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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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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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Inception

Ever since viewing the teaser for Inception nearly a year ago I have been eagerly awaiting its theatrical debut. I caught an early matinee screening one week after it opened in order to avoid a critical mass of human contact, and excitedly submerged myself in Christopher Nolan’s cinematic dreamscape. The story is simple enough: a group of information thieves, each with a specific job, plan to enter the dream state of a young businessman in order to plant an idea in his head (the act of ‘inception’). The film takes us into several layers of the dream realm and ends up creating an interesting lattice of storytelling rarely seen in summer blockbusters. The film mashes together genres such as action, film noir, fantasy, and mystery to create an entertaining and smart film.

Inception was worth the wait, and although it has been over-hyped (I believe that The Dark Knight is Nolan’s superior film) it still delivers with memorable visual effects and a creative storyline which was reportedly ten years in the making. The film is well cast, made up of performers that are so irritatingly good looking the film borders on reaching ocular nirvana. The character banter is quick and interesting enough to maintain the attention of the audience over the course of the film’s 148 min run time. Leonardo Di Caprio does well as Don Cobb, the film’s tragic hero, whose ability to do his job is compromised by the projections of his dead wife which plague his subconscious and create an element of danger for the other dreamers. Hands down the most interesting elements of the film are its action sequences, particularly one spectacular fight scene involving a rotating hallway. Joseph Gordon-Levitt reportedly spent 6 weeks filming the brawl which is perhaps one of the most visually mind boggling and creative fight scenes to grace the big screen in recent years.

The film does have its pitfalls of course. While the dialogue between characters is often sharp and entertaining it easily becomes bloated when used to describe the processes of the dream and other concepts Nolan is trying to explain. Although Nolan feeds each of his characters with enough explanatory data to hold the audience’s collective hand through what they are witnessing, some of the scenes are laughable, particularly when attempting to describe the many levels a dreamscape can contain. Even with these blunt attempts of translation some audience members will still lose their bearings of whose dream is whose or lose interest completely (on a second viewing of this film I saw two people walk out and several surrounding me whisper to friends in confusion). Perhaps Nolan’s most remarkable feat with this project is that Inception broke the world record for the most amount of times the word ‘dream’ can be uttered in one film. Finally, Nolan introduces philosophical issues regarding the nature of dreams, reality and human perception to the plot. Although he attempts to touch on the subject several times, Nolan never makes a clear statement and instead leaves the ideas floating without many thoughtful connections. Overall, Inception offers audiences a beautiful and action oriented trip into a dream land, though it lacks a deeper reading into the bigger philosophical questions brought up throughout the story.

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Filed under Action, Christopher Nolan, Film, Science Fiction, the unconscious