Monday, November 5, 2012

Two of Many and Prisencolinensinainciusol

In October, I saw two non-festival, non-repertory films:

The Dark Knight Rises starring Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Marion Cotillard & Joseph Gordon-Levitt; directed by Christopher Nolan; (2012) - Official Website
V/H/S; anthology; directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin (as Radio Silence), David Bruckner, Tyler Gillett (as Radio Silence), Justin Martinez (as Radio Silence), Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Chad Villella (as Radio Silence), Ti West, Adam Wingard; (2012) - Official Website

I saw Dark Knight at Daly City Century and V/H/S at the Landmark Bridge.  I don't recall if this exhibit was there the last time I visited, but the Bridge has an interesting set of letters in the display case of their lobby.  It is correspondence between a former Bridge employee and the owners during WWII.  I won't spoil anything but thought the letters were powerful with their simple language.


I believe The Dark Knight Rises will be the highest grossing film of 2012 so there is little reason to recap the plot.  I saw the film nearly four months after its release in the United States.  In fact, I saw it during its final week of release at a first run theater in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Although mildly interested, I went to see the film more out a peer pressure than anything.  When co-workers discuss films (invariably general release), I often feel left out as I skip most general release films.  As it was with The Hunger Games, I waited until months to see the film.

The Dark Knight Rises is an exceeding depressing film with a horrible ending.  Since everyone has already seen it, I won't give spoiler alerts.  The scene at the end where the US Army blows up a bridge and thereby stranding orphans on the Gotham City side and likely nuclear annihilation was as depressing as anything I've seen in a general release film.  Reminding the audience that when time are tough, people will act in their own self-interest, I have to wonder what children thought as they watched it.  Containing some violence, I thought the bleak view of humanity was oppressing which is saying a lot for a pessimist like me.

Throughout the film, Batman seems indifferent to whether he lives or dies while people around him reinforce the notion that society is not worth saving.  In the end, Batman decides to fly away with a nuclear bomb to save Gotham while sacrificing himself...that is until we get a classic bait & switch happy ending.  Instead, we see Bruce Wayne living it up on the piazza in Venice with the stunning Anne Hathaway as his companion.  Did I mention that Batman received what looked to be a fatal knife wound before flying off with the thermonuclear device?  The ending made me cry...with rage that the filmmakers tacked on that inappropriate ending.

At 2 hours, 45 minutes, the film would have benefited from some editing.  What else didn't I like?  Hathaway's Selina Kyle (I don't think she ever used the feline nom de guerre) was very unlikable.  Spouting lines as if they were written by Occupy Wall Street, her Kyle is a just skilled cat burglar and poseur.  I'm also getting tired of Christian Bale growling his lines like he's impersonating Gunny Highway from Heartbreak Ridge.  Bale can convey Wayne's weariness but not so much the root psychosis which drives a grown man to wear a bat suit and endure the unendurable for a populace which doesn't deserve it.

What did I like?  Hathaway in the Catwoman suit was very nice although not any more memorable than Michelle Pfeiffer and Halle Berry before her..  Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon was terrific.  His character arc over the three films is a sight to behold.  Also showing considerable screen presence was Marion Cotillard who doesn't have a lot to do but I couldn't take my eyes off her.  Those scenes in the Black Hole which created Bane and where Wayne is re-born were visually and emotionally worthwhile.  For guy that needs a cane to get around and with no cartilage in his knee, Bruce Wayne sure does recover quickly from a broken back.

Tom Hardy & Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Bane and the future Robin, respectively are largely wasted in my opinion.  Hardy's heavily muscled, crisp dictioned villain seemed out of place in the film. 

Nolan was certainly stylish in his direction but The Dark Knight Rises felt bloated and uninspired.

I wonder if Gordon-Levitt will carry the new series.


V/H/S is one of these faux found footage film.  The premise is that a gang of low lives get a criminal assignment break into a house to steal a VHS tape.  The problem is that there are 100s of tapes in the house.  So they start to watch the tapes although I'm not sure how they would have known which was the right tape or why they just didn't take all the tapes and leave.  Regardless, V/H/S consisted of that wrapper segment and five short films in the guise of found VHS tapes. All told, I thought the films were quite entertaining.  I'm not a big fan of horror but these films had a certain enthusiasm about them which was infectious.

My favorite was Amateur Night (directed by David Bruckner).  Using a camera hidden in the nose-piece of a pair of eyeglasses, Amateur Night follows three men on the make at a dive bar.  The wispy Hannah Fierman is tremendous as Lily, the succubus.  A courageous performance, Fierman is nude for much of the her screen time but throws herself  head long into the role.  Creepy, frightening and oddly sympathetic, Fierman gives a bravura performance.

Also interesting was Ti West's Second Honeymoon. Immediately recognizing Sofia Takal (Gabi on the Roof in July & Green) as the wife in Second Honeymoon; I had a harder time placing Joe Swanberg who played the husband.  I think I recognized him from LOL, but I'm not sure.  The stalker in Honeymoon was Kate Lyn Sheil who co-starred with Takal in Green.  More preternatural than supernatural, Second Honeymoon featured a particularly gruesome throat-slitting.

Swanberg directed The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She was Young which takes the Gaslight premise to the Skype generation.  While not fully effective, Swanberg's segment was clever but had a Tales to the Crypt type feel which put it in contrast to the other segments.

10/31/98, directed by Radio Silence, was the most old school of the segments.  Four men (three of the actors are also credited as directors) are looking for a Halloween party but the address they've been given seems to the site of an exorcism in progress.

Tuesday the 17th (directed by Glenn McQuaid) gets the award for scariest use of pixelization.


I've been reading a fascinating book called The Emperor and the Wolf by Stuart Galbraith IV. A dual biography of Akira Kurosawa and ToshirĂ´ Mifune, Galbraith provides insight into the men and their films (most of which I've seen over the past few years).  Galbraith makes much of the fact that his work is the first English language biography of the two men.  Among the interesting facts I've learned so far - Kurosawa's older brother (whom he was close to) committed suicide when he was a young man and Mifune grew up in China and was in his early 20s before setting foot on Japanese soil.  Both men avoided combat during WWII (Kurosawa avoided military service completely) as a result of their father's connections.


Bonus item - I heard this song while listening to KQED yesterday and loved it.  The title of the 1972 song is Prisencolinensinainciusol.  The singer, Adriano Celentano, is Italian; he's quite popular in Italy according to NPR.

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