2017: Part 2

Dunkirk. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Notes from August 9, 2017: Two weeks ago, I saw Dunkirk in a 70mm IMAX show at my favorite IMAX venue, the AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13 theater in Manhattan. As I have probably said numerous times in earlier reviews, that screen provides the definitive IMAX experience for viewers in New York City. I was doubly excited in this instance because I went to Dunkirk with a good friend of mine who did not grow up in New York and who had never been to this particular IMAX theater. (I am happy to report that she was indeed astonished by the immensity of the screen, even more so since we were sitting in the last row, almost exactly in the center.) I mention all of these details because they helped inform how I processed the overwhelming magnitude of Christopher Nolan’s latest film.

From the moment the film started, I was firmly ensconced in the narrative. I felt as though I were actually in the movie. Every heart-pounding tremor boomed out of the sound system and was transferred directly into my seat. It was easy to be captivated by the simple story of young British soldier Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) since his struggle is universal: to survive. The close-ups of Tommy were breathtaking in IMAX, although perhaps I was specially attuned to them because I often study and write about the impact of faces and bodies in cinema. It is for this same reason that I was also blown away by the performance given by Aneurin Barnard as another of the main soldier characters, Gibson. Barnard has marvelously expressive eyes, a real gift for him to have as an actor since Gibson moves through his scenes in silence.

Indeed, much of Dunkirk’s intensity relies on visuals and on the actors’ abilities to express themselves without dialogue, just like in silent cinema. The subtlest changes in a person’s face can shape a language of their own. You may hear from other viewers and critics that Dunkirk’s characters lack development and the story lacks the types of expected dramatic arcs that accompany traditionally fleshed-out characters, but I do not believe that filmmakers “owe” those details to an audience, nor do I need to know those aspects of a character’s life, either past or present, in order to care. I identified with Tommy as he fought his way through obstacle after obstacle; he felt fear and panic, and I know those emotions intimately. I have been fortunate never to have experienced warfare firsthand, but the fact that Christopher Nolan’s film allowed me to connect so strongly with its soldiers, sailors and heroic citizens is an extraordinary achievement.

Besides Tommy, Gibson and Alex (Harry Styles in a reasonably successful film debut), who are the soldiers we follow on the beach, the film also observes two high-up military officials, Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) and Colonel Winnant (James D’Arcy), as well as the valiant work done in the air by pilots Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden) and by sea via the civilian vessel captained by Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), his Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and one of Peter’s schoolmates, George (Barry Keoghan, who will be seen as the young lead of Yorgos Lanthimos’ next film, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, in November). Another key member of the cast is Shivering Soldier (Cillian Murphy), the unnamed British serviceman who is found in the Channel by the Dawson boat and whose experiences at Dunkirk have left him shell-shocked. All of these performers do incredible work, but Murphy is especially affecting.

Don’t be fooled by reviewers who say that Dunkirk has no one protagonist, though. In spite of the tripartite storytelling created by Nolan (as we have seen throughout his career, he is obsessed with narratives about the manipulation of time), there is no doubt that Tommy is at the center of the action. He is the first character we pay attention to in the film, and the last person we see onscreen. Other characters carry their sections of the narrative, but Tommy is the beating heart of our viewing experience. Christopher Nolan has compared Fionn Whitehead to a young Tom Courtenay, and I absolutely agree.

It should go without saying – although I will say so anyway – that the cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema (he has shot several big-deal movies in the last decade: Let the Right One In, The Fighter, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Her, Interstellar, Spectre) and the editing by Lee Smith (he has cut every Christopher Nolan film dating back to Batman Begins) are top of the line. Think pieces from the past few weeks have criticized various aspects of Dunkirk, including the lack of diversity and the fact that the characters refer to “the enemy” rather than Nazis or Germans, but one of the most crucial components of artistic license is the ability to tell a story from the perspective of one’s choosing. First, Nolan’s choice of language does not negate the evilness of the Nazis, and second, I do not believe that Nolan intended to depict the entirety of the Dunkirk experience. We do not see the faces of every single person on the beach. Instead we concentrate on four soldiers, two pilots and three civilians. Their stories are their own, not anyone else’s (even though Tommy was evidently written as an Everyman figure). No film should be held to the same standards expected from a comprehensive, thousand-page textbook.

Tonally, Nolan’s film is closer to the mood of World War I stories like Stanley Kubrick’s film Paths of Glory or the Dalton Trumbo novel Johnny Got His Gun, rather than what we usually expect from modern films made about World War II. The brilliance of Dunkirk isn’t just in how it portrays the effects of psychological trauma on soldiers who are barely old enough to shave, let alone fight and die in battle; it is also in the knowledge that Tommy and his comrades must reckon with two opposing truths, the importance of the Allied cause versus the utterly cruel and harrowing realities of combat. World War II movies don’t have to show limbs flying everywhere, like in Saving Private Ryan and Hacksaw Ridge; we know that that happens in war. But Dunkirk still communicates the lows and eventual highs of this historic evacuation by showing pain, doubt, loss, but throughout it all the strength of the human spirit. I applaud the bravery of examining the grotesque nature of war seen through the eyes of young men while simultaneously acknowledging how necessary it was for World War II to be fought and won by the Allies; one does not cancel out the other. Therein lies the significance of the film’s final shot and the greatness of Christopher Nolan’s latest masterpiece as a whole.

Kong: Skull Island. Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts. Notes from September 10, 2017: Following Godzilla, the second creature feature in Warner Bros’ MonsterVerse is Kong: Skull Island, a suitably larger-than-life take on everyone’s favorite giant ape. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts turns the clock back to 1973, when the US was split between those who supported the Vietnam War and those who opposed it, each side vehemently defending its stance. Bill Randa (John Goodman) leads a group of scientists (including Corey Hawkins, John Ortiz and Tian Jing) and an antiwar photographer (Brie Larson) on a top-secret mission to Skull Island, aided by a jungle tracker (Tom Hiddleston), a lieutenant colonel (Samuel L. Jackson) who is angry that Americans are leaving Vietnam, and a number of soldiers (including Toby Kebbell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann and Jason Mitchell) who are on their way home from Saigon when they are asked to do this one last task for the government.

No one but Bill Randa realizes the dangers that inhabit Skull Island – and even he doesn’t know exactly what to expect – so the team of explorers is in for the world’s rudest awakening when the helicopters attempt to make landfall. Mighty Kong is on the rampage and many soldiers lose their lives, but it turns out that Kong is actually the territory’s protector; the real threats are the “skullcrawlers,” beasts that could definitely give you nightmares. Kong is the last line of defense against those other ancient predators, and no matter how much the humans try to help, it is up to the king to save the day.

Kong: Skull Island is a decent popcorn experience, a mainstream diversion that consistently entertains you for two hours, but I have one major bone to pick with Jordan Vogt-Roberts. Comparisons with Apocalypse Now are apt; certainly many other critics have noted the aesthetic homages that Kong pays to Coppola’s classic; but Kong tries way too hard to drive home the idea that it is somehow better than the standard mainstream adventure flick. Vogt-Roberts one pretentious film school lesson after another into the proceedings, whether it’s the rapid-fire editing by Richard Pearson, the cinematography by Larry Fong (especially in the scene where we first meet Tom Hiddleston’s character in a neon-lit bar, but elsewhere in all the super-saturated greenish-gold tones on the island) or the wall-to-wall soundtrack of choice 60s/70s rock songs. Any one of these elements would be impressive, but the onslaught of everything altogether seems to say “Isn’t this movie so much better than its predecessors?” A young filmmaker should focus more on getting good performances out of his actors – only Samuel L. Jackson and a particularly well-cast John C. Reilly as a World War II vet who has been stranded on Skull Island since the 1940s – than on whether he has crammed in all the techniques you might see on a professor’s checklist.

Once Upon a Time in Venice. Directed by Mark Cullen. Notes from July 29, 2017: I should probably be more cautious about which films I decide to which simply because a favorite actor is in the cast. Case in point: Thomas Middleditch, the absurdly talented star of HBO’s “Silicon Valley.” Cinematically I am sometimes rewarded, as with the irreverent joy of his performance in The Bronze, while other times I witness the career-low stupidity of the Hangover rip-off known as Search Party; Once Upon a Time in Venice is much closer to the latter than the former.

Middleditch plays John, the younger partner in Steve Ford’s (Bruce Willis) vaguely shady detective agency. Los Angeles gumshoe-ing aside, this ain’t exactly The Long Goodbye. The comedy here plays to the lowest common denominator, substituting dick jokes, pornographic graffiti and needless sex scenes for nuance, wit or even a hint of film noir-style cool in the many action sequences. The humor is supposed to arise from us all laughing warmly at Willis being too old and grizzled for his role, but that gag has run its course.

The plot is primarily concerned with Willis and Middleditch retrieving Willis’s stolen dog from various drug dealers, a narrative which last year’s Keanu employed first (albeit with a kitten) to more amusing effect. Jason Momoa earns a few chuckles as a cocaine kingpin called Spyder, and Adrian Martinez scores in his small role as one of Willis’s beleaguered compadres, but I have no idea why Famke Janssen took the thankless and boring job of playing Willis’s sister, nor do I understand what John Goodman is doing in this movie as Willis’s best friend, Dave. The part requires nothing of Goodman except to play a more stoned version of his sidekick character from the Big Lebowski. I am similarly puzzled as to why Kal Penn, Elisabeth Röhm, Billy Gardell, Christopher McDonald, Ron Funches and David Arquette contributed cameos, but I guess there’s not much point in my asking further questions of this disappointing movie.

P.S. One of the few funny lines: Thomas Middleditch’s character describes himself as “I’ve been told I’m a bit of a young Roger Daltrey, if he spent a lot of time with computers.”

Spider-Man: Homecoming. Directed by Jon Watts. Notes from July 30, 2017: Spider-Man: Homecoming is a good selection for a diverting night at the movies; it delivers high-octane action without ever quite reaching the emotional heights of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy or even the schmaltz of the Andrew Garfield-starring reboots. It’s not Tom Holland’s fault that I’ll only ever be able to see Tobey Maguire as Marvel’s beloved webslinger, so I commend Holland for giving us a spirited and thoroughly enjoyable portrayal of Peter Parker.

Jon Watts’ version of the classic superhero story focuses on young Peter facing off against disgruntled former engineer Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), better known as Vulture. Keaton growls and sneers, but he does not add much more than that to the film, although he and Holland engage in a tense, violence-free conversation in perhaps the film’s finest scene. Holland explores Peter’s struggle to handle the complexities of first love and his duty to protect innocent lives with fresh-faced charm; it is easy to empathize with him, although I find it interesting that the film never once mentions Peter’s childhood, his parents or an Uncle Ben. (Am I forgetting crucial information mentioned during Tom Holland’s debut as Peter in Captain America: Civil War?)

In the footsteps of Rosemary Harris and Sally Field, Marisa Tomei plays Aunt May with a more youthful energy and sense of humor. Contrary to the amount of promotion that Zendaya did for Homecoming, her character (“Michelle”) is not Peter’s love interest; that role goes to Laura Harrier, the tall and graceful performer who plays Liz, another of Peter’s classmates. Harrier doesn’t get too many chances at character development here, but I appreciated her efforts.

Where Homecoming falls short is in its sense of purpose. It is the third “first” Spider-Man film in the last fifteen years, and it does not improve upon previously employed formulas for cinematic success. In spite of Vulture’s penchant for high-tech gadgets capable of vaporizing opponents, I never actually got a sense that the villain (about whose backstory I know remarkably little – the comics probably would have informed me, but the film certainly didn’t) or his weaponry posed a grave threat to New York or to the rest of the world.

On the other hand, Homecoming triumphs in the casting of its smaller roles: televised appearances by Chris Evans as Captain America, constantly reminding school kids of the importance of education, safety and other virtues; Jacob Batalon as Peter’s endlessly encouraging best friend, Ned; Tony Revolori (last seen by me as Zero in The Grand Budapest Hotel) as Flash, a minor nemesis from Peter’s high school; Donald Glover as Aaron Davis, who will presumably become the Prowler in the sequel; Tyne Daly in a brief appearance as a domineering authority figure at the beginning of the film; a fun cameo from Hannibal Buress as a disinterested gym teacher; and Martin Starr as the teacher in charge of Peter’s debate team – for my money, Starr delivers the funniest line in the movie (you’ll know it when you see/hear it). Maybe whatever good vibes Spider-Man: Homecoming operates on are courtesy of the “Freaks and Geeks” reunion of Starr and one of Homecoming’s screenwriters, John Francis Daley. I won’t mind more of these Tom Holland-led Spider-Man adventures as long as talents like Daley are working behind the scenes.

Wonder Woman. Directed by Patty Jenkins. Notes from July 21, 2017: Now the record holder for the highest-grossing movie directed by a woman at $750 million and counting, Wonder Woman proves that the story of DC Comics’ most enduring superheroes can be told with genuine emotion and plenty of awesome action, not compromising one for the other.

Gal Gadot brings tremendous strength and likeability to her portrayal of Diana (later known as Diana Prince), Princess of Themyscira. Diana grows up on that isle, surrounded by powerful women like her mother, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), and General Antiope (Robin Wright). Diana is so inspired by them that she decides she must train to become a warrior too. When circumstances bring American pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) to Themyscira when he is trying to outrun the Germans – outside of the island’s sheltered atmosphere, the real world is embroiled in World War I – he joins forces with Diana, who is convinced that the God of War, Ares, is the cause of the international destruction. What ensues is a series of battles that test Diana’s courage, physical power and her understanding of love.

Gadot is well-matched by Pine, who has become my favorite of the various Chrises (Evans, Pratt, Hemsworth) thanks to his portrayal of Captain Kirk in the Star Trek reboots and as the co-lead of one of last year’s finest films, Hell or High Water. Pine brings charm and intelligence to the role of Steve Trevor, as well as having real sparks with Gadot. Both actors bring a ton to the table, in addition to the character arcs created by story writers/screenwriters Zack Snyder, Allan Heinberg and Jason Fuchs. Other commendable performances are given by Danny Huston as Ludendorff, head of the Nazi faction that Diana and Steve are hunting; David Thewlis deftly plays Sir Patrick, the Parliament legislator who supports Diana’s quest to stop Ludendorff; Lucy Davis as Etta, Steve’s bubbly secretary; Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner and Eugene Brave Rock as the other members of Diana and Steve’s undercover cadre; and Elena Anaya as Dr. Maru, the unstable scientist responsible for the German military’s most dangerous chemical weapons.

Wonder Woman is not entirely as successful a project as I hoped it would be, given that most of the plot’s twists and turns are easy to figure out ahead of time. There is no denying, however, that the film is a completely entertaining and emotionally engaging package. It is rare for Hollywood to produce such an inspirational and empowering blockbuster.

P.S. I’m tempted to say that Wonder Woman reminds me of Pop Culture Detective’s “Born Sexy Yesterday” trope, since Steve Trevor is the first man in Diana’s life and she almost instantly develops feelings for him (and, we presume, he doesn’t have to worry too much about disappointing her in their love scene since she has no prior experience), but Diana also upends the trope; instead of blindly following Steve and believing anything he tells her, for example, she often questions him and rebels against his line of thinking. Their relationship is ultimately built on respect. Besides, as all viewers of Wonder Woman will recall, our heroine is well-versed in literature on sex and sexuality. Diana knows she doesn’t need a man in order to find physical/emotional fulfillment; she wants Steve and that makes all the difference.

P.P.S. More real talk: Diana wants to believe that a god run amok is responsible for the madness of World War I, but the reality is so much scarier: mortal human beings were capable of creating that cesspool themselves, a war that could have been avoided since it never should have escalated as it did.

2014: Part 4

The Babadook. Directed by Jennifer Kent. I always cross my fingers for films which have been highly praised, so I am happy to confirm that Jennifer Kent’s debut feature is an exceptionally well-made entry into the psychological horror genre. I guess I must have a predilection for this cinematic category; what others may find distasteful about Polanski’s Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby, I find fascinating in them and in The Babadook. I’m not a big fan of gore, but movies about female protagonists who struggle against a combination of mental and supernatural forces appear to be my cup of tea. (Is that good? Bad? You decide.) You’re not going to see the expected closed classical body; instead, the grotesque oozing of desire, blood, body parts and screams is on display throughout the film. Kent gives lead actress Essie Davis (known in the US, if at all, for the Australian TV series “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries”) a rare showcase for an actress: the chance to be weak, lonely, fearful, murderously aggressive and defiantly stronger than the ghosts of her past. Davis’s work is nearly matched by the young actor playing her son (Noah Wiseman); in fact, all of the actors in the film acquit themselves admirably. The Babadook is disturbing, but perhaps more than anything because it forces the viewer to get dangerously close to the heart of a woman still grieving her late husband.

Foxcatcher. Directed by Bennett Miller. I had such high hopes for this Oscar-bait drama based on a true story that I was already familiar with (an important point since I think it makes a big difference, whether the audience knows what’s going to happen or not), but it ended up being very disappointing. My brother and I agreed, after seeing the film on Christmas day at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema (what better way to celebrate for we of the Jewish faith?), that the shoddy script goes nowhere near far enough in making clear what John du Pont’s issues were. Both director Miller and star Steve Carell attempt to show du Pont as a weird, eccentric, creepy guy (if you’ve already seen the film, take a look at this Slate essay, which touches on many points that my brother and I both took note of in the film), but it’s not obvious enough to the viewer that du Pont had paranoid schizophrenia, not just weird habits. The whole film is a slow burn, which is a kind of pacing filled with uncomfortable pauses and silences that I really liked (and which makes the moments of violence more potent), but you do expect more of a big finish to the build-up and the film never quite catches fire. And what was really infuriating about the ending was that after 2 hours of lingering on the 1987-1988 training period for the Foxcatcher team, the film does not say that the end of the film takes place in 1996 rather than, I don’t know, the late 80s. There is no sense of how much time has elapsed, so that’s really strange. Getting back to discussing the performances, I came away from the film with the most appreciation for Channing Tatum, who I always like better than I think I will. Carell is a really fine dramatic actor, but I often felt like I was paying too much attention to the makeup and the gimmick rather than a performance that felt real, even though he was as over-the-top as the actual John du Pont. I don’t understand why Mark Ruffalo is in line for an Oscar nomination; the script never gives him any one spotlight or opportunity to stand out in an “Oscar” kind of way. Vanessa Redgrave is good in her few scenes and I guess Sienna Miller is alright for the few moments we see her, but overall I just feel like the film falls flat. And no, contrary to what the film poster says, it’s not the new Citizen Kane. Foxcatcher is a fascinating portrait of male aggression and psychosexual power dynamics, but it never goes far enough in any of its themes.

Interstellar. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Where does Interstellar fall on the 2001-Alien-Prometheus-Gravity scale? Well, it gets 100% for its organ-driven score by Hans Zimmer, which I thought was pretty amazing, especially coming through the top-notch speakers in the AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13 IMAX theater. And yes, this is a film that looks terrific in IMAX 70mm, which feels like a big-deal event, as have Nolan’s other films in the IMAX format. The combination of the cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema (who also photographed Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Her) and Zimmer’s score – which sounds Wagnerian at times, coming close to Tristan und Isolde, as well as having string arrangements that remind me of Jerry Goldsmith’s score for Alien – makes many scenes very exciting. Matthew McConaughey is excellent in the lead role, a blend of the innate, likeable McConaughey-ness that we have come to know and love as well as an ability to transcend the sometimes quite corny lines (Nolan is good at seeing the big picture – literally – but I find he often falls short with dialogue). There are too many characters to mention all of the performances in detail but I would most like to point out the work done by Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Matt Damon, John Lithgow, Wes Bentley, Casey Affleck, Ellen Burstyn, young Mackenzie Foy and the voice work by Bill Irwin. (And there was so much randomness I didn’t expect, particularly since I didn’t check the cast list before seeing the film: William Devane! Topher Grace! Brooke Smith in what was basically a walk-on!) Even though the science is far, far beyond my scope of understanding, I stuck with the film for the most part. There was one element, really a very important element, which felt like a jump-the-shark, too-ridiculous-to-consider moment, but even so the thing you take away from the film is the important of love. The film doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, nor do I think it succeeds in the way that Gravity did with a smaller cast and a far shorter running time, but you do get a lot of great acting, great music and some riveting action scenes out of it – solid entertainment. And isn’t that what going to the movies is all about?

Non-Stop. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. Does it make sense? No, not really. It’s still a lot of fun, though. Liam Neeson is his usual reliable self, as is Julianne Moore, so you know you’re in for a pretty good time. (Bonus: a male actor who’s 60+ has a female love interest who’s actually 50+ and not college-age. Huzzah!) My favorite supporting performances were by Scoot McNairy (fast becoming one of the most versatile supporting actors on the market), Corey Stoll (always good), Omar Metwally, Jason Butler Harner (has some pretty excellent moments as the plane’s copilot) and Linus Roache, but I guess Nate Parker, Lupita Nyong’o (which reminds me: I still haven’t seen 12 Years a Slave…), Shea Whigham, Anson Mount and Quinn McColgan were OK too. (I’m kind of on the fence about Michelle Dockery.) For added perspective: Beth Dixon’s character didn’t even have a proper name (“Older Woman”) and yet with one particular scene she did a memorable job for me. Good editing by Jim May helps make the action scenes stand out, so the logic doesn’t matter quite so much as being entertained. Like Interstellar, if you start to pick apart the story behind Non-Stop it quickly becomes more and more ridiculous, but if nothing else the film will hold your interest for an hour and 47 minutes.

The Salt of the Earth. Directed by Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and Wim Wenders. This new documentary looked beautiful in its limited run on the big screen (at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas), although many of the photographs taken by the film’s subject, the Brazilian photojournalist Sebastião Salgado, are quite hard to look at as there are many images of dead or dying adults and children. But it is for that reason – all of the suffering – that the film must be seen. As the film itself states, Salgado’s lifelong vocation, the photographic documentation of the plight of peoples in African and South American countries, as well as his efforts for the reforestation of Brazilian land, both give hope to the future of humanity. Wenders and his co-director, who is Sebastião Salgado’s oldest son, film their subject with the exactly the sort of reverence and compassion that I have come to expect from Wenders’ narratives. The moving way in which the elder Salgado’s story is told and the heart-stopping photography, whether seen in still photos or in the documentary camerawork by Hugo Barbier and co-director Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, come together to form an exemplary film experience. I would be very pleased if Salt, which is one of the fifteen titles shortlisted for the Best Documentary Oscar, gets one of the coveted spots.

Great Cinematographers, Part 1: Wally Pfister

After writing my last post, in which I talked a little about my appreciation for the famed cinematographer Gregg Toland, I thought I would do a series of posts on ten great DPs whose work inspires me. I figured I would start with Wally Pfister (b. 1961) since today’s his birthday.

The Dark Knight (2008, dir. Christopher Nolan) – Pfister’s work with Christopher Nolan is his best thus far. I can’t remember a single other IMAX experience more thrilling than when The Dark Knight began with that shot taking us through Gotham, almost like flying through the skyscrapers, to the building where the Joker’s goons are about to make their descent. (The second video continues where the first leaves off, starting around 0:35.)

Inception (2010, dir. Christopher Nolan) – Here we have the famous zero-gravity hallway fight scene, which is happening at the same time as the van crashing in another layer of the dream that the characters are in. Wally Pfister deservedly won an Oscar for his work in the film. I love the light captured in each part of the dream: shades of blue and grey in the van sequence versus the orange-brown hues of the hallway.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012, dir. Christopher Nolan) – It’s hard to believe that the last film in Nolan’s Batman trilogy didn’t get a single Oscar nomination but it’s particularly weird that Pfister wasn’t nominated for his cinematography, which is stellar (as usual). This opening scene is especially impressive. I love all the exterior shots of the planes. The thing I love most about Wally Pfister’s cinematography is that it makes everyone, even those of us (like me) who don’t actually know too much about the ins and outs of photography, a fan of how he accomplishes his craft.

Great Moments in Movies: The Ballroom Scene in The Dark Knight Rises

I consider The Dark Knight Rises disappointing by director Christopher Nolan’s standards, though it is better than what most other filmmakers churn out. That being said, I recently caught a few minutes of Rises on TV and I found that I am still as impressed by the charity ballroom interaction between Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) and Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) as I was when I saw the film last summer. (The video edits down the scene, cutting out a part with Marion Cotillard.) These characters’ alter egos, Batman and Catwoman respectively, bubble beneath the surface as they slide along the floor to Maurice Ravel’s “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (also known as “Pavane for a Dead Princess”). Although the moment between them lasts less than three minutes, the chemistry is palpable. The scene is more effectively seductive than the similar part in Batman Returns, though now that I see the Batman Returns bit again, it’s slightly less cheesy than I remember it. (Tim Burton’s first Batman film certainly suffers from a bad case of late-80s-ness.) Even if you are not a Batman fan or a Christopher Nolan fan, you can appreciate the alluring style apparent in this particular Dark Knight Rises scene.

My Upcoming Summer Vacation, The Dark Knight Rises and a Note on Violence

I’m going on vacation from this Saturday until Saturday, August 4. I’m going to a small town in upstate New York, far away from the hustle and bustle of New York City. In the midst of packing and cleaning my room before going away, I decided against the madness of buying advance tickets for an IMAX screening today.

Even if I hadn’t read reviews from a few newspapers and magazines, I wouldn’t have expected The Dark Knight Rises to top The Dark Knight. It’s a feat that simply is not possible. You can’t replicate the greatness of Heath Ledger and, in a different way, I can’t replicate the feeling of being fifteen-going-on-sixteen. I suppose even if Ledger hadn’t died, The Dark Knight still would have been every bit as amazing, but the fact is that he did pass away and thus added an extra layer of haunting depth to an already complex and frightening role. The whole experience captured a certain time and a certain feeling.

This morning I turned on the laptop quickly to check on the headlines before going out to a doctor’s appointment. I saw that the New York Times’ biggest story was that a man had shot and killed 12 people, besides injuring dozens more, at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado. One report I read said that the gunman was dressed like the Joker, who is the “enemy of Batman.”

How do horrific things like that happen? Or, I should ask, why? Was The Dark Knight Rises truly to blame? Even if many movies do contain a gratuitous amount of violence, I’m sure the real issue was the mental condition of the gunman. Violent movies might have given him inspiration, but surely the blame cannot be placed solely on them. In order to commit such a heinous act of violence, the gunman must have had problems going beyond the mere influence of movies.

The oddest thing, I remember thinking upon first reading the story on the New York Times site, was that in the summer of 2009 I took a class at Barnard where we watched The Dark Knight (among other pursuits, like reading Poe and Hammett) and I chose to write an essay about the movie. In particular I singled out the interesting quality that the movie had for showing violence without much – if any – blood. The real impact came from the film editing, sound editing and sound mixing. So out of all the things to inspire a person to commit mass murder, I can’t see why it would be Batman.

While I’m on vacation, I’ll try to avoid spoilers for The Dark Knight Rises. I’m staying away from the internet, except to check my email once or twice a week. Barring coming across some random person who gives away the plot, I’ll probably be fine. Talk to you later, fair denizens of WordPress!