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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 Artist

The Artist cleaned up the big award categories at the Oscars. For many it was a predictable Best Picture win because of its playful spirit and daring differentiation by bringing back an all but dead film genre. Although admittedly, The Artist was not my favourite of the Best Picture nominees (I preferred Hugo and Midnight in Paris) it was certainly entertaining and its homage to silent films was just splendid to behold.
As nearly everyone who hasn’t been living under a rock is bound to know, The Artist is a black and white (mostly) silent film. Jean Dujardin plays George Valentin, an enormously successful silent film star who watches his empire fall to ruin with the rise of the Talkies. Complicating matters further, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), a beautiful young woman who was a mere extra in one of his movies becomes a huge star in this new wave of film. We soon see George’s complete collapse, becoming little more than an alcoholic living in a bachelor suite with only his dog to keep him company. The audience watches as a culmination of terrible circumstances and George’s pride and arrogance topple him, before his eventual resurrection.
Although fictional, the story hits upon the tragic reality of careers lost to technological change. Watching this I can’t help but be reminded of silent film giants such as comic phenom Buster Keaton, whose career crumbled at the dawn of talking pictures. In the film, George is haunted by this turn of events, which leads to a disturbing Twilight Zone-esque nightmare where his perfect silent world begins to fracture, allowing sound to seep through the cracks.
Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo both shine in this film and are able to harness the art of silent performance. Both are incredibly charming and have excellent chemistry with each other. Dujardin stirs our emotions as the tragically proud George Valentin; it’s heartbreaking to see his steadfast belief in the excellence of his own work, especially when we know the way the tides of the film industry are turning. Bejo is also lovely, infusing Peppy with ambition and a compassionate heart. Her admiration for George’s work never wavers, and despite his anger and possible jealousy, she remains a fan, and acts as a guardian in his time of need.
Despite most audiences’ lack of experience with this type of film, the direction and performance is fantastic, and entertaining. This combined with the occasional intertitle and at times heavy handed names of Peppy Miller’s films (ie. at one point a ruined George stands underneath a marquee that reads “Lonely Star”), remove any road blocks that would prevent audiences from understanding what is going on.
The Artist is a beautiful and charming film. It takes a gamble by breathing new life into an old style, and risks alienating audiences who may feel the lack of sound and colour will bore them. Anyone who watches this film, however, will find these fears unfounded. Its entertaining story, great characters and homage to early cinema is sure to please just about anyone.

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