Friday 20 July 2012

Film Review: The Dark Knight Rises

"When Gotham is ashes, you have my permission to die"

This review may contain some minor spoilers.

Eight years on from the events of The Dark Knight, Batman (Christian Bale) returns to the city that branded him a criminal to save them from a new enemy, terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy). 

Christopher Nolan's first two Batman films are seen as something of a benchmark as superhero films go; 2005's Batman Begins reintroduced The World's Greatest Detective to cinema-goers in dark and gothic fashion, followed by 2008's even darker The Dark Knight. Not one to disappoint, Nolan has done it again, with The Dark Knight Rises perfectly ending the trilogy in heart-poundingly tense and dramatic fashion.

The stakes, and the scale, are higher than they have ever been before, with the isolated Gotham City in a state of civil war and on the brink of annihilation. When the action kicks off in the film's final third, it's bigger than we have ever seen in a Batman film. It is also the most emotional Batman ever, with plenty of scenes that'll bring a genuine lump to your throat. The Avengers this ain't.

"I'm not afraid, I'm angry"
Going in, it felt as though one of the film's biggest drawbacks would have been it's long running time; at over 2 hours and 45 minutes it is something of a marathon event. This however turned out to be not the case at all; if anything, the time flies past so that it barely feels like 2 hours. The film is paced impeccably and never feels like it drags, even in the plot-laden first hour. This fairly plot-heavy opening hour is probably the film's only minor downside. As Nolan attempts to weave together all the necessary strands for the film, such as introducing a plethora of new characters (Bane, Miranda Tate, John Blake, Selina Kyle, Daggett), as well as recap the fallout from Harvey Dent's death, it can feel quite complex. For people new to the franchise, and therefore unfamiliar with the existing core characters, it would be hard to follow at the best of times.

Not that you can expect many people you haven't seen Batman Begins or The Dark Knight to be in the audience anyway; as a concluding chapter in a trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises completes one entire story that started eight years ago. Not only does it begin with a memorial to TwoFace/Harvey Dent and see Bruce Wayne continuing to ignore the cape and cowl as a result of his death, but it sees the return of some old foes from the first chapter.

Anne Hathaway was purrrrfect as Selina Kyle/Catwoman
On the whole, The Dark Knight Rises has more in common with Batman Begins than The Dark Knight, which I really liked. As a story, it focused more on Bruce, not Batman. Also, it  gave less focus to the villain. Something The Dark Knight did well was really hone in on the relationship between Joker and Batman but it meant that the focus wasn't solely on the titular Knight. Not so in this one; this story is all about Bruce/Batman and not about Bane. Sure, Bane is the main antagonist, but he merely serves the purpose of giving Bruce the motivation to return as Batman and little more than that. It is good however that Bane is a physical opponent that tested Batman's strength, something that Scarecrow and Joker could never have done previously. The films centre-piece, a tense face-off between Bats and Bane is brutal and crushing, a stand-out scene. Fans of comic book series' like Knightfall won't be left disappointed...and I'll leave it at that. It is a little hard to make out some of Bane's dialogue at times and, with the mask covering most of his face, Tom Hardy's performance is a little inscrutable. He did well to come across as brutal and uncompromising, as well as intelligent and calculating but at the same time, wasn't a patch on the late Heath Ledger's cackling, psychopath Joker.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake
Christian Bale was brilliant as Bruce Wayne/Batman and probably gives his best performance of the trilogy here. He brings the necessary emotional gravitas as Wayne (especially in the film's pain-stricken middle third), as well as the imposing strength and weight as Batman nearer the end. Other returning actors such as Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman, as Alfred, Jim Gordon and Lucius Fox respectively, were also excellent, the first's anguish and pain at a watching a dedicated Bruce Wayne force himself back into action is especially poignant. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is also solid as hot-headed detective John Blake.

The real star of the show however was Anne Hathaway; Her husky and breathy voice, jet-black hair and slinky frame have made her absolutely purrfect for the role as morally ambiguous cat-burglar Selina Kyle. It was always going to interesting to see how she fitted into Nolan's hyper-realist universe but everything about her character fits in well with the surroundings; her masquerade mask, utility belt, lycra catsuit and cat-like vision goggles are a far-cry from the stitched-leather suit paraded around by Michelle Pfiffer in Batman Returns. It's a shame her character has only been introduced in this final chapter; the banter between her and Batman is very funny and allows for the mood to be lightened ever so much.

Technically, The Dark Knight Rises is also a marvel; it is shot beautifully, with snow-covered, war-torn Gotham evoking images of the 9/11 attacks. Nolan's ability to tug at heart strings is shown best here; a destroyed football stadium, an American flag in ruins all resemble all too familiar images of our own world. In addition to the fantastic cinematography, Hans Zimmer's rousing score perfectly complements the ideas of revolution and uprising that Bane insights.

The big question is however, is it better than The Dark Knight? Well, Part 2 of the trilogy does have stronger villains in Joker and Two-Face but then Part 3 has the necessary pay-off and closure, as well as additional allies for Batman in Kyle and Blake. In my opinion, the two stand on-par with one another as both are breath-taking and emotional films that convert real-world themes like the War on Terror and the GFC into mass cinema-friendly characters, settings and plots.

Overall, The Dark Knight Rises is sublime and heart-pounding. It is an epic conclusion to the trilogy in almost every way and fully-deserving of all and any acclaim it receives. It is one of those films you walk out of the cinema already wanting to see again. I give it 9/10. 

Monday 16 July 2012

Verdict: Life's Too Short

Life's Too Short features stars like Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp. 

Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant; the comedic geniuses behind landmark television shows like The Office and Extras, An Idiot Abroad, The Ricky Gervais Show, a plethora of podcasts and stand-up tours. Now, they're back with a third slap of comedy in Life's Too Short; but how does it stack up alongside it's predecessors?

Initially it might seem that Life's Too Short is treading over old ideas. Similar in concept and approach to both The Office and Extras through it's 'documentary' style and twisted versions of familiar faces, Life's Too Short doesn't appear to be doing anything that Gervais and Merchant haven't tackled before. It's themes of discovering the harsh realities of fame and fortune can be seem reflected in the chronicles of previous character's David Brent and Andy Millman.
Protagonist Warwick Davis, famous for appearing in the Star Wars and Harry Potter films, exhibits all of the same traits one would associate the Messrs' Brent and Millman; ignorance, obnoxiousness and being generally offensive. He is however, on the whole, a more likeable and endearing character than his predecessors'.

There is no doubting that the special guest appearances are works of genius. Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter's short skit's were genuinely funny. Depp's dedication to his new film (it's directed by Tim Burton y'know), leads him to studying Warwick, and the more excited and intense Depp becomes the funnier it is. Likewise, Bonham Carter's inability to work alongside Warwick because he's a dwarf is the equal amounts cringe-worthy and funny.

Also, the scenes where Ricky and Steve play dead-pan and "holier than thou" versions of themselves are gold; fans of Extras will delight at the addition of Shaun "Barry from Eastenders" Williamson as the duos errand boy.

The show however, like both of Gervais' and Merchant's previous works tries to do a lot more than just flex it's muscles and show off its star power. There is heart and soul in Warwick's mistakes that show that Life's Too Short has a story and a message to tell. Yes, the jokes are skin-crawlingly awkward and make you want to throttle the star, but this all adds to the charm and appeal of the show. You do feel that come the end of the story arc, Warwick will have learnt from these mistakes and changed his ways in the same way Andy in Extras did.

This being said, the similarities to Extras and The Office are in my mind a little too obvious; the format, the character roles, the settings, the general feel. All of these factors add up to give a overbearing sense of deja vu. For example, Rosamund Hanson's role as Cheryl is really just a re-imagining Ashley Jensen's Maggie in Extras. She may be genuinely funny but it is easy to see where the idea for the "ditzy girl" character came from. Also, once the novelty of going "ooh look it's Johnny Depp/Liam Neeson/Steve Carrell" has worn off, the show reduces itself to laughing at midget ten-pin bowling and Warwick climbing a bookcase three times his size to reach a trophy.

So even though its more of the same witty and clever stuff from Gervais and Merchant, Life's Too Short seems to fall a little, well, short to be honest. It might have genuine character development and a moral at it's heart, but it is also not as revolutionary as The Office and not as outrageous as Extras were, and is seriously lacking in Karl Pilkington.

Wednesday 11 July 2012

Film Review: The Amazing Spider-man

Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker/Spider-man

How soon is too soon for a re-boot? Five, ten years? When Sony Pictures announced back in 2010 that a reboot of their lucrative Spider-man franchise was on its way, many people reacted with despair, proclaiming it too soon for Spidey to given the a rework since Spider-man 3 had only been in cinemas 3 years previously. Now, two years later, The Amazing Spider-man swings into cinemas a mere decade after the Sam Raimi original.  But does it live up to its namesake?

Thursday 5 July 2012

Film Review: Snow White And The Huntsman

Fairest of them all? - Kristen Stewart
It all starts with once upon a time, weaves it's way through familiarities like an apple, an evil queen with a black heart and a heroic huntsman, but Snow White and The Huntsman gives fresh life to an old fairytale, albeit not completely convincingly. 


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