Sunday, 29 July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises: An Opportunity - missed.


The Dark Knight Rises has been the most hyped-up film of 2012, and considering how many long-awaited movies were released this year in the comic category (The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-man) there was an enormous amount of expectation for Nolan's next installment in the Batman franchise. The trailers that circulated television and the internet were superbly edited, and probably the best example on how to promote a film brilliantly. I'm sure I speak for many when I say that from the moment I saw the trailer for The Dark Knight Rises, I could not wait for its theatrical release. And before I write any more of this review, I shall state my belief that no film can be over-hyped in my humble opinion. Films like Avatar, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Toy Story 3 and The Artist were all massively hyped, but they all exceeded my expectations. If I film falls short of your expectations, I believe that it is because the film is poorer in quality rather than you expecting too much (many will disagree with me on this I am sure).

That saying, I have to say that The Dark Knight Rises was - for me - disappointing. Despite its strong cast and intense plot, it fell short of outstanding. This is a real shame for the film could well have been a masterpiece , but there were many factors that contributed in preventing the film from being as great as it could have been. Before I receive a lot of hate comments, please read the rest of the review because I'm not saying the film was terrible. I did actually enjoy the film and I thought it was in fact a good film, but I also believe that it was deeply flawed.

The biggest problem with The Dark Knight Rises, was undoubtedly - the script. I don't even want to imagine how long the film was after editing before they realised they had to make it under three hours long. Many of the scenes could have been cut, and many of the scenes needed to be longer. One of the most annoying things about a film can be a scene being so ridiculously short and containing so little amount of dialogue and meaning, that when it ends you have no idea why it was included, or what it even meant. The Dark Knight Rises had this in abundance. On the other hand, there were very short scenes that were important to the plot, but they were not fully developed due to lack of time (I am sure). I blame this fault on the editors and the director. Knowing that the film had to be under three hours, they must have literally hacked the hell out of every scene they could to compress the feature to a reasonable time. I really believe this is the case, because some scenes made no sense and were pointless, whereas others were important but had been so chopped up that they too became pointless. One of the biggest issues with the films predecessor, The Dark Knight (2008) was it's lengthy duration, and after watching the newest Dark Knight, it is clear that Nolan and his editors have not learnt from past experience.

Unbelievably, the duration of the picture was not the only lesson that failed to be learnt by the makers of The Dark Knight, because The Dark Knight Rises still contained the main criticism people had about its prequel - sound. The sound design was appalling. I love Hans Zimmer's soundtrack for this film, I love the people behind the sound design because the sounds you heard were hugely impacting and really made you feel like you were in the chaos of Gotham, but the sound AGAIN drowned out the dialogue nearly 50% of the time. This was so irritating because this was the problem with the film before, and still they had made the same mistake. I was struggling to hear much of the dialogue, especially when Gary Oldman and Christian Bale were speaking their parts quietly in a whispery sort of voice (this is not a criticism by the way, Bale is my favourite actor). Furthermore, the villain of Bane played by Tom Hardy had a muffly voice which was difficult to hear anyway, but made almost impossible by the sound design. They truly failed in getting the balance right between sound and dialogue in the film.

Probably the most disappointing aspect of The Dark Knight Rises actually lies with the villain, Bane. Tom Hardy is known for being an intense and rather scary actor generally, and in the trailers for the Batman picture his physique, strange mask and obscure way of speaking really made him seem terrifying. We all love a good villain, and after seeing the trailers for this film I thought yes - this should be another addition to some of the great villains in movie history. Nolan achieved this in the first few scenes featuring Bane, in fact the opening to the film and Bane's entrance is fantastic. On a plane where there are men brandishing guns at hooded hostages, we suddenly hear this very odd, distorted and creepy voice coming from one of the hooded figures. The hood is removed revealing a man with a cage-like mask strapped around his mouth and head. He looks like a muzzled pitbull or rotweiller, and all you can think is why is he wearing this contraption? Is it to stop him from attacking us? Or is it to cover injuries he received in an attack? Either way, this image makes him appear violent and dangerous. A perfect start for a villain. A few scenes later, when Gary Oldman's character comes face to face with Bane, we see the extent of his powerful physique and he looks like a beast. With enormous shoulders and fierce muscularity, he looks invincible and as an audience you start to think how will Batman beat this guy?

Sadly, as the film progresses, Bane's fear factor deteriorates. At the start we see him brutally attack people with astounding speed and lack of humanity, but all this changes. The majority of Bane's scenes in the latter part of the film show him walking around in a big sheepskin coat, making unmotivating peeches to aggravate Gotham; in truth he doesn't really do anything. You just see him standing on the side or walking out of buildings. The terror he exuded disappears completely. Also by the end of the picture a human side to Bane is shown when his past is revealed and we see that he does care for some people. This is the worst mistake any filmmaker can make with a villain because as soon as you give them an understanding of humanity, you obliterate the evil they once embodied. I thought that Tom Hardy did brilliantly with what he was given. The voice he gave to Bane was really unnerving, but even that was tampered with by the sound design because they said that you could not understand what he was saying. This resulted in the heightening of the pitch of his voice, making the dark and sinister sound Hardy had clearly worked so hard on almost comical, to the point where he sounded ridiculous. Hardy did the best with the script he was given and if he was unhappy with what the filmmakers did to his character then I am not surprised. Nolan and co. ruined what could have been one of the most terrifying villains the screen has ever seen. They achieved it with Heath Ledger as the Joker in the prequel, but failed to do so here.

Christian Bale has always brought a depth and admiration to Batman that no other Batman has managed to do previously (for me). But I felt he had hardly any screen time at all in this installment, and any screen time he did have, he wasn't given as much to work with he previously had. If you felt sorry for Bale's Batman in the first two films, then you will definitely feel it here. He brings so much pathos to the character that we are almost overwhelmed by his suffering and his quest to give something to his city. Watching him we really felt like this was a man unable to recover from the loss of the woman he loved, and even his parents before that. A man who hasn't had a break from tragedy all of his life. His scenes in the prison I found were particularly moving because, and all credit to Bale here, he depicted the suffering so strongly yet subtley, that I felt as if I was intruding on the sufferings of a broken man physically and mentally. Add this to the fact that this man is Batman, a hero, it makes it profoundly sad. I believe that Bale is the most talented actor of his generation. He delivers every ounce of talent, creativity and strength he has into every performance he gives. You never feel that he is not giving his all. The fact that he transformed the comic book hero of Batman into someone much more accessible for audiences, into someone more than just the man in the cape, is a real credit to Bale's as an actor.

Marion Cottillard made her first appearance in the franchise with this film, and although I like her a lot as an actress (fantastic in Inception, and of course, La Vie en Rose), I felt that she didn't have a great deal to work with either. Considering her character was new to the franchise, she was in need of development but nothing like that was given. There was no real substance to her.

Another disappointment for this film was Anne Hathaway's performance as Catwoman. She looks incredible - very sophisticated, very feline, and although her catsuit was not as cool as the Michelle Pfeiffer one, she did look fantastic. I particularly liked her cat ears that could be used as a visor - a new take on what can be rather silly looking ears. They did attempt to give more depth to this Catwoman, and thanks to Hathaway, that depth was achieved. She seemed like a young girl who really wanted a fresh start from her life of crime, and there is a lot more to her than just a jewel thief. I felt this strongly when Batman says he owes the people of Gotham, and she tells him, "You don't owe these people anymore."She understood the sacrifice and pain Batman had undergone all his life, whereas everybody else in the film seems to pressure him into thinking that he owes the people of Gotham.

Other actors in the picture like Gary Oldman, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman all had very little to say in the film but still played their parts well.

The most outstanding performance of the picture was from an actor I have already written a blogpost on, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He plays a police officer, Blake, that is upgraded to detective when Bane launches his attack on Gotham. He is also an orphan, like Bruce Wayne, who believed in what Batman stood for since he was a child. The film I believe is given so much more life with Levitt's performance. It all seems real with his character being a part of the plot. His feelings on being an orphan, his belief in what Batman stood for, his inspiring of Wayne to put the mask back on, and his fight to save the city make him possibly the best character in the film. He represents all that is good in Batman, and the good reasons why Bruce Wayne started to put on the mask. It so turns out that later on Bruce Wayne sees in Blake these qualities, and if I am not mistaken, he passes the role of protector of Gotham onto this young detective at the end of the film. I love how the end film ends with us learning Blake's full name is Robin, and we see him go into Batman's lair - I really cannot wait to see where this will lead concerning a new film. Levitt is sensational in every role he plays and here, he made us notice a character that I'm sure many actors would have made unnoticeable.

Up to now it may seems like I have done nothing but whinge about The Dark Knight Rises, but I did really enjoy it. The final hour of the film is incredible, seeing Bruce Wayne escape the prison (which seems like a real hell hole, and the ultimate test for our hero to overcome). The scenes where Bane finally unleashes his plans on the city of Gotham at the football stadium are a wonder to behold, with a young boy singing the US national anthem whilst the camera keeps cutting to the back of Bane walking through the tunnels of the stadium. I found this chilling for the image of innocence against the image of brutality was a disturbing mix and my heart was beating rapidly at what horror Bane was about to conduct. The stadium floor collapsing was breathtakingly horrific.

There are many scenes in this film which are terrifying, not in that they scare you there and then, but that they are a living nightmare - for an army of thugs to take over a city and to leave its inhabitants helpless and awaiting possible death. To be utterly helpless in the face of danger is a feeling no human ever wants to experience. This is shown in one scene - brilliantly played by Levitt - where the American army refuse to let a bus of orphans cross the bridge out of the city because Bane threatened to detonate a nuclear bomb if anyone crossed the bridge. The anger, frustration and desperation in Levitt's face and voice is really powerful, especially when we see that innocent children were not given a chance to escape.

The finale to the fighting is beautifully done. I am a girl who did not grow up reading comics and who never wanted to be Batman as a kid, but when I saw that hero in his mask, "sacrifice" himself for the city, I had to force the tears back. It is an immensely moving and powerful moment, one that was echoed throughout the entire cinema by the sound of silence.

The Dark Knight Rises
is not one of the greatest films ever made like it was bigged-up to be, but it is certainly the best comic book film I have seen. This is not because of the script, or because of its flaws, but because of the parts of the film that were really out of this world visually, emotionally, and dramatically. Bale made our Batman the hero he truly was, and Levitt provided us with a ordinary hero who turned out to be extradordinary. The threat of Bane, although it became a little lax as the film progressed, still managed to instill terror in our hearts and minds as we watched horrific killings, explosions, and the destruction of a city.

I really wish this film had had more thought put into the script with characters, concerning the length of scenes, and the sound design - because if more time and precision had gone into those things, this really could have been the picture of the year. As far as being consistently good is concerned, The Avengers is superior. However, regardless of its flaws and inconsistencies, I enjoyed The Dark Knight Rises much more than The Avengers. Yes they edited some scenes poorly. Yes they failed to maintain Bane's terrifying presence throughout. Yes they didn't balance the sound with the dialogue. But the film still kept me more gripped, more entertained, more moved, more amazed, more terrified, and more in awe than I have been with any other picture I have seen in the past couple of years. All I can think is, if the film had been more consistent, Nolan could have made one of the greatest films in history.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The Bad and the Beautiful: Hollywood on Hollywood

Vincente Minnelli's The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) has been on my to-watch list since I first became interested in classic Hollywood. From what I had read in articles and books, this film is talked about in terms of it's leading actress - Lana Turner. For sure she looks radiant and beautiful as always, she does give a moving performance as the "doomed daughter." I've always liked Lana, and it was wonderful to see her in a different role to the evil, slightly selfish roles I'm used to seeing her in, notably: The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Three Musketeers and Ziegfeld Girl. Surprisingly however, the sweater girl was not the star of the picture, and if she was intended to be, the show was indeed, stolen from her.

Kirk Douglas had a charisma and persona that really filled the screen to the point where he dominates his films entirely. Here, he plays a producer who will do anything to get what he wants, and incidently, makes many enemies throughout the duration of the picture. A strong character to play, an actor's dream, but not even Douglas and all his talent was able to hold the screen entirely.
Regardless of the fact that she doesn't make an appearance till the last 45-minutes/half-an-hour of the film, Gloria Grahame is the star of this picture. Grahame never experienced the colossal fame and mythical status of some of her contemporaries, but when you watch her on-screen, you never forget her, and she becomes your favourite. Her most famous roles are playing the femme fatale types in Human Desire, The Big Heat, Crossfire, and In A Lonely Place. Her role in The Bad and the Beautiful is a far shout from the deadly woman, she plays an all American sweetheart housewife who is ditzy and foolish, and with a temperament innocent but sharp, and incredibly warm. The minute her character makes her entrance the screen lights up, the film gains more life, more humour, and more depth.

Minnelli's film is not the greatest film ever made, and definitely not the greatest film where Hollywood critiques Hollywood. The structure does not run smoothly whilst it unravels the tale of Jonathan Shields' rise and fall, instead it is very bitty and uneventful: here's the director's story, now the actress's, and finally the writer's. There is no real mystery as to why these three stars hate this man Shields who keeps ringing them at the beginning of the film. Take another Hollywood on Hollywood film like Sunset Boulevard, a masterpiece of cinema, that keeps the audience gripped from start to finish about the story behind the dead body shown at the start of the picture. All About Eve similarly revealed the stages of it's story smoothly and convincingly, with a bit more style - something The Bad and the Beautiful definitely lacks.

Perhaps what makes the film not quite as effective is the fact that it was recycling the themes and stories of Sunset Boulevard and All About Eve - films that were considered masterful and highlighted the corruption and dark side of Hollywood/showbusiness so well, that it might have been wiser to release The Bad and the Beautiful a decade later instead of 2 years later. It had already been done. The story for Turner, though upsetting, was too predictable, in fact, each sub-plot was except for the plot involving Grahame.

Although not having quite the style or finesse of its' contemporary rivals as far as theme is concerned, Minnelli's film is an enjoyable story and thoroughly worth the watch for solid performances from a great cast of Douglas, Turner, and Dick Powell. But Minnelli's ace in the hole here, is Grahame, delivering her most endearing and captivating performance for which she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

Do not watch this film expecting Sunset Boulevard, rather a decent tale about the darkness of Hollywood, with a strong cast,  but with a gift of a performance from the wonderful, Gloria Grahame.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Burton & Luhrmann: All is lost?

Tim Burton and Baz Luhrmann are two of the most exciting directors of the past twenty years. Visually, their work stands out when compared to their Hollywood peers. Aside from the landmark effects seen in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Avatar and Disney Pixar films, not since the days of Vincente Minnelli has there been so much vibrancy and colour on screen, nor creativity and magic. Their work is literally a feast for the eyes, and was a massively exciting addition to Hollywood film.

In spite of this, I feel that the magic these two hugely talented people had in their fingertips, has sadly diminished. Although he has directed a few short films, Luhrmann hasn't directed a feature length film for nearly four years. His last film was Australia (2008) a film that was big-budget and featured big landscapes and big stars, but not many enjoyed it. Risking sounding hypocritical, I haven't actually seen  Australia myself, but I never wanted to. When I saw the trailer I just thought to myself, where's Luhrmann's style, where's the excitement and the colour? Is this the same Luhrmann that created the sparkly world of Moulin Rouge! (2001) Or in fact, is it the same Luhrmann that transformed William Shakespeare's classic Romeo & Juliet into a modern cinematic masterpiece set on beaches with people shooting guns instead of waving swords, and a couple falling in love at first sight through the transparency and beauty of a tropical fish tank? Surely not? From what I gathered from my film student peers, they too were put off going to see the movie because it did not seem to have Luhrmann's stamp. My sisters watched the film and didn't like it, so that has put me off seeing it too. I do intend to watch the film to judge it for myself, but I am not expecting much.

Unfortunately, Burton seems to have gone off the boil too. Burton is a strange director in the way that his early films such as Edward Scissorhands (1990) and The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993 - he produced this instead of directed) each possessed a unique combination of fun, magic, fantasy, mixed with humanity, sentimentality, and a huge amount of pathos. There is something truly beautiful about his work that feels almost seems fragile when you watch it - as if touching it would make it break into millions of little pieces because it looks like a a child's dream. In that sense you can call Burton a magician, and most definitely an artist. His other successes like Beetlejuice (1988), Batman (1989) and Sleepy Hollow (1999) to name a handful are all good pictures, and again weird and wonderful, transporting us into another world - the world of Burton's imagination. His recent works like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) and Alice in Wonderland (2010) were below average.  Watching these films was like watching someone trying to imitate Burton, but failing miserably. The humour is poor, the atmosphere is dead, the characters are dull, and what was once so wow and show-stopping with Burton's films has turned into nothing more than a bland paste. His latest film is Dark shadows (2012) and it looks just like the previous two mentioned.

Luhrmann's upcoming film on the other hand, looks hugely promising. He has directed an adaptation of The Great Gatsby. After being so unimpressed with the Robert Redford original (which I turned off after 45minutes, regardless of Redford's gorgeousness) I am really looking forward to this one. With a cast including the outstanding Leonardo DiCaprio and the brilliant Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan, this film looks like it may just redeem Luhrmann. Let's hope he can capture the spirit of the 1920s and of F. Scott Fitzgerald's original novel.

I truly hope that The Great Gatsby shows that Luhrmann hasn't lost his magic, and I hope that Burton brings another masterpiece to our screens soon. The early work of both directors is truly astounding. Will there ever be a more romantic scene than the fish tank and swimming pool scenes in William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet? And will there ever be a more heartbreakingly beautiful story than Edward Scissorhands?

The relationship between both directors and their chosen composers is another cinematic dream, for it seems that each partnership was destined. Craig Armstrong's work for Luhrmann was masterful, and he composed some of the most beautiful pieces of soundtrack music in film, namely 'Balcony Scene,' in William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet. 

As for Burton, Danny Elfman wrote a phenomenal soundtrack with world-class songs for The Nightmare Before Christmas. These weren't you're average songs for animation. Elfman's soundtrack combined the family musical with a quality that was more eerie and solemn than childlike and spooky, particularly with the songs for the characters Jack Skellington and Sally. Both of them had songs that were incredibly mature, heartfelt, but also deep and sombre. The song 'Jack's Lament' is literally a lament, he is pouring his soul out, talking of the despair and emptiness in his life.

Elfman's score for Edward Scissorhands sounded like falling snow, mirroring the beautiful scenes between Edward and Kim in the film. Eerie, ghostly, heavenly, fantastical, dreamlike - all of these combined into one, forms one of greatest scores for a film ever composed. Both Armstrong and Elfman did not receive the acclaim and praise for their work on these films, which is unforgivable.

Let's have more of this Burton and Luhrmann! More of the magic. More of the story. More of the music. More of the dream.