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100. Inception (#14)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT, with the occasional bonus episode thrown in.

This time, Christopher Nolan’s Inception.

Dom Cobb is one of the best extractors in the world, an artist who sneaks into people’s dreams and steals their secrets. However, after one botched job, Cobb is approached by a mysterious industrialist with an ambitious proposal: inception. If Cobb can plant an idea in his chief rival’s head, Cobb can finally go home to his long lost family.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 14th best movie of all-time on the Internet Movie Database.

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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.

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Non-Review Review: Dunkirk

Dunkirk is compelling in its contradictions.

Dunkirk concerns a pyrrhic victory, a defeat which became a source of national pride. Dunkirk is at once a story rooted in a very particular event and a mythic narrative populated by archetypal characters. Dunkirk follows three parallel stories as they move towards a singular inevitable climax, although those narratives are allowed to move at their own pace towards those epic events and even overshoot one another. Dunkirk is at once chaotic and disjointed, and yet moving with a very clear sense of purpose and direction.

Directed by Christopher Nolan, it is too much to describe Dunkirk as a “puzzle box” narrative. It always very clear to the audience exactly what is going on, and the movie’s mysteries and revelations tend to be smaller and intimate rather than broad and sweeping. Nevertheless, it is a movie consciously unstuck in time, recalling Nolan’s long-standing fascination with shifting his narrative backwards and forwards along a timeline. (Insomnia, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises stand out as Nolan’s most linear films.)

Dunkirk is a war epic in the broadest possible sense, its narrative bouncing between three separate timelines covering the retreat from the eponymous port. However, there is also a faint sense that Dunkirk itself is unstuck in time. As much as the film is rooted in the reality of the 1940 evacuation of Dunkirk, it speaks to something much bigger and more sweeping. There is a vagueness to Dunkirk which suggests that the film might well speak to realities beyond its specific setting.

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My 12 for ’12: The Dark Knight Rises & Blockbusters with Brains…

I’m counting down my top twelve films of the year between now and January, starting at #12 and heading to #1. I expect the list to be a little bit predictable, a little bit surprising, a little bit of everything. All films released in the UK and Ireland in 2012 qualify. Sound off below, and let me know if I’m on the money, or if I’m completely off the radar. And let me know your own picks or recommendations.

This is #1

There’s a popular idea that just because a movie makes a lot of money, or just because it attracts a large audience, or just because it features fantastical elements, that it is somehow unworthy of discussion and debate. The Dark Knight Rises has been a divisive film, sparking a lot of debate about its relative merits and those of Christopher Nolan, the director and co-writer. Following on from the massive success of The Dark Knight, Nolan opted for an unconventional approach for his sequel. Structurally and tonally, The Dark Knight Rises represented a significant departure from The Dark Knight. While the The Dark Knight had been an urban crime thriller exploring the wake of 9/11, The Dark Knight Rises was an epic social drama pondering how divided American society had become.

It isn’t quite as fantastic as The Dark Knight, but it was strong, bold, vibrant and challenging film making – proof that budget does not belie brains.

darkknightrises57

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12 Movie Moments of 2012: The Dark Knight Returns (The Dark Knight Rises)

As well as counting down the top twelve films, I’m also going to count down my top twelve movie related “moments” of 2012. The term “moment” is elastic, so expect some crazy nonsense here. And, as usual, I accept that my taste is completely absurd, so I fully expect you to disagree. With that in mind, this is #6

Ireland got an IMAX screen this year. Well, it had an IMAX screen before, but it shut down before The Dark Knight kick-started the whole “watching cool movies in IMAX” thing. Evidently, watching Liam Neeson talk about Everest wasn’t nearly as exciting as watching Batman flip over an articulated lorry. Christopher Nolan shot a large percentage of The Dark Knight on IMAX, but he shot even more of The Dark Knight Rises using the special cameras.

As such, I was delighted that Cineworld and The Irish Times organised a special screening of The Dark Knight Rises in early December, even though the cinema had only reopened after Nolan’s epic was available on blu ray. It’s an oft-cited criticism that the third part of Nolan’s Batman trilogy featured surprisingly little Batman. I’d disagree, and instead suggest that the film made excellent use of its large cast – and when Batman appeared on screen he carried the weight that he deserved.

The sequence in which Bruce leads the Gotham Police Department on a merry chase while pursuing Bane and his terrorists is the perfect example, a fantastically constructed action sequence that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about the cast at that moment in time.darkknightrises15a

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What Bond Learned From Batman: The Dark Knight & Skyfall…

I really liked Skyfall. I think it’s the best “Bondy” Bond movie in quite a while. It has a fantastic cast, beautiful cinematography, a solid script and a very human heart. However, it also owes a very conscious debt to director Christopher Nolan. In particular, it seems to have learned a great deal from the director’s recently completed Batman trilogy. There are certainly worse role models for a big blockbuster to have, and Mendes has been quick to acknowledge the influence that Nolan’s films had on his work here. That strange synthesis works surprisingly well, perhaps a testament to just how much the two franchises have in common.

The long dark knight of his soul?

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Man vs. Superman: Chronicle’s Climax & The Scale of Superhuman Violence…

I had the chance to watch Chronicle again over the weekend, and I still found it a boldly fascinating (albeit flawed) film. The construction of the movie as a collection of “found footage” still strains more suspension of disbelief than any of the antics involving the lead three characters, but it remains a thoughtful deconstruction and exploration of the superhero tropes and genre that audiences have begun to take for granted. In particular, the movie’s climax – though filmed on a shoestring – still does a better job evoking a sense of scale than Joss Whedon’s admitted stylish last half-hour of The Avengers.

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