Tag Archives: The Dark Knight Rises

My movie year

Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham LincolnSince most of my reading in 2012 was work-related, I can’t talk about most of the books published last year. I can’t even offer a complete rundown of movies for 2012, but the ones I did see left a strong impression, for better or for worse. I write narrative history books, so I guess it’s to be expected that my two favorite movies of 2012 took on much-debated, ideologically contested chapters of the American story.

MY FAVES: Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln can be nitpicked on this or that point, but the fact of the matter is that this chamber epic about Lincoln’s last months — and the bare-knuckled fight to win passage of the amendment banning slavery — got more good history on the screen than any other Hollywood film. Tony Kushner’s script was excellent, Daniel Day-Lewis’s Lincoln was astonishing, and the supporting cast kept every frame bursting with talent. Argo managed the impressive trick of balancing an exciting story (the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction rescue of several Americans from Tehran during the Iranian revolution) with unblinking acknowledgement of the political blowback that created the situation. A jingo movie this ain’t. Hooray for Canada!

RUNNER-UP FAVE: Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master. Actually, it’s every bit as good as the two top picks: a fascinating companion piece to There Will Be Blood, about the strange relationship between a traumatized WWII veteran and a cut-rate cult leader loosely modeled on L. Ron Hubbard. Anderson is the most original and adventurous filmmaker in America right now.

THE BEST MOVIE NOBODY SAW: Joe Carnahan’s The Grey, not advised for PETA members but highly recommended to anyone interested in a spare, moody survival tale about a man whose inner demons are almost as dangerous as the wolves pursuing a band of survivors through the frigid north. RUNNER UP: The Innkeepers began as a slacker comedy and ended as a gooseflesh-laden ghost story, short on gore but long on atmosphere.

THE WORST MOVIE EVERYBODY SAW: The Dark Knight Rises. Noisy, incoherent junk. Lame writing, indifferently staged action sequences, and a hectic, overstuffed storyline with too many plot twists and two few genuinely interesting setpieces. Bane was never going to be as fascinating as the Joker, one of the greatest pop-culture villains of all time, and Tom Hardy had to deliver his lines through a mask that made him sound like Darth Vader doing a Sean Connery impersonation. But any worthwhile ideas Christopher Nolan had for Batman were used up in The Dark Knight. RUNNER-UP NON-FAVE: Prometheus. Was it a prequel to Alien? A lateral sequel? Geeks who’ve gotten tired of debating whether Rick Deckard was a replicant can muse over the details of this handsomely made, brain-dead movie. There’s gonna be a sequel? Great — I’ll boycott it now and avoid the rush.

MOST OVERRATED: Even though hardly anyone saw Killing Them Softly, many who did praised it in John-the-Baptist terms because of fleeting moments that carried the gritty tang of its source material — Cogan’s Trade by George V. Higgins, the great forgotten American crime writer. Unfortunately, writer-director Andrew Domink never saw a thematic point he couldn’t pound with a Thor-sized hammer, and as a director he loved Tarantino not wisely but too well. (People who love to watch glass shattering in slow-motion will cherish the Blu-Ray.) The biggest disappointment of the year, for me at any rate. Because it was a leaden bore from start to finish, it edged out the wildly overpraised Looper, a moderately clever time-travel story that got dumber as it went along, but managed to be pretty entertaining along the way.

BEST MOVIE FOR TEENAGERS: After the twin fiascoes of The Life Aquatic and The Darjeeling Limited, Moonrise Kingdom showed Wes Anderson returning from the far frontiers of Tweedom without watering down his beguiling style. A charming movie about a pair of dreamy kids who raise all kinds of hell simply by being their unconventional selves.      

BEST ARGUMENT FOR KICKSTARTER: Absentia, produced with the help of a Kickstarter campaign, was a character-driven indie with a strong Ramsey Campbell flavor, a monster story focused on the psychological wounds inflicted by a menace that remained largely unseen, though the few glimpses we got were plenty hair-raising.   

BEST USE OF 3D: Vanessa Hudgens falling off the giant bee in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. Can’t remember what else happened in the flick, though the sprout said she liked it. 

BEST USE OF ROBERT DOWNEY JR.: Marvel’s The Avengers would have been unwatchable without his Tony Stark. I’m glad Joss Whedon hit the jackpot, but I liked the story better when it was called the Season Five finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

BEST IN-JOKE: James Bond threatening M with the ejector-seat button of the old school Aston Martin in Skyfall. Judi Dench’s delivery of the comeback line.

BEST PIXAR MOVIE RELEASED UNDER THE DISNEY NAME: Wreck-It Ralph was officially a Disney release, but its creation of a universe for video game characters, and the wit with which it showed them functioning within the rules of that universe, recalled Pixar’s Toy Story movies, even if it didn’t come anywhere near their emotional heft. Meanwhile, Brave, the official Pixar release, played like just another Spunky Princess story from the Disney mill. Since the founder of Pixar, John Lasseter, is head of both animation shops, the distinction may not amount to much. But still.

BEST ANIMATED MOVIE NOT RELEASED BY PIXAR: The Secret World of Arietty. I love Miyazaki movies, even when Miyazaki doesn’t direct them. And ParaNorman had a freaky intensity the trailers never hinted at.

WORST MOVIE I’M GLAD I SAW: David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis. All the tedium of a Tarkovsky film at only half the length. But I’m still glad I saw it because, after all, who else but Cronenberg would even think of making a film like that?

BEST REUNION: I haven’t seen The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in 3D, 48 fps, Imax, Smellovision, Feelie-rama, or any of the other formats of the future. The conventional 2D version was overlong, badly paced, too obviously padded, and loaded with too many dwarves that could be distinguished only by their hairstyles. (Tolkien didn’t do much better.) But the film came alive in its second half, and I was happy to be back in the Middle-earth Peter Jackson envisioned in his brilliant Lord of the Rings films. I’ve come to the conclusion that Jackson was put on this earth to show up Ralph Bakshi, Stanley Kubrick, John Boorman, the Beatles, and everyone else who took a run at Tolkien’s work and fell flat.          

MUST CATCH UP WITH SOON: Beasts of the Southern Wild, Killer Joe, Rust and Bone, Antiviral, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Samsara, Damsels in Distress.

I’LL GET AROUND TO THEM SOMETIME: Django Unchained goes on the back burner because Death Proof was dull as dirt and Inglourious Basterds pissed me off. So does Zero Dark Thirty, because I don’t like torture porn.   

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Dark blight

Now that the fanboy frenzy has died down, I went to see The Dark Knight Rises and found it to be incoherent junk — steroid-pumped corporate filmmaking at its worst, with some good moments undone by a disgraceful script, bungled action scenes, and the feeling (confirmed by the end) that director Christopher Nolan went into this movie devoid of any ideas that hadn’t already been wrung dry for The Dark Knight in 2008. It even made Prometheus look better in retrospect, and if there’s a more damning thing to say about a movie this year, I don’t want to hear it.

I don’t know what was worse: the ADHD storytelling formula, which required Nolan (who co-wrote the screenplay with his brother) to pull a rabbit out of his cowl every ten minutes (Fistfight! Explosion! Good girl becomes villain! Villain becomes good girl! Kung fu brawl! Flying thingamabob chased by guided missiles! Fistfight!), of the indifference with which characters and situations were thrown around.

Nolan was always a curious choice to revive this film franchise, and while the box office has endorsed him many times over, the oddity remains. Though he is a past master at brainy puzzle-pictures like Memento and Insomnia, Nolan is a terrible action director, unable to stage a fight or block out a set-piece so the viewer can make out what’s going on. The bravura opening sequence aside, everything in The Dark Knight Rises flashes by too quickly: fights are over before you can see what’s happening; chases destroy mile after mile of real estate without any sense of direction or purpose; crucial dialogue is delivered in such a rush that you can’t understand why everyone is exchanging Significant Looks.   

These were also problems in The Dark Knight, but they were rendered moot by the care Nolan took with the performances, and Heath Ledger’s definitive rendering of the Joker, arguably the greatest pop-culture villain of all time. Any villain (or actor) trying to follow in Heath Ledger’s footsteps was in for a hard time, but Bane was a legitimately interesting choice of bad guy. Even with his face half-covered by what looks like a modified radiator and his voice processed to sound like a talking Cuisinart, Tom Hardy conveys fearless intelligence and resolve using only his eyes and body language convey. But Nolan undermines him at every turn: in one scene Bane is a charismatic leader, calling his men brothers and persuading them to die for his plans; in the next, he’s a shirtless Darth Vader, casually murdering subordinates who displease him. His backstory is reduced to a few hasty lines of dialogue, barely audible beneath Hans Zimmer’s hammering score (with this film, Zimmer deposes John Williams as the Wagner of the multiplexes), and in the end he is literally flicked aside for a new, late-arriving villain not nearly as interesting. Unlike its predecessor, The Dark Knight Rises has no time for revealing character moments: there’s nothing here as poignant as Rachel’s acceptance of her imminent death, or the scene in which a prisoner’s moral authority cancels out one of the Joker’s plots.       

Internet debates over the political meaning of summer blockbusters are now a feature of the dog days, and some right-wingers have proclaimed The Dark Knight Rises to be an endorsement of free market whatevers. Truth to tell, Nolan pours so many conflicting elements into his formula that all political meanings are negated, except for the Fascist Lite notion of an infallible masked vigilante taking down bad guys without hurting a single innocent bystander.

There are a lot of talented actors at work in The Dark Knight Rises, and the probability that they got to collect fat paychecks for their work is the film’s sole redeeming quality. I hope they put their money to good use, because after this fiasco, they have a lot to live down.

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Friday finds

In 1957, five men stood in the Nevada desert while a nuclear missile detonated 18,500 feet above their heads. Here’s what happened to them.

What to expect when you’re expecting to die after being sucked out an airlock into the vacuum of space.

How to get around Arkham, Massachusetts, with help from H.P. Lovecraft.

You can make anything with Legos — including The Wire.

Now Zimmerman says it was all God’s plan. Which God was not specified.

Wanna be the Dark Knight? Better have some serious batbucks.

This isn’t going to be a great year for Scientology. First the Tom Cruise divorce, and now this movie, which promises to do for L. Ron Hubbard what There Will Be Blood did for oil tycoons.

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The long and the short of it

Movie writers in need of a space-filling trend piece or analytical thumbsucker have one topic they return to again and gain: movies are getting too long. Type the question Are movies getting too long? into Google and you’ll score plenty of hits from every year of the past decade. The recurrence of this topic led Roger Ebert to opine that “no good movie can be too long, and no bad movie can be too short.” Since two of this year’s biggest hits — The Avengers and The Hunger Games — are nearly two-and-a-half hours long, and other blockbusters waiting in the wings — Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit — will probably be in the same range, I expect we’ll see the topic trotted out again before too long.

Funny thing is, when you look at this inflation-adjusted list of all-time box office champions, only one Top 10 film clocks in under two hours: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which was Walt Disney’s first attempt at the labor-intensive field of feature length animation. The rest are comfortably above the two-hour mark, except for E.T., which falls two minutes short. And two of the most enduringly popular flicks, Gone With the Wind and Titanic, are very long indeed, as are Dr. Zhivago, The Sound of Music, and The Ten Commandments. The next ten titles tell the same story: except for animated films, which are aimed at a young audience with a limited attention span, the majority of the flicks are over two hours long, and sometimes quite a bit longer.

Since film is the most immersive art form, it follows that the most successful films take the time to make the viewing experience as detailed and absorbing as possible. So while I have my own list of movies I would be happy to see shortened — some of which I’d be delighted to edit myself, with a chainsaw and acetylene torch if possible — it appears that audiences tend to agree with Ebert. If the length of movies is indeed a problem, it’s mainly a problem for movie critics. If I hear of anyone shedding tears for that tribe, I’ll be sure to write it up here.  

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Where geekery meets politics

Click here if you don’t get it. I trust the Mitt Romney connection is already obvious. For the record, I really am interested in seeing Tom Hardy’s performance as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. With The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan set a pretty high standard for all subsequent Batman villains.

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