Our second installment of the new web series is up! In this episode we talk about the Oscar worthiness of Zero Dark Thirty, the perceived political controversy surrounding the film’s content and discuss whether the film portrays America as bullies.
It’s been a long time coming, but I’m finally dipping my little toe in the world of the web series. Myself, along with two other film critics, Austin and Hodge Hermann, are starting a film review and discussion web series called Rough Cut.
The purpose for Rough Cut really sprung from the need we saw for more critical, thoughtful and analytical film discussion than most entertainment web series’ currently offer. So, while many of them will continue to be interested in, for the most part, superficialities of the cinema, the three of us are committed to discussing movies critically and on a much deeper level.
I should mention, we’ve only just begun this endeavor and so while our discussion may not be very flashy with slick animations and unnecessary movie clips, I assure you, we care way more about the art of criticizing, analyzing and discussing the movies you’re paying to see.
In our first episode of the series, we discuss the film Beasts of the Southern Wild by Benh Zeitlin, it’s worthiness in the Oscar race, and whether the claims of it being a “Republican fantasy” are founded. I hope you enjoy!
If I was to call Rex Reed a nasty, ugly, old, bulbous-nosed curmudgeon instead of thoughtfully critiquing the pros and cons of his ridiculous, purposely attention-inciting and unnecessarily scathing review of Identity Thief, I’d probably get a lot of hatred thrown my way. And rightly so. Attacking someone on a personal level when you’re trying to make an argument is the sure sign of an arguer that has not enough intelligence to even construct a sentence that is meaningful, or in many cases, doesn’t have the actual intelligence, experience or general knowledge to even make an argument. So people like this have to resort to pot shots to try to make their weak points. That’s exactly what film “critic” Rex Reed did in his recent review of the film Identity Thief for the New York Observer.
Identity Thief is by no means a fantastic movie, but it’s certainly not drivel, as Reed calls it. Trust me, I’ve seen drivel. I know it. I’m sure Reed’s seen actual drivel too in his many years as a film critic, and he knows this movie is not truly that bad to sit through. But he’s a poor, flailing, quickly-becoming-unrecognizable “movie critic” for the upper classes in New York who still apparently want to relive the days of Reed’s career when he was actually something meaningful, recognizable and important to the arts and to the country. And I say this out of no disrespect because what I mean is, he was good at his profession for a moment in time, but Reed doesn’t see the cinema that he once knew and loved as now evolving and so he will forever be curmudgeonly against anything that doesn’t fit neatly into his box of acceptable and worthwhile film fare.
What Reed doesn’t seem to realize is that he’s no longer a singular voice, he’s just a speck of dirt in the large stain that is the news media. The only purpose of a critic as bygone as him anymore is to give glowing sound bites for the indie, sleeper hits and foreign films half the audience wouldn’t have seen if it hadn’t been for the snippet or quote on the poster or trailer that he’s paid to provide – or, in cases like this, to help bring some much-needed notoriety back to a sinking newspaper by throwing out some slurs that are sure to be picked up by the media. Reed doesn’t know, understand or truly appreciate the cinema anymore, not like the thousands of real movie critics and cinema aficionados who live online now, arguing intelligently over the latest films, or reviewing them using a sense of humor or tangible knowledge and a general appreciation for the genre of the film they are reviewing (and most of those guys and gals do it because they love it). Unfortunately, this is the point in Reed’s career where he no longer really cares for or understands the cinema or knows what’s good. He clearly has no taste for comedy and certainly not the comedy of today’s younger generations.
Maybe he was bitter that he was required to even review Identity Thief in the first place, and so he went into it with a bad taste in his mouth to begin with, or maybe he just doesn’t care anymore unless it’s something that meets his pretentious standards ahead of time. It probably has to have Ryan Gosling and/or be a documentary on an impoverished country or HIV. I don’t think he was even really paying attention to the film while he was watching it, if we’re being honest. In fact, I’d debate that he even watched it to begin with (I’ll explain why below). There’s a lot of obvious errors and inconsistencies in his review to back this up. In fact, I think Reed’s contentious review is worthy of a review itself. So, here goes: the first ever Cinematic Public Enemy review of a film review.
Is Reed a critic or a reviewer? If Reed was a film reviewer, I’d let him get away with his ridiculous drivel of a review, because film reviewers are just people offering their opinion on something, and opinions, even when they’re mean, vicious and from the mouths of mean-spirited people are just that – opinions. But Reed is supposedly a Film Critic – a title I take to heart very dearly. Criticism is a skill. Criticism can and is a learned ability. Criticism, while it may very well include opinion, is rooted in critical thinking, critical comparisons and in-depth examinations, topped off with maybe an opinion or two for good measure and a little bit of engaging readability. Reed has lost any sense of film criticism that he ever may have had (and I know he had some, just read his review of the amazing classic Hearts and Minds).
First, let’s take his opener in his review of Identity Thief: “How many ways can a person waste valuable time and lose vital I.Q. points at the same time? If you’re movie critic, the possibilities are unlimited.” Read this opening very carefully. Right here, Reed has already given up his whole profession and reduced what he does to a ludicrous job. He’s essentially saying that much of what he sees in the cinema of today is not worth his precious New York Observer-paid time. So why would (or should) anyone ever care about one word that he writes in a review ever again? I don’t think we should. Rex Reed clearly thinks the cinema of today is stupid and a waste of his time as he alludes to in the opening sentences. And frankly I don’t need to take advice from someone who is clearly not impartial or willing to weigh all aspects of what he is paid to do, so everything he writes after that in the review is really negated (and you’d think this would have been a red flag to his editors too), but for the sake of criticism and a fair argument here, let’s continue on with the review of his review.
In the second paragraph, Reed calls the screenplay “stupefying” although he never actually backs up why he is making this claim, so I have no way of actually knowing what about it is stupefying. I guess Reed’s opinion on the matter is just supposed to be enough, because he’s such a world renown critic. Riiiight.
Soon after he’s referring to Melissa McCarthy’s character as “tractor-sized” which is where he started to repel readers. I agree, it’s a harsh way of describing her, and because he placed it in parentheses, it even seems more like he is referring to her as the actress and less as the character she plays. What’s interesting though is, clearly McCarthy is overweight, maybe she can help it, maybe she can’t, but regardless, that’s her look right now and like many of the other great overweight actors she knows how to use her size to enhance her character’s presence – and there’s no doubt the producers and director Paul Feig (whom she worked with on Bridesmaids) had any thought that she wouldn’t be great in a part like this as well, because of her size and the demeanor she has grown fond of portraying with it.
She started the character in Bridesmaids, was honored for it by Hollywood even, and so of course she’s going to be reviving that character type and building on its outlandishness and craziness in this movie (and most certainly her next one in the can with Sandra Bullock, where by the look of the trailer, she’s playing the exact same type of character, yet again). This is her role and she inhabits it well, so yes, to refer to her as “tractor sized” and later a “hippo” in the article is crass, but at the same time, it is the role she wants to portray and right now it’s working well for her, so I’d say McCarthy is probably not as burned by this name-calling as everyone thinks she is (or should be), and it’s just actual overweight people without the luxury of a fat SAG paycheck who are offended that her flaws are being pointed out in an unnecessary and cruel method when she’s become a beloved character actress for many 18-35 year old women (who are a core audience for Hollywood these days).
Another reason to pan his pointless review and anything Reed actually says, is because he clearly wasn’t even paying attention to the film when he reviewed it. I truly believe this is equivalent to not performing the duties of the job as required and should really be grounds for termination, if nothing else. If you are getting paid to review films and you can’t even get the details of the film’s storyline right, then what good are you at your job? Let’s start with Reed writing that McCarthy’s character is in Miami, Florida, when in fact she is noted as being in Winter Park, Florida (and once as being in Orlando, which is the same area). Additionally, the area code on the phone number from the salon Jason Bateman’s character is called from is 407, which is the Orlando area. So where did Reed get Miami from? If I was being cruel, I could ask, Is it senility setting in? Or deafness beginning? But really I just want to ask was he just that uninterested in performing his job to best of his ability (regardless of how much he hated the film, or it wasn’t for him, he is still being paid to pay attention and review for his audience), and at this he failed miserably.
Further on, Reed embellishes the description of how “bad” McCarthy’s character is when he lists her as “beating him up,” (which she never really does, unless you count punching him in the throat a couple of times; Bateman’s character smashes a guitar over her face and throws an iron Panini press at the back of her head). How come that’s not considered “bad?” Reed then goes on to say she “wrecks his rental car and leaves him stranded on the highway in a pair of pants stolen from a dead hobo.” While both of these details are somewhat accurate, they are most certainly not carried out in this contextual proximity, and technically, Bateman’s character was responsible for his rental car being wrecked because he stopped it in the middle of the highway without pulling to the shoulder and consequently it was t-boned by an 18-wheeler. Not McCarthy’s actual doing, in other words, but I guess it worked for Reed’s quippy sentence. This all helps to prove that he likely didn’t even see this film before reviewing it, he just phoned this in, maybe watched a trailer or two online and probably read some other synopsis’. This man should not be allowed to review films anymore, he’s clearly not a valid part of this business and is a horrible representation of what film criticism is all about.
Reed’s next couple insults are all having to do with the wackiness of the “road movie” aspect of the story. He can’t seem to fathom that they could be pursued by gangsters and bounty hunters (he also embellishes here, saying “bounty hunter and skip tracers,” but they are one in the same, and there was only one of them in the movie), and that people can jump parole and get arrested for things they didn’t do or get away with things they did. First of all, let’s talk about the standard Hollywood movie: it’s called suspension of disbelief, Mr. Reed. As a long time critic you should be fully aware of this. You don’t always have to believe what is happening on the screen is something that would happen in real life exactly the same, that’s why people like the movies, because they’re fun, exciting and they take us on adventures that are unexpected, dangerous, comical, outlandish, and likely and many times hopefully wouldn’t happen to us. Audiences like to watch movies with things happening to characters that they wouldn’t want to happen to themselves because it makes us feel better about our lives. We see movies for the escape. Second, a lot of the things that happened in the film are very much possible, just maybe not in such a concentrated amount of time as the movie portrays, but again, this is what’s referred to as suspension of disbelief.
Next Reed talks about McCarthy’s sex scene in the film, in which he unnecessarily refers to her as a “hippo.” It’s crass, pointless and just shows what an uptight, un-open-minded man this Rex Reed really is, and basically destroys any positive image one may have ever had from reading one of his film reviews during his prime as a critic. McCarthy is anything but a hippo, and in fact, is very funny in her sex scene and not in the least “grotesque” in a bad way. If you can watch any of the litany of R-rated Judd Apatow comedies of the last few years, hell, if you can watch HBO’s Girls, you know what a truly grotesque love scene can be like, this is PG-13 stuff by today’s standards. Reed is displaying that he is really a repressed prude, if he found this offensive. Also important to note here, Reed got yet another fact wrong when he notes the love interest of McCarthy as “demanding a threesome,” when that was not the case whatsoever. McCarthy’s character actually set the whole threesome up, and the guy she picked up was even scared to do it. Did Reed not even see the part of the scene where the man is crying on the bed in anticipation of having sex with her?
I find it infuriating how little interest Reed even had in doing a proper review for this movie, whether he liked it or not, the filmmakers deserved his time and meaningful criticism and instead all they got was this drivel Observer let him publish. They should be ashamed and he should be ashamed. To top it all off and even add a laugh at how preposterous and literally outdated Rex Reed is now, he ends with a closing sentence that basically criticizes the film on the fact that it uses identity theft as comedic plot device. Reed confesses that he is so afraid to even approach an ATM without the threat of someone stealing his glowingly perfect identity, that he thinks the filmmakers should have made a film that deals with this topic in a serious way. (Pretty sure that’s been done, by the way, The Net? Single White Female?).
Identity Thief is a fun comedy, and Melissa McCarthy is great in her newfound character type. Check this one out sometime, the rest of America is.
Rex Reed can be disregarded, he says what he says so that someone will pay attention to him. He’s clearly scared at becoming irrelevant. Unfortunately for him, he already is irrelevant.
Warm Bodies the number one movie in America last week? Am I dreaming?
First of all, with the ridiculous amount of Oscar Best Picture nominees again this year, you’d think the Academy’s plan to generate more interest in the movies would be working – at least in their favor – but instead, the top grossing movie is a pre-teen snoozer cashing in on both the lucrative zombie genre and the beastly, psuedo-horror/romance fad 13-year olds all seem to identify with these days. It’s so much cooler to be hot for vampires, werewolves, zombies and other one-off horror show freaks, than it is to fall for just a normal, run-of-the-mill kind of guy, isn’t it? Why don’t they ever make movies where the male characters are the ones falling in love with a physically flawed female character, by the way? I’ll tell you why, because Hollywood knows that in their already dwindling audience of males age 18- 35, none of that demographic wants to lust after a girl who looks like a zombie or the guy from Beastly. Not even if it was Bar Refaeli playing the part.
Warm Bodies is a pathetic excuse for a zombie flick to begin with, falling way short of ever providing any sort of truly cinematic zombie movie goodness. Instead it just recycles the old zombie apocalypse theme with the people who haven’t yet been bitten hiding behind a makeshift wall somewhere in a city that looks vaguely like London or New York City and with zombies milling around outside. Warm Bodies even appears to borrow a little bit of the I Am Legend look with its laughably CGI “Boney’s.” What’s worse though is how the film expects its audience to reject every perfectly plausible zombie movie guideline they know and just blindly go with this stupid story which at one point even turns into Romeo and Juliet.
The film is void of any sincere laughs, and gets by – if on anything – on its ability to make the lead zombie boy look and act cute because he’s fallen in love with a un-zombified girl. There are too many plot holes and inconsistencies to even bother referencing them here, but suffice it to say, no one seemed to notice (or care) except me. Something about this movie spoke to people. I am baffled. Look, I’m a sucker for a good romance and I love horror films from all sub-genres, so the unique plot concept about zombies painfully being alive inside their bludgeoned heads even when their bodies are dead, and the idea that they can gradually come back to life when embraced with the feeling of love, was a huge selling point for me – but this movie completely missed both marks and gave up all its opportunities to exploit its unique storyline to the fullest.
Then there are the actors – they’re terrible. Yeah, the lead girl is cute in a rip-off Kristen Stewart kind of way, but she is ultimately and instantaneously forgettable. The boy is similarly bad – the worse zombie ever in fact – I’ve seen zombie extras play more believable and horrifying than him. The boy’s movements inconsistent, unrealistic and his moaning and groaning ability to communicate short sentences to the girl and other zombies is a real chore to sit through. Even the director Jonathan Levine clearly felt that way after he saw the footage edited together, because the amount of songs which they conveniently edit into the film to absolutely no added effect, is equally boring to sit through. I find better zombie music videos online at least once a week.
The director Jonathan Levine should be ashamed of himself. This is utterly and obviously a job he took for the money, as I can see no effort, interest or talent that was put into this – especially comparing it to previous stellar work he’s done when he’s motivated and inspired, such as the hilarious and poignant 50/50. Even The Wackness was better than this.
…As I think about it more now, maybe this is the best movie to see in theaters at this moment. At least half of the Best Picture noms are unjustified and obvious promotional tactics / pats-on-the-back, but at least filmmakers like Spielberg and David O. Russell care about their craft and what they bring to the screen and if they’re making a film for the paycheck, they put a little effort into it still. The writer, filmmakers and actors (including Malkovich) of Warm Bodies, should all be ashamed of themselves for letting such drivel cost $12.50 in pointless Cinema XD since there’s about as much XD worthy action in the movie as there is in Lincoln, and as little tangible romance as there is in Silver Linings Playbook. Go see something else.
The writing and producing team of Lena Dunham and Judd Apatow is brilliant. Dunham can provide for the real world dramatic back-and-forth of the characters and Apatow can provide for the off-the-wall hilarity which brings a typical dramatic scene to a whole other unexpected level. Season One of the HBO TV series “Girls” is basically like a new Lena Dunham film. I watched the episodes as they premiered on Sunday evenings last year, and then I watched them all over again in one long 10-hour marathon. Either way they’re bound to stay with you, affect you and peak your interest into what a second season would bring. And Season Two premieres this Sunday, January 13.
The set up for the series is simple and brilliant. It’s like a much more intelligent Sex and the City and for a much less Princess-syndrome-plagued audience. An audience not any less self-important and self-aware, but one whose just may be a little hipper, listens to Sleigh Bells, The Echo Friendly and prefers writing and art over college football and keg stands.
There’s even an ingenious referencing to Sex and the City by the most appropriate character for enjoying that kind of show on the series. She’s also the one who enjoys game shows, reality TV and is hyper-obsessed with perfection and losing her virginity. Let’s start with her – the least obvious of the cast of characters – and with the most befittingly bohemian uptight name: Soshanna. Soshanna’s still in college, lives with doll house decorations in her apartment and needs a serious wake-up call to life. She’s also the cousin of Jessa.
Jessa is your typical Urban Outfitters / Free People adorned Williamsburg hipster, although she has a little edge to her with the aloof-albeit-endearing foreign accent (which you have to even wonder if not unlike a Madonna-like play for attention, she puts on). She’s working in the most inappropriate job ever for someone as uninterested in personal responsibility as she is – an au pair for a well-off family with a too-busy-for-the-kids glamour industry mom and a shlubby, out of work musician dad who becomes more enamored with Jessa then his own children.
Then we get to the stars of show, Dunham herself (playing as Hannah) and her “best” friend and roommate Marnie. Marnie starts the whole series off on a downward trajectory which destroys the heart of a perfectly good boyfriend and finds her literally seething with hatred for her relationship with him because he’s “too nice” to her, and clearly because he sees beauty and perfection in her which she could never see in herself due to a plethora of hidden self-esteem issues which she’s dutifully masked throughout most of her life from everyone she knows – including the lowest self-esteemed of all – Hannah.
Marnie’s the kind of girl I literally find myself hating now, because I’ve seen what someone as damaged as she is can do to a relationship, and I don’t think they can ever really change. She’s too pretty to realize she’s pretty and she’s too uptight and self-obsessed to ever want a man who doesn’t beat her down with his disinterest in her any waking hour except those in which he’s horny.
Hannah is the most well-developed character (and interestingly the only one whose parents we’re introduced to), and best of all she’s got the perfect boyfriend. On the outset, her boyfriend Adam is a perverted loser, but the beauty of the way this series unfolds is that you learn to not judge any characters by their initial affectations, and instead (like real people) give them a chance to get to know you. Adam is a unique, artistic guy who’s not afraid to stand up for himself and not afraid to tell Hannah what he wants, even if it frightens her. What’s cool about the series Girls is that Dunham is pleading to women her age out there to give guys like this a solid chance, because honestly you could write him off over the first few episodes, but by the middle of the season you’re kind of hooked. He keeps Hannah honest, doesn’t necessarily tell her what she wants to hear, but always tells her what he’s feeling (when she takes the time to become un-self-absorbed and actually ask him). They’re a good combination of emotional intelligence and creativity for each other and really, Dunham puts all the pressure on the character she’s playing to keep it together with Adam, because (like most self-absorbed and low-esteemed girls) she’s unsure about a good thing.
Season Two has some changes in store for Hannah and Adam though, as Hannah will obviously be freaked out by the realization that Adam is actually in love and committing to her. Dunham actually sums up the feelings her character has for Adam in an honest and perfect real life example from her past (via Vulture), depicting just how some girls can be when they’re not emotionally mature at all:
The thing is, I’ve been in so many situations where, like, the power balance just shifts and shifts and shifts — like, I remember when I was 16 and I had this boyfriend from camp and I liked him so much, and he did not like me that much. He was really cool; he was a rapper, but he was not that into me. But then I went back home, he went back home, I started calling him a little less, and he turned into this mixtape-sending, flower-wielding person. I went to Boston to visit my friend and saw him, and we all went to a thrift store together, and it was like his passion for me was so unbridled he shoved me into a coat rack and tried to kiss me. And I was like, “Get off of me!” I just had this feeling like, “Where were you before?” I felt revulsion, because when you’re not mature enough to handle being responsible for somebody else’s feelings, their need is disgusting. When you really love someone, and you’re adult enough to understand that life is a back-and-forth of sometimes you need and sometimes they need, then you find somebody else’s vulnerability beautiful, and you want to nurture it, and you want to keep it safe. But I feel like, until pretty recently in my life, somebody expressing any kind of desperation or any kind of vulnerability — it was like your parents showing you they have real feelings, it was like running into your teacher on the subway. It was awful, and so I think that for Hannah this switch with Adam, even though it’s everything she had dreamed of, was overwhelming, and suddenly he’s a real person and she’s scared, and there’s this feeling of somebody else is wanting her time and her energy, and she’s not about that.
All the characters in this series are perfectly crafted out of real-life, they’re perfectly flawed and ingeniously paired. It’s a risky series for someone like Dunham to reveal because of its level of personal reflection and commitment as both filmmaker and star playing a role in which she must reflect many of her own personal demons. It’s also a challenging series because initially it was hard for me to become so invested in it; the girls are just so utterly off-putting to begin with that I found it to be more socially un-redeeming than socially revealing, but it’s an important and intelligent (and funny!) examination on young women and men and their ability to process and maintain meaningful relationships in today’s technocratic and constantly evolving world. Stick with it through the first few episodes and I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised and glad you met these characters.
Quentin Tarantino gets away with a lot in Hollywood. It appears he’s even celebrated for what he can get away with – the latest of which being the Oscar nod to Django Unchained in the Best Picture category. While his latest film is in no uncertain terms great, I’m hesitant to say it’s the Best Picture of the year… yet.
If you know Tarantino’s schtick, you’ve seen all of his other films; Django Unchained shouldn’t be surprising in any ways. QT creates each of his “new” films by arduously selecting only the best bits and pieces of a cinema long-gone and tying it all together in a story that is ripe with exposition, dialogue and graphic imagery. In this case, one bit he’s carefully selected from the annals of cinema history is the title and title character.
The original Django (from 1966, directed by Sergio Corbucci) had nothing to do with the Antebellum South or slavery, but it did have a man tortured by the loss of his woman who was also on a vengeful quest to get her back. One of my first disappointments with Tarantino’s film was the surprising lack of startling imagery as compared to many of his previous works. In this film, his usual cinematographer Robert Richardson and he, seemed to be a little less inspired with the visuals. For example, the opening imagery in Sergio Corbucci’s Django is of the titular character dragging behind him a coffin on a rope. Unchained opens with Django’s character walking in the woods tied to a group of other slaves – granted – also a powerful image you’d think, but not in the way it’s presented here, dark and expected, and even more, it’s an image that’s been burned into an American’s psyche forever. In this respect, I almost find myself having to agree with Spike Lee in his protestation at Unchained’s release, to leave this topic alone – almost.
That issue aside, the first three-quarters of the film had me pretty much hooked and under his spell. I commend Tarantino on what he’s succeeding to say with the story, but then by the end, when he goes for the simplistic, tie-up-every-loose-end-of-the-story-with-a-ridiculous-gunfight (very much akin to the final scene in True Romance or the Crazy 88’s scene in Kill Bill), my interest and appreciation quickly began to wane.
The thing about Tarantino’s films are they confidently take themselves very seriously. It’s why arguments are easy to make with Unchained about its use of the word “nigger” and its over-the-top violence. As for the word “nigger,” I’ll admit, I was a little taken aback by its gratuitous use from the first scenes forward in Unchained, but at the same time, I know that’s because I’ve been conditioned to be repelled by that word – a seemingly more disrespectful and distasteful slur now-a-days than, say, calling someone a “bitch” or a “fuck.” It seems to me that if we’re going to be repelled by the use of one derogatory slur, we should be repelled by them all equally. Historically though, I know the use of the word “nigger” was a real and extremely prevalent thing (and to some extent, unfortunately still is), and therefore, even though QT uses it to his cultish, slightly perverse pleasure here, it’s not without point or reason. For much of the violence, however, I cannot say the same.
Violence in the cinema has never been an issue to me; cinema is all fantasy no matter how you look at it, but it’s the new breed of violence in films (most of it re-invigorated by the torture-porn musings of films like Hostel, Saw and basically any “horror movie” from Asia in the past decade-and-a-half) that turns me off of filmmaking in general. Much of Tarantino’s brand of gun violence is point blank with plenty of maiming. When it works for the story, I can accept it and move on, but when it’s just random and unsubstantiated, I find myself getting bored. The final shootouts in Django Unchained are very over-the-top. Although someone will likely argue that I shouldn’t keep comparing them, the final shootout in Corbucci’s Django was equally over-the-top, but so much more acceptable (maybe not believable) – and just plain cool. Franco Nero, the actor who plays that original Django, after having his hands crushed to the point where he can’t hardly hold a gun, much less shoot it, musters the will and strength to bite through the trigger guard on his pistol and then by pressing the exposed trigger up against a gravestone, and using his gimp hand to hit the hammer back, he cleans out a cemetery full of bad guys all by himself.
Jamie Foxx’s Django has a far less impressive final shootout, although also equally unbelievable. Hardly even grazed by a bullet in a barrage of fire at him, he dives under a wooden wardrobe that is toppled over and despite it then being riddled with bullets – which indeed appear to be piercing the wood – he is not even showing a scratch once he emerges. It’s only that he runs out of ammo that he is even stopped and gives himself up. While I’ve always appreciated that Tarantino remains firmly planted in plausible territory with his action sequences in all his films, Unchained’s final shootouts seem a little haphazard and too “easy.”
As usual, the characters in Unchained are full, colorful and engaging. The highlights here are most certainly Leonardo DiCaprio as a young owner of one of the largest plantations in the South, his house slave, played by a well made-up Samuel L. Jackson and, of course, the always coolly hilarious and ebullient, Christoph Waltz as, quite literally, the only white man in the Antebellum time period to “abhor slavery,” aptly named Dr. King (Schultz). Upon just hearing the name for the first time in the movie, it brought a smile to my face.
Despite some of its drawbacks, Tarantino’s film is a much needed respite from the overwrought, striving-to-be-historically-accurate period pieces that normally tackle subjects as large, sensitive and America-centric as the Civil War and slavery, in that it allows audiences to actually enjoy a movie, while still also getting the gist of what was egregiously wrong about that time period in America’s history, and poking fun at how far (and in some cases, how not-so-far) we’ve come since then. Too bad Spielberg never had the balls to do that.
I wanted Les Misérables to be great, but it just wasn’t. A film that comes out on Christmas Day has got to be a pretty solid stuff, you’d think, but why wasn’t I blown away? Everyone else in the theater seemed to have a different outcome than I did; when the credits rolled, there was a momentary roar of applause. As if the people on the screen just moments before could hear us.
Tom Hooper’s film is not terrible per se; it’s just careless to some degree – for one specific reason – Russell Crowe. Whoever allowed him to be cast in this should be seriously re-examined for experience in their craft. Crowe is dismal in his technique throughout the entire film. It’s literally like he didn’t want to be on set. You can almost see him just wishing the song was over already. Like he was in physical pain every time Hooper called action and he knew he had to sing live to the unapologetic cameras. With every scene that Crowe inhabits he not only sings completely flat, but he literally acts completely flat. I’m not even sure if I caught him raising an eyebrow, much less a full facial expression. The most movement he makes is pacing on ledges, horseback riding, a bit of sword play, and a much welcomed, back-snapping swan dive onto a brick wall. I really just can’t express enough how much Crowe ruined this whole experience for me.
Now, let’s pretend that Crowe was impeccable in his performance (hell, I’d settle for even just OK in his performance); the film would then be good. Not examining Crowe’s performance would allow us to examine the performances of the other actors more closely. Anne Hathaway is terrific. There’s really nothing more to be said about her darkly poignant downward spiral of a performance. Hugh Jackman is good, notable for his live theatre abilities, but in Hooper’s film he lets the scenes get the best of him sometimes. Early on, (around the first act), he comes across much like DeNiro in Cuarón’s Great Expectations remake. I think that’s when I liked Jackman best – the beginning. By the end of the film he’s a little too obvious in his character’s affectations and voice, and it almost gets boring to some degree.
Hooper’s imbued a wonderful dark sensibility to the film to the film as well, which should not be overlooked. He could have chosen to make this lighter fare, but instead kept it classic, cold and literary. He basically could be said to have directed Les Misérables for the stage here, only with setups for cameras and grips. The majority of the shots are handheld, with a wide lens, but smack-up-close-and-personal-walking-with-a-character-as-they-sing-to-the-lens (or just beyond it). Hooper is doing his best to make this an intimate and personal stage experience for cinema-goers. Granted, it’s not the first time this filming style has been done to this effect, but it’s the first time in recent movie history that it’s worked to such great ability. And it very much indeed has worked here. The audience becomes so enthralled; they’re obviously even willing to overlook Crowe (it probably also helps that sadly, most American audiences have no prior education or knowledge of the story of Les Misérables, so it’s like a brand new movie for them).
Take, for example, Chicago, a critically acclaimed movie and a hit with audiences, adapted from the stage, but filmed like a traditional Hollywood picture – just with singing. Many of the great auteurs have tried to bring alive the feeling, the rush, the one-dimensionality and the purity of the theater to the screen (Bergman, Leigh), but until now there wasn’t really a formula that seemed to work. Hooper’s found it. Maybe there’s method in the madness of shooting the actors singing their lines live for each take; maybe that even dictated the reasoning for shooting Les Misérables in the fluid and realistic, on-stage-style that he did, but whatever the reason, you will no doubt see this production formula used again.
Les Misérables is a film your family will probably love, and it’s most certainly a film with heart and beauty, there were a lot of sniffles in the screening which I was at, and I can understand why. To those who know nothing about the craft of filmmaking, this is cinema they can truly let wash over them and enjoy effortlessly, but to those who watch movies in a different way, there’s a lot left to be desired.