REVIEW: “Only Lovers Left Alive”

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Several years ago vampires became all the rage in modern pop culture. “Twilight” made millions from novels and movies. “True Blood” was a hugely popular television series. And while I can’t say many flattering things about the quality of these properties, fans could get their vampire entertainment fix almost anywhere. Now, as the vampire craze appears to be fading, writer and director Jim Jarmusch gives us a vampire tale that is boldly unique and intelligently metaphoric. It would also send Twilight fans running for the exits.

“Only Lovers Left Alive” could be described as a mood piece. Like other Jarmusch films, this is more centered around developing characters than developing plot and your enjoyment of the movie will probably depend on how much you enjoy being with these people. As you can guess the two main characters are vampires, but part of the film’s genius is how it uses vampire concepts while stiff-arming the usual tropes and gimmicks. In fact it seems like calling it a ‘vampire movie’ is actually doing it a huge disservice.

At the core of the film lies the love story of a centuries old vampiric couple. Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is a recluse living in an old two-story Victorian on the abandoned outskirts of Detroit. He surrounds himself with out-of-date electronic gadgets and his music. His wife Eve (Tilda Swinton) lives in Tangier, Morocco where she spends most of her time enjoying books and literature. The two are very different. Adam has grown forlorn and sour due to the current state of the world. Eve is more playful and optimistic, choosing to embrace hope and happiness. Yet despite these differences the two soulmates deeply love each other.

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Sensing Adam’s depression Eve travels to Detroit where the two are reunited. From there the film opens up the characters and their relationship by simply following along with them. We listen to their conversations which range from scientific theory to makes and models of classic guitars. We listen to Adam lament the death of creativity at the hands of humans (who the couple call zombies). We listen to Eve remind him of the great artists and innovators they have known through the centuries. These are fascinating individuals who have a number of fascinating discussions, but they all aim to serve the movie’s greater points.

In many ways “Only Lovers Left Alive” is an indictment of humanity, or at the very least a call for introspection. We hear how humanity’s appreciation for the arts has declined. In fact, in what may be Jarmusch’s jab at modern moviemaking, we hear Los Angeles refered to as “zombie central”. We see how humanity has destroyed what it has created as evident by the hollow and empty Detroit landscapes. We learn about humanity’s destruction of the environment particularly through a couple of references to the scarcity of clean water. Humanity has even destroyed themselves. Vampires are forced to seek alternate methods of acquiring blood because humans have poisoned their own. None of these things ever get to the point of being preachy. Instead they are thoughtful story components that are clever and thought-provoking.

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The film also has a smart sense of humor which shows itself most when the vampires are relating to the past. For example Eve reminding Adam of his time spent playing chess with Lord Byron or sharing creative ideas with composer Franz Schubert. Then there are several gags tied to John Hurt’s character. He plays Eve’s dear friend and fellow vampire Christopher Marlowe – yes, the 16th century playwright. Some fun is had with the conspiracy theory that he wrote many important pieces of literature under the assumed name of William Shakespeare.

It also helps that Jarmusch cast the two best possible people for the parts of Adam and Eve. Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton are so intensely convincing both in their intelligent coolness and blanched physical appearances. You never doubt them as connoisseurs of fine art and music, and you never doubt their vampire status. They are two of the most compelling and strangely attractive characters I’ve seen this year. I loved spending time with them.

“Only Lovers Left Alive” can be called a vampire movie, but in reality it bucks nearly every common vampire trend. It’s a slick, stylish, and moody character piece that doesn’t shy away from asking good questions and prodding reflection. It’s also great fun watching a true independent director like Jarmusch work with top talents like Hiddleston and Swinton. This certainly won’t be up everyone’s alley, but I found it to be mesmerizing entertainment and a refreshing jolt to the 2014 movie year.

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS

REVIEW: “Midnight in Paris”

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Without a doubt the romantic comedy is one of the weaker movie genres and has been for years. But sometimes we get a special gem that reminds us of just how fun these types of movies can be. “Midnight in Paris”, written and directed by Woody Allen, is a crash course in the art of making a romantic comedy. It is loaded with heart and feeling and doesn’t trudge down the same path as so many failed films of this genre. It’s a movie that captures the magic of it’s location and the inner workings of it’s characters. It’s clever and unique while maintaining a true romantic feel and sense of humor.

“Midnight in Paris” opens with a picturesque three-minute montage focusing on the beauty of Paris, France. It gracefully moves from one exquisitely framed shot to another, showing us historical landmarks, museums, cafes, and more all set to the lovely “Si Tu Vois Ma Mere”. It elegantly sets up the city of Paris as not only a central character in the film, but an enchanting and magical force whose influence is seen throughout the picture. In many ways Woody Allen is celebrating Paris. He wants us to love the city and appreciate the mystique of it’s rich history just as much as his main character does. Allen’s desire works. I was instantly grabbed and found myself totally lost in what I was seeing on the screen.

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While Paris is at the heart of the story, the main character is Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), a hack Hollywood screenwriter who is visiting the city with his fiancée and her parents. Gil loves everything about Paris and to this day regrets his decision not to move there when he had a chance several years ago. He feels he was meant for more than writing screenplays but he struggles with confidence. He doesn’t feel comfortable in today’s world and believes he would be a better fit in the 1920s. His fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) is a spoiled momma’s girl who spends more time insulting Gil than supporting him. There is clearly a disconnect between the two. He loves Paris and she doesn’t. He’s working on a novel that he thinks will change his career and she thinks he’s wasting his time. He enjoys the small details in life while she would rather milk it for it’s benefits.

While in Paris they run into Paul (Michael Sheen), Inez’s old friend and self-proclaimed expert on everything from art to French culture to fine wines. Inez seems infatuated with Paul’s knowledge regardless of how many facts he gets wrong in his efforts to impress everyone. Needing to get away, Gil takes off on a late night walk. After getting lost, he is picked up by a group of partiers in an old classic car who magically transport him back to 1920s Paris. Here he meets many of his literary and artistic heroes such as Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Picasso, and Stein. He also meets the lovely Adriana (played wonderfully by Marion Cotillard) who he grows more attracted to with each midnight visit.

The fantasy turn of Allen’s story did feel a bit out of the blue at first but it didn’t take long before I was enthralled with what I was seeing. Gil’s golden age is recreated flawlessly from the music and atmosphere to the careful attention to detail. I loved seeing these authors, painters, composers, and filmmakers of old fleshed out through some fantastic performances. Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill are absolutely brilliant as F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. I also loved Marcial Di Fonzo Bo as Picasso and Adrien Brody as Dali, both in smaller but fun roles. And then there’s Corey Stoll as Hemingway who steals many of the scenes he’s in. The supporting cast is such a wonderful ingredient to the film’s charm.

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But in terms of acting it’s Owen Wilson that really blew me away. In many ways he plays a character that really fits him. We’ve seen elements of this performance in other roles of his but here everything is perfectly measured and controlled. Even though Woody Allen has stated he gave Wilson a lot of room to work, it’s clear that Allen has a solid influence on his performance. I’ve been really lukewarm concerning most of Wilson’s past work but he really, really impressed me here. He dials it back a bit and never allows his performance to drown out the material.

“Midnight in Paris” does call for the audience to just buy into it’s fantasy angle and if you struggle with that you may struggle with this picture. It also turns out to be fairly predictable in places. But these small gripes do nothing to kill the magic of this picture for me. This is certainly a love letter to Paris, but it’s also a lesson on living in the present. Allen reminds us that the golden age so many long for isn’t that different from where we are now. It’s a beautiful film both visually and structurally and it moves along at an almost poetic pace. Better yet, “Midnight in Paris” is a film that gives us hope for a struggling genre. I love this movie.

VERDICT – 5 STARS

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5STAR K&M

TOP 5 SUPPORTING ACTOR PERFORMANCES OF 2012

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Yesterday it was the ladies, today it’s the men. Today I’m listing the Top 5 Supporting Actor Performances from 2012. This category was a very strong one and I had a tougher time narrowing this field to five than any other. I think you’ll notice that there is such a wide range of performances on this list. There are good guys, bad guys, and some guys you just can’t figure out. But everyone gives a wonderful performance and deserve the recognition. So enough rambling. Here are the 5 Best Supporting Actor Performances (according to me)…

#5 – TOM HIDDLESTON (“The Avengers”)

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This is certainly not an Academy-like pick but it’s a worthy one. I love Tom Hiddleston and he could easily appear in two spots on this list. He was fabulous in “The Deep Blue Sea” but I’m going with the flashier and definitely more explosive performance from “The Avengers“. When Hiddleston is on screen as the mischievous villain Loki you can’t take your eyes off him. His conniving smiles, his devilish arrogance, and his way with words make the character one of the most entrancing villain you’ll see. I love the performance and I’m making up for where the Academy dropped the ball.

#4 – BRUCE WILLIS (“Moonrise Kingdom”)

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Writer and director extraordinaire Wes Anderson quite possibly writes some of the most quirkiest characters in cinema history and I love them. “Moonrise Kingdom” has a couple of great characters and performances that could have made this list but I’m going with Bruce Willis. He plays a small community police captain with his own bit of baggage. Willis melds perfectly into Anderson’s accentuated world. He brings some great laughs as well as some pretty heartfelt moments. Willis gets it all right and even his funky blonde hairpiece works to perfection.

#3 – DWIGHT HENRY (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”)

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It’s hard to believe that this was Dwight Henry’s first real acting gig. His performance as an ill-equipped and ill-tempered father in the poverty-stricken New Orleans delta was outstanding. Henry owned a bakery before landing this role but you would never know it. He brings such a boisterousness and volatility to the character that is essential to making everything work. At times you want to punch him in the face. Other times you want to cry for him. Henry has made a big splash with his first role and hopefully more people will now get to experience it in “Beasts of the Southern Wild“.

#2 – GUY PEARCE (“Lawless”)

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I don’t think there is a role that Guy Pearce can’t handle. In “Lawless” he plays a rather twisted special deputy sent to the hills of Franklin County, Virginia to put a kink in the moonshiner rings. Pearce has an absolute blast with the role and shows it through his creepy appearance and violent temperment. Several of his scenes stand out including his initial face-off with Tom Hardy. Pearce gives us a true villain and you hate him without any question. I loved this performance and it was one of my favorite bits of supporting work of the year.

#1 – MICHAEL FASSBENDER (“Prometheus”)

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Michael Fassbender has become one of cinema’s best actors and I knew from the opening moments of “Prometheus” that I was in for a real treat. In the movie he plays an android named David and throughout the film we are trying to figure him out. Fassbender’s emotionless demeanor and cryptic forms of speech make him impossible to read and I loved watching him slither in the background of many of the scenes. This was a unique and pivotal role in the movie and Fassbender handles it with ease. I know some have had issues with “Prometheus” but how can you not love his performance.

So there are the 5 Top Supporting Actor Performances for 2012. What are your thoughts on the category? Where did I go wrong? Tommorow it’s back to the ladies as I unveil my Top 5 Lead Actress Performances.

THE THROWDOWN: “Annie Hall” vs. “Midnight in Paris”

Wednesday is Throwdown day at Keith & the Movies. It’s when we take two movie subjects, pit them against each other, and see who’s left standing. Each Wednesday we’ll look at actors, actresses, movies, genres, scenes, and more. I’ll make a case for each and then see how they stand up one-on-one. And it’s not just my opinion that counts. I’ll share my take and then open up the polls to you. Visit each week for a new Throwdown. Vote each week to decide the true winner!

*Last week Schwarzenegger (53%) out-muscled Stallone (47%) in our action icon Throwdown*

This week we move about as far away from the previous week as humanly possible. It’s old Woody versus new Woody in a Woody Allen Throwdown! When you see a Woody Allen film you know it’s a Woody Allen film. Yet in some ways his approach to filmmaking has changed over the past few years. So I thought it would be fun to pit what many view as a romantic comedy masterpiece in “Annie Hall” against Allen’s more recent and widely popular “Midnight in Paris”. These movies are wildly different yet each look and feel like a Woody Allen picture. So enough of the buildup. It’s old Woody Allen against new Woody Allen. It’s New York against Paris. It’s the Throwdown and your votes decide the winner.

“ANNIE HALL” VS. “MIDNIGHT IN PARIS”

In 1977, Woody Allen released “Annie Hall”, a movie that some have called the quintessential romantic comedy. Allen’s quick wit is never more evident than in the lightning fast and razor-sharp dialogue from the script he wrote about an eccentric New Yorker and his quirky perception of love and relationships. Diane Keaton won an Oscar for her role as Annie, a woman who ended her relationship with Allen’s character a year earlier. Allen spends the film lamenting his lost relationship and then moving on with his life. But can he ever really get Annie out of his mind? “Annie Hall” received three other Oscars including Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. While I’m on record as saying I’m not the biggest fan of “Annie Hall”, it’s a movie that is loved by many.

In 2011, Woody Allen’s European tour stopped in The City of Light, Paris, France. “Midnight in Paris” is Allen’s love letter to the city, its beauty, and its history. Owen Wilson is fantastic as Gil Pender, a hack writer who believes he was meant to live in Paris during the 1920s. Allen shows us the magic of the city now and takes us back to the days of Hemingway, Picasso, and the Fitzgeralds. It features an incredible supporting cast highlighted by Tom Hiddleston and Corey Stoll as well as beautiful cinematography in some if Paris’ most glorious locations. This is a step outside of the box for Allen. More importantly, it’s a wonderfully romantic film that gives the most lovely look at one of the world’s greatest city. Allen won an Oscar for the screenplay and I can say without hesitation he certainly deserved it.

So is it Allen’s Best Picture winner “Annie Hall” or his love letter to the City of Light “Midnight in Paris”? I’ve got a clear favorite between the two. Do you? Your votes decide the winner. Click below and vote NOW!

“THE DEEP BLUE SEA” – 3.5 STARS

“The Deep Blue Sea” is a British drama written and directed by Terence Davies and based on a play of the same name by Terence Rattigan. It’s an interesting character-driven story about a struggling woman who’s wedged between a passionless marriage and a passion-fueled romance. It’s not a bold or extravagant picture but it’s a very good one mainly due to two incredible performances by its leads.

The story takes place sometimes “around 1950”. The movie opens with Hester (Rachel Weisz), a troubled and depressed woman, attempting to take her own life. From there the story unfolds through a series of flashbacks sprinkled throughout the film that tell the story of her lifeless marriage to a devoted but passionless Court Judge (Simon Russell Beale) and her eventual fling with Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston), a pilot and war hero. In the flashbacks, Hester is a quiet and reserved woman who has a genuine affection for her husband. But there is an emotional disconnect between the two which is most evident during a visit with his domineering mother. In a different flashback we see her meeting and eventually falling for the charismatic Freddie. In an almost puppy-love way, she falls for him. She’s struck by his vivacity and the way he lives for the moment. His energy is so vastly different from her husband’s which eventually leads her to make a costly decision.

I like how the film doesn’t portray infidelity in a light-hearted way. Hester’s choice is costly and most certainly has consequences. I don’t want to give away too much but there are clearly ramifications to her actions both physically and emotionally. Rachel Weisz is very good as Hester and she handles the character extremely well. When asked what drew her to the role, Weisz spoke of her attraction to playing a character who had fallen so hopelessly in love and completely humiliated herself in the process. I found Hester to be a frail and sometimes childlike character whose poor choices are rooted more in new emotions and new passions than a true understanding of love.

Tom Hiddleston is fantastic as Freddie. I’ve become a huge Hiddleston fan as he seems to have a natural ability when it comes to acting. Whether he’s portraying a classic literary figure or a comic book supervillain, Hiddleston commands the screen and never seems to struggle with the material he’s given. Here he sells us completely on Freddie’s free-spirited energy. But we also see a part of the character that causes us to question not only him but his relationship with Hester. It’s a vigorous performance that shows us a someone who is both romantic and troubling.

“The Deep Blue Sea” moves and feels like a play. The performances drive the movie and the two leads could easily be up for Oscar consideration. The sets also capture a compressed but precise 1950’s vibe that is perfectly fitting for a story so ill-advised and taboo. I do think the movie would have better served by a smarter and more fluid use of the flashbacks. There were a few instances where I thought the jumps did more to hinder the storytelling than help it. I also struggled a bit with Beale’s character. While Beale’s performance is fantastic, I never could wrap my mind around his character. He was sympathetic but yet seemed inconsistent. These gripes don’t kill the movie by any means, but they do hold it back just a tad. Regardless, “The Deep Blue Sea” is still a very good movie and certainly worth checking out.

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