During times of revolution, the aristocracy may feel a false sense of calm in their parlor halls, discussing tumultuous events over glasses of sherry until the walls cave in on them. Adapted from Elliott's memoirs, Journal of My Life During the French Revolution, Rohmer's latest artistic tour-de-force may seem far removed from his domestic comedies (Tales of the Four Seasons, etc.), a period film set during the most violent changes in French history. Resisting the temptation for grand-scale theatrics, much of The Lady and the Duke is about quiet, decisive moments between members of the cultural elite as they determine how to proceed as the world implodes.
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Returning to the dark roots of the character, half themovie takes place before the stoic young billionaire even dons the now-bulletproofBatsuit, which Wayne eventually fashions from experimental body-armor builtby Wayne Industries, the war-profiteering conglomerate once owned by hismore altruistic late father.
Played with portentous, anguished magnetism by ChristianBale ("TheMachinist," "AmericanPsycho"), and still haunted by his parents'murder when he was a child, Wayne begins the film the last place Batmanfans would expect -- lost to the world in a Chinese prison after disappearingfrom a crime-gripped Gotham City. But he is sprung from this hoosegow bya shadowy ninja organization with a noble yet unrelenting master (LiamNeeson), who trains Wayne to channel his anger and defeat opponents withsilent deftness and dexterity in beautifully photographed scenes (thinkswordfights on Tibetan glaciers) that pay homage to traditions of the samuraigenre.
Then a staggering betrayal puts Wayne on a path back toGotham -- a vast industrial metropolis in the throes of a modern Depressionand in the grips of the mafia -- with a determination to "turn fearon those who prey on the fearful." Bale and Nolan make their Batmanalmost like a slasher-movie stalker in the eyes of the city's villains,and you feel their panic as he attacks from the shadows or strings a thugupside-down off the edge of a building to interrogate him for informationin a chillingly gravelly voice.
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A visually experimental but narratively lifeless French Revolution melodrama, "The Lady and the Duke" ("L'Anglaise Et Le Duc") recounts events surrounding Louis XVI's overthrow and the violent underbelly of its aftermath for the upper classes.
Taking a page from George Lucas's playbook, prolific Gaelic director Eric Rohmer ("Autumn Tale") shot the film against blue screens with minimal sets, creating the oil painting-like world in which action unfolds largely through computer-generated imagery in post-production.
But while this high-tech art flick is a worthwhile curiosity on the moviemaking front (its style bears a low-budget resemblance to "What Dreams May Come"), its story is a dull and academic one. It's told almost entirely from inside the soundstagey drawing rooms of English expatriate Grace Elliott (Lucy Russell), a real historical figure who had plenty of opinions but no influence to speak of.
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