Tag Archives: Leonardo DiCaprio

A few thoughts on Leo, Titanic, and middle school

By Nathanael Griffis

It takes me back to think it has been 15 years since Leonardo DiCaprio’s smirking face and unseemly stiff-gel-parted hair graced the big screen in Titanic. So much has changed. I never saw the movie in the theater because, well, there was a scene that involved inappropriate painting, I was told. Also, I was suspiciously certain there was a significant amount of kissing, which I wanted little to do with when I was ten. Yet despite having never seen it in the theater, I knew of the film and I knew of Leo. Oh how I hated his blue eyes and skinny little neck. I honestly don’t know why, but I despised him simply because he was in Titanic, and eventually, to protect my rep, I would brag about not having seen it.

I finally got a chance to watch the film on television, which was an enormous disappointment as a three-hour movie became a five-hour foray that was all the more disappointing for its lack of exposed breasts. I naturally blamed Leo and continued down my confused road of hatred. I begrudgingly enjoyed Catch Me If You Can, but didn’t watch Gangs of New York. Once I graduated high school, though, I realized that maybe I should have given Leo a break. It seemed that he had realized the error of his ways and was doing cool, gritty movies. Remember when your one friend was dating that awful bitch that you told him to dump, but he kept dating her, then they broke up and he came stumbling around and was always buying you pizza to make up for being such a dick? I feel like Leo’s career has been like that.

It’s as if he directly wanted to gain my approval. Like in some bizzaro universe, I was the father Leo never had, and despite all the accolades and praise he’d won for one of the greatest films of all time, I was never satisfied. Since Titanic, he’s made film after film that I love and has become one of my favorite actors. He’s worked with Scorsese, Spielberg, Nolan, Zwick, Scott, and Mendes. He basically could not have picked a more Nate-centric group of directors. Somehow he spoke directly to my heart and apologized for Titanic, how could I not forgive him? So in my forgiveness, after watching his face explode in The Departed, I sat down to watch Titanic during my sophomore year of college. I loved it, and came to realize that I had been simply jealous.

Looking back, I realize that it’s insanely foolish of us to hate teenage heartthrobs out of sheer jealously. What if it was my face that was plastered over every notebook? I’m not nearly as handsome. I didn’t sink down into the icy waters for love. I can’t sketch nearly that good, but I’d be willing to try. It’s taken 15 years, but I’ve come around and am excited to see Titanic in theaters, if only to finally see it on the big screen. Forgiveness is a beautiful thing.

Leo, if it means anything, I think I speak for all us middle-school haters out there: we forgive you. And I for one will gladly spend $14.50 on a revamped 3D version of your classic if only to thank you for the awesome career you’ve delivered post-Titanic. Here’s to you, Leo. You can sleep soundly now that your bizzaro-world father accepts you and is proud of you.

I love you too, Nate...

Now about this Zac Efron character. I hate that guy…

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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.

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.)

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.

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.

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

DiCaprio’s Crappy Prose

By Tom Kapr

Ten years ago, if you told me you thought Leonardo DiCaprio was a good actor, I would have laughed in your face. Right in your face. I would have tried to make you feel bad about your life for having such an opinion. Granted, at that time, I was basing my opinion almost solely on his performance as Jack Dawson in Titanic (of which my opinion has not much changed).

DiCaprio in Shutter Island

DiCaprio in "Shutter Island"

Now, I have to somewhat sheepishly admit that DiCaprio has become one of our best actors. I wasn’t on board until late 2002 when I saw Catch Me If You Can. His performance as master counterfeiter Frank Abagnale Jr., whose daddy issues got him in way over his head with the law in several countries, was astonishing. (I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the credit due to director Steven Spielberg and co-stars Tom Hanks and especially Christopher Walken, who played the senior Frank Abagnale and had some genuinely moving scenes with his on-screen son.)

DiCaprio has since given some of the best star performances of the last decade, mostly in great Martin Scorsese films like Shutter Island (one of this year’s best), The Departed, and The Aviator, in which he gave arguably his best performance to date as Howard Hughes.

But I’m not here to talk about how great Leonardo DiCaprio is. I’m here to take him down a few notches. He is gonna be so burned when he reads this, man.

There seems to be a pattern emerging wherein no matter how great one of his films is, DiCaprio has that one line of stand-out cheesy dialogue that makes me want to throw Macadamia nuts at the screen. (I keep a handful in each pocket at all times for just such an occasion. If you want to follow my example, then also remember not to throw them at actual people who say stupid things. Stupid people have a tendency to react violently when pelted with nuts.)

My favorite example of what I like to call “DiCaprio’s Crappy Prose” is from Titanic, when Jack Dawson overhears that the ship is going down. Leo wrinkles his brow and flatly says, “This is bad.” Really, Jack? Are the impending deaths of 1,517 people bad? Because so is that line reading. (Incidentally, I asked Kevin Costner how he felt about the matter. All he said was, “My boat.”)

Here are a couple more gems (which I already realize might not be verbatim, so chill out):

“You want him to chop me up and feed me to the poor?” We’ve all heard this line about a thousand times, in every single piece of advertising for The Departed over the last four years. Somebody in that marketing campaign either really dug that line, or really hated DiCaprio.

“In America, it’s bling-bling, but out here, it’s bling-bang.” I heard DiCaprio came up with that one himself. I don’t know, maybe it’s more poetic in Afrikaans. But it’s anachronistic in any language. Blood Diamond takes place in the 90s, before that term was popularized.

“Come back with me, so that we can be young men together once more.” I know I’m butchering that line. I guess it’s not so much a bad line, as it is a line that draws more attention to what is already the most nonsensical part of an otherwise amazing film. Here’s my burning question about Inception: Why, in that scene, does DiCaprio’s character still appear so young while Ken Watanabe’s character looks like a mummy? If you’ve seen the film, you understand why I’m asking the question.

And here is the cheesiest line of them all, from the film at the center of the Incidental Dog review crew’s most recent podcastBody of Lies. DiCaprio plays a CIA agent trying to catch a high-ranking member of Al-Qaeda. He’s looking for a patsy to play up as a competing terrorist mastermind, and here is his description of who he wants for the unwitting job:

“Someone between Osama and Oprah.”

You know, I think I actually saw that job listing on Craigslist, and strangely enough, I believe I fit that description. Less militant than Osama bin Laden? Check. More militant than Oprah Winfrey? Check. When do I start?

Keep an ear out for more of DiCaprio’s Crappy Prose in your future film viewings. I will be.

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