Tag Archives: Christopher Nolan

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)

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.

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Casino Royale (2006)

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.

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The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

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.

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Batman Begins (2005)

Most of the comic book influences on Batman Begins are fairly evident. Everyone points to Frank Miller’s Year One, the redefining four-part series that put the “Dark” back in Dark Knight, and they’re right to hold that book up as the major influence. Begins relies heavily on Year One for a number of things, not least among them the exploration of the Bruce Wayne/Jim Gordon relationship, the exploration of the Bruce Wayne/Alfred relationship, the Gotham Monorail, the mention of the Joker at the end, the entire character of Flass, the entire sequence where Batman calls a squadron of bats to his aid (a bat-talion, am I right? Guys?) and, of course, the entire bat-flies-through-window genesis of the hero himself.

So Year One is the obvious one. Nolan and David Goyer pilfered little things from other famous Bat-books as well, often just an image or a line of dialogue. Here’s the Scarecrow in Loeb and Sale’s The Long Halloween, another popular arc:

Long Halloween
The Long Halloween (1996/97)

Goyer brought this to Nolan and said “I think Katie Holmes and the little kid who will eventually grow up to be Joffrey from Game of Thrones would look really good if we added them in front of the horse here” (paraphrased) and Nolan said “true dat, brah” (not paraphrased) and ran with it:

Batman Begins (2005)
Batman Begins (2005)

The red eyes and flames are an admittedly nice touch.

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Interstellar (2014)

With brand-new releases the tendency is usually to shy away from spoilers in reviews, and those potential spoilers can be especially sensitive with a long-anticipated film like Interstellar (“I waited two years for this and find out the night before that [censored] is really [censored] the whole time??”). I respect reviewers who are able to provide an accurate representation of a film without divulging any/many of its secrets, but I’ve never been one of them. I can tread lightly, sure, but to really talk about a movie like Interstellar there are important plot points that need to be laid out in the open. Just the fact that we have a three-hour movie with a two-minute trailer means that the film holds vast sequences, settings, and even actors that you couldn’t possibly expect, and it’s partly those revelatory realms that we’ll be dealing with here. Consider yourself warned.

Now: let’s talk about ghosts.

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Youth Without Youth (2007)

Imagine Christopher Nolan or Baz Luhrmann or Roland Emmerich or any other director unwilling to retreat from the staid comfort of big-budget blockbuster filmmaking, and imagine they break their mold for a moment and make a tiny, heartfelt, indie-feel flick with no explosions or battles or tidal waves. Good. Now imagine they do that a second time, and a third, and imagine they do it so many more times that that becomes their new thing, and a return to blockbusters would seem odd. Basically, that’s what Francis Ford Coppola did.

This is by no means a bad thing! Interesting, though, that the guy behind The Godfather and Apocalypse Now would eventually be making movies so subtle that you missed their release entirely. Youth Without Youth is one of those, or at least it was for me, despite an interesting premise and noticeable names beside the Starring and Directed By credits. The film came and went without much hubbub.

Tim Roth plays Dominic, an aging Romanian linguist who has spent his entire life pursuing the origin of all language and “the origin of human consciousness”, denoted at one point in the film as the all-enviable “inarticulate moment”. Despairing at the inevitable failure of his quest, Dominic means to commit suicide when he is suddenly struck by lightning. As his wounds heal Dominic finds that he has grown inexplicably younger, and as World War II dawns it seems Dominic has an opportunity to relive his life and complete his goal.

Sounds ambitious, no? But didn’t we just get through establishing this as a small, blip-like effort from an otherwise giant of Hollywood? Is it big or is it small? We must decide quickly.

We really mustn’t though, or we can’t, or couldn’t if we wanted to. Youth Without Youth is a highly strange movie, not one that entirely makes sense, not one that’s even entirely likable on first pass. It is, however, uniquely both a grand-scale global epic and an intimate and thought-provoking character study. On the one hand Youth Without Youth spans a century and captures much of the fear and frustration holding Europe hostage before and during and after the war; it’s been reported that Coppola filmed over 170 hours of footage for the film, ultimately distilled into a mere 2. For those absent mathematical inclinations, that’s 168 hours of film gone straight to the landfill. That’s massive.

On the other hand, the entire film really is just one guy. There are other characters, yes, but Tim Roth carries Youth Without Youth on his back. I wasn’t paying attention to whether he appeared in every single frame of the film, by my recollection is that he very nearly did. Regardless, through the frequent use of mirrors and actual walking talking doppelgängers, there are plenty of frames in which Tim Roth appears twice or three times. The film should more than satisfy any obsessive Tim Roth stalkers, at least until Coppola gets around to Youth Without Youth 2: The Other 168 Hours.

Thankfully Roth really is a great actor, and not one who gets as many starring roles as he should. Enigmatic doesn’t begin to describe his Dominic, and in the end he’s the only thing that makes Youth Without Youth work. You could easily write this film off as pretentious crap, but that kind of thing doesn’t really concern me. It’s interesting enough to watch Coppola craft something in this way on a decidedly smaller stage than anything he made in his Godfather heyday, and ruminations on “what it all meant” are like a bonus round. If a glimpse into a what a truly honest filmmaker looks like is what makes you sit down to Youth Without Youth, then I’d say that’s good enough for now. At least until Youth Without 2th.