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Rescue Dawn (#110 of 4)

Box Office Rap Out of the Furnace and Christian Bale’s Body (of Work)

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Box Office Rap: Out of the Furnace and Christian Bale’s Body (of Work)
Box Office Rap: Out of the Furnace and Christian Bale’s Body (of Work)

As Bane raises Batman above his head and prepares to snap his back in The Dark Knight Rises, Bane postulates, “I was wondering what would break first: your spirit or your body!” The scene is faithful to the comic books for its “krakt” intensity, but also reflexive insofar as it speaks to Christian Bale’s acting career, which has been founded on consistent bodily transformation and, before donning the cape for Christopher Nolan’s franchise, a lack of commercial success that could have easily broken the actor’s spirit in becoming an A-list star. Yet, even after the Batman films, Bale’s financial viability removed from franchise confines remains questionable, and one wonders with Out of the Furnace opening this weekend if Bale’s name alone is enough to guarantee a $10 million opening.

Bale’s career began as a child actor in films like Empire of the Sun and Newsies, but it wasn’t until 2000’s American Psycho that he found a leading role that began to define his star persona. As Patrick Bateman, Bale’s slender, muscular body and strikingly handsome face were apparent enough, but perhaps more surprising was the ease with which the actor seemed to project Bateman’s affability-masking-psychopathy lifestyle, wielding an ax with the same quotidian detachment as when he visits the tanning salon. Roger Ebert said in his review of the film that “Bale is heroic in the way he allows the character to leap joyfully into despicability; there is no instinct for self-preservation here, and that is one mark of a good actor.” Audiences generally agreed, as the $7 million film grossed just over $15 million domestically.

The Conversations: Werner Herzog

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The Conversations: Werner Herzog
The Conversations: Werner Herzog

Ed Howard: In the introduction to Herzog On Herzog, a book of interviews conducted with German director Werner Herzog, the interviewer Paul Cronin writes about the curious weaving of mythology, exaggeration and legend surrounding his subject: the “astonishing” variety of “false rumours and downright lies disseminated about the man and his films.” It’s true; there are few directors who have gathered such an outlandish body of stories and wild myths around themselves. It’s not at all clear, however, why this is so, because there are few directors less in need of such legends than Herzog. In his case, the truth is strange enough, big enough, that there is no need to print the legend. So while Herzog may not have, as the story goes, directed the notoriously psychotic Klaus Kinski at gunpoint, he did threaten to shoot the actor if he tried to leave the set, and cheerfully admits that he once plotted to blow up Kinski’s house. He also made a potentially fatal trip to an island where a live volcano was on the verge of exploding, just to make a film (La Soufriére) about the nearly deserted and dangerous locale. This is a man who has had an entire steamship hauled up the side of a mountain in the middle of the Amazon rain forest (for Fitzcarraldo, of course). This is a man who was shot, on camera, in the middle of a BBC interview, and barely flinched. This is a man who made his first films with stolen cameras and stock, who has been jailed in several African countries, who cooked and ate his own shoe to satisfy a bet with the young documentary filmmaker Errol Morris.

Obviously, there is no need for exaggeration here, no need for legends. The unvarnished reality of Werner Herzog is already the stuff of myth, and it’s this outsized persona, this raw physicality, that runs like raging rapids through his prolific, sprawling filmography. His films are not the work of a daredevil or a madman, as is sometimes said, but they indubitably reflect his unique sensibility, his skewed way of looking at the world. He is drawn, again and again, to similar kinds of stories, to similar kinds of heroes, whether he finds them in the real world or creates them entirely in his fertile imagination. Indeed, there are few directors who have transitioned so fluidly back and forth between fiction features and documentaries: the two forms as essentially the same for Herzog, who never creates fiction wholly devoid of fact or a documentary wholly devoid of fiction. The Herzogian hero might be based on a historical figure, or might be wholly imaginary, or might be a real person subtly guided and shaped by Herzog’s aesthetic, but it’s fairly certain that he (it is almost always a “he”) will be at odds with the world, driven by mysterious and powerful inner motivations, possessed by strange ideas, and living outside of ordinary human society.

Herzog’s world is harsh and cruel, dominated by a violent natural order in which humanity’s place is precarious at best. His films are thus characterized by instability, by extreme emotions and actions, by desperation and suffering. There are few filmmakers who have nourished such a consistent oeuvre while tackling such a broad range of subjects and styles. Whatever Herzog’s subject, whatever the story he’s telling, it’s his sensibility that’s always at the center. During the course of this conversation, we’ll be exploring that sensibility in some depth, but for now I’ll just ask you: what do you see as the salient characteristics of Herzog’s cinema?

Oscar 2008 Nomination Predictions: Picture

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Oscar 2008 Nomination Predictions: Picture
Oscar 2008 Nomination Predictions: Picture

Ten months ago, before the dust of the last Oscar ceremony had completely settled, pundits were already calling Atonement this year’s best in show. It didn’t seem to matter that the film was still in post-production, only that it was set to open in December and starred an actress who could (easily) squeeze into a size zero. But something happened on the way to the forum: The film opens in the States and audiences more or less react to it the way professional Oscar pundits have told them to, only it gets the cold shoulder from critics groups and industry guilds alike, leaving the same pundits scrambling to figure out why it may now be shut out of the Best Picture race.

Ambassador of Love: Werner Herzog’s Rescue Dawn

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Ambassador of Love: Werner Herzog’s <em>Rescue Dawn</em>
Ambassador of Love: Werner Herzog’s <em>Rescue Dawn</em>

It’s all about love.

I went to a screening of Werner Herzog’s Rescue Dawn fighting off one of those desperately lonely, uncertain states we all find ourselves in at times. Two hours later, I came out of the theater flying, simply too in love with life to fret over some ground-level personal nonsense. Herzog’s film about torture and starvation is the feel-good movie of the summer.

Rescue Dawn, which opens July 4, draws from the true story of Dieter Dengler, the German-American fighter pilot shot down and captured in Laos in 1966. Dengler eventually got his fellow prisoners to assist in an escape that at first seemed impossible and pointless. In 1966, it was still possible to believe that an end to the Vietnam War was in sight—better to sit out the war in a prison camp until the anticipated American victory ensured their release. Dieter seemed to know better.