Sunday, July 15, 2012

Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The highly anticipated conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s epic Dark Knight Trilogy certainly lived up to its towering expectations. Each film of the trilogy has a central theme: fear for “Batman Begins”, chaos for “The Dark Knight”, and pain for “The Dark Knight Rises”. Earning around $90 million on the release date, this film is set to make an estimated $160 million this weekend, the second highest weekend gross compared to The Avengers’ $207 million.

It has been 8 years since the events in “The Dark Knight”. Meeting his match physically and mentally, Batman comes out of hiding to prevent Bane (Tom Hardy), leader of the League of Shadows, from overthrowing Gotham and taking control of a massive nuclear weapon. Several new characters are introduced such as Selina Kyle a.k.a. Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), John Blake a.k.a. Robin (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard). An additional vehicle to the Batmobile was introduced as well: The Bat, an aircraft designed by Fox (Morgan Freeman).

One of my favorite things about this film is the sound track by Hans Zimmer. The deep pounding rhythm of the drums blasting in my ears combined with the fierce chanting of the people of Gotham tremendously intensifies the cinematic experience. Christopher Nolan usually co-writes the scripts for his films and, once again, he was quite secretive about the story, revealing the conclusion to the cast verbally to prevent any leaks. I love that Christopher Nolan provides a darker and more realistic tone to the film, despite the fact that it’s a superhero story.

With a 165-minute duration, I believe they could have spent more time on extending action scenes. Since this massive crowd was assembled for the final fight scene between cops and inmates, the fight sequence could have lasted an extra few minutes. Though, I loved the lingering wide shots of Gotham City’s demise because it allows the audience to absorb the magnitude of the crisis from an outside perspective as it’s being cut off from the rest of the world. They also could have spent time to explain why Bane wears the mask for those who haven’t read the comic books. However, I read that the mask provides him with gas that serves as an anesthetic for a previous injury to alleviate his constant chronic pain, hence the theme of the film.

This film was well casted with most of the actors from Christopher Nolan’s previous film Inception including Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Cillian Murphy. Each villain of the previous films made an appearance with the exception of The Joker, out of respect to Heath Ledger. Tom Hardy is a brilliant choice for the villain and gained 30 pounds for the role of Bane, a massive, imposing character with immense strength donning a mask and a bulletproof vest. What’s odd is that his voice in the first scene is different than in the rest of the film; though, I find it quite menacing and well done.

 Christian Bale will not be reprising his role as Bruce Wayne unless Christopher Nolan approaches him with a script. However, this is unlikely since the director is putting the Dark Knight films behind him to work on other projects. He also co-wrote and will produce “Man of Steel” coming out next summer, which will be directed by Zack Snyder. This is a great team because Christopher Nolan adds depth to the film while Zack Snyder will create stunning action scenes and special effects. I look forward to this Superman reboot, and I encourage you to go see “The Dark Knight Rises” in theaters if you haven’t already!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

3:10 to Yuma (2007)

Below is an analysis essay comparing the film 3:10 to Yuma to its short story by Elmore Leonard.

Transport to Contention

Character-driven stories, in this case, a western, are particularly fascinating as they resonate with the reader or audience, allowing them to interpret the reasons behind each character's actions. For this reason, 3:10 to Yuma is unique from other typical westerns featuring horseback chase sequences, sharpshooters with cigars hanging from their mouths, or vengeful duels in the glaring sun. Set in 1884, this is a compelling film released in 2007 with the screenplay written in collaboration by Halsted Welles, Michael Brandt, and Derek Haas and adapted from Elmore Leonard’s short story, published in 1953. In both versions, a notorious outlaw arrested for multiple robberies and murders must be escorted to a train heading to Yuma. In the short story by Elmore Leonard, outlaw Jim Kidd is led by Deputy Paul Scallen with a shotgun to the train station, primarily focusing on the tense finale in the booming town of Contention. On the other hand, director James Mangold’s adaptation depicts the events leading up to that point as the struggling rancher Dan Evans involves himself in the arrest of outlaw Ben Wade in the town of Bisbee, later leading him to the train station in Contention in order to provide for his family. Although Elmore Leonard’s “3:10 to Yuma” seems more sensible in the motives behind each character’s actions, the characters are bland in comparison to those in its adaptation. Therefore, while the deputy and outlaw stay true to their characters in the short story, its film adaptation 3:10 to Yuma is superior due to the character transformations of Dan Evans and Ben Wade.
While both versions are unrealistic in terms of action sequences, the short story’s character motivations are more realistic. In both cases, it seems quite improbable that Paul Scallen would survive the final shootout while being surrounded by Jim Kidd’s gang or that Dan Evans would be able to reach the train station after facing a town-full of armed men in spite of his sharpshooter skills and military experience. But action scenes aside, the characters are more believable in the short story than in 3:10 to Yuma. In the film adaptation, Evans has nearly every reason to drop the job and return to his family alive. He recovers his relationship with his son, William, who now looks up to Evans after witnessing his courageous acts and begs him to come home. In addition, Ben Wade repeatedly urges Evans to take his money to provide for his family and restore his farm. However, Evans insists on transporting Wade on the train to Yuma, even if this requires sacrificing his life. On the contrary, it makes more sense for deputy Paul Scallen to risk his life for justice by having Jim Kidd hanged for his numerous crimes. That is his job, which is shown when Jim Kidd states, “You risk your neck to save my life, now you’ll risk it again to send me to prison” (32). Paul Scallen is paid to enforce the law. Furthermore, the fact that Jim Kidd would retain his image as the villain with no remorse if Scallen were to be killed is more realistic and expected as he merely respects Scallen for his loyalty to the law and skillfulness. He has no reason to help Scallen accomplish his job because neither of them revealed their personal lives to each other as in the film adaptation and Scallen is perfectly capable, portrayed as a more typical hero in a western. Compared to the unconventional, yet more entertaining ending of the film adaptation, “3:10 to Yuma”, Elmore Leonard’s version has more realism, a prevalent style in most of his work consisting of gritty crime thrillers.

In comparison to Paul Scallen, Dan Evans is a far more fascinating character due to his transformation and how his values dictate his actions. Once both characters are on the train to Yuma, Scallen finally smiles and “suddenly felt closer to [Kidd] than any man he knew” (32). There is simply not enough backstory or interaction between the two characters behind this vague statement especially since not much is known about either. As the two men wait in a hotel room for the train to arrive, Jim Kidd asks, “What made you join the law,” and Scallen answers, “the money” (28). Both Paul Scallen and Dan Evans are initially driven by money; however, this is where their motivations diverge. In the end, Scallen remains primarily concerned with money, asserting that he, “really earned [his] hundred and a half” (35). While this ending is interesting and satisfying, it does not result in a large emotional impact as the film does. Before Scallen steps out onto the streets and confronts Jim Kidd’s gang, he, “kept asking himself if it was worth it” (32). In the context of the short story, opening fire on a group of armed men with no backup does not seem as “worth” the risk as Dan Evans’s more personal reasons for carrying out the responsibilities of the deputies of Bisbee. What makes the film substantially more moving is how each character unveils their true character and inner secrets throughout the journey to Contention. As Ben Wade attempts to escape, Dan Evans exposes the truth that, "I ain't never been no hero, Wade. Only battle I seen, we was in retreat. My foot got shot off by one of my own men. You try telling that story to your boy. See how he looks at you then." The fact that Evans would sacrifice his own life to maintain justice even though he has “no obligation” makes him a more interesting character than Paul Scallen. This indicates that Evans values honor and justice over his life, and this sense of right versus wrong drives him to finish his job regardless of the roadblocks he faces as Charlie Prince assembles Wade’s gang on the streets. In addition, Evans does not give in to temptations as Wade repeatedly offers him money for freedom. The fact that the son finally respects his father demonstrates the impact that the mission had on him. Just after William threatens to shoot the outlaw, Wade states, “there’s wild in his eyes” and that William reminds him of himself. If William were still filled with loathing and desire to follow Ben Wade’s criminal ways, he possibly would shoot Wade at the conclusion. However, Evans wants to lead William on a respectable path far from the amoral life of Ben Wade. Thus, Dan Evans is a more profound character and has a greater impact on the other characters compared to Paul Scallen due to his transformation throughout the film.
While Jim Kidd resembles the ruthless rebel in the western story, Ben Wade proves to be far more conniving and murderous with the greatest character arc in the film. From the beginning, Jim Kidd always underestimates Paul Scallen. For instance, while the tension builds and Charlie Prince is about to appear with the gang, Kid urges him to, “Run like hell while you’re still able” (34). In addition, Jim Kidd does not seem quite as menacing as Ben Wade. The way that he is portrayed in the short story, Jim Kidd seems just like a rebellious kid with no chance against Paul Scallen such as when he attempts to escape, “crawling frantically and coming to his feet when Scallen…grabbed him by the collar” (35). Ben Wade is charming, yet cold, and does not hesitate to murder, which is demonstrated in multiple instances. While they are camped at night in front of a fire, Evans tells his son that, “shooting animals is a lot different from shooting a man”, but Wade responds, “No, it isn’t. Not in my opinion.” This also indicates that Wade leads a group of animalistic men with no sense of morality, especially Charlie Prince. In the film, the two characters seem to have respect for each other from the start. Wade initially teased him relentlessly; however, he began to admire Dan’s strong character. Wade points out all of the wrongdoings of the rest of the lawmen; however, he respects Dan for being a genuinely good man. Wade and Evans are enemies, yet they have this camaraderie. For instance, when Evans begins to regard Wade as a friend, he wants Wade to know that he “ain’t stubborn…for keeping [his] family on that ranch.” Towards the conclusion, Evans’s remark of being a “hero” completely turned the plot around as Wade empathizes with him, and even tries to save his life several times during the chaotic finale. This ten-minute action scene at the end shows how Ben Wade wants Dan Evans to succeed even if he is being escorted to prison. Wade admires Evans’s lack of fear to the point of killing his entire gang in revenge after Charlie Prince shoots Evans. Thus, the director uses action to progress the relationship between the two main characters. While Wade’s character changes for the good throughout the film, he is still Ben Wade the notorious outlaw, as it is implied that he escapes from Yuma once again, whistling to his horse. This conclusion to a western film is far more memorable due to the fascinating relationships between the characters and their transformations.
In the short story, Paul Scallen and Jim Kidd are more typical and predictable, yet more realistic that the characters in the film adaptation. However, the reader does not learn much about either character in the short story. Even though the film adaptation is unrealistic at times, this is acceptable because of suspension of disbelief, and the execution of the screenwriters and director, therefore, not detracting from the quality of the film. 3:10 to Yuma is preferable because the two main characters are considerably more engrossing characters that relate to the audience and draw in their attention due to their contrasting and evolving personalities and attitude towards each other. Furthermore, the film does an excellent job of integrating themes of justice, values, and honor. Thus, the film adaptation is essentially superior to the original short story by Elmore Leonard due to the characterization, motives, and transformation of Dan Evans and Ben Wade.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Notebook (2004)

First off, I love the scenery, especially the opening sequence at the lake as the sun receded below the horizon, painting the sky crimson red. In slow motion, a man rows his boat on the lake, creating gentle ripples through the water with the red sky reflected off its surface. A flock of birds soar past the house as the camera moves in slowly, introducing Noah and Allie, portrayed by Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams.

Ever since they first met at the carnival, where Noah asked Allie out on a date in a rather unconventional manner, the two are absolutely crazy about each other despite their difference in social status. Taking place in the 1940's, as the idyllic summer in South Carolina comes to an end, Allie’s parents forbid her from seeing Noah. Years later, they are engaged in a love triangle, as Rachel must choose between a man from her past and her wealthy fiancĂ©.

The lead characters have great chemistry and depth, engaging the audience in their impassioned story. They were able to reconnect like soul mates in spite of all the years of separation, showing how true love conquers all. I love how Noah fights to win her back, writing letters every day as he reminisces the sweet memories of the past, transitioning into the present time as he admires their renovated home that used to be the abandoned house where they spent the night together. One of my favorite parts is the scene when Noah leads her to a room overlooking the river with a canvas and paint brush waiting for her, just as she requested (It seems that Rachel McAdams is always painting in her movies). If there is anyone who knows her well, it’s Noah.

The Notebook is a well-crafted love story. I love that the director chose two actors who were relatively new to Hollywood. I couldn’t think of anyone one who could portray the roles better. The way the filmmakers pace the film was very gentle and slow, taking its time in a genuine, old-fashioned way. The swans were enchanting, but a bit over-the-top. The scene where they dance in the middle of the street in the still night seems foolish, but romantic. Several scenes featured in the novel by Nicholas Sparks were omitted; although, I believe the filmmakers made the right choice, as the film was already running at a two-hour duration.

However, the biggest flaw is including the scenes in present time. The fact that different actors portray the two main characters in their later years and the scenes have a different tone disrupts the flow of the story. Even though I dislike this second layer of storytelling, I must admit that it adds depth to the story. Nevertheless, I would prefer to focus on the story of Noah and Allie’s past.

Overall, The Notebook is always a classic love story about giving love a second chance.