Following

Stars: ★★★★

Summary:  Lean, mean, rich film noir.

Review: Christopher Nolan’s rarely-seen first film, ‘Following’, is a claustrophobic, intricate noir. Here we enter an urban jungle populated by crafty criminals, femme fatales, and eccentrics; one such eccentric is Bill, a struggling writer who stalks people.  He does so because he needs experiences to write from, but it becomes an obsession, compelling him to invade the lives of others further and further.  With the help of a man named Cobb, he becomes a thief.  Cobb’s motivation is simple, “You take it away… to show them what they had,” but Cobb is far more devoted to this fiendish ideal than Bill realizes.

‘Following’ is spellbinding.  Unlike many low-budget, independent filmmakers, Nolan makes his limitations work for him.  Aesthetically, the film is grungy, off-kilter and bleak, the perfect feel for a neo-noir.  The story is quick to the point and has no fat.  Nolan makes use of the fractured narrative — something that would become his signature — to keep us disoriented, uncomfortable, and on our toes.  There is never anything uninteresting; every detail has some significance.

The film’s central themes are invasion and manipulation. The idea of following random people, just to get a glimpse into their lives, is downright prescient. Thanks to Twitter and Facebook, I can do that from the comfort of my couch. Most films about thieves center around greed, but the character Cobb insists that burglary isn’t the point.  Cobb wants to touch the human soul, to remind them of something they’d once known is true, but chose to forget.  He insists that “Everyone has a box”, a place in their homes where they keep their most prized mementos.  This functions like the safe in ‘Inception’, where the dreamer keeps their secrets.  Bill is attracted to Cobb’s seeming nobility, his philosophical approach, his comfort in such a risky enterprise.  But Cobb isn’t noble, he’s a predator, and whatever rhetoric he espouses to justify his bizarre lifestyle is just a cloak.  

Bill’s identity as a writer tells me that Nolan created the character autobiographically, at least to some extent.  Writer’s block is the worst, and I have contemplated carrying a notebook and observing people for inspiration.  When I realized the cost, I considered writing it into a screenplay, only being simultaneously disappointed and relieved that Nolan had already used the concept.  What happens to Bill, then, is every writer’s subconscious fear, that the world they strive to create will swallow them up.

I highly recommend ‘Following’ to fans of Christopher Nolan, film noir, independent film, and film in general.

Buy It From Amazon: Following

Not-So-Classic Review: Godzilla (1998)

By contributor Patrick Zabriskie

Stars: ★★☆☆

Summary: This film is much more entertaining than its ‘rep would make you think.

Review: One of the things I have discovered through my journey across Geekdom is that there can, at times, be a considerable amount of snobbery when it comes to certain subjects. One of them happens to be Godzilla. His 1954 cinematic debut was a surprisingly effective parable on nuclear warfare. And that original film is still the high point of the entire series.

For the next twenty years, the studio Toho turned out a number of cheesy low-budget Godzilla films. The formula was simiple: Godzilla vs. (insert giant monster name), and have two guys in rubber suits duke it out. Eventually the series ended under the weight of its own corniness. Then, beginning in the mid-1980s, the series was revived, and a new string of Godzilla pictures was released. These films were much darker than before and had a slightly more serious tone. Still, they used stunt-men in rubber suits and usually featured Godzilla fighting some other giant monsters. Not that I don’t enjoy that stuff, but content of that nature never rises above B-movie level for me.

My point is that the over-whelming majority of Godzilla films aren’t meant to be taken in any serious light. They’re fun, ridiculous pictures, and what they lack in any originality they make up for in enjoyable silliness. Perhaps my review has seemed somewhat condisending of the franchise, but I actually have been a pretty dedicated Godzilla fan. So much so that in 1998, as an excited six year old kid, I went to see the American-made entry in the series, Godzilla.

I actually enjoyed this film then. In fact, I still enjoy it today. Seeing a redesigned Godzilla run around New York City causing destruction was popcorn entertainment at its finest. Sure the other characters were thin and the plot, now that I think of it, didn’t really make much sense, but I found it to be a good B-movie in the spirit of the other Godzilla films.

Here’s where the snobbery comes in. For whatever reason, this film was panned not only by critics, but by Godzilla fans themselves as unfaithful to its namesake. They claimed it wasn’t their Godzilla, it wasn’t their type of movie. Some have even gone so far as to refer to creature in the movie not as Godzilla but as Gino (Godzilla In Name Only). The film has been deplored as a poorly told display of bad special effects.

And how was this any different than the other Godzilla films? Near as I can tell the filmmakers captured the essence of most of Godzilla’s films in their version. In truth, I don’t think it is any different. However, I’m willing to except the argument that maybe the fans were hoping for something closer to the original ‘Godzilla’. I can understand them wanting a film that, for perhaps the first time since the original, had a plot and message that was compelling, especially with all the budget, support, and hype that this film had (although I think movie audiences had by and large grown out of the stage of being taught parables through giant monster movies in the 90’s).

OK. So it’s not the true return to excellence that the fans were maybe hoping for. And I’ll admit that a person who’d spent 10, 20, or 30 years being accustomed to the original Godzilla suit maybe found his new, sleeker figure to be unfamiliar and unappealing (that and he no longer breathes fire). But still, I feel that the entertainment value of this picture has been grossly underrated due in part to the negative backlash from the fan community. It truly is a fun picture to watch, with a lot of chases, explosions, fights, planes, tanks, helicopters, guns, and of course Godzilla. And that, if done right, can warrant seeing a film. I’m of the opinion that in this film that it is. I give it a modest recommendation. If you can’t find it for free online, it is still worth spending $2.50 in the discount shelf in Walmart.

Or, You Can Buy It From Amazon: Godzilla [Blu-ray]