Bob's Big Screen
Masters of filmmaking create must-watch movies
By Bob Connally
Why so serious? We've got Batman, the Joker, and the Coen Brothers. If that doesn't put a smile on that face, nothing will.
The Dark Knight
(Avail, 12/9, PG-13)
You saw it in IMAX and 35mm. Now it's coming to DVD and Blu-Ray. "And here. We. Go."
Picking up nearly a year after "Batman Begins," Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) and Alfred (Michael Caine) are living in a Gotham penthouse with Wayne Manor still under reconstruction. With the criminal underworld running scared, Batman's foes are hardly formidable. It was only a matter of time before Batman's theatrics inspired a new kind of criminal. Known only as the Joker (Heath Ledger), this is a man who robs, kills, destroys, and who will push Batman to his limits for no reason other than it's fun. It's going to take the help of Lieutenant Gordon (Gary Oldman) and District Attorney Harvey Dent (the outstanding Aaron Eckhart) to defeat this new threat.
"The Dark Knight" is epic not only on a visual level, but emotionally as well. The Joker makes Bruce Wayne face a darkness he is not prepared for, and forces him to take extreme and arguably unethical measures. Even upright D.A. Dent will be put to the test.
Like Gotham, "The Dark Knight" is shaken up by the Joker. Heath Ledger gives a performance that is instantly legendary, with or without the actor's untimely death, which adds an eerie quality to a few moments. He is truly terrifying and manages to be theatrical without chewing the scenery.
The acting is uniformly solid. Bale, Caine, and Oldman all deliver terrific understated performances, and Maggie Gyllenhaal is an upgrade from Katie Holmes.
Seven years after taking the indie world by storm with "Memento," Christopher Nolan gives us the best blockbuster movie in a very long time. The screenplay, co-written with his brother Jonathan, is a perfect balance of story, character, dialogue and action. Nolan's decision to shoot in IMAX was a bold move that ups the ante for all event films moving forward. What Nolan and cinematographer Wally Pfister create is spectacle with a purpose.
As it stands now this is still the best movie of 2008. 10/10.
Burn After Reading
(Avail. 12/21, R)
The Coen Brothers are responsible for more of my favorite movies than any other filmmaker. From "Blood Simple" to "No Country For Old Men," they have turned out ten great films, one pretty good one ("Intolerable Cruelty"), and only one bad one ("The Ladykillers"). "Burn After Reading," is film number thirteen from the brothers. Which category will this one fall into?
Osborn Cox (John Malkovich) has a drinking problem. At least that's what he's told by his CIA superiors. Indignantly, Cox leaves the agency. When his cold wife Katie (Tilda Swinton) asks what he's going to do now his answer is, "Maybe write my memoirs." Katie poses the reasonable question, "Who would want to read those?" The answer is Chad (Brad Pitt), a dunderhead personal trainer who stumbles upon the disc that contains all of Cox's "secret files."
In the interest of helping out his co-worker, Linda (Frances McDormand), who has no way of paying for her upcoming elective surgeries, Chad realizes he can give Cox the disc back in exchange for "the good Samaritan tax." Their boss Ted (Richard Jenkins) is "uncomfortable with this," but these positive thinkers are too simple to realize that what they're engaged in is blackmail. They really believe they're doing something nice that deserves a reward. Harry (George Clooney), meanwhile, is a paranoid former G-man who's cheating on his wife with Katie and Linda simultaneously.
As Chad explains to Cox ever so stealthily, "Appearances can be...deceptive." The same is true of "Burn's" plot. In the hands of most filmmakers this would have been a fairly simple story with a few contrived twists and turns thrown in to make it seem more involved. As done by the Coens, it's actually an extremely involved plot with several pieces, and we're never quite sure how they fit or where this is all going. For me at least, it's actually too involved. Not because it didn't make sense but because it slows down the fun.
"Burn" takes its time getting off the ground. The first twenty minutes or so are rather slow and not nearly as funny as they ought to be. Once Pitt shows up it begins to kick into gear. He's never really done anything like this and he's absolutely hilarious.
Malkovich does a fine job but he seems to take a back seat as the film goes on and his character seems more interesting than the Coens really allow him to be. Swinton and Clooney are fine but not terribly interesting. McDormand does a terrific job as Linda. This character is a far cry from "Fargo's" Marge Gunderson, but as in that film she provides a sunny outlook that serves as a great contrast to the rest of the proceedings.
I also have to make special mention of David Rasche (TV classic "Sledge Hammer") and J.K. Simmons as Cox's former CIA superiors who are trying (and failing) to make sense of this whole mess. Their two scenes together are comic gold and they're the most well-written pieces of the entire film.
In the end, "Burn After Reading" is a pretty good movie. The slow start and some rickety moments here and there hold it back from being the kind of movie the Coens usually make. So in short, Coen fanatics such as myself will be a bit disappointed but will definitely be glad they saw it. It's no "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" but you'll have a good time. 7/10.
Other new DVD releases
Lost: Season 4
Horton Hears a Who (G)
The Wire: The Complete Series
Man on a Wire (PG-13)
Deadwood: The Complete Series
Mamma Mia! (PG-13)
The Mummy: The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (PG-13)