TBT: Titanic (1997)

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Welcome boys, girls. . . . and all others, to another sappy, tear-filled romantic edition of Throwback Thursday. (I know, gross, right?) The whole idea behind today’s post is about being subtle. . . . . . as subtle as a 40-foot-tall iceberg protruding from the chilly North Atlantic water. As subtle as that scene where Jack paints a picture of Rose. With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, I know all of you are just chomping at the bit to read something mushy and heartrending. (I know I am!) Well, you certainly get it here in James Cameron’s preposterously successful, epically-imagined, prodigious smash-hit, a.k.a.

Today’s food for thought: Titanic.

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Getting that sinking feeling since: December 19, 1997

[VHS]

Like an aftershock ripping through L.A. the power of James Cameron’s great water-bound tragedy strikes me today with a force seemingly laying dormant since my first viewing. When I was a wee lad and watching this gigantic mess unfold for the first time (‘mess,’ in this case being a huge compliment) I am pretty sure I hated Titanic for its prioritizing of love over visual spectacle. I wasn’t into critiquing movies of course but I already resented Cameron for turning what I saw as a simple disaster film into a needlessly saccharine romantic epic.

Ah, behold this wonderful thing called hindsight. I would never have described the whirlwind courtship between Jack Dawson (Leo) and Rose Dewitt Bukater (Kate Winslet) then as genuine, truly tragic, or even ‘good;’ before puberty hit me like a ton of bricks I was frequently annoyed by sappy stuff on TV and in films and would just as quickly dismiss the love angle as stupid and pointless as I would the overall experience as a waste of my time as well as of its own potential. Looking back, that’s just too dismissive. I realize now that the only valid argument I do have against this iconic work has everything to do with the movie running over three freaking hours long. It was one of the first films I was aware of actually having its own intermission. (There’s a throwback for you.)

Silly little Tom — Titanic wasn’t a movie; it was an experience. Accidentally or not, it burgeoned into an industry unto itself. Back in the day you couldn’t hold a conversation without being obligated to eventually talk Titanic. Those who were opposed, either ideologically or merely put off by its overwhelming popularity, seemingly had more on their minds than those who went with the explicit purpose of getting their Romeo and Juliet fix. Simultaneously one of the highest-grossing films of all time (adjusting for inflation, it ranks fifth behind cinematic trivialities like Gone with the Wind and Star Wars), and doing battle with William Wyler’s Ben Hur as one of the most Oscar-friendly films ever made, taking home 11 of its 14 potential golden statues, Titanic granted its Captain passage into the theretofore uncharted waters of the billion-dollar club in terms of worldwide gross. Statistics sort of speak for themselves though, so what about the emotional state it left us all in? (Now I can say ‘us’ because I too am a believer.)

I’m only now coming around to accepting that what the young starlets accomplished was indeed a good thing for this world, and I can’t imagine what it was like for the ’90s teens swept up in their own fantasies of being with the then-Hollywood heartthrob in those frigid North Atlantic waters. How they would gladly take his place in the water. Or at the very least, help him climb on to the door (come on, that thing is not going to go under with two small people on it). I can time and again look to Titanic for a number of examples that support the cliché how it may indeed be unhealthy to take one’s entertainment so seriously.

When you have Celine Dion belting out a tune at a wine glass-shattering pitch I guess I shouldn’t be taken aback by the phenomenon of entire blogs being devoted to Jack and Rose. Is there any more damning evidence of me softening in my late 20’s than the fact that her voice, those lyrics, rather than annoying me actually haunt me? There’s (and yes, I’m going to say it) something epic about her song, some part of it that has never quite left my body since I first heard it as that wee lad. I can’t recite much beyond the chorus, but seriously — why does that matter? It’s impressive that after all of this time passed, there are elements and aspects to Titanic that I’m finding more and more intriguing, and more crucial to the general health of romance in contemporary film.

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There’s a reason the passionate romance outweighs the sinking of the ship. Jack and Rose living on in cinematic infamy, their reward for being so damn good-looking and inseparable. Superglue fails to provide the kind of bond that these two were able to form and in such a short amount of time. I suppose jealousy and envy could apply to me as a youngster when I watched these two steam up a car window and proceeded to fast-forward though this bullshit, though I think it’d be more accurate to say I just didn’t appreciate the gravity of this blossoming romance. Now, I can’t see another duo encapsulating, at the very least, the sheer joy of being young and carefree out on the open waters. No two performers would be Jack and Rose like Leo and Kate were Jack and Rose.

I’m not sure what you call it when a ship pulls a total 180 in the water and heads back in the opposite direction, but that’s exactly what has happened with my outlook on this voyage. There’s style and beautiful cinematography to ogle over, but these things I’ve never had an issue with. Titanic looks and feels classy in every way it possibly can. But today Cameron’s decision to place the star-crossed lovers front-and-center has finally struck me as not only appropriate, but creative. It’s the only way to bring millions of viewers on board the ship, as well as into the lives of many a doomed seafarer who had plans of arriving in the Big Apple.

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4-0Recommendation: A tragedy of R.M.S. Titanic-proportions, James Cameron’s vision just has to be applauded. As if I need to endorse this thing. Seriously? Why is this the second film in a row here where I pretty much don’t need to write anything in this section? Actually, it’s kind of nice. I don’t have to do this extra work now. Cool.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 194 mins.

TBTrivia: After finding out that she had to be naked in front of Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet decided to break the ice, and when they first met, she flashed him.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.dailyorange.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Miracle (2004)

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Ladies and gentlemen, the 2014 Winter Olympic Games are upon our doorsteps. While most of the world’s eyes are going to be set on Sochi and their questionable accommodations, hopefully there will be a few to spare as we push forward into February on TBT. After the polls closed on Facebook in which I asked which theme would be most suitable for the month of February, my buddy Josh suggested I look back on films that dealt with the Olympics. Great call, since I both love sports stories (despite the cliches) and I absolutely am transfixed by anything Olympics-related. The amount of talent and competition on display is something we should all marvel at, even if we don’t understand a damn thing about curling; even if we don’t care much about men in tights spinning in circles on ice to music that sucks. The point is that, for a brief moment, the world seems to put all of its cat-fighting on hold for the sake of watching some truly compelling competitive drama in a variety of disciplines across a wide range of sports action. Behold, the month of February on TBT

Today’s food for thought: Miracle. 

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Release: February 6, 2004

[Netflix]

Kurt Russell is Head Coach Herb Brooks. His team is an unlikely band of collegiate hockey players. The opponent is the dominant Soviet Union hockey team, who haven’t lost in 15 years. The stage is the 1980 Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York.

Miracle may not break free of the genre’s cliches, but let me know of a sports film that really and truly does. If you want to sit there and gripe about how many ways in which this film sticks to formula, you can go ahead and sit in the penalty box. Or be a benchwarmer, for Gavin O’Connor’s film is a sensational realization of a most absurd circumstance, one that helped transfer the bitterness of the ongoing Cold War onto the ice.

At the time of the XIII Olympic Games, anti-Communist sentiment had reached a fevered pitch in the United States as the U.S.S.R.’s involvement in Afghanistan became increasingly violent and unstable. This was reflected in the sea of signs and banners present at the many venues in Lake Placid, also evidenced in many shots throughout O’Connor’s film. The politics made the showdown between American collegiate athletes and the heavily favored Soviet juggernaut all the more epic. Since the Russians had dominated virtually all levels of men’s ice hockey since 1954, logic follows that Coach Brooks would bring top American talent to the Games in an attempt to match their skill and athleticism. Such was not the case.

As the iconic Coach Brooks, Russell delivers an impressive, intimidating performance. He makes sure that for the majority of the film, he won’t be your buddy. His dedication to whipping his players into shape through brutal training is put on display in this two-plus-hour sports drama. Instead of relying on naturally gifted players, he built up a team whose power would be generated from their conditioning and hard work. Under the leadership of this less-than-personable coach, life for Team U.S.A. was more akin to life in the military.

One moment in particular remains vivid: during a qualifying game for a spot in the Olympics, a few players on the bench are commenting on some of the girls in attendance. After the game, Coach ‘rewards’ the team’s distraction during gameplay by forcing them to do ice sprints (later termed ‘Herbies’) for an unspecified amount of time — needless to say, this punishment lasted long enough to ensure they were the last people out of the building that night.

Coach Herb Brooks didn’t only invoke questions from his own players, but his unorthodox methods — an overhauled training schedule and his unwillingness to allow anyone other than himself select the final team roster — sparked serious concerns from the overseeing Olympic Committee from the outset. Miracle opens with an immediately engrossing discussion between Coach and the governing body as to how they might go about facing a seemingly unstoppable Soviet Union squad. In a single scene we get the impression of a team leader endowed with supreme confidence. As the movie expands, we learn where such confidence is derived from.

Though this is that same story of a man haunted by his own personal shortcomings, using a deep pain to fuel his team’s future, it’s nonetheless inspiring, without ever going over-the-top. Given that we know the real-life outcome, the film’s a foregone conclusion in which beauty lies in the details. O’Connor sets a brilliant pace that guides us through all the requisite growing pains, the failures and the tiny window of success Coach Brooks managed to squeeze his team through. It’s a two hour film that is over in what feels like a few minutes. Rocketing towards an awesome final half hour of hockey action, in which almost no detail is spared — save for the excessive swearing and trash-talking that undoubtedly occurred — the other three-quarters of Miracle is equally moving, as we also learn of the personal challenges faced by Coach Brooks. Having to balance work with family life can never be an easy task, and because of the magnitude of his own ambition, it’s a miracle in itself the guy doesn’t wind up in a divorce.

Patricia Clarkson portrays Patty Brooks with a warm empathy that offers a welcomed change of pace from the cold machinations of a former player-turned-coach trying to do whatever it takes to drop the prefix ‘im-‘ from ‘impossible.’ Though he must often be away from family, Patty keeps Herb from disappearing completely into an obsessive state.

In many senses, O’Connor’s third directorial effort is a classic. Providing all the hallmarks of a biographical sports drama, it perhaps sets a new standard for inspirational. How one former University of Minnesota hockey coach managed to unite 20 players from different schools is one step. Taking them to the Olympics, quite another. And then going on to claim the gold medal? Scripts like that would ordinarily seem hokey if drafted for fictional purposes. Some moments in sports history are naturally born to produce winning films, and this belongs among the best of them.

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4-5Recommendation: It took yours truly until this year to get to Miracle, which is pretty embarrassing. Sure, it’s a sports film through-and-through, but the underlying story, coupled with great performances, makes for a great movie for even the casual viewer. If you haven’t checked this film out yet, then no time is better than now, particularly as we head back to Russia for another fortnight of spirited competition. Tell me, where do you hail from, and who will you be rooting for this year?

Rated: PG

Running Time: 136 mins.

Quoted: “Great moments… are born from great opportunity. And that’s what you have here, tonight, boys. That’s what you’ve earned here tonight. One game. If we played ’em ten times, they might win nine. But not this game. Not tonight. Tonight, we skate with them. Tonight, we stay with them. And we shut them down because we can! Tonight, WE are the greatest hockey team in the world. You were born to be hockey players. Every one of you. And you were meant to be here tonight. This is your time. Their time is done. It’s over. I’m sick and tired of hearing about what a great hockey team the Soviets have. Screw ’em. This is your time. Now go out there and take it.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.movieleadership.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Aningaaq (Gravity “spin-off”)

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Release: Wednesday, November 20, 2013 

[Vimeo]

Written by: Jonás Cuarón

Directed by: Jonás Cuarón

In case you departed Earth recently and don’t know yet, the film Gravity by Alfonso Cuarón was nothing short of a revolution in filmmaking, albeit mostly from a technical standpoint. While still selling a considerable number of buckets of popcorn for being a seemingly high-brow sci-fi adventure film, the legend to proceed it will be much more for the sheer brilliance of its scientific accuracy, visual depictions of life in space and its usage of sound — specifically, the lack thereof.

So authentic in its visual detail and human emotion, Gravity seems to be one of those films that you simply can’t get enough of. If you’re going to see it in theaters, it’s one that must be done in 3D (yes, I just said that) and on the IMAX screen. Twice in a row. Some of the more hardcore of us may feel that even that’s not enough to satiate the appetite; fortunately, the brilliant director’s son, Jonas, is where and whom we should turn to next.

Not more than a day ago, it was revealed that Jonas had conceived of a 7-minute short film that shows what goes down on the other side of the desperate calls Sandra Bullock’s Doctor Ryan Stone makes to Earth to try and get help. The film, titled Aningaaq, deals with a major plot point in the film, and it should really go without saying here that if you have yet to see the full-length feature, you should not watch this short until you do. This WILL ruin the film for you, if you aren’t careful.

With that said, Aningaaq is pure brilliance, and serves as a fascinating companion piece to one of 2013’s most eerie and tense dramas. As was the case with the full-length feature, Aningaaq is similarly fraught with tension, though it’s far more limited and not as complex. It is nevertheless a must-see featurette for those who experienced Doctor Stone’s ordeal with isolation in space; it’s important to hear and see what the world is like on the other end of a poor radio signal that is effectively your only tether to the rest of humanity when you’re in orbit.

Ingeniously answering a major question some (if not all) viewers likely have, had or will have in a pivotal and highly emotional scene towards the end, these seven minutes of footage also serve as a good heads-up of what to look for come the awards ceremony, paying particular attention to the short film category. This strange title (referring to the Inuit man featured here) should be one mentioned at some point.

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To watch the film yourself (again, please see the actual film first) click the link below, which will take you to the Hollywood Reporter. Enjoy!

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/gravity-spinoff-watch-side-sandra-657919

4-5Recommendation: Given that you. . . well, er. . .liked Gravity, this will undoubtedly help establish an even bigger appreciation of what was just accomplished in this supremely intelligent piece of cinema. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 7 mins.

[No trailer available. Sorry everyone.]

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.filmaffinity.com; http://www.screenrant.com 

TBT: Let the Right One In (2008)

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Happy Halloween everyone! In trying to properly celebrate the world’s most bizarre ‘holiday,’ today’s entry nearly did not happen, as I couldn’t find a copy of the original Halloween and I’m not into the whole bootlegging thing (yet). . .that, and I don’t watch a lot of T.V. Then the second choice was going to be Child’s Play. Netflix again failed me by informing me that there was a “very long wait” associated with that particular rental. So I was forced to go to other options. After pouring over many great suggestions from you fine folks, I decided to go in a completely different direction and I wound up watching a movie about. . . vampires. I know. I know. These, if anything, seem to be the type of ‘horror’ film that I would instantly be turned off by. Predictable, utterly cliched, and usually just. . .weird as hell, I’ve yet to find a vampire film that I could really enjoy. And then I stumbled across this little gem, something that many people might not necessarily associate with ‘horror.’ Nonetheless, today’s TBT turned out to be a great choice and I’m glad I made it. 

Today’s food for thought: Let the Right One In

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Release: January 26, 2008

[Netflix]

This review is coming at you right off the heels of the end credits, which only finished just seconds ago; therefore this is going to be the freshest any film has been on my mind since I started doing Throwback Thursday. And as such, this is probably going to be a sloppy review. All the same, the beauty and sublime perfection that is Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In is likely to leave a lasting impression upon me. This is one of the most beautiful films I have ever laid eyes on. And again, vampires do did almost nothing for me.

A Swedish film, Let the Right One In is about a young boy who finds his first romance in a girl who’s not quite human. Alfredson’s work here is stunning for a couple of reasons. Let’s start with the cinematography, considering this element is all but impossible to gloss over.

It’s obvious that Alfredson is about as taken with the elegance of winter — what, with all its crystal-tipped trees, snow-blanketed wonderlands — as any person might be who may consider themselves a romantic. The winter is harsh and unforgiving — especially the further north you go — but the director is intent on capturing the exquisite beauty, if but to simply distract for a moment or two from the world as it were. It’s also a perfectly spooky setting in which to make a horror film. The wintery environs throughout compound the effect of the many bizarre murders that happen in this small town near Stockholm. Bodies are discovered buried in snowdrifts, in thick ice; the chilled breaths of the characters provide an instant discomfort from the opening scenes.

Fortunately there is a story woven like fine fabric through this frozen wonderland of troubled youth, despair and oppression. Twelve-year-old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is introverted and a little strange, resulting in his constant bullying at school. He wants to do something about it but can’t find it within himself to actually take action. Then one night he comes across a very strange girl on a playground just outside of his decrepit apartment block — a girl about his age (“I’m 12, more or less. . .”) and the two become friends, even despite her initial not wanting to even go that far. She’s actually a vampire, destined forever to live off the fresh blood of humans, otherwise she’ll die.

Of course, none of this information she reveals at first, which is part of what makes this such an interesting watch. Bit by bit we see this innocent/vampiric personality coming together. Alfredson selects the perfect moments to reveal the characterizations of the “vampire,” using the experiences of this disturbed boy to reflect the nature of humanity versus that of the undead (what exactly are vampires — are they dead, or not? If someone can riddle me that one, I’ll give them. . .a Twix, or something. . .)

Instead of associating laughable, questionable special effects with the actions of these kinds of creatures, the girl (an excellent performance from Lina Leandersson) her character is very much reacting to and interacting with the real world, in real time. Her attacks are not only necessary but understandable. We know why she’s sucking so much blood from the necks of these otherwise-harmless passersby. And we see the effects her presence takes on the town. Each murder becomes more and more strange, and as they do, Eli (Leandersson) knows her stay in this tiny, frost-laden town is dwindling. Only, she begins to fall in love with a real person — Oskar.

The relationship is beautiful, as much as the scenery is a pleasure to watch. I could stare at the introductory scene all day. And while this couldn’t seem more of an odd choice for the night when we celebrate All Hallow’s Eve, the only thing more terrifying than it is the prospect of sitting through a shit horror film on that night. Fortunately, my experience tonight was completely the opposite. I want to reveal so much more about this film, but alas I cannot, for fear of ruining the entire experience for you.

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4-0Recommendation: This will not be the scariest thing you can find on Halloween, but if your goal is to watch a quality flick, here is one rare example of applying classical elements to a story very much steeped in reality. The locations help to make things interesting as well, as Sweden is a beautiful landscape of architectural splendor, barren isolation and unrepentant cold. In short, this is the perfect location to find some creep creatures lurking around. Forget about coffins and Dracula. This is a vampire movie for the 21st century, and it really works.

Rated: R

Running Time: 114 mins.

Quoted: “Oskar, I do it because I have to. Be me for a while. Please, Oskar. Be me, for a little while. . .”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com