Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Dark Knight: in IMAX

I’m making a special mention of this film’s technical achievements that are noticed even further when viewed in a flawless IMAX theatre.

I saw The Dark Knight twice before I saw it in IMAX, and it was easily my best experience with the film. This is, after all, the very first movie to have scenes filmed specifically for an IMAX theatre. Director Christopher Nolan made a wise decision to produce all of the film’s action scenes in this brilliant quality.

Most of the film is reduced to a normal movie theatre screen size by widescreen bars at the top and bottom of the screen. But for the few scenes when the screen fully expands, you’ll be completely jolted.

During the opening production logos, the screen was regular format. Then with a subtle BOOM from the soundtrack, the movie opens with that long tracking shot of the side of a building, the five-story IMAX screen maxed to full potential. It was utterly breathtaking.

My advice: see the film first in a regular theatre, then go find an IMAX theatre, pay the few extra bucks, and feast your eyes (on ears) on sights and sounds you can’t believe you may have missed.

Nolan has said he regrets not filming the entire film with IMAX cameras (it’s hard, he says, because the cameras are so large). But rest assured, for part three, he promises a full IMAX experience. Enjoy.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Dark Knight

Are you ready for the best movie of the summer, not to mention one the best films of the year so far? Well then, here...we…go.

Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is a cinematic revelation. It transcends anything we’ve previously seen in the comic book adaptation genre, including its refreshing predecessor, Batman Begins. The action is real (Nolan uses very little special effects), the editing is tight, the camera work is steadily smooth and the music is effective.

I’ll only briefly touch on plot. Batman (Christian Bale) is growing a little wiry of protecting his Gotham city. He wants a new hero, one that doesn’t wear a mask. He finds it in hotshot District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), who is soon dubbed as Gotham’s “White Knight”. Batman is ready to throw up his cape in order to spend his life with Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhall, replacing Katie Holmes). But fighting crime through the justice system only gets you so far when you have a fanatical, suicidal madman, known as the Joker (Heath Ledger) terrorizing the city.

That’s all you’ll get, and frankly, that’s all you need. Instead, let’s focus on the performances, which make the movie, a rare feat in the summer blockbuster season.

As Bale proved in Batman Begins, he is easily the best man to have filled out the bat suit. His commanding presence and booming voice as the Caped Crusader are spot on. And his suave, laid-back persona as Bruce Wayne brings subtle reminiscent of Bale’s star-making role as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, (which is a good thing). Watch how Bale, as Bruce Wayne, feels out Dent in a dinner scene. With one tight-zoom shot and a subtle smirk, he knows he can trust him.

Gary Oldman (one of cinema’s great chameleons) delivers some of the best work of his career, reprising his role as the honest Commissioner Jim Gordon. Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman hit all the right notes in their respective roles. As does Gyllenhall, who throws out Holmes’ sweet sensitivity and replaces it with feminist ferocity. Eckhart is in great form as Dent, who admires the Batman and has his own plans to bring justice to the corrupt city.

But we all know whose show it is, and we all know why you’re here. Heath Ledger, as the Joker, is better than everything you’ve heard. Every single aspect of his performance is completely flawless. From his nasal, screechy voice, to his slow-moving walk (as if he can’t bend his knees), to his pancake-smeared make-up, this is as fine an acting accomplishment as I can recall. It’s damn near impossible to find that handsome actor hidden behind those dark eyes. Ledger is believable with every nuance of his behavior. Watch him carefully, you’ll be utterly dazzled.
Watch how (in one the film’s most shocking scenes) he makes a pencil disappear. Watch how he casually strolls into a room with no fear. Watch as he circles Gyllenhall, smacking his lips together, almost ready to devour her. Listen to his subtle, creaky laugh before it bursts into a gut-wrenching, manic howl. Listen how he delivers a classic movie line: it’s funny to the audience, but he is deadly serious. Listen to how he tells stories from his past, almost happy that he turned out how he did.

I could dissect every single moment that Ledger is on screen in The Dark Knight as a brilliant one. There is no one scene of his that is better than the rest. Of course this is made all the more tragic due to Ledger’s sudden death in January of this year. If he were still alive, we’d be talking about how this performance is going to put him to the top of the A-List. It would be a career-making performance, but instead, it is now a career-defining one.

Only a handful of actors have been nominated for an Oscar after they’ve died (Peter Finch being the only winner for Network). If there was ever a role to earn a posthumous Academy Award, then this is it. Ledger anchors a breathtaking film by showing us something that we’ve never seen him do. And sadly, that we won’t see again.

Entertainment Weekly recently said that Heath Ledger “might have lived to be as audacious an actor as Marlon Brando, and maybe as great.” After seeing this performance, it's hard not to agree. A+
(Note: in my Favorite Scene: Brokeback Mountain post, I said that, "It’s hard not to feel nostalgic while watching the supremely talented Ledger, knowing that he will never again be able to pierce through our hearts with his eyes." I was wrong. As the Joker, he pierces right into us, keeping him in our minds for days, in a way we never thought possible.)


What a greatly amusing film. Director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, A Bug’s Life) has created one of the very best animated films of all time. The dazzling visual style of Wall•E is worth the price of admission; this is truly a film to be loved by all.

Earth is dead. Rotted away hundreds of years ago, it remains a ruins for skyscraper-high piles of trash. Wall•E, a mini-trash compactor, is all that’s left. Who knows how long his been around by himself. He doesn’t seem to mind. He wanders through day by day, doing his job and collecting American mementos to entertain himself at night.

The first half of Wall•E are nearly free of dialogue, and it is the best part of the movie. There are some genuine laughs to be had (by all ages) in watching this little machine breeze his way through existence.

Soon, a monstrous rocket ship lands, delivering the sleek EVE to scan the planet for life. EVE looks like a giant iPod, smooth and glistening white (obviously a female), and it doesn’t take long for Wall-E to fall for her. Wall•E ends up following EVE into space to a huge space station where earthlings have lived for centuries. Stanton does a funny thing with this new “people”. He depicts him as lazy (the rarely get up from their moving chairs) and fat (hundreds of years of bone growth due to the gravity shift).

The space scenes are fun, and offer more laughs for the kids, but you’ll soon wish we were back on the ground. Regardless, Wall-E is a character with more charisma then most live action movie characters so far this year. I’m not a huge fan of the animated genre, I have a hard time relating. But Wall•E had my attention for its entire two hours. I laughed (out loud) and even got a little choked up toward the end.

It may not be the most entertaining film at the cinema right now (that would be The Dark Knight) but it is one that every member of your family can enjoy. A-


Wanted is everything that its target audience is going to… want. It isn’t smart, it isn’t clever, the acting isn’t Oscar-worthy, but it is a balls-out, action farce that is sure to entertain.

James McAvoy (perfect in Atonement) plays a droll office worker living a droll life with a cheating girl and so on. He drinks energy drinks for breakfast and is prescribed pills for his anxiety.

Soon, McAvoy’s Wesley is recruited by an elite, super-assassin squad known as the Fraternity. Fox (a steely sexy Angelina Jolie) is Wesley’s trainer into this dark underworld, led by Sloan (Morgan Freeman). You see, Sloan is the only person who can decipher a piece of cloth and find the name of a person that they need to kill. Get it? Didn’t think so, but director Timur Bekmambetov isn’t really concerning himself with a coherent plot.

Instead he offers us as much blood-splattered violence as any fanboy could possible desire. The members of the Fraternity, jump onto moving trains, curve bullets, fall hundreds of feet and survive, get the shit beat out of them dozens of times over, etc etc.

The film tries to take a third act twist that mostly falters. But oh well, hopefully you came for the action and not the plot. In any case, Wanted isn’t hardly desired. C-

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


Director Peter Berg wants Will Smith’s Hancock to be the anti-Superman. Hancock is lewd, sloppy, and doesn’t have an inkling of charismatic ability, too bad he’s played by… Will Smith, one of the most charismatic and recognizable faces in the world.

In all honesty Smith, in perhaps his nastiest role, does a reliably good job playing a superhero that would rather sleep off a hangover on a street bench than save the citizens of L.A. by using his awesome, invincible power. The first act of the film is hilarious with equal doses of decent special effects. Smith, whiskey bottle in hand, takes constant berating from the people he saves, only to bark profanities right back at them. (The best line of the movie is Hancock explaining to a man why he should sue McDonald’s.)

Where most summer blockbusters stay clear of aftermath explanation, Hancock develops its lead character by showing how society views him. TV journalists bitch about how Hancock keeps wrecking the city, how he is costing the government millions of dollars. People, in short, are taking the superhero for granted.

In comes wannbe PR genius Jason Bateman, who offers Hancock his services in reshaping his public image. Bateman, always reliable in his restrained humor, introduces Hancock to his family, thus beginning the second act, and thus beginning the downfall of the film. When Smith meets Bateman’s wife, as played by Charlize Theron, she gives Smith a look. Then another, then another. Berg really wants you to get the point that these two know each other, so why doesn’t Hancock say something?

In finding out their past, the film takes a baffling turn. Very, “where the hell did that come from?” My guess is it will throw most viewers off to the point of not caring anymore.

The problem with most superhero movies (please exclude Iron Man and Christopher Nolan’s exquisite new take on the Batman franchise) is that they treat the audience like idiots. True, most of us our there to the entertained, but some of us would like to know who Hancock is and how he got to be that way. No explanation is offered because it is obvious that the film so desperately wants a sequel. That will be up to how many people see it, and how many people care enough to tell their friends about it.

I should note that one of the things that initially turned me on to Hancock was its absence of denial from the regular people in the film. It is refreshing to be thrown into the middle of a story (everyone already knows who Hancock is and what he is capable of, there are no exhausting, “figuring out” scenes.) But this trait was soon the film’s downfall, as when Bateman figures out the story behind Hancock and his wife and takes it very, very easily. A little denial would’ve not only been fair, it would’ve been accurate. C+