Wednesday, August 22, 2012
When last we saw Batman (Christian Bale) he had accepted blame for Harvey Dent’s crimes, allowing Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) to use the late District Attorney’s reputation to clean up Gotham’s streets. Today corruption seethes beneath the city’s clean surface. Gordon feels guilt pangs, Bruce Wayne remains recluse, and Batman has disappeared. After League of Shadows alum Bane (Tom Hardy), a masked fascist with a cult-like following, initiates a series of attacks, Batman comes out of retirement. Cat burglar Selina (Anne Hathaway) steals Wayne’s fingerprints, leading to a fiscally fatal stock trade that bankrupts Wayne Enterprises. Meanwhile Bane mines Gotham with explosives to bring the populace to its knees. This brutal assault leaves Batman broken at the bottom of a pit, Gordon in the hospital, and much of the police force either trapped under the city or in hiding. Only newly-promoted detective Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) remains free to lead a counterinsurgency. In this final film of his Batman trilogy director Christopher Nolan (who wrote the screenplay with his brother Jonathan) continues to explore post-9/11 themes in a thought-provoking and thrilling entertainment. THE DARK KNIGHT showed us society’s response to chaos and terror in the guise of The Joker, while this film asks us to ponder a choice between authority and anarchy. In sync with Nolan’s singular vision Bale delivers another complex, compelling performance, while regulars Michael Caine (as Wayne’s loyal butler, Alfred) and Morgan Freeman (as Wayne’s technological guru, Fox) provide top-notch support. Hathaway works well as the amoral Catwoman, and Gordon-Levitt succeeds as the film’s relatable moral compass. Marion Cotillard gets too little screen time as Miranda, a board member who shields Wayne Enterprises from takeover, and Hardy creates an indelible villain in spite (perhaps because) of his hidden face. Despite its often bleak worldview Nolan’s film ends on a hopeful note and hints at a continuing story. Though Nolan claims this is his last Batman film, I can’t imagine anyone but him duplicating this impressive achievement.
Thursday, August 16, 2012
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Orphaned teen Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) lives with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). Shy, awkward Peter, both science whiz and amateur photographer, pines for classmate Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). During a field trip to Oscorp he meets his late father’s former partner Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), an amputee working on a technology to regenerate severed limbs. While off on an unauthorized detour, Peter stumbles across a lab swarming with test spiders. He’s bitten by one and soon discovers that he now has superhuman, spider-like skills, which he enlists to humiliate the class bully and impress Gwen. After an armed robber kills Uncle Ben, Peter designs a special suit with web-shooting apparatus and uses these skills to track the killer while cleaning up the streets in the process. His vigilante justice brings unwanted police attention from Captain Stacy (Denis Leary), Gwen’s father. Meanwhile Dr. Connors caves to pressure from a shadowy benefactor and uses himself as a test subject for the regeneration serum. His severed arm grows back, but he suffers the unexpected side effect of turning into a giant, rampaging lizard man. Peter will need all his skills and courage (and the help of Gwen and her father) to stop Connor a/k/a The Lizard. To remake the Spider-Man origin story a mere ten years after Sam Raimi’s blockbuster (and five years after the last SPIDER-MAN film) is a risky gambit, and one that periodically pays off. The screenplay by James Vanderbilt and Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves feels less episodic than its predecessor and has stronger character arcs. Director Marc Webb takes a decade’s worth of special effect technology and creates a seamless, sophisticated visual style. Ifans makes for a sympathetic villain, while Stone gives Gwen ample resourcefulness and courage. Garfield, though, lacks the screen charisma of a Tobey Maguire, and his overreliance on teen angst becomes tedious. The film’s biggest obstacle, however, is familiarity, which, despite many improvements over the Raimi original, this film never fully overcomes.
Thursday, August 9, 2012
Within Wes Anderson’s tightly controlled frame anything can happen and often does, which results in either head-scratching perplexity (as in the first ten minutes of THE LIFE ACQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU, after which I had to abandon ship) or in giddy exhilaration (as in RUSHMORE, his best film to date). The writer/director’s latest effort (which he co-wrote with Roman Coppola) lands more in the latter camp and follows two social misfits who fall in love as completely as 12-year-olds can. In the dog days of summer on a remote island off the eastern seaboard, Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) meet at a performance of Benjamin Britten’s opera “Noye’s Fludde”. He’s a wayward Khaki Scout, and she’s a Raven in the production. Both have been labeled as problem children: she by parents Walt (Bill Murray) and Laura (Frances McDormand); he by his foster parents (his real parents are long gone). She spent her summer in the confines of her family home, watching the world through binoculars. He spent his summer antagonizing (unwittingly) his fellow scouts while impressing Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) with his survival skills. Suzy and Sam take off into the wild, which causes panic among the adults because a large storm is due to hit the island any day. Meanwhile sad sack Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) forms a search party to track down the wayward youths. Anderson presents childhood as we remember it – filled with high adventure, chaste romance, and selfless heroics. He contrasts this with the melancholy grown-ups who seem worn down by the cares of adult life. We understand why Sam and Suzy seek to escape the adulthood set before them, and we suspect that those who label them troubled do so because they can’t bear this reminder of their lost idealism. The performances are uniformly excellent. Hayward and Gilman are winning and charmingly idiosyncratic, while a vulnerable Willis and a guileless Norton are an unexpected treat. Anderson is often criticized for his detached tone, but he transcends this here with a final shot that positively glows with warm affection.