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Knight at the Movies: The Dark Knight Rises; DVD notes
by Richard Knight, Jr., for Windy City Times
2012-07-22

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Four years ago I touted The Dark Knight as the best, the most enthralling blockbuster of all time. But with that excessive praise I also doled out a warning because the movie came at a price and so does The Dark Knight Rises, director Christopher Nolan's third and final installment in his take on the Batman mythology.

It, too, is as pitch-black as its title. It, too, is a film that works on you psychologically at the same time as it's ramping up your senses. But unlike its predecessor—which managed to straddle a perfect balance between a thrill ride and a heavygoing downer—Nolan's new movie tilts so far toward the latter that the emotional pummeling dilutes his triumphant, grandiose set pieces.

We pick up eight years after the previous installment. Christian Bale's zillionaire Bruce Wayne has become a hermit, physically and emotionally falling apart and fixating on what butler/caretaker Alfred (Michael Caine) reminds him on a daily basis is a really unhealthy death wish. Batman has been relegated to the Batcave, declared a murderer by the public after the superhero took the rap for the crimes of Harvey Dent/Two Face—a man that the residents of Gotham City believe was a hero and not a killer. But Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) knows better and, though the city is peaceful thanks to a tough crime policy called the Dent Act, the guilt is eating him alive.

Bad boy Bane (Tom Hardy)—a supersized supervillain who is fitted, Darth Vader-like, with a mask over his face—has been busy building a terrorist network down in the city's sewers while the city sleeps. Bane, who is a front for the wealthy business leaders of Gotham, has plans to hold the city hostage and enact the terrible retribution he and that mysterious group of assassins led by Liam Neeson (portraying Ra's Al Ghul) think the city deserves. With Batman out of the way, there's nothing to stop him.

But the Caped Crusader, as it turns out, hasn't quite left the scene. Intrigued by warnings of imminent danger in Gotham from Selena Kyle—aka Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) a pretty jewel thief he catches red-handed—Bruce finds himself unable to keep his mitts off that rubber batsuit. Eventually, his long projected mano a mano with Bane will occur, and order will be restored to the once again beleaguered city.

Nolan adopts the same tragic mood and sweeping scale of grand opera that he used in the two previous outings, emphasizing this with the Wagner-like score of Hans Zimmer (whose music is so omnipresent that the movie is unthinkable without it). Nolan's script, co-written with brother Jonathan, is filled equally with melancholy monologues that are placed between the jaw-dropping set pieces. These serve to deepen involvement in the characters, which is, to the good. Also fine are Hathaway, who is fast and funny (though not sexy in the least), a returning Morgan Freeman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as an eager young cop, and Caine as worrywart Alfred.

However, the relentless gloom of the movie; the socialist agenda of the hulking Bane (Karl Marx would've embraced his vision); the unexciting addition of Marion Cotillard, whose character seems wedged into the proceedings; and, mostly, the absence of Bale, whose Bruce Wayne seems shunted into the background, tamp down these gains.

Also, Bane's Hardy can't hold a candle to Heath Ledger's Joker. Where Ledger was gleefully insane, shooting for the fences in every scene, Hardy's character is literally fitted with that muzzle so that when he talks in his high-pitched accent he's doubly hard to understand. (Like a lot of these baddies, he also loves to talk and talk and talk.) The most impressive thing about Bane is his thick-as-a-brick wall body. (Like Nolan's previous Batman outings, there's more than a hint of the homoerotic swirling about the proceedings).

When first encountered, we are invited to take a good, long look at his imposing, naked upper torso and, like the "Humungous" character in Road Warrior, we are cued to find it both a turn-on and turn-off. Bale, who also impresses in the physical department is, as usual, technically proficient but distant. He's not a leading man who invites warmth or familiarity—which, ironically, is oddly perfect for the duality of Batman/Bruce Wayne with his death wish; however, there's also an underlying something (creepiness? iciness?) about Bale that permeates everything he does on screen. He's not easy to love, making it hard to root for the characters he plays.

Those caveats aside, filmmaking on this scale is admittedly awe-inspiring. And not unlike the moment in Inception when Ellen Page flipped Paris on its side, Nolan's eye-popping spectacle is certainly breathtaking. But it's a joyless, bitter epic without a hint of exhilaration. The Dark Knight Rises is the kind of doom-and-gloom blockbuster that Ingmar Bergman would have made—given the budget or inclination.

DVD notes:

—Director Sheldon Larry's fictional modern-day take on the L.A. drag-ball culture, Leave It on the Floor, is now available via VOD. The movie, which had its local debut at the Chicago International Film Festival last year, is an exuberant, sassy and, at rare moments, heartwarming peek inside the rigid construct of the ethnic gay drag ball world. A DVD edition follows early next month.

—Let's be kind and just say that the attempt to reboot the slapstick antics of The Three Stooges was less than thrilling from either a financial or creative standpoint. So why bother to note that the movie has just been released on home video? It's merely to point out that a couple of the stars are prominent members of Our People. One of the Stooges (Larry) is played by gay actor Sean Hayes and red-hot lesbian actor Jane Lynch is the other, expertly playing (as usual) the supporting role of a mother superior.

—From the ridiculous to the sublime: Considered by many to be the greatest film musical of all time, 1952's Singin' in the Rain is celebrating 60 years with an ultimate collection gift set. Gene Kelly stars, choreographs and co-directed (with Stanley Donen) this hilarious, thrillingly paced musical centered on the transition from silent to talking pictures during the tail end of the Roaring Twenties.

Darling Debbie Reynolds (just 19 at the time), Donald O'Connor and the brash, comically horrible Jean Hagen co-star. For freshness, vitality, humor and sheer visual spectacle, few movies can hold a candle to this fizzy classic that Warner Home Entertainment is releasing in a lavish Blu-ray gift set that includes everything from the usual goodies to an umbrella (!), and as a standalone disc as well. This is one of the rare films—musical or otherwise—that rewards as much during the 19th' viewing as the first.

—Out director Terence Davies' carefully appointed, tremendously acted and gorgeously photographed film adaptation of Terence Rattigan's The Deep Blue Sea is also coming to home video July 24. The story of an ill-fated romance set in England during the difficult rationing period just after WWII is emotionally dense and slow-moving—but ultimately rewarding.

Check out my archived reviews at www.windycitymediagroup.com or www.knightatthemovies.com . Readers can leave feedback at the latter website.


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