The Dark Knight

There’s no question that the must-see movie of 2008 is Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. It took in over $150 million in its opening weekend, breaking the records for the opening day and opening weekend, and also the opening weekend for an IMAX film. It has a 94% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 9.6 out of 10 rating at IMDB. The Dark Knight is pretty much the only thing people are taking about lately when it comes to entertainment.

the dark knight

I’ve seen the film twice now. I saw it in IMAX at midnight on Thursday the 17th (technically the 18th) and again at 10pm in the normal theatre on Friday. I had advance tickets for both, but of course still lined up three hours ahead of show time to ensure good seats. As most of my friends know, I had been looking forward to The Dark Knight for months. I tend to have one movie a year that I really want to see, and this year that was The Dark Knight. So I had high expectations going in, and thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed.

Yes, Heath Ledger is fantastic. His performance will be talked about for years to come, even if he doesn’t win an Oscar for it. Yes, Christian Bale once again proves he can play both the troubled caped crusader and the billionaire playboy at the same time. Aaron Eckhart surprised me with his performance as Harvey Dent/Two-Face. Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman are all spectacular as you’d expect. And even Maggie Gyllenhaal was pretty good, though I agree with Sharon that almost anyone could play the role of Rachel Dawes.

The action sequences in the film are amazing. Even the second time I couldn’t believe my eyes! There are car chases, explosions, daring stunts, and much more. And a main character dies. There’s a definite wow factor in the movie.

I think there are a few things that take The Dark Knight from great to superb. One is the cinematography. Nolan and his team always seem to pick the most interesting perspective for the shot, and the lighting is appropriately eerie. Another thing is the pacing – neither time did it feel like I had been sitting for two and a half hours. The cuts seemed natural and appropriate. A third thing is what I’m going to call “attention to detail”. Everything looks so great in the film! I think Nolan’s desire to avoid CGI and go for the realest shot possible definitely made a difference.

As for IMAX versus regular screens, I have to say that the IMAX does indeed make a difference. It felt like we were going over the edge of the building when the camera did, and the sound and vibrations from Batman’s Tumbler were definitely impressive. If you can, see The Dark Knight in IMAX.

In the theatre on Thursday, a group in front of us started talking about the Batman movies of the 90s. One girl asked how the story in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight fits in with the previous movies. Her friend stood up, and very strongly said “as far as you’re concerned, the first Batman movie ever made was Batman Begins. Forget about the rest of them.” I couldn’t agree more. Nolan has definitely created something special.

Can’t wait for the third installment now!

Selling seats to an experience: The Dark Knight in IMAX

After reading some early reviews of The Dark Knight today, I started thinking about the movie business again. I also came across this Techdirt post, which reiterates that the movie business is not selling movies, but selling seats to an experience. Here are some of the things I’ve read about the film:

“The haunting and visionary Dark Knight soars on the wings of untamed imagination. It’s full of surprises you don’t see coming. And just try to get it out of your dreams.”
– Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

“I have been given the go ahead to review The Dark Knight, but this is the type of film that I need to see at least two or three times before attempting such a task. The film is so very expansive, so incredibly epic…If you don’t see this movie in IMAX than you haven’t seen the movie.”
– Peter Sciretta, /Film

“‘Batman Begins’ follow-up is a faster-paced ride that will have you wanting to buy a ticket for the next showing when you leave the theater…Do yourself a favor and see it in IMAX.”
– Larry Carroll, MTV News

Most articles I’ve read say the the film really should be seen in IMAX. Christopher Nolan went to great lengths to make everything in the film as real as possible, and “is the first Hollywood director to shoot key sequences of a major feature in IMAX” according to Wired. So today I bought two tickets to the midnight IMAX showing.

I happily paid $30 today for the IMAX tickets, because I am looking forward to the experience. Yes I think the movie is going to be awesome, but it’s the better experience that really has me excited. And I’m really just talking about the screen and sound in this case…imagine if the entire moviegoing experience was better! Too bad Hollywood hasn’t yet figured this out. I hope Nolan rubs off on his peers.

And yes, I still think simultaneous movie releases could work with an improved moviegoing experience. I’d love to buy a copy of The Dark Knight on my way out of the theatre, thank you very much.

Helvetica

helvetica Last night I went to see Helvetica, the feature-length documentary about typography and the most famous typeface of them all, Helvetica. I had been looking forward to the film for quite some time, and was really excited to hear it was coming to Edmonton. The event was put on by the Alberta chapter of The Society of Graphic Designers of Canada.

Every review I had read about the film had been glowing, so my expectations were pretty high. The film wasn’t disappointing, but I have to admit, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting either.

I think I was anticipating something like Freakonomics but for typography, a fun and interesting look at the impact of Helvetica on our daily lives. Instead, the film focused more on the history of the typeface, and really only discussed the impact of Helvetica on the design industry. Designer Paula Scher made the bold claim that Helvetica caused the Vietnam and Iraq wars, but that was a close as we got to the impact outside the design world. There were one or two segments with company logos, but the discussion of corporate adoption of Helvetica was fairly limited.

All of the people interviewed in the film were in some way involved in the design industry. I think it would have been much more interesting (and entertaining) to have balanced the interviews with some “outsiders” who could comment without really having a position. The designers seemed to either love or hate Helvetica.

That said, as a documentary about a typeface, Helvetica was quite good. A little long for those of us who are not enamored with design, but still quite good. I particularly liked graphic designer Michael Bierut, who always had the funniest comments and anecdotes. Without his segments, the movie would have been seriously lacking in the chuckle department.

Bottom line: if you’re interested in design, you’ll probably enjoy Helvetica. Otherwise, you might want to think twice.

Bring Helvetica to Edmonton!

Clearly I need to redeem myself after my last post, so here’s something I’ve been meaning to post about for a while. I really, really want to see the documentary Helvetica. Never heard of it? Here’s the description:

Helvetica is a feature-length independent film about typography, graphic design and global visual culture. It looks at the proliferation of one typeface (which is celebrating its 50th birthday this year) as part of a larger conversation about the way type affects our lives.

It’s fascinating to me how widespread the typeface has become. I also find it hard to grasp just how much of an effect Helvetica has had on my life. It’s one of those things that is easy to overlook. A documentary about a typeface might sound odd at first, but I think it’s a great idea. From the Director’s Statement:

Why make a film about a typeface, let alone a feature documentary film about Helvetica? Because it’s all around us. You’ve probably already seen Helvetica several times today.

The film has been screening around the world since the premiere at SXSW back in March. Had I been paying attention, I would have gone down to Calgary to see it when it played there in May. Just a few days ago it played in Vancouver. Richard Eriksson who I met at Northern Voice went to see the film there on Tuesday, and he said it was great. There are screenings listed right through November, but Edmonton is not on the list. I can only hope that we’re included in the “lots more” down in the coming soon section.

So for the Edmontonians reading this – would you go see Helvetica if it came to our city? If so, do you “work with a film festival, museum, cinema, or arts group” or know anyone who does? Let me know! I’d be happy to do whatever I can to help bring the film to Edmonton.

Read: Helvetica

REVIEW: Superman Returns

Post ImageI went to see Superman Returns late last night with Megan and a couple other people. As you’re probably aware, I was really looking forward to it, and for that reason, I didn’t think the movie would meet or exceed my expectations. And it didn’t. That said, it wasn’t a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination, it just wasn’t as good as it could have been. Now, when reading the following review, you need to keep a few things in mind:

  • I do not profess to be a Superman nut. I have never read a Superman comic book. I really wasn’t interested in Superman until I got hooked on Smallville.
  • I’m a huge Smallville fan! I have seen every episode, and read almost everything about the show that I could find. It seems that half of the Superman faithful like the show, and the other half don’t.
  • This review will contain spoilers, so if you’re planning to see the movie, skip this post until after you’ve spent your arm and your leg at the theatre.

And now, on with the review! In point form, so I can break it down…

Comparison to Smallville

  • I really quite enjoyed the “superbreath”. Word is, Clark will gain this ability in Season 6 of Smallville, and I quite like the way it was done in Superman Returns.
  • The full color x-ray vision in the movie is better than in Smallville, but the way Smallville does his superhearing is much better I think.
  • I was really looking forward to Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor, as I think he’s a superb actor. I really think Michael Rosenbaum does a better Lex though. The problem is that in the movie, there’s nothing to work with. On Smallville, Michael can be good Lex and bad Lex, which probably results in a better character.
  • I swear I could hear Annette O’Toole in the Martha Kent in this movie, played by Eva Marie Saint.

Things I Liked

  • I absolutely loved the shout out to citizen journalism, even if the kid’s camera phone pictures were far too high quality to be real. Good job Perry White for realizing that the newspaper reporter is a dying breed.
  • The suit and the updated Superman logo are excellent!
  • Brandon Routh did a great job as Clark Kent/Superman. I was expecting him to suck, but he was actually really easy to like in the role. I don’t know what Roger Ebert was smoking when he said he didn’t like Routh.
  • The glasses are an amazing disguise! No seriously, the difference between Clark and Superman in the movie is subtle, but very well done.
  • Jimmy Olsen! What a great character. I wonder if Smallville will introduce him…
  • The beating up of Superman by Lex and his thugs was very well done.
  • Absolutely gorgeous CGI. I think the ability to do so much with graphics is the main reason this film was made.

Things I Disliked

  • Kitty Kowalski. Meet the Jar Jar Binks of this movie. Seriously, what the hell was the point of this character?
  • The superboy tease. After he pushed the piano, I kept wanting to see him use his abilities again. The camera would even pause on him, as if to set it up, but time after time, he was just a normal kid. Very disappointed it wasn’t explored further.
  • The movie was too long. I only noticed it a few times during the movie, but afterward, I felt as though they could easily have cut some of the scenes.
  • The complete lack of chemistry, between any of the actors.
  • Didn’t Lois find out Clark’s true identity? Why weren’t there any references to that in this movie?
  • I felt like the movie wanted to be modern day, but was trapped in the past. Until we see Lois’ car, all of the vehicles look old. The buildings look old. The fashion looks old. Maybe that was the intent, but it looked dumb with cameraphones and LCD tv’s all over the place.
  • Kal Penn is in this movie. You know, the guy from Van Wilder and Harold & Kumar? Yeah, exactly. I couldn’t take him seriously. Fortunately, he didn’t have any lines.
  • Almost as bad was that every time I saw James Marsden, I kept thinking “Cyclops!” – they should have had someone else play Richard White.

The Worst Parts

  • Actually, this one is the best part – near the beginning of the film, there’s a very intense sequence where Superman saves Lois Lane and a bunch of other reporters after a horribly failed Shuttle launch from the top of a Boeing jet. The sequence is so exhilirating and exciting, that everything else in the movie simply cannot match it. That’s why it’s listed here under the worst parts.
  • Lex building islands? How lame is that?! This plot device might have been better if it had been given more time to develop, or if Lex had actually acquired some of the “advanced alien technology” he talked about, instead of just some ugly rock in the middle of the ocean. It was totally anticlimactic.
  • The movie is called “Superman Returns”, not “Lois Lane Returns”. Far too much time was spent on Lois. This movie should have been all about Superman.

Final Thoughts

As far as comic book movies go, this one is not at the top of the list. Spiderman, X-Men, and Batman Begins are far better movies, and maybe this film should have followed the same recipe. I think it would have been better if we’d seen Clark Kent become Superman in exactly the same way we saw Peter Parker become Spiderman, or Bruce Wayne become Batman, or Logan become Wolverine. When I mentioned this to Megan, she said, “so you wanted them to make a Smallville movie?” The answer is no. Smallville deals with Clark growing up, gaining his abilities, etc. The movie I have in mind would take place right after Smallville ends (or is supposed to end). Show us Clark deciding to become Superman! Show the transition, just like the other great comic book movies did.

It seems to me that Superman could have used a brand new introduction to the younger generation, and the need to connect to the old movies and credit Christopher Reeve and Marlon Brando and those other actors held this movie back. Just imagine, a Superman movie created like Batman Begins was, ignoring the previous films. That would have been so great!

If you like Superman, you’ll probably love the movie. If you just like comic book movies, you might be disappointed when comparing it to the likes of Spiderman.

Old School 2

Post ImageOh man, I just can’t believe this. Well that’s not true, I can, I just can’t wait! Via Sharon, I got this link to the IMDB site with an entry for Old School 2! Yes, a sequel to one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. There information there is sparse, but Wikipedia has the goods:

Old School 2 is the announced sequel to Old School. This film will be made by DreamWorks SKG and will be distributed by Paramount Pictures. It is scheduled to be released some time in 2007.

That’s just the description though. The real goods are in the cast list they provide: Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn, Jack Black, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Steve Carrell, Elisha Cuthbert, Kathy Bates, and Christopher Walken.

Is that even possible? The Wikipedia entry has a warning that sources have not been cited, so take that list with a grain of salt, but still! That would be absolutely amazing! IMDB has the movie listed for a 2007 release. I hope it is correct.

Black van of death, Frank the tank, and all the other greatness that was Old School. Just imagine!

I wish IMDB had RSS feeds for movies, then I could easily see when the cast is updated.

King Kong

Post ImageI went to see King Kong on Friday night, a movie I have been looking forward to seeing for quite a while. And I wasn’t looking forward to it because of Peter Jackson or any reason in particular, other than the fact that it looked pretty amazing in trailers and commercials. Overall, I’d say I came away quite impressed.

The film has an excellent rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and most of the negative reviews cite the fact that the film is over three hours in length as a drawback. After watching the movie though, I didn’t feel that it was excessively long at all! In fact, if I didn’t know any better I wouldn’t have thought it was a three hour movie. I thought it flowed quite well, and unlike some other long movies (Pearl Harbor, for example) there was no point at which you go “ah, it could have ended there.”

A group of us went on Friday, including Sharon who said that she really didn’t like Jack Black. I on the other hand was quite impressed by Jack Black and somewhat disappointed by Adrien Brody. I think Black played his character very well, even if he did have some of the cheesier lines in the movie. Brody on the other hand didn’t seem to make his character that endearing – I was less interested in his character than almost any other.

The CGI in King Kong is quite simply, amazing. There was only one, maybe two places where you think “ah that looks kind of like a green screen” or something. For the most part, I felt the CGI was so good you don’t even realize that you’re watching something that isn’t real. Well, aside from the fact that there are dinosaurs and bugs as large as houses. Some will say that the movie went overboard with all of the different creatures on the island, but I think it was an incredibly brave undertaking by Jackson and his crew, and it paid off. The movie would have been much less interesting if they hadn’t created an entirely new world with really a entire ecosystem all it’s own.

The stars of the movie, King Kong and Ann Darrow, were awesome. Naomi Watts was brilliantly cast, and she did a great job considering almost ever scene she’s in has tons of CGI. In a lot of places she looked kind of like Scarlett Johansson, but other than that, I don’t have any ideas for who else I would have cast. Andy Serkis once again brought a computer generated character to life, and he did a great job at it indeed. Kong is very believable throughout the movie.

There were only minor oddities with the film. For instance, the beginning of the movie does a good job of portraying Depression-era New York (the film takes place in 1933) but when Denham and his team return from the island a month or so later with Kong, everyone seems rich again. People will think the creatures were overdone, but I think the Natives were overdone. I mean really, they were incredibly too ugly, and far too scary. The airplanes at the end seemed kind of fake, but fortunately they were probably the worst of the CGI. Maybe it’s because I have seen Serendipity too many times, but I felt that the ice skating scene was far too “stereotypical New York”.

Yes on the whole, I really enjoyed King Kong! There is a lot to like in the movie, and the critics are right, it’s quite a ride. The action sequences are incredible, broken up by a very interesting storyline. I am not a huge Lord of the Rings fan, so I don’t know if Jackson-faithful will enjoy the movie, but I think most others will.

Corpse Bride

Post ImageI went to a TechNet event this afternoon with Dickson, and after the technical presentations were done (they showed Vista and some mobile stuff) everyone was treated to free popcorn, drinks, and a screening of Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride. I had heard some good things about the movie, as well as some very negative things, but I figured it was free so what the heck!

Turns out the movie was actually pretty good! Not amazing or anything, and I’d rather watch a Pixar movie over this, but not bad. I just don’t get Tim Burton’s darkness and eccentricities I guess, both of which are quite prevalent in this film. The story was very unique and well thought out, in my opinion. Even though Johnny Depp voices the main character, I didn’t realize it was him. Didn’t sound like him to me anyway! I think maybe the best part of the movie was the music, which was composed by Danny Elfman. It really made the movie!

Perhaps not a movie I’d recommend for the theatre, but definitely worth a rental!

Read: Corpse Bride

The Exorcism of Emily Rose

Post ImageI went to see The Exorcism of Emily Rose on Saturday night, expecting a very scary film. The movie did have it’s scary moments, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected. I think the original Exorcist movie was much more frightening. Strangely though, I found myself really enjoying this film.

I think a better word to describe The Exorcism of Emily Rose than “scary” is “intriguing”. The movie was exceptionally well done, I thought. Instead of just showing an exorcism, the movie looks back on the event from within the courtroom trial where Father Moore is being blamed for the death of Emily Rose. Laura Linney plays Erin Brunner, the defense attorney who experiences some supernatural events of her own as the trial progresses. I thought of all the actors in the film, Linney stood out. She played her character with conviction and passion.

The fact that the movie is based on a true story kind of makes me hesitate about just what creative liberties the filmmakers took. Regardless, the film seemed believable enough. And because the story was told from the courtroom, it made events seem more real, as you had two lawyers trying to establish facts. And fortunately, in the year 2005, our special effects are good enough to make body contortions and demons seem real.

One criticism I have of the movie is that by the end, it sort of felt like the trial had turned into advertising for the church. Erin Brunner’s closing arguments in the trial were especially true of this, as she proclaimed that “facts don’t leave room for possibilities” and encouraged the jurors to look at the possibilities. Maybe Emily Rose really was possessed. Maybe she really was touched by god. On and on and on.

All in all, a very interesting film, and worth the money in my opinion. I’d give it a 7/10 probably. If you’re looking for a horror, this isn’t the movie for you. If you’re looking for a very well done psychological thriller on the other hand, check out The Exorcism of Emily Rose.

Read: IMDB