Sunday, July 24, 2011

Who's Your Favorite Batman?

So there I was, sitting in my hot, stuffy little attic office, scratching my ... head, thinking "Man, I should really post something new to my blog". It had been a while and, once again, I was short on inspiration.

It didn't help that my attic office, being an attic office, is the coldest room in the house during the winter time, and the hottest room in the house during the summer time, and we've been in the grip of a record-setting heat wave for the past couple of weeks. I do have a portable air conditioning unit for when it gets really bad but, electricity rates being what they are (especially now that the new "Smart Meters", which should really be called "Gouge Meters", have been implemented), I try to use that as sparingly as possible. But there I go making lame excuses again.

Finally, I decided to browse through the annals of my very own blog for ideas. One thing I've got to say for myself, I'm prolific! I sure have written a lot of blog posts over the years!

Eventually, I stumbled across the most obvious idea in the world. About two years ago, I asked you, my faithful readership, which actor was your favorite in the role of Batman's arch-nemesis, the Joker. Well, I never asked about Batman himself, did I? How'd I manage to overlook that idea?

Okay, so here it is. Who's your favorite Batman? We'll leave out voice characterizations for animated shows. I want to know who, in your opinion, can dress up like an overgrown bat with any kind of credibility. I humbly offer the following list of contenders:

Lewis Wilson/Robert Lowery

Although I'm feeling older and older with each passing year, I've never seen either Lewis Wilson's or Robert Lowery's portrayals of the Dark Knight, as they came a bit before my time (Wilson in 1943 and Lowery in 1949). Therefore, I'm afraid I can offer no opinions or comments on these performances. If anyone reading this can, please feel free to comment. I will say, however, that the costumes are almost painful by today's standards. When I was a kid, my mom once made me a home-made Batman costume which I swear would have given both the costumes pictured above a serious run for their money. And I thought West's costumer was bad! Speaking of which...

Adam West

Sure his portrayal of the Caped Crusader was campy, kooky and often just plain silly but many would argue that West remains the one and only original Batman (he himself certainly would!) He was the first to have some real fun with the role. If he (or his writers and directors) decided to go for camp, perhaps it was because they figured that the character could only be taken so seriously, and that tongue-in-cheek was therefore the best way to go. I further suggest that Adam West's Batman bore the distinction of being the only one that appealed to both children and adults on two whole different levels and for very different reasons.

Finally, West's Batman delivered some of the most memorable, laugh-out-loud funny lines I've ever heard coming from a costumed crime fighter in the most dead-pan serious manner imaginable, which made them even funnier.

"It was noble of that animal to hurl himself into the path of that final torpedo. He gave his life for ours." (Said just after having been saved from an oncoming torpedo by a dolphin that intercepted the projectile.)

"Not you, Robin. They have strict licensing laws in this country. A boy of your age is not allowed in a drinking tavern." (Said just after Robin eagerly prepared to storm a tavern).

And later...

"I'm just going to hang around the bar. I don't want to look conspicuous." (Spoken while in full Bat-garb).

Robin: "You can't get away from Batman that easy!"
Batman: "Easily."
Robin: "Easily."
Batman: "Good grammar is essential, Robin."
Robin: "Thank you."
Batman: "You're welcome."

And who can forget...

"Just a second while I retrieve my beanie, my hair, my tweezers, and my notes."

Man, that utility belt carried absolutely everything! Okay, so he may not be the most credible of all the Batmen but, for pure entertainment and a hardy belly-laugh, it's hard to beat Adam West.

Michael Keaton

You'd think that an actor who first made his bones as a comedian would try to steal Adam West's thunder and go for a few laughs of his own but, no, Michael Keaton decided to play the role in a serious manner, and pulled it off handsomely. Any humor that he did allow to slip in was extremely subtle and delivered without even a smirk, such as the scene in which Vicky Vale and Alexander Knox are wondering between themselves about one of the outlandish costumes in Bruce Wayne's personal armory, at which Michael Keaton (as Bruce Wayne) states, very matter-of-factly, "It's Japanese". Knox, not yet realizing who Bruce Wayne is, asks how he would know that, to which Wayne replies, just as matter-of-factly, "Because I bought it in Japan," resisting what must have been a very strong temptation to add "Duh!"

Keaton brought pathos to the role. He almost made it possible to believe that dressing up in a black rubber bat suit is a perfectly natural reaction for a man who's tormented by an inner duality brought on by an early childhood trauma, and happens to have way too much disposable cash.

Finally, Keaton had the facial features for the role. I've always suspected that the costumers must have used a cast of Keaton's furrowed brows when making his scowling bat cowl.

Val Kilmer

When Michael Keaton decided that he didn't want to play the caped crusader for a third time, Warner Brothers turned to Val Kilmer to don the mantle. At first glance, Kilmer seems a good choice for the role. He's young (or at least he was at the time), handsome, athletically built and an actor who has shown that he can play a great diversity of roles, from Top Gun's no-nonsense, by-the-book, somewhat condescending "Ice Man" to the flamboyant, rebellious and somewhat disturbed Jim Morrison in "The Doors".

As Batman, Kilmer stayed true to Keaton's portrayal, both as Bruce Wayne and his costumed alter ego, playing the roles with a serious, almost pious air. Behind the mask, Kilmer was, in my opinion, the poutiest-looking Batman of the lot. From a purely facial perspective, if I hadn't known better, I might have mistakenly thought that they recruited Corey Hart for the role.

Kilmer had the dubious honor of taking the young protegé, Robin (played by Chris O'Donnell), who had been absent since Adam West's retirement from the role, under his bat-wing. Unlike television's dynamic duo, Kilmer's and O'Donnell's pair didn't always see eye to eye. Kilmer's Batman only accepted his young would-be partner somewhat reluctantly, and O'Donnell's Robin iwas much more headstrong and rebellious and much less conciliatory, than Adam West's young partner. This gave Kilmer's Batman a whole new set of both opportunities and problems. I'm not sure that he fully capitalized on them.

Batman's costume tended to change from film to film, often even while the actor wearing them remained the same (with the noteable exception of Adam West), but Kilmer was the first Batman whose costume changed within a single film. Kilmer's Batman, like Jack Nicholson's Joker, seemed to have different looks for different occasions. After all, Batman wouldn't want his costume's novelty appeal to start wearing thin now, would he?

George Clooney

In my opinion, George Clooney, as an actor, seems hard to dislike, though I can't say I've ever met him personally. He brings a certain easy-going coolness to every role that he plays. Yet herein lies part of the problem. Perhaps Clooney was simply too big for the cape and cowl. Even in full bat-garb, one could somehow never forget that it was George Clooney under there. Keaton and Kilmer managed to lose themselves inside the costume. (West, it might be argued, was the costume). Clooney never quite did.

The second problem is that Clooney, for whatever reason, tried to bring some of West's Campiness back to the character with lines such as "This is why Superman works alone!" (spoken after petulant Robin complained that he wanted his own Batmobile, because "Chicks like the car.") In one of the most painful examples of dialog in the movie, Clooney and O'Donnell, in what I can only assume was intended as an ill-considered homage to West and Ward, uttered the following exchange:

Robin: Holey rusted metal Batman!
Batman: Huh?
Robin: The ground, it's all metal. It's full of holes. You know, holey!
Batman: Oh.

I can almost hear even West's Batman tut-tutting; "Really Robin. Bat puns?"

Like Kilmer, Clooney's Batman seems to have an array of different costumes, one of which comes complete with Bat-nipples. Really Batman? Nipples? Didn't you and Robin get enough suggestive ribbing when you did the '60's serial together in tights?

To be fair to Clooney, I think his Batman was more a victim of poor writing and directing than poor acting. I saw him in an interview about his films during which he commented, in his usual easy-going manner, that he felt that the star of "The Perfect Storm" was not he, but rather the "great big rogue wave" (i.e. the special effects). Immediately afterward, he added with a shrug that, on the other hand, he took the fall for 'Batman and Robin', so he didn't mind taking the credit for 'The Perfect Storm'.

Christian Bale

Christian Bale, like Val Kilmer, is another actor who has shown himself capable of playing a wide range of roles. He's certainly the grittiest, most intense Batman, in this blogger's humble opinion. He admirably re-introduces pathos to the character, accepting the label of "outlaw" (in "The Dark Knight" for the greater good of Gotham City.

He's also the only one who attempts to change his voice when wearing the cape and cowl so that he doesn't sound like Bruce Wayne. Unfortunately, the raspy grunt that he chooses for his mode of diction when costumed makes him sound like someone who's about to pinch a loaf, somewhat detracting from the seriousness of the character.

I personally dislike his cowl. The ears are too short for my liking, making him look more Doberman Pinscherman than Batman, and the hood is solid, rather than flexible latex. I don't know why that just seems wrong, but it does.

I think Bale takes himself just a bit too seriously as an actor. His Batman movies, while entertaining to watch, are just never going to be high art. Sorry Chris.

Oh yes and, last but not least, there is, of course....


So there it is. Obviously, I've hinted at my own preference. If you think it's all poppycock or want to sound off on the matter, please feel free to do so in the comments. Who's your favorite Batman, and why?

Friday, July 1, 2011

O Canada

Today is Canada Day.

Although I was born in Austria, I grew up in Canada, having immigrated at the tender age of three, and I consider myself to be a Canadian, proudly and unashamedly so. And so, to honour my adopted homeland on her 144th birthday, I offer the following list of reasons why it's great to be Canadian.

  1. Smarties, Crispy Crunch and Coffee Crisp are three of the finest chocolate bars (not "candy bars") in the world. All are easily found in Canada and none are available in the U.S.A. For that matter, Americans seem confused about their chocolate bars in general. Their Mars bar, which was also completely unavailable from 2002 until just last year, includes peanuts. Canadian Mars bars have been peanut-free since 2006. The U.S. Snickers bar is actually closer in its ingredients to the Canadian Mars bar, albeit not as sweet, but it is decidedly different from the Canadian Snickers bar, which is closer to the U.S. 3 Musketeers bar. And don't get me started about Kinder Surprise Eggs. Not only are they not available in the U.S.A., they're actively prohibited, having apparently been classified as weapons of mass nougat!

  2. The Canadian football field is both longer and wider than its American counterpart (110 yards long by 65 yards wide) and yet Canadian teams have only three downs to cover ten yards rather than four, meaning that Canadian football players are probably generally more fit than their American cousins, since they have to cover more distance in less time. Our balls are bigger as well, as is the regulation pigskin.

  3. Baseball, the "Great American Game" is actually Canadian. One of the earliest recorded games that bore a closer resemblance to modern baseball than to the U.K.'s Cricket or Rounders was played in Beachville, Ontario in 1838, a full seven years before Abner Doubleday supposedly invented the sport in 1845. Mind you, there were five bases (called "byes" at the time) as opposed to three (there's that Canadian penchant for doing everything bigger again) but the game was clearly an ancestor of modern baseball.

  4. As long as we're appropriating long-standing icons of American culture, apple pie was originally an English dessert and, as Canada maintains closer cultural ties with the U.K. than does America, I maintain that apple pie is much more Canadian than it is American.

  5. No matter what our cultural, political or philosophical differences, be we anglophone or francophone, Christian or Muslim, male or female, black or white, rich or poor, there is one thing about which all Canadians can agree, and that is Tim Horton's Donuts. "Timmy's" is the institution which bonds and unites all Canadians. It's not just a place to get our morning wake-up jolt of java. We meet there socially. We commune there. We discuss sports, politics, family and the economy there. In 2001, Krispy Kreme Donuts made an aggressive move into Canada. Speculation was rife as to whether Tim Horton's might actually be facing some serious competition. Even Tim Horton's itself showed early signs of nervousness as they switched their traditional "shoe box" container, which used to hold a dozen of their donuts, to a wider, shallower box designed to imitate Krispy Kreme's. Today, of the 18 Krispy Kreme stores that opened in Canada, out of 32 planned, 4 remain. Tim Horton's never even broke a sweat.

  6. Music. Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Anne Murray, Bryan Adams, Burton Cummings, Randy Bachman, Neil Young, Rush, Trooper, Celine Dion, Ian Thomas, Carol Pope, Shania Twain, the Rankins, Gino Vannelli, Bruce Cockburn ... the list goes on. Canadian musicians and singers rank right up there among the world's finest, and they have to work about ten times as hard as their American counterparts to get exposure. As Ian Thomas once quipped, being a Canadian performer means never quitting your day job.

  7. While Americans were still whuppin' slaves, Canada was smuggling them out of the U.S. and welcoming them as citizens.

  8. Canadian kids can play road hockey on ice skates.

  9. Only a Canadian can take a pack of canines that are capable of killing and devouring a full-grown human being in under three minutes and get them to pull him and his belongings through the snow on a sled.

  10. Canadian strip joints have no compulsory G-string law.

  11. Canadian inventions include snowmobiles, jet-skis, velcro, zippers, insulin, penicillin, zambonis, the telephone and short wave radios.

  12. Our currency, which some Americans ridicule as "Monopoly money", is a lot harder to counterfeit than American currency.

  13. Our elections are always resolved within a day.

  14. Canada boasts the only French-speaking soldiers who never surrendered to Germany, or anyone else for that matter.

  15. Finally, those Americans who today look upon Canada as their "poor cousin" have obviously forgotten the war of 1812, when Canadians sacked Washington DC and burned down the White House, then left. We weren't really invading you see; we were just making a point. America had pissed us off by attacking Toronto (known as York at the time) so we went down there, gave them a good bitch-slapping, and went back home to finish the Eaton Center, which was still under construction at the time.

Canadians are a mild-mannered bunch. We don't toot our own horns. We just do what we do and let everyone else get on with their own lives. "Live and let live" is the Canadian way. We may have our quirks, but I can't think of any other country in which I'd rather live.

Happy 144th, Canada!