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A Few Short Reviews

September 7, 2008
by

Here are three reviews of the most recent films I’ve seen in a theater or on DVD.

The Dark Knight (2008): the comic book film that the comic book dork [me] has been waiting for, supposedly. Director Christopher Nolan (Memento, The Prestige) extends the themes from the excellent franchise reboot Batman Begins, and deftly explores the nature of justice in a world in which all systems are corrupt. Is vigilante justice really the answer, or are heroes by nature prone to the same abuses of power from which they vow to protect the innocent? The production value, cinematography and acting are all superb, with a script and dialog that takes these cerebral themes seriously within the context of a big action blockbuster, which is no small thing.

Yes, Heath Ledger delivers an intriguingly creepy performance as Batman’s arch rival, Joker, and the character does well in exposing the hypocrisy of both villain and hero in a world which requires compromise. Yes, the film is in many ways a perfect example of how a popular genre, the superhero, can be artfully done. However, because there is so much going on in the film thematically and because the pacing cruises by at such a clip, there is almost a feeling of overload by the film’s end.

After watching it a second time I was able to digest much more but feel the film could have ended about a half hour earlier or used its length to add some scenes which allow for a bit of contemplation. There simply is no time taken in this film for such embellishments and while many are calling this the Godfather or Heat of comic book films, those crime epics allowed for such moments of deliberate pacing, which make them just a notch better than The Dark Knight.

Pixar is pretty much the most consistent modern film studio, they make excellent work feature after feature. This all boils down to one thing. Story. Since these animated films take so long to make from beginning to end, the filmmakers at Pixar make sure they have an intriguing story to tell before they commit one pixel to a hard-drive.

WallE (2008) is no exception to the aforementioned excellence. The attention to detail is breathtaking, be it the human like qualities of our hero robot, which the filmmakers borrow from Chaplin and Keaton with adroit affection, or the dystopic vision of a planet which is left for dead by a humanity that has consumed itself out of a home.

This film is both intelligent science fiction—in that it questions the nature of humanity—and a great romantic comedy rolled into one. And WallE is actually quite bold in the message it delivers to its viewers and it doesn’t have to resort to polarizing buzz words (“global warming,” “alternative fuels”) for the effect to be quite sobering. In the end that is what good storytelling does, reveal rather than malign.

At the prompting of a friend, The Diving Bell and The Butterfly (2007) was moved to the top of our Netflix queue and good grief was it worth it. This film, by director Julian Schnaebel, won the best director prize at the Cannes film festival and was nominated for four Academy Awards. It tells the true story of a paralyzed man and how he communicates with the only part of his body unaffected by the paralysis: his left eye.

The Diving Bell and The Butterfly is visually astounding and a perfect example of form fitting function. A good third of the film is told from the main character’s point of view, which is something that has to be seen for oneself in order to grasp the creative lengths this film goes to to communicate the story. A meditation on the transformative power of creativity, no matter one’s circumstances, this film shows us how creativity can liberate and teach one about others and oneself.

Schnaebel is most notably a painter and has only done four films, but with this film he has placed himself in the big leagues by creating such a beautiful and somber film which stays with the viewer long after the credits role.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jerry Stutzman permalink
    September 15, 2008 10:47 am

    I agree that the pacing is insane in Batman. Supposedly in March the movie was at 3 hours. I’m still hoping that there my be an extended cut. I still loved it. It was dark and disturbing – the image of the joker in a nurses outfit. I’m planning to see it again this week – I hope. I found the interplay between image and reality interesting too.

    Wally was amazing. Your exactly right story telling is the key for Pixar. Unlike the rest of Disney, which will pawn off crap like Cinderalla 9 just so that can make some cash. Pixar has been careful not to make second movies of a franchise unless there is a story to tell – Toy Story II for instance.

    I’ll add the Diving Bell and the Butterfly to my queue.

    By the way, the Dr. Horrible Soundtrack is on ITunes now. A Man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.

    Jerry

  2. ericberget permalink
    September 16, 2008 1:30 am

    We got a chance to see Dark Night here in Busan. Loved it. I agree it was long, and the sound was bad in the theater we were in. Even still I thought it was great.
    We have the Busan Film Festival coming up in October. I’m not sure about the lineup yet. If I find it, I’ll run it by you to see if you have any recommendations.

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