High and Low Podcast: Christopher Nolan

Hello all, welcome to our new biweekly podcast focusing on our discussion of a new director every episode. We go over their highs and lows, dissecting their filmography all for you lovely people to listen too. This week we go over one of my favorite directors, Christopher Nolan.

Famous Filmmaker : Forgotten Film | Christopher Nolan : Insomnia

This will be the first in a weekly series of articles aimed at unearthing the often great films of well known directors that are rarely discussed when considering their filmographies. While the goal of this series is to raise awareness and draw attention to these films, it will also serve as an opportunity to recommend some really terrific movies that have sadly been overlooked in recent years.

Insomnia

Fifteen minutes into Nolan’s third feature length film, it seems apparent why this is the least discussed movie in his filmography. Will Dormer (Al Pacino) and Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan) and the other guy are two LA detectives called up to the small town of Nightmute, Alaska to investigate the brutal murder of a 17 year old girl. The film has all the markings of a typical slow paced detective thriller, substituting the dim streets of Los Angeles for the well lit backdrop of the rural Northwest in summer, where there is daylight twenty four hours a day. However, while tamer than his later works, Insomnia still reflects Nolan’s penchant for twists within his films, as the film shifts focus as Dormer descends into madness and paranoia. Dormer is under review back in LA for potentially unsavory actions he took while conducting investigations back home, and matters are made worse when he is forced to cover up a murder he commits while pursuing his Alaskan suspect, all while losing night after night of sleep to the harsh, blinding Alaskan sunlight.

Nolan is often lauded for his keen visual style, and though traces of this can be seen in his previous films Memento and The Following, Insomnia is his first aesthetically stunning work. Due in no small part to Nolan’s career long cinematographer Wally Pfister, Insomnia is a spectacular in its visual coherence, as the camera work perfectly captures the mounting psychosis of Dormer as his sleeplessness drives him to the point of delusion. Pfister’s mark on the film is not limited to solidifying thematic ideas, the action scenes within Insomnia are tense, and kinetic, though one chase scene across a port used by Alaskan logging companies seems stand out as a definitive high point.

In addition to Insomnia being Nolan’s most cohesive film, as it avoids the unresolved, lofty ideas that have proved themselves to be an underlying issue in his more recent films, there are myriad reasons to give this film the viewing it deserves. The script is strong and tight, drawing heavily from the Norwegian Insomnia that inspired this fantastic remake. Though Pacino shines in the majority of the film, Insomnia has a stellar auxiliary cast, including Hilary Swank as a naive Alaskan cop, and Robin Williams delivers a terrific performance as a local crime writer who becomes intertwined with Dormer as his sanity and morality slip through his fingers. I am the first to say that I am not a huge Nolan fan, but Insomnia is by far my favorite entry in this generally beloved filmmakers admittedly impressive filmography, and definitely well worth your time.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Rampant Cinemania: Man of Steel

 

This Week: Gabriel Vogel, Joe Holley, Albert Cantu, and Andrew King

https://simplyfilm.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/man-of-steel.mp3

Show Notes:

Before Trilogy: 0:50 – 2:48

Various Cartoons (Albert Gets Married): 2:52 – 4:08

Upstream Color: 4:21 – 6:05

Brief Interviews With Hideous Men: 6:06 – 8:14

This is the End: 8:15 – 10:00

Andrew’s a great host #sarcasm: 10:00 – 10:20

Man of Steel: 10:20 – 37:39

The Dark Knight Rises: Batman as the Absurd Hero…Almost

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With the runaway success of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, millions of people were unwittingly exposed to a long standing and particularly relevant philosophical principal; that of the absurd hero. Statistically speaking, if you’ve probably seen The Dark Knight Rises about three to four times at this point. I’m going to go ahead and assume, then, that what little plot spoiling there is to be done will be, for the most part, negligible.

At one point during the film, Bane confronts the physically broken Bruce Wayne in the depths of a prison before he initiates his master plan to destroy Gotham City from the inside. As ALL great villains inevitably do, Bane begins to monologue about how he intends to punish Wayne, as well as the people of Gotham, by leading them to believe that they still have a chance of survival. In other words, allowing them to retain the hope of salvation and watch as their hope is crushed and replaced with despair. This is indeed no new principal, and in fact goes back to the mythic lore of ancient Greece.

Gather ‘round, my children, and listen well to the sorry tale of Old Sisyphus, whom the Gods condemned to a fate worse than death!

Through a singular combination of circumstances which I will here omit for the sake of brevity, Sisyphus, the wisest of mortal men, knew that he was close to death and wanted to give his wife a test of love. He told her to throw his unburied corpse into the public square for all to see. As the story goes, his wife did as she was told, and Sisyphus awoke in the underworld and was angered that his wife cared more about following his orders than about his dignity. Curiously, Sisyphus obtained permission from Pluto, lord of the underworld, to travel back to Earth in order to chastise his wife. When Pluto reached Earth, however, his love of the sparkling sea and the clear sky and the shining sun was reawakened within him. Sisyphus stayed on Earth for many years, truly enjoying the beauty that life had to offer, until his audacity angered the Gods and they threw him back into the depths of the underworld, where his eternal punishment awaited him.

In the underworld, Sisyphus was condemned to roll a boulder up a mountain and upon reaching the precipice, it would roll back down to the bottom. The whole operation was to be repeated for all eternity with no hope of escape.

When we look at Sisyphus’s fate, we no doubt see a tragedy, but it is only a tragedy if Sisyphus believes that he can escape.

Sisyphus’s walk back down the mountain to where his rock lay waiting for him was of particular interest to a philosopher named Albert Camus. He believed that when Sisyphus began to walk back down the mountain again, Sisyphus endured his fate without yielding to it. In other words ABIDED it. Does this sound familiar to anyone?

Let us now return to Bruce Wayne, broken and scared at the bottom of a pit. Bane was right as he stood over the fallen warrior in that hopeless place; he knew that to give the people of Gotham hope of survival while snatching it away at the last moment like a mirage oasis to a lost man in the desert, would be the perfect, soul-crushing finale to Gotham’s demise. Not only was Bane after Gotham’s physical destruction, he also sought the destruction of its collective heart, mind, and soul.

Alas, this is where my carefully constructed comparison breaks down. Bruce Wayne does not give up hope of escape and eventually rebuilds his body as well as his broken psyche. And why is he able to achieve this incredible feat? Because he’s fuckmothering BATMAN, ok? Shut up.

Sorry. Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that hope is, and forever will be, a powerful and dangerous force. Will you embrace your hopeless, absurd fate and abide it, like Sisyphus? Or will you retain your hope until the bitter end, like the people of Gotham?

Food for thought! 🙂

P.S. I’m in need of some more movies to analyze! Does anyone have any titles that they’d like to see me do? Leave a comment!

The Dark Knight Rises Review

The superhero flick has become a bit of a redundant genre in the past ten years. Since the turn of the century, countless iterations of caped crusader films have hit Hollywood, a great number of which were forgettable CGI-based action thrillers.

That is, until director Christopher Nolan (InceptionMemento) got his hands on the Batman franchise. Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008) helped redefine the superhero thriller with highly cerebral themes and a clear layer of subtext. Not to mention, Heath Ledger’s Academy Award winning turn as the Joker in the saga’s second installment has been hailed as one of the best supporting performances in film history. The Dark Knight Rises concludes the trilogy in tremendous form, living up to the prequels with a phenomenal cast, excellent writing, and great direction.

The film seems to be more of an ending to the trilogy rather than a stand alone sequel like Dark Knight. The addition of Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) brings a fresh element to the series. Rather than focusing on Batman’s “lone wolf” persona, Nolan chooses to make him a part of a much greater effort against the film’s major antagonist, Bane (Tom Hardy). The script, while not the masterpiece that the second film was, is very strong. Catwoman’s character regrettably feels underdeveloped at times, and I found myself occasionally wondering whether she was there only to add variety or whether her character was actually essential to the development of anyone else. The major conflict of the film is pretty standard, featuring a masked maniac intent on destroying Gotham city, and the many cameo appearances by characters from previous films makes for a complex and intelligent plotline. Nolan’s directorial genius shines through, with well choreographed action sequences and cinematography on par with the first two films.

Christian Bale has always seemed like a strange choice for Batman, but he has used his intensive Method style to bring the character of Bruce Wayne full circle. Anne Hathaway brings Catwoman to life more than anyone who has played her previously. The supporting cast features Joseph Gordon Levitt in a little advertised but highly prominent role as a young police detective, and brings back Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine to serve as Bruce Wayne’s faithful associates. Tom Hardy’s Bane is both intimidating and vindictive.

The trilogy’s conclusion ties up loose ends nicely. Most characters reach an emotional climax (though, again, Catwoman’s role as far as plot development is concerned seems questionable.) Audiences will enjoy the nod to the comic books, and the addition of some key batman figures adds depth and variety. Nolan has done it again: a dark Batman thriller that always has substance below the surface.

Rating: 4 out of 5