Heath Ledger's brilliance dominates 'Dark Knight'; Meryl's 'Mia!'
The Dark Knight is both a brilliantly nihilistic, incredibly dark and richly layered filmgoing experience, and a painful reminder of what the film world lost with the senseless death of Heath Ledger. His death is a shadow that permeates every inch of celluloid in this tour de force.
Long after one makes the immediate observation that this is the best picture ever based on a comic book, comes the understanding that this film touches on so many hot-button subjects about the current state of our chaotic world, including the defense of using torture on those who don't deserve any rights, terrorists. Another topic woven into the storyline is the near impossibility of retaining one's sense of honor when facing an enemy who laughs at the notion of honor in a world gone mad.
In one of the many intense standoffs in The Dark Knight, regular citizens are put to the test when asked to choose life -- or murder -- for survival. As this conundrum unfolds, we are shown that the difference between criminals and honorable folks is paper-cut thin, and that difference is what defines our humanity.
Bruce Wayne is contemplating retirement from his caped crusader persona. He hopes that Gotham City has a new crusader to take his place, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), the seemingly incorruptible district attorney who teams up with Batman and honest cop Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) to put the mob out of business. Dent is also dating Batman's ex, Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal, a major upgrade from Katie Holmes).
The wild card in this plan is the Joker (Heath Ledger), a maniacal sociopath who stirs up Gotham City by his criminal activities that anger both the good guys and the crooks, thus keeping his demented plans for total chaos expanding in Gotham.
Wayne's sense of order is tested as he confronts this villain whose skill at turning honor and goodness into uncontrollable rage erodes Wayne's faith in himself and his mission. Is it all for nothing? Is evil ever defeated?
The extremely generous Christian Bale has stepped to one side and let Heath Ledger reign supreme in The Dark Knight. Writer-director Christopher Nolan and his co-screenwriter, brother Jonathan Nolan, provide the platform on which Ledger delivers his Oscar-winning performance for best actor. Let's have none of this debate over the villain being a traditional "supporting actor" nominee.
Ledger's greatest accomplishment is in making us feel a twinge of sympathy for this monster. His Joker is a man who was created by the evil done to him -- an evil he now feels compelled to share. From the ends of his expressive fingers to his posture and body language, to his gentle yet chilling voice, Ledger has created a movie icon for the ages.
To honor that performance, the Nolans have created a film worthy of it.
P.S., pay the extra few bucks and see The Dark Knight at the IMAX. The crisp, pristine images deserve the cliche "state-of-the-art."
Meryl Streep singing and dancing along the streets of a gorgeous Greek island paradise, with 007 trying to sing along and keep up, is the combination that makes the goofy ABBA musical Mama Mia! an instant guilty pleasure. Meryl as Donna, joined by Julie Walters and Christine Baranski as her two best friends, is marrying off her 20-year-old daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried). Sophie has never been told who her father was, and so she invites the three possible candidates (discovered in her mother's diary) to her wedding. The threesome is Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsg�rd. The story has enough energy to provide a few good chuckles, and the upbeat ABBA songbook offers star turns for all the principals, in particular Baranski, who steals the spotlight with her hilarious take on "Does Your Mother Know." Other songs from the ABBA catalogue include "Fernando," "Take A Chance On Me," "S.O.S.," "Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight)," "Money, Money, Money" "Waterloo," "Knowing Me, Knowing You," "Dancing Queen" and, of course, "Mama Mia."
In the end, thanks to a couple of spectacular plot twists, and several crowd-pleasing nods to his previous Batman films, Nolan delivered a finale that not only finished his participation with a elegant farewell, he also generously set up the story for the next filmmaker who takes over.