Christopher Nolan Just Did Something Unbelievably Cool:

Nolan, director of The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception and Memento, was set to release his newest film Interstellar everywhere on November 7th when, barely a month in advance, roughly 50 locations set their opening night for Wednesday November 5th. Why? Because only those locations will be screening this highly anticipated release on either 35mm, 70mm or IMAX 70mm film-stock

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Some of you reading this might well be hooting and hollering already. Yes. This is a tremendous feat. 

For some background, Christopher Nolan is a major proponent for keeping celluloid film an integral ingredient in the film industry. Alongside few, but mentionable names (Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson, Judd Apatow and J.J. Abrams), Nolan is of an endangered species.

Of course, there are some obvious reasons for why film is being phased out of the industry. It’s expensive, the stock itself and the cameras that support it are more cumbersome than digital equipment, and the process is slower. 

In fact, because of the digital trends in studio production, Kodak filed bankruptcy in 2012. The company only continues to produce film stock today because a group of A-list directors successfully lobbied a Hollywood studio coalition to commit to buying a certain amount of film stock for future productions. Every filmmaker who works on film seems to have their own reasons for why they choose it over digital (re: Darren AronofskyJ.J. Abrams, etc.), but the bulk of the argument for film lies mostly in the preservation of cinema. In the words of Martin Scorsese:

Film is still the best and only time-proven way to preserve movies. We have no assurance that digital information will last, but we know that film will, if properly stored and cared for.

Unfortunately studios and private owners have done an immeasurably poor job of preserving film up to this point. Check out this alphabetized list of films from the Silent Era presumed lostthis list of Vault and Nitrate fires, or read this extremely depressing statement by Robert A. Harris at a National Film Preservation Study in 1993

Studio attitudes around this issue did not improve with the advent of digital movie technology. In fact, in the late 2000s, many American distributors began requiring movie theaters to trash their old film projectors with the purchase of new digital systems to ensure the medium’s demise.

Of course there are a few revival cinemas (also a dying breed) around the world that are still very committed to film. The 2012 documentary Out Of Print looks inside The New Beverly, one of the last remaining revival houses in Los Angeles, and addresses some of the problems they’ve faced in keeping 35mm alive. Those of us with an appreciation for film have been boiled down to a gaggle of awkward aficionados, not too different from vinyl geeks, or vegans. We like a thing a certain way, and we don’t want it taken away from us or killed.

So what exactly is Christopher Nolan saying with an early release of Interstellar exclusively on film? Well:

  1. He’s honoring the few cinemas around the country that have remained loyal to film-stock. Those cinemas will have two days exclusive run of the films and it will certainly draw numbers, thus sending a huge signal to digital multiplex owners around the country, especially the big tycoons. In fact you can buy Interstellar tickets here in whatever format you’d like.
  2. He’s shown us that the studios aren’t all powerful. Despite having announced early in 2014 that Anchorman 2 was to be its last film-stock release, with Wolf of Wall Street subsequently becoming its first entirely digitally-distributed film, Paramount Pictures turned around to produce Nolan’s Interstellar. And…
  3. (perhaps most importantly) He’s literally putting a 'Nutrition-Facts' label on movies. Because why shouldn’t movies be labeled organic? A ‘film-stock’ guarantee sends a message to casual contemporary movie goers that there is, in fact, diversity in the projection booth—knowledge which inevitably leads to awareness of a long, rich and beautiful cinematic history.

Hoot and holler, folks. This is an enormous victory for cinephiles everywhere. 

But let’s not kid ourselves—let’s not pretend that we don’t watch most of our movies alone (or in the company of a few hand-picked individuals) on screens that fit in your pocket or your bag. You might like to know that Netflix just did this. Just remember, cinema ends when we stop watching movies with strangers, or when we’ve forgotten where it came from. And let me tell you, not all movies came from Casablanca. See you November 5th.

The Lego Movie by Chris Miller and Phil Lord

WARNING: This review is not objective. My relationship to The Lego Movie has been informed by a long history of Lego™ building. I do not know how to think about this movie outside of that relationship. So if you haven’t played with Legos™ before, it’s not too late for you. I especially recommend this set

Okay, now, if you ARE a Lego™ fan, and haven’t seen this movie yet, DO. The humor is dumb, but so quick it doesn’t matter. It’s just silly. Like anything Chris Pratt does these days, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s fun! Like Legos™ always have been and always will be!

Next, it’s just so nice to look at. THE COLORS! And wow, The Legos™ look like real Legos™! They even fooled a friend of mine into thinking the whole movie was stop-motion. It’s not, because that would have taken eons, but it still looks great!

Then there’s a great cast playing great characters. My favorites were Morgan Freeman as the hippie-wizard Vitruvius, Nick Offerman as a freaky robot-pirate Metal Beard, and especially dear to my heart, Charlie Day as Benny [or] 1980-something Space Man [or, officially] sp004 Classic Space-Blue. The characters really melded well together, and there was a lot of conflict resolution! Yay plot development!

For me, this movie falls into the same category as Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010) and even Space Jam (1996). They each make their gimmick work really well… I may just be really nostalgic about Space Jam, but with the other two I think I’m right.

Definitely worth the watch. Super excited for the sequel slated for 2017. Thanks for reading! Now, back to watching this

Snowpiercer by Bong Joon-Ho

The comic book film-adapting craze just got a whole lot better thanks to Korean whiz, The Host director, Bong Joon-Ho. He took the moody French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette and turned it Hollywood with a couple million dollars worth of talent, production and special effects. Word is The Host (2006) was getting good enough numbers (it’s available on Netflix) so some watchful producers gave him the opportunity to bring us this gem. With Snowpiercer, everything you thought you knew about movies is pushed to the back of the train, so to speak.

Imagine global warming becomes so unbearable that the human race develops a chemical to disperse through the atmosphere in order to speed up the cooling process. This goes terribly wrong and the world falls into an irreversible ice age, leaving a totally unlivable landscape in its place… and a train. This train is powered by a perpetual motion engine and circles the globe once every year carrying the last of the human race. But all is not well on Snowpiercer—the people who live in the back of the train grow restless as others live in luxury toward the front. Curtis (Chris Evans) must lead them in a final rebellion to take back their freedom. 

This is the most surprising film of the year. It’s a must-see for anyone with a stomach (or rather, without one). Snowpiercer will bring you to your knees wondering why all blockbusters can’t be this unpredictable. See it!

Also starring are Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Ewen Bremer, Octavia Spencer and Ed Harris. Yup. And two of Joon-ho’s favorite Korean actors join the cast, Song Kang-ho and Go Ah-sung, and they’re phenomenal. Just watch it already!

Can’t wait to watch The Host, and whatever Bong Joon-ho makes next. 

Holy Motors by Leos Carax

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Rest assured, I’ve been watching movies this whole summer. But instead of blogging, tiny adventures around the Twin Cities and the North Country have consumed my life (with no objections!). As we fast approach some exciting new films this fall however (Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, and David Fincher’s Gone Girl plus some foreign film arrivals like Palme D’Or winner Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep), I think it’s about time I get back into it. That said, this blog is more an effect of  sudden inspiration which came from seeing the film Holy Motors by French filmmaker Leos Carax, starring the brilliant Denis Lavant. So, here it goes…

HOLY SMOKES, Holy Motors caught me way off guard despite plenty of warning. When this film came out in 2012 and then came to theaters in the Twin Cities last year, I heard it was an out-there film. It got some major press upon its release, and Lavant received much well deserved acclaim for his outstanding performance. I still couldn’t believe my eyes though, it was a total geek-out tribute to film lovers and filmmakers.

That said, I wouldn’t recommend it to my dad or any other casual viewer. I would recommend this to anyone who admires Charlie Kaufman, particularly for his up-for(ever)-debate masterpiece Synecdoche New York, while encouraging them to be a bit more generous with their senses of humor. On top that, Matrix-lovers might love it… Watchmen-lovers perhaps… Pretty much anyone who’s intrigued by something along the lines of Film Noir meets Time Travel meets Graphic Novel meets Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life… maybe. 

Here’s a vague premise of the film in case your curiosity has piqued:

Oscar’s job requires him to travel around Paris in a stretched limousine, rifling through costumes for various bizarre ‘appointments’. Sometimes he plays a beggar on the street, other times a close member of the family. He plays his roles perfectly, yet he grows tired still.

The film begs the question, how long can we keep this up? Whatever ‘this’ is…

…and then it slaps you silly. 

PS: the film looks great. It’s dark and moody. The songs are beautiful too, yet few and far between, parsed by almost deadly silence. And supporting roles (one played by Kylie Minogue, another by Eva Mendez) are superb. Couldn’t take my eyes off the world, and the people in it. 

Please, watch this movie!

Glad to be back! Next up: Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer, Chris Miller and Phil Lord’s The Lego Movie, and Tim Sutton’s Memphis.

Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky

Well if you haven’t heard of Andrei Tarkovsky, then it’s probably way too late to prove how cool you are to any fellow film buffs. Bergman once said, “Tarkovsky is for me the greatest, the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream.” Really. I spent my whole last semester of college watching only one of his films over and over and over (The Mirror).

Stalker is one of his most acclaimed films. Geoff Dyer wrote a book about it, and additionally came to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis last year to talk through the film with viewers. It was screened on an extremely rare 35mm print, and it looked amazing.

The film is about a man who illegally leads two men into ‘The Zone’, a government guarded area wherein lies legend of a room that will grant any wish. Stalker, the main character, has been there before. Though his life outside ‘The Zone’ is in shambles, he is the sole guide of the forbidden place. He was taught its rules. 

Perhaps one of the most slowly-paced films of all time, Stalker makes it up to viewers with some of the most beautiful images Tarkovsky ever captured. ‘The Zone’ is gorgeous, lush with overgrowth, trickling water and streams, and relics of man. Definitely a must-see for aficionados.

Hiroshima Mon Amour by Alain Resnais

Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour came onto the French film scene right at the beginning of the French New Wave. It’s one of his most famous films, and also one of his earliest. It’s about a Japanese man and a French woman who have a chance meeting in Hiroshima, and anguish over having to leave one another. They share their histories and the difficulties they’ve had in life. 

The film itself explores the dark undercurrents of people’s lives, and the will to continue despite hardships. The female protagonist very much reminds me of Ingmar Bergman’s female characters, as well as the overall tone of the film. 

Its cinematography is great, and the script is wonderful. A good watch, but beware mood-swings.

The Missing Picture by Rithy Panh

The Missing Picture is a documentary film by Cambodian filmmaker, Rithy Panh. A survivor of the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot’s regime, Panh recreates visions from his past with clay figurines and archival footage. The film’s poetic narration implores viewers to consider lost history and human suffering.

The challenge of this film is to fill the ‘missing picture’. Despite the scenes laid before the viewer, one must still struggle to see truth. Even so, the clay characters are the perfect metaphor for the real people they represent. These are people made from the earth, and then taken away from it.

For documentary folks, this is a must see, along with The Act of Killing by Panh’s cohort, Joshua Oppenheimer. Both are totally devastating and pushing the envelope on what it means to make a documentary.