Review: The Dark Knight Rises

•July 22, 2012 • Leave a Comment

TDKR has been the subject of an enormous amount of hype, speculation and more recently tragedy, so it was with trepidation that I ventured out to see it late last night. The film is pretty damn long (164 minutes), particularly when the screening only starts at 11pm and you’re still quite hungover. There are multiple openings (a bit like the end of Return of the King), introducing characters old and new and giving a tantalizing but far too short dose of Aidan Gillen, who’s always a nice surprise.

The film plods on, moving through set pieces in which Tom Hardy‘s enormously hench Bane and Batman trade heavy blows and dialogue in silly voices with only the thinnest motivation on the part of the caped crusader’s latest foe. Anne Hathaway‘s Catwoman is sleek and appropriately catty, if  hammy and slightly cringe-worthy in her opening scene. These two adversaries take turns making a nuisance of themselves in slight, but not fully realised, combination, whilst Bruce Wayne sulks around being injured and shirking all his responsibilities. The general absence of Batman from the film has been noted by many critics, and gives TDKR‘s director Christopher Nolan some opportunity to engage with the emotional cost of the previous two installments on the Wayne/Batman character, whilst also setting up Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the heir to the bat-throne.  This introspective tone sets the film apart from the recent slew of superhero films, and as Roger Ebert‘s review notes, results in the fact that the film “isn’t very much fun”. This isn’t to say that all superhero films should be as camp and frivolous as Kenneth Branagh’s Thor, but The Dark Knight Rises does take itself far too seriously, resulting in an uneven and underwhelming final product which fails to fully deliver as either an action film or a ‘serious’ drama. Issues are touched upon, characters are vaguely introduced, but the film doesn’t follow through with many of the potential opportunities for character development or social commentary. As ever the visual effects are excellent, but the film relies on high production values to carry some excruciating lines of exposition (the final revelation that Gordon-Levitt’s character is actually named Robin is chucked in with a horrible forced one liner) and gaping plot holes; it’s as though Nolan et al are hoping you won’t think through the problems surrounding disposing of an atomic bomb in the waters outside Gotham (ok, so it didn’t blow up the city, but the fallout is still going to be a pretty massive freaking problem) because you’re still drooling over Anne Hathaway’s skin-tight outfit and reeling from the sight of bridges and buildings exploding.

Roger Ebert’s review states that the film comes “uncomfortably close to today’s headlines”, and this proximity to issues of great importance and controversy and the film’s utter refusal to engage with them in any critical manner was my biggest concern both during and after the screening. Watching TDKR in light of the recent Occupy movements, examples of police brutality in dealing with protesters across the world, and a global recession made for uncomfortable viewing, as the film ultimately reasserts conservative discourses. The nature of Batman as superhero has been discussed repeatedly, with The Big Bang Theory even sending up the notion that all you’d need to be Batman is tonne of cash, and TDKR continues the tradition of portraying Batman as the ultimate consumer. All of the Dark Knight’s power comes from his financial situation, his ability to buy bespoke armour and weapons and his subsequent status as a brand. Bruce Wayne is a man who lives completely out of touch with the Gotham he tries to protect, isolated in his stately home, oblivious to the financial difficulties that his company is in and the repercussions that his financial situation has on his philanthropic pursuits. Bruce Wayne is the 1%. TDKR pits Wayne/Batman against a feisty jewel thief attempting to work herself out of the criminal world, and a faceless madman bent on the destruction of Gotham as we know it and the redistribution of wealth. Bane’s long speech decrying the disparity between those who have it all and those who have nothing echoes the criticisms being laid against the elite across the world, particularly in the US and UK, and creates an uncomfortable alignment between current social equality movements and the anarchic thuggery that this super-villain promotes. The film offers no mid-ground in its Batman/Bane, Conservatism/Anarchy constructions; the general populace is remarkably absent, and the audience is left with either the staunch and noble police force sided with Batman, or a hoard of criminals wielding machine guns with which to identify. There is no hint at discussion of why society is so divided, or whether there should indeed be a reassessment of the current status quo, as those who attempt to engage in social activism are wholly portrayed as mindless criminals who will use their new found agency to destroy the establishment instead of reworking it into anything new or progressive. Weirdly, TDKR ignores and elides the issues which the previous installments of the trilogy have raised in regards to corruption within the justice system to present a united front in which the establishment stands firm against the troublesome maniacs attempting to disrupt Gotham.

This half-hearted incorporation of current affairs seems to me to be lazy, and really quite exploitative film making. It capitalizes on real world unrest and issues which are in need of serious treatment and incorporates them into a conservative discourse, slyly justifying the discrepancy between the affluent and the less well off by aligning those advocating change with thuggery and anarchism, and ultimately justifying the film as a cultural product in itself; the wealth and power of Hollywood is vindicated through the final triumph of corporate and conservative forces over those annoying kill-joys who question (and attack) the dominance of what Ebert identifies as “our society’s twin gods of money and pro sports”.

Step Up 2 The Streets

•April 20, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I have just one question: WHERE ARE THESE STREETS EXACTLY?

Everything Is More Important Than My Dissertation Part 3 – Compact Review: Leap Year

•July 17, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Here’s the thing. I love Amy Adams. I love Matthew Goode. I love John Lithgow. I love Adam Scott. I lovelovelove American presentations of British life, especially little rural British (Irish in this case) towns. And I most of all love those awful predictable films where two characters hate each other when they meet and fall in formulaic love over the course of the film. So this film should’ve instantly become my favourite guilty pleasure. Except for one thing. It was so, so dull.  It could’ve been lovely.  It should’ve been lovely.  And yes it was okay, the protagonists were nice and the subsidiary characters were alright and the story was quite sweet, but the script tried too hard and ended up being slightly worse than all those other films just like it. If only it’d been as short and sweet as this review.

Everything Is More Important Than My Dissertation Part 2 – When A Stranger Calls

•July 14, 2011 • Leave a Comment

So there was no need to do a remake of When A Stranger Calls.  It’s a story as old as time itself, it’s practically on the modern folkloric level of that one about the escaped lunatic with a hook for a hand, and a couple find the hook hanging from their car door, and I think someone gets decapitated, but there are a lot of versions.  But everybody knows the story about the babysitter who gets a bunch of threatening phone calls and then the police are like THE CALL IS COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE and then she gets attacked and sometimes dies but usually is saved, depending on who tells it.  There was no need to run us through this again.  But for some reason whatever film studio decided this was a good idea.

And props to them, for some part.  The first three quarters of an hour or so were pretty creepy.  The music worked, the house (VERY like the house in Chloe actually, all plate glass and clean lines again) was perfectly unnerving with its floor-to-ceiling windows on all floors, a creepy guest house, and weird aviary-slash-aquarium in the middle of the structure.  But then action happened that was meant to be scary and everything just went terribly.

This film suffered from key problems three.  First off, I have never seen an actress so uncommitted to her climactic scream.  Most slashers, the heroine finds her first body and it’s like “yyyeahh my time to shine, I’mma scream my lungs out”, but this girl just seemed slightly embarrassed doing it which really retracted from the effect.  Secondly, throughout her time babysitting she hadn’t met the children.  She then finds the children in a BOX and they’re all “hello stranger, a different stranger locked us in a box, but sure, we’ll do everything you say”.  For a brief second I thought the children had been murdered, which would’ve been so …refreshing almost.  Controversial, thought-provoking, and much more horrific, but SPOILER obviously children do not die in films like this.

But the biggest problem with this film was the reaction of the authorities.  Sure, OK, girl phones up about prank callers, it happens, they did all the standard stuff really, monitored the line and all that, and the policeman she talked to just seemed pretty indifferent about the whole situation which, fair enough.  Teens will be teens.  Yet during the ending montage we’re told that this particular killer has been attributed to the deaths of fifteen – that’s FIFTEEN – young girls in the area who had been terrorised with threatening phone calls the night of their death.  You’d maybe have thought the police would’ve caught onto the trend and bucked up a little by this point, even if they didn’t know that THE CALL IS COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE just yet.

But really, who gives a shit?  We all know the story and don’t particularly need some pretty American girl in a tight t-shirt to act it out for us.  Short and sweet conclusion: failure once again for mainstream American cinema.

Though just to show you how tight a t-shirt, here’s a quick frame of what was pretty much the entire film:


“Oh Em Gee stop calling me I’m waiting for my ex who cheated on me to call and you’re blocking the line” – actual thing this girl said. Sort of.

Everything Is More Important Than My Dissertation Part 1 – Compact(ish) Review: Chloe

•July 8, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I should’ve really read about this film before watching it.  First of all, finding this girl:

sexually attractive was one of the more unsettling experiences of my life.  She will no longer simply be “Karen from Mean Girls” or “that one from Mamma Mia”, she has earned ‘learning her name’ privileges in my book.  (It’s Amanda Something).

Secondly, I totally missed the memo on how erotic this film was.  It was reminiscent of those late ’80s/early ’90s sexy thrillers, but thankfully skillful direction made it less horrendous and sleazy than many of those were.  The film itself was very aesthetically pleasing: we were given luxury hotels and modern-art-style glass houses and offices framing beautiful people in more beautiful clothes, all clean lines and soft colours.  Though I can’t help but feel that it’s a problem when that is one of the best parts of a film.  Although this isn’t necessarily a criticism. Amanda Something was fantastic as Chloe, and Julianne Moore was wonderful as the unhappy wife (although I hope one day she will be in a film not about cuckoldry).  The story itself worked very well, we were led by the nose through quite a tangle and – maybe I’m just dense – I did not see half of what happened coming, but for some reason it fell a little flat as all the drama and suspense and WTF-ARE-YOU-DOING built you right up to… not very much.  However, any film that inspires me to write a review the day after watching it is worth a look in (unless that film is Altitude), so yes, go for it, if just to see Karen from Mean Girls all grown up.

H.

The Future According To: Johnny Mnemonic

•June 5, 2011 • Leave a Comment

In a new segment here at the erratically updated ‘Film is Good Too’, we examine the future according to various sci-fi films.

The first of such instalments comes from the 1995 classic Johnny Mnemonic. This contains spoilers.

 

1. Bars will play opera-hop and have very poor security. 

2. Lasers will be used for odd and arbitrary places, such as whips hidden in rings and the insides of bins.

3. The internet will look like Tron and be controlled with hand gestures, such as shaking the air to hack into things. (see image)

4. The army will have trained dolphins to hack and these powers combined with drugs will be able to hack Keanu Reeves’s brain.

5. ‘low tech’ will be an insult, with vague racial connotations.

6. Not only will dolphins be trained to use computers by the army, they will also understand English and combine these haxxor skillz to kill Dolph Lundgren in a fittingly pseudo-biblical style. = Dolphins will (already do?) understand irony.

 

 

 

Altitude: Compact Review

•April 21, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Don’t watch this film.

Like, it wasn’t even good high.

The Hot Chick is even worse than you would expect

•April 12, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I’m not ashamed to admit that I watched the entirety of The Hot Chick on the promise that Rachel Mcadams would be in a tuxedo at some point during the film.  Unfortunately, what came before this far-too-short scene (which was totally not worth it by the way) was a shameless indulgence in everything that is wrong with this brand of popular teen film, namely sexism, homophobia, and racism.  Whilst this is not entirely surprising – discriminatory jokes are always an easy fall back for badly made and poorly written Hollywood trash – it is the occasional glint of promise, of hope, that makes this film so entirely frustrating.

The main premise of this film is that, because of African voodoo earrings (obviously!), Rachel Mcadams swaps bodies with Rob Schneider.  So Rachel Mcadams’ character, essentially Regenia George, wakes up in Rachel Mcadams bed, but in the body of Rob Schneider.  The large part of this film is Rob Schneider trying to make the audience believe he is a teenage girl inside, but ends up being stereotypically gay in all of the worst ways.  He drinks cosmos, he’s limp wristed, and worst of all, he lisps.  Once the rest of the Mean Girls figure out that Rob Schneider is indeed their Queen Bee they rally around him but with no apparent plan to solve his/her predicament.  This leads to one of the most cringeworthy scenes in cinema history.  Somehow, these underage girls and Rob Schneider are drinking in a bar where Schneider flounces around, being disapproved of by the bartender (who turns out to be a gay rapist), and then giving some stereotypical heterosexual line to not seem gay.  This lasts for at least fifteen minutes, and felt like a year.  Let’s just remember here people, this film came out in 2002, not 1950.

But even that is not the most irritating part of the film.  Neither is the overbearing Asian mother, nor when this mother pretends to be black, nor the mad Wiccan who hexes everybody, and not even the various personality transplants that almost every character undergoes.   It’s the possibility of what this film could be.  The relationship between the eponymous Hot Chick and her best friend, Anna Faris (as ever, shortened to Anfa), is one that could have been splendid, rich, complex, and could have made the film so much more than a cliched “let’s make poop jokes and rely on lazy stereotypes” quasi-teen film.  See once Anfa realises Schneider is her bestie and, like all female best friends, they hang out in their underwear having pillow fights, she starts to fall in love with her.   Anfa’s struggle obviously isn’t explored in much depth, but she most definitely has a crisis at the fact that, in this male body, she has realised that it is her best friend who she has always known making her feel this way.  When they kiss Schneider describes the experience as “totally lezzing out”, and that is indeed what is happening.  Schneider makes it clear that (s)he has no feelings towards Anfa because the character is interested in men regardless of her body.  Following this logic, Anfa ‘s attraction to Schneider should really be an attraction to Mcadams.

Of course, this is not the case.  Once Rachel Mcadams and Rob Schneider’s characters are returned to their correct bodies Anfa immediately turns her affection to Rob Schneider, despite the object of her affection being Rachel Mcadams (in a tux!).  When Schneider’s personality is in Mcadams’ body Anfa expresses disdain and disgust towards him – because he is a disgusting character – and yet it appears to be the body, in the end, that she is in love with.  This is entirely incongruous and deeply frustrating for the viewer, whose view of love then becomes nothing more than strictly heteronormative – that love here is not about personality, but whether the person has traditional lady parts or boy parts.  At the beginning of the film when Anfa sees that her best friend is now a man she is initially horrified and repulsed by the body that is presented to her: there is no attraction, no love.  So why, WHY does Anfa’s affections turn to Schneider’s body and mind once it is back together when previously it was solely towards Mcdams’ mind, regardless of Schneider’s body?

There is no question that this is a bad film.  Not one worth writing a review of, even.  But its decision to be utter trash despite an opportunity for diversity, if only a teeny bit, makes it an even more dissatisfying experience.  But at least we can look at Rachel Mcadams in a suit:

Adorable, no?

H

Mini Review Roundup: Machete, Anvil, Half Baked.

•February 27, 2011 • 1 Comment

Somehow amongst all of the fun, I have also been watching films that don’t star Keanu Reeves (crazy, right?). The aforementioned films, Anvil, Half Baked and Machete were all, in my opinion, excellent (Bill and Ted voice optional). 

Machete premièred at Southampton Uni’s Union Films last week to an audience who seemed to thoroughly enjoy it, if not find it quite as entertaining as me and Pete. It’s pretty much everything you could hope for (except Lindsay Lohan actually being naked), with gore, awfully hammy dialogue (“Machete don’t text”) and Danny Trejo shagging everything ever all the time. As an avid Trejo fan I can honestly say that I was not disappointed, and Cheech Marin was a welcome (if under used) addition to the cast. Overall it was, as Sheldon would say, ‘a hoot and a half’ and Steve Seagal is amazingly sillyly terrible. Not a film for the squeamish, but definitely mucho fun.

Next on our romp through things I’ve seen recently, Anvil, for which I have similarly glowing praise. A documentary about some nice men who can’t let go of their dream of heavy metal stardom, Anvil is funny and at times really really stressful. The boys go on tour across Europe to varying degrees of success, and their eager faces and bravado at the possibility that no one might show up is heartbreaking. The lovey-ish interviews with Slash, Scott Ian and Lars Ulrich are mildly nauseating (although Lars’ suggestion that maybe Avil didn’t make it big because they’re Canadian was entertaining), but mostly they serve to remind how nice these men seem to be and how much I’d rather be in Anvil working two jobs and doing music I love, than in Metallica being all coked up and making angst-fest documentaries like Some Kind of Monster. A glance at Anvil‘s wikipedia page lists the nominations and awards the film received and, whilst the camera work as a bit hit and miss,  I feel like it deserved all that praise. Also the fact that the film led to the band doing a sell out headline tour is adorable, and I’d like to wish them the best. Definitely worth a watch.

Finally, we’ve had a Cheech Marin movie, now one with Tommy Chong. Half Baked is a Dave Chappelle adventure about some stoners whose friend gets locked up, so to spring him from jail they have to deal weed…with hilarious consequences. As stoner films go, this isn’t a bad one, with just enough silly weed jokes and alllmost enough plot to make a movie. Infintely better than Bong Water, Smiley Face or the dreaded parody remake or Reefer Madness (which is like a billion hours long and just…don’t). Part of the joy of Half Baked is the cameos, with Snoop Dogg, Tommy Chong, John Stewart and Willie Nelson all popping up for a few minutes. Other fun comes from bongs with names that are puns (Billy Bong Thornton) and the idiosyncratic (if very ’90s) touches, like voice over and captions. Overall, not a bad way to spend the early hours of a Sunday morning, just don’t expect drama, tension or any kind of revelatory art.

E

Keanu Fest Part 3: ‘Chain Reaction’

•February 25, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Is Keanu only in long films with weird endings? Because after this and The Devil’s Advocate I’m having trouble thinking of films that don’t fit that category…mostly I can think of The Matrix x3.

Chain Reaction is a 1996 environmentalist thriller, wherein Keanu and Rachel Weiss discover/invent/do something with lasers to make clean energy using hydrogen BUT duhduhduhhhh bad things happen. See, clean energy would spell disaster for the economy, which is so heavily into oil, so when the project becomes a success it has to be destroyed by blowing everything up and blaming Keanu. Massive amount of explosions and motorbike chases later, it turns out that Morgan Freeman, who has previously been a genial over seer of the project turns out to be evil. Not in a big shocking reveal, not after the build up of lots of mystery, just really casually out of the blue. So he and Agamemnon from that Brad Pitt Troy continue obliquely being bad but disagreeing and generally being quite dull and pointless characters, whilst Keanu escapes over ice on a hover craft, shoots some people, pretends to be homeless and eventually works his way to the EXACT secret facility where there’s replica technology of all the stuff that was destroyed before and where Rachel Weiss is being FORCED TO DO SCIENCE.

Long story short, there are MORE explosions and some dangerous henchmen and Keanu doing more not so nice possible killing in the name of barely-necessary until it’s all revealed that Morgan Freeman works for the CIA and the facility was theirs. Then, having faxed all the revealingofevilthings documents to the FBI Keanu and Rachel manage to escape and are greeted by the most bizarrely chirpy FBI agent who quips that he “always liked that kid” (Keanu) and they all fly off in a helicopter and everything is smiley.

It took me about a month to watch this all the way through because it JUST WOULDN’T BUFFER, but I agree with Roger Ebert on this one in that it’s very entertaining but doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. Why are the CIA funding a secret research lab into clean energy only to destroy it once they’ve found it? MorgFree says it’s ‘no longer viable’, viable for what? What was Agamemnon hoping to get out of it all? Maybe I missed the answers to these, so if anyone could let me know that’d be lovely.

Verdict: Definitely watch for an entertaining explosion filled Keanu romp, with a nice cast and lots of chases. Don’t watch if you’re feeling up for something dramatic and serious, this is very much a beer and pizza in bed film.