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Nathan Hardisty

NRH's Final Analysis: Blade Runner

Jan 01 // Nathan Hardisty
Blade Runner is a film that seems impossible. A loose adaptation of a Philip K. Dick novel that takes a chisel to the early eighties New American Exceptionalism; blends noir with sci-fi neon edge; charts a society that has devolved, decayed and is only one twitch of a dystopia away; has an atmosphere of dread, rain whilst still having this improbable momentum and, whilst doing all of this, keeps focus on its main philosophical pincer move. What does it mean to be human? Blade Runner opens up with a view of a flickering eyeball seeing the hellish industrial landscape, with fumes and fire flaming up into the night sky. This eye has been called Orwellian by Ridley Scott, the sight of God by many critics and, by myself, a self-aware gesture that looks directly into the audience and asks for their own meanings and interpretation. Blade Runner is a film that doesn't exist in one concrete, confirmed 'canon' format; it is spread across versions and across entire generations. Much like its protagonist, it is trapped in ambiguity. Much as Deckard is neither Replicant nor Human, not truly, so too is the film not truly a 'film'. That probably reads like pretentious twaddle and you're right, it's a bit of a leap to say that Blade Runner isn't really a 'film'. I do mean it though. Blade Runner is a film that deals with the ambiguity of humanity, it's only too fitting that it itself exists across various platforms, versions and different narratives. In some, Deckard is a Replicant and in others he is not. In some, there is a happy ending and in others there is a nod of despair. It's been edited, re-cut and cut again and I doubt it'll even stop happening. Even fan-cuts of the film have become incredibly popular.  Blade Runner really is the transcendent film. Its provocative commentary, themes that all dovetail into the same literary soup and, quite especially, its visual flair all make it one of the finest efforts in storytelling full stop. It's a brave piece of work given the context of eighties political highs with a thaw in the Cold War. There's something of an air about the thing; it may be 2019 but it certainly feels like 1982 is clawing at the gates. Blade Runner is a smart thriller but its true juiciness lies in how it puts across the grandest ideas with fairly minimal effort. Roy's final speech of existentialism, which truly challenges the notions of memory and humanity, is pretty much a theatrical monologue. He speaks on the rooftops above the sheeple who mill about and seem more Replicant than the Replicants themselves; who are out in the stars living the highest of lives. Deckard himself is just a treat of a character. He doesn't state his feelings, not really, and most of his persona, emotions and even 'purpose' are all guesswork. That's what makes the film a constant joy for all of us fanatics; speculation. There's so much material to work with. Authorial intent, to me at least, is a silly avenue to take. Art is really defined by what we take away from it, and Blade Runner, to me at least, offers vast amounts of ways in which to approach its oil-painting of a rain-soaked moral wasteland. I've asked myself whether or not the film suffers any 'pure' faults in the classical sense. Performance, visual, script etc. that sort of criticism. It's hard to judge given my Vangelis-tinted glasses when approach the film but, quite frankly, I'm not sure there's any fault at all. The cinematography is mind-blowingly gorgeous, the visual effects are all blended together perfectly and, depending on your version (The Final Cut is, in my opinion, the definitive version) the narrative momentum is mostly preserved. Performance wise? Harrison Ford shows off his ability to give weight to the most mildest of scenes, Rutgur Hauer has the show of a lifetime and Sean Young, first timer, manages to show a robotic romantic quality about her character. All of them breathe depth into this beautiful beast of a film. If there is one thing to pick apart, it's how Blade Runner really 'looks' on your first viewing. Even my first viewing was full of some tepid confusion followed by a lot of extra reading. Coming back to it again and again and experiencing specific true 'peak film' moments, moments which are now completely familiar to me, is a joy that few mediums can express. Blade Runner's first viewing pales in comparison to its tenth. It's a film that deserves to be picked apart, it needs your dedication. This is not a popcorn sci-fi flick in any sense. That's what keeps me coming back. Everytime I feel my view of the film is enriched in some way. Changed. Deepened. I'm currently trying to carve out some of the pure racial and religious commentary within the film, whilst also digging up some specific writings on the special effects. Blade Runner, you might say, is one of my life projects. I 'research' it. I don't think I'll ever stop and I wanted to end Weekly Analysis showing off my enthusiasm, trying to state exactly why specific films keep me, and perhaps you, coming back again and again. Reviews often don't do the film world justice, analysis gets to meanings and the true joy that film allows us; to express ourselves within expressions. To talk about the messages behind food in Pulp Fiction, to argue about the politics at play within The Dark Knight and to bask in the truth that all of cinema has to offer us. And on that note: [embed]217078:41069:0[/embed]
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"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe..."
Is there anything left for me to say about the film? I'm trying not to get ahead of myself but I'm something of a Blade Runner fanatic and, some might say, even a Blade Runner academic. I've written a book on the film, I...

NRH's Weekly Analysis: "Gatsby? What Gatsby?", Part 2

Dec 11 // Nathan Hardisty
There's a few things that I'd like to get out of the way first. The use of 3D is cheap, yeah, but the lavish sets and general 'color' of the film isn't exactly something to criticize. Fitzgerald's work is filled with lovely, beautiful imagery that seems fished right out of an oil painting. There's just a constant torrent of excitement with the right amount of detail so that you feel like your brain could just chew right into it. The film captures the palette, the feel and the real drive behind the images of the film whilst also, simultaneously, "within and without", using it as social setpiece. All the 3D, set dressings and costume designs are all piled on with beauty and detail to the point that you might begin to realize the superficial qualities behind each thread of fabric. I'm not a fan of a lot of literary analysis, and how it boxes things into contexts, symbols and themes, but if one thing's apparent from the novel it's just how everyone soaks themselves into themselves. As if transfixed by their own reflection, there's a modern retelling of Narcissus orbiting the main allegory of the American dream and romantic retreat. Luhrmann knows how to pull these strings and it's somewhat made explicit through all the noise, pop music blare and the entire 'feel' of the film that this is a world that is all thin with nothing underneath. Only Gatsby and a handful of emotions seem to show the piecemeal bits of humanity. Redford's version seems more punctuated with innocence and attempts to create a very human look at Gatsby, which isn't necessarily the more honest portrayal. Baz's Gatsby knows that it's a story filled with awful people and attempts to full throttle in showing the dirty skin behind these blackened hearts. By the end of it you can see yourself cursing and hating Tom Buchanan, whereas by the end of Redford's you're just kind of left with an empty sense of direction. Again, it's not a superior 'version'. Redford's picture shows that all of the characters are more or less hollow but because of their lack of humanity, Baz's show is one that lacks all human decency altogether. See for all of its charm and layering of 3D nonsense, Baz's film does have a heart. It's a bit hard to get a fix on but it is there somewhere in-between the nooks and crannies of the pop music and million-dollar fanfare. The flashbacks, Dicaprio's performance, the weather effects and the script all anchor this film, and its very heart, all down to some brutal truths behind the novel. There's a sense of purpose and progression. We burrow deeper in Gatsby's past and things seem to just correlate. Consequences, the meeting of narratives and so much more seem to have more depth in the Baz's film; which is ironic given it is a film presented without any depth whatsoever.  The general wishy-washy mixed reception to Baz's Gatsby doesn't puzzle me then. It's kind of hard and takes a specific 'devotion' to understand the film. Not saying that my view of the film is superior, just as Baz's 'version' of the narrative isn't 'superior', but it's different. Subjectivity is a theme constantly thrown at Gatsby and it's true of real life. Things mean different things to different people, that's a given. Baz's version has a fantastic soundtrack, great visual dressings, some stellar performances and a script that feels very serviceable. It's a comfortable film and, well, I have to see that there's something missing. That little spark, something holding it back. I suppose it's because it's never literary enough. Pieces like Gatsby's entrance, certain conversations and even the opening all feel lifted out of the book and from Fitzgerald's handwriting. The structure of the film and the framing device of Carraway's depression does however leave a lot to be desired. I'm a bit of a big fan seeing bearded Nick tremble his way through the dilapidated mansion of Gatsby's, but the film's deification of a figure that, quite frankly, deserves a lot more ambiguity and tasteful treatment is also a bit too out there. Redford's version, whilst not always excellent in translation the text, was at the very least grounded in its realities.  Gatsby? What Gatsby. Some of my personal friends ask me how I'd do the film if given the chance and there's not much to say. I just wouldn't. I think I'd rather stretch it out over a play but even then you're still losing the same qualities. Gatsby is different for everyone, it's why it's such an immortal story. It's always giving me a new impact every time I read it too. Baz's Gatsby and the Redford version can't really be 'compared' but they can be analyzed, they can be shown to be different but not really 'better'. Baz's film is superior in technicalities but it cannot be superior in interpretation. That's all subjective. Every generation gets the Gatsby it deserves. That's what Bret Easton Ellis thinks and, quite frankly, he's right. In that case I can't wait to see what the future holds for this silly tale about a man trying to get over his own memories that, to many people, means a whole lot more than that.
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... the man in the cool beautiful shirts
[Many apologies for the delays. Personal business. Hospital visit. That sort of thing. Many sorries. We're on Wednesdays now too!] Leonardo Dicaprio's entrance in The Great Gatsby is as perfect of an 'adapted' moment as ...

NRH's Weekly Analysis: "Gatsby? What Gatsby?", Part 1

Nov 24 // Nathan Hardisty
The Great Gatsby isn't the most innocent of tales in the world. It involves sex, alcohol, tragedy, decay, the dead notion of the American dream and giant wastes of ashes lying in-between the 'Eggs' of New York. The Redford version, however, seems to find some kind of innocence in all of it all. It might be the charming cinematography or the 'feel' of that kind of old-fashioned filmmaking, it's heavily archaic for its time, but it manages to do something that no other Gatsby does. It tells the story without the darker truths. That isn't to say there aren't a few nods to the existentialist dread, the romantic tragedy and genuinely darker streaks of the novel. Redford's Gatsby is, however, more conscious of its time. It's from the early seventies in which, for the most part, America was facing towards its reputation being increasingly marginalized. Google 'American malaise' and you'll see what Gatsby might've been foreshadowing. The film is still, for the most part, upbeat in its pacing. Redford's Gatsby seems removed of any of the contextual coloring that makes Dicaprio's that much more fierce and, in some respects, more liberal. It's a pretty easy comment to make but, well, it's true. Redford's is removed of most of the superficial fancy that makes the Dicaprio version so distinct. There's a much more punctually realistic texture to Redford's film that some might say gives it more of a bite and an edge over the flimsy-two-dimensional CGI spectacle of Dicaprio's. We'll come to that on Wednesday though. Redford's, for the most part, is arguably the most 'faithful' to the film's plot whereas Dicaprio's may be more 'faithful' to its themes. Structural points aside, Redford's also has the pleasure of some quite fine actors. Mia Farrow is practically Daisy Buchanan anyways and Redford manages to capture a true sense of soul with Gatsby, placing on some kind of romantic weight and self-consciousness that Dicaprio's twinged-tragic melodrama could never capture. All the performances of both respective films manage to reinforce the cores of each. With Redford it's the more flowery fancy, more innocent in its purpose. With Dicaprio it's of a more sinister flavor hidden under a thin veil of spectacle. The general set dressing of each film is quite appropriate to its times. Bret Easton Ellis says that each generation "gets the Gatsby it deserves". With the Redford version there is, and this is a safe thing to say I think, a greater sense of filmic 'purpose'. It is a very long film and it prides itself in its ability to draw out some of the greater conversations and pieces within the novel. What Redford's version achieves unlike any other version is its ability to ask the audience to sink into this world. That's probably why it's such a dividing film to begin with, it asks a lot more of its audience than any other adaptation. It'd be kind of a drag to discuss film and psychology and perhaps that's best left for another time, or another column, or another book entirely. Redford's version is worth a visit now and then I think. It might need achieve what the Leo version sets out to do but they're both vying for different things. They're chasing different reflections of Fitzgerald's great green light. 
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You always look so cool...
The Great Gatsby is undoubtedly one of the finest works of literature. To really sell it short: it's probably the most 'honest' tragedy of human hubris, love and dreams. It's filled to the brim with too much deliciousnes...

Review: The Day of the Doctor

Nov 24 // Nathan Hardisty
[embed]216897:40952:0[/embed] The Day of the DoctorDirector: Nick HurranRelease Date: November 23, 2013 (UK & US), November 25 (US Extra Screenings)Rating: PG (UK), PG-13 (US) Giving away too much plot would be giving away some of this show's greatest surprises. I'll try to avoid spoilers. The Day of the Doctor follows a story in which The Doctor (Matt Smith), The Doctor (David Tennant) and the mysterious Other Doctor (John Hurt) are all drafted in from 2013, 1592 and some other time and place in order to do a thing which will do a thing. That's about as vague as it gets. Clara (Jenna Louise-Coleman), Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) also appear to help the Doctors do a thing. There's classical references abound, a plot that spans throughout the Doctor's psyche and one that really probes at the bridge between New and Old Who unlike any other story before. It truly is a treat of a story. All of this groundwork means we just get to see Matt Smith, John Hurt and David Tennant bounce off've each other with their other worldly wordy glory. It truly is just a straight joy, and the real draw of the film, that we get to see this triumvirate actor chemistry be the forefront of the whole affair. It helps too that the script is full with so much heart and laughter that, genuinely, you'll find yourself just wishing that they hang out just for a few more minutes. All the surprises, especially a certain one which had me fangirl shrieking over the whole cinema, hit their marks and there's some which are so left-field they seem out of a completely different dimension entirely. In fact the whole affair is pretty much jelly babies and rice pudding. It's has the same epic-grand scale of End of Time, it actually has a budget beyond a kettle and a piece of string, and it knows it too. Whilst comfortably blowing up everything and everything else, whilst the Doctors do a thing, it's still comfortable in exploring some of the darker, unexplored territories. We also get a few explanations, plot concrete and other things which all feel genuine and real. There's a certain rationalization of the Doctor's entire character, about nine words, that hits right into the fan feels and drastically alters your perception of the last twenty years of Whodom. The whole story, in a way, changes Doctor Who retroactively in a way that, I at least, found satisfying and had a sense of the future in its delivery. It's, however, not all love and monsters. There's a few spanners thrown in the works with a few of the plot sequences. It's also safe to say that the multi-Doctor story doesn't go the whole hog, you'll see what I mean, but there's still some emotional moments. The last beats of the picture will probably cause a few rifts but I found the final image to be incredibly beautiful, one that I had to see under the covers of my sobs and dreadful tears. This story finally captures, in all its fourth-wall breaking beauty, the truth behind what it means to love the show and what it means to be a Whovian. It's a shame, however, that it doesn't manage to amp it up. There's a lot of skimming over potential great 'bits' that bring the whole affair down a notch. For instance, Billie Piper's Rose is incredibly under-used. Billie shows of a side of her acting repertoire we've never seen but, quite frankly, it's used in an isolated way and doesn't feel deserved. Clara, as well, also seems 'significant' but in that odd, 'not significant' way. Perhaps it's the little dialogue she gets or how she seems to influence the story only when the plot deems it necessary. It's that same 'female characters are always secondary' writing style that Steven Moffat hasn't broken out of. It's a shame, too, because both Billie and Jenna are arguably some of the best parts to the whole show. The other secondary cast members, most of them female, are also regulated to 'advance the plot' duty which is a shame given they still show off a lot. Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt? Exceptional. Each of them in their own right. Matt Smith's bonkers childish glee and energy just bounce throughout the room. John Hurt's grandad-ness manages an adorable duty to the point of which you just grin from ear to ear at the end of every single one of his utterances. The only weak point is Tennant who isn't quite given the 'Tenth Doctor' material that he needs. In conversation, however, he's able to jump off of every single sentence and help do the thing. I remember my first time watching Doctor Who and this feels a lot like it. Seeing some big eared chap jump about whilst holding hands with a pretty blonde and fighting alien monsters. It was different, it was special. I remember giggling, I remember being stunned but, most of all, I remember feeling a homely sense. That true sense in which you can connect to a show, to a series of characters and things which aren't real... but they are. It's that connection to 'genuine' fiction that makes all of the terrible films, all of the dreadful television and the empty fiction that much worthwhile, because once every so often, under a TARDIS-shaped moon, there's magic to be had. I got that homely feeling with Day of the Doctor. For all its niggles, odd plotting and under-used stuffs, it manages to capture the warmth of being a Whovian in this day and age; it feels like a genuine effort of past, present and future.  
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50 years of time, space and jelly babies.
Fifty years. I can't imagine what this means to people who tuned in to November 23rd, 1963 and watched The Unearthly Child play out. I can't imagine what this means to people who've followed it for more than a decade. I ...

NRH's Weekly Analysis: Doctor What?

Nov 11 // Nathan Hardisty
Doctor Who is something of an elusive mystery to me. Past heartbreak, poor plot devising, structural deficits and ham-fisted writing I still have to stick with it. It's one of those few affinities from Star Wars to Star Trek to Marvel to DC to any-insert-fictional-mythology-here that just sticks to your brain. I have DVDs of the classics still to get through, Saturdays (when the series returns every year) become sacred and I still have the same rituals. Digestives and a cup of tea. It's one of the most British things I do for someone who considers him the least-British British citizen. When you watch Doctor Who, the TV movie, there's a more mumbled way of 'watching' it. I had to have multiple cups of tea and quickly ran out of digestives anyway. It's one of the reasons why I think that it really is of a completely different breed to the television series; its very length demands a different kind of 'viewing'. There is also a very distinct Americanized flavour to the whole affair. The British core is still preserved, thankfully, but the film was part of a BBC America campaign to resuscitate the classic series in the lands of our Atlantic brethren. In many respects it's a shame it didn't succeed and, well, if the film was meant to be a model for a television serial then you can be quite thankful. See, the film understands The Doctor. It gets his mysterious power and it gets the chronology. It zooms through the concepts that underpin the show, from regeneration to TARDIS, and throws characters and references aplenty. Even its bits that upset the canon, such as when the Doctor mentions he's half-human, they're all there with a specific targeted purpose. Bring back Doctor Who in all of its labyrinthine g-lore-y. It succeeds, but it doesn't excel. There's no promises here. If anything it's quite vacant of a film.  It's still a very enjoyable picture and you have to imagine the impact it might've had. To many of young Whovians such an experience is unparalleled. A long-dead beloved show, that you clutch to your hearts, getting a good effort at revival that then just fizzles out completely. The closest we'll get to it is The Day of the Doctor, the upcoming 50th anniversary feature film celebration. That thing, however, is a film concocted in the Doctor Who of today which is incredibly successful and transnational.  This is my argument though. Without the TV movie, without a prod at the sleeping mammoth, the TV series doesn't come back at all. Yes it was a failed effort. McGann was an incredibly competent Doctor, managing to get the true heroic heart out in the centre-stage. The general atmosphere, however Americanized, still brims with the same familiar hums. It's something of a liminal step between the old Who and new Who. It's got that cheap nineties feel, even though it's production values are through the Who-roofs, but it's also got that optimism and general sense of concrete self-awareness. That's what new Who is about, to me at least, it's a constant dipping back into the past. It's a lot like the experience of life; having to constantly remember the self. That's partially the philosophical allure of Doctor Who and the TV movie 'gets' it too. There's some great touches of respect, some mis-steps though, but the TV movie does get that Doctor Who is an ever-constant amalgamation of its past. It's a bit quantum in some respects. The TV film also manages to inject some spliced DNA of the Hollywood machine. There's some fighty bits, runny-about bits and the general pushing and shoving into making it more an epic affair. The story is still quite fun, bubbly and doesn't dive into a boring lore-fest for newcomers. It's the quality I most admirer about the film. As said in the beginning you kinda need to be 'in the know how' to 'get' this analysis, to understand it. It may seem like some vague language but a lot of it is familiar to any fan, be they youngling or older. Doctor Who is a time travelling science-fiction something or other that is still touches and delights past its times. The film manages to feel like an opening for new folk whilst a homecoming for others. It's a quality that so few films of its kind manages to achieve. Hypothetically, if this didn't exist, I can't see the BBC taking another leap forward. The TV film didn't rejuvenate the series as a 'Second Coming' affair. That would come later. It did however lead to audiobooks, comics, little stories and a very nice shove into a universe that had been long at rest. Its impact was something of an underground affair, a bubbling catalyst under the cultural skin of the television planet. It took a long while for it to finally burst but, when it did, it came with all its tricks and old-agedness.  Doctor Who, the TV movie, is the definition of overlooked. It quite frankly deserves a re-watch for any Whovian who doubts its impact. The very springs of New Who can be found in its filmic fabric. With the 50th coming up too, it's pretty easy to say that this is a better time than any to dive into the beginnings of McGann's Doctor; the Doctor that could've been.
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Indulge me.
Ah. Hello. Terribly sorry to about ninety-percent of people who click on these things. Unfortunately a lot of this will depend on you having watched the film and being clued in to Doctor Who. Usually with these things y'all c...

NRH's Weekly Analysis: Faith in A New Hope

Nov 04 // Nathan Hardisty
From the beginning of the story we're shown a Rebel force that is, in one word hopeless. We're shown them absolutely massacred in the face of the sweeping fist of the empire and (suddenly) then thrown into a smaller story. The story of this farmboy with big ambition, with big hopes and dreams. Hope is the central pillar of 'faith' in A New Hope, as the title implies, and it moves beyond the spiritual content to become one of the film's more profound themes."Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi you're my only hope."Ě Luke's entire journey begins with a grain of faith in old uncle Ben, that he's more than just a mad man in the mountains. He's told stories about the Clone Wars, about the mysterious rise of Vader and he's, quite naively, drawn into it. There's a quality to it all, that there's a force beyond himself. This entire one leap of faith launches Luke's journey from farmerboy to jedi; a slow to rise to ability so that he can eventually kick his dad in the shins.  Kenobi is a figure of faith, an image of hope for Leia. He is a relic of the old age in which the Jedi ruled, and he himself says that the battle against the empire would be an "Idealistic crusade." Interesting to note the point of references used in the language throughout the film. Grand Moff Tarkin and other Empire high-commanders all refer to Jedi as an "ancient religion" filled with "sorcery"Ě and Vader violently harms Admiral Motti when he calls Vader's devotion "sad", that it too has been fruitless towards the empire. Vader's infamous reply, "I find your lack of faith disturbing", cements the two views of the 'force'. It is a tool to both Jedi and Sith but, crucially, the 'force' can also be a weapon for good and for evil. Does Vader represent a certain type of religious extremism, reliant on violence rather than rhetoric? I don't think that's a good line of questioning for a film about space lasers and whatnot, but it does put into question the 'level' of faith that exists throughout the film. With 'the force' we're given some vague information on how it exists and how it moves, forget all that midichlorian bullshit, and the rest is left to 'feelings'; "search your feelings, you know it to be true". With A New Hope we're introduced to various viewpoints on faith. Han Solo's view, that he hasn't "seen anything to make him believe" in the "all-powerful force" comes from somewhat of a realist view. He does however believe in 'luck' which is, itself, still quite an irrational position. Obi-Wan's use of the sight-blocking visor to teach Luke gives it all something of a Samurai quality to it. Luke has to harness a spiritual, hidden quality in order to attain Jedi-dom.  After Obi-Wan's death things get a bit more weird. It's kind of odd how we accept some bits of film logic but disregard others; namely that of Luke hearing voices in his head. For the rest of the film Luke hears old uncle Ben and even takes his advice at one of the most crucial moments; the Death Star trench run. Luke pushes away advanced technology and instead turns to a leap of faith. It's a powerful moment and one that might have a slight didactic twist. Faith, belief, is sometimes the first step to proving something right. Although that often doesn't mean blowing up a Death Star but the method still stands; "Your eyes can deceive you, don't trust them." The battle of feelings and faith ('the force', the irrational) and the senses and logic (the rational) draws the mainlines of spiritual argument throughout the film. There is definitely a lean towards the irrational, faith-based beliefs rather than the logical take. It's interesting to see that this super steroid science-fiction fantasy is injected with a grand thematic drive, that over-rides all other themes, that is essentially ideas of faith no different than, some might say, our own. 
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"The force will be with you. Always."
I don't remember my first viewing of Star Wars. It's become so ingrained into my memory, into brain, that I can't place an exact date on my first viewing of the original trilogy. I do recall specific moments. The trench run, ...

NRH's Weekly Analysis: The ethics of Moon

Oct 28 // Nathan Hardisty
We do have to begin with some technicalities. We're told that Sam Bell's job is to aid the mining of the Moon, specifically the helium-3 resource, to which over 70% of the planet's energy now relies on. The clones that the corporation uses all have three year lifespans and the original Sam Bell, we assume, donated his very self to be the model for all clones. By the time the film's story plays out, the original Sam Bell's wife, the 'Tess', is dead. This means a lot of time has passed. On top of these technicalities are the ways in which the corporation boxes in Sam. He is fed video messages of his wife and told of a story of 'complications' on his first arrival to the Moon. This means that everytime 'he' wakes up on that medical bed is the 'first' time. The emotional manipulation, and manipulation of memory, underpins the psychological torture that the Sam Bell clones undergo. An argument can also be made that their very shelf-life is also a state of torture. The 'first' Sam Bell that we encounter actually begins to decay physically. His teeth fall out, he starts coughing up blood and other bits. The choice to make the clones have three-year existences makes some sense. How long can one human take being completely alone? The 'Sams' are essentially slaves, yes, but if they were isolated for decades on the Moon could they possibly serve their purpose without extreme mental degradation and loss of general ability. This isn't to say that the three-year lifespan is a 'kind' measure by any stretch of the imagination, but there is a definite and somewhat 'moral' logic around it. There are some bits of cruel irony that show up throughout the film. The videos show some of it, but the music track of 'I Am The One and Only', that wakes up one of the Sams, seems a bit too out of line. It is however a poke towards the audience to question the nature of being 'the one'. Would Sam, the clone, have the same rights as the original Sam Bell? He's not human in his lifespan, but he might be in his intelligence, wit and general biological endowment. Moon essentially asks us what constitutes as a 'human' being. Again, none of this is to defend the cloning practice. What has been put in place is a logical loop in which the helium-3 resource can be harvested for decades on end without any need to replace the lone workforce. Earth is pushed to a crisis and the 'ethics' of cloning are arguably irrelevant in the face of electricity shortages and a need for more resources. We're not, however, entirely clued in to the urgency of this resource. Is Sam simply being constantly cloned, constantly killed, for the sake of Earth allowing to still swallow itself whole? Does this helium-3 resource actually solve anything? Although that's then asking the question of the 'weight' of Sam's life. Is all of the clones, or even just one of them, worth the price of admission. In short; is one death worth the security of a whole lot more.  Cogito ergo sum. I think therefore I am. Blade Runner mentions this fact when the Replicants are discussing consciousness but such practice also applies to Moon. All of this talk of the ethics of cloning, which may or may not be the result of a harsh crisis facing humanity, kind of overlooks the true victim of the film: Gerty. Gerty volunteers to have all of his memories wiped, to just have his entire slate, probably including his 'affection' for Sam, just wiped completely. Sam Bell is constantly lost, constantly killed in all his iterations, but the lone Gerty restarts from the beginning. Although then we're getting into whether or not Gerty is actually worth as much as a human life. These are all sort of vague explorations of the questions that Moon asks and there's a clear thing that Sam Bell says: "We're not programmed" and "We're people". Sam essentially posits the question of free will versus determinism. Is he, by virtue of being a clone, 'programmed' just like his biology and genetic structure is. Will he act exactly like the original Sam Bell in all capacity, or does his biology have no sway over his 'free' will. The 'first' Sam Bell's choice to sacrifice himself shows a sense of freedom in the film's ethical psychology but, truly, this is a question left to ourselves. What is free will and what is a 'people' in the first place. Moon asks a lot. There are no true answers to what it philosophically asks and all my vague exploration can't answer any of it. I do hope however I've unearthed some of the ethical implications of this film's very tricky format. Its one-man show format, focused entirely upon one psychology (or is it psychologies?) is an angle rarely used in science-fiction. The isolation of humanity is often great territory for exploring a whole lot of juicy themes but, in Moon, it's used to explore the morality of cloning and other tangential topics of ethics. Truthfully, though, the empty answers of Moon are deliberate so as to let you make up your mind. It truly is a wonderful film in that it doesn't leave you nodding and 'satisfied' for a fleeting moment, but lingers a lot longer to make you think.
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Ground control to Major Tom...
Moon is an incredible overlooked modern masterpiece. It's probably one of the bravest efforts of science fiction in the last twenty years and most definitely a near-spiritual love letter to Kubrick's magnum opus of 2001 ...

NRH's Weekly Analysis: Nihilism in Falling Down

Oct 21 // Nathan Hardisty
Falling Down starts in a space of stagnancy. Trapped on a highway in congested traffic, something ripped out of our everyday life. The hero - William - looks around and finds decay, white noise and nothing to really cling on to. A fly buzzes about the car and there's a palpable sense of the Summer's humidity. He's drowning in absolute stagnation and so, as you do, he decides to betray the billboards, to betray the advertisements. 'Freedom'. We'll soon find out William works for a 'd-fens' company, specializing in missile technology. He seems to find, in this moment, that there's nothing truly worthwhile fighting for. The anarchy that follows is near comical. Some people read Falling Down as the epitome of 'black comedy' and it's easy to see why. William walks into a shop, picks up a coke can, letting it numb his mind, and is then outraged at its price. He still, to his credit, still pays the exact price negotiated, even saying it was a "pleasure frequenting your establishment". In the tussle however, quite blatantly, he bashes some American flags down on to the floor. It's a pretty explicit hit at the truth behind the fragility of American nationalism; that the society itself is held together by literally paper-thin ideology and patchwork symbology. This is what I think is the point of Falling Down, it shows us the truth behind how the flags and imagery are simple props that people cling on to in a world devoid of meaning and sanity. On the flip side of Falling Down we're treated to the story of Prendergast, a man mere inches away from his retirement. We learn soon enough that he's doing it reluctantly out of the half-love of his wife. He is, however, mocked and put down by his co-workers - "watch out for paper cuts!" - and any effort of police work he attempts is met by shrugging off and belittlement. At one point, when describing William's appearance, someone says that he looks "just like" Prendergast's attire. The duality of the men, that either of them could have had this mental breakdown, is what Falling Down also rests upon. Both the prop of nationalism and the potential volatility of everybody. William's journey isn't exactly glorified but it is given a sense of certain dark heroism. He acquires more power as the story progresses, a baseball bat, an uzi, more weapons, army gear and so on. At the start of Prendergast's story, however, he is stripped of his handgun. He is marginalized into a position of powerlessness. The film does gloss over some of the biggest expressions of power, such as when William fires a bloody rocket launcher (after being taught, hilariously, by a child how to fire it) but it's otherwise stated that those who escape society, who reveal its artifice, seem to have more fun and freedom than those who do not. Both Prendergast and William have lost their children, to different forces. Children are used throughout as a device to show the true 'decay' of society. They fire water pistols, practice war games and know how to use rocket launchers. They even try and answer a mad man's question, when William is 'shooting' up the fast food joint. During the fast food scene William makes the point that the burger he gets looks nothing like the "juicy" one seen in the advertisements. He sees America as the created fable that it is, existence being simple nihilistic jelly. None of this is practically true, by the way. Falling Down is a black comedy that stretches a social commentary about the stagnancy and pointlessness behind the modern American dream and moulds it into a caricatured nightmare. It's a great film but, well, I've never said this in a Weekly Analysis, it goes beyond its own means. It's a great exploration of some nihilistic thematics but when we're being shoved bullets, class-conflict and literal Nazis into our faces then it's kinda discomforting to argue that this a film well-versed in the art of subtlety. It's a comedy though and I guess that keeps it from being a dreadful misfire of social cynicism. "If everybody will get out of my way nobody will get hurt". William challenges Prendergast, in his final moments, as to who is the exact 'bad guy'. He's a divorced man trying to see his child on her birthday. The film is a constant tug of wag of sympathy with the rope stitched out of sheer nihilism. Everyone but Prendergast and William seems to see nothing wrong with the world and, well, we're asked if there is indeed anything. Are we falling apart? Are their views on how truly 'broken' society is actually broken in and of themselves? Falling Down asks some important questions about our modern day existence and the transition of humanity into this nine-to-five creature that prays for the weekends to come quicker. It resonates deeply with office life, modern stagnancy and, as we've explored, nihilistic philosophy. There is, however, a profound point to be found underneath the rubble of all this pointless business. Children, life, food, pleasure - all of these things are found to be worthwhile. Prendergast finds joy in victories and William seeks out his children. Even these men are able to find hopeful shards in their respective broken worlds.
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Are we falling apart?
To me, at least, it came as a surprise that Joel 'Batman & Robin' Schumacher directed Falling Down. Falling Down, for the most part, is a very high-voltage social piece set within the confines of one man man's lone journe...

NRH's Weekly Analysis: Children of Men, Part 3

Oct 14 // Nathan Hardisty
The film actually begins with the loss of a last drop of hope. Baby Diego dies as Theo grabs a coffee, before the entire shop explodes. He'll letter ask the Fishes about the bombings, who'll tell him that it's the "government" who are responsible. This back and forth persecution soon starts to revolve around Kee's baby, about using her as a keystone of the 'uprising'. All such language is oddly reminiscent of 1984's Brotherhood which, by the end of that novel, we're not sure in what form it entirely exists. We're also not sure in which ways the Fishes operate (are they international or just national?) or even how the Human Project works. It's all based on whispers, something Theo points out. As Theo walks around his office we see all of his colleagues adorning union jack paraphenallia to their desks. This bout of nationalist symbolism floods the film's background noise, even invading Theo's own shirt. By the time the iconic 'London' is plastered on Theo, however, the nation state has been revealed as a dead dusty ruse. All the grander references to British history (Battersea Power Station, Buckingham Palace road, the Union Jack etc.) are all shown to be some kind of pathetic ledge to which all humanity seems to cling on to.  1984 also detailed a world in which language and literature are being constantly rewritten. He who controls the present controls the past. He who controls the past controls the future. We're not sure if the entire 'WORLD HAS COLLAPSED', if indeed Britain could be the last bastion of humanity. All the iconography and blind worship to falsehoods may be a slight reference to the grander 'Party' in 1984. The police state and its hateful control, migrants are rounded up in cages to be (eventually) slaughtered, is also a bit of a point toward's the Thoughtpolice and the brutal realities of Winston Smith's world. Language, 'newspeak' in 1984, also crops up in Children of Men. A sign of a great science-fiction universe is when words are created that feel fluid and real. Children of Men has its Fishes, "fugees" and "cod"s. All of the new lexicon of Children of Men can be traced back to the real world. There's a sense that the language and literature of this world is indeed slowly dying, but there's a bit of grim humor - "cod" - in the final breaths. More apparent is, as Theo says, "a hundred years from now there won't be one sad fuck to look at any of this". All the classical arts and fancy words will soon dissolve into nothing. Michelangelo's David stands in Battersea Power Station, there's a blimp of a pig flying above London and all remnants of the arts seem to lose their places in history. This is a twisted, near impossible vision of a world just a drop away from ours. Even love, such as the one shared between Julia (a name derived, perhaps, from the central female protagonist of 1984) and Theo. Julia will die and Theo, even though he is "one [in] hundreds" will die too. Children of Men is something of a salute to inevitability and its turning tides, but underneath its existentialist and socialist fingernails there's the grit of Orwellianism to be found. A lot of the police state is background noise of hidden behind windows, still lurching in plain sight. Much like the dog and woman, "Jesus Christ" and other instances, Theo's journey is full of symmetry. In the Orwell case there are two dogs that guard Michelangelo's David at the start, just as the two policemen die following Julia's death. The last vanguards of the old worlds. There's a lot more to be said. Surveillance, the protests, the military response to the uprising and the obvious press censorship. The propaganda that flushes into Theo's world is worth some talk too. All of this, however, is a testament to the true beauty behind Children of Men. It honestly is probably the best science-fiction film since Blade Runner, and the best film of the last ten years. Children of Men is about the collapse of a society and it covers the political struggle, the death of the classical world, the evolution of heroism and the final beats of hopelessness. It really is a monumental achievement in storytelling. From the experimental long-takes, which perpetually ramp up the intensity, to the grandiose philosophies all at play.  I could probably write a lot more about the cinematography, the tertiary characters, the presentation of love, the Freudian and Jungian psychological dynamics and all kinds of different topics. Children of Men is a film best remembered. I prefer to keep an image of it in my head; the image of the end. Mankind's last mother sitting lonely on a rowing boat waiting for Tomorrow as the last hero of the apocalypse succumbs to a bullet wound by the man who murdered his loves and friends. The lifeless lump of Theo, however, still marches on. Still marches on, crowned a hero... in the court of the crimson king.
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On soft gray mornings widows cryThe wise men share a joke;I run to grasp divining signsTo satisfy the hoax. In the Court of the Crimson King - King Crimson  Children of Men, as we've discussed, is a film that's ab...

NRH's Weekly Analysis: Children of Men, Part 2

Oct 07 // Nathan Hardisty
Obviously this is odd talk but I'd like to use it to launch an entire essay dedicated to clothing in Children of Men, particularly Theo's. Throughout the film, which takes place over a series of a few days, Theo's wardrobe shifts and changes alongside the story beats. In some ways the wool that he carries can tell us more about the film's mental state than the actual cinematography. Really, though, Children of Men is one giant cohesive yarn of a storytelling experience; all elements are in cahoots with each other to maximize the events at play. We begin seeing Theo clad in typical work suit jacket and tie, removed completely of color. It's nothing that special and seems almost 'Winston Smith' in its vibe. It's quite generic, he floats alongside all the other robotic humans. He looks just like fodder, even when he's almost blown up in the film's opener. As we discussed last week, however, this is a hero's journey. The events of the film re-awaken Theo's faith in humanity and, at the start, his clothes no faith at all. If anything they show flat obedience to the government identity; removed of humor, heart, soul or any identifiable 'human' trait. Theo dresses simply to work, not for himself. What happens after his 'kidnapping' is a test of mental metal. Theo finds the world slowly shaping him towards a foreign goal, and seems to take one small step forward. He wears a different suit for the occasion with his cousin. It's a very smart dinner jacket, correct and black and white. It's all incredibly formal, arguably a natural evolution from his work clothes. Theo is however evolving both in wardrobe and mind, becoming more comfortable with the idea of being more involved in the 'Human Project' escapade. What radically changes his wardrobe is Julian's death. Following this he's told "I don't think those bloodstains will wash off" after he changes. Theo still however dresses for the thematic occasion. His new wardrobe is a dead shirt and some trousers, far removed from the 'formal' Theo that we're used to seeing. This is the slow, steady descent of Theo into the madness of his hero's journey, this is where he slowly falls (mentally). One of my favorite shots of the entire picture is the little kitten clawing up at Theo's trousers. Life is literally clinging on to him. After leaving the Fishes farm and going to Jasper's there's another change in wardrobe. Quite a detour from formality altogether. The iconic 'London 2012' Olympics shirt is put on here, drab black background too. 'London 2012' represents a false future and an unnerving prophecy, where once the very bastion of entertainment shone bright now there lies just death and decay. What's the point in the hundred metre run if babies can't be born? The film was made before the 'London 2012' bid was actually successful, and Theo wears this shirt of disturbing coincidence all throughout the film. Even covered in blood by the picture's end, showing a twisted future that's just a little Butterfly Effect away. The clothing most definitely backs up the film's core thesis on the decay of humanity and the truth behind an apocalypse. It's also worth pointing out that Theo's coat, which travels with him throughout most of the film, is oddly reminiscent of a trenchcoat. He uses it to help give birth to Dylan, before getting a much more bulkier version. Arguably he's putting on his war armor for the final stretch, but it's probably worth pointing out it may be something more of a genre salute. Rick Deckard, that name ring a bell? The trench-coated hero who's given a chance at humanity. Kinda reminds you of a certain masterpiece dunnit? All of these clothing changes are consistent with the film's changing thematic atmosphere. Theo puts on clothes at every turning point in the narrative, layering on prophecy and showing how his very surface appearance has changed in line with his commitment to saving humanity. Like a Knight in shining armor. What may be the strongest and most predominant costume change is his footwear. He puts on sandals at Jaspers, it's somewhat hilarious to think of a hero running about in them. The sandals probably have biblical resonances, as well as showing how naked and vulnerable that Theo's mind is slowly becoming. The second change in footwear happens with nary a word about the shoes, Theo doesn't ask for them at all, but some migrant soldier just gives him a pair of trainers. This is likely for him to be able to run about, to gain some confidence in his final fight. In reality I think both changes in footwear are completely in line with the plot points of escape. At Jasper's he is escaping from the Fishes (and embodying the full Joseph role in the Christian allegory) and in the second change the boat has just been secured, hence why he's given new footwear to take the final steps.  Clothing in Children of Men means just as much as camera movements. As Theo sheds the years of built up misanthropic pessimism, so too does he layer on new pieces of faith in humanity. He adapts and gains confidence in both his morals and his footwear, whilst also finding touches of Rick Deckard slowly slide into the sci-fi mixture. Clothes can tell us a lot about characters and, in Children of Men's case, can help us chart the very narrative journey of the film.
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"Shirt, fit?"
The gardener plants an evergreen Whilst trampling on a flower. I chase the wind of a prism ship To taste the sweet and sour.  In the Court of the Crimson King - King Crimson  Clothing. That's a...

NRH's Weekly Analysis: Children of Men, Part 1

Sep 30 // Nathan Hardisty
Theo's tumultuous journey into the heart of dark humanity is what truly sells the film. Off him splinters the film's biblical resonances, its dark postmodernist thematics, its sexual themes and even its very atmosphere and score. Everything hangs underneath Theo's journey to, as Jasper tells us later on, reclaim his "faith" from the hands of "chance". Theo starts the journey thinking any hope of a cure is false anyway, "doesn't matter, too late, world went to shit anyway", and then by the end is peddling and ferrying to get the last grain of human future out into the lands of tomorrow. It is Theo's reclamation of his faith in humanity to which the picture balances itself upon, his death translates to, essentially, a sacrifice for humanity. One interesting thing to note is to where his death comes from. I understand I'm backpedalling through the film's narrative but, bear with me, the bullet that kills Theo comes from Luke. The amount of Christian names also helps to sell the film's biblical parallels, but it's a harsher truth that Luke is practically the destroyer of Theo's world. He, both directly and indirectly, has a hand in Julian's death, Jasper's death and the murder of all of Theo's allies before Theo himself. Luke is practically the figurehead for a different corner of the film; its politics. Luke sees the baby as a prop, a flag, to be used to spill about the uprising against the Orwellian-tide. His pragmatism, that the Human Project is probably a sunken dream, is the third point of the "faith" and "chance" triangle that the film balances itself on; logic. Theo orbits the idea of logic too. He argues with Miriam about the "mirrors", he tries "not to think" about death, he gets dragged into the Kee job for only a "couple more grand" and when things grow tough he chooses to "go back" to London. It's only the very sight of Kee's pregnancy that stirs some sense of heroism, some sense of humanity, underneath the black canvas of hopelessness. The film takes us from the pits of a nihilistic apocalyptic dystopia, a social sludge that rests alongside Orwell and Huxley's feverish nightmares, and slowly chips hope back into itself.  Luke, the fountain of all of Theo's bloodshed, is practically the great temptation of the film. He is an image of a more pragmatic, the more logical, approach to the dilemma of Kee's pregnancy. Both Syd and Theo mutter "Jesus Christ" when Kee is born, imbuing the baby with a different quality. There are elements of logic, Luke's flag, elements of faith, "Jesus Christ" and (chance too) Kee "[doesn't] know" how the baby happened in the first place. There's tons of other biblical imagery too from Theo's sandals to the waters to the "Fishes". The film is practically one giant mish-mash of Christian allegory. It's also a film with a lot of soul and a sense of great history. I see the film as more of a journey through the past in search of a deeper truth about humanity; that it's always survived. There are symbols of the present  - 'Protect Britain', the omnipresent Union Jack flag and Battersea Power Station - and there are pieces of the past. Dylan is born from a black woman, whose ethnicity calls back the very origin of humanity. Theo wears sandals, cries in forests, hurries about Soviet bloc buildings and finally struggles through a tunnel of water adorned with cave painting iconography. The recurring surrealist art and architecture, both in his cousin's apartment and the Soviet bloc building, the women with the dogs; Theo's entire journey is looped with symmetry within itself. These pieces are constant but what changes is Theo's faith, in his refusal of logic and escape of chance. If we want to try and take the biblical allegory literally then we can see the entire film being about the birth of "Tomorrow" and the very origin of a Christendom. Theo is essentially Joseph in the Jesus equation. He is tasked by the Virgin Mary (a mysterious female whose memory he hangs to like a "ball and chain") to deliver a child to a better future towards Bethlehem (the 'Tomorrow' at Bexhill) even at great cost. The child is revealed to him in a manger - "Jesus Christ" - (Kee shows her pregnancy in a barn) and, to make sure the child is safe must keep him hidden (against the conspiring forces). Eventually the myth is born (the refugee camp, the 'last' shelter could also be seen as the manger) and Joseph's role is complete, he secures Christendom at the cost of his own masculinity (in Children of Men's world it is either in war or, in Theo's case, death). The child will become a symbol, like Luke intended, but it is the inverse of the Christendom myth. Its very birth, not death, is the cleanser of humanity's blood and sin ridden moral pores. The child, Dylan, is also a woman with a fairly androgynous name; this fully modernizes the birth of Jesus in neo-Christian allegory. Theo is a protagonist faced with biblical responsibility and one at the center of a triangular grudge match between forces of logic, faith and chance. Ultimately he dies out of chance but manages to secure his life was one of faith. He is, in many ways, the film's main device of prophecy. Even his very shirt, London 2012 and the Olympics flame, is a poignant ever present reminder of a possibly dead future. Children of Men is indeed a mirror of another time that just seems a breath away from a world like our own. The 'Olympics' shirt was actually just a good guess, the film made before the bid was successful, but it still stands as a greater image that slots into the dystopia prophetic metaphor.   Children of Men also has probably the greatest 'hero's journey' ever captured on film. Much like Deckard and Luke Skywalker, Theo undergoes great change and greater tragedy. His entire mental milkshake is set against a backdrop of the fringe of the apocalypse, of a police-state and social machinery that seems devoid of meaning and reasoning. This is a world where 'Last one to die please turn out the light' adorns the graffiti, where "AVOIDING FERTILITY TESTS IS A CRIME" and where the classical arts dies a slow, agonizing death; "A one hundred years from now there won't be one sad fuck to look at all this". It's also a world where Theo, the only "one of hundreds" is able to go from everyday Winston Smith to full-force Prophet.
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In the court of the crimson king.
The dance of the puppets The rusted chains of prison moons Are shattered by the sun. I walk a road, horizons change The tournament's begun.  In the Court of the Crimson King - King Crimson  Whe...

Review: Rush

Sep 26 // Nathan Hardisty
RushDirector: Ron HowardRelease Date: September 13, 2013 (UK), September 27, 2013 (US)Rating: 15 (UK), R (US) [embed]215347:39937:0[/embed] There's not much room for filler in Rush's story. It tells the tale of one of the more infamous Formula One rivalries in its history, that between James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl). Against the backdrop of the 1976 Formula One season, both sportsmen vie for the top world accolade. As family matters, personal demons and bottled troubles all come out on the race track, both men must battle both against themselves and each other in order to create a ever-lasting legacy. Hunt is famous for being the very loud playboy type, reportedly sleeping with over 5,000 women in his time on the Earth, whereas Lauda was the inverse. A mechanical, confident and very certain man; run driven by passion of the sport rather than the promise of, well, passions.  Rush is somewhat centered on exploring the truth and love behind the sport, it's one-hundred percent human drama. In the vein of Senna it probes against the very life behind the steering wheel and attempts to understand the drive, force and wit that men pour into this practice. All of this, all the championship and all the mechanics, is all in focus of setting a grander backdrop for the men to act out their great rivalry. Much like the Montagues and Capulets in Romeo and Julieti, or the Empire and Rebellion in Empire Strikes Back, an understanding of the politics and mechanics of the actual backdrop isn't necessary in buying into the drama. Humanity is on show here, not intergalactic space politics, Venetian family histories or, indeed, Formula One engineering. Ron Howard's sure touch of history, however, is still felt throughout Rush. There's a great sense of the Seventies that hangs throughout the whole picture. The hospital scenes feature, to us perhaps, primitive equipment shoved into people in order to save them. These brutal depictions are covered with a sure sense of the time, that this was the harsh reality. As Lauda watches on as Hunt goes on to win games, confined to a hospital bed, we buy into the great drama that begins to stir into him. Just as the hospital scenes are authentic, so too are the fashions, music and overall 'feel'. The Seventies foundation isn't the only anchor at play here but also the weather effects. Wind, rain, sleet and other images of 'pathetic fallacy' are instead reversed here to become genuine effects of hazard. Some of the film's most breathtaking scenes happen under the cover of torrential rain and on the racing track. Its climax, featuring POV shots and a great bounty of rain, is an intense, terrifying and, in some sense, testosterone-curdling experience. Rush packs more scares than a lot of horror fare of this year. It's still completely about the relationship between Lauda and Hunt. Thankfully the script is here to play punches and show how, as the film actually says, the best gift that you can be given, sometimes, is an enemy. We watch Lauda and Hunt evolve to become pre-eminent forces in the motorsport and the steady stream of one-liners and banter helps keep the show afloat. Sometimes the film nearly discards entire races under the guise of flash montages, so as to keep the relationship at the absolute core of the film. I wondered if this would upset a few Formula One Fanatics but, in reality, the drama and love of the sport is the element placed in the middle and, really, that's what is truly special and illuminating about the sport. These men buy into their own deaths, buy into being on the very edge of existence, and the drama that gushes from that is perfect territory for Ron Howard to (as proven) fruitfully put together a great endeavor of human drama. It sells the film too that the performances are practically perfect. Chris Hemsworth simply works as the playboy James Hunt who just leaks charm and confidence in every single muscle-bound pore, he almost seems like a retroactive extension of Hemsworth's persona itself. Brühl gives great weight to every single one of Lauda's facial expressions and his teeth deserve their own sentence. Brühl's teeth, and the make-up department, might be an actual show-stealer. Olivia Wilde shows her heart-melting face as Hunt's one-time-bride Suzy Miller, and whilst playing the glamour and beauty girl elements to a tee she also shows off her great ability to give warmth and genuine human complexity to any scene. There's also the other brief showings of folks like Christian McKay as Hemsworth's financial benefactor, who's just very bubbly. Stephen Mangan also manages to turn a few lines of a tertiary character, one of Hunt's later mechanics Alastair Caldwell, into a brilliant and very heartfelt performance. One thing I don't entirely buy into is Hemsworth's accent in some instances, it's somewhat leaking of a bit too much Downtown Abbey binge watching if I say so myself. Really, though, Ron Howard has managed to create an absolute show-stopper of a performance. Some of the cinematography is as breathtaking as Inception, the weather effects and grand time-scale turn a human rivalry into a much more epic affair in line with the likes of Gladiator and the script still bubbles like the oil of a great machine, thanks to Peter 'Frost/Nixon' Morgan. I've used up most of my automobile-based metaphors and so I'll just say it plain and simple. Rush shouldn't scare you with its subject matter, it's a great time no matter if your a petrol-blooded person or not. It's just a... a... wheel-y good time.
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Vroom vrooom?
Rush is an odd beast. On paper you'd expect some kind of mechanical, by the books ode to the motorsport with some human drama interspersed. In reality the human drama is on the absolute top of the podium with all the oth...

NRH's Weekly Analysis: Sins in American Psycho

Sep 23 // Nathan Hardisty
Pride, Wrath, Envy, Greed, Gluttony, Sloth and Lust. These concepts encircle our modern moral code and, whether atheist or not, theological teachings and 'laws' of leaked into our very code of justice. History is often the center of the moral conscience of a nation, holding up examples of merit and disgust. American Psycho portrays a world that is devoid of humanity, devoid of soul and, in short, perhaps devoid of a sense of history. There's mentions of Gorbachev and Reagan has his cheeky cameo, but history is cast aside in the face of narcissistic modern indulgence.  Patrick's pride, or rather attempts at pride, begin from the very first monologue. He proudly tells us about his New York apartment, his exercise routine and "honey almond scrub". In delightful detail he shows us his lifestyle and its greatness. Throughout the film he'll constantly mention his job, his lifestyle and his 'business'. He takes pride in his work which is kinda ironic considering we never actually see him work at all. A lot of Pat's pride is hubris given it is quickly unraveled by his arch rival 'Paul Allen'. Paul's apartment is "nicer" according to one of the prostitutes and he's able to get evening tables at Dorsia and can call the shots on who's a dork, along with having the best business card in town. Pride morphs into envy morphs into wrath in which Patrick, like any other sane human being, chooses to murder Paul rather than work hard and do something. Here his sins appear natural growths off one another, and some of them are even celebrated. The very culture he inhabits is one drenched in greed and gluttony. He and his friends drink, wine and dine their entire lives away. It's hard to call Patrick entirely 'greedy', he isn't obsessed with money or hoarding anything, but he is perhaps greedy in gobbling up opportunity. He stabs a homeless man, tortures women and generally absorbs more and more of the people around him. Patrick has a pendent of indulging in pride alongside it too, letting his eloquent music critiques flow alongside his mayhem and other sinful indulgences.  Of course this is all part of the era. The main point of American Psycho is an allegorical extension of 1980s greed, told through murderous metaphor. Wall Street gets away with killing livelihoods and the film translates this literally into Patrick Bateman getting away with murder. People just don't care in Psycho's twisted Reagan-world. It's sort of the main social point that people no longer have any moral authority and let the sins flow through the city. New York is a perfect choice for its juxtaposition of class and immorality, of wealth and moral decadence. For all of Patrick's talk of massacres and social justice, he still lets himself be caught up in the Yuppie sweep of carelessness and, indeed, sin. The main instances of lust take place during the scenes involving prostitutes. Patrick video-tapes himself and tries to act out his fantasy of being a pornographic actor, the vein of pride running alongside, and his lust reaches disgusting heights filled with coat hangers and near-hilarious lines such as "Don't just stare at it, eat it!" Patrick's lack of care and true compassion with the women in his life, how he simply discards them and says there's "Nothing else to say" after telling them they look "wonderful", reveals Patrick as but a shell of a man. This is what the eighties did to upper class-kind. Sloth isn't a main sin of the feature, that's a tough one to argue. Patrick even stresses his rigorous exercise routine and even in the chainsaw sequence he's running about. There are light touches of sloth in Patrick's final moments, and somewhat throughout, in which he seems to lazy or too deep in thought to participate in social discourse. Still, it's probably the 'least' of Patrick's sins and the film doesn't tend to harangue itself around the slothful indulgence of the upper-class; it's more concerned with wrath, pride and envy. All of this sinful one-upmanship is, as a byproduct, murdering livelihoods and killing people in the process. It's almost as if there's some kind of political point manifested out of it? Though that's for you to decide. Again, Psycho isn't a film that I'd recommend. I personally find it riveting and hilarious, it's a brilliantly crafted satire if you read it that way. The excess of sins on display showcase a world removed of moral relativity and instead focused deftly on one-upping one another through other sins. More girls, more glitz, more and more and more. The materialism, feminism and other social points are all arms of the same reminders of the Yuppies' sinful crusade. Patrick Bateman is but a device to illuminate the immoral fiber of the "Yuppie scum" and perhaps a more broader sickness of an eighties-wrapped nation.
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"Did you know that I'm utterly insane?"
American Psycho is not a film I would recommend. That sounds odd coming from someone who wrote an eBook on the film but it is the truth. American Psycho can be interesting, hilarious and thought provoking in that 'c...


JJ sez Star Wars VII will be "emotional" and buzzword

Star Trekker to take on Wars with emotion
Sep 20
// Nathan Hardisty
Our lord and savior JJ Abrams came out of the star-spangled closet to finally say some buzzwords about the Second Coming of Christ a.k.a Episode VII. The Into Darkness director said that he hopes that he will deliver an ...

NRH's Weekly Analysis: Scarface & Heisenberg

Sep 16 // Nathan Hardisty
Werner Heisenberg was a German theoretical physics who (probably) helped Hitler try to build an atomic bomb. The Nazis came dangerously close during the war. Heisenberg is probably more well known for also being Walter H. White of Breaking Bad fame, or perhaps for his 'Uncertainty Principle'. The principle is that the more we know where a particle is, the less we know how fast it's going. You cannot know both. This means that photons can behave, simultaneously, like particles and waves. The very act of human observation changes their existence; quantum theory essentially breaks the 'reality' of our world, like seeing the cracks or code of a video-game. Scarface follows Tony Montana as he slowly ascends up the ladder rungs of the coke-criminal underworld. He too, throughout many points, changes based on observation. At some points he tells us about how much he "loves kids" and doesn't act crass, crude or violent around them either. He practically sacrifices his very druglord-dom for these principles. In other parts, however, he is a brutal and disgusting man who yells at his wife and brags about his fiefdom of the Miami coke kingdom. These two men: Scarface and Montana seemingly co-exist within the same space. They change based on perception. Even from the start we have a man full of attitude - "what you call yourself, "I work a lot with my hands" - but someone with brutal ambition. A lot of the opening section is Tony questioning his friends about whether they "wanna be like a sheep?" Tony sets himself up as way ahead of the flock, and the eighties materialism could very well bleed with the quantum theory. Tony sees that "they all sound the same to me" and during the pop-song bleached sequences, in which he stares out or sits awkwardly in the Babylon club, we're led to believe that this whole world is full of bland, concrete sheep who exist only within a singular state. Tony Montana, as a protagonist, is still attractive as a character even by the end given his duality. He fluctuates between particle and wave; calm wit and total destructive. The white noise that drowns his vision when he sees his sister in danger, sexual advance or in the arms of his best friend? That's him crossing the threshold, that's when a particle can also be a wave. What goads Tony into his ambition is perhaps a breathless sense of envy and panic. He is told multiple times about how he's low-class scum, "dishwasher", "Cuban crime wave", "the help", and he questions at one point, about Frank, "what's he got that I don't have?" All Tony has is his life, his minimal criminal skill and charm. When being observed by children and folks on the beach, he is jovial and makes fun of his best friend's attempts with a female. When he's handcuffed to the rail of a bathtub while his friend is chainsawed up in front of him, he literally spits in the face of death. Tony is confident in both states, but his level of violence and numbness to the excessive changes dramatically. It's not just Tony who changes upon observation either but also brief moments involving other characters. While Manny talks about his injury, the bullet that went straight "through me", Tony looks up and sees Elvira descend down a steel elevator that is practically shaped in the image of that fateful ammunition. There's symmetrical chaos, punctual poetry, to how things can change upon new observation. At first we may see love going straight "through" Tony as Elvira descends, or perhaps he is faced with the absolute symbols of the violent drug-lord lifestyle; bullets, beautiful girls and alcohol. Tony even describes, perfectly, the stages of ascension; "When you get the money, when you get the power, then you get the women." In order to 'acquire' the lifestyle he chooses to let himself be seen by criminals, to take on the culture of fear and subvert himself into the world of death. Ignoring all compassion and shrugging off family matters, he gifts his sister a whole boutique at one point, he allows himself to become soaked up in the drug-lord lifestyle. Tony chooses to see himself as the thing, that "the world is yours" but his drug-habits and former cares come back to haunt him. His care for children and his sister are his eventual downfall, even if they're elements of his leftover persona. No matter how hard Tony Montana tries, even by his Scarface end, he is still Tony Montana. Both states exist even by the end of the picture, he is both particle and wave. There's a shot in which Tony acquires Frank's power in which he is framed against a wall-length picture of a palm beach sunset. It's the very Caribbean image, and it's a reminder that Tony cannot escape his roots. He can choose to take on this power, but he will always be that "Cuban immigrant" who cares about family and children, even at the height of his being he will return to this state. "Every dog has his day" and so it is true of Tony Montana. For he can exist as both particle and wave, he cannot be both. Tony finds depression in being Scarface and loss in being himself. The ending, a coked-up suicide rush of blind violent hubris, is a punctual and fitting end to the unstable destructive being. Quantum theory can tell us a lot about humanity and Tony-Scarface is one of the many lenses we can use to see our own visage. We too exist in multiple states, but we can't escape our birth-rights. Much like Gatsby and many other American classics, we always come home.
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Quantum physics and Tony Montana
Scarface doesn't exactly breathe quantum physics theory now does it? It is practically eighties tragedy incorporated complete with synth and cocaine. When I think of Scarface I do think of the setting, the slow dism...

NRH's Weekly Analysis: Senna's human drama

Sep 09 // Nathan Hardisty
The stage for Senna isn't a boxing ring or grand set, it's the race track. On this place so many players perform their part and build points towards their goals and dreams and aspirations. Senna's absolute belief in God is a point of battle between him and Alain Prost, who I'll discuss in a sec. An element of death hangs over the story, and if you know the tale it still seems to have been, through dramatic devices and sharp editing, intensified up to an emotional eleven. Alain believes Senna sees himself as immortal whereas Senna simply sees himself as being guided by God, that he has a greater duty both to his belief, himself, his country and his very creed to continue you on. Some of his last words we see are in discussion with someone who asks him to let them both quit and go fishing, to which he simply says that he has to carry on. A sense of honor is built by the film, through showing the truth and beauty of the sport. Long stretches of simple racing footage blend into the over-hanging audio narration from journalists, participants and pundits. A narrative is knitted and cobbled out of some beaten up footage from Brazilian talk shows to sly camera shots of office complexes. All the while honor is in the mix and Senna is constantly shown to be driven, to be caring and to be resilient. In effect he slowly becomes a hero and this may be where things take a somewhat uncomfortable turn. See, Senna is a real man. He lived and he did his racing thing. The film seems to have one hand in a biopic and another in the editor's suite trying to build a drama. To do this there's several measures taken. Footage is replayed with commentary as disputes seem to bubble upwards. To build Senna as a hero we also need a villain of sorts and this arrives in the form of Formula One politics. Even before we see Senna float about the fate of the F1 race-track he talks of the politics and its many figures populate and prod at Senna's heroism, most notable Alain Prost. For a biographical film showing people who change ever so constantly, who were humans filled with compassion and humanity and life just like ourselves, the film does a brilliant job of turning them into characters. Alain Prost is given a character arc just like any other Darth Vader or Shakespearean figure, with his name being the actual 'last' showing up in the film and its context ties up our attitudes towards Prost into a different area. I have to wonder if all of this is manipulative though, is it right to take these lives and mash them into narrative mix. Senna has its hands firmly on the film-making wheel (reel, get it?) rather than the historical one. It uses footage but for the amount it uses I wonder if there's leagues of film that was discarded in favor of building a grand heroic story. One of the film's most affecting sequences is, and this is a spoiler, his friends and family holding his racing helmet. When we all go six feet under we hope to be given our last respects. Senna's last respects were his last moments, an icon of a sport that has led to many fatalities in its history. When they hold that icon of heroism, that artifact of humanity, I wonder if it mirrors the film in a way. A constructed symbol, a monument to human drama. It doesn't make it any less true though and the human drama remains. I wonder if it's possible to get attached to a sport without any of the narrative; none of the names or faces or flags. If all the cars were blank white and all the drivers were anonymous, with no commentary, would the sport itself be worthwhile? It is pretty exciting to see things fly at hundreds of miles per hour against each other, but even attaching any kind of identity to these cars could possibly create a narrative, a tale in itself. Senna is about one story of attached human drama, masterfully tailored to create a narrative of tragedy. Of course, Senna is still a biography of sorts. It knows when to splice facts and skips years. As I said with Gasland it's difficult to argue where the history begins and where the fiction ends. Senna seems to have a perfect balance of the two, though I'm not clued in to the sport enough to truly judge. The emotional involvement I had with the film is also a point of discussion. The names and sport itself could be largely esoteric, yet none of the material ever felt isolating or unfriendly. Ron Howard's Rush releases later this week and I have to wonder whether or not it's the right way to go about this. It's probably just a 'different' way. Senna splices all kinds of historical footage and audio to creates its film, Rush simply bases itself upon the story and builds a fictional drama filled with actors and sets throughout. Senna is still, however, no less a film filled with lesser characters. Both will create stories of human drama and while it may be slightly manipulative, perhaps that's how it might always be.
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A documentary orbiting a biopic
I'm not a petrolhead. My father is pretty heavy into motorsports, Formula One in particular. I've never been grabbed by it myself but he pointed me towards Senna as an example of exactly what grabs people about the sport...


Jack Nicholson supposedly retiring... supposedly

You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?
Sep 04
// Nathan Hardisty
Oh blimey. This is pretty heavy news. A 'source' has apparently suggested that Mr Nicholson has been suffering some memory loss recently and has chosen to retire from acting altogether. Nicholson's last film last came out ove...

NRH's Weekly Analysis: Literally Lost in Translation

Sep 02 // Nathan Hardisty
Before saying or interpreting anything I'd like to just say that Bill Murray gives probably the performance of his life in the this film. His smile during the photography scenes are wrapped in layers of emotion, conversations over phones seem tangible and his wry humor manages to bleed through and punctuate the tragedy brilliantly. Scarlett Johansson, a very young Johansson might I add, manages to look like the prettiest button in the universe and also flex her respective talents as an actress. The 'smile' scene really shows off her charm and innocent attractiveness, removed of the sensuality that so many expect of her nowadays. Lost in Translation isn't a film about humor or smiles, not really, it's about love. It's about how untranslatable of a concept it truly is and how different cultures and language try to operate within the concept. The opening shot of the film takes us into some foreign neon landscape, removed of familiarity, as Japanese sentences are spoken and then seemingly spoken back again in English. Among the Eastern iconography and foreign symbols, Bob (Murray's character) spots a picture of himself holding whiskey adorned with Japanese lexicography. He wipes his eyes in disbelief that he could exist among the outside images. There's lots of shots which confirm the themes of loneliness and entrapment in a foreign world and culture. The first shot of Bob in an elevator is him, the tall American, placed at the center of a clique of short Japanese businessmen. It's lonely being the center of attention, and the drudgery of fame and talent is also stressed as a core theme. The aftermath of success and the bitterness it brings also bites into Bob's character, he references and practically laments over the films he did "in the seventies" that, now, he seems removed of color, life and, well, love. Charlotte re-ignites some kind of youthful charm in him; seen in his very clothes, language, karaoke skills and humor. Bob's first work effort has been scrutinized by a lot of film writers. He's meant to look at the camera whilst holding some whiskey. The Japanese director gives his vision of the scene to Bob, in a long-drawn out sequence all in Japanese before the translator simply says "he wants you to turn to the camera". With an ounce of effort the entire Japanese language is reduced to a simple direction. Bob even asks if he wants more from him but the quality is removed. Some things just can't be translated, just like love. Charlotte too, confused herself, tells of how she heard monks chanting but "didn't feel anything" and that, to an outsider, sometimes language (even of mystic ilk) can have no power at all. It's not just the Japanese-English translation that is a language barrier, but the barriers within the English too. Charlotte's husband laughs horribly with a woman from his past, Kelly, and there's a sense of history between them. They obnoxiously laugh and exchange small little catch-up sentences between the obvious referencing to something romantic. Charlotte, and by extension the audience, just can't tell what they're really talking about. Sometimes language can't articulate history or real emotion, it is itself a barrier to feeling and to the truth. Music is also a place of language barriers. At one point, in casual conversation, one person asks of another that they "don't listen to hip-hop?". Another point of barrier is the karaoke sequence mid-way through the film. We're clued in to the importance of this scene, but Bob's looks at Charlotte and the use of song lyrics instead of conversation might just obfuscate some meaning behind their connection. There's a barrier between us and the two character's mental states, for once we're not on the same emotional page. Then it clicks. On a second watch we see exactly the moment when Bob and Charlotte discover each other in a different light, the moment when their own idiosyncrasies and idiolects cannot unearth their real relationship. The carpet scene is probably the most bizzarre method of communicating the same themes. Bob's wife's letter reads that she likes the "burgandy", but Bob doesn't know which is "burgandy". The carpet samples fall on the floor and we're not sure either. Bob is left to pick out the color for his study without actually being anywhere near it. Color and fashion and the 'visual' cannot be communicate just by a few words, sometimes things need to be in person. This is in opposition to the role of technology that is shown throughout the film. Bob yells at a Japanese exercise machine that seems leagues ahead of him, and his own mindset seems lost in the neon wreckage of Tokyo's skyline. Picking out fashion pieces, writing letters and other 'traditions' cannot be translated; they have inherent qualities that cannot be just replicated within the modern world.  All of these methods and themes all back up the central focus of Lost in Translation, orchestrated beautifully by Sofia Coppola. There's a moment in the film where Bob flicks through the TV channels and sees his own self, in a film, and Japanese dubbing played over it. He finds himself too lost in translation. The film is about love, about how its power perhaps can't be found in art or language or in any sort of communication. We don't hear the last whispers of Bob to Charlotte because we wouldn't understand them, the whisper itself is all that comes close to describing the true and unique bond between these two people. Language barriers are sometimes worth keeping, celebrating and sometimes worth destroying for the sake of love, emotion and humanity. 
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Language barriers in this odd romance
Lost in Translation might be one of the oddest Western romance films ever made. It contains no sex scenes between the main two lovers, there's a giant age gap, there's minimal kissing and the relationship develops not th...


Bradley Cooper is... Rocket Raccoon

Um okay?
Aug 30
// Nathan Hardisty
After Vin Diesel, John Dimaggio, Neil Patrick Harris, David Tennant, and so many other rumored names, Marvel finally has a face to the voice of its Rocket Raccoon. One of the characters of the upcoming intergalactic space-cre...

NRH's Weekly Analysis: Batffleck

Aug 26 // Nathan Hardisty
When we're discussing Affleck as Batman we have to also discuss the very idea of 'roles'. Many people often dismiss actors for their lack of action or creativity, that perhaps they just read words off a page and do a little walk. It's true that so many films nowadays are populated by actors who simply don't care or are simply doing it for paychecks. I don't need to name names because you all know exactly the sort I'm talking. Ben Affleck is not in this sort of people, he truly gives a warmth and care to mostly every film he's in. A quick scan of his history reveals that he's won a few Golden Raspberry awards and nominated for a quite a few to begin with. It's very easy to dismiss Affleck when we consider his history over ten years ago with the likes of Gigli and Armageddon. I imagine he was one of those young faces who was being pushed into action hunk-stardom, perhaps against some of his better wishes. When we consider Affleck in the context of today, however, we see that he's down something of a DiCaprio. He's gone from 'teenage heartthrob' (I have no idea what that means but it's stuck) to something of a force in modern filmmaking, with some thanks to Clooney's mentoring. Who himself was Batman. He has The Town, Hollywoodland (where he, technically, played Superman) and now the 2012 Best Picture Argo under his belt. It took time for DiCaprio to reveal his true acting vernacular and the same can somewhat be said of Ben. In some respects he's been an underdog for quite some time. The likes of Armageddon and Pearl Harbor might, to be fair, make Affleck more bankable than you think. He exists within both the wider consciousness as an action prettyboy and, now at least, in most circles as an extremely talented director, writer and actor. The Michael Bay ilk and other films did at least give Affleck some box office blockbuster chops. Given the demand that the new Batman role will hold over the next holder of the cowl, well, it's kind of interesting to see the logic behind the studio decision. Someone who was at the very heart of the late-90s/early-00s blockbuster craze who has now evolved into a mature, quick-witted and constantly surprising talent. Affleck retreated from blockbusters to try and carve out his own place in filmmaking and he's done it. The Batman role is merely a tipping hat, an invitation if you will, back into a place into the blockbuster world that has itself changed and evolved. This is the logic behind hiring Affleck. He is blockbuster-knowledgeable and a very strong, creative individual. No other man can claim to have made a film about the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis and also about the hypothetical meteor-rain apocalypse. With Batman it's not just about the ability to perform but the ability to cope. Christian Bale infamously lost and gained tens of pounds inbetween each Dark Knight film, Heath Ledger sunk himself deep into the role of Joker and many other creatives within the Dark Knight universe have also sacrificed, trained and worked towards creating compelling visions of characters. Affleck has the creativity, mentality and maturity to also bulk up and research the role in mind. It just so happens to be the caped crusader this time round. One can't talk about Ben Affleck being Batman without discussing his other 'big' superhero role, besides his minor bit as Superman in Hollywoodland. I am being completely honest when I say that Daredevil is a pretty underrated film. It is still quite uninspired and shallow but it has certain charms to it. It's visually erratic and captures a chunk of realism about the Marvel mythos unlike any other superhero flick, its dark cinematography lends an air of mystique to the whole picture. The Daredevil suit and general characterization is all really washed-out, I will admit, but there's a certain atmosphere about the film that makes me still somewhat get pulled into it. Colin Farrell bemusedly playing Bullseye can't really take away from a film that manages to feel involving, and perhaps its down to the performances. The low-key charisma from Affleck and the power-play of the late Michael Clarke Duncan really does add a strange momentum to the film. Daredevil divides a lot of people, I understand that, and it isn't the 'go-to' picture in defending the Affleck casting. I could wax all day about his blockbuster chops, creative drive, mental commitment and past superhero roles but, well, I do understand the call to arms. I understood it when Ledger was cast and I understood it when Marvel hired Downey Jr. for Iron Man. There is great difficulty with change, especially when that change appears so unfamiliar and foreign to us. Brokeback Mountain and Batman? Some 90s hasbeen as goddamn Iron Man? I'm not saying that these casting decisions will always surprise and delight us but I am calling for a certain lawful reception. Affleck could be the worst Batman forever, he could bomb back into his post-blockbuster days. He is however innocent until proven guilty, but there is one aspect of is career that I will bet 'all-in' on enhancing the forthcoming film.   Alongside performing in the new Batflick, Affleck will also be co-writing the script with Goyer. Ten years ago this would appear as a tragedy but today it might be a great piece of news. To dissect Man of Steel's problems would take us an entire column but, in short, it probably comes from Snyder and Goyer's tunnel-vision view of Superman and their own action palettes. Nolan's involvement with the film reportedly ended just before filming, and he indeed voted against killing off Zod and some of the destruction. Affleck is most definitely a great screenwriter and talent who can bring a presence to the storytelling unlike any other of the talents. His films are grounded in a degree of reality, just like Snyder's, but he has a great touch of breathing humanity and humility into the likes of Argo and The Town that keeps those films grounded in emotional familiarity. I for one welcome a writer who might be able to see new ways and bridges within the DC Comics world. If the rumors are also true then we are also possibly going to see Affleck as director of Justice League on top of this. With Bryan Cranston just a press release from being Luthor and a whole host of writers and directors unannounced, Del Toro is apparently also involved, I will genuinely admit that the DC Comics side of the comic book film phenomenon might have a fighting chance against Marvel. Competition always creates greater products. With Affleck on board the DC Express there's not much to fear. There are always chances of miscasting, but I think he has the chops and ability to bring a whole new life to the greatest detective.
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Thoughts on Ben and Batman
Spoilers for Man of Steel. Christopher Nolan left behind a gap. A hole if you will. He had no interest in universe building at one point, Marvel's gigantic Avengers universe collision began just as The Dark Knight c...

Review: The World's End

Aug 22 // Nathan Hardisty
The World's EndDirector: Edgar WrightRelease Date: July 19, 2013 (UK); August 23 (US)Rating: 15 (UK), R (US) [embed]215587:40063:0[/embed] The World's End follows Gary King (Simon Pegg) as he re-unites with his best buddies to finish the Golden Mile, a 12-pub long pint-crawl through his old home town of Newton Haven. King convinces Andy (Nick Frost), Steven (Paddy Considine), Oliver (Martin 'Bilbo Baggins' Freeman) and Peter Page (Eddie Marsen) to crawl out of their perfect middle-aged lives and back into the game for one last night of pint-filled tomfoolery. All goes haywire however when the quintet find themselves embroiled in a very sticky sci-fi situation. All five of them will have to keep their wits together if they want to finish the pub crawl and make it all the way to the world's end... The World's End isn't a bad film, such suggestions would be blasphemy. In a year of disappointment from Man of Steel, just god-awfulness from The Hangover III and, well, Grown Ups 2, it's hard to suggest that a film like The World's End is any sort of 'bad'. The World's End is the 'least' of the Cornetto trilogy, yet it is still drunken head and shoulders, knees and toes above the rest of the 2013 rat pack. It's just that a great amount of the film seems to be too excessive. The same routine of idyllic landscape turned sideways, in Wright-ful fashion, seems to wear out its ways by this point. Some of the dialogue exchanges, such as stuff involving the Three Musketeers, that so explicitly point out exactly what will happen in the film seem to be callbacks to the early halves of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead which cleverly foreshadowed the events of their plots. In The World's End however it seems a bit too in the face when Martin Freeman literally jumps out into your face, and you could wish for 3D glasses, and tells you what's going to happen all for the sake for a few jokes that fall completely flat. That's the main problem holding The World's End back from true 'greatness'. A good portion of its humor seem like a few pints too far. Some of the jokes involving the disabled, the elderly and pub enfranchisement just seem way too forced. Just for some context: all of our homely and family-owned English pubs, more or less, are being bought by the same handful of big conglomerates. The film attempts linkage with its science-fiction totalitarianism state and the nationwide 'pub' franchise commentary in a bid to defend family-owned pubbery, but the links are messy at best. Make no mistake, this is still a brilliantly funny film, but its odd social commentary is a tad too blatant. The delivery of some of the gags and giggles still mean that some DOA humor manages to uplift some of the film's darker pieces. The other problem with The World's End is its main character. Simon Pegg does his best to create a, putting this bluntly, asshole that you can sympathize with. Whether or not his handiwork in crafting a sympathetic anus or not completely pays off is an entirely different question. By the end we're given different glimpses at Gary King's true humanity and compassion for his brethren, but his cock-ups and general assholery just mark him as a man who just doesn't need our sympathy. It's kind of weird that the film uses his cockery as both a prop of laughter and a prop of character, changing his character from sympathetic to douchenozzle whenever the pacing dictates. Pegg is still able to claw back some truth in Gary, and the film's main bravado seems to lie in its truths. For a Cornetto capstone it's a pretty emotional tale. The themes of time, ageing, freedom and growing up all revolve around the core set of characters, particularly Gary and his relationship with Andy, and punctuate some jets of reflection into the film. When The World's End reflects on its own history, when it indulges in the Cornetto juice, it really does excel. Even as the indulgence hits its highest peak, you're never a lick away from a fantastic line. The World's End could be called the most self-conscious film of the year and, well, there really was no other way to end this trilogy was there? Even the appearance of the fabled treat itself is timed to self-conscious perfection. The World's End abuse and celebration of genre tropes is equally brilliant. The way it completely subverts some of the sci-fi trends is always incredibly clever, at one point turning neologisms into jokes themselves. The way that Wright plays around with the action sequences always seems like a breathe away from Scott Pilgrim, and they always deliver. There are a lot of moments to celebrate with The World's End, a lot of laughs to be hard. It's why it's a tough sell to anyone outside of Wright's inner-circle of fandom. If you're jumping aboard at this moment, a damn good half of the film's wit will just glide right over your head. And then there's the ending. The final beats of the Cornetto trilogy... and they might be worth it? I'm not going to spoil but I will say that Wright and company take a grand cliched ending and create maybe the biggest laugh of the entire trilogy. It really is worthwhile and leaves you very oddly satisfied. Most of the third act is actually expertly crafted, it's the opening pieces and some of the muddled middle that really gets in the way. The film often forces itself into jokes for jokes' sake, rather than naturally flowing. Even the way it hangs around the 12-pub structure gets tiresome and clumsy by the end. It's a damn shame too, because even at its most forced the film manages to bring some great belly-rubbing laughter to the whole screen. The World's End isn't a disappointment, because the Cornetto trilogy has been consistently surprising. It is the 'least' in humor but the 'most' in heart. It's hard not to enjoy your time with this film. Grand niggles like flat jokes and Gary King might get slightly in the way, but it doesn't hold the film back from being a great old time. Out of sheer obligation to Wright and company, if you're 'one of us', then you must get these tickets in your pocket. It's been a long, weird trilogy of triumphs, and while the The World's End might be its smallest victory, it's still a very worthwhile one. It's one that deserves to be seen and drunk up in all its ale-ing majesty. Hubert Vigilla: The World's End is the weakest film in the Cornetto Trilogy. While it's hard to live up to the previous two films, by the midpoint it felt like The World's End lacked the same sort of cohesive, tightly constructed writing found in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. It's there in its own way, but this a much looser, free-wheeling film, which may or may not have been an intentional swerve. My main issue is that The World's End feels like two good movies shoved together uncomfortably, and neither is allowed to flourish. There's the pub crawl/reunion story that opens the film, which could have carried a full movie on its own given the strength of the characters and what they have to say about the dangers of nostalgia, and then there's the sudden shift into a romping sci-fi action movie full of inventive, gleeful excess. The latter isn't really borne out by the former (though the references to cultural homogenization are a nice touch, as are the little shades of Philip Kaufman's Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake) and the former soldiers on through the latter. And yet despite these flaws, The World's End is thoroughly entertaining. Maybe all of the patches and seams make it work better. The fights in the film were choreographed by Brad Allan, who previously collaborated with Edgar Wright on Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Allan was a member of the Jackie Chan Stunt Team -- he had a great pair of duels with Chan in 1999's Gorgeous -- and there are a few mint sequences here that should make his mentor proud. Given the closing notes of The World's End and one of the films it seems to reference, I guess I'm okay with the shift from day-to-day life to bananas-ness, and the movie does stick the landing even if the same can't be said for the approach. I still wonder what could have been had the two movies that comprise The World's End been given their own space to breathe, but shoved together they work well enough. 72 -- Good Alec Kubas-Meyer: I have no doubt that going in blind made my The World's End experience a whole lot better. I didn't know Simon Pegg and co. would be going on a pub crawl and I certainly didn't know that things would go sci-fi action crazy (although being a Cornetto trilogy film, I knew something was going to happen). But by going in blind, I was able to be swept up in the film, which is what I wanted out of it. I wanted to have a good time, laugh a lot, and see Simon Pegg and Nick Frost do their thing; I got that. I had a great time, I laughed almost constantly, and I would argue that the relationship between Pegg's Gary King and Frost's Andy is as interesting as anything to come out of Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz, especially in the third act. It's also a damn good looking film. But just because The World's End is the most technically accomplished film in the trilogy doesn't mean it's the best. It's not the best, although I'd say the fact that the sci-fi aspect is kind of a combination of Shaun's zombies and Hot Fuzz's small-town cults justifies its place at the end of the trilogy. I have two real problems with The World's End: the universe's inconsistent rules and the far-too-blunt climactic showdown with the sci-fi enemy in the third act. The World's End's action, while brilliantly choreographed, doesn't make a lot of sense. Sometimes, tapping someone with the cushioned end of a bar stool is enough to make them explode. When they're facing a force that's so easily destroyed (even if they don't actually get destroyed in the process), it's hard to ever worry about the characters' safety or about anything at all. They'll be fine (even if they won't). The film also beats you over the head with its themes near the end (and not in the nice tap-with-a-bar-stool way), with a series of monologues that seem to have been written so the pre-schoolers in the audience could understand what everything was about. Despite that, I still loved The World's End. It's not as good as the film that came before it (the jury's out on whether I prefer it to Shaun) but how could it have been? It's funny, action-packed, and a generally great time. I just hope this isn't the end of Pegg and Wright's working relationship. That would be the real tragedy. 80 -- Great
The World's End Review photo
The final sweet bite of the Cornetto trilogy
The World's End marks the end of the Cornetto trilogy; the long-lived British comedy love affair filled with laughs, cheers and genre bashes. With Shaun of the Dead, the low-key British film scene was imploded upon with a blo...

NRH's Weekly Analysis: Gasland and truth

Aug 19 // Nathan Hardisty
Josh Fox, the filmmaker, begins "I'm not a pessimist" and that "maybe I'll start at the beginning" before questioning himself again "no maybe..." and diving to a completely different beginning. The history of water legislation is collided with his own personal torment, in the present, over a $100,000 goldmine of a contract that lies in his hands. A documentary should inform and while the history lessons fills in the blanks it's Josh's own personal drama that's given more weight. We spend a lot of time in the company of him in his home while he is phoning natural gas companies and other contractors to try and wrangle out an interview or two. He has some inkling of the damaging effects of fracking but decides to set out to fully investigate, playing the part of a 'detective' for the rest of the feature. It's here that I'm divided on Gasland. The home scenes seem reminiscent of Supersize Me and its own emotional manipulation. At one point Josh literally says "I could feel myself getting sucked in getting deeper and deeper" and how some of the scenes "stirred up something in me". As an amateur historian I'm reminded that truth, and the pursuit of truth, may be impossible. Philosophers and historians have argued that any academic discipline, and the entire subject of history, depends upon subjective viewpoints, analysis and bias. The 'truth' may never be found; history is objective but the study of it is subjective. Does the same apply to documentary filmmaking? Pieces may be left out, and entire facts too, so that the thesis and narrative you're trying to construct can be cohesive. All humans are subject to scrutiny but truth, by definition, cannot be. Except, well, any search for truth is in itself noble. Sometimes the search itself illuminates something about humanity or some kind of deeper, emotional truth. Gasland tours the country and shows us jars, so many jars, of gloop that has become the water for some of these families. It shows us the dangers and reflects pictures of pasts, idyllic landscapes and reflective streams against near post-apocalyptic vistas of dead trees, rabbits and ruined rivers. There is weight given to these stories, to the names and to the feeling behind all of this. One victim says "it's amazing what took nature millions of years to build can be destroyed in an hour with a few pieces of heavy machinery." But there I go detailing them to be a 'victim', falling into the emotional trap. The film shows Fox's attempts to get the other side and he does gain some interviews with the political machinery that has allowed this to happen. The companies refuse to believe that their fracking has caused water to become toxic and, well, Fox shows tens of families whose lives have been affected by the mining of natural gas. Gasland uses personal stories, scores of them, in order to argue a case that natural gas fracking is a dangerous and destructive process that harms humans and the environment. None of its environmentalist call to harms ever appears as adverse or prissy either. Gasland is an odd documentary. It mixes facts with anecdotes and seems to come up with an elixir of a great argument. Like any good film it achieves a base, well-told narrative complete with odd 'dark cinematography' and some emotional depth "pains all over the body" "headaches" "didn't plan her day anymore". Yet there's an important question asked in the film. Josh is attempting to make a documentary and yet with all the editing trickery, cinematography, lighting, narrative techniques and whatnot he is still making a film. He still has to get the best possible literal view on some things and he is told at one point to "stop tryna make it pretty" and to "show it for what it is". Gasland shows us a world of literal ugly truth and the irony behind the gas giants' pledges of making America completely energy independent in nationalistic rhetoric. They tear up the soil and destroy the lives of entire towns, wipe out whole vast counties under a blanket of 'red zones'. Josh says, at the end, that his search revealed "the love for this whole country", that true patriotic valor comes not from the corporations and their wallets but from the families and citizens who say "we need to stand up to these assholes". It's difficult, however, to still separate the fact from the personal stories in Gasland. There's an attention to detail with creating a narrative told through various lenses of families spread throughout America. There's also an effort to thread through these stories the common symptoms, something Josh becomes "familiar" with, and at one point he looks back on his actual documenting and sees his literal journey may have been in fact poisonous to his very body. All while speaking over it with damp, honest narration. The level of personal involvement in the film should, by all accounts, mix up the truth. There will certainly be an omission of certain and truthful elements behind the whole story but Fox, with Gasland, shows a well-argued side that manages to blend realities to win over the audience. I'm reminded that documentaries search for the truth but perhaps not all 'good' documentaries are actually truthful. Supersize Me is still an entertaining film and Gasland is certainly compelling in some way. For all of its arguments and facts, which hold great weight, the most powerful element of Gasland is its display of the human one. It reminds me of one of the best environmentalist rants told by Louis CK in a single skit in which he covers God's response to our modern-day mess. Sometimes the human element, the very opposite of truth, the irrational, is sometimes needed to tell the whole story.
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Is it all just, well, a load of hot air?
Truth is an odd, odd beast. Supersize Me has become notorious for dodging some facts and a host of other documentaries have folded under scrutiny. Gasland has been of interest to me because I want to know the truth. It will a...

NRH's Weekly Analysis: Skyfall's metanarrative

Aug 12 // Nathan Hardisty
The film's advertising set up Skyfall perfectly. There seemed to be a wider emphasis on the 'elements' of the Bond film; fast cars (there were several television specials on them over here in the UK), glamorous women and exotic locations. It was largely perhaps out of the franchise's 50th Anniversary with Skyfall being the firm flag to mark the series' long history. A reaffirmation of what constitutes as a 'Bond' film. At the same time it's an absolutely perfect entry point for newcomers, refusing to have zero Quantum or Casino narrative baggage. To 'get' Skyfall's metanarrative doesn't require an encyclopedic knowledge of Bond but just an awareness of what a Bond film 'is'. Given its ubiquitous existence in film culture it's hard for anyone not to be clued in, and this is something Skyfall takes a looksie to too. From the film's opening moments we find Bond failing to do his job. Failing to defeat someone in a basic chase and shooty sequence that doesn't seem out of place at all. This is again a setup because the camera then shoots Bond to his death with a sniper rifle. Bond is shot in the first fifteen minutes to give us a sense that he's not worthwhile and that he can't keep up in the "young man"s game; he has no place. There's even a degree of antagonism shown towards Bond. Indeed, the next time we see Bond he's necking alcohol and making love to some nameless woman, with zero romanticized edge placed upon the scenes. The film makes a definite swipe towards Bond's martini indulgence and painkiller needs, reminding us that Bond is practically indulging in "Substance abuse" and "Alcohol" abuse in order to keep trucking. He is not exactly someone that men need to aspire to be. All of his failures in the first thirty minutes shatter a core principle of the Bond franchise: the macho male power fantasy.  The very root fact of most long-standing 'action movie' protagonists is the projection of the ideal man. The perfect man. Strong, handsome, muscular, witty, clever, well-traveled with arms around big-breasted babes and toes dipped in gold. 'Men want to be him, women want to sleep with him'; Nietzsche's 'ubermensch'. Skyfall puts James Bond, the character, and all of his traits in a modern context in order to destroy our belief in the macho male power fantasy. Do we really want to be alike a man who sexes strangers, necks alcohol, pounds the painkillers and touches over his wrinkles. For the first time Bond is shown to be nothing but a pathetic and aged waste of man.  He's called "Old dog" by Moneypenny and Silva remarks that he's "Not bad for a physical wreck", that the franchise itself might be too tired and past its sell-by-date. All of these insults remind me of M telling him "I think you're a sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War" in Goldeneye, and it's a truth that the series has gradually become more and more self-aware as its evolved. Over the course of the film, however, the attitudes change and we begin to see truth behind the nostalgia, that indeed "Sometimes the old ways are the best." One scene which deserves analysis in itself is the introductory sequence between Q and 007. Note the huge disparity of age, I agree with other commentary that age and youth is a recurring theme of the picture, but I think it's more important to see what they both look at in the scene. "An old warship" being "hauled off" for "scrap", as if the filmmakers are telling us that pieces of Bond from fast cars to chases will be just cannibalized by other films. What does Bond see though? "A bloody big ship." Q explains, in this age of cyber-terrorism, that Bond's role is simply to fill the shoes of something almost expendable; "Now and then a trigger has to be pulled" joking about Bond perhaps expecting an "exploding pen" in the modern film world. The actual painting comes back at the film's final scene in the background of Mallory's office, confirming that he succeeds in gaining his place in the new world. To perfectly reaffirm this journey into James Bond's character construction, we go straight to Skyfall manor, the very genesis of Bond. Only when Bond wields his father's old rifle does he truly get his aim back. Only when he dips into his own history does the film's Bondish flair flare up into celebratory action. There's an underwater sequence at both the beginning and ending of the film, probably noting the continual 'rebirth' of Bond himself. The often touted 'exotic locations' pillar of the franchise is reduced, in the third act, to be encased in the British Isles. Skyfall chooses to search inwards to find the truth and meaning behind the Bond franchise's traits rather than simply repeat them to what must be ad nauseum by now. Further still, the first sequence between Bond and Silva takes a sexually-charged hammer to another pillar of the Bond franchise; the feverish heterosexually exclusive intercourse-conquests. Silva feels him up and even Bond remarks "How do you know this would be my first time?" which directly brings Bond into a modern sexually conscious age. Bond's very sexuality crumbles under the weight of Skyfall's prods into the genre's elements as he has to face more modern facts. One could comment it's an attempt to modernize Bond, that he should always encompass our times and our society. What is Skyfall? It's a self-conscious Bond film about Bond. Not just the man but the man beyond the man. The figurehead agent who has become a figure of British cinema and irreversibly influenced the 'action movie' forever. You may see the film differently, and I encourage you to do so, but the film's approach to common Bond elements certainly directs it to be both a critique and celebration. Even when Adele is channeling Shirley Bassey with her 'Skyfall' song, the purest kind of Bond theme, there's a sense of over-indulgence. The women, the quips, the physical wreck, the alcohol; "Age is no guarantee of efficiency". Skyfall points out just how ridiculous it is to believe in this genre, to believe that it is of any worth. The macho-male power fantasy crumbles in wake of the film's smashing criticism, it literally slaughters Bond only to bring him back to life and push him to find his place in the modern world.  Bond remarks himself that his hobby is "Resurrection", a double nod both to his Skyfall comeback and the very fact of the franchise. Like a Timelord he resurfaces with a new face, film after film, actor after actor, year after year after year. He keeps coming back, I really wonder if there's a sense of agony in his meta-immortality. Alike Deckard in Blade Runner he may be stuck across versions - in some being human and in some being Replicant - never free or sure of who he is. He is trapped in ambiguity, across faces and spaces and forms from the film franchise to Fleming's spy masterpieces. The film is Bond turned up to eleven and while it tells us that the modern action film is "a young man's game" it still shows us that James Bond, and all of his story traits, have a place in the world.  I think this was both the most impossible and appropriate Bond to make at its fifty-year inning. It's a film that takes an axe to the genre but, by its end, enjoys itself. It lets Bond win because he is worth more than just a "trigger" in this world. He is a figure of the past, present and indeed future. To Skyfall, Bond is an 'icon' and one that can be used; it chooses to let him live so that he can go on to embody new ideas and cultures. Existing long past history. It's a re-evaluation and celebration of the genre and this is the film's greatest triumph. It belongs beyond the genre as both an onlooking critique and a sharp romp through its heart. Skyfall is, in short, a metanarrative exercise in seeking the life and worth behind modern Bond. It looks into the tropes from heterosexual-conquests, fast cars, exotic locales and action efficiency and modernizes them so that Bond can survive. Sam Mendes managed to reinvent Bond by having him take a good hard look at his raggedy self with the film itself being a commentary on the sub-genres entire history. Era after era, Bond changes for us. At its 50th year, Skyfall is the true transitory capstone that finally takes the franchise beyond all others and into the age of post-modernism. 
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A Bond about Bond
Skyfall is a Bond film about Bond, both genre and man. Sam Mendes and company created a truly all-encompassing, retrospective-filled 50th Anniversary celebration. Skyfall is the type of film that shouldn't happ...


Harrison Ford wants Indy 5

71 year old wants another crack at the whip
Aug 06
// Nathan Hardisty
Surprising absolutely no-one Harrison Ford has said that he wants to play the role of his life once more. Speaking to the Telegraph he has said that "We've seen the character develop and grow over a period of time and it...

Bryan Singer reveals more about Days of Future Past

Mutant mash gets more deets
Aug 06
// Nathan Hardisty
Bryan Singer chatted about some new details around Days of Future Past at a special Q&A at the Fantasia International Film Festival. He revealed that a young William Stryker will feature in the film (played by Josh H...

NRH's Weekly Analysis: X-Men something something, Part 2

Aug 05 // Nathan Hardisty
The first effort to get a swing of the bat, or should that be a claw at the... fence, was X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Another feature titled Origins: Magneto was also in development, with the Wolverine title acting as a filmy petri dish of sorts to see if a solo X-Men film could actually play out. I do still believe such a thing is possible to do, if hard to manage. Jumping from ensemble fare to deep character focus is a tricky thing for any franchise to do. It's fair to say then that Origins was surprising in just how blatantly blasphemous it was and how it made The Last Stand look like a fun movie. Origins misunderstands practically every single aspect of Logan (AKA Wolverine) to a point of anger. The film decides to sweep aside his entire life from his Civil War days to World War One to Vietnam to the deep stretches of the Cold War. In a matter of an awful montage we're shown all the possibilities, all the fantastic long stretches of historical material that could serve as the base for a great Wolverine film. Instead we're placed into a stupid action film that throws in the Blob,, some sort of Gambit character and Deadpool. That last move is probably the one that manages to score the most scorn points. Turning the merc with a mouth into a mouthless, generic 'end of game' boss.   I think I could probably harp on about Origins: Wolverine for at least a whole other Weekly Analysis. It manages to get so much wrong and practically none of it is redeemable. Hugh Jackman seems to just grin his way through the script, which manages to use all possible cliches and tropes to destroy all sense of fun, pacing or compelling elements. There is very little in the way of 'good' in Origins: Wolverine.  After the critical panning and the 'fair' box office performance, the creative folks decided on a rethink. Returning to the 'present' day X-Men films was on the table as was the Magneto solo venture. Perhaps out of a need to keep familiarly fresh whilst not being too risky, the studios decided another ensemble flick might be worthwhile, but this time set in the past. All of the notable X-Men outside of Wolverine would be given their Origins stories all in one. So we come to First Class.   Let's just say I have a big grand soft spot for First Class. January Jones really phones it in, some of the action sequences fall flat, the history of the Cuban Missile Crisis is reduced to a cinematic backdrop and the film murders most of the continuity that it set out to reaffirm. In reality, however, we have a film that, in some respects, practically erases the entire existence of the events of The Last Stand and some of Origins given the paradoxes that it plays out. The film manages to capture both the drama and scope of these two competing ideologies within the same group that eventually sprout into opposing sides. Under the same 'Mutant' banner it was Magneto that took on militarism and Xavier that attempted compassion. First Class charts their relationship in growing complexity, the Erik/Xavier relationship has always been one that's just been brilliantly realized in both comic book and film, and manages to ground the film in a more intimate conflict. McAvoy and Fassbender play the chemistry practically perfectly too, alongside the rest of the cast. Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique is one of the smartest casting decisions I can think of, and the rest of the mutant power fun fun group manage to get in some clever pieces now and then. The only scenes that really turned me off are the ones including January Jones and that one in which all of the mutants show off their powers and name each other. It just feels a bit shoved in to the middle-ground, and it's hard to take a film about co-existing ideologies even the slightest bit seriously. Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw is also a grand highlight, bringing a great degree of fun and bubbling charisma to the role. And so we go to The Wolverine. First Class works given it takes the familiar X-Men mutant ensemble picture into a whole new timeline, adding in some spliced themes of racial issues and sixties movements. The Wolverine works because it is a solo venture fully centered on showing the impact, psychological torment and destruction of one of its X-Men. Origins was focused, loosely, on filling the continuity with disgusting and dumb action that ruined comic book lore. The Wolverine is a pretty smart action flick that orbits thematic concepts from existentialism to cultural familiarity. It never 'comments on' or attempts to seriously 'dive' into these issues but it still treats its setting and surroundings with respect. The Wolverine, for the most part anyway, gets over a lot of problems with the X-Men series actually and how Wolverine dramatically fits into those films. Logan's healing factor and claws mean that the only places we genuinely feel he's under peril is when he's faced with mutants. Otherwise we likely don't feel worried about him specifically in any of the other action sequences. The Wolverine strips Logan of his healing factor and has that entire question of his valued life be the emotional flagpole of the entire story. There's a lot not to love: the Silver Samurai's entire portrayal, some of the plot logic and how it uses Jean Grey as a crutch for Wolverine's own development, but The Wolverine is head and shoulders about Origins. It's a very competent and sometimes surprising solo X-Men effort. That's all for now, I think? I've only recently seen The Wolverine and will probably attempt another Weekly Analysis at some point exclusively on the Wolverine character. Days of Future Past is also shaping up to be utterly exceptional, so that will certainly be the main man of Part 3. Until them, however, I'd like to end with some thoughts on the series as a whole. While the people at Marvel are dancing around their multiple characters and cinematic universe and Sony is too busy ruining Spider-Man, the X-Men series has been constantly surprising. Not always for the best reasons. First Class and X-Men 2 might be some of my favorite superhero flicks of all time given they both 'get' how to do an ensemble flick in which everyone is a rewrite away from being Norse gods. The rest of the series are either shallow but pleasant (X-Men and The Wolverine) or utterly revolting (The Last Stand and Origins). The transplant of the social agenda of X-Men from page to screen is, however, mostly successful in the films. I look forward to seeing more of the mutant forces of the comic books getting their own grand adventures. I just hope Brett Ratner will never be involved with, well, anything actually.
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More thoughts on the mutant series
So last week I took a look at the original X-Men film trilogy and so, as promised, here's some thoughts on the following films. They're an odd bunch; two solo ventures and a complete reboot/prequel/fanservice extravaganz...


The Secret Life of Walter Mitty gets first tease

Odd adventure likes rad and bonkers.
Aug 01
// Nathan Hardisty
This looks rather brilliantly bonkers. Ben Stiller's directorial debut is a remake of the 1947 film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which in turn is based upon the short story by James Thurber. The story blends the real wor...

NRH's Weekly Analysis: X-Men something something, Part 1

Jul 29 // Nathan Hardisty
The first X-Men flick could be said to be a bit of a boring and bland effort. The costume design is pretty dull, practically all of the action sequences are uninspired and Bryan Singer doesn't seem to know how to film some of the heavier pieces. What lifts it out of adequacy is an attention to delivering an X-Men movie rather than an X-Man movie. There's some particular focus on Wolverine to introduce us to the world of Xavier's school but it's otherwise a conservative ensemble film with comic book overlay. It works and, really, the film doesn't really demand too much of its audience for you to be left with a bitter taste. X-Men is a serviceable first tick on the film franchise list, if a bit too basic for its own good. It's an easy thought that the X-Men films are pretty politically charged; X-Men seems filled with a self-aware energy, if playing with it a bit too stupidly. All the world's leaders convene in one place for Magneto's convenience and the social commentary of 'different but proud' gets a bit wishy washy. I do think that you consider the first three films, then you see all of its social treatise contradict itself and eventually burn itself out by the third feature, though there's still some relevant comments to be found. There are some defined political incisions from how a terrorist attack on an American symbol causes the government to drug and detain children (X-Men 2). Some of the retroactive commentary in First Class doesn't really hold up that well in my opinion, it really does use the Cold War as a circus-like prop, tossing in a few bits of hyperbole and depicting its finale, the Cuban Missile Crisis, in an almost historically disgusting light. The original trilogy doesn't suffer from a lack of historical fact though, the X-Men films have always been more 'fantastical' than anything else. X-Men 2 might be one of the most accomplished comic book efforts in cinematic history. It has a pacing and timing that is really unrivaled. The way it flips villains, themes and tackles a grander political and social scope is very admirable. It's the most contained and concise X-Men film and it knows its stuff. It shows Wolverine actually digging his claws in guys and the film, for the most part, makes sure all of its ensemble characters are given their own sub-plots. Jean Gray is given her Phoenix rising arc, Nightcrawler tries to make amends for his awful opening act, Pyro has to choose in how he manages his powers and Wolverine has to discover his past. The film doesn't toss the characters aside or wrap up their personal quests with sentences, choosing to have everyone's individual stories all converge on one particular location and dovetail together. There's a lot of clever little bits too. Professor X calmly, with a trace of humor, tells the other X-Dude that he and Cyclops are off to visit an "old friend". When Magneto says "old friend" to Charles, however, it causes him to panic and know that something's afoot. The Magneto/Xavier relationship might be one of the most complex and brilliant relationships in comic book history and the few scenes that Stewart and McKellen share practically steal the show. Wolverine's search for Stryker, the ice wall scene is quite beautiful, is practically his pseudo-Frankensteinian journey that all ends with him with burying his creator in an icy torment. That's not to say X-Men 2 is a perfect film, it's just a really clever and very well-paced superhero film. The way that it's built and engineered to serve every character, with absolute faithfulness, still makes it a stellar ensemble effort. There's a ton of plot holes I could dig into but, otherwise, I think X-Men 2 might be the best of the entire series. See, the X-Men have always represented something about society. It's a common interpretation that they were birthed out of the heat of the civil rights movement; 'Mutant and proud'. Difference and diversity were the core social tenets of the comic book fabric. The film series tries to support these ideas by exploring the humanity behind the mutants, showing that even the most disgusting of creatures have a heart and soul. It does do a valiant effort in trying to emulate the comic book canon's social themes, but I believe that The Last Stand, for all intents and purposes, just outright ruins X-Men's social vision. Bret Ratner just isn't a capable enough filmmaker to make the X-Men tick, but it's not his cinematic mis-steps that really hurt the series. It's something else. The flashbacks and teases of continuity, flashes of Days of Future Past in the 'Danger Room' opener, are just absolutely annoying. Indeed, so many Ratner-twists just come across as irritating and boil characters down to the most shallow of points. Last Stand reduces Kitty Pryde down to a prop for Ice Man's affair, which goes absolutely nowhere, and to be the cool punkish chick who knows what "Einstein said..." and has insults like "Who's hiding, dickhead?" She's never given an introduction either and is never able to become a character in her own light. The entire Golden Gate bridge sequence has always annoyed me... really, this entire film annoys me on multiple levels. What is near insulting, however, is its treatment of certain characters and the X-Men social views. Magneto is essentially reduced to a villainous caricature. The Brotherhood have arguably always come with a trace of sympathy, a group of wronged individuals who chose different means. Xaiver is essentially the Martin Luther to Magneto's Malcolm X.  In The Last Stand, all trace of identifying with the Brotherhood is washed away. Heck, the film for the most part chooses to identify the mutants purely by their powers, which is exactly akin to identifying people purely by the color of their skin; the direct opposite of X-Men's social mantra. Magneto's mutant festish, "She was so beautiful" combined with his psychotic traits, he tells Juggernaut to "kill the boy" without a flash of emotion. When Erik flashes his holocaust tattoo to some tweenage mutant, who he only admires for her "talents" and not her ideology, there's a sense that Bret Ratner and company just do not understand the characters. Juggernaut, in reply to Magneto's "kill the boy", spits back "with pleasure". There is zero humanity, null ability to empathize with these characters and their view on the world. Making a leap to The Dark Knight would be a gross comparison, but in Nolan's flick you can at least understand the Joker's worldview and anarchy.  I could go on about how The Last Stand reduces the X-Men into nothing. Jean Gray stands around for most of the film doing absolutely nothing, Storm thinks that anyone who wants to the cure would be a "coward" completely forgetting her relationship with Rogue, the humans spout the most awful of cliched lines "Dear lord", "God help us all", "We cannot let them do this" but, really, The Last Stand just missed the point. It isn't even a fun action movie. Compared to the Lady Deathstrike battle in X-Men 2, most of the action sequences are uninspired or seem pulled from nowhere. Perhaps it's the scripts, I don't know, but the one line that sums it up for me is something that Magneto speaks before the finale: "Worthington Labs, it ends where it begins." "Worthington Labs, it ends where it begins." This line bothers me so much. It's perhaps trying to feel a bit 'comic bookish' or trying to set up an epic sequence, but the fact it's spoken by Magneto makes it that much worse. It didn't 'begin' in Worthington Labs, the war between humanity and mutants, in the film continuity, apparently began with the 'Liberty Island' incident, intensifying with the Styrker plot and, well, it's a lot more complex than Alcatraz Island. Erik, a super genius, fails to realize this. Much like Ratner feels no need to see underneath the powers and into the characters, all things remain understood. Professor X, Jean Gray and Cyclops are all turned to corpses in te name of drama. Ultimately, The Last Stand ends the X-Men trilogy's social commentary in a superficial and downright stupid way, with "Worthington Labs, it ends where it begins" being a synecdoche of the whole problem. Ratner reduced the series into a stupid and insipid action affair; he's more about the explosions than the characters. Next time I'll talk about how First Class retconned The Last Stand (yay) and how Wolverine could work in a solo film.
Weekly Analysis photo
Notes on the original trilogy
The X-Men film series is a weird one. For a civil rights allegory there sure is a lot of shallow stuff involved. Wolverine is the poster-boy, the action sequences, in some of the features, are worth more than the charact...

NRH's Weekly Analysis: An ode to Nicolas Cage

Jul 22 // Nathan Hardisty
Any ode to Nicolas Cage's career would not be able to begin without talking about Leaving Las Vegas. The film isn't exactly on my top list, I think it stumbles in its script and general pacing, but Cage's performance anchors the film into greatness. His portrayal of a Hollywood writer who slowly descends into alcoholic decay is a display of absolute tragic humanity. Cage brings a deft touch to the role, adding a slight sense of humor and real heart to every scene. Las Vegas is probably his most 'accomplished' role and to anyone who critiques Cage for being one-dimensional, Leaving Las Vegas would be my first rebuttal. In the same year (1995), however, Cage would go on to make the frankly daft The Rock in which he would shout at Sean Connery for a bit while trying to avoid becoming a staple of Michael Bay's portfolio. The Rock is, quite frankly, a good bit of zany mad fun. Cage really just overdoes it, delightfully so, and the same sort of exaggerated Cage-isms also cropped up in Vampire's Kiss, The Wicker Man and Drive Angry among others. There's a sense that Mr. Nic knows he is breaking all sense of the 'normal' in many of his roles. Leaving Las Vegas is fairly reserved compared to most of his filmography. Nic would go on to also star in the equally zany action flicks Face/Off and Con Air. His 'attempt' at a Southern accent, and his haircut, in Con Air make it an absolute stand-out. John Malkovich also, bizarrely, plays one of the most simultaneously worst and best villains in opposite to Cage's protagonist. Con Air is a really odd affair, but Face/Off has that same sort of quality. By its very concept it's exaggerated, but it makes it much more well suited to Cage's action-film repotoire. The real reason why I didn't take so kindly to Next or Stolen or Trespass or [Insert Modern Nicolas Cage Headlining Action 'Thriller'] is that they keep Cage on the backburner. They don't allow him any freedom outside of the concrete script, structure and general safe sale of the film. Cage's step into the new millenia would be marred by some disappointments and first signs of his typecasting entraptment. Gone In Sixty Seconds and The Family Man might be his worst films. Much has to be said for the outlandish Kaufman-penned Adaptation. Adaptation itself is an absolute symphony to the inner-workings of the entire creative process, and Cage gives a strange weight and feel to the characters he plays. It's weird to think this is the same bloke who punches people in the face every year or so in your by-the-numbers action film. The self-satire of Adaptation is given real humility by Cage, perhaps not seen since Las Vegas. Matchstick Men would follow, a film I've actually forgotten about but recall it being pretty good, and then National Treasure... It's easy to dismiss National Treasure for being too knee-deep in Indiana Jones, and really it pretty much is a rip-off. Its goofy charm combined with Cage's own bemusement do however make it a pretty alright franchise. The more 'important' films of Cage's career would follow on from National Treasure in succession: Lord of War and The Weather Man. Lord of War might be the greatest 'war' movie of all time. Not a film involving garrisons and soldiers, but a film about the very idea of war. Cage portrays an arms dealer who slowly finds his dreams, humanity and sanity all slowly melt away under the weight of his poisonous profession. The monologues and  moments of truth that he speaks with genuine elegance make this film that much more philosophical. The film prides itself in heaving deep psychological insight to its core character, showing his globe-trotting riches are covered in blood and bullets. Lord of War is a grandiose statement on the modern world and its arms-based hypocrisy. People often compare Cage to Nintendo; they're either doing ridiculously well or incredibly poor. It's a safe and mostly right comparison to make, but it adds a sense of unpredictability to Cage. A film like Bad Lieutenant looks on paper like another over-the-top stupid buzzword-marketed cop thriller with Cage at the film, yet if you actually watch it you're surprised to see one of Cage's greater performances. His greatest performance, however, and one of the finest feats in filmmaking history, completely serious, comes in the form of The Weather Man.  The Weather Man is an odd beast. It's probably one of the most underrated modern classics and one of the most 'truthful' films out there. It's about one lone weather man as he deals with inadequacy, death and the pathetic reality that he embarrassingly inhabits. 'Realistic' might be the word, but that would do the film a grave injustice. It's often witty, amusing in dark ways and really twists the knife inside Cage's acting repertoire to see what exactly he can deliver. It's about a guy trying to hold his life together, it's just brilliantly honest. It was Gore Verbinski's luvvie project before going full-metal-Pirates-Of-The-Carribean and it shows. The amount of expression, emotion and genuine qualities he's able to squash out of the cast, particularly Cage, make the film a truthful masterpiece that contemplates ambition and dreams in the context of modern existence. I will write on The Weather Man in depth another time but, to summarize, to me it showcases Nicolas Cage at his absolute pinnacle of play. It's difficult to put into words the amount of frustration I feel with what Cage followed The Weather Man up with. The Wicker Man was going to be another zany funfest before the producers forced everyone's hands to try to build a horror picture, Ghost Rider was sort of born out of Cage's long love for comic book mythology, his son his called Kal-El, but the slew of action fodder just has no defense. World Trade Center, Kick Ass and Bad Lieutenant are the only 'highlights' that I can think of post-2005 Nicolas Cage. I have a soft spot for the ridunkulous Drive Angry, but that's more of a genre thing. It is a shame to often see Cage reduced to a headlining action fodder star given his true brilliance, when seen, really hits home. Old Nic is perhaps the favourite, in my books at least, for his paramount flexibility. Not many people can play an arms dealer, a mid-life crisis engulfed weather man, a superhero and Indiana Jones, but old Cage can. If you ever doubt his abilities then do check out some of the highlights that I've mentioned throughout this analysis. Cage truly is one of the modern great actors, it just takes a bit of legwork to explain exactly why. 
Ode to Nicolas Cage photo
Yes, really...
Okay. Shall I start off with this? Nicolas Cage is a favorite. Maybe the favorite. Unfortunately, however, Cage isn't a very, how do I put this, popular choice? He doesn't exactly have the 'je ne sais quoi ' quality to a...


Idris Elba's Mandela biopic gets a fancy trailer

South African symbol gets the Elba treatment
Jul 19
// Nathan Hardisty
I'm surprised there's not been a full-blown 'biopic' until now. We've had our TV movies and Invictus, but Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom seems to be the first proper Mandela effort. It stars Idris Elba, who looks uncanni...

NRH's Weekly Analysis: Die Hard with a Vengeance's NYC

Jul 15 // Nathan Hardisty
Keep in mind this is without even considering the buddy cop chemistry between Willis and Jackson. This is also not considering the villainous work of Jeremy Irons. With this analysis, I want to take a look at the setting of Vengeance, specifically the presentation of New York, that makes the film much more lively than any of its predecessors. With a Vengeance has some muddled structure, its final scene seems like a forgotten plot thread, its darker (and better) ending was cut, but it's still the best Die Hard because it's able to maximize its setting, place and allow its characters to orbit the environment so fluidly. See, in many modern flicks, A Good Day to Die Hard included, the city is often a simple 'backdrop'. There's is little care taken to the actual geography. The logic of cities like Moscow, London, Los Angeles and so many other cities are just tossed away in the face of movie magic. Annual summer abuse is reserved for cities like New York and London. When a film uses its city to reflect the actual inner-workings of its characters, plot etc. then it can truly excels; the geography of a city can be used just like arms of cinematography. If we consider, for example, the image of New York. The Avengers showed an utterly decimated Big Apple, and the City is pretty much the city poster boy of Planet Earth. The Avengers attempted to zoom through its entire cityspace to showcase the widespread efforts, and the entangled teamwork, of its main heroes. Die Hard with a Venegeance does something similar. It has John McClane and Zeus running around Harlem, Central Park and all around the city in a bid to outwit the main villain and his riddles. Jeremy Irons' cold delivery of 'Simon' really sells the puppetry at play, but the very city adds to it. This is a hot and heavy New York City, soaked in civilian lives all going about their lovely Summer day, not a rain-drenched metropolis drained of all color that we've come so familiar with. Simon orders to duo to walk through the city at various points in the film. They don't suddenly teleport like The Dark Knight or Fast & Furious characters do. The film makes good efforts in showcasing the pounding upon McClane and Zeus' stamina.  They fight over their knowledge of the city while solving Simon's riddles. The amount of character-play, in one instance juggling the whereabouts of Yankees Stadium while racing towards Central Park, that is interlinked with the location is incredibly clever. There's a feeling that these two are being pushed all over the city, which enhances their relationship in our eyes. The two men are joined by the fact that they are both tired, beaten and bruised, the environment is used to reaffirm our belief in their evolving relationship. The film attempts to call back to its predecessors by occasionally diving into dark areas. I can't think of another action film that maximizes the amount of places in New York City. We are shown some underground tunnels, the train station (that's blown up and left with concrete dust in the air) and the interiors of lush, lavish banks. Zeus and McClane are cast across New York, divided at several points, to test whether they can actually work apart. All the while we see civilian life and traffic that gets in their way. 'Realism' isn't the word in a film about blowing up all of the things, but the genre staple of fast-action is somewhat refused by With a Vengeance. McClane is caught in traffic and has to abuse an ambulance service in order to get anywhere. Having a Summer setting means the film is able to feel fresh and contrasting. McClane's headache and the tragedies of the day are compromised by the gorgeous weather. The very architecture gushes sunlight out in to every scene, and you can, at some points, see the sweat beads as tension rises. Scenes in the cars appear stuffy, conversations without breath and the offices and police stations are congested with people. Even the clothes are right for the season. As Jeremy Irons whips gold out of the bank, blows up and kills hundreds and threatens a school we're left to wonder whether or not the environment can ever indicate the actual feel of a film. Usually we have a dull, cloudy New York, or a gritty, noir Los Angeles, to show off just how dire the situation is. With a heatwave gripped city, however, the very existence of destruction seems misplaced. Nobody expects it. It's what makes the opening so unexpected, it opens like a bubbly romantic comedy and then literally explodes. New York is effectively employed as a device for surprise. We have schools being raided by police, who are also pushed to their limit, and bridges being jumped. The Summer season doesn't protect our heroes from any amount of disaster. The pacing of With a Vengeance helps alongside the setting too, constantly zooming from McClane to Zeus to Zeus & McClane to Simon to Cobb to some random goons. We get a real feel for the geography of the place, something with McTiernan masterfully did with the original Die Hard. This time we don't just have a guy crawling around vents, but several folks venting and vaulting across an entire metropolis. It seems like natural progression too. The original Die Hard was set inside one building, Die Hard 2 largely set around a sprawling airport complex and now Die Hard with a Vengeance set inside of an entire City. The film even notes how larger that McClane's heroics are becoming, eventually taking the protagonists to an entirely new, snowy locale by its ending. The growth of Die Hard's geography seems natural with the first three films, only with Live Free or Die Hard did the series get a bit too large for its own good. Setting in film usually reflects the characters, plot or any other part of the story. It's called environmental storytelling, and the relationship with Zeus and John evolves alongside the geography. As we're left gliding around a New York caught in terrorist turmoil, we find the two slowly joining one another's personal company. No doubt the actual 'logic' of New York isn't found intact, but the NYC we have is one that does obey basic physics and geography. We return to locales from the bank to the train station to the police to the school just as we flip perspectives that weave in and out of each of these places.  Die Hard with a Vengeance is the best Die Hard film because it goes beyond the original in utilizing its place. The Summer City of New York becomes drenched in action, and the contrasts between the terror and the bird-tweeting environment makes it all that much more delicious. The film boasts great characters and some stellar acting chemistry, but its use of setting is what truly propels it as the best of the Die Hard features.
Weekly Analysis photo
A refreshing setting
Hot town, summer in the city Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty Been down, isn't it a pity? Doesn't seem to be a shadow in the city This is the song that Die Hard with a Vengeance opens up with. For a film launchin...


How To Train Your Dragon 2 gets a cheeky trailer

You could say the sequel has a larger SCALE
Jul 12
// Nathan Hardisty
Ooh. How To Train Your Dragon was one of those usual surprisingly brilliant Dreamworks features, and now the sequel is showing off all of its fire-breathing fury. Kind of. This cheeky new teaser shows off some of the be...

Edgar Wright sez the Ant-Man script is done

Microscopic hero pun pun pun
Jul 12
// Nathan Hardisty
Yay! Wright's The World's End is dropping in all of its lager-dripping here in England next week, and it looks pretty rad. Seems our Edgar already has his next project, the long in development Ant-Man which finally ...

NRH's Weekly Analysis: Lost Action Hero

Jul 08 // Nathan Hardisty
Last Action Hero is about a kid called ‘Danny’ who gets a magic ticket and falls into the world of an action-fantasy film called ‘Jack Slater’. The eponymous Jack Slater is played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, which is utterly perfect, who goes about throwing explosions and bad one-liners at people while descending into psychological hell. Yes, psychological. Yes, hell. Yes. Last Action Hero has moments of genuine comedy and some great action set-pieces, but as the film goes onwards it then descends into seriously dark territory. You have people being murdered for their shoes, a scythe wielding psychopath and a psychological hell for Jack Slater who is doomed to explosions, explosions, and more explosions until, according to Danny, the “grosses” tumble. There’s a moment when Jack laments about how terrible his life is and how he is tormented by his dead child along with visions of his daughter’s inevitable death. This is an incredibly self-aware film. Danny points out lots of disjointed moments such as the explosions, how every woman in the film-world is incredibly attractive, how a cartoon cat just walks around the police station and how the Chief, so warped with consternation, is but “comic relief” to take Jack’s badge away every picture. That’s what Danny sees, he sees the tropes and labels and the cliches. Jack himself is trapped inside the action movie persona. At one point he comes home and shoots his own closet, knowing full well that there’s “always” guys there. His life, which appears so exciting to us, is tormentingly dull. The main thrust of criticism revolves around the way the film's tone constantly changes. The beginning depicts a Los Angeles just one step away from Blade Runner’s 2019 neo-noir dystopia. Danny is burgled, his city is full of crime and his education holds no hope when compared to the action films he can escape into. At one point he sees an adaptation of Hamlet starring, instead of Laurence Olivier, Schwarzenegger, who then goes on a medieval explosive rampage. I don’t think this is an entirely valid criticism though. The film uses tonal shifts to show the allure of the fictional world. Once we delve into the film world, full of comedy and color and wonder, it makes sense that the tone would change. It’s, above anything, about the psychology surrounding our love for action films. Danny is nothing but a cipher for the audience to experience that youthful feeling of wanting to experience these power fantasies and to escape from a dull, dangerous environment. Charles Dance, who plays the main villain, ‘Benedict’, is truly perfect in his performance throughout. When all goes wrong and the magic ticket transports him into the real world (yes, magic ticket), Benedict sees a man murdered for his shoes with no law enforcement in sight. He then “tests” a “theory” by killing a mechanic in cold blood and waiting a few seconds for the police to show up, which they don’t. In the film world the sirens would be blaring in no time. Benedict’s glass eye, which like Oddjob’s hat and Jaws’... jaws, is the gimmick to which he holds on to. It represents his skewed perception and place in the world. The film shows however that his disjointed morals and 'wrong' perception somehow fit perfectly into our immoral world. A world in which we have already escaped. There may be an incredibly complex post-modernist message under the skin of Last Action Hero; that fiction has taken life from life. It’s again a marker that the film is about this wonderful sense of escapism and its true genius comes through the character Danny. The psychologically haunted Jack Slater and the moral unraveling that Benedict does compare nothing to what the film does with its kid protagonist. Danny represents the audience’s expectations, both about action films in general and about Last Action Hero too. His world is awful and so when that magic MacGuffin comes about to take him away from his nightmares and into this fantasy then everything seems fantastic. All seems hopeful. What follows is an utter subversion of expectations, in just over just a few scenes, and it is some of the greatest filmwork I have ever seen. The film was marketed as another Schwarzenegger romp. Explosions, guns and attractive women. The usual fodder. I think that entirely misses the point. Last Action Hero can be said, in some of its character, to be an incredibly thoughtful meditation on the value of action films. Danny, even after gaining the ticket and entering the world of Jack Slater, finds his hero isn’t all is cracked up to be. The explosions and bullets suddenly seem very real to him as he realizes he’s the “comic relief” and thus utterly mortal. The post-modernism is back; people can die just based on their character type, is that the truth about all of us? When Danny exits the film-world to pursue Benedict, the film then dives in to some harsh celebrity critique. Arnold jokes throughout the picture about politicians, ironic considering what he’d go into, but when we see the real Schwarzenegger in the film’s ‘reality’, he plugs Planet Hollywood and pushes the film, and more importantly pushes ‘the film’. This was Last Action Hero is; the very idea of what ‘the film’ is and what it does to us. The action film fantasies are depicted as colorful and full of a working justice system, even though the protagonist is ultimately haunted psychologically and the world feels ‘plastic’ at best. The ‘real’ world however appears just as broken but without vibrancy, without law and yet it’s the reality we all choose. ‘The film’ is the line between these worlds and Last Action Hero uses its characters, genre tropes and other devices to cleverly ask you whether or not this is a completely ‘healthy’ thing. Yes, the film is (tonally) all over the place. I think this is largely deliberate. It’s showing two worlds and how they intersect, and asking the audience about the root value of escapist fiction. This film released at the tail end of the 80s new wave optimism in which the idea of the American hegemony was becoming very much real. More importantly the film used Schwarzenegger, an icon of the bombastic genre, to critique the genre itself. The film questions the value and humanity found in our escapism and indeed ultimately seems to think that all of the optimistic projected invincibility that these films depicted is ultimately worthless and far away from reality. The film has its problems, absolutely. Charles Dance’s depiction of Benedict is pitch-perfect to a scary tee but the film suffers from a general lack of ‘good’ performance. Danny Devito bizarrely cameos as the cartoon cat who actually saves the protagonists at one point, possibly a jibe straight at Roger Rabbit and indeed another jab right at the reality/fiction psychology but his vocal work just evaporates. Danny is played by a kid, and early 90s child actors are, well, early 90s child actors. I would’ve preferred a teenager or young adult to perhaps play the main role given the youthful optimism and hope seems a lot more relevant to someone fast approach adulthood. Schwarzenegger himself seems energized in the picture if otherwise giving the same exaggerated performance which doesn’t exactly fit some of the ‘dark’ moments. The film was directed by John McTiernan of Die Hard fame. He described the last leg of production as “utter hell”. His directorial ‘wit’ definitely shows throughout. Die Hard itself somewhat represented the antithesis to the eighties action flick. A regular guy with regular problems finds himself trapped inside of the claustrophobic metallic innards of a high-rise skyscraper while fending off a terrorist organization, which is actually a front for a simple heist. Last Action Hero seems more of a deliberate incision into the genre and the psychology surrounding it and Tiernan seems to shine in driving the film forward and keeping its tone entangled with pace. In All, Last Action Hero is a brave but flawed piece of work hammered by critics and audiences alike who were expecting something completely different. With Die Hard now devolving into the some bombastic cheddar we’ve come to expect from the eighties sludge, it's clear that Last Action Hero’s thoughtful commentary has been lost to time.
Weekly Analysis photo
Thoughts on Schwarzenegger's forgotten thriller
Last Action Hero recently turned 20, and it's time to reexamine it. Two decades later, it's still largely misunderstood. Holding only a 39% on Rotten Tomatoes, it was critically panned upon release and was a box off...


Only God Forgives UK Trailer

Gosling and Refn's Bangkok delight
Jul 04
// Nathan Hardisty
Blimey. While you lot are out and about mingling and meeting 'Murica-ing, Ryan Gosling's hot face has been splattered all over a fancy new UK trailer for the Winding-Refn outing Only God Forgives. The new trailer shows off, ...

NRH's Weekly Analysis: A Freudian take on Spider-Man 2

Jul 01 // Nathan Hardisty
For those who don’t know, Sigmund Freud is largely attributed to being the founder of modern psychology, among Jung, Pavlov and all those other 20th Century cool kids. His theories ranged from abstract thinking to how the conscious, subconscious and unconscious interact to the ways in which sexuality is developed throughout life. Personally, I don’t agree with everything that Freud argued but his thoughts about the id/ego/superego are incredibly applicable to modern superhero films, especially Spider-Man 2. The ‘id’ is basically the primitive part of ourselves that operates on the ‘pleasure’ principle, desiring instant pleasure from food, sex, etc. It’s the first part of ‘us’ to develop. Next comes the ‘ego’ which governs on a ‘reality’ principle, basically one that attempts to compromise and fight off the urges of the ‘id.’ The final piece is one that develops well into teenagerhood, the ‘superego’: the piece of our brain that functions on the ‘moral principle’ which attempts to find the ‘good’ and stray away from selfish solipsistic perceptions of the world. Arguably the only superego in Spider-Man canon is Uncle Ben. In less than six words he instills Peter with a sense of outright moral compulsion. This happens in Spider-Man 1, but in Spider-Man 2 Peter, in a dream sequence, rejects his Uncle's words and turns inwards. The film is his redemption in trying to find his greater superego once more, despite the sacrifices he will have to make along the way. I began thinking about applying Freud to Spider-Man 2 a good while ago and particularly picked up on some dialogue exchanges between Aunt May and Peter involving heroes and kids. Aunt says herself that “I believe there’s a hero in all of us” and that “Kids like Henry need a hero.” One that “keeps us honest, gives us strength, makes us noble, and finally allows us to die with pride, even though sometimes we have to be steady, and give up the thing we want the most. Even our dreams.” There’s definitely a Freudian thrust behind this speech. The hero in all of us is the superego, that there truly is one in all of us that keeps us morally centered. “Kids like Henry need a hero” may be a nod to the need to have balance between all of the forces, which the superego brings when it is finally formed. Peter’s selfish retreat away from his superhero duties complicate Aunt May’s speech, as he has to realize that he cannot function without a superego and must fight to claim it back, even if it means sacrificing his dreams. Let’s take a hammer to what seems to be the film’s central focus: control. Harry Osborn lacks it after his father’s death, Doc Ock loses it to the not-hentai-metal tentacles and the psychological impact of his wife’s death, and Peter attempts to find control through compromise. What we have is a constant array of battles between id, ego and the superego -- “a hero in all of us” -- as Doc Ock seems to find his way to attain pleasure by trying to create a sun. Harry’s own psychological trauma is one of the bravest steps the film takes forward. It could so easily switch into a power revenge fantasy in which Harry hires some mercenaries and doesn’t do anything, but instead he slowly succumbs to his id too and creates an alliance with Doc Ock. The big reveal of Harry peeling off the Spider-Man mask was used in a lot of television trailers here in the UK to drive up tensions, and it’s definitely one of the film’s best moments. It’s incredibly interesting to notice how James Franco portrays Harry’s bemusement as Tobey Maguire just rips rope off of himself effortlessly. This is essentially the manifestation of the embodiment of a selfish id confronted with the superior, fully developed superego. But the hero within Peter Parker just seems a lot more interesting, doesn’t it? This is young adult Peter trying to find his superego, his moral compass, and mid-way through the film he bins it in order to try and truly focus in his life. It seems his ego is in control in trying to see a reality, but in reality the superego that belongs to him, his Spider-Man alter-ego, now belongs to the city too. Peter goes through what Freud might’ve coined a ‘psychological ghetto’ (he totally would’ve used those words) in refusing the balance between ego, id and superego. Spider-Man 2 approaches this directly by having its superhero actually fail quite a lot. The entire opening act seems to be pretty much dedicated to Peter’s misery, and when he throws the suit away you understand his thinking. Even his struggle with Doc Ock is only resolved by Peter managing to remember a few words. There has to be bumps on our road to redemption. One could say that Aunt May’s speech of “pride” in death might be the reason Peter chooses the suit over his own life; an attempt to die as a martyr for great change in the city. “Pride” in death also comes into play with Doc Ock’s final minutes. Peter’s superego eventually triumphs and the film almost explicitly says this. The mask itself represents the superego, as soon as Peter dons it again his entire mental hygiene changes. Harry however sees everything underneath the mask as important -- “Let’s see who’s behind this mask” -- a mirror of his own psychological imbalance. His father’s dreams triumph within Harry, but Spider-Man ultimately wins the day. Doc Ock is told point blank by Peter that sometimes we have to give up our “dreams” to do “what’s right”. Spider-Man 2 is ultimately about this force of moral control in the face of what might give us personal satisfaction. Ultimately it delves into superhero psychology more than a lot of modern fodder and ultimately shows Peter’s progression from id/ego/superego to id/ego and then back around to restore balance to his own psyche. It’s interesting to note the actual physical change that Peter undergoes. He has to put his glasses back on after tripping in the ‘Raindrops’ scene, which is just a lovely montage, and this most definitely displays the full-scale of the changes inside Peter. His very perception of himself has changed. The bruises, cuts and struggles towards the end are Peter’s bumps in order to attain his superego again, similar to the inner turmoil that adolescence brings, Freud said the superego came about in teenage years. The marriage with a comic book carnival of young adult inked-imagery with psychological growth is incredibly well realized.
Weekly Analysis photo
A psychological dip into the famed webslinger
Spider-Man 2 is one of the greatest superhero films ever made. It is incredible how it manages to have Peter Parker confront one of the most common dilemmas we all face--time management--and still keep a quick pace; Alfr...

NRH's Weekly Analysis: Food & drink in Pulp Fiction

Jun 24 // Nathan Hardisty
So many folks have commented on the specific use of food and drink in films, including Tarantino himself. One of my favourite video essays explores the topic in great depth across Tarantino’s filmography, but for the sake of time and argument I’d like to focus on his magnum opus: Pulp Fiction. The film’s opener is probably one of the most ballsiest moves in cinematic history. An opening scene should establish a film’s themes. The Social Network opens with gender politics and Mark Zuckerberg’s egotastic abundance, The Dark Knight opens with the Joker’s backstabbing viciousness, but Pulp Fiction? Pulp Fiction opens in some diner. Some diner where two people are referring to each other as “Honey bunny” and “Pumpkin.” It’s a Hemingwayish mess and gives the audience no clues about what’s to come. Then they have coffee and discuss robbery. What cannot be stressed enough here is just how important food and drink are in the film’s thematic drive. They both agree to rob the restaurant, after saying “thanks” for their coffee and saying that “liquor stores” aren’t worth it anymore. Notice the use of reflecting the coffee diner against the liquor store and just how easily the danger shifts just in a few words. There’s a degree of power expressed, and whatever the ‘store’ does is irrelevant; their drink does not protect them from robbery. More tellingly, Tim Roth’s character says that restaurants are “not expecting to get robbed.” This might be a metafictional note because food as a ‘concept’ isn’t usually used for any purpose in film. It’s too real, dull and normal, and characters eating anything slows down the pace. Films are rarely grounded in such reality, certainly not films like Pulp Fiction, which is full of violence, death and villainy. Villains don’t eat sandwiches. This discussion of food and restaurants as concepts and part of a villainous scheme serves to support the violence, power and devil’s carnival that is Pulp’s hyper-reality of Los Angeles. Neither are audiences expecting it: “Customers are sittin’ there with food in their mouths, they don’t know what’s going on. One minute they’re havin’ a Denver omelet, next minute somebody’s stickin’ a gun in their face.” That quote also expresses one of the film’s main themes; inter-connection. That’s a whole other essay in itself but the film is, above all else, tied by objects. Watches, plates, drugs and coffee, steaks and booze. Food and drink are used by Tarantino to reinforce that these stories are all connected and the ‘human experience’ is made up of these connections. Pulp Fiction isn’t just about shooting dudes; it also drops some pretty sick beats about metaphysical concepts like human composition: does eating food and drinking define characters? Does a villain eat sandwiches? Can a diet make Jules and Vincent any more or less ‘anti-heroes’? One of the most memorable moments of the film is the ‘breakfast’ scene. Vincent and Jules play with the “Quarter pounder with cheese” conversation with Jules using this brief “Royale wit’ cheese” anecdote as a means of power later. When they enter Brett’s apartment and attempt to find the briefcase, Jules instead guides the conversation back towards similar ground he had with Vincent. It’s fairly innocuous as Jules makes play with the boy’s fast food as “the cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast.” Notice how Jules takes a bite out of the burger -- “This is a tasty burger!” -- while asking Vincent if he’s ever tried one, he’s linking them by food. Vincent however seems to change character completely and stops conversing, becoming more of the silent mysterious figure we expect of his character type. Tarantino further uses food as a means to explore character and the themes of identity within. Jules tells us that he can never have meat because of his girlfriend, something he says “pretty much makes me a vegetarian.” But is that true? Here, Tarantino uses food as a disguise. Once more, the film asks if a person is defined by what they eat. Vincent’s ‘date’ with Mia also reveals some fairly easy pickings about Tarantino’s approach to food. Vincent has his steak “bloody as hell” and Mia has her burger “bloody,” showing a connection between the characters through their food choices. Tarantino utilizes these connections to prove that food and drink can be used as tools that a filmmaker can use to allow for extra depth exploring characters and relationships. Also notice how John Travolta just leans over and drinks Mia’s milkshake. He says that it’s a “fuckin’ good milkshake,” and both his language and occupation subvert the milkshake’s generally innocent status and taint it. The milkshake, just by the use of the vulgar term “fuckin,’” has been changed into an object of almost violent quality. Again Tarantino is showing how drink can be changed into a tool and how easily things can turn ‘wrong;’ arguably linking it to his use of accidents as a means to propel a story (the bank robbery going wrong in Reservoir Dogs, Shoshanna meeting Hans Landa again in Basterds and the entire way that Stuntman Mike kills people in Death Proof). The coffee during the Jimmie scene is used for a variety of reasons. Jimmie tells Jules to shut the expletive up and that he knows “how fucking good it is.” He complains that Bonnie buys terrible stuff, but he wants the gourmet stuff because he wants to “taste it” every time he drinks it. Maybe this is Tarantino, given that he cast himself, literally telling the audience that that his film has substance to it; he has “taste” above the average fodder. He knows he’s making a masterpiece, he doesn’t need you to tell him how good it is. He’s a strong independent white man who don’t need none of your-- The film soon ends with a direct and quite brilliant reverse of the conventional filmic approach to food and drink. Jules says that “a sewer rat may taste like pumpkin pie. I’ll never know ‘cause even if it did, I wouldn’t eat the filthy motherfucker.” Here, he may be discussing the nature of appearance versus reality, but again the vulgarity taints the pumpkin pie, linking it all the way back to the pet names that Honey Bunny and Tim Roth give each other. In reality, ‘Pumpkin’ and ‘Honey Bunny’ are not as sweet as they seem; they are in fact rats themselves. Tarantino, above anything, is one clever cat. Food and drink in Pulp Fiction are used, just like all the objects in the film, to explore characters, themes and the overall statement that killers and criminals have gotta eat just like everyone else. It’s all over his work, too: Django Unchained features Leonardo DiCaprio’s character ordering a “Polynesian Pearl Diver.” Tarantino clearly uses food and drink throughout his works as a means to symbolize characters like Candie as those who want power, show power but hold none compared to those of ‘real taste.’ There’s a reason that Tarantino’s first ‘real’ film, Reservoir Dogs, opens with a diner scene just like Pulp Fiction. It, like Pulp, is masterful at smashing expectations. Pulp Fiction though, is Tarantino’s best film, and its use of food and drink is just one of its many delicious delights.  
Weekly Analysis photo
A dive into cinematic cuisine
Quentin Tarantino’s beautiful vision of a Los Angeles soaked in sin is unlike any other. The film has truly transcended genre -- though it pulls from action, crime, romance, vignette collection and more -- and has bur...


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