Amoeblog

Ranking Christopher Nolan's Films

Posted by Billy Gil, December 11, 2012 06:48pm | Post a Comment

In celebration of the recent release of The Dark Knight Rises on DVD and Blu-ray, I decided to go back and explore Christopher Nolan’s filmography, rewatching bits or all of the films, as I usually couldn’t stop myself from watching the things all the way through once I started. Nolan has directed and written or adapted eight films (not including his short films) in the past 14 years, making him not only one of the best (or arguably the best) of directors of the 21st century, but also one of the most prolific.

Starting from the bottom and working up to the best, this is my personal list of favorite Christopher Nolan films.

(All of the Christopher Nolan Batman movies are available in a box set, on DVD or Blu-ray.)

 

8. Following (DVD, Criterion DVD or Criterion Blu-ray)

Christopher Nolan’s first film represents the chrysalis of ideas Nolan would explore in later films. A lonely writer who follows people on the streets of London for research has the tables turned when one of his subjects asks why he is following him. The writer discovers the suave man he has followed is a burglar and invites the writer to come with him on a job. The ensuing movie, which weaves elements of classic film noir (Diabolique comes to mind), is notable for its new wave feel — black-and-white, naturalistic acting — as well as its non-linear plot structure. It also introduces subjects over which Nolan would seem to obsess throughout his career, such as that of duality and unreliable narrators. Some elements feel contrived — the writer’s willingness to engage in burglary and violence isn’t entirely convincing — and it suffers a bit from having had the superior and similarly minded The Usual Suspects released near it. But it would have been an ambitious, exciting first film for any director, and it features some of his best dialogue, something similarly strong in Memento but that I felt was a weak point in the otherwise masterful Inception, for instance. And for Nolan fans, it’s essential viewing to see how his ideas would be shaped better once he had more money, for starters — Nolan also photographed and produced the film himself, taking the money out for the expensive film stock from his own salary. Side note: look for the bat symbol in the movie, a funny bit of foreshadowing that, given the layering in Nolan’s films, you have to wonder about.

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Holy Terror, Batman! Some Thoughts on Violence in The Dark Knight Rises

Posted by Charles Reece, July 22, 2012 11:56pm | Post a Comment

There are plenty more insipid cartoons about the recent "Batman shootings" where Jeff Korteba's came from. I don't use it as an example of the decrepitude of political cartooning (it's always been the world's lamest artform). Rather, the cartoon exemplifies a certain misreading of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy*: the vigilante Batman displaces real world law and order in the superheroic fantasy. In which case, the films' audience needs a reminder of who we should fantasize about, namely the guy who really puts his life on the line. However self-critical his films are, Nolan is too much the well-ensconced liberal advocate to ultimately use the character as anything more than an imaginary supplement to the status quo. There is a reason, after all, why the revolutionary violence in all three films is treated as pure chaos for chaos' sake. Batman doesn't represent change, but a much needed (or so the narrative goes) restoration of order.

Sure, the Joker scores some good points against hypocrisy when he sounds like Walter Benjamin in advocating "divine violence," a resetting of cultural values to zero, destroying the occluded underground byways of systemic violence that capital requires to continue (just think of the modern sweatshops used in manufacturing the iPhone, for example).** And Catwoman sounds like Bertolt Brecht as she gleefully portends what Bane's about to do to Gotham's stock exchange (e.g., "robbing a bank's no crime compared to owning one"). Nevertheless, these are the villains of the trilogy, not the heroes (Catwoman only becomes a hero when she fights to restore order). That's why Ben Shapiro over at Big Hollywood has it right: this is a conservative trilogy.

The hero is the one who preserves the tradition against the radicals, who uses violence (what Benjamin called "mythic violence") to maintain the order, not abolish it. There is no real meditation on the French Revolution's choice of liberty or death here, but a decisive alignment with the pragmatico-realist's belief that the corrupt impurities in the devil you know is always better than the irrational radicalism of the devil you don't. When Batman proves incapable on his own of dealing with Bane's tyranny, he's aided/supplanted by the collective body of Gotham's finest, who heroically face off against the enemy's superior firepower. Just in case you might miss the point, Nolan cuts to a battle-worn American flag. As Bruce Wayne explains in The Dark Knight Rises, the Batman could be anyone ... anyone, that is, who willingly fights for the status quo -- never, of course, the demonic Other represented by Ra's Al Ghul, the Joker or Bane (those guys are just batshit crazy terrorists). 


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[*] This misreading is based on the common moralizing assumption that specular violence doesn't have content, that it doesn't say different things in different contexts. To wit, Dana Stevens' analysis of the possible relation between Nolan's films and the actions of terrorist du jour, James Holmes:

To discuss the meaning and motives of his crime, of course we have to at least talk about why he might choose The Dark Knight Rises as a backdrop (and possibly a template) for whatever private fantasy he was enacting. And maybe there should also be conversations about what it means that the economics of the film industry are driven almost entirely by the fantasies and desires of young men, and what effect that kind of over-representation in pop culture might have on … the fantasies and desires of young men. All I know is that, when I heard the news about the Aurora shootings, my first thought was very clear and very scary: “Of course this was going to happen sooner or later.”

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Album Picks: Frank Ocean, Blanche Blanche Blanche, Jeff the Brotherhood, Plus Albums Out Today

Posted by Billy Gil, July 17, 2012 04:18pm | Post a Comment
Album Picks:

Frank Ocean Channel OrangeFrank Ocean’s music touches such a raw nerve because it’s the rare album that fully appeals on a here-and-now pop level while referencing classic pop — in this case, pop and soul maestros like Stevie Wonder and Elton John — and offering something else entirely. This something else is that human, overexposed, heart-and-mind-on-sleeve content that firmly roots Channel Orange in the social network era. I was late to the game; the first time I heard “Thinkin Bout You” was the day before Ocean very publicly came out of the closet. That happenstance was strange for me — the thing that first struck me about the song, aside from its obvious craft, the kind of instantly memorable hit that combines a suave, easy to follow melody and arrangement with dagger-in-the-heart lyrics, was an indescribable “third” quality beyond music and lyrics that I usually find with my favorite music, whether it’s The Smashing Pumpkins, The Beatles or, perhaps more relatedly, morose ’90s/'00s R&B hits like PM Dawn’s “Die Without You,” Fabolous & Tamia’s “So Into You,” Lauryn Hill’s “Ex Factor” and so on. It’s that sort of feeling that hits you immediately and reminds you of all the stupid unrequited crushes, moments of indirection, and fleeting feelings of serenity in youth. That Ocean possibly wrote the song about his own unrequited same-sex love made sense to me, since that’s pretty much what the song reminded me of. But beyond any personal affiliation with the song, the ability to communicate such universal but difficult to pin down feelings so instantly is quite rare, and so thus should be treasured in the way rave reviews have been pouring in for Channel Orange. Indeed, I think “Thinkin Bout You” is the best song anyone will release this year, and Channel Orange likely will be the album of the year. Beyond that opening instant classic, Channel Orange brims with power. Take the lush Marvin Gaye-meets-How to Dress Well-meets-Kanye West depiction of new parenthood in “Sierra Leone,” its lyrics offering a welcome balance of vagueness and detail devoid of judgment, communicating feelings of joy and trepidation. He celebrates and also exposes the lives of privileged black youth in a seemingly realistic way, beyond the bling-style fantasies of much of hip-hop, in songs like “Sweet Life” and the brilliant “Super Rich Kids,” which sounds like a hip-hop “Benny and the Jets” playing over an episode of the similarly revelatory reality show “Baldwin Hills.” He creates an sprawling, Kanye-style centerpiece with “Pyramids,” an epic track buoyed by raunchy synth riffs that turn glittering in the song’s sweetly disintegrating second half. And he continues to explore his evolving sexuality on a trio of closing ballads, in which he sounds as comfortable and natural singing about love between men, and between men and women. Though that doesn’t at all overshadow the rest of the album, which has more merits in spades to stand on its own, it can’t be ignored, either, as a huge moment for hip-hop — for all music — as a knocking down of barriers in music, sexuality and male image through some of the most dazzling, yet thoughtful pop music being made today.


 
 
OK, enough about how great Frank Ocean is. Here’s another artist who could probably actually use another person talking about them: Blanche Blanche Blanche, from Vermont’s Zach Phillips and Sarah Smith. Their Wink With Both Eyes has been out a little while, but Pitchfork’s recent review prompted me to check it out and boy, I’m smitten. Super lo-fi antics, similar in sound to an Ariel Pink but with the playfulness of a Unicorns and the cool girl vocals of a Broadcast. They remind me quite a bit, too, of The Fiery Furnaces at their best, especially when Phillips jumps in for some vocals alongside Smith, although it’s more in restless spirit than sound. Anyway, if you like any of the aforementioned, by hook or by crook, you have to get this album. I saw one copy on the floor at Amoeba Hollywood; not sure about the other two stores, but you can also order it from us here. Really just mind-bending, haunting stuff, probably will be one of my favorites of this year. Apparently Phillips has a bunch of other projects too, like Bruce Hart, Horse Boys, GDC and Jordan Piper Philips, which I’ll now have to check out after listening to this album constantly.


 
jeff the brotherhoodReleased today was Jeff the Brotherhood’s Hypnotic Nights. The band’s anthemic rock ‘n’ roll resonates so well because their synth-tinged, nerdy fuzz rock never really went out of style, it just sort of disappeared for a while, as Weezer aimed for Beverly Hills and bands like Grandaddy dropped off entirely. Thanks to bands like MGMT and Jeff the Brotherhood, fist-pumpers for the rest of us are alive and well, like Hypnotic Nights’ irrepressible “Sixpack,” whose lyrics “I wanna cool out/and get wasted” sound like nerds finally coming of age and buying booze for the first time while listening to too much Cars and Black Sabbath (is there such a thing?). With The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach producing, real-life brothers Jake and Jamin Orral are surprisingly adept at changing things up, too, like the classic lo-fi indie rock vibes of the awesomely titled “Mystic Portal II,” which starts out with a Guided By Voices/Built to Spill style entry before launching into a beautifully melodic power ballad that ends in guitar-sitar loveliness. And songs like “Staring at the Wall” call out their psychedelia roots with heavy flanged guitars. Sorry if you peaked in high school; the A/V club kids always end up having more fun down the line.

 

Also Out Today:

 
Animal KingdomAnimal KingdomThe Looking Away
 
Animal Kingdom produce some of the sweetest, sleekest Britpop you’ll hear on The Looking Away, balancing pop smarts and expert balladry in songs like “The Wave.” Fans of Coldplay, Of Monsters and Men, and Sigur Ros, take note.
 





 
Baroness Yellow and GreenBaroness
Yellow & Green
 
Though Yellow & Green is metal band Baroness’ most accessible release yet, they haven’t lost any of the drive that have made them a favorite of diehard metal fans and indie music fans alike. Yellow & Green is melodic enough to be on rock radio — just check out the wave-like melodies and guitarwork on “March to the Sea,” complete with country-esque riffery floating below the din. But it’s also plenty tough, as John Baizley’s vocals rarely leave the low jaw-singing range and guitars, while lovely when they relent, as on the driving hard rock of “Little Things,” they rarely do.
 

 
can unlimited editionCan
Unlimited Edition and Flow Motion
 
Reissues of Can albums — Unlimited Edition collected previously unreleased Can tracks, while Flow Motion is their eighth studio album, featuring the jam “I Want More.”
 







The Dark Knight RisesThe Dark Knight Rises Soundtrack
 
Music composed by Hans Zimmer.
 








 
MatisyahuMatisyahu
Spark Seeker
 
Matisyahu’s Spark Seeker reintroduces the performer not as the Hasidic Jewish rap poster boy but as he should be heard — a pop artist who informs his music with elements of roots reggae, hip-hop and Judaism. Songs like “Sunshine” and “I Believe in Love” are positive to the core, espousing the importance of joy, love and spirituality over buoyant reggae backbeats that will land these songs everywhere from pop radio to religious retreats.



 
john mausJohn
MausA Collection Of Rarities & Previously Unreleased Material

It’s just as the title says, with 16 tracks composed by the cerebral yet goofy John Maus over the past decade or so. Key track “Bennington” boasts a raunchy synth groove and lyrics like “I miss those funky eyes.”
 

 





milo greeneMilo GreeneMilo Greene
 
Milo Greene is a set of beautifully crafted songs that make the most of the band’s five-person set-up, taking cues from the Fleet Foxes as each musician contributes to the band’s folky soundscapes and lush harmonies. Check out the band’s live streaming performance at Amoeba (and Amoeba.com) tonight at 7 p.m. and read my interview with them here.
 



 
nas life is goodNas
Life is Good
 
One of the greatest MCs of all time returns with his 10th studio album, with production by Salaam Remi and No I.D., and appearances by Rick Ross, Mary J. Blige and the late Amy Winehouse.
 

 





smashing pumpkins pisces iscariotSmashing PumpkinsPisces Iscariot (Reissue)
 
So excited about this one, maybe even more so than the recent Gish and Siamese Dream reissues. Fans have long known Pisces Iscariot, the Pumpkins’ 1994 B-sides album, to be as strong as anything in their catalog. So great to have it on vinyl, and in a deluxe edition with additional tracks such as their dynamite cover of Ozark Mountain Daredevils’ “Jackie Blue,” early new wave jam “My Dahlia” and an awesome live version of non-album psych-punk jam “Slunk.”
 


 
The Very BestThe Very BestMTMTMK
 
The second album from duo The Very Best is a genre-hopping world music mashup of ideas, incorporating afropop, reggae, hip-hop and house music.