For a lot of Batman fans, "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight" were dreams come true: sufficiently dark and compelling takes on the Caped Crusader that made other comic-book movies look childish and glib by comparison. Sadly, the trilogy's finale, "The Dark Knight Rises," isn't quite as terrific, undone a bit by some wobbly storytelling, but it's still a class-act thriller. The film takes place eight years after "The Dark Knight" -- Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has hung up his cowl for good, but the arrival of the terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy) in Gotham City forces him out of retirement. Even at 164 minutes, "The Dark Knight Rises" struggles to resolve all the lingering plot lines from the last film while introducing a plethora of new characters -- including Anne Hathaway and Marion Cotillard as two very different women attracting Wayne's eye -- and telling a complex, layered tale with life-and-death stakes for all of Gotham City. That's a lot of juggling, and director Christopher Nolan isn't always up to the task, but his confidence in his epic, gloomy vision of Batman remains wholly gripping. Bale is sufficiently haunted as the aging, regretful Wayne, and Gary Oldman continues to be this series' unsung hero, playing Commissioner Gordon with wonderful understatement and smarts. Hardy, Hathaway, and Cotillard are all strong presences, but their characters lack the inspired richness of Heath Ledger's monstrous Joker or Liam Neeson's fiendish Ra's al Ghul. Still, even if "The Dark Knight Rises" can't live up to the brilliance of the first two chapters, well, how many Hollywood blockbusters have?
Reality television plays host to plenty of rich, self-absorbed pseudo-celebrities, which may lead you to assume that you needn't bother seeing "The Queen of Versailles," a documentary about David and Jackie Siegel, a wealthy Florida couple who decided to build the biggest house in America. But director Lauren Greenfield's film unearthed something much more human and gripping when the Siegels were devastated by the 2008 financial downturn, putting not just their dream palace in peril but also their extravagant lifestyle. Greenfield can't resist the occasional cheap shot at the expense of ditzy, cosmetically enhanced Jackie and her workaholic (and much older) husband, but on the whole "The Queen of Versailles" is a depressing, maddening portrait of prosperity run amok, offering an up-close view of a family that's painfully cut off from reality. There's little schadenfreude in watching their fall from grace, however, as it's too sickening and pitiful to allow for gloating.
Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike's samurai film "13 Assassins" -- which concluded with a ruthless, invigorating 45-minute battle sequence -- made its way to American theaters last year, and in 2012 he returns with "Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai," a somewhat more subdued, nuanced drama about guilt and revenge. The film opens in the 17th century as older warrior Hanshirô (a wonderfully stoic Ebizô Ichikawa) visits Kageyu (Kôji Yakusho), a feudal lord, to request the use of Kageyu's domicile to perform his ritual suicide. Instead, Kageyu tells Hanshirô of another man who had recently made the same request, a young, desperate pauper named Motome (Eita). Thus begins an extended flashback to Motome's sad story. Is there an unknown connection between him and Hanshirô? Slower paced but emotionally resonant -- even if the story's twist is a bit obvious -- "Hara-Kiri" builds to an unexpectedly potent finale that may be less galvanic than the one in "13 Assassins" but is still nicely rewarding.
"Hara-Kiri" is based on 1962's "Harakiri," but it's not the only foreign-language offering this week adapted from an earlier film. "The Well Digger's Daughter," a remake of French filmmaker and novelist Marcel Pagnol's drama of the same name, represents the directorial debut of renowned actor Daniel Auteuil, whom American art-house audiences will recognize from "Caché" and "My Best Friend." Auteuil plays Pascal, a lowly well digger, who would like to wed his daughter Patricia (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) to a trustworthy older employee (Kad Merad). But Patricia's heart has been captured by a rich pilot (Nicolas Duvauchelle), who unexpectedly gets her pregnant. A light melodrama with a disposition as breezy and sunny as the film's countryside locales, "The Well Digger's Daughter" is a gentle tale about love and class differences that's well-acted across the board. Auteuil doesn't overdo Pascal's stubborn pride, and Jean-Pierre Darroussin is excellent as the pilot's affluent father, a man whose pomposity quickly gives way to melancholy and compassion.