AEOS Review: The Dark Knight Rises

Not Avengers. Not The Hobbit. Not the first of The Hunger Games or the last of Twilight produced the most anticipated hype for movies in 2012. I still believe that The Dark Knight Rises was the most anticipated film of the year. You can even add in a Tom Hooper and Quentin Tarantino flick near Oscar movie season, and I still hold firm in casting Nolan’s ending Batman in that top spot.

And with so much hoopla surrounding a film, only the inevitable seems probable, right? In other words, it’s not really possible for a movie to fulfill the impossible expectations that we, as film viewers, critics, audience, or even your average, everyday film-goers, have placed upon the film and shoulders of one Christopher Nolan, right?

Code language aside, The Dark Knight Rises was faced with an uphill battle the moment The Dark Knight hit theaters back in 2008. With a Batman movie receiving that kind of critical acclaim and love from critics and audiences together, how could the now much-recognized director deliver on an even higher and better level? He still has all the same people in his pockets–his brother, Jonathan, as co-writer; his cast with Christian Bale and Michael Caine leading; his composer, Hans Zimmer; his executive producer, Michael Uslan–the list goes on of course. But can the same team of people create an even better film?

With the unexpected death of Heath Ledger, perhaps there were minor (or major) script changes following The Dark Knight. Regardless, following TDK‘s massive success came the decision to finish the series with a final film, thus creating another trilogy film set–and according to some (and me in that group)–the best film trilogy made yet. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

This Is Not a Summary

I met up with my film buddy, Fredo, from FilmYarn yesterday to record a podcast on the film. When he posts it, I’ll be sure to include a link here. Before recording, one idea we talked about was how oftentimes many film reviews are just pretty summaries of the film. Am I guilty of doing that? Oh yes. Multiple times, in fact. But in order to offer something I hope will be a little fresher, I’m working extra hard with this “review” in order to make it not just a film review reiterating plot points, but something a little different, and hopefully something that will boost some outside-of-the-box thoughts and discussion from you guys.

My Initial Reaction(s)

I forced myself to not write this review until I had seen the film at least twice. Often when I see a film a second time, I have a very different reaction. I’m happy to say that this was the case, even though I didn’t even allow 24 hours between my two viewings.

After I saw TDKR for the first time, I loved it. Thought it was great. But I couldn’t dispose of the nagging feeling in my head that TDK was better, superior, and overall the better film of the two. And that was frustrating, because this was the END! Never again will I get to see a new Nolan Batman film and compare. Regardless, I went back the following day and caught an afternoon viewing with a friend who had yet to see it. The result this time?

Still, I loved it. But my complaints had narrowed considerably. I liked it probably ten times better than the first viewing. Partly, because I caught quite a few more things the second time around, and was able to better relax while watching. Any movie that has a decent amount of depth and plot usually requires me to view it twice minimum in order to get out as much as possible about a film.

Comparison to Its Older Cousin, Spiderman 2

Although this may seem like an odd comparison, I felt like I kept seeing parts of Sam Raimi’s Spiderman 2 while watching. Spiderman 2, was, in fact my favorite of Raimi’s Spiderman trilogy, as well as the best-reviewed of the three. That point aside, consider the plot of Spiderman 2. In the opening scene, Peter Parker loses his job. Mary-Jane is with another guy. Peter gives up being Spiderman for a short time. The guy is picked apart and stripped down. It isn’t until he hits his lowest point that he regains speed, reclaims his title as Spiderman, fights the bad guys, and reunites with the girl.

In TDKR, in an effort to not spoil or give anything away (in this section), I’ll hold off on revealing too much. Essentially, however, the same idea takes place; any person who has viewed the trailer can piece that together. The idea is in the title–the action on Batman’s part, “rises”–implies that he must be low in order to rise. This idea moves me into the next thought I had . . . .

Metaphorical vs. Heavy-Handed

Fredo and I argued about whether TDKR treated its theme as a metaphor in a literal sense, or was it really just Christopher Nolan being heavy-handed in over-exaggerating the theme? I, for one, vote on the side of metaphorical. Picking up where I left off, Batman is in a low place, and therefore must rise. Several parts of the film adopted the idea of being low in order to rise. Various scenes were filmed underground. Bruce Wayne/Batman started off the film in a low place–weak mentally, physically, and emotionally. Even the time of day/weather played a role in literally rising.

Fredo saw this use of emphasizing the theme of rising as more like banging the audience over the head with a hammer constantly. It wasn’t just enough to have Batman rise to the occasion, to rise to the problems of Gotham and put his best foot forward; Nolan had to emphasize the idea of rising in multiple outlets and formats throughout the film. While I very much appreciated the purposefulness of it all, others, like Fredo, did not.

For those of you who saw the film, would you consider the film more metaphorical, or handled far too heavy? For those of you who have not seen it, please take this idea in mind and let me know what you think when you do see it!

It’s Such a Nolan Film

Anyone who has seen multiple Nolan films will agree that TDKR follows the same formula of his other films. Every scene, every piece of dialogue, every action, every tangible and intangible element has a purpose and point for being in its place at its time in the film. Everything is planned out. His films are literally puzzles, and each scene acts as a piece that must be placed at a specific time and place in the correct space.

The element of time, while is important for the film, doesn’t bear the necessity it does in his other films. In Memento, the time functioned in a more nonlinear structure. In Inception, time could be extended in various levels of dream stages, thus elongating itself in order for certain actions to take place. Nolan’s Batman films don’t quite restructure time like his others; however, time plays an essential role in certain actions needing to take place.

The film contained quite a few flashbacks in order to successfully tell the story. Nolan loves him some flashbacks. He makes great use of the device in The PrestigeInception, and Memento. The flashbacks tell a great story that reveals pertinent information in the film. 

Ensemble Cast from Heaven

In his review of the film, Richard Roeper called watching this cast work as “movie heaven.” Even with TDKR‘s flaws, the cast really pulled out all the stops. There wasn’t a weak force on screen. Anne Hathaway was a stand-out just for not screwing up the role. Viewers went into the film with the lowest expectations for her, and she turned around and surprised many of us, including me.

Complaints have been made regarding Tom Hardy’s Bane. I talk more about his motivations in the Closing Thoughts/Queries section, but speaking just on his performance, I’d have to say he was nothing short of excellent. Talking with that device over his face had to be pretty difficult to deal with. He was menacing and expressed himself through his eyes, and while he might not have “stolen” scenes, he certainly took center stage when he was on screen.

The scenes shared between Christian Bale and Michael Caine were some of the strongest. My one big frustration (SPOILER) was Alfred going MIA the entire second half of the film.

Full Circle . . . for the Fans

SPOILERS AHEAD! 

And now I can’t hold back from spoiling parts, because in order to appreciate the idea that TDKR fulfilled Nolan’s Batman in such a satisfying way, one has to point out those lovely gifts Nolan wrote into the film. Getting to see Liam Neeson in a few short scenes as Ra’s al Ghul was such a treat. To learn of his connection in TDKR with Miranda Tate as his daughter, his heir who desires to finish his legacy, really makes it feel like we’re watching a finished, fulfilled version of Batman Begins.

Cillian Murphy returning for a couple short scenes as a crazy version of himself (was he really being Scarecrow?) felt like Nolan just saying to the fans, “Here ya go, fans. Enjoy.” Even when the prisoners were released to run about and eventually engage in battle, I was again reminded of Batman Begins. I felt like TDKR had quite a few parts that mirrored Batman Begins.

Closing Thoughts/Queries

SPOILERS AHEAD!

  • What did you think of Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robin? Do you think the idea of leaving the Batman legacy to Robin was a smart choice? I, for one, enjoyed the reveal at the end, even though there were little hints dropped throughout the film if you hadn’t already caught on that JGL fit the Robin profile exactly.
  • Did the ending feel like Inception to anyone else aside from me? Two different people afterwards asked me if that end scene was a dream. I’m not sure whether to laugh or consider the possibility! But really, I don’t believe it was a dream.
  • Can someone please fill me in on what exactly Bane’s intention was? He kills, kills, kills. He constructs these nearly flawless plans to destroy Gotham and its inhabitants. You can’t tell me he did this all for the love of a woman. While the fake-out at the end revealing Miranda Tate as the villain was a little surprising, it really makes Bane’s motivations fall apart at the seams.
  • Did anyone else wish that the Joker story would have been closed? Every villain in all three films–except the Joker–was brought up in some way. Ra’s al Ghul, Scarecrow, Two-Face/Harvey Dent, and of course the two in the film, Catwoman and Bane, all had a place.
  • So many films end with the hero sacrificing himself by destroying something bad in order to save a place. In Lord of the Rings, Frodo sacrificed himself to destroy the Ring to save Middle-Earth. In The Avengers, Iron Man sacrificed himself to destroy a missile to save New York City. In Captain America, the captain sacrificed himself. Even Jack Bauer in 24 was about to fly a plane down in order to save the world, or something like that. The Dark Knight Rises follows suite: Batman sacrifices himself to destroy a time bomb to save Gotham. Yet all the heroes live in the end. Would it have been a better ending for Batman to die?
  • We have to compare (of course), so did you dig The Dark Knight or The Dark Knight Rises more? Was either one a better film than the other? While in some aspects I consider The Dark Knight the better film, I couldn’t imagine Rises being any better than it was. It completed a trilogy. It brought the series full circle. It even had hints of humor that the previous two films lacked. It pulled out all the stops, was epic in almost every proportion possible.

I’ll really miss this series. I believe it’s the best film trilogy made yet. Although the goodbye is bittersweet, I can’t help but wonder, what is Christopher Nolan going to do next?

Reaction to Oscar Nominations

Everyone’s going to have their own quips about what film was nominated, what film wasn’t nominated, who got snubbed, who got included who shouldn’t have, etc. Some will and some won’t agree with me on any or many of these.

If you read my previous post, you’ll already have a one-up on this one. In more detail, here are my reactions:

What Disappoints Me

  • Shailene Woodley not making the cut for Actress in a Supporting Role. Who got it instead? Melissa McCarthy from Bridesmaids. I can’t even comprehend how there’s a comparison here. I really don’t care to vote between comedy or drama; in terms of role performance, in my humble opinion, Woodley–not McCarthy–should have been nominated.
  • Drive‘s lack of nominations. With its overall positive reviews, ratings, and plug for Ryan Gosling, I’m stunned that it’s walking about with only a single nom. In my latest post, I mentioned the forgotten Albert Brooks. I feel like Drive is walking away forgotten.
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt missing the nomination. I know most people are more upset over Fassbender not on the ballot. I haven’t seen Shame, and honestly, have little interest in seeing it. Although I would like to see it since there’s been a great deal made about it. This disappointment, however, is regarding JGL–and I am disheartened to see that he has yet to get past Golden Globe nods and break through that Oscar glass.
  • Speaking of JGL, how about Will Reiser’s script not passing for Best Original Screenplay? I’m a little hesitant to praise Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig for their Bridesmaids script, and I haven’t seen Margin Call, but I’m still wondering how 50/50 didn’t get nominated.
  • Harry Potter series walks away with zero acting nominations. As discussed with some on Anomalous Material, this isn’t entirely surprising. Actually, considering some of the biggest film series with huge casts, it’s almost not surprising at all. But for us Potter fans, it still hurts a little inside to see not even Alan Rickman get some much-deserved credit, much less a host of other fantastic supporting roles. Oh, and did I mention Daniel Radcliffe? I know I’m not in the majority thinking this, but I can’t help but admit that he did such incredible work, especially in the last film. Not even a Golden Globe nod? What do I say to all that? Boooo.
  • The snubbed Mr. Ryan Gosling. Between DriveIdes of March, and even Crazy Stupid Love, which strangely earned him a Golden Globe nod, Gosling walked away without a single nomination. So I think it’s sad that he didn’t pull through for Drive  or even Ides. With a year that boasted his name more than any other, it’s disappointing.
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close making the Best Picture cut. Are you serious? Here’s a better question: how does a movie with a 48% rating on Rotten Tomatoes get nominated for Best Picture?

What Confuses Me

  • Why is Viola Davis considered the lead actress in The Help? I have no problem with her being nominated. In fact, I support that. But here’s my beef: I watched The Help, and I was under the impression the entire movie that Emma Stone was the lead character. This is lost on me.
  • Why is Emma Stone completely forgotten from The Help? I realize she plays straight to the characters portrayed by Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, etc. I even almost get that most would not consider her performance Oscar-worthy. But that leads me to three more questions–Why does she not get credit at any awards ceremonies this season for her work in the film? Why is her performance in Easy A considered Golden Globe worthy, but not her role in The Help? And finally, why does Melissa McCarthy get credit for her role in Bridesmaids at the freaking Oscars, but Emma Stone doesn’t get any credit for The Help . . . AT ALL?! Anyone?
  • Why is Berenice Bejo in the Actress in a Supporting Role category? Perhaps this one is more obvious. Jean Dujardin is clearly the lead. Understood. But wasn’t Bejo the lead actress in The Artist? It was the same way at the Golden Globes. I’m just really confused about this.
  • Why is everyone making such a big deal about Rooney Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? I realize it was a very polarizing, intense role to portray. I get it. And I can even understand the Oscar nomination. What I don’t get? Why is there all this crazy fuss about her? What other work has she given to film that makes her stand apart from the rest? OK, so she’s just getting nominated for TGWTDT. Understood there. But isn’t that kind of a slap in the face to Noomi Rapace from the Swedish version? I mean only two years prior, she played the same role–and fantastically, I may add–and didn’t receive any of this accolade that is being poured on Mara. Why is that?
  • Why can’t the dogs from Beginners and The Artist get nominated? After all, the one from The Artist saved Dujardin’s life. And the one from Beginners? Doesn’t get much cuter than that. Academy, how about we add a new category, eh?

What Makes Me Happy

  • Perhaps the nomination that delightfully surprised me most was Nick Nolte in Warrior. The film itself hadn’t gotten much praise–good reviews, but not great ones. I realize everyone mentions issues with the film from cliche type story line, to boring cinematography, to “we’ve already seen this movie a zillion times in other sports films.” Got it. But I’m incredibly happy to see Mr. Nolte get some credit for his role. With great performances all around in Warrior, Nolte stood out to me, even considering Edgerton and Hardy. What a well-deserved nomination.
  • The Help and Midnight in Paris showing up on the Best Picture list. Although neither film will be a contender for that category, I’m happy to see both get nominated. The Help received a massive amount of criticism, and I wasn’t sure Midnight in Paris would make the cut, even with its growing popularity.
  • Cars 2 didn’t get an Animated Film nomination. Sorry, Pixar, but 2011 was not your year. Glad to see better animated films get nominated.
  • Gary Oldman nominated. I know this will make a lot of people’s lists of things that made them happy for this year’s Oscars. Although I wasn’t blown away by Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I will say that I’m happy to see Oldman receive so much-deserved credit.

AEOS Double Review: Win Win and Warrior

Last weekend, I got to see two GREAT movies that probably would have made my top 10 list for 2011 (or very close to it), had I not already made the list days earlier.

Win Win and Warrior are incredibly different movies, but the one thing they share in common is fighting. In Win Win, Paul Giamatti plays a frustrated high school wrestling coach. Warrior features Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton as estranged brothers, both with past mixed martial arts skills who enlist in the same fighting tournament.

WIN WIN

Paul Giamatti, in like every other movie he plays any type of role in, shines, playing a guy named Mike Flaherty who’s a struggling attorney and coach of a pathetic high school wrestling team. He and his wife, Jackie, played by the lovely Office alum Amy Ryan, have two daughters. Mike is well aware that his job is not paying the bills, and that he needs to do something, and fast. One of his clients, Burt Young (Leo Poplar), is without a guardian and will be forced by the state to stay in a retirement home. The catch is that whoever is Young’s guardian is in for a nice sum of money each month. Mike convinces the judge that he’s the man for the job, and takes the title of Mr. Young’s guardian. The only problem is that Mike doesn’t have time between his jobs and family to watch an elderly man, so he enlists him in a retirement home anyway–convincing him that this is what the judge ruled–while still cashing in the checks.

Not much later, Young’s grandson, Kyle (Alex Shaffer), meets with Mike, and a whole new set of actions take place. Kyle takes up residence with the Flaherty’s, enrolls in the local high school, joins Mike’s wrestling team–and becomes the star wrestler–meanwhile, Mike is continuing to cash Young’s checks in secret.

It all comes together in the end, although as a viewer, I wondered how that was going to be possible as it seemed to get messier as time went by.

I really enjoyed this movie. The actors all looked like regular, every day people, and in part, made it such a believable story. The relationship between Mike and Kyle grew, almost claiming a father/son-like relationship. Mike provided for and encouraged Kyle, while Kyle gave Mike a reason to believe in wrestling again.

Thomas McCarthy both wrote this brilliant script, as well as directed the film. He’s played a variety of small roles, but his most well-known accomplishment is his screenplay for the Pixar success, Up. Win Win is only his third movie to have directed. I hope to see more from this guy in the near future.

While the story was exceptionally strong, a lot of credit has to go to the actors for developing and playing out strong characters. Bobby Cannavale, who played Mike’s best friend, Terry, was especially humorous in scenes, breaking the drama up a little bit. Giamatti and Ryan worked well together as husband and wife, and parents wanting to always do the right thing, but sometimes failing. Alex Shaffer might have been the stand-out in the cast, playing a realistically troubled, yet kind and grounded teenager.

Win Win was a highly underrated movie for 2011. It’s definitely worth a watch.

Win Win = 4/5 eyes on screen.

WARRIOR

Initially, I wasn’t going to see Warrior. I didn’t fine The Fighter from 2010 entirely compelling, and wasn’t up for another fighting movie. But from the excellent reviews I was reading on the movie, I decided to give it a chance, and I couldn’t be more thankful for it.

I am officially a Tom Hardy fan. I’ve seen him in Inception and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and his role in Warrior is exceptional–and surprisingly left off awards lists. Between an incredibly convincing American accent, and playing such a complicated character, Hardy went in for the kill in Warrior. Stripped of any kind of happy demeanor, being estranged from both his now sober father, Paddy (Nick Nolte), and older brother, Brendan (Joel Edgerton), Hardy’s character Tommy comes home and announces to his father that he’s interested in taking up fighting again. He gets his dad to train him, but reminds him that there would be only training–no affection, connection, familial ties, forgiveness–just training.

On the other end of the spectrum, Edgerton plays the dead opposite type of character–a high school physics teacher who’s married, has a family and friends. But with facing financial issues and the ugly possibility of his house foreclosing, Brendan, too, takes up fighting again, asking his friend Frank Campana (Frank Grillo) to train him.

Warrior is filled to the brim with spot-on performances, including both Frank Grillo as Brendan’s trainer, and Jennifer Morrison as Tess Conlon, Brendan’s wife. Nick Nolte hits just the right rhythm as the failed father trying to win back his sons. We feel for his character throughout the entire movie, even as we learn that his past is what drove both his sons from him. But he’s changed now and he wants his sons to know that–only they don’t care anymore. Paddy listens to self-help tapes and claims multiple times that he’s 1000 days sober, even turning down a drink from Tommy. Paddy again tries to connect with Tommy, only to be given one of the biggest verbal smackdowns of how he’s old and unneeded. He hits the brink of suicide, throwing in the towl. Tommy finds beer bottles all over the floor the next morning, Paddy crying while mindlessly chanting random lines from self-help tapes. It’s then that Tommy finally forgives his father.

The movie had a couple of those great moments, like when Tommy forgave his father, that brought Warrior full circle. The dramatic moments were well-paced and the fighting scenes were rough, but choreographed well enough to not appear like it was too easy or too hard to win.

Warrior is a moving, compelling, and heartwarming movie that relies not on the sport as its center, but a broken family struggling to mend itself together. It has a lot of heart, and a lot of great moments.

Warrior = 4/5 eyes on screen

The Man. The Movies. The Memento.

There’s been a lot of hype recently (especially today) about how Christopher Nolan has been snubbed once again – this time, by that warped Academy that makes all the decisions concerning the Oscars. This time around, it’s the 83rd Oscars, and Nolan has been rejected his much-deserved honor of being a Best Director nominee.

So instead of harping on the constant snubbing from said Hollywood Foreign Press Association and American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, let’s remember why we love CNolan.  After all, being snubbed means you must be pretty darn good at what you’re doing in the first place.

Far more than a triple threat. Yes, we all know he’s a fantastic director. But he’s also a screenwriter. And a producer. And a cinematographer and an editor (Following, Doodlebug).

Has a handful of quality A-listing actors to fill his movies with (Michael Caine, Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, and Cillian Murphy to name a few).

Created the most popular, and by many, considered the best Batman series thus far.

Established connections with professionals within multiple film fields: Hans Zimmer, composer; Emma Thomas (his wife), producer; Lee Smith, film editor; Jonathan Nolan (his brother), screenwriter.

Takes complex ideas and adapts them for the average film-goer. (MementoThe Prestige, and Inception).

Nolan’s IMDB file and Wikipedia (for what it’s worth) contain a lot of this information, but more and more of it is becoming knowledge among even amateur movie-goers. It was Christopher Nolan’s name, not Leonardo DiCaprio’s that brought people into the theater to see Inception, his latest flick, this past summer.

Check out the textual part of a common Inception poster: 

The words “From the Director of The Dark Knight” stick out. And while Leo’s name is in bright lights as well, it was the obscure, ambiguous trailer and the idea that the director of The Dark Knight could create another film as high quality as The Dark Knight, that made the film compelling enough to go see. Judging by most critics’ and audience’s reviews, it was.

Nolan may not have the nod of the Academy, but he has fans. And their respect.