Nevertheless They Persisted at Dunkirk

The closest we get to an audience proxy in Christopher Nolan’s relentless exercise in tension and survival is the young soldier played by Fionn Whitehead. He could be anyone’s son, and he’s a partly shell-shocked but still wily (and very observant) lad in Nolan’s wartime nightmare/day scream. We open with him walking through abandoned French coastal village streets as pamphlets rain down announcing, “We surround you.” That first gunshot, setting him off on a run for his life, is so piercing you feel like you’ve been shot at…and it invites the audience to partake in this immersive first-person narrative. He’s the first and last one we see in the film, and his Murphy’s Law-ridden week-long escape from the besieged French shores anchors the multi-POV time-collapsing narrative. Most notably, his struggle to survive is not alone. He doesn’t get from point A to point Z without interacting with others equally driven to survive, and not without help.

Elsewhere, on one fateful day, we have another brave boy named George (Barry Keoghan) selflessly join his friend (Tom Glynn-Carney) and friend’s father (a superb Mark Rylance) as they take their pleasure yacht to join a civilian fleet heading to Dunkirk to pick up some of the 400,000 soldiers stranded there between the English Channel and encroaching enemy tanks on the land. When he hops aboard the vessel after only supposed to have helped father and son set off, the wise elder tells him, “It’s a war, George.” To which George calmly and confidently replies, “I could be of use, sir.”

The film is filled with that kind of stark to-the-point dialogue, interspersed judiciously in a cinematic story otherwise devoid of spoken language but swelling with human emotion transmitted visually across a sprawling canvas of land, sea, and air. Continue reading

The Cathedral of Space and Brand Survival in Interstellar

Interstellar 3

Christopher Nolan might not be the incomparable artiste that Paul Thomas Anderson has become, the lyrical poet that Terrence Malick succeeds at being, or the rabble-rousers that the sicko David Fincher and the pop pastiche-aholic Quentin Tarantino are…but damn it, he’s the best Brand there is in Hollywood.  You know what you are getting every time you see a Christopher Nolan film, and unlike, say a Michael Bay, you should be ecstatic you’re getting it.  He’s going to entertain you and make you think while conjuring his own impossible cinematic dreams, attempt (sometimes clumsily but always admirably) to tap into a zeitgeist, dazzle you with his technical skill, twist the plot and up the dramatic ante every time he steps behind that camera.

His sprawling space opera, Interstellar, is no exception.  It is at times wondrously ridiculous and miraculously beautiful in its ambitions

In the not so distant future, food is running out from over-population and environmental calamities that have produced a new Dust Bowl.  There people are forced into farming as society has transformed from one of innovation to one of scraping by that has been branded as “caretaking.”  It is here where the widowed Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) eeks out an existence with his son and daughter, Murphy (played by Mackenzie Foy as a child and Jessica Chastain as an adult), while he dreams of his lost opportunity to be an astronaut after a test flight crash and the disbanding of NASA years earlier.  The boy has already been tested by the school system and found to be a perfect candidate to be a farmer, while the smart-as-a-whip Murphy gets suspended for bringing a book to school that teaches the Lunar landing as a fact and triumph of the human spirit, when the new consensus teaches it was Cold War propaganda (and no one should ever dream of space travel again as growing food is the only noble pursuit).

But strange things start happening.  Automatic technology (drones and plows) begin acting up.  There are gravitational anomalies happening.  And Murphy thinks there is a ghost in the farmhouse trying to deliver her a message.  It all adds up to father and daughter stumbling upon a secret base where, lo and behold, Cooper’s former professor, Dr. Brand (Michael Caine), is leading an underground NASA team that has discovered a wormhole beyond Saturn and is plotting manned voyages to search for inhabitable planets on the other side.  The very survival of the human race is dependent on their mission, and they want Coop to pilot the next one which will be headed by Dr. Brand’s own daughter, the aptly named Amelia (Anne Hathaway). Continue reading

Orphans, Terrorism and Dickensian Economics in The Dark Knight Rises

Orphans of the world – Rise up!

They’re all orphans. We’re all orphans. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is the orphan of murdered parents. So is the child of R’as Al Ghul. Idealistic young cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon Levitt) – yup, his parents are dead too. Even Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) has been orphaned in a way by his family who moved to the safety of another city.  In the later half of the film, Gotham – itself a character in Christopher Nolan’s epic trilogy – whose bridges have been destroyed and tunnels blocked, becomes orphaned by the rest of the nation.  Then, of course, there is Gotham’s downtrodden citizenry, orphaned by the elite.  And what, pray tell, do these orphans do?  They get angry.  They rise up.

It’s fitting to have this Dickensian theme of orphans running through Nolan’s tale, as he closes out the film with a quote from Dickens’ classic opus on the French revolution, A Tale of Two Cities.  But unlike Dickens, Nolan lives in a world of Al Qaeda, and it’s terrorism and fear that act as the impetus to revolution in Gotham.

Eight years following the events of The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne is hobbled, disheartened and reclusive in his opulent manor.  The streets of Gotham are clean thanks to Commissioner Gordon and the Dent Act (itself a piece of corrupt subterfuge) but there’s an economic crisis brewing.  A cat burglar (Anne Hathaway, who brings a welcome slinky theatricality to her pivotal role) absconds with Bruce’s mother’s pearls.  But he’s got even more lady problems with Miranda Tate (Nolan muse Marion Cotillard) who looks to take a controlling interest in the crumbling Wayne Enterprises.  Meanwhile, a master terrorist named Bane (an unrecognizable Tom Hardy) orchestrates a daring mid-flight kidnapping of a nuclear physicist.  These events set the wheels in motion, and from there it’s full tilt towards an explosive climax where all parties mentioned play an integral part that isn’t always made clear until that key turn of the screw. Continue reading

Revisiting Batman Begins and The Dark Knight

And thus Bruce Wayne’s fate was set from the start.

When I think about my favorite genres of film I turn to noir, crime dramas and psychological thrillers. My least favorite genres of film would probably be musicals, romantic comedies and comic book movies. Hence, back in 2005, when one of my favorite up-and-coming purveyors of my favorite types of film decided to take on a reboot of a comic book movie franchise, my faith was tested. Not even I could predict then that Christopher Nolan would pull off the unexpected. He took the most obvious and surface level of modern archetypal stories and used its trappings as a vehicle to tap into a cultural zeitgeist and to provide commentary on our contemporary war against global terrorism.
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Serena, Honest Abe, Rising Knights, Multiple Malicks and The Master On Tap

Quite an unusual docket is shaping up for 2012, 2013 and beyond.  Despite the usual shit Hollywood shovels, there are some upcoming films worth talking about.

First up on the horizon is the new news around the film adaptation of Ron Rash’s Serena, which ranks as one of my favorite novels of this century and I instantly imagined as a There Will Be Blood meets Macbeth in the Carolina Highlands film epic.  Originally, and promising though preditable, Darren Aronofsky had been on tap to direct with Angelina Jolie in the lead role.  But now the tides have shifted, and Oscar winner Susanne Bier is taking the helm.  It’s definitely out of Bier’s comfort zone, but if handled right, it could be a breakthrough for the Danish director and she definitely has the chops to put on an interesting spin – but it could also be a disaster. 

Can Jennifer Lawrence transform into the menacing Serena Pemberton?

Even more inspired is the choice of Jennifer Lawrence in the lead role.  She seems way too young, but as Winter’s Bone showed, she’s capable of being a true chameleon while getting down and dirty, and along with Bier, she has the opportunity to really turn heads here.  Less inspired and downright troubling is the casting of no-talent ass-clown Bradley Cooper, a smug comedic actor who lacks the gravitas needed for playing George Pemberton.  Maybe the idea is to cast someone like him so that Lawrence can really shine – but it’s a gamble – and it will be interesting to see if it pays off. Continue reading

A Box of Kittens for Christopher Nolan

Cheer up, Mr. Nolan!  You may have been royally snubbed by le Academie (yet again!) and robbed of a Best Director nomination…but they did nominate your film and your screenplay…and we’d like to offer you a consolation prize:

A box of kittens!

A Box of Kittens for Christopher Nolan

Alas, perhaps you would’ve been happy with a pin wheel.

The 83rd Annual Academy Award Nominations were announced this morning, and there were zero surprises when it came to the 10 Best Picture nominees.

In the world of snubs, there was no love for Christopher Nolan – The Director (though they love what he produces and writes), Leonardo DiCaprio, Ryan Gosling, Naomi Watts, Julianne Moore and early favorites Shutter Island and The Ghost Writer were totally shut out, though (aghast!) Alice and Wonderland and The Wolfman even managed to secure technical nods.

Though clearly this is a two-horse race between The King’s Speech and The Social Network, here are your 10 Best Picture Nominees:

  • 127 Hours
  • Black Swan
  • The Fighter
  • Inception
  • The Kids Are All Right
  • The King’s Speech
  • The Social Network
  • Toy Story 3
  • True Grit
  • Winter’s Bone

Check out the full list of nominees at the IMDB.

Written by David H. Schleicher

The Neo-Noir Renaissance

Thanks to the slow, cold burn of  Winter’s Bone and the mass-appeal of Inception, 2010 has become the year of the Neo-Noir Renaissance.       

An Idea not spinning out of control...

 

The seeds for this renaissance were planted in 2007 when films that could not be categorized outright as neo-noir but were still “dark as hell” in theme and style (i.e. the dueling banjos that were There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men) left the most indelible impressions, if not on mass audiences, then on fellow filmmakers lurking in the shadows.  In my yearly wrap-up, I specifically looked at the grim melodramas not nominated for Best Picture when I said, “Flicks like Zodiac, Eastern Promises, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, and Gone Baby Gone point towards a film movement not unlike the film noir of the 1940′s that mirrors America’s anxiety towards the chaotic outside world inward against the intimate settings of neighborhoods and families in stylish and unsettling ways.”  But it wasn’t until 2010 that those seeds planted in 2007 bloomed.       

It started in February, the coldest and most obscure of months — a time of year that is usually an artistic black-hole for film.  Yet it was on the same weekend when two of filmdom’s greatest living masters delivered what appeared to be larks Continue reading

The Inception of Dreams

Slick marketing evokes Lang's Metropolis.

Roughly twelve years following their first feature films, these legendary directors delivered the following:  

Fritz Lang:  M   

Alfred Hitchcock:  The Lady Vanishes   

Stanley Kubrick:  2001: A Space Odyssey   

Twelve years after Following, Christopher Nolan invites us to dream along with him through Inception.  And while it’s operating on different levels than the Lang and Kubrick pieces, it shares in Hitchcock’s sense of dark fun and could easily be considered Nolan’s most ambitious and devilishly clever piece of work to date.  He’s an auteur with a full blessing from the studio and his audience, and the project he devised in this rarefied air is awe-inspiring.  Though there are some minor flaws, if you can’t find a way to overlook them and latch onto something meaningful in at least one layer of the dreams on display, then you have no business sitting in a darkened theater watching movies.   

Christopher Nolan’s decked-out and high-concept new film brings new meaning to the idea of stealing ideas.  In his futuristic universe, technology has developed where you can enter the mind of another through dream invasions and steal their ideas.  It’s espionage…it’s dangerous…but what’s even more intriguing is the idea of diving deep into dreams within dreams and implanting an idea that can then spread like a virus and alter the shape of one’s universe.  Whoever implanted this idea into Nolan’s mind, we thank you.   

Continue reading

The Spin on Christopher Nolan

NOTE TO READERS on 7-16-10Click here for the full Inception report and review.

In preparation for the release of Christopher Nolan’s highly anticipated and much ballyhooed Inception this Friday (stay tuned for a full report following the Thursday night 11:59pm advance showing I plan to attend), I decided to hold a mini-marathon here at the ‘Spin and take a look back on three of Nolan’s non-Gotham related works:  Memento, Insomnia and The Prestige.    

I make no apologies, and it should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, that Nolan is one of my favorite working directors.  It’s been uncanny how well he has been able to work within the mainstream studio system and deliver the type of dark, twisted, psychologically complex, crowd-pleasing and zeitgeist-tapping films people crave in the new millennium.  It’s always interesting to do retrospectives of auteurs as you can witness over the course of a few nights the birth of their art, the refinement of their techniques and the emergence of their recurring themes.   

Christopher Nolan

First, we shall look at his breakthrough film, Memento (2000)Continue reading

Revisiting There Will Be Blood – The Best Film of the 2000’s

Most film bloggers and critics raced against time and each other to get in their “Best Films of the Decade” lists after the clock struck midnight and we were suddenly thrust into Arthur C. Clarke’s…dun dun dun…TWO THOUSAND AND TEN.  With the past decade so fresh on our minds, so many films yet to be seen or uncovered, so many to re-watch and re-examine, and the world-famous polling for this decade not to start until April over at Wonders in the Dark…it seems like there is still so much left to say about the 2000’s, or the Noughties as people like to call them now.

Yet all I can think of is one word.

DRAAAAAAAAAAAAAINAGE!

Drainage, my boy!!!!!!!!!!

Looking back, the 2000’s were to my generation what the 1970’s were to my father’s.  It seemed the dawn of a new golden age.  Gone were the nostalgia tinted frames of the 1980’s and 1990’s and here was the first decade to exist completely within the context of my adulthood…under the harsh scrutiny of my ever-evolving critical eye.  This was a decade where film reflected the big ideas, big dreams and previously unimaginable nightmares of the post-millennial, post 9/11 generation.  Continue reading