Christopher Nolan is a master artist. His movies create entire worlds with their own codes, roles, and histories in order to expound on complicated themes and crucial moral questions. The film making enhances the scale of the stories, amplifying the effect of the performances, script, and settings. Nolan changes how you see the world. After Memento I thought differently about my relationship to memory- fearing my own power to manipulate what should be truth. With Insomnia, Nolan tapped into my fear of sunlight and the need for dark, quiet spaces to regenerate yourself. The Prestige made me wonder how far I would go to pursue an ambition and consider the toll that would truly demand.
Nolan even changed the way I dreamed after Inception. The “dream within the dream” became a recurring theme in my dreams after Inception and the film reminded me of dreams I had as a kid running from faceless hunters. In these dreams, the chase would continue night after night and only death would bring an end to these terrors. I never thought of these as nightmares, since they happened so often, After seeing Inception, I felt comforted in a strange way, like I wasn’t the only one who dreamed of being chased by death.
The Dark Knight Trilogy has such a prominent place in my life and imagination. After living in Chicago and working in politics for years, it was Nolan who put so much into place for me on how corruption destroys a city from the inside. I love the films and Batman’s drive to make the city a better and safer place.
His films are both wondrous spectacles on a scale unseen, but also eerily familiar. It’s like Nolan extracted something from me that I wasn’t even aware of to construct his films. I feel as if I’ve traveled to another world but come home at the same time. In his films I find the images and words to express what I feel about a variety of issues. The Dark Knight Rises was the most emotionally entralling and exciting film watching experience I’ve ever had. He ended the series perfectly and I eagerly await his next project.
Today is Roger Ebert’s 70th Birthday. Ebert has been advising and educating me on movies since I was a little person who liked going to the “show” every Saturday. I used to get so tickled when Ebert and reviewing partner Gene Siskel would bicker over the caliber of songs in a particular Disney film. Ebert is the best film critic on the planet. For one, he’s a brilliant, practiced, and insightful writer. Two, he absolutely loves movies and it shows through in every review. When a movie disappoints, Ebert shows no mercy in bringing it down because said film is bringing down the art-form he loves. When he loves a film, the glee in his writing overwhelms you to his side. Sometimes, it’s only Ebert who can truly define why I love a particular film. Ebert also has an unbreakable spirit. After his bout with throat cancer, Ebert actually raised his profile, tweeting, continuing Ebert-Fest (an overlooked film festival at U of I), writing reviews and wonderful blog posts, and resurrecting “At The Movies.”
I went to a book signing of his three years ago, for his latest tome of movie reviews. His wife, Chaz Ebert spoke at the event and conveyed Mr. Ebert’s happiness at the crowd. I went to have my book signed and I could not contain my excitement. When ever I’m at an advanced screening, I keep my eyes open of Ebert. I ended up seeing “The Hangover” with Ebert in the audience. As I laughed, I wanted to know (so badly) what he thought about the film. Luckily, I loved it too.
Roger Ebert is my hero and I wish him the best today.
GIFs have changed my life.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY AL PACINO. My favorite film of his is Sidney Lumet’s “Dog Day Afternoon.” Here’s my review from last year.
“C’Mon you’ve seen DOG DAY AFTERNOON! You’re stalling”- Det. Keith Frazier, INSIDE MAN.
From this line in Spike Lee’s New York bank heist film INSIDE MAN, I thought DOG DAY AFTERNOON would be some sort of primer for enterprising bank robbers. So wrong. Al Pacino’s Sonny Wortzik puts on a brave face for the cops and cameras outside of the bank, but makes an affable, almost lovable captor. Still, Lee’s INSIDE MAN is the progeny of the great Sidney Lumet film in its depiction of a city as an organism with its own unique properties, life force, and peculiarities. In this matrix of political and personal agendas Sonny must find a way out, hopefully alive if not closer to his goal.
In the course of the film, Sonny Wortzik emerges as an unexpected everyman. At first I suspected he was a bumbling genius, anticipating all the angles and silent alarms in the bank. Yet, he comes a day late to an empty vault, an asthmatic security guard, and a gaggle of high spirited bank tellers. By his side is the nerve-racked Sal (John Cazale) clucking his gun. As crowds and TV cameras gather outside, Sonny tries to elicit support and protection by referencing various political agendas. To protect himself from trigger happy cops (who probably just want to end this standoff) Pacino as Sonny boisterously shouts “Attica, Attica! Remember Attica” to cheering crowds sick of NYPD brutality. One the phone with a TV reporter, he channels the labor movement in this exchange:
Sonny: I’m robbing a bank because they got money here. That’s why I’m robbing it.
TV Anchorman: No, what I mean is why do you feel you have to steal for money? Couldn’t you get a job?
Sonny: Uh, no. Doing what? You know if you want a job you’ve got to be a member of a union. See, and if you got no union card you don’t get a job.
TV Anchorman: What about non-union occupations?
Sonny: What’s wrong with this guy? What do you mean non-union, like what? A bank teller? You know how much a bank teller makes a week? Not much. A hundred and fifteen to start, right? Now are you going to live on that? A got a wife and a couple of kids, how am I going to live on that? What do you make a week?
TV Anchorman: Well I’m here to talk to you Sonny…
Sonny: Well I’m talking to you. We’re entertainment, right? What do you got for us?
Sonny’s true motivation for robbing the bank- a sex change operation for his new wife Leon- adds another layer of advocacy to the character. Yet, I still wondered what Sonny really believes in and want wants. His motivations are uncovered beautifully by Pacino in conversations with his three loves Leon, Heidi, and his mother. These exchanges show us his desire to be the hero of their lives without having the resources to do so. His frustration of not being able to give Leon his operation or be the son and husband he’d like to be has driven him to this act.
As Sonny’s plan evolves, the crazed force of the city quickly adapts and transforms this little bank robbery into street theater. Underneath the chaos a new standoff forms between Sonny and Sheldon- a creepy bureaucrat from the FBI. Playing the part of cold-blooded bank robber, Sonny promises the cops that if his demands are unmet he and Sal will start shooting people. Sal, who seems more inept at crime than Sonny, asks if he was telling the truth. Sonny reassures him he has no intention of killing anyone. Shaking, Sal delivers the most shocking line of the piece:
Sal: Were you serious about what you said?
Sonny: About what?
Sal: About throwing.. about throwing those bodies out the door?
Sonny: That’s what I want him to think
Sal: I wanna know what you think
Sal: Cause I’ll tell you right now… I’m ready to do it.
Now, Sonny has to be the wall- keeping Sal from killing the hostages and shielding Sal from the police. Sonny, not a bank robber, not a bread winner, not an activist, cannot meet this challenge. Lumet lets the tension overwhelm Sonny and us as the imminent final confrontation plays out.
In DOG DAY AFTERNOON, Lumet cleverly subverts the bank robbery plot to show us what diversity really looks like. From Sonny’s political schizophrenia, the morphing jeering crowds, over eager cops, and silently lethal Sal; Lumet’s New York is a place of real danger and love by those we least suspect. DOG DAY AFTERNOON nails how cities behave and how it feels to love, hate, and live in them.
Rest in peace, Sidney Lumet. New York was lucky to have you.
April 2nd marks the 35th birthday of the worlds greatest actor, Michael Fassbender. Since his scene stealing turn in “Inglourious Basterds” he has thrown down amazing performance after amazing performance. In 2011, I not only saw every film he made in the theater, but I saw them all multiple times (3 for “Jane Eyre” and “Shame”, 2 for “A Dangerous Method” and “X-Men First Class”). Not nominating Fassbender for Best Actor for “Shame” is the dumbest thing the Academy has ever done. What is it about Fassbender that makes him so AWESOME. Let’s investigate.
He can do ANYTHING
Whether a bourgeois Swiss psychoanalyst or tortured Manhattan sex addict, Michael Fassbender embodies each character he plays and draws you into his character’s desires and demons. It’s impossible to choose a favorite among so many performances that would be career highs for lesser actors. Brandon in “Shame” was obviously the greatest performance given by a male actor (aside from Gary Oldman) last year.
Fassbender’s Brandon is a man imprisoned by his compulsions and primed to implode from destructive behavior. Even though Brandon is no model citizen, we mourn his descent and hope for some kind of recovery. On the other side of broken Brandon, Fassbender delivers a startling performance as Bobby Sands in “Hunger.” Locked within the dank walls of the Maze prison, Sands is the definition of defiance. Even as his body painfully withers away on hunger strike, Fassbender’s eyes gleam with the anger and determination driving the character. It’s a beautiful despite the anguish.
Those teeth are mesmerizing
His smile is infectious and fascinating to look at. He has so many teeth!
His co-stars and collaborators love him
In every press junket, Fassbender and co-stars look like they’re having the best time ever. Whether with Charlize Theron or James McAvoy, Fassbender is the ultimate bro. He just has crazy chemistry with everyone. It’s further proof of how amazing he is.
He is seizing his moment
Every month, Michael Fassbender either has a movie coming out or new project announced. He’s working hard and stretching his popularity to work with great directors and co-stars. He is circling projects with two time collaborator Steve McQueen, a Ridley Scott/ Cormac McCarthy picture, and an epic about an ancient Irish warrior. Whatever Fassbender has in store, I’ll be first in line.
Happy Birthday Michael Fassbender!