Tag Archives: Christopher Nolan

Inception (2010)

Note: This film was the main topic of discussion on Episode 9 of my podcast, The Cinescope Podcast. Give it a listen for a more in-depth discussion!

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Christopher Nolan is one of the more visionary film directors working in the industry today as evidenced by the audacity and realism of his Dark Knight trilogy and the scope of Interstellar. Inception is no exception, and it proves to be perhaps his most personal film to date – he wrote and fine-tuned the script over a period of nearly a decade before having the chance to actually make it, and his hard work definitely paid off.

Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the world’s best dream extractor; he enters people’s dreams to steal secrets from their subconscious. He’s good at what he does, but he lives an unfulfilling life, separated from his children due to charges against him for a crime he didn’t commit. To clear the charges and see his kids again, Cobb makes a deal with Mr. Saito (Ken Watanabe), who promises to use his influence to clear Cobb’s name in exchange for inception – the placing of an idea into someone’s head via their dreams. Assembling a team to assist him, Cobb puts everything at risk in order to see his kids again, with failure meaning that he’ll be in prison for the rest of his life.

Nolan’s creativity is incredible here, with him taking things that are familiar to us, like a “kick” – the falling feeling you get while in bed that instantly wakes you up – being used in new ways, in this case as a means of waking up from a dream before the time runs out on their special dream-sharing machine. He also introduces the idea of “projections”, which are physical (within the dream itself) manifestations of our subconscious that can be spoken to in order to gain information or to learn more about the person creating the projections. I find the “mechanics” of Nolan’s dream world endlessly fascinating as I learn more about these as well as things like how Nolan envisions the effects of outside stimuli such as slaps or needing to use the restroom within the dream.

The story itself is in the style of a heist film, but the setting doesn’t allow it to be anything even remotely close to generic. For starters, Cobb and team aren’t stealing anything but are instead putting something there – an idea. There are elements of science fiction and blockbuster action, but at the same time the narrative carries a surprisingly emotion weight with it as we witness Cobb struggling with the loss of his wife and his guilt at having caused it, as well as the strained father/son relationship between Robert and Maurice Fischer (Cillian Murphy and Pete Postlethwaite, respectively). There are multiple scenes that can leave you in tears, but there are also moments of comedy (Tom Hardy’s Eames has a few notable one-liners) and incredible action sequences, with my favorite being Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s fight in a rotating hallway.

Each member of the cast shines, so I won’t talk about them all, but I do feel the need to highlight a couple of them. Leonardo DiCaprio as Cobb brings another all-star performance to the screen here, alternately treating us with scenes of anger, anguish, personal torment, guilt, and compassion. Marion Cotillard appears as his wife Mal, and we see her in various states of maliciousness and sadness. As the story between these two characters unfolds, we learn of the true tragedy that ended their marriage, made even more heartbreaking by the beautiful performances of both DiCaprio and Cotillard. Tom Hardy’s Eames shows off not only his comedic chops, but also his ability to be both intellectual and ready for action…watching his performance in this movie, you could make a pretty convincing argument for Hardy as the next (or eventual) James Bond. And the last character I’ll talk about here is Ellen Page as Ariadne, the young architect who joins to team in order to design the dream levels that the group will be diving in to. She acts as the sort of communication liaison for the audience; as someone new to the group, she’s a vehicle for exposition allowing characters to tell her (and therefore the audience) about the dream sharing process as well as a way for us to get a glimpse into Cobb’s difficulty with restraining his dangerous projection of Mal that jeopardizes their mission. Page is calm and intelligent and is therefore a comforting presence amidst all of the chaos they face on their mission. Additional shoutouts to great performances from Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Arthur (and his amazing rotating hallway/anti-gravity action scenes) and Cillian Murphy’s Robert Fischer.

I also won’t talk about Hans Zimmer’s wonderful score here, mostly because I’ve already written a review on it. However, I will say that this score marked a turning point in my opinion of Zimmer’s work. For most of the first decade of the millenium, I thought that he copied himself too often, but his music here innovated and showed him at his experimental best, and the majority of his work since then has been taken in a similar direction. Nolan/Zimmer is as inspired a pairing as Spielberg/Williams or Zemeckis/Silvestri because the two of them understand each other and have similar visions of scope and artistic expression.

This review was surprisingly difficult to write because there’s so much good to be said that I couldn’t narrow down very well. The bottom line is this: Inception is Christopher Nolan at his absolute best. The story and dream world are incredibly engaging and fun, and the performances from each of the actors as well as from Hans Zimmer are top notch throughout. I have nothing but praise for what has become one of my all-time favorite movies.

-Chad

RECOMMEND!

MPAA: PG-13 – for sequences of violence and action throughout


Man of Steel (2013) – Hans Zimmer

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I am often critical of Hans Zimmer’s work due to the tendency of his music to often sound the same. I was especially skeptical going into his score for director Zack Snyder’s Superman reboot, Man of Steel; not only did he face the challenge of coming up with original material that didn’t sound too much like his scores to Christopher Nolan’s Batman film trilogy, but he was also following in the footsteps of arguably the best film composer of the twentieth century, John Williams, who composed the now-iconic theme to Superman (1978). John Williams is my all-time favorite composer, so Zimmer was up for quite the challenge indeed: could he impress me?

This score contains an outstanding amount of variety. The first track, “Look to the Stars,” is appropriately ethereal as it plays during a scene taking place on Krypton. It contains hints to the main theme, which doesn’t appear until later, and it ends with a driving string melody that builds anticipation into the upcoming fight scene. Other tracks on the album have this sort of supernatural quality as well, including “Sent Here for a Reason” and “Krypton’s Last,” the latter of which also contains an emotional lament played on what seems to be a viola. This music serves as Clark’s tie to his home world.

Emotion is expressed in all sorts of ways in this music; we hear the aforementioned lamentations for a lost planet (which is later heard in “I Have So Many Questions” as Clark interacts with the “ghost” of his Kryptonian father), we hear the anger felt by Zod through a  string ostinato overlayed with heavy brass and aggressive percussion (“You Die or I Do,” “I Will Find Him,” “General Zod”), and we hear Clark Kent’s curiosity for answers regarding his past in the form of a juxtaposition between the ethereal music heard on Krypton with an early piano iteration of what will become the main theme for his Superman persona. It is this conglomeration of emotional themes of all shapes and sizes that makes this score so effective as both a companion to the film and as an affective stand-alone work, helping you to envision what the characters are experiencing without the aid of a movie screen.

Regarding the main theme, Zimmer has somehow managed to capture everything that I thought and felt about Superman as a character and as an American icon in a simple piece of music. On the soundtrack, this theme is first heard in the track “Sent Here for a Reason,” but it appears more entirely on the track “This is Clark Kent.” It starts out as a simple theme on the piano, but it eventually falls into what can best be described as a “groove,” joined by percussion and gaining an extra layer of fullness as the character becomes more certain in who he is meant to be. It gains even another layer as Superman becomes a fully-realized hero, consisting of strings playing sixteenth notes, brass fanfare, and screaming electric guitar, bringing both the theme and the character full-circle in an incredibly satisfying way.

No superhero film score would be complete without its action music, of which there is also plenty to be heard here. Fueled by a team of twelve of the world’s best percussionists, the action music here is aggressive, impactive, and powerful. It always drives the movement on screen forward in a way that is more supportive than obtrusive, but that’s not to say that Zimmer doesn’t have his moments of glory while you watch the film; tracks like “Terraforming” and “This is Madness!” pack as literal a punch as Superman does in the film (in a good way), and “Flight” features a different type of action music that is driven as equally by the resonant French horn choir with voice accompaniment as it is by the percussionists.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the beast of a track titled “Man of Steel (Hans’ Original Sketchbook),” which essentially serves as a suite for the entire score. Sitting at nearly half an hour long in length, it is jam-packed with just about every bit of music that you hear in the other tracks, but here they flow together into a giant, coherent work of art. Dare I say it? This track is a masterpiece – a true testament to Hans Zimmer’s complete capabilities as a composer.

So, did Zimmer impress me here? The answer is a resounding “YES!!!!!!” This score is ultimately my favorite score that he has ever composed, and it even surpasses my love for Williams’ original Superman theme, which is quite a feat in itself. Though you likely won’t be walking away from the theater with the theme stuck in your head as might have been the case with Williams’ theme, Zimmer has managed to capture all of the hope, nobility, and power of Superman in his score to Man of Steel; Williams’ theme accompanies Superman well, but Zimmer’s theme IS Superman, and I look forward to his work on the inevitable sequel. Bravo, Mr. Zimmer. Keep up the outstanding work.

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

Note: I purchased the Deluxe Edition of this album on iTunes, which is what the following track list is from. I highly recommend the Deluxe Edition, but the link to the Standard Edition is provided below as well.

Disc 1 – Flight

1. “Look to the Stars” 2:58
2. “Oil Rig” 1:45
3. “Sent Here for a Reason” 3:46
4. “DNA” 3:34
5. “Goodbye My Son” 2:01
6. “If You Love These People” 3:22
7. “Krypton’s Last” 1:58
8. “Terraforming” 9:49
9. “Tornado” 2:53
10. “You Die or I Do” 3:13
11. “Launch” 2:36
12. “Ignition” 1:19
13. “I Will Find Him” 2:57
14. “This Is Clark Kent” 3:47
15. “I Have So Many Questions” 3:47
16. “Flight” 4:18

Disc 2 – Experiments from the Fortress of Solitude
No. Title Music Length
1. “What Are You Going to Do When You Are Not Saving the World?” Hans Zimmer 5:27
2. “Man of Steel” (Hans’ Original Sketchbook) Zimmer 28:16
3. “Are You Listening, Clark?” Zimmer 2:48
4. “General Zod” Zimmer, Junkie XL 7:21
5. “You Led Us Here” Zimmer 2:59
6. “This Is Madness!” Zimmer, Junkie XL 3:48
7. “Earth” Zimmer 6:11
8. “Arcade” Zimmer, Junkie XL 7:25

Total Length: app. 119 min.

iTunes Album Links – Standard Edition, Deluxe Edition

-Chad

P.S. – Read my review of this film here!


Man of Steel (2013)

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Note: As always, this will be as spoiler-free as I can make it. If the need arises, I will warn of spoilers before they are given.

Superman is not my favorite character. I have never much cared for the character, whether it was just a lack of interest or a disdain for the character’s so few weaknesses. Admittedly, I am not entirely familiar with the comics, having only read the original Shuster/Siegel Superman comic from Action Comics vol. 1 #1 from 1939 and Grant Morrison’s Action Comics vol. 2 #1 for DC’s New 52 revamp. I have seen one or two of the older Christopher Reeve Superman films, but, aside from the few flashes of those films that I remember, Superman Returns (2005), and the two comics I have read, I just don’t know much about the character. All that goes to say that you should take my opinion of Superman as a character with a grain of salt. Anyway, despite all of this, I was anxious to see Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel because it is the first live-action reboot of the character in film since Christopher Reeve donned the suit in 1978’s Superman, and I hoped that it would change my opinion – or, at least, my interest – in Superman. Having seen the film, I can definitely say that I am now interested.

As I mentioned, Man of Steel is a complete reboot of the character in live-action film, so this film acts as an origin story for the character. We are introduced to his parents, Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van (Russell Crowe and Ayelet Zurer, respectively), and we witness Kal-El (Superman’s birth name) escape with the aid of his parents while General Zod (Michael Shannon) leads a coup against the Kryptonian government in anticipation of the looming demise of the planet due to its unstable core. Kal-El escapes to Earth, where he is found and adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), and Zod and his followers are banished to something called the Phantom Zone (according to this Wikipedia page, it is “a fictional prison dimension featured in the Superman comic books”) before the planet’s destruction. The rest of the film follows Kal-El/Clark Kent’s (played by Henry Cavill) quest to discover who he is meant to be. He comes across familiar faces such as Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Perry White (Laurence Fishburne), and he must decide who he is going to be in order to save the people of Earth from the wrath of Zod, who has come to take his revenge.

This movie avoids the convention of most superhero origin stories by interspersing Superman’s childhood with the present-day, only flashing back to those important moments that featured a moral decision that helped to make him the man he is today; in other words, the origin story is told in the same way that Christopher Nolan’s 2005 Batman Begins (my review) is told, which makes sense because Nolan produced this film while the screenwriter, David S. Goyer, wrote the scripts for both this and Batman Begins. That being said, this in no way feels like a rehash of Nolan’s earlier work, and the feel of the two films are completely different. This Superman movie is not by any stretch of the imagination a “gritty” reboot, a term which has often been used to describe Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Rather, it is a more grounded interpretation of the world’s first superhero…with “grounded” being a figurative term since we see quite a bit of flying to be enjoyed. The universe is more optimistic, the character is not haunted by his past in the same way that Bruce Wayne is, and the film as a whole is much more fun.

The first three-quarters or so of this film are much more of a character study than anything else. We don’t see Superman flying around in his suit saving the world, but we see a suit-less Clark Kent travelling the world, helping people however he can, trying to find his purpose on Earth. He is faced with moments of anger and must decide whether to throw a punch or walk away, and he is confronted with the imminent death of innocent people and must decide whether to save them and reveal his powers or let them die and keep his secret. These moments always feel very honest and quite intimate. Henry Cavill does at great job at playing Superman; not only does he look the part, but he plays the character with the proper innocence, conviction, and nobility. Amy Adams as Lois Lane brings an interesting spin to the character, as she’s no longer the damsel-in-distress type, but rather the type who will travel the nation on a scoop and will be a part of the action instead of a simple observer of it. Lane has a palpable confidence in herself, and her relationship with Superman feels genuine. Michael Shannon as Zod is fantastically maniacal, though he plays so much more than a madman; as the character explains later in the film, he is a man who has had all purpose in his life stripped away, an argument that brings a compelling moral perspective to the discussion of right versus wrong or, rather, good versus evil. Kevin Costner’s Jonathan Kent is an admirable father figure, helping Clark to make sense of his powers and what he is meant to be. In short, the entire cast does a fine job, including the lesser-known cast that makes up the military personnel and Zod’s followers.

The last quarter of the film has me conflicted. Basically, it turns into an all-out superhuman boxing match, with Metropolis as the ring. Sounds awesome, right? Well, parts of it are, but parts of it are just entirely gratuitous. I mean, I’m talking more buildings destroyed by two Kryptonians than were destroyed in New York by the six Avengers and an entire army of hostile aliens in 2012’s The Avengers (my review)! I understand the need for an all-out super-battle for these characters, but leveling a city seems like the wrong way to go about it…I just don’t see what it accomplishes. I have also heard of controversy over Superman’s decision at the end of this battle (if you’ve seen the film, you know what I am talking about), but here’s my opinion: it was led up to appropriately and seemed like a realistic outcome to an impossible situation. Whether the decision is out-of-character for the comics version of Superman or not is irrelevant because this is a new movie version of Superman, not the comics. The entire film is about him making moral decisions and having to choose to preserve Earth or to preserve Krypton, and this final decision seemed to me to be an appropriate climax.

One final aspect of note is the Christian allegory present in the film. Superman has always been seen as a Messianic figure; like Jesus, he was sent to Earth by his father to eventually become a sort of savior for mankind, though, of course, this is a different sort of savior. There are all sorts of references to the story of Christ, from Jor-El’s statement at the start of the film (“He will be a god to them”) to Jonathan Kent’s statement later (“You have another father who gave you another name. He sent you here for a reason”). At one point, Clark asks his Earth-father why God set him apart and gave him powers, and at another point he asks a priest for advice on how to approach the situation at hand. These parallels are well-done and give us Christians at least another reason to admire Superman as a character.

Overall, this movie is quite a bit of fun and is largely what I was hoping for. The ending fight may be a bit over the top for me, but the slower parts of the film are just along the lines of what I wanted: a Superman who isn’t absolutely sure of himself or his abilities, a Superman who is still trying to find his place in the world. There is no gimmicky kryptonite to weaken our hero, but he is instead given a worthy opponent who can match him punch for punch and make him question his sense of right and wrong. Nothing feels like a rehash of what has already been done, bringing a new breath of life to a franchise that really needed it. Henry Cavill is a wonderful Superman, and, with Hans Zimmer’s incredible score accompanying him, Man of Steel gives us (or at least me) the Superman film we’ve been waiting for.

-Chad

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language

P.S. – Read my review of this film’s score, composed by Hans Zimmer, here!


Iron Man 3 (2013)

Note: This will be as spoiler-free as I can possibly make it. If there’s something I just can’t avoid, I will warn you before you read on.

To say that Iron Man 3 was an anticipated film would be an incredible understatement. Marvel’s first follow-up to last year’s incredible The Avengers (my review), this film had quite the expectation to live up to. Did it? For the most part, I think so.

Iron Man 3 picks up presumably a few months after the events of The Avengers, with Tony and Pepper back home in Malibu, but something’s different…Tony can’t sleep. Haunted by the alien invasion in New York and determined to protect “the one thing [he] can’t live without,” Pepper, Tony spends all of his time designing and building new Iron Man suits and fighting off panic attacks. To put things in perspective, the suit in The Avengers was Mark VII, while his newest suit in this film is the Mark XLII (that’s 42, for those not versed in Roman numerals). When a terrorist calling himself The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) hits Tony close to home, he must overcome his personal struggles in order to protect the woman he loves and to stop the imminent threat of The Mandarin. Along the way, we are introduced to blasts from Tony’s past, including Rebecca Hall as Maya Hansen and Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian.

Much like Christopher Nolan’s final film in his Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises (my review), this is an Iron Man film with more Tony Stark than Iron Man (in fact, there are quite a few comparisons that could be made to The Dark Knight Rises, but I’ll save those for another time) – but don’t worry, there are still plenty of great moments with the suit. I personally really enjoyed seeing more of Tony Stark as Robert Downey, Jr. Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark, as we see a more humanized version of the character. He is a real person who struggles with real people problems just like you and me, bringing  an interesting contrast between Tony Stark as Tony Stark and Tony Stark as Iron Man and a lot more to the table than just RDJ flying around in a suit behind a mask. He has a scene or two with Don Cheadle as Col. Rhodes in which both men are without their suits and are forced to rely on their own abilities and instincts to solve their problems rather than rely on their armor. RDJ’s likability in the role shines brightly throughout the film, with another side of the character coming out with the introduction of a new character, a boy named Harley (Ty Simpkins). Harley’s father left him seven years previously, and his mother works at night, so he is often alone. When Tony Stark steps into his life, he’s dragged into Tony’s mission. Stark treats Harley like an adult, which, though it sometimes means he makes snarky or “rude” comments (including a quip about how leaving is what fathers do and that he should man up and suck it up), it shows that Stark respects Harley enough to speak with him honestly and as an equal. The banter between these two characters works incredibly well, with their time onscreen together being some of the best moments of the film. Guy Pearce does an admirable job in his role, though I don’t want to delve too much into his character…spoilers and all that.

Almost every film comes with its disappointments, and Iron Man 3 is no exception. The funniest film of the three, I actually thought that the writers tried to bring too much humor to the table, with some of it feeling forced or unnecessary. I don’t want an Iron Man film that is taken 100% seriously, but I do think that the film as a whole could have survived with fewer attempts at getting a laugh. For reasons that I won’t list here, I was very disappointed with Ben Kingsley’s character, The Mandarin, and, while I thought that Guy Pearce did a decent job as a sort of supplemental villain, a better Mandarin would have been preferred. Lastly, Gwyneth Paltrow, though she does a fine job as a dramatic actress, is not an action star and should not have ever been given the opportunity. That being said, the chemistry between her and Downey, Jr. is palpable and never feels canned, instead flowing rather naturally between the two actors in a great way.

I didn’t fully flesh out my complaints due to spoilers, but, as I said, I enjoyed the film for the most part; in any case, it was a huge improvement over the awful Iron Man 2, so we should all rejoice for that. Six years after the release of the first Iron Man film, Robert Downey, Jr. continues to slip as effortlessly into the role now as he did then, and it manages to be a worthy followup to The Avengers. With decent performances all around and an enjoyable score from Brian Tyler, Iron Man 3 pleases for the most part and leaves me hoping that we see plenty more of Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark in the future.

-Chad

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief suggestive content


Top Ten Films of 2012

2012 was a good year for movies. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see everything – films like Moonrise Kingdom, The Master, Argo, Les Misérables, Django Unchained, etc. are all films released in 2012 that I haven’t seen yet – but I DID manage to see quite a few. Here is my personal list of the best films of 2012 (click on the titles to view my full review):

 

10. Wreck-It Ralph

This was another film that I had been looking forward to for months on end. I’m not as into video games as some other people, but watching this film was still like revisiting my childhood. The heart of this movie is in the right place, with the main message being “accept who you are because you’re a wonderful person just as you are.” A talented voice cast, a sweet story, candy puns out the wazoo, and a fun score by Henry Jackman make this film everything I wanted it to be…and the animated short shown before the film, Paperman, was just as fantastic.

 

9. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I was late to the whole “Lord of the Rings/J. R. R. Tolkien” party, having only seen Peter Jackson’s film trilogy in the past two years, but I was keen to read The Hobbit and see the movie as soon as I possibly could. While I was disappointed on my first viewing, mainly due to the cartoony special effects that resulted from the higher frame rate (48fps HFR), this film was a faithful adaptation to Tolkien’s original novel, and the return of familiar faces such as Ian McKellen as Gandalf and Andy Serkis as Gollum is refreshing. The real highlight of the film, though, aside from Howard Shore’s beautiful score, is Martin Freeman, who plays the perfect Bilbo Baggins. While some may find the run time to feel a little stretched, I found it to be justified by the attention to detail to the original novel.

 

8. The Hunger Games

I read Suzanne Collins’ acclaimed Hunger Games trilogy just a few weeks before I saw the film, and I was hooked from the get-go. The film did a wonderful job of adapting the novel, perfectly capturing the dystopian society introduced in Collins’ literary world. Jennifer Lawrence did a particularly outstanding job as Katniss, and the scenes added by the filmmakers to show the control that the Capitol has over the people of Panem and over the Hunger Games do nothing but add to the story in a great way.

 

7. Flight

Robert Zemeckis, director of Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, released his first live action film in more than a decade this year. Flight was something I had anticipated for months, and it quite lived up to what I had in mind for it. Denzel Washington gives a powerful performance as a pilot struggling with drug and alcohol addictions, and the film explores topics such as love, recovery, lies, and responsibility. Zemeckis proves that he still has what it takes to direct a top-notch film that focuses on character and story just as much as it does on visual effects.

 

6. Life of Pi

This is a film that I sort of went to see just on a whim, and I’m glad I did. With gorgeous visuals that looked fantastic in 3D (something I don’t say often), Life of Pi excels the most in its storytelling. While the ambiguity of the ending may not appeal to some people, I found the film to be a thoughtful exploration of faith and of religion in general, leading me to look at my own relationship with God. It sort of melds the biblical Book of Job with Robert Zemeckis’ 2000 film Cast Away, and it definitely sparked my interest in reading the book it was based on.

 

5. Skyfall

In anticipation of this film, I first watched Daniel Craig’s Casino Royale, which was entertaining in its more muted kind of way, and Quantum of Solace, which was pretty disappointing. I still had high hopes for Skyfall, though, and it exceeded every expectation I had set for it. The action was fun, Javier Bardem as the villain sent chills up my spine (and also brought a couple of laughs), and Daniel Craig and Judi Dench both gave outstanding performances in their respective roles. The length wasn’t an issue to me because I was too caught up in the entertainment of the film to care.

 

4. Lincoln

Does Spielberg make bad films? I’d answer that with a “no” (I have an argument in favor of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). With 2011’s War Horse and his newest film, Lincoln, he has taken a step back from the typical sci-fi/action/fantasy films he is known for and has focused more on period dramas – both of which were fantastic. If Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln doesn’t win the Academy Award for Best Actor, I won’t know what to think. Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones also deliver standout performances in a film that is just as engrossing and fascinating in its exploration of politics as a good action film is in its exploration of shooting and blowing things up. Spielberg is a true master.

 

3. The Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan set the bar high with 2008’s The Dark Knight, and this conclusion to the acclaimed trilogy did not disappoint. Tom Hardy as Bane was sinister and terrifying, Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt were both welcome new presences, and the return of the familiar faces – i.e. Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Gary Oldman – was satisfying and well-done. The Dark Knight Rises perfectly concluded Nolan’s trilogy.

 

2. The Avengers

There are so many ways that this film could have gone wrong. I mean, think about it – they took four characters from four separate films and brought them together into one super-film. In the hands of a less-capable director, it could have easily been one of the worst movies of the year, but with Joss Whedon at the helm, it ended up being one of the best. Smart dialogue with exciting action and a great story, The Avengers proved that an ensemble cast like this could work just as well in a film as it does on television.

 

1. Looper

Well-choreographed action sequences meet a smart script in this film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis. As a time travel movie, it explores the consequences of our actions and the true cause of evil, and it spends just as much time in contemplation as it does making you sit on the edge of your seat.

 

Well, there you have it. My top ten films of 2012. What were your favorites of 2012?


Batman: The Killing Joke (1988) – Alan Moore/Brian Bolland

I’ll start off with this: The Killing Joke is not for kids, and even teenagers should be discretionary. This is mature material..heck, the back of my copy even says “SUGGESTED FOR MATURE READERS”. You’ve been warned.

Also, I should note that I read the new re-colored Deluxe Edition. Same panels, different colors than the original.

The Killing Joke is short but far from sweet – in fact, it’s actually pretty disturbing. This graphic novel is more a story of the Joker than of Batman, giving us a glimpse into the back story of the character. The evolution of a failed comedian into a crazed madman are presented as flashbacks throughout. These flashbacks are presented in black and white with an occasional item colored in, which is fantastic: when the big first reveal of the newly-created Joker appears, the contrast of the stark black and white to the vividly green hair, red lips, and pale white face sends a chill up my spine.

In fact, I would say that the artwork/coloring of The Killing Joke is the best part. I haven’t read the original from the 1980s with the different colors, but a comparison can be found here. Just based on those quick comparisons, I must say that the recolored edition looks so much better than the original; for me, the colors seem more realistic, and making the flashback sections primarily black and white helps to better follow what is and isn’t “present-day”.

All of that being said, though, the story is pretty interesting as well. The story revolves around the Joker trying to make Commissioner Gordon go insane. Why? Because he’s the Joker and that’s the kind of thing he does. Christopher Nolan actually gave Heath Ledger a copy of The Killing Joke as a reference for the character before filming The Dark Knight. Some men just want to watch the world burn – this graphic novel definitely shows that the Joker is one of those men.

The Killing Joke, as mentioned, is disturbing, but it’s interesting and compelling all the same. Though it explores the origin of the Joker, easily the most famous Batman villain of all time, it also explores the relationship between the Joker and Batman. In fact, it starts with Batman visiting the Joker’s cell in Arkham Asylum to talk about their relationship – about how they’re probably on a path to killing each other, a sentiment that is echoed in Nolan’s The Dark Knight when the Joker says, “I think you and I are destined to do this forever.” It’s a combination of the artwork, the Joker’s origin story, and this relationship between Joker and Batman that makes The Killing Joke such a great Batman graphic novel.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

-Chad


Batman: The Long Halloween (1996/1997) – Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale

Continuity-wise, The Long Halloween sort of follows Year One‘s story-line, continuing Batman and Gordon’s quest to rid the city of crime. The Long Halloween, like Year One, was a huge influence on the Christopher Nolan films Batman Begins and  The Dark Knight; in fact, there are a couple of scenes in the graphic novel that were translated directly to The Dark Knight. While Year One introduced Batman and Jim Gordon, well, The Long Halloween introduces pretty much everyone else, from Catwoman to the Joker to the Riddler and so on. We even see Harvey Dent’s transformation into Two-Face! 

Christopher Nolan, director of the newest Batman film trilogy, called The Long Halloween an “epic tragedy”, and that description is right on the mark. A murderer who comes to be known as “Holiday” starts killing people on holidays, and everyone tries to figure out who is doing it, including The Joker and The Riddler…a “this town isn’t big enough for the two of us” kind of thing. It’s bloody and dark.

The art in this graphic novel is fantastic. Everything is so sharp and dense and, though I hate to use this word, gritty. It’s got a sense of realism that makes the story all the more compelling, and the limited color range of the artwork adds to this even more. The darker, more bland color scheme gives a sort of crime noir feel to it.

Bottom line: The Long Halloween is one of the top 5 best Batman comic story arcs of all time, and it heavily influenced the Nolan Batman films that we all love. It’s dark, brutal, and completely engrossing; if you’re a Batman fan at all, you’ll love it.

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

-Chad


The Dark Knight (2008)

The Dark Knight, though it is a “superhero movie”, transcends that stereotype and becomes something so much more: it’s a crime epic.

Let’s be honest: Heath Ledger’s Joker is what makes this film so good. Not that the rest of it isn’t good…that’s not what I’m saying. But Ledger’s Joker is the first thing that people remember about this film, and for a good reason. Ledger dedicated himself more fully to the role than I’ve ever seen an actor do before, and it certainly shows onscreen. This interpretation of Batman’s most infamous adversary is scary and twisted; from the grimy hair and smeared makeup to the gruesome scars to the obsession with knives, The Joker is a character that you so badly love to hate. Despite how unsettling the character is, Ledger delivers his lines with a dark humor that makes you laugh in a “why-am-I-laughing-at-this-this-is-horrible” kind of way.

Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent/Two-Face is great as well. Watching Dent throughout the film is interesting because, if you’re verse in Batman-lore, you know that Harvey Dent and Two-Face are the same person, but you don’t know if he’ll get there in this film or not. For the first half of the film, we see how strong and determined he is to clean up the city, but, as things get worse, he begins to change. Eckhart does a fine job with showing his character’s deterioration; in a way, it reminds me of Anakin Skywalker’s decline into Darth Vader. It’s his love for Rachel and his anguish at her death that drives him into madness, and Eckhart plays Dent’s strong emotional downfall fantastically.

Batman’s incorruptibility is put to the test in this film as he faces both of these men; he doesn’t know if it’s something that he can survive or withstand because, for a while there, the more days go by that Batman doesn’t reveal his true identity, the more people die because of him. Bale brings all of Batman’s emotions across magnificently in this film, a certain improvement over the previous film when there was little emotion to come across.

Overall, The Dark Knight is what every superhero film should strive to be: dramatic, personal, and real. We see the best of people (on the cruise ships with the detonators) and the worst of people (The Joker), but Batman stays strong through it all and stands for what he knows to be right, no matter whether it reflects on him in the best light or not. With Heath Ledger’s best performance ever and a supporting cast of incredible actors doing an awesome job, The Dark Knight is a force to be reckoned with.

-Chad

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for intense sequences of violence and some menace

P.S. – Read my review of this film’s score, composed by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, here!


Batman Begins (2005)

I saw this film on the big screen for the first time last night at the trilogy IMAX screening, and I was blown away. Just reinforces my belief that films were meant to be seen on the big screen in a theater.

What fascinates me about Batman – and what is shown so well in this film – is that he’s a human like you and me, albeit a wealthy one. Like us, he’s driven by his emotions, which stem from the loss of his parents and his desire to destroy injustice. Drawing heavily from Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One (the definitive origin story of the character; my review), Batman Begins introduces us to a man who doesn’t become Batman to get revenge for his parents’ deaths but rather a man who becomes Batman to create a world where a young Bruce Wayne wouldn’t have been a victim.

The idea of taking your fear, mastering it, and using that fear to manipulate your enemies is an incredible notion (also taken from Batman: Year One), and it’s an interesting way to present the character of Batman. It’s a simple but extraordinary explanation for Bruce’s reasoning for using a bat as his symbol of justice and incorruptibility.

Christian Bale makes a great Batman. We never see an emotional side to him in this film, but we do see a defining change of character: we start off with a Bruce Wayne who brings a gun to the trial of the man who killed his parents, set for revenge, to the Bruce Wayne who learns to fight and survive in the criminal underworld, to the Bruce Wayne who trains with Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Shadows, and finally to the Bruce Wayne who doubles as masked crusader and millionaire playboy.

I don’t really have too much to say about this film; there’s nothing in particular that I dislike about it, and any flaws it does have don’t matter because the film is a setup for The Dark Knight…and we all know how that turned out. Christopher Nolan is one of those rare directors who is able to so clearly create a world so separate from yet so connected with our own, with fantastic, believable characters who we are able to identify with on some personal level, even a character like Batman. This film redefined what a “superhero movie” was capable of being, setting the foundation for several more realistic reboots of classic comic characters and for two more films starring our Dark Knight.

-Chad

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for intense action violence, disturbing images and some thematic elements

P.S. – Read my review of this film’s score, composed by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, here!


The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Here’s a brief spoiler-free review of the final film of the Dark Knight trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises.

Taken as a whole, this film was fantastic on nearly every level, but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t have any faults. I had problems with understanding certain characters, from Bane (especially) to Miranda Tate to Jim Gordon to Bruce himself. A couple of the plot points in the first half confused me a bit, but the second half was so incredible that it made these and any other minor faults seem like nothing. Initially, I didn’t agree with some bits of the ending, and, because of that, I decided that it was slightly behind The Dark Knight in terms of quality, but I’ve been mulling things over since the movie ended – it’s starting to grow on me, so the final film of the trilogy may end up being my favorite. Old faces and new faces alike do an awesome job onscreen, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake and Tom Hardy as Bane standing out as particularly great. Overall, it’s an outstanding film; if you enjoyed the first two, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you enjoy this one as well.

Now, onto the review FILLED with spoilers, so, if you haven’t seen the film yet, DON’T READ ON. (skip to end for spoiler-free conclusion)

There are two key bits of speculation that have been circulating the Internet for quite some time now that proved to be correct: 1) Marion Cotillard as Talia al Ghul and 2) Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the man who will take over for Batman. Good job, Internet people! Also, Batman did technically “die”, so there’s a third speculation come true.

Bane proved to be one of my favorite film villains of all time. Sure, I had trouble understanding him at times, but Hardy’s presence onscreen was bone-chilling and terrifying. I’m not going to sit here and waste time comparing him to Ledger’s Joker, but both had a quality about them that made it difficult to look away – no matter how badly you wanted to at times. The most fascinating part about this character is that he is the first villain who could physically best Batman…and he does in an awful way. Though we couldn’t see most of his face, Hardy did a fantastic job with communicating through his body language exactly who Bane was and what he was capable of. I wish that there had been more of a defeat of Bane by Batman, but I suppose that the defeat we witnessed was the only one that mattered because the title of “head villain” was passed on to Miranda Ta- oh, excuse me – Talia al Ghul.

Hathaway as Catwoman was very good as well; in fact, I managed to watch the film thinking, “hey look! It’s Catwoman!” instead of thinking, “hey look! It’s Anne Hathaway!”, which is a plus for someone like her who hasn’t done a film like this before. She looked the part and did a fine job with the character.

I was very impressed with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and his character; he came out of nowhere, but he certainly exhibited the detective abilities and physical skill needed to be a future Batman…more on that later. The leadership he showed in gathering the forces in Gotham to fight and bringing Batman back to the city was outstanding, and I really felt myself rooting for the character…and not just because he was on Batman’s side.

Since I’ve read both of Michael Caine’s autobiographies now, watching him onscreen in The Dark Knight Rises was a particular treat, especially because we got to see him display a wide range of acting ability in this film than we did in the previous two films. When he cried at the end of the film, I nearly cried; Caine is a wonderful actor with a career spanning decades, and seeing him deliver such a powerful performance in this film at his age (he’s 79 years old) was a great thing to witness.

Of course, I can’t neglect to mention Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman. Not much to say here, but they both did a fantastic job with their roles, especially Oldman.

Christian Bale’s as Batman was admirable in the sense that we see him truly fight for the first time – not physically, necessarily, but for his life, something that we hadn’t seen from Batman before this film. He’s a man who has been through quite a lot both physically and emotionally, and he has suffered in just about every way that a man can suffer. Bale does a great job with truly showing Batman’s humanity in this film…for the first time, the person who wants him dead knows his true identity, so there is no way for him to hide or use theatricality to his advantage. It’s man vs. man, and there’s no darkness to hide in anymore. Bale displays Bruce’s resolve to give the city all that he has and makes not only Batman a hero, but Bruce Wayne a hero as well.

Aside from a slightly confusing first half (which, thanks to Wikipedia’s Plot section of the film’s article, isn’t all that confusing anymore) and the occasional problems with the voices, my only issues regarded the ending. I knew that I didn’t want Bruce to die, so that’s nice, but I wanted him to return to Gotham and have an emotional reunion with Alfred. At least, that’s what I wanted at first. Walking away, however, and taking some time to think about it, I was actually pretty satisfied with how they ended it. Batman is no longer a villain in Gotham but a hero instead, and Bruce Wayne has reached that point in his life when he no longer needs Batman…he is finally at peace, living out his life the way Alfred wanted him to. That being said, I still wish that we had seen more than just an acknowledgement between the two.

I also don’t know how I feel about the whole “(Robin) John Blake is the new Batman” part of the ending; if it was just meant as a teaser that will be left alone, cool. I like it. BUT I really don’t want to start a new franchise with Gordon-Levitt as the focus – Chris Nolan has made it pretty clear that he won’t be doing any more Batman after this film, and I don’t want a sequel trilogy or whatever to be made and it pale in comparison to what Nolan has done with Bale in these three movies. Who knows…maybe it could be good, but I don’t really want to take that chance. Of course, the decision isn’t up to me, so we’ll just have to see where Warner Bros. takes it from here…if anywhere.

***SPOILERS OVER***

I’m having trouble with deciding which film I like more: The Dark Knight or The Dark Knight Rises. On one hand, I don’t want to like this film more just because it’s the last film of the series. On the other hand, I don’t want to like The Dark Knight more just because of Heath Ledger’s Joker; I’m trying to find a balance between the two so that I can make a decision excluding those factors. Though The Dark Knight Rises didn’t end the way I wanted it to when I walked into the theater, I walked out of the theater thinking that maybe, just maybe, Nolan’s ending was better than the one that I had fantasized for the film on my own. So, for now at least, I’m going to call this a tie, but it’s entirely possible – and highly likely – that the finale of the trilogy will come out on top.

As fans of Batman, we all have Christopher Nolan to thank for bringing this incredible character to the big screen in such a big way and for dedicating himself fully to finishing what he started. Batman Begins was groundbreaking, The Dark Knight was breathtaking, and now, with The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan has brought a third, final film that ends the trilogy in a hugely satisfying way.

-Chad

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for intense sequences of violence, intense sequences of action, language and some sensuality

P.S. – Read my review of this film’s score, composed by Hans Zimmer, here!