Film Review Retrospective: Back on the IMAX screen,The Dark Knight remains a highlight of modern cinema & the only Batman I’ll ever need!

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Ten years ago, I remember heading to my local cinema with a group of friends to see the second Batman film by Christopher Nolan. I can still remember how excited we were and this weekend I was able to relive the cinematic experience at the Odeon BFI IMAX at London’s Waterloo, which has the title of being the country’s largest cinema screen. For one week only, to mark the film’s 10th anniversary (where on earth has the time gone?!), it has been re-released on selected IMAX screens and it certainly did not disappoint. It therefore seemed appropriate to take this opportunity to reflect on the film, which is just as powerful on the big screen today as it was back in 2008.

Batman was always my favourite superhero when I was younger. I’ve still no idea why and I enjoyed the films of the 90s, but it wasn’t until Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, that I really felt I’d found my perfect portrayal of this character and the dark world of Gotham City.

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Awaiting the start of the film at the Odeon BFI IMAX, London

 

Having said that, The Dark Knight is so much more than a superhero movie and it is because of the incredibly layered story, its themes and its stunning performances that it has remained one of my top ten films of all time. It’s one of those films that you perhaps went to see expecting it to be one thing and then realised it had so much more depth to it and it may be the second of a trilogy, but it stands firmly as the best of the three and is more than able to be viewed as a standalone film experience.

First, Nolan’s strong script packs so much in to the running time, from Gotham’s courageous, young DA determined to make a stand against the city’s underworld, whose journey takes such a dark and tragic turn, to the crazed terrorising of The Joker, to the emotional pull of Bruce Wayne towards the woman he still loves (this time played by Maggie Gyllenhaal). There are so many twists and turns during the film, that you’re exhausted by the end! It also manages to highlight some interesting social issues, my favourite being our perception of the good and bad of society and who is more deserving of being saved. It certainly speaks volumes that it is the boat of “good” citizens who are very willing to sacrifice the prisoners for the sake of themselves and seemingly only fail because none of them were willing to live with the guilt.

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Christopher Nolan filming in IMAX (Source: Kobal/REX/Shutterstock)

The script also managed to throw in a few shocks, particularly (for me anyway) the death of Rachel Dawes. Knowing Harvey had to survive in order to become Two Face, it was very clever to have Batman come to his rescue by mistake, making her death and both mens’ grief so much more powerful.

The film of course also looks visually stunning and seeing it in IMAX, when it was the first Hollywood film to be shot, in part, using IMAX 15/70 mm cameras and thus changed the role of IMAX in films, only enhanced that spectacle. From the opening shots of Gotham, to Batman gliding across the Hong Kong skyline, to the exhilarating armoured car chase (and that stunning lorry flip!), to simply the intensity of the emotions on display on a larger screen, it’s a film that continues to impress whether your first or 100th viewing. We’ve grown to expect films to look this good over the last decade and owe Nolan a huge debt of gratitude for that.

Then, of course, there are the performances, starting with the obvious. I’d been a fan of Heath Ledger for years and yet this role saw his acting talent step up to a whole new level. His Joker is dark, crazed, yet intelligent and crucially, very funny; frighteningly so in fact, which only makes him more fascinating. This isn’t a man in clown make-up. This is a figure to be feared and Ledger’s nuanced performance, full of tics and creepy mannerisms, is still utterly compelling and deeply chilling. You simply cannot take your eyes off him whenever he is on the screen.

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Christian Bale also deserves so much credit for this film (and the trilogy as a whole), as this is not a two-dimensional action superhero role. He conveys the complexities of the man that is both Bruce Wayne and The Dark Knight and finds great depths of emotion throughout, particularly in his scenes with Michael Caine’s sublime Alfred and Gary Oldman’s Jim Gordon. Bale not only looks the part physically, but he brings an emotional credibility to the character that hasn’t been matched before or since in my opinion. He isn’t perfect; he’s complex and flawed and you truly care about him.

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Caine and Oldman are also incredible assets to the films, bringing weight to such iconic roles, meaning they truly make them their own and both develop a wonderful bond with Bale, one with Bruce Wayne and the other with his alter ego, allowing each to help shape the man he becomes across the trilogy. This second film also includes Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent, whose passion and bravery to stand up for all that is just and decent, makes his ultimate fall in to darkness and despair so much more painful to watch. Eckhart plays both “faces” of Dent brilliantly and you certainly feel the depth of his loss following the shocking death of Rachel. It’s a testament to the strength of this film’s cast that I haven’t even mentioned Gyllenhaal or Morgan Freeman yet, both of whom play a vital role in the story.

Also, as well as looking visually stunning on the IMAX screen, this platform showcased the brilliance of Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s gorgeous score. It’s so intrinsically woven in to the film that it’s an extra character and remains some of my favourite film music.

Whether you’re someone who, like me, loves this trilogy, or has never watched The Dark Knight before, if you’re able to catch it this week in IMAX, then I cannot recommend the experience strongly enough. I’m very tempted to go back for a second visit!

The Dark Knight is showing in selected IMAX screens (Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco & Toronto in North America and London in the UK) until 30th August 2018. Relive the trailer here: https://youtu.be/UwrOQ2pYDxY

 

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Film Review – Sully (2016) starring Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart

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This year I decided to buy a ticket to one of the hottest events at the London Film Festival, the Surprise Film. It’s ironic that one the screenings most people are keen to attend is the one where you have no idea what film you are going to see until it begins! It was a fantastic cinema experience as the audience speculated as to what film we’d see.

In the end the choice this year divided the audience as to whether it was a worthy Surprise Film. Some see it as an opportunity to showcase a film that perhaps won’t otherwise have as large a profile, while others expect to see something not yet on wide release. This year’s choice was Sully, which has already opened in most markets outside the UK. However, despite the disappointment of many, I was pleased it was a movie that had been on my to-see list, primarily due to its lead actor and overall it was an enjoyable cinema trip for me.

As for the film itself, Sully is the story behind 2009’s incredible landing of Flight 1549 on the Hudson River, mere minutes after take-off after a flock of geese flew in to both its engines. The event received worldwide attention, with universal praise given to Captain Chesley Sullenberger, whose quick actions miraculously meant that all 155 people on board the aircraft survived.

Like most of us, I’d heard about it on the news and marvelled at the incredible achievement of this pilot. However, I had not known about what happened afterwards and this film, directed by Clint Eastwood, focuses on the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB’s) investigation which, with an aircraft written off at great expense to the airline, was looking to apportion blame to the captain. Everyone may have survived, but was his decision not to try and make it to an airport correct or was he reckless with the lives of his passengers and crew and responsible for the loss of the plane?

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Tom Hanks as Capt. Chesley Sullenberger & Aaron Eckhart as First Officer Jeffrey Skiles

 

Sully is a fairly mainstream movie, but that isn’t necessarily a criticism. I can’t see it winning any big awards, but it is still an enjoyable film. One of its weaknesses is the fact that there isn’t too much of a story to tell, as unlike in a documentary film, delving in to the detail of the 18 month NTSB investigation in to Sully’s actions that morning, wouldn’t have worked. Therefore the film does at times feel a bit padded and repetitive, as we see the landing in the river more than once and scenes in which Sully remembers the events and later the listening to the cockpit recording are practically the same.

However, with such a strong leading man in the title role, the film is given an extra weight that it may not otherwise have had. I’ve always loved Tom Hanks and he never disappoints in terms of giving a believable and human performance, which always brings the character to life so vividly. The fact that here he is playing a real person means this is even more important. Through him we see the toll the experience put on Sully; if the lead up to and landing weren’t traumatic enough, he then had to endure the accusations and insinuations afterwards, during which his career, pension and reputation were at stake, while trying to cope with PTSD (scenes in which he dreams of the plane crashing in to buildings are quite harrowing). I admit watching the events unfold made me incredibly angry at how this decent man was treated!

Aaron Eckhart is also great as First Officer Jeffrey Skiles, who remains a loyal and staunch friend and colleague throughout, as the only other person to truly know what it was like in the cockpit that day. Eckhart said a few words after the screening about how Sully had been with them every step during the making of the film and how it was an aspect of the miracle on the Hudson River that he too hadn’t been aware of. The rest of the cast have very little to play with in terms of material and so talent such as Laura Linney (who plays Sully’s wife) are left feeling rather wasted.

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The film’s visuals are very good indeed.

 

Visually, the effects are very good and it’s incredibly chilling to watch an aircraft fly so close to Manhattan and you can imagine how those witnessing it at the time would have felt. Indeed a scene in which we see people’s reactions as the plane appears was quite unnerving. Director Clint Eastwood also successfully managed to create dramatic tension in scenes in which the audience knows there is going to be a happy ending. You are aware everyone survived Flight 1549, however the moments on board the flight and the immediate aftermath as the passengers rush to escape the plane as it fills with water are no less frightening, as you can’t help but imagine yourself in that situation.

It’s also a lovely touch to involve so many of the real people who were there, as Eckhart told us after the film that all of the coastguard and crew of the vessels that go to the plane’s aid are played by the actual individuals who helped Flight 1549. It’s clearly a very personal film for those involved, highlighted by the end credits, which include the actual passengers and crew, gathered at the Carolinas Aviation Museum (where the aircraft is on display), whose close bond is evident.

No, this isn’t a classic film, nor one that is destined for high acclaim. It is however a very well made and strongly acted story of something that should be more widely known and hopefully now Sully’s position as a true hero cannot be denied.

Sully opens in the UK on 2nd December 2016. Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/mjKEXxO2KNE