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The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
"tdkr" delivers the perfect end to an epic trilogy
Greatness is a title not easily won. Not for our cinematic heroes and assuredly not for our filmmakers. To be great, one has to do something utterly unexpected, fresh, or awing. Four years ago, writer-director Christopher Nolan concocted arguably the greatest superhero film of all time, "The Dark Knight." He did this by seeing something in the superhero genre that no one else in Hollywood did: drama worthy enough to take itself seriously. To this day when I watch "The Dark Knight," I see it not as a superhero film, but as a gangster saga as deserving of recognition as any Martin Scorsese masterpiece. Nolan's follow-up with "Inception" cemented the prospect: we have found true greatness in a filmmaker.
"The Dark Knight Rises," Christopher Nolan's farewell to the Nolanverse Batman trilogy, is a deepened genre film that surpasses its structured microcosm of being a 'superhero movie' and dives into the far greater challenge of evaluating and observing human nature.
The film holds the spot in Nolan's repertoire as being both the director's darkest film as well as his most muzzled. Despite the thematic and human nature darkness, Nolan surprisingly feels like he holds back from showing all he wants to show. I can't think of another film of his that feels shortchanged because of its PG-13 rating. The moments where this becomes most apparent is the allowance given to Bane's character. He is nowhere near as effective of a villain as he should be specifically because he's limited in his forms of physical violence. The rating-pushing menace of the Joker isn't to be found here. This is not the truly bone-splintering, head-crunching savage I expected from Nolan.
What I love most about the film is its massive subjects and themes. This is a film about people who are broken, in one way or another. In body. In spirit. In soul. Even Gordon, the best of Gotham, is submerged in moral relativism. Batman's decision to take the fall for Dent's crimes was something that we applauded we agreed with him. But now, we see that moment wasn't his decision to make. For the man willing to give up his life for Gotham... when the moment came down to it, he didn't trust Gotham enough with the truth. Nolan loves having a major theme in each of his movies, and this one is truth. We see how the truth or lack thereof manipulates the lives of Gotham citizens.
Christian Bale has never been better as Bruce Wayne/Batman. What Bale does with the role is nothing short of spectacular, and we see that enveloping of a character fans of Bale know he's capable of from "American Psycho" and "The Machinist." He gives the best performance of the movie. Alfred delivers two truly heartrending monologues (one of which rivals my favorite portion of "Good Will Hunting"). Gary Oldman is, as usual, outstanding as Gordon. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was perfect as a cop whose level of observation lets him in on several secrets of the most secretive members of Gotham.
I was pleasantly surprised at Anne Hathaway's villainous turn as Selina Kyle/Catwoman. We can tell by Nolan saw something special in her that no one else did. She has a seductive darkness that she can radiate at both subtle and harsh levels. Her motivations might be rather pedestrian, but her Catwoman is still my favorite among the character's incarnations.
Tom Hardy emerges from the shadows as Bane. His costume and mask design is alarming, and his sense of presence is imposing. Unfortunately, this Bane has two problems. The first is his monologist nature. I didn't mind his voice, but he talked more than Jeff Bridges in "Iron Man." There's a scene in the film that could have easily been the best Batman scene of all time and it gets close if not for Bane continuously monologuing. The second is his methods of killing, which are unimaginative and never savage enough for the character. Nolan's Bane is limited to snapping necks more than anything else. This is disappointing considering this is a villain who has a mesmerizing cold brutality that would rival Anton Chigurh from "No Country for Old Men." As is, I love what Hardy did and how hypnotic/intimidating he could be just by the intensity of his eyes (which were never showcased enough).
Ultimately, although it may not be as quotable or ingenious as its predecessor, it is far more emotional resonant. This film's emotional ending controls how you feel about the series as a whole and couldn't have ended better. I love this ending, because it surprised and satisfied me. The climax turns what was before an excellent addition to Nolan's body of work into an iconic, unnerving, and unforgettable experience.
So does Nolan surpass himself? Is this a better Batman movie? In a way. That's the problem with a complete comparison: they are totally different creatures, almost different genres. An example would be to compare "The Empire Strikes Back" to "Return of the Jedi" "Empire" may be the better movie, but "Jedi" is the payoff that makes the whole thing work. With any flaws "The Dark Knight Rises" may have, it's still the perfect payoff and send-off for what is my favorite superhero series of all time.
When all is said and done, this is the end of an era. There has never been anything quite like this series, and I doubt there ever will be again. Nolan turned a flight of fancy into something more. He made us look at this crime-fighting man dressed a bat not only as a character existing in realism, but also as a vessel containing a high-class type of drama, emotion, and weight we usually withhold only for more adult fare. This is, without a doubt, the stuff that legends are made of. This is the stuff that legends are made of.
Fright Night (2011)
A Memorably Exceptional Horror Remake (the First of its Kind)
Remaining in the same vein as many recent horror outings, "Fright Night" is more of an eerie action comedy than a straight-out scare fest. Good. That's my favorite type, especially considering scares in and of themselves hardly garner a pull anymore. Also, with a title like "Fright Night," we have an understanding with the filmmakers that we're getting one of those throwback horror flicks. You know, the ones that gave the horror genre that fun movie-going reputation it had in the 80′s before tasteless gore and tiresome predictability defiled the genre? This film succeeds on that promise, quickly turning itself into the quintessential "fun" horror flick perfect for Friday night.
Styled after Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window" (which inspired its own modern retelling, "Disturbia") with a suave vampire living next-door instead of a mysterious stranger, this plot is very similar to its original. Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin; "Star Trek") is a ex-nerd who has joined 'the cool crowd,' dropping his oldest friend "Evil" Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse; "Kick-Ass") for a hot cheerleader girlfriend (Imogen Poots; "28 Weeks Later"). Things are looking oh-so-grand for the little flake (I mean, come on, any guy who hurtfully tells his friend "the day my life got better was the day I stopped hanging with you" is well a douche), he gets a new next-door neighbor that his mom (Toni Collette; "The Sixth Sense") takes a liking to: Jerry Dandrige (Colin Farrell; "Horrible Bosses"). Now Jerry seems like a cool guy, but as we all know, you don't cast Colin Farrell to be your average next-door neighbor. Ed's attempts to convince Charley that Jerry is actually a vampire fail, but when Ed himself goes missing and Jerry shows proof of what he is, Charley goes to the only person who might have the answer: Peter Vincent (David Tennant; "Doctor Who"), the Las Vegas magician who boasts of supernatural knowledge on how to kill vampires.
The choice to modernize the original 1985 "Fright Night" doesn't like that bright an idea considering the current rule that all horror remakes suck, but somehow this became a unique effort due to diligent actors, a reliable director, and successful laugh and scare gags. It is, without exaggeration, the first great entry in the long line of atrocious horror remakes. It takes what we liked about the original and comes up some clever changes that update the story 26 years to the present.
From an ingenious kill method at the end to wickedly suspenseful chase scenes, "Fright Night" boasts some surprisingly memorable scenes some of which are incredibly suspenseful considering we think we should know what to expect from a vampire thriller. The opening is a startling 3D shot through dark thunderclouds that ends in an impeccably-executed family massacre. With Craig Gillespie's (the outstanding director of "Lars and the Real Girl") imaginative direction and Ramin Djawadi's (scorer of "Iron Man" and "Mr. Brooks") jarringly effective and wholly memorable musical score, the film hits all the beats it strives for with manic zeal.
The all-star cast deliver a gratifying romp of suspense and chuckles, but the movie belongs to its villain and its anti-hero, Colin Farrell and David Tennant. The rest give solid performances (especially Mintz-Plasse), but they pale compared to the main act.
Colin Farrell, when given the opportunity, revels in the grittiness of villainy whenever he can. For Jerry Dandrige, Farrell is at an all-time evil high and unchains his dark side. Part Hannibal Lector in his charming menace and part Buffalo Bill in his vicious brutality, Farrell carves himself a sweetly unpredictable part filled with great moments (from his menacing way of asking for a six-pack of beer to his ultimate way of overstepping house invitation rules to a great moment where his decision to do absolutely nothing produces far worse results).
The fascinating part about Jerry is he isn't like regular vampires. He seems more inspired by the worst of modern serial killers than mythical killing machines, with his secret torture rooms and closet full of dozens of uniforms signifying authority (from firemen to the post office to the police). He's modern without being "Twilight." He's a ominous hulking mass. Those characteristics mixed together with his bizarre personality create a rather unique Hollywood vampire. Due to this, I wish the "transformation" to full-on vampire face was never included, as it is poor CGI and takes away from Farrell's menace.
David Tennant, who I will admit I adore as the 10th Doctor Who, is a cinematic gem. His acting style has always been that of a Shakespearean extremist, and I can't think of a better role that has such obvious wicked glee in allowing him to let loose. There is something strangely mesmerizing in Tennant's scenes as the vulgar magician-turned-vampire-killer, especially in his first big scene where his vehemence and wide-eyed enthusiasm is outstandingly exaggerated. Also, seeing him acting with a giant shotgun is way more fun than I expected it to be. He's about as entertaining if not more so than the performance given by Roddy McDowall.
In the end, what really matters about this movie? Is the movie suspenseful and thrilling? Yes, especially when Jerry really is allowed to let loose his menacing charm and kill with the same love of general violence of a "Reservoir Dogs" character. Is the movie funny when it tries to be? Absolutely. The pop culture references especially in a crack on "Twilight" and comparing Jerry to the shark from "Jaws" work particularly well. This is a huge amount of fun. So if you walk into this expecting the right kind of movie, "Fright Night" is that perfect Friday night scare.
A cinematic Perfection, "Inception" shows us why we go to movies in the first place
It is extremely difficult for films today to actually deliver what their trailer concepts promise. It seems that Hollywood can rarely produce something that surprises us anymore. So when the "Inception" trailer first appeared online, I expected massive disappointment. It just had that look of being too ambitious and imaginative for its own good. I feared it would ultimately drown in its own attempted originality.
I was wrong. This movie blew me away. "Inception" is what happens when a true visionary finds a unique story that hasn't been told before and tells it in the most breathtaking way possible. This is the type of cinematic masterpiece that comes along only once in every generation.
A story that rivals the writing of Charlie Kaufman, the action of Michael Mann, and the heart and emotion of Alan Ball, this movie will stand for years to come as to what magnificent storytelling heights films are capable of today.
The story is about a man named Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio; "Shutter Island"), a professional 'dream thief' who enters the dreams of high-powered individuals and steals valuable information from their subconsciousness for those who are willing to pay for those 'inaccessible' secrets. When a client (Ken Watanabe; "The Last Samurai") hires him and his team members - including Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt; "(500) Days of Summer"), Ariadne (Ellen Page; "Juno"), and Eames (Tom Hardy; "Rock n' Rolla") - to go inside the mind of the rich son (Cillian Murphy; "Batman Begins") of the owner of a multi-billion dollar company and actually implant a memory (the meaning of inception), Cobb is promised that this last job will get him what he has dreamed of for years back to his family. But when Cobb's tragic past begins to push its way through his consciousness and attacks their plans of inception, the team must do everything in their power to keep all levels of reality in check in order to succeed and survive.
Ultimately, this movie isn't just the best film of 2010 or one of the best science-fiction film in years. It's also one of the greatest movie-going experiences I've ever had. I just can't contain myself. I just loved every single frame of this movie. This isn't just "The Matrix" for the new generation. Better yet, this is what "The Matrix" should have been.
Director Christopher Nolan flawlessly combines complexity, originality, and ambitious storytelling to weave together a film that without exaggeration is unlike anything we've seen before. As shown with "Memento" in 2000, Nolan doesn't overly concerned himself with the fickleness of mainstream appeal or special efforts. All he has ever concerns himself with is telling the best story imaginable. That's what makes Nolan great his utter dedication to the story being above anything else. It was a robbery that Nolan didn't get an Oscar nod for Best Original Screenplay for "The Dark Knight" - so here's hoping the Academy may make up for that erroneous mistake by actually noticing how brilliant this script is. "Inception" may, like several science-fiction movies did last year, have transcended its own genre, which is a very rare and wondrous thing to behold.
As good as the story is, Nolan makes sure the effects aren't slouching. Remember the first time you saw the action scenes from "The Matrix" and found yourself completely awed by the sheer scope and uniqueness? Well, that was so 90s. "Inception" takes fight scenes to a whole new level with fight scenes. The zero-gravity hallway brawl with Levitt is mesmerizing, with the fight going from the floor to the walls to the ceiling. Every fight scene, be it normal or not, just has this feeling of freshness.
Also, the sense of detail is astounding and awe-inspiring. This talent is especially relevant during the first time Cobb takes the newbie 'architect' Ariadne into the dream world and we see just how manipulatable the world is when she literally turns the busy New York town inside out. This is where Nolan's technical wizardry just shines to Oscar heights. Every visual shot is beautifully constructed, with money shot after money shot gracing the screen. My two favorite moments were where Ariadne manipulates Cobb's dream and the jaw-dropping last half-hour which involves a flawless and complex editing job of inter-cutting five different realities and events coherently.
On that note, this whole film is deserving of massive awards attention a few months from now. This is especially top-notch directing, writing, and cinematography. The acting of the cast should get some recognition as well.
Leonardo DiCaprio apparently just can't be stopped in his ambitious rise to becoming one of the greatest actors in Hollywood. This just might be the year Leo actually wins himself an Oscar with his monumental acting chops in Martin Scorsese's "Shutter Island" and now with "Inception." In the last decade, we've seen this guy rise from teenage heartthrob to a true actor's actor. His emotional versatility has never been as prominent as it has this year, and Nolan's screenplay perfectly compliments DiCaprio's talents in molding a character who is the heart and soul of this story. Without Cobb's heartfelt characterization, this film wouldn't have been nearly as good. He shines in each and every scene dealing with his wife (Marion Cotillard; "Public Enemies") and their past together. We can totally sympathize and understand how Cobb's raw obsession of the fate of his family haunts his every waking moment.
In the end, this is a groundbreaking epic that will go down in history as being one of the greats. This is going to be what most sci-fi writers are going to aspire to. Nolan already proved that he is capable of masquerading a cinematic masterpiece as your average summer blockbuster with "The Prestige" and "The Dark Knight." This is simply another example of his uniqueness as a filmmaker. "Inception" is truly Nolan's masterpiece and considering Nolan's previous brilliance, that says a lot.