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Posts Tagged ‘movie reviews’

The Obligatory (& Epically Long) Dark Knight Post

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008


So, after unsuccessfully trying to navigate the tumultuous waters of other people’s busy schedules, I grabbed the first available friend I could find and went on Sunday to see Dark Knight.  The unspoilery opinion is that I enjoyed it thoroughly, but not in the way I expected to.  To understand what I mean by that, you’ll have to go beyond the cut, where the spoilers live.

The Dark Knight is not a typical Batman movie.  In fact, it isn’t really structured or written or filmed like your typical comic book action movie at all.  Most telling of this is that the climax of this film isn’t an action climax — the largest and most delicious action sequence comes half way through instead of at the end.  Instead, at its centre is not the journey or character of a single man; rather, the actions, choices, and journeys of three equally main characters have been crafted into a broader thematic tapestry.  The journeys are not pivotal in and of themselves, but taken together they communicate a larger thesis.  This is the first Batman movie not to have the word Batman in the title, perhaps foreshadowing to us that it was not meant to be entirely his movie.

Batman and his counterpart Bruce Wayne disappear for stretches of time in this movie that would typically spell disaster, but I was so engrossed in the story that I never found his absence conspicuous.  In fact, if I had to pinpoint the weakest link of this strong chain, it would likely be Batman, which perhaps seems like a bad start for a Batman movie.

Don’t get me wrong, Christian Bale’s performance was as good this time as it was last time around, but in Dark Knight he’s given only a third of the storytelling meat to play with instead of the full plate he had to sink his teeth into for Batman Begins, and if anything it’s the smallest of the three portions.  He is largely reactive, and his character rarely propels the story forward; rather, he spends most of the film being swept along by other forces, nearly always a step too far behind to change the trajectory.

Whereas Batman Begins was largely a story charted by the actions and choice of Bruce Wayne and their affect on his life, The Dark Knight is more a story of the fallout of that original, and the larger impact of one man’s decisions to “let the joker out of the box”.  Though Harvey Dent directs this line at Maroni, it’s clear that Nolan is directing it at Bruce Wayne; if one man creates a mythic hero such as Batman, what sort of larger than life villains does he dare to come out from the shadows to meet him by doing so?

I love that Nolan has continued to portray the man as much as the myth, and has given Bruce Wayne as much (if not more) screen time as his alter ego, taking great effort to ensure we are constantly reminded that the vigilante is just a man in a mask, as human, mortal, and fallible as the people he fights for and against.  We are given a Batman that is fully realized from Gordon’s perspective, appearing and disappearing at the turn of a head, but we also see the figure half-transformed and uncowled.  It is just as jarring to see the face of Bruce Wayne perched on a narrow window ledge at the top of a tower as it is to see Batman sitting and brooding in the sunlight Wayne penthouse, and it better connects the two figures into one character that blurs and blends together rather than as two opposing personalities that can be switched on and off at will.  Nolan’s Batman continues to be the most complex and fascinating comic-book anti-heroes as yet realized in film, and I feel again in The Dark Knight as I felt in Batman Begins that Nolan is more preoccupied with the story of Bruce Wayne than he is with Batman.  It’s certainly always been the story that’s intrigued me the most, and I’m pleased as paint to find out someone agrees with me.

My only true complaint with Bale’s performance is that I feel he pushed his Batman voice too far in this film, and that it became at times distracting and almost comic, like a man trying too hard.  I like the idea of it, that Wayne is actively distorting his voice to be unrecognizable and more menacing, but it worked in the previous film better than this one, perhaps because there were fewer over all lines of dialogue given to Batman. 

I also think Nolan and Bale missed a key place, where they could have once again broken down the division of the two personas, in the interrogation room when Batman is attempting to get Rachel’s location from the Joker.  I would liked to have heard more Bruce at the point where Batman rages, since the motivation at that point in time are less driven by Batman and more driven by Bruce Wayne’s concern and love for Rachel.

Killing Rachel Dawes (I warned you about spoilers!) and the method of her murder was very carefully thought out by both Nolan and the Joker, the message tied to it unmistakable.  Bruce reveals his major weakness when he dives out his penthouse window to save Rachel, thoughtlessly leaving a roomful of other people at the Joker’s mercy.  His selfish decision to again attempt to save Rachel at the expense of a possible broader good is ultimately what kills her; punishment for choosing his own happiness over the higher morality he’s professed to subscribe to.

Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent is in many ways the more central character, and his journey from light to dark is one of the more deliberate foils in the film (sometimes anviliciously so).  From a man who uses a two-headed coin to consciously control luck to one that cedes every action to the 50/50 chance of a legitimate coin toss, Dent falls without ever becoming truly mad or truly criminal.  He retains an amoral honour of sorts even at his lowest; dealing out death not by whether or not he perceives it is deserved, but where chance determines it so.

Some people have noted in their reviews that this movie has two villains, but I would argue it has two heroes.  Two-Face doesn’t surface long enough to become truly villainous — again, he foils against Batman as the vigilante, taking justice into his own hands and perverting it with a need for vengeance and closure that echoes Bruce’s own journey quite closely.

Yet, though Dent’s heroic rise and tragic fall as Gotham’s White Knight clearly illustrates the Joker’s point that every man can be corrupted, Nolan counterbalances the lesson with another that is played out simultaneously between the two ships, taking care to point out that we are not always as susceptible to corruption as seems obvious. 

Others might argue this point (and feel free to in the comments, I like honest debate) but there is both bravery and cowardice in the actions of the two men highlighted on the ferries.  Blow up one ship and one will be saved, or do nothing and both will be destroyed.  Is it braver to die unsullied, or braver to bloody your hands to save hundreds of lives?  Is it more cowardly to send twice as many people to their deaths to avoid a guilty conscience, or more cowardly to kill half to save yourself and hundreds of others?  Neither solution is an absolute right nor wrong, a point Nolan punctuates effectively by having the convicted felon come off as more idealistically noble than the law-abiding business man, who seems the more selfish and weak-willed; though they come to the same conclusion, their journeys to that decision are very different ones, and it affects the way we see them.

I wonder about which bombs those detonators were really linked to.  The Joker lied about the locations of Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes, and I wonder whether or not he might have done the same to the people on the ferries, if perhaps they had their own detonators all along and if in choosing their own lives over the others they might have been punished the same way Batman and Dent were.  Neither would have surprised me, and either would have been fitting to the story, I think, which makes it all the more possible that either could have been the case, and suits the unpredictability of the Joker’s character.

In a film that has been constructed to portray every moral shade of gray imaginable except white and black, the most interesting and captivating of those shades is the one that painted this version of the Joker.  All Oscar buzz aside, Heath Ledger performance as the Joker underpinned by Nolan’s deliberate writing and directorial choices for the character combine to make this one of the most memorable villains I’ve seen on screen to date.  Whatever else can be said about Ledger, it is true that he completely disappears into this thing he and Nolan created to the point that I regularly forgot I was watching an actor at all, and had difficulty picking out Ledger’s familiar face even though it was only just barely disguised with a thin layer of makeup.

Elsewhere,

and others have described The Dark Knight’s Joker as less a character or person than a force of nature, and I honestly think they’ve hit the nail on the head there.  He sweeps in fully-formed and then vanishes the same way, having neither won nor lost but having simply been.  Nolan lends to this defining characteristic by having resisted the temptation to give us an origin story for the Joker; he is, in Nolan’s words, an “absolute”.  You can’t call him quite human in the same way that you can’t call him quite mad.  There’s a method there, underneath the green hair and purple suit — a carefully calculating and deliberate Xanatosian intelligence that is motivated by something just beyond what reason and logic allow us mere mortals to understand.  A force of nature, or perhaps a trickster god — a personification of anarchy and chaos — come to Gotham to dissect the darkest level of the human psyche for his own amusement. 

He is, right to the very end of the film, one step ahead of the protagonists and never beaten back or truly captured.  Everything is on his terms, on his time, and according to his grand plan.  He seems at times as innocently wicked as a child stirring up the ant hill, just to see what happens.  He gains nothing, but also loses nothing; in most comic-book action movies, this might play as anti-climactic, and here some people might think it holds true, but for me it couldn’t have gone any other way, because the story was never really about Batman versus the Joker.  It’s telling that the very final confrontation in the film isn’t between them, but rather between Wayne, Dent and Gordon.

Somehow, I feel like the origin story for the Joker is a more organic affair, like perhaps he just came into existence after Batman did, as a natural balancer of some kind, fulfilling the law that every action has an equal and opposite reaction.  I think Nolan very clearly conveys his idea that it was Batman who raised the stakes, and the larger than life villains that will haunt him have come into being because he upped the ante in the first place.  Bruce Wayne dared the corrupt and the darkness, and it answered back, which ultimately leads us to ask whether Batman does more good or bad by being.  Certainly in this story there are grounds to argue the latter, Gordon being the only one spared tragedy.

I felt after watching The Dark Knight less like I’d seen a movie and more like I’d just finished a particularly thought-provoking Faulkner or Ellison novel, and I want to go back and read it again.  Then I want to go and sit with my high school English class or my university comparative literature class and talk about it for hours.  Then I want to write a paper on it.  Then maybe read papers written by other people, and then talk about it some more.  I mean, I’ve written over 2,000 words on it here already, and I haven’t even started to talk about Gordon, Rachel, Alfred or Fox.  I could probably go for another 2,000 on the Joker alone if I set my mind to it.  I liked this movie, not because it was a Batman movie, but because it made me think about things I hadn’t thought of before, and I like that.  A lot.

I have only one further question about this movie to pose to the interwebs in general, and it is this:

Why — why — was the mayor wearing such thick black eyeliner and mascara?  Why?

 

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Crushing All Over Narnia

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

True to my word, I did see Prince Caspian last night.

Now before I get my ramble on, I thought it might be good to let y’all know that I’ve never actually read this book, or any other book in the Narnia series besides The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, so I can’t compare it to the original source material.  Why haven’t I read it?  No good reason, really… just never got around to it, and I’ll admit that the Narnia universe never quite captured my imagination as a kid to the same extent other things did.

The Spoil-Me-Not version is that I thought it was smashing, and in a lot of ways I liked it even more than The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.

Firstly, from the point of view of a movie-goer whose previous knowledge of this franchise consists of more or less everything that was in the first movie, there was exactly the right amount of exposition and back-story given pretty much at exactly the right time.  I had my guard up during those first scenes in the Telmarine stronghold, wondering if I was going to shortly be hopelessly lost and confused.  It did take me a few minutes to get on board with their accents enough to follow some of the dialogue, but the writers teased me along the Prince Caspian story arc with just enough to keep me engaged, while flipping back often enough to the Pevensies to keep me grounded in the tale I already knew.  Considering how much information needed to be dispensed to get me up to speed, it all felt very organic, natural, and not at all Hermione-Quotes-From-A-Book-She-Read-Once-ish.  So props to the script writers.

I thought all four of the children played their roles well — props especially to Skander Keynes and Georgie Henley as Edmond and Lucy, who did an impressive job portraying adult-ish minds in children’s bodies.  The transformation of Edmond in particular from his first-film self was notable and entirely believable — seeing him resignedly help headstrong Peter when he needs it most knowing their history speaks to the maturity of this boy who became comfortable in his role under Peter and a king in his own right.  The character of Edmond has become the most fascinating to me, and I can already sense plot-bunnies in our future.

It was fantastic to see these kids kick some serious ass in the battle sequences (again, Edmond’s ability in the short fight scene with Trumpkin on the beach delighted and enthralled me, and bad-ass Susan was a treat every time she made an appearance), especially looking back on their blatant awkward newbiness in Wardrobe.  My only complaint is that I’d like to have seen Lucy given a little more equal treatment in this regard.  Certainly back in Wardrobe it was hinted that she was ace with her snazzy dagger, and it would have been nice to see her sniper it once or twice to reinforce that she’s more than just the girl who runs to Aslan for help all the time.  I’m not saying she should have changed the tide of battle or anything, but it might have been nice to see that she could take care of herself well enough.  Ah well.  

The eye candy in this movie is definitely drool-worthy.  Everyone’s talking about sexy Ben Barnes as Prince Caspian (as well they should be because he is the hot), but I’d like to put forth that William Moseley and Skander Keynes should not be overlooked.  Peter might have been a bit of a aggressive snot here and there, but he was blond-haired beautiful and kingly-arrogant while he was doing it, which earns him my fangirlish attention.  As for Keynes, I’ve already mentioned my character-crush on him, and the fact that he looks more like a young man than a boy in this flick certainly doesn’t hurt.

But my biggest lust-crush of this entire film?  Not to Ben Barnes (sorry to disappoint) does this honour go, but rather to shockingly beautiful Anna Popplewell.  I mean, she was pretty enough in the last movie as a girl, but as a young woman in this movie the only thing I can say is wow!  Something about those eyes with that complexion and that hair combined with the shape of her face just captured me.  And then she’d go and be all completely awesome in the fight sequences, and my legs would get uncontrollably wobbly.  That bit where she takes out the half-dozen Telmarines on horseback by herself?  And then that panning shot in the final battle where she’s kicking ass and taking names?  *fans self*  There are just too damn many options for my Mary Sue to choose from in this one.  *angsts à la Twilight*

The only thing that didn’t really work in this movie for me was the whole thread with the other two Telmarine lords, Sopespian and Glozelle.  Eh…?  It seemed like they were getting set up to be the ol’ reliable bad-guys-that-turn-good-in-the-nick-of-time, but it turns out not so much.  They spend the entire movie being queasy with Miraz’s tactics, and then Sopespian whips out a plot device and starts the whole epic battle, I guess just because he felt like it.  Then he got eaten by a river.  *snerk*  

Trumpkin the sarcastic dwarf and Reepicheep the swashbuckling mouse did their duties as comic relief in a way that was entertaining without being irritating.  Trumpkin’s brand of deadpan humour was particularly well-placed, and his awkward friendship with Lucy in which he never once breaks character is in dozens of ways far more interesting and entertaining than her sugary-sweet relationship with Mr. Tumnus.  Reepicheep remained largely undeveloped, but was clever enough to be remembered.

I’ll probably buy this one, if for no other reason than to pacify my love of Edmond and Susan (the individuals, not the ship), and as straight-up eye-candy goes, Caspian can rule my kingdom any day.  *rowr*  That I’ll shell out the thirty bucks for this one should say something about how much I enjoyed it, especially considering I don’t even own Wardrobe.

Or it could just be that, sometimes, I like shallow fangirling.  Whatever.

 

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Indiana Jones and the Anvils of Unusual Size

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

I realized yesterday during one of many epic conference calls at work that I’ve started to adopt corporate culture phrases, like “level set” and “hill climb”.  I’ve started speaking the language, and while there are some benefits to be had of the fitting-in variety, the word I really want to use to describe this development is “ugh”.

It seems most of y’all think my handwriting is nifty-looking.  o_O  It is a bit unique, I’ll give it that.

I’m still eye-rolling through Twilight — mockery is a fun way to spend my breaks, and offers some relief from the never-ending nightmare that is my life on speaker-phone this week; the gratuitous narration and love-angst practically oozes off my screen.

I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate how much I hate speaker-phones.  Really, really hate.  The sort of hate that tightens in on itself and pressurizes until it implodes and creates a black-hole of loathing that sucks in other unsuspecting things as they innocently wander by.  I hold a similarly compounded spite for celery.  

In other news, I saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull this weekend, and my non-spoilery opinion of it is that it scores 4 stars for being completely consumable and entertaining action, which I feel is 96% the point of an Indiana Jones movie.

As for my spoilery opinion, I feel this movie suffers from some of the same sort of anvilicious problems that Twilight does, meaning simply that there are points (plot related or otherwise) that are so over-pounded into the headsof the audience that they become extremely irritating.  If you hadn’t already deduced this the newest Dr. Jones episode was all about aliens by the time they found the skull, then you’re the sort of dumb usually reserved for inanimate objects.  To top off the anvil-metre, they’re even cliche-looking aliens in a stereotypically spinning, round space ship.  I think the art-design budget got missed in all that action-design and stunt coordinating, and the only art direction they had was old B-roll from the Twilight Zone.

The action is pretty much all completely unbelievable, but it’s supposed to be so it’s perfectly acceptable; high on the list of contenders for Most Ridiculous Thing In An Action Movie goes that bit where Indy tucks himself into a lead-lined refrigerator to survive an atomic bomb.  As for the rest of it, I give it all the big thumbs up except for that section with the killer ants.  *shivers*  I have no idea what actually happened in that section, because as soon as they started spilling out of the ant hill I closed my eyes and plugged my ears until someone elbowed me, indicating it was all over and safe to come out from behind my hands.  I suspect, however, that several people were eaten by bloodthirsty ants, which is a too-horrible way for anyone to kick it in my opinion.  I heard Cate Blanchett squished one with her knees, which was apparently squelchy.

Cate Blanchett was in tip-top awesome form insofar as I’m concerned, even despite the train-wreck Russian accent (which may or may not have been on purpose).  She commited to the outrageousness of the role she’d been given full-throttle, which is the only choice when faced with such ridiculousness as a Russian KGB paranormal specialist in an Indiana Jones/alien movie.  She got her action on just as well (in some places better) than the boys did while never fogetting to punctuate with the funny.

I liked Shia LeBeouf in Transformers, and my opinion of him didn’t really change.  This particular role didn’t give him as much comedic material to sink his teeth into, but heck, he got to sword-fight on the trunk of a jeep driving at breakneck speed through the jungle, so what’s to complain about?  The Villiage People hat upstaged him more than perhaps the wardrobe department thought it would, and after Transformers something about the idea of Shia as a rough’n’tumble ’50s greaser never quite connected as believable, but overall I’d say Hollywood’s probably found another action star.  I’m not sure we need a Mutt Williams franchise (though the hints that we might get one if this latest in the Jones series is successful was another heaping spoonful of anvil) but probably Shia’s gonna find himself shortlisted on up and coming action-packed adventures.  

It had waterfalls, car chases, quicksand, horrible man-eating insects, terrible accents, sword fights, (nuclear) explosions, Harrison Ford wincing, double-crosses, triple-crosses, Indy’s man-purse, a crazy old man wearing a poncho clutching a cheap-looking prop, plenty of tombs and secret chambers and wacky underground tunnels, villianous villians, and stereotypical natives**.  What more do you want from an Indiana Jones movie, really?

** Some people have expressed concern that once again Hollywood has embraced the cliche characterisation of tribal “savage” people, and they probably have a broader point that’s fair, but I would just like to point out that the natives aren’t by a longshot the only people made fun of in this movie.  Consider the ways professors, greasers, Soviets, FBI agents, and aliens (to name a few) are portrayed in this film, and I think it’s fair to say that the way the tribal people are represented fits with the general parody-rich theme of the overall movie.

I think we’re seeing Prince Caspian tonight and Sex in the City on Friday.  At some point I might ramble a bit about Ironman, which I saw a couple of weeks ago and enjoyed, when I’m in the mood.  In the meantime, this post is quite long enough already…

 

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Excited about Cowboys and Disappointed about Pirates

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

My sister called me last night in a fit of squee and for several terrifying moments I wondered who this high-pitched squealing voice on the other end of the phone was and what I had done to deserve such ear-piercing savagery. After I figured out who it was (which is no small feat with my sister, because when you ask her she just keeps saying “it’s me, it’s me” over and over again like that’s her name or something) she breathlessly informed me that she had found The Magnificent Seven Seasons One and Two available for sale on Amazon.

Seasons One and Two!

Holy how much did I adore that show. That show that gave me oodles of tough, manly adorable cowboy-men with tortured and tangled pasts and a penchant for shooting things that made them mad. That show with Ezra and Chris and Vin and most of all Ezra. And Ezra’s mother. *hugs Amazon.com receipt* And it’s on its way to me as we speak. Sometime in the next week and a half it will arrive and I will finally get to see episodes that I never got to see in the second season because I was ranch-bound. My sister and I will huddle together on the floor (still couchless) and gaze up in rapture as the show plays out for us and we re-live the obsession.

I am shamelessly excited about this. My sister and I gabbled in high-pitched tones as I ordered them online right away. Best sixty dollars I have spent in a long time.

So. Can I just say that I’m more than a little disappointed in the latest inception of Pirates of the Caribbean. I’m getting royally tired of big-budget movies spending all their time and energy on post production and fancy-shmancy CGI and glossing over the whole writing and story-boarding process which is, arguably, the most important part of the whole ordeal. This movie was confusing. The plot was like a tangled mass of knots, many of which were abandoned haphazardly mid-way. The battle and fight sequences were by and large boring and uninspired and hampered by excessive CG effects that weren’t necessary. The scope of the battles were too large and too wide and too focused on The Black Pearl and The Flying Dutchman instead of the characters we have invested all this frustrating time following. They presented us with two impressive armadas, then only used three ships in the actual epic battle, which makes the whole thing much less epic and more skirmishy. The rest of them just waved flags and growled a lot from the sidelines.

Jack Sparrow’s existential journey in The Locker was uninspired and more awkwardly odd than either amusing or insightful. Calipso’s entire storyline apparently only served to give the final battle a helluva CG storm that did nothing but make it even harder to follow the action as a viewer. Davey Jones, who in Dead Man’s Chest was at least an interesting character study, is reduced to some kind of hapless henchman and his death is meaningless and completely anti-climatic. His character is completely static in this movie, like a passing villain on an episode of The Disney Afternoon. What was the point of putting him and Calipso on an intercept course if they weren’t going to do anything with it? With either of them. Why was Calipso imprisoned in the first place by a bunch of crazy pirates? Why was she then released? What purpose did she actually serve in the plot other than to be walking, talking exposition and a bit of moody rain?

Why wasn’t Jack’s piece of nine his hat? I mean, come on obvious. He’s been chasing that hat around since the beginning of the first movie… what better way to tie in this constant need to make sure he has his hat with an actual point? It should have been his hat, just like it was whats-his-name’s eye. For God sakes, could Disney get nothing right?

And why the hell did Jack’s versions of himself follow him out of Davey Jones’ locker? I get they thought it would be funny. It was… not. It was strange and confusing and made Jack less of the character he was. The original Jack Sparrow was eccentric. This movie made him an animated caricature. Roger Rabbit in a pirate costume.

The writing and pre-conception of this movie was pitiful. I left the theatre completely unfulfilled and feeling like I’d been cheated out of eleven dollars. I don’t understand how Hollywood can constantly believe that people won’t notice poor writing if they put enough special effects in. People don’t go to these kinds of movies just to be impressed by wacky monsters and ships circling each other in a whirlpool, they go for a good story. You’ve got to give them that at least or all you’ve got is the window dressing sitting in a heap in the middle of the room.

Spiderman and Pirates. What a disappointing beginning for this summer’s lineup.

 

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