Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Films That I Saw: July 2012

July was quite busy although my health issues has made me feel tired as I’m going to slow things down by watching 3-4 films a week depending on what they are. Therefore, it’s likely that the number of new films that I’ve seen in July is down in comparison to June. I’m just trying to take things one film at a time and pace myself. Still, I think it’s been a pretty decent month as far as my film-viewing has been concerned.

For July, I saw a total of 44 films. 19 Re-watches. 24 first-timers. Here are the list of the 10 best first-times I saw in July:

1. Kes

Monthly Mini-Reviews

The Help

While it’s obvious why it got a Best Picture nominated, it’s a film that is really imperfect and heavy-handed. Despite the strong performances from Viola Davis, Jessica Chastain, and Octavia Spencer along with notable supporting work from Alison Janney and Sissy Spacek. It’s a film that goes on for a little too long while a lot of the drama is overdone at times. Emma Stone is alright but when it comes to heavy dramatic moments, she’s not very good at it. One of the worst things about the film is Bryce Dallas Howard whose over the top performance really overstays its welcome and it comes off as more as a caricature than an actual character. One of 2011’s most overrated films.

The Big Year

This could’ve been more than just a decent movie because the premise is very interesting. Three different men trying to break a record to see who can spot the most bird species in the span of a year. The stuff about the birds was interesting but it’s a very uneven film once the personal lives of these characters are presented and it drags the pace of it. The one character that really is badly written is Owen Wilson’s who comes off as a very unsympathetic guy who is so obsessed with breaking his own record that he is willing to skip his wife’s appointment all because of a bird he wants to see. It’s a moment that tries to make Wilson’s character not seem like a total douche but it’s handled so poorly.

Synth Britannia & Live Aid: Against All Odds

Two BBC documentaries about the music world has peaked my interest. The first about the world of synth-pop reveled into its origins and how it re-shaped the musical landscape of the 1980s despite the dismissive attitude of critics during that time. The second documentary about Live Aid is a two-part series on how it developed and how it almost never happened due to egos and other issues. Even a last-minute cancellation from U2 nearly happened as U2 later decide to go back and give out one of the event’s great performances. A must-see for any fan of popular music.


The short from Alex of And So It Begins… is truly a stunner. Filled with gorgeous visuals and a captivating performance from Catherine Warner. This short is definitely a must-see for its exploration of grief and guilt as well as the way it’s told without much dialogue. Plus, it’s got a killer soundtrack.


3. Pulp Fiction

6. Die Hard

8. Galaxy Quest

9. Fast Times at Ridgemont High

10. Angus

Well, that’s it for July. The Bond marathon will continue with another Sean Connery film, three more Roger Moore movies, and the two films starring Timothy Dalton. For the next Auteurs profile on Andrei Tarkovsky, his films will be seen and reviewed for the month as I hopefully will also do a few films by Jim Sheridan as well as various other features for the time being. Until then, this is thevoid99 signing off…

© thevoid99 2012

Monday, July 30, 2012

007 James Bond Marathon: Moonraker

Based on Ian Fleming’s novel, Moonraker is the story of James Bond uncovering a space shuttle theft as he meets its manufacturer who plans to create a society in outer space. Directed by Lewis Gilbert and screenplay by Christopher Wood, the film has James Bond traveling all over the world again as well as go to outer space to face off against another megalomaniacal villain. Also starring Michael Lonsdale, Lois Chiles, Richard Kiel, Walter Gotell, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell, and in his final appearance as M, Bernard Lee. Moonraker is a spectacular film from Lewis Gilbert.

After the theft of a space shuttle, James Bond is asked by M and the Minister of Defense Frederick Gray (Geoffrey Keen) to investigate as Bond travels to California to meets its manufacturer Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale). After meeting Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) at Drax’s lab, Bond seduces Drax’s assistant Corrine Dufour (Corrine Clery) to get information about what Drax is planning as he travels to Venice for further investigation. After dealing with some of Drax’s people, Bond discovers glass vials containing nerve gas put into chambers as Bond later learns that Goodhead is a member of the CIA. After reporting the news to Gray and M about the lab, they discover that it’s gone as Gray is forced to apologize to Drax for Bond’s blunder though M knows something is up.

Going to Rio de Janeiro, Bond meets his contact Manuela (Emily Bolton) to find out what Drax is doing in Rio as he suddenly meets up with Drax’s newly-hired henchman in Jaws (Richard Kiel) as he and Goodhead have another encounter with Jaws when they learn that Drax is moving all of his properties away from Rio. Though Bond was able to escape the clutches of Drax’s henchmen, Goodhead was captured as Bond regroups at a secret base where Q (Desmond Llewelyn) discovers the source of the nerve gas from a rare orchid prompting Bond to go to the Amazon where he encounters Jaws and more of Drax’s men leading to Drax’s secret base where Goodhead is held prisoner. After another escape with Goodhead, the two travel to outer space where they learn about Drax’s big plans to hold a society of a new world and destroy the old one. The news would force Bond to save the world with the help of an unexpected ally.

The film is essentially about James Bond stopping another industrialist from destroying the world to create a new one but this time around, it’s in outer space. Yet, it would have Bond doing more investigating and engage into conflict with henchman as he is trying to save the world once again. This time around, he faces off against a man who wants to create a new world that away from all of the decadence and turmoil but also create new species with people who have perfect genes. While there’s nothing wrong with Drax’s ideas, the fact that he wants to destroy Earth just makes him the kind of foe Bond has to defeat. The screenplay succeeds in creating a character as complex as Hugo Drax as well as creating a Bond girl in Dr. Holly Goodhead who is quite intelligent and can kick some ass in order to help Bond.

The direction of Lewis Gilbert is definitely big in terms of the ambition he aims for as much of the film takes place in different locations such as Venice, Rio de Janeiro, California, and parts of Guatemala. Yet, Gilbert ensures that the film has all of the tropes of what is expected in a Bond film through the beautiful locations and thrilling action sequences while taking time to uncover things that is crucial to the film’s plot. While the film does contain humor, at times it goes a little overboard towards silliness where it ends up being a bit of a distraction rather than to help advance the story. Yet, the humor isn’t shown as much as it leads to the climatic scenes in outer space in the third act where Bond takes charge and faces off against Drax and destroy his plans. Despite the flaws the film carries, Lewis Gilbert creates another successful and engaging Bond film that does everything that is expected in a Bond film.

Cinematographer Jean Tournier does a wonderful job with the film‘s photography from the gorgeous exterior shots of some of the film‘s exotic locations to the interiors in Drax‘s mansion and the space station to maintain a very pristine look. Editor John Glen does excellent work with the editing to play up the element of suspense and action with some stylish cuts for the latter. Production designer Ken Adam, with set decorator Peter Howitt and art directors Charles Bishop and Max Douy, does brilliant work with the set pieces from the look of Drax’s mansion and home bases to the look and interiors of the space station.

Costume designer Jacques Fonteray does superb work with the costumes from the suit that Drax wears at the space station to the look of the space suits worn by the U.S. Marines astronauts and Drax‘s astronauts during the climatic laser battle. Visual effects supervisor Derek Meddings does spectacular work with the visual effects such as the many scenes in outer space that involves zero gravity and anything involving lasers. Sound mixer Daniel Brisseau does nice work with the sound from the way the lasers sound to the array of sound to exemplify the film‘s action sequences. The film’s score by John Barry is terrific for its lush orchestral arrangements and the bombast it has for many of the film’s action sequences. The title song co-written by lyricist Hal David and sung by Shirley Bassey is a wonderful ballad that plays to the tradition of Bond themes while it also has a disco remix played in the film’s final credits.

The casting by Weston Drury Jr. and Margot Capelier is incredible for the ensemble that is created as it includes some notable performances from Corrine Clery as Drax’s assistant Corrine Dufour, Toshiro Suga as Drax’s henchman Chang, Emily Bolton as Bond’s Rio contact Manuela, Michael Marshall as the U.S. Marines commander, and Blanche Ravalec as the girl Dolly that Jaws falls for. Bond regulars such as Walter Gotell as General Gogol. Geoffrey Keen as the Minister of Defense, Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny, and Desmond Llewelyn as Q are fun to watch as they each give memorable performances. Bernard Lee is great as Bond’s superior M who backs Bond up following a blunder as it’s a truly gracious performance from Lee in his final outing as M.

Richard Kiel is excellent as the henchman Jaws where he finally gets something to do other than go after Bond where his character falls in love as he gets to display a more tender side to the character. Lois Chiles is wonderful as Dr. Holly Goodhead by providing a calm yet cool performance as a character who aids Bond in the mission while proving to be a very smart person Bond can count on. Michael Lonsdale is very good as Hugo Drax, an industrialist who has ambitions to create a new world as Lonsdale displays a great sense of restraint and prestige as the film’s antagonist. Finally, there’s Roger Moore as James Bond where Moore displays his sense of humor and charm to the character while proving to be more direct once his character has to do investigating and fighting as it’s one of Moore’s essential performances as Bond.

Despite some of the silliness in the story and the unnecessary humor, Moonraker is still a stellar film from Lewis Gilbert. Thanks in part to Roger Moore and Michael Lonsdale, it’s a film that is worth watching for its sense of adventure as well as being thoroughly entertaining. Notably as it has Bond taking on the sci-fi genre with some success as Bond manages to find ways to remain relevant in the age of the blockbuster. In the end, Moonraker is a marvelous James Bond film from Lewis Gilbert.

© thevoid99 2012

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Autumn Sonata

Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman, Hostsonaten (Autumn Sonata) is the story of a celebrated classical pianist who gets an unexpected visit from her estranged daughter leading to a confrontation between the two. The film is an exploration into the dynamics of mother and daughter who are driven apart by ambition. Starring Ingrid Bergman, Liv Ullmann, Lena Nyman, and Halvar Bjork. Hostsonaten is a chilling yet intense drama from Ingmar Bergman.

After having not seen each other for seven years, Eva (Liv Ullmann) has asked her famous concert pianist mother Charlotte (Ingrid Bergman) to visit for a few days at her home. Charlotte arrives hoping the visit would be great as she’s greeted by her daughter and son-in-law Viktor (Halvar Bjork) as also there is Charlotte’s youngest daughter Helena (Lena Nyman) who has become physically and mentally disabled due to an illness. The meeting becomes tense due to lingering tension between mother and daughter as both try to be civil until later on at night where the two vent out their frustrations towards one another leading to revelations about their fragile relationship.

The film is about a mother-daughter reunion that eventually turns sour due to resentments as it’s told largely in the span of one day with some flashbacks in the story. Especially when a daughter asks her mother to visit in hopes of a reconciliation yet the lingering tension between the two eventually seeps in as the mother deals with her own regrets and wonder if she’s guilty for everything. Even as the daughter reveals her own hatred for her mother and the fear that she was consumed by for many years. It’s a film that explores the troubled relationship between mother and daughter as the mother is grieving the loss of a friend while the son-in-law tries to deal with the tension as well as caring for an ill sister-in-law who is also plays to the tension between Eva and Charlotte.

The film’s unconventional screenplay allows Ingmar Bergman to create a film that is quite intimate but also intense in the way he frames the actors and have Viktor open the film talking to the camera as if he’s talking to the audience about how he met Eva as she is in the background writing a letter. The way Bergman frames his actors in a scene or how he stages the conversations is among the many highlights of the film. Including the way he uses close-ups to play out the emotions that occur where he waits for something to explode. Even as he would have scenes where characters talk to themselves or flashback scenes to help tell the story.

Shot on location in Norway during Bergman’s tax exile period in Sweden, the film has few exterior shots as a lot of it takes place inside where Bergman allows the camera to be shot from afar or up close to see how the drama will unfold. Notably as it includes a lot of his stylized close-ups that plays up to the quiet tension between mother and daughter that includes a scene where they both play Frederic Chopin’s Prelude No. 2 in A Minor to establish the different emotions of these two women. It’s a key scene that shows who these women are in their personas where both present unique interpretations of Chopin’s piece. Overall, Bergman has crafted a truly mesmerizing drama that explores the troubled dynamics between mother and daughter.

Cinematographer Sven Nykvist does an amazing job with the film‘s photography where many of the interior lighting schemes play to different color palettes to display the look of autumn while using a similar light with dashes of green and gray for its exterior scenes as Nykvist‘s work is a true highlight. Editor Sylvia Ingmarsdotter does excellent work with the editing in using a few dissolves to introduce the flashback scenes while a lot of the cutting is straightforward. Production designer Anna Asp does extraordinary work with the sets for the home that Eva and Viktor live in as it includes a wonderful room to display the personalities of the characters including Eva and Viktor‘s late child Erik.

Costume designer Inger Perhsson does wonderful work with the costumes to display the different personalities of the two women with Eva wearing plain clothes while Charlotte wears more stylish, posh clothing to display her personality. The sound of Owe Svensson is superb for the intimacy created in the film as well as the volume of the conversation that plays out throughout the film.

The film’s cast is brilliant for the ensemble that is created as it features appearances from Linn Ullman as the young Eva, Georg Lokkeberg as Charlotte’s old friend Leonardo, Bergman regulars Gunnar Bjornstrand as Charlotte’s agent Paul and Erland Josephson as Eva’s father Josef in the flashback scene. Lena Nyman is excellent as the physically/mentally-disabled Helena while Halvar Bjork is great as Eva’s husband Viktor who tries to keep his distance from the tension between Eva and Charlotte.

Liv Ullmann is incredible as the troubled Eva who tries to make some reconciliation with her mother only to feel disturbed by her own emotions over the neglect and resentment she’s faced as a child as it’s a truly terrifying role from Ullmann. Finally, there’s Ingrid Bergman in her final film appearance as Charlotte where Bergman displays a wonderful sense of grace but also regret as a woman dealing with her own life as a classical pianist as well as her own failings as a mother where Bergman also displays a realism that is chilling to watch.

Hostsonaten is a marvelous yet haunting film from Ingmar Bergman that features magnificent performances from Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullmann. The film is definitely one of Ingmar Bergman’s most essential films of his career as he gives Ingrid Bergman one of her great performances of her glorious career. It’s also a film that explores the unique mother-daughter dynamic despite the film’s dark tone. In the end, Hostsonaten is an exhilarating film from Ingmar Bergman.

Ingmar Bergman Films: (Crisis) - (It Rains on Our Love) - (A Ship to India) - (Music is Darkness) - (Port of Call) - (Prison) - (Thirst (1949 film)) - (To Joy) - (This Can’t Be Happen Here) - (Summer Interlude) - Secrets of Women - Summer with Monika - Sawdust and Tinsel - A Lesson in Love - Dreams (1955 film) - Smiles of a Summer Night - The Seventh Seal - (Mr. Sleeman is Coming) - Wild Strawberries - (The Venetian) - (Brink of Life) - (Rabies) - The Magician - The Virgin Spring - The Devil’s Eye - Through a Glass Darkly - Winter Light - The Silence - All These Women - Persona - (Stimulantia-Daniel) - Hour of the Wolf - (Shame (1968 film)) - (The Rite) - The Passion of Anna - (The Touch) - Cries & Whispers - Scenes from a Marriage - (The Magic Flute) - (Face to Face) - (The Serpent’s Egg) - (From the Life of Marionettes) - Fanny & Alexander - (After the Rehearsal) - (Karin‘s Face) - (The Blessed Ones) - (In the Presence of a Clown) - (The Image Makers) - Saraband

© thevoid99 2012

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Fistful of Dollars

Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 12/4/07 w/ Additional Edits.

Directed by Sergio Leone with a script he co-wrote with A Bonzzoni, Victor Andres Catena, and Jaime Comas Gil, A Fistful of Dollars is about a no-named gunslinger who plays a double for two feuding gangs in the middle of a gang war in a small, Western town. Playing the Man with No Name was a then-unknown American TV actor named Clint Eastwood who was at the time, barely known for appearing in the TV show Rawhide while couldn't do films in the U.S. for contractual reasons. The film would mark the first of three collaborations between Leone and Eastwood as they would make history with this film. Also starring Gian Maria Volonte, Marianne Koch, Mario Brega, Benito Stefanelli, and Jose Calvo. A Fistful of Dollars is a thrilling, exciting, and intense film from Sergio Leone and company.

A no-named man arrives into a border-town near Mexico as he notices a town that has gone quiet. He realizes that a feud between two bosses over control of the town has emerged where he makes an encounter with a group of bandits. Entering into a tavern where he meets an old bartender named Silvanito (Jose Calvo), he learns what is going on. A beer-brewing baron named Miguel Rojo (Antonio Prieto) is in a feud with a weapons merchant named Baxter (Wolfgang Lukschy) over control of the town. The man with no name encounters four of Baxter's men whom he kills immediately as he catches the attention of Miguel Rojo and his brother Esteban (Sieghardt Rupp) who wants to hire him but the no-named man wants more money since he isn't cheap. Making things worse is the arrival of the calvary who comes to stop at the town for a gold exchange to a group of American calvary.

The no-name man and Silvanito arrive to see that the calvary is immediately killed by Rojo's men in disguise led by the crazed, rifle-toting Ramon (Gian Maria Volonte). After meeting Ramon, the no-name man learns that Ramon is indeed crazy while keeping a mistress named Marisol (Marianne Koch) in secrecy. Deciding to get the feud between the Rojos and Baxter clan rolling, he and Silvanito grab two dead calvary men while feeding information to Baxter and his wife (Margarita Lozano) about the stolen gold. When he gives the Rojos false information about two living calvary going to the Baxter clan, a feud is waged as Baxter's son Antonio (Bruno Carotenuto) is captured. Yet, the battle is used as a distraction for the stranger to find the stolen gold as he encounters Marisol whom he gives to Baxter's wife.

An exchange is later occurred the day after the battle where the stranger learns about Marisol's role whose husband (Daniel Martin) got cheated at a card game by Ramon who threatened to kill their son Jesus if he could have Marisol. After Marisol's return to the Rojos' ranch, the stranger decides to free her by killing six of the Rojos men and making her, Julian, and their son leave to reach the border. Yet, after their departure, Ramon learns of the stranger's role in the game as he is immediately beaten for information. After barely escaping with help from the town's coffin maker Piripero (Joseph Egger), the war is over as the Rojos have captured Silvanito as the stranger, now in full recovery, goes for a showdown against Ramon and Rojo gang.

While the film's plot is simple about a stranger with no moral justification playing both sides in the middle of a gang war. The fact that the source came from Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo is also noted that both films not only have different sources for background but were both rooted in the American western. While Kurosawa's film was a homage to the western, Leone went the opposite by giving the genre more edge, more violence, while spitting at the conventions of American westerns. The film's protagonist like Kurosawa's Sanjuro in both its title film and predecessor Yojimbo are both intelligent and witty. Yet, the no-named man doesn't talk very much and instead, prefers to sit back and observe with help from Silvanito who is the film's conscience.

While the script is similar to Yojimbo in some respects, the direction by Leone has the same similarities that Kurosawa's film had but the result overall is very different. Particularly for Leone's portrayal of the genre in relation to his own background. The film's violence is stylized but with dabbles of blood and gunshots that show the men falling down after they're killed. It was a reaction against the American style of violence in westerns that had been restricted at the time by censors since the 1930s. Leone rails against the conventions while making the character of Marisol, who is a bigger character than the sake brewer's mistress in Yojimbo, an unconventional female character as opposed to the schoolmarm character that is seen in American westerns.

With those unconventional takes on the genre, another shot in the arm to the western protagonist that was against the old-man idealism of John Wayne was a youthful protagonist. Here, we have the no-name man. He's fast, witty, has a dead-pan sense of humor, and is tough. It is claimed by some that this is where the prototype of the modern-day action hero comes from. The man has no morals except in one moment where he saves the life of Marisol and her family while telling her to flee. That's a brief moment where he's out of character but when he tells them to leave, it's a return to that laconic figure. When he's in a jam, he has to figure out to get himself out of the pickle he's in. Here's a figure who isn't a conventional figure but an anti-hero that people could relate to. It is there that Leone gives new life to the genre and there's more to what he brings.

The visual scope that Leone presents is just jaw-dropping. Even with inspiring locations of Almeria, Spain, the film has a look and feel that is different from American westerns. Still, Leone's depth of field from the look of the mountains and towns from various shots is indeed inspiring. Another presentation from Leone's camera that would become a trademark of his is his extreme close-ups. The close-ups refers to what the characters are feeling as well as objects, notably the film’s climatic showdown where shots of boots, guns, and such would be the prototype of what was to come in The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly. The overall presentation that Leone presents is just awe-inspiring as it's a big step of what is to come from this legendary director.

Cinematographers Massimo Dallamano and Federico G. Larraya do great work with the film's Technicolor, Techniscope format in the widescreen to capture the colorful yet desolate landscape of Almeria, Spain while the interiors are wonderfully eerie to convey the stylish look of the west while paying homage to the cinematic style of Akira Kurosawa. Editors Roberto Cinquini and Alfonso Santacana do great work in capturing the film's intensity and action that would also become the prototype for action-film style editing that would later be perfected by Leone's longtime editor Nino Baragli in The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly.

Carlos Simi, who would become Leone's longtime art director/costume designer, does some great work in creating the look of the homes and ranches of the town that looks like the west but also the look of the graveyards to convey the sense of Catholic symbols that are prevalent for the film. Simi's work on the costume is great for the look of differing boss while the look of the Man with No Name is handled by Eastwood himself who brought his own boots, pistol, and gun belt from his show Rawhide while buying the pants from a San Francisco shop. The rest of the look including the pancho and hat were created by Eastwood and Simi. Sound mixer Elio Pacella does some great work in creating the winds and gunshots for the film to convey the world that is the American west.

One notable highlight that is above a lot of the technical achievements is the music and it's from the man who would also gain fame in the years to come and that is the Maestro, Ennio Morricone. Credited, like many people on the film as American names, as Dan Salvo, Morricone creates a score that is unlike any other before or since then with music that captures the intensity of the film's pacing and movement. From its title theme, to the accompanying score throughout the entire film. The huge, flourishing arrangements with strings, guitars, whistles, and a trumpet is just amazing and completely unforgettable. From the film’s dramatic tone to the final showdown that is filled with operatic arrangements that grabs the audience by its ear knowing what is to come and the music is just the icing on that sequence. If there's one person who needs to be noted for his technical achievements, it's Ennio Morricone.

The film's cast is brilliant with great, small performances from Aldo Sambrell, Benito Stefanelli, and Leone regular Mario Brega as Rojo's men, Bruno Carotenuto as Baxter's son, Daniel Martin as Julian, Nino Del Arco as Julian's son Jesus, and Joseph Egger in a hilarious performance as Piripero, the coffin-maker. Sieghardt Rupp and Antonio Prieto are great as two of the three Rojo brothers with Rupp as the dangerous but cautious Esteban and Prieto as the leader Miguel. Wolfgang Lukschy is good as Baxter with Margarita Lozano as Baxter's power-hungry wife. Marianne Koch is excellent as Marisol, the unconventional female character who is forced to be a mistress while dealing with not seeing her son and such as she acts like a Virgin Mary-like figure from an Italian/Catholic point of view.

Jose Calvo is great as the film's conscience and reluctant side-kick Silvanito who often warns the no-named man about his role. Salvo's performance is just memorable to watch as he sometimes get involved in affairs as he knows what is right and wrong. Gian Maria Volonte is amazing as the villainous Ramon, a man who is convinced that a Winchester rifle is stronger than anything. Volonte's performance is just mesmerizing for his charm and psychotic demeanor in the same way Tatsuya Nakadai has portrayed as Sanjuro's main nemesis in Yojimbo who matches the no-name man with wits and skill. It's a great performance from the late actor who would also appear in the sequel For a Few Dollars More.

Finally, there's Clint Eastwood in what has to be a real breakthrough performance as the Man with No Name. Eastwood's laid-back, laconic persona matched with his gun-slinging skills and dead-pan wit is a persona that defines the anti-hero. If there's really one word to describe Eastwood's character and his performance, it's this... cool. He's just cool as hell. From the way he smokes the cigar, the unshaven look, everything about the character and Eastwood's performance is truly iconic. While the Man with No Name might not be one of the toughest guys in the room but if he's armed with a pistol and street smarts, he is one of cinema modern-day bad*sses.

The 2007 2-disc Collector's Edition of A Fistful of Dollars that is also part of the eight-disc Sergio Leone Anthology Box Set that includes the 2-discs Collector's Edition of For a Few Dollars More and Duck, You Sucker! along with the 2004 2-disc Special Edition of The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly from United Artists and MGM. With a wonderful packaging that features two discs featuring more than a hour's worth of material. The feature film, remastered and restored with remixed 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound plus in mono for both English & Spanish including subtitles in the two languages plus French. The film is presented in the widescreen 2:35:1 aspect ratio to preserve the same theatrical feature the film had more than 40 years ago.

The sole special feature in the first disc with the feature film is a feature-length audio commentary track from noted film historian Sir Christopher Frayling. Frayling's commentary is informative in the comparison and contrast of Leone's film to Kurosawa's Yojimbo in 1961. While explaining the similarities and differences of both films, he also mentioned the lawsuit made by Kurosawa about A Fistful of Dollars over copyright infringement. Eventually, it was settled with Kurosawa getting 15% of the worldwide grosses of the film claiming he made more money off of Leone's film more than any of his own films. Frayling also goes into detail of Leone's cinematic style while profiling a bit on two of Leone's long-standing collaborators in art director/costume designer Carlos Simi and composer Ennio Morricone. The film, originally titled The Magnificent Stranger, originally wanted to have the likes of Henry Fonda, Charles Brosnan, or James Coburn in the leading role but with a budget of $200,000, it was too expensive. Instead, they got Clint Eastwood, who was paid $15,000 for the entire production.

Another important visual style that Leone had put into the film was a lot of iconography with crosses and Catholic images since Leone made the film directly for a Southern Italian audience. With less dialogue and more action, it was an approach from Leone to that audience to have something with more attention as opposed to the films of Northern Italy by Federico Fellini and Michelangelo Antonioni. Even the unconventional approach to the Italian style of Western when it came to the film's violence while Frayling notes that this was not the first Spaghetti Western. There were many westerns made for Italy but as a co-production with West Germany and Spain but A Fistful of Dollars was still the first film that had an Italian feel. Frayling's commentary overall is brilliant and incisive.

The second disc of the DVD featuring six featurettes, trailers, and 10 radio spots promoting the film. The first featurette is a 20-minute documentary called A New Kind of Hero featuring Sir Christopher Frayling. Fraying discusses some of the similar stories that he explained in the film commentary. He discussed more about the decline of Westerns as a genre where it became more about the old heroes like John Wayne and Gary Cooper rather than the story. He also goes into length of Leone's inspiration from the Kurosawa film Yojimbo while deciding to cast Clint Eastwood after watching an episode of Rawhide. Eastwood, ended up doing the project despite having hesitation while in his contract with Rawhide, wasn't allowed to do any Hollywood films in the U.S. but could do films in Europe. Frayling goes into detail about the film's impact on the genre while also claiming that it was this film that started the prototype of the modern-day action hero. Particularly in the 1960s which was against the grain of the old-school cowboy of John Wayne.

The eight-minute featurette A Few Weeks in Spain is an interview segment with Clint Eastwood recorded in 2003 originally for the special-edition of The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly. Eastwood discusses the reason he took the part largely because of Yojimbo while revealing that with the costume, because there weren't any duplicates. He took the costume home every night. Eastwood, who asked for less dialogue in the film, knew that the sound would be lost during the shoot as for the post-production dubbing, whatever he said was basically an improvisation. Eastwood admits to the overall experience being fun despite the constant arguing between the productions from West Germany, Spain, and Italy.

A ten-minute featurette called Tre Voci that featured interviews with three of Sergio Leone's friends including translator Mickey Knox, producer Alberto Grimaldi, and screenwriter Sergio Donati. The three men discuss their friendship with Leone as Donati was one of the men who saw Yojimbo with Leone during that late 1963 screening in Rome. Donati knew Leone for years and ended up contributing to the script for For a Few Dollars More and revealing that when Fistful came out, critics hated the film. Knox reveals Leone's love for the Western and wanted to add some edge to the dying genre as the film ended up being played all over Europe and at one point, played in France for a year with huge audiences. Alberto Grimaldi, recalled that when the film came out, he was an aspiring producer and when he made a deal to get the film out worldwide, he unknowingly realized that the film's success helped the industry as he ended up being one of Leone's great collaborators.

Two more featurettes involve a rarely-seen prologue by director Monte Hellman of Two-Lane Blacktop. The first featurette entitled Not Ready for Primetime was about the first-ever network showing of A Fistful of Dollars in 1977. Yet, network president Mike Medavoy felt the film's story and lack of moral justification was too obscene for the public. There, Monte Hellman was hired to create a scene where the Man with No Name was sent to the town to stop a feuding gang as he was hired by a man, played by Harry Dean Stanton. Hellman discusses how he got the job and shot the whole prologue for a day with Stanton in the role. While they were never able to get Clint Eastwood, they hired a double whose face was never seen. Hellman never talked about the prologue until now for the DVD but never considers it one of his best work as the prologue was only shown once. What was more surprising was Eastwood saw the prologue that night and wondered when did he shoot this.

The second featurette is the prologue itself with an introduction from Howard Fridkin, a Leone collector who provided the rarely-seen prologue from a recorded Betamax tape that he used to record the entire film. He recalled at the age of 9, already have seen Leone's films that he was baffled by the prologue and almost, stopped the tape. Having kept it so long, he realized he had a rare item and gave it to MGM. The prologue itself is then shown with the Man with No Name wearing all of his trademark clothing, though it is not the poncho, gun belt, or anything that is like the original film. The overall prologue and in its delapidated look on the Betamax tape, is pretty cheesy despite Harry Dean Stanton's performance. It's worth watching for Stanton but really doesn't have anything to do with A Fistful of Dollars.

The final featurette is a five-minute segment called Location Comparisons Then to Now featuring many of the film's original locations then and now in Almeria, Spain where some of the interiors is now someone's home, some places are in ruins while others are now part of a park or just with more trees and such. 10 radio spots are included that each saying it's the most exciting western in years starring Clint Eastwood is nice to hear for hardcore fans of the film. The trailers section features a double-bill trailer for A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More plus the 2004 2-disc Collector's DVD for The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly along with DVD trailers for The Great Escape, Hoosiers, Raging Bull, and the box set for the Rocky movies. Included in the DVD is a booklet explaining the film and its legacy along with a brief quote from Eastwood and details on the DVD itself.

A Fistful of Dollars is a thrilling, exciting, and entertaining film from Sergio Leone and company. Fans of Leone will no doubt consider this essential while fans of Westerns will consider this one of the best films of that genre. While not as superior as The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly or even 1968's Once Upon a Time in the West, the film still remains exciting while making it part of a great marathon for Leone's beloved westerns. The film also makes a great double feature with Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo for comparison reasons. With a great look, style, Ennio Morricone's music, and the laid-back persona of Clint Eastwood, Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars is a must-have for any aficionado of westerns or cinema itself.

(C) thevoid99 2012

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Auteurs #13: Christopher Nolan

One of the few filmmakers currently working in Hollywood with an independent sensibility, Christopher Nolan is a filmmaker who creates films that are big but also highbrow in its ambition. Whether it’s in crime films or dealing with mysticism, there is no filmmaker like Nolan who is able to create films that can appeal to a wide audience no matter how complicated the stories he create seem. As he’s about to close the final chapter of his Batman trilogy with The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan is already a filmmaker that many film buffs can trust on.

Born in London, England on July 30, 1970, Nolan was the son of a British copywriter and an American flight attendant where he later gained a younger brother in Jonathan in June of 1976. Splitting his time in London and his mother’s home of Chicago in the U.S., Nolan’s interest in the world of movies began at a young age where he made Super 8 films that featured his toy collection. While coming of age with his younger brother, Nolan met a future filmmaker in Roko Belic where they collaborated in shorts during Nolan’s time in Chicago. After attending the Haileybury and Imperial Service College in Hertfordshire, England where he would meet his future wife Emma Thomas who would produce all of Nolan’s films.

During his college years, Nolan would make two shorts in 1989’s Tarantella and Larceny in 1996 as the latter would explore Nolan’s fascination with memory as it was funded by UCLU Film Society in Britain. The film would also feature Jeremy Theobald who would be one of Nolan’s early collaborator.


Nolan’s 1997 short film revolved around a man who is trying to kill a mysterious bug in his apartment. The three-minute short explores Nolan’s fascination with the world of troubled individuals as Jeremy Theobald plays a man who is truly troubled by what he’s trying to kill. The big reveal shows the kind of ambition that Nolan wants as it would indicate the work that he would do in his feature films.

Following graduation and the three shorts he made, Christopher Nolan got a chance to make his feature film in the form of a 69-minute film that he wrote, shot, co-edited, and directed called Following. The film is a neo-noir story about a man who follows strangers including a thief only to be caught up in that man’s dark underworld.

A fan of noir films, Nolan decided to create a story that would play with the conventions of noir as he also devised to have it told in a non-linear manner. Notably as it would play into Nolan’s fascination with memory as it is told by this young writer who is being interrogated for crimes he may have not committed. Shot on location in London, Nolan aimed for a look that was reminiscent of the early films of Stanley Kubrick, notably the 1955 film Killer’s Kiss that shared similar noir aesthetics with what Nolan wanted.

Shot in 16mm black-and-white film stock and in the span of three to four months on Saturdays, the film was shot with a very low budget of 3,000 pounds as Nolan had a small crew that included early collaborator David Julyan who did some of the film’s sound and its chilling music score. With Jeremy Theobald playing the young writer, Nolan cast up-and-coming British actress Lucy Russell as the femme fatale, Alex Haw as the thief, and Nolan’s father John as the policeman who interrogates the young writer. With many playing noir-like characters, Nolan wanted to make sure that the film isn’t a conventional noir due to the non-linear narrative structure as well as the images he created such as the writer lost amidst a sea of people walking around.

The film made its premiere at the 1998 Toronto Film Festival where it would get a limited release in the U.S. in the spring of 1999 with a U.K. release in November of that year. Though the reception for the film was good, it wouldn’t be up until the aftermath of the success of Nolan’s follow-up film Memento where the film got more attention. Notably as fans would spot numerous references to Nolan’s future work in the film such as the thief’s name Cobb that is the same name as the protagonist in Inception as well as the clock Cobb stole that would be in Memento. Another reference is a Batman sticker on a door Cobb and the writer stole as it would reference the Batman trilogy Nolan would later helm. Since its release, the film is often regarded as a top-notch debut film that would lead to the start of Nolan’s career.

Nolan’s next project would be based on a short story his younger brother Jonathan had created during a mid-1990s road trip from Chicago to Los Angeles that would be called Memento Mori. During the development for the story that revolved a man with anterograde amnesia who is trying to find his wife’s killer, Nolan had an idea to have the story be told backwards. Notably as it would help play to the amnesia where a man tries to take note of everything he’s doing as well as keep track of finding out who killed his wife.

With help from then-girlfriend and producer Emma Thomas to help sell Nolan’s screenplay to distributors, it would get the attention of Aaron Ryder of Newmarket Films to have the film be made for a budget of $4.5 million. Though the budget would double to $9 million in the end, Nolan was able to have the production be moved from Montreal to Los Angeles in order for Nolan’s desire to play true to the realm of film noir. During pre-production, Nolan would gain a couple of key collaborators who would become part of his filmmaking team. The first is editor Dody Dorn while the other is cinematographer Wally Pfister who had started his career shooting softcore porn films for B-movie studios.

When it came to casting, Guy Pearce finally nabbed the role of the film’s protagonist Leonard Shelby after Brad Pitt passed on the part due to scheduling conflicts as Aaron Eckhart and Thomas Jane were also considered. For the role of the bartender Natalie who reluctantly aids Leonard in his mission, Carrie-Anne Moss got the part as she had just appeared in the 1999 blockbuster The Matrix. Moss suggested her Matrix co-star in character actor Joe Pantoliano to play the role of the corrupt cop Teddy as Nolan would also cast character actors Stephen Tobolowsky, Mark Boone Junior, and Callum Keith Rennie for key supporting roles in the film as shooting began in the fall of 1999.

Wanting to create a film that is true to the idea of film noir, Nolan’s approach to telling the story backwards was crucial to playing up the suspense where he wanted to repeat images and other parts of the film so that Leonard could try and remember everything he’s doing. Yet, he is surrounded by people that could be manipulating him from the truth as Nolan used both color and black-and-white film stock to help tell the story. Adding to the suspense of David Julyan’s score that plays to the suspense as well as the sense of loss that Leonard is feeling throughout the film. What Nolan would create isn’t just a reinvention of film noir but a way to tell a story without conventions or making it too high brow for a mass audience.

The film premiered at the 2000 Venice Film Festival where it was well received as following festival appearances at the Deauville American Film Festival in France and the Toronto Film Festival gave the film a lot of attention leading to its U.S. premiere at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival. The buzz it received from film festivals helped give the film a theatrical release despite lack of interests from other distributors helping Newmarket become an emerging independent studio. The box office success and critical acclaim Nolan would receive would elevate him as a new emerging voice in independent films as he would also gain detractors for his use of exposition as well as labeling his backward narrative as a gimmick. Still, the success of Memento would announce to the world that Christopher Nolan had arrived.

The success of Memento would help Nolan gain the attention of major film studios eager to work with him. Yet like many filmmakers, Nolan wanted control as he eventually was attached to numerous projects for major studios. One of them would be in a remake of a project that Jonathan Demme was attached to in Erik Skoldbaejrg’s 1997 Norwegian thriller Insomnia. The film was about a detective who travels to a town to investigate the death of a young woman only to deal with a killer, guilt, and suffering from insomnia due to the town’s perpetual sunlight season.

The theme of guilt attracted Nolan to the project as he did a rewrite on Hilary Seitz’s screenplay to focus on that theme in relation to protagonist that is renamed Will Dormer. With many actors slated for the part including Harrison Ford, Al Pacino was cast while playing the antagonist Walter Finch is famed comedy actor Robin Williams that surprised everyone. With an ensemble that included character actors Nicky Katt and Paul Dooley along with Martin Donovan as Dormer’s partner, Maura Tierney as the lodge owner, and Hilary Swank in an expanded role from the original as young detective Ellie Burr.

Shot on location in Alaska, the film marked a huge transition from the intimacy of his previous films to showcase more expansive compositions of the Alaskan mountains. Helping to add authenticity to what Nolan wanted is production designer Nathan Crowley who would become one of Nolan’s key collaborators. Even as Crowley would create sets to help create a mood for the suspense with cinematographer Wally Pfister setting up lighting schemes to play Dormer’s increasing insomnia. While the film would have repeated images that would play to Dormer’s guilt, the film would end up being Nolan’s most straightforward film of his career.

Released in May of 2002 through Warner Brothers and the Section Eight production company from Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney. The film was a critical and commercial hit for Nolan as it drew excellent notices for its cast and suspense. While many Nolan fans cited it as Nolan’s weakest film due to the fact that he didn’t entirely write the film nor does it have some of his unconventional narrative approach. The film is still considered to be a rare remake that actually succeeds in being just as good as the original as the film would raise Nolan’s clout with studios who are eager to work with him.

The box-office success of Insomnia would have Nolan in line for a much bigger project Warner Brothers wanted to revive which was a film franchise for the superhero Batman. The famed Caped Crusader was a hero Nolan loved as he put a Batman sticker on a door in a scene in Following. Yet, Nolan was aware of how much work the franchise for Batman needed to be revived following the poorly-received 1997 film Batman & Robin that was directed by Joel Schumacher and starred George Clooney as Batman. Instead of wanting to follow along with what had been told, Nolan felt that the story needed to re-told and re-started for a new audience.

After finally being attached to the project in early 2003, Nolan collaborated with screenwriter David S. Goyer to create a script that would be an origin story but in a different take. Goyer’s knowledge of comic stories and mythology would be useful to what Nolan wanted as the two based their script on a short story about Batman’s world travels. The two also wanted to focus on the characterization of Bruce Wayne as well as delve into much larger, darker themes such as chaos in relation to the forces Wayne has to face in the film. Another theme Nolan wanted to explore was fear in relation to how Wayne’s fear of bats would play to the guilt he carried over his parents’ death. During the development of the script, Nolan would also go on the search to find the right Batman as a long list of actors were in line as Christian Bale ultimately got the role.

With the shoot beginning in early 2004 in parts of Iceland, London, and Chicago, Nolan decided to take full control of the shooting with cinematographer Wally Pfister as they also decided to avoid using second unit crew work for the film. With Bale in the role of Batman, Nolan was able to get an ensemble that any young filmmaker would dream of. Sir Michael Caine played the role of Wayne’s loyal butler Alfred along with Gary Oldman as then-Sgt. James Gordon, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, Liam Neeson as the mysterious Henri Ducard, Ken Watanabe as Ra’s Ah Ghul, Cillian Murphy as Dr. Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow, and some fictionally-created roles for Tom Wilkinson as mob figure Carmine Falcone and Katie Holmes as Wayne’s love interest Rachel Dawes.

While Nolan also put some of his cast from Following in small cameos including his father John, Nolan still wanted to aim for a realistic look into Batman. Straying from the comic-book vision of Tim Burton’s 1989 film and its 1992 follow-up Batman Returns as well as the more cartoonish ode to the 60s TV show that Joel Schumacher had created. Nolan and production designer Nathan Crowley to create a look that looked more real as Nolan had more control on how he wanted the Batmobile to look as well as creating gadgets that seemed more realistic. Even the suit had to look real but also in tune with all of the traditional looks of Batman as Nolan still wanted people to realize that Batman could still be made in the real world.

Adding to the scale of the ambition were the choice of composers Nolan wanted as he gained the services of Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard who had been interesting in collaborating with each other for years. Getting two for the price of one was a coup for Nolan as Zimmer/Howard created a score that lived up to the bombast of what Nolan wanted as well as the heightened drama to Bruce Wayne’s troubled life. The music was a major change to what Nolan had done previously as the music was now more driven by orchestral arrangements to swell up the suspense and drama. Particularly as Nolan wanted to create a film that was entertaining but also intelligent and the overall result is one of the best superhero films presented for its genre.

The film premiered in June of 2005 to become one of the most acclaimed films of the year as well as a major success in the box office. The film not only gave Christian Bale the attention he had been yearning after years of being a cult actor. The film also put Nolan firmly in the mainstream as one of the rare filmmakers to work in Hollywood with an independent sensibility. While not everyone praised the film for its ambitious take on Batman along with criticism towards Katie Holmes’ performance in the wake of her publicized relationship with Tom Cruise. The film did manage to win back a lot of fans of Batman as it would also help Nolan increase his fan base and clout with the industry.

Thanks to the success of Batman Begins, Nolan was able to get the chance to do whatever he wanted as he and his brother Jonathan decided to revive a project they had been developing following the success of Memento. Based on Christopher Priest’s 1995 novel, The Prestige told the story of dueling magicians who seek out to outdo each other in the world of magic during the late 19th Century. The Nolan brothers decided to turn the story into a feature film by utilizing a similar non-linear narrative approach they did with Memento but telling it in a more straightforward manner.

With new collaborators Christian Bale and Michael Caine joining the project while Nolan also brought in Batman Begins editor Lee Smith as part of his filmmaking collaborative team that also includes Wally Pfister, Nathan Crowley, and David Julyan. The cast would also include Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, then-newcomer Rebecca Hall, Piper Perabo, music legend David Bowie as Nikolai Tesla, Andy Serkis, and noted character actor/magician Ricky Jay into the film. Wanting to use magic as part of the story and how it is made, Nolan asked Ricky Jay to train Bale and Jackman for their roles as the dueling magicians who try to outdo each other.

Wanting to maintain an air of suspense and get the audience to keep guessing what is going on, Nolan’s approach to the story was to see how Bale’s Alfred Borden and Hugh Jackman’s Robert Angier try to one-up each other to the point that they become mad in their obsession to outdo each other in the field of magic. Notably as the film plays to this non-linear narrative where each man reads diaries from the other person where the audience seems to realize like the characters themselves can realize that they’re being played. Notably as the two opposing magicians are motivated by different reasons as Borden is about pushing the boundaries of what magic can do while Angier is motivated by revenge over the death of his wife in hopes to outdo Borden.

Shot in Los Angeles with part of the locations in the Colorado for the scenes involving Angier and Nikolai Tesla. Nolan also aimed for a visual style that was entrancing as it included lush scenery in the Colorado mountains where Tesla conducted many of his experiments that would drive Angier into near-madness where he would eventually create the ultimate version of Borden’s magic trick. The result would have Nolan doing a lot to get the audience to be entertained as well as be engaged into the world of magic where they also realize some things can be as simple as they seem.

Released in late October of 2006, the film was a critical and commercial hit for Nolan as the $40 million budget picture grossed more than a $100 million worldwide. The film helped to raise Nolan as a top filmmaker as the film became a personal favorite among his fan base for its intricate plotting and vast visual settings. While the film wasn’t a big hit in comparison to Batman Begins, the film did prove that there’s more to Nolan than just the Batman movies.

With a series of critical and commercially successful films under his belt, Nolan returned to the Batman series for its follow-up to Batman Begins with its sequel in The Dark Knight. Teaming up with David S. Goyer for the project, Nolan also brought his brother Jonathan into the writing team to create a story that was much bigger than its predecessor not just in visual scale but in themes that would include nihilism in the form of the main villain that Batman is to face in the Joker.

The story would revolve around Bruce Wayne’s desire to save Gotham from evil as he finds a way out in the form of district attorney Harvey Dent who he feels could save Gotham. Yet, the two along with James Gordon face a new dark force in an anarchist named the Joker who threatens Gotham’s desire for peace through corruption and chaos. There, Wayne realizes that even Batman has limits in what he has to do to save Gotham even if it means having to break a few of his own rules.

With a story this ambitious and this grand, this meant that the production has to be bigger where there’s more stunts, more set pieces, and more action. Still, Nolan wanted to balance all of the action and suspense with drama to emphasize Wayne’s desire for a life outside of being the playboy and being Batman as he has to contend with Dent but also the Joker. Notably as the film would contain tragedy that would test Wayne’s desire to do good but it would mark a shift into Dent’s behavior where he would become another villain in the form of Two-Face.

With Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Gary Oldman returning from the first film along with an appearance from Cillian Murphy reprising his role as the Scarecrow. The cast would include Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent, Eric Roberts as a mob leader Sal Maroni, and Maggie Gyllenhaal replacing Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes. Yet the biggest casting news came in the form of the Joker as rising Australian actor Heath Ledger nabbed the part of the crazed anarchist as Ledger drew his inspiration from Malcolm McDowell’s performance in Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film A Clockwork Orange. Ledger’s performance would definitely raise the stakes for everything as his interpretation of the Joker was larger than life as well as someone whose sense of humor is truly off-kilter such as the big scene of him walking out of an exploding hospital as he tries to have part of it blown up.

Since the film is meant to be a big blockbuster with brains, Nolan wanted to aim for something different to get people to see it in the big screen. For some scenes, Nolan decided to shoot part of the film and its action sequences for IMAX to capture the massive scale of the production. For Nolan, it was a chance to make something that was close to the epic 70mm films that he loved to watch growing up as he wanted to recreate that experience that he felt is lost in films. Notably as he becomes part of an ongoing debate over film vs. digital as Nolan argues in favor of film as the form is dying.

Released in July of 2008, the film became a massive critical and commercial hit of the summer with many stating that Nolan raised the bar for the superhero films. Despite all of the accolades, the film’s success was bittersweet due to Heath Ledger’s death on January 22, 2008 to an accidental overdose as his performance was cited as the highlight of the film as it earned him a posthumous Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor. Yet, the film’s box office success pondered many on how would Nolan top this one as someone wondered if a third film would be made.

For his seventh feature film, Nolan decided to make a heist film that would be unlike anything else. A project Nolan had in mind in the wake of ambitious late 90s films like Alex Proyas’ Dark City and the Wachowski‘s 1999 film The Matrix, Nolan’s heist film entitled Inception would be a film that is would bend all sorts of genres. The project revolved around a man whose job is to steal dreams from people’s minds as he’s asked by a businessman to inject an idea into a business rival’s mind with the help of a team. The film would be one of the most extravagant Hollywood blockbusters with a high-minded concept.

The film would mark the first time since Following where he wrote the film by himself as he aimed to create a story that was about a group of people entering into people’s minds to inject ideas into someone else. Yet, the film would also revolve around Nolan’s theme of guilt as the story is led by a character named Cobb who is dealing with the death of his wife that he felt responsible for as he tries to come to terms with it despite being a bit of a liability to his team. It was a project Nolan had wanted to do for years but needed enough experience to make a project as grand as this.

The $160 million budgeted film would require Nolan to create expansive sets and shoot in various locations such as Tokyo, Paris, London, Los Angeles, Tangiers, and Alberta, Canada. Working with Nolan on the art direction would be British production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas who had been known for making big set pieces for the blockbuster films of Bryan Singer like X2: X-Men United and Superman Returns. Among the ideas Nolan and Dyas would create would hallways that would move upside down for one of the characters to face off against fictional dream figures.

While the production was to be ambitious in terms of creating big sets with some visual effects, the vastness of the project would also be filled in the ensemble cast Nolan got. Along with an appearance from Michael Caine and supporting work from Nolan regulars Ken Watanabe and Cillian Murphy. Headlining the ensemble as Cobb is Leonardo DiCaprio as DiCaprio was a big fan of Nolan. The cast also included Marion Cotillard as Cobb’s late wife Mal, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao, Tom Berenger, and Pete Postlethwaite in one of his final film appearances before his death in early 2011. Knowing that heist films relied on the ensemble cast, Nolan wanted to maintain the spirit of the ensemble with this film as he gave each of his actors a chance to stand out.

While the project was large in scale and cast, Nolan wanted to ensure that it was still about something as he knew he was making a high-minded concept blockbuster in the age where the summer blockbuster was being dumb-down for the masses. While the story would have to include exposition about what is happening, Nolan wanted to make sure that the audience is up for the ride as he does more than enough for the audience to care for the characters or even laugh at them as he injected moments of humor in these characters such as Murphy’s Robert Fischer character telling Ken Watanabe’s Saito character “why couldn’t we have dreamed to be on a beach or something?”

Released in July of 2010, the film drew rave reviews and massive box office as British film critic Mark Kermode championed the film for being the one summer blockbuster for daring to be intelligent for a wide audience. Grossing more than $800 million worldwide, the film also garnered many accolades though many Nolan fans were upset over Nolan being snubbed by the Oscars once again for his work. Despite being nominated for 8 Oscars including Best Picture, the film won four for its visual effects, sound work, and for Wally Pfister’s cinematography as it was another big achievement for Nolan as his fans would state the words “In Nolan We Trust”.

Nolan’s eight feature film would have him return to the story of Batman for one last time to conclude the trilogy about Bruce Wayne and his role of being Batman. In The Dark Knight Rises, the film would take place eight years after the events of The Dark Knight where Bruce Wayne has become a battered man haunted by the lie he created while dealing with a new foe who arrives to Gotham to finish Ra’s Al Ghul’s plan to destroy Gotham. The arrival of this new force in Bane as well as a cat burglar named Selina Kyle would prompt Wayne to return as Batman much to the concern of his butler Alfred.

Budgeted at $250 million, the film would be Nolan’s most expensive and most ambitious as he wanted to create the ultimate finale for his Dark Knight Trilogy. Notably as it would involve many of his themes of fear and guilt where both Wayne and Commissioner Gordon deal with the lie they created and Bane’s arrival who is set to undo the peace they brought following Harvey Dent’s death. The film would also have Wayne go back to the world of the League of Shadows that Bane leads where Batman would learn more about Ra’s Al Ghul past.

With many of Nolan’s regulars from the franchise returning like Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Cillian Murphy along with a special appearance from Liam Neeson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy and Marion Cotillard also became regulars of Nolan as they each played key roles for the film while Hardy got to play the role of the lead villain Bane. For the role of the anti-hero Catwoman/Selina Kyle, Anne Hathaway nabbed the part as her character would never be referred to as Catwoman. Other actors who had key small parts included Matthew Modine, Ben Mendelsohn, and Juno Temple as part of Nolan’s desire to create a unique ensemble cast.

The film was to be much more complex as it would explore Wayne’s return as the Caped Crusader where he faces new foes like Bane who is proven to be a physical force both literally and conceptually. Particularly in the latter where he would destroy parts of Gotham to create an example of what he wanted to do. Yet, he wouldn’t be the film’s big revelation as it’s ultimate surprise involves Ra’s Al Ghul and his past in which Wayne would be in a prison where he would be in a place that was considered to be hell on Earth. While the film doesn’t reach the heights of its predecessors, The Dark Knight Rises does confirm Nolan’s power as a filmmaker.

With already eight films to his credit and the admiration of moviegoers and film critics, Christopher Nolan is already considered one of the best filmmakers working today. He is among one of the rare Hollywood filmmakers who can work within the system and make whatever films he wants. Whether it’s about Batman, magicians, a guilt-ridden detective, a mind extractor, a follower, or a man with amnesia. Only someone like Christopher Nolan could make these kind of films and have an audience be engaged by these stories. Whatever he’ll do next, there’s no doubt that people will definitely be in line for whatever kind of magic Christopher Nolan will be up his sleeve.

© thevoid99 2012