Friday, January 25, 2013

Day 182: Movie 43

"These guys are obsessed with balls."

In the halcyon days before the internet, the fabled "red band trailer" was the sort of thing that would pop up before R-rated movies on VHS from time to time, but it was rare to come across one. Nowadays, studios can release red band trailers for their R-rated movies on the internet and give people a little extra bang for their buck by including jokes, blood & body parts that they can't show in a standard green band trailer.

Films without a ton of substance are therefore forced to give away all the best gags in the film for free, ushering in an era when you can say "they gave away the best jokes in the trailer" about even R-rated films. Unfortunately, the new Movie 43 is the latest film to fall victim to this trend, and one that will likely continue as long as studios churn out ninety minute films with five minutes of laughs.


Ostensibly a throwback to the "sketch comedy" films of the 70s and 80s like Kentucky Fried Movie & Amazon Women on the Moon, Movie 43 is a series of short films tied together by a loose framing device involving a hack writer (Dennis Quaid) pitching a film to a producer (Greg Kinnear). Much like in his days as host of "Talk Soup," most of the film's early humor comes from Kinnear's reactions to the various ridiculous and tasteless stories that Quaid is telling.

The talent on this thing is stacked to the gills, but no one seems to be exerting any sort of actual effort, which makes the whole endeavor that much more shrill in hindsight. Kate Winslet & Hugh Jackman play a couple on a blind date (a comedic premise the film comes back to at least two more times) and the joke is that he has testicles on his neck. The visual gag is funny at first and the sight of two respected actors dealing with exposed balls is funny for about thirty seconds, but the longer it goes on, and the more you realize that there's nothing more to the premise than just that, you begin to get the feeling that there wasn't much thought put into these sketches beyond a funny concept.


The film goes on like this, funny concepts with no real pay-off, with the exception of the story involving real-life couple Liev Schrieber & Naomi Watts as abusive home-schooling parents and the one involving two idiots (Johnny Knoxville & Seann William Scott) kidnapping a leprechaun (Gerard Butler). Both of those sketches have a very clear set-up and punchline, but absolutely none of the rest of them do. In fact, the one involving Stephen Merchant & Halle Berry on a blind date has a perfect punchline, but then they keep the sketch going for another thirty seconds, thereby ruining the perfect punchline they had set up.

Some of the sketches seem to be going for nothing more than having either attractive people (Anna Faris, Chris Pratt, Emma Stone) or grotesque people (the supporting players in Stone's sketch) saying really disgusting things. JB Smoove was hilarious in his section of the Faris & Pratt sketch, but I think that had more to do with my affinity for his particular brand of delivery. Then there are some sketches utterly devoid of a punchline, such as the one involving Richard Gere as the head of an Apple-esque company, dealing with the fallout of a design flaw in its newest product. I hate to be a stickler about this stuff, but when there's a set-up, there needs to be a pay-off.


My least favorite sketch by a mile was the Superhero Speed Dating sketch. The main reason is that in they expanded upon an already funny short from 2005 called Robin's Big Date (which I've embedded below). It's written by the same guy, but it took everything that was charming about that sketch, and amped it up for maximum offensiveness. I like Jason Sudeikis a lot, but he was so thoroughly miscast as Batman in the sketch, especially if you've seen Sam Rockwell's take on the character in the earlier version.

As for the rest of the sketches, if you've seen the trailer, you've seen the funniest parts of them. Terrence Howard's motivational basketball coach sketch didn't have a single joke in it that wasn't in the trailer. Likewise the one with Chloe Grace Moretz as a young girl having her first period at a friend's house (although I will give bonus points to Patrick Warburton & Matt Walsh for adding some levity to an otherwise cringe-inducing segment).


There's a ton of talent in front of and behind the camera here, but the laughs are so spotty and few & far between that it's not worth suffering through a full ninety minutes just to get to them. If you watch the red band trailer, you'll see about eighty percent of the funny jokes in the film, and if that fact scares you, avoid this film at all costs. The audience at my screening wasn't laughing much at all, or they would laugh at the beginning of a sketch, when the premise is revealed, and then the laughs would peter out as they realized that there was nothing more to it than that.

There's a dearth of comedies in the marketplace at the moment, so if you absolutely need to laugh at something, this will give you a few chuckles. But I would only recommend seeing it on someone else's dime or if you have money to burn. Otherwise, stay home, watch the red band trailer and then watch Robin's Big Date. That's a much funnier, and shorter, way to get some laughs.

GO Rating: 1.5/5

[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]

Friday, January 18, 2013

Day 181: Broken City

"There are some wars that you fight, and some that you walk away from. This is the fighting kind."

On paper, the new crime "thriller" Broken City seems like a can't miss proposition. A pedigreed cast, a director who knows his way around a genre picture, and a release date in the doldrums of winter when films like this can thrive. The unfortunate reality of Broken City is that it's a half-baked idea with a script that feels like it was thrown together in a couple of hours. So what went wrong? Read on to find out...


Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) is a disgraced ex-cop, floundering as a low-rent private investigator. His career took a left turn when he was fired by his police sergeant (Jeffrey Wright) for shooting a man who may have been unarmed. One man that purports to believe Taggart's story however is Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe), and offers Taggart a shot at redemption.

The mayor is convinced that his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is having an affair with the campaign director of his opponent in the upcoming election. He calls on Taggart to get to the bottom of the affair, but Taggart is having problems at home with his actress wife (Natalie Martinez) and before you can say avalanche, the subplots, double crosses, betrayals, and absurd character reveals begin to pile up.


I've managed to distill the plot down to a few sentences, but it took me deleting several sentences of description of the various subplots. It's interesting how many thoroughly inconsequential diversions this film takes. There's a ridiculous scene involving Taggart getting drunk at the premiere of his wife's new independent movie, because he can't handle watching his wife have sex with someone else on screen, which is totally jettisoned the minute it ends, and has no further consequences on the plot. There's also a ton of flirtation between Taggart and his "girl Friday" Alona Tal that amounts to nothing more than another dead end.

The case could be made that scenes like these are more about character development than driving the plot, but they only end up seeming even more useless when they do nothing to develop Taggart's character. They only make his motivations more muddled. The film has no central identity from what I can tell, other than, everyone's either corrupt or corruptible, and the number of diversions away from this hint at a film that was either a few drafts away from being polished, or was pared down in editing to the point of retaining a handful of mundane details to make the world feel "fleshed-out." Either way, it's a mess.


Wahlberg is an actor I admire a lot, mainly because he has a preternatural ease on-screen. He's at home in comedy, drama, action, and he usually manages to rise above an otherwise weak film. He's dragged down to this film's depths however, and ends up getting buried in a sullen and uncharismatic role. Zeta-Jones is thoroughly wasted in a glorified cameo role, and even the usually reliable Jeffrey Wright is relegated to a one-note caricature. Only Barry Pepper, as Mayor Hostetler's opponent in the upcoming election seems to have any idea how preposterous the film around him is and manages to have some fun.

This brings me to Russell Crowe. In the late 90's and early 00's, Crowe was one of the most magnetic & dynamic screen actors alive. His performances in L.A. Confidential, The Insider, and Gladiator are outstanding and he even managed to give an excellent performance in the otherwise overrated A Beautiful Mind. In this film, as in his last role in Les Miserables, it almost seems as if he's making consciously awful acting choices. He looks like a half-baked Miami Vice villain in this film with his bad tan & awful haircut, it's just baffling to me that he's taken a left turn into crazy-town lately. I'm not sure if this is a phase he's going through, and I'm still holding out hope that his Jor-El in Man of Steel will be a rebound for him, but its pretty clear he's in a tailspin at the moment.


Allen Hughes made a lot of great films with his brother Albert from Menace II Society to American Pimp, but here he gives new meaning to the term striking out on his own. It doesn't help that the film's script by first time screenwriter Brian Tucker is awful, but this film's biggest problem is that it lacks focus. It starts off fairly interesting, but proceeds to bring nothing new to the table, and it's never a good sign when you can figure out the big "mystery" by the one-hour mark of a two-hour film. I'd love to tell you that Broken City is a decent time-waster, but it's not even that. There are much better films in wide release right now, and unless you've seen them all, don't waste your time or money.

GO Rating: 2/5
[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]

Sunday, January 13, 2013

2013 Golden Globe Predictions

So, the Golden Globes are tonight, and as everyone knows, they're pretty meaningless when it comes to predicting who will win the Oscars nowadays. The guild awards are much better predictors, yet there's still something to be said for the awards which are voted on by a mysterious board of about 60 people known as the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Here are my predictions for tonight, and if all goes well, I'll get to watch the show and do some live-blogging over on facebook (I may not get to see it at all, depending upon family matters, so we'll see). I will be doing an official liveblog of the Oscars right here on my site when that night rolls around, and I will let you know ahead of time how that will work so you can register and be a part of it. It'll be lots of fun. Here are my predictions for tonight...

Best Picture Drama: Will Win: Zero Dark Thirty. Should Win: Argo
Best Picture Musical/Comedy: Will Win: Les Miserables. Should Win: Silver Linings Playbook.
Best Director: Will Win: Kathryn Bigelow. Should Win: Kathryn Bigelow.
Best Actor Drama: Will Win: Daniel Day-Lewis. Should Win: Joaquin Phoenix.
Best Actress Drama: Will Win: Jessica Chastain. Should Win: Naomi Watts.
Best Actor Musical/Comedy: Will Win: Hugh Jackman. Should Win: Bradley Cooper.
Best Actress Musical/Comedy: Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence. Should Win: Jennifer Lawrence.
Best Supporting Actor: Will Win: Tommy Lee Jones. Should Win: Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Best Supporting Actress: Will Win: Anne Hathaway. Should Win: Anne Hathaway.
Best Screenplay: Will Win: Django Unchained. Should Win: Silver Linings Playbook.
Best Original Score: Will Win: Life of Pi. Should Win: Cloud Atlas.
Best Original Song: Will Win: Skyfall. Should Win: Skyfall.
Best Animated Film: Will Win: Wreck-It Ralph. Should Win: Wreck-It Ralph.
Best Foreign Film: Will Win: Amour. Should Win: Amour.

No clue on the tv side, they always seem to pick the least likely winners (Kelsey Grammer for Boss  or Matt LeBlanc for Episodes anyone?) I'll update this tomorrow to see how I fared...

Alright, so I didn't fare as well as last year, getting 10 out of 14 correct, which is still good enough for a passing score. I didn't see Christoph Waltz coming, but I'm happy that he won Supporting Actor for Django, and I really didn't see Argo, Affleck or Brave coming. It's also interesting to note that the ballots for the HFPA had to be in on Tuesday of last week, so them giving Affleck the directing statue was not a rebuffing of the Academy failing to nominate him. This all makes the Oscar race wide open, I guess, but not really considering Lincoln will win 6 awards on Oscar night including Best Picture.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The 10 Best & Worst Films of 2012

It seems absurd to think about, but every year since 1995, I've done a 10 Best & Worst films of the year list. Looking back at this year in film, it was overall a pretty solid year; Definitely not as good as 2010, but much better than 2011. All of the films on my best & worst list, I have done full reviews of here on the site (except for 2), so I'm just going to write briefly about each of them, and then you can check out the full reviews by clicking on the title.

Honorable Mention (in alphabetical order)
The Dark Knight Rises
Zero Dark Thirty

The Best Films of 2012

10. Magic Mike: Apart from being damn entertaining, Magic Mike went a long way toward proving three things: Steven Soderbergh can direct any film in any genre; Channing Tatum actually has talent as an actor; and Matthew McConaughey is a force to be reckoned with when given the right role. He gets my vote for Best Supporting Actor this year.

9. Argo: A top-notch thriller from an actor turned director who is finally finding his place in Hollywood again. Ben Affleck gleefully proves his detractors wrong with one of the best suspense thrillers in years, and even though the runway chase reeked of revisionist Hollywood nonsense, the rest of the film was sublime.

8. Chronicle: Somebody has to say it, so I will. In a year fraught with superhero movies, this low-budget film managed to be the best of them all. This film was the real deal, and even though I could have done without the found footage conceit, they found an innovative way to use it effectively. The most grounded & realistic movie about people with super powers that you're likely to see.

7. Killing Them Softly: Everything that 2007's The Assassination of Jesse James was, this film was the opposite of in the best way possible. That they were directed by and star the same man is even more impressive. This was the best crime movie of the year, and one that will age well, with more and more people coming to appreciate it in the years to come. 

6. Seven Psychopaths: Far and away the funniest film of 2012, Seven Psychopaths proves that when given good material, Colin Farrell can actually be good and Sam Rockwell & Christopher Walken can shine. A fantastic ensemble & one of the best meta-screenplay concepts of all time combined to make this film one that I can't wait to revisit again and again.

5. ParaNorman: Without a doubt, this was the best animated film of the year, and a lovely companion piece to 2009's Coraline. ParaNorman is a fantastically realized and wholly original film, with wonderful messages of acceptance, tolerance & love. In a year packed with animated, 3-D fare, this one stands head and shoulders above the rest.

4. Silver Linings Playbook: You could make a pretty solid case that this is a romantic comedy for people who hate romantic comedies. The reason this film is so successful where the others fail is that it creates characters worth caring about and rooting for. Every performance is fantastic, particularly Bradley Cooper & Robert DeNiro.

3. The Master: Hard to watch, hard to classify, but ultimately, even harder to forget, P.T. Anderson's latest film is a phenomenally unforgettable character study of two soul mates flirting with disaster. Two remarkable performances by the male leads Joaquin Phoenix & Philip Seymour Hoffman, make this a film that both demands and rewards patience & multiple viewings.

2. The Cabin in the Woods: The most original movie of the year was also the most fun and rewarding film of the year. Drew Goddard & Joss Whedon gleefully set up every horror movie trope in the book, and then have an absolute blast knocking them all down. This film is a blast to watch, and holds up so much better on multiple viewings than it has any right to. An instant classic.

1. Cloud Atlas: Years from now, when people look back on 2012, I think there will be a certain embarrassment that will accompany the indifference with which this film was greeted in its theatrical release. The most daring, audacious and awe-inspiring film I've seen in several years, Cloud Atlas is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. An immersive viewing experience that is so masterfully put together, it will blow your mind every time you revisit it. The Wachowskis & Tom Tykwer have made the ultimate book adaptation & set the bar so high for multi-layered ensemble films, that someone will have to reinvent the genre as dramatically as they did to even hold a candle to this film.

The Worst Films of 2012

10. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter: A complete and total misfire, this film bungles every possible opportunity its given to be innovative or even campy fun. Had the people that made this film been willing to have any fun at all with the ridiculous premise that our 16th President was a badass vampire killer, this could have been a decent movie.

9. Moonrise Kingdom: As an ardent fan & admirer of Wes Anderson, I'm baffled by the praise and adulation that greeted this film, his weakest effort by a mile. The characters all feel thoroughly inauthentic and he has substituted quirks for character traits. Unfortunately it's packed to the gills with wacky characters & scenarios, but is almost completely and totally devoid of a heart.

8. Dark Shadows: When he's not reigned in and confined to a limiting set of parameters, Tim Burton has shown himself to be one of the worst directors working. As his budgets have increased, his imagination has decreased, and his films are now hollow shells with none of the personal touches that made his earliest work so wonderful.

7. The Lorax: Another muddled mess of a movie, The Lorax is an exercise in excess. The colors are oppressively bright, the songs are bombastically annoying, and all of the heart and soul of Dr. Seuss' book is buried in a mess of chaos. Economy is the name of the game when adapting a book, and while this is not the worst offender this year, it certainly packed in a ton of unnecessary bloat. 

6. Hitchcock: Another film that has no idea what it wanted to be, Hitchcock tried to distill the essence of a thoroughly complicated man into a ninety minute piece of shlock that he himself would have dismissed as nonsense. Add in a garish makeup job, completely forgettable supporting characters and a plot that verges on preposterous and you have a recipe for disaster, which this film most assuredly was.

5. Prometheus: And while we're on the subject of preposterousness, let's talk about Prometheus. What a nightmare of a film this was. The old working backward strategy for doing a prequel reaches its apex of stupidity here. I only wish they had the balls to make a straight up science fiction film that had nothing to do with Alien, because as it is, it's an insultingly stupid addition to a canon that's full of enough stupidity already.

4. The Expendables 2: How much more of this shit are we going to be made to suffer through? Openly referencing other, better movies is not clever, it just reminds people that these over the hill men used to be in much better movies back before they all looked like aging lesbians. There's no substitute for genuinely clever script writing, and this film has no idea what clever looks like.

3. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: There's a litany of reasons that I disliked this film so intensely, but the main reason is that it is just thoroughly inessential. Inflating a slim volume to epic proportions only serves to illustrate how little material of substance is there to begin with. This is everything that's wrong with book-to-film adaptations, and frankly, the movie-going public deserves better.

2. Hotel Transylvania: This film is the antithesis of ParaNorman. This film is everything that is wrong with animated films: it's lazy, it's uninspired and the animation is dull & flat. Adam Sandler has half-assed his way through every live action scenario imaginable, so now he brings his unique brand of mindless entertainment to animation. This film's success at the box office only further dampens my hope for humanity.

1. Alex Cross: Movies truly do not get worse than Alex Cross. It's sloppily written, ineptly directed and every acting choice made by every person on screen is mind-numbingly stupid. There's not a single redeeming thing that can be said for this film. Tyler Perry is somehow even worse when he's not mugging for the camera every five seconds and Matthew Fox makes some of the most stultifying choices I've ever seen an actor make. Add to that a plot that borders on cretinous, and you've got one of the worst films ever made.

So there you have it... Argue away!

Day 180: Zero Dark Thirty

"You can't run a global network of interconnected cells from a cave."

In 2009 Kathryn Bigelow, one of the true journeyman (or journeywoman) directors of all time, finally got her due and was recognized with an Academy Award for directing the Iraq War-set film The Hurt Locker. For her follow-up, Zero Dark Thirty, she stays in familiar territory, chronicling the decade-long hunt for the mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America, Osama bin Laden. In spite of knowing exactly how things turned out, Bigelow & screenwriter Mark Boal have managed to turn a foregone conclusion into a white-knuckle thriller.

The film opens with several audio clips from the morning of September 11, from air traffic control workers to 911 calls from people inside the towers. It sets an appropriate tone, in that it gives the audience a very clear reminder of the importance of the manhunt that follows. A CIA operative named Maya (Jessica Chastain) arrives in Afghanistan in 2003 where she is introduced to Dan (Jason Clarke) one of the main operatives leading torture-based interrogations of detainees. The film follows Maya's attempts to gain intelligence on the whereabouts of bin Laden & try to succeed where all others have failed, in taking him down.

She follows several leads, but she is constantly drawn in by information about one man in particular, Abu Ahmed, a trusted courier in Al Qaeda's network, who may have intimate knowledge of bin Laden's whereabouts. The film shows that the path that lead to bin Laden's ultimate discovery was fraught with dead ends, massive failures in intelligence gathering, and lots of pure luck, but mostly through the determination of Maya to not give up at any cost.

The character of Maya is a clear amalgamation of several people, but similar to how Boal & Bigelow created the character of Sgt. James in The Hurt Locker, they feel that focusing in on one main character can consolidate events & give the audience someone they can connect with and root for. As successful as they were in their previous effort, this is the main shortcoming of Zero Dark Thirty. There's no true emotional core to the film; It's purely clinical. The film is riveting and fascinating, but any attempt that they make to infuse any sort of emotional connection to the characters is met with indifference from the audience. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing will likely be up to the individual viewers, but as much as I loved the film, I wanted to have some investment in its characters, particularly Maya.

Getting that out of the way, I can focus in on what worked about the film, and the answer is virtually everything else. The film is brilliantly structured so that every scene gives you a piece of information that leads you into the next scene. It's a classic thriller, in every sense of the word, and the way it ratchets up the tension and the stakes is masterful. The raid on bin Laden's compound that takes up the last half hour of the film is unbearably intense in the best possible way, and most importantly, it's 157-minute running time does not feel anywhere near as long as it sounds. I doubt it will work as well in subsequent viewings as it did in my first, but it's incredibly well paced for such a long movie.

As for the 800-pound gorilla in the room, I have only this to say about the film's depiction of torture being used on detainees. It's an undeniable fact that torture was used and yielded at least partial answers that ultimately led to bin Laden's discovery. The film does not glorify torture in the way that a show like 24 did; It depicts it as being as brutal as it actually is. The film doesn't have a pro-torture stance, it simply has a pro-factual stance, and it was undeniably a crucial part of unraveling the full mystery of where bin Laden was. The film is not interested in examining the moral implications of such tactics, which many will say makes it guilty simply by that virtue, but I don't see this film as the proper place to debate whether or not torture is an effective means of gathering intelligence. It happened, it worked, and the film moves on from there.

The performances are all very good, but they're all in service of the overall plot of the film. Chastain is very good as Maya, but not in the same way that Jeremy Renner shined in The Hurt Locker. It's a very different kind of character, and she doesn't start getting really juicy scenes until late in the second act. She's very good in the film, but is not the main reason for the film's success in the same way Renner was in The Hurt Locker. Jason Clarke is very good in his role as well, as are Mark Strong & Kyle Chandler. Joel Edgerton & Chris Pratt are also very good at establishing some character for the men in Seal Team Six, but once they get their gear on, they're totally indistinguishable from one another.

Zero Dark Thirty is an excellent film, but it's not revelatory. It's a solid thriller and will likely earn its place in cinema history through its social and cultural relevance, and the fact that it's damn entertaining. I'm just not sure that completely sealing it off from an emotional connection to the audience was the right move to make. It's virtually impossible not to admire the film, but the final shot ends up feeling hollow because of the total dearth of emotional connection that leads up to it. The film is pure Mr. Spock logical, all the way, but trying to tack on a Wrath of Khan-esque ending falls short because it skirts everything that's not relevant to the plot, namely personal connection & emotion. You won't help but appreciate the film, but I doubt you'll truly love it.

GO Rating: 4/5

[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]

Monday, January 7, 2013

Day 179: The Impossible


Director J.A. Bayona's directorial debut was 2006's The Orphanage, a film that seemed like it was going to be a rote, by-the-numbers psychological horror film. It actually turned out to be one of the better horror films made in the last decade, with tons of style to spare. When I heard that his follow-up would be a chronicle of one family's survival in the wake of the tsunami that hit Southeast Asia in late 2004, I was eagerly anticipating what he would bring to the table. The Impossible proves that his first film was no fluke, and that Bayona is the real deal behind the camera.


The Impossible begins with a family arriving for Christmas vacation in Khao Lak, Thailand. Maria (Naomi Watts), Henry (Ewan McGregor) and their three sons are enjoying the tropical paradise, when seemingly out of nowhere, a gargantuan tsunami swallows up the entire area around their resort. Maria is swept away from the resort, but is soon reunited with her oldest son Lucas (Tom Holland) and they try to stay together and find help. Henry was not taken far from the resort, and finds the two youngest sons almost immediately.

Neither group knows if the other is alive, but Henry is determined to look for his wife and oldest son, sending the two younger sons up to safety in the mountains with a group of survivors. Lucas & Maria are taken to a hospital, as Maria must be treated immediately for some pretty gruesome injuries she sustained in the flood. Lucas bides his time waiting for his mother to recover by trying to reunite other survivors with their families.


First of all, I have to say that this film is unrelentingly brutal. For a PG-13 film, it has some truly harrowing moments that will test the fortitude of even the most stoic film goers. It doesn't spare any of the gory details, yet never feels exploitative. They probably dialed back what some of the actual injuries sustained would have been like, but beware, it is not for the faint of heart.

The film is also emotionally harrowing. It is an emotional rollercoaster, and anyone attending had better be prepared to have a good cry, particularly if you're a parent. It's a daunting film to sit through, and the two scenes where we see what happened to Maria in the current of the storm are as unsettling as any scene from a horror film. Bayona seemed like an unconventional choice for this sort of narrative, but his background in horror serves him well in depicting the sort of emotional & physical trauma inflicted upon these characters.


The performances are all very good. McGregor in particular shines in what is a supporting role, but the scene when he finally manages to call home and let his family overseas know that he and his sons are alive was especially raw and emotional. Watts & Holland do most of the heavy lifting, and the film spends the bulk of its time with them. Watts is outstanding, as always, but Holland shows that he is able to hold his own on screen, and ends up being the star of the film. He is a captivating young actor, and I look forward to seeing what he does in the future.

My biggest complaint with The Impossible is that it's just too emotionally brutal for me to ever want to watch it again. It's a draining two hours, and you'll feel utterly spent at the end of it, and none too eager to relive it any time soon. It's an important film, and deals with the reality of this situation in unsparing detail, I just don't see myself purchasing this film when it's released on blu-ray, nor do I see myself running back to the theater to see it again.


If you're in the mood for an extremely powerful and ultimately uplifting tale about the triumph of the human spirit, you could do a lot worse than The Impossible. It's excellently made and a truly visceral movie going experience, just don't expect to find yourself bounding out of the theater with a new lease on life. It will likely knock the wind out of you, which seems to be its main goal. We need movies like this in the world, I just don't know if I'd be able to handle ever seeing it again.

GO Rating: 3.5/5

[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Day 178: Django Unchained

"You doubt he'd approve?"
"Yes, his approval would be a dubious proposition at best."

I can safely say that at this point in time, Quentin Tarantino is only interested in making films that appeal to people who like Quentin Tarantino films. If you do not fall firmly into this category, you will find nothing about Django Unchained to make you a true believer. It is everything people have come to expect from Tarantino. It contains everything his most ardent fans & his most adamant detractors have accused him of: excessive violence, colorful language, revisionist history, larger than life characters. If you're a fan, you'll find a lot to love. If you're not, you'll have plenty of ammunition to mount a constructive takedown of the film. There's a very clear dividing line to this film, almost more so than any other film he's made, and the fact that it plays to such extremes makes that divide all the more pronounced.

Having said all of that, I would count myself among Tarantino's fans. Inglourious Basterds put me pretty firmly back in that camp after I thought that the one-two punch of Death Proof & Kill Bill Vol. 2 had permanently removed me from it. Anchored by two incredibly effective lead performances, Inglorious Basterds had all of the over the top zeal and flair for the dramatic that made it such a bold leap forward from his earlier, more grounded work. I liked the direction that his career was heading, and looked forward to whatever came next.

What came next is Django Unchained, and while there is a lot to love about it as a film, it's not as complete a work as Basterds was in my opinion. The film, set in 1858, tells the story of a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) who is bought by a bounty hunter named Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) because he can identify three men, The Brittle Brothers, that Schultz is in the process of trying to claim a bounty on. Being a German that despises slavery, Schultz promises Django that once he identifies the Brittle Brothers, he will pay him $75 and grant him his freedom. Django proves to be handy with a gun, and Schultz offers to train him to be a bounty hunter as well, sweetening the deal for Django.

Django's true aim in life, however, is to find and free his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), whom they discover is currently owned by a detestable man by the name of Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Candie owns a plantation by the name of Candie Land where he trains slaves to partake in "Mandingo Fighting" which is essentially one-on-one slave combat to the death. Schultz offers to pose as a man interested in getting into the Mandingo Fighting game so that Django can purchase his wife's freedom. Matters are complicated, however, when Candie's head house slave Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) gets wise to their true intentions, and seeks to prevent his master from being taken advantage of.

Let me start by saying that there were a lot of things that I really enjoyed about this film. It's certainly one of Tarantino's funniest films, with more laughs than I expected there to be. I was also a fan of the unusual soundtrack choices he made, such as using Jim Croce's "I Got a Name," Richie Havens' "Freedom," and Johnny Cash's "Ain't No Grave." Previously he had only hinted at such eclectically anachronistic choices by using David Bowie's "Cat People" in Basterds, but he goes balls to the wall inaccurate in this film, and for me it worked brilliantly.

The performances are also fantastic. Waltz proves that he is an actor perfectly suited to Tarantino's dialogue. He has an amazing talent for actually elevating the material, and his line deliveries are fantastic. While he's not as good as he was in Basterds (nor will he likely ever be) he's pretty phenomenal in this film. Foxx is fantastic as well. His character is stoic and doesn't say much, but he uses the minimal dialogue he does have to great effect. DiCaprio is very good here as well, although a choice he made in a scene late in Act II took me out of his character for a moment, but he's otherwise solid. Jackson is great beyond words as well. He's done so much garbage in the past few years that it's easy to forget what a great actor he can be in the right role, and he does a terrific job of making you forget that he's Samuel L. Jackson, something he's almost never wholly successful at doing.

The handful of complaints that I have about the film kept me from loving it fully. First and foremost, it's his most poorly edited film ever. I know that it's a bit of an unfair slight to make since we lost his longtime editor Sally Menke in 2010, but the film suffers from a bit too much bloat. It's never boring, but I could feel myself thinking during certain scenes (the bag mob, the Australians) that they would really weigh the film down on subsequent viewings. There were also no unbearably tense scenes like Basterds had. That film's opening scene and the scene in the basement bar were masterfully shot and written for maximum intensity and a constant ratcheting up of the tension. This film had none of that, save for maybe one scene that telegraphed where it was headed way too soon (the scene in the library between Schultz & Candie).

I was also somewhat disappointed in the character of Broomhilda. She was nothing more than a plot device, and for Tarantino who has prided himself on creating such strong female characters in the past, he really gave her very little to do. Washington is very good in the role, but there's not much that she was given with which to work. Tarantino also should never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever allow himself to be in his own movies. He'd been good about this for a while, but his role near the end of the film almost completely derailed the entire film for me. Stop acting sir, you're a terrible actor.

Having said all that, the good significantly outweighs the bad in this film, and overall I really did enjoy the film. The performances are stellar, the directorial choices are appropriately showy, the script has some great dialogue and the humor really helps to alleviate the brutal subject matter. When taken as a whole though, I was just left wanting a little bit less. If Tarantino had reigned himself in some and chopped twenty minutes off of the film, it could have been great. But at the end of the day, I'll take a very good movie over 90% of the other films out there.

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