NOLAN REVIEW: The Dark Knight

14 07 2010

After the modest critical and financial success with “The Prestige,” Nolan returned to the Batman franchise and released a movie that riskily omitted the name of the Caped Crusader – “The Dark Knight.”

Two years later, how do you review Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight?”  What hasn’t been said?  There’s no one left to convince to see the movie; if anyone hasn’t seen it, they aren’t worth the effort.

After watching and rewatching Nolan’s films prior to this, it only made me realize more that “The Dark Knight” is a perfect realization of all the themes he loves to explore.  It’s about the extent of rules and limits, something he touched on in both “Following” and “The Prestige.”  It’s about the blurriness of morality, a theme he examined in “Memento” and “Insomnia.”  It’s about fear and what it can drive us to do and become, something that we saw a lot of in “Batman Begins.”

But there’s plenty unique to “The Dark Knight.”  It’s a rumination on terrorism as the anarchistic Joker seeks to cause madness in the streets of Gotham.  Batman, the only person with any hope of stopping him, has to consider how far he is willing to go to eliminate the Joker before he himself becomes the villain.  As their fight escalates, Bruce Wayne becomes more and more uncertain that he is the hero in his own story.  Some have read into this undertones of George W. Bush waging war on terrorism against Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.  That’s a rather extreme way to look at it, but it’s not too much of a stretch to say that this storyline did tap into the zeitgeist.  We ourselves have wondered where to draw the line in our fight on terrorism as to aggression.  How much counter-aggression does it take before we ourselves become the aggressors?

Of course, you can’t discuss the movie without heaping superlative after superlative on Heath Ledger’s The Joker.  It’s a role that deserves to take its place among the most iconic characters in cinematic history, something Ledger’s unfortunate passing sealed.  His complete immersion and stunning transformation overshadowed pretty much every other performance in the movie, which says a lot because there were some other fantastic turns.  Forget the deep, raspy Batman voice and Christian Bale is flawless, delivering a subtle portrait of Bruce Wayne’s affliction and inner torment.  Aaron Eckhart is compelling as Harvey Dent and Two-Face, as good at being the hero with a face as he is at being the villain with half a face.  There’s solid foundational performances from veterans Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, but the movie’s true unsung hero is Gary Oldman.  As the only truly noble man in the movie, he’s a figure to be admired and respected, and there’s a good chance you won’t even notice it.  But that doesn’t stop Oldman from putting any less sensitivity or emotion into it, nor does he try to overdo anything to make himself stand out more.

Still, it wasn’t Heath Ledger alone that drove the movie to extreme critical acclaim and some of the most enormous box office receipts in history.  Nor was it the look of the film – which, by the way, was spectacular, particularly Wally Pfister’s breathtaking cinematography.  It was Nolan’s script, full of intelligence and insight, that won audiences over.  Such intellect was so unconventional for a movie of the genre, and we had generally allowed ourselves to think that action movies don’t require us to engage our brains.  Yet Nolan challenged our assumption and delivered a movie that successfully blended smarts with action, and we loved the exciting and refreshing change of pace.  Now, we want every action movie to be more like “The Dark Knight.”

So call it a masterpiece.  Call it the most thematically rich and relevant movie in recent memory.  Call it the first shot in a revolution for the comic book, superhero, and action genres.  Call it the movie to define a decade not just of moviegoing but also of American life.





Random Factoid #349

12 07 2010

Viral websites.  Aren’t they fascinating?

It was really Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” that revolutionized their use in a movie’s advertising campaign.  I remember there was a site for just about everything in Gotham – the newspaper, the bank, the police, even the pizzeria.

Sure enough, “District 9” carved out a nice audience for itself using a similar campaign the next summer with the “Humans Only” signs on bathrooms and benches and such.  And Nolan’s own “Inception” is doing the same now.

I slap myself for not getting more involved with “The Dark Knight” viral sites.  They really did reward the people who stuck with them.  I remembered hearing that the people who put their names in had been sent free advanced screening passes to see the movie in IMAX.  Of course, only then did I scour the websites looking for a way to get my hands on the passes.  It was to no avail; I even called the number on the pizza site.

And for the record, my self-imposed moratorium on intake of “Inception” has kept me from joining their viral site.





Random Factoid #335

28 06 2010

I was flipping through the channels two weeks ago, and something interesting caught my eye.

“In the Bedroom,” a very heavy and dark drama that was nominated for Best Picture in 2001, was the primetime movie on the CW.  Yes, the same channel that gives the world such serious fare as “Gossip Girl” and “90210.”  It seemed a strange movie for them to show because it something that totally does not connect with their usual target audience.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d much rather them be showing a Best Picture nominee than some horrific romantic comedy from the early 2000s.  It was just … odd.

So it got me to thinking, what is the ideal TV movie?  What’s the movie that I would stop and watch no matter what I’m doing?

I’m so tempted to give it to either “Baby Mama” or “The Dark Knight,” the two movies that are seemingly always on HBO/Cinemax.  They always provide me entertainment, and I end up watching both of them quite a bit.  But I think it’s a little too early to crown them king.

I’d have to say that I will always stop and watch “You’ve Got Mail,” no matter what I am doing.  It’s sweet, charming, and full of laughs.  It has a heart of gold, and I think it may still make my mom cry (don’t quote me on that, though).  I’ve seen it about a million times, and it has yet to get old.

I can probably recite the whole movie to you if you asked politely.  About once a week, I will say “thank yours” instead of “thank you.”  Every time I hear the word caviar, I say to myself, “That caviar is a GARNISH!”  If I hear of someone named Rose, I think, “Rose – that is a great name.”  (These are jokes you would only get if you have seen the movie.)

So what’s that movie that can always make you drop everything and watch?





REVIEW: Iron Man 2

10 05 2010

Iron Man 2” may not have all that much to offer us as a movie, but it provides significant fodder for conversation about what it means to cinema in general.  In my mind, it marks the first comic book movie of the post-“Dark Knight” era.  Filmmakers have seen what made Christopher Nolan’s film such a hit on multiple fronts, and they are trying to strike gold using the same tools: namely, character development and strong plot over explosions and action.  Jon Favreau and the other minds behind “Iron Man 2” had time to adapt their series in an attempt to replicate that success.

One thing this sequel gives us is confirmation of a theory that many have been advocating for almost two years: “The Dark Knight” really does mark a revolution in the way we watch movies and the way they are made.  As soon as we saw it, we knew that we would never watch comic book or action movies the same way.  We instantly scorned “Transformers 2” and other movies that only emphasized the visuals.  But now, similar movies are trying to shift the focus to plot.  That’s a really good thing for the average moviegoer because it means that studios are recognizing our intelligence!

But “Iron Man 2” also reminds us of an unfortunate reality: some revolutions are only revolutionary once.  Some are meant to repeated; the American Revolution, for example, inspired similar uprisings in France, Haiti, and all over Latin America.  “Iron Man 2” incorporates many elements used in “The Dark Knight,” hoping to continue the pattern of success.

But its inability to recreate what made Nolan’s film so incredible signals the dawning of an era in comic book movies not favorable to anyone.  From now on, there will be “The Dark Knight” and every other movie who wishes they were “The Dark Knight.”  These movies cannot simply try to concoct their own version as if there is some sort of a formula.  Nolan’s movie worked for so many reasons.  Now, filmmakers have to find their own way if they want to make a movie that doesn’t play like a cheap ripoff of “The Dark Knight.”  A key factor to the success of Nolan’s film was originality.  Any movie that tries to use that originality will end up creating banality.

Read the rest of this entry »





Random Factoid #286

10 05 2010

I saw “Casablanca” for the first time (yes, I know that’s shocking) a few weeks ago and ogled at how many quotable lines there are.  I knew, “Here’s looking at you, kid,” and “at least we’ll always have Paris.”  But I had no idea it was the origin of “this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” or “round up the usual suspects.”  Not to mention that the movie is the reason for Warner Bros. theme song on their logo and the inspiration for the title “Play It Again, Sam.”  (Fun fact: no one ever says the words “play it again, Sam” in the movie.  It’s always a variation.)

I thought about it, and movies are quoted so often that we say certain lines enough to forget that they came from a movie at all.  A more modern example is “Mean Girls” for me.  I had been rattling off “she doesn’t even go here!” and “you go, Glen Coco!” for months on end – and I had seen the movie!

I think it’s a testament to the writers if their movie has the staying power to be quoted.  I don’t know if we’ll be quoting “Mean Girls” in 70 years, but surely some phrases are going to enter our average conversational phrase book.  I wouldn’t count out “why so serious?” from “The Dark Knight” for one of them.





Random Factoid #285

9 05 2010

“Iron Man 2” missed the opening weekend record that “The Dark Knight” set by $25 million.  Phew.  Batman will “live to fight another day,” as Harvey Dent says.

But AMC MovieWatcher Network’s blog Script to Screen pointed something out about the summer opener that I really wished I knew on Friday: there was an extra scene after the credits!  And I even told the friend I went to that I suspected there might be a supplemental scene.  He hurried me out, telling me his friends had seen it at midnight and said there wasn’t anything.  But there was!

I’m the kind of person that gets up as soon as the credits roll unless there is some sort of scene going.  Unless I had heard that there would be an extra scene at the end of the credits, I would never stay through the credits.  It’s just too much time to spend if you don’t know.  And credits are getting pretty long nowadays – “The Lovely Bones” and its 15 minute credits, anyone?

Anyone out there willing to stick it out without certainty?  I applaud you if you do.





Oscar Moment: “Iron Man 2″

28 04 2010

In nine days, the summer movie season will officially kick off with the release of “Iron Man 2.”  It will most assuredly begin the very profitable period with a bang, potentially with the highest opening of all-time.  According to the Los Angeles Times, interest in the movie is very high ahead of the opening and polling has confirmed that people are indeed eagerly anticipating the release.  Whether or not it has what it takes to topple the record held by “The Dark Knight” is something no one can really predict.

“The Dark Knight” had many extraordinary circumstances in its favor.  The first “Iron Man” movie primed the pump for intelligent popcorn flicks by proving a surprise hit amongst fans and critics.  The rebooting of the Batman series with “Batman Begins” also gathered a large fan base, and people were excited for the follow-up.  But what arguably became the key factor in the success of “The Dark Knight” was the tragic death of Heath Ledger and a new layer of intrigue that was added to the movie as a result.  Rumor was that the drugs Ledger overdosed on were to help him get over the psychological distress of playing The Joker, and excitement to see his villainous turn quickly became some of the most intense anticipation in cinematic history.  People threw out casual suggestions about him being in contention for awards, and his death made an Oscar nomination a near certainty.  When the movie was released, Ledger’s win was sealed.

“Iron Man 2” features what could be another outstanding villainous role in Mickey Rourke taking on the part of Tony Stark’s foe, Whiplash.  After dealing with many substance abuse problems, Rourke triumphantly blazed back onto the Hollywood stage with “The Wrestler” in 2008, winning the Golden Globe and receiving an Oscar nomination.  His role in that movie led to a surge of interest in the actor, and the first role he took was in “Iron Man 2.”

But did Mickey Rourke lose all chances of being considered for Best Supporting Actor by being alive in the months leading up to the release of “Iron Man 2?”

It may be best to start by analyzing the category.

This is a category that LOVES villians – Christoph Waltz this year, Ledger, Javier Bardem in 2007, Tim Robbins in 2003.  It is also a category that likes to reward actors (usually veterans) who are overdue for a trophy – Alan Arkin in 2006, Morgan Freeman in 2004.  By these two characteristics, Rourke would appear to have a great shot.  He’s scary even whenever he’s not a villain, and he has a great deal of Academy support despite his loss two years ago to Sean Penn for Best Actor.

Judgement, however, cannot be based on the category alone.  It’s hardly a secret that the Oscars don’t like comic book movies.  They declined to nominate “The Dark Knight” for their highest prize despite being successful in every area and popular with every group in favor of “The Reader,” a movie that had lukewarm support from critics and fans.  Right out of the gate, Rourke and “Iron Man 2” have a massive strike against them.  It would take the movie out of the picture without the expanded field, no matter how much praise it was met with.  In my estimation, it will take a tremendous performance by Rourke to overcome this hurdle, one that I believe he is fully capable of delivering.  But if the movie tanks critically as sequels often do, it would be all but impossible for him to be nominated.

Then again, Heath Ledger overcame it.  We can never know how performance vs. politics played out or how things would have turned out had he been alive.  All politics aside, I believe Ledger gave one of the greatest performances that I have ever seen, and he deserved to win an Oscar for it dead or alive.  It was a total immersion, and if Rourke can pull off something similar, I see no reason for him not to be nominated or even win.  But awards can’t just be about the art; it’s a game where how you play matters just as much as how you act on screen.

I’m skeptical about Rourke’s chances, as you can tell.  We just have to remember that performances aren’t given and movies aren’t made to win awards; they are made to entertain and captivate an audience.  If Rourke blows us away with Whiplash, awards attention is just a bonus.  The real award comes from the creation of art that does more than serve its purpose.

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Mixing/Editing

OTHER POSSIBLE NOMINATIONS: Best Supporting Actor (Mickey Rourke)