Monthly Archives: December 2012

Django Unchained (2012)

Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino is back, and with him he has brought a truly remarkable piece of work. Django Unchained is the story of Django Freeman, a slave who finds his freedom and sets out to find his wife, from whom he was tragically separated. In the spirit of the old western and also of classic slavery films like Roots Tarantino attempts not only to approach the nasty topic of slavery, but to compose a sort of epic tale of heroism for blacks, that has been curiously absent from cinema where this particular bit of history is concerned.

Like all of Tarantino’s films, the cast is wonderful and strange. In a line-up you wouldn’t quite understand how all of these actors and actresses fit together, but Tarantino’s perverted and imaginative methodology acts as a sort of equalizer. The film stars Jamie Foxx as the title character Django, Christoph Waltz as bounty hunter and retired dentist Dr. King Schultz, Kerry Washington as Django’s wife Broomhilda, Leonardo DiCaprio as plantation owner Calvin Candie, and Tarantino’s favorite player Samuel L. Jackson as the detestable Uncle Tom, Steven.

Unsurprisingly all of the actors gave astoundingly wonderful performances. Each character clearly represented an attitude

Jamie Foxx as Django

Jamie Foxx as Django

and point of view relevant to the time period, and each actor embodied that point of view with surgical precision. The pressure was on for Foxx, seeing as a western needs a strong, unique leading man whose charm and determination set the tone for the film. In this, I would say that Foxx succeeded. His was one of the more dialed back performances, despite the jarring violence he was charged with portraying. This quality juxtaposes nicely with Tarantino’s poppy, in your face style of storytelling. Waltz on the other hand showed the same indescribable charm that we saw in Inglorious Basterds. Dr. King Schultz, the

Kerry Washington as Broomhilda

Kerry Washington as Broomhilda

character, adds an interesting and foreign element to the slave story we are accustomed to hearing. Washington had very few lines, but astoundingly her performance was the strongest. She conveys more

Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Schultz and Jamie Foxx as Django

Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Schultz and Jamie Foxx as Django

emotion with her body and her countenance than most of the films actors do throughout. DiCaprio fits into this character role so naturally and vibrantly that it was almost theatre. You got the feeling that his portrayal of Calvin Candie was literally the character that Tarantino formed in his mind. Jackson was truly and unbearably horrid, which means of course that he did his job exactly. He has that ability, to step into a role and give it exactly what it needs. Overall, the cast was tuned perfectly. Even down to the peripheral characters.

Django, as a telling of a man who wants to find his wife, is powerful and beautiful. Django as a retelling of slave times, was not told gently, but rather brutally. It was told, in many ways, how it was, with frequent use

Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie

Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie

of the word “nigger” from both the white and black actors. The film included mandingo fighting, klan riots, whipping, scientific racism, slave trading, prostitution, and all manner of racial politics. While humorous in places, it was as honest a telling as can be expected from this director, and he did well with the subject matter. Django as a story that gives black people a western hero, was a success. Tarantino made a film that deals with the darker side of U.S. history, but also made a film that tells a story about black people, and black love, which is lacking outside of films made exclusively by black film makers.

As with most of his films, Tarantino injects style into every aspect of a film. The soundtrack was wonderfully various. The inclusion of a theme song, along with songs specially made for the film like Rick Ross’ 100 Black Coffins. Everything from the music to the font of the captions, to the schmaltzy close ups throughout the film. Everything Tarantino does works because he does it with such candor. With such a remarkable posture, it is hard to imagine Tarantino doing any wrong.

I could go on about how personally impressed I am with Tarantino’s ability to tell stories, but I would mostly like to impress upon you the importance of this particular story. Most films are attempting to tell stories that have already been told. With Django, Tarantino tells a new story in a new way. And this particular story is so needed.

Rating: 10/10

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Filed under Action, Comedy, Drama, Western

On the Road (2012)

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…”

Directed by Walter Salles

Directed by Walter Salles

On the Road is a film adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s classic, and genius beat-generation tale of the same name. The film was directed by Walter Salles, and stars Sam Riley as Sal Paradise, Kristen Stewart as Marylou, and Garrett Hedlund as the illustrious Dean Moriarty. The difficulty of this films lies in the challenge to portray a novel that has many times been deemed unrepresentable. Whether or not they succeeded can be measured by the portrayal of the main characters, and the authenticity of Salles representation of the very distinct beat generation.

Sam Riley as Sal Paradise

Sam Riley as Sal Paradise

On the Road, the book, can be described as a dialogue between Kerouac and his youth. The characters of the book represent people who were actually a part of a trip Kerouac took across the country. The book reflects the journey that Kerouac took with Neal Cassady (who Dean Moriarty is based upon), a major face of the beat generation and the book is written stream of consciousness with very few breaks. Hence its reputation as being unrepresentable.

The film includes some of the important aspects of the original story. The costuming was right and the scenery was right. But the story was anachronistic and the casting was questionable. Sam Riley played a convincing Sal Paradise. Compared to Dean, Sal is a very understated

On the Road cast

On the Road cast

character. The subtleties of Sal Paradise are mostly captured by Riley’s performance. Though there may have been a certain calm lacking in him, we can perhaps chalk that up to the fact that the movie seemed mostly to take place in the present while the book was more of a reflection by an older Sal. Kristen Stewart played the love interest of Dean, and sometimes Sal, and as portrayals go it was not the strongest. That can’t be completely blamed on Stewart however; it seemed that she played the character as written, but the character was not written properly. The performances of the smaller cast members, however, ought not be overlooked. Amy Adams, Tom Sturridge, Elizabether Moss, Kirsten Dunst, and Viggo Mortensen performed splendidly. Their individual performance, while short-lived, illuminated the story and brought wonderful clarity to adaptation.

Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty

Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty

Hedlund’s portrayal of Dean Moriarty is still one that is stewing with me. It takes time and patience to digest Dean Moriarty and it will take even more time to understand how one portrays such a character. Dean is truly an enigma. It seems so even to Kerouac. Another reason this book may be deemed unrepresentable is because one of the key players, Dean, is written from Sal’s point of view. So any actor seeking to portray Dean has to consider what of Dean is unseen to Sal and represent that as well. All complexities aside, Hedlund did a bang up job on Dean Moriarty. It would have been very easy to overstate the characters, and turn him into a caricature. but Hedlund’s performance was finely tuned and he burned down to the bottom of the wick of Dean Moriarty.

The power of On the Road as it was written most likely cannot be recaptured on a screen. It happens so vividly in the heart upon being read that the best medium for the retelling of Kerouac’s tale seems to be the original scroll, not the movie screen. That being said, Salles and his beloved cast made a hell of a go. When you watch this film you might feel that magic for a moment. You might feel yourself atop that pickup truck with the wind blowing through you. You might live for a moment in the brass of the jazz saxophones. You might even feel the fever of Dean, and the quite passion of Sal, and the beat generation pressing into your lungs like a sticky Mexico night.

Rating: 6.5/10

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Filed under Film Adaptation, Indie

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

“When life reaches out at a moment like this, it’s a sin if you don’t reach back.”

Directed By David O. Russell.

Directed By David O. Russell.

Silver Linings Playbook is a film adaptation of author Matthew Quick’s novel about a Pat Solitano, who struggles to readjust after a stint in a mental hospital. David O. Russell, director of I Heart Huckabees and The Fighter, again demonstrates his understanding of human movement through the world with this peculiar foray into the psychosocial.

Leading actress Jennifer Lawrence plays the role of Tiffany, an apparently fucked up girl whose instability was brought on by her husband’s death. Lawrence, unsurprisingly, slips into the role like an old professional and plays Tiffany in a very human way. While Lawrence has experienced recent success with blockbusters like The Hunger Games (also a film adaptation), she was recognized before then for her acting prowess when she was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role at the Academy Awards, for 2010 independent film Winter’s Bone (also based on a book). So for those of us who like to stay plugged into the indie movie scene, Jennifer Lawrence was already on the radar screen.

Bradley Cooper as Pat Solitano and Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany

Bradley Cooper as Pat Solitano and Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany

Lead actor Bradley Cooper on the other hand was not. While he has demonstrated great versatility in moving between comedies and dramas more smoothly than most actors do, Cooper hadn’t exactly had his Winter’s Bone, so to speak. but with Silver Linings Playbook, Cooper’s embodiment of Pat Solitano is gloriously uncomfortable. Pat set’s your teeth on edge. He makes you want to leave the room. It is as if his instability provokes instability in others. Cooper played the role like a cello. For every quick remark, every tense or loose muscle in his neck, every twitch and flicker Cooper was there, without the thin buffer that separates actor and character. Every nerve in his body was Pat Solitano. Every measure of temperament, the highs and the lows, were there and realistic. This may have been his best performance to date.

Jacki Weaver as Dolores Solitano and Robert De Niro as Patricio Solitano

Jacki Weaver as Dolores Solitano and Robert De Niro as Patricio Solitano

Reunited on screen with Cooper was Robert De Niro, who played Pat’s father, Pat Sr. Bookkeeper and dedicated Eagles fan, Pat Sr. was a superstitious and beautiful man. De Niro’s acting sensibility is always well adjusted to a balance between guarded and vulnerable, and that is exactly what his character was. De Niro’s performance was only illuminated by surrounding performances by Jacki Weaver (wife, Dolores Solitano), and Chris Tucker (Pat’s friend, Danny).

The story isn’t one that everyone can relate to, but its keen resonance is probably the most compelling truth of its greatness. A combination skilled performances by a wonderful cast, brilliant directing, and a naturally occurring, honest string of events has wrought a wonderful mess of a film.

This film is a romance. It could probably be described as a romantic comedy, but it is an outlier if that is so. All of the actors seemed to be so huddled around their characters. The vibrations of human life were all throughout. It was very unusual, and no part of it felt like acting. But more than this film is a romantic comedy, it is a biography. It is a biography of every gentle, and every violent movement and moment in the world. This film is soul cartography, and it is a silver lining around the dark cloud of the film industry.

Rating: 9/10

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Filed under Dark Comedy, Film Adaptation, Romance, Romantic Comedy