The Dark Knight Rises – Now that the hype has died down, it’s the right time to go back and give this final chapter in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy another look. So often films with as much hype as this one had around it aren’t seen in the proper light. The publicity machine necessary to sell movies of this scope often inflate expectations that are hard to meet. (See John Carter as a prime example) I’ve enjoyed this film all three times I’ve seen it and it wraps up this saga as well as can be expected. The theme of Batman being a heroic symbol we can all aspire to is the through-line that connects the films and it culminates to great effect here. However, what distinguishes this from the other two chapters is that this is Bruce Wayne’s story. He doesn’t appear as his alter ego until almost the one-hour point and even after then, the tortured billionaire remains the focus of the story. This is the quest for one man to define himself in a world that has left him behind and Nolan’s greatest achievement is that he ends the trilogy with a film focusing on existential matters rather than trying to blow us out of our seat with elaborate action sequences, though they’re here as well. No, it’s not The Dark Knight and one can’t help but wonder how this saga would have ended had Heath Ledger’s Joker been in the mix, but this movie succeeds in delivering an emotionally satisfying conclusion to a franchise that redefined what was possible in genre exercises.
Hope Springs – Every summer, there’s at least one smart movie studio that remembers that there are viewers out there who don’t like superheroes, car chases or huge explosions but would rather see a film with mature human beings dealing with realistic problems. This look at a marriage gone to seed and the efforts of a loving wife (Meryl Streep) trying to bring a bit of passion back to it proved to be one of the most satisfying human dramas Hollywood has produced in years. Frank in its discussion of the importance of sex in a marriage and what happens when passion fades between two long-time marrieds, this movie was a revelation in the way it so bravely spoke of issues no one dares mention. It goes without saying that Streep is wonderful here, alternately embarrassed, excited and disappointed as she endures the rollercoaster that is couples therapy with her husband. But it’s Tommy Lee Jones, who’s having a career year with this, MIB3 and Lincoln, as her repressed husband who steals the show. Initially resistant to the process of examining his marriage, than angry about the state of affairs he’s fallen into and finally accepting of the notion that he has some work to do where this relationship is concerned, the actor fully inhabits each scene and we truly get the sense that his character has grown and changed. Great acting from the two principals, good support from Steve Carell as their therapist and honest writing make this a winner.
Men in Black 3 – After enduring the meandering debacle that was Men in Black 2, I wasn’t holding my breath where this follow-up was concerned. However, director Barry Sonnenfeld, working from a script by Etan Cohen (Tropic Thunder), and his game cast, including Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones reprising their roles as Agents J and K respectively, manage to deliver a film that’s everything its predecessor was not. The plot involves an alien who’s escaped a prison on the moon and sets to go back in time to prevent his arrest from ever occurring. Turns out K was the arresting officer and J decides to time travel as well in order to stop this retroactive shifting of events. The story is quite inventive, while the make-up and special effects are of the high quality we expect from this franchise. But what makes this sequel work is Josh Brolin, who steals every scene he’s in with his spot-on imitation of Jones as the younger Agent K, and a surprisingly poignant conclusion that finally provides some meaningful subtext to the relationship of the two heroes.