REVIEW: Spectre

15 11 2015

Sam Mendes made a great Bond film with writers John Logan, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade in “Skyfall” because they embraced a tricky opposition between the past and the future.  Could the unabashedly old-fashioned spy James Bond survive in a more gritty, grey world without sacrificing his core identity? They found that the answer was yes by striking a balance between these two forces vying for the soul of 007.

The band gets back together for “Spectre” (plus an additional writer in Jez Butterworth, architect of many a frustrating script in the past two years) and finds themselves preoccupied by the same kind of debate. This time, instead of the fear of age leading to obsolescence, the anxiety stems from post-Snowden malaise.

When a government has the ability to do its dirty work with drones and collect information on all its citizens through their devices, who needs human intelligence likes James Bond? This question is being seriously debated outside the world of the movie, and kudos to “Spectre” for not ignoring the elephant in the room. But the way Mendes and the writers choose to resolve the tension feels rather disappointing.

They use this threat as an excuse to retreat to some of the most outdated aspects of the character. Womanizing abounds as Bond pity romances a grieving widow to extract a key plot point. And Bond’s reward for neutralizing a key opponent? The “Bond girl,” Lea Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann, immediately feels the need to let him take her to bed. Simply put, there is a way to let James Bond be the ultimate man that does not require denying women agency. “Spectre” does not care to find that way as “Casino Royale” did, justifying lazy misogyny because of a rather facile challenge to Bond’s relevancy.

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REVIEW: Water for Elephants

6 01 2015

I read Sara Gruen’s acclaimed best-selling novel “Water for Elephants” at the zenith of its popularity and found myself rather underwhelmed.  (What self-respecting novel gives only the most cursory explanation of its title?)  Francis Lawrence’s cinematic adaptation did little to change my opinion.  His “Water for Elephants” is pleasant and watchable, which is about all it has to offer.

In the film, Robert Pattinson stars as Jacob Jankowski, a veterinary student whose life takes a screeching detour when his parents both die during his last exam.  Saddled not only with his own grief but also with their debts, he opts for a somewhat cliched escape route by joining the circus.  He stows away and quickly moves up from shoveling horse droppings to taking care of the show’s star animals.

He quickly discovers that his humane veterinary practices have little use in the profit-hungry Banzini Brothers circus, run by the shrewd but cruel August (Christoph Waltz).  As if that is not enough to make him worry about both occupational and personal security, Jacob finds himself smitten for the boss’s wife, star performer Marlena (Reese Witherspoon).   Romantic rivalry quickly runs cold as Jacob’s arrival quickly accelerates the dismembering of Marlena and August’s already fragile relationship.

Lawrence prefers to leave the tensions at a standstill rather than letting them progress towards their boiling point.  As a result, “Water for Elephants” often feels flat and unexciting.  At the very least, when the sparks fail to fly at the clashing of the three leads, the environment is always believable and interesting.  The film does a nice job romanticizing the elegant, balletic movement of the circus performance as well as the extravagant moveable architecture of the spectacle.

In a sense, it adds to the story a visual element that has to remain imaginary when experienced on the page.  Too bad Witherspoon, Waltz, and Pattinson could not add more flavor with their characters.  C+2stars





REVIEW: Big Eyes

27 12 2014

Big Eyes

Director Tim Burton (“Alice in Wonderland,” “Dark Shadows“) is accustomed to working on canvases larger than life.  But in his latest directorial outing “Big Eyes,” he has a hard time creating an environment that feels true to life.  The film is the rare Burton picture not set in any realm of fantasy or imagination, and he feels uncomfortable in the domain of average human beings.

His response to every question that arose in production, it seems, was to opt for exaggeration.  “Big Eyes” has the tense spousal dynamic of “The Color Purple” where the exploitation in the marriage is artistic rather than sexual.  Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) aspires to be a renowned and revered artist yet cannot achieve such status with his own paintings.  Thus, he claims the resonantly kitschy big-eyed paintings of his wife Margaret (Amy Adams) for his own and forces her into a glorified form of indentured servitude.

Burton uses a narrator to constantly remind the audience that this all happened “back then” as if the whole thing were some kind of fairy tale.  Yet “Big Eyes,” sadly, derives its strength from the nagging sensation that this could just as easily be happening in 2014.  The kind of cultural diminution and symbolic rape committed in the film is still endemic in today’s society, but Burton seems content with hermetically sealing it in some kind of dolled-up past.

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REVIEW: The Zero Theorem

17 08 2014

The Zero TheoremLondon Film Festival, 2013

Terry Gilliam’s “The Zero Theorem” is the kind of film that raises so many important and intriguing questions that it’s entirely possible to forget some of them along the journey.  This oblique tale, bordering at times on the absurd, stuns with the sheer density of the thematic issues that Pat Rushin’s screenplay can pack into 100 minutes.

The film grapples with conundrums as timeless as the meaning of life, the nature of happiness, and the imminence of death and nothingness.  At the same time, “The Zero Theorem” also has its finger on the pulse of many modern malaises, such as screen addiction, the fading appeal of observable reality in relation to virtual reality, and the electronic mediation of human connection.

We explore these through the work of a computer programmer known as Q, played by Christoph Waltz, as he attempts to solve humanity’s conundrums.  In a change of pace from the two silver-tongued Tarantino characters that won him a pair of Oscars, Waltz sits back and delivers a largely reactive performance.  As he attempts to unlock the zero theorem and get to the core of human existence, Q doesn’t instigate events so much as he lets them happen.  Because we’re less focused on a conventional narrative, “The Zero Theorem” can easily delve into the realm of the existential and philosophical.

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Live Blogging the 2012 Golden Globes!

13 01 2013

10:00 P.M.  For those of you keeping track at home, “Les Misérables” ruled the Golden Globes tonight with 3 wins!  “Django Unchained” and “Argo” also won two trophies.  “Amour,” “Brave,” “Life of Pi,” “Lincoln,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Skyfall,” and “Zero Dark Thirty” each won a single award.

10:00 P.M.  HFPA awkwardly and unintentionally flips the bird to AMPAS tonight…

9:58 P.M.  BEST PICTURE – DRAMA: “ARGO

ARGO

9:52 P.M.  Unexpectedly humorous speech from Day-Lewis.  Although I laughed much harder at how most of the back of the room gave him a standing ovation … and NO ONE up front did.  Awkward…

9:50 P.M. BEST ACTOR – DRAMA: DANIEL DAY-LEWIS, “LINCOLN

Lincoln

9:50 P.M.  What a beautiful speech, Chastain looked truly humbled and honored.  To the Oscars we go, hopefully!  (Hey HFPA, didn’t appreciate your shot of the audience where we could see you all flashing “WRAP UP.”)

9:48 P.M. BEST ACTRESS – DRAMA: JESSICA CHASTAIN, “ZERO DARK THIRTY

Zero Dark Thirty

9:41 P.M.  Adorable Anne Hathaway stealing the microphone quickly to do a few more thanks and then tightly hugging Amanda Seyfried.

9:40 P.M. BEST PICTURE – MUSICAL/COMEDY: LES MISERABLES

Les Miserables (2)

9:39 P.M.  Jeremy Renner bleeped…

9:34 P.M.  What a charming acceptance speech, and so much love for his wife!  Maybe he can beat Daniel Day-Lewis?!

9:32 P.M.  BEST ACTOR – MUSICAL/COMEDY: HUGH JACKMAN, “LES MISERABLES

Les Miserables

9:22 P.M.  They talked about actors, and then the category was Best TV Series – Musical/Comedy?  At least it was “Girls!”

9:18 P.M.  Take that, Academy!  Standing ovation for snubbed Ben Affleck!

9:18 P.M. BEST DIRECTOR: BEN AFFLECK, “ARGO

Argo

9:11 P.M.  What on earth did Jodie Foster just say?  Seriously, my TV audio went out in what I assume was a bleep.

9:04 P.M.  OK, people, time for you to go watch “The Beaver.”  It has Mel Gibson, sure, but it also has Jennifer Lawrence!

The Beaver

8:59 P.M.  “Taylor Swift, stay away from Michael J. Fox’s son!” – Tina Fey, who needs to be on this telecast far more

8:53 P.M.  Lena Dunham may have won the Golden Globe, but Tina Fey got to wait with J.Lo and Amy Poehler got awfully close to George Clooney.  It’s debatable who the overall winner really was tonight.

8:51 P.M.  Hooray for Lena – NOT Lisa, Aziz – Dunham!  Go watch “Tiny Furniture!”

8:50 P.M.  Aziz Ansari being carried by Jason Bateman … fantastic.

8:47 P.M.  BEST ANIMATED FILM: “BRAVE

Brave

8:46 P.M.  What on earth did that introduction have to do with Best Animated Film?

8:45 P.M.  Goodness gracious, Sacha Baron Cohen is drunk…

8:39 P.M.  4 Golden Globes for Claire Danes in her career.  She’s halfway to Meryl Streep!

8:35 P.M.  BEST FOREIGN FILM: “AMOUR

Amour

8:27 P.M.  “Best Picture nominee ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen‘” just sounds so wrong.

8:25 P.M.  Really, Golden Globes?  Tarantino for screenplay?  Not OK with that. “Inglourious Basterds” blows “Django Unchained” out of the water.  And the speech was a total MESS.  Someone was overserved…

8:23 P.M. BEST SCREENPLAY: QUENTIN TARANTINO, “DJANGO UNCHAINED

Django

8:18 P.M.  Give us more time with Anne Hathaway’s acceptance speech – we love her!

8:15 P.M. BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: ANNE HATHAWAY, “LES MISERABLES

Anne Hathaway

8:07 P.M.  Yes, JLaw, to answer the question you were so desperately trying to ask during that speech, OF COURSE we can be best friends!

8:07 P.M.  “Does this say ‘I beat Meryl?'” – Jennifer Lawrence

8:06 P.M.  BEST ACTRESS – MUSICAL/COMEDY: JENNIFER LAWRENCE, “SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

Jennifer Lawrence

8:04 P.M.  The sad thing is, Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig are saying what a lot of Americans are to their television sets right now.  Wondering what this “Silver Linings Playbook” thing is and cursing them for not nominating “The Avengers.”

8:02 P.M.  Nice abs, Kristen Wiig.

7:59 P.M.  Clinton introducing “Lincoln.”  Oscar for Best Picture is now in the bag, in case it wasn’t already.

7:58 P.M.  Really, Bill Clinton?!  What?!

7:55 P.M.  Tina Fey and Amy Poehler going and impersonating the absent celebrities is PRICELESS.

7:49 P.M.  Looks like we need more Grammy-winners to come freshen up film awards.

7:48 P.M. BEST ORIGINAL SONG: SKYFALL, “SKYFALL

Skyfall

7:45 P.M. BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: MYCHAEL DANNA, “LIFE OF PI

Life of Pi

7:42 P.M.  Woah, real Tony Mendez!

Argo

7:36 P.M.  Awkward teleprompter flub with Salma Hayek and Paul Rudd … hooray for “Homeland!”  Don’t understand why they present Best TV Series – Drama before Best Actress in a TV Drama?!

7:33 P.M.  Wow, now “Homeland” is set to dominate the Golden Globes too after Emmys domination.  Weird not to hear Damian Lewis speak in his gruff American accent!

7:32 P.M.  Didn’t get to see much from the red carpet, but from what I can tell … Jessica Chastain wins.  Just as she did at the Oscars last year.  Ehh, didn’t really get to look closely enough.  She’s gorgeous, sure, but the dress wasn’t that great.

Jessica Chastain

7:30 P.M.  “Call Me Maybe” needs to be left in 2012, HFPA lady.

7:23 P.M.  Don’t sing again, Catherine Zeta-Jones, unless it’s “Chicago.”  Thanks.  That line of “Do You Hear The People Sing?” was awful.

7:21 P.M.  If “Game Change” had been released in theaters, Julianne Moore would be in contention for Best Actress.  Think about it…

7:18 P.M. Hooray for “Game Change!”   One of the better movies I saw this year in any format!

7:12 P.M.  C’mon, Professor McGonagall.  It’s one thing not to do press for yourself – but not showing up to receive the inevitable award?!

7:10 P.M.  Please, Academy, you’ve already awarded Christoph Waltz for literally the same performance.  And oh, here goes Waltz again with the poetic metaphors in his speeches.

7:10 P.M. BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: CHRISTOPH WALTZ, “DJANGO UNCHAINED

Django

7:08 P.M.  “This 70th anniversary celebration.”  OK.  Glad Tina and Amy mentioned that!

7:03 P.M.  “When it comes to torture, I trust the lady who spent 3 years married to James Cameron.” – Amy Poehler, much to the amusement of Jessica Chastain (who was DYING laughing)

7:02 P.M.  Already loving the Tina and amy combo.  Same humor, just with less bite!

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Oscar Moment: Final 2012 Predictions, Part 2 (Supporting)

6 01 2013

With the 2012 Oscar race now immobile until nominations are announced Thursday morning, January 10, now it’s time to take one last look at the contenders and the pretenders before the dust settles.  Today, I’ll be looking at Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress, two categories replete with former winners and nominees all vying for Oscar glory.

See my predictions for Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Anne Hathaway, “Les Misérables
  2. Sally Field, “Lincoln
  3. Helen Hunt, “The Sessions
  4. Amy Adams, “The Master
  5. Nicole Kidman, “The Paperboy

The race is Anne Hathaway’s to lose, and I’d be amazed if she did.  Even though so many critics are against “Les Misérables,” few can deny the power of her performance.  Some of the snootier groups have snubbed her, but take a look at this impressive domination of the category!

Hathaway Dominance

Safe to say, wins from the Critics’ Choice Awards, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards should lead her charge to take the stage at the Kodak Theatre.  Or they will hear the people scream.

FYC Anne HathawayAlthough, in the event of a “Lincoln” sweep (and me sticking my head in an oven), Sally Field could go 3-for-3 and win here for “Lincoln.”  She’s certainly had her fair share of recognition along the precursor circuit, including a high-profile win from the New York Critics’ Circle.

But in a year that could crown Daniel Day-Lewis (and maybe Robert DeNiro) a three-time champion, people will be aware that they would be ranking Field in an elite pantheon with Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson, I bet they think twice and vote Hathaway.

Or maybe they vote Hunt, who’s all but assured a nomination for her work in “The Sessions.”  It’s the kind of role the Oscars eat up (good-hearted woman who likes to let loose), and the Best Actress of 1997 for “As Good As It Gets” has picked up the Big 3 nominations (Critics’ Choice, Golden Globe, SAG) along the way.  I think lukewarm support for the movie hurts her chances to win.  So does the fact that she’s competing against Anne Freaking Hathaway.

Beyond Hathaway, Field, and Hunt, the other two nominations are pretty much up for grabs.  The way I see it, there are 3 women vying for those two spots are Amy Adams for “The Master,” Maggie Smith for “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” and Nicole Kidman for “The Paperboy.”  Each has missed a key stop on the circuit: Adams crucially at SAG, Smith with the Globes and Critics’ Choice, and Kidman only with Critics’ Choice.

The PaperboyOn paper, the smart money would be on Nicole Kidman to snag a nomination.  SAG is always the best indicator of actors’ sentiment, and she also has a key Globe nod.

But the Golden Globes are notorious for sucking up to stars so they have to show up to the ceremony.  They are also notable for having many favorite actresses who seem to get nominated for just about anything they do, and this goes well beyond your obvious Meryl Streep.  Nicole Kidman has been nominated for a whopping 10 Golden Globes and has won 3.  So I take their nomination with a grain of salt.

SAG also usually throws a major out-of-left-field nominee into the fray, which at first sight could be considered Kidman.  (Then again, since Maggie Smith has shown up nowhere else, maybe that would be her.)  Last year, it was Armie Hammer for “J. Edgar,” although most thought it was Demian Bichir for “A Better Life” … until he got an Oscar nomination.  In 2010, it was Hilary Swank for “Conviction.”  2009 gave us Diane Kruger for “Inglourious Basterds.”

But “The Paperboy” is, well, quite frankly a bad movie.  And a part of me thinks the Academy will recoil at just how trashy and terrible it is.  There’s certainly precedent for an actor being nominated for a bad movie: Cate Blanchett got a Best Actress nomination for “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” which had a 35% on Rotten Tomatoes, and Sean Penn was nominated for the 34% fresh “I Am Sam.”  “The Paperboy” currently sits at 39%.

I predicted the snob factor would keep out Melissa McCarthy of “Bridesmaids” last year because she was crass and defecated in a sink.  I was wrong.  McCarthy didn’t even have the Globe nod that Kidman earned.  So, with that in mind, I will predict Nicole Kidman to get a bizarre Best Supporting Actress nomination for a role that involves her urinating on Zac Efron’s face.

The other spot, I believe, will go to Amy Adams for “The Master.”  Yes, the SAG snub hurt.  But she’s a new Academy darling, garnering three Best Supporting Actress nominations in six years.  And I’ll continue to assert that the Academy, though perhaps not quite ready to anoint her with a statue quite yet, wants to increase the inevitability of her win.  At four nominations, the cries of “why hasn’t she won yet?” will grow louder and louder.

Best ExoticAlthough don’t get me wrong, maybe they will not go with a perennial Oscar bridesmaid but rather a crowned Oscar queen.

Two-time winner Maggie Smith’s SAG nod makes her a formidable foe, though the fact that the Globes didn’t nominate her is troubling.  They were big fans of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” nominating it for Best Picture (musical/comedy) and Judi Dench for Best Actress.  If they loved it so much, where was Maggie Smith?  I suspect SAG got sentimental for a more senior member, like they did in 2010 for Robert Duvall in “Get Low.”

Another possibility I wouldn’t count out is Judi Dench for “Skyfall.”  It’s a sentimental swan song for Dench in the M role, and it will be one of her final roles since she’s going blind.  She won in 1998 for “Shakespeare in Love,” which she was in for all of six minutes.  In this meaty, tragic role, could the Academy be won over?  The BFCA was and gave her a Critics’ Choice Award nomination, although that was in a field of six.  I don’t think Dench is out of the question, but I would still be shocked if she cracked this field.

The BFCA also nominated Ann Dowd of “Compliance,” a character actor who has paid her dues … and now is paying for her own campaign.  She won Best Supporting Actress from the National Board of Review, although that group has faded in relevancy since they are no longer first out of the gate.  Perhaps a surprise nomination is in store for a hard-working non-star, in the Demian Bichir/Richard Jenkins mold?  A more relevant precedent, however, might be Jacki Weaver in “Animal Kingdom.”  However, she had the awards machine of Sony Pictures Classics working for her all fall.

But I’m sticking with Adams and Kidman.  I don’t have strong enough of a gut feeling to predict Dench or Dowd, and I don’t think Smith has enough heat to make it in the field.

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Robert DeNiro, “Silver Linings Playbook
  2. Tommy Lee Jones, “Lincoln
  3. Alan Arkin, “Argo
  4. Philip Seymour Hoffman, “The Master
  5. Javier Bardem, “Skyfall

Arkin

There are four set nominees in the field: DeNiro, Jones, Arkin, and Hoffman.  The latter three all scored the trifecta of nods from the BFCA, SAG, and HFPA, which essentially assures them nominations.  Last year saw two such actors, Leonardo DiCaprio and Tilda Swinton, get snubbed by the Academy.  I can’t pinpoint precisely why they got knocked out other than a strong field for DiCaprio in Best Actor and a strong competitor for Tilda Swinton in Rooney Mara.

The person I would assume is in the worst position is Philip Seymour Hoffman for “The Master” since it isn’t a slam-dunk Best Picture nominee like DeNiro, Jones, and Arkin’s movies are.  But Hoffman, the movie’s only SAG nominee, appears to be the one performance everyone can line up behind for the film.  And he’s been nominated for movies that did not play well with the Academy at large, as demonstrated by his nod for 2007’s “Charlie Wilson’s War.”

Argue as you might about the former being a sure thing because he missed out on a Golden Globe nomination, but watch his acceptance of their highest honor, the CecilB. DeMille.  Now tell me if you think the voting body of less than 100 would want to nominate someone after he essentially slapped them in the face a la Ricky Gervais?

If he’s nominated, I think DeNiro could win.  Though he has won twice, he hasn’t been nominated in two decades.  There’s a comeback narrative for one of the greatest actors of our time, and it may be too soon for Arkin and Hoffman to win again.  In the event of a “Lincoln” sweep, a rising tide could lift all ships including that of Tommy Lee Jones.

But who gets the fifth slot to compete against these four prior winners?  I had hoped it would be Eddie Redmayne or Russell Crowe for “Les Misérables,” but those are highly unlikely now.  If they were to pop up, put all your money on “Les Misérables” to win Best Picture.

Magic MikeCould it be Critics’ Choice nominee Matthew McConaughey for “Magic Mike?”  He’s had quite the career turnaround in 2012, and a nomination would be a nice pat on the back.  A nomination would be in the pattern of Robert Downey, Jr. in 2008 for “Tropic Thunder,” another unconventional comedic role from a resurgent actor.

McConaughey is unlikely, however, because the SAG Awards and Golden Globes overlooked him, two groups key to making people take Downey, Jr. seriously.  Though he won prestigious prizes from the New York Film Critics’ Circle and the National Society of Film Critics, McConaughey might have to wait until next year for his shot at Oscar glory.  Something tells me his massive weight loss for “The Dallas Buyer’s Club” is screaming Oscars 2013.

SAG didn’t leave off Javier Bardem for “Skyfall,” on the other hand.  Bardem, himself a prior winner in the category, would fit right in with the rest of the nominees.  His Silva from the movie would be the first Bond villain ever to be nominated for an Oscar, and though I was averse to his creepiness, others don’t seem to share my reservations.

Villains have been dominating the Best Supporting Actor category since Bardem’s win for “No Country for Old Men” in 2007.  There was Heath Ledger’s posthumous win for “The Dark Knight” and Christoph Waltz’s victory for “Inglourious Basterds.”  We’ve also seen nominations for Josh Brolin’s murderous monster in “Milk,” Stanley Tucci’s creepy rapist in “The Lovely Bones,” and Jeremy Renner’s tough-as-nails Jem from “The Town.”  Being bad has never been so good.

But the same argument could be made for Leonardo DiCaprio’s vile slave owner Calvin Candie in “Django Unchained.”  Tarantino wrote the despicable Hans Landa, the character that won Christoph Waltz an Oscar.  Could he earn DiCaprio his fourth Oscar nomination – or perhaps his first win?  I’d love to see it, but I’m worried about vote-splitting between DiCaprio and Christoph Waltz, back in the race for a character in “Django Unchained” not all that different than his Oscar-winning Hans Landa.

DjangoBoth DiCaprio and Waltz received nominations from the Golden Globes, but neither showed up on the Critics’ Choice list nor the SAG.  The latter can be explained by a lack of screeners being sent to the nominating committee, but the former is troubling.  I considered “Django Unchained” to be a non-factor in the season until it found some very vocal critical supporters and a large audience.  So I have to think at least one actor from the movie will show up, but I don’t think there’s a consensus on who that should be.

Waltz has won from a number of critics’ groups across the country, but none of them are particularly worth noting.  DiCaprio won from the National Board of Review, which is a far more significant accolade than anything Waltz has received.  If it was just Waltz from “Django Unchained” that DiCaprio had to contend with, I would predict him to receive his first Oscar nod since 2006’s “Blood Diamond.”  But there’s also Samuel L. Jackson from the movie, and many people are also a big fan of his performance.

Had “Django Unchained” unfurled earlier in the season, perhaps there would have been time for consensus to form around one actor.  DiCaprio could have helped himself by doing some press for the movie, yet he’s been remarkably silent.  The moment just doesn’t feel right for him either; I suspect 2013 will be more fortuitous for him with a juicy role in ‘The Great Gatsby” and another re-teaming with Martin Scorsese in “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

So, in the absence of consensus, I think vote splitting will knock out all Tarantino’s performers, paving the way for Javier Bardem’s fourth Oscar nomination.

Check back tomorrow, January 7, for my final predictions in the leading acting categories!





REVIEW: Django Unchained

25 12 2012

Quentin Tarantino’s name is now a brand, one with hallmarks of dialogue and style widely recognized by all cinephiles.  It’s an accomplishment achieved not only by Tarantino’s incredible virtuosity but also by the scores of cheap rip-offs who have solidified his status as a major figure in film history.  Yet with “Django Unchained,” Tarantino proves that the greatest of all these impersonators is Tarantino himself.

The experience is not unlike that of watching “Jackie Brown,” the only other film of the Tarantino canon that “Django Unchained” manages to stand next to in quality.  Both films followed major artistic breakthroughs for him that scored with audiences and critics alike, “Pulp Fiction” and “Inglourious Basterds.”

But rather than use the forward momentum to lead to further exploration of his craft, Tarantino chose to take a victory lap fueled by the high of inhaling too much of the exhaust fumes of his own success.  “Django Unchained” just feels like Tarantino on autopilot, lacking the vibrancy or surprising eccentricity of his prior films.  There are plenty of laughs to be had, sure, but it just feels like far too much of the same stylized dialogue and aestheticized violence; popping in the DVD of “Reservoir Dogs” would probably yield more satisfaction.

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