Tag Archives: Cillian Murphy

Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins

These days we take the abundance of DC/Batman films and TV series for granted, but back in the first half of the 2000’s there was a massive drought left on the land thanks to Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin, which we won’t go into here. Then Christopher Nolan came along and changed that forever, not with necessarily a bang, but the thoughtful, moody, introspective Batman Begins, a film that served as catalyst to one of the most celebrated motion picture trilogies of today. That’s not to say it didn’t blast into the scene with a bang, this is one seriously fired up action film that left iMax screens reeling and sound systems pumped. It’s just that Nolan gave the Batman legacy the brains and psychological depth that it deserves to go along with the fireworks, while Schumacher & Co. were simply making live action Saturday morning cartoons, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing either but after two films seemed a bit beneath the potential of what Batman could be.

Nolan bores into the roots of Bruce Wayne’s anguished past to expose themes of fear, not only facing his childhood fears but eventually becoming them to release the anger he’s harboured since that night in the alley. Christian Bale finds both the cavalier flippancy of Bruce and the obstinate, short tempered dexterity of Batman and yes, he makes an impression with a voice that has perhaps since become more well known than the films. Trained in the heartlands of the Far East by mysterious Ducard (Liam Neeson), Bruce returns to Gotham years later to find it rotting from the inside out with crime, corruption and poverty. Nolan shows the rocky road he sets out on and the failures he endures in his first few ventures onto the streets in costume, crossing paths with Cillian Murphy’s dangerous Dr. Jonathan ‘Scarecrow’ Crane, uneasily aligning forces with Gary Oldman’s stalwart Jim Gordon and assisted at every turn by Michael Caine’s Alfred Pennyworth and Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox. Nolan assembles a cast full of roles both big and small including Richard Brake, Mark Boone Jr, Ken Watanabe, Linus Roache, Rade Serbedzija, Joffrey Lannister, Rutger Hauer and more. I have to mention Katie Holmes because she gives one of the most underrated performances in the whole trilogy. I’m not sure what went on behind the scenes when recasting her with Maggie Gyllenhaal for the next film but it did no service to the character, Katie made it her own, is full of personality and will always be the real Rachel to me. Special mention must also be made of Tom Wilkinson as mob boss Carmine Falcone, who is only in a handful of scenes but scares the pants off of everyone with his off the cuff blunt dialogue, violent tendencies and shark-like personality.

I can’t say this is my favourite film in the franchise or even the one I’d call the best (Dark Knight holds both those honours), but it is definitely the one that stands out to me the most when I think of the trilogy as a whole. Why? Visual aesthetic and production design. With the next two films Nolan cemented a very naturally lit, real world vibe that became his signature touch on the legacy, but Begins is different. There’s a burnt umber, earthy, elemental, very gothic tone he used here that just isn’t there in the next two, and whether intentional or not, it sets this one in a Gotham slightly removed from Knight and Rises. The mood and story are also rooted far more in mysticism and the fantastical as opposed to the earthbound, economically minded, concrete edged sensibility of what’s to come. Just a few observations.

In any case Nolan pioneered an arresting new Gotham for Batman, his friends and foes to do battle in, he injected the smarts, philosophy and character development that the franchise had been thirsting for a long time before. Wally Pfister’s swooping cinematography, Hans Zimmer’s cannonball original score, Nathan Crowley’s spooky, cobwebbed production design and every performance in the film work to make this not just one hell of a Batman film, but an overall excellent fantasy adventure that truly transports you to its world, the mythology, development and destruction of which leaves a lasting imprint on the subconscious. Brilliant film.

-Nate Hill

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Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises faced a tricky maneuver: providing a follow up to the earth shattering, delirious success that was 2008’s The Dark Knight. The film was never going to be as good as or better than that lightning in a bottle stroke of genius. However, the film we did get is one epic, operatic sonic boom of a Batman film, and if there’s one area where it does in fact outdo The Dark Knight, it’s in scope. The action set pieces here have an earth shattering, monumental quality to them, mainly thanks to Tom Hardy’s Bane, a full on monster who brings biblical destruction to Gotham City with some calculated, maximum impact attacks that almost blow the speakers of any system they’re shown on. Despite the apocalyptic blitzkrieg, Nolan loses none of that precious philosophy that has made this franchise glow so far, the sharp-as-a-tack dialogue and moral complexities of existing in a world of vigilantes and terrorists. It’s been eight years in Gotham since Batman took down the Joker and, somewhat controversially, the fallen angel that was Harvey Dent. Bruce Wayne has become a crippled recluse while the city more or less flourishes quietly, but there’s nothing that’ll roust a burg out of tranquil slumber like the arrival of a seven foot tall, highly trained psychopath bent on chaos. In a vertigo inducing opener set atop the clouds, Bane triumphantly crashes a CIA aircraft and makes off with its cargo, a mere taste of his brutality to come. Bruce is forced out of hiding to do battle with him, and before you know it they’re all thundering around Gotham’s tunnels and edifices, pursued by hordes of snarky GCPD, who no doubt have missed this kind of action for a near decade. The new commissioner (Matthew Modine) is a hotheaded nimrod, while Gordon (Gary Oldman, the gravitas is real with this guy) still hurts from the tragedy years before. Anne Hathaway throws a wicked curveball of a performance as Selina ‘Catwoman’ Kyle, and although no one will ever, *ever* top Michelle Pfeiffer’s brilliantly kinky turn years before, she’s a deadly force to be reckoned with both for Bruce and the criminal factions vying for power. Hathaway seems like a sanitized choice for the cat, but she’s deft, sexy, formidable, competent and looks damn good in that outfit careening around on Bruce’s batbike. Marion Cotillard is great as the mysterious Miranda Tate who may be more dangerous than she seems, a shtick which Cotillard unnervingly perfected first in Inception. Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are top notch as Alfred and Lucius once again, Ben Mendelsohn plays up a sleazy business rival for Bruce, Juno Temple is cute as Selina’s off again, on again lover, Joseph Gordon Levitt’s intrepid detective gets a whole lot of plot momentum and crazy good dialogue, and the jaw dropping lineup of supporting work includes Brett Cullen, Burn Gorman, Desmond Harrington, Chris Ellis, Robert Wisdom, Tomas Arana, Aiden Gillen, Brent Briscoe, William Devane, Nestor Carbonell, Reggie Lee, Wade Williams, Christopher Judge, a brief reprisal from Liam Neeson and Cillian Murphy as that pesky Scarecrow, the only villain who appears in all three films. The story goes to places the other two films never ascended to, and if the Joker thought his antics aspired to anarchy, he’d do flips when Bane literally starts blowing up the city on a massive scale, an extended sequence that’s delirious in it’s armageddon worthy panic. On a more personal scale, Batman deals with being broken, the cost he must pay to ultimately save his city, and the unknowable matter of when to cash out as a superhero, or forever give up your soul to a fight that has neither end nor reason. My only issue with the story is how a certain third act revelation pretty much neuters Bane’s character arc and renders his whole fearsome nature somewhat too human and redundant when all is said and done, it’s a narrative decision Nolan should examine closely for his own sake, and avoid such an impotent cop-out when writing his next arch villain. The cinematography is aces, the cgi blending seamless, Hans Zimmer’s score gives us the classic thunderstorm passages we’ve come to love while adding a rhythmic chanting for further depth and flavour. There’s not much that can be said that’s negative about the film, it’s one hell of an achievement and doesn’t let up until the Big Bang of an ending provides release for the franchise and every character in it, an expository epilogue in which loose ends are tied, and some semblance of peace is found. A near perfect third act to the trilogy, and a superhero flick for the ages.

-Nate 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?

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.

Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire


How many shady, degenerate 70’s era Boston lowlifes does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Doesn’t matter, they’re too busy shooting at each other, the lightbulbs and everything that moves in Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire, the best film of the year so far. After an arms deal gone royally wrong, we get to spend a joyous, breezy hour and a half watching these halfwit scumbags blast each other to kingdom come in a not so abandoned warehouse, unfolding in real time and at a pace that has our pulses racing faster than the magazine clips can defecate shell casings. Wheatley’s output hasn’t been my cup of tea so far, but he’s won me over with this lighthearted, ballistic mini-masterpiece. It’s what I call a ‘low concept high concept’ flick, which I’m sure someone has said before, but suck it. A bunch of childish idiots in a roomful of heavy artillery, the bullets are bound to soon be flying as fast as the dry insults. The deal is simple: meet, sell a bunch of rifles to help the IRA cause, and be on their way. That’s not to be the case though, for as soon as one of them recognizes another party’s member from a violent scuffle prior, tensions mount until that first shot rings out. From there on in it’s a ‘childish game of paintball’ (to quote a friend) that escalates into a deafening fire fight filled with acidic humour and John Denver music, a hilariously counterintuitive soundtrack choice. Armie Hammer is priceless as Ord, cool as a cucumber and constantly lighting up joints mid-gunplay. Sharlto Cooley chews scenery as Vern, the preening peacock of the group, Brie Larson kicks ass and takes names, Cillian Murphy underplays the IRA consort while Michael Smiley, the butt of the geriatric jokes, gets in everyone’s face even before things go south. Patrick Bergin, Babou Ceesay, Noah Taylor, Enzo Cilenti and Jack Reynor also get their licks, but the performance of the film goes to Sam Riley, a criminally overlooked talent who’s been laying somewhat low recently. His character Stevo is indirectly the reason for all this mayhem, and he’s a walking disaster, the sleaziest little reprobate you can imagine. Riley plays him balls out and doesn’t hold back, I really wish we saw more of him in films these days. All of these bozos positively ventilate each other with bullets, no one not sustaining at least two or three gunshot wounds somewhere on their body, and once the Reservoir Dogs esque conclusion rolls around, we know that few will be left standing. Clocking in at a rapid fire ninety minutes, this is surefire entertainment for not only action fans, but anyone who loves movies, it’s a perfect example of the reason I go to the theatre. Cheerfully violent, casually profane and hysterically unapologetic. Just the way I like em’.

-Nate Hill

SUNSHINE – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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In some respects, Danny Boyle is Britain’s answer to Steven Soderbergh – a filmmaker who moves effortlessly from independent to studio films and works in a variety of genres: gritty drug drama (Trainspotting), kids film (Millions) and edgy horror (28 Days Later). Like Soderbergh’s Solaris (2002), Boyle has tried his hand at science fiction with Sunshine (2007). It was critically lauded in England as a thinking person’s genre film but was met with mixed critical reaction in North America and lackluster box office.

Sometime in the far future, our Sun is dying. The Earth is in the grips of a solar winter and the only chance we have for survival is to reignite the star. A spacecraft called the Icarus II, with a crew of eight and carrying a nuclear bomb roughly the size of Manhattan, will hopefully kick-start the Sun and save humanity. On the way there, they pick up a distress beacon from Icarus I, an earlier expedition with the same mission but that had mysteriously disappeared en route. Do they alter their course and check out the ship in the hopes that they can use its bomb and thereby doubling their chances? The decision lies with the ship’s physicist, Dr. Robert Capa (Cillian Murphy) and it is one that will affect the entire crew in ways they can’t yet imagine. Through a series of intense situations brought on by unforeseen complications, there’s a real possibility that the Icarus II may not make it back alive and the characters have to realistically deal with this chilling realization.

Sunshine starts of as an intellectual science fiction film a la 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and then shifts focus to an engrossing mystery involving the Icarus I and shifts again to a slasher film reminiscent of Event Horizon (1997) for the last third. This last shift has drawn the most criticism from reviewers and does test the film’s credibility. Do the filmmakers really need to add even more danger for the protagonists to face? Isn’t the fact that they are heading straight towards the Sun with limited resources and crew challenging enough?

Sunshine does an excellent job showing the dynamic between the crew members and how it gradually breaks down when things go horribly wrong. Crew member turns on crew member and an oversight or miscalculation has catastrophic effects. The cast is uniformly excellent and refreshingly absent of big name movie stars. Instead, we get solid character actors like Cillian Murphy (The Wind That Shakes the Barley), Rose Byrne (28 Weeks Later), Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), and Cliff Curtis (Bringing out the Dead). Some of them are cast wonderfully against type and others, like Chris Evans, show previously unseen depth.

It is also nice to see the characters solving problems with reason and intellect that actually makes sense. That’s not to say that Sunshine is all brainy posturing. There is plenty of intense, visceral action that is emotionally draining much like Boyle did with 28 Days Later (2002). As he showed with that film and his debut, Shallow Grave (1994), he certainly knows how to ratchet up the tension.

This is also a visually impressive film as Boyle not only shows off the usual iconography of the genre – spacecraft, spacesuits, etc. – but doesn’t fall into some of the more tired clichés, like aerodynamically-designed spacecraft and evil computers. He also doesn’t telegraph who lives and who dies which gives the film an edgy unpredictability. At times, it feels like Sunshine wants to be the 2001 for the new Millennium but then the slasher film elements creep in and it resembles a more traditional thriller. It’s too bad because up to that point, Boyle’s film is a very smart, thought-provoking piece of speculative fiction.

Perrier’s Bounty: A Review by Nate Hill

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Perrier’s Bounty tries hard to be as pithy and witily profound as In Bruges, but doesn’t quite manage the task. To be fair, Bruges is a masterpiece and a Goliath of a script to aspire too, but this one has its own brand of scrappy crime fun, full of enough beans to keep the viewer jumping for its slight running time. Few films can boast narration provided by the Grim Reaper, and fewer still can say that said Reaper is voiced by Gabriel Byrne. But indeed, Byrne beckons us into this violent fable with his patented tone, both baleful and quaint. The fable in question concerns Michael McCrea (Cillian Murphy) an irresponsible young Irish lad who is seriously bereft of both luck and common sense. He lives in a small town in northern Ireland and owes a hefty loan to local crime lord Darren Perrier  (Brendan Gleeson). Because of how tiny the town is, it’s pretty easy for Perrier’s goons to find and engage him in a road runner goose chase all about the area, forcing him to scoop up his on and off girlfriend (Jodie Whittaker), and head for the hills. He’s also joined by his uber eccentric father (Jim Broadbent) who believes that the Grim Reaper has visited him at night and given him the alarming prognosis that he will die the next time he falls asleep. Broadbent is a solid gold asset to any film he’s in, and practically spews perfectly timed comic banter non stop. Michael thinks he has a way out of trouble with local petty thief The Mutt (Liam Cunningham, aka Ser Davos Seaworth, also a comedic treasure here), which turns out to be another notch in the belt of bad judgment. Meanwhile, Perrier’s crew reels after one of their slain thugs (at Michael’s hand) turns out to have been involved in a love affair with another, who now has the wrath of vengeance in his eyes. There’s a scene where Gleeson  comforts the bereaved hoodlum and seems deeply wounded at the couple’s reluctance to tell him of their love. Gleeson assures them he has no issue with homosexuality and wishes they would have shared with him. In the context of hardened criminals out for blood, this kind of exchange is priceless and brings rigid archetypes right down to earth, for maximum hilarity and well earned pathos. The film meanders a bit, but never out ran my attention span, following through with it’s story in ways both welcomingly bloody and predictably quirky. It doesn’t add up to anything life altering when all is said and done, but damn if the things which are said and are done along the way aren’t just pure genre entertainment, inducing chuckles, thrills and nostalgia for other films withing the niche. In the troupe of writers who look up to Guy Ritchie, Quentin Tarantino and  Martin McDonough, this scribe is on to something. Keep an eye out for Lord Varys, Roose Bolton and a young Domhall Gleeson too.