Having your Cake and Eating it too in Django Unchained

Why I do declare!  Leo is a VILLAIN!

Why I do declare! Leo is a VILLAIN!

In 1858, somewhere in the Texas wilderness, a German immigrant dentist (Christoph Waltz) comes across some fellas transporting slaves and begins to curiously inquire about a certain one named Django (Jamie Foxx).  Turns out that dentist is a bounty hunter, and he needs Django to identify some targets.  Turns out that Django, once unshackled, is more than happy to oblige.  Thus begins the start of a beautiful friendship in Quentin Tarantino’s latest bit of exploitative hipster shock-schlock historical revisionist revenge fantasy.  In his own signature absurdist self-referencing way, Tarantino combines many of the good elements that made Inglourious Basterds his masterpiece with many of the bad elements of every other overrated film he’s ever made.

See that dentist ain’t such a bad guy, wielding his own brand of justice, and Django has his own personal mission to track down his wife (Kerry Washington, allowed only to cry and get pushed around) who was sold down river in Mississippi to a one Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) of the infamous plantation called…you guessed it…Candie Land.  Thus an episodic journey begins culminating in an overly elaborate scheme to free Django’ wife, and for the first well-paced two hours it’s a pretty damn entertaining ride. Continue reading

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Somewhere Out There I Write a Letter to Sofia Coppola

Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning share some nice moments in Sofia Coppola's SOMEWHERE.

Somewhere out there a great film awaits Sofia Coppola.  In some parallel universe she’s directing a masterpiece.  But not here.  Not yet.

Somewhere is a film that just is what it is…which is a film about nothing.  Even in interviews, the oft-maligned auteur admits in no uncertain terms that the film is really about nothing.  It’s just about the mood…the moment.  And like all of Sofia Coppola’s films, it grows on you as it languidly progresses.  You get used to the cadence and the ennui, the repetitive imagery, the sometimes uncomfortably sustained shots (oh, imagine what she could do with neo-noir or psychological horror) that ultimately signify the vapid nature of isolating stardom and luxury.  And when the bored movie star (Stephen Dorff, scruffy but agreeable) is temporarily interrupted from his nothingness by his bright and mostly cheery young daughter (Elle Fanning), you get a muted fuzzy feeling, melancholy somewhat, and little bits of humor, embarrassment and do-nothingness fun contribute to a glazed, dreamy atmosphere where you like what you see, you get the feeling, and the mood is alright, baby.  But there’s nothing there.

Which brings me to this…which I touched on in some recent exchanges at Jason Marshall’s excellent Movies over Matter blog and have decided to elaborate on here:

Sofia! Stop writing your own scripts! I know, in the brutal irony of the biz, you won an Oscar for your writing…but you are a natural-born director.  With your screenplays you are stuck going around in circles just like your main character’s Ferrari in the opening shot of your new film.  In the end, he’s driving in a straight line seemingly getting as far away from Hollywood as he can.  I hope that is symbolic of you doing the same thing. Continue reading

A Damn Good Flood

Specimen One:  Toby, a former high-ranking member of the now defunct fallaciously pacifist eco-freak religious cult, God’s Gardeners.  Specimen Two:  Ren, a former Gardener, and up until just now, an exotic dancer at Scales & Tails.  Could it be?  Are these two women the last people on earth?  Told in a series of alternating POV’s, flashbacks and flash-forwards, part of the fun of Margaret Atwood’s sometimes laborious novel, The Year of the Flood, is finding out if they are…or if they aren’t…and if they aren’t…who or what awaits them in a post-apocalyptic world?

Though it’s by no means a necessary pre-requisite, perhaps if I had read Atwood’s earlier novel Oryx and Crake (whose events run somewhat parallel to The Year of the Flood in the same futuristic and doomed universe) I would not have been as confused early on, and when certain characters made an appearance or particular events were referenced, there would’ve been more “AHA!” moments for me.   But you see, it’s not so much a grand serial epic or the apocalypse per se that Atwood is most interested in.  It’s the speculation… Continue reading

You Might Be a Basterd If

If shes a Basterd...sign me up!

If she's a Basterd...sign me up!

A Review of INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS:

I walked into Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds expecting non-stop Basterd-style Nazi killing, over the top violence and borderline kitsch.  Sure, there’s some of that, and an anachronistic use of a David Bowie song among other minor albeit forgivable annoyances, but what struck me most was that this was not just a story of Basterd scalping maniacs.  This was also a story of a young Jewish woman named Shosanna (Melanie Laurent) hiding out in Paris under the guise of a cinema operator and her elaborate revenge plot against the bastard SS Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) who murdered her family.  This is a story of a ballsy double agent parading as a German movie star (Diane Kruger) who risks everything for an operation to assassinate Hitler.  And most memorably, and cyclically, this is the story of that ruthless SS Colonel Hans Landa and his inevitable comeuppance after he arrogantly and erroneously plays everyone as if he were the smartest man in the room.  In fact, the whole movie hangs on his story arc.  From the moment at the end of the opening prologue where Shosanna barely escapes from his overreaching grasp, we wait…ever so patiently…to see…in that final scene…Hanz receive his comeuppance.  And Tarantino, in his signature chapter-stop style weaves in all of these stories and others and uses the Basterds (essentially as a McGuffin) as the comic relief.

By all measures, this is Tarantino’s best-looking film.  Continue reading

When the Good Movies Are

Max decides to take a nap and dream of wild things until his movie comes out in October.

Max decides to take a nap and dream of many wild things until his movie comes out in October.

 

With last week’s unnecessary X-Men sequel? prequel? reboot? oh who cares?—and this week’s Star Trek hullabaloo, someone like me is left to wonder when will it be safe to venture back into the darkness of the movie theaters?  Thankfully the summer movie season has become a refuge for some decent counter-programming ignored by most feasting on Hollywood’s fatty products, but even better, it’s a good time to start checking out the early trailers and buzz for the gilded autumnal slate of films reeking of prestige.

Here’s my list of the most anticipated films for Summer 2009 and beyond ordered chronologically by alleged release date.  No sequels or franchises allowed beyond this point!

Drag Me to Hell:  (5/29/09)  This is that horror flick from guru Sam Raimi for those who enjoyed The Evil Dead trilogy over his Spiderman trilogy.  It looks kinda goofy, kinda ghouly and kinda fun with a smoking hot Alison Lohman playing a mortgage broker who gets damned to hell after turning down a little old lady’s application for an extension–how timely!  My only concerns are why this thing isn’t rated R and where the heck is Bruce Campbell?  Check out the trailer or go to hell. 

 

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Alison Lohman can drag me to hell anytime. But I don't think she'll ever approve me for a mortgage.

 

If this one cops-out on the gore, be sure to check out the Norwegian zombie Nazi romp Dead Snow due to infect art-houses in June.

Away We Go: (6/5/09, limited)  After giving us one of the most depressing films of recent memory with Revolutionary Road, Sam Mendes goes all quirky dramedy on us with this one featuring a surprisingly likable John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph as an expecting couple re-examining their life together.  Let’s hope this doesn’t suffer the same unfair fate of Sunshine Cleaning, which was mostly ignored by mainstream audiences due to a bad marketing campaign that endlessly compared it to other (and lesser) quirky dramedies.  Novelist/memoirist du-jour Dave Eggers co-wrote the screenplay.   Check out the trailer or go away.

Public Enemies:  (7/1/09)  This is an A-lister all the way and promises to be the thinking person’s summer event flick.  Michael Mann, who has proven that both filming in digital doesn’t mean things have to be shaky and grainy and that Depression era films need not be saturated in sepia tones, has crafted what looks to be a crackling period gangster flick inspired by true events featuring a swaggering Johnny Depp, an always brooding Christian Bale and a seductively demure Marion Cotillard.  This thing looks like a real brick that is about to be thrown through everyone’s window.  Check out the trailer or go to jail.  I reckon I won’t be all alone when I take that ride come July.

District 9:  (8/14/09)  It’s so rare these days to see a non-franchised non-comic book based sci-fi flick come out during the summer.  It’s even cooler when that sci-fi film is presented by Peter Jackson, has been kept mostly under wraps, and is just now releasing the early stages of an ultra-clever viral marketing campaign.  The trailer for this one is wickedly deceptive (it looks like some political documentary) and reveals just enough of the “alien…shall we say, invasion?” plotline to tantalize viewers.  This one has some major potential for social commentary, satire and some kick-ass alien action as it blends elements from V,  Alien Nation and Starship Troopers.  Check out the humorous mock-site Maths from Outer Space, or better yet, check out the hella-cool trailer.

Antichrist:  (Unknown)  The only thing more interesting to watch than an established director attempting to go back to his roots (see Sam Raimi above) is watching a controversial auteur go off the deep end with something he’s never attempted before.  Here, Great Dane Lars Von Trier (last seen directing people acting on minimalist chalk-lined stages in Dogville and Manderlay) goes the psychological horror route with this tale of an emotionally crippled couple seeking refuge at their cabin in the woods and perhaps coming in contact with…Satan?  Guaranteed to be his most stylistic film since Zentropa (aka Europa), Antichrist‘s reception at this month’s Cannes Film Festival will go a long way in determining its potential success in the States.  Look for a limited Fall release and prepared to be disturbed.

Shutter Island:  (10/2/09)  Leonardo DiCaprio stars in a Martin Scrosese adaptation of a Dennis Lehane novel.  Need I say more?  Added bonus for me:  my favorite underrated actress Emily Mortimer co-stars.  I was in line for this before I even knew it was being made.

 

Emily Mortimer contemplates a vacation to Shutter Island this fall.

Emily Mortimer contemplates a vacation to Shutter Island this fall.

 

Where the Wild Things Are:  (10/19/09)  Any doubts about this Malkovich-less Spike Jonze adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book should be wiped away by what is hands down one of the most infectiously appealing trailers ever crafted.  The versatile Eggers appears again as co-scripter.  Go ahead, get wild and check it out.

Amelia:  (10/23/09)  Will Indian born Mira Nair finally achieve a massive cross-over hit with this bio-pic of Amelia Earhart, or will this be another well intentioned and glossy miscalculation like Vanity Fair?  If Nair can inject the emotional connection she so effortlessly achieved with Salaam Bombay, Monsoon Wedding and The Namesake into the still unsolved mystery surrounding the famed female pilot, then we should be in for something special, and watch out for Hilary Swank in the lead role to nab her third Oscar nod.

Tree of Life:  (Unknown, potentially 2010)  Having once allowed two decades to pass between films, legendary auteur Terrence Malick has now adopted a more Kubrickian five to ten year span between projects.  Given his notoriously long post-production process, this one might not find its way into theaters until the end of 2010 even though principle photography has been completed for some time.  Though this Brad Pitt/Sean Penn drama has been kept tightly under wraps, the advanced buzz surrounding a potential IMAX companion piece and a special effects team working on the “dino shots” make it clear this will be more than just some dreamily poetic coming-of-age mood piece.  For the first time, we might witness Malick go whole-hog.  As such, film purists should be waiting with baited breath.

Other potential films of interest include Quentin Tarantino’s spelling and good-taste-be-damned WWII flick Inglourious Basterds (to be released in August) and James Cameron’s uber-secretive sci-fi epic Avatar (to be released around Christmas) that will either be the biggest bomb or hit of the holiday season.

What films are you most looking forward to?  Leave your top pics in the comment form!

Written by David H. Schleicher

The Best Screenplays of All Time

On Sunday February 22nd at the Oscars, Martin McDonagh will be competing for the Best Original Screenplay for In Bruges.  For me, this was one of the most brilliant scripts in years–darkly comic, heartfelt and compelling, expertly paced and chock full of quotable lines.  Sadly I don’t think it will win–oh, please prove me wrong, Academy–but it made think of all the great scripts from Hollywood’s past.   What films were memorable not just for their imagery, but for the writing as well?  What films contained amazing performances that were great because of the material the performers were given and the dialogue they spoke?

What screenplays are deserving of being considered the best of all time?

Well, here’s this writer’s list:  Continue reading

A Review of the “Grindhouse” Double-Feature

 

 DON’T!!!!! (But I Did), 8 April 2007
7/10
Author:
David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

Like the classic double-features it pays homage to, “Grindhouse” features one half far superior to the other. The two-for-the-price-of-one deal is a mixed bag of schlocky, exploitative crap that pays off early for movie buffs.

“Planet Terror”–8/10. Like his “Sin City,” Robert Rodriguez’s zombie fest is pulpy, unapologetic over-the-top fun. He perfectly captures the spirit of the grindhouse films of old. His film is funny, violent, ridiculous, and pointless in all the right places and continually delivers the money shots of oozing flesh wounds, exploding bodies, severed limbs, decapitations, and chicks with machine guns (and one, Rose McGowan, with a machine gun leg that is every bit as spectacular as you imagined). The cast is all in on the joke and spectacularly game at every point (Marley Shelton as the lesbian anesthesiologist and Jeff Fahey as J.T. “the barbecue man” standing out). Operating at a crisp clip with no-nonsense or any attempt to parade as art, “Planet Terror” offers plenty bang for your buck and could easily stand alone. It’s the perfect example of giddy “insider-fetish” film-making where the director entertains the audience by first pleasing himself.

The “fake trailers” shown before and after “Planet Terror” are laugh-out-loud hilarious and operate brilliantly as both spoofs and homages. My personal favorite was Edgar Wright’s trailer for the searing psychological thriller “DON’T!” which in a sad bit of irony, could’ve been the tag-line for what comes next.

“Death Proof”–5/10. Quentin Tarantino’s rambling tale of an ex-stuntman stalking annoying and shallow women with his “death proof” car operates like a retarded Frankstein monster of a film made up of all the worst parts of Tarantino’s past efforts. A great performance from Kurt Russell and some fun car chase scenes aside, the rest is chock full of bad acting, worse writing and self-satisfied direction. This is the type of film where arbitrary dialogue is spouted by overly hipster actors playing non-characters we can’t wait to see die. Tarantino directs it smugly as he parades women in their undies and hot pants around and shows us some cool cars getting banged up, but it has no sense of fun to it. It’s the perfect example of banal “insider-fetish” film-making that bores its audience because the director first and foremost pleases himself.

Bottom line: Where as the “Kill Bill” films should’ve been edited down to one flick, this movie, joined at that skull like deformed twins, should’ve been severed. Oddly then the film-makers would’ve been left with a horrifying scenario. No one would want to see Tarantino’s half.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database

http://imdb.com/title/tt0462322/usercomments-163