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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Ted 2 (2015) – Movie Review

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The obvious theme of Ted 2 is the expansion of civil rights in America. The film opens and closes with come-to-life teddy bear Ted marrying full-size sexpot Tami-Lyn. Between those ceremonies Ted is stripped of his legal status as a human. He is defined as property, therefore disqualified for a job, credit cards, bank accounts and marriage. He can even be abducted and cut open without legal recourse. The plot aligns Ted’s fight for recognition with America’s stuttering battles over civil rights, from reluctantly accepting the humanity of blacks and women to accepting gay marriages.

The film’s structural theme is the celebration of pop culture. As Ted wins acknowledgment of personhood, the film exercises the recognition of popular culture as a valid form of artistic expression, an art as capable of serious statement (e.g., civil rights, the triumph of personhood over objectification) as is traditional high art.

The spectacular pre-title Busby Berkeley musical number and the climactic chase through a comic convention clearly establish pop culture as the film’s arena of interest. Ted’s neophyte lawyer Samantha is characterized as woefully ignorant of pop culture, whereas Ted and friend John at least have the verbiage to play at being lawyers. Ted and villain Donny are drawn out of hiding by their reflex responses to pop songs. Cameo appearances by Liam Neeson, Tom Brady and the Saturday Night Live crew confirm the focus on pop culture. And after all, pop culture is as American as the — ever unending — campaign for civil rights.

Ted’s relationship with John replays the bromance genre in American film. The two love each other but are careful to exclude any homosexual implications. Both have women in their lives, John the spectre of his ex-wife and Ted his Tami-Lyn. They’re repelled by Samantha’s phallic glass hash-pipe — a schlong bong? — but Ted weakens. He adopts Rocky opponents as his surname and his adopted child’s name. John’s fake death is guy-play, an insensitivity to emotion, that Samantha properly finds horrid.

But despite that macho pretence— and Ted’s and John’s swaggering sexual profanity — there’s a curious innocence in Ted’s marriage. He and Tami-Lyn love each other despite his not having a penis. That only becomes an issue when they try to save their breaking marriage by having a child. Deploying John’s semen, they are thwarted by Tami-Lyn’s sterility.

Love without sex — that innocence evocative of Andy Hardy and the decades of romantic abstinence — puts this raunchy vulgar romp into the tradition of antique Hollywood. Significantly Ted is pantless through most of the film because — like Donald Duck and his Disney-mates — he’s asexual. When Ted starts his legal fight for personhood he wears a green tie. That’s the bud of his human clothing. At his triumphant trial, when he’s declared human, he’s wearing a full suit. He has adopted the ritual wardrobe of the human, however in his case unnecessary.

Their pro-bono lawyer Samantha, in her first case, comes on as too hip for the law. At their first meeting she’s swearing and smoking her water-pipe — an augur of her fit with these irregular clients. Though she loses the trial, she is validated by what she is, a caring, feeling person. The good woman is a good lawyer even though she lost, as the unbeaten lawyer opponent is ridiculed for being too slick to care. Similarly, the civil rights champion (Morgan Freeman) who initially refuses Ted’s case because Ted hasn’t done anything for anyone, changes his mind when he sees the love between Ted and John. That’s the crux of the civil rights controversy in America: people deserve full rights not because of what they have done or how they are classified but because they are human beings.

 

7 out of 10 stars

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Transcendence (2014) – Movie Review

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Critics and wannabe critics alike really lashed into this one. And I guess I have them to thank for me liking (not loving) this movie, as they lowered my standards significantly before I walked into the theater. Like them, my expectations were sky-high. I figured since Wally Pfister has been Christopher Nolan’s cinematographer since 2000’s Memento, maybe some sort of slow-release genius-osmosis had taken place, and Transcendence would be a stellar thriller/head- scratcher like we’ve come to expect from Nolan. Well, the cold hard fact is that it’s not. But it sure isn’t terrible.

As scientists are on the verge of a new breakthrough in A.I. technology, a rouge terrorist group known as RIFT begins knocking off labs around the country. One of their antics is the assassination, by radioactive poisoning, of scientist Dr. Will Caster. As his body slowly deteriorates, his wife and his partner work frantically work on a way to upload his mind to a computer, thus allowing him to continue his research. And as anyone could’ve guessed, the plan goes completely to hell.

Transcendence is not excellent, but it’s also not the travesty that reviews from people more reputable than me are calling it. The main problem is the script. An excellent script can make you buy into even the most ridiculous of plots, but first-time-writer Jack Paglen’s script never finds a constant tone, is unevenly paced, has underdeveloped side plots, and keeps you at arm’s length from any connection with the characters and the story. In other words, it doesn’t raise up any concerns or ideas we haven’t already seen, and the shallowness of the script gives you plenty of time to question the incongruence of the story.

Other than that, Transcendence is pretty good. Pfister’s direction is expedient, and he avoids the jumpy camera syndrome that typically plagues these kinds of movies. In fact I was even getting trappings of Chris Nolan’s directing style at times (is it just me?). The ensemble performance from the cast is solid. The cast list may look like Nolan’s leftovers, but they do an excellent job, and they make better use of the paltry script than I thought possible. Even though Pfister was behind the camera and not the cinematographer, you think he was going to let his baby look mundane? While not as gorgeous as, say Inception, Jess Hall hits it home and makes Transcendence look properly futuristic while still squeezing in some contrasting elements of nature in almost every frame.

An airtight script that rises up to the challenge was all that was needed to make Transcendence truly, um, transcendent. But it doesn’t, and the lackluster script affects every other technical aspect of this film like a virus, and makes Transcendence a pretty- to-look-at popcorn movie. I know this is Wally Pfister’s first time in the director’s chair, but I still feel he was capable of making a film more nuanced than this.

 

6 out of 10 stars

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Lucy (2014) – Movie Review

After the many scathing reviews, I went to this film with very mixed feelings. I certainly didn’t expect serious Sci-Fi – after all, I had seen the trailers – but I actually wasn’t quite sure what to expect (and I’m not sure I would have gone to see it at all, If it hadn’t been directed by Luc Besson). Well, maybe it’s just because I expected to be disappointed, but I was pleasantly surprised. ‘Lucy’ delivers a fast paced, crazy ride from start to finish, and I’m frankly a bit shocked so many people seem to hate this film with so much passion. Hadn’t they seen the trailers? I thought it was clear from the get-go that this film was first and foremost meant as entertainment (and it certainly doesn’t pretend to be the new ‘2001’).

If ‘Lucy’ were based on a comic book, I highly doubt people would be criticising it as harshly as they are. Let’s be honest: from a scientific point of view, the stories of Captain America, Superman, Thor, the Hulk, Iron Man, Spider Man and the X-Men are all enthusiastically silly. None of these stories are even remotely realistic – and they were never meant to be: that’s why they call them “SUPER-heroes”. So how come so many film fans take the “10% of the brain” premise so very, very seriously? I mean, this is Luc Besson: ‘The Fifth Element’ was just as over-the-top and most people seemed to have really enjoyed it (at least at the time; maybe now it would also get shredded to pieces for “lack of realism”). The way I see it, ‘Lucy’ is simply Besson’s take on the superhero movie (towards the end of the film, the title character actually comes across like a fun, female version of Dr Manhattan).

Granted, many aspects of ‘Lucy’ ARE very silly, but visually the film is absolutely stunning and it at least tries to tell an original story and throws in some very interesting philosophical (and yes: even scientific) concepts and questions. So not unlike the films based on Marvel or DC comics, this is a wild mix of Fantasy, Sci-Fi and Action elements – and what’s so wrong with that all of a sudden? If you watch it for what it is – a fun, fast summer movie with inventive visuals – I don’t see why you wouldn’t enjoy it. Quality-wise, this certainly isn’t ‘The Matrix’ or ‘Blade Runner’, for sure (but hey: what is?), but ‘Lucy’ is still packed with enough creative ideas and great action scenes to get your money’s worth. Plus it features Morgan Freeman and an absolutely gorgeous Scarlett Johansson.

So my verdict: It’s rare enough these days to get an original Fantasy/Sci-Fi tale with a decent budget in the first place – let alone one for grown-ups with an R-rating. It may not be as good as it could have been (and it does feel a bit rushed), but it is very far from the catastrophic mess many critics make it out to be. As far as I’m concerned, ‘Lucy’ is a fun, crazy ride from start to finish.

 

7 out of 10 stars

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The LEGO Movie (2014) – Movie Review

‘The Lego Movie’ is directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller and stars Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Will Arnett, Morgan Freeman, Alison Brie, Liam Neeson and many more.

This film follows Emmet, an ordinary guy who lives his life completely by the book (or “by the instructions”, if you will). This all changes when he becomes the center of an ancient prophecy that claims he is destined to save the world and become a ‘Master Builder’.

The first thing I’d like to point out is just how much attention is payed to detail in this film, I mean everything looks and feels magnificent. The creators obviously had a clear vision of how they wanted things to come together and I think everything came together brilliantly, this astonishing land of plastic bricks made me want to believe it was real.

Almost every character in this film is lovable in their own way and they’re brought to life by the near flawless cast that was assembled, every actor’s voice fits their respective character perfectly, especially Will Ferrell as President Business and Liam Neeson as Good Cop/Bad Cop, who, in my opinion, gave the strongest performances of the whole cast.

The humour in this film is spot on, pulling off the task of being funny for all ages without being completely stupid. Animated movies should be an exquisite blend of funny dialogue and visual humour and thankfully, ‘The Lego Movie’ is just that. The plot is solid for the first two acts, but the third act contains a touching twist that will make you realise that this story is actually completely different than what you first thought it was and honestly, it’s a twist that pays off greatly and adds some much needed emotional depth to the film. (Let’s be honest, Emmet and Wildstyle falling for each other was a tacky plot device to add a slight element of romance to the film and we all know it.)

I have practically nothing but good things to say about ‘The Lego Movie’. It’s a charming, witty, visually stunning film that proves you can make awesome movies out of just about anything, even Lego blocks. The characters are the most enjoyable bunch that I have watched in recent years and the overall message that it sends to audience members is a great one.

 

9 out of 10 stars

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