When the news first broke that Warner Brothers had engaged the talents of Christopher Nolan to reinvigorate their flagging Superman movie franchise as a consultant I was immediately reminded of an incident in Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing comic, an episode late in his acclaimed run where the omnipotent biogod is holding an entire city to ransom through his superpowers of flora and fauna after his girlfriend is arrested for lewd conduct – its erm a long story. Exasperated and embarrassed the city authorities turn to a certain Lex Luthor as a consultant whom is paid the then princely sum of $1 million a minute for a fifteen minute consultation, he pitting his uberintellect to provide a unique solution to their particularly thorny problem, hey it was the 1980′s when a million bucks was actually a lot of money. I wondered if Nolan’s midas touch would also elicit the same fee, given the phenomenal success he has made of the Dark Knight Batman movies and his collaborations with both screenwriter David S. Goyer and composer Hans Zimmer who also both return for this new take on the iconic immigrant myth, with potential kryptonite being administered to superfans with the appointment of widely derided Hollywood Zack Snyder to occupy the directors chair. Nolan’s executive summary bullet points can probably be summarised thusly – ‘Play up the Christ imagery, and source the origin with alien eugenics. Cast an unknown in the lead so there’s no baggage, and surround him with respected character actors to give the tale a densely thunderous gravitas. Populate with plenty of vaginal and phallic imagery to reinforce the quite literal DNA of the film, remove the humor and decimate the planet in the final act’. The film seems to have birthed some conflicting responses, from those who loathed its portentous seriousness and distinct lack of tounge in cheek humor, unaccepting faux seriousness and brooding hero occupying the cape and tights, with internet wags quickly christening the film ‘The Clark Knight’ due to its conflicted and nebuolous take on the Superman origin story. I fall squarely in the other camp as all these alleged inadequacies are exactly what I liked about Man Of Steel and having seen it twice now it genuinely soars, Nolan has achieving something superheroic – he’s made me consider a Zack Snyder film as one of the years best, as to date this is the best blockbuster of the year.
With an agreeably lengthy opening context setting prologue we’re on the remote planet of Krypton where the first child in centuries has been born without the assistance of their advanced genetic melding technologies, welcome to the world Kal-El son of Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Lara (Ayelet Zurer). Engulfed by a disintegrating planetary core due to the depletion of their planets natural resources Jor-El senses that their doom is near and he must make one desperate sacrifice if he is to save his people, especially since the chaos is being exploited by General Zod (a snarling Michael Shannon) who stages a desperate coup d’etat as their sterile civilisation crumbles. Defeated and unrepentant Zod and his insurgent allies are sentenced to genetic remodifiction in the chilling phantom zone shortly before the planet implodes, but hope rests in a small ship sent earthward with its biblical cargo, the slim hope of uniting the Earth with another star-crossed species through the example set by one man, his scrupulous purity and steadfast decency a shining example to all. Invested with a conflicted uncertainty by newcomer Henry Cavell the iconic Clark Kent is restlessly searching for his place in the world, imbued with a sense of moral decency from his surrogate parents Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha (Diane Lane) Kent has been conditioned to shield his phenomenal talents as the world is simply not ready to face an answer to the eternal question to whether we are alone in the universe, and as a species we tend to react to the unknown and powerful with fear and mistrust. Nevertheless Clark’s extraterrestrial secret is under threat from dual camps, with the feisty Lois Lane (the usual adorable Amy Adams) on the trail of this mysterious man who conducts impossible feats of heroism and strength, and the discovery of a submerged alien artifact in the frigid North Pole may just invite some unwelcome guests to our modest spherical little collection of oceans and animals.
I’ll admit it, I had my knives out for this movie when that first teaser trailer hit last year but a generous portion of humble pie has now been digested, as this visually assured and breathlessly entrancing reboot of the Superman myth is a fantastic achievement, and as blockbuster tent pole movie making it’s one of the best achievements of the past few years. I admired the structure which relies on flashbacks peppering the film from Clarks difficult and confusing childhood puncturing the present day investigation of a strange structure nestling by the North Pole, the activation of a millennia dormant scout ship unfortunately heralding the arrival of a squadron of extraterrestrial fascists, The structure was deftly pulled off and was much more interesting and engaging than the usual birth, arrival, childhood and adolescence linear model of origin stories, particularly when it gives a skilled screenwriter the chance to join up their themes and notions into a pulsing, organic whole. There’s just nothing that Snyder and his production team got wrong for me, the design is deliciously fantastic with those aforementioned phallic and vaginal designs underpinning the themes of birth and evolution, the SFX spellbinding, with a particularly rousing score from the consistently stunning Hans Zimmer who must be the most brilliant big movie composer currently drawing breath. John Williams score for the 1970′s are widely renown for their stirring arrangements, I’d argue that Zimmer goes one better with this soaring, epic orchestration clearly the aural signature of one extraordinary man’s realisation of his celestial destiny – fantastic.
Superman of course is a peculiarly American immigrant myth and metaphor, and recently some cultural theorist types have also alighted on the specifically Jewish nature of his experience given the lineage of Clark Kent’s creators Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster, Man Of Steel delves deep into the Christ iconography with Snyder positively ladling on saviour motifs and Christian imagery, the son of a god sent to our mortal realm in order to save us from ourselves. Now being a portentous, pretentious sort with delusions of grandeur of his own I like to see that reflected in my movies, so this solemn, epic and brooding update on the myth is exactly what I wanted to see, that’s the temperature I wanted them to take if they were going to win over someone whom has never been particularly entranced with the character, and recasting him as some sort of saviour with notions of grace birthed from the implosion of a degenerate civilisation which has lost its core fecundity feeds the cultural imagination, as our real world heroes and bearers of such fragile concepts as ‘hope‘ are exposed as the moral frauds we suspected the system always eventually engenders.
The entire enterprise rests on Henry Cavell’s broad shoulders, as the conflicted Clark he has a certain distance from the audience which is entirely plausible, it’s perfect for the role in fact to keep him slightly ‘off’ and isolated from the rest of humanity whilst also looking suitably the part when he finally dons the costume and cape. There is a slight malfunction with the tepid chemistry between Lois and Supeman as Cavell and Adams don’t seem to be a natural on-screen click, but maybe this will be developed in ensuing episodes in the franchise where the romantic banter can receive more attention.As expected Shannon gets his teeth into the juicy role of Zod, averting the usual presentation of a egomaniacal psychopath by simply presenting a man whom by genetic lottery has been assigned s the role as implacable and corrupted defender of his species, and Shannon invests him with a slight psychological edge that you don’t normally get with scenery devastating supervillains. Amy Adams does her best with lines of the quality of ’I'm a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist goddamn it’ which she offers to her editor Perry White (Laurence Fishbourne) presumably as a test to make sure he hasn’t developed early onset Alzheimer’s - presumably as her editor he is quite aware of her journalistic award portfolio – and Costner excels himself as the world-weary yet wise Pa Kent who sets Clark on the path to righteousness.
There is something faintly ludicrous about the whole enterprise however and I’m sympathetic to some of the complaints being quite scathing of the moral aversions presented in the film(particularly a very late perversion of a moral code which is a little difficult to accept) but my inner fanboy who is nourished on some of these comic-book & SF hybrids instead has won this internal tussle as I simply loved the energy and excitement of two superhero guys punching each through numerous skyscrapers, creating oceans of disintegrated masonry, fields of crumpled steel foundations, lakes of shattered glass and ash smothered veldts of smouldering ruins, it’s that spectacle of catastrophe which somehow taps into our collective unconscious which repels some and seduces others, as Metropolis seems to be visited by a panoply of 9/11′s with Superman in this iteration seeming to have very little consideration or care for the notion of collateral damage. As for Snyder whatever his faults (which are legion) he is a keen visual stylist, and somehow he’s been kept on the leash to deliver the story in a involving and fulfilling fashion, his usual speed cranking technique has thankfully been left to rot in the directors bag of tricks, he instead making judicious use of the ‘punch zoom’ manoeuvre which Roger Deakins invented for Wall-E and was popularised in the likes of Battlestar Galactica. Another small complaint comes from the SF / Superhero / blockbuster trope of having some alien constructs blasting streams of azure energy into the planet’s core as a deux ex machina which is now simply exhausted, from The Avengers to The Transformers movies can’t we please move on to some other planet threatening, genocide igniting alien architecture?
In terms of Easter Eggs and subdued references to ancient comic lore and even the films own decade spanning production history there is plenty for the fans to delight in, from the obvious references to LEXCORP on vehicles and more intriguingly Waynes Enterprises satellites spied in the films closing battles, to Executive Producer Jon Peters finally getting his Polar Bear at the Fortress of Solitude – context here. In terms of the inevitable sequel I suspect that a certain hirsutely challenged supra genius will be getting some of those lucrative contracts to rebuild Metropolis, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he stumbled across some staggeringly powerful Kryptonite tech amongst the ruins, maybe even some sentient artificial intelligence which he tampers with for his own nefarious ends, which then ends up going ‘manic’ in the ‘brain’ if you catch my drift. Bring it on for 2016, they’ll be hard pressed to beat this superbly entertaining, lofty aspiring blockbuster, ‘welcome to the planet’ indeed;
As a movie fanatic it has been a fun few days absorbing the reactions to the years biggest movie, from the podcasts to the web reviews, the opinion pieces and the slowly emerging analysis of the full trilogy I have been overwhelmed by all things Bat. I’m not surprised it’s the most successful 2D opening weekend in the mediums history given the saturation marketing, fan boy anticipation, unparalleled number of screens and utter lack of any opponent on alternative screens, not a bad achievement considering the prospect of some being scared away from the cinema given the tragic circumstances. This kind of made me question the rigidity of my corporate distrust, they are not obliged to give anything and yes it’s something of a PR coup but I think there’s something more than that, that the organisation is genuinely moved to make some offer of support, especially when news emerges of one uninsured victim being hit with a $2 million medicare bill, ’cause being shot by a maniac in a senseless massacre should of course bankrupt him for the rest of his film eh? Jesus. Anyway, one day I’ll conduct a series of posts on the different studios, their histories and personalities, Warner Brothers is probably my favourite studio if its possible to have such a thing, starting out as half the size of their rivals (Fox, Paramount, Columbia, MGM, RKO, Universal) a plucky little underdog whom took more risks with dangerous material such as the gangster and crime films of the 1920′s and 1930′s, for making films with a strong blend of social concern and gritty realism (in comparison to the opulent grandeur of MGM for example) and how they have something of a better reputation in preserving filmmakers artistic intents, as song as they are not flagrantly wasting money – there’s a reason why Kubrick and Clint Eastwood maintained 30 year relationships with the studio, as long as they demonstrate they’re not willfully wasting money on pre-production and shooting they tend to let the directors get on with their jobs unimpeded – Nolan for example delivered The Dark Knight a week under schedule, and that sort of professionalism seriously impresses the executives as it saves them millions of dollars.
So that brings me to the purpose of this post – let’s have some full, unadulterated nerdish fanboy fun as we go through the film and identify the best bits and sequences, and take to task some of the criticisms that have been floating around the mediasphere, some valid, some less so. So, just to be obvious this means that there will be massive, obliterating SPOILERS THROUGHOUT THIS ARTICLE COVERING EVERYTHING IN THE FILM INCLUDING TWISTS AND THE ENDING - is that perfectly clear? Good, then let’s get started with the four best pieces I’ve seen thus far, first a bit of an academic treatise, Philip French gave a good write-up, Sight & Sounds Nolan article is fascinating reading and it’s a measure of the film’s mainstream quality that Total Film have put together a list of not the ten best bits, nor a dozen best scenes, but a whopping 50 best moments of The Dark Knight Rises, which is quite an amusing read. I’ve seen the film twice now and will probably go again next week, it is diminished on a non-IMAX screen of course but remains a thunderous achievement, and the second time around it has some quite revelatory moments when you know the full story, and it’s just a joy to see this with an audience again. Second time round some fairly boisterous teenagers were seated next to me and I thought I’d be in for a tough time but to their credit as soon as it started they shut up, the phones were squirreled away and my neighbours were glued to the screen, loving the quips and action, simultaneously voicing the word ‘ffffuuuucccckkkkk’ when some of the big moments like the aerial shot of Bane’s bombings exploding across Gotham were enacted – it was great fun to see the reactions.
The first problem is a good one, when Ra’s Al-Ghul appears to Bruce in the pit of darkness and explains to him how he is ‘immortal’ and it will be his prodigy – whom Bruce infers as Bane – whom will fulfil his plan, achieve the League of Shadows objectives and destroy Gotham . This is a cinematic allusion to show how Bruce is putting the pieces together but this is information from a hallucination, why would Bruce ever make that assumption? How would he know that the mercenary who married the warlords daughter was Ra’s Al-Ghul? Because a spectral hallucination told him? Also, when the twist is revealed and Marion becomes Alia al Ghul, the mastermind behind the scheme (incidentally slightly reducing the role of Bane to henchmen which is a little counter-dramatic but no matter) how does Alia know that Bruce has made these assumptions? Why would volunteering the information be such a shock to Bruce as she twists the knife, that she was the one who escaped the pit, when she doesn’t know Bruce has made these assumptions? It’s a tricky one that I’ll be looking very closely at the third time around. Already there are floods of discussion blasting through discussion boards that the end is in Alfred’s head and Bruce is dead – this is utterly and completely false as foreshadowing and clues clearly litter the prior narrative. Firstly two separate scenes reference the Batwing’s autopilot, and in the end montage Fox smirks when the Wayne Enterprises boffins report that ‘the autopilot was fixed, six months ago’, a month before Bats was bested by Bane. It that wasn’t enough then hows this, during that final montage, when the Wayne Estate is being auctioned it is mentioned that an item is missing, a pearl necklace – of course Bruce’s mother’s necklace - and in that final shot in Florence there it is – around Selina Kyle’s neck. It’s pretty clear to me then as much as some fanboys want another ‘open’ ending like Inception (which would have been repetitive and frankly insulting) I’m sorry but it doesn’t hold water, and it wouldn’t have been better if they just showed Alfred looking to the camera, nodding, and then cutting to black. For a start you wouldn’t get the image of Blake/Robin arising in the Batcave and all that that suggests, nor would you have the thunderous re-introduction of the Batman theme with the cut to Bruce and Selina, which is the triumphant apex of the film and the whole fucking trilogy (and the best moment of either for me, its fucking brilliant, stand-up, punch the air film-making), as Wayne has arisen, defeated his demons, made peace with himself and can live his life. He’s won.
Speaking of Robin, I can’t believe that after years or claiming they’d never break him into the universe – a wise choice I always thought as it would have been impossible to do it without being ridiculous in this arena, this serous and dour filmic nebula, they then go and do it and it works brilliantly – what a fucker. It becomes increasingly obvious as the film continues where they’re going, especially from the scene at Wayne Manor and the revelation of Blake’s history and drives, but still slotted into that final wave of moments where his legal name is revealed it’s another brilliant moment. Curiously for a film that is a near constant cacophony of Hans Zimmer stirring and bruising score – a score which I love – it’s abandoned completely in the initial showdown between Batman and Bane, thus the crushing encounter unfolds against the diagetic crunches and yelling, it makes it so much more unconsciously devastating, and it’s a lovely touch. A quick moment of levity, wouldn’t it have been amusing if during the scene at the manor with Marion when he picks up the photo of Rachael it’s obviously a photo of Maggie Gyllenhaal , but on the cut when he puts it back on the mantelpiece it should have been repllaced with a pic of Katie Holmes, that could have been funny, no? I also liked how jamming the paparazzi’s digital cameras at the charity ball was a foreshadow of the EMP rifle that he used against Bane’s motorbiked minions, releasing the banker hostages, during Batman’s first appearances in this chapter.
The Scarecrow. Just having one villain in every film gives a continuity to the series, it makes the universe slightly more convincing, and it’s just a lovely fan boy narrative touch, its symmetric semblance and who knows, he may be back in the potentially mooted Catwoman spin-off movie. Now we come to two problems, simultaneously - namely how did Bruce get back to Gotham after traversing the prison, alone and isolated in a foreign country. Also, isn’t having a ticking nuclear bomb just the most horrendously clichéd McGuffin, that’s been used many times before? Well, the answer of course is yes and I understand those complaints, but lets use the same reason to answer both complaints – because he’s fucking BATMAN. That’s how he gets back to Gotham, THAT’s why he has to defuse a ticking bomb. Honestly, I don’t know what people were expecting. probably another The Dark Knight gritty crime drama but I’m sorry, that part of the story has passed, and this is the third in a trilogy and I like the way they’ve given each installment a clear generic infrastructure – origin story and birth, crime drama and development, superhero fall and transcendence. Oh, and by the way, in Batman Begins you may recall that as a young man Bruce walked the earth as a destitute vagabond, stealing to survive, to learn the criminal mind, traversing the earth for seven years – so yeah, that’s how he got back to Gotham.
One of the major concerns I had about this film was of course Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, those early production photos were not good but in Nolan we trust, and from the opening ‘turn’ I was immediately seduced – although the quip ‘I don’t think I agree with your rejection of guns’ after she has blasted Bane into oblivion, again a little anti-climactic given how he has been built up as this humongous presence, obviously take on a slightly wince inducing connotation after Colorado. The problem however is why does Bruce trust her and see the good in her? She after all is a criminal, not his favourite type of person, and she does utterly fuck him over by betraying him to Bane. Still, their exchange during the party is telling, and she is understandably hacked off with the wealth divide in Gotham, and maybe Bruce is just a good, instinctive judge of character. There’s a nice moment when Selina sees that its Bruce under the cowl after he has been crushed by Bane, battered and broken, as she realises that not all the billionaires are arrogant swine who do nothing to help the common man or woman.
Of course we must finally tackle the Occupy and general political malaise with the elite, guerrilla stuff that some find inappropriate in superhero movies. Well, much of that blew up as the film was shooting in the second quarter of last year and screenwriters don’t exist in a vacuum, they are as influenced as the TV and press, the periodicals and internet and wider culture as much as anyone else, they could see it coming and thought it meshed nicely with their themes and wider allegorical purposes, which it does beautifully. This might be an aesthetic choice but I like it when movies reflect and refract the times of their making, I think that’s a real component of good art, if you feel differently then fair enough, I can’t argue with that. I loved, loved, loved the whole prison pit metaphor, how utterly destroyed and broken Bruce is who loses everything – Rachel, Alfred, his fortune, his mobility, his parents, utterly crushed and bruised, seeing his beloved city tortured and overrun, yet he finds the will and strength to arise and once again overcome his fears, and achieve genuine, emotional heroism which is simply not present in other franchises or series – it’s not in The Avengers of the Iron Man’s or the other Marvel films, which frankly look even more juvenile now, they’re still fun don’t get me wrong, I’m looking forward to seeing The Avengers again, but c’mon, this is a different beast. This is on a different level emotionally, thematically, on the sense of scale, spectacle and excitement, with some solid jokes and ‘cool’ moments, and a genuine sense of closure and achievement. Well, apart from The Green Lantern, obviously.When the bats screech out as Brue prepares the final jump without a rope, to once again face his fears as the muscic and chanting swells up in the mix, that was just stunning. Simple, elemental storytelling and film-making. Oh, and when they lit his symbol on the bridge when he was back, which inspired Matthew Modine to rise up and do the right thing, nuff said….
Right, that’s it, that’s your lot, I’ve written something in the region of 12,000 words on this trilogy since April so I don’t know about you but I’ve had enough. So a change of tack next as I’m going to head in a new direction, from the multiplex to the art-house, starting with a screening of this at the Hackney Picturehouse, a cinema I’ve never visited and it’s the ideal weather to take a lovely stroll from my flat through to my neighbouring borough, and if current indicatons are anything to go by I could be in a new job by this time next week so let’s make the best of the remaining freedom eh? I know nothing about the film other than it’s South American and I think it has something to with the Pinochet regime, but it’s definitely going to appear heavily in the more academic critics best of the year list, Geoff Andrew for example has deployed that contentious word ‘masterpiece’ in his comments on the piece. Here’s the trailer which I’ve declined to watch, I’m also giving this a spin on Blu Ray this evening, lets just say I need to sharpen up some of these writing skills for a potential project that will be coming on-line in a couple of months – exciting times so watch this space….and isn’t TIFF looking tasty this year? Wish I was Canadian….
Ah, so that’s what Terry Malick’s new secret project is;
Funniest line I’ve read on this is ‘MAN OF STEEL is an origin story! That’s good news, I’ve always wondered how Superman became Superman, as I was born 20 minutes ago’. I’m sorry, but the proximity of Snyder to this project – place your bets now that it’ll have a sequence where Clark punches a group of foes in sped up then slowed down, under-cranked motion – so I’m really not interested. I never particularly cared for Superman anyway, even when I was a kid. Indestructible equals boring. Oh, and nicking the soundtrack from another fine film, a common crime throughout your work, is just fucking lazy you horrendous hack…
Brilliant. Now isn’t this rather interesting, three acts, three movies? I revisited the The Prestige a fortnight ago and I was a little underwhelmed I have to say, but this detonates all sort of nerdgasims, if you’ll excuse me for deploying such an ugly phrase;
This makes for some pretty crazy and puzzling discussions on sudoku themed film talkboards, especially when coupled with Caine and his presence in the Nolan universe at almost every revelatory twist of those Escher narratives, he’s probably his secret father or something. I expect a comprehensive trawl of Sir Michael’s distinguished career, mostly centering around Jaws 4 and its terrifying threat. Also MAJOR FUCKING SPOILERS FOR THE NEW BATMAN FILM SO PLEASE DON’T CLICK UNLESS YOU’VE SEEN IT but this is also intriguing.
After* two years of reckless, lumbering, gnawing waiting, after a near pandemic of anticipation that bloody film is finally here – The Dark Knight Rises arrived in cinemas this weekend and just to set the tone from my initial, electrifying screening – yes there was a standing ovation – this may well be one of the finest Hollywood blockbusters I’ve seen, and as a final installment of a critical and box acclaimed franchise it is
difficult impossible to imagine how director Christopher Nolan, screenwriting partners Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer could have concluded the series in a more majestic, fulfilling and riveting fashion. Breaking pre-release records as tickets went on sale - the Waterloo IMAX screen alone has had a staggering 42 shows completely sold out for a cool £1 million – the movie was received with near universal critical acclaim, sweeping four and five-star plaudits across the board. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed such a palpable sense of anticipation since The Phantom Menace back in 1999, but don’t worry, I only invoke such horrendous disappointments as a negative talisman although there may be some spectral allusions haunting both pictures, as just about everything that Star Wars Episode I got wrong Batman III gets comprehensively right. The spoofs, mash-ups and associated nerdisms are already reaching a feverish pitch, I dread to think of what will happen when the film actually gets out there into the sweaty palms of the hordes of fanboys and girls of both the comic book and superhero movie persuasion, as I’m sure that incendarily fierce discussion board battles are already raging around the carnage inducing thread titles of ‘Best Movie Trilogy Evar?’ I think what I’ll do is keep this largely spoiler free except for some plot breakdown, I do have to set some sort of context, and then add a spoiler section in a week or so to give everyone who’s genuinely interested a chance to see it, so consider yourself warned.
Eight years on from the closing sacrifice of The Dark Knight and the legend of the Batman is passing into Gotham history. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets another Oscar nomination) has hung up his cape and descended into a Howard Hughes isolation, withdrawing from public life and physically and psychically wounded, much to the concern of his only loyal mentor, and family surrogate Alfred (Michael Caine, ectopically procrastinating as always) whose twitching moments of elderly concern pay narrative dividends further down the films labyrinthine story arc. The Dent act, ushered in after the apparent murder of the crusading district attorney has sequestered the majority of Gotham’s criminals and felons in Blackgate Prison – alas there is no mention of Arkham Asylum in this issue - ushering in an uneasy peace and relatively safety throughout the metropolis’s inviolable streets, but this capricious truce has been predicated on a falsehood, that Batman was the murderer of Dent and numerous police officers during the finale of The Dark Knight, and a terrible reckoning quivers on the disenfranchised horizon. Not all crime has been eradicated however, and the feline cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway, purrfect) paths soon cross with our retired hero, and as they say when a black cat crosses your path be prepared for a run of bad luck, as the hulking, monstrous and occasionally incomprehensible Bane (Tom Hardy, terrifyingly terrific) makes his glowering appearance, an analogue anarchist with a virulent, undiluted venom for Gotham and its regal society. Recruiting an underclass infantry from the poor and dispossed whose lives are worlds removed from the pampered elite of the city, he sacks Gotham’s stock exchange and ignites a terrible campaign of wealth redistribution predicated on the acquisition of a weapon of mass destruction, prompting our hero to stirringly discard his cane and reach for his cowl. The forces of justice and decency have been complacent in their privileged luxury, with only Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) feeling a gnawing guilt at the lies foisted on the body politic, with his recently promoted Deputy Foley (Matthew Modine, good to see him back in something of merit) and the curiously hot-headed young police officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon Levitt) buttressing a potential counter offensive to Bane’s complex and dissimulated blitzkrieg of terror. With the sweeping cityscapes (one of Nolan’s trademark flourishes of visual calligraphy) punctuating the vertingious and increasingly mosaic narrative a grandiose, metaphoric scent is formidably set for the final chapter in the chronicle of Bruce Wayne, of his soaring crusade and dizzying plunge into the abyss.
As I’m an idiot I sneered in light derision at the early reports of The Dark Knight Rises being superior to the previous entry in the franchise, and it gives me great joy to report that I was (as usual) completely and utterly wrong – this emotional, torpid close to the trilogy is a phenomenal achievement and is unquestionably the best Hollywood film of the year thus far. It quite clearly will reward the viewer with multiple viewings – I’m still processing much of the films epic design and sheer fuliginous audacity – thus I’m left leafing through the film critics dictionary of clichés for the necessary and needed superlatives – bold, compelling, engrossing, intelligent, kinetic, contemporary and finally elegiac - with the aforementioned emotional core lurking and leeching beneath the masks and kevlar, and it’s as ruthless and genuinely moving a picture that you’ll see this year, or indeed any year. The sheer adroit audacity of Nolan and his crew is truly something to behold, especially as to where the narrative goes, into utterly unexpected territory once the first hour or so has elapsed for my part, coupled with occasional shocking bursts of brutality that elevate the stakes to near operatic intensity. The metaphors are clear, of characters and institutions driven into the darkness and the underworld, a striving for the light amidst near impossible redemption, all umbilically and organically welded to the notion of what truly makes a man a hero, and of facing and conquering his syncretic and symbiotic opponents.
Some of the light comic relief, and boy does this movie yearn for some shards of pearlescent relief among the choking & cloaking darkness, mostly emanates as silken purrs from the mercenary Kyle as she ameliorates some of the increasingly intense tension – I’m not kidding, from roughly the middle of the film to its conclusion I was almost wheezing in anxiety – and even a tiresome purist like me who is prone to roll their eyes in mock disgust at drama reducing quips I found much to enjoy in her lustrous performance. The slightly hectoring Alfred proves the emotional foil to Bruce’s narcissist drives, and Bane is a constant and legitimate spectre of destruction who proves to be an overwhelming and deeply threatening foe, even from behind that muffling mask Thomas Hardy’s villainous turn is quite affecting, even if he isn’t quite as memorable as Ledgers lunatic Joker. There are surprises in store for fans with a necklace of references and throwbacks to the prior movies, at times it can seem overly coagulated in construction, but for the most part both Goyer and the Nolan brothers weave together a personal journey in a vivid cinematic universe, punctuated with their electrifying set pieces, before the final stretch is reached and seemingly impossibly the film ratches up a further gear to a bruising and yes weep inducing finale - and this is where the real achievement of the film finaly resides. After this first screening I fully grasped the sense of an overarcing whole, as one tale subdivided into a trio of arcs that intersect and reference back upon each other, as the central theme of genuine heroism, of impossibly besting your personal demons and failures is achieved in an unparalleled and brilliant fashion, its bravura film-making from its opening frame to its final, expertly paced, revelatory montage. Also, William Devane as the president was a nice touch, with Pope (Ben Mendelsohn) from Animal Kingdom as a slithering corporate vampire and Morgan Freeman as the franchise ‘Q’ also getting their brief moments to shine upon this urban, dark side of the sun.
Nolan is quite clearly one of the finest auters working in the system today, and I finally feel comfortable in elevating him up the Minty pantheon to nestle in the heady heights with the likes of Scorsese and Mann, Hitchcock and early Carpenter, bizarrely there were some portions of this movie that reminded me of Escape From New York - I’m sure he’s relived to finally hear that eh? I’ve started ploughing through some interviews now that I’ve seen the film and was fascinated to hear that the touchstone movies that he screened for his department heads and cast was the eclectic trio of Dr. Zhivago, The Battle Of Algiers and Lumet’s Prince Of The City. His loosely intellectual action films see him working with the same cinematographer, editor, musical score composer and production designer which is a tradition that most of the planets leading film-makers seem to follow, although his DP Wally Pfister – certainly one of the most talented lighting cameramen currently drawing breath – is moving up to directing next with Nolan in the producers chair, now that could be interesting. He has also built a retinue of strong and versatile actors populating his work – Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy and of course Michael Caine, it’s a volcanic blend of performers rather than distracting and increasingly redundant screen ‘icons’ who carry with them the baggage of previous work. Once again Nolan and his screenwriting brother collaborate with David S. Goyer in impugning their tales with significant density and gravitas that some may find overly portentous or ridiculous – this after all is a series of films about a billionaire who dresses up as a big bat and goes punching people – but if you find anything to enjoy in the previous installments then there is much more to enjoy here, as Bruce Wayne’s story finally draws to its deistic conclusion. Those tiresome allegations of his being an icy empathist finally get neutralised in The Dark Knight Rises and its stirring climax, his commitment to reality – always a faintly ridiculous notion to direct to any work of fiction - gets little thrift here, as some of the criticisms I’ve read seem to overtly expect a fundamental fidelity to vérité in these films which is really rather absurd.
It’s not perfect – what is? – it’s a little muddied in its opening hour and for me Bruce’s decision to reprise his nocturnal avenging persona was a little rushed, technically I still found some of the distorted speeches difficult to translate, Nolan still resorts to some clumsy exchanges of exposition laced dialogue and there are a few dropped beats in some cadences of the storytelling tempo, but as whole, as a series of texts charting a mythic character of popular culture this is the ultimate and definitive screen iteration, I can’t possibly see how this could remotely be bettered by the current crop of filmmakers, I’d give it a couple of decades until this 73-year-old icon gets a plausible treatment in a different era. As for the films supposed politics I’m not really in a position to offer an opinion at this time, I’m still processing and will need a second visit (probably a Monday matinée at this point) to conduct such discussions, but the Occupy and class war related atmospherics couldn’t be more tangible, they are pummelled front and center into the narrative like an obsidian fist, with a thundering shockwave of our real world, tangible, extinction level threats, yet the movers and shakers, the central figures and associated clergy are all in the thrall of a wider invisible, incredulous, economic tempest, and it’s under these auscipous flarings that our hero makes the ultimate, liberating, human sacrifice – as the world burns.
It’s difficult to articulate but sometimes when watching a movie you experience those moments that literally send shivers down the spine, when all the forces of storytelling coalesce in brilliant formation, in visual and aural alignment as the music rises - I’m immediately reminded of the childhood reaction that I and many other film fans have to Luke’s renewal of his assault against the old man in Jedi for example - and I guess I had about a half-dozen of those pure, unadulterated celluloid instances of joie de vivre in The Dark Knight Rises. The finesse by which they stitch together the three films, birthed through Bruce Wayne’s initial trauma - and never is such a word so perfectly pitched to encapsulate this trilogy – through to his final fate is unsurpassed in mainstream storytelling of this particular, difficult species, a depth charge under the waters of Hollywood’s busting of blocks. As the pieces of the puzzle are romantically resisted and gothically twixed, as the avengers history is so wrathfully twisted and transcendently glyphed, the opera is complete with a devastating final aria that discreetly emits a final nourishing growl of aphoristic glee, a sonar echo of liberty and liberation. Is this equal – a charged word – to the original old testament Star Wars? Maybe. As satisfying a quest as The Lord of The Rings? Perhaps. My initial instincts suggest that it may surpass both, and as someone who lives, breathes and dies movies as a major part of their life, and has been in a turbulent state of flux in their personal and professional life for the past few years it’s a work that has provided some genuine inspiration and illumination as to what may come next, and how we all can rise - can I recommend it any more than that?
*As previously mentioned, I’m completely ignoring the wider dimensions of the film and those tragic circumstances at this point. Fuck that murderous idiot, fuck firearms and fuck the people and organisations that backwardly believe that weapons are some sort of masculine enhancing, god derived ‘right’ – it’s an obvious but little expressed point that this and this makes for a fucked up world. Also this. If you want to do something to redress this terrible event then donate here, give blood, smile a bit more and be nicer to people, fuck I dunno…..
A countdown isn’t a countdown unless you’ve got three distinct ticks, right? Well, at least that’s my excuse for another filler post. Anyway, (coughs) let’s see how far we’ve come since the character’s printed birth back in 1939, and his early screen incarnations;
Yeah, I realise this whole blog strand is pure Chris & Jonathan Nolan / Bob Kane fanboy indulgence but I’m a big, big fan of the series – as if you hadn’t guessed yet – and this is obviously the biggest movie since Avatar (well apart from that premature movie that we don’t speak of anymore) as expectations run catastrophically high, it’s not that often that we
geeks/nerds/fanboys <delete as applicable< get to shamefully express our unadulterated sheer love of the movies, or rather the expectation of a genuinely special experience. I’m almost 1/8 excited of the IMAX paralysis as I am for seeing the film itself, for me that’s a major part of the fun. Oh, OK then, I’ll share this with you early, it made me laugh;
What the fuck indeed. Anyway, I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been reading the Development Hell book and coincidently just got to the section about the machinations of the Batman franchise since the nadir of the Schumcher atrocity, the subsequent Aronofsky & Frank Miller Year One influenced plans were quite ambitious for such a mainstream property which are worthy of their own blog post, here’s a headline taster from Aronofsky circa 1998 - ’I told them I’d cast Clint Eastwood as The Dark Knight, and shoot it in Tokyo, doubling for Gotham City - that got their attention.’ Yeah, I’d still pay to see that. Anyway, scripts developed into a more modest, low-budget noir idea of a storyline which deteriorated to Bruce Wayne as a Travis Bickle simulacra (including nervous voiceover) alongside Commissioner Gordon as a Serpico styled rebel against the corrupt system, then the project floundered before it was picked up later – and the rest is history. So for the last time, from this moment that raised some definitive excitement of such material;
I’m hoping to get my initial review up this evening but we’ll see how it goes, I’ve already collected some amusing non-spolier specific material but don’t worry, I will clarify the situation in my opening remarks, so I’ll see you then….
We continue with all things batty, new readers may wish to review part one of my two-part retrospective of The Dark Knight which can be viewed here. I didn’t think I’d get the time to complete this before the opening of The Dark Knight Rises but I don’t have any other reviews outstanding at the moment, and all the smart distributors have pretty much cleared their release schedule as none of them are brave enough to programme any of their offerings against what is certain to be this years second box-office behemoth, so there won’t much else going on review wise for at least a month. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t link to this, it’s 13 minutes of behind the scenes material for the new film, I am not going to watch it or anything else until the 20th as I’m not risking any more spoilers, your self-control threshold may be weaker. Anyway, enough of this procrastination, let’s pick up events where we left them, after the climactic confrontation between our hero and his lunatic nemesis, I’m not sure why but I simply love this moment, it’s a rare shard of reflection when the films engine isn’t accelerating along at a breakneck pace, and in many ways encapsulates the film in one brief moment, of those yapping ‘dogs chasing cars’;
There is a glaring editing failure in the preceding sequence where the Joker taunts his captor in an unusually cruel dialogue exchange, a shivering piece of writing which demonstrates again just what a nasty and wily piece of work he is. Suddenly through the frantic cross cutting of Bruce racing to Rachel’s / Harvey’s side and the revelation of the internalized IED’s implanted in the Joker’s goons - another War On Terror® reference of course – at the police station we suddenly see Detective Stephens (Keith Szarabajka) as hostage, the Joker with a knife to his throat, presumably the same blade that he has concealed in his shoe from the earlier champagne reception crash or maybe Nolan’s just a fan of Rosa Klebb and decided to throw in another Bond reference to go along with his wholesale sacking of OHMSS for Inception. So the bomb goes off, Rachel is killed, Two Face is forged in the cauterizing inferno and the Joker’s dastardly scheme continues apace. I was quite shocked by Rachel’s death I have to say, the filmmakers had taken the time to establish her as a feisty, independent, professional type nor merely hostage / arm candy – well, apart from the champagne reception bit where she and Bats implausibly fall several hundred feet but we’ll just forgot about that - which is a rarity in itself for today’s action blockbusters, but to actually kill off a major character is almost unheard off, and this time there is no cinematic sleight of hand to bring her back as they did with Gordon’s expertly arranged feint, thus the stakes are established and the audience is distressed to understand that all bets are off, I mean it’s not like they’ll be bombing hospitals next or something (nervously laughs), right? Oh…..
I’ve mentioned in previous pieces that Gotham city itself is a defined and central character in the films, a formless vortex of myriad citizens, corrupt and decaying institutions on both sides of that porous veneer of legality, the huddled masses suspended in an urban thrall which both Batman and his repeated opponents seek to manipulate and cajole, from Ra’s Al Ghul & the Scarecrow in Batman Begins, from the Joker in The Dark Knight and I’m sure Bane will have the same objective in The Dark Knight Rises, the fight is always for the soul of the people and this is no more acute than in the second and final acts of this film, where the fascistic drive of the film becomes fully acute, speaking from a strictly academic, dictionary definition of the ideology*. Crime fiction has always been a rich artery for channeling the anxiety of the day, operating as it does on the cusp of legality and the transgressive, and although the film was widely interpreted as a cultural manifestation of the War On Terror® Bordwell says that Hollywood can be strategically ambiguous about politics, as he argues against the zeitgeist theory in his usual erudite and convincing fashion, I’m reminded of the scene in Jarhead where the Marines unironically enjoy watching Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now as exciting war films, not as the complex works which on the immediate surface are not flagrantly anti-war, but operate more as obtuse texts with different ideas and images leading to different meanings and conclusions to differing alternate individuals. Therefore the credo or dogma of the film is further obfuscated by the elevation of Nolan and his immediate companions – Michael Bay, Peter Jackson, Spielberg, Lucas and the bombastic others – into being the chief proponents of so-called ’Shock & Awe’ cinema, deploying intense sound and visual material to literally befuddle and deafen the audience into a numbed obsequious servitude, with 3D, motion capture and IMAX being the latest weapons in their cinematic arsenal – the volume drowns the message.
Whilst we’re on the subject of critics some of the mediums more insightful sophists such as David Denby have remarked that The Dark Knight operates in a state of almost hysterical ’constant climax’, a phrase which alludes to the exhausting combination of pummeling and deep edit rhythms, heightened performances, an emphasis on melee and confrontation, and the high-pitched strings from Hans Zimmer’s vociferous score, an analysis which mirrors the Shock & Awe assessment propagated by Bordwell and their ilk. It’s an observation which I broadly accept as it’s obvious that this is exactly the effect than Nolan and his team are striving to achieve – unlike his contemporaries he insists on shooting even the largest action sequences with single fixed cameras, such is the level of pre-visualisation he has already mentally constructed before building or scoping sets, instead of arranging the scenes from a plethora of sources in the editing suite, and the film has an undeniably pulsing, coruscating rhythm and aura throughout its second half with perhaps a few too many plot strands to be competently weaved together. The conflict arises as to the opinion of this being a legitimate and desirable evolution of cinema, of whether potent ideas and commentary can simmer under the surface of what is ostentatiously a commercial, fiscally attuned cinema, but I’d argue that from Intolerance to The Wizard of Oz to Singing In The Rain to The Godfather - to use some widely acclaimed and loved examples across both historical and genre palettes – cinema is spectacle, it is grandiose and accelerated, overbearing and in your face, in certain cases this is what distinguishes it from TV or theatre, from live music or gaming, and sometimes I think the critics lose sight of this when assembling these critiques, just because they are genre pieces the message and interpretations are just as valid in a Nolan film as they are in a Kiarostami film.
One of the more amusing theories I’ve recently absorbed refers to Nolan’s work being a detailed treatise on what it means to be a modern human in a post-religious world. In Batman Begins for example Bruce Wayne, as the primary audience avatar, must face his intangible, superstitious demons and self-actualize his fear, with such emotional paralysis being a major component of the film on a host of different thematic and narrative levels. In The Dark Knight, the second stage of development in the pursuit of the elusive self-actualisation is to define a framework of ethics and social order, or chaos results. In The Dark Knight Rises - who knows? Perhaps it will be the conflict with other self-actualized beings and their definitions of self, order and ethics? Will Bane as a Oedipal ’other’ be seeking to usurp the city and indoctrinate its citizens to his Occupy themed socialist ideology? Will Catwoman be the franchise’s first signal of overt sexuality, liberated by the death of Rachel, Bruce Wayne’s childhood sweetheart from the previous film? In Batman Begins our orphaned hero defeats the Scarecrow as a childhood boogeyman in the first stage of development, and Ra’s al Ghul as the Oedipal father is rejected and defeated to ascend to the next psychological threshold. In The Dark Knight it’s the Joker as the malicious id who fosters the birth and drive of Two-Face as the mirroring ego, with Ra’s al Ghul now the intangible, overarching super-ego, invisibly fostering the drives and desires of the schizophrenic Batman to conduct the greatest sacrifice, the destruction of his ego (Two Face) to thwart the ruinous desires of his id (Joker), assimilating the shattered remnants of his own, better, manifest self (Harvey Dent) at the apex of the film? With both the id locked away in Arkham Asylum and the ego subdued the arrival of Bane and Catwoman in the new film activate a new neurosis, they are just as good as Batman, if not better, at simply being who they are - competent, goal-oriented and already self-actualized – forcing his return to the alter-ego? Or maybe I’ve got too much time on my hands and I’ve been reading far too much psychoanalytical theory dossiers. Well then hmmm….
So we finally arrive at the hospital scene where the Joker gets his most revelatory scene. Heath Ledger’s performance throughout this controlled, asceptic film as the fractured, disembodied Loki figure with his unreliable and ambiguous origin stories are quite simply breathtakingly audacious, it breaks every Hollywood screenwriting rule where you must have a clearly defined antagonist from which the hero can ricochet in full dramatic glory, and full marks to both Jonathan & Christopher Nolan for not even giving us a final act resolution to his origin or psychological purpose. Such an approach really makes him some sort of free-floating insurgent agent of anarchy, and Ledger really captured the zeitgeist with his performance whose charismatic chaos speaks to some of the disenfranchised generation X, Y’s and Z being expressed in that speech, the mouthpiece of frustration of a segment of society (in their view) under the thrall of absurd, corrupt and ineffectual systems of control, a catalyst which viewers can chaotically indulge in some of their more disorderly fantasies. It’s curious then that Nolan operates at societies nodal points throughout his movies, he frequently arranges scenes in the airports and the cities, in City Hall or police stations, on aircraft or in hospitals, throughout the works the march of civilisation is centered, and then there is the insane court jester whose role throughout history has always been to speak truth to power and disrupt and lampoon the perilous position of the elite, it’s maybe an instinctive choice of apparatus that we all, commonly, subconsciously realise and loathe. Ledger, in his tragic final performance was throughly brilliant; twitchy but not overwrought, malicious but not cartoonish, even in that scene above – in drag as a nurse for christsakes - he simultaneously comes off as deranged and dangerous, even during a narrative snapshot that could so easily have descended into farce. The Iraq allusions are overwhelming with an opponent using asymmetric warfare against a homogenic foe, sending scratchy, out of focused shaky footage which hints at unseen atrocities, in an identical manner to the fanatic self-proclaimed ’Islamist’ brigades who continue to blaze a bloody vengeance across the Middle East. The film drips with an ichorous nihilism which again tapped a chord with its vast audience, a darkness which can have only been intensified with the tragic death of Ledger and his posthumous Academy Award, is it not one of those cruel twists that a millionaire and critically acclaimed film star, supposedly a figure of adoration the world over, one of the lucky souls who through a difficult conflation of luck and talent ascended to the movie star pantheon yet still led such a wearisome life that he was wedded to the crutch of numerous legal drugs to simply face the next day? That’s no joke….
But the center rings true, at least for the moment. Some cultural theorists, acolytes and other academic cinema types have identified a genre of film that emerged in both the wheezing, dying breaths of the past millennium and the birth pangs of the new, through a series of American movies whose purpose was to separate an illusory reality from the allegedly more authentic ‘real‘, a sequence that was immediately guillotined by 9/11 and replaced with texts positing the simulation coming under attack from overseas, from sources very much alien in both senses of the word from the prevailing ideology. I’d argue that The Dark Knight is very much the next logical development in that sequence with the disembodied threat being supplanted with indigenous foes, the paranoid surveillance state engaging in widespread doublespeak and triplethink, an enemy within responding to maelstroms of cultural contradictions which is the very essence of the ludicrous and terrifying notion of a ‘war on terror’. With the exception of Wayne, Gordon and Rachel everyone in The Dark Knight is susceptible to being perverted, corrupted and turned, from the men and women of law enforcement to the crusading district attorney Harvey Dent, solidly portrayed by Aaron Eckhert who never seemed to get the kudos he richly deserved for a difficult performance that is foreshadowed with just enough seething rage to make his final descent psychologically convincing – well, I mean convincing for a tent pole Hollywood movie, this isn’t nor is it trying to be Strindberg or Ibsen – and just a quick word on Gary Oldman – he’s just fucking great isn’t he? Another unimpeachable foundation stone in the series success, alongside Michael Caine noble Alfred, who I’ve never fully appreciated until I caught the films back to back yesterday.
Screens and surfaces, media and manipulation. Before seeing the film again I was sympathetic to the captious claims that the final confrontation, the climactic set-piece with the ferry booby traps and moral gauntlet proffered by the Joker felt just a little ‘forced’, another sequence in a slightly obese film with the sonar enhanced melee becoming a little tiresome by dredging out a blockbuster movie to an unnecessary two and a half hour run-time, a complaint that was compounded by the fiscal fallacy circulating Hollywood at the time that more villains equalled more thrills, so merchandising minded executives urged screenwriters to insert redundant threats ad nauseam to pointlessly elevate the dramatic ante, but with another visit to this movie the criticism simply doesn’t hold water – Spiderman 3 however is another entity. I’m happy to be proved wrong but if memory serves The Dark Knight is the only movie where the villains actually seem to functionally operate in the same film universe, to recant and reflect upon each other in a clearly logical and dramatic sense, the Joker’s murderous creation of the dually horrific Two Face is perfectly played and serves at the final checkmate move of his increasingly convoluted and perhaps absurdly contrived master plan, yet it makes narrative sense as his final coup de grâce in potentially disrupting the moral imperatives of Gotham’s citizens, which was anarchicaly expressed as his ultimate goal in the hospital scene. Although the film’s editing gets choppy and slightly confusing with the cross maneuvers urging a rather confrontational reaction – again the ‘constant climax’ exhaustion comes into play and this is perhaps Nolan’s occasional stumble throughout his cluttered storytelling style - yet the meridian of one opponents defeat is expertly despatched;
So here is some more of Nolan’s gravity defying camera techniques that he went on to explore more fully with Inception and judging by the prologue to The Dark Knight Rises we will be seeing more of those unusually inverted movements. The Joker gets his final speech alluding to the similarities between the two symbiotic nemesis ‘dragging Harvey down to our level’ before he gets one final maniacal laugh to haunt us as he pushes off into the ether, as in one sense he has won and pushed the hero into his personal Gehenna, as a common murdering criminal that ignited his nocturnal crusade in Batman Begins. I really like the way that the Nolan’s have almost written themselves into a corner by maintaining the heightened realism and cast Bruce as a murderous vigilante, and in just a few days we’ll know how they’ve extracted themselves from that potential narrative cul-de-sac.
Cue applause, house lights up, long exhale – we’re almost done. Some of the success resides in the little touches – Bruce playing playboy and ditching the champagne on the veranda as he must remain focused and in control, the Joker responding to accusations to being crazy by nervously muttering ’no…no…no I’m not…’ as if he’s having to convince himself, Bruce effortlessly dispatching a goon and dismantling his weapon as he walks toward the panic room in the party scene, the Joker’s hand-washing moment in the hospital, that evocative moment of Bats musing over his failure in the smoldering debris of Rachel’s homicide - they all add up to a textural pattern which displays a tangent of filmmakers completely in control of his material, and judging by the early word on The Dark Knight Rises that vice like grip continues into the final installment. I’m not the only one to have been immediately reminded of the ending to Shane with the close of Dark Knight, my esteemed colleague Philip French noted the same thoughts during his review back in the day, it’s a final allusion to the mythic grandeur that cinema can provoke for its eternal celluloid heroes when manipulated by the right hands. So whats next ? Watching the first two back to back reminds me of just what an outstanding narrative arc they have developed for the franchise, of the psychological allusions and confusions, I’m certain we’ll see more of the same in Rises but I was also struck by just how emotional the films are, there is a real heart and spirit churning under the action sequences and gadgets, a real sense of threat and struggle beyond the pyrotechnics and intellectual shadow-play, and this I think is what has elevated them above other superhero and blockbuster fare, and if early reports are anything to go by then we’re in for some intense material for the final chapter – I have my suspicions of where certain things will go but we’ll leave that Pandora’s box firmly closed for now. Looking beyond the weekend you Bat-fans will also be excited to hear of this bat-project which I stumbled across during my research, but for now let’s just calmly convalesce and wait for Friday, and see just how the Nolan’s and Bale, Caine and Freeman will finally wrap up this outstanding, incredible series of films – are you excited yet?
* OK, I’m not suggesting that Nolan are Fascists or anything, I’m merely pointing out if you look at the strictly academic view of what that political ideology ia, then apply that to millionaire Bruce Wayne’s ideology and activities and well….
I’m guessing that like any reasonably astute, potentially wise movie fan of sorts you’ve avoided reading any of the detailed reviews over the past 24hrs, relating to the undisputed biggest film of the year. Well, I’m mostly with you, temptation is a curious thing though and I got roughly two sentences into a few pieces of reportage – yes sir I have a problem and am seeking professional help – before closing the browser and going for a good long stroll…..into other areas of the internet. What I have absorbed makes me very, very happy, four and five-star reviews across the board, so could the Nolan brothers and their brilliant accomplices have impossibly bettered the halcyon heights of The Dark Knight? We shall see. Watch this space for the lengthy second part of my reprise of the second movie of the trilogy, I apologise in advance for a stratospherically protracted piece of analysis, which I’ve mostly constructed over the past week during terms of increasing boredom, in advance of my local cinemas screening of the first two installments of the trilogy this Tuesday evening - this is quite an event, cinematically speaking;
Kim Newman, one of my all time favourite critics was on the radio yesterday and some of his comments made me very excited, tempered with his usual and appropriate reservations. But c’mon, it’s very rare for us film fans to indulge in such childish expectations, even when the final product is not so immature;
I’m there at the IMAX on Friday morning, and I’ll get some thoughts together shortly after, depending if I can sneak into a second screening at the local multiplex in the late afternoon – yes I’m going full fanboy with this as the experience of seeing these films with an excited audience is a major part of the fun. In other new I’ve been vaguely following Comic-Con and its various exultations, as much as I dislike Empire Magazine and their commercial attuned imperatives their podcast (which I just started subscribing to) has been pretty informative, whilst I’m still excited about The Hobbit I couldn’t give a literal flying fuck about Snyder’s Superman, which has allegedly gone tiresome and predictably ‘dark’, del Torro’s new project however sounds like it’s delivering some amazement, but the real revelation was Gareth Edward’s footage of Godzilla - good for him, I wondered why that went very quiet but it sounds like he has been beavering away on something potentially special, both on the big monster and spectacularly speaking fronts. Finally a RIP to both Richard Zanuck, son of the legendary Darryl Zanuck (whom I have soft for, as his autobiography was the first of those I read of the Hollywood moguls of yore, which now seems out of print so thanks Bretton Library), for his impressive array of professionally produced movies and also RIP to the unusual tragedy of Sage Stallone, that dude must be saluted for his patronage of Grindhouse Releasing, without which some buried treasures would be much more difficult to excavate;
So we’re in the final straight, with a couple of weeks to go until The Dark Knight Rises I’ve joined my fellow film blogging friends in revisiting the work of a certain Christopher Jonathan James Nolan Esq. Having seen the likes of Insomnia and Memento relatively recently this won’t be much of a retrospective on my part, just a viewing of The Prestige tonight and Inception over the next week, before the obvious and predictable double bill of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight on the 19th.
There’s a tasty looking analysis of his work in this month’s Sight & Sound which arrived this morning, the BFI are quite rightly hosting a full retrospective alongside the run up to their comprehensive Hitchcock season which I’m jolly excited about, if only to finally see the only film of his I’ve never caught (barring the recently restored silent films) - The Paradine Case. I have some ambitious ideas for that season which will be tempered by my work situation over the next couple of weeks, we shall see how that goes depending on my potential movements around the country. Anyway, I will resist reading the Nolan article before seeing the new film, I don’t want to predicate my thoughts, and as for The Prestige here is an amateur blast from the past – that was a painful revisit. Anyway, any film with the great Ricky Jay is always worth a look, right? He’s gotta be one of the all time close magic greats, even without the sultry charms of the lovely Debbie McGee;
Early reports on TDKR which is beginning to get some press and executive screenings are rumoring a picture that exceeds The Dark Knight – Hollywood guff or genuine brilliance? Here’s the latest, and alleged last trailer with a few new glimpses;
After the colossal disappointment of Prometheus, a film so bad I can’t be bothered to finish my review, comes Nolan with a deft uppercut;
I’m seeing reports that it’s almost three hours long. Nice.
And lo, on the 1st of May, the prescribed date of the global Occupy day of passive resistance, the new Dark Knight trailer was revealed to the universe. Coincidence? I think not;
I’m literally out the door to visit our glorious NHS and have this pesky cast removed so I’ll just say this – it doesn’t show a huge amount (which is a good thing), thank god they’ve cleaned up Bane’s mffighling, and I’m finally sold on the whole Catwoman thing and am intrigued to see how she slots into the enterprise – and boy did that ‘this isn’t a car’ quip elicit a laugh. This is gonna be a fucking great summer…..
You might have heard of this, it was a little project that Warners put out a few years ago, having been reasonably successful (over $1 billion in worldwide box office alone), it’s got itself a sequel this year. True to form after promising a write-up on this as part of my ancient Films of 2008 entry I’ve finally managed to fulfil this promise a mere four years later, punctuality evidently being my strong point. Why the delay? Well, initially I wanted to give it yet another look after the two cinema visits and a couple of Blu-Ray revisions, but after the rabid exposure the film and its potential sequel engendered over the subsequent couple of years I frankly got a little sick of the movie (although that’s not the films fault), there must have been some tangential news story in the on-line press almost every day during the first couple of quarters of 2009 so I really wanted to go away, take a breather, then come back to the movie fresh and attempt to explain why I think The Dark Knight really touched a nerve with not only the rabid fan-boys who went to see it four, five, even six times at the cinema (which of course explains some of that box office) but also the appeal to the more mainstream punters who visit the cinema maybe once or twice a year. Of course the interest and speculation has continued to swirl unabated around what we know as The Dark Knight Rises over the intervening few years, as its 20th July release date inexorably marches forward it’s finally time to step up the plate and push some thoughts out there prior to the release of the historically difficult third movie in the trilogy, be warned as this may very well be the most absurd, lengthy, fanboy inspired nonsense I’ve ever fabricated so I’m preemptively blaming the pain-killers. It’s an obvious allusion I know but I’d argue that The Dark Knight is the quintessential film of the last decade, with its domineering leitmotifs of entropy, corruption, instability and insanity it is the primary exemplar in reflecting and illustrating many of the crumbling structures that are under assault by a panoply of threats - fear, anguish, destruction, hypocrisy, paranoia – that have perverted the citadels of the West as their hegemonic stranglehold exigently slips away, as the moral lines are increasingly obscured as independent, ideological driven groups fight for their interests by violating the margins of the status quo and established, increasingly redundant and rejected political methods are superseded by direct action, and it’s also got some kick-ass action sequences so where better to start than with the introduction of the films hero, and I ain’t talking about some nocturnal psychopathic vigilante;
Click on the top left link to catch the final moments of that opening, alas I couldn’t find it in its entirety. Firstly, this obviously serves as the second part of a trilogy with the opening blue flame hued bat symbol – we’ll seeing that more of that temperature in the film of course – serving as a thematic and design continuation of the opening of Batman Begins and its auburn hues which both dispense with any titles or credits, both serve as semiotic glimpses of the tale that follows and its cinematographic palettes. An expansive helicopter mounted dolly penetrates the world of the film, the modern urban environment, its briefly tranquil atmosphere shattered as the goons rupture the status quo as they prepare their aerial assault that is immediately reinforced with a cunning character introduction, an empty mask shown in silhouette with the unidentified character turned away from the camera lens, a presage of the fruitless search for identity, reason and morality that gravitate around the films real protagonist – The Joker – whom subliminally mocks the film’s title. He is a void, a vessel for the audiences fears, a mysterious agent of chaos and entropy with a constantly shifting origin and history (does he even know his own back-story?) but I’ll delve fully into that in part two of this brief series. A meticulously planned robbery ensues, cut to the tempo of Hans Zimmer’s shrill and stretched score, a criminal inauguration which simultaneously references The Killing (there, didn’t take long for the Kubrick mention did it?) with similar nods to Heat via the casting of William Fichtner, signaling Nolan’s impeccable influences and inspirations. I love the nonchalant shooting of the bus driver and the grenades imposed on the trembling bank customers, we’re clearly dealing with a meticulously prepared and efficient psychotic (unusual for a PG13 movie for obvious reasons) whom immediately obliterates the scenery chewing antics of Nicholson, reinforced with the callous execution of his comrades and the grenade smoke bomb gag which acquaints us with this clown prince of crimes nebulous attitude to life and death. This merciful introduction is inverted with a shock a few minutes later in which writers Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer perfectly pitch a moment of terrible violence with splenetic humor, a grim yin-yang that reverberates throughout the film, both times I saw it with an audience they went fucking wild and that’s cinema right there, the shared experience that nothing can equal. So the films temperature and temperament is independently established away from the usual carnage saturated action-film context, it’s afferent inductions functioning within the narrative, not being a function of the narrative, not merely an excuse for kinetic deviations that leapfrog the recital to the next ballistic set-piece - in The Dark Knight they are intrinsic designs and conceptions that embed the characters psychology and environment – the oppidan and urban, the criminally lunatic, the dispassionately violent – at the core of the films anfractuous ambitions.
After this bravura prologue the film settles into its rhythm and the major plot lines emerge, Harvey Dent is introduced as the passive reflection of Batman, the principled idealist who is committed to make a difference, battling the crime and corruption of Gotham city within the confines of the system rather than following an individual, morally suspect, unhinged nocturnal crusade unfettered by such ridiculous notions as civil rights, presumption of innocence and trial by jury - in a word, Guantanamo. The political praxis is set, the City Hall and legislature machinations are placed in dichotomy with the criminal syndicate operations, as Gotham City itself is established as a living entity with enough sparse sociological dimensions to serve the plot developments in the films succeeding acts, a pivotal stroke as Nolan and his screenwriter accomplices understand that the city is as crucial a character in their legendarium as Bruce Wayne or Alfred, Lt. Gordon or Harvey Dent. Maggie Gyllenhaal replaces Katie Holmes from Batman Begins as the romantic plot device, as Rachael is re-contextualised from the first movie as Bruce’s most significant personal sacrifice – a totem which shortly becomes mortally intangible - a love requited but impossible to consummate given his psychological demons and the potential of an Achilles heel should a particularly fervid villain learn of their secret affections. After an entertaining (although rather redundant) sojourn to Hong Kong and an escalating body count the narrative reaches a second plateau, the preceding hour or so is undoubtedly the films weakest section, I don’t want to belabor the point but the frantic cutting of editor Lee Smith can leave the viewers a little confused and a few redundant threads are raised – the copycat vigilantes, the blackmail attempt from a suicidally ambitious Wayne Industries executive - all of which seems a little forced even as it inevitably links in with later developments in a rather overly complex*, serpentine script. All of these maneuvers are presented in the usual single character frame shots, spiced up with a creeping track-in camera movement as characters spin out some occasionally portentous dialogue, all punctuated with Nolan’s beloved cityscape establishing shot transitions, before we are relived of this flagitious framing with a rather memorable soirée amongst the higher echelons of Gotham society;
What’s that? No, no we erm don’t talk about what subsequently happened back at the party as that seems to be quite a serious omission from the cutting room floor, given that the narrative moves along without resolving the threatening incursion upon Gotham’s 1% one assumes that the protracted run time urged some serious snipping of the editors cruel scissors. Anyway, note the swirling, circling camera moves as the Joker expresses his fluctuating origin story, a simple but efficient tool to suggest the disorientation of having that mentalist literally in your face with a knife in view, as the threat moves from the abstract to personal for both Bruce and Harvey as the competing paramour of moon-faced Gyllenhaal. I think both Wally Pfster and Nathan Crowley have been somewhat overlooked in favour of Nolan’s and Ledger’s achievements on the movie, both these talents evidently worked in harmonious tandem, populating the film with a metallic sheen of reflections in the architecture of the film and embedding stark, regimented angular designs for the forces of order and control whose arrogant perch is assaulted by the explosive campaign of the Joker. Note that the native, primeval lair of the original Batcave has been exchanged for the rigid geometric order of the Batcave 2.0, the gothic and elemental superseded with the mechanised and controlled, the new nest of our nocturnal paladin sporting a sleek, cool and fetishistic sheen (as does his weapons, vehicles and armour), a sharp contrast to the primordial, instinctive tools of his opponent, as simple bombs and knives are the inventory of his anarchist adversary. The next sequence of note is the terrifying Al-Qaeda video inspired moment when the first hostage demand is transmitted by the press, I still can’t quite believe this sneaked into a 12A certificate film as it is numbingly nasty and genuinely unsettling, both times at the flicks the patrons were shocked into a dumbstruck silence, as cunningly Nolan cuts to an overhead shot of Gotham as a chance for the audience to catch their breath and compose their spirits, a lull in the storm before the next action sequence ignites;
After this meandering we come to the central action set-piece and the film never looks back. I’ve been somewhat beaten to the punch by this widely circulated analysis of the sequence which has its merits, although I think having issues with the 180° rule being consistently violated is somewhat missing the point – if it convinces, if it excites and thrills then it’s job is done, regardless of any arbitrary academic transgression, and the claim that this is just sloppy film-making and is not intentional on the part of Nolan and his editor is frankly ludicrous. The ominous and subtle joke of the fire engines ablaze is another nice touch, the shift from diagetic sound to Zimmer’s (quite literally) highly strung score easing us into a frenetic, brilliantly conceived and executed action sequence which stands above its peers by virtue of being, well, real. That’s real vehicles doing real stunts with real human beings, I’m not naive enough to think some of it wasn’t tweaked back in the labs but there are real visceral thrills in the sequence which does not rely solely on CGI domination (perhaps a little too real as a stuntman was killed during production), rather than using your cornea as a punching bag the concatenation has a drama, a lift and a presence through the characters and the parallel cutting techniques, and I’d argue that the entire film strives for a slightly disorienting, anxious ambience, embedded through every level of the film-making from the costumes to performances, soundtrack to set design. For all the films submerged depths and edifying intricacies it also delivers on the action and excitement front – let’s not forget that this is a $250 million Hollywood movie and as such it has some obligations to the cultural tropes of that breed of cinema – and this scene works as a microcosm three-act embezzlement of the form with its set-up and establishment of the characters in relation to the physical universe, the underground tussle and mêlée, and a final triumphant revelation of the Bat-pod and Westernesque showdown, all crowned with the twist reveal of Lt. Gordon bringing the maniac martinet to justice. I’ll admit I was suckered, I honestly thought Gordy had been killed earlier on so when he was revealed as the arresting officer on scene I was mentally punching the air in triumph along with the audience members who clapped and cheered along with this disclosure, a superb finish to what can roughly be parsed as the mid-point of the film, but not before we interrogate one of the more critical scenes of the entire movie;
There is nothing I can add to what already been expressed about this by Nolan here, it’s an illuminating interview, and you can see from that piece how the film works at an iconic level, he and Goyer and his brother got it and understand that the symbiotic relationship culled from the more mature Batman & Joker graphic novels are what makes them so intriguing and psychologically charged, this scene being the crux of the entire movie from which all the tendrils and all the other themes and events coalesce to lurk in a slithering, quivering mania. How can a force that thrives on conflict and degrading its opponent to its level ever be defeated? When do the ends justify the means in the face of illogical and indiscriminate brutality? When faced with the dispassionate, indifferent cruelty of the world and its hollow and hypocritical moral structures isn’t the only sane response to go insane? On that charming note let me draw a veil over part one of this reprise, giving me a breather to compose part 2 where we’ll get into the remainder of the film along with the performances, with some of the more virulent adumbrations and crucially how the film slots neatly into Nolan’s wider worldview, it’s all to come in a couple of weeks after this apprehensive musical interlude;
* Here is my favourite, most sarcastic appraisal of one of the films most glaring flaws – ‘I especially like the part where he (the Joker) had arranged to have two guys named Harvey and Dent killed so as to draw Batman’s attention to a bullet fired into the brick wall at the crime scene knowing that bullet would shatter but that Batman would recover it and take it to an improvised crime lab where he would then discover a way to model the shattered bullet on his computer and virtually reassemble the bullet in order to discover a fingerprint belonging to the minion who put the bullet in the gun and in whose apartment Batman would then discover that the funeral guard for Commisioner Loeb’s funeral has been bound and gagged and as Batman walks to the window to discover that the apartment overlooks the funeral of the commissioner, he fails to notice that a timer has been set to snap the window shade up at exactly the second that Batman arrives at the window, causing the snipers covering the funeral to fire at the window and allowing the Joker to make his next move! That is tight planning! I can see why audiences were so swept up by this story, which was not at all horseshit’….
Let the caliginous nerding commence;
Well, not much to say as there ain’t much new in there, lets just hope it stalks into screens before that whole pesky end of civilisation Mayan prophecy occurs eh? It has quite obviously been thrown together to capitalise on the trapped audience viewing the biggest Warner Brothers picture of the year, I’m sure we’ll get a full trailer at Christmas ahead of Sherlock 2. (Shudders)
‘Your mind is the scene of the crime’ – that’s a damn good tagline. It’s a been a lousy summer as far as Hollywood film-making goes, we cinema fans have been treated to a succession of tired clones of previous films, bland episodes of exhausted franchises or yet more adaptations and spin-off’s from TV shows – where’s the originality? I like to think that Toy Story 3 aside (I’m not seeing it until Sunday but the reviews indicate another Pixar triumph) this creative vacuum is in part reflected in the seasons diminished box office returns, one hopes that a genuinely fresh and compelling piece of work like Inception can ignite the publics imagination and help get similarly cerebral projects green-lit in the future. In terms of the current climate Inception is a bravura piece of work, a vertiginous sudoku that encapsulates Nolan’s inquisitive musings on those themes of perception, identity and memory that litter his work, all cloaked in the guise of a Matrix style tent-pole action picture that he seems to have mastered. In terms of context I have successfully managed an almost total embargo on this one, trailers aside I haven’t seen a single frame of footage, I haven’t read a single review (prior to my first draft of this post) and I’ve successfully avoided all spoilers. Friends have sent me brief, one sentence extracts from the coverage that’s out there so I’m aware of the Kubrick comparisons, I can’t say I fully agree but we’ll come to that later - I’m not being precious, I just think it’s a mis-aligned comparison. I have also conducted a short Nolan season, revisiting Memento and both Batman movies as preparation (alas I couldn’t find my copy of The Prestige and I saw Insomnia on TV toward the end of last year), just to refresh the synapses and provide some sense of context for this post. So, has Nolan conjured a new masterpiece, a $300 million Memento or the worlds most unexpected remake of 1984′s SF cult curio Dreamscape?
I’m a little hesitant to provide a synopsis given that much of the films strength revolves around its unusual premise and the crepuscular sense of mystery that has been carefully draped over the project, rest assured I will keep this section as succinct as possible and completely spoiler free so don’t worry. Dom Cobb (DiCaprio) is a master embezzler, the master of the dangerous art of extraction, the theft of valuable secrets from the subconscious of corporate targets during their dream state, when their mind is at its most vulnerable and malleable. Whilst Cobb is the pioneer in this precarious realm of corporate espionage it is not without its casualties, as an international fugitive in the real world he is offered a final chance at redemption, there is one last mark that could realign his karma if he can accomplish the impossible – Inception. In an inversion of the perfect heist Cobb and his team must perform the previously impossible, the installation of an idea not the removal of one, a task that demands the plundering of unknown depths of the human psyche. In the usual caper movie fashion Cobb assembles a team of specialists to achieve his destiny and clear his name, unbeknownst to them a spectre from his previous incursions could lethally compromise their ambitions….
I didn’t sense much of a chemistry emanating from the on-screen crew but individually the cast excelled themselves, I’m warming to DiCaprio I have to admit after this and Shutter Island (with which Inception invites many intellectual comparisons) and the likes of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Cillian Murphy and Ken Watanabe all contributed admirably. Michael Caine occupies something of a mentor figure in his brief appearances and I sense an almost Tarantinoesque casting choice in the likes of Tom Berenger of all people, maybe Nolan was a big fan of Sniper 2, who knows? When you consider that he pulled in Rutger Hauer for Batman Begins in a role that just about anyone could have played – the untrustworthy corporate executive – one assumes that he is playing something of a fan-boy trick and good for him. Nolan assembles the usual suspects in terms of his below the line technicians, I’m talking about the schizophrenic editor Lee Smith, cinematographer Wally Pfister (whom is fast coming one of my favourite contemporary cameramen along with Roger Deakins, Emmanuelle Lubinski, Robert Elswet, Chris Doyle and Robert Richardson since you ask), the only omission being his usual production designer Nathan Crowley whom presumably was omitted due to a schedule clash, nevertheless those elements of the mise-en-scene has the same lustrous, smoothly ornate ambiance that have graced Nolan’s previous productions. The three biggest contributors for me are Hans Zimmer who has crafted another magnificent score (track to 8:30 for the aural delights that compound the recherché visuals), the empyrean Marion Cotillard convinces as Dom’s intangible siren but the real revelation is Tom Hardy (the new Mad Max apparently) who is going to go far, if you haven’t seen Bronson yet then check it out immediately, it’s not a brilliant film but his performance is astonishing. Now, to put some meat on the bones of this review I’m going to have to enter severe spoiler territory, I can’t see any way round it I’m afraid.
SPOILERS SECTION - Since absorbing some reviews over the past 24 hours I know that Bradshaw has mentioned his admiration of the scene in the alternate Paris that essentially equates cinema with a dreaming state, an exploration of the edit, of the cut that throws a narrative forward which we all experience when we slumber. I’d experienced the same cognition in what I think is the films best scene from a premiere viewing, it explodes that usual cliché that we’ve endured for decades and continues in the likes of Avatar (as a recent example) with those inserts of booming sound and hallucinatory visuals that reassure us that we have performed a transition from one state to another - that level of extraction (heh) from the films contours, intentional or not are what I really loved about this film, I’m positive that further gems will be unearthed on subsequent viewings. Compressing not two but three sorry four, maybe five narrative planes onto each other during the breathtaking major heist is just extraordinary and whilst I watch a lot of movies from all sorts of genres and eras I’ve never seen anything like it, especially when Nolan has the audacity to make them refract upon each other, to influence each other and build a bewildering sense of wonder that for me was utterly unique. I absolutely loved the mythology that is weaved into the films universe, the use of totems as safety devices for the agents in the dream state, the different timelines throughout the compressed plateaus of activity and the utilisation of the awaking upon impact hypothesis - they are all manipulations of the cinematic paradigm, of cinema as dream that also function as silhouettes to the films tension shredding credentials, of constructing an imaginative realm with its own rules and principes. The emotional arc of Dom seeking redemption for the death of his wife didn’t quite gel for me, however I concur that this narrative strand does build a sense of momentum and threat in this realm of the subconscious where death isn’t necessarily final, although it does result in other, less terminal consequences.
Although Ellen Page’s character can be considered as something of a Mrs. Basil Exposition device I can’t see how else Nolan could have delivered his ambitions for this film without a utilisation of such traditional techniques, of pulling the audience into the narrative complexity without some hand-holding, it might be a little too ‘talky’ for some but these alleged failures are overshadowed by the movies ambition and grasp. For such a big fan of Michael Mann it appears that Nolan still needs to pay some attention to constructing exciting and logical action choreography – on a surface level he is crafting an action film after all - then again perhaps you could argue that in the universe of Inception these aren’t necessary required and that confusion builds upon the perplexing aura that has been established. As the film moved toward its anxious conclusion, with the full visual revelation of that terrifying dream abyss Synedoche immediately to mind (maybe he should write Nolan’s next picture, that could be interesting), that architecture of the parallel world was almost, well, it was almost Jungian*. This was where the Freudian assassin, the simulacra of Dom’s deceased (?) wife really found her strength, hinting at the psychological phantoms that lurk in all our nightmares but as a friend has pointed out these developments did conjure further questions – exactly how did Dom escape that blissful incarceration? I loved the decision not to conclude on some dreadful twist that would have disintegrated everything that had been invested in the previous 150 minutes, that final drift to the spinning totem was an excellent choice, a movement that proves that Nolan has finally managed to provide an appropriate closure to his movies, even if it characteristically throws out all sorts of questions and suspicions as the credits roll. All those immaculately dressed protagonists exploring and perverting the psyches of human experience was magnificent, when I left a screening of Lost Highway back in 1997 I remember feeling quite bewildered and anxious during the journey home, Inception matched that experience and I can’t think of any higher praise – SPOILERS END.
I remarked a while back that these claims of Nolan being the new Kubrick was a little premature as he hadn’t crafted a 2001 yet, in a little filn nerd exercise lets compare the trajectory of their careers shall we? Both auteurs started with self-produced, self-financed, B&W ultra low budget calling cards that demonstrated their commitment to the craft aligned with a palpable sense of skill and technique - consider Following married with Killers Kiss and to a lesser extent Fear & Desire. They both delivered profile raising, clever genre movies that manipulated and challenged the notions of narrative conventions – Memento meets The Killing. Having ingratiated themselves amongst the aristocracy they both collaborate with one of the biggest stars of the era to cement their reputations – Douglas in Paths Of Glory and Pacino in Insomnia - which proves they can handle ‘talent’ and craft superb performances (Insomnia was Pacino’s last great screen role to date in my book) which then catapults them firmly into the A list, taking on the biggest blockbusters of the age with Spartacus back in 1960 or the Batman franchise in the noughties. This roughly parses Inception being Nolan’s 2001 or Strangelove, the ‘big ideas’ film that encapsulates the auteurs career to date, the technical innovations striking a new direction in form and configuration that will influence the art form for years to come – but that’s were the similarities end. Kubrick had much more of a broader vision, a macro level examination of his big themes – science, intelligence, sex, combat, the laughable constructs and frameworks that we develop to manage our ‘civilisation’ – whilst I’d argue that Nolan zeroes in the micro level, charting his subjects psyches, their character and personality, the repercussions of their obsessions that frequently distort and destroy them. Risking a clumsy metaphor one is Rembrandt and one is Picasso, both using the same canvas to explore their interests with different tools and techniques that the art form delineates in that moment in time. It is stating the obvious but Stan wasn’t exactly renown for populating his films with exciting shoot-outs and melee choreography (well, apart from that droog scene in Orange and the closing act of Jacket, erm…), I guess what I’m trying to say is such narrowly defined comparisons collapse under their own contradictions.
Many critics also quote the groan inducing claim that both directors are cold and humorless, because of course every film must have a quota of gags and a comedic sidekick, evidently those essentials appear as special deleted features on the DVD’s of Schindlers List or Sophies Choice. According to a podcast I listen to the hosts had read a review that criticised Nolan’s films for being ’too complicated’ – I won’t bother to reproduce the mental (in both senses of the word) tirade that this prompted in my fevered brain. But enough of the comparisons and enough of Kubrick (never thought I’d write that sentence), it’s a little unfair to Nolan who is his own particular talent, I remember reading an interview with him in the Guardian back when Memento came out and his exasperation at the simile almost leapt from the page, he was modest enough to be flattered with the comparison and Stan is undoubtably a core influence I’m sure but lets let him get on with his own stuff shall we? Besides, I’d argue that Nick Roeg is much more of a apt comparison with all those narrative fractures, those dispersal of linear traditions but that’s a whole other blog post….
Some further good news, look who’s back behind the camera for his new project and here’s the trailer for Fincher’s new movie – the future is looking rosy, cinematically speaking. I can elevate this with some news from last nights Douglas Trumbull Q&A at the NFT following his screening of Silent Running, he revealed that he worked on the second portion of Malick’s mysterious Tree Of Life project, that both films – the IMAX Film and the ‘normal’ film – are both cut, finished and in the can, although I’m still confused (along with everyone else I’m sure) as to exactly how these two strands supposedly work together. Still, its nice to have another mouth-watering experience on the horizon just as one is being digested eh? Here’s some coverage on Nolan’s influences, here are some of the more intelligent reviews that I’ve just caught up with and this list of his favourite films is superb, particularly his choice of The Hitcher and The Black Hole which has always occupied a special place in my mind since seeing it with one of my oldest friends back in 1979. At least that’s how I remember it…
Well there is no way I’m going to finalize my Inception review tonight as I’ve been pummeling away since I got home at 1:00am and am perhaps a third of the way through, this weekend is looking brutal in terms of stuff I’m seeing tomorrow today and Sunday so I have to get some sleep, not to mention managing my real world day job that I also have to monitor over the weekend – yeah, what a fucking martyr eh? Anyway, I want to get something published so here are some initial thoughts, in the form of film clips – make of them what you will:
I’d have loved to post the full heist scene but I think its been taken down. Moving on, the ‘art’ film:
The obvious – I’d rather have linked to this scene but it is forbidden, but you get the point I’m sure;
An old, surprisingly overlooked favourite;
Another crime film;
First impressions – Tom Hardy’s profile will explode, this film demands another viewing or three, the Kubrick comparisons are a little misguided for reasons I’ll get into later. Still, here’s the trailer again, an exceptional piece of work;
Hope I’ve got my Roman numerals accurate. Well, actually it’s all academic as by this time tomorrow the entire universe will have imploded when this little number finally goes live. Or of course, it might actually be here when they actually begin the real experiments. The most comprehensive FAQ is here which is still too complex for my puny brain, looks like that Grade C in GCSE physics has gone to waste although this may make the subject more digestible. As above, they’re not actually doing any of the smashing atoms together bit for another couple of months so so you still have time to get your affairs in order. I swear those fuckers are Half Life addicts though, I really do….
Bored a couple of nights ago I stumbled across this trailer to a particularly dreadful Grindhouse picture that I distinctly remember the video box in my local Spar video shop in Peterborough. Fairly sure I rented it at one point (not much in the way of rigorous BBFC age classification enforcement in that shop) but I suspect I’ve erased it from my brain as I don’t remember of that. Still, here are some entertaining trailers with some laugh out loud moments and ‘brilliant’ dialogue. Here is a vaguely amusing remake of ‘The Thing’ with GI Joe action figures. It takes a while to get going, so be patient.
Movie wise I’ve caught up with Chris Nolan’s first film ‘Following‘ which was pretty damn interesting in the context of his other movies. It’s a expanded student film and as such is of course black & white with non-professional actors, shot in 16mm and running a scant 70 minutes. What it lacks in resources it rescues in terms of ideas and story, it’s quite an intriguing tale of a struggling writer who follows random pedestrians around London for some sort of existential inspiration. One of his quarry is soon revealed to be a burglar and curiously entranced the writer turns accomplice leading to them both breaking into properties to obtain further thrills and insights into their victims lives. A girl enters the fray and things turn ugly as Nolan starts messing around with themes of identity and deception just like he does in ‘Insomnia‘, ‘Memento‘ and well, just about all his movies really. It’s also got his trademark narrative reassembly which I’ve just realised is inspired by the work of fellow Englishman Nic Roeg, albeit in a slightly less ostentatious fashion. Track it down, if only for the scene where the main character enters his flat which has a large Bat Symbol sticker on it. Coincidence or just….odd.