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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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Forget Oscar

Find Your Spirit Animal

The Spirit Awards are LIVE this Saturday at 2p PT/5p ET.

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In just a few precious days, the greatest, most epic, most star-studded awards ceremony of the year comes to IFC.

And please, we’re definitely not talking about the Oscars. We’re talking about the Spirit Awards. Hosted by iconic comedy duo Nick Kroll and John Mulaney, it’s a relatively under-the-radar awards show with serious cred. And if the past is any indicator, we’re in for a wild night.

If you feel like doing your homework, you can find a full list of nominees and performance excerpts here. It reads like a who’s who of everyone that matters – those larger-than-life personalities with status that borders on mythological. Our celebrity spirit animals, if you will.

This isn’t hyperbole. Literally everyone who takes the stage at the awards show is spirit animal material. Let’s see if we can help you find yours…

Do you

Live in someone else’s shadow despite shining like the sun? Do you inexplicably vandalize your pretty-boy good looks with a sloppy-joe man bun and a repellent pubic-hair beard? Do you think sounding stoned and sounding thoughtful are kinda the same thing?

Congratulations, your spirit animal is Casey Affleck.

He’s the self-canonized patron saint of anyone who’s got the goods but doesn’t give a damn.

Do you

Have mid-length hair and exude a certain feminine masculinity that is universally appealing? Are you drawn to situations that promise little to nothing in the way of grooming or hygiene as a transparently self-conscious attempt to conceal your radiant inner glow? Does that fail miserably?

Way to go, your spirit animal is Viggo Mortensen.

He’s the yoga teacher of actors, in that what should make him super nasty only increases his curb appeal.

Do you

Get zero recognition for work that everyone knows is unrivaled? Do you inspire greatness in others yet get shortchanged when it comes to your own acclaim? Are you a goddam B-52 bomber in an industry of biplanes?

Bingo, your spirit animal is Annette Bening.

What does it take for this artist to win an Oscar? Honestly now, if her performance in 20th Century Women doesn’t earn her every award on the planet, consider it proof that the Universe truly is a cold dark void absent of reason or compassion.

Do you

Walk into a room full of strangers and walk out with a room full of friends? Have you been hiding under the radar just waiting for the right moment to leap out into the spotlight and stay there FOREVER? Do you possess the almost messianic ability to elevate Shia LaBeouf’s on-screen charisma?

You guessed it (or not), your spirit animal is 100% Sasha Lane.

If you haven’t seen American Honey, then you haven’t heard of her. She came out of the blue with a performance both subtle and powerful, and now she’s going to be in all the movies from this moment on. Or she should be, at any rate.

Don’t see your spirit animal there? Worry not. There are many more nominees to choose from, and you can see them all (yes, including Shia LaBeouf) during the Independent Spirit Awards, this Saturday at 2pm PT/5pm ET only on IFC.

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Car Notes

Portlandia Keeps Road Rage In Park

Get a lesson in parking etiquette on a new Portlandia.

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It’s the most American form of cause and effect: Park like a monster, receive a passive-aggressive note.

car notes note

This unofficial rule of the road is critical to keeping the great big wheel of car-related Karma in balance. And naturally, Portlandia’s Kath and Dave have elevated it to an awkward, awkward art form in Car Notes, the Portlandia web series presented by Subaru.

If you’ve somehow missed the memo about Car Notes until now, you can catch up on every installment online, on the IFC app, and on demand. You can even have a little taste right here:

If your interest is piqued – great news for you! A special Car Notes sketch makes an appearance in the latest episode of Portlandia, and you can catch up on it now right here.

Watch all-new Portlandia Thursdays at 10P on IFC.

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Naked and Hungry

Two New Ways to Threeway

IFC's Comedy Crib gets sensual in time for Valentine's Day.

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This week, two scandalous new digital series debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib.
Ménage à Trois invites people to participate in a real-life couple’s fantasy boudoir. And The Filling is Mutual follows two saucy chefs who invite comedians to make food inspired by their routines. Each show crosses some major boundaries in sexy and/or delicious ways, and each are impossible to describe in detail without arousing some awkward physical cravings. Which is why it’s best to hear it directly from the minds behind the madness…

Ménage à Trois

According to Diana Kolsky and Murf Meyer, the two extremely versatile constants in the ever-shifting à trois, “MàT is a sensually psychedelic late night variety show exploring matters of hearts, parts and every goddamn thing in between…PS, any nudes will be 100% tasteful.”

This sexy brainchild includes sketches, music, and props that would put Pee-wee’s Playhouse to shame. But how could this fantastical new twist on the vanilla-sex variety show format have come to be?

“We met in a UCB improv class taught by Chris Gethard. It was clear that we both humped to the beat of our own drum; our souls and tongues intermingled at the bar after class, so we dove in head first.”

Sign me up, but promise to go slow. This tricycle is going to need training wheels.

The Filling is Mutual

Comedians Jen Saunderson and Jenny Zigrino became best friends after meeting in the restroom at the Gotham Comedy Club, which explains their super-comfortable dynamic when cooking with their favorite comedians. “We talk about comedy, sex, menses, the obnoxiousness of Christina Aguilera all while eating food that most would push off their New Year’s resolution.”

The hook of cooking food based off of comedy routines is so perfect and so personal. It made us wonder about what dishes Jen & Jenny would pair with some big name comedy staples, like…

Bill Murray?
“Oh, that’s easy Meatballs with Lingonberry Space Jam it’d be great, but then we’d have to Oh, that’s easy Meatballs with Lingonberry Space Jam it’d be great, but then we’d have to… Oh, that’s easy Meatballs with Lingonberry Space Jam it’d be great, but then we’d have to avoid doing any kind of silly Groundhog Day reference.” 

Bridget Everett?
“Cream Balls… Sea Salt encrusted Chocolate Ganache Covered Ice Cream Ball that melt cream when you bite into them.” 

Nick Kroll & John Mulaney? 
“I’d make George and Gil black and white cookies from scratch and just as we open the oven to put the cookie in we’d prank ’em with an obnoxious amount of tuna!!!”

Carrie Brownstein & Fred Armisen? 
“Definitely a raw cacao “safe word” brownie. Cacao!”

Just perfect.

See both new series in their entirety on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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