Monthly Archives: July 2008

Movie Review: The Dark Knight

When Spiderman first premiered in 2001, a revolution was beginning. The era of the comic book film had begun. As comic book films progressed, the great ones became not just moving imitations of the comics but real, 3-Dimensional people and conflicts. For now, the comic book film has reached it’s pinnacle with a masterpiece known as The Dark Knight.

Yes, The Dark Knight is a masterpiece. It’s more than just a movie based off of a comic book (although that’s not necessarily an insult) but a real action film. A real drama. A movie with characters we care about. It’s seething with wit, thrills, and suspense that no movie this year to this date has come close to providing. I didn’t think this movie could get any better than it’s predecessor, Batman Begins, but The Dark Knight proved me wrong.
The Dark Knight’s story is based off the cliffhanger of Batman Begins, and much more. Things have changed around Gotham City. The biggest mob boss in the city is no longer ruling the streets. A new person has taken over Wayne Enterprises. But, there sits Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) still dawning that costume every night and fighting crime as Batman. Batman has improved quite a bit. He’s quicker, sharper, and packed with much deadlier weapons. Something else has changed majorly in Gotham though, and not for the better. The city is getting worse; even more dangerous. There seems to be hope on the horizon as new DA Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart, who makes the character seem like he’s hiding something) promises to clean up the crime ridden streets of Gotham for good. However, a new villain is about to rule the streets, one more dangerous than both Batman and Dent combined could ever imagine.
This new bad guy is The Joker (the late Heath Ledger). He’s a psycho that not even your worst nightmare could handle. Some might take sympathy in his claims that his father’s terrible abuse of him is the reason he wants to put his pain on the entire world. That however is not enough of an excuse for what he does but only a tiny fraction of the reason. He’s the kind of man with no soul; who takes absolute pleasure in watching everything burn and knowing he caused it.
What makes the Joker stand out from any other psychopath in the world of movies is the actor who plays him: Heath Ledger. He went to unimaginable lengths just so he could play the Joker perfectly. This ranged from keeping a diary to staying in a hotel room alone for a month. It’s this that drove him mad, and so unfortunately killed him. It was a death too young for an actor who was just beginning a bright and beautiful future. His maddening method performance is one on the level of Robert De Niro, Marlon Brando, and Daniel Day Lewis for like these three actors Ledger commands the screen in every scene he is in and becomes all the scarier. No other actor could’ve played the Joker as Ledger did. And it may be early but I think Ledger is a definite shoo-in for a posthumous best supporting actor nomination.
Ledger’s performance isn’t the only great one in The Dark Knight. Everyone puts something to the table, especially the always great Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman and Michael Caine. Bale as Batman is great as always. Two newcomers contribute something to the cast as well. Eckhart’s Dent is a man filled with so many emotions it’s impossible to tell whether we should love him, feel for him, or totally loathe in. Giving the role of Rachel Dawes to Maggie Gyllenhaal over Batman Begins Katie Holmes was a wise choice especially with the fact that Holmes suck. Gyllenhaal brings life and emotion to an extremely important character.
So much more than just the cast makes The Dark Knight a great movie. There’s the daring decisions made by writer/director Christopher Nolan (Memento) that helped make Dark Knight different from most comic book films. The effects are stunning without relying too much on loud and unnecessary explosions and CGI. 
Nolan has improved from the first movie in shooting action sequences and fights. Each one is done so well with so much stealth and heart racing suspense that you don’t want them to end but you want so badly to see how one side will get out of it.
The Dark Knight is the kind of movie that shows its audience what makes movies so great. The story grasps the audience from its first shot and begs them to keep guessing and learn more and wait until the film ends to see how it will all turn out, because you’ll never see it coming. The final cliffhanger leaves us with even more unanswered questions and even more of a reason to tune into the next movie in the series. It is one that shows a city that has become so dark and evil that it is literally impossible to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys. Then you look around and realize, there may be no good guys out there and that beacon of hope and that knight in shining armor aren’t going to be arriving for a while. Even Batman, the distinguished hero, may not be as good as we thought.
The Dark Knight creates a vision of the world that’s so dark and disturbing that may be even more realistic than the hellish society in Se7en and Blade Runner and more towards the wholly realistic hell holes seen in Taxi Driver, Chinatown, and The Wire.
It may be based off a comic book but I take no shame in saying that The Dark Knight is far and away the best film so far this year and may even remain so come the end of December.
R.I.P Heath

Movie Review: Blood Simple

The first shot of Blood Simple, the first Coen Brothers’ movie ever, begins the same way as their latest film, No Country for Old Men. It starts off with stills of vast, empty Texas landscapes. You might think that nothing lives here, with only slight hints of man’s corruption of the land and the world. Over the images is the voice of a mysterious, unseen narrator. He sounds like an old man, sharing his thoughts about what the world has become and the dark road it’s heading in.

Blood Simple is no simple film. It is a masterwork of twists, turns, shocks, and bloodshed. It changes direction so suddenly and only hopes the audience is following. There is no Anton Chigurh type super-villain in this movie but each of the ordinary characters fall into madness is scary enough.
It starts off with bar owner Ray (John Getz) whose fed up with his cheating wife (Frances McDormand, in a star-making role). So he hires Private Eye Loren Visser (brilliant M. Emmet Walsh) to track down his wife and her lover (Dan Hedaya) and kill them both. Nothing goes down as quick and easy as Ray hopes, and before he knows it he gets double-crossed and nothing gets better from there. A long trail of blood ensues.
This is the first film from auteurs Joel & Ethan Coen but it feels more like a master director at work rather than a debut feature. Each scene is handled so well and so unpredictably that viewers will be tantalized with suspense. Each turn of events is as surprising to the audience as it is to each character. Also, the Coens show their trademark care for character details. Even the smaller stuff, from how someone ties their shoes to how another one gets rid of a dead body is handled with meticulous detail and care. And so much depth is put into each character it’s impossible to know who to root for and who to root against. This could be why the Coen Brothers are still one of the best in the business today.
In Blood Simple the Coen Brothers ponder some of the same themes and ideas about life as they do in all of their films; what is the value of a life? Can you alter fate? In a situation of murder, betrayal, and thievery, whose the bad guy? And for that matter, whose the good guy? Well, this is a world where no one is truly good and no one is truly evil. It’s up to you to decide what path you want to go on. And as Loren explains in the film’s first few minutes of narration, “…but what I know about is Texas, an’ down here… you’re on your own.”
An extraordinary film that’s greatly violent and devastating with a touch of humor, Blood Simple is a movie that must be seen by anyone with a love for the art of film.

Movie Review: The Blair Witch Project

In 1999 when The Blair Witch Project came out I was just six years old and knew barely anything about movies besides the fact that The Spy Who Shagged Me was the greatest movie I’d ever seen (things have changed since then). Titles like American Beauty and Fight Club were tossed around my brain every once in a while. But it was always The Blair Witch Project that seemed to interest me. And now, I have finally gotten to see it.

After finishing The Blair Witch Project I wondered what seriously made people so interested in this movie? Maybe it was the fact that it was made for under $100 thousand and ended grossing way north of $100 million, a truly rare feat. Or the groundbreaking style in which it was shot. Or maybe it’s the mystery of whether the story is myth or fact. A dream of the two filmmakers of something that really happened. In the end, it’s all style over substance.
The story is shot all with what looks like one shaky handheld camera. It focuses around a film crew who go deep into the woods of Burkittsville, MD in order to film their documentary on the legend of the Blair Witch. The Blair Witch was some sort of monster who supposedly killed a group of teenagers but was yet to be discovered. Apparently the whole crew disappeared and the footage is all that remains. Did the Witch get them? Or did they just loose their way?
One of the main things that makes Blair Witch stand out is the way it is shot. The shaky camerawork makes it seem like it’s true first person footage from the film crew. This style has inspired works of pop culture today ranging from Cloverfield to the documentary style of The Office and Arrested Development. This style is used effectively in those three, but it doesn’t work to full extent in Blair Witch.
What made the shaky camera style in Cloverfield work so brilliantly was the fact that we got to view everything through the man’s camera. And I mean everything. From the huge spiders to the giant monster himself. And we saw it as he did, and felt just as surprised as the main characters were. However in Blair Witch, we see nothing. The only hints that there is something is weird growly noises that might as well be a dog and lots of screaming and running.
The worst part though? Actress Heather Donahue. All she does is scream for 87 minutes and in what could have disturbing turns out to be campy. Yes, her performance elicits quite an amount of laughs. And she may have been trying to make it seem realistic, but it just becomes so over the top that you could never picture any real person behaving this way.
The Blair Witch Project should be admired for how much new ground it broke; it made mockumentaries popular and showed the huge potential that indie films would hold in the future. And while it changed so much it just isn’t a great movie. It takes over an hour for something to happen and once it does it’s barely anything. All that character development throughout the movie results in nothing and in the end you feel no sadness, fear, or sympathy for the characters.
One thing however that fascinates me about the movie is whether or not it’s real. The way it’s shot makes you believe in the possibility that this wasn’t even meant to be a real movie. Could this have been real footage of people who actually went missing looking for the Blair Witch. The biggest mystery however, is where did directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez go to after this huge success? Did their own film perhaps trick them in believing the Blair Witch was real and they’re out there, searching for it right now?

Movie Review: Amelie

When I first read Fahrenheit 451, there was one part that struck me. A man is persecuted simply for slowing down and enjoying the scenery. He became a victim of today’s fast paced culture. Why is it though that it is so wrong every once in a while to stop, look around, and smell the flowers. Amelie is a film about a woman who realizes the small wonders around her and it is itself a small wonder one must slow down and look at closely to truly enjoy it’s beauty.

The title character Amelie (Audrey Tautou) lives alone and works in a cafe in Paris. She’s no stranger to solitude. Growing up without a mother and with a father who’d barely hug her, Amelie’s only friend became her vivid imagination. While in her apartment one night, she discovers a box of toys from a boy who lived there long ago. She decides to return to it’s rightful owner. Soon, she makes it her goal to help everyone around her have a better life. In the long run the woman who’d rather watch the bug crawling across the wall than the man talking on the movie screen seems to forget the most important thing: herself. 
Amelie is the kind of movie that involves patience (much of what it’s message is about). If you get too weirded out after the first 10 minutes than you’re truly missing the finer things in life. This is a movie for the patient, and the patient are truly rewarded. 
If you’re not big into foreign films, think of Amelie as a French version of a Wes Anderson film. Like an Anderson movie, we are given a comedy that shows a new perspective on life. It also introduces a cast of quirky characters through their smallest subtleties. Their likes and dislikes are focused on highest. And like any great Anderson movie, it contains spectacular set pieces. Objects are made humans. Colors intensified. Like a friend of mine said, each shot is truly like looking at a beautiful painting. And even if it is like a painting, it doesn’t make anyone less human.
The true greatness of the film is the character Amelie herself. Her humor and outlook on life just might change your’s. 
That Amelie evoked in me the ideas of Fahrenheit 451 to The Royal Tenenbaums shows how truly strange, inspired, and imaginative it is. And I’ll throw in a third, one I actually didn’t like too much, Fellini’s 8 1/2. Like 8 1/2 it was almost a search for what life means and where to find it an to find it, you must first evaluate your own existence. Amelie teaches that every once in awhile you can slow down and enjoy the beauty of life in the most unexpected places. And beyond those small wonders surrounding there’s one wonder that’s surely overlooked…yourself. Yes sweet Amelie, you truly appreciate the subtelties of life but why not find a way to make yourself happy?

Is It Happening?

Well, a few days ago it seemed confirmed that an Arrested Development movie would be hitting the big screen. Is this just some big talk? Is the cast just a little too overexcited of the possibility of a movie? I know I am too. But for now, I am extremely happy to say that the Arrested Development movie is going to happen! Just about a week ago I was beginning to loose my faith in humanity with the upcoming Disaster Movie. Now that I know that AD is coming to the big screen, I can now say that my faith in humanity is slightly restored. And to whatever God that allowed this to happen, I say thank you very much and I will one day repay you.

Haven’t watched Arrested Development yet? Well, after all the times I’ve begged you why the hell haven’t you yet? It’s never too late. But in the meantime, enjoy this classic AD clip: