Monthly Archives: January 2012

Expectations — Following

By Nathanael Griffis

Following is one of those cool-hipster-film-buff-cred movies that if you haven’t seen you drop down a few notches on the cool list. So that’s truly the reason I watched it. Had nothing to do with my love of neo-noir films or that this is Christopher Nolan’s first film. This is all about being popular and getting the cool critics to like me. Quick plot synopsis: Following is a bout a man who likes to follow people, but stumbles into a web of mystery and crime.

Look closely. See what I see? Was Nolan hinting at something?

Hypothesis (Expectations):

The Poster & Trailer: This movie is pretty minimal in its advertising and that’s to be expected with a small budget film from a first-time director. I’m surprised they even have a trailer, to be honest. So we’ve got the new trendy black-and-white, grainy film to make something look raw and old. Not a bad technique, Chris Nolan, but it’s been used a little too much, kind of contrived with a been-done feel to it. Oh wait, this was made in 1998. Okay, you can get a pass. It just seems like such a cliché to make your first film in black-and-white. It’s like you’re trying to prove you’ve seen old movies. There’s just enough in the trailer to intrigue me, but not really excite me.  I like neo-noir films like this, though, and have a lot of respect for Chris Nolan, so that’s a start.

The Critics: It’s got a 7.7 on IMDB and a 76% on Rotten Tomatoes. Eerily similar I say. Perhaps this is no coincidence. Either these are accurate ratings or there’s some evil critic mafia controlling the way we rate films. What if Battlefield Earth is actually good, but we could never tell because we’ve been brainwashed? Either way it’s safer to go with this movie being pretty good. Most comments and reviews about this movie compare it to Memento, but the trailer gives me more of a The Man Who Wasn’t There vibe. (How’s that for film-buff cred, huh?)  Most people seem to think it’s good, but not as good as Memento. I’m fascinated by sayings like this, because sometimes they spread like a virus and it becomes the only way to approach a movie. One or two critics’ little blurbs get out and that’s how we view a film. Use the phrase “better than Die Hard” and it’s hard to look at a film in any respect other than, is it better than Die Hard? I should look into this more.

Sum Up: Well, now I don’t want to look at it like a Memento-esque film. I just want to watch it, but I can’t but be entranced by the idea of seeing a filmmaker at their roots. Watching someone from their start to their continued brilliance and maturity is fun.  I think I’ll get a serpentine plot that probably pulls a few punches and surprises, but all matches up together in the end. I don’t expect to be too confused, because I’m prepared to not have all the answers at first.

This shot might as well have come straight from The Third Man or Double Indemnity.

Results (The Review):

Just to get the obligatory answer out of the way, Memento is better. I know that’s all you all care about anyways. The non-sequential storytelling here feels more like a device to create confusion and make the surprise at the end more impactful. The brilliance of Memento is that the unique timeline makes sense and becomes a part of the story. With Following, it’s a means of keeping us in the dark, so we are constantly guessing at each turn. Ultimately, though, you won’t discover the truth till the end, which is what a good film noir mystery should do. The only caveat I have is that it should also keep you asking questions. It should not frustrate you because you know you won’t be able to discover the answer. Luckily, Following does just that. It parses up various pieces of the timeline and lets it all play out so that once you connect one piece, you wonder where the other pieces belong.

It’s perfectly paced and, to an extent, well shot and lit. I have no problems with the pacing. The way it’s shot is limited to the miniscule budget: $6,000. It shows that Nolan knows what he’s doing as a writer and a director. He didn’t push past what his budget dictated. He made a practical film story for very little and used the tools available to him. The black-and-white look fits well with the small budget, and the focus is the story telling. Nolan’s always done this, even when his films have staggering budgets like The Dark Knight and Inception: the focus is still the story.

After this shot, Alex Haw was never seen again, taking method acting to the extreme.

The only real complaint I have is that the film’s lead actor Jeremy Theobald is a little weak. There are just times he seems overly surprised, like he’s not used to having someone give him good lines to read, or he honestly doesn’t realize what’s happening around him. If the latter is the case, perhaps he was just acting genuinely and should have given his character a little more credit. Alex Haw, surprisingly, never went anywhere after this. Strangely, his character’s name, “Cobb,” would pop up later in Inception, so Nolan clearly likes that name, or is there something else there, hmmmm? It’s a good movie, and at just over an hour, a short watch. It’d be great if you’re a fan of film noir and want to see the beginnings of Chirstopher Nolan.


My expectations this time around served me well. If I had gone into this film expecting something different, maybe a little more action, a little more like Memento, I would have been disappointed. I could see some viewers becoming confused and frustrated with the format. I might have thought it was gimmicky and poorly put together if I hadn’t come in with the proper expectations, but knowing what I was about to watch prepared me to run through the maze. If you expect an unusual film that will challenge you, you can prepare yourself. If this type of film sneaks up on you, you might be more inclined to see it as a boring, cheaply made experiment.

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A Quick Rant — Daniel Radcliffe

By Tom Kapr

It took me a long time to become a fan of the Harry Potter films (until around this time last year, I had only seen two of the films, Sorcerer’s Stone and Order of the Phoenix, and had only minimal admiration for both). A cram session of sorts (watching Chamber of Secrets through Half-Blood Prince in relatively quick succession) before viewing Deathly Hallows: Part 1 for that film’s Buried Cinema podcast made me realize that this film series is a towering achievement in fantasy cinema on par with Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy and George Lucas’s original Star Wars trilogy. Rare is this level of consistency of content, story, and characters and actors in a film series; it is unheard of through eight films over the course of a decade. Rarer still is this level of consistency of quality. Sure, not every film in the series is a great film, but every one of them is at least a fairly well-made, enjoyable movie.

But let’s take a quick look at this film series’ most central and consistent quality. It is astounding to me, uncanny even, that the casting for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was so good that, over the course of ten years (which is an eon in the life of a child), every major child role would still be performed by same young actor who originated it, and that every one of those children would turn out to be a charismatic actor who could carry a scene, and carry it well. And none, of course, is more impressive than Daniel Radcliffe in the central role of Harry Potter. (Major props to Stone director Chris Columbus and his casting team Susie Figgis, Janet Hirshenson, Jane Jenkins, and Karen Lindsay-Stewart for scoring the pivotal triumvirate chemistry of Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint, especially.)

From the opening scenes of Sorcerer’s Stone to those final moments on the bridge in Deathly Hallows: Part 2, we get the distinct pleasure of watching a talented child actor become an instant star and then slowly mature into an even finer actor, all of 21 years of age, with an eternal cinematic legacy already behind him. It wasn’t until that final scene in Part 2, however, when I realized how distinct Radcliffe the actor was from Harry Potter, his character, and that, indeed, there may be a wealth of talent there heretofore unseen.



(Warning: Here be spoilers!)

The final scene of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 depicts Harry and his best friends Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, and Ginny Weasley (now his wife) as adults with children of their own, sending them off to a new school year at Hogwarts. In Harry’s case, he’s sending his son off to his first year, a reflection of Harry’s own moments stepping into the frontier from the first film. (And I don’t care what the guys said on the podcast for Part 2: the age makeup in this scene is perfect–it’s understated, just enough to show that time has passed and their childlike features are gone.)

When I first saw this scene in the theater, and Daniel Radcliffe walked into frame as a man in view of his middle-age years, I was astonished. He walked differently. He talked differently. He moved his face differently. Even just standing, he held himself differently. No sign of an awkward teenager remained. He had the physical confidence of a man who had been through life. And yet, he was without a doubt still Harry Potter. I can’t even do it justice by describing it. It has to be seen. But it has to be seen in the context of a decade’s worth of work. Before this scene, my thoughts were, “Wow, this kid has become a good actor.” As the credits rolled, I was thinking, “I genuinely believe Daniel Radcliffe deserves an Oscar nomination.”

And I do. He won’t get it, but he deserves it, for the final film alone and more importantly as a token of honor for the seven films before it. If not for that scene, I might be in doubt of Radcliffe’s future movie-star career. There have been so many one-trick ponies, especially when it comes to child stars. But in that one closing scene, Radcliffe showed he has  more to him than Harry Potter. (Understand also, this is coming from someone who hasn’t seen his one or two other non-Harry Potter films, nor his work on the stage.)

That final scene is the reason I am excited to watch Daniel Radcliffe’s career from this point on, and why I am looking forward to seeing The Woman in Black next month. It will be Radcliffe’s first post-Potter film role, a starring role in what looks to be a classic-style slow-boil horror film. He plays a young lawyer (a naive one?) on a seemingly routine job who gets caught up in the unfortunate history of the house in which he is staying and the, shall we say, unhappy ghost who still resides there.



You can watch the trailer here. Not only is it genuinely creepy (what with all those bizarre toys–what child wants those things?), but it looks genuinely artistic in its framing and production value. Thankfully, it also forgoes the usual horror-trailer jump-at-the-end cliché.

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Expectations — Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

By Nathanael Griffis

I love Alan Tudyk, so that was honestly enough for me to check out this movie. I think he’s got a great taste for genre comedy. So I continue this series with a story about a couple of hicks who are vacationing in their cabin in the woods and are attacked by preppy teenagers, thereby turning the “cabin in the woods” horror sub-genre on its head.

Hypothesis (Expectations):

The posters & screen shots:  The posters seem to feature Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk  holding either chainsaws, axes, body parts, or passed-out  scantily-clad women. Also they’re screaming and covered in blood. In a few of them we get some shots of Katrina Bowden in almost nothing, so it’s covering all the required bases. The screen shots again are frequently of Katrina Bowden wearing little to nothing, or covered in blood. So the director has either done his research or is a 14-year-old boy. Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk seem to be in classic backwoods men gear and smothered in blood. The main thing that excites me here is that Labine and Tudyk are, from the screen shots, constantly screaming, which initially may mean nothing, but to me signals a contrasting switch. Normally in horror films it’s the female character who becomes the “scream queen” of sorts. I’m sure there will be a scene where Bowden screams, but to see the men exercise their vocal cords in such a manner already leans to an exciting spoof.  It also looks extremely graphic, which one would expect from a horror film.

The trailer: It just got a whole lot more exciting. The opening of the trailer is wonderful. It makes me expect an awful Friday the 13th or something, but as it progresses I start to see a complex and ridiculous plot grow out. There’s seemingly seven young preppy jerkwads that in a normal slasher would be chopped to bits, except here they’re accidentally killing themselves. There’s a scene where a kid jumps headlong into a wood chipper, which is just so ridiculous. What it really does, which I believe is what makes a good trailer, is it makes you want to see how everything play out. I wonder how they’ll make this whole ridiculous plot work. There’s only so many ways you can kill a teenager, which is often a fault of the slasher genre, before I get bored. Still in this case I’m excited to see these teenagers set afire, impaled, chopped, and slashed.

Didn't your mother ever tell you about running with chainsaws?

The critics: Tucker & Dale vs. Evil has an astoundingly high rating on, at 85% “fresh.” The Internet Movie Database has it at 7.6 stars out of 10. Metacritic, which just has to be different, seems to begrudgingly score it a 65 out of 100. In general, what I can glean is that everything seems to be resting on two things: the leads (Labine and Tudyk) and the concept.  Labine and Tudyk are appreciated across the board from what I can tell, and I love Tudyk, so no one better disagree.  The concept, on the other hand, seems to drag on for the few detractors, and for others is played for laughs. The idea of the teenagers’ plans accidently, in Wile. E. Coyote fashion, backfiring and causing their deaths could get old.

Peter Stormare gained a little weight... oh, wait.

Summary: You know, I thought I’d be super excited for this one, but honestly I’m a little wary. I’m not the hugest fan of gore, and the concept leaves me with questions. I’m excited to see things play out, but am worried it’ll become so contrived that it eventually succumbs to the same fault that the “cabin in woods” genre already has of focusing only on absurdly graphic death scenes.

Results (Review):

That was fun. If you like weed-whacker deaths, impalement, and friendship, then this movie is for you. The chemistry amongst the stars is great. Bowden stretched herself from usual 30 Rock schtick, nothing career changing, but she was charming and showed she has good comic timing.  Eli Craig’s direction is promising. It’ll be interesting if he stays within the horror genre. Tudyk and Labine should be in more films together, because they’re near a Simon Pegg-Nick Frost level of chemistry. Calm down people, I only said near. This movie does what good horror should, which is develop full characters and let the psychotic break out around them. Tucker and Dale’s bond of friendship is wonderful–you really feel like these guys have been friends forever.

The horror is great–contrived, but that’s to be expected in a film where eight teenagers accidentally kill themselves. It’s literally as if two friends and a pretty girl stumbled into a horror movie. The comedy is smart, there’s a lot of silly slapstick too if you like that, but for the most part the jokes come from clever dialogue. It’s a smart take on the horror comedy genre, probably most akin to Zombieland. I wasn’t blown away. It won’t “change the game.” This is a really fun horror-comedy movie that’s smartly written and well acted.

See told you there'd be an obligatory scream scene.

Analysis: Expectations are kind of disappointing in their own right. I think this movie fell afoul to the sneaky effect of expectations, that when they’re met we don’t know what to do with them. If something is worse than expected, I can critique it and rant. If it exceeds, I’m ecstatic and rant anyways. When I get what I expect, I’m left a little befuddled. I expected a funny, smart, gory horror-comedy with a touch of heart. That’s what I got, but I feel like I could have loved this movie so much more if it had been more surprising. So if I hadn’t had any expectations, this would have been wonderful. I blame all the work I did. The trailer gives away all but, like, three of the deaths, and not just hints at them, but it literally shows the entirety of the first death. So the joy of experiencing something new is taken away from me. It’s to this movie’s credit that it’s able to still be enjoyable. I just wish I hadn’t known what I was getting into and could have been surprised.

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The Hacker Under the Stairs: Enhance!

By Steven Moore

On the Buried Cinema podcast I’m sometimes referred to as the curmudgeon. Little things about a movie get to me, reducing my enjoyment of an otherwise perfectly good film. When I watch a movie, I want to inhabit a world. By now, most people are aware of the ridiculous “Enhance!” device in films: the magic phrase that allows an agent to look down your shirt from space.

While there has thankfully been more of an awareness of how ridiculous this notion is in the last few years, it hasn’t kept films and T.V. shows from abusing the general public’s magical thinking when it comes to computer imagery. The real problem is that this little device reminds me that I am watching a movie, that none of the action really matters, and everything is going to be fine. When I am watching protagonists try to escape whatever problems they have gotten themselves into, I must feel the hero’s desperation. I need to want to find the McGuffin as much as she does. Anything that reminds me that that desperation isn’t real puts a dent in the film-watching experience. Too many dents, and I just lose interest. Movies where the climax depends on some discovery made through enhancing an image to reveal a hidden truth, such as Blade Runner and Enemy of the State, can fall apart because no amount of technology, no matter how futuristic, can make something from nothing.

While past films, such as the aforementioned, can be excused because the general public misunderstood so much of computing, there is no longer any excuse. The next time you see an “enhance” moment in a film or T.V. show, don’t sit there and let the writers insult you. Perhaps some screenwriters do believe in the omniscient powers of the Google, but I don’t want to live in their world. Here’s a little video of their work for you:

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Expectations — Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

By Nathanael Griffis

Hyperbole is fun, but it’s also the cute girl that flirts with you at the bar for drinks and then says no to dinner. Not that I’m bitter or that that’s ever happened… Anyways moving on, sometimes I find myself getting carried away with how excited I get for a movie and use hyperbole. I might expect it to be another stupid romantic comedy with no depth and a waste of my precious time and then discover that The Notebook is a great movie. On the other hand, when all the trailers tell me a film is going to be the best comic book movie ever made and I really want Matthew Vaughn to be a good director, then sometimes our hearts are rendered to shreds of… I don’t know, X-Men: First Class was just bad, it didn’t really scar me.

My expectations and how they influence my viewing experience has always fascinated me. Do I like The Notebook more because I didn’t expect to like it, and because the depth or characters surprised me? Was the problem with X-Men: First Class my desire for it to be good or its failure to be good? Our expectations are powerful things, and don’t think for a moment studios don’t know this. That’s why trailers can sometimes be more exciting than the films themselves. If enough good buzz is generated about a film people will see it. On Buried Cinema we did an entire podcast that dealt with this issue after we saw Catfish. I’d sum it up for you, but then you wouldn’t watch the podcast. I will say this, though: the directors of Catfish are now horror directors. I’m happy for them, no doubt, but Catfish is a not a horror movie. The way the film was advertised, though, was almost like a horror film, and you can imagine that that comes with certain expectations.

How stupid am I, this poster clearly screams middling documentary.

What I’d like to do, from here on out, is look into those expectations and try and determine how they affect my film watching experience. I’m going to drown myself in introspective metacognitive processes (i.e., probably just babble a lot) and try to discern, if at all possible, some of the connections between what we expect from a film and how we then judge it.

How this’ll work is simple. I’ll watch a film I’ve never seen before, but before doing that I’ll analyze what advertisement I’m given: posters, trailers, clips of the film, screen shots, probably not everything but enough to get a gist of the film. Then I’ll see what critics have to say. What does the mighty Internet tell us about this film? Is it highly regarded? Is it the kind of film that divides friendships? Does it involve people staring at each other for hours? I’ll sum up my expectations into a sort of hypothesis. Then I’ll watch the film and say my piece. Consider this the results and analysis section, so now it’s got scientific pretensions.

To start us off I’m going with a movie that has a whopper of expectations for me personally: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

My expectations: This’ll be a shorter article than the next few I suspect1 but perhaps deserves as much space as those that follow. The fact is I’ve been waiting for this movie for at least two years. After watching Let the Right One In, I was stunned that a film like that could be made. It was full of depth and perfectly crafted. There wasn’t a flaw in it. Every cut mattered, every performance was airtight and convincing. It transcends the sense that you’re watching a film and engages you in a shared experience. I know, I know, that all sounds very fluffy and as philosophical as it is nonsensical, but I believe it’s the truth and you won’t convince me otherwise. Although bribed with a cookie, I will gladly say otherwise.

It wasn’t long after that I heard Tomas Alfredson, who directed Let the Right One In, was working on an adaptation of John le Carré’s novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. I immediately went and told all my friends and it was at this point I began to suspect I am the only John le Carré fan under 50 years old. (These suspicions, by the way, were further indicated by the silver-haired audience I sat with tonight.) My friends did not care, but the fire for espionage and paranoia continued to bubble within my blood. Then mysteriously, casting began to leak: Colin Firth, Gary Oldman, Mark Strong, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Ciarán Hinds, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy. Clearly Britain has heard of John le Carré. It was like they were making this movie just for me. A stupendous trailer followed that told me nothing except that there was a spy, a mole, at the head of British Intelligence, and suddenly, with as much seemingly swift power as the anticipation had, there was silence and disappointment. My small upstate New York town was not deemed important enough to receive this gem of movie.

Best Poster Ever, nope, Best Poster Ever.

The time and waiting I think built up my expectations; it drove my thirst for a slow-paced, realistic spy thriller. Enough Jason Bourne. I wanted a real spy, an old tired man with a briefcase who goes over files and tapes photos to chess pieces, yeah sexy. Lack only strengthened my desire. It was like the theater deliberately didn’t want me to see this movie and, like a child being forbidden, my thought was that the verboten must by amazing, for all adults are selfish and want to keep all the fun to themselves. So I started to devise this theory. An idea began to creep up in my head. Hyperbole dripped down through my nerves till it fed every bone in my body. I was convinced, plainly, simply, deludedly, that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was the greatest movie ever made.

With all honesty those were my expectations going into the film. I was about to watch something that would leave Citizen Kane in the celluloid dust, a film that wouldn’t even blink at Raiders of the Lost Ark, a movie that redefined violence previously exposed in A History of Violence, a movie that struck my heart deeper than Singin’ in the Rain, a film that better understood the craft of filmmaking than WALL-E, something more eternal than Casablanca. So, not a big deal right?

The Result: The best movie of the year. One of the best films I’ve ever seen. But, the best movie ever made? No. Let’s return to the pretty girl metaphor. Forgotten it already because of my stirring prose, I’ll remind you. A pretty girl flirts with you, your hopes travel wildly down the path of the delirious lie that is the male imagination. A single thought drips down a stalactite in far reaches of your brain: perhaps. Perhaps what? Perhaps anything, and that is what is so engaging. This could be the one. She’s pretty smart… and she says yes to dinner. Then comes dinner and it’s wonderful. You have salad, she orders steak, it’s fancifully contradictory. The sad thing is it never really becomes all those amazing things your imagination thought up, does it? Still, it’s something worth treasuring. This film is like that.

Saying a movie is one of the best ever made, a Top 100 film, is not an insult, but it’s a long way from the best. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is, to review the film as a whole, astoundingly perfect. There is a haunting combination of cinematography and sound, a blend of acting and directing like I’ve never seen, and the sharpest editing and script this year or in several years. Alfredson does some amazing things with the camera. He on several occasions pulls back, which seems minute and a simple small choice, but it’s a brilliant subtle reference to the larger picture. We, like the characters, will at first only see a small glint of the truth, but once we stand back…well, you’ll come to realize that perhaps there is still farther back to step. Nothing is completely cleaned up or solved; most things are, but the loose ends and questions remain. There is still farther back we could step, but won’t or can’t. There is a limit to perception, and we have to content ourselves with such limits.

The film is not simple. It’s complex and realistic. There is no over-hyped Bourne tension. No globetrotting action scenes. These are quiet, nervous men with guns, reading books. My father said, as we drove from the theater, “They’re real spys: men getting killed over dangerous, boring things.” He’s right, and it adds a sense of realism to the film that is backed up by le Carré’s past as a commander in British Intelligence. The performances are the best I’ve seen all year. Each man is a unique picture of caged, controlled, and unleashed emotion. Gary Oldman deserves the Oscar, but if Brad Pitt wins I won’t throw a fit. I will, however, if Alberto Iglesias doesn’t win for his score and Tom Brown and Zsuzsa Kismarty-Lechner don’t win for their art direction.

I don’t want to give anything away, yet I suspect that even if I did it might still stand on its own. This is a film for film-lovers, and a film to make a film-lover out of you.

Analysis: So were my expectations met? No, but I think they impacted my view greatly. Trying to be unbiased with this film is impossible. I honestly cannot see any way I would have disliked this film. If something catastrophic, like a random car chase and Hollywood slow-motion suddenly crept up and ruined the film, I would have brushed it off as the producers’ fault. Excuses would have been made for missteps, and the film would have still ended up on my shelf. I just got lucky that it’s a spectacular film. It wouldn’t surprise me if my views aren’t agreed with, but I think I can chalk that up to the difference in expectation perhaps. A viewer expecting something akin to Jason Bourne, Ethan Hunt, or James Bond, will be befuddled when actions scenes are limited to a few frames. People expecting closure, but perhaps a sequel teaser at the end, will be grasping for answers to a serpentine plot that may come full circle or not. It’s a hard film to dislike, because I think expert artistry is simply noted and appreciated, but not free of the shackles of  bias and expectation. But are any?


1: I said this before I finished writing the piece, so this is probably how long they’ll be. If they’re not, I’m clearly even more of a pompous verbose ass than I think I am.

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