Movie Hardball – The Debut


Editor’s Note: As we expand our offerings here at the Popcorn Junkies, John Price has agreed to debut a new column he will anchor on a semi-weekly basis. Leading a discussion-type regular feature has always been something we have wanted to do, now John has developed a feature to help anchor our weekly column lineup with Movie Hardball. Mondays will always be Rob Sutton’s to talk about action films, ML Kennedy finishes the week off with his unique and acerbic take on film, and with news and reviews throughout the week a big hole in the middle. So instead of one weekly feature, we’re debuting two that will alternate with one another.

Rotating with this feature will be Lauren Leigh’s debut column about life on the wild side of film, Breuerdise. We hope you enjoy both and will gladly accept any feedback we can get. — Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz, Popcorn Junkies Editor-in-Chief

Welcome to the first edition of Movie Hardball. In this inaugural run I talk with resident news specialist Danny Cox and professional opinion contradictor ML Kennedy about the only thing anyone seems to want to talk about these days. You guessed it, Frank Stallone. No, of course I am talking about The Dark Knight. I asked them a few other questions as well in an attempt to fill nine “innings” like in baseball, get it? Aside from offering me a chance to make a terrible pun, Movie Hardball is intended to open up dialogue between the Popcorn Junkies staff and all of our loyal readers. We hope you enjoy this first outing with two PJ mainstays.

Without further adieu:

1. There has been much fanfare surrounding The Dark Knight. Do you think fans and critics would be so universally impressed with the film if Heath Ledger were still alive?

Kennedy: Ledger’s death may make critics reluctant to criticize his performance, but ultimately won’t affect their evaluation of the film as a whole. In some instances, the death of a principle performer adds to the mystique of a movie (read as: The Crow), but won’t make critics call a turd sandwich filet mignon (read as: Canadian Bacon sucks even if John Candy is dead, same goes for Almost Heroes and the late Chris Farley).

Frankly, Ledger’s death strikes me as a “death by stupid”. Frankly, if we had to be extra sensitive about a movie based on a funny book because the guy that played the evil clown accidentally killed himself, well, I’d have even less respect for film critics than I currently do.

Cox: I believe so because it isn’t just Ledger that is making this film so popular. The way I look at it is that no matter what, the film would be successful; only it wouldn’t be “as” successful had Ledger still been alive. So many people not interested in comic books, super heroes, or big time action films are waiting in line to see The Dark Knight because of the situation surviving Ledger. It is those people who will make up the difference between the great amounts of money the film would already take in to the actual huge amount I know it’s going to rake in.

But it makes me wonder if I believe what I’m saying or not. From just the few clips of the film I’ve seen so far, Ledger looks and sounds phenomenal. He has captured the essence and spirit of the Joker like no-one else I’ve ever seen. Aaron Eckhart is a brilliant actor and seems to have the role of Harvey Dent down to perfection. And I’ve seen pictures of his Two Face persona and they are amazing. Let’s not forget that Katie Holmes’ untalented self is a gone pecan and the lovely Maggie Gyllenhaal has stepped into her place as Rachel Dawes. Not only is she cuter, but could act circles around Katie. I think no matter what…Ledger alive or dead…this film has to be a great success.

Price: Thanks for the vote of confidence, Kennedy. Aside from that cheapshot, both writers make good points and anyone who has seen Batman Begins could have told you the sequel would be great. But, for better or worse, Ledger’s death has inarguably brought more eyes upon The Dark Knight than even the most upbeat optimist could have imagined.

2. Would an Academy Award nomination for Ledger in the actor or supporting actor category be worthy or would it be more paying tribute to a fallen star?

Kennedy: Are there any people naive enough to believe that Academy Awards are merit based? Oscar winner Julia Roberts, anyone? Academy Award winning writer Ben Affleck? Academy voters vote with their hearts and spleens as much as they do their heads. John Wayne won an acting Oscar for True Grit if memory serves, and his only performance that exceeded serviceable was in The Searchers.

I haven’t seen The Dark Knight yet. I can’t tell you if Ledger’s is one of the 5 (or 10 or 20 or 1000) best performances of the year. Most of the year’s Oscar bait won’t even come out until late fall. We’ll have to see what else pops up, if Heath gets nominated, and then perhaps we can make a judgment call to see whether his ability to pretend is worthy of a naked little gold person.

Cox: It would be worthy if his entire performance is as brilliant as I’ve seen in clips so far, but let’s stop and think for a second. I like Heath Ledger and have loved a lot of the films he has starred in, including 10 Things I Hate About You, Monster’s Ball, The Patriot, and Candy. He has only improved with every role he has been in and taking on the persona of the Joker is unlike anything he’s ever done. Look at him for God’s sake. He looks nothing like his boyish self. You can’t even hear his Australian accent or American voice when the Joker speaks. Hearing small lines like “Here’ my card!” or “Let’s put a smile on that face!” sends chills up and down my spine. I’d consider him an easy winner for an Oscar in either category.

But…I don’t want him to win it. Let’s face it, the Academy would never in a million years put up a comic book film in any major category. And if something from one of those films happened to be lucky enough to get a nomination, it’d never win. It’s just not done, and it’s a trend I feel will continue for a long time. The Academy seems to enjoy taking films no one has ever seen and even less have heard of and makes them the top nominees. Giving the Oscar to Ledger now wouldn’t be looked at as respecting his role, but being a pity award. No matter what they say about his acting, I’ll know that the award was simply given to him because of his passing. And to that I call horse$#!@

Price: Wow, both writers are aggressively protective of a genre they seem to enjoy and an actor they seem to respect. A point that neither addresses is that, strategic as the Academy can be, they seem to seek ways to spread the wealth when it is deserved. Look at the Lord of the Rings sweep or Johnny Depp’s acting nomination for Pirates. While the circumstances bother me as well, I think that Ledger should be nominated to, at the very least, shine a light on a genre that not only dominates Hollywood, but is actually maturing into a serious place to find great stories. I wonder if an acting nomination for Robert Downey, Jr. would be less controversial, albeit less deserved.

3. Moving away from Ledger, let’s discuss Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan. He was considered more or less an unproven commodity when selected to direct Batman Begins. Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson were also cult directors who were handed the keys to big franchises. Are there any current “unknown” directors who you think deserve a franchise? What would you like to see them direct?

Kennedy: I’d like Guillermo del Toro to direct me a bunch of Swamp Thing movies. Problem is:
(a)he’s known,
(b) he is already helming a comic book franchise, and
(c) no one but me gives two [profanity deleted]s about Swamp Thing enough to call it a “big franchise”.

Marvel has made or is making movies about almost all of their big names.

Hmm. . . If you want to find a Nolan-ish director, then Brad Anderson is the way to go. He already directed two Batmen in The Machinist. Memento is to The Machinist as Batman is to Green Arrow.

There you go. Give him some Green Arrow.

If you are looking to replicate the Sam Raimi/ Peter Jackson vibe, you need to find a guy that makes cult monster movies. Neil Marshall is your man there. Let’s give him Jonah Hex to play with.

Hardly unproven, but relatively unknown in America, Chan-wook Park could direct anything from 100 Bullets to a Daredevil flick awesome enough to get the taste of Affleck out of our mouths.

Since none of these are “big” franchises, and the wording of the question was ambiguous, I’ll include a big francise to hedge my bets. X-men. That franchise should be taken over by Lucky McKee.

Cox: Yes there is and I’d love to see Adam Green given more chances. For those that don’t know him, he directed two films released in the past two years: Hatchet and Spiral. Hatchet is one of those films that takes me back to the days of the eighties’ slashers. It is done to perfection and one of my favorite horror films involving an iconic figure in a long time. Spiral is another one of my favorite horror films in a long time, but is a bit different. It takes a trip into the psyche of a person and really makes them wonder if there is anything out there as horrible as their own thoughts.

Green’s eye for detail and keen sense of direction make these two films that have been viewed by me numerous times in the past year alone. Considering what I’ve seen from him so far, I’d like to see him be handed the keys to the Crow franchise. I don’t know who would step into the main role or how it could be rekindled, but it would be done with the care of a child’s hands from Green. His thought process has the frame of mind that lives in Eric Draven. The Brandon Lee version of Eric Draven; not the crappy one found in the countless and senseless sequels. Green could take the franchise to a new level and make new films that represent what was being done by Brandon Lee and director Alex Proyas in the first one.

Price: Okay, I admit that much of what these two discuss here is over my head. The directors mentioned are certainly unknown to me. But what these answers tell me is that there is a wealth of talent ready for the call up to helm a franchise if they so choose. One think I would love to see is someone coming up with something none of us have ever seen before. The theory is that there are no new ideas in Hollywood, but if there is one I want Zack Snyder to direct it.

4. What villain would you like to see in the next Batman movie? Why?

Kennedy: Third films in comic book franchises are always awesome! Just look at Spider-man 3, X3, Batman Forever, Blade: Trinity, Superman 3, and. . . wait a minute. . .

Third films in comic book franchises are always depressing and disappointing.

Do we really need another Batman movie anytime soon? For christsakes, we’ve had seven (that I can remember) theatrically released Batman movies in the last 20 years.

But fine, a third movie is coming. It’ll make too much money not to come. There are two possibilities:

(a)Stay with the street level stuff and do a gangster movie focusing on Batman the detective. You can throw in Black Mask, Firefly, or some other Batman villains that haven’t been seen in a Tim Burton or Joel Schumacher flick. Maybe you could reveal Ra’s is still alive in the third act.

(b) the next logical step in a Batman movie is to have Superman in it. You’ve already used Ra’s, Joker and Two-Face; everybody else is a step down in the Rogues Gallery hierarchy. Are you going to have Batman fight Killer Croc for the third movie? Superman wouldn’t fit into the Nolan Batman universe without crazy ret-conning or re-introducing the character (who was just re-introduced). It’d be tricky to pull off and still evoke a sense of continuity with the two Nolan films, but in terms of characterization Batman and Superman bring out the best in each other.

Cox: Easy enough, The Riddler. Nolan’s version of Batman is not one that would be successful or the right canvas for a villain with superpowers. Mr. Freeze really can’t be done without looking somewhat foolish. Poison Ivy is boring. Killer Croc is a bit unbelievable. Harley Quinn would be great, but with no more Joker around…she wouldn’t be enough. Bane might be alright if they could do the exact opposite of what they did with him in Batman & Robin. The Penguin and Catwoman get on my nerves and wouldn’t feel right in the world of Gotham that Nolan has created.. No, it’s got to be the Riddler.

The Joker has been made so incredibly sadistic in Dark Knight that he is not the laughable clown many have gotten accustomed to. Scarecrow was also a vicious and evil bastard in Batman Begins. Then there’s Two Face who is just incredibly bad ass looking in the new film as well. This franchise has been made way too dark by Nolan and Company to have a silly and over the top freak bouncing around or throwing out childish riddles. The Riddler would have to be someone that has a sinister smile, demented little puzzles, and vows for death and destruction without actually having to do any of it himself. He would fit right into this series without so much as a pause.

Price: Three points to consider:

A) I would love to see Superman versus Batman just like in Justice League. Batman is way smarter than Superman and you have to love that he is carrying around Kryptonite “just in case”.

2) Riddler does seem like the most logical next step if there must be one. But how interesting would it be to see a Batman movie with no supervillains?

and D) That all said, my guess is Catwoman. Kennedy, Cox, shall we bet on it?

5. And before we move away from The Dark Knight, the film stars Christian Bale as well. Which star’s teen heart throb film is better: Newsies or 10 Things I Hate About You?

Kennedy: I’ve actually seen parts of 10 Things I Hate About You. It’s got newly formed indie-neo-noir darling, Tommy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) from “3rd Rock” and actress/plank of wood Julia Stiles. My wife finds her attractive.

Newsies, if memory serves, is about singing and dancing paperboys.

I’ll go with the Tommy one.

Cox: 10 Things I Hate About You without so much as a small doubt here. I cannot express to you how much I hate Newsies especially after being forced to sit through it numerous times in college by my friend who was obsessed with Bale at the time. She made me watch that flick over and over again that I never created a liking for it, but a severe hatred. Besides…it sucks.

Price: C’mon guys, open the gates and seize the day!

6. Staying on franchises: We’ve seen a lot of late additions to beloved franchises in the last couple years and there are rumors of more coming out. What series from 10 or 15 years ago would you like to see brought back for one more movie?

Kennedy: Is there one left? Seriously. All wells have been pumped dry right? I don’t think anybody is chomping at the bit for Darkman 4.

How about a new Weekend at Bernies, where the Single Guy and that other guy still pretend that Bernie is alive, despite being a pile of disconnected bones?

How about if Kevin McCallister’s wife left him Home Alone?!

Mad Max 4: really beyond Thunderdome?

Cox: You know me, I’m the horror freak so I’d love to see Friday The 13th…no, already happening. Same with Nightmare On Elm Street, Halloween, and even now Scream. Hmmm…what to do, what to do? I’ve got it! Give me another Predator flick. There is talk of a brand new Aliens film coming out with Sigourney Weaver returning to reprise her role as Ridley. I’m sick and tired already of the aliens battling the predators. Just give me a straight and simple Predator film in the jungle with shit blowing up and the dreadlocked dude with weird mouth invisibly jumping around in the trees so that he can focus his red laser on some guy’s arm to lop it off and have him shoot himself.

Awesome!

Price: My pick: Back to the Future 4. But who cares what I think? Tell me more about Predator 3, Cox. Who’s gonna be in it? When is it coming out? Maybe the Predator can face off with Kevin McCallister, now that would be something we’ve never seen before. In fact if Schwarzenegger set those booby traps in a house during Christmas time I think Predator would be Home Alone.

7th Inning Stretch: Which summer movie poster have you liked the best? Why?

Kennedy: Wall-e on a pile of trash, looking up at the heavens. It simply captures the spirit of the film, without revealing much.

Cox: I’m sorry, The Dark Knight has the best posters by far and wide. Every single one of them is phenomenal, but I’ll try and go elsewhere…hmmm, Iron Man had some decent ones. The X-Files 2 had a decent one. Nope, I’m sorry. I’ve got to hang onto my favorite film of the year so far which also has given us the best posters. It just gets no better then this one:

This poster is masterful for so many reasons. We are given the eye of justice in the middle as he watches over us, but keeps us wondering exactly who he is. On the left is the demented and evil stranger that forces us to remember he always has an eye on us. And on the right is Harvey Dent…who we all believe in, but also had to remember that soon…half of his face will be gone. Fantastic.

Price: I’m a sucker for the classic style Indiana Jones poster myself.

8. Back to franchise revival: Cox you are George Lucas and Kennedy you are Steven Spielberg: Defend Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Kennedy: Stephen Spielberg, Stephen Spielberg. Well speaking as Stephen Spielberg, I must say that Jaws is awesome. Isn’t that a great movie? Invented the summer blockbuster, it did! Man, was that awesome. . . WHAT’S THAT OVER THERE!?

(runs away)

SUCKAHS!

(Okay, I haven’t seen the movie. I assume that it is to cold war sci-fi what the other flicks were to the old serials. Naturally, the tone will be a little different, but I’m just pulling this our of my ass.)

Cox: I can’t. I’m sorry but there is no possible way I could defend this film by even stepping into their shoes. It took everything I loved about this franchise and made me disappointed a fourth film was ever even thought of.

Price: Oddly, that is about what I would expect to hear from George Lucas, The Dream Crusher. Spielberg, you better keep running.

9. Finally, Will Smith owns the 4th of July at the box office yet again. Is there anything more American than Will Smith? If so, what is it?

Kennedy: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Will Smith is the biggest movie star in the world. He can make, and be accepted, in bio-pics, rom-coms, action, sci-fi. . . basically whatever he wants. He is a bigger star than he probably should be. There are guys out there that are better actors. There are better looking guys. We watched him grow up on a sitcom; shouldn’t he be in the Gary Coleman/ Jeremy Miller/ Jerry Mathers celebrity bargain bin?

The success of Will Smith is due to hard work and smart decisions. The American ideals tend to be those of meritocracy, right?

There are things more American that Smith, though. The first thing that comes to mind is making love in a Camero at the drive-in during a Michael Bay movie.

Cox: Just because he’s the king of the box office come fireworks time doesn’t mean he’s all that America is about. You want a real American? Give me Mike Rowe. The guy is the star of one of the most popular television shows with Dirty Jobs. His voice and likeness are in all the Ford commercials showing America what kind of big strong truck they need. His voice is also attached to some of the other extremely popular shows on television today: American Chopper, The Ultimate Fighter, The Deadliest Catch, and Ghost Hunters. He has come a long way from his old job as a QVC salesman.

He steps into the boots of every hardworking American man and woman in this country and is willing to do what they do to show how much they’re needed to the rest of the world. Mike has had his arm up a cow’s butt, his body covered in trash, and pooh splashed into his mouth all so that we may be entertained by him and educated by his ways. I’d give anything to see him in a reality film about himself or simply an elongated version of Dirty Jobs with breaks to do voice recording for his other television series. There would also be a lot of money paid out by me to see him step into the ring with that annoying as hell Morgan Spurlock and watch Mike beat the ever loving hell out of him. God Bless America! F*ck Yeah!

Price: Sorry guys, the correct answer is apple pie.

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