As an animator with an undeniably strong sense of visual storytelling, it’s perhaps not too much of a stretch to assume that Bruce Timm played with toys. Kids are kids, sure, and even the ones who don’t grow into animators with undeniably strong senses of visual storytelling still tend to love toys. But we might assume this love to be especially strong in the visual artists of the future, an unconscious recognition of the memorable facets of personality reflected in a color scheme or a suit or a pair of pointy black ears. Bruce, if you’re reading, feel free to comment with confirmation or denial of youthful toy-loving.
Whatever the case, the Timmverse is populated by designs from a toymaker’s dream. Classic characters — especially those most well-known rogues appearing in Batman: The Animated Series — get fresh, clear-eyed revivals, unmistakably cartoonish concepts that somehow mesh perfectly with the “Dark Deco” cityscapes of Gotham City. If you’re crafting miniature Batmans and Jokers and Riddlers and Catwomen for the kiddies to play with, both you and the kiddies are going to be happiest with the toys that look like Bruce Timm drawings. They’re simple, memorable, cohesive, and there’s nary a muddled line on any of the character designs. See for yourself.
The Walk is being compared to Gravity in a recent spate of fairly misleading TV spots, intense Inception-esque music set to critic quotes that swoop in to say things like DOES WHAT GRAVITY DID FOR SPACE! It’s clear what they’re trying to say: this is more an experience than a movie. It’s partially true, and certainly the most affecting parts of the film are those which purport to be more than film. Lots of movies try to push for that as a selling point, and the floating and swooping superlatives in the Walk trailers recall all of those other movies that are GUARANTEED TO BLOW. YOUR. MIND.
Robert Zemeckis handles the majority of the story of Phillippe Petit, the eccentric and restless French high-wire artist, with much the same eccentricity and restlessness as characterizes his subject. There’s voiceover narration hosted by a Statue of Liberty-bound Petit (get it? France!), there’s a black-and-white sequence, a few flashbacks, a few time lapses, a few time jumps. The Walk, like Petit’s mind, is all over the place. At times the quick pace is paradoxically dragging, but I suppose such is the case for Petit as well. He’s bored by ropes strung between lampposts and trees. He wants a true high wire. He wants to see New York, to see the towers. He wants to see mountains again, Gandalf, mountains.
Okay. I just put on Deception, streaming on Netflix. Looks and sounds fairly enticing in an early-’90s Juror/Basic Instinct/Malice sort of way. It’s got Liam Neeson and Viggo Mortensen, both of whom I’m eager to see in a movie together, and Andie MacDowell, whom I really know nothing about. I’ve seen Groundhog Day and Four Weddings and a Funeral, so maybe it will be interesting to see her in a drama. The poster has moody lighting and Neeson is standing behind MacDowell in a subtly menacing way, suggesting that Deception is a cat-and-mouse game of, well, deception.
Okay! This sounds pretty exciting! Let’s get this movie started!
…….wow. Did David Lynch direct the credit sequence? That wasn’t very intense at all — oh, but I get it, I’m being deceived.
Welcome to A Review of John Carpenter’s Escape from New York, or: A History of the Cinematic Infodump.
As far as narrative exposition goes, the infodump is traditionally one of the more crass methods of conveying the ways in which the world of the film differs from the world of…the world. Here Is Everything You Need To Know, the infodump says before the film gets going. Preludes, prologues, epigraphs, whatever. Presumably, the more akin to “reality” a film pretends to be, the less exposition it should have — and, yeah, even though that’s definitely not always true, it’s science fiction and fantasy that demand large chunks of information be delivered as inconspicuously and efficiently as possible. That way we can get to enjoying the movie without wondering what the heck a Na’vi is, or a replicant, or why legions of Things That Aren’t Humans are fighting over this little gold ring, or why we should care about any of that at all.
Some films elect to disseminate the good stuff throughout the course of the film, like Inception or certain Star Wars installments (looking at you, midichlorians…I mean I’m not actually looking at you, because you’re so small, which I know because Qui-Gon told me mid-movie, but I’m looking in your direction). Escape from New York, the 1981 John Carpenter jaunt destined to become a cult classic and eventual ostensible subject of this very article, certainly has plenty of exposition peppered throughout the film in this fashion.
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.
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.
Oldboy is not for the faint of heart, but for everybody else it is one hell of a ride. The South Korean film makes Se7en look like Cinderella and director Chan-wook Park makes Quentin Tarantino look like Nicholas Sparks. For better or for worse, there are few movies comparable to Oldboy when it comes to pure intensity.
The plot starts simply: an average man, Dae-su (Min-sik Choi) is inexplicably imprisoned for 15 years, framed for the murder of his wife while imprisoned, and then suddenly released in equally inexplicable fashion. Upon his release, he meets both a young girl, Mi-do (Hye-jeong Kang) and the man who had him imprisoned, Woo-jin Lee (Ji-tae Yu). Rather than killing Lee on the spot, Dae-su accepts the challenge to uncover the reason for his own imprisonment.
Nothing says “happy holidays” like an incredibly violent, utterly vulgar, yet strangely comedic look at slavery and racism in the Antebellum South. Quentin Tarantino’s latest effort has garnered exceptional critical support, seeming to morph together styles and tones from three of his previous cinematic achievements: Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill, and Inglourious Basterds. The scope of the film is quite epic, occurring over months in various Southern states, yet it in no way takes itself too seriously. Instead, Django is extremely humorous and several of its minute details, when given closer examination, actually seem rather bizarre, almost finding itself belonging to the Wes Anderson genre of film. While dealing with a very serious topic and maintaining an ethically appropriate opinion of said topic, Djano truly reels in its audience with its Oscar-winning dialogue and impeccable acting. The film may seem controversial to some, but anyone really paying attention will easily be able to understand the stance the film is taking.
The film has a subtle but significant Reservoir vibe to it. The plot is intricate and well thought-out; dramatic irony (when one or more characters are aware of something that others are not privy to) is abundant; and there is even a particular scene in Django that is a directorial parallel to a different scene in Dogs. Let’s discuss the similarity in complexity of the plot. These movies are no rivals to Inception when it comes to complex storytelling, nor are they trying to be, but they do certainly contain these types of elements. Dogs places a police officer undercover in the mafia, thus tricking the mafiosos into believing that he is one of them. Django places an African American in the fourth largest slave plantation in Mississippi, posing as an expert in the well-regarded field of Mandingo fighting; in front of Leonardo DiCaprio, no less. This similarity simultaneously explains both the intricacy of the plot and the abundance of dramatic irony. And then there are the scenes using the slow-motion walk. If you do not recall what I am talking about, you now have an excuse to go rewatch these fantastic films.
Most everybody loves a good con movie. While the thrill of the illegality of it all – the curiosities, the impossibilities, the big reveal – is ostensibly what makes heist flicks appealing, the fact that everything about the crime subgenre seems so damn stylish is probably more of a reason to keep making films about con artists (and more of a reason to keep watching them). The Sting remains the ultimate con movie, super stylish from start to finish, and everything that followed owes a great deal to that film. But even recent takes like Inception and American Hustle breathe new life into the idea by inhabiting a distinct aesthetic niche.
This is taking the long way around the barn to say that David Mamet’s The Spanish Prisoner, through it is very much a part of the aforementioned genre, is a surprisingly and suspiciously unstylish little film. It’s extremely well-written, as is almost everything Mamet touches, but it’s noticeably devoid of any of the visual trickery or larger-than-life characters that we might expect. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that The Spanish Prisoner promises a lot in the first act and doesn’t quite deliver on that promise when all is said and done.
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.