Film Reviews Dark Knight Rises, Skyfall, Looper, Prometheus, Billy Friedkin and the best of 2012-14
Dark Knight: Take Three (Reviews)
I finally got around to seeing it so….three different “takes” on film three of the trilogy, all valid I think.
TAKE ONE: The Reasoned Review
Ok We are in for a treat here, as MATT PERRI, resident Cinephile, and Photoshop Guru, has kindly consented to post the occasional film review in our blog. First up: “The Dark Knight Rises”, a review, in my opinion, that is both insightful and lacks the “Auto-Hype” found around this film. Of course, Matt and Kingsway make no comment about the terrible tragedy surrounding this film, other than the fact that our heartfelt sympathies go out to the victims.
“The Dark Knight Rises”
*** out of ****
by Matt Perri
Eight years (give or take a few) have passed since the events of 2008’s “The Dark Knight” and the only person able to have a flying car in this future (which I am assuming is now 2016) is Batman.
Eight years later, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is a battered and beaten reclusive shut-in, limping around his mansion on a cane due to injuries sustained during his time as Batman, his alter ego, which he retired eight years ago after the death of Harvey Dent. His tireless butler, Alfred (Michael Caine) knows his boss has aspirations of becoming the Batman again but fears that he’ll end up burying Wayne if that happens.
While Bruce’s company, Wayne Enterprises, in the capable hands of Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), it’s also in free-fall thanks to some questionable business moves by Bruce. The only thing keeping it alive is investor/philanthropist Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) who has put everything she has behind a clean energy fusion program that somehow works but is never used for some reason.
Batman’s closest friend within the police department, Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), has also undergone some personal and emotional changes of his own and while he’s seen as a hero by the city, he carries around the baggage of Dent’s death as well as the guilt of allowing Batman to take the fall for it.
Luckily, the Gotham Police are no longer corrupt and, being lead by Gordon (and the “Dent Act which gave the police teeth”), have pretty much cleaned up the streets without Batman’s help.
All seems well until a vigilante by the name of Bane (Tom Hardy) makes his presence known. Bane looks like a giant gorilla with no hair and wears a mask that makes him sound like Darth Vader from hell. His voice penetrates you, cuts through you, gets to you. It’s truly frightening. The tone of his voice is that of an educated and kind soul which is even more off-putting and disturbing. At first, Bane’s crimes are minor – a daring computer hack robbery of the Gotham stock markets – but, as time goes by, Bane’s true motives become frighteningly clear and the extent of his resources and knowledge are even more scary.
Added to this is the arrival of a neutral, seemingly nihilistic cat burglar named Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) who lives on the kind of anarchistic environment Bane threatens to present to the inhabitants of the city.
Meanwhile, Gordon has new blood on his police force in the form of a loudmouth police captain (Matthew Modine) and a young, brash cop (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who knows more about the night of Dent’s death than he’s letting on.
There’s a lot going on in The Dark Knight Rises and not all of it is good. The movie seems to have an attitude of “more is more” and, thus, tosses everything into the ring – fist fights, internal struggles, class warfare parables, long rants and speeches, emotional exchanges, and car/jet chases. Every dollar of the film’s budget is paraded, cheerfully, across the screen.
The biggest problem with this movie is that it needed, at the very least, one more film to tell this story. That’s not unreasonable, mind you. We’ve already had the final installment of Harry Potter told to us in two parts and I dare not mention that sparkly vampire flick being segmented because screw that film.
It’s just that a movie which is attempting to tell a story of this scope needs more time to cook, especially when dealing with the loose ends from the last two movies. Instead, Nolan chose to stuff 6 hours of material into 2 hours and 45 minutes and then leaves threads open! What’s the point of that if you’re trying to END the story?!
As a result, character development, which had been such a strength of the last two movies, suffers greatly. This is supposed to be the grand finale, the one where Batman “rises” and becomes the true protector and guardian of Gotham City, thus completing a tumultuous journey through hell to get back up to the light. Instead, there’s 15 minutes of Batman and about 2 1/2 hours of Bane vs. Gotham PD.
Even when we see Batman, he’s reduced to a weakling, a fool, a great comic character completely mishandled by the Nolans which is darkly ironic. And Bane, while big and frightening, is a tad muddled. In the comic, he’s an intelligent thug who just erases everyone else in his way so that he can become Gotham’s biggest crime lord. Here, his character is simply a retread of Ras Al Ghul (Liam Neeson, who makes a quick cameo here) on steroids and he’s suddenly part of The League of Shadows (from the first film) and that’s a bit sad considering the character’s history. Sometimes, you don’t mess with perfection.
The theme, which mainly continues to mirror our post 9/11 world, reaches sheer apocalyptic levels this time around which both works and fails at the same time. In Batman Begins, we got an origin story, a great examination of Bruce Wayne, and an analysis of fear being used for both good and evil purposes.
In the Dark Knight, we got a brilliant, near-operatic Shakespearean-style parable about the fine line between good and evil and moral consistency in times of crisis. Here, we get a mixture of the themes of the last two films plus a heavy-handed analogy of Occupy and the “99 percent” which (despite Rush Limbaugh’s complaints) comes across as more conservative than anything else. There’s even scenes where Gotham’s billionaires are trotted out, persecuted for their “crimes” and murdered by Bane’s men. Sheesh. Talk about going to extremes. I usually don’t have a problem with this but I found it to be more than a bit off-putting and dark.
The whole movie just has an impending sense of dread 75 percent of the time which isn’t really how I want to feel with Batman. Even when Batman makes his triumphant comeback, he’s knocked back down to nothing. I don’t get this. It makes me long for the days when Batman was confident and had a plan for everything.
Even still, there’s a lot of good to take in. The score, by the great Hans Zimmer, is always brilliant and even more different than The Dark Knight. Zimmer has a knack for this. For Batman Begins, he built a robust Batman theme that was strong and triumphant. In the second film, he tweaked it and added strings and deep guitar chords to reflect the Joker’s psychotic tension and unpredictability. Here, he adds a deep, booming score based on a haunting chant that, translated, means “Rise”. It adds color to key scenes where Bane runs amok, unchallenged.
Most of the supporting cast is pitch-perfect. The regulars are spectacular but Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman is a standout and plays the character beautifully. The first half of the film sets up the chess pieces for a spectacular second half where all of Gotham is on the line. One is reminded of several classic Batman comic storylines including Knightfall, No Man’s Land, and even The Dark Knight Returns. The problem is that each one of those stories stands alone and combining them all is akin to when you used to go to Burger King as a child and mix all the sodas in the fountain in one cup. Yeah, it tastes sweet but you’re not getting the individual flavors of each one.
Ultimately, the final chapter is very much worth seeing even if it’s not the final chapter we were hoping for. It’s definitely a fitting climax to a great series. Just don’t expect the classic that was “The Dark Knight” or “Batman Begins”.
— Matt Perri Copyright 2013 Matt Perri. All RIghts Reserved.
** With any luck Matt will return soon with more great reviews! Assemblers Avenge-ful!
TAKE TWO: The Flippant Review (Script and Plot) Nice Cracked.com review …. some of the things I was thinking AS I WAS WATCHING the FILM! (Not a good sign)…. writing writing writing dammit. Matt was being kind.
TAKE THREE (or Strike THREE, YOUR OUT!): “A New Bat-Vision” “See Matt, MY IDEA for a great Batman re-reboot in “Hollywood Pitch-Speak” would be the look, feel, script, casting!, directing and weird ambiance and Edginess of Memento (Nolan CAN do it!), Machinist! American Psycho! (Bale CAN do it!) Pulp Fiction, Fight Club etc…. NO Utility Belt, Bat-Pogo Stick, no Alfred, no Bat-cave, No Joker No villains NO EXPLANATIONS… is there this avenging creature of the night? Is it manifested? Batman or Badman? no “a BAT! That’s it, I shall become a BAT” nonsense… leave the theater wondering “what the hell just happened?”.. ala Friedkin’s Live and Die in LA, Cruising or Bug. Then again maybe I’m just desperately trying to shoehorn Childhood Heroes into grown-up world views and modern film sensibilities….”
*DISCLAIMER: Superman and Batman have been my fav heroes since forever, and I LOVE LOVE all things Comics, SF, Horror, Pulps, et al, but that cannot stifle freedom of speech and reasoned, mature opinion. Yes, I’m talking to YOU: “Nolan-ites”.
“007 reporting for duty.”
Never have those words sounded more welcome and enticing than in “Skyfall”, the latest James Bond film to grace our presence.
Please understand that my fanboy side is always screaming and cheering inside me for James Bond. There have been 23 of these films so far (not counting Woody Allen’s confusing version of “Casino Royale” or the cultish “Never Say Never Again”) and I have looked forward to each and everyone. I grew up watching these films as a boy thanks to a wonderful mother who adored the series (and also taught us NEVER to accept “Never Say Never Again” into the “official” Bond mythology) and who passed it on to my brother and I. As such, having seen all 23 films means we’ve seen our shares of triumphs (“Goldfinger”, “Goldeneye”, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” “Casino Royale” to name a few), the passable (the frustrating “Quantum of Solace”, “You Only Live Twice” and “The World Is Not Enough”) and horrible tribulations (“Thunderball” and “Moonraker” pretty much top this list for me), so where does this film rank?
I can safely say that Skyfall is, possibly, the best Bond film I’ve ever seen. Better than Goldfinger and Casino Royale (which was my favorite Bond flick of all-time) and infinitely satisfying. How great and satisfying is it?
Do you remember The Dark Knight Rises? Skyfall is the film that The Dark Knight Rises SHOULD have been in terms of storytelling, character development, and plotting.
In this installment, Bond (Daniel Craig) finds himself near obsolete after a botched mission in which his partner’s wayward sniper bullet strikes him down. M (Judi Dench) and the rest of MI6 believe Bond is finally toast and proceed to move on without him.
Lo and behold, Bond actually survives the incident and ends up living in seclusion, “enjoying death”, as he sardonically reveals to M later in the picture, by enjoying nightly female company in a hand-built, beach-side hut with bed and living quarters (which only exist in film and TV shows, it seems) and drinks at the local bar.
Bond, however, tires of the calm life and makes a return to service after seeing CNN report that MI6 has been blown to pieces by an unknown terrorist organization that’s stolen the identities of every undercover MI6 agent in London. One is reminded of the moment in “Goldeneye” where Judi Dench tells then-Bond, Pierce Brosnan, “Unlike the American government, we prefer NOT to get our bad news from CNN.” Whether the CNN Breaking News bit was intentional or not, I kinda “got it”.
The origins of this attack are due to a man by the name of “Mr. Silver” (essentially, Julianne Assange, as channeled through Javier Bardem), a former MI6 agent who knows everything, has a nice creepy “lair” in the middle of an abandoned city (the very real Hashima Island off the coast of Japan, which stands in for great effect), and who would like to play a game with M and her entire compliment of agents. But how can Bond face a shadowy enemy that fights anonymously from behind a laptop?
The shadows, in this film, are a running theme. This Bond film has a much darker edge to it. The stakes are higher, the enemy ice-cold, and Bond is tougher, having been sharpened like a knife over the last three films.
This film has grit in spades. A much-needed and much-welcomed intensity is on display here: fight-fights are dirtier, the scenery is colorful and sweeping (including a beautifully-shot fist-fight in a Shanghai high-rise), and director Sam Mendes gives us one of the most dramatic story lines in recent memory, involving Bond’s origins and the relationship between him and M that serve to rebirth Bond from fire using his not-so-lovely past.
How Mendes is able to accomplish this and STILL pay tribute to the history and tradition of James Bond is nothing short of a miracle. I can proudly say that Mendes may be the first director who might have made Ian Fleming a very proud man: while Martin Campbell gave us Bond as he was meant to be, Mendes is responsible for shaping and polishing him.
This movie is one I can heartily recommend. It will please fans of Bond, young and old and will warm the hearts of the most cynical Daniel Craig hater, which there are plenty of.
SKYFALL: **** out of ****
* Notice how the first scene (see photo at top) with light splash-focused on Bond’s face as he is in a tunnel, parallels the end-of-move-animation (50 Years of Bond) that re=creates the Connery/Barrel of a gun? No? Oh, well…. nice bookends to the film.
** Reviewer Matt Perri rates this film FOUR out of FOUR STARS. I Have taken the liberty of rating it 4 out of 5 stars in the review box above, which I hope MATT! Does not mind…. only because the review box demands “Out of 5 Stars”…. not four. I agree completely with Matt on his rating… but feel the top five out of five MUST be reserved for films, that over time, are the GREATEST FEATS OF CINEMATIC IMAGINATION…. (and we can argue about what films THOSE are another day… Citizen Kane? Exorcist? The Searchers? Vertigo? One of Bergman’s? Chaplin’s? Lang’s? Kurosawa’s? ….. )
Prometheusssssss in the Vespasian
“Prometheus” Film Review (Stream O’ iPhone Consciousness Style) good ideas good killing but parts script weak. Scientists grabbing heads in pell mell? C’mere snakey snakey snakey eiiiiifht right is that writers ? Producers? Studio influence? There is a better dramatic or even humorous way to write that part of the story leading up to the unexpected attack of the alien eel forms? Like inevitable trailer catchphrase things … script weakness papered over with shear $$$$$ spent on sets, visualfx etc wow…. Liked not so much the alien killings (although they were great and not as formulaic one by one off they go)…. But the blunt end… no reason, no Hollywood wrap! Utterly pointless darwinistic deaths…LOVE IT. Fassbinder tries to communicate and the old man wants answers or even a reprieve from death… But suddenly crew members are tossed to death etc … That’s real, that’s what we will find, as the young 2009 Dr McCoy stated (approx)”cold, death, terror as our blood boils” et al. Movie feels better now… For questions it doesn’t answer. Perhaps we can see why it’s true what Ridley said not caring for the genre. The hope the mysterys the faith in technology the future meeting with aliens when as Hawking said they will…. well yes “ye shall know the truth and it will eat you”. See how we regard those not like us, those not of our faith or race or sex or attraction or … See how some crew regarded Fassbinder…. who although unfeeling, WAS searching…. Can see glimmer of how the marble race may regard us from their point of view, their seed not warlike enough, not strong enough? Btw if civilizations has drawings symbols spread over eons then marble race (even bone structure skeleton has grown in out of their physiology.. See bones in all “Geigerish” art their helmets suits)… They must have come back to check our progress. Fassbinder and Guy Pierce (MEMENTO!!!) had the best roles and the female is at the fore again (good). Wow the “threat” was not the alien queens and face huggers but their creators…. Not our atomic bombs, but us. . . we have met the enemy and it is us. yes she said yes
‘lil stream-o-consciousness lazy writing ala Joyce (Thats what we call it when thumbed from an iPhone)
“Looper” – Stay out of the Loop.
Lame, laborious, and despite reviews to contrary, not THAT complicated a twist on the “Grandfather Paradox”. The “Look and Feel” is akin to a lame Chinese knockoff. The Audience, which laughed and giggled at inopportune moments throughout the movie, attest to this fact. Replete with jokes about how China will dominate in the future (did they pay for that product placement?). The audience laughed at this seeming inevitability. America is in crisis right now, suffering a depression, and yet the audience chuckled in agreement. What happened to America? Next, we are made to suffer through a heavy-handed script and character motivations: “he’ll do anything to save his wife, including killing a little kid” (I didn’t buy it)…. And if you didnt detect these “subtleties” after hours of this film, it is explained in a thought- noir-voiceover at the end of the movie. “Don’t insult my intelligence, Kirk”. Speaking of lame: the Art Direction and Production Design (or lack thereof). A couple of CGI long shots of the city skyline, wire/wheel removal on a motorbike, and 2012 dusty cars with pseudo solar panels or hoses strapped on, did NOT sell the shots to me. (I realize those mysterious hoses infer a modification to make cars run on different fuel… But 2012 cars in 2044 and 2079? I guess they do “make em like they used to”… err “make em like they WILL do”). Add to that: Time Travel Machines resembling old pottery ovens, with chicken wire inside. I realize they were shooting for a realistic near-future ambience, with a few unexplained alterations to deliver a “Real Feel”. Sorry, not feelin’ it. Unable to Deliver that package. A decidedly modern day look that appeared like it was designed by 10 year olds. Where was the money? Or was it all spent on actor’s salaries? Do I sound a little harsh? Being involved in the art form myself in a very, very small way, I hold these guys to the highest standards. Remember; we are talking about hundreds of people, under Hollywood producers, spending millions of moolah. I was juiced up for Bruce Willis, who usually owns the screen, and who usually has a habit of picking cool, quirky films. I was also ready for some great, complicated time travel nonsense. What I got was Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Drag Queen Screen-Test. I know this was to make him look like his “older self” played by Willis. Who applied such heavy prosthetics, foundation and liner? Such dark and perfect eyebrow work… No dye stains… Hmmmmm… why is it so distracting? The positives: Since time immemorial it has satisfied us to see Redemption and Self-Sacrifce from characters, after a lifetime of “sin” perpetrated on others. Always satisfying, perhaps because such great acting is the mirror to our own flawed soul. Warnings from science fiction films about our own near-future such as degradation of the poor and middle class, reliance on “gadgets”, loss of Sovereignty, are always welcome. Not a terribly terrible film. Worth a view, I guess… but certainly not worthy of the 91% overall “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Maybe that rating is due to the lack of other competitive films out at the moment.
REAL Super-Movies. Friedkin, Funnybooks, & Fab-Films
I am hoping that someone, somewhere, someday, can make a great film, tell a great story, that JUST HAPPENS to have a “superhero” integrated within the movie, rather than being a blockbuster for merchandising. Do not dumb down the story to the lowest common, repeated denominators: This is Superman, these are his powers, here’s where he comes from….blah blah blah WHO CARES? Don’t bother to explain ANYTHING . . . If you don’t know it by now, then too bad! If a film maker cannot deliver background information with subtlety, that does NOT require an origin story or white subtitles “Krypton AD 1972”, then S/He is not a film maker! How about a fantastic, layered narrative, that includes the Superman character. How about no Clark/Lois/Daily Planet/Alfred/Bat-Copter/Bat-Knife etc etc????? Jettison ALL THE STUPID BAGGAGE. (losing the Red Circus Trunks is a good start). Now at the risk of offering a solution, that in itself sounds like more “generalizations”: An Alan Moore-like, treatment about the Human Condition (ala “Watchmen”) for the Justice League? Great films HAVE been sourced from Graphic Novels before (say “Road To Perdition”). Does “Matrix”, “Cruising” or “The Crowe” qualify? How about a “Perdition” or “Memento” caliber story that includes Batman? Never Happen. (? see Avenging Superman minus Spandex = “The Flying Man” Film )
Having said that, I am looking forward to “MAN OF STEEL”. SUPERMAN! TRAILER #2
So what are the REAL Super-Movies out right now in theaters? As usual, not too many. Best film this year “End of Watch”, with superb integration of new-style shooting, particularly action-cameras. This is not your Daddy’s “Cops”. This is the natural evolution of Friedkin”s careening around with a pillowed camera in the “French Connection”. Realistic portrayal of East LA crime including Human Trafficking. Narrative and character development moves right along, but still feels like “slice o life”. One of the best “cop dramas” ever. See it.
Another Best Film Of Year “Killer Joe” by William Friedkin http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/killer_joe/
“AV Club: It’s interesting that you put it in terms of not wanting to be on the set, rather than not wanting to watch them. You came out of live TV and documentary initially, and even a movie like “The Exorcist” is shot with a certain fluidity, without a lot of standing around and waiting for lights to be set up.
William Friedkin: My earliest influences were comic books, obviously. I love comic books, but I never thought of making a film out of one. I love videogames, too! I still play videogames. There’s become a certain sameness about them; the only thing that seems to have improved is the technology. But I don’t want to make something like that as a film. I think they’re fine as what they are. I tried to watch some of these comic books, and I just can’t. I can’t do it! It’s not that they’re bad. People think they’re great, so they must be great because I don’t think the audience is wrong, usually. But you can differ. You know, people vote for some of the strangest people imaginable that I couldn’t vote for. They’re willing to send them to run our government, run our lives, you know? That’s a stronger decision than making a Spandex movie, voting for some guy who, you know, sounds like a dork and a liar to run everything! So I don’t feel myself politically engaged or engaged with contemporary culture.”
*READ THE REST of this Friedkin Interview at AV Club
Plus! Another great Interview with Friedkin in 2012 about “Killer Joe” in “TV Technology” magazine, TVTechnology.com, if ya can find it…
Other “REAL Super-Movies” . . . . I had a chance to see the films worth seeing in theaters. Just shorthand notes of what I think, for what it’s worth.
“Lincoln”. I’m always leery of IMPORTANT films, about IMPORTANT people, made by IMPORTANT people. Daniel Day Lewis was great… I thought he WAS Lincoln… Or at least, what we all would like to imagine that Lincoln was like… Perhaps a fantasy version we grew up with. It was, alas, just that: “Great Moments with Mr Lincoln” (which is copyright The Walt Disney Company, please don’t kill me). This projected “Winkin’-Blinkin’-Lincoln” was marred by some ham-handed scripting, Tommy Lee Jones as Tommy Lee Jones oops I mean Senator Stevens…and a shrill Sally Fields insisting she “WAS NOT crazy!”… Ummm, no.
“The Hobbit” was great fun, as expected, with everyone in makeup trying to be younger than their later “Lord” selves. Despite the three hour indulgence, and padding it out to another trilogy for commercial reasons, it was delightful to see Tolkien’s Appendices brought to life.
“Django Unchained” was great as long as you can stand at LEAST 3 musical interludes… Why push that routine?… Well, it is quirky Tarantino, so I do not wish to pick nits. The “N Word” was not intrusive, but was offensive (in a good way). DiCaprio and other Leads were entertaining, bringing a clever, funny script to life. Not his best, but worth a look.
Best films; “End of Watch” and “Killer Joe”… Also “Argo” worked very well. Affleck redeems himself with subdued acting, and low key direction. It felt like a great, small film. (Unfortunately, the Voice-over by President Carter was a mistake, everyone still thinks he was one of the worst presidents. Trying to improve his legacy in such a forced manner was not a good idea). “Zero Dark Thirty”: was strong, if slightly maudlin, although I have no idea if any of it is true or accurate. “Hitchcock” was carried very well by Helen Mirren’s performance, and some clever shots and ambiance. His “perversions” were probably soft peddled here, and his true Directorial genius understated. I love Hitch’s very early (pre-“Psycho” work particularly, such as “Sabotage”). “The Master”: Performances shine, not so much for Joaquin noodling around, but I enjoyed Philip Seymour Hoffman. Great Visuals. Kinda long and ponderous. Worth Seeing. Loved Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood” though.
Some of these 2012 / 2013 films have left theaters, and APOLOGIES for any others I have left out, it was NOT intentional. These include, but are NOT LIMITED TO: “The Grey”, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”, “The Avengers”, “Killing Them Softly”, “How to Survive a Plague”. “FAQ About Time Travel”, “John Dies At The End”, “The Imposter”.
See our detailed review of the excellent “SkyFall” elsewhere in this Blog. Other reviews in this blog include “Looper”, “Flight”, “Prometheus”, and “Dark Knight Rises”.
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