Django Unchained – Quentin Tarantino – 2012

Django posterIt is difficult to imagine Will Smith uttering the line, “I count two guns, nigga.” It is hard to imagine Will Smith taking glee in murdering white people. It is hard to imagine Will Smith dripping in blood or doing anything that Jamie Foxx in ‘Django Unchained‘ does.

But apparently this is exactly what Quentin Tarantino thought would be happening. It is reported that he wrote the role for Will Smith. It is hard than to understand what is going on in Tarantino’s head.

He is an eccentric. His thoughts make little sense. He belittles reporters, perhaps slightly unjustly. He writes from improbable dream casts. There is no guessing what Tarantino is going to say or do next.

That is exactly what makes him an exciting director. Like von Trier, hard to know what he was thinking with the screenplay of ‘Antichrist’. Or what Harmony Korine is thinking with a feature length film with Disney girls in bikinis robbing shit. You can’t understand them.

It will confound many people why Quentin Tarantino choose to speak with an Australian accent in his cameo in ‘Django Unchained.’ But that is the fun of it. The film is a delight for the surprises, all the eccentricities and unpredictables that Tarantino jams in.

‘Django Unchained’ follows Django, a slave freed by bounty hunter, Dr. King Shultz (Christoph Waltz). The two make a pact. Django will help with the bounties, Shultz will take Django to free his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his watchful servant, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson).

The story isn’t exactly original, but as often the case with Tarantino, it is the necessary bones on which to attach all characters and sequences and big speeches that pour from his mind.

django-jacksonNot everything works. The character of Broomhilda is undeveloped and blank. But other parts do. It is Tarantino’s unpredictability that allows Samuel L. Jackson to play his freshest role in years. Finally he isn’t playing Samuel L. Jackson.

The narrative does allow Tarantino to explore his favourite theme amongst all his ideas. The theme of language and the power of language returns here. It is a film about the gift of language, and I felt satisfied when it did rear its head.

The film is a mess of scenes, ideas, characters and words. But it is fun, seeing Tarantino’s odd mind splashed onto the silver screen once more. Everything is fresh, even if it is a re-imagining of a character from the 1966 spaghetti western ‘Django’.

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Hitchcock – Sacha Gervasi – 2012

ImageOdd for a film dedicated to a filmmaker to depict the filmmaker as mostly useless. That is exactly what ‘Hitchcock’ does. It would be easy to come away from this film thinking Hitchcock was both incompetent and borderline crazy.

‘Hitchcock’ tells about a slice of the relationship between Sir Alfred Hitchcock and Alma Reville. One year, or so, from a 54 year long relationship. This particular year has the production of ‘Psycho’ as a backdrop.

And that is exactly how the production of ‘Psycho’ is depicted. A backdrop for domestic tensions and jealousy. It almost belittles the film and its importance to make it the background of a romance.

We only catch brief glimpses of the production. Sometimes the production seems silly, scenes filled with jokes that are easy with hindsight. The depiction of Anothny Perkins for example.

At other times, Alfred is depicted as distracted and out of touch on the set. Not even paying attention at times. Never mind that in real life, Hitchcock used his skilled hand to make a masterpiece.

The relationship between Alma and Alfred just isn’t interesting enough to carry a film. There is so much about the production of Psycho that goes unanswered and it leaves you a little unfulfilled. 

Anthony Hopkins doesn’t look like himself, maybe he has taken on someone else, but whoever he has taken on it isn’t Alfred Hitchcock. His physical appearance is a caricature. He lacks the timing of Alfred’s dry humour.

Helen Mirren gives an appropriately conflicted performance. Only Alma Hitchcock was not nearly as attractive as Helen Mirren. 

The film lacks suspense as well, despite trying at times, despite making a film about the master of suspense. Ed Gein, a real American serial killer, inspired Psycho, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and Silence of the Lambs. His scenes here feel unjustly flat.

‘Hitchcock’ is like a half-arsed tele-biography that managed to attract A-list talent. It a travesty of a film for one cinema’s best directors.

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ParaNorman – Chris Butler, Sam Fell – 2012

ImageGeeks made ‘Paranorman’. No doubt about it. Geeks that want the children in audience to be geeks as well. Specifically they want children to be zombie geeks.

The film is full of zombies. The protagonist, Norman, loves zombie movies. He is a young boy who loves watching VHS zombie nasties from the 80s. His parents scold him for enjoying gore and sex. They also scold him for speaking to dead people.

Like the kid in ‘The Sixth Sense’, Norman sees dead people. This being a cartoon the dead people are mostly cute and harmless. Mostly. The town does a history with witch burnings.

For revenge for being burnt, one of the witches still haunts the town but is mostly kept in check by Norman’s uncle. When Norman’s uncle dies, owing to poor health, the nurse is free to wreck havoc as zombies emerge from graves. Norman is the only local with the paranormal knowledge to battle the witch.

The zombies are cartoonish and fun. There are no brains being eaten here but between the six zombies in the town and Norman’s bedroom, zombie love is everywhere. There is a good sequence where the excitable town folk appear more zombie like than the zombies.

Consider this a PG introduction, and nudge, to the horror sub-genre for your children.

Besides some zombie geek outs, there isn’t much else of note for this film. There is comedy and while it can be slightly amusing, it is never funny. 

The story is mostly predictable and can be a little heavy handed in it’s message, moral.

The animation is interesting. Low budget means not to expect Pixar. Having said that the digital computer job that is meant to resemble stop motion animation with an 80s feel is fun.

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Films of 2012

I am late on this. I am always late on this. Most people are blogging their lists throughout December. I look at them and think, ‘But the year isn’t even over yet.’

Most of these lists are probably released early enough to act as Christmas shopping lists. That is usually why such lists are done before the year is through. I like to put a little bit of distance between myself and the year.

Now I have a list that not only features what I believe were my favourite ten films of the year and also a list that defines cinema of 2012 for me. I have written this list to try and call attention (or defend) some films that have been overlooked or forgotten.

Over time and with second viewings, the list for this year could change. But for now:

ImageMartha Marlene Marcy May

A thriller about a young woman who has escaped a cult. The tension here never lets up. Tension is difficult. Many thrillers bore because they can’t do tension. Also the ambiguity of the story kills me I am so invested in the characters.

This film was released early in the year in Australia, after coming out elsewhere in 2011. It has been available for rent for a while and is probably making its way to the Weekly section by now.

ImageAmour

It would be very odd if Austrian director Mike Haneke made a film and it wasn’t on my list. He is one of the best assured filmmakers working. ‘Amour’ tells a very human love story about an elderly couple who face their mortality.

Haneke faces death in a way that most directors shy away from, he looks on it front on, most films prefer it to be quick, violent and out of the way.

This film hasn’t been released in Australia yet but the recent Best Picture nomination at the Oscars ensures that it is on its way, probably with a decent push by the distributor, soon.

ImageOnce Upon a Time in Anatolia

A slow-burner, masterpiece from Turkey. The film tells the story of a group of men set out in search of a dead body in the Anatolian steppes. It is best to let this one, with its quiet humour, confident imagery and masterful atmosphere wash over you.

Another film that was released in 2011 elsewhere but didn’t hit Australian shores until 2012. It is now available on DVD here.

ImageOslo August 31st

There have been many hack films made about heroin addiction, but ‘Oslo August 31st’ is not one of them. It is a grim story, no doubt about that, but it portrays hopelessness in the quiet manner I suspect it takes in real life.

The film follows a reformed addict is on day release, August 30th, in Oslo from his rehab center. He faces the pressures and expectations of the real world and his friends and family, as he weighs the future.

This film was released in Europe in 2011 before getting more attention elsewhere following its premiere in the USA at Sundance 2012. I am not certain of its current status in Australia.

ImageThe Dark Knight Rises

This is a Batman film. But I am sure I don’t need to say that. I know many people hated it, and I think there are problems, but I think the best bits shine more than the best bits in any other ‘blockbuster’ this year.

There are many things I love in this film. The mid-air jailbreak. The score. The larger than life and fun characterization of Catwoman. The John Blake character (despite the cop out at the end). A few moments with Bruce Wayne earlier in the film. The posture of Bane. The chase sequence.

It just doesn’t all work together, I know that, but I think I still love this film for those moments.

ImageThe Raid

I am not even going to defend this film for moments of brilliant cinema, though the fight sequences are masterfully shot and put together. This Indonesian film tells the story of a police unit raiding an apartment tower that is controlled by a drug dealer.

The film is a hell of a lot of fun. Probably the most fun I had in the cinema in 2012. The action comes thick and fast with a ton of energy. It is the energy that most American action flicks lack, and there is none of the humiliation of ‘The Expendables 2’ here.

This film was released in limited cities in Australia in 2012 and is now available on DVD.

ImageJiro Dreams of Sushi

A documentary about an older sushi master based in Japan. This film celebrates food like no other. It makes me hungry just thinking about it. The love in the shots of the food is matched by a respect for the chef and his craft.

I learnt a lot about sushi as well.

Despite being released elsewhere in 2011, this film was released in Australia in May and should be available on DVD.

ImageBernie

This film may be the best fusion of documentary and fiction film that springs to mind. ‘Bernie’ tells the true story of a Texan mortician named Bernie, combining both interviews with people that knew Bernie and scripted scenes depicting Bernie’s actions, performed by Jack Black.

It is an interesting and humorous story that raises some perplexing questions. Jack Black proves that he can offer a nuanced performance. It is light entertainment, but good light entertainment.

The film is available on DVD in Australia.

this-is-not-film-02-1This Is Not A Film

An Iranian documentary following a day in the life of Jafar Panahi, an Iranian filmmaker who is under house arrest and awaiting a verdict that could send me to prison for making propaganda against the regime.

A powerful film about film, filmmakers and freedom of speech.

It was released in Australia in 2011 but I did not see the film until 2012, and it was not released in the USA or the UK until 2012.

End of Watch

‘End of Watch’ depicts Los Angeles as something of a war-zone for its police officers, and I have no doubt, with its rampant gang warfare, that it is true. No film has done brutality as convincingly this year.

The characters aren’t glazed off, they feel like people, and that is why the brutality works. The found-footage style, in small parts, was unnecessary but thankfully it is only in small parts.

This film was released in cinemas in Australia in 2012.

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This is 40 – Judd Apatow – 2012

wall_ipad_1024x768_a01‘This is 40’ can be a little fake. The financial squeeze on the upper middle class family is never seen to produce hardship. Bullying is not a very serious issue. Neither for that matter is an absent father.

Maybe the hardest pill to swallow. Leslie Mann does not look like an average forty year old woman. She is meant to envy the body of Megan Fox in the film, but it is really hard to fathom if there is striking difference between them.

resize_image.phpThat is okay though. We all know that Judd Apatow doesn’t do real life or drama. He does comedy-fantasy that occasionally hints at weighty issues. And he does it very well.

For the sake of full disclosure, I had been drinking before the film. But I will still say that ‘This is 40’ is Judd Apatow’s funniest film yet. It is a return to form after the smirk worthy ‘Funny People.’

The jokes fly pretty thick and fast from the get go. Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) stand on the brink of their 40th birthdays. Two adults riddled with self doubt, secrets, regrets and indecisiveness.

Apatow has fearlessly laid bare some of the many failings of the male genre with Pete. A man who I would wager most man can relate to. I can’t say if he did the same for Debbie and women but I doubt it would be as convincing.

Chris-O-Dowd-in-This-is-40-chris-odowd-33005015-868-853It’s nice to see Rudd finally stepping into a leading role for Apatow, being the most likable Apatow actor. Or maybe not anymore. Chris O’Dowd has been showing up a lot recently, does nice work here and here’s hoping that he scores a lead role soon.

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