Why Demolition Man is the Best Batman Film

The number and variety of Batman films in existence mean that there’s something for everyone to favour: you can like the Tim Burton ones if you prefer it gothy; you can like the Christopher Nolan ones if you go in for things gritty and slightly overblown; and you can like the Joel Schumacher ones if you’ve recently suffered a severely traumatic head injury. For my money, though, the best Batman film of all time is none of these – it’s the 1993 classic Demolition Man, starring Sylvester Stallone as Batman and Wesley Snipes as the Joker. OK, they actually have different names (I assume there were licensing issues), but this film is not only clearly a Batman film, but it is clearly the best Batman film. Let’s review.

The Joker
My problem with the Joker has always been that he’s never come across to me as a credible threat. His superpower is… he’s crazy? That’s it? Yeah, it means he’s unpredictable and unencumbered by conscience, but seriously, that’s more of a liability than an advantage. He’s only able to succeed at anything because of the army of hired goons who are inexplicably willing to work for him, despite the certainty that their employment will end with Batman beating the shit out of them or the Joker killing them on a whim. His most remarkable trait is his uncanny knack for completely renovating locations in his trademark “twisted fairground” style in no time at all – that seems to be his real superpower: interior decoration.

Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight was the first time I saw a version of the Joker who I thought was a genuine threat to Batman – he was cunning and ruthless, he planned ahead, and it was clear that his only goal was to fuck shit up for the sake of it. Only of course it wasn’t the first time, because 25 years before Ledger’s Joker, there was Simon Phoenix.

Do I even have to establish that Simon Phoenix is the Joker? He’s got the look – discoloured hair and outlandish costumes (even by the standards of the mid-90s).

He has 100% of the attitude – playful psychosis, manic laughter, casual violence, non-stop quipping and on top of all of that he says “motherfucker” and can kick the shit out of anyone.

Remember the bit in The Dark Knight when the Joker stabs a guy in the eye with a pencil? Phoenix was stabbing out guys’ eyes with stationery before it was cool. Best Joker Ever.

Batman
If Simon Phoenix is the Joker, then John Spartan has to be Batman. He’s fearless, single-minded in pursuit of justice and doesn’t let little things like property destruction get between him and his quarry. He’s also a much less interesting character than the villain – another clear sign this is a Batman film. And he runs around with a shotgun and freeze-kicks the Joker’s head entirely the fuck off. Best Batman Ever.

(OK, first of all, if you’re enough of a pedant to get in a huff over Batman shooting people, you’re enough of a pedant to know that in his original comic book incarnation he did use guns and shoot mobsters, so there’s precedent. And if you’re talking about more recent continuity, you still can’t pull that “Batman never kills” bullshit – even assuming that his martial arts proficiency is such that he never accidentally inflicts fatal injuries when he’s pounding people’s organs and kicking them unconscious, with the sheer number of criminals he’s put in hospital, statistically at least some of them must have contracted a secondary infection and died there thanks to him.)

Supporting Cast
So far my children have been of the penised variety, which means I’ve never been in a position to make good on my documented threat to name any daughter I have Lenina Huxley:

Lenina Huxley, apart from being Sandra Bullock’s first and finest major role, is clearly Robin to John Spartan’s Batman. She’s a devoted follower of Spartan’s ethos, kicks bad guys in the face, looks great in tight pants and for once the sexual tension between her and Batman is explicitly followed up on. If they truly had the courage of their convictions, every Batman film would end with the Dynamic Duo transferring fluids.

(Minor digression: I have to admit that my biggest problem with Demolition Man is Spartan’s coupling with Lenina. He comes out of deep freeze asking for his wife, gets told she’s dead by Huxley and by the end of the film – which takes place over a few days at most – he’s hooking up with her. Call me a prude, but that’s not much of a mourning period.)

Dr Cocteau’s utopian tendencies and ends-justifies-the-means morality basically make him Ra’s al Ghul minus the immortality (Phoenix calls him “an evil Mr. Rogers” – same difference). I’m not well-versed enough in Batman lore to know if Ra’s ever tried to get the Joker to work for him – I do recall times when other big villains tried to manipulate the Joker, and it never worked out that well for them either.

And Denis Leary’s Edgar Friendly is… Anarky? Sort of? Look it doesn’t fucking matter who every single cast member maps on to – the point is that we’ve got a Batman, a Joker and a Robin and that’s all we need. The old black cop is probably Alfred.

The Defence Rests
I don’t think there can be any argument that Demolition Man is a Batman film – you could no more deny that than you could deny that White House Down is a Die Hard sequel (and a better one than 2, 4 or 5). More than that, it’s a Batman film with gunplay, swearing, crotch kicking and eyeball trauma, clearly making it the Best Batman Movie Ever. Possibly the Best Movie Ever, purely because of this shot:

Aspect Ratios

It’s short film competition time at work again. This year, in an attempt to prove how social-media-savvy and cloud-friendly we are, the decision was made to have the entire competition on Instagram, which meant a 15-second limit across the board. This was fine by me, although I’d never used Instagram before. I made a few films, downloaded the app onto my tablet, then immediately began cursing the name of Instagram and anyone who had anything to do with it.

In a holdover from its hipsteriffic origins, Instagram seems to think it’s too good for the rest of the Internet – it wants you to do everything via its mobile app, which makes editing and uploading anything other than a few seconds of shaky crap shot on your cellphone a chore. And it’s square. Fucking SQUARE. Who the fuck shoots square movies? After making a few, I copied them to my tablet and went to upload them, only to realise that I was going to have to go back and reformat them all.

You can see the original entries here, but I’ve put them all up on YouTube in HD widescreen format as God intended. Below are the “real” versions of each film, with a bit of director’s commentary.

How to Tie a Tie

Not a lot to say about this one – just a couple of sight gags finishing on a sweet, sweet 80s reference.

The music at the start is the delightfully-named “Moondots and Polkabeams” by Podington Bear.

Bobble Cats

The bobble cats were a gift brought back from Japan by a friend. They are fairly maddening to watch and I’d had the idea to do a short just alternating between zooming in on them and zooming in on my reaction for a while. Then I was browsing through the Free Music Archive and came across “Caliente! Caliente!” by Mam Patxanga and knew I need to find an excuse to use it for something. It seemed a good fit here. (I used Audacity for the distortion at the end.)

This was the only one I couldn’t crop to a square for Instagram, so it had to get letterboxed, with the exception of the final shot of the diabolical cats. I’m not sure if it works better or worse like that.

Sad Phone

Every year, the competition results state that you can’t use anything that would violate copyright, and I try to be a good boy and comply. (Yes, the How to Tie a Tie one uses “Oh Yeah” by Yello, but fuck it, it’s only three seconds.) The submitted version of this one used another track from the Free Music Archive (“There’s Probably No Time” by Chris Zabriskie), but we all know that when it comes to a shot of someone staring wistfully at rain on a window, Sarah McLachlan is the only real choice.

The “rain” was actually me spraying a hose on the window, or, for the shot taken inside the house looking out, my five-year-old son spraying a hose on the window. He had fun. The rain sound effect was added later – do you like how I used different sounds for the outside and inside shots? And made it quieter for the sad face close up? Little details amuse me.

(More than one person mentioned that they didn’t realise the image on the phone in the last shot is a sad face with a tear – guess I didn’t make it distinct enough.)

Bananas

Sticking with tradition here – every year has featured a film that involved me writing at my dining table, so I figured I should do it again for this one. The banana puppetry was supplied by me and my wife (for the shots where you can see me as well as them). Every one who sees this lot seems to have a different favourite. I think I like Bobble Cats the best, myself – I think this one is the weakest.

Segue: Internal Dialogue to Book Review

“I honestly can’t tell if you’re sick or just really, really, really tired. As your doctor, I prescribe a day in bed reading, playing videogames and eating chocolate biscuits.”

“You’re not my doctor.”

“I’m A doctor.”

“You’re not a doctor.”

“Look, do you want the handjob or not?”

I don’t know why I keep talking to that guy. Yes, I’m off sick today, but not so sick that I can’t operate a keyboard, so here we are.

In other news, Apathy and Other Small Victories by Paul Neilan is the novel I would write if I had the discipline, perseverance and talent to write a novel. And since he’s already written it, there’s no need for me to, which I guess means I win at apathy. Your move, Neilan.

Wot I Reckon: Jimmy Savile

I see in the paper today that The Independent has re-published an old interview with Jimmy Savile, which takes on a bleaker tone in the light of present-day revelations. The key quote would seem to be:

There has been a persistent rumour about him for years, and journalists have often told me as a fact: “Jimmy Savile? Of course, you know he’s into little girls.” But if they know it, why haven’t they published it? The Sun or the News of the World would hardly refuse the chance of featuring a Jimmy Savile sex scandal. It is very, very hard to prove a negative, but the fact that the tabloids have never come up with a scintilla of evidence against Jimmy Savile is as near proof as you can ever get.

And this has been the constant refrain: everybody knew, but nobody ever did anything about it; everybody “knew”, but nobody actually knew. (Except, obviously, his victims, who were either not believed or silent, knowing that they wouldn’t be believed.)

And that strikes me as a fair amount of bullshit – watch that Have I Got News For You clip and count the number of times Ian Hislop says “no-one actually knew“. Maybe not – if only there was an entire industry of journalists whose job it was to investigate rumours and find out if they were true or not – “investigative journalists”, you could call them… Everyone “knew” the rumours about Savile, including people who were in a position to investigate and prove the rumours true, but as that interview says, no-one did – or if they did, no-one published. What, seriously, the fuck?

Well, I don’t know, obviously. Jimmy Savile had little presence in New Zealand – at the time he was around, I knew his name and had heard of Jim’ll Fix It, but that’s about it. I know little of Jimmy Savile and his co-accused, I know nothing of his victims or what they must have been through, I know nothing of the enabling culture in that time and place. But here’s one thing I do know:

When I was eleven years old, I took a bus to the nearest intermediate school. Kids being kids, every day, at every stop, there’d be a rush to see who could be the first to ring the bell signalling the driver to stop at the next stop – usually there’d be a “ding!” as soon as the doors closed after letting off each load of pupils. One day, after one stop, the bell didn’t ring straight away for some reason – everyone thought everyone else was going to do it or something, I don’t know – and suddenly everything changed. No-one was ringing the bell. Anyone could have; normally it would have been prestigious to have done so; it would have been to the advantage of everyone who was getting off at the next stop to have done so; but no-one did it. The stop coming up wasn’t mine, so I had no stake in it, but I asked a friend who was due to get off there why he didn’t ring the bell. “Ah, the driver will know to stop,” he said. I couldn’t quite understand what I was seeing; the collective mentality had changed completely – now nobody wanted to ring the bell because nobody else wanted to ring the bell.

I have to wonder if that’s the sort of groupthink that applied in the case of Savile and his ilk – nobody wanted to point the finger at him, at least in part, because nobody else wanted to point the finger at him. No-one did it, not in spite of the fact that anyone could have done it, but because anyone could have done it. Anyone else.

In the end, the bus driver drove straight past the next stop without slowing. All the kids who were due to get off at that stop yelled, everyone made damn sure to hit the button for the next stop, and things went back to normal. I could have rung the bell, for the benefit of the others, but as I say, I had no stake in it – it wasn’t my stop. I can’t say how I’d have acted if it was.

More Internal Dialogue

BRAIN: “OK, here’s a fairly well-formulated thought – you can say it out loud now!”

MOUTH: *starts to say something*

BRAIN: “No wait, this thing makes more sense – say this thing!”

MOUTH: *stops saying the original thing halfway through, stutters for a second, then starts saying the new thing*

BRAIN: “Actually, that thing’s not 100% accurate – it’d be better to say this thing instead.”

MOUTH: *stops saying the new thing halfway through, uncomfortable pause as eyes glaze over then refocus, then starts saying the even newer thing*

BRAIN: “Um, actually, that’s getting a bit far from my original point, better bend that thing back towards the first thing – not the thing you were just saying, the thing before that. Remember that?”

MOUTH: *gibbers unintelligibly for several seconds to cover up the sound of gears grinding, then says a messy Frankensteinian combination of all three things*

BRAIN: “… good? OK, Matthew’s talking now. Ears, listen to what he’s saying – not so closely that you distract me while I’m thinking of what to say next, but closely enough that I can tailor what I’m thinking so that it vaguely relates to what he’s saying. Ooh, and if he makes a joke, just ignore that completely so that I end up totally standing on his punchline and sounding like a dick.”

EARS: “Oh, fuck you.”

And that’s what it’s like recording a podcast.

The Pod is Cast

It’s probably worth mentioning that, while posts here are becoming fewer and further between, I have been working on another project: a weekly (we assume) podcast on philosophical issues in conspiracy theories featuring me and Dr. Matthew Dentith, PhD. (He is a doctor.)

Episodes will appear on Matthew’s site as we do them, or you can subscribe to it on iTunes, just like a real podcast.

So there you go – go give it a listen and then stop judging me for my laziness here. I know you’re judging me – I can feel your judgement. It feels like home.

Let’s play Twister, let’s play Risk

Let’s be honest, that last post was a bit shit. Normally, that wouldn’t bother me overly, what with the laziness and the apathy and the futility of human existence and all, but I’ve been thinking about death lately*. Peaches Geldof’s death, to be specific – if you’d asked me a couple of weeks ago, I don’t think I could have told you a single fact about her aside from her dad’s name, but now everyone’s talking about her, and one thing stuck out at me in the reporting around her untimely passing: her final tweet. It was, apparently, a photo of her as a child with her mother. That’s either touching and poignant or massively creepy, given the nature of her mother’s death and the uncertainty around hers – the NZ Herald reported it with all of their usual WE CAN’T CALL IT A SUICIDE UNTIL IT’S BEEN RULED AS ONE, BUT IT WAS TOTALLY SUICIDE, YOU GUYS dogwhistles, although I’m yet to hear an official cause. The point is, if I dropped dead tomorrow, I’d hate for my final online words to be a rushed-out one-sided conversation between me and an imaginary strawman – better put something else up.

…I’m a decaying flesh marionette…

The first time the oldest boy asked me a question that I couldn’t answer was in July of 2012, when he was two and a half. We were driving in the car, when out of nowhere he piped up with “What’s time?” After I’d skilfully avoided steering off the road while my brain temporarily short-circuited, I managed to come up with a vaguely coherent ramble about time being change as we perceive it, which shut him up even if it didn’t actually explain anything. A while later, during his younger brother’s gestation, I managed to deflect “where do babies come from?” as being a bit complicated the one and only time he asked it. And more recently he’s been talking about death, although he’s yet to ask any real questions about it. He seems to get that it’ll happen to him, but I’m not sure if that really means anything to him, though – it wouldn’t have meant anything to me when I was his age.

As noted philosopher The Bad Guy from The Crow tells us: “childhood’s over the minute you know you’re gonna die”. For me that was when I was eight years old. I can still remember it: I was lying in bed on a summer day. At that time of year it didn’t get dark until well after my bedtime, and I was lying awake in the near-daylight thinking about my great-grandparents, when it occurred to me that they were quite old, and would likely die soon. And it followed that eventually my grandparents would too, and then my parents would, and then I would. As a child, that was just intellectual knowledge that didn’t have any real effect on me; obviously, as someone who can no longer credibly claim to even be in my “late-mid thirties”, I now spend every waking instant desperately repressing the knowledge that I’m a decaying flesh marionette careering unstoppably towards decrepitude and oblivion. Which is why I write multiple posts about nostalgia, obsess over hunting down Amiga games from my youth and listen to an iPod whose contents are more emblematic of the 90s than Princess Di crashing her car into a Beanie Baby doing the Macarena.

My great-grandparents are long gone and I have one remaining grandparent. Cancer took two of them; the other died of some TLA’ed degenerative condition whose details I was never clear on, and the one grandmother I have above ground is the kind of tough-as-nails little old lady who appears to be functionally immortal. By the reasoning of my eight-year-old self, the clock hasn’t even started ticking for me, but then you never know.

I guess that’s where blogging comes from, at least in part: the desire to leave something behind that will outlast me – and now that my stuff is out there, floating through warehouses of web servers like a particularly benign and uninteresting phantom, it’s guaranteed that something I write somewhere will one day turn out to be my online Last Words. Of course you often don’t know that your last words will be your last words at the time. You could end up a punchline, like the late Ervin McKinness, or you could be lucky enough to end on a high note. Freddie Mercury’s last recorded words were “I still love you” spoken to the camera at the end of the video for “These are the Days of Our Lives” – that by itself is a legacy I’d be happy with. Best to choose your words carefully, I guess, and think about what you’re leaving behind. Take my latest tweet at time of writing:

I regret nothing.

* Did I say “lately”? I meant “constantly, filling with inexorable dread my every idle thought that doesn’t involve coming up with names for Simpsons-themed pornography**“.

** “Whacking Off Day”, “Rod, Todd and Todd’s Rod”, “Dil-diddley-ildos!” and of course “Everyone’s Coming Up Milhouse”. Feel free to contribute.

Conversations I Will Never Have #1

Since I know no-one douchey enough to ask the question, this is a conversation I will never have, but why should the world be deprived of my hypothetical wit?

“So, what do you lift?”

“Expectations, mostly. Small children…”

“No, weights, man.”

“Oh! Bugger all, I guess. I mean, I don’t – never tried. How about you?”

“I do [large number].”

“Goodness! And that’s a lot, is it?”

“Hell yeah, it’s a lot!”

“Well, good for you. You know they have machines that will do that for you now? Big lifting things, with forks – I forget what they’re called…”

Coq et Bal

In my spare time, I have taken to cataloging local examples of contemporary penis-and-testicles-based artwork, in the hopes of one day releasing a comprehensive review of the genre. Here is my latest compilation – a series I call simply “Coq et Bal: Whither Jizz?”

Janus Awakens
Owairaka Park, April 2012 | Ink on Playground Aparatus

Coq et Bal1

A confronting piece. Note that one testicle has hairs while the other remains bare – a gripping commentary on the dual nature of man. Are we doomed to pursue our bestial side, or can we ascend our base origins, to emerge shorn of rapacity and corruption? The answers are known to none, save what gods there may be – and they remain silent.

Unidentified Flying Objects (Actually They Are Penises)
Royal Oak McDonald’s, August 2011 | Ink on Playground Aparatus

Coq et Bal2

A playful work, with nevertheless dark undertones. At first glance, we may even be seeing flying saucers, or perhaps a collection of sombreros – it is only on closer inspection that their true nature is confirmed. The fattest been placed directly underneath a sticker of a grinning Hamburglar – at once a statement on society’s attitudes towards the “criminal classes” and a reaction against the mascot of a corporate giant. The density of meaning in the piece is a statement in itself.

The Abyss Gazes Back
Enfield Street Car Park, March 2014 | Inscription on Elevator Door Interior

Cock et Bal3

In viewing this piece, one is initially forced to confront one’s own sense of self in the distorted reflection offered by the “canvas”. Is this how one is perceived by others? Is this how one perceives oneself? Compounding the existential disquiet is the fact that the elevator has doors on both sides – at some point one has no choice but turn one’s back on the piece, offering one’s own posterior to the rampant cock of nihilism. Will it be on ingress or egress? Powerful.

Leviathan
Ellerslie Overpass, January 2009 | Spraypaint on Concrete

Cock+Balls
It is with no hyperbole that I describe this work as a modern masterpiece. Compared to the minimalism of the previous pieces, this work stands fully complete – cock, balls, veins, hairs and even a lovingly rendered spermatozoa. Fully two meters in length, removal by conventional methods proved impossible – at the end of its exhibition the entire footpath was simply painted over. It could not be erased from the world; instead the world was forced to contrive a veneer of respectability, in denial of the primal forces that lurk mere atoms beneath its surface. An unqualified triumph.