Friday, December 28, 2012

Django Unchained

Watching Writer/Director Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained is like seeing a comic book come to life.

The film is typical “Tarantino” with over-the-top acting and blood and guts exploding all over the place.  You’re not revolted, however, because the screen titles and music let you know from the get-go that this is a tongue-in-cheek farce that is meant to amuse more than take seriously.

Jamie Foxx is a wonderful Django, a slave bought and made a freeman by the equally wonderful Christoph Waltz, who plays former dentist, now bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz.  Together, the two take down crooks and killers, who have prices on their heads before scourging the South of slave owners and rednecks in the advent of the Civil War.
The Southerners include Don Big Daddy Johnson and Leonardo Calvin Candie DiCaprio, both of whom turn in bravado performances, only to be outdone by an almost unrecognizable (except for his voice) Samuel L. Jackson, who is the power behind the throne at the Candieland plantation.

If you like shoot-‘em-ups where hateful characters get blown off their feet, you’ll enjoy Django Unchained.   Well, maybe not, if you’re from the South.

 I give Django Unchained a 4 for the fan base: a 3+ for the rest of you.  Note, the “D” is silent…but not much else is.


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Best Films of 2012

Best Films of 2012

As I mentioned in one of my previous blogs, the average film viewer sees only 6 films a year.  And, one of the reasons for my blog is to let film viewers, whether frequent or infrequent, know where to spend their money.  

Here, therefore, are my picks for the 6 Absolutely-Must-See films of 2012. 

Note, however, in my estimation, 2012 was a very good year for films.  Many more than 6 were and/or are worth seeing.

I had, originally, intended to list 5 films as Absolutely-Must-See and, also, list several “categories” from which you could pick a 6th based on your particular taste.  But, then, I saw The Impossible and could not just limit myself to the original 5 I had slated as Absolutely-Must-See.

So, here are the 6 Absolutely-Must-See films and 10 additional categories in hopes you will be inspired to become more than an average viewer and go to the movies more often.  The listed films are all worth your while.

Also included are my award picks for actors and key crew.

The 6 Absolutely-Must-See Films of 2012
(in order)

The Intouchables

The Impossible
Zero Dark Thirty
Les Misérables
It’s interesting to note that five of these films are based on true stories and three deal with historical American events of great import.

Select Categories

Most Poignant Film
Most Charming Film
Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Most Interesting Film Story
Cloud Atlas
Most Courageous Film Production
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Best Acting Ensemble
Silver Lining Playbook
 Best Action Film
 Best Animated Film
 Sweetest Film
Moonrise Kingdom
Funniest Film
The Dictator
 Most Underrated Film
2 Days in New York
Now for the Bottom of  the Heap

Most Overrated Film
The Master
 Worst Film
Paranormal Activity 4
Here Are My Award Picks for Actors & Crew

Best Actor
Daniel Day-Lewis – Lincoln

Best Actress
Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Lining Playbook

Best Supporting Actor
Omar Sy – The Intouchables

Best Supporting Actress
Anne Hathaway – Les Misérables

Best Director
Ben Affleck – Argo

Best Screenplay
Chris Terrio - Argo

Best Cinematography
Janusz Kaminski – Lincoln

 Best Editing
Elena Ruiz & Bernat Vilaplana – The Impossible

Best Production Design
Rick Carter - Lincoln

Best Costume Design
Jacqueline Durran - Anna Karenina
Best Soundtrack
Ludovico Einaudi – The Intouchables

Let’s hope for more great viewing in 2013.

First advisory from 2013 trailers I’ve seen:

In Iron Man 3, why would genius Tony Stark not have a state-of-the-art radar system to warn of incoming threats to his coastal home?  Or, perhaps even anti-aircraft guns?




Les Misérables

A wonderful thing happened to me as Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables began.  The date “1815” appeared on the screen.

Why that was wonderful is that I hadn’t seen the play since its opening week on Broadway in March of 1987 and realized I had forgotten the storyline.  For some reason, I was thinking it took place during the French Revolution and the reason Anne Hathaway’s character Fantine had her head shaved in the trailer that had been running was because she was going to the guillotine.

The reason I make this admittance is because I was able to see the film with fresh eyes, being surprised throughout at what was happening.  And, I was not alone.  My film companion said she understood the story for the first time.  That speaks to the talent of Director Tom Hooper and William Nicholson’s screenplay, especially since there is almost no dialogue in this sung-through production.
This is truly an outstanding work from all involved.  Even young children in the audience had their attention rapt throughout almost all of the more than two and a half hour show.  The audience applauded several of the songs and there was a resounding ovation at the film’s end.  Note, this was not an industry screening.  This was more than a thousand regular folks at the Ziegfeld Theater.

Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Samantha Barks, Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bodham Carter and newcomer Daniel Huttlestone all turned in fabulous performances.  The only one a bit out of place was Russell Crowe, who wasn’t altogether convincing as the mindless zealot Javert.  He comes across as too smart to be so obsessed with the “letter of the law.”

If you liked the play, you should love the film. If you haven't like musicals before, this one should win you over. 

I give Les Misérables a 4+ out of 5.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Impossible

I’ve never actually been to Thailand, but I feel as if I’ve just gotten back, having seen Juan Antonia Bayona’s masterpiece The Impossible, which is based on a family that suffered through the 2004 tsunami that hit the country’s southern coast and took the lives of nearly a quarter million people in 14 nations.

I wasn’t expecting to see such an incredibly good film, but I should have known better since, after all, it stars the woman I consider to be the most courageous actress in filmdom today…Naomi Watts.  Here, again, she gives a performance that is worthy of an Oscar nomination.
Kudos, also, go to Ewan McGregor, who plays her husband, and Tom Holland, who plays her eldest son. 

But, equally responsible for this amazing work written by Sergio Sanchez is the Spanish crew led by Director Bayona and perfected by Elena Ruiz and Bernat Vilaplana’s outstanding editing that put the audience into the picture and swept it along without let up until the very end.

The only “complaint” is that I saw The Impossible in what would be consider one of New York’s art houses.  All well and good, but this film should be in the theaters that draw the biggest audiences.  It is one of the best films of the year.
I give The Impossible a 5 out of 5.


Saturday, December 22, 2012

Jack Reacher

Jack Reacher, based on best-selling novelist Lee Child’s popular character, translates very well to film under the direction of Christopher McQuarrie.

Tom Cruise plays Jack, a former army investigator, who is, now, living underground, moving from place to place righting wrongs.

Here, he shows up in Philadelphia where a mass-murder has taken place and a sniper Jack once arrested for a mass-murder in Iraq has been quickly caught.  Politics had interfered with the sniper’s military incarceration, but Jack had warned him that, if he ever got in trouble as a civilian, he would come after him.

But, surprisingly, when the suspect was asked to sign a confession, he had written, “Get Jack Reacher,”  before, then, being beaten into a coma by other inmates, while being transported to prison.
What seems like a slam-dunk case, Reacher suspects may not be.

Rosamund Pike, who I’ve enjoyed in Pride & Prejudice, An Education and Wrath of the Titans, admirably plays the Public Defender, who is pitted against her D.A. father, also well-played by Richard Jenkins.  The great Robert Duvall brings in some humor as the owner of a shooting range.
 I’ve seen some devastating reviews of this film, condemning the filmmakers and the distributor for bringing it out at this time.  I think that type of review is unfair.  Just as the entire sports world is based on fans being able to see athletes doing what they would like to be able to do, watching an action hero kicking ass allows viewers to vent their anger, especially at a time like this.  Theater provides catharsis and that takes many forms. 

I, also, don’t get the vitriol spewed by some reviewers at Tom Cruise.  I might not like some aspects of his personal life, but I, also, don’t like some aspects of David Petraeus’ life, either.  Does that mean I have to dis his job as a General?  Let’s take your meds, fellas.

Jack Reacher is not as big a budget film as the Mission Impossible franchise, but it still is a good action film and Tom Cruise is right for this character and does right for this film.

If you’re an action film fan, you’ll enjoy Jack Reacher.  I give it a 4 out of 5 for this fan base.

This is 40

The experience of watching Writer/Director Judd Apatow’s This is 40, is akin to riding a rollercoaster.  You start out on an upward fun-filled ride for the first 20 or so minutes and, then, there’s a deep dive to the depths. 

Occasionally, you go up again for a few out-loud laughs, but, then, within seconds or minutes, you dive down once more.  And, by “depths,” I mean the film turns sour… sometimes even swarmy…unless things like watching a colonoscopy on an operating room monitor is your idea of fun.

The problem is the males…both the roles and the actors playing them.  While Leslie Mann, the Apatow girls, Megan Fox, Charlyne Yi and most all the other females portray humans of value and play them well, the male roles are mostly losers with some played quite badly.  The normally enjoyable Paul Rudd does nothing to make the lead role in any way engaging and Albert Brooks gives an embarrassingly poor showing as his father.  

Come to think of it, most of those “ups” I referred to are provided by the women. Perhaps Writer/Director Apatow needs a son to go along with his fine daughters.  Might that not help him with developing meaningful male characters? 

With all the ups and downs, the feeling of the audience was best echoed about two-thirds of the way into the film, when the youngest daughter cried out, “I’m sick of everybody fighting.”  

While the ending is supposed to be an up, I walked out feeling sorry for the wife and her daughters, who would have to continue living with their “putz” of a father.  I was hoping that the title was secretly meant to be This is 40 in L.A.; that, perhaps, the family tragedy depicted might somehow be limited.  But, alas, I know that is only my fantasy.  

I give This is 40 a 4 for the ups and a 2 for the downs, and, therefore, an average 3 out of 5 overall.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Intouchables

With The Intouchables, the directing/writing team of Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano have created my favorite and, also, the best film of the year.

Based on a true story, Phillipe (François Cluzet) and Driss (Omar Sy) are the oddest pair in any buddy-film I’ve seen.  Widower Phillipe is a wealthy paraplegic resulting from a paragliding accident.  Driss is a recently-released petty thief originally from Senegal, who Phillipe hires as his caretaker; his reasoning being that the uncompassionate Driss will not treat him with pity, which has been his fate with the rest of society.
From their initial interaction, while Driss learns how to be a caretaker, to the antics the two indulge in together once that hurdle has been leaped, The Intouchables is hilarious, charming, endearing and surprising.  I’ve seen it four times, taking friends, who have all enjoyed it as much as I have continued to do.  You really can’t find a better film for your money.  And, it has the best soundtrack of the year, as well.

Surprisingly and unfortunately, The Intouchables has not had much exposure here in the states.  However, where it has played, it has played well.  I believe the Paris Theater in New York played it for over 6 months and has, now, brought it back for the Holidays.  In France, it is the second highest grossing film of all times and it has earned over $369 million dollars world-wide, which makes it one of, if not the highest grossing French film ever.  It is, currently, up for a Golden Globe as best foreign film, pitted against the awesome Amour.

If you can’t see The Intouchables in a theater, get it on Netflix. 
I give The Intouchables a 5+ out of 5.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Zero Dark Thirty

Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty is a haunting and often riveting film about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden.

Like her film The Hurt Locker, this is the story of obsession; here that of a CIA heroine, who won’t let the politics or laziness of her colleagues get in her way in tracking down the face of al-Qaeda.
The film moves like a detective story as Maya, played by the superb Jessica Chastain, puts together the elusive pieces that lead to Bin Laden’s hideaway.  However, as has been brought out by many film and real-life detectives, their work is often tedious.  And, to set up the explosive and not-to-be-missed last half hour of Zero Dark Thirty, we have to go through, with Maya, a long process of discovery. 

Thanks to Jessica Chastain (who may give Jennifer Lawrence of Silver Lining Playbook a challenge for the Oscar) and the film’s editors William Goldenberg and Dylan Tichenor, this discovery process is never boring, but it is long.  That is somewhat of a script problem, but it is mostly that Director Kathryn Bigelow has set too high a bar for herself with The Hurt Locker, where we were provided with several shocking moments very early on.  Here, we had to wait perhaps 45 minutes to an hour for the first jump-out-of-your-seat moment. (Viewers actually did.)  But, to be fair, the last half hour might not have been so impactful, if we had not been led through the peeling of the onion to get there.

Much is being made (mostly by little old ladies of both sexes in D.C., who haven’t even seen the film) about the torture scenes in the beginning of the film.  But, if you’ve seen any of the “Bourne” films or even several starring Bruce Willis or many other action heroes, those of Zero Dark Thirty are not any more graphic.  And, the filmmakers are not, in any way, making a pro or even a con statement about effectiveness; just presenting what happened.  Indeed, the interrogators, ultimately, end up finding out more from trickery than from torture.
I don’t think Zero Dark Thirty is the best film of the year, but it may be the most controversial.  I give it a 4+ out of 5; Jessica Chastain a 5 for her performance.

And, God bless Seal Team 6 for their work.  They do get a 6.



Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Hobbit

Anyone who had a childhood desire, as I did, to transform J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit from book to screen, must bow in deference to Director Peter Jackson for creating an altogether incomparable, altogether masterful and altogether fun production, building on what he learned in The Lord of the Rings.

Jackson must, in turn, bow to his leading man Martin Freeman whose self-deprecating and earnest portrayal of Bilbo Baggins immediately won over the audience and carried us through the most harrowing scenes with hope and humor.  I can’t imagine anyone being able to do a better job in this role.

The Lord team of Cinematographer Andrew Lesnie, Production Designer Dan Lennah and Editor Jabez Ollsen were, also, in top form, as were the Dwarves, Andy Serkis' Gollum and, of course, Ian McKellen in his portrayal of a younger Gandalf.

The only negative was the peculiarly fake performance of the normally splendid Ian Holm as the elder Bilbo. But, thankfully, he was only in the first 15 or so minutes of the film.

If you haven’t read The Hobbit or haven’t seen The Lord of the Rings, this production is a perfect introduction to Tolkein’s masterpiece as it is The Lord’s prequel and this first chapter of the, ultimately, three-part film production and gives a clear exposition of who’s who and the history of Middle Earth.
While it might not be advisable for children under six, this is a wonderful Holiday film for the rest of the family.

I give The Hobbit a 4+ out of 5.