Rising Darkness

The paradigm for comic book superheroes is ramped-up confrontation between the righteous protagonist who fights for the American way and the malevolent forces from the dark side of the moon. It's this nexus of struggle that fans live for.

Is it possible, therefore, to take an iconic DC Comic book character such as Batman and create a larger-than-life screen presence — a complex, conflicted, even tortured mortal — who often is as much at war with himself as he is with the resident evil that is perpetually embedded in Gotham City?

Writer/director Christopher Nolan has made an inspired effort to do exactly that in the Batman trilogy, starting with "Batman Begins," followed by "The Dark Knight," and now the just-released denouement, "The Dark Knight Rises."

In essence, Nolan has taken a one-dimensional action hero, whose exploits are generally framed by POW! and BAM!, and constructed a compelling character study of a flawed and conflicted man (Christian Bale) who possesses no superhuman abilities (unlike Spider-Man or Superman) other than his own personal courage and strength. Not to forget, of course, the best state-of-the-art weaponry-gadgetry his fortune can buy.

In the third and final film, the chilling epitome of psychopathic depravity is Bane (Tom Hardy), an incredible hulk, connected to the League of Shadows, anarchist extraordinaire, whose face and voice are obscured by a Hannibal Lecter / Darth Vader mask. With a willing army of thugs, assembled in the subway tunnels beneath Gotham, he is planning to reduce the city and its inhabitants, especially the elite, to radioactive rubble.

The only hope for the city is the resurrection of Batman who has been absent for eight years. Of course, that also means the return of the reclusive and damaged Bruce Wayne, our bifurcated hero. "There's a storm coming," he's told in a prescient whisper by Selina Kyle, aka the Cat Burglar (Anne Hathaway), at a charity ball. "You and your friends better batten down the hatches because when it hits, you're all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us."

And so the masked avenger appears on the mean streets of Gotham and the battle is joined, which is, for the hard-core fans of Batman, the payoff — intense urban warfare that is drawn out in detail, to include a long set piece wherein Wayne is incarcerated in a desiccated prison while Gotham spins out of control.

In a final scene, Nolan offers the audience a generous nugget of hope that while "The Dark Knight Rises" is farewell, it is not goodbye. We'll see. Sadly it won't be with Nolan, a brilliant filmmaker who deserves an Oscar nod.

Safety Not Guaranteed

"Safety Not Guaranteed" is sweet and strangely compelling, a small, eccentric gem.

"Safety" also is reminiscent of an earlier genre referred to as mumblecore, meaning those small, low-budget, independent films known for their naturalism, often unscripted dialogue and nicely drawn if ad-lib performances.

Mark and Jay Duplass are well-known mumblecore filmmakers ("The Puffy Chair"), and it's Mark Duplass who shares the lead in "Safety" with Aubrey Plaza ("Parks and Recreation"). Together, they move the film along at a pace that creates an irresistible magic.

Kenneth (Duplass), is a grocery clerk who is building a time machine. He runs an ad in a local survivalist magazine: "Wanted: Someone to go back in time with. This is not a joke"… Safety not guaranteed." Delusional or brilliant isn't clear.

Darius (Aubrey Plaza), a summer intern at a Seattle magazine, raw and honest, a bit of a slacker, comments that she expects the worst and tries not to get her hopes up. She joins Jeff (Jake M. Johnson), a staff writer, and another intern, Arnau (Karan Soni), as they set out to find the author of the ad.

Clearly time travel is embedded in the film, a potent if fringy theme that hints at the wish we all share to return to the past for the ultimate do-over.

Darius, her cynicism challenged, grows close to Kenneth and begins to wonder if he isn't sweetly sane instead of seriously crazy. This change ultimately leads to a final scene that is completely unexpected.

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