The Dark Knight Rises: IMAX | A-

director: Christopher “Don’t Ever Question Me Again” Nolan
starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Matthew Modine

tdkr imaxI’m a sucker and Christopher Nolan is smarter than me. First impressions of anything can be important and can often be right on the money, but they’re also dangerous, susceptible to myriad external factors like one’s state of mind, their environment and their preconceptions going into a given situation. Such is the case for me with Rises, a movie I was angrily disappointed with after an initial viewing in a small theater with merely adequate sound fidelity on a Thursday evening after a long workday. This revisionist review is not meant to excuse the flaws that still exist, but a second viewing did much to minimize them, to the point I’m now pleased enough to give it an A-.

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The Dark Knight Rises | TBD (but leaning toward a C+)

director: Christopher Nolan
starring: Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt

tdkrI’ve never been more disappointed about being disappointed about a movie. The Dark Knight Rises is a disappointment on nearly all levels of filmmaking. A lazy, self-indulgent, sloppy mess of a plot punctuated by action sequences that are more spectacular in intent than execution. I’m reserving final judgment until I see the flick again on IMAX, but I’m sad to say Rises is likely not the crowning achievement and fulfillment of the promise the first two Nolan Bat-movies set the table for.

Where to begin? Let’s start with the titular character. Batman Begins was remarkable in its ability to drive the plot forward despite the fact Batman doesn’t even show up until halfway through the movie. Bruce Wayne’s sojourn abroad was just as interesting as the moments he finally dons the cowl and lays waste to Gotham’s enemies. Nolan found the right balance between character-driven plot and comic book action beats, and carried this through to what might be his finest hour in The Dark Knight, counterbalancing and exceeding any lack of Batman with Heath Ledger’s incredible portrayal of the Joker. That balance is nowhere to be found in Rises, as the film grounds to a halt anytime the caped crusader is absent.

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Prometheus | A-

director: Ridley Scott
starring: Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green, Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba, Charlize Theron

prometheusMy lack of movie review authoring over the last year is due partly to the “reality” commitments of a career, significant other and various other familial obligations, but mainly due to the lack of real thought-provoking cinema that stirs something in me to write about it. Enter the much-anticipated, much-hyped “Prometheus,” marking Ridley Scott’s return to the universe he helped create in 1979’s seminal “Alien.” I hold the latter and its James Cameron-helmed sequel in high regard, and so the moment I heard whisperings of a potential Scott-helmed prequel, the fanboy geek in me began to get giddy. They hype has been building over the last six months, rising to a fever pitch with an onslaught of trailers, viral videos and interviews. So, does “Prometheus” live up to the hype? I’ll attempt to answer but will delve into spoiler territory to do so. If you haven’t seen the flick, I’ll only suggest that it’s a must-see film, albeit not one without flaws. Check it out, then come back here for the rest. Oh, and do yourself a favor and see this on IMAX while you can — consider it mandatory.

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Shutter Island | B+

director: Martin Scorsese
starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow, Michelle Williams

shutter islandScorsese’s billing on any movie typically renders it a must-see, though Shutter Island doesn’t seem like his typical fare. The film, based on the novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane, has a story more akin to a Saturday afternoon pulp detective matinee (does that reference make sense?) than an epic tale of multiple characters and events over the course of a decade or so (see: GoodFellas, Gangs of New York, etc.). The story itself is entertaining, sure, but it ain’t exactly Bill Shakespeare. All that said, Scorsese’s “must-see” billing is the product of his deft directorial style and ability to portray characters meaningfully enough to make you care and invest yourself in their dealings, and such is the case with Shutter Island. This while managing to tell a story that keeps the characters and audience off-balance throughout — everything feels a bit “off” during the precedings, and along with the nature of the story, imparts a sense of foreboding and increasingly unbearable tension up until the film’s climax. You’re never truly at ease watching Shutter Island, and that’s a good thing.

DiCaprio’s as good as ever, but I’ve never found him “right” for any of his roles, perhaps other than Catch Me If You Can. I think my main problem with him stems from him looking more like a teenage kid than an adult. His characters have often suffered from that lack of “adult-ness,” despite his abundant talents in the acting department. He’s good enough to make you forget it most of the time, but it sticks out anytime I see him in a film. He manages to bring off Teddy Daniels’ descent into madness (or perhaps ascent into sanity) convincingly.

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Avatar | A

director: James Cameron
starring: Sam Worthington, Zoë Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, Stephen Lang, Giovanni Ribisi, Joel Moore

avatarDirector James Cameron’s long-awaited and heavily-hyped return to the big screen finally arrives in a dizzying tour-de-force of special effects and storytelling mastery. While the script doesn’t quite live up to the visuals, Avatar is a singular moviegoing experience – one that will serve as a milestone in film experience history. The film does indeed live up to the hype on a visual level. In fact, it succeeds on such a scale as to almost completely overwhelm the comparatively lightweight script and cliched characters, flaws that might stick in your mind after you’ve come down from the high of the in-theater experience.

On more than one occasion, I found myself comparing Avatar to Cameron’s 1986 masterpiece (as far as I’m concerned), Aliens. In fact, I tend to compare quite a few movies to Aliens each year (one example), likely because its original formula has been copied so many times since, with varying degrees of success. And while a story featuring a tribe of blue-skinned aliens trying to protect some sacred trees doesn’t quite echo “space marines fighting against a horde of terrifying, slimy aliens,” the key points are all worth comparing.

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Terminator Salvation | C+

director: McG
starring: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anton Yelchin, Moon Bloodgood, Common, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Ironside

T4Let’s start with a quote from Terminator Salvation director “McG.” (Dare I devote a paragraph to the kind of douchenozzle that would use such a name in a professional capacity? Nah, too easy. I think you can all just assume his douche-like nature based on that nom de plume.):

McG (born Joseph McGinty Nichol, though known by his nickname since childhood) said if he was going to take on another sequel in the internationally successful “Terminator” franchise, then he had better have a good reason to do it.

“Action for action’s sake just becomes noisy. You’ve got to have great characters. You’ve got to have a great story,” he said. “We wanted it to be very compelling and we did it in a way that is great.” [CNN]

What a load of crap.

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Star Trek | A-

director: J.J. Abrams
starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Bruce Greenwood, Leonard Nimoy, Zoe Saldana, Anton Yelchin, John Cho

star trekThis is not your father’s Star Trek. Then again, it kind of is. Director-producer J.J. Abrams’ “reboot” of the venerable sci-fi franchise succeeds on many levels while managing to engage the hip, young audience of today’s 20-somethings while keeping those that’ve grown up with the franchise more than happy. The “reboot” term might be something of a misnomer, but that requires I delve into the plot a bit, which would be bad form in the introductory paragraph of a review you shouldn’t continue reading until you see the flick. Go check it out; I’ll wait. See you back here later. (And see it in IMAX while you can – it’s only on the really big screen for the next two weeks.) Suffice it to say the flick works, and as so few films can claim these days, it’s worth your 14 bucks.

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X-Men Origins: Wolverine | B-

director: Gavin Hood
starring: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Will I. Am, Lynn Collins, Taylor Kitsch, Ryan Reynolds

wolverineWell, it’s not as bad as I was expecting. Since Bryan Singer left the franchise after X-Men 2, and certain cocaine addict and partyboy Brett Ratner took over, I haven’t had a lot of faith in future films, quality-wise. X-Men 3 was a spectacular, big budget turd with a few enjoyable scenes here and there, a far cry from the more “thoughtful” X1 and X2 (yeah, I know they’re comic book movies, so “thoughtfulness” must be calculated in an entirely different context than, say, Schindler’s List or Citizen Kane). So my hopes for the eventual, “perfect” X-Men movie were dashed by 20th Century Fox and it’s money-first mentality, and the director best-known for the eighteen Rush Hour movies. The success of the more serious approach to the Batman franchise was apparently lost on them.

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Watchmen | B+

director: Zack Snyder
starring: Patrick Wilson, Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Jackie Earle Haley, Matthew Goode, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Carla Gugino

watchmenThe long-awaited film adaptation of the graphic novel considered one of the seminal works of 20th century fiction has finally hit the big screen after the decade or two of countless scripts, directors, lawsuits, yelling and general chicanery that represents Hollywood’s “development hell.” Unfortunately, the finished product doesn’t quite live up to the hype or its source material; perhaps the novel’s writer, Alan Moore, was right when he said Watchmen was “unfilmable” and even went so far as to remove his name from any project that tried to make it happen. Watchmen is not without its merits, however, and kudos are deserved for those who were finally able to get this thing made. It is entertaining; and by its own merits memorable. I’m not convinced any other attempt at this adaptation could have come out much better.

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Burn After Reading | C-

director: Joel & Ethan Coen
starring: George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins

barWhat the frick was that? How do the guys who put together No Country For Old Men make this near-revolting turd of a movie? Burn After Reading tries to be many things at once, and by doing so fails miserably at all of them. Had this been strictly a screwball comedy, or strictly a spy movie, or strictly a drama/thriller, it might’ve worked. But the mashed-together genres and the transition between them are so jarring you’re left slack-jawed with incredulity. It just doesn’t work.

There are moments that should be laugh-out-loud funny; there are moments where you should be on the edge of your seat; there are moments where you almost start appreciating the great character work by the actors. But the laughter dies in your throat; the appreciation for acting fades; and the comprehension of the plot could only be considered “sound” if you’ve done copious amounts of illegal narcotics.

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