It's called "The Dark Knight Rises," but that doesn't happen before Christopher Nolan plunges Gotham City into chaos, as divided and tumultuous as Bruce Wayne/Batman's scarred psyche. The third installment of the rebooted franchise is virtuoso filmmaking, a gripping spectacle that is both a sober reflection of our times and a three-ring circus, complete with the lions, tigers and clowns.
When the story picks up from "The Dark Knight," it's eight years later. Batman (Christian Bale) has been sidelined after the Harvey Dent/Two Face scandal that left the public believing the superhero was more a villain. His alter ego, Bruce Wayne (who seems less comfortable when he is in public), has become a Howard Hughes recluse-type joke, roaming around his Victorian mansion in pajamas.
One evening he catches a burglar, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), breaking in. He thinks he has her, but she outsmarts him, though not before issuing him an ominous warning and taking something.
Around the same time philanthropist Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) comes into Bruce's life, wanting his support for charitable causes. She's almost too beautiful to pass up for Bruce, who still pines for his dead first love.
Meanwhile, a real villain -- the brutish Bane (Tom Hardy), with a scar running down his back and headgear that obscures his face and turns his voice into a threatening rasp -- throws Gotham City into panic when he and his gang attack the stock market. The panic that ensues -- evoked by Wally Pfister's visceral cinematography -- recalls the turmoil of the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, devastation. It's not long before the metropolis turns into the Paris of "A Tale of Two Cities," with its own reign of terror.
Nolan, who says this is his final take on the character, has put a lot on the table here, but "The Dark Knight Rises" hasn't quite squeezed the comic out of its comic-book roots.
Hathaway's Selena adds a needed cheeky presence as well as sex appeal, and there are still all of those nifty gadgets and vehicles.
A cinematic treat from start to finish, there is more than one way to look at the title to the film. So feel free to interpret or just enjoy it.
While it seems few Oscar pundits are including it as a best-picture contender, it should be.
-- Indie gem
On the other hand, "Beasts of the Southern Wild" is showing up on many best-picture lists. It is a very good film, though part of its charm for some may come from its indie roots.
A sort of magical-realism tale, the film tells of Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis), a 6-year-old girl who lives on a small strip of land on the Gulf of Mexico. The community, southwest of New Orleans on the wrong side of the levee, is so isolated that the norms of malls, cellphones and the digital age do not apply.
Hushpuppy and her father (Dwight Henry) live in the area known as the Bathtub, which an elderly woman tells her won't last because the waters in the Gulf are rising. Visions of ice caps melting fill her head, as do prehistoric animals. The locals' folklore includes a myth about giant beasts called aurochs, and she fears their return.
However, a real hurricane is on the way and orders come in to evacuate. Meanwhile Hushpuppy's father is dying, hoping to live long enough to give his daughter a future.
"Beasts" is based on a play by Lucy Alibar. She co-wrote the script with director Benh Zeitlin, making his feature-film debut.
There is much beauty and wonder and poetry in the film, and if you see it with fresh eyes you will appreciate it. Because of its setting, the film has conjured up mentions of Huck Finn and William Faulkner, but it's more like a small gem, not a classic.
Still, the film, which has a cool soundtrack, should be celebrated.
-- Streep flick
Love in the twilight is the subject of "Hope Springs," which brings us Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones.
It's a story about a longtime marriage that's gone stale. Directed by David Frankel ("The Devil Wears Prada") from a script by Vanessa Taylor, the film has some underlying intelligence to it, but too often tries to underscore the difficulties of being married for more than three decades with some clumsy methods, such as obvious songs.
Steve Carell plays a therapist trying to help the couple recapture the magic in their relationship.
It's a good subject, though, and the film has its moments, especially with Streep and Jones.
-- Busy Jennifer Garner
There is a Jennifer Garner double bill out there with "The Odd Life of Timothy Green" and "Butter," a film she also produced.
The first, from Peter Hedges, is a whimsical fantasy of Cindy (Garner) and Jim Green (Joel Edgerton), who live in a small town where the main source of revenue -- a pencil manufacturing plant -- may go out of business.
One evening, after being told they are unable to conceive, the couple imagine the perfect child they would have. They bury a box with a list of their wishes in their garden and later that night -- after a mysterious rainfall -- a 10-year-old boy (C.J. Adams) appears in their house.
"Butter" has Garner as Laura Pickler, a social climber whose husband's winning butter sculptures have made them local celebrities. When he must bow out of the competition, she takes up the knife with a sculpture of the John F. Kennedy assassination, and goes to great lengths to ensure her win.
"Timothy Green" is sweet and somewhat charming, while "Butter" is odd but does have some laughs.
The Dark Knight Rises $28.98/ Blu-ray $35.99
Hope Springs $30.99/ Blu-ray $35.99
Beasts of the Southern Wild $29.98/ Blu-ray $39.99
The Odd Life of Timothy Green $29.99/ Blu-ray $39.99
Butter $24.98/ Blu-ray $29.99
Silent Night $24.98/ Blu-ray $29.99
V/H/S $26.98/ Blu-ray $29.98
-- Gift sets
The Dark Knight Trilogy (Batman Begins/ The Dark Knight/ The Dark Knight Rises) 38.99/ Blu-ray $52.99
Francis Ford Coppola: 5-Film Collection (Apocalypse Now/ Apocalypse Now Redux/ One From the Heart/ Tetro/ The Conversation) Blu-ray $39.99
Finding Nemo: Five-Disc Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray $49.99
Finding Nemo: Three-Disc Collector's Edition Blu-ray $39.99
Up: Five-Disc Combo Blu-ray $49.99
Ancient Aliens: Collector's Edition $99.95
-- Older films
Brazil: The Criterion Collection Blu-ray $49.95
Catch Me If You Can Blu-ray $22.98
Purple Noon: The Criterion Collection $29.95/ Blu-ray $39.95
Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXV $59.97
Silent Night, Deadly Night: Parts 1 and 2 $14.98
Star Trek: The Next Generation -- Season Two Blu-ray $129.99
The Simpsons: Season 15 $49.98/ Blu-ray $59.99
Eastbound & Down: The Complete Third Season $29.98/ Blu-ray $39.98
World Without End Blu-ray $75.99
Titanic: Blood & Steel $29.98
Black Lagoon: Seasons 1 and 2 Blu-ray $54.98
Hell's Kitchen: Season Eight $19.99
Cagney & Lacey: The Complete Second Season $29.99
Angry Boys $29.98/ Blu-ray $39.98
Oklahoma! Starring Hugh Jackman Blu-ray $29.98
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