Category Archives: Action

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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Looper (2012)

“Time travel has not yet been invented. But thirty years from now, it will have been.”

Directed and written by Rian Johnson

Rian Johnson gives us his take on time travel in the recent film, Looper, featuring rising star Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and old pro Bruce Willis. The film takes place in the year 2074, and from the onset we are informed by a disembodied voice, later attached to the protagonist Joe, that time travel will be invented three decades from his time and that when it is the risk-level of murdering a person and getting caught is very high. Therefore, mobsters from 30 years in the future send back their hits to the past where hired assassins like Joe, called loopers, kill them. The story takes a turn when Joe is tasked with killing his future self (Bruce Willis), or in looper jargon, “closing his loop.” SPOILERS LIE AHEAD, FRIENDS.

Breaking Bad director Rian Johnson does not disappoint with this film. The primary concern with films that take place in the future is that there is enough believability to remove the disconcerting effort, on the viewers part, of suspending disbelief. Johnson was able to succeed in that regard. The future that he constructs, 62 years from now, has biological, social, and technical advances that stem realistically from ones we are familiar with today. Johnson strategically plants plot points by incorporating certain advances that later become relevant in the film. His techniques are clear and effective, which are necessary qualities in a science fiction film.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Looper

The story really gets rolling after all the nuances of the future are established. Us Breaking Bad fans were excited to see that Johnson couldn’t resist the gritty addition of a new drug to the futuristic world; a drug that Joe is addicted to. But beyond that small treat, things really ramped up (and got a little mixed up chronology-wise) when Joe seemingly failed to close his loop, or in other words, kill himself. We are originally presented with a scene wherein Joe is bested by his older self, who escapes without being killed. Then time is rewound and we see the original event, where Joe successfully closes his loop, goes on to live his life, and as his

Bruce Willis as old Joe and Qing Zu as Wife

older self witnesses the death of his wife by mobsters who were enlisted to close his loop and all other loops by a man called the ‘Rainmaker.’ Thereon Old Joe decides to change events and live in order to ensure the safety of his wife’s future. It’s not easy to follow, as we tend to think of time as completely linear and time travel fucks that all up, but Johnson makes relatively clean work of it.

From this point in the story there exists a conflict of interests between young and old Joe. Young Joe wants to secure his job and the next 30 years of his life, and old Joe wants to save his future by killing the young Rainmaker, before he/she can even become the Rainmaker. In a shuffle between the two young Joe accidentally obtained the coordinates of one of the children old Joe though might be the Rainmaker, and then the story takes an unexpected turn. One might event call it a twist. The rest of the film is a wonderful secret that can only be imparted through the privilege of viewing it (gotta draw the line somewhere!).

Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Joe

Fledgeling leading man Joseph Gordon-Levitt was impressive as per usual. For those of us who swoon over him it was a bit difficult to adjust to the fact that it looked like Bruce Willis’ face had been copied and pasted onto his, but the desired effect of making them look like different versions of the same man was more or less achieved. Bruce Willis is always convincing as the brawny, but in love, ruggedly handsome older man. They both brought the required emotion, and I walked away believing that they were both Joe, and that they were both motivated by profound hurt and loss, which makes the ending very powerful.

Looper was a very solid time travel film, with an unexpected emotional twinge, and an ironic twist that gives new meaning to “breaking the cycle.”

Rating: 8/10

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Premium Rush (2012)

“I like to ride. Fixed gear. No brakes. Can’t stop. Don’t want to, either.”

Directed by David Koepp

Just when you thought that Joseph Gordon-Levitt couldn’t be more versatile he becomes Lance Armstrong (recent circumstances notwithstanding). David Koepp’s new action/thriller, Premium Rush, is about a young bike messenger named Wilee, who winds up entangled in a conflict surrounding a package he has been charged with delivering. The story involves a dirty cop, a motherless child and an interesting network of personal relationships within the bike messenger community. (Light spoilers)

Wilee: Brakes are death.

Firstly, we are presented with a cliche character in Wilee, whose name gives us an idea of his characteristics. Young guy, scared to death of the grey suits walking up and down Wall Street. He lives fast, and without reservation. These character traits are extended to the way in which Wilee rides his bike (literally, with no breaks).

Michael Shannon as Bobby Monday

The story escalates quickly into a frenzy over a letter Wilee is charged with delivering, and from then on the film become increasingly anachronistic. We are introduced to different parts of the storyline as they become relevant. The story of the dirty cop, Bobby Monday, who gets in deep with the gamblers. The story of Wilee and his girlfriend Vanessa. Ten finally the story of the letter’s sender and Vanessa’s roommate, Nima, whose fate relies on the delivering of the letter to the proper recipient.

The film was paced rather well. Many scenes feature Wilee pausing and determining the best route to go in New York City traffic. In theses moments the directing and cinematography have the feel of a video game, which is something I enjoyed and also found effective, seeing as Koepp seemed to want the viewer to understand Wilee’s intuition, and reliance on adrenaline and instinct.

Joseph Gordon Levitt as Wilee and Dania Ramirez as Vanessa

I was personally impressed with the volume of ethnic actors and actresses in the film. Aside from JGL and Michael Shannon, all primary players were ethnic minorities. This includes X-Men: The Last Stand’s Dania Ramirez, who is Dominicana, as the love interest of the main character, Wilee; Aasif Mandvi, an Indian-American as Wilee’s boss; Black actor Wolé Parks as Manny, the cocky bastard whose role teetered between playful antagonist and reluctant comrade; and finally Korean-American Jamie Chung, who played the women at the center of the controversy. I’d like to take a moment to commend Koepp for the inclusion of such an uncommonly diverse arsenal of actors and actresses. I wish it weren’t so unusual, but credit is due.
When it comes down to the actual story, ultimately, Wilee is the sympathetic character. He wants to live free, and ride uninhibited. And while he suffers an injury because of this ideology, he eventually ties up the loose ends of the story and comes out on top. Even Vanessa, who represented a sort of incentive for Wilee to reconsider his ways, eventually comes around to his way of thinking. There’s even a flashback to the night when Wilee first wins his bike in a raffle of sorts. There is somethings about the presentation that glorifies that night; he gets the bike, and he meets his girl, the only two things he seems to care about. Koepp’s intention to give this way of life an allure is ever present.  While the movie ends with Wilee making some concessions, the take away still seems to be that real freedom is in the choice to live without breaks.

The movie is fun, fast-paced, funny and charming. Everything you can hope to enjoy on a slow Friday night. In terms of reaching its goals, this was a very solid film, and you’ll probably like it as much as I did.

Rating: 8/10

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The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

“If you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal… you become something else entirely. A legend, Mr. Wayne, a legend!”

Directed by Christopher Nolan

This piece of dialogue encapsulates the very nature of the final installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, The Dark Knight Rises. Nolan’s ability to compose a plot, a simple sequence of events, outclasses that of any other action movie of TDKR’s kind. This film was the culmination of everything great about Nolan as a director, and everything great about the Batman movies thus far. All things considered, it could not be any better.  Spoilers ahead. And don’t even think about reading this before you see it, because I will haunt your dreams if you do. Good then. I should also mention that Nolan is one of my favorite directors, so.

For me, going to see a Marvel/DC Comics movies is always an event. Actually watching the movie is only one part of the process. It begins when I prepare myself to see the movie, and in this case that included adjusting my expectations. What was I expecting to see? What did I want to see? This proved essential. As I shake my head gratifyingly at the flurry of Facebook posts by my friends, whose reviews betray every bit of their disappointment in the film, I think to myself ‘they’ve gone and ruined it for themselves’. This is important to state before I truly review this movie, if you go see The Dark Knight Rises with the hope that it will top The Dark Knight you will be disappointed. Now, if you go in looking for the end of a trilogy (what the movie is actually supposed to be, instead of a desperate Nolan trying to convince everyone that he can top his masterpiece) you will be pleased, and pleasantly surprised. You’ll see the light and you’ll make the leap, but we’ll get to that.

The Dark Knight Rises sports one hot and spicy cast. It’s like the cast of Inception but Leo and Ellen are on sick leave. Christian Bale returns, crippled, but in better shape acting-wise than ever (and his body). The gentleman’s club that is comprised of Michael Cane, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman (with brief hints of Liam Neeson) is back, and more distinguished and intense than ever. Then we’ve got newcomers to the story, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, and Tom Hardy. Sometimes when there are too many famous and beloved actors in one film it becomes sort of a dying star. But Nolan allocates time and focus to these characters so well that their talents are completely optimized, making for a stupendously acted film.

Tom Hardy was fantastic as Bane. I mean The Joker is not to be followed. He has to be at least in the top 3 most beloved comic book villains of all time; that along with the fact

Tom Hardy as Bane

that Heath Ledger gave one of the best performances of all time. So in a way Tom Hardy had the toughest job of all: being the villain to follow The Joker. His swollen muscles and menacingly croaky voice instilled a bit of fear in me, I must say. I was impressed. Anne Hathaway was also quite delicious as Catwoman. Some, who no doubt remember her doe eyed roles in movies like The Princess Diaries and The Devil Wears Prada, thought she couldn’t pull off the role of a sexy sleuth. I daresay she proved them wrong.

Catwoman (Selina Kyle): There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne.

Anne Hathaway as Catwoman

Nolan was faced with one of the greatest struggles a film maker can come up against. Supplying a follow-up to a smash hit. It was enough to stress me out for years, so I can’t imagine his ordeal. The thing is, if he’d tried to create another Dark Knight, in other words give us the same things but amplify them, this movie would have been a failure. But clever as he is, instead of trying to one up himself he actually told the damn story. On a larger scale, with bigger stakes and a greater, more pertinent integration of character development in our protagonist: Batman.

The crisis of Bruce Wayne has been a common theme in this character from its inception (pun intended). In this film Bruce is presented to us as a recluse, having been stunted by the loss of Rachael, his childhood friend, great love, and his key to escaping the trap that is his life as Batman. He only ‘rises’ from his seclusion when it becomes clear that Bane is a serious threat to Gotham, at which point Nolan introduces the first step in his dismantling of Wayne’s world (geddit?): the departure of Alfred Pennyworth. In Alfred’s departure we lose, along with

Christian Bale and Michael Caine

Wayne, a constant comfort. Along with Alfred goes the bit of happiness Wayne was holding on to: the plan of another life with Rachael. Quickly following was Nolan’s second step in developing the Wayne crisis: the shooting and hospitalization of Tinker Tailor Soldier Commissioner Gordon. These losses are followed by the loss of Wayne’s fortune, at the hands of Bane. So at this particular juncture in the story, Batman has lost his one unyieldingly dedicated servant, lost the bit of Rachael he was holding on to, faces the loss of his trusted ally in the police force, and lost an essential part of what even makes him a superhero: his money. The theme of loss continues from the previous film, into this one. What Nolan is doing is genius. When it starts to look like Wayne has nothing, when her enters the action film’s sweet sweet ‘protagonist with nothing to lose’ spot, whose lack of fear of death and consequences will win him victory, just when Nolan gets Wayne into that spot he takes a sharp left and revisits the glory that was Batman Begins.

Bane: I am Gotham’s reckoning.

I’ve always felt that with all the hype around The Dark Knight (well deserved hype), Batman Begins has become terribly underrated. I’m an avid book reader before a film watcher, and I’ve noticed in my travels that people tend to favor the middle of a story. The beginning is slow and deliberate. It supplies a lot of information, but not a lot of excitement. The middle is pure excitement, rising action, and mystique. But the middle can only be that if the beginning is just right, and if the end ties everything together. The Dark Knight is the quarterback of the trilogy. People will always love it the most and even if they understand the importance of the other two, they won’t car because ‘Hey! Look! The Joker!’. I personally have a great fondness for Batman Begins. For that reason, I appreciate Nolan revisiting the beginning in order to tell the end. I appreciate seeing Wayne get stripped down to the bare bones of his past, til’ it literally comes back and stabs him between the ribs. TDKR was an allusion to the intrigue of Batman Begins. Any good story must grapple with its beginning in order to come to an end.

As usual, the movie offered plenty to follow. Nolan knows how to keep the minds of his audience busy. You’ve got Catwoman (played by a saucy Anne Hathaway) in one corner trying to settle the score with the ‘wrong people’. You’ve got Commissioner Gordon Jr., John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who becomes Batman’s partner in crime (wink wink wink wink…..nudge). You’ve got Bane running around inciting angry mobs, and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) trying to pick up the pieces. You’ve got Bruce struggling to escape exile and eventual execution. There’s the usual power grabby nonsense and general discord in the police force (even on a national scale this time). All the while here I am picturing poor Alfred hopelessly tilling a garden in Florence, hoping Bruce will come by wearing a tweed jacket, carrying a basket of fresh fruits and sporting a smile as wide as the lawn of Wayne Manor.

Batman: A hero can be anyone.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Detective John Blake

The heart of this movie lies in its classic moments of realization, character development and atonement.When Catwoman saves the kid with the apple. When Deputy Commissioner Foley races to the streets in his dress blues. When a story of love and heroism is unraveled through the story’s villains, Bane and Miranda Al Ghul. When Bruce realizes his lack of fear of death is an obstacle rather than a weapon; when he finally escaped his exile by making the leap across that chasm. The jarring moment when Commissioner Gordon finally realizes that Batman is Bruce Wayne. These are all what the story is all about. The confused nature of good and evil. The dilemma of allegiance to ideals. The realization that comes with total loss. The products of desperation. All human stories told within a superhero action movie.

The story seemed as if it was going to end on a very low note. Then this one cool thing happened* (*a series of cool things). The set-up nearly made me piss myself. Suddenly the inclusion of Joseph Gordon-Levitt made sense. That part I won’t spoil. But just know, it is pretty exciting.

The Dark Knight Rises is the end of, possibly, the best superhero story yet. Not even a Superman preview before the film could distract from the last of the greatest action film trilogy ever.

Rating: 10/10

I’d like to close this review by taking a moment to address the shooting that happened at the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado. When I awoke this morning and turned on CNN the first thing I saw was the news of the murder of what at that time was believe to be 14 people. The coverage on this story is through the roof, so I imagine most people have heard what happened. For those who haven’t, feel free to read a version of the story here.

My heart aches for the victims and all pe0ple present for this sickening, nonsensical, violent act. There isn’t much to say that seems worth saying in response to so grizzly an attack, but I hope those people feel the love all around this country for them. I hope the gunman faces repercussions and ultimately finds balance within himself.

REST IN PEACE

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.” (Charles Dickens)

July 20th, 2012

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