Tarantino, ‘Django’, and the Beast That is Christoph Waltz

Posted in Movies on January 11th, 2013 by Nick

jamie-foxx-600Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino’s latest bloodfest, explores slavery, revenge, love, loyalty, and friendship. It’s a pre-Civil War Western set in the times of slavery when Northerners had very different viewpoints about race and freedom than their Southern counterparts. There’s heaps of violence, stellar acting (more on that later), classic QT quips, diverging dialogues, and beautiful cinematography. It’s quite possibly everything one could ask for in a Tarantino flick. So why am I left feeling underwhelmed?

The story follows a newly freed slave, Django (Jamie Foxx), and his bounty hunting partner, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), as they tour the country finding and killing wanted criminals for handsome bounties. With money lining their pockets, Django and Schultz set out to rescue Django’s wife (Kerry Washington) from the cruel hands of a perverse plantation owner (LEO!) and “mandingo fighting” enthusiast (it’s like cock fighting except with male slaves – no big deal).

The film has lots working in its favor. Partly shot in Louisiana and Wyoming, the rural settings used in the film produced some really breathtaking exterior scenes. With violence percolating left and right, Tarantino remains dedicated to giving the audience a visually stunning, light-hearted (given the subject matter), and quite entertaining film. You never watch the same gun slingin’ shootout twice because the camera is always doing something quirky and unique. The director’s style never fails to leap off the screen.

And the acting! It’s refreshing to see Leonardo DiCaprio taking on a villainous role so completely different from his staple gigs – especially since he knocked it out of the park. As the two-faced Calvin Candie, DiCaprio transformed from charming Southern gentleman to an evil, maleficent torturer like some sort of nineteenth century Jekyll and Hyde, flashing a devious smile that hides the many secrets of his slave-ridden plantation. Samuel L. Jackson is also excellent as Stephen, Candie’s right hand man, who seems more loyal to his white owner than his fellow servants. Jackson plays the miserable, tattling curmudgeon brilliantly – and it looks like he had a blast doing so.

As for Christoph Waltz, his Best Supporting Actor nomination says it all. Dr. Shultz is the direct opposite of Waltz’s other Tarantino character, Colonel Hans Landa (Inglourious Basterds). He’s kind-hearted, logical, and you know, not an elitist, racist, egotist, or Nazi. Schultz frees Django, taking him into his command, returning his freedom, and even becoming his trusted ally. Schultz’s allegiance to Django throughout tugs subtlety at your heartstrings and makes you love the character and love the man portraying him. Many are hailing Jackson as the star here, but I digress.

Though enjoyable, Django didn’t really rustle my feathers. Jamie Foxx was just OK as the taciturn lead character, and Django’s story wasn’t as vengeful or exciting as say, The Bride’s in Kill Bill, or Shosanna’s in Basterds. Perhaps there lies my struggle: Tarantino’s resume is mindfuckingly amazing. Maybe the passion and excitement I felt walking away from Death Proof and Bill can’t be topped. Is it fair of me to critique this film based on the director’s other works? Probably not. Django didn’t feel incomplete, nor unworthy to sit amongst the Bills, Fictions and Dogs of the past, but it certainly didn’t resonate any deeper than surface-level entertainment with this QT fan.

But those performances, man. Wow.

Grade: B-

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The 82nd Annual Academy Awards

Posted in Movies on March 8th, 2010 by Nick

Here is my commentary on last night’s Oscar ceremony, as promised. Hopefully, this post will take you less time to read than it took to watch the absurdly long and drawn out show.

Though the show seemed to be progressive (probably thanks to my DVR), it still clocked in at a lengthy three-and-a-half hours. Hosts Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin were just OK for me. They had a few funny punchlines, but with Neil Patrick Harris opening the show with another musical number, it seemed like Baldwin and Martin were barely a part of the broadcast. Is anyone else feeling the NPH overexposure? Between How I Met Your Mother, The Emmys, and his role last night – enough is enough already.

Putting the awards aside for a second, my favorite parts were the tributes to John Hughes and the Horror genre. Molly Ringwald and Matthew Broderick began what was a very touching and classy tribute to the director. Ringwald said that Hughes “saw something in me at the age of 16 I didn’t even see in myself.” Ally Sheedy, Macaulay Culkin, Jon Cryer, Anthony Michael Hall, and Judd Nelson joined Ringwald and Broderick on stage after an amazing montage of all of Hughes’ finest work. Bravo, Academy! Nicely done.

The Horror tribute was also quite a treat, especially for this Horror fan. The two assclown Twilight stars set up the clip, but once the reel started I was in glee. Horror provides a starting ground for so many A-listers. It was nice to see the genre get at least a little recognition. Shock Til You Drop posted the clip in full.

And then the awards happened. And The Hurt Locker bitchslapped Avatar into submission taking almost everything out of the hands of Cameron and his blue Na’vi (full list of winners here). I have to say it – as much as I thought Avatar was amazing, and as much cred it’s getting for “changing filmmaking as we know it,” I was still on Team Hurt Locker ever since I saw it a few months ago. Kathryn Bigelow created a  movie portraying soldiers in Iraq that was not only gripping and real, but free from any political agenda. It was honest, relavant, and moving, winning Best Picture deservedly. Avatar, at the end of the day, is a blockbuster. It won every category that it should have won, but to this day I still think Cameron could’ve made so many different statements with a different ending. But nope – they fall in love and live happily ever after. Best Picture? I think not.

Christophe Waltz wins Best Supporting Actor and Mo’Nique wins Best Supporting Actress. Were these categories even a competition? Waltz tore it up in Inglourious Basterds. Precious was a fantastic movie and Mo was a large part of what made that movie so heartbreaking. Her speech could’ve been better, so check out her Golden Globe acceptance instead. But who cares really? It was her moment and she said what she wanted to.

Am I the only person on earth who doesn’t really care about all the Sandra Bullock hype? Best Actress? For The Blind Side? Really?? I’ll admit I haven’t seen the movie. I thought the trailer looked stupid and the movie looked incredibly fake. It’s based on a true story, but one they surely re-wrote and made Hollywood. Even though Gabourey Sidibe had zero chance in hell, I was still rooting for the underdog who sat in her seat beaming as Oprah Winfrey praised her. I guess I have nothing to do but watch The Blind Side, if only to validate (or refute!) my presupposition. I don’t dislike Bullock by any means; I just don’t really buy all the buzz.

I’m in danger of this becoming just as long as the damn awards, so thanks to those still with me. The Hurt Locker - very good. See it! While you’re doing that, I’ll promise to get my Crazy Heart on.

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'Inglourious'? Quite the contrary..

Posted in Movies on September 3rd, 2009 by Nick

inglourious-basterds

QT did it again. And I love him for it.

Checked out Inglourious Basterds (damn the spelling to hell!). Although I’m still trying to digest it all in full, I must say: GO SEE THIS MOVIE. And do it now.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m quite biased in terms of Tarantino films. I love his love for cinema and it exudes out of every film he’s ever made, this one in particular – a spaghetti western set to the backdrop of World War 2 and Hitler and the Third Reich.

Things I loved:

1. Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa. Waltz totally deserved the Best Actor prize at Cannes for his portrayal of the Austrian Colonel sent to track down Jews in hiding. His performance was light and airy, yet ice cold at the same time. Brilliant performance, really.

2. The film was still chock full of Tarantino’s great dialogue and superb tension building techniques. The scene in particular? Col. Landa’s inquisition of Pierre LaPadite (Denis Menochet) has Landa trying to discern whether or not Jews are being harbored in the Frenchman’s home. The conversation and tension, plus the respect both characters have for each other in that one scene is quite Tarantino-esque and quite rewarding as well.

3. Though definitely trademarked with Tarantino’s style, the movie wasn’t as zany and outlandish as I was expecting. Given his recent films (Death Proof, Kill Bill), I was expecting Basterds to be slightly more out there in terms of style and story. Surprisingly, it was relatively down to earth considering its creator.

Brad Pitt was surprisingly good! Eli Roth starred in it! So did B.J. Novak! I could continue to gush, but I won’t. Go see it.

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