The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises is the final film in the Christopher Nolan Batman Trilogy. If you know nothing about this trilogy then the best way to debrief you about this fantastic take on the fictional character is that the films depict what this comic book character would look like in the real world.

Since this was the final chapter in the trilogy, I had my reservations about whether the storytelling of the film would succeed at tying it in with the previous two. Thankfully, one thing I can tell you is that my reservations were completely unfounded and this film is a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.

The plot of the film is quite simple. Bane (Tom Hardy) seeks to overthrow the upper class by destroying Gotham with a bomb. Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) is at the same time plagued with guilt because he knows Batman didn’t kill Harvey Dent. The Dent Act was put in place after the death of Harvey Dent to destroy organized crime but, even though organized crime has been destroyed, it’s been put out of commission based on a lie. Bruce Wayne learns of Bane trying to destroy Gotham and decides he needs to come out of retirement to stop him. Bruce Wayne as Batman fights Bane and loses badly and gets put into a prison inside a pit to recover and watch Gotham burn. Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) also wants to destroy the upperclass by stealing one item at a time.

The Dark Knight Rises is very close to being a masterpiece. All of the characters and their storylines make sense. The main thing I like about this final film is that you see more Bruce Wayne than Batman. Bruce has essentially let himself go following the death of Rachel Dawes in The Dark Knight. It was an absolute joy to see Christian Bale play Bruce Wayne as a vulnerable person. He was completely out of practice of being Batman and watching him retrain himself was fascinating.

Anne Hathaway as Catwoman is a revelation. She is seductive without being overly flirtatious and had the physical skills to take down anyone who confronted her.

The real heart of this film is Sir Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth. Alfred confronts Bruce Wayne about becoming Batman again and there is a real sadness to Alfred because Bruce is like a son to him. Alfred ends up giving this speech to Bruce in an effort to convince him not to become Batman and his speech moved me to tears.

The only negative of this film is that while Bruce Wayne has motivations for being Batman again, the film failed to explore what he really wants for his life. I am not sure whether Bruce is okay with not being Batman. I feel like John Blake (Joseph-Gordon-Levitt) did a better job at being what Batman stands for than Bruce Wayne did.

There’s some thematic subtext in the film that references the occupy Wall Street movement, which is a nice way to tackle Bane’s motivations for destroying Gotham City, but it also hinders us from knowing Bane as a person before his injury. In fact, I think his origin story comes too late into the film’s third act for us to have the correct amount of sympathy for him. Regardless of the fact that Bane lacks humanity, the actions he performed before his injury make him a highly sympathetic villain.

In short, go see this movie as often as possible because it shows that strong characters and a story with a message can make for a very satisfying conclusion to a superhero trilogy.

Film:

Replay Value:

 

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is a simple movie that asks a complex question: what do you value when the world is ending? This is the central question that main character Dodge (Steve Carrell) has to discover and then answer.

Dodge is an insurance salesman drudging through his existence. His wife leaves him three weeks before an asteroid is supposed to destroy the earth, which shakes up his routine after a few days. He randomly meets the giftedly-whimsical and friendly neighbor Penny (Kiera Knightly). Penny longs to find someone who can fly a plane to take her home to Surrey, England, to see her family before the world ends. 

After spending some time with Penny, Dodge learns that his high school sweetheart is still in love with him. He decides this is the last chance for him to connect with someone he loves, so with Penny and a dog named Sorry in tow, Dodge makes one last journey to find the love of his life and he promises Penny a plane to England once he reunites with his true love.

One of the things that makes this film so remarkable is that every moment spent with Penny and Dodge is treated with complete honesty, humor, and respect. Everything that happens to these characters during their road trip feels real and is sometimes humorous. 

Dodge hates being honest about the harsh reality that the world is ending so much that he can’t even tell his Mexican cleaning lady that she doesn’t have to clean his house anymore. He is afraid of disrupting her routine and he plays life safe until he meets Penny.

Penny is young and is doing her absolute best to experience life before the world ends. She helps bring Dodge out of his routine and comfort zone. Through Penny, Dodge learns to love life again and, as the story progresses, we learn more about what these characters were like when life wasn’t going to end.

Steve Carrell turns in a touching performance as Dodge, a man who has prided himself on dodging emotions and risk. Carrell does the smart thing in this film and doesn’t play the character as angry, but rather as a person who neglects to see and seize life’s opportunities. Watching Carrell open up Dodge’s personality throughout the film is a complete joy and by the time it reaches its foretold climax, you only wish you could spend more time learning about his character. 

Kiera Knightly is the last actress I would think of when casting this movie, but this is her best performance yet. She initially comes off as flighty and kooky but, as the film progresses, her charm, wit, and intelligence show through in a character that could have been a one-note personality.

Lorene Scafaria capably directs Seeking a Friend for the End of the World by focusing in on characters’ faces so we can see how their emotions change throughout the three weeks. She rightly knows never to pull away from the connection that is slowly being formed between Penny and Dodge, which makes the ending of the film painful but satisfying.

I have longed for a story about strangers realizing how great they can be and this film left me thoroughly pleased that I had taken the journey with Dodge and Penny. I value life a bit more now because I saw this film and if it moves you as well, which I hope it does, maybe you will value how precious life is too.

Film:

Replay Value:

 

TED

TED tells the story of John, an unpopular boy in Boston who gets a teddy bear for Christmas. John wishes that the teddy bear could come to life to be his best friend, and a falling star grants his wish.

Fast forward 27 years, and Ted and John (Mark Wahlberg) have aged. Ted does an amazing amount of crazy things that usually involve John and his girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis). The main question of the film develops, which is whether or not John can stop being a boy and become a responsible man who is able to move on from Ted.

TED is basically an extended episode of the animated sitcom Family Guy. The thing about Seth MacFarlane, who wrote and directed TED, is that he goes out of his way to be as offensive as possible. Anyone who was born in the 1980s will enjoy the popular culture references sprayed wildly and often throughout this film. There are references to (the so bad it’s good film) Flash Gordon that would make any child of the 80s squeal with delight. 

Ted loves to smoke weed and is generally irresponsible as a character. He loves to party and flirt with women and really isn’t reliable until John starts losing Lori and failing at his job. In other words, Ted only becomes likeable as a character when things with John have reached a point of no return and Ted has to fix what he has messed up. The fact that Ted can become likeable at any point in the film is a testament to the strength of Seth MacFarlane’s screenplay.

The actors of the film impressed me immensely as the story progressed. I would have never considered Mark Wahlberg for a role in this film, let alone given him the lead. He proves himself to be surprisingly comedic and seems adept at tackling any form of physical or verbal comedy thrown his way. Mila Kunis isn’t given much to do in this film other than look pretty and criticize Ted for being irresponsible. Her character (Lori) has a weak storyline about her boss’s attraction to her, which isn’t something that fleshes out the personality of the character, and thus causes a missing piece in the film. 

There are also a slew of cameos from actors people know currently or remember from the 80s, and all of the jokes involving them work fine.

The film’s music is a standout because the score was written by Family Guy composer Walter Murphy. One negative of the score, however, is the fact that it is essentially portions of the theme song played at the beginning of the film, rather than it being a score that reflects the emotions of the characters as the story progresses.

Overall, I laughed a lot while watching TED and found myself at ease with most of the offensive humor on display, knowing that MacFarlane expects the audience to know how to take a joke. I would love to see Seth MacFarlane tackle something more dramatic next time, but this bear and his best friend, John, were just as lovable as Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin.

Film:

Replay Value: