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The Dark Knight Rises (#110 of 39)

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).

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.

Box Office Rap The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and the No-3D Karma

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Box Office Rap: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and the No-3D Karma
Box Office Rap: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and the No-3D Karma

When a film is set to make the exorbitant amount of money that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire surely will this coming weekend, further lamenting the woes of global capital via cultural products will undoubtedly find little purchase among fans ready to see Katniss and Peeta unwillingly do battle yet again for (and against) the Capitol. Nevertheless, take note of Thelma Adams’s review, which details how “The Hunger Games has become a victim of its own success, co-opted by Hollywood, a rebel not without a cause, a money minter.” Adams’s attention to film-as-product engages a discussion of economics too often omitted from film reviews, especially when a film’s “call to arms” doubles as a “call to more ticket sales.”

This week, a more essential nerdist box-office question emerges: Can Catching Fire top the $207.4 million opening weekend of The Avengers without the support of 3D showings? And true to the spirit of this franchise, it’s only appropriate to evaluate the competitors in relation to this new, Francis Lawrence-directed entry. To recap, The Avengers opened on May 4, 2012 in 4,349 theaters (still the widest North American opening of all time) in IMAX 3D, regular 3D, and regular 2D, with a 40% 3D share, a number that helps to explain how the $169.2 million record previously held by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 could be so bracingly shattered. Earlier this year, Iron Man 3 took the second-highest opening with $174.1 million, with a similar 3D share as The Avengers. Much like Warner Bros. with The Dark Knight films, though, Lionsgate has elected not to dabble with 3D in hopes that the film’s quality will be all the pull needed to get audiences into theaters; it’s a decision that, while certainly forgoing the surcharge on each 3D ticket, retains a degree of integrity on the part of the studio, which isn’t trying to milk consumers for every last penny in their pockets.

Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actress

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Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actress
Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actress

Blergh. Weeks ago I dreamed a dream where all the particulars of my presently contentious relationship with Anne Hathaway, a typically smart and endearing performer who was robbed of an Oscar in 2009 for Rachel Getting Married, were manifest. At the actual Oscar ceremony, which resembled a standing room-only dinner party, I hugged Hathaway, who I referred to as my sister, as she paraded around in her Catwoman outfit, working the room with the same jacked-up excitement she exhibited days earlier opposite Chelsea Handler and Jon Stewart and hinting at all the things she’s going to do to her hubby once she gets home. Someone, probably Christopher Plummer, announces the winner in this category and the award goes to Sally Field, for illuminating through her two excellent meltdowns in Lincoln, one opposite Tommy Lee Jones, the other opposite Daniel Day-Lewis, the essence of the Steven Spielberg film as a study of the conflict between public and private modes of behavior in the arena of American politics. Shock ripples through the room, and while I should be sad for my sister, who puts on a predictably brave face, I can barely sustain my excitement at Oscar turning his beefed-up buttocks to a performance every bit as cloying as Anne’s contrived acceptance speech at the Golden Globes.

Poster Lab: The Best Movie Posters of 2012

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Poster Lab: The Best Movie Posters of 2012
Poster Lab: The Best Movie Posters of 2012

Honorable Mention

American Animal: It may be a stretch to dub American Animal “the best art film ever,” as Screen Junkies does in this poster’s hyperbolic pull quote, but that’s the only strike against an otherwise spot-on one-sheet, which nails this odd indie’s unlikely blend of grating quirk and classy undercurrent. As pink as the undies often worn by Matt D’Elia’s ailing antihero, the ad wreaths its wiry subject in handsome curlicues, and even throws in a lit fuse to hint at his volatility. The poster, like the film, finds common ground between the high- and lowbrow, the artful and the infantile. [Poster]

The Cabin in the Woods: The poster for The Cabin in the Woods is one of 2012’s few whose design instantly doubled as an unofficial logo, so much so that a later one-sheet needed only include the established graphic’s silhouette. The cabin-as-Rubik’s-Cube may seem obvious and simple, but it’s also perfect and universally legible, rightly promising a mad puzzle of a horror picture. The vintage model eventually produced by Mondo Gallery is notable for its M.C. Escher influences, but it misses the true triumph of this campaign: a deceptively indelible signature image, defined by twists and turns. [Poster] [Article]

Compliance: No matter how you felt about Compliance, a divisive thriller more or less about the loss of dignity, the film’s poster easily trumped its in-text missteps, huddling poor Dreama Walker in a corner and surrounding her with meaningful details. Amid that fine stack of critical endorsements lies the film’s title, whose “C” perfectly encircles Walker’s eye, driving home the sick scrutiny her character endures. Best of all is that whiteboard’s message of customer-is-always-right encouragement, urging fast food employees to dutifully “smile!” The by-the-book irony expertly communicates the film’s themes, arguably even better than the film itself. [Poster] [Article]

Oscar Prospects: Looper

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Oscar Prospects: Looper
Oscar Prospects: Looper

Does Looper have a prayer in the Visual Effects race, where tigers and hobbits and Avengers will be sprinting, neck-in-neck? Before the film’s release, the answer would have likely been a resounding “no,” as the throwback panache of Rian Johnson’s aesthetic isn’t even trying to compete with all the 3D bells and whistles of the spectacles above. But with a rapturous response from critics (RT score 94 percent and holding), Looper has the buzz and support to step into some serious contention, if not in the major races, then in tech areas that previously seemed beyond its reach. That is by no means to say the movie’s tricks are not impressive. A near faultlessly calibrated slice of futurama (err, future drama), Looper is 2012’s action flick to beat in terms of quality, and its old-school restraint has a contrasting lure that might make it a viable slot-filler (think the annual foreign trend in the Animation category). There must be scads of Academy members tickled by the dirty realism of a beat-up, flying crop-duster, or effectively unnerved by the rapid, Cronenbergian disappearance of a marked “loop’s” appendages. This wouldn’t be the title to declare where the industry stands today, but it would be the one to give the category an added touch of class.

Oscar Prospects: The Dark Knight Rises

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Oscar Prospects: The Dark Knight Rises
Oscar Prospects: The Dark Knight Rises

For those who thought 2012 would be the year in which the Academy made amends to Christopher Nolan, that auteur of urban spectacle whom many believe has twice been robbed of a directing nod, a certain mad gunman likely dashed those already slim hopes. Before James Eagan Holmes opened fire in a Colorado screening of The Dark Knight Rises, ultimately leaving 12 viewers dead, there might have been a chance for Nolan’s trilogy capper to at least crack the Best Picture shortlist, if not shuffle him into the running for Best Director. It wouldn’t have been the first time Oscar voters rallied around a beloved hopeful, anointing his latest work as a way to honor all of his recent output (which, it should be noted, has made gajillions of dollars for the industry). But many will probably prefer to make a statement with abstention, celebrating films that don’t stoke the fire of the whole too-much-violence-in-cinema argument. It’s absurd that a freak incident, albeit tragic, is causing such drastic Hollywood ripple effects (like the re-cuttingof the upcoming Gangster Squad), and it’s a bit of a shame that, on top of all else, such a nasty PR mess had to befall the folks at Warner Bros. But all that says nothing of the movie’s disappointing stance as the weakest of Nolan’s Batman epics. Even if there’d been no bloodshed beyond what appears on screen, The Dark Knight Rises likely wouldn’t have reached its expectations as a reparative honoree, making up for the 2008 Best Pic snub that allegedly revived the 10-wide field.