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“The Dark Knight Rises” review

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To say that “The Dark Knight Rises” has a lot to live up to just might qualify as the biggest understatement of the year. The follow-up to Christopher Nolan’s record-breaking 2008 sequel “The Dark Knight,” and the final chapter in the award-winning director’s critically praised Batman trilogy, “The Dark Knight Rises” has been one of the industry’s most closely watched projects since the credits rolled on its predecessor.

And that’s why it’s so unfortunate that, in his last adventure under Nolan’s guidance, the Dark Knight never quite rises to the occasion.

Possibly the most egregious flaw in “The Dark Knight Rises” is that the character we see the least of in the film is, well… Batman. For a film that clocks in at nearly three hours of running time, we get only four or five major sequences with Christian Bale in the cape and cowl. Over the course of the film’s 165 minutes, Bale’s Bruce Wayne seems relegated to a supporting role, and someone we check in with occasionally instead of the narrative’s main character.

Make no mistake: Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are clearly Nolan’s focal points in “The Dark Knight Rises,” and their time on the screen reflects this fact.

Of course, that’s not to say Nolan’s focus on Hathaway and Gordon-Levitt is a bad thing, as the pair happen to provide the film’s best performances. As Selina Kyle (who’s never actually referred to as Catwoman in the film), Hathaway manages to prove skeptics (including myself) wrong with a pitch-perfect portrayal of Gotham’s greatest cat burglar, and finds just the right nuances of moral ambiguity and personality to bring the character to life in Nolan’s Bat-verse.

Gordon-Levitt also does a nice job of playing feet-on-the-ground cop John Blake, who struggles to define his role in a world filled with costumed heroes and villains. Sadly, his prominence in the narrative seems to come at the expense of Gary Oldman’s return as police commissioner Jim Gordon, who seems to have become just another flawed cog in the Gotham machine in the time since the last film.

Oldman’s character isn’t the only one to have undergone some drastic, fundamental changes since the last film, either.

Along with Jim Gordon’s shift from paragon of urban wisdom to burned-out relic, Batman himself seems to have forgotten many of the lessons he learned in the earlier films. In “The Dark Knight Rises,” we’re presented with a Batman who charges into fights without thinking and overlooks important information, and a Bruce Wayne who shows little regard for the still-living people in his life and callously disregards his most trusted friend. (It’s this last element that relegates Michael Caine’s role to nothing more than a series of scenes in which he cries at Christian Bale for several minutes.) It’s the sort of situation that usually develops when a new director takes over an existing franchise, and seems odd in the continuity of Nolan’s meticulously shepherded Batman universe.

Still, none of these flaws are as destructive to “The Dark Knight Rises” as the film’s villain, Bane, who manages to cause just as much damage to the fictional city of Gotham as he does to the movie itself.

It’s worth noting right from the start that none of the problems with Bane rest on the shoulders of the actor who played the hulking, masked behemoth, Tom Hardy. The British actor does everything asked of him to the best of his considerable talents, and were it not for a number of factors outside his control, he’d likely provide the standout performance in the film. Sadly, those factors are present in the film, and they make Hardy’s character memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Months ago, when some early footage of “The Dark Knight Rises” was screened for a select audience, Bane’s muffled, unintelligible dialogue caused enough controversy to put the studio into damage-control mode, with Warner Brothers and Nolan seeming to be at odds over how to handle the villain’s mask-induced garble. Their answer, it seems, was to waver between two extremes. At times Bane sounds like a circus ringmaster trying to reach the cheap seats with a dollar-bin megaphone, and at other times his dialogue has all the clarity of a subway intercom system. The gritty realism of the surrounding film only amplifies the silliness of Bane’s dialogue.

Still, if there is one positive to come out of the troubles with Bane’s voice, it’s that you barely notice Bale’s Bat-growl, which earned more than a few unintentional laughs during “The Dark Knight,” but seems entirely tolerable alongside Bane’s over-dubbed, sideshow-barker tone.

Unfortunately, the film’s villain has problems with more than just his dialogue. Without venturing too far into spoiler territory, Bane’s intentions with regard to Gotham and its protector go from uncertain to outright contradictory over the course of the film, with the character flip-flopping between a desire to empower Gotham’s populace (at times seeming like the spokesperson for the real-world Occupy movement) and an urge to obliterate every living person in the city. The end result is a character that never quite sells the whole “criminal genius” thing, and instead comes off as a bit, well… crazy.

Of course, this flaw with Bane is likely a result of the character being shoehorned into a role that was meant for Heath Ledger and The Joker, who would have been right at home as the orchestrator of the chaos that overtakes Gotham. It’s during the moments when Bane seems the most out of place that you can see how perfectly Ledger’s Joker would’ve fit in the film.

Even with so many problems, however, “The Dark Knight Rises” still manages to meet – and occasionally exceed – expectations in some of the areas that will play the biggest role in the film’s success with the mainstream audiences. Nolan’s trademark grasp of breathtaking visuals and fantastic cinematography are on full display in “The Dark Knight Rises,” and the film features a number of set pieces – including the catastrophic destruction of Gotham’s football stadium – that set the film apart from nearly everything else in theaters. While it never achieves at the level of a film like “Inception,” “The Dark Knight Rises” is full of reminders that it is a film made by one of the industry’s greatest visual directors.

Also to its credit, “The Dark Knight Rises” manages to avoid the traditional pitfalls of the third movie in a genre franchise. It never feels overcrowded or rushed, though it does contain a few obvious, forced tie-ins to the greater universe that feel jammed in at the last moment.

However, none of these achievements change the fact that the film falls short of expectations, and rather than being the grand finale of the franchise, it ends up being both the weakest film in the trilogy and the weakest superhero movie of the year thus far. Sadly, “The Dark Knight Rises” never manages to match the epic spectacle of “The Avengers,” the genuine pathos of “Chronicle” (a comic book movie without a comic), or the earnest, heroic heart of “The Amazing Spider-Man.”

While there’s little doubt that the concluding chapter of his trilogy will earn a pile of money, one can’t help thinking that Nolan has done the next Batman director a favor by taking a bar that was set to an almost unreachable height after “The Dark Knight” and lowering it to a more manageable level with the serviceable but under-achieving concluding tale that is “The Dark Knight Rises.”

“The Dark Knight Rises” hits theaters Friday, July 20.

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Welcome Back

Fred Armisen Is Returning to SNL to Host the Season Finale

Fred returns to SNL for the May 21st season finale.

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Saturday Night Live will celebrate the return of one of its alumni for the season finale on May 21st. Portlandia co-creator and star Fred Armisen will be stepping onto the Studio 8H stage to host the final episode of the 41st season with musical guest Courtney Barnett. The news was broken by SNL’s Twitter account, which also announced Brie Larson and Drake will be wrapping up the season along with Armisen. This will be Fred’s first time hosting the show and, because it’s the finale, we’ll likely see a slew of surprise guests pop in. (Perhaps Fred’s comedy cohorts Carrie Brownstein and fellow Documentary Now! costar Bill Hader? We can dream!)

We also hope that Fred will join Courtney Barnett onstage for a haunting rendition of “Pitter Patter.”

Pitter Patter

Which of Fred’s many memorable SNL characters should make an appearance? Fericito? Political comedian Nicholas Fehn? Or maybe he’ll have an Obama-off with current SNL Obama Jay Pharoah. Find out when Fred brings the funny to SNL on May 21st.

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Weird Al Conan O’Brien

Off the Wall

Watch “Weird Al” Talk About Parodying Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney

Comedy Bang! Bang! gets weird starting Friday, June 3rd at 11P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Conan / TBS

Song parodist and Comedy Bang! Bang!’s newest bandleader “Weird Al” Yankovic dropped by Conan to chat about the upcoming season of the IFC series and drop a few bits of trivia from his past. For example, did you know meeting Michael Jackson is a lot like meeting an alien? Well, you probably did, but “Weird Al” confirms it! Also, Yankovic discusses how he had a little artistic dispute with Paul McCartney over the use of “Live and Let Die” for a parody titled “Chicken Pot Pie”. (We’ll let Al fill you in on details.)

Check out “Weird Al” talking about his odd encounters with Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney’s joke-ruining suggestions in the video below. And be sure to catch Al on the new season of Comedy Bang! Bang! premiering Friday, June 3rd with back-to-back episodes at 11P and 11:30P.

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Bottoms Up

10 Movies That Make Hitting Rock Bottom Look Like Fun

Maron hits rock bottom tonight at 9P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Dreamworks Pictures

This season on Maron, Marc is hitting rock bottom. He’s lost his career, his home and even his cats. But since Marc is involved, we figure he’ll be good for a few laughs on the way down. Thankfully, Marc’s in good company here. Some of our favorite movies feature characters who have hit the emotional basement face first. We’re glad we’re not them, but we definitely enjoy watching them fall apart.

10. Office Space

Office Space

If you’re going to flame out, at least do it with some panache. That’s the lesson office drone Peter Gibbons teaches us in Mike Judge’s cult classic, when a hypnotism gone wrong allows him to gain a little perspective on life. Soon he’s phoning in his job, and happily telling his superiors the ugly truth to their faces. This, of course, only makes him more popular around the office, a place he now has no need for. Peter has a mental breakdown with a smile on his face, and a bounce in his step, showing us that there is life beyond the cubicle.


9. The Weather Man

Weather Man

Sure, your job’s a joke, your kids are a mess and your father is disappointed in you, but there’s a shortcut to self-esteem that no one tells you about. It’s like a cheat code for when you want to turn your midlife crisis into a midlife adventure. That secret is arming yourself to the teeth. In local weatherman David Spritz’s case, that means carrying a bow and arrow around with him wherever he goes. Nicolas Cage has made a cottage industry of playing people in the midst of nervous breakdowns, from Leaving Las Vegas to The Family Man, but here he really separates David from the pack by going full Hawkeye on us. The lessons is, it doesn’t matter how bad you’re feeling on the inside when everyone is scared to death of you on the outside.


8. Trainwreck

Universal Pictures

Amy Schumer seems to have flipped the script when it comes to bottoming out. Sure, your life may be an unending stream of stripper heels, hangovers and one night stands. If you keep telling yourself everything awful about your life is completely awesome, who’s to say it isn’t? Mind equals blown. That, ladies and gentlemen, is called empowerment. Or delusion. It’s called something, and either way, Schumer knows how to make it hilarious. We may not want to be blackout drunk on a weeknight, but Amy sure makes it look like it doesn’t have to be the worst thing ever. You go girl.


7. American Beauty

American Beauty

Lester Burnham is just an ordinary guy with nothing to lose, and boy does he know how to quit a job. It involves admitting to masturbating in the company bathroom, and then blackmailing your boss into a year’s pay with benefits. If you’re going to hit rock bottom, you may as well get a little cash for the way down.


6. Rachel Getting Married

Rachel Getting Married

You can’t really hit rock bottom unless you take a few people down with you. That’s the lesson of this 2008 indie drama, in which Anne Hathaway plays a destructive addict inadvertently laying waste to her sister’s wedding. Sure, that doesn’t sound like a barrel of laughs, but Hathaway’s “I don’t give a f*ck” performance makes her character Kym feel like the cool girl we all wanted to hang out with in high school. Sure, she’s probably going to end up dead or in jail, but what a time she’ll have before she gets there.


5. Anchorman

Anchorman

There’s nothing quite like chugging milk on a hot summer day to remind you that you’ve made some bad choices in life. Out of work, friendless, womanless, and mustacheless, legendary local newsman Ron Burgundy finds out the hard way that nobody loves you when you’re on the bottom. Not even your weatherman, who seems like he’d give up just about anything for one weekend alone in a New England B&B with you. Fortunately, Mr. Burgundy has a secret up his sleeve, and no, we’re not talking about his jazz flute. With a conch shell, a baby panda news story, and some swagger, Ron Burgundy reminds us that the only way to stop a downward spiral is with the help of your friends and fellow anchorpeople.


4. 28 Days

28 Days

Yes, the opening moments of 28 Days are supposed to be a cautionary tale. An out of control Sandy Bullock shows up drunk to her sister’s wedding and delivers a rambling speech, before destroying the wedding cake. In a panic, she steals a limo, and crashes it into a house while trying to find a cake store. Now, granted, if you’re planning a wedding, this is pretty much the worst case plus one we can imagine. But, if you’re a guest, well, this kind of sounds like fun. As days go, taking a limo joy ride in desperate search of cake sounds like time well spent.


3. Kill Bill

Kill Bill

Okay, being buried alive isn’t fun. That’s a given. But what if you were a master ninja who ate black belts for breakfast looking for some vengeance? Well, then waking up six feet under might just be the thing. Sure, The Bride had a bad run, with a massacre at her wedding rehearsal and the whole coma thing, but this is the moment she turned from a wronged heroine into an ass-kicking machine. Everything she did after this was thanks to her premature funeral, and the folks behind it.


2. Bridesmaid

Bridesmaids

Weddings bring out a lot of emotions. Happiness, joy, regret, bitter jealously, a need to find the open bar. But for Annie, who lost her job, her apartment, and her boyfriend, only to see a fellow bridesmaid get the credit for a bridal shower she planned, it’s just too much. And when life throws a punch at you, you need to punch back, preferably if there’s a giant cookie nearby asking for a beating. Meltdowns aren’t fun in and of themselves, but going commando on a giant chocolate fountain is a dream we’ve had since childhood.


1. Fight Club

Fight Club

Yes, a schizophrenic breakdown, precipitated by the existential pain of a life left unlived, isn’t the most desirable way to spend a weekend. But what if you found out that the coolest guy you knew, the best looking, the guy you dreamed of being was actually (spoiler alert for a 17 year-old movie!) YOU? What if YOU planned the fight club? YOU had a six-pack? YOU were a freaking legend? Well, maybe blowing up a few buildings and crashing this whole system would be worth it. It certainly beats voting for Trump.

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