Category Archives: Film

The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises brings to a close Christopher Nolan’s holy trinity of comic book films. The final installment is big, bold, ambitious, and exhilerating at times. Unfortunately, it’s immense scale does not always lend the core story any favours, leading to a bulky plot that still manages to feel rushed. This film is good, but it’s lost the zest that made the other two films feel so fresh. Nolan has fallen into a trap of his own making; Batman Begins and The Dark Knight were so exceptional, that The Dark Knight Rises shines dimmer in comparison.

The story takes place 8 years after the events of The Dark Knight. Gotham is a different city now. The Harvey Dent act has passed, locking up most of Gotham’s criminals. It is a time of peace, and Bruce Wayne, still reeling from the loss of his love, Rachel, is all but a ghost. Bruce has become a recluse, the punishment his body has taken over the years has finally caught up with him, leaving him crippled and having to rely on a cane.

The films attention to time and it’s effects on Bruce Wayne is definitely one of the stronger elements of the film. This is not the same Batman we have come to love and cheer for. Time has not been kind, something the film treats both with comedy (demonstrated in a particularly memorable and eye opening trip to a doctor played perfectly by Thomas Lennon), and with tragedy, when we see Batman is no match for Bane.

The beginning of the film felt sluggish, with not much keeping it rolling. The energy that sustained the first two features is not present in the first half of the Dark Knight Rises. I believe this is a combination of several long scenes of expository dialogue, and screen time being taken up by a variety of new characters.

All of these new characters are key to the films twisted plot. We meet Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), a wealthy business woman looking to provide Gotham with clean free energy…if only Bruce Wayne will make good upon their agreement. Joseph Gordon-Levitt also shows up as a young and hot headed police officer, John Blake. Gordon-Levitt is good, as always, bringing passion and a steely determination to his role. The villian of The Dark Knight Rises, Bane (Tom Hardy), is revealed at the beginning of the film, where he pulls off a kidnapping mid-flight. As much as I love Tom Hardy and admire his talent, Bane is a near lifeless villain. His motives are murky at best and despite being physically imposing, he doesn’t read as much of a threat. Any spark behind Hardy’s performance is muted behind the enormous mask that covers a good 2/3’s of his face. Even Hardy’s choice of a theatrical voice to overcome the confines of his costume, which he based on Bartley Gorman, an Irish gypsy bareknuckle boxer, does little to improve his characterization. Early screenings of the film noted Bane’s dialogue was so distored from the mask, that he was completly unintelligable. While the final product is clearly an improvement, there were times in the theatre, despite my intent listening, that I still couldn’t understand what he was saying. Furthermore, Nolan’s fix for Bane’s speech was to rerecord and overdub the vocals, making his voice starkly different from the other audio in the film. Hardy’s voice thus sounded disembodied, and would often pull me out of my immersion in the film.

One character who provided a delightful edge to the film is Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, though she does not go by this alias in the film. I was pleasently surprised by Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of Selina. She balanced the character’s sexy and manipulative behaviour with her stunning physical prowess and sharp wit. Any scene she was in instantly became more fun.

A final note on the story. The Dark Knight Rises, which was perhaps inspired by the ‘No Man’s Land’ series of Batman comics, also draws some insideous parellels with the Occupy movement. Bane’s followers appear to be mainly male, working class or homeless youth. They give their lives for Bane, and their mindless fanaticism is never really explained, though it is assumed to have something to do with Bane’s master plan. This is even more troubling when one factors in the major theme of this film. Bane enacts a coup over Gotham, overthrowing the cops and rich of the city. He asks the citizen’s to take back Gotham, though rather than get Utopia, there is only chaos, with the city becoming a wasteland. Clearly the working class can’t be trusted to rule themselves, a rather disturbing message hammered home when we see how order is finally restored.

The Dark Knight Rises is a mixed bag. By the time the energy of the film began to pick up, much of my initial excitement had waned. This is not to say the entire film is dull. Nolan has attempted an incredible ambitious work, with many twists and moral questions. Darkness and despair colour many scene’s, particularly when we see Alfred, Bruce’s loyal butler, reach his breaking point. Caine provides the film with one of its few worthy emotional moments. Unfortunately the movie is so large that it is plagued with errors and strange inconsistencies in order to make the story function. Nolan makes an outstanding effort here, providing the Batman trilogy with a decent, though disappointing closing chapter.

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I recently caught The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo at The Rio Theatre (@riotheatre). I’m familiar with the story having already read the first two books and seen the Swedish series. Although I loved the Swedish version, and really don’t think that they needed to be redone, I will admit to perking up when I learned David Fincher would be directing and that it would feature another Trent Rezner/Atticus Ross collaboration for the soundtrack.

This film is very well made, and manages to squeeze in a lot of information from the lengthy source material into its two and a half hour run time. Although Fincher’s film provided a different experience from the Swedish version, I believe they each have their merits. Fincher’s version is dark and polished like the rest of his catalogue. He sets up the mystery fairly well and keeps things moving at a good clip, trusting his audience to keep up with the vast network of characters and events that occur.

If you don’t know the story, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo follows a a recently publicly humiliated journalist, Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) and an emotionally disturbed and abused goth hacker extraodinaire, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), as they work together to solve a mystery. Their task: solving the murder of Cecilia Vanger, the niece of Henrik Vangar (Christopher Plummer), a once powerful Swedish businessman. We soon get up close and personal with his unsavory family, who is chalk full of Nazi’s and bullies. Mikael is charged with trying to find Cecilia’s murderer under the guise of writing a book about Henrik’s life. Lisbeth is eventually brought in to help with the investigation. The rest of the film is dedicated to Lisbeth’s dark past, and her current interactions with creeps and rapists who plan to take advantage of her status as a marginalized person. We get a grim sense of satisfaction when Salander eventually takes her revenge upon those who have wronged her.

As I mentioned before, I really liked this film. The opening credits alone are mesmerizing, and serve as a symbolic entrance into the themes of the film (check it out for visual awesomeness!). The source material is of course strong, and the screenplay translates the story well and weaves together a compelling mystery, while still maintaining many of the labyrinthian character relationships. On top of all of this, the electronic soundtrack is stunning. Reznor and Ross create a score full of cold, metallic sounds that suit the freezing Swedish landscape and Lisbeth’s hacker world. The performances are also worth noting with Craig being incredibly likeable as Blomkvist. Mara in particular turns in a hypnotic and fierce performance as Salander. That being said, while her performance was quite good, the one major qualm I had with this film was the portrayal of Salander.

While it may be argued that Lisbeth is more ‘humanized’ in this film by giving her a wider emotional range, I would argue that she is also more feminized according to Hollywood standards. There are very slight differences that achieve this within the film, and major ones in the marketing of it. In Fincher’s film, Lisbeth seems more like a moody and pissed off young woman, rather than the cold and emotionally disconnected Lisbeth of the books and Swedish films. From my reading of Steig Larson’s books, Lisbeth is meant to be damaged yet simultaneously super human. I don’t believe that she is supposed to be entirely realistic. The character is a bundle of impossibilities. The book alludes to Lisbeth having a mental condition such as Aspergers. Men in the book often view her as someone easy to victimize, but we know the truth. Lisbeth is strangely alluring, a world class hacker in possession of a photographic memory and flawless tools of deduction with a fierce sense of justice and the strength to fight back and decimate her opponents. In my mind, Lisbeth is supposed to be a woman’s avenging angel and the projection of our revenge fantasies: an abused and damaged woman who fights back and refuses to break, surviving despite the slimmest odds. Noomi Rapace in the original film series embodies this ideal of the dark super heroine well. She is cold, distant and emotionally calculating. Mara’s Lisbeth is still fiery, however she seems more like a rebellious teen in attitude rather than the deeply damaged Lisbeth we know. Her interactions with Blomkvist also reveal a more Hollywood aesthetic, as they are quite friendly with each other, and though Lisbeth is still dominating, there is something in the familiarity she allows in the relationship that is not quite right for the character.

The biggest difference in the depiction of Lisbeth however, is in the advertising for the movie. The ads and posters for any film provide an interpretation for the characters audiences have yet to meet. In the ads for The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo, we are taught to view Lisbeth not as strong, intelligent or capable, but as a sex object, which is particularly disturbing considering the content of the film. The books and films have become infamous for their disturbing and graphic depictions of brutal rape and violence against women. Stieg Larsson was appalled by the sexism he saw present in Swedish society, and fittingly called the first book of his series ‘Men Who Hate Women’ (this was changed to the less abrasive ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ when brought to North America). Having said this, the sexualization of Lisbeth and Rooney Mara in the press is downright ironic and disturbing. One only needs to compare this version of the poster for the American release (image is NSFW) to the original Swedish one to see the difference in interpretation to the character. The American poster features a nude Rooney Mara, clinging to the arm of Daniel Craig which is wrapped protectively around her upper body. She appears wary and afraid but is presented as something sexual and an object of desire. Compare that with this Swedish poster and you get a very different image of Lisbeth. A marginalized woman alone, strong and staring intensely at the camera.

These slight differences in Lisbeth’s character are food for thought for anyone who wants to compare the Swedish and American films. Once again, despite this issue, I really do think that this is a great film and a competent adaptation. I really shouldn’t be surprised about these changes, it’s just too bad they couldn’t leave Lisbeth alone.

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Drive

Drive was hands down one of my favourite movies of 2011. The film has excellent pacing and is beautifully shot. Aesthetically, the film felt like a strange mix of an 80’s crime drama (helped along by the pulsating electro-pop soundtrack) and minimalist European cinema. It is a strange collision that works quite well.
The plot is simple. A quiet seemingly nameless young man, the Driver, (played by Ryan Gosling) works as a mechanic and stunt driver by day, and lends his services to criminals as a get-away driver by night. He meets and forms a bond with his neighbours, a young woman named Irene (Carey Mulligan), and her son Benecio (Kaden Leos). He comes to love them and resolves to be their protector. When Irene’s husband, Standard (Oscar Issac), is released from jail, it starts a series of events which culminate into a brutally violent end.
Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan are fantastic. Neither character says very much, communication radiates out from their eyes and body language. Muted as they both may be, their physicality, mixed with the few lines they do speak, go a long way. The camera work and lighting also assist the audiences reading of scenes by amplifying the feelings the actors are working towards by introducing a range of temperature to the film. Scenes literally have a way of feeling hot or cold in ways that are clearly meant to assist in our collective reading of what takes place. When Gosling is alone or working on a heist, many of these scenes feel cold, metallic and shot in cold grey tones with hardly any colour. When there is colour present, such as at a night club scene, it seems harsh. His is a world of cool calculation and machinary. When the Driver is with Irene, the feeling of the film changes, becoming warm and comforting. We take a ride on the Driver’s emotions. Warms tones are present as he drives with Irene at night, sits in the dim light of her apartment and visits a hidden creek with her and her son. We feel the love and companionship between these characters. And still there are other scenes, such as the beautiful and brutal elevator scene, where we shift from warm to cold, love to malice.
This film is not for everyone. The entire first two thirds of the movie unfold in a slow and meticulous manner, serving as a long build up to an explosively violent end, which left me both shocked and exhilarated. While not for the faint of heart, or those lacking in patience, Drive is one of the best mainstream films released this year, and well worth the ride.

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50/50

50/50 is an emotional and occassionally funny story that examines a young man coming to terms with a cancer diagnosis. This is a tale everyone can relate to on some level, as I doubt there are not many people who have not been affected by this disease in some meaningful way. The story introduces us to Adam, a bright and driven employee of NPR in Seattle, who, early in the film is diagnosed with a rare form of spinal cancer with a frightening 50% survival rate. We watch as Adam endures emotionally confusing times and shows difficulty accepting his disease, after all, how could this happen to someone like him “I don’t smoke, I don’t drink…I recycle!” he exclaims dismayed. The story is based on the experiences of screenwriter Will Reiser, who was encouraged by his friend, Seth Rogan, to write the script after enduring cancer in his early 20’s. Seth Rogan, who co-stars in the film, essentially plays himself (he helped support Reiser through his illness), and is at the top of his game as Kyle, Adam’s supportive yet exasperating best friend. Joseph Gordon-Levitt turns in yet another great performance as Adam, bringing emotional clarity to the role. It’s honestly impossible for me not to fall in love with Gordon-Levitt in each of his films, and his performance sweeps me off my feet again. We also see strong supporting roles turned in by Angelica Huston, who plays Adam’s over-protective, yet emotionally tough mother, and Anna Kendrick, as Adam’s therapist.

Reiser’s screenplay is excellent for the majority of the film, and walks the fine line between hope and despair. While we see Adam going through difficult moments, the film never digs too deep into the physical horrors of the disease and treatment. Instead it focuses on Adam’s mental state and his relationships with his friends and family. Although there are many engaging personal confrontations in the film, Adam’s interactions with his less than loyal girlfriend (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) feel a little too rushed. The issues involved on each side for this couple are undoubtedly complex and I felt as though their scenes were brushed aside. While the audience sides with Adam, we lose much of Rachel’s perspective, although there is a fleeting attempt to convey it. While not defending her characters actions, it would have served the story well to gain a perspective on the stress debilitating sicknesses can have not only on those diagnosed, but others in their supportive network.

Despite a few drawbacks, this is an excellent film, with very strong performances and superb writing. I highly recommend 🙂

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes


And I’m back! That took a while…I figured I am long overdue for a post. Now that I have free time again *shakes fist at September* I can finally work up the nerve to post new reviews. Yay!

Here is one I wrote in the summer, enjoy!

Rise of the Planet of the Apes tells the now familiar story of man playing god, ignoring all warning signs and messing about in the gene pool. Will Rodman (James Franco) is trying to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, a disease with which his father suffers. Will’s father (played by John Lithgow), a once beloved music teacher has now been reduced to rubble by this cruel disease. Will’s experimentation culminates in the birth of Caeser, a super smart adorable chimp. When Will brings Caeser home to foster him, he is astounded by Caeser’s mental capacity. Things become complicated when Caeser’s sense of independence and rights become more developed and he begins to act out.
The story centered around Caeser (whose movements and facial expressions are brilliantly performed by the fabulous Andy Serkis) is the film’s strongest feature. Caeser is a tragic character caught between two worlds and frustrated at his status as an outsider. His tale is emotionally compelling and exhilarating when he gains the courage to lead. The crowning gem of the movie is Caeser and his fellow apes flight for freedom.

The other half of the film, however, which focuses on Franco’s conflicted emotions as a son and scientist feels half baked in comparison. Rather than fully shape this story, the actors and issues presented are squandered in melodramatic plot turns that are far too sappy to become anything bearing emotional importance to the audience. John Lithgow turns in a particularly overdone performance and Freida Pinto is wasted in an underdeveloped role which evolves into nothing more than her being the film’s token female character. Overall, I thought the script and the onscreen confrontations were childish. Things just don’t add up. Several questions come to mind: I get that these apes are super smart but how does that also make them tactical battle aficionado’s? What gives them all the ability to throw javelins and slings with deadly accuracy? Are these not learned skills? Maybe logical consistency is asking too much. Although the action was fun and Caeser’s story is engrossing, I don’t feel like there was much else there. If you are a big fan of the Planet of the Apes series it would be worth checking this out. Other than that, I’d give it a pass until it hits the small screen.

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Filed under Action, genetics, Prequel, Science Fiction

X-Men: First Class

After several rewrites, late reshoots and a change of directors X-Men: First Class has finally hit the big screen. I was initially skeptical of this film. X-Men has long been my favourite comic book franchise but I felt burned with the last 2 releases (the ridiculous X-Men: The Last Stand and Wolverine: Origins) which squandered interesting story lines in the pursuit of ‘mutant power mania’, creating self indulgent CGI spectacles. So needless to say my expectations for X-Men: First Class were fairly low. However, director Matthew Vaughn was able to defy the odds and pull off a very entertaining and cohesive film. X-Men: First Class is very cleverly set during the The Cuban Missle Crisis of the 1960’s. The story follows the origins of Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) aka Magneto, and Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) , aka Professor X. Opening scenes focus on the childhood of both men; Erik was a prisoner in Hitler’s concentration camps while Charles led a privileged, though neglected life in New York. Fast forward a few years and Charles has finished his doctorate in genetics, while Erik is busy hunting ex-Nazi’s, looking for Dr. Schmidt (Kevin Bacon), the man responsible for killing his mother. In a twist of fate, both him and Charles team up with the CIA to look for Schmidt, now known as Sebastian Shaw, in the hopes of stopping his sinister plans with the Russian and US Army to start a new world war. The driving force of the film relies on the push and pull of Erik and Charles’ basic moral values. Erik is all about survival and has no confidence in man’s ability to accept and live in peaceful cohabitation with mutants. Charles, on the other hand, is an idealist and dreams of a time when mutants and man can mutually respect each other. This key characterization and the other moral questions presented play off quite well, especially since the ‘superhuman’ aspect of the film is muted. While there is of course the obligatory training montage of super powers and a few awesome action sequences, they are hardly the focus of the film and are not used as a crutch for an underdeveloped story (a common problem in many superhero films). X-Men: First Class’ also boasts an excellent lead cast. Michael Fassbender in particular stands out above the rest, fusing Erik with appropriate amounts of brutal morality and passionate conviction as he seeks revenge and ultimately strives to stop history from repeating itself in the form of a mutant holocaust. The story moves quickly, making it’s 2 hour and 12 minute run time fly by. I have only a few qualms with the film. One glaring issue is the quality of January Jones’ acting. While beautiful, she spends most of the film walking about in her underwear looking vacuous and unfortunately for Ms. Jones, her talent is not nearly as developed as her breasts. While her character, Emma Frost, is meant to be calculated and cold (pun intended), Jones’ complete lack of passion leaves the majority of her lines falling flat and lacking any conviction. Finally, there is the matter of continuity with the rest of the X-Men series. It is hard to tell if this is a reboot or a prequel. The entertaining cameos from former X-men actors, as well as the film’s advertisements, point towards it being a prequel. This could just be my raging nerd sensibilities talking but there are some points that don’t quite match up. Such as the use of Emma Frost, shown to be a young teenager in Wolverine: Origins which takes place roughly 10 years after this film or the differing roles of Moira MacTaggert (played in First Class by Rose Byrne) in X-Men: Last Stand and X-Men: First Class. However, continuity issues and January Jones aside, I tip my hat to Matthew Vaughn who rescued this fertile franchise from almost certain destruction.

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House (Hausu)

A few weeks ago I went down to The Pacific Cinematheque (one of my favourite haunts) to check out House (Hausu). I didn’t know what to expect, other than that it had become a cult classic in Japan. To this day I am not sure if anything could have truly prepared me for the insanity that awaited. The story follows a group of 7 school girls on their summer holiday. The lead protagonist, Gorgeous, (each girl is named after a ruling personality attribute ie. Prof, Kung Fu and Fantasy) convinces the girls to come visit her aunt out in the country who she hasn’t seen since her childhood. Unfortunately her aunt is haunted by the memory of her lost lover, and has since become a malevolent spirit in possession of a demonic cat, a sinister house and a ravenous hunger for young girls. Gorgeous and company soon learn after the mysterious disappearance of some of their group, that they’ll have to rely on their wits and individual strengths to discover the secrets of the house if they want to make it through the night alive. House is completely deranged, and I do mean that in the most complimentary sense. Released in Japan in 1977, it only began to be distributed in North America in 2009. House fuses genres, taking a typical horror storyline and turning it on its ear, combining it with comedy and melodrama. Part soap opera, part paranoid delusion, House makes ample use of wind machines, vaseline on the lens gauzy effects and stage blood. One of House’s strongest points is that it takes ideas that are genuinely creepy and pushes them over the edge to comic absurdism. Furthermore, the experimental effects utilized by director and producer Nobuhiko Obayashi are hands down the highlight of this film and maximize its surreal impact. Nobuhiko Obayashi reportedly wanted to achieve an unrealistic look and makes use of paint, animation, and over the top stage gore. Not willing to compromise his vision, Nobuhiko uses these effects to bring his audience memorable images of murderous pianos and renegade lamp shades. It is honestly difficult to find a flaw in this film, since I believe that every element contributes to the overall feeling. While the acting is amateur and over the top (Obayashi used mainly non-actors) and the dialogue inane I feel that it all just adds to the experience of Obayashi’s funhouse. This film is not for everybody, but for anyone who wants to let go of all sense of reason and just have fun for an hour and a half, House provides a surreal and ridiculous dreamscape, and it’s well worth it.

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