“I believe whatever doesn’t kill you, simply makes you . . . strangeerrr.” If this quote conjures images of smeared face paint and a twisted smile, you did not live under a rock in the year 2008.

The Dark Knight (TDK) is a thrilling superhero blockbuster from the mind of director/co-writer Christopher Nolan, and though obviously adapted from Batman source material, Nolan was sure to put his signature stamp on the film. TDK sits as a staple of both one of the most successful superhero films of recent years, and one of Nolan’s larger films commercially due to its iconic cape-wearing vigilante, grossing in a whopping 533.3 million domestically in its theatrical run (that’s right, before DVD/Blu-ray sales).
However, I shall not be speaking strictly of this complex crime saga but instead talking of the man behind all the cinematic magic, Mr. Christopher Nolan. Having now seen all seven feature films he has directed (and wrote/co-wrote), along with one of three short films, I feel confident in saying that now is as good as any to try and encompass one of the most imaginative and genius directors my generation has had the privilege of seeing work and evolve.

Where to begin? Have you ever walked out of a movie theater with your head aching, and not from the loud noises and frenetic camera movement of a typical Hollywood action flick, but from the twisting and turning of a story, the vast questions it poses, and the sheer size of the ideas woven into a film? In my experience, almost every Nolan film demands your mind to try and squeeze all that was just presented into coherent sequence and break events down so you don’t virtually implode (the exception being Batman Begins, not because I consider it inferior to the rest of his filmography, but simply because it is the beginnings of a trilogy and thus less vast in its reach as a solitary story and works more as the teasing of a larger picture).

That’s not to say Mr. Nolan presents his films in a manner of incoherence, just that he has a knack for telling complex stories which test and tease your brain and inflict chaos on your senses at every turn. Subsequent to my first viewing of Inception, the sophisticated dream-invasion sci-fi epic, my brain throbbed from the intricate layers, broad ideas and concepts, and profuse questions that filled my head. Even in his feature-length debut Following, with a budget of just $6,000, Nolan wove a labyrinth tale of conspiracy and scheming into a short hour and ten minute run time.

Nolan often employs non-linear narrative, which means the story is told out of chronological sequence. The Prestige’s narrative switches between multiple characters and flashbacks/forwards while telling a story of intrigue and deception in the world of magicians.

In Memento, the film begins at the end, and then plays backwards in fragmented segments interspersed with flashback clips from earlier in the story. This ingenious approach has been called a gimmick by some, but I just can’t see it that way. If a narrative technique can absorb and immerse a viewer in a way they haven’t seen before and lift the film itself to a different level, I say full speed ahead.

That’s the beauty of Mr. Nolan; I believe he is truly one of the few American directors striving to reach new, groundbreaking areas of cinema. He is not satisfied with settling for something that has been done a thousand times before, but for what is ahead. For what lies in the expansive space of the unknown and unexplored. Even when dealing with material handled by many before him, Nolan was able to give the Batman series a fresh and innovative approach that felt as original as the rest of his work.

Watching any one of his films, I instantly hand all the problems and woes in my life over to Mr. Nolan in exchange for not only total escapism, but the knowledge that my brain power will be used elsewhere.

Nolan demands your attention from the opening credits to the final curtain, pinning you to your seat throughout. Though never cheating the audience, Nolan does not hold the viewers hand: blink for a moment and you may miss a sign or symbol, message or clue. If you’re prepared for a mind-bending and complex ride that will both test and ultimately satisfy, allow yourself to be swept away in the ever-expanding Nolanverse. Are you watching closely?


Alleviation Through Guitar

Icelandic band lead by front man Jonsi.

When I was young(er), I would see people playing instruments, especially guitar, and be transfixed. Even before touching one myself, I could tell that people playing were, in a way, in their own realm. I would see a couple of musicians making music together and think how spectacular it must feel to synchronize yourself through such a satisfying medium. However, comprehension and experience can be two different things entire. So, roughly two years ago, I picked up my sister’s dusty and neglected Aria classical guitar and decided I wanted to experience this for myself.

The most obvious place to get a footing in the never-ending trail of playing guitar is lessons. So, with my poorly tuned Aria and pre-callused fingers, I started searching for a teacher to introduce me to the world of guitar and take me under their wing like Sgt. Nicholas Angel did for PC Danny Butterman (if you just scratched your head with that last analogy, you have sadly never been graced with the brilliance of the film Hot Fuzz. I will sooth your confusion by stating that it is essentially the same dynamic as Mr. Miyagi to Daniel Laursso. Still scratching? Google is right around the corner). Upon finding a teacher, I began taking hour long lessons every Wednesday during the (home) school year. Like many naïve teenagers before me, the delusive idea of grandeur that accompanied me before actually playing guitar soon faded. No, Mike, you cannot even play the rhythm guitar for Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe” yet, let alone the solo. Hammer-ons? Pull-offs? Just try hitting the high e string there, buddy. As much as we’d all like to be instantly exceptional at some things, you usually quickly realize that you need to spend a little time with something called practice before shredding up arenas with your God-like guitar skills.

Tom Gabel and the boys peforming at 2011's Warped Tour

So I went through the admittedly slow process of getting the beginnings of a grip on guitar. Now, two years later, I won’t even pretend that I have mastered guitar. No, I, like all players, am just standing on a step in the endless staircase that is guitar skill. From my experience, there is a barrier for each player when starting out. It’s the line between frustration that all you seem to be able to play is Yankee-freaking-Doodle for the umpteenth time and realizing you’ve practiced enough to actually play (some of) the songs you like (. . . maybe that barrier was just for me). You know, the reason you started in the first place. Once that line was crossed, guitar moved out of the tedious region and into the limitless territory of joy.

Guitar, over the short span of two years, has become not only a great way to pass the time, but more importantly a way to connect and escape as well. I have the privilege of being in a circle of friends that are predominantly musically gifted; be it guitar, banjo, bass, drums, piano, etc, my friends have it covered. So, I have had endless opportunities to have “jam sessions” in both an assortment of locations and musical set-ups. Whether in a friend’s bedroom or basement, family room or kitchen, or on a stage at Open Connections, playing to no one or a whole crowd, we find a way to make music. The beauty of it is that none of those variables really matter. What does matter is that feeling of connection and harmonization that I have found in no other form of social interaction. Even during the ebb of negative emotions we sometimes go through, I have sat down with a few friends and felt nothing but pure alleviation and joy while playing music. When something you are doing can make you laugh from sheer delight, it’s something worth clinging to.

A Blog Introduction with Drive

Upon turning the age of eighteen, the curfew which restricts licensed drivers to be on the road past 11 P.M. is beautifully lifted. So, to celebrate this liberation, I decided to drive forty-two minutes to see Drive for the second time in theaters (bit of a tongue twister there).  I could spend all night writing about this absolute gem of a film, but I will instead do my best to sum up my infinite love in a shorter span of time for the sake of my health and your watering eyes from the glare of your computer monitor.

Drive, if you are unfamiliar, is an art-house flick starring Ryan Gosling and directed by Nicholas Winding Refn (Bronson, Valhalla Rising). The story revolves around a man only known as Driver, a part-time Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a wheelman for anyone needing a getaway vehicle post-robbery, heist, etc.  Driver is a man with two very conflicting personalities: he is on one hand a kind, quiet, intrapersonal individual brought out of his shell by a woman who lives a few doors down from him in an apartment complex (fun fact: his apartment number is 405, which happens to be the name of the most congested highway in Los Angeles; a small wink to the audience regarding his immensely divided personalities). On the other side of the coin, he is a man of extreme violence and brutal determination bent on his own conviction of justice. Just as he leads two lives, he has two utterly contrasting personalities that, as the film goes on, cannot help but be beautifully and disturbingly meshed together.

The film boasts some hyper-violent scenes (you may not be able to look at your kitchen fork the same way), yet the overarching tone remains very composed. Every frame of Drive oozes with inventive and artistic pizzazz. Upon a second viewing, I was able to sit down and wholly absorb the abundant treats laid out by the cinematographer and camera crew. Slow pans, adroit use of mirrors, and lingering shots are a few of the techniques for the viewers feasting pleasure. Magnificent contrasting colors (Winding Refn happens to be color-blind, not having the ability to see mid-colors) are used in every shot which provide the perfect backdrop for the contained energy being displayed on the foreground by each character. However, even the most diplomatic blend of fancy camera craft can strike you with a cinematic cacophony if the images depicted are tasteless or dull. Thankfully, Drive graces the viewer instead with a delectable symphony of images.

One final element that needs quick mention is the soundtrack. Utilizing artists such as Kavinsky, Desire, College, and Chromatics, this memorable soundtrack plays a large and attractive part in setting the vibe and tone of Drive. The two sequences where College’s song “A Real Hero” is expertly placed are both alluring and bittersweet in their own respects due considerably to the musical choice.

The combination of Gosling’s arresting screen presence, the undeniably 80’s retro-vibe, an unforgettable soundtrack, and dazzling imagery with a calm tone wavering on the distorted make Drive an irresistibly engaging cinematic treat.

Watching film, chiefly theatrical viewings, has always been an outlet of escapism for me. Regardless of any turmoil in my life, be it internal or external, I have always been able to steal away from that puzzle or problem, conflict or concern, for a glorious, albeit relatively short trip into the world of cinema. We all need to find at least one outlet that allows us to step back from the often hurried and accelerated clamor of everyday life and take that much-needed breath. Having a second viewing of Drive under my belt made me realize something as I drove home: I happen to see the film at two quite different points in my life, yet both ventures allowed me to instantly slip back into that veil of comfort and invariable companionship that is perpetually given by the everlasting catharsis of motion pictures.