Falling Down

The structure is simplicity itself, and the situation is visible to all, there is nothing up Schumacher’s sleeve, and yet the critics (notably the New York Times, Variety and the BBC) somehow could not grasp the point of the whole thing anywhere, even with numerous precedents to guide them, beginning with Paul Bogart’s Cancel My Reservation for the city in an insuperable decline figured by a marriage on the rocks (Theodore J. Flicker’s The Troublemaker has an important theme of civic corruption earlier), and there is Frank D. Gilroy’s Desperate Characters, not to mention the Neil Simon trilogy of Hiller’s The Out-of-Towners, Mel Frank’s The Prisoner of Second Avenue, and Ross’s Max Dugan Returns. The last of these is set in Los Angeles, like Schlesinger’s Eye for an Eye, and has a stark picture of the city every bit the equal of Dan Aykroyd’s Nothing But Trouble or Schumacher’s film. Some of the critics took note of the Death Wish films they have not understood either, and Frank Perry’s The Swimmer.

Falling Down describes the Postmodern situation almost like a picture in a dictionary. It means “after the modern”, therefore Schumacher begins with a modern man in it, represented twice. He is a detective whose last day on the force this must be, and an aerospace engineer whose last day on earth this has to be.

That’s all, and Rod Serling could not do it any better. At the opening, the engineer is on a freeway which, being a modern invention, no longer works. The detective is on the same freeway, a few cars away.

The engineer walks home across town to Venice, where his wife has a restraining order against him, and has given herself a New Age makeover. Everywhere the engineer goes, he finds the elements of civility absent, and responds with punishing force. He can’t get change for a dollar bill to make a phone call, and the Korean shop-owner charges so much for a can of Coke that, what with the 200% increase in pay phone costs, enough change will not be left over from the dollar. The engineer confronts the Korean, who draws a baseball bat from under the counter, which the engineer takes away from him and uses to clear several shelves of overpriced items, before they come to an agreement on a decent price for the Coke. The engineer opens the cash register, deposits the bill and removes a quarter (cp. the Friedhof Bar in Michael Anderson’s The Quiller Memorandum).

Later, the Korean brings a charge before the detective, who observes that nothing was stolen but the bat. I have described the scene in detail because it characterizes every step of the progression that follows, so that no misunderstanding is possible, and yet the film has been misunderstood. It is not the tale of a madman in any sense, but simply the tragic depiction of what it means when so-and-so blithely mouths the word Postmodern.

In that sense, one might as well look at Schepisi’s Iceman for a comparison. Some of the critics almost noticed a parallel construction that defines Falling Down completely, between the engineer’s disaffected wife and the detective’s neurotic wife, who wants to move to Arizona.

The engineer dies at the hands of the detective in a scene that atones for the former’s wicked deeds (he has wounded a policewoman to evade capture) by alluding to The Left Handed Gun. The last shot tracks in to the engineer’s home and suggests by a carefully-prepared evocation that he has found his Paradise.

And so you have an unflinching assessment of a certain contemporary linguistic practice, defined for you in terms of a film that cannot be measured on any scale known to critics. I would merely add, as the title is an open allusion to the nursery rhyme, that The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes has this in its note on “London Bridge”: “Fraser in The Golden Bough quotes examples of living people being built into the foundations of walls and gates to serve as guardian spirits; and all over the world stories of human sacrifice are associated with bridges, to the erection of which the rivers are supposed to have an especial antipathy.”

 

Batman Forever

Tackier than a megamall, more gauche than digital architecture, more tedious than a video game... but it’s almost worthwhile to see Nicole Kidman briefly stop Val Kilmer’s meaty gob by mouth-breathing in a two-shot.

All the suspense and excitement come from wondering just how bad it will get, and both endure to the end, it never fails in that way to delight, so ravishingly atrocious, so abysmally inane (so badly filmed and edited, with conscious artlessness to flatter the public into thinking the rapidity comes from abridging dullness as in bout de souffle), but when you’re up against Indiana Jones like Gehry v. Pei, it’s necessary “to dance on the keyboard of a great organ with all the stops pulled out,” all of this quite in keeping with Tim Burton’s vision of Ed Wood. It cost a hundred million and brought back twice that sum to Warner Brothers, who are said by Maslin to have said to Schumacher, “Batman is our biggest asset.” Tommy Lee Jones must have spent many hours being made-up for his many days on the set, and for that one can forgive him Men in Black, above and beyond one’s duty to forgive an actor seventy times seven. Film acting is as film directing does. Michael Gough was paid handsomely, one trusts.

Since this is what’s keeping Warner Brothers out of the hole, let us say that the satire, fitful though it be, is of the two-party system catch as catch can (Two-Face flipping a continual coin, Riddler’s tennis clue—Jim Carrey goes so far as nearly to evoke Nijinsky).

 

Batman & Robin

The material strongly resembles one of Fleischer’s cartoons, Mr. Freeze has plans for an observatory telescope, turns it into a freezing ray with which to encapsulate Gotham City in ice and rule the world with Poison Ivy.

As filmed, this is a complicated anagram of Metropolis, the benchmark of which is Schwarzenegger’s performance as Mr. Freeze in a costume and makeup derived from Lang.

The extremities to which Schumacher is willing to go are quite remarkable, and express the direness of the situation, so that every bit of it is intended, let us say that the telescope represents the “intermediary” of Lang’s film, if you will.

It may be that Batgirl here is a conscious reflection of Szwarc’s Supergirl. Certainly the jokes here and there resemble the television series, as when Batman disparages Poison Ivy but adds, “Nice stems, though,” to which Robin replies, “Great buds, too.”

 

Phone Booth

The screenplay takes its cue from Hitchcock’s The Birds, Eliot’s Four Quartets and Joyce’s Ulysses (the Dublin newspaper office). The direction follows Larry Cohen by shooting fast on location in Los Angeles, adding only second-unit footage of Manhattan and a frenzied digital wrapper to give the film its flavor of fashion in a maelstrom, “the sin of spin”.