Friday, July 27, 2012

Podcasting: The Dark Knight Rises, Part 2

With the arrival of The Dark Knight Rises, a film that's transcended the simplicity of the calendar year to become a bonafide event, the good gentlemen at Out Now With Aaron and Abe decided that one episode wasn't enough. While Part 1 was designed from the outset to be completely spoiler-free, the crew really wanted to delve into the particulars of the plot and speak off the cuff, without fear of ruining the experience for the uninitiated. 

Part 2 is that conversation/breakdown/marathon. It's chock FULL of spoilers, so if you haven't seen the film, you've been warned. Don't be an idiot. 

You can listen to the entire podcast by clicking HERE to go to the episode's official page or by clicking the big ol' play button below.

Personally, I think this one might be one the show's finest hours yet. Enjoy!

This episode features: 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Podcasting: The Dark Knight Rises, Part 1

Just about everybody affiliated with Out Now With Aaron and Abe has had The Dark Knight Rises at or near the top of their most anticipated list for 2012, so it's no surprise that we've taped not one but TWO episodes devoted to the film. You can listen to the entire podcast by clicking HERE to go to the episode's official page or by clicking the big ol' play button below. 

FYI, this episode is spoiler-free. Part 2 (with an abundance of spoilers!) is coming soon, so keep a weather eye out. . .

This episode features: 

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises - Batman Fall Down Go Boom

I’m going to do something that I’d never have imagined doing, and compare Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy to Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather Trilogy. Sure, it’s not an exact correlation, as The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II are widely considered to be two of the finest films ever made, and I don’t think that many would suggest that even the finest of the most recent Batman films come anywhere close to equaling them. What I do think, however, is that an examination of the overall arc of each respective trilogy proves a bit more telling than you might think. If The Godfather/Batman Begins serve as the origin story, then The Godfather, Part II/The Dark Knight illustrates what happens when the established order of things comes crashing down and must be re-structured. With the first two Godfather films and Nolan’s first two Batman films, there’s a strong sense of time and place that come together beautifully. They just feel right. They belong together.

It’s not exactly a fair comparison, and I acknowledge that. Even at their best, Nolan’s Batman films are still about a guy who dresses up like a bat to go swinging from rooftop to rooftop, fighting crime with the aid of a motley crew of supporters, and, as such, there’s a fair level of far-fetched content that comes with the territory. Additionally, there’s a substantial backstory that’s got to be done justice here, with even minor characters needing to be handled just so.

Unfortunately, that also means that The Dark Knight Rises is this trilogy’s The Godfather, Part III.

This is one of the more disappointing films in recent memory, and it’s truly unfortunate, particularly after the goods that came before. Even though I have my issues with both of the series’ previous entries, I can’t deny that The Dark Knight is easily one of the finest superhero films of all, with a final 90 minutes that moves like freight train to a thoroughly unexpected and almost entirely satisfying conclusion. That said, The Dark Knight Rises has a simplistic script that relies on a fairly generous level of convenience and a lot of old-fashioned youvetakenthisasteptoofar-ism.

It’s ironic, because certain things that I didn’t think would play all that well ended up playing far better than I’d anticipated, and other things that I thought would be handled masterfully came across like lead balloons.

First, the good. I was very surprised to find that Anne Hathaway is a really solid Catwoman! Who knew? I’ve been in the “it should have been Angelina” camp since they started accepting members, but I was really pleased at how well Hathaway fills the ears and high heels. The character manages to maintain a fair sense of ambiguity with relation to her motives, and has some twists and turns that are really surprising. Just when you think you have her pegged, you realize that you really don’t. I’m also very happy that she’s never verbally referred to as "Catwoman." There was no need to take it in that direction, and the brothers Nolan didn’t. Her interplay with Batman provides for some of the most entertaining bits in the film.

Michael Caine’s turn as Alfred is his finest of the series. With the arrival of 2005’s Batman Begins, it took me a while to get used to him in the role, particularly after Michael Gough’s fine work in the Burton/Schumacher series. Wow. Caine’s work in The Dark Knight Rises is something else. While there’s still a bit of him filling one of Nolan’s pet parts as the character who rattles off long bits of exposition to fill the audience in on stuff, he’s wonderfully emotional at key points and serves as the film’s heart. He cares so much more about the young man that he’s loved since birth than he does the fate of a city, and it’s wonderfully moving.  I wouldn’t be entirely surprised to see Michael Caine end up with an Academy Award nomination. It might be a long shot, but I’d really like this to happen.

Also, with the entire narrative revolving around Batman’s fall and eventual rise (a few times over!), there are some genuinely spine-tingling moments when he gets back in the saddle again and comes around to save the day.

Now for the troubling bits . . .

There’s just far too much here that doesn’t really work. The idea of the series finishing off with Batman/Bane faceoff was one that filled me with an endless amount of excitement. He’s one of the single best villains in the Batman universe, but he’s just not that scary here, and his grand plot to reduce Gotham City to anarchy before it ends up in ashes works a lot better conceptually than it does on the silver screen. I think that the large shadow of the Joker is a bit of the problem here. The unstoppable combination of Heath Ledger’s masterful performance and a wonderfully written character provided for one of modern cinema’s finest villains in The Dark Knight. He had no limits, no fear, and no rules, and that made him ridiculously scary. From moment to moment, the viewer has no idea what he’ll do, and, what’s more, Batman has no way of controlling someone who’s not afraid of him. He’s the true anarchist of this trilogy. Bane, sadly, just doesn’t live up. He’s a “terrorist” who has an interesting connection to the League of Shadows, which provides for an endless amount of possibilities that just don’t really do that much. Additionally, the film has a way of giving you things and then jerking them right back. I’d say more (and will later), but cannot go into much detail here at the risk of spoiling things.

Furthermore, there are other things that JUST DON’T WORK. For example, did you know that now Batman sees visions? I didn’t either. It’s a foolish idea. If what he’d seen had been real, it’d have easily been one of the best moments in the film. Instead, its inclusion in the film makes no logical sense at all, aside from being a narrative device/old Nolan standby to give Batman (and subsequently the viewer) more information. What else? Bruce Wayne apparently suffered a severe leg injury that leaves him walking around with a cane throughout the early going, but is that explained? No, it’s not. The majority of the Dark Knight Trilogy takes place in the evening/twilight/night because that’s where Batman works best, right? Well, not here. Once the nuclear bomb subplot takes precedent, we end up in a whole lotta daylight, and that’s a strange thing from a visual standpoint, because Batman WORKS AT NIGHT. Take, for example, the mid-film sequence where Batman makes his first appearance in Gotham in 8 years. It’s a fantastic nighttime bit on the Batpod with Batman swooping in to clean up after the Gotham PD (again) that ends up with every police car in the city on his trail. It makes full use of the palate of nighttime colors, particularly those lovely flashing police lights, to put the Batman back where he belongs. Conversely, the final battle in the film takes place in broad daylight, and it’s just tougher to buy into the whole thing when you’ve got a dude running around dressed up like a bat at 2:00 in the afternoon.

Also, what’s the single greatest thing that Batman has going for him? His anonymity. Well, the number of people who seem to know who he is in The Dark Knight Rises is unprecedented. What’s more, even when a key character clearly HAS to know that it’s Bruce Wayne underneath the cowl, that person still seems shocked to finally learn the news for the “first” time.  

The single biggest problem that I have with The Dark Knight Rises is the ending, which is surprising. Going in, I was most excited to see what would happen at the film’s conclusion, because I really felt that all bets were off insomuch as to where the character might end up and what he might have to do to fulfill his destiny. Unfortunately, all it amounts to is one big cheat. Certain things are asked (and given willingly) by the viewer only to have them tossed back in the lap in a way that seems cloying and shallow. I would think that Nolan would be a smart enough guy to know that once you give someone a slice of chocolate cake, they’re going to be a bit angry to find out that it’s tofu about three bites in. Unfortunately, I guess he doesn’t, but I suppose that I ought to have been prepared for that, given Inception’s lackluster limp across the finish line.

Ultimately, I end up back at The Godfather, Part III. On its own, it’s not bad. It’s in the comparison with what came before that it suffers so badly. It’s a decent film, but a terrible Godfather film.

By the same token, The Dark Knight Rises isn’t a bad movie, but when you compare it to the previous films in the trilogy, it just doesn’t hold water.

Oh, what might have been. . .

2 ½ stars (out of 5)

Tragedy strikes

I'd like to offer my condolences to those affected by the shooting at the midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Colorado this morning. That anyone should be hurt for any reason is a terrible thing, but for a demented individual to use a moment that should have been a joyous one for people around the world for such evil purposes is horrifying. I'll be going to see the film in about 2 hours, and it's so sad that a great day's been marred by such horrible events.

Shantih shantih shantih.