The Encyclopedia of Film Criticism: Adam Cook

Adam Cook
The cinema is, for me, a means of engaging with the world, coming to terms with it, and figuring out how to live within it.

Contributed to: Mubi Notebook, Cinema Scope, Film Comment, Filmmaker Magazine, Cineaste, La Furia Umana, Indiewire, Cléo, Film Society of Lincoln Center, Grolsch Film Works, Fandor, De Filmkrant, Senses of Cinema. 

Known for: MUBI Notebook, Cinema Scope, image-centric criticism.

Influences: David Bordwell, Serge Daney, Jonathan Rosenbaum, "the best critics right now are Kent Jones, Dennis Lim, R. Emmet Sweeney, and Daniel Kasman."

Noted Champion Of: Classical Hollywood ("Ford Ford Ford Ford"), James Gray, Johnnie To, reappraising Scorsese, "vulgar auteurism."

Born in Vancouver, BC, Adam Cook's (July 24th, 1989-) first language is film. Reading him is to open a travel guide to worlds most of us only ever dream of visiting. "As an only child, my obsessive movie-watching began very young as a familial substitute. It wasn't until my late teens that this unhealthy amount of viewing became anything productive. I had considered writing on movies as early as elementary school, but I finally put pen to paper at the tail end of high school when I started a blog. It wasn't long before I was writing for my university paper, and not long after that that i started pitching around and finding myself published in the outlets I was myself a dedicated reader of like the MUBI Notebook and Cinema Scope. Having a foot in the door at the Vancouver International Film Festival and MUBI (not as a critic, but an editor, and now a programmer) didn't hurt. I love writing about movies, and I hope I always can. But I always never want it to be all that I do. I mean, it's impossible to make a living from, of course, but not because of that. I get restless. I also don't want to force my writing. Programming is more rewarding. And I love working for MUBI."

At 24 as of this writing, Cook has a perspective and list of critical achievements many lifers would tip their hats to. And because he has a ton of editorial/creative freedom at the Notebook, he's been able to craft crticism his way, much of it integrating visual reference points. "It's interesting. We try to intellectualize cinema, but without that intuitive, emotional connection, what's the point of watching a movie? I definitely come at things from a visual angle. Cinema that ennobles cinema is at least more immediately impressive. I love movies of so many different kinds though, I don't think I could ever define my taste. I think I need to sense something human and honest behind the lens though. I think that's most important." His only rule is that he'll never back down from championing a film he loves, and is always willing to be proven wrong about a film he didn't. A negative Adam Cook review is a rare thing indeed. The heart-warming start to one of his capsules: "The first film in competition to stand out as fiercely unique is Denis Côté's Vic+Flo Saw a Bear, though the word spreading around Potsdamer Platz after its premiere was not one of bountiful praise, but let's ignore that." 

Cook brings a gonzo narrative to a lot of his writing. He invites readers into his circumstances of viewing, offers a shared mindset, rather than a simple relaying of an outcome. If his relationship to film is emotional and visual, then he seeks to welcome others into his consumption via the same means, his evocative prose allowing us at once into his world and that of the film. Cook's role as a programmer as well as his festival schedule have given him a new appreciation of what's paramount to good cinema. Cook seeks out rare, unusual and lasting pleasures, films and artists that break ground or raise the dead in new, honest ways. In his powerfully humane words, cinema is, quite literally, a matter of life or death. On Closed Curtain, Jafar Panahi's second film from under house arrest: "When the film touches on suicide, it becomes almost uncomfortably naked, and the notion that Panahi could "give up" is a disheartening one. But how could he? He's still a man with a movie camera, no matter what any authorities may think." The prose is empathetic and open. The familiarity of the first sentence suggests that he's writing a letter (and much of his writing has this kind of intimacy), and the rhetorical question further closes the gap between author, artist and reader/viewer. It's a human concern, not merely a cinematic one; film and life are one and the same. Cook knows the lines have been blurred between film, criticism, and everything that doesn't fall under that banner, and his writing often takes the form of a galvanizing search for a new language to describe it. If cinema is a place, Cook is an environmentalist, an ecstatic conservationist. The final sentence exposes his optimism, his willingness to believe that everything negatively affecting the creation and pursuit of good art can be changed for the better.

On watching Ken Jacobs:
As I assume is the case with most cinephiles—even the most well-viewed veterans—there always seems to be something to catch up on before a festival. A filmmaker has a new film premiering and a recommendation leads to a cram session of sorts in the days leading up to the festival, and even in that most undesired of all viewing spaces: the seat on the airplane. It is in this first unofficial screening room that my own programming began with a viewing of Ken Jacobs's Seeking the Monkey King (2011). Embarrassingly neglected in my viewing history, I was eager (and also obligated) to acquaint myself with the renowned avant-gardist before seeing his new feature-length The Guests (hopefully a subject of a future Berlinale dispatch). What ensued was one of the most memorable, and trippy, watches in my cinephile career. As those in my row slept beside me, I grew nervous of prompting an epileptic fit as an elderly woman across the aisle turned her head towards my MacBook on which Jacobs's twisting tinfoil masterpiece of anger and frustration pulsated with alternately blue and gold light, emanating (projecting?) a noticeable flashing in our darkened corner of the fuselage.  (This prompted me to pause the film and dim my screen whenever a flight attendant neared). This process of "seeking," a journey through this phantasmagorical shifting of dreamlike, chasmic space, is, I think, where the festival began for me. The opening selection of my personal Berlinale.

On On Death Row
Having once described all the characters in his films as somehow part of one family, I was afforded the opportunity at the Locarno Film Festival to ask about this idea and how the inmates on death row fit in. Herzog cited everyone from Woodcarver Steiner, Aguirre and onward as somehow being linked—though he advised me to be careful on "riding this donkey to its death". It isn't their similarities as people, however, that connect them, but their proximity to the abyss which darkly masks them in the same shadow. It is in these figures, somehow closer to the edge of existence than most, that Herzog finds a uniting humanness, qualities that articulate the core of being, while also allowing the specificity of every character to register on screen, complex, and fascinating in their existential solitude. 

On Computer Chess
One of cinema's great virtues is to take us into environments, settings, and contexts that we'd otherwise never explore. Sure, there are films like Lincoln that put monumental moments in history under the limelight, but the tiniest pockets of American mythology can be just as interesting. Andrew Bujalski's Computer Chess finds such a tiny pocket, taking place mostly in a small hotel conference room and is about a group of computer chess nerds who face off their beloved chess programs in a tournament to determine the best designer. Exploiting his PortaPak-style aesthetics for comically expressive means, Bujalski creates an absurd mini-universe on the outskirts of computer culture's early days. However, for all its silliness, the philosophical questions at the film's core, mockingly presented though they may be, carry a real weight. If computers that could barely compete with humans set off alarms about artificial intelligence and the implications of its potential then, the film by implication magnifies the scale as it is now, in which technology's rapid progress is hardly accountable, maybe even unfathomable. Bujalski shows us a time not so far in our past that is easy to laugh at because it is so difficult to laugh at where we are now.

"Welcome to Hell"

The legacy of the HM Prison Pentridge in Victoria, Australia is one of torment. In the 70s and 80s, things got so bad that the government had to step in and investigate the complaints of violent treatment from the staff, but that just made things worse. From the notoriously fierce guards, tellingly nicknamed "The Bash," to the creation of the Jika Jika solitary ward, every development was one more piece of bloody puzzle leading to the prison being shut down and bulldozed in the 90s. But not before it was immortalized in two different Australian independent productions, linked by more than ellipses in their titles. John Hillcoat, later director of The Proposition, The Road and Lawless, fired the first shot with Ghosts...of the Civil Dead, a dystopian dramatization of a prison's increasing hostility to its inmates, scored, co-written and starring in a minor but terrifying role Nick Cave. The management of a fictional prison want federal money to build a new, more severe facility, but need justification. So begins a campaign of oppression, winding up prisoners to induce violent behavior in order to prompt reprisals and keeping guards miserable and in the dark to make them more prone to take out their frustrations on the prisoners. Where does it end? Though based on a novel and framed as a piece of sci-fi, it stings like the truth. Hillcoat's film leaps through time, skipping to new lows like a hardcore kid skipping tracks on a Jesus Lizard album, dank corridors bridging the gap between the horrendous fiction and reality. Several narrators, some unreliable, tell the story of the growing harshness which comes across the prison like a heatwave. Hillcoat's camera is still as can be, moving only when the point of view changes from predator to prey, finding his inmates half in shadow and filth, unable to recognize themselves under conditions that start bad and get worse. They're the poisoned blood of a body losing a fight to infection. When Cave's appearance kicks off the final act, his bone-shaking rasp and preacher's cadence like the voice of cruelty itself, it's the final straw. The community on either side of the bars disintegrates. Cave appears like a bigot poltergeist and both the tired inmates and increasingly stressed guards finally know that their fates are out of their hand. Though as always, fate has the last laugh. 

Alkinos Tsilimidos' Everynight....everynight came next, and is based on a play detailing the circumstances of one Christopher Dale Flannery, a real inmate, and his stay in the maximum security H Division of the HM Prison. The HM and its horrific conditions flipped a switch in Flannery's brain and after his release he became a famous hitman dubbed Mr. Rent-a-Kill. Tsilimidos' film tries to determine what went on that forced the government to intercede on behalf of prisoners and what Flannery experienced that turned him from a petty crook into a murderer and spares no detail. Opening with the sound of nails being pounded by a hammer, the first lines are spoken by a guard who could scarcely look more like a buzzard. "On the Cross, Bryant. Get on the fucking cross, Bryant." So begins a suitably biblical regiment of torture, as Flannery's stand-in undergoes one humiliation after another including a beating and rape on his first night. Tsilimidos keeps his camera (in grainy black & white) inches from his the faces of his subjects, mocking Carl Dreyer's Passion of Joan of Arc, whirling around the dank prison like a drunken angel, or maybe just a lost bird. The body is broken and violated and the spirit cut to ribbons as degradations mount. Like the Irish prisoners of Hunger, the men of Everynight rail and scream against their captors, violence always on the tips of every finger and tongue. They find strength in not giving the guards what they want, resigning from their system one at a time. Both films can only guess what really went on in Australia's prisons, but they have a visceral understanding of systemic malevolence. Their dueling depictions of the annihilation of the individual feel like institutional passion plays. 

These films (along with Romper Stomper) represented the changing of the guard in Australian cinema. Throughout the 70s and 80s, the line between commercial and artistic cinema was drawn in steel, but it started to melt in the 90s. The grammar of the grindhouse and the arthouse mixed like blood and skag. Ghosts  looks like it was shot on the set of a bad action movie and appears to have been a model for Philip Brophy's clinically icky Bodymelt, giving one the impression that antiestablishment art didn't yet have a place in the mainstream and had to linger in the marshy, disreputable dark until they could be claimed. Crassness and violence would eventually define important movies as much as it had marked the underground cinema of the first decade of the new wave. From the needle of these early experiments dribbled the first hint that the country could come to terms with its ugliest traumas through its art. Soon the makers of The Tracker, Chopper, Wolf Creek, Samson & Delilah, Van Dieman's Land Snowtown would dip their brushes in the same blood and start painting their own masterpieces.

The Encyclopedia of Film Criticism: A.A. Dowd

A.A. Dowd
When school and church fail him, the pictures are always there; the local movie house becomes his sanctuary—a substitute chapel and classroom, where enlightenment and education are transmitted directly from the screen to his seat in the balcony. For Bud (and, by extension, [Terence] Davies), cinema is more than escape. It’s a lens through which to see the world. Dyed-in-the-wool cinephiles, for whom personal and filmic history sometimes entwine, can surely relate.

Contributed to: Film Monthly, In Review Online, Time Out Chicago, The A.V. Club

Noted champion of: Claire Denis, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Joachim Trier, Wong Kar-Wai, Bruce Baillie, Saul Levine, Béla Tarr, Spike Jonze, John Cassavetes, Jacques Tati, Tsai Ming-liang, the Farrelly brothers.

Influences: "I had a college film criticism course at Michigan State University that introduced me to everyone from Sarris and Kael to Farber and Rosenbaum. It was definitely a formative educational experience, but if I’m being honest, my exposure to criticism reaches back further—to a childhood spent pouring over Roger Ebert collections and those helpful capsule video guides. (Terror On Tape, by James O'Neill, was very useful for a young horror buff.) And I’ve been reading Entertainment Weekly since I was 9-years-old; while I don’t necessary share Owen Gleiberman’s critical sensibilities, I still aspire to his way with words. Few contemporary critics have as fluid and inviting a style."

Andrew Alexander Dowd, Alex to his friends, was born January 7, 1984 in Oxnard, California. He spent most of his childhood in Lansing, Michigan and wrote his earliest reviews ("pithy capsules for new releases, often several weeks after they’d opened") for his high school news paper. At Columbia College Chicago he began studying and writing criticism regularly. His first professional gig was at a website called Film Monthly, but came into his own as a staff critic at In Review Online, under then-editor Sam C. Mac. "I owe a huge debt to Sam C. Mac, who not only believed in my talent before anyone else really did but also gave me a laptop when my computer was stolen. For real." He wrote for the Time Out Chicago until the print edition was put out to pasture, at which point he took over as film editor of The A.V. Club, taking over for Scott Tobias. It's here that he's let his creativity run wild. An auteurist with an accessible style, Dowd's been mapping out film history for readers, one article at a time. His reviews, long and short, act as pocket biographies of the men and women who've brought them to life. His reviews are well-rounded narratives, allowing neophytes an entryway into something as complicated as the career of Pedro Costa or the ins and outs of the Cannes Film Festival, which he covers in his indispensable feature Palme Thursday. His Ebert-esque everyman's unpretentiousness and affability ("I’d much rather watch Die Hard or Beetlejuice or Who Framed Roger Rabbit than the 1988 Palme winner, Pelle The Conqueror.") make him the ideal critic to lead The A.V. Club's film department, which has always backed up its bold, smartass humour with intelligence and an achingly personal relationship with pop culture. He's also without question the current critic I'd recommend to anyone looking to get into film or film criticism.

On Groundhog Day
Two decades on, Groundhog Day feels timeless, partially because its sole backdrop, Punxsutawney, is a town largely untouched by pop-culture trends. But for all the universal points the film has to make about people’s capacity for change, it also works marvelously as a rebuke to the prevailing sarcasm of its era. To that end, who better than Murray, one of the most sardonic voices in comedy, to go through a metaphysical attitude adjustment? The actor slowly peels away Phil’s defense mechanisms, until the ironic distance he puts between himself and the world has shrank away into nothingness. No wonder Murray turned to drama and seriocomic indies a few years later. As a comedian, where could he go from a movie that trotted out all of his best tricks and then denounced them in the name of enlightenment? Like Phil, Murray had to move forward after Groundhog Day.

On The Wolf of Wall Street

At three hours, The Wolf Of Wall Street is Scorsese’s longest movie (barely edging out Casino). It’s also his crassest, his loudest, maybe his funniest—an aggressively broad satire of American ambition, the full meal to which Spring Breakers, Pain & Gain, and The Bling Ring were merely appetizers. Such reckless indulgence provides the director his own excuse to indulge, and Wolf pushes his showboating stylistic tics and love for loutish behavior to the edge of their acceptable limits. But there’s a cracked logic, a genius almost, to the film’s amped-up irreverence. Maybe laughter isn’t just the best medicine, but the only sensible response to this much brazen amorality. From Travis Bickle to Jake La Motta to the Italian and Irish gangsters of his crime epics, Scorsese has always been hooked on bad boys. And Belfort, the founder of shady brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont, may be the baddest of them all. No, he never murders anyone (though he comes close at least once), but in his ruthless consumption—his endless need for more fixes, more women, more everything—he may be the most unscrupulous character Marty’s ever built a movie around. 

On 4 Months, 3 Weeks, And 2 Days
It’s context, ultimately, that lends 4 Months, 3 Weeks, And 2 Days its full, cathartic power. Like most of the films lumped together into the Romanian New Wave, this one tangentially concerns the reign of Ceauşescu, a long-gone tyrant whose influence is still being felt in contemporary Romania. Crucially, Mungiu hasn’t just set his film during the waning years of the leader’s rule, right before he was ousted from office and executed by the people. He’s also made his heroine a university student. Either literally or symbolically, that aligns her with the demonstrators—many of them students—who helped fan the flames of dissent in 1989, when Ceauşescu sealed his own fate by ordering security forces to fire on unarmed civilians. When Marinca turns, in that final look to the camera, is there more than just weariness scrawled across her face? Is that the spark of revolution dancing in her eyes? By looking at the movie through the lens of history, its day from hell becomes the straw that broke the dictator’s back. Improbably, in this gauntlet of misery, a glimmer of hope emerges—and a gripping film becomes a great one.

His small heart grew three sizes that day.

In honor of the release of a new film by (and yet another on) Alejandro Jodorwsky, here's some refigured thoughts on the few films he made that didn't become cult successes:

Of Chilean madman Alejandro Jodorowsky's two final films before his twenty year hiatus, Santa Sangre is more obviously the work of its director. The Rainbow Thief, its comparatively mawkish companion piece, represents a very different side of the master I can't resist. Back in the 70s and between pre-production phases of his failed Dune adaptation (a documentary on which is just hitting theatres), Jodorowsky directed Tusk, a heartfelt and completely forgotten adventure film that played like Au Hazard Balthasar by way of Alexander Korda. It had nothing of its auteur's caustic surrealism, which probably killed it. In point of fact, it's downright sentimental. Before Tusk, the only clue that Jodorowsky had time for heart-string tugging was  in a half-second's aside in El Topo when the gunslinger cheers up his dwarf lover after they're forced to make love for some gunslingers' entertainment. Tusk could have played to kids if it weren't shot entirely in extreme wide angles that destroy any sense of its human characters (The film's refusal to shoot close-ups or low-angles, coupled with the fact that it's only ever been on blurry VHS means that for money I couldn't tell you what the lead actress looks like). They're tiny figures in a huge landscape, the titular elephant the film's only real hero. Tusk tells the story of a strong-willed French girl born and raised in India. To her controlling father's chagrin, she falls in love with Indian culture, spends time talking to and even touching the Indian serving staff on their huge estate, and befriends an elephant who shares her birthday. When her father has to let a charismatic hunter claim the elephant for the maharaja, she and her father have a falling out and she sets off in search of her companion.  The story isn’t revolutionary and it was the first of Jodorowsky’s features to be based on someone else’s writing which made him kill all his darlings and for once deliver something resembling a conventional narrative. Like late Kurosawa and some of Sidney Lumet’s commercial work, Jodorowsky spends a lot of time admiring the scenery from the cheap seats. Perhaps it was his way of not fully surrendering to so touching a narrative. Whatever his reasoning, it became quite clear that there were two Jodorowskys, and they were at war. And from the sounds of things, with La Danza de la Realidad, his return to cinema after all these years, he's only just gotten them to inhabit the same body.

Santa Sangre returned to the well that he dug for Fando Y Lis, El Topo and The Holy Mountain, but with a different, furious rhythm to guide it. If El Topo is a waltz with a host of lunatics, Santa Sangre is an eye-scorching samba, painted bodies writhing satanically under the light of a moon (or a whorehouse). The Rainbow Thief by contrast is an unabashed heart-string tugger, even if its filtered through a little abstraction (long sections pass without dialogue, the side characters never get names or functions beyond providing bite-sized whimsy, character motivations are hardly worthy of the name) and perhaps that's why its maker disowned it. But I give him more credit than he gives himself. The Rainbow Thief follows an eccentric aristocrat who decides to retreat into the sewers instead of collect his inheritance. A crafty crook is his only contact with the world above. It may have little of El Topo's cult love but how could your heart not melt for The Rainbow Thief? How can you not love a film that allows Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif to share the screen for only the third time after Lawrence of Arabia and Night of the Generals? How can you not love a film that worships the maligned and forgotten in ways that anticipate The Fisher King and doesn't make you suffer Robin Williams? How can you not love a film in which Christopher Lee plays not only a sympathetic character for once, but a lovable, billionaire whore monger on his death bed? How can you not a love a film that brings a dog back from the dead? Answered my own question, haven't I? It does rather overflow with good cheer (Jodorowsky never half-asses anything) and its saccharine myth-making could sweeten espresso. As with all of his films, it's an all-or-nothing proposition, but if you're in the mood to be enchanted, there are few films that feel quite so splendidly like live-action cartoons. Jodorowsky might not want to own up to having a heart, but the evidence is overwhelming and I respect the man all the more for taking a chance on showing it to us. For a long time it looked like he wasn't ever going to get to make another film (any director whose stylistic sensibility closely resembles a peyote hallucination is no friend to producers) and I'm glad as anything that I get to go to a movie theatre and buy a ticket for the new film by Alejandro Jodorowsky. All the same, if he'd gone out on The Rainbow Thief, I think I could have lived with that.

The Encyclopedia of Film Criticism: Kevin B. Lee

Kevin B. Lee
How to look at a movie isn’t something to take for granted. There are as many ways to look at a movie as there are stars in outer space. So we have to ask ourselves: which ways of looking are the ones we want to lead us as we make our way through this infinite universe of images?
Known for: pioneering the short-form video essay. Shedding light on non-canonical Chinese cinema.

Contributed to: Senses of Cinema, Chicago Reader, Cinema Scope, Cineaste, Slant, The House Next Door, Moving Image Source, The Auteurs/Mubi, Time Out New York, Fandor, Time Out Chicago, Cine-File, IndieWire, Press Play, Roger, Shooting Down Pictures, Sight & Sound, Slate, The New York Times.

Noted Champion of: In The City of Sylvia, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Edward Yang, Kate Lyn Sheil, Wang Bing. 

Influences: Harun Farocki ("always looking for new ways to see"), Theodor Adorno ("ferocity of skepticism, especially of cinema"), Walter Benjamin ("transformative vision"), Siegfried Kracauer ("curiosity in mass culture"), Jonathan Rosenbaum ("cinephilia with conscience"), Nicole Brenez ("championing the margins and marginalized"), Manny Farber ("dramatist of restless thought"), Roger Ebert ("populism with smarts and decency"), David Bordwell ("consummate science"), Tom Gunning ("at home in the unknowable"), Chris Marker ("seductive subjectivity"), Serge Daney ("that voice, so clear and purposeful"), Dennis Lim ("master surveyor of the scene"), Matt Zoller Seitz ("pure charisma"), Catherine Grant ("information empowerment"), Ed Gonzalez ("relentless DIY work ethic"), Keith Uhlich and Dan Sallitt ("fearless embrace of personal passions"), Mike D'Angelo and Michael Sicinski ("living termite critics"), The Otolith Group / Kodwo Eshun ("if only for the way he talks"), John Gianvito ("spiritual light"), Slavoj Zizek ("Everything is NOT awesome; Everything Is Ideology"), Thom Andersen ("Essay Plays Cinema"), Guy Debord ("he gave us the spectacles to properly see our society").

One of a few biographies you can find on Kevin B. Lee (January 21st 1975-) begins: A highly regarded producer of critical video essays, Kevin B. Lee blurs the line between filmmaker and film critic. Which would sum it up neatly except that his personality lights his critical work from within like a thousand flood lights. From his earliest piece, a biography of Jia Zhangke for Senses of Cinema, his predilections are clear. A healthy suspicion of canonical logic (his take down of Argo for Slate, at the height of its popularity, is among his most read pieces), a dialogue with critics laced with humility, and the fearless forging of a new path. After a list of everyone Jia's been compared to and the critics who made the comparisons, he quickly shifts gears: 

While these impressive points of reference may lend a feeling of familiarity to those unacquainted with Jia’s films, what risks getting lost in the translation is the glorious strangeness of Jia’s aesthetic. It’s worth making this point because the strangeness of the world is itself a central theme of Jia’s films. It’s a strangeness that descends on his characters and impedes their ability to cope with changes which may be as imperceptible as the shifting trends in music and fashion over months and years, or as sudden and calamitous as a factory explosion. 

He pays tribute, then drills deeper into the issue than he feels anyone else has gone. Perhaps that's why he was uniquely qualified to help popularize and lay out the stylistic foundations for the video essay form, as we know it today. His thorough and thoughtful analysis, on documentary and the question of cinematic reality especially, has allowed him contribute to an almost unprecedented list of highly esteemed outlets including most recently The New York Times. He continues writing criticism to this day, as always his finger on the ever-quicking pulse of the artform and its champions, and it's just as incisive as his video work, but Lee's contributions are of paramount importance to the flourishing of internet criticism. Short form video essays are something only possible in the age of the internet, and they're a great example of the ways in which modern critics can dig deeper into texts than was ever possible in the past. Lee has looked at the unique prowess of certain directors, such as when he charted the evolution of Paul Thomas Anderson in five choice steadicam shots or when he and Matt Zoller Seitz took apart the obsessions that fuel the films of Oliver Stone, as well as the stylistic development of the TV show The Wire. Lee became an unwilling culture warrior when Youtube deleted all of his content in 2009, including clips and full essays on films, citing copyright infringement. In his article on the injustice, Seitz had this to say on Lee's work: Kevin's trailblazing example inspired me to give up print journalism last year and concentrate on filmmaking, and make video essays—criticism with moving pictures—a key part of my new life. High praise and proof that Lee had indeed changed the way many of us relate to and review movies. 

Lee's criticism on the history of Chinese cinema is of particular interest to anyone interested in world cinema. In tackling a largely unheralded Canon, Lee humbly admits his amateur status (unnecessarily, as he's twice the authority most American critics are) and shines a light onto both contemporary and classical work. His work at dGenerate films, a non-theatrical distribution company, further illustrates his commitment to giving a voice to the best unknown Chinese filmmakers. Below is his essay comprised of clips from 50 major films from the start of the artform to 2011. 

For the Moving Image Source, an essay on six contemporary Chinese films:

And finally, among my personal favourites on this subject, his two-part A Revolution on Screen, concerning films made between 1949-1966, a crucial time for the shifting national and cultural identity:

A good entryway into his work on modern independent film from his position as founding editor at Fandor's blog (he also served as editor-in-chief for the video/blog haven Press Play from 2012-2013), this piece on Kate Lyn Sheil's performance in Amy Seimitz' scorching two-hander Sun Don't Shine. It's wonderful not only as an example of granting attention to a work in need of a greater audience, but also it's tuned to Lee's frequency as a critic. The moments that speak loudest to him are often completely silent, and his amazing command of film technique has allowed him to bring those haunting moments to the attention of an audience hungry for new perspectives on art. 

True Detective: "After You've Gone"

“Time has its way with us all.” is the Marty Hart line that opens “After You’ve Gone”, True Detective’s penultimate episode. And what a line it is. It says so much about the ride this season has taken us on so far. I can’t really fathom experiencing so much from only seven episodes of this series. The show’s ability to jump back and forth in time is put to shame only by its total control of whether or not it wants those time jumps to confuse the audience. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It’s really pure magic as screenwriting and even though I know I’ve been sucking up to Mr. Pizzolatto for the last seven weeks I don’t plan on stopping any time soon.

The scene that opens this episode has Marty and Rust quickly explaining where they’ve been for the last decade or so since they’ve seen each other. It’s the first time True Detective goes out of its way to explain events that happen off camera in any kind of detail. Generally we just get a cryptic hint. And what we learn from all of this is that Rust travelled to the farthest reaches to escape this case and is brought back because of what he calls a “debt”. We actually get to see a great role reversal in this episode. All season long I’ve found myself 100% on Rust’s side. No matter what ridiculous shit he was spouting I still knew deep down that when it came to police work he was doing what he was doing because he was right. But for the first time all season I really can’t be sure that his “sprawl”, his web of connected clues isn’t just what Marty calls “conjecture”.

The timeline of this episode occurs after all the interviews we’ve grown so familiar with. So it’s very strange to hear Marty and Maggie (who’s seems to have married someone with money) referencing the interviews like they just happened. But what does Pizzolatto do now that his framing vehicle is gone? He creates another one. The bulk of the episode revolves around Marty and Rust sitting in a storage unit that Rust has filled with objects pertaining to his “sprawl”. The episode jumps to and from this scene to fill in other details but the main story lives in this storage unit.

I touched on it in my review of “Who Goes There” but this episode really lays out how these two men operate. They are both defined by their work. They glaze over the last decade because they weren’t working. Their personal lives meant little to them because there wasn’t a work life to offset it. I’m happy to see this side of these two men return since there really isn’t much time left to define these fellas. “After You’ve Gone” breaks the HBO standard of a raucous penultimate episode that leads into a finale where they deal with the fallout. Instead we get a slow but steady episode where we have to play catch up with a large amount of new information tied to this now almost twenty-year-old case. And knowing for sure that next season this story will not continue presents a very new aspect to watching television that really raises the stakes on next week’s finale.

Some of the stuff that let the air out of my balloon last week finally decided to show up with just a few minutes left in the episode. My roving obsession with Carcosa, masks, and the King in Yellow was finally given some payoff this week. First, when Rust and Marty question a suspect’s former employee the former decides to show her some sketches of the stick sculptures that have haunted their investigation all along. Upon seeing them she begins to spout babble about Carcosa and my obsession was immediately reignited. I imagine this sort of break brings on similar feelings in real detectives. At a few points throughout the episode we learn about the Tuttle family’s affinity for mask-wearing ceremonies and once again we return to Robert W. Chambers' writing.

Camilla: You, sir, should unmask.

Stranger: Indeed?

Cassilda: Indeed it's time. We all have laid aside disguise but you.

Stranger: I wear no mask.

Camilla: (Terrified, aside to Cassilda.) No mask? No mask!

—The King in Yellow: Act I, Scene 2

This scene is performed almost exactly when Rust and Marty question a hospitalized witness and having it echo now in the series final hours sends chills up my spine. And in the last shot of “After You’ve Gone”, after the two cops who were interrogating Rust and Marty throughout the season leave a man with a very specific skin condition (the 'green eared spaghetti monster') we see that he’s been mowing a large patch of grass in a circle. A flat circle.

And just like that, almost effortlessly, True Detective has trapped me again in my own obsession with finding an answer to all of this. So finally, with only fifty eight some odd minutes left in this story we’re given two men who no longer have any official ties to the law acting as law enforcers. They owe the dead a debt that they firmly believe and no matter what they’re going to see to see it through. They simply are incapable of anything else.

True Detective “Form and Void”

The finale of True Detective, reviewed by Tucker 'Fox' Johnson

Rust: “You’re lookin’ at it wrong. The sky and everything.”
Marty: “How’s that?”
Rust: “Once there was only dark. If you ask me the light’s winnin’.”

And so concludes the first season of True Detective. To a passerby this dialogue exchange wouldn’t seem like anything special but when those words come both at the end of one of the most nihilistic series on record and out of the mouth of a man who spent the series’ eight episodes despising every collective breath that humanity took, well, it’s a big deal. 

There are plenty of weighty themes to talk about in “Form and Void” but I want to start with Nic Pizzolatto’s approach to the season’s final moments. Unlike most of the cop shows I’ve seen (and it’s pretty hard to even consider this in the same league as most of them) a huge twist wasn’t thrust into the finale. In fact Pizzolatto threw the killer right in our face at the end of last week’s episode “After You’ve Gone” and in so doing quelled the riot that was internet theorization. Everyone and their mother had their ideas about every aspect of True Detective, the Yellow King most of all. I imagine this always happens with good mystery television (I guess it really doesn’t even have to be good) but what I really appreciate here is even though he had no real control over the audience’s self appointed Easter egg hunt between episodes he did have control over what we did and didn’t know for sure. Most of the season he chose to sprinkle the facts on us but it was almost as if he foresaw what we’d all be doing and reigned us all back in and his actions speak louder than the narrative. He tells us flat out who to be afraid of before we even get to the finale because the identity of the killer isn’t the point that Pizzolatto is trying to make. Errol William Childress could really be anyone. That said, he’s an absolutely terrifying screen presence and Glenn Fleshler deserves all the credit in the universe for showing up this late in the game and still casting such a heavy shadow with his performance. But this man who’s been yearning to be the King in Yellow for so long, who’s taken calculated steps to not being discovered, who’s mastered the art of hiding in plain sight is finally brought down because he painted a house once in 1994. And just when you thought you couldn’t throw your hands up any higher at the situation we learn he painted the house green, not yellow.

That’s where True Detective sets itself apart from other cop drama. The final clues aren’t found and put together because the dutiful detective finally looks at them from the right angle. Not at all. Instead the discovery is made because of a completely random connection brought on by a just as circumstantial frame of mind. And it’s perfect. This is the kind of idea that this series has been building toward since its beginning. Human beings are imperfect creatures that have found themselves in a universe where they constantly face a near perfect enemy: Darkness. So when we finally make the right connection, when we finally discover the killer’s identity, when we finally take them down we see it as a victory against the very cosmos. We spurn the skies because that is where our creator lives and we have to remind him that no matter what his intentions he’s allowed true evil to seep through onto our plane and humanity, not God, fought it off. True Detective strikes me as a series that wants to show how people are constantly trying to prove to their makers that they’re worth the gift of existence. It’s really the most human emotion there is. We want to be worth something. Like Marty we want to be desired by those we care about and though we make mistakes we’ll still fight tooth and nail to retain that desire. Like Errol Childress we want to fight for our place in the shuffle. We push our father’s aside (or lock them up) to make sure that we’re given our time to prove ourselves worthy of power and existence. Every character on the show can be applied to this template except for one: Rust Cohle. Rust doesn’t care what he’s worth. His sole mission in life is to prove the creator wrong. He wants to rub God’s face in the fact that nature and humanity have allowed for atrocities to occur and who in their right mind would allow such horror to exist? He’s not even out to stop the madness. He just wants to make sure that everyone knows it’s there, lurking in the shadows, a horrific inevitability. But then that is why “Form and Void’s” final lines are so beautiful. Rust finally stopped the evil he’d been fighting against for two decades. He finally won his battle with the cosmos and only after doing so does he realize that maybe it isn’t a losing battle after all. In the climactic moments of Rust’s chase through Childress’ Carcosa he looks up into the sky and has a vision of a cluster of stars in the shape of a spiral. “This will all happen again” it says. But in that same defeatist statement hides another, “Now is the chance to do something about it”.

True Detective has spent plenty of its air time focusing on dualities so of course it ends with them too. Time is a flat circle, easily repeated. So of course we’re taken back through all of the outdoor set pieces of this season though now from the vantage point of a helicopter shot gliding cleanly over all. Carcosa is an enormous spider web in the darkness yet when defeat for its king finally comes it does so in a wide-open room with a view of the sun and sky. The cosmos takes on the shape of a spiral yet in the season’s final shot we look upon a starry night sky that seems so much clearer. The stars are positioned randomly in the sky with no real pattern to buy into or obsess over. And as if to strengthen Rust’s closing words the shot is given a long exposure and the full brightness of the stars becomes more and more apparent. Yet Rust’s final line isn’t that we’ve won, it’s that we’re winning. The battle of light and dark is never ending and so of course the winner will change hands. It’s just up to those on the side of light to keep battling the dark no matter the odds or frankly, the outcome.

It’s been lovely watching this season and writing about it. Only because I listened to it while writing this final article do I want to close with the refrain from the song “Black River Killer” by Blitzen Trapper. It just seemed too fitting to pass up:

So you make no mistake
I know just what it takes
To pull a mans soul back from heavens gates
I’ve been wandering in the dark about as long as sin
But they say it’s never too late to start again
Oh when, oh when
Will the spirit come a-callin' for my soul to send
Oh when, oh when
Will the keys to the kingdom be mine again?

Our Favourite Films of the 1960s

Scout Tafoya
I've listed symmetrical alternatives because I'm a precious motherfucker. 

1. If.... (or Ivan's Childhood)
2. Man Without A Map (or L'Eclisse)
3. The Lady With The Little Dog (or The Whip & The Body)
4. Play Dirty (or The Wild Bunch)
5. Onibaba (or Mademoiselle)
6. Youth of the Beast (or Point Blank)
7. I Fidanzati (or Pale Flower)
8. The Rise & Fall of Legs Diamond (or Pierrot Le Fou)
9. L'Avventura (or The Castle)
10. 8 ½ (or Andrei Rublev)

Dan Khan

1. Lawrence of Arabia
2. La Dolce Vita 
3. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
4. The Wild Bunch
5. Medium Cool
6. Repulsion
7. Pierrot Le Fou
8. The Exterminating Angel
9. If….
10. Point Blank

Beccah Ulm

1.The Birds
2. Psycho
3. West Side Story
4. Rosemary's Baby
5. Repulsion
6. The Sound of Music
7. Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?
8. Night of the Living Dead
9. Doctor Zhivago
10. To Kill A Mockingbird

Lucas Mangum

1. Night of the Living Dead
2. Psycho 
3. 2001 
4. Breathless 
5. Rosemary's Baby 
6. Repulsion 
7. Once Upon a Time in the West
8. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly 
9. Planet of the Apes 
10. Bonnie and Clyde

Tucker Johnson

1. Dr. Strangelove
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey
3. Once Upon a Time in the West
4. The Wild Bunch
5. The Apartment
6. Cool Hand Luke
7. The Hustler
8. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
9. Point Blank
10. One Hundred and One Dalmations

Noah Lyons

1. 8 ½
2. Blow-Up
3. Pierrot Le Fou
4. Last Year at Marienbad
5. Andrei Rublev
6. Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf? 
7. Persona
8. 2001
9. The Innocents
10. The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

Gifford Elliott

1. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
2. 8 ½
3. L'Avventura
4. Dr. Strangelove
5. Repulsion (or Belle De Jour)
6. Dr. Zhivago
7. Breathless
8. Jules et Jim
9. Psycho
10. Bonnie and Clyde

Tim Earle

1. Through a Glass Darkly
2. The Virgin Spring
3. For a Few Dollars More
4. Point Blank
5. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
6. 2001
7. Dr. Strangelove
8. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf
9. Breakfast at Tiffany's
10. Wait Until Dark

The Encyclopedia of Film Criticism: Fernando F. Croce

Fernando F. Croce
But what of the miracle (is there another word for it?) of the transcendental finale—another joke, or a sudden, romantic flash from a pugnacious modernist who could fill the screen with barrier after Brechtian barrier and still make us cry for the elderly cleaning lady by her lover's bedside and the battered transvestite baring his soul in the abbatoir?

Contributed to: Slant Magazine, Reverse Shot, Mubi, Film Comment, Fandor, Movie Mezzanine,

Noted Champion of: Kenji Mizoguchi, Kill Bill, Robert Mitchum, José Mojica Marins, Scorpio Rising, Ann Dvorak, Powell & Pressburger, The Naked Kiss, Russ Meyer, Elaine May, Futurama, Georgina Spelvin, Larry Cohen.

Influences: Manny Farber "above all", Andrew Sarris, Histoire(s) du Cinéma, Jorge Luis Borges, J. Hoberman, Robin Wood, and, "for giving me my first taste of prose," João Carlos Marinho.

Born in São Paulo, Brazil, Fernando F. Croce (April 20, 1977-) is part critic, part poet. His critical life, in brief: I came to film writing during my college days, after years working at various video stores and unsuccessful stabs at poetry and painting (Perhaps that’s why Godard’s Historie(s) du Cinéma hit me so profoundly, and why I keep making insufferably pretentious references not just to other films, but to other art forms in reviews. I’m a bit obsessed about connections). My first article appeared at the San Jose State University newspaper, The Spartan Daily—a review of the 2000 werewolf thriller Ginger Snaps, which for some mysterious reason was identified in the headline as a vampire thriller. It was around that time that I became fiercely inspired by Manny Farber’s Negative Space, still my own personal Bible, and by the founding members of Slant Magazine, who were roughly my age and offering review after passionate review. I was honored to start writing for them in 2005, my official entry into film journalism. And since then I’ve been lucky to have appeared in publications like Film Comment, Mubi, Reverse Shot, Fandor, and Movie Mezzanine, as well as my own archaic blog

I always look forward to major festivals because it means the chance to read Croce's correspondences with fellow Mubi notebook contributor Daniel Kasman. He and Kasman have very different styles and reading their letters, their voices more like two-part harmonies than counterpoints, is endlessly rewarding. Their rapport goes down as easy as Canadian Club whiskey, and I've read many 'letter' based critical analyses that borrow heavily from their conversations. Elsewhere on the site, he, Calum Marsh and Joseph Jon Lanthier offer up Three Takes, where each spills a little ink on the same film. They're done all too infrequently (none have appeared since April 2013), but with each new installment, the three critics' voices are highlighted with ideal efficiency and perspicuousness. Croce's writing often reads like pointillism, tiny impressions of technique, theme or action that reveal the heart of the film and his personal relationship to cinema. Reading Croce, you'll get as much of the plot as you need to understand and a lustrous rendering of what makes it tick. This line from a review of Martin Scorsese's Hugo sees him firing on all cylinders: "The look on the bookish Isabelle’s face as she watches her first movie (Harold Lloyd in Safety Last!) crystallizes what Scorsese is after: The feeling of a virginal gaze being ravished by the harmonizing of the antique and the ultramodern." Splendid. However, he never lets his sense of beauty, his love of Borges, ever get in the way of his communion with any potential audience. His excellent shortform criticism allows little room for uncertainty and he never leaves the reader unsatisfied. 

On Dormant Beauty 
There are wayward daughters, suicidal addicts, hurried doctors, and close-ups of gorgeous women with their heads resting on giant pillows, at times blanched with suffering and at others posed like porcelain dolls. A very musical work (notice the aural swoops and drops of Bellocchio’s mise-en-scène), and a deeply humane one.

On Cape Fear
If this is to be a genre piece, fine—let the genre be the horror film. The sense of unease is all-pervasive: Freddie Francis’ camera slithers and snaps, Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing shocks and jabs, vivid color more than once switches to X-ray negative. De Niro’s Max Cady is a convicted rapist who emerges from prison a pumped-up Übermensch, ready to settle scores with Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte), the lawyer who originally defended him. Covered with Armageddon tattoos, driving an inferno-red convertible while wielding a foot-long phallic cigar, he’s such an uproarious cartoon of malevolence that when original Max Cady Robert Mitchum pops up, he can’t help commenting on the character’s semiotics: “Jeez, I don’t know whether to look at him or read him.” 

On Alps
Both a companion piece to and in many ways a reversal of Dogtooth, Alps finds Lanthimos building on that film's surreally terse style and notions of communication and identity without diluting its singularity or concentration. Working with cinematographer Christos Voudouris, he composes his images (with characters frequently decapitated by off-center framing or liquefied into out-of-focus background forms) to conjure up an atmosphere of dread that hangs over even the most deceptively tranquil scenes. By swathing every relationship in layers of hierarchical pretense and distortion, Lanthimos envisions social order itself as a continuous performance, an existential variation of Shakespeare's dictum about the human race as players on the world's stage. For him, the roles people assign each other can weigh as much as the stone masks of ancient Greek theater. In that sense, it's telling that the nurse's crack-up scene (where she desperately spouts the lines she had previously memorized while being forcibly dragged into the street) is immediately followed by the gymnast's flawless big number: the former is frantic improvisation while the latter is perfectly rehearsed choreography, and the subtly devastating closing image asks which is more oppressive.

On Under the Skin
Dear Danny, funny you mention Casanova and Dracula, because that could easily be one way to describe the legitimately uncanny Under the Skin. Another would be Species directed by the Antonioni of Red Desert. From the opening shots—a staring retina emerges from a wandering dark orb, the cosmic unto the visceral—there’s a sense of ineffable dread making the images vibrate. It’s an otherworldly film, but the locations are scraggly, overcast, wintry, a Scotland very much like that of Ken Loach. Against this naturalism lies the most extreme stylization, patches of abstract blackness literally swallowing up young men as they march towards the beckoning heroine, a body-harvesting creature that happens to look exactly like Scarlett Johansson. Just as a human body can be evacuated of everything but its skin (one of several remarkable visions), so is an alien skin gradually filled with… what? Horror? Longing? Compassion? The film’s sustained feeling of discovery derives greatly from the way new, maybe unnamed emotions seem to be churning inside Johansson’s curvaceous visitor as she cuts a swath through Glasgow, whether she’s trying to keep a slice of chocolate cake down or finally contemplating her own tear-away visage. Danny, this is as strange as anything in the Wavelengths program. Who the hell is Jonathan Glazer? Commercials, a gangster thriller in Sexy Beast, a surreal drama in Birth, then poof! And now, almost a decade later, this. As a portrait of consumption in inner and outer spaces, Under the Skin is simultaneously direct in its metaphoric implications and as crazily prismatic as Holy Motors. It can be as trying as it is striking, but I don’t plan on forgetting it any time soon.

The Encyclopedia of Film Criticism: Danny Bowes

Danny Bowes
One of the most frustrating stereotypes about film critics is the libel that all they do is tear down filmmakers' work. The reality is that anyone willing to spend the time it takes to be a film critic -- even if just for a year or two -- simply has to be getting something out of the investment.

Contributed to: Premiere,,, Hudak on Hollywood, Movie Mezzanine, Yahoo! Movies, IndieWire, The Atlantic,, The Dissolve, Salt Lake City Weekly, Film School Rejects, and his personal blog, Movies By Bowes.

Noted Champion of: Space Jail, Mr. Go, Maya Deren, John Ford, F.W. Murnau, François Truffaut, Alain Resnais, the Cannon Group, Kathryn Bigelow, Farah Khan.

Influences: Pauline Kael, Roger Ebert, Howard Waldrop ("less for film criticism per se than a particular attitude toward film that came forth in his fiction"), Scott Tobias "and the other fine folks formerly of The AV Club and now The Dissolve."

New York based Danny Bowes (October 26th, 1978-) makes film and theatre pieces when he isn't writing criticism of many kinds. A constant (and constantly humourous) presence on Twitter, Bowes is deeply connected to the continuing saga of film and film criticism, bringing wit and enthusiasm to the stories behind classic films as well as the state of modern TV and movies. He started writing for Premiere, which led to many other gigs, many of them online, including dedicated himself to reviewing Bollywood films for, giving them attention they aren't often afforded elsewhere. He communicates a love for his favourite auteurs that extends to their making project choices that play to their strengths. He lets his personal obsessions and loves drift into his writing because the success of the medium is personal to him. His writing on the state of criticism and his words in tribute of Roger Ebert  aren't just relevant, they're deeply touching. He knows better than most that one must have love for the medium to keep writing criticism because it isn't always a rewarding profession. He has an infectious conversational style, illuminating every aspect of a production with such glee that you can practically see his eyes lighting up as he discusses everything right with Kiss Me Deadly and Buckaroo Banzai. He's willing to go to bat not merely for films or artists he admires, but for the idea of a rational, civil critical conversation, an endangered species in 2014, making him a most vital voice.

On Kiss Me Deadly
That’s the biggest change made by Bezzerides and Aldrich: highlighting the fact that Mike Hammer, as played by Ralph Meeker, is not an exceedingly smart man, and that he has very few qualms about asking those close to him to put themselves at risk for his sake. He takes an unsettling pleasure in violence. But in spite of all this, he has his redeeming qualities. Although not the sharpest tool in the shed, he can nonetheless add two and two together, even if three and three is a bit ambitious. And — condescending as this may sound in 2011, in 1955 this was kind of a big deal — he gets along comfortably and intimately with people who have accents and aren’t white. At a time when most hard-boiled dicks tossed the n-word around like it was punctuation (including, distressingly, my beloved Philip Marlowe in Farewell, My Lovely), Meeker’s Hammer is on a friendly enough basis with a black bartender and lounge singer that they’re the company in which he chooses to mourn a fallen friend. While by no means am I suggesting that we canonize St. Mike Hammer the Racially Tolerant, it’s a humanizing touch that the character needs, and it’s a great improvement over Spillane’s version of the character. And Meeker captures all the tricky nuances quite well.

On Dhoom 3

Movie stars were originally called stars for the bright, glittery aspects of the heavenly bodies in question, but there's another quality that true stars, especially those of Aamir Khan's caliber possess, which is gravitational pull. "Dhoom: 3" doesn't attempt to resist this force in any way, with only the bare minimum of pretense that the "Dhoom" movies are Abhishek Bachchan/Uday Chopra buddy comedies anymore, putting the focus squarely on the story of Sahir Khan (played as a child by Siddharth Nigam and as an adult by Aamir Khan), a circus performer seeking revenge against Anderson (Andrew Bricknell), the cruel banker who ruined his father's life's work for no good reason..... The second half of "Dhoom: 3" features a surprisingly adroit, if not terribly subtle, interrogation into the the morality of operating outside the law for a good cause. The movie stacks the deck a bit by having the banker be such a loathsome (and implicitly racist) bastard, but Aamir Khan and Abhishek Bachchan do a compelling job exploring the various moral and ethical colors involved in the cops-and-robbers game. Khan brings out the best in Bachchan as an actor, with his performance in "Dhoom: 3" finally shorn of the awkwardness and dullness into which his work in the first two movies all too often regressed. This, again, is a testament to the control Khan exerts over the movie: never heavy-handed, but absolute.

On Christopher Nolan
After this Friday's The Dark Knight Rises, director Christopher Nolan will stop making Batman moves—and that's a good thing. That's not because his have been bad films. Quite the opposite. The boldness of Nolan's storytelling, the seriousness and conscientiousness with which he addressed comic books as a form, and the degree to which he interwove comics conventions with cinematic ones, showed the world just how great comic-book movies could be. Without delving into too many spoiler-y particulars, Nolan has concluded his Batman trilogy on a fairly definitive note, and has said all he has to say as a writer and filmmaker about Batman as a character and (even more importantly) as a symbol. This is why even though both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight were enormously successful with audiences and critics, and The Dark Knight Rises is almost certainly poised to continue that trend, it's time for Nolan to tackle a new challenge and for Batman to be re-imagined yet again. Nolan, starting with his second feature, 2000's Memento, has delivered a string of intelligent pop movies that are meticulously constructed, have a wide sweep, and are morally and formally complex. He's said that he considers Stanley Kubrick, Ridley Scott, and Michael Mann to be his influences, and you can see the traits he shares with those directors: a flair for making bleakness engaging rather than ponderous, an interest in haunted, driven protagonists, and particularly in Kubrick's case, a knack for adaptation. Nolan's films deal heavily with memory, perception, and the knotty, amorphous definitions of right and wrong; they're not terribly profound in the way they go about exploring these subjects, but their subjects are worthy ones that aren't tackled all that often in mainstream (increasingly expensive) films.