Les Misérables

Title:  Les Misérables
Director:  Tom Hooper
Date:  2012
Studio:  Universal
Genre:  Musical, Drama
Cast:  Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Aaron Tveit, Samantha Barks, Colm Wilkinson, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen
Format:  Color, Widescreen
DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“But remember this my brother, see in this some higher plan, you must use this precious silver, to become an honest man.” — The Bishop

“But the tigers come at night, with their voices soft as thunder, as they tear your hope apart, as they turn your dream to shame. …  There are dreams that cannot be, there are storms we cannot weather.  I had a dream my life would be, so different from this hell I’m living.  So different from what it seemed, now life has killed the dream I dreamed.”  — Fantine

“You know nothing of Javier, I was born inside a jail.  I was born with scum like you, I am from the gutter, too!”  — Javier

“…how your world might be changed in one burst of light, and what was right seems wrong and what was wrong seems right.”  — Marius

“But now there’s a higher cause.  Who cares about your lonely soul?  We strive towards a larger goal, our little lives don’t count at all.” — Enjolras

Les Misérables is a sung musical, meaning that nearly every line in the film is sung, rather than the majority of the film being spoken and acted, only to break for the musical numbers. However, because everyone is always singing everything in the film, the singing quickly becomes part of the reality of the film, and the audience becomes used to it and accepts it. Also, the characters are often singing their hearts out, and many of the best songs in the film are actually soliloquies.

The film is based on the long-running stage musical (which ran in both New York on Broadway, and in London on the West End), which is turn is based on a novel by Victor Hugo.  The story though is about redemption, about mercy, about love for one’s child, and about how tiny kindnesses or tiny slights can have vast effects on a person’s life.

The film opens with Jean Valjean and a group of convicts in the rain pulling ropes to right a capsized ship.  Inspector Javert looks on, then orders Jean Valjean to bring him the French flag.  Valjean does this by lifting the entire broken ship’s mast — a very heavy, long, wooden mast.  Javert then gives “Prisoner 24601” his yellow ticket of leave.  Jean Valjean is at first excited that he has finally gained his freedom after nineteen years a slave to the law – his crime breaking into a house to steal bread to feed his sister’s starving child.  However, he is only placed on parole – ordered from place to place by the French police and military.  Jean Valjean soon discovers no one will offer work to a convict, and he can’t even find food or a place to sleep.

Still desperately trying to live, Jean Valjean, drops into a local church, where the bishop (Colm Wilinson, originator of the role of Jean Valjean on Broadway), offers him food and a place to sleep for the night.  Yet, in the middle of the night, he awakes and steals the bishop’s silver. He’s immediately caught and brought in front of the bishop.  The bishop shocks Jean Valjean by lying for him, confirming his story to the police that he “gave” his silver to him.  The bishop then also gives him his silver candlesticks, and dismisses the police.  But for his mercy, the bishop demands that Valjean must become a better man.

Valjean goes into the church to contemplate his fate and his future.  He ends by tearing up his yellow papers which brand him a convict.

Eight years later, in Montreul, Valjean, now using the name M. LeMer, owns a factory employing hundreds, and is mayor of the town.  In his factory, Fantine is one of the female workers.  She continues to refuse the advances of the foreman.  When she receives a letter, a rival female worker steals it and reads it aloud.  Upon learning Fantine has a child, she attacks her.  The two fight and Fantine shouts back that the woman has a husband and “something on the side”.  Enraged, the woman attacks again.  Valjean arrives and is about to deal with the problem – then he sees Javert and goes to his office instead, leaving his foreman to settle matters, though he admonishes him to show mercy.  The foreman sacks Fantine, and kicks her out in the cold.

Meanwhile, Valjean meets with Javert who introduces himself, remarks that he’s been noticed as an excellent mayor, and gives him papers introducing himself and his transfer as officer of the law for the town.  Valjean is a bit nervous, but accepts him.  There’s a shout from the street and Valjean runs outside.  A man is trapped under a collapsed cart.  Though the cart is quite heavy, Valjean lifts it to free the man and save his life.  Javert looks on, suspiciously.

Meanwhile, Fantine struggles to support herself.  She sells her jewelry, her hair, her teeth, and finally gives in and sells herself.  Fantine’s soliloquy, “I Dreamed a Dream”, tells her story and contrasts the golden summer of her youth with the hell she’s now living.  Hathaway’s performance is strong and makes the audience feel sympathetic to her, rather than feel sorry for her.  And the performance won her several “Best Supporting Actress” awards.  Later, when Fantine is wearing the sleeveless red dress of a prostitute, she’s attacked by a man.  When Javier arrives the man claims she attacked him.  But Valjean also arrives, and upon learning the woman once worked in his factory, he takes pity on her and takes her to a hospital.  He also learns she has a daughter, living with an innkeeper and his wife.

Later, Javert presents himself to Valjean, admonishing himself for making a false report, and telling Valjean that “Prisoner 24601” has been caught, so he apologises for thinking “M. LeMer” was Valjean.

This leaves Valjean in a moral dilemma.  He cannot allow another man to go to prison in his place, yet his workers depend on him.  In the end, Valjean decides he cannot allow an innocent man to be jailed in his place.  He goes to the court, and admits he is “Prisoner 24601”.  But then he leaves the court and goes to the hospital to see Fantine.  There, he finds Fantine dying. He promises to find and care for her child. She promises her to his care.  At the hospital, Javert arrives.  They confront each other.  Jean Valjean pleads for three days to find, take care of, and make arrangements for Cosette.  Javert pretty much says, “Are you kidding?” and draws his sword.  Valjean defends himself with a wooden beam and escapes by jumping into the water.

Jean Valjean travels to the inn, and pays the Thénerdiers’ fifteen hundred for their “sacrifice” of keeping Cosette.  Madame Thénerdier had been abusive of Cosette, treating her like a slave while spoiling her own daughter, Éponine.  M. Thénerdier had cared so little for her – he couldn’t get her name right.  Valjean and Cosette leave, taking a horse-drawn couch to Paris.  The flight to Paris features the one new song from the film that isn’t in the original musical, “Suddenly, You’re Here”.

Javier, having lost Valjean again, sings “Stars”, his own soliloquy.  He’s on a roof, and the song begins with a large, stone eagle behind him.  As he sings, he walks on the top of the stone balustrade, seemingly careless of the result if he fell.  He swears he will catch Valjean.  “Stars” is a beautiful song, and one of my favorites from both the film and the musical.

In 1832 Paris, Valjean and now teenaged Cosette, have made a life for themselves.  Times are hard, as the people are suffering.  Marius, Enjolras, and a group of students are disgusted with the state of affairs, and try to raise the people in rebellion.

One day, Marius sees Cosette on the street.  She and Valjean are handing out alms to the poor.  They also run into the Thénerdiers.  Meanwhile, Éponine lives in the same rooming house as Marius, and knows that his father is rich.  She’s also trapped in the gang of thieves led by her parents, the Thénerdiers.  Javier is also in Paris, and still obsessed with catching Jean Valjean.

When Marius arrives in the wine shop, his fellow students tease him about falling in love at first sight with a girl whom he doesn’t even know.  But his best friend, Enjolras, is actually angry.  As staged in the film, “Red and Black” actually becomes an argument between Marius (who’s just fallen in love and is beginning to re-think things) and Enjolras and the other students, who want to start a revolution.  When young Gavroche arrives to tell them the people’s hero, General LeMarque is dead, the students all agree – they will raise the barricades at his funeral.

Cosette gets her turn at a soliloquy, “In My Life”, as she realises she’s also fallen in love at first sight.  The song, “In My Life”, transitions from Cosette to Marius, to Éponine, to a duet of Cosette and Marius. That night she and Marius meet in her garden.

The Thénerdiers’ gang plans on robbing Valjean’s house, Éponine stops them by screaming to attract attention, but Valjean thinks Javert has discovered him, and tells Cosette they must leave and move on.  Cosette is angry and hurt, as she’s just fallen for Marius. Éponine, realising that Marius will never fall for her, sings her soliloquy, “On My Own”, in the rain.

Everyone then sings, “One Day More”, anticipating the coming battle in the morning.

At General LeMarque’s funeral, the people sing, “Do You Hear the People Sing?” and the barricades are raised.  The students rush to the barricades.  Javier sneaks around to discover what is going on, and wears a French tricolor boutonniere.  Javier lies to the students about the army’s plans.  Gavroche however, recognizes him, and tells everyone he’s “Inspector Javier”.  The students attack Javier who attacks back, and finally he’s at the students mercy as the soldiers advance.  Battle breaks out.

Éponine sacrifices herself to save Marius from being shot.  She gives Marius Cosette’s letter.  Marius gives Gavroche a letter, who gives it to Jean Valjean.  Valjean has to figure out what to do, and he decides to go to the barricade. Enjolras gives Javert to Valjean.  Javert taunts Valjean to kill him.  Valjean sets Javert free with no conditions, he evens offers his address.

As night falls, the students drink wine and sing the melancholy, “Drink with Me”.  Valjean also sings, “Bring Him Home”, praying for Marius’ safety, for Cosette’s sake, and sees him as his son.  In his prayer, Jean Valjean offers his own life to save Marius and bring him home to Cosette.

The next day, Marius and the students are the only barricade left.  The people never rose up, not liking the odds.  The rain has ruined their gunpowder.  Enjolras, knowing their situation to be hopeless, urges those who wish to, to leave.  Gavroche sings one line of “Do You Hear the People Sing?” and the students stay for a desperate last stand.  Gavroche then goes out to get ammunition from the dead bodies before the barricade.  He’s shot dead by an French army soldier.  One of the older students, presumably his father, is devastated.  The soldiers give them the opportunity to give up.  Enjolras encourages a last stand.

There’s a last minute battle.  One by one the students die.  The soldiers bring in cannons to blow-up the barricade.  The rest of the students are killed, Enjolras raises his banner, and is shot dead.

Javier sees the death, walking among the row of impossibly young people lying dead in a row on the street.  He pins his own medal on Gavroche, and is completely disgusted by the death and waste.

Jean Valjean carries a wounded Marius away through the sewers.

In the sewers, Thénerdier steals from the dead.

Javier and Valjean confront each other.  Valjean pleads for mercy for Marius, so he can get him to a doctor.  Javier lets Valjean go, then commits suicide by jumping off a dam.  Javier’s final soliloquy makes it clear that he can’t stand Valjean’s mercy, that Valjean had saved his life, or that his entire life dedicated to law and order has become such as sham, as so many young children were killed in the rebellion.

Marius is brought to a doctor.  Marius sings “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables”, a lament for his friends he’s lost, though the film does not use the “ghosts” behind him, used to great effect in the stage musical.  Cosette comes to Marius.  Marius offers Valjean a home with he and Cosette.  Valjean refuses, and explains who he really is.  Jean Valjean leaves and goes to a convent, seeking sanctuary.

Cosette and Marius marry.  The Thénerdiers  arrive to cause trouble, and to bribe Marius, but Marius realises instead that Valjean had saved his life at the barricade.  At the convent, Valjean is dying.  He hears Fantine’s voice, then she appears.  Cosette and Marius arrive and say their final farewells.  Fantine leads Jean Valjean to the light.  “Do You Hear the People Sing?” is reprised as Jean Valjean joins Fantine, Gavroche, Enjolras, and all the other dead characters on the barricade, singing in the sun.

I saw Les Misérables on opening night in 2012, in a packed theater, with people of all ages.  I think I started crying during “Red and Black” and I don’t think I really stopped until the end of the film.  Every time I started to not cry, the woman next to me started, and before long we were both sobbing again.  But I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house.  I cried when I saw it the second time in the theater.  When I bought the DVD, I watched the commentary track first — and still managed to cry while concentrating on Tom Hooper’s description of making the film. Even while taking notes in preparation for this review – I cried during, “Do You Hear the People Sing?”  The film is that moving and beautiful and stirring.  But it’s also a very moral film. By giving his silver to Jean Valjean, the Bishop shows him mercy that he had never seen and completely changes his life.  Later, Valjean must sacrifice everything to spare an innocent man mistaken for him, to rescue Fantine (who’s downfall was his own fault – he’d been too wrapped up in his own problems to notice hers) and most importantly to save Cosette.  Raising Fantine’s child, not only does he come to love her, but he rescues Marius and gives him to her because he loves her, and knows he must let her go.

Meanwhile, Javert, as played by Russell Crowe, is considerably more sympathetic than in the two stage productions of  Les Misérables, I’ve seen. Javert isn’t evil, but he’s overly concerned with fulfilling the letter of the law, without any care to extenuating circumstances.  Javert at the beginning of the film, doesn’t care that Valjean stole to feed his sister’s starving children.  He honestly believes it’s better to starve and die than  to resort to crime to live.  When Valjean shows him mercy, letting him go at the barricade, and covering it up with a gunshot directed away from the inspector, Javert cannot understand it, and begins to become unhinged.  When he catches Valjean and Marius, and Valjean pleads for mercy – Javert grants it, but decides he cannot live in Valjean’s world.  Javert is incapable of seeing the grey of the real world, and only sees black and white.  However, whereas such a character is often portrayed as “evil” or “hated” – Crowe gives him depth and makes him understandable and sympathetic.

This is a beautiful film.  It’s not to be missed.  I highly, highly recommend it.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Iron Man 3

The Dark Knight Rises

  • Title: (Batman) The Dark Knight Rises
  • Director: Christopher Nolan
  • Date: 2012
  • Studio: Warner Brothers
  • Genre: Drama, Action
  • Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Burn Gorman, Cillian Murphy, Marion Cotillard, Matthew Modine
  • Format: Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

“You hung-up your cape and cowl but you didn’t move on – you never went to find a life.  To find someone…”— Alfred Pennyworth
“Alfred, I did find someone.”— Bruce Wayne
“I know, and you lost them. But that’s all part of living, sir. But you’re not living, you’re just waiting, hoping for things to go bad again.”— Alfred

“I never wanted you to come back to Gotham. I always knew there was nothing here for you except pain and tragedy and I wanted something more for you than that. I still do.”— Alfred


“I take what I need from those who have more than enough. I don’t stand on the shoulders of those who have less.”— Selina Kyle

The Dark Knight Rises opens with a James Bond-like opening sequence, the CIA flies into some country to “rescue” Dr. Pavel, a nuclear physicist. But Bane, a mercenary, and his men take the doctor from the plane and kill everyone on board by causing the plane to crash. The film then quickly moves to Gotham City.

In Gotham City, the mayor, and Police Commissioner James Gordon are at a celebration / benefit / ceremony for “Harvey Dent Day”, Gotham’s solemn civic acknowledgement of the death of Harvey Dent. The mayor also mentions that the “Dent Act” has allowed Gotham’s police to arrest those involved in organized crime and keep them in jail without parole. Gordon looks at a speech he’s written out, but at the last minute he folds it up and doesn’t give the speech. We learn later that this speech was Gordon’s “confession” of the truth of what Harvey Dent did after he became Two-Face towards the end of The Dark Knight – as well as the truth of what Batman did and did not do. That is, that eight years ago, Batman took the fall for Dent’s actions, then disappeared.

Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne has become a recluse. He catches a maid stealing his mother’s pearls from his safe, and later realizes she lifted his fingerprints too. Bruce uses his computers in the Batcave to find out who the maid/catburglar is – she’s Selina Kyle.

A young man’s body is found in Gotham’s tunnels. One of the investigating officers from Gotham’s PD realizes it was someone he knows and goes to St. Swindon’s Boys home to tell the man’s younger brother the bad news. Later, Officer Blake goes to Bruce Wayne’s home. He lets Bruce know that he knows that Bruce was the Batman, and that he doesn’t believe “he did what they say he did” – but also casually mentions the boys’ home is no longer receiving aid from the Wayne Foundation. Bruce is puzzled by this and decides to clean himself up and head into Wayne Enterprises and Lucius Fox to find out what is going on. He discovers that Wayne Enterprises is on shaky financial footing, following Bruce’s mothballing of a fusion reactor clean energy project.

Catwoman sells Bruce’s prints… but she’s also prepared for the deal to go south, which it does. She has the bad guy she sells the prints to call her friend outside using the cell phone of a politician she kidnapped at Wayne’s party. When the police arrive, she screams, cries and “acts helpless” as a cover so the police ignore her as a victim and she escapes.

Gordon, meanwhile, is investigating in Gotham’s tunnels. He’s captured by Bane’s men and brought to Bane. Bane isn’t happy about this, kills two of his own men, and shoots Gordon – dumping all three in an underground river or conduit that leads to the sewers and eventually out to the river. But Bane takes Gordon’s speech about the truth of what Harvey Dent did and Batman’s innocence. Blake finds Gordon, washed onto a concrete shore.

Blake tells Bruce Wayne about Gordon getting shot, and Bane’s underground (literally) army. Blake knows that Bruce is Batman and asks him to help. He tells Bruce, “I don’t know why you took the fall for Dent’s murder but I’m still a believer in The Batman, even if you’re not.”

Bruce goes to Miranda Tate’s charity ball, where he runs into Selina Kyle. Miranda was one of his main investors for the fusion clean energy project. While they dance, Selina warns Bruce that a storm is coming.

When Bruce goes to Wayne Enterprises – Lucius Fox shows him “The Bat”, a stealth urban helicopter (similar in design to the Tumbler car, but for the air).

Bane and his gang attack the Gotham stock market. Batman arrives to chase the “robbers” of the stock exchange. However, all he really does is distract the police. One particularly enthusiastic cop decides he rather take down The Batman than catch any of Bane’s men from the stock exchange action. Batman fails to stop Bane’s computer program from uploading into the stock exchange, but does grab the Netbook they used. Batman escapes the police in The Bat.

Selina, in her Catwoman outfit, goes after Daggett, the man to whom she sold Bruce’s fingerprints. He’d promised her the “Clean Slate” program to wipe her name, details, and police record from every database in the world. But when she claims what’s hers – he tells her it doesn’t exist. Batman arrives. Batman and Catwoman fight Daggett’s troops, then escape in The Bat.

Batman lets Selina off, and returns home. He’s admonished by Alfred, who’s had enough. Alfred tells Bruce the truth – he burnt Rachel’s letter than explained she was going to marry Harvey Dent – to spare Bruce pain. In the ensuing argument – Alfred says he will leave.

The next morning, Bruce is woken up, not by Alfred, but by the front doorbell. And his faithful butler is no where in sight. Fox tells Bruce he’s broke and Wayne Enterprises will soon be in the hands of Daggett. The energy project is in danger, though “Applied Sciences” is off the books and all the weapons and tech hidden there are truly hidden.

Daggett meets with Bane – Bane tortures him and off screen, kills him.

Bruce sleeps with Miranda on the floor of his mansion, before the fireplace – since he has no power or heat in the old house.

Batman meets Catwoman, she takes him to Bane, but locks him in. Bane and Batman fight. They are in the wet tunnels, near the underground river/sewer. It’s a wet, dark, echo-y place for a fight.  Bane breaks into Wayne Enterprises’ Applied Sciences, blowing the floor. He then breaks Batman’s back and his Cowl – holding it up as a trophy, and making Bruce’s physical and psychological defeat complete.

Blake goes to Wayne Manor but finds it abandoned. However, he catches Selina Kyle at the airport.

Bruce, meanwhile, wakes in the Pit prison. Bane says it’s the worse prison, because with the chimney leading out… there’s hope, in the midst of despair, which for Bane makes the despair worse.

Selina is jailed in Blackgate. Bane takes Fox, Miranda, and a board member into the sewers and to the fusion reactor. When Blake tells Gordon – he asks one of his cops to start and all-out search of  the tunnels.  He promotes Blake to detective and asks him to investigate Daggett and his enterprises.

Bane gets Miranda to activate the fusion reactor. Bane also lures all the Gotham PD police into the Gotham tunnels.

Bane pulls the core from the reactor, creating a bomb, plus the core will decay and explode in five months.  Blake realizes Daggett’s cement pours were actually laced with explosives.

A boy soprano sings the American National Anthem at a Gotham Knights football stadium, just as he finishes, Bane walks in and blows the concrete, trapping all of the Gotham police force in the underground tunnels. Blake was just a moment too late to get the cops out. The football stadium also collapses as do streets and bridges all over Gotham – and all but one bridge off the island. Bane has Dr. Pavel explain about the bomb, then kills Pavel. The bomb is mobile and “an ordinary Gothamite” holds the trigger. Seeing the police trapped, Blake goes to the hospital for Gordon.

Anarchy soon reigns in Gotham City. Bane and his men let all the inmates out of Blackgate Prison.  His men “patrol” the streets in cameo tumbler cars stolen from Wayne Enterprises. Looting, robberies, beatings, and total chaos take over as Gotham City is left as a city without any government or police whatsoever. The few police not in the tunnels during the collapse are hunted and killed (again, off-screen). A very few start an underground resistance movement. Meanwhile, the US president makes an appeal than Gotham isn’t forgotten, but won’t risk the terrorists in the city exploding the nuke. Also, with all the bridges and tunnels in and out of the island blown, and Winter starting, soon food, especially fresh food, is hard to come by.

Selina is appalled by what has happened to her city.

In Bane’s prison, Bruce is heart-broken by what has happened to his city, but he also begins to re-build his back. In prison, Bruce learns of a child, the child of Ra’s al Ghul and his lover then wife was the only one to escape the prison. This child had a protector in the prison. Bruce remembers what he learned from Ra’s al Ghul, and his heart-break at the loss of his wife. With the help of another inmate, Bruce slowly rebuilds his strength.

Bruce ends up trying to climb out of his prison twice, and failing. The second time, he remembers his father rescuing him from his fall down the well on Wayne Manor property.

In Gotham, Gordon and Blake explain what’s going on to the special forces. Fox and Miranda explain the bomb is a time bomb and it will go off. Bane’s men attack and the special forces guy is killed by Bane.

For the third time, Bruce attempts to climb out of the well – he takes supplies, and doesn’t use the rope. As the inmates chant, “rise”, in a foreign language… he makes it. Bruce throws a climbing rope down to the other inmates as he leaves.

In Gotham, Selina beats up a couple of guys who are beating up a kid. Bruce returns to Gotham.  Bruce offers her the clean slate program for her help.

Gordon is arrested and tried in the Scarecrow’s court. He’s sentenced to death – by exile.

Catwoman rescues Bruce and Fox. Bruce takes Fox to The Bat to get an EMP Emitter to block the trigger of the bomb.

Gordon’s inching across the ice of the Gotham River when Batman returns and his sign burns on the bridge. Batman rescues Gordon and his men – then rescues Blake. Batman and Blake free the cops. Batman sends Blake to get people out of the city. Selina gets the Batcycle and a route out of  Gotham. There’s a melee between Bane’s men and the police.

Gordon searches for the truck (one of three) with the bomb. Blake rescues the boys from St. Swindon’s and does a quick house to house warning.

Batman defeats Bane, demands to know who the trigger is. Miranda is Talia, the child of Ra’s Al Ghul, Bane’s her “protector” from the prison, and she holds the trigger. She knifes Batman in the back. Gordon finds the bomb and tries to block the signal. However, the bomb is still a time bomb.  Catwoman rescues Batman. Cops from outside Gotham blow the last remaining bridge, despite Blake’s warnings.

Bruce in The Bat, and Catwoman on a Batcycle challenge Talia in a Tumbler. The heat seekers that chase The Bat hit the Tumbler instead. Fox discovers the reactor’s being flooded – they won’t be able to reattach the core to stop the meltdown. Talia dies. Batman will fly the bomb over Gotham harbor. When Gordan asks who he is — Bruce gives him a hint, and Gordon realizes he’s Bruce Wayne.

Batman literally flies into the sun, and the bomb explodes “harmlessly” over the Ocean.

Gordon quotes “A Tale of Two Cities” at Bruce’s grave. Fox, Alfred, and Blake are all there at the grave site. Alfred cries and blames himself. Blake quits the force. Gotham unveils a statue of The Batman. The Wayne Estate goes to Alfred, but the house is turned into a home for orphaned children. John Blake is “Robin John Blake” and he gets GPS co-ordinates to the Batcave which he explores. Fox discovers The Bat had an autopilot after all, despite Bruce saying it didn’t. Finally, in a small cafe, abroad, Alfred sees Bruce and Selina — and they see him. And Gordon has a new Bat Signal.

I loved this movie when I saw it in the theater — three times. What Nolan did particularly well was he managed to create a Super-Hero trilogy, that was a trilogy — with a definite beginning, middle, and end, rather than the normal run of sequels one gets for the genre. I loved how The Dark Knight Rises ties up the story, and I thought the flashbacks were particularly well realized.

Bane’s attack on Batman is much more deeply psychological – and personal (once you know who he is) than the physical attack in the graphic novel set (all three volumes of it, known collectively as Knightfall). In the graphic novel, Bane starts by letting all the villains out of Arkham — Batman has to fight them all, becoming exhausted. Alfred and Dick Greyson (Nightwing) warn him about exhaustion – but stubbornly Bruce doesn’t listen, and thus the steroid-enhanced Bane is able to physically beat him and break his back. Nolan’s film has Bane, step by step, take everything from Bruce:  his fortune, Wayne Enterprises, Alfred (who’s manipulated into a “tough love” confrontation that goes horribly wrong), even his city. Yes, Bane breaks his back, and symbolically, the cowl too, thus breaking The Batman, but it’s the psychological devastation that really breaks Bruce’s spirit. And it’s Bruce’s comeback from that psychological “bottom” that makes the film so interesting and triumphant. Bruce is physically thrown in a well, a Pit, and he’s in physical agony and psychological despair… but he comes back, which makes it a heartening film, and a joy to watch. Bruce also seems ready to finally hang up his cape and cowl for good… though the film places enough hints for a “Nightwing” film for “Robin John” Blake.

Another major departure of the film from the graphic novel set, is Bane is quite different. The costume is different, his back story is different, Bane’s connected to Talia and Ra’s al Ghul is different, and Bane’s dependence on the addictive steroid, Venom (not to be confused with the Marvel character Venom), is dropped. I was really surprised by that first time I saw the film, but each time I saw it, I found the connections from Bane to Talia (Miranda) to Ra’s al Ghul, just suit the plot so much better… and bring the entire story line to a very satisfactory conclusion.

Overall, I really, really liked it. The script crackles with great dialogue, as did the previous two in the series. Though I think Alfred would never leave Bruce, the film makes it work as both a form of tough love on Alfred’s part, and really a challenge between father and son. For Bruce to be his own man, he both has to lose everything and he has to regain everything, and that includes his surrogate father. Though I do wish he and Alfred had spoken when they see each other in the cafe. But, on the other hand, they don’t need to. Alfred and Bruce understand each other without having to speak.

Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman was not the “bored socialite cat burglar” or the “hooker trying to make a living” of previous Batman stories (both in print and on tv/film). She’s rough, and tough, and she thinks she wants what Bane promises — an end to the wealthy, privileged, useless upper class. But when she sees what’s happened to Gotham, she hates it. Selina realizes that without any law, anarchy rules – and in anarchy the poor and the weak suffer even more than they did under the rich, something Selina hadn’t thought was possible. This is why she allies with Batman. For once, this Selina does not have any physical attraction to Batman, not ‘til the end, when she and Bruce run off together. Selina even appears to really, really hate men.

 

A word needs to be said about Anne Hathaway’s costumes too. Her Catwoman costume was great… it looks more like armor than the sexy, sorry, catsuit, of other catwomen, and it has long sleeves and what looks like a corset underneath. I actually really liked it, and would like to know more about the construction from the costume designer. Because, wow! Selina’s other clothes were equally impressive, she reminded me a lot of Audrey Hepburn, a classic actress known for her clothes and unique sense of style. The hat Selina wears to the airport is particularly Hepburn-esque. I have no idea if this was intentional, but the styles, mostly in black, looked great on Hathaway.

 

Audrey Hepburn – in a classic hat.

 

Anne Hathaway – looking very much like Audrey Hepburn (note the hat).

 

 

Anne Hathaway, in a classic outfit.

 

 

The score by Hans Zimmer was excellent, as have been all three Nolan Batman film scores by Zimmer. The score for The Dark Knight Rises is haunting and dark, and is very effective in how it adds to the film. Also, I thought it was really very neat the way that several times the film becomes almost silent and it’s simply images and music – including the end, after Bruce Wayne’s graveside funeral service. Nolan really knows how to use imagery and light and how to integrate that with the musical score, for a uniquely filmic quality. It’s a rare talent in a modern director and should be celebrated.

Recommendation: See it!
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars


Get Smart

  • Title:  Get Smart
  • Director:  Peter Segal
  • Date:  2008
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers (Time Warner)
  • Genre:  Comedy, Action
  • Cast:  Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, Alan Arkin, James Caan, Masi Oka
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“All I’m saying is that until we understand that our enemies are human beings, we will never be able to defeat them.  Yes, they are Bad Guys but that is what they do, not who they are.” — Max Smart

“So, to be clear – you’re not promoting me because I do such a great job.” — Max Smart

I loved this film when I originally saw it at the theater, and it’s still a very enjoyable movie to re-watch.  The movie begins with Max in his apartment, which is covered with post-it notes, some motivational (“You can do it,” and “8th time’s the charm,” etc.) some merely practical reminders.  We then follow Max as he listens to Russian chatter on his way to work.  Max walks into the Control museum exhibit at the Smithsonian but when no one is looking slips in — through the complicated multi-door entrance seen in the opening credits of the original TV show (updated slightly with CGI effects), finally he reaches the phone booth and uses that as an elevator to reach CONTROL.  Far from the dis-banded organization described by the museum guards, Control is an alive and vibrant secret intelligence organization.  Max is their top analyst, a job he is actually very competent at — picking up on subtleties that agents ignore and even other analysts don’t catch.  He’s even friends with two CONTROL scientists – Bruce and Lloyd, who design the various gadgets used by the agents.  Max had been very over weight and out of shape, but he’s slimmed down in order to pass the physical portion of his agent’s exam.

Max is playing paintball war games with Agent 23, being teased unmercifully by the other agents when he’s called into the chief’s office.  The chief  tells him the good news – he’s finally passed his agent’s exam (we learn later with an A+ or perfect score).  However, the Chief isn’t going to promote him to agent status because he’s too good an analyst.  Bummed — Max leaves the office for the day, talks to Fang (the dog) and literally bumps into Agent 99.  When he returns to Control headquarters, the place has been attacked.  In the aftermath, it’s learned that the identities of all CONTROL agents have been compromised and the agents are being systematically killed.  The chief decides to sent Max out as a full agent, pairing him with the more experienced Agent 99, who’s just had a complete facial re-sculpt, and thus is unrecognizable.

They travel to Russia to track down a KAOS threat to use yellow cake plutonium to make a bomb.  They find the KAOS assassin at his mansion and the yellow cake at a bakery, but despite Max’s best efforts, he’s set-up so it appears he is the double agent who attacked CONTROL.  However, while in lock-up, despite his own nightmares, Max figures it out and travels to LA — where Max, 99, and the Chief stop the bombing of the Disney concert hall and some very special guests.  They also figure out who the double-agent is.

Get Smart is a lesson in how a TV Show to Movie remake should be done.  I loved that not only is Max earnest, which he was in the series, but he’s smart and competent.  The chief isn’t kidding when he calls Max his best analyst.  What keeps Max from being the next James Bond, is he’s inexperienced.  And Carell’s also great at physical comedy — so there are some very funny parts to the movie — both physical and witty.  I also really, really appreciated that Carell did NOT even attempt to do the “Maxwell Smart” voice that Don Adams made so famous.  I think if he had, the movie would have been painful to watch instead of very enjoyable.

The second part to the excellent remake status of this film is that the action sequences are very well done.  In the series, Max actually was a good hand-to-hand and sword fighter (see “The King Lives?” and “To Sire, with Love” for Max’s sword-fighting abilities); the film takes that competence in action and extends it to Max’s abilities to figure things out and solve a mystery, basically.  Max’s issues come from a lack of real world experience — something 99 ends up teaching him, not a complete lack of ability.  And he does have the book smarts, as a successful analyst with over eight years of experience, and, having gotten an A+ on his agent’s exam (99 received an A-).  Also, Max is a really nice guy too — something that came from the series as well.  Max’s ability to sympathize with and help others (the overweight girl he dances with at the assassin’s party; his befriending of a very physically large KAOS agent, which leads to the agent passing a coded message to Max which then helps Max solve the case) also becomes important to the film – something I really liked.

Overall, I really enjoyed this film..  Honestly, before making a film of Starsky and Hutch, or I Spy, or The Man from U.N.C.L.E. — the film producers should be required to watch this, and Bewitched.  Maybe then we’d get better remake films.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4.5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Ghostbusters