psychological

Top Ten Christopher Nolan Films

If you’ve viewed Christopher Nolan’s IMDb page over 50 times, like me, then you’d know that Dunkirk is his tenth feature-length film.  This means no one has been able to make a proper Top Ten list.  Many of you will think I’m crazy for pre-writing a top ten list in anticipation for a new release (I started this thing last month).  To them I say, “Since I’m not making any money off of this, I might as well have fun.”  Anyways, today I am going to rank each respective film from one of the-hands down-best directors of the millennium.

Rules/Notes:

  • There will not be a synopsis for most of these films.
  • There will be no spoilers in this list.
  • This list is determined by: 80% overall quality and 20% my opinion.
  • Please watch every one of Nolan’s films so he never stops making movies.

No more delays, let’s begin.

 

#10 – The Dark Knight Rises (Grade – C)

Let’s start out this fanboyish countdown by saying that I really don’t like this movie!  Bear in mind, Mr. Nolan is incapable of producing anything resembling garbage, and the effort is clearly on screen.  The action sequences are well-choreographed, the scope of the movie is huge, and the music added so much emotion to every scene.  That said, the performances are awkward, it has more plotholes than The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and the social commentary was akin to a pretentious high schooler’s first social studies essay.  Some believe The Dark Knight was never meant to be a trilogy, and when you compare The Dark Night to its sequel, you can see the difference in quality.  Still, the action is jaw-droppingly cool, so it’s not a complete waste of time.

 

#9 – Following (Grade – B)

One year after releasing his short film Doodlebug (which is worth checking out), Nolan wrote, directed, produced, shot, and edited his first film, Following; about a writer who follows random strangers around to gain inspiration (until one of his targets, a criminal, shows the man his operation).   While many have said there’s nothing special about this movie (considering what the director would go on to make much better stuff), but Nolan unlocked his inner Robert Rodriguez by doing most of the work himself.   Might I say, the end result is very pleasing.  The black and white film allows for some interesting camerawork, and the pacing, while slow, builds to one stellar ending.  This low-budget gem has made it into the Criterion Collection for a reason, and is a must-see for fans of the genre.

 

#8 – The Prestige (Grade – B+)

In late 2014, a very young, and even more naive, Erick was about to do his weekly routine of ironing clothes while watching a movie.  Obviously, my attention would be more concentrated on the scalding-hot piece of metal near my fingers, so I’d typically watch something that didn’t demand much attention.  As it turned out, The Prestige was a bad choice.  After the first 2 minutes, I knew this movie was going to require the audience’s complete cooperation.  Figuring the black slacks could wait, I sat down and restarted the film.  Two mind-bending hours later, and my understanding of cinema as a whole was changed.  At that moment, Christopher Nolan became one of my favorite filmmakers.  Now that I’m older, and have studied the art form for a while, I can properly appreciate the work.  This movie does so many things right, like casting David Bowie as Nikola Tesla, treating the audience (and the subject matter) with maturity and intelligence, having Michael Caine say the word “prestige,” there’s a lot to be found with this movie.  It’s an excellent period piece drama/thriller that will require a few trips to the Internet in order to fully understand what the heck that ending was.

 

#7 – Dunkirk (Grade-A-)

I just saw this war film a few hours ago; and I will have the full review out on Sunday.  For now, it is a fine example of passionate filmmaking and attention-to-detail.  Nolan uses a very traditional approach to this one, and it pays off for the most part.  The performances felt real, the narrative is respectful (if not a bit sanitized), and the suspenseful scenes are rattling.

 

#6 – Batman Begins (Grade-A-)

In preparation for this list, I watched a butt-ton of videos on Christopher Nolan.  One video in particular puts my writing skills to shame, and ironically, it was an essay about Batman BeginsStrange.  Well, better to try and fail than regret not taking the chance.  Batman Begins is a masterpiece of storytelling, and revived the superhero genre by treating its source material in a mature fashion.  This movie features some of the best exposition any screenwriter could ever ask for, and it all balances out with moments of action, complex characters, fine performances, and an engrossing tone.  It’s one of the three pre-2010 superhero flicks that started the superhero craze, and it shouldn’t be missed.

 

#5 – Insomnia (Grade-A-)

Did you know that this is the only Nolan-directed movie that he didn’t write?  Did you also know it’s a hallmark of subtly, suspense, cinematography, and acting?  Insomnia is one of those purposefully quiet productions that-while major critical hits-typically bomb at the box office (like Take Shelter or Donnie Darko).  In keeping with that genre, Insomnia is a feast for cinephiles.  The plot is simple, two detectives are sent to Alaska to search for the man who killed a 16-year-old girl.  What unravels is Nolan at his most ruthless (by the way, this film’s rated R).  First off, my gosh, the acting is fantastic.  This has to be one of Al Pacino’s most sympathetic roles of his career.  He struggles to find this killer while also dealing with his own personal issues, Hilary Swank is supportive, but also very intelligent, and Robin Williams…this is one of his most authentic performances.  There is little to no humor in his character, but what he brings to the table is one of the most impressive breakaway performances in history.  His dialogue is limited, but every second of it is incredible.  Forgive me if this all sounds rather vague, I am nowhere near the level of intelligence that this movie is on, so it’s difficult to explain how well it’s made.  Despite this, it is one heck of a film for anyone looking for underrated classics.

 

#4 – Memento (Grade-A)

“Okay, so what am I doing? Oh, I’m chasing this guy. No, he’s chasing me.”  There are so many brilliant moments in this brilliant movie.  Memento catapulted Nolan into critical acclaim much similar to M. Night Shyamalan with The Sixth Sense.  Meaning they both did something narratively that audiences had either never experienced, or weren’t expecting.  In the case of Memento, the story is told backwards.  This movie was unbelievably risky, as it easily could have alienated viewers, but pushing the boundaries of storytelling is one of Nolan’s best skills, and this psychological thriller is a fine example.  As far as second features go, this one feels like it was made by an archaic master rather than a newcomer because the quality of the filmmaking is top-notch.  Not only is Wally Pfister’s camerawork oozing with atmosphere, the constantly uncertain tone keeps you on the edge of your seat as the story unravels.  Speaking of amazing things, Leonard Shelby is one of the coolest protagonists in film history.  Guy Pearce is at his best in this film, his character design is like something out of a comic book, and his motivations make him a very sympathetic hero.  It’s one of the most original movies you’ll ever watch, and the mere idea of remaking it is asinine.

 

#3 – The Dark Knight (Grade-A)

Oh, stop crying just because the second best superhero movie of all time is #3.  If it were not for the last 10 minutes (the Joker should have died, and Batman didn’t have to take the fall for everything), it would be higher  Also, don’t be upset because Unbreakable is better than The Dark Knight.  We all know why this movie’s awesome.  Heath Ledger is the best Joker of all time, it was nominated for more Oscars than any other movie about grown men in goofy costumes, the practical effects drop jaws, and the script is packed with more smart commentary than a season of early Simpsons.  On a filmmaking scale, you could study ever frame for 5 minutes and get enough out of it to write a film report.  The Dark Knight proved that superhero movies could be dark, better than their predecessor, and make bank (over $1 billion to be precise) all at the same time.

 

#2 – Interstellar (Grade-A)

Ever noticed that this guy has a talent for titles?  Even though I’ve given this movie its own-somewhat crappy-review and talked extensively about it in the Study Scores list, I could go on forever with this one because it makes me so happy!  Oh, there are problems, but this movie requires faith from the audience to stick with it for the 3-hour runtime.  Those who do are greatly rewarded.  Many people think this was the point where Nolan ignored common sense and just wrote whatever complex nonsense came into his mind.  Whew!  That was difficult to type in and of itself.  Forgive me audience (and any future employers who may see this), but these complaints are pure balderdash!  The amount of research I put into this movie rivals that of college essay finals!  One of the factoids I came across explained that Nolan did his dang research about space, black holes, and other sciency things I can’t pronounce before writing a movie where Ron Woodroof saves humanity.  Guy’s, he knows what he’s doing.  Even if (which is a pretty big “if”) the story doesn’t grab you, the visuals definitely will.  Interstellar features some of the most impressive CGI and sets of our time.  It also features one of Hans Zimmer’s best scores.  I won’t deny, there is a bit of filler, but what’s excellent (like the action scenes) is truly magnificent.  When people talk about spiritual successors in film, Interstellar is the true sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

 

#1 – Inception (Grade-A+)

“I try to be all about story.” – The greatest storyteller in Hollywood today

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this movie (nothing of any consequence that is).  Every single thing about it works so well!  The effects (both practical and CGI) are convincing, the action sequences are creative and exciting, the actors have charisma, the ideas are interesting, the plot is original, the emotional element is strong, the music is intense, and it should have won Best Original Screenplay!!!!  Pardon me… I just can’t stand the Academy some times.  For someone to tell me they didn’t enjoy this monument, leaves me in a state of bewilderment.  Sure, everyone loves The Dark Knight, but Inception is the perfect summer blockbuster.  Action sequences that actually entertain, characters that you like, and a script that doesn’t treat you like a statistic.  I’m greatly inspired by this movie if you couldn’t tell.  It’s actually my favorite movie of all time, and for good reason.  Nolan knows where the movie starts and ends, and once the story (which he was apparently working on since Memento in ten years earlier) is perfected, the rest runs like clockwork.  You could watch this movie countless times and learn something new each time.

 

Ahhh, now that was fun!  Whether or not you like Nolan’s approach to filmmaking, you cannot deny that he has consistently delivered high-quality stuff.  The guy simply hasn’t made a bad movie, and I don’t think he ever will.  Now that being said, I’m going to go to bed, have an awesome dream inspired by Inception, and watch a lot of movies tomorrow!  Goodnight and thank you for your time.

“A Cure for Wellness” Review

Oh boy, it’s time to talk about arthouse films.  Since I never got around to reviewing The Lobster or Swiss Army Man, it looks like A Cure for Wellness is going to be the first “different” movie that I’ve reviewed.  This movie is definitely one of my most anticipated releases of 2017, and a film from Gore Verbinski is almost always a treat.  Let’s get to it.

A Cure for Wellness is directed by Gore Verbinski and written by Justin Haythe and Gore Verbinski.  Stars-Dane DeHaan, Mia Goth, Jason Isaacs, and Harry Groener.   Premise-An American businessman (DeHaan) is sent to the Swiss Alps to find his CEO (Groener) who left suddenly after leaving a note stating that he was looking “for the cure,” that can only be found at a mysterious facility in the mountains.

Mr. Verbinski has established himself to be a versatile director.  From unique comedies like Mousehunt and The Weather Man, to the terrifying Ringu remake (The Ring), to the incredibly successful Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, to the Best Animated Feature-winning Rango; his films have left their mark on cinema.  However, one of his biggest criticisms is making movies that think they’re “bigger” than they actually are.  For example, the Pirates sequels tried to be grandiose and stupendous, even though audiences love the first because of its lighthearted action.  Another would be Rango, which was filled with morals and social commentary (although I think the story is sublime) despite being an animated Disney film.  Try as I have to counteract that argument, it has never been more prevalent than with A Cure for Wellness, that cannot (for the life of itself), figure out what it wants to say.  I opened by mentioning arthouse films because this movie makes the tiresome trek across that genre’s many possibilities and somehow came out with incoherence and pretention.

The very first thing I have to acknowledge is the style of this film.  It looks spectacular.  Verbinski has a great eye for framing a shot (check out Mousehunt for some really cool camerawork).  A Cure for Wellness is a picturesque film, and you can see some of this beauty on the official website.  The set design and color-correction give it a very eerie tone, one that effectively brings chills at times.  The score is equally entrancing, adding atmosphere at very precise moments.  On a visual level, it can’t be beat, but that is sadly the most impressive thing about A Cure for Wellness.

The movie actually starts out pretty strong.  We get some intriguing visual foreshadowing and insightful social commentary (the only commentary in the movie that makes sense).  You’ll quickly realize that A Cure for Wellness decides to spend most of its time getting high rather than making sense.  After some exposition (including DeHaan’s character motivation), he makes the trip to the treatment center.  The first act does a great job of creeping you out while setting up the rest of the story.  But you’ll quickly realize that the movie is a downward spiral after the “car scene.”  The pacing is slower than a Smart Fortwo, and instead of explaining what is going on, Verbinski decides to show you his “artistic vision.”  Yes, the movie looks incredible, but it (being a pretentious arthouse film) throws a bunch of disturbing/confusing imagery at you.  Some of these visuals are creative, and some will wreck your suspension of disbelief.  While I’m at it, let’s talk about the torture scenes!  Remember that disgusting “turkey baster” thing in Don’t Breathe?  Imagine four of those scenes in one movie, which go on for five minutes each, are even nastier, and go all the way with their detail.  I overacted with my reaction to Don’t Breathe; after all, they didn’t go all the way with what was going to happen.  I can name at least two movies (The Human Centipede and A Serbian Film) that are more shocking than A Cure for Wellness.  That said, there are numerous things in this movie that will trigger many.  Animal abuse, extensive gore, and lots of naked old people.  My philosophy is, “If it has a point, go for it.”  Most of the disturbing imagery we see after the boring first half is unexplained and has little story impact.  I’d like there to be a reason behind making me vomit.

The actual narrative is even less impressive by comparison.  There are a whole lot of genre clichés (you could see half of them in the trailers), the continuity is abysmal, and I left the theater asking, “What the heck was the point of all that?”  Usually, you can tell that an artsy-fartsy movie wants to say something.  In the case of A Cure for Wellness, I have no idea what they were going for.  The actors (especially DeHaan) are trying their best, but the script is harder to decipher than The Da Vinci Code!  This brings me to my last point; A Cure for Wellness would make an excellent videogame.  I mean it.  A first-person horror survival set in a mysterious health facility with a dark past.  The philosophy, odd characters, and brutality would work better in a game than a 150 minute film.   Imagine Outlast combined with Silent Hill; now that would be awesome!

I will say that I’m glad this movie was made, for all of its mistakes; more “different” films need to be mass released.  Despite all of its flaws, there is a thought-provoking psychological thriller hidden in the shadows.  The movie already has a Lilliputian cult following, and inspiration is much more powerful than entertainment, which the movie failed to provide.  A Cure for Wellness gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C-.

Brian De Palma Month: “Dressed to Kill” (FINALE)

The purpose of this series was for me to analyze the movies of one of the most influential directors of the New Hollywood Generation (which Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and John Carpenter are also a part of), and for you to enjoy my findings.  What sparked this idea was Dressed to Kill, an erotic thriller that delivers a disturbingly tense experience.  I watched this movie on Christmas Day on a whim.  I had my bowl of Chinese chicken wings, relaxed into the plush chair, and hit “Play.”  What followed was some of the best filmmaking I have ever come across in an independent production.  The Untouchables might be my favorite movie from him, Mission: Impossible might be his highest-grossing picture, and Scarface (1983) might be his most iconic work, but I firmly believe Dressed to Kill is the best thing in his resume.   I’ve been aching to write this since I reviewed Snake Eyes, so let’s get ‘er goin’!

Dressed to Kill is written and directed by Brian De Palma.  Stars-Michael Caine, Nancy Allen, Angie Dickson, Keith Gordon, and Dennis Franz.  Premise-A call girl (Allen) is hunted by a mysterious blond woman after watching her murder a patient of psychiatrist Dr. Robert Elliot (Caine).  Quick Disclaimer: I can’t go into too much detail because this screenplay is a mystery that could easily be spoiled.

When people think “Brian De Palma,” Dressed to Kill is one of the first responses they get.  No other movie from him is as stylistically pleasing, violent, or as tense as Dressed to Kill.  In fact, this extraordinary example of visual storytelling is in the Criterion Collection (one of three De Palma films to do this).

Don’t let those undeserved Razzie nominations (Worst Director, Worst Actor-Caine, and Worst Actress-Allen) give you the wrong impression of this film.  Dressed to Kill is a wild ride with no way off, and the actors are fully committed to their characters.  Michael Caine is excellent as Dr. Elliot.  He has to figure out why his patient was murdered and still remains intriguingly professional (as the movie goes on, he gets much better), Angie Dickson (playing a sexually frustrated housewife/mother) is incredibly authentic, and Allen (who was De Palma’s wife at the time) is a very likable protagonist.  There are scenes where she is being harassed, chased, interrogated, and psychologically examined.  She works well in pretty much every scenario (even the one where she has to seduce someone).  The supporting cast is just as entertaining (Keith Gordon’s career was greatly helped by this movie); Dennis Franz somehow made the “disbelieving cop with a Chicagoan accent” funny.

One of the biggest complaints naysayers of this particular director bring up is his use of brutal violence.  Advocates of the former should refer to this enlightening video.  I cannot stress how stylistically intense this movie is.  It does bare more than one resemblance to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (of which Brian De Palma was greatly inspired), and that could have easily resulted in a cheap rip-off.  The writing of Dressed to Kill not only knows what was effective, but why it was effective.  Through a combination of De Palma’s signature split-screens, tracking shots, and Dutch angles, a chilling score from Pino Donaggio (which rivals that of Ennio Morricone’s The Thing soundtrack), and thrilling sequences (most notably the subway chase and museum scene) make Dressed to Kill practically a spiritual successor to the works of Hitchcock.  This movie is never boring.  The mystery has many layers to it and the character interactions can leave you more informed or more confused.  Either way, the psychological terror is palpable.  I had other plans that night, but I could not take my eyes off the screen, I simply had to see what would happen.

My issues with the movie are extremely few.  There is a dream sequence (a la Carrie) that was unnecessary, but it was cool to watch so I’ll give it a pass.  Also, there is a twist of sorts.  Some people can probably predict it, but you’re talking to the guy who couldn’t guess the twist of The Visit or The Village, so take it how you will.  Dressed to Kill is an experience.  It is nothing more than a stylish thriller, but it does its job so dang well.

If you have taken anything from this little series of mine, it’s that I thoroughly love this artist’s work and I have a great amount of respect for what he has accomplished.  Yes, he made bad movies (any director who’s been working for over 50 years would), but those mistakes are overshadowed by a mountain of entertaining, influential, suspenseful, star-powered, iconic pieces of cinema.  There were so many other fine options I had for this series: the powerfully acted Carlito’s Way, the “filmmaker’s film” Blow Out, the dramatic Casualties of War, De Palma’s breakout film Sisters, and so many more.  When asked in an interview if he was proud of his career, De Palma replied, “To be in my age and to be still making movies, absolutely.”  Dressed to Kill gets Guy’s Guru Grade of an A.

De Palma, if you are reading this, thank you so much for reshaping the industry, and inspiring this lover of film.

Brian De Palma Month: “Carrie” (1976)

It’s Brian De Palma Month; of course I have to talk about one of his most well-received horror films.  De Palma struck gold when he chose to adapt this Stephen King story.  It was the first Oscar-nominated Stephen King adaptation, it started the career of Sissy Spacek, and it made over $33 million (on a budget of less than $2 million).  The movie is known by many as one of the scariest horror classics of all time; let’s figure out why.

Carrie (1976) is directed by Brian De Palma and written by Lawrence D. Cohen.  Stars-Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Nancy Allen, John Travolta, Amy Irving, and Betty Buckley.  Premise-Socially inept Carrie White leads a tormented life.  She can unexplainably move things with her telekinetic mind, her religious zealot mother (Laurie) believes that everything Carrie does is a sin, the girls at high school bully her, and she is experiencing menstruation for the first time.  When a sick prank is pulled on her in a moment of ecstasy, Carrie will finally snap.

Stephen King novels have been adapted by so many excellent filmmakers: Stanley Kubrick, Frank Darabont, Rob Reiner, John Carpenter, etc.  I was quite excited to see De Palma’s style combined with King’s writing.  I have to say, the style of this movie is worth the 100 minutes.  The director has been compared to Alfred Hitchcock (who is actually a great inspiration to De Palma) in terms of how he creates suspense.  You can see the influence in Carrie.  The use of split screens, slow-motion, a terrific 360-degree spin shot, the quick editing, the amazing zoom-ins, and intensity is pure Hitchcockian inspiration.  The last third of this movie oozes with atmosphere and terror.

Bringing these characters to life is an ensemble cast.  The Oscar nominations were for Sissy Spacek (leading actress) and Piper Laurie (supporting actress).  The rest of the cast ranges from decent to below-average (ensemble ≠ well-utilized mind you), but Spacek and Laurie thoroughly become their characters.  Some would see their performances as over-the-top, but they have to read off of Stephen King dialogue, so cut them some slack.  Any time they share the screen is brutal to watch since Laurie’s character believes her daughter is possessed.  Safe to say, those nominations were well-deserved.

While I would have preferred there to be no problems with this movie, that is not reality.  For one, this movie is kinda dated.  The costumes, quality of the cameras, soundtrack, and slang are really cheesy.  I can forgive this, but the major problems lie in the screenplay (like the copious amount of filler).  I have not read the book, but I can definitely tell you that this movie reeks of Stephen King clichés.  Before you release the wrath of the langoliers on me, I’ll say that Stephen King is a good writer (no duh) with mountains of experience, and even more influence.  However, that does not mean he cannot repeat himself or make mistakes.  Each of the characters (except for Buckley’s PE teacher) is a trope.  Carrie herself barely has any character besides “social outcast with telekinesis,” which the movie “remedies” by beating her down.  Like, reeeeeeeaaaaaaallllyyy down (there is a lot of abuse in this movie).  I give credit to De Palma (for going all the way) and the devotion of Spacek and Laurie, but instead of wanting Carrie to get revenge, I felt extremely depressed.  We don’t get any reason to like her, she just gets beat up.  The beatings come from Nancy Allen’s one-dimensional bully, or her religious nut mother.

When it comes to Mrs. White (again, religious nut), I found myself quite annoyed.  At some point, it gets exhausting seeing this same cliché in Stephen King adaptations (i.e., Marcia Gay Harden in The Mist, the salesman in Maximum Overdrive, Annie Wilkes in Misery, etc.).  We do get some backstory of Mrs. White, but that is very close to the end of the movie.  If she had more development early on, it would have made a much stronger character.

Is this movie one of the best Stephen King adaptations?  Eh, maybe.  What I can tell you is that it’s not an in-depth look at teenagers and religious nonsense (which most critics like it for).  Movies like The Breakfast Club and The Exorcist are better looks at society and religion.  Whenever Carrie is brought up in a YouTube video, they almost always show the prom scene clip, because the first two thirds is mostly exposition.  That said this movie is iconic because of how unsettling, brutal, and terrifying it gets at points, and you can chalk that up to Brain De Palma’s talents.  Carrie (1976) gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B.

P.S.  Sorry again for the late posting.  After watching Split (which you should watch), I kinda forgot about this review.  I will be doing something special for Split, which should be posted within the week.  Also, I have finished the Top Ten Worst 2016 Movies, and I’m currently working on the Top Ten Best 2016 Movies, those will be up next week.  Thank you.