Monday Movies Cannot Recommend That You Go Heli-Skiing

The Dark Knight Rises – There’s little I can add to Adam’s reading of the film’s ideology, but I’ll throw in.

One of the film’s ideological currents feels lightly at odds with the sustained knocking-about given to sustainable energy, police accountability, prison reform and redistribution of wealth. That’s the original sin of the Dent Act, the expanded police powers signed into law to honor a falsely beatified Dent’s death at the hands of a falsely vilified Batman. The Dark Knight ends at the same place that The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance does, with Batman and the Commissioner conspiring to “print the legend” instead of letting the awful truth about Dent be known. It’s under the pretext that Gotham needs a hero (Batman won’t do, since he’s nominally outside the legitimate order), and Bane’s unmasking of this fact in TDKR helps justify opening the jails.

The theme of the Dent Act Lie is Nolan’s way of moderating TDKR‘s reactionary message. It strikes a middle ground between “giving the police too much authority” and “trapping them under the city.” On it’s own, it’s a fairly reasonable response to the weird ending of TDK, calling foul on the idea that the social order can rest on mythologized heroes. And there are real-world analogues to that kind of useful mythologizing. The myth machine tried to package both Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman as Harvey Dents (not to say that either was in fact a psychopathic killer, to be sure).

But looking back on the decade, how much ideological work did hero-worship accomplish? The fallen heroes of 9-11 are invoked regularly, but the war drums had enough to go on with the villainy of the enemy and the innocence of the victims. American cowboy confidence has a lingering Liberty Valance vibe, but it’s about our ability to deliver righteous force, not on the idea of heroic sacrifice. Lynch and Tillman aside, the use of “heroes” for ideological battle was mostly a failed attempt by the left to get the government to cover the health costs for firefighters injured in the attacks, for example.

It’s useful in the film to start the action from a huge mistake on the part of Batman and the Commissioner. But like most of the weighty ideas that grind down the Nolan Batmans, it’s not that interesting to start with.

(The sustainable-energy knock isn’t quite fair — the movie is rightly critical of the idea that nuclear energy can be sustainable.)

With that out of the way, here’s to the rest of the film. In addition to an offensive movie, The Dark Knight Rises contains a good movie and a bad movie. Of course, that is way too much movies for one movie. So it’s overlong. It’s dense with thesis statements — Kristin Thompson has written that “Nolan has elevated exposition of new premises to the main form of communication among characters,” quoted by Jim Emerson here — and heavy with backstories and flashbacks.

Like Leigh, I went into it with dread, but unlike her the occasional spirited flashes weren’t enough to keep me from feeling exhausted by the end. In my Avengers review, I mentioned how that movie was the first among comic-book adaptations to capture the feeling I enjoyed so much from reading Marvel comics. The Dark Knight series has been the opposite of that. Erring on the side of seriousness, it makes dialog impossible–any conversation with more than two lines begins to sound like a fight with hammers, as none of the actors, with the exception of Anne Hathaway, can deliver the Nolan bros’ lines as exchange, not argument. There’s something comically awful about Matthew Modine as The Chicken-Shittiest Policeman; a lighter touch could have both made him embarrassingly funny and given his final sacrifice some pathos.

But there are terrific things.  Hathaway is perfect, light of feet and tongue. Both she and Bane use ideological pronouncements to serve a hidden agenda, but Bane’s con feels like the filmmaker’s contempt, and hers feels like a character’s attitude. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is my secret husband and I will watch him eat a bowl of paint. And as annoying as his uses were, Bane was menacing and eerie, blunter than Heather Ledger’s Joker, iconic and particular enough to watch for all seventeen and a half hours of the movie’s length, and fun to imitate after. (He deserved a better end.)

Despite the “Kill Me Soon” sign taped to Aidan Gillen’s forehead, the opening airplane fight was exciting. And it was good for the film to have less Batman in it than the last one — Christian Bale’s face has always looked oddly smushed in the mask, and his growl is just painful to look at, but outside of it he actually walks with considerable ease through Nolan’s world. Maybe my problem is I miss Michael Keaton. You never forget your first real Batman.

Crazy, Stupid, Love. — This was much better than I’d been led to believe. When it was in theaters, I remember being in more of a hurry to see Friends with Benefits, but the two are easily peers. The latter delivers exceptional warmth and verve within a traditional romcom structure, but Crazy, Stupid, Love has a more adult story. Both have a kind of modern-living trend piece relevance; where Friends with Benefits uses it to set up the game of the plot, Crazy, Stupid, Love has more questions to ask.

In both cases, the questions are about sex, not quite removed from love so much as deregulated from it. Steve Carell plays Cal Weaver, whose wife Emily (Julianne Moore) has just asked him for a divorce. Drowning his sorrows and complaining about her lover at a local bar, he’s befriended by younger, studlier Jacob (Ryan Gosling), who has mastered The Game and takes another woman home every night. There’s one girl whose pants Ryan can’t quite seem to crack, Hannah (Emma Stone), and Cal’s babysitter has a crush on him, but these plots are set aside as Jacob schools Cal in an updated version of the Tao of Steve.

Crazy Stupid Love is both a bromance, between Jacob and Cal, and a comedy of remarriage, between Cal and Emily. The former are trendy; the latter are mostly an artifact of a particular era, (although David Edelstein notably classified Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), in which companionate marriage was seen as a new contender, not an established fact.

It’s interesting that both the bromance and the remarriage are tested by the same thing — the question of whether friendship or marriage can withstand the implications of liberalized, pick-up-artist cocksmanship. Jacob and Cal are living their sexual lives in the reverse order. Before learning Jacob’s game, Cal has only ever slept with Emily, and after he learns to expand his horizons, there’s a question of whether he’s corrupted himself too much to return to Emily.

Eventually, Hannah gets to “tame” wild Jacob. (The babysitter plot also pays off in a farcical melée of fighting fathers and daughters.) Emma Stone’s part and performance are much too good to trap the relationship in a change fantasy, and the progression feels natural.  Within their relationship, Jacob’s notched belt isn’t an issue, but it eventually comes to have consequences for Cal, who projects his own shame onto Jacob.

By the end of the film, prospects are better for Cal and Jacob’s relationship than for Cal and Emily’s. (I’m being coy about a third-act reveal here — let’s spoil it in comments if you’d like to discuss. I didn’t think it was cheap or false, as some reviews suggested.) Crazy, Stupid, Love is a little freaked out by sex, but in a way that feels real to its characters.


6 thoughts on “Monday Movies Cannot Recommend That You Go Heli-Skiing

  1. I thought the “twist” at the end of Crazy Stupid Love was a little sloppy, but ultimately justified. The projection of Steve Carrell’s shame is right on — I was pretty emotionally exhausted when I watched it, so I didn’t think of it in those terms (it just struck me as a weirdly disproportionate reaction). I think the movie is ultimately better at portraying the seductiveness of Ryan Gosling’s lifestyle than showing how it’s questionable — the woman whose feelings Steve Carrell has hurt is ridiculous and cartoonish, and the “deep emotional wounds” that leave Ryan Gosling unable to connect feel a little forced.

    The line about TDKR’s “seventeen and a half hour length” was classic.

  2. What is up with Nolan and unceremonious defeat of his villains? It was a little unclear what Batman did with The Scarecrow in the first one or The Joker in the second. The defeat of both became an afterthought as each respective movie moved on to what became a more important storyline.

  3. I think it’s fair to say that if you want to watch a comedy of remarriage (and you should), you should watch The Awful Truth, which is really fantastic.

  4. The issue I had with the twist at the end was it being the second time somebody was surprisingly closely tied to Cal. It made it seem like he was living within a very insular community, which was at odds with his being able to live the player’s life at the club. It didn’t really hurt the story, but the incongruity distracted me from it. The cute trick with Hannah’s name to hide the twist also annoyed me. I enjoyed the movie overall, though. My wife bought it and when she next wants to watch it, I won’t leave the room or anything.

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