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One of Those Great Little Scenes: Smoke Signals (1998)

Not a lot of people know Smoke Signals, which is really quite a genius little film penned by great American Indian author Sherman Alexie, based on his novel, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. For those of you who have seen the film, I don’t have to tell you how truly great it is. But for those of you who haven’t, I will simply say that you must see it! And I don’t use the word ‘must’ lightly. Anyway, our scene this week is from this awesome little movie.

 

 

Think Napoleon Dynamite going to an Indian Reservation, and you’ve got this movie. But this scene stands out among all the others, a great resolution to the funny, moving, and complex story that we have witnessed. In this scene, we see the change that our beloved characters have undergone, but we also see that they have not lost what makes them fundamentally good and likable characters. Mesh this together with awesome camerawork (shoutout to the DP), authentic and powerful music, and beautifully poetic language, and you have not only transcended the depth of Napoleon Dynamite or any other film of this nature, but you realize that you have not just seen this film, you have experienced it.

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Review: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

 *****

It is the age of the superhero. Since 2005, no less than 35 superhero movies have been released in the US. There may be more, but try to tell me there have been less. But in 2008, there was one hero film that took its place above all others as being considered (by many) to be the best of all time: Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Yes, his follow-up to his 2005 reboot Batman Begins was so good, that it made many wonder, with the announcement of The Dark Knight Rises, if Nolan could repeat his success. And I can say fairly confidently that he has.

 

The Dark Knight Rises begins eight years after the foreboding ending of The Dark Knight, with Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) having hung up the cowl, weakened after his crippling losses at the hands of the Joker (Heath Ledger). But more importantly, he now lives in a Gotham where Batman is a disgrace, having secretly taken the fall for the crimes of Harvey Dent, AKA Two-Face (Aaron Eckhart). When a new terrorist force threatens Gotham’s destruction, Bruce must not only don the cowl of the Caped Crusader once more, but he must confront the most painful memories of his past, and prepare himself for his greatest and most brutal trials ever.

 

This film is terrific. I have to say that. With so much controversy over the Rotten Tomatoes verdict on it, as well as some mixed reviews among individual critics, I can confidently say that, as an avid fan of The Dark Knight, I hold Rises in the same esteem. There is far too much to appreciate here to come away unsatisfied. Whether it be the truly great acting, the breathtaking score, the best visual effects of the year, or the pulse-pounding, white-knuckle action, almost every scene has something to marvel at. But what sets this film apart from the others in the trilogy is its tone. While Batman Begins was dark and brooding, and The Dark Knight was meditative and powerful, The Dark Knight Rises holds its own as a brutal, jarring, emotionally charged epic, with a final twenty minutes that will leave you breathless.

 

As I said, director Christopher Nolan didn’t skimp on the acting talent at work here. Christian Bale is the best in this film that he has been in the whole trilogy, with a deep, deep anger that can pour out almost uncontrollably, revealing the very real pain inside the character of Bruce Wayne, the pain that drives his insatiable hunger for justice. As Selina Kyle/Catwoman, Anne Hathaway is stupendous, beautiful and elegant, but easily able to kick butt and take names, with whip-smart humor and amazing appeal, echoing much of the essence that made Michelle Pfieffer’s portrayal so memorable.

 

 

As our lead villain, the troubled and powerful Bane, Nolan alum Tom Hardy is truly menacing. Where Ledger’s Joker was comical, Bane is blunt and threatening. Where Joker played with his prize, Bane snaps its spine and walks away, leaving no room for pleading or mercy. But what makes Bane so terrifying is Hardy’s portrayal. With every line, every breath, every menacing stare, extreme anger burns like the fires of Hell behind Bane’s eyes. And that is not embellishment. The anger is real, and it is there, burning its way into your soul. But what makes it even worse is that he knows what he is doing. Bane is not just a thug (like he was in Schumacher’s dreadful Batman and Robin). Bane is a soldier, a general, a strategist, and a revolutionary. He not only fights the battles, but he plans them, he furnishes them, and he delivers rallying speeches for them. He is a thinker and a fighter, giving Batman his toughest challenge to date; a physical brutalization as well as an all-out mental and emotional war.

 

As for the other performers, our regular supporting cast (Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth, Gary Oldman as Commissioner Jim Gordon, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox) does a wonderful job, Caine especially, in his portrayal of Alfred’s pleading concern for Bruce’s wellbeing. But we have some additions now, don’t we? Marion Cotillard is beautiful and engaging as Bruce Wayne’s business partner and romantic interest Miranda Tate, with a twist that will bust even the most loyal fan’s head. Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes a strong and likable impression as rookie cop John Blake, a loyal follower of Jim Gordon. All in all, the cast is impeccable, really holding their own.

 

The writing and direction here is superb, as it was in the last Batman film. Nolan and his team have carefully made sure that all the chips fall in the right places for this film to be great. With powerful themes of fear, justice, and rising above extreme adversity, The Dark Knight Rises hits home, as we see the city we have come to love blown to bits. Perhaps the most effective use of dialogue in the film is a scene that shows Bruce sitting in a prison (not going to spoil it) in a foreign country, talking to a doctor, who tells him that he believes that bruce fears death. And Bruce gives a relatively short, but powerful response: “I don’t fear death. I fear that I am going to die in here while my city burns to the ground.” In this statement, we see that Bruce is loyal not only to the idea of justice, but is loyal to his home. He loves his people, and is willing to pay the ultimate price for them. Whether he does or not… that’s too good to spoil.

 

There are also some strong meditations on violence, and its effect on a society that is consumed by fear. We see people who want to take back their lives and their land (much like the Occupy movement), but they are so blinded by their own hunger for justice and what they call “freedom,” that they do not realize that the man who is leading this motion, allegedly to free the people and give them back their city, is pushing for their ultimate destruction. That is Bane’s mission and calling. He is in charge of bringing a corrupt city to ruin. But he can’t simply destroy the people. That would be too difficult.

 

The special effects are the best this summer. Not even kidding, they are better than The Avengers. And the action is so smooth and slick, yet brutal and powerful, that its a wonder that it’s not real. And the scale of all this is some of the largest-scale destruction, action, and rebellion in the history of the screen. Thousands of extras, crumbling buildings, vehicular destruction, and it is all epic, on a totally grand scale. Nolan and his team have outdone themselves, producing what is no doubt their biggest film to date. And with a breathtaking score by none other than Hans Zimmer, the physical and visual elements are backed up with serious emotional power.

 

But now, what has this film done wrong? What could there possibly be that is amiss here? Well, as stupendous as the writing and acting is here, it seems like Nolan got really wrapped up in having the characters deliver meaningful pseudo-monologues in random places throughout the film. It’s like sometimes, the action stops so that someone can deliver some important anecdote or philosophy on what just happens. Calm down, Nolan. Though you are the best filmmaker going right now, you aren’t perfect, and you don’t constantly need to preach.

 

But here’s the thing. Look at all of the blockbusters that have come out this summer. Dark Shadows, which was okay in its own right. Snow White and the Huntsman, which, from what I heard, was an overblown Joan of Arc story with poor performance. Rock of Ages, which was good for about a half hour and then seemed to give up. The list goes on. With the exception of The Avengers, Brave, and POSSIBLY Magic Mike, it doesn’t seem like a staggering number of films have opened to outstanding critical review. But Nolan’s films have always done well, and this entry in the Batman saga is no different. How often is it that you see a summer blockbuster (and a superhero movie, nonetheless) that explores such deep topics as the Dark Knight trilogy, and on such a grand scale? Even if the argument is made that this entry is not as good or powerful as the last, The Dark Knight Rises is still miles above the bar of summer movies in this day and age.

 

Overall, there are some moments of true power. There’s magnificent acting. There’s stupendous writing and direction. With a couple of minor flaws in the middle, The Dark Knight Rises is exemplary summer entertainment… no, exemplary entertainment in general. It’s a truly great film, with heart, brains, and an incredibly intense finale, with an ending sequence that will most likely blow you away. Nolan delivers another masterpiece, earning a five out of five.

 

 

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One of Those Great Little Scenes: Batman Begins (2005)

It is Batman day. At least, for me it is. It is also my birthday. And four years ago today, Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece The Dark Knight was released to critical and audience acclaim. But some people forget that before there was a Dark Knight, Batman had to begin. And he did just that in 2005’s Batman Begins, which breathed new life into a saga that Joel Shumacher almost killed (Batman and Robin was a travesty. Nipples on the Batsuit, anyone?). The reboot dealt with fear, and the courage and power in each one of us. This scene from the film illustrates that process beautifully. **NOTE: Embedding is disabled by request, so click the ‘watch on youtube’ option.**

 

 

Bruce has had a fear of bats since he was a young boy. And here, he confronts that. But what this represents is more than just a fear of bats. This is Bruce confronting his life, coming to terms with what he can and can’t control, and finding the strength to know the difference. It’s a demonstration of the human condition, about facing ourselves with courage and power, and taking control of ourselves. Beautiful.

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One of Those Great Little Scenes: A Time to Kill (1996)

This is an older movie, not as widely known as other films, and normally I wouldn’t say that Matthew McConaughey is often a good actor. But this scene is one of the most dramatic 5 minutes I’ve watched. In this scene, the lawyer Jake (McConaughey) presents his closing argument for his client (Samuel L. Jackson) who murdered the men who murdered his daughter. Be warned, this could be considered graphic.

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The Dark Knight Rises: Pre-review

Okay, here it is. The Dark Knight Rises will be released Thursday-Friday night at 12:01am of July 20th. Possibly the most anticipated film of 2012, Rises is the conclusion of Christopher Nolan’s Batman saga, his Dark Knight trilogy. And so far, the critics are saying that it hasn’t lived up to the standards of the first, scoring an 87% on the famous Tomatometer, as opposed to the 94% of the second film. Here’s the final verdict:

“The Dark Knight Rises is an ambitious, thoughtful, and potent action film that concludes Christopher Nolan’s franchise in spectacular fashion, even if it doesn’t quite meet the high standard set by its predecessor.” -Rotten Tomatoes

But here’s the thing. The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola’s gritty, wonderful masterpiece, scored a perfect 100% from Rotten Tomatoes, while Part II of the franchise scored only a 98%. Is the difference between DK and DKR arguably more vast? Yes. But my point remains: I and much of the world enjoyed The Godfather: Part II  more and held it in higher esteem than The Godfather. So is there room for The Dark Knight Rises to be The Godfather: Part II of comic book films. We can only let the audience speak for itself on that matter. I personally think that, while The Dark Knight bore a striking resemblance to many works of Shakespeare, the inspiration drawn from Dickens’ classic A Tale of Two Cities, which director Nolan himself has admitted, will make Rises a more-than worthy, and possibly superior successor to the epic second film. But any way you cut it, we are in for a ride, people. This is a big event, and Cinephiles will be there to cover it. See you opening night, bring your utility belts!

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One of Those Great Little Scenes: The Artist (2011)

As we made a big deal about months ago, this last year’s Best Picture winner was a silent film (and a great one at that). And so it was natural, what with the DVD and Blu-ray still freshly released, for us to pick a scene to highlight from The Artist. And so, here it is.

Jean Dujardin is an very gifted actor. Not only does he work hard to project a certain aura about him as he performs, but his body language is also extremely emotive. Here, he not only shows a character who is very serious about his craft, but also one who has a lot of fun with it. And in the process of it all, this is the moment where protagonist George Valentin falls in love (even without immediate knowledge) with the young Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo). You can really sense the impeccable chemistry between the two, even without audible speech. Bejo holds her own with Peppy, naiive in the trade, yet committed as Valentin may ever be. With great shot composition, excellent award-winning music, and the performances of two great actors, this is a great scene from a great movie. If you’ve seen The Artist, why not watch it again? It’s joyous. And if you haven’t, seriously consider doing so.

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External Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)

I don’t usually do external reviews, but this bit from Ask A Ninja was more priceless than anything I could write about this mess of a film.

 

 

Really, nothing more even needs to be said. I think the bucket of chicken line was perfectly descriptive.