ARCHIVE REVIEW: The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Jonathan Nolan & Christopher Nolan (screenplay), Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer (story) and Bob Kane (characters)
Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart and Gary Oldman

The Dark Knight changed the landscape of comic book movies by taking the super out of “super hero.”  The caped crusader at its center is a man tasked with an evil so great, so uncompromisingly senseless and terrifying, that he must sacrifice his moral superiority in order to fight it.

To me, this is not only Christopher Nolan’s crowning achievement as a director (so far), but also one of the best summer blockbusters ever made.  Just as Batman (Christian Bale) is brought toward the moral center, the movie’s heavy-handed post-9/11 politics and its gloriously conceived action sequences must also meet in the middle.  
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CLASSICS: Mulholland Dr.

Mulholland Dr.
Directed by: David Lynch
Written by: David Lynch (screenplay)
Starring: Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Justin Theroux and Ann Miller

David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. seeks to do nothing less than redefine cinematic narrative.  By playing off expectations- those that precede dread and anticipate desire- he creates a hallucinatory dreamscape that, like many dreams, is populated with familiar people, repeated locations and maddening symbolism.

Figuring out what a dream means is a common point of relation among people, though producing that experience on a film and draining it of the personal angle of a friend or family member makes Mulholland Dr. quite a challenging experience to interpret, especially on only one viewing.  We’re being tasked with interpreting the dream of someone we do not know.

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ARCHIVE REVIEW: Amélie

Amélie
Directed by: Jean Pierre-Jeunet
Written by: Guillaume Laurant & Jean Pierre-Jeunet
Starring: Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Serge Merlin, and Clotilde Mollet

Deep despair, insightful narcissism, impossibly cultured people- these are all things associated with French cinema.  Though our overseas friends gave us the new wave, these things rode the surf as well.  American cinema has tried since the birth of the French new wave to implement it as carelessly as such French staples as Breathless and The 400 Blows.  What a strange, wonderful phenomenon it is that French filmmaker Jean Pierre-Jeunet turns French cinema on its head yet again with Amélie.

Amélie is as free-spirited, uplifting, and gracious as the protagonist its title speaks of (Audrey Tautou).  Rarely does a movie tackle optimism as straightforwardly as this, and it’s something new for the often dark and brooding films associated with French cinema.  During its more than two hour run time, Pierre-Jeunet’s film manages to make a mundane, normal life seem enthralling thanks to a hilarious, charming and original screenplay and some of the best visuals the cinema has ever seen.

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ARCHIVE REVIEW: Sweeney Todd

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: John Logan (screenplay), Stephan Sondheim (musical)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, and Timothy Spall

Welcome to the deep, dark abyss of Tim Burton’s mind, my friends.  In a land where logic takes back seat to lavish set pieces, art design, and terrible beauty, storytelling is of the most paramount importance to make the movie work.  With Burton’s obsession with visuals and macabre humor, this can be a problem.  Never has his ability, neigh, gift for storytelling been so brilliantly fused with his other obsessions as it is in Sweeney Todd.

It helps that Burton is working with an already legendary source material by the late, great Stephan Sondheim.  Though he was reluctant to approach a live musical, his risk has paid off and he appears a natural at it.  This is an entire movie filled with risks, especially with the casting.

Burton regulars Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter may not seem too risky of a choice, but when they’ve never sang a word on screen before and have not been professionally trained, it is in Hollywood.  Luckily, Burton only appears mad and actually isn’t.

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Our (Belated) Best Female Performances of the Decade

1. Bjork- Dancer in the Dark It was already a complicated role to step into; a lower class immigrant who must work in a factory to support her son and save up for his surgery to save him from the same blindness that was dooming her.  She then runs into serious threats when capitalist America comes into the picture. Add in musical fantasies, tension from the sadist Lars Von Trier and impossible songs written by Bjork herself, and the role of Selma is just as doomed as the character.  But Bjork takes this tragic story, gives it the proper life, glimmer for hope and our sympathy to prolong the inevitable as long as possible, making it even that much more difficult to take. It’s a pure work of devastation to watch Bjork melt right down into the role, with her far-off eyes, that reckoning, hopeless smile and perfectly broken down English that match every last theme in the movie. Key Scene- Selma is in a jail cell broken down and alone and once again turns to music to take her away. Moving to the ventilator, she begins singing Julie Andrews’ “Favorite Things” to calm herself from one of the lowest points in her life. It’s a sad setting but a bright song, and then it gets even more disturbing when Bjork throws in the deep lumps in the back of her throat and tears matched with her revealing smile and dancing around. It’s heartbreaking to watch.

2. Ellen Burstyn- Requiem for a Dream- Her role as an aging widow hooked on caffeine pills in an attempt to get on her favorite television show is also one of the most heart-wrenching performances you’re ever likely to see.  Burstyn may have lost the Oscar, but her performance will live on longer than any of the nominees from that year.  Key Scene Her monologue to her son Harry.  It’s here that her character’s drug use is humanized, tragically.  Burstyn doesn’t go full-on with her grief, she restrains herself to devastating effect.  The close-up shot catches every nuance of a performance with many dazzling ones.

3. Naomi Watts- Mulholland Drive– Watts’ performance(s) in David Lynch’s mind-boggling neo-noir catapulted her to the ranks of Hollywood’s finest young actresses.  Without her perky smile and willingness to bear her body and soul, Lynch’s vision would’ve been less convincing.  Key Scene– As Betty auditions for a part in a movie, Watts makes the audition seem like reality thanks to a close-up of the two actors and her smoldering intensity and eroticism.  It’s unlike anything you’ll see in any other movie. Continue reading

Our (Belated) Best Movies of the 2000s

1. There Will Be Blood– Paul Thomas Andersen’s take on a corrupt, independent oil prospector at the turn of the century who just conned a family out of their oil-wealthy land is an epic exploration of two souls squaring off in a new world torn between spiritual and capitalistic ideals. The performance of Daniel Day Lewis gives Daniel Plainview flesh and blood thicker and blacker than the oil he devotes himself to drilling, carrying the film for nearly three hours and never skipping a scene that won’t enthrall. Those who can’t appreciate experimental filmmaking or principals of classic cinema like Citizen Kane will think this movie bores more than it bleeds. Though it’s a tragic tale, telling the American nightmare oppose to the America dream, it’s technically beautiful, if not perfect. The unconventional and strange cinematography and score are just a few of the elements that set Andersen up as rebellious poet, taking a stand against everything the digital film age embodies, and in doing so he creates something just as classic, magnificent and important as Citizen Kane, but clumping them together is injustice. There Will Be Blood mines deep into new territories and in the process, becomes a masterpiece.


2. The Departed– Martin Scorsese’s visceral return to the crime drama yielded extraordinary results.  Packing an unbeatable cast into a winning script by William Monahan, Scorsese creates a world where corruption starts young and gets more powerful with age.  Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Vera Farmiga, and Mark Wahlberg are all excellent, but as with most of his films, Scorsese is the star of the show. He laces this tale of Shakespearean magnitude with perfect music and pacing.  Two and a half hours rarely go by so fast.  You’ll have whiplash by the time the film reaches its bloody climax, and love every second of it.  With The Departed, Scorsese’s created a classic that stands with his best work. Continue reading