Review: The Dark Knight

I never would have thought it possible that the best film of this year, or any year, could involve a masked “superhero.” Ah, but that’s where the epic, five-act Dark Knight cheats. Here we have a sprawling film about a damaged and, yes, possibly even deranged billionaire vigilantly fighting the forces of chaos in the form of a maniac clown. Such words are not written lightly for Heath Ledger as Joker supplies one of the most vivid and impenetrable villain performances of the decade. And the support staff ranging from Michael Caine to Morgan Freeman is equally up to task. Christian Bale, of course, is the heart and soul of the film but I gotta hand it to Nolan and co. for allowing Bruce Wayne/Batman to exist as one piece within the larger jigsaw of Gotham’s rich and varied metropolitan ecosystem. Bale allows us in on his struggle but he never whines like many Hollywood Superheroes tend to do. Bruce Wayne does his part and takes his bruises. And not just the physical kind either. 

 

As a piece of cinema –a pure piece of cinema– “Dark Knight” is consistent, cogent and completely involving. Unlike Nolan’s flawed but fascinating franchise reboot “Batman Begins” (the best Batman…till now) this sequel has a theme (the fate of Gotham) and it targets it with equal part action and ideals. What will surprise many, though, is how much more this is a thriller/cat and mouse detective film than it is simply action. With an epic feel for the duality of men who fight crime and men who are crime, this film is reminiscent of the crime saga “Heat” of all things. Yes, the action supports the story but, in turn, story supports character. And from character: tone. Some may argue that this film is simply too long and ponderous to work. I say a good film is never too long. This is especially true when a director has integrity, vision and a game plan. On this spectacular project Nolan confidently explores the space of his screenplay, rendering with an exacting vision this city and these characters before it puts them in action–this refreshing stance sets “Dark Knight” apart from most if not all summer movies. Also unlike the usual summer movie, there’s not an abundance of needless style at play, either (ahem, “Wanted”). Instead of trying to distract the viewer Nolan allows the actors, beautifully rhythmic musical score and reliably lucsh cinematography by Wally Pfister to flesh out the story. 

 

High energy set pieces scenes include motorcycle chases through the dark and soiled streets of the city, the opening bank heist where criminal turns on criminal, and countless race-against-the-clock-itties where Batman must race from one side of the city to another to meet Joker’s demands a la “Die Hard With a Vengeance.” All have meaning and stakes; the action elements enhance the story by giving the complex (if bombastic) ideological struggle between classes, morals and politics a real, almost Lumet-like edge. Batman, every the brilliant detective (a detail no film till now has really captured) works with the police in an attempt to “save” Gotham from Joker’s needless “terrorism” but by the end we realize that working with the system is part of the problem! To fight chaos the Dark Knight must that very thing, darkness, and accept that he too is an outsider or “freak.” And Joker telling Batman that “you complete me” is one of the character’s few lines that is dead serious–this underlines the film’s central point. On one hand we have Batman representing justice, imperfect as it may be. And of course there’s also the Joker who revels in chaos (a great touch is how Nolan muddles the Joker’s origins as his facial scar story changes). Joker, of course, steals the film but a twist(ed) development sees a third character enter the scene, the crime fighting District Attorney Harvey Dent known as the white (as opposed to dark) knight of Gotham who, with his incessant coin flipping, is all about chance. Dent, played by Aaron Eckhart, is the final piece to the film’s success and the final tipping point for me in being able to call this one a masterpiece. As he strives to rid Gotham of its criminal elements he comes across as a nuanced man that is pure in intention but vicious in compulsive determination. Hum, it’s almost as if he’s two faced. Having said that, the only entity that’s not two faced in “Dark Knight” is the filmmaker who’s bold enough to tell this story, and tell it straight.  

grade: A

2008 Emmy Nomination Reaction

 

What a strange year for television. Personally, I was glad there was a strike cuz it enabled me to catch up. Hell, I’m still planning on making a Best Of TV for last year. The only problem is the first word of that title. “Best.” Haven’t found much. And the Emmy prospects seemed like a tougher call. What stood out last year? Okay, people say “Mad Men” but that was on AMC of all places, AND it just came out on DVD so I guess I’ll have to catch that (especially because my friend says its the best show of the decade). But what else? Here’s what I’m happy about and here’s what makes the Emmy’s notorous for celebrating crap.

YAY

  • Curb Your Enthusiasm for best Comedy–A fantastic season full of memorable moments (From freak books to divorce). Perhaps the best ever for a show many said wasn’t as good anymore. 
  • Dexter For Best Drama–Cool! What a brill show. I like that a lull in network swill enabled a dark/funny/innovative/hard to define show like this to finally get some accolades. Bout time. And, hey, Dexter (Michael C Hall) himself got noticed. Even better! And, hey, even the cinematography got noticed. 
  • No Wire Love–Because, really, the show is NOT as good as everyone says.  
  • Ralph Fines Nominated for the First Time–Nominated for… Bernard And Doris… crickets. Who cares, he’s Ralph Fines! 
  • Lost Nominated For Best Drama–It missed getting a best drama nod since it won on its first year. Ouch. This is a nice warm show of support for a show that’s still got us hooked. Sure we all bitch about the ups and downs of Lost but, come on, it’s still just about the best thing on network TV. 
  • Ben from Lost–Awesome that he slipped in. But where’s the nom for Desmond and Locke?
  • In A Rare Moment of Clarity, the Emmy folks didn’t fall for Grey’s Anatomy, Desperate Housewives or Ugly Betty again–At least there’s some sense.  
  • Ralph Fiennes, Tom Wilkinson, Kevin Spacey, Paul Giamatti, Catherine Keener, Susan Sarandon, Judi Dench, Laura Linney–Is this the Oscars? No, but it’s just the kind of talent the small screen needs. 

F-That 

  • Battlestar Galactica Pretty Much Ignored–Way to stay relevant Emmy people. 
  • Larry David Not Nominated for his Genus Work on Curb–Didja hear, Charlie Sheen from that monstrous glob of lameness known as 2 and a Half Men is better than David. 
  • Best Comedy Nominees–Two and a Half Men!? Entourage!? The Office!? 30 Rock!? I’ve given all these shows a fair shot and can’t stand any of them them. They just get on my nerves (none moreso than the meandering cocktastic Entorage). Not only are all these shows overrated, but they’re annoying. PS, yes I’m aware that it makes me out of touch for not buying into The Office? 
  • Tina Fey As Best Actress— Really?! Has anyone every actually seen her act. She’s a pinch better than Jimmy Fallon for Christ’s sake. Meaning very smug acting style and almost on the verge of laughing at how brilliant she is.  
  • Kristen Chenoweth For Pushing Dasies–Grr. 
  • And For That Matter The Rest of the Best Supporting Actress Contenders–Jean Smart, Holland Taylor, Vanessa Williams, Candice Bergen, Chandra Wilson, Sandra Oh. Blinded by mediocrity. 
  • Speaking of “huh,” Every Single Guest Actor Nominee–Yeah, like everybody is talking about how good Charles Durning as John Gavin, Sr. is on Rescue Me. 
  •  The Dramatic Directing Nominees— Oddly enough, NOT very dramatic. Boston Legal, Breaking Bad (what?), Damages, and House are not cutting edge television and it’s too bad  shows like Battlestar were not noticed here. Still, I’ll check out the pilot of Damages. And I must say that while I enjoy the Spader/Shatner cluster-F on that show, it’s direction is consistently the worst thing about it. To zippy and unfocused. It’s like a Michael Bay courtroom dramedy. 
  • David Duchovny for Californication–like, why wasn’t he nominated? 
  • Saturday Night Live’s Poehler up for Best Sup Actress = Stupid–Amy Poehler is considered for the main comedy category as opposed to the ‘Variety, Music Comedy’ section. This makes no sense. It also makes no sense that SNL gets a nomination, period. 
  • No Sopranos–This has nothing to do with the Emmys (it won last year after all). I’m just missing the show. 
  

Review (redux): No Country For Old Men

I finally got around to seeing the Coen Brothers “masterpiece” “No Country For Old Men” the other day. Since it won best picture I figured I needed to see it again and reevaluate. Fact is, when a film (even one I like) wins the most coveted of movie trophies I tend to, you know, not want to stay the night after it’s over. “American Beauty” went from landing a spot on my top ten to feeling phoney, grandiose, and riddled with holes. “Return of the King” went from classic to really good.   

Anyhow. What hit me is how a second viewing of this film reveals as much as it conceals. When I first saw it initially I was wrapped up in the story of a man who steals a bag of money and, well, I’m sure you know the rest by now. What stands out the second time is how little the film explores this character. Josh Brolin is good here but there’s not really a character at al, just a man of action and grunts. That, and an awful lot of  snappy one liners that make little sense like “If I’m not back then tell my mother I said hello.” “Your mother’s dead” PAUSE “Well then I’ll tell her myself.” So, then, who is this film about? The killer, Anton “Sugar” as he’s called. Like Brolin, Bardem is good for what the character is, but the character is nonexistent. He’s all stairs and catch phrases (“friend-o,” “call it,” etc.). Which is the point as he’s this blank force. He doesn’t represent evil so much as he represents lack-ness. Lack of humanity, lack of morality and lack of humor (which turns out to be funny as the scene in the gas station proves without a doubt). How bout’ Tommy Lee Jones? Once again his character is startlingly one dimensional and out of place and, once again, this is by design; thumbing through McCarthy’s sparse but beautiful novel the other day, I appreciated how all of Jones character’s scenes are in italics as if to separate his views and perspective from the main plot. A second viewing still yield great pleasures in Jones scenes or, better put, moments, in this film even though they belong in their own parallel film. 

But for all that might strike me as underwhelming the second time around, the filmmaking is as stark and brilliant as ever. Every shot is a joy to watch. I like its simplicity, humor and almost economic sense of poetry at play (and, yes, it does play). When a bounty-hunter is shot, the Coens take a few beats before cutting to a close-up of blood as it creeps towards the killer’s shoes. Equally brilliant/haunting is the way the Coens captured the killer then Sherrif’s reflection in a television set.

Beyond filmmaking –pure and simple as it is– there isn’t much of a film here. That sounds strange when I read it to myself out loud but it’s how I feel, or felt until I thought about it. Being that their last bizzaro crime saga, “Fargo,” is a film that is ALL about character I must assume that the Coens are doing something very specific with this film. But what? Watching it again I must refute all those chatty claims that this film is espousing some elaborate political or philosophical viewpoint–the brothers must be laughing as we try to interpret the Sheriffs dreams or his exhausted stances towards the state of things. The old man tells to the (younger) old man, Jones, in the penultimate scene that things are not getting worse but have always been fucked up. No minced words there. That can only leave nihilism. And I hand it to the Brothers for making me realize that all the random causality, lack of depth and meaning IS THE FILM.      

adjusted grade: A-