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Sunday, 15 September 2013

Chris Nolan Rises

By now it must be irrefutable that Christopher Nolan is one of the greatest film-makers working today, and I would argue till I am blue in the face with anyone who says he has made a single feature that is not a superb example of the film-making art. He can do it all, complex, thought-provoking, exciting, adventurous, heart-rending, challenging, cerebral. He has taken mind-bending arthouse conception and made it mainstream with 'Memento', he has taken crime drama and elevated it to art with 'Insomnia', made recording slight of hand an unexpected delight with 'The Prestige', but the greatest trick that he ever pulled, his greatest achievement to date must be his realisation of the cinematic holy grail, the one thing that everyone from the business men to the punters; the technicians to the marketeers; the film buffs to the thespians have been craving for decades, an action triology that is good all the way through, an action triolgy that is intellegent, surprising, rewarding and successful. With Batman that is what he has done. Okay, it's not perfect, no film is. In this latest installement there is still a quibble or two. Bane's voice is annoying. Presumably the queer Dickensian tone was chosen to draw a distinction between it and Bale's gravelly drawl, but there is no obvious rationale for such sub Carry On comic accent. Also, Warner Brothers can expect a class action suit for whiplash after the tirade of cuts in the last 15 minutes, but these are quibbles, when the whole is an audaciously grand construction of a scale dwarfing most blockbusters, beautifully capturing the feel of the Batman stories, and not drenching them in stultifying darkness as has been done before, but having the courage to shine a light on the man behind the mask. Because Nolan knows that a blockbuster is just a big empty shell if it is not peopled by living breathing characters. They are here in abundance, and it is the very personal loves, friendships, rivlarlies and hatreds between them that drive the movie, that fill Nolan's magnificent construction with life. And in the end it all pays off, the huge set pieces, the fights, the flashbacks, the fiesty dialogue, the human relationships, every element is resolved, tied up and presented to the viewer with a big bow on it. Nolan knows what we want, he knows how to present it to us, and he provides it to us in spades - satisfaction.

In The Loop

Enjoyable SF effort from emerging auteur Rian Johnson, writer and director of the excellent 'Brick' and the very good (but not excellent) 'Brothers Bloom', 'Looper' is a challenging time-travel yarn, which finds Joseph Gordon-Levitt trying to unpick the tangled plot strands that run through what is a stylish future thriller. The make-up work to alter JGL and make him more Willis-like is remarkably good, and there's a functional matter-of-factness about the technology of the future that makes it easy to accept, a believable near(ish)-future, and the whole thing looks wonderful thanks to DP Steve Yedlin. But 'Looper' is not without issues. Being told more than once not to think about the implications of time travel felt patronising, even when it is the very excellent Jeff Daniels doing the telling - and Mr. J. could have done a lot worse than take a leaf out of the book of the superlative 'Primer' (find it, watch it) and Shane Carruth in that regard. It all goes a bit 'Witness' in the third act, but there is sufficient chemistry between Emily Blunt and JGL that the tension is maintained, and the climax is impactful and highly satisfying. What higher recommendation can there be for Mr. Johnson's abilities than the fact that he has delivered three episodes of the seminal 'Breaking Bad'? We should be awaiting his next project with bated breath.

An Affair to Remember

Often grim, but always enthralling period piece directed by Nikolaj Arcel, who co-wrote the screenplay for the original Swedish produciton of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Arcel is favoured by remarkable performances from his leads. The incomparable Mads Mikkelsen is as intense as ever and commands the screen, while Alicia Vikander gives an accomplished performance as the young queen, but Mikkel Følsgaard as 'mad' Christian must be the standout, he is entirely convincing in a role that clearly demanded a considerable range of emotion and temperament. You will recognise numerous other faces and we should continue to be thankful that Scandanavian cinema is deservedly enjoying so much attention, and broadening our viewing horizons, it is such a rich source of material and talent. 'A Royal Affair' is not an easy watch, like so many historical pieces that chart the lives of monarchs and those around them, there is a thick vein of tragedy running through the story. It is not a film likely to be pulled out on a cold winter's evening for its hearwarming properties, but it is a rewarding experience and should open viewers up to seek others works from Scandanavia's increasingly excellent film industry.