Monthly Archives: August 2012


The Dark Knight Rises posterSynopsis

The third of the Christopher Nolan Batman films.  Batman (Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne) is wrongly accused of killing.  He has retired.  Gotham is under threat from a villain called Bane, who wears a face guard.  He takes over Gotham and turns it into a failed state of mob rule.  Batman must take on Bane but is imprisoned and he must escape.  He and Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) fight Bane and his gang…


I’m not a fan of the comic book (sorry, graphic novel) genre and I’m still surprised that anyone can take seriously a guy who wears a mouse mask, pants, and tights in rubber.  I remember the Adam West Batman of the 60’s and it was a camp send up.  Still, we do take it all seriously and it does have origins in Gothic style.  The advantage that Batman has over the other superheroes is that because he’s human then the challenge is all the greater.  His indestructible motorbike is like a fold up black quad bike, and his air craft is a super hi-tech black cranefly.  These are accessories to the Bruce Wayne character.  Christian Bale plays Batman as an initially unsympathetic Howard Hughes recluse who goes through a re-learning experience to become a hero again.  Batman’s enemy is Bane whose story goes back to the prison Batman must escape from.  Bane is played by Tom Hardy wearing a sort of bondage cum rugby mask and he sounds like he’s talking through a bucket.  One critic has mentioned that there is no substitute for Heath Ledger’s Joker, but to be fair to Hardy’s Bane, the Joker had a slighter physical build whereas Bane is all menace from physical power.  Bane turns Gotham City into an anti-capitalist stronghold run by gang lords.  Cillian Murphy presides over the kangaroo court which enacts our fantasies about retribution for the unaccountable over-mighty lords of the world.  The forces of law and order are aided by Detective Blake (Joseph Gordon Levitt) who looks like he might be the next Robin.  Marion Cotillard and Morgan Freeman play the technicians with their fingers on bomb buttons.  One of the main characters, like Bane, is involved in the League of Shadows (the oriental martial arts cult in which Batman plays a part).  Anne Hathaway is Catwoman, a girl next door turned into a fashion statement in black. Michael Caine plays his butler Alfred like a wounded surrogate father.   Caine seems genuinely upset, maybe from watching some of his past film roles.

The script is good enough to leave you waiting for the next line, and it’s a tribute to its effectiveness that the absurdity of the Batman regalia doesn’t undermine it.  Gotham under Bane’s rule is any graphic novel dystopia of gloom, like Gustave Dore drawings in hi-tech.  Undoubtedly the best of the Batman films.

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Posted by on August 9, 2012 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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Viva Zapata!

Viva Zapata posterSynopsis

An Elia Kazan 1952 film scripted by John Steinbeck and made in black and white.  It’s about the Mexican revolutionary Zapata and his battle for peasant land rights against Porfirio Diaz and later dictators.  He triumphs in 1914 and achieves supremacy with Pancho Villa when they meet in Mexico City, but he is no politician and goes back to a more congenial life of fighting for rights.  He is betrayed by his former supporters.


Marlon Brando at this time was the charismatic star of On the Waterfront and here he also plays a hero, Zapata, fighting repression.  This was made during the McCarthy witchhunt  era in America when supposed communists in the film industry were ostracized by Senator McCarthy.  If you played a revolutionary fighting for the rights of peasants and working class people it was presumably not considered a smart career move.  I don’t know how much of this film is historically accurate but it has the familiar narrative of the Robin Hood type hero.  Brando smoulders under greasepaint with eyes orientalized (that wouldn’t happen now).  He shows the character with his limitations up against a manipulative intellectual who acts like he’s been through Lee Strasberg’s school of method acting.  Anthony Quinn plays himself, all manic machine gun mannerisms, the macho child man.

Curiously, for all Brando’s charisma, I don’t really sympathize with his plight as a betrayed hero.  It looks too much like the sort of self-betrayal which could only accuse from simple self-glorifying righteousness.  Brando makes Zapata look self-dramatizing, knowingly going to his death.  It’s like as if Brando is hampered by ambivalence, he cannot make him a martyr yet he admires the man’s heroism.  From a writer of Steinbeck’s quality you expect good poetry and rhetoric in the script.  The actions of the other characters are obvious, but Brando’s Zapata is presented as an enigma, not a straight forwardly simple hero.  Steinbeck says that a self confident people do not need a man on a white horse, and throughout the film he stays with this belief.  I think Brando’s Zapata is illiterate but clever, strong but with a self esteem too extrinsically dependent, heroic but succumbs to self sacrifice.  The reluctant hero is a familiar Hollywood story, it enables you to admire the heroism but not necessarily the cause.  Given its remit, one should not expect a detailed painting but even the rough sketches we get make for an outstanding film.

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Posted by on August 6, 2012 in Classics, Film Reviews


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