Tag Archives: Christopher Nolan

Failed Critics Podcast: Dunkirk

Is it their finest hour and 17 minutes? With a stonking quiz hosted by guest Callum Petch, pitting hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes against each other, plus reviews of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, 2016 mystery thriller Pet, and the extraordinarily awful documentary Extraordinary: The Stan Romanek Story, it might well possibly be!

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Half A Decade In Film – 2010

During October last year, we assembled a team of writers to put together five Decade In Horror articles during the build up to Halloween.  It was a short mini-series; a kind of spin-off from our regular Decade In Film series, where we each chose our favourite horror film from the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s.

The reason we stopped at the noughties was because, well, quite frankly, we’re still currently in the 2010’s. We can’t exactly do a retrospective on a decade that hasn’t yet ended! Or…. can we? No, we can’t. But what we can do is party like it’s 2015.

By which I mean, re-assemble the squad and take a look back at the first half of the decade so far. In the five years from 2010-14, we’ve seen the likes of Gareth Edwards, Richard Ayoade, Paddy Considine, Joe Cornish, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and more all making their directorial debuts, as well as witnessing the birth of the super-blockbuster. Seven of the ten highest grossing films of all time were released during this past half decade. From genre-revitalising micro-budget Indonesian action films made by Welsh directors, to expanded cinematic universe’s, we’ve had it all. So, let’s start right at the beginning and see what Owen, Paul, Liam, Mike and Andrew have chosen for 2010.


Blue Valentine

blue valentineListen, I didn’t wanna be somebody’s husband, okay? And I didn’t wanna be somebody’s dad. That wasn’t my… goal in life. For some guys it is – wasn’t mine. But somehow I’ve… it was what I wanted. I didn’t know that. And it’s all I wanna do. I don’t want to do anything else. That’s what I want to do. I work so I can do that.

A couple of years back, there was this film I saw a trailer for in the cinema called The Place Beyond The Pines. Something about the look of the film, the way it was fixed on three different people whose lives were all intertwined, I just really, desperately wanted to see it. Unlike a great many other films I want to see that never turn up at my local Cineworld, this one bizarrely made it there. Huzzah! A screening… that’s at midday… in the middle of the week. Bummer.

I took a day’s leave from work with the sole intention of seeing The Place Beyond The Pines. It ended up being one of my favourite films of the year and consequently led to me almost immediately checking out director Derek Cianfrance’s previous film, Blue Valentine, the following day.

Well, wow. If The Place Beyond The Pines was strangely uplifting and optimistic in the most pessimistic and disheartening way plausible, then Blue Valentine was as depressing and heartbreaking in as magical and romanticised way possible. Detailing both the coming together of two people in love, jumbled up amongst the collapse of their marriage, all told in a non-linear way that constructs and deconstructs relationships in one fell swoop, it just absolutely blew me away.

Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams were incredible, both nailing all aspects of their characters; their flaws, their quirks, their love and hate for one another. There’s a wildness in both of their performances that never feels constrained or restricted, instead making the moments that they express their love for one another seem genuine, as well as hammering home just how painful it is to see their situation forcing them further and further apart.

I think I said on the podcast at the time, as a story about falling into and out of love, about duty and responsibility, about simply being a fucking human, then it’s hard for any movie top something as devastatingly inspiring as Blue Valentine.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)


Inception

inceptionThey say we only use a fraction of our brain’s true potential. Now that’s when we’re awake. When we’re asleep, we can do almost anything.

Christopher Nolan is a director you don’t take for granted. He constantly innovates, he never rests on his achievements, strives to create a film that you will never forget. I’m not saying I’m a Nolan fan boy and there are a few films of his which I’m not that keen on. Yet, even in these films there are moments which leave you speechless because Nolan will push cinema to its limit, and that’s what makes him one of the most interesting and exciting directors we have today.

In 2010, Inception was a film which left a huge mark on me. This was and still is my favourite Nolan film. Yes, I even think it’s better than The Dark Knight (which is also pretty incredible). That said, from its incredible set pieces to a stunning score from Hans Zimmer (which for me is his finest cinema music to date), it just left me in awe of Nolan’s vision, his ability to ignite the imagination and create something this incredibly unique is extremely impressive. Is Inception Nolan’s homage to spy films? It is sort of, but it takes that element and just flips it on its head, because Nolan’s spies infiltrate dreams to access their victims secrets, none of this breaking into high security offices and photocopying a few documents, no that’s far too mundane for Nolan, he takes it to a whole new level. The set pieces in the film are incredible, well we are in dreams, where imaginations can run wild. Nolan shows his aptitude for action, his ability to excite and push you to the edge of your seat, the action in Inception is flawless, I do wonder what he would do if he ever directed a James Bond movie.

Yet one problem is it tends to over complicate matters and sometimes you are left scratching your head and wondering what is really going on. In fact Nolan does leave the ending open, which did bring groans from the audience and leaves you in that state of was it or wasn’t it all real. I do tend to go for the happier ending after the fade to black, but it was a hot topic of discussion.

The cast is incredible, Leonardo DiCaprio leads the stars in this film, and his work is outstanding in the film. He’s backed up by the brilliant Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page and Ken Watanabe. Nolan brings out the best in his cast and they are all on top of their game.

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)


I Saw The Devil

i saw the devilI will kill you when you are in the most pain. When you’re in the most pain, shivering out of fear, then I will kill you. That’s a real revenge. A real complete revenge.

Late 2010 and a first visit to the London Korean Film Festival. A hidden gem on the calendar, that’s well worth looking out for each year. £10 gets you entry to a West End Premier, with free hospitality. Front row seats, an absolute skinful of Korean Soju (those little green bottles you see in every Korean film) and out walks director Kim Ji-Woon to present his latest (controversial film), I Saw The Devil, in all its uncut glory to an expectant and wildly appreciative audience.

The Korean revenge genre is one of my favourites, so to see a couple of Korean heavyweights in Lee Byung-Hun (A Bittersweet Life, GI Joe) and Choi Min-Sik (Oldboy !!!) team up with Kim Ji-Woon to have a crack at it, was bed wettingly excited for this.

It delivers in spades. It looks absolutely amazing, the cinematography is simply beautiful. It has all the hallmarks of a cracking Korean lark, the ridiculous tonal shifts, a shambolic police force, the eye rolling melodrama and plot holes you can drive a truck through. Throw in a completely over the top take on the genre and some of the nastiest violence ever committed to screen and we have ourselves a movie. The revenge on offer here…is different….darker….more brutal…

Kim Ji-Woon has almost killed this genre, there’s literally nowhere to go after this, he’s turned the dial up to 10, ripped it off and stamped on it. Everything he turns his hand to has been good to great so far, from a Western, to Drama, Comedy, Horror and even an Arnie action flick. He’s one of the greatest working directors of our age and this was the most fun anyone could possibly have had in a cinema in 2010.

The 10th London Korean Film Festival takes place in November 2015.

by Paul Field (@pafster)


The Sound of Noise

SoN02.jpgDirected by Ola Simonsson and Johannes Nilsson, The Sound of Noise is a genre hopping little known gem from Sweden.

The story revolves around a group of obsessive drummers planning and performing a series of gigs. The problem is that their idea of a “Gig” is far closer to what the general public would call a terrorist raid.

Hot on their heels is Detective Amadeus Warnebring, a (figuratively and literally) tone deaf police officer with a hatred of music and musicians.

Warnebring is the black sheep of an extremely accomplished musical family. He comes from a long line of singers, musicians, conductors and composers. His younger brother was feted as a Wunderkind and is now a big star in the classical music world, so poor old Amadeus is treated as a bit of a dunce by most of his family and is more tolerated than loved. Only his mother shows any kind of real affection for him, and even that takes the form of a kindly patronisation.

Although essentially a surreal comedy, the film also has significant dramatic content and features several brilliant musical scenes. The group perform extremely complicated rhythmic pieces using a huge variety of objects, none of which would normally be considered musical instruments. Who knew that you could get a decent tune out of equipment as unlikely as; heart rate monitors, operating tables, money counting machines, bulldozers and even electric pylons?

Running under the surface of all the absurd humour and musical madness is a rather warm and tender love story. Quietly and subtly handled, it never threatens to derail the fun or get overly sloppy but it does add a welcome layer of true humanity to a group of people that could quite easily be seen as somewhat mechanical in their all consuming need to live life to the beat of a metronome.

There are a few moments that do stray perilously close to that fine line between madcap, surreal humour and just plain annoying. The humorous concept of Warnebring’s selective deafness does teeter on the edge of overuse in one of the most important scenes but, thankfully, just about manages to keep its balance.

This film is an expanded follow on from the excellent 2001 short Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers, which is well worth seeing on Youtube. It is made by and stars the same group.

by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)


The Fighter

the fighterThis is your time, all right? You take it. I had my time and I blew it.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. Nothing gets the Oscar committee’s genitals tingling quite like a good, old fashioned true sports story. But what usually makes the better ones the best of the bunch is the part where the film isn’t really about that sport. From Pride of the Yankees all the way to this year’s Foxcatcher, the lives of its characters takes centre stage over whichever sport happens to be in the backdrop.

It’s one of my favourite things about The Fighter. The true story of champion boxer “Irish” Mickey Ward, isn’t really about boxing. In fact, the first hour or so is essentially Shameless with expensive actors. It’s a story about a down-trodden guy, who could be any guy, dragging his arse out of the sludge that he’s living in and trying to make things better for himself while his delinquent family are a constant weight around his ankles.

The beauty of these films is that they come packaged with outstanding performances. Both in front of and behind he camera. The Fighter revitalised David O’Russell’s career, giving him the start of a three film run filled with Oscar nominations (some more deserving than others). Most of The Fighter‘s nods were for its stars and deserving is definitely the word here. From Mark Wahlberg’s turn as struggling boxer Mickey Ward trying to make it big in a world that’s all but forgotten him. To Melissa Leo’s pathologically controlling, wannabe reality TV star matriarch. Everyone brings their best and we, the audience, are rewarded handsomely for their work.

Christian Bale’s performance as Mickey’s crack addicted, former boxing superstar brother, Dickie, is a career best and the greatest performance in the film. The insane weight cut that, while not The Machinist levels of grim, had to take a toll and that commitment shines from every frame he’s in. Galvanised when you see the short clip of the real Dicky at the credits and see just how well Bale plays him. I don’t think anyone could argue how much he deserved the Oscar he won for the role.

The Fighter is an emotional urban drama and a powerful underdog story all wrapped in a boxing film and it’s easily one of the greatest dramas ever. Not just 2010.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)


And there you go. No room for critically acclaimed movies such as the best picture winning The King’s Speech, The Social Network, Black Swan, 13 Assassins, Toy Story 3 or, perhaps most unbelievably of all, Piranha 3D. But that just goes to show how good a year that 2010 was. We’ll be back next week with the same crop of writers to pick the five undisputed (….) best films of 2011.

Failed Critics Podcast: Hobbity tosh, Pottery hogwash & Intersellar oh-my-gosh

interstellarWelcome to this week’s super-professional well-researched spick-and-span highly-polished episode of the Failed Critics podcast!

The main release review this week is Christopher Nolan’s $165m space-time-travelling science fiction thriller Interstellar. A film so long, we extended our podcast an extra 15 minutes with the return of our Spoiler Alert section alongside our regular spoiler-free review.

Despite that, there was even time for Owen to take in the first two (well, one and a half) Lord of the Rings films this week; for Steve to reveal exactly why he’s watching through all seven Harry Potter movies; and for Carole to have a meta-meta experience with 90’s slasher sequel Scream 2.

Jon us again next week as we review the acclaimed wartime drama The Imitation Game.

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Into ‘stellar?

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

Ever since man has first looked up at the stars, the question has been asked: What do you do when you see a space man? Yes, of course the correct answer is “you park in it, man” (please, please, hold your applause, you’re too kind).

However, for thousands of years, man has written Christmas cracker jokes looked up and wondered what lies beyond the blue skies of our planet’s atmosphere. For most people, it’s only led to further questions. How can “space” exist? Why does it exist? Why do we exist? From religion and faith, to science and theory, everyone seems to have their own opinion on what they like to imagine fills the vast expanse of the Universe and beyond. It takes people way smarter than this bozo to fully comprehend the question, never mind the answer. Luckily, it’s not just people cleverer than me who have thought about this question. There have been people with far more imagination who have been able to put their thoughts and ideas into film and literature.

Most recently Christopher Nolan did so with the terrific Interstellar. Which prompted me to create this article. What other movies are out there that deal with man’s exploration of space and time that are worth watching? Well, here are ten films that I would recommend you start with if you too are into ‘stellar (geddit?!) This list is by no means comprehensive, by the way. I’m fully aware big names such as the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises are missing, as well as this year’s Guardians of the Galaxy. This is just 10 films I’d suggest watching if you enjoyed the adventure into space that was Interstellar!


event horizonEvent Horizon (1997) Paul W.S. Anderson’s best film, it tells the story of a crew comprising of captain Laurence Fishburne, doctor Sam Neill, (plus others) who investigate of a spaceship that went missing some years ago called the Event Horizon. It miraculously returned with no crew left on board. It transpires that what happened was not quite as simple as they might’ve first thought. Next to Alien, it’s the perfect example of how to create an intelligent, atmospheric, space-horror. Quotes seemed to be almost directly lifted from Event Horizon in Interstellar (particularly the discussion around wormholes). It also raises interesting questions around what Hell is (or could be?) Complete with great performances, especially those of Fishburne and Neill around the descent into madness. Think of it as Hellraiser meets Alien. A real gem of a movie.


Contact (1997)contact In 1994, Robert Zemeckis released what will probably be the film he is remembered for, Forrest Gump. Well, with the exception of Back To The Future, perhaps. But one film of his that seems to have directly inspired the story of Interstellar is Contact, with its daughter grieving for her father and potential contact with another as yet unidentified life form. Using the relationship between father and daughter, it tries to bridge a gap between science and religion, life and death, between hope and reality. The concept behind Contact and how / what that will be like with other dimensions or lifeforms is handled with grace, whilst Jodie Foster gives a performance worthy of a movie such as this. The cast also features Matthew McConaughey, the star of Nolan’s epic! It’s a shame the ending lets the film down a little, but the rest of Contact is well worth a watch.


europa reportEuropa Report (2013) After a crew are sent on a fact-finding mission to one of Jupiter’s moons (that would be the one called Europa…) they end up finding a bit more than they bargained for. I almost feel like I should disclaimer this movie to people as besides being a sci-fi set mainly in space, it’s also a found footage movie. If you can name another found footage movie set in space that’s better than this (Apollo 18 shouts will not be recognised) then congratulations, but I probably won’t believe you. It takes its time to find its feet, as the crew (Sharlto Copley, Karolina Wydra, Michael Nyqvist etc) slowly grow into their roles, but for a film that takes place mostly inside a tin can, there’s a fair amount of tension and drama to be found. The structure is slightly unsatisfactory and non-linear, but the ending will be what determines whether or not you’ll like this movie. Personally, I found the slightly existential journey surprisingly entertaining.


2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)2001 I couldn’t really let the opportunity to recommend one of the greatest ever movies – not just sci-fi movies – pass me by without at least name-checking it. Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, shot one year before the actual moon landings (that if you believe some conspiracy-nuts, the man himself shot in a studio) is more of an exploration of life and being than it is about space travel, but if there’s a sci-fi movie released post 1968 that isn’t at least in some minor way influenced by 2001: A Space Odyssey, I’d be very surprised. Cerebral, contemplative and exceedingly beautiful. If you want to hear me rave about this film yet again, check out our Stanley Kubrick Corridor of Praise podcast.


solarisSolaris (1972) For the more cultured film fan, Tarkovsky’s very – very – art-house science fiction film about a living planets attempts to contact a man orbiting it will be one of your favourite sci-fi movies. The problem is, of course, how do you communicate with something that you have no way of understanding? In my Decade In Film article for 1972, I mention Ludwig Wittgenstein who proposed that “if a lion could speak, we would not be able to understand it”. If our frames of reference are so far apart, so completely different, how could we possibly hope to even know when an alien species is attempting to communicate, never mind actually understand what it’s trying to say? The Fermi Paradox suggests that if aliens exist, why haven’t we heard from them yet? Well, perhaps they do try to contact us, but we don’t realise it. This is one of the driving principles behind Solaris, and beyond its 167 minute run time including lingering shots of ponds and motorways, and absolutely astonishing cinematography, it tries to answer some of these philosophical quandaries.


Moon (2009)moon A breakthrough semi-indie production in 2009, Moon stars Sam Rockwell as a worker on a lunar station coming to the end of his three-year stint. I suppose he has what can be described as a crisis of personality as his shift draws closer to an end. Atmospheric and remarkably well written, if at times a little bit silly, Moon is a very entertaining movie. Similar to one aspect of Interstellar, it deals with being in space and having no reliable means of contact with Earth. Whilst there’s a heck of a lot more to Duncan Jones‘ relatively low budget British BAFTA nominated movie than simply isolation, it would seem almost rude not to suggest fans of Interstellar give it a go. 


this island earthThis Island Earth (1955) The 1950’s heralded a new age in sci-fi movies. The likes of Don Siegel and Jack Arnold probably led the pack with films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Creature from the Black Lagoon and It Came From Outer Space (in 3D no less!) However, This Island Earth by Joseph Newman was an incredibly ambitious project. It had a somewhat turbulent production history, which resulted in Jack Arnold himself being brought on board as an uncredited director. The sections of the film set on distant worlds and intergalactic battles became a bit too expensive and was shorter than planned, but it’s still admirable for the intention behind the film as well as its anti-war messages. It’s also a lot of fun in that cult-50’s sci-fi movie kind of way.


A Trip to the Moon (1902)trip to the moon There’s a huge amount of things one could say about this wondrous, imaginative, inventive and wholly original fantasy story made over 110 years ago by the inspirational Georges Méliès. From a technical point of view, Le voyage dans la lune is splendid. Suffice to say, it’s very impressive; from the special effects of the exploding moon people, to the incredible! science!-exclamation!-mark! The illusions Méliès crafted required true imagination and creativity. He was one of the first to create a movie such as this, of course! Even now, this short film is fantastic – in every sense of the word.


loveLove (2011) After writing my car off in February this year, I began the long commute to and from work via bus. During this time, BBC iPlayer kept me from grinding my teeth to stubs on my journey. I downloaded a lot of movies and documentaries to my tablet from iPlayer, some I’d heard of, some that were completely new to me, such as this mixed bag. I read the premise via the app, thought it sounded like it could be a really neat little indie sci-fi… and in part, it was. There’s strands that run throughout about isolation, human connection and indeed love, that are thought provoking and unique as an astronaut finds himself stranded on a spaceship. But, at the same time, it comes across as a meandering, dull, bewildering mess. You will either love or hate the soundtrack by Angels & Airwaves. It may have worked better as a short film as it does feel like a pop video, but it is atmospheric and definitely unlike a lot of other movies on this list.


Gravity (2013)gravity I’ve purposefully left Gravity until the end of this list for a couple of reasons. One, you’re probably sick of seeing comparisons between Gravity and Interstellar by now. They were after all released by the same studio (Warner Bros) on the same date (7 November) and are both about space and gravity. The other reason is, just about everybody interested in seeing Gravity has by now seen it. However, the second best film of 2013 (according to Sight & Sound’s readers poll) in many ways laid the foundations for Interstellar. A sci-fi story that was taken seriously by critics, particularly at the big award ceremonies, and features some mind-boggling special effects. The story may be pretty simple, threatening to hold back what has the potential to be an all-time classic, but it is one of the best modern sci-fi’s and if you get a kick out of Interstellar, then Alfonso Cuarón’s film (clocking in at just ever so slightly over half the run time of Nolan’s blockbuster) should tick a few boxes for you. Oh, and watch it on as big a screen as possible. In 3D if at all possible. Honestly. 3D.


And that’s that! If you have any suggestions of your own or think I’ve missed some vital inclusions, or even if you have any recommendations for me, just post them below. You can find Owen’s Interstellar review here, and he will also be talking about it with Carole and Steve on the upcoming Failed Critics Podcast!

Interstellar

Incredible visuals, slightly iffy dialogue, a multitude of ideas and thought-provoking concepts orbiting a sentimental plot about a father and daughter relationship told in a slightly non-linear pattern, yet enormously entertaining. Yup, Interstellar is definitely a Christopher Nolan film alright.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

interstellarAn occupational hazard of reviewing films for Failed Critics, whether on the podcast or on these written reviews, is that you see some films you really wouldn’t have otherwise been arsed about. Whether it’s with a slight resentment over the likes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles last month, Transformers: Age of Extinction a couple months back, or one of the worst films I’ve ever seen, I, Frankenstein, optimistically hoping they’re better than you think they’re going to be, they were all seen by me in the name of this little website.

However, for every time I’ve forced myself out into the cold, reluctantly putting my jacket on and sighing to myself about the next three hours I’ll spend watching something I’ll probably not enjoy, there’s also been times when I’ve made the short walk from the car park to the cinema a bit giddy in anticipation. Given the recent so-called backlash that director Christopher Nolan has received over his $165m project, this past weekend, Interstellar joined the likes of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Guardians of the Galaxy and Godzilla on my “fingers-crossed walk from car park to cinema” list. I really, really, really wanted Interstellar to be good. I have not jumped on the anti-Nolan bandwagon just yet. To my mind, he still makes incredibly enjoyable blockbuster movies with more brains than your average multi-million dollar project. But I’ll come onto whether or not Interstellar lived up to my expectations in a minute.

Firstly, the basic plot revolves around Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a single father of two, in the not too distant future. He was once an educated, highly skilled astronaut-come-engineer, but due to the dwindling population crisis and apparent slow death of our planet, necessitating the need for a focus on agriculture rather than scientific exploration, he is now a farmer of corn; one of the few remaining crops not effected by blight or the constant dust storms. His ten year old daughter, Murph (so named after Murphy’s Law), experiences something she describes as paranormal activity in her bedroom; books fly off shelves, figurines break in half and the dust settles in a peculiar pattern. Eventually, the pattern begins to make sense and Cooper stumbles upon a research centre planning to shoot some folks off into space to find a new home across the galaxy after a message from them – and I don’t mean some giant man-eating ants.

And thus begins one small crews journey across space, time and, erm, gravity in order to save their species.

In all manner of speaking, both in terms of the good and the bad, Interstellar is a very Nolan-esque movie. From his first real breakthrough with Memento, to one of our listeners/readers top 10 movies of 2012 (The Dark Knight Rises), and all that came inbetween, his films have all had a certain visual flair. The way they look and feel can easily be recognised as one of his movies within the opening quarter of an hour. They’re epic in their depictions of scope and scale, yet often contain frames with just one or maybe two characters at a time appearing in them. He creates a fantastic realism, and what with a large proportion of this movie being set in space, on distant planets or inside a shuttle with a wise-cracking robot, that’s no mean feat. You get people interacting with each other, as people do, but all the while there’s an element of fantasy about what’s taking place. Some truly astounding visual effects that might even eclipse those of Gravity, released this time last year. It’s almost a type of poetic realism. You know, that realism that occurs when people travel through worm holes. But poetic.

Continuing along those lines, the dialogue also has a balance of authenticity and complete and utter cobblers. Attempts to weight scripts with what could be seen as real science talk is largely superfluous. This is a ship containing three men, one woman and a bendy iMonolith travelling to another part of the galaxy; it’s safe to say that I have already conceded that my disbelief will need to be suspended in order to enjoy this. There’s really not any need to convince me of the whys and hows that this star hopping is actually possible. Although, that said, it was a nice change to not be treated like a complete idiot by a movie. Sure, there’s the typical exposition that you get in all blockbusters these days, but to have explanations that aid understanding without especially dumbing down, for example David Gyasi embodying the spirit of Laurence Fishburne in Event Horizon to explain to fellow crew members Cooper, Brand (Anne Hathaway) and Doyle (Wes Bentley) how wormholes work, was a nice treat. It was relevant, informative but not bogging the film down in droll pseudo-scientific theory.

Whilst these are two things that you could transfer to pretty much any films in Nolan’s back catalogue, one thing that is virtually out of his hands is that of the performances from the cast. The ever-reliable Matthew McConaughey (who would’ve thought that could be a thing three or four years ago – certainly not James) puts in a performance that is (pardon the pun) out of this world (I did say “pardon”!) It more than likely won’t grant him an Oscar for the second year in a row, but for a film of this magnitude with such high profile stars in it (Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck, Matt Damon and so on) who are all on form, for him to outshine them in the way that he does is pretty extraordinary.

As said earlier in the review, I wanted this movie to be good. I can see how that might suggest the potential for me to be lying to you – and maybe even myself. However, I honestly do believe that Interstellar, whilst not without its problems, is quite probably the best film Nolan has created… objectively speaking. Everyone has a favourite Nolan. He has seven movies in the IMDb Top 250, with one of those currently sitting in fourth place and a further two in the top 15! He’s an incredibly popular filmmaker and not without reason. My personal favourite may not be Interstellar, but it’s his most sophisticated, well made, and intelligent movie yet. Yes, better than Memento before anybody suggests it.

Owen, Steve and Carole will be chatting about Interstellar (and no doubt Nolan in general) on the upcoming podcast.

A Decade In Film – The Noughties: 2005

A series where the Failed Critics look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema, choosing their favourite films from each year of that decade.

When I was putting together the longlist for this article, I realised that this year seems to be notable for the number of eminently forgettable films it produced. That is, films I’ve watched that I’ve never had a desire to watch again or, worse, had forgotten that I’d even seen. Examples include Syriana, Wedding Crashers (come at me bro), Jarhead, The Island, The Business, Casanova, War of the Worlds, Revolver, Mr and Mrs Smith, The Producers, Robots, The Longest Yard, Assault on Precinct 13, Just Friends, Lord of War, Match Point, Cinderella Man, Wallace and Gromit, King Kong, whichever mediocre interpretation of Harry Potter was due that year…

Oh and apparently someone made a fan-film about how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader? And they even pretended to be George Lucas?! What a crazy idea. I’m just glad it’s not part of the official canon – I’d hate for the legacy of the Star Wars trilogy to be tarnished.

Anyway, my conclusion is that I may have watched more films from this year than any other so far, and yet I’ve struggled to pull together 5 films that are really amazing. Usually selecting 5 films is an agonising process. I just have very little emotional connection to many films – I’d say my Top 4 are strong and I chose the other fairly arbitrarily out a number of ‘meh’ choices. And please, as always, bear in mind that these are not supposed to be the ‘best’ films of the year but simply the ones I enjoy the most.

5. Kingdom of Heaven

kingdom of heavenThere will be a day when you will wish you had done a little evil to do a greater good.

I know this may be fairly controversial as many people I speak to think KoH is boring, but Ridley Scott’s epic tale of the Crusades has a lot going for it. Orlando Bloom is as good as Orlando Bloom gets (which admittedly isn’t all that great) and the historical world is lovingly created. Really though, I like this film because it has some awesome battle sequences, a rousing, sweeping soundtrack, and simply because I find that era of history utterly fascinating.

I won’t go into the historical accuracy or controversy about the film’s message on Western-Arab relations at a deeply sensitive time; far more qualified people than I have covered this in much greater detail. If you’ve not seen the film before or haven’t watched it in a long time, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of the Director’s Cut Blu-Ray and strap yourself in to the home cinema system for the film and accompanying documentaries.

4. A History of Violence

a history of violenceThere. You see how cozy it can be when you decide to play nice? Now come, Joey. Get in the car. You won’t need your toothbrush. We’ll take care of everything.

Criminally underrated by the general population but loved by critics, David Cronenberg’s film stars Viggo Mortensen as a man in a quiet town who responds with extraordinary, lethal skill when two men try to rob his diner. While not the most surprising or twist-filled narrative, the story is still gripping and as the film unravels, it is a pleasure to watch Mortensen’s consummate portrayal of the protagonist.

I’m not going to say any more about this film other than this: if you’ve not seen it, rectify this immediately. If you have, you’re probably overdue another viewing.

3. Hidden (Caché)

hiddenIsn’t it lonely, if you can’t go out?

It took me far too long to watch this film and I suspect many readers will be aware of the film without having seen it. As I said when raving about the film on a podcast many moons ago, the main feeling I was left with was simply awe at Haneke’s direction.

At the heart of the film is a mystery, a frighteningly real and possible mystery that it would be detrimental to discuss in case you, the reader, haven’t seen the film. Nonetheless, the way in which the narrative is unwound, meticulously, thread by thread, is a joy to behold. Without spoiling anything, I can say that the mystery continues right up until the final shot – which unlike most films doesn’t give the viewer closure but instead opens up a whole other line of enquiry for the viewer to ponder as they walk away from the film.

The beauty is therefore in Haneke’s intention; no explanation is fully satisfactory. There are flaws in any theory to answer the film’s questions, just as in life. If you’ve seen Hidden though, I’m sure you will be bursting with theories of your own and will happily engage others in a discussion/argument about it. And that, really, is the beauty of good entertainment, of a fine cultural artefact – enjoyable in the moment, just as enjoyable when shared with others.

2. Sin City

sin cityThe silencer makes a whisper of the gunshot. I hold her close until she’s gone. I’ll never know what she was running from. I’ll cash her cheque in the morning.

Stylish, brutally violent and full of smart dialogue, Frank Miller’s graphic novel series is definitely worth a read. And as the film is arguably the most faithful interpretation of comic/graphic novel source material you’re likely to find, it isn’t surprising to find it here on this list. Robert Rodriguez had spent a few years directing kids films by this point (interspersed with Once Upon a Time in Mexico) so this represented a powerful return to type.

Still notable nearly ten years on for the striking visuals thanks to being shot almost entirely on green screen, Sin City explores the dark side of urban humanity. RR managed to pull together an all-star cast (who interestingly weren’t all signed up when some scenes were shot, so RR digitally swapped them in for doubles later on) and in particular a great turn from Mickey Rourke after years in the wilderness, an absolute must given the disparate nature of the multiple narratives woven together. Plus it has lots of sexy ladies in it who, much like in Planet Terror a couple of years later, kick a lot of ass and aren’t just there purely as eye candy.

Sin City is like the most archetypal film noir ever made and yet completely unlike pretty much every film noir at the same time. Mostly though, it’s just terrifically entertaining.

1. Batman Begins

batman beginsJim Gordon: I never said thank you.
Batman: And you’ll never have to.

There was only ever going to be one winner here and we all know it. Just a few weeks ago I found that a significant number of my work colleagues consider BB the best of the Nolan Batman films and I know they aren’t alone in feeling that way. Personally I think The Dark Knight is superior but Begins will always have a special place in my heart as a Batman geek.

It may be difficult to remember now but Begins came out when superhero films were reaching a difficult stage. We’d seen the DC heroes (Batman and Superman) decline by the late 90s with the genre seemingly dead until Raimi’s Spiderman and the original X-Men films smashed a big-budget hole in the cinematic landscape. Suddenly cinemas were awash with shiny, polished interpretations of a whole range of comic book heroes. New special effects technologies transported us to incredible, fantastical versions of the world time and again, with huge ticket and DVD sales for even the mediocre efforts (for instance, the distinctly average Hulk took $245m). Warner Bros took a look at their big ticket hero. And they had a problem.

What on earth were they to do with Batman? Since Schumacher took on the mantle, the Batman of recent memory was all style, no substance – and the style was questionable. Tim Burton’s Batman films in the late 80s/early 90s had been a huge success but the landscape seemed to have moved on. The WB execs found a way to get back to that darker vision of Bats and gambled on audiences being fed up of the more superficial treatment prevalent at the time. Enter Chris Nolan, still relatively unknown by mainstream audiences despite the relative success of Memento & Insomnia, with a bold vision: to make a film about Bruce Wayne, not about Batman.

The rest is history. I could write a very long article about this film, about the series it spawned, about the brilliance of Nolan’s interpretation (I kind of already have). I may still do. For now, let’s just bask in the glory of Batman Begins, a film that changed cinema for the better and kicked off one of the finest trilogies in recent film history.

Transcendence

TRANSCENDENCEWhatever potential Transcendence may have had is squandered by Stone Age gender and technological politics and overall nonsensical stupidity.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

I have come to the conclusion that films don’t know how to use in medias res, anymore.  Transcendence opens 5 years after its story is supposed to start, in a post-apocalyptic America where the Internet is knocked out totally and technology seems to no longer exist.  Sorry, I’ve just spoiled the end of Transcendence for you but only because Transcendence all but flips every single one of its cards in the first three minutes.  That is not how in medias res is supposed to work!  You’re not supposed to just show your ending and then wheel back to the start!  This gives me no greater understanding of the plot at large, starting at the end does not hook me any more than starting at the beginning would and, most importantly, it’s still exposition!  In medias res is supposed to start with action, somewhere exciting, to hook the viewer!  Here, I’m just being told information I would have reached by the time the story catches up, anyway!

So, that’s how Transcendence starts.  It does not get better.  The film does have a great premise, which only serves to make the fact that it wastes it on rote and poorly executed technological scaremongering all the more disappointing.  Scientist Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is shot with a radioactive bullet by a radical anti-tech terrorist group which will kill him in just over a month’s time.  Desperate to save his life, his grief-stricken wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) convinces their friend Max (Paul Bettany) to upload Will’s mind and consciousness into the form of a functioning AI program, a concept that Will has spent most of his entire life researching and working on.  Will and Max both agree and the trio set about trying to make it a reality.  Will eventually passes on but, miracle upon miracles, the plan seems to work and he wakes up as an AI.  Evelyn is overjoyed at reuniting with ‘Will’ but Max’s alarm bells are set ringing when the first thing the newly AI and self-aware Will asks for is more power…

What follows is nearly two hours of the same tone-deaf “all technology, regardless of the benefits, will DESTROY US ALL!!” message that I honestly thought we’d finally grown out of post-Y2K.  Hell, one character actually name-drops the Y2K concept at one point to let the audience know just how much of a threat AI Will is.  My issue is not the entire concept of the film, the “rogue AI” sub-genre of sci-fi is rife with realised potential, my issue is with the fact that the film never once lets up on its cynical nature.  Everything AI Will does, and I mean everything, whether it be clever stock trading or helping fix up a run-down old town or developing renewable energy sources or furthering nanotechnology, is constantly portrayed with a sense of dread.  That these are not things to be celebrated, but to be feared as they’re clearly being used as part of a larger scheme by an evil overload to take over the world!

The reason why this doesn’t work, and why it actually rather offends me, is down to the issue of tone.  Unlike other films of this type, and apparently the upcoming The Wind Rises, this is not a balanced portrayal.  It’s never “technology can be used for so much good, but it is also capable of being used for evil and destruction”, it’s always “anything that technology can provide, no matter how useful and helpful it may seem, is a time-bomb waiting to happen”.  Late on in the movie, AI Will manages to perfect nanotechnology, which enables human beings to self-heal and have unimaginable strength, and not five seconds after this development occurs does the film reveal that it’s only possible if the person receiving the nanotechnology is connected to AI Will and the film all but screams “THESE WILL BECOME AN EVIL TERMINATOR ARMY LATER ON”.  It never allows itself a moment to just show off the new technology in a positive light, it all has to be cloaked in this envelope of dread and fear for what will happen.

So, in the end, you’re supposed to side with the radical anti-tech terrorists.  You know, the ones who kill, kidnap and torture people, blow up buildings and speak near-permanently in soliloquies about how technology is going too far and is a total always-unspecified threat to everything.  Funnily enough, this didn’t take for me and such a sentiment only stayed with me when, surprise surprise, they’re proven totally right near the end.  And, no, the last-minute switch of motives to “but it only did these things for love” also didn’t take because it rang hollow, a last-minute attempt by the people involved to try and cover their arses from me making this very criticism at the film instead of an earned plot and character development.  You can’t spend 1 hour and 45 minutes bellowing one message as loud as possible and then turn around in the final 5 minutes and quickly shout something else.  It’s going to feel false.

Or, to put it another way, watching Transcendence is akin to a person acting like Billy in this clip from The Grim Adventures Of Billy & Mandy for nearly two straight hours and it’s near insufferable.

But the fun doesn’t stop there, oh no!  See because a film in 2014 has pulled out that old chestnut of “women shouldn’t science because their emotions make them unstable and will DESTROY EVERYTHING!!” and played it dead straight.  Evelyn is given plenty of chances to shut down AI Will, is told repeatedly and explicitly that the AI is not the real Will and that it is a danger to everyone else (all by men, incidentally) yet constantly she refuses to listen with her entire counter-argument for about three-quarters of the movie being “It’s Will!  It’s my husband!”  If this were a film about grieving and learning to let go and accepting that loved ones are going to die, this tract would be acceptable and, hell, could even be handled well.  Instead, she’s the sole person who is shown to be wrong about their methods of going about things, she’s the one that allows things to get to an irreparable and irreversible state and she takes at least 90 minutes (3/4 of the film) to be successfully convinced that she’s wrong because she’s a woman and “women and their emotions, amiright lads?

And don’t even get me started with a late-game conversation that strongly posits the idea that AI Will’s code is this way because it more resembles Evelyn than it does Will and that she may possibly have inadvertently futzed around with the code and caused this whole mess.  It is maddening, absolutely maddening, to have to sit through a film in 2014 that still insists that women and their emotions are volatile things and that men are the only sane force in the entire film.  “But Callum, what about that girl in the anti-tech terrorist group played by Kate Mara?  She’s speaking sense, seeing as the film proves her and her cause right.”  That’s a good point you raise and one that can immediately be dismissed by the fact that she, along with everybody else on the anti-tech terror team are not characters.  They are blank slates, not people, their entire character is their cause, the rhetoric they spout in support of their cause and their youth.  That’s it.  Hard to help buck the “women shouldn’t science” message template when you’re the barest definition of a character.

Fact of the matter, though, is I would not be fixating so much on these message issues if the actual film housing these messages was in any way interesting or well-made or less ponderously self-serious about everything.  (Well, I mean, my 300: Rise of an Empire review clearly indicates otherwise, but still…)  Yet, it is.  A slew of likeable actors who otherwise should know better line-up to collect paycheques and nothing more, giving barely passable performances with the lone exception being Johnny Depp who is awful.  He just does not seem to give one single crap at any point during this, constantly mumbling and staring off into space and seeming completely disinterested throughout.  You could do a thing with this when he becomes an AI, make it seem creepier and uncanny and off-putting that way… except that he’s like that from frame one, WELL BEFORE HE’S BEEN SHOT AND DYING, LET ALONE UPLOADED!  I haven’t seen Depp this checked out in nearly five years, he is just dreadful here.

The pacing is poor, both in terms of getting through it (the middle hour seems to drag on for ages) and in terms of story urgency and agency (there’s a two year time-skip in the middle of said aforementioned middle hour that basically makes it seem like R.I.F.T., the anti-tech terror group, spent the time sat on their arses twiddling their thumbs despite insisting that AI Will is a huge danger just moments ago).  The scale is preposterously tiny with literally nobody outside of maybe 10 people being at all concerned or at all aware of the evil sounding self-aware AI that may or may not be building up an army.  Despite costing $100 million, Transcendence looks cheap as all hell and no more so during its bafflingly stupid final 30 minutes, despite being an allegedly serious film.

And that extreme self-seriousness is the film’s major downfall here.  It’s so serious and joyless, like it’s offering up some kind of cautionary tale, imparting some kind of wisdom that only it has ever gotten and which will blow our minds when it tells us!  Except that its supposedly majorly smart wisdom is “science is scarewy” and its finale involves lots of explosions, Terminator-people and dreadfully rendered data bytes that act like vines.  It thinks it’s Ghost In The Shell or something similarly smart about the nature of humanity, but it’s actually more Surrogates.  If it didn’t have the feel of a big important serious treatise about big important serious things, it’d be easier to just write it off as a terrible dumb movie.  Instead, it’s a terrible dumb movie that has pretentions of being a smart movie and those are smug, highly irritating sh*tfests to sit through.

You could have made something great out of Transcendence.  A tight-knit relationship drama about coping with loss.  A satire about how dependent we are on advancing technology.  A thriller about an evil sentient AI that explores the worldwide consequences of such a thing and doesn’t demonise all technology on the straight-faced basis of the usually sarcastic quip “THIS IS HOW SKYNET STARTED!!”  We got none of those films.  Instead, first-time director Wally Pfister (previous of being the Director Of Photography for all Christopher Nolan films from Batman Begins to The Dark Knight Rises) has turned in a dumb piece of crap that thinks it’s got the key to the safety of future civilisation.  A film that’s terrified of science, dismissive of women and women scientists and also a poorly acted, poorly paced, cheap mess.  I felt insulted as I left the cinema, feeling like I had both had my time wasted and my intelligence stamped all over.

To think Wally Pfister turned down working on Interstellar to make this…

Callum Petch has cloned a human being, it is now a member of his band.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Failed Critics Podcast: Superman/Man of Steel Special

christopher-reeve-supermanIs it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s three nitwits holding court on all things Superman! In this week’s extra-special bumper podcast (weighing in at over two hours) we celebrate the release of Zack Snyder’s reboot of the Superman series, Man of Steel. Prepare for it to kick off as two of the team nearly come to blows over their experience and expectations of the movie.

As well as a review of the film, we look under the bonnet and get our hands dirty in an extended Spoiler Alert look at Man of Steel. Not only that, but we discuss every Superman film ever made in What We’ve Been Watching, and choose our favourite performances by the Man of Steel main cast in Triple Bill.

Join us next week as we review new releases World War Z, Now You See Me, and This is the End.

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

DIRECT DOWNLOAD LINK

BATMAN WEEK – Holy Adam West!

Today I read an article in the New York Times  that suggested that we make all of our important and meaningful friendships in our teens and early twenties. I made one of mine at an even younger age.

If you are British, reading this, and of a certain age you’ll like have a favourite portrayal of The Doctor from Doctor Who, and it will probably be the first one you saw as a child. Sure, I enjoyed the work of David Tennant, I love the maverick genius of Tom Baker, and Matt Smith may well be the best Doctor I have ever seen – but Sylvester McCoy is my Doctor. The gruff, paranoid time-traveller with a Scottish twang that mesmerised me as a 7-year old will always be my favourite.
So it goes with Batman. While Christian Bale may be an the ultimate Caped Crusader for Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, my Batman is, and always will be, Adam West.
My memory is almost certainly playing tricks with me – but all I remember watching during my summer holidays between the ages of seven and eleven was Batman. The Caped Crusader dishing out justice 25 minutes at a time to some of the most outlandish villains I had ever seen. Cesar Romero’s Joker thrilled and terrified me in equal measure (although it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I discovered he didn’t shave off his moustache, and simply painted the greasepaint directly over it), while my first guilty carnal fires were stoked by Julie Newmar’s Catwoman.
Everything about the show blew the mind of a young man growing up in a small Devon village. From the opening blast of the iconic theme music, which I’ve now discovered as an adult is brilliant fun to blast out when driving – to the explosion of colour onscreen in almost every frame. The plots are downright hokey at times, but the charm and charisma of Adam West meant that even some of the worst detective plotting went unnoticed by my tiny little mind.
My favourite has to be from the 1966 movie:

Commissioner Gordon: It could be any one of them… But which one? Which ones?
Batman: Pretty *fishy* what happened to me on that ladder…
Commissioner Gordon: You mean where there’s a fish there could be a Penguin?
Robin: But wait! It happened at sea… Sea. C for Catwoman!
Batman: Yet, an exploding shark *was* pulling my leg…
Commissioner Gordon: The Joker!
Chief O’Hara: All adds up to a sinister riddle… Riddle-R. Riddler!
Commissioner Gordon: A thought strikes me… So dreadful I scarcely dare give it utterance…
Batman: The four of them… Their forces combined…
Robin: Holy nightmare!

The camp 1960s Batman may look ridiculous now. You barely see a punch connect in the fight scenes, and every cliff-hanger leaves Batman facing certain death only to escape 20 seconds into the next episode with a deus ex machina that would put Matrix Revolutions to shame (my favourite being the Batrepellant for sharks in the movie – compounded by the fact that the Batcopter has 3 other repellants designed for different dangerous sea creatures). But none of this mattered when I was in primary school. All I knew was that Bruce Wayne was an honourable gentleman who quoted poetry, and Batman always beat the criminal with cunning, panache, and a great line in quips.
He was clearly a liberal as well, with his belief that criminals could be rehabilitated (although maybe he was just trying to get into Catwoman’s pants) and he never carried a gun or killed any of his adversaries. He always seemed to turn the other cheek, and had a lesson for us all. The TV show taught me everything I need to know about morals, justice, science, and wooing woman. If Jesus wore a cape and drove the coolest car I’d still be going to church every Sunday.

One of the great pleasures in life is watching the Blu-ray of the 1966 movie and listening to the commentary by Adam West and Burt Ward (who played Robin). At one point West even talks about Batman as being ‘the theatre of the absurd’. It’s great to hear an actor talk so fondly of the role that both launched and effectively throttled their career. He doesn’t seem to have changed a bit. It’s a shame the world has.

BATMAN WEEK – Batman Begins Here

In honour of this week’s release of  The Dark Knight Rises, Failed Critics is going quite literally Batshit mental as we devote the site for one week only to the Caped Crusader. Today our very own Gerry McAuley gives us a brief summary of the main influences on Christopher Nolan’s trilogy from the comic book world. So you can seem knowledgeable to your friends on the way in to the cinema, obviously!

I’m sure we’re all familiar with Batman – after all, D.C. Comics’ flagship superhero has infiltrated popular culture quite successfully in his 70+ years of life. Film adaptations since 1989 have revived the franchise and put a new spin on a hero who for most people was previously associated with the annoyingly camp and light-hearted original series (and 1966 film) starring Adam West as Bruce Wayne/Bats.

What fewer are aware of though is that the darker interpretation which began with Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989 and was continued 16 years later by Christopher Nolan (I prefer to forget the Schumacher films in between) reflects a shift in tone in the comic world too. In 1986, Frank Miller – who would of course go on to write Sin City and 300, both of which became hugely successful films – wrote The Dark Knight Returns, the gritty tale of a jaded 55 year old Batman who was forced to come out of retirement and save Gotham again.

The gap between The Dark Knight and the sequel would seem to be based on Miller’s story, as Batman has been chased out of Gotham for eight years after taking responsibility for Harvey Dent’s crimes. Of course, Tom Hardy’s Bane first gained prominence in the Knightfall story arc in the early 90s, so Nolan’s universe is hugely reliant on recent Batman interpretations. As will be seen later, another Miller title, Batman: Year One, is a major influence on Batman Begins.

Another huge name in comics had also helped revive Batman in the late 80s. Alan Moore is probably known to most film fans through adaptations of his work: Watchmen, V for Vendetta, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and From Hell are all based on his publications, although Moore dislikes all film interpretations of his comics/graphic novels. Just a year prior to Burton’s film being released, D.C. published Moore’s one-off graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke, a dark examination of the Joker’s madness that interspersed his origin story with his twisted attempts to drive Commissioner Gordon insane. The disturbing tone of the story, which involved the Joker shooting Gordon’s daughter in the spine and paralysing a character who was also Batgirl, explored the morality behind the Batman/Joker battle and was undoubtedly a huge factor in the performances of Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger in their respective film roles. For instance, the Joker has varying memories of how he came to be:

“Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another… If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!”

Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight famously provides differing accounts of how he got his scars, which his comic book counterpart does not have – just one example of the different ways the Batman mythology can be interpreted.

The strongest influence on Nolan however seems to have been Batman: The Long Halloween, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s 1996-1997 epic. So strong was that influence that Nolan and David Goyer, the co-writer of the trilogy, provided an introduction to the latest edition of the graphic novel. Although taken from an interview in 2006, just before principal photography began on TDK, both men cite the influence Long Halloween had on both movies and surely the third instalment too.

“When you’re putting together a Batman film, people always ask, ‘Are you looking at this comic book or that comic book?’ And the truth is you look at all of them. As a filmmaker, though, The Long Halloween was one Batman story that really drew me in in terms of cinematic potential… to integrate the more fantastical elements of Batman, most notably the villains, within the context of the real world, strike a balance that felt credible [The Long Halloween] was a great inspiration to us in terms of tonality.”

And with that, allow me to make some suggestions for those of you who are curious about exploring the Batman legend further. Nolan’s trilogy is so epic in scope that one cannot help be drawn in to that world; given that, it seems appropriate to focus on the more recent interpretations which have that gritty, realistic feel.

The place to start is Frank Miller’s Year One, which tells the origin story better than anything else and was recently voted the greatest Batman story ever by IGN. Goyer cites it as one of the three main influences on him in Batman lore and this is clear in Begins. There are various versions of the book around and crucially for those of you who don’t find comics appealing, an animated film of the story was released in 2011 which very faithfully follows Miller’s original.

The next stop should be The Long Halloween, which takes place early in Batman’s career and takes in a staggering number of the rogues gallery of villains our hero faces. If Year One is the basis of Begins, this is obviously the foundation of TDK. Harvey Dent’s story will be very familiar and the Nolan interpretation is largely faithful to Loeb’s story. Furthermore, the subtle differences between the two will give a new appreciation of Nolan’s skill – for instance, he plays with the viewer by having a gun pulled on Dent in the courtroom, a threat which Dent confidently disarms; in Long Halloween, this is a much more pivotal moment which I won’t spoil here. Needless to say, familiar Batman fans had a different moment of suspense and surprise with that particular scene.

Moving on, The Killing Joke is utterly brilliant and really gets to the heart of how small the differences are between good and evil, exploring how our reactions to difficulties can shape both our lives and the world. Yes, there is much more to Batman than you might think. As an aside, there’s a book called Batman and Philosophy which highlights just how many issues are present in the Dark Knight’s struggles against evil.

Once you’ve seen how the Joker began, it seems logical to look at his first battle with Batman – step forward The Man Who Laughs, which takes place in the same early years as Long Halloween, seemingly straight after Year One. Then we can move away from these early Bat adventures and look at something totally different in style. Arkham Asylum: A serious house on serious earth is another journey into madness and the fine line that separates good from evil, as Batman enters the asylum to save the staff from the villains who are holding them hostage. Those who have played the game of the same name will find this familiar territory but the presentation is astonishingly different. This is as close to art as Batman gets in my view and is essential reading. More on the games in a forthcoming article by the way…

With a view to The Dark Knight Rises, the main villains could do with a look too. Bane, as mentioned, appears in Gotham in the Knightfall trilogy and Hardy’s version is apparently much more true to the original than the horrible portrayal Schumacher had Robert Swenson give in Batman & Robin. For Catwoman, choices abound and both Long Halloween and Year One feature a certain Selina Kyle. Hush is the most recent title to have an interesting portrait of Bruce and Selina’s complex relationship and is visually stunning.

To finish off, of course The Dark Knight Returns is a must. I’ve already spoken about the content and the impact of the story but it bears repeating that this is far, far more than ‘just a comic’ as many tend to dismiss Batman stories – as if comics cannot be a serious medium. Hopefully, reading some of the above will correct that impression and give you the added bonus of really knowing what you’re talking about when watching the films with your mates, rather than just blagging it based on the info I’ve given you.

Gerry will be discussing this article as well as a myriad of other Bat-things on this week’s Failed Critics Podcast Batman Special.