Movie Madness

My movie reviews and rants at your fingertips.

Monthly Archives: July 2012

Hollywood vs. Independent Cinema

The past few years has seen a dramatic disparity among movie releases. Hollywood seems to only distribute three style of films: the great but often films, the come quickly and collect a small profit mediocre fare, and the Hail Mary dud that needed to shut down in preproduction. The last few years has brought us movie pirating of a better quality and frequency than the old days of handheld VHS cameras. We’ve also seen Video-On-Demand become an emerging market while the economy constantly encouraged us to save our money. It use to be that a memorable movie would open every few weeks, keeping the multiplexes rich with worthwhile fare. But that’s no longer the case.

The economy and recent recession affected Hollywood as much as it affected us. Money conscious studios are releasing fewer films, but reallocate the funds to make these films more expensive to produce. I don’t understand. I look at my top ten films of all time and the combined budgets would easily be dwarfed by blockbuster misfire Battleship. It makes sense to focus on fewer film projects in hard times, but the films chosen aren’t resonating. The second type of film, the forgettable mediocre films, is taking over the cinemas. Followed by an uptick in awful mistakes like last year’s The Rum Diary or Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star. New masterpieces are becoming harder to find. And when the critics and film buffs find them, general audiences ignore them (Warrior).

As Hollywood and its studios continue to pump out sequels and reboots that reek of money-grubbing, the room for exciting and original films gets narrower. Sure, there are some directors out there who pump out fresh material every few years, but for every Christopher Nolan or Quentin Tarantino, there are many Adam Sandler films and horror films that insult their audiences.

Independent cinema avoids all these traps. If a film isn’t good, it quickly gets ignored at the film festivals or disappears from the theaters before it can do any harm. Independent cinema isn’t built on commerce as much as it is Darwinism. The better the film; the wider the release. This pattern allows brilliant fare like Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom continue to find new audiences as it’s release slowly widens.

Maybe it’s the three years I spent working for an art house theater, but I value their showings more than the lackluster offerings of Hollywood. This isn’t to say I don’t find a lot of fun films in the multiplexes. I realize Step Up 2: The Streets isn’t Oscar-bound. I still like it. It’s a mindless, popcorn film I can watch and just enjoy for what it is. But when I want stimulation, I head to places like Fleur Cinema and Café in Des Moines.

Since high school, I’ve found myself drawn again and again to this independent theater that specializes in art house cinema and independent filmmaking. The first movie I ever saw there, One Hour Photo, is one of my favorites. Instead of a simple blockbuster, though from time to time they get them, the choices are much more rich. Working there gave me a deeper understanding of modern-day movie-going.

Looking at my list of the best of 2012 so far, independent cinema dominates it. With the exception of The Avengers and Ted, it’s all films you would see at an art house theater. This isn’t by mistake. Indie films connect with the core human element of these stories. The films resonate because most of the frill of Hollywood films is gone. CGI is often too expensive; actors are commonly in close proximity for the entirety of filming, which creates a deeper chemistry.

As the future of cinema develops with 3D, 4D, and other technologies, it becomes clear that gimmicks are given more weight than quality of the films. Avatar may have been a thin script, but the experience of seeing it in 3D on the big screen made it the highest grossing movie of all time. Studios tack on the 3D for a (hopefully) larger profit piece, but this problem doesn’t fix the film. If the film sucks, it doesn’t matter what gimmick you throw at it. American audiences made be picky, but anyone who cares about the medium will say that story is essential to a good movie.

As the second half of the year closes the summer and prepares for the Oscar season in November, we’ll see a great deal of bland cinema. But with luck, independent cinema will continue to release gems that rise above the junk. If not, here’s to Adam Sandler’s Oscar speech.


The Dark Knight Rises: the Conclusion of the Batman Trilogy

The second the credits rolled in The Dark Knight back in 2008, audiences were at a fever pitch for what Christopher Nolan would do next. Rumors of the Riddler and the Penguin covered blogs all over the cyberspace. After a brief break from Gotham City with the brilliant Inception, Nolan returned to bring his Batman universe to a close with The Dark Knight Rises.

The world of Nolan’s Batman is more just a simple summary. Starting all the way back with Batman Begins in 2005, Nolan and Christian Bale ushered in a new style of comic book movie. Gone were the over-the-top costumes and villains. In their place, the universe became gritty and realistic. For the first time, Batman was rooted in a reality that behaved a lot like ours. He wasn’t a superhero; Batman was a tragic vigilante who found motivation in revenge and anger more than justice. This warped morality allowed Bale to shape Bruce Wayne and his alter ego into the most complicated character he had done since Patrick Bateman in American Psycho.

All the elements of what is set-up in the first two Nolan Batman films find themselves in The Dark Knight Rises. The events and choices of Bruce Wayne, Jim Gordon, and the other recurring characters have real consequences in the latest and last Christopher Nolan Batman film. Taking place eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne has become a recluse and Batman is marked a monster. But the void Wayne’s appearances have made Gotham ripe for a takeover. The Harvey Dent Act allows police to take most organized crime off the streets, but the city reeks of a calm before the storm. And a storm is definitely coming in the way of Bane (an unrecognizable Tom Hardy), a man that is more capable of destroying Batman than any villain he has ever encountered.

After seeing the film the first time, I was left a bit in the dark. My unreal expectations made it difficult to filter the dense story of The Dark Knight Rises. Upon a second viewing, I began to fully appreciate the film for everything it represents. It’s the conclusion of a trilogy, the event movie of the summer, and once again a Batman film must overcome an unfortunate and unforeseen tragedy.

As the second bookend of the Batman universe Nolan has created, it can be forgiven when the film wanders a little. The trick is to not compare the film to its predecessor. This is a standalone film that satisfies the same audiences that crave a modern epic. The last time a long film length appeared for a comic book movie (more than two and one-half hours) was 2009’s Watchmen. Both films are ones that can’t be fully appreciated in one viewing. The Dark Knight Rises is a large-scale film that brings Bruce Wayne’s story full-circle. His struggles in this film are easily his most difficult to overcome, keeping the film centered. We see Batman pushed to his limits, and it appears beyond them, as Gotham suffers under Bane.

Some of the external elements of the film have eclipsed the film’s premiere. One midnight show was interrupted by a disturbed man who opened fire on the audience, killing and injuring around 60 people. But Warner Brothers has gone to great lengths to show their shared pain for such an event. Earlier this week, Christian Bale even visited some of the victims, trying to bring comfort to those families marred by such a tragedy.

The bizarre and disturbing events of that midnight show in Aurora, Colorado has made the film trilogy an even more interesting story. Here was a man who sought chaos in a manner similar to the Joker in The Dark Knight. Seeing the film after learning about this made the film a surreal experience. Knowing that the comforting dark of a movie theater was no longer safe put me on edge. My heart goes out to the families in Aurora. They don’t deserve the pain they are experiencing right now.

Like 2008, the speculation as to what to do next is growing. Nolan and Bale have made it clear they aren’t coming back. Some critics and bloggers like myself are picking the film apart or defending it from those who were disappointed by it. At the end of the day, the aim of art is to get a conversation going. If you remember, there were a lot of complaints about Bale’s Batman voice in The Dark Knight. Seeing as most entertainment sites can’t stop talking about the latest Bat-tale (or misspelling the title- it’s not Night), Nolan and Warner Bros. should be pleased with the final product. It’s an epic film in a market where epic doesn’t really sell. I’m glad Nolan stuck with the film’s length of 164 minutes. If it were any other film, it would likely be spliced into an inferior into something much shorter.

Once again, Marvel has made a light-hearted blockbuster and DC follows a few months later with a gritty, almost drama of a superhero movie (see 2008 when Iron Man debuted and The Dark Knight followed months later). Here’s to hoping that future comic book films will borrow heavily from the great template Nolan has made.  3.5 out of 5 stars.