This article first appeared as a part of the Brattle Film Notes commentary series, presented by the Brattle Theatre in Boston, MA, for a special screening of The Sting. Slight edits have been made from the original posting.
In many instances a film is like a con: it wants to hook you, it wants to make you personally invested in the outcome, and it wants you to walk away with a smile on your face and slightly less in your wallet. If the endeavor is a success, there will always be enough to suggest that the artist — the film artist or the con artist — knows a truth that you do not. If the endeavor is unsuccessful, the feeling of being cheated will linger and frustrate.
If we apply this analogy to today’s film industry, of course, then the Marvel Cinematic Universe might be considered the most ambitious long con in Hollywood history. But things weren’t as complicated in 1973, and that year produced arguably the least-complicated Best Picture winner ever in George Roy Hill’s The Sting. A complex plot, high stakes for hardnosed characters, themes of friendship and honor amongst thieves — these elements are all there, but they’re intentionally deployed to the background of a filmgoing experience that’s less concerned with a moral message than a good time.
Continue reading The Sting (1973)
- The first trailer for the Star Wars anthology film Rogue One took the internet by storm yesterday, providing the first glimpse of the hotly-anticipated pseudo-spinoff. Two new Star Wars movies within a year of each other, both reinvigorating the franchise after years of dormancy and prequel strife — both Force Awakens and Rogue One are led by tiny gutsy British women, and you’re trying to tell me they’re not related?
- Cillian Murphy has joined Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, marking the fifth collaboration between actor and director following the Dark Knight trilogy and Inception. He’s joining an impeccable cast that includes Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance and a handful of newcomers. If any team can turn a fresh eye onto a very famous part of history, it’s this one.
- World’s Most Perfect Human Charlize Theron has been cast in the eighth installment of the Fast & Furious franchise, but for some strange reason they’re not calling it Fast & Furiosa.
- Relax, you guys: Sherlock Season 4 is now filming.
Continue reading Film & TV News: April 8
- Guys: a Deadwood movie. We dare not dwell on this possibility and are currently knocking on every wooden object in the vicinity, but HBO and David Milch have stated that “it’s happening”. Lots of deserving shows bring up the possibility of concluding with a movie, but a Deadwood film just makes perfect sense.
- Lots of TV news this week, as a matter of fact: Steven Soderbergh has revealed a six-year plan for The Knick, Ridley Scott has expressed interest in helming an adaptation of The Prisoner, and Arrested Development will be structuring its fifth season like Making a Murderer. All of those things sound awesome.
- Christopher Nolan’s next film will be Dunkirk, and fellow collaborator Hans Zimmer has already signed on for scoring duties. Tom Hardy’s name has been thrown out for a starring role, but that’s just a rumor at this point.
- Aaron Sorkin will make his directorial debut with Molly’s Game, a true-life tale of a championship skier who turns into a “gambling matron”. If Sorkin can cherrypick from the directors he’s collaborated with recently — David Fincher on The Social Network, Bennet Miller on Moneyball, Danny Boyle on Steve Jobs — then Molly’s Game will be one to watch.
Continue reading Film & TV News: January 10
- The bad guy is back: Empire has released a few new pictures from next year’s Suicide Squad featuring Jared Leto’s Joker. Just in time for Halloween!
- SNL is set to be hosted by Matthew McConaughey for the first time in over a decade, and Adele will be the musical guest. That might just be enough for me to actually tune into SNL again.
- Sherlock: The Abominable Bride, the highly-anticipated Christmas Special and return of the BBC show, will air on both sides of the Atlantic on January 1st, 2016.
- Even if you haven’t seen Crimson Peak yet, this conversation between director Guillermo del Toro and fellow directors Christopher Nolan and Alejandro González Iñárritu is highly recommended.
Continue reading Film & TV News: October 27
To my mind, two things played a major role in spawning a resurgence in post-apocalyptic storytelling in the past decade. The first is Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, a bombshell of a novel from 2006 that depicted an ashen, desolate earth struggling to grasp the faintest glimmers of hope. It became a decent John Hillcoat film a few years later, but the craze spun off into more than just that: The Book of Eli, I Am Legend, Tom Cruise’s Oblivion, last year’s brilliant Snowpiercer, last year’s crappy Young Ones, that crappy now-cancelled NBC show Revolution, etc. etc. They’re not all directly borne of The Road, of course, but the genre itself certainly received a huge boost from McCarthy’s novel. That’s why the time was right to revisit Mad Max with Fury Road, and why the likes of Blade Runner is getting a new treatment as well. Heck, just this week there’s talk of Christopher Nolan being involved with the long-awaited Akira adaptation.
The second influential piece of post-apocalyptic storytelling is The Walking Dead, the massively popular AMC show that launched a thousand other zombie-related things and an official spinoff of its own (Fear the Walking Dead, which is pretty good if almost exactly what you’d expect). The thing that pushed TWD ahead of the pack was the format of a television series: movies and books are comparatively finite, but the long-term storytelling at hand in a TV series (or a comic book series, like the one TWD is based on) serves the genre in the perfect way. In both cases — Road and TWD — the aim was to create a new world out of the old one, to watch characters deal with the differences, to play witness to what fantastic and terrible things might arise after something alters life as we know it.
Continue reading The Leftovers 1.5 – “Gladys”
Inception. Five years after seeing the 2010 Nolan mega-hit in theaters, I still asked myself whether or not the top stopped spinning. For a long time, I couldn’t accept the fact that one of the most ingeniously crafted movies of all time would end so ambiguously. There had to be something else there, some other hint to what is really going on at the end.
After some time, however, I grew complacent and rested on logic. Having seen the movie dozens of times, I saw little that pointed towards Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) still being in a dream at the end. Moreover, the top is clearly wobbling, and, generally, tops, like dreams, do not regain stability after they start to collapse.
Continue reading Inception (2010)
There was a time when I’d never met a movie about con artists that I didn’t like. You name it: the almighty Sting, the classic you-didn’t-even-know-this-was-a-con Usual Suspects, George C. Scott’s The Flim-Flam Man; modern takes like Matchstick Men, Catch Me If You Can, American Hustle; the super-rewatchable original Italian Job and the super-rewatchable remake Ocean’s Eleven. Some of these — like, say, The Spanish Prisoner — technically aren’t that great as far as cinema is concerned. Maybe that’s part of what’s so damn endearing about them: they’re movies, not films, which means they could conceivably appeal to just about anyone because style and fun outweigh technique and competence. I think I was just fine with that for a while, and I might still be.
But I also remember taking issue with Christopher Nolan (you: “who the hell are you to challenge Christopher Nolan?”; me: “I have as many Oscars as he does“) when he made the following comment about heist movies in an LA Times interview while filming Inception:
I originally wrote [Inception] as a heist movie, and heist movies traditionally are very deliberately superficial in emotional terms…they’re frivolous and glamorous, and there’s a sort of gloss and fun to it. I originally tried to write it that way, but when I came back to it I realized that — to me — that didn’t work for a film that relies so heavily on the idea of the interior state, the idea of dream and memory. I realized I needed to raise the emotional stakes.
Continue reading Focus (2015)
I have a few favorite Batman moments, but the one that trumps them all occurs in the first Batman animated movie Mask of the Phantasm. The comic books are full of contenders, of course — the iconic “legends can never die!” panel in Jim Aparo’s “Man Behind the Mask”, the more-iconic moment in “Hearts in Darkness” when Batman rises from the grave, or the most-iconic “fiend from hell” moment from “The Demon Lives Again!” (which we talked about in our rundown on Batman Begins). The feature films have some epic moments as well, like the introductory call-to-arms of Batman Returns or the final ascension from the pit in The Dark Knight Rises. But Mask of the Phantasm captures what many of these moments capture — the determination of Bruce Wayne, the -ness of the Bat — in a unique way.
Phantasm, of course, is more than just the best animated Batman movie — it might be the best Batman movie, period. It certainly stands with the live-action iterations of Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan, and getting over the fact that Phantasm happens to be animated (as if that’s a point against it) is just a necessary assumption akin to classing The Incredibles at the top of the list of Best Superhero Films. It’s easy to forget about The Incredibles amid the present torrent of live-action Marvel hero flicks, just as it’s easy to forget that Mask of the Phantasm is without a doubt a better Batman film than at least 6/10 live-action Batfilms. I’ll let you figure out which ones I mean.
Continue reading Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
Of the three Daniel Craig Bond films, two have been received with applause from audiences and critics alike. One of the two is Casino Royale, Craig’s debut as 007. Royale has changed the game as far Bond films go. No more (completely) preposterous gadgets or (literally) impossible feats are featured in this film. No more corny lines and no more maniacal, manacle-wearing, super-genius super-villains. Martin Campbell’s Casino Royale is rooted in reality. Of course, there is some stuff that might seem somewhat far-fetched, but you just don’t have yourself a Bond film without at least a splash of absurdity.
Daniel Craig is stupendous in this film. He fully embodies the perhaps overly confident, womanizing alcoholic who, at the same time, wears a badge of courage and integrity at (almost) all times. Craig portrays the smoothest Bond I have ever seen. I know what you’re thinking…probably screaming, actually. Connery will always be Bond, no one is saying otherwise. At the same time, Craig, in my most humble opinion, one ups him in the “I’m the coolest dude on planet Earth” department. It’s everything from the way he carries himself to the timing and delivery of his lines (every one of which hits perfectly). What is most notable, though, is the dark side that Craig brings to the timeless character. His orphanage is addressed in the film, the emotion behind his first kill is evident, and Bond drinks with a purpose throughout Royale. Craig makes it all work so well, from the stern look in his eyes as he races through the Miami Airport to the sarcastic smirks he makes at Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) from across the poker table.
Continue reading Casino Royale (2006)
As with our recent article on Batman Begins, this won’t exactly be a traditional “review” of The Dark Knight Rises so much as an examination of the comics that directly inspired the film, previous iterations of the character on the big screen, and the things that Christopher Nolan chose to pinch and blend together from the two of those in order to give us a recognizable version of Cinema Batman. Some of the most legendary moments in Nolan’s trilogy are those of true originality, but it’s good to remember every now and then that Bruce Wayne has been around a hell of a lot longer than Nolan and Co.
And if we’re talking comics that influenced Nolan’s last Batfilm, the only one really worth mentioning is Knightfall. Yes, there are a whole host of comic arcs that can claim to be influences for parts of Rises — the No Man’s Land arc sees Gotham cordoned off from the rest of the world; the four-part story The Cult has a villain operating from the sewers; Bane is the explicit right-hand man of Ra’s al Ghul in 1999’s Bane of the Demon; and Frank Miller’s seminal The Dark Knight Returns has a similar premise and conclusion to Nolan’s Rises, which we’ll come back to in a moment.
Continue reading The Dark Knight Rises (2012)