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Josh Reviews Dunkirk

In May of 1940, German forces had trapped the British Expeditionary Force, along with French and Belgian soldiers, along the northern French coast.  The Allied troops pulled back to Dunkirk, but efforts at evacuation were at first thwarted by the German Luftwaffe.  In what came to be known as the miracle of Dunkirk, the British navy, assisted by hundreds of small civilian merchant vessels, evacuated over 300,000 Allied soldiers from Dunkirk back to England.  Christopher Nolan’s film, Dunkirk, follows three parallel stories: the soldiers trapped on the Dunkirk beach (the “mole”), a civilian sailor and two young boys who have set off to Dunkirk to assist the evacuation effort, and an RAF (Royal Air Force) Spitfire pilot in combat with the Luftwaffe.

Dunkirk is a powerful film, riveting in its depiction of this evacuation effort.  Dunkirk is the story of a retreat, but it is as visceral and engaging a war film as ever I have seen, filled with depictions of the best and worst of humanity, of heroism and of cowardice in the fate of terror.

There is very little dialogue in Dunkirk.  Mr. Nolan has crafted what I might call a tone poem of a film.  The power of the story is conveyed by the performances, by the extraordinary visuals, by the crafty editing, and by the score.

It’s a cold film, one that often keeps its audience at a distance.  This is the polar opposite of, say, Steven Spielberg’s approach in Saving Private Ryan.  Mr. Spielberg and John Williams are experts at tugging on the heartstrings.  Mr. Nolan (and his collaborator on the music Hans Zimmer — more on Mr. Zimmer’s work in a moment) take the exact opposite approach.  They avoid any hint of sentimentality and schmaltz.  There are many ways in which this could have failed.  There are times when the nearly-silent Dunkirk reminds me of The Thin Red Line, a film which I love in places but which, ultimately, I feel does not succeed.  But where that film stumbled, Mr. Nolan is able to pull together all of the elements of his film in a way that works beautifully, using an unusual approach to achieve a resonant thematic and emotional power.

Mr. Nolan and his frequent collaborator Hans Zimmer have, over the course of their films together, often gotten very experimental in their scores, frequently utilizing tones and sounds rather than traditional thematic elements.  Dunkirk feels to me like the culmination of these efforts.  This score uses an auditory illusion called a “Shepard tone” to develop an ever-increasing intensity.  A “Shepard tone” gives the impression of an infinitely ascending tone, thus seeming to build and build and build without ever giving the audience … [continued]

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The Best Not Quite “To Be Continued” Endings of Franchise Films

One of my complaints about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was how much of the film was filled with shameless plugs for future DC Universe films.  I am all for connectivity between superhero films, thus establishing a shared universe of story-telling.  That is, in fact, one of the greatest triumphs of the Marvel cinematic universe!  The problem with Batman v Superman was how obvious and awkward and often confusing those connections-to-not-yet-made-future-films were.  The ending was a particular problem.  The film’s ending (which I won’t spoil) was clearly designed to be a cliffhanger that would make an audience excited for the next DCU adventure.  But I felt it landed with a thud.  Rather than being excited for the next film, I’m already dreading the time that will need to be wasted in Justice League to undo the events of the end of Batman v Superman.

This got me thinking about great endings to films in a series.  There’s something magical about a great ending to a film, particularly a film that is designed to be, not a stand-alone one-and-done entity, but rather an installment in a series.  There is a delicate art to being able to satisfactorily bring a film’s story to a close, while also teasing future adventures.  I adore that buzzy feeling of walking out of a movie absolutely desperate for the next installment, even if that next installment might be years away.

So what WERE some great endings to franchise films, endings that gave me that thrilled, excited feeling?  Well, I’m glad you asked, as I’ve decided to list some of my very favorites.

Now, before we begin, let me clarify that I’m not talking about a movie that ends on a out-and-out “to be continued” cliffhanger.  The best example of that would, of course, be:

Back to the Future Part II This film, gloriously, actually does end with the words “to be continued.”  (Well, actually the film ends with the words “to be concluded” which makes sense only when you know that the words “to be continued” were added on to the ending of the original Back to the Future for its home video release, so this ending of Part II now echoes/completes that ending of Part I.  Without that “to be continued” ending of Part I, you might expect the ending of Part II to read “to be continued” rather than “to be concluded.”  At least, I would!  Sadly, all DVD and blu-ray releases of the original Back to the Future restore the original ending and remove that “to be continued.”  But I dearly miss that “to be continued” ending, as that’s the ending I grew up with.  Why no branching option, Warner brothers, … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Interstellar

When it was first announced that Christopher Nolan would be making an original science-fiction film as his next project, featuring a top-shelf cast and utilizing a blockbuster-sized budget, I was quickly atwitter with visions of a masterpiece.  After much anticipation, Interstellar has arrived, and while it might not be quite a masterpiece, it is a delightfully ambitious, smart, and entertaining piece of filmmaking.

In the near future, a terrible blight has destroyed crops world-wide, shattering the status quo and pushing much of the world back to the levels of subsistence farming.  Coop (Matthew McConaughey) was once a test pilot, but now he’s a farmer and a single parent caring for his two kids, Murph and Fox, with the help of his father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow).  But when Coop and Murph stumble across a secret base in the desert that houses what remains of NASA, their lives change forever.  Coop’s former mentor Professor Brand (Michael Caine) is spearheading a project that could represent humanity’s last hope.  They’ve discovered a wormhole in orbit of Saturn, and have been secretly launching expeditions through that wormhole in search of habitable planets to which they could relocate what’s left of humanity.  They have one ship left, but no one to pilot it.  If Coop accepts, he might be able to save the lives of his children who would otherwise likely perish on the sickening Earth.  But if he goes on the mission, the effects of relativity will cause his children to be grown by the time he returns.

There is a lot to love about Interstellar.  First and foremost, I am always thrilled to see an original piece of science-fiction that isn’t connected to a franchise.  I’m even more excited when said science-fiction, rather than being an action-adventure shoot-em-up, tries to be a more serious-minded piece of speculative fiction.  Interstellar is 100% in that mold.  Christopher Nolan and his team have set out to create a smart piece of science fiction in the best tradition of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Smart is the key word here.  Not only is the film aimed at smart audience-members (this is not a dumbed-down fantasy), but even better, the film’s whole story is about the importance of science, and of smart people continuing to push the bounds of exploration and human knowledge.  I love that about the film.  Shockingly, in this day and age, so often it seems that intelligence and science are seen as things to be mocked or dismissed.  Interstellar will have none of that.  One of the most striking scenes in the film come fairly early on (long before we get to the incredible outer-space sequences in the film’s second half) in which Coop … [continued]

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In one of my earliest posts on the site, I wrote my own follow-up to the famous Comics Journal article “Martin Wagner Owes Me Fifty Bucks,” in which I listed several comic book series that remained tragically never-completed by their authors.  At the top of the list was David Lapham’s magnificent series Stray Bullets.  This independently published, black-and-white comic book blew me away as a teenager.  I still think it stands as a magnificent achievement, which makes the fact that the series stopped publication in the middle of a story tragically painful.  Mr. Lapham is still working in the comic book industry, and for years and years I have been hoping that he would some-day return to this series and complete his story.  It looks like that day has finally arrived, as Image Comics has listed Stray Bullets on their publication schedule for March, 2014.  I hope this is real!!!

Devin Faraci at badassdigest.com has listed his Ten Most Disappointing Films of 2013, and at the top of his list is Star Trek Into Darkness.  What Mr. Faraci wrote about the film so perfectly sums up my feelings that I don’t think I ever need to write another word about that terribly disappointing film.  Here is Mr. Faraci:

This isn’t technically a ranked list, but I saved this for last on purpose. There were many months leading up to Star Trek Into Darkness that allowed me to roll with the movie’s punch, but even still this broiling heap of nonsense left me deeply despondant. JJ Abrams had totally proven me wrong with Star Trek 2009, a movie that while not great was filled with heart and adventure and managed to work despite extraordinary script flaws. Star Trek Into Darkness brought back both the cast who made the first film live and the script flaws that almost sank it, except this time the script flaws were not going to get upstaged. Into Darkness is dumb, it’s complicated for no reason, it features reveals that are meaningless to the plot and it pisses away Star Trek‘s most name-brand villain in a plotline that disrespects hardcore fans while being meaningless to the coveted new audience. Star Trek Into Darkness is a movie so bad that it fails on almost every conceivable level, including mewling fan service. This isn’t the worst film of the year… but it’s without a doubt the film that squanders the most talent, money and good will. 

Amen.  (If you’re interested, here’s my review of Star Trek Into Darkness.)

Love this trailer for Christopher Nolan’s new film, Interstellar.  I don’t have a clue what the film is about, and that’s just the way I want … [continued]

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This high school-set Game of Thrones parody, School of Thrones, is fantastic.  Worth it for the awesome opening credits alone.

I often wax poetic about my love for the great, much-missed The Larry Sanders Show.  My buddy Ethan e-mailed me this link to a terrific interview with Jeffrey Tambor (who played Hank “Hey Now!” Kingsley), filled with stories about his work on the show.  A great read.

Louis C.K. has a new stand-up special on HBO in April.  Love this trailer:

I must say I am shocked that, despite the BIG success of 2007’s The Simpsons Movie (I can’t believe it was that long ago, already!), they are not working on another one.  That’s a shame.

I have spent a long time looking at this awesome infographic that lays out the entire backwards-and-forwards structure of Christopher Nolan’s fantastic film Memento.  Wild.

I was VERY excited to read that an extended cut has recently been discovered of “The Wounded” and several other episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.  I hope some of this footage eventually makes it onto the blu-rays!  I LOVED the extended cut of “The Measure of a Man” on the season 2 blu-ray, and I would kill to see some more extended cuts of episodes in the future…  And “The Wounded” is one of my favorite TNG episodes!  (I love O’Brien!)

Speaking of Trek, a new teaser trailer was released a few weeks ago:

Solid trailer.  God I hope this movie doesn’t let me down.

Speaking of trailers — I still can’t believe they really made a movie of the deliriously unhinged, profane comic book Kick Ass.  And now they’ve made a sequel?  This new red-band trailer is great.  The kids have grown up, but this could still work.  (Though holy cow, how huge is Aaron Taylor-Johnson — who plays the titular geek kid turned super-hero, Kick Ass — now??  It’s weird to see puny Dave Lizewski so pumped.)  I LOVE that they used Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s super-villain name from the comics!  And Jim Carrey is in this???  This movie is going to be crazy.  I can’t wait.

I’ve never seen Veronica Mars, but if this is true that a Kickstarter campaign has successfully lead to the show’s revival as a movie, that is super-cool.  I am all for the rescue of fan-favorite, cult properties.  Serenity 2, anyone??  (No, says Joss Whedon.  Sigh!!)

Christopher Guest (A Mighty Wind, Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman) is masterminding a new show for HBO?  Yes, please!

Hmmm… are there any other HBO shows coming up that I’m looking forward to?  Oh, yeah, there is one:

[continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: Josh Reviews Batman Begins (2005)

With Christopher Nolan’s third and apparently final Batman film only weeks away, I thought it would be fun to go back and re-watch his first two Bat-films.

Having seen so many great super-hero films in the years since 2005, it’s easy to forget just how impressive Mr. Nolan’s achievement was with Batman Begins. Finally, here was a filmmaker ready to bring to movie-screens the character of Batman that I have loved for so long in the comics, and to treat that character seriously.  I love Tim Burton’s Batman, but while that’s a great film, it’s not in my mind a great depiction of the character of Batman.  Then, of course, the later films descended into ridiculousness and camp.  In the minds of many in the public, the Batman they knew was still the Adam West Pow! Book! Zap! version.

But Mr. Nolan took Batman seriously, and he and co-writer David S. Goyer set about to dig into the character of Batman: who he is an how he came to be.  (Comic fans know, of course, that I am paraphrasing a chapter title from Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s seminal four-part story Batman: Year One, to this day the definitive origin story of Batman and a text from which Mr. Nolan and Mr. Goyer borrowed liberally for their screenplay for Batman Begins.)

The genius of Batman Begins is that you don’t spend the whole movie just waiting for Bruce Wayne to put on the cape and cowl.  The details of Mr. Wayne’s adolescence, as depicted in the film, are rich and fascinating, and fully hold the audience’s attention for the first two-thirds of the movie.  Indeed, it’s the final third, in which Wayne finally becomes Batman, that is the weakest part of the film, but I’ll get to that in a few moments.

I love how well-thought-out and focused the film’s script is.  Mr. Nolan and Mr. Goyer seized on the idea of fear as central to Batman and Bruce Wayne.  I love how the film, and the characters, continually return to that idea.  Ducard (Liam Neason) constantly needles young Bruce Wayne on the subject, exhorting him to identify and conquer his fear.  The choice of the Scarecrow as one of the film’s villains further plays into this subject.  That’s smart screenwriting.  They didn’t just choose a random villain, they chose one who really meshed with the story being told.

Speaking of villains, I love Liam Neeson’s role in the film.  Yes, Liam Neeson has played this type of mentor character many, many times before.  Yes, when he and Bruce Wayne are training with swords on a frozen lake I can easily imagine him with a lightsaber in his hand instead … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (and the Dark Knight Rises Prologue!!)

I’ve really enjoyed all three Mission: Impossible films, though none of them quite reached perfection in my mind.  Probably my favorite part of all three films is the first 30 minutes of the first one, where we got to see an awesome team of super-spies engaged in some really fun, twisty covert operations.  Then, of course, they all get killed off and the film (and the sequels) turns into the Tom Cruise super-hero show.  J.J. Abrams’ third installment was a big step back in the right direction, but even in that film I felt the team was too-quickly sidelined.

What a delight it is to report, then, that I think the latest installment, Ghost Protocol, is the strongest film in the series so far!  I saw the film in huge, glorious IMAX, which is how I highly recommend that you see it as well.  People are all atwitter about 3-D these days, but I think that seeing a film in IMAX represents a far more immersive experience than the often-distracting 3-D effects.  (Although I did just see Martin Scorsese’s new film, Hugo, in wonderful 3-D — check back here on Wednesday for my full review).  Brad Bird’s Mission: Impossible film takes full advantage of the huge canvas that IMAX has to offer.

I’ve long-worshipped Brad Bird, from his work on The Simpsons to his amazing animated films The Iron Giant (GO SEE IT right now, you won’t regret it), The Incredibles, and Ratatouille.  Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is Mr. Bird’s live-action directorial debut, and it represents a triumphant announcement of an incredible talent.

The action in this film is phenomenal.  Ghost Protocol is alive with action, from start-to-finish.  This film MOVES.  There are so many gleefully inventive set-pieces that I hardly know where to begin.  There’s the opening break-out from a Russian prison, with the film’s playful withholding of the identity of the man being rescued.  There’s the fiendishly clever way the IMF team infiltrates the Kremlin.  (I LOVE the screen employed by Ethan and Benji in the hallway.)  Then there’s the gangbusters sequence in which Ethan (Tom Cruise) is forced to scale the exterior of the tallest skyscraper in Dubai.  In the trailers, I actually thought that scene looked rather silly.  But in the film I found it to be a bravura sequence of phenomenal special effects and mounting tension.  Here is where seeing the film in IMAX really pays off.  There’s a terrific shot in which Ethan steps out of the window onto the side of the building.  Suddenly the camera follows him out, and we the viewers are right there vertiginously hanging off the building right along with him.  As the sequence escalates and things … [continued]

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The Top 10 Movies of 2010 — Part One!

2010 was not a great year for new movies, in my opinion.  For the first ten months of the year, I saw far fewer movies in the theatre than I had in years past.  Part of that was due to how busy my life has gotten these days, but it was also because there just weren’t that many movies that came out that really interested me!  Things started to turn for the better towards the end of the year.  A number of very interesting films were released in the end-of-the-year Oscar crunch, and as those of you who’ve been following along with my “Catching Up On 2010” series of articles know, I also made an enormous effort in December & January to track down on DVD many of the smaller films that I hadn’t been able to see in theatres earlier in the year (films like Cyrus, The Kids Are All Right, Winter’s Bone, etc.)

So in the last two months I’ve added quite a few films to the list of “good 2010 films” that I keep in my notebook.  But what’s fascinating to me, as I looked through that list in preparation for creating this Top 10 list, is that while there did wind up being quite a few 2010 films that I found to be really GOOD, there weren’t so many that I felt were truly GREAT.  Looking back at my Top 10 Movies from 2009 list, I think that every single one of the ten films I chose is really spectacular.  I own all 10 films on DVD or blu-ray.  But as I considered all of the new movies I saw in 2010, there aren’t that many that I can see myself buying on disc.  (And since I buy a LOT of movies on disc, this is a telling statement about my feelings regarding the overall quality of the films I saw this year.)

But enough negativity.  Though it was a harder list to assemble than it was last year, assemble it I have.  The following ten films are the ones that I found to be truly superlative from 2010.  It’s an eclectic mix, but I stand by my choices.  If there are films on this list that you never saw, I strongly encourage you to check them out!

Before we begin, I like to make note of the 2010 films that I WANTED to see but didn’t.  I think I see a lot more movies than your average Joe, but despite that, there are always films that I missed for whatever reason.  This year these include: Tiny Furniture, Animal Kingdom, I Love You Phillip Morris, The Company Men, The Tempest, The Myth of the American [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: Insomnia (2002)

There’s no question in my mind that Christopher Nolan is one of the best directors working today.  There’s only one of his films that I haven’t seen (his first — Following — and I do hope to remedy that situation soon), and I have thoroughly enjoyed every other movie he’s made.  His worst film is probably Batman Begins, and I think that’s a pretty damn good film!

Contrary to my previous statement, my sense is that the general consensus about Mr. Nolan is that Insomnia, his follow-up to Memento, is his weakest film.  But I remember enjoying Insomnia back in 2002, and I really loved it when watching it again on blu-ray last week.

Insomnia is a remake of a 1997 Swedish film of the same name starring Stellan Skarsgard and directed by Eric Skjoldbjaerg.  I’ve never seen the original Insomnia, though I understand that it’s pretty well thought of.  I realize that, had I seen it, it’s possible that I might be as dubious of a remake as I am of the recently-released re-do of Let The Right One In (the new American version is titled simply Let Me In).  But having not seen the original, I am free to judge Mr. Nolan’s version exclusively by its own merits — and it’s quite excellent.

Al Pacino plays beleaguered L.A. homicide detective Will Dormer.  The L.A. police department has been rocked by allegations of misconduct, and Dormer believes that the I.A. investigators are ultimately after him.  In the midst of that, Dormer and his partner Hap (Martin Donovan) are dispatched to a tiny Alaskan town to investigate the murder of a teen-aged girl.  Heading up the local investigation is a young, well-meaning cop named Elie Burr (Hilary Swank).  She clearly worships Detective Dormer, and he seems to appreciate her enthusiasm.  But the case is a difficult one, and Detective Dormer soon finds himself stymied by his main suspect, a local author named Walter Finch (Robin Williams).  As the film progresses, Dormer gradually unravels, his struggles with the case exacerbated by his persistent insomnia (caused perhaps by the fact that, because of how far North as the Alaskan town is, the sun never sets during this season — or, perhaps by Dormer’s growing guilt over the mistakes of his past and a terrible event that happens soon after arriving in Alaska).

This was a high-profile role for Hilary Swank, coming as it did not long after her Academy Award-winning role in Boys Don’t Cry (1999).  Ms. Swank is solid if unspectacular in the film.  The real superstars of Insomnia are Al Pacino and Robin Williams.

Though unquestionably one of the greatest actors of our time, I’ve often felt that … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Inception!

Thank goodness – finally a good movie! I was beginning to think that Toy Story 3 was going to be the only bright spot in this rather dismal summer of movies.

With Inception, writer/director Christopher Nolan reunites a great many members of his Batman ensemble (Michael Caine, Cillian Murphy, Ken Watanabe) with some terrific new faces (Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, and Marion Cotillard) to create a wonderfully mind-bending twisty-turny dream of a movie.

I went in knowing practically zero about the plot, which I think is the best way to approach Inception, so I’m going to avoid even a hint of a plot summary here. I will tell you that Mr. Nolan and his team have been able to create yet another tense, fun piece of summer-movie entertainment that is also sophisticated and adult. There’s some great action in Inception, but this isn’t one of those check-your-brain-at-the-door summer blockbusters.

I’ll be interested to see how well Inception holds up to multiple viewings. Will I remain as entranced by the layers-within-layers narrative structure, or will the movie become boring once I know how things unfold? It’s hard to say, but on this first pass I found the film’s M.C. Escher staircase-like structure to be a hoot.

Right now, Christopher Nolan’s greatest competition is with himself. He’s directed so many wonderful films that I adore with such fervor, that I can see it starting to become a challenge for his new films to stack up to his previous work. Indeed, underneath all the pyrotechnics and special-effects wizardry, Inception is actually a much simpler film that the brilliantly complex Memento. And, while exciting, it lacks the edge-of-your-seat-shit-is-going-DOWN intensity of The Dark Knight.

But that still leaves Inception as a superbly entertaining film. I must again praise the cast, who really are terrific across the board. I was particularly taken with Tom Hardy as the forger Eames. He brings a toughness and a humor to the role that I found very compelling. (Hard to believe this is the same actor who was in the abominable Star Trek: Nemesis.) I also really enjoyed Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance as Dom Cobb (Leonardo Dicaprio)’s loyal partner. I really wanted to know more about this guy!

It was fun seeing Ellen Page (Juno) in this type of film, though her character’s arc was probably the weakest part of the film. No fault of Ms. Page’s, but it seems to me that the film never really sold her friendship with Cobb. I didn’t really believe that he opened up to her about his history because he had connected with her – it just seemed like that was the point in the … [continued]

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Guest Blogger David Edelglass Discusses Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Dark Knight

Below is the second of a three-part contribution from guest blogger David Edelglass to our continuing series in which I asked several of my close friends and colleagues to name their Favorite Movie of All Time. Click here for Part I.

My Favorite Action/Adventure Movie: Raiders of the Lost Ark

This is kind of a no brainer. Raise your hand if you never dressed up as Indiana Jones for Halloween or imagined yourself swinging across large crevices on your whip and outrunning giant boulders.

It is impossible to watch this film without getting caught up in the adventure and wishing you were there. This was a perfect meeting of the minds between three of Hollywood’s best and brightest at the time: George Lucas, Lawrence Kasdan, and Steven Spielberg. Lucas and Kasdan were just coming off of The Empire Strikes Back (which, along with Raiders, would be the high point in both their careers, in my opinion), and Spielberg was really hitting his stride, having already completed Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. (He would follow Raiders with ET). All three clearly were in love with the pulp adventures they had grown up enjoying, and it shows here. Indiana Jones is smart, cocky, handsome, but a bit rough around the edges, and Harrison Ford plays him to a T (though I am insanely curious to see what the movie would have been like if Tom Selleck had been free to take the role as originally intended). Karen Allen’s Marion Ravenwood is the perfect counterpart to Indy, and she is by far the best female lead of the entire series. John Rhys-Davies (Sallah) and Denholm Elliot (Marcus Brody) turn in fine supporting roles, as does Alfred Molina in a brief cameo in the opening scene (though I don’t know if you can really call it a cameo, as this was his first credited on-screen role).

Raiders is by far the strongest in the series, and hopefully if Spielberg and Lucas decide to dip back into the pool one more time, they’ll go back and watch this first movie to see what it was that made Raiders of the Lost Ark so special to begin with.

(Note that I did not refer to the movie as Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Lucas and Spielberg should be ashamed of themselves for that one)

Honorable Mention: The Goonies


The Movie That Absolutely Blew My Mind in the Theater: The Dark Knight

You all probably remember the hype the preceded this movie. The viral marketing campaign before its release was astounding.  Then, with the death of Heath Ledger, this film became a must see. We geeks were foaming … [continued]

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The Dark Knight Returns: Spoiler-Free Review!

I am almost speechless.

For the past two and a half hours I had my brains pretty much blown out the back of my head by the The Dark Knight in IMAX.

This is a SPECTACULAR film.

It is dense. It is dazzling. And boy oh boy it is dark. It is SHOCKINGLY dark — not in terms of gore but in terms of how brutal it is towards all of the major characters in the film. I’ve heard people compare this sequel to The Empire Strikes Back (sort of the geek Mount Olympus in terms of a sequel), and one way the two are very much alike is that both films are not afraid to pretty much beat the hell out of “our heroes,” both physically and emotionally, for pretty much the entire running time.

This is a Batman story. And the best Batman stories, in my opinion, are the downbeat ones. But the Batman movies to this point, even the very excellent Batman Begins, have always seemed to be rather afraid to veer too far away from the happy ending. In the films we’ve seen previously, Bruce Wayne and co. always seem to be able to find fairly painless ways out, narratively, of the troubles they find themseves in. But not here. Time after time in The Dark Knight, our characters are faced with difficult situations and impossible choices, and no easy exit is presented to them. This makes for an extraordinarily compelling film.

There’s great action in this movie, no question. But this movie isn’t driven by action set pieces. It is driven by STORY, and by CHARACTER. The scenes that I can’t stop thinking about aren’t the car chases (they are awesome) or the fight scenes (they are bone-crunching). Its moments like the scene in which Batman and Jim Gordon must confront a deranged, hopeless man with a gun to the head of an innocent. Or Bruce Wayne’s dinner with Rachel Dawes and Harvey Dent. Or the Joker talking about his scars. Those are the scenes that are staying with me long after the lights went up in the theatre. And it is those sorts of intense emotional moments that propel the plot forward, rather than just fight scenes leading to more fight scenes.

Its a long movie, but I was on the edge of my seat right from the opening bank heist through to the absolutely note-perfect ending. Seeing the movie in huge, loud, glorious IMAX certainly enhanced that, but I simply cannot imagine anyone watching this movie in any sort of movie theatre not being intensely gripped by this film. I suppose some might complain that the film is too downbeat. But for … [continued]