Friday, November 30, 2012

Another Bourne...?

"There was never just one"

So reads the tagline of The Bourne Legacy. Logically, it makes sense that there was more than one Bourne-like supersoldier-- that much was hinted at in the movie The Bourne Identity, so it hardly comes as surprise that somewhere along the line another would-be assassin/spy/black operative would rise to cause Treadstone more grief. The events of The Bourne Legacy loosely overlap The Bourne Ultimatum, showing news blips here and there featuring Jason Bourne, the convenient death of the journalist, the pending exposure of the department, and so on. Treadstone is still laboring to cover its tracks, cover its misdeeds, and discredit the voices that would expose them. It is an intense time for the cooperation, and one rogue assassin Jason Bourne is enough to deal with when the training that they gave him is the very thing that is stabbing them in the back.

Enter Aaron Cross.

Aaron Cross is a different kind of soldier. He is the product of a Treadstone sub-affiliate called Operation Outcome. While subjects like Jason Bourne had rigorous physical and psychological training to make them into the optimum human weapons, Aaron Cross and his fellow subjects gain their physical and mental strength from highly advanced drug administrations. Each soldier reports to an officer who supplies them with rotations of pills to keep their minds and bodies sharp and ready for action. That is, until the powers decide to close the project, no loose ends. Soon, Aaron is the last survivor of Operation Outcome and determined to keep it that way. But to stay sharp and stay quick, he needs the drugs.

Herein is where the person of Aaron Cross grabbed my attention. I have to do a lot of comparing to Jason Bourne, because despite his absence in this movie, he is still an important entity to the story (and the movie has his name on it). But part of what made Jason Bourne interesting was how his amnesia affected his psychological defenses, causing him to question and eventually regret that he was made an assassin. Aaron, on the other hand, has all his memories and does not have the same emotional and psychological steeling as Bourne. This is especially clear when Aaron is shown in flashback mode questioning Byers on the ethics of a recently completed mission and the lives it cost. 

Cross is introduced as a self-driven subject, conducting his own training regimen in the snowy wilderness of Alaska. He climbs mountains and fights wolves with no hidden cameras evaluating his performance. His mental and physical strength are enhanced by the experimental drugs that he depends on to keep him in peak condition. Later in the story it is revealed that Cross’s motivation to continue his dosage, is that without the mind-enhancing drug, he is actually a little slow. He was not recruited for his tremendous performance; he was merely a willing citizen. The fact that his pre-drug intellectual state was sub-par by average standards lent credence to why he might be especially driven to stay on schedule with his dosage.

While I enjoyed The Bourne Legacy as a summer action flick, I also acknowledge that Legacy is unlikely to be widely accepted, and not have much re-watch value. The plot is at times so thick I felt that I may need to review all the previous Bourne movies to remind myself who does what with whom under what secret agency and so on. Legacy does little to recap the who’s who of their circle of characters, and seems to depend on its audience being familiar with all previous Bourne installments. 

All in all, The Bourne Legacy was good. Aaron is by no means as complicated a character as Jason Bourne, but he is interesting all the same as a stock character of the genre. I have always wondered why Jason signed up in the first place—with Aaron, it made sense. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Ones that Potter Forgot

     It does not take a British film aficionado to recognize that the eight Harry Potter movies are a roll call of some of Britain’s greatest talent. Through the eight movies, the supporting cast has boasted Academy Award winners and BAFTA winners. Numerous famous faces ranged from the veterans of Hollywood’s Golden Age like Richard Harris and Maggie Smith to the modern and trendy newcomers like David Tennant of Dr. Who fame. Even relatively small parts were filled by actors well-known to British cinema, not the least of whom where Ciaran Hinds, Sophie Thompson, Jim Broadbent, David Thewlis, Bill Nighy, and Imelda Staunton.

     While there can certainly be no doubt that the eight Harry Potter movies filled the screen with tasteful doses of seasoned talent, there are a handful of British film stars (not necessarily stars of British origin, but actors who began in British films and TV) I would have liked to have seen make an appearance at some point during the course of the saga. Rather than recast the series unnecessarily, I present some un-portrayed characters from the books and an actor who did not make it into the Potter movies, but could have.

 Mark Strong- Lately Mark Strong has emerged as a more recognizable face to Hollywood, but he would have been perfectly at home in the world of Hogwarts. Strong I believe would have made a superb Death Eater, but I submit Strong as a more thoroughly developed Bloody Baron.


Hugh Laurie- His House fame may have overshadowed him a little, but Laurie was a comedian long before he was Dr. House. When I read The Goblet of Fire, I actually imagined Mad-Eye Moody being more Laurie than Gleeson. Gleeson’s interpretation brought energy and even comedy to The Goblet of Fire, therefore for Hugh Laurie, perhaps one of the Azkaban escapees. Drawing from the books, Laurie might have done justice to the masochistic role of Amycus Carrow.

 Richard E. Grant- Grant will forever be Sir Percible Blakeny from the Scarlet Pimpernel for me. His lanky frame, Cheshire-cat grin, and wide eyes would have fit well into various roles of good or evil characters. Grant would have made a grand Weasley relative, an eerie Death Eater, or a quirky Xenophilius Lovegood, but a better fit I believe would have been the entitled and arrogant Marvolo Gaunt. As a less desirable but still unrelenting pure-blood, Grant as Gaunt would have added a new dimension of darkness to Voldemort's history.

Sylvester McCoy- Being delightful and quirky, McCoy seems right for the part of Hufflepuff's resident ghost, the Fat Friar.

Keeley Hawes- If Harry has “his mother’s eyes,” Hawes has the look to be Lily Potter. Furthermore, James and Lily were young when they died, so I would be in favor of youthful looking Potters, which brings me to the part of James Potter…

 Cillian Murphy- Selling the part of James Potter would depend highly on audiences not looking at him as Scarecrow from Batman Begins, but he looks the part of a young James Potter closely enough. Upon first glance he might not resemble Daniel Radcliffe closely, but with a few hair tricks and a Gryffindor scarf, he could work. If not James Potter, Murphy would have been perfect to play young Tom Riddle during his employment for Borgin and Burkes. 

 Rowan Atkinson- Would have made an amusing Professor Binns don’t you think? He could certainly pull off the part of a ghost who did not let death interfere with his teaching.

 Terence Stamp- I don’t care what part he would have played, he would have been wonderful at anything. A Minister for  Magic, a Death Eater, a professor, it doesn’t matter; Stamp just seems to belong somewhere in this saga. Perhaps as Salazar Slytherin himself?
Benedict Cumberbatch- With his mysterious manner and ability to be either warm or edgy, Cumberbatch would have made an emotionally-wrenching Regulus Black. Cumberbatch possesses the presence and regality worthy of the pure-blood Blacks, but is also more than capable of displaying a convincing shift in loyalty. Imagine him giving Kreacher his final orders before succumbing to death by inferi.

Jodhi May- Another very recognizable face from some of BBC’s finest productions, May would have been haunting as Lord Voldemort’s own obsessed, fragile, and defeated mother Merope Gaunt.


Stephen Fry- His brilliant work on the Harry Potter audio books land him a place among the actors fortunate enough to be involved with Harry Potter, but were he to appear onscreen, the only place for him would be Peeves. Older, irreverent, mischievous, malicious at times, and horribly defiant, Fry would embody Peeves perfectly. 

Michael Sheen- A small but significant role that would have been well-suited to Sheen would be that of Riddle senior; Voldemort's unfeeling muggle father. Sheen has enough presence to make such a small role memorable, while also lending enough experience to the part to convincingly portray a bewitched and later betrayed muggle. 

Judi Dench - Neville's gran is only mentioned in the movies, but in the books she shows up a few times as Neville's only caretaker. Although she may seem stuffy and hard on Neville, she is no ordinary grandmother, as she proves when two deatheaters are sent to kill her. When it comes to playing stuffy but gutsy older women, no one could play this part with as much humor, conviction, and piety as Dame Judi Dench. The image of the assassins expecting to do away with an old woman and instead meeting the wrath of Judi Dench with a wand is a scene that would be worthy of Potter (and a few laughs no doubt). 

Richard Armitage- As a man who generally portrays dark and ambiguous characters, Armitage is quite mysterious enough to fit into the world of Hogwarts. Armitage has the right dramatic intensity to play Bane, the dangerous and unyielding centaur.

Chris Hemsworth- Technically not a "great British actor" (being neither British, nor very experienced) but humor me, because I promise I have a legitimate reason for mentioning him. The centaur Forenze is described as being blonde and "beautiful", so that the Hogwarts girls go completely crazy over him. Hemsworth has the right athleticism and a good strong voice that really, were he to make it into the Potter universe, a centaur would be the most logical choice.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Hunger Games

     Sometimes when I want to mix things up a bit, I take a more casual approach rather than trying to sound academic. This time I'm really mixing things up with my review after my recent viewing of The Hunger Games. And once again, I haven't read the books, so let's move on. So you don't misinterpret my thoughts, know that I rather enjoyed it. Whether or not it was worth all the hype is another matter, but it was a good movie. It spends a great deal of time building up to the actual Hunger Games event, and then spends the rest of the time covering the details of that event. The movie seems to be almost equal parts rising action and main action, with a some overlapping teen drama and social commentary.

     As far as the social commentary goes, the story takes a harsh jab at reality TV. Although it's true that so far The Amazing Race, Fear Factor, and Survivor have not had anyone butchered onscreen, the desensitization shown by the citizens of Panem is not as unrealistic as we might like to think. The Hunger Games shows a future world where the citizens of outerlying districts are selected at random to participate in the annual Hunger Games and outlast one another, all for the entertainment of the flamboyant and ridiculously opulent citizens of Capitol. Like reality TV, much of the action is rigged and manipulated by the broadcasters. The original purpose of the games was a reminder of the penalty of rebellion, but over time the Capitol citizens decided they enjoyed it so much that the games continue every year with no real purpose other than savage enjoyment in the carnage and dehumanization of the young people from the outlying districts.

     Observe that there is a slice of teen drama incorporated into this story. Unfortunately, Katniss and Peeta lack convincing chemistry and the immaturity of their relationship clashes with the circumstances in which they are thrown together. In other words, you are in the middle of a fight to the death! This is no time to think about a crush! I'm not against love stories, really. But a logical question here seems to be "what? ... now?!" The pair goes from having a teenage crush to making a suicide pact together. Sorry, but no. And then to find out that Katniss is mostly just playing to the camera and by extension playing Peeta, this brings me to my prediction for the next movie:

     All in all, The Hunger Games is enjoyable. Storywise it is a road less traveled by, at least until that inevitable teen drama kicks in. There are plenty of intense moments that keep the story moving, and the movie does a respectable job of making Panem look familiar enough to be figuratively tangible. Handheld camera was a bold choice for this kind of piece, but it works well as it keeps the action chaotic enough that it stays relatively bloodless while still seeming grisly in its PG-13 kind of way. I would recommend The Hunger Games as a popcorn flick, even if I am a little skeptical about the direction of the story from here.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Man Who was Batman

This is the third installment of my Dark Knight Rises analyses.

     When Batman Begins debuted, it was clear that Bruce was going to be a different kind of hero. His motivation began as a personal quest to ease his own emotional pain, but those reasons gradually became greater and larger than himself. In The Dark Knight, Bruce was shown to be at the top of his game as Gotham's savior, having met his legendary foe the Joker, and pushing the limits of technology and physical strength further than they had ever been before. Bruce battled with how far he would go before crossing the line into becoming a villain himself, often barely different in his methods and approaches. By the time the film wrapped, he allowed a villain to be hailed a hero, and took the blame for all the man's misdeeds himself. In essence, Bruce chose to become in name what he stood against in his heart. Eight years later, Bruce is weary, physically weaker, heartbroken, and considerably less resolved to be Gotham's hope. Bruce is now a has-been hero, no longer jumping from buildings and leaping from aircraft, but a recluse; shut-up in the confines of his manor with only Alfred for consolation. 

     Batman Begins is a perfect origin story. Bruce is seen as a child, a college student, and finally a man. He grows from one stage to the next and through his experiences determines to become the Bat Man in order to take Gotham back from the corrupt powers that have overrun it. In a city so bad that there is no higher power to appeal to, Bruce dared to stand alone against the tide of evil and corruption, using his billionaire funds to equip himself to be mysterious, powerful, swift, and terrifying to those who stood in his way. Everything from Bruce's martial arts training to his fancy toys were accounted for and explained in Batman Begins

     As a sequel, The Dark Knight stands as one of the greatest sequels ever made. Where Rhas Al Ghul challenged Batman's definition of justice, the Joker tested Batman's limits. Bruce was once a young idealist who refused to become an executioner, but how long could he hold to that? Deeper still, what is the true difference between a hero and a villain, and how far can a hero go before he becomes a villain? Even Bruce couldn't answer this one, but he found out the answer before fleeing into darkness for eight years. Now as a worn out, discouraged, and seeming failure of a hero, the question is whether or not Bruce will rise again and come to Gotham's rescue one last time.

    The Dark Knight Rises is first and foremost, a tale on perseverance. Bruce is not what he used to be and even his faithful Alfred declares "You're not Batman anymore!" Bruce knows it. He grapples with whether or not it is time to don the cape again, even though he doubts that Batman even exists anymore. Physically, Batman is no match for Bane, and Bruce is for the first time, struggling financially. But somewhere between all of this, Bruce realizes that not only is he still the most able to save Gotham, he is the only one who can. The question then becomes, will he? The city that demonized him now cries out for his aide, while the only person that he truly cares about is telling him that he can't. Will he lose everything or sacrifice it? And will any of it really make any difference?

     Gotham City is exactly the type of place that seems doomed to continue attracting the world’s most maniacal breeds of Fausts and Mephistopheles for the rest of time, which raises the question as to why Batman/Bruce would go to such great lengths to save it. As previously mentioned, The Dark Knight Rises is a tale on perseverance. It is a story of plodding onwards in the face of truly overwhelming odds with only the tiniest glimmer of hope that any victory is even remotely possible. Bruce lies in a pit with a broken back, watching news reports of Gotham rip itself apart, yet he musters the courage to crawl out and rise to Gotham’s aide. Why? Because it is the right thing to do, and it is the hill he has chosen to die on, figuratively speaking. Gotham will not stay saved forever, but Bruce still rises from his fallen and broken state to give the last that he can before leaving Batman behind.

     When Bruce first became Batman, he knew the workings of a criminal mind and the complexities of the not-so-simple nature of right and wrong, yet he was still something of an idealist. His vision was that his example as a symbol of justice would inspire others to fight back, and that eventually a legion would rise to restore Gotham. With very few allies, it seemed a one-sided battle for many years, and when white knight Harvey Dent turned two-faced, the battle seemed to be losing. Now in the final showdown, the conflict demands that this be the end of Batman. But before Bruce leaves Batman behind forever, he chooses a successor who is everything that Bruce used to be, and more. Gotham will still need saving, but Bruce’s time has passed. So young Detective Blake is chosen to be Gotham’s next savior. Like Bruce, he graduated from the school of hard knocks, but unlike Bruce, he is untainted by it. Blake has a heart of compassion and purity that Bruce no longer has, if he ever did, and Bruce recognizes that it is time to pass the mantle off to someone who is still good, and willing to give as much as Bruce did to the cause.

   Batman Begins was the start of the story, The Dark Knight was the climax for Batman, and The Dark Knight Rises seems to be the climax for Gotham, and the epilogue of the Batman tales. Bruce has been challenged in his notions of justice and his motives for becoming the Bat Man. He has tested his moral and ethical limits and his emotional strength. He has been forced to ask himself how far he can go before it is too far. Now he has learned endurance. The Batman trilogy of movies do not necessarily seek to dictate whether or not Bruce passes these tests, but to posit that rather than doing the best that he could; he did what was necessary.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman

   This is the year of fairy tales. This trend will probably bleed over into 2013 as well, but as it stands at the moment, Snow White and the Huntsman is the second movie this year based on the classic fable, not counting small-screen attempts. This is going to be moderate in length and not particularly academic in tone, because I really just don't feel like thinking about it too much. So you've been warned: I’m not mincing words here, I’m just going for it and typing as it comes to me.

     First things first so that you can stop reading now if you disagree, Kristen Stewart is simply a dreadful actress. While the role of Snow White has historically not been a demanding one, Stewart seems to do little more than breathe heavily, the entire film. It must also be noted that during these intervals of dramatized inhaling and exhaling, she continually hangs her mouth open, which is apparently her only facial expression. Throughout the film she turns foe to friend by gazing lazily at them and breathing deeply. Most of the movie she looks on the brink of tears, but there is absolutely no development to her character to justify it. As the leading character, she is grossly flat. She has very little depth or personality at all. After she spends the first two thirds of the movie trembling, it seems stupid that when she wakes up after the inevitable apple incident, that she would be ready to ride into battle (which raises another inconsistency, but a flaw in writing rather than acting, so I’ll save it for later).

    The good news is, there are good actors in Snow White and the Huntsman, but it doesn't seem to help much. This is by no means the finest of Charlize Theron, but nor is it her worst. She adds an interesting dimension to her depravity in this retelling of the evil queen by rounding up young women to feed upon, or ravenously tearing into the ravens that surround her and eating out their hearts. There is also a slight insinuation that her relationship with her disgusting brother may be…well, unusual. She does not seem to really care much for him other than his ability to do her dirty work for her sometimes and play to her vanity, so her coldness is thoroughly constant.

    The huntsman is never given a name in the film, so he is referred to throughout simply as “Huntsman.” This might have been an intriguing turn for Chris Hemsworth, but he spends most of the film in a drunken fog. What is most disappointing is that the huntsman had potential to be a very interesting character, and could have been much more developed as the protector or bodyguard. The one little nugget we learn from his past is just enough to make his alliance with Snow White plausible, but not altogether entirely understandable. Not that it matters—he brings a bit to the story, but could have done much more so with a tad more development and maybe a smidgeon more mystery. It does not really matter to me one way or the other whether or not the huntsman is a love interest, but it would have been exciting to wonder just a little bit longer how trustworthy he really is. As a matter of interest, there are plans to make a spinoff movie about the huntsman, which might prove my point.

    Naturally, the best actors to this piece are given the smallest amount of screen time. The troupe of dwarves boasts some very familiar faces, but they feature only slightly in the story, which is unfortunate because the chemistry among them seems that it would be both entertaining and relatable with a little more time given to them. Between Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Toby Jones, and the rest of the  dwarves, there seems to be a true sense of bickering brotherhood, like a band of rogue has-been knights. Their presence brings a little buoyancy to a mood weighed down with labored line-delivery by everyone else. And sadly, even this merry band can't save this movie.  

    The setting of Snow White and the Huntsman is appropriate to the tone of the story, and the artistic direction of the visuals excellently drive the mood-- dark and dull. When the credits rolled, I was actually waiting to see if Guillermo Del Torro did any sort of consulting on the project, as the creatures and sets seemed to echo the style of Pan’s Labyrinth, which can only be a good thing. And to its credit, the movie doesn’t overuse these touches, but integrates them strategically into the world of the story.  Other than these mystical little features, the movie’s portrayal of Snow White’s world is bleak, wet, and dark, which fits.

    I will admit that this retelling of Snow White is unique, but not in the way that it needed to be. Unfortunately, Snow White falls into a series of traps that run it through with dangling plot trails and clichés. For example, Snow White starts out in the customary manner with her on the run in the haunted woods, but then enters into the completely unnecessary Act Three, involving a “chosen one” twist and the girl miraculously springing battle skills when minutes before she was afraid to even touch a knife. It felt like the finale of Alice in Wonderland all over again. Speaking of unnecessary, the tribe of Amazon-like women might have been an interesting plot point, but once again feels gratuitous due to the lack of development. The whole bit with Snow White being the savior and the one who can break the power of Ravena’s magic is just a little too convenient.

    All in all, Snow White and the Huntsman falls into the category of mediocre at best. The story begins ambitiously, and then gets lazy and takes the easy way out by going the cliché route. I’m not saying that every story needs a love story, but it might have legitimately helped this one. A little rivalry between the huntsman and the prince could have brought some much needed audience-connection to the story. Perhaps a little more of the delightful band of dwarves would have brought a few more characters worth caring about to the forefront. And let's be honest-- the studio didn't want to make a movie about Snow White; they wanted to find somewhere to use Kristen Stewart while her Twilight appeal was still bringing in money from those unfortunate folks who care about that particular series. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

the Gotham Revolution

“You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” 

The above quote appears in a completely unrelated trilogy of films that have absolutely nothing to do with Batman, but the description could easily and accurately describe Gotham City. Each Batman film has faithfully portrayed Gotham City as a hub of corruption, darkness, and crime. The depravity of Gotham is so thorough that Bruce Wayne’s mission to save the city seems nothing less than complete absurdity.

In order to really accept Gotham as a setting, Gotham must be viewed as a sort of hypothetical Rome in which the state of the city indicates the state of its empire. Like Rome, Gotham is the center of its world, and therefore when things go wrong in Gotham (such as mass hysteria or anarchist government overthrows), there is really no higher power to appeal to. As a viewer watching The Dark Knight Rises for example, it is clear that Gotham represents the entirety of Bruce’s world, and any setting depicted outside of Gotham is on another continent, and therefore outside Batman’s realm of influence (with the exception of the abduction in The Dark Knight). Also like Rome, Gotham City has world significance. It is a center of trade and commerce, drawing companies and corporations from around the globe.

The conflict of The Dark Knight Rises reflects multiple parallels to the French Revolution, so much so that I can’t help but be slightly impressed by this bold interpretation on the part of the writers. Although the French Revolution did not have a particular revolutionary to credit with its launch like Bane in Gotham City, both the French and lesser classes of Gotham target the wealthy upper class. Looking at Gotham as a fictional and futuristic Paris, the same motives seem to apply. Selina Kyle whispers threateningly into Bruce’s ear “There's a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you're all going to wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.” Soon after, the “aristocrats” of Gotham (the politicians, company owners, and tycoons) are violently targeted and attacked.

Many accounts of trials during the French Revolution reported mock-trials in which the accused aristocrats were brought before a biased judge and jury to be scornfully tried. Once the accused were inevitably found guilty, the only thing that remained was to await their appointment with madam guillotine. Similarly, the fallen Gotham creates a mock-court, led by former nemesis Dr. Crane/Scarecrow setting himself up as Citizen Robespierre. Crane’s flippant and derisive attitude perfectly communicate how the purpose of the trials are to parody legal proceedings and deal out justice to those who have lived well while most of Gotham struggled.

Those found guilty as charged do not face the guillotine, but an equally certain sentence of death. Crane offers most of the accused a choice of death or exile. Those who choose exile are pushed onto thin ice and forced to walk out on it until the ice yields, resulting in death by drowning or hypothermia. Furthermore it does not take a historian to recognize the mass breakout from Arkham asylum as bearing close resemblance to the storming of the Bastille.

After all the organized crime, disorganized crime, and criminal incidents that Gotham has hosted, a full-scale anarchist overthrow really shouldn’t be too big of a surprise. Gotham seems to be the breeding ground of criminals and corrupt powers on all levels, or at the very least the culminating point for them all. It would stand to reason then, that Batman is wearied by his schemes to weed out these poisonous influences. Unfortunately, Batman and the rest of the good guys are vastly outnumbered. Gotham is a place of corruption, darkness, and danger. The city is a squalid poison that grows ever more venomous, entrenching even noble hearts with the best of intentions in the filth of its depravity.

The pulse of the city clearly reflects the hearts of the people. Gotham is in deep trouble. This is not a place you want to live if you can possibly help it, but the perspective of the Batman movies do not offer a real alternative within the pseudo- United States. Certainly the wealthy of Gotham have the arts and high life to enjoy, but as The Dark Knight Rises reveals, that lifestyle comes at a high price. Gotham is its own world, and it is not a pretty one.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Bane: Son of Anarchy

     The villains of the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy have each dictated the tone of their respective movies and brought out a new side of Batman himself. Where Rhas Al Ghul became an elegant extremist in the name of justice and balance, the Joker was an agent of chaos with no motive other than turning Gotham around on its head so many times that it would inevitably stab itself in the heart. Everyone knows that the Joker is Batman’s ultimate nemesis, and readers of the books would identify Rhas Al Ghul as the legendary leader of the League of Shadows. Bane is a new kind of villain, and relatively unknown at that, except to avid graphic novel readers. So who is the Bane of Gotham and how does he fit into the Nolan interpretation of the Dark Knight?

     Bane is first and foremost, an anarchist. He is part revolutionary, part dictator, but never setting himself up as an authority figure in Gotham. Even in the peak of his success of turning Gotham inside out and letting its heart rot in the trenches of terror and tyranny, Bane is an embodiment of the spirit of fear. He “rules” Gotham like a prison where he is the alpha inmate. He is a prisoner as well, but he builds a kingdom of horror and dread within that isolated world. His creation is a mockery of democracy, even as he parades the perverse beauty of equality, toppling the wealthy in the manner of the French Revolution where Gotham’s rich are the doomed aristocracy.

     For the first half of The Dark Knight Rises, Bane’s motives are unclear.  He is obviously not the sophisticated strategist that Rhas Al Ghul was, nor is he an unpredictable madman with a promiscuous lust for bedlam like the Joker. Bane is shown to be working for a sniveling power-hungry usurper, almost reminiscent of the relationship between Justin Hammer and Ivan Vanko in Iron Man 2. It doesn't take too long for Bane to assert that he is no one’s pawn (at least not for that money-grabbing weakling), but it's still just as uncertain what he is about. His moves are too calculated and mysterious to be purposeless, but not quite refined enough to be seen as the final step in some grand master plan laid down for generations beforehand. Bane does not seem to be acting as part of a plot—he seems to be dictating his own path, but no one can tell what it is. He does not want political power or wealth, nor is he a mindless machine of destruction.

     Well, spoiler alert for the rest of this review, Bane is an accomplice. Before I come under fire for saying such a thing, finish reading this bit. There is no denying that Bane is a powerful leader. As previously stated, he is part revolutionary, part tyrant. In the engaging opening sequence of the Dark Knight Rises, a very elaborate and grisly plot unfolds to kidnap a scientist off his plane, involving a rather brilliant hijacking if it can even be called such. Here we see a brief but clear demonstration of Bane’s power as a leader when a word to a “brother” convinces the other to die in the wreckage of a plane. Bane’s rule by fear and illusions of brotherhood bring to him a following of cowardly and brutish criminals who blindly follow his merciless lead. All offenses are punishable by death, and yet they flock to tremble in his shadow.

     But even in his mastery of the power of lawlessness and unquestionable brute strength, Bane is (almost disappointingly so) not the brains of the operation. He is the brawn, the passion, and the one who carries out the grand scheme, but he is not the mastermind. That is not to say that he could not be— he certainly has the power and despite comic book archetypes equating bulky bodies with low intellect, Bane is not stupid. But minutes from the credits, his true master steps forward. He is shortly thereafter disposed of unceremoniously in a manner befitting a sidekick.

     Bane may not have been the brains behind the fall of Gotham, but he did the dirty work is his own brutal way. He may be Talia’s pawn, but make no mistake that she does not keep him a leash—she does not have to. She may the only one who does not fear him, so she releases him to accomplish her purposes in whatever way he sees fit. He is still allowed to be the radical terrorist without any real restrictions on his methods.

    After hours of watching the son of anarchy wreak ruthless havoc upon Gotham City, it seems strange and almost out of character that Bane’s downfall would in fact be love. Bane and Talia form a deep and impenetrable bond that resembles a twisted father-daughter relationship, and when he determines to be her protector, she becomes the brains and he becomes the muscles of an elegant, intricate, peculiar partnership. It is never suggested that Bane’s relationship with Talia exceeds that of a fierce and loyal protector. Talia, for all her curves and subtle manipulation, has no need to use her femme fatale tactics on Bane. She rescued him and refused to accept her father’s decree of excommunication against him, so Bane, to the degree that the extremist monster is able, loves her. For her part the favor is returned, but Talia has much of her father in her and believes in sacrifices for the greater good. Her ultimate goal is to finish what Rhas Al Ghul begun, and Bane is her pawn--an unleashed pawn with a presence and power all his own, but a pawn nonetheless. He knows it, and wants to be thus.

     To be fair, even as the right hand man of the true villainess, he is still a force unleashed, worthy to be feared, even if his personality and speech are somewhat suppressed by his facial apparatus. Tom Hardy does as well as he possibly can to bring Bane to life through expressive voice inflections and wild glances, but at times Bane is hard to understand-- literally. His motives are not fully revealed until the condensed finale, making him less compelling than he could have been as a character. By the time Talia is revealed as the alpha-villain, it is too late to just push Bane aside--  he has been the face of evil for the entire movie! Because of this, his exit was unsatisfying, as is his final showdown with Batman. Throughout the film, the fiend has snapped necks, ruthlessly broken Bruce's back, thrown him into the pit of the earth, gutted Gotham inside-out, trapped hundreds of police officials in a claustrophobic nightmare, and toppled the already unstable ruling powers of Gotham. In return for these heinous misdeeds, Batman punches him in the face. To add insult to the injury of not having a finale-worthy Mano-a-mano confrontation, Batman does not even get to finish Bane himself.

     Bane works in a league of his own not to be compared with previous nemeses-- he simply can't be. He is not a perfect villain, but he does well, and he possesses the soul of Gotham adequately enough to be counted a notable adversary. Bane's description of himself as "a necessary evil" sums up quite eloquently his mission and his views. Bane is mysterious, dangerous, and unexpected, but true to his nature and his namesake, is the bane of Gotham and Batman.



1. a person or thing that ruins or spoils
2. a deadly poison
3. death; destruction; ruin

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Classics Archive: Citizen Kane

I found the following piece in an old forgotten file logged away on my trusty computer. I wrote this piece back in 2008 for a film class, long before Reel Rambling was thought of. Having recently read over this old review, I deemed it worthy to be blog-published. I present from my archive of reviews of classic movies, the illustrious masterpiece, CITIZEN KANE.

     When Citizen Kane was released in 1941, Orson Welles brought far more than a story to the big screen; he used a unique narrative form to tell the story of Charles Foster Kane in such an artful way that the audience actually cares about the otherwise unlikable character. Before we are told about Kane himself, we see a montage of his life’s accomplishments. But as the editor of the newsreel says, “It isn't enough to tell us what a man did. You've got to tell us who he was.” The subsequent hours of Citizen Kane are devoted to showing the audience who Charles Foster Kane was as a man, not just a public figure.

     The story opens with one of the most famous scenes in film history in which Kane lies upon his deathbed and utters the mysterious word “Rosebud” with his final breath. It is the only scene which shows Kane in the present time; the rest of his appearances take place in the past. As soon as the audience meets Kane, he dies, and the rest of the film takes us through his life as told by various people including friends, ex-wives, employees, etc. By showing exactly what will become of Kane in the first minutes of the film, then backtracking to fill in the rest of the story, the narration would seem to have limited itself. Instead, the audience is driven by the curiosity of what brought a man who had everything to such a miserable end.

     In the first few minutes of the film, the audience realizes that the story will be more psychologically based rather than centered on the accomplishments of the character. Following the newsreel of Kane’s public life, the audience knows what he did before the story even begins, but we do not know who he was. According to Bordwell and Thompson, “Unlike many biographical films, Citizen Kane is more concerned with psychological states and relationships than with the hero’s public deeds or adventures” (97). By the film’s end, this fact is sealed when the reporter does not get his story, and only the omniscient audience shares the secret of “rosebud” with the deceased Kane. I found the mystery of “rosebud” to be the driving force of the film. The character of Kane is not particularly personable, relatable, or likable, so it is certainly not his personality that kept my attention. Rather, it was the knowledge that someone who had everything, died with essentially nothing, and that backtracking through his life may reveal one crucial fact about his inner self that explains the motivation for all his actions.

     According to Bordwell and Thompson, two storylines dominate Citizen Kane. One is the reporters, scrambling and investigating the person of Charles Kane. The other set of events has already taken place, and although we know they ultimately end in Kane’s death, we do not know the whole story of how he came to be one of the most powerful men in America, or how he ended dejected and alone. While the reporters gather information in the present time, flashbacks are used to show Kane’s story, but curiously, these flashbacks do not occur necessarily in chronological order. What could have been a confusing way to tell the story is instead extremely effective in building suspense and mystery.

    With the help of the “News on the March” early on, we are able to place events chronologically ourselves as they occur in further detail throughout the movie. From the start, we know that Kane’s marriages will not last and his friends will drift away, so the outcome of the story is known to us, forcing the audience to “focus on the how and when a particular thing will happen. Thus many scenes function to delay an outcome that we already know is certain” (100). This ordering of events builds suspense for viewer who is waiting to discover how and why an already revealed ending will result. For example, we know when Kane marries Emily that it will fall apart, and we wait to see how it will play out. A passing remark is made about how Emily and Kane’s son were killed in a car accident, which makes one wonder if Kane’s first marriage ended because of this tragic accident, or because of a divorce shortly before.

    Another place of suspense that encompasses more time and story than the aforementioned is that we know that Susan will eventually leave Kane, but we do not know when she will finally walk out. Therefore every time there is conflict between Charles and Susan, we expect her to leave him. Each time she does not fulfill the audience expectations, the suspense grows towards a more dramatic climax.

     Because the story is told through the recollection of multiple individuals, there are years of time missing from Kane’s story, and several hours of time missing from the reporters’ investigation. The gaps in Kane’s life are filled in for the most part by several montage sequences to speed up slow and enduring themes or events. Shortly after Kane’s first marriage, we see the montage sequence showing the gradual breakdown of the mutual love between the couple. Initially they are seated close together, but by the end of the sequence, they are at opposite ends of the table, years later in their time, but only a few seconds in screen time.

     By using a few montage sequences to compress time, the narration can focus on the highlights of the story without losing any of the emotion and feeling. Susan’s opera career is shown through a montage, which allows the audience to see her transformation from a young starlet to a depressed celebrity in a matter of seconds, leaving the remainder of the film with the knowledge that she has attempted suicide, and remains static as she plays with jigsaw puzzles, consumed with loneliness in a separate montage sequence.

     In the course of the reporter’s investigation, the people he contacts reflect different phases of Kane’s life, showing the progression of events, and “giving a distinct type of information about Kane” (104). Each person interviewed gives a glimpse into the life of Charles Kane until the time of his death.
“Thatcher establishes Kane’s political stance: Bernstein gives an account of the business dealings of the newspaper…leading into Leland’s stories of Kane’s personal life, where we get the first real indications of failure. Susan continues the description of his decline with her account of how he manipulated her life. Finally, in Raymond’s flashback, Kane becomes a pitiable old man” (104). 
     Each character provides the audience with a different view or different period of time in Kane’s life, adding layers to the complexity of Kane’s character. Each time a story is shown through a different character, the story comes together like a jigsaw puzzle. We have the benefit of seeing a little more than is revealed to the reporters, and we have the advantage of discovering the meaning of “rosebud”—a mystery that will never be revealed to the characters of the film.

     Perhaps the most brilliant aspect of Citizen Kane is the revelation of the meaning of “rosebud” in the end of the movie. As soon as the audience sees the word printed on an old sled, the pieces of the puzzle all come together. Not only does this final scene serve as a powerful ending to communicate what the deepest desire of Kane’s heart was, it made me want to see the film again immediately to look for hints throughout the film that I may have missed the first time.

     As Citizen Kane ends, digressing back through the images that ushered the audience into Xanadu, I left with a strong sense of melancholy and satisfaction. While the story of Charles Foster Kane was by no means inspiring, Orson Welles’ genius allowed me to share in the secret of “rosebud” before the key to the secret disappeared into black smoke, billowing out of the ominous Xanadu. As a viewer, the satisfaction was in knowing that I knew something of Kane that the characters in his world would now never know. While they could surmise about the spirit of the mysterious man, I held the final piece to the jigsaw puzzle.

 Cited: Bordwell, David and Kristin Thompson. Film Art: An Introduction. McGraw-Hill Publishing 2006

Memoirs of Stargate SG-1

     It began one summer with a new friendship. I had met a certain guy who shared my love of science fiction and through the combined efforts of my new fellow nerd and my roommate, I entered into the ten season relationship of Stargate: SG-1. Having grown up on the movie Stargate, I had always been curious about the series spin-off but had been unable to watch the series. Until 2009. One Sunday afternoon, my roommate and I settled down and she put in the first of many discs from her deluxe box set. One episode led to another, and then another. Soon our numbers grew from two to three to six, convening once a week to watch and enjoy together.

     I will admit that the pilot episode did not immediately evoke devoted following. The TV-level special effects were dated and unimpressive by 2009 standards—the quality of the special effects seemed to pick up technologically where Star Trek: The Next Generation left off. Still, I was generous with my judgments, allowing that this was a product of late 1990’s television. When the premiere villain Apophis made his grand entrance however, it was more difficult to excuse the campy costumes and overdone makeup. My companions advised me to focus on the story rather than the visual efforts, as they did have a smaller budget in their earlier seasons. Beyond that, the “visual efforts” involved content more suited to an HBO type series. So I suspended judgment despite thinking deep within myself “it’s going to be like this for a few seasons?” I pushed through with the hope that better entertainment lie on the other side of season one. I was right.

     As in most TV series, the actors involved took some getting used to in that first season as they settled into their characters. At times I wondered if they were being prompted or reading their lines off a faraway wall. But eventually as the actors became more comfortable with their characters, I became more comfortable with them as well and began developing impressions of each and guessing at their motives, personalities, and destinies. I latched on to Jack O’Neill and his sardonic humor. I sympathized with Daniel Jackson and his quest to rescue his wife from her captivity. Teal’c gained my interest as I pondered his loyalties and dark past. Even Samantha Carter gained my approval once I got past her Princess Diana haircut and frequent tendency to play the exposition fairy with her ridiculous knowledge of… everything (thankfully all these characteristics were toned down as the series went on).

     Season two came around and as the story improved, so did the special effects, costumes, and writing. The actors, now comfortable in their roles, carried their parts naturally and effortlessly. Events were now happening that would carry ramifications lasting several seasons or at least revisited multiple times. Sam became host to Tok’ra symbiote Jolinar, Daniel began his long track record of attracting abnormal females, both the formidable and the ridiculous Goa’uld made appearances and reappearances, and Sam’s father Jacob was set up as a returning guest character. Not only did SG-1 have alien threats to deal with, they now fought domestic politics on their home turf, developing strained and cantankerous relationships with the corrupt Senator Kinsey and the hated Maybourne. Finally, the plot was thickening!

     One storyline would lead to another and then taper off, birthing a greater arc, or even memorable stand-alone episodes. As the series went on, the relationships deepened and even Jack and Daniel developed a certain respect for one another despite what ought to have been irreconcilable differences. Teal’c grew a sense of humor and Jack actually had sensitive moments. Sam became a strong leader, but retained her femininity and never crossed the line into becoming Jane Bond. Thank goodness. I will say that the writers went overboard playing with my heart in terms of the Jack-Sam dynamic, because they became in my opinion the most frustrating “will they, won’t they?” couple in TV history, but without the satisfaction of a definite resolution in one direction or the other. The obvious affection swelled to breaking point and then... was brushed off. Unlike Captain Picard and Dr. Crusher of Star Trek: The Next Generation, whose relationship was left open for possibilities at the finale of the series, Jack and Sam just forgot about their feelings and then Jack left. Simple as that. I suppose I can give the show props for not getting soapy, at least most of the time. Sam’s relationship with Pete was not a high point for me.

     One thing I would say Stargate: SG-1 did better than most shows would be able to in a ten season run, is excellent continuity. One of the most satisfying things about continuity is getting to say with a simultaneous sense of dread and anticipation “you again…” When SG-1 introduced an antagonist, it was sure as tax that he or she would be seen again in some capacity or another if they got away. While Linea, Destroyer of Worlds yielded a somewhat anti-climactic one-episode reappearance, the encounter with Fifth the Replicator brought far-reaching consequences and an unexpected tangent to the Replicator arc, spanning several episodes. Likewise a seemingly insignificant episode centered on a relationship between Daniel and an old colleage released a new Goa'uld enemy, leading into one of the most intense story arcs.

     As in most sci-fi, you could never depend on someone actually being dead. Would Apophis ever die for good? Would Maybourne ever stop popping up at the worst possible time? And die? Would Kinsey ever do the world a favor and get himself assassinated? And just when I thought the team could relax a bit, having not heard from Apophis in some time, we were dealt Sokar and an Apophis encore. The Goa'uld held legendary grudges, and would never forget a grievance dealt them, be it a few seasons ago, or a few millenia ago. While certain story points that seemed like they would be monumental trailed off without too much ceremony, thinking back I can't recall a real loose end anywhere.

     The fall of one Goa’uld would give rise to the next, each one strikingly unique in his, her, or its own vein of evil. I was just about to grow tired of the endless reappearing schemes of Apophis when the writers wrote in a timely and truly fitting end for the villain. Appropriately, Apophis had one of the most glorious exits of all SG-1 nemeses, and watching the fiend helplessly face his demise was just spectacular, not to mention poetic. With Apophis now out of the way, new overarching threats needed to be created that did not repeat Apophis. SG-1 came through fantastically with Osiris and his alliance of system lords, Anubis, Ba’al, and the rise to prominence of more Replicators. While more minor villains such as the insipid Nirrti or overly sensual Hathor were not even fun to hate, the dominating powers of evil became every bit as essential to the sagas as SG-1 itself, and I even had favorites among the adversaries.

    Among the greater adversaries of Stargate SG-1, my favorites were the classics. Anubis, a seemingly unbeatable entity with an evil so pure that other Goa’uld considered
Anubis’ ways unspeakable, brought a supernatural element to the Goa'uld threat. As an ascended being, his powers of evil operated on a level outside the realm of reality -- a different dimension if you will, making him an especially formidable foe. Ba’al, so arrogant and yet borderline charming in his unexcitable manners and elegantly brutal mind games (such as his repeated killing and resurrection of Jack) seemed a straightforward enough Goa'uld, but he had more on his side than legions of fear-bound followers; he was cunning. Ba'al was a true strategist and tactical artist, constantly surprising. Even in the face of certain defeat, Ba’al remained maddeningly poised and unwaveringly superior in all his mannerisms. Lastly, I had to love the presence of the Replicators. Until the encounter with Fifth, the Replicators were a mindless destructive machine without a face or a heart. This in itself made the Replicators an entity that forced a new battle-mode. Fighting an enemy that does not bleed or hurt proved to be a challenge that even the superior Asgard found daunting. When the SG-1 team lands on a Replicator planet, the machines entered a new level of dangerous destroyers: they were shown to be self-aware. Soon SG-1 was not just dealing with mechanical spider-like Replicators, but they had Fifth and Repli-Carter-- a Samantha Carter replicator impostor.

     In ten seasons of character development and progression, certain emotional wrenches are inevitable. There was a certain tightness in my heart as Daniel tearfully bid goodbye to Jack and departed this world in Meridian. Eyes were wiped as Sam delivered her honoring speech at Dr. Frazier’s funeral in Heroes. While I never cared for Sha’re (or the dreadful acting her character was doomed to), I couldn’t help but sympathize with Daniel as he grieved over the loss of his wife in Forever in a Day. During Jack’s captivity under Ba’al, I couldn't help but understand his caving to hopelessness with his daily death and resurrection in Abyss. And as previously mentioned, it was hard not to hope that somehow Jack and Sam would stop ignoring their feelings. Teal’c may have been the strongest of the team both physically and emotionally, but he sensitively displayed feeling torn as a warrior, father, estranged husband, and friend. While his loyalties were often at odds with one another, Teal’c proved time and time again that he was an invaluable member of the SG-1 team, saving the lives of his comrades on numerous occasions. At times he frustrated me with how determined he was to pay penance for his past as First Prime of Apophis, but Teal'c remained a sterling hero.  

     In time, SG-1 moved on from the predominantly Egyptian mythologies and turned its attention to Arthurian and Atlantian themes. Unfortunately, with the final defeat of the Goa’uld came the unannounced departure of Jack O’Neill to be replaced by younger and inexperienced Cameron Mitchell. After eight seasons with O’Neill at the helm, it was hard not to feel like Mitchell was a cheap substitution. He dropped onto the scene suddenly and conveniently, bringing with him a few more new characters that just didn’t quite mesh with the eight previous seasons of development. General Landry was a far departure in leadership style and personality from the straight-laced General Hammond. And then there was Vala Mal Doran who was just… a fish out of water to put it most politely. Mitchell was not a bad character, just thrust forward as the lead a little too quickly. Despite character replacements being a little disappointing, the story continued, introducing an arc that might have lasted multiple seasons with the new threat of the Ori. Most of seasons nine and ten drew on basic Arthurian legend, adding the sci-fi twist and incorporating the Ori into the mix. And a timely reappearance of old nemesis Ba’al, just in time to keep things interesting. And then, just as I thought to myself that this Ori arc with the insatiably evil Adria could set up the show for a few more seasons, it ended. 

     After ten seasons of tension, rising action, falling action, new enemies, old enemies, secret enemies, gains and losses, and a just a little drama within, it is hard to envision what an appropriate ending would be. Truthfully I appreciated that the universe was not saved once and for all, leaving all the SG-1 members to go on and lead a quiet life hereafter. Nor was everyone conveniently bumped off in some horribly dramatic fashion. Unending took a different, more contemplative approach to finish off the series by allowing the remaining SG-1 characters to live out their lives in a time dilation bubble, trapped in what some would consider a fate worse than death. Warriors were now caged, helpless, and unable to even die in battle. Stuck with nothing but decades of time, age and hopelessness set in as day after day of analyzing proved fruitless. Of course they get out and get to be young again and continue their missions with only one of them retaining any memory of the events. The series ends with a “business as usual” tone, and SG-1 steps through the gate for yet another adventure just before the credits roll one last time.

     When Unending ended, SG-1 was over, and ten seasons worth of time were now complete. The stories were told, the battles were fought, and the book was closed. Yet thanks to the wisdom of the writers, although it was clearly the end of an era, I did not feel that it was truly the end. There were still undefeated enemies out there, and more planets in need of emancipation. The team would continue saving the universe one planet at a time, even if their escapades would no longer be available on DVD. No sooner had the Stargate activated one last time and hosted the heroes through the event horizon, I wanted to start over again. Now with the knowledge of how one thing affects the next episode to episode, I wanted to go back. Stargate SG-1 had many high points, a few low points, some fantastic comedic points, and some stirring dramatic points. Stargate SG-1 is a truly fine specimen that does justice to science fiction in all the best ways. A great show indeed.

~Special thanks to "Ecarganna" for sparking my interest so long ago during our long, nerdy sci-fi talks, "Freckles" and "Spud" for getting it started, and "Potter", "Jonface", and "Imspecial" for many, many nights of sharing the experience, as well as the friends who occasionally popped in~