THE DARK KNIGHT RISES


The oddest people pop up here and there in the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, from Aidan Gillen (of Queer as Folk, The Wire) to Ben Mendelsohn (of Animal Kingdom) to Burn Gorman (of Torchwood, The Hour).  In fact, playing “who is that actor, I know I’ve seen him someplace before” actually became one of the greatest pleasures in watching the movie.  For the record, The Dark Knight Rises is better than The Amazing Spider-Man, but not as good as The Avengers, and kind of, sort of feels like a franchise running out of steam.  The first half is filled with a lot of talk.  A  lot of talk.  I mean, a whole lot of it. And all of the philosophical sort.  While this sort of tete a tetes between characters gave The Dark Knight a certain excitement (I can still remember the conflicts over whether the existence of a Batman was a good or bad idea and what the existence of the Joker meant in all it), here the arguments tended to fall flat, leaden down by a certain banality.  I quickly discovered that during most of it, if I looked around at the audience and studied the lighting fixtures on the ceiling, the time passed more quickly and I didn’t miss a thing when it came to plot.  As you can tell, The Dark Knight Rises didn’t really work for me.  It wasn’t a totally loss.  There were some excellent performances, especially Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Blake, an ambitious police officer who was an orphan like Bruce Wayne.  Anne Hathaway was tres, tres amusement as Catwoman and enlivened every scene she was in (delivering her lines with a claw like emphasis—though I do wish she would gain a few pounds).  Marion Cotillard also acquitted herself well in a role that didn’t allow her to do much for most of the movie.  But the big problem came down to the performances of Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Tom Hardy as the bad guy du jour Bane—neither of which were the actors’ fault.  The authors here (director Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer) have never been able to make Bruce Wayne nor his alter ego remotely interesting.  What the character had in money, he always seemed to severely lack in personality.  Hardy had a different problem.  He wasn’t just hampered by a mask that hid his mouth (his most endearing feature), as well as prevented him from visually sharing his emotions (and also made it difficult to understand what he was saying—well, that wasn’t the mask, that was the sound engineers, I suppose).  He also played a character whose motivation for his actions were never very convincing and never made a lot of sense for most of the movie, and, to speak the truth and shame the devil, his bad guy just didn’t come near the complexity, power and evilness of the Joker.  There are a couple of big surprises at the end, both of which are fairly obvious about half way through the film, if not sooner.  And for me, the scenes that would have interested me the most, that would have given the movie that something more, were never fully dramatized—what Manhattan would look like under a fascist dictatorship run by a group of criminals.  In fact, this whole section never really made a great deal of sense to me.  Bane has said he is going to set off a nuclear weapon on an exact day, but no one seems to act like it.  It feels like one of these brilliant ideas that was never used to its utmost advantage.  In fact, the whole movie seemed rather tame in comparison to The Dark Knight.  The violence seemed less cruel and capricious; whether it did or not, it felt as if so much of it happened off screen.  It’s supposed to feel like anarchy has taken over, but it never felt particularly anarchic.  This time round Nolan, as director, only seems to come into his own when directing the action scenes where once again, New York becomes the new Tokyo (has any plot turn become a cliché so fast).  But when it came to the rest of the movie, it all sort of fell flat. 

TALKING TURKEY: Predictions for Academy Award Nominations and Awards


For most people, the Thanksgiving weekend is the beginning of Christmas shopping. For people who have no life, this is the beginning of the knock down, drag out, no hitting below the belt (unless it can help you win) period known as the countdown for Oscar nominations.

As of now, I believe six of the top eight awards are spoken for (Picture, Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Supporting Actor, and Original Screenplay), with two (Supporting Actress and Adapted Screenplay) still unknown.

Best Picture as of now seems to be going to The King’s Speech. It’s one of those fun period pieces the British put out every once in awhile, mainly because they can and they do have the history for it after all (the best we can come up with are biopics or TV series about drudges like John Adams). Even though the U.S. threw the yoke of British tyranny off its backs in 1776, we’ve never gotten over the penis envy of their having a monarchy and we’re just fascinated by it. Though I don’t see how anyone in their right mind could ever claim that the King’s Speech is great art, it is a lot of fun and it more than gets the job down; for what it is, it’s actually much better than that. It also fits in step, rather oddly in a way, with the theme of the movies that have won Best Picture lately: for the last six years, the leads have been working or middle class (or lower) people struggling to get by (Million Dollar Baby, Crash, The Departed, No Country for Old Men, Slumdog Millionaire and The Hurt Locker; one could even go to seven if one thinks of the leads in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King as the English working class who like nothing better than to have a drink at the pub; smoke a pipe; and be left alone). Though the story of The King’s Speech is about King George VI’s overcoming a stutter, the story is equally about Lionel Logue, the therapist, who is, like the characters in the previous Best Pictures, struggling just to make ends meet (and no matter what the Academy does, the role of Logue is a co-lead, not a supporting part). And last, but by no means least, this is a Weinstein production (can anyone say Shakespeare in Love).

The other nine nominees as of now are: 127 Hours, Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, The Social Network, Toy Store 3, True Grit and Winter’s Bone. True Grit is the most uncertain entry here: there is good buzz about it, but no one’s really seen it and it could be one of those that crashes and burns upon entry (remember Amelia?); but I seriously doubt it. Black Swan is The King’s Speech’s main rival, but people seem to love it or hate it from what I’m getting now, so it’s a bit uncertain (and maybe just a bit too arty, the sort of film the Academy nominates to prove that they know it when they see it, but that doesn’t mean they want to hang it on their wall). People are also talking about 127 Hours (but I think it’s one of those in which the nomination is award enough type thing). The Kids Are All Right had it in the bag until the award season really began in earnest and all these other movies, like The King’s Speech and Black Swan, started opening. The Social Network has its supporters, but it may be just a bit too smart (though All About Eve also won way back when). Winter’s Bone is going to be the small picture that everyone is going to nominate to prove that there’s a plate at the Academy Awards table for even the poor relations. Inception will be nominated to apologize for past oversights to Christopher Nolan and because it’s so brilliantly directed; but the script is a bit too much of a letdown for it to win. Toy Store 3 is great, but let’s face it, it’s animated and it’s going to win in that category. The Fighter is still a bit unknown, but the buzz is better for it than for True Grit, and Wahlberg has apparently agreed to make still another movie with the director David O. Russell, so maybe his reputation is making a comeback.

As for director, now five nominees have to be whittled down from the top ten here. It used to be with five nominations there would be one or two directing picks that didn’t match up to picture. But with ten, it’s hard to believe that will ever be the case (though as soon as someone says something won’t happen with the Academy, it usually does—see Driving Miss Daisy getting Best Picture without getting a directing nod). As usual, Best Director will probably go to the director of the Best Picture, meaning that Tom Hooper (previously known mainly for TV work) will win. It’s rare that the Academy will split the awards and their often has to be a good reason for it (like wanting to award a gay movie Best Picture while not awarding a gay movie Best Picture the year Ang Lee won for Brokeback Mountain and Crash won best picture). The question really then becomes who will the other four be.

Christopher Nolan (Inception), Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) and David Fincher (the Social Network) seem to be sure things. All bets are off if any of them are arrested for child molestation, but all things being equal, it seems pretty certain. That leaves the fifth position. At one time, it was going to automatically be Lisa Cholodenko for The Kids Are All Right; and then 127 Hours opened and Danny Boyle’s name started being bandied about. At this point, the fifth space will depend on whether 127 Hours peaks too soon (quite possible) and whether The Kids Are All Right will have a strong enough campaign mounted for it. I’m going for Lisa Cholodenko (I think the first blush of 127 Hours may wear off a bit soon).

I know that some of these movies have yet to open and I haven’t seen all of them. I have a friend who said that she couldn’t predict a winner or nominee until she’s actually seen the film. I most respectfully disagree. In theory, one would never have to see a movie in one’s life and still be able to predict all the movies that will be recognized. When it comes to something winning an Academy Award, or even being nominated, being the best is often not remotely a consideration and the worst thing one can do in making guesses is to be led by one’s heart.

Next, some thoughts on the acting categories.

DREAM A LITTLE DREAM OF ME: Review of Inception


I write this review with fear and trepidation, and a little bit of sickness unto death, for worry of getting threats on my life; but I’m afraid Inception didn’t really work for me. I went with my friend Jim and we pretty much agreed that we were disappointed (though we whispered it to each other as we left the theater for fear of starting a riot); at the same time, my friend Donald was shocked that I didn’t care for it (he had already seen it a second time and thought it grand, simply grand). It’s not that I didn’t like any of it. It has some of the most impressive art and scenic decoration in recent memory, from the realistically detailed city scenes to the topsy-turvy, gyrating settings of the dream sequences, including a beautifully august fortress engulfed in snow that is the location for the final action scene. It also has what I call a brilliant Fred Astaire Dancing on the Ceiling Royal Wedding fight scene in a hotel hallway that is dazzling, simply dazzling. And I admired the effective performances of Michael Caine and especially Tom Hardy as a smart alecky team member who is annoying to everyone else but always cracks himself up. But beyond that, there was little here to impress me. Everyone is saying that the movie is so original. In reality, it’s actually more of a movie that adds to already existing mythology that began at least with Dreamscape (an underrated sci-fi film from 1984 starring Dennis Quaid) and continued on with The Cell, eXistenZ and Paprika, among others. And Inception does add a couple of fun new ideas, especially in that the subconscious creates anti-bodies to protect against intruders like Leonardo di Caprio’s Cobb character when he enters someone else’s dreams to retrieve information (though it is odd that the antibodies the subconscious creates here all seem to come from Hollywood action films since they can never seem to shoot anybody except when it’s convenient for the author). Also, the idea that time in a dream is longer than time in real life is pretty neat and reflects my own personal experience. But for me, the film fails due to a lackluster screenplay (by the director Christopher Nolan, but writing was never his strong suit) with bland dialog and characters (it’s sort of like Avatar in this respect) and, for a movie that probes the subconscious, a shallow view of psychology with the main problem of Robert Fischer, Jr. (Cillian Murphy) being that “daddy” didn’t love him enough. The plot never made a lot of sense to me either. Cobb’s whole motivation is to see his children again, which he can’t do now because he is wanted for murder in the U.S. It’s never explained why he just doesn’t fly his kids to a country without an extradition treaty if he wants to see them that much. And it’s pretty reprehensible from a moral standpoint to put all the other characters in danger for such a selfish reason. But the real plot problem for me is that I didn’t care whether Cobb succeeded or not; I never understood why I should be on the side of Saito (played by Ken Watanabe), the CEO of the company that is the main rival to the character’s dreams they are entering. In fact, because I didn’t trust Saito any more than Fischer, I actually hoped Cobb would fail, which kind of removes all tension from the plot. The actors try their damnedest to make the characters come alive, but as was said, only Caine and Hardy really break through. Joseph Gordon-Levitt doesn’t seem to have much to work with and Ellen Page, like Gordon-Levitt, a very talented actor, seems a bit miscast, though she comes close. I could also go into the idea that my dreams aren’t remotely like the dreams in this film and that, no matter what di Caprio says, I always know when I’m dreaming and when I’m not; I’m one of those people who are very aware when he’s dreaming to the extent that I can sometimes control what is going on in them and have at times woken myself up when I don’t like the way things are going. But the one thing that really separates the dreams in Inception from mine is that I never feel physical pain when I’m dreaming; in fact, I never feel physical anything. It’s all pictures like in a movie. But not quite like the pictures in this movie. In fact, the only dream sequence in a movie that resembles what I see when I’m under is the Salvadore Dali set piece from Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound, a whirligig of images and nonsensical events that lack any sort of outward logic. But I won’t do that.