2010s, actors, directors, Film Spotlight, movies

Inception

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What’s the meaning behind the ending?  

Cobb (DiCaprio) wakes up from three layers of a dream, walks through security because of Saito’s magical phone call, acknowledges his dream team at the luggage carousel, sees the faces of his son and daughter, and then spins his totem and leaves the room. It wobbles but doesn’t fall. This closing shot has made view-goers in recent years question the reality of Cobb’s situation, and it’s one reason why I appreciate Christopher Nolan’s script and his message–thrilling movies with substantive scripts are why I love going to the movies.

Christopher Nolan: “I feel that, over time, we started to view reality as the poor cousin to our dreams, in a sense … I want to make the case to you that our dreams, our virtual realities, these abstractions that we enjoy and surround ourselves with, they are subsets of reality.”  (Ben Child, The Guardian, 5 June 2015)

I revisited the 2010 blockbuster Inception the other night and in the five years since its release, five things stood out this time:

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Ken Watanabe as Sait,o Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Arthur, Leo as Cobb
  1. Chris Nolan’s script is intelligent; it’s a fine mind-bender, made more comprehensible when watched a second time. It’s fast paced; you’re pretty sharp in my book if you understood everything after one viewing. Check out these awesome NeoMam Studios INFOGRAPHS
  2. It is a fascinating thriller made more thrilling with Hans Zimmer’s pendulum swinging score.

3. The CGI stands necessary to the film’s effectiveness.  Who hasn’t wanted to climb Escher’s “Penrose Stairs”?

4.   CGI? Chris Nolan? Hans Zimmer? It’s a trifecta of repulsion for some. Why is that?

5. The two female actors, Ellen Page and Marion Cotillard, gave perfect performances. Where is Ellen Page these days? Marion’s Mal was sultry and haunting. It’s only a matter of time before Cotillard wins another Oscar. She’s fantastic in everything she does.

Have you seen Inception lately? What are you favorite scenes?

 

actors, authors, books, culture, directors, Film Spotlight, history, History in Films, In My Opinion, Lucky 13 Film Club, movies

The Revenant and History

Punke's novel is a page-turner
Punke’s novel is a page-turner

Michael Punke’s historical novel, The Revenant, is a true page-turner accurately depicting the historical climate of 1822 on the American frontier and the Missouri River. It highlights the true account of frontiersman, Hugh Glass. In preparation for seeing the film with a limited release on December 25 and a wide release date of January 8, it is the January topic for the Lucky 13 Film Club. Would you be interested to volunteer as a guest conversation opener about an aspect of this film?

Before watching the film, I wanted to read the book. The prose of the grizzly attack is gripping as the bear slashes Glass’s throat, nearly scalps him, and leaves gashes on his back which become infected with maggots. This is the debut novel from international trade lawyer, Michael Punke, and his descriptions are impressive.

DiCaprio as Hugh Glass
DiCaprio as Hugh Glass

Abandoned by fellow crew-mates, John Fitzgerald and Jim Bridger, Hugh Glass sets out and crawls 350 miles to regroup at a fort before setting out to seek his vengeance. From the trailer, it looks like the script will include Glass’s lost son and this motivation propels Glass as avenger. I’ve never had a problem with film adaptations taking liberties. They are two separate texts I critique independently. I do recommend the book; it’s a quick, satisfying read. 4.8 out of 5

With Tom Hardy playing the antagonist Fitzgerald and Alejandro G. Iñárritu directing, the trailers suggest a realistic approach to the cinematography and has me itching to see it on the widescreen. You can read more about the film including watching the trailers found HERE.

History

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In September, strong storms rolled through our Arizona valley. We live on top of a hill and when the lightning struck, the water pump blew and in spite of surge protectors, all our electronic components fried. A decade of pictures, the manuscript of my first novel, and all my files were gone. Yesterday, three bolts hit our hill. Yes, history repeated itself in a matter of a month and destroyed all that we had replaced.

Just a couple of weeks ago, we were roughing-it in Colorado, camping. When the frost dampened our tent, and we shivered inside our heavy sleeping bags, and the coyotes started howling right next to us, I felt vulnerable and exposed and wished next time to stay in a lodge because I missed the comforts of home. Last week, our landlords informed us they were selling the house, and we needed to vacate the premises as soon as possible.

I study and teach history for a living. And what it has taught me about the present is how temporary life is. Our relationships alter, our jobs and goals change. Dreams pursued are either squelched, missed or acquired. We humans are in a constant state of transition. Whatever we build, crumbles. Whatever we think we own, evaporates. Stuff is just stuff. Ready or not, time marches on.

Survival stories like The Revenant remind me how easy I have it today than in 1822; to complain about my “bad luck” seems ludicrous. Books and films of history remind me how noble our ancestors were. How they survived despite the odds or how tragic their deaths. I don’t have maggots crawling out of my back after being pulverized by a Grizzly. This sounds disparate, but it helps cool the sting when I am standing in line to buy another computer and television.

actors, Comedy, Film Spotlight, History in Films, In My Opinion, movies, oscars

Colin Firth and the Strategy of Actors

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Colin Firth is a British actor I never tire watching even if his films are tiresome. His vulnerable, winning portrayals are due to his inquisitive eyes, expressive facial features, and an overall countenance that is understated yet pervasive. His gift combines the trials of an uncomfortable male while exuding a gentleman persona that captures the heart of his leading ladies. Initially you saw him in period comedies and dramas — Mr. Darcy in the 1995 BBC television series of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice or Shakespeare in Love (1998), or in the flamboyant film version of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest (2002) come to mind. Contemporary characters such as Mark in Bridget Jones’s Diary or Jamie in Love Actually, continue his trend of playing the conservative Brit in a wacky situation representing British dry humor for which he is a leader. And he deserved to be nominated for his performance in The King’s Speech (2010) for which he won Best Actor at the Oscars. He has the luxury to pick modern dramas or comedies. So then….

This brings me to ponder, in general, the strategy of the actor and his career. Let’s assume they all crave a forty-year career with stats bearing longevity and accolades to clutter the walls and mantles of their homes, and if British, to be a Sir or Dame would be an honor.

Let’s face it. Firth is a fine actor who plays in too many mediocre films. Does that help or hurt him? Consider Anthony Hopkins. He, too, is a fine actor who has starred in a life time of mediocre films. He’s knighted. He’s prolific. His performances are predictable. I can count on one hand superior performances while sixty others are forgettable. Counter that with the strategy of British/Irish Daniel Day-Lewis (and arguably Leonardo DiCaprio who is adopting DDL strategy) of selecting few roles. Quality vs. quantity. I remember every film DDL has made (and Leo) while the amount of films Colin Firth has made–well, can you remember more than a handful? But is Mama, Mia good?

Nicole Kidman is the female version of Firth.
Nicole Kidman is the female version of Firth.

I recently watched Railway Man. It had all the promise of an outstanding film. It had the cast. The story. And yet, there was something missing. The film was about Eric Lomax’s struggle with PTSD. Decades later. It debilitated not only him, but his mates who survived the torture of the infamous Burma Railway and the Japanese labor camp. Some are suicidal and most are incapable of sustaining emotional connections. The true story has a fantastic twist of forgiveness and closure; it’s the best ending that borders on a fairy tale. How amazing that Takeshi Nagase and Eric Lomax as the torturer and the tortured could become by the end of their lives friends. It’s incredulous, and yet, there it is, nothing short of inspirational.

When you have Firth, Kidman, Stellan Skarsgård in a film portraying true events, I wonder and hope the film has potential to be stellar. But this film is nothing compared to the classic, The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957). In The Railway Man, the acting by Firth is fine. Everyone’s acting in the film is strong. So is it the script by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Andy Paterson that seems lackluster and paling in comparison to other World War II films like Schindler’s List and The Pianist?  If you want to know the history behind Eric Lomax and The Railway Man, check out this site for differentiating Hollywood truth and fiction HERE.   My point is, The Railway Man is a magical story, and it didn’t come off that way to me. It felt mediocre. That’s a crime.

It made me squirm for Spectre this winter.
It made me squirm for Spectre this winter.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014). Did you like it? I saw some British dark humor in it that had me chuckling. Like Shaun of the Dead (2004), the scene where Galahad (Firth) swings through a radical congregation with a sword and decapitates the zombies to the tune of “Free Bird”.  Well, it was funny, in a sick way that had me recollecting Monty Python and the Black Knight scene in forest. “Tis but a scratch!” Dark British humor. Gotta love it.  However, the entire time I am watching Kingsman: The Secret Service, I kept wondering why Colin Firth chose to be in it? It was an awkward film. Samuel L. Jackson was horrible. It was a mediocre film at best.  

Because Firth can play comedy and drama smartly, like a favorite doll, I want to pick him up and place him in only great films. He’s a gifted actor who seems to stick out awkwardly in mediocre films. What do you think?