Film Review: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Also known as: Arkham, Gotham, Batman 3 (working titles), Magnus Rex (fake working title), TDKR (informal short title)
Release Date: July 16th, 2012 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer
Based on: characters by DC Comics
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Matthew Modine, Ben Mendelsohn, Burn Gorman, Juno Temple, Cillian Murphy, Liam Neeson, Nestor Carbonell, Desmond Harrington, Thomas Lennon

DC Entertainment, Legendary Entertainment, Warner Bros., 164 Minutes

Review:

“There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.” – Selina Kyle

Where I’ve seen the first two films in this trilogy at least a dozen times each, I’ve only seen this one once: in the theater. If I’m being honest, I didn’t have much urge to see it again after my initial experience. But I’ll explain why as I roll on and review it.

I was pretty excited for this film but I also knew that it would be damn hard to top The Dark Knight or to try and replicate its greatness. Well, I wasn’t wrong. And while this isn’t a bad movie, it’s certainly the weakest of the trilogy and just falls flat when compared to the other two pictures.

To start, I was a bit perplexed when I first heard that Bane was going to be the big bad of the movie. I don’t necessarily have a problem with Bane but after following The Joker and Two-Face, I felt like the third film should’ve featured more of the old school villains, as opposed to bringing in a more modern one that is kind of boring by comparison. I mean, a Christopher Nolan movie featuring The Riddler, The Penguin or hell, even The Mad Hatter, could’ve been really intriguing.

What we got instead was pretty much a rehash of the threat and the plot of the first movie: Batman Begins. In fact, in this film, Bane is even tied to the same villainous organization of that film. We also get a curveball where we find out he really isn’t the big bad but that just kind of makes the overall story even more redundant.

I guess I understand why Nolan chose Bane, as he wanted to try and keep his Batman films grounded in reality as much as one can with a comic book property but seeing a secret Illuminati-type group descend upon Gotham City with the hopes of using a superweapon to destroy it is derivative of the director’s own work.

Now we do get Catwoman in the film but she is written to be the most sterile and boring version of the character I’ve ever seen. Sure, Anne Hathaway is stunning but for whatever reason, Catwoman just doesn’t feel sexy or believable as someone that can ensnare Bruce Wayne/Batman. She just isn’t interesting and it’s hard to imagine her as someone that could pull Bruce’s heart out of the pain it still feels, eight years after the death of Rachel.

Hell, Bruce’s little romantic moments with Miranda/Talia seem more genuine and their relationship isn’t supposed to be the one the audience is pulling for even before the big plot twist reveals itself.

The film’s overall story is trying to be as good of a thriller as the previous two. It just isn’t and that’s the real issue with it. While I do want to see the heroes beat the baddies and win out in the end, the film just comes off as repetitive and dull. It feels like a weak copy of the first two pictures with a much slower pace and a broken back side quest that slows the movie to a halt. I just can’t get as into it as I did the other movies.

Now I get that “breaking the Bat” and dropping him into a hole was about building him back up to make him stronger and that we needed to get him out of Gotham so that Bane could grow his power but it’s a half-assed recreation of the Knightfall plot. This story also only seems to borrow from it because it was Bane’s most iconic moment and biggest temporary victory in the comics. And with Batman overcoming his incredible injury and then climbing out of a hole deemed “impossible” to escape, it all kind of wrecks Nolan’s strive for realism. You can’t simply punch a popped disc back into someone’s spine.

I also hated the film’s ending but I think I’m done harping on the negatives, as I probably sound like I dislike this quite a bit, when I actually don’t.

The film is well-acted and that’s what really makes this work where it does.

I really dug Tom Hardy as Bane, even if his voice has become a social meme. I also just loved seeing the regular cast get back together for one more adventure. Bale, Caine, Freeman and Oldman are all so great in these roles and I loved the final act of the film where we get to see Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon get very involved. My only complaint about Caine’s Alfred is I didn’t like how Bruce pushed him away and left him without much to do in the second half of the film.

Additionally, I really enjoyed Marion Cotillard as the character who would reveal herself as Talia al Ghul. I only wish that we would have gotten to see her be more of a badass but her big reveal comes at the end of the movie and she’s not around much longer after that. Not having a Talia versus Selina fight was a missed opportunity.

The film also boasts great cinematography but why would anyone expect any less from Nolan at this point? I liked the brighter look of the town, especially in the third act, and how a lot of the film happens in daylight.

The final act, which sees Batman and the GCPD bring the fight to the League of Shadows in the streets was superb and chilling. Watching Batman and the cops take it to the villainous terrorists head-on was incredible and the best moment in the film. Watching Batman and Bane fight in a sea of people was also damn spectacular.

All in all, this is still one of the greatest superhero movies ever made. It just happens to be the worst of its trilogy and if I’m being honest, it felt like Christopher Nolan and the writers were just tired and wanted to move on to the next phase of their lives.

However, even if someone else would have to step in and do it, I’d rather see this film series continue, as opposed to seeing Warner Bros. keep trying to reboot Batman. Just let Nolan produce and pick the best creative team to help build off of his vision. I mean, a Joseph Gordon-Levitt Nightwing movie in this cinematic universe would certainly get my money.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in The Dark Knight Trilogy.

Film Review: The Dark Knight (2008)

Also known as: Batman Begins 2 (working title), Rory’s First Kiss, Winter Green (fake working titles)
Release Date: July 14th, 2008 (Buenos Aires & New York City premieres)
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer
Based on: characters by DC Comics
Music by: Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard
Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Cillian Murphy, Nestor Carbonell, Eric Roberts, Anthony Michael Hall, Ritchie Coster, Michael Jai White, Colin McFarlane, Tom “Tiny” Lister, William Fichtner, David Dastmalchian

DC Comics, Syncopy, Legendary Entertainment, Warner Bros., 152 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t talk like one of them. You’re not! Even if you’d like to be. To them, you’re just a freak, like me! They need you right now, but when they don’t, they’ll cast you out, like a leper! You see, their morals, their code, it’s a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. I’ll show you. When the chips are down, these… these civilized people, they’ll eat each other. See, I’m not a monster. I’m just ahead of the curve.” – The Joker

I was a bit apprehensive about revisiting this for the first time in a long time. The reason being, is that I remembered it as being perfect and it was the movie I saw in the theater more times than any other. But with so much time passing, I had worried that my take on it now could have soured a bit.

I’m glad to say that it didn’t, as this is still a masterpiece of crime fiction and social commentary.

As far as superhero films go, I still think that this is the greatest one ever made. I think a lot of that has to do with the realistic approach of the film and just how real and plausible it comes across even though it features a man in a bat costume and a criminal in clown makeup. Not to mention a guy with half his face burnt off and some wonky sci-fi gadgets like the incredibly high-tech sonar surveillance computer.

This is a film where just about everything went right. It was a perfect storm of great writing, great direction, great acting, stellar cinematography and an incredible musical score.

It was well balanced between action and drama and even with its somewhat lengthy running time, there isn’t a wasted moment in the film. Every scene has meaning and every scene does exactly what it needs to without dilly dallying and slowing the pacing down. At the same time, the timing is impeccable and this film perfectly creates tension when it needs to. The whole film is about escalation and the final product is a perfectly curated example of that.

It’s sad and tragic that Heath Ledger died before this was released. It would’ve been cool for him to have seen the final product and to have enjoyed the fanfare and praise his performance as The Joker got. It’s hands down one of the best performances of that decade and even though his death gave the role an added level of mystique and importance, it stands on its own as one of the greatest villain portrayals in motion picture history.

Additionally, I also really liked Ledger’s version of The Joker, as he kind of did his own thing with the character and it forced Nolan to kind of portray the character differently than what was originally intended. And while it might not be a perfect adaptation of the comic book Joker, which no film has done thus far, it kind of exists as its own, great thing and it added so much to this already stellar trilogy.

My only real complaint about the film was how growl-y Bale’s Batman voice was. I much preferred his voice in Batman Begins and I think most people did, as well. I’m not the only person to point this out and in fact, it sort of became a social meme after the movie’s release.

That being said, the Batman voice doesn’t wreck the film and I still think it’s a damn near perfect movie that transcended the superhero genre, forever changed it and hasn’t yet been eclipsed regardless of some of the superb comic book movies that have been released since.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in The Dark Knight Trilogy.

Film Review: Batman Begins (2005)

Also known as: Batman 5 (working title), Batman: Intimidation (script title), The Intimidation Game (fake working title)
Release Date: May 31st, 2005 (Tokyo premiere)
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer
Based on: characters by DC Comics
Music by: Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard
Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, Ken Watanabe, Mark Boone Junior, Jack Gleeson

DC Comics, Syncopy, Warner Bros., 140 Minutes

Review:

“But I know the rage that drives you. That impossible anger strangling the grief, until the memory of your loved one is just… poison in your veins. And one day, you catch yourself wishing the person you loved had never existed, so you would be spared your pain.” – Henri Ducard

When this first came out on DVD, I watched it almost weekly for a few years. I loved this film and to me, at least at the time, it was the greatest Batman film ever made. Hell, before the DVD release, I think I saw this at least three times in the theater.

I would end up liking The Dark Knight even more but the Nolan trilogy started with this film and it was a great introduction to his more serious and realistic Batman film series.

In retrospect now, I like the 1989 Batman slightly better but it’s magic was undone by the later films that followed and even though it took eight years, Batman Begins was the cinematic reboot that we needed after the Schumacher Batman pictures.

This film is so good, as are the ones that follow, that I’ve kind of accepted that no one will ever make a Batman film series as great. Frankly, these are the best films that Christopher Nolan has made and while the first film in a trilogy can often times feel like a practice run, this one is fairly close to perfect.

My only real gripe about it is that the pacing feels a bit disjointed at times. But there is also a lot of story and a lot of characters to balance here. I think that Nolan got much better with that in the next film. These aren’t things that break the film in any way but if I can’t give this a perfect score, I feel that I should explain why.

This is still energetic and every scene feels necessary. But it also feels like so much was wedged into it that it could’ve actually benefited from an extra 20-30 minutes. And that’s not something I’m usually a fan of, as I love 90 minute running times and this picture is already well over two hours. But when a film is this good, I never seem to mind that it requires more of my time.

Nolan got the best possible performances out of all of the actors involved and everyone in this is absolutely perfect. This was well cast and even Katie Holmes, who was replaced in the sequel, pulled off the best performance of her career. Normally, I wouldn’t put her at the same level as everyone else in this movie but she held her own and I was disappointed that she was recast in The Dark Knight.

In closing, this is a stellar motion picture where everything just works in the right way from the direction, cinematography, acting, the musical score by Hans Zimmer and the great character development.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in The Dark Knight Trilogy.

Film Review: Terminator Salvation (2009)

Also known as: Terminator 4, Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins (working titles), T4, T4: Salvation, Project Angel (working titles)
Release Date: May 14th, 2009 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: McG
Written by: John Brancato, Michael Ferris
Based on: characters by James Cameron, Gale Anne Hurd
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Moon Bloodgood, Bryce Dallas Howard, Common, Jane Alexander, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Ironside, Linda Hamilton (voice – uncredited)

The Halcyon Company, Wonderland Sound and Vision, Columbia Pictures, 115 Minutes, 118 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“This is John Connor. If you’re listening to this, you are the resistance. Listen carefully, if we attack tonight, our humanity is lost. Command wants us to fight like machines. They want us to make cold, calculated decisions. But we are not machines! And if we behave like them, then what’s the point in winning? Command is going to ask you to attack Skynet. I am asking you not to. If even one bomb drops on Skynet before sunrise, our future will be lost. So please stand down. Give me time to protect the future that all of us are fighting for. This is John Connor.” – John Connor

While this is the best Terminator movie since the outstanding Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the franchise has had a pretty low bar since that 1991 masterpiece.

Terminator Salvation isn’t necessarily a bad motion picture, it’s just an absolutely dull one with no substance to speak of.

At this point, I guess they decided to finally have a movie take place after Judgment Day. This was also supposed to kick off a new trilogy with stars Christian Bale and Bryce Dallas Howard, contractually attached to two sequels. None of that panned out, however, as Bale wasn’t this franchise’s savior, despite The Dark Knight coming out less than a year before this.

I remember people being stoked when Bale was cast as an adult, war-weathered John Connor. But the fact of the matter is that he was boring as hell, way too dry and looked just as bored in the film as the audience did watching it. Where was that emotion from his famous meltdown from the set that became a massive meme during this movie’s production?

No one else really seemed like they wanted to be there either, except for Anton Yelchin, who actually put some passion into the role of a young Kyle Reese. Yelchin was the best thing in the film and unfortunately his role was greatly cut down from the original script, as Bale joined the cast later and had the film reworked to feature him more.

Sam Worthington, a guy I don’t like in anything, was so lifeless that it was fitting that his character was actually already dead.

The film looks as dull as its actors’ faces. It was filmed in a boring desert with late ’90s style edgy boi lens filters that tried to add some grit but the film ended up looking like a straight-to-DVD low budget ’00s Jean-Claude Van Damme flick instead of a tent-pole blockbuster with a 200 million dollar budget.

The big finale sends John Connor into a Terminator factory where he faces off with a Terminator that looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger. It isn’t really Arnold, however, it’s just another actor with a really bad Arnold CGI face superimposed over his visage. This shit looked so bad that they shouldn’t have done it or wasted money on it in the first place. Just use the jacked actor to play the big cyborg. It was distracting as hell, takes you out of the movie and it looked worse than facial CGI effects from almost a decade prior.

I’m done. Fuck this movie. I doubt I’ll ever watch it again. I only watched it this time in an effort to review it before going on to the latest film in the shitty saga, Terminator: Dark Fate. I’ll watch and review that one in the fairly near future.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the other shitty Terminator movies, so everything after Judgment Day.

Documentary Review: Spielberg (2017)

Release Date: October 5th, 2017 (New York Film Festival)
Directed by: Susan Lacy
Cast: Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Richard Dreyfuss, John Williams, J.J. Abrams, James Brolin, Bob Balaban, Tom Hanks, Drew Barrymore, Peter Coyote, Leonardo DiCaprio, Harrison Ford, Oprah Winfrey, Frank Marshall, Christian Bale, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Robert Zemeckis, Cate Blanchett, Holly Hunter, Dustin Hoffman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tom Cruise, Eric Bana, Daniel Craig

HBO Documentary Films, Pentimento Productions, 147 Minutes

Review:

This was a pretty stellar documentary for fans of not just Steven Spielberg but filmmaking and film history in general.

It reminded me a lot of the 2001 documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures, in that this spent a lot of time breaking down most of the key movies in Spielberg’s oeuvre.

Every segment here was rich, detailed and featured interviews with some major directors, actors and producers. But the film also gets into Spielberg’s personal life and how real life experiences influenced his movies.

This was a lengthy documentary, just as the Kubrick one was and rightfully so. In fact, this could have been the length of a ten part, two hour apiece Ken Burns documentary and I still would have been fully engaged.

Spielberg’s career has been long and full of at least a dozen classic films that will be remembered forever. Each segment could’ve been it’s own documentary film and it actually kind of sucks that a few films were mentioned but not given as much detail, most notably A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, the Jurassic Park sequels and some of his production work like Back to the Future.

Still, this is pretty thorough and there is so much to unpack and take away from this. It is one of the best documentaries on a filmmaker’s life and career.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries on specific directors but this reminded me a lot of Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures.

Film Review: Out of the Furnace (2013)

Also known as: Dust to Dust, The Low Dweller (both working titles)
Release Date: December 6th, 2013
Directed by: Scott Cooper
Written by: Brad Ingelsby, Scott Cooper
Music by: Dickon Hinchliffe
Cast: Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Forest Whitaker, Willem Dafoe, Zoë Saldana, Sam Shepard, Tom Bower

Appian Way Productions, Scott Free Productions, Red Granite Pictures, Relativity Media, 116 Minutes

Review:

“Working for a living? I gave my life for this country and what’s it done for me? Huh? What’s it done for me?” – Rodney Baze Jr.

*written in 2014.

Out of the Furnace is produced by Ridley Scott and Leonardo DiCaprio. It also stars Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Willem Dafoe, Casey Affleck, Forest Whitaker, Sam Shepard, Tom Bower and Zoe Saldana. With all those names, one would expect a pretty compelling film. What I saw was actually a disappointment.

Written and directed by Scott Cooper, who did the highly acclaimed Crazy Heart, this film falls sort of flat.

In a nutshell, the film was a bit slow and it felt mostly uneventful and very predictable. Where there were good spots to build some serious tension, the ball was dropped. In fact, tension was nearly nonexistent except in quick instant doses where it appeared and ended within a short single scene. There was no build up, no real emotional investment to be made in the characters and it was a string of missed opportunities for a better story or at least a more layered story.

Part of the problem with the film, is that it is a revenge story where the victim being avenged was an unlikable prick and an idiot. I was more invested in seeing the evil asshole in the film get taken out over how he treated his date in the opening scene than what he did to the idiot prick.

The film’s climax, the big payoff for the revenge we’re supposed to be wanting, is pretty straightforward, there are no surprises and it plays out as expected and I felt no emotional pull in the end.

This wasn’t necessarily a bad film, it is just that I was expecting something of much better quality with all these people involved. It is slow, seemingly pointless and a forgettable film. Nothing sets it apart, nothing makes it special or memorable. It just simply exists, as a story of mostly unlikeable characters that no one will want to relate to.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: Scott Cooper’s other films.

Film Review: Hostiles (2017)

Release Date: September 2nd, 2017 (Telluride Film Festival)
Directed by: Scott Cooper
Written by: Scott Cooper, Donald E. Stewart
Music by: Max Richter
Cast: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Adam Beach, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, Ben Foster, Timothée Chalamet, Jonathan Majors, Q’orianka Kilcher, Paul Anderson, Stephen Lang, Scott Wilson

Waypoint Entertainment, Le Grisbi Productions, Bloom Media, Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures, 133 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve killed everything that’s walked or crawled. If you do it enough, you get used to it.” – Captain Joseph J. Blocker

Hostiles came into the theater with a lot of praise from top critics. Entertainment Weekly referred to it as “…the best western since Unforgiven.” That’s a pretty bold statement but when looking at traditional westerns from 1992 up until now, it’s a statement that’s not too far off. It’s a superb picture, through and through.

I haven’t been a huge fan of director Scott Cooper’s work. I didn’t care too much for Black Mass and I thought Out of the Furnace was pretty mediocre; I’ve yet to see Crazy Heart, even though I’ve been meaning to. I think Cooper certainly has a good eye and he’s great at building suspense but I thought Black Mass suffered from a narrative standpoint, as it seemed to rely on people already knowing its story, while Out of the Furnace was initially engaging put tapered off pretty quickly. With Hostiles, I was pulled in from the opening scene, fully engaged throughout and thought the narrative was really strong, well paced and subliminally sweet underneath all the violence and racial tensions. I feel like Hostiles was a body of work that benefited from the director learning from his past hiccups and thus, really coming into his own in a new way.

The film was so amazing and visually enchanting that it’s the first film I’ve been to in years, where the theater was full and everyone actually stayed off of their phones and shut the hell up for the duration of the picture, which must have been hard for them, as this was over two and a half hours with all those friggin’ trailers.

The story sees a war hero have to transport an old Indian chief from New Mexico to Montana, where he is to be buried on his sacred land. The hero, played by Christian Bale, wants nothing to do with the mission and even tries to bait the Indian once they get far enough away from his fort in New Mexico.

As the story progresses, we meet a woman whose entire family was slaughtered by Indians. The journey is long and arduous and the party encounters many enemies, some Indians and some white men. By the end, we see personal biases fade and a family dynamic develop between this small group of people who started the journey with hatred for one another.

The film had a perfect cast. I’ve been a fan of Wes Studi and Adam Beach for a long time. I’ve actually loved Beach as far back as 1998’s Smoke Signals, a fantastic Native American coming of age picture that everyone should experience at some point.

Additionally, Bale was stellar, as was Rosamund Pike. I liked seeing Jesse Plemons play a nice character and it was cool seeing Timothée Chalamet in this, as he’s a young actor who is quickly becoming one of the best talents working today. Rory Cochrane was a pleasant surprise in this, as I’ve followed him since his teen pictures Dazed and Confused and Empire Records in the ’90s. There are also small but pivotal roles played by Ben Foster, Stephen Lang and Scott Wilson, who was pretty much the antithesis of his most famous character, Hershel from The Walking Dead.

The cinematography was handled by Masanobu Takayanagi, who also did The Grey, which I loved but most people didn’t. He has a real talent for capturing incredibly majestic landscapes. Here, he had some vast and beautiful country at his disposal and made the most of it.

Max Richter provided the score and did a fine job with the film’s music. He most recently worked on Miss Sloane and Arrival before this.

I would say that Hostiles is as good as the critical hype. I love westerns and it’s rare that I get to see a really great one come down the pipeline.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Scott Cooper’s other films.