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.

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American Ultra

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Despite its marketing campaign, American Ultra is not a stoner film. Instead, the characters and ideas within the film appear to be more half-baked than anything else. Jesse Eisenberg stars as Mike Howell, your average under-achieving stoner, who spends his days getting high, working at a convenience store, and talking about a comic series he would like to write but never does. He lives with his girlfriend, Phoebe (Kristen Stewart), and while the two have decent on-screen chemistry, the fact that she is so interested in him is baffling to the audience until they are well into the film.

The premise is that Mike is a sleeper-agent for the US government but doesn’t know it, and when CIA officials decide to terminate the ‘ULTRA’ program he is part of, he must run around a small town with his girlfriend trying to survive with little more than instinct and whatever makeshift weapons he can cobble together. While this premise promises a slick, unlikely hero action-thriller, instead it just slogs along, regurgitating things that have been done better in previous films and adding new material to this Bourne-style premise, but still never seems to hit the mark. 

As the film starts, American Ultra establishes itself as part of a long tradition of lazy writing that often pervades bad movies. In rapid-fire succession, Ultra incorporates some of the worst impulses of bad screenwriters. The film is told in the form of a pointless frame narrative, immediately diving into an exposition dump in which Eisenberg explains his character’s backstory, motivations, and relationship with Stewart. He’s planning on proposing in Hawaii, but they miss the flight thanks to one of Mike’s anxiety attacks. On the drive home, he apologizes and explains that he thought he could overcome the anxiety attacks. This is the first of many times that characters feel the need to explain what’s happening on-screen directly to the audience, undercutting any effective moments in the film by assuming that we’re having trouble understanding the remarkably straight-forward story. This is all coupled with how insane all the characters act, but the movie takes itself too seriously for these actions to seem comedic.

While there is a lot to be critical of, there are a few small things to like here . The auxiliary cast is full of actors I enjoy–Tony Hale and Walton Goggins in particular–some of whom give decent performances or ham it up to the point of making this film almost entertaining. A few of the jokes in the film do hit, but this seems more due to Eisenberg’s acting chops than anything else. The one thing I did genuinely like about American Ultra is the cinematography. Though the action scenes are fairly boring, this movie is actually quite pretty in parts, and shows that at least a few people working on this film were determined to make it a good one.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5

Afterschool: Never Forget

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In all of our lives, we must constantly deal with the omnipresent question of what is real and what is fake. Never has this clash of realities been more relevant than with the dawning of the internet. It’s a tool that presents us with unlimited power and knowledge, but also in that comes the herculean task of deciphering it all. In the hands of a young person, this can be both crushing and mind altering at times.

Antonio Campos in his 2008 film, Afterschool, presents us with this struggle in the form of his protagonist Robert, a young boy sent off by his family to a wealthy New England boarding school. During his time there he preoccupies himself with what he calls “little clips of things that seem real”. In his mundane life, he sees these videos of violence and sex as a portal through which he can glimpse something authentic. In many ways, they alter his young mind’s understanding of what is real in the first place.

While filming some stock footage in one of his school’s hallways for his video class he discovers something far realer than he could have ever expected when he discovers the two most popular girls in school as they suffer a horrible reaction to rat poison laced cocaine and die right in front of his eyes, one bleeding out in his very arms.

This tragedy obviously causes quite a few ripples throughout the school. As much as everyone is torn up about their deaths, what truly seems to bother everyone is how lost they are in actually understanding and dealing with these girl’s untimely demise. Most of all the reaction of the school and, in particular, its principle, Mr. Burke, deftly played by Michael Stuhlbarg, seems most perplexing and cold.

Mr. Burke recognizing Robert’s position in the school’s video class gives him the responsibility of making the memorial video for the girls, in the hopes that it would help him deal with their graphic deaths. Along with this the school pushes everyone to go see the school counselor and talk about how they feel, then in most cases get handed a prescription for whatever pill will handle the symptoms of their internal traumas without actually addressing it. Robert as the one to first find the girls is sent to speak to Mr. Virgil. He is obviously quite out of sorts with the whole ordeal. He talks about the videos and the violent porn he watches and how he finds a reality in them that’s fascinating. An authenticity that’s missing from his own life where, as Mr. Virgil tells him, the school had been told about the dead girl’s drug problem and did nothing to help them, in the interest of keeping their rich parent’s money and support going.

Once Robert finished putting the video together for the memorial, he shows it to Mr. Burke who asks, “Was that serious Robert? That was the worst thing I’ve ever seen”. The video wasn’t quite what the school had hoped for. With no music, shaky camera work, and the raw sense of reality that Robert has been searching for through countless Youtube searches. It didn’t try to provide the false sugar coated narrative the school hoped everyone would guzzle down. Instead of idolizing these girls with cheap condolences and ignoring the elephant in the room that they are responsible for allowing things to escalate so far into tragedy, Robert’s video portrayed the reality of that elephant and all its unsightly blemishes. The school and those around him wouldn’t stand for this, though. They aren’t interested in the truth they’re just interested in the most convenient reality where they print “Never Forget” all over the memorial stage and paint it as just another forgettable tragedy. Nothing to learn here, just move on, take another pill. Robert does and so does everyone else, just like Mr. Burke and Virgil reminds Robert, “It’s everyone’s fault” “It’s no one’s fault”, forget.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Andrew’s Most Disappointing Films of 2013

With the film year coming to a close, and everyone finalizing their top ten lists, it seems like as good a time as any to not only talk about what we enjoyed this year, but what we didn’t. There were a lot of great films this year that caught my attention, and more than a few that I felt could have been great, but inevitably let me down. That is what this list is for. The movies I made people see on opening night because they looked promising, only to find out I was wasting everyone’s time. I think it’s important to note that these are in no way the worst films of the year, but the ones I had high hopes for that never really panned out.

5. Ender’s Game

 

To be fair I didn’t expect this movie to blow me away, but I had some hopes.  I really liked the book, and while I was wary after seeing the trailer, I thought they might be able to pull it off.  However, it didn’t really turn out, and I found Ender’s Game to be extremely generic with a quite poor sense of pacing.

4. Oz the Great and the Powerful

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This one kind of just bummed me out. It was a movie that didn’t come together at all, it felt disjointed and awkward, it tried to do too much and kind of accomplished none of it.  I am a huge fan of director Sam Raimi, and felt like he tried to save it, but between the bad writing and plotting, it kind of couldn’t be saved.

3. Only God Forgives

 

So, this is kind of a weird one for me because I actually was very excited for this movie, and liked it quite a bit. That being said, It is a terrible movie. It was bizarre, almost laughable at points, and makes next to no sense as a cohesive story. But hey, it looked kinda cool.

2. Kick-ass 2

 

I was surprised by the first Kick-ass movie, as it actually turned out to be a smart play on the super hero genre and an immensely enjoyable film. When I heard they changed directors for the second one, I still held on the the hope that they could once again capture lightning in a bottle. And boy was I wrong. This movie played out like a bizarre cross between the original film and Mean Girls, and all the clever bits from the first film were replaced with cheap bathroom humor, culminating in what might have been the worst scene of the year, where characters where actually vomiting and shitting themselves on screen.

1. Gravity

 

As for my radical opinion of the year, here it is. I sort of hated this movie. Alfonso Cuaron is easily one of my favorite directors, and this was by farm my most anticipated film of the year. Man, was it a let down. I expected something really special out of this, and instead felt like the plot was predictable, the characters were flat and I had trouble relating to them or caring about them at all. It was just one miraculous event after another as the characters narrowly avoid death, to the point where there’s no real danger of things actually killing the protagonist.

2 Guns: Rampant Cinemania Episode 14

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

Show Notes:

Fruitvale Station: 0:47 – 4:24

Kagemusha: 4:27 – 7:36

The Gateway Meat: 7:36 – 11:58

Shut Up Little Man: 11:58 – 16:09

Frankenstein’s Army: 16:09 – 19:39

2 Gunz Review: 20:14 – 43:03

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Audible link: http://www.audibletrial.com/simplyfilm

The Wolverine: Rampant Cinemania Episode 13

 

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

Show Notes

The World’s End 0:43 – 3:22

Lay the Favorite 3:22 – 6:24

The Conjuring 6:24 – 8:36

R.I.P.D. 8:36 – 11:56

The Late Quartet 11:56 – 14:25

The Master 14:25 – 15:55

The Way Way Back 15:55 – 19:42

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang 19:42 – 21:02

Hard Eight (Sydney) 21:02 – 23:30

The Wolverine 23:30 – 50:43

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Red 2: Rampant Cinemania Episode 12

 

This Week: Albert Cantu and Andrew King

Show Notes:

Grown Ups 2: 1:07 – 3:32

The Mummy: 3:32 – 5:19

The Kings of Summer: 5:19 – 8:07

Red 2 Review: 8:07 – 31:45

A very special episode with just Albert and I discussing the merits of Red 2, and the trend of unnecessary sequels.

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Audible link: http://www.audibletrial.com/simplyfilm