Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises

I would like to see it again to confirm my suspicions, but I believe that Christopher Nolan has outdone himself once again, writing himself out of the unparalleled challenge of both Heath Ledger and the Joker’s deaths, and facing down the negative stigma of horrifying recent events. This movie shines as a reminder of why thoughtful filmmaking will always overrule crass cinema, and why movies should emulate Inception not Battleship. The plot is contrived like a hard-boiled detective novel. The pieces are set in motion expertly. Batman is no longer Batman. The man formerly known as Batman is now billionaire shut-in Bruce Wayne, a wounded bearded shadow of a man. Wayne is still torn-up about the death of his either-actress girlfriend Rachel who exploded in the previous movie. The threat of a new criminal mastermind, Bane, looms over Gotham City and Batman is nowhere in sight. Gotham needs a hero. Should be easy work for Brick alum Joseph Gordon Levitt who ends up chewing a majority of the screen time. While this story is about Bruce Wayne’s personal journey, don’t be mistaken. This is a puzzle with many working parts. As usual, this movie centers on a core moralistic mythology, and the way in which its story unfolds is masterful albeit weighty.

Catwoman was the nicest surprise of this entry in the trilogy. After the Halle Berry botch-job and the tough-to-follow Michelle Pfeiffer act, Anne Hathaway surprisingly rises to the occasion in a wonderfully charming performance. It’s enough for the ticket price, actually. While not as breathtaking or mind-blowing as Ledger’s Joker (what is?) the comparison is hardly fair as the two characters share a disproportionate amount of screen time and serve functionally different roles. Bane is the challenger for the villain of Gotham throne, and while Hardy’s performance is admirable, I do not think it quite measures up. That being said, I think it is an interesting and charismatic portrayal of an oft-maligned character (see Batman & Robin, no wait don’t). His delivery of the key moments is impeccable. But even as written, Bane is not meant to be a sole successor to the Joker. He is the delivery boy for the League of Shadows, those dark bastards you’ve probably forgotten about from Batman Begins. That’s right folks. This is a trilogy. And like Harry Potter, or any other shamelessly self-important thing, it deserves your respect! So pay attention!

I like Bane in small doses, and that’s exactly how he’s delivered. After a skillfully shot opening sequence in which Bane decimates Tommy Carcetti on an airplane, the terrorist sneaks right into Gotham turning Wayne Co’s own weapon against them. Uh-Doy! Watch your back door Lucius Fox! (That must remind him of Shawshank.) Speaking of which, the oldies in this movie (Morgan Freeman and Grandfather Time, I mean, Michael Caine) deliver immensely subtle and beautiful performances, showing just how much they care about this supposedly overblown picture. The nuance in this movie thrives in abundance and almost outweighs the unwieldy plot, which meanders into an Inception-level conundrum or two in the third act. It’s one thing to hint at a twist, and it’s another thing to rewrite history. With five seconds left in the clock, The Dark Knight Rises throws a few hail marys. Their success or failure depends on your individual level of involvement with these characters and knowledge about their universe. I saw one of the twists coming a mile away, but I was surprised by how long they waited to reveal the cloak and dagger. There was more to be done with the character in question, and clearly very little time in which to do it. That being said, it’s not bad if a movie series leaves you wanting more.

I am impressed that I have gone this whole review without admitting how much I love Batman, Nolan’s style of filmmaking, and the weird strange places this movie takes us (like that desert prison- yikes!). I think that upon repeat viewings I will be just as enamored with, confused and thrilled by The Dark Knight Rises as I was the first time, even if I don’t completely understand it until the fifteenth. In preparation for this movie, I watched the first two again, and what I noticed is that all three are vastly different movies that all center on the same man in the same universe. What is most consistent about the universe is his character. The one thing that Nolan really understands is Batman. And while some of the edges are polished to make the story slicker and more cerebral than it ever really was in the comics, the psychology behind it holds true and believable. There is rarely a question of motivation in this series, which is strange given the questions of motivation raised by the villains in most superhero fare (see: The Lizard, Whiplash, Loki). In this case, all you need to answer your questions is a Netflix account and a DVD player. The story’s only weakness is ending here in its current form. A fourth movie in this universe would be nice, but I know whatever Nolan makes next will be spectacular. He’s always surprised me, and the Dark Knight Rises is no exception.

New Short Film – Thunk in Public

I play Billy the hot-pocket addled techno-geek in the new short film “Thunk in Public” by Ryan Maples. I had a really good time working with this particular cast and crew. The entire movie was shot on the new Nokia N8 cell phone as part of a festival sponsored by Nokia. I hope you enjoy.

Holiday Trailer Round-Up

There’s a lot of laughably awesome films on the horizon, so let’s check them out as a family, won’t you?

TRON LEGACY

Aside from the creepy pseudo-prosthetic CG keeping young Jeff Bridges in motion, everything in this trailer is mind-numbingly boner-inducing. It might be an after-effect of the robotic backwards walkin’ love slaves, or the fact that Olivia Wilde is constantly eying our main character like a slab of man meat, but there’s something markedly sexified about the new Tron. ‘Sexy’ isn’t exactly the word I’d use to describe the old Tron– maybe ‘awesome’ or ‘virginal to the point of embarrassment’- but this film’s imagineers clearly want geeks, gamers and lonely losers alike to flock in droves with the hopes of catching a stiffy from the mass quantities of silicon and silicone inherent in this picture. Sign me up, assuming this film hasn’t lost its sense of humor during the two decades of anonymity. Bridges may be mumbling for a paycheck, but he’s still more watchable than most stars even when bored to tears and wrapped in vestments from Space Mutiny. I’m at a loss for words when it comes to clearly sexist yet sexy pictures like these. You might as well treat the whole ordeal like a Katy Perry music video. Just turn the sound down and space out to the visuals as if you were a 7th grader discovering his erection to a Blink 182 album cover. (Also being really, really stoned couldn’t hurt.)

The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader

This is literally the most expensive looking movie trailer I’ve ever seen. The quality of the effects alone are enough to draw my interest. They really help me overlook the whole Jesus-Lion parable bullshit wreaking havoc on the narrative. Minotaurs and talking rats are always a plus, not to mention the overt sexual tension with an amorphous spirit goddess. I guess the past two movies were popular (I thought the first one was shit and didn’t see the second- I always liked that hokey BBC miniseries better) because the filmmakers clearly have enough dough now to throw wads of it at the screen with reckless abandon, like Kanye West hucking gold doubloons at his television to change channels. Let’s hope this movie has a decent enough story to justify the insanity of its budget (whatever imaginary number that may be) and that the filmmakers haven’t gone the Gore Verbinski or Raimi route and let the studio fund their movie under the auspices of dumbing it down to the point of statutory boredom. Then again, with all the Christian godliness at play maybe this movie could use a few trainwrecks. Spider-Man 3 dance sequences, anyone?

Red Riding Hood

Is this one of those parody trailers preceding Tropic Thunder? Did American McGee crap this out while doodling rape fantasies on the back of a napkin at Comic-Con? I can understand why Catherine Hardwicke would want to exploit her Twilight fanbase for another quick buck, but even she has to understand how shamelessly moronic this is. At least her visual style is improving, evolving from the too dour blandness of the Twilight saga to this oversaturated self-important nonsense. I could only stomach the first thirty minutes of her Twilight movie, but I have a feeling the warm colors and cinematography will make this picture slightly more watchable, even if the acting and story can’t. Little Red Riding Hood is all grown up, but she still has the emotional maturity of a third grader (that way teenage girls can relate). I just hope that when they cut Red and Grandma out of the Wolf’s belly it’s presented as an even-handed metaphor for the Planned Parenthood generation.

The Green Hornet

Michel Gondry and Seth Rogen’s frequently delayed foray into superhero action-comedy is finally about to hit theaters (maybe, probably, sometime soon, we promise), and it looks like there’s a decent chance that it might actually be watchable. While I’m still skeptical as ever that Gondry’s unique softness of style will translate well into American blow-em-up cinema, Rogen’s likability and charm may mask the obvious filmmaking flaws and allow audiences to overlook the fact that the guy playing Kato can’t fucking speak English. As usual, the marketing campaign seems myopically focused on Seth Rogen’s rich party-boy anti-hero (*cough* Tony Stark *cough*) and his pseudo-gay relationship with his live-in Asian man servant/bodyguard. Christoph Waltz and Cameron Diaz struggle to breathe from the cutting room floor, their exclusion serving only to benefit Christoph’s Oscar-winning credibility and Cameron’s lack thereof. I enjoyed Inglorious Basterds and What Happens in Vegas about equally, so I suppose I can survive this movie too. Ugly, bare-bones set design and 90s action-comedy gags might be the real nail in the coffin here, because aside from that guy who doesn’t speak English (who- Gondry or Kato?) there’s enough charm and personality here to make something fun happen. And if it’s bad, it’ll be easy to forget, because let’s face it- what superhero is more forgettable than The Green Hornet?

Green Lantern

This movie trailer is a crash course in killing credibility. Ryan Reynolds has so much smugness and goodwill built up in his jawline that it’s almost impressive how quickly the filmmakers are willing to date-rape their audience. I’ll admit that the effects look better on the big screen than the computer screen, but even given that caveat the big purple fucking face at 1:00 is an absolute career killer for all humans involved. Not only is the Tinky-Winky spaceman a disappointingly awful reveal, it’s also an indication of the absolutely dorky tone the filmmakers are taking to an otherwise interesting character. The Green Lantern is an everyman called to duty by a higher power. Sounds biblical, right? Kind of ruins that momentum when your godlike deity figure turns out to be the bastard love-child of Frankenstein and the California Raisins. If it had been Jar Jar Fucking Binks I would have been more excited, honest to God. Oh, and speaking of Episode One, here’s the rest of the goddamn trailer. Blake Lively vomits dialog at the epicenter of the movie’s shittiness, radiating shit tremors around her at a twenty mile radius. If this movie were a literal black hole, crushing credibility down to an unknowable quantum singularity, it would still be an understatement to say that she sucks. She sure is pretty though! And I’m sure that’s exactly what the film executives thought when they greenlit this monstrosity and released the nuke that killed us all. I don’t know if this movie is going to be any good, but I can guarantee that some kid is going to shove one of those Green Lantern action figures right up his ass. And that’ll still be the best thing to happen to this character all year.

Cowboys and Aliens

At first I thought this was a live-action adaptation of Red Dead Redemption, fulfilling my geekiest of fantasies by saturating its cast with eye candy (again Olivia Wilde) and elderly show-stoppers (Harrison Ford). Then I realized it was some shit with aliens. Whatever. Wild Wild West was a huge smash hit and Iron Man 2 was a stunningly cerebral triumph, so why shouldn’t this be perfect? I don’t know. I give up. I’m going drinking. (Also, the modern James Bond franchise is dead, so this is as close as we might get to Daniel Craig kicking real ass on the big screen for a while. Let’s just hope this goes the route of Men in Black instead of the route that its asinine title might suggest.)

Movie Review: The Social Network

We are entering a new plastic age of cinema. Not only are amusement park rides becoming full-fledged franchises (e.g., Pirates of the Caribbean, the soon-to-be remade Haunted Mansion), Battleship and Monopoly movies loom on the horizon. It is clear that brand reigns supreme in new Hollywood, meaning it is only a matter of time before the epic Clorox and Miracle Whip franchises duke it out on the big screen. The Social Network is a movie based on a website. A website. I can’t stress that enough. But beyond its obvious marketing tie-ins and greedy capitalization on a highly addictive, popular yet soulless service, The Social Network strives to do the impossible: To be a quality film with substance and heart in spite of its mediocre subject matter.

The Social Network is a labor of love from writer Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing). Deeply fascinating, complicated and flawed, this film is the result of a calculated and concerted effort from a very skillful wordsmith. Even acclaimed director David Fincher’s normally assertive visual style is shockingly muted in this picture, serving as the vessel for Sorkin’s staggering humor and wit. I would be remiss not to mention that this screenplay contains some of Sorkin’s most brilliant comic dialog, purveyed in a quieter and more lambent form than his trademark snark and walk-and-talks. Given the humble beginnings of our hero, morally ambiguous Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and the hero’s relatively exponential leaps to success, there is something wonderful about watching Sorkin shift from small-stakes social networking to make-or-break business deals on a casual basis, the intensity of Zuckerberg’s focus being his only constant. Much like his characterization of Zuckerberg, Sorkin seems unconcerned with the things that average people admire, focusing his efforts on wholly original, unique and creative goals. After all, his script reads like a theatrical play, and  how often can a screenwriter claim that?

There’s something Shakespearean and tragic about The Social Network, especially since it records a history yet unfinished. (It might be nice to see an aged Sorkin revisit Zuckerberg in his autumn years for Henry the IV, Part 2.) The basic thrust of the narrative takes place during Zuckerberg’s time at Harvard. He wishes to be admired by the public but on his own terms. After a nasty (yet smoothly written) break-up scene, Zuckerberg lashes out at the female university community on the internet- and thus, The Facebook is born. Zuckerberg’s ambition and myopic (read: robotic) focus on personal gain alienate him from the people that helped him achieve his first few steps toward stardom. The story intercuts between Zuckerberg’s rise to power and the legal proceedings that bookend his social life. Like a true tragic figure, Zuckerberg is left to wallow in the wake of his own creation, not as its king, but with the same dependent loneliness of the average person.

Hopping from scene to scene is a real treat as each story event provides palpable drama and a backdrop for hilarious, taut dialog. The only flaws stem from the natural inadequacy of the film’s story structure. How can Sorkin sculpt a proper dramatic ending for a young and still-living public figure? He attempts something subtle and dramatic on his audience in the end, but after a long and emotional narrative, the subtlety may be lost on a crowd expecting more bang for their buck. Sex and hedonism abound in this tale of self-deprecation, indulgence and promiscuity, but don’t be mistaken: this is a thinking man’s frat party. Few characters, including the villains, are allotted few enough traits as to be flat or one-note, save for one deceivingly shallow girlfriend who makes a bizarrely cornball switch from sanity to pyromania in the second half. My personal favorites were the Winklevoss twins, two preppy yet believable douchebags who incite the fire for Facebook in Zuckerberg’s belly only to double over in agony when they realize that the ‘berg stole their idea and made millions. Both played by the same oddly named actor, Armie Hammer, the twins’ Parent Trap-style doubling is one of Fincher’s few masterfully executed visual gags. For the man who flew his camera through a coffee pot in Panic Room, I expected more tricks outside of the few stray beer bottles, but maybe the director intentionally reeled back his cinematographic enthusiasm to draw reverence to Sorkin’s story. In any case, the tone and execution work on a massive scale, and aside from the necessarily muddy nature of the ending, this is an enjoyable film and clearly one of the year’s best.

Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg is without a doubt his finest performance to date, leaps and bounds beyond the average joe schtick that made him famous in Zombieland. His acting is refined, nuanced and another great example of why Fincher is an ace in the hole when it comes to direction. Even as the director’s love for CGI and camera-movement is restrained, his skill as an acting coach pays off in a big way. Rooney Mara’s all-too-brief screentime is populated by a deeply human and relatable performance as Zuckerberg’s first college girlfriend. Her teary-eyes are heartbreaking. Justin Timberlake manages to play a hateworthy dick convincingly (somehow), a true shame considering his abilities as an actor have greatly improved over the years. (I was really disappointed he didn’t get Green Lantern. His knack for physical comedy would have sold the character for me. After all, how many superheroes can Ryan Reynolds play?) The best and most surprising performance might belong to Andrew Garfield, last seen pissing me off in Dr. Parnassus, and soon to be the latest actor to take up the red pajamas of Spider-Man. After his empathetic and dweeby turn in Social Network as Zuckerberg’s socially maligned and malnourished best friend, it’s clear that this boy can fill the shoes of a superhero as well as many more challenging roles to come.

The Social Network is a triumph of character-based dialog but a few notes stray of a perfect symphony. Maybe it’s the nature of the story being told (it’s about a goddamned website, people) but the partnerships at work here are masterfully executed, and I think it would be a mistake not to team Fincher with Sorkin again in the future, perhaps on subject matter that didn’t beat out Lycos or Dogpile for the fast-track. A cerebral and interesting ride, The Social Network proves that even brand-based filmmaking can result in quality entertainment and palpable drama, so long as there’s a foundation of talent to keep everything grounded.

Movie Review: Inception

I’ll be writing my movie reviews for WorkingAuthor.com from now on, so be sure to check there for my latest reviews, news and editorials. I’ll try to post my links directly here so you can have easy access to the pages directly.

Here’s my review for Inception, definitely the movie you’ll be talking about this summer (or possibly all year).