Christopher Nolan – The Dark Knight (2008)

I watched this movie some time ago, and I mean rewatched. It was in preparation for The Dark Knight Rises (Nolan 2012), which I will not comment about on here. There are so many things to love about this film, and yet there are still some things to hate. Let’s get the hate out. Christian Bale’s voice as Batman has got to be one of the most grating voices in cinema, ever. Every time I hear him speak his mumbled, gnarled, overly deep words, I want to punch the screen. Literally, I hate it. Besides that there is not much else to bitch at in this film. The acting on the part of the supporting cast is tremendous. Not to belittle Bale’s performance, but I cannot get enough of Fox (Morgan Freeman), Alfred (Michael Caine), Joker (Heath Ledger, mind blowingly good), and Gordon (Gary Oldman, also fantastic).

It is no wonder that Ledger got the Oscar for best actor in a supporting role. It’s not his performance but his submission to the role that really enhances the psychotic mentality that is the Joker, and sadly, probably expedited his demise. Ledger’s ticks, his delivery of the scar stories, even his perfect nonchalance to all the chaos, enhance the role beyond my expectations. I will not say that he is better or worse than Jack Nicholson. I’ll just say Earth One and Earth Two.

Gary Oldman continues to delight me in his performances. I honestly cannot think of a film, in which Oldman was casted, that I did not like him, even if the movie itself was bland. He is just one of those actors, like Freeman and Caine, that I cannot help but love. Oldman has the desire for justice, the want of lawfullness, and the brass balls that make a good Gordon in my book. In fact, two of my favorite moments in the film are his return and promotion to Commissioner. That is a hard thing to say though, considering that there are many amazing moments in this film, “How about a magic trick?”.

What really make this movie fun and fantastic is the blending of the comic book action with the thriller drama. Look at how well the scenes progress during the two boats segment. Batman is using the radar to track Joker while two groups of people contemplate there own death and the fate of the other boat. You have the perfect match of a psychotic thriller mixed with the comic action that is Batman fighting a swat team and the thugs dressed as civilians, while the civilians are disguised as thugs. Classic B-man action.

I know I haven’t mentioned a key component in this film that I feel is crucial, and that is Harvey Dent played by Aaron Eckhart. After seeing Eckhart play the role as Dent and transform into Two-Face, I could not think of a better casting choice. I loved him in it. He quickly became the twisted individual with a sick sense of justice that I have come to know out of a Two-Face character. In this sense I will say I liked Eckhart better than Tommy Lee Jones (sorry).

I have rambled on about the characters and that is because despite the on par editing and the great soundtrack, the whole reason why I love this film is the cast. There are a couple of throw-aways, but they are not worth mentioning. For me, the cast makes this film work, without this unique mix of performers, I am not sure if this film, or series, would have been worth a damn.

 

The Cast

 

Next Post: Fritz Lange – M

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Josef von Sternberg – Der Blaue Engel

The Blue Angel (Sternberg 1930) is a sad movie about a sad man. The main character is Dr. Immanuel Rath (Emil Jannings), who falls in love with a burlesque artiste (Marlene Dietrich). Rath is a professor at a local college, which he emphasizes often. I am going to go ahead and assume that college means high school for us U.S. blokes. Overall I was not that into the movie. I had to actually steel myself to sit down and watch it, and I kept picking up my phone to distract myself. However, I finally focused about 30 minutes in to this 1 hour and 47 minutes spectacle of a film. There were definitely some interesting parts and some downright boring parts. So lets just leave it at that and focus on what was good.

To start with, Sternberg did a great job with parallels in this film. There are definitely comparing scenes that recall the opposing mindset of Dr. Rath and different points in the film. My favorite scenes were the middle (what I consider the middle, I didn’t check the actual time) and the end. Both are shot beautifully with the Dr. at his teacher’s desk. The camera is slightly to the right of the screen, and it starts to track backwards, never moving the Dr. from the focal point. The empty student desks are wonderfully symbolic of what is going on with Dr. Rath. Another parallel that I loved is the bird metaphor that is repeated. The movie opens with the Dr. waking up, being served breakfast, and then realizing his bird has died; the maid’s comment, “It stopped singing a long time ago.” This scene can be compared with the scene right after the Dr. first sleeps over at Lola’s. He wakes up to a bird singing. The bird metaphor here is fabulous, he thinks that just like the bird in a cage, Lola is also trapped. It is too late that he realizes that she is here of her own volition. No one has caged her, and therefore she needs no saving or taking care of.

The first half of the film is kind of boring. Dr. Rath’s character is pretty bland here and he becomes the butt of many a joke, for his students and the viewer. He really starts to shine at my halfway point when he sticks up for Lola against the insults of his boss. It is also here that his life starts to spiral downwards. Not to give to much away (if I haven’t already) but shit gets bad for Dr. Rath. The last half of the film is about Dr. Rath’s attempts at coping with his new life as a part of the traveling act that Lola is a part of. I think this last half is where Emil Jannings as Dr. Rath really shines. Throughout the whole film, he never says much, but during the latter half, his silence is gut wrenching. I just wanted him to scream and rail against everything, but he cannot even fathom what is happening.

I find it hard to continue this talk without spoiling too much so I’ll end it with this, if you’re a movie goer, maybe skip this one. If you’re a film watcher, check it out. For a film new to sound, only three years after The Jazz Singer, it handles sound wonderfully. Hence, why this film is considered a musical as well. In fact, it even falls within one of the two typical musical categories, a backstage musical. What I found great is that it mixed the backstage musical with the storyline musical, inserting music into everyday occurrences. But like I said, if you’re into film, check this out, not if you’re just into movies (you might think it’s boring, like I did at first).

 

Cast and Crew

 

Next Week: Howard Hawks – His Girl Friday, Christopher Nolan – The Dark Knight (I plan on watching both Nolan Batman’s in preparation for The Dark Knight Rises, eek)

Roland Emmerick – Independence Day

That’s right, fucking Independence Day (Emmerich 96). I just made this blog PG-13. I decided that with the 4th upon us U.S. people that a fitting movie would be right. So, after perusing my 1001 book, I found this gem of a disaster and sci-fi epic. I remember when I first saw this film; I loved it. I even begged for the alien toy so that I could open up the exoskeleton and play with the insides (hehe). Watching now, I have a different perspective. If the the title alone did not cue you, this movie is patriotic to the core. Amidst all of the humor, the catastrophe, and the off and on screen deaths, patriotism rings clear. But, I do not think it was all about U.S. patriotism. Let’s look at the film, and the cast to see what I mean.

A group of aliens attacks earth and tries to destroy everything and everyone. To combat this threat, militant groups worldwide get together to fight the invaders. Although the movie is definitely grounded in the States, it does reference and allow scenes that show the fight elsewhere (many of these scenes are stereotypical and cheesy though). The English fighting with Middle Eastern forces, the Russian, and even different Asian militaries are all fighting to exist. This is evidenced in the cast, which is as diverse as it is lacking. We have David (Jeff Goldblum) and his father, Jewish. We have Steve (Will Smith) and his girlfriend/wife Jasmine (Vivica A. Fox), Black. We have regular white people, even white people with Hispanic kids. We do not have any major Asian players…; anyway, Bill Pullman as the president says it best in his riveting and inspiring speech to the people before the big attack. We must put the petty squables aside for the sake of mankind. So, this movie wants to be about unity for everyone, and it succeeds and fails. A I stated previously, it shows scenes of people from different countries fighting the good fight, but they seem so cliche. Once again, the U.S. is the featured country in this film, and it does not stray far.

Now with that said, how cool is this film special effects-wise. You might not think so with the likes of Avatar (Cameron 2009) and Prometheus (Scott 2012) now being around, but for 1996, this movie had the stuff. First of all, it is science fiction, so that’s a win. Second, it has ridiculous humor like the casting of Randy Quaid, that’s another win. Third, watching national monuments get blown up is pretty cool, especially when it looks great, even today. This movie is a special effects spectacle. Granted there are plenty of lame effects too, like the obvious superimpositions, or work with green screens. However, that can be forgotten, and mostly ignored, when thinking about the film as a whole. I admit I did laugh when I saw this film was on a list of films you must see before you die. I mean that has to give it some credit right. All in all, I enjoyed rewatching Independence Day. I will end this blog with just one really bad thing. Did you have to make the strongest female character in the whole film a damn stripper, huh Emmerich? Why was the part of her backstory even necessary? My thoughts, they just wanted to show some ass. Does ass make this an R rated blog now?

 

Cast and Crew

 

Next Week: Josef von Sternberg – Der Blaue Engel, The Blue Angel

D.W. Griffith – Way Down East

Way Down East (Griffith 1920) will be summed up with three words, tragedy, ice, and jokes. A far cry from his earlier epic film, The Birth of a Nation (1915), this movie is toned down in terms of over the top everything. It is like he turned his hyperbole meter back to ten, instead of eleven. Truly and honestly, I found most of the movie boring, however, there are definitely some aspects of this film that intrigue me. Griffith’s use of close-ups on Anna (Lillian Gish), interesting editing for the time period, and use of sound effects, kept me interested enough to sit through the 2+ hours of the film.

From beginning to end Lillian Gish has many close-ups emphasizing a wide range of emotions. Actually, I think every emotion that she felt got a close-up, but I like that. Way Down East is a silent, black and white movie so facial expressions are important. Gish does an great job showing exactly how she feels in key scenes just with her face. When she is happy, elated, torn apart, dejected, suicidal, etc… I could tell just from the close-ups. Of course the film had other cues as to which emotion she would be feeling, but they were forgettable where her face was not. Without question, watching Lillian Gish in this film made me sit through the whole thing.

Now, on to the odd part of the film. It has only been a week since I watched an earlier Griffith film, however, I do not recall any sound effects at all. In this Griffith production there were some sound effects. Now, prior (and during) posting this I tried to do some research to see if that was a part of the original production or some added-on snippet in a remastering. As of now, I have no answer, therefore I will continue to write as if it belongs there. To me, the few sound effects that were in the film were oddly placed and too minimal. If Griffith intended for sound effects to be a part of the film, they should have been more prevalent. Obviously, any sound heard during a silent film, today, is a researched score that was played at the actual theater, and then placed on top of the film, giving today’s audience a feel of what it would be like in sight and sound in 1920. With that said, I do not think it too far fetched that they would include sound effects, silly maybe, but not improbable. But, I restate my opinion on this, if sound effects were intended then Griffith should have used more, or only used them during the final scene. There is knocking randomly, a plate breaking, and then the rushing river. These were the main parts that I noticed the sound. Scratch it all and keep the end sound only, that’s what I say.

(Spoiler)

Now that I have brought up the ending, let’s talk about that. Great scene, a classic. Lillian as Anna has fainted on an ice patch that is rushing down the river towards the falls as David (Richard Barthelmess) pounces to her rescue. The quick editing between Lillian being swept away and David literally jumping from ice patch to ice patch is suspenseful, clever, and actually fun to watch. Griffith’s editing here is fantastic, rushing the scene as the river runs. Glorious.

Finally, the last two aspects of the film that I want to bring up are the overuse of comedy for a melodrama, and to simply state it, the classic comedy structure of the film. As they say, It’s a comedy if it ends in a wedding, and this had three. The use of humor in this film was everywhere. There were more jokes than actual storyline here. The film switches from stricken Lillian over her predicament, to the goofy townsfolk of Bartlett. Even though a classic comedy is not a comedy as we know it today, Griffith sort of blended the two ideas, in the classical and contemporary sense, to give us this film. Therefore as I finish this post, I will change my stance (as usual), watch it, get some laughs, enjoy Lillian Gish and the ending scene. Oh, and tell me, did you find it weird that the movie ended with Lillian kissing her mother-in-law and not her new husband?

 

 

Next Week: Josef von Sternberg – Der Blaue Engel “The Blue Angel”

D. W. Griffith – The Birth of a Nation

Or as I will call it, “Racism shot fantastically.” Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915) is equally disgusting as it is a well shot film, for its time. I will not go on and on about what makes this film horrific, that has been done and is easily understood. Instead, I will just make a quick statement. Regardless of whether the director meant to or not, this film is highly disgusting in its racism and glorification of slavery, the KKK, and the Confederacy. Now with that said, let’s talk about why this film is worth watching. Seeing as how this film came out in 1915, there were many technological advances that were not around. Cameras were still a new concept and there are many techniques of filming that are used today that were explored in this film. For that reason, I agree with Joshua Klein’s statement about this film in his mini article featured in the 1001 movies You Must See Before You Die, “one of the most revered and most reviled films ever made.” The shots that Griffith filmed were something to be admired. For example, there is a scene in which a soldier is chasing a woman through the woods. In this scene, Griffith utilized deep space to show the woman running away as the soldier is in the foreground chasing her. In another scene, Griffith uses a long shot to show the long row of Clansman riding towards the town. Even as the men are riding, Griffith uses another technique that is used in every film, tracking. The camera tracks backwards as the men are riding towards it. All of these techniques are common place today, but in the cinematic world of 1915, they must have been truly original and ingenious. Another technique that is used in The Birth of a Nation, that is often used today, is crosscutting. Shots are edited together to show multiple lines of action at the same time. Shots of the Stonemans hiding are cut with shots of the soldiers coming to find them. This may not seem too inventive considering how often it is used, but with no prior point of reference, this was a marvelous tactic of film making. Griffith furthers his exploration of camera techniques by adding panning, filters, masks, super impositions, dissolves, and fading (not just cutting). Although some of these techniques were used in prior films, most were new to audiences. Just imagine, you go to the theater to see a historical epic, which is a new concept for film at this time as well, and see these amazing scenes with fantastic and large scale battles with action on all fronts. It really is a living story. Despite the fact that this film is infested with overtly racist scenes and themes, this movie should still be watched, if only for its cinematic merit and contribution to the art form. With that said, it is a 3+ hour silent film, with a nice orchestral score to accompany it. And, despite the character’s placement in the film, I did enjoy “The Little Colonel’s” performance in the film.

 

Next Week: D. W. Griffith – Way Down East (hopefully less clan)

Georges Melies – Le Voyage dans la Lune

The first thing that I need to say about this film is ‘wow.’ Only 14 minutes long, Le Voyage dans la Lune (Melies 1902) is highly enthralling. Keep in mind that this film was made in 1902 and the special effects are astonishing. During the time when film is just being discovered, Melies is already playing with camera tricks, dissolves, cuts, and it’s all a story. There were not a lot of fictional films in the beginning of cinema. If I’m not mistaken, early cinema was just real life on camera, like the Lumiere Brothers and their shot of a train coming into a station. The settings are awesome, even by today’s standards I’d say. The sets are obviously fabrications, part interactive and part painted backdrop, however, there are times when they seamlessly flow together. There is a scene in which the “wizards” are standing on a balcony in front of an industrial complex. There is smoke coming out of the stacks, and if you look close enough, they have rigged real flowing water. The fact that these effects were accomplished all through construction is mind-blowing. The storyline itself is fun. Scientists, or “wizards” by the look of them, decide to travel to the moon. They shoot a bullet straight into the eye of the man on the moon. Once there, they encounter moon-people, and finally drop off of the moon into the earth’s ocean. The version I watched is a recently restored edition that comes in a combo pack with Air’s soundtrack inspired by this film. Although the album itself is great, I disliked pieces of it played on top of the film. This film is a masterwork of visuals, and originally it was in black and white with hand painted frames to add color. Le Voyage dans la Lune is all about the look, and it does not disappoint. Find it, watch it.

Next week: D.W. Griffith – The Birth of a Nation (yikes…)