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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'Inglourious'? Quite the contrary..

Posted in Movies on September 3rd, 2009 by Nick

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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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David Carradine found dead in Bangkok

Posted in Movies on June 4th, 2009 by Nick

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Apparent suicide. So sad. The AP article is below..

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BANGKOK — Actor David Carradine, star of the 1970s TV series “Kung Fu,” who also had a wide-ranging career in the movies, has been found dead in the Thai capital, Bangkok. A news report said he was found hanged in his hotel room and was believed to have committed suicide.

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy, Michael Turner, confirmed the death of the 72-year-old actor. He said the embassy was informed by Thai authorities that Carradine died either late Wednesday or early Thursday, but he could not provide further details out of consideration for his family.

The website of the Thai newspaper The Nation cited unidentified police sources as saying Carradine was found Thursday hanged in his luxury hotel room.

It said Carradine was in Bangkok to shoot a movie and had been staying at the hotel since Tuesday.

The newspaper said Carradine could not be contacted after he failed to appear for a meal with the rest of the film crew on Wednesday, and that his body was found by a hotel maid at 10 a.m. Thursday morning. The name of the movie was not immediately available.

It said a preliminary police investigation found that he had hanged himself with a cord used with the room’s curtains. It cited police as saying he had been dead at least 12 hours and there was no sign that he had been assaulted.

A police officer at Bangkok’s Lumpini precinct station would not confirm the identity of the dead man, but said the luxury Swissotel Nai Lert Park hotel had reported that a male guest killed himself there.

Carradine was a leading member of a venerable Hollywood acting family that included his father, character actor John Carradine, and brother Keith.

In all, he appeared in more than 100 feature films with such directors as Martin Scorsese, Ingmar Bergman and Hal Ashby. One of his prominent early film roles was as singer Woody Guthrie in Ashby’s 1976 biopic “Bound for Glory.”

But he was best known for his role as Kwai Chang Caine, a Shaolin priest travelling the 1800s American frontier West in the TV series “Kung Fu,” which aired in 1972-75.

He reprised the role in a mid-1980s TV movie and played Caine’s grandson in the 1993-1997 syndicated series “Kung Fu: The Legend Continues.” The series, which can still be seen in reruns, was shot in Toronto where Carradine lived for part of the time while it was in production.

He returned to the top in recent years as the title character in Quentin Tarantino’s two-part saga “Kill Bill.”

The character, the worldly father figure of a pack of crack assassins, was a shadowy presence in 2003’s “Kill Bill — Vol. 1.” In that film, one of Bill’s former assassins (Uma Thurman) begins a vengeful rampage against her old associates.

In “Kill Bill — Vol. 2,” released in 2004, Thurman’s character comes face to face again with Bill himself. The role brought Carradine a Golden Globe nomination as best supporting actor.

Bill was a complete contrast to his TV character Kwai Chang Caine, the soft-spoken refugee from a Shaolin monastery, serenely spreading wisdom and battling bad guys in the Old West. He left after three seasons, saying the show had started to repeat itself.

After “Kung Fu,” Carradine starred in the 1975 cult flick “Death Race 2000.” He starred with Liv Ullmann in Bergman’s “The Serpent’s Egg” in 1977 and with his brothers in the 1980 Western “The Long Riders.”

But after the early 1980s, he spent two decades doing mostly low-budget films. Tarantino’s films changed that.

“All I’ve ever needed since I more or less retired from studio films a couple of decades ago . . . is just to be in one,” Carradine told The Associated Press in 2004.

“There isn’t anything that Anthony Hopkins or Clint Eastwood or Sean Connery or any of those old guys are doing that I couldn’t do,” he said. “All that was ever required was somebody with Quentin’s courage to take and put me in the spotlight.”

One thing remained a constant after “Kung Fu“: Carradine’s interest in Oriental herbs, exercise and philosophy. He wrote a personal memoir called “Spirit of Shaolin” and continued to make instructional videos on tai chi and other martial arts.

In the 2004 interview, Carradine talked candidly about his past boozing and narcotics use, but said he had put all that behind him and stuck to coffee and cigarettes.

“I didn’t like the way I looked, for one thing. You’re kind of out of control emotionally when you drink that much. I was quicker to anger.”

“You’re probably witnessing the last time I will ever answer those questions,” Carradine said. “Because this is a regeneration. It is a renaissance. It is the start of a new career for me.

“It’s time to do nothing but look forward.”

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