Tag Archives: Christopher Nolan

“DUNKIRK” Review (✫✫)

SOURCE: Warner Bros.

One week, one day, one hour.

It seems sacrilegious to criticize the masterful Christopher Nolan on film. Still, nearly no one else is going to say this, so I will: Dunkirk sucks. In an age where there is no shortage of compelling war dramas, Dunkirk is confusing, lapsed, and misplaced in its direction. If that was painful for you to read, imagine how painful it was for me to type.

Retelling the events of the Dunkirk evacuation during World War II in 1940, Dunkirk follows British soldiers from three different battlegrounds: the land, the sea, and the sky. Exhausted after weeks of fighting in Dunkirk, British and French troops are cut off and surrounded by the German army, shooting down their ships and any support that can come through to rescue them. By every account, the Allies are in a dire situation. It’s not until British citizens, not soldiers, board their own sea boats and venture out themselves to rescue their soldiers. In a hastily collaborated effort to save their families and friends at war, about 80 sailor boats saved the lives of over 300,000 soldiers during the battle of Dunkirk. That is an incredible story, one that I’m sure the British retell with pride and patriotism.

The film stars Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles, James D’Arcy, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, and Tom Hardy. I identify the cast by their real names instead of their characters because that’s all you’re going to recognize them by. While strong characters are present in most of Nolan’s wider filmography, Dunkirk’s heroes are mostly forgettable on and off the battlefield. That’s because they meander from crisis to crisis, reacting as they go, only rarely having time to slow down for us to care about them or invest in their plights. If you’re going into Dunkirk expecting a lot of buildup to the character’s backstory, chances are you’re going to be disappointed. They’re not as fleshed out as Nolan’s other cinematic heroes are.

That being said, I understand why this is the case in the context of this film. It’s because Nolan wasn’t trying to write compelling characters for Dunkirk. He was trying to write compelling scenarios, and the character’s purposes were more or less meant as surrogates for us to project ourselves onto in order to be more immersed in the chaos on-screen. It’s been done before in film, and it’s been done well. Eraserhead had a mostly silent protagonist so we could more easily digest the confusion and horror the character was experiencing, while Boyhood had a mostly flat lead just so we could more accessibly relive our own childhood memories and nostalgia.

Nolan attempted to use surrogate characters for the same purposes in Dunkirk, and for the most part, he succeeded. That’s because the details he takes away from the people, he invests into the battlefield, and man are the battle scenes visceral. I’ve heard millions of gunshots from hundreds of other films during my career, yet the first time I heard that loud, ear-piercing BANG in the theater from this movie, I immediately forgot everything else I experienced and was immersed in the moment of tension and paranoia during wartime. There’s a lot of scenes like that in Dunkirk, where the action and sound mixing is so sudden and unexpected that it immediately places you in the moment. My favorite scenes probably happened closer to the beginning, where soldiers were in rows quietly waiting to board a life vessel, only to hear a high-pitched hum slowly crescendo into an ear-piercing screech. The soldiers lifted their heads, their eyes widened in panic, and then they ducked down, bracing for impact. I don’t have to tell you what happens next.

The action, the sound, and the production value are all truly the most immersive elements in Dunkirk, and they all need to be praised for their usage in this film. If Nolan had stuck strictly to those elements and put the soldiers through disaster after disaster in a linear path, then he would have a solid, powerful film on his hands.

The problems come in with Nolan’s writing, more specifically with how he chooses to sequence the film’s events. In the film, the three perspectives Dunkirk focuses on all take place in different scopes of time, with the land being one week, the sea being one day, and the air being one hour. If the film followed their stories chronologically, then you would follow these perspectives in descending order from land to sea to sky.

The issue is Nolan starts and ends these narratives at the same time, with each of their stories being intertwined against each other just so they get equal screen time. This makes the film so convoluted, because even though each of the stories takes place at different times, they’re edited to look like they’re all happening at once. Because of this, similar events will repeat twice, the passage of time will go from night to day and then back to night, and then other times essential transitions are cut out altogether. The editing is so jarring and disjointed that it immediately removes us from the picture, forcing us to put our thinking caps on and piece events together like a puzzle instead of simply letting the experience wash over us.

I know, I know, confusing narratives are Nolan’s staple. Except that with his other films, the complexity leads to a point and purpose for their larger narrative. The dreams layered on top of each other in Inception illustrated the scope and stakes of what the characters were really dealing with. The dueling narratives in The Prestige put us in the middle of this warring rivalry between two conniving magicians. And the reverse narrative in Memento put us in Leonard’s shoes to show us the mental instability he dealt with everyday.

Complex narratives led to a larger payoff with Nolan’s other films. With Dunkirk, however, there is no payoff to the nonlinear storytelling. It’s just there to unnecessarily frustrate us and distract us from the larger spectacle going on.

The critics have more or less made up their minds on this one, however, with many calling Dunkirk one of the greatest war films ever made, with some even saying it’s Christopher Nolan’s best film. I expect moviegoing audiences to be more divided on the topic. Dunkirk sports amazing set pieces and action sequences, and it sure knows how to blow stuff up in spectacular PG-13 fashion. But the investment is gone. The care isn’t present. And no matter how much I want to like this movie, I can’t help but get pulled out of the experience every time another jarring cut removes me from the scene. Better war films, such as Saving Private Ryan or Hacksaw Ridge, understand investment and how to involve its audiences in the tragedies of war. Those films are victories for WWII cinema. Dunkirk is a suicide bomber.

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“THE DARK KNIGHT” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Two madmen at war with each other and themselves.

Editor’s note: I was originally going to hold off on publishing this review due to an upcoming in-depth article I’m working on. However, upon learning that today would have been Heath Ledger’s 37th birthday, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to honor the late actor’s magnificent work. So, without further adieu, here is my review for the magnificent superhero epic that is ‘The Dark Knight.’

The Dark Knight is a moral dilemma about two madmen trying to make sense out of their own worlds. One hides his madness with a mask. The other demonstrates it proudly with a crooked smile and a demented laugh. We define one as “good” and the other as “bad”, but really, what’s the real difference between these two? They are both traumatized by tragedies they’ve experienced at very young ages, and one was clearly more devastating than the other. Just switch around Bruce Wayne’s childhood with that of the Joker’s for a second. Is it really that far-fetched to think that they could have grown up to become the other person?

It’s difficult to draw such similar parallels between a film’s protagonist and antagonist, especially in a superhero movie where everything is supposed to be so cut and dry. But Christopher Nolan orchestrates his characters masterfully here in The Dark Knight, a film that feels more like a Shakespearean tragedy than it does as a superhero blockbuster. It isn’t a film that is driven by big-budget fights and special effects, although those technical elements definitely don’t suffer in the movie all the same. This is a movie driven by character’s ambitions, desires, loss, and pain. Rarely does a film reach into such dark depths and have such outstanding payoff.

This movie is, of course, the sequel to Nolan’s highly praised 2005 prequel Batman Begins, which too succeeds in showing Bruce Wayne not as a comic book icon, but as a human being, reliably portrayed by Christian Bale with his own complexions and regrets. The Dark Knight continues Bruce’s story, but takes focus off of Batman and puts a larger focus on Gotham, the city Bruce is sworn to protect. In doing that, Nolan inadvertently creates another character in the Batman story, and you only need to look at its citizens to see what the character is like. It’s manipulative, murderous, deceitful, selfish, and crooked, with the only evidence of decency in only a handful of citizens wanting to do the right thing.

Heath Ledger’s Joker, of course, sees the sick nature of Gotham and imposes his own version of justice upon the city. From a different perspective, could the Joker be considered the hero of the story? Both Batman and the Joker are vigilantes in their own ways. The difference is who they see as the main poison to Gotham.

Like any other superhero, Batman sees the criminals and mob bosses as the biggest culprits to Gotham’s decay. The Joker, however, sees it differently. He sees the city’s politicians, judges, police officers, and commissioners as the real criminals. Technically, neither is wrong. All of these people are responsible for the state that Gotham is in, and Batman and Joker are just picking two different sides to the same coin. Our instinct tells us to root for Batman, mostly because we are the everyday regular citizen he’s fighting to protect. But the Joker has been hurt day-in and day-out by regular citizens. So has Batman. His parents were killed by a citizen of Gotham. The Joker forces citizens to kill each other in The Dark Knight. In witnessing all of this murder and corruption taking place, you can’t help but ask yourself one question: are we even worth saving?

This gloomy idea of morality has been explored by Christopher Nolan before. Indeed, his career has been defined by character’s questioning ethics in 2000’s Memento and 2006’s The Prestige. Look at those films and how eerily similar they are to The Dark Knight. Look at the parallels not just in character and theme, but in tone and aesthetic. Look at how closely they are shot. Look at how tightly the action is edited together, yet coherent enough to understand everything we need to. Look at the character’s conflicts that test them and, in some cases, even break them. Look at their state of mind and security, and how quickly they decay in the midst of crippling loss, paranoia, and distrust.

This is why The Dark Knight is almost universally seen as the best comic book movie of all time: because it is not a comic book movie. Nolan didn’t film it like a comic book movie. He didn’t want to make a comic book movie, or at least, in the conventional sense. Everything involved with this movie, from the writing to the framing to the visual effects to the acting, was constructed with the idea that Nolan and Warner Bros. were making something much more than a comic book movie. They were making a crime film, a psychological drama, and a visual poem in disguise as a superhero blockbuster.

Just to clarify, I’m not knocking the superhero genre. Some of the greatest movies of all time spawned out of that genre, and if done right, it can be the best out of any of the other film genres. Christopher Reeve’s Superman and Superman II humanized a superhero that was anything but human. Spider-Man made an ordinary character extraordinary. X2 embedded a message of prejudice into an action-fueled sci-fi thriller.

Great superhero movies have come before The Dark Knight, and many more will come after. But what makes The Dark Knight unique is not its status as a quote-unquote “superhero” movie. It is its mirroring psychology that makes you question what is truly right or wrong. Superhero movies don’t normally do that. They normally provide our hero and our villain and have them go at each other in fun, comic-booky fashion. But that wasn’t enough for The Dark Knight. It needed to ask why they were going after each other, and what was at stake if they didn’t do so? This is one of the rare action movies that questions if our hero is actually doing the right thing, and if he’s fighting this labeled villainy in the right way.

In these characterizations, the performances are key, and Bale and Ledger alike to brilliant work in not just bringing their characters to life, but their beliefs as well. Ledger has received all the acclaim and the Academy Award for best supporting actor as the Joker, and he’s right to. He’s delivered a downright chilling portrayal of a mentally disturbed madman: a brilliant finish to a long and successful career up until his death in 2008. Yet, I don’t think many people notice Bale’s nuanced performance as a man struggling to know and do the right thing. That’s genuinely a shame, because the movie is a success due to their acting together, not just one performance over the other. Again, they treat their characters not as superheros and supervillains, but as competing complexions, battling each other not for the sake of justice, but for the sake of proving their own personally defined morality. At the end of the day, isn’t the battle of morality more powerful than any physical battle can ever be?

The film builds up to it’s highly-anticipated climax in classic Nolan fashion. The final battle, however, is not between our hero and villain, but instead between the two sides of Gotham. One side has been convicted by the law. The other has been convicted by God. And in their convictions, both sides are forced to make a choice. I won’t spoil what happens, but I will say this: they make the right one.

Batman and Joker are not two different people. They are two sides to the same coin. We too exist on a coin and have the equal potential of being either Batman or the Joker. It’s only a matter of what we choose to be.

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Oscar Predictions 2014

There is no such thing as the best picture.

That’s what I keep thinking year after year when I make my Oscar predictions. Why? Because everyone has a different idea of what the best picture means.

There were many great movies that wasn’t nominated from this year that left a profound impact on the people who watched them. The Fault In Our Stars is one of those pictures. Guardians of the Galaxy filled people with as many laughs and energy as it did with tears and quivering lips. Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar is the most liked movie of 2014 according to the Internet Movie Database. God forbid, there are people out there who even liked Inherent Vice.

My point in saying all of this is that different movies have different effects on people. It doesn’t matter what the Academy thinks is the best picture: it matters what you think is the best picture to you.

Regardless, the Oscars are unfortunately still a thing. With the 87th Academy Awards coming up in a few weeks, people are going to be scrambling to guess who is going to win which awards this year. Here are the movies I think are going to win big this year at the Oscars:

Best Picture: The big category. Good God, how do you predict this one? Boyhood and Birdman have been at each other’s throats since the beginning of awards season. Since Boyhood‘s best picture win at the Golden Globes, it at first seemed like the frontrunner for best picture. Since then, however, Birdman has gone on to win the Screen Actors Guild award for best overall cast, the Directors Guild of America award for best feature and the Producers Guild Awards award for best picture. At this point, Birdman would be most poised to win the award, and it would be wise to opt for it.

Best Director: The nominee most deserving of this award is Richard Linklater for following with his passion project 12 years straight for Boyhood, a wonderfully ambitious project that shows the joys and heartbreaks alike of growing up. Unfortunately, Linklater didn’t win the DGA award for best director. The Oscar, then, is going to go to Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for Birdman, which was an innovative, creative, and darkly clever film in it’s own right. Neither filmmaker is a bad nomination, as both of them delivered the most unique and memorable pictures of the year. The award can only go to one of them, but both Linklater and Inarritu are undeniably the best filmmakers of the year.

Best Actor: Another close one. Which is it going to be: Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything or Michael Keaton for Birdman? Redmayne has the Screen Actors Guild award and the Golden Globe for best actor. Keaton also has a Golden Globe and the Screen Actors Guild award for best overall cast. So who’s going to take it? Redmayne or Keaton? My bet is on Redmayne, but don’t be surprised if either actor takes home the award. This is going to be a close one.

On that note, honorable mention to Benedict Cumberbatch for his brilliant, heartbreaking, passionate, intelligent, and wonderfully unique performance as physicist Alan Turing in The Imitation Game. You sir gave the best performance of the year, and are most deserving of the Oscar for best actor this year. Unfortunately, the Oscars is not a game of talent. It’s a game of politics.

Best Actress: Everyone (including myself) has been praising Rosamund Pike’s work in Gone Girl and has been saying that she deserves this award most. The charts don’t lie, however, and Julianne Moore has won award after award for her heartbreaking performance as a mother suffering from early onset alzheimer’s in Still Alice. She’s locked for the award. Don’t bet on anyone else except her.

Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons for Whiplash. If you have any objections to that, you haven’t seen the movie.

Best Supporting Actress: It takes a lot of dedication not only to play the role of an aging mother losing her children to adulthood, but to return to that role year after year for 12 years straight. The award for best supporting actress rightfully goes to Patricia Arquette for her stunning decade-long performance that she melted so wonderfully into year after year in Boyhood. It will be a huge upset if she doesn’t get the award.

Best Original Screenplay: This year was borderline impossible to make a clear prediction of who was going to win in the best original screenplay category. First, critics predicted it would be Boyhood due to it’s massive popularity in the best picture race. Then, people switched sides and said Wes Anderson would win for The Grand Budapest HotelBirdman won the Golden Globe and a slew of other state critics awards. Since I don’t have the luxury of waiting for the WGA’s next week to claim which is the best screenplay of the year, I’m going with the only nomination that has the physical accolades to back up their nomination: Birdman is going to win best original screenplay. 

Side Note: I will never cease to get angry at the Academy for profusely snubbing Christopher Nolan multiple times. If Interstellar was not deemed one of the best movies of the year, it definitely is considered one of the best stories of the year. Nolan deserved a nomination in this category, but like all other the Oscar ceremonies, he got snubbed because he’s Christopher Nolan. Typical.

Best Adapted Screenplay: This category is messed up from the start, because how in God’s name is Whiplash considered an adapted screenplay? I get it that it was first made into a short film before a feature release, thank you for pointing that out Academy. That doesn’t change the fact that it was an original idea conceived by Damien Chazelle, and that both properties were projects that he worked on. Whiplash was, in every definition, an original work. To put it in the adapted category is pish posh.

On that note, Graham Moore’s The Imitation Game IS an adapted work, and it so wonderfully brings interest and awareness to this secretive story that only a few have known about for quite some time. The Imitation Game is most poised to take home the best adapted screenplay award, unless Whiplash snabs it from them first. 

Another side note: Did the Academy just work to have the worst nominations in this category this year? Is there seriously nothing for The Fault In Our Stars? Nothing for Gone Girl? Shoot, I’d even take a nomination for Guardians of the Galaxy over the confusing Inherent Vice and insipid Theory of Everything. These awards should not be nominated for the Academy’s opinion, but rather, on the impact these films have had on the public. All of the films I’ve mentioned above were movies the public had very strong reactions to, and each of them deserve nominations over the other films recognized. This is the Oscar category I am most frustrated with this year.

Best Animated Feature: Let’s get over the frustration that The Lego Movie wasn’t nominated for just one second, shall we? The biggest competition is between Disney’s Big Hero 6 and Dreamwork’s How To Train Your Dragon 2. Since How To Train Your Dragon 2 has won the Golden Globe, the Annie Award, and the National Board of Review for best animated feature of the year, the best bet is on that film. It is the best animated film of the year, and matches it’s predecessor in almost every way. If it does win, it is a very deserving one.

On that note, shame on you Academy for taking out The Lego Movie. Everything is not awesome for you.

Best Documentary Feature: Were Steve James’ wonderful documentary Life Itself on film critic Roger Ebert’s life nominated, it might have posed a challenge to the frontrunner for this category. Since it isn’t however, the award is most poised for Laura Poitras’ Citizenfour, a documentary about Poitras’ investigation in U.S. surveillance programs until her research brings her face-to-face with former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Keep this one on your radar, folks. This is one of those films that needs to be sought out.

Best Foreign-Language Film: The Academy loves movies that are not only politically challenging, but are also based around events surrounding World War II. The frontrunner, then, is Ida, a polish film about a young nun who discovers a dark secret about her family from the Nazi occupation before taking her vows. Wild Tales has also been widely talked about, but don’t expect anything big from it. Ida is most positioned to win the award.

Best Film Editing: The film with the best editing of the year isn’t even nominated in this category, and that is Birdman. The shots were so seamlessly blended together in between takes that it gave off the illusion that the film was shot in one take, even though it wasn’t. The work done with Birdman is both innovative and revolutionary, and it’s flat out disrespectful that it’s not even nominated here.

The next best work is from Tom Cross on Whiplash, which editing together the film so perfectly that it gave off an heart-pounding, unnerving sensation better than most thriller’s you’d see in theaters. Neither one will win. The award will go to Boyhood for it’s compilation of 12-years worth of footage into one film, even though the editing dragged out at times and it had to handle the same amount of footage any other film would have to. Even though Boyhood is a great movie, it’s editing is average at best.

Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubeski for Birdman. If he wins, he will be one of the few cinematography nominees to have won the award two years in a row. It’s not undeserved. Lubeski is a great cinematographer, and has done great work for years for films such as Children of Men, The Tree of Life, and last year’s Oscar winner Gravity. He deserves the award for cinematography if he does wins it.

Best Original Score: I waited until the last possible second to write down my prediction for this, because the nominee everyone is talking about is also the one least deserving. Alexandre Desplat has been nominated year-after-year at the Academy Awards for scoring movies like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The King’s Speech, Argo, and Philomena. This year, he deserves the award the most not only for his nomination with The Imitation Game, but also with Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. He’s going to lose both of his nominations to Johann Johannssons’ The Theory of Everything, a theme that is as average, annoying, and repetitive as its movie is. I didn’t like The Theory of Everything, and I liked its music even less. But all critics and accolades point towards that movie, so that’s the one I’m begrudgingly going with.

Best Original Song: “Glory” from Selma will win and deserve this award the most. No song fills you with as much power and proclamation as this song does. It fills you with the same energy and captivation that the movie does, and it’s a shame that the film wasn’t nominated in more categories this year.

Best Costume Design: I doubt that Colleen Atwood is going to take home the award yet again for Into The Woods, despite her great track record with the Academy. My bet is on Milena Canonero for The Great Budapest Hotel, mostly because 1) The film’s costume work is as lovable and quirky as the movie itself is, and 2) She hasn’t won the award since her work with Marie Antoinette in 2006. It’s her year to win the award.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: This is such a difficult category to decide for, because what on Earth is the Academy’s criteria for this ungaudy award? A few years ago, movies like Star Trek beat out films like The Young Victoria in this category. In 2011, the boring, mundane, and insipid Iron Lady beat out Harry Potter. What is going on?! How on Earth are you supposed to predict this category when the Academy keeps flipping the standard???

If I was going off of the best makeup work out of the nominees, it’s no competition: Guardians of the Galaxy. Yet, keep in mind from previous years that films have won for the exaggerated minimalist work seen from The Grand Budapest Hotel. I’m keeping my bets on The Grand Budapest Hotel, but don’t be surprised if either film takes home the award.

(Post-script: The makeup work for The Iron Lady was awful.)

Best Production Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel. If any film other than that wins for best production design, the Academy officially hates Wes Anderson.

Best Sound Editing: Normally, I couldn’t care less for the sound editing awards, because who has enough patience to dissect the sound bit-by-bit in each feature film? This year though, there is a frontrunner in this category that doesn’t deserve to be nominated. Great a film as it is, Interstellar has some of the worse sound editing and mixing I’ve heard in years. The music overwhelmed the dialogue at times, character’s couldn’t be heard that well at certain parts of the movie, and the sound got so loud at times that I felt like I was at a Daft Punk concert. For all of the accomplishments Interstellar has made, sound is definitely not one of them.

Unfortunately, I think Interstellar is going to be the one to take this award home. Christopher Nolan’s movies have a good track record for getting sound awards at the Oscars (Ex. The Dark Knight and Inception)and I don’t think the Academy has any intent of stopping his good run anytime soon. The film most deserving in this category is American Sniper. It’s going to Interstellar.

Best Sound Mixing: Whiplash had the most impressive sound mixing out of any of the other nominees. The Oscar, however, is going to go to Interstellar. See above for my reasoning.

Best Visual Effects: I’m partial towards X-men: Days of Future Past because it had great visual effects, costuming, and set design to make not only a convincing portrayal of a post-apocalyptic future, but also to show the slow dissolution of American society in the mid-1970’s. However, Interstellar was also an amazing movie, and accomplished visual spectacles unseen since Avatar and Inception. It will win the award, and it is also the most deserving. 

And now finally, my most-dreaded predictions for the categories I never know how to predict: the shorts. Let’s play a game of Eenie-Minie-Moe, shall we?

Best Animated Short: Feast. It’s the only film out of any of these categories that I’ve seen anyway.

Best Documentary Short: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1. Because why not?

Best Live-Action Short: Aya? The Phone Call? Boogaloo and Graham? What kind of titles are these???

Screw it. Boogaloo and whats-it’s-face is going to get it, because reasons.

That’s all I have for now, folks. I’ll see you and Barney Stinson on Feb. 22.

– David Dunn

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Top Ten Films Of 2014

Has anyone ever stopped to wonder why all of the best of the year lists have to be in the top ten? Like, what sort of critic was working on his list and thought that ten would be the magic number? Why ten and not twelve? Or fifteen? Five? Twenty? Eight? Why was ten specifically chosen as the big number? Was it chosen at random, or was it actually chosen for some relevant, significant reason?

Regardless of whatever the case may be, I’m choosing to be a little rebellious this year. For the past few years, I’ve seen enough films to make a “Top 15″ list if I wanted to, but if I had done that, my site viewership would go down by about twenty views.

So this year, to battle the preconceived notion that “best of the year” lists have to have ten movies, I’m doing two different things. 1) I’m adding an “honorable mentions” selection that while those films aren’t necessarily in my top ten, they are still significant films that have contributed to the year’s industry regardless. 2) In honor of our first full year without the wise, sometime snarky, words of film critic Roger Ebert, I’m offering a special Grand Jury Prize, which honors a film from the year which has made a notable accomplishment that fits outside of my year’s top ten.

As always, there is a few things you need to know before I get into my year’s best. First of all, I haven’t seen all of the films the year has had to offer. I’ve heard from so many people how Jean-Marc Vallee’s Wild was emotionally stirring, with Reese Witherspoon’s performance being the greatest highlight of the film. I’ve also read from critics that Selma, A Most Violent Year, and American Sniper were great movies as well, but guess what? None of those movies get a wide release until after Dec. 31, so I’m not able to even see those films until after the year anyway. So what am I going to do? Release a revision to my current list, or add those films to 2015 if they’re good enough? I’ll make a decision when it comes to that. It’s the studio’s faults for releasing those movies so late into the year anyway. Blasted film mongers.

Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, this is my list for the best films of 2014. Not yours. There has been high praise from many notable films of the year, including Edge of Tomorrow, The Theory of Everything, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. None of those films will be on my top ten list because I didn’t deem them worthy enough to be on there. It’s nothing against the films or the filmmakers: I just didn’t think they were good enough.

If you’re not satisfied with that, then please, make your own top ten list. I’d love to read it, and if your reasonings are sound enough, I’d like to share it with others.

Now then, let’s hop to it, shall we? Here are my top ten films of 2014:

10. Interstellar 

A mesmerizing, breathtaking, and exhilarating journey that may have only slightly exceeded it’s grasp. Based on an idea by physicist Kip Thorne and directed by Christopher Nolan, Interstellar takes place in the future on a dying planet Earth, where the only source of sustainable food is by growing corn. When former aircraft pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) stumbles upon a secret station that has been hiding NASA for so many years, Cooper enlists in a daring space mission to find a new planet that will be able to sustain and save the human race. A testament to the quality of film that Nolan is consistent in making, Interstellar is a brilliantly woven, thought-provoking plot, invoking the same themes of humanity and identity that Nolan exercises in all of his films. McConaughey reaches an emotional depth much deeper than past “Nolan” actors, and succeeds in making his character more human than hero. This is Nolan’s most emotional movie yet, but it’s also his most complicated and convoluted. But if Nolan’s only real flaw with this film is being overly ambitious, I don’t consider that a flaw at all. Three and a half stars.

9. The Grand Budapest Hotel

A crafty and artsy film that acts as a homage to the early days of cinema. After being framed for a violent murder of one of his former hotel guests, Concierge Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) teams up with his young apprentice Zero (Tony Revolori) to set out and prove his innocence through a series of weird, wacky, and crazy adventures. Written and directed by Wes Anderson, who was nominated for an Academy Award for The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a peculiar, quirky film, a fun and enjoyable ride in it’s own singular way. Anderson is very specific with the direction of the film, using practical effects and set pieces that gives the film a very distinct visual style and aesthetic. The antics Gustave and Zero go through are the stuff of slapstick gold, with these guys doing silly stunts and chase sequences that reminds me of the silent film days of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. It’s definitely seasoned for the art house crowd, and it’s definitely more difficult to appeal to the masses. But if you allow yourself to be lost in it and have fun with it, you’ll find that it is easily the most unique film of the year. Three and a half stars.

8. How To Train Your Dragon 2

A wildly exciting and entertaining animated ride that appeals to both kids and adults. When a crusade of dragon-hunters reach the land of Berk and begin their hunt for the flying beasts, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) must team up once again with his dragon Toothless to stop the brigade and save Berk’s dragons and dragon riders. Written and directed by Dean DuBlois, who returned from directing the first film, How To Train Your Dragon 2 is a near-perfect follow-up. It hits on every note it needs to, from the comedy, to the animation, to the action, to the emotion. Hiccup is a much stronger, yet more vulnerable, character now, and needs to face more mature situations now as a grown man rather than as he did when he was a boy. In many ways, How To Train Your Dragon 2 is to it’s first counterpart as Hiccup is to his younger self: they both grew. Three and a half stars.

7. Gone Girl

A brilliantly frustrating thriller that exercises themes of infidelity and media harassment. When Nick Dunne’s (Ben Affleck) wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) goes missing, all eyes turn to Nick for what happened to his wife. When clues slowly surface and more details surrounding the disappearance reveal themselves, everyone is asking the same question: did Nick Dunne kill his wife? Directed by David Fincher and written by author Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl is a masterfully orchestrated thriller, equal parts daring, inventive, intelligent, and unpredictable. Fincher propels Flynn’s brilliant plot forward with expert direction, eye-striking camerawork, and a cast that Fincher pulls the best from. This movie is like a game of cat and mouse, except no one really knows who is the cat or mouse. There is not one note in the film that you can guess is coming. Three and a half stars.

6. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

A compelling and exciting survivalist-drama that looks at the human/primate condition as two sides to one coin. After the chemical attack on planet Earth that took place at the end of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes follows the story of Caesar (Andy Serkis) and Malcolm (Jason Clarke), the leaders of the apes and the humans, respectively. As the human-primate war rages on violently, Caesar and Malcolm begin to see that the apes and the humans aren’t so different from each other, and they begin to explore any possibilities of peace between two races. Matt Reeves builds an intelligent, in-depth story around Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and handles its premise with skill and precision.  It surprising that the basis of this film wasn’t grounded in action or ridiculous CGI stunts, but rather in small, intimate moments of conversation and ape-sign-language that characters share with each other. Serkis is a revelation in the movie, and deserves an Oscar nomination for both his physical and emotional performance. Four stars.

5. Birdman

One of the most mesmerizing, unique, disturbing, shocking, and darkly funny films I’ve ever seen. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu writes and directs this ingenious dramedy starring Michael Keaton as Riggan Thompson, a washed-up movie actor trying to escape his image in a former superhero role by adapting his favorite broadway play to the stage. Keaton is a natural in the role, relating his own experience to portraying Batman in order to further authenticity for the character. Cinematographer Emanuel Lubeski contributes to the visual design of the film, shooting and editing it to look like one, continuous shot rather than multiple longer takes. But Inarritu is the most essential storyteller here, making a visual and emotional masterpiece that is so distinct in its own language that it is impossible to define it, let alone replace it. Four stars.

4. Whiplash

One of the most edgy, thrilling, and provocative films of the year. Miles Teller stars as Andrew, an upcoming college student who is majoring in music and dreams of becoming one of the best drummers in the country. A series of events lands him in the top jazz orchestra of Shaffer Conservatory and under the tutelage of Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), a brilliant but harsh and antagonistic instructor who is known to go very hard on his students. Andrew and Fletcher both develop an intense rivalry that both hurts Andrew, angers Fletcher, and yet equally compels them both to become the very best they can be. Writer/director Damien Chazelle conducts both actors through his sophomore effort, and does a great job in producing a tense, electric vibe consistently throughout the film. Teller and Simmons’ chemistry with each other is equally perfect, with the both of them bouncing off of each other’s words and emotions as perfectly as a drum beat. This film is about more than just music. It’s about the human desire to be great and what sacrifices we’d make to get there. Four stars.

3. Boyhood

The most revolutionary film of the year, ambitious in both production and vision. A twelve-year project pioneered by writer/director Richard Linklater, Boyhood tells the story of Mason’s (Ellar Coltrane) childhood, chronicling his entire life from when he was six years old, up until when he turns 18 and leaves for college. The movie isn’t so much a story as it is a scrapbook of memories, and Linklater is pulling each photograph out of it just to show it to us. When he is younger, Ellar isn’t acting but living, behaving like any other child would in the moment because he is in the moment. As he gets older, his performance gets more stagnant and Coltrane becomes more of a surrogate for us to express our emotions through, rather than experiencing his own. In this day and age, it’s rare to find a film as real and honest as Boyhood is. Four stars.

2. X-men: Days of Future Past

The best entry out of the X-men franchise, and the best superhero movie of the year. Serving as a sequel to both 2011’s X-men: First Class and 2006’s X-men: The Last Stand, X-men: Days of Future Past is set in the apocalyptic future where mutants are being exterminated by humanoid robots called “Sentinels”. Having only one chance to go back in time and stop this future from ever happening, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) through time to their younger selves (Portrayed by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) so they can stop the triggering event and save the future. Directed by Bryan Singer, who formerly helmed the first two entries in the franchise, X-men: Days of Future Past is a game changer. It is not only a visually-dazzling and highly climactic sci-fi blockbuster: it is a vastly intelligent and contemplative story that focuses on its recurring themes of racism and xenophobia, once again bringing the consequences of discrimination to the forefront. X-men: Days of Future Past is one of those movies that restores your faith in the superhero genre. Four stars.

And finally, my number one film of the year is —

1. The Fault In Our Stars

Surprised? I’m not. The Fault In Our Stars is one of the most magical, heartbreaking, and genuine films you will ever see, and is more than worthy of being called the most emotional film of the year. Based off of the novel by John Green, The Fault In Our Stars follows the love story of two Cancer-stricken teenagers: the shy and book-loving Hazel Grace (Shailene Woodley) and the optimistic amputee Gus (Ansel Elgort). Written and directed by independent filmmaker Josh Boone, The Fault In Our Stars is one of the best stories ever translated from book to film. I initially was skeptical on seeing this film, considering how much it seemed to have been doused in rom-com syndrome. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Boone adapts Green’s story perfectly to the big screen, retaining everything in the novel from the visual details to the words that were written. But its Woodley and Elgort that sells it so well, their chemistry that vibrates so wonderfully with each other and leaves such an impression on you. Trust me when I say this isn’t your typical rom-com: it’s a heartfelt drama disguised as a tween movie, and it is the best of it’s kind. Four stars.

And finally, this year’s first Grand Jury Prize appropriately goes to Steve James’ documented biography Life Itself. Following Roger Ebert’s life and career from him growing up in Chicago, to when he got his first reporting job, to when he won the Nobel Prize for film criticism, to when he lost his best friend, to when he got Thyroid cancer, this film is everything that Roger Ebert is: funny, honest, heartfelt, unabashed, unflinching, and real. It doesn’t give you a peppered-up look at his life: it’s whole and accurate, as genuine as any of the reviews he’s written. I’m probably biased towards this subject, but the subject doesn’t count as long as it is handled well. James’ handles this story with respect and humility, and ends up telling a story about life itself rather than just limiting it to Roger’s story. It’s my favorite documentary of the year, and it brings me great pleasure to award my first Grand Jury Prize to this wonderful film tribute.

Honorable mentions include the creepy and morally ambiguous Nightcrawler, the funny yet stylish Guardians of the Galaxy, the humorously innovative The Lego Movie, and the quietly thrilling The Imitation Game, featuring the year’s best performance from actor Benedict Cumberbatch. Not all films can be honored at the end of the year compilations, but this year I was glad to have seen so many films and give each of them a chance to shine in their own way.

All the same, if you feel differently about some of the films on my list, or you have seen another film that deserves to be recognized, please comment about it. Or make your own list. Movies are deemed as great films not from individuals, but from the masses, and the only way you can tell if a movie has truly accomplished something is if it has the same effect on all its viewers.

On that note, my fellow moviegoers, I end with a classic line from my favorite film critic: “I’ll see you at the movies.”

– David Dunn

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“INTERSTELLAR” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

A space odyssey led by Christopher Nolan. 

The first time I watched Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, I knew I had found something special, but didn’t know if I fully comprehended everything I saw. I just finished watching it a second time, and now I understand I’m not supposed to comprehend everything I saw. Interstellar is mesmerizing and breathtaking, a highly ambitious and exhilarating journey taking you through the far reaches of time, space, planets, wormholes, black holes, stars, and anything else in space that you can think of. But just like space, it is also vast and daring, reaching for a vision that it cannot possibly hope to grasp. That’s okay. It’s better to aim for too much rather than too little.

Based off of an idea conceived by theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, Interstellar takes place in the distant future, where the Earth is slowly dying and the only source of sustainable food is by growing corn. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), is an aerospace engineer-turned-farmer just trying to make it day to day with his small family, consisting of his father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow), his son Tom (Timothée Chalamet), and his daughter Murphy (Mackenzie Foy). Like the great astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, Cooper dared greater things in his younger years. He wanted to fly. He wanted to explore. He wanted to traverse and discover new spaces that he hasn’t seen before. Now he’s only concerned about making sure his family survives.

One day, him and Murph discover a secret space station that has been hiding NASA, which has been operating in secret since the world state of health has declined over the years. When Cooper finds out that the Earth will soon be unable to sustain life and that his daughter’s generation will be the Earth’s last, Cooper is recruited on a daring space mission to find a new planet that is able to sustain and save the human race.

Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, Interstellar is a testament to the quality of film that Nolan is consistent in making. It has all of the elements that you appreciate in all of his films. It has a grounded, human story intertwined in a brilliantly woven, thought-provoking plot. It has well-rounded, relatable characters that you root for and admire deeply. It has incredibly breathtaking visuals, created with the same visual and cinematic sense of style that is unique only to Nolan’s movies. And it has plot twists the size of Mount Everest, taking complete 180 turnarounds when you least expect it. You will not see the end of this movie coming.

Interstellar is up to par with many of Nolan’s other works, including The Prestige, Inception and The Dark Knight. If I’d continue on about those qualities, however, I’d be writing the same review for those films. It’s easy to write about the things you’ve already seen: I’d like to write about how this film is different from Nolan’s past work.

For one thing, the performances are the best they’ve ever been in any of Nolan’s films, and the heart of this film’s emotion comes from that of Matthew McConaughey. I love how his character is represented in this film, and I especially love how McConaughey handles him. He isn’t handled as a bold science-fiction action hero similar to the likes of Han Solo from Star Wars or James Kirk from Star Trek. He’s more human than hero, a vulnerable and quietly suffering man who just wants to go home to his daughter, but knows he has a greater duty in fighting for the Earth’s survival. I’ve always appreciated the humanity Nolan has always instilled in his characters, but somehow McConaughey reaches an emotional depth much deeper than that of his predecessors. I like seeing McConaughey jumping from such polar opposite roles as this from Dallas Buyers Club, yet giving the same dedication and credibility to both characters. He has proven himself to be an extremely versatile actor, whether it be for small, independent films like Dallas Buyers Club, or big Hollywood productions such as Interstellar.

I am also led to believe that this is the most scientifically accurate out of any of Nolan’s other films. Working closely with Kip Thorne on how accurate the film would be, Nolan worked hard to realize both his vision and Thorne’s, abiding by Thorne’s recommendations and notations as closely as possible. His representation of a wormhole in space. His portrayal of relativity to time and space. Thorne has gone on record to say that there is one major scene demonstrating high artistic freedom, and that is when Cooper visits a planet that has “ice clouds”. This film is intensely interesting and fascinating, and the coolest part to me is knowing that most of this was reviewed by a well-known physicist who has deemed it all possible.

Side note: please excuse me for using the word “coolest.”

There are a few weaknesses to mention. As a Nolan film, it is expected to be extremely complicated, and I admit to needing to see the film multiple times to even begin to understand it. I know many others will have a harder time at understanding it than I did. There were a few slow lulls in the film that detracted from its steady pace, and there were severe sound mixing issues at the beginning of the film that I noticed almost immediately. I’m no sound expert, but when the music is so loud that I can’t even hear what a character is saying, I think you need to fix something before you release the film.

I think it was the third act that really sold me on this film, the last half of the story that compelled me to believe that this was a very memorable journey, and it was. I won’t go into the particulars for the sake of spoilers, but I will say that Nolan is a master at orchestrating thrilling and tense-heavy climaxes. Sure, I would like that to persist throughout the rest of the movie, but I won’t complain. I appreciate Nolan’s ambition, if I appreciate nothing else.

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A Good Ol’ Cup Of Joe

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down at a college roundtable for an in-person interview with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the award-winning actor most known for movie roles including Tom Hansen in 500 Days Of Summer, Robert Todd in Lincoln, and John Blake in The Dark Knight Rises.  Recently Mr. Gordon-Levitt (Or “Joe”, as he likes to introduce himself) was working to get publicity for his writer-director debut Don Jon, a romantic comedy coming out this Friday and the reason why me and three other college journalists were able to interview him.

The man who introduced himself to us couldn’t have been more humble, or for that matter, more real.  As I walked into the room with the other university journalists, it was hard to imagine that the well-combed, professionally-dressed man sitting casually at the table in front of us was the same man who fought through topping cars and buildings in Inception, or the same guy who shaved his head in front of Seth Rogan in 50/50.  And yet when he walked up to me, shook my hand, and said “Hi, my name is Joe,” the introduction couldn’t have been more fulfilling, or for that matter, more meaningful.

I was in attendance to the event alongside journalists from Northwestern University, Southern Methodist University, and the University Of North Texas.  We were all eager to ask Mr. Gordon-Levitt our questions about the film and what it was like making the movie.  These are our questions, and this is how he responded.

Question: Before anything else, can I just say that it was completely shocking to see your new look in the first few minutes of the film? Very well done sir.

Joe: Right on. That’s what we were going for.

Q: Since we’re all college students, if you and Don Jon were to teach a course in college, what would you both teach?

J: Jon I guess would probably teach at a bartending school. I don’t think he would teach anything undergrad or graduate.  But what class would I teach? I guess a storytelling class of some sort. I went to college for a couple years and I stopped, which isn’t to say that anybody else should, but for me personally I learn best by doing stuff. So I feel like for me, film school really was working on sets and watching directors do what they do and I don’t know if you know, I run this company called HitRecord, where anybody can come and contribute and its not your traditional production company, but it actually bears a lot of similarities to production companies other than the fact that its open and anybody can contribute. If you’re interested in the process, in how things are done, I would definitely recommend spending some time on the site to contribute to some of our collaborations and paying attention to how its done. I’m on there everyday. These days, we’re in the middle of making a TV show, and I’m directing it, and making stuff. It’s different than a classroom because in a classroom your goal is to teach every student, whereas HitRecord, our goal is to make the best TV show we can possibly make. So unfortunately I don’t get to necessarily spend time with everybody who comes and contributes, because there’s thousands everyday. But I think there’s a lot to be learned there and its really cool actually to see artists that do come in and contribute to HitRecord and do so for a while. You can see them grow as artists. You can see them learn from what they’ve done, and from notes I sometimes give as feedback and watch them improve. That’s always really satisfying.

Q: What audience demographic were you aiming for?  Are you afraid that this type of film because of its content will lose some of its audience? 

J: I was really wanting to make a movie for everybody and so far the reactions have been across the board, whether young or old, or male or female, people have been digging it. So, I was pretty intent on not having it be just a movie for cinephiles. I wanted it to be for everybody. And I think its talking about a lot of stuff that everybody can understand or relate to. I mean, I certainly think it’ll be popular on college campuses. My mom loved it, and I’ve spoken to a bunch of reporters today, some of whom were younger than I am some of whom that were older than I am. Everyone seems to really like it.

Q: This is the first time you’re credited as a screenwriter and director for a feature-length film. What inspired the idea of Don Jon and what story did you find relevant to tell in Don Jon’s character? 

J: Well, I wanted to tell a story about how sometimes people treat each other more like things than like people. I imagine that came from my own experience. You know, actors in our culture are often treated more like things than like people. It’s sort of weird. But I don’t think its just actors, I think everyone experiences that. We have a tendency to put each other in boxes and label them. And rather than actually listening to what someone is saying and paying attention to what is going on right here, right now, we sort of project our own pre-conceived notions onto them and I think it happens all the time everywhere. So I wanted to tell a story about that, then I wanted to tell a story about how media plays into that, also probably because I pay a lot of attention to how media works and the impact it has on people. And so, I thought of a story about a relationship between a young man who watches too much pornography and a young woman who watches too many romantic hollywood movies would be a funny way to kind of get at that question. So that’s the origin of that story.

Q: How similar are you and Don Jon’s viewpoints of the Hollywood system right now? Are you worried people are going to look at that in the movie in a bad way?

J: Not very. I mean, Jon I don’t think really has much of a view on the Hollywood system, I don’t think he thinks about it much. By the end of the movie, he is starting to maybe ask a few questions, and that’s good. But he’s mostly a guy that’s just sort of expects things to be how they’re supposed to be, and wouldn’t really notice if they weren’t. He just treats them as if they are. And you know, the way things are supposed to be is largely defined by the media. By the movies you see, the shows you watch, or the pornography videos you watch, or the magazines you read, or the radio shows you listen to, or the newspaper, any number of things.  You also learn, of course, these expectations from your family, your friends, your church, etc and that’s all in the movie too.

Q: Looking at your filmography, you seem to have a particular interest in the romantic comedy genre. Can you tell me what about that genre that appeals to you?

J: Well, I do all kinds of genres in movies, but why do the romantic comedies appeal to me? I mean, they’re fun to watch, you get caught up in them. I don’t know, what can I say, I’m a romantic person maybe? Me personally, I’m probably closer to Barbara Sugarman than Jon Martello as far as getting twisted up into pre-conceived fantasies from the screen. But you know, romantic comedies, especially really conventional ones, they tend to present things in black and white and love is not that way. Love is actually way cooler than that. Way way more interesting and rich and fulfilling and beautiful than some kind of sappy string section while you’re riding off into the sunset. You have to look for it. And if you’re too busy comparing real life to these sort of overly-simplified stories that you’ve seen, you won’t see it. You won’t see what’s so great about it. But if you kind of let go of those and go “Okay, those are nice movies to watch sometimes, but what is really going on?” There is so much to discover, and that’s I guess what Don Jon is sort of making fun of.

Q: How involved were you with casting? Did you get exactly the people you wanted for this film or did you kind of have to pull some strings for it to work?

J: I wrote it with Scarlett in mind the entire time. From the very beginning of conceiving the character I pictured her playing the part. Julie, I did not, to be honest. I never would have believed that she would have done it and it was a beautiful surprise when she read the script and she did want to do it. I think both of them just turned in such excellent performances. Scarlett is so different from any character you’ve really seen her really play before and I think she brings such charm and specificity to the character, yet at the same time, the character’s shortcomings are very apparent. Those are my favorite kinds of performances because they feel the most like human beings when they’re strengths and weaknesses are on display.

Q: You’re chemistry seemed so intimate and so sincere with Julianne Moore and Scarlett Johansen. What’s it like working with them?

J: On set? On set you know you’re just making a movie. It’s a very technical thing. It’s not like it seems in the scene. We’re creating an illusion. We’re crafting a story. So what its really like is you do the scene for a few seconds, and then you hop up and talk to camera, talk to sound, talk to lights, so its work. But its good work, I love doing it. It’s not honestly too dissimilar from any other scene, where you do the scene and then you cut and you talk about it a bit and figure out how to make it better, see if you have what you need, if you can move on or if you have to do it again. They’re really kind of just like any other scene, they fit into the story and you need to accomplish a certain thing to advance the story in that moment, and you shoot it until you have those ingredients necessary.

Q: When did you make the decision to do these long Carl’s Junior ads instead of having it in the background and putting a focus on it?

J: Yeah, and that’s in the script, there is a scene in the script as the family watches a television commercial with bikini girls in the background. Because again, I think that all types of media are sort of perpetrating a lot of these stereotypes and expectations, and I think any distinction between pornography and many of mainstream media is purely technical distinction. It’s still the same thing. It’s turning a woman into a sex object and reducing her to that.

Q: Now, I heard that Christopher Nolan advised against you starring and directing in your first film.  Can you tell me a little bit about that?

J: Well, that’s not quite accurate. He asked about it. And he pointed out some valid concerns and he asked like “Would you consider directing something first before directing and acting at the same time?” But he did not say like “You shouldn’t do it”.  He was nothing but encouraging. He was never discouraging and that was really meaningful to me.

Q: Regardless, what were some of the challenges you faced during filming? 

J: Yeah, well so its pretty normal for an actor, and I felt this way in the past, when you see yourself on screen, the sight of your own face and the sound of your own voice can be disconcerting. For me, I think just because I’ve made a ton of little short films and videos and things, pointing the camera at myself, loaded the footage onto my computer and cut it up into something and I’ve just done that over and over and over again for years, I’ve sort of gotten used to the sight of my own face and the sound of my own voice. So, that was a challenge that I sort of felt that I had already kind of overcome.

Q: Now in the movie, Jon was very dedicated to church despite his deviant lifestyle. Why did he have such a dedication to church despite the guilt he would bring on upon himself for that?

J: Good question. I think just because that’s how that had always been. That’s the answer. He just did it because he had always done it. That’s what was expected of him. I think that’s kind of why everyone in his family goes to church. I don’t think any of them are really thinking very much about why they are doing it. They’re just kind of doing it. And you know, at the end of the movie, there’s a bit of a change in that, and that’s how I think the whole movie goes, is that by the end this mold that he’s sort of stuck in is beginning to crack and he’s starting to be more curious and start to actually pay more attention to what is going on right here right now.

Q: What do you think happened to Jon after the end of the movie? Did he sort of move on, did he go to college, what happened? 

J: I hope he sort of breaks out of the mold. I think by the end of the movie he’s beginning to ask more questions and be more present and rather than comparing everything in his life to preset expectations he’s beginning to sort of actually pay attention to what is in front of his face. I’m hopeful that he’ll continue along that path. I don’t know whether he’ll finish college or not, I think he was sort of doing that because again, he was supposed to.

-David Dunn

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DC Versus Marvel: Why “The Justice League” Will Not Be As Successful As “The Avengers”

Well, this’ll ruin your morning coffee.  Due to recent developments, I am now convinced that no matter what DC does, that the much-speculated Justice League movie will not be as unique or outstanding as Joss Whedon’s The Avengers was, is, and always will be.  Why all the pessimism?  Call it intuition.  Before The Avengers cinematic universe was conceived, Marvel had a wider grasp of successful projects to boast of, including (but not limited to) SpidermanX-menBladeWolverine, Kick-Ass, and Men In Black.  DC, in comparison, only has SupermanBatman, and arguably RED and Watchmen as their most successful properties.  Also, I have an unhealthy amount of OCD.  Just thought you should know.

Believe me, I would like nothing more than to see a well-made Justice League movie hit the horizon.  There are as many characters that are as creative and dynamic in the DC universe as there are in the Marvel universe, many of them with memorable stories and villains of their own.  While I want to see a movie eventually, I now believe it will not happen, and if it does, it will not hit the mainstream success that The Avengers did.

Why am I so convinced of this?  DC has every inconvenience against them, and they have to deal with issues Marvel never had to face while producing The Avengers.  I’m not saying Marvel had it easy while making The Avengers.  Lord knows you’ll have a fair amount of doubt and backlash when you try to combine five comic-book properties into one high-adrelanine, action-packed adventure.  Regardless, DC is facing a lot of issues Marvel didn’t have to worry about, including competitive release with The Avengers in itself.

Let’s face facts: When The Avengers was released, we didn’t know what to expect.  All we knew was that it was incorporating six superheroes into one movie, they would be mostly featuring the same actors, the writer/director of “Firefly” was at the helm, and we were hoping it wouldn’t turn into the Saturday Morning Power Hour.  It didn’t, and now we have the exciting, exhilerating, witty, and entertaining Hulk-box-office-smash that The Avengers was.

This is the biggest issue that DC has over Marvel: the comparison game.  If DC would have thought of a plan similar to this ahead of Marvel and released Justice League incorporating elements from multiple DC universe movie properties at once, they would then have had a substantial edge over Marvel and would give them reason to compete for their box office revenue.  But the plain simple fact is that Marvel beat them to it, and now we have something to compare to when Justice League hits the theaters.  How big of a catastrophe is that?  What could possibly compete with The Avengers as far as box-office superheroes go?  I’ll name a few just for facetious effort: X-menFantastic Four, and Watchmen.  Now be honest with yourself: do any of those movies stand out in your mind at the level of enjoyment as The Avengers does?

If you’re being honest, it probably doesn’t, and what’s worse is that DC is now pressured into that because Marvel did it first.  But like I said, DC has a lot of issues against them, and many of them have to deal with their very own properties.  Take the following franchises as an example:

THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY

If we were talking about the movies by themselves, there’s no reason for concern.  The Dark Knight trilogy is among the greatest trilogies ever released into theaters, and it not only pleased long-time fans of the caped crusader: it pleased moviegoers who were not associated with the comic books.  The Dark Knighttrilogy isn’t only one of the best comic book movies of all time: they one of the best movies of all time, period.  Very few bad things are said about that franchise as a whole.

Which would enhance excitement to the fans when they think this same character will be incorporated into the Justice League, right?  Wrong.  Producer/Director Christopher Nolan and screenwriter David S. Goyer have stated multiple times that the Batman in the new Justice League is not associated with Nolan’s trilogy.  The quote from Goyer pulled from IGN says it all:

“…Zack has said that Bruce Wayne exists in this universe. It would be a different Bruce Wayne from Chris’ [Nolan] Dark Knight trilogy, and it would be disingenuous to say that Zack and I haven’t had various conversations on set, around ‘what if’ and ‘moving forward'”.  

On top of that, Christian Bale himself admitted to Entertainment Weekly that not only will he not be portraying Batman in the upcoming DC team-up film: he doesn’t even know about a release date.

“I have no information, no knowledge about anything. I’ve literally not had a conversation with a living soul. I understand that they may be making a Justice League movie, that’s it”.  

So what is their plan?  End a movie series in 2012, release a Superman movie in 2013, and reboot the character only a few years later?  Don’t they remember how many people saw those movies?  How much people praised them?  How those movies stuck out in people’s minds when someone mentioned the word “Batman”?  What are they thinking?  How on Earth do they think can they replace that?

Now, someone could offer the argument by saying Nolan’s universe was meant to be seen as realistic, whereas the rest of the DC universe wouldn’t be.  To which I respond that as hogwash.  Snyder also saidMan Of Steel was meant to be seen as realistic too, but we all know how realistic it is for an alien from outer space to get super powers on earth, or having a guy dress up in a halloween costume to beat criminals to near death.  The thought of superheroes in itself is fictitious, with powers or without.  So why are we trying so hard to differentiate in between reality and fiction?

Another possible argument someone could make is that The Dark Knight trilogy has ended, and there would be no way to revive the character for the Justice League.  To which I would say you are half right.  If we are talking about the Batman after The Dark Knight Rises then yes, that Batman is no more with us. But what about the Batman in between movies?  There is a two-year split in between Batman Begins andThe Dark Knight, and a five-year split in between The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises.  Surely, someone could find room to fit Nolan’s Batman into the JL somewhere in that time stamp?

So, already you have your greatest property and you’re sending it out the window.  That’s great.  What else could go wrong?

MAN OF STEEL

I’m just going to go ahead and say this: Man Of Steel was a great film.  It had depth, it had character, it had development, and it had plenty of high-octane turbulent action.  It was a great reboot for Superman, and it was a great jump-off point for a possible Justice League series.  That much I will give to Snyder and his crew.

The complications with the Justice League universe, however, are plenty.  The biggest issue right now is their speculated release dates.  As many of you might expect, Warner Bros. has been trying to push for the Justice League movie to be released in 2016, to be released competitively with The Avengers 2 andStar Wars: Episode VII.  The original plan was to release Man Of Steel this year, release a possible sequel in 2014-2015, and then release the Justice League movie

That puts a great amount of pressure on Man Of Steel, and I don’t think it can handle it.  Again, not to play the comparison game with Marvel (even though I am), but like Man Of SteelIron Man was a great jump-off point for The Avengers, even though it was more charismatic and down-to-earth than Man Of Steel was.  It was a great film.  Great enough to jump right into The Avengers though?  Absolutely not.  It had to release four more movies before the buildup to the Avengers was complete and the excitement was at its highest.

Like Iron ManMan Of Steel is a great film to set up its expanded Universe.  Enough to jump right into aJustice League movie though?  Not even close.  Another sequel, maybe, but to jump right into the DC-team-up film would be suicide.  The announcement of a JL movie that this point wouldn’t be an anticipation: it would be a surprise.  How is that a good setup for a box-office smash?

Also, many other audience members felt the tone was too serious and did not fit into the joyous, silly veins of the original Christopher Reeve series.  To which I would say quit being a stooge and enjoy the movie for what it is.  People who wanted Green Lantern to be fun and silly got what they asked for, and look at how that movie faired with the moviegoing audiences.

Speaking of which…

GREEN LANTERN

Many people hated this movie, and their hate was warranted.  Green Lantern was silly, stupid fun, and that’s all it needed to be.  I for one enjoyed the movie and appreciated it for its confidence, its stellar visual effects, and its smirking charisma.  Others, however, obviously do not share my opinion, and ultimately their opinion as a whole matters more than mine does.

To which I know disregard and ask this: what are you going to do with him now for the Justice League?  They can’t bring this same character in and have him do the same thing he did the first time: that will resurrect everything audiences hated the first time they watched the Martin Campbell film.  What are they going to do then?  Are they going to revamp him?  Recast him?  Reboot him?  Maybe even cut him out entirely?  Batman has a great story behind his success and Superman a great following.  Green Lantern has none of that.  So what can DC do to the character to give him a new spin and a spirit on the franchise?

The list of issues goes on and on.  How are they going to incorporate Wonder Woman into it?  What about the Flash?  Martian Manhunter?  Who would they cast?  Who would be the villain?  And how on Earth are they going to make Aquaman not look stupid???  

Bottom line: Justice League will not be as good as The Avengers.  DC just isn’t prepared for it.  There is the off-chance that it can still be good, exciting, and entertaining blockbuster fun, but I’m convinced that there’s no way that DC can give these characters the same treatment Whedon did for The Avengers solely because they won’t be as recognized as those characters have.  Even if you do give each Justice Leaguer his own movie and give time to set up each character: how do you know you’ll be as successful as The Avengers was?  Won’t you be following a formula at that point?

Of course, there is the off-chance that I’m completely wrong and that the Justice League will be vastly more successful than The Avengers will be.  I’m going to see it regardless of what RottenTomatoes says, and I hope it’ll at least be as good as Man Of Steel is.  But that’s unlikely, and no matter how it turns out, lets just be grateful that Robert Schwentke won’t be directing, writing, or having anything to do with the movie.  The last thing we need is a PG-13 version of RED.

Oh, wait a minute.

Source: EMPIRE, Entertainment Weekly, IGN
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“MAN OF STEEL” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Look!  Up in the sky!  Its a bird!  It’s a plane!  It’s the man of steel!

Now this is what I’m talking about.  Man Of Steel is in a special place as a reboot, a carefully calculated yet ambitious and affectionate movie giving a new energy and enthusiasm to a cherished American icon.  The last thing I wanted Man Of Steel to become was a remake of the original Superman movies, or even worse, a PG-13 version of Watchmen.  We have none of that here.  It isn’t coy, formulaic, or insincere: it’s a rare rebooted superhero remake that affectionately, genuinely works.

In case you haven’t picked up on it by now, Man Of Steel is a retelling of the story of Superman.  Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) is a young inhabitant of Smallville, Kansas who deals with a specific problem that other teengers his age doesn’t deal with: he has metahuman powers the likes of which cannot be from planet earth.  And young Clark isn’t from planet Earth either: but he doesn’t know that.  Not yet.

You see, Clark’s real name is Kal-El, and he comes from the planet Krypton, a planet that died due to its own selfishness and greed.  Scientist Jor-el (Russel Crowe), who is the father of Kal-El, knew of Krypton’s future demise, and planned ahead for it.  He embedded the code of Krypton’s DNA within his newborn son, Kal-El, and sent him to a faraway planet where he not be harmed from Krypton’s destruction: Planet Earth.

Unfortunately, his former ally and friend General Zod (Michael Shannon) is hellbent on preserving his species and building a new Krypton on planet Earth.  For this he needs Clark and his DNA to fuel his machine so that they can form a rebirthed Krypton upon the ashes of Earth’s surface.  Clark, fully knowing where he came from and the extent of his abilities, decides to defend the earth from Zod’s evil scheme and to become the symbol of hope for all of mankind to follow.

Fully aware of the dangers that came with a reboot for Superman, one of my initial worries for the film was that there would be too much action and not enough character investment to go with it.  That is the typical danger with superhero movies, after all: filmmakers are typically more interested in the action and visual effects than they are in emotion or in investment for their characters.

That is not what we have here.  Director Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) and screenwriter David S. Goyer (Dark City, The Dark Knight Trilogy) make here a wonderful marriage of something rare: great scripting with great action, and great directing.  What makes this movie so appealing is not the fact that it is an action movie: we’ve seen hundreds of movies before where action is just stacked on top of action, with no real cause or motivation to be concerned with any of it.

Man Of Steel is not that.  It is a rare thing: a movie in which the action is just as fleshed out as the character’s emotions are.  Whenever Clark isn’t flying, breaking the sound barrier, or punching some guy’s light’s out, the movie interjects a flashback of Clark’s childhood: we get a glimpse to a more personal portrait of Clark as a child and what it was like growing up struggling with these superhuman powers.  Perhaps in another movie it would be all fun and jokey, but here it is taken as seriously as the death of Bruce’s parents from the Batman series.  I was reminded of the last line Peter spoke during his ending monologue of the original Spider-man: “This power is my gift: my curse”.

The action, however, is utterly spectacular.  In the original Superman movies, Clark was resorted to lifting up school buses and stopping nuclear missiles as his highest challenges.  Not here.  Here the stakes are much higher, and we can tell that because of the level of destruction in this movie.  When Superman trades blows with another Kryptonian, destruction is sure to follow.  Crushed cars and overturned trains are a constant during these fight scenes.  Crumbling buildings and falling debris is to be expected.  There was even one terrifying moment where the Kryptonians used a gravity machine to tear apart the Earth’s infrastructure.  Did I mention the crumbling buildings?  Watching this level of destruction made me feel sorry for the mayor of Metropolis.  I’d hate to see the repair bill.

And lastly, I must pay respect to Henry Cavill and Michael Shannon.  Here, they are the perfect embodiment of themselves: good, or evil, human or Kryptonian. They don’t fight in an area of black-and-white: they fight in many shades of gray, because while we don’t want Clark to lose his home on planet Earth, we also understand and sympathize with Zod’s reasonings because he too lost his home.  There’s a very human reason why these men are fighting, and there’s no simplicity in their conflict: only complexion and brutal reality.

Before you ask me, no this does not replace the original “Superman” movies, and no, Cavill is not an adequate replacement for Christopher Reeve himself.  That is besides the point.  Man Of Steel did to the Superman franchise what The Amazing Spider-man did for Spider-man: it breathed a new life and conception to it, ensuring that when its all said and done, the Superman legacy will live on, and it will not die away because the actor of the former icon has passed through time.  Snyder has accomplished quite a feat here: he has paid tribute and honor to Reeve and the filmmakers of the original Superman by offering this exciting, emotional, and action-packed thrill ride that gives a new birth to the flying caped crusader.

PS: Admittedly, I saw this film in IMAX 3-D.  See it in IMAX, but don’t waste your money on the 3-D.  A fantastic movie doesn’t deserve a dim picture anyway.

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“MEMENTO” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Like solving a puzzle backwards and then back together.

I’ve never been so attentive to a plot in a way that I was with Christopher Nolan’s Memento.  I’ve never been so immersed, so mesmerized, so hypnotized by the plot, by the narrative, by the structure, and by the character himself and everything he has to struggle with.  When I asked a friend of mine what it was like watching Memento, he said to me “It’s like reading a book, except chapter one is the epilogue, the epilogue is chapter two, and chapter one is sprawled out throughout the book until it reaches the end of the book, which in reality, is the beginning.”

I know, I know, it sounds confusing.  But believe me, the structure of storytelling in this film only adds to the fascination that I feel for the main character.  The film begins with a photograph, a small photo showing a dead body lying on the ground with his brains blown out.  The man holding it shakes it a couple of times, but after a couple of seconds the celluloid fades to white, as if it just came out of the camera stock.

Blood shifts along the ground.  Glass forms back together.  A bullet floats off of the ground and enters itself back into the chamber of a gun.  As the man fires it and cocks it, the corpse he shot on the ground lifts his head, blood flows from the ground back into his head, and his glasses form back together just in time for him to shout “NO!” at the man in front of him before he points the gun at him.

If you’re confused at this, don’t be.  This sequence is shown in reverse, inverted from the normal time stream of what would normally be happening in this situation.  Even though the scene plays backwards, we understand the basic points of it: a man shoots someone and takes a picture of his dead body.

Consider this an outline for the rest of the film.  Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) is a man who struggles with short-term memory loss.  He suffers from this condition after sustaining a severe injury from an unknown assailant who stormed inside his house, slammed his head against the mirror, raped his wife, and then killed her while he was passed out.

Fast forward to the present as Leonard suffers from his current condition.  He remembers who he was, where he came from, and how he got to the place he’s now at, but due to his condition he is incapable of making new memories.  Depite this, he’s now on a quest to find the man who killed his wife and stole his memory by leaving himself notes, taking photographs, and marking tattoos on his body to serve as his reminders that his irreversible memory condition won’t allow him to remember.

Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, the same guy who made the 1998 neo-noir film FollowingMemento is the sort of movie that can define a career.  This is a plot as heavy, thick, and deceptive as they come, a clever and concise thriller that is exciting and interesting in every pulse-pounding moment of the film.  Much of this has to do with the film’s structure, and Nolan’s expert timing with the film’s plot.

Take, for instance, his decision to structure the story in reverse order.  Many would look at this and think that this would lead to a confusing, convoluted story.  I think that’s the opposite of what we see here.  Imagine it like you’re watching a police detective working at the scene of a crime: he always starts at the end, but if he follows the right path, he’ll always end up where the story began.  That’s exactly how Memento plays out, and the payoff at the end (beginning?) couldn’t have been greater when all is revealed by the film’s conclusion.

Another thing that makes this film stand out is Guy Pearce.  Here he portrays a disturbed man, a man haunted by his past and by his situation so much that it taints his mind like it does the blood on his jacket.  I heard from a friend that the role was originally intended to be portrayed by an A-lister like Brad Pitt or Aaron Eckhart, but Nolan eventually opted for a lesser-known actor that would bring as much energy and enthusiasm to the role.  His decision was a smart one.  Guy Pearce is perfect as Leonard, capturing the right amount of turmoil and paranoia that comes with people taunted by mental disorders while at the same time retaining the emotion that shows that he is a confused, misunderstood man.

But again, his struggle only leads back to the films structure.  And no matter how Nolan formats his story, I’m surprised at how much it holds up despite the unstable nature of the film’s narrative.

I challenge you to study the plot in this film.  Not to just watch it and react to it, but to look into it and analyze it.  Observe the film as Nolan transitions from one scene to another.  Try to find one plot hole in this film.  Not four, not three, not even two.  One.  I’ll bet you $100 bucks that you won’t find a single plothole in this film.  Not one.

If you think you found one, I bet you $150 that someone can find an opposing argument, and $200 that you’ll end up being wrong.

I keep twisting this film inside and out.  I keep going back to it, looking through it, rewatching it, trying to pick it apart and find any possible flaw I can point out with this movie.  I cannot.  Every single frame of every single second in Memento is tense, fascinating, and mesmerizing, capturing both your attention and your mind early in the film and refusing to let go until the very last slide of the end credits roll.  It’s one of those movies you watch that as soon as you’re done watching it, you go back to the theater just so you can experience it again.

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