Mit spoilers.

The movie is a solid B+. Frankly I felt like it was in the A range until the last 20 minutes which struck me as rushed and pointlessly unfaithful to the source material. That is, the "new" ending did not seem any less convoluted than the comic ending, while the stated goal of the filmmakers in changing the ending was to make it more easily comprehensible to movie audiences. The conclusion also lost a few points for rushing things ("Hold on, let me explain these crucial plot points while I'm punching you; the money people say this has to come in under 180 minutes"). The film started out at a great, leisurely pace which gave the characters time to interact whereas the conclusion was a trainwreck. The first cut of the film was supposedly close to five hours, and I can understand why. Personally I'd gladly have sat in the theater for an additional hour to see the climactic conspiracy developed more completely.

I have no idea who any of those actors are (I neither watch TV nor get out much in terms of movies these days) but I think they were all magnificent with the exception of Ozymandias, who seemed like a high school play actor following instructions far too literally ("Act…pretentious now. Furrow your brow.") Perhaps that is also a function of the fact that the film devoted almost no time at all to developing Veidt's personality, narcissism, and ambitions. If anything, this was the big flaw with the film. With copious amounts of screen time devoted to Rorschach, Dreiberg, Comedian, and a suprisingly good Silk Spectre, Ozymandias (and to a lesser extent Dr. Manhattan) was short-changed.

Although I have never said this about a film before and meant it, I am looking forward to a full-length uncut/director's edition of Watchmen on DVD. I understand that the casual moviegoer wouldn't put up with a film any longer than the theatrical cut, hopefully the option of a longer film will be made available to those who want it.


If there is one kind of film I categorically loathe it is blatant Oscar bait. The Thanksgiving-to-Christmas season is jam packed with such films annually. Yes, there are some truly great films released during the month or two before the Academy picks a crop of winners, and many films that win Oscars are in fact deserving of recognition. But there are also ham-fisted, cynical efforts churned out by studios lacking a "serious" film upon which awards can be bestowed and hoping that sentimental tripe involving handicapped people or people imprisoned/wrongly accused of crimes will do the trick. Some of the worst offenders include cinematic vomit like I Am Sam, The Green Mile, Pay It Forward, Love in the Time of Cholera, or The Life of David Gale.

In recent years, though, the criteria for individual acting Oscar-bait has slightly broadened. It now encompasses not only Convict or the Handicapped but also Gay. Boys Don't Cry and Brokeback Mountain both softened up the Academy to the point that we can now annually expect some Very Serious Film from some Very Shitty Studio about a heroic, slightly messianic LGBT Character who, from the studio's perspective, preferably gets murdered. In a couple years I fully expect to see one of the fucking Jonas Brothers starring in The Matthew Shepard Story.

I guess by this point you can tell that I am not going to be watching Milk for a number of reasons. First, Sean Penn's face looks like an ape's puckered red asshole. Second, Mr. Penn cannot act to save his soul and has already stolen an Oscar for the revolting Mystic River. Third, the story of Harvey Milk, American Hero and Martyr, delightfully tiptoes around the fact that the Great Man owed much credit for his election to Jim Jones and the People's Temple, an organization that Milk spent his elected career protecting and enthusiastically supporting.

The excellent PBS production Jonestown: Life and Death of the Peoples Temple details how Reverend Jim's flock provided thousands of person-hours of labor to the campaigns of Milk, Moscone, and then-Assemblyman Willie Brown, later the mayor of San Fran. Some sources go as far as to credit the Temple's three thousand registered voters for being directly responsible for Milk's electoral success in 1976.

In return Milk regularly spoke glowingly of the Temple and spoke at public rallies with the Reverend in addition to regular columns in the Peoples Forum, the cult's newspaper. He was no mere opportunistic politician, as many of his biographers attempt to depict him if they mention the issue at all, but a personal devotee of Jones. After one Temple visit he wrote a personal letter to Jones stating,

Rev Jim, It may take me many a day to come back down from the high that I reach today. I found something dear today. I found a sense of being that makes up for all the hours and energy placed in a fight. I found what you wanted me to find. I shall be back. For I can never leave.

On the evening before Jones was to be exposed by investigative journalist Marshall Kilduff of the Chronicle, the Reverend and his flock fled the long arm of the law into the jungles of Guyana. Political allies sprinted away from Jones like rats on a sinking ship. Not Milk, though. He wrote a letter to Jimmy Carter protesting the government's investigations into the Temple and its leader, a "man of the highest character." Of the relatives working with Congressman Leo Ryan (soon to be murdered in Guyana) Milk wrote that they were opportunists attempting to "damage (Jones') reputation with bald-faced lies." Within a few months Ryan, Milk, and nearly everyone in Jonestown would be dead, all for very different reasons.

Harvey Milk was obviously a brave man, someone who did as all individuals should do. He proudly stood up for himself and refused to accept second-class treatment or apologize for who he was. He drew attention with both his life and his death to the shoddy, often violent treatment that gay and lesbian people receive at the hands of the police, elected officials, and garden variety bigots. I applaud Gus Van Sant and the film for making even one viewer think about homophobia, discrimination, and the violence it inspires.

What I can't swallow is the lack of context, the rush to canonize Milk the Character to make the film a more appealing slice of Oscar bait. A film that purports to tell the true story of a man should not feel free to edit out the parts that get in the way of tear-harvesting the audience. The film certainly follows the pack, though. An exhibit at the Gay Historical Society is unironically called "Saint Harvey." A decent author or filmmaker can handle a three-dimensional character, one who is a bastard sometimes in addition to being heroic. Shitty filmmakers have to rely on hackneyed caricatures who either parade around in glowing halos or are comically evil.


Oliver Stone's new George W. Bush biopic (or "dramatization" or whatever one calls a life story retold with poetic license) seems, even in comparison to every other Oliver Stone movie, like the wrong movie at the wrong time. The acting may be great, it may be funny, it may be accurate, and it may cure cancer after two viewings, but….who in the hell actually wants to watch a movie about George W. Bush after seven years and nine months of living the George W. Bush experience?

Matthew Brady, undoubtedly the most important (and first) photojournalist, is famous today for the thousands of uncensored images he made of the American Civil War.** What is often forgotten is that immediately after the War he went bankrupt and died penniless, many of his images being destroyed in the process. It wasn't because his pictures were not gripping or lacked artistic merit – it was simply that after the Civil War, no one wanted to look at pictures of the Civil War.

Stone's film might have been the perfect movie for 2011. Maybe at that point we will have gained enough distance from these events to appreciate them as a source of comedy, irony, or entertainment. Right now it feels a little like expecting the public in 1866 to pay to see photos of mangled, bloody Union soldiers and burnt villages. Maybe I am incorrect and the public will flock to see the film, but I very much doubt it. Sticking with the Civil War theme, when Booth's co-conspirators were executed in 1865, a newspaper called the Evening Star stated:

The last act of the tragedy of the 19th century is ended, and the curtain dropped forever upon the lives of its actors. Payne, Herold, Atzerodt and Mrs. Surratt have paid the penalty of their awful crime. In the bright sunlight of this summer day the wretched criminals have been hurried into eternity…We want to know their names no more.

That is the best summary of how I feel about this administration and everyone responsible for the events of the last eight years. There will come a time when I want to think about them in great detail, but it certainly is not now.

**He also photographed 18 of the 19 presidents between 1824 and 1900, excepting only William Henry Harrison, and is responsible for the only extant photographs of six presidents. Among them is John Quincy Adams, the earliest president (chronologically) to be photographed, albeit late in his life and many years after he left office. The first president to be photographed while in office, also by Brady, was John Tyler.


(Spoiler-free, I think)

Amazingly, this movie comes painfully close to living up to its hype. It's really, really good. I would not put it in the pantheon of great films, but there is little doubt that it is far and away the best "comic" movie ever made. Not sure if there's a close second.

This review will seem a little negative only because I'm not going to waste time being redundant and pointing out what every critic on the planet has already said: it's dark, compelling, well-acted all around, and not "fun" in the summer movie sense. Everything you've heard is true. I'll mention two pleasant surprises and one big negative.

First, Christopher Nolan got slightly less terrible at filming action scenes! He replaced his technique from Batman Begins – shaking the camera around so the audience feels like they're "in the action" (i.e. nauseous) – with a mildly irritating Michael Bay-style series of rapid cuts. It's not good, but it's a dramatic improvement. They could get someone to film the action better, but then they'd be stuck with all of the idiocy that accompanies those folks. Second, Aaron Eckhart acts like someone other than Aaron Eckhart, Smug Asshole. That's refreshing.

The problem: this was very, very obviously two films. The original plan was to make the third film in the series about Eckhart (Two Face) as the main villain, but instead the writers and director chose to merge that story into the second film. It showed. A lot. The last hour of this film is a condensed version of a third film, and Nolan struggles mightily to A) connect the second act to the first and B) keep the Joker involved in the Two-Face storyline.
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Several storylines in the film were truncated as a result.

I suppose a second negative is that I have no idea how they're going to milk a third sequel. What could possibly follow this? One big problem with the Batman franchise (as sharply noted by commenter Scott N.) is that the villains absolutely pale in comparison to the Joker. The only other charismatic villain is Two Face and, well, they shot that wad too. Given the gravity of Heath Ledger's and Eckhart's performances, it's going to be nearly impossible for the writers and whatever actors are tasked to play a milquetoasty villain in the next film to keep pace.

OK, last complaint. Christian Bale's "When I Dress Up As Batman, I Talk Like I Am Trying Really Hard to Shit but Failing" voice gets so ridiculous that he's barely intelligible at the end of the film. Seriously, it's so over the top that, among all of the sound effects and music, I couldn't even understand a few of his lines. At this rate they are going to need to subtitle Batman in the third film. Or pump the Caped Crusader with prune juice until he craps. A lot.


1. So like most people in my age bracket I will be seeing The Dark Knight this weekend, and let me tell you something – after the amount of hype this film has received, it better be good. It better solve longstanding historical controversies. It better balance the Federal budget. It better make everyone who watches it lose 10 pounds. It better give me an above-average haircut. It better make Godfather II look like a high school play interrupted by fighting hobos.

The bar, it has been set high.

It looks good. It looks like it will be better than other movies coming out this summer. But for christ's sake, people, settle the fuck down. It's a Batman movie. I know too many people who are beside themselves with excitement and fully convinced that this will be Citizen Kane for the 21st Century. Perhaps if we keep our expectations grounded more firmly in reality we can avoid crushing disappointment.

I'm optimistic, though. If Christopher Nolan figures out how to film an action scene (which, don't forget, he can't do to save his soul in the first film) it might be a 10 out of 10. But seriously, let's all settle down.

2. I/we have been immortalized in cartoon form in NUVO, which is Indianapolis' version of the Reader or Village Voice. Contrary to the impression that this creates, our singer is not Fidel Castro.