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When the smoke clears, The Dark Knight should emerge as just another comic-book movie, the fourth of the summer (Hancock wasn’t based on a comic book too, was it?), avowedly “darker” than the others, certainly the only one to think of putting the darkness right up in the title — a synonym, that, for “the bat man,” as he is frequently and unfamiliarly referred to, or simply Batman to you and me. History, however, will likely show what current events are now showing, that darkness is the fashionable shade for comic-book movies (and comic-bookish movies) in our time. It will likely show further that the comic book is the fashionable literary model for the movies of our time. For those reasons the second installment in Christopher Nolan’s restyling of the DC Comics superhero earns no points as a trailblazer. It would earn none even were it the first installment. That said, we must acknowledge that this trend-follower sets itself apart as an exceedingly oppressive, grinding, grueling, torturous experience. (The relentless, rumbling, theater-rattling background music alone could be a health hazard to anyone with mild depressive tendencies.) It requires the stock figure of the Joker — banish all memories of Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s 1989 edition, “dark” though it was itself, as well as Cesar Romero in the glaringly light TV series from the late Sixties — to carry the banner and the burden of the post-9/11 terrorist, targeting the pillars of the community and closing all doors to negotiation, taking hostages and videotaping their torture and murder, tempting the Caped Crusader to stoop to the same level and indeed getting him to employ his own torture tactics (short of waterboarding) in the police interrogation room, forcing him thus to go over to the Dark Side and ultimately to accept the bum rap of a fugitive from justice. (Ostensibly the hero accepts this rap to protect the reputation of the handsome straight-arrow D.A. who halfway morphs into the Crypt-Keeper of another comic-book series. But it’s not altogether apparent why any and all misdeeds can’t readily be appended to the Joker’s rap sheet.) “Some men,” Batman’s manservant succinctly sums up the emblematic evildoer, “just want to watch the world burn.” Men, that would be, like Osama, Saddam, the Joker.

Asking the movie to carry so much weight (and so much length: nearly two and a half hours) is asking an awful lot of a movie revolving around a martial-artsy crime-fighter in a bulletproof rubber Batsuit, driving a gadget-laden Batmobile with an ejectable Batcycle (wheels the width of a tractor’s), and risibly speaking in an electronically deepened voice whenever in costume, though not when in the well-tailored suits of his philanthropic public persona, Bruce Wayne. Christian Bale, an ostentatiously tormented actor, disappears into the Batman persona almost as completely as Edward Norton disappeared into the computer-animated Hulk, maybe a smidge more completely than Robert Downey, Jr., disappeared into the armored Iron Man. It would be nice, meanwhile, to report that the swan song of the late Heath Ledger was a tribute to him as fitting as his jeans in Brokeback Mountain. Surely such a tribute needn’t have been terribly grandiose to fit a Hollywood career that spanned less than a decade. Even so, his characterization of the Joker seems too grotesque to serve as a tribute to anything much but his grandstanding. To strive to invest some psychological realism and topical relevance into this figure — the parched and cracked face paint, the raccoonish circles around the eyes, the greasy stringy hair, the obscenely writhing tongue, the adenoidal voice pitched somewhere between Al Franken and Bugs Bunny — is not only a losing battle but a foolish one. However high Nolan might pile on the gravity, however long he might stretch out the agony, the comic-book iconography inevitably simplifies and trivializes the moral debate: Can you fight fair when you fight terrorism? Somehow bat ears and clown makeup ill become a crisis of conscience. The truth is that Nolan’s lack of faith in the superhero of olden days — the White Knight — goes hand in glove with a larger lack of faith in the fairy-tale form. He can’t trust it to convey its import (in spite of all the scholarly efforts of Bruno Bettelheim, Joseph Campbell, et al.) without an additive of grand-operatic bombast. His reformer’s zeal amounts to just another aspect of his pretentiousness. That, all the same, does not divest him of a childish delight in splashy spectacle, even if it’s the spectacle of terrorism. Even if, to say it another way, it’s the spectacle of hypocrisy. And nor is this pretentiousness any help to him in staging coherent action scenes in which you can tell who’s where and what’s when. Evidently nothing needs to make sense as long as it makes an impression. And to make an impression it only needs to lug weight.

Mamma Mia!, the Catherine Johnson stage musical brought to the screen under its stage director, Phyllida Lloyd, is a romantic-comic bauble about a scheduled wedding on a Greek island, to which the bride-to-be, unknown to her mother, has invited the three men who are sole candidates, according to her mother’s uncovered diary, to be her biological father. (All three prove to be remarkably uncurious and acquiescent guys.) But that’s a mere pretext for the players at short intervals to warble tunes from the ABBA songbook. Among the things that might be said about the movie are (a) that the trailer, apparently hoping to ensnare the unwary, does its damnedest to hide the fact that the movie is a musical; (b) that ABBA, infectious though they can be, are not exactly the Beatles, as witness the latter’s similar use in Across the Universe last year; (c) that another and better wedding movie, Muriel’s Wedding, had already successfully plundered the ABBA songbook, without asking its cast to do the singing; (d) that this cast for the most part are not singers (Pierce Brosnan in full throat looks as if his head’s about to explode), although no apologies need be made for Meryl Streep, who, besides her lusty belting, supplements her usual emotion-plumbing with some peppy physicality; (e) that the natural settings, clearly, brightly, sunnily photographed, somewhat temper the inherent campiness; and (f) that this tempering, in a work of such fragile artifice, is not necessarily a good thing.

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John Rubio July 25, 2008 @ 12:08 p.m.

PART 1

Alas, In some well rooted pit in my senses I knew the day would come when the Reader’s allowance of comments on its website would stir the attention of the dull-minded masses who frequent these pages searching for no more than their own edification of blind fandom. Sites more slickly greased by marketing and ads that drop like a guillotine from your cursor are more prone to such individuals (Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB, and of course the anything goes comment anarchy of YouTube)—a chance for the fearful to appear temporarily uninhibited by their obvious insecurities; a chance for security against intellectual forces far superior to the mill-run mindsets of most; a chance for the grammatically allergic to wipe their misspelled sinuses and fling a wad of hurtful comments at the wiser medicine man. In some way, I suppose these forays into the flippant are as harmless as they are inevitable. We wouldn’t lash out defensively at an infant who inconveniences our day with incessant crying; so then why be too overtly bothered by the remarks of individuals with similar developmental scopes?

I suppose I had just come to find some greater solace in the intellectual prowess of the Reader, specifically in Mr. Shepherd’s reviews, and more so in the respect granted him in the comment section. Even disagreements until today (unless I have missed some nasty retorts in the past) were handled with courtesy and thoughtfulness that not only recognized Shepherd’s wisdom, but also illustrated that the commentator had some of his or her own. The bar was not only lowered today, but the zoo has been opened and we’ve welcomed in the primates to swing from it. And in pours the predictable frenzy of clichéd rebuttals: “find a new profession”, “nobody in their right mind would pay to read . . .”, “worst film reviewer ever”. The fascinating notion concerning such remarks is the fact that these people always belie a long-standing relationship with the publication and more so with the reviewer they so belligerently harangue. If one is so frequently offended by the material one reads, why does he or she continue to read it? I would speculate that some literary masochism exists within the creed of foul-spouting comment jockeys—the need to continually return to that point of insult where intellect is a pre-requisite and the faults of the ignorant are more abundantly illuminated. In grade school, a slower class could by found for such people. But now in the free enterprise of the thinking world, what can they do with their frustration when the smart book is simply left in front of them? If you can’t understand it, or find the sense to put it away, I guess we better start tearing at the pages.

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kjanet July 24, 2008 @ 1:16 p.m.

criticizing heath ledger's performance in the dark night? oh really, duncan shepherd? and you're giving the movie in general a pretty abysmal review? i've been baffled in the past by the amount of stars this guy has given inarguably good movies, but now its official-- worst film reviewer ever. unless you are, in fact, martin scorcese working under a pseudonym, you need to get over yourself and find a new profession.

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jeffersonlewis69 July 24, 2008 @ 4:19 p.m.

Mr. Shepherd, it's a really good thing that you write for a free publication because nobody in their right mind would pay to read the drivel that you call "movie reviews". It seems that you and Jeff Smith both share a common pretentious need (coupled with some sort of insecurity) to overly impress your reading audience with how intelligent you are instead of giving people what they really want which is a review. Also, both of you tend to give a synopsis rather than an actual review and I would venture to guess that your opinions coincide with about 2 percent of the reading public.My friends and I stopped trusting both yours and Jeff Smith's opinions long ago and our lives have been blessed because of it. So keep writing writing for that 2 percent of San Diego that can stomach your reviews until the day comes when your editor comes to his senses and finds someone who can write for the other 98.

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flike July 25, 2008 @ 10:59 a.m.

There are hundreds of reviewers who raved about Batman and will affirm your taste in movies. Is it really necessary that they all affirm your taste in movies? Can’t we lowly 2% have just one reviewer who appeals to us? Anyway, you know you love Shepherd - he completes you.

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JDevine760 July 26, 2008 @ 10:50 a.m.

I couldn't agree more with Duncan Shepherd's review of the Dark Knight...except maybe that it didn't go far enough. I was unfortunate enough to have watched this mess in an IMAX theatre and the editing of the fight sequences was so hectic that it was impossible to tell who was hitting and who was being hit. The movie was at least an hour too long and the dialogue often merely hilarious instead of (I would assume the intended effect) portentous. The first site of the reconstructed D.A. in the final scenes elicited a laugh from everyone in the theatre (surely NOT the intended effect) as the resemblance to the mummy in the Brendan Frasier series was undeniable (same makeup artist perhaps?). I counted 13 IMAX resolution inserts in the film some as brief as 10 seconds and they didn't help any aspect (pun?) of the film by their presence. Duncan continues to be the most literate and intelligent reviewer of current cinema of any critic since Pauline Kael (only perhaps less given to touting the qualities of his favorite directors than Pauline was - her only serious failing in the critical regard). Keep up the GREAT work Duncan! (even though you don't need my cheer to accomplish that!)

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John Rubio July 25, 2008 @ 12:10 p.m.

PART 2

Mr. Shepherd is a writer of fluid skill and insight. Unlike most film reviewers (and nearly all who habituate the “Tomato” board), Shepherd approaches his reviews as a writer as well as a critic. His opinion is not the final point of his message. The intricacy of constructing a sentence is presented with as much talent and nuance as is the knowledge of the subject. Shepherd is not only a moviegoer brilliantly versed in the history and craft of cinema, he is a writer who so well hones his own craft that he elevates the pop-flash dugout of “film critic” to the heights of philosophic literature. This in turn maintains the expectation that keeps motion pictures a relevant art form and not simply an image spun on the corner of a corporate logo. Duncan Shepherd approaches movies with a mind to analyze and deconstruct. He is insistent with film that it be arresting to our emotions, that it be challenging unto itself, that it win its aesthetic pull without resorting to bombast or sentiment. Furthermore, he does this with eloquence and a continual accent of wit and social consciousness. This is the marking of a marvel reviewer. Despite the high volume of negative reviews, Mr. Shepherd is showing with such commentary that he respects film so much that he will not praise what misses a certain cinematic standard. Likewise, this respect is offered to his readers who come to be treated with a deserving trust in their own intellects.

Unfortunately, when the vapid come too, the expectation is altered. Fools do not want to be challenged. They do not want delving exploration or scholarship. In essence, they want nothing alternative to the interest their block of brain has partitioned for them. They love Batman. They want others to love Batman. They will not tolerate (no matter what the actual production of the character, or the sound reasoning of the review) any deviation from the dogmatic opinion they have purported. Batman is good (“inarguably good”), end of story. The poor dwindle-minded tots—you should not come to a review to be told what you want to hear. You read a review to have your opinion rivaled, to be intrigued or deterred by the movie in question—to learn. Even if the reviewer shares your appreciation for a film, a good reader will still look for points of contention so he or she can discover something new about the film. Thought should be the goal of every reviewer and every reader. Unfortunately, thought is a common rejection online. Every shepherd must tend to foolish sheep.

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John Rubio July 25, 2008 @ 12:11 p.m.

PART 3

I left “The Dark Knight” with a waver in my gut. I thought perhaps, in my own frenzy to validate the significance of a movie I was so anticipating in a franchise I so enjoy, that I simply needed time (perhaps multiple viewings) to fully ingratiate myself to a bold picture that broached new emotional territory for a comic book superhero movie. Perhaps I was just being selfish, wanting my superhero to be restrained by the conventions of good and evil. After much consideration, I realized that I was not restricting any genre borders; the film simply could not buoy the weight needed to float the transition it was boasting. “The Dark Knight” is a torture exercise that earns no prize for profundity simply because it is unexpected in its approach. However, given the rising tide of the “dark” in comic books and films based on them, even expectation was not so gravely stretched. The film is a cruel experience, manipulatively sanitized by the youthful dream of Batman lore. Downfall is not the only necessity of the tragic; redemption is also a key component. For a film so fraught with hubris, it runs rather short on catharsis. And while I can appreciate the attempt, I cannot reward the completion—a sad, unrelenting film with more ambition than evocation. All of this is only compounded by the knowledge of Ledger’s passing when witnessing his slugger swing at the demented. To add even more to the list of unfortunates though (as Mr. Shepherd points out), his performance, while perhaps superlative of histrionics, exceeds the commonalities of drama only by reducing to the commonalities of tirade.

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Josh Board July 27, 2008 @ 12:48 a.m.

The problem I found with the review is this. It's the same thing I have with anyone that says this batman movie wasn't good. It was. But, I do feel it was overrated. I feel the same way with Ledgers performance. Yes, he was great in it. And, I was surprised he didn't overact, which I thought, from the commercials, he surely would. I think many actors could've pulled that part off. And, for him to say that playing that part drained him physically and mentally, is just insane. If this happens to actors, well...they should find a different profession. Construction, garbage collectors, etc. I mean, actors and musicians always collapse of "exhaustion". Never those other professions. I think of what Sir Laurence once said to Dustin Hoffman on the set of Marathon Man, when Hoffman said he didn't sleep for 3 days so he'd look right for the torture scene they did. He said, "Why not try this next time...acting." Anyway, to say the movie is too long, I can see that. The problem is, I was never once bored watching that. So, it's a hard comment to figure out. Most of the things in the movie had been done before...fake deaths, characters going from good to evil, love interests who aren't sure who they "love" etc. But, movies, comic book stories, have all been done before, so you can't really knock that. So, all that being said, it was a good movie, and it's hard to knock any of it. Aside from simply saying, it might not live up to the hype. But, when a movie gets hyped as much as, say...Titanic, couldn't you say those same things applied to that?

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jeffersonlewis69 July 27, 2008 @ 3:05 a.m.

Johnrubio,

When can we expect Parts 4 and 5? I need a little more clarification as to why you and Duncan are so incredibly intelligent and the rest of us walk around in ignorance. I'm still not convinced but I think a few more paragraphs just might do it.

Also, speaking as someone who has an MFA in Acting and does it a full time in LA and across the country, I can truly say that Heath Ledger's performance was amazing. You know,the real test of an actor's performance is to ask his/her peers what they think and all of his peers think it was amazing as well. You and Duncan reviewing his acting performance is a little like Denise Richards and Jessica Simpson analyzing Ken Griffey Jr.'s swing mechanics. (That last bit was a reference to baseball, by the way - it's a sport played with a ball and a bat)

I wish I had more to say using quotes from Proust and words like "histrionics" and "bombast" but I'm actually enjoying(what a thought) my existence on this planet and would like to get back to it.

Jeff

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Josh Board July 28, 2008 @ 2:51 a.m.

Well, I sort of agree with that comment above, Jeff. But, people have knocked critics before. They'll say things like "If they could act so much better, why aren't they making movies?" Same thing with music critics. "Let's hear them make an album." That doesn't always fly. I have never acted a day in my life, but I think I'm very well qualified to tell you if someone overacts. Or if their acting sucks. Or a number of things that happen in a film, whether it's the music, the way the script is written, etc.

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clarkjohnsen July 28, 2008 @ 8:05 a.m.

First, a word about Duncan in general. When I visited San Diego nine or ten years ago and first picked up a Reader, I was impressed with the whole paper and especially by the movie reviewer. Not only that, but also included in that issue was a compendium of synopses of his past reviews, all very informative even in their shortened form, and all very amusing as well. I picked up a half-dozen copies to take home to Boston.

In the two weeks I spend in San Diego each year, I always make sure to find at least three issues. Then, I discovered Duncan Shepard on line.

And today, I can speak!

While I am aware that around San Diego he is sometimes thought to be "Too picky.", "Too, oh I don't know, intellectual?", "Too biased against successful movies." and so forth, he rapidly became my reference standard for all movie critics. In fact, let me second a comment I saw above: "Shepherd approaches his reviews as a writer as well as a critic. His opinion is not the final point of his message." Exactly.

Plus, his list of four-star movies became my guide for future viewing.

Not that I always agree, either. Of Hellboy he wrote, "A jokey comic-book adaptation with delusions of grandeur." "A great good time had I, twice" I would reply. And I plan on getting the Blu-ray. So there!

In conclusion, another comment above works for me: "You should not come to a review to be told what you want to hear. You read a review to have your opinion rivaled, to be intrigued or deterred by the movie in question — to learn... Fools do not want to be challenged."

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M. E. July 28, 2008 @ 9:05 a.m.

Duncan writes well. Johnrubio is a tool. "In some well rooted pit in my senses"? I barf in his general direction.

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wef July 28, 2008 @ 5:09 p.m.

I'll just say this. When my G'ma died, I got a little bit of money and I knew she would want me to spend it in a special way.

so I went out and bought all the 5 star Duncan Shepherd reccomended movies available on DVD (Melville's Second Breath comes out October 7th, 2008! Yahoo!)

After watching each one at least once, I have to say, the guy is an absolute genius at what he does. Agreeing with him all the time is not the point. He knows a great film that towers over most films ever made! So give him a break if he refuses to sell soft soap to movies that merely want to keep you entertained and do not challenge the artform, let alone move it forward.

(And I hope that was written in a way, ya'll can understand! Now have another beer and go see Batman again!) :)

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jeffersonlewis69 July 29, 2008 @ 2:07 a.m.

I have put all of Duncan's 5 star films on my Netflix list and I look forward to seeing them. I have watched many of them already and I really loved them. I just think that there has to be some room for a few good summer popcorn films like Ironman, The Bourne Ultimatum and The Dark Knight. My feeling is that you have to look at a film for what it is and judge accordingly. If I was a theater critic and hated musicals, I would still have to get to know that particular form of theater and judge which musicals were good and which were bad. If I only put my personal opinion into my reviews, ALL the musicals would get black dots because of the fact that I hate musicals.

Some people go to the movies to be changed in some way, some go to escape their lives, some go to laugh, some go for an intellectual or spiritual experience, and a lot of people go for all of the aforementioned reasons at one point or another based on how they feel on a particular day. My problem with Duncan is that his reviews seem to be strictly based on his own established criteria for why he personally goes to see a film, which is fine if you are writing a blog on your website but not fine if you write for a publication that goes out to an entire city. Some people LIKE musicals and want to know which musicals are worth their time.

Jeff

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MarkScha July 29, 2008 @ 10:32 a.m.

Reading the Reader reviews makes me long for Pauline Kael. Kenneth Turan is also great. Duncan, by contrast, does not care that most review readers will read his comments as a talking-down-to, and don't take kindly. If the goal is to educate, it won't happen this way.

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wef July 29, 2008 @ 10:37 a.m.

***My problem with Duncan is that his reviews seem to be strictly based on his own established criteria for why he personally goes to see a film, which is fine if you are writing a blog on your website but not fine if you write for a publication that goes out to an entire city. Some people LIKE musicals and want to know which musicals are worth their time.

Fair enough but he did give The Merry Widow five stars and it is a great musical! Definitely one of the best! But interesting distinction between what is apropriate for a blog and what is apropriate for a weekly. I'm not so sure it is that cut and dry. Up in San Francisco the "guides" are so friendly and inclusive as to be sickeningly meaningless. "A great performance!" (Yeah, right.) Just add two stars to each of his ratings and that'll do 'er. :)

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bronzebillions July 29, 2008 @ 1:20 p.m.

I love this forum, totally underused. I've been feeling bad for Duncan's torch-bearing efforts for like 8 or so years now. He's one of the last film critics I know of to actually draw from a lot of the experimentation in film that went on in the sixties and seventies: not just inventing new ways of making films but also inventing new ways of appreciating them. All the rule-breaking and theorizing and obsession that enriched the potential effectiveness of movies forever after.

I remember seeing his reviews when I was a kid and laughing at him as the reviewer that didn't like anything. Now I see him as pretty much like a canary in a coalmine. His health and general disposition monitored collectively (it must be a hard knot of followers to have kept him in print this long) via this weekly checkup. Duncan, I wish you'd write a book already.

As for Batman, I'm excited to see it. Probably because I grew up during the "darkening" age of comics (the trend having broken ground in the 80's with Moore's Watchmen and Miller's Dark Knight Returns among lots more). Maybe I'm used to my subtext being packaged up and delivered in rubberized collisions of spandex and face paint.

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M. E. July 29, 2008 @ 7:27 p.m.

[Agreeing w/ bronzebillions]

Miller's "Dark Knight Returns" -- wow, that is a thing. Has all the kids speaking their own lingo, Batman is old and trying, Superman is the not-so-secret military weapon for U.S. but has secret doubts, Batman has to take him down because of what he represents and what he could do, they call each other "Bruce" and "Clark" as they battle to the death. Crazy good.

My problem with the Batman movies, each one: The silly man can't turn his head from side to side. In the movies -- all of them -- he has no peripheral vision because of the rubber suit.

He's supposed to be like the f'n supreme stealth ninja -- here, there, everywhere, like a bat -- but HE CAN'T TURN HIS HEAD!

"I win! Oh, wait -- how long have you been standing there? ... I didn't see you because I CAN'T TURN MY HEAD!"

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zafiroblue05 July 29, 2008 @ 10:44 p.m.

Johnrubio, of comments 3, 4, etc..., is a fool. He attempts to show (no, "tell," actually, is the word) how unimpeachable Duncan Shepherd is by displaying his own superior command of language and ability to recognize genius. This is ironic, considering that one of (perhaps, the central) Shepherd's own critiques of The Dark Knight is its pretentiousness.

Oddly enough, I agree with most of what johnrubio was saying, but a single sentence would have sufficed. To whit: Shepherd has a flair for the language, a knowledge of cinema, and a discerning taste. To which I would add: he unfortunately doesn't have much time for all but the most wink-nod types of humor, all but the most brief types of action, all but the most affected types of sincerity.

I personally was only in San Diego for a short time when I noticed (and loved) his reviews, and have been reading them online as soon as I found them here. But I rarely read them to guide me to movies I would like; tastes diverge.

Put it this way: among Pixar pictures, Cars got a more positive review than Toy Story 2, the Incredibles, Wall-E, Finding Nemo, and surely more and I can't be bothered to look up? One star to Pan's Labyrinth but four to Mimic(!)? I could go on, but there's not point.

As to The Dark Knight: to be sure, Bale is a bad Batman (though not a bad Bruce Wayne), mostly because of that god-awful whisper-voice thing. And yes, he should be able to turn his head. But I thought Ledger was brilliant - one can't really talk about Oscars without seeing other potential candidates, but I can't complain about the Oscar he's sure to win. And to people who really think he's overacting, I ask you: what movie are you watching? Or, to be more precise: what character are you watching?

When it comes down to it, however, I think Shepherd gets more than a little thrill in taking down huge movies - huge in the sense of popular among both crowds and critics. If he really thinks Nolan takes childish glee in crafting terrorism, he's a brute and and an idiot. To try to "invest some psychological realism and topical relevance into this figure" (that is, the Joker), is wholly missing the point. And does Nolan have a "lack of faith in the fairy-tale form"? Of course not; that's why he made this movie. But does Shepherd - you betcha: "bat ears and clown makeup ill become a crisis of conscience."

In sum: TDK isn't a great movie, but it's a good one, maybe very good; Shepherd only puts in a few real points against the movie, and they're either not really right or essential; and he's still the best (my favorite, anyway) reviewer to read, even when you only sometimes or perhaps rarely agree with ihm.

[By the way, why does it seem like every couple of weeks Shepherd doesn't publish? Is he not supposed to write every week or was he just taking a week off for some - who knows, personal/family, maybe - reason?]

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Josh Board July 29, 2008 @ 11:44 p.m.

The best post of the day was regarding the "can't turn my head". Awesome. I would add to that, how useful the motorcycle would actually be, built and designed the way it was. Sure, it looked cool. But the LA Times did a detailed story, written by a mechanic, on why it wouldn't work well. Talk about nitpicking apart a film!

The problem with a lot of critics, is the thing people pointed out about Duncan. They often want to ref. old classic films, that often don't relate to anything. If you are reviewing this new French film (can't think of the title, something generic like "Tell No One"...and it's similar to something like Frantic or The Fugitive, or Memento, fine). But so many times, these intellectuals, want to start going off on Fellini and David O Selznick and Preston Sturgess....and it's not necessary (and probably not even accurate).

And, for a critic to not like a "genre" of film, I just don't buy that. I don't like musicals. But I liked Grease. I liked Chicago. I don't like westerns. I liked 3:10 to Yuma. I liked Unforgiven. Just bought the DVD of Man Who Shot Liberty Valence. Because, a great film is a great film. If you say you don't like westerns, and therefore there isn't a single western you don't like, then you can't possibly be a good film critic.

And, I'll use another critic as an example. Duncan spoke glowingly of the former U-T critic David Elliot. This guy, was perhaps, the worst film critic of all-time. He's the only critic in the country that gave one star to Forest Gump. A movie that everyone liked, he hated. A movie that everyone hated, he liked. To me, when that's the case, you have a problem.

Duncan seems to be tough on the films he likes, but my only problem is that once in a while I'll read a review, and am not sure what he's even talking about. It's one of the reasons the format for Siskel & Ebert (or whatever it's called now), worked so well. Two people dissecting a film works so much better then getting one persons opinion.

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bronzebillions July 30, 2008 @ 11:28 a.m.

I went and watched Batman last night. I find myself on the defensive after looking over Duncan's review again. So I must have liked the movie over all. Most importantly, despite what Duncan suggests, I could see pretty clearly what was going on during the action scenes and found them to be pretty exciting. Batman's kind of a lumbering hulk and doesn't have a lot of variety in his arsenal of punches and kicks. I never thought I'd appreciate the obligatory action movie box-of-rocks camera technique but it kind of worked well in this movie, lending Batman some much needed dynamism without completely confusing the event sequence.

Thinking over Duncan's comment as to whether the movie "simplifies and trivializes" its moral subject matter, I agree to a certain extent. The themes of terrorism and altruism dealt with in the movie certainly need to be represented in a way that's more respectfully applicable to our current global crises. But it's hard to imagine a mainstream movie that delivers a world so sophisticated as that. I liked the ambiguous resolution of the conflict between anarchy and moral order. And I liked that that resolution was embodied in a figure that can't possibly exist in real world society. If you're gonna have a cop out at least dress it up in a rubber animal suit and have it drive off into oblivion on a tractorcycle. I mean a good superhero should always be pointed out in the end as an impossible solution.

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potzy Aug. 1, 2008 @ 9:21 a.m.

Johnrubio-thanks for your compelling defense of yourself and D. Sheperd. I am sure it surprises you how so many rubes could operate a keyboard and put together a coherent thought at the same time. I, being a self proclaimed dolt, can only have sympathy for what it must be like to be a tortured genius with only this pathetic forum to exhibit your intellect. To be one of the only two torch bearers of intelligence in a world blackened with Paris Hilton platinum blondes and deafened by Hannah Montana Siren songs, makes you a modern day Prometheus to be sure. Now please pick up your order at trendy hipster coffee house and go back to "finishing" your novel. I don't agree with Sheperd's review, but he has every right to write it. And as for the argument "well if you don't like his reviews stop reading them,” well then perhaps Mr. Shepherd should stop seeing movies based on comic books, which he seems to never enjoy.

But I do enjoy his reviews for the fact that they do challenge the status quo, and because he does alert me to movies that I had never heard of before, but thankful for watching later.

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Josh Board Aug. 4, 2008 @ 1:24 a.m.

Don't you think if a statement could be made like "he should stop seeing comic book movies, he never seems to enjoy them"...that there's a problem? There should be NO GENRE of movie, that a critic "doesn't like". To a critic, a good movie, should be a good movie. As I stated before about musicals and westerns, both genres I don't care for. But both have movies I love.

I would never be able to do restaurant reviews, because I hate seafood.

If a movie critic hated comic book movies, or some specific "genre"...I would say, they should be a critic that reviews film.

The only type of review that should be hard for a critic to grapple with, would be a kids movie. Because, if they are a 60-year-old critic, and they are reviewing some Barney or SpongeBob movie...do they review it on how THEY liked it? Or on how a 5-year-old will like it?

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drudolph Aug. 5, 2008 @ 3:39 a.m.

Considering that Duncan gave positive reviews to Superman 2, Batman(1989), Spiderman 2 and Batman Begins, it's kind of difficult to make the claim that "he never seems to enjoy" comic book movies, isn't it?

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potzy Aug. 5, 2008 @ 2:18 p.m.

In Response to drudolph: Sorry, I guess I didn't do my research. I should have gone back a few years a validated my response. I suppose my response was based off the numerous movies in the genre he seems not to care for, such as Ironman, The Incredible Hulk, The Fantastic Four (I &II), Spider-Man (1 & 3), Superman Returns, Hellboy, Hellboy II, Judge Dredd, Hancock, Blade II, Blade Trinity, The Punisher, and anything else I forgot. I guess I was astronomically wrong when I said he doesn't "seem" to enjoy this genre. What qualifies as him liking a movie? A star, two stars? I hate green beans so if I don't puke when I eat one does that mean I was satisfied? Just curious.

In response to joshb: So do you or don't you do restaurant reviews seeing that you hate seafood? If I am understanding you correctly since you hate seafood, you should be a seafood critic, correct? Therefore if Shep(h)erd hates comic book films then he should review them? Maybe, it was the syntax but your logic is faultier then mine.

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drudolph Aug. 5, 2008 @ 6:26 p.m.

potzy:

If you've been reading Shepherd's reviews, you should know that two stars from him means he liked it. In the list of movies you mentioned, about half of them were panned by most critics, not just Duncan. Not that that would validate his opinions, anyway; I can't tell you how many movies I've seen that were praised by almost all except Shepherd, which I thought were lousy - The Departed, Jerry Maguire, English Patient, People Vs. Larry Flynt come to mind. Could it be that he gave those comic book movies bad reviews simply because he didn't think they were good films, rather than because they were superhero movies? I notice too that your list is only pretty recent stuff; I think it would be difficult to argue that movies haven't gotten worse over the last 20-30 years. I've found Duncan to be a very reliable guide for choosing what to see, just as I've learned to ignore Peter Travers and Owen Gleiberman, to name a couple.

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Josh Board Aug. 7, 2008 @ 12:37 a.m.

potzy, that's what i get for posting at 1:30 a.m. the seafood comment made little sense. my point was that i would NOT be able to be a food critic, because to dislike a type of food (seafood), I don't see how that's possible. and, if it was true dunc didn't like comic book movies of any kind, that would seem odd to me. but, since it was shown he did give positive reviews to those films mentioned, none of that matters. a good point was also brought up about all those movies receiving pretty negative reviews (aside from Iron Man, which was good...and got 90% or better on Rotten Tomatoes, which is THE guide to go to for what critics are saying about a film).

on a side note, i agree on Departed. that movie had so many problems, i can't imagine why so many people loved it. although, jerry maguire and english patient were great!

larry flynt, not only highly overrated, but the whole point of the film trying to show that he was a crusader for free speech, is just ridiculous. the guy was a smut peddler. not that there's anything wrong with that. i just didn't like it playing up the fact that there's "free speech" when that's hardly what he was doing and fighting for.

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mike1 Aug. 8, 2008 @ 12:21 a.m.

It was a good but flawed movie and Heath did a good job. But please....there have been any number of good portrayals of sadistic criminals and this one isn't by far the best of the bunch. So let's not give him the Oscar (for what that's worth) because it would be posthumously. And for those Duncan haters, you're free to read the endless superlative spewing critics who get paid by the number of ads they are quoted in. I'll keep seeing his 3 star and up movies and you're free to watch the rest.

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mike1 Aug. 15, 2008 @ 3:22 a.m.

I just saw how to find the movie by rating. Didn't even notice it before. In the words of Emily Latella, "nevermind."

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MarkScha Aug. 12, 2008 @ 12:51 p.m.

So, mike1, you didn't see that one-star "loser," "The Empire Strikes Back?"

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mike1 Aug. 15, 2008 @ 3:09 a.m.

Uh..yeah back in 1980. Wasn't that the one with Indiana Jones and the puppets in the spaceship? I find the whole Star Wars thing a bit overrated. But Duncan gave the Star Trek movies good reviews. Heck, I've enjoyed some of his black dot and one star movies. And some of his four and five star movies have left me cold. But I respect his opinion enough to want to check out his four and five star reviewed movies on video (since he rarely gives those reviews to the movies currently playing. And is there still a way to access the old reviews by rating?) and make it a point to see anything currently playing that he gives three stars to.

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Reader Staff Aug. 15, 2008 @ 9:10 a.m.

Search from thousands of Duncan Shepherd's movie reviews by going to http://www.sandiegoreader.com/movies/#archived_reviews. You can search by title, actor, keyword, or rating.

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Josh Board Aug. 18, 2008 @ 11:49 a.m.

I thought Two Face died in this Batman. Maybe I'm remembering wrong. But, yeah, Aaron Eckhart is a great actor. Check him out in his first starring role in "In the Company of Men." If you watch him in "Thank You For Smoking," just be prepared for a very overrated movie. He's great in that, too, though.

I also hate when they switch the actors up in sequels. Maybe Tom Cruise wouldn't let her do it, because the "dark knight" doesn't work with his Scientology. Who knows. But, I was a bit bothered looking at Maggie's sour puss face. It was annoying. She was great in "Criminal" with John C. Reily and Diego Luna. And in other movies I've liked her. But in this, she just kind of annoyed me for some reason.

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greytiger Aug. 31, 2008 @ 11:36 a.m.

All this coming from a man that gave, "Curse of the Cat People" (1944) 5 stars!!!....

...let me say that again... he gave a movie called, "Curse of the Cat People" (1944) 5 stars!!!!

Duncan is too old to be relevant. His time has past. Duncan's reviews are nothing more than intellectual masterb*tion.

I want throw Duncan off a bridge. Here, I'll tell you why...

My biggest compliant with Duncan is he has never written a script, never worked on a set, never DIRECTED anything in his life!

Being a critics doesn't mean all you have to do is criticize.

You opinions are clearly NOT shared by most San Diegans. All I can say is you must know the right people to still have the job you do. If you wish to be posh, stuck up, or striving only to make a scathing comment to the delight of your Intellectual cronies, than write for a paper out in San Francisco or New York.

I mean really???... what other job in the world does a person with only a singular understanding of a profession/field (Duncan's writing background) get to nationally lambaste a project of another profession. Its like a person that trains dogs telling a Zoo keeper they don't know how to run a Zoo.

Movie making is much more than that. So unless you've experienced the entire process, who are you to speak? Just because you have a degree? Such arrogance!

I do appreciate his honesty, seeing as most critics just give most movies "***", w/ poor analysis of the movie-- but come on man your giving the DARK KNIGHT a pass over? You need your meds old man.

On IMDB.com (the biggest movie related site in the world) has officially rated DARK KNIGHT as one of the best movies made (as of this writing its #3). Granted most of the ratings were made by 20-30's year olds and most probably have never seen the other movies on the Top 100 list. But still, the people have spoken, Dark Knight IS a solid and very relevant movie. Perhaps that was somehow lost by Duncan's archaic, out-of-date, ancient POV.

Move aside old man, your not relevant.

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M. E. Sept. 1, 2008 @ 10:06 p.m.

Oh god, it's "johnrubio" again.

J.R., if you're going to call someone else "grammatically crippled," then your s*** better be spot-on perfect -- but almost every one of your sentences blows chucks, both grammatically and stylistically.

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M. E. Sept. 1, 2008 @ 10:14 p.m.

Ah! I said "chucks"! WE SHOULD BE ABLE TO EDIT OUR COMMENTS!

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John Rubio Sept. 1, 2008 @ 2:50 p.m.

Ahh, an echo comes calling after weeks to contribute.

Ironic that "greytiger" so fervently attacks Mr. Shepherd for having the audacity to criticize a profession in which he has never participated--ironic given the fact that greytiger is not a professional critic himself and yet reserves the right to judge Mr. Shepherd's work. I guess freedom of thought and expression is only permitted if you're angry and grammatically crippled.

Some of my favorites though: -"I want throw Duncan off a bridge." Why does ignorance and violence always seem to go hand-in-hand?

-"th(a)n write for a paper out in San Francisco or New York." If I'm reading this correctly, THEN what are you saying--that San Francisco and New York are only populated by elitists, or that everyone in San Diego is intellectually stunted? It's tough to interpret with comments that are so flagrantly stereotypical and xenophobic, but maybe I can find a racist somewhere to explain it to me.

-"he gave a movie called . . . " So I guess we should only judge movies based on their titles. That seems a bit counter-intuitive to me given that the point of a motion picture is that it be seen; seems a bit "book judged by cover"; seems a bit prejudiced. But who am I to say--I'm not a movie maker.

-"Being a critics", "You opinions are" (to name a few other gems)

Oh, and by the way, "Curse of the Cat People" ranked mysteriously high on IMDB--what were those jokers thinking?

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