My affiliation with Cineaste magazine got me into a screening (on my birthday, as it happens) of …you know, this week’s comic book adaptation. And so for the Cineaste website I tapped out a review. But, as a firm believer in special edition content, here’s more stuff. (We cater to our readers.)

First, let’s back up, to July 2008, before I had one kid, let alone two. Remember this? “The most disappointing movie of the year”? Yeesh. I heard from you. So, now that you’ve read my Rises review, “Why so serious…ly impressed?” you ask.

Let me go all the way and say that The Dark Knight Rises is hands down the best movie of the week, and almost certainly the best big movie of the summer, so good you may as well cancel August, with its Bourne and Total Recall rehashes and remakes. Let me qualify this by saying that The Dark Knight Rises is one of  the relatively few movies I’ve seen this summer, given the whole two kids business and so much product that has “Starz by February” stamped on it. I may be missing some diamonds in the rough, or a life-changing hit, but that’s what the “ancillaries” are for. (And, give it up, you’re probably relying on cable or VOD or DVD/Blu-ray, too; whatever “the numbers,” the only one that really counts is attendance, and after a ragged 2011 it’s on a perpetual seesaw this year.) In any case, I’m one of the good guys this time, so hurl your tomatoes elsewhere.

What did I see in TDKR that I didn’t see in TDK? Movies are an ink blot test. Take this tweet, from a noted movie blogger: “Hmmm…still waiting for someone to mention that almost a third of TDKR is dedicated to the way a fascist/Nazi gov rises without opposition.” Hmmm…I’d mention it, but as you’ll see there are good, comic book reasons for the citizens of Gotham City to stand back and do nothing, and their resistance would be useless anyway given the comic book circumstances of their predicament. Or the Salon “evil masterpiece” review. Fine, swell, see what you see. Oh, and the whole Rush Limbaugh off-his-meds-again Bane/Bain thing–I mean, if anyone were to feel at home in a “fascistic universe,” it would be Rush Limbaugh. I don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.

What I saw was, hallelujah, a comic book movie, one that tackles “issues,” but in more of a James Bond-ian way, with a dose of black comedy. (Note to Salon: While the Hudson hasn’t frozen over in decades, the Chicago River, part of a former Gotham City, has done so in recent years, and anyway it’s fictional.) It doesn’t have the lightness of, say, The Avengers, which is as fleet of foot as a gazillion dollar tentpole bursting with superheroes can be–Nolan doesn’t do lightness–nor, thankfully, is at as ho-hum pointless as the not-so-Amazing Spider-Man. It’s an entertainment, no more, no less, and whenever Anne Hathaway (the rare woman with something pivotal to do in the Nolanverse) is around to perk up the show it’s winning. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, too, a getting-to-be-overexposed actor I haven’t tired of yet. (The Nolans’ script, and Tom Hardy’s performance, make what they can of Bane. A solid try but while Hardy claims to have gone for an Irish accent what I could hear of his dialogue still sounds like one of Paul Frees‘ Soviet bloc voiceovers in numerous TV shows and movies.) As for Marion Cotillard’s “woman of mystery” (a more typical Nolan female)…well, after she won her Oscar, I said to my film watching group, “That’ll be the last we’ll see of her!” Corneille eaten–she’s become quite the Gallic fetish object, the French Penelope Cruz, adored by Nolan, Woody Allen, and Michael Mann.

That’s enough for now, except to say that my IMAX screening was attended by all of 50 people (including Matt Lauer and Whoopi Goldberg), the emptiest that Bat-cavern on 68th Street will be for months. (The IMAX footage is impressive; the frequent aspect ratio switches between IMAX scenes and shots, annoying.) And, hmmm, you tell me…what did you think of Selina’s “accomplice”? What’s the deal with her? Is Nolan, whose movies are as bereft of sex as they are of most simple pleasures, suddenly walking the wild side? (Subsequent developments would suggest otherwise; still, the idea of the stuffy Nolan getting his freak on via Catwoman is mildly titillating.)

Oh, and the mayor of Gotham City (Nelson Carbonell) still wears eyeliner. At least it’s consistent, and I’m over it. The Dark Knight Rises is more in line with Batman Begins, or before Batman began working my nerves, and that’s all for the best.

Economic distress is a theme of several movies this summer. Bruce Wayne gets tossed into the 99 percent, where, in my movie fantasia, he meets Magic Mike and finds new use for his leather goods. Magic Mike is a lightweight vessel into which Steven Soderbergh has poured our hard times, and when it’s at the club it’s goofy, strippery fun (I saw it for auteurist reasons, OK?). I’m still lukewarm on star Channing Tatum, but from the waist down the guy is fuckin’ Olivier. And Matthew McConaughey is almost as awesome as I was when I earned a few collegiate bucks in my cowboy outfit. That whole smeary Soderbergh aesthetic, though, is a downer (he really needs to employ a cinematographer again) and Cody Horn (the producer’s daughter) gives one of the worst performances I have ever seen as the girl. Her stern, lockjawed emoting makes Michelle Rodriguez look charming–and Rodriguez has no charm. But audiences took to it–counterprogramming works, even when what’s being counterprogrammed fizzles–and even as we speak sequels and a Broadway musical are in the works. This franchise really is ass.

More magical is Beasts of the Southern Wild, which goes into wider release today. I was entranced by this semi-fantasy of life down in the Louisiana Delta, a community upended by a Katrina-like disaster and the calamities, real and imagined, endured by a plucky six-year-old, Hushpuppy (a remarkable debut by QuvenzhanÁ© Wallis, matched by the burning intensity of her half-mad father, Wink, played by Dwight Henry). A Sundance-baked movie that doesn’t feel like one, and based, quite unexpectedly, on a one-act play, Beasts bustles with incidents (the beasts are aurochs, prehistoric animals let loose on our environmentally ailing world) that keep time with Hushpuppy’s beating heart. There’s not an expected moment in it, and with its tempests and handmade feel it has a certain kinship with Moonrise Kingdom. But mostly it goes its own way, and it needs to be experienced, not overanalyzed. The movie’s 29-year-old director, co-writer, and co-composer, Benh Zeitlin, has a bright future ahead of him in fantasy films, but I hope he spends a few more movies illuminating our world. Go.

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About the Author

Bob Cashill

An Editorial Board Member of Cineaste magazine, Bob is also a member of the Drama Desk theatrical critics society in New York. See what he's watching on Letterboxd and read more from him at New York Theater News.

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