Throwback Thursday – 60s Batman

by Matthew J.R. Kohler

batman-1

When I first sat down to watch 60s Batman fifteen years ago, I was blown away by the action and, of course, Batman!  Now, I watch the show for its tear-jerking comedy and scenery.  I have always been enamored with the elaborate set designs, which were like no other at that time (mainly because they were so expensive to build, as proven by the literally show-stopping season 3).  Some of the first episodes that I saw, and still think are some of the best, are “Joker Goes to School”/“He Meets His Match, the Gristly Ghoul.”  The most unique trait of 60s Batman is that it not only tells dramatic stories in a comedic way, but treats insignificant shenanigans as if they are life-threatening plots.

As with every Batman episode, it begins with the villain hatching a diabolical plot.  However, this episode is more ridiculous than most.  Joker rigs candy and drink machines to fill up with gold, silver, stocks, and bonds.  He uses these machines to lure students into criminal lifestyles. Although Batman figures this out early in the episode, Joker has much bigger plans to make his big bucks—at a big game between the five-year undefeated basketball team of Woodrow Roosevelt High School (where Dick Grayson attends) and Disco Tech.  Joker contacts Las Vegas’s own Pete “the Sweet” to make a little wager: $50,000 on Disco Tech, 20 to 1.  The final steps of his plan unfold as Joker attempts to get Woodrow Roosevelt basketball team expelled.  Can Batman stop this from happening?!

If you have seen this show, then you know that each arc brings something new to the table for our dynamic duo. This arc is no exception.  For the first time, audiences are introduced to the awesome Bat-shield and Bat-hand grenade.

batman-2

            I love that nobody notices that he was carrying this the entire time. Kids don’t drink!

Batman deploys this new device after utilizing Robin’s skills as an undercover spy.  For the first and only time we get to see Robin show his true acting chops.  After the dynamic duo discovers that sweet Suzie is working for the Joker, Batman decides that Robin must go in as Dick Grayson to see how much Suzie knows.  So what is going undercover you ask?  How about disguising yourself as a greaser and flirting with Suzie. (That makes sense.)batman-3

It’s cool, we can make out, I’m undercover!”

One of my favorite parts of every Batman episode is when the villain captures them, and dynamic duo must then escape.  This arc had the best set up for how they would later escape.  Early in the first episode, the mayor is asking Bruce Wayne to run for mayor.  He says to Bruce, “You could stop all the problems that are occurring in the city, such as power failures.”  This setup pays off when Joker and the Bad Pennies capture the duo and set them up in a Gambling Death Machine.

batman-4

“Robin, old chum, I think we are Bat-Screwed!”

The exciting thing is, Batman could not save himself and Robin from the machine. It was the city’s power failure that let them live!  Even I was pooping my pants when Batman had no crazy solution, since he usually does.  The duo’s save-by-coincidence was a breath of fresh air.

Now that Joker’s plan has been foiled, it’s time to deal with the leftovers.  Batman has always had interesting set pieces for fight scenes except for these episodes.  In order to make a fight scene in this Batman universe stick out, it has to have a crazy amount of objects breaking, the scenario has to be absurd, and/or the action itself is interesting to the point at which the viewer feels that the dynamic duo cannot win.  None of those elements are in this episode.  The Bad Pennies, when they finally do fight, prove to be no challenge for the dynamic duo.  Joker loses to a batarang to the head (after throwing sneezing powder on Batman and Robin).  The scope of the scene is also underwhelming, in that no one moves around a lot, and the choreography is stilted.  For a finale to such an exceptional two-parter, it did not get the action we deserve (no Dark Knight reference intended).

I decided to rate this episode based on the following criteria: the plot, interesting set pieces, the escape moment, and the fight scene.  I would also include acting, but the cast’s performances are consistently amazing in the same exact ways (at least throughout the first two seasons).

Plot: 8 – They use the Joker interestingly, but the plot doesn’t really develop till the final moments of the episodes.

Set Pieces: 8.8 – Bat Shield & Grayson undercover. I just wish they tried developing something in the first episode.

Escape Moment: 10 – The Best Escape moment of the show.  They set it up perfectly, and makes total sense.

Fight Scene: 6.5 – There was no fight scene in the first episode, and the finale scene do not have any highlights.  (At least you get to see the Bad Pennies suck.)

Overall Rating: 8.33 – Overall the episodes do a lot of things right.  It just so happens that they occur in the second episode more than the first episode.

Throwback Thursday – Alien

by: Ian Blaylock

Alien-01

This week I watched 1979’s Alien, directed by Ridley Scott. Although it was my first time viewing the film, I was aware of the general premise. At some point an alien would show up, and things were going to get bad.

At film school, one of my professors, Dennis Brown, says that when a movie is good, it is because the elements that make up a movie: script, acting, directing, music, sound, production design, effects, etc. all work together in a cohesive way. Alien is a really good example of a film that achieves a high level of cohesion. This cohesion begins as soon as the film begins. The opening sequence shows off both the artwork (matte paintings), as well as the music of Jerry Goldsmith. The matte painting shows the setting, space, and the foreboding music sets the tone for what is to come.

alien-02

What struck me about the following sequence was definitely the production design. The interiors of the ship were very beautiful. The art department did an exceptional job at making the ship look rugged, industrial, futuristic, but also modern. While some of the computer concepts come off as dated today, the general dated aesthetic of the ship helps keep this dated technology believable.

alien-03

The characters in this film are interesting too. Around this time, popular on-screen science fiction had been dealing with ideas of exploration and war as seen in Star Wars, Star Trek, and Battlestar Galactica. What Alien does that is different from these other three works is that Alien takes the modern worker from 1979, and places them in a science fiction future. The crew of the Nostromo is largely concerned with being paid for their time, and getting home. Most of them balk at the idea of stopping to check out the unknown transmission. They have very little desire to explore space, and they are also largely irresponsible. They bend and break the rules they don’t like, and are really only looking out for themselves. They rely on technology, but with the exception of Mother, the ship’s computer, they don’t really seem to care all that much for it. It’s a really refreshing take on the science fiction genre, because so much of what was in the public perception in terms of science fiction had to do with themes of “higher duty.” Alien really strays away from the good of the universe, and focuses on the survival of the crew. Our protagonist, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), is a really organic character. She’s also a bit of an “every-man” too. She cares about her job, her crew, her pet, etc. which I think helps the audience relate to her. Blake Snyder wrote that one way to get the audience to support the protagonist in a movie is for the protagonist to “save the cat,” or do something that shows that they are a good and sympathetic character. In Alien, Ripley takes care of, and (spoiler) saves the cat, which I think is a little funny.

alien-04

I think the filmmakers really utilize their characters well. They each have a purpose to fill in the story. Dallas (Tom Skerritt) commands the ship. When the alien is on board, he has to be the first one to go to stop it. Kane (John Hurt) is essentially the catalyst of the film. He brings the alien into the story. Ripley is our protagonist, but she also is capable, and flexible. She’s not just able to do one job, but can adapt in a tough situation. Parker (Yaphet Kotto) may be mostly concerned with getting paid, but he also is pivotal in trying to get the crew to safety, and protects Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) when the alien is on the prowl. Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) banters with Parker, and during the hunt for the alien, goes after the cat. Ash (Ian Holm) provides information about the alien.

From a social commentary perspective, it is interesting to note that the men are responsible for the arrival of the alien. Kane goes too far when he explores, and Ash breaks protocol by opening the airlock, allowing Kane back on board. What is also interesting is that all the white guys (Spoiler) die first. The two women, and Parker are the last three humans alive on the ship. While Lambert gets hysterical from the stress, the remaining crew rally around her so that she can continue. Parker is instrumental in providing resources for the escape from the ship. He also defends Lambert when they go to get coolant. What is really important about Ripley’s character is that she shows that women can perform well under intense pressure, and can achieve despite great odds. She goes toe-to-toe with the male characters in the film, especially Ash and Dallas, and proves that she is a good leader.

alien-06alien-05 alien-07

Back to the other elements of the film, sound and music work together to set the tone throughout the movie. Scenes with high tension may have no music or extra sound at all, but once something suddenly happens, the sound roars back into the scene. It is a classic way to build suspense, and the filmmakers use it well.

Although I’ve touched on it a little already, the visuals are really strong in this movie. The filmmakers use lighting and color effectively.  In the opening scene on the ship, there is a lot of light as the ship wakes up, but as the story turns dark, the ship becomes increasingly dark. At first there is a lot of white and light grey visible, but as things get worse, the colors get darker too. Once things get really bad, all sorts of lights, strobe effects, and steam effects start on board the ship. These elements really add to the chaos of the film.

It’s also important to note that the creature designs, and prosthetics for the creatures are incredibly creative, and are extremely well done. In a monster movie, the execution of the monster is always pivotal to the film’s success. Alien is renowned for its monster, the titular alien, and it does not disappoint. The creatures are frightening, and very unique.

alien-08alien-09

I really enjoyed this movie, and it stands as a testament to the hard work put in by the cast and crew. The filmmaking elements work together flawlessly, and the film still packs a punch 36 years after its creation.

Throwback Thursday – Back to the Future

By: Ian Blaylock

Greetings! My name is Ian Blaylock, and I am the manager of Enter the Cinema. One thing that a lot of our team members here on the blog, and at Red Fist, have talked about is our passion for movies that are… not so recent. One way we have decided to share our love of older films with you is through starting up a “Throwback Thursday” series. Each week, we will bring you a review and analysis of a classic film or movie (well received or perhaps not), and share our thoughts on each film. One reason I am excited to write some of these posts is that I have not seen as many films as some of the other blog members. (This is my way of getting to watch cool films for work.)

Back-to-the-Future-banner

However, I have seen this week’s film, Back to the Future, before. It was chosen for the first post because the film is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. The film is regarded as a classic among film critics, and is highly celebrated by some of my Red Fist coworkers. Let’s begin the review!

BTTF5

Back to the Future is the story of Marty McFly’s journey back in time. Despite being low on the city’s social ladder, Marty tries to make the best of things. One of Marty’s past times is helping out the enigmatic scientist, Doc Brown. Brown enlists Marty as he tests his new DeLorean time machine. However, trouble shows up, and Marty is forced to flee in the time machine. After hurtling back to 1955, Marty accidentally interferes in his parents’ first meeting. Faced with a potential time paradox, and with no clear way back to 1985, Marty must help his dad win his mother’s interest, and get Doc Brown to help him return home.

back-to-the-future-movie-clip-screenshot-88-miles-per-hour_large

The film stars Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly with Christopher Lloyd costarring as Doc Brown. Both actors are known for their performances in this film, and with good reason. Fox’s McFly is a very likable character. He’s fun and laid-back, and has charisma to spare. Fox really owns the role, pouring in his own charisma and dry wit into the part, which is what makes his performance so iconic. Llyod’s Doc Brown is a bit of the opposite from Marty McFly. He’s wild, eccentric, and dramatic, is also quite hilarious. While I was watching the film, I was really impressed with Lloyd’s performance. He’s very expressive, which strengthens the character. Lloyd also really makes the character into a very lovable guy. Sure Doc Brown is a bit “out there,” but once Marty convinces him that he is indeed from the future, Doc Brown is extremely loyal and devoted to getting Marty back home. My take away from his character was that while he was super-excited to see one of his experiments realized and functional, he is also deeply concerned for Marty and his situation. This really goes against the scientist stereotype that is often seen in films where the scientist is just plain mad, or is cold and aloof.

1955

The other main characters are interesting as well. Marty’s girlfriend, Jennifer (Claudia Wells), is really supportive of Marty and his dreams. She comes off as someone who is her own person, and is not just “the girlfriend.” Marty’s mother, Lorraine (Lea Thompson), is quite interesting. In 1985 she’s portrayed as being old, cranky, and very strict. However, in 1955 Lorraine is a bit boy crazy, and doesn’t want to be seen as boring. This becomes a problem for Marty when she meets him, and becomes instantly attracted to him. Because of this developing crush, Marty spends a lot of time trying to avoid her. In turn, she becomes more and more infatuated to him as the movie progresses. She even follows him to the Doc’s house! The movie draws a lot of comedy from this, and from the fact that she is the total opposite of her future self. Lorraine is also a strong character. She is clear and direct about what she wants, and takes action to try and get there. Marty’s dad, George McFly (Crispin Glover) is another story. George is actually pretty much the same in 1955 and 1985. He is a total pushover, and lacks social skills. The audience is supposed to sympathize with him because, like Marty, we hope that he can transform into a better version of himself, and win Lorraine’s heart.

From a writing standpoint, Back to the Future is pretty formulaic. It hits the beats that it needs to, and clearly states the important things that the audience should remember for when these things pay off later in the story. This isn’t a weakness of the film because the execution of the story is really well done. The film is very lean on plot. Every scene leads us towards the climax, and then the ending of the movie. The film doesn’t waste time with superfluous subplots, nor is it over-indulgent. It does its job, and keeps the audience engaged and moving through the story. These are important things to have in a movie because time is always of the essence.

I think the film holds up pretty well after 30 years, but there are a few things that bothered me as I revisited the film. Although I like Jennifer for being independent from Marty, she doesn’t give him too much hell for gawking at women passing by when she’s talking to him. Also the relationship between George and Lorraine has always been a little weird to me given that the audience meets George while he spies on her with large binoculars as she is getting dressed.  We are led to believe he is a much better person by the end of the film, because he stands up for her, but it’s still creepy. While Marty is a little shocked to learn that he spies on future mother, he doesn’t comment on this to George, which probably should have happened. Race is also handled a little weird in the film. The film spends some time making the point that the mayor of Hill Valley is African American in 1985. While it is progressive, we see Marty plant the seed for this in the future mayor’s head in the 1950s, when he works at the soda shop. While it is a funny moment when Marty tells him that he should be mayor, it is a little preachy. It probably would have been enough for the future mayor to have had the idea by himself, and be confident of his ability to achieve this goal, with Marty simply supporting him. Given that the band members at the dance are really the only other minorities present in the movie, more diversity would have helped the film as well. While these things might not have been a big deal when the movie was made, I think it is important to recognize and discuss how ideas about the importance of representation in media have changed over the last thirty years.

BackToTheFuture_Doc-Marty

In the end, I think that Back to the Future is a pretty good film that uses solid storytelling techniques, and is entertaining to watch. It’s also a nice movie to watch after an exhausting summer of watching recent blockbusters at the multiplex.