Snake Wrangler's Hall of Fame in Opp, Alabama. The new dress is ready. It had to be modified from cobra to black mamba due to my recent widowhood but I think the effect, as I emerge from a giant egg singing All I Asp of You from The Phantom of the Opera, will be equally stunning. It looks like I may be living out of my Vuitton luggage for a few weeks as gigs are rolling in. 

Joseph also had the most divine idea regarding Norman's cremains. I'm having them molded into little Norman figurines by a local sculptress and we'll sell them in the lobby at intermission. The whole country will then be able to have just a little bit of stardom in their living room curio cabinets. I had originally envisioned a little inner motor so the mini-Normans could do a little dance but that seems to be cost prohibitive. He's just going to stand there, stiff and lifeless, kind of like Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

Thinking of Ah-nuld reminded me that I had not yet reviewed Batman and Robin, the 4th installment in the Warner Brother's revival of  caped crusader films begun by Tim Burton in 1989. I have to confess I had tried to watch the film before and each and every time, it put me to sleep after half an hour. It put me to sleep this time too so I had to watch the second half the following morning with orange sticks propped under my eyelids to keep them open. 

The original Batman from 1989 was a moody, thoughtful piece which owed much to Hitchcock, Orson Welles, and Fritz Lang, all filtered through Tim Burton's unique visual sense and affinity for the macabre. After the first sequel, the reins were picked up by Joel Schumacher who turned the films into comic grotesques full of empty visual spectacle. His first foray, Batman Forever with Val Kilmer in the title role, was infused with some life by the manic energies of Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones as the villains; this one, however, is Shakespeare's tale told by the idiot, full of the sound and fury, signifying nothing. 

The bat mask in this episode is essayed by George Clooney, who mistakes being wooden with projecting gravitas. He is joined by Chris O'Donnell, equally stiff, as Robin. Between these two and Ah-nuld as the villain, Mr. Freeze, there's enough wood on the screen to frame a two story house. The film starts with a bunch of neon visual hyperbole that turns out to be the batcave and some inane dialog about "chicks digging the car" that made me think I had stumbled into a Zucker brothers parody for a moment. Then it's time for the first action set piece, some sort of Ice Capades 'Batman' number staged in the Gotham museum starring the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in Isaac Mizrahi's Nanook of the North collection. This introduces us to Mr. Freeze who drops what are supposed to be one-liners with all the insouciance of Janet Reno at a press conference. He needs to steal the diamonds, kept in the same room as the Apatosaurus and the ancient vases (strange museum!) for his cold suit. 

Next, we zoom off to a tropical jungle where we meet Dr. Pamela Isley (Uma Thurman), a strange little scientist who's trying to cross breed plants and animals (genetics is apparently not her forte). She works with an evil mad scientist (John Glover displaying every evil mad scientist cliché known to cinema during the five minutes he's on screen) who's corrupting her research to create some kind of super warrior he names Bane (Jeep Swenson). Bane looks like a refuge from WWF Smackdown crossed with the chartreuse Teletubbie. He, of course escapes and hooks up with Dr. Isley, who is converted into the villainess Poison Ivy when John Glover tries to kill her. 

Meanwhile, Alfred the butler, is becoming ill with a horrible made up disease called Macgregor's syndrome so his niece, Barbara (Alicia Silverstone) comes to visit. I was a little confused about generations here as Alicia appears to be about twenty and the photo of her mother looks sixty years older. Maybe Alicia was one of those test tube babies. She turns out to be a computer whiz, a motorcycle demon, and judo expert so it's not surprising that she's soon joining the crime fighting club as Batgirl, but not before taking part in some weird urban cycle race where contestants dress as the Droogs from A Clockwork Orange or Mozart from Amadeus for no particular reason. 

The three villains converge on Gotham City, no longer a moody and dangerous place, but now a spectacle of high camp with a lot of public buildings that look like naked men. Soon they're crashing a society ball where everyone's dressed as the chorus from a road show of South Pacific and the Jack Cole Dancers seem to be leaping from vines in the background to give us something to look at while the principals continue to bore us. They swipe some diamonds and return to their lairs - Poison Ivy to an abandoned Turkish bath which she turns into Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room and Mr. Freeze to some kind of sno-cone factory where he keeps his wife in an aquarium. 

There's some more inane plot, then a final showdown during which Freeze tries to ice all of Gotham City from an observatory using a telescope and our three heroes keep trying to thwart him using satellites to bounce the sun in from the Congo. (I'm not making this up, you know.) Then there's the declaration of friendship and family bond, the last minute redemption and the triumph over evil. At the end, I realized why the movie is so soporific - all the pretty colors and moving parts simply harmonize to lull those alpha waves out, just like a Calder mobile. 

There are two styles of acting in the film - non-existent (Ah-nuld, Clooney, O'Donnell) and Hambone (Thurman, Glover). The hambones at least bring some life to the proceedings occasionally and the costumes are fun. They're more lovingly photographed than the people in them. There's more close-ups of crotches in black latex and women's bodies in lycra than on The Playboy Channel. The best performance, and the only recognizable human, comes from Michael Gough as Alfred, the butler. 

Joel Schumacher was properly excoriated in the press when the film came out (and punished by Hollywood for destroying a lucrative franchise - he has not been allowed near a major project since. His recent work has all been small budget mood pieces.) I think his problem was forgetting to have a script prior to filming. The lines dribbling out of the mouths of the actors (credited to Akiva Goldsman) would defeat the Royal Shakespeare Company. You can have the best sets, costumes, effects and actors in the world and all you will have is dreck if you give them nothing to work with. 

Apatosaurus skating. Sky surfing. Big diamonds. Gratuitous Vivica A. Fox in teddy. Gratuitous Elle McPherson in evening gown. Evil dictators. Crashing telescope. Dancing pink gorillas. Gratuitous green goop dunking. Motorcycle crashes. Glow in the dark punks. 

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