American Pie and The Killing Joke; dual R-rated reviews

Been a while. I’ve been pre-occupied with developing a fan-made expansion for an old board game from the late 70s, and still am. I’ll eventually get around to posting more on that topic when it’s closer to being finished. But anyway, reviews for some films that aren’t in theaters. The first review is going to be more of a short mini-review to get you in the mindset for what’s about to follow.

Rated: 3/5

No, I had not seen this movie until recently. No, I never got caught up on the culture/hype train this film had caused back in the day. Well, better late than never, because this movie is better than I thought it was going to be.

It’s a gross-out comedy (the style that was big during that time period, which I have to admit I haven’t seen very many of) that is all about sex, how important it is, how serious it should be taken, relationships, etc. It’s not classy about how it does things, but by the end it does have a heartfelt message. And it feels more all-around solid than 40-Year Old Virgin. Plus it has that scene with that guy fingering that Apple Pie much like how Bill Cosby fingered roofied girls.

There is one particular scene in this film that is worthy of extra attention however, the whole section of the movie where our main protagonists decide it’s a good idea to use a webcam connected to the Internet to spy on this girl (speaking of fingering one’s-self). Granted, they had no idea she was going to strip and take it that far (seriously, who the hell does that in the room of a guy she just met?). But still, it didn’t seem to cross their mind that there is something ethically wrong with using a webcam connected to the Internet (which to be fair was a new thing back then) to spy on a hot chick. A webcam that is streaming this to several people (albeit largely by accident). It’s the fact that the film doesn’t seem to realize how morally reprehensible this is, which easily makes this film a product of its time. It’s unaware. But regardless, the protagonist pretty much gets what he deserves as a result of this stunt soon afterwards.

But I guess one could stretch to find further meaning with that sequence. The fact that these guys don’t know how wrong it is, what repercussions could be had as a result. The same thing applies to sex. They treat it as something they just need to do, because real men are pervy assholes who just need to get laid. This is personified in whole by Sean William Scott’s character who is exactly like that. And he is oblivious to the fact that most women view him as an asshole. That he’s not as cool as he thinks he is (not even close). And then there’s that nerd asshole played by Chris Owen who is so convinced that getting laid makes you the cool guy that he is willing to lie about it, which results in an unexpected fallout which turns the tables on him. Sex isn’t something to joke about or to take lightly.


And that is why I think this movie is better than The Nostalgia Critic gives it credit for. It’s “critiquing the critic” time.

“The comedy does not come from the “gross out” humor, that’s not what’s funny. It’s funny that the gross out humor is happening to these characters.”

So the fact that the asshole manly wanna-be who drank the jizz doesn’t qualify? What was mentioned above doesn’t qualify? Rubbish! If anyone else drank the jizz I would see the Critic’s point. But this is another instance of him not paying close enough attention to a film he is critical of, missing out on details that are small but important when it comes to his reasons for critiquing, making him come off as full of shit.

“These characters are just geeks as jocks, bland and boring. And they’re not the focus of the movie, the gross out humor is the focus.”

Well, I’ll agree with him to a small extent for the first part, though I believe that’s just a matter of opinion. Personally, I was digging the character who is a jock who tries to sing, his story was the most investing out of all of them. But the gross-out humor being the focus, eh. Maybe more-so than in There’s Something About Mary, but they’re still the main focus more-so than the humor. All the bad/humorous things that happen to them happen to them for a reason. Usually because they are their own source of self-destruction, or because of karma. But I’ll agree that there are a couple parts that are gross-out humor just to be gross-out humor.

But the biggest reason Doug hates this movie is because he believes the message of the movie is about how it’s an anti-sex message, that the guys realize that they shouldn’t have sex, but they all get laid quickly after making that speech. Bullshit, and loads of it. He missed the point. This isn’t a film that is anti-sex. They didn’t say “I don’t want to have sex” in the context that you’re describing. No. The message is about how sex should be treated. That one shouldn’t be coerced into doing it, or feel that they should have to in order to be a man. It should come naturally so that relationships can develop naturally. It happened with that singing jock. We see a one night fling (reversed on the guy as opposed to the traditional female being on the receiving end of that for humor). And we see what can happen if sex is rushed, especially with Tara Reid (it never ends well folks). It’s not anti-sex, it’s how sex should be treated, and it should never be treated lightly.

It’s because of that message at the end that made me appreciate this movie more than I thought I would. That, and it has some pretty great lines littered throughout.

So anyway, despite some flaws, I thought this film was solid enough. Much more solid than the sequel (which somehow I ended up watching back in the day, skipping the first one).

I also thought it was pretty funny to see Harold cast as MILF Guy. Seriously, that’s his actual name in the credits.



Rated: 2/5

“How can two people hate so much without knowing each other?”

And speaking of the topic of taking sex seriously (or not), Batgirl fucks Batman in this movie.

What in the literal batfuck!?

I’ll get back to that in a minute.

I made sure to read the comic before diving into this movie. It should be noted that there are a few different versions of this comic, which this reviewer kindly pointed out for me. I ended up reading the Noir version, which basically does the story in black and white, which is a big strength for the most part for a story as dark as this one, yet at the same time there are a couple instances of weakness where color should’ve been used (like in the original writing), such as when Batman gets white paint on his gloves, or when the Joker in a past life puts on a helmet that makes him see everything in red. That aside, the B&W enhances the dark grittiness of the story in all other aspects.

The comic was highly atmospheric. Just the introduction itself goes for several frames without any dialogue, any descriptions. It’s just letting the art do the talking, starting with rain pouring upon a dark puddle (the same way the comic ends), then with Batman arriving at Arkham Asylum, everyone else remaining silent, knowing that Batman is all business here. And he goes in to sit with the Joker before the first line of dialogue is spoken. It’s a great serious opening into the story that drips with atmosphere. And they fuck that all up in more ways than one in the movie.

1.) Batman and Gordon are talking during the long walk to the Joker’s cell, killing any potential for an atmospheric sequence.

2.) Unnecessary changes to the other characters from a drawing/animated standpoint throughout that sequence. This includes showing Harvey Dent clawing into the metal door, where we only see his arm, unlike the comic which simply just showed his (two) face peering outside of the door bars.

3.) The sound effects of walking through the hallway, doors clanking open/closed, the rain. All of those take a backseat, when they should’ve been at the forefront of the opening.

4.) Unlike the comic, this isn’t the sequence to start the movie. Oh no, the film adaptation thought it could do better than that. Instead, the film opens on a separate story that largely has nothing to do with the comic, from both a thematic and character-focused standpoint.

In order to talk about how disappointing this was, I have to talk about the whole comic itself. The comic’s focus is on the relationship between Batman and the Joker, and how the Joker came into the state he is now (though there are different adaptations that provide an alternative backstory, such as in Mask of the Phantasm, which is still probably the best animated Batman film out there next to Under the Red Hood). Batman is aware of the relationship they have, and how sooner or later it’s going to end poorly. And the Joker plans on doing just that, by proving to Batman that anyone can go crazy like him (a theme heavily touched upon in the Christopher Nolan film The Dark Knight; I have no doubt this story influenced that movie to some extent). And he goes to some extreme and personal lengths to accomplish this. But the speech from Batman near the end perfectly counters this, stating that some people are better at handling/coping with a “very bad day” more than others. He tries to turn Joker from his ways, ironic considering that the Joker is trying to turn Batman from his ways as well. But neither are capable of changing the other.

Barbara (Batgirl) Gordon is a minor yet significant character for this story, but the film wants to give her a more major role. On the one hand, I can understand perfectly why they would want to do this. The moment she gets shot by the Joker, that’s a shocking moment. But it carries more weight if viewers are more familiar with who she is, which was the case for most Batman fans and comic readers when the original comic The Killing Joke came out. In order to bring that shock value to the big (limited release) screen, they needed to tell a story on Batgirl so that viewers would become familiar with her.

On the other hand, they did a piss-poor job at doing so. They chose a shitty Batgirl story and made her a shitty character who whines like a brat all the time. I mean, I was teetering on the edge of laughing my ass off at some of the dialogue exchanges she was having with Batman.

Oh come on. It was just sex for God’s sake! Doesn’t have to mean anything! It’s not like we have to care! I don’t care! You don’t care! We just go back like it was! That’s all! Please!

If I wanted Batgirl sex, I’ll get it elsewhere outside of this movie.

I really don’t want to get into the whole argument about feminism and the need for strong female characters in this day and age to make up for what some feel is their suppression in films past (though American Pie had better written female characters than this film did, and most of them were more independent and capable personality-wise), so I won’t. That’s a discussion for another time. But I will say that Batgirl was a bit annoying in this movie, and that whole sex bit with her and Batman just seems like sacrilege in Batman lore. But to be on the safe side, considering I’m not exactly a huge comic buff who reads the stuff religiously, I decided to look around a bit to see if Batgirl did fuck Batman in a comic. Sure enough, she did, off-page, in an adaptation of Batman Beyond. So here’s the thing. Batman comics have been around for around 60 years or so. They were relatively lighthearted and a bit goofy until Frank Miller wrote The Dark Knight Returns, and then Tim Burton did his adaptation of Batman. From that point on he became the serious gritty crimefighter we know today. But considering how long he’s been around, it’s understandable that there would be comic stories that are just plain flat out cheesy and stupid. And it’s not just Batman who has fallen victim to such things off and on, just about every major Marvel/DC character has had this happen to them. 15 particular instances in which Batman comics went off the rails (including that one time Batman fucked Batgirl) can be viewed on a post by Mark Zambrano of The point is that a single comic in a long-running franchise can be terrible and contradictory to the characters that have been established in other books previous.

While I’m not all that familiar with Batgirl in particular, other fans who have expressed outrage at this scene are. But I am a bit more familiar with Batman, and I consider it far-fetched at the very least that he would consent to having sex with the commissioner’s daughter, even if she is dressed in a sexy crime-fighting outfit. It felt out of character for him. But even so, let’s give it the benefit of the doubt and say that Batman did have a moment of weakness. After all, that is considered to be one of the themes of the comic itself, the weakness of man, how they can fall from the moral high ground if put in the right (or wrong) situation after a series of events. If it was to show that Batman can fall victim to moments of weakness, why only have it in just that scene if Barbara Gordon is going to be out of the spotlight for the most part after the first 30 minutes of the movie? Why focus on her at all if the main focus is supposed to be on the Joker and his relationship with the Batman? Because in this film adaptation, Batman shows no other signs of weakness from that point forward once the Barbara Gordon intro is done and over with. There isn’t even an implied threat that Batman would take the moral low ground again. So it just seems like a waste of film when it comes to the movie as a whole. Of course, one could argue it’s more about the theme than about the character in that regard, the theme of losing control and doing a bad deed (the sex is considered to be a mistake by all parties involved), how close one walks the edge from being a serious crime fighter to someone who gives into emotions. The problem with that is that this theme is already explored later on, and in the comic. That being said, they could have done something with that element, something that the comic arguable did depending on your interpretation of the ending, which I’ll get back to in a little while.

One last note about the Batgirl intro. Aside from serving a purpose of making the audience more familiar with Barbara Gordon so they can be shocked by what happens later, it also serves to be a mirror to the Batman/Joker relationship, having Batgirl get her own Joker criminal she would have a relationship with if she were to continue in her life of crime fighting, personified by the nephew of a crime boss. His name is Paris Franz. I mean, even Batgirl thought that name was a joke, and so did I, but apparently it isn’t. That’s what kind of writing we have for the intro. Anyway, the guy becomes a tad bit obsessed with Batgirl, similar to how the Joker becomes obsessed with Batman, and he tends to challenge Batgirl and push her to the edge much like how the Joker pushes Batman to the edge. So here’s the problem with this, why bother making a story with a dual similarity to the comic if they’re just going to tell the fucking comic story within the same fucking movie? One would’ve been just fine. They should’ve focused on making the animation quality better and keeping more details in from the comic rather than trying to needlessly pad the runtime.

“You sexist pig!  Fuck you!  I’m a strong woman!”

So, yeah, that 30 minute intro alone has some serious problems with it, never mind within the context of the rest of the story.

Anyway, to the actual meat of the film, when the actual adaptation is shown on screen. So I discussed the intro sequence, and how it is rendered less effective than its comic counterpart. But that’s just the beginning (if you don’t count what came previous). They also try to tie it in to some past crime Batman uncovers where the Joker killed a bunch of people, which drives Batman to want to have this talk with the Joker, to have a rational discussion, to try just once to get him to see reason and let this madness end. Nevermind leaving it ambiguous, because the reason is ultimately unimportant, especially since that crime the Joker committed is never brought up again. It also changes Batman’s motivation for wanting to speak with the Joker. Rather than just going in to try to end this thing that’s been going on between them ever since they first met, Batman just wants him to confess to a crime. This then makes the conversation in the cell seem a tad out of place.

“I’m not here because of what I found today. I’m here because I need to be.”

Oh, well then I guess that makes everything ok. Except it makes that earlier crime scene just like the first 30 minutes of the movie. Fucking pointless!

And I know this is going to sound like I’m nitpicking at this point, but they also alter some details with the solitaire game the Joker look-alike is playing in the cell. Changing some of the cards he plays/has played. I mean, I’m not going to look too much into the intricate meanings of the cards and their symbols that only huge geeks/scholars/nerds would know about for this bit, but why the changes to some of the cards? And most important of all, why the fuck would they leave the Joker cards out of frame? I mean seriously, out of all the cards in a deck that the Joker would be playing with, you would think those would be the cards that would be seen, even if by an imposter, considering it was in the comic! In fact, it seems like the film-maker/artist is intentionally fucking with fans of the comic by have the 2 joker cards that would be in the place they were in the comic being put face-down. It’s like Batman fans are being trolled with this movie. It can’t be this hard to fuck up a comic, and somehow they do it. That tends to be a problem in every Alan Moore comic-to-film adaptation ever done (except V for Vendetta, I kinda liked the changes that were done in that film vs. the comic counterpart). One last nitpick for this scene, and I promise I’ll leave it be. There’s one small yet what I consider significant dialogue change that happens here. In the comic, Batman says, “I just wanted to know that I’d made a genuine attempt to talk things over and avert that outcome.” In the film, they change “outcome” to “the inevitable.” With that choice of words, it doesn’t seem like Batman has hardly any hope for a change, to the point that it already sounds futile as opposed to a “genuine attempt”. Ok, I’m done bitching about that scene. Moving on.

Though I will say this. When Batman was saying, “Where is he!?” in both the comic and the movie, I have to admit, I wished it was Christian Bale shouting that. I mean, he’s the definitive Batman when it comes to shouting, “Where is he!? Where are they!? Wur ish fe!?”

There are times I have to wonder what the purpose is to the small little dialogue add-ons/alterations/deletions. Same thing with the actual visual bits. For instance, in the comic it states that Barbara Gordon is an ex-librarian, while here she’s an actual current working librarian, as also shown in the 30 minute intro. Or why they don’t show them torturing shrimp. Why they call the yoga instructor Colleen Miles as opposed to Colleen Reece in the comic. What is the point to changes like these? Is Reece a taboo name? Is torturing shrimp for metaphorical reasons in the comic too harsh for an R rated movie? Is showing Jim Gordon’s old raggedy ass too much for us to handle (they freely show it in the comic).

But then there are some changes that are significant, that do bring the experience down from what the comic was. For instance, why wouldn’t they tell Batman that they believe the Joker also took pictures of Barbara Gordon after shooting her and putting her in a state of undress? That’s supposed to further enrage him, which is the Joker’s intention, and further driving the tension as to whether or not Batman will snap.

I also noticed that the whole sequence with Jim Gordon at the carnival wasn’t as effective and making me fear that Jim would actually go insane, which is what the Joker was trying to do. It wasn’t because I already knew the outcome. So I did some analyzing between the film and the comic, trying to figure out how it is exactly that the comic could pull that off better than the movie. Was it the fact that I allowed my imagination to fill in the gaps that comics leave which films have no choice but to fill in (audio and seamless visual elements)? Apparently, that wasn’t the case. It is here that I became aware of just how important framing is in both comics and film, the placements of objects, what objects should be closer to the camera and what should be further in the background. Layers. In the film, Jim is kept in focus as a larger figure, larger than much that was around him. While it is true that he is larger than the midgets and freaks that were escorting him, that doesn’t make the scene particularly effective. In many frames in the comic, the artist managed to find ways to make him seem small in comparison to the freaks, the circus props, and the smiling real estate agent. That he is a small man in a big crazy world. The madness can be overwhelming. The POV shots were nice too, in the comic. The film unfortunately failed to take note of and utilize this aspect. Goes to show you that a better director was needed. Or hell, even a director that gave a shit and just flat out copy-pasted the comic frame by frame. How hard can it possibly be to fuck something like that up? Must not be very hard considering how many films manage it.

But framing wasn’t the only reason the carnival sequence with Jim isn’t as effective as in the comic. In the film, we see that Jim still has defiance in him. He gives a defiant look to the Joker off and on throughout the sequence, while in the comic he is still obviously traumatized by seeing his daughter shot, wondering what the hell is going on, and is looking helpless with that look on his face and in his eyes. It tends to make one feel more concerned for him as opposed to how the film portrayed it. Lastly, we don’t get that close up of the Joker’s face which is an insane crazed terrifying look on his face, with that demonic smile. A pity, considering they manage to pull off a nice scary look for him earlier.

So long story short, I never really felt concern for Jim in that he may actually lose his mind and that the Joker would succeed, unlike in the comic where I had to seriously wonder.

During the Joker’s flashback sequence of when he was a normal man, I really can’t fathom why they thought it was a good idea to do away with the part where we see the cops tell him that his wife died and how. That they decided it was better left off camera. Why? Why would they do this? What made them think this would make the film more effective (or at least just as effective) as in the comic? Couldn’t hire enough voice actors? Ran out of a budget? Thought it would be more shocking to not let us hear the cops break this news to him? Piss poor judgement on the film-makers’ part. Oh, and the framing, as usual.

But one of the changes I can understand for the sake of filler and padding. Seeing Batman track down and beat up a bunch of thugs who might know where the Joker is, and trying to extract that information out of them. But it’s an exercise in futility, because they don’t know anything. It’s a good opportunity to show Batman’s anger, that he might be close to cracking. I’ll give the film a little kudos for that. But whatever kudos it gained from that it quickly loses (and then some) for showing Batman interrogating hookers who say that the Joker sometimes comes around to bang them soon after escaping from the asylum. This wasn’t in the comic, and it paint’s the Joker’s character a bit differently in the wrong way. What the fuck movie!?

They also add in this scene where the Joker has an extra conversation with Gordon while he’s on the crazy carnival ride, with a judge/jury/executioner discussion, and throwing the book at someone. It’s unnecessary, and further shows that it’s unlikely for Jim to go insane. In fact, it allows Gordon insight into the Joker’s train (hah, pun) of thought. It’s the bad sort of padding.

Not the best usage of the Joker’s song. They needed to show more of what Gordon was going through as opposed to seeing the Joker dance.

To the film’s credit, for the flashback of the guy turning into the Joker, it did handle the fall into sewage better. Because with the way the comic drew it, it made me wonder why it is that Batman couldn’t track him down after his fall, considering he’s in frame once the Joker emerges from the chemical sewage. That’s one part I’ll say the film did better than the comic. And, holy jumping Jesus, they did it! They actually perfectly redraw that Joker’s face from the comic to the screen in that one shot where we see him lose his mind in the flashback! If only they could duplicate other instances of that insane comic Joker face from other frames in the comic.

And now, here’s the sort of padding I almost hate as much as the kind that hinders the original work. In the comic, when Batman arrives at the carnival, he immediately starts fighting with the Joker. Here, he has to go through several circus freaks before getting to him. There’s no tension, we all know these circus freaks aren’t going to take down the Bat. In fact, in the comic, his arrival makes them scatter. The reason I hate this sort of padding is because it allows these DC films to indulge in the one thing I fucking hate them indulging in. Fights. They can’t help but want to see fighting in their cartoons. The lengthier the better. It’s what brought down the animated adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns for me, it brings down several others, and it annoys me that it’s here too. If there’s fighting in the comics, there’s a purpose to it, because comics have little to no time for padding and bullshit, because every frame is costly and time consuming, and every page makes the comic more expensive to produce. These cartoons always want to add some fat onto these lean stories. Not to mention they sacrifice the Joker’s speech about “the average man” for this. But I do have to admit, it was hilarious to see the fat lady get a knife thrown into her back.

Speaking of unnecessary fights, when the Joker begins duking it out with Batman inside the madhouse, they make an attempt to create tension by turning Batman into a wimp for a minute in order to get the Joker to wail on him. What happened to the Batman who has quick reflexes, good instincts, and a mastery of martial arts fighting that is quick and lethal (though who chooses to avoid the lethal part)? The comic managed to pull this off wonderfully, the film, not so much.




The ending.

This is where things get a bit interesting. Well, it’s interesting in the comic. In the movie, it’s just ho-hum. Batman defeats the Joker, tries to get him to turn from his ways, the Joker refuses, tells a joke that isn’t funny, but is extremely relevant to the current situation. Then he laughs, and Batman starts to laugh, and Batman puts his hands on the Joker’s shoulders to support himself while laughing, as if both of them are pals, or are at least pals in that moment and could’ve been pals in another life if things turned out differently. Both are sides of the same coin. But it leaves out the cops showing up.

But here’s the thing. The comic is much more layered than that, and it’s something I easily caught onto on my initial read, and it concerned me a bit (which was the intention I’m sure). You see, in the comic, that is only one way to interpret the ending. But because of how it’s framed, of how the lighting is, it could also be interpreted that Batman isn’t just putting his hands on the Joker’s shoulders. He’s starting to strangle him.

It’s unclear, and that’s a good thing. It leaves it up to the viewer to decide. There are theories and arguments on both sides as to what Batman is actually doing here. But it’s important to notice these little details in the comic that the film largely skips out on, especially in the final fight. Little details such as the hands. At several points littered throughout the comic, there are frames which put an emphasis on the hands of individuals (particularly Batman and the Joker) much like how Blade Runner puts an emphasis on the eyes. Most often the hands display some form of deceit and trickery. How Batman notices the makeup on the guy intimidating the Joker, showing the paint on both Batman’s hands and on the imposter’s hands. How the Joker puts a knife into his hand that was hidden in his sleeve. And probably most important of all, that poison needle the Joker puts on his hand when he goes in for a handshake. Now the Joker does attempt to use this against Batman, but in the film it malfunctions amidst the fight and Joker tosses it away. In the comic, Batman kicks it out of the Joker’s hand, but it could still be deadly; after all, why the fuck would the needle need electricity to put poison into a guy’s system?

The reason this is significant is because, in the comic, during the final fight, there is a moment when Batman is looking at something in/on his hand.

It’s the fact that he lingers on his hand, continuing to stare at it, that is of interest. An injury during the fight? Or did he grab a hold of something? One theory is that it’s the poison needle, that it either pricked him, or that he grabbed a hold of it and used it on the Joker in the finale frame, or both. The emphasis of those frames cannot be by accident or coincidence, they are little hints, clues, nudges into making the reader consider such possibilities upon repeated readings. It gives the story a little more depth, particularly during the finale, making one wonder if Batman really is strangling the Joker, or if he poisoned him with the needle, or if he himself was poisoned and wanted to do the Joker in at the last moment. Or if it’s none of the above and the Joker finally got the Batman to snap. Or if things just went the way they did as the movie showed at the end. Multiple possibilities and interpretations. The point is, the comic allows for this interpretations, while the film only allows for one. This doesn’t allow for viewers to think about it and reach a conclusion that is different from others, which leaves no room for debate. That’s less interesting.

So all in all, this film is just mediocre at best, and terrible at worst when compared to the comic. It fails on several levels when being considered an adaptation of a famous work by one of the most famous graphic novel writers of all time. Not too good. But I can recommend the comic, though I would advise getting a version that is in color, even if at least one of those versions has some faults in it when it comes to the coloring.

Oh, and fuck DC for showing the Oracle thing at the end. It’s not that Oracle is bad, it’s just that I’d like to see this fucking company put a little more effort into making their films stand-alone as opposed to linked together, demanding that the audience watch further films to get the whole picture. Marvel is really pushing it with their live action movies as well.

Other reviews/analysis worth looking at which discusses the ending:

PS: Kinda wish they kept this as a period piece, not modernizing it by putting it into the present day with present day technology (high tech computers and smartphones).

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