Bats in the belfry

Title: A Royal Affair

Director: Nikolaj Arcel

Rated: M

A most interesting slice of 18th century Danish history is played out in A Royal Affair. Based on real events and characters, the story is entrancing from first to last. The film is the debut by Nikolaj Arcel, who also co-wrote the screenplay along with Rasmus Heisterberg, (both worked on the excellent adaptation of the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). The story was previously screened in a 1935 British version titled The Dictator.

Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander), a sister to England's George III, is betrothed to Denmark's Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Foelsgaard). But on her arrival at the Danish court she finds him to be both degenerate and mentally unstable, while the court is largely cold, calculating and repressive. During a tour of Europe Christian strikes up a close friendship and bond with a German doctor, Johann Struensee (Madds Mikkelsen). The good doctor is a man of the Enlightenment, an idealist and advocate of free speech and radical change of the elitist hierarchical society.

Struensee stirs the wacky Christian into reformist action, as his closeness to Caroline moves from politics into passion. The story addresses a series of potent questions - power, politics, romance, monarchy, human weaknesses, the plight of the poor, and the dangers of reform versus the spite and vengeance of conservative forces.

This is a moving and thought-provoking movie, engrossing and quite beautiful. The sets, costumes, music and overall design are all lavishly produced. There is excellent development of the characters through all the plotting and scheming, and while Mikkelsen and Vikander are both very good, Foelsgaard is particularly outstanding portraying the complexities of the king.

A Royal Affair will be screened at Star Court Theatre on Sunday, July 29, at 5.30pm and Friday, August 3, at 7.30pm.

Title: The Dark Knight Rises

Director: Christopher Nolan

Rated: M

While popular cinema has become awash with sequels, prequels, franchises and reboots, the Batman series directed by Christopher Nolan has proved to be a progression of masterstrokes. The previous four Batman movies (1989-97) definitely pale in comparison to Nolan's films, apart perhaps from Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman and their brooding soundtracks. But while Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008) were both very good, Nolan has created a colossal conclusion to his take on The Bat with The Dark Knight Rises. This huge $250m production is breathtaking in its quite believeable 9/11-ish story, its Gotham City-wide scale and in its cast of thousands.

The severely physically and emotionally damaged Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale) has locked himself away for eight years, following the chaos during the time of Harvey Dent/Two Face and the Joker. Branded as a villain, he has abandoned his cape and mask, and his one friend, Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) has apparently restored law and order to Gotham. But a new foe, Bane (Tom Hardy) is preparing to unleash unprecedented terror on the city, and Batman must return to try and save the city and redeem himself.

The outstanding casting features Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Cillian Murphy and Liam Neeson reprising their roles from the previous films, while Anne Hathaway is near perfect in the role of Catwoman. But the film also features Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Conti and a villainous Ben Mendelsohn.

Nolan, who co-wrote the screenplay with his brother Jonathan, thankfully chose not to make a 3D movie, though some scenes are filmed in Imax format. The undertow of Hans Zimmer's music relentlessly drives the film, and the overall cinematic experience is stunningly overwhelming.

Strange that our little planet conjures and creates stories where evil is just so huge and all-consuming, and where good is so small and singular and troubled.

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