The Dark Knight Rises — Review

Yes, like the other millions of cinema-philes across the country, I too partook of the biggest and most anticipated Hollywood Blockbuster of Summer 2012:  The Dark Knight Rises.  Billed as the end of the legend, this film had more hype than any film in many years and I can only guess that it will surpass the extremely high bar set by The Avengers earlier this year.  Despite the horribly tragic event that occurred in Colorado, which will undoubtedly cast a dark shadow over the otherwise monumental premiere, fans still flocked to the theatre to see how Christopher Nolan will end his extremely popular superhero franchise.  My friends and I were no exception, and in fact we made it a point to wait a full day to see it on Saturday so we could see it in glorious IMAX at the Edward’s Ontario Palace Stadium (The Far Side of the World).

Undoubtedly, there are thousands of reviews already floating around the cyber-sphere about the film itself which will be much better than mine.  So, instead of a full review, I will be sharing just the most important thoughts I had about the filmmaking and story directions in short sentences or paragraphs. I would love to know what you thought of the film, so please drop me a comment below or on my facebook page with your own review of Dark Knight Rises.  Of course, as one would expect…

…so please don’t read any further if you have not yet seen the movie.  I have so much respect for everyone who did not spoil the film for me and I certainly don’t want to be unduly accused of being that guy for someone else.  So without further ado, my thoughts on the Dark Knight Rises:

  • Watching Dark Knight Rises was very different from watching The Avengers, because I went into the latter with low expectations which were then shattered.  Going into this film, I was extremely excited for it and thus was hoping to be satisfied rather than surprised.  I expected DKR to be great and it was – end of story (though this does make for an interesting feeling of dissatisfaction, only being able to hit par rather than 3 under).
  • Further, Avengers is a different kind of film.  Joss Whedon crafted something closer to the original Spiderman, in that it was ever-so-slightly campy and extremely fun, with lots of humorous moments to lighten the mood.  On the contrary, Nolan’s film is much more emotionally engaging and darkly serious.  Instead of laughing at the hero’s antics, the audience is waiting with hushed breath to see how the Bat will get himself out of each situation.
  • The opening to Dark Knight Rises, for me, is right up there with the opening to its predecessor.  I wish I could have been a fly on the wall for the meeting where Nolan told the producers that he needed an AC130 to fly above a Learjet, grapple to it, and then pull the plane vertical so that the wings snap off and it dangles hundreds of feet above the ground.  Just sayin’. 🙂
  • I was very glad to see that the modifications to Bane’s voice did make it more easy to understand him.  There were some moments that I didn’t catch everything, but for the most part I was tracking with him the whole way.
  • The Dark Knight Rises did a great job of calling back to both of its preceding films.  I was afraid Batman Begins would be left by the wayside in favor of continuing the Dark Knight story, but Nolan does a great job weaving in elements from both films.
  • Unfortunately, it was very obvious which scene was the one that the incident in Colorado had occurred during.  This has the effect of pulling one out the movie for a reason entirely unavoidable by the audience and unintended by the filmmakers.  Sadly, I fear this will mar any viewing of the film from now on, as we are reminded of the severe tragedy that occurred Friday morning.
  • My heart jumped about ten feet when I saw several shots filmed at a studio that my friend Ryan and I have shot at before.  We were scouting locations there when they told us the street was being prepped for a scene from the Dark Knight Rises and I was really looking forward to seeing it on the big screen.  For those of you interested, it is the street Officer Blake is driving on when the bombs are detonated around Gotham, sealing the police underground.  The scene was filmed at Central City Studios, where we shot part of our short film, Expiration Date.
  • The choices made for the characters were very interesting.  On the one hand, I do not think any portrayal of Catwoman has come as close to the comics as Anne Hathoway’s.  She played Selina Kyle very well and did a lot of justice to the original character (though I think they could have pushed the bounds a bit further with her).  On the other hand, Bane received a major overhaul which both brought him closer to the original and distanced him almost entirely from his comic counterpart.  He was rough, foreign(ish), and extremely intelligent – just as the comics portrayed him.  However, there was no mention of the drug Venom at all, which is a major staple of the character.  I like what they did with him, but it was interesting to see that, while Batman and Robin over-used this element, Dark Knight Rises removed it entirely.
  • Speaking of the Boy Wonder, a major surprise to all Bat-fans was the reveal towards the end of the film that Officer/Detective John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is actually Robin John Blake, a clear reference to Batman’s sidekick.  It seems that, while rumored that Christian Bale would jump ship if a “Robin” character was introduced, Nolan found a work around that both appeased Bale and baffled everyone else.  Robin John Blake is NOT part of the comic series and, much like the franchise as a whole, he further shows the deviation Nolan has taken from the established DC Universe.  Not that this is a bad thing; it just came out of nowhere and I will be very curious to see how things change with this new character’s introduction.
  • As rumored, the film is based on the “Knightfall” trilogy of comics.  The central conflict revolves around Bane coming to Gotham to destroy Bruce Wayne, whom he knows to be Batman.  He does break the Bat’s back (which I thought was handled extremely well) and Bruce does have to recover in order to take back Gotham.  However, that is about as much as it does follow the comics because there is no established Robin or John Paul in Nolan’s franchise.  Instead of fighting a mechanized cross between Batman and Azrael, Bruce Wayne returns to battle Bane and his legion of minions.
  • I only have two critiques of the film and both are somewhat trifle matters.  First, I found it hard to separate some of the characters from the actors that played them.  Instead of thinking of Officer Blake or Miranda Tate, I found myself seeing Gordon-Levitt and Cotillard instead.  But that is what happens in a major blockbuster with a packed, star-studded cast, so I am willing to let that go.
  • The other criticism I have is that, with so many people deducing who Batman really is, it became almost impossible to believe that others couldn’t figure it out.  Lucius Fox and Alfred already knew, but first Bane, then Blake, (I hazard to say that Selina Kyle wasn’t far from it) and finally Miranda Tate all figure it out on their own.  So, when I see Commissioner Gordon and the rest of the police force utterly blind to the seemingly obvious fact that Bruce Wayne is Batman, it is very hard to suspend my disbelief that they cannot see it.  And particularly with the way the film ends, if anyone in Gotham still can’t figure it out, I can’t say that I don’t see what Ra’s Al Ghul is talking about. 🙂
  • One final thought before I go, because I know you are all thinking it.  Yes, the ending is somewhat similar to that of The Avengers, with the protagonist hero carrying a bomb to safety while facing almost certain death.  However, what I loved about the way Dark Knight Rises did it was that they dealt with, over the course of the film, the one objection that we would certainly have to this ending. Nolan and crew did a great job establishing the auto-pilot as an issue early on, but letting it sink to the bottom of our minds.  Just before the final moments of the film, they anticipate our prognostication that Batman will have to dispose of the bomb himself and remind us that there is not an auto-pilot.  So, for that one brief moment between the explosion and the reveal, we honestly consider the possibility that he didn’t make it, and that is an extremely powerful storytelling tool. They give us the solution and then carefully veil it, so that when we get to it, we are thrown off for just long enough to let the action happen and then we are let in on the brilliantly conceived plan. Hat’s off to Mr. Nolan for, yet again, destroying my mind with another amazing narrative crafting.

Thanks for sticking with me.  I know that this collection of “short” thoughts turned out to be not-so short after all.  If you have any additional thoughts about the film, please let me know in the comments below!

I am still hard at work on my Senior Seminar paper, as well as trying to finish up several other projects, and write a bunch of reviews. So, I don’t know when the next review will be up.  I still have several to catch up on for the Summer Film Challenge 2012: Apocalypse Edition, so be expecting those soon(ish).  Until the next one though, I will leave you with my newest ambition in life:
I want to be a “Bat Suit Wrangler”.

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SFC12: The Apartment

Time for yet another review for the Summer Film Challenge 2012: Apocalypse Edition.  My Senior Seminar class is drawing to a close and, between researching the narrative capabilities of interactive video games, I found time to sit down and enjoy a nice date night with my girlfriend.  We enjoyed a nice dinner and then decided to check out the next film on the SFC12.  And, while that normally would have been a TERRIBLE idea, this time turned out to be a really good thing.  So, without further ado, here is my review for:

This film really surprised me.  Partially because I didn’t research it at all and, by sharing proximity to such films as Dark City and Pan’s Labyrinth, I assumed it would be a dark, noir-ish film.  However, I was pleasantly surprised that it was a more humorous film, though it didn’t lose that topicality and poignancy.

I feel the best way to describe The Apartment is to say that it is one part Philadelphia Story, and one part Arsenic and Old Lace.  There is a dry, witty humor to it that is mixed with a really serious underlying social issue being examined.  The plot revolves around C.C. Baxter, an up-and-coming business man in an insurance firm, and the favors he does for his bosses.  In short, he relinquishes his apartment to them for their extra-marital dalliances, and in return they help him rise in the company’s ranks.  Everything is going fine until the boss catches wind, and then becomes a client of the apartment as well, taking the girl Baxter likes and leaving him high and dry.  Baxter has to choose between letting the girl he likes get taken by this heartless boss, or risk his job to stand up for her.

The plot and storyline are a beautiful mix of frustration humor and simply witty writing, which plays perfectly with the great cast they have.  Jack Lemmon is a personal favorite of mine and I felt this might have been his best role ever, though I can only assume that it was after his experiences at the apartment that he ran away, became a musician, and started cross-dressing his way into Marilyn Monroe’s heart.  Similarly, Fred MacMurray gave a phenomenal performance as the insensitive boss, and it makes sense that after the events of this film, he went back to school, became a professor and invented Flubber. 🙂  All joking aside, both leading men did fantastically, and Shirley MacLaine played the beautifully torn woman caught in the middle of it all.  Even if the plot had been terrible, I feel this cast would have worked flawlessly together.

But the plot was NOT terrible.  In fact, I found it to be one of the best for its time that I have come across.  As I mentioned earlier, it is a fascinating mix of both witty humor that one expects from a Jack Lemmon film, and social commentary on the burgeoning roles of women in the workplace and society.  The film goes a long way to objectify women as simple sex-objects, yet shows the men doing so to be evil, conniving individuals that you quickly come to hate.  Thus, while recreating the world of post-war boom for women entering the market place as workers, The Apartment provides beautiful commentary on the sexism rampant throughout that time, and I find that very empowering.  The film speaks greatly to women’s individual value and promotes the kind of selfless hero that I absolutely love.

Ultimately I think the film was a masterpiece.  Both entertaining and poignant, The Apartment is a great example that a film can be those things simultaneously – a fact that seems to have been neglected in the past few decades.  Simple things like the bubbling champagne at end being a metaphor for the sexual and emotional tension between Baxter and Fran are wonderful reminders of the smart filmmaking of days-gone-by.  Refreshingly “old school” yet progressive in spectacular ways, The Apartment should be at the top of any cinema lover’s list.

Rating:  10//10

Suddenly, I really want a Derby…

There you go!  Film number four down and only 12 more to go.  In fact, I have seen a couple of other films while writing this review and so expect more Summer Film Challenge 2012 critiques to be up soon.  Let me know what you thought of The Apartment, and as is usual now, check out the lively discussion below between Ryan and I about this film and his take on one of my personal favorites, The Secret of Kells:

Thanks for sticking with me and I will see you all very soon for another review on the Soontobeangel blog.

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SFC12: 8 1/2

I am back from my internship with a quick Summer Film Challenge 2012 review, and boy was it a doozy!  Somewhere between my fits of overworked semi-sleep during the crazy 12 to 14 hour days on set, I carved out the time (and appropriate sanity) to take in what is widely considered to be one of the greatest films ever made.  Roger Ebert calls it the the “best film ever made about filmmaking” and countless others credit it similarly.  Personally, I was excited to finally see this critically lauded movie and I can say that it provided on so many levels.  Thus, without further ado, my review of Federico Fellini’s surreal masterpiece:  8 1/2. Instantly upon watching this film, I realized that if nothing else it had validated my longstanding practice for processing films.  Typically, I don’t like to speak about a film immediately after seeing it. To do so, I feel, is to launch into serious discussion and debate unprepared.  More importantly, I feel that one does a disservice to the filmmakers if they assume to be able to understand the film instantly without any internal reflection.  Of course I recognize the purpose and value of discovering new thoughts and further understanding the film via conversing about it afterwards.  I just prefer to work through it personally and organize my thoughts before I attempt to break it down communally. 8 1/2 is precisely the film to justify this practice.  I defy anyone to claim full comprehension of it after just one viewing, particularly just after the credits have finished rolling.  Unlike Malick’s Tree of Life which hit me very viscerally, Fellini’s autobiographical fantasy is almost purely intellectual.  Practically like reading Socrates or St. Augustine, 8 1/2 is a beautifully self-reflexive film examining the role of the artist in society, the pressures and privileges therein, and what it means to be the voice of Wisdom or Truth to society. I kept thinking throughout the film that this must have impacted Sondheim in his creation of Company. It is entirely about the nature of the thing it portrays – the one, filmmaking, and the other, relationships. What makes the film so brilliant is that, through the fantasy of one film director’s visions, the thing by which we see this story is examined.  One of my favorite scenes in the film is one in which the Critic has just given his notes to Guido and then the director speaks to his old friend.  The scene transitions to him sitting at the train station reading those notes which critique the scene we the audience have just witnessed.  Hilarious and poignant, it purposefully pulls the audience out of the movie to call attention to the fact that we are indeed watching a film.

Fellini does a masterful job of calling our attention to the plight of the artist.  Of course this sounds pithy to some, but it is far more complicated than it seems.  As an artist, one is expected by nearly everyone to produce high quality content that both entertains the audience and intellectually or ethically challenges them. There is an amount of profundity required of the artist that is not demanded of most others.  Audiences intent on taking the medium seriously laud those filmmakers who are able to expand their understandings of society and self, and Fellini clearly earns that exultation rightly with his film.

Wonderfully bizarre in the writing and masterfully crafted to make full use of the cinematic medium, Fellini fully encapuslates what a proper film should be – enigmatic yet interesting, visual and deeply stimulating, with every bit the poignancy desired by anyone working in the arts.  8 1/2 is an excellent film and one which I will be returning to periodically to remind myself that what I do is difficult and not for the faint of heart, but also that it is entirely worth it to bring light to certain joys and concepts which need to be examined further.  If you have not yet partaken of this cinematic masterpiece, please do so!  It very well could change your perspective on the movies, art, and life in general.

Rating:  10//10

With that, I am 27 films deep into the Criterion Collection, but only 3 out of 16 for the Summer Film Challenge 2012: Apocalypse Edition.  I am hoping that since my internship is over now, I will be able to do some catching up on the SFC12 because I intend to make this last year of existence the first year I actually complete the challenge on time.  So, stay tuned for more reviews coming up soon from that list.  As always, check out the podcast Ryan and I did below, in which we critique this film and one I gave him – Howl’s Moving Castle:

The Bioshock review is still in the works and I think it might take longer than expected, but rest assured that it will be released eventually and it might even have some supplementary notes from the Senior Thesis Dissertation I am currently writing.  But more on that later….

For now, thanks for sticking with me, please let me know what you thought of Fellini’s masterpiece film 8 1/2, and I will see you back here very soon for my next Summer Film Challenge 2012 Review!

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