Tag Archives: Inception

Why I’m worried about “The Dark Knight Rises”

By Tom Kapr

 

Like any good movie nerd, I have been eagerly anticipating the release of The Dark Knight Rises since Batman escaped into hiding during the final scene of The Dark Knight in 2008. That’s four years ago. In this day and age, that’s almost an eternity to wait for the next chapter in whatever epic saga one is currently into. And Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy (as it is now known) is the epitome of the modern epic saga. In fact, this is a first for the comic book superhero genre. Bryan Singer is the only other filmmaker to approach this success, in artistic terms, with the first two X-Men movies. Unfortunately, he decided to forgo directing the third one in favor of helming Superman Returns, leaving X-Men 3 in the hands of Brett Ratner. (Wow. I think I actually felt you shudder.)

This actually brings me to my first point in why I’m worried about The Dark Knight Rises. Traditionally, if the first two films in a series are great, the third will tend toward a huge drop-off in quality. This is especially true in the superhero genre. I’ve already mentioned X-Men: The Last Stand, which was frustratingly close to good, but only because it had a handful of great scenes surrounded by some truly dreadful ones. Spider-Man 3 was nowhere near the quality of Sam Raimi’s first two, which is a pity since everyone was really looking forward to Spider-Man fighting his great arch-nemesis Venom. Superman III doesn’t belong in the same category as Superman and Superman II. And when it comes back around to Batman, while I am no fan of the excessively unpleasant Batman Returns, it almost looks like a masterpiece compared to the cartoonish Batman Forever. I’m even going to throw Return of the Jedi into this, because while it will forever be a childhood favorite, if I look at it objectively, it’s not nearly as good as its predecessors.

 

This is actually the LEAST of my problems with JEDI.

 

Hey, Batman Forever is a stupid name for a movie, isn’t it? Superhero movies, and blockbuster sequels in general, tend to generate some stupid movie titles, usually because, rather than just slapping a sequential number on the title, they’re trying to go for something that stands out a little more. I could launch into a long tirade about stupid movie titles, but let’s stick with Batman. While it may not be as dumb as Batman Forever, The Dark Knight Rises is a stupid title. The Dark Knight Returns might have been a more fitting one, but then it would be the same title as Frank Miller’s 1986 graphic novel, which, while clearly having inspired Nolan’s vision of his trilogy, tells a much different story (involving Two-Face, Green Arrow, Selina Kyle as the madame of an escort service, a metaphorically castrated Superman, a female 13-year-old Robin, and the Joker going so far as to — SPOILER ALERT — chemically annihilate a Boy Scout troop). But hey, Batman Begins is an even worse title, and that was a great movie, so I’m just splitting hairs here.

I think the thing that worries me the most is that this follows The Dark Knight, which is possibly the greatest superhero movie ever made. (I personally think The Avengers beats it, but I have to at least put Dark Knight in a Top 3 of all time with that and X-Men 2.) And while it has some flaws, The Dark Knight isn’t just a phenomenally superior superhero movie — it’s one of the best thrillers ever made, period. It will rival any great crime thriller or psychological thriller you can put up against it. And this is largely due to the presence of the Joker. The Joker, as written by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer, and as performed by the late Heath Ledger, is the best depiction of this iconic villain ever put on the screen. Not only is this one of the greatest and most memorable characters in the history of film, I would argue that Heath Ledger gave one of the all-time greatest performances of any genre, ever. That’s a lot of superlatives, I know. But while The Dark Knight is a good movie, it’s really the Joker, more than any other ingredient, that makes it great.

 

 

How can Nolan follow that? This isn’t necessarily a matter of topping oneself, but he has to at least be up to the standard that he himself created. While I can envision Rises being of the same general quality as The Dark Knight, what I can not envision is anything coming anywhere near the performance and the overall presence of Heath Ledger’s Joker. No disrespect to Tom Hardy, an actor I admire, nor to Bane, the formidable villain he portrays in Rises, nor even to the writing and directing talents of Nolan, who’s probably the greatest director of complex epic thrillers of the past decade. But just, how could he possibly live up to his own quality?

 

Then there's this. Whatever this exactly means for Batman, it indicates some degree of tragedy, and it is extremely difficult to make tragedy dramatically satisfying.

 

I guess I just have to hope for the best. And as I said, that is what Nolan is — the best. He has a better track record over his career than any other director I can think of. Memento, The Prestige, and Inception, the underrated Insomnia, and including of course Batman Begins and The Dark Knight – the man has never made anything less than a good movie. And with the exception of his much quieter and more difficult-to-love first film Following, he has never made a film that has been anything less than awe-inspiring.

I have to put my faith in Nolan’s abilities. I know that if I go in expecting another Joker, I’m going to be disappointed, so I have to limit myself to expecting, at least, another engaging villain and another engaging plot. I do have enough faith to know that Nolan will not re-tread what he has already done in the first two films. Every film he makes is its own film, and engages me in unique ways, so that is what I will be expecting from Rises. Take into account the established pillars that are Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, and Michael Caine, as well as the considerable talents of Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and what you have is a cast at least as formidable as that of either of the first two films. (If you subtract Heath Ledger, of course.)

 

I also have this to look forward to.

 

At the very least I expect nothing less, but nothing more, from Christian Bale, who I sometimes forget is even in these movies.

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.

Analysis:

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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Got a little something on your face there...nevermind I'll leave you be.

Korean Cinema — The Man from Nowhere

By Nathanael Griffis

We all know the story: secret agent loses wife and child, becomes a lonely drifter, grows close to someone, and is dragged back into the action when that person is threatened. It’s a classic tale that normally involves stupid criminals surprised that the neighbor is apparently Jason Bourne. Advice for all criminals out there: if the steel-eyed neighbor takes out five of your guys, fifty more of your guys won’t help. Make a deal and then you can go back to your human trafficking, gambling, cocaine, or exotic animal munching in peace. Normally this storyline is nothing more than an excuse to have an action star beat up on unfortunate stuntmen, a la The Protector (never take Tony Jaa’s elephant). The Man from Nowhere, is a unique entry into this category.

It’ll probably hurt when he lands.

Never ignoring the tropes of the action-revenge genre, The Man from Nowhere starts simply enough. A quiet pawnbroker builds a friendship with a young girl. The young girl’s mother steals some heroin from drug dealers. Drug dealers kill mother, kidnap young girl, and try to make quiet pawnbroker the fall guy, but what they weren’t counting on was that he was a former secret agent. It’s the kind of ridiculous plot that only works in the movies. The pawnbroker is really Cha Tae-sik, played by Bin Won, who if you’ve been following my blogging you’d note was the semi-retarded son from Mother, who’s grown callused in his lonely drifting through the streets of Seoul, as one does. What this movie does so well is build up the relationship between Tae-sik and the little girl So-mi (played by child actor Sae-Ron Kim) he is trying to save.

Tae-sik is clearly a father figure, but only a figure. He never fully steps into the role until So-mi is taken from him. He constantly pushes her away, treating her poorly and ignoring her. He feeds her and provides a cot for her to sleep on when her mother has kicked her out of the apartment, but he never gives her the love a father should. So-mi sees her own life as worthless and accepts the abuse. She’s been so degraded that she’s adopted the nickname of “Garbage” because her mother wanted to throw her out at birth. A little dark, I know. It’s a dark film. Did I mention these drug dealers are also organ harvesters on the side? Oh, and not just adults, but children, whom they kidnap, let mature, and then harvest. It’s frightening stuff.

Thankfully blood can just be hosed right off the marble.

The realism of such an impossible story is what is truly haunting. The occurrences and situations are all but impossible, but the characters are fully composed and rich. The film has a wonderful picture of the psychology of the criminal, the working poor, and the abused child. There is a scene in an alley where So-mi confronts Tae-sik about his callused nature, and I challenge anyone not to cry. Adding to the realism is a surprising band of police that aren’t idiots. Normally in films like this the police either have to consciously back off and let the vengeful killer accomplish what they cannot, or they’re incompetent and constantly screaming lines like “who is this guy?” and “where did he come from?” That’s not the case. Tae-sik is pursuing the drug dealers/organ harvesters, and literally a step behind him are the police. It builds tension and provides for a satisfying and realistic ending, because in the real world if you slaughter some twenty people, drug dealers or not, the police don’t look too kindly on it.

What is truly a revelation here is Bin Won. The actor builds on his past performance in Mother and delivers a nuanced action performance. The entertainment value of film is never forsaken, and Bin Won brings an excellent edge to the action scenes. His cold brutality towards those who’ve threatened So-mi is never one dimensional. There’s guilt brimming with each villain he dispenses, but he seems to take a strange pleasure in it all. The final scene, just as a sidenote, is the best knife fight I have ever scene, bar none. It’s rare to find an action film with this much depth, because they typically end up transcending the genre and aren’t thought of as action films: Indiana Jones, The Matrix, and Inception come to mind. This film really is a must see. I know I say that about a lot of films, but I have no caveat for this one. Just watch it, it’s on Netflix, or here at Hulu if you don’t want to pay and don’t mind the ten commercials.

Even his fingernails are mad!

Steampunk Nazis, samurai statues, and android armies, oh my!: A review of “Sucker Punch”

By Steven Moore

Is Sucker Punch, Zack Snyder’s pet project, a good movie? I have been wrestling with that from them moment it ended. This is the kind of film that does so many things well, while simultaneously doing so many things badly. Is it a good movie? No. Is it awesome? Yes. Am I using a lot of rhetorical questions? Yes. Why? Because my reaction to this film is more complex than it has a right to be. I see a twinkling of brilliance in all of the glitter and gunshots. There’s a message here about exploitation and titillation, but it’s buried underneath a reveling in the over-the-top exploitation and titillation.

The plot for this film is confusing at best, and really is secondary to the experience. A fetching Emily Browning plays Baby Doll, a 20-year-old girl who is institutionalized in an all-girl mental hospital after trying to defend herself and her sister from her step-father. The psychologist on staff uses fancy European methods that encourage the girls to live in a fantasy world. Within this fantasy, Baby Doll goes deeper into her own fantasy world (Inception-light), discovering she can use her sensuality within the fantasy to control her audience. Hmm, this sounds a lot like a certain filmmaker I know. This film will frustrate anyone looking for a one-to-one allegorical relationship between fantasy and reality… or rational plot points. I don’t think I knew what was happening or why until the last five minutes of the movie, and by that time, I stopped caring about the story.

Partway through Sucker Punch, The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” begins playing. Snyder is not exactly subtle in his musical selections, but if you’re expecting subtlety from this filmmaker, you haven’t seen Snyder’s other films. The first line to the song is, “Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream.” This is essentially the anthem for the film, perhaps for all of Snyder’s films. It’s not often I recommend a film that requires less thought, but here it works. Here it delivers something unique and artful. And in the end, it rewards the viewer for the trust placed in the process. I’m left thinking about myself as a viewer, about what I expect out of a film. I can see Snyder standing in front of the theater screaming, “Are you not entertained!”

Baby Doll is clearly an exploited character, both in the story and for the audience. The fantasies she gives us when she is dancing for various men are a metaphor for the escapism the audience expects. Men want to watch her dance, nothing more. We want to watch her kill steampunk zombie Nazis, dragons, and killer robots all while wearing high heels and fake eye lashes–nothing more. Snyder has implicated you, dear viewer, and you should feel ashamed… almost, if not for Snyder’s absolute wallowing in his own material. He lathers on the thick colors and bright lights until they fall of the screen in great big gobs. He revels in the sensuality of it all, and in doing so loses all credibility in his message. One of the final images of the film is of Baby Doll, who has just has a procedure that should have left her ragged, but instead she looks perfect, in fact more beautiful than when she started. Snyder could have used this moment to show the audience the cost of exploitation, but he couldn’t bring himself to make it real, to muss it up a bit.

So in the end, Sucker Punch becomes a visually impressive film that almost said something important. It’s like Snyder really wants to tell you how bad candy is for you, but then he would have to give up candy himself or risk becoming a hypocrite, and candy is just too awesome for that. Sucker Punch is a movie that I would watch again, probably with a group of friends. It fits perfectly in with those guilty-pleasure films like the Resident Evil series or Starship Troopers. Candy is good.

Remembering Pete Postlethwaite (1946-2011)

by Tom Kapr

I “came of age” as a cinephile in the mid-90s. 1996 in particular seems to stand out in my mind as the year I started to realize that movies could do something more than entertain. They could move something inside me, way down in deepest part of me. This may sound a bit silly, considering the film, but I remember clearly the first footage of DragonHeart I ever saw. I was watching TV–I don’t remember what–and a commercial break came. I saw the silhouette of a hill against the dusk sky. The silhouette of a warrior on horseback crested the hill. Suddenly, a dragon came flying up over the hill. Not a cheap-looking puppet–a real-looking dragon, flapping its great wings and moving gracefully through the sky. What a shot! DragonHeart as a film may be underwhelming, but that single shot is forever etched in my memory, and that is why this silly movie is one of the most important in my personal movie-watching experience.

Postlethwaite as Gilbert of Glockenspur

The reason I’m telling you this is because this was about the time I started paying attention to actors as well. Not just movie stars, but actors. I love Dennis Quaid, but DragonHeart is not one of his greatest moments in film history. However, it is because of Dragonheart that I remember Dina Meyer, David Thewlis, and “Gilbert of Glockenspur” himself, Pete Postlethwaite. He was in a thankless role, but he was good.

Then there was Father Laurence in Baz Luhrmann’s version of Romeo and Juliet, complicated big-game hunter Roland Tembo in Spielberg’s The Lost World, and of course, Kobayashi in The Usual Suspects. He was also in two of the films we’ve discussed on our podcast this past year, The Town and Inception. Here was a guy who could take a secondary character, even in a mediocre film, and make him interesting. It is quite possible that with DragonHeart in 1996, Pete Postlethwaite was the first time I was aware of what a character actor was, even if I didn’t know the term at the time.

Postlethwaite’s final role is in the upcoming Irish comedy Killing Bono (yes, that Bono) in April. I’ll be looking forward to it.

I’m sure I’ll discover more great Pete Postlethwaite performances as I continue to see some of the lesser-known films of the past 30 years. But I’ll always remember him as that mischievous friar and dragon-friend, Gilbert of Glockenspur.

–Tom Kapr

DiCaprio’s Crappy Prose

By Tom Kapr

Ten years ago, if you told me you thought Leonardo DiCaprio was a good actor, I would have laughed in your face. Right in your face. I would have tried to make you feel bad about your life for having such an opinion. Granted, at that time, I was basing my opinion almost solely on his performance as Jack Dawson in Titanic (of which my opinion has not much changed).

DiCaprio in Shutter Island

DiCaprio in "Shutter Island"

Now, I have to somewhat sheepishly admit that DiCaprio has become one of our best actors. I wasn’t on board until late 2002 when I saw Catch Me If You Can. His performance as master counterfeiter Frank Abagnale Jr., whose daddy issues got him in way over his head with the law in several countries, was astonishing. (I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the credit due to director Steven Spielberg and co-stars Tom Hanks and especially Christopher Walken, who played the senior Frank Abagnale and had some genuinely moving scenes with his on-screen son.)

DiCaprio has since given some of the best star performances of the last decade, mostly in great Martin Scorsese films like Shutter Island (one of this year’s best), The Departed, and The Aviator, in which he gave arguably his best performance to date as Howard Hughes.

But I’m not here to talk about how great Leonardo DiCaprio is. I’m here to take him down a few notches. He is gonna be so burned when he reads this, man.

There seems to be a pattern emerging wherein no matter how great one of his films is, DiCaprio has that one line of stand-out cheesy dialogue that makes me want to throw Macadamia nuts at the screen. (I keep a handful in each pocket at all times for just such an occasion. If you want to follow my example, then also remember not to throw them at actual people who say stupid things. Stupid people have a tendency to react violently when pelted with nuts.)

My favorite example of what I like to call “DiCaprio’s Crappy Prose” is from Titanic, when Jack Dawson overhears that the ship is going down. Leo wrinkles his brow and flatly says, “This is bad.” Really, Jack? Are the impending deaths of 1,517 people bad? Because so is that line reading. (Incidentally, I asked Kevin Costner how he felt about the matter. All he said was, “My boat.”)

Here are a couple more gems (which I already realize might not be verbatim, so chill out):

“You want him to chop me up and feed me to the poor?” We’ve all heard this line about a thousand times, in every single piece of advertising for The Departed over the last four years. Somebody in that marketing campaign either really dug that line, or really hated DiCaprio.

“In America, it’s bling-bling, but out here, it’s bling-bang.” I heard DiCaprio came up with that one himself. I don’t know, maybe it’s more poetic in Afrikaans. But it’s anachronistic in any language. Blood Diamond takes place in the 90s, before that term was popularized.

“Come back with me, so that we can be young men together once more.” I know I’m butchering that line. I guess it’s not so much a bad line, as it is a line that draws more attention to what is already the most nonsensical part of an otherwise amazing film. Here’s my burning question about Inception: Why, in that scene, does DiCaprio’s character still appear so young while Ken Watanabe’s character looks like a mummy? If you’ve seen the film, you understand why I’m asking the question.

And here is the cheesiest line of them all, from the film at the center of the Incidental Dog review crew’s most recent podcastBody of Lies. DiCaprio plays a CIA agent trying to catch a high-ranking member of Al-Qaeda. He’s looking for a patsy to play up as a competing terrorist mastermind, and here is his description of who he wants for the unwitting job:

“Someone between Osama and Oprah.”

You know, I think I actually saw that job listing on Craigslist, and strangely enough, I believe I fit that description. Less militant than Osama bin Laden? Check. More militant than Oprah Winfrey? Check. When do I start?

Keep an ear out for more of DiCaprio’s Crappy Prose in your future film viewings. I will be.

(Enjoying the Rant Pad? There’s more! Visit our podcast home page at BuriedCinema.com. Then you can also Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, Friend us on Flickchart, and Subscribe to us on YouTube!)