Tuesday, December 11, 2012

"Django Unchained" review

"Django Unchained"

Written & Directed by
Quentin Tarantino

Now when I first read that QT was writing/directing a spaghetti western-like epic with Leonardo DiCaprio as the main villain, I was definitely intrigued.

I am one of the few defenders out there for QT and really appreciate a lot of his work and even consider Kill Bill the finest thing he's ever done, considering it was incredibly well written, fast paced, disciplined with the editing, great performances, amazing action sequences, and beautifully photographed. The first film of his that he finally starts playing around with the camera in a big, bad way.

However, when the trailers and TV spots started to erupt all over the internet, I was shocked at how horrible the film looked. I had seen several pictures on IMDb for a while and heard a lot of things about the chaotic production, but the trailers blew me away in the worst kind of way.

They were so unbelievably different than what I expected them to be. And James Brown's "Playback" blasting in almost every single trailer? COME ON, QT...

I was still intrigued to see it though. I mean, it can't be that bad. It's gonna HAVE to have some amazing moments. QT's not quite that big of a hack just yet... But I was wrong. DEAD WRONG.

I was lucky enough to be invited to a private screening of Django Unchained last night at the Director's Guild of America in Hollywood and catch the film on the building's biggest screen, out of their three.

The film opens with a long overture with the curtains down. Not many people in the audience even seemed to care, but I did. I was like, "Okay Quentin. You're already off to a bad start." He just won't accept that, that sort of genre of filmmaking is dead and no matter how much he tries to bring back that affect, it'll keep hurting him and he'll lose more fans.

Then the film begins its opening title sequence with its flashy big red lettering. Jamie Foxx is being hauled through the desert with the other slaves, much like the opening scene in the trailers.

Eventually he meets Christoph Waltz's character, who comes riding in on a ridiculous Buggie with a giant Tooth attached to the top, dangling.

Waltz plays a former dentist turned bounty hunter, Dr. King Shultz. He rescues Django (Jamie Foxx), after blowing away a couple rough house white owners (James Remar and James Russo). Shultz is on a job to find a trio of brothers, called The Brittles, but doesn't know what they look like, but Django does, so they team up to find them and Shultz buys Django's slavery and gives him his freedom. Now in return, Django and Shultz team up for a second mission to find Django's kidnaped wife from its plantation owner, Calvin Candie. And thus, we have our silly revenge movie.

The film starts to unfold in a series of events that sort of shape Shultz and Django and form their friendship, which, to me was never very interesting.

Django Unchained is definitely QT's most action packed film since Kill Bill, but it was missing all that QT trademark. I didn't really feel like I was watching a QT film until DiCaprio's character, Calvin Candie, shows up. A wonderfully hypnotising introduction where Candie is simply puffing on a cigarette, sitting on his couch, while a very violent and extreme Mandingo match takes place.

All the performances for me were very ridiculous and never were enjoyable, except DiCaprio, who seriously was the only most consistently entertaining character in the entire three hour film. Yes. The film's almost three hours, clocking in at 165 minutes. QT's longest film to date, if you don't consider Kill Bill chocked together as a whole.

The violence, or shall I say gore, is completely gratuitous to be honest, quite boring. With all the constant shootouts and constant gunfire, I'm thinking, "When is this gonna end???" It wasn't done cleverly, or different. Nothing special. Which upsets me, cause knowing how much QT loves spaghetti westerns, he had an opportunity to make one of the best westerns ever made, but of course, like he did with the slasher and WW2 genre... he blew it.

Quentin's use of the N word, though used DOZENS of times, is never done in a smart way, and just became lazy writing. I believe this to be one of his worst scripts, in my opinion. None of his signature on the film, boring camera shots, obnoxious dialogue/violence, wooden performances. Especially Kerry Washington, who've I've never liked in the first place, but she was awful. ANNOYING. SO ANNOYING.

Tons of stuff happens, but nothing is interesting or exciting. However, I think you should definitely go see the film for yourself and form your own opinion. When I saw it with a packed house last night they seemed to love it. They were laughing constantly, but I wasn't. Laughed maybe twice.

The film is NOT a Drama/Western, like IMDb says, but a Comedy/Western. They're's literally NO drama in the entire film. It felt like a big, bright spoof in the vein of Blazing Saddles than something like Unforgiven.

The film's a mess, but thank God I have Steve McQueen's Twelve Years a Slave to fall back on.

P.S.: And just when I thought Quentin's cameos in his own films couldn't get any more horrible and pathetic, he just goes ahead and makes himself an Australian cowboy towards the end of the film. JUST HORRIBLE!!!!!!

This film cements QT in the "Hall of Hacks."

Please retire before you damage another genre. Thank you.


"If I wasn't a filmmaker, I'd be a film critic. It's the only thing I'd be qualified to do."
- Quentin Tarantino

Friday, December 7, 2012

"The Master" review

"The Master"

Written & Directed by
Paul Thomas Anderson

If you're a Paul Thomas Anderson fan, then you're well aware, at this point, that he loves making his fans wait an enormous amount of time for his next film. Between Punch-Drunk Love and There Will Be Blood, it was five years. And now between TWBB and The Master, it's been yet another five years.

I am a huge fan of PTA and consider him to be the greatest director of his generation, and of the last twenty years he's been making films.

Now when I read that PTA was working on a script loosely based on Scientology and the workings of L. Ron Hubbard, I was ecstatic. When I found out he was teaming up with Philip Seymour Hoffman for a fifth time, using PSH to play the L. Ron Hubbard inspired character, I was threw the roof. And when I finally saw the first teaser that PTA himself, cut together, that simply involved Joaquin Phoenix's demented character being interviewed by a V.A. Doctor, spliced with scenes of him on the beach and carving, I was in the clouds. The excitement was overbearing and my expectations were higher than they've ever been for anything.

Now, unfortunately, the first time I viewed The Master, it was NOT a 70MM print, but a digital projection. Which I was very upset about, but I just didn't care at that point. I just needed to see this film, no matter what. Thankfully, I was able to see it two more times, those times, in delicious 70MM.

The film is PTA's most emotionally exhausting film to date. And the heaviest on character and the weakest on plot narrative. When the film's over, you feel dizzy. Literally.

Now many people have been complaining a great deal about the lack of narrative and character development, but if you know PTA's past films, he's an expert at character development and beautifully structured narrative, so I never believed those criticisms to be legitimate. He knew what he was doing.

My theory on why it didn't seem to make much sense and has no development, was because, well. In a way, Scientology doesn't really make much sense. Nor does religion, itself. Or life, for that matter. Everything is sloppy in our existence. And sometimes people don't change. This is more of an experimental navigation into one's psyche, then a traditional narrative film. Which I respect.

For those of you who haven't seen the film at this point (Shame on you by the way...), nor do you even know the storyline. It centers on a young Naval veteran (played by a returning Joaquin Phoenix in a game changing performance) as Freddie Quell who comes back from the war, very unsettled about his life and his future. He eventually jumps onto a Yacht where a mysterious party is taking place and this is where he meets The Master, himself. Lancaster Dodd (played by the always brilliant, Philip Seymour Hoffman), who takes him under his wing and introduces him to his fact based religion, known as The Cause.

Freddie is reluctantly thrown into several physical and mental exercises to serve as his initiation into the religious "family," that also consists of Amy Adams, Laura Dern, Rami Malek, and Jesse Plemons. All give wonderful performances, but Amy Adams takes the cake, as Lancaster's subtle, but tough wife and co-leader.

The film is made up of a bunch of amazing scenes/sequences, but no destination. It plays out like one giant arc. Which, from a screenwriter's POV, that's a big no, no. But I loved it.

PTA breaks all the rules of traditional storytelling and doesn't make a single apology about it. The film clocks in at 144 minutes and doesn't quite hold the story to warrant that length, but it flew by for me. Considering how hypnotising the entire film is and that the wonderfully crafted use of 70MM film was so amazing to witness. Makes you wish more directors shot in that format. Hopefully a film of this scale, will open other directors' eyes.

The film is an actor's piece, without question. Joaquin Phoenix is unlike any performance you've ever seen before. From beginning to end, he IS Freddie. It's scary. All throughout, you're on the edge of your seat, waiting for something to happen. The film is extremely tense and very unpredictable.

One of the major stand out scenes, which just goes to show how brilliant PTA is, just doing basic two shots and OTS, with two actors speaking to each other, is when Master asks Freddie to keep his eyes open and answer a series of emotional questions without blinking. It was set at a perfect point in the story where you're sort of waiting for that intensity to rise, and then all of a sudden this scene comes at you like a bullet.

If there is a criticism, I'd have to say, I was a bit curious as to what PTA was trying to say with this film. If he was trying to say anything. However, that wasn't enough for me to dislike it in the slightest.

I'll admit when I finished it the first time, I was a bit underwhelmed. I knew I liked it, but wasn't sure what level it was at. Then I went to bed, but couldn't sleep. Was tossing and turning. Then I woke up at 7A.M. the next morning, and realized it was one of the finest films of the year, if not, the best. And one of the most astonishing character studies ever put on screen.

Bravo to everyone involved.


"Observancy is a dying art." - Stanley Kubrick

"Killing Them Softly" review

"Killing Them Softly"

Written & Directed by
Andrew Dominik

Based on the Novel, "Cogan's Trade"
by George V. Higgins

Now when I read that Andrew Dominik was setting out to write and direct a new American crime film with Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta, and Richard Jenkins, I was threw the roof. Considering, he made one of my all-time favorite films of 2007 and of the last decade, The wonderfully crafted, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Which was more of a psychological Charles Dickens-esque take on the American western. From the moment the unique opening sequence kicked in explaining Jesse James, you knew you were in for something special.

Now Dominik is simply a director who does not like to work very often. His first film, Chopper, was an exciting, interesting, but also a heavily flawed debut back in 2000, with Eric Bana in the title role. Then Jesse James came out seven years later. Now, five years later, in 2012, we have his latest film, Killing Them Softly, which is based on the 70s set novel, Cogan's Trade.

The story centers on two dumb criminals who think they're smarter than they are, Frankie and Russell (played by Argo's Scoot McNairy and Animal Kingdom's Ben Mendelsohn), who work for a shady fella named Johnny Amato (played by Johnny Sac himself, Vincent Curatola).

Long story short, Johnny assigns the two crooks to rob a mob protected poker game, run by local mobster, Markie Trattman (played by the underrated Ray Liotta, in one of his best performances to date). They consider the job to be foolproof, considering Markie had robbed his own poker game a while back and blabbed about it, when he was drunk, to a bunch of his friends, thus putting the word out there, that he was in on it. So now, they think that once they rob the game, they'll immediately get away with it, because everyone will immediately point fingers at Markie, and Frankie and Russell will get off, scot free. Sounds perfect, doesn't it? No. Things go bad. REAL BAD.

Once the game is robbed, which was quite possibly the best scene in the entire movie (the suspense was astonishing), they call in local enforcer, Jackie Cogan (played by a super cool, Brad Pitt, in a not so super convincing performance), to investigate the robbery and essentially clean up house.

Now as the film unfolds and all the colorful characters dip in and out of each other's lives, we start to be bombarded with a very obnoxious political message, serving as commentary over the 2008 financial, economic meltdown. I mean, if I were to see one more television in a bar playing Obama or George Bush talking at a podium...

The political message takes no time to jam it down our throats. From the very unique, though a bit annoying, opening title sequence to literally, the final shot in the movie, it is thrown at us. And not in a clever way.

The dialogue and the acting are the strongest elements of the film. James Gandolfini plays a fascinating 3-dimensional Hit Man, who used to be quite the big shot and somewhat of a hero in the eyes of Jackie, but has hit rock bottom due to too much drinking and depression. So pretty much if Tony Soprano was a Hit Man. However, he was one of my favorite characters in the entire film. And he barely did anything, but talk to Jackie. Now that's acting.

Ben Mendelsohn and Scoot McNairy have the most hilarious scenes in the film. They're banter back to back about women, drugs, and previous jobs, are quite amusing to watch. Ben Mendelsohn sure does play mentally unstable quite well.

You can say the film is a black comedy, but really. With the exception of a few humurous lines of dialogue from Brad Pitt and Gandolfini, only Mendelsohn and McNairy serve as the comic relief.

The major acting standout for me though, was Mr. Ray Liotta. A major change of pace from the usual tough guy, hard hitting characters he's been playing ever since 1986's Something Wild. Liotta sure does take quite the beating throughout and the film makes no apologies for any of it.

The violence is also fascinating to watch. Dominik literally builds sequences around the violence cut together with a very unusual, kinetic soundtrack consisting of everything from Johnny Cash to The Velvet Underground.

Yes, many things annoyed me about this film. Yes, too many things were overdone. And yes, Brad Pitt was a little unconvincing as a tough guy gangster, but all in all. I enjoyed the film a great deal. Every single frame is so unbelievably unique and well crafted. Dominik loves to take a certain commercial genre and just flip it on its head and do a whole different spin on it. He did with the Biopic genre with Chopper, the Western genre with Jesse James, and now with the Crime genre with KTS. And for that, I commend him, whether it's a misfire or not, you have to respect him for not being traditional.

KTS is by no means for everyone. This is a film built mainly for film aficionados. The violence is few and far in between, but it's worth it when it happens.

Put it this way. If you love Drive, you'll like KTS.


"The only way you can learn from making films is by making them, by putting your stamp on them." - Stephen Frears (director of The Hit and The Grifters)

"The Collection" review

"The Collection"

Directed by Marcus Dunstan

Written by Marcus Dunstan &
Patrick Melton

The Collection is, at least for me, the long awaited sequel to one of the finest horror films of the last decade, The Collector. Which was a stripped down, no frills, character based horror film centered on the petty thief, Arkin (played by the underrated Josh Stewart), who is in serious debt, and is forced to rob his new Employer's mansion, but soon discovers a second criminal has already infiltrated the house with booby traps, holding the family captive. Arkin is then forced to decide whether he's going to escape with his life and the money or save the family. He decides to play hero and save them. Thus, we have... The Collector.

Now The Collection is pretty much a sequel to The Collector, like Aliens was a sequel to Alien. The Collector was a character piece with a decent amount of thrills and chills. The Collection is an action piece with non stop blood and gore and a body count that would make Hershell Gordon Lewis proud.

Now the premise of The Collection centers on the young character of Elena (played by Emma Fitzpatrick from The Social Network and In Time), who, along with her two friends, head to an underground club to go dancing. You know. One of those scary clubs where some tattooed guy with way too many piercings answers the door and asks for a password?

The film takes absolutely no time at all to get to the action. They have a very cool intro to the wild club. And before you know it, BAM! The Collector unleashes his horrifying booby traps inside the club and unloads on all the unlucky club goers.

Elena is eventually kidnapped by The Collector, thrown in his crate, and taken to his layer. This is where the film connects to the original. Where Elena's rich father (played by Shooter McGavin himself, Christopher McDonald) blackmails Arkin to help him and a set of elite mercenaries rescue Elena from the Collector's layer.

Thus... we have our popcorn movie. Mercenaries bust in with their enormous machine guns and bad things start to happen.

Now The Collection is in by no means, a great film. But it sure is a fun time at the movies and definitely wildly entertaining. I didn't expect much going into a film like this, but what I did respect is that the sequel was written/directed by the same fellows who created the original. Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, who created the Feast franchise and even wrote a few Saw sequels. However, I believe, The Collector to be the finest, most mature film they've ever written.

The Collection is pretty much Saw on meth. It's action packed, never skips a beat. Some of the dialogue is laughable. A couple characters are ridiculously over the top. The climax is quite cartoonish, and several moments make you wonder, "What the hell were you thinking???"

But you know what? I enjoyed it. Is it better than the first? Not by a long shot, nor did it want to be. Dunstan and Melton really just wanted to have fun with this one and make a completely different kind of a movie, which is totally fine with me, if it's done well. And, in my opinion, this one was.

Horror movies were my entry into movie loving, so I'll respect any R rated horror movie that keeps me thirsting for more. I look forward to the third one in the series, The Collected.


"That's the problem. It's hard to release an NC-17 anywhere right now. It's like you don't have access to theatres to many multiplexes. And I understand that cuts had to be made to my movie." (On his debut film, High Tension) - Alexandre Aja