Django Unchained

The Bleacher Bum says it’s a hit.

Django Unchained

Epic movies provide us with sights and sounds that are unshakeable. These sights and sounds pop into our minds when we are on an elevator or waiting at a red light, even if the movie was not in our consciousness at the time. Django Unchained is one of those movies.  Quentin Tarantino’s latest film deals with the heaviest of all subject matters: slavery in the United States pre-Civil War.  Jamie Foxx stars as Django, who is a recently freed slave. Django helps a bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) look for three fugitives from justice. Their travels lead them all over the south, including to a notorious plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio).   While Tarantino made the movie into a western in a nod to the spaghetti westerns, he does not take a lighthearted approach to its subject matter.  This movie is not for the faint of heart because of its violence, subject matter, language, and images.  Foxx, Waltz, DiCaprio, and several other stars are all exceptional. However, the true star of the movie is Tarantino.  As the film’s director, he took things to another level and provided us with images and sounds that we will never forget. GRADE: A.

Life of Pi

New from The Movie Snob.

Life of Pi 3D (B-).  I read a review that convinced me I needed to get out and see this movie, in 3D, immediately.  So I did, and although I liked it well enough it certainly didn’t blow me away. I haven’t read the book, so everything I knew about the movie was really from the previews.  If you saw a preview (or read the book, I suppose), then you know the main part of the story is about a teenaged boy from India who survives a shipwreck and is stuck alone on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean.  Well, he’s not quite alone; there is also a Bengal tiger on board.  It’s no spoiler to say that he survives the ordeal, because the whole story is told in flashback by an older version of the lad, who is indeed named, or nicknamed, Pi.  The story was interesting enough, including the backstory about Pi’s childhood and how he became a Catholic Hindu (I think that’s how he put it).  But the whole seemed like less than the sum of the parts.  It won’t be making my “year’s best” list, let’s just leave it at that.


A new review from The Movie Snob.

Lincoln  (A-).  I thoroughly enjoyed this two-and-a-half-hour movie about The Great Emancipator, who is played with panache by the great Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood).  As you’ve probably already read, the movie actually focuses on a very short period of time–a few weeks in January 1865, when the Civil War was close to being won and Lincoln decided to push for the congressional passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery throughout the country.  I had never imagined that the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment was a difficult feat, given that there were no congressmen from the Confederate states in Washington at the time, but apparently it was a very close-run thing.  Anyway, despite the narrow focus, the film has an epic feel (no doubt thanks to director Steven Spielberg, Jaws).  Lots of familiar faces turn up, such as Tommy Lee Jones (Hope Springs) as fiery abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens, Sally Field (Forrest Gump) as Abe’s difficult wife Mary, and a memorable James Spader (2 Days in the Valley) as one of three slimy fixers who are enlisted to help round up the requisite votes for the amendment’s passage.  It may be a history lesson, but it goes down easy.

Magic City: Season 1

The Bleacher Bum sends in this review

Magic City: Season 1.

Magic City is the nickname for Miami, Florida, and specifically 1960s Miami, Florida.  Magic City is a television period piece on the Starz Network.  It stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Ike Evans, the owner of the Miramar Playa Resort Hotel.  Evans, the King of South Beach, carries the weight of South Beach on his back, and his burden comprises his hotel, his family, his employees, the politicians, the mob, the criminals that frequent his hotel, and his past.  Evans is married to a former dancer from Cuba who struggles to be a suitable queen to King Evans. Evans has two sons: Stevie and Danny. One is good and the other is the opposite, but both are loyal.  Evans’s business partners/enemies are his former sister-in-law and the local mob boss.  The show primarily focuses on Morgan as Evans, the Miramar, and 1960s Miami.  The show is two parts Mad Men and one part Sopranos, and like those shows, it has some stellar performances, exceptional direction, and skillful storytelling to go along with its glitz and glamour.  Grade: B.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

A second opinion, by The Movie Snob.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey  (B).  Well, I must dissent in part from Mom Under Cover’s recent review of this new release.  True, The Hobbit does not reach the grand heights of the Lord of the Rings movies.  It is a smaller tale, about a smaller quest, and it is based on a much smaller book.  It was probably unwise to pad The Hobbit out into three movies when two would have sufficed.  Nevertheless, I think fantasy and Tolkien fans will reasonably enjoy this take on the adventure that set the events of The Lord of the Rings in motion.  Martin Freeman (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) makes a good Bilbo, Richard Armitage (Captain America: The First Avenger) is a more dignified and imposing Thorin Oakenshield than I remember from the book, and of course Ian McKellan (X-Men: The Last Stand) is dandy as Gandalf the Grey.  In sum, it could have been shorter, but it is still a good movie.  Too bad Mom Under Cover and who knows how many other people are coming at this movie backwards, having first developed a taste for that insipid Potter series instead of the real deal that is Tolkien!

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (3D)

A new review from Mom Under Cover.

Peter Jackson’s first of three installations telling the tale of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit arrived in a myriad of formats.  I saw it in 3D.  Disclaimer:  I have not seen The Lord of the Rings movies nor read any of Tolkien’s book, so I had no expectations (good or bad) for this movie.  For the first 45 minutes I was pleasantly surprised.  Bilbo Baggins’ village and home were truly beautiful in 3D.  However, soon thereafter I became weary of the endless struggle.  Then, it hit me that I had seen all of this before (albeit with more women characters) . . . kindly wizard in a pointy hat, unlikely hero with mop-like hair who does not realize his destiny, weird forest with strange creatures, even a bi-polar creature who speaks of himself in the third person (Dobby, Gollum, who can keep them straight?).
For me, the movie was an hour and a half too long.  Fans of BBC’s Sherlock will enjoy Martin Freeman (Dr. Watson) as the young Bilbo.  Also appearing are Ian McKellen as Gandalf, Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, Richard Armitage as Throrin and Andy Serkis as Gollum.  See it if you must, but be warned, the journey is unsatisfying.

Rock of Ages

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

Rock of Ages  (D).  I had heard that this musical based on the music of the 1980s was not very good, but I just had to see it for myself.  After all, not only does it boast a soundtrack from the greatest decade pop music has ever seen, but it also features a truly star-studded cast, including Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago), Alec Baldwin (It’s Complicated), Paul Giamatti (Win Win), and Tom Cruise (Tropic Thunder) as the Axl-Rose-like rocker Stacee Jaxx.  But, what do you know, it really isn’t very good.  The main plot, I guess, is about two young lovers who both dream of being rock stars.  Julianne Hough (Footloose) is okay as the female lead, mainly because she’s so gorgeous, but Diego Boneta makes zero impression as her boyfriend.  Catherine the Great is wasted in a silly subplot in which she plays an uptight moralizer who’s trying to shut down Baldwin’s legendary club The Bourbon Room on the Sunset Strip.  Although she proved her singing and dancing chops in Chicago, her big number here (to Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”) is pretty ridiculous.  Only Cruise has a relatively decent part as the decadent Jaxx.  Skip it.

A Star Is Born (1954)

A new review from The Movie Snob.

A Star Is Born (1954)  (C).  One of our local art-house theaters, The Magnolia, has been showing classic movies on Tuesday nights, and this week they showed this 1954 flick starring Judy Garland (The Wizard of Oz) and James Mason (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea).  Although it got six Academy Award nominations, I was not impressed–except by its length.  The original cut of the movie was apparently 3 hours long; then the studio demanded 30 minutes of cuts; and then much later they restored the film but a few scenes could not be found.  So in the first reel there are a few brief scenes that have been replaced with still photographs, but oddly they have the complete soundtrack so you can hear what is supposed to be going on in those scenes.  Anyhoo, I didn’t think the movie was anything special.  Mason plays a boozy British movie star whose stock in Hollystock is steadily declining.  He discovers Esther Blodgett (Garland), a singer who can also dance and act, and with his assistance she becomes a huge movie star herself.  They fall in love, but his crumbling career and alcoholism threaten their happiness.  I’m sure Garland could sing and dance, but I didn’t particularly like her big show-stopping song-and-dance numbers, and the movie as a whole left me cold.  Maybe the 1937 original or the 1976 remake was better?


A new review from The Movie Snob.

Looper (B+).  I don’t know whether sci-fi author Philip K. Dick (Ubik) ever wrote a story about time travel, but if he did, it’s probably a lot like Looper (but without so much graphic violence).  It’s been out for a couple of months, so you’ve probably already heard the premise.  A few decades in the future, America is a more grim and worn-out-looking place.  Among the criminal elite are a gang of assassins called loopers.  A criminal syndicate operating 30 years further in the future has discovered how to time travel, and they use it to make people “disappear” into the past, where the loopers blow them away as soon as they materialize.  A looper named Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, The Dark Knight Rises) botches a job when the 30-years-older version of himself (played by Bruce Willis, Moonrise Kingdom), comes back in time and manages to escape.  Both Joes become marked men; they separate, and young Joe hides out at the farm of the fetching Sara (played by the ubiquitous Emily Blunt, The Five-Year Engagement) while old Joe embarks on a mission to put the whole criminal syndicate out of business.  The film has its flaws—gratuitous nudity, the aforementioned graphic violence, and the logical holes that always seem to dog time-travel stories.  But as a twisty action-suspense flick, it is definitely above average.  Jeff Daniels (Arachnophobia), Paul Dano (Ruby Sparks), and Dallas-born Piper Perabo (Cheaper by the Dozen) have small roles.

Silver Linings Playbook

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Silver Linings Playbook  (B+).  Beneath all the stuff about mental illness, Silver Linings Playbook is a very conventional movie–much more conventional than I would have expected from director David O. Russell (The Fighter, I Heart Huckabees).  As the film opens, a guy in his mid-30s named Patrick (Bradley Cooper, Limitless) is getting released into his parents’ custody after spending eight months in a mental institution.  We quickly learn that he suffers from bipolar disorder, that he got locked up after nearly killing a man that he caught having sex with his wife Nikki, and that he is deeply obsessed with getting Nikki back (despite a restraining order that forbids him to contact her).  Soon after his release, Patrick meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone), a young widow who has plenty of mental-health issues of her own.  Tiffany says she’ll deliver a letter from Patrick to Nikki, but he has to pay her back by being her partner in a dance contest.  (Seriously?  A dance contest?)  There’s also a subplot involving Patrick’s somewhat OCD father (Robert De Niro, Stardust), who is risking his life savings doing some illegal bookmaking.  Anyhoo, the movie did not feel very honest to me, especially the part about mentally ill people being as put-together looking and attractive as Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.  But, in my humble opinion, romantic movies don’t have to be too honest if the romance works, and this one does.  Cooper is good, but I thought Lawrence was phenomenal, dominating every scene she was in as the vulnerable-but-kind-of-scary Tiffany.  In sum, I didn’t believe it, but I did enjoy it.