Friday, August 01, 2008

Dark and Light

In the past week I have seen two movies which have had such drastically different effects on me and were such polar opposite movie-going experiences that I feel compelled to comment upon them.  First was The Dark Knight.  In IMAX.  Now, I happen to be a Batman fan, so I was planning on seeing this movie.  An added element of curiosity certainly came from all the hubbub over Heath Ledger's role.  And the fact that Christian Bale is one of the hottest men alive didn't hurt either.  I had heard nothing but praise praise praise for this movie.  I literally spoke to no one who disliked it, and I was thus even more anxious to see it.  

Disclaimer: I hate what people give away critical (or even non-critical) elements of a movie when they discuss it, so I will do my best not to do so, for those of you who have yet to see it.

I will start by saying I am still coming to terms with this movie.  I cannot think of a darker or more psychologically disturbing movie I have seen.  I can't place my finger on what SPECIFICALLY it was, but as with most people, the single best word I can use to describe it is Dark.  I left feeling like I wanted to curl up in a ball and go to sleep for a very long time.  Yet despite this fact, it was such a magnificent and powerful film.  Yes, we're talking a comic-book summer blockbuster.  And Heath Ledger's performance was most definitely Oscar-worthy.  And I'm not just saying that to say it.  His Joker was so utterly convincing that it was eerie.  Maybe that is why I am still unsettled, because I am so shaken by a character whose sole rhyme and reason is chaos.  Who has no "end" other than disorder for the sake of disorder.  Destruction of the good, twisting the purity in people into venom.  In short, a role that is almost never (if ever?) seen on the screen.  The closest comparison I can make in both the total execution and disturbing nature of the performance is another Method Actor, Daniel Day Lewis, particularly his role in There Will be Blood. 

The Dark Knight was not particularly violent but it was especially unsettling.  Without giving anything away, there were several moments where I teared up simply in anticipation of what I expected to happen.  The choice the characters are forced to make, the psychology of these decisions, and having to live with these decisions was sometimes difficult to swallow as a viewer.  The film confronted human nature head on, multiple times, and you were never quite sure you could predict the outcome.  You knew what you wanted the outcome to be, but in this movie without boundaries, you could never know what would happen.  One such example that is not critical to the overall plot but was one of the more intense examples (at least for me) of this was when the Joker stranded two ferry-boats in the bay.  One was full of civilians, the other of prison inmates.  To each  boat he gave the detonator of the explosives he had placed on the other.  And he told them that at midnight he would blow up both boats unless one chose to blow up the other.  SO many layers of human psychology there, it's unreal.  I won't tell you the outcome, but I will say that is just ONE example of the many disturbing situations in The Dark Knight.  And the outcome of each has given me reason to stop and think.  To analyze.  To digest.  Which is not what Summer Blockbusters often do.   

On another note, the action sequences, "toys" and special effects are out of sight.  Like mouth-agape "that is so awesome" kind of stuff.  And see it in IMAX if you can.  It's unbelievable.  Both the action sequences and generally.  One shot in particular where Batman is standing atop a skyscraper and he jumps off to "fly" to some other building- as he jumps the camera takes on 'his' view and it looks straight down from the top of the building and 'jumps' with him.  Watching it is like the sensation when you're in the first car of a rollercoaster and you get to the top of the first hill.  Yes, my stomach did that same "OH MY GOD OH MY GOD" during this shot.  And it's doing it right now just thinking about it.  While I would guess it still has this effect in a regular screen, in IMAX it was incredibly realistic.  

See it, but be prepared to think.

Then we have Mamma Mia!.  Which may in fact be the polar opposite of The Dark Knight, if ever there could be one.  If only because the entire film was literally flooded with Greek sunlight that was at times blindingly brilliant, which was in stark contrast to the dark and dingy city streets of The Dark Knight.  Mamma Mia was light and airy and filled with all the glorious cheesiness of musical theatre ON THE BIG SCREEN.  People dancing, people singing, masses of Greek townspeople emerging from the most bizarre locales to join in for the "chorus."  It was seriously over the top and seriously awesome in its ridiculousness.  It was ultimately happy, ultimately carefree, ultimately glitterific.  And filled to the brim with Abba Abba Abba.  I have to prepare you- you may want to crawl under your seat and die a painful death next to the JuJuBes and stale popcorn when you hear Pierce Brosnan sing.  I'm just saying, be prepared.  Everyone else is reasonable to great in their vocal selections, but oh man, Pierce.  Stick to James Bond.  Even Colin Firth can sing, it turns out.  If you liked the musical you will probably like the movie, but it is truly over-the-top.  If you're looking for a quick-fix to your Dark Knight downs, this will take you up and up and up in a sugar-coated sequin-induced high.  And no matter what you think of the movie, you will without a shadow of  a doubt be singing the songs in your head all the way home.

See it, but be prepared not to think.

So there you have it, my two summer movie reviews.  Isn't it funny that I have enough time now not only to see two movies during two WEEKNIGHTS but also to write a rather extensive review of them?  Ah, unemployment.  You are such a kind friend.  And now, off to see the sea lions at Fisherman's Wharf.  

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