Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises [2012]

The Dark Knight Rises [2012]

The Dark Knight Rises [2012]
Directors: Christopher Nolan
Genre: Action/Crime/Drama
Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard and Morgan Freeman
Runtime: 164 minutes

Note: I tried to make this review as spoiler-free as possible, but you may want to tread lightly in the comments/feedback.

Eight years is a long time. After the wanton chaos and destruction in 2008’s The Dark Knight, it’s hard to imagine Gotham City remaining in a peaceful state for eight long years, especially without their legendary protector, Batman.

The man behind their hero, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), has also gone missing during this time. Now a recluse with a bum leg, Wayne spends his days locked inside Wayne Manor. It’s not until a run-in with master jewel thief Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) that Bruce musters up the will to do anything meaningful. Quickly he learns about the recent appearance of a monstrous villain, Bane (Tom Hardy), who is on a mission to destroy Gotham. Despite warnings from his loyal butler Alfred (Michael Caine), Wayne once again suits up as Batman to save his beloved city.

The Dark Knight Rises [2012]

That is a summary of the plot in its most basic form, but at a sprawling 165 minutes, there is a lot to digest. Bane’s planned destruction of Gotham is at the forefront, but a number of minor characters are introduced into the chaos, all of whom are tied into this in a variety of ways. Newcomer Joseph Gordon-Levitt has an especially crucial role as rookie police officer John Blake, a clever lad who acts as a bit of an understudy to Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman) while also discovering Batman’s identity on his own. Two other newcomers play important parts in this ever-encompassing saga: Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, who has a very complex relationship with Batman/Wayne, and Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), a philanthropist investor with an interest in Wayne Industries.

All of these characters, and many old favorites, are seamlessly interweaved together to create a grand feature that can holds its own against the rest of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. A strong case could be made for any of the three to be the “best” of the bunch, and right now I would put this a close second to The Dark Knight.

The Dark Knight Rises [2012] -- BANE

A big reason why this film succeeds is because of its main villain. Every good superhero movie needs a badass adversary, and Bane is one of the best yet. Menacing and physically dominating, Bane is frightening nearly every time he is on screen. As I witnessed the destruction of Gotham City first hand, I was wondering just how the hell Batman and/or the city would make it out in one piece. Bane is as intimidating as I have seen any villain in recent years, and his bizarre face mask only adds to his daunting persona. There were a few moments where his mask would make it hard to understand his dialogue, and his audio did seem unnecessarily louder than others, but these are mere nitpicks. The dude is impressive, and he is a more than worthy rival to our legendary hero.

For a film pushing three hours in length, there really isn’t a lot of “fat” here. Everything happens for a reason, and most plot devices are explained in depth for newcomers (or those who need a quick refresher). There are definitely moments in which a certain amount of suspension of disbelief will be required, including the much-discussed ending, but that is to be expected in a fictional universe like this. Taken on its merits, The Dark Knight Rises works exactly as it should.

The Dark Knight Rises [2012]

Is this a perfect film? No, not exactly. The weird audio problems with Bane are a little too noticeable, and I found occasional bits of dialogue from others that irked me the wrong way. There is one cop early in the movie, a very minor character, who has maybe three lines of dialogue total. Even though he was incredibly minute in the big picture, I winced every time he was on screen. Each line was forced and unnecessary, and it felt strangely out of place while in the middle of an epic car chase. Again, I am really nitpicking here, but that stuck with me for some reason.

Regardless, tiny complaints aside, I couldn’t ask for a better conclusion than The Dark Knight Rises. The story, the cast, the characters, Han Zimmer’s score. All top quality. This is a film that demands to be seen on the big screen, and I would be hard pressed to find a better summer blockbuster this year.

9/10

Movie Review: Contagion [2011]

Contagion [2011]

Contagion [2011]
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Genre: Drama/Sci-Fi/Thriller
Language: English
Country: USA

Pandemic movies are hardly anything new. More often than not they tend to delve into far-fetched scenarios where zombies run rampant and feast on human flesh. In this regard, Contagion is almost like a breath of fresh air. There are no zombies, and the situation is entirely feasible.

The movie focuses on a rapidly progressing virus outbreak, not unlike the swine flu, that kills those that come in contact with it in a matter of days. It is unknown where this virus came from, at least initially, and it becomes a worldwide concern as the medical community frantically attempts to develop a vaccine. Meanwhile, people everywhere are freaking out, causing mayhem to the streets and others while trying to avoid getting sick. To put it bluntly, this is total chaos.

Contagion [2011]

Rather than dwelling on an individual story or small group of people directly involved in one aspect of the pandemic, director Steven Soderbergh chose to follow people from all over the world. The movie keeps tabs on regular folk, doctors, scientists and even conspiracy theorists. The fact that the movie is spread out with so many different subplots is both a blessing and a curse. I loved the global feel of the movie, as we saw viewpoints from all over the world. However, with so many characters introduced and then dropped in and out of the main storyline, it becomes difficult to feel any connection to them. The multi-character arc is a great idea, but a few characters here and there could have probably been cut out.

I also noticed some issues with the movie’s pacing. Even though it is labeled as a thriller, Contagion really lacks any sense of excitement. The general feeling of hysteria is always there, but the movie tends to rely too heavily on random subplots that offer little emotional weight. As a result, there are moments where things feel like they are crawling along. This is a bizarre problem for a movie that pushes through over 100 days of action in under two hours.

Even though it is difficult to get behind some of the characters, it must be stated that this is of no fault to the cast. Several of the actors have been nominated for Academy Awards in the past, and they certainly do as good as they can with their small roles. Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne and Jude Law seem to get the most screen time. Damon is great as a normal guy who just so happens to be immune to the disease. After his wife and one of his daughters die at the onset of the virus, he attempts to recreate a normal life with his remaining daughter. Fishburne is in excellent form as Dr. Ellis Cheever, an employee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Jude Law delivers perhaps the most enjoyable role of all as a conspiracy theory blogger, even taking a cheapshot at blogging in stride.

Contagion [2011]

Other noteworthy additions to the cast include Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Ehle and John Hawkes. Winslet in particular shines in her limited role, as she usually does. Cotillard’s character arc is perhaps most frustrating, as she enters and then disappears from the movie at long intervals. Again, kudos to everyone involved for getting all of these big name actors, but it would have been great to have them fleshed out some more.

Regardless of these faults, it would be inappropriate to call Contagion a bad movie. It has an excellent cast and a great concept, and I really enjoyed the tense soundtrack as well. The problem is that it simply could have been a lot better.

6.5/10

Movie Review: Midnight In Paris [2011]

Midnight In Paris [2011]

Midnight In Paris [2011]
Director: Woody Allen
Genre: Comedy/Fantasy/Romance
Language: English
Country: USA

Midnight In Paris, Woody Allen’s 41st feature film, has a bit of a misleading trailer. This trailer, which can be viewed below, portrays the movie as a simple romantic comedy set in the gorgeous city of Paris. This is not entirely accurate. Sure, the movie is a love story, and it’s true that it is set in Paris, but there is a startling twist that throws everything in a different direction. While many reviewers have found the need to spoil this twist, I feel that it would be an injustice to reveal the movie’s curveball. Consider this a spoiler-free review.

The film stars Owen Wilson as Gil Pender, a bored Hollywood screenwriter who aspires to write a successful novel. Gil and his fiancee, Inez (Rachel McAdams), have joined her parents on a business trip to Paris for a relaxing getaway. Gil immediately falls in love with the city, frequently dreaming of walking in the rain in 1920’s Paris. He waxes nostalgic, often thinking of what he assumes to be greater times. Inez, on the other hand, while appreciative of Paris is more concerned about spending time with her old friend, Paul (Michael Sheen), who just so happens to be visiting as well. Paul is the pseudo-intellectual type, a guy who acts as if he knows everything about everyone, and Sheen plays him to perfection.

Midnight In Paris [2011]

In fact, the acting is pretty damn good all around. I am not an Owen Wilson fan at all, but I enjoyed him here. This might very well be the best role I have seen him in. Rachel McAdams does well as Gil’s bitchy fiancee, although I get the feeling that anyone could have stepped in for this part with little difficulty. The supporting cast, however, is what really helps this movie. Corey Stoll, Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Carla Bruni, Marion Cotillard and Tom Hiddleston, to name a handful, all have fun roles of varying degrees of importance. Cotillard, in particular, shines as the beautiful and charming Adriana. Without getting too much into their actual characters (for risk of spoilers), let’s just say that the cast fits their counterparts perfectly, which is an admirable feat.

Midnight In Paris [2011]

It’s clear from the film’s opening three minute montage that Woody Allen is enamored with Paris, and this is basically his love song for the city. There are some truly stunning shots of the City of Light, and this movie really makes me want to go back and visit.

Unfortunately, while Midnight In Paris has a strong cast and some marvelous shots of the city, the movie itself feels a bit flat. The aforementioned “twist” is initially intriguing, but the jokes and running gags related to it grow old after a while. I didn’t find the movie as funny as others did, although Adrien Brody’s cameo had me cracking up. Also, even though many of the small roles were entertaining, it felt like the movie introduced way too many characters and gave them little to work with. Even some of the more “important” characters kind of disappeared into the background after originally being introduced.

Essentially, Midnight In Paris is a good, but not great, movie. It has some interesting ideas, but never quite lives up to its potential. However, this is a must-see for those who fancy American literature and European artists as there are numerous references to Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Picasso and Dali, to name a few. If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, then you may want to pass.

6.5/10