The Dark Knight Rises (2012) – Movie Review

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First of all, Nolan has made the greatest trilogy of all time, and while the film probably won’t demand repeat viewings like The Dark Knight, it’s narrative structure and beautiful photography by Pfister, make this film the superior one in the series.

Where the first movie explored fear and the second movie chaos and anarchy, this film is based on redemption and pain, because as many people have stated, both Bane and Bruce experience pain throughout the movie.

And this is what makes Bane an interesting villain; he is very similar to Batman. As Nietzsche once said, “you stare into the abyss long enough, it will stare back at you”. Bane is Batman’s abyss, what he would have become if he had joined the League.

Structurally the movie fits in perfectly with the others, and this is what makes this the best trilogy of all. Everyone is dedicated to Nolan’s vision; from the cast to the crew, they believe in what he has done, and this makes it a better viewing experience for the audience.

The cast are fantastic and the ending is perfect. Wayne has paid his debt to Gotham, and Gotham to him, after all it took away his parents and made him unhinged. But this movie finally shows him at peace and the last scene confirms that this epic trilogy is over.

Nolan resurrected a franchise that died with the release of Batman and Robin, and has managed to give the movie a conclusion that not only respects the source material, but the audience as well.

A must see, and the best film of 2012.

 

8 out of 10 stars

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The Dark Knight (2008) – Movie Review

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Christopher Nolan must be one of the most admired men in the film industry of late. Having been handed a superhero franchise crumbling under its own campiness and trusted with the task of revamping it, adding a firm undercurrent of complexity without sacrificing the inherent enjoyment associated with a man dressing as a bat battling the criminal underworld, Nolan thrived upon the challenge, his Batman Begins providing a new height in the genre and one of the most acclaimed films of the year. And as seemingly impossible as it may have seemed to top his first effort, Nolan appears to have tapped into even more film-making genius, his peerless imagination, courage and unwavering control over every facet of his production making The Dark Knight a seamless, dazzlingly complex sequel to an already essentially flawless first effort – it is near impossible to envision the film being any stronger.

Though the film embraces similar themes and plays to all the strengths of the genre, in the end the film proves a ‘comic book movie’ essentially in name only, as it feels as if Nolan has seamlessly melded several films into one, the tone varying from ultra realistic crime dramas (such as Nolan’s inspiration, Michael Mann’s Heat) to using the template of the traditional superhero/supervillain conflict as a parable of good, evil and the constant ambiguity and overlap between. In a particularly chilling passage, the Joker disturbingly dissects the effects of Batman and himself on Gotham city and how the friction between “an unstoppable force and an immovable object”, or Batman’s unwavering dedication to justice counterbalancing the Joker’s obsession with chaos and disarray simply leads to everlasting conflict. “I feel like we could do this forever”, the Joker wryly states, and with such chilling, exhilarating and fiendishly complex results, the possibility is mouth-watering indeed.

In fact, if one was to extract any form of complaint from such a complex marvel of a film it would be that through the film’s consistent breakneck pace and flurry of new plot points and story arcs, the audience is somewhat deprived of the chance to savour some of the film’s elements, to take a moment to drink in the all-around-mastery, from the quiet character moments to the jaw dropping stunts or flooring performances. But there can be little doubt that this is fully Nolan’s intent, as The Dark Knight proves an entirely different animal than its predecessor: less about characters (though their development in the simply superb screenplay by Nolan and his brother Jonathan is near flawless) than broad statements, and the lack of quiet, reflective moments simply furthering the chaotic, uncertain feel of the story. However, despite the vast, epic array of content, it never feels like Nolan has bitten off more than he can chew, but rather the viewer is challenged to keep up with his immense vision.

However, those expecting a light-hearted, carefree action romp will find themselves somewhat taken aback, as the film is aptly titled, ‘dark’ being the operative word. Never before has a comic book film boasted a tone of such crushing realism and devastating, visceral wrenching of emotions. Yet despite the absence of outright bombastic fun, never does the question “why so serious?” emerge, as The Dark Knight could never have been anything but, yet never proves overly morose to the point of preventing entertainment. Similarly, those fearing the genre becoming overly cerebral need not fear the action frontier being sacrificed, as Nolan somehow manages to again up the ante on his first effort’s already breathless action sequences, providing enough explosions and brief but ferociously intense combat scenes to sate any action enthusiast without sacrificing an ounce of complexity. The sweeping, sumptuous cinematography and soaring score by two of modern cinema’s finest composers, Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard completes the sublime package, making for a technically savoury masterpiece.

Christian Bale once again gives a remarkable performance, breathing consistently credible life into each of the title character’s dual identities, providing a wistful desperation for a Bruce Wayne tantalised by the prospect of abandoning Batman while his alter ego is needed more than ever by his crumbling city. However, despite Bale’s powerhouse lead there can be no doubt that the film’s primary selling point is the flat out terrifying yet mesmerizing performance by the tragically late Heath Ledger. His anarchistic Joker unquestionably steals the show (no easy feat), flipping between darkly hilarious and chilling while remaining a consistently fascinating and compelling creation – a frighteningly real antagonist for the ages, and easily one of the most visibly unsettling and powerful performances in decades. Aaron Eckhart is similarly superb as Harvey Dent, Gotham’s new tenaciously dedicated district attorney, and his inevitable fall from earnest grace is truly affecting, with Eckhart perfectly essaying the shift from charismatic to horrifying. Michael Caine offers a perfect dose of wry humour and inspiration as Wayne’s trusted butler Alfred, and Gary Oldman gives a rousingly sympathetic performance as fiercely honest cop Jim Gordon, with Oldman giving one of the most credible heroic performance in recent memory. Morgan Freeman remains pure class as Wayne’s CEO and Batman’s secret outfitter, and Maggie Gyllenhaal proves a far superior replacement to Katie Holmes, adding a witty spark to an otherwise standard love interest role.

Never once patronising its audience, The Dark Knight proves easily the most mature, staggeringly intelligent, insightful, breathless and pitch black comic book adaptation to grace the screen in recent memory, and arguably ever. Indeed, the Joker’s declaration of Batman’s effect on Gotham’s criminals proves prophetic and parallels the effect of the film itself on its medium – there can be little doubt that The Dark Knight has changed the face of what can be expected out of a comic book movie, dispelling critical scorn and rivalling any “serious film” in terms of complexity and film-making mastery. Never again will the face of comic book movies be the same – “there’s no going back”.

 

5 out of 5 stars

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Batman Begins (2005) – Movie Review

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It sickened me in the past to see the Batman movie franchise slowly digging it’s way to an early grave. After the quality Tim Burton films, the series pretty much went down the toilet, beginning a horrifically campy age of ‘Bat credit-cards’ and an armored Arnold Schwarzenegger tossing cringe-worthy puns at a Batman who seemed to be trying not to be embarrassed by the fact that his costume had nipples. So what could Warner Brothers producers hope to do to resurrect the franchise? Pretend it never happened, and start the whole series over again with a talented director, compelling story and capable cast.

Enter Christopher Nolan, the mastermind behind 2000’s ‘Momento’, widely praised as one of the most innovative films of the decade. As director/co- screenwriter, Nolan creates a richly dark, atmospheric world for Batman to inhabit, similar to that of the Burton films, but less cartoony. The film’s screenplay, written by Nolan and David S. Goyer is quality stuff, it’s true that some of the dialog exchanges can seem kind of contrived, particularly between Wayne and Liam Neeson’s character, Ducard, but it sounds so classy you tend not to care.

Nolan also puts a lot of trust in his audiences to stay put while the first hour of the film comprehensively explores Bruce Wayne’s backstory, with no cape donning and few fight sequences. Nevertheless, the pace never slows, and the story is so unexpected and fascinating (who would have expected a Batman film to begin in a prison in Tibet? only Nolan could pull it off!) there’s little chance of us losing interest. And this way, we really get a sense of who Bruce Wayne is, a trait none of the past movies were able to capture, including the Burton films. We see what drives him, what leads him to become this iconic crime fighter, and the reasoning behind the mask.

Of course, to help the audience get under Bruce Wayne’s skin, it doesn’t hurt to have such a talented lead as Christian Bale. Bale has been emerging as one of the most talented actors of his generation, and he brings that talent to a peak here, playing the darkest of all superheroes. If you were to break down the role of Batman/Bruce Wayne, you would find that it is essentially three characters: Wayne as Batman, behind the mask; Wayne’s public facade as the billionaire playboy; and the real, brooding Bruce Wayne. Bale plays all three of the characters to absolute perfection, and molds them together well enough to make it clear to show they are still the same person. He has been given tons of accolades for his performance already, and needless to say, he deserves every one.

And the sheer quality of the supporting cast is mind-boggling, if for the number of big names only. It’s very hard to find a weak spot in the incredibly strong array of performances here, but if one had to be found, it would have to be Katie Holmes. It’s not that she gives a bad performance, on the contrary, but just she seems too young to be convincing as a district attorney. For me, Michael Gough will always be the definitive Alfred, but Michael Caine does an excellent job of taking over the role, giving a very strong (and often funny) performance. Liam Neeson is sheer class as Ducard, Wayne’s mysterious mentor, as is Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, Wayne’s arms manufacturer and provider of the Batman gear. It’s wonderful to see the incredibly talented and much underrated Gary Oldman as Sgt. Gordon, the only decent cop in Gotham, and he truly makes the role his own. Even cult favorite Rutger Hauer makes an appearance as Richard Earle, the ambitious head of Wayne Enterprises. And (surprise surprise!) the villains are also actually menacing for once, as opposed to cartoony and corny. Cillian Murphy just about walks away with the show as the truly chilling Scarecrow (the sequences involving his ‘fear gas’ are surprisingly frightening) Ken Watanabe is mysterious and creepy as guild leader Ra’s Al Ghul and Tom Wilkinson is very convincing as Carmine Falcone, head of the Gotham city mob.

Nolan’s knack for realism also comes as a breath of fresh air in this age of CGI bloated blockbusters – there are next to no computer generated shots in the movie, even a sequence with Batman standing on top of a high building staring down at the city was filmed with a stuntman. And it really works, the Batmobile actually interacts with it’s environment, and looks so much better real than computer generated. But don’t think that the film will come across as too serious and stuffy because of Nolan’s realism – true, Gotham seems too dark and dirty to come across as a fantasy world, but Batman Begins retains that unmistakable sense of fun that seems to only be present in comic book movies. We jeer and fear the villains, and cheer the hero as he lays his life on the line to vanquish evil and save the city. And that is how it should be. There’s even a surprising twist near the end, which is doubly surprising because it actually comes as a shock. What’s not to love here?

(and, further cudos to director Nolan for finally managing to make a swarm of bats actually frightening for once)

Overall, I’d have to label Batman Begins ‘A must see movie’ – it’s a well written, authoritatively directed, impeccably acted (especially by Bale’s powerhouse lead performance and Cillian Murphy’s sickly menacing Scarecrow) and very high quality production. Indeed, most other summer blockbusters could learn a thing or two from Batman Begins. If the Batman franchise died under it’s own gaudiness years ago, let us rejoice this glorious rebirth – Batman truly does begin here.

 

5 out of 5 stars

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Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) – Movie Review

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This spy action comedy sees English director Matthew Vaughn taking the classic James Bonds films and spinning them into a sweet, yet audacious comedic spoof. Following his success with 2010’s ‘Kick- Ass’, which showcased a tongue-in-cheek approach at the superhero genre, Vaughn orchestrates a fast-paced action vehicle that echoes the classic 007 flicks, but with an over-the-top, stylized approach that allows for a reasonable examination of what an R-rated James Bond mixed with raunchy humor would resemble. Although the film proceeds with a mean- spirited streak and experiments with humor in unapologetic territory, Vaughn crafts his concept with wit and cleverness. There is rarely a moment that goes wasted in the final product. And most importantly, the film is fully self-aware of what it is and does not aim to take itself too seriously. That is the beauty of what makes Kingsman a hell of a lot of fun. This film follows Eggsy Unwin (played by Taran Edgerton), a young man in his early twenties, the son of a former British spy who was slain in a mission gone awry. Following his arrest for a petty crime, Eggsy come face-to-face with Harry Hart a.k.a. Galahad (played by Colin Firth) who introduces him to a secret spy organization known as The Kingsman, headed by Chester King (played by Michael Caine). Their goal is recruit spies and train them to defeat an maniacal millionaire tech genius named Richmond Valentine (played by Samuel L. Jackson). With a mind-controlling chips inserted inside the brains of millions of people around the globe, Valentine’s evil plan is lead everyone on Earth to kill each other and start a new world order, and with Gazelle (played by Sofia Boutella), a martial arts woman with prosthetic legs with blades for weapons, on his side. So it is up to Eggsey and the rest of the Kingsman to stop his diabolical, or face an unspeakable global disaster.

Matthew Vaughn clearly has his tongue in his cheek when approaching the classic spy genre, with characters spewing references of James Bond sporadically throughout the picture, along with the various action elements owing homages to the British spy of cinema. Does the director’s comedic approach work? In many ways, absolutely. The movie follows a plot that is almost never meant to be taken seriously, as opposed to the more darker elements that escalate a few scenes. When the action kicks in, there is plenty of violence and a wild barrage of raunchy dialogue and humor taps at the funny bone, while echoing the bold comedic-style of ‘Kick-Ass’. It is hard not to indulge in the fun of Colin Firth beating down the bad guys in a bar, while admiring the slick, stylized execution of the action. In the process, the director always keeps things moving and almost never lets any jokes go to waste. There are a few moments where Vaughn tends to push the envelop with his comedic streak, particularly for the conservative right. Easily the scene that best demonstrates this is one involving a violent massacre at Baptist church filled with a hatred-spewing congregation, apparently paying homage to Westboro Baptist. On the other hand, this film never fails to have a good time while allowing you to turn your brain off. Colin Firth demonstrates a humorous streak with subversive dialogue and raunchy jokes. Mark Strong, playing an ally of the Kingsman gets the job done. Samuel L. Jackson, playing a maniacal villain with the persona resembling Dr. Evil from ‘Austin Powers’, shines with suitable over-the-topness of a villain with a morbid, yet humorous energy. Then there is Taran Egerton, playing a naive young man going from zero to hero, who evolves with solid charisma.

Kingsman: The Secret Service is a high-octane spy action comedy blistering with rewarding comedic energy and fun that is simply irresistible, at least for those who can skim past the questionably bold humor. Matthew Vaughn lives up to his directorial talent, surpassing the over-the-top superhero spectacle that was ‘Kick-Ass’. To say the least, this movie is a total blast in the spirit of the graphic novels.

 

9 out of 10 stars

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Interstellar (2014) – Movie Review

Not many directors have the clout of Christopher Nolan. Most of them receive notes from their fretting studios: suggestions (or demands) to change plot points or highlight certain characters/actors, which must be adhered to for contractual or financial reasons. With huge, intelligent blockbuster successes like the Dark Knight franchise and Inception, Nolan has deservedly won carte blanche from Warner Bros. for Interstellar – he gets garguantan sums of money and complete autonomy to realise his artistic vision. In effect, he’s making an indie movie on a blockbuster scale. Ironically, this lack of oversight might be just what keeps Interstellar – a very good, occasionally brilliant foray into the furthest reaches of our galaxy and beyond – from greatness.

Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a former pilot and engineer, is now reluctantly scraping together a living as a farmer on a starving Earth. With sandstorms swirling and food supplies dwindling by the day, it doesn’t seem likely that Cooper’s children, stoic Tom and inquisitive Murphy, will have much of a world left to inherit when they grow up. While investigating a “ghost” in Murphy’s bedroom, Cooper deciphers a message that brings him to a top-secret NASA base. Once there, Cooper learns from his former mentor, Dr Brand (Michael Caine), that NASA is looking for solutions to Earth’s crisis in other galaxies. A recently-opened wormhole has given NASA and its scientists access to a whole new galaxy of planets. Brand appeals to Cooper to pilot the final and most important mission: to determine whether any of three identified planets can truly host human life. But it’s a journey from which Cooper might never return – one that will take him away from his kids and everything he has ever known and loved.

That’s not even the half of it – Nolan’s narrative is a sprawling, ambitious one that asks heavy metaphysical questions about the position and role of humanity in the universe, filtered through the prism of a father and daughter whose bond transcends time and space. It’s shot through with complex scientific theories about wormholes and time travel courtesy of theoretical physicist Kip Thorne (who served as a consultant on the film). Indeed, much of Interstellar plays with such philosophical gravity that one can’t help wondering if it’s simply too deep a subject to be effectively communicated in a movie that must also create emotional stakes and real characters.

Clocking in at almost three hours, Interstellar pulses with intelligence and occasional bursts of brilliance. The science and emotion of its story works best on each planet they manage to visit, with Nolan crafting some chillingly smart sci-fi moments amidst the human drama experienced by Cooper’s crew. As badly as Cooper wants to save enough fuel to make the return trip home, Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway) has both professional and personal stakes in visiting the planet that’s furthest away from the wormhole. They trade hope for time, the minutes they use to hunt for salvation translating into the loss of decades with their loved ones. The film is at its best when the members of the Endurance – including David Gyasi’s Romilly and Wes Bentley’s Doyle – confront one another, and establish contact (or fail to do so) with the scouting teams that preceded them through the wormhole.

But Interstellar also suffers from a bloated and faintly silly final act. The science of it may be well-founded (who knows, after all, what miraculous answers really do lie within a black hole?) and the concept very cool, but it doesn’t quite translate as such. Instead, the film hyper-blasts itself into a oddly cheerful (and confusing) ending that feels purely fictional and not at all scientific. There’s no denying, either, that Nolan could have carved half an hour or more out of Interstellar without losing any of its narrative or emotional density. Instead, many scenes unfold in an almost obstinately languid fashion, including a moment when Cooper is left gasping for oxygen on the icy terrain of an alien planet. It’s pretty evident, too, that Nolan really wanted to make sure his audiences knew how little greenscreen he used to make the film; for no other discernible reason, his camera lingers in extreme close-up – and far too often – on the exterior shells of the various spacecrafts designed for the film.

Nolan can afford the best when it comes to his cast as well, and it shows. McConaughey anchors the film with a gravitas and tenderness quite unknown before his career McConnaissance, and he’s ably supported by a steely Hathaway, whose character, just like the film she’s in, blends cold, pragmatic science with a churning wealth of emotion. Jessica Chastain and Matt Damon, in roles perhaps best left unspecified to avoid any explicit spoilers, are excellent too – the former radiates quite enough warmth and intelligence to make us believe that she can save the world, and the latter admirably treads in morally grey areas to good effect.

For months before its release, Nolan kept Interstellar firmly under wraps. Everyone speculated that it would be a game-changer – a sci- fi blockbuster as thrilling and thought-provoking as it is entertaining. In some ways, that’s true of the final product: Nolan’s film is brave, brainy film-making, and it looks absolutely spectacular. But, on closer examination, Interstellar loses some of its gloss and varnish – and beneath it all lies an unwieldy script that meanders a little too long and wastes a little too much of the big, breathtaking ideas that underpin its story.

 

7 out of 10 stars

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Now You See Me – Movie Review

They say a good magician never reveals their tricks. Well, such a notion is one painfully dismissed in Louis Leterrier’s unrelenting crime thriller Now You See Me, a picture that lays all of its cards on the table, only to uncover one or two jokers in the pack.

When a collection of four aspiring magicians J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) are brought together by a mysterious individual, they unite to create the Four Horseman, revelling in the media attention surrounding their daring and unexplainable magic stunts. However following a trick whereby they rob a bank in Paris – they catch the unwanted attention of FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and colleague Alma Dray (Mélanie Laurent), as a dangerous game of cat and mouse transpires; a game that springs many surprises along the way.

If there is one aspect to Now You See Me that you simply can’t fault, it’s the entertainment value on offer, as the audience are taken on a ride along with the hapless pair of law enforcement officers, all of us equally unaware of exactly how the this seemingly nonchalant collective are committing such grandiose crimes in the name of magic. Although trashy at times, Now You See Me is relentlessly good fun, keeping the audience completely captivated right up until the bitter end, as we desperately try to figure out how this picture may conclude.

Unfortunately, however, it is the very conclusion that completely lets this title down, and given the nature of this film – one that builds up dramatically to the finale – there are simply no excuses for offering such a lacklustre and anticlimactic ending. Due to the intricate story and the excessive narrative at hand, it was always going to be an immensely challenging task to tie this story together triumphantly, which begs the question; why bother?

Now You See Me is effectively one long magic trick, and we don’t need to discover how it all works, as this defeats the object somewhat. Given the immoderate and surrealistic nature of this film, combined with the prevalent theme of magic, Leterrier has earned himself the right not to have to tie up all loose ends. However instead we are mistreated to an ending so convoluted it simply devalues what came before. It’s not often this is the case, but perhaps an air of ambiguity would be preferable, because to an extent we are actually better off without clarity.

In the meantime, the stellar cast  – which also includes Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine – ensure that this tantalising story is brought to life, with both Ruffalo and Laurent sharing the majority of the finest scenes. The one performer who seems out of place however is Eisenberg, who fails to be truly believable as our charismatic lead. In the past this young actor has excelled in roles somewhat more inadequate and endearing, masterfully depicting the diffident intellectual in the likes of The Social Network and Zombieland. He simply doesn’t seem naturally at home with this confident and obnoxious role, resulting in a handful of cringeworthy sequences.

That aside, Now You See Me is certainly good value for money, and although bearing a disappointing end, everything that comes before is exciting and enjoyable to say the least.

 

6 out of 10