Sean K. Cureton

Archive for July, 2012|Monthly archive page

The Dark Knight Rises is the Perfect Conclusion to Nolan’s Vision of Batman

In Movie Reviews: 2012 on July 23, 2012 at 4:15 pm

Theatrical Poster

The Dark Knight Rises
Directed by Christopher Nolan
4 out of 4 stars

The Dark Knight Rises might be the most satisfying and greatest summer blockbuster to have ever been released to a mainstream movie going audience. This film, which concludes what has come to be called “The Dark Knight Trilogy” by director and writer Christopher Nolan, has given anyone with the least bit of affection for film the best film adaptation of the DC comic-book character Batman to ever grace the silver screen. The absolutely refined sense of action coupled with realistic character development and sentimentality that the viewer has come to expect from this series after both Batman Begins (2005) and the Oscar nominated sequel The Dark Knight (2008) is present this time around in spades, and the conclusion that Nolan offers his fans with this final installment goes beyond being simply expected, and becomes revelatory and epic like almost nothing else that has come out over the past two decades.

The film picks up right where its brilliant predecessor left off, with Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) in exile after taking the fall for Harvey Dent/Two-Face’s (Aaron Eckhart) criminal actions, and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) trying to maintain peace and order in a now Batman-less Gotham. Ultimately, the peace doesn’t last as soon as this film’s villain, Bane (Tom Hardy), shows up to finish the work that wasn’t completed by Ra’s Al Ghul/Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) in the first installment, and Bruce Wayne must become Batman again in order to save Gotham from complete destruction and chaos.

What makes this film so wonderful is the way in which the tone that has been set up by its two predecessors is maintained right from the start of this final installment, which provides for a real sense of continuity within the Batman universe that Nolan has created. Also, the surprises, twists, and turns that the plot takes are always shocking and satisfying rather than forced and cloying which has been the case in certain concluding films in past comic book trilogies (see Brett Ratner’s X-men: The Last Stand, 2006, or Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, 2007).

Nolan’s conclusion also provides a number of new characters that only add to the complexity and diversity of the film’s universe and already established cast of characters, rather than divert attention away from characters that we have already grown to love. Of particular note, Nolan’s interesting and creative recreation of Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) is fun and unexpected when she very well might have been boring and derivative of previous incarnations had she been written by someone of lesser talent. Also, Nolan’s character written for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Blake, is surprisingly deep and becomes a bigger force for good in Gotham than Batman or Gordon by the film’s end.

Most importantly though, Tom Hardy’s menacing performance as Bane is effectively frightening and oddly fine-tuned to modern fears of international terrorism and governmental corruption. While Hardy is certainly no replacement for Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance as the Joker in the last film, his portrayal of Bane takes the comic-book character to a level of character development and realization that has never been seen before in any incarnation of this character’s past. The way in which Bane is able to break Batman in a cage fight style is enormously memorable, and different in terms of the rather physically deficient villains that Batman has faced previously in this film series.

Bottom line, there is not one thing that could have made the The Dark Knight Rises better as a film or more satisfying as a conclusion to “The Dark Knight Trilogy.” Christopher Nolan has provided a conclusion to his groundbreaking comic book series that leaves viewers both wanting more and completely content with what has already been done. One almost wishes Nolan would make another movie that has to do only with Levitt’s character, but enough is enough, and as it stands, “The Dark Knight Trilogy” is perfect.

In regards to the Aurora shooting that occured at a midnight screening of this film, I would like to express my own feelings of grief and intense emotional disturbance at what happened on Friday morning, July 20, 2012, in Aurora, CO. I love going to movie theatres. I think it is one of the few remaining communal sources of personal expression that is still engaged in by a wide audience. The idea that someone would turn a place of wonder, life-imbuing energy, and joy into an execution ground is deeply unsettling to me. I can only hope that justice will be served, the surviviors will be healed, and that the dead will be remembered forever by those closest to them.


Woody Allen Returns After Last Summer’s Midnight in Paris with a Film That’s Less Than Award Worthy

In Movie Reviews: 2012 on July 18, 2012 at 6:19 pm

Theatrical Poster

To Rome With Love
Directed by Woody Allen
2 ½ out of 4 stars

Woody Allen’s new comedy is something that this reviewer has been looking forward to for a while now. After last summer’s Midnight in Paris, Allen seemed to be on a creative high, and anything else that he might make following such a wonderful film could only be anticipated with the highest of hopes and expectations. In addition, the cast for this film was almost too good to be true, making for just another sign of something that was sure to be brilliant and funny. After all, who wouldn’t want to see a film that boasts performances from such beloved indy darlings as Jesse Eisenberg, Greta Gerwig, and Ellen Page? Unfortunately, To Rome With Love doesn’t quiet live up to the expectations set for it by Allen’s last theatrical release, and its talented and multi-faceted cast couldn’t quiet save this film from becoming just one of the many Woody Allen films that are soon forgotten.

To Rome With Love is composed of four vignettes, which are all supposed to take place simultaneously within Rome, which is professed to hold too many tales to count, or so the unnamed policeman tells us at the start of the film. One of these vignettes is brilliant, one of them is entertaining but flawed, one of them is distractingly outlandish, and the other just doesn’t quiet seem to work.

The best vignette is about an everyday working schmuck, played to great comic effect by Oscar winner Roberto Benigni (1997’s Life is Beautiful), who suddenly finds himself in the eye of the paparazzi. The hilarious interviews that ensue about things so trivial as wearing boxers or briefs and what he ate that morning that are posed to Benigni’s character work ingeniously to provide a tongue-in-cheek miniature satire of Hollywood celebrity and the various pitfalls and personal vanities that come along with becoming a well known individual.

The second best vignette tells the story of young architect Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) and his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig), and their fortuitous meeting with Sally’s friend Monica (Ellen Page), a currently out of work actress, who soon becomes romantically involved with Jack behind Sally’s back. This vignette is also accompanied by a character named John, a much older and well known architect played by Alec Baldwin, whom Jack meets on his way home and brings along to allow John to see his old neighborhood from when he lived in Rome as a younger man, much like Jack is doing now.

John’s presence within the scenes of the film that this story entails, however, become increasingly confusing, as John’s presence is obviously only meant to provide a source of world-wearied guidance for Jack. Nevertheless, at times it is unclear as to whether or not John is really there, or simply a conscience for Jack that is made visible for the sake of the audience alone, much like when Woody Allen’s character in Play It Again, Sam sees a shadowy Humphrey Bogart figure who eggs Allen on during moments of sexual congress. Unlike the Bogart ghost, however, Baldwin’s character is obviously real to a certain extent, since Page’s and Gerwig’s characters can each see him in certain scenes; but the fact that for most of the scenes of the film in which this vignette takes place Baldwin’s character seems to be only heard and seen by Eisenberg, this vignette falls apart and becomes more confusing and bewildering than simply comedic, which holds it back from boosting the film’s overall quality.

Finally, the last two vignettes fail primarily because of ridiculous plot concepts and convenient situations for the characters involved. One of them involves a character played by Woody Allen who is intent on making his daughter’s father-in-law a world-renowned Opera singer, and the other is about a young, naïve couple and their individual experiences of sexual awakening. The Allen vignette is entertaining albeit ridiculous, as the father-in-law in question is only able to sing in the shower, and so Allen arranges a show in which the father-in-law may perform whilst bathing. The young couple, meanwhile, are separated from each other during most of their sequences of the film, with the husband (Alessandro Tiberi) enjoying the company of a prostitute that he did not pay for (Penelope Cruz), and the wife (Alessandra Mastronardi) being whisked away by a well known Italian actor and then a dashing young burglar. Both of these vignettes are funny, but each of them seems to be too dependent on the absurdist and bawdy humor of each of their respective plots, which makes them feel more like parts of a typical mainstream Hollywood comedy, lessening the impact of the film as a whole even further.

Woody Allen’s new film is funny, as it should be. However, after last summer’s Oscar nominated Midnight in Paris, To Rome With Love is a huge let down, and never quiet seems to find its rhythm, largely because of its multiple-plot structure. While this kind of structure has worked in the past for numerous other films (see 2003’s Love Actually or last summer’s Crazy, Stupid, Love.) it doesn’t quiet work here. It might have been more interesting to see an entire movie about Jesse Eisenberg’s character, but since it has to share screen time with three other individual tales within this film, it never quiet finds its voice and ends up feeling sort of unfulfilled and anticlimactic, which is kind of how this entire film felt when the credits began to roll.

Marc Webb’s Spider-man is a Good but Unnecessary Reboot

In Movie Reviews: 2012 on July 10, 2012 at 5:53 pm

Theatrical Poster

The Amazing Spider-Man
Directed by Marc Webb
3 out of 4 stars

It’s kind of perplexing that I am even reviewing a reboot of the Spider-man franchise. The original Sam Raimi trilogy, which started with 2002’s Spider-man and concluded with 2007’s Spider-man 3, is only five years old and is not a franchise that needs to be redone anytime soon. After all, it took nineteen years before Bryan Singer decided to reboot the Superman franchise and Christopher Nolan rebooted the Batman series only because of how horrible the two Schumacher films are. Personally, I didn’t think that there was any reason to reboot the Spider-man series at all, or at least not for another couple of decades. Then again, Spider-man 3 was, in more ways than one, similar to the kiss of death that Schumacher provided for Batman in the late 1990’s. With this view in mind, I was excited to see where director Marc Webb((500) Days of Summer) would take Peter Parker in a film series that would break all ties with Raimi’s take on the Spider-man universe.

Basically, I was really pleased and surprised with Webb’s reincarnation of the web slinger. Andrew Garfield(The Social Network) is an interesting choice for Peter Parker, playing him off as a much cooler outcast who is constantly riding a skateboard and sticking up for other outsiders. He’s certainly less of a wimp than Tobey Maguire’s Parker, but he also doesn’t quite fit the role that is branded into my mind of a Parker who is gawky and completely un-cool. On the other hand, Webb’s vision of Spider-man is more appealing than Raimi’s. Where Maguire’s portrayal of Spider-man was more focused on moral values and responsibility, Webb’s Spider-man is sleeker and wittier, much like the Spider-man that fans of the original comics will remember.

In addition to a different Parker/Spider-man characterization, Webb has also decided to explore a different story this time around. Instead of focusing primarily on specific villains to provide an over-arching narrative for the series, Webb’s film is focused on exploring the disappearance of Parker’s parents, which leads to the introduction of villains such as this film’s the Lizard/Dr. Curt Conners(Rhys Ifans) and next film’s hinted appearance of the Green Goblin/Norman Osborn. Making this decision for this film series’ narrative gives the film a sense of added mystery and danger. It also doesn’t hurt that such a decision prevents Webb’s film from killing off the Lizard immediately, allowing Webb the option of bringing the Lizard back into the story in future films.

The Amazing Spider-man also boasts a more interesting romantic side-plot that is expertly executed and paced by Webb, whose experience with Romantic Comedy from 2009’s wonderful (500) Days of Summer comes in handy when directing the scenes between Parker and love interest Gwen Stacy(Emma Stone). Stacy, a character who was added in as an afterthought in Raimi’s Spider-man 3, is given more time in this film to be explored, and her character is brought to life wonderfully by Emma Stone, possibly one of the best young actresses of her generation. While Raimi’s portrayal of Mary Jane Watson was great, it’s a nice change of pace in this film to have a female lead that is completely unlike Kirsten Dunst’s.

In conclusion, Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-man is a well-done reboot of a series that was completely fine the way it was. Although I did thoroughly enjoy Webb’s reimagining of the Spider-man universe, I still can’t shake the conviction that a reboot of Sam Raimi’s Spider-man trilogy was completely unwarranted and unnecessary in every way. There’s nothing wrong with The Amazing Spider-man, it’s a good movie, but I just can’t help feeling that the film might have been more effective or at least interesting had Hollywood waited a while longer before rebooting the series entirely. That being said, I am looking forward with great anticipation for the sequel that was set up so well at the end of this installment.