Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Bard Reviews: The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises is perhaps the most satisfying conclusion to a trilogy that I've ever seen in cinema.

Wait. Notice I said trilogy, not series. I'm talking about films that take place across three films with a beginning, middle, and conclusion. And I know that there will be more Batman films in store (probably much sooner than necessary), but not with Christopher Nolan at helm and Christian Bale in the suit. So think about it: How many trilogies can it be arguably said that each installment actually surpassed the previous one? It's a task that seems to be more difficult than said, when you consider. The original Star Wars reached it's epoch with the The Empire Strikes Back. Although Return of the Jedi was still a great film, it couldn't quite reach the bar set by the previous one. Then there's the Godfather trilogy which was improved in part II but fell flat in the third installment. And let's not even talk about trilogies like the Matrix, where each follow up got considerably worse.

What's that? Return of the King, you say? OK, I'll give you that. In fact it might be the only third act that I can compare TDKR to. So let's talk about it, shall we?

You've seen the trailers, been smothered by the advertising propaganda, and been shocked by acts of senseless violence on premiere night.  But putting all of that aside, this film is much like the second film in that it's hardly a superhero film at all. Nolan's take is so grounded in realism that his Batman films are more crime thriller/dramas, only loosely tied to the superhero world by the fact that the protagonist dresses like a bat.

It had to have been hard to create a villain that would be relevant in the face of Heath Ledger's Joker, but Bane quickly proves to be even more formidable. He is a looming Darth Vader type of persona, only with equal parts of cunning mastermind to go with his intimidating presence and brute strength. Tom Hardy's performance will no doubt put Bane in the list of top movie villains. I've always believed that a story suffers when the villain isn't more powerful than the hero, but I didn't have to worry here. Bane places Batman and Gotham City in a choke-hold and squeezes with all his strength. Using his brutal tactics and tactical planning, he appears to be unstoppable.

I enjoyed Bale's performance as well. For the first time we see Batman and Bruce Wayne at their most vulnerable states.  It's hard to pull off a great performance when you're dressed in a Halloween costume, but Bale pulls it off again No actor has appeared more dangerous in the cape and cowl. Yet in this film we see something we haven't seen before. Defeat. We see the Batman outwitted, worn down and broken.

And then we see him rise.

And that's the point of the entire movie. It's about what happens to you when the chips are down. When your world is turned upside down and you hit rock bottom. What choices you make in those moments are what define your destiny. It's about standing up after being knocked down. Facing impossible odds because you refuse to lie down without a fight. Because it's only when you're down that you can rise.

Each film in this trilogy has had a theme, a major obstacle to overcome. The first was fear. The second was chaos. This one was a bit more complex. In Bane we have a symbol of both fear and chaos. In his initial success he creates an atmosphere that becomes the third theme, one more difficult to overcome: oppression. It's a more potent obstacle than fear and chaos alone, because like poison it cripples over time. It's not until it's almost too late that the damage is revealed.

I could go on and on, but suffice to say that The Dark Knight Rises is a great film. Top notch direction, heavy duty action, an outstanding cast of actors, and a well layered story with some surprising twists. All of that plus Anne Hathaway in a catsuit. When all is said and done, these films will stand out from so many others because they are so multifaceted, so reflective of their time. Although I hate to see Nolan, Bale and company conclude their time with Batman, at the same time I hope they never are tempted to return. Because although Batman will continue soar, it's best to exit while you're on top of your game. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the top. Five out of five stars.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Indie Writing 'Revolution'

It seems like yesterday when free ebooks were all the rage. Not only were they a good way to get an entire novel for nothing at all, perhaps more importantly free books were considered and widely publicized as the best way for indie writers to gain recognition. It was a revolution of sorts, a upraised finger to the sneering publishing houses who had rejected the work of hard working writers for so long. In a wave of propaganda and highly touted success stories, writers were convinced to take their work that they'd poured countless hours into and give it away for free or a few cents more.

And here we are.

There is an endless sea of free ebooks at the disposal of anyone who wants one or as many as they can download. Books of every subject and genre imaginable by anyone and everyone who's ever had a story in their head or been told by grandma that their stories are just dandy. It seems like the reader's paradise. So many books, so many choices. Why would anyone have to purchase a novel again? Easy answer.

Because the vast majority of these books suck.

Before you leap down my throat, that's more than just my singular opinion. Sure, I've downloaded a number of free books and realized that fact, but all you have to do is visit an online board or read any of the number of blogs on the subject and find a vast number of disgruntled readers and reviewers who feel the same way. And it only makes sense. When institutions that were once the guardians of good writing get brushed aside, it's only natural to expect that the rabble will storm the gates and flood the streets with ware that never would have seen the light of day otherwise.

And this isn't an indictment of indie writing. Yes, many of the agents and publishing companies have held on to ancient tradition for too long, ignoring some fine writers in the name of expertise and experience only to have their conventions flipped when the same writers make a killing publishing independently. But as widely spread as those stories are, the truth is that for every good indie writer there is, hundreds more are busy cluttering up the landscape with stories (I really can't call them novels) that are poorly conceived and executed even worse. And let's not even mention the ones that have seen little or no editing, proofreading, or even a spell check it seems.

It's a Gordian knot that might give even Alexander pause. Because there are many writers who take so much pride in their hard work, put in so many hours to make sure that their product is as good or better than anything published traditionally. Yet it seems as if that particular caliber of author is vastly outnumbered by the ever increasing flood of writers who have no business... in the business.

It seems as though the free ebook has lost its novelty and now has the same reputation of the clearance books that inhabit the racks outside the doors of the local bookstore. Books so bad that they're not worth even taking up indoor space. You might find a gem if you look long and hard, but in reality most people won't give them a second glance as they make their way inside were the 'real' books are.

I think eventually writers will see that the business side of writing involves a lot more than a free listing and a momentary jump in sales, if that even occurs. Just like any business, it takes a lot of work to make one's work stand out, even if your work is very good. It will be interesting to see how the 'revolution' looks a few years down the road. I firmly believe that those who realize that publishing is a business and works along those lines will still be in the picture if their work is good. As for the others, well, you can't have a revolution without casualties, right?