Thursday, August 21, 2008

"The Dark Knight" (Christopher Nolan, 2008) on IMAX

Just a quick thought on my experience with The Dark Knight on the IMAX screen.

My previous experiences with the IMAX screens were 100% complete experiences - meaning the entire film was shown in IMAX format. However, Nolan's film is not a "complete" IMAX experience. I was very anxious about how the film would handle the transitions between formats.

Having now seen the film, I can say that the transitions are not jarring at all and further: the switching serves the IMAX format better. The transitions occur seamlessly within a traditional cut in a scene and because of the sheer size of the IMAX screen even the relatively smaller aspect ratio, it is still bigger than any traditional theater. It's still a "larger-than-life" experience of The Dark Knight and for me: bigger Batman equals better Batman.

However, the most noticeable aspect of this viewing experience is how The Dark Knight showcases the appeal of IMAX specifically because Nolan carefully chose the IMAX format with restraint. Truthfully, one only needs an IMAX for a certain type of film - the big Hollywood blockbuster. Small films like The Visitor (Thomas McCarthy, 2007) - a nugget of cinematic gold from earlier in the year - have no need for the IMAX format. It's not a film that is better-served by intensifying screen and sound.

The Dark Knight IS a film suited for the IMAX screen. If you've seen the film already, then you can probably guess which scenes will appear in the larger format. What you don't know is just how intimidating some of the images can be. Recall the opening scene of the film with and aerial push-in on a glass skyscraper. The building dominates the screen and one almost expects to see themselves in the reflection anyway.

But Nolan only uses the IMAX format for certain shot or scenes. Sometimes the shot may only be a few seconds but on the IMAX, no detail is lost. Here is the point - every time The Dark Knight switched to the larger screen a certain hush warmed over the audience. Yes, my jaw dropped slightly and my grin stretched a little wider. Every time.

Films such as Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) are 100% IMAX films and after a few moments the eyes adjust to the large format and the novelty wears thin. The constant switching keeps the eyes working. In keeping with one of the themes of this blog, The Dark Knight IMAX experience is a must-see precisely because it ISN'T fully IMAX - a worthy visual onslaught.

Trust me.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

"The Bank Job" (Roger Donaldson, 2008)

Heist films of the past several years (namely the Ocean's series) revel in the caper itself. What kind of a crew do we need? The film goes on to explore the eccentricities of its several protagonists. What equipment do we need? Surely, some simple explosives and repelling devices are obvious. Then there is always some surprise device that heavily tilts the scales one way or the other. "The Bank Job" is a heist movie, but don't make the mistake of thinking it's just another clone. The film explores relatively unexplored territory for the "heist" movie: the fallout of the caper.

Within the first ten minutes, it seems that every character has been introduced. We may not know their place in the upcoming plot, but they all figure heavily. Very simply, a film that dares to keep all its cards face-up does not enjoy the luxury of twists. But "The Bank Job" isn't boring - it knows where it wants to go and efficiently propels us.

Efficient is the word that most comes to mind when describing this film. For instance (and this doesn't give anything away), the entire setup and bank robbery concludes at about the 1-hour mark. The film must have at least 20 minutes left right? What does "The Bank Job" choose to do with this extra time?

Remember the structure of "Ocean's 11" (Steven Soderbergh, 2001)? Soderbergh's caper spans the entirety of the film's running time. It takes a sequel to rummage through the opening film's fallout. "The Bank Job" manages to do both within one film.

Part of this is a smart move. The film's setting is in London of the 70s. Thus, the film makes no attempt to shock and awe us with the heist itself. So, back to the word efficient. The only ingredients in each scene are the pieces of information that we need. This quality can sometimes lend itself to short, curt scenes, but "The Bank Job" pulls off this tactic throughout the film and consequently establishes it as a sort of "style."

Let us return to the original question - what does "The Bank Job" do with the extra time? Again, it seems that most caper films choose to focus on the just that: the caper. And for good reason! It's fun and exciting to see how the perpetrators manage to pull off such a complicated plan. "Bank Job" wants to know what happens to those that lose their belongings. How do they react - with calculated resolve or with unfocused activity?

Although the two film's aren't comparable (in esteem or subject matter), I think they are in subtle tonality - "The Queen" (Stephen Frears, 2006) and "The Bank Job." Nothing flashy. No surprises. Efficient filmmaking. Previously, I have thought of "The Queen" as close to a "perfect" film as possible. A perfect film is one in which you would not change any thing about it - scene, dialogue, production design, etc. In my opinion this leads to an efficient film.

In retrospect, "The Bank Job" isn't as good as I thought it would be. Now, this comes after hearing the buzz surrounding a better-than-average film released at a lesser-than-average box office time. It's good. Maybe a 7 out of 10. No masterpiece, but if you want an example of contemporary efficient filmmaking, check out "The Bank Job." And a good efficient film is better than an inconsistent and longer piece.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

"Mad Men" (Matthew Weiner, 2007)

Mad Men is one of those shows that makes you feel cool simply by sitting in front of the television. But it's a different kind of cool - a more nostalgic and retro kind of cool. In short, Mad Men really makes you wish you were alive in such a time.

What time is this exactly? It's a time when downing three martinis at lunch wouldn't turn a single head, all this coming after a two-drink meeting with a client before the siesta. Oh, and don't tell your doctor but you've already consumed a pack of cigarettes and are working on your second of the day and it may not be your last. Okay, enough with the vices.

Mad Men hits at why we watch visual fiction in the first place - displacement of the emotional self. In other words: escape. Cigarettes are still a part of our current culture, although certain restrictions have made it less available. Alcohol in much the same way, but it has been censored from our life between the hours of 9 to 5. After that, the floodgates open. Mad Men reminds us where we come from - our (Gen. X) origins. This is the lifestyle of our parents.

Where do we see this in the Emmy-nominated drama? No, not in the lives of the (mad) men. It is perhaps the women who are the most compelling of the gender groups (keep in mind, this is a male-written blog). If you're not paying attention, their suits look at least similar to current fashion trends. Female attire does look quite different. Skirts flare out and hair is tapered and delicately structured. It is in the female world that the cultural politics of the time seep through the screen. Sure, the men of work allude to certain historical moments, but it is within the women (and consequently the home) that one discovers America's identity.

I believe it is not just the presence of the female, but specifically the absence of the male that allows such possibilities. The cultural environment of Mad Men, is quite segregated between men and women. Men have their time in the workplace and women (seemingly) bide their time at home. The men are constantly involved with office politics and which secretary or phone operator satisfies their visual appetite. In fact, and not surprisingly, it is only when the two gendered worlds collide is when the tension heightens. Sure, the ad men have their squabbles but for the most part they dissipate in short order. No, the lingering conflict with Mad Men is between the male and the female. Don Draper (Jon Hamm) constantly flip flops between being faithful to his wife Betty (January Jones), but does maintain regularly scheduled appointments with another woman. It's hard to figure out where his romantic loyalties lie.

Women appear to have no real power. Men have the freedom to explore their romantic desires and escape out of the treacherous confines of the home. The women are trapped with their one-and-only male partners, whoever they may be and to whomever they may already be attached. Women do not have the recourse of leaving their loveless marriage unless the man frees her, but this is not a desirable position as it leaves the woman without financial support. No, the women occupy their time discussing the pregnancy situations of their neighbors and the social lives of presidential candidates.

Men exert their prowess between the hours of 9 to 5, but they can only do so within the office. It is within this same time-frame that women exert their own kind of prowess within the home world. They raise the kids and maintain the home - the same home that the working man must eventually return - but they also socialize among themselves.

The one anomaly in this whole equation is Peggy Olson (Elizabeth Moss, formerly of The West Wing). She exists within the working world. Okay, no problem, so do many other secretaries. However, Peggy managed to advance within the company and consequently into the world of men in the working world!

And so, this is the question that lingers for Mad Men. Which genre of woman will be the catalyst for the upstart females: the challenging Peggy in the working world, or the subtly subversive Betty Draper of the home world. I think if history is to be any counsel, then both sets of women may serve as a dual wedge supplanting the epochal dominance of the XY chromosome.

Why do I enjoy this show? I enjoy the 3-martini lunch concept as well as the massively-flared skirt. 6 rounds of oysters at lunch anyone? This drama exudes an air of nonchalance about most anything. As unfaithful as the men are, it never occurs to them that their domestic life may be crumbling. It can only come from overconfidence in...something. They can cheat and get away with it. I enjoy the stark balance between work and home. Home seems so inviting, but it is ultimately the most hostile of environments. Check the stock of the liquor cabinets!