21 July 2012

Review: The Dark Knight Rises

Genre: Action (Superhero) / Drama

Having completed his trilogy on the legend Batman, Mr. Nolan must feel a great deal of relief. Undertakings of massive projects, especially those concentrated around characters whom the viewing public already hold quite dear - especially in certain circles - are thoroughly trying; and to have accomplished one is gratifying, especially when it largely hits the mark. From Batman Begins (2005) through The Dark Knight (2008) to his current film, The Dark Knight Rises, Mr. Nolan as helmsman has kept his vessel remarkably upright for nearly its entire journey and has succeeded ultimately in arriving her at the destination: completion. Of course, loose ends have been strewn and frayed here and there; swapped actresses in a famously from-female desensitized world, a sometimes overbearingly sentimental servant, and the ceaseless allure of wryness have be never been the films' iron and steel. Yet this series could sail and has sailed leagues and leagues beyond any other "superhero" series, because of the able hands on deck. Never forgetting the actors (viz., Mr. Ledger, Mr. Freeman, Mr. Oldman, Mr. Gordon-Levitt who beautifully delivers a monologue here, and Ms. Hathaway who defies expectations and delivers the best developed and portrayed female character in this series) but nevertheless putting their handiworks aside now, I admire the accomplishers for the feat: Mr. Pfister again gives us earnest imagery; Mr. Zimmer, reliant chords; Mr. Nolan, the sight and sound of tension; he and his brother Jonathan, the medium through which to perceive it (at best here of all the films, I think); Ms. Hemming, the trappings of perception's realism (also at best here, I think); and Mr. Lee, the panorama. Though I make sure to say that wherever not explicitly already noted these people's efforts fell short of truly wowing me, I respect the work. The Dark Knight Rises makes that positive end, that highest note, that I hoped for four years ago (to the day[!]; see my review of The Dark Knight here); and I'm pleased to say that I enjoyed it.

Grade: B+

19 July 2012

Trailer: The Master

05 July 2012

Review: Magic Mike

Genre: Drama

After last year's Contagion and Haywire, both films bearing his storytelling mark of blocked tableaux in series, Steven Soderbergh stepped away from the sparking networks of characters that dramatize the dynamics of ensemble players' interactions and toward the intimate drama, told almost entirely in the first-person, that may stand as a latter companion-piece to his (2000) Erin Brockovich. Also a singular story pulled from a real life and repainted for the merit of its protagonist actor, this year's Magic Mike is a show.
Historically, it follows and invokes the plot points, characterizations, and narrations of previous dramas like P. T. Anderson's (1997) wonderful Boogie Nights, J. L. Mankiewicz's (1950) classic All about Eve, and even N. W. Refn's (2011) recent Drive. However, artistically, this show doesn't achieve the winding confidence of Boogie Nights, the stylish vitriol of All about Eve, or the insistent visual passion of Drive. Somehow this show's protagonist even lacks the swagger of that of Erin Brockovich.
Indeed, while Magic Mike and its lead Channing Tatum are entertainments of entertainment - buffed, lined, and plated - they fail to hit their marks too often - even for Mr. Soderbergh's generously to-realism tipped hand. Too many imperfections were chosen, too little depth was explored, and too early was the narrative closed for me to appreciate much more than Mr. McConaughey's (surprisingly) coherent and complex performance and a group of fleeting yet incredibly perfect shots (cramming hard directed material into orthogonal and non-accommodating space). The sparse and continuous story of the screenplay was simply inappropriate starting material for the serial storytelling style of the director, and trying to eke out fealty to reality from the resultant admixture filmed distracting layers on top of the action, where there should have been informative layers beneath.
Who is Magic Mike? A stunted dreamer with an artist's soul, who uses the power of seduction for self-compensation even when the world appears to be refusing to compensate him itself for his clearly unique talents? Trustworthy classmate, putting out into the world what he really hopes to receive from it? Smarmy compliment extractor from the cogs outside his wheelhouse and greaser of the ties inside it? Certainly no "yes or no" question should be able to capture the fullness of the protagonist, yet also certainly no scene should be without capturing that fullness, especially no scene of the first-person. If Magic Mike is meant to be read as an autobiographical reflection by its title character - character, not actor - then the sallow tinge, the stuttered presentation, and the few smooth montages of dancing are valid markers of psychological realism in the film making. However, these markers' ultimate impotence to bear out their intents and explain where words and even more replete memories could not wastes a majority of their presences in the work as a whole.
Further tainted by the practically intrusive cinematic displays of the background into the foreground - either further revealing of the shallow depths of the story or artificially punning on the thrust-y artistry of strippers - the work unfortunately speaks more than just at times like a post-reality-entertainment American's attempt at personalizing superflat before audiences who would "come for the sex but leave with the story." As a vehicle for Mr. Tatum's increasingly omnipresent (see the two other films in which he's played lead already this year) success, Magic Mike is itself successful. Yet, the type of success for which I think that this film was really aiming is still somewhere in the other direction.

Grade: C