Many of the posters for Christopher Nolan’s war-rescue picture Dunkirk have been of the super-wide banner variety. Here is a classic vertical design (and nothing gives a vertical impression than a sailboat) that emphasizes the scope and chaos through depth of field rather than panorama. There are a lot of elements and things to see here, shadows of air planes, fishermen working frantically, soldiers drowning in the water, or floating on objects. The fire offers a few flashes of colour in an otherwise desaturated ‘grim seas’ palette. It is also noteworthy that the IMAX specialty releases of films tend to be a bit more adventurous with their poster designs, probably because they are not distributed as widely.
Kurt is back from Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival, and he might have a thing or two to say about the movies, the town and the folks at that festival. At nearly two hours we can only say brace yourself for genre-overload. But first, Matt Gamble joins Kurt & Andrew midway through the conversation on Christopher McQuarrie’s installment of the Mission Impossible franchise. Kurt loved it. Andrew liked it. Matt, well, Matt watched it. Practical stunts, exceptional set-pieces and the ass-kicking talents of Rebecca Ferguson and a cleaned up and ready for prime time Sean Harris are all on the conversational docket. While there is no full “True Detective” segment this episode (we’ll cap the remaining three off, next time) there is a full Watch List for your listening pleasure, and Matt does briefly chime in on this season of “True Detective,” along with the doc on Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau remake disaster, and Adam Sandler’s Pixels. Andrew covers off the cult classic Wet Hot American Summer and its direct-to-Nexflix sequel. Finally we settle the Mara Rooney / Kate Mara confusion (sort of).
As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!
The biggest complaint I’ve heard about Gravity is that it doesn’t feel like a film. In other words, it’s more like a video game or an amusement park ride than something you would normally see in your local movie theatre. You certainly can’t get away from the fact that there are gobs of CGI in it and that there are obvious reality-stretching thrill ride aspects. There are sequences specifically designed to ratchet up the tension to new levels of intensity – so much so that you might still be unclenching your toes hours later. So what’s wrong with that you ask? Well, nothing…
Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity (in its non-IMAX 3-D version at least) is a wholly immersive experience. It’s sole purpose is to put its two high-priced charming stars into impossible-to-escape scenario after impossible-to-escape scenario upping the ante each time to see if you can hold your breath a few seconds longer and grip that arm rest a little tighter. From that point of view – especially if you enjoy that kind of thing – it’s an astonishing success. That aforementioned tension steadily increases from the use of exceedingly long “takes” – a Cuaron trademark, but certainly much more stitched together than ever before here – and a raging score and sound field. It has the effect of dropping you into their desperation and panic without promise of getting out the other side.
When I say “their”, I really should qualify that to only Sandra Bullock’s character Ryan Stone. She is accompanying a space shuttle crew to perform some of her experiments, but only has about 6 months of training under her belt. George Clooney plays Matt Kowalsky, one of the astronauts who coolly jet packs around the shuttle during the opening spacewalk of the film and stays equally as cool throughout the pandemonium that follows. So Stone’s reflexes, ability to calm her breathing and ease with the jet pack are somewhat less than Kowalsky’s – which plonks us right there into her space boots (especially when the camera goes in and then back out of her space helmet). Though it took me a few minutes to settle into that opening spacewalk (getting attuned to the 3D surroundings, adjusting to what I felt were a few wonky CGI bits, etc.), I was fully engrossed by the time the first Houston warning of some potential danger came. And then, with still yet a single cut in the film, we’re thrown into crisis mode. Though that first 10-15 minute single “shot” is actually composed of hundreds of different pieces, the planning and orchestration of it is a phenomenal achievement.
Of course, that shouldn’t mean anything when it comes to your enjoyment of the experience. Did you get sucked in? Did you feel nervous? Were you there with Bullock? That’s what Cuaron is trying to do and it worked in spades for me. There are several moments that don’t work as well – Bullock’s howling with the dogs moment doesn’t work and Clooney is just too damn charming sometimes – but for me it was all easily forgiven. The ebbs and flows of tension are timed to give you just enough of a rest – but not too much – before the next wave of crisis arrives. The score is perhaps overpowering at times, but it served its purpose exceedingly well. Like a great amusement park ride you’ve just been on with your friends, I (and many other people) wanted to get right back in line and do it all over again. I just needed a few extra minutes for my muscles to relax and my toes to get back to normal.
Although far from seminal, there are a few Hollywood franchises I enjoy more than the Mission Impossible series. Laden with spectacular stunts and driven by a Lalo Schifrin’s sensational main theme, each film bears the unique stylistic stamp of the director at the helm – Brian De Palma (Scarface) for the original, John Woo (Face/Off) and J.J. Abrams (Star Trek) for the sequels – while at the same time succeeding as fun, fast paced action movies guaranteed to excite and entertain. Most recently, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol sees another new filmmaker take the reins: The Incredibles director Brad Bird, in his very first live-action film. And while the plot may be slapdash and characterizations frequently feeble, this new mission once again delivers what audiences really want: ambitious, gripping, fantastically conceived action.
Ghost Protocol kicks off with IMF agents Jane Carter (Paula Patton; Precious) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg; Paul) breaking team leader Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) out a Russian prison so that the three of them might infiltrate the Kremlin and recover files that will help them identify a criminal known only as Cobalt (Michael Nyqvist; Abduction) who is bent on instigating a nuclear war. But the mission is soon revealed to be a set-up, and after a bomb destroys a large part of the Russian presidential complex, Hunt and his team, as well as the mysterious Agent Brandt (Jeremy Renner; The Hurt Locker) find themselves labelled as terrorists, disavowed by their agency, and with no choice but to clear their names by whatever means they can.
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God bless whomever greenlights the projects that Terrence Malick elects to do. I mean it, with the news that broke today about just how ambitious his latest film, Tree of Life, is aiming to be, one gets the sense that the usual risk assessments no longer factor when backing this former Rhodes scholar and recluse philosopher king. If Malick wants Sean Penn and Brad Pitt to perform in his movie, easy, if Malick wants to take a page from Christopher Nolan and incorporate IMAX segments into his ambling meditation on life, consider it done. What’s that? You want lingering shots of dinosaurs in your movie? Say no more.
So let’s do the math:
Dinosaurs + IMAX + marquee actors + Malickian free-floating meditation storytelling = the most expensive art film ever made?
Well, I guess that depends on what Cameron churns out with Avatar, but if not most expensive, potentially the most financially risky art film, or what Aronofsky’s The Fountain COULD have been had Pitt stayed on. It’s vulgar to talk money when speaking of genius, so I will drop the subject.
Risk or no risk, Malick’s Tree of Life remains my most anticipated film of 2009. Word is the film may make it to Cannes, here’s hoping a Toronto International Film Festival stop is in the cards as well.