Well, I'm back. After a long summer holiday, my annual trek back the the States to spend time with family, friends, eat too much delicious but fatty food and acquire more tasty DVDs and Blu-Rays to review, it's time to get back to our regular scheduled programming here at The Stalking Moon.
Though the usual remit of this blog is to discuss older films and television shows, I also try my best to keep an eye on the current movie and TV climate. During my vacation I caught up with quite a few interesting flicks of the appropriate popcorn variety, some of them first run in theaters. Here are a few thoughts on some of them.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Expectations were high for the final film in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, and he doesn't disappoint. The Dark Knight Rises is an epic, brooding masterpiece of summer blockbuster moviemaking. While there have been many have complaints about the film's central villain, Bane – that he's not a famous enough enemy in the Batman comics' universe, that his vocoded voice is hard to understand, that he's not as gloriously demented as Heath Ledger's Joker – I found him an mesmerizing presence, an intimidating hulk with a sophisticated mind and a fiendish plan, richly performed by Tom Hardy. The film is impeccably cast all round, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt (instantly likeable as a crusading young cop), Marion Cotillard, and a virtually unrecognizable Tom Conti worthy additions to the roster of talent carried over from previous entries (including Micharl Caine, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman). Most surprisingly, Nolan manages to make the perennially bland Anne Hathaway interesting and even sexy as Selina Kyle, a.k.a. Catwoman. She's actually pretty great in the part, shockingly - one of the best things about the film. (I know, I know, I can't believe I've written those words either, but it's true.)
The Dark Knight Rises also features Christian Bale his best showing yet as the tortured Bruce Wayne. The film is a deft balance of action spectacle and intimate character drama. When Bruce Wayne finally dons the Bat suit one more time and roars down Gotham City's mean streets atop his Bat-cycle, adorned in an exquisitely redesigned cowl, black cape flying, Hans Zimmer's thrilling score pounding away, my heart soared. And for all its darkness and long passages of despair, this is also far and away the funniest film of the trilogy, with many witty lines. Even Bale gets a few choice bon mots this time out. A really wonderful piece of popcorn entertainment, a blockbuster with a brain. If you haven't already, see it on the biggest screen possible.
The Expendables 2 (2012)
Now here's a blockbuster without a brain in its head, but my, what fun. This is like a big old greasy burger next to The Dark Knight Rises filet mignon, but I happen to be partial to a greasy burger from time to time. The Expendables 2 improves in some ways upon its predecessor, while lacking a few of the first film's best features (more seriousness of purpose, Mickey Rourke, a standout evil henchman in Steve Austin). If the best components of both could be combined, we might end up with an action film for the ages. As it stands, both films are good, if slight, fun. There's some suitably humorous banter between Stallone and Statham, and a few good lines are doled out to the remaining mercenary crew (Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Liam Hemsworth and Randy Coutoure, plus an all-too-briefly-seen Jet Li).
The film opens with a huge action setpiece that the rest of the film can't quite sustain or surpass, with just enough story in place to put the simple and clean revenge plot in motion. Yu Nan doesn't make much of an impression as the distaff new addition to the Expendables' ranks, but Jean Claude Van Damme has the time of his life as the metaphorically moustache twirling villain of the piece. Less successful are beefed-up roles for Bruce Willis, Arnold Scharzenegger and a cameo by Chuck Norris (still in the running for a "Worst Actor in Movie History" Award). The brief scene with Willis, Stallone and Arnie was a comic highpoint in the first film, but here their shenanigans prove too much of a good thing, with too many on-the-nose, self-referential jokes and swapping of the stars' famous catchphrases. The film is quite engaging up until the point Norris (sporting an egregiously bad black dye job on his beard) enters, then it all goes a bit off the rails.
Sitting through it a second time (on an enjoyable outing with my father), I came away with a better appreciation of the film overall. It's best taken for the lark it's so clearly is designed to be. The array of aging action stars sharing the screen is impressive enough, and they're all still in phenomenal physical shape, if not any great shakes in the thesping department (Stallone and Staham and the dependable Willis fare best in this regard, whereas Schwarzenegger's limited chops have regressed after his years away toiling in the political arena.) The script, despite some funny moments, still needs another pass to make it sharper. Maybe they'll get the mix perfectly right for The Expendables 3, if there is one. Nonetheless, as a fan of 80s action flicks, I found it all hugely enjoyable, if taken in the right frame of mind.
The Muppets (2011)
Another film that benefits from nostalgia, this time for the fondly remembered 1970s ITC-produced The Muppet Show. This new film is a loving tribute to the innocence and can-do attitude of Jim Henson's Muppets. There are some catchy songs (good luck getting “Man or Muppet” out of your head for days after watching this), some decent in-jokes and an overall pleasant air about this film, but it's all pretty silly in the end. The radiant Amy Adams gets a few moments to shine, but is mostly shunted aside as the main plot kicks in. Co-writer and major Muppet fan Jason Segel is fine as well, but the only human star that stands out against the Muppet pack is Chris Cooper as bad guy Tex Richman (his brief expositional rap is a highlight). With Henson dead and Frank Oz (rather churlishly) refusing to take part, many of the main characters are voiced by other impresisonists, but they all sound more or less like the genuine article. Oz needn't have worried; this is as true to the spirit of the original Muppets as is possible, and the cheerful, breezy tone feels just right. Whether the movie works for a younger audience with no real idea of who the Muppets are is debatable, but for those of us who grew up with these characters, it's an agreeable update that goes out of its way to not ruin the groovy vibes of childhood nostalgia.
Another of director Stephen Soderbergh's throwbacks to 70s filmmaking, this is an enjoyable, nuts-and-bolts spy thriller with some well-framed and excellently shot fight sequences (so nice to have the camera pulled back far enough to properly see the action for a change!), dressed up with enough arty flourishes to add some class to what is essentially a high-brow version of one of those old Cynthia Rothrock action pics. Newcomer Gina Carano holds her own with veteran co-stars Mchael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton and Channing Tatum. Instead of the usual skinny, stick figure starlet ludicrously dispatching baddies two or three times her size, Carano is 150 pounds of curvy muscle and a real-life fighter, and therefore is far more convincing in the several brutal fight scenes. She takes her fair share of blows, too, a nice nod to realism. The movie comes off a little dour and low-key, but ultimately proves a satisfying experience. The final shot, wherein Bandaras receives a surprise visit, is terrific.
Come Next Spring (1956)
I watched my fair share of older films this break as well, including this heartwarming tale of redemption, starring Steve Cochran as a former alcoholic who returns to the small country town and the farm belonging to the wife (Ann Sheridan) and children he abandoned 8 years previously, in an attempt to earn his way back into their lives. He also has to win over the dubious townsfolk, wary of his hellraising reputation, including Edgar Buchanan, Sonny Tufts and James Best, with only ornery sharecropper Walter Brennan in his corner. It's a simple yet quietly emotional story, well acted and well told. This film was a rare treat from my youth, until recently very hard to see, and deserves to be better known. I watched this projected big on the wall of my good buddy Clayton's place. It was my first viewing of it in almost 30 years, and it holds up very well. At differing times in our past, both Clayton and I had caught this film on KSTW Channel 11's one o'clock movie when home sick from school. Now available for instant streaming with Netflix, and comes highly recommended.
Some other noteworthy films watched during the month of August included: Seth McFarlane's tasteless yet undeniably funny Ted, the suspenseful and exciting Korean period chase film The War of the Arrows, Mel Gibson's triumphant return to the exploitation picture in the lively Get the Gringo, the amazing martial arts, cops and killers action extravaganza from Malaysia, The Raid: Redemption (its incredibly tense, expertly staged and exceedingly brutal fight scenes exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure), Joss Whedon's The Avengers (need to see this on a proper big screen before I can fully evaluate it), the goofy botch of a great premise that was Pathfinder (young Viking rescued and raised by Native Americans who defends his tribe from marauding Viking invaders), plus some interesting older films (Rhubarb, Westward the Women) I plan to write about in more detail soon.
All in all, it was a fun and much-needed summer holiday, and I appreciate the indulgence and patience of my few loyal readers in allowing me to abandon this blog during the past few months. As the estimable Dan Stumpf so eloquently put it, it's time to get back to work already. And I plan to.
Stay tuned, more to come.
Opinionated ramblings about new and old movies (mostly old, as that's the way I like 'em!)
Blogs of Note
Stuart Galbraith IV's World Cinema Paradise
Movie Morlocks (TCM's Classic Movie Blog)
50 Westerns from the 50s
Riding the High Country
Tipping My Fedora
Thrilling Days of Yesteryear
Laura's Miscellaneous Musings
Classic TV and Film Cafe
Just a Cineast
She Blogged By Night
Chess, Comics, Crosswords, Books, Music, Cinema
Out of the Past -
A Classic Film Blog
Pretty Sinister Books
They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To
In So Many Words...
Greenbriar Picture Shows
My Love of Old Hollywood
Tales of the Easily Distracted
Another Old Movie Blog
Lasso the Movies
Kevin's Movie Corner
Films From Beyond the Time Barrier
Carole & Co.
Rupert Pupkin Speaks
Vienna's Classic Hollywood
The Lady Eve's Reel Life
ClassicBecky's Brain Food
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