Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

I almost don't know where to begin with The Dark Knight Rises.  Like many, I was blown away by The Dark Knight and especially by Heath Ledger's performance in it.  Sure, after a while there were holes to poke in the script and supposed political messages to interpret (more on that later) but my initial reaction was so strong that those things didn't matter immediately.

I'm not sure that I felt the same way about The Dark Knight Rises.  Perhaps it was the impossibly high expectations the film was surrounded with.  Perhaps it was the terrible current events that accompanied the premiere.  Perhaps I was just being contrarian and stubborn.  I just didn't quite have the same sense of excitement and awe with this film as I did with its predecessor.

That said, there is a lot working in its favor.  Its casting, for one, was just about spot-on.  I enjoyed the performances of all the new characters, though I'll be honest--most came from actors whose previous work I already enjoyed immensely.    The new characters fit into Nolan's Gotham nicely, filling out an already strong cast.

With Batman Begins, I was so excited to have a "realistic" take on a superhero story I'd known for so long.  Years later, however, I realized that realistic isn't what I want out of my superhero stories.  I like the humor and the outlandishness.  I like the superpowered heroes accomplishing superhuman feats.  For this reason, I really liked this year's earlier The Avengers.  I realized that I'm not looking for "realism" or some swipe at it in these types of stories.

That was for the best with The Dark Knight Rises.  As I said above, I found myself looking for flaws--but most of those I found could be written off if I was no longer looking for a realistic movie.  I am somewhat disappointed in the repetition of the villain's motive (and a rather silly motive it is, to be honest) but at least his manner of accomplishing it was more interesting.

The film definitely surprised me; though some of the twists were easier to see coming, the larger machinations of the plot were a mystery to me and I enjoyed them as they came up.  I wish Catwoman was more than just a plot device (though I quite enjoyed Anne Hathaway in the role) and that a bit more time was spent on developing relationships in general (and, I'll admit, a little less on the rather graphic violence) but overall the movie was a strong one.  

I've read some theories that The Dark Knight was designed to be a justification of George W. Bush's actions during his presidency.  I don't know that I buy into this, though the parallels are certainly present.  The overt political angle is harder to deny in The Dark Knight Rises, however.  I don't know how much current politics consciously played into the scripting and filming of this movie, but it was certainly subconsciously present with the Occupy Gotham mantra of its villains. To be honest, this rather dampened my enjoyment of the film.  I don't think it made the film weaker, by any means--I just think that I personally was less able to enjoy it than I would have been without the politics present.

Like every movie, there is an audience to which it will not appeal and, believe it or not, this is perfectly alright.  I'm always amazed at the vitriol people can spread simply because someone disagrees with his or her opinion on an artistic venture, but perhaps that's a subject for another day.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Big Miracle

I missed this whale of a movie (har har) the first time around, but our local theater plays a cheap kids/family movie each week, and a few weeks ago they played Big Miracle.  My mom, who also missed the movie the first time around, had wanted to see it, so we made a mother daughter day out of the thing.

I admit, I had some trepidation about the movie.  This was, primarily, because Drew Barrymore's character seemed so grating in the trailers.  As it went, her character was certainly on the irritating side but at least did have more depth (and, for that matter, more purposeful flaws) than the trailers let on.

I don't have much to say about how the movie was filmed.  The direction was fairly standard.  The cinematography wasn't distracting, but it wasn't particularly memorable either.  What did surprise (and frankly, impress) me was the writing and characterization.  I found it frankly refreshing that each character acted for his or her own benefit or agenda, rather than on the behalf of the whales.  That may sound cynical, but it certainly gave the (based on a true story) film a more realistic feel.  By the end of the movie, even characters who had antagonized each other terribly became genuine, if temporary, allies--and that much, even the cynic in me let me buy.

Regardless, the decision to make sure each character had his or her own set of motivations--and each character used them to get his or her way--kept the story from spiraling into the sappy, feel-good whale movie of the year it could have been.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man

It's been some time since I've seen this movie and much of it has already slipped away from me.  I know I won't be the first to say the movie was unnecessary, and even its great cast did not make it rise above that level.  The film had significant pacing issues, though I'll admit it's hard to find a superhero origin story film that doesn't.  That's one thing that made The Avengers click so nicely--we already knew most of the characters and where they came from.  The previous Avengers series films weren't required viewing in order to understand the film, but they did enhance the experience.

Spider-Man did not have that advantage, though it's been only ten years since that origin was told the last time.  I suppose nearly the same could be said of Christopher Nolan's Batman series, but at least his films had something new to say about the iconic superhero.  The Amazing Spider-Man feels like ground retrod with new actors and not much more.

Don't get me wrong, though, I liked those new actors.  Emma Stone has blossomed into one of my favorite young actresses in the last few years and Andrew Garfield is always likeable.  Other old standbys like Martin Sheen, Sally Field, and Rhys Ifans gave enjoyable, emotional performances as well.  The problem is, a good cast can only elevate a mediocre script so much--they did what they could, but what they could didn't end up being that much.  The Perfect Girlfriend was given no character development.  The Tortured Scientist walked predictable, well-worn ground.  The Police Chief went through the same old steps. 

I didn't really read comic books when I was a kid, but I did watch a lot of superhero cartoons.  I loved the X-Men, but when it came down to an individual hero, Spider-man was always my favorite.  He had really cool powers, but he was still very human.  I loved him for the same reason most kids loved him.  We weren't billionaires with a chip on our shoulders and an endless supply of toys.  We weren't near-invincible aliens who could do anything and everything.  We were kids who were out to have some fun in the world, and even if serious things came along with superpowers, we would have fun with them.  Sure, we'd do good things and save people, but we'd enjoy it, like Spider-man enjoyed it.

I'm sure this film will get its cast a sequel, and I don't mind that.  I really enjoyed this Spider-Man's new fighting/webbing/moving style and the sarcastic undercurrent to his snappy remarks.  I like Andrew Garfield in the role quite a bit.  I'm sure there is more to explore in his story, and I just hope they find a way to do it that doesn't feel so familiar.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Magic Mike

Early in the screening of Magic Mike that I attended a few weeks ago, I jokingly thought to myself "Well, now I finally understand the appeal of Channing Tatum."  It was, of course, during one of his on-stage performances--and it was, I'll have to admit, an impressive one.  Even to take the striptease aspect out of it, he is undoubtedly a talented dancer.

It was later in the film during a normal, non-stripping scene, that I realized I finally did understand the appeal.  His Mike was a personable, likeable, and above all real character whose arc was truly the heart of the film.   He is magnetic and elevates the performances of those around him.  He is finally someone that I "get" as an actor.  In fact, my highest praise for this film goes directly to Channing Tatum.

As one character's star rose and the other fell, I had to ask myself--which one was which?  The movie, taking place over the course of a summer, begins with one character's introduction to the world of male stripping and follows his rise in the business.  It has its nice parallel and bookends in a foil storyline.

In fact, that the film had such memorable characters and a notable storyline at all comes as something of a surprise.  Yes, the film is directed by Steven Soderbergh, who once again deconstructs and analyzes an interesting if somewhat illicit or underground business and the systems that make it work. 

I do wish some of the secondary characters had been more fleshed out.  That is a regrettable pun, granted, but an appropriate one.  Only two of the performers, along with their boss, really had any depth as characters.  Mike's girlfriend (or not?) could also have used some characterization; it would have given her ultimate storyline more depth and meaning.

As it was, it was a nicely-directed film with real characterization and depth and everything.  It was an interesting look at the job market and options in a down economy, too, but that is perhaps another discussion.  Overall, I recommend the film regardless of one's orientation or gender, though I'll certainly say that if one is uncomfortable with the very visible male form, one would probably do better to look elsewhere.  There is, undoubtedly, plenty of that.