Archive for 1997

Titanic

Posted in Adventure, Drama, History, Romance with tags on April 6, 2012 by Mark Hobin

James Cameron’s chronicle about the maiden voyage of the “ship of dreams” is simply put, one of the greatest films of all time. Like Gone with the Wind for its era, this was THE epic romance for the 90s generation. Sweeping in both historical charm and emotional intensity, it was the most expensive movie ever made, with an estimated budget of $200 million. It could have been a recipe for bankruptcy for the studio but it ended up earning 1.8 billion worldwide to become the world’s highest grossing picture until Cameron beat his own record with Avatar 12 years later. Now it has been re-released presented in a new 3D print amid much fanfare. While the 3D transfer is adequate, what justifies watching this is the chance to see this saga on the big screen where it really shines best.

What sets Titanic apart is the skillful union of a technically dazzling disaster movie with a captivating art house period piece. Witness how the director deftly draws us into the drama. This takes patience and he lays the groundwork right from the beginning. Cameron uses a framing device where we are introduced to the adult Rose DeWitt Bukater, aged and forgotten in the modern day. As she tells her story, we flashback to 1912, the time of Titanic. The filmmaker didn’t have to frame the action this way. He could have just started 30 minutes in when the Titanic is getting ready to embark, but that’s a testament to his genius, He subtly provides a contemporary audience a deeper bond with this woman who survived. Rose is the woman forced into an engagement with Cal Hockley in order to maintain her family’s status. Jack Dawson is the young vagabond that unexpectedly wins a ticket aboard the same ship. Initially Rose is somewhat difficult to like. She comes across as a spoiled brat and Jack literally confronts her with that same description. But Jack makes her likable. We see she her true personality come through their relationship and we ultimately fall in love with them as a couple. We certainly care for Jack and Rose, our two principals, but Cameron actually takes the time to create involving vignettes around the passengers as well: the ship’s captain, the ship’s designer, the musicians in the band , the travelers in steerage vs. the those in first class. We’re introduced to all of them. This isn’t a group of nameless unknowns.  These is a community with families and feelings and lives that are doomed to die. It makes the final hour that much more tragic.

Titanic is by no means a perfect picture. Of the 14 nominations, it failed to earn one for its screenplay and that’s not entirely a surprise. The script is a bit amateurish in its effort to set characters up with awkward dialogue. Many of the biggest groaners come from Rose’s fiancée, Cal Hockley played by Billy Zane. At the start he declares how indestructible the Titanic is. “It is unsinkable” he asserts “God himself could not sink this ship.” Cue laughter. Then later when discussing art he opines, “Picasso? He won’t amount to a thing. He won’t, trust me.” Ah, the screenwriters clumsily paint Cal as an idiot. I get that. But when Rose laments “Half the people on this ship are going to die” was it really necessary for Cal to sneer, “Not the better half.” And what about his character? Why does Cal settle for a woman who clearly hates him. She makes no secret of the fact that she despises him. Couldn’t Cal find a woman who truly loved him, even for the cad that he is. He’s sophisticated, good looking and very wealthy at least. Was Rose seriously his only option for a wife? But I digress, these are mere quibbles.

Titanic is the embodiment of a gifted director working at the top of his craft. His eye for detail is masterful. Of course there’s that spectacular final act that is the standard for non-stop, heart pounding excitement. But what many directors fail to establish is a cast we sincerely care about. That’s what makes a tragedy something we merely endure versus something we actually tear up over. We should be emotionally connected to the people. Throughout the course of 3 hours and 14 minutes Cameron expertly builds a real connection to our leads. A masterpiece combining technical skill of an action picture with the engaging theatrics of a tear-jerker, James Cameron’s Titanic is a stunning achievement. Critics continue to deride its success as dubious hype over a feature unwarranted of such praise. I disagree, It deserves its place among such popular works as The Sound of Music and Star Wars as one of the great achievements committed to celluloid. This is a film for people who love film.

The Fifth Element

Posted in Action, Adventure, Science Fiction, Thriller with tags on November 16, 2011 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketOkay, so there’s this thing see, called the Great Evil, and it appears every 5000 years. It manifests itself as this huge amorphous orb of black fire the size of a planet and its solitary goal is to annihilate all life. It’s virtually unstoppable, but there’s hope. A weapon consisting of four stones, representing the basic elements – water, fire, earth and air – can be assembled to stop the threat. But to unlock this extraordinary power, a uniquely “perfect” human must be combined with these other four elements first. Flash forward to the year 2263 where the Great Evil has suddenly appeared and is approaching Earth with intent to destroy. Meanwhile, a divine visitor from another planet has been restored from DNA in a scientific lab, but she’s frightened by her unfamiliar surroundings. Upon escaping, she literally crashes through the roof of a cab driven by taxi driver Korben Dallas. Together they endeavor to find the missing stones before the wicked Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg can. Why? So they can save the world, of course.

If that plot description sounds loopy, you’d be right. And that’s what makes this French/American space adventure story so intoxicating. Apparently, writer/director Luc Besson began the script for The Fifth Element when he was only 16 years old. The naïve perspective benefits the material; the refreshingly straightforward conflict between good and evil is explored in a most satisfying way. Besson was influenced by the French comic books he read as a teenager and the production features all of the attributes of their stylish color and composition. Any frame of film could easily be frozen as a panel, completed with dialogue bubbles and the tableau would make a fine publication.

The production is ridiculously over the top. The incredibly detailed sets are visually stunning. From the futuristic 3-D highways of Brooklyn New York to the backdrop of planet Earth during the opera concert on Planet Fhloston, every scene is a feast for the eyes. But even that clichéd phrase simply does not do this display justice.

Of course none of this ridiculousness would even work if we didn’t have a flawlessly cast picture full of larger than life characters that truly engage. Bruce Willis is a retired elite Special Forces military hero who currently drives a taxi. He’s got confidence to spare but with a sarcastic world-weary demeanor. He grounds the movie as we identify with his detachment of the peculiar state of the world around him. Milla Jovovich is Leeloo an otherworldly being that captivates his interest. She’s sufficiently “exotic“, speaking a fictional language with limited vocabulary. It’s worth mentioning the significant contributions of actors Gary Oldman and Ian Holm as well. Even former wrestler Tom Lister, Jr. appears as The President. Now that’s inspired casting. But the most memorable portrayal of all occurs roughly halfway in when popular radio talk show host DJ Ruby Rhod, played by comedian Chris Tucker, makes his entrance. Sashaying flamboyantly in a leopard print robe one moment, then making aggressive sexual advances toward pretty young stewardesses the next. Possessing a high pitched voice on helium, Ruby buzzes people away with a flick of his hand. He’s like Prince, Steve Urkel, Little Richard and Dennis Rodman all rolled up in the same person. It’s an admittedly polarizing performance, but an achievement that perfectly defines the utter outrageousness of the drama. Without question, among the most unforgettable entrances I’ve ever seen in a film. He should have been nominated for an Academy Award. Yeah, I said it.

The actors are complemented by a sensational array of costumes that were created by French fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier, each more bizarre than the next. His trademark nautical chic is evident in the sailor and captain suits of the resort workers, but we’ve also got ultra sexy stewardesses that would give a Las Vegas showgirl pause. Those uniforms at the Mc Donald’s are pretty revealing too. And don’t forget the carefully placed white tape of the barely-there “dress” that Leeloo sports after she’s first re-created from DNA. The tone is always tongue in cheek. The alien opera diva is a suitably mesmerizing marvel of silky powder blue skin and tentacles. Check out the amusing nod to Princess Leia on the stocky policewoman that shows up at Korben’s apartment. The personalities occasionally reference the past, but Besson ultimately makes the distinct vision all his own.

For me, The Fifth Element embodies the phrase “cinematically dazzling” more than any other picture. Production design, fashion, music, an international cast, all of it integrated to form a shining model of a sensory celebration. There have certainly been flicks that have been equally stylish, but none to surpass it. French director Luc Besson has been a highly successful force in movie making. One of the most ”Hollywood” of all French filmmakers, he has perhaps grown somewhat more mainstream and predictable as time has passed. The Fifth Element remains his transcendent combination of artistry and commerce. Besson’s delightful rumination on good vs. evil creates excitement. It’s uplifting in it’s naïveté, the triumph of love. Naturally these positives wouldn’t matter if we didn’t have individuals we actually cared about. There’s a palpable joie de vivre here, rarely this tangible in big budget science fiction. That feeling is underscored throughout the film concluding with the final shot.

The following article was published by SBSFilm at My Favourite Film

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Lost Highway

Posted in Fantasy, Horror, Mystery, Thriller with tags on October 20, 2009 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketPhotobucketBizarre film noir about a jazz saxophonist and his wife who begin receiving mysterious video tapes from someone who appears to be filming them while they sleep. Typically Lynchian, surrealist film kicks off with one of the creepiest set ups ever filmed, then trashes that story and completely falls apart. Fascinating first half gives way to a narratively baffling second half. Identities change, characters disappear and sexual encounters occur without even a trace of eroticism. A deeply flawed film, but the initial neo-noir mood is so hypnotic and spooky, it cannot be dismissed.

In the Company of Men

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on October 15, 2008 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketPhotobucketDisturbing corporate tale of two men who decide to toy with a young woman’s affections in an effort to vent their pent up rage against the female sex. An ugly psychological drama that is hard to watch but endlessly captivating. It’s difficult to describe just how vile and depraved a man Chad is. He is a villain you won’t soon forget. Astonishing first film by writer, director Neil LaBute.

Funny Games

Posted in Crime, Drama, Horror, Thriller with tags on July 8, 2008 by Mark Hobin

Unsettling film about a couple of sociopaths who hold a family hostage. Although most of the violence occurs off-screen, it still makes the experience difficult to watch. Compelling and gut-wrenching all at once.  Director Michael Haneke also did an American remake of his own film in 2007.

Boogie Nights

Posted in Drama with tags on July 1, 2008 by Mark Hobin

Sprawling document of the 70s porn industry. With that premise you might expect a cheap, tawdry account, but you’d be wrong. Character driven drama is an engrossing story about family. The way director P.T. Anderson juggles multiple storylines is masterful.

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