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Lists

Classic Cars on Film

If you’ve just been listening to me on the radio with Ian Collins on talkSPORT,¬†then here is a fuller list of classic cars from films we were just talking about.

Remember you can follow his show on Twitter (@collinslateshow) and Facebook and listen every Sunday-Thursday from 10pm-1am.

CLASSIC FILM CARS

Aston Martin DB5 in Goldfinger (Dir. Terence Young, 1963): The Bond films in the early 1960s were a massive cultural phenomenon with Sean Connery playing the iconic British spy. Goldfinger perhaps remains the apex of the Connery-era with its famous villain (Gert Frobe), Bond girl (Honor Blackman), theme song and setpieces.

Along with his licence to kill, shaken-not-stirred Martinis and Walther PPK was Bond’s silver Aston Martin DB5 which featured an oil slick, smoke screen, ejector seat, radar tracking system, machine guns, and revolving license plates. [IMDb / Amazon]

1968 Ford Mustang GT in Bullitt (Dir. Peter Yates, 1968): Famous for an extended car chase – frequently cited as one of the best in cinema history – this thriller sees a San Francisco cop (Steve McQueen) who is assigned to protect a mafia informant before uncovering a more sinister plot involving an ambitious senator (Robert Vaughn).

The famous car chase had Bullitt in a dark “Highland Green” 1968 Ford Mustang GT 390 CID Fastback, chasing two hit-men in a “Tuxedo Black” 1968 Dodge Charger R/T 440 Magnum. [IMDb / Amazon]

1963 Volkswagen Beetle in The Love Bug (Dir. Robert Stevenson, 1968): The 1968 Disney film The Love Bug featured a Volkswagen Beetle named Herbie, his driver (Dean Jones) and love interest (Michele Lee).

It went on to star in 4 sequels Herbie Rides Again, Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, Herbie Goes Bananas, and Herbie: Fully Loaded. One the iconic cars to emerge in post-war Europe, its popularity and awareness were boosted by the Herbie series. [IMDb / Amazon]

Mark II Mini in The Italian Job (Dir. Peter Collings, 1969): It is hard to imagine now, but this late 1960s caper film about British criminals (led by Michael Caine) stealing gold bullion from Turin wasn’t a huge success on initial release. Over the years it gradually became something of an institution due to its witty (and heavily romanticised) evocation of the Swinging Sixties.

Although the film contains some memorable cars (including a Jaguar E-Type and Aston Martin DB4) it is synonymous with the Mini, three of which are used for the climactic getaway, thankfully all cars have a great motor trader policy. The cars used were the Mark II Minis and they are driven down staircases, storm drains, over the FIAT factory and – most memorably – into the back of a moving bus to the sounds of Quincy Jones’ famous soundtrack. [IMDb / Amazon]

1970 Dodge Challenger R/T in Vanishing Point (Dir. Richard C. Sarafian, 1971): Down the years this film has established a formidable cult reputation. The story involves a Vietnam vet named Kowalski (Barry Newman) who drives from Denver to San Francisco, refusing to stop for the police – who soon start to chase him – and becomes a media sensation after being championed by a blind black disc jockey (Cleavon Little).

Although not a big hit at the time, it captures the black counter-culture mood of early 1970s America and the white Dodge Challenger has gone on to inspire albums (Primal Scream’s 1997 Vanishing Point) and other films (Quentin Tarantino used the same model in Death Proof in 2007). [IMDb / Amazon]

1971 Pontiac LeMans in The French Connection (Dir. William Friedkin, 1971): One of the classic crime movies of the 1970s was this gritty tale of New York narcotics detectives “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman) and Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider) tracking down the source of heroin coming into the United States.

It also contained one of the most remarkable car chases ever put on screen, in which Doyle frantically chases an elevated train. It was made all the more remarkable by the fact that it was shot for ‘real’ in Brooklyn, New York with terrified observers avoiding Doyle’s car, which was driven by stunt driver Bill Hickman. [IMDb / Amazon]

Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6 in C’√©tait un Rendezvous / English Title: “It Was A Date” (Dir. Claude Lelouch, 1976): One of the most jaw dropping and riveting examples of a car on film is this incredible short film (under 10 minutes) showing a high speed drive through Paris in the early hours of the morning.

Shot in a single take, with a gyro-stabilised camera mounted on the bonnet of a Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6, it has been shrouded in rumour and controversy for years due to the illegal nature of how it was filmed. It is thought that the sound of a Ferrari was dubbed on, even though the car was probably a Mercedes. Jeremy Clarkson once said it “makes Bullitt look like a cartoon”. [IMDb / Amazon]

1975 Lotus Esprit in The Spy Who Loved Me (Dir. Lewis Gilbert, 1977): The second iconic Bond car appeared in the late 1970s in the heyday of the Roger Moore era. The plot saw 007 try to stop a madman (Curt Jurgens) from taking over the world with the help of a KGB agent (Barbara Bach).

But the highlight for car enthusiasts was the sequence involving a Lotus Esprit which also doubled as a submarine complete with rocket launcher and mines. At the time of shooting only two of these Lotus models were available, and the film helped boost it’s image with what was a groundbreaking stunt sequence for the time. [IMDb / Amazon]

1974 Dodge Monaco in The Blues Brothers (Dir. John Landis, 1980): The ‘Bluesmobile’ was the long suffering cop vehicle that John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd drove on their ‘mission from God’ in the popular 1980 comedy. After the extended chase from their concert gig in the film, a 106-mile trip to Chicago in which they are chased by the police and Neo-Nazis, the Bluesmobile collapses as the Brothers arrive at the Richard J. Daley Center.

The film used 13 different cars to depict the Bluesmobile, all of which were former police cars purchased from the California Highway Patrol, and were mocked up to look like Illinois patrol cars. [IMDb / Amazon]

Modified 1973 Ford Falcon XB GT in Mad Max (Dir. George Miller, 1979): The low budget Australian thriller that launched Mel Gisbson as a star was the story of a traffic cop who hunts down the crazed motorcycle thugs who kill his family.

Featuring plenty of car chases, there are many memorable vehicles in this film but no more so than the modified car Max eventually drives, a 1973 Ford Falcon XB GT. The actual model used in the film (and the 1981 sequel Mad Max 2) is currently at The Cars of the Stars Motor Museum in Keswick, Cumbria. [IMDb / Amazon]

DeLorean DMC 12 in Back to the Future (Dir. Robert Zemeckis, 1985): One of the major box office hits of the 1980s was this clever tale of a teenager (Michael J Fox) who inadvertently travels back in time thanks to a maverick professor (Christopher Lloyd) who has built a time machine into a Delorean car.

Interestingly, the Delorean never really took off as a car after the company went bankrupt in 1982, but it has become synonymous with this film and in 2007 a limited number were produced again. [IMDb / Amazon]

1961 Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California in Ferris Bueller‚Äôs Day Off (Dir. John Hughes, 1986): The late John Hughes directed several films that captured the growing pains of teenagers in Reagan’s America, but this tale of a Chicago whizz-kid (Matthew Broderick) who plays truant with his girlfriend (Mia Sara) and best buddy Cameron (Alan Ruck) was arguably his funniest.

A key subplot was that they used a vintage Ferrari to drive around own in, a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California which forms part of a key scene towards the end of the film. [IMDb / Amazon]

1976 Ford Gran Torino in Starsky and Hutch (Todd Phillips, 2004): A bit of a cheat this one, as the film version of the long running TV series about two LA detectives also featured the famous red Ford Gran Torino with the white stripe down the side. In truth this remake wasn’t really up to much (Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson didn’t really have the chemistry of Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul), although the car remains one of the most iconic of TV shows in this era.

Ford built 1,000 replicas of the “Starsky and Hutch” car in the spring of 1976, due to the TV show. [IMDb / Amazon]

The Tumbler in Batman Begins & The Dark Knight (Dir. Christopher Nolan, 2005 & 2008): Of the bat-mobiles that have graced the big screen, the one in the most recent films with Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne / Batman was the most radical. Invented by Wayne Industries’ Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), it resembles an armoured vehicle and is powered by a massive jet-booster.

The vehicle does not have a front axle, a design which was influenced by the ‘spinners’ from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. The film’s production designer described the machine as a cross between “a Lamborghini and a Tank”. The second film saw a nifty Bat-bike (the Batpod) hidden within the main body of the vehicle. [IMDb / Amazon]

The Films of Sam Raimi: For some reason director Sam Raimi has included has included a 1973 yellow¬†Oldsmobile Delta 88 automobile (nicknamed “The Classic”) in every film, even including his period Western¬†The Quick and the Dead.

It has been in The Evil Dead films, the Spiderman trilogy and most recently appeared in¬†Drag Me to Hell, driven by the elderly gypsy woman who can’t get a mortgage.

If you have any classic film cars, leave a comment below.

Categories
Posters

The Dark Knight vs Inception

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The newly released poster for Christopher Nolan’s Inception is a little similar to one of the Joker one sheets for The Dark Knight.

Is it a deliberate ploy by Warner Bros marketing to remind people that the films share the same director? Or has someone run out of ideas?

More to the point, why not reference that cool spinning top thing on the official website?

Categories
Amusing

The Dark Knight vs Toy Story 2

This is what happens when someone very clever puts the audio from The Dark Knight to the images of Toy Story 2.

Categories
Cinema Essential Films Lists

The Best Films of 2008

Best films of 2008 mosaic

As in previous years this list of the best films of the year is presented in alphabetical order. (2007 titles which got a UK release during 2008 can be found in last year’s updated list).

THE BEST FILMS OF 2008

che-1Che (Dir. Steven Soderbergh)

This long gestating biopic of Che Guevara from director Steven Soderbergh got a mixed reaction after it premiered at Cannes in May.

Some were put off by the four hour running time and the whole question of whether or not it was actually two films. It would probably be most accurate to describe it as two films merged together as one: The Argentine deals with the Cuban revolution in 1959 whilst Guerrilla explores his final years in Bolivia.

In the UK they will be released as Che: Part One and Che: Part Two, with some special double-bill screenings at certain cinemas. However you see it though, be sure to experience it on a big screen, as this an audacious and thrilling piece of cinema.

In the first part we see¬†the Cuban Revolution inter-cut with Guevara’s 1964 trip to the United Nation and refreshingly¬†Soderbergh eschews the narrative cliches of many historical biopics. Instead of ponderous meditations on his motives or background we are¬†plunged into the raw action of the revolutionary’s life.

Some viewers may find this off putting but as the film progresses the production design, costume, acting and cinematography get ever more hypnotic, drawing us into this world.

Soderbergh has always been a gifted technical filmmaker interested in pushing the boundaries of mainstream cinema and here he has crafted one of his most interesting and accomplished films with the help of a revolutionary digital camera (appropriately called the RED One) that has allowed him to make an epic using guerrilla film-making techniques.

The spiritual core of the film is an outstanding performance from Benicio del Toro, who captures the physical and vocal mannerisms of Che so well that he manages to make you forget about the face that spawned so many t-shirts and posters.

[Che Part One is released in the UK on January 1st and Part Two on February 20th]

 

Frost Nixon UK posterFrost/Nixon (Dir. Ron Howard)

When I first saw Peter Morgan’s stage play about David Frost’s famous interviews with Richard Nixon in 1977, I remember wondering what a film adaptation might look like.¬†

Although the hiring of Ron Howard to direct might have raised some eyebrows, to his credit he not only kept the two lead actors from the production (Michael Sheen as Frost and Frank Langella as Nixon) but also managed preserve the essential drama at the heart of the story and keep as faithful to it as possible.

For those of you unfamiliar with the background, Peter Morgan (who has become an expert in dramatising modern history scripting¬†The Queen¬†and¬†The Last King of Scotland) created a play which explored the tensions behind Frost pursuing and then conducting Nixon’s first TV interviews since resigning in disgrace over the Watergate scandal.

What makes it so absorbing is the clash of two very different characters who for different reasons had a lot at stake: Frost was desperate to re-establish himself in America, whilst Nixon was keen to rebuild his shattered political reputation.

Technically, both lead performances are superb and after two years on stage together the chemistry between Sheen and Langella is magnetic.

The supporting cast is very solid with Rebecca Hall, Toby Jones, Matthew Macfadyen, Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt and Sam Rockwell all making fine contributions in key roles.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the film is how it manages to be both a fascinating slice of history garnished with some fine period design yet also finds a way of commenting on the current concerns about US politics.

It also poses a fascinating question: will President Bush ever come out with the same anguished mea culpa that Nixon delivered in these interviews?

[Frost/Nixon is released in the UK on January 25th]

 

Gomorrah UKGomorrah (Dir. Matteo Garrone)

One of the darkest and most disturbing films of the year was this searing examination of crime in modern Italy. It didn’t just upend many of the traditional tropes of the Mafia in pop culture – it exploded them.

The narrrative was based on true life stories from¬†Roberto Saviano‘s bestselling book about¬†the Comorrah, a criminal organisation centred around southern Italy (especially¬†Naples¬†and¬†Caserta).

There is a 13-year-old boy (Salvatore Abruzzese) who falls in with a criminal gang; a messenger (Gianfelice Imparato) who pays the families of prisoners; a young graduate (Carmine Paternoster) who gets involved in toxic waste management; a tailor (Salvatore Cantalupo) who wants to break free of local suppliers and two wannabe gangsters (Marco Macor and Ciro Petrone) who find a stash of weapons and want to act like Scarface.

Director Matteo Garrone cast the film impeccably and the ensemble acting was terrific but he also created a hellishly believable modern landscape far removed from that of mob movies like The Godfather, Goodfellas or The Sopranos.

This was a world riddled with poverty, tension and despair where crime infects everyone like a rampant virus. It paints a devastating picture not only of regions in modern Italy, but the tentacles of the Comorrah spread out to the wider world.

The film scooped the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, where it deservedly screened to critical acclaim.

Although at times it was an uncomfortable and brutal film to watch, it remains one of the most powerful and haunting crime films of the last decade.

* Listen to our interview with Matteo Garrone about Gomorrah *

[Gomorrah is available on DVD on February 9th)

 

Hunger UK posterHunger (Dir. Steve McQueen)

Every year there are a handful of films that know will end up in your ‘best of the year’ list as the credits roll and this¬†stunning drama about¬†the¬†1981 IRA hunger strike¬†was just such a film.

A stark and harrowing look at one of the key episodes of The Troubles was about a group of IRA prisoners in the Maze led by Bobby Sands (a mesmerising performance from Michael Fassbender) went on a protracted hunger strike.

Their aim was to apply pressure against the British government, so that they could be classed as political prisoners and it marked a significant escalation in the conflict.

What the film managed to capture so well was the bitter brutality of life inside the prison Рa world in which inmates refused to wear clothes, smeared excrement over their walls and were savagely beaten.

But at the same time this was no apologist for the IRA and perhaps the most shocking scene in the film explored the constant danger the prison guards lived under, where reprisals could lurk anywhere and at any time.

This is not a film that ‚Äėtakes sides‚Äô, but rather it explores the full human horror of The Troubles through the lens of the hunger strike – the physical brutality and sheer squalor point to the entrenched hatreds that ensnared all of those caught up in it. Echoes of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay are never far away.

The sounds and visuals were breathtaking with McQueen and cinematographer Sean Bobbitt showing a remarkable attention to detail whether it was a snowflake landing on the bloodied fist of a guard or urine gradually seeping out from beneath the cell doors before being gradually swept back in. 

One lengthy sequence involving Fassbender and Liam Cunningham (who played Sands’ priest) was perhaps one of the most riveting and daring pieces of cinema I’ve seen in years.

This was an astonishing directorial debut for Steve McQueen, who has been best known until now as an acclaimed visual artist, but this holds the promise of a hugely successful career in feature films.

* Listen to our interview with Liam Cunningham about Hunger *

[Hunger is out on DVD on February 23rd]

 

In Bruges UK posterIn Bruges (Dir. Martin McDonagh)

Perhaps the funniest film of the year was the directorial debut of the playwright Martin McDonagh, a brilliantly executed tale of two Irish hit men (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson) who have been sent to lie low in the Belgian city of Bruges.

Not only does it contain several memorable sequences, but it contained the sort of ballsy, politically incorrect humour absent from a lot of mainstream comedy movies.

It also features some excellent performances, most notably from the two leads. Gleeson is his usual dependable self whilst Farrell shows what a good actor he can be when released from the constraints of big budget Hollywood productions.

Ralph Fiennes also made a startling impression in a menacing supporting role that owes more to his turn in Schindler’s List than some of his more recent performances.

If you are familiar with the sensibility of McDonagh’s plays, such as The Lieutenant of Inishmore, you will find much to feast on here Рit feels like Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter remade by Quentin Tarantino.

Despite a warm critical reaction, it didn’t really get the attention it deserved, which may have been down to bad marketing (the US one sheet poster was horrible and the UK one not much better) or the fact that the title confused people.

One sequence in a hotel room involving drugs, a hooker and a dwarf was one of the funniest things I’ve seen all year and is worth the price of admission. ¬†¬†

[In Bruges is out now on DVD]

 

I've Loved You So LongI’ve Loved You So Long (Dir. Philippe Claudel)

An intelligent and beautifully crafted portrayal of family love which revolved around two sisters named Juliette (Kristin Scott Thomas) and Lea (Elsa Zylberstein), who reconnected with one another after a prolonged absence. 

To say too much about the plot would spoil the cleverly constructed narrative which gradually reveals their past and the reasons as to why they have been separated for so long. 

Writer and director Philippe Claudel was better known as a novelist in his native France and this also shares many of the pleasures of well written fiction: nuanced characters, slow burning emotions and a real sense of the complexities of human relationships. 

This is a film in which a lot of characters spend a lot of time in rooms talking about themselves, but at the same time manages to burrow deeply into the tangled emotions of it’s protagonist. 

Much of the power comes from two marvellous central performances and Scott Thomas proved what a captivating screen presence in what is arguably the performance of her career so far.

Her work on stage Рnotably in Chekhov productions like Three Sisters and The Seagull Рdemonstrated that she had much more range and ability than some of her screen performances suggested, so it was gratifying to see her grapple with such a juicy part and take it to another level. 

Credit must also go to Claudel for the way in which he has captured the small but subtle details that gradually reveal her character: the silence as she sits alone in a cafe, the wetness of her hair or even the way she smokes a cigarette. 

Since screening at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals a few weeks ago, this film has had a good deal of awards buzz and deserves recognition for the sheer excellence of the writing and acting.

[I’ve Loved You So Long is released on DVD on February 9th]

 

Man on Wire DVD coverMan on Wire (Dir. James Marsh)

British director James Marsh crafted a superb documentary about Frenchman Philippe Petit, who on August 7th 1974 gave an incredible high-wire performance by walking between between the Twin Towers of New York’s World Trade Center eight times in one hour.

The act itself almost defies belief but what the film does brilliantly is capture the tension, beauty and brilliance of Petit’s highly illegal operation. 

Born out of a dream and an idea, Petit and his team of accomplices spent eight months planning the execution of their ‚Äėcoup‚Äô down to the most intricate detail.

Like a team of bank robbers planning their most ambitious heist, the tasks they faced seemed virtually impossible: they would have to bypass the WTC‚Äôs security; smuggle the wire and rigging equipment into the towers; suspend the wire between the towers; secure the wire at the correct tension to withstand the winds and the swaying of the buildings; to rig it secretly by night ‚Äď all without being caught.

The film is also an emotional experience Рalthough it never mentions or shows footage from the 9/11 attacks, the Twin Towers are a haunting presence in the stock photos and footage from the time.   

But the ultimate message of the film is a positive one as it reminds us that the joy and magic Petit created on the Twin Towers is still there, even though the actual building is not. 

* Listen to our interview with Philippe Petit about Man on Wire *

[Man on Wire is out now on DVD] 

 

Milk posterMilk (Dir. Gus Van Sant)

Sean Penn is often regarded as one of the finest actors of his generation and his portrayal of Harvey Milk in this biopic was one of his very best.

Milk was a gay rights activist who in the 1970s became the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

The film opens with opens with archive footage of police raiding gay bars during the 1950s and 1960s, followed by the announcement in November, 1978 that Milk and Mayor George Moscone have been assassinated.

What follows is an inspiring and moving tale of political courage and hope with many fine performances across the board from Emile Hirsch, James Franco and Josh Brolin. 

Directed by Gus Van Sant¬†from a script by¬†Dustin Lance Black, it skilfully juxtaposed the drama of Milk’s political battles against the inner conflicts of his private life.

It was also a nice change to see Penn play a warm and inspirational protagonist, an added dimension to the film which gave it an extra lift.

Watching the film unfold just a couple of weeks after the election of Barack Obama it was hard not to see the parallels: both were political outsiders who thrived on changing the status quo through a combination of hope and grass roots activism.

Sadly, Milk’s legacy was not enough to prevent the passing of Prop 8 – a¬†California ballot proposition¬†that changed the laws of the state to ban same sex marriage.

But this film will almost certainly become a lasting testament to his political and moral courage.   

[Milk is out at UK cinemas on Friday 23rd January]

 

Slumdog Millionaire US posterSlumdog Millionaire (Dir. Danny Boyle)

In the spring of 2007 director Danny Boyle told me that his next film would be set in Mumbai and was the story of a young man on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.

But it was only afterwards that I started to wonder. Would the film be made in English? Would it be a Bollywood film? Comedy? Drama?

It is a testament to the final film that Slumdog Millionaire is so many different things – a vibrant and rich journey through modern India through the lens of a Dickensian tale of love and redemption.

Adapted by Simon Beaufoy from the novel Q and A by Vikas Swarup, it deservedly received a lot of buzz and acclaim at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals.

What’s interesting is that the narrative plays a little like The Usual Suspects, as we learn how the central character Jamal (Dev Patel) came to be on the game show.

It then flashes back to periods of his life growing up as a kid from the slums (or ’slumdog’ as some less than charitable characters in the film put it) and his desire to find the true love of his life (Frieda Pinto).

Boyle and his cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle don’t shy away from the poverty of the slums in the film but also capture the live wire energy of Mumbai with some inventive use of digital cameras and a cracking soundtrack.

Whilst some audiences might be a bit taken aback by some of the darker sequences, they are necesssary counterweights for others aspects of the story to really work.

A huge amount of credit must go to Beaufoy who has constructed a jigsaw puzzle narrative that somehow manages to hold everything together in a way that is exciting, clever and moving.   

Another clever touch is the realistic portrayal of the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire show, complete with the right music and graphics which are expertly woven into the film and play a key part in how the story unfolds.

The cheesy tension of the TV show somehow has a new life here, with added meaning on the tense pauses and multiple choice questions. 

It is currently regarded as the front runner for Best Picture at the Oscars and deservedly so as it mixes serious social commentary with a classical tale of lost love into something truly special. 

[Slumdog Millionaire is out at UK cinemas on Friday 9th January]

 

Synechdoche New YorkSynecdoche, New York (Dir. Charlie Kaufman)

In the last decade Charlie Kaufman has become one of those rare screenwriters whose work has even overshadowed the directors he has worked with.

This is quite a feat given that he has collaborated with Spike Jonze (on Being John Malkovich and Adaptation) and Michel Gondry (Human Nature and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). 

However, it is fair to say that all those films bear certain recognisable tropes: ingenious narratives, surreal images and a tragi-comic view of human affairs.

It would have also been a reasonable assumption to think his directorial debut would be similar, but¬†Synecdoche, New York¬†(pronounced ‚ÄúSyn-ECK-duh-kee‚ÄĚ) does not just bear token similarities to his previous scripts.¬†

In fact it is so Kaufman-esque that it takes his ideas to another level of strangeness, which is quite something if you bear in mind what has come before.

The story centres around a theatre director named Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who starts to re-evaluate life after his health and marriage start to break down. 

He receives a grant to do something artistically adventurous and decides to stage an enormously ambitious production inside a giant warehouse.

What follows is a strange and often baffling movie, complete with the kind of motifs that are peppered throughout Kaufman’s scripts: someone lives in a house oblivious to the fact that it is permanently on fire; a theatrical venue the size of several aircraft hangars is casually described as a place where Shakespeare is performed; and visitors to an art gallery view microscopic paintings with special goggles. 

But despite the oddities and the Chinese-box narrative, this is a film overflowing with invention and ideas. 

It explores the big issues of life and death but also examines the nature of art and performance Рa lot of the film, once it goes inside the warehouse, is a mind-boggling meditation on our lives as a performance. 

Imagine¬†The Truman Show¬†rewritten by¬†Samuel Beckett¬†and directed by¬†Luis Bu√Īuel¬†and you‚Äôll get some idea of what Kaufman is aiming for here.¬†

I found a lot of the humour very funny, but the comic sensibility behind the jokes is dry and something of an acquired taste.

Much of the film hinges on Seymour Hoffman’s outstanding central performance in which he conveys the vulnerability and determination of a man obsessed with doing something worthwhile before he dies. 

The makeup for the characters supervised by Mike Marino is also first rate, creating a believable ageing process whilst the sets are also excellent, even if some of the CGI isn’t always 100% convincing. 

The supporting cast was also impressive: Catherine Keener, Michelle Williams, Samantha Morton, Emily Watson, Hope Davis, Tom Noonan and Dianne Weist all contribute fine performances and fit nicely into the overall tone of the piece. 

Although the world Kaufman creates will alienate some viewers, it slowly becomes a haunting meditation on how humans age and die.

As the film moves towards resolution it becomes surprisingly moving with some of the deeper themes slowly, but powerfully, rising to the surface.

This means that although it will have it’s admirers (of which I certainly include myself) it is likely to prove too esoteric for mass consumption as it has a downbeat tone despite the comic touches.

Having seen it only once, this is a film I instantly wanted to revisit, so dense are the layers and concepts contained within it.

On first viewing it became a bit too rich at times for it‚Äôs own good but on reflection I don’t think I’ve seen a more ambitious or challenging film this year.

[Synechdoche, New York is out at UK cinemas on Friday 15th May]

 

The Class posterThe Class (Dir. Laurent Cantet)

The surprise winner of this year’s Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival was this deceptively simple tale of a French teacher (François Bégaudeau) at a state school in Paris.

The actual French title is ‘Entre Les Murs’ – which translates as ‚ÄėBetween the walls‚Äô – which is apt as the film never (apart from one shot at the beginning) strays outside the confines of the school.

Adapted from the 2006 novel of the same name by Bégaudeau, which in turn was based on his own real life experiences teaching in a Paris school, it is a rich and deeply satisfying film.

Not only did it scrupulously avoid the cliches that can plaue films set inside schools, but also managed to offer a plausible snapshot of modern French society by focusing tightly on a class of pupils and their teachers.

Although it is shot in the widescreen aspect ratio of 2:35, the camera hangs tight on each character and never really gives us a look at the French city landscape.

This might sound claustrophobic, but makes the lessons and world inside of the school (the staff room, the corridors, the playground) all come alive in an unexpectedly thrilling way.

Performances Рespecially from Bégaudeau and a very special cast of non-professional teenagers Рwere outstanding but the film also had a tremendous sense of humanity to it without ever slipping into cheap sentiment.

An example of a rare film that touches the heart whilst engaging the brain, The Class is a gem that I would urge anyone to go and see when it gets released in the UK in February.

[The Class is out at UK cinemas on Friday 27th February]

 

The Dark Knight posterThe Dark Knight (Dir. Christopher Nolan)

The most commercially successful film of the year (globally at least) was also one of the best, as this Batman sequel transcended its comic book origins to become one of the most ambitious blockbusters in years.

When Batman Begins came out in 2005, it was an impressive reinvention of the DC Comics character but I wasn’t as blown away as some were. But props to the suits at Burbank for recruiting a director like Christopher Nolan who had already made his mark with Memento in 2000.

The realistic approach to the Bruce Wayne character and Gotham City worked well and reaped dividends with this sequel, which built on the first film but also made for a richer experience.

Managing to transcend the usual limitations of the comic book genre, its ambitious approach owes more to crime epics like Heat and The Godfather than the usual summer comic book adaptation.

The story, set in a Gotham City soaked in crime, violence and corruption, revolved around three central characters: Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), a billionaire vigilante dishing out justice at night time; Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), the District Attorney boldly taking on organised crime; and The Joker (Heath Ledger), a mysterious psychopathic criminal wreaking havoc on the city.

Nolan and co-screenwriter Jonathan Nolan (with story credit by David S Goyer) crafted a spectacularly ambitious summer blockbuster with the different narrative strands developed in engrossing and genuinely surprising ways Рat times it was so layered that key sequences often had parallel consequences.

As for the action, it follows the script in being similarly dense, and some of the big set pieces Рespecially two key sequences Рhave an unpredictable and chaotic quality to them, which is refreshing for this kind of genre.

The performances too were a revelation for a genre movie: Bale continues his solid work from the first film but Ledger and Eckhart brought much more to their roles than some might have expected.

As The Joker, Ledger managed to completely reinvent an iconic character as a wildly unpredictable psychopath who brings Gotham to it’s knees. Although Рdue to his tragically early death Рthere was always going to be added interest in his performance, he really was outstanding in creating a villain who is scary, funny and unpredictable.

Overall the technical contributions were outstanding Рof particular note were Wally Pfister’s cinematography, Nathan Crowley’s production design and Lee Smith’s editing.

Special mention must also go to the diverting score by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, which thankfully will be up for Oscar consideration after initially being barred due to a technicality.

Many aspects of the film raised interesting questions and parallels. Can we see Batman Рa sophisticated force for good caught up in a moral dilemma Рas a metaphor for the US military? Could The Joker Рa psychopathic enigma wreaking terror on society Рbe a twisted version of Osama Bin Laden?

The fact that a comic book adaptation subtly provoked these points was daring and clever but also true to the darker comic books¬†–¬†especially¬†The Killing Joke¬†– that influenced on the film.

Although Ledger is almost a forgone conclusion for Best Supporting Actor – for both valid and sentimental reasons – the film itself might find more nominations in the major categories, which when you think about it speaks volumes to its quality.

[The Dark Knight is out now on DVD] 

 

The Visitor posterThe Visitor (Dir. Thomas McCarthy)

Tom McCarthy made one of the best films of 2003 with The Station Agent and his second film was just as good.

The story involved a college professor (Richard Jenkins) who finds a young immigrant couple living in his New York apartment and then follows the characters as they connect with one another in unexpected ways.

Like his previous work, it is thoughtful, beautifully observed and features rounded characters who feel like people you might actually meet in real life.

Jenkins is a character actor you might recognise Рhe’s probably best known for his fine work as Nathaniel Fisher in Six Feet Under or as the FBI agent in Flirting with Disaster.

Here he is finally given a lead role that allows him demonstrate his considerable acting skills and there is fine support too from Haaz Sleiman, Danai Jekesai Gurira and Hiam Abbass.

But what really made this stand out is the way it managed to tackle some really big themes with intelligence and grace: immigration, loss and love are just a few of the issues dealt with here but the approach was never stodgy or patronising.

Instead, it managed to take us deep into the hearts and minds of people caught up in the chilly climate of a post-9/11 world.

A rare film that manages to engage both the heart and brain, but does so with the subtle skill of a gifted director.

* Listen to our interviews with Richard Jenkins and Tom McCarthy about The Visitor * 

[The Visitor is released on DVD in the UK on February 9th]

 

The WrestlerThe Wrestler (Dir. Darren Aronofsky)

When I first heard about Mickey Rourke playing a has-been wrestler in a film directed by Darren Aronofsky I was intrigued. 

Would it be similar to the director’s previous films like¬†ŌĬ†and¬†Requiem for a Dream? And what would Mickey Rourke be like in his first proper leading role for many years?

For Aronofksy it is a major – but welcome – departure in that it eschews many of the stylistic devices of his earlier work in favour of a raw, stripped down approach.

For Rourke it is nothing less than a triumphant comeback: a dream role that proves not only what a fine screen actor he can be, but also atones for the chaos of his professional career over the last 20 years.

The film itself is the story of a big time wrestler from the 1980s called¬†Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson, who has fallen on hard times and¬†wrestles on the weekends in independent and semi-pro matches for extra money.

Health problems force him to re-evaluate his life which includes working in a deli, a possible relationship with a stripper (Marisa Tomei) and an attempted reconciliation with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood).

The parallels between Rourke’s own career and that of his character are there for anyone to see but there is more to the film than just brave casting: it paints a moving yet unsentimental view of outsiders struggling to make it in modern America.

The world of semi-pro wrestling is also brought to life with remarkable authenticity. Although the theatricality and hype of the WWF dominates the public perception of wrestlers, the realism on display in this story creates a much more authentic and poignant world.

A lot of the film’s charm rests on Rourke and Tomei, who play two contrasting characters who actually have much in common: both are performers who use their bodies and have problems reconciling their double lives.¬†

Rourke is already being talked of as one of the frontrunners for the Best Actor Oscar and there is no doubt that he deserves recognition for what is one of the most memorable screen performances of the year.  

[The Wrestler is out at UK cinemas on Friday 16th January]

 

WALL-E posterWALL-E (Dir. Andrew Stanton)

Pixar continued their incredible run of form this year with yet another landmark animated film.

Set in a dystopian future circa 2815, it was about a waste disposal robot named WALL-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class) who meets another robot named EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) and gets involved in an unlikely romance, as well as the future of the human race.

Directed by Andrew Stanton, it is probably the most visually impressive work Pixar have yet committed to film (and that is saying a lot) but it also resonated as a surprisingly moving love story.

Robots haven’t been this endearing since Silent Running and the two central characters are joy to watch Рthe boxy old school charm of WALL-E contrasting beautifully with the cool, sleek beauty of EVE.

Although I would never thought I would ever compare a Pixar movie to There Will Be Blood Рboth have startling opening sequences with little or no dialogue.

One of the clever aspects of the film is the casting of sound designer Ben Burtt as the central character Рfor those unfamilar with his work he was the pioneering sound editor on the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films.

Along with the animators, Burtt has helped create a character who is extremely expressive without using conventional language.

The same is true for EVE, so it is even more impressive that the filmmakers have managed to craft a compelling relationship between them.

The landcaspes were equally impressive, full of rich detail and nods to other sci-fi films.

* Listen to our interview with Angus MacLane, the directing animator of WALL-E *

[WALL-E is out now on DVD]

 

Waltz With Bashir posterWaltz With Bashir (Dir. Ari Folman)

One of the most daring and original films was this astonoshing animated film about the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre and the memory of the Israeli soldiers involved in the invasion of Lebanon at the time. 

Directed by Ari Folman, it examines his own experiences on that mission and the struggle to remember what happened when he interviews various army colleagues from the time.

The strange title is taken from a scene with one of Folman‚Äôs interviewees, who remembers taking a machine gun and dancing an ‚Äėinsane waltz‚Äô amid enemy fire, with posters of¬†Bashir Gemayel¬†lining the walls behind him. (Gemayel¬†was the Lebanese president who whose¬†assassination¬†helped trigger the massacre.)

Animation isn’t normally associated with historical and political films, but here it worked brilliantly creating some haunting and indelible images.¬†

A hugely ambitious project, it took four years to complete and is and international co-production between Israel, Germany and France.

Another aspect which makes this story so intrguing is that the Israeli troops were not guilty of the massacre itself but of standing by and letting Lebanese miltia murder Palestinian refugees. 

It is the memory of, or rather the inability to remember, this event that lies at the core of the story. Has Folman unconsciously blocked out the memory? Does guilt cloud any rational perspective? 

The raw power of the source material is enhanced by some extraordinary imagery, with a remarkable and inventive use of colour for certain sections, especially those involving the sea.

Added to this is Folman’s narration which has an almost hypnotic effect when set alongside the visuals, almost as if the audience is experiencing a dream whilst watching the film itself. 

Back in May it premiered to huge acclaim at Cannes and was one of the front runners to win the Palme d’Or. The film also won 6 Israeli Film Academy awards (including Best Picture) and looks likely to be a strong contender for the Best Foreign Film at the Oscars.

Much of that praise is richly deserved because this is an arresting and highly original film that deserves special credit for taking a highly politicised and contentious event and yet somehow makes a wider point about the futility of war.

The recent events in the Gaza strip only reinforce what a timely film this is but the central message about the horrors and futility of war has a relevance not just confined to the cauldron of the Middle East.

* Listen to our interview with Ari Folman about Waltz with Bashir *

[Waltz with Bashir is out on DVD in the UK on March 30th]

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HONOURABLE MENTIONS

[Rec] (Dir.  Jaume Balagueró)

Appaloosa (Dir. Ed Harris)

Battle For Haditha (Dir. Nick Broomfield)

Blindness (Dir. Fernando Meirelles)

Burn After Reading (Dir. The Coen Brothers)

Changeling (Dir. Clint Eastwood)

Flight Of The Red Balloon (Dir. Hsiao-hsien Hou)

Funny Games US (Dir. Michael Haneke)

Gran Torino (Dir. Clint Eastwood)

Happy-Go-Lucky (Dir. Mike Leigh)

Hellboy 2: The Golden Army (Dir. Guillermo Del Toro)

Nick And Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Dir.¬†Peter Sollett)

Religulous (Dir. Larry Charles)

Revolutionary Road (Dir. Sam Mendes)

Sugar (Dir. Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck)

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Dir. David Fincher)

The Reader (Dir. Stephen Daldry)

W. (Dir. Oliver Stone)

N.B. Have a look at my list of the best films from 2007 which has now been updated to include those that got a UK release in 2008. (They were Gone Baby Gone, Persepolis, The Orphanage, In Search Of A Midnight Kiss, Joy Division, My Winnipeg, Savage Grace, Shotgun Stories, Son Of Rambow, The Band’s Visit and The Mist).

What about you? Leave your favourites from this year in the comments below.

> Find out more about the films of 2008 at Wikipedia
> Check out more end of year lists at Metacritic
> Have a look at the Movie City News end of year critics chart
> Check out our best DVDs of 2008

Categories
DVD & Blu-ray

UK DVD Releases: Monday 8th December 2008

DVD PICKS

The Dark Knight (Warner):¬†The best blockbuster of the year gets a handsome DVD release from Warner Bros. If you missed it at cinemas this sequel to 2005’s Batman Begins reunites director Christopher Nolan and star Christian Bale, who reprises the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman. With the back story of the first film out of the way, this jumps head first into the ongoing war against crime in Gotham City.

Now the forces of law and order under Batman, Lt Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) have to deal with a new criminal known as The Joker (Heath Ledger). Maggie Gyllenhaal joins the cast as Rachel Dawes (replacing Katie Holmes) whilst Michael Caine (as Alfred) and Morgan Freeman (as Lucius Fox) both return in key supportg roles.

Managing to transcend the usual limitations of the comic book genre, its ambitious approach owes more to crime epics like Heat and The Godfather than the usual summer comic book adaptation. The admirably dark and oppressive tone is cleverly offset by some ingenious plotting and some truly memorable performances, especially from Ledger and Oldman.

Overall the technical contributions are outstanding – of particular not are Wally Pfister‚Äôs cinematography, Nathan Crowley‚Äôs production design and Lee Smith‚Äôs editing. Special mention must also go to the diverting score by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, which sadly won’t be up for Oscar consideration due to a technicality.

It really struck a chord at the US box office Рit is currently second only to Titanic there Р and managed to tap into current themes of terror, corruption and surveillance without being preachy. 

The extras on the 2-disc edition include:

  • Gotham Uncovered: How Christopher Nolan and his team developed the new Bat-suit and Bat-pod and composer Hans Zimmer musically characterized The Joker‚Äôs reign of chaos.
  • The Dark Knight IMAX¬ģ Scenes: View these 6 action-packed sequences – shot on the largest format possible – in their original IMAX framing, just as they were intended
  • Gotham Tonight: 6 episodes of Gotham Cable‚Äôs premier news program
  • The Galleries: Poster art and production stills
  • Digital Copy of the Feature Film

On the Blu-ray disc the following features are included:

  • 1080P 2.40:1 Widescreen
  • English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD
  • English 5.1, English 2.0, French 5.1 and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital
  • English, French and Spanish subtitles (Movie & Select Bonus Material)

Disc 1: Movie with Focus Points

  • ¬†Gotham Uncovered: Creation of a Scene ‚Äď Director Christopher Nolan and creative collaborators unmask the detail and planning behind the film including stunt staging, filming in IMAX, the new bat-suit and bat-pod‚Ķand more.

Disc 2: Special Features

  • Batman Tech: The incredible gadgets and tools (in Hi-Def)
  • Batman Unmasked: The Psychology of The Dark Knight ‚Äď Delve into the psyche of Bruce Wayne and the world of batman through real-world psychotherapy (in Hi-Def)
  • Gotham Tonight: 6 episodes of Gotham Cable‚Äôs Premier News Program
  • The Galleries: The Jokes Cards, Concept Art, Poster Art, Production Stills, Trailers & TV Spots

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (Universal): Another sequel for a comic book character sees another hugely talented filmmaker impress in the mainstream¬†realm. Although this wasn’t quite as good as The Dark Knight, director Guillermo Del Toro managed to demonstrate his usual intelligence, wit and style in this follow up to the 2004 original.

Ron Perlman returns as the title character, a demonic tough guy (turned good) now working for the US government as a secret agent. After a ruthless leader (Luke Goss) tries to awaken an unstoppable army of creatures, Hellboy and his colleagues have to try and stop him.

What’s impressive here is the power of Del Toro’s imagination, which has already contributed to such marvellous films as¬†Cronos,¬†The Devil’s Backbone¬†and¬†Pan’s Labyrinth¬†and the breezy charm of the script which doesn’t feel inhibited about including a Barry Manilow¬†sing-a-long. ¬† ¬†

The extras on the 2-disc special edition include the following:

  • 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • English DD5.1 Surround
  • Main Feature Disc Subtitles: English SDH
  • Bonus Disc Subtitles: English SDH, French, Italian, Spanish, German, Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Dutch, Greek, Hebrew, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Turkish, Slovenian, Arabic, Danish, Finnish, Hungarian, Icelandic, Norwegian, Swedish
  • Hellboy: In Service of the Demon ‚Äď Over two hours of an extensive, in-depth look at the creation of Hellboy II
  • Director‚Äôs Notebook
  • Production Workshop Puppet Theatre
  • Image Galleries
  • Deleted Scenes with Optional Director‚Äôs Commentary
  • Troll Market Tour with Guillermo del Toro
  • Feature Commentary with Guillermo del Toro

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ALSO OUT 

Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging (Paramount)
Austin Powers: Goldmember (EIV)
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (EIV) 
Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Warner)
The Fox and The Child (Pathé)
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (Manga)
The Stranglers On Stage On Screen (Eureka)
The Wire: The Complete Series (HBO)

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> Buy The Dark Knight and Hellboy II: The Golden Army at Amazon UK
> Browse more DVD Releases at Amazon UK and Play
> Check the latest DVD prices at DVD Price Check
> Take a look at the current UK cinema releases (W/C Friday 5th December)

Categories
Amusing The Daily Video

The Daily Video: The Dark Knight 1989 Style

Categories
Amusing The Daily Video

The Daily Video: The Dark Knight (Kids Version)

[Link via b3ta courtesy of Matt]

Categories
Cinema News Thoughts

Why The Dark Knight should not be a 15 certificate

Last week in The Daily Mail columnist Alison Pearson helped kick off a silly bout of hysteria with a column about The Dark Knight.

She wrote:

Nothing in this new Batman is in jest. Not even the Joker. This film is doing serious business¬† –¬† and, make no mistake, its business is violence.

I saw The Dark Knight on Monday; or at least I saw the bits that I could bear to watch from behind my giant Diet Coke.

Fair enough. If you find the film hard to watch, then that is entirely how you experienced it.

It is dark, oppressive and filmed in a realistic style, especially for a comic book movie. Plus points as far as I’m concerned, and maybe that’s also true for the record-breaking audiences and large selection of critics who also loved it.

However, the picture she painted was not exactly accurate.

Let’s examine the bits she found so repellent:

Within the first five minutes, the body count was in double figures¬† –¬† and that was before a detonator was shoved down the throat of a dying bank manager.

Yes, that’s true but she neglects to mention that it doesn’t actually go off,¬† which is handy if you want to portray the opening sequence as some kind of exploding head filled monstrosity.

But not good if you want to be precise about what actually happens on-screen.

She goes on:

Soon afterwards, the Joker, played with diabolical brilliance by the late Heath Ledger, explained how he got that permanent blood-red clown’s grin.

His father had been attacking his mother’s face with a knife when he caught his young son watching with a serious expression.

Dad slashed the boy’s cheeks to make sure that the kid would never look down-in-the-mouth again.

As far as I could see and hear this wasn’t on-screen violence – it was a character talking.

Plus, if you pay attention you will notice that throughout the film the Joker gives different stories about how he got the scars, suggesting he is lying or screwing with people’s heads.¬† Creepy? Yes. Violent? No.

Then she brings up the scene in which the Joker kills a gangster with a pencil:

Consider this. If Batman had climbed out of bed and walked across the room to find his rubber boxers, thus showing his Batbum, the film would have been rated a 15¬† –¬† nudity being deemed far more shocking than cutting people’s throats, obviously.

Personally, I would be far happier for my children to glimpse Batman’s buttocks than to see a pencil skewered into a man’s eye, but what do I know?

Whilst I agree that sex is seen by censors as more taboo than violence (especially in the US) the problem with her point is that at no point do we see a pencil going in to an eye.

In fact, we don’t see any contact between face and pencil. Not only does it happen so quickly, but the camera cuts away so that even if you slowed it down I don’t think you would even see any actual gore in the frame.

The violence is implied, not shown. It certainly gives the audience a jolt but it is nothing like the grisly scene being painted here.

All of this might sound like standard Fleet Street outrage but the really troubling bit comes when a connection is made to the recent death of a teenager in London:

The day I went to see the film, I happened to drive past the spot where 16-year-old Ben Kinsella was stabbed 11 times. He was the 21st teenager to die of knife wounds in London this year.

His killers may have thought they were some kind of cartoon masters of the universe, meting out a perverse justice, but the scruffy street corner with its altar of rotting bouquets tells a different story.

No stirring music bestowed a thrilling poetic grandeur on Ben’s last seconds. No giant shadow of a cape flitted across the sky. Nobody could save him. Especially not this Batman.

What exactly is the point here? That the Joker’s taste for knives will lead to more deaths? The new Batman (a fictional character let’s remember) can’t save vulnerable children?

What on earth is she actually saying with this ill-advised detour into a much more serious issue?

That seemed to be the end of that, but it now appears that a snowball of indignation from a Daily Mail columnist is threatening to become an avalanche of idiocy.

Now, a cluster of clueless MPs and right wing commentators have all recently turned their sights on the film and the BBFC for awarding it a 12A certificate.

They seem to be rather upset that the film didn’t get than a 15 certificate.

For those unfamiliar with the film ratings system in the UK, each film is given one the following ratings before it can be shown in UK cinemas or sold/rented as a DVD:

  • Uc (Universal Children): Suitable for all, but especially suitable for young children to watch on their own (home media only)
  • U (Universal): Suitable for all, but parents are advised that certain scenes may be unsuitable for children under 4 years old.
  • PG (Parental Guidance): All ages admitted, but parents are advised that certain scenes may be unsuitable for children under 8
  • 12A (12 Accompanied/Advisory): Suitable for those aged 12 and over. Those aged under 12 are only admitted if accompanied by an adult at all times during the performance (replaced the standard 12 certificate for cinema releases only in 2002)
  • 12: Suitable for those aged 12 and over. No-one younger than 12 may rent or buy a 12 rated VHS, DVD or game (home media only since 2002)
  • 15: Suitable for those aged 15 and over. Nobody younger than 15 may see a 15 film in a cinema. No-one younger than 15 may rent or buy a 15 rated VHS, DVD or game.
  • 18: Suitable for those aged 18 and over. Nobody younger than 18 may see an 18 film in a cinema. No-one younger than 18 may rent or buy an 18 rated VHS, DVD or game.
  • R18 (Restricted 18): Suitable for those aged 18 and over. May only be shown at licensed cinemas or sold at sex shops, and only to people aged 18 or over.

The body that awards these certificates is called the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification), which is the organisation responsible for viewing films (and some video games) and given them one of the ratings above.

The Dark Knight was given a 12A which is, let us not forget, a restrictive certificate in that only those under 12 can see it if they are accompanied by an adult.

But clearly this isn’t good enough for the loons who want to see The Dark Knight reclassified as a 15.

Here some samples of what is being said.

The Daily Mail said yesterday in an another article (this time by Olinka Koster and Caroline Grant) that:

The violent new Batman movie has been given a 15 and 16 certificate by many countries – heaping fresh pressure on beleaguered film censors.

Parents say they have been ‘let down’ by the British Board of Film Classification which maintains that a ‘family friendly’ 12A rating is the right classification for The Dark Knight.

Parents? OK, some have complained.

But what sample size are we talking about here? And to what extent did the paper go chasing people who they knew didn’t like the film?

Are they really telling us they couldn’t find anyone who wasn’t outraged by the violence? But why let facts get in the way of opinion?

They then quote Simon Calvert, of the Christian Institute (those noted experts on film classification):

‘The BBFC has let parents down by giving it a 12A rating when it is clearly nothing of the sort.

‘I would like to see parents up and down the country complaining to the BBFC and the whole system of film classification revisited.

‘The BBFC have got this wrong and won’t admit it. I don’t think we can trust the board and perhaps we need a tougher legislative regime to prevent abuses like this.’

Who exactly are The Christian Institute? According to their website they exist for:

… “the furtherance and promotion of the Christian religion in the United Kingdom” and “the advancement of education”.

The Christian Institute is a nondenominational Christian charity committed to upholding the truths of the Bible. We are supported by individuals and churches throughout the UK.

Here’s a quick question. Would they allow children under 12 to read the Bible?

After all it contains scenes of graphic violence and acts of wanton cruelty.

  • In Genesis 6:7, 17 God gets angry and decides to destroy “all flesh wherein there is breath of life.” by drowning them.
  • In Exodus 12:12 God reveals to Moses that he is a baby killer, saying he intends to “smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast.”
  • Leviticus 20:13 puts forth the idea that Homosexuals must be executed.
  • In Numbers 25:1-5 Moses has people killed and then God tells him to hang their dead bodies up in front of the Sun.

These are just the first four books of the Old Testament and already we see a pattern of violence and cruelty much worse than anything in the Gotham of The Dark Knight.

Next up we have John Beyer, director of the rather conservative Mediawatch-uk (the successor to Mary Whitehouse‘s old pressure group The Viewers and Listeners Association):

‘One has to look at the fact we have a knife culture and ask what effect the BBFC’s decisions over the last 40 years or so have had on this.

‘This follows on from a long stream of films that have been excessively violent and badly classified and it gets children accustomed to seeing these sorts of things.

‘There is public concern about violence in entertainment and the board seem to be immune to it.’

We currently have – and have had for many years – one of the most restrictive film classifications in the Western world.

In recent years the BBFC have (rightly in my opinion) taken a more liberal stance on certain films (Such as 9 Songs, in which an erect penis was shown, along with – gasp! – real consensual sex), but it is just idiocy to say that our film ratings system over 40 years has contributed to knife crime.

If Mr Beyer really believes that, then I want detailed research, stats and strong evidence to back up his argument, not just some vague, reactionary sound bite.

I appreciate that when a newspaper rings you up for a quick soundbite it can be difficult, but these are serious issues that need deeper context and details.

They then quote a businessman named Mog Hamid, 43:

…he regretted taking his son Daniel, nine, to see the film in north London yesterday. ‘It was just too violent for someone as young as Daniel, he had his hands over his face a lot of the time because he was scared.’

Fair enough, but what about the thousands of young children who weren’t scared. Do we hear from them? The logic of piece presumably dictates that they are busy dressing up as the Joker and sharpening their knives as we speak.

But then we also get this zinger from Duncan Boyd, of the Church Society (another group renowned for their penetrating insights on film and society):

‘Any film that might encourage a child to engage in gratuitous violence should be awarded at least a 15 certificate…’

Let’s stop right there. These quotes sandwiched together – as they are in the piece – seem rather illogical.

The first suggests the film is so scary kids can’t even bring themselves to watch it. The second then suggests it will turn them into knife wielding maniacs.

If they are so scared by it then why would they be influenced? Surely, following this line of thinking, the film would act as a deterrent.

But again, why is The Church Society – a noble institution I’m sure – being asked for their views on a Batman movie?

Who else do they pull out of the right-wing closet to tip the article further into a pit of moral outrage?

How about Dr Adrian Rogers, former director of the family values pressure group, the Conservative Family Institute? (Could this be the same man who according to a 2001 article in The New Statesman once described homosexuality as “sterile, disease-ridden and God-forsaken”?)

He says:

”The BBFC do have a responsibility to act on their common senses.

I hope none of them are ever subjected to knife crime but they must accept that when they pass things like this, they have done their bit for the establishment of this culture.’

Again, this a lazy and unsubstantiated connection between knife crime and a ‘violent’ film (which The Dark Knight actually isn’t – but more of that later).

Where exactly is the data and evidence to back up these wild claims and suppositions? And has the Dr actually seen the film? Just asking.

But they save the best for last with television presenter, mother-of-three, and Swindon’s most noted cultural commentator, Melinda Messenger. She says:

‘I think children especially younger ones are like sponges and they absorb everything you put in front of them.

I find it really worrying that we are exposing our kids to these kinds of images from a much younger age from such a broad spectrum of media and the messages they are carrying are not positive ones.

‘With the current trend for knife crime in this country this should be the last thing we encourage.’

Whilst I respect someone’s right to an opinion about what films their children should see, this is just another slice of lazy outrage.

And in a piece about a film being reclassified and the connection between media and violence in society, I think getting the opinions of a former Page 3 girl is rather scraping the barrel.

But it also appears that some British MPs have also lost their senses when talking about this film.

The Times quote Keith Vaz (the Labour MP and chairman of the Commons home affairs committee) as saying:

‚ÄúThe BBFC should realise there are scenes of gratuitous violence in The Dark Knight to which I would certainly not take my 11-year-old daughter. It should be a 15 classification.‚ÄĚ

But it seems the madness about the films is cross-party and The Guardian report that Ed Vaizey, the Tory culture minister as saying:

“The film contains violent and disturbing scenes, even though it’s a brilliant movie.

We should remember that BBFC classifications are only advisory and local authorities are ultimately responsible for classifications.

It would be interesting to see if any local authorities wish to use their powers for this and future films.”

Would it be interesting? Or would it totally contradict the point of having a central body like the BBFC giving films ratings? And don’t Tory politicians dislike the idea of the nanny state and government intervention?

Even my old boss – and now Sun columnist – Kelvin Mackenzie is chipping in, despite enjoying it:

…the film was tremendous. And violent. Even for adults.

The script was surprisingly intelligent, not at all what you would expect from a superhero film. It was also unashamedly aimed at an adult audience.

So how on earth could the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) have got it so wrong?

This movie deserved a 15. An idiot would know that.

No Kelvin, it appears only idiots do not know that. But anyway…

Not only is there a scene of an eyeball being stabbed with a pencil, a grenade in a bank manager’s mouth and a knife-wielding madman in the shape of The Joker, there is a strange feeling of psychotic danger.

Very clever by the filmmaker, but totally wrong for a little mind.

The BBFC have let it be known that they were lobbied by Warner Bros to allow the 12A.

Warner knew they had a massive worldwide blockbuster on their hands, so why on earth did they feel they needed even more money? It was simply greed.

I would be fascinated to learn how many Warner execs with young children took them to the film. My bet is none.

But the real villains are the BBFC, who now say the film was on the upper limit of what they would allow for a 12A.

Quick question for Kelvin.

If this was a 20th Century Fox film (the studio owned by your former/current boss Rupert Murdoch) would you be complaining about the rating, or would you be raising a glass and congratulating him on the vast sums of cash it is adding to News Corp‘s coffers?

However, at least Kelvin has actually seen the film. I get the feeling that some (perhaps many) of the ‘outraged’ commentators have not even seen it. This makes them look stupid and renders their opinion on the film utterly redundant.

If you discuss this issue with someone and they bleat about how violent the film is just ask them if they’ve seen it. And if they say no, then ask yourself if you can trust someone’s opinion on something they haven’t seen.

It really is that simple, but it is amazing how often people want to bleat ignorantly because an argument has been made for them to swallow hook, line and sinker.

And as for the violence – well, here’s the thing and let me say it in block capitals just for effect:

THE DARK KNIGHT IS NOT PARTICULARLY VIOLENT.

Dark? Certainly. Creepy? Yes, in parts. But violent? I mean as really violent as all these tabloid and Christian film experts are making out?

Well, lets talks about the violent scenes Kelvin highlights (which are the most extreme in the film).

  1. The scene where someone is stabbed in the eyeball with a pencil – We don’t see ANY contact between face and pencil. (See above response to Alison’s comments for more on this scene).
  2. A grenade in a bank manager’s mouth: It is a joke Рalbeit a dark one Рbut not violent or gory.
  3. There knife-wielding madman in the shape of The Joker: Firstly let’s just state that although he’s responsible for a lot of deaths and a huge crime wave, The Joker doesn’t actually kill that many people with a knife in the film. When he does we don’t actually see him do the act as the camera cuts away (just like the pencil scene).

Now, I’m willing to accept that some children might find The Joker and these sequences frightening but are they enough to upgrade the film to a 15? No, I don’t think so.

And what’s so wrong with being scared? Surely it is part of growing up, rather than the major trauma some make it out to be.

We are talking about a Batman film here (albeit a dark, realistic one) and not something truly disturbing and violent like Salo or Irreversible.

What is most disturbing is that a series issue like knife crime has been blown out of proportion and inflamed by a collection of tabloids, Christian pressure groups and people who offer little in the way of raw evidence or statistical data to back up their claims.

Even worse than that, some MPs (yes, even on their well paid summer break from Parliament) have found time to effectively railroad the BBFC in to changing their considered opinion on a film.

But we should leave the last word to the BBFC and their spokeswoman Sue Clark, as relayed by The Guardian :

Clark said that the BBFC had received about 100 complaints about the decision to give The Dark Knight a 12A.

A 100 complaints – whilst it may seem a lot in relation to other films that only attract 1 or 2, let’s put it into context.

Many thousands of viewers saw this film (easily one of the biggest of the year) and didn’t complain. Compare the two figures and then do the math.

She also said:

…it had not been made a 15 because the violence was depicted in a comic-book context and because “you do not see any blood or injury in detail”.

Correct. Absolutely 100% correct. This film should not be a 15 certificate – especially after all the lame arguments and slanted reaction put forth by papers who should know better.

Maybe it is time to shine a large bat signal above London and hope a masked vigilante comes into town to rescue us from this chorus of stupidity.

UPDATE 08/08/08: Just so you know exactly why the BBFC passed this film as a 12A, here are the official reasons as quoted from their website:

THE DARK KNIGHT tells the story of Batman‚Äôs continuing war on crime and in particular his personal battle with the psychotic Joker. It was passed ‚Äė12A‚Äô for moderate violence and sustained threat.

The BBFC Guidelines at ‚Äė12A‚Äô state that ‚Äėviolence must not dwell on detail‚Äô and that ‚Äėthere should be no emphasis on injuries or blood‚Äô and whilst THE DARK KNIGHT does contain a good deal of violence, all of it fits within that definition.

For example, in one of the stronger scenes, Batman repeatedly beats the Joker during an interrogation. The blows however are all masked from the camera and despite both their weight and force; the Joker shows no sign of injury.

There are also scenes in which the Joker threatens first a man and then a woman with a knife and whilst these do have a significant degree of menace, without any actual violence shown they were also acceptably placed at ‚Äė12A‚Äô.

In the final analysis, THE DARK KNIGHT is a superhero movie and the violence it contains exists within that context, with both Batman and the Joker apparently indestructible no matter what is thrown at them.

THE DARK KNIGHT also contains some special make up effects that whilst clearly not real, have the potential to be moderately frightening.

Check out the parent section of the BBFC website, which helps parents make informed decisions (thanks to IncongruousM for the tip)

UPDATE 09/08/08: Children’s author Anthony Horowitz has posted his thoughts on the whole affair in today’s Guardian.

Although he steers clear of the distorted idiocy engulfing some commentators, some of his points don’t really add up:

Iain Duncan Smith described himself as astonished. Melinda Messenger was really worried. Keith Vaz announced that he certainly wouldn’t be taking his 11-year-old daughter. And a doctor, writing in the Daily Mail, warned of the possibility of brain damage for an entire generation.

The last comment is so utterly ludicrous am astounded Anthony is taking it seriously. Do we have hard data and stats about the generation that is having their brain damaged?

But anyway, he goes on to say:

They had all been to see the new Batman film, The Dark Knight, and it would be easy enough to sneer at their collective dismay as it was expressed in recent days, scattered over the press.

But they were joined by one or two broadsheet journalists including Richard Brooks in the Sunday Times and Jenny McCartney in the Daily Telegraph who wrote that “the greatest surprise of all, even for me, after eight years spent working as a film critic, has been the sustained level of intensely sadistic brutality throughout the film”.

Wow. Two broadsheet journalists didn’t like the film. But Jenny McCartney’s comments are worthy of further examination – whilst there are dark moments in the film, I don’t see anything sadistic or especially brutal in the film let alone a ‘sustained level’ throughout. She’s making it sound like Saw or Hostel – which it isn’t.

Horowitz also makes the daft assertion that:

…it may be one of the bleakest and most cynical films ever made.

What?! I think there are many more films in the entire history of the medium much bleaker and more cynical. But lets just excuse this hyperbole for the moment:

Forget the heroics – Batman barely gets a look-in. The film belongs to Heath Ledger’s psychotic Joker who shoots a colleague point-blank in the face, shoves a hand grenade into an innocent victim’s mouth, drives a sharpened pencil through a gangster’s eye … and all this before you’re barely out of the credits.

Again, why don’t we talk about facts. Two of these acts (the shooting – which by the way isn’t shown as a point-blank shot to the face – and the grenade) happen in the extended opening sequence but the pencil bit happens some way into the film. His use of the word ‘barely’ doesn’t really cover up the misleading picture he – or the Guardian sub-editor – paints.

He does give some background on the 12A certificate but he loses the plot when discussing the BBFC’s decision:

12A doesn’t warn children off. It makes the film more enticing, more of a must-see.

Yet even if the certificate extends what it permissible, it’s hard to see how the BBFC agreed to it in this case. “The Dark Knight is a superhero movie and the violence it contains exists within that context,” it says on its website.

But actually the context of this film is an overwhelming nihilism, which is in many ways as disturbing as the violence itself. The argument doesn’t hold. Would the certificate have stayed the same if the Joker had committed rape?

No. The argument does hold because if the Joker had committed rape in the film then the context would be different.

As for the fact that the violence happens off screen he says:

Nor should we be fooled by the excuse that the actual blood-letting happens off-screen. It’s true that we don’t actually see the pencil enter the eye; we merely infer it for ourselves.

But films speak a strange language. As Lev Kuleshov demonstrated in 1918 with his famous experiment – showing the same, impassive face edited against a series of different images, a cinema audience can easily fill in the gaps, given the right prompts.

More to the point, even if we don’t allow children to see an eye being gouged out, are we really comfortable inviting them to imagine it?

Just think for a moment about what is being said here. An experiment from 1918 (when cinema itself was just over 20 years old) is being used to explain how our current generation observes violence on screen.

Whilst the principles of the Kuleshov Effect may still apply, our current generation consumes media in radically different ways, be it games, TV, DVDs or online videos. So I don’t his argument holds up particularly well, particularly when he discusses his experience of actually seeing it::

There were a great many children in the cinema when I saw it and they didn’t seem particularly traumatised by the experience.

Most of them looked rather bored. At a guess, I’d have said that the fizzy drinks and popcorn they were devouring would have been worse for their overall health.

So what he’s admitting is that despite the panic and hysteria spead by of some of the UK press and the possibility of children being exposed to implied violence, it’s actually OK. Kind of undermines the overall thrust of his argument doesn’t it?

Furthermore, I’m disappointed when he quotes the Mail as a source of scientific data:

In the Mail, Dr Aric Sigman of the British Psychological Society quoted research that showed that “watching screen violence had changed the frontal lobe brain function of normal adolescents to be more like that of the children with disruptive brain disorders.”

Could we please have a link to this research? Or at least some more detail?

His best point comes late in the piece:

…children never really were that innocent. They’ve always been fairly bloodthirsty creatures with a great liking for violence.

From the slapstick of circus clowns to the psychotic mutilation of Tom and Jerry, they have always been entertained by it.

This is true – despite the fact that The Dark Knight has a sense of realism to it, we shouldn’t forget that it is a still a comic book adaptation and not some kind of dangerous explotitation movie.

UPDATE 13/08/08: I’ve just been listening to Andrew Collins on this issue (who has also been standing in recently for Mark Kermode on Five Live), via his podcast with Richard Herring. He claims that a Daily Mail editorial, the day after the Pearson peice, said:

The Dark Knight has been called a ‘symphony of sadism’

Which as Andrew correctly points out is exactly what the Mail’s very own Alison Pearson called it.

So, the logic here appears to be that the Mail quote one of their own writers in order to paint an ever more hysterical picture of the film.

> Alison Pearson on The Dark Knight in The Daily Mail
> The Times on the ‘record complaints’ it has received
> A more reasoned look at the film from Rebecca Davies at The Telegraph
> The Dark Knight at the IMDb
> More background detail on how director Christopher Nolan rebooted the Batman franchise

Categories
Box Office News

The Dark Knight passes the $400 million mark

The Dark Knight has now crossed the $400 million mark at the US box office in just 18 days.

Variety report:

In only its 18th day in release, Warner Bros.’ “The Dark Knight” reached the $400 million mark in domestic sales on Monday, grossing $6.3 million for a cume of $400.1 million.

That easily beats the 43 days it took “Shrek 2” to jump the $400 million boundary.

Some pundits were predicting that The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor would just beat out the Batman sequel this past weekend but the caped crusader grossed $42.7 million, narrowly ahead of The Mummy which took in $40.5 million.

In foreign territories it has taken over $200 million, which is pretty remarkable even for a summer blockbuster, especially as it has achieved this number in 18 days.

Unless there is an unexpected drop off, it will almost certainly end up in the top 5 grossing movies of all time but can it beat the all time champ Titanic?

Jeremy Kay crunched some numbers recently over at The Guardian:

Talk has turned to whether the bat has the chops to overtake Stars Wars’ $460.9m (¬£233.4m) lifetime tally to become the second biggest earner in history.

It could well do. Overhauling Titanic’s legendary $600.8m (¬£304.2m) mark is another kettle of fish, however.

Many believe it will never be bettered and I’m inclined to agree. Still, you never know, and I’ll gladly take my hat off to Nolan if it does.

By the close of Tuesday, after 15 days on release, The Dark Knight stood at $333.9m (£169m) in the US and Canada, making it the biggest film of the year-to-date in the US and Canada and the 16th biggest release in North American history.

It’s been averaging a little over $10m in daily tickets sales this week thanks to rabid word of mouth and nationwide school holidays.

By conservative estimates, factoring in a 50% drop-off in ticket sales in the third weekend, The Dark Knight should boost its cumulative gross by $35-40m (£17m-£20m) by the end of Sunday, which would catapult it into the lifetime earnings top 10 on a tally of more than $380m (£192m).

How much it drops off this weekend is contingent on the number of new and repeat visits and, of course, the competition.

The extraordinary thing about Titanic was that when it opened in the US in December 1997 it didn’t have the blast off that accompanies a lot of blockbusters.

It actually took 12 days to pass the $100 million mark and just kept grossing consistently as it stayed top of the box office for an unprecedented 15 weeks, which is still a record.

Strangely, it had it’s biggest weekend gross in mid-February as no doubt the Valentines Day effect kicked in. In short it is an anomaly amongst big grossing films and unlikely to be broken in the near future.

The Return of the King ($1.1 billion) and Dead Man’s Chest ($1.06 billion) are the only other films in history to enter the $1 billion club and even they are still some way off Titanic’s $1.8 billion gross.

I personally don’t think The Dark Knight can sink Titanic, but is there a possible contender?

My hunch is that in 2011 when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II comes out (the final book will be two films), the fan base, media hype and expectation of the final Potter film could mean the all time record finally being broken.

> The Dark Knight at Box Office Mojo
> List of the highest grossing films of all time at Wikipedia
> More on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows being split into two films

Categories
Cinema Podcast Reviews

The Cinema Review: The Dark Knight

This week in an early review we look at the latest Batman film The Dark Knight.

Listen to the review podcast here:

[audio:https://www.filmdetail.com/podcast/get.php?fla=podcast-2008-07-25-67692.mp3]

Download and subscribe to the review podcast via iTunes by clicking here

> Download this review as an MP3 file
> Official site for The Dark Knight
> The Dark Knight at the IMDb
> Reviews for The Dark Knight at Metacritic
> Countdown to The Dark Knight: Links, videos and background information to the film
> Get local showtimes via Google Movies

Categories
Cinema friction.tv Reviews

Friction.TV: The Dark Knight

I just posted my reaction to The Dark Knight on Friction.tv outside the BFI London IMAX:

If you want to respond by video or text just sign up at their site.

> More debates at Friction.tv
> Check out our in depth preview of The Dark Knight
> A post back in December about the Prologue at the London IMAX
> Official site
> The Dark Knight at the IMDb
> More reviews at Metacritic
> Get local showtimes via Google Movies
> Find an IMAX cinema near you

Categories
Cinema Interesting

Kevin Smith on the /Filmcast

If you didn’t catch it the other night the /Filmcast podcast with special guest Kevin Smith was great.

It was a discussion of The Dark Knight but also got into other areas such as the new Watchmen trailer, the Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher films (my favourite anecdote was what Kevin was doing the day in 1989 when Batman came out) and the possible villains in the next Nolan film.

What’s nice is that the conversation is relaxed but intelligent (I liked the use of the term Nolan-verse) and full of passion about the Batman character and films.

One point that stuck out for me was when they mused on the fact that Warner Bros actually greenlit and stumped up the cash for a blockbuster as ambitious and dark as this – so props to the suits at Burbank for allowing Nolan to bring his vision to the screen.

A few years ago a friend of mine showed me the first DVD of An Evening with Kevin Smith and I was surprised how funny and engaging he could be on stage (especially as he plays Silent Bob in his movies). But some of the stories are hilarious.

One anecdote about working with producer Jon Peters on a Superman film in the mid-90s was a particular highlight:

You can listen to the /Film podcast with Kevin Smith here, download it as an MP3 or subscribe via RSS or iTunes.

> Kevin Smith’s blog and View Askew Productions
> Get an An Evening With Kevin Smith on DVD via Amazon
> /Film
> Check out more links, videos and background to this movie in our Countdown to The Dark Knight
> A post back in December about the Prologue at the London IMAX
> Official site
> The Dark Knight at the IMDb

Categories
Cinema Thoughts

The Dark Knight takes blockbusters to a new level

On Friday I finally saw The Dark Knight at a press screening in London, the same day that it broke box office records in the US.

There is no doubt that this film has transcended its comic book origins to become one of the most accomplished and ambitious blockbusters in years.

As I couldn’t make the IMAX screening I had to go to the standard 35mm one earlier in the evening, so when I catch it on IMAX next Friday I’ll write something about seeing on that format.

But even in a conventional cinema it is probably worth beginning with how I felt as it ended – drained. There is a lot of stuff going on and at just over two and a half hours it looks and feels like a serious crime epic, rather than a conventional summer movie.

When Batman Begins came out in 2005, it was an impressive reinvention of the DC Comics character but I wasn’t as blown away as some were. But props to the suits at Burbank for recruiting a director like Christopher Nolan – it certainly atoned for the Joel Schumacher Batman films.

The realistic approach to the Bruce Wayne character and Gotham City worked well and has really reaped dividends with this sequel, which not only builds on the foundations established that film but makes this a richer and more rewarding experience.

In the same way that the first film rebooted our expectations of a comic book movie, this one takes it to another level – imagine a dark, sprawling and realistic crime saga set in a modern city, that just happens to have Batman and The Joker in it.

Emboldened after the success of the first film, director Christopher Nolan and co-screenwriter Jonathan Nolan (with story credit by David S Goyer) have crafted a spectacularly ambitious summer blockbuster, one that has many layers and twists alongside some brilliant work from the cast and crew.

The story, set in a Gotham City soaked in crime, violence and corruption, revolves around three central characters: Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), a billionaire vigilante dishing out justice at night time; Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), the District Attorney boldly taking on organised crime; and The Joker (Heath Ledger), a mysterious psychopathic criminal wreaking havoc on the city.

Added to this are several key supporting characters: Lieutenant James Gordon (Gary Oldman), the senior cop in Gotham and Batman’s main ally; Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal), the Assistant District Attorney who is now Dent’s lover; Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), the newly promoted CEO of Wayne Enterprises who helps supply Bruce Wayne with hi-tech weapons and equipment; Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine), Wayne’s trusted butler and Sal Maroni (Eric Roberts), a local mobster in league with the Joker.

What’s quite startling about the film is the way in the plot doesn’t just revolve around Batman – it gives equal weight to Dent and Joker, forming an impressive triangular narrative.

Added to that, some of the supporting cast (especially Gordon) are given much stronger roles than you might expect for a film of this type.

Most impressively of all, these different strands are developed in ways that are engrossing and genuinely surprising – at times it is so layered, with key sequences often having parallel consequences.

There are points when the narrative (especially in the later stages) stretches to near-breaking point, so exhaustive are the plot lines and events on screen.

But despite the almost suffocating nature of the storytelling, it gives the film a grandeur and seriousness that complements the darker tone of this rebooted Batman franchise.

As for the action, it follows the script in being similarly dense, and some of the big set pieces – especially two key sequences – have an unpredictable and chaotic quality to them.

This at times makes it a little dizzying (I can only imagine what they felt like in IMAX) but also refreshing for this kind of movie, where the beats and outcomes are often too predictable.

What I particularly loved was the old school stunt work in the chase sequences and that actual (although presumably disused) buildings were blown up – it was a raw, effective contrast to the type of CGI-driven sequences that have become the norm for big budget blockbusters.

The performances too are a revelation for this type of genre movie. Bale continues his solid work from the first film but Ledger and Eckhart bring much more to their roles than what might have been expected.

As The Joker, Ledger has managed to completely reinvent him as a wildly unpredictable psychopath who brings Gotham to it’s knees.

Although – due to his tragically early death – there was always going to be added interest in his performance, he really is outstanding.

Completely immersing himself the role, he creates a villain who is scary, funny and unpredictable. Caring only for chaos and death, The Joker uses his considerable ingenuity to alter a city and the two figures (Batman and Dent) who can save it.

Eckhart has perhaps received less press but Harvey Dent is no less important to the story – in some ways his character is where Batman and The Joker meet.

He radiates an old-school charisma and integrity that fits his crusading DA perfectly, making his later problems all the more powerful.

Another interesting aspect of the script is the way in which it taps into modern fears about terrorism and the struggle to fight for good in a world that has become severely infected with violence and evil.

Many aspects of the film raise interesting questions and parallels. Can we see Batman – a sophisticated force for good caught up in a moral dilemma – as a metaphor for the US military? Could The Joker – a psychopathic enigma wreaking terror on society – be a twisted version of Osama Bin Laden?

The fact that a comic book adaptation subtly provokes these questions is daring, but what’s also clever is that they have mined the comic books (especially The Killing Joke) for themes and story lines which have a¬† contemporary echo.

The anticipation of The Dark Knight has been immense over the last few weeks and in the last few days reached fever pitch: it has already grossed over $155m (breaking the the 3-day opening weekend record held by Spider-Man 3); Batman related articles are all over Digg; critics have mostly given it high praise and IMDb users have even voted it the number 1 film of all time (although I think this should and will change in a few days or weeks).

What is behind on all this mania? I think this is a film that appeals to many different types of audience: fanboys eager to see a cool comic book adaptation; Batman fans; summer moviegoers keen for escapism; cinephiles who loved Nolan’s earlier films (especially Memento) and those caught up in the recent hype.

Time will tell how well it will ultimately do, but for now I can’t wait to see this on an IMAX screen next Friday.

Have you seen The Dark Knight? Why do you think it has become such a success?

Leave your thoughts below.

> Check out more links, videos and background to this movie in our Countdown to The Dark Knight
> A post back in December about the Prologue at the London IMAX
> Official site
> The Dark Knight at the IMDb
> Reviews at Metacritic
> Get local showtimes via Google Movies
> Find an IMAX cinema near you
> Variety report on the box office opening
> Slashfilm report on it topping the IMDb user list

[All images copyright 2008 / Warner Bros / Legendary Pictures / DC Comics]

Categories
Cinema Thoughts

How Chris Nolan rebooted Batman

Today the new Batman film The Dark Knight hits US cinemas and will be opening in the UK a week later.

It is one of the most eagerly awaited films of the year and so I thought I‚Äôd write about the history of Batman on film, how the franchise was rebooted under director Christopher Nolan, the latest film, Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker, how some of the film was shot on IMAX and the viral marketing campaign.

Hopefully the videos, images and links will help you get in the mood for what looks like one of the most interesting blockbusters in quite some time.

I’m seeing it tonight, so I’ll put up some reaction over the next 24 hours, but in the meantime let’s begin with the history of the caped crusader on film.

BATMAN ON FILM

The Batman character (created by Bob Kane in the late 1930s) has inspired a TV show, an animated series and a previous series of movies. The first feature film – simply called Batman – was directed by Tim Burton and had Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Jack Nicholson as The Joker.

It was the biggest film of 1989 in the US (though Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade pipped it worldwide) and sold millions of dollars worth of merchandise, becoming a pop culture phenomenon.

A sequel was inevitable and in 1992 Batman Returns saw Keaton reprise his role as the caped crusader with Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman and Danny DeVito as The Penguin.

Similar in tone to the original it was also a big hit, grossing $266 million worldwide, although not as big a hit as the original film.

However, Tim Burton had grown weary of the demands of making summer tent pole movies and when the director and Keaton opted not to come back for a third film, Warner Bros took the character in new – and lighter – direction.

Val Kilmer was cast in the lead role and the directing reins were taken up by  Joel Schumacher.

An all star cast included Jim Carrey as The Riddler, Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face/Harvey Dent, Chris O’Donnell as Robin and Nicole Kidman as the love interest, Doctor Chase Meridian.

Some cast members, such as Michael Gough and Pat Hingle, were kept on but the film was markedly different in tone and style. Despite that, it was still a huge hit and led to another sequel two years later.

Batman and Robin was the fourth film in the franchise and was scheduled to be Warner Bros biggest blockbuster that summer.

However, things started to go wrong when Val Kilmer (like Keaton before him) refused to return and was replaced by George Clooney, who was then breaking into mainstream movies after the success of the hit TV show ER.

Like Batman Forever, it had an all-star cast with Clooney and O’Donnell as the dynamic duo, Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze, Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy and Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl.

However, the camp tone, poor script and shoddy direction all contributed to a mess. It would be 8 years before another Batman movie but in retrospect the release Batman and Robin was quite interesting.

The negative advance buzz saw a major studio realise that online buzz could have an influence as much of it was fanned by Harry Knowles of Ain’t Cool News, a site then just over a year old.

Harry posted negative reviews from people who had seen advance screenings and the film – which opened to respectable numbers – never did the business the accountants at Burbank were expecting.

Knowles accurately summed up how a lot of people felt in his review, saying:

Because no matter how bad you have heard this film is, nothing can prepare you for the sheer glorius travesty of the 200-megaton bomb of a film this is.

This film is so bad, so awful, so vanity ridden with horrible over the top performances, that nothing I can say, can prepare you for it.

Even George Clooney seemed to agree, joking that:

“I think we might have killed the franchise.”

But it is interesting to note how his career has progressed since then. He would soon go on to be a major star, often appearing in films that were more left field than many might have expected.

Whilst managing to please the studio with the success of the Ocean’s franchise, he also directed and starred in more personal and challenging fare such as Good Night, and Good Luck and Michael Clayton.

Another interesting aspect of the film was that it marked the virtual end of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s long run of success as a movie star.

Although Terminator 3 in 2003 was a big hit, he was no longer the massive star he was in the 80s and early 90s.

His role was something of a bad joke with endless puns on cold and freezing littered throughout the film.

By 2003, he was Governor of California and effectively put his movie career on hold.

For director Joel Schumacher it took a while to recover – he even recorded a semi-apologetic commentary for the DVD release – and he went back to basics with the low budget Tigerland, a film that effectively launched Colin Farrell‘s movie career.

REBOOTING BATMAN WITH CHRISTOPHER NOLAN

In the following years things started to get a little interesting.

After the success of X-Men in 2000 and Spider-Man in 2002 a rash of comic book adaptations hit the big screen and it was a logical move to start from scratch and give the character a reboot.

A number of projects were considered – perhaps the most tantalising being Batman: Year One with Darren Aronofsky directing – but things finally started to happen when Christopher Nolan was hired to direct a new film in January 2003.

Nolan was an interesting choice, as he had only made two films up to that point – Following (1998) an ultra low budget tale of a writer obsessed with following people around London and Memento (2000), a dazzling neo-noir thriller about a widower (Guy Pearce) struggling with short term memory loss.

It won widespread critical acclaim for its innovative narrative structure – the screenplay was nominated for (but somehow didn’t win) an Oscar – and established him as major directing talent.

His next film Insomnia (2002), was a more conventional thriller about a police officer (Al Pacino) in Alaska on the trail of a killer (Robin Williams), who is haunted by guilt and is unable to sleep. A remake of the 1997  Norwegian film of the same name, it was still a highly accomplished piece of work.

Nolan said at the time of getting the Batman job that he wanted to re-imagine the franchise by:

“Doing the origin story of the character, which is a story that’s never been told before”.

In stark contrast to the Schumacher films, the emphasis here would be on portraying Batman realistically.

Entitled Batman Begins, it would show the origin story of how Bruce Wayne became a crime fighter who dresses up like a bat.

Christian Bale was cast as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Nolan stated that Richard Donner‘s 1978 Superman film was an inspiration, especially the first half which has – for a superhero movie – a long, extended backstory for the main character.

He also wanted big name actors in supporting roles to give the film more credibility and stature which meant experienced leading actors like Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman and Rutger Hauer had key supporting roles.

Some of the key influences on the story were Batman: The Man Who Falls (a story about Bruce Wayne travelling around the world); Batman: The Long Halloween, (which features the gangster Carmine Falcone) and Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One.

The latter comic book influenced the plot details of Bruce Wayne’s extended absence from Gotham City, the idea of a younger Commissioner Gordon (who in this film is a Sergeant) and the general setup of a corrupt city that is crying out for an outsider to bring justice.

Another important influence on the film was Blade Runner, which Nolan screened to his cinematographer Wally Pfister to show the kind of look and tone he was aiming for. The casting of Hauer (who came to fame as replicant Roy Batty) was also a nod to Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi classic.

When it was released in 2005, the film was warmly received by critics and audiences, going on to earn nearly $372m worldwide and becoming the 8th highest grossing film that year.

THE RETURN OF THE DARK KNIGHT

After completing The Prestige in 2006 – his dark and complex tale of two rival magicians (played by Bale and Hugh Jackman) – Nolan got to work on the Batman sequel The Dark Knight with co-writer David S Goyer.

Batman: The Long Halloween was an important touchstone for the story. The 13-part comic book series takes place during Batman’s early periods of crime fighting and involves a mysterious killer who murders people around the holidays.

Along with District Attorney Harvey Dent and Lieutenant James Gordon, Batman has to solve the murders and uncover the killer. This film also sees the return of The Joker, a development that was strongly hinted in the final scene of Batman Begins.

Nolan was resistant in doing a full on origin story but was influenced by the iconic villain’s first two appearances in DC comics, which were both published in the first issue of Batman in 1940.

They even consulted Jerry Robinson, one of the Joker’s co-creators, about the character’s portrayal. Instead of a straight origin story they focused on his rise to notoriety, saying:

“We never wanted to do an origin story for the Joker in this film. The arc of the story is much more Harvey Dent’s; the Joker is presented as an absolute.

It’s a very thrilling element in the film, and a very important element, but we wanted to deal with the rise of the Joker not the origin of the Joker….”

He also cited Alan Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke and Michael Mann’s 1995 crime drama Heat as inspirations for a story that would show Gotham’s key characters in the context of a crime ridden city.

HEATH LEDGER AS THE JOKER

Heath Ledger was cast as The Joker after Nolan had expressed interest in working with him in the past. After Batman Begins, Ledger went for an interpretation consistent with the more realistic tone of that film.

Reportedly, Ledger prepared by living alone in a hotel room for a month, formulating the character’s physical movements and voice, even keeping a diary of the Joker’s thoughts and feelings.

It would become a much darker character and he said that the Droogs of A Clockwork Orange and Sid Vicious were starting points for the character.

The aim was for a colder kind of sociopath, far removed from the lighter versions popularized by Cesar Romero in the 60s TV show or Nicholson’s in the 1989 film.

Ledger’s portrayal was key to a lot of the early marketing to the film and anticipation was high, especially after his Oscar-nominated performance in Brokeback Mountain.

However, tragedy struck on January 22nd this year when Ledger died in New York during a short break from filming Terry Gilliam’s forthcoming The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. His work on The Dark Knight had been completed but it none the less was a deep shock to the film world and his colleagues on the film.

Nolan penned a moving tribute in Newsweek:

Heath was bursting with creativity. It was in his every gesture. He once told me that he liked to wait between jobs until he was creatively hungry. Until he needed it again. He brought that attitude to our set every day.

There aren’t many actors who can make you feel ashamed of how often you complain about doing the best job in the world. Heath was one of them.

When you get into the edit suite after shooting a movie, you feel a responsibility to an actor who has trusted you, and Heath gave us everything.

As we started my cut, I would wonder about each take we chose, each trim we made. I would visualize the screening where we’d have to show him the finished film‚ÄĒsitting three or four rows behind him, watching the movements of his head for clues to what he was thinking about what we’d done with all that he’d given us.

Now that screening will never be real. I see him every day in my edit suite. I study his face, his voice. And I miss him terribly.

All of Ledger’s scenes were unaffected and Nolan added no “digital effects” were used to alter his performance posthumously.

Recently Christian Bale has been quick to dismiss the idea that Ledger playing such a dark role had any part in his death.

On the Today show with Matt Lauer they discussed the issue:

Lauer: So much was made of Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker. It was such a dark role.

In some way, perhaps, do you think in real life, it caused him to slip across some line of reality and may have had some role in his accidental death?

Bale: Personally, I find it to be a complete lack of understanding of acting. I also find it very rude to try to create some kind of sound bite for such a tragedy. The man was a complex man, a good man, but you know what?

I saw him having the best time playing The Joker. He was someone who completely immersed himself in his role. As do I. But in the end of the day, he was having a wonderful time doing it, He couldn‚Äôt have been happier doing it.”

Watch the full interview here:

Nolan has dedicated the film in part to Ledger’s memory, as well as to the memory of technician Conway Wickliffe, who was killed during a car accident while preparing one of the film’s stunts.

SHOOTING ON IMAX

On a technical level, The Dark Knight is the first mainstream movie to have several major sequences shot in the IMAX format.

Nolan was particularly enthusiastic about shooting on the larger cameras, saying:

“There’s simply nothing like seeing a movie that way. It’s more immersive for the audience. I wish I could shoot the entire thing this way.”

Typically, feature films that play in IMAX cinemas are converted to fill the enormous screens.

With The Dark Knight the sequences shot in IMAX will fill out the full screen, whilst on traditional cinema screens they will appear more vivid than usual.

However, there were obstacles in shooting in the format such as the bulkier cameras (IMAX film stock is 10 times the size of standard 35mm), the extra cost and the noise they make, which made filming dialogue scenes difficult.

So far, showing films in IMAX cinemas doesn’t have a huge effect on the overall grosses as there are currently only about 280 IMAX theatres worldwide.

But The Dark Knight could be an important film in making the format more popular, as it will be released on IMAX the same day as it is in regular cinemas (in the UK there was nearly always a delay between the two).

Last December I saw the opening sequence at the BFI London IMAX and producer Charles Roven spoke to the audience afterwards about the film.

I noted down some of the discussions that came up in the post-screening Q&A:

  • Heath Ledger was cast as The Joker because of his range and his initial meetings with Chris Nolan about the character
  • 3-D was never really considered as an option for the IMAX portions of the film
  • Prior to these Batman films he‚Äôd been trying to work with Nolan ever since he saw Memento
  • The Alfred/Bruce Wayne relationship continues
  • It is the first time Christian Bale has repeated a role
  • There is a sequence actually set in Hong Kong – they filmed a key sequence there where Batman jumps off a building. The idea of the setting was to get outside the world of Gotham and place it in a more believable context as a world city.
  • They aren‚Äôt even thinking about the villain for the next movie.
  • David Goyer, Chris Nolan and Jonathan Nolan wrote the first draft of the script and Jonathan wrote the later drafts whilst Chris was filming The Prestige.
  • The story is not directly based on anything by Frank Miller but has been influenced by him and other classic Batman writers.
  • Chris Nolan reportedly used the London IMAX cinema during the making of the film.

You can read the post I did at the the time here.

Filming took place in Chicago, London, Los Angeles, Baltimore and Hong Kong, the latter being a real location in the story.

VIRAL MARKETING

Perhaps more than any other recent blockbuster The Dark Knight has benefited from a long and detailed viral marketing campaign.

Since May last year, Warner Bros have been running a marketing campaign under the film’s “Why So Serious?” tagline.

The website whysoserious.com features the fictional political campaign of Harvey Dent (played in the film by Aaron Eckhart), with the slogan “I Believe in Harvey Dent.”

Gradually the site revealed itself to be “vandalized” with the slogan “I believe in Harvey Dent too,” and revealed the first image of the Joker. It was then replaced with a hidden message that said “see you in December.”

The site encouraged visitors to find letters composing a message from the Joker which said:

“The only sensible way to live in this world is without rules.”

In October last year the film’s official website turned into another game with hidden messages, telling fans to uncover clues in certain US cities.

Those who finished that task were directed to another website called Rory’s Death Kiss (which was how the film was referred to on location). There fans could submit photos of themselves dressed as the Joker.

In December last year, the opening sequence of the film – which involves a bank raid featuring the Joker – was shown in selected IMAX cinemas before selected showings of I Am Legend.

After Heath Ledger’s death in January Warner Bros marketing campaign shifted a little, as up to that point the Joker had been a central part of the campaign.

On the whysoserious website there was even a black ribbon in memory of the actor.

THE RELEASE

Today sees the release at cinemas in the US on regular and IMAX cinemas.

If you are in North America and Canada, Film School Rejects recently posted a list of the different places where you see it in IMAX (click here for the full list).

If you are in the UK, next week you can see it at the following IMAX cinemas:

BIRMINGHAM / Thinktank IMAX
Curzon Street
Birmingham
B4 7XG

GLASGOW / IMAX Theatre at Glasgow Science Centre
50 Pacific Quay
Glasgow
G51 1EA

LONDON / BFI London IMAX Cinema
1 Charlie Chaplin Walk
London
SE1 8XR
020 7902 1234

MANCHESTER / Odeon Manchester
6-8 Dantzic St.
Manchester
M4 2AD

BRADFORD / IMAX Theatre at the National Media Museum
Bradford
West Yorkshire
BD1 1NQ

If you are in the rest of the world go to IMAX.com and there you can find the nearest cinema to you when it opens in your country.

If you have already seen the film then feel free to post your thoughts below.

> Official site for The Dark Knight
> Reviews at Metacritic
> IMDb entry
> Find an IMAX cinema near you

[All images Copyright © Warner Bros. Pictures Inc]

Categories
Trailers

New Trailer: The Dark Knight

This is the latest trailer for The Dark Knight:

You can see a better quality version by clicking here.

It is out in the UK on July 25th.

> Official site for The Dark Knight
> Find out more about the film at Wikipedia

Categories
In Production Interesting

The Dark Knight Prologue at the London IMAX

The Dark Knight launch at the London IMAX

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Over the last 24 hours Warner Bros have been screening the opening sequence of new Batman film The Dark Knight on IMAX cinemas in LA, New York and London.

This afternoon I was at the London screening which was followed by a Q&A with producer Charles Roven.

The plan is for this prologue sequence to screen as an extended preview ahead of I Am Legend which opens in the US next Friday (and in the UK on Boxing Day).

The Dark Knight is the second Batman film in the current franchise directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Christian Bale as the caped crusader.

About 6 sequences – including this opening scene – were actually filmed using 70mm IMAX cameras, which is a first for a Hollywood movie of this scale.

The rest of the film was shot in conventional 35mm and will be remastered for IMAX screens. In these cinemas, the 70mm sequences will fill up the screen and the 35mm scenes will appear in a ‘letterbox’ format.

However, in regular cinemas, the actual aspect ratio will stay the same.

The opening sequence of the film is about 6 minutes and is a bank robbery done by a team of robbers all wearing clown masks. Watching the imagery on an IMAX screen is impressive – the size and clarity is remarkable and should work a treat for a big budget action film like this.

The sequence follows a criminal gang as they circle a bank and break in. Plotwise there are a few interesting moments, notably a cameo from William Fichtner as a feisty bank teller and the moment where we actually get to see a big close-up of the villain of the piece.

As the scene ended there was a 1 minute montage of Batman standing on a roof top, James Gordon (Gary Oldman) destroying something with an axe and a quick run through some other scenes in the film which included a brief shot of the new bat bike – a model of which was in the foyer of the cinema.

Bat bike 3

Producer Charles Roven appeared after the footage ended and answered questions from the audience.

To summarise the Q&A, here is what he said:

  • The Joker will be a darker incarnation of the famous villain – but will still have some comic moments
  • 6 sequences will be in the IMAX format (mostly action set pieces or scenes with a big scope)
  • Like Batman Begins the film should be a PG-13
  • Heath Ledger was cast as The Joker because of his range and his initial meetings with Chris Nolan about the character
  • 3-D was never really considered as an option for the IMAX portions of the film
  • Prior to these Batman films he’d been trying to work with Nolan ever since he saw Memento
  • The Alfred/Bruce Wayne relationship continues
  • It is the first time Christian Bale has repeated a role
  • There is a sequence actually set in Hong Kong – they filmed a key sequence there where Batman jumps off a building. The idea of the setting was to get outside the world of Gotham and place it in a more believable context as a world city.
  • They aren’t even thinking about the villain for the next movie.
  • David Goyer, Chris Nolan and Jonathan Nolan wrote the first draft of the script and Jonathan wrote the later drafts whilst Chris was filming The Prestige.
  • The story is not directly based on anything by Frank Miller but has been influenced by him and other classic Batman writers.

I’m not sure if Warner Bros are going to release any of this footage online, as I’m guessing the idea is that more people will go and see I Am Legend with this prologue attached.

If you have any thoughts, questions or news, just leave a comment below.

The Dark Knight opens in the US on July 18th in the UK on July 25th

UPDATE 02/07/08: You can now book tickets for the London IMAX screenings here.

> Official site for The Dark Knight
> The Dark Knight at the IMDb
> Find out more about The Dark Knight at Wikipedia
> Check out the latest teaser poster at Slash Film
> Get the latest buzz on the film at Coming Soon
> The Hollywood Reporter with more details on the LA screening which Chris Nolan attended
> The UGO Movieblog has a more detailed breakdown of the sequence (watch out for spoilers)