July 24, 2012

Why I write this blog

What my head would've done if I hadn't written this
After posting my thoughts, on Twitter and here, on The Dark Knight Rises - a film that has had it's fair share of comments on, with a rabid fanbase hate-spamming negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes - there were a couple of comments that, thinking about them days later, have really riled me up. These comments have less to do with the content of my review/thoughts and more to do with the fact that I have had a review/thoughts.

That pisses me off to no end.

To be clear:

I do not write about movies to needlessly pick them apart.

I certainly don't do it to be cool.

I don't do it because I'm some pretentious over educated film student.

I do it because I love movies.

And because I'm a human fucking being.

Movies are the most popular form of art/entertainment in the world*. Films, like most forms of storytelling, have a power to them. Films are watched by young & old, rich & poor, the world over. They are accessible to just about everyone. Every. Single. Person. On the planet. They combine so many disparate elements: storytelling, visual language, sound, music... They are, to me, something fantastic.
You know what the best thing about going to see a movie with a group of friends is? Talking about it afterwards. Getting excited about what you loved in the film, trying to work out what went wrong, hearing and trying to understand different viewpoints. That's what I'm doing here. I'm trying to get my thoughts on a film out and on the interwebs, and hopefully provoke some discussion with fellow film-lovers. 

You absolutely should not, ever ever EVER, being going to a film and "switching your brain off". Why would you do that?! Film-making can be one of the most involving forms of story-telling possible! Sure, you might mentally opt out of a film if you get bored because it's not working for you, but that's entirely different to checking your brain out before you even get past the trailers. And if you're bored and the film isn't working? Why not try and switch your brain back on and think out why it's not working. I promise the experience will be much richer, and far more rewarding.

There has to be some level of engagement with the action onscreen, there has to be something, anything, to hook me in. It doesn't take much! Honestly. I'm more than happy watching a big-time action blockbuster - but there has to be an interesting character, or relationship, or it just has to be made really, really well. Fast Five is a great example. There's not a lot going on under the hood in that film, but it works. It really, completely works as a fun time at the movies. And I can think about that and understand why that's a fun film and why Transformers 2 & 3 aren't fun films. There doesn't necessarily have to be a deeper meaning to it all, or some hidden subtext. But it does have to engage me. If you're not engaged with a film, if you have no desire to engage and not think about it past the surface presentation? If you just want spectacle with pretty lights and big noises go and watch a fireworks display (which is not to say there cannot be a certain amount of artistry in fireworks).

So. That, in a big ranty nutshell, is why I write this blog. This is why I write about movies. I enjoy writing about them. I enjoy talking about. I enjoy engaging with them. I enjoy learning something new about them, or a viewpoint I hadn't previously considered. I know this post carries quite a large aggro vibe, and I do apologise for that. It's just something I had to get out of my head and onto a computer screen before my head exploded.

To everyone that reads this blog and talks about movies and whatnot with me here, on Twitter, on facebook and in real-life: thank-you.

*You could make the argument that video-games are more popular forms of entertainment, but in worldwide terms I would dispute that. And video-games are not "art", not yet.


Following on from my previous post on The Dark Knight Rises (and a lengthy facebook discussion), I realised I left out a few things I liked or enjoyed about Nolan's trilogy capping film. I have a tendency to do this I think; to become too critical and focus on what doesn't work with something. So, I wanted to offer, not a counterpoint, but a balancing post.

Needless to say, this will be getting spoilery too. 

So, here's some things I enjoyed in the film:

  • Anne Hathaway's Selina Kyle. While never directly named Catwoman in the film, we all know who she is. And Hathaway was a marvel in the role. She alternated between fierce and a fake vulnerability with ease. She was sexy while never being just a sexual object. 
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt's good, honest Officer Blake. He projects so much, with so little movement. While he nor Hathaway reach the incendiary highs of Ledger's Joker they are the shining, stand-outs this go around. 
  • Michael Caine's Alfred is still the heart and cockney soul of the films. 
  • Cillian Murphy's Scarecrow/Jonathan Crane popping back up. I really love that he's made it through all three films. Surely the only villain to do so in consecutive comic-book films?
  • That, despite the themes not entirely gelling together or engaging, the fact that Nolan & Co. once again reached for something more than a man running around punching things in a rubber suit. 
  • That, intentional or not, the final bit in the final action scene with Batman towing the bomb around Gotham reminded me of this: 

July 23, 2012


Designed by Ben Whitesell
Well, it's over. The final film in Christopher Nolan's Bat-trilogy is here, wrapping it all up. Sort of.

Two warnings before you read any further: I'm gonna get all SPOILERY up in here and this is less a "review" and more a grab-bag of thoughts on the film and trilogy as a whole.

And one final thought before I get further into the "review" or whatever I'm going to call it of the film itself. As we are all aware, someone made the horrific decision to fire upon and kill 14 people at a midnight showing of Rises in Aurora, Colorado. I'm going to try and keep my own thoughts and opinions about this frightening incident out of this post, as I frankly don't think this is the proper forum for me to be talking about it and I don't know that I'm even qualified to offer an opinion past the obvious horror and sadness. Honestly, what can I even offer that a multitude of other, better, writers haven't already? Instead this post will be solely focussed on the film itself and my thoughts on same.

With that said, on with the grab-bag.

The reason for it being more a grab-bag, more a series of impressions and thoughts than a well-rounded review? Well, to be honest, I'm still trying to figure out exactly what I thought of the film. I came out of the two-and-a-half plus hours with a shrug of the shoulders and a vague feeling of "that's it?"

Let's get all the plot guff out of the way first shall we? 8 years on from The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne is a hobbling recluse and the Batman has disappeared. However, ol' Brucie ventures out of the mansion when a slinky, seductive cat-burglar by the name of Selina Kyle swipes his mother's pearls. And just as Bruce is coming out of his self-imposed exile, a new villain arrives on the Gotham scene: Tom Hardy's massive and masked Bane. He's in town to follow through on Liam Neeson's plot to destroy Gotham from Batman Begins, with an overly complicated plot designed to net him a fusion-powered nuclear reactor or something. Which, after breaking Batman and tossing him down a hole, he sets on the looooongest countdown in history. Seriously, the bomb has a 5 month countdown. Why? Who the hell knows?

That 5 month countdown is really just a convenient plot device to allow Batman time to heal. Bane makes some mention of the wait being to allow the citizens of Gotham to hope for a saviour but... you never see a regular Gothamite or their reaction and the intangible idea of hope never coalesces in any meaningful fashion.

With Nolan's previous Bat-films, he has used them to explore or, at the very least, raise interesting themes and ideas and explored them through the Bat-villains. With Begins it was Fear tying into the Scarecrow and, on a larger scale, the League of Shadows and Batman himself. With Dark Knight it was Anarchy and Chaos, embodied in Heath Ledger's ghoulish Joker, as a directly opposing force to Batman's Order. With Rises... I hesitate to call it thematically inconsistent, as Nolan doesn't seem to really be truly engaging with any themes here. There are a number of possible avenues opened up (Hope? Evil?) but none that are fully explored. There are dalliances with popular uprisings and a tip-toe into the waters of the financial crises but the scatter-gun approach leads to the film feeling muddled on a fundamental level. What is it, exactly, that Bane represents? Whatever it may or may not be, it's completely undercut by the completely unnecessary and obvious twist reveal before the end. And once his usefulness to the plot is done with, he is summarily dispatched. Almost offhandedly.

Something I'm still processing, as a comic-book reader more than anything, is that this may not be Batman as we know him but it is unequivocally Nolan's Batman. The Batman I, and many other comic-book fans, know would not have quit after the events of The Dark Knight. In fact, the end of that film seemed to give Batman more impetus to continue his mission.

Which brings me to another point. Every other death in the trilogy has meant something; has resonated somehow. Whether it be Ra's al Ghul/Ducard in Begins or Rachel Dawes and Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight. In Dark Knight Rises, they just... happen. They don't tie in to the life of Bruce Wayne/Batman or the larger thematic concerns that Nolan may (or may not) be exploring.

Is Batman a conservative hero? What, if anything, is Nolan saying about the Occupy movement? Should Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Officer Blake have taken up the mantle of the Bat earlier in the film? Can anyone but Bruce Wayne be Batman? Where did Bruce Wayne's secret stash of inheritance money come from? Why did he have a bum leg if he quit crime-fighting? 
There's more to consider with The Dark Knight Rises but, for now, these are my thoughts.  

Also, Liam Neeson's ghost dissolve?! Really?! And "Robin"? C'mon. It's just so... off. 

July 13, 2012

Better late than never: PODCAST part 2

Following on from the first podcast post yesterday, here's parts three and four of "Shut the Hell Up, We're Talking Movies".

A big thanks also to Kevin MacLeod for the nifty title music.

Again, difficulty in actually getting the videos embedded from YouTube unfortunately means I must point you here for Part 3 and here for Part 4. 

July 12, 2012

Better late than never: PODCAST

So, as you may or may not recall, I mentioned a few months back that I was looking at getting a podcast up and going. Well, way back at the start of the year my friends Rajeev, Chris and I sat down and recorded the first (and, so far, only) episode of the Rockets and Robots "Shut the Hell Up We're Talking Movies" podcast. Unbeknownst to me, finding a suitable (and free) place to host the podcast seemed all but impossible and the enterprise got dropped by the wayside. 

But thanks to the tenacity of Rajeev, the podcast (or vodcast? It's video, so... I dunno) has the first two parts up on YouTube and you can watch them here! The other two parts should be up sometime tomorrow, and I'll be posting them here too. 

Let me know what you think - this is obviously a little out of date (being a wrap-up of 2011) - but any feedback would be helpful. I'll look around at other hosting options before recording anymore podcasts but hopefully they'll be a little more regular. 

On with the show!

(and, apologies, but this is only the first part. Blogger/YouTube is being a shit and not allowing me to find/link/upload Part 2. Direct link to it on YouTube here though)

Seriously, big ups to Rajeev for getting this up and in a watchable form. I'm just here nattering away and taking all the credit here. 

July 8, 2012

2012: The Best... so far

The Best of 2012: not this.
So, seeing as how we're just over halfway through the year and with the New Zealand International Film Festival on the horizon, I thought it might be a fine opportunity to take a quick look back at the months that were.

As you're aware, my writing on here has taken a backseat recently due to the workload associated with my MA in Scriptwriting. It's unfortunate, as one of my stated goals for this blog was for me to write about every film I see in a cinema during the year.

When putting together this "Best so far" though, it was interesting to me that there have been no real stand-out films since my writing about them dropped off. Take that as you will.

For reference, here's my "2012: Looking forward" post. Interestingly enough the first four films on that post are mirrored here.


Martin Scorsese's 3D kids film was a wonderful love letter to the early pioneers of cinema, and to cinema in general. Something about it absolutely clicked with me and just fired me up. With a rare kind of joy just seemed to radiate from every frame Hugo was a fun, adventure filled call-to-arms that captured me utterly.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

You know how, sometimes, when you've been anticipating a film for a long-time, the kind of film that builds up a fair amount of overseas critical buzz, and when you finally see it the film doesn't hold up for you? This was not one of those films. Tomas Alfredson's adaptation of the John le Carre novel held me entranced as Gary Oldman's tired old spy set about.

Young Adult

Diablo Cody knocked it out of the fucking park for the script on this one. Mavis is a horrible, self-absorbed, impervious to change character but the way Cody writes her and the way Charlize Theron owns the role are, simply, inspirational to me. Not only is it a great, female-centric answer to the rash of "man-child" films that have seen release over the last few years, it effectively thumbs its nose at them and flips 'em the bird.

The Raid

Director Gareth Evans and star Iko Uweis took a gigantic leap up from their previous film together, Merantau and delivered the most intense, frenetic, kinetic, utterly enjoyable action film in years. This is a film you need to see with an audience; you all need to be wrapped up in the face-punching, flying-kick, elbow-smashing fighting, laughing, whooping and wincing together. But the boys don't just rely on the intense physical-interplay between cops and henchmen, they also layer in some simple but honest emotional beats and amp up the tension with consummate skill.


Simply put, this is the best performance of Anna Paquin's career. Off cavorting with vampires and fairies now but way, way back when Margaret was filmed she dug deep into something honest and confronting and, yes, profound. Her character Lisa is hardly ever likeable, but she is empathetic. She's a young woman, struggling to make sense of and process the world around her - and that's key, really. The world around her; everything and everyone revolves around her, in her privileged teenage worldview. Margaret is shaggy, shambolic, frustrating, emotional, honest and more besides.

The Avengers

The pinnacle of comic-book filmmaking. I mean, how much do I really need to write about this film? Everyone saw it didn't they? It was absolutely everything I wanted and expected and even more besides. Even now, some months after last seeing it, I want to see it again. I love it, top-to-bottom, no questions, hands-down, flat-out love it. While not every comic-book movie needs to be (or even should be) like The Avengers, Joss Whedon and his tights'n'capes crew proved that smart, escapist fun done well still works.

So, that's a quick rundown of my favourite films so far. Feel free to share yours in the comments below; it's always interesting to see what clicked and didn't click with others. And even if you think the last 6 months have been absolute balls at the cinema, the rest of the year is shaping up to be a cracker. The films I'm still looking forward to: Cabin in the Woods, Looper, Django Unchained, The Master, Argo, Lawless (formerly The Wettest County) and Moonrise Kingdom. I feel the best is yet to come.