Sunday, January 27, 2013

Django Unchained

Yesterday I saw Django Unchained, starring Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx.

Django (Foxx) is a freed slave helping bounty hunter King (Waltz) search for a few select fugitives, who coincidentally are the same jerks who ripped Django and his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) apart. Django is hungry to reunite with his lost love.

In typical Tarantino fashion, the conversations (and speeches) are lengthy (yet clever); characters have catchy, memorable names; good guys and bad guys engage in ridiculous amounts of violence; and black culture plays a big part.

In this case, the main bad guy is the always-brilliant Leonardo DiCaprio (Calvin Candie), who is slimy and charismatic all the same (without chewing scenery). Sparks practically fly off the screen as he and Waltz exchange their tension-filled pleasantries and negotiate business.

In fact, everyone here is good—Waltz definitely deserves his Oscar nod (though I probably would've placed him in the Best Actor category); DiCaprio an Foxx should've received them as well.

That said, what everyone is saying is true: this is far too bloody and far too long. I like seeing where QT will take us next, but I like seeing it without losing an entire day doing so.

When I think back to the first Tarantino film I enjoyed, Reservoir Dogs, which comes in at a trim 99 minutes, I remember wanting more, not shifting in my seat or looking at my phone for the time.

That's how all films should be.

Saturday, January 26, 2013


Last night I saw Amour, starring Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant.

If this wasn't a Best Picture nominee, I would never have made it through the whole film.

Georges (Trintignant) and Anne (Riva) are a happy old couple. Their adult daughter has made a life of her own abroad and they seem content in their retirement.

One morning during breakfast, Anne zones out. Not for a moment, not for a second, but for a terrifying few minutes while her husband scrambles to decide what to do next. Anne has suffered a stroke and soon she will be paralyzed on one side of her body.

In a matter of days, this vibrant couple who still attended concerts and playfully flirted with one another will become a frustrated, pained duo who survives only for the other's benefit.

Emmanuelle Riva, who is still stunning in her mid 80s, is shown deteriorating piece by piece, while every last morsel of her dignity is stripped from her being. Jean-Louis Trintignant as Georges wears each heartbreaking revelation in his expressions, as he witnesses the love of his life leaving.

There is no greater devastation, and none of us want to think of our loved ones ever reaching these stages of their lives, but sometimes it happens. And there is always someone who carries the burden of dealing with it more than any other.

The film does a phenomenal job of communicating the quiet that comes with perpetual depression. Water left running is suddenly more noticeable, as is a window left open during a rain storm. The quiet is no longer peaceful; a home once filled with music is now stale with decay.

Every part of the movie (the acting, the script, the direction) is good, but I enjoyed none of it.

Life is hard enough as it is.


Sunday, January 20, 2013

Life of Pi

Yesterday I saw Life of Pi, starring Suraj Sharma and Irrfan Khan.

Full disclosure: when an enthusiastic colleague loaned me the book, Life of Pi, several years ago, I wrestled with the fact that I couldn't see what all of the fuss was about. Matter of fact, I couldn't even bring myself to finish the novel—I was that bored by it.

Fast forward to now: there is an Oscar nominated film, crafted by Ang Lee (whom I have great respect for), based on the work, gaining heaps of praise for its visual beauty and thrill. So, since it's up for Best Picture, I took a chance on it.

What a pleasant surprise.

The entire story centers around Pi Patel, who is played by Suraj Sharma in the younger sequences, and the marvelous Irrfan Khan as an adult. Pi's family owns a zoo in India and during a move via cargo ship, they encounter a violent storm that causes them to sink. Pi, and a few of the animals, are the only survivors.

After a few days, only Pi and the family's tiger, Richard Parker, are left. They remain adrift at sea, and the film chronicles their terrifying experiences.

Seeing the story play out in this way was much more engaging for me. I welcomed the metaphors for life that were obviously being communicated; I appreciated the bits of fantasy, which could be interpreted as scientific hallucinations or the epitome of spiritual greatness.

And visually? Yeah, Lee nails it.

Though I could have done without some of the gross animal scenes, Suraj Sharma gave a delightful performance as the frightened, yet brave young boy, and Irrfan Khan continues to be one of my favorite actors.

I wasn't bored for a moment.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

Today I saw Zero Dark Thirty, starring Jessica Chastain and Jason Clarke.

Most Americans remember the evening that President Obama announced we had killed Osama bin Laden, but few of us know how it happened.

This film aims to explain it.

Beginning with the attack on 9/11, we see a step-by-step progression of how 12-year CIA veteran "Maya" (Chastain) and a small team of her peers, learned where the terrorist was hiding and executed a ridiculously risky mission to find and kill him.

There's not a lot to spoil here, and if you're a fan of the NBC Nightly News, many of the clips will look familiar. In fact, the film—running time 2 hours, 37 min.—almost felt as if it was shot in real time because the pacing (until the big scene) was very slow.

Perhaps my expectations were too high because Director Kathryn Bigelow's last film, The Hurt Locker, had me riveted from start to finish, but this was far too long.

A few of the torture sequences could have been cut, as could the countless times we see Maya not getting the respect she deserves despite the fact we know she'll have the last word.

And it was fun to see cameos from folks like James Gandolfini and Mark Duplass, but if the movie was going to be that long, couldn't we have seen more of them?

The performances were all first rate, and Chastain will certainly be nominated for several awards; the writing is also strong with the dialog never veering away from realistic, even if many of the classified conversations had to be reinvented.

It just could have used a bit more editing.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

The Impossible

This morning I saw The Impossible, starring Naomi Watts and Tom Holland.

Maria (Watts) and her husband Henry (Ewan McGregor) are a happy couple on holiday with their three young sons, Lucas (Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast) in Thailand. The year is 2004.

After celebrating a joyful Christmas the day before, the family is relaxing by the pool when they hear a horrible noise. Without warning a 30-foot wall of water comes crashing into them, obliterating everything in sight.

Maria gasps her way to the surface and realizes that her son Lucas is alive and nearby. She swims to reach him and they spend the next several hours fighting for their lives; he only has minor injuries, but she has internal and external bleeding. To top it off, she's a doctor so she knows what bad shape she's in. Despite that, she tries to stay strong for Lucas, assuming she's all he has left.

Meanwhile, Henry, Thomas and Simon have all survived and are in better shape. Henry trusts kind strangers to watch the boys as he desperately searches for Lucas and Maria.

This true story of the Belon family, is one of the most intense, emotional films I've ever experienced.

Though I knew what ultimately happened going in, every last moment of this roller coaster was draining. If the characters were happy, my eyes glistened with tears of joy; if they felt pain, I absorbed their grief ten-fold. And the reenactment of the tsunami itself was better than any horror film I've seen. Simply harrowing.

Watts is so incredible as the drifting Maria, that you can almost feel the life leaving her as she lies weak in the hospital. The young Holland gives an Oscar-caliber performance, simultaneously exhibiting fear, sadness and strength.

Really, each and every cast member was phenomenal.

The Impossible will make you think about what you take for granted, how precious life is, and how kind the human spirit can be.

A wonderful, wonderful film.