THE FILM YAP » Christopher Nolan We Never Shut Up About Movies Wed, 19 Nov 2014 14:40:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 This Magic Moment: Top Five Christopher Nolan Scenes Thu, 06 Nov 2014 20:46:58 +0000 Continue reading ]]> This Magic Moment is Sam Watermeier’s commentary in which he analyzes a signature scene from a film — one of those indelible, awe-inspiring moments that define a movie (e.g. the shower stabbing in “Psycho,” the moon-bound bike ride in “E.T.”) — and writes about why it is so memorable.

This week, in honor of Christopher Nolan’s new film, “Interstellar,” he is taking a look back at the director’s finest moments.

Top Five Christopher Nolan Scenes

5. “Insomnia” — Log Chase

When looking back on it now, this scene seems to foreshadow Christopher Nolan’s venture into action spectacles. It’s an invigoratingly original action set piece, exuding the same sort of imaginative, indelible quality of the chase across the faces of Mount Rushmore in Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest.” But Nolan never loses sight of the human drama amid this otherworldly spectacle of a chase across river logs. It remains a tense, intimate moment between two dynamic characters.

4. “Inception” — Opening the Safe

Although they can arrest our eyes and envelop us in an illusion, the true magic of movies lies in their ability to touch our hearts, to make us feel a flesh-and-blood closeness to fictional characters — or as beloved film critic, Roger Ebert, said, “to help us identify with people who are sharing this journey with us.”

In between the dream-traveling momentum of “Inception,” Nolan delivers a devastatingly beautiful moment between a father and son with which we can all identify. This scene captures the universal, love-induced tension and misunderstanding between fathers and sons with a short, simple exchange of dialogue:

“I know you were disappointed I couldn’t be you.”
“No. I was disappointed that you tried.”

It is in this moment that the film lives up to Ebert’s definition of cinema as “a machine that generates empathy,” which is exactly what the characters in the movie aim to generate when they infiltrate others’ dreams. Like a dream, the scene is over before you know what hit you. Brief yet haunting.

3. “Memento” — Remember Sammy Jankis

Nolan is the kind of director who dazzles us even when he’s not trying to. Like Steven Spielberg, he blows us away with quiet moments in between the explosive spectacles of his incendiary stories.

Throughout the structure-twisting of the maze-like mystery “Memento,” Nolan grabs us with this flashback set in the calm before the storm of the film’s main plot. What follows is an eerie, understated scene that illustrates the illusion of time and mystery of memory even more effectively than the film’s acrobatic editing.

2. “The Dark Knight” — Interrogation

This scene embodies the overarching accomplishment of the “Dark Knight” trilogy, grounding comic-book icons in gritty reality and exposing their vulnerability without reducing their iconic stature. Through Nolan’s lens, Batman and the Joker appear human yet larger than life, and the line between popcorn entertainment and intimate drama blurs away.

1. “The Dark Knight Rises” — “Goodbye, Alfred”

Nolan has never sacrificed substance, even as he’s ventured almost exclusively into blockbuster territory. That’s powerfully evident in this scene — a piercingly heartfelt exchange that shines through the rubble of chaos in which the characters are enveloped. It’s a raw, confessional moment that finds Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred acting as a father — refusing to support Bruce’s dangerous goals in favor of protecting his life.

After blowing us back in our seats with spectacular action scenes, Nolan compels us to lean forward and listen closely with this intimate moment, doing what Ben Folds once said the best musicians do — turning a stadium into a living room.

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Interstellar Wed, 05 Nov 2014 20:55:08 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Interstellar - inside

“Interstellar” sure is an odd, dense, occasionally brilliant and occasionally maddening cinematic experience. The latest from director Christopher Nolan continues the mind-trippyness of “Inception” and marries it with an outer space story about astronauts from Earth exploring other galaxies and dimensions, in between disastrous explosions and human frailty.

It wants to be the thematic and aesthetic inheritor to “2001: A Space Odyssey” but registers several orders of magnitude lower on the scale of worthiness. It plays out as one long (nearly three-hour) space ride with a lot of mind-boggling science and pseudo-science mixed into the humanist blender.

The movie never failed to engage me, but it didn’t leave me very satisfied, either. Nolan and his cast and crew get the quantum mechanics of their space tale right, but the human element never makes it off the launch pad.

The story — Nolan and his brother, Jonathan, wrote the screenplay — is set in a typically vague near-future where things have gone awry for humanity. An agricultural blight is wiping out the Earth’s crops one by one, and dust storms blow in from time to time like biblical revelations.

Cooper (Matt McConaughey) is a pilot/engineer-turned farmer. There’s not much use for science guys these days, just those who make food. Cooper resents the way humanity has bookended its ambitions; we’re supposed to be explorers and pioneers, he laments on his dirt-caked porch, not tenders of sod. His son, Tom, embraces the agrarian future but his 10-year-old daughter, Murph (Mackenzie Foy), dreams the dreams of her father.

Through a quick, not entirely coherent succession of expository scenes, Cooper is recruited to lead a NASA mission that represents humanity’s last hope. It seems a stable wormhole opened up near Saturn 50 years ago. Previous astronauts were sent through to scout out a habitable new home world for the species. Cooper and his crew, chiefly Anne Hathaway as astrophysicist Dr. Brand, are supposed to link up with them.

The space travel scenes, through wormholes and gravitational slingshots and whatnot, are transcendently beautiful and awe-inspiring. Aided by Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography and the familiar pounding musical score of Hans Zimmer, Nolan has captured the notion of space wrapping in itself in an ingenious way previously unseen on the big screen.

I won’t give away too much about what they find on the other side, other than to say the passage of time is a primary consideration. The theory of relativity states that time travels at different speeds depending on where you are, so the team must complete their quest before everyone on Earth starves. Meanwhile, Cooper frets upon the children he left behind, who transmit video messages into the ether unsure if he’ll ever see them. (Jessica Chastain and Casey Affleck play Murph and Tom as adults.)

Unfortunately, the Nolans’ script suffers from similarity lapses in relativity, though on the narrative rather than the temporal plane. The story races ahead heedlessly at times, testing the audience’s ability to keep up based on half-garbled dialogue. Then it will go into a slow spin, as the characters get all moony and contemplative, and we wish they’d fire up the jets or blow a hatch, or something.

(I should also mention I often had difficulty hearing the dialogue — not understanding it, but just hearing it. I’m not sure if was the speaker system in the particular IMAX theater where “Interstellar” was screened or the film’s sound mix, but Zimmer’s music blasts at you in waves of organ chords that overpower the actors’ voices like lily pads caught in a tidal wave.)

There’s power and majesty in “Interstellar,” but also smallness and limitation. The film’s sheer grandiosity serves to expose its inability to coherently line up the X-Y-Zs of its plot. Nolan & Co. aim for the stars, quite literally, and if they don’t reach them, they provide us enough of a glimpse to leave us dazzled and befuddled. It’s like being knocked out of your regular orbit, teetering off to points unknown.

4 Yaps

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‘Non-Sequel’? Nonsense. Wed, 19 Jun 2013 22:47:49 +0000 Continue reading ]]> nonsequelinside

We’re all used to breathlessly hyperbolic box-office reporting, in which studios cling to the most tenuous, meaningless records. Highest Tuesday opening. Biggest fourth weekend. Best gross from 5 p.m. shows in cities beginning with the letter “Q.”

But this perpetually winded group of writers blew particularly hot air this week in declaring “Man of Steel’s” $116 million opening weekend “the third highest ever for a non-sequel.”

Technically correct? Sure. But he’s a 75-year-old character from numerous comic books, movies and TV series of old. Plus, look at the films that bested it or came close.

  • “The Avengers,” based on a legendary comic book and a combination of characters individually featured in five separately released hits.
  • “The Hunger Games,” adapted from a YA-literature juggernaut that remained on the New York Times bestseller list for nearly two years straight.
  • “Alice in Wonderland,” inspired by a then 145-year-old novel recalibrated on screens large and small countless times before.
  • “Spider-Man,” which depicted a teenager’s discovery of his super powers but was, at the time, a 40-year-old comic-book property.

So that got me wondering: What if we threw out this “non-sequel” nonsense? What truly original live-action films have had the biggest opening weekends of all time?

I left it at live action because fewer-and-farther-between animated films are often an event no matter their source material. And by original, I mean based on nothing previous — including WWII history (sorry, Michael) or religious texts (sorry, Mel).

The list is eclectic, to say the least. It includes the highest-grossing film ever, several that crawled past $100 million and one that didn’t even get there.

No bluster. No BS. No creative vocabulary accounting. Here is the real list of 25 original movies with the largest opening weekends.

1. “Avatar,” $77,025,481 – released in 2009
You’ve got to go 48 spots down the all-time opening weekend list for this, meaning 47 bigger openings came from pre-existing properties. “Avatar” had all the makings of a hit, but few predicted it would usurp “Titanic.” Naturally, sequels are coming.

2. “The Day After Tomorrow,” $68,743,584 – released in 2004
This movie didn’t even open at No. 1, frozen out by a second weekend of “Shrek 2.” But it did place director Roland Emmerich back in his easily identified element of global destruction that he’d created eight years earlier with “Independence Day.”

3. “Bruce Almighty,” $67,953,330 – released in 2003
Jim Carrey’s biggest opening weekend had Memorial Day all to itself after “Matrix Reloaded” fatigue. Plus, every summer has a comedy that, if only for lack of better options, becomes a default for families with older kids. Its sequel? Not so successful.

4. “2012,” $65,237,614 – released in 2009
As “Tomorrow” was to “Independence,” “2012” was to “Tomorrow.” Emmerich reliably brought another doomsday scenario to life with maximum cheese. Plus, it was that November’s last calm before the storm of the first “Twilight” sequel.

5. “Inception,” $62,785,337 – released in 2010
“Inception” had the benefit of promoting Christopher Nolan’s fame, cemented by his terrific handling of another DC superhero just a hair younger than Superman. Plus, like “The Matrix” before it, trailers sold the intriguing allure of its original mystery.

6. “Hancock,” $62,603,879 – released in 2008
Will Smith’s last huge hit sure feels longer ago than five years, huh? This rare original live-action superhero film was sold on the snippier side of Smith’s persona. Sequel talk simmers, but it could be a bigger risk than reward after “After Earth.”

7. “Signs,” $60,117,080 – released in 2002
Speaking of M. Night Shyamalan, chalk this up to great marketing because “Unbreakable” came nowhere close to matching Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense.” That said, “the next Spielberg’s” name still meant something then, and it held court as a late-August smash.

8. “Valentine’s Day,” $56,260,707 – released in 2010
Yes, that “Valentine’s Day,” as derp-derp a movie to drop on the Hallmark holiday if ever there was one, as well as the highest-ranking title on this list to barely slink past $100 million. A spiritual sequel, “New Year’s Eve,” made less overall than this one’s opening frame.

9. “Ted,” $54,415,205 – released in 2012
The list’s newest film was a legitimately surprising over-performer. But it also reflects longstanding popularity of co-writer/director Seth MacFarlane’s aggressively syndicated “Family Guy.” A sequel is high on Universal’s priorities.

10. “8 Mile,” $51,240,555 – released in 2002
Another wildly frontloaded, fast flameout that earned $116 million total on the strength of Eminem’s peak popularity and a hit song. The weirdest thing: Upon its release, “8 Mile” would have been No. 2 on this list.

11. “The Village,” $50,746,142 – released in 2004
The last time audiences provided the M. Night Discount (as Joe Shearer might say). It barely doubled its opening-weekend take, perhaps because most viewers, like this one, wondered what the hell a Chihuahua was doing in 19th-century Pennsylvania.

12. “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” $50,342,878 – released in 2005
“Mr. and Mrs. Smith” had tabloid curiosity on its side as a film that tore asunder Brad Pitt’s marriage to Jennifer Aniston (whose own “The Break-Up” is 29th on this list). People found a good action flick in the process, and it flirted with $200 million.

13. “Independence Day,” $50,228,264 – released in 1996
The granddaddy of modern-day disaster films built a template Emmerich followed to the letter for “Tomorrow” and “2012.” Of note: This was only the second-ever $50-million-plus opening in box-office history, after 1995’s “Batman Forever.”

14. “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” $47,042,215 – released in 2006
This opening was more likely pinned to NASCAR’s pinnacle of popularity at the time than the specific bankability of Will Ferrell — still smarting from the previous summer’s double kidney-punch of “Bewitched” and “Kicking & Screaming.”

15. “The Hangover,” $44,979,319 – released in 2009
What became the highest-grossing R-rated comedy ever boasted a can’t-miss premise and was boosted by that summer’s lackluster early offerings. Its sequel nearly doubled this opening, while its recent threequel actually opened with less.

16. “xXx,” $44,506,103 – released in 2002
This rode the wave of Vin Diesel’s success in “The Fast & the Furious” (omitted from this list as it was based on a magazine article). After killing Diesel’s character off, a sequel grossed nearly $20 million less in its entire run than this did in one weekend.

17. “Hitch,” $43,142,214 – released in 2005
Will Smith’s only romantic comedy is also one of his most eminently rewatchable efforts. While there will never be a straight-up sequel to “Hitch,” the romcom might be a well to which Smith would wisely return instead of sequelizing past efforts.

18. “Anger Management,” $42,220,847 – released in 2003
19. “Big Daddy,” $41,536,370 – released in 1999
Since 1998, there have only been two years without a $100 million Adam Sandler movie — 2000, with “Little Nicky,” and 2009, with “Funny People”. Never mind most of these movies are moneymakers people would be hard-pressed to remember watching. (But that’s another article altogether). “Anger” boasted an odd-couple pairing with Jack Nicholson, and “Daddy” was Sandler’s immediate follow-up to his breakout hit, “The Waterboy.”

20. “Deep Impact,” $41,152,375 – released in 1998
21. “Twister,” $41,059,409 – released in 1996
Both films were their summers’ opening salvos. “Impact” took advantage of an atypically weak May to more or less play all the way until “Armageddon” took a less somber spin on the same story. And credit “Twister’s” brilliant teaser for drawing audiences in. Also, Warner Brothers wisely promoted it as “from the director of ‘Speed’ ” even if folks in Tornado Alley never knew how to pronounce Jan de Bont.

22. “Grown Ups,” $40,506,562
This was Sandler’s turn to hit summer’s default family-comedy sweet spot. If you liked this, well, watch a moose piss on Sandler’s face and David Spade unwittingly enter Kevin James in “Grown Ups 2,” Sandler’s first sequel, later this summer.

23. “Safe House,” $40,172,720
Denzel Washington’s “American Gangster” made more in weekend one, but it was based on a magazine article. This built on “Taken’s” wake-up punch to the early-year, post-Oscar rush malaise from a few years earlier. Sequel? It’s a possibility.

24. “Cloverfield,” $40,058,229
An outstanding marketing campaign resulted in an en-masse opening … with a 63% tumble the following week in which it was toppled by “Meet the Spartans.” Plus, it’s the only movie on this list to not make $100 million, topping out around $80 million.

25. “Click,” $40,011,365
Boy, Sandler owns the bottom half of this list. It’s also the best of his four films on it — and one that played to a slightly different crowd, with a high-concept fantasy plot that skewed closer to “Bruce Almighty” than “Billy Madison.”

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Superman Revisited Thu, 13 Jun 2013 13:00:52 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

If any nation would believe a man could fly, it’s America.

1978’s “Superman” literalizes the level of extraordinary ability America expects of its residents. It’s rather fitting that Mario Puzo had a hand in the script; like his book “The Godfather,” “Superman” is a sprawling saga of the American Dream, telling of one foreigner’s big splash in the land of opportunity.

If you take out the superpowers and sci-fi spectacles, the film plays out like an epic American biopic in the vein of “Citizen Kane” or “The Aviator,” tracking a humble man’s journey from the farmlands to the big city and his transformation from a small-time newspaper man to a public hero. Therein lies the real magic of “Superman;” director Richard Donner presents it like any other American story rather than a superhero spectacle. That’s not to say its fantastical elements are not presented in a dazzling fashion, however.

From John Williams’ rousing score to star Christopher Reeve’s graceful flying, “Superman” is terrifically entertaining. And in this age of grittier comic book films, this wholesome adventure remains exciting. Like “Iron Man,” “Superman” is cool, feel-good fun. It also offers an embarrassment of visual riches, from the luminous surface of Superman’s home planet Krypton to the lush plains of Smallville and the steely city of Metropolis. The scale of the production is stunning, but style never triumphs over substance in “Superman.”

The film’s only somewhat glaring error is the villain Lex Luthor’s lack of menace. However, given the fact that the film is largely about the American Dream, it does seem fitting for the villain to be a smarmy investor fueled by capitalistic greed. Engagingly played by Gene Hackman, Luthor exudes sleazy charm rather than ominous evil.

Superman and Luthor have some fun standoffs, but the heart of the film is the relationship between Superman and Lois Lane (charmingly portrayed by Margot Kidder). What’s most engaging about it is the way Lois seems to fall for him not because of his powers but because of his good-hearted nature. A large credit for the film’s poignancy in this regard goes to Reeve, who plays the titular character as a man first and a superhero second.

I hope to see that same purity in the upcoming Superman film, “Man of Steel.” But I’m worried given the fact that director Zack Snyder (“300,” “Watchmen”) has a tendency to dehumanize heroic characters by over-stylizing them. Hopefully producer Christopher Nolan reminded him that Superman is more interesting when he’s more man than super.

Before you rush out to see “Man of Steel” on June 14, give “Superman” another look. It’s the kind of film that will send a tingle up your spine, the kind that will make you understand the meaning of movie magic. And it set the standard for all superhero films to come.

Fun Fact: When I was born, my brother wanted my parents to name me Superman. They compromised and made my middle name Clark, as in Superman’s alter ego, Clark Kent, who happens to be a writer, too!

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Nick’s 25 Best, 5 Worst and More of 2012 Sun, 30 Dec 2012 21:41:09 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Top10Django2


When a 10-best list isn’t enough and a 25-best list might not completely suffice, that’s a good problem for a film critic to have. Such was the uncommonly strong cinematic year of 2012.

Here are my picks for 2012’s five greatest documentaries, five worst movies (from which I saw blessedly few to choose) and, finally, the 25 best. All lists are in reverse order.



5. “The Invisible War”

Kirby Dick’s documentary about rape run rampant in America’s military is regrettably filled with soul-sapping recollections of rock-bottom moments. In 2012’s most infuriating documentary, the thousand-yard stares of these women and men have thousand-yard stares show they’ll never spiritually, emotionally or mentally discharge from their service. Available on DVD and VOD services.

4. “Room 237″

Rodney Ascher’s archival documentary initially appears to be merely a daisy chain of disembodied voices espousing demented, disparate theories about subtext in Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.” But slowly, the movie embeds itself like a sliver in the subconscious — trapping viewers at a disconcerting intersection of art and obsession. Scheduled for theatrical release / VOD in 2013.

3. “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry”

A bracing chronicle of an imperfect artist in a nation where the permanent specter of oppressive violence looms over his brief, guerrilla commentary. The film bravely confronts the challenge of art as transparent activism where none is tolerated. “If they want to get me, they will. There’s nothing I can do about that,” Ai Weiwei rationalized. “Maybe being powerful means to be … fragile.” Available on DVD and VOD services.

2. “Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet”

“Searching for Sugar Man” got all the 2012 attention as the story of an underground rocker getting his due. But it never traced the creative impulse of its subject as this documentary does. To reveal what happens to guitarist Jason Becker would dilute the film’s power and pacing. Rest assured, it powerfully portrays artistic endurance as a potent motivation to live. Available on DVD.



1. “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”

The seemingly simple tale of the world’s greatest sushi chef becomes a pensive parable about all that is gained, and lost, in the passionate pursuit of occupational perfection. Told with crisp visual acuity, its story makes magnificent metaphorical use of mirrors and reflective surfaces — a reminder of where its subjects are now and where they’ve come from. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD services.



5. “Hyde Park on Hudson”

A woeful biopic made for the seemingly miniscule audience who wanted “The King’s Speech” to have more handjobs, hot dogs and Harlequin romance narration like “If ever I were to miss him, there was a place I could come to be alone … and miss him.” In limited theatrical release.

4. “Red Tails”

Heart is all that’s in the right place in this George Lucas production. From a steroidal color palette to a constant strafe of clichés, it demonstrates less the power a veteran’s valor than the peril that has come from never telling Lucas “no.” Available on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD services.

3. “Man on a Ledge”

Certainly, more occurs in this movie than a mulleted Sam Worthington muffing an American accent before jumping from the titular ledge. But there are times when it’s good to not take notes during a movie. No record of the brain cells sacrificed to make it all the way through. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD services.

2. “The Devil Inside”

An admirably R-rated reversal of the passel of puny PG-13 possession films, but balls only got it so far. Its aggressive idiocy, relentlessly gabby grab at religious relevance, fatal self-seriousness and openly contemptuous conclusion make a strong argument for euthanizing found-footage horror altogether. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD services.

This Means War movie 

1. “This Means War”

In this Slap Chop-edited hog slop, most things people enjoy about movies — humor, chemistry, coherence, Reese Witherspoon — die a slow death. Guns fire. Drones explode. Cars careen. Darts hit necks. Paintballs strike crotches. Witherspoon bugs her eyes. Repeat. Vomit. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD services.



25. “Sound of Noise”

This imported novelty boasts a giddily inspired premise — artistic terrorists using percussion to wreak sonic mayhem in Sweden. Moviegoers are hard-pressed to see, or hear, impish ingenuity like this anywhere else. Available on DVD and VOD services.

24. “The Bay”

For mutated crustaceans, our tongues are appetizers to our organ smorgasbord. Barry Levinson’s DIY-digital diary is his best in 25 years — plumbing modern fears of bureaucratic austerity with ick that sticks. Available on VOD services; coming to DVD March 5, 2013.

23. “Flight”

Robert Zemeckis returns to live-action filmmaking with an emotionally harrowing portrait of addiction, conscience and guilt, fueled by Denzel Washington’s best work since 2001. Only an overlong denouement drags it down. Now in theaters.

22. “ParaNorman”

Although not as supernaturally beguiling as its predecessor, “Coraline,” this 1980s fantasy-adventure homage earns bona fides by arriving at a place of poignancy — the power of friendship to move past pain. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD services.

21. “Argo”

Ben Affleck’s best film as a director remains the one in which he wasn’t also the lead. Still, he confidently blends politics, suspense and satire with clever Hollywood jabs and legitimate tension. Coming to Blu-ray and DVD Feb. 19, 2013.

20. “Looper”

A refreshingly R-rated time-travel rumble with all the ruminations on fate and destiny but no rehashed paradox mumbo-jumbo. Plus, a future where a Mazda Miata is a collector’s car? Uniquely bleak. On Blu-ray, DVD and VOD services Monday (Dec. 31, 2012).

19. “Chronicle”

A compelling, thoughtful and uncommonly poignant film couched in comic-book wit, color and momentum and a story about uncertain teens, not unstoppable superheroes. Josh Trank and Max Landis are truly exciting talents. On Blu-ray, DVD and VOD services.

18. “Beasts of the Southern Wild”

Quvenzhane Wallis’s fearless, force-of-nature performance is the yin to Dwight Henry’s unexpectedly complex paternal yang. Their journey flirts with visually abstract impenetrability, but its dangers, thrills and hopes sneak up on, and stick with, you. On Blu-ray, DVD and VOD services.

17. “Cloud Atlas”

Peril awaited filmmakers deigning to adapt this novel whole cloth. Avoiding the mire of its minutia, the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer distinctively tap its marrow for a sprawling, messy, audacious, openhearted, beautiful movie. Coming soon to Blu-ray, DVD and VOD services.

16. “The Raid: Redemption”

You come away convinced every stuntman suffered permanently debilitating injuries. Topping itself in bone-crunching bombast every 10 minutes, this import is a relentless, fist-pumping triumph of pure, unadulterated hand-to-hand combat. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD services.

15. “Life of Pi”

It doesn’t make you believe in God as the prologue insists. But it makes you consider, thoughtfully and harrowingly, why many choose to. It’s about faith, not religion, and decisions, not dogma. Plus, as masterfully molded and sculpted by Ang Lee — who toys with the screen’s limitations for a tale about boundless imagination — 3D does seem like the medium’s future after all. Now in theaters.

14. “Lincoln”

Leave it to Daniel Day-Lewis to find the man inside the mythology to deliver a forceful performance of introspective doubt, not blusterous certainty. Plus, every debate and filibuster in Tony Kushner’s fastidious script crackles in the hands of the biggest supporting-actor murderers’ row Steven Spielberg has ever assembled. Too bad Spielberg can’t avoid an unnecessarily exploitative exclamation-point treatment of Lincoln’s death. Now in theaters.

13. “Take This Waltz”

Is intimacy but an illusion for those who crave a constancy of new ideas? Sarah Polley’s stunning sophomore effort is an anti-romantic tale of incremental infidelity with full-flung turns from Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen. A played-out Buggles song finds new life and septuagenarian nudity succeeds as both sight gag and symbolism. It’s the movie Judd Apatow wishes he could make today. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD services.

12. “Marvel’s The Avengers”

Marvel’s might for meticulous world-building. Four years of patient planning. Joss Whedon’s passion for the purity of comic-book culture. Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans and Mark Ruffalo playing characters with identifiable burdens, pathos and conflict. A full hour of rousing action. The unfettered joy of watching Hulk smash in his best appearance yet. Now, that’s the pinnacle of pop spectacle. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD services.

11. “Skyfall”

Without compromising action or scope, Sam Mendes brings introspection and intimacy to James Bond’s world. One hopes, though, that the new 007’s gauntlet of emotional tests is over — his next mission defined less by those he’s lost. By “Skyfall’s” jazzy, assured end, Bond’s leash is off. Perhaps next time, this dog can enjoy the thrilling chase that he can give. Now in theaters.

10. “Moonrise Kingdom”

With wit and wisdom, Wes Anderson understands the parameters of a pubescent childhood summer — that the madly elated rush of cramming “forever” into a finite time can, and must, end in some form of disappointment. His dioramic approach, more observational than aesthetic, asserts that adolescence is just the beginning of life’s many opportunity costs. And his sneakily bittersweet ending feels less about finding first love than finding family. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD services.

9. “The Dark Knight Rises”

How to top “The Dark Knight”? That question matters little to Christopher Nolan, and not because he’s necessarily unsuccessful. Nolan’s M.O. all along is an action trilogy to dance along distinct lines of heroism and leadership between Bat and Man. Impressively bombastic, thunderous and exciting, yes, but also a beautifully beaten, character-driven retreat that understands why we invested in the most relatable Bruce Wayne yet. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD services.

8. “The Master”

For all this enigmatic drama’s widescreen majesty, its greatest visuals are its leads’ faces. It’s ultimately a two-hander about a parasitic (unrequitedly romantic?) bond between a brute and a scholar (Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, both brilliant). Its exact thesis on post-WWII America feels perhaps purposefully opaque after just one viewing. But indelible images and performances make this a malaise worth revisiting. Coming to Blu-ray and DVD Feb. 26, 2013.

7. “Django Unchained”

This emancipation exclamation starts as “Blazing Saddles” with a body count and blood squibs seemingly detonated with C4. But as in “Inglourious Basterds” — and with a far trickier topic of slavery — Quentin Tarantino eventually repurposes historical blight into pulp fiction to diminish its power if only for 165 minutes. Moreover, it conveys Tarantino’s sincere fondness for the old-fashioned, operatic power of good vanquishing evil. Now in theaters.

6. “Holy Motors”

Ascribing traditional narrative questions to French filmmaker Leos Carax’s mad-hatter mélange in which Denis Lavant plays 11 characters and tones shift tectonically every 10 minutes? That way, madness lies. Hold your breath, jump down the rabbit hole and marvel at Carax’s meditations — on acting, on film, on the creative struggle and, at the center of the story’s beating heart, on the consequences of roles we choose in life. Coming to Blu-ray and DVD Feb. 26, 2013.

The Grey2


5. “The Grey”

Although marketed as Liam Neeson in “Wolf Puncher,” Joe Carnahan’s best film to date shares a kindred spirit with the mounting existential dread and deliverance of man in the elements a la Jack London. Neeson has rarely looked more hawkish and predatory but shrewdly matches an anguished soul to mammoth strength. In some moments, he stares down nature and God, telling them both to step. But “The Grey” doesn’t set out to assert machismo. It ruminates on our mourning process and the value of dying among that which calms us, even if that’s a reclamation of rage to go down swinging. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD services.



4. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”

Fourteen is a bitch — bringing bulletproof emotional euphoria at night and humbling reminders of high school’s pecking order the next morning. Adapting his own novel with the sophistication of a seasoned filmmaker, first-timer Stephen Chbosky captures underclassman aches, anxieties and exhilarations with unassailable authenticity and effortless circle-of-friends chemistry between Logan Lerman (in an attention-grabbing turn), Emma Watson and Ezra Miller (as charming here as he was malevolent in last year’s “We Need to Talk About Kevin”). However, this isn’t simply one of 2012’s most unexpected, lapel-grabbing surprises. It is, quite simply, one of the best films ever made about the high school experience. Now in theaters; coming to Blu-ray, DVD and VOD services Feb. 12, 2013.

Silver Linings Playbook - inside


3. “Silver Linings Playbook”

In “The Fighter,” David O. Russell proved himself a master of the sharp-tongued cadence of familial cacophony. But such spats are just one nuance of his latest clever, edgy and unruly response to genre trappings. Have you ever felt afraid of a romantic-comedy protagonist? Such misgivings about Pat, a bipolar man given revelatory depth and dimension by Bradley Cooper, require great patience. But it pays off in this unforgettable, infectiously optimistic film. Robert De Niro delivers his greatest performance in a decade. Jennifer Lawrence cements herself as a true star. And Russell deftly avoids an insulting, facile love-trumps-meds conclusion. Now in theaters.



2. “Zero Dark Thirty”

Defining actionable intelligence is a slippery slope. For what is “actionable intelligence” if not the viewpoint of the most persuasive person in the room? And even then, more questions. How does one evaluate the risk of inaction? How does one discern the lead they want to be true from what they know to be true? And where might that lead take you — nowhere, into a trap or, as we find at the exhaustive end of Kathryn Bigelow’s meticulously engrossing thriller, to an emptiness that follows the capture of your quarry. From its introduction — which chillingly contextualizes 9/11 into the day’s police-scanner and cell-phone chatter — to its conclusive, nerve-jangling raid in Abottabad, Pakistan, this procedural depicts the weight and burden of our nation’s decade-long journey into a heart of darkness. As for its oft-debated stance on torture, the movie neither condones nor condemns and allows us to make our own judgments — less for its efficacy in eliciting information about bin Laden than whether it was worth our moral quagmire. And thanks to Jessica Chastain’s magnetic lead performance, “Zero Dark Thirty” is not dry, dispassionate journalism. It’s a revealing portrait of her, and by extension America’s, white-whale obsession. In wide theatrical release Jan. 11, 2013.

Safety Not Guaranteed - inside


1. “Safety Not Guaranteed”

“Have you ever stared fear and danger in the eye and said, ‘Yes’?” Within the context of recruiting possible time-travel partners, it’s the question to which Kenneth (Mark Duplass) must hear what he perceives to be the right answer. But what is that if not the question we all consider when we fall in love, take a risk that pays off or make choices all but certain to end in pain and regret? To that end, Colin Trevorrow’s film tries to persuade us less of Kenneth’s time-travel abilities than the possibility, potential and riches that can await when we’re brave enough to take a leap. What matters more than living for the now? Many time-travel films have played off nostalgia and reminiscence, but few with such existential truth, and Derek Connolly’s clever, sincere script diverges from convention at every turn like a tangential timeline on Doc Brown’s chalkboard. Even amid lo-fi thriller elements, Connolly resists every temptation to go for action, cynicism and cheapness. Instead, its center is the romance between Kenneth and Darius (Aubrey Plaza) — a courtship of mutual inspiration. Not only do you feel the millisecond when they fall in love, but you spot the moment that Plaza — who lives every week like it’s snark week on “Parks & Recreation” — matures as an actress. Equally shrewd is Jake Johnson as a seeming lothario journalist who pushes down a painful, primal scream of rage under his partying pretext. In “Big Machine” — the best original film song of 2012 — Kenneth ponders: “Maybe I’m wrong and all that you get is what you see / Maybe I’m right and there’s something out there to believe.” The greatest film of 2012 truly made you believe in the beauty, and danger, of love, trust, friendship and chance. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD services.


Christopher Lloyd

Sam Watermeier

Evan Dossey

Caine Gardner



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The Dark Knight Rises Tue, 04 Dec 2012 05:39:38 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

The conclusion of the Batman collaboration between director Christopher Nolan and star Christian Bale is a big, ambitious film just like “The Dark Knight.” And also like its predecessor, “The Dark Knight Rises” is overburdened with too many supporting characters and secondary plots.

As the story opens, it has been eight years since Bruce Wayne last donned the Caped Crusader’s cowl. Peace has reigned throughout the land, but then a mysterious terrorist named Bane (Tom Hardy) arrives. He handily defeats Batman in personal combat and takes the reins of Gotham City.

Meanwhile, super-thief Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) plays the lines of loyalty between the two, whispering ominously about a storm brewing to wipe away the city’s veil of security.

The biggest problem with Bane, other than the fact that he pales in comparison to Heath Ledger’s Joker, is that his motivations never really come into clear relief. Hardy’s choice to play him with an odd speech cadence, coupled with Bane’s metallic face mask, also makes him difficult to understand.

Familiar faces return, including police commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), loyal Wayne family butler Alfred (Michael Caine) and weapons guru Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman). New on the block is Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a young police detective whose importance becomes clearer late in the going.

It’s still a worthy piece of filmmaking, especially for those who like their superhero tales in the dark-and-portentous mode. But I can’t help thinking a stripped-down, sleeker finale would’ve been better.

In terms of extras, Blu-ray is the only way to go for the serious videophile. The DVD comes only with a single featurette chronicling Bruce Wayne’s journey from zero to hero.

The highlight of the Blu-ray edition is “Ending the Knight,” a comprehensive making-of documentary examining virtually every aspect of the filmmaking process, from the story concept to special effects. It also includes a gallery of images and a documentary on the Batmobile, chronicling all five of the Dark Knight’s motorized chariots.

Film: 4 Yaps
Extras: 4.5 Yaps

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The Dark Knight Rises Thu, 19 Jul 2012 20:19:34 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

And so the Batman saga ends not with a bang but an allegory. Director/co-writer Christopher Nolan has made it clear “The Dark Knight Rises” will be the last movie about the Caped Crusader — at least that he will make — and this knowledge seems to have freed him to make a superhero movie that’s different from any other in the genre, one in which the superhero has grown tired of the mask and has to be convinced to put it on again.

It’s notable that Christian Bale spends far more screen time out of the Batman costume than in.

It’s a big, epic, sprawling movie that, like the last entry four years ago, is too overstuffed with tertiary plot lines and secondary characters for its own good.

And, of course, nothing can replace Heath Ledger’s unique, disturbing presence as the Joker. Even though he was captured at the end of the last movie and, at one point, Gotham City’s prison is busted open for all the criminals to escape, there’s no half-hearted (and misguided) attempt to cast another actor in that now-iconic role.

As the story opens, eight years have passed since the events in “The Dark Knight.” Bruce Wayne has not donned Batman’s cowl since then, with the populace mistakenly believing that he killed Harvey Dent, who actually went mad and became Two-Face. Dent has become a symbol of the peaceful good times that have endured since — thanks in part to some draconian laws put in place in Dent’s name.

When we first see Bruce, he seems to have aged 20 years. He has graying hair and a lined face, and walks around with a cane and a severe limp. He’s become a recluse, rarely leaving his mansion despite the urging of loyal butler/henchman Alfred (Michael Caine) to do so. You quit being Batman, Alfred tells him, but you didn’t start a new life.

The villain here is Bane, played by Tom Hardy underneath a strange metal mask of tubes and 30 pounds of muscle he put on for the role. Bane is a brilliant terrorist who’s utterly unnerving but whose motives never really come into clear relief.

He emerges from a mysterious past, supposedly growing up in darkness inside a pit of a prison, and seems to have dedicated his entire life to destroying Batman and the city he loves. Why? We’re never really sure.

When Bane first appears on the scene, Bruce resolves to get back in the game. He is cocky and confident in his gadgets and combat abilities despite a doctor’s assessment that he has no cartilage in his knees and scarred internal organs. He shouldn’t even be skiing, let alone tangling with super-strong madmen.

Bane easily defeats Batman in personal combat and exiles him. Bane then steals something really, really powerful that belongs to Bruce Wayne and turns it against Gotham. And then he … waits five months to unleash the destruction, which just happens to be enough time for Bruce to convalesce and return to foil his plans.

Hardy makes a few bold performance choices, some of which pay off and some don’t.
Much has been made about his voice, occasionally difficult to understand
behind the metallic echo of his mask, which resembles a shark’s maw coming at you. Beyond the comprehension issues, Bane speaks in an oddly inflected pattern with a stiff sort of formality to it. He also has a habit of placing his hands on the lapels of his coat or armor, like a Dickensian barrister puffing himself up.

The other big addition is Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle, a slyly seductive jewel thief who tries to walk a risky line between loyalty to Bane and Batman. Neither really trusts her, or her either of them, but there’s a connection between her and Bruce. He represents the 1%, and she makes Occupy Wall Street-ish threats about “a storm coming” to wash away the privileged, which supplies an edge to their banter.

I should mention that no one ever actually calls her Catwoman, and she doesn’t wear a costume other than some minimalist sartorial adornment. It’s a surprisingly beefier role than you’d expect, and Hathaway has a strong presence in it.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is another important new character as young police detective John Blake — or, at least, seemingly important. Blake seems to be everywhere during the movie, popping up to assist Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman) with a key bit of evidence or even fight alongside Batman. But after the movie, I started thinking about what purpose Blake plays in the story and decided he’s really not that pivotal at all, except for that part at the end where … well, you’ll see.

Matthew Modine is another new add as Gordon’s right-hand man, Ben Mendelsohn plays a mercenary-minded industrialist making a play for Wayne Enterprises, and Marion Cotillard plays Miranda Tate, a former business partner of Bruce’s who got burned on a bad business deal.

Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), Bruce’s R&D man, returns to the fold and apparently has spare Batman suits and gear stuffed in just about every corner of Gotham. Most notably is a flying machine that’s part helicopter, part jet and all seriously badass.

I saw this film in a genuine IMAX theater at the Indiana State Museum. More than an hour of the 165-minute film was shot on special IMAX film, and when that entire picture opens up from widescreen to a massive six-story wall of spectacle, it’s quite tremendous. This one is definitely worth the ticket upsell.

“The Dark Knight Rises” isn’t as good as the last film, but I wouldn’t call it a disappointment. If anything, its faults arise from being too ambitious, too big and too much. A shorter film that focused on the dynamic between Batman, Bane and Selina Kyle might’ve been a better fit for this material. But that’s the sort of movie you make when you’re starting out something big, not wrapping it up.

4 Yaps

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Reinventing Batman: Part Two Wed, 18 Jul 2012 16:54:14 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Anticipation

The sequel to “Batman Begins” had built up such an air of anticipation that it practically exploded onto screens three years later with a record opening weekend. Christopher Nolan’s “Begins” was pretty self-contained, and fans were content with his reinvented, modern Batman. But in these times of sequels, prequels, redos and revamps, of course there was going to be more.

A big viral marketing campaign began, centered on one of Batman’s most well known villains: The Joker. Posters of Heath Ledger (2005’s “Brokeback Mountain”) in the infamous clown makeup and purple suit seemed to dominate every available ad space. Then after Ledger’s tragic death, this was considerably dialed down. However, anticipation of not only “The Dark Knight” but also of Ledger’s twisted performance as Batman’s legendary nemesis meant that excitement surged rather than slowed. Aside from The Joker, a marketing focus was also directed on another of Batman’s adversaries — Harvey Dent aka Two Face (Aaron Eckhart of 2007’s “No Reservations”). Fan anticipation and general buzz about the sequel was so high that Warner Brothers’ campaign was less aggressive than it might have been.

“The Dark Knight”

It’s always a good sign when nearly all the main cast returns for the sequel, with the exception of Maggie Gyllenhaal (2002’s “Secretary”), who takes over from Katie Holmes as Assistant District Attorney Rachel Dawes. Christopher Nolan’s brother Jonathan was also taken on as a screenwriter, having previously written for “The Prestige” (2006).

We are also introduced to another type of hero, Gotham’s “white knight” District Attorney Harvey Dent. He prefers fighting crime from the courthouse instead of running around the city in a mask and cape and therefore is more of an official hero, more widely accepted by society than Batman. Dent and Lieutenant James Gordon (Gary Oldman of 2011’s “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”) try to change the world without the use of fancy gadgetry and a costume.

In “The Dark Knight,” it has been a few years since Batman introduced himself to Gotham City as a crime-fighting vigilante. Controversy surrounding his role in society is evidenced by a discussion heard on the radio in the opening scenes. He is perhaps not as revered or accepted as Superman was by the people of Metropolis. With Dent, Gordon and Batman fighting the good fight, hope is slowly returning to the city — that is until The Joker makes his appearance.

He follows no rules and doesn’t hesitate in beginning an anarchic campaign to destroy the city and everyone in it. Ledger’s towering performance dominates, taking the character to its darkest corners and sidelining Batman somewhat. But when they are together, the atmosphere is electric.

The Joker’s schemes are decidedly complex, and there are so many of them in the film that they almost trip over each other for screen time. It isn’t surprising that Batman, Dent and Gordon can’t keep up with him. The plot also takes us to Hong Kong and the chance for some jumping from impossibly tall buildings Bat style and to introduce the audience (or at least those who aren’t comic-book fans) to the sonar device created by Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman, of 2005’s “Million Dollar Baby”). A lot of praise is given to Nolan for his exceptionally mature film that succeeds in taking the story to its darkest places. This is his best work, taking the comic-book movie to the next level.

“The Dark Knight Rises”

As with “The Dark Knight,” marketing for “Rises” began with a new villain. This time, it was in the form of other malevolent mad man — the extremely muscular Bane, played by Tom Hardy (of 2008’s “Bronson”), whose image was released to the world over a year ago. We have seen a glimpse of the power behind Bane’s punch and the carnage he can bring about. This is a villain who is a physical and mental match for Batman.

We also have another key player in town – Selina Kyle, played by Anne Hathaway (2010’s “Love and Other Drugs”). She’s been seen wearing standard prison garb, leading us to think she’s been broken out by Bane, along with a group of other dangerous-looking inmates. Her story treatment will be an interesting one; scenes from trailers show her as also a possible romantic interest for Bruce Wayne. And she appears to have her own Batpod; this girl has a cunning plan and is not to be messed with.

Even with the high number of TV spots, trailers, posters, virals and sneak previews, no major plot spoilers have been given away. Warner Brothers has made it a challenge to go in to the film completely blind; it is difficult not to come across something about the film in the lead up to one of the summer’s biggest releases. Of course, this is the third film in the trilogy, so as we know by now, all bets are off. With villains taking the fight to the next level, there is a possibility that Batman will lose. This is not, after all, your typical Hollywood blockbuster, where all loose ends will be taken care of by the final act. With Christopher Nolan at the helm, anything is possible.


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Reinventing Batman: Part One Sun, 15 Jul 2012 16:17:12 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Early Batman

Tim Burton took the reins from the 1960s camp TV show and transferred the character to the big screen with his 1989 blockbuster hit “Batman.” His Bat superhero was much darker and had an edge of dangerousness compared to Adam West’s portrayal in the TV series. It was more akin to Frank Miller’s darker series of Batman comics, “The Dark Knight.” Burton’s heavy gothic themes, though impressive, keep the character and Batman universe in the area of whimsy and remain, until a few years ago, still a sort of joke. Cinematically speaking, his and Joel Schumacher’s subsequent films, were more for the masses. However, Burton’s darker vision is still praised today and his Batman, Michael Keaton (1988’s “Beetlejuice”), is seen as the best among him, Val Kilmer (2005’s “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”) and George Clooney (2010’s “The American”).

Director Christopher Nolan

No one really wanted to touch the Batman franchise again after the barrage of abuse aimed at the last Batman film, “Batman and Robin” (1997). Since then, studios have tried many times to regenerate the Batman franchise. Finally, keeping a tight lid on the project, indie-cult director Christopher Nolan was hired by Warner Brothers on a new Batman project. With him at the helm, it was fair to say that this was going to be a very new and different approach to the superhero. Fearful of anything leaking onto the Internet, meetings about the new Batman film were held in top secret at his house. Nolan says he was influenced by the Superman franchise, in particular Richard Donner’s 1978 film that explores the origins — something he felt hadn’t been covered before for Batman. He was also aiming for a darker and more realistic tone and wanted to use as little CGI as possible, preferring grand-scale sets, up-to-date costumes and sleek gadgets.

Batman Begins

Nolan and his co-screenwriter David S. Goyer go behind the mask, uncovering the mystery of Bruce Wayne and his transformation into Batman. The relationship between superhero and society and how society views the superhero/vigilante type is explored.

We go right back to when young Bruce first discovered the bat cave underneath his parents’ sprawling mansion and the circumstances of his parents’ death. Scenes before the tragedy seem almost bathed in light and warmth, then everything after is muted in shades of blue and black. Years later their killer Joe Chill (Richard Brake, 2007’s “Hannibal Rising”) is murdered by crime boss Falcone’s assassins for testifying against him, robbing Wayne of his chance of revenge. This sparks a quest to learn of the criminal underworld, leading him to the harshness of a Bhutanese prison and then training with the League of Shadows under Ducard (Liam Neeson of 2008’s “Taken”).

Wayne returns to Gotham City, reintegrating himself to society and creating his alter ego in secret — a hero who lives in shadows, creating fear in his enemies. Fear and guilt are big themes for Wayne and Nolan’s film in general. Wayne utilizes the bat symbol, a representation of his own fears, as it was this fear that led his parents out into the alley the night of their death. He feels incredible guilt over this and being unable to exact his vengeance, which becomes a motivator for him. Fear is also a very modern theme that resonates with the audience — fear of terrorism, of being afraid to go about daily life, and also fear of the corrupt government.

Bruce sees that his family was failed by the system when Joe Chill was allowed parole for testifying against Falcone. The people of Gotham (the cityscapes are a mix of real ones such as Chicago and New York, making Gotham more real for the audience) live in fear every day, not only from the sheer number of criminals and high crime rate but also because of the corruption in the city’s government — the people they should trust to protect them. Wayne/Batman is a crimefighter, but he is also in conflict within himself. Christian Bale’s Batman is clearly influenced by his previous roles as the very dark and monstrous Patrick Bateman in 2000’s “American Psycho” and the realistically pained Trevor Reznik in “The Machinist” (2004). In the end, his devotion to Gotham (something he shares with his father) and its people brings hope for them and the possibility of an end to the hold criminals and the corrupt have.

The After Effect

What a difference a few years make. We couldn’t be further from Schumacher’s trashiness and the camp TV show. The Penguin and the Riddler would look seriously out of place and out of their league in Batman’s modern city. Here we have a true vigilante for modern times, fighting back against the criminal underworld with all the swanky gadgetry money can buy. He’s saved the city and given hope back to its residents. Four and five stars are the average rating for the regenerated Batman film, the critics studios feared the most are satisfied and the crew can breathe a sigh of relief. The next challenge: the sequels.


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Pete Postlethwaite: Actor and Activist Mon, 10 Jan 2011 17:00:47 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

A wide variety of smaller film and TV roles for any other actor would have meant a less-than-notable career, but for Pete Postlethwaite, it sealed the deal for him to become one of the most remembered faces and voices in movie history.

His rugged visage and brilliant performances, despite many times being minor and supporting, were too memorable to be ignored. He put his all into every role.

The only performer in Baz Lurhmann’s “William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet” to speak his lines in iambic pentameter, this Brit actor came from a distinctly working class background, brought up in Warrington (situated in between Manchester and Liverpool). He fought his way out to embark on a career in theater and on the big and small screen.

Initially bound for the priesthood, Postlethwaite set out to tackle the world of acting after seeing his first plays, “Waiting for Godot” and “Look Back in Anger.” Being of working-class stock and having no theatrical background, this was difficult to achieve, but he started out by teaching drama and physical education before attending Bristol Old Vic Theatre School at age 24.

Acting then wasn’t about being on TV or in films; the stage was where any British actor started his career. Postlethwaite’s first real taste of acting came in the 1960s and ’70s when he took to the stage at Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre alongside other acting greats like Julie Walters (Molly Weasley in the “Harry Potter” films) and Bill Nighy (“Love Actually”).

Postlethwaite’s movie biography is littered with more small parts than you would initially expect from such a well-known, highly talented actor. His distinctive features, complex surname and gravelly Northern tones meant he could be easily picked out and remembered.

Perhaps Postlethwaite’s most endearing aspect is his unending modesty when it comes to his fame, dismissing comments from Steven Spielberg (who directed him in “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” and “Amistad”) that he is the greatest actor in the world and saying he doesn’t consider himself an A-list star.

One of his most memorable roles was as Mr. Kobayashi in the 1995 thriller “The Usual Suspects,” achieving maximum impact in a pivotal, but still supporting, role in the film as the lawyer and enforcer of criminal mastermind Keyser Söze.

Patriarchal roles also awarded Postlethwaite much recognition. The first was in 1988’s “Distant Voices, Still Lives,” where his portrayal of the hero’s father was considered terrifying and monstrous — reminiscent of director Terence Davis’ memories of his own father.

One of Postlethwaite’s more major roles was as Daniel Day Lewis’ father in 1993’s “In the Name of the Father,” which earned him his only Oscar nomination.

Postlethwaite also had roles in other widely released films, including “Alien 3,” “The Constant Gardener” and “The Shipping News.” Never ignoring the stage’s call, though, he is also well known for playing the lead role in “Lear,” which toured Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Britain in 2008.

Despite Postlethwaite’s private struggle with cancer, he still gave two memorable performances in two of 2010’s most acclaimed films.

In Christopher Nolan’s “Inception,” he played dying businessman and father Maurice Fischer, upon whom the film’s emotional aspect is hinged. He also starred alongside Ben Affleck in “The Town” as an Irish kingpin moonlighting as a florist.

Outside his acting career, Postlethwaite was a passionate political activist, campaigning against the war in Iraq and marching in the Make Poverty History rally in Edinburgh at the G8 summit. He also was a firm environmentalist, solidified by his central role in the post-apocalyptic film “The Age of Stupid,” set 500 miles north of Norway in 2055. Postlethwaite played an archivist looking back at news footage to understand why humankind failed to do more about climate change.

A list of film achievements and life details doesn’t compare to seeing Postlethwaite perform on screen. It is his voice and way of speaking that really sets up what kind of actor he was.

Here is his big speech from 1996’s “Brassed Off,” directed by Mark Herman, about a miners’ brass-band set. It is set during the time then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher closed more than 100 mines — leaving more than 1,000 miners without jobs and threatening the tight-knit communities in the North of England.

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