I finally saw Inception!!

Posted on January 23, 2011. Filed under: Movies to see before you die, Reviews | Tags: , , |

I know, how 2010 am I?

When friend and one time guest blogger Josh found out that I had got my hands on a copy of Inception on DVD it was instantly reserved for our not-so-regular group movie night.

I’m a bit late to jump on the “it’s amazing” band wagon, but I will say that I thought it was a triumph of visual effects and cinematography.  It takes the early ideas of bullet time and wire work, mixed in with super slow-mo HD filming to give a stunning experience that I think rivals Avatar for sensory impact.  I remember seeing a trailer for it, probably about a year ago, and thinking, “this one’s going to be good.” It was.

As for the plot?  Movies with open endings normally send me into a rage (Don’t get me started on The Ninth Gate or Matrix Revs).  However, in this case it was in perfect keeping with the movie.  I’m not sure I’ve decided how I think the film ended, but in a way I don’t think Nolan actually wants us to, it’s more about getting us to ask the questions and think about whether it would be better to live in a dream if the real world could never be what you wanted it to be.

Inception is basically the answer to the question “What happens if you cross The Matrix with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and it’s a good answer.  All the performances are strong, particularly good old Leo, who is going from strength to strength as he breaks out of that pretty boy shell.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen him hold a gun in a move before, and I wasn’t sure he’d suit it, but he seemed to carry it off pretty well.

It’s interesting the number of films about alternate realities and the subconscious there have been in recent years.  Alongside The Matrix trilogy and Eternal Sunshine, we’ve had Avatar, Surrogates, Gamer, A Scanner Darkly… and countless others I can’t quite put my finger on right now.  It’s clearly a popular topic, probably because its one of the last areas of Science that we really haven’t got much understanding of.

Anyway, not that you need me to tell you, but Inception is a fantastic movie that deserves the hype it’s been given.  It is a bit of a mental workout, but not so much that you get lost 20 minutes in like you can with some Psych-thriller style movies.  It’s also great fun for me to spot my university cropping up in the occasional scene.

I’m sure the DVD doesn’t quite compare to the full cinematic experience, but it translates pretty well.  It’s bound to sweep the boards in awards season.

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Quote of the Day

Posted on December 23, 2010. Filed under: Quote of the Day | Tags: , , |

I found an unlikely bit of festive spirit in this film the other day:

“How is it that we’re always talking on Christmas Carl?”

Merry Christmas Eve Eve 😉

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Guest Blog: Inception, the World Premiere, by Josh

Posted on July 16, 2010. Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , , |

As promised, here are Josh’s thoughts on Christopher Nolan’s new blockbuster Inception, enjoyed in star-studded company at the Leicester Square Odeon.

Firstly, let me apologise to Katie for somehow wangling myself a ticket to the Inception premiere. It wasn’t my fault, honest…but I’m so glad I managed it! If I’d been to more world premieres and afterparties, I might be able to draw some correlation between the quality of a film and the party afterwards, but unfortunately my experience is limited to just Inception. That said, the party inside the old Battersea power station was rather good – but not quite as
good, perhaps, as the film itself.

Whenever I find myself thinking of the Dark Knight, I hear a deep bass rumbling in my head, a lingering memory of a soundtrack that perfectly matches a dark and brooding film. The opening notes of Inception, too, are dark and brooding, although the images it brought to mind of Nolan’s Batman films were soon gone.

The film opens rather brilliantly, but about fifteen minutes in, there’s a half hour as di Caprio assembles his new team that seemed to drag on just a little too long. Although it doesn’t by any stretch of the imagination ruin the film, some of the ways in which Nolan provides us with the back-story is a little too forced, and you can quite easily tell that certain bits of information will become key to the plot. By actively trying to get us to buy in to the dream-sharing, I feel Nolan risks breaking the suspension of disbelief we already have.

That said, after the first thirty-forty minutes, the film really starts to take off, and the plot becomes so intriguingly entangled. It’s a film I already need to see again to try and make sense of it all – not in the ‘I couldn’t understand what was going on’ way, but the ‘I need to figure out what the relevance of that bit was’ way.

The action itself – the upside-down fighting in particular – is intense. It may have just been the Leicester Square Odeon doing it for me, but my palms were sweating through the fight scenes, and a lot of the other tense moments that Nolan masterfully builds up throughout the film. He also has the sense to gives us a couple of more lighthearted moments that gave the entire cinema a chance to regain its breath and let our hearts rest from pounding so hard.

It’s a shame that Michael Caine doesn’t feature more – and that his character isn’t really explored. Although the rest of the actors perform for the most part superbly (particularly from some of the less well-known actors), I do feel Caine’s experience is a little lacking in some scenes. Ellen Paige, in particular, let me down somewhat.

I want to say so much more about this film – but I don’t want to even hint at some of the surprises in store for you. You do have to go and see it, and ignore my criticisms above, because I had to really think about the film to realise I had any criticisms at all. It is on a level far above Nolan’s Batman films; sitting in it, I couldn’t really believe Inception of all films is the work of the same writer/director.

Go and see it – it’s out on general release today – and look forward to that hour after you leave the cinema where you’re walking around, mouth on the floor, unable to comprehend what a brilliant film you’ve just seen.

Thanks Josh! Inception is out today, and by the sounds of it we should all be heading to the cinema this weekend.

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Jealousy will drive you mad

Posted on July 8, 2010. Filed under: News, Trailers | Tags: , , , , , |

Jealousy is not a pretty thing. But sometimes it’s well deserved.

In the movie business it’s who you know and apparently I have friends who have friends who have friends in high places.

Today is the World Premiere of Christopher Nolan’s new movie Inception. Nolan is a UCL graduate (as am I) and filmed some of the scenes around uni.  As a thank you to our lovely provost Malcolm Grant he sent tickets to tonight’s opening, but a cruel twist of fate has landed those tickets in the hands of friend (and fellow blogger) Josh.

Seething with envy doesn’t even begin to cover it.

However, there is good news for us poor plebs who have to wait until the film opens in theatres next week.  Josh has promised to write something for me so we can all find out what it’s like to be a celebrity for five minutes. (Now that it is published in print there’s no backing out ;))

In the meantime, here’s a trailer for you to enjoy.

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The Credit Crunch hits Tinseltown

Posted on October 2, 2009. Filed under: News, Trailers | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

It seems even Hollywood isn’t safe from the “economic crisis” we’re all in, as spending millions of dollars on production and marketing suddenly starts to seem like a bad idea.  Latest to run into (unconfirmed) problems is Paramount, who have mysteriously bumped the upcoming release of psych-thriller Shutter Island from October to February.  Not much of a reason has come from the studio, but whispers are circulating that they just can’t afford to promote it right now.  It’s a real shame too because I’ve been really looking forward to the film since I first saw the trailer back in August.  For those of you who haven’t seen it, enjoy, but don’t get too excited because you have to wait a whole 4 months before you can see it.  Boo.

And it’s not just Paramount with money woes.  MGM might be starting to regret their epic battle for the rights to The Hobbit now that they (allegedly) can’t afford to make it.  After years of studio battles and trying to find a production team that would satisfy the lynch mob who wanted the rights to stay with New Line, they finally managed to get director Guillermo Del Toro on board with Peter Jackson, Phillippa Boyens and Fran Walsh there to write (pitchforks down, lynch mob).  Having finally got together a team who could make it work, and with rumours of Andy Serkis and Ian McKellen on board, it really is sad to hear that the movie might never get made.  Cinematical makes a good point that it really doesn’t matter that much to the fans which studio makes the movie, but if MGM does have to sell of The Hobbit it will slow down an already drawn out process, and with backers caring more and more about the  profit margins, they may end up thinking that the coat-tails of the LOTR movies are now trailing too far in the distance to make the multi millions that will inevitably be spent on the prequel worthwhile.

Of course, the plight of millionaire producers and actors doesn’t seem much in comparison to the huge rises in unemployment that us mere mortals are facing, but, just like in the 1930s, cinema visits are reaching new highs as people look for cheap ways to have fun, and I for one will be very sad to see some of the big Hollywood staples go under.

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Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of ’99

Posted on May 24, 2009. Filed under: Movies to see before you die, Ramblings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Following up on my Ramble about the genius of Tim Burton, I wanted to write another post about a director with an equally distinctive style, namely Baz Luhrmann.  Over the last month I’ve watched 3 out of 4 of his major hit movies, all of them linked by his trademark fast pace cinematography and hyper energetic story telling.

Luhrmann is best known for the Red Curtain Trilogy AKA Strictly Ballroom, Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge.  All three begin with a red curtain rising, and the rules state that the end of the movie must be given away in the first scenes.  On top of this they’re all linked by some unusual form of expression, for Strictly its the dancing, Romeo and Juliet has Shakespeare’s words and Moulin Rouge, of course, has the music.

All three are great movies, but Strictly is slightly overshadowed by the other two, understandable since it was his directorial debut.  It’s another one on the list of films I need to see again, but its a genuinely funny film following a slightly obvious but still fun plotline about a national dance competition.  Made in 1992, it does show its age a bit when compared to the other films, but while it may not be the best film ever made, if you’re a fan of Baz you’ll definitely like it. (Calling a film made in 1992 old makes me feel ancient…)  Like many of his other films, Luhrmann shows his Aussie patriotism and both sets and casts the film in his home country.

I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you how good the other two parts of the trilogy are.  Romeo and Juliet is an absolute masterpiece.  Every scene of that film has been planned as meticulously as Shakespeare’s play, from the costumes at the ball (Romeo is a knight, while Tybalt is the Devil and Juliet is an Angel) to the overall design, which puts the Montagues in bright Hawaiin shirts while the Capulets (bar Juliet) dress almost exclusively in black and red.  It’s one of my all time favourite films, partly because as I’ve said before, I love Romeo and Juliet as a play, but more because I love what Luhrmann has done with it.  Keeping Shakespeare’s original text and placing it in a modern setting is brilliant, and the conversion of the scripted swordplay into stylistic gun play is a master stroke.  There’s a reason most kids have to study this film for GCSE; each scene is dripping with symbolism, as Luhrmann plays close attention to Shakespeare’s metaphors and combines them with his own to make the film visually stunning.  My only minor quarrel is the directorial license at the end, which sees Juliet waking up before Romeo dies, mainly because it’s crueler to the audience than Shakespeare would allow, but we’ll let him off.

Never was there a tale of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo

On to Moulin Rouge (I’m ignoring the superfluous exclamaton point in the title) another of my top ten movies.  My first reaction to this film was, “Oh my God Ewan McGregor can sing!”  My second was, rewind and watch again (I’ve since upgraded to DVD).  The rescoring of modern music is so perfect you’d think it had been written for the film, especially the epic Show Must Go On.  Music is something Luhrmann truly understands, with the score of Romeo and Juliet a perfect backdrop to the action.  In Moulin Rouge, it takes centre stage, with some knock-out performances from actors we never knew could sing.  The best part of the film, in my opinion, is the first whirlwind ride through the Moulin Rouge.  This scene exemplifies everything that makes Baz Luhrmann great, the camera twists and spins to capture the energy of the dance hall and every second is filled with vivid colours and flashes of the underworld (including a mermaid in a fish tank).  The music of this scene is also faultless, combining the FatBoy Slim remix Because We Can with Smells Like Teen Spirit, Lady Marmalade, Children of The Revolution and some original music for Jim Broadbent.  It’s dizzying and a complete assault on the senses, just as that first experience must have been for the naive Christian.

At the Moulin Rouge you'll have fun!

I could rave about the Red Curtain Trilogy for days, but what about Luhrmann’s latest offering, which steps outside his well known framework?  Austrailia may not quite hold up in comparison, but I think it perhaps needs a fairer chance than it’s been given.  It’s difficult to follow the two amazing films that have gone before, and perhaps the step away from his established format is what upset some critics, but Austrailia is a beautiful epic, with a realtively simple but still engaging stroyline.  The feel of the film is different to the Red Curtain, although there are enough Luhrmann quirks to let you know who directed the film, and the stunning scenery of the Austrailian outback could easily stand up against the words/music/dance that have gone before as the main device for this story.  Luhrmann recasts two of his Moulin Rouge stars (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) rounding off the predominantly Aussie cast with Hugh Jackman.  Jackman seems to be the Marmite of Hollywood at the moment, but I think he’s good in the role, not that its much of a stretch for him (as he quipped at the Oscars).  Luhrmann, like many directors, definitely has favourite actors who turn up repeatedly in his films, with John Leguizamo also making repeat appearances as Tybalt in R+J and Toulouse-Lautrec in Moulin RougeAustrailia is long, and it does seems to be two films joined together, but it kept my interest and filled a rainy Sunday afternoon pretty well.  It might not match the standard of its predecessors, but this is Luhrmann’s first step away from very insular and tightly controlled settings into a historical epic in the real world.  It’s not nearly as easy to manipulate, yet he still manages to put his instantly recognisable stamp on it.  Again, music is a big part of it, with The Wizard of Oz making a repeat appearance.

Somewhere over the rainbow

Of course the one thing I haven’t mentioned is what exactly I’m on about in the title.  If you’re the same generation as me, I doubt it passed you by.  If it did, take a look.  Sometime after Romeo and Juliet, Luhrmann stumbled on the famous speech and remixed it with Everybody’s Free (written for the movie).  You may not agree with everything I’ve said, but I hope if you haven’t yet you’ll give Luhrmann a go.  But trust me on the sunscreen. 😉

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“You can’t tell me that you’re not in there somewhere.”

Posted on February 15, 2009. Filed under: Movies to see before you die, Ramblings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

The combination of my dissertation on autism and watching Benny and Joon last night inspired a blog post about mental illness and the movies, not necessarily an easy topic to tackle but one which I think has been done well on a number of occasions.  Three movies immediately spring to mind for me: Rain Man, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and, of course, Benny and Joon.

Rain Man is clearly the most successful of the three, bringing autism to the mainstream in a way that no other movie I can think of has.  Perhaps, Mercury Rising; a tale of Bruce Willis trying to save an autistic boy from a gang of government assassins, tried, but while the depiction of autism is fairly accurate, the film is more a thriller than an in depth look at how the disease affects people.

For this we have Rain Man.  There’s a fair amount of criticism for Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of autism, which I think is unjustified.  Yes, not all autistic people are savants with “special skills,” but if we forgive Hollywood that much, Hoffman’s portrayal of routine rigidity and repetitive speech is right on.  Tom Cruise, in one of only two roles I can put up with him in, also gives a strong performance as Charlie, who discovers on the same day that he has a brother he never knew he had, and that that brother is severely handicapped.  The growing relationship between the two is very well written, with the final scene where Raymond rests his head on Charlie’s made extremely poignant now that the audience has some understanding of what this means in an autistic individual.

Raymond and Charlie

Interestingly, all three of these films located mental illness within a sibling relationship, the second of two brothers being Gilbert Grape.  I have only seen this movie once (soon to be rectified as I have the DVD) but I was completely astounded by the 19 year old Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of “mentally handicapped” Arnie.  I’ve seen some reviews that call him autistic, but I don’t buy that, even though there are elements of autism in Arnie.  In the film itself, his illness is never defined, (which is quite often the case in real life) but DiCaprio’s portrayal is both sensitive and fearless.  While you may expect the film to centre on Gilbert (Johnny Depp) and Arnie’s relationship, it’s more a film about how he relates to his morbidly obese mother, who has become house-bound since Arnie’s birth, and how Arnie’s illness and his father’s subsequent suicide has affected her.  Gilbert Grape gives a very real insight into what it is like to live with a disabled child and how this can affect every aspect of your life, but it doesn’t let itself turn into a macabre tragedy.

Arnie

This is something also brilliantly achieved in Benny and Joon, a film I’ve written about before and cannot recommend often enough.  Essentially Benny and Joon is a romantic comedy, with some classic funny lines, but at the same time it depicts the struggle between Joon (Mary Stuart Masterson) and her brother Benny (Aidan Quinn), who no longer feels he can look after her, but can’t deal with the guilt of “farming her out.”  What makes this film special though, is the introduction of Sam (Johnny Depp, again), an eccentric and naive character who in a lot of ways is more vulnerable than Joon.  The way the two characters complement eachother is perfect, Joon teaches Sam to write, while he shows her that unpredictability is not always a threat.  Joon, like Arnie, is never given a label, although its clear her illness is closer to Schizophrenia.  Masterson gives a great performance, making Joon a strong character who knows about her illness and how it affect people and isn’t just a someone to be pitied.  Lines such as, “Don’t underestimate the mentally ill, we know how to count,” and “having a Boo Radley moment are we?” attack the presumption that mental illness removes a persons ability to understand their effect on others.

Joon

All three of these films are great achievements which I think show mental illness in a more accurate way than you would expect from Hollywood.  The fact that none of them wallow in pity for the ill characters or their families makes them far more poignant than any 2 hour tragedy mourning the ravages of mental illness, instead giving us a real idea of what it’s like to live with these diseases.

All three are on my Movies to see list, and I’m sure once you’ve seen them you’ll find yourself recommending them as often as I do.

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