The Dark Knight Rises

July 24, 2012 by  
Filed under Movies

Back in 2005, Christopher Nolan rescued one of the most self-destructive franchises in movie history when he resurrected Batman in “Batman Begins”. What began as a promising run with Tim Burton in 1989 devolved quickly once it was taken over by Joel Schumacher in the mid-90’s; and the culminating film, “Batman & Robin”, promised that the franchise had completely fallen apart. After that film, I think we were all sick of Batman. At least, we were sick of *that* Batman. But, Batman as a symbol of justice, as a comic book hero, is still intriguing. The costume, the super rich alter ego, and the inner struggle of the character, are still something we yearn to see.

And so, Christopher Nolan, who at the time was still making his way into the Hollywood mainstream, rebooted the whole thing and started from scratch. At the time, we didn’t have an onslaught of comic book movies every year, so it didn’t feel as much as a saturated genre (as, say, watching “The Amazing Spider-Man” did). And Nolan took a serious approach to Batman, someone who wanted to do a character study as well as an action film. The result, “Batman Begins”, was a smashing success. Finally we saw Batman as a real character. The film was dark and brooding much like Burton’s 1989 version; but we learned so much more about Bruce Wayne and Batman in this film. With champion efforts by good actors like Michael Caine and Chrisitan Bale, this Batman movie was thorough, thought-provoking, and sensational.

His follow up was one of the biggest and best comic book epics brought on screen with “The Dark Knight” in 2008. Though that movie was surrounded by the hype of the passing of Heath Ledger, the film stood as a fantastic, big scale action thriller with one of the best “villain” performances in film history. It would be hard to top an achievement such as “The Dark Knight.”

This time, Nolan tries his best with “The Dark Knight Rises”, throwing everything and the kitchen sink at us with big explosions and massively complex action sequences. The result? Well, I said it’d be hard to top “The Dark Knight”. And, it certainly doesn’t come close. In fact, this to me was the weakest of the 3 films. It spends so much time on the action and too much time on corporate politics, and so little on character, that this was an imbalance.

“Rises” begins big with an escape by the villain Bane (played by Tom Hardy), a hulking cross between a roided up bomber pilot and Darth Vader who has a curious wit that could be appreciated if we could understand what he was saying half the time. While the voice is a bit bass amplified and broadcast through surround sound, sometimes it’s so muddled that you just have to give him the benefit of the doubt. Other times, his voice goes so over the top it’s hard to tell if he’s aware of how silly he sounds. But when Bane throws his hands, it’s no laughing matter. There’s no question that he is the most physically imposing villain that Batman has faced in the entire movie series, dating back to the 60’s.

Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne is bankrupt after a venture with Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), who seemingly comes out of nowhere to help Wayne Enterprises, and has invested in a fusion power project that has ultimately cost him his fortune, and his board removes him from the company. She and Wayne share a brief romance; but there isn’t a lot of time spent on their relationship, and perhaps it’s for the best in the end.

As for Batman, he’s retired. Wayne suffered an injury that has left him a bit crippled. This is taken advantage of by another adversary, who is Selina Kyle, or, Catwoman (Anne Hathaway). She’s a burglar who only steals from rich people…like Robin Hood. Only with much more sex appeal. There are two sides to this character, though, and she is actually one of the stronger ones in the film thanks to a brilliant performance by Hathaway. There is a vulnerability inside her; but she “masks” it (ahem) with a hard edge that says she can’t be manipulated. Wayne somewhat sympathizes with her; she feels something for him as well, but she just can’t show it.

Batman does make a comeback, however, as expected. Otherwise I guess the movie would’ve only been 45 minutes long and called “The Dark Knight Says I’d Rather Not”. He’s not as strong as Bane, however, and routinely gets dominated by Bane’s strength and agility. The reason Bane is so similar to Batman physically is because he was trained by the same man, Ra’s al Ghul (reprised by Liam Neeson) in the League of Shadows. Bane was excommunicated, and is seen as Batman as a “rogue”. But Bane wins out, and Batman is cast into the same prison that Bane grew up in, with his only hope of escaping is by climbing out of a hole and leaping to freedom. Allegedly, Bane is the only one who could ever do this, and it was when he was a child.

The city of Gotham is at Bane’s mercy, and he destroys a part of it with explosives in the ground that erupt and blow up a football stadium (one of the more breathtaking sequences in the film), and some of the bridges. It also encases the entire police force underground, leaving the city to a Lord of the Flies-like Martial Law. However, this won’t last very long as he has coveted a nuclear bomb after releasing the core from its fusion power chamber, that will detonate in 5 months. Whomever programmed a time bomb for that long either forgot to carry the one, or is a very patient madman.

The only cops that are above ground are the disgraced former Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and a bright young cop named Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Blake still believes in the Batman even though he’s part of a police force that was after him when Batman was still capering in Gotham City.

All of these stories meshing together do make for an ok 165 minute lark. There’s never a moment of boredom in the film because it’s packed with so many intense sequences and climactic action scenes. It does not wear you out. However, because of the scale of the epic, and a drop off in character development, there are some lulls in the storylines that leave some very wide open plot holes. I’m all for suspending disbelief, but this really tries your patience on more than a few occasions, especially at the end. Then it goes beyond suspending disbelief to the point where you have to damn near expel it. Also, Bane is not nearly as interesting or consistent as the Joker was. Granted, it would be hard to top Heath Ledger’s performance. But Bane really doesn’t have much of a personality; and, as I mentioned before, it’s hard to understand a word he’s saying sometimes. Hardy does as much with his eyes and body language to convey his meaning; but the overpowering inability to hear his words really hurts the performance. I blame this on post production and Nolan’s stubbornness more than Hardy’s acting chops, however.

The film’s pace is fine, and it does have some superior effects; on balance, I would have still recommended it…had it not been for the ending, as I mentioned above. Nolan has always seemed to rise above standard movie cliches and even with the somewhat bloated “The Dark Knight”, he still told a compelling story rich in story and character, and here I just felt left out. But beyond that, which I could still forgive, the ending is not only cliched, but ultimately impossible. And in its final shot, more groan inducing than moving. Nolan is an intelligent writer and filmmaker; but here, he seems to take the easy way out to appease the audience. I would’ve expected a more complicated or compromising climax out of such a grandiose trilogy. Instead, it’s very predictable and relies so heavily on your belief in comic book hero magic that it just felt out of place in a film series full of so much…reality. And that’s what had separated Nolan’s Batman series from the others.

This is still a strong trilogy; in time, I may forgive the film for its flaws. For now, I can only give a mixed review and say I would’ve liked to see more out of a filmmaker I respect as much as Christopher Nolan.

My rating: :?

My Top 10 Favorite Movies of the Past 10 Years

August 17, 2011 by  
Filed under Blog, Entertainment, Home Video

*DISCLAIMER*

This isn’t about the BEST 10 movies of the past 10 years. I probably haven’t seen the best 10 movies of the last 10 years. I’m sure I’ve missed out on some great obscure foreign film I’ve never heard of, or some documentary that I skipped over or something…this is just my list of 10 movies that I could watch over and over again and that I adore personally. Your lists will differ, I’m sure. But mine’s clearly the best.

#10: The Descent (2005) 

Written & directed by Neil Marshall

I start off with a horror movie, and I think it’s one of the finest horror films of this age. It’s not as well known as movies like “The Strangers” or “The Ring” but it’s far better than either of those because it’s not only a creature feature–it’s also a psychological horror film where you’re not really sure if what’s going on is real or not. That might sound cliché and stupid; but Marshall handles the balance exceedingly well and you never feel cheated either way. It’s an all female cast of spelunkers who find that there are these nightmarish “Silent Hill” looking things that only compound the problem they have of being lost in a large cave that they don’t know how to get out of. But there’s also a subplot of the main character who lost her husband and child in a single car accident; and one of her friends may have had an affair with the husband. The thing I like about this subplot, too, is that it never overshadows the main story with melodrama. It’s very nicely put together by Marshall and is by far his greatest achievement in filmmaking so far.

 
#9: The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
 
 

 

Written & directed by: Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson’s career has been a little more up and down than I thought, especially around this time when he already had “Bottle Rocket” and “Rushmore” under his belt. And this movie was even better than both. Combining family drama with offbeat comedy, “The Royal Tenenbaums” is a very strong film. It never goes too far in either direction, although some of its quirkiness may turn some people off. But I think it’s Anderson’s most accessible film. And the soundtrack, once again, is outstanding. Nick Drake, John Lennon, Elliott Smith, this one captures the feel of the movie so well. I think it’s Anderson’s last great film; he’s made a few good ones since…but I still haven’t forgotten “The Life Aquatic” and boy do I long for a lobotomy for that one. Very strong performances by Ben Stiller and Gene Hackman especially, who contributes a lot of humor to this story of pathos. It’s Anderson at his best.

 
#8: Inglourious Basterds (2009)
 
 

 

Written & directed by: Quentin Tarantino

I wasn’t sure to expect with this movie, because all we saw from the previews were the scenes about the Basterds, a rag-tag group of Nazi hunters that are all Jewish. It was a plan of vengeance, that was obvious. What I got, though, was probably my favorite Tarantino film of all time. While I thought “Pulp Fiction” was fantastic, and probably one of the most important films ever made, there’s something about this movie that I just can’t get enough of. I love that he doesn’t make his foreign actors speak English. For an American made film, almost half of it looks like a foreign language film. I also like that for a movie that’s as bloody and war-related as it is, it begins extremely quietly and slow-paced. But I love what Tarantino does with the quiet conversation scenes. There’s always tension in the room, and you know something is going to happen, you just don’t know when. It’s incredibly suspenseful. The opening scene, for instance, has a Nazi commander searching a French farm house that has been known to harbor Jews. Instead of interrogating the man of the house, however, they simply talk. Meanwhile, the Jewish family he’s harboring is underneath the floor. The camera dips once and shows us them hiding, and then it pans back to the room. And the talking goes on, and on. But you’re clinging to your chair, waiting to see if he knows. My favorite sequence takes place in an underground bar where a game is being played, and there are Nazi imposters in the bar that could be figured out to be infiltrating. You’re just waiting for a moment where things break out. The use of suspense is outstanding, and the theme of vengeance being all-for-naught is also refreshing. You’d think this is just an anti-Nazi fun filled movie. But the lesson to be learned is far more poignant.

?

#7: The Dark Knight (2008)
 
 
 

 

Directed by: Christopher Nolan / Written by: Christopher Nolan/Jonathan Nolan

This movie will be on a lot of people All-time Overrated List I think in the coming years rather than All-time Best Films list. But I really think if you step away from the hype, it is still a very solid film. It’s dark, it’s sleek, it’s intelligent–yes, pretentious too. I forgive it in this case because the plot moves quickly enough that I never felt bored. Obviously the strongest thing about the movie is Heath Ledger as the Joker; but there are some other things about the movie that I liked–I still like that Batman is a more tortured soul, and that he makes decisions in this film that he ultimately regrets and has to live with the tragic results. I like that a heroic character becomes a villain–even if it was rushed a bit. Two-Face certainly could have been given his own film. But I didn’t think it was a total waste. Besides the Batvision subplot, I think most of the film works extremely well. As a superhero flick, it’s epic. But even more, as a character drama it’s very complex and endearing. It’s my second favorite Batman movie, besides “Batman & Robin”. Just kidding. “Batman & Robin” was better.

 
#6: AI: Artificial Intelligence (2001)
 
 

 

Written & directed by Stephen Spielberg

Here’s another one that gets a lot of bad word of mouth; it got mixed reviews, and Spielberg was accused of destroying a possible Kubrick project and wasting it. I can’t disagree enough with the detractors of this imperfect masterpiece. I think it’s one of Spielberg’s most personal films, along with it being a love letter to Kubrick himself. Most of the negative comments are directed at the ending; they all thought it should’ve ended with the boy finding the Blue Fairy at the bottom of the ocean that at one point had been Coney Island. While that would have been dark, and cool–it would not have been an ending. The film’s theme is about getting what you want too late, and not being able to move on. Finding the Blue Fairy as something that was just a symbol of the past was not a true resolution to the plot. The boy still had to find his parents. The movie is two halves: the first half is about a set of parents that want to covet a relationship with a child, and yet something’s always missing because the child is synthetic; and there‘s something to be said about the fact that their biological kid is a sniveling brat. The second half is about a synthetic child that wants to covet a relationship with his mother, who is real. At the end, they are long gone, as well as all of humanity. It’s the complete opposite of the first half of the film. And in the end, the day he spends with his mother IS synthetic, which turns him into a real boy–and he finally dies. Now that, to me, is far more beautiful, far more bittersweet and even tragic in a way; and it’s far more POWERFUL than if the film ends with the boy finding the Blue Fairy. So that’s my defense. Is it perfect? No. It probably could have been a bit shorter. It probably could have had a stronger handle on its theme. But it holds true to everything that Spielberg is all about as a storyteller, and adds an element of Kubrick that makes it dark enough to be less conventional than the typical Spielberg film. It’s all about loss and grieving and broken families, and that’s where Spielberg thrives.

 
#5: Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)
 
 

 

Directed by: Peter Jackson / Written by: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens

I have to include all three films and treat them as one here, although I’d probably watch “Fellowship” over “Towers” and “King”; but all three are part of the same story and to me is one of the strongest adaptation of a book in the history of film. It breathes new life into the “Lord of the Rings” and does so with such a command by Peter Jackson, it will have to go down as his greatest accomplishment. His career was delightfully progressing from his bloodspattered early days of “Bad Taste” and “Braindead” to the more mature but still off-the-wall “Heavenly Creatures” and then the fun, weird “The Frighteners”. All of these seemed to lead up to a perfect storm of creativity, expression, imagination, and…fun. The look of this film is magnificent. The performances by Elijah Wood, Ian McKellan, and Vigo Mortensen are fantastic–but one I really thought was special was Sean Astin’s. While there was all the homoerotic talk between Frodo and Sam–the story really is about a friendship that is very deep. This film is epic fantasy but it is also a story about relationships. All of it is well handled by Peter Jackson. He took all of his best elements and put them forth in this trilogy that I think will go down as the best film trilogy besides the original “Star Wars” trilogy.

 
#4: Sin City (2005)
 
 

 

Directed by Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller, and Quentin Tarantino / Written by: Frank Miller

If you ever wanted to see a comic book truly put to film in its total essence, I don’t think there’s a better example than “Sin City”. It combines the talents of two gifted filmmakers along with Frank Miller, whom you could tell had a lot of fun with his own material, adapting it to the screen. This collection of talent on one film is as great as the Romero/King/Savini holy trinity that made “Creepshow” in ‘85. The movie is just a bunch of vignettes, but all of them are woven together so well that it feels like one big story. There are some sickening things going on in this film, but it all looks so good it’s hard to be reviled. It’s more than just an exercise in style; it’s got nice, fleshed out storylines and some really strong performances by Mickey Rourke and Bruce Willis. And who can forget a Jessica Alba pole dance? This movie, again, takes joy in its excess violence and nudity, and because it revels in it…we can’t help to follow its lead.

 
#3: Children of Men (2006)
 
 

 

Directed by: Alfonso Cuaron / Written by: Alfonso Cuaron, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby

I think what I liked most about this movie is how bleak it is, and how much it really builds this dystopian world in which no children exist. For some people, maybe this is the best world you could ever live in. But it is utterly depressing to think about, with no future, nothing to look forward to. In the film, there’s even a suicide drug that’s so popular, there are ads littered everywhere on streets and on TV. Clive Owen stars in a very strong role as a man who joins a group of rebels that actually have a woman who is pregnant. They have to protect her, but there are many bloody realistic battle scenes that have you on the edge of your seat, hoping she can get to safety. This movie pulls no punches, and even kills off one of its big stars early, and still somehow ends in a satisfying manner. It’s very taut at times, and it’s very engrossing. I like that it’s a kind of nativity story, too; about the protecting of life, whether you’ve conceived it or not. It was one my favorite films of 2006.

 
#2: Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
 
 

 

Written & directed by: Guillermo Del Toro

If you haven’t seen this movie, and are a fan of fantasy/horror/storytelling…stop whatever you’re doing and see this movie. And PLEASE see it in its native language, subtitled, and NOT dubbed. Not because the dubbing job is bad; but because dubbing itself is lame. And it would take away from a great dramatic story. Del Toro is Mexican but he has a fascination it seems with Spain, and more precisely, the Spanish Civil War. So that’s the underlying theme and backdrop to this otherwise fairy tale of a girl who is brought to meet her stepfather, who is a captain of the Spanish army, trying to quell a rebellion. Her real father is dead, and her mother is a dutiful wife to the captain. The girl, though, embarks on a fantasy journey that can be as dark and deadly as the real life war that’s going on. The way Del Toro uses visual horror is amazing. Every one of his creatures comes to life and while some are more terrifying than beautiful, they are all wonderful to look at. It’s a sad story for the most part, because we know it’s not real. We want to believe in the fantasy, as little Ofelia does, but reality comes crashing down as it always does. It’s a very sweet story as well as it is tragic, and it’s terrifying at times, too. Just a brilliant film, and one of the best of the decade.

And now…my number one movie…is something a bit different. But I couldn’t think of anything that makes me smile more than…

 
#1: Team America: World Police (2004)
 
 

 

Directed by Trey Parker / Written by: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and Pam Brady

Maybe this film suffered from bad timing (Roger Ebert didn’t find it amusing at all) but as time grows on, this movie becomes more and more dear to me. During the reign of W, America always seemed to be butting into foreign affairs that were revolving around terrorism, as it was called the War on Terrorism. Well, because there’s no known true villain (besides Osama Bin Laden), we started a few wars just to sort it all out. Parker and Stone are at their best when they’re angry and anarchic, and this is their best execution of their satire that I’ve ever seen. Not just because it satirizes American foreign policy and its flag-waving jingoism; but because it savagely satirizes every single thing about America that is oversaturated and over the top. What makes it fun is that it uses the typical Hollywood Action Movie as its conduit. A beautiful overproduced score is a great contrast to the shoddy production values of the sets, and of course, the marionettes. Everything is done cheaply, but loudly. And everything is done on purpose. All of the songs mock all the sugary sweet top 40 Billboard genres that we’re forced to listen to on the radio (including an hilarious one about film montages), and all of the dramatic dialog is so stupid, you can’t help but laugh because you KNOW it’s been in a Michael Bay film sometime (“Maybe feelings are feelings because we can’t control them.”). This movie had me howling with laughter; but meanwhile, also nodding my head to how stupid this country can be when it’s so simple minded. It ridicules the so-called patriots in this country who don’t understand our true enemy, and who are more of a detriment to our society than even the enemy that we’re attacking. The point of this film is that WE are the true terrorists. And at this time in our history, it couldn’t be more spot on. I call this the “Dr. Strangelove” of our generation. At the time, that movie perfectly satirized the present day America that was also insecure about the Cold War and communism and so in love with war. This movie does the same, but adds the sweet touch of making fun of Hollywood as well. And the most brilliant thing is that this could have been a movie that Hollywood would’ve taken seriously had it not been for the puppetry. In fact, it already has. It was called “Armageddon”. As much as I love “South Park”, and most of what Parker & Stone do–this is their greatest accomplishment, and this film belongs in the discussion of greatest comedies of all time.

That’s my list! Fuck yeah

Tron Legacy

December 29, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

In 1982 we were introduced to a different kind of science fiction action film: a computer action film. These days, that may sound either common or at least, somewhat exciting. But back in 1982, computers were fairly unknown and computer games were extremely rare. But Disney was willing to shell out for a film called “Tron”, which was about computers and computer hackers and computer games. It revolved around very basic colors and designs, but make them look very unique even if the story seemed lethargic and 4-bit. The film gathered some good reviews at the time, and eventually became somewhat of a cult classic.

Now, 28 years later, we have a sequel. It’s been a long time coming, I suppose. But whatever originality and creativity went into the first one…it was drained by the sequel. “Tron Legacy” not only has a slow moving plot but it also contains nothing but a series of hackneyed dialog scenes accompanied by action sequences that have been taken from every sci-fi action flick in the last 20 years.

The plot centers around Kevin Flynn’s (Jeff Bridges) son Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) who has broken into the ENCOM system like his dad did, and finds that his father has sent him a “page” to get back to the arcade and find him. What Sam finds, however, is that he’s been tricked by his father’s nemesis in the program, Clu. Flynn is sent to “Games”, in which he partakes in disc throwing fights until he is identified by Clu has Flynn’s son. From there, the story is extremely familiar and the cliches just keep on coming.

Everything from the mysterious “savior” in the Games realm for Sam turns out to be a beautiful female with all the moves (I think I last saw this device used in “Nine” but I guess “Avatar” could count as well) to the guy who is supposed to save them but turns out to be a double crosser…this film offers very little in the department of surprise or even wonder. Bridges returns in the dual role of Kevin Flynn and Clu. He is much more interesting as Flynn, sometimes invoking The Dude a few times. But the film is so formulaic that it doesn’t even seem worth it to follow the formula to the final resolution.

I guess what would keep anyone watching are the special effects. They are, at times, very impressive. At other times, however, they are just stealing from other sci-fi action films such as “The Matrix” or “Star Wars” or even “The Dark Knight”. The 3-D used is worthless. Nothing seems to come right out at you. You could experience 3-D and 2-D with this film and get the identical experience either way. But apart from its generic plot and plot devices, the colors are rather bland, too. The light blue is rather dull compared to the more embracing cyan that was used in the original. It comes off as very pale; and so does the movie. It’s either extremely dark, or extremely bright. The contrasts never seem to come together.

And neither does this film. There’s nothing to really get excited about or have fun with because the movie doesn’t seem have fun with itself, either. There are a few nods to the 80’s, but that hardly makes up for the utterly brooding look the film has. Even in the quieter, more conversational scenes, nothing is learned about the characters because they are all drawn so superficially that there’s nothing to actually learn about them whatsoever.

While the first film may have been formulaic and possibly devoid of character development as well, it at least had an interesting and unique look to it. This film just borrows from that and not only doesn’t make an improvement, but takes a few steps back. If you were a fan of the first one, you’ll see this and possibly be entertained. Maybe that’s another thing that frustrating: this film had a built-in fanbase that was already going to like it for what it was. I was looking for something more; and all I got was more of the same.

My rating: :?

Martini Take – Summer Movies 2008

September 15, 2008 by  
Filed under Blog

With the forthcoming weather getting decidedly cooler, and the box office draws becoming decidedly weaker, it’s time to realize that we are entering autumn, one of my favorite times of the year–and, one of my least favorite times of the year. Well, as a filmgoer, at least. I’m sure I’ve chimed in more than once about how much I hate September for movies, and October doesn’t get much better. In fact, things really don’t start getting good until November and December when you get the Oscar nods out and the quality is much better. And the pretention is off the charts!

So, I decided why not take a look back at what was the summer of 2008, the highs and lows, and the meh’s.

I’m going to cheat a little bit, and start in the spring. The only reason why I’m doing this is because I wanted to write some glowing words about a seemingly forgotten comedy that I thought was wonderfully entertaining.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

This was released in late April, but had the feel of a summer comedy, mainly because it took place in Hawaii most of the time. The film starred Jason Segel, who also wrote the screenplay, about a guy who works in Hollywood as a musical composer for a hot Network TV show that’s a hilarious parody of “CSI”, called “Crime Scene”. Segel’s character, named Peter, is also going out with the show’s main star, Sarah Marshall. But she ultimately breaks up with him, and just by a strange coincidence, they both find themselves on the same resort in Hawaii. Peter goes because his friend, played by Bill Hader (Michael Ian Black, I miss you dearly), tells him he needs to get away. Sarah goes because she is with her new man, a hippie rockstar played by Russell Brand. Brand’s character is actually sympathetic toward Peter, and while Peter makes his situation more miserable by dwelling on Sarah, the friendly and beautiful receptionist Rachel (played by Mila Kunis), tries to help him…forget her. The film is very funny and honest about love and relationships, and I pretty much bought it the entire way. The only nagging problem, which I’ve alluded to before with Apatow movies, is that the scenes did go on too long at times, and while the Dracula puppet show was a good pay off, the scene in which it is first presented is a bit awkward, even for awkward’s sake. But a great pick up on DVD, a great date movie, and if you’ve just been broken up with…maybe you can pretend you’ll find your Rachel too, and keep on kidding yourself. My rating: :-)

Moving right along into May…we start to inch closer to summer, but not before…

Iron Man

One of the biggest surprises for me of this year. I wasn’t really expecting it to be much of a film, even though I am a big time Robert Downey, Jr. apologist (can you really be a fan of this guy?). I still wasn’t really into the whole thing, and while I do read comic books, Iron Man never really interested me that much. But my God was I impressed. This movie was a lot of fun. Now, it’s important to realize that this is a comic book movie. There are certain rules in comic book movies: 1) Don’t follow the science of things. It is really just made up, and made to look really cool. Anybody pounding away on a keyboard, or doing some diagnostic work on something chemical or robotic–it’s not going to be accurate, and it’s not going to be logical sometimes. But it still looks cool! Okay? Now I’ll be honest and say that the plot isn’t exactly going to blow you away. It’s fairly predictable. But it is well done, and it’s well executed. It’s not boring. And of course, the best part–Robert Downey, Jr. The guy is just a lot of fun to watch. He really makes you forget you’re watching a comic book movie. The film does devolve a bit into typical comic book movie “Final Boss Fight” mode toward the end, but it’s still a great spectacle, and anyone who didn’t find the movie entertaining should probably lighten up. This was a great start to the summer season. My rating: :-)

Now after that, a monkeywrench is thrown into the whole thing. What was the Summer of 2008 without…Indiana Jones? Well, I’ll tell you what it was with Indiana Jones–lamer.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

This was without a doubt the most anticipated movie of the summer until a certain actor died right after playing a certain role in a…all right, you get it. 19 years after the last Indiana Jones movie, which I was 10 when I saw it, and I could not wait for this movie. Now, I didn’t have the highest expectations. Let’s be real: Spielberg hasn’t made a really good film in years, and Lucas hasn’t written anything coherent in decades. And then you add David Koepp to the mix? I think Monty Burns’ monkeys could have concocted a better script than this drivel. But, it’s not the script we look for in an Indiana Jones movie. It’s the action, right? And that was done fairly well. But, a little heavy use of the CGI and not enough Indy kickin some A, the movie sort of fell flat…in just about every aspect. Cate Blanchett wasn’t even good in this movie. Overall, I didn’t hate it. But I thought it was a bit of a wasted opportunity. And the ending? I think I went into diabetic shock with how sugary it was. It will most likely be the last Indiana Jones film, and that’s fine with me, if this is where it was headed anyway. My rating: :?

Then you have a movie come out of nowhere at the end of May that I thought was actually quite good. A well done horror film that is a bit of an old school throwback to the chilling slasher flicks like “Halloween”.

The Strangers

This is the debut of Bryan Bertino, and you can tell, especially with the unnecessary way it ends. But, he definitely shows some promise as he takes us on a journey with a couple that is sort of on the brink of break-up, after the main character proposes to his girlfriend, and she tells him, “No.” To make it worse, he had done up his parents’ old summer house all romantic like, thinking she would say “Yes” and the two would have a great night to remember. Well, it turns out to be a night to remember, in far worse ways. A trio of masked individuals taunt and scare the couple, and ultimately trap them in their own house. There is never a reason for their behavior, and that makes it all the more unnerving. The film has a very claustrophobic feel, and the scenes in which the masked people are just staring at the couple in different areas is absolutely haunting. The film loses its touch in the final moments, but the wheels don’t completely come off. I think this movie fell into oblivion during the summer, but should make a comeback around October, when it’s Scary Movie Time. Overall, a very solid horror flick. My rating: :-)

And with that, summer arrives. It’s June. “Kung Fu Panda” is released, another Adam Sandler movie is released that nobody’ll watch except Adam Sandler and his friends, and…whoa, what’s this? “The Happening”? So M. Knight Shyamalan be a summer hero?

No.

The Happening

Probably the most pitiful excuse for a horror or a science fiction thriller produced in recent memory, “The Happening” is trite, boring, incomprehensible, and a total waste of good acting talents. The movie’s “plot” revolves around people killing themselves because…get this…it’s the revenge of the plants. They’re revolting against us! Shyamalan has to be on thin ice right now, and if this is his best effort to try and save himself from his latest blunders “The Village”, and “Lady in the Water”, his next appearance in the movie theatres may involve him ripping your ticket. My rating: :x

June actually got stronger with a decent second effort on the Hulk franchise, and I really enjoyed Ed Norton’s more somber approach than Eric Bana’s angry-at-everything-for-some-reason approach. “The Incredible Hulk”, unlike the hollow “Hulk”, had some depth and some charisma. It didn’t have the overall feel of a comic movie, there were some moments in which the Hulk felt like a character, but it still, again, devolves into comic book fanboydom with the final battle. “Get Smart” proved to be a winning comedy, and then you had “Wanted”, which surprised a lot of people because it was actually more entertaining than most expected. I think you could put that one in the “sleeper” category. Oh, and then there was “Wall-E”. Did uh, anybody see that?

So we move into July, and we’re in the meat and potatoes of the summer. With the exception of the over-the-top disappointing “Hancock”, there were some nice surprises like “Stepbrothers”, “Hellboy II: The Golden Army”, and in my opinion, the best movie of the summer, “The Dark Knight”. July had to go and end on somewhat of a sour note with “The X-Files: I Want to Believe”, but we won’t get into that. Seriously, Chris Carter…seriously? Man…

August never really brings that much excitement, but I was stoked to see “Pineapple Express”, and was bummed out by how long it was, and how it wasn’t as funny as it should have been nor as endearing as it could have been. I didn’t bother with “The Rocker”, because…well, I love Rainn Wilson but I’m not a teenager, so I didn’t think this one would really be that appealing. “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”? Next? Of course, “Tropic Thunder” rounded out things nicely, and the more I thought about it, the more I thought maybe it could have hit a little harder. “Tropic Thunder” might not have the staying power that, say, “Zoolander” does, but it was still an enjoyable movie.

Biggest Winner

Definitely “The Dark Knight”. I felt it delivered on every level. I know people say Nolan’s “Batman” series is more pretentious and artsy-darksy, but I for one like the change from the goofy Batman, and I think this is far more embracing than Burton’s cold but spiffy Batman.

Biggest Loser

Has to be “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”. Many a Youtube Vloggers will agree…it “gargled balls”. It was an insult to the franchise, and they should be ashamed of themselves for making it! Well, okay I know I said it wasn’t that bad…it is a lot of fun to make fun of though. And besides, they’d make fun of YOU the first chance they get!

Sleeper of the Summer

While I’d like to give it to “Stepbrothers” because that turned out to be a very fun film, I’d still say “Tropic Thunder” pwned the box office longer than I thought it would, however, there may have been enough hype to knock “Tropic Thunder” out of sleeper status. “Wanted” is definitely in the conversation, but I think a lot of movies that were supposed to do well did well, and the ones that didn’t, didn’t. I may be wrong about that, but it sounded good when I said it. And, really, do you care what I think? Do I? Hm…

Best Actor

Heath Ledger. What a surprise, huh? But I’m sorry, the guy was just downright superb. He made the Joker into a much more sinister, devilish character. Nicholson’s was a bit more jovial, while Ledger’s was far more  deranged. Runner up: Downey, Jr. Not just for “Iron Man”. He was fantastic in “Tropic Thunder” as well.

Best Actress

Gillian Anderson. Even though “The X-Files” was a waste of time, her performance was anything but. It was a shame, because she’s grown so much as an actress, and was so convincing again as Dana Scully, it’s a shame that she had to waste it on such a poor script.

Worst Actor

Mark Wahlberg. I don’t know if there was anyone who could convincingly say any of the awful dialog that M. Knight wrote in “The Happening”, but Wahlberg looked completely out of sorts in this movie. It was really strange, and embarrassing watching. Just about everybody was terrible in this flick. It was almost like they didn’t even want to be a part of it, and just did it to…be nice.

Worst Actress

Cate Blanchett. I mentioned before how bad she was in “Indiana Jones”. I mean, her accent was so over the top, and I realize that that might have been on purpose. But it was even more irritating and distracting than Malkovich’s french accent in “Johnny English”. It was very half assed. I was disappointed, because I’m usually a very big fan of hers.

Overall Thoughts

I didn’t really know how I wanted to tackle this whole “blog” because I’m not really much of a blogger. I wanted to at least give out some reviews of movies I saw before the web site started, and then gloss over the ones I’ve already written reviews for, obviously. I think overall, this summer was a good one for movies. There have been a lot of summers recently that haven’t really delivered, and I think this one had at least a few movies that lived up to the hype. You’re always going to have over hyped films, and you’re always going to have surprise movies that will go quietly.

I’m looking forward to our upcoming Oscar Season, with movies like “Milk”, “Frost/Nixon”, and “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Pri–” oh…nevermind. Yeah…still not quite over that one yet.

There will be a slight hiatus from me viewing new films until the end of this month, but I still intend on renting some and keeping up the reviews as best as I can. And one of these days I do plan on buying some new music. Worry not!

Hope you had a great summer, and we’ll do it again next year. BFF.

Dark Knight

July 22, 2008 by  
Filed under Movies

The last few summers have been laced with superhero movies. We’ve been inundated with your Spidermans, your Supermans, your Iron Mans, and your Hulks…and get ready for the train to keep rolling–”Watchman” (a DIFFERENT kind of superhero story) is coming out next March.

But it seems as though all of those films were leading up to this, the most anticipated superhero flick possibly in the history of film mainly because of one tragic fact: one of the cast members ultimately died from the intensity of his role. Guess who? Answer at the end of the show. Yes, we all know the ill-fated Heath Ledger will cast a tragic cloud over this film, which is a pity. But on a positive side, he provides the most ambitious and outstanding role of his career, as the Joker. Nicholson, tip your cap.

Now how about the film? Well, with the hype surrounding pretty much every film this summer, this one certainly took the cake. But finally we have one that lived up to it. “The Dark Knight” is a movie that deserves to be recognized as more than just a comic book movie, but as a great narrative about being a hero, the glory AND the tragedy. What you have to sacrifice, which is what “The Dark Knight” surrounds itself with in theme. Everyone has a price to pay.

Everyone, that is, but the Joker. The Joker, comic book’s most devilish anarchist with no real regard for human life (not even his own), used to be more stylized and powerful (Nicholson’s Joker in 1989’s “Batman”). But in this case, Christopher Nolan offers a more stripped down, and homicidal maniac version of the Joker. The kind of Joker that Frank Miller and Alan Moore envisioned decades ago. This kind of Joker is the scariest type of villain because he doesn’t want or need anything. As one character in the film says about these kind of people, “They just want to watch the world burn.”

The film looks and feels as big as it was advertised, and there are some absolutely breathtaking sequences involving our beloved city. The storyline of the film is just as big, but not over the top and awkward the way “Spiderman 3? was (could we really follow all those plot lines?). Here, Nolan , his brother, and co-writer David S. Goyer (”Blade”, “Dark City”) paint a masterpiece of narrative, involving very credible subplots that include Bruce Wayne’s former squeeze and the always likable Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent. Wayne’s own personal demons are understandably pushed aside as most of his woes have been covered brilliantly in “Batman Begins”–and we finally really see the actual Batman emerge as a prominent character rather than just a cool looking dude in a suit who beats up bad guys. Batman has to sacrifice as well, to be a hero.

There are not too many scenes in which you can relax–there is so much action going on that it sometimes feels like a roller coaster. But there is never a moment where the story is betraying your intellect, nor is there a point where you feel like the filmmakers are just showing off their big budget special effects. It is easily the fastest two and a half hours I’ve spent in a theatre.

Ledger will most likely get an Oscar nomination out of this, and I think that’s a bit cynical now. It’s not Hollywood’s fault that he wouldn’t be around for the award ceremony but it is part of an institution that he obviously couldn’t handle. I’ve seen actors play much more intense roles and LIVE (think of his co-star, Christian Bale, in “The Machinist”). However, he does realistically deserve consideration. His part in the film is probably the most rewarding; he’s not only maniacal and pathetic and skin-crawlingly creepy–he’s also hilarious and he’s a total scene stealer.

But in all honesty, this film deserves at least a Best Screenplay nomination. It’s simply one of the best written films I’ve seen from a big studio in quite a while. It’s a shame this will be only noted as “the best comic book film of all time”, which would be an appropriate annotation, because it’s so much more than that. It looks deep into the human soul, and wretches out the best and worst of us all.

And I haven’t even gotten into Harvey Dent’s story. But you know, I think it’s important not to give too much away. But let’s say his isn’t disappointing whatsoever. And ultimately, lends more to the theme as well. Consider his name, “Two Face” Harvey Dent, and how the two faces of a coin, and two sides of a story, good and evil are two sides–you get the picture.

This is what big blockbusters are meant to do. Deliver and go beyond. Unlike “Hancock” and “The Incredible Hulk” which still relied on style and aesthetics rather than a deep narrative, “The Dark Knight” gave us what we were looking for.

And that’s heroic.

My rating: :grin:

Family value: Unless your boys are over the age of 12 and/or can handle some intense moments, I would say skip this and take them to see “Get Smart”. Use discretion. But treat yourself to it!