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Review: The Dark Knight Rises, Cloudburst, Late Bloomers, Trail Notes, Sky Whisperers and King of Devil’s Island

By Cinema and Reviews

The Dark Knight Rises posterI made the mis­take of watch­ing The Dark Knight Rises twice last week. The first time was enter­tain­ing enough, I sup­pose. The open­ing set-piece – in which a CIA rendi­tions plane is hijacked in mid-air by it’s own cargo – is bril­liantly con­ceived but point­less, Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman is a breath of fresh air and the end­ing (unspoiled here) works extremely hard to tie up the many loose ends and sat­is­fy even the mean­est critic.

But second time up, the prob­lems come into even clear­er focus. The con­fused ideo­logy (a fusion of zeit­geisty “Occupy Gotham” wealth redis­tri­bu­tion and pro-vigilante “mean streets will always need clean­ing” status quo pro­tec­tion­ism), end­less tire­some expos­i­tion of both plot and theme and the huge holes in its own intern­al logic, all serve to dis­sip­ate the impact of the impress­ive visuals.

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Review: Black Swan, The King’s Speech, The Fighter, Desert Flower, Unstoppable, Burlesque, Little Fockers, Green Hornet and The Hopes and Dreams of Gazza Snell

By Cinema and Reviews

Following up on the 2009 sur­prise hit The Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky has offered us anoth­er film about people who des­troy them­selves for our enter­tain­ment – this time in the rar­efied world of bal­let. Tiny Natalie Portman is plucked from the chor­us of the fic­tion­al but pres­ti­gi­ous New York City Ballet for the dream role of the Swan in a hot new pro­duc­tion. It’s the chance of a life­time but her fra­gile psy­cho­logy shows through in her per­form­ance even though her dan­cing is tech­nic­ally per­fect. Maestro Vincent Cassel tries to recon­struct her – as you would a first year drama school stu­dent – while dom­in­eer­ing stage moth­er Barbara Hershey is push­ing back in the oth­er dir­ec­tion. Something has to break and it does.

Black Swan is excep­tion­ally well made, beau­ti­ful and chal­len­ging to watch – and Portman’s per­form­ance is noth­ing short of amaz­ing – but films that aspire to great­ness need to be about some­thing more than, you know, what they’re about and once I’d decoded was going on I couldn’t see enough under the sur­face to jus­ti­fy the hype.

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Review: Public Enemies, Faintheart, Coraline and Battle in Seattle

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

Public Enemies posterOf all dir­ect­ors cur­rently work­ing in the Hollywood main­stream Michael Mann is argu­ably the greatest styl­ist. No one at the mul­ti­plex has more con­trol of the pure aes­thet­ics of film­mak­ing, from col­our bal­ance and com­pos­i­tion through edit­ing and sound, Mann’s films (from Thief in 1981 to the mis­guided rework­ing of Miami Vice in 2006) have had a European visu­al sens­ib­il­ity while remain­ing heav­ily embed­ded in the seamy world of crime and punishment.

Now Mann has turned back the clock and made a peri­od crime film, set dur­ing the last great depres­sion. Based on the true story of the legendary bank rob­ber John Dillinger, whose gang cut a swathe across the Midwest in 1933 and 1934, Mann’s Public Enemies is a styl­ish and superbly craf­ted tale of a doomed hero pur­sued by a dogged law­man. Dillinger is por­trayed by Johnny Depp with his usu­al swag­ger and his nemes­is is the now sadly ubi­quit­ous Christian Bale.

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Review: Terminator Salvation, Love the Beast, Fugitive Pieces, JCVD and In Search of a Midnight Kiss

By Cinema and Reviews

Terminator Salvation poster’Tis the sea­son to reboot tired fran­chises and this week we get an explos­ive new look at James Cameron’s beloved Terminator. Set only nine years in the future (when open-air bat­tle­field heart trans­plants will be de rigeur dur­ing la guerre), the Judgement Day of T2 has des­troyed most of the West Coast of the USA and only a hardy band of ill-equipped rebels are keep­ing the mon­strous Skynet at bay.

John Connor, proph­esied future saviour of the human race, is a only a sol­dier in the rebel army but his reg­u­lar radio broad­casts bring hope to the scattered, ragtag freedom-fighters. In a battle to res­cue some human pris­on­ers his entire squad is killed – but he does man­age to release the mys­ter­i­ous Marcus Wright (Aussie boof­head Sam Worthington) who may hold the key to the defeat of the machines.

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Review: The Dark Knight

By Cinema and Reviews

The Dark Knight posterBack in 1986 Frank Miller single-handedly rein­ven­ted the Batman fran­chise in book form with “The Dark Knight Returns”, a four-part mini-series which saw an age­ing Bruce Wayne come out of retire­ment one last time to fight the scourge of law­less­ness that beset his beloved Gotham City. Fans have waited in vain for that story (dark, cyn­ic­al, epic and power­ful) to arrive on the sil­ver screen but Christopher Nolan’s cur­rent ver­sion of the hero (intro­duced in Batman Begins in 2005) is still head­ing in the right dir­ec­tion, even to the extent of crib­bing Miller’s title for this second episode.

In The Dark Knight we join the action not long after the end of the pre­vi­ous film. The forces of Gotham City law enforce­ment (with the help of the masked vigil­ante and a few unfor­tu­nate copy cats in hockey pads) are squeez­ing the city’s organ­ised crime syn­dic­ates and clean­ing up the city. Only psy­cho­path­ic freakazoid The Joker (Heath Ledger) seems to be able to act with impun­ity and he offers the Mob a deal: he’ll dis­patch the fly­ing bat in exchange for half their business.

Batman/Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) still hankers after beau­ti­ful Asst DA Rachel Dawes (this time played by Maggie Gyllenhaal repla­cing Katie Holmes) who prom­ised they could be togeth­er if he could ever give up his double-life. The arrival on the scene of hand­some and prin­cipled District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) as legit­im­ate crime-fighter (a “white knight”) might just give him a way out, only Dent is also in love with Rachel. Meanwhile, The Joker’s plot to des­troy Batman strikes closer and closer to home.

Despite being more than 20 minutes longer than it needs to be, The Dark Knight is a suc­cess­ful attempt to bal­ance the thrills and spills of a mod­ern day block­buster with some­thing a little more psy­cho­lo­gic­ally demand­ing. Nolan has claimed that there is very little digit­al effects work in the film and that he tried to shoot as much of the action as real as pos­sible and it pays off – there must have been some digit­al in there but (apart from Dent’s aston­ish­ing and grot­esque trans­form­a­tion into Two-Face) I could­n’t pick any.

It is dis­ap­point­ing that Nolan’s vis­ion of Gotham City from the first film seems to have faded. Instead of the hyper-modern city in dis­repair we got last time, now it looks like plain old mod­ern day New York crossed with Chicago crossed with Toronto, and I guess that was one of the sac­ri­fices made in the decision to ditch digit­al but the city itself is well short on atmosphere.

Bale, as ever, leaves this review­er cold, but the sup­port­ing play­ers are all fine act­ors in great form (par­tic­u­larly Michael Caine as Alfred, the former Special Forces but­ler). Ledger is tre­mend­ous and provides hints of the kind of lib­er­at­ing work he might have been cap­able of had he lived, although talk of a posthum­ous Oscar seems excess­ive. After all, since Cesar Romero in the 60s The Joker has been a license to ham and this ver­sion spe­cific­ally is sup­posed to be all show and no depth.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 31 july, 2008. Sorry, I am so behind with post­ing. I’ll try and get this week’s edi­tion up before the end of the weekend.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: The Dark Knight screened at a sur­pris­ingly busy Monday morn­ing ses­sion at Readings. And when I say “sur­pris­ingly busy” I mean over 100 people. At 11.00am!

Review: 3:10 to Yuma, 2 Days in Paris, Love in the Time of Cholera and I Served the King of England

By Cinema and Reviews

3:10 to Yuma posterThe for­tunes of the Western rise with the tide of American cinema. During the 70’s indie renais­sance we got rugged clas­sics like The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid and The Long Riders, then in the 80’s and 90’s Clint Eastwood re-examined his own myth­ic West in Pale Rider and Unforgiven . (The less said about Young Guns 1 and 2 the better.)

The past 12 months have offered us two Westerns that are as good as any of the last 30 years: The Assassination of Jesse James and James Mangold’s homage to the clas­sic 3:10 to Yuma which opened in Wellington last week.

Yuma is a story (by Elmore Leonard) with great bones: poor, hon­est, ranch­er Christian Bale is suf­fer­ing because of the drought and for $200 takes on the des­per­ate task of escort­ing cap­tured out­law Russell Crowe to Contention City, where he will catch the eponym­ous train to the gallows.

But Crowe’s gang are on the way to lib­er­ate him and Bale’s sup­port is dwind­ling to noth­ing. The ten­sion rises as the clock ticks towards three o’clock.

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