Tag Archives: Kate Winslet

The Films That Made Us — Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

By Steven Moore

 

 

In the spring of 2004 I was a college student having an existential crisis. I know it’s hard to find sympathy for a college student with first world problems, but the world had not turned out to be what I thought it was. I had been raised in a Southern Baptist home, not strict but strong in their beliefs. Every ethical and epistemological question I had was answered by this upbringing. Four years of  questioning, and reading philosophy texts, literary texts, critical texts, and any other text I could find, had brought me to a point where I wasn’t sure what or why I was. I’m sure Jim Carrey felt the same.

He had been having a good run. The Truman Show, Man on the Moon, The Majestic, and even Bruce Almighty were great films that tapped more into his sense of drama and the human condition than his comedy. He had to be questioning who he was as an actor and entertainer. Did he want to be important or just funny? That spring, amid all of the chaos of being a college student with a growing family, the questions about my future, and my questions about life, came this little movie about memories. When Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind came out in theaters, I only went to see it because the title was taken from an Alexander Pope poem. I didn’t even know Jim Carrey was in it.

I saw it three times in the theater. The only other movie I’ve seen more than twice in the theater is Titanic, and that’s because I was trying to get on the good side of my then-girlfriend, now wife. It turned out to be the exact kind of movie I love: small and quirky with a touch of magical realism. The message of the film is summed up in a simple exchange toward the end of the movie. The two main characters, Joel (Carrey) and Clementine (played by the most beautiful and talented actress alive, Kate Winslet), have been losing their memories through a procedure that erases bad memories from their brains. When Joel changes his mind about it mid-procedure and makes various attempts to stop it, he can’t. Eventually, the realization comes that he is slowing losing an entire part of his life, the woman that he loves, and that it’s inevitable. He can’t change it, can’t question it; it will simply be gone, and he’ll never know it was there. In defeat, Joel asks, “What do I do?” Clementine’s response: “Just enjoy it.”

What’s so incredible about this scene is that Joel is not asking what he should do to stop the inevitable process of loss; he is asking what he should do now that he has accepted its inevitability. How can he find purpose in something he has no control over, something that will vanish entirely without a thought. What do you do when nothingness is inevitable? The only thing Joel and Clementine can do is enjoy each other in the time they have. The subsequent scene of Joel and Clementine playing like children in an old beach house and reminiscing about things they should and shouldn’t have done is the most romantic scene in film history. It is pure longing and connection on an emotional level. They acknowledge the mistakes they made and love one another for those mistakes. Joel realizes that without Clementine he has to face the void alone, and his terror at the prospect eventually drives him back to her.

 

 

Throughout the film, Clementine helps Joel face the unfaceable. He is able to face loss, shame, and helplessness as long as she is with him. By the end of the movie you realize that she gives him purpose, and that should be enough. His crisis in the film is that he doesn’t realize that she holds him up, that his crisis is only a crisis without Clementine. She helps him make sense of the world just enough that he can enjoy it instead of critiquing it.

With my wife the world makes as much sense as it needs to, and that’s enough. I am able to just enjoy it.

A Quick Rant — Titanic 3D

By Tom Kapr

I didn’t mind the fact that James Cameron was re-releasing Titanic using post-conversion 3D. Most films released in 3D through post-conversion look awful, because they were not actually filmed in 3D. But this is perfectionist James Cameron we’re talking about. His films are always on the front lines of technological advancement, and, with a few picky exceptions (obvious Schwarzenegger stunt doubles in True Lies), they hold up over the decades. And Avatar was one of the first films to really show what 3D technology can do for a film artistically.

Mainly, I just really wanted to see Titanic on the big screen, 3D or not.

Having now finally seen Titanic in the cinema for the first time ever, in 3D, I have to say, it is one of the most beautiful, visually stunning, emotionally gripping, and technically immaculate films ever made. The 3D, however, is a mixed bag. Here’s the good first: the depth of field is phenomenal. As far as pure dimensionality goes, it does exactly what 3D should do. It makes the world on-screen look as if you could step right into it. This is really only a next logical step in terms of cinema as a visual medium; it has always been a medium that created the illusion of depth (foreground, background, etc.). 3D just takes that illusion to the next level. And this is, without a doubt, the best-looking post-conversion 3D ever. No surprise for cinematic pioneer James Cameron.

But here’s the bad thing: You still have to wear those glasses, and even worse, in the case of Titanic, they darken the picture. I noticed this about halfway through the film when, just out of curiosity, I removed the glasses and looked at the film through my own eyes (well, my own prescription lenses, anyway). It was on a close-up of Kate Winslet. All of a sudden, without the 3D glasses, her skin looked much healthier, with more color, more red in her cheeks, and her hair was much redder. I went back and forth a couple times. The glasses made her look much grayer — almost sickly, in direct comparison.

Throughout the rest of the film, I would occasionally compare the picture with and without the glasses. The color was always much richer without. More reds, more blues. Especially during night scenes — so, for like, the entire second half of the movie — I was able to discern much more color detail without the 3D glasses.

I enjoyed the film immensely, and I actually have a much deeper appreciation of it than when I first saw it on full-screen VHS all those years ago. I would call it a masterpiece, even among Cameron’s higher-than-average number of near-perfect films (including Aliens and Terminator 2); and I would, in a huge change of opinion, say it deserved all the accolades it received back in 1998, including its Best Picture Oscar.

I am very glad I finally had the opportunity to see Titanic at the cinema. But I would much rather have been able to watch it without those 3D glasses, in glorious, illusory 2D.

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10 reasons why I’m looking forward to September (part 1)

By Tom Kapr

On September 2, sci-fi thriller Apollo 18 finally will be released. This “found footage” film about the “truth” of NASA’s moon expeditions has been pushed back a few times since it was originally slated for release this past March. Truly good found footage films are rare since the genre essentially began with The Blair Witch Project back in 1999 (Cloverfield is a towering exception, and Paranormal Activity is not too far behind), but I am always drawn to the genre for its pure visceral experience. Here’s hoping for a good one–in space.

September 9 sees the release of the newest team-up between director Steven Soderbergh and headliner Matt Damon. The premise of Contagion is nothing new–the threat of a potential deadly worldwide pandemic (see Wolfgang Peterson’s Outbreak or any number of much cheaper films)–but it’s never been done with Soderbergh’s personal style or with a cast that includes Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Laurence Fishburne, and John Hawkes. The trailer gives away one of the film’s most shocking moments, but somehow it only makes me want to see this more.

September 16 has what is possibly the most exciting film of the month. The plot of Drive may sound like a Jason Statham film–“A Hollywood stunt performer who moonlights as a wheelman discovers that a contract has been put on him after a heist gone wrong” according to the film’s IMDb page–but the director is a well-respected if not well-known creator of some gritty, intense films; and the cast is headed up by Ryan Gosling, one of the most interesting and exciting actors of the past decade. Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman, Bryan Cranston, Carey Mulligan, Oscar Isaac, Albert Brooks–this is an amazing cast. This could be the indie film to put to shame most Hollywood action-thrillers. And it already has a rating of 9.0 from more than 1,200 viewers on the IMDb. I cannot wait for this film.

September 23 has yet another exciting, low-profile action film in Machine Gun Preacher, which at first sounds ridiculous until you realize that it is a biographical account of, again according to IMDb, “Sam Childers, a former drug-dealing biker tough guy who found God and became a crusader for hundreds of Sudanese children who’ve been forced to become soldiers.” And that it’s directed by Marc freaking Forster, whose every film is a complete departure from the last and has a track record of quality that any director would kill for, including Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland, Stranger Than Fiction, The Kite Runner, and Quantum of Solace. Lead Gerard Butler could finally break free from his own less than stellar record.

Also being released on 9/23 is a more family-friendly film, but one that could actually be really good. Charles Martin Smith directs Morgan Freeman in Dolphin Tale in “a story centered on the friendship between a boy and a dolphin whose tail was lost in a crab trap” (IMDb). I’m looking forward to seeing a well-made inspirational tale. Plus, dolphins are awesome.

September 30 also has two major releases I’m having trouble choosing between, in terms of which I’d rather see. One is 50/50, a comedy/drama in which Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character deals with his cancer diagnosis with the help of his friend, played by Seth Rogen. With talented beauties Bryce Dallas Howard and Anna Kendrick in the mix, and the reliable presence of Anjelica Huston, this is a cast I am truly anticipating.

On the other hand, In America director Jim Sheridan directs Daniel Craig, Naomi Watts, and Rachel Weisz in a mystery-thriller about a family that moves into a house with a violent past. Dream House is not a horror, but has potential to be truly horrifying in its more down-to-earth mystery plot.

In a couple days, I will write about limited releases Restless, Take Shelter, and the delightful-sounding Tucker & Dale vs. Evil.

 

 

James Cameron, Part I: An Overview of the Career of a Visual Effects Auteur

By Nathanael Griffis

With the re-release of Avatar into theaters this past summer, to the simultaneous groans and cheers of fans and critics alike, I found myself thinking about James Cameron. Perhaps he forces me to think about him by loftily describing his personal achievements as world-shaking. The hubris of the artist, though, is not enough to retract my fascination. To some this might feel too late, Avatar was last Christmas, but I believe distance from the film will lend itself to more honest criticism. And so, I want to take a look Cameron’s influence on visual effects throughout his earlier work and implications of such on the resurgence of 3D technology in film.

The Terminator (1984)

James Cameron is not exactly a prolific filmmaker–although not as slow as, say, Terrence Malick. Still, Cameron’s films wield such influence that it is worth one’s time to look at each. It all started with The Terminator, about as good a debut as one can have. Utilizing Harryhausen-esque stop-motion, makeup courtesy of Stan Winston, and a perfect combination of models and stuntwork to create the final robot, Cameron delivered chilling action scenes. (Luckily for him, a robot jostling forward in stop-motion looks natural.)

The Alien Queen, Aliens (1986)

With Aliens, which some content is an improvement over Ridley Scott’s original Alien, Cameron showed a mastery of physical effects. He did simple things, like turning the camera upside-down to make the aliens appear to climb across the ceiling. Actual weather was used on massive, detailed models. Add all that to the magnum opus of expert puppeteer work and foreground miniatures in the final battle with the alien queen. These amazing special effects are perfectly combined with beam- and film-splitting and rear projection.

Cameron’s early work demonstrated a penchant for action choreography that arguably will never be matched, especially in Terminator 2. But before we reach that monumental film, let us not forget The Abyss. Cameron showed us the wonder of the world around us and the mysteries it could hold in this tense underwater thriller. The film developed new facial recognition techniques for the pseudopod sequence that revolutionized CGI (computer graphics imaging) and paved the way for future effects auteurs, especially Peter Jackson and his Gollum. The film also showed that Cameron hadn’t yet abandoned practical effects. He built an entire underwater set in an unused nuclear reactor and accomplished underwater shots that have never been re-attempted in over 20 years.

The pseudopod scene, The Abyss (1989)

Terminator 2 was next and and provided a visual feast for the eyes both in terms of physical stuntwork and CGI effects. The film’s numerous chase and fight scenes flawlessly blended Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance with a CGI liquid terminator, countless explosions (actually, you could probably count them), and excellent makeup from Stan Winston. The film still stands as one of the best uses of CGI and doesn’t merely rival modern techniques but in many cases shames them.

T-1000, Terminator 2 (1991)

Titanic is a similar example of physical and CGI effects perfectly combined. The sinking cruise ship is amazing to watch, as CGI people tumble off and plummet into the sea below. It is equally engaging as Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet race through the sinking ship with hundreds of gallons of water bursting through elevators and unsealed shafts.

On the whole, Cameron has most assuredly changed the landscape of film and visual effects. He’s shown a talent for taking action-thrillers and elevating them to a finer level of art through a meticulous concern for the visual. His films have not been overtly resonant thematically, with the exception of Titanic, but they resonate on some other level inside us. It’s good entertainment; it’s intrinsic quality; it’s viewing an exciting, beautiful image; it’s a dedication to accomplishing the impossible. In these, Cameron is a master.

The question remains, though: Does Avatar improve or impair an already amazing filmography?

–Nathanael Griffis