Capt. Benjamin Willard: Part of me was afraid of what I would find and what I would do when I got there. I knew the risks, or imagined I knew. But the thing I felt the most, much stronger than fear, was the desire to confront him.
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.