The Dark Knight REVIEW
Director – Christopher Nolan
Cast – Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhall, Morgan Freeman, Chin Han
— follows Batman Begins
After the success of The Dark Knight (it brought in over a billion dollars, one of only four movies ever to do that) it looks like Nolan will be getting free reign in Hollywood, for a while at least. I guess it depends on how well Inception does. As it is now, though, The Dark Knight and Chrisopher Nolan are Warner Brothers pride and joy.
The Dark Knight is the sequel to 2005’s Batman Begins, which set a new standard for moody and atmospheric superhero movies. While Batman Begins was visually dark and muddy, Nolan looked to Heat for the visual tone of The Dark Knight, precise blues and high contrast blacks. This concept goes somewhat to the plot as well. The plot takes place over not too long a time, and is focused more or less on a single crime spree, while Batman Begins focuses on the genesis of Batman and involved more characters. This is both a saving grace and a curse, but more on that later.
Heath Ledger (RIP) has of course recieved much praise for his performance as The Joker. Suffice it to say that he would deserve any and all praise possible. He has created one of the most original, creepy, and wonderful characters ever put on film. Enough about that.
The movie certainly suceeds in its attempt to make a more realistic superhero movie. Nolan shot the movie in Chicago, and as a stand-in for Gotham it works wonderfully in this context. However if you are looking for the Gothic mood and dark lines of the traditional Gotham City arhitecture, then you are in for a disappointment. Indeed, The Dark Knight breaks quite a few of the more traditional Batman rules in its attempt to be more realistic. This is pretty much fine, however I couldn’t help feeling that the realism of the setting clashed (or at least didn’t quite mesh) with the rather fantastic characters of The Joker and especially Two-Face. I really only noticed this on second or third viewing though, and if I watched it that many times it can’t be that bad.
The acting in the movie is uniformly good. I (and the rest of the world) have already mentioned Ledger’s beyond excellent portrayal of The Joker, but Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart, Christian Bale, etc. all deserve praise. Aaron Eckhart and Maggie Gyllenhal can be a bit over the top at times, reminding me of the type of acting one can get on the afternoon soaps, but they are solid enough that any real complaint is just nitpicking.
Any real problem I have with the movie is toward the style. Batman Begins was essentially an adventure movie, had fairly quick and sporadic editing, muddy tones, etc., all of which are hallmarks of Nolan to some degree. Here he copied Heat, a movie that was methodical, cold, and (I think) almost boring and over rated. So in some parts I found The Dark Knight to be almost going through the motions, doing its best to keep the story going as it builds up to a very impressing climax. A prime example of this is a sequence set in Tokyo. It was a cool sequence, but felt like filler.
The Dark Knight is a good movie. Too many people have been treating it like the Second Coming, so in that sense it is over-rated. It has flaws, to be sure, but it also Heath Ledger in one of films best performances ever. The idea of a realistic superhero movie is great, and the execution of that idea is good here. Definitely recommended.
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Shattered Glass REVIEW
Director – Billy Ray
Cast – Hayden Christensen, Peter Sarsgaard, Chloe Sevigny, Hank Azaria, Rosario Dawson
Shattered Glass is a fairly small movie, and I think that may have turned some people off. The tagline “The true story that shocked a nation.” promises a scope that frankly is not delivered upon. That, however, is a fault of the marketing department, not the movie.
The movie itself keeps itself small but focuses on the characters extremely well. The cast is large, and the possibility to muddle up the story is certainly there. Instead the story is kept simple and streamlined, and that is perhaps the greatest thing about this movie, its defining feature. I never felt lost, or that the movie was going on too well. We always knew who feels what and why they feel that way.
The acting in the movie is very high quality. Hank Azaria (best known as the voice of Apu, Chief Wiggum, Moe, and many others on The Simpsons) is especially good; when we see his character (the editor of the magazine where the movie is set) we have absolutely no doubt as to why the characters all respect and love him. We as the audience feel that we trust him. On the flip side when Peter Sarsgaard’s character is promoted to the editor and Azaria’s character is fired we instantly feel squemish about Peter, and angry that Azaria is gone. Our feelings perfectly mirror those of the characters. This is because of both good writing and excellent acting.
Hayden Christensen, most commonly known as Anakin from the Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, has never been seen as a great actor. He has an awkwardness and stiffness about him that has kept him back from what he could possibly do. In this movie he puts that to good use as the title character, a reporter accused of making up his stories. His role was perfectly cast. Good job casting director.
Shattered Glass is a small, quick, and neat-as-a-pin movie. It is efficient and to the point, and is thoroughly engrossing. The cast works well together and perform well, Hank Azaria, Peter Sarsgaard, and Hayden Christensen being the standouts. The movie holds interest extremely well. I highly recommend this.
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30 Days of Night REVIEW
Director – David Slade
Cast – Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston, Mark Boone Junior, Ben Foster
I have come to a decision. Sometimes how much you enjoy a movie is reversely (I’ll let you decide if that’s a word) connected to how much you anticipate watching it. When a friend told me that his college rented a theater recently and were showing this movie, I was interested. I had seen the trailer when it was first released a couple years ago, and could remember thinking that it didn’t look too bad. So I researched it.
The results weren’t that great; Rotten Tomatoes had it at 49%, and reviews just weren’t too positive. So I went in expecting a fairly lame movie.
Instead I must admit I was pleasantly surprised. Sure there are flaws in the movie, there are tons of them, but I was carried along quite pleasantly by it all. The atmosphere is perfect for the tone and environment, and the movie does not resort to cheap scares and jumps. It’s scary enough without them.
Josh Hartnett as the lead Sheriff of a small town over run by vampiric creatures is perhaps a bit young looking for the role (despite being about 30 at the time0, but he portrays a young maturity that is not often seen. Danny Huston does passably well with the role he has been given, that of a vampire leader who brings his little vampire crew up north to take advantage of the sunless days.
It is his role, and all the vampires really, that are the biggest problem with the movie however. They are almost zombie vampires; we are never sure if the movie wants to make them smart or stupid. They roar and grunt like animals, but then they have a language of their own which Danny Huston uses to wax poetic whenever he meets a lead character. I hate it when villains do that; they meet a lead character and suddenly (usually when they have the lead under their power) they start going on poetically about how they feel. It is an annoying cliche at best.
We are also never really sure where the vampires are when they have occupied the town. Sometimes the characters will run across streets willy-nilly, never attracting the attention of the vampires, while at others they tiptoe around in houses, afraid of making a single noise. It was a bit confusing, as is the story, which tends to skip around a bit.
One part disgusted me though, and was quite out of tone with the rest of the movie. We know that kids exist in the movie, and we know that when vampires bite someone they turn into a vampire. They decided to show a kid who was “turned”, which in and of itself is fine. However, they did it in such an exploitative way that it crossed the line. That happens a couple times, any more and it would have ruined the movie. As it is, it came close.
30 Days of Night is heavily flawed, but its atmosphere is perfect and its scares are smart. Some characters are of typical horror movie mold; i.e. they only exist to be stupid, run out of the hideaway, and reveal the existence of the survivors etc. While some plot points are obvious and cliched, the movie does run along fairly nicely, and its tone is nicely established. I’d recommend this if you are a fan of suspenseful horror or vampire movies. It’s pretty watchable, but ultimately nothing more.
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Fantastic Four: Extended Cut REVIEW
Director – Tim Story
Cast – Ioan Gruffund, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Julian McMahon
Fantastic Four starts out well. That’s pretty much the best I can say about it.
The beginning had me interested; it was snappy, fun, and was all about the fun and awe that a superhero comic book may have given. Chris Evans perfectly embodied the brash hot shot who becomes the Human Torch, and Michael Chiklis was deserving of our sympathy as The Thing. After that… if you’ve ever wondered what a superhero soap opera would look like, this is it.
The movie focuses on the characters, not action, which in theory is admirable. Too many movies, especially superhero movies, focus on action over content.
However while this movie does have some interesting points, it treats its emotions with cliche and all the subtelty of a sledgehammer. And it’s BORING. This is coming from a guy who puts 2001: A Space Odyssey ( an extremely slow-paced 2 hr 20 min) and Lawrence of Arabia (3.5 hours) as being two of the best movies ever made. How does a movie about a stretchy man, a human flying fireball, an invisible woman, and a troll-like rock of a man end up boring? By helming a superhero movie with the same director as Taxi (Tomatometer of 11%), that’s how.
To put it simply, throughout the whole movie I was dying for an action scene. But when we are served up an action scene or two it is either over too fast, full of bad CG (as in whenever Mr. Fantastic stretches), or just, again, boring.
Fantastic Four tried to do a good thing by focusing on its characters, but in the end its heavy handed treatment of such drags the whole thing down. While its opening is snappy and fun, all energy is quickly lost. Add in a cookie cutter visual design and villian, and this movie is sunk.
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The Wrestler REVIEW
Director – Darren Aronofsky
Cast – Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood
Mickey Rourke is a great actor.
Many people never thought we would hear that statement again, after all of Mickey Rourke’s critically panned movies in the late 1980’s, his move to a boxing career, and his bit-part roles afterwards. However he fought his way back and started getting some roles in films like Man On Fire, Domino, and Sin City. Then fate called in the form of Darren Arnofsky, director of The Wrestler, who offered him the lead role of Randy “The Ram” Robinson.
This movie is the most gripping movie I have seen in a while. It is quite low-key, yet builds up a feeling of hopelessness and longing that will not be matched for a while. It is hard to imagine Nicholas Cage in the role (as was originally planned). Mickey Rourke brings an intimate and natural feel to his performance, most likely attributable in part to his brief boxing career.
The camera is handled in a documentary manner; half the movie is shots of Mickey Rourke’s back as he walks into the ring, or down the hallway at the grocery store where he works. This method works wonderfully towards the tone of the movie; when we see the wrestlers slamming themselves around in the ring or staple-gunning each other and themselves (!) we really feel it. Some moments in the movie are seemingly as gruesome as anything in Saw. I literally had to turn my head away a couple times, it is that realistic.
Such scenes could come across as gratuitous, except that everything presented in the ring is based on fact. This movie doesn’t condone or condemn these acts committed in the name of entertainment; it merely shows us what happens, and Randy’s love for it. It does, perhaps, question why he loves it, but such a question is only natural given what we are shown.
It was mentioned by a reader that The Wrestler has a very generic story line, that of a washed up athlete and a hooker with a heart of gold. I recognize that at its base that story is there, but here the execution and style of the movie raise the story far above its roots. There is a cliche or two, but the movie’s so good you barely notice them, if at all.
The movie is ultimately about underdogs, and what happens to the ones who can’t rise to the top, the ones who just do what they love and damned be the consequences. Mickey Rourke owns this movie, but all the supporting actors are excellent, Marise Tomei in particular. She plays the “hooker with the heart of gold”, but with grace, dignity, and pride. It is an excellent and difficult role, but she pulls it off.
The Wrestler is a tough, grimy, sad movie, much like its title character. Parts are a bit tough to watch, but in context fit the movies story perfectly. All the actors are excellent, but this is really Mickey Rourke’s movie; and a great movie it is too. Highly recommended.
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