The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises is, overall, a pleasure to watch and is a thoroughly satisfying conclusion to the splendid trilogy by Christopher Nolan. It’s long and imperfect, but worth it.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released July 20, 2012

Written by Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan, and David Goyer, based on comics by Bob Kane

Directed by Christopher Nolan

Starring, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Gary Oldman, Matthew Modine, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Aaron Eckhart, Nestor Carbonell, and Chris Ellis

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Since taking the fall for Harvey Dent’s (Eckhart) crimes eight years ago, Batman has been in hiding, essentially retired, and Bruce Wayne (Bale) has been a hermit. (Interesting that nobody seems to make the connection…) But when Wayne Enterprises suffers financially and Wayne has a chance to get an altruistic investor named Miranda Tate (Cotillard) involved in helping his company, Wayne leaves his isolation. He also meets a talented cat  burglar named Selina Kyle (Hathaway).

Then Bane (Hardy) shows up and essentially wants to lay waste to the city of Gotham, ostensibly freeing the populace from the rule of the upper class. Now Batman has to use all of his resources to escape from a horrible prison that Bane tossed him in and save his city from all out destruction. He gains an untrustworthy ally in Kyle, still has Lucius Fox (Freeman) around to help him with gadgets, and of course has his trust butler, Alfred (Caine), by his side.

Add to all of this Commissioner Gordon (Oldman) wishing he could tell the world the truth about the hero Batman and a young, determined cop named Blake (Gordon-Levitt) who wants to make a difference in the world and help Batman.

Bane’s plan is complex and very destructive and he is very businesslike in his brutality and battle. Batman’s hurts are real and his burden will likely require his life. Selina Kyle seems to want to escape from her thieving life. Alfred wants Bruce Wayne to leave Batman behind and help his city as Bruce Wayne, finding a full and happy life for himself. Blake wants to stop Bane and keep Batman around so the sometimes impotent police can get a hand.

While the story gets quite complex, and we don’t see a lot of Batman and instead see a lot more of Catwoman and Blake and Gordon, this is still a very fine movie, albeit somewhat long. But so much of good happens in this film that the running time is totally forgivable.

Critique

The writing of The Dark Knight Rises is a clinic on tight plotting, thread weaving, and character-driven action. Each event that occurs comes about because a character has made a choice, which is why the movie is so engaging the entire time. True, we only first see Batman himself about 1/3 of the way through the film, but the character development is wondrous to behold.

The production design is not quite as dark as the first two film; there is definitely more light in this movie. The city is a character in itself and the staging is quite nice. Granted, there are some inconsistencies and a few goofs, like with the frozen river and Wayne Manor, but these are inconsequential. The camera work is epic, soaring, and at times very intimate, helping the stakes of the film hit close to home. That said, some of the editing is a little off, with a few transitions seeming rough and one really strange timeline goof which took me out of the story. This would not have been hard to fix and I wish Nolan had done so.

The acting is top-notch, and in a movie that is so crowded with talent, it’s an unfortunate truth that some folks get little screen time. Freeman’s Lucius Fox is one example; we see very little of him. Christian Bale carries the film on his capable shoulders, giving us a very risky superhero in a damaged, lost man who is not sure what his place in the world is. Tom Hardy basically growls and speaks in a strange voice, as well as lumbers and beats the tar out of Batman; honestly, he’s hard to understand at times. There’s not a lot to Bane, which is unfortunate for him since he’s following in the villain footsteps of the Heath Ledger’s Joker.

Cotillard is a lovely presence and she does a find job with another somewhat underused character in Miranda Tate. Oldman is pitch-perfect as usual, giving us an aging, still tough and principled Commissioner Gordan. But Gordon-Levitt, Hathaway, and Caine steal this movie. Blake’s motivations are displayed in his body language and fire. Hathaway practically channels Julie Newmar combined with Michelle Pfeiffer, nailing the part of a deliberately cold, selfish thief who is not happy with who she is but who knows what she’s capable of and will do what it takes to get what she wants or needs. Then there’s Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth. He provides the soul, the conscience, the heart, and really the salvation, for Bruce Wayne. He’s just lovely.

With a few goofs, a far less interesting villain than its two predecessors, and a lot of ground to cover, The Dark Knight Rises rises to the challenge of tying up this excellent, ground-breaking trilogy. The emotional climaxes pack a serious punch.

On its own, The Dark Knight Rises takes the number two spot for this year’s rankings so far. As a conclusion to the trilogy, it would take the number one spot.

Content warnings: lots and lots of stylized violence and a few near-gruesome images, some explosions, some harsh language, minimal sensuality

Writing: 5          Acting: 5          Overall: 5

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The Fighter

For being a movie ostensibly about boxing, The Fighter is a sneaky, almost gentle movie that, by the time it finishes, you realize is hiding a knockout punch.

Here’s a preview:

The deets:

Released December 17, 2010

Written by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, and Keith Dorrington

Directed by David O. Russell

Starring Amy Adams, Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Melissa Leo, Mickey O’Keefe, and Jack McGee

Rated R

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Micky Ward (Wahlberg) is a boxer who’s always had potential, but never seems to have found it. His older half-brother, Dicky (Bale) was a successful fighter who knocked Sugar Ray Leonard down once, but whose life has since become totally derailed by drugs and alcohol. The title of The Fighter probably refers to Ward, but could just as well refer to his brother, his girlfriend Charlene (Adams), or even his mother (Leo). They’re all mighty strong personalities and they’re all fighting for something. What makes this movie so powerful is that each one fights for what they believe in, what they value, most– even when that value is in contradiction to what others around them want.

So Micky’s being trained by Dicky, who was himself trained by Mickey O’Keefe. Micky flubs the fight he promises everyone he’s going to win. He gets the tar beaten out of him. So he quits the boxing business. His brother Dicky seems intent on quitting life and gets in serious trouble with the law. Micky has his hand broken trying to help Dicky.

This is when the brothers have a falling out that seems insurmountable. Charlene is determined to keep the toxic Dicky from her man’s life and to try to help Micky have a real life. But Micky’s need to compete and battle is rekindled and he finds his heart. He starts training in earnest and the family dynamics threaten to derail his burgeoning success. These are real people and they have real conflicts, but they love each other so much that they have to find a way to get out of each other’s way.

All of this leads to a powerful and emotional climax, both in and out of the ring. It’s not so much a movie about boxing but about a family with boxing, and other violence, in their blood.

Critique

Beyond some possible overacting by Christian Bale, this is as close to a perfect film as you will see in years. The writing is totally unassuming, telling a seemingly simple story of two brothers, both with broken dreams. The acting is also unassuming. The performances from each of the main four actors are so note-perfect, so real, so completely engaging, that the movie is captivating from the start.

You wonder where the story will go. You wonder whether there will be an emotional climax. But you forget that as you are carried into the lives and world of these people.

Dicky’s absolute narcissism and selfishness, his need to constantly have attention on himself and relive his glory, is infuriating. Micky is too easy-going, too forgiving of his brother. Their mother is too heavy-handed, too indulging to Dicky. Charlene is kind and sweet, but also seems very ambitious and possessive.

These are real people. They’re good, but very flawed. It’s a totally captivating film because it doesn’t just focus on some outstanding boxing matches, but it really spends time focusing on the conflicts inside and among the family members that duke it out through this story.

The way this movie ties the story up, with the emotional impact that it has, will make you feel like you’ve been given several body blows followed by an uppercut. What a knockout of a film.

Content warnings: some sensuality, plenty of profanity, drug and alcohol use, boxing and other fisticuffs

Writing: 5          Acting: 5          Overall: 5 

This is my number 1 movie from 2010. Rotten Tomatoes pretty much agrees with me. Don’t forget to share this review; if you don’t you will be cursed by a wandering gypsy woman.

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