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The Dark Knight (2008)
IMDb top 250 reviews #1
This is my first review in a series of, in theory, 250. Seriously folks I'm gonna watch em all!
At the time of this writing The Dark Knight is the number one ranked film on the IMDb. Although one should always be skeptical about the hype and passion that we heap on what is new and novel. This may be one time where the hype was justified. The credit here belongs to Christopher Nolan, who is perhaps the most compelling director of this generation. With Batman Begins, Nolan transformed the comic book film forever and finally gave us the vision of Batman that we had been waiting for. I recently heard a statement (by Kevin Smith I believe) that The Dark Knight follows it's predecessor the way Godfather two follows Godfather one. I'm afraid I couldn't say it better. Dark Knight makes it's claim to individuality by almost negating the thesis of the first film. (as Godfather II does) Nolan's films always seem to revolve around perception and how it is used to create our reality. The first film was about how Batman turned fear on those he has sworn to fight. The Dark Knight is about how Batman has finally found an opponent who can turn his own crusade against the city. The Joker is the first villain who is "immune" to Batman's methods. The film sustains constant tension (almost horror) when we realize that the Joker is always 4 steps ahead of our hero. And how do you defeat a villain with no agenda?
Heath Ledger delivers everything that was promised. The Joker that Ledger has created is truly an achievement in menace. Every other performance of the character is obsolete. (including the over-hyped, overrated performance by Jack Nicholson). Often the sympathy that comes with dying young leads actors to be over romanticized and over hyped. But this performance even won over the person most likely to be annoyed by unjustified hype (me). The Oscar would be well deserved!
Also worthy of mention is the surprising handling of Two Face which is yet another aspect of the Batman story that Nolan has explored in ways that (after HE did it) seemed almost obvious. Which may be the most subtle part of his genius. (although a lot of credit needs to go to Frank Miller and all the writers of the last 20 years who have made the character three dimensional)
It should not be at the top of anyone's list of all time films..............but what Nolan has achieved here will be remembered for decades to come. He has upped the ante forever on the sequel in general and the comic book sequel in particular. But more than that.......The Dark Knight is yet another installment in a career that keeps us coming back again and again to be shocked and amazed.
Monkey Business (1952)
Hawk's most underrated comedy!!!!!!!!!!!!
If you are browsing through your local Blockbuster you might run across this DVD. You can't miss it....it has Marilyn Monroe plastered all over the cover. And while the sight of Marilyn is always most welcome, in this film she is not the biggest attraction. Howard Hawks made this film at RKO in 1952 after "The Big Sky" which broke an unbroken string of box office hits that began in 1939 with Only Angels have Wings and ended with 1951's "The Thing" which may be Hawks most influential film. After the relative failure of the Big Sky Hawks returned to the genre that never failed him: comedy! And who better to work with in a Hawksian comedy than his go to guy Cary Grant. With two of his favorite script writers, Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer in tow it seemed a match made in heaven. Grant always seemed to work as well with Hawks style as any other actor and this would be the fifth (and final) film that they would make together.
However most critics and fans and even Hawks himself (he felt that the outrageous storyline robbed the film of it's effectiveness.) find this film to be a failure. I disagree! This film is actually my favorite Hawksian comedy (that i've seen so far). The film succeeds in part to Cary Grant's performance (brilliant as usual) and Ginger Rogers who demonstrates rare comedic ability in this film that I think is most overlooked. Rogers received a golden globe nomination despite not really receiving much support from the master. (Hawks was quite rude to her on the set) The situation which (except for the fantastic element of the plot) could have been lifted straight from Three's Company simply works. This film will make you smile and has enough of the little Hawksian touches to make any student of Hawks quite happy. Pay close attention to the interplay between Grant and Rogers. The usual subtleties of dialogue so typical of hawks imply that Grant and Rogers have a very normal sex life which is something not always implied in period movies. The situations are of course ridiculous but achieve a level of entertainment and joy that measures up to any Hawksian comedy. And yes I HAVE seen Bringing up Baby and His Girl Friday. Monkey Business is simply underrated. O....and if doubt me, you can always look at Marilyn!
Only Angels Have Wings (1939)
Start of the winning streak!
Howard Hawks is one of our finest and most underrated directors. I believe it was Leonard Maltin who stated that Hawks is "the best director you've never heard of". Meaning that Hawks is commonly not mentioned with the likes of Ford, Hitchcock and Welles. This is probably because Hawks usually made "popular" films that focused on dialogue, character development, and speed (whether action or comedy) to set himself apart. Hawks had complete confidence that the audience liked what he liked.....and most of the time he was right! Beginning in 1939 Hawks began a streak of hits that would continue into the early 50's. After making Bringing Up Baby (something of a flop...now a classic) Hawks departed RKO after being replaced as director of Gunga Din (whose story he had a big hand in developing) and made this film at Columbia. Hawks intention was to make a film about the daredevil attitudes and experiences of pilots flying the mail in South America. The safety conditions for these pilots are non-existent and as a result they live each day as though it was their last.
More than most movies this film is often pointed to as a summation of the "Hawksian" style. A group of men working closely to accomplish a common goal who are united by the dangers involved. These men are not "family men" or people with long term aspirations. They live in the moment and find their meaning through their comraderie and understated support of each other. As with most Hawksian dialogue (Jules Furthman would become a regular Hawksian writer after this one) it is understated and never overly emotional. The fun begins in Hawks films when a woman arrives who is often more than a match for the man she's in love with! (this pattern prevailed in the comedies as well).
In this film Cary Grant, who is one of the greatest "Hawksian" actors, plays Geoff the head of the air mail airline who has sworn off women because they just don't seem to deal with his dangerous lifestyle. Therefore Geoff deals with women in a very cavalier way. Jean Arthur is American woman who arrives and turns his world upside down. But this film is not just a romance. There are multiple relationships between the characters that keep the viewer engrossed. Thomas Mitchell is most intriguing as the "buddy" who has been with Geoff for a long time and is quite subtle in his dedication toward his friend. Richard Barthlemess is outstanding in a late career role as the pilot with a checkered past who has to win over the trust of the other flyer's. (he's already won over the trust of Rita Hayworth, which is nothing to sneeze at!)
Only Angels Have Wings is one of Hawks best, and perhaps most personal stories. Hawks claimed that it was one of his most "true" films in that he had been a flyer in World War I and was very interested in the dynamics between the early daredevils of aviation. The film moves along at a crisp pace and contains many tense, gripping scenes that keep the viewer entertained despite the Hawksian emphasis of character/dialogue over plot.
Angels was a huge hit for Hawks and was the beginning of his most successful decade in Hollywood. In terms of influence Hawks would give ANY golden age director a run for his money. Directors such as Quentin Tarantino, John Carpenter, and Martin Scorcese would agree! Hawks films are worth studying and "Only Angels have Wings" is a textbook sample. I highly recommend it! 10 Stars!!!!!!!!