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Christopher Nolan’s Films Ranked: From Worst to Best as ‘Interstellar’ Nears

Christopher Nolan’s Films Ranked: From Worst to Best as ‘Interstellar’ Nears

 Christopher Nolan’s Films Ranked: From Worst to Best as ‘Interstellar’ Nears

With the release of Interstellar soon to come, which is among the most highly anticipated films of the year, I figured it would be a good time to make a quick list looking into the filmography of Christopher Nolan. We’ll take a look at the rankings of his films to date, from “worst” (relatively speaking, for a guy with so few missteps) to best. Here goes:

8.  The Prestige

When this is your “worst” film, you are doing okay. The magician based tale didn’t quite captivate me the way that I had hoped, but Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman and Scarlett Johansson still do nice jobs in their respective roles. I should probably revisit this to see if maybe I am missing something, but considering the competition in the rest of Nolan’s oeuvre, unfortunately, something has to be last.

7. The Dark Knight Rises

The trilogy wrapper that became a global phenomenon is the least of the Caped Crusader’s films in the reboot pantheon, but that is not the end of the world. Perhaps it was the muffled Bane, perhaps the extended story (pushing a nearly 3 hour runtime), perhaps just the fact that it all had to end (or did it, based on the wink-wink finish), there was just something to nitpick about with this tale. No matter, it’s still eminently rewatchable. Nothing wrong with that.

6. Following

Humble beginnings. This was the start for the man that would become perhaps the best director in Hollywood. A little tale of a man who follows others around is creepy, comic and well done. All in black and white to boot. This film has earned its just praise over time, since the director has since blown up to legendary status. Check this if you’ve missed it to this point.

5. Insomnia

A remake of a foreign film of the same name, Nolan hits all the right notes with a strong cast (Robin Williams shout out), a snowy, wintery setting, and a thrilling plot that still maintains its power today. It’s been a while since I have taken this in, but I’ve always held it in high regard. A must see.

4. Batman Begins

The intro to Batman’s world aka “the origin story”, is one of the better of it’s kind around. It actually balances an indy sensibility with proper scope and deftly introduces a character that we have come to know and love over the years, filling in the blanks in a more dark manner. Liam Neeson and Christian Bale taking their talents to comic land? We’re all in.

3. The Dark Knight

Known for Heath Ledger’s sterling, Oscar winning turn, this is the film that made comic book movies a mainstay again for audiences (which in turn, we should all be pissed off for). Still, there is little to gripe about in this genre-flipper that forces its hero into a choice, shockingly killing off a main character near the end of the film. Powerful and haunting for any film, let alone one based on a comic book. Kudos.

2. Memento

The film that was his real breakthrough may be a bit gimmicky in that sense, but still captures the mind of audiences with a man who with a sparse memory and tattoos words on his body to keep his sanity in place. A lower level indy film that seizes the moment, playing with traditional narrative and weaving a tight thriller in the process. Bonus Note: The Special Edition DVD allows a front to back traditional playback option, something that was not ported over to the Blu-ray release sadly.

1. Inception

This sci-fi mind bender is still Nolan’s most complex (and perhaps divisive) work. The time jumping, intricate plot, interlaced with multiple stories and levels of meaning will confound willing audiences for years to come. With strong performances, amazing effects and one of the most inventive plots around, this film almost singlehandedly restored my waning faith in filmmaking at a time when Hollywood continues to lack creativity and originality. A must see (over and over again).

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Robin Williams and Depression: His Career and Fight for Freedom

Robin Williams and Depression: His Career and Fight for Freedom

Robin Williams and Depression: His Career and Fight for Freedom

This is something that is becoming far too frequent an occurrence – writing about someone’s death, particularly an actor that I held dear (as well as the public at large) in many ways. Losing James Gandolfini sucked, mainly because of Tony Soprano, but also his many nuanced, smaller roles, like his turn in True Romance. Then, we lost Philip Seymour Hoffman, who at the time was perhaps the greatest working actor alive, though Joaquin Phoenix, his co-star in PTA’s The Master, would certainly rank right up there. Now, we lose a comedic giant with talent to burn, Robin Williams, who has more beloved in the grand scheme than almost anyone who’s passed in recent memory. Alas, to hear he (likely) took his own life makes it all the more tragic.

Other writers far superior to myself can touch on Williams career across many generations. Yes, I remember first seeing him as a youngster watching TV’s “Mork & Mindy”, intrigued but not knowing he would become a transcendent star. Yes, I had the good fortune of seeing him test new material in San Francisco at an exclusive word of mouth stand up show about a decade ago. I marveled at the energy he brought with him onstage. This was paramount to his success but also hinted at something deeper within him that drove him to seek out laughs.

robin williams happy

Ultimately, it’s his role in Good Will Hunting, the one that earned him an Oscar, that I’ll likely treasure the most. Here was a man known for manic and crazy enthusiasm who could invoke laughter at the drop of a hat, playing simple and understated, something he had the power to do with seeming ease throughout a vast filmography. It was as if, in truth, Williams could do whatever he wanted when it came to the craft of entertainment. Think about that statement for a moment and see how very few really compare there. Unfortunately, he was hiding demons within that can torture even the brightest of souls.

I wish we knew more about depression and how to handle it. As someone who struggles greatly with his own demons in a similar vein, Williams passing is yet another reminder, that despite the ways with which the depressed deal with their “disease”, a true cure is as difficult to source as one for the deadly cancer. Depression haunts and seemingly can never be taken away once its there. You can try to hide it in alcohol, drugs (prescription or otherwise); fight it with exercise or various other forms of coping. Still, it eats at you and really never feels defeated. Depressed people fight with things that “normal” people take for granted; they are hard to understand and their feelings difficult to translate.

Some people are depressed and they don’t know it, others sit in depression and feel powerless to change it. I suspect Williams knew and fought it the best way he knew how. He gave us laughter and struggled in his solitude far too often. Williams is hopefully in a better place, if you believe in that sort of thing. If nothing else, I suspect he no longer has to deal with the demons that he struggled with here on Earth. I thank him for giving us his gifts, but in his passing hope that he has somehow found peace in the process. RIP Robin – you’ll be remembered.

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An Appreciation For ‘Infernal Affairs’ (2002): ‘The Departed’s Source Material

An Appreciation For ‘Infernal Affairs’ (2002): ‘The Departed’s Source Material

An Appreciation For ‘Infernal Affairs’ (2002): ‘The Departed’s Source Material

The movie that inspired Martin Scorcese’s only directorial Oscar winner, The Departed, is China’s Infernal Affairs. I had originally seen the film years prior to Scorcese’s film, but wanted to revisit it. I held the film in high regard, so much so, that I felt it was a superior offering to its American re-imagining. After seeing it recently however, I am not certain that I still hold that belief. Nevertheless, it is still a strong, stylish film that hits multiple right notes.

Affairs features gang members and cops who infiltrate the police academy and the gang respectively to help each side with intel and thrive long into the future. After placing several recruits, Affairs follows two: Tony Leung as Yan (an undercover agent posing as a gang member) and Inspector Lau (Andy Lau), a gang member who rises in the ranks of the force as a man on the inside. When drug deals go down, each side tips the other side off to the action in clever and thrilling sequences, leading to a stalemate. The rest of the film primarily deals with each side, gang and police, trying to figure out who’s the mole with each outfit. It is heady and clever stuff.

Infernal Affairs

One minute Lau was eating a Denver omelette, the next Yan sticks a gun in his face. 

Scorcese’s The Departed is a longer, more nuanced film, while Infernal, which led to two follow ups creating a trilogy, is perhaps more style than substance as a whole. Still, the film holds up well, though on a side note, the Blu-ray could stand a much better transfer as a film of this caliber so clearly deserves. The ultimate climax of the film leads to a satisfying end, keeping the audience guessing as to which side will ultimately win out, if any. Not much is lost in translation here, which is a good thing.

The Departed mimics Affairs in many ways, from shots (rooftop meetings play a part), to specific bits of dialogue (figuring out how to tell who is a cop). Each features tragic deaths and is moving yet gripping. I eagerly await seeing The Departed for yet another time, now that I have seen this, to further compare and engrain an appreciation for the originality brought to Hollywood from such fine source material. Check out Infernal Affairs if you never have and if you are a fan of Scorcese’s Oscar winner, this is absolutely required viewing. Enjoy.

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Watching More Movies: Kevin Costner Baseball Romance ‘For Love of the Game’

Watching More Movies: Kevin Costner Baseball Romance ‘For Love of the Game’

Watching More Movies: Kevin Costner Baseball Romance ‘For Love of the Game’

Kevin Costner might be Hollywood’s biggest sports fan. At least based on the films he’s chosen. He’s starred in no less than four films revolving around sports (“Bull Durham,” “Field of Dreams,” “Tin Cup” and “For Love of the Game”). Curiously enough, three of those have been baseball movies. “Tin Cup” is the odd man out and now that I’ve seen “For Love of the Game,” the only one I’d yet to see. Costner’s sports pictures aren’t your typical underdog-to-glory stories, however. They contain deeper themes and have ideas in mind other than just field dominance. “For Love of the Game” is largely a love story.

Costner is Billy Chapel, a 19-year veteran pitcher for the Detroit Tigers. It’s toward the end of a losing season and the owner has confided in Chapel, letting him know that he’d sold the team and the new owners have decided to trade Chapel at seasons-end. However, the owner that’s presided over the team throughout Chapel’s career holds out hope he’ll hang it up and never have to put on another uniform. Though he has unspoken shoulder issues and is given the opportunity to forego his day in the rotation, Chapel pitches in an away game at Yankee Stadium. He tells his friend, catcher, Gus Sinski, that he plans on throwing harder than usual.

For Love of The Game

Going through Chapel’s mind on the mound is Jane, who told him before the game that she was moving to London. Chapel’s relationship with Jane is where the bulk of the storytelling takes place, in flashbacks, during Billy’s time on the mound. He realizes that he’s pitching better than he’s ever pitched before becoming slowly closer to throwing a perfect game. The realization that Jane isn’t there to share the experience with him is what tugs at Chapel’s psyche.

My first surprise when sitting down with “For Love of the Game” was discovering it was directed by Sam Raimi. This is three years prior to his first “Spider-man” film and it seems like it would be out of sorts with his resume if only thinking about his recent blockbusters. But Raimi handles the situation delicately enough to satisfy the relationship tale as well as the sports situation. This contains a lot closer to the amount of hardball action I was hoping for from “Cobb” and it works like any good sports drama should. I was rooting on along with the film as I would a live sporting event wondering how the film would get Chapel out of certain predicaments. At 137 minutes, the film is a tad overlong, with the relationship flashbacks certainly taking up the extra time. However, Costner and Kelly Preston (who herself starred in another sports-related film, “Jerry Maguire”) are extremely likeable, ensuring these scenes aren’t a slog. “For Love of the Game” was the film I opted to add to my queue over “Trouble with the Curve,” and I’m happy about the choice.

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Watching More Movies: A Look At The British Film ‘Kill List’

Watching More Movies: A Look At The British Film ‘Kill List’

Watching More Movies: A Look At The British Film ‘Kill List’

In the most recent couple of years, I’ve read a bit about British writer/director, Ben Wheatley. He made his feature debut in 2009 with a movie called “Down Terrace.” He followed it up with “Kill List,” “Sightseers,” a segment in the horror anthology “ABCs of Death” and trailers for his upcoming film, “A Field in England” are making the surreal rounds right now. I didn’t know anything about Wheatley outside of his name being associated so closely with his films, but I wanted to see what all the chatter was about and picked the one that sounded most appealing to me in his sophomore film, “Kill List.”

To describe the film is largely an exercise in futility. I mentioned I wasn’t much for surrealism back when looking at “Holy Motors,” and while this film purports to have a plot and has a much stronger grounding that “Motors,” is largely even more incomprehensible. Jay and Shel are a married couple with a young son, Sam. They scream at each other, much to Sam’s ignorance. Jay hasn’t worked in eight months and Shel won’t let him forget it. A dinner party at their house brings Jay’s old friend, Gal, and his girlfriend, Fiona, into the mix. Jay and Gal discuss a hitman job, which Shel is all for Jay taking for their family.

Kill List

Billed in its Amazon Video description as a family drama/hitman thriller/psychological horror should give you an idea of exactly what to expect through the film. These elements aren’t particularly blended together so much as they make up each act of the movie. You can imagine how jarring moving from Jay and Shel screaming at each other, to Jay and Gal shooting at priests and banging hammers into pedophile’s heads to some “Paranormal 3”-type cult stuff is. The film strives to keep you narratively on your toes, instead slapping you in the face to spin you in a different direction. The film is bizarre, but not so much in a Cronenbergian-like sense, but more of a dreamlike one.

Make no mistake about Wheatley. This is a very assured film. He undoubtedly made the film he intended to make. However, in my mind, it seems a lot more akin to an Ed Wood film than the work of a genius. It’s not a bad movie, so much as the one from which I got the least enjoyment from viewing since I started this project. Were it not for some particular curiosity and completest sake (not to mention, being able to write about it), I would have turned it off. I don’t believe this is a filmmaker coming into his own like Nicolas Winding Refn with “Pusher.”  Wheatley’s style is fully formed. And that’s to be commended. There’s talent there. Unfortunately, I just happened to not like what he’s using it for, nor do I share his taste. I now know who Wheatley is and I now know he’s just not for me.

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Watching More Movies: A Look At Michael Fassbender in Steve McQueen’s ‘Hunger’

Watching More Movies: A Look At Michael Fassbender in Steve McQueen’s ‘Hunger’

Watching More Movies: A Look At Michael Fassbender in Steve McQueen’s ‘Hunger’

I don’t hear well. I own a hearing aid, but stopped wearing it in 9th grade. It’s poor due to no reason other than being dealt a bad hearing hand, but I don’t do myself any favors, either. This causes problems when watching films from time to time, especially when not at home where subtitles are always employed. There were a few times when watching films in college I had no idea what took place. I’d have to look up information for something I’d just watched. It’s a similar situation when seeing a film where things aren’t always explained. I don’t need everything in a movie spelled out for me, but subtitles are nice.

“Hunger” is one such film where I can see what’s taking place in front of my eyes, but don’t truly comprehend the reasoning. Like my hearing, that’s partly my fault. I’m an American with little idea about British politics and its history. In researching afterward, I discovered Irish paramilitary soldiers embroiled with the British government in search to become an individualized nation, were imprisoned for their ideology and actions. Originally deemed Prisoners of War, the government revoked that tag and the prisoners protested by refusing to wear prison uniforms, neglected bathing and eventually turned to hunger strikes to have their voices heard. You can imagine which protest “Hunger” covers.

fassbender hunger

Fassbender’s wang needed to be working for future McQueen collaboration in ‘Shame.’

Largely a biopic of Irish Republican Army leader Bobby Sands, “Hunger” doesn’t introduce him until a third of the way through. Prior to, we see a prison guard soaking his knuckles in the sink. His daily routine consists of ganging up with his co-workers to drag scraggly-haired and naked prisoners out of their feces-covered cells and beating them to a pulp for in order to dole out unwanted haircuts. Sands is the epitome of putting ones money where his mouth is, as he spits in the faces of the guards, kicks and screams in protest and eventually organizes a last-ditch-effort hunger strike to get demands met, volunteering to be the first one to go with a perhaps lifelong fast.

Director Steve McQueen shows an extraordinary amount of patience for a first-timer, making “Hunger” a brutal exercise for both the viewer and the characters therein. The brutality isn’t a critique, but though the film is only 90 minutes, it’s probably as slow as an hour and half can go. The first Michael Fassbender-less third is very sparse in terms of dialogue, while the last act almost reaches silent film levels. Aside from the body-shrinking transformation Fassbender goes through toward the end, it’s the middle part, which almost completely talky, allows him to express himself in full, as he explains his upcoming act of extremism to a priest in an uninterrupted 17-minute still shot. McQueen and Fassbender deserve the utmost credit for their work here. It’s completely masterful in both respects even if it carries a “Leaving Las Vegas” level of non-rewatchability. I’m just disappointed I didn’t really know what was going on until afterward.

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Watching More Movies: Rupert Wyatt’s Brian Cox-Led ‘The Escapist’

Watching More Movies: Rupert Wyatt’s Brian Cox-Led ‘The Escapist’

Watching More Movies: Rupert Wyatt’s Brian Cox-Led ‘The Escapist’

For most, director Rupert Wyatt appeared to burst onto the scene out of nowhere to direct “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” in 2011. That’s certainly the way it appeared to me. However, that raises the question of why an unknown would be given the keys to a potential (and almost certain based on the quality and how well it ended up performing) franchise-starter. The answer is, he didn’t materialize from thin air. He directed a feature in 2008 called “The Escapist” and I set out to attempt to see what the executives at 20th Century Fox saw before they put him on “Planet of the Apes.”

“The Escapist” is set in a dingy British prison. The inmates are lorded over by Rizza, a criminal so large in oversight the guards give him carte blanche. The story doesn’t center him, though. It follows Frank Perry, a prison-lifer. For what, we’re never fully informed. Frank has been writing letters to his daughter for fourteen years in hopes to forming some communication with her. Instead, they come straight back, labeled “Return to Sender.” One time, he finally receives response, but the news is the opposite of positive, as the letter details his daughter in now a drug addict and in poor condition. Frank enlists the help of some other inmates in order to break out so he can reconcile with his daughter and hopefully help her put her life back together.

brian cox escapist

Muddying the waters of Frank’s plan is his addition of a new cellmate, Lacey. He’ll either need to be bought off or brought into the escape plan in order for Frank and his team to burrow out of the prison as planned. Luckily, Lacey’s not obnoxious, asking for the world in return for his knowledge. Unluckily, Lacey’s caught the eye of Tony, Rizza’s brother, who wants to keep Lacey for himself. Tony’s intrusion into the lives of the parties involved makes for a convoluted plot that now has to satisfy all of them.

The film’s structure tells the story in two different timelines. One of which takes place in the prison and the planning of the escape, he other takes place during the escape. The element of suspense as to whether they’ll get a shot at escaping at all is dispersed instantly. Therefore, the surprise takes place in how those timelines come to meet. I feel predisposed to enjoying prison break movies, as “The Shawshank Redemption” is my favorite film, but I’ve also enjoyed “Escape from Alcatraz” and the French film, “Le Trou,” tackling similar plots. “The Escapist” doesn’t provide that feeling, largely due to its structure. I found it somewhat middling, especially when it comes to its characters, even with a surprise thrown in toward the end. I don’t necessarily see anything that would indicate Wyatt would knock “Apes” out of the park, but credit for Fox for noticing it and for Wyatt for carrying it out, as this film didn’t do it for me.

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Watching More Movies: John Woo’s Actioner ‘A Better Tomorrow’

Watching More Movies: John Woo’s Actioner ‘A Better Tomorrow’

Watching More Movies: John Woo’s Actioner ‘A Better Tomorrow’

A former writer for this site once suggested doing a series where we wrote about a film we had a negative reaction to versus the vast majority of the population. I didn’t think the internet needed more bashing things entirely to provoke anger and hatred. Certainly every movie inspires something different in different people, but I couldn’t condone ripping on a film when I knew part of the intent was pure trollery. Alas, I find myself in a different opinion on a beloved film and just felt underwhelmed. For fans, please know this isn’t an attempt to ire, but it certainly isn’t an attempt to appease, as I discuss John Woo’s 1986 film, “A Better Tomorrow.”

Ho and Mark are members of an organization that makes and deals counterfeit U.S. dollar bills. They’re friends and partners. Ho has a younger brother named Kit who would prefer to ply his trade on the legal side of the law, as a policeman. Ho has encouraged Kit’s direction, shrouding his criminal employment in secrecy. However, his profession is known to their father, who urges Ho to turn straight, like his younger brother. When Ho is tasked with doing a deal in Taiwan alongside his underling, Shing, he’s quickly double-crossed and thrown in prison.

Money ain’t a thing, although its still “over bitches.”

After three years toiling away in prison, Ho and Kit’s father has been killed by an assassin as a result of Ho’s criminal dealings and Kit has become the policeman he always dreamed of being.  Ho attempts to reconcile with Kit to no avail. Kit would prefer Ho leave the country entirely, even though Ho has refused joining back with his criminal past. Mark begs Ho to help him take revenge on Shing who now runs their former organization and who is the target of an investigation by Kit. Ho is torn between family, friendship and restoring his own honor.

This film is ranked #2 on the list of Best Chinese Films by the Asian Film Awards. It broke Hong Kong box office records and it spawned two sequels. Woo went on to direct acclaimed films like “The Killer” and “Hard Boiled” before putting his stamp on American action films and Chow Yun-Fat would eventually become a movie star in the United States. Those big movies didn’t come directly on the heels of “A Better Tomorrow,” but this was certainly a significant stepping stone toward them.

Sadly, I don’t feel the film’s quality is all that significant. Woo’s excessive use of gun battles is definitely a point of emphasis here, but it’s a style he’d perfect later on. Here, they feel completely gratuitous. The story obviously resembles something akin to “Infernal Affairs” (which came twenty years later), but has far less an impact. I think Woo would eventually prove to be a style-over-substance director and this is Exhibit A for that claim. I’m all for style, but if that’s all I’m getting I’d prefer them in the packages of the aforementioned “The Killer” or “Hard Boiled.”

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