Tag Archives: Michael Caine

Inception

Inception, to me, is a near-perfect movie. It’s immersive and cerebral but also stunningly visual. It has some complex concepts but the script is so fine-tuned that it reveals only exactly as much as we can digest at a time so that the world opens up to us like a flower.

It’s about a man, Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) who goes inside people’s dreams to steal or plant ideas. It’s a dangerous world because when you fuck with the mind, screws come loose and there’s just no telling when the whole thing might come apart at the seams. But the money’s good, and Cobb’s got some troubling personal circumstances that make the game worthwhile. Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is his right-hand
man, and often the voice of reason. Eames (Tom Hardy) can impersonate anyone. And Ariadne (Ellen Page) is the architect – she’s the world-builder, the one who buries mazes inside of dreams. They’re hired by Saito (Ken Watanabe) to plant an idea in a business competitor’s mind so that he will sell off the company he’s just inherited from his dead father. Robert (Cillian Murphy) is the mark: he’s the grieving son who’s about to undergo inception – planting an idea so subtly that he’ll never suspect it’s not his own. And Mal (Marion Cotillard) is the one who can bring it all crashing down around them at any moment. Look out for her.

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To pull off this memory heist, they’ll have to build a dream within a dream within a dream – levels that director Christopher Nolan is clearly all to gleeful to construct. In one, rain pours down in sheets: the dreamer has to pee. But just like the dreams themselves, Nolan’s movie is always working on multiple levels. The first is this new world of corporate espionage. But the second is Cobb’s sacrifice. It’s the things he has lost in pursuit of the ultimate theft, and his last shot at redemption.

When Inception becomes about Robert’s dream, there are multiple worlds on the go, so we flip deftly between them. But there’s a catch: each world is experiencing time differently – the further down you go, the slower time moves. There are some very worrying consequences to this. But then there’s also “reality” – though their bodies are sleeping, they have to be somewhere, and someone has to be taking care of them. In fact, someone has to care for sleeping bodies in each dream within a dream for them to be able to access the next level. It’s complicated stuff that Nolan somehow makes feel perfectly reasonable, a true testament to his talent as a writer as well as his precision as a director. He is the audience’s true friend, unwilling to lose us.

My favourite set piece is Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in the hotel. At this point in time, they have lost gravity, so everything is floating around him. Not only is Arthur caring for the bodies of his comatose friends, he’s also coordinating an important and infinitely precise detonation, and he’s fighting off bad guys. I didn’t know it until I saw it, but a zero-gravity fight scene was exactly what I was missing in my life. Nolan prefers practical effects, so you can imagine the lengths he went to in order to breathe awe into the spectacle. JGL performed all but one stunt himself.

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The film has a tantalizingly ambiguous ending. Cobb has a totem, a fool-proof method of testing whether he’s still dreaming, or back in reality. But in the movie, his character walks away – either distracted, or uninterested, or certain of the result. But not the camera. The camera stays with his totem, and it’s the most epic rim shot of all time. Will it or won’t it? Nolan focuses on the totem rather than any human character. Nothing else matters. But it just keeps going and going, never giving us its judgment until – the screen goes black before a conclusion can be reached. I know it drives some people nuts, but I love an ambiguous ending. To me, it’s the ultimate mark of respect for one’s audience, that Nolan has trusted us to participate in his film’s end, to choose our own ending, in effect. And for someone who produced such a tight and specific script, it’s a ballsy move to put the ending in our hands. But that’s what he does. I believe there IS an answer, a right answer, and the movie is littered with clues that should point you in the right direction. But it’s okay not to know. It’s okay to debate it. It makes us collaborators.

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Of course, the whole film is a show of respect for his audience. Inception is possibly the most complicated blockbuster of our time. Nolan is careful and exacting but he doesn’t dumb things down. He introduces concepts about the subconscious mind: the genesis of ideas, the source of pain, the malleability of memory, the vulnerability of reality itself. It’s a lot. And the more we chew on this, the more meaningful the movie becomes. It’s a thriller with higher stakes than anything before it, because Nolan has tapped into something worse than death. But he also makes the movie a game; it can be won, or it can simply be enjoyed. If there are bits of the plot that go over your head that first viewing, it’s okay. Inception is one of Nolan’s airiest and most forgiving pieces. There’s a gracefulness to the way this movie moves through its layers. Even if there’s something you don’t quite grasp, you don’t get stuck on it. It’s fluid…almost suspiciously fluid, as in, plot holes don’t matter. Now why would that be?

Inception is also a capital M Metaphor. As in: to film is to dream. If you inspect Cobb’s team, you’ll see what I mean. Cobb is the director. Arthur is the producer. Ariadne is the production designer. Eames is the actor. Even more than that: Saito is the studio, and Robert is the audience.

We watched Inception recently because I had a dream wherein I was engaged to Prince Harry. We were working on the guest list for our wedding, and I was being all bubbly thinking about how Grandma would be so excited to meet the Queen. Grandma is 96 and a big fan of Elizabeth II, who is nearly her own age. Grandma is sharp as ever, sweet and bright and entertaining, but her mobility has taken a sharp hit recently, and even in my dream I knew that an overseas trip would be a stretch for her – but that the Queen would be quite the motivation. But then I realized: Grandma is not actually MY grandmother, she’s Sean’s. If I’m marrying Prince Harry, I’m not married to Sean and I don’t know Grandma. And the minute I had that thought, my dream started to crumble. Literally, the walls fell over as if they had been the set of a play that was being struck down. I had contradicted myself and shown the dream for what it was: a fiction. I routinely inflict my dreams on Sean while we shower the next morning, and being the disgusting cinephiles that we are, talk naturally turned to Inception (and, in fact, to Inside Out, wherein characters are seen “filming” dreams for the sleeping Riley). Movies and dreams have always mixed, and have always had blurry boundaries. Inception exploits that. Nolan invites us to dream alongside him.

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Children of Men

It’s 2027 and the world’s youngest citizen has just died at the age of 18. People take it hard. With fertility down the tubes, humanity is staring in the face of its own extinction and it’s a pretty bleak picture.

Theo, a former activist, is kidnapped by some scary dudes (Charlie Hunnam, Chiwetel Ejiofor) who turn out to be working for his ex Julian (Julianne Moore). The two haven’t seen each other in 20 years, since their son Dylan died in a flu epidemic, but as the world’s countries have collapsed around them, Julian has led an underground rebellion, and she needs Theo’s help. They need to illegally transport a refugee, Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), and while Theo’s cousin can secure the necessary papers, they obligate Theo into accompanying her. Which ends up being just as well because shit goes down and Kee needs Theo. But the world needs Kee: turns out, she’s pregnant with the world’s first baby in 18 years. Now it’s up to Theo to get her safely to a refuge at sea, but no one, not the government, not the angry mobs, not Julian’s own people, are going to make it easy for him.

MV5BODQ4ZjMwMjEtMjc0Ni00MzA4LWE3N2ItODA3NmEwNDU3ZTE3L2ltYWdlL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDAxOTExNTM@._V1_First, this doesn’t need to be said but I will say it anyway: fucking Alfonso Cuaron. What a brilliant director. This is just such an astonishing work in film. The sense of urgency is brilliantly sustained throughout. There are so many scenes in this one movie that are best of career, highlight reel stuff that you can never quite catch your breath. There’s a long scene, kind of a car chase in reverse, where the car in question is specially outfitted so that a custom-rigged camera can rotate not just inside the vehicle, but outside the windshield as well. It’s fantastic, heart in throat stuff.

Cuaron stays away from exposition but the film never lacks. We aren’t told much about Theo but we’re shown quite a lot – nearly every scene contains an animal, and that animal is always drawn to him; he never touches a gun; his private cry for Julian; his aborted cigarettes; his seemingly unflappable response to crisis; his need to save others, even strangers. A character emerges without wasting a lot of time on formalities – that’s how you establish a frenetic pace.

And Cuaron’s setting of the film is second to none. It was filmed in 2005, just a few short weeks after London had its own terrorist bombing. Cuaron uses imagery from Pink Floyd (who often sang about oppression, war, and being) and Banksy, a guerilla street artist and political activist. At one point, the camera pans by cages with prisoners inside and one of them gives us a brief glimpse of the “hooded man” from the Abu Ghraib prison torture pictures, seen in the exact pose as the real pictures. There are specific calls to past wars, and political movements (Michael Caine has based his character on the fervent pacifist, John Lennon, Theo’s workplace is a nod to George Orwell’s 1984) but I was surprised how well it holds up, feeling every bit as relevant to today’s issues as those of a decade ago. Which is obviously not a good thing for the world but shows what a specific and visionary film maker Cuaron is. And meticulous. There are so many details, musical cues, religious references, nods to thematically-relevant literature that you lose count. You can’t even notice most upon first-watch, but you absorb them and get immersed in this gritty world and all of its noise and flaws and trauma.

With stunning lensing by Emmanuel Lubezki and astonishing, seamless editing by Cuaron and Alex Rodriguez, Children of Men is must-see moviedom in every sense. Cuaron is an immense talent; his is a filmography that must be discovered and rediscovered at every available opportunity.

Dear Dictator

Tatiana is your typical punk high school student. Her boots are high, her tights are ripped, her hair unbrushed, gnarled like the barbs she constantly throws at her mother, who is doing her best to lure a man at any cost.

Tatiana (Odeya Rush), as you might imagine, has trouble fitting in at school, and has even more trouble convincing her Christian crush to commit some mortal sins with her. Her only solace is the dictator with whom she exchanges pen pal letters from his beleaguered British-Caribean island nation. His country is undergoing an uprising and they’re pushing the old guy out. So General Anton Vincent (Michael Caine) flees to the one place no one would ever think to look for him: Tatiana’s house.

Is she a little surprised to see him? Yes. Is her mother (Katie Holmes) a little perturbed to find she’s been harboring a fugitive? Sure, though maybe not as much MV5BNjhiOTc1YTctODllNC00ZTEyLWFiN2MtMjM1MGMwYzI4Yjc0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTgyNDk1OTY@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1498,1000_AL_as you’d think. It turns out, having a disgraced General around the house is almost as good as having a man. And when the lawn is cut and the garage door no longer sticks, the complaints are scarce. But teachers at school begin to suspect something is up with Tatiana – and it’s not just the rebellion she foments against the ‘mean girls.’ Although that is probably a bit of a red flag.

Anyway. This movie is innocuous enough if you find the switch in your brain that has taste and standards, and turn it off. It’s too tame to be a satire and not actually funny enough to be considered a comedy, unless you consider the fact that someone convinced Academy Award winner Michael Caine to be in this heap of crap, and to grow a Castro beard and everything. But at this stage in his career, he’s more convincing as Santa Claus than a blood thirsty dictator. He’s not exactly intimidating. The twinkle in his eye keeps giving him away.

Now, there is a fourth character in the film, and I don’t mean Seth Green or Jason Biggs, though both get their name in the credits. I’m talking about Subway. This movie is not subtle about who owns their asses. The chips and candy eaten are generic as hell but the delicious sandwiches they consume CONTINUALLY are branded AF. As in, every time they sit at the table to eat, every logo on every cup and wrapping is pointing prettily, and centrally, at the camera. Not even Katie Holmes having her toes sucked is featured as prominently. So if you’re looking for some teen angst and an ousted fugitive dictator and a pathetic single mother and a dentist with a foot fetish and sandwiches so tasty they could unite them all, dear lord, this movie is made just for you. Colour me floored.

 

Sherlock Gnomes

It was 2011 when we first met garden gnomes who come to life when no humans are watching. Back then, two rival yards, that of the Montagues, and the Capulets, were at war, except Gnomeo fell in love with the forbidden Juliet, and they all got a happier ending than the one Shakespeare wrote for them, set to a soundtrack of Elton John songs.

Cut to: the May long weekend, 2018. Jay and Sean are in the mood to kick off the summer in style, so they drive to the nearest open drive-in, which is playing a TRIPLE feature which we only realize in retrospect was a night of sequels: Sherlock Gnomes, Deadpool 2, and Super Troopers 2 (in order of how they played, and how much I enjoyed them).

As you may have gleaned from the title, instead of revisiting Shakespeare, this time the gnomes tackle Arthur Conan Doyle. London is being terrorized by a garden gnome thief, MV5BM2RhOTI1YjktOGYwMS00MDdkLTg0MWYtNGIxNmRkMWM4NDI5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODEyMzI2OTE@._V1_which may sound petty to you, but if all your friends and family are gnomes, you’d understand why Gnomeo and Juliet are so concerned. Luckily London is also home to the kind of taste-makers likely to have literary garden gnomes in their flower beds, so a ceramic version of Sherlock himself (and his ceramic sidekick Watson) show up to solve the crime and save the day.

I liked Gnomeo and Juliet in a “just fine” kind of way, and was surprised to find that a sequel, 7 years after the first, was to be released. I wasn’t even sure if it was a sequel. The first had big names as voice actors – Maggie Smith, Michael Caine, and Emily Blunt and James McAvoy in the titular roles. I assumed they couldn’t possibly be back for a sequel with little to no promotion, and yet they were, in addition to Johnny Depp as the master detective and Chiwetel Ejiofor as the beleaguered Doctor Watson.

The thing is, this movie is once again strictly fine. But it doesn’t have much raison d’etre. It doesn’t aim for much more than kid appeal, which makes its sporadic attempts at literary humour feel out of place. It’s hard to believe that a movie, and in fact two movies, were green-lit specially for the crowd (which I need to believe is pretty small) who find garden gnomes wearing thongs to be hilarious, and movies based on that one running joke to be oddly satisfying.

I didn’t really love this movie, but then I saw Super Troopers 2 and realized that I could probably find just a little bit of leniency for any movie that wasn’t it.

Going In Style

Am I having a senior moment?  For the life of me, I still cannot remember the name of this movie without looking it up.  I can always recall the “Going” part but then it gets muddled in a lot of different ways – “Going Out In Style”, “Going All The Way”, “Going Out On A Limb”, “Going For Broke”, and on and on.  I mention that because the first impression given by the title, i.e., generic, forgettable, and lazy, is a good summary of this film.  Along those same lines, with how generic it is I am not one bit surprised to have just going-in-stylediscovered this is a remake of a 1979 movie starring George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg.  I guess I am about 65 years too young to remember that one, even though I was alive when it came out.

I think I am still about 65 years too young to find the 2017 version tolerable.  And that’s a shame for three reasons: (a) Academy Award Winner Michael Caine; (b) Academy Award Winner Morgan Freeman; and (c) Academy Award Winner Alan Arkin.  I absolutely love each of those old guys.  They are endlessly charming even when they phone it in.  And they are totally phoning it in here, probably because they knew that even at 100% effort this movie would still suck.

If you absolutely have to watch this movie, you will not suffer all that much.   You may giggle once or twice and you will feel good despite your cold-hearted cynicism when [SPOILERS] they get away with the heist [SPOILERS].

But why would you watch this shitty film when, if you want a movie about getting even with those evil banks, you could watch Hell or High Water, which just came to Netflix and is not only a fantastic film, it also has Jeff Bridges in the curmudgeonly old guy role to tick that box.

Or if you want to be charmed by Michael Caine, you could watch any movie Chris Nolan has directed in the last decade (literally).  And for an instant Caine fix while deciding which Nolan film to pull from your DVD collection, I present Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon trading Michael Caine impressions in The Trip.

Morgan Freeman?  Since you can catch him in basically any movie ever, it is almost guaranteed that you can be charmed by him in a much better film (but be sure NOT to resort to Ben-Hur).  If I had to pick only one, it would be The Shawshank Redemption – that is peak Mo-Free on display as an old criminal with a heart of gold.

Alan Arkin?  Argo and Little Miss Sunshine.  The perfect grumpy old guy double feature. It’s just so easy to find something better to watch.

That’s the problem with Going In Style.  There are so many superior options, you have to wonder why anyone even bothered, other than Caine, Freeman and Arkin who I hope got paid at least as much as their bank-robbing characters did.  See?  I can’t hold anything against those guys, not even this terrible movie.

 

Now You See Me 2

I only saw the first Now You See Me (1)  grudgingly, which is to say, on a plane. It’s amazing what you can get me to watch when I’m hurtling through space in a glorified tin now-you-see-me-two-movie-poster-10can. Anything to distract myself, even Jesse Eisenberg doing “magic.”

To be honest, I hate magic. I hate the spectacle and the artifice and the hammy, tan people who “perform” it. I hate it. I HATE hate it, the way I hate Nazis and speeding tickets and being tricked into eating vegetables. I have to remind myself, with a shock, that some people actually pay to see magic, while I would gladly pay to not see it. I’d rather not even walk by a street magician, if I can help it. But I’m half-willing to give it a go in the movies because while I also hate Nazis, I concede that some fairly wonderful movies have been made containing them. So I don’t rule Now You See Me out just because it has magic. Or just because it has Jesse Eisenberg, who is quickly ascending my list of things to avoid.

Jesse Eisenberg is joined by 3 other magicians (including a token girl!) to form the “4 horsemen” – the Robinhoods of the magic scene, they spent the first movie stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. You can’t do that without consequences, so they’ve been in hiding this past year and are only revealing themselves in the sequel when their magical governing body, the Eye, calls on them to do so – for a very good cause, I’m sure.

Safe to say a sequel to this blip of filmdom is one trick I never saw coming, unlike all the tricks in the film, which I saw from a mile away. There is no “magic” is Now You See Me 2, which is a real tragedy in this renaissance of practical effects, unless you count thenysm2-jack-lula-posters “magic” of CGI. Or the magic of marketing, I suppose. Definitely not the magic of film making, because this guy was seemingly made in a vacuum of personality. There is no fun in watching card tricks when you know the cards were added digitally, after the fact. And the tricks are not replicable in the real world, so Now You See Me 2 is just another CGI-bloated entry into the super hero genre, only these heroes are super lame and the costumes even lamer (though Eisenberg’s sporting a more Lex Luther-appropriate hairstyle than he did in Batman v. Superman).

But the greatest crime this film commits is its end. We, the audience, have spent 2 hours watching the 4 horsemen play tricks on their audiences, their enemies, their government, and each other. Now they seek to play one on us, and a two minute monologue discredits everything that’s come before and tells us we’ve been played for fools and what we thought was happening really wasn’t. Gotcha! Except the script does absolutely nothing to earn this. To set this up, a script has to leave breadcrumbs, it has to set it up, carefully, craftilly, but dutifully. Or else it’s total baloney. And this, my friends, was grade F deli meat, straight from Oscar Mayer himself. It’s like me suddenly telling you that I’ve been writing a Finding Dory review this whole time…TADA!

What do you mean you’re not convinced? I said ta-da, dammit. What more do you want? A viable story? Some forethought? Common sense? I mean – what do you expect here? This isn’t magic. It’s just a little trickery, and you can either buy in or opt out. It’s up to you.

Kingsman: The Secret Service

It’s possible that director Matthew Vaughn cast Colin Firth just because the man looks damn finekingsman-the-secret-service-official-trailer-colin-firth-samuel-l-jackson1 in a suit. A whole clothing line was conceived for this film, which actually does hinge on refined bespoke menswear.

While in France, I saw this movie advertised as a cross between James Bond and Quentin Tarantino. Watching the film, the James Bond references slap you in the face – the martinis (gin, stirred for ten seconds while glancing at an unopened bottle of vermouth), the gadgets, the weaponized body parts! And while it’s not quite a spoof, it’s definitely subversive. Colin Firth is a Kingsman, one of many gentlemen spies who teach the uncouth of the world lessons in manners while being blood-Kingsmen2-645x370lustfully unmannered themselves. He will beat you to a pulp, but he will do so with his couture umbrella. Which is possibly where the Tarantino flavour seeps in – not just in the casting of Firth, who took home an Oscar for his portrayal of a King, but was sent by Vaughn to a gym for 6 months, equipped with a signet ring\hand grenade, and unleashed on the world as an action star to take notice of – but in Firth’s character itself, “tea and testosterone” they’re calling it, a razor-sharp dichotomy you won’t be able to take your eyes off of. Nor should you – Vaughn dives right into the action, and that’s where he stays.

gazelleIs this a good movie? Having just wrapped up Oscar season, it’s hard to say a resounding yes. But it IS an awful lot of fun. It’s gleefully violent, unapologetically politically incorrect, and often seems to make a joke out of itself (not all of them land but there was a lot of laughter from the surprisingly hearty Kanata audience). Sam Jackson as the supervillain, lisping away as he takes over the world, is brilliant. He and Firth are having fun. And the young street punk recruited by Firth – played by newcomer Taron Egerton – who must compete with more conventional types to win a kingsman-secret-service-stillspot on the elite spy team brings not only a nice juxtaposition but yet another excuse for non-stop action. Vaughn has plenty of other movies to his credit (Layer Cake and Kick Ass) but this is the one he was born to direct, finally melding gangsters with superheroes and coming up with something all his own.

This movie is definitely not fit for grandma, nor for gentlemen. It’s an energetic bloodbath. It’s exuberantly excessive in its ultraviolence, stylishly brutal, an extravagant killfest. And it’s a massacre to which you’ll enjoy having a front-row seat.