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Batman Begins (#110 of 8)

The Films of Christopher Nolan Ranked

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The Films of Christopher Nolan Ranked
The Films of Christopher Nolan Ranked

There’s an engimatic quality to the role of Christopher Nolan in the current filmmaking landscape, and one that stands apart from the fact that his films so often court ambiguity with explicit intent. From the Russian-nesting-doll antics of Inception to the magicians-as-filmmakers commentary of The Prestige, Nolan’s ambition within the realm of big-budget, broad audience spectacle is comparable to the likes of few. Among those, James Cameron comes to mind, and now Nolan joins the Avatar director with his own film about interplanetary travel, the logical next step for a filmmaker so concerned with world-building, literal and otherwise. Looking back at his work thus far, what emerges—apart from his obsession with identity, reality, community, and obsession itself—is an artist who, heedless of his own shortcomings, is intent on challenging himself, a quality that salvages and even inverts a great many of his otherwise pedestrian choices. One suspects that this is an artist still in his pupa stage, and one is also fearful that the near-unanimous praise heaped upon his work since his breakout hit, Memento, will only serve to keep him there. To wit, his latest film, Dunkirk, employs the kind of chronology-bending antics that epitomize Memento and Inception. Rob Humanick
 

Summer of ‘89: Batman

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Summer of ‘89: <em>Batman</em>
Summer of ‘89: <em>Batman</em>

Returning to Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman in light of Christopher Nolan’s recent, remarkably successful Batman trilogy turns out to be quite a fascinating experience—though, surprisingly, as much for their convergences in vision as for their divergences. Certainly, the stylistic differences are almost blindingly obvious: Burton the playfully macabre merry prankster, Nolan the deeply serious philosopher. And yet, both visions unmistakably flow from the same unsettling bedrocks: a world drowning in moral rot, one in which a self-appointed hero who takes the form of a human bat is, at heart, as deeply disturbed as the more overtly screwed-up villains he takes it upon himself to defeat. It’s just that these two artists view these characters and this physical and emotional world through different lenses.

The contrast is immediately apparent in the music. In stark contrast to James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer’s loudly generic bombast for the Nolan films, Burton opens his Batman with the operatic strains of Danny Elfman’s full-orchestra heroism, slyly suggesting the unabashedly heroic way Batman sees himself. After its opening-credit sequence, during which Roger Pratt’s camera roams around what is eventually revealed to be a metal Bat-Signal, Burton establishes his vision of Gotham City: an unabashedly surreal environment that owes more to the dystopian sci-fi visions of Metropolis and Blade Runner than to any of the notions of noir-ish realism that underpins Nolan’s films. Then there are the differing acting styles, with Burton’s actors generally eschewing the internal brooding that Nolan’s performers exhibit in favor of archetypal broadness. This style doesn’t just extend to Jack Nicholson’s galvanizing hamminess as the Joker, but also trickles down to its supporting players (William Hootkins’s wearily deep-voiced Lt. Eckhardt, Robert Wuhl’s enthusiastically pushy journalist, and so on).

Body of Work Kevin Costner, The Grizzled Patriot with a Liam Neeson-Style Comeback

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Body of Work: Kevin Costner, The Grizzled Patriot with a Liam Neeson-Style Comeback

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Body of Work: Kevin Costner, The Grizzled Patriot with a Liam Neeson-Style Comeback

In case you haven’t noticed, Kevin Costner is in the midst of what could be a major career resurgence. Before appearing in this past summer’s Man of Steel, which cast him as Superman’s adoptive father, Jonathan Kent, Costner hadn’t starred in a theatrical feature since 2010’s The Company Men (though he did pop up on the small screen in 2012’s History Channel miniseries Hatfields & McCoys). And before this year’s sudden glut of Costner fare, the actor hadn’t been ubiquitous since the 1990s, a decade that often saw him star in up to three films per year, and one that kicked off with Dances with Wolves, a western that nabbed seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director for Costner.

It’s easy to forget that Costner’s industry high point, at least as far as trophies are concerned, remains a historical frontier adventure, since he largely built his popularity around thrillers and sports movies. And now, it’s only natural that the three films spearheading his comeback are two C.I.A. actioners, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and 3 Days to Kill, and Ivan Reitman’s NFL dramedy Draft Day. All to be released before the end of April, the movies reflect Costner’s enduring professional hallmarks, as well as his unceasing ’Merican interests.

Critical Distance: The Dark Knight Rises

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Critical Distance: <em>The Dark Knight Rises</em>
Critical Distance: <em>The Dark Knight Rises</em>

Due in part to the late Heath Ledger’s iconic portrayal of the Joker, The Dark Knight’s huge box-office performance cemented writer-director Christopher Nolan’s interpretation of the Batman legend as a zeitgeist-defining spectacle. The three films in his Batman trilogy have aroused a wide range of responses, spanning such topics as the director’s aesthetic approach, the self-consciously realistic tone of the films, and even their political underpinnings. In fact, the bounty of critical conjecture and fan praise that followed The Dark Knight was in many ways more important than the film itself, which has become an indirect measure of success in our current age of blockbusters.

House Playlist: Crystal Castles, Hans Zimmer, & Echo Lake

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<em>House</em> Playlist: Crystal Castles, Hans Zimmer, & Echo Lake
<em>House</em> Playlist: Crystal Castles, Hans Zimmer, & Echo Lake

Crystal Castles, “Plague.” “I am the plague,” screams Alice Glass, as if encased in her namesake and trying to Björk her way out of the shimmering confines. Despite her claims (and lyrics that betray a villainous pity party: “Virgin cells to penetrate/Too premature to permeate/They can’t elucidate/Never thought I was the enemy”), if there’s actually an infection to be found in Crystal Castles’ “Plague,” it’s that hint of double-time breakbeat from the bass kick, which begins mutating about halfway through the track’s arena-ready horror show and continues to drive the usually staid-screaming Castles into something that almost passes for…funky? Go figure they would regard syncopation as something in need of lancing. Eric Henderson

Christopher Nolan: What Are We Watching, Exactly?

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Christopher Nolan: What Are We Watching, Exactly?
Christopher Nolan: What Are We Watching, Exactly?

“The mob has plans, the cops have plans, Gordon’s got plans. You know, they’re schemers. Schemers trying to control their little worlds.” —The Joker

Christopher Nolan is an artist. Just what kind of artist, and how much we should praise him for it, is another matter. No matter what anyone may say, he is no Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick’s films, despite their objectivity and reputation for coldness, were studies of characters. Nolan’s films, by contrast, are studies of plot. Indeed, you could say he’s an artist of plot.

This is both his great strength and great weakness. There is much to be frustrated about with his oeuvre: his incoherent action sequences, the endless Hans Zimmer percussion compositions, and his apparent inability to not kill his female characters. But there is no denying the extreme popularity of his films, both in box office grosses and the passion of fans. Indeed, the intense love of Nolan on the Internet is something both frightening and fascinating. Jim Emerson gives the summary of the brouhaha over Nolan’s latest film, Inception (see also Dennis Cozzalio and Roger Ebert). Essentially, a vocal group of fans believes it is wrong and ridiculous to suspect that Nolan is anything less than a genius.

5 for the Day: Control, Aught, Repeat

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5 for the Day: Control, Aught, Repeat
5 for the Day: Control, Aught, Repeat

Symptomatic of a compulsive streak in my nature, I’ve always been a tad obsessed with seeing the exact moment a digital display on a clock or cellphone clicks off a major milestone. For instance, I often feel a pang of frustration upon glancing down at a car’s odometer to see that it has advanced into a new hundred, thousand, ten thousand, or (heaven forbid) hundred thousand series without my noticing it. If you can recall the extra excitement exhibited ten years ago by New Year’s revelers as 1999 gave way to 2000 even though, technically, the millennium didn’t turn over until the following year, you may be able to empathize.

This probably explains why the cinematic “reboot” phenomenon of the 2000’s decade intrigued me more than it should. More extensive than simply changing lead characters, a reboot involves melting down the component parts of an established film franchise that has run its course and reforging them into a new, yet familiar vision. Successful or not, there’s something about the exercise itself that I gravitate toward. Of course, in addition to being obsessive, I’m also cynical. In my heart of hearts I realize that the decision to breath new life into an otherwise exhausted film series is made on commercial rather than artistic grounds. But that doesn’t mean reboots can’t be done well or aren’t worth the attempt.

Pulpy Fictions: Batman: Gotham Knight

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Pulpy Fictions: <em>Batman: Gotham Knight</em>
Pulpy Fictions: <em>Batman: Gotham Knight</em>

There are vast differences between the three mediums of Batman. In print, he is an icon, a brooding detective who tries to steep himself in realism but is always drawn into the fantasy realm of the DC Universe; in live-action, he is forever straddling camp with Adam West drinking milk, Michael Keaton scowling in a rubber one-piece, and Christian Bale convincing us, genuinely, that anyone can use his family’s fortune for a personal vendetta. But it is in animated form that the Batman mythos has become legendary. In a Dark Knight companion piece akin to The Animatrix, Warner Brothers today releases Batman: Gotham Knight, a six-episode omnibus featuring different teams of American writers and Japanese production houses, all to produce—well, it’s hard to tell what we’re supposed to get out of this.