Nolan vs. Aronofsky

Recently I watched Christopher Nolan’s film Following. While I was watching it, I kept linking some strange similarities to Darren Aronofsky’s Pi. For example, both were made in 1998, both were the first feature films for these directors, and both chose to work in a black and white, highly realist style . I never really made the connection between the two directors before, despite the fact that I absolutely love both of their volumes of work.

I also found both films to be extremely characteristic of their subsequent films. We’ll start with Following:

Image

The film centers around a loner who beings to follow people at random. Not for perverse thrills, but merely to gain inspiration for his writing. He soon encounters Cobb, a thief who takes him under his wing. The young man quickly tail-spins into a world he was never meant to be a part of and one which is way over his head.

I feel this film is similar to the rest of Nolan’s work in that it envolves a character thrown into an unknown world, stuck in the middle of a puzzle he may only be a pawn to. This is true of Memento (2000) in which the main character is actually running around in a puzzle of his own making, and one that can never really be solved. The Prestige (2006), in which Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale are in a magicians death-match. Inception (2010) where the characters are literally in a world of dreams and layers of puzzles. Even the Batman movies share some of these attributes. It seems all of his characters are at one point or another asking “How did I get here?”

And then we get to Aronofsky:

Image

(Ha, I had to, sorry.)

Pi follows Max through his quest to find a universal set of numbers which will unlock everything: nature, the stock market and even god. Max, who routinely suffers from crippling migranes, in his pursuit becomes increasingly paranoid and delusional.

Aronofsky’s code is easy, and I feel falls into all his films (this is not to say his films are easy, just an easier concept to explain than Nolan’s) and can be described with one word: Obsession. All of the characters in all of his films are obsessed with something. Sometimes this spins them into strange and unknown worlds, often ones that can put them in danger. With Pi it is the obsession with numbers and trying to make sense of the world around him. In Requiem for a Dream (2000) it is the obsession with drugs, and all the characters trying to live life through the hardships. The Fountain (2006) – My all time favorite film ever, I might add – Hugh Jackman’s character is consumed with grief over the loss of his wife, and obsessed with both love and death. Black Swan (2008) concerns the obsession with one’s art and is a character study of just how far one’s devotion to their art can take them.

Both films are immensely interesting not only as separate autonomous films but also as the first chapter in each directors’ volume of work. While some film-makers sizzle out after their first film, I feel that these two get stronger with every film they make.

Summer Reading List – Part 2: Graphic Novels

While some scholars will argue there’s no need for me to separate the categories of novel and graphic novel, I do this in that both genres are read in my time with very different distinctions. While Novels are primarily read in bed when I wake up, on the bus, in the park, at the beach etc. My graphic novels rarely leave the bathroom. Yes I know, probably far too much information. But I need a distraction in there. This is NOT to say there is a parallel between Graphic Novels and Shit. And yes, if I’m reading a particularly illuminating one I will bring it on the bus, in the park, at the beach, etc. However, I will rip through a graphic novel in about an hour if given the chance. I’d rather space it out and really take it in, giving more of my time to the tombs of novels.

So, enough bathroom talk, in no particular order I give you Summer Graphic Novel Reading List:

Image

ImageImage

Image

ImageImage

And finally, I’m only on volume 4 but completely obsessed with the 100 Bullets Series.

Image

Summer Reading List – Part 1: Novels

Every Summer I have an obscene reading list which I attempt to get through. I often get through half, then buy 10 more books which lie in wait for next summer. During school it’s hard enough to find time to read the course books let alone any reading strictly for fun. So, minus the current book I’m reading which I’m planning to post a blog about and will omit for those purposes, here is my overwhelming to read list. In no particular order. Note: this list is but a fraction of all the books in my library I have yet to read, but I mean will I really be reading Kafka again anytime soon??

ImageImage

ImageImage

ImageImage

Again, this is but a fraction of overall books to read, but, I’m a realist. 😉 Note: this also doesn’t include my Graphic Novel Reading list.

Mise-en-Scene as an art: Drowning by Numbers

Image

I love when people talk about Wes Anderson as the king of mise-en-scene. And while he is quite genius in his immaculate sets which often mirror his character’s personas, he is nowhere near the fore-founder of such conventions. Such presision and attention to detail can also be seen in the film Survive Style 5+ (2004, Gen Sekiguchi) which I’ve already mentioned on the site, is a master at the intricate mise-en-scene:

Image

(An awesome example of sets and costumes within the mise-en-scene)

Peter Greenaway, well known within the filmic community but generally ignored by the general public (unlike Wes Anderson’s films), is the true visionary when it comes to mise-en-scene and cinematography. Greenaway has been making and continues to make films for almost 5 decades, drawing similarities to other visionary directors such as Jean-Luc Godard. Greenaway is a master at telling a story through everything seen on screen (props, sets, lights, actors etc), making the mise-en-scene even stronger sometimes than the actual plot or narrative.

Drowning by Numbers (1988) is absolute visual candy. We watch as Greenaway masterfully weaves the numbers 1 through 100 throughout the film, foreshadowed by the girl playing jump-rope and counting at the beginning of the film. And I mean literally, every number is present somewhere in the film. Such as the rather sneaky number 3:

Image

Or the more obvious and cheeky number 96:

Image

This one is particularly humorous in that number 96 and 95 are runners who eventually become characters in the film only referred to by their numbers. Also pay close attention to the car’s license plates. That takes care of 97 and 98 too.

The film follows three Cissies, representing three generations, who all go on to murder their husbands by drowning them. Their husbands are largely adulterous, uninterested men who do not satisfy their wives. The most puzzling murder is that of the youngest Cissie, who generally seems to love her boyfriend, and even sheds tears when he does drown.

This masterful use of mise-en-scene represents a meta-level of film. It is a nod to art and the very way in which filmic art is composed. It challenges us as an audience as well, as we literally engage with the film world in looking for these visual clues, a filmic treasure hunt if you will.

While films like Wes Anderson’s the mise-en-scene is simply a delightful addition to an already engaging plot, Greenaway’s films could not have the power they do without using mise-en-scene as a character within the film itself.

Image

Classic Comic Hilariousness (and Subtlety)

Image

(Note: I may be computer illiterate, but I simply cannot figure out how to put this picture vertically. WordPress keeps inserting it as such)

So the other day a co-worker of mine went home and asked me if I’d like a giant box of comic books he had accumulated as a child. I figured why not, you never know what kind of gems you find. Another friend of mine, who aspires to be a comic book historian dug through the box and pulled out all notable mentions. And while this particular comic is a reprint (the original would be extremely valuable), it is a comic that has classic moments of on-print ridiculousness combined with the dark elements the 1970’s provided such as drug use, alcoholism and environmental issues. One hilarious example of such real-world problem follows:

Image

Essentially, Harry Osborn drops acid and becomes a complete schizophrenic. And trips acid for what seems like a week. I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works, but what can I say, scare kids off drugs at an early age right? And where was Peter Parker this whole time?

Image

That’s right, off fighting the Hulk in Montreal…. As a Canadian this cracks me up, but also serves as subtle anti-Canadian propaganda. For you see while away in Canada, off doing his Spidey-thing, he catches a cold from the harsh arctic weather (and don’t you know, they all live in Igloos too, eh?). It is because of this that Spidey is just not on his game in this episode.

Image

(Okay, so this one goes the right way around? Technical difficulties…) 

His cold is not allowing him to function properly. Which follows one of the most beautiful and tragic frames I think I’ve ever seen in a comic book.

Image

As Gwen falls from the Brooklyn Bridge, Spidey races to catch her with his web in time. In the middle frame we can see that while he does success in catching her, in doing so her neck snaps from the force. And while it remains unclear if it was Spiderman who kills Gwen or if she was killed by the Green Goblin before it is nonetheless the perfect tragic love story.

But still, the real enemy in this story is not the Green Goblin, but those pesky Canadian’s for having such cold weather and destroying Spidey’s full potential. If only he hadn’t been in Canada! His friend wouldn’t have gone bonkers, and Gwen wouldn’t have been abducted by the Green Goblin! Damn Canada!

Beggar’s Garden Review

Image

Michael Christie’s breakthrough work had been on my radar for a long time. I had ordered it from amazon and it seems like it had been on backorder for a few months, the date being consistently pushed back. But it finally arrived and I couldn’t wait to crack it open. I was eager to read the touching stories about Vancouver’s illustrative downtown eastside. For the record: I work in the downtown eastside in a restaurant. My day consists of dodging hobos on my way to work, telling hobos not to pan-handle on the patio and get screamed at in return. What I’m saying is, this city hardens you. Sympathies fade. I was hoping this series of semi-interrelated vignettes would revive some emotions in me.

And for the most part it did. It spins the changing landscape through present and an unbreakable bond with the past. It takes you into the minds of those people you see but never from an overly tear-jerking or outright sanctimonious way. In a few of the stories, the main characters help the homeless people and seem to get more out of them than the vagrants do from them. A few of the stories delve into the serious problem of the mentally ill who wander the streets along with drugs addicts, sometimes bridging both territories.

Vancouver is a unique place in terms of its economy having both the richest and the poorest populace in the country within miles and even feet from each other. Homeless people come from all over the country strictly because of the warm climate and barely dipping below 0 degrees winter.

In a literary sense, my only complaint with this series of stories was that the tone and character persona did not waver dramatically for me. I enjoy a series of short stories which essentially showcase an authors various skills, ranging dynamically. But in this series each character could seem to be swapped out by any other one in another short story. So while this book provides a unique insight into the fragile world of the downtown eastside, I would have appreciated a little more variety. In this book it seems the title of the work is flawed, or perhaps I interpreted it wrong, it’s not a pluralistic beggar’s garden, but a singular beggar’s garden.

Works of kids imagination as escapism

Ah, children’s imaginations. Is there anything better? We try to recreate it in our movies and literature, and some succeed, some just seem to be trying too hard. Following is a list of successful books and movies which adequately re-imagine the childhood experience. My one qualification for this list is that the imagination must be used as a source of escapism from the real world. The escapism may be in response to times of strife, stress or merely to remove themselves from the mundanity of the everyday.

10) The Book Of Lost Things – John Connolly

Image

This novel follows David, who escapes into a fantasy world is response to grieving over his dead mother and the stress of his father’s remarriage. After being relocated to the countryside David begins to explore his surroundings, and after a WWII bomber crashes into his garden, David is moved to a fantasy realm in which he must find the King who has the power to send him home. Fantasy creatures include the woodsman, snow white and the seven dwarfs, and werewolves among others.

9) The Princess Bride – William Goldman 

Image

Remade into the ever popular 1987 (Rob Reiner) film of the same name, the story includes an evil prince, giants, and pirates. The book does not include the sub-context of having the grandfather read the novel to his grandson as the film version does. This is an important distinction and also the reason that this particular work is so far up on the list : the child doing the imagining is not really “escaping”, his grandfather is forcing him to listen to him read.

8) A Little Princess – Frances Hodgson Burnett

Image

The classic story of a young rich girl turned to rags in her boarding school after her father is presumed dead while overseas. Sara keeps her sprits up and alive despite the odds and delves into imagination to keep her hopes alive. The book and several film remakes, end on a happy note where everyone receives their just deserves.

7) The NeverEnding Story – Wolfgang Petersen – 1984

Image

Based on the German novel of the same name, we probably all know the story well. A young boy is able to escape an unsatisfying home and social life thanks to the help of the mysterious book chronicling the events of the world Fantasia.

6) Mr. Nobody – Jaco Van Dormael – 2009

Image

An extremely convoluted film, spanning different timelines and time zones, the majority of the action in the film comes down to ***SPOILERS*** the stress of a young boy whose family is falling apart. When he’s making a desicion between which parent to live with, the various “timelines” throughout the film represent each possible life path, and his possible love.

This is nowhere near my favorite film and in fact, I don’t even like it very much. A lot of the cinematography was blatantly ripped off from Requiem for a Dream and I felt that the plot was trying to shove too much into it. Some editing could have benefited the film tremendously. I found the whole “Future” sequence to be basically useless, it didn’t add any depth or further meaning to the film.

5) Labyrinth – Jim Henson – 1986

Image

The classic cult movie featuring an evil David Bowie as Goblin King. Sarah must traverse the King’s labyrinth to retrieve her baby brother after banishing him to the realm. Completely ridiculous, especially the musical numbers. But Sarah delves into the imaginary world to deal with the stress of a shifting home life as well as to serve as a rite of passage – in that she comes out with a new appreciation and a new love for her sibling. At once hilarious and somewhat disturbing.

4) Pans Labyrinth – Guillerma del Toro – 2006

Image

The perfect example for this list. A girl reverts into a fantasy world in order to cope with her unstable surroundings. Her step-father is a sadistic army general, her mother due with child is too weak to protect her, and the threat of war looms all around. Equal parts creepy, equal parts captivating this is an excellent example of the power of childhood imagination which is at once inspiring and terrifying.

3) Coraline – Henry Selick – 2009

Image

The brainchild of Neil Gaiman, this film follows Coraline in her move to a new home. She is stressed out by her parents, and one day finds a passage in her home to a parallel and strangely idealistic alternate family. This world turns out, of course, to be too good to be true. The parallel world is an allusion created by a witch who wishes to trap Coraline in her world. Just like Pan’s Labyrinth this film is the perfect mixture of idealized childhood fantasy and creepy underbelly.

2) The Fall – Tarsem Singh – 2006

Image

If the sets aren’t enough to entice you, the enchanting and heart warming story will. Set in a hospital, a wounded stuntman spins a tale of epic proportions to a young girl with a broken arm. His stories are not merely to entertain the young girl, but have a sinister undertone to them. He uses his web of stories to have the little girl perform tasks such as stealing more drugs for him. This is one of those films where the little details come out as much as the large ones do, and like I said, the cinematography is stunning.

1) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carrol

Image

Did you expect anything different? An absolute classic. Made into several adaptations as well as a butchered one by Mr. Tim Burton. The story follows the adventures of Alice as she chases after a white rabbit while reading on a lazy afternoon. Alice escapes into her fantasy world as she is not ready to yet enter the mundane or the “real world”. This novel is the perfect example, as read to children by parents all over the world, there’s something in it for both age groups to take away and enjoy. A childhood story for children of all ages.

BONUS: Imaginationland Triology – South Park – Season 11 

Image

The ultimate tale of good versus evil in imaginationland. Includes all your favorite possible characters (see storm trooper in picture above) as well as a bet about ball-sucking, and of course, man-bear-pig.