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Archive for the ‘Auteurs’ Category

Some directors make a big noise about a new film.  As such even casual film fans can identify them as the director of certain films.  Doug Liman is not one of these directors, he is the quiet man who lets his films speak for themselves, that is why he is the director you didn’t know that you loved, many people wouldn’t recognise him as  the director of many of his biggest films.  Is this because he hasn’t made any good films?  Clearly not, he has made a few good films and three or four great ones. 

Doug Liman made his breakthrough with his second feature, the often imitated Swingers (1996).  Based on a script from first time writer Jon Favreau, it isn’t a perfect film, its far less polished than we have come to expect from Liman, but the shakyness adds to the charm.  It was also the breakthrough film for Favreau as an actor, and his co star Vince Vaughn. Swingers

Next up is my personal favourite of Liman’s movies, Go (1999).  Katie Holmes, Sarah Polley, Timothy Olyphant, William Fichtner, and Taye Diggs may now be household names, but back in 1999, they were all relatively unknown.  With three overlapping stories on the streets of LA, comparisons to Pulp Fiction were inevitable.  But this is a more down to earth, a realistic LA inhabited by people we all recognise, without the glow of Michael Mann or the pop culture cool of Quentin Tarantino.  Directed with fun and confidence it was one of the best films of a very strong year. Go

Everyone knows that Paul Greengrass is the brilliant auteur director behind the Bourne movies, many forget the first, and my favourite of the series The Bourne Identity (2002) was directed by Doug Liman.  Liman had to do all the heavy lifting to introduce and position the character, something he does with ease and confidence.   The casting of Matt Damon and Franka Potente was inspired and nothing short of perfect.  The action scenes were a revelation making it one of the most influential films of the genre since Die Hard. The Bourne Identity

A more lightweight take on the genre Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005) may not be a masterpiece, but it is good fun and worth watching for the chemistry between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.  Jumper (2008) is silly and disposable, but it’s good fun, and better than the book on which it is based.  The true life thriller Fair Game (2010) lacks the excitement and flair to make it a great film, but it is a good and underrated one with fantastic performances. Mr & Mrs Smith Jumper Fair Game

What is the best Sci-Fi movie of the decade?  That’s a question for another day but the conversation must include the sublime Edge of Tomorrow (2014).  The tricky time-loop story is handled with ease and invention.  The action is amazing.  But best of all, the cast led by Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt is fantastic.  Cruise has fun playing against type as an initially cowardly character.  Blunt is an unlikely but brilliant action star.  I am really looking forward to the recently confirmed sequel: Live Die Repeat and Repeat. Edge of Tomorrow

Currently on general release in the UK and due for a North American release next week, American Made (2017) reteams star Tom Cruise with Liman.  A sometimes comic take on the true story of Barry Seal, a pilot who simultaneously worked for the CIA and Pablo Escobar during the war on drugs of the 70’s and 80’s.  Not the best film from either director or star, but with the fun and charisma you expect from both.  I don’t expect to see it on many “best of” lists at the end of the year, but I do think most people who sees it to enjoy it. American Made

If I haven’t convinced you, go and watch: Go, The Bourne Identity and Edge of Tomorrow and you, like me will be looking out for Doug Liman’s next movie with a certain sense of excitement. 

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On Saturday morning I received a text message from a friend who is a huge Twin Peaks fan:

“So Dale Cooper first arrives in Twin Peaks at 11:30am.  Yesterday at that exact time both David Lynch and Mark Frost sent the same tweet”:

The text also quoted Dale Cooper “When two separate events occur simultaneously pertaining to the same object of inquiry we must always pay strict attention”

The immediate reaction.  Lynch and Frost are going to re-team for a new Twin Peaks series or Movie.  The speculation was ended on Monday when they tweeted their intentions:

The Show Time website confirms the series is set to return in 2016, to mark the 25th anniversary of the end of the original run.  Original creators/producers David Lynch and Mark Frost are on board and will write and produce all nine episodes and Lynch will direct them.   No plot details have been released but many original cast members have expressed an interest and I understand Kyle MacLachlan (Special Agent Dale Cooper) has confirmed he will be reprising his role.

We are long overdue for a serving of cherry pie and some damn fine coffee!

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While having a conversation about X Men: Days of Future Past I mentioned how impressed I was that the films finale had not reverted to the now standard robots/superhumans hitting each other and blowing shit up. I was met with a some strange looks. It seems everyone I was talking to like the action and explosions and see the talking between them as filler.X-Men-Days-of-Future-Past-chess-game

I then asked about Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a film that combines a 70’s thriller with a modern comic book movie. Most of those who had seen it liked it, but liked it for its action and adventure and not for its character studies and the tension it creates. I mentioned the great conversations between Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson and Robert Redford. My argument fell on deaf ears.redford-capn-america

I then decided to pull out the big guns; Quentin Tarantino and Steven Spielberg. With the exception of The Showdown at House of Blue Leaves, all the best Tarantino moments have been dialogue and not action based: The diner in Reservoir Dogs, the Royale with cheese conversation in Pulp Fiction, The tavern scene in Inglourious Basterds, all of Jackie Brown.

Then comes Steven Spielberg, the man who gave us: The D Day landings, a T-Rex, a girl in a red coat in an otherwise black and white movie, Harrison Ford being chased by a giant marble. But what is the best scene Spielberg ever directed? Ultimately that is a personal choice, but for me despite all these memorable and iconic moments, there is one scene that stands out to me:

Don’t get me wrong I love action and count Die Hard and Point Break amongst my favourite films, but there is so much more to cinema. If you don’t believe me sir down and watch your favourite Spielberg, Tarantino, Bryan Singer and Christopher Nolan movies and try to define what is great about them.

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Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s motto is “Ars Gratia Artis”, it appears on the company logo inscribed into a ring of film that surrounds “Leo” the roaring lion that is at the heart of the companies brand image. The Latin phrase translates to “Art for art’s sake”, but how many studios truly believe in this concept. Is the motion picture industry the one art form where cash is king and art is an afterthought? More so than any other art based industry including music, the bottom line comes first and if they make some art along the way that’s a bonus.

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Where would the movie industry me if the money men took a step back and let the artists run the industry? Would it be a case of the lunatics running the asylum and all the studios would go bust, or would the products be so great that they would make money along the way? To go back to the comparison with the music industry, manufactured bands who want to be rich and famous often make it big for a short time, make lots of money then disappear without a trace. Whatever amount of success they have often pales in comparison to genuinely talented artists who are in it for the love of the music.

The late 20’s through to the end of the 40’s is often referred to as the Golden Age of Cinema. Many people dispute this as it was controlled by the big studios and their moguls, it was also the time of a huge amount of censorship. It was the time of the “Studio system” where stars were bound up in studio contracts and the vertical integration of production, distribution and exhibition was designed to dominate the industry. But constraint often inspires creativity and this era produced many classic movies, Citizen Kane and Casablanca to name just two. The system came to an end in the late 40’s following a Supreme Court ruling and things would never be the same again. But did they really change that much from an artistic point of view?Casablanca

The lunatics did run the asylum for a while, or at least the actors ran a studio when in 1919 D. W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks founded United Artists. By the end on the 1940’s the studio existed in little more than name, producing and distributing very few movies. Of the original stars who set up the studio only Pickford and Chaplin remained. Following the US government revoking Chaplin’s re-entry visa the pair agreed to sell the studio to Arthur Krim and Robert Benjamin, a pair of lawyers turned movie producers. Throughout the 50’s 60’s and 70’s the studio produced many classic movies and launched the James Bond series, but it was a long way from the ideals of Griffith, Chaplin, Pickford, and Fairbanks.United Artists

Then came Heaven’s Gate. The director Michael Cimino, had won Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director for The Deer Hunter (a film I don’t think has aged that well and its crown as a classic may be slipping) and was given unusual creative freedom. There are lots of articles about this by people who know the story far better than me, look them up. The important thing here is the result and the fallout. The film had a budget estimated at $44 million (around $140million when adjusted for inflation), it took around $3million at the US box-office. Around this time the company was sold by Transamerica (a holding company that had acquired it a few years before) to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. It is estimated that they paid around $350 million. Was this for the artistry of the companies back catalogue or its value in the emerging home video market? I will let you decide. So there we are back at the beginning. The company that proudly bares the slogan Art for art’s sake purchased the company that was set up by artists for arts sake.

Heaven’s Gate may have seen the end of what is often referred to as New Hollywood, but the echoes of the era are still been felt and many exponents of the time are still making movies, they include: Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen, John Carpenter, Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma, Clint Eastwood, William Friedkin, Terrence Malick, Roman Polanski and Ridley Scott. There are also great directors who work outside or on the edge of the system like Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson and Richard Linklater. Their films may sometimes suffer from being bloated and or self indulgent but this is a small price to pay. Most interestingly are the directors like Christopher Nolan and Danny Boyle who work within the system but make it work for them in a similar way to the auteurs of the golden age.raging bull

So what’s the conclusion? Sadly I have no insight or profound words. As a cynic, I truly believe that the studios are in it for the money but as a film lover I believe there are artists (actors, writers, directors and other creative people) in the industry who are in it for the love and for the art, and once in a while they create art. True art, Art for art’s sake.

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In the past I have been vocal about my hatred of 3D, but I may have come to accept its place in cinema. The reason I have seen it working twice in recent years.Jaws 3d

When I was a kid 3D meant red and green lensed glasses with cardboard frames. My first experience of what was then branded Real D was in 2007 with the motion capture Beowulf. To the best of my memory I didn’t see another 3D movie until the end of 2009, that was James Cameron’s giant Smurfs epic Avatar, this again was a largely animated movie. From there things went downhill fast. The biggest problem comes when movies are retrofitted with 3D purely for profit. Apologists for 3D will tell you it is immersive and gives depth to the image and that it has moved a long way from the pointy gimmick of 3D horror movies. The truth the gimmicks are what worked and 3D movies have no depth, just foreground, background and a void in the middle. The low points came with movies like Alice in Wonderland (2010) where the best thing I can say about them is that I forgot they were in 3D. Or Drive Angry (2011) and the last two Resident Evil movies (2010 and 2012) that did not have a 2D option. The odd example of 3D being effective involved a hatched, bucket and a bolt flying out of the screen towards the audience.Hugo

After boycotting 3D for a year, this time last year I went to see Hugo. Fully intending to go for the 2D option I had a last minute change of heart. I’m not sure exactly what my thought process was at the time but remember thinking that if Martin Scorsese had made a movie in 3D he had earned the right for me to see it in 3D. One of very few directors who have earned the right to do whatever the fuck they like, I’m glad I went on the journey with Scorsese. Not only was Hugo my favourite film of 2011 but also demonstrated that 3D can work. Many 3D movies, especially retrofitted ones have foreground and background split by a gaping void. Hugo has real depth.Life Of Pi

Since seeing Hugo I have seen a few more 3D movies, they have renewed my prejudice towards the medium. Until now! Life of Pi is not only stunning to look at but like Hugo it has real depth in its 3D images. It is also so bright and vibrant that I never thought about 30% light loss. I have come to accept 3D but not to love it. I accept that in exception circumstances in the hands of true artists and auteurs it can work and can add to the cinema experience. It doesn’t mean I will be rushing to see the next 3D movie but I will be less likely to dismiss it as a pointless gimmick.

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With The Dark Knight Rises bringing an end to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy there is a lot of talk about where the character should go from here. It would be naive to think this is the end of Batman on screen. There is too grater appetite from viewers and too much money to be made from the studio point of view for it not to happen.

WARNING this paragraph contains The Dark Knight Rises plot spoilers 

Firstly a little background. You may remember the whole thing about all Marvel characters who couldn’t appear in the Avengers movie because the rights have been licensed to other studios; Fox’s has dibs on Daredevil, Fantastic Four and Silver Surfer while Sony/Columbia have the big money Spider-Man. Batman has no such problem, Time/Warner owns DC Comics giving Warner Brothers exclusive rights to do whatever they wish with the character. The result of this is that the true power lies with the studio. If they want to continue the Nolan universe going with a new director, Joel Schumacher for example, they can. The way The Dark Knight Rises ended leaves great potential for spin-offs. Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is set up to become Robin or even a second Batman, this has endless possibilities. Selina Kyle aka Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) came to the Nolan Batverse as an established character with a slinky costume and a shady back-story. This gives her character the option for an origin story as well as a spin-off. And then there is Batman himself, depending on your interpretation of the end of the movie, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) may or may not be alive. If he is alive, he has certainly left Gotham, what will he get up to in a different country. As tantalising as these possibilities are, it is probably best they remain unmade leaving customers wanting more. Fortunately, my understanding is that Christian Bale has said he won’t play Batman for any other director so they will need to change him to. I would like to think the rest of the cast would do the same. So where do we go from here.

But the Nolan Batman universe doesn’t have to end here, there is something that could happen. What is possibly the best Batman story, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns remains un-filmed (an animated version is due out later this year). Did Nolan avoid using the title because he wants to save it for a future movie? Probably not but you never know. They will have to wait at least fifteen years until Christian Bale is approaching his mid fifties, and that is the interesting thing. Christopher Nolan is yet to make a bad film, and more importantly from a studio point of view he is yet to make a flop, but that is a career has lasted just fifteen years to date. Given another fifteen years and another half dozen movies there is no way of knowing what position Nolan will be in and what his motivation will be. We also don’t know if the world climate will be right for a movie like The Dark Knight Returns. With all this in mind I haven’t given up on a new Christopher Nolan Batman movie somewhere around 2027! To keep continuity with the existing movie a rewrite will be required removing Superman from the story, this isn’t as big a problem as you would think. Superman would be replaced by a government sponsored elite team who are sent to take Batman down. And best of all the timing fits, there is enough time between now and then for another actor and director to take on the character before Nolan and Bale return.

Before then there is something else we have to contend with. The Justice League aka the Justice League of America first appeared in comic books in 1960, for those not familiar, it is a sort of DC equivalent to The Avengers. Rumours of a Justice League movie have been around for years but is yet to happen. The big problem; all the other original members (Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter) are all supernatural, superhuman or alien. But the problem goes deeper than that, none of them have appeared in a decent movie for thirty years. The long and short of it, there can be a Justice League movie, but it can not include Christopher Nolan’s Batman. They will also struggle to make it as successful as The Avengers. The sensible thing to do from an artistic point of view would be to make a Justice League movie with its own story, its own cast and its own continuity outside the other movies. If successful it could create its own franchise, if it flops it would do so without harming other franchises.

There is sure to be a reboot, but when and how. Although it seems like longer, there was less than a decade between Batman Begins and Batman & Robin suggesting a reboot could happen as soon as the end of the decade. Or have things been accelerated by the quick reboot of Spider-Man? While I am not suggesting a Joel Schumacher style farce, the tone and style of any reboot has to be dramatically different to Nolan’s vision. This is essential for its own good as well as avoiding the impact on Nolan than way Schumacher’s movies taint the memory of Tim Burton’s movies.

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The Dark Knight Rises may turn out to be both the biggest and the best film of the year. Every movie fan with a virtual soapbox to stand on will review it in one way or another, I may do so myself some time in the future, but for now I will not. Instead I have decided to do something different. I am looking at the key players in the movie and picking out my favourite of their movies or performances excluding The Dark Knight Trilogy.

Christopher Nolan: The modern interpretation of the term masterpiece refers a pierce of art (in any medium) that is receives high critical praise and is often considered the pinnacle of the artists career. But the original, true meaning is very different. During the old European guild system, an apprentice wishing to graduate from a guild and become a master craftsman or member of their guild would have to produce a Masterpiece. If successful, the piece would be retained by the master or the guild. Using this theory, Following (1998) is Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece. An ultra low budget mystery, crime, thriller with no star names. This led to him making Memento (2000), a simple revenge, thriller that is elevated to a superior mystery by the ingenious idea of telling the story backwards. Using the same criteria, it could be argued that Following was a practice run and Memento is the true masterpiece. Taken on its own merits Insomnia (2002) is a great movie, it just isn’t as good as the Norwegian original. It is a worthy and justified remake that is sympathetic to the story of the original but has its own individual touches. You know how movies come in two’s, this year there are two Snow White movies, a few years ago there were to giant asteroid movies, 2006 was the year of the Victorian stage magicians. Neil Burger’s The Illusionist was good, Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige was much better. Legend has it that after The Dark Knight took a billion dollars Warner Bros let Nolan make any movie he liked. What he came up with was Inception (2010) a little art house movie disguised as a big budget studio blockbuster. Inception may well be his best (non Batman) film, but for introducing me and most of the rest of the world to his work I am declaring Memento to be both his masterpiece and finest hour for Christopher Nolan.

Wally Pfister: Cinematographer/Director of Photography Wally Pfister started out as a cameraman for a Washington news service before being given his first break by Robert Altman. He then enrolled in American Film Institute where a film he worked on was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film. Like so many great filmmakers, he received his first break as a Cinematographer from Roger Corman. Most of his notable works have been on Christopher Nolan films, he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography for Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight finally winning for the movie that truly is his finest hour, Inception.

Christian Bale: Where do you start with Christian Bale? A child star in Empire of the Sun who found real fame in his late twenties. Noted for his extreme physical transformations for the movies The Machinist and Rescue Dawn, in I’m Not There, it is a tossup between him and Cate Blanchett as to who is the best “Dylan”. In 3:10 to Yuma, The Prestige, The Fighter, Public Enemies and Terminator Salvation he gives more subtle and low key performances than his co stars, it is therefore a surprise that his finest hour is probably his most showy and over the top performance, Patrick Bateman in American Psycho.

Anne Hathaway: Many people know Anne Hathaway from her film début The Princess Diaries and can’t see beyond that. I first saw her in Havoc or Brokeback Mountain (saw them both around the same time) where despite all the praise going to Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal I thought the best performances came her and Michelle Williams. I was impressed enough to go and see The Devil Wears Prada and enjoyed it, but her finest hour is Rachel Getting Married. A family drama about a young woman who is released from rehab to attend her sisters wedding. A truly an amazing performance, her character is ultimately a miserable, selfish, narcissistic bitch but she also comes across as vulnerable, funny and sometimes even likable. 

Tom Hardy: I have seen many movies featuring Hardy and remember a great buzz about him around the time of Star Trek: Nemesis, but to be honest I really didn’t take notice until Bronson. Since then he has been brilliant in everything I have seen him in. as for his finest hour, it could easily be Warrior where his performance is monumental or Inception where he offers some great comic relief within an ensemble, but it has to be Bronson. 

Gary Oldman: How do you pick the finest hour from the thirty year career of an actor as talented as Oldman? Far more varied than you would think Oldman is at his best when he is wild and out of control, look back at Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy, Stansfield in Leon and Beethoven in Immortal Beloved. That is why it may come as a surprise that his best performance may well be his most low key and economical performance, George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. 

Michael Caine: Gary Olman’s career may be long but Michael Caine has been around for ever, certainly since before I was born. Many of his most notable performances came in the mid/late 60’s and early 70’s and include: Alfie, Sleuth, Zulu, Get Carter and The Ipcress File. He reinvented himself in more comic roles in the 80’s such as: Educating Rita, Without a Clue and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Outside Christopher Nolan movies, the pick of his 21st century movies are The Quiet American, Children of Men and Harry Brown, but for his finest hour, you need to go back to the 60’s for his iconic performance as Charlie Croker in The Italian Job.

Morgan Freeman: Freeman found fame relatively late in life. In his early fifties and after thirty years in the business, in a two year period he appeared in Driving Miss Daisy, Glory, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and The Bonfire of the Vanities. He makes a lot of movies, therefore there is a certain amount of crap in there too, but the highlights are very high, the include: Unforgiven, Se7en and Million Dollar Baby. His finest hour is probably The Shawshank Redemption. 

Marion Cotillard: A captivating actress who has been brilliant in every film I have ever seen her in. For many people she if best known for her Oscar winning portrayal of Edith Piaf in La vie en rose. Others will know her from her English language movies: Public Enemies, A Good Year, Big Fish and Nine. She was also memorable in Midnight in Paris and Inception. Although deep down I know her finest hour was as Edith Piaf in La vie en rose, I still go back to where I first saw her, Lilly, the long suffering but high maintenance girlfriend in Taxi (and its first two sequels).

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: The former child actor found fame as a teenager in the TV show 3rd Rock from the Sun. his most notable movie appearances from this time is probably 10 Things I Hate About You. He went on to appear in: Havoc (along side future Dark Knight Rises co-star Anne Hathaway) and earned acclaim in Mysterious Skin Stop-Loss and The Lookout. In recent years he has impressed in 500 Days of Summer, 50/50 and Inception, but his finest hour is still the high school noir Brick. 

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