REVIEW: “Interstellar”

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While some people may not love his movies, even they would have to admit that Christopher Nolan is a cinematic artist who has given us a number of movies known for their artistry and uniqueness. Personally I find myself smitten with every feature he brings to the screen. Nolan creates experiences. Through breathtaking visuals and challenging narratives, he takes his audiences places that must be navigating by the senses AND the intellect. I think he is a brilliant filmmaker, but even the greats sometimes miss the mark. There have been a lot of mixed opinions about Nolan’s latest work “Interstellar”. Is this his first shoot and miss?

Much of “Interstellar’s” divisiveness is rooted in extremely high expectations and/or the audiences’ willingness to not just quickly consume the film’s themes but to chew and meditate on them. It’s a film rich with ideas and questions, some of which are only barely touched on but which are still relevant and worth our attention. “Interstellar” is also soaked in science, not in the arrogant or haughty sense, but in a way that convincingly melds science fiction and reputable theory. It’s also ripe with emotion, something that I never expected going into it. In other words it’s a movie with a number of different components but none of which conflict thanks the masterful control Nolan has of his material.

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I firmly believe that the less you know about “Interstellar” going in the better. But to offer a little about its story, Matthew McConaughey plays a widowed ex-NASA pilot named Cooper who now runs a farm with his father-in-law, teenaged son, and 10-year-old daughter. It’s the future and times are hard for the human race. A devastating blight has ravaged crops and able farmers have become more valuable than pilots or engineers. Government programs like NASA and the military have been abandoned and the focus put on the urgent need of food. In reality Earth’s plight is incurable and Cooper is recruited by an old acquaintance Professor Brand (Michael Caine) to head a space expedition to find a habitable planet. But it would require Cooper to leave what he holds dearest in order to potentially save it.

Nolan takes his time developing his scenarios and his characters. It starts with McConaughey and his fabulous performance. His weather-worn face and calloused hands puts him right at home on the dustbowl that Earth has become. McConaughey has a natural and magnetic presence that helps him sell every scene he’s in. It may be a poignant scene with his young daughter Murphy (remarkably played by Mackenzie Foy) or a vigorous debate with a room of physicists. I connected with his character early on and stayed invested until the end.

There is also a host of fantastic supporting work. Anne Hathaway is great as Professor Brand’s daughter and fellow scientist. I also enjoyed David Gyasi as a physicist who joins the expedition. And later on Jessica Chastain appears and gives a performance that grounds and emotionally energizes the second half of the film. Once again she is fabulous. Other castings that I really liked included John Lithgow, Casey Affleck, David Oyelowo, and Ellen Burstyn. Only one performance stuck out like a sore thumb. Neither Topher Grace nor his character ever quite fit.

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But just having a great cast isn’t good enough. There has to be good material for them to work with and Christopher Nolan, along with his brother Jonathan, provide it. Their script pulls influence everywhere from “2001: A Space Odyssey” to “Alien”. From “Metropolis” to “Wall-E”. Yet despite that “Interstellar” is uniquely Nolan’s. Like many of his films it is cinematic brain food. It challenges us on a personal level by looking at our decisions and their consequences. It looks at self-sacrifice and the costs that some pay. It also challenges us on a philosophical level. What is our purpose of being? What is our place in the world?

And as I mentioned earlier there is a lot of science. This leaks into one of the complaints I’ve read in several places. Many count the film’s numerous science-laced conversations as a flaw. Some have seen them as nothing more than convoluted exposition. I couldn’t disagree more. Exposition is filling in gaps with back story or explanation and there is certainly some of that. But so many of the conversations center around the peril the characters are in and ways to handle it. They are dealing with unknowns, not providing filler. And of course I didn’t understand all of the talk about quantum physics, relativity, singularities, etc., but I believed it because the characters believed it and were passionate in their conversations about it. I bought into them so their knowledge was all I needed.

And then there is the emotional component of it. Surprisingly “Interstellar” is a film so full of emotion and some have had a hard time connecting with it. That’s a shame because emotion is the centerpiece of the film. At the core of “Interstellar” lies the one human force that transcends time and space. This is a movie about love. And it actually dares to be unashamedly sentimental, something else that many have viewed as a flaw. Again, I couldn’t disagree more. That’s because none of the heavy emotional scenes (all connected to the central theme of love) feel false or fabricated. In fact on several occasions I found myself deeply effected and more than once I was wiping tears from my cheeks. To add some perspective, that is very rare for me. But that’s not the only human side we see. Selfishness, cowardice, and deception all show their heads. Some at odds with love. Others born out of a twisted form of love.

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It should go without saying that “Interstellar” looks and sounds amazing. Whether it’s the dry, abrasive, decaying Earth ushering in mankind’s extinction or space and its beautiful palette of stars, planets, clusters, and wormholes, the film offers a number of stunning effects and visual treats. It’s never as spectacular as last year’s “Gravity” but it’s equally impressive. There is a style employed that reminded me of real archived footage. It made many of the sequences all the more immersive. I also loved the use of sound from the space ambiance to Hans Zimmer’s precise score. “Interstellar” is a technical delight.

So why is “Interstellar” a divisive film? I can see a few areas where some may struggle with it. Some may find it too talky. Some may find it to confusing. Some may find it too sentimental. I respect those criticisms yet disagree with each of them. “Interstellar” is a space opera that is inspired by many films but it lays its own course. It’s a contemplative adventure and an emotional exploration that captivated me from its opening moments. More than that, it is one of the deepest and most moving experiences I’ve ever had with a film. It challenged me to self-reflect. It asked questions that I’m still tossing around in my head. It entertained me in a way that few movies of the last decade have. In a nutshell “Interstellar” is the reason I love movies and I can see this film becoming one of my favorites of all-time. Boring, overly sentimental, convoluted? No way. It’s a graceful, stimulating, a beautiful movie that gave me a motion picture experience I won’t soon forget.

VERDICT – 5 STARS

5 STARSs

5STAR K&M

TOP 5 SUPPORTING ACTRESS PERFORMANCES OF 2012

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It’s that time of year again. People are reflecting back on the 2012 movie year and throwing lists together. The Golden Globes are done and the Academy Award nominees are announced. Last week I looked at the movies and listed my Top 10 Films of 2012. This week I’m looking at the performances. As I did last year, I’m going to break down the four major acting categories and list my personal Top 5 performances of 2012 from each. I’m a firm believer in ladies first so today we start with the Top Supporting Actress Performances of 2012 (according to me).

#5 – AMY ADAMS (“The Master”)

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I’m a big fan of Amy Adams and throughout her career she has shown a great range. In Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” she plays Peggy Dodd, the wife a philosophical sect leader. While her husband seems to be in control and it’s his flash and pizzazz that gets all of the attention, there are several scenes where Peggy looks to be pulling the strings. Adams embodies this mysterious and sometimes calculating character and she has no problem holding her own with the other heavyweight performances.

#4 – JUDI DENCH (“Skyfall”)

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We all know Judi Dench is a great actress. She is one of those performers who you know is going to deliver regardless of what she’s in. One of her most recognized roles is “M” from the James Bond films. In “Skyfall” she reprised that role but, unlike the previous Bond appearences, here she is given a lot more to do. Dench gets to flex her acting muscles as her “M” character is fleshed out a bit more. We also get to experience a better look at her relationship with Bond. Dench is fantastic and she doesn’t miss a beat.

#3 – SALLY FIELD (“Lincoln”)

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I remember when I heard Sally Field was going to play Mary Todd Lincoln a smile spread across my face. And as expected she doesn’t diappoint. This was a tough role, not just because she was playing the wife of Abraham Lincoln, but because she was sharing scenes with the great Daniel Day-Lewis. But Field is spectacular in “Lincoln” and the on screen chemistry between her and Day-Lewis is undeniable. Field uncovers the uniquenesses and complexities of her character with great craft. This was a spot-on performance and certainly worthy of praise.

#2 – CECILE DE FRANCE (“The Kid with a Bike”)

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I don’t know how many people have seen the touching French and Belgian film “The Kid with a Bike” but more people should. It’s a beautifully crafted and deeply moving film from the Dardenne brothers about a young boy unable to accept that his father has left him. The performance from de France is an absolute joy to watch and you never doubt her character’s sincerity or tenderness. It’s unfortunate that her great work has flew under the radar but I can promise that if you watch this film you’ll be blown away.

#1 – ANNE HATHAWAY (“Les Miserables”)

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I’ve been a luke warm Anne Hathaway fan for a while now. But I’m slowly growing more and more impressed with her work. My excitement reached it’s pinnacle after seeing her in “Les Miserables“. Talk about a heartfelt and devestating performance. From her physical acting to her beautiful voice, Hathaway stole the show and had me wishing her part was bigger. For me, this performance was the whole package – the voice, the expressions, the emotions. It all flows naturally out of Hathaway. I felt for her and I cried with her. This was the best supporting performance by an actress from 2012.

Day 1 is done and my favorite supporting ladies have been given their due. So which performances did I miss? What was your favorite? The guys are next. Tomorrow I’ll throw out the Top 5 Supporting Actor Performances of 2012.

“Les Miserables” – 4 STARS

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I’m not a fan of musicals. Never have been, never will be. Now there are one or two that I guess I could say I like, but as a whole it is one of my least favorite genres. So why would I think for a minute that I would like Tom Hooper’s “Les Miserables”? Well as suprising as it may sound, I liked “Les Miserables” a lot and if not for its mildly sluggish pacing leading up to the final act I would have gone as far as to call it a great film. Releasing a movie like this today would seem like a risk. Modern movie fans pour money into lame raunchy comedies and brainless rom-coms so it was refreshing to see “Les Miserables” reach a wide audience. The film has a lot to offer. Just as long as you prepare yourself and know what you’re going to get.

For the few that don’t know, “Les Miserables” is French writer Victor Hugo’s classic novel from 1862. In the 1980s a musical theater version of the novel opened and became a worldwide success and remains so to this day. Now Hooper, the Oscar winning director of “The King’s Speech”, tackles the ambitious task of bringing the stage version to the big screen. Now when I call this a musical I mean it in the fullest. There may be five or six short spoken lines in the entire film. The bulk of the story is told through song and the emotional performances from the cast. It concerned me going in but after a brief mental adjustment I was connected to the flow of the narrative.

The story begins in 1815 and follows Jean Valijean (Hugh Jackman) who we see released from prison after serving a 19 year sentence for stealing a loaf of bread. After being moved by the compassion of a priest, Valijean breaks parole and heads off to start an honest life serving God under a new identity. This infuriates Officer Javert (Russell Crowe) who becomes obsessed with tracking him down. The movie jumps ahead, making stops at different time periods in early 19th century France. Valijean becomes a mayor and businessman, Javert a promoted inspector, and we are introduced to several other people who cross their paths.

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There’s no need in going further into the story. I’ll save that for the movie but I will say that its an interesting look at everything from poverty to patriotism, from redemption to devastation. It takes place during a tumultuous time in French history and it translates very well on screen. The story navigates through the many hardships, tragedies, and inequalities of that era with an amazing sense of authenticity. Much of that is thanks to the sharp collaborative screenplay but a lot is due to the incredible period detail that we see throughout the entire film. There’s a real sense of place throughout the movie which was essential to my experience.

But enough of that right? This is after all a musical so I’ve got to get into the singing. Hugh Jackman was quite good in my eyes. I know some have felt that the part overpowered him but I didn’t see it. I thought some songs were better than others but his physical performance complemented his voice perfectly and I loved what he was doing on screen. Russell Crowe has received the brunt of the criticism when it comes to the singing but I’m going to defend him…well, kinda. I don’t think he’s as bad as many are saying. In fact, some of the songs nicely fit both him and his character. But I have to say there are moments where his voice clashes with the scene. For example, a few of the one-on-one singing conversations between him and Jackman just sound odd. A lot has to do with the songs themselves but some of it is that Crowe simply sounds off. But Crowe does have some good moments and his physical performance is fantastic.

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I also have to mention Ann Hathaway as a poor unemployed mother who has to resort to prostitution in order to send money back to care for her sick young daughter. Hathaway is brilliant and no doubt she was the star of the show for me. While she doesn’t have a big role, every scene she’s in is emotionally charged and heartbreaking. And her voice is simply beautiful. The best scene in the entire movie is her singing of “I Dreamed a Dream”. I usually get tired of Hooper’s insistence on putting the camera right in the face of his actors. But in this scene he knows he’s capturing something special. Hathaway’s brokenness, her tears, her anguish are all vividly captured as she sings this heart-wrenching song. This is an Oscar worthy performance.

There are also fun performances from Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as a crooked, pick pocketing husband and wife. And I was surprised at the singing chops of Eddie Redmayne. He has a pretty meaty role and never flinches. I was also very impressed with Samantha Barks and Amanda Seyfried. Both young ladies have lovely voices and I appreciated the way they poured everything into their characters. There were several other small but great cast members particularly some really strong child performances. It’s hard not to like this ensemble Hooper was able to put together.

“Les Miserables” does bog down during the buildup to its finale. For most of the film I was completely involved and for the movie to do that to a non-musical kind of guy like me is quite an accomplishment. But as Redmayne and company prepare their rebellion I felt myself drifting. Things start to feel repetitious and monotonous. But then in a snap of a finger the movie picks back up and rolls right through to its powerful and completely satisfying finale. In fact, I think “powerful” and “completely satisfying” are good descriptions of this movie as a whole. Sure it’s Oscar bait and I know it has disappointed some people, but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this picture. This isn’t normally my cup of tea, but when a film is well made, well acted, and tells a good story I’m all in whether they’re singing the lines or not.

THE SHOWDOWN : “The Avengers” vs “The Dark Knight Rises”

Without a doubt the two biggest movies of the year in terms of box office results and expectations has been Disney/Marvel’s “The Avengers” and Warner Bros./DC Comics’ “The Dark Knight Rises”. Both films were two of the most highly anticipated and heavily promoted pictures leading up to their releases. Now both have hit the theaters, made millions of dollars, and have been talked about by critics, geeks, and movie fans from around the globe. But which is the better movie? I thought it would be fun to put the two side-by-side and see who comes out on top. They’ll face off in several categories and we will see who’s standing in the end.

SPECIAL EFFECTS

When judging the special effects, it’s hard to come up with a fair and conclusive winner. Both movies approach their action sequences in significantly different ways. “The Avengers” uses a lot more CGI and much of director Joss Whedon’s vision is dependant on it. What’s truly amazing is that the movie really pulls it off. The massive CGI set pieces are sights to behold and this is easily the best looking Hulk yet to hit the big screen. Director Christopher Nolan chose a more traditional approach to special effects and they are perfect for the movie he was making. While he did use CGI, he relied much more on intense stunt sequences and traditional set designs. Explosions, flipping cars, and large-scale battles make up the thrust of the action. So judging the two by the same standard is impossible. Therefore I’ll just go by the impressive scope of the vision that’s brought to life on-screen through the effects. WINNER – “The Avengers”

SCORE

Both films have booming, energetic scores but take two very different approaches. I’m a huge fan of Alan Silvestri and he certainly delivers a solid score in “The Avengers”. It works nicely alongside of the action sequences and it’s never overdone or out-of-place. But perhaps the one negative is that I don’t remember one detail about it. Scores that have really resonated with me have also stuck with me. Hans Zimmer’s powerful score in “The Dark Knight Rises” stuck with me on several occasions. His score is ever-present and some have had problems with that. But I found it gives a cinematic pop to so many of the action sequences and in other instances really builds the intensity. His use of familiar tunes from the earlier films are perfectly used and at times had me wanting to pump my fist. Nolan may overuse the score some, but for me it really made an impression. WINNER – “The Dark Knight Rises”

ACTING

One thing both movies were blessed with were remarkable casts. The fantastic collection of actors and actresses give both movies huge dramatic lifts and when combined provide one impressive list of talent. “The Avengers” is led by Robert Downey, Jr.’s razor-sharp, wise-cracking performance that only he could deliver. The movie also introduces Mark Ruffalo who undeniably gives us the best Bruce Banner yet and Jeremy Renner who is wonderful but underused. And then throw in Tom Hiddleston and his Oscar worthy performance as Loki. But while “The Avengers” has a great cast, “The Dark Knight Rises” is a much heavier and more dramatic picture which gives it’s equally phenomenal cast a broader range of material to work with. Christian Bale gives his best performance of the entire series. Gary Oldman is simply perfect as Gordon. Anne Hathaway makes her series debut and really surprises. Tom Hardy is wonderfully brutal. And of course there’s Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Marion Cotillard, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. They’re given much more to do and they each shine. WINNER – “The Dark Knight Rises”

VILLAIN

Both movies have fantastic villains but also very different villains. “The Avengers” finds the heroes up against the mischievious meddler Loki. While he’s not that intimidating in stature, Loki manages all sorts of chaos through manipulation and trickery. But what really makes Loki so impressive is Tom Hiddleston. Without a doubt he is having a blast with the character and he carries over his great work in “Thor”. He makes Loki a viable threat and an incredibly fun villain to watch.

In “The Dark Knight Rises”, Bane is an entirely different creation. Tom Hardy stars as the intelligent but psychotic brute who intimidates more through violence and force than mischief. Bane is a vicious presence and he’s stands out in every scene he’s in. Hardy’s physicality helps give the fight scenes a gritty realism and his swagger shows his fearlessness. From the first scene he’s in, you know that Bane is a villain not to be messed with. So both movies feature villains that are very different yet equally menacing and ultimately engaging. WINNER – DRAW

STORY/WRITING

Both movies feature some outstanding writing. “The Avengers” is faced with the task of taking a handful of earlier films and bringing them and their characters together in a good, cohesive way. It’s a daunting task and Joss Whedon makes it work. He makes “The Avengers” a climax movie that all of the individual superhero pictures were building up to. He also manages his large cast wonderfully. Another strong point with Whedon is the fantastic injection of humor throughout the picture. There are some truly laugh-out-loud moments and Whedon is respectful of the material but never takes it too seriously. It’s really well done.

On the other hand, Christopher Nolan is an incredible storyteller with his own unique visual presentation. His movies are generally more complex and layered and often times he challenges his audience. “The Dark Knight Rises” is no different. The story twists and turns and Nolan injects it with just the right amount of action and intensity. He also does a fine job of connecting it with the previous film as well as wrapping up his trilogy with a near perfect ending. Nolan doesn’t dumb things down and gives us a glorious and rousing ending to what is arguably one of the greatest trilogies in film history. WINNER – “The Dark Knight Rises”

AMBITION

With “The Dark Knight Rises”, Christopher Nolan finishes his spectacular vision of Batman and his universe. It’s most certainly an ambitious film. Nolan introduces new characters, connects us to the previous film, gives us an evil and brutal new villain, tells another deep and satisfying story, and wraps the entire series up, all in one film. It’s quite a vision. For Joss Whedon the task was quite possibly tougher and more ambitious. As mentioned above, Marvel had created several individual superhero franchises and each pointed to the Avengers project. “The Avengers” movie was a culmination of all of those movies and characters and Whedon had to bring it all together – a tricky job. A movie that ambitious had so many things that could have gone wrong but instead we were given one of the best times at the theaters this year. WINNER – “The Avengers”

DIRECTION

Both Joss Whedon and Christopher Nolan had the advantage of directing material that they were instrumental in creating. As writers, they had strong and distinct visions for their movies which carried over into their direction. Whedon wonderfully visualizes his wild superhero world, creates some astonishing action sequences, and nicely utilizes his great cast. Whedon draws everything together with an almost seamless result. Nolan is also a visual storyteller and his style is evident from the opening scene. Again, he is directing much weightier and more layered material and his ability to translate it on-screen so vividly is a testament to his rock solid direction. While “The Avengers” is sharply directed and a huge accomplishment, “The Dark Knight Rises” does go down more challenging roads, features a more hands-on approach to its action, and requires a more complex use of its characters. Nolan’s direction is spot-on. WINNER – “The Dark Knight Rises”

CONCLUSION

Both movies are exceptional examples of why the superhero genre is a legitimate form of cinematic entertainment. These are movies that aren’t just seeking box office numbers and millions of dollars. These are two strong movies with great storytelling, amazing special effects, phenomenal casts, and writers/directors that not only care for their projects, but put a great deal into making them the best movies they can be. But out of the two, “The Dark Knight Rises”…well…rises to the top. The deeper more layered story, the extremely high stakes, the more realistic grounding, and the wonderful way it wraps up Christopher Nolan’s Batman vision give it the edge over Joss Whedon’s fine film. Both films met some really high expectations, but for me “The Dark Knight Rises” was a better film that I will still be talking about for a long time.

THE OVERALL WINNER

REVIEW: “The Dark Knight Rises”

The superhero genre has been going strong for several years now and I’ve been wondering when was it going to run out of steam. At what point was the quality of the films going to suffer leading audiences to say enough is enough? In 2005 Christopher Nolan made a great contribution to the genre with “Batman Begins”. He followed it up with 2008′ s phenomenal “The Dark Knight”, a film that was not only one of the best sequels ever made but a demonstrative statement showing that superhero films can be legitimate and powerful forms of cinematic entertainment.

That brings us to “The Dark Knight Rises” the final film of Christopher Nolan’s Batman run and the end of what could easily go down as one of the best movie trilogies in motion picture history. “The Dark Knight Rises” is smart, layered, gritty, moving, and action-packed. Nolan not only wraps up his series in a competent and satisfying way, he gives us one of the most potent and energetic movie experiences you’ll find – a near perfect mix of comic book action, socially reflective drama, and expert storytelling. If these are the kinds of films we could get regularly from the superhero genre, I see no limit to their lifespans.

This film takes place 8 years after Batman rode off into the shadows at the end of “The Dark Knight”. Batman is a fugitive, unjustly but willingly, wanted for the murder of Harvey Dent. There have been no Batman sightings during this time and crime in Gotham City has declined due to an inspired city leadership and law enforcement armed with the Dent Act. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a hobbled recluse, spending all of his time in a closed off wing of Wayne Manor where long-time family friend and faithful butler Alfred (Michael Caine) is his only contact with the outside world. Gotham has become lethargic in its approach to crime and peace time has made the city leaders careless. Everyone except commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and Officer Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a devoted young patrolman. With their guard down, the city is hit head-on by a brutal but calculated terrorist named Bane (Tom Hardy). Bane’s destructive assault on Gotham cripples the city and as all-out anarchy takes hold, the need for Batman is greater than ever.

Morgan Freeman also returns as Lucius Fox, Bruce Wayne’s close friend and acting president of Wayne Enterprises. Fox is struggling to keep the company afloat following the poor position Bruce left him in. In addition to Hardy and Gordon-Levitt, Anne Hathaway joins the series as Selina Kyle, a cat burglar who steals out of Robin Hood-like motivations but also with a single more direct purpose in mind. Also new to the cast is Marion Cotillard. She plays Miranda Tate, a Wayne Enterprises board member and philanthropist with a great interest in green energy technology and Wayne’s investments into it. Matthew Modine plays Deputy Peter Foley, a spineless officer who is more interested in making a name for himself by catching Batman than stopping the coming storm at the hands of Bane. We also get Ben Mendelsohn as a slimy self-serving Wayne board member with his hands in deeper in than they should be.

Nolan takes this amazing collection of acting talent and throws them all into his smorgasbord of plot lines and dramatic twists. But he never loses control of the film and everything comes together in an extremely satisfying way. Nolan incorporates several relevent and current issues into the story, none more prevalent than the entire class warfare theme. Selina has a very anti-rich people mindset seeing the wealthy as a key cause to society’s ills. Bane himself seeks to take the power out of the hands of the wealthy, the local government, and law enforcement and give it to the poor and downtrodden. But Nolan doesn’t sugarcoat or promote anything. In fact he shows where an extreme and unbridled class warfare position can lead. Some may say that his presentation is heavy-handed but I felt it worked perfectly in the greater context of the story.

Nolan and his brother Jonathan wrote the screenplay and even with the heavy exposition in the first 30 minutes – clearly intended to fill the audience in on what has transpired during the missing 8 years – the movie moves at a crisp and fluid pace. As with all of Nolan’s pictures, there are layers of story that unfold to reveal deeper meanings and cool dramatic twists that should please both comic book fanboys and lovers of good storytelling. He doesn’t dumb things down nor does he ever patronize the audience. The film sets the table for us then causes us to attentively hang on for dear life – a most pleasing challenge. Much like “The Dark Knight” there are no shortcuts here. The film isn’t just a loud summer studio comic book adaptation. It’s brilliant cinematic storytelling that takes a superhero concept, laces it with a true sense of reality, and presents it to us in a beautifully crafted package. Another example of why Christopher Nolan is one of our best directors and visual storytellers.

I’ve mentioned the cast but they deserve more than just a few words. Bale IS Batman and this is his strongest work of the entire series. We see him as a broken and vulnerable man as well as the growling caped crusader. Bale has no problems relaying either to the audience. Anne Hathaway is also very good as Catwoman (even though she’s never called Catwoman) and while I wasn’t certain she completely belonged in Nolan’s more realistic Batman universe, he never overdoes the character and Hathaway sells her well. Tom Hardy will undoubtedly face comparisons to Heath Ledger’s Joker from the last film but that’s terrible unfair. The two villains couldn’t be more different and Hardy’s Bane easily stands on his own. Hardy spends the entire film behind a mask but his body language and brute swagger makes him a most menacing villain. Gary Oldman is fantastic as always as was the lovely Marion Cotillard. Michael Caine is wonderful and has some of the best exchanges with Bale. Unfortunately he disappears in the second half of the film. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues to prove he is a solid young actor. Perhaps the only weak spot was with Matthew Modine who I never really bought into. His character only adds one small thing to the story and Modine never makes him all that compelling or interesting.

Technically “The Dark Knight Rises” is the jaw-dropper I expected it to be. Nolan’s stylistic flare and incredible camera work do a great job of capturing the panic and dread of a city under siege. The special effects are stunning and the action sequences are big and boisterous. Nolan gives us some new Batman toys as well as some old favorites and they’re used in several cool crowd-pleasing ways. I also loved the fight choreography. You know by the trailer that there is going to be a Bane and Batman showdown and Nolan builds it up with undeniable intensity. Then when the payoff comes, we aren’t hampered by herky-jerky camera movements. Instead Nolan lets the fights take place without any fancy gimmicks. It was incredibly satisfying. I also loved Hans Zimmer’s score. Some have voiced dislike for his ever-present pounding music but it worked for me. I felt it contributed to the intensity that the film is going for just as Zimmer’s scores have done for the previous two Batman movies.

“The Dark Knight Rises” once again plunges the people of Gotham and us into the depths of fear and dread while examining evil and the darker side of society. Yet the film always allows us hope. This is certainly another dark story but the stakes are high and the ending is exceptional and rewarding and the perfect goodbye to a phenomenal trilogy. I wanted to stand and applaud. The film stretches the boundaries of the comic book genre. It’s large in scale, full of story, and absolutely engrossing throughout it’s almost 3 hour running time. “The Dark Knight Rises” is far more than simply great. It’s a modern classic featuring mesmerizing performances, fist-pumping action, and genuine intelligence. It’s a visual spectacle. It’s emotionally and intellectually stimulating. It’s a text book lesson on the melding of big budget flamboyance with smart and challenging storytelling. It’s hard to accept that this is Nolan’s final Batman film but he has given us a gift – a groundbreaking series of films capped by a truly glorious finale. What a ride it’s been and what a way to end it.

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS

4.5 STARS

“THIS WEEK IN MOVIES” (MAY 4th)

It seems like every week we get new goodies leading up to the releases of “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Prometheus”. This past week was no different. If you haven’t had a chance to see the “Prometheus” International Trailer you are really missing out. Ridley Scott’s upcoming sci-fi picture is still shrouded in mystery and each tidbit of information we get adds another piece to the puzzle. The “Prometheus” International Trailer gives us some new footage featuring the same breath-taking special effects and amazing production design. I still have tons of questions about the film but this trailer  gets me even more excited. Click any of the links to check out the “Prometheus” International Trailer. The film is set for a June 8th release.

 

Some very cool bits of news from Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises”. The movie’s promotional campaign is off and running. Early in the week “leaked” scans of some Gotham City documents hit the web including a police issued arrest warrant and a wanted poster for Batman, a letter from the deputy commissioner, and a photo of evidence on it’s way to forensics. I posted full scans of these earlier in the week (you can find them by clicking  THIS LINK). Fun stuff!

But perhaps even more exciting was the release of “The Dark Knight Rises” Trailer #3 ! At first it was set to debut attached to “The Avengers” movie but through a clever viral web trick, the trailer was unleashed earlier and it doesn’t disappoint. “The Dark Knight Rises” Trailer #3 features loads of new footage and answers some questions about Bane and especially Selina Kyle (a.k.a. Catwoman). View “The Dark Knight Rises” Trailer #3 by clicking any of the links above. The film is set for a July 20th release.

 

Staying with the superhero news, have you had a chance to see the “The Amazing Spider-Man” Trailer #2 ? This is a movie that I have been a little reluctant to get excited about. This reboot didn’t excite me at first but after seeing “The Amazing Spider-Man” Trailer #2 that has changed. If you haven’t seen it, click on any of the links and tell me what you think. “The Amazing Spider-Man is due out July 3rd.

 

NEW IN THEATERS (MAY 4th)

  • “THE AVENGERS” (PG-13) – Action/Superhero
  • “THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL” (PG-13) – Drama/Comedy
  • “THE KID WITH A BIKE” (PG-13) – Foreign/Drama

* It’s a great week to hit the theater. A big budget, action-packed blockbuster, a fun little movie aimed at older audiences, and a poignant foreign drama. I hope to see all three.