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#1 Izo

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Posted 20 July 2010 - 06:43 PM

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In the last decade, no director has risen to the Hollywood cream of the crop as fast Christopher Nolan. A cinematic M.C. Escher, the British-born Nolan directed Following, his first feature film in 1996 at the age of just 26, and the film went on to win several festival awards around the world. It was his second feature film, however, Memento, that grabbed many moviegoers - myself included - by the throat. The film is a hard-focus noir that tells its story backwards, to some this was no more than a gimmick. Others found it absolutely necessary to tell the story the way it needed to be told. Indeed, it's impossible to say that the plot has the same effectiveness if you watch it in the chronological version that appears on the DVD release.

Following an unseen-by-me remake of the Swedish film Insomnia, Nolan directed the first of his Batman series, Batman Begins. At the time, it was the best film incarnation that the character had received. Appropriately dark and sinister and - like all of Nolan's films - with more than a touch of film noir, it's the film that for better or worse attached the "fanboy" base to his name. While an excellent film, particularly for fans of the character, Batman Begins features some of the most confusing and terrible action editing I've ever seen on a film of its budget. Additionally, it suffers from many of the same problems as other superhero movies that are burdened with having to establish its character's origin story, including underwritten characters and a general feeling of obligation through much of the first part of the picture. Once the story moves to Gotham City, however, things take off in a big way.

Nolan's latest three pictures, The Prestige, The Dark Knight and Inception are his best yet and show a mass-appeal artist at the absolute top of his game. All three feature Nolan's trademarks: labyrinthine plots, dark imagery, and most importantly a staunch refusal to condescend to his audience. Even when his plots become impossibly complicated, he trusts us to be able to follow along with them. The Prestige is a remarkable movie that focuses on the art of deception and illusion, a theme that runs throughout Nolan's work. Many feel, myself included, that The Dark Knight deserved a Best Picture Oscar nomination - and possibly a win. The more I consider it, the more I think that Inception is Nolan's best film to date. As I watched it, I was astounded by the fact that I wasn't confused at any point in the picture. I'd say that it's a sure-fire winner of the Best Screenplay Oscar, and at this point it's my favorite film of the year so far.

Nolan's films all tend to share flaws. He's never quite comfortable with female characters. Inception's lone female character, played by Ellen Page, is the strongest character in the entire cast, which to me negates the view of many critics that this is a "guys-only movie". However, Memento features only two females - one dead and one a manipulative femme fatale. The Batman films are worse, with the Dawes character (played first by Katie Holmes and then by Maggie Gyllenhaal) being the lone female role and feeling completely obligatory. First she is the innocent victim in need of saving and then she is the preaching love interest - in that order of importance. She is never less than irritating, though Gyllenhaal is far less so. Nearly all the supporting players in Nolan's films are underwritten, though. However, he does something quite clever to negate this with very smart casting choices. No one would have expected to see Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Michael Cain, Liam Neeson, or Ken Watanabe in a Batman movie, but in using these well-known and well-worn actors, he uses the baggage they bring to their rolls to his advantage, giving them an artificial depth that is quite brilliant in how well it works.

One of Nolan's greatest paradoxes, though, is that in his greatest strength - his impossibly intricate plots - lies his greatest weakness - the plotholes that plague even his best films. Memento features a character with short-term memory loss that is searching for the killer of his wife, but it's never quite believable that he would remember she was dead in the first place. The Prestige, as good as it is, ties itself up in a nice little too-convenient bow. The Dark Knight opens with a brilliant heist sequence that ends with a schoolbus driving out of a band into heavy traffic - but with enough room for the bus to pull out without even stopping. The simple fact is, though, that his films are so exhilerating in their imagery, sound (Nolan is a master with sound editing), and plot that a sympathetic viewer can easily gloss over these glaring inaccuracies. I've never had any problem, at least. I personally find Nolan's smart blockbusters a breath of fresh air in a sea of summer remakes and adaptations of toylines and '80s cartoons.


Highly Recommended:

Following (Recommended by Scott)
Memento
Batman Begins
The Prestige
The Dark Knight
Inception


#2 sexy rancheros

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Posted 21 July 2010 - 12:39 AM

Would you care to give an example of Nolan being a master with sound editing? Honestly, I just thought the man laid each respective film's score on top of everything sound-wise.

I don't think his terrible direction of action is only limited to Batman Begins. I'll give you the heist scene in The Dark Knight, but other than that, the man can't establish a coherent sense of time and space in action sequences to save his life.

The film trends you pointed out in your last sentence are easy targets and I don't necessarily agree that a film that exhibits any of those traits is automatically worse or less original than anything Nolan is doing.

You're not exactly selling me on the idea that Nolan is a great director. I think my problem with him could best be described with a phrase you coined in your post, "artificial depth." The man clearly has ideas, but people have a tendency to give Nolan too much credit for these ideas just on the basis of, well, a lot of movies these days do not exactly exhibit an overt intelligence or pseudo-intelligence that his films tend to do. Take Memento, for example. I agree that tinkering with Memento's narrative structure would make it a lesser film, but I also think the way the film is structured is a gimmick. It'd be like taking the twist out of The Usual Suspects. It's the only thing the film really has going for it. Also, if the ending took place where it would if it was presented in a direct chronological order, the second half of the film would come across as merely filler since Memento's central theme comes to the forefront in that ending: we lie to ourselves in order to be happy. The ending is what you could describe as clever because instead of the film actually being about a search for the "truth" and justice, it actually ended up being about how this man wants to create his own "truth" and justice in order to be happy. I think Nolan is clever only in the fact he is able to mask his films with an air of profundity that they normally wouldn't have.

I'll post more thoughts on him and Inception in here later.
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#3 Izo

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Posted 21 July 2010 - 08:31 AM

Would you care to give an example of Nolan being a master with sound editing? Honestly, I just thought the man laid each respective film's score on top of everything sound-wise.


I'll try and go back to rewatch one or two of his films this week to be more specific. I believe that The Dark Knight is the one I was specifically thinking of.

I don't think his terrible direction of action is only limited to Batman Begins. I'll give you the heist scene in The Dark Knight, but other than that, the man can't establish a coherent sense of time and space in action sequences to save his life.


I'd disagree on the whole, but there are places where this is the case. Like I said, I think that Batman Begins is the worst offender. Do you have specific examples in mind?

The film trends you pointed out in your last sentence are easy targets and I don't necessarily agree that a film that exhibits any of those traits is automatically worse or less original than anything Nolan is doing.


Not automatically, no. For example, I think that Peter Jackson's King Kong is certainly one of the best mainstream films of the decade and better than the original. I don't think it's so easy to make an argument for G.I. Joe or Transformers, though.

You're not exactly selling me on the idea that Nolan is a great director. I think my problem with him could best be described with a phrase you coined in your post, "artificial depth." The man clearly has ideas, but people have a tendency to give Nolan too much credit for these ideas just on the basis of, well, a lot of movies these days do not exactly exhibit an overt intelligence or pseudo-intelligence that his films tend to do. Take Memento, for example. I agree that tinkering with Memento's narrative structure would make it a lesser film, but I also think the way the film is structured is a gimmick. It'd be like taking the twist out of The Usual Suspects. It's the only thing the film really has going for it. Also, if the ending took place where it would if it was presented in a direct chronological order, the second half of the film would come across as merely filler since Memento's central theme comes to the forefront in that ending: we lie to ourselves in order to be happy. The ending is what you could describe as clever because instead of the film actually being about a search for the "truth" and justice, it actually ended up being about how this man wants to create his own "truth" and justice in order to be happy. I think Nolan is clever only in the fact he is able to mask his films with an air of profundity that they normally wouldn't have.


Well, I don't think that Nolan is a great director. Certainly not yet, at least. But I do believe that if he keeps on the path that he's been on he will be looked upon that way. You actually say beautifully why I think Memento is such an excellent film: The film is about how "we lie to ourselves in order to be happy." He returns to this theme in Inception, though in that film it's posed more as a question. In any case, I think that's a pretty unusual and thought-provoking theme for any film to have.

#4 Scott

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Posted 23 July 2010 - 01:06 AM

Batman Begins on your HR list but not Following? I don't buy that shit.

#5 masterofoneinchpunch

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Posted 23 July 2010 - 12:04 PM

...I'd disagree on the whole, but there are places where this is the case. Like I said, I think that Batman Begins is the worst offender. Do you have specific examples in mind?
...


Inception also has a few scenes where the action is less-than-excellent (early chase scene first world, car chase dream state) and in many ways is quite similar to Michael Bay in jerky camera (hand-held) movement that does not go along with the movement of the action scene. Compare the San Francisco chase scene in The Rock to the one in the first dream state of Inception and you see enough similarities. The big difference is how Nolan works with the sequence though in a most impressive fashion especially at the end. His use of slow-motion becomes sublime and quite impressive.

Obviously I'm quite spoiled by the amount of action cinema I have seen in my lifetime. I've become quite picky on what I consider good/great and David Bordwell wrote a statement that I think sums up my feelings: "[filmakers] “give the scene energy” just by increasing the number of cuts in it. … The result has been action sequences that lack physical and pictorial coherence.”"

I'm one of the few that still prefer Burton's Batman (and Batman Returns; though this second admission has brought admonishment to myself mainly in the fanboy taunt of saying I suck and mentioning of my worth as a human being) to the Batman Begins (though I am quite impressed with The Dark Knight and need to rewatch this; as I mentioned in the past I hope to do a comparison between the similarities between Batman and Batman Begins).

Out of his work I have not seen Following (bought that yesterday) and Insomnia which I plan on getting soon.

I watched Inception yesterday and overall was quite impressed by it. While I really was somewhat suspect on the ending, unfortunately I knew it was coming; what I mean is that as the film was wrapping up that Nolan was going to put something in that was going to make you question the whole thing; ultimately I prefer an artifice of that nature to be done throughout the film; though I have liked that type of ending before such as in Being There but I digress, I thought the whole nature of the plot was intriguing to me.

One thought: will The Cell get more love :D. To me it is an underrated film that works on certainly similar lines to this film.
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#6 sexy rancheros

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Posted 23 July 2010 - 01:15 PM

I think pretty much all the action scenes aside from the bank heist in The Dark Knight have a convoluted visual sense, especially the armored car chase. I can't really get specific with that since I haven't seen it in a while. I think the snow dream in Inception up until they get in that building is pretty confusing. I think the problem I have with Nolan's action is that I hardly feel any tension or excitement just because I have no idea what's going on and how close people are from each other.

One of problems I have with Inception is I couldn't care less about the central conceit of the "dream-diving" or whatever you want to call it. I was pretty much against the film before I saw it just because of the previews, especially when it had lines like "Dreams within dreams." I don't feel bad about expressing by bias since the film didn't necessarily steer me away from this stance except for the bits with Marion Cotillard. There's nothing quite surreal or dream-like about the dreams except in that one dream where Ellen Page messes around with the structure of the world and Leo's haunted memory zone so Nolan's commentary about how the line between dreams and reality blur is kind of asinine just because he stacks the deck in probably the least interesting way imaginable: the dreams are essentially reality and not the other way around. Zero gravity is probably the only thing differentiating the shootouts and car chases from your typical Hollywood blockbuster, but even that is not much fun or inspired. The cross-cutting in the 45 minutes or so of the dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream sequence causes the film's pacing to slow down to a crawl. Did we really need to go back to the van falling in slow motion that much? The bright side of feeling like the sequence would never end is once they do the kick, it becomes pretty satisfying. The payoff of all that planning and maneuvering relieves the viewer from having to watch that damn van fall in slow motion for the next twenty minutes or so. I also think the film has zero tension when it took place in the dreamscapes. Sure, Nolan tries to heighten the suspense in the major dream sequence by making it possible for them to die if they get shot, but he doesn't really do anything with it other than have Ken Watanabe get shot almost instantly just so we can listen to more exposition about the nature and rules of the dream stuff once again. Also, the ending is pretty much designed for the worst type of conversation that consists of basically just either/or answers. It seemed like the most logical step to end a movie about dreams on, but it still doesn't mean it's not idiotic in its attempt at provoking thought.

I'll probably go into specifics about why I think Shutter Island is a better haunted Leo film than Inception later on. I'll make sure to do spoiler text for that one.
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#7 Izo

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Posted 23 July 2010 - 04:35 PM

Note: I haven't seen Following in a long time, and I didn't much care for it when I did. It's due for a revisit.


Virtually every criticism towards Nolan and his films in this thread has been completely valid, and yet I was never bothered by them at all. One of the things I did love about Inception (and I am among those that found the ending perfect) is that it turns Nolan's narrative flaws into logical extensions of the plot. You mentioned the snow-dream, Ranchero. Just as an example, but there's no sense of logical time and space simply because it's a dream. It is a cop out? Probably, but it also seems pretty hard to argue against, to me at least.

#8 Izo

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Posted 23 July 2010 - 04:45 PM

Spoiler


#9 masterofoneinchpunch

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Posted 23 July 2010 - 04:56 PM

some small Inception spoilers so beware:

I was pondering whether that the dreams should be more surrealistic or not, but I was thinking that it is not set up that on purpose. The architecture of the dream is set-up to contain a reality universe so that the subject than only projects "reality" concepts from his/her subconscious (it is interesting in this film that the architecture is a mixture of a true architect and what is known as a software architect but I digress). Early on I was expecting more unnaturalistic things to appear, but I felt fine with the projected reality of the different levels and how it was shown in this film. I do think Nolan could have made it a little more surreal much like the elevator sequence (going down... Johnny!; Angel Heart reference) and how that was used. It could even be argued that going down an extra level was a bit too much as well (more interesting that the third level; another software engineering concept of recursion here with the help of a "kick" to get out).

I think as you get older you might want to do a recursive loop down several levels so basically you could live the length of a God the further down you go. No stinkin third level. Heck you could program entire libraries and consume them and come out (well like Matrix) with massive knowledge.

It is not a perfect movie, but it kept me interested throughout though. I will try to get to Shutter soon to compare the two (I also bought that yesterday along with the Following).
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#10 Izo

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Posted 23 July 2010 - 05:02 PM

It's very interesting that DiCaprio - who I believe is one of the best actors around - chose to play essentially the same character twice in one year.

The way the dreams were shown never bothered me slightly. Is it what we normally think of in cinema as "dream-like" and surreal? No, but it wasn't really necessary to tell the story that Nolan wanted to tell.

#11 clydefro

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Posted 28 July 2010 - 12:54 AM

I've noticed that Nolan has a thing for pessimistic endings. I've not seen Following but everything after that, all of which I've watched when first released, leaves the viewer with severe unease. Maybe Insomnia was a cop-out but it was his first foray into studio filmmaking and that whole picture pales in every way next to the original. I think, given what Nolan has done in other films, that the ending for Inception isn't even that debatable. Seems pretty clear to me.

He also deserves a good bit of credit for tapping into unused areas of the modern cinemagoing audience. There's simply no one else making movies nowadays who can cater to the mainstream while still challenging them. In person, I found him to be oddly composed and that worried me a little, but his films, however clever they may or may not be, have been nothing less than refreshing and interesting.
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#12 Duke Togo

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Posted 28 July 2010 - 10:13 AM

^
Thinking on what you said about his pessimistic endings, and the Insomnia remake being a cop-out, it is a little interesting that he altered Insomnia to let this version of Jonas Engström retain a bit more honor than in the original. I smell stinky studio influence. I do have to admit though that Pachino's character not being a complete bastard did seem to fall in line with Nolan's other protagonists. His flaw balance seemed to be about even with Leonard Shelby from Memento, quite similar actually, so Nolan may have just found this type of character appropriate.

#13 Izo

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Posted 28 July 2010 - 02:10 PM

He also deserves a good bit of credit for tapping into unused areas of the modern cinemagoing audience. There's simply no one else making movies nowadays who can cater to the mainstream while still challenging them. In person, I found him to be oddly composed and that worried me a little, but his films, however clever they may or may not be, have been nothing less than refreshing and interesting.


Absolutely! And this alone is enough for him to be the most interesting major Hollywood director working nowadays.

#14 sexy rancheros

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Posted 28 July 2010 - 02:14 PM

^Michael Mann would like a word with you.
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#15 Izo

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Posted 28 July 2010 - 02:19 PM

Michael Mann is an excellent filmmaker, but I don't have the same sort of gut reaction to his work that I do Nolan's.

#16 masterofoneinchpunch

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Posted 30 July 2010 - 05:47 PM

Inception Infographic Great image here. Warning it is a spoiler so I just attached a link to it.
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My Criterion Collection (408; I Own and Have Watched):
1-16, 18, 19, 20, 21(2nd), 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51(1st & 2nd), 52, 52, 53, 53, 55, 56, 57, 58, 61, 62, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86. 87, 88, 90, 91, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 105, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 113, 114, 115, 116, 117, 118, 119, 121, 124, 125, 126, 127, 128, 129, 130, 131, 133, 134, 135, 136, 137, 138, 139, 140, 141, 143, 145, 146, 147, 148, 149, 150, 151(1st), 157, 158, 159, 160, 161, 164, 165, 167, 168, 169, 170, 171, 172, 173, 174, 175, 177, 180, 182, 183, 184, 185, 186, 187, 188, 189, 190, 193, 194, 195, 196, 197, 198, 199, 201, 202, 204, 205, 206, 208, 209, 210, 211, 212, 213, 214, 216, 217, 218, 219, 220, 221, 222, 224, 226, 227, 231, 232, 233, 234, 235, 237, 239, 239, 240, 241, 242, 243, 244, 245, 246, 247, 248, 249, 250, 251, 252, 253, 254, 255, 256, 260, 263, 266, 267, 268, 271, 273, 274, 275, 276, 277, 280, 281, 282, 283, 284, 285, 286, 288, 289, 290, 291, 292, 293, 294, 297, 298, 300(2D), 301, 302, 304, 305, 306, 308, 309, 310, 311, 312, 313, 314, 315, 316, 317, 318, 319, 320, 321, 322, 323, 324, 325, 326, 327, 328, 329, 330, 331, 332, 335, 336, 338, 339, 340, 341, 342, 343, 344, 345, 346, 347, 348, 349, 351, 352, 353, 354, 357, 358, 359, 362, 363, 364, 365, 366, 367, 368, 369, 370, 371, 372, 373, 374, 375, 376, 378, 379, 380, 383, 385, 386, 387, 388, 391, 392, 393, 394, 395, 396, 397, 398, 399, 402, 404, 405, 408, 409, 410, 412, 413, 414, 415, 416, 417, 418, 419, 420, 421, 422, 424, 425, 427, 428, 429, 430, 431, 432, 433, 434, 435, 437, 439, 441, 445, 446, 447, 448, 451, 453, 455, 456, 457, 459, 460, 461, 462, 465, 470, 475, 476, 478, 481, 482, 487, 490, 497, 498, 499, 500, 501, 503, 505, 512, 524, 525, 526, 528, 529, 530, 531, 539, 540, 543, 556, 565, 572, 578, 579, 580, 586, 596, 650, 664, 677

Previous Editions: 2,
Eclipse: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, 13, 15, 16, 23, 26, 33

“Empty your bladder of that bitter black urine you call coffee.” – The Tick

My HK movie reviews
My Amazon Reviews

#17 Opale

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    Adante con molto

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Posted 30 July 2010 - 06:13 PM

It's very interesting that DiCaprio - who I believe is one of the best actors around - chose to play essentially the same character twice in one year.

Well, play in a Scorsese plus in a Nolan Movie in the same year must pay a couple of rent months...

I might go watch Inception later tonight or this week since the critics are pretty good and it plays in original version(!)...

#18 sexy rancheros

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Posted 30 July 2010 - 06:21 PM

I think this is interesting.

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#19 Izo

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Posted 30 July 2010 - 07:58 PM

Inception Infographic Great image here. Warning it is a spoiler so I just attached a link to it.


That...just...makes my head hurt.


Ranchero: I was going to post that as well. It's a very clever way to play on the film's relationship of time through music.

#20 sexy rancheros

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Posted 30 July 2010 - 08:38 PM

Well, I was mainly thinking it was clever due to Marion Cotillard being known for her Oscar-winning performance as Edith Piaf.
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