‘The Dark Knight Rises’: a wild ride

Detective John Blake (Jason Gordon-Levitt) is chatting with a boy from the orphanage when he learns that the boy works underground. “What work is there to be found in the sewers?” Blake asks.

“What work is there to be found up here?” the boy responds.

Movies are a reflection of the times and Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises” is no exception. With last month’s national unemployment rate at 8.2 percent (and the unemployment rate among 16- to 24-year-olds at 16.5 percent), the dismal economy and job market is nothing new. Nor is the global undercurrent of social unrest — from the Arab Uprisings to the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Just like how “The Dark Knight” carried post-9/11 themes of terrorism and wire-tapping, Nolan’s third installment in the Batman trilogy channels Gotham as a parody of today, seeming to provide another social commentary.

“The Dark Knight Rises” continues eight years following the aftermath of “The Dark Knight” — when Gotham’s District Attorney Harvey Dent/ Two-Face (Aaron Eckhart) dies and the Gotham Police Department, under Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), exalt Dent as a hero when he was also a murderer. Gordon feels guilty about praising someone who threatened the life of his family while blaming Batman for Two-Face’s crimes. Meanwhile, although billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has hung up his cap and cape and retired from a life as Batman, those events also haunt him. But when a new mercenary named Bane (Tom Hardy) threatens the social order of Gotham, Wayne doesn’t hesitate to return to Gotham as Batman.

Whereas Christian Bale’s Batman paled in comparison to the eccentricities of Heath Ledger’s Joker in “The Dark Knight,” Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne is fascinating. Like in “Batman Begins,” the story refocuses on Wayne, breaking him down and building him up. But Wayne was never an underdog. “You get to keep your house. The rich don’t even go broke,” Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) quips after Wayne loses his money following some bad investments (J.P. Morgan, anyone?).

Although Wayne’s household name prevents him from invisibility, his desire for anonymity seems both brave and arrogant. In one scene, Wayne shows up at a masquerade party without a mask. When asked what’s his costume, he responds, “Bruce Wayne.”

But if Bruce Wayne is only a costume, so is Batman. “The idea is to be a symbol,” Bale says. “Batman can be anyone.” Bale echos “Batman Begins” where he expressed similar sentiments on a plane: “As a symbol, I can be incorruptible.” But Bale isn’t the only one with the ability to don two masks.

Hathaway also displays fluidity as Selina Kyle and Catwoman, giving a convincing fake scream one minute and walking calm and composed the next. Hathaway’s Selina Kyle is a fantastic actress, proving Hathaway’s own prowess in the field and her ability to land on her feet.

Tom Hardy gives a powerful presence as Bane, expressing that no one paid attention to him before without the face mask (Did anyone pay attention to dollar bill guy before the OWS protester taped a dollar a bill to his lips?). Perhaps it’s the face mask that warrants the added attention (or the fact that the mask muffles Hardy’s voice, making it harder to hear him, and therefore making you listen harder). Or perhaps it’s his buff physique. Or his words, which echo the words and signs of the Occupy protestors: “Return control to the people,” “Demand resignation of the corrupt.” Whatever the reason, Hardy makes you watch him as he tells you, “There can be no true despair without hope.”

Brothers Christopher and Jonathan Nolan’s screenplay is a emotional roller coaster, full of twists and turns. But Bale, Hathaway, Hardy and the rest of the cast are strong pillars, providing support for the dizzying drops and mounting heights of the film. From when Wayne’s butler Alfred (Michael Caine) proclaims his love and guilt — “You are as precious to me as you were to your own mother and father. I swore to them that I would protect you, and I haven’t.” — to the stunning fireworks (such as when Bane and the construction workers blow up an entire football field), “The Dark Knight Rises” promises and delivers a wild ride.

“The Dark Knight Rises” was written by Jonathan and Christopher Nolan and directed by Christopher Nolan.


‘Bella Swan’ and the Huntsman

Although Robert Pattinson has made great strides to overcome his fame as the “Twilight” saga’s Edward Cullen (with leading roles in films such as “Remember Me” and “Water for Elephants”), it’s hard to see Pattinson’s “Twilight” and real life love-interest, Kristen Stewart, as anyone other than Stephanie Meyer’s heroine, Bella Swan. This is most apparent in her new movie “Snow White and the Huntsman,” where Stewart is typecast as another pale, damsel in distress.

This newest adaption of the classic Brothers Grimm tale has Stewart as the fair princess Snow White and Charlize Theron as the evil queen, Ravenna. After being told that the princess rivals the queen in beauty — and also that consuming Snow White’s heart will keep her youthful forever — Ravenna becomes keen on capturing and harnessing Snow White’s heart. However, although Snow White has been locked in the castle since her father’s death, she manages to escape into the dark forest after a blunder with the queen’s brother (Sam Spruell). Furious with the turn of events, the queen summons the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to apprehend the princess. However, once the Huntsman finds the princess, he decides to protect her journey her rather than arrest her for the queen.

Although the film is titled “Snow White and the Huntsman,” perhaps the movie should be called “The Queen and the Princess” (this movie trailer seems to agree, portraying Queen Ravenna as the lead and Snow White and the Huntsman as supporting characters). Theron carries the movie as Ravenna: a queen as cruel, vicious and human as Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), the ice-cold blond queen from George R. R. Martin’s and HBO’s “Game of Thones” series. While Stewart’s performance as Snow White is lackluster, Theron as Ravenna is hateful. In one scene she is surrounded by dead bodies she just consumed. “I should have killed her when she was a child,” Theron confesses in one scene. “Where is she?” she demands madly in another. However, as much as you want to hate the Queen, you can’t help but feel empathy for her.

“I, too, lost my mother when I was a young girl,” Ravenna tells a young Snow White. “I can never take your mother’s place, ever.” Some of Ravenna’s late mother’s parting words: “You’re beauty is all that can save you, Ravenna. This spell will make your beauty your power and protection.”

With touching scenes like this, you almost feel sorry for the queen.

“I was ruined by a king like you once,” Ravenna tells the king right before she stabs him in bed on their honeymoon. “I replaced his queen, an old woman. And in time, I, too, would have been replaced. Men use women, they ruin us and when they are finished with us they throw us to their dogs like scraps.” (With King Robert’s favorite hobbies as whoring and hunting, I think wife Cersei Lannister would agree with these sentiments, don’t you?) If sympathy is not what you feel, at least you understand her motivations.

As much as the character of the queen is fully fleshed out, other pieces in the movie don’t add up. For example, the movie begins with a narration by Hemsworth the Huntsman, but doesn’t conclude with one. Instead, it concludes with Stewart’s awkward smile (smirk? grimace?) as she sits before her full court. It is also unclear how the relationship between Snow White and the Huntsman resolves — even though it’s the title (and therefore subject?) of the film. Most of all, however, it’s unclear why Stewart was cast in this film.

If not for the flattering statements and reactions from the cast supporting her, it would be hard to see Stewart’s “rare beauty” and “fairness.” Sure, Stewart has moments with children and forest animals (she growls at a monster, dances with a dwarf and pets a great white stag’s muzzle), but perhaps it’s too hard to see Stewart as the epitome of good (especially when it’s easier to see her smooching her vampire boyfriend). Instead, her pureness is suggested, coaxed and reinforced through words and repetition: “She is life itself,” says Muir, one of the dwarves. “… Where she leads, I follow.” After all, how would Stewart’s cry for blood and war be moving if not for the people (or dwarves) rallying in support of her? If not for the undying love of William (Sam Clafin), her childhood friend; and the Huntsman — who both kiss her, hoping to revive her from the queen’s poisoned apple? If not for the queen — who considers the princess to be her greatest adversary? Stewart’s acting seems stale as the apple she chokes on, but perhaps that’s because the viewer’s mind is poisoned by “Twilight.”

“Snow White and the Huntsman” was directed by Rupert Sanders; and written by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini.

‘Enter the Haggis’ tells a story

Enter the Haggis playing on July 7 at the HIstoric Riviera Theatre & Performing Arts Center. Photo taken by Qina Liu

The Celtic have a tradition as storytellers — and Canadian Celtic-Rock band Enter the Haggis emulate this skill as they take the stage last Friday night at the Historic Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda, N.Y.

“This song has always been kind of an obituary,” singer Brian Buchanan says as he introduces, “The Flood,” one of the band’s newest songs from their C.D. “Whitelake.”

“This song is not about drowning,” Buchanan says ironically; he almost drowned when canoeing after recording this song. “The cheerful note of the story is that I don’t die,” he says.

To this, an audience member cheers.

“The Flood” starts off slow, it’s haunting and somber melody flooding the theatre as Buchanan sings about trying not to drown amid the flood of “commitments and careers.”

“It’s easy to not be afraid and simply close our eyes as we watch the water rise,” he sings.

In a way, these lyrics reflect the story of the band, who decided to do the not easy thing of leaving their record label to record “Whitelake” independently. The stories, like “The Flood,” are more personal, and the overall C.D. sounds more rock, blues and country than the Celtic flavor that riveted fans.

Despite going in a new direction that might disappoint some, Enter the Haggis continues to tell the stories that supported them. These stories included “Noteworthy and Piercy,” which Buchanan describes as the true story of two fisherman from Newfoundland; “The Death of Johnny Mooring”; “One Last Drink”; “Lanigan’s Ball”; “Down with the Ship”; and…

“Gasoline,” someone shouts from the orchestra.

“Where?” Buchanan asks, looking around comically.

Dutifully, Enter the Haggis plays “Gasoline” during their second set, followed by newer songs such as “Whistleblower,” which is about an ex-child soldier returning home; and “Devil’s Son,” which Buchanan describes as the “happy song about Mark Madoff’s suicide.”

The eclectic blend of both older and newer songs and styles only added to the energy of the theatre as Craig Downie virtuosoly juggled among trumpet to bagpipes to harmonica to vocals and Brian traded time among fiddle, keyboard, guitar and microphone. As depressing as the lyrics to Stan Rogers’ “White Squall” might be, the lighthearted banter between the band and the audience raised spirits.

“There’s a bar, you know,” Downie says as he raises a pint of Guinness to his lips.

Later Downie becomes fascinated by a chandelier hanging from the ceiling of the Riviera Theatre, and begins singing from “Phantom of the Opera.”

“You know, when he sings, that chandelier falls, right?” Buchanan quips.

This playful, tongue-in-cheek banter continues as Craig narrates Phantom, calling, “Christine, Christine.”

“The crowd’s yelling for Lady Gaga,” says Buchanan. “Or Andrew Lloyd Beiber.”

Enter the Haggis plays “Cameos” at the Riviera Theatre. Photo taken by Qina Liu.

In reality though, the crowd was yelling for Enter the Haggis, standing and cheering until the band returned. Unplugged from their amps, the five members of the band lined up at the front of the stage and began singing, “Cameos.”

“The story’s told, the credits roll, the lights are up, it’s time to go,” chimed the voices of Buchanan, Downie, Trever Lewington, Mark Abraham and Bruce McCarthy.

“This is a beautiful, beautiful theatre and we’d love to come back someday,” Buchanan says.

With the success of “Whitelake,” Enter the Haggis will be recording another indie album in October.