July 28th, 2008
01:57 PM ET

'Dark Knight' gets it from both sides

The wonderful thing about a work of art - or a pop-culture phenomenon - is that you can look at it as an allegory for whatever ideology you subscribe to.

"The Dark Knight" has earned almost universal praise, but what does it all MEAN?

Witness the blog frenzy over the op-ed piece in Friday’s Wall Street Journal that theorized that “The Dark Knight” is “a paean of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W. Bush.”

Naturally, other bloggers disagree.

The arguments demonstrate the deep impact that the many-layered “Dark Knight,” which now ranks as the Internet Movie Database’s greatest film ever (move over, “Shawshank” and “Godfather”), has had on the moviegoing public.

Either way, the prime symbol of the film - the Joker as terrorist - is impossible to miss, with many reviewers characterizing “The Dark Knight” as representative of our post-9/11 world.

The debates also remind me of other battles over films’ meanings: Was “Patton” a pro-war statement or a portrait of an out-of-control military leader? Was “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” an anti-Communist diatribe or an attack on American conformity?


- Todd Leopold, CNN.com Entertainment Producer

Filed under: movies
July 25th, 2008
10:58 AM ET

Programming tips

A few things to look forward to in the next couple weeks …

"Mad Men" stars Jon Hamm as ad exec Don Draper.

“Mad Men” begins its second season Sunday night on AMC. The show earned 16 Emmy nominations for season one, which introduced us to the Sterling Cooper ad agency circa 1960 - a model firm of polished shoes and polished men in one of New York’s gleaming new glass boxes. Underneath the gloss, of course, things were as messy as the cigarette butts piled up in local tavern ashtrays: affairs, identity crises and a sense that the old order was breaking down. Season two begins its chronicle in February 1962. I’m still wondering how HBO could have passed on this, but the “Sopranos” network’s loss is AMC’s - and our - gain. (Need to catch up on season one? It's just out on DVD.)

– My wife, a ballroom dancing enthusiast, loves a dance show on TV. But it’s not “Dancing with the Stars” (which she dismisses as this decade’s version of “Battle of the Network Stars”) or “So You Think You Can Dance.” No, she’s become addicted to MTV’s “America’s Best Dance Crew” - and gotten me hooked, too. I can do without the audience shrieks (well, it is MTV) or the comments of judges Lil Mama (“You slept on it”) and JC Chasez (remembering his ‘N Sync moves), but the sheer athleticism of the competitors is stunning. The show is getting down to its final four. Check it out Thursdays at 10 p.m. - or many other times throughout the week, since it is MTV and they rerun everything incessantly.

– And for those who didn’t get the first 30 minutes of “Wall-E” because there was no dialogue (and judging from this blog entry, there were many), please make sure you’re watching Turner Classic Movies on Saturday, August 2, when the network will program a full day of Charlie Chaplin films. Among the selections: 1918’s “A Dog’s Life,” 1921’s “The Kid,” 1925’s “The Gold Rush” (the one where he eats his boot), 1936’s “Modern Times” and 1940’s “The Great Dictator.” (Too bad “The Rink” is missing, but you can find it all over the Web.) So much can be said without words, and Chaplin was one of the greats. (Turner Classic Movies is a unit of Time Warner, as is CNN.)

- Todd Leopold, CNN.com Entertainment Producer

Filed under: movies
July 18th, 2008
11:33 AM ET

What are those kids doing at 'Dark Knight'?

Today’s buzz revolves around two questions: Have you seen “The Dark Knight” and when do you plan to see it?

So consider this. You’ve paid $9 (or more) for the ticket, $4 for the popcorn and you’ve threaded your way to the seat your friends have been fighting to save for you. You get settled to enjoy the movie, one you’ve been dying to see. Then it happens - the crying baby, the kid asking their parents questions, the foot kicking your chair.

Isn’t this a PG-13 rated movie? Isn’t it past their bedtime? It seems like no curfew is necessary when parents are bringing their kids to adult movies. It’s as if the children are their friends.

Where are the boundaries? There are adults’ films and kids’ films. I never consider having a drink and going to see “Hannah Montana” with a theater full of tween girls because that would be inappropriate. It is equally inappropriate to bring a small child and expect that they will understand or appreciate the film they are seeing.

So what does a parent do when they want to see “The Dark Knight”? You consider that not every moviegoer is interested in being your babysitter. Leave the kids at home - and, for that matter, think before you let your preteens go on their own.

- Audrey Irvine, CNN National Desk

Filed under: movies
July 14th, 2008
01:53 PM ET

Three thoughts on 'The Dark Knight'

Just got back from “The Dark Knight.” The following is not a review, but merely observations - to borrow from Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, three things I think I think. (And I don’t think there are any stupendous spoilers to follow, but as always, I think “caveat lector” is in order. You have been warned):

Heath Ledger's Joker (above) may have earned all the raves, but don't forget about the rest of the cast - including Gary Oldman and Aaron Eckhart.

1. Heath Ledger has been earning all the praise - and justifiably, since his Joker is terrific - but the heart of “The Dark Knight” belongs to its one unalloyed good guy, Gary Oldman’s police lieutenant Jim Gordon. Who would have thought that the actor who created a number of his own reckless personalities - including “Sid and Nancy’s” Sid Vicious, “JFK’s” Lee Harvey Oswald and “Hannibal’s” Mason Verger - could be so true?

2. a. I miss Anton Furst. The production designer for 1989’s “Batman” created a bleak, cavernous Gotham City based on a New York with no zoning laws. “The Dark Knight” calls its locale Gotham City, but like “Batman Begins,” it was largely filmed in Chicago - and it looks like Chicago, right down to the landmark Board of Trade looming over one major scene. (“Batman Begins,” with large chunks set at Wayne Manor and in the Far East, didn’t make the city as big a character - nor was it as brightly lit, at least in memory.)

2. b. On the other hand, though many critics will call “The Dark Knight” a “comic-book movie” (which is often damning praise), it’s really more like a gangster film with supernatural elements. (It even includes Eric Roberts and his gang talking in the tough-guy ‘30s gangster movie vernacular, and - at times - Ledger's voice seemed to contain elements of Peter Lorre and James Cagney.) In that respect, Chicago is the perfect setting, with its rich film history leading from “The Public Enemy” to “The Sting” to “The Untouchables.” Given more time and a story that didn’t require summer-movie heroics and special effects, I think director Christopher Nolan could have given “The Dark Knight” even more depth than it has. At times the operatic splendor of the film, along with its deliberate pace, reminded me of “The Godfather.” I’m not joking.

3. When a movie is called “The Dark Knight,” it means it. The emphasis is very much on “Dark.” If there’s a nod to its PG-13 audience, it’s that - for all the gunshots and explosions - there isn’t much blood. Which doesn’t mean that the movie doesn’t have a pessimistic soul. If it had been made in the early ‘70s - free of today’s glossiness - it would have made “The French Connection” look hopeful.

It should be noted that "The Dark Knight" is from Warner Bros., which, like CNN, is a unit of Time Warner.

Stay tuned for Tom Charity’s review, coming Thursday. And here’s what Time had to say.

Finally, if you've got some Batman trivia, we've got the perfect place for it: our iReport site. Go here and offer your suggestion.

- Todd Leopold, CNN.com Entertainment Producer

Filed under: movies
July 10th, 2008
12:00 PM ET

Help the Cedar Rapids library!

Among the victims of June’s disastrous floods was the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, central library. The main branch was mere blocks from the overflowing Cedar River, and library officials still have no idea how many volumes were lost.

For now, the library is operating out of its West Side branch in the area’s Westdale Mall. But it will be looking to rebuild.

You can help.

The library is accepting monetary donations through its Cedar Rapids Public Library Foundation. The address is 500 First Street SE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52401.

If you’d prefer to donate books, other parts of the library system are accepting them. You can donate new or used books to the libraries in Marion, Iowa (1095 Sixth Avenue, Marion, IA 52302), and Hiawatha, Iowa (150 W. Willman Street, Hiawatha, IA 52233). The Marion and Hiawatha libraries are part of the area’s Metro Library Network.

More information can be found here.

- Todd Leopold, CNN.com Entertainment Producer

Filed under: Uncategorized
July 7th, 2008
01:18 PM ET

'Wall-E' and the children

The New York Times’ Frank Rich had an interesting column yesterday about the film “Wall-E” and its depiction, in Rich’s words, of “a world in peril.”

Wall-E ponders humanity's debris in "Wall-E."

Indeed, the settings of “Wall-E” are pretty bleak. The movie spends a good part of its first half in a dried-up, dusty, brown world of the future, where the title robot compacts the trash he finds and stacks it into giant towers. The highways have fallen apart, the skyscrapers are empty, and about the only bright color is provided by the scenes from “Hello, Dolly!” that Wall-E watches religiously.

And even though the movie’s other world -– that of the spaceship Axiom, which contains the mass of overweight humanity –- is brightly lit, it’s not exactly the most promising place. Humans zone out to endless TV programs, carried in floating chairs so they never have to walk. About the only excitement is provided by the messages from the ruling corporation, the ubiquitous Buy N Large, urging people to shop - or, simply, do nothing and enjoy their comfortable lives.

(I’m reminded of Ned Beatty’s speech from “Network”: “And our children will live, Mr. Beale, to see that perfect world in which there's no war or famine, oppression or brutality … all necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused.”)

Yes, there’s a wonderful love story, some Chaplinesque slapstick and an upbeat ending. But still, even putting aside Rich’s political points - that’s a topic for the CNN Ticker - much of “Wall-E” is sobering stuff for an adult, never mind a child. (CNN.com Tech Producer Brandon Griggs has a similar take.)

Which gets me wondering. How are children reacting? I don’t have any children, but the ones I saw at my local theater appeared to be having a good time. However, I wonder what questions they asked when they got home - and if the more downbeat portions of the movie lingered on after the love story and humor wore off. (They certainly did for my wife and me.)

So for all the parents and grandparents out there: What are your children saying about “Wall-E”? What do you tell them? And would you encourage others to go?

- Todd Leopold, CNN.com Entertainment Producer

UPDATE, 7/8 11:20 a.m.: We've been deluged with comments, so apologies to all those who haven't gotten theirs posted. I'm working on it - but rest assured, you've been heard (or read).

Filed under: Uncategorized
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