Monday, February 1, 2016

13 Fantastic Opening Scenes in Film

While a great film is the summation of its many parts all working in tandem to achieve something special, a stellar opening scene is something special in cinema. Hooking the audience from the get go can make people invest more deeply into a character or a story than they may have predicted, which in turn elevates the power of the film as a whole. In addition, a single scene can be a powerful self-contained narrative on its own, free from the larger film in which it is contained. Through the power of strong writing, directing, and acting, the vision of the film can be boiled down into one moment for something truly powerful.

The following 13 scenes are some of the best openings in movie history and are must-sees for anyone interested in the power of a single scene. The following are presented in no particular order and are not representative of the greatest ever. They are simply fantastic pieces of film.

The Dark Knight

Maybe the greatest introduction for a character in modern cinema? Director Christopher Nolan knew that Heath Ledger’s The Joker needed an epic entrance in The Dark Knight and his bank heist says volumes about both the character and the world of the narrative in just a few minutes. Blending both the realistic thrills of Michael Mann’s Heat and the superhero world of Batman Begins for a perfect balance of both, The Joker’s bank heist is filled to the brim with twists, deaths, and reveals from start to finish as the criminal robs a mob bank and kills off his own men at the same time. All the while, Hans Zimmer’s pulsating score creates a propulsive and unnerving feeling for the entire scene. This is how to start a film, and the twisted bank robbery opening will be remembered and studied for years to come.

Touch of Evil

One of the great single shot scenes in cinema and certainly one of its most influential due to its timing in film history, the beginning of Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil starts off with a ticking time bomb placed in a car. From there, the camera tracks both the car and a newlywed couple walking in the area without ever cutting for three and a half minutes. Using all manner of camera techniques, the presence of the bomb adds an ever growing tension to the scene by simply having audiences know that it is there without seeing it again. It’s an expert course in uninterrupted cinematography and storytelling that hooks in audiences thanks to the very real danger at hand, which is only relieved when the bomb finally goes off.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The 15 Greatest Westerns of All Time

Westerns have a long and storied history in cinema, with the genre being one of the first to dominate the silver screen. What started out as simple tales of the frontier quickly built in scope and depth thanks to the mastery of those who crafted the films year after year.

Eventually, fresh voices injected new meaning and style into the genre, pushing it to new heights in films that stand among the greatest movies ever made. While the Western genre has become much quieter in the modern era of film, there are still standout entries that are released regularly.

The backdrop of the frontier and the struggles of the men and women who populated it can be used for simple morality tales or complex narratives that draw compelling parallels to modern issues. In any case, the greatest films in the Western genre use its tropes to their advantage for stories that are both innovative and timeless. When done right, they show what makes this a genre that has defined so much of cinema.

Mosey on through the following 15 films and learn about the greatest this genre has to offer. Whether you are a longtime fan or are new to the genre, the following movies are cinematic events that everyone should experience.

15. High Noon

When a dangerous criminal is released from jail, he targets longtime marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper), the man who put him away. Knowing that the criminal and his gang will arrive the next day at noon, Kane looks for help among the town he has protected for years, but finds everyone slowly turning his or her back on him and his wife. Highly political for a Western made in 1952, writer Carl Foreman’s High Noon was written as a partial allegory for his blacklisting during the Red Scare and reflected his conservative beliefs. The film reflects every classic element of the genre while injecting it with added layers, making it a classic for anyone interested in the power of Westerns.

Best Moment: Having killed the men who threatened him and his wife in a dangerous shootout while the townsfolk watch, Kane throws his marshal’s star in the dirt and leaves disillusioned with what he stood for.

14. 3:10 to Yuma

A remake of the 1957 film of the same name and the original Elmore Leonard story, James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma takes a thrilling narrative and pumps it full of energy, intensity, and action. Following poor rancher Dan Evans (Christian Bale) and notorious outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe), the story follows a group of men including Evans who agree to escort Wade to a train that will take the criminal to jail. But Wade is a danger even when shackled and his gang is determined to free him before he can be sent to prison. Filled with fantastic set pieces, a strong attention to period-specific detail, and incredibly dynamic lead roles (Ben Foster is also fantastic as a psychopathic gang member), 3:10 to Yuma is easily one of the best Westerns in the new millennium.

Best Moment: Having reached a mutual respect, Evans and Wade make a break for the soon-departing train while being beset on all sides by Wade’s gang. It’s an intense and tragic climax that elevates the film as a whole.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The 5 Best and 5 Worst Comic Book Events

Events are a staple of mainstream comic books, with these company-wide crossovers becoming more and more common every year. But while they can be seen as quick cash grabs and ways to grab more attention for books, events offer the chance for readers to be taken on a massive adventure that spans the cosmos and the entire comic book line. From universe-reshaping clashes in the cosmos to wars between heroes over human rights, comic book events have covered topics far and wide on a massive scale.

While the shared universe of comic books has led to crossovers since the 1950s, comic book events did not begin in earnest until the 1980s. In the time since, events have become more and more common place to the point of even being seasonal. That regularity may cause fatigue and frustration within readers, but these events can still thrill in the same ways that big budget action movies can during the summer. When in the right hands, massive action and compelling narratives can intertwine for some of the most memorable moments in comic books. When done wrong, they can be as empty-headed and cash-grabbed-focused as anything can possibly be. And with such massive implications involved in each event, which often spill over into countless other comics, the highs and lows of the story can be nearly inescapable for readers.

The following 10 events are the best and worst in comic books, exemplifying the highs and lows of what the big budget format can do. As a rule, comic books that qualify for these lists involve some level of crossover within their publications. So storylines like The Death of Superman do not count.

Have your own personal choices? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, January 11, 2016

“The Spectacular Spider-Man” Animated Series Is One of The All-Time Great Superhero Stories

Originally airing from 2008 to 2009 for two seasons, The Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon series’ end was a result of Disney’s purchase of Marvel Comics. But with characterization true to the spirit of the comics, incredibly intelligent storytelling, and fantastic action, this is quite simply one of the greatest interpretations of everyone’s favorite wall-crawling superhero and the strongest in any medium outside of comic books. This is the type of series that proves both the power of the character of Spider-Man and the unique strengths of animated series in the realm of superheroes.

Created by Greg Weisman and Victor Cook, this is a series that simply gets what is special about Spider-Man and his world. As a whole, The Spectacular Spider-Man draws its influences from the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko era of Spider-Man comics, which introduced the hero and focused heavily on his time as a high schooler balancing school life, relationships, and heroism. That wide-eyed sense of discovery blends with the burden of responsibility to create a Peter Parker that evokes what has been loved about the character for more than 50 years. Voiced here by Josh Keaton, Peter really feels like the character has jumped off the comic page and is swinging across your TV screen in animated form. He has all of his strengths and weaknesses, charisma, and depth, which makes him an endearing character to all ages of viewers.

While the series tracks the early days of the hero, it doesn’t waste precious time redoing an origin that everyone knows by heart already, although it is touched on in flashback near the end of Season 1. Instead, the series leaps into action with Peter already patrolling New York as the Wall-Crawler and then introduces his villains one by one, even bringing some into the series far before they become super powered in order to give them more history and personality. Every villain and supporting character that longtime fans love are here, including Gwen Stacy, Harry Osborne, Mary Jane Watson, Doctor Octopus, Venom, Green Goblin, Sandman, Rhino, and many more. But despite that vast supporting cast, The Spectacular Spider-Man knows how to balance its focus for continuously satisfying storytelling and variety in focus.

Friday, January 8, 2016

“The Revenant” Review

Gorgeously Crafted But Painfully Hollow

Much has been made of the filming of director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant, a fictionalized telling of the true story of fur trapper Hugh Glass, who was mauled by a bear in Montana in 1823 and left for dead, only to survive and trek across the wilderness in search of revenge. As Iñárritu decided to use only natural light, film in realistic locations, and shoot the film in sequence, the film became well known for its grueling shoot before filming even wrapped. With star Leonardo DiCaprio as Glass and Tom Hardy as John Fitzgerald, the man who left him for dead, at the center of the piece, The Revenant is backed by top tier talent on all fronts.

But The Revenant is like a pristine shallow swimming pool – gorgeous on the surface, but with absolutely nothing beneath its beckoning waters. Beware, any who attempt a deep dive into this film, nothing awaits you but pain and meaninglessness.

The choices concerning The Revenant’s filming have the greatest impact on the visual presentation of the film as Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki have crafted a startlingly gorgeous film. Through the use of long takes, wide lenses, and intricately crafted camerawork, every scene within the film is a contender for greatest shot of the year. These massive pieces of camerawork stun with their intricacies, many of which change focus, reframe, and continue for minutes. While it may be overly flashy at times, it’s obvious that the filmmakers wanted to make this a stunning work of beauty and within the context of the film, the choice to only use natural light and long takes helps to draw the audience into the narrative further and further. The feeling of cold and desolation is truly inescapable, practically seeping into your bones as you experience the film.

Within that narrative lies DiCaprio and Hardy, who have very different material to work with despite being protagonist and antagonist, respectively, within the film. While the movie belongs to DiCaprio, his performance is almost solely based on non-verbal emoting and physical suffering; and the team behind the film have made special note of how the actor really did jump in freezing rivers, sleep in animal carcasses, and trudge through harsh wilderness. But does that add any real meaning to what is ultimately a cardboard cutout of a character? Take away prior knowledge of those acting condition and does this performance merit exceptional praise within the confines of the film? Not really.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

“Ex Machina” Review

Alex Garland and a Stellar Cast Create a Science Fiction Mindbender for the Ages

In Ex Machina, longtime screenwriter Alex Garland’s directorial debut, the question of artificial intelligence is unraveled further and further until we begin to question humanity itself in a dizzying display of mastery over numerous philosophical debates. This wonderful blend of mystery and drama is given free rein to dive deep into the minds of viewers, resulting in one of the smartest and most challenging science fiction films in years.

Ex Machina centers on Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson), a young programmer working at a major software company who wins a one-week visit to the home of mysterious CEO Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). But when he arrives, Caleb soon learns that he is there to perform a Turing Test on lifelike robot Ava (Alicia Vikander), who is the culmination of Nathan’s work to create true artificial intelligence. The test will prove whether or not Ava has the same true level of consciousness as a human, but a quickly forming web of deceit and doubts threaten to turn all three against one another.

While it’s clear that Ex Machina is a film with big ideas to tackle, Garland is able to explore heady philosophy in a way that thrills and engages the audience without dumbing down the concepts. As a story that plays out almost entirely in a tech-laden and claustrophobic mansion, the narrative keeps its focus lean and tight in order to drill down deeper and deeper into the issues it explores. By doing so, Garland is able to not only explore the major sci-fi concept at hand, but also delve into the ideas of male-female relationships, making it far more relevant in the ways that the best science fiction stories do. That blend of technological concepts and relationship drama keep Ex Machina relevant as theories of attraction, trust, and sexuality are all unpacked piece by piece.