We Want Action: The Last Witch Hunter (2015)

After realizing that the Fast & Furious movies are the best superhero films around, I’ve developed a new appreciation for Vin Diesel. He’s not the best actor in the world, but he’s pretty damn good at doing his thing (knowing looks, confidence, being huge, driving cars, saying “I am Groot,” etc). With that in mind — as well as a few How Did This Get Made? episodes focusing on his films — I decided to give The Last Witch Hunter a watch. I remember hearing exactly nothing about this one when it came out and you know what? I kinda liked it a lot. Continue reading We Want Action: The Last Witch Hunter (2015)

I Very Much Enjoyed The Dark Knight Rises

My wife has very kindly offered for me to head over to the theater and watch Dark Knight Rises a few times. I bowed out because it was too late one night, I wasn’t up to the three hour commitment and I just wasn’t feeling up for something so seemingly intense another night, but today I took her up on her very generous offer. As I tweeted before heading over to the theater, I actually can not remember the last movie I saw inside as the few new movies we’ve gone to since Lu was born 15 months ago have been at the drive-in.

Somehow, I’d actually been able to avoid any and all spoilers since the film’s July 20th release date. I might have written about Dark Knight Rises a few times a week for Spinoff leading up to the film, but since then any and all stories have been purely about box office. I’ve scrolled over tweets, avoided emails and even skipped some of my favorite podcasts to stay in the dark. I’m actually shocked it worked.

I don’t think I need to get into too much detail about the plot, but this film picks up eight years after the events of Dark Knight. Batman’s been out of commission since then, vilified thanks to his plan with Jim Gordon while Harvey Dent was turned into the city’s fallen knight. It’s been a good time for Gotham…until Bane comes to town and wants to knock everyone off their collective high horses.

Okay, the rest of the review until otherwise stated will take place in SPOILER country, so you’ve been warned. What I liked about this movie is the journey it took us on, even if it’s not one that’s necessarily the most original. Bruce is destroyed by the death of Rachel from the previous film and doesn’t know how he can go on living when she can’t do the same. This dovetails nicely with the plan he hatched with Gordon, giving Gotham the Batman they deserve. We also discover that Bruce’s distrust of humanity make him automatically deject any plans that might be used negatively even if their primary source could be good. That’s the kind of person her is at this point.

Bane is a whole different animal, one whose MO feels like a living breathing thing throughout the movie because we’re only hearing and seeing it from other peoples’ perspectives for the most part. I thought that was a really interesting take on him: you basically only know him by his actions and his speech, not because you know anything about him or his past. The way that his plan not only confirms the fears Bruce always had about the tech getting into the wrong hands but maybe also that you might as well get some good out of things even if they can be abused for evil (that’s not said anywhere on film, but something I thought while watching). I will say that the voice took some getting used to. It almost sounds like someone dubbed in a funny voice in that opening scene, but gets a little less cartoony as it goes on. I also had a hard time understanding him a few times, but that didn’t really bother me. You tend to understand the point he’s trying to convey.

I also want to talk about Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake. Man, I loved this character and his arc. He’s Bruce Wayne if he wasn’t rich, an orphan who learned later how to hide his anger at what happened to him and his parents, but eventually decided to do good by joining the police force. How he goes from that to freedom fighter could have been a whole movie in its own right and one I would have watched. I also enjoyed Anne Hathaway’s performance. She really dug into her bag of actor tricks going from flummoxed demure maid to femme fatale in no time flat, something that could have felt slopping in the hands of a lesser actress. She’s the bad guy side of the Bruce Wayne/John Blake model: poor kid taking what she needed to survive and never really stopping, but wanting to.

Making the proceedings even more entertaining for me was the fact that some of the Batman comics I read growing up were the basis of this story. I’m seen lots of comic movies and really enjoyed them, sometimes going back later and reading the stories they were based on, but I really can’t explain to you how much a part of me the long form Bane story Knightfall meant to me. Those were the first Batman issues I ever collected. I devoured the parts of that story I could find and it lead me to buying Batman comics for the next 20 years almost. But that’s not all, the movie also includes elements from the No Man’s Land story that saw Gotham cut off from the rest of the country and even some of the Bane/Ra’s al Ghul stuff that came about in later issues. I was even retroactively remembering how things fit in with my comics after we found out who Miranda Tate really was (facepalm, of course it was her!).

The movie wasn’t perfect though. Like I said, Bane’s voice was pretty cartoony at times, to the point where I was trying to figure out what animated character he sounded like. It doesn’t help that I have no idea what Tom Hardy sounds like normally. I also thought some of the larger crowd fighting was a little weak, specifically outside city hall, though the bouts between Bane and Batman were always gnarly. OH, and how awesome was it seeing Batman and Catwoman fighting awesomely side by side?! Oh, right, I’m on complaints. Let’s see…oh, Batman took an awful lot of very previous time to stop and say goodbye to Catwoman and Gordon when flying the bomb out, didn’t he? It reminded me of a much less campy version of that famous scene from the 60s Batman movie where he’s trying to get rid of the bomb.

Speaking of the end, I thought it was very curious. Going in, I knew that this was going to be Christopher Nolan’s last Batman film (unless the famously tricky director is playing with us once again), but I was also assuming that this would be the last Batman movie set in his movie universe, like Warners would just scrap it and start over again with a new idea. But that’s pretty silly isn’t it? In comics, sometimes a writer leaves and blows everything up, leaving the next guy to pick up the pieces and sometimes there’s a really smooth transition. It seems like Nolan was giving whoever comes after him a very easy access point. They can clearly move forward with the John Blake developments or bring our hero back any number of other ways. Heck, Nolan could even still produce like he’s doing on Man of Steel, that would give him time to work on whatever his next original project will be. I don’t know any of the answers here, but I like having the questions running around my brain.

End SPOILERS. So, yeah, I really enjoyed this movie. It didn’t grab me right away in the beginning, but kept winning me throughout and by the end, I was completely in, rooting for Gotham and believing that one man really can make a difference. I was so pumped on the way home I had to make sure to watch my speed. I also bought in hard to the idea that you have to make sacrifices to help change things, you can’t just hide behind whatever’s safe or even your family because you’re just making a crappier world for your kid to live in if you’re not helping change things.

Christopher Nolan Is Awesome

I’m not sure if Memento or Insomnia was the first Christopher Nolan movie I ever saw. I think it was when I saw 2000’s Memento my freshman year (2001-2002) of college (on DVD), but I’m not 100% sure on that because I definitely saw 2002’s Insomnia in the theater while home from college. Of course, I had no idea who Nolan was at the time, but both movies greatly affected me. I had seen plenty of movies that play with viewer perception before seeing Memento (like Usual Suspects or Lost Highway), but it quickly cemented itself in the vaunted list of movies that are awesome. After seeing Inception last night I thought about watching both movies again, but the thing about Nolan films is that they’re incredibly intense. After watching his movies, you not only feel like you’ve gone on a journey with the lead, but also feel drained because of it. With that in mind and the lateness of the hour, I decided to do something else and checked out his first feature-length movie called Following (1998) on Netflix Instant.

But first my thoughts on Inception. Don’t worry, there aren’t spoilers in here, but if you’re like me, you might want to keep avoiding any and all talk of the movie before seeing it so nothing gets ruined. I recommend that, actually. Anyway, I loved this movie. It’s just so versatile. The dream stuff is fascinating and really well thought out (you can tell Nolan has worked everything out in his head even if it’s not all on the screen). It’s just such a damn smart movie, there’s so much to think about and talk about. I just finished reading Cinematical’s list of theories and plot holes about what was actually going on. Honestly, though, I don’t really care. I just enjoyed sitting there and absorbing the whole experience (though the theater we went to had the volume up too loud and the screen seemed to be vibrating almost, which was less than ideal). What surprised me though was how action packed the movie was. You’ve got some superhero-ish fighting that made me wish Joseph Gordon-Levitt had played Spider-Man and a James Bondian winter assault that was just fantastic (actually better than anything in a Bond movie). And the whole thing is just so damn taut. You’re trying to keep up with the layers and the timing and the van is falling and what the hell was that and oh my god WALK FASTER! It’s really a stellar film that was expertly edited.

Okay, I can’t completely avoid SPOILERS, so here’s the only problem I had: how come the kick of flipping in the van (in the accident, not when it went off the bridge) didn’t wake anyone up? Also, how does a kick work if your physical body isn’t being kicked? I understand that the sedative allows inner ear functions to stay intact, but if you’re asleep in the dream world (which would put you two layers down) why would a kick work on you, especially if your inner ear isn’t actually being effected because you’re flying on a plane? I’m not saying these are plot holes, just things I didn’t get and might understand better when I watch the movie again, which I most certainly will when it comes out on DVD. For now, though, I’m just going to let it marinate.

I’m still kicking around the idea of doing a Nolan marathon thanks to Memento and Insomnia being on Netflix Instant and his two Batman flicks being in my DVD collection, but instead of watching something I’d already seen, I went with Following, a movie about a writer who winds up following a thief who befriends the writer and teaches him the ropes of breaking and entering. The film doesn’t have the same heady concepts as Nolan’s later films, but it’s by no means your average film. There’s a lot going on here with scenes being told out of chronological order, characters changing appearances and, as you might expect, bad things happening to the male lead.

I’m not sure if it’s the black and white-ness of the movie or the big city setting, but the movie kept reminding me of Darren Aronofsky’s Pi which came out the same year. They’re very different movies told in different styles, but they feel thematically similar as the two leads are following their obsessions down roads that get them into some trouble.

I really should give the movie another watch because I was kind of tired and not giving it my absolute full attention, but I think I ended up understanding the whole thing after some initial confusion (thanks to the non-linear storytelling).

Nolan’s first and last movies are pretty different, but you can tell they’re made by the same guy. With both movies, he starts chronologically later in the story and then jumps backwards in time to explain things. With Following, it’s the main character actually telling someone else what’s going on, with Inception, it’s in medias res and we eventually catch up. I’ve always been curious about this form of storytelling because it contains a bit of a spoiler, but you don’t really understand it until later on. For instance SPOILER in Inception, we see old Saito in the very beginning. We don’t know what it means at first, but once we’re told that dying in the dream world puts you in limbo where you get old and crazy, we know exactly what’s going to happen to Saito, so you spend the rest of the time he’s around wondering when he’s going to die. I wonder why some storytellers reveal their hand like that, but Nolan–in both movies–does an excellent job of dropping you into the story, giving you some clues and giving you so many other things to think about that you tend to forget those opening scenes, sometimes desperately trying to remember them to try and figure out what’s happening (were those his kids on the beach? did we see their faces? what happened to the top when the old man spun it? and on and on and on).

Writing this post has made me want to watch his filmography again which I could do today if the mood strikes. The only movie I don’t have easy access to is The Prestige, but that’s okay, 6 out of 7 ain’t bad.

UPDATE: Just saw that Insomnia actually isn’t on Netflix Instant. Not sure if I completely made that up or what, but sorry about the misinformation.