Thursday, July 24, 2008

In HK With the Cast of "Batman: The Dark Knight"

I don't want to give away too much, but suffice to say that there are some really hot action scenes from "Batman: The Dark Knight" which take place in Hong Kong. See the photo for a little preview...

I was just sent a referral to a video on YouTube which showed the November 2007 HK press conference for the film with director Christopher Nolan and some of the cast. For those who can understand Cantonese, it appears below. For those who can't (like me!), the comments from Nolan, and stars Christian Bale, Morgan Freeman and others are in English.

An interesting tidbit: A young HK star named Edison Chen (陳冠希) makes a VERY BRIEF appearance in The Dark Knight. I assume -- and this is only speculation on my part -- that, with Chen's star having been on the rise, he was slated for a larger part. However, in the midst of the filming and then post-production/promotion, he was part of a now rather well-known photo scandal. I wonder if -- and, again, I am only guessing here -- his role was going to be more important in the film had the scandal not broken. Food for thought...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"Batman: The Dark Knight" - DO NOT MISS IT!

I rarely see movies in the theater of late. There are many reasons for this, but most of them involve what I will call, without elaborating "ROI". Basically, the movies themselves are not worth the $12 USD ticket price and the relative inconvenience over other alternatives.

I am a die-hard cinema fanatic and, in some ways, miss the theater--a focused experience with no home distractions, the power and quality of 35 and 70mm projection, broadly-ambient 6-track surround sound, and now digital projection of stunning clarity. There is still nothing like watching a great movie on a big screen. However, there are few films that, to me, warrant the outing.

A brilliant exception... The Christopher Nolan blockbuster "Batman: The Dark Knight", (now in theaters and with the biggest opening weekend ticket-purchase-wise in the history of film)... and seeing it in the IMAX experience. With all of my love of "highbrow" art films, international cinema, etc., I confess that this big-budget epic would, ordinarily, not be as much my proverbial cup of tea as one might think. There is, though, my passion for Sci Fi, and for great Action epics -- some of which rival(ed) (or even emulate(d)) the works of Ford, Kurosawa, et. al. -- and I get tremendous pleasure when one is truly wonderful. The Dark Knight? TRULY WONDERFUL!

What makes this film not just an extraordinary thrill to behold in an enormous IMAX (and, I'm sure, in a HD Digital-projected) environment, and a hold-your-breath special effects action adventure with a terrific series of locations (New York/Chicago-hybrid Gotham City, Hong Kong, etc.), which is a well-directed thriller and is generally well-acted by the always fine Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, the great Sir Michael Caine (less utilized in this chapter of the Batman series, so Freeman, one of my long-time favorites since the children's TV series, "The Electric Company", many centuries ago when I was a kid, surpasses him), the surprising Aaron Eckart (in that order) and a decent, though un-special, Maggie Gyllenhaal (a curious bit of casting to replace the awful Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes... we miss you, Katie--who can we laugh at in this film)? Two words (and not just from the "hype")... HEATH LEDGER. The late actor's Joker is IMHO, as someone also put it, the "finest screen villain since Hannibal Lecter." No exaggeration.

I won't give away too much, but Ledger's performance is, again IMHO, incomparable. His treatment of all of the "bravura" parts is, as many expected with all the buildup, technically brilliant. However, it is the subtlety of his performance -- just the constant licking of the lips alone, used not only as an effect but going even a layer below to the physiological (he is compensating for his deformity) -- and the fact that he then acts a character as a layer above everything, makes it beyond compare. This, for example, is what was missing for me in Jamie Foxx's hardworking portrayal of Ray Charles in "Ray". I felt that one marvelled at Foxx's technical performance but there was no "additional acting" which made you realize that a characterization was in play. The last performance of that type that I saw on film was Martin Landau's Oscar®-winning portrayal of Bela Lugosi in the so-so, tongue-in-cheek Tim Burton biopic, "Ed Wood". Landau elevated an otherwise enjoyable but ordinary film to a great one through the strength of his, and his alone, once-in-a-lifetime essay of Lugosi--a human being, as well as an icon, in a struggle with depression and drug addiction. Ledger gives this level of performance in "The Dark Knight"; a far better film overall than "Ed Wood" (ironically, Burton directed the first films in the late '8os/'90s Batman series), but brought to true classic status through Ledger's work.

It is painful to know that Ledger -- who captivated me as an acting presence since his performance as Billy Bob Thornton's son, Sonny, in the excellent "Monster's Ball" -- no longer walks the Earth. I hope, wherever his spirit is, he is smiling from ear-to-ear at his achievement as the Joker. Hahahahahahahahaha!!!

Here is the trailer, from YouTube:

Friday, July 18, 2008

Pierre Boulez at 80 - Mahler Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection"

In 2005, the grand French composer/conductor (once Music Director of the New York Philharmonic), Pierre Boulez, turned 80. The Staatskapelle Berlin, one of the world's oldest orchestral ensembles, honored the maestro's birthday by presenting him conducting the orchestra in a Mahler series.

On DVD from EuroArts/Arte is a video of a spectacular performance from the Boulez/Staatskapelle Berlin celebration series of Mahler's Symphony No. 2, the "Resurrection". It is one of the most touching essays of this work I've ever experienced. The maestro, completely focused and almost stone-cold on the podium -- in Richard Strauss, Fritz Reiner fashion -- unleashes waves of gorgeous sound from the orchestra and chorus. Everything is delivered with musical nuance but also with a complete, unbridled passion which belies Boulez's conducting stance. It means that he drilled a lifetime of experience with Mahler's music, and his power and exhuberance, into the players and singers before the performance, and then let them "do the work" in the hall.

If you get your hands on the DVD, you'll experience a real treat.

Photo Credit: Copyright © 2005 Clive Barda (for Deutsche Grammophon).

An excerpt from the great final movement can be heard and seen here (on YouTube):

Thursday, July 3, 2008

From Reuters: "Lost footage of "Metropolis" surfaces in Argentina"

According to a Reuters article published today, missing scenes from Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" were discovered in a museum in Argentina.

In a quote in the article from "Helmut Possmann, head of the foundation which owns the rights to the film, the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung", he said that the foundation was "overjoyed" by the find as the lost footage was considered to be gone forever:

"We no longer believed we'd see this. Time and again we had had calls about supposed footage but were disappointed."

Fans like myself of this true masterpiece of World Cinema, we are now salivating over the prospect of seeing it anew.

Read the full Reuters article here.

If you've never granted yourself the thrill of seeing "Metropolis", check out a brief clip (from YouTube):