Tag Archives: 2008

The Dark Knight (2008)

“You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

Cast:  Christian Bale, Heath Ledger and Aaron Eckhart

I think everyone was anticipating the release of this film and for a very long time! After the fresh, innovative take on the Batman franchise by visionary director Christopher Nolan – who is becoming one of the best storytellers of today’s day and age – who thought it could get any better than Batman Begins?!

The Dark Knight marks the second instalment in Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Though if you can believe it, the super-director revisits this iconic hero on an even bigger scale than before, with everything else amped up to suit. From the goodies to the baddies, the score to the CGI, the twisting plot turns to the full-on, all-out action sequences, there is no doubt that what we have here is a piece of art.

The Dark Knight takes place a few months after Batman Begins and Gotham is still in a very corrupt state. Criminals still rule the underworld and law and order is rarely enforced. With it being such a backwards society, Batman decides to combine forces with Lieutenant Jim Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent to try and tackle the degenerative state on Gotham’s city streets once and for all. What Batman doesn’t bank on is a new villain rising from the depths. The Joker, a crazed criminal who thrives on chaotic spontaneity and moments of lunacy is Gotham’s new and unprecedented criminal mastermind, and Batman’s new match.

What a treat the audience are in for with this film. Depending on your own definition of a ‘superhero’, I would go as far to say that I think this is the best superhero movie ever. It’s dark, gritty, big, serious, unpredictable and constantly coming at you. At no time did I feel a lull in the storyline nor was I beginning to notice the generic sequences of other superhero films sneaking into the script. While Batman Begins covers the origin of the hero, exploring why he is who he is, it also pushes boundaries and teases us with potential character developments and further explorations, which The Dark Knight does its best to satisfy our curiosity with.

The sequel delves further into Bruce Wayne/Batman’s story (and other characters for that matter) but does so in a complex and tense manner that will have you thinking more seriously about this man than you have ever done before. The way in which Bale portrays this playboy, Bruce Wayne, with his obvious deep-seated issues, set alongside his alter-ego Batman, a serious law enforcer, caped and masked crusader with no apparent sign of slowing down, is utterly fantastic. This switch-up game also allows for a subtle sense of emotion to be seen fuelling some of Batman’s actions, which again, gives a new dimension to the hero. You can sense his pain, frustration and anger, even when he’s wearing the suit and hiding behind a mask – which must have been a hard feat to pull off. Again Christian Bale does a great job and pulls another solid performance out of the bag, reassuring us why he was cast as the face of the new and improved Batman in the first place.

Though let me have a moment to state the obvious..

Heath Ledger. What a performance. With each scene he’s in, he commands the screen, pulling your attention right on him. He without doubt gives the best performance of his tragically short-lived life and does so with such pizzazz, flair and conviction that his character has already become an iconic villain within the film community. While he was nominated for an Oscar for this role, I have a feeling people will think he was awarded it out of respect or perhaps even commiseration. Well no, lets just look at this performance, personal issues aside. It most definitely is an Oscar worthy role. He completely allowed The Joker’s character to consume him and I think he understood that character more than anyone else. I believe the make-up and costumes really allowed for him to get more involved with the role too, giving him a mask of his own to hide behind so he could act more extravagant and wild, making this villain what I consider to be the best in Nolan’s trilogy. If he was alive at the time of the Academy Awards, I believe Ledger would have still walked away Golden Statue in his hand.

Other obvious choices of praise go to Aaron Eckhart, his performance of Harvey Dent/Two Face really blew me away. Though I do feel for him as all of the attention was on Ledger as the film was opening. Still, we get to see him at his best here and he was eventually given the recognition he deserves for this role. Returning actors Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are both brilliant, and a few other familiar faces from Batman Begins also make (un)welcomed appearances. The cast for this film is really stellar, I can’t fault anyone, mainly because Katie Holmes was replaced by Maggie Gyllenhaal which was a major step up in the tables. Yeah, Rachel is still whiny, but Maggie pulls it off better than Katie did and with much less sass.

On my first watch of The Dark Knight, I felt so overwhelmed by the combined elements of the film that I needed to watch it a second time to be fully appreciate the magnitude of the film. A third and fourth time helped too, but even now, I come across little things I’ve missed on previous viewings. As with Batman Begins, there is too much good about The Dark Knight to go into detail with. Nolan really packs it tight with carefully selected elements which ensure the best possible outcome. Ranging from fantastic CGI, to innumerable plot twists, subtle messages, top class acting and most of all, the scariest villains you could ever meet, The Dark Knight is a bloody brilliant spectacle, showcasing Nolan’s real talents as a director.

Star rating:  9/10

Directed by Christopher Nolan.

Running time 152 minutes.

The Wrestler (2008)

“The only place I get hurt is out there. The world don’t give a sh*t about me.”

Cast: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood

When faded wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson has a brush with death and feels his identity slipping away, the retired wrestler steps back to evaluate his life, reminiscing about his glory days in the ring. When the chance to fight his long time nemesis presents itself once more, Randy must decide between his mortality and the chance to be where he feels most appreciated and loved.

Once upon a time The Ram (Rourke) was one of the most famous wrestlers around, a true icon in the ring, but now – 20 years later – Randy is earning his keep by fighting in front of a small selection of fans in high school gyms and community centres. After a heart attack puts a new meaning on his life, Randy decides what’s most important and tries to reconnect with estranged daughter Stephanie (Wood) and convince stripper Cassidy (Tomei) to settle down with him.

Mickey Rourke is fantastic as Randy. A subliminal cast move (Rourke used to be an amateur boxer) and a successful move by Aronofsky after his previous long-winded flop, The Fountain. Rourke makes you feel everything, from the scars outside to his inner demons within. It’s amazing how he spurs up such a vast majority of emotions,; frustration, regret, disappointment, joy. No one else would have been more suited for the part and this film can definitely mark the comeback he was needing. While some may draw comparisons between the character and the actor, to watch the film without knowing about Rourke’s past has no real effect, it just works as a little nod to the audience on behalf of Rourke.

As for Marisa Tomei, wow. First off, her body is in great shape (no body-doubles were used) and secondly, how many actresses playing strippers in a dingy club can say they maintained a level of dignity throughout a film? Well, here’s one for starters. Tomei is brilliant as desperate pole-dance Cassidy. Bonding with Ram over an occasional few beers, her connection with him is much deeper than what a few 20s would buy. They both make a living off their bodies for starters, and both fondly reminisce over what life in the 80s and 90s used to be like. Tomei just keeps getting better and The Wrestler has to be her best move yet.

This film is another fine piece of work from director Darren Aronofsky. A poignant piece that explores the life of a has-been on his way to get back where he feels he belongs. A film that pulls no punches where honest despair, frustration and desperation are involved, for any fan of Aronofsky, The Wrestler is a must see. For anyone else, The Wrestler is also a must see!

Star rating:  8/10

Directed by Darren Aronofsky.

Running time 109 minutes.

Man On Wire (2008)

“The fact that I could not speak French, and didn’t know what the sound was or what had happened with the wire… was probably just as well.”

Cast: Philippe Petit, Jean François Heckel, Jean-Louis Blondeau

Seeing really is believing. But I think I’ll just go on and watch this a few more times.

Man On Wire is a documentary about French tightrope walker Phillippe Petit and his quest to conquer the unbelievable, wire walking between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York. We are shown how he and his gang managed to outwit security, defy gravity and push the limits of the impossible sky high.

In August 1974 Philippe Petit amazed the world by doing the down right dangerous, but simply stunning act, of walking 8 times across a wire between the 2 tallest buildings in New York City. While onlookers stopped in the street and the police and rescue services were called, Philippe continued to entertain the growing crowd for 45 minutes.

Though a documentary, this film really is entertaining, engaging and well made – I’m not saying that just because it’s a documentary it shouldn’t be, but just that it did all of these things really well. It surprised me how successfully it grabs the attention of the audience, mainly due to its fascinating subject matter, probably the most talked about stunt of the 70s. Maybe even today. While you could say: “Yeah I saw a video of that guy”, you haven’t seen the months of preparation, the constant anxiety felt within the group and amazing talent behind that “guy” until you’ve seen this film.

With director James Marsh having access to all of Philippe’s footage, there really was no limits on showing just how extraordinary and massive this idea was, from, at the time, just a young street performer. Through the use of actual footage and photos we are shown every bit of progression with Philippe’s plans, and very cleverly through restaged footage, the stories that are told by the interviewees are dramatised – adding so much more to the film. You could perhaps even class it as a thriller for this very reason.

The film moves so effortlessly between these bits of footage you also find yourself guessing whether it is genuine or acted. It manages to be quite humorous too, Philippe is an obvious entertainer and he relishes that fact, coming alive in front of the camera. One scene in particular where he and his friend have to resort to hiding under a tarp for hours while a guard on duty, completely unaware of their presence, wanders around the top floor of the building had me in stitches.

Another thing that is revealed is just how risky the whole idea was. Yeah, I do just realise what I said. Let me explain: never mind the height, the unpredictability of the weather, getting caught while trying to get the equipment up to the roof or the fact that he was walking on a wire, but the people rigging the wire – one of the most vitally crucial things that had to be done precisely – were not trained. Philippe had to teach them. No pressure though, right?

It’s a completely amazing story. As his friends recall the event, tears are shed and we can see just how emotionally invested they were and perhaps, still are. This was their friend and there was a chance he could be killed if he made even the slightest mistake. We can watch it now and know he did it. He’s fine. But at the time there was no guarantee, no assurance he was going to do it successfully. You can see it in everyone’s eyes while they relive that day. What pure elation when they describe how beautiful it was. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about how relieved and proud they were, and still are, of him. It is truly a spectacle to behold.

On the morning of August 7th, Philippe Petit stood 1350ft above the ground and took that crucial step. Shifting his weight from the roof to the wire. His friends worried they could be arrested for trespassing, manslaughter or assisting a suicide. They were right to be worried too. As the police turned up and threatened Philippe with using a helicopter as a last resort to get him off the wire, Philippe made his way to the side. He was arrested just as they all suspected. The charge: disturbing the peace.

Star rating:   8/10

Directed by James Marsh.

Running time 94 minutes.

Precious (2008)

“Oh, so you’re going to stand up there and look down at me like you’re a woman? You don’t know what real women do. Real women sacrifice!”

Cast: Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique and Paula Patton

Based on the bestselling novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire, the film Precious is nothing but an emotional, moving and raw depiction of abuse, desperation and hope.

Clareece “Precious” Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) is an illiterate, overweight, African-American teen from Harlem. At 16 she already has one child and is pregnant with her second. Growing up in an abusive home with her mother claiming welfare benefits, Precious has been on a continuos struggle through her short life so far. When she’s moved to a different school though, an alternative path for her future is opened up to her and she gets what most people wish they could have, a chance to start over.

All of the performances in Precious were outstanding. Such a stellar cast really made for the difficult and taboo subjects of the film to be told in a brave and confident way. It really allowed for this harrowing look into inner-city life be told in a triumphant way.

Mary, a violent and heavily abusive mother to Precious was played by Mo’Nique. Although hard to watch at times, just because she was purely abusive yet ironically dependent on her daughter, Mo’Nique played Mary with a feisty attitude and a frighteningly real sense of conviction. Her efforts were acknowledged with a Golden Globe, an Academy Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Supporting Actress. There’s no doubt she was the strongest actor with her portrayal being so spot on it was unnerving.

Precious’ new school teacher, Ms Rain (Paula Patton) is perhaps the most sympathetic character. Offering Precious an alternative route and giving her hope for her future for the first time in her life, it’s fair to say Ms Rain is the mother Precious never had. This loving person is something so bizarre and alien to Precious who believes no one loves her. Patton really does a fantastic job in this role, it’s almost as if she’s playing us in the sense that we really feel for this broken girl and root for her to get out of this terrible situation.

I didn’t think I’d be saying this but I have to take my hat off to Mariah Carey. I did not expect such a great performance from her as social worker Mrs. Weiss. This plain and unmade look is something we don’t ever see from the diva, so to see her like this, looking all vulnerable and normal, was the first thing that shocked me. However she continued to do so. Her character is almost in too deep with this situation that has been sprung on her but she really tries to help fix the mess with her no nonsense, scepticism. However, even she is emotionally brought down a notch the further into the story she delves.

Lenny Kravitz also stars in the film as Nurse John. I didn’t even realise it was him until the credits rolled. Playing a sweet nurse that Precious falls for, Kravitz’s role is small but an important part in Precious’ life, offering that bit of optimism and hope that was missing from her life before. Her new group of school mates are also a welcomed and fresh attribute to the film. Ranging from a hardened but recovering drug abuser to a rich pretty girl just trying her hand at getting a better education, the group of girls that Precious begins to associate herself with see real friendships form between them all.

Another thing I really loved about the film was Precious’ running commentary throughout. I gather this is from her journal that she was told to write for school, but it’s works as this great device allowing us to look that bit further into her life and understand the way she’s feeling. At times comical, others heartbreaking, it was a great decision that shows her personal growth and character development, something that is absolutely key to an unsparing and what seemed, hopeless situation to be burdened with.

A great adaptation from the novel, Precious is a raw look into an abusive childhood and an uncompromising situation this young girl has grown up in. Not for the faint hearted, Precious is full of grit, vigour and emotion that is sure to leave a lasting impression.

Star rating:  7.5/10

Directed by Lee Daniels.

Running time 109 minutes.

Body of Lies (2008)

“It is a fallacy that prolonged war will weaken an occupied enemy. It most likely will make your enemy stronger.”

Cast:  Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe and Mark Strong

Body of Lies

Leonardo DiCaprio is Roger Ferris, a member of the CIA on a mission to locate the head of a jihadist terrorist organisation, al-Saleem. While he works in Israel, Ferris must communicate with his CIA superior in America, Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) as well as the head of Jordanian Intelligence, Hani Salaam (Mark Strong). He soon discovers that cooperation between such authoritative agencies isn’t as straight cut as he first anticipated.

With the war on terror being depicted in film on an increasing basis, I enjoyed the change of pace in Body of Lies. By following one character throughout there was a clear focus to the film and the objective was always a something that was foregrounded.

DiCaprio and Crowe are fantastic in their roles. Obviously they are both great actors but with such a concise script they transcribe a very realistic portrayal onto our screens. There were sub-plots weaved throughout and little twists and turns adding to the levels of action and entertainment in the film, but also enforcing the message that corruption occurs at all levels of authority.

In the film the CIA used highly advanced spy equipment to track people, this level of big brother intrusion was quite unnerving. There is no doubt in my mind that technology like this exists, especially when Google Earth is available to anyone. The use of this spy equipment was very eye opening in showing a glimpse into the power that the government have, and that’s just the things we know of.

Though I really enjoyed the film I was a bit disappointed with how it began to shape into a typical espionage thriller. The end also seemed a bit rushed with no real sense of conclusion. I suppose this was to give the most realistic outcome to a film with terror at its core though. Just because they have this technology available doesn’t necessarily mean they can always catch the bad guy. It’s easy to draw conclusions between al-Saleem and Osama in the film, so I think this ending was deliberate.

Regardless of the increasing James Bond-esque action scenes, I really enjoyed the film, especially the cinematography which was fantastic. From the back alleys and crammed markets of Israel to the suburban, picturesque shots of America, the film made sure to draw a stark contrast between two places that are so closely related.

Apart from it slipping into areas of Hollywood blockbuster predictability, I think Body of Lies is a great film that depicts the on-going war on terror.

Star rating: 7/10

Directed by Ridley Scott.

Running time 128 minutes.

Milk (2008)

“All men are created equal. No matter how hard you try, you can never erase those words.”

Cast:  Sean Penn, Josh Brolin and Emile Hirsch

Milk

Sean Penn stars in the biographical film about Harvey Milk, a gay rights activist who went on to become the first openly gay man elected into the public office of California.

Milk is a truly moving film that captures the rise and fall of Harvey, who was unfortunately assassinated by Dan White (Josh Brolin), less than a year after he got into office.

The performances in this film are amazing. Especially from Penn who I have never seen connect with a script so well, his performance is most certainly the best and it’s great to see him pull off a role so well. Maybe it’s because of the undeniable history and influential role that Harvey Milk played in society. He is such an icon to the gay community and anyone that stands for equality, that I think everybody working on this project knew they had to do it justice. Brolin is fabulous as White and James Franco is brilliant as Harvey’s lover Scott Smith, really showing off his acting talents that are going to see him in this business for years.

The focus within the film was great. Yes, obviously there had to be a certain level of attention on Harvey as he is the film, but it never strays from the point at hand making it coherent and consistent, two great features that some films lose focus of when trying to be perfect in every way. It also doesn’t shy away when documenting Harvey’s life. Though he was fighting for a very just cause, Harvey wasn’t a saint and the film doesn’t paint him out to be – which only adds to his levels of humanity. Some directors may have tried to manipulate Harvey’s lifestyle in order to paint him as the perfect role model, yet it’s these little traits that really place the film in the category of a great biopic and not some distortion of the truth, which was a very redeeming factor.

Gus Van Sant directs the film and does so with a brilliant handle on the inspiring story. This film re-introduced him back to mainstream cinema as he had been directing art-house projects in previous years. It is smart, emotional, slick and very informative, and anyone who wants a closer look at Milk’s aspirations and vision should really turn to this film. Though these events happened just over 30 years ago it seems a lifetime away. The film gives great insight to a significant piece of history and shows how far we have come as a society since the late 70s, but don’t be fooled, we still have a long way to go.

I can’t recommend Milk enough, a fantastic film that shows the rise and fall of one of the most influential people in history and his fight for equality, Harvey Milk.

Star rating:  8/10

Directed by Gus Van Sant.

Running time 128 minutes.

Bronson (2008)

“You shouldn’t mess with boys who’re bigger than you.”

Cast: Tom Hardy, Kelly Adams and Luing Andrews

Bronson

Bronson is kind of a mix between Fight Club and A Clockwork Orange, and even though I loved these two films, I didn’t like Bronson.

Tom Hardy plays Michael Peterson, the most notorious of all British prisoners. After being sentenced to 7 years behind bars for the armed robbery of a post office, continual violence toward other officers stretches his sentence to a massive 34 years, 30 of which he spent in solitary confinement.

When the film opens Michael is stood on a stage in front of an audience, occasionally looking directly down the camera at us. He tells us about his life and explains how he has always wanted to be famous, but having no talent when it comes to singing or dancing. He instead aimed to make a name for himself behind bars. This required him to build a reputation and therefore he turned to violence, becoming renown for his hardened criminal activities in prison.  Through his alter ego Charlie Bronson, he never seems to have any remorse or emotion behind his attacks; it’s just straight up fighting.

I couldn’t really find much I liked about Bronson. While Tom Hardy was great at what he did, he even put on 3 stone of muscle just showing off his dedication to a role such as this, I couldn’t really see much dimension to his character. We never find out why Bronson was so violent and the severe lack of emotion on his behalf simply made the film all about the fighting, which I didn’t like. Bronson had a child with his wife before he went to prison, yet when he’s released on probation much later on he doesn’t even visit them.

It is easy to see that with the constant violence, Bronson is very much a male-targeted film. I was looking for a bit of character development with Michael but it was absent, perhaps they just wanted to portray this violent sociopath in the way in which he was known. They did try to spin it in a way, to make him out to be some sort of an artist, even employing similar methods of editing in the same way that A Clockwork Orange did. This stylised violence, which can also be seen as quite glorified, didn’t match up to the genius of Stanley Kubric’s vision though and took away any humanity that Bronson had left.

Bronson doesn’t fail to show you the true sadistic violence that Michael Peterson unleashed on his prison guards and other people he fought over the years. With a very choppy timeline and no dates being confirmed, we look at Peterson’s life in a scramble, marked only by violent acts and his sheer loneliness. This raw look at his life doesn’t allow for exploration on Bronson’s personality, thoughts or emotions, taking away any semblance of his remaining humanity. This film is a brutal look at his life that left him as a lonely, violent and sad man.

Star rating:  3/10

Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn.

Running time 92 minutes.