I last saw Inception as a whole over a year ago, but even so it remains fresh in memory, thanks to the endlessly inventive visuals and captivating plot and pacing. Its construction is that of any conventional heist movie, though it is underlain by original concepts involving dreams and the subconscious mind, thus finding originality in presenting its ideas with such force and visual splendor that it is hard to resist and rewards several viewings. The story follows Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), who steals ideas in target's dreams for a living, and suddenly when his life crumbles from beneath him upon his wife's death, Cobb must do one last job with his team of experts, except this time, they are looking to plant an idea into a subject's mind rather than take one. The subject in question is the heir to a large corporation which the team is looking to take down. If Cobb succeeds, then he will be reunited with his children, bringing his life back together, and the other members will find peace as well. If they fail or die within the dream, they will be caught in another dream space, called limbo, within the one they are already in, where time doesn't pass and they could be stuck there indefinitely. The stakes are high, the consequences are real, and the dream could be, too. On a side note, the protagonist in the film, Cobb, is also the name of the villainous thief in director Christopher Nolan's debut, Following (1998). In this film, Nolan takes the basic character structure of the first Cobb (he is a thief and is persuasive, clever, and cunning), and builds on it, tapping its full potential and creating an emotionally and psychologically unstable man who is entertaining to watch and portrayed excellently by the particularly talented actor that is DiCaprio. Inception spins an excellent yarn and makes you think to bring all the ends together, and it is among Nolan's best works.
A good, simple, old-fashioned crime story that marked the debut of acclaimed filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson.
Sydney (Philip Baker Hall) is an experienced gambler in Las Vegas who comes across the down-on-his-luck John (John C. Reilly), who is in need of six thousand dollars to bury his mother. Reluctantly, John agrees to be taught by Sydney how to make it in Vegas, and two years on is doing well and has a new friend, Jimmy (Samuel L. Jackson) who Sydney doesn't like. John also falls for cocktail waitress and prostitute Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow), but it's not long before the two find themselves in a sticky situation where the only one who can help fix it is the sympathetic, resourceful Sydney.
While viewing Hard Eight, I was reminded often of another crime story (or stories), that being Pulp Fiction (1994). In both cases, the writing is sharp, clever, and rather than having the characters explain things to each other all the time like most story-driven crime movies, the ones here simply talk the way they normally would, the way most people talk in real life. This way, the characters and the situations they find themselves in are much more realistic and fun to watch.
The performances here are all done with sincerity by very talented character-actors, especially Philip Baker Hall. I've seen and remembered his face in bit roles in other movies, but now I know to look out for him in other films and that he can be a powerful leading man. Other Anderson regulars Reilly and Philip Seymour Hoffman (in a memorable little scene midway through the film) show here the kind of potential that the director taps into in his future films. I was hoping for more from Jackson's character, but for what he was given he does well, and its a nice follow-up to his performance in Pulp Fiction.
Story here is minimal and only serves as a backdrop for the actors and writing to shine, and to allow Anderson to utilize many shooting techniques including tracking shots, zoom-ins, and close-ups that will be used in his later films to greater effect. Sure, it's style over substance, but when it's done well it's hard to refuse.
It takes a lot of effort to transition from an actor to a director, even if you are one of the greatest actors out there, and Robert De Niro's directional debut proves that will full force and vigor. Based on a play by Chazz Palminteri who wrote the screenplay and co-stars alongside De Niro, A Bronx Tale captures the racial tension in Bronx, New York in the 1960's and with it spins a coming-of-age drama with a distinctively gangster movie flavor. An Italian-American growing up on the streets of the Bronx is lured into the neighborhood mob led by the smooth, confident Sonny (Palminteri) who teaches the kid, Calogero how to survive the harsh environment of the neighborhood and a few life lessons that led him to success. The kid's father, Lorenzo (De Niro) heavily opposes the mob lifestyle, warning his son to keep away from the bar where the gangsters hang out, though the kid doesn't listen and for almost a decade continues to strengthen bonds with Sonny. As a teenager, Calogero and his circle of friends make their own mob of sorts, but Sonny tells "C" to stay away from them because they'll get him into trouble. C's tries to keep his association with the mob a secret from Lorenzo while attempting to spark a relationship with an African-American girl even though his neighborhood is hostile toward blacks. Teaming with timely music and clever and emotionally charged writing, A Bronx Tale shows off the directing talent of De Niro and that he really learned a thing or two from Scorsese after working with him for two prosperous decades.
A bizarrely affecting film grounded by a star making performance from Christian Bale that explores the world of a crazed Wall Street financier in the late 1980's. Patrick Bateman (Bale) has his daily life set out perfectly. He does an extensive morning workout, lives in an expensive apartment, and is engaged to another wealthy financial backer (Reese Witherspoon). But something inside him causes savage, violent outbursts that result in murder. While none of the people around him are aware of his killer side, the rapid mental degradation that comes with the growing number of victims does not bode well for Bateman's grasp on reality. It's entertaining and also fascinating to see Bale's character go insane, as he puts so much charisma into the role, carrying the show and pulling us in. His narration is excellently drawn out and often quite funny and amusing, as it is a work of satire. Bateman feels isolated by his lack of interesting colleagues and friends, and his self-indulgence is left to rule over his needs, thus encouraging him to enact his twisted fantasies. The line between reality and fantasy within the confines of Bateman's mind is all but entirely blurred by the end of the tale, which leaves you wanting to think up your own solution to his destructive actions.
This is the seminal romantic comedy/drama that forever redefined the genre, made a star of now-legendary actor Dustin Hoffman, and solidified director Mike Nichols as a directing force to be reckoned with both on the stage and behind the camera. The screenplay by Buck Henry was adapted from the 1963 novel of the same name by Charles Webb.
The premise of the Graduate is one is that most everyone familiar with classic Hollywood cinema knows about. It centers around recent college graduate Benjamin Braddock (Hoffman) who returns home to Los Angeles where his parents and just about everyone he's ever known are there to congratulate him on his various accolades, both educational and extracurricular. But despite this, there is an air of general confusion and dissatisfaction about Benjamin, who can't quite figure out what to do with himself next.
While at his party, Benjamin retreats up to his bedroom to escape all the commotion, and up comes Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), innocently asking where the bathroom is. Immediately you can sense that she has an ulterior motive, and Benjamin becomes increasingly aware of this as the scene changes to show Benjamin dropping Mrs. Robinson off in front of her house, to which she urges him to come in until she "can get the lights turned on." After pouring him a drink and asking him what he thinks of her, Mrs. Robinson lures Benjamin up to the bedroom of her daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross), locks the door and stands before him naked, offering herself to him.
Mrs. Robinson's proposal only serves to deepen his confusion, but Benjamin decides to go through with the affair anyways. During the night, both agree to leave their houses unnoticed and meet at a hotel room nearby. Of course, Benjamin's parents find out, and there is a great scene in which Benjamin's mother questions him while he's shaving. Upon hearing the words "are you seeing somebody," he cuts himself with the razor, but simply responds that he goes out for drives.
Besides seeing Mrs. Robinson, Benjamin passes the time floating around in his pool. Not too long into the affair however, Mrs. Robinson reveals that she doesn't want Benjamin to spend time with her daughter Elaine, for seemingly no reason at all. Interestingly, the film never explains why either, leaving the viewer to make guesses that can only be shots in the dark, because there are no scornful past histories that come to light from any of the Braddocks or the Robinsons that would cause Mrs. Robinson to forbid Benjamin from bonding with Elaine.
Regardless of the reason, Benjamin decides to seek out Elaine wherever she goes, marking the second half of the film where things get serious rather quickly. This causes the story to slow down a bit, but you get to see some great scenery all over California where the movie was shot, including Beverly Hills (the Robinson's house) and the campuses of both USC and UC Berkeley, the latter of which Elaine attends in the film. It picks up pace again at the film's finale (the last twenty minutes or so), with a frantic running scene to rival the one at the end of Fight Club (1999)! The cast and crew of the film even drew parallels to this film as the inverse of its coming of age story for people in their thirties, where there can be little to look forward to in life, and where possibilities grow increasingly fewer. At one time, studio executives even considered hiring Buck Henry to adapt that film from a novel as well.
Lastly, The Graduate's soundtrack is one of the most memorable in classic movie history. It's made up of fourteen tracks, eight of which are composed by the folk-rock duo Simon and Garfunkel, and the other six by Oscar and Grammy-award winner Dave Grusin. Several of the folk duo's songs are brief though, so each artist has about equal time. The songs "The Sound of Silence," "April Come She Will," and "Scarborough Fair/Canticle" are used prominently in the film, the first of which is used three times throughout. Not only are the songs beautifully written, but the lyrics also put Benjamin's psychological unrest to poetic form.
The Graduate is a perfect representation of the anxiety that comes with being at a time in your life where the possibilities seem almost endless, to the point where it scares you into making decisions that seem comfortable at the time, but cause serious consequences later on. Hoffman, Bancroft, and Ross received Oscar nominations for lead actor, lead actress, and supporting actress, respectively. Also nominated were the cinematography by Robert Surtees who would be Oscar nominated a total of sixteen times throughout his career, winning three (King Solomon's Mines (1950), The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), and Ben Hur (1959)), and Buck Henry for adapted screenplay. The film would only win one (much deserved) Oscar for Nichols's directing, but it did win two BAFTAs (Best Film and Best Editing for Sam O'Steen). Even without the all awards attention, the free-spirited ideas in The Graduate had been ingrained in popular culture and remain there to this day.