Tag Archive: Christopher Nolan


My Top 10 Films of 2014!

Seasons Greetings to you all! This countdown post must of course begin with an apology, as it has been sometime since my last posting, with many reviews falling to the way-side in favour of University work (which I am still very much in the clutches of). As a result, I have chosen to reveal my top 10 in a different manner to previous years. Instead of punching out one long article, I have chosen to reveal my favourite films of 2014 one-by-one, culminating with number one being revealed on New Years Eve. This is in the hope that each instalment will only take 10-15 minutes out of my day, as well as building a lot more anticipation as we count down to my top spot. So, be sure to check back everyday until New Years to see which films have come to stand as my favourites of the year that has been 2014. That time, has now come.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: The Lego Movie, Nightcrawler, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Raid 2, 12 Years a Slave 

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10. Edge of Tomorrow (Dir: Doug Liman)

I always make a case in point of putting my favourite summer blockbuster in my top ten (Pacific Rim held that honour last year), and this year Doug Liman’s return to blockbuster film-making holds the honour. Edge of Tomorrow was marketed quite terribly, with the trailers not making enough of what marks this Sci-Fi actioner as something other than simply another Tom Cruise movie, leading to disappointing box-office returns. EofT has plenty to offer beyond the expectations of a Cruise-action picture. It has incredibly sharp humour, inventive thrills, engaging performances, a fun central concept, and an acute reverence for a certain blockbuster spirit of a by-gone era. Essentially Groundhog Day with a Sci-Fi tinged, EofT sees Cruise’s cowardly Bill Cage re-living the same day in a futuristic war being fought on the beaches of Normandy. With the help of ace soldier Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), he sets out to be rid of his ailment, and to find the means of defeating the alien race that looks set to claim the Earth. The coupling of Cruise and Blunt leads to an endlessly watch-able pair, allowing for EofT to (ironically) become a film that holds up incredibly well on repeat viewings. Aside from an ending which is most definitely the worst any of the three credited screen-writers could have thought of, this feature stood out amongst the crowd in a cluttered summer season as one of the more refreshing outputs from Hollywood in 2014.

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9. Paddington (Dir: Paul King)

One of the most heart-soaring surprises of the year came in the form of the big screen update of Michael Bond’s lovable furry critter from deepest darkest Peru. Once again, the marketing did little to stir my interest, deciding to focus on the more slapstick elements of the movie. What the trailers failed to reveal was quite how brilliantly Paddington Bear has been updated for a 21st Century audience, allowing for fans both old and new to easily embrace this new adventure. Following the young bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw) as he tries to find a home in London, the endlessly inventive script has all the classic elements of the character blended with moments of humorous slapstick, gently placed emotional beats, and a welcomingly unexpected allegory concerning immigrants trying to find a place within British society. Having such a message of tolerance is incredibly important to feature in a children’s film, particular in a modern Britain in which such a party as UKIP gains a worrying following. This careful, yet well articulated allegory allows Paddington to stand up as a film that is as important as it is entertaining. And boy, is it fun. The film pops with vibrant life; feeling like a brightly coloured story-book brought to energetic life. Paul King, one of the creators of The Mighty Boosh, makes his comedic voice heard, all the while delivering the comforting family vibes expected of a film such as this (particular in the Christmas season). This is aided by the spot-on cast; Hugh Bonneville is affable, Sally Hawkins is utterly adorable, while Nicole Kidman has the most fun she has had in years. Yet it is the voice-performance of Whishaw that will win your heart, his naive and optimistic tones bringing the stunningly rendered CG Paddington to life in quite perfect fashion. All in all, Paddington stands as one of the most successful updates of a classical character in recent memory, with King et al delivering a film that is as welcome as a Marmalade sandwich (a snack one must always keep under their hat in case of emergencies).

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8. Inside Llewyn Davis (Dir: Joel & Ethan Coen)

Apologies for no postings the last two days, Christmas eating and drinking took priority. I hope you all had a wonderful, gluttonous Christmas Day, and allow me to present you the gift of three entries in my countdown of my favourite films of the year. Coming in at number 8 is a film that I initially didn’t particularly warm to, Inside Llewyn Davis, the latest offering from the Brothers Coen. The reason being that it is very much a film with an affable asshole at its lead, who seemingly cannot help being self-destructive in nearly evey aspect of his life as he bums around from couch to couch trying to make it in the Folk scene in New York’s Greenwich Village, circa 1961. But upon numerous re-visits, Llewyn Davis may very well stand as one of my favourite Coen Brothers movies, for its moddily beautiful cinematography, perfectly placed and selected folk tunes, and for arguably the best ensemble cast they have worked with. Oscar Issac delivers one of the most naunced performances of the year, doing the impossible by making us care a great deal about an individual who only has himself to blame for most of the failings in his life. Inside Llewyn Davis stands as the film that I have revisited the most this year, and each time I have come to appreciate it for its simple ambition and quite excellent production. It has also deemed a place for the fact the soundtrack has come to be present in many moments of my life this year, be it commuting, listening whilst working, or with a group of friends and a guitar; Inside Llewyn Davis has earned itself a place in this list due to the nature of its re-watch-ability and the Coen’s undeniably impressive craft.

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7. Calvary (Dir: John Michael McDonagh)

If you have seen John Michael McDonagh’s first feature, The Guard, you will be very aware of the sharp comedic voice and style he is very much capable of. Yet, his second feature is an entirely different beast. While it occasionally falls into the ‘pulpy’ genre quirks hat chraracterised The Guard, Calvary stands as a much more mature and incredibly vital piece of cinema. Taking the the burning matter of Irish Catholic guilt concerning the actions of certain Priests and the ensuing scandals that have disgraced the church and shocked its patrons, Calvary is a film of great courage, relevance, and importance. Brendan Gleeson plays Father James, whose life is threatened during a confessional, giving him a week to set his affairs in order and continue to try and be a symbol of control and wholesomeness in a town that has very much lost its way into darkness. McDonagh’s second feature is nothing short of a triumph. Mixing the deathly black comedy that played more broadly in The Guard with a hard-hitting social commentary, as well as a gallery of oddball characters, the film shifts through different tonality’s and a wide variety of themes with grace and a biting sense of a very dark reality. Larry Smith’s cinematography builds a bleak atmosphere, not as stylish as his work on Only God Forgives, but equally vital to establishing a sense of location and a gradual sense of devastation. That coupled with a sweeping score allows the subject matter of Calvary to truly resonate as something incredibly vital and pivotal to not only an understanding of the Catholic Church, but of our own opinions to religion and how the actions of individuals can affect the image of a certain group. With Gleeson also delivering the best performance of his career, Calvary is one piece of work this year that demands your utmost attention.

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6. Snowpiercer (Dir: Bong Joon-Ho)

With seemingly no UK theatrical release date in sight, it would seem Snowpiercer is destined to become a true definition of a cult movie; that high concept film which deserves a great audience, yet was never given the chance to do so. I was lucky enough to catch this movie in the summer, and have been eagerly awaiting the news of a UK release, but as it stands, VOD seems to be the only answer. Bong Joon-Ho, who is perhaps best known for the glorious B-movie, The Host, brings the French graphic novel to the screen with great flair, grit and style. Within this dystopia, the world has been plunged into a relentless Ice Age, making survival impossible on the surface. The last of the human race survive on a globe-spanning train which never stops. ON board this train, the last of the human race has established hierarchy, in which those at the back end of the train live in poverty, with those at the front living in frivolity, with little care for those at the back. Cue the revolution. Snowpiercer is an absolute marvel of production design, with each carriage of the dystopian train, which range from either being drenched in oil and dirt, or being bright, illustrious and glamorous. With a knowing sense of humour and satire, Joon-Ho creates a film of potent allegory, a rich text that I’m sure many BA undergrads will mine in the future. It is a dark and violent world in which mankind has been pushed to its very limits, making revolution an inevitability. Leading that charge is a brooding Chris Evans, the Captain delivering a suitably moody performance in a turn which reminds you that he is more than just a Marvel poster boy, he is an actor capable of delivering a performance of great depth and menace. The ensemble cast all deliver fine performances, but the stand out (as is often the case) comes in the form of Tilda Swinton’s Yorkshire bred Minister Mason. If you only come away from this list intending on only watching one of these recommendations, then make that choice Snowpiercer, a film as original as it is entertaining, and as thought provoking as any piece of pivotal science fiction of the past century.

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5. Her (Dir: Spike Jonze)

In the time that lasped across the earlier part part of the year, Her stood as my favourite film for the best part of the year. An affecting tale of man and machine, constructing a unique love story along the way, Spike Jonze’s Oscar-winning screenplay is a modest piece of genius, filled with his usual doff-beat humour, yet driven by a melancholic sense of longing to connect in a society in which communication has become somewhat limited in a technologically driven age. Joaquin Phoenix plays recent divorcee Theodore, who downloads the latest OS on his computer. This being a new breed in Artificial Intelligence, the OS called Samantha (voiced amazingly by Scarlett Johansson) exhibits the intelligence and initiative of a human being. The lines between human and machine blurred, Theodore soon begins to develop a deeper, more intimate relationship with the A.I. With Phoenix exhibiting a sweeter side than we have come to expect from him, the story of Theodore and Samantha becomes rather hard not to fall for yourself, despite the ever-knowing inclination that this is not something entirely normal. The production design brings this near-future to colourful life, as we are brought into a world in which hipsters have taken over, while the atmosphere is effectively forged through the swooning and moving score courtesy of Arcade Fire. What marks Her as an important film for our lifetime is its concern for contemporary issues, namely that of the effect of technology on communication, and how ‘wired’ in a generation we truly are. It is as much about the now as it is about the future, meaning that it will more than likely become more relevant as time passes, perhaps marking Her as a timeless product of our modern times. It may be too early to claim such a thing, but the emotion and fresh design mark Her as at least one of the most important and affecting films of the past year.

GoneGirl4. Gone Girl (Dir: David Fincher)

We all like to humour our dark side from time to time, and when I myself fancy delving into something more macabre, I often visit David Fincher in order to get my fix. Be it the mind bending twists and turns of The Game, or the seedy unseen horrors of Seven, Fincher has often conjured tales of the darker side of human nature. Gone Girl, the adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling 2012 novel, can stand with some of Fincher’s best work, thrusting you into a twisted marriage and mystery and laughing devilishly as you squirm in your seat. The marriage of Amy (Rosamund Pike) and Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) is the focus, as Amy goes missing, throwing Nick under the media spotlight as more and more evidence puts him in the frame as the man responsible for Amy’s rather sudden disappearance on the day of their fifth wedding anniversary. While it may not be his best feature in his illustrious filmography, Gone Girl proves to be an example of a director who is a true master of his craft. He lashes the proceedings with humour, wrings career best performances from Affleck and Pike, and has complete command over Flynn’s screenplay. He clearly revels in the twisted relationship of the Dunne’s, as well as the vampirism of news media and the personalities often found within that industry. The editing is slick, the cinematography stylish, the music fittingly atmospheric; it is simply a flawlessly mounted film, demonstrating the meticulous nature of its director. Gone Girl is an intoxicating rumination on the notion of never knowing what is happening within the minds of those closest to you. A compelling thriller made by a true master, Gone Girl effortlessly holds a high ranking place in my countdown for 2014.

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3. Whiplash (Dir: Damien Chazelle)

Perhaps a bit of a cheat this one, as it does not come out in the UK until January 16th, but has indeed screened numerous times across the Autumn/Winter festival season. I was lucky enough to catch it at a screening at the Barbican last month as part of the London Jazz Festival, and seeing as it has been on theatrical release (for quite sometime I might add) in the States, I believe I can justify giving Whiplash a place in this Top 10. And plus, it’s really fucking good. Portraying a battle of wits between a promising young music student drummer, Andrew (Miles Teller), and his hard-ass and ruthless conductor, Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), Whiplash is one of the most exhilarating and pulse-pounding cinematic experiences of the past 12 months. Chazelle’s tight direction and rhythmic editing help to aptly convey the sheer pressure of playing in an orchestra, and how that pressure increases exponentially when put on the spot by the conductor. I should just be thankful that in my time playing for an orchestra I never came across a figure as intimidating as J.K. Simmons’ Fletcher. With his bulging biceps and unpredictable anger, Simmons gives his all for a performance of a life-time. His treatment of Andrew disgusts and repels, particularly when Andrew begins to sacrifice other relationships in his life in order to improve as a drummer. It is an enthralling conflict between the two, made unpredictable by Simmons, yet driven by Teller’s commitment, blood, sweat, and tears. Much has been said about Simmons (and he deserves every award coming to him), but Teller’s contribution cannot be under-sold, as he also gives 110% to convey the desire and frustration of the clearly skilled young music student. With a damn fine jazz soundtrack, unpredictable turns, and a final confrontation as tense as anything in the finest sports movies, Whiplash is a cinematic experience that will leave you sweating in your seat and screaming for more. Be sure to catch it in January.

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2. Boyhood (Dir: Richard Linklater)

A film which has topped many critics and magazines lists this year, Boyhood is undoubtedly one of the greatest successes of 2014. Quite unlike anything else produced in cinema, Boyhood was shot over the course of 12 years with the same cast. It is quite an unprecedented feat of film-making that will stand in cinema history as one of the most triumphant and enriching texts concerning everyday human life. It is utterly crazy that Linklater managed to pull it off, even more impressive when you consider he still found the time to make the likes of A Scanner Darkly, School of Rock and the concluding parts of his similarly ambitious Sunset Trilogy across the years. Hard to describe in terms of plot, Boyhood is a film better described in regards to its thematic concerns, as we experience the joys, pitfalls, and anxieties of growing up through the eyes of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) over the course of 12 years. With popular songs from the likes of Family of the Year and Goyte as some of our only indicators of time placement, as well as strangely predictive pop culture discussions, Linklater’s script is effortlessly human and moving, relying on big moments of drama very sparingly in the hope that more genuine emotions are forged between his characters and his audience. It helps that the cast is quite effortless in conveying a very natural relationship with one another. Patricia Arquette is particularly impressive, while Ethan Hawke proves that he is never better than when he is being directed by Linklater. Yet, the whole film rides on the shoulders of its young, un-tested lead, and Coltrane strides through on his cute naivety in the early years, which soon develops into a laid back charm which is very easy to engage with. While Boyhood is concerned with the tribulations of a young boy’s puberty, there is something for absolutely anyone to connect with. If you’ve ever been a sibling, a mother, a father, heck if you’ve ever been a child there are emotions and moments of experience that you can liken to your own. Perhaps what stopped Boyhood taking the top spot is its universality; it’s a very hard film to dislike and those that find flaw must really be willing themselves to nitpick. It seems odd to say, but Boyhood is a hard film to call my personal favourite of the year because it seems to belong to EVERYONE. Boyhood is a piece of cinema that we are unlikely to ever see again, a pure shot of lightening in a bottle, whose top has been carefully wound tighter over the course of its 12 year production. Just take a minute again to consider that. Consider the perseverance and commitment (and damned good luck) that Linklater managed to complete his ambitious project. Linklater deserves every accolade that is sure to be coming his way, as Boyhood confirms an inkling that many of I’m sure already had in our minds; that Richard Linklater is one of the most important, varied, and talented film-makers of a generation.

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1. Interstellar (Dir: Christopher Nolan)

Now bare with me on this one. I am very aware that Interstellar is a film that has been on the receiving end of a very mixed reaction, and that is one of the main reasons as to why it has worked its way to the top of the list. It helps that I adore it, but the fact that it has proven so divisive, giving so many people the passion to defend or rile against highlights one of the simplest pleasures of cinema. All art is subjective, and all art is made for discussion, and Interstellar proved, for me at least, to be the film where I was engaged in most debates, both with others and with myself. I was initially cautious following my first viewing (in 60mm IMAX I must add) due to the over-whelming nature of Nolan’s ideas and imagery, particularly those which arise in the course of the final act. I immediately wanted to see it again. And I did. Twice. There are films on here that I have seen many times since release, but no film quite demanded a re-visit with quite the same immediacy. Christopher Nolan had something to prove to me (and I’m sure many others) with Interstellar following his Batman trilogy closure. The Dark Knight Rises, while certainly more cerebral than common Hollywood blockbuster fare, remains a disappointing, frustratingly scripted franchise closer. Perhaps my trepidation into Interstellar aided me, but there is no denying that Nolan’s 9th feature film comes accompanied with some of his most startlingly beautiful images, that can be at once awe-inspiring and haunting, striking the sublime chord in quite an impressionistic fashion. Interstellar wears its inspirations on its sleeve, evoking Kubrick (it would be stupid to avoid mentioning the K-word in any discussion of Interstellar) through its mix of science-fiction and philosophical questioning, while it is also easy to detect a dash of Spielberg through the family dynamic on display. Reacting to his critics (which is something more directors should practice), Nolan attempts to devote more time to emotion and character, and truly does succeed in crafting an operatic adventure which is grounded in raw human emotion, namely that of a relationship between a father and his daughter. This is in no small way aided by the performance of McConaughey, who grounds the action by always ensuring that his character, engineer and pilot Cooper, keeps what is at stake front and centre as he embarks on a mission to save mankind through finding a new world at the other side of a wormhole. Interstllar may well be one of the most flawed films on this list, flaws which are almost endearing rather than frustrating in the grand scheme of the text. Its powerful cinematography, soul-shuddering score bring to the screen an adventure that only the cinema can bring to life and take you on. Despite the complex physics and theories involved, no other film quite matched up for me in terms of the epic nature of its journey, nor did any other film quite demand you to seek out the biggest screen possible in order to experience it. Interstellar stirred a passion and a wonder within me concerning space and cinema that I had not felt since Apollo 13 first inspired me to hold my thumb up to the Moon and ponder on what was to be found in the far reaches of space, I am always grateful to a film for stirring such a curiosity within me, and I am truly grateful and impressed that Interstellar managed to allow those sensations to return. It is this emotion, this feeling, this thrill, that allows Interstellar to deservedly hold the top spot of my countdown this year.

So there you have it, the count-down is complete and we can all say a fond good-bye to 2014 and look forward to the cinematic ventures that await us in 2015. I wish you all a very Happy New Year, enjoy your celebrations tonight, and all the best for the year ahead.

Enjoy this Cinematic Retrospective, courtesy of Nikita Malko.

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manofsteel1Superman. To some, the quintessential superhero, the one that started it all. Approaching the grand old age of 80, Superman is a character who has not been shy to the big screen. In 1978, Richard Donner produced what is still held in regard as the benchmark comic-book movie; once again, Superman was the one to start it all, the first film to prove that a comic-book could work as a film if taken seriously, the key word on set being verisimilitude. That film was followed by a worthy sequel, but the cinematic history has since been in a constant state of flux. Spearheaded by Superman 2‘s care-taker director Richard Lester, Superman 3 was more of a slapstick comedy than a super-hero movies, losing that all important verisimilitude. The less said about the noble but horribly produced Quest for Peace the better. After years of aborted projects, with many worthy names attached, Superman did indeed return in Bryan Singer’s, err, Superman Returns. While lovingly homage-ing the Donner original, it lacked excitement, took the mythology too far and felt out of touch with the times. In the wake of Christopher Nolan’s success with the Batman trilogy, it was only a matter of time before Superman got a similar treatment. And here we have it. And after many years of abandoned projects and possible outcomes for this film, I only have one question for Warner Bros; is this really the best you could do?

It has taken me a great deal of time to bring myself to write this review. Partly because of being busy, but also because I simply cannot bring myself to admit how much of a disappointment it truly was. Adopting a somewhat muddled and pointless non-linear narrative, we are re-introduced to the origins of Superman, a la Goyer-Nolan, as we witness Jor-El (Russell Crowe) saving his newly born son from the destruction of their home planet of Krypton. Landing on Earth, the baby, Kal-El, is raised under the watchful eyes of John (Kevin man-of-steel-3Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane), and grows up to become Clark Kent (Henry Cavill). Struggling with coming to terms with his other-worldly powers, Clark wonders the Earth looking for answers to his identity, to discover who he truly is, and fulfill the destiny Pa Kent always deemed he was meant for. He may get more than he bargained for however in the form of the arrival of General Zod (Michael Shannon), a fellow Kryptonian survivor, who with his fellow banished soldiers, has been searching the galaxy for the son of Jor-El in order to exact his furious revenge. In order to save the city of Metropolis, Clark must fulfill his destiny and become the one and only Superman.

Director Zack Synder starts proceedings in a suitably epic fashion on the planet Krypton. While not particularly original in design, this new Krypton feels much more organic and effectively establishes the more grounded aesthetic (even if I do miss the gloriously bright Krypton of the Donner-age). Russell Crowe also makes for a commanding presence, perhaps the only man in our day and age who can take on a role previously played by Marlon Brando and come out with a performance that is equally stirring and dignified. The opening also establishes Michael Shannon as a ferocious force as Zod. Yet, even in these, the film’s stronger moments, David S. Goyer’s dialogue brings the action crashing down hard. Filled with needless exposition and quite simply laughable statements (he makes Russell Crowe quote 300 for christ-sakes). And once it throws itself into the tiresome non-linear approach, Goyer’s script becomes increasingly poor and Snyder’s direction progressively more dull and moronic.

As the film builds to its ultimate climax, the progression to seeing Clark become Superman is constantly interrupted, destroying the chance of any momentum to be established (something Richard Donner did perfectly). Despite Kevin Costner’s sombre and affecting performance, the script once again lets his efforts down by ensuring that all his scenes are merely variations of exactly the same message. The character of John Kent also loses much of what he is supposed to symbolize in his death. John Kent is supposed to die from a heart attack, to demonstrate that Clark, despite his powers, cannot prevent death. Here, it seems that Snyder and Goyer just thought it’d be cool to have a tornado in their movie. The only reason the scene works on any emotional level is through the warmth and care Costner has put into his performance. man-of-steel-2

The final act must be said does gain momentum through the script losing the non-linear template. Yet the action comes to represent the moronic mindless action that should not be found in a movie that is striving to make audiences take Superman seriously again. With an over-abundance of whip pans and zooms, superfluous explosions and extreme over use of CGI reiterations of the characters involved, the action quickly becomes repetitive, unremarkable, and plain stupid. It is impossible to invest in a character who becomes a video-game avatar and punches other characters mindlessly with little coherence. Did you not listen to the criticisms nailed into the coffin that contains Sucker Punch Zachery!? Where Joss Whedon revolved the big climatic action in Avengers Assemble around the theme of unity and coming together, and he did so in a very coherent fashion. Man of Steel certainly takes a leaf out of the Michael Bay Action Handbook; loud, chaotic, and wholly mindless.

The cast of Man of Steel all suffer as a result of the script; Amy Adams Lois Lane is a poor shadow of the character but again, not the fault of the actress. The weakest link in the cast is, unfortunately, Mr. Henry Cavill. My fellow Channel Islander, while certainly physically impressive, only looks comfortable when he is in the chain-mail esque suit. His Clark is dull, laboured with incredibly heavy expositionary dialogue and reacting unconvincingly with most of his CGI surroundings. It is a shame, but with stronger direction (Snyder’s strength has never been with actors) I can imagine Cavill turning in a more assured and confident performance.  man-of-steel-4

As with most Zack Snyder movies, Man of Steel is certainly visually splendid; de-saturated somewhat, but with the potential to be very poetic and with a rather nice edge to it. There are some memorable images and Hans Zimmer’s score is absolutely fantastic, a real driving force, imbued with emotion, excitement and passion . He certainly knew what he was doing, but the film itself fails to strike a tone. It jumps from stupid summer blockbuster to the attempts to produce a deep existential look at a beloved superhero, but all it had to offer in respect to the latter was revealed to us in the trailer. What we are left with is a film that is completely disjointed; it has the elements there to produce a good movie, but none of them seemed to have fitted together. It does not leave one with a sense of excitement for what is to come in the DC Movie, if anything, it has left me with a sense of dread. We deserved better. Superman deserved better.

2/5- There is a good film in here somewhere, but it lacks the intelligence to allow it to thrive, with tonally uneven direction and a script weighed down with so much exposition that it could match a case of lead. A crushing disappointment.

Greetings all! Mr. Gaudion here, but only briefly. As you are well aware, while I am at home in Alderney I am not able to catch the latest releases, which irritates me somewhat, but I can live with it. But one friend, a Mr. Greg Falla, gave me the idea to allow my friends to do guest reviews for films that I perhaps will not be able to see for quite sometime. I should have a review by Mr. Falla arriving in the near future, but for now I’ve got you an extra special treat; the first guest review by my great friend Michael Perry for The Dark Knight Rises! It is an excellent read, displaying Mike’s witty and sophisticated writing style, and I hope that this is the first of many guest reviews from him, and perhaps many other people. Should you wish to write a guest review, feel free to get in touch with me via Facebook or this here blog. But now, without further ado, here is Mike’s verdict on Christopher Nolan’s Bat-finale! Thanks again Mike!

One of the hundreds of online fan-made posters for The Dark Knight Rises summarises Christopher Nolan’s Batman cycle in three phases: begins, falls, rises.  After the gothic noir of the origin story (Batman Begins) and the chaotic crime epic (The Dark Knight), Nolan has set both the Caped Crusader and himself a pretty hefty challenge to rise to for the final lighting of the Bat-signal.  Rarely has a film had this level of anticipation fastened to it: in the wake of a towering sequel which broke the boundaries of what comic-book films could achieve, the hype and expectation burdened upon The Dark Knight Rises was enough to leave cinemagoers buzzing with countless anxious questions.  Will it tarnish this otherwise-perfect series?  Will it be too overcrowded?  Will Catwoman fit into this world?  Will it be better than The Dark Knight?

But at last, it has finally been released, and the story of Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne is done.  And audiences everywhere can breathe a collective sigh of relief: it’s a blistering, thrilling, glorious conclusion to a much-loved series.  Nolan has been slowly honing in on a masterful filmmaking formula over the last few years, and The Dark Knight Rises is yet another gem to add to his already-gleaming catalogue.  With his directing skills stronger than ever (action sequences are now much clearer and crisper than the dizzying fights of Batman Begins) and with a head-spinning array of ideas and possibilities corralled into a cohesive, intelligent thrill-ride (big props to Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer), Nolan bows out of Gotham on a high note.

If you don’t mind (and you probably won’t at this late stage), I’ll try and leave out exposition and lengthy synopses, because I think everyone’s tired of re-reading the story so far after countless other reviews, articles and the like.  Besides, it’s now August 2012, so only those dwelling under rocks will be unfamiliar with Batman’s arc.  Suffice to say, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) isn’t in the best shape, and nor is Gotham once the masked terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy) rolls into town, intent on bringing the city to its knees.

As with most finales, the scope has been widened, the stakes raised, and the scale enlarged to end proceedings with a bang.  The team have returned with a story which picks up where The Dark Knight left off, and several threads from the previous films have been consolidated, lengthened, and neatly tied up.  Bale is definitely centre-stage this time around, as Wayne’s story is brought full circle.  The film does a great job of exploring the tortured psyche of the tragedy-stricken hero, with both sides of his character investigated.  Bale’s performance here is his strongest in the series, as he invests Wayne with a poignant vulnerability as he undergoes his most exhausting journey yet.  It’s a real tightrope act, with Bale just about managing to remain the central focus of the film, even with such a strong supporting cast and while facing off against such a monstrous adversary.

The rub with playing the villain in this film is that expectations have been raised to skyscraping levels after Heath Ledger’s masterful turn as The Joker in The Dark Knight.  Tom Hardy was always going to have a mighty shadow to try and escape from, but a number of critics have dismissed his Bane – muscular, logical and ruthless – as disappointing in the wake of Ledger’s anarchic, cackling clown.  But this is ridiculously unfair.  Both villains are separate creations with different character traits, methods and backgrounds (both in the film universe and in the comics), and should be treated as such.  Comparing one to the other is kind of ludicrous, especially since within their own roles, both actors deliver to the best possible standard.  Yes, Heath Ledger was a truly exceptional actor.  But then, so is Tom Hardy, and the Bane of this universe is absolutely terrifying.  Working from behind that creepy (but cumbersome) mask, Hardy pulls off a fantastic feat with simply his eyes, body language and that voice: an unsettling, croaky tone which bubbles over with confidence and malice.  And yes, it’s understandable!  Okay, there are times when a line or two is indecipherable (I’d argue that the placing of Hans Zimmer’s otherwise-wonderful score slightly too high in the mix plays some part in that), but for the most part, Bane’s voice reverberates with a booming menace.

And he’s surprisingly charismatic, too.  One of the film’s best scenes focuses on a furious tirade from Bane as he stands astride a familiar-looking vehicle, making his plans clear as he raises his own army in the battle for Gotham.  Even behind the mask, the anger, disgust and traces of a sick, facetious pleasure punctuate every syllable and gesticulation.  And in the fight scenes, too, he is as intimidating as he looks.  There is one moment in particular when Bane completely lets loose in a rapid-fire flurry of fists, and it’s a truly horrifying sight as the behemoth smashes through concrete and more while snarling like a wild animal.  This time around, you genuinely fear for the people of Gotham, and for Batman in particular: as comic-book fans would put it, Bruce Wayne should watch his back.

As for Anne Hathaway, let’s just say that all those who balked at the thought of her portraying Selina Kyle are probably wiping egg from their collective faces right now.  And yes, I was among those naysayers.  But stab me with a sharpened heel, Hathaway’s performance is absolutely wonderful, with her character (the title ‘Catwoman’ isn’t actually used once during this film) capable of holding her own against the big, brutal boys of Nolan’s Bat-verse.  She lands in this world on two nimble feet, bringing with her several crucial ingredients for this incarnation of the ambiguous Kyle: humanity and humour.  The final creation is a cat burglar who feels authentic and believable.

She almost steals the show, but not quite.  Everyone is given time to shine here: Gary Oldman remains pitch-perfect as the weary-but-resolute Commissioner Gordon; Morgan Freeman enjoys an expanded role as Lucius Fox (more integral than he’s ever been in this saga); and Joseph Gordon-Levitt gets to sink his teeth into one hell of a role as the young, idealistic cop John Blake, who has a character arc so juicy that one almost forgets that he’s only just been introduced into the series.

Of course, what with this being the final episode of the trilogy and all, emotions run high.  Anyone who argues that Nolan can’t hit viewers where it hurts (the tear ducts) might want to reconsider their arguments: there were about half-a-dozen moments in the film where things got more than a little misty for me.  A good number of those belong to Michael Caine, who pulls on the heartstrings something awful on at least four occasions, most achingly so early on, when Alfred recalls his saddened trips to a particular café.  And some pretty dark depths are plumbed in the story, with Bruce Wayne reduced to his lowest ebb and Gotham precariously positioned in the hands of a seemingly indestructible, tactical enemy.  Unlike the breezy (but no-less brilliant) Avengers Assemble and the competent-but-underwhelming Amazing Spider-Man, here you get the impression that things really could go catastrophically wrong.  Gotham might just be reduced to ashes after all.

But it’s not all tears and fears: as with its predecessors, The Dark Knight Rises never loses the light completely, with witty barbs and dry quips sprinkled throughout the darkness, most of them courtesy of Hathaway, who can spark one-liners as deftly as Kieran Culkin’s Wallace from Scott Pilgrim.  And thankfully, the light touches of comedy never overbalance the tone, seldom spoiling the mood or flow of the scenes they accompany.

This is crucial, because as with the previous films, the emphasis is firmly on making this realistic, and everything feels organic to the tone of the trilogy, while also feeling relevant to modern climates: economic collapse, terrorism and fears of impending apocalypse all inform the film’s action.  It also helps that Nolan isn’t that keen on CGI, and as a result, the special effects are never short of breathtaking, lending the action sequences a real sense of high-stakes urgency rivalled by few other blockbusters.  Football stadiums erupt, bridges crumple and huge-scale chase sequences are orchestrated, with the latter moments seeing Batman piloting a high-tech (and pretty freaking cool) new toy from Fox’s funhouse.

Perhaps inevitably, there are flaws.  There are a fair number of plot-holes which have the potential to nag away at you for a while, and personally, I would’ve liked to have seen further exploration and characterisation of Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) and Peter Foley (Matthew Modine), whose stories are engaging, but feel lacking in places.  But then, with the film already spanning a bum-breaking one-hundred-and-sixty-five minutes, it’s understandable that some of the finer points have been left aside.

So no, it’s not quite perfect.  But let’s leave it to the forum fanboys to make mountains out of these molehills.  The bottom line is this: I haven’t seen a film as exciting as this in quite some time.  With outstanding performances all around, some genuinely heart-racing action sequences and a potent emotional punch, Nolan has concluded his trilogy in true style.  Have no fear Mr. Gaudion – it’s the finale Batman deserves.

5/5- As Andrew himself wrote when summing up Avengers Assemble: “there are faults to be had, but the sheer entertainment value of this movie over-rides them all”.  True again here: The Dark Knight Rises is a triumphant rollercoaster ride which ties the trilogy together in a hugely satisfying finale.

I am sure that most of you are aware that this Friday sees the release of The Dark Knight Rises, if you aren’t aware, than you must be a masked vigilante who has been hiding from the authorities for the past 8 years. Or you’ve been living under a rock. With two days left until the highly anticipated release is unleashed, and with me being once again in a position where I don’t know when the hell I’m going to be able to see it (that’s right people, give me your sympathy), I thought I’d give you all my guide on how best to prepare for the experience of Christopher Nolan’s final installment in his Batman trilogy. You may wish to go in completely fresh, experience the film for what it is, but if you wish to find ways to psyche yourself up or learn more about certain aspects of the movie, then here are some ways in which to do so.

Read Knightfall…

I don’t know how well versed you are in terms of Batman comic-books and graphic novels, but allow me to recommend some issues and novels from the past that are relevant to the context of The Dark Knight Rises. The first is a very influential story arc from the early 1990’s, 1993 to be exact. The arc is entitled Knightfall, and it is the most famous arc in Batman’s history concerning the character of Bane, as it features the highly iconic moment of Bane ‘breaking The Bat’ leaving Bruce Wayne as a paraplegic. Most of the 90’s Batman comics weren’t particularly memorable, at this time the highest standard of Bat entertainment was the brilliant Animated Series, but Knightfall is certainly an exception. It addresses the question of whether only one man can be Batman; is it just the image or is Bruce the only man who can truly BE Batman? And it provided Bane with an everlasting legacy as The Man Who Broke The Bat. There has been much speculation as to whether this particular element will be incorporated into Nolan’s movie, it seems they may address it in some way, which they rightly should, considering that it is a major factor as to why Bane is an incredibly dangerous and formidable foe for Batman. The arc of Knightfall not only demonstrates Bane’s Venom-enhanced strength, but also his frighteningly powerful intelligence. He is a man with a plan, and is determined to see it through to the exact detail. This is what we need to see in Tom Hardy’s Bane, and I have the utmost faith in Nolan to respect Bane’s background and character traits perfectly established in the likes of the Knightfall arc. If you physically can’t get your hands on a copy, a little birdy told me that there may be PDF Torrent online somewhere or other. Not like I downloaded it or anything. Ahem.

Read No Man’s Land…

Another comic, this time from the late 90’s, that if the trailers are anything to go by, Nolan has taken inspiration from for TDKR, and that comic is No Man’s Land. Once again an extended story-line arc for the DC vigilante which saw the US Government evacuating and isolating the city of Gotham, leaving many innocents to fend for themselves against the criminals and gangs that have over-run the city. If you look closely in the trailers for TDKR, you will notice shot in which two bridges explode. Now, one may assume that this is an act of terrorism conducted by Bane, however when viewed upon with No Man’s Land in mind, it forces you to question as to why and more importantly who is cutting Gotham off from the rest of the world. Does Bane’s control over Gotham force the Government to cut off the city for the greater good, leaving only an army of cops to fight against Bane’s legion of criminals? Or is it an act of terrorism? It is an intriguing thought, and I cannot wait to discover why exactly the bridges are being destroyed. I doubt many more elements from No Man’s Land shall make it into TDKR, as it was very much a cross-over story–line, combining characters from the Superman universe as well. However, it does delve in to some very dark places that TDKR could easily cover throughout the course of its 165 minute run-time.

What to listen to…

This one is a no-brainer, and I love Empire even more for providing it. I am of course suggesting that you head on over to Empire Online to listen to the full score for TDKR, composed and conducted by the one and only Hans Zimmer. In fact, Empire’s whole Trilogy celebration is worth a look, as it spans so many details of the Nolan trilogy, from the actors, to the costumes, concept art, vehicles, you name it. But the highlight has to be their exclusive stream of Zimmer’s soundtrack. I am sure that you are all aware how good Zimmer is (if not then what are you doing here?), as he has supplied some of the greatest soundtracks of recent years (Inception, Sherlock Holmes, Pirates of the Caribbean, to name but a few), and his soundtrack for Nolan’s epic conclusion is suitably grand. On solo duties following his collaboration with the great James Newton Howard on the first two installments, Zimmer’s score retains the themes that made those scores so memorable, but also creates some new, incredibly ominous and spine-tingling cues for what could be the Caped Crusader’s Darkest Hour. And don’t worry, none of the tracks titles have any spoilers, so there is no way you can ruin aspects of the film for yourself. I rarely listen to scores before seeing a movie, I do prefer to experience it for the first time whilst it is doing its job on the screen. However, in this case, it was just far too tempting not to preview a new score from Zimmer, let alone the whole bloody thing! I do not regret my decision, as it has merely increased my anticipation for the release of the movie. Which could turn out to be a bad thing if I still don’t get to see it for quite some time.

Re-watch Batman Begins and The Dark Knight

The most obvious preparation task that you should under-take; re-watching Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. The Dark Knight Rises seems to be finally breaking the mold by being a third superhero movie that actually maintains the quality of its previous installments, if the reviews are anything to go by. We have also been promised a closing chapter of an over arcing story-line, a very self-contained interpretation of the character. Elements that have been left open from the two previous instalments shall be addressed and wrapped up, so we’ve been promised anyway. Batman Begins is a lot better than you remember it, having been over-shadowed a great deal by the epic crime saga that is The Dark Knight. Begins is a dark, brooding origins tale that builds to an incredibly satisfying reveal when Bruce finally dons the Cowl. It suffers from the lack of a consistently threatening villain, but that is where The Dark Knight excels.  Heath Ledger’s Joker is still frightening and hilarious in equal measure, I don’t believe we’ll ever see a better portrayal of The Joker. He is archaic, unpredictable and a driving force for the movie. Yet, the film itself is a perfectly constructed crime epic that delves into the moral ambiguity of Batman’s responsibility, counter acted with the brilliantly written arc of one Harvey Dent. TDKR certainly has some strong films to match up to, but with the same dedicated team on board, I have the utmost faith.

Revisit Batman Returns and, wait for it, Batman & Robin (bare with me)…

Batman Returns and Batman & Robin are two films which feature two characters that are new to the Nolan Universe; Catwoman and Bane. For a lot of fans, the definitive performance of Catwoman comes from Tim Burton’s 1992 Bat sequel, Batman Returns. Michelle Pfeiffer plays the feline fiend, and the character is more Burton-esque than she is lifted from the comics; she is bizarre but in an incredibly committed and entertaining manner. Batman Returns is a film packed with beautiful production design, but unfortunately the story makes naff all sense. However, Pfeiffer is simply fantastic, but as I stated, her portrayal is a far cry from the Catwoman from the comic-books. Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle seems to be much more in keeping with the traditional and iconic comic-book image of Catwoman, a morally ambiguous character with an agenda against the privileged citizens of Gotham. Early buzz describes Hathaway as a scene-stealer so I am more than excited to see what she brings to the character, it needs to be radically different from what Pfeiffer did with the character, which should be a given, considering how different Burton and Nolan’s movies are.

Now, you may completely disregard the notion of ever revisiting Joel Schumacher’s franchise destroying 1997 installment, but in terms of viewing TDKR, it could serve as a rather fun comparison. Batman & Robin was the first time we saw Bane on the big screen, and in this interpretation he was nothing but a word-less thug, who merely did the bidding of Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy. He was nothing like the comic-books had established him to be so effectively in the likes of Knightfall. Tom Hardy’s Bane looks to be an incredibly different beast. Nolan may have removed the Venom aspect of the character (understandable), but he seems to have embraced both the physical and intellectual threat that Bane certainly poses. Not only is re-watching Batman & Robin a chance to see how badly Bane was interpreted, but it also reminds you how hilariously bad this movie actually is. Seriously, it surprises me every-time how bad it is, making it a rather fun experience if you are simply willing to laugh at it. Which is not very hard to do at all.

That brings my Spotlight (Bat-Signal, if you will) to an end. All of you who are seeing The Dark Knight Rises this weekend, please enjoy and let me know how it is. But if you reveal any spoilers, on your life be it, as I shall not be responsible for my actions. Christopher Nolan has made a massive contribution to the legacy of Batman, and the final installment in his trilogy deserves to be all it has the potential to be. So, Bat-fans, until the inevitable reboot, I think we do have a definitive big-screen Batman in the form of Christian Bale and Nolan’s world. Now, prepare to rise.