Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Theory vs. Practice

[Herzog] left the precipice to scale the higher peak across the valley. I followed him. After we started to climb the perilous spindle, however, Herzog ordered me to go back before I killed myself.

"Werner, this is not the way I'm going to die," I affirmed.

He stared at me knowingly, but Herzog was insistent, so I retreated. Herzog continued on, clinging to the bare cliff, his toes searching for inches of support. I called out to him.

"Herzog, what do you think of the auteur theory of filmmaking?"

"The what?" he replied while hugging the rocky cliff two thousand feet above the ocean.

"The auteur theory -- you know --"

"The auteur theory? I don't know what that is. What is the 'auteur theory'?"

"Forget it!"


"Forget it!"

-- From Alan Greenberg's Every Night the Trees Disappear: Werner Herzog and the Making of Heart of Glass, which is well worth your book-buying dollars.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

“You Must Become a Terrible Thought”: Nolan, Batman, and Hope

I’ve written quite a bit about Christopher Nolan over the years. (Again, go here read my review of The Dark Knight Rises for the Nashville Scene, or go here for some of the pieces I’ve written about Inception.) A couple of months ago, I wrote something for Vulture about the way that Nolan seems to weave his films around individual ideas, in which I also speculated about the potential themes in The Dark Knight Rises – which, needless to say, I hadn’t seen at the time. Having now seen the new film a couple of times, I’d like to talk a bit more about the ideas – or rather, the one main idea – behind it, and how Nolan presents it.

Some context: I said in that Vulture piece that “each of Nolan’s films is built around a single idea that eventually seizes control of the characters and, eventually, the film itself.” In Memento and The Prestige, for example, that idea seems to be identity. In Inception, it’s regret. In Batman Begins, it’s fear. And in Insomnia and The Dark Knight, it appears to be guilt.

Of course, the problem many writers have with Nolan isn’t so much that his films are devoid of ideas or themes, but that said ideas and themes tend to be blunt and inartfully stated. (For some very smart and very critical writing on Nolan's films, you should check out some of Jim Emerson's work.) Needless to say, I disagree. True, Nolan’s dialogue is often quite matter-of-fact about such things: He has Stanley Kubrick’s precision but lacks Kubrick’s talent for the glancing blow, the subtle gesture. What Nolan does have, though, is a unique ability to make sure that everything in his films – not just dialogue, but performance, music, visual style, editing…everything -- whirrs around these central ideas. It’s a single-mindedness, a totality that, for me at least, can be awe-inspiring to watch.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

In Medias Res...

"Valedictory from the very start, Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises is somehow both the saddest and the most cartoonish entry in the director's Batman trilogy — sad in a strange way, and cartoonish in a good way."

Here's my review of the ambitious, riveting, silly, unforgettable, compulsively beautiful Dark Knight Rises. More to come, soon.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Forgotten Films: Gone to Earth (aka The Wild Heart) (Michael Powell, 1950)

To learn more about the Forgotten Films project, go here.

The legendary filmmaking team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, aka “The Archers,” made Gone to Earth at the height of their popularity – they had just come off iconic films like The Red Shoes, and Black Narcissus – but its somewhat catastrophic reception would mark the beginning of their career decline. (Subsequent films, such as Oh, Rosalinda! and Battle of the River Plate, would not duplicate their earlier successes.) It didn’t help, of course, that the film never quite worked out production-wise: The project was a collaboration with the legendary producer David O. Selznick, who would later cut his own version of the film and release it in the US. (More on that later.) Any way you look at it, these troubles are a dispiriting legacy for such a beautiful and heart-wrenching film.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Pact: Scared Stupid

The Pact is kind of a dumb movie, and that may be both its greatest failing and its greatest asset. It certainly doesn’t have the ingenious, everything-clicks-into-place machinery of, say, The Turn of the Screw, nor does it have the pure shock orgy of something like The Descent. Indeed, it’s full of ostensibly risible plot holes and moments that make you actively question what you’re seeing onscreen, and not in a good way. But for the most part the damn thing just plain works. That is to say, it made me scared of my house in a way that no other haunted house movie has in quite some time.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Magic of Belle Isle: Actors, They're Special

They say that when a director dies, he becomes a photographer. So we could say that when an actor dies, he becomes a monument. Such is the case with Morgan Freeman, an excellent performer whose ability to convey nobility of spirit has resulted in his getting typecast as…well, noble spirits. (How strange it feels now to watch his breakthrough performance as a fast-talking pimp in Jerzy Schatzberg’s 1987 movie Street Smart.) The good news is that some actors can come back from the dead. And while Rob Reiner’s The Magic of Belle Isle doesn’t have Freeman playing a part much different from his usual run of gently-flawed paragons of rectitude, the actor brings more vulnerability to the part than you might expect. The results are effective, even if the film is a cloying mess on so many other levels.

Monday, July 2, 2012

8 Great Reluctant Patriots on Film

The movies -- at least the good ones -- aren't usually able to do outright, rah-rah patriotism all too well. Maybe it's the fact that movies require conflict, or that they need to have characters who grow, but rarely do great film heroes start off as eager beavers looking to sign up for a cause. Thus we come to the archetype of the reluctant patriot: The guy who really doesn't want to fight on either side, who's just looking out for Number One, and yet finds himself having to fight -- or at least to pick sides -- just the same. And this, it turns out, is a type American cinema, particularly Hollywood, does really well. In honor of Independence Day, here are eight of cinema's most notable reluctant patriots.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man: The Unbearable Lightness of Being Dutiful

The Amazing Spider-Man makes for a nice comic fantasy -- which is both a pleasant surprise, since it could have been so much worse, and a bit of a let-down, since the memory of Sam Raimi’s films stands fresh as an example of just how compelling this story can really be. But Sony apparently had some valid business reasons for “rebooting” this franchise so soon after the last trilogy. (Having typed that sentence, I will now take a shower.)