The Dark Knight Rises
* * * *
Cert 12A, 164 mins
Cinema goers are being well served this year for British crime fighters as two of filmdom's biggest franchises offer up their third (and in one case apparently final) acts.
Both of them feature men whose outer sophistication and nonchalance masks a troubled soul and disturbing aptitude for violence.
They also both love their toys (and by that I mean weapons of mass or minor and very creative destruction), with the access to a technical genius and apparently limitless funds necessary for indulging this.
Only one of them, James Bond, actively serves Her Majesty, but The Dark Knight Rises can be claimed to be as British as warm beer and wet summers purely because of the sheer weight of UK talent behind it or in it.
Apart from the fact that Gotham City so closely resembles Manhattan, there is a surprisingly limited American presence, even in the bits parts. Yes, that is Tom Conti in a prison pit, Burn Gorman as a villainous suit and Aiden Gillen as a CIA operative who is going to wish he'd packed a parachute in his carry-on luggage.
The problem facing both Bond and Batman is whether they can live up to the preceding movies. In the case of 007 Skyfall's task should be easier as Quantum Solace didn't quite match the critical bar set by Casino Royale.
For Batman, The Dark Knight has proven to be the trilogy's Empire Strikes Back or Godfather II. The third Dark Knight Rises to the occasion but does not better the films before it.
The two and three quarter hour running time allows Christopher Nolan to indulge himself in a leisurely unveiling of the plot and for tying up all conceivable loose ends, even dangling the tempting carrot of a way the franchise could continue without the involvement of either himself or Christian Bale.
The Dark Knight Rises picks up eight years after the shattering events of The Dark Knight. Bruce Wayne, has hidden himself away in his manor, a recluse of Howard Hughes-like legend, physically battered and emotionally shattered by the death of the woman he loved.
He has also retreated from his vigilante alter ego. His sacrifice of taking the blame for the deranged Harvey Dent's crimes leading to Batman's vilification and the celebration of Harvey as a hero and symbol for good.
An anguished Albert (Michael Caine) pleads with him that he has hung up cape but he hasn't moved on and pursued the life that Rachel would have wished for him.
Rudely interrupting Wayne's grief stricken wallowing and ending Gotham's freedom from organised crime (thanks to the Harvey Dent Act) is Bane, a bull-necked, brick outhouse of a man with the fighting skills of a ninja and the ideology of Robespierre.
He first targets the stock exchange and then a football game in a complex but efficiently executed plan to secure a devastating weapon, all wrapped up in people's revolution rhetoric.
But given that the Gothamites don't seem to be scrabbling to eat cake for a lack of bread and are living in a relatively peaceful city, there seems to be little visible reason for the rebellion he is staging.
However, the riots that blighted our own cities and towns last year demonstrated that some don't need much of an excuse to loot their way to a better lifestyle, and the targeting of financial institutions seems prescient in these times of bank bashing.
Soon the city is held hostage, the mob rules while the majority cower at home, the police are penned and powerless and the rest of the country seems content to let Gotham sort itself out.
Batman's face off against Bane carries echoes of Rocky III as, in spite of the faithful retainer's warnings, the aging and injured fighter enters a battle he cannot win against a meaner, hungrier opponent.
Bane then condemns the broken Bruce Wayne to the conditions that moulded him, the illusion of hope that he might escape intended as a slow torture. But it further highlights the commonalities between the two, from their League of Shadows training to the psyche-shaping effect of being thrown in a deep pit.
New characters for The Dark Knight RIses are Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) an idealistic young police officer in the Jim Gordon mould who tries to organise the resistance in Batman's absence.
And Anne Hathaway pours, or should that be purrs, her way into a tight black cat suit as the feline Selina Kyle, a resourceful and self-serving thief straddling the fence between good and evil.
She even gets to play with Batman' most fun toy, the bat bike, though Chris Nolan seems to be indulging his Men and Motors fantasies as she arches over it like a glamour model across the hood of a muscle car.
Marion Cotillard crops up, in a rather under written role, as a love interest for Bruce, as a member of the Wayne Enterprises board who apparently shares his interest in clean, green energy.
While Tom Hardy, as Bane, exhibits his usual chameleon like ability to inhabit a character, he cannot match Heath Ledger's gleefully anarchic and creepily charismatic turn as the Joker.
His pseudo-revolution also frustratingly lacks logic (why target a football ground? Hallowed ground for the average Joe).
And the Hannibal Lecter like face mask (masks are a theme Nolan keeps returning to in this) distorts his voice so that times he is unintelligible and when he's not, sounds like Darth Vader doing a bad Sean Connery impression. This in a film where the hero already needs subtitles as he growls out his words as if he is gargling rocks.
The lengthy running time gives the audience time to pick over the holes in the plot (such as why is the batsuit not impervious to knives) and also means the pace drags. It is a nearly 45 minutes before Batman first appears and it feels a long time between action sequences.
It is a violent yet bloodless movie, many people die but it flinches away from a lingering coup de grace to hold onto its 12a rating.
The Dark Knight Rises certainly isn't the low note of a Godfather III, but a fitting end to the franchise.
Nolan sticks to his dark and serious superhero guns, a template he established in Batman Begins.
But it isn't as viscerally thrilling as it could have been. By playing a long game, Nolan has come up a little short. AJ
?Next page: More reviews, including Birmingham-made film Tortoise In Love, Polisse, Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World, The Hunter and the reissue of Chariots Of Fire.
Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World
* * * *
Cert 15, 101 mins
If the ancient Mayans are to believed, the world will come to an end on December 21. Few people are taking that prophecy seriously, but what if an asteroid really was on its way, ready to wipe us all out?
And what if Bruce Willis, that ageing star of Armageddon, couldn’t blow it up in time?
In this film, the mildly-named Asteroid Matilda is about to destroy Earth in three weeks’ time.
The difference here is that the film is not an action thriller about people trying to escape, like 2012 and Deep Impact, or a depressing apocalyptic drama like Melancholia.
Instead, this bittersweet film takes a darkly comic look at the end of the world.
Dodge (Steve Carell) carries on pretty much as normal after the announcement of doom, still going to work as an insurance broker. His wife Linda, played by his real-life spouse Nancy, leaves him as soon as they hear the news. Others react with brutal honesty, take heroin, eat what they like or hire a hitman to finish them off early.
Dodge is forced out of his flat by a violent riot and he flees with his neighbour Penny (Keira Knightley). She’s much younger and wouldn’t have looked twice at him normally, but odd things happen at the end of the world.
The mismatched couple set off to find Dodge’s childhood sweetheart Olivia, who he thinks was the love of his life, and a plane which can fly Penny home to her family in England. They travel with her beloved vinyl record collection and a cute stray dog.
The tonal changes from satire to romance don’t always work, and I’m not sure I entirely buy into Penny and Dodge’s unlikely relationship, but the charming lead performances won me over by the end of the film, which is more touching than you might expect.
Don’t expect belly laughs, but it is funny. And with a few surprises in store and some good music choices, this is a little gem of a film. RL
Tortoise In Love
* * *
Cert 12A, 84 mins
In the rush to proliferate foul language as a means of offering modern ‘entertainment’, there’s a significant part of the British and Hollywood film industry which fails to recognise that many people would just like to watch a film with friends or relatives without fear of embarrassment.
Enter Tortoise in Love, a low budget £180,000 production made with the help of residents in Kingston Bagpuize, a village that’s a quarter of the way towards Swindon on the A420 road out of southwest Oxford.
The result is a decidedly old fashioned film that has a big heart in many of the right places despite its modest means. Looking like a grown up Adrian Mole crossed with Hugh Grant and footballer Gareth Southgate, little known Tom Mitchelson (Duplicity) takes the lead role of Tom, a microbiologist back home from London after three years ready to work as a gardener for an investment banker. The new family au pair is a curvaceous Polish girl called Anya (Alice Zawadzki).
Being slow on the uptake as far as girls are concerned, Tom is set to spend most of the film making little progress towards ‘the next big kiss in the village’.
In terms of Tom’s behaviour there’s more than a grain of truth in the whole set up. Even good looking men aren’t always predatory beasts and can be quite shy.
Anya, meanwhile, has just the right degree of spirit as a girl who just want to enjoy being abroad.
Explaining why she hasn’t got a boyfriend, she says of her ex: ‘‘He loved his car more than me... and he loved my best friend in his car’’.
Opening with the kind of voiceover you might find in a children’s film like Babe or Charlotte’s Web, Tortoise In Love has elements of Bridget Jones, Tamara Drewe, Calendar Girls and Richard E Grant’s unfairly overlooked First Night (2010).
It’s certainly more watchable than Greenfingers (2000), the gardening film that could have ended Clive Owen’s career before it had properly taken root.
Written and directed by The Guardian columnist Guy Browning and produced by University of Warwick graduate and Birmingham-based producer Steffan Aquarone, some of the early lines are fun and apt, such as ‘‘The more you pay for school fees, the longer their holidays become. It’s a rip off’’.
While the two leads are kept apart for far too long, Anya is left to rely on her stunning looks and the music becomes a touch intrusive, mature viewers will just enjoy the positives.
Tortoise In Love ended this week at Dudley and Coventry Showcases – having foolishly not been offered in time for preview last week by Immense Productions.
All that effort, eh... Still, the producers are now trying to encourage village hall types and small communities to hire it out for themselves – so call 07921 628300 or email email@example.com if you want to screen it. GY
* * *
Cert 15, 102 mins
The sheer unpredictability of a star like Willem Dafoe puts an extra spring into every step of this remote environmental / wildlife thriller.
But it’s the fabulously unfamiliar landscapes that will linger longest in the memory. A biotech company wants mercenary animal hunter Martin David to try to find the Tasmanian tiger.
And Jurassic Park star Sam Neill is the local tracker Jack Mindy who takes him out into the wilds.
Meeting grief-stricken mother Lucy (Frances O’Connor) adds another perspective to the sense of isolation felt by the film’s characters, but at the centre of The Hunter is the excitement of trying to find a creature that is thought to be extinct.
What if it’s not real? What would anyone in Martin David’s shoes do then?
With the poaching of other rare species having increased in recent years – thus inflating the price of increasingly scarce resources – The Hunter is a very topical drama with ethics and human consciousness at its heart.
Director Daniel Nettheim commendably goes to great lengths to let you make up your own mind about Martin David. He’s Rambo in disguise but, we sense, likely to be just as deadly.
Even so, just like Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, the script cannot match the visual splendour of Earth at its very best.
Showing at the Electric Cinea today, Thursday, and then at the MAC, Cannon Hill Park from Friday until Thursday. GY
* * *
Cert 15, 128 mins
“It was my daddy,” are the first words spoken by a young child being questioned in this film based on real stories.
Next, a girl is sitting opposite her grandfather down at the police station and he’s being accused of rape.
“Do you always believe the kids?” he asks.
Clearly, a film that won the 2011 Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize – and was a best picture candidate at the César Awards won by The Artist – isn’t going to be an easy watch for some during its three-day run at Warwick Arts Centre from Monday to Wednesday next week. There are extended discussions with suspected paedophiles and their alleged actions.
But what makes this a (chaotic) tour-de-force is that the film includes adult-to-adult conversations and relationships between the investigators, for whom sex has a different but equally strong meaning.
To add to the powerful if somewhat unfocused mix, a female journalist (actress turned director Maïwenn) is photographing the work of the department (shame we don’t see the pictures) and is also tempted to have an affair.
A lively ego-driven dust-up in the office notwithstanding, there’s too much shouting between the cast in an area where sensitivity ought to be prerequisite. And the ending, though shocking, is quite ridiculous.
Then again, just like the masterful 2009 Argentinian film The Secret in their Eyes, there’s never any kind of pretence that this type of police work would be anything other than a stressful way of earning a living.
At Warwick Arts Centre from Monday to Wednesday next week. GY
Chariots Of Fire
* * * *
Cert U, 123 mins
Colin Welland’s Oscar-winning script illustrates how the differences in people’s backgrounds can influence their behaviour.
How athletes can improve their performance using a bit of lateral thinking and a few simple training tricks. The importance of competition and trying your best.
Complete with some impressively steady footage of the athletes running, Chariots of Fire combines spiritual matters with patriotism, as Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson, who died aged 40 in 1990) and Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) prepare to compete at the 1924 Paris Olympics.
Liddell was a Scottish Christian keen to succeed for his faith; Abrahams a Jew eager to prove that he wasn’t inferior.
As world events have proved time and again, this is a timeless story, rooted in an era long before anyone had thought of Spandex or terrorist attacks.
Directed by Hugh Hudson and produced by David Puttman, the film is often remembered for the extraordinarily-distinctive music by Vangelis (whose Oscar was accepted on his behalf by William Hurt).
But there are times when today it almost sounds at odds with the period nature of the story.
And many fellow viewers still walked out during the end credits’ main theme instead of staying behind to enjoy it. GY