Tim Burton’s Big Fish

There are so many ideas, myths, motifs, vignettes, episodes, characters and ideas swirling around in Tim Burton’s Big Fish it almost feels like several movies collided together to make their own sweet, sunny mixture and I love that feeling. It’s like a postcard perfect funhouse where you never know what you might get and some people saw a pacing problem or lack of focus in that regard but for me it’s this wonderful wellspring of creativity, visual audacity and fairytale lyricism. It’s also told from the perspective of a rascal who is notorious for making up wild stories so the narratively kaleidoscopic nature of the film seems very appropriate. Edward Bloom is one of the strangest Tim Burton characters to ever grace the screen, a magnetic individual played as a young man by beaming, idealistic Ewan McGregor and as an old fellow by wisecracking, lovable Albert Finney. Edward loves to tell stories, larger than life anecdotal adventures that he regaled his young son with throughout childhood, stories that couldn’t possibly be true.. right? As Edward grows up he leaves a town that just wasn’t big enough for him and meets many wonderful and strange characters along the way including a giant (Matthew McGrory), a poet turned bank robber (Steve Buscemi), a mermaid (Bevin Kaye), a reclusive witch (Helena Bonham Carter) a circus ringmaster (Danny Devito, scene stealing like nobody’s business) with a supernatural secret and eventually the love of his life Sandra, played as a young woman by the excellent Alison Lohman (whatever happened to her?) and later by Jessica Lange. The story finds an emotional core in the relationship between Edward and his son Will (Billy Crudup), a realist who resents being brought up amidst a bunch of tall tales and just wants, along with his wife (Marion Cotillard, lovely), to finally get to know his father as he is passing of terminal illness. The stories are besides the point here and as one character notes, at some point a man becomes the legends he tells simply by embodying them, and when it comes time for the narrative to tell us whether or not these tales are even true it hardly matters because the film has been so honest with us in the human connections we see unfolding. This film sits apart in Burton’s career because of how emotionally affecting it is, not largely focused on effects and makeup like he often chooses but crafted with its heart firmly planted on a bedrock of believable humanity. There’s whimsy, style and special effects galore mind you, all excellently, wonderfully done.. but the core of what makes this film so special lies in the final twenty minutes or so where we see a rich, cathartic final act that always brings me to tears. Edward Bloom may have told wild tales his whole life and Will must reconcile that they were just a part of who his father was, and that the greatest story in his life was the family he raised. It’s a beautiful, oddball, postcard pretty, occasionally surreal yet ultimately down to earth and deeply felt piece of storytelling.

-Nate Hill

Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris

Do you ever find yourself feeling drawn to or nostalgic for another time period? Like somehow even though you’ve never been, you feel like you miss being there? Owen Wilson has a case of this in Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris, a charming, brilliant piece that comes across as a ‘small’ film but has some big and deep ideas to discuss with you, the viewer. Wilson is Gil, a hapless wannabe screenwriter who looks up to the literary giants of yesteryear as he meanders around present day Paris with his fiancée (Rachel McAdams) and her family. He keeps going on about “Paris in the 1920’s in the rain” and how lovely it would be to see, hear and feel that for real. Her head is nowhere close to the clouds as his though, she subtly resents his whimsical daydreaming and yearns for suburban sprawl once they tie the knot. Now it’s impossible to really review this film without spoiling the enchanting central premise, so here goes: as he takes dreamy walks around Paris, he discovers that every night at precisely midnight he’s able to quite literally time travel back to the 1920’s. This puts him in close contact with aforementioned writers he considers titans and soon realizes are people just like him. I don’t know much about the figures portrayed here or whether the actors embody them truthfully, but they sure do a grand job of bringing their scenes alive. Kathy Bates is a robust Gertrude Stein, Corey Stoll dryly intones Ernest Hemingway, Adrien Brody is great very briefly as Salvador Dali, Tom Hiddleston as Fitzgerald and so it goes. This could have easily been a high concept, Owen Wilson In King Arthur’s Court style time travel film where the lessons learned are never all that striking or below the surface, but Allen wants to dig deeper. What is it about nostalgia that holds so much power over us? Would it be healthy or productive to live out those fantasies for real, and how would one come out of it? Gil finds a modicum of answer to these questions when he meets restless Adriana (Marion Cotillard, wonderful as always), but there’s a certain portion of theme here that lies in mystery, especially when her side off this phenomena comes into play, a thought provoking venture that I won’t go into here. The production team has wrought such a well lit, meticulously costumed Paris of the 20’s that you almost feel like they somehow tagged along with Gil each night and just filmed the thing there, it’s that good. The story rises up to meet it, and honestly as I type I can’t think of one single thing I disliked about this film. It’s engaging, never too simplistic nor too impenetrable, the actors are all clearly having the time of their lives (check out scene stealers Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy as McAdams’s kvetchy parents) and there’s just this charm over the whole thing that’s irresistible.

-Nate Hill

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



audsleyPodcasting Them Softly is thrilled to present a chat with veteran film editor Mick Audsley! His latest feature, which he co-edited with Jeremiah O’Driscoll, is the Robert Zemeckis-directed WWII action-romance Allied, which hits theaters this weekend! He’s worked numerous times with filmmaker Stephen Frears, with credits that include The Hit, My Beautiful Laundrette, Prick Up Your Ears, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, Dangerous Liasons, The Grifters, Hero, The Van, High Fidelity, Dirty Pretty Things, Tamara Drewe, Lay the Favorite, and Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight.  He’s also collaborated with director Mike Newell on Love in the Time of Cholera, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Mona Lisa Smile, and Prince of Persia. He’s teamed up with director Neil Jordan on We’re No Angels and Interview with the Vampire, and has crafted multiple films with director Terry Gilliam, including the sci-fi classic 12 Monkeys, The Zero Theorem, and the Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. He also cut last year’s superb mountain climbing disaster film Everest, which was shot by cinematographer and friend of Podcasting Them Softly Salvatore Totino. And we also learned about Sprocket Rocket Soho, an online networking organization for filmmakers, actors, and craftspeople, which he co-founded with his wife as a way of keeping open communication between various artists. Check out the site at Sprocket Rocket Soho   We hope you enjoy this fabulous hour of passion and cinema love!



Ten years in the making, Inception (2010) was the culmination of Christopher Nolan’s career up to that point in time. This film mixed the ingenious plot twists of his independent film darling Memento (2000) with the epic scale of his Hollywood blockbuster The Dark Knight (2008). It took the heist genre to the next level by fusing it with the science fiction genre as a group of corporate raiders steal ideas by entering the dreams of their targets – think Dreamscape (1984) meets The Matrix (1999) as if made by Michael Mann. While Nolan and his films certainly wear their respective influences on their sleeve – and this one is no different (2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, Heat) – there is still enough of his own thematic preoccupations to make Inception distinctly his own. This film continues his fascination with the blurring of artifice with reality. With Inception, we are constantly questioning what is real right down to the last enigmatic image.

Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his team extract thoughts of value from people as they dream. However, during his jobs, he is visited by his deceased wife Mal (Marion Cotillard), a beautiful femme fatale character that serves as an increasingly dangerous distraction from the task at hand. The film’s opening sequence does an excellent job establishing how Cobb and his team extract information from the dream of Saito (Ken Watanabe), a Japanese businessman, in a visually arresting sequence. He catches up with Cobb in the real world and offers him a new deal: plant an idea in Robert Fischer’s (Cillian Murphy) mind that will help break-up his father’s vast empire before it becomes too powerful, and do it in a way so that it seems like Fischer thought of it for it to work. This is something that has only been done once before and Cobb was the person that pulled it off but can he do it again? In exchange for completing the job, Saito will make the necessary arrangements so that Cobb can return home to the United States where his children live but where he is also wanted by the authorities in connection with his wife’s death. So, Cobb recruits a literal dream team of experts to help him pull off the most challenging job of his career.

delves into all kinds of aspects of dreams as evident in a scene early on where Cobb explains how they work, how to design and then navigate them. While there is a lot of exposition dialogue to absorb during these scenes, Nolan also keeps things visually interesting at the same time. This is arguably the most cerebral part of the film as he explores all sorts of intriguing concepts and sets up the rules for what we’ll experience later on – pretty heady stuff for a Hollywood blockbuster. And when he isn’t examining fascinating ideas, he’s orchestrating exciting and intense action sequences. There’s an incredible sequence where Nolan juggles three different action sequences operating on three different levels of dreams that are all impressively staged while also a marvel of cross-cutting editing. He anchors Inception with the character of Cobb and his desire to return home to his children while also dealing with the death of his wife. It gives the film an emotional weight so that we care about what happens to him. It also raises the stakes on the Fischer job.

Cobb continues Nolan’s interest in tortured protagonists. With Memento, Leonard Shelby tried to figure out who murdered his wife while operating with no short-term memory. Insomnia (2002) featured a cop with a checkered past trying to solve a murder on very little sleep. The Batman films focused on a costumed vigilante that waged war on criminals as a way of dealing with the guilt of witnessing his parents being murdered when he was a child. With The Prestige (2006), magician Robert Angier is tormented by the death of his wife and an all-consuming passion to outdo a rival illusionist. Inception’s Cobb also has a checkered past and is haunted by the death of loved one. Leonardo DiCaprio delivers what may be his finest performance to date, playing a complex, and layered character with a rich emotional life. Cobb must come to terms with what happened to his wife and his culpability in what happened to her. DiCaprio conveys an emotional range that he has not tapped into to this degree before. There’s a captivating tragic dimension to Cobb that the actor does an excellent job of expressing so that we become invested in the dramatic arc of his character.

Nolan populates Inception with a stellar cast to support DiCaprio. The indie film world is represented by the likes of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy while also drawing from international cinema with Ken Watanabe and Cillian Murphy. Gordon-Levitt and Hardy, in particular, are stand-outs and their banter provides several moments of enjoyable levity during the course of this intense, engrossing film. And it wouldn’t be a Nolan film without his good luck charm, Michael Caine, making an appearance. As he has done in the past, Nolan plucks a once dominant actor from the 1980s, now languishing in relative obscurity – think Rutger Hauer in Batman Begins (2005) or Eric Roberts in The Dark Knight – and gives them a high-profile role. Inception gives Tom Berenger some well-deserved mainstream exposure after languishing in direct-to-video hell, reminding everyone what a good actor he can be with the right material.

Regardless if whether you like Inception or not, you’ve got to admire Nolan for making a film that is not a remake, a reboot, a sequel or an adaptation of an existing work. It is an ideal blend of art house sensibilities, with its weighty themes, and commercial conventions, like exciting action sequences. Capitalizing on the massive success of The Dark Knight, Nolan wisely used his clout to push through his most personal and ambitious film up to that point. With Inception, he created a world on a scale that he never attempted before and was able to realize some truly astonishing visuals, like gravity-defying fight scenes and having characters encounter a location straight out of the mind of M.C. Escher. It has been said that the power of cinema is the ability to transport you to another world and to dream with our eyes open. Inception does this. Nolan created a cinematic anomaly: a summer blockbuster film with a brain.



Public Enemies (2009) marked Michael Mann’s fourth foray into American history with The Last of the Mohicans (1992), The Insider (1999), and Ali (2001) being his previous efforts. The director got his start making documentaries and always been interested in achieving absolute authenticity in the depiction of the professions that his protagonists practice, be it safecracking in Thief (1981) or serial killer profiling in Manhunter (1986). Born and raised in Chicago, it is easy to see what drew Mann to the story of John Dillinger, a famous bank robber during the 1930s. He and his crew were the best of the best at the time and so, he certainly fits the kind of protagonist Mann is drawn to.

Public Enemies begins in 1933 during the golden age of bank robbery and Mann wastes no time getting into it as he opens the film with an exciting escape from an Ohio prison orchestrated by Dillinger (Johnny Depp) and his crew. Soon after, we meet FBI agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) in action as he takes down Pretty Boy Floyd (Channing Tatum) with a hunting rifle from an impressive distance. In no time at all, Mann has established the film’s protagonist and antagonist. They are smart, super efficient men of action that are single-minded in their respective goals.

Unable to get funding and criticized by his superiors, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) needs high-profile busts and enlists Purvis to find and stop the country’s Public Enemy No. 1 – John Dillinger. The more notorious he becomes the more this angers not just the FBI but also the Chicago mob because his actions put extra heat on them. There is a nice scene where he meets with a mob representative who basically tells him that he is a dying breed. The money he makes knocking over one bank, they make in one day through illegal gambling.

Mann demonstrates that he is a master at orchestrating action sequences. They are cleanly photographed and edited so that there is no confusion. You can always tell what is going on and who everyone is instead of the kamikaze, headache-inducing editing and slapdash camerawork in films by the likes of Michael Bay and McG. The shoot-out at Dillinger’s hide-out in Little Bohemia is the film’s show-stopping action sequence much like the bank heist in Heat (1995) and the nightclub shoot-out in Collateral (2004). It is powerfully executed and full of tension and excitement as well as an impressive display of firepower with the deafening blasts of tommy guns and shotguns.

Public Enemies reunited Mann with key collaborators, chief among them cinematographer Dante Spinotti who has shot his most memorable films (including Manhunter, The Last of the Mohicans, Heat, and The Insider). Mann has come under considerable criticism for making the move to digital cameras and even more so with Public Enemies because it is a period film and audiences are used to seeing them done on traditional film stock. However, it looks great with crisp, clear images, especially at night where there is an impressive depth of field. Certain scenes have a graininess to them inherent with digital cameras but, in this case, it gives a tangible, gritty texture that works. There are some truly beautiful shots in this film, like one in which a car carrying Dillinger and his crew hurtle down a road surrounded by a vast forest of trees that tower over them.

Mann is also reunited with composer Elliot Goldenthal who worked on Heat. Since The Last of the Mohicans (1992), Mann has relied on soundtracks comprised mostly of disparate tracks from various sources. Being a period piece, obviously Public Enemies really doesn’t lend itself to that kind of a soundtrack and Goldenthal expertly augments the drama that unfolds in various scenes, creating one of the best scores in a Mann film to date.

The attention to period detail is fantastic with classic trains, cars, and classic gangster iconography like tommy guns, fedoras and trenchcoats permeating the film. Mann really immerses us in the time period but not in a way that calls undo attention to itself. It’s just there in the background of every scene with vintage period architecture. Ever the perfectionist, Mann shot on location, often at the actual locations that Dillinger and his gang frequented. Whether you are consciously aware of this or not, the film just oozes authenticity.

Dillinger certainly enjoys the fruits of his labor but is always planning his next job. He follows his own personal code: he doesn’t kill unless absolutely necessary and doesn’t think about the future, living only in the present because he could easily end up in jail or dead. He is also very conscious of how he’s perceived by the public, enjoying the notoriety his exploits create. Johnny Depp portrays him as a very confident guy who is always in control. There is often this mischievous glint in his eye like he’s in on a private joke. Depp plays Dillinger with a lot of charm, like when he addresses the media while being booked in an Indiana jail. He knows how to work the crowd and the charismatic actor is excellent in this scene. However, Public Enemies is not afraid to point out that Dillinger is no hero. The man has no problem with killing someone if they got in his way but the film goes to great lengths to point out that he did so only when there was no other option. Dillinger was clearly a man who didn’t believe in wasting time, much like Frank, the safecracker in Thief. Depp inhabits the role with his customary dedication, adopting a specific voice, accent and effortless delivery of period lingo that sounds natural and genuine.

Christian Bale is quite good as the very determined Purvis. While Mann doesn’t create the balance of cop vs. robber as he did in Heat, Bale has a significant amount of screen-time in the film. Like other law enforcement figures in Mann’s films, Purvis uses state-of-the-art technology, for the time, to track Dillinger and his crew. As determined as Purvis is, Mann allows some humanity to seep in, like when he stops the brutal interrogation of Dillinger’s girlfriend Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard) and personally helps her get cleaned up. It is this small moment that adds a welcome layer to his character.

There are all kinds of parallels between Public Enemies and Heat. In both films we are meant to sympathize with the bank robber. Also, the two leads only meet face-to-face in one scene. There is a climactic gun-battle where both sides take on significant casualties that alter the conclusion of the story. And, like McCauley in Heat, there is an inevitability to Dillinger’s life; that he will run out of time and luck; that Purvis and the FBI will close the net around him. That being said, Public Enemies is not a carbon copy of Heat. Personality-wise, Dillinger and McCauley are very different people with the former being a risk-taker and the latter being overly cautious. The same goes for the lawmen. Purvis is not the larger-than-life extrovert that Hanna is, but rather a no-nonsense man who gets the job done and that’s it. There’s even a loose cannon in the form of Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham) who is to Public Enemies what Waingro was to Heat. A psychopath that the bank robbers initially ally themselves with but end up cutting loose when he proves to be too unstable. Structurally, both films couldn’t be different as Mann continues to experiment with narrative structure in a fascinating way. This isn’t your typical, cookie-cutter A to B to C plotting, which may frustrate some (see Ali or Miami Vice) but if you the patience and can get into it, watching Public Enemies is a very rewarding experience.