The Dark Knight

“Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

Those words are spoken by Bruce Wayne’s butler, Alfred (Michael Caine), one of the few people in Gotham who know that the billionaire playboy is actually the vigilante hero Batman. He is explaining, by saying there essentially is no explanation, why the villainous Joker continues to defy their expectations. The Joker has plenty of dastardly schemes, but no grand plan. He is a master of chaos, but nothing holds mastery over him.

The Dark Knight, director/co-writer Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to Batman Begins is, without question, the best superhero film I’ve ever seen. But I feel like that is faint praise. This is the first “summer blockbuster” since Jaws, maybe, that is truly a film first and foremost. Yes, it is breaking box office records, and it will sell tons of popcorn and action figures, but as an artistic achievement it belongs on the same playing field as the best films this year has to offer.

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Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Date: July 12
Location: AMC Sunset Place

Setting aside Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (possibly my favorite movie ever), there is no film in the past ten years that I find more moving, powerful or perfectly realized than Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. It is the ultimate blend of high art and extravagant fantasy, and a singular vision that on its own puts Del Toro among the ranks of the finest filmmakers working today.

Now, Hellboy II: The Golden Army is no Pan’s Labyrinth. But it’s clear in every frame of this carnival ride of a film that the same extraordinary imagination is working the levers. Del Toro skips between art house fare such as The Devil’s Backbone and Labyrinth and mainstream action flicks such as Mimic and the Hellboy films, but it’s obvious that he throws himself into both with equal fervor. You can sense his love of cinematic storytelling in every sweeping camera move, not to mention the visual delights filling every frame.

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Get Smart

Date: July 5
Location: Regal – The Falls

This is one of those movies that you forget almost immediately after seeing it. The jokes are funny enough, the action scenes are clever enough, but that’s about it. And don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with that — sometimes a simple diversion is all you want.

Steve Carell does his usual solid deadpan work, delivering laughs and pathos in equal measure. I hope he someday gets a big screen role as good as The Office‘s Michael Scott. Little Miss Sunshine and Dan in Real Life were a good start. Get Smart is something he could do in his sleep, though to his credit he never treats it that way. Anne Hathaway is lovely as his partner, Agent 99 — she’s really quite gorgeous, either despite or because of her giant mouth (I can’t decide which).

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Hancock

Date: July 4, 2008
Location: Regal Oakwood Plaza, Hollywood

There are plenty of problems with Hancock, to be sure.

My primary complaint is that the film is too short — the ending, in particular, feels rushed, and I would have liked several more scenes exploring each character’s reactions to the climactic events. The villain, too, is lacking — though, in a way, he is supposed to be. But I wanted a stronger setup to his role in the third act. There’s an extended action sequence following the film’s big reveal that feels wrong in its details, and I would have preferred to see its context explored through a mix of dialogue and action as opposed to a big budget set piece.

I’m being vague here because there is also a whole lot that’s very right about Hancock, and discussing most of it means getting into spoiler territory. So, that’s what I’ll do… follow to the jump if you’ve seen the film or don’t plan to.

Otherwise, see it before checking back.
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Wall-E

Date: June 29, 2008
Location: Muvico Boynton Beach

One of Pixar’s most admirable qualities is the respect it shows for the intelligence of its audience, adult and child alike. The provocative themes of films from Finding Nemo to Ratatouille are often more resonant than anything you see in live action; the jokes are organic and rarely easy. And remarkably, their respect is rewarded big-time at the box office. Pixar not only creates Disney’s most creative films, but its most lucrative.

On paper, Wall-E looks like the most challenging Pixar film yet. Set (initially) on a depressingly bleak future Earth abandoned by humans and covered in waste, told almost entirely without dialogue, this is not The Little Mermaid. But the title character is such a lovable misfit (reminiscent of E.T. in both his appearance and his curious fumblings) that it might not be such a gamble after all.

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Kung Fu Panda

Date: June 16, 2008
Location: Muvico Boynton Beach

First, I must say (on behalf of my wife) that Fiona is a terror. While she’ll now sit quietly and enjoy a DVD at home, she has yet to make any experience in the theater anything less than a living hell. And Alex inevitably winds up dealing with her and missing half the movie. In this case, I took over for the last 20 minutes but managed to see the climax from the corner of the theater. It’s a good thing she’s cute, or we might have left her behind one of the WALL-E displays and high-tailed out of there.

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The Incredible Hulk

Date: June 14, 2008
Location: AMC Sunset Place

After the bloated, boring Hulk Ang Lee delivered in 2003, I really wasn’t expecting much out of this new incarnation. The presence of Ed Norton intrigued me, but my suspicion was that — everything else aside — the technology isn’t quite there to make a 10-foot green monster man believable. King Kong is, for my money, the most convincing CGI character to grace the big screen, but a 25-foot gorilla is more out-there than something that looks at least partly like a human being.

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