Tag Archives: Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan’s INSOMNIA

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From the opening credits, Christopher Nolan assembles a sequence that not only clues us in on what is about to unfold but also tells us there is nothing but darkness and despair in what lies ahead. INSOMNIA may just be Nolan’s most overlooked film, and his most underrated.

Pitting a dreary Al Pacino against an eccentric Robin Williams is brilliant. Pacino’s slow and methodic unraveling is a marvel to witness. His turn as the tainted hero cop, Will Dormer is perhaps his finest performance of the third act of his career. He foregoes the caricature of bug-eyed screaming and gives an incredibly vulnerable performance as a cop who did a bad thing for a righteous cause, only to let that deed pull on the one string that can unravel his entire career.

Robin Williams is wonderful as the antagonist who plays it as if he really isn’t that bad of a guy, he just made a mistake, and then another mistake and then another that leads to a web of lies and the death of a sixteen-year-old girl. Williams is the only character we see on the screen that truly understands and accepts Pacino, and forgives him for his misdeeds. Nolan milks every ounce of affability he can from Williams, allowing the audience to like and sympathize with Williams. It’s a rather brilliant move in a film that is such a taut game of chess, you can almost hear Nolan slam his hand down on the chess clock.

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The hook of the film is brilliant, pitting Pacino against his own conscience in an Alaskan town that is so far north, the sun never sets. He makes catastrophic mistakes that lead to even worse mistakes all the while he is trying to solve a crime where suddenly he almost becomes a villain. It is almost as if he and Williams are following the same path, with one immeasurable mistake that leads to a sequence that leads to their respective unraveling.

It’s a brilliant structure that is so complex it becomes maddening. The entire film begins to turn over onto itself, causing the viewer to question there original notions of what morality is; casting complete shades of grey over the black and white of right and wrong.

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HE IS NED: An Interview with Max Myint by Kent Hill

2015 was the year. I was in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia at our version of San Diego’s Comic Con: SuperNova. I was there peddling my books but, in the booth next to mine, something amazing was afoot.

A giant banner held the image of the famous, or perhaps infamous Australian bush-ranger Ned Kelly; transformed and repackaged as vigilante, looking battle-damaged and bad-ass holding the severed head of a zombie in one hand and a loaded pistol in the other.

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That image invoked more than history and cultural iconography. It spoke to me as a concept so simple, yet compellingly cinematic. He is one of our country’s most treasured pieces from the past in a fresh guise and pitted against a dark, futuristic dystopia where the undead have evolved and formed a society in which humanity is not only a minority, but is being systematically wiped out.

Max Myint leads the creative team, spearheading, if you will, the rise of this epic saga of the man called Ned. A talented writer, sculptor and world-builder, the gutsy, gritty dark realm that he has helped usher in is about to explode on November 10. In the midst of the stench of rotting flesh and the searing of metal is something that commands attention. I for one can’t wait to see Ned’s rise and rise continue, and Max and his talented team blast this thing out into the masses . . . and watch it catch fire.

The living have surrendered…

Except for one man…

They call him Ned!

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https://podcastingthemsoftly.com/2016/08/04/not-yet-a-major-motion-picture-but-hopefully-one-day-an-interview-wit-the-creators-of-the-man-they-call-ned-by-kent-hill/

The Auteur Series: Christopher Nolan’s DUNKIRK

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Frank, Tim, and Jason discuss Christopher Nolan’s latest film, DUNKIRK, and his filmography in general. Just to be forewarned, they do get into a yelling match over a few of Nolan’s films. But hey, it’s all about their cinematic passion, right?

“Are you watching closely?” A review of The Prestige – by Josh Hains 

“Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge”. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t. The second act is called “The Turn”. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige”.”

– Cutter (Sir Michael Caine); The Prestige, 2006

I’ve always been enamored by magic since I was a young boy. I don’t know how to perform any tricks and haven’t read dozens of magic books, but I’ve seen enough magic performed to validate my love for it. I’ve always enjoyed trying to decipher how a trick is pulled off. Sometimes I’m right, sometime I’m wrong. That’s the name of the game. In the case of The Prestige, Christopher Nolan’s 2006 masterpiece, I’ve spent the last couple years on and off deciphering the movie as best I can. A part of me doesn’t mind the ambiguity, and doesn’t need to solve the puzzle. The other half just had to solve it. I believe I have the movie figured out better than most, but whether or not I finished the puzzle isn’t the point of the movie. The point is entertainment, and I think The Prestige is amongst the finest entertainment you’ll find in cinema.

Apprentice magicians Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) work under Milton The Magician (Ricky Jay), frequently acting as fake volunteers for Milton in 1890’s Victorian London. Julia (Piper Perabo), Robert’s wife and an escape artist, drowns while trying to escape from a water tank with her hands bound when Alfred ties the necessary slipknot too tightly. She’s gone before stage engineer (or “ingenieur”) John Cutter (Sir Michael Caine) can break the glass with an ax. This tragic event sets into motion a bitter and violent years long rivalry, each man trying to one-up or sabotage the other.

During this time, Borden marries Sarah (Rebecca Hall), and together they have a child, their daughter Jess, while Angier launches his own magic career with Cutter and new assistant Olivia Wenscombe (Scarlet Johansson), and Borden perfects a new trick dubbed The Transported Man. The trick bewilders Angier, but Cutter is unimpressed, suggesting Borden uses a double to complete the trick. Angier finds that solution too obvious, and becomes obsessed with finding the answer at seemingly any cost. Through a series of unfortunate events, both Borden and Angier find themselves in possession of the other’s personal journals that hold the ins and outs of how each trick is performed. Borden’s journal leads Angier to Nikola Tesla and his assistant Mr. Alley (the late David Bowie, and Andy Serkis, respectively), in the hopes they hold the key to replicating Borden’s trick.

The Prestige reminds me of a Jenga tower. Remove the wrong piece and the entire thing comes crashing down, remove the right piece and it stands tall for a while longer. At any moment the film could derail if all the plot threads weren’t tied up nearly with a bow, and yet for me it never does derail. Remove the script from your mind for a moment. Are the performances great? At least 3 are Oscar worthy. And the cinematography, score, set design, and costuming, how are they? Immaculate as one might expect from Nolan and his trusted team. And the script, what do you think of it? Delightfully complex, thought provoking, and fresh. For me, there aren’t any cracks in the glass.

About that ending. The film gives you clues as to how the lives of both men will turn out. One is willing to kill a bird and present a new one to the audience in its place, the other willing to save the bird and re-present it to the audience. Bearing that in mind, the possibility exists that one of the two men acquired a machine capable of successfully duplicating a person, much like a pile of hats and black cats (“They’re all your hat.”). The first duplicate is killed, then every night for 100 nights straight, the man performs the “Real Transported Man”, constantly duplicating himself and either he or one of his duplicates winding up in a tank of water below the stage they perform upon. Perhaps the true prestige is that the other man pulled his trick off using a twin brother, while the other sacrificed his life and the lives of duplicates for the look on people’s faces when they witness his great trick.

Perhaps the solution is simpler, and the machine never worked to begin with, and Tesla was just a distraction from the real trick, the use of a double. And perhaps when that man found out he’d been tricked, he chose to use a double from prior engagements, a drunkard stage actor, to help pull off his great illusion, and no one ever drowned until the night his rival came up on his stage. Maybe a trick lock was always used beforehand and replaced with a real one to setup the rival. Maybe the duplicates seen in a morgue or standing erecting in water tanks at films end are nothing more than wax figures. And maybe the revelation that his rival used a double all along makes his efforts seem fruitless in his final moments. Maybe the prestige of the film is that simple yet no one wants to accept it because of the simplicity, and certain science fiction infused elements like a machine capable of duplication are far too compelling and obvious a solution to be ignored.

Maybe we’re not meant to solve the mystery, just be driven mad by our own obsessions with it. Maybe we’re all Angiers.

Christopher Nolan’s DUNKIRK

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DUNKIRK may just be Christopher Nolan’s most anticipated feature. He roared out of the gate with his Batman trilogy, while making THE PRESTIGE and INCEPTION before completing his Dark Knight trilogy, and then delivering a science fiction film so great that it can only be compared to 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY. And with Dunkirk, he releases a film with an incredibly lean runtime; yet it is a master class in filmmaking. It’s taut, gripping, and nerve racking.

The best decision Nolan has made in his career lies within the film. Never once are German’s show in the film, all we see are the bomber and fighter planes, and machine gun fire. The entire film is told through the viewpoint of the English and through Nolan’s seminal nonlinear timeline.

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It’s told by land, through the viewpoint of an English soldier as well as a wonderful turn by Kenneth Branagh as an admiral stationed on the dock at Dunkirk awaiting a fleet of boats to rescue the troops. By sea, through the eyes of Mark Rylance, a well to do Englishman taking his boat across the channel to transport troops. And finally, by air through the guise of Tom Hardy as a spitfire pilot who is running out of fuel while trying to stop the Nazi bombers from killing more men on the beach.

DUNKIRK arrives as Nolan’s best film, but in particular the finest job that Nolan has done as a director. It’s a filmmakers film. Whilst all the actors do an incredible job in the film, there is not a single performance that steals a scene, there isn’t a single actor that chews up the scenery. Nolan assembles a flawless cast, chalked full with the likes of Branagh, Hardy, Rylance, and Cillian Murphy who navigate the film with a plethora of unknown actors that embody the soldiers awaiting impending doom on the beach.

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The film is propelled forward by its story, by the events of the narrative. Sure, Michael Caine’s voice cameo, Hardy being a total bad ass in the spitfire, Rylance is the stoic old man who is on a mission for his country, and Kenneth Branagh is perfect in his Laurence Oliver role – and Hans Zimmer’s score is perfection, but none of that is as apparent as the story of hope and determination of the British people.

Perhaps one of the strongest, and least talked about, aspects of DUNKIRK is that it is rated PG-13. Nolan proves that filmmakers don’t need to add more CGI blood or exploding body parts to a film just to get an R rating to make the film feel intense and what life is like during wartime. Nolan proves that you don’t have to make an adult film with an R rating to be effective and engaging or to appease those who flamboyantly pine for an R rated adult film.

Dunkirk: Christopher Nolan’s latest is an unforgettable masterpiece – A review by Josh Hains

“We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” – Winston Churchill

Most, of the war films I’ve seen post Saving Private Ryan have been about American soldiers and the battles they’ve fought during World War II, Vietnam, and more recent wars, save for the war sequences of Atonement. It was refreshing to see a World War II film yesterday afternoon that was shown from the perspective of British soldiers, and with the German enemy only shown for just barely a few seconds. It’s a perspective we used to encounter often decades ago that for one reason or another fell to the wayside. Hopefully this masterfully crafted piece of cinema will encourage other directors to widen their landscapes and tell more stories from the British perspective, or perhaps even the French or another allied nation.

By now you have no doubt seen many talking up a storm about this year’s undeniable “masterpiece”, and that it should be a major Oscar contender for Christopher Nolan when the season hits its stride in a few months. I dislike using the word masterpiece to encapsulate all of my positive thoughts about any given movie, and I feel it is quite often improperly attributed toward movies that aren’t actually considered masterpieces some years after they’re released. Film culture has this odd habit of using a wide assortment of colourful, hyperbolic wordage to emphasize how good a movie is during its first couple of weeks in theatres, yet the majority of movies dubbed a masterpiece during Oscar bait season seem to fade into obscurity. But the film being heralded as a masterpiece over the last week, I believe wholeheartedly, will be regarded as such decades from now and for a worthy variety of reasons, but most of all because of the way the imagery lingers within your mind like dirt under your fingernails.

There’s an image I can’t shake no matter how hard I try, of a man looking upon a fire that’s been, for lack of a better word, burned into my mind since the moment my eyes bore witness to it. If I close my eyes, or think of it in my minds eye, I can see it as clearly as if it were happening right in front of me in this very moment. To be honest, I can see nearly the entire movie that clearly, I remember much of it so well having seen it just under a day ago, but it’s images of smaller moments that seem to have been etched into my mind with a hot knife better than others. One would think the more traditionally spectacular moments, of boats exploding and planes being shot down, would stick out in one’s mind the way they always seem to with other war movies, but surprisingly, and refreshingly, that just isn’t the case here. No, I remember the man watching the fire grow as the sun sets, a trio of young men watching a fellow soldier wade suicidally into treacherous waters, a pilot running on fumes while gliding past thousands of men on the beach as they cheer.

Dunkirk is a war film comprised of small moments such as those that, when put together in the form of a complete picture, creates the sensation of a much larger war epic without ever having to actually become one. Yes, it’s a war movie that shows us Christopher Nolan’s perspective on Dunkirk, but it’s not about the war itself, but rather these small moments within the war and the collective struggle of soldiers and common folk affected by the event, and the personal toll the war takes on every soul who had the misfortune of experiencing it.

Much has been made about a lack of a single protagonist for audiences to latch onto and invest themselves in, as if the lack of such a character is a major deprivation for audiences that’ll leave you feeling cold and emotionally detached from the movie. That’s just not true. Dunkirk is about the collective experience of the soldiers and civilians who were a part of this event, and by not choosing a single person to use as our guide through this hellish experience, Nolan allows the audience to feel like they’re right there amongst the soldiers and sailors as planes swoop overhead and bombs periodically detonate with horrific results. No one character is glorified or given the special treatment by Nolan, and thanks to his wise decision to interweave three different perspectives non-linearly together, each and every act of courage or bravery that he focuses on regardless of the immense stakes surrounding them, are treated with equal importance.

I am thankful I am not one of those people who had difficulty following the non-linear presentation of the film. While watching Dunkirk I felt that the non-linear style only amplified the suspense I was feeling, making me clench my fists tighter and my knuckles turn whiter. I enjoyed the sensation of being tossed around from one situation to the next, trying to guess what direction I’d be travelling in until the three interweaving perspectives collide toward films end, and  the pieces come together perfectly like a puzzle.

The opening scene of soldiers including young Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) running down a street trying desperately to escape enemy gunfire before finding the mole of Dunkirk harbour where Commander Bolton observes the chaotic situation while soldiers like Tommy repeatedly try to escape the clutches of the beach over the course of a week, sets the tone of the movie immediately: frantic, intense, terrifying, sudden. We spend a day upon the Sea where Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), his son Peter ( Tom Glynn-Carney) and their young deckhand George (Barry Keoghan) pluck soldiers like the Shivering Soldier (Cillian Murphy, and yes, that’s what he’s called in the credits) and the RAF pilot Collins (Jack Lowden) from the depths of the icy waters. Then there’s an hour in the Air where Farrier (Tom Hardy) chases down German Messerschmitt planes in his Spitfire, halting most of their attempts to bomb boats.

I’m also thankful I heard every line of dialogue crystal clear, well enough to accurately identify Michael Caine as a radio communicator for the Royale Air Force. Admittedly, I heard the explosions and gunfire so loudly I jumped a few times when the overwhelming sound caught me off guard. Many continue to emphasize the need to see this film in 70mm IMAX, but I believe that regardless of what format you choose, it’s the experience of seeing Dunkirk theatrically that is necessary, and perhaps not so much the format, though it helps if the screen you’re looking at is bigger than most. As great as our surround sound has gotten for use in our homes, nothing will ever compare to seeing this film on the biggest screen you can find. When the sound of a Messerschmitt comes roaring from behind you, then almost sounds like it’s passed overhead before screaming way out in front of you, it genuinely feels like the closest thing to actually being there that any of us will ever encounter, and it’s absolutely terrifying. When soldiers are forced into the water, typically in fleeing from a sinking vessel, you can almost feel, smell, and taste the frigid waters. And when bombs are dropped and gunfire erupts, both at near deafening decibels, you can’t help but tense up as if one of the bombs or bullets might collide with you. It’s an immersive experience you really need to experience for yourself to believe and understand the full extent of.

The actual images of the film are less terrifying than the sounds of explosions and machine gun fire, in part because Nolan leaves the film devoid of blood beyond a few cuts and scrapes, a decision that had even myself second guessing how he might make this work. Once you understand that Dunkirk is a psychological war film that asks you to ponder what you’re watching rather than simply bombard you with heaps of exposition and gory carnage aplenty, you realize there really is no need for an R rating for this picture. Dunkirk is just an hour and 46 minutes long, lean and devoid of unnecessary fats comprised of character beats, long and frequent exposition dumps, and bloody war horrors, and all the better for it. This film didn’t need to be longer or shorter than it is.

I don’t have any qualms with Dunkirk at this juncture (the qualms others have encountered I don’t have), and while I love everything I saw in the film and greatly admire the ensemble cast’s performances, from Fionn Whitehead to Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, and others and the scenes they all inhabit, it was the perspective titled The Air I felt the deepest investment in. That’s not a knock against the other scenes, I just found The Air more hypnotic than anything else in the film, mostly due to the truly stunning cinematography from Hoyte van Hoytema (seriously, every frame of this film is gorgeous and should be framed and hung in a museum), and Tom Hardy’s near silent performance (he has maybe 10 lines of dialogue in total). It didn’t occur to me until today that after a certain point in the film, Tom Hardy’s Farrier never speaks again. That Hardy conveys outwardly and through his eyes (because he wears yet another mask in Dunkirk) everything Farrier is thinking in the moment is in itself is quite the accomplishment, and only goes to show just how great an actor Hardy has become. That his scenes are the most riveting and awe inducing sweetens the deal.

The first thing my mind floats to when I think about Dunkirk is still the image of a man watching the fire grow on the beach, as clear as if it happened just a moment ago. The sky turning charcoal, the flames glowing against the sands and his face, his stern expression showing accomplishment and sacrifice in the same breath, the wind snapping against his skin and tossing his hair, his story coming to an end moments before the film does. I know I’ll see Dunkirk many more times, but if I only saw it just once, I’m willing to bet I’d remember that image for the rest of my life.

DO YOU SEE? Back to the Event Horizon with Philip Eisner by Kent Hill

 

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It was a good day for a movie. When is it not? I was home from university and had the agenda to go to a flick that started soon and looked good. Science fiction looked good and I had heard and read little about this new offering from the director of Mortal Kombat, the future impresario of  the Resident Evil franchise, Paul W.S. Anderson.

My buddy Paul was just coming out of the theatre, and as it happened he had just watched Event Horizon. I recall him being angry, “That’s shocking, terrible, grotesque,” he said. Well it’s been a while. But I certainly remember the look on his face and he was, for lack of a better word, mortified.

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Now when someone tells you not to look at something, what’s the first thing you do? That’s right, you go check it out. I knew I was going to. I knew my friend to be no coward, so I was automatically intrigued by the prospect of seeing this movie that had gotten to him on such a visceral level. I recall him saying, before we parted company, “Don’t waste your time with it,” or something to that effect.

I bullshitted and said sure, don’t worry, I’m seeing a different movie. After that review I was definitely going inside, and the movie I encountered therein was really cool.

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Coming out I felt satisfied. The movie worked on all levels. It was terrifying, impactful, funny at the right time, suspenseful, beautifully composed, strongly acted and above all, well written.

The world was not as socially connected at the time. Nor was it part of my complete breakfast during that period to track down and try to arrange interviews with the good people who make the movies.

Behind the scenes material was scant at best, and Event Horizon, no one at the time could have known, would go on to become a cult favorite and get a really nice re-release with a handsome collector case and lots of juicy bonus features. There is a great documentary included, commentary and the likes. But there was little about the film’s author and the script is only a brief part of the BTS discussion.

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Fortunately the world has moved on and we are all now accessible via a myriad of networking tools. Thus it was my good fortune to finally get in touch with and interview the very excellent screenwriter and all-round gentleman Philip Eisner. The man who was once locked away with nothing but The Road Warrior for a week, was an absolute pleasure to interview.

I feel, like I often do, when talking to the makers of my favorite films, like I’m getting the commentary track that should be included with the feature. After all, it is the with the screenwriter that these journey’s begin.

As I like to keep things as informal as possible, our chat was not restricted to Event Horizon. We discussed Philip’s journey to writing, the genesis of the script, how sometimes you homage and other times steal, what he thought of Rogue One (’cause us Star Wars boys can’t help ourselves), how it’s easier to say “No” in Hollywood and much more.

I sincerely hope you’ll enjoy this interview as much as I did and, in case you have wanted to know more about the true gem that is Event Horizon, or were looking for an excuse to watch it, if indeed you haven’t already…

Well now folks . .  . you’ll see.

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