On The Beach

It’s surprising that the evacuation of Dunkirk has not been the subject of a film prior to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. It’s been touched on in other films, such as Atonement, but it’s never been the focus. Part of the problem is the story doesn’t fit the “Rah-rah, we’re gonna win” mentality of most World War II films. Even with the few made during the war years that dealt with defeats, such as They Were Expendable, Bataan, and Wake Island, were designed to motivate because of the sacrifice of the characters. The greatest US defeat, Pearl Harbor, has been filmed twice for the big screen, first in the interesting but uneven Tora Tora Tora, and then in Michael Bay’s over-stuffed mish mash Pearl Harbor. In each, the loss becomes the starting point for winning. Tora Tora Tora ends with Admiral Yamamoto’s quote that he feared all they’d done was awaken the slumbering giant. Bay extends his movie to include the Dewey raid on Tokyo months after Pearl Harbor, though the story of that raid was done better in 30 Seconds Over Tokyo.

Dunkirk doesn’t fit neatly into that narrative. The British army was swept back to the ocean’s edge by the German blitzkrieg, and suffered around 100,000 casualties or troops captured. Yet the British pulled off the astonishing achievement of rescuing over 300,000 troops off the beach. Even greater, the salvation of the Army was pulled off by private citizens who answered the call to pilot their small ships across the treacherous English Channel. While it went the other way, it was an accomplishment on par with D-Day, and in fact there likely wouldn’t have been a D-Day without Dunkirk. What shaped up to be an inglorious defeat that arguably would have led to a German invasion of Great Britain, was instead turned into a miracle.

Nolan has created a lean feature with a running time of an hour and forty-six minutes, and like his first success, Memento, it plays with time. He focuses on three stories that intertwine, even though one plays out over the course of a week, the second in a day, and the third in an hour. Eventually, all the stories come together.

The movie begins with the week-long story of the trapped soldiers. A group of British stragglers walks through the streets of Dunkirk as leaflets drop from the sky, proclaiming them surrounded. Then German snipers open up. One of the group, Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) makes it over a gate and climbs to the next street where he reaches the French defensive lines. From there he wanders down to the beach, a wide expanse filled with English soldiers. German dive bombers regularly scream down upon the troops and attack transports that attempt to rescue the soldiers. Tommy meets Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) and wordlessly forms a team with him. The officers in charge on the beach, Naval Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) and Army Colonel Winnant (James D’Arcy), fear they can’t even save a tenth of the troops.

In England, the day comes to activate a plan to mobilize small pleasure boats to sail to France. Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) loads stacks of life preservers onto his cabin cruiser with the help of his son, Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and another local lad, George (Barry Keoghan). At the last moment, George jumps on board to accompany the Dawsons, saying he can be of help. What they’re heading toward is soon brought home when they come upon the stern of a sunken ship bobbing in the water with a shivering soldier (Cillian Murphy) sitting alone on it.

In the air, a flight of three Spitfires head to Dunkirk where they’ll only have enough petrol left in their tanks to fight for one hour. One soon becomes the victim of a German fighter, but the other two pilots, Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden), try to provide air cover for the ships rescuing the soldiers.

Nolan has meticulously researched the battle and the rescue operation, and while he purposefully didn’t seek to reproduce photographic images of the battle, he gets the details right. It helped that a majority of the movie was filmed on the actual Dunkirk beach. Nolan also used Spitfires left from the Battle of Britain in the aerial sequences, and a number of the small boats rescuing the soldiers in the movie were part of the evacuation 77 years ago.

Nolan also cast the movie to match the soldiers pictured from those days. Fionn Whitehead was eighteen years old when the film was shot and hadn’t been in front of a movie camera before. He gives an exceptional performance with very little dialog; Nolan wanted images to tell the story more than words. In the same way, Mark Rylance’s quiet heroism stands in for all those who answered the call to help. He’s straightforward without pretentiousness, but he also knows a compassionate lie can show mercy.

I read a story today of a 97-year-old veteran of the battle who saw the film at a theater near his home in Canada. He attended wearing a jacket and tie, mirroring Mark Rylance’s costume in the film. He wore his Army beret, and his medals from the war were pinned to his jacket. The veteran had tears in his eyes after the film. “It was like I was there again…I could see my old friends again.”

That’s the best endorsement a historical film could ask for.

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Odyssey

It’s pretty much a given that Christopher Nolan’s new film Interstellar will be compared with Stanley Kubick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey from 46 years ago. It’s about the only film that comes close to Interstellar’s vision and scale. Nolan himself gives the earlier film a nod when he has a robot on the spaceship use its humor setting to make a wisecrack about how the astronaut can get back in through the pod door after being ejected into space. But the movie actually harkens back to Homer’s Odyssey, where Odysseus must make his long trip home to save his family and his kingdom.

Nolan sets Interstellar in an all-too-possible future. Overpopulation has caused countries to focus almost solely on growing food. They tell themselves they’re a caretaker generation, to get through the crisis, and then things will be better. At the same time the climate has turned toxic. Blight has destroyed wheat as a crop, and sorghum is dying off. Corn remains resilient, but drought threatens it. Dust storms even worse than the 1930s are now common enough that communities have installed warning sirens for when the clouds approach. To keep the people focused on farming, the government has re-written history and science textbooks to negate accomplishments – they now say that the Apollo landings were faked – while NASA is officially disbanded. They can’t afford to dream big dreams anymore.

Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) was a test-pilot engineer at the end for NASA, but now he too is a farmer, living with his father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow) and his two children, Tom (Timothy Chalamet) and Murph (MacKenzie Foy). Tom looks forward to being a farmer, but Murph is already showing she may eclipse her father’s brilliance at science. But it seems Murph is going through a phase because she claims there are ghosts in her room push books off her shelves. Rather than being scared, she analyzes the dropped books to find a pattern, believing the ghosts are trying to communicate with her.

Then in the aftermath of a dust storm, Cooper and Murph find an anomaly that sends them on a journey. They discover the remnants of NASA hidden in an old NORAD bunker. It’s now under the direction of Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter (Anne Hathaway), who just goes by Brand. The professor gives Cooper a doomsday scenario for the planet that will happen within Murph’s generation. The only chance humanity has is to leave the Earth behind, and Cooper is the best pilot for the mission to find humanity a new home.

In 2001, the science is fairly bland and not really spelled out – just a cool light show at the end. Interstellar, on the other hand, is an illustrated primer on quantum physics, relativity, and holes of the worm or black variety. For instance, in the course of the mission Cooper hardly ages for a couple of reasons while back on earth Murph grows older than her father was when he left (the adult Murph is played by Jessica Chastain).

Also different than 2001, the humans in Interstellar are just that – human, with all our foibles and pettiness, even as we dream great dreams. It is one of the more emotionally resonant science fiction films. There are lies and weakness and cowardice – the stuff that drama is made of – rather than the antiseptic world of the earlier film. It’s not just science fiction; it’s science friction, as all the elements collide.

The special effects look top-notch, though it’s interesting that Nolan kept much of the movie old school. He used actual film rather than digital cameras, and for the robot TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin) many of its scenes are done with puppetry. Nolan collaborated with his brother Jonathan on the script, as he has in the past for Momento, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises. They were assisted by Kip Thorne (who has Executive Producer credit on the film) who is a famed astrophysicist who teaches at Cal Tech and is currently the Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics. Thorne collaborated with the special effects crew on visualizing a worm hole.

The score by Hans Zimmer is effective, especially since Nolan told him he’d have to strip down the orchestration. He also didn’t provide Zimmer with the script, just a page of notes. However, Zimmer’s score underlines the emotional element of the scenes and increases the impact of the film.

The focus of the movie is Cooper and Murph, and the father-daughter relationship between McConaughey and Foy, then Chastain, has an emotional resonance and validity. Caine has done excellent work with Nolan through, and with their fifth film together that excellence continues. The rest of the cast – Hathaway, Lithgow, William Devane, Wes Bentley, David Gyasi, Casey Affleck, Topher Grace, and another major actor in a surprise appearance – inhabit their roles beautifully.

This is a major movie dealing with complex issues (it’s also 9 minutes longer than the original cut of 2001) but it is also a movie with heart and soul. 2001: A Space Odyssey played in some theaters for almost three years, supported by repeat visitors, some of whom enjoyed watching the special effects with the help of some chemical augmentation. Movie distribution has changed radically since those days, but this is a movie that deserves to be seen more than once, and then reflected upon.

It may only be science fiction for a few years.

10 Best Robin Williams Films

Sometimes the Mask of Comedy hides the Mask of Tragedy beneath it. The news of Robin Williams’ death by suicide at age 63 came as a shock to his multitude of fans. He was beloved for the laughter he brought with his rapid-fire, stream of consciousness delivery, beginning with the alien Mork on “Mork and Mindy.” He was a Tony away from winning all of the major awards, though three out of four is still quite an accomplishment. (It didn’t win a Tony, but his one-man Broadway Show, which was broadcast live by HBO, won a Grammy as the best comedy album in 2002.) On the big screen, the projects he appeared in didn’t always match his talent. Movies like Bicentenial Man, RV, License to Wed and Old Dogs will be forgotten, but he also amassed credits of which any actor would be proud. Below are my choices of his ten best movies, in chronological order.

The World According to Garp (1982)

Williams’ first foray into the movies, Robert Altman’s 1980 live-action version of Popeye was savaged by critics, but he had better luck the second time around. George Roy Hill (The Sting, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) directed this adaptation of the John Irving bestseller. The film is also known as a launching point for the career of another very funny actor, John Lithgow.

Good Morning Vietnam (1987)

It wouldn’t be until this film that Williams’ wild comedy style was set free in a film role. Playing real-life DJ Adrian Cronauer, Williams got to shake up the radio air waves during the Vietnam War. All of the radio broadcast material was improvised by Williams. The real Cronauer, who was a life-long Republican, was not pleased by the anti-war message of the film, but fans flocked to see the movie and it was the 4th highest grossing movie that year. The role led to Williams’ first Oscar nomination, and the movie also brought notice to Forest Whitaker, in one of his first major roles. (They’d work together again last year, when Williams played Dwight Eisenhower in Lee Daniel’s The Butler.)

Dead Poets Society (1989)

Peter Weir’s film continues to gather fans 25 years after its release. It is one of those movies that, once you’ve seen it, it will stay with you forever, especially the climax. Williams plays John Keating, an English teacher who encourages his students not to conform and to find inspiration in poetry. The movie was blessed with a cast of young actors who went on to success, including Ethan Hawke and Josh Charles. The movie added “Captain, my Captain” and “Carpe diem – sieze the day” to the litany of famous movie quotes. Williams’ second Oscar nomination came for this film, though he lost out to Daniel Day Lewis for My Left Foot.

Awakenings (1990)

In Penny Marshall’s movie, Williams plays it straight as Dr. Malcolm Sayer, a fictionalized version of Psychiatrist Oliver Sacks who wrote the non-fiction book on which the movie is based. He holds his own with Robert De Niro, who portrays one of the patients who awakens from a catatonic state thanks to an experimental drug. One bit of trivia – another of the patients is played by famed jazz saxophonist Dexter Gordon, who passed away before the movie was released.

The Fisher King (1991)

Terry Gillam’s film takes a much different tack on Arthurian mythology than did Gillam’s other directing project, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Jeff Bridges plays Jack, a former DJ who seeks redemption by helping a homeless man, played by Williams. Williams’ character, Parry, is a former college professor who’s become unhinged after witnessing his wife’s murder in a bar shooting – an act unwittingly inspired by Jack. They play out the Fisher King legend in modern New York City, in a powerful tale of loss and redemption. Williams received his third Oscar nomination for this film, but this was also the year that Silence of the Lambs was released.

Aladdin (1992)

Once again Williams’ incredible improvisational comedic skills are on display, and it takes this animated film to a whole different level. When the Genie appears, the energy of the film goes into hyper-drive. It seems unbelievable that Williams hadn’t done an animated film before Aladdin, since the medium is perfect for illustrating his wild flights of comedy fancy.

Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

Director Chris Columbus’ high concept comedy stars Williams as Daniel Hillard, an actor who has gone through a bitter divorce. In order to stay close to his children, he has his gay makeup artist brother Frank, played by Harvey Fierstein, help him become Mrs. Doubtfire, a Scottish nanny. The movie was the greatest financial success of Williams’ career, breaking the $200 million mark at the box office. (It was number 2 that year, behind the juggernaut Jurassic Park.)

The Birdcage (1996)

This was definitely not playing it straight. Mike Nichols’ adaptation of the French film La Cage aux Folles has Williams and Nathan Lane as a gay couple whose son informs them that he’s marrying the daughter of a conservative US Congressman, portrayed by Gene Hackman. The film was a solid hit – #9 at the box office that year – and launched Broadway actor Lane as a film star. Originally, though, Williams was cast in Lane’s role, with Steve Martin in the role Williams eventually played. A scheduling conflict kept Martin out of the film, and opened the door for Lane.

Good Will Hunting (1997)

The fourth time was the charm for Williams, as he won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as the South Boston psychologist who’s brought in to help Matt Damon’s damaged genius. The film was written by Damon and Ben Affleck, but Williams was able to insert several ad libs, including the final line of the film, “Son of a bitch, he stole my line.”

Insomnia (2002)

This was Christopher Nolan’s follow-up film to his classic debut, Memento, and it’s the only film Nolan’s directed that he didn’t write. Instead it’s an adaptation of a 1997 Norwegian film that starred Stellan Skarsgard (who worked with Williams in Good Will Hunting). Williams plays a killer who is at first hunted by Al Pacino’s LAPD Detective, who’s been imported to Alaska to help solve a murder. Things get strange when Pacino accidentally kills his partner and covers it up, leading to a truce between the two men. Hillary Swank portrays a local officer who throws a wrench in their plans. It’s a cat-and-mouse thriller, where you’re never sure who’s the mouse and who’s the cat.

Robin Williams (1951-2014). “Goodnight, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”

10 Best Mystery Movies of the 2000s

Mysteries got on a roll in the 1990s, and it continued into the new century. Each year saw a few memorable films that could qualify for this list. Overall the tone of most of the movies was as dark as the heyday of film noir, and without the censorship of the ‘40s and ‘50s the violence suggested in the earlier movies was displayed on the screen. But the main thing these movies all share is a strong story.

Memento (2000)

The decade got off to an exceptional start with Christopher Nolan’s debut feature. The story of a man who can’t make new memories trying to solve his wife’s murder flows in reverse order, while what happened before his brain injury is told chronologically (and filmed in black and white). It’s a testament to Nolan’s strength as a screenwriter and director that he still made the story accessible and fascinating for the audience. Nolan followed up this film with the underappreciated mystery Insomnia before he took a trip to Gotham City.

The Departed (2006)

Martin Scorsese often deals with crime in his movies, but usually they’re based on true events rather than mysteries, which is why Goodfellas and Casino didn’t appear on the earlier lists. Scorsese himself said he didn’t make a movie with a plot until he did this remake of a Hong Kong film called Infernal Affairs. It gave him the biggest hit of his career up until this point. Leonardo DiCaprio has now taken the place of Robert DeNiro as Scorsese’s first choice of lead actor, but he was just one of a sterling cast including Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Walberg, Vera Farmiga and Martin Sheen. The movie won Scorsese his first Best Director Oscar, after numerous nominations, and also picked up awards for Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay and Film Editing.

Mystic River (2003)

The movies have been very kind to Dennis Lehane, who has two film adaptations on this list, and whose Shutter Island was filmed by Scorsese in 2010 (check back in six years to see if it makes the 10 Best of the 2010s list). You can’t go wrong when you have Clint Eastwood directing, from a screenplay adapted by Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential), and with a cast of Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Lawrence Fishburne, and Marcia Gay Harden. The standout, though, was Laura Linney as Sean Penn’s wife in a role that brought comparisons to Lady MacBeth (in a good way). The movie won Oscars for Sean Penn and Tim Robbins, but that was the year that The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King won just about everything else.

Collateral (2004)

Michael Mann has made a killing with crime stories on television and the big screen, ever since his stylish debut with Thief. This movie wasn’t a major financial success, but it had a strong sense of story and style and is one of the few films to capture the feel of Los Angeles at night, thanks to digital photography. The majority of the story takes place between 9 pm and 5 am on January 23-24, 2004; you’ll find the time and dates referenced in the movie. One fun fact: to prepare for the role of a murderer that no one notices, Tom Cruise made FedEx deliveries to a busy market in L.A. and did it without anyone recognizing him.

Traffic (2000)

Based on an English miniseries dealing with the heroin trade that was shown in 1989, the adaptation by Stephen Gaghan switches its focus to cocaine. The film follows four separate stories to look at the drug trade from different viewpoints. Soon-to-be husband and wife Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones star in the film, though they have no scenes together. To help separate the stories, director Steven Soderbergh uses different film stocks and color treatments to give them each a different look. Despite performing his role mostly in Spanish, Benicio Del Toro won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as an honest Mexican detective. In addition the film won Oscars for Directing, Adapted Screenplay, and Film Editing.

Training Day (2001)

Denzel Washington had spent a dozen years since his breakthrough role in Glory playing heroes. Then he went bad, playing the rogue narc who turns a rookie detective’s first day into a life-and-death marathon. It gave Washington his second Oscar, this time as Best Actor, and since then he’s chosen roles with more moral complexity, such as last year’s alcoholic pilot in Flight. This movie wasn’t loved by the LAPD, and as a counterbalance screenwriter David Ayers wrote End Of Watch, the best portrayal of beat cops ever made.

Gone Baby Gone (2007) 

The second Dennis Lehane adaptation on this list is its only private detective movie. Ben Affleck’s career had tanked, thanks to Daredevil, Gigli, and several other poor choices. The year before this, he was in a decent mystery/thriller, Smokin’ Aces, only to have his character killed within a few minutes of his appearance on screen. Then he reinvented himself as a director, and also collaborated on adapting the script, something he hadn’t done since he won an Oscar for Good Will Hunting. It paid off with a beautifully executed film where the kidnapping of a child leads to a much murkier mystery.  I will go out on a limb and say his follow-up, The Town, will be on the top ten list for the 2010s.

The Lookout (2007)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has become one of the most bankable stars today, quite the accomplishment for a former child actor on television. He did it by making a series of independent films, including this one where he plays a bank janitor who gets caught up in a robbery scheme. The film was written and directed by Scott Frank, who wrote Dead Again and adapted Out Of Sight in the 1990s, and who also did the script for this year’s The Wolverine.

Oceans 11 (2001)

The original Rat Pack version of this movie isn’t very good, and the caper itself was laughable. The Steven Soderbergh version isn’t so much a remake as a reinvention, and it features one of the best robberies ever filmed. That it’s all presented with its tongue very firmly planted in its cheek makes it all the more fun. The later sequels became tiresome, but this movie holds up to repeated viewings.

The Dark Knight (2008)

I know it’s a superhero movie, but Christopher Nolan’s second visit to Gotham City transcends the genre. It helps that Batman has no “super” powers beyond technology that’s not farfetched. Just ask the NSA about the “cell phone sonar” that listens in on everyone. You could think of Batman as the ultimate private eye – Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe in costume. The film features several plot archetypes of the mystery genre, such as the lone avenger, a corrupt city, the ruin of the white knight (Harvey Dent), and the movie begins with one of the most lethal bank robberies ever filmed. So it claims the last spot on this list.

Some of the other movies that almost made the cut were The Road to Perdition, Michael Clayton, Insomnia, The Deep End, Smokin’ Aces, and Narc. Please feel free to leave comments about the list or to suggest other movies.

A Trilogy Rises in the End

The third movie in a trilogy often becomes an embarrassing mush.  Along with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 and Brett Ratner’s X-Men: The Last Stand, think of Coppola’s The Godfather: Part III.  The only good that came out of that movie was that Sophia Coppola moved behind the camera, and has become a fine director.  The Lord of the Rings trilogy was an exception, because of its strong source material and Peter Jackson’s filming it as one huge movie.

The good news is that The Dark Knight Rises is another exception to the “3rd Times the Harm” rule.  It is a fitting conclusion for the series.

The movie begins with an action sequence even more thrilling than the bank robbery in The Dark Knight.  A CIA agent (Aiden Gillen) and his crew of paramilitary operatives take custody from a local warlord of a rogue nuclear physicist, Dr. Pavel (Alon Aboutboul) as well as three hooded men who supposedly work with a terrorist named Bane (Tom Hardy).  While in flight, the CIA’s plane is literally hi-jacked by Bane’s operatives in order to get Dr. Pavel, for whom Bane has plans.

In Gotham City, it has been 8 years since Batman rode off into the dark after taking the blame for the crimes that Harvey “Two-Face” Dent committed.  In that time Gotham has been freed from much of the crime that had plagued it, thanks to draconian laws passed in Dent’s name that have filled the city’s jail.  Every year the anniversary of Dent’s death is a time for celebrating the DA’s supposed sacrifice, including a gala garden party held on the grounds of the rebuilt Wayne manor (after it was destroyed in Batman Begins by Ra’s al-Ghul and the League of Shadows).

In those 8 years, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a Howard Hughes’ figure, a hermit locked away in his mansion, mourning his lost love, Rachel Dawes.  Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) has paid a price as well; his family deserted him as a consequence of his covering up of Dent’s crimes.  He’s asked to give a speech at the garden party about the real Harvey Dent.  Gordon pulls out notes which tell the truth, but thinks better of it.  A business colleague of Wayne’s, Miranda Tate (Marion Cottilard), tries to meet with him during the party, but Alfred (Michael Caine) rebuffs her efforts.

Inside Wayne Manor, Alfred directs one of the catering staff to take a food tray to a locked wing of the mansion, unaware that she’s Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a burglar known as the Cat-woman.  Wayne interrupts her as she’s taking an heirloom necklace from the safe.  His previous adventures have taken a toll on his body, and Selena is able to escape, picking up a congressman on her way out.  Afterward, Wayne finds fingerprint dust on the safe.  Apart from the necklace, Selina has stolen his prints.

When the body of a youth is washed out of a storm drain, policeman John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) recognizes the boy as a former resident of the orphanage where Blake was raised.  After talking with Blake by the smashed Batman signal on the roof of police headquarters, Gordon promotes Blake to his assistant.  Selina meets her contacts to give him Wayne’s fingerprints in exchange for her fee, but she finds she’s being double-crossed.  She pulls her own double-cross and brings Gordon and the police racing to the scene.  The hoods escape into the sewers.  While following them, Gordon is captured by Bane, who’s living beneath the city with his gang.  Gordon manages to escape, but is shot in the process.  Blake has figured out Batman’s identity, and he barges in on Wayne, forcing Wayne to return to the world of the living.

Christopher Nolan had always viewed his Batman movies as a trilogy, and that vision has paid off in a final chapter that is not only strong in itself but also wraps up themes and pays off moments from the first movie.  The screenplay by Nolan and his brother Jonathan (based on a story developed by Nolan and Batman Begins co-writer David Goyer) expands on The Dark Knight to create a fully-rendered world.  Nolan had decided, after the death of Heath Ledger, to not mention The Joker in this movie.  Rises is so full on its own that you won’t even notice the omission.

As with the previous movies, the acting is sterling.  Bale, Oldman and Caine layer onto their characters the regrets and pain accrued in the previous two movies.  The new characters, and the actors playing them, blend seamlessly into the Batman world.  It helps that Hardy, Cottilard, and Gordon-Levitt worked with Nolan on the twisty, fascinating Inception.  Hardy embraces the anarchy of Bane, an erudite ‘roid rager extraordinaire.  Gordon-Levitt has the thankless task of playing a straight arrow, but he pulls it off beautifully and believably.  Cottilard offers a possible salvation for Bale’s Wayne, both on a business level as well as emotionally.

The opposite side of Cottilard’s coin is Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle.  Catwoman has been both fascinating and frustrating in previous incarnations.  You have the campy purr-formances of Lee Meriwether and Eartha Kitt in the 1960’s Batman series and movie (Julie Newmar originated the role, and was the best of the three).  In 1992’s Batman Returns, Michelle Pfieffer was mesmerizing.  2004’s Catwoman expanded on the character’s backstory from Batman Returns, but the film was an embarrassing mess.  Now Nolan has raised the bar for the character, just as he did with Batman in Batman Begins.  There’s a depth we’ve not seen before, and Hathaway embodies it beautifully.  (She has said she’d be interested in doing a spin-off for the character, if Nolan would be involved; here’s hoping that will happen.)

The movie runs 12 minutes longer than The Dark Knight, but if anything you’ll be sad to see it end.

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I’ve kept any mention of the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado until now because I don’t want to give any greater place to the madman who perpetrated that horrible crime.  Christian Bale showed a grace beyond what we often see when he and his wife quietly visited with the victims, first responders, doctors and nurses a few days after the shootings.  My prayers are with the many that were injured, and the families of those who lost loved ones.  But I choose to end by remembering three men: Jon Blunk was a security guard who’d served 8 years in the Navy, and was in the process of re-enlisting, hoping to become a SEAL.  He was 25 years old.  Alex Teves, 24, had served as a mentor at the University of Arizona near his hometown of Phoenix as well as at the University of Colorado.  Matt McQuinn, 27, had just moved to Colorado from Ohio with his girlfriend.  All three men gave their lives to save others, using their bodies as shields.  The Dark Knight Rises extols the virtue of heroes taking a stand to protect others from evil.  Jon, Alex, and Matt showed the reality of such heroism in their sacrificial act.

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”                                                                                                                             John 15:13