christopher nolan

[Movie Review] ‘Dunkirk’ is 2017’s Most Pummeling Onslaught of Cinematic Skill

The sights and sounds of war. That’s what Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is all about. Forget character and forget telling individual stories–this movie wants to put the audience on the front lines of land, air and sea to deliver an experience. Make no mistake, Dunkirk is one of the most incredible and unique cinematic experiences you’re likely to experience–and while there are a number of prolific filmmakers, few operate with such technical skill quite like Nolan. 

The film tells the story of British forces trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk simultaneously awaiting rescue and intermittent air attacks at the hands of Nazi forces. Nolan’s focus is that of human resolve and wordless heroism. It is true, there are few characters you can attach yourself too, but that’s not the point. Dunkirk is a film you simply live as an audience member. In the grips of war, the British forces are constantly being bombed from the air as they await military boats to take them home–said boats are themselves under attack, so the soldiers are in a harrowing fight for survival. Dunkirk’s entirety pulls the audience from those breathless sequences to show intercutting sequences of a civilian boat headed to the beach to help save soldiers and the air forces en route to pick off the enemy planes attacking the boats. 

No time is wasted in what might be Nolan’s shortest film to date. We are quite literally dropped into the thick of the fight as bullets whizz by with shocking sonic effect through the speakers. Simply sitting in your chair Dunkirk will drag you through the hell of a period during WWII of great significance–one I was previously ignorant of–but conveys war in an immediate and frighteningly human way. The sheer number of people that are in harms way and how vulnerable they are should not be lost amongst the cinematic weight of the picturesque works of art that art composed to perfection through Nolan’s vision. 

Hans Zimmer’s score ticks away from the opening moments conveying the immediacy of the action happening on screen while the sound design pummels the audience in there seats as though they are themselves on the sands of Dunkirk or alongside Tom Hardy and the breathtaking dogfights. 

The lack of character development will play out subjectively viewer to viewer–some will find it a refreshing take on the war genre, others might feel disconnected to the characters and the life and death circumstances. Nolan’s presentation of war and heroism through relentless action is unconventional to say the least and it’s exciting to be witness to a filmmaker constantly pushing himself and the medium in unexpected ways. 

A few editing woes aside, Dunkirk may be one of the best if not the best Nolan film to date. Arguably just shy of perfection the images on display are unbelievably beautiful and the scope of Nolan’s undertaking has to be considered as close to masterpiece as any working filmmaker can accomplish on a blockbuster scale. 

Rating: A

Beer Recommendation: Prize Old Ale from George Gale & Company Ltd. — I wasn’t quite sure how to pair a war movie with beer, until I was struck with curiosity during one of the final scenes. The scene in question features bottles of beer being handed to characters on a train and at the time I didn’t think to pay much attention to the label nor did I have the forethought or means to zoom in on one. With the help of google and a friend with much better eyes than mine the beer was found!

George Gale’s Prize Old Ale is unfortunately not a beer I’ve had the pleasure of trying, but the brewery has a long history and if Beer Advocate ratings are any indication iterations of the beer are still in circulation (seemingly owned by Fuller’s Brewery now), but with a different look than in Nolan’s Dunkirk. The pictured bottle simulates the label you might see in the movie–or in set photos posted online (like the one below). Since I’ve not consumed the beer, I won’t try to muddle my way through flavor notes (Beer Advocate users can help you there) that vaguely relate to the movie or the experience. Instead, this recommendation comes as a minuscule Easter Egg in history, although should you be holding a bottle or have access you can certainly sit down and toast to the soldiers at the end as you both have endured some version of the Dunkirk experience. 



Movie Review: Predestination

predestination_posterTake a look at the title, PREDESTINATION, it is ripe with possibilities and they all have roots in science fiction. It’s almost a little on the nose that the Spierig brothers decided to go so blatantly sci-fi with it. What’s not nearly as predictable is what they decided to do with the film’s familiar premise. What’s even more exciting about this movie is that with it, Michael and Peter Spierig have skyrocketed to the top or near the top of directors that I- if I had the bankroll- would write a blank check to in order for them to create whatever their heart desires for their next feature. Names like Christopher Nolan and Rian Johnson were the previous names hovering in that top spot, and with PREDESTINATION their work is strikingly similar to those two filmmakers.

Without giving away too much, PREDESTINATION, at its base is a time travel movie. One that begins as an unnamed man (played by Ethan Hawke) travels back in time to catch an elusive terrorist known as, The Fizzle Bomber. It’s eluded to that this man has made several attempts throughout his career as a “temporal agent” to stop the many bombings perpetrated by this bomber and has always come up empty handed. The problem being that The Fizzle Bomber keeps changing the dates of the attacks and his latest is set to claim the lives of over 10,000 people. Hawke’s character decides that he is going to try one last time to stop The Fizzle Bomber before decommissioning his time jump field kit- will he succeed? (more…)

Movie Review: Interstellar

interstellar_posterI suppose it was only a matter of time Christopher Nolan would come out with a movie, I’d see that movie,  I’d not completely fall in love with it and not want to immediately see it again. I’m the guy who still loves THE DARK KNIGHT RISES in spite of the fact that it’s my least favorite of Nolan’s Batman trilogy. I will still claim INCEPTION as one of my absolute favorite movies. I often won’t go to bat that Nolan’s movies are the best that have ever been made, but for my tastes specifically they fall perfectly into place. And then there’s INTERSTELLAR, a movie that should hit that proverbial sweet spot for me- Nolan, science fiction, drama and Anne Hathaway. So what went wrong? Well, before I get ahead of myself let me clarify that I did not hate this movie, but so far in the Nolan canon (granted it will take a few more viewings to say indefinitely), it’s very close to my least favorite.

The film begins in a non-disclosed future where the Earth and its inhabitants are in a real struggle. Farmer’s are Earth’s most valuable profession as the food supply is dangerously thin and the farmer’s struggle to keep crops alive. Violent dust storms roll in and eventually wreak havoc on people’s lungs. School curriculum trashes human exploration and only a certain percentage of kids are even allowed to go to college- the rest are designated farmer status. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is one of those farmers with a scientist’s brain who hates his profession. Cooper’s son is well on his way to taking over the family business while his daughter, Murph (Mackenzie Foy), has her father’s curious nature. Murph clues her father in on a strange gravity anomaly in her room which leads them to coordinates to a facility in the middle of nowhere that turns out to be the defunct remains of NASA. The folks there have secretly been carrying out space explorations in search of a planet that can facilitate human life. Naturally Cooper has history with NASA and is then recruited to pilot a crew to the many planets other explorers have been staking out. (more…)

Movie Review: Man Of Steel (2013)

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Like some, I was not overjoyed with Zack Snyder being announced as the director for a new Superman movie. It wasn’t because I don’t like him on some personal level or that he’s really a bad director- it was mostly because I absolutely hated SUCKER PUNCH. More than that, I was starting to get really tired of the same ol’ style he’d been using in all his movies like 300, WATCHMEN and of course SUCKER PUNCH. Sure the movies look pretty enough, but substance was beginning to take a backseat if it was there at all. With MAN OF STEEL Snyder takes a huge step in the right direction, even if in my opinion you can feel Christopher Nolan’s influence around every turn.

I don’t want to discredit Snyder altogether because it really is his movie and you can see his eye for action and visuals vividly in the action, but the dramatic chops and more cathartic moments are drenched in Nolanisms- not to mention how thankful I am for zero slow motion action scenes. Quite the contrary, the action is so chaotic and fast paced that it’s hard to not feel thrilled during the epic fight scenes.

An origin story in every way, MAN OF STEEL perfectly lays out the story of the fall of Krypton and how Kal-El ends up on Earth. It uses flashbacks to tell the growing pains of a boy that has no idea what he is or where he came from and grappling with the consequences of wanting to help people, but afraid of being looked at as a freak. It’s not until Earth is threatened by the shunned General Zod (Michael Shannon) that Clark Kent/Kal-El (Henry Cavill) must learn his true purpose and save Earth from his former planet’s dangerous forces.

There’s always been something about Superman as a superhero that I wasn’t in love with. With Nolan attached to the project I wondered if the goofiness I expected would be replaced with a dark tone, something I also didn’t think would work. Snyder however manages to mix the two because MAN OF STEEL has both the introspective drama that Nolan employed with Batman- albeit far more subdued- and the dumb fun ridiculous action that I really wanted to see from a superhero capable of almost anything.

If Snyder has proved anything over the years its that he has an incredible visual eye and if you enjoy nothing else from MAN OF STEEL one thing cannot be denied- it is a beautiful movie. The scenery is breathtaking at times, but the special effects are spectacular and while some of the fights have a cartoonish look to them, it’s a small price to pay when you take into consideration the superhuman feats these people are carrying out to kill one another. I have nitpicks when it comes to some logic choices during these massive action sequences, but nothing that makes the movie a total failure by any means.

Emotionally, MAN OF STEEL is always on the edge of really crossing into something fantastic, especially when it comes to a superhero movie, but it never quite gets to the next level. In some ways, it might be better that way given how all over the place it might seem if the tone is constantly shifting from cathartic drama to goofy fun action. Cavill in my opinion dances the line of charismatic superhero and dramatic lead, but never leaning to heavily toward either side. When it comes to the whole Clark Kent/Superman personas I think the casting of Cavill works because he’s got the physicality of a superhero and for the most part he has the chops to pull off what I was worried would be awfully cheesy dialogue. Shannon on the otherhand I would argue doesn’t quite hit the quality of performance I’ve come to expect from him. Moments of his turn as the villain General Zoe are great, but never as crazy as I would have liked to see.

When it comes to an origin film we become accustomed to getting less action and more set up, but MAN OF STEEL turns that on its head with some pretty incredible action sequences, but with plenty of time to round out the origins of a character that most might be familiar with, but it also works for newly initiated fans as well. It would however be easy for some to feel that when the film explodes into nothing but massive explosions and citywide destruction the film it feels empty and loses sight of its more introspective side. To an extent I’d agree, but Snyder finds a way to make it work for me without ever feeling like it was nothing more than a brainless popcorn movie. The action does tend to be big and dumb, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t fun enough for me to take it into context with the rest of the film.

For me, with Snyder to have the watchful eye and mind of Christopher Nolan he bounces back from the abysmal SUCKER PUNCH with a film that’s exponentially bigger and stronger with an actual heart in center of it. To each their own about how effective the drama lands given the big expensive special effects that fill the screen in the final acts of the film. MAN OF STEEL is a blockbuster action flick that aims to please as many people as it can, but ultimately settles on a main entree of big budget action with a side of decent character drama. To borrow from Nolan’s Batman franchise, MAN OF STEEL may not be the Superman movie we needed, but in my opinion it’s the one we deserve.

Rating: B+

Best/Worst Movies of 2012

It’s that time of year once again- the time to make new friends and enemies. Top 10 lists have the tendency to makes eyes roll and bring people’s blood to a boil either for leaving their favorite movie off the list or including a movie they hated. It never stops there though because omitting a pick is one thing, but placement is a whole separate issue because God forbid you love something a smidgen more or exponentially more than someone else. That being said, to each their own and below you can see my favorite movies of 2012 along with some honorable mentions.

As always, if you want to disagree with me even more then feel free to check out my Top 10 Horror movies of 2012 and new for this year just because I’m a glutton for punishment you can now check out my first ever 10 Best So-So Movies of 2012. Enjoy!

(10) Killing Them Softly – Kicking things off with one I don’t expect to cross over with the majority of lists you might see online is KILLING THEM SOFTLY. I believe I was clear in my indifference with the unflinching material in this film revolving around the state of the American economy which still sort of surprises me when I think about how I can still love it so much. The fact of the matter is that I still think the script is strong, just excessive in the economy talk, Brad Pitt is great and the sound design is pretty awesome as well. For me this one an extremely entertaining hitman flick that missed being just one slot higher only to the upcoming hitman flick with an even better performance from a well known actor.

(9) Killer Joe – Easing up the list we have a film not all that different from KILLING THEM SOFTLY, except that William Friedkin’s film doesn’t want to beat you over the head with economy issues and instead wants to make things real weird at the dinner table. KILLER JOE like the previous film features a killer that comes on scene and does his thing except I found Matthew McConaughey’s performance to be much more haunting, disturbing and uncomfortably hilarious. The brutality and weirdness of the final 30 minutes here isn’t as graphically disturbing as it is mentally troubling given the events that are going down. I am a movie fan that feeds on the art of performance and in terms of performers that carry their film’s KILLER JOE’s ensemble may just be the best among the list, it just falls lower on the list due to how often I think I would ever want to put myself through it again.

(8) Wreck-It Ralph  Changing pace from dark hitman thrillers to extremely light family film. I wrestled with two different animated movies to include on the list, but ultimately one I chose to include on a different list and settled on WRECK-IT RALPH to represent the animated features of 2012. Sure this isn’t quite up to par with that of the best Pixar releases, but I still found this to be a whole lot of fun. The voice actors are all cast perfectly, the animation is fantastic and there is a great balance of sweet and funny moments in the script. As a guy who falls for nostalgia on a regular basis there’s a lot in WRECK-IT RALPH that had me giggling and feeling like a kid again.

(7) Looper  If you aren’t on the Rian Johnson bandwagon, then there’s never been a better time to hop on. LOOPER is Johnson’s third effort and shows all the signs of a filmmaker with limitless creativity and a voice that I look forward to hearing from for many more years to come. This time travel drama/thriller wasn’t even what I was expecting going in and what it ended up being I loved maybe more than what I was expecting. The dual performances of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis are great and the awesome diner scene showcases that point. It may not be the balls to the wall actioner the trailer makes it out to be, but the action that’s there is a lot of fun and the script is one of the smartest of the year. If not for a few moments in the middle that it drifts off then LOOPER could have been battling for the top spot.

(6) Skyfall – It’s come to my attention just this year that I should really make time for a lot of the older Bond films. I’ve been meaning to, I just never really seem to have the time to fit them in between my regular TV and movie consumption. Thy being said I loved CASINO ROYALE and I chose not to mention the second film and loved SKYFALL even more of the more recent Daniel Craig lead films. Javier Bardem is genius as the villain here and the action scenes are fantastic. To some it may become tedious, but I had nothing but fun with this one.

 (5) The Avengers – If I’m being perfectly honest, I really love THE AVENGERS, but I feel a little weird including it on a best of list this high. The truth of the matter is that not at any moment do I recognize this as hard hitting meaningful cinema, but instead this is nothing but a no holds barred fun blockbuster with few things for me to complain about. The special effects are great, the actors are great, it’s funny and there is no end to the excitement it gives me watching it. So while I feel a little guilty including it so high with all the emotionally resonant films out there this year, I also don’t due to how much fun I had with it.

(4) The Cabin in the Woods – If you read my Top 10 Horror list before this one, you may have been asking yourself why THE CABIN IN THE WOODS was missing from it. I generally do not like to repeat movies on separate lists so that is the short answer. I also like to include AT LEAST one horror to represent the best of the year and while there was another candidate, I felt that THE CABIN IN THE WOODS was the more obvious choice. This is a great send up to the slew of horror films we’ve seen over and over and over again that embodies then turns upside-down the conventions we are all too used to. If you can’t at the very least crack a smile in the last half hour of this film than I have no hope for your ability to enjoy much of anything.

(3) The Dark Knight Rises – Say what you will about THR DARK KNIGHT RISES, but each time I watch this movie I feel like I love it more. I too am not without my nitpicks and certain dumb elements of the film which is why I decided to not put it higher on the list let alone the top spot. I thought Tom Hardy was phenomenal as Bane, the score still gives me chills and in what might be the least agreed upon view of the film I thought every scene was filmed incredibly- that includes the fight scenes. The cinematography is just another gorgeous aspect of this film and I have no plans to file this away on the Blu-Ray shelf anytime soon.

(2) Argo – I went in a few weeks late on dishing out my love for ARGO, but I’m a firm believer in the “better late than never” statement. Ben Affleck, while not at his strongest on camera is brilliant behind it as this film is full of tense memorable scenes. I agree with those that feel the screenplay and most of the finale can feel incredibly manipulative for the sake of the plunging the audience into deeper terror more than it may have been in real life, but then again I have no issues being manipulated when it comes to my movie excursions.

(1) Django Unchained – I specifically wanted to get out to see DJANGO UNCHAINED before wrapping up my year end lists- not because I knew I would love it and would make the list, but because it was one film that I was extremely excited for that I wanted to see to at least consider for my list. Lucky for me, I love this film and as I stated in my review I have my reservations about the racial elements in the film, but rather than focus on them as a reason to not like I want to just focus on the things I loved. The script (minus excessive racist remarks) is hilarious and sharp, the performances are phenomenal, all the music choices worked for me and I thought the cinematography was great. It may not be as tightly edited as it could have been and falls short of being my outright favorite Tarantino film, but even a lesser Tarantino is enough to top my list.

Honorable Mentions:
Magic Mike, The Hunger Games, Silver Linings Playbook, Friends with Kids, 21 Jump Street, Goon

Worst Films of 2012 Roundup (In no particular order)
Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie
The Watch
Dark Shadows
One for the Money
ATM
The Hole
Total Recall
Chernobyl Diaries

What’s Missing?
At this point you are probably asking yourself “How come this one particular movie isn’t on the list?” This would then be the time I eventually say maybe I didn’t feel the same way in the comments or you can browse the following list of movies from 2012 I haven’t had a chance to see yet. To give a little extra layer to these movies the titles in bold are films I really want to see and those not highlighted in bold are ones I may check out at some point, but I’m not tripping over myself to do so.

Life of Pi
Lincoln
Seven Psychopaths
Moonrise Kingdom
The Sessions
The Imposter
Holy Motors
The Master 
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Les Miserables
Zero Dark Thirty 
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
The Impossible

Movie Review: The Prestige (2006)

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Over the last few years or so I’ve been so head over heels in love with Christopher Nolan’s Batman films as well as INCEPTION that I started feeling an uncomfortable distance with his previous works. MOMENTO is a film I remember watching once a few years back and need to revisit sometime soon, I was never as head over heels with his INSOMNIA adaptation, but then again it’s been a very long time since I watched it. One thing I did remember and reaffirmed recently is that I absolutely love THE PRESTIGE. Nolan has a knack for constructing a film with many layers of human drama, head scratching mystery and genuine thrills even if the scale of the film is much smaller than the destruction of Gotham City.

THE PRESTIGE follows the ups and downs of a rivalry between two magicians that both have a mutual love for insighting the wonderment of audiences as well as discovering each other’s secrets then trying one up the tricks that the other is performing. Along the way though there are people caught in the whirlwind of their competition that include wives, children and assisstants where at some point they have to suffer the consequences of their obsessions.

Batman himself (Christian Bale) stars as one of the rivals, Alfred Borden, the magician with great tricks yet lacks showmanship and flair. His competition, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman), is the more gifted presenter, but relies on his wallet to get the flashier machinery to accomplish his illusions. The two of them spar off of each other perfectly and the characters are performed just as well, though Bale really shines in his role. The supporting roles cannot be overlooked though as Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall all give great performances where even small supporting cast members like David Bowtie and Andy Serkis have muted roles but play them very well. Bale and Jackman’s character arcs play out organically and the decent from joy to anger have very stark and powerful contrats that often make THE PRESTIGE feel more emotional and dramatic than a lot of Nolan’s most recent work.

Consistent with Nolan’s work though is the dark and gritty setting where there’s little room for too much light hearted fun to be had and more room for dramtatic moments to play out in a darker tone. There are always moments of humor here and there,  but what I love about Nolan’s films is the ability to have fun watching a film devoid of silly jokes and instead full of emotional depth that at least resembles the drama of real life with fantastic situations outside of realism. I always find it too easy to pick a movie apart for the little things that when it comes a Nolan film, so far from my perspective, he is competent enough to put together a film believable enough to let go of my annoyingly critical side of my brain and just enjoy the show.

Visually the film is striking especially given that it is a period piece. There are moments of spectacle that are subtle such as a field of light bulbs in the ground all lit up at the same time, to a machine alternating electric currents that shoots lightning bolts back and forth- the latter employing sound design that simultaneously had me tense and on the edge of my seat. The grit to the film is present, though the cinematography is still quite beautiful- something that I’ve come to really love in this film inparticular.

As time has passed THE PRESTIGE is a film that I still tend to drift toward when I sit down and think about something I want to watch. It’s not something I would put in if I’m ever in the mood for light entertainment or something to watch in the background as it will always engage me and force me to sit and watch even if there’s something else I should be doing. Filled with great performances and brought to life brilliantly by Nolan, THE PRESTIGE remains a film I hold pretty near and dear- and the longer it sits in the forefront of my mind it could also contend for a spot as one of my favorites of all time.

Rating: A

Movie Review: The Dark Knight (2008)

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I was sort of caught off guard by the release of BATMAN BEGINS way back when, but rest assured I did not make that mistake twice when it came to THE DARK KNIGHT. I followed all the news right up until the release and went through the gamut of emotions that came from the casting of Heath Ledger as Joker acceptance when he turned out to be pretty great in the trailers and sadness when the news broke he had died. After release the sadness grew deeper that this talent brought Batman’s most infamous villain to life in a way that stands as the greatest portrayals of that character and would never get to follow it up. THE DARK KNIGHT is a marvel of filmmaking that might still have a few minor hiccups, but otherwise is a tense and unforgettable crime thriller elevated even further by the riveting performance from Heath Ledger as the clown prince of Gotham, the Joker.

The film takes place an undisclosed amount of time after BATMAN BEGINS with Batman making headway to cleaning up the streets by making the crime bosses nervous, but so far has let a bank robbing psycho, Joker, fly under the radar to deal with the big fish. Once Joker makes himself directly involved with the mobs of Gotham Batman is forced to deal with the threat head. Joker’s motives are completely unknown except that he appears to just want to cause as much chaos as possible in order to send the city into fear and panic. Bruce Wayne sees the new District Attorney Harvey Dent as the future of Gotham and does his best to help him try to clean the streets of the mob while his alter ego attempts to silence the influence of Joker on the city and on the mob.

I have a few of the same problems that carry over from BATMAN BEGINS in regards to the acting of minor characters- which again is a minor beef- one that bothered me even less due to the phenomenal performance from Heath Ledger. Both films have somewhat muddled final confrontations that end in much more satisfying than they unfold. In THE DARK KNIGHT Batman’s final battle with Joker is hindered by an over use of Bat sonar that came very close to giving me a headache, but the entire scene is redeemed by the conversation between the two that caps it off while also serving as a chilling profile of the Joker as a character and the bittersweet end to Ledger’s portrayal of the madman.

The action still has its issues but improved from BATMAN BEGINS especially in the 18 wheeler chase scene that culminates with the massive vehicle being flipped and leading to the game of chicken between Batman on his Batpod and Joker screaming for Batman to hit him. There are many different dynamics on display here and aside from the scene stealing monologues delivered later in the film by Joker this is one of the more memorable scenes in the film.

The best parts of THE DARK KNIGHT revolve almost entirely around the Joker, which may also be to its detriment at times. For a Batman film, I found myself only occasionally drawn to Bruce Wayne and Batman’s plight while completely hypnotized by Ledger’s command over his performance and the film in general- something I find a bit odd when it comes to rewatching, because I often skip a lot of the film in favor of getting to scenes involving Joker. The opening bank heist, crashing of the mob meeting, storming the party thrown by Bruce for Harvey Dent, the interrogation scene and Joker visiting Dent in the hospital are all scenes that make THE DARK KNIGHT such a stellar cinematic experience- the tension in every scene with the bone chilling performance by Ledger nail home just how unforgettable the film is in spite of its lesser moments.

Another step up from the previous film is the use of score throughout. There are many of the same beats recycled from BATMAN BEGINS, but the addition of the Joker’s theme throughout really takes the overall scope and score up a significant notch, especially in the opening bank heist. I also find that restraining from using an overpowering score during scenes like when the Joker crashes a party in search of Harvey Dent a pretty effective choice, but is accented by the swelling score that leads up to it as Joker traps are taking out his potential victims.

With THE DARK KNIGHT Christopher Nolan not only topped himself in the Batman-verse, but also set the gold standard for cinematic superheroes. Nolan’s sequel to BATMAN BEGINS ups the intensity and dark tone of the series in incredible fashion with the help of an incredible villainous performance from Heath Ledger as Joker. The film continues to stumble just slightly in terms of action/fight choreography and in creating a truly breathtaking finale, but always finds a way to endear itself to me in spite of any of my perceived, but extremely minor shortcomings.

Rating: A

Last Call Spoilers: The Dark Knight Rises

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Last Call Spoilers is a post on which I talk about a movie- usually a current release- where I go in-depth to describe every book and cranny of the film and attempting to leave no stone unturned. This edition of Spoiler Corner might be a bit different as I discuss the spoilers of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES- different only because I’m not going to start at the beginning and go through every plot beat of the film and instead I’m going to spend a moment summarizing the biggest spoilers in reference to my initial predictions about the film and then talk in a more detailed way about what I liked or God forbid didn’t like about the film.

Before we get too far into the discussion, I want to express my deepest condolences to the families and friends affected by the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado during the midnight screening of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. I’ve read more than I care to about the monster responsible and hope for nothing more than swift justice and feel the guy deserves anything bad thing coming to him. I’ve had a chance to read about all the last acts of heroism on the part of several victims that moved me to no end and the reports coming out are heartbreaking and incredible. It is a sad day where something that is there to bring us all hours of joy and escapism can also be the setting for something so tragic and even sadder when our enthusiasm for the art form can be exploited by the seriously disturbed for seemingly no logical reason. I would hate to see this tragedy dim the light and passion of those involved and if any that has been affected happens to see this, know that as someone who attended a midnight screening you have nothing but my deepest sympathies and I hope that you all find peace as quickly as possible from this senseless tragedy. It could have happened to any number of us that ventured out that night and know that even though those of us in other locations were not there, we all suffer collectively with you (though most can’t possibly fathom the depth of your personal losses).

On with the spoilers…

So if you want to remain unspoiled about THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, first off why did you click on a link that features the word spoiler and second how have you gotten this far in a post that clearly states the word spoiler several times to this point. You now have no excuse to still be reading so from this point on, let the spoilers fly.

I wrote a few weeks before release about what to expect from THE DARK KNIGHT RISES- or what I was expecting and anticipated seeing just how right I was going to be. At this point I am both excited and only slightly discouraged to say, I told you so. Excited because few moments in my life as a married man can I literally say I was right about something, but discouraged because if I can call some of the plot beats that means a lot of other people probably could too- plus I’m not even well versed in everything involving Batman from the comics- it also means that a few things didn’t come as big of a surprise that me and many others would probably like.

So what was I right about, well here’s the main things- Bane being a member of the League of Shadows, Marion Cotillard’s character actually being Talia Al Ghul and Bane being her tool for destruction, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character possibly taking over as Batman or maybe being revealed as Robin and the possibility that Batman would be killed off. All of these things happen in some form or another. Some of them hit harder than others and I have my issues with some of it, but for me, I refuse to let minor nitpicks drag down an otherwise phenomenal experience.

I would like to start the more detailed discussion off with Bane as played by Tom Hardy. The thing about Bane approaching this movie is just how he would stack up to Heath Ledger’s Joker from THE DARK KNIGHT. I will preface everything I’m about to say by first pointing out that I believe that even Nolan knew he could not replace Ledger or have lightning strike twice- so what I feel he did essentially with Bane was take the Joker character and reverse almost everything about him. I feel that Bane as a character anchors the first two thirds of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES just like the Joker, but their differences are also what make their respective movies work. I loved Hardy’s performance, though I don’t think it’s quite the Oscar caliber performance Ledger gave- this comes mostly due to the fact that he spends the whole movie with more than half of his face covered in a mask and that you can’t always tell how much of the performance comes in the moment during the scene and what has been enhanced or added ADR since it is blatantly obvious adjustments were made to make Bane easier to understand.

Bane much like the Joker is psychotic and both have levels of intelligence, but what where Joker lacks the physical aspect as a foe to Batman, Bane more than compensates for. However, what Bane lacks is the sheer unpredictable nature of Joker’s psychosis and Bane is unflinching in his efforts to destroy Gotham based on a meticulous plan that has been over a decade in the making by Talia. The biggest thing that took Bane from being an extremely intimidating force was by making him the lesser of two evils in the overall plan and making Talia the mastermind- rendering him mostly as a goon that simply is pointed in a direction and he executes. It doesn’t necessarily negate his physical presence in the first half of the film especially in that first fight with Batman where he just owns Batman and breaks his back, but sort of feels like he is then second wheel in the last act and then removed completely when Selina Kyle/Catwoman straight up murders him- or so it seems

The last thing I want to say as Bane is that say what you will about the voice, but I personally loved it. The muffled sound combined with the accent and the way that is sticks out so distinctly from everyone else I found incredibly effective. It works to single out his character the same way that the Joker’s strange and deranged manner of speaking did in THE DARK KNIGHT- because without it, he could have easily been written off as generic British sounding buff bad guy, where his backstory and headgear give him the intimidating look and presence. Aside from the voice, Hardy does a lot with just his eyes and body language ranging from just a relaxed “I’m not scared of anything” look, anger and then something of a crazed disgust when he’s giving the speech about corruption in Gotham. I again won’t say it’s Oscar worthy and doesn’t hit the absolute brilliance of Ledger, but it’s close and I find it nearly as memorable.

Some of the only other complaints I have about the film have to do with the editing and how time is conveyed, but doesn’t harm the film overall to me as I was eventually able to catch myself up and find ways to connect the plot without it being layer out for me. I also have some issues with the way Talia is set up and revealed- I called it before the release, but I feel like it was telegraphed pretty easily during the film so the reveal itself wasn’t near as shocking. Showing the scar on her back when “Miranda” and Bruce were in the nude after conducting hanky panky by fireside was a pretty stark hint at showing this character might be more than she appears. It may very well be a calculated move and that the reveal is supposed to be known by the audience so that we are then screaming at the screen for Batman to not turn his back on her before she stabs him- I don’t know for sure, but that’s my take on it and also why it just doesn’t bother me like it does everyone else. I also feel like the telegraph of her possibly being Talia is there to serve the fact that with all the new characters it was hard to get a lot of her character in the film to flesh her out so the rushed romance and scar reveal is the compromise Nolan basically had to make in order to get the finale to where it has to go.

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES also hints several times how it isn’t hard for some people to connect Bruce Wayne to Batman as is evident in the John Blake character. So for me the whole film has tension that hinges on his identity falling apart altogether especially since Bane knows Bruce’s identity, Selina Kyle finds it out and of course Batman giving Gordon the hint and Gordan finally putting it together. In many ways Batman/Bruce Wayne seemingly giving his life by flying the bomb over the water is just a pitch perfect way to end the legend of Batman. Of course it is revealed quickly that Bruce survived because he fixed the autopilot feature in the Bat and fulfills Alfred’s wish of seeing him happy with a girl, Selina Kyle. I couldn’t have been more satisfied by that ending.

Now on to the John Blake character, which it is revealed that his first name is actually Robin in the end, was a nice nudge to fans- though I’m so happy he didn’t ever suit up and fight side by side with Batman. Instead, the ambiguous nature of all the set ups leading to seeing Bruce still alive leave hope for the future. There appears to be confusion that Gordon replaced the Bat signal in the end, but the way I read it was that Bruce replaced it with the intention that Blake was going to take his place- which to pat myself on the back once more I also speculated before the release. There is a line that Batman says to Blake saying that he needs to wear a mask in order to protect his family and loved ones- then there’s a moment of realization when Blake watches Batman fly away with the bomb and sees it explode and he then takes off his badge and throws it away. He then retrieves a bag and finds the entrance to Bruce’s Batcave- if none of that adds up to Batman/Bruce basically handing the reins to Blake I don’t know how else to clear it up for you. I don’t think Nolan is setting you up to think Blake will now be Robin, but instead just a set up for Night Wing- his name being Robin I feel is just a way to get the name recognition into the series.

I can agree that the film wants the audience to take some massive leaps of faith in terms of storytelling, time jumps and suspension of disbelief, but they are all leaps I was more than willing to take. The storytelling because in the 8 year gap we miss the development of Miranda into Bruce’s life when she helps to finance the tech that is then turned into a nuclear weapon, Bruce’s ability to fall so in love with Miranda in such a short period of time and trust her with control over his company and the fusion device and the extent in which Bane and company are able to seemingly make and place all these explosive devices all over the city. Suspension of disbelief comes from the creation and placement of the bombs and how some people seem to connect the Bruce Wayne/Batman dots easily and others just can’t or don’t care to, plus why Bruce continues to talk in Batman raspy voice to Blake even though Blake already knows who he is. The time gaps in addition to the initial 8 years since THE DARK KNIGHT are the amount of time from the initial plane heist, emergence of Bane in Gotham to when he finally blows up the stadium, activates the bomb to when Batman heals, returns and flies it out of harm’s way. There is never a time it tells you on screen how much time has passed, but if you pay attention time frames are expressed and it’s up to the audience to put them together.

Now getting into some of my favorite moments in the film- I really loved the first fight between Bane and Batman where absolutely no score is used. That scene is nothing but sound effects of two dudes throwing and landing fists leading up to the moment where Bane gloriously utters the line about wondering what of Batman/Bruce he would break first- his spirit or his body- before promptly breaking shit out of Batman’s back and pounding his face until the cowl breaks off. That whole fight I was in glee and even a little disturbed by the brutality Bane displayed when he was pounding Batman’s face as he was basically unconscious.

The biggest set piece of the film minus the final battle is the explosion on the football field. The lead up is fantastic even though if anyone saw the trailer, most knew it was coming, but what I wasn’t expecting was that all the explosions you see in the trailer happen simultaneously- including the bridges. The CGI there wasn’t as seamless as in Nolan’s previous films, but looked pretty damn good. It was also really cool to take that all in context since we got a snippet of Bane’s dialogue to the crowd in a spy video well before the release so seeing it all come together was pretty spectacular.

The final battle improved on what I didn’t love about THE DARK KNIGHT. I loved how escalated the stakes were for the film and overall how it was shot. I didn’t care for the entirety of the final battle against the Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT and the only aspects I enjoyed were the two boats deciding if they were going to blow each other up and the hostages dressed up like bad guys. The Bat sonar and darkness of the fighting kind of ruined that part of the finale and the actual abbreviated fight between Batman and Joker felt weak. Here there is just an all out war with Batman fighting with the cops against the thugs Bane has converted to his side and it was all just awesome to see in spite of some shaky editing.

I want to end on two other sequences that I enjoyed- one on a spectacle level and the other on an emotional level. The emotional scene is when Bruce is working toward healing his back and making the climb in the “Hell on Earth” prison Bane leaves him in when Bruce says he’s not afraid but angry and he’s continually failing at the climb. The moments leading up to his successful trek to the top I found to be absolutely triumphant and emotionally satisfying even if you knew he was going to make it and then his heroic return to Gotham when Gordon lights the flair that then ignores the Bat logo in flames to signal to Bane and his army that he was back perfectly capped those sequences. The spectacle scene I am referring to, though there are many is the scene where the Bat is dodging the missiles shot at it- though I didn’t see my screening at an IMAX I can imagine how awe inspiring that sequence is because I just loved it on a regular screen. Side note though, I do intend to see this again on an IMAX screen before too long.

I think for now that’s a about all I have to say as far as spoilers and discussion go. There’s been a lot of flack given for negative reviews on the film and all I have to say to anyone bummed about negative reviews is that the only opinion that matters is your own. Do not let someone else tell you what you like and definitely to not let someone else’s opinion drive you to the point of sending death threats- nobody wins in those situations. From what I can tell, expectations have been every viewer’s common enemy- the only advice I can give is to keep them in check because if you come out not liking it saying your expected more then what I will say to you is that its you’re expectations that let you down, not the film. It may not be the popular opinion, but always expecting something to be better than it actually is, ends with disappointment more than it doesn’t.

Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

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It’s been four long years waiting for Christopher Nolan’s return to Gotham City. A wait that has held in the balance where exactly he would take the series in the wake of Heath Ledger’s death and rather or not the expectations could possibly be met without the vice grip of a villain like the Joker to anchor the film. THE DARK KNIGHT set an incredibly high bar for comic book movies and in my opinion if anyone was up to the task it would be Nolan. So then, was Nolan able to follow up the masterful THE DARK KNIGHT with the concluding chapter in his series, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES? Read on to find out.

The film takes place 8 years after the events in THE DARK KNIGHT, where Batman shoulders the blame for the actions of Harvey Dent/Two-Face and has exiled himself. While Batman’s absence is obvious due to the allegations, the man behind the mask, Bruce Wayne, has also secluded himself from the world. Wayne still sulks about the loss of Rachel and has also let his company slide into financial trouble. Meanwhile, a new madman, Bane (Tom Hardy) has his sights on breaking Gotham into rubble and has forces Wayne’s hand to once again dawn the cape and cowl to attempt to take control of the city from Bane’s grip.

Wow, that was my first reaction, not necessarily to how incredible the film is, but first and foremost about the amount of story and set up this film has to sift through in order to come up with a finale and ending that does indeed invoke the wow factor. A handful of new characters that all have quite a bit to contribute to the plot, so much so that I can easily see how overwhelming and seemingly clunky it all can seem. During the extremely deliberate buildup I too had my worries about everything tying itself up, but in my opinion it all comes to an incredibly satisfying end, one that justifies its slow plodding first hour or so and rewards those who have patience. For some, I have no doubt it will test their limits of patience as well as how well hearing is due to some of the audio for Bane’s character.

If you’ve seen the film and are reading this and are livid about how much of the story I’ve left out of the premise, it is for good reason. For all the marketing material it felt like maybe we had seen far too much of the film. I am here to say that most of everything in those trailers is only the tip of the iceberg. I wrote about and speculated what may be going on in the film and while I did call out a few things that I’m sure a lot of other people probably also deducted, I also couldn’t have possibly predicted all of the different plot points and turns it takes throughout as well as the final hour. This is an extremely ambitious film and any suspected flaws in its storytelling might hinder certain folk’s enjoyment, it did not deter me at all- this film had me riveted from beginning to end.

Not to be outdone in creating a formidable foe for Batman, Tom Hardy as Bane really does command the screen. His presence is undeniable and in a moment where he asks a to-be victim if he really believes he is in control it is almost like Nolan asserting his own control over the audience. Bane is most certainly am overwhelming force that really makes you fear for the well being of Batman, let alone anyone else in his path. Hardy owns the role in a way that couldn’t be more different from Ledger’s role as Joker. Theatricality is what separates them, which is something Bane audibly voices his displeasure of and because of that and his physical presence and sheer brute force is almost just as memorable as the Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT. Bane’s voice will no doubt be a point of contention and I will admit to having trouble understanding every single word- but man oh man when he speaks does it resonate and demand attention. The dread and intimidation I felt at his presence was really what started to endear me to the whole experience.

So what of all those other huge names that returned or were added to the cast? Well in fear of giving away too much for how involved they are in the plot, I will keep it vague. Bale is just as good as in the previous films, although now people will have all sorts of new jokes to spout off in the gravely Batman voice. Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine all do their part well enough, but it’s the newbies that had the bigger question marks. Anne Hathaway is surprisingly great, given I wasn’t excited one bit about the idea of Catwoman in Nolan’s Batman universe- plus she’s never once referred to as Catwoman, but she is Selina Kyle after all. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a great actor and with all the mystery surrounding his role does a great job of bridging some of the emotional arcs surrounding Bruce Wayne and Batman. Finally, Marion Cotillard- used little in the marketing, is perfectly adequate, though I don’t feel like she’s fleshed out well enough- then again that may very well have been the point.

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES once again makes incredible use of a thumping score that make all the action scenes pop and create a tense and exciting tone that really takes hold for the last half of the film. Nolan again makes scarce use of CGI, but when he does they look phenomenal and nearly seamless. The film is overall just shot magnificently, with shot after shot of beautiful cinematography, wonderful set pieces and action that has improved quite a bit since BATMAN BEGINS.

I’m not here to sell anyone on the idea of the perfect movie- or to defend any type of bias I have to the franchise. I am here to do one thing and that’s express my opinion on how well this film worked for me and how it made me feel. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is a near perfect end to a legend that is more emotionally satisfying and groundbreaking than any other comic book franchise I’ve seen to date. Christopher Nolan has put together a film that’s so ambitious and epic in scope that some may not be able to stomach the immense buildup and storytelling. In the end, when everything comes crashing down and the dust settles THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is dark, emotional and incredibly heroic.

Rating: A

Movie Review: Batman Begins (2005)

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I talk all the time about how I am not a huge comic book reader- which is an understatement because the truth is I’ve only ever read a handful of comics in my life. As far as Batman goes I don’t have the clout to say I am an authority on the character or the universe, but I do consider myself a huge fan and he is my personal favorite hero in the whole scope of comic book supers. That’s why it is with a great deal of shame that I look back at the time that BATMAN BEGINS was released I was not hyper aware of its release- in my defense though it was a time where as they say, “Life gets in the way” and also I wasn’t seeing near as many movies as I do nowadays. That being said, BATMAN BEGINS punched me in the face to reawaken the Dark Knight fan in me, due to how profound and blown away I was by the film.

At the point of release in my lifetime I had never seen a theatrical rendition of the Batman origin, which is a touchy subject for comic fans- not just the Batman origin but superhero origins in general. Most know at least the story of why Bruce Wayne becomes Batman, but few have ever seen the process Wayne takes in actually turning himself into the vigilante. BATMAN BEGINS explores that very idea in great detail as Wayne exiles himself to foreign prisons testing himself to fights several foes at once until he meets Ra’s Al Ghul who teaches him to use his fears against his enemies and plenty of other extremely helpful stealthy fighting techniques. From there Wayne returns to a crumbling Gotham City where a new for by the name of Dr. Crane aka Scarecrow is planning a city wide takeover with the use of a toxin that turns peoples worst fears into a frightening reality. It is up to the city’s new crime fighter to win over the non corrupt cops for assistance and stop the menace before it’s too late.

Christopher Nolan’s take on the DC Comics hero brought a much darker and “plausible” look and feel compared to Burton’s more gothic take and especially to whatever it is Joel Schumacher was trying to do. I still love Burton’s BATMAN and still at least enjoy BATMAN RETURNS- I also do not necessarily hate BATMAN FOREVER or BATMAN & ROBIN, but let’s be realistic, they are not good films. For me Nolan got a hold of the series and made it something that demands the attention not just of hardcore Batman fans, but just fans of film in general.

Christian Bale was a fantastic choice to throw on the cape and cowl and is arguably the strongest actor in the film. Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Gary Oldman and Tom Wilkinson are all at least very good to great while the remainder of the cast varies from ok to borderline mediocre. The central cast anchors the film with the exception of Katie Holmes, who I guess you could say at least holds her own and helps serve the story, but the performance itself is instantly forgettable- it’s only her character’s connection to Bruce Wayne that gives relevance to her presence at all. Some of the minor chips in the film’s armor come from a few moments of subpar action in an otherwise stellar origin tale.

There is nothing flashy about Nolan’s approach to the Batman legend here. BATMAN BEGINS is a film that is dark and gritty and the action as well as special effects all mirror that sentiment. There are no huge insanely expensive long CGI sequences as Nolan relies a lot on the reality of the situation and when CGI does come into play they are brief and serve only to pull off anything that practical effects can’t do. The Gotham City in Nolan’s universe is filthy and filled with shadows, which is a perfect approach for a hero that relies on shadows to hide and spook criminals, but also pushes across a city in desperate need of saving or cleaning up. These are the details that hooked me instantly to the series and the direction Nolan and company would take it in the future.

This film looks fantastic for as dark and grimy as it appears, its acted perfectly if not for a few hiccups here and there, the action fits the story as well as the scope and I felt instantly connected to the character that by the end I was given goosebumps during the interaction between Ra’s Al Ghul and Batman during the finale. BATMAN BEGINS is a film I may have been biased for as soon as I stepped in the theater to see it, but there’s no such thing as a sure bet anymore in a world that consists of exaggerated cod pieces and nipple plated batsuits. Nolan successfully purges the previous two Batman films from our collective memories by revamping the story and giving it the shot in the arm it so desperately needed.

Rating: A-