The Dark Knight

Christopher Nolan and Maggie Gyllenhaal just aren’t enough of an indie connection to cover this on Worldfilm, so I’ll just say this here: godawful. Two hours and twenty minutes, a gazillion dollars, a sterling cast, and an eight story IMAX screen weren’t enough for this movie to tickle a single thrill out of me. Instead, endless turgid tripe about vigilante morals, heaps of vicious violence, Gotham City politics that play a little bit like The Wire, only stupid, and muddled action sequences that are — and I say this without hyperbole — duller than the scenes in which Bruce Wayne is having dinner.

What else? Christian Bale doesn’t go anywhere near Rescue Dawn levels of intensity, poor Maggie is wasted, Aaron Eckhart pays for his sins in Thank You for Smoking with a nasty case of Visible Man, Morgan Freeman turns into a FISA-protected wiretapper, and Michael Caine will always be Michael Caine. Heath Ledger’s Joker, a sadistic freak with curious facial ticks, is the most compelling person on screen, but tragedy or not, he can’t beat Jack Nicholson dancing in the pale moonlight to a Prince track.

Tim Burton knew how to have fun with Batman rather than turning it into plodding, puffed-up kitsch mistaking itself for profound psycho noir that the source material won’t support. As Hellboy 2 amply illustrates, there’s nothing wrong with fun — but there’s none to be had here. Previously: Batman Begins.

Prince, Jack, Keaton, Burton:

The Dark Knight. Christopher Nolan, 2008. *

I'm a Cyborg But That's OK

Amélie in a mental institution,” Marcy quipped as we walked out of the Kulturbrauerei in Berlin, where Park Chan-Wooks latest played as part of the Fantasy Filmfest. As usual, she had a point: at the center of I’m a Cyborg is an adorable waif (Lim Su-jeong) who insists on seeing the world in her own peculiar way and is surrounded by a quirky cast of lovable supporting characters.

The filmmaking, as you’d expect from the director of Oldboy, is muscular and inventive. But unlike Jeunet’s unbearably cute Amélie, Cha Young-goon has to face some all-too-real pain. The girl believes herself to be a cyborg (“You know, kind of like a robot”) and is sent to the mental ward after trying to “recharge her batteries” in a way that reads to the rest of the world as a suicide attempt.

Continue reading my review of I’m a Cyborg But That’s OK at

Saibogujiman kwenchana. Park Chan-wook, 2006. ***

City of Nets

Otto Friedrich, who is also responsible for a delightful history of Berlin in the 1920s, takes on Hollywood in the 1940s. He’s got some great anecdotes about Gene Tierney, Charlie Chaplin, Ronald Reagan, Howard Hughes, Rita Hayworth, L.B. Mayer, Orson Welles, and of course his favorite Bert Brecht. I especially liked the sections dedicated to the German emigres; Heinrich and Thomas Mann reading laudatory speeches about each other at their birthdays etc. Like the decade it covers, the book finally gets bogged down in subcommittee hearings.

Inside Man

Spike Lee’s slick hostage thriller offers a handful of new twists on the genre but doesn’t transcend it. Clive Owen plays the wicked smart criminal who trades the familiar lines with Denzel the negotiator: “You’ll give me exactly what I ask for or I’ll start killing hostages!” etc. Willem Defoe is the SWAT team leader who gets this close to botching it all, and Jodie Foster can’t quite get a handle on her role as supertough mystery woman. The few fresh ideas make the movie worthwhile, and it’s curious to see Lee’s attention to race bleed into a big-budget thriller like this: there’s a Sikh screaming for his turban, a gangster lectures a kid about violent video games, and in my favorite jokey moment, a bunch of cops argue about train connections like only New Yorkers can. At times, the Terence Blanchard soundtrack made this film feel strangely like When the Levees Broke.

Die Spinnen

I won’t lie. Fritz Lang’s two-parter Die Spinnen is only recommended if you’ve seen most of his other movies already and can’t wait to see one of his earliest, from 1919/20. The image quality is as lousy as you’d expect–the picture is flickering with scratches–and the score is organ-only. Still, the pulpy adventure yarn is pretty watchable. It concerns Kay Hoog, a proto-Indiana Jones (Carl de Vogt), who travels to a lost Inca city and is persued by a shadowy crime organization known as the Spiders. Lil Dagover plays a Sun Priestress. Lang had projected two more sequels (the first adventure franchise?) but after he hooked up with Thea von Harbou, he went on to Destiny.