Tag Archives: Christopher Nolan

Scorecard: July-October 2012

Four months at a whack here, but really, I haven’t been watching all that much, thanks to sleeping almost all of the time and lacking the attention span for more than 30-minute TV shows when I AM awake (see why here). Interestingly, all of my “loved” films this time around are 2012 films. That’s strange and weird to me, especially since I watched a few “unassailable” classics, but I’m being honest about how I felt about them at the time I watched them. Also, there’s a preponderance of new releases anyway since going to the theatre tends to keep me awake and engaged a bit more right now than watching films at home, so I’ve watched fewer films at home than usual.

What I Loved

Cloud Atlas

I’d heard everything from “mind-blowing masterpiece” to “vapid, messy drivel” about this film coming out of TIFF, so I had no idea what to expect when I went into it. As you may have guessed, I’m far closer to the “mind-blowing masterpiece” side of the scale; in fact, as of right now, it’s sitting atop my Top 2012 Films list. I read the book a couple of months ago in preparation, and I’m sure that affected how I received the film – I didn’t actually love the book, largely because I felt like it was more of an exercise in pastiche, more interested in proving David Mitchell’s chops at imitating different styles of writing and less interested in actually making meaningful connections between the different stories. The movie still has the different styles, but less pronounced (because it’s difficult to get such things as “19th century journal” and “epistolary novel” to translate to film stylistically), and the stories are all intercut with each other, a brilliant way to strengthen and highlight the thematic tissue connecting the stories. Putting the music of the Cloud Atlas Sextet front and center lends the film a symphonic quality heightened by the editing to create something that as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts, which is exactly what I was missing from the book. It’s rare to say, even for a non-book-purist like me, but in this case, the movie is easily better than the book – quite a statement especially for a book that many people have long considered unfilmable. Well done.

2012 USA. Directors: Andy & Lana Wachowski & Tom Tykwer. Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Doona Bae, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, James D’Arcy, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon.
Seen October 27 at AMC Burbank 16.

The Master

I came into The Master with some trepidation, since I’m just about the only person on earth who really disliked There Will Be Blood, and I wasn’t sure if PT Anderson could get back on my good side or not. Thankfully, he did, and while I would say I only “really liked” The Master when first leaving the theatre, thinking back on it and talking about it has raised it my estimation a LOT. I might still like Magnolia (see below) a bit better of PTA’s films, but it’s close, and so far The Master is probably the best movie of the year for me. The interplay between Phoenix and Hoffman is incredible – two actors at the top of their game, playing off their very different styles (and very different characters) against each other. Amy Adams holds her own as well, which I didn’t expect. And the jittery camerawork/focus underscores the story – really, the character study – perfectly. Images, lines, contrasts, outbursts, quiet moments – they’ve all come flooding back to me without warning over the weeks since I saw the movie, and that’s what I call a sign of a great film. Great enough I might be willing to give TWBB another chance. We’ll see.

2012 USA. Director: Paul Thomas Anderson. Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams.
Seen September 15 at Arclight Hollywood.

Argo

With Argo, Ben Affleck cements his career as a director even further, proving that while many of us have lost faith with him as an actor, when he’s behind the camera, he can do little wrong. This time he’s in front of the camera as well, which worried me a little (I didn’t see The Town, which also had him as actor-director), but he comes through in both roles. Taking a side story from the Iran Hostage Crisis of six Americans who managed to escape the embassy and hide out in the Canadian ambassador’s house, Affleck plays an extraction expert whose crazy plan to get them out involves a fake movie for which they will be the fake scouting crew in Tehran. The film’s seemingly unwieldy combination of real-life political thriller (which is highly tense and dramatic) and Hollywood show biz story (which has a good deal of comedy) comes together perfectly, while Affleck and Co’s eye for period ’70s detail puts him right up there with Soderbergh. An old-fashioned thrill ride with a great cast.

2012 USA. Director: Ben Affleck. Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea Duvall, Scoot McNairy.
Seen October 13 at AMC Burbank 16.

Looper

This has been my most-anticipated film ever since I first heard about it more than a year ago, thanks to my abiding love for Rian Johnson films (I loved Brick more than The Brothers Bloom, but they’re both really good), Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and time travel. I successfully avoided almost all the marketing for it, so I went in pretty cold, and I’m glad I did. The story is more about Gordon-Levitt’s character development (thanks to the incursion of his future self in the form of Bruce Willis) than time travel itself – in fact, Johnson actually wisely refrains from getting into the nitty-gritty of the time travel, which keeps the focus squarely on the characters, and I liked that. There are a few plot holes if you analyze the time travel too deeply, but I don’t think they ultimately matter in terms of the character-focused story, and the combination of character drama and action flick with just a touch of sci-fi works really well.

2012 USA. Director: Rian Johnson. Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels, Paul Dano, Piper Perabo.
Seen September 29 at AMC Burbank.

Premium Rush

Bike messenger Joseph Gordon-Levitt rides his bike around NYC at breakneck speeds, trying to deliver a life-or-death package, avoid the dirty cop trying to catch him, the real bicycle cop he pissed off, and fight a rival bike messenger for the affections of his girlfriend. And it’s pretty much non-stop adrenaline from start to finish. That’s about all you need to know. This is an old-fashioned B-level genre movie, and it hits every note right. Sure, it’s got nothing deep going on, but it doesn’t try to be any more than it is and for 85 minutes of pure fun, this kind of thing is hard to beat for me. And Michael Shannon is awesome in this kind of no-holds-barred role (he’s always awesome, but he’s all kinds of fun when he really lets loose).

2012 USA. Director: David Koepp. Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez, Sean Kennedy.
Seen August 8 at AMC Burbank.

Continue reading Scorecard: July-October 2012

Multiple Possibilities at One Time

A few weeks ago I was talking about Christopher Nolan’s Inception with a friend who had just seen it (this is a common occurrence – kudos again to Mr. Nolan for making a blockbuster film that is so imminently discussable and compels people to want to think about it and talk about it after seeing it). I haven’t seen it since opening weekend in theatres, so in some ways I’m not as well-equipped to discuss the question of the ending and what it means for the reality or non-reality of the rest of the film as those who have seen it more recently or more often, but even from the first time I saw it I found the question of “which parts were a dream” and “whose dream was it” and “is he still in a dream” interesting not because I enjoyed trying to figure out the answer, like a puzzle, but because I think the film invites multiple interpretations that are all supportable. Close reading the film, studying each frame, etc. to try to figure out what really happened is far less intriguing to me than the multiple possibilities the film seems to allow.

I was trying to explain this to my friend, that I thought it was less interesting and perhaps not worth it to try to answer those questions, but in the discussion I almost inadvertently allowed that yeah, there probably was one real answer, though we couldn’t really know what it was, because the film is so well constructed for ambiguity that at least three or four interpretations are supportable. I want to take that back, maybe not for Inception, because Inception is also constructed as a puzzle film and Nolan is enough of a left-brain filmmaker that a determinable answer isn’t out of the question, but for film in general.

I ran across the two-paragraph quote below on Jim Emerson’s excellent scanners::blog, always a great source for in-depth film criticism, talking about the recent Abbas Kiarostami film Certified Copy. For context (and this description has spoilers, but the film doesn’t depend on its secret), the film is about an author, James, who wrote an art criticism book. While on a promotional tour in Italy, he meets Elle, a woman who has read the book and wants to discuss it, but doesn’t totally agree with him. They meet to talk, start getting to know each other, and then suddenly in the middle of the film start acting like they’ve been married for several years. The film never reveals whether they’re really strangers or really married, and Emerson suggests that trying to figure out whether they are or not is not useful. The comments to his post have people both adamantly sure they are strangers and adamantly sure they are married. I prefer Emerson’s stance – focusing on the facts of their particular relationship distracts from focusing on the truths of relationships and art that the film is really about (my full review is here). Here’s the relevant quote:

So, I’ll just chime in here to say that I think these are both good answers to the wrong question. Or, one that isn’t worth answering definitively, because it offers only binary options, and the movie requires that you hold multiple possibilities in your head at the same time. What you see is what happens in the movie. There is no “reality” apart from what is there. (Mr. Scorsese, please: “Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out.”) You don’t look at Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and say: “Well, that dinner party is real, but when they’re walking down the road it’s a fantasy.” You don’t look at That Obscure Object of Desire and say, “The scenes with Carole Bouquet are the real ones, and the scenes with Ángela Molina are imaginary.” Where would that get you? You would be denying the essential movieness of the experience.

Sicinsky has his reasons, well-argued, for his point of view, but I think he’s closer to the mark when he cites Bordwell and says that the events depicted in the movie just don’t rigorously correspond to what we experience as viewers watching the movie. Look at James’s entrance: Late for his own lecture, he enters from the rear of the room and is immediately stopped by a woman and a boy, for whom he stops to sign a copy of his book — until the host asks people to hold off until afterwards. That woman is Elle and the boy is her son. How do we square that with the moment in the trattoria when James grills Elle (both of them adopting new, amped-up, soap-operatic acting styles) about the road accident she almost had when she dozed off at the wheel while their son was in the back seat? Well, we don’t. How can we? Why should we? They are married and not married, strangers and intimates. What’s unknown — that is, what is deliberately left out of the movie — is as important as what’s known. Perhaps, like Billy Pilgrim, these characters have come unstuck in time, or have slipped into multiple alternate universes (Glenn Kenny said the movie “can be seen as the first great science-fiction film of the year”).

The point is that cinema is what is on the screen. If it’s not on the screen, if it’s not ensconced in that frame, it doesn’t exist. You can conjecture, you can guess, you can infer, but in a very real way, especially in films that so carefully construct what they do and don’t reveal, you’re conjecturing about something that doesn’t exist in the film – not simply something that isn’t definitely knowable, but something that is not there. Film is not life; it creates its own frame of reference. It’s still fun to talk about what might be outside the frame, and some films are more amenable to such conjecture than others (for instance, many people conjecture that Sammy Jankis in Nolan’s Memento is, in fact, Leonard, and that conjecture, while probably not provable, is certainly believable and adds a layer of meaning to the film). Maybe Inception is one of these. But I find it more interesting to “hold multiple possibilities in your head at the same time,” even about Inception. The film may mean different things depending on which interpretation you choose – why can’t it mean ALL those things? That seems much deeper and richer to me than having to choose one and disregard the others when Nolan has done such a careful job of making multiple interpretations plausible. Is he just throwing red herrings at us, when he has one single interpretation and meaning in mind? Maybe. But I feel no call to match my mind to his. I think it’s great that his film has made me and so many other people think. But I have no desire to reduce those thoughts to a single “answer,” nor debate which answer is the best.