Advertisements
    Advertisements
  • Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives









  • Awards & Nominations

  • Advertisements

Dunkirk and Issue of Genre Legitimacy

The release of Dunkirk has been interesting in many ways.

Most obviously, it seems to confirm Christopher Nolan as a brand name unto himself, managing to open a blockbuster war movie with no stars to speak of to impressive box office results in the middle of July. The film has been widely acclaimed, both by critics and by movie-goers; it scores well on Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic, IMDb and CinemaScore. There is already talk of a massive Oscar push for the film, with reports of Academy screenings being so packed that additional screenings had to be scheduled.

However, beneath all of this success, there is an interesting narrative forming. There is a recurring suggestion that Dunkirk is not just a great piece of cinema from an incredibly talented director, but that it in some way represents a maturing of Nolan’s talent. Some of the critical narrative of Dunkirk has been framed almost as a cinematic “coming of age” story for Christopher Nolan, as if the veteran forty-six-year-old film maker is finally delivering on potential that has been teased over the past seventeen years.

In a not-untypical comment, David Fear at Rolling Stone reflected, “Everyone knew he had a mastery of the medium. Dunkirk proves he knows how to use it say something.” At The Guardian, Andrew Pulliver suggested that Nolan had finally earned one of the stock comparisons that had been (misguidedly) following him for most of his career, “With Dunkirk, Nolan may at last be able to walk the Kubrick walk.” The implication seems to be that Nolan’s previous nine films were all creative dry runs, cinematic confectionery suggesting (but never delivering on) true artistic talent.

This is, of course, complete nonsense. Nolan arguably established himself as a bona fides film maker with Memento, which was an impressive theatrical debut. Memento was structurally ambitious, thematically rich, and exceptionally clever. Nolan followed that up with Insomnia, a remake of a Scandinavian thriller. He then segued into a big-budget reimagining of the Batman mythos with Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, interspacing them with his own projects of interest, The Prestige, Inception and Interstellar.

Whatever an audience member might make of individual films on that resume, and some are undoubtedly better than others, it seems quite clear that Nolan has been doing good work for a long time. Dunkirk is not a break in the pattern. It is in many ways a continuation and extrapolation of his earlier work. It is not so much a quantum leap forward in terms of technique, but simply a nudge in a different direction. So, why is Dunkirk being treated as a vital moment in Nolan’s career? It seems likely because Dunkirk belongs to a much more respectable genre than its Nolan stablemates.

Continue reading

Advertisements

The X-Files – Synchrony (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium.

Time travel is one of the great science-fiction tropes.

Although magical or metaphorical time travel has long been a part of literary tradition, pseudo-scientific or pseudo-rational versions of science-fiction really took root towards the end of the nineteenth century. Although H.G. Wells blazed a trail with The Time Machine, Edward Page Mitchell actually beat him to the punch – he published the short-story The Clock That Went Backward fourteen years before Wells wrote The Time Machine. Nevertheless, time travel quickly caught on as a literary device.

The hole in things...

The hole in things…

There are films, television show, novels, comics and songs all playing with the idea of moving through time. Although there is considerable debate about the feasibility of actually travelling backwards through time, time travel serves as a wonderful narrative device. It opens up all sorts of possibilities for structure and style; it provides some pretty heavy themes; it opens up a myriad of settings and possibility. It is no surprise that there have been so many variations and permutations based upon the idea of going backwards in time.

Indeed, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before The X-Files got around to telling its own time travel story. Synchrony was as inevitable as the decision to close the episode with a clumsy hint toward predetermination.

Ghosts of future self...

Ghosts of future self…

Continue reading

Millennium – The Wild and the Innocent (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium.

The Wild and the Innocent is an ambitious piece of television.

It is not a piece of television that works as well as it might, the execution of the central ideas leaving a little to be desired, but it is an episode that commits whole heartedly to something unique. In I Want to Believe, Robert Shearman refers to The Wild and the Innocent as “a plot more suited to Cormac McCarthy than Chris Carter.” He’s not wrong. The Wild and the Innocent is a story about cycles of violence and abuse in the American south, a grim road movie with some very harsh conclusions about the way that the world works.

That sinking feeling...

That sinking feeling…

It still fits within the milieu of Millennium. After all the classic “serial killer road movie” is still a serial killer story, and Millennium has already carved out that niche for itself. However, the image of Frank Black and Peter Watts following a trail of bodies from Missouri down through Arkansas suggests a different show than the one that has been airing since The Pilot. In many respects – with its heavy philosophical voice-over, its country-tinged soundtrack, its fixation on the outlaw couple – The Wild and the Innocent feels almost like some old American folk tale.

There’s something decidedly old-fashioned here, with the episode playing more like a western than a police procedural. In the documentary Order in Chaos, Carter described Frank Black as character from a story “like Shane, like any cowboy, any good movie, Western movie.” As such, he fits in quite comfortably with this new type of story.

Road warrior...

Road warrior…

Continue reading

All This Flying is Making Me Tired: Superhero Fatigue…

Well, blockbuster season is really kicking into swing at the moment. Next week will see the release of X-Men: First Class, which will be the second major superhero movie of the summer, following Branagh’s superb Thor. There are two more due to touch down before the end of the blockbuster season, Green Lantern and Captain America: The First Avenger. It’s fascinating how large the superhero genre has grown in recent years, to the point where one might legitimately argue that it has subgenres. Part of me wonders if this particular blockbuster fad is approaching its climax – if the superhero movie might out-stay its welcome, and go the way of the Western.

Is the superhero genre's blackest night ahead?

Continue reading

Super-Snobbery…

I was very interested to read a piece comparing Christopher Nolan to Stanley Kubrick in The Guardian over the weekend. Ignoring the fact that I don’t think it’s fair to attempt to seriously describe anyone as the “new” anything (it’s really only handy as a shortcut, to form a quick association, rather than forming the basis of a whole argument) and, if I had to, I’d say Nolan was “the new Hitchcock”, one piece stood out at me, when comparing Kubrick’s work to Nolan’s under “thematic daring”:

In the end, what are Nolan’s films actually about? Two of them are superhero flicks, two are cop movies and one is about a magician. Nolan isn’t exactly going to the wall for the big ideas. (Interestingly, by far the most radical film he’s made was that very first one, Following – a very creepy existential story about a stalker.) Kubrick made films about paedophilia, military justice, atomic obliteration, urban violence and the Vietnam war … Nolan is – at present, anyhow – a confirmed establishment figure; nothing he’s done has caused the smallest ripple of disquiet. This may change, but with another Batman film in the works I can’t see it happening just yet.

What immediately struck me about that paragraph was how ridiculously condescending it was to the genres that Nolan worked with – as if to say he’s “only” made two movies about a guy who dresses in formfitting rubber, two cop thrillers and one film about some blokes who do magic. How ridiculously patronising can you get?

If Batman hears one more person say "The Dark Knight isn't bad for a comic book movie..."

Continue reading

Marvel-ous Day: Marvel Optioning Off Smaller Projects on Smaller Budgets

I hope you aren’t tired of comic book movies, because it seems like the past few summers have just been an attempt to whet our appetites for even more of the four-colour heroes. Marvel, ever keen to stay one step ahead of their “distinguished competitor”, have announced a scheme to allow the less well-known of their characters a day in the spotlight. DC is still struggling to get its iconic heroes to the screen, let alone put together a coherent shared universe, and Marvel is already scouring the depths of its published materials for new films. I have to admit, I’m kinda excited about the news.

Who's next?

Continue reading

So, You Want to Read Comics, Eh?

We’re a bit late to the party, but this week we’ll be celebrating the 75th anniversary of DC Comics, with a look at the medium, the company and the characters in a selection of bonus features running Monday through Friday. This is one of those articles. Feel free to look up the rest, they’re fully of nerdy goodness.

So, it’s the end of our week-long look at the comic book medium and what a week it’s been. We’ve looked at grown-up comics and superhero comics, the best of DC comics and the quirks of the medium. So I hope you might forgive the excess if I write this last blog post from an all-together more person perspective. I like the funny books, I do. I think the medium has huge potential to tell stories in a fascinating format, unconfined by budget or scope. I am fascinated by the intertextual elements, the notion that all of these different and unique titles can be drawn together as part of one giant meta-story. But what I really have difficulty understanding is why the medium insists upon making itself so damn inaccessible.

Sometimes Superman just likes be a douche...

Continue reading