Saturday, July 21, 2012

Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Christian Bale as Batman in The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Just came back from watching TDKR. Without further ado, here are my thoughts.

Christopher Nolan has brought the story of Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) full circle. This is first and foremost a Bruce Wayne movie. Christian Bale spends a majority of his screen time out of the Bat Suit. When we first met Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins, he was a disillusioned young man, searching for inner peace and purpose in life. The death of his parents at the hands of a stranger had a profound effect on Bruce’s psyche from which he never recovered. The training he received from Ra’s Al Ghul and his subsequent donning of the costume did not per se help Bruce overcome his rage and sadness, but served as an outlet for them.

In The Dark Knight, Bruce is confident of giving up the cape and the cowl after seeing the way Gotham citizens responded to Harvey Dent’s crusade against organized mobs. The Joker (Heath Ledger) wreaked havoc on Bruce’s personal life by causing the death of Rachel Dawes, the one true love and symbol of hope for Bruce. At the end of the movie, Batman took the blame for Harvey’s death for the sake of Gotham city’s future.

As TDKR opens, we are introduced to Bane (Tom Hardy) as he orchestrates a mid-air hijacking of a nuclear scientist. The sequence was intended to showcase Bane’s determination and willpower to achieve his ends against all odds and costs.

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Back in Gotham, Bruce is a recluse in the reconstructed Wayne Manor. One of the Wayne Enterprise Board Members, Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) is trying to get Bruce’s attentions, but without much success. She has plans to use nuclear energy for the general good of the society and tries to get Bruce’s help. But Bruce is way too depressed to make any contact with the outside world.

One day, he runs into a robbery in motion by one of the housemaids who steals his mother’s pearls and his fingerprints. Intrigued by this unusual burglar, Bruce does some research and discovers the offender to be one Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway). Fans of the Batman comics know Selina is the secret identity of Catwoman, femme fatale and burglar with a cat fetish. Selina is never referred to as Catwoman, though she spends considerable time in the costume.

Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle in The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle
But Selina’s antics are only part of a much bigger plan against Bruce and Gotham city. Bane is a brute with brains and he has meticulously planned the downfall of his enemies.

The other noticeable newcomer is beat cop Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who catches the attention of Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman). Gordon is temporarily rendered out of action and he delegates the detective work to Blake.

Batman takes Selena’s help to stop Bane and this leads to disastrous results for the Dark Knight. To keep this review spoiler-free, I would recommend the readers to find out further details from the movie.

Christopher Nolan, director of The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
The amazing Chris Nolan at work

Chris Nolan has crafted a superb closer to his trilogy. Nolan’s decision to focus on the man inside the costume is testament to his sublime moviemaking skills and he deserves applause for this. Despite the legendary pop culture status of Batman, Nolan invested wisely in Bruce Wayne’s personal journey and this has resulted in the finest movie trilogy (in my opinion, of course). Bruce’s journey of self-discovery began in ‘Batman Begins’ and has reached its due course in TDKR. Rest assured, this movie will knock your socks off, if you followed Bruce’s story so far.

Wally Pfister and Hans Zimmer have always made major contributions to the success of the previous movies and their success continues with this one as well. Zimmer’s music especially is outstanding. His track “Mind If I cut in?” is used at crucial points in the movie.

Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne
On the acting front, the honors go to Bale, Hathaway and Levitt.

Bale does superlative work in this movie and brings Bruce Wayne to life like never before. His work is powerful and inspiring and is miles ahead of the other two movies. He is the definitive Bruce Wayne, just as the late Heath Ledger the definitive Joker.

Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle in The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Anne Hathaway makes a great Selina Kyle
Anne Hathaway does some fine work as the morally ambiguous Selina Kyle. Selina has some motives of her own and is willing to risk the safety of others. Selina’s character arc is nearly as good as that of Bruce and all credit goes to Hathaway for giving us a very alluring and nifty portrayal.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake in The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Blake
Levitt, on the other hand, has the relatively easier role of Blake, the cop with good morals and the drive to make an active change to Gotham. Levitt’s character has major presence in the movie and acquits himself very well.

Tom Hardy has bulked up for the role of Bane and thanks to Pfister’s camera work, looks much bigger than he actually is. Nolan has written the character of Bane as someone with total belief in his capabilities to achieve whatever he sets out to do. Unfortunately, Bane's face is covered with a mask and has to communicate only through his eyes. For all of Tom Hardy's considerable acting talents, Bane ends up as a generic tough guy and is intimidating only in his hand-to-hand confrontations with Batman.

Tom Hardy as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Bane and Bats go  Mano-a-mano
The recurring members of the cast have varying levels of success. Gary Oldman comes out the best in the bunch as the guilt-ridden cop. Gordon’s conscience weighs down heavily on him and his internal struggles have taken a toll on his life. His wife has left him, taking the kids with her. Oldman is amazing in the role.

Morgan Freeman does his usual standard work as Lucius Fox, Batman's go-to guy for gadgets and weapons. The Bruce-Fox chemistry is one of the strong points of these movies. This time around, Fox does not get to have much fun bantering with Bruce, except for a couple of exchanges. But Fox's gadgets are stars in their own right. The new aerial vehicle, 'The Bat' joins the Batpod and together they steal the show in the action scenes.

Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth in The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth

Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth is highly concerned with the direction in which Bruce’s life is seemingly headed. Caine is good in the initial scenes, but soon becomes melodramatic. My sincere apologies to you Michael, I do wish you had toned down your work a little bit.

The movie runs for nearly 165 mins long and suffers from an excess of characters, extended action scenes that could have been cut out completely and some gaping plot holes. To keep this review spoiler-free, I will go into these details in a later post.

Right now, all you need to know is that this movie does full justice to Chris Nolan’s vision and should notch up Oscar nods. Highly recommended for Chris Bale's best performance yet as Bruce Wayne/Batman.

Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox in The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Chris Nolan with Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox) and Chris Bale

PS: My deepest sympathy goes out to the families and friends of the victims in the tragic shooting in Colorado.

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Happy Birthday, Vasily Livanov and Benedict Cumberbatch

Vasily Livanov and Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes

Vasily Livanov was born on this day in 1935. He achieved fame for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in the Russian adaptation (1979 – 1986). Directed by Igor Maslennikov, the series is quite faithful to the canon and has an excellent soundtrack by Vladimir Dashkevich. Vitaly Solomin made a great Solomin as well.

Livanov, in my humble opinion, gave the definitive performance as Canonical Holmes. His calm and collected Holmes is one that I have always loved and keep coming back to any number of times.  A true classic in every sense of the word.

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Happy Birthday, Sir. Here’s wishing for a long and healthy life ahead.

Happy birthday, Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch. Here’s wishing for a successful movie career ahead, that will keep you off BBC for quite some time! 

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Movie Review: The Dark Knight (2008)

Christian Bale as Batman in "The Dark Knight"
Christian Bale as Batman
Nolan’s epic starts with a bank heist in motion. As the robbers start killing one another, we are introduced to one of a kind mastermind. A brain that is intelligent and crafty to the nth degree.

Batman, working with Lt Gordon has the mob in retreat. The new District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), assisted by Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal replacing Katie Holmes) is working around the clock to put the mob behind bars.

The mob under considerable pressure from the combined onslaught, hire the aforementioned mastermind, Joker (the late Heath Ledger). Joker emerges as an agent of chaos and has only one goal: unleashing anarchy in Gotham. He plans to achieve his ends by making Batman reveal his identity, failing which Joker will kill one person each day.

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Even as Bruce Wayne struggles to make a decision, he faces trouble on an unexpected front. Reese (Joshua Harto), an auditor working Wayne Enterprise’s records finds heavy irregularities and the prototype designs for Batmobile and puts two and two together. He comes forward to disclose Batman's secret identity.

There a lot of plot points and threads that I have not discussed in this review. As the movie is quite densely plotted, the review will be quite long if I were to do so.

Suffice to say that this movie turns the entire superhero movie genre on its head and comes out an out and out winner. Batman’s decisions have far reaching consequences for other characters, some of whom are quite dear to him. From the start to finish, the screenplay is taut and the movie rushes forward at a blistering pace.

Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent in "The Dark Knight"
Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent

Hans Zimmer is in top form as always. His Joker theme is probably the best in the album. 

The acting all around is excellent. As good as the returning players are, it is the newcomers Aaron Eckhart and the late Heath Ledger who make the best impressions.

Harvey Dent’s character has arguably the best character arc in the movie. As Gotham’s White Knight, Dent is looked upon by Bruce as his rightful successor. Bruce intends to hang up the cape and the cowl. But things take an ugly turn, thanks to the Joker’s machinations. Eckhart is great in the role and conveys the pain of losing the love of his life to a madman.

But the movie on the whole, belongs to Heath Ledger. His is the kind of performance for which the term “tour-de-force” was coined. This is a once-in-a-lifetime performance. Each scene featuring Ledger as Joker is intensely riveting. Whether Joker is narrating the stories of his scars or the prison scene with Batman, Heath grabs our attention and is totally captivating. RIP, Heath.

Heath Ledger as the Joker in "The Dark Knight"
Heath Ledger as the Joker

But the movie is not without its share of flaws. In the bank robbery scene, the Joker drives the much damaged school bus out of the bank and joins a group of school buses full of children. Even for a realistic Nolan movie, this is quite a leap of faith, considering that none of the other bus drivers or other people on the street do not notice the gaping hole in the bank out of which the considerably damaged bus came out.

Another point to be pondered over is the Bruce’s fundraiser for Harvey at his penthouse. The Joker arrives with his cronies and takes over the party. Batman jumps out of the window to save Rachel and the movie moves to the next scene. We never know whether Batman returns to rescue the rest of the people at the party or did the Joker decided not to harm anyone else or did he continue his search for Harvey in the penthouse.

Despite these flaws, this is a movie from a director at the top of his game. Christopher Nolan dealt with the concepts of Fear and Chaos in the first two movies. We need to wait for couple more days to see his take on Pain in the trilogy finale.

Heath Ledger as the Joker in "The Dark Knight"
Heath Ledger as the Joker

Over to you, Chris. We look forward to be dazzled!

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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Movie Review: Batman Begins (2005)

Batman Begins (2005)

As one of the millions of audience all over the world awaiting the release of The Dark Knight Rises, I decided to take a trip down the memory lane  ...

Christopher Nolan’s trilogy is bound to go down in Hollywood as the definitive depiction of Bruce Wayne’s story and possibly the finest movie trilogy ever. The cinematic journey of Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) begins with Bruce imprisoned in an Asian prison. After witnessing his parents getting murdered by a stranger, Bruce is consumed with vengeance towards the man responsible. Due to unforeseen turn of events, Bruce is disillusioned with the legal system and leaves Gotham quietly to begin his study of the criminal classes.

A young Bruce after witnessing his parents' death in Batman Begins (2005)
Bruce after witnessing his parents' death
Bruce is contacted by Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) who offers to train him. Ducard works for The League of Shadows, a shadowy organization based in the Tibetan mountains. Ra’s Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe) is the mastermind behind this organization.  Ducard teaches Bruce not only the necessary martial arts, but also the need for theatricality and deception. As the final test, Bruce needs to decapitate a petty criminal. Being a man of strong morals, Bruce objects and is forced to fight his way out. The League of Shadows’ headquarters is destroyed. Ra’s Al Ghul and his followers are presumed dead, though Bruce does save Ducard’s life.

Bruce returns to Gotham and becomes the masked vigilante known as ‘Batman’. He is helped in his mission by Alfred Pennyworth (Sir Michael Caine) and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman).

Christian Bale as Batman makes his first appearance in Batman Begins
Batman makes his first appearance in Gotham
With the reluctant assistance of Sergeant James Gordon (Gary Oldman), Batman successfully apprehends the local mob boss Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) and Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) who are working together to poison the water supply system in Gotham. However, more powerful forces are at play and Bruce has to face them as the movie reaches an action-packed climax.

Prior to this movie, Christian Bale was famous for his work in ‘American Psycho’. No doubt, his work in that movie helped him in getting the much coveted role of Bruce Wayne. Bale captures the pain and the anger that are the defining characteristics of Bruce Wayne. Bale essentially plays 3 characters – Batman, the public image of Bruce Wayne as a drunken millionaire playboy and the real Bruce Wayne. The casting of Bale as Wayne is to me, as superb a choice as that of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine/Christopher Reeve as Superman/Tobey Maguire as Spiderman.

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Sir Michael Caine is a veteran in the industry and brings a lot of wisdom and warmth to the role of Alfred Pennyworth, the man who has been with the Wayne family for a long time. He is the closest thing to a family Bruce has and provides the much needed moral support.

Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox and Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth in Batman Begins
Alfred and Lucius, the closest allies of Bruce Wayne 
Morgan Freeman plays Lucius Fox, the equivalent of James Bond’s Q. Morgan Freeman‘s voice and authoritative deportment have remained the hallmarks of his career. That Freeman’s performance as the cool and classy Lucius Fox is a standout in a movie that boasts of other powerhouse actors like Gary Oldman, Liam Neeson and Caine, speaks volumes of his acting talent. Christopher Nolan is a fan of the James Bond series and quite possibly, he based Freeman’s performance on Desmond Llewelyn’s venerable portrayal.

Gary Oldman has been cast against type as Sergeant James Gordon, one of the few honest cops left in Gotham. Oldman brings out well the world weariness we expect from Gordon’s character. Gordon is the official counterpart of Batman and both these men work together to rid Gotham of the corruption that has reduced it to a shadow of its original greatness.

Gary Oldman as Sergeant James Gordon in Batman Begins
Gary Oldman as Sergeant James Gordon

Cillian Murphy plays Dr Jonathan Crane better known as Scarecrow, the villain who uses fear-inducing gas on his unsuspecting victims. Murphy is suitably chilling in the role. Trivia: he originally auditioned for the role of Bruce Wayne.

Liam Neeson has had a lot of success playing the role of a mentor in his recent movies and this is no exception. His towering height and rich voice help us in accepting him in these roles. To the best of my knowledge, no other actor has the distinction of training not only Batman but also Obi Wan Kenobi (Star Wars) and the much lesser known Balian de Ibelin (The Kingdom of Heaven).

Liam Neeson and Christian Bale as Henri Ducard and Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins
Henri Ducard puts Bruce Wayne to the final test
Ken Watanabe, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer and Linus Roache are competent even when they make very brief appearances.

If there was one bad casting decision made in this movie (as well as in the trilogy), that would be the choice of Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes. I at least never bought her as the Assistant District Attorney that Rachel Dawes is supposed to be. I only saw an untalented but well-connected actress bringing down the quality of the movie whenever she was on-screen. I wonder what factor(s) forced Nolan to cast her. Of course to Nolan’s credit, he recast the character in the sequel. 

There are some fine dialogues in the movie. I present here my favorite one:

“Why do we fall, Bruce – So we can learn to pick ourselves up”

This is a gem of a movie and a must watch for fans of the caped crusader. 

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises - Complete Soundtrack online

The complete soundtrack for the upcoming blockbuster 'The Dark Knight Rises' is available online at

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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Remembering Arthur Conan Doyle (22 May 1859 – 7 July 1930)

Arthur Conan Doyle and his wife
Arthur Conan Doyle and Wife (1892)

Arthur Conan Doyle passed away on this day in 1930.

In addition to Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle also created Professor Challenger in his novel The Lost World and a few other stories. He was equally at home in non-fiction as he was in the fiction genre.

As a tribute to this certifiable genius of a writer, I present here my personal favorite Sherlock Holmes quote from The Sign of Four:

“…when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth…”

Thank You Conan Doyle for the Sherlock Holmes Canon and The Lost World. I owe a considerable amount of gratitude to the Canon for developing my interest in reading books and improving my vocabulary.

I have a lot more of your works on my to-read list!

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Monday, July 2, 2012

Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law in "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows"
Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law in 'Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows'

The movie is based on the canonical short story The Final Problem.

As indicated in the first movie, Prof Moriarty (Jared Harris) is working in the shadows (pun intended) to initiate a war on a global scale. Dr Watson (Jude Law) has moved out of 221 B leaving Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr) to his own devices. Holmes is on the trail of Moriarty, gathering all possible evidence.

Dr Watson’s impending marriage and the presence of a gypsy are 2 subplots incorporated into the story credited to Michele Mulroney and Kieran Mulroney. The finale at Reichenbach Falls has been executed to perfection by Guy Ritchie and his crew.

Downey Jr and Jude Law continue their crowd pleasing and fun portrayals from the first movie. The same is true of the other returning cast members as well. The 3 main newcomers are Jared Harris, Stephen Fry and Noomi Rapace.

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Jared Harris is mesmerizing as Prof Moriarty. His is a masterful performance that successfully sells the concept of an accomplished academic who also happens to be a criminal mastermind. Watching Harris’s performance sent me into raptures. This, my dear friends, is Prof Moriarty. The Moriarty who is every bit the intellectual equal of Sherlock, only far more devious (as rightly said by Adler in the previous movie). This is the Moriarty I had envisioned when reading The Final Problem and briefly in The Valley of Fear. A Moriarty who is subtle and ruthless.

Hats off, Mr. Harris. A truly Splendid performance!

Another great aspect of this movie is that, for the first time Moriarty is actually shown as a Professor in an academic environment. I have not seen this in the Granada adaptation or the Russian adaptation or for that matter in any other. In yet another nice nod to the canon, some of the characters in the movie refer to Prof Moriarty not by his name, but only as “He”. As Holmes spoke in The Valley of Fear about Moriarty – “No less! When any of that party talk about ‘He’ you know whom they mean. There is one predominant ‘He’ for all of them.”

Jared Harris as Professor Moriarty in "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows"
Prof Moriarty with one of his students

Full credits to Warner Bros and Guy Ritchie for bringing Mr. Harris onboard and doing full justice to the character of Prof Moriarty!

Stephen Fry appears as Mycroft Holmes, the elder brother of Sherlock Holmes. As readers familiar with the canon will know, Sherlock and Mycroft indulge in a game of out-deducing each other in The Greek Interpreter where we are introduced to Mycroft. In a nice nod to the canon, we have Sherlock and Mycroft doing the same in the movie as well. 

However, unlike the canon Watson joins in as well, leading Mycroft to conclude that perhaps Watson is not as dim-witted as he is often made out to be. I thought this was a nice touch and a reference to the bumbling image of Watson as portrayed by Nigel Bruce in the Basil Rathbone movies. Fry makes an adequate Mycroft, though the physical differences between him and Downey Jr can be quite jarring at times.

Stephen Fry as Mycroft Holmes in "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows"
Stephen Fry as Mycroft Holmes
Noomi Rapace (Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Golden Tattoo movies) plays Madam Simza, a gypsy whose brother works for Moriarty. Rapace does her best with the role given to her.

Jude Law shares excellent chemistry with Downey Jr and this is one of the best things about these movies. The sequence at the gypsy camp is a fine example. 

Robert Downey Jr is an excellent actor and I am pretty sure, given the right material to work with, he can be anyone he wishes to be. In the first movie, I was not convinced about his performance due to his shenanigans with McAdams’s Adler. Thankfully, in the sequel Adler leaves the screen quite early. This leaves Downey Jr to portray Holmes in a significantly more canonical tone and he is electrifying as Sherlock in all the scenes he shares with Harris’s Moriarty.

The very first meeting between the rivals is nicely done. But the chess sequence at the end of the movie is truly out of this world. The sequence captures the essence of the rivalry between Sherlock and Moriarty – 2 geniuses at loggerheads with each other. The picturization of the ensuing fight scene is another gem as well. Ritchie shows the fight at a metaphysical level and elevates the scene from being just another routine climactic fight. Great job, Ritchie!

Robert Downey Jr Sherlock Holmes looks like Joker "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows"
Does he remind you of someone else....

Interestingly, Downey Jr’s makeup in the train sequence reminded me of The Joker. Coincidence? Considering that both the movie franchises are from Warner Bros, probably not.

I also liked the Wine Cellar scene where Holmes, Watson and Madam Simza meet a terrorist who makes bombs. The way Holmes calmly and masterfully deduced the hidden exit instantly reminded of the Canonical Holmes. This is Sherlock Holmes. A calm, cool thinking machine who has his emotions in check and goes about his business in a truly masterful and assertive way.

Guy Ritchie has done an amazing job, right from the casting choices to the action sequences. The action scenes that show Holmes planning his moves ahead are more inspired this time, as not all of them go as per Holmes's predictions. The escape sequence through the forest though dragged on considerably and could have used some editing. The pony scenes with Holmes also did not really tickle the funny bone.

Hans Zimmer has produced another outstanding soundtrack that enhances the movie’s tone. The soundtrack “The Romanian Wind” in particular, is exceptional. His music is the very soul of this movie franchise.

Not to be outdone, the other crew members have also made handsome contributions to deliver a classic rendition of Sherlock Holmes. The cinematography by Philippe Rousselot, editing by James Herbert, production design by Sarah Greenwood and costume design by Jenny Beavan deserve special mention.

Jared Harris as Professor Moriarty in "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows"
Jared Harris as Prof Moriarty
This turned out to be a long review. I just loved this movie and would heartily recommend to readers who are familiar with the Sherlock Holmes canon and would like to see the finest onscreen depiction of Prof Moriarty.

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