I may just have spent my day today watching the best film of the year, swiftly followed by the very, very worst film of the year.
The Dark Knight is so unbelievably brilliant and above my sky-scraper-high expectations that after watching it yesterday morning, I headed straight back in for the first showing today and it only managed to get even better over night.
Mama Mia on the other hand is so incomparably bad as to warrant a new classification below second-rate, third-rate and any other -rate you can think of. To call it sub-par is an insult to average films around the world.
It’s not just the tacky scenery which looks like it may have been lifted straight from the stage show, complete with appallingly bad “summer” lighting, interrupted by the occasional use of a Greek island to try to sell the artifice. It’s not even the fact that the majority of the cast can’t actually carry a tune, or that the story is so ham-fisted and spends most of its time bending double to try to line itself up with a vague reference to ABBA lyrics which can kick off a song. Beyond all of that it’s just plain bad. Bad shooting, bad lighting, bad singing, bad choreography, bad film.
It’s hugely disappointing to see actors of the calibre who have signed to this film being forced through the most tortuous of musical hammery. It may work wonderfully on stage, but if the recent film musical boom has taught us anything about the way to make them work in the cinema, it’s that theatricality doesn’t work. You can make it slightly surreal and artificial (see Chicago) if that’s the way you want to go, but you can marry realism in one part of the scene to over-the-top hammery while singing. Emoting every lyric with a pained expressions on your face and your hand clenched into a fist as if you’re grabbing an imaginary floating cow’s udder just doesn’t do it for the filmic adaptations. And it’s 100% the director’s fault for letting those moments creep in. If you don’t have the strength to tell Meryl Streep she looks like a muppet you shouldn’t have cast her in your movie.
The Dark Knight (aka Batman 2, or 6 depending on your view) on the other hand is a classic example of masterpiece filmmaking. It’s also the first time in as long as I can remember (with the *possible* exception of Iron Man) that a film has actually repaid my rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth excitement and optimism. Ever since the War of the World’s debacle of 2005 I have struggled – and mostly failed – to keep my excitement for the summer event movies in check.
I’ve been fairly successful from time to time, but at the end of the day I’m a movie geek and even if I don’t know the source material of the comic adaptations inside out, I still can’t help but join the gathering momentum of the summer storm of blockbusters.
Christopher Nolan has been one of my favourite directors since I first saw Memento and looked up his debut, Following, a super-low budget thriller which plays with timelines in much the same way as Memento, the film that got him noticed in Hollywood.
Too often as a film fan you spot an up-and-coming director you want to keep your eye on and they head off either to disappear into the ether and never re-emerge or end up churning out studio tosh that they take for the paycheque.
Nolan, though, is an exception. After proving his metal with Hollywood’s finest in Insomnia he took on the resurrection of one of the cinema’s most succesful but most derided franchises and turned it around in a way no one expected. Not only was Batman Begins a great Batman film, it was a great comic book film, but not only that, it was just straight up a great film. Not many adaptations achieve that.
The Dark Knight, Nolan’s first sequel, is a triumph in every sense. It is bigger, bolder, darker, scarier, mmore emotional and more horrific than the first. And it’s better. Much better. I didn’t think it would be possible for Nolan to top the enjoyment I felt absorbing Begins three years ago, but he has. From start to finish, despite coming in at 2-and-a-half hours, the film is not only gripping but rawly emotional and darkly funny in places.
Heath Ledger has been gaining plaudits right, left and centre for his out-of-the-box, out-of-this-world
performance as the Joker and rightly so. This is what people call a “career defining” performance, sadly not for the reasons it should be. But for an actor of Ledger’s stature to disappear so completely into a role of this kind is uncanny.
The same could be said for many of the supporting cast, who are seemingly queuing up to work with one of Hollywood’s hottest directors of the moment. Most of the original cast return, along with a handful of new faces played by familiar faces, all of them on the top of their game throughout.
I cannot stress enough how good this movie is or that you should go and catch it at your earliest opportunity. It is, quite simply, awesome.
And in the words of the world’s deadliest Panda, “There is no charge for awesomeness.”
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