'Batman' Lands In Theaters

Daniel Holloway of Us Weekly looks at this week's new releases, including Batman, Mamma Mia, and Transsiberian.

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MIKE PESCA, host:

So, this week in theaters, a dark and brooding tale of an antihero who operates on the edges of society. And I still don't understand why they weaved a dozen ABBA songs into that premise. But maybe Daniel Holloway, our movie expert, could explain it to me.

DANIEL HOLLOWAY: Well, you have to come up with something different to do with Batman every now and then. And you know, Christian Bale looks really good when he's doing choreographed routines to "Dancing Queen."

PESCA: That was a way to go. Or maybe I just - ah, I see. I have done an unedited mash up. That's too bad. OK. So, let's talk about - let's talk about Batman for a second.

HOLLOWAY: Yeah.

PESCA: Perhaps you will remember last time you were on the show, and the word Batman came up. You didn't disparage, but you weren't so effusive in your praise of Tim Burton's 1989 "Batman." You said it didn't belong in the top ten superhero movies of all time. And at that moment, a few of our producers stormed the studio and almost beat you about the chest and head.

HOLLOWAY: Yeah. Let's be - let's be straight about it. I got jumped.

PESCA: Yeah. You got jumped.

HOLLOWAY: I got jumped.

PESCA: You were assaulted. So, let's talk about - let's talk about the history. You could start anywhere from the comic books to its antecedence, but you didn't love Burton's '89 "Batman"?

HOLLOWAY: I didn't love Burton's '89 "Batman." Unfortunately, I don't think it holds up. It is archetypal, and it certainly laid the groundwork for what Nolan's "Batman" has done. And I'm getting some threatening looks from outside the studio right now. PESCA: Well, I'm not going to say that you are...

HOLLOWAY: It sucks, boys!

PESCA: I am not...

HOLLOWAY: It sucks.

PESCA: Right now, Dan Pashman and Ian Chillag are making the hired-goon motion. So, I guess this means you're going to have to like "The Dark Knight," which I don't think they've seen, but they've already decided they're going to love it. What did you think of "The Dark Knight"?

HOLLOWAY: "The Dark Knight" is probably the most perfect film version of "Batman" that we've received so far.

PESCA: Oh, that's good to hear. I guess what everyone is watching for in this movie is Heath Ledger. Was it the last performance he ever - last movie he ever acted in before he died, or just the last one that's going to be released?

HOLLOWAY: No. He'll be in Terry Gilliam's "Doctor" - I can't remember the first part of the title at the moment, the something of Doctor Parnassus, which he had shot a piece of, about a third of the movie, before he died. And what they've done since then is gone back and done a sort of "I'm Not There" type thing, where Johnny Depp and some other actors will then play the character at different points in the movie.

PESCA: OK. That'll be cool. I mean, Terry Gilliam could pull that off. So, let's hear a little of Heath Ledger in - really, you know, the Joker, what a role, the ability to chew the scenery, to add something to it, to build on Jack and everyone who's ever - I guess Cesar Romero. But let's hear Heath Ledger as the Joker in "Batman: The Dark Knight."

(Soundbite of movie "Batman: The Dark Knight")

Mr. HEATH LEDGER: (As the Joker) This town deserves a better class of criminal, and I'm going to give it to them. Tell your men they work for me now. This is my city.

Mr. RITCHIE COSTER: (As the Chechen) They won't work for a freak...

Mr. LEDGER: (As the Joker) A freak? Why don't we cut you up into little pieces and feed you to your pooches? Hmm? And then we'll see how loyal a hungry dog really is.

(Soundbite of dogs barking)

Mr. LEDGER: (As the Joker) It's not about money. It's about sending a message.

PESCA: So, you know, I don't know if I can assess the performance there. But as you watched Heath Ledger embody the Joker, were you just watching the Joker? Or were you constantly evaluating, this is Heath Ledger's last performance, thinking about Heath Ledger? Or did he just pull it off too well?

HOLLOWAY: I was quite surprised at how quickly I forgot that it was Heath Ledger, which is something that I never - that you don't forget when you're watching the original "Batman" movie. I mean, it is - I mean, my opinion differs from a lot of peoples. But it is Jack's movie, and I will give him that. This is Heath's movie. But I feel that one of the reasons he does such a better job with the character, and it is a differently-imagined character, is that I forget that I'm watching Heath Ledger very quickly.

PESCA: I know Jack Nicholson has his own persona. And I know that - though, when he was cast, people were very excited to see him. You know, there's an overlap between the manic energy of the Joker and things he brought to other roles. With Heath Ledger, you know, he was great in "Brokeback Mountain." I don't know how many other movies that were, you know, released in America where he was the star convinced people to say, oh - like they say of Jack - oh, I really want him to get into this role and see what he could do with it. A respected actor, certainly an accomplished actor, not necessarily the kind of actor you just would love to see him, you know, have at a role like this.

HOLLOWAY: And I think that plays to his favor, because he's not bringing in any preconceived notions about how he will play the character to the character. I don't think anyone thought before you started seeing it - I mean, there was plenty of stuff on the web about this movie beforehand, so you kind of knew where the character was going to go. You couldn't avoid it. But I don't think when it was first announced, and you hadn't started seeing clips yet, that you could really predict based on his past work what Heath Ledger was going to do with the Joker. And I think that what he's done is turn him into a much more morbid and gruesome character.

Interestingly, they play a little bit more with - you know, the Joker's been written in dozens of different ways. And they play a little bit more with the idea of him as a mob boss and then kind of fade out of that and get more into, you know, him as just a complete lunatic with a sort of, you know, almost jihadist outlook on the world.

PESCA: Interesting. And so, we haven't mentioned Christian Bale, maybe because Christian Bale's the kind of guy who reminds me of a really shimmery, shiny piece of furniture with hard edges, you know, really sleek or the hood of a sports car where you see your reflection off it, but it doesn't necessarily have a lot of, you know, soft corners. So, we all saw Christian Bale in the last "Batman." He was really good. How is he in this "Batman"?

HOLLOWAY: You know, that's the thing about "Batmen," is you kind of - they're never asked to be the star, you know?

PESCA: Yeah. Because you're in the suit, you're under the cowl, what can you do?

HOLLOWAY: Yeah. And you're kind of surrounded by - you know, the nature of the character is to be serious and dark in the face of, you know, a load of lunatics. And in the last movie, we got this very sort of Joseph Campbell "hero's quest" notion of Batman complete with Qui-Gon Jinn.

PESCA: Yeah.

HOLLOWAY: This movie is more of that sort of Burton-esque thing, where you have a Batman who you kind of know everything that you need to know about him, and you're really watching the sort of characters that are in his orbit. Bale holds the center fine. He's - I think he's a very good Bruce Wayne. I think people always forget that when you're playing Batman, Batman and Bruce Wayne are two different characters. And when you're playing Bruce Wayne, ideally you're playing him as Batman playing the character of Bruce Wayne. And he's quite good at that. The only other thing I'll say about Bale is that he does - he changes his voice whenever he's in the suit...

PESCA: Yeah.

HOLLOWAY: And it drops to this incredibly low rasp where it sounds like he's smoking two packs of Marlboro Reds a day. It doesn't really work for me after a little while.

PESCA: We're spending a lot of time on this, but this probably is going to be the biggest movie of the summer.

HOLLOWAY: Yeah.

PESCA: The most anticipated movie to many. My problem with the first one - which I thought was great, and I appreciated Christopher Nolan for giving us a backstory that I think was new. I mean, there were so many iterations in the comics. But sort of explaining he had, like, this ninja training and, you know, everything that Liam Neeson brought to it. But I think almost all movies, all decent movies, pretty much start off good. I mean, you have to grab the viewer originally. And setting up premises are easier than paying off premises. I thought that movie was backwards. I thought that movie started off confusingly, and I didn't laugh. But then in the end, so the second two acts were a lot better than the first. How's the pacing of this movie?

HOLLOWAY: It's a completely different movie. Everything about this movie is different. What I was saying before about the first one being this sort of, you know, Campbell-esque "hero's quest" thing, that's just all thrown out the window here. We introduce our principles, and we immediately start fighting.

PESCA: That's cool.

HOLLOWAY: And it's - and even the city itself, Gotham City - you know, Burton's Gotham City was probably the best thing about those films. Nolan's Gotham City looks more like a normal city. But even in the first film, it looked like this sort of decaying future-city thing. This is just Chicago. This is Chicago, and surprisingly, Chicago at four p.m. A lot of this movie takes place in the daytime, which you don't expect from a Batman movie. It is - it does feel much, much different. You're not concerned so much with the arc of the character. You're concerned with the chain of events and what - and who will survive to see the end of them.

PESCA: OK. Let's go from dark to light, very light, "Mama Mia!," a new - I guess if you - one of the things a film should do is honor the text. It's not hard. The text is a musical that was slopped together, that I saw, from a bunch of ABBA songs. The songs are fine. The musical doesn't seem to make sense premise-wise. What do you think of "Mama Mia!"?

HOLLOWAY: What could possibly be your problem with a musical that's premise is a girl has three dads, three potential dads, and invites them all to her wedding, and they all show up?

PESCA: Yeah.

HOLLOWAY: And they sing ABBA songs. I don't know, I don't see the flaws in this.

PESCA: Sometimes I watch episodes of "Jerry Springer," and they do the DNA test, and I say to myself, instead of that, why didn't they just sing ABBA songs to figure it out, you know?

HOLLOWAY: That would be a better show, no doubt.

PESCA: Probably.

HOLLOWAY: Yeah. This is an adaptation of that. And you know, you just have to - there's a lot of suspension of disbelief that you've got to bring to this movie.

PESCA: Like, I can't believe Pierce Brosnan thinks he can sing, that sort of disbelief?

HOLLOWAY: Come on, "SOS," he does it - he does an entertaining enough job. Part of the fun of this movie is watching people like Brosnan kind of wrestle with the silliness of what they're doing. And it goes beyond - I'm going to - I don't think I've been quite clear yet. I love this movie.

PESCA: Wow.

HOLLOWAY: I love this movie. If you can't enjoy watching Pierce Brosnan and Meryl Streep and Colin Firth act drunk for two hours, then you don't belong in the movie theater.

PESCA: This is a fun movie. Let us hear the grand lady of American cinema, Meryl Streep, singing "Money, Money, Money."

(Soundbite of movie "Mama Mia!: The Movie")

(Soundbite of song "Money, Money, Money")

Ms. MERYL STREEP: (As Donna) (Singing) I work all night, I work all day, to pay the bills I have to pay.

CHORUS: Ain't it sad?

Ms. STREEP: (As Donna) (Singing) And still there never seems to be a single penny left for me - don't sit down there.

CHORUS: That's too bad.

Ms. STREEP: It's broken.

(Singing) In my dreams I have a plan. If I got me a wealthy man, I wouldn't have to work at all. I'd fool around and have a ball.

Unidentified Woman: Donna, you have to...

CHORUS: Money, money, money...

PESCA: Oh, man. So, it's a fun movie. You love the movie?

HOLLOWAY: It's a fun movie.

PESCA: It seems like great counter-programming, the anti-"Batman."

HOLLOWAY: It is the anti-"Batman" for - it's - yeah, I would say - I don't want to be patronizing, it's for the ladies who wouldn't like "Batman," or the boys who wouldn't like "Batman." It's definitely a good movie to have coming out in the same weekend, because they will not draw from the same well.

PESCA: Yeah. I know most taglines on movies are things like, "for anyone who's ever had a dream." This is, "for anyone who doesn't want to see Batman." Who plays the daughter in it, by the way?

HOLLOWAY: Her name is Amanda Seyfried, and she is the girl whose boob predicted the weather in "Mean Girls."

PESCA: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Sure. Loved all three of those "Mean Girls."

HOLLOWAY: You know, she's all right. She's fine. And I think she's a charming little actress, and she'll probably get some more work after this. But I will say this. The fun of this movie is watching the older actors try to figure out what they're doing in this film. And the younger actors kind of all look like they're in "High School Musical 3" or something.

PESCA: Well, I don't know if theaters are big enough for a third movie this weekend, but there is one, "Transsiberian," Woody Harrelson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, good cast. We've got to do it quickly, but tell me, so this is, like, some train thing going on? But did you like it? What's it about, in a nutshell?

HOLLOWAY: Good cast. It's about Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer play missionaries coming from - traveling from Beijing to Moscow on a train. And they get involved in some drug smuggling stuff. Ben Kingsley plays a Russian narc cop. It's OK. It's not as good as it could be. Good cast, though.

PESCA: OK. Good cast doing OK things. Daniel Holloway is the man who does the movies. Thank you very much, Daniel.

HOLLOWAY: Thank you, sir.

PESCA: It has been a great pleasure.

HOLLOWAY: It has been an excellent, excellent pleasure.

(Soundbite of song "The Promised Land")

PESCA: That is it for this hour of the BPP...

IAN CHILLAG: Mike, I need to interrupt you. Sorry, we faked you out with the old clock there. You actually have more time than you realized. Sorry, buddy.

PESCA: You didn't!

CHILLAG: We just wanted to send you off here in style. We appreciate so much all the hard work you did on the show. And awhile back, around the time of Tim Russert's passing, you, as a Bruce Springsteen fan, said that you didn't want to hear "Thunder Road" at your funeral.

PESCA: That was my funeral.

CHILLAG: Since - well, it's your BPP funeral. You're now officially dead to all of us.

PESCA: OK. Very good.

CHILLAG: And you said you wanted to hear "The Promised Land."

PESCA: Yeah.

CHILLAG: Which is a great, great Bruce song.

PESCA: Sure.

CHILLAG: And we've got a live version here off of "Live" box set, "1975-1985." And that's how we're going to send you off, in style. So, you know, there are a lot of people out there that love the Mike Pesca hosting the BPP, some people not as much. One thing's for sure, when Mike Pesca's hosting the show, everyone knows Mike Pesca's hosting the show.

PESCA: All right.

CHILLAG: And that's meant as a compliment.

PESCA: I'll take it. I'll ride along that rattlesnake freeway in the Utah desert, and I'll sign us off. I think it still is my responsibility. That is it for this hour of the BPP. We are always online at npr.org/bryantpark. I am Mike Pesca. Take her home, Alison. You get her for next week, one more week of this thing. It has been my great pleasure to work with all of you people. This is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News.

(Soundbite of song "The Promised Land")

Mr. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Take a knife and cut this pain from my heart. Find somebody itching for something to start. The dogs on Main Street howl because they understand, If I could take one moment into my hands, Mister, I ain't a boy, no, I'm a man, And I believe in a promised land.

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