Django Unchained (2012)

Django UnchainedDjango Unchained

Release Date: December 25, 2012

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Stars: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio

Runtime: 165 min

Tagline: Life, liberty and the pursuit of vengeance

Quentin Tarantino has brought us many great films like Pulp Fiction, the two Kill Bill films, Inglourious Basterds, and now, he has given us the extraordinary Django Unchained, his best and longest feature yet. The spaghetti western inspired Django Unchained follows the titular character, Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave-turned-bounty hunter who gets purchased by a former dentist, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). King purchases Django with the intent of Django assisting him with finding the Brittle brothers, a trio who each have high prices on their heads. Schultz soon mentors Django and he makes him his deputy, and after a winter of killing criminals and collecting pay, King feels responsible for the young Django; so he wants to help him find his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). This leads the two to Candyland, a plantation ran by the most ruthless slave/plantation owner in all of Mississippi, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Tarantino is a man who strives on creativity, and the creativity is ever-so-evident here. It is stunningly brilliant and creative. It is one of the most original screenplays of 2012, in fact. The writing is immaculate, with flairs of dark comedy throughout the feature. Like a kid in a candy store who can’t help but ask for a chocolate bar, Tarantino just can’t itch that need to entertain his audience. Even during the most serious of situations, he writes in the humor with his great talent. This shouldn’t really be classified as a comedy because the laughs are far between, but when the funny material is there, it makes this one hilarious experience. He is one of the greatest working writers in cinema, and I would love to know what lucky pen he uses.

His usual direction is there, too, and those aspects aren’t the only great things. The characters, the performances and the soundtrack are the other real highlights. Oh, and the topics that are explored are very well done.

There’s not a lot to say about the soundtrack, except the theme song is amazing and the music fits perfectly for this story.

The concepts of slavery and racism back in this time are never dropped. They play running themes in the film, and they are quite fascinating, really. Mostly everyone treated the blacks like scum back in the late 1850s and 1860s. Now, when I say mostly everyone, I mean everyone but Schultz. He is originally from Germany, and he often thinks how unfairly these black people get treated as often baffling. He is also against slavery, as he states when he explains to Django of what he wants from him. When Django is riding one of Schultz’ horses, he doesn’t understand why everyone is staring at them. He is the face of those who are more tender to the black people, even for a bounty hunter. This person seemed to be very rare, indeed, back in the 1860s.

I knew black people got treated unfairly back in this time (and around the time of the 1960s, as well), but never this unfairly, to a point of even fighting to the death. They are traded and sold like it’s an everyday occurrence, which, back then, it was. Well, thanks Tarantino, for giving me an idea of what people did to the slaves. I know it may not be completely accurate since, let’s not forget, Tarantino is a very creative and imaginative man.

Schultz treats Django like an equal, and brings him his freedom, two things Django had never received from a white man before. This causes their relationship to appear quite unique in this time, and it is a great thing. To us, the audience, it feels natural – even though it does not seem this way to anyone else. Everyone assumes that Django is yet another slave, but people are often shocked when they learn he is actually a free man. They just think he’s yet another black man. While I am on the topic, racial slurs are used excessively, but it is merely to show how people actually treated them back then.

Racism is explored, but it is actually explored more subtly than slavery. Slavery is explored relentlessly and sort-of ruthlessly, but not in a bad way. The amount of ruthless material is exactly what you’d expect from Quentin Tarantino. Slave owners and others are completely brutal to the slaves – they whip, place them in hot boxes, and often make them fight to the death, among other immoral and ruthless acts. Keep in mind, to most white folk, these acts were not immoral at this point in history. These two themes of racism of slavery are explored expertly.

The first half of the film is very, very entertaining because we get to watch the two bounty hunters (Django, Schultz) kill and have a few yuks while doing it. These themes of racism and slavery are very much there near the beginning, but these two concepts become more ruthless when Monsier Calvin Candie makes his first appearance. He first shows up while watching two of his “Mandingo fighters” fight to his death, which first gives you a glimpse at his sadistic personality. This man is completely chilling and ruthless, but is nonetheless fascinating and often funny, and he is a villain you’ll love to hate. He just about steals every scene he is in, and Leonardo DiCaprio is in a role that should finally win him that Oscar. He is the best villain of the year. He is better than Javier Bardem as Silva in Skyfall, and I did not believe anyone could out-perform that man, and he did it. And he did it well.

Leonardo DiCaprio is certainly the best performer of the bunch in this film, and he steals just about each scene he’s in. Christoph Waltz is also a great supporting actor, and the character change is interesting: a Nazi (in Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino’s last film) to a bounty hunter in this film. Jamie Foxx isn’t worthy of many awards in a year of so many great leads, but he’s a great performer altogether. He captures the emotions of intensity of all kinds. Kerry Washington and Samuel L. Jackson (as Stephen) are also fine.

In a nutshell: Django Unchained is Tarantino’s finest film yet, and it’s truly an exhilarating experience.  It’s a great story about survival and it has great themes of racism and slavery, that Tarantino explores expertly. The performances, the writing, the soundtrack the direction and the themes are all immaculate. Sorry, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, this takes over as my favourite of the year.

100/100

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Les Misérables (2012)

Les MiserablesLes Misérables

Release Date: December 25, 2012

Director: Tom Hooper

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway

Runtime: 157 min

Tagline: Fight. Dream. Hope. Love.

Based on the original stage production of the same name, this tells the story of a slave prisoner who skips on his parole, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman). Throughout his life, a police inspector, Javert (Russell Crowe), is close on his tail. After Valjean vows to a factory worker by the name of Fantine (Anne Hathaway) to take care of her daughter, Cosette, his life is changed forever.

I have not seen the original play, and I hadn’t even heard of the play before seeing this feature. Does that mean I live under a rock? Not really, but if I did, it would be a really fancy rock. Anyway, all the knowledge I had of this film going in was the slim plot synopsis on IMDb, and I saw a few of the trailers.

Expectations: exceeded. This is a fine feature that has superb direction, great costumes, a beautiful yet heartbreaking story, and one heck of an ensemble cast. The cinematography is fine (there’s a scene that’s hard on the eyes), and with the actor’s legitimate singing voices complementing the film and its phenomenal imagery, it might as well feel like the real on-stage production.

The only thing that makes it not feel like the actual on-stage production is all the information that comes at you. With a stage production, there would be short breaks to change sets and let the audience absorb what just happened; but this goes from set to set, and time period to new time period. This poor transition of scenes makes it feel like there’s a lot more to absorb. In a way, this is much like ‘Lincoln’ earlier this year, that film just shot information at you (even though this isn’t as bad).

One more thing that feels off about the film: the make-up. The costume design is stellar, but some characters are neglected regarding make-up because they don’t look like they age a day. They make Jackman look a little more older and exhausted as it goes along, and he looks like his hair has grayed; but Crowe doesn’t look as if he’s getting any older, over a span of seventeen years (or however many it is). He looks exactly the same. The same with the “comic relief” innkeepers (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter), they really don’t age.

The story is all about never giving up and searching for freedom wherever it may present itself. It’s also a great analysis of the survival of the human spirit, and the things it trudges along through. Though, the message gets slightly preachy. It feels more preachy than it is because they’re singing it to you! They sing to you all about revolutions because of poverty and searching for that said freedom, finding love, and it’s also a story about self-sacrifice and redemption. However, I was willing to accept it for what it is.

Valjean is a man really about always starting over and making it a clean slate for himself. I mean, he gets enslaved for nineteen years because he stole a loaf of bread. He soon highly becomes consumed with just protecting Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), the young girl who has become a daughter to him. All the other characters are pretty great, especially the villain you love to hate – Javert. He’s a good singer too, as is everyone else involved in this project. He is a man who lives by the law, despite all the times Valjean (who Javert usually refers to as Prisoner 24601, a number you won’t soon forget) tries to convince him to have a heart and let him go.

The only irritating character is a young boy named Gavroche, a petite thing part of the young people revolution. I understand that, at his core, the face of innocence – he’s just really, really, stupid.

Fantine is a character that really helps him [Valjean] change even further. She and he didn’t realize, that at the time, her asking him to take care of Cosette would be a life-changing experience for him. Fantine is a desperate woman trying to care for her daughter in a time of poverty, and her story is truly heartbreaking. She steals the scenes she is in with an Oscar-worthy performance (Jackman is also worthy of an Oscar), but the other performers are great, and they each capture the emotions they are supposed to, and they each sing with great heart. The ensemble make it that much more enjoyable. The young Eddie Redmayne shows some strong potential for more leading man roles, as he is one heck of a singer and a great actor. He also proves other people besides fat ladies can have a solid operatic voice.

While the story is slightly preachy, it undeniably has a very emotional core, making this one of the most emotionally vast films of 2012. The story is truly great, but it is definitely not the feel-good flick of the year. Each of the primary characters don’t want to be held back any longer, and live a better life than what they know. If the actors weren’t singing the vast majority of their dialogue, the film wouldn’t be quite as exciting. I am a sucker for period pieces, and now, I’m a sucker for this sort of profound musical.

In a nutshell: Les Misérables has a slightly preachy story, but it has a fine emotional core and a great set of characters and great actors that sweep you up into the sad story even more. You might as well be watching the on-stage production itself.

85/100

The Watch (2012)

WatchThe Watch

Release Date: July 27, 2012

Director: Akiva Schaffer

Stars: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill

Runtime: 102 min

Tagline: Got protection?

In the town of Glenview, Ohio, Evan is the store manager of the local Costco. He is guilt-stricken after his night watchman, Antonio Guzman, gets mysteriously murdered in his store. Because of this, he constructs a neighbourhood watch with middle-aged Bob (Vince Vaughn); the guy with all the mental problems, Franklin (Jonah Hill); and the British dude whose parents couldn’t give him a logical name, Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade). Their initial purpose is to protect the neighbourhood from the baddies and instil justice wherever possible and find the killer of Antonio; but their purpose soon alters into being protectors of the whole earth, who must stop a gang of skin-stealing aliens from taking over the entire planet as we know it!

This little gang might as well be the alien-versing version of the Ghostbusters, but they don’t have a catchy jingle or cool gadgets. Excluding that cool orb they acquire from the opposing side. The aliens might as well be the other-worldly weird country cousins of Leatherface who take the body’s skin instead of just the face. So, it’s Alienbusters vs. Alien Leatherbodies. That sounds promising, or maybe even a little, dare I say, scary; right? Wrong. The only thing scary about this feature is its staggering waste of potential.

Do any of you remember last year’s surprise British hit, Attack the Block? I’m convinced Stern, Rogen and Goldberg were inspired by that flick to make a more successful American alien comedy. If this is the case, it was an ambitious idea at best, but the end product is not rewarding. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of the two writers (Rogen & Goldberg) involved in this project, but it simply isn’t in the right hands.

Maybe don’t allow Akiva Schaffer, director of SNL digital shorts and Hot Rod, direct this film. Next time, get someone with a bit more experience in directing: Jay Roach, a man who has dabbled in directing comedy (Austin Powers franchise, Meet the Parents and its two sequels) and producing science fiction (The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). And get some funny consultants, maybe Judd Apatow or Kevin Smith. Then again, I don’t have any power in Hollywood. I just enjoy my crude humour to be usually funny. And the laughs it does offer are limited and far between each other.

The premise of this is promising: mashing a good old sci-fi story of protecting the world from invaders with a great buddy (plus a few) comedy sounds great. It doesn’t turn out to be as great. In fact, it doesn’t really even turn out to be good. There wasn’t a lot of thought put into the story, as it only offers a few original ideas. The actors on their own are usually funny (Vaughn, Hill, Forte and frequent TV actor Ayoade in particular, sometimes Stiller), but when they come together, all of them don’t look like they’re having the most fun in the world. Or in the galaxy. Ayode looks like he’s having a blast most of the time; Forte is making the best of an unfunny character; Vaughn is trying to make the best of it; and Stiller and Hill (who is probably the funniest of the bunch) look like they want their freaking paychecks already. Well, boys, while watching The Watch, I often just want the end credits to roll.

In a nutshell: The Watch wastes the opportunity to do something with a nice but not original premise. The writing, character development and some of the actors wanting to be done with this project don’t complement the initial good idea at hand. The end product offers something to be desired in both the comedy (there’s only a few laugh-out-loud moments) and science fiction departments. It really is not as good as you’ll want it to be.

45/100

Jack Reacher (2012)

Jack Reacher

Jack Reacher

Release Date: December 21, 2012

Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Stars: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins

Runtime: 130 min

Tagline: The law has limits. He does not.

A homicide investigator, Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise), digs deeper into a case involving a trained military sniper who shot five random victims.

Yes, the plot is as simple as it sounds. But it’s effectively simple. It seems that McQuarrie adapts the novel, ‘One Shot’ by Lee Child, very well. While the story is as simple as mystery/thrillers get, it is exciting, and it’s a mystery that often keeps you guessing who is innocent, and who is guilty.

Unfortunately, the simple plot can get silly, and there are a few holes in the story telling. The motive of the baddies is stated, but it is never explored or even fully explained. They’re just up against Mr. Reacher.

Initially, there was some skepticism behind the casting of Tom Cruise, a miniature 5-foot-7 man, playing the 6-foot-5 brute from the novels. There’s a pretty large difference between the two statures. Because, hell, if Reacher is 6-foot-5, I’m Michael Jordan playing basketball poorly. It’s just not something you’re going to believe. Anyway, the end product is superb. Cruise kicks major ass, and after seeing him do it so well, it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the shoes of a not-so-over-bearing Reacher.

This is a mystery/thriller that should be treasured during this century. It’s an incredible simple mystery that has some real old-fashioned action sequences that hold you by the throat. Cruise’s undeniable charisma and the helpings of funny lines make it that much more enjoyable, and it holds one’s attention even more. If you ever start to find yourself uninterested, don’t worry, there’s probably a chase scene or a fight scene just around the bend. Hang in there!

The supporting cast help out with carrying the flick, too. Pike is just mighty sexy, and she’s a great British actress to watch. Richard Jenkins is great in just about everything he does, also. Robert Duvall offers more than a few funny lines, and his role is great for that. There are many other performers there, but this is very much Cruise’s show – and no one steals that from him.

If there’s anything better than Cruise himself, it is probably the interesting cinematography or the more-than-unsettling opening scene. The camerawork and there are some nice angles worked into the feature. In the opening scene, the viewer sees all the victims get shot. Right through the scope of the man’s sniper rifle. It goes over everyone the man is planning to kill, and it does it to the sound of his heavy breathing. It is mostly suspenseful because you do not know who he is going to choose. It is one of the most grippingly suspenseful scenes of the feature, and there are only a few other scenes that are better than it.

In a nutshell: Jack Reacher is a very fun mystery action/thriller that offers solid entertainment and more than a few memorable action scenes. The plot is effective and there may be some holes in its story, but that really doesn’t get in the way of enjoyment during. The surprising bites of humour make it that much more and enjoyable, and I am pleased to welcome this old-fashioned-lives-by-his-own-rules investigator to action cinema.

75/100

December 21 – 23 Box Office Results

Sorry for the really late post, I was away and didn’t have any internet access. I’ve also waited too long to post my predictions for this weekend. Anyway, here are the results for Dec. 21 – 23. 

If you missed any of my reviews in the Top 10 Box Office, just click on the title and the link will take you right to the review!

1. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey$36, 900, 000

2. Jack Reacher$16, 000, 000

3. This is 40$11, 500, 000

4. Rise of the Guardians$6, 000, 000

5. Lincoln: $5, 500, 000

6.  The Guilt Trip: $5, 400, 000

7. Monsters, Inc. (3D)$5, 000, 000

8. Skyfall: $4, 700, 000

9. Life of Pi$4, 000, 000

10. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2: $2, 600, 000

My Box Office Predictions (Title/Prediction/Off by(+/-))

1. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey$45, 000, 000(+) $8, 100, 000

2. Jack Reacher/ $18, 900, 000(+) $2, 900, 000

3. This is 40/ $14, 000, 000(+) $2, 500, 000

4. Rise of the Guardians/ $6, 000, 000(+/-) $0 (YAY, my first spot-on prediction)

5. Lincoln$5, 900, 000(+) $400, 000

6. The Guilt Trip/ $9, 500, 000(+) $4, 100, 000

7. Monsters, Inc. (3D)/ $16, 000, 000(+) $11, 000, 000

8. Skyfall$5, 000, 000(+) $300, 000

9. Life of Pi/ $3, 800, 000(-) $200, 000

10. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2$3, 000, 000(+) $400, 000

Other Predictions

11. Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away/ $2, 800, 000(+) $800, 000

21. Zero Dark Thirty/ $112, 000(-) $298, 000

24. The Impossible/ $186, 000(+) $43, 000

34. Amour/ $60, 000(-) $8,000

36. On the Road/ $45, 000(+) $6,000

44. Not Fade Away$6,500(+) $12, 500

I was off by a grand total of $31, 067, 500.

My reviews of other films in theatres

Argo

Chasing Mavericks

End of Watch

House at the End of the Street

Killing Them Softly

Looper

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Seven Psychopaths

Sinister

Taken 2

Wanderlust (2012)

WanderlustWanderlust

Release Date: February 24, 2012

Director: David Wain

Stars: Paul Rudd, Jennifer Aniston, Malin Åkerman

Runtime: 98 min

Tagline: Leave your baggage behind

George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston) are a Manhattan couple suddenly stricken with unemployment. They must relocate to George’s brother’s place in Atlanta to survive in this dog-eat-dog world. Along the way, they stop at Elysium Bed and Breakfast, a small commune away from society where hippies get high and play instruments. George starts to enjoy this place, and when he actually gets to his brother’s place – he realizes he doesn’t want to be bossed around in what may be his last days on earth, he wants it to be filled with love and enjoyment. The couple agree to a trial-run of two weeks at Elysium, a place where free love rules. At first Linda is skeptical, but eventually, she starts to enjoy it a little more than he does.

As far as strange mainstream comedies go, Wanderlust is pretty high up on the list. There’s a running theme of peace and love throughout the feature; but basically, it’s about the relationship and struggles between George and Linda. George has more of a conservative attitude, and Linda’s attitude changes over time to match that of Elysium. George, as a man, says he’s okay with the free love attitude – but he really isn’t. This brings rise to some very poor communication problems, but it also brings rise to the funniest scene of the film where George wants to put his diack in Eva (Malin Åkerman). Really and truly, that’s the only scene that could get me to laugh my ass off in any way, thanks to the comedic talent of Paul Rudd. Other than that, there is usually just some chuckles and little laughs along the way. The only sort-of good characters are George, Linda (if you can dismiss her irritating behaviour and Anniston’s traditional rom-com humour), and Eva (but it really helps that Åkerman is really sexy). Though, the characters portrayed by Jordan Peele and Joe Lo Truglio are pretty funny. Alan Alda’s character is good at first, but he soon gets irritating. The most annoying character is Kathy, a character whose jokes don’t make you laugh, they make you uncomfortable. She is unbearably irritating and frustrating.

There’s a message of leave the real world behind and see what life is like without all the technology and the influence of the media. This is a pleasant message because it is never shoved down the audience’s throat, and it is only subtly evident.

Wanderlust falls victim to some romantic comedy cliches, but not enough to make the film unbearable. It’s fairly predictable, sometimes dull, sometimes obnoxious, and it has a lot of hit-and-miss characters and jokes. It’s usually fun and entertaining, too, though.The purpose isn’t too evident, but Rudd, Aniston and Åkerman carry it well. The worst thing about this film is probably the nudity: there is a lot of nudity, but the ones taking off their clothes aren’t the ones you’d want to see nude (and when Aniston is, she’s censored).

65/100

A quick review of A Christmas Story (1983)

A Christmas StoryReleased: November 18, 1983Director: Bob ClarkStars: Peter Billingsley, Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavinRuntime: 94 min.

A Christmas Story is a refreshingly simple tale for the holidays.

All Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) wants for the holidays is a Red Ryder B.B. Gun. He must convince his parents, his teacher, and even Santa Claus that it is the perfect Christmas gift for children in the 1940s.

There’s awesome comedy and this offers some real sweet nostalgia, we all remember a time where we really wanted a Christmas gift, and no one would get it for us. This is just one of the most memorable Christmas stories of just one of those times. Ralphie’s a kid with a wicked imagination, who probably won’t poke his eye out with the freaking thing – but his glasses might get broken in the process. It also teaches us the pleasant feeling of getting what we so desire.

Score100/100