Tag Archives: Leonardo DiCaprio

ALFRED EAKER VS. THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS: ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (2019)

is claiming (again) that he only has a single film left in him: an R-rated “Star Trek.” Of course, volunteered to revive Captain Kirk. Paramount needs to jump on this. If anyone could breathe life into that long dead formula, it would be Tarantino. As for Shat, perhaps he would learn something, even at his age. When Shat took his Star Trek V idea of the Enterprise crew battling God to the studio, Paramount, Gene Roddenberry, et. al. shot back: “They can’t meet God!” Shat lost his balls. He should have grabbed Tarantino, then because this is a filmmaker who does not let history, social norms, or formula expectations dictate to his art.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood posterAfter his films with Sergio Leone, composer Ennio Morricone became such a cult figure that it wasn’t long before wannabe film composers began paying homage to him with one yawn-inducing, predictable tribute after another. Of course, most attempted to solicit his endorsement, and received blank stares and unanswered letters in reply. That is, until jazz composer John Zorn came along and filtered Morricone through snippets of Carl Stalling, video game music, and his own sensibilities. Morricone was delightfully startled, breathed a sigh of relief, and gave a resounding accolade, noting that finally here was a worthy tribute, because Zorn refused to treat him with reverence. Zorn was as radical and revolutionary as Morricone himself.

This is what Tarantino does consistently. The title of his latest is no coincidence, paying his homage to cinematic idol Leone. Tarantino clearly has an authentic love of 1960s and 70s grindhouse cult film as well; so much so that he is no mere imitator, and this makes him one of the most interesting filmmakers of the last 25 years.

As in Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino takes the role of a celluloid antifa and wallops the fascists. “Let’s kill Nazis,” goes the chant, probably much like the American troops sang  on D-Day (one must ask: when did hating Fascism become a bad thing?), but he has a new Fascist offshoot target as well: cultists. And, as before, he rejects the way his source material ended, and so crafts a new dreamscape ending. In this, Tarantino reminds me of an artist named Antonio Adams who created adult sculptures of JonBenet Ramsey and Emmett Till, allowing them to grow up in his sculptures, denying their fate. So Continue reading ALFRED EAKER VS. THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS: ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (2019)

CAPSULE: INCEPTION (2010)

Must See

DIRECTED BY: Christopher Nolan

FEATURING: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, Marion Cotillard, Dileep Rao

PLOT: Cobb (DiCaprio), a mercenary with a unique skill set—he breaks into targets’ subconsciouses as they dream in order to steal business secrets—assembles a team to enter the mind of an heir to a billionaire’s fortune; but will his preoccupation with his lost wife, which is poisoning his own subconscious, destroy the mission?

Still from Inception (2010)

WILL IT MAKE THE LIST?: There’s a rule around here: no movie officially makes the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of all time until it’s released on DVD, so that we can pore over individual scenes at our leisure. That said, Inception is probably on the borderline. That’s not to suggest it’s a bad movie; in fact, Inception may well be the best movie released so far in 2010, and has surely already nailed down an Oscar nomination and a spot on most critics 2010 top 10 lists. The question is, is it weird? By Hollywood standards, a psychologically thriller about professional dream infiltrators is damn weird; so out there, in fact, that only someone with the clout of a Christopher Nolan could get it made and released as a summer blockbuster. (Though to be honest, the subject matter is not as weird, to a studio executive, as is the concept of purposefully releasing an movie with a script that’s so complicated and tricky it throws viewers into a state of total bafflement within the first ten minutes). Nolan’s latest is pop-weird; it creates just a little bit of pleasant confusion that viewers trust will be substantially resolved by the end. It’s not a movie that will risk leaving us stranded in a psychological limbo. Nolan’s dreamscapes are surprisingly based in realism, carefully constructed from cinematically familiar parts—mainly old heist movies, film noirs and spy flicks—rather than from abstruse symbols, Jungian archetypes, and monsters from the id. With its focus on action and self-contained narrative rather than mysticism and mystery, Inception has more in common with crowd-pleasers like The Matrix or Total Recall than it does with 2001: A Space Odyssey or Stalker. (Although, if we were forced to select the weirdest movie of 2010 in July, we’d be forced to go with this one; thankfully we have five more months of movies to select from).

COMMENTS:  I wondered going into Inception: if I was making a thriller about dreams, one Continue reading CAPSULE: INCEPTION (2010)

CAPSULE: SHUTTER ISLAND (2010)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Martin Scorsese

FEATURING: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams

PLOT: A U.S. Marshall with a tragic past investigates a mysterious disappearance at an asylum for the criminally insane on a craggy, isolated Massachusetts island in the 1950s.

Still from Shutter Island (2010)


WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Scorsese sprinkles a few flakes of weirdness into his mainstream thriller for flavor, but it’s carefully tailored for the mild tastes of the masses.

COMMENTS:  Atmosphere and suspense rule as Scorsese leaves film’s mainland to investigate the genre islands.  With a horror movie aesthetic, a film noir hero and a brainteaser mystery plot, Shutter Island is a mini-history of popular movie mechanics, with some psychology and dark drama thrown in to provide a sense of gravitas.  It’s no masterpiece, but it does effectively draw you into its mysterious labyrinth for two hours.  Overwrought in the best way, this is the type of movie where portentous strings keep coming at the viewer like driving sheets of rain in a hurricane, key scenes take place in darkened cells filled with the criminally insane or in ruined cemeteries, and Nazis, lobotomizing surgeons, and drug-induced hallucinations all play a part in the paranoid plot.  DiCaprio puts in a fine performance as Teddy Daniels, a tough guy whose callous exterior may just be scar tissue from the wounds he’s suffered in a tough life.  A war veteran who was present at the liberation of the Dachau death camps, Daniels may have committed acts that still haunt him; returning home, he turns to booze and then quickly suffers further tragedy when he loses his young wife to a violent tragedy.  Guilt, regret and lust for revenge haunt our hero, and impede his investigation of the murderess who’s disappeared from her locked cell as surely as does administrator Ben Kingsley’s odd reluctance to hand over patient medical files to the two federal marshals.  Scorsese plumbs DiCaprio’s psyche for spooky dream sequences, such as one where he embraces his dead wife while ash falls around them like snow; as the scene progresses her back turn into a burning cinder, while a cascade of blood simultaneously soaks the front of her dress.  As the flick progresses, reality becomes plastic and the seeming illogic of the plot increases; DiCaprio’s flashbacks and dreams take up a larger portion of the action and sometimes bleed into the real world.  Despite a mounting sense of weirdness, though, all is resolved rationally at the end.

You may guess the final twist, or you may not.  The true test of a mystery/thriller is not whether the twist ending surprises you—it’s a bonus if it does and will make the movie a classic, but there are only so many unthought-of tricks that a director can deploy without cheating.  Our capacity to be surprised depends more on cinematic inexperience than anything else.  The true virtue of a thriller is not to fool us but to put us inside the endangered shoes of the protagonist, and fill us with doubts as to our safety, understanding, even sanity.  When this movie’s clicking, the suspense is high and the Gothic atmosphere is thick and beautiful, making it well worth the short ferry ride out to Shutter Island.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…like a Hardy Boys mystery directed by David Lynch.”–Andrew O’Hehir, Salon.com (contemporaneous)