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Oscars 2016 Best Picture Summary: Part 3

Most of you have already seen my first summary or even my second summary. This last summary will have a look at the last three Best Picture nominees I saw. They were Lion, Hidden Figures and Hell Or High Water.

film-lion

Dev Patel plays Saroo Brierley, an Australian searching for his family back home in India in Lion.

LION

Lion is one of those films which came out of nowhere to surprise everyone who has been lucky to see it.

We have seen many against-all-odds stories in the past. This is something because this is a true story of something that really was against all odds. It wasn’t just about making it happen but also of the family relations Saroo has developed over his lifetime. What will happen? Will he leave the family he’s always known? Is the family he’s searching for still alive? The best quality of this story is that it keeps us intrigued and hoping Saroo reunites, but also has us concerned of what will happen after.

Another quality of this story is that it does not forget the cause of the problem. Saroo is seen as the lucky one who was able to reunite with his family after all these years. However throughout the film, especially at the beginning, we see the cause of the problem. Saroo was unsupervised when he boarded the express train. The language barriers caused problems. Even Saroo’s mispronunciation of Bengali words caused problems. The train stations of Calcutta are loaded with stray children ready for abductors to prey on, and station police looking the other way. Even the missing posters advertised before his adoption were no good as his mother is illiterate. India failed Saroo and Saroo succeeded thanks to Google Earth and his fierce will. The film at the end lets people aware of the problem; 80,000 children go missing in India each year. The film’s website informs people of how they are making a difference in aiding to protect children in India.

This film is an accomplishment for the Australian film industry. I don’t know if Australia has ever had a film nominated for Best Picture before. This is director Garth Davis’ first ever feature length film. Bet you wouldn’t believe that. Luke Davies did an excellent job in adapting Saroo’s biography into a winning screenplay that keep the audience intrigued and hoping for the best in the end. Dev Patel’s performance as Saroo was the highlight as he did a great portrayal of a young man who’s angry on the inside and knows what he needs to do. Nicole Kidman was also excellent as the mother who appears grateful on the outside but has some inner hurt waiting to come out. Young Sunny Pawar was also very good playing the young Saroo. He was cute but he didn’t take it overboard. He played his part well. The film also featured top notch cinematography from Greig Fraser and excellent original music from Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka.

Lion is an excellent film featuring a story you won’t forget. A surprise contender this year and a worthy one.

hidden-figures

Hidden Figures is the story of three African American women working for NASA who broke new ground and brought down racial barriers.

HIDDEN FIGURES

It’s good that we have a film like Hidden Figures to tell us about a piece of history that we never knew about.

The film comes at the right time as it deals with a lot of situations that are relevant in our world. This may be set in the early 60’s and revolves around a moment in space history but it has a lot of situations relevant to today. One is of workplace racism. It’s not as bad now as it is then but there are still a lot of unsolved problems. The second is of technology being so good, it can replace workers. These three women had iron wills. They knew they had potential, they knew they had what it takes and they wouldn’t let racism or the threat of modern technology stop them from reaching for their achievements.

The year of 2016 was a crushing year. It was a year that constantly reminded us that there was still a lot of racism to overcome. Despite the improvement over the decades, it was able to show its ugly head with low employment rates and police beatings. This is a film that reminds us that racism can be overcome. When you look at it, the women were doing this all during a turning point in the history of African Americans. African Americans in Virginia had less rights than they do now and discrimination was perfectly legal. Back then there were still separate washrooms for colored people, separate library books for white and colored people, and police beatings during civil rights marches. The women overcame these barriers and they opened doors for other colored people for generations to come.

This is only the second film Theodore Melfi has directed and written. This is the first feature-length script Alison Schroeder has written. Does come across as like something you’d get from Hollywood, but it’s not a weakness. It does all the right moves. Taraji Henson was great as the protagonist Katherine Goble-Johnson, but the show-stealer was Octavia Spencer. She was not only good at playing a woman who wouldn’t let technology kill her job, and the jobs of 30 other black women, but she was a colorful scene-stealer too. Janelle Monae completes the trio as one who just wouldn’t say die to her ambitions. The male actors were mostly supporting roles but Mahershala Ali was the biggest one as Jim Johnson, Katherine’s new husband. The mix of Motown music mixed in with the original score from Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams and Benjamin Wallfisch also added to the spirits of the movie.

Hidden Figures showcases a little-known fact about a big moment in American space history. It’s also the right uplifting movie needed at this time.

hell-or-high-water

Hell Or High Water is about two Texas brothers on a robbing spree and a policeman (played by Jeff Bridges, right) trying to chase them down.

HELL OR HIGH WATER

I missed Hell Or High Water when it first came out in the theatres in August. I admit I was caught up in the summer fare and I overlooked it. I finally saw it recently and I’m glad I did.

One thing is I miss seeing is crime comedies. You know, the dark comedies featured in crime stories. This film has a good amount of comedy to it with their failures at robbing first. Even the situation where the brothers rob the Texas Midlands Bank and pay the mortgages they have with the bank off with the robbery money is full of surprising irony. It’s not even the robbery spree that has all the comedy. There’s the comedy when the rangers visit the places they question. There’s even comedy with that hard waitress at a restaurant they eat at: “What don’t you want?” The comedy doesn’t last as the story gets darker later on. However it does end on an ironic note as the now-retired Officer Hamilton does meet up with Toby Howard, perfectly free, and inquires of the robberies he and brother Tanner committed together.

One thing about this crime drama is that it has a lot to say. We have two brothers–Tanner who appears to have no redeeming values and Toby who’s as cool as a cookie– robbing various branches of the same bank. You see signs advertising debt relief. You hear from people– both family and people the brothers run into– talking of their own economic hardships. You see the indigenous people, who are still referred to as ‘Indians’ with their own outlook on things. Mostly negative. Looks like this story has a lot to say. Even hearing Alberto Parker say that he believes the true criminal is the Texas Midlands Bank does get you thinking. Maybe it’s the Bank that are the true robbers around here.

This is actually the first American production from Scottish director David MacKenzie. He has a reputation back in the UK with films like Young Adam, Hallam Foe and Starred Up. His first American production is top notch and really delivers as both a crime story and an offbeat Western. This is also an accomplishment for writer Taylor Sheridan. Already having made a name for himself in Sicario, he delivers again in what is actually his second feature-length script. Of all acting performances, Jeff Bridges is the one that was the best. He delivered a top job in character acting from head to toe. He was completely solid in character. Chris Pine was also good as the brother Toby who’s smart, tries to play it cool and possibly the one person in the world who could see redeeming qualities in brother Tanner. Ben Foster was also a scene-stealer as Tanner who a complete ruthless loose cannon who appears to have a bone to pick with everyone over anything and possesses a false sense of invincibility. Gil Birmingham was also good coming across as the wise partner who plays it cool. The country music in both recorded format and original from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis fit the film perfectly.

Hell Or High Water makes for an intense thrill ride that’s big on thrills but also takes you to the heat of the moments. The story even gets you thinking. Now why did I miss it during the summer?

That does it. My final summary of the Best Picture nominees for 2016. After seeing Hell Or High Water, that makes it 16 straight years of seeing all the Best Picture nominees before Oscar night. My predictions for the wins coming on Saturday.

 

 

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Movie Review: The Hateful Eight

hateful-eight

The Hateful Eight focuses on eight despicable people in the same building. It leaves the audience wondering who will still be alive at the end, if anyone at all.

Quentin Tarantino is possibly the most uncompromising director in Hollywood. Even when he’s not at his best, he can still make a statement. I gave The Hateful Eight a look. I have to say I found it had a lot to like.

It starts in post-Civil War America in the frontiers. It’s a cold day and there’ signs that there’s a blizzard coming soon. Major Warren, an African-American bounty hunter, has three bodies to take back to Red Rock. He hitches a ride with a stagecoach despite being told by driver O.B. Inside the current passenger wants to be alone. Warren does get the ride and meets his other passengers: another bounty hunter by the name of John Ruth who has his bounty, the ruthless Daisy Domergue, with him handcuffed to him also headed to Red Rock. The ride is not pleasant as Daisy should racial slurs at Warren. To which Ruth response with a punch in her face. However Warren and Ruth are able to bond as Warren reads him his letter from Abraham Lincoln.

Along the way, the coachman  comes across a Lost Causer by the name of Chris Mannix who claims he’s to be the new sheriff of Red Rock. Mannix is welcome but tension between him and Warren start over each other’s war records. However both Ruth and Warren make a pact to protect each other’s bounties.

The blizzard becomes so powerful, the four have to take refuge at the nearby Minnie’s Haberdashery, a stagecoach lodge. Minnie’s not there and the four are greeted by Bob, a Mexican who claims Minnie is visiting her mother and he’s in charge. Also at the Haberdashery are Red Rock hangman Oswaldo Mobray, cowboy Joe Gage who’s simply traveling to visit his mother, and former Confederate general Sanford Smithers. Ruth knows they will all be in the lodge overnight and trouble is bound to brew with all these differing and conflicting people. So he gets all but Warren to disarm.

They even try to get the eight to have a civilized dinner of stew at the same table. However Mannix points out to Warren that his letter from Abraham Lincoln is a forgery. Warren admits it, stating his letter gets him respect from white people that he’d otherwise be denied. Ruth is outraged when he hears this. Warren also has another confession, but to Smithers. He provokingly confesses to him that he tortured, sodomized and killed his son in lawful self-defense in revenge for his son executing black soldiers during the Civil War.

Another incident happens known only to Domergue, the coffee was poisoned. She alerts no one of this and allows for Ruth and O.B. to pour a mug. After drinking they both vomit and collapse. Mannix is fortunate enough not to drink the cup he poured after he saw what happened. Domergue is able to kill Ruth but through her own gun. Warren attempts to be the master of justice, determined to find out who poisoned the coffee. Only to uncover that Bob is possibly an impostor because Minnie’s haberdashery does not allow Mexicans. He suspects from the start that Minnie was killed and executes the Mexican. To the surprise of everyone, Warren is shot from below. Further shootouts follow leaving Mannix and Mobray wounded.

The film then flashes back to the beginning of the day when it was to be a typical day for Minnie’s Haberdashery. However a robbery happened where everyone including Minnie were killed. Only Smithers is still alive. The leader of the heist was Jody Domergue, Daisy’s brother, who plans to ambush Ruth knowing they’ll eventually stop here because of the anticipated blizzard and his gang will take Daisy away. Returning back to the current situation, the story goes into various confrontations and leads to an unpredictable ending.

Of all the films that are happening around this Oscar season, this appears to be the one film that shows no real intention of making a political statement or social statement of any kind. Actually what it is doing is telling a story that for the whole of it only takes place not even for a full day. It’s starts with a free African-American major wanting a stagecoach ride only to end up in the same coach as two others. Then another. All of which are polar opposites and you know a fight would start any minute. Then the four get to a shelter during the blizzard which happens to be a haberdashery place with four others, also a set of characters too with traits you know could add to the conflict.With eight spiteful people in the same place at the same time with a bone to pick with at least one of them, you know hell will break loose any minute and you wonder who will be the first to get killed. Even as you watch the whole film unravel, you will end up surprised to see anyone at the end of the movie alive.

Once again Quentin Tarantino delivers. He’s one of few directors that doesn’t have to succumb to the pressures of parental guidance groups, family values groups or even the pressures of Hollywood and be able to deliver his stuff his way. As I said at the beginning, he’s possibly the most uncompromising director in Hollywood. He is no holds barred in terms of the use of profanity and racial slurs in this film and uses no restraint. As is common in his movies, he divides his film into segments or even chapters as he does here. Also like his past films, he plays with the chronology of time as the incidents of what happened before the eight got together is shown as the fifth chapter rather than a simple flashback as most film makers would do.

Another thing Tarantino does here like he does in some of his other films is throw in some subtle humorous moments. One example is the case of a cowgirl from New Zealand. Another is getting all of the eight at a table to eat their dinner in a civilized manner, or as civilized as it can get. Another example of his dark humor is the gory effects of when one gets shot in the face or when one drinks the poisonous coffee. And an additional example is how he has items be a significant part of the film. The same way the watch, Kahuna Burger, suitcase and wallet fit the story of Pulp Fiction to a tee, we have Warren’s letter from Abraham Lincoln. He does the type of movie violence that can even make Martin Scorsese jealous. He always was a film maker who didn’t play by the rules. He always made his own rules.

I will admit being a longtime fan of his movies, I was wondering what The Hateful Eight would be like. His last two films weren’t exactly his best: Inglourious Basterds could dazzle at first but would later be seen as ridiculous in afterthoughts and Django Unchained look both ridiculous and redundant as revenge being rehashed. Here Tarantino takes a chance by having most of the situation happen in a single physical location. Most of the time you have that in the case of student films or feature-length films of rising directors. Here Tarantino uses his experience and his knowledge of directing and writing to create a full intense film that’s predominantly set in a single place. That was very creative of him as he does a good job in the story and directing and delivers a movie that gives you the sense anything can happen any minute.

However the film is awfully long and there are many scenes that seem like they are drawn out. Sometimes there are times you’re actually wondering why something hasn’t happened yet.I do give Tarantino credit for delivering a story that’s unpredictable but I still feel almost three hours is too long for such a film.

SPOILER ALERT: Ending Will Be Revealed In This Paragraph. Bypass This Paragraph If You Want The Ending To Be a Surprise. If there’s one surprise Tarantino gave me, it’s the ending. Usually Tarantino is one film maker that doesn’t usually have sentimentality in his films. I have never seen a sentimental moment in any of his previous films. However the ending as Mannix and Warren appear dying was possibly the most sentimental thing I’ve ever seen in a Tarantino film. Sure, that’s not saying much but it’s still atypical enough to notice. No, I didn’t shed a tear as didn’t anyone else in the theatre but it was still a surprise.

Tarantino may be the brains behind what’s all happening in the film but it’s the actors that make it come alive. All eight of the main actors had to deliver a character that was as likable as they were hateable. Basically the type of characters whom you wouldn’t shed a single tear over when they die. They succeed in doing so and even make you welcome their deaths at times. Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russell were the ones able to command the most attention. However the biggest scene stealer will have to be Jennifer Jason Leigh. Her performance as the uncoothed Daisy Domergue really caught everyone’s attention. Her character of Daisy could have been considered annoying or even a distraction but she made it work. Her turn will also surprise you how a woman can be as ruthless as the men. The second show stealer would have to be Walton Goggins as Sheriff Mannix. Goggins also had a character that could have easily been dismissed as annoying or over the top but he became more likable and oddly enough appreciable by the end. If there was one more scene stealer, it had to be Bruce Dern as the spiteful Confederate General. Even the minor roles such as Minnie and Six Horse Judy were played well.

The film also did well in terms of its technical aspects. Robert Richardson did a very good job of cinematography both among the outside shots and inside shots. The natural and created sets works well too. Once again, Tarantino delivers a film with an excellent mix of songs from the past that fit the film well. However it’s the addition of the score from Ennio Morricone that give the film an added boost.

The Hateful Eight is not Tarantino’s best film ever. In fact it’s imperfections are noticeable. Nevertheless the film rarely gets boring and will still please Tarantino fans.

VIFF 2015 Review – Painted Land: In Search Of The Group Of Seven

The artwork of the Group Of Seven, like the Sketch Of The Lovely North as seen above, is looked at and tracked over a trip through a group of people in Painted Land.

The artwork of the Group Of Seven, like the Sketch Of The Lovely North as seen above, is looked at and tracked over a trip through a group of people in Painted Land.

Seeing the documentary Painted Land reminded me just how much we Canadians lack the knowledge of our artistic history.

The film is more than a documentary of art. It’s also a documentary of three adventurers retracing the trips taken by the seven Canadian artists known as the Group of Seven. For those who don’t know, the Group Of Seven were a group of seven Canadian artists from Ontario whom in the 20’s and 30’s visited landscapes of Ontario and painted images of what they saw in their own way. Many can say they were the first artists to define Canadian art. The Seven still rank among Canada’s most renowned artists.

In this documentary are three adventurers: author Joanie McGuffin, photographer Gary McGuffin and art historian Michael Burtch. They go on a journey along the various trails, coastlines and waterlines to retrace the route taken by the Seven and even see for themselves the natural places of Canada depicted in their paintings. The trip would involve many years of research, canoeing, portaging, mountain climbing and bushwhacking to retrace their steps and learn of their inspiration. At times, they’d even bring people along like the McGuffin’s daughter or other teens interested in art.

Group-of-Seven

The Group Of Seven artists were the first artists to define Canada artistically although their art was not completely accepted at the time.

The documentary is a documentation of their trip as well as a history lesson of the Group of Seven. We’re introduced to Tom Thomson who influenced the Seven shortly before he died mysteriously in 1919. We’re taken on the same journey the Seven took as they took their art from place to place and painted what they saw in their own unique way. Frequently we see images of the landscapes and how they match the paintings they painted. We learn of how each of the Seven dealt with each part of the journey and each town or camp area they took up. We occasionally see some moments of the Seven re-enacted by actors. We’re even taken to a cabin they once held during their journey. It’s an interesting tale as we learn from each story, each trail, each visit and each assimilation of the landscape with the painting that would become the ‘painted land.’

We even learn about the negative reception they received as their art premiered. Some people were unhappy with what they saw. Oddly some thought Canada was not ready to have what defined Canadian Art. Keep in mind Canada was just slightly over 50 years old at the time. The most fascinating comment I heard from one art pundit was she hated the paintings so much, she was afraid if she looked any longer, she might love them! Odd.

I found this documentary very valuable. I feel this is a great lesson for anyone who’s into art, Canadian or not. I especially feel that Canadian artists should see this as this will give them a good sense of their artistic history, even if the painting style of the Group Of Seven is not their style at all. I feel we as Canadians lack the knowledge of our renowned artists. I myself only learned of the Group Of Seven just as I was watching this documentary. Here in B.C., we’re mostly familiar with Emily Carr, who is one of Canada’s best artists in her own right. Nevertheless I found learning of the Group Of Seven very valuable and informative. I give the documentary big kudos for that.

For the most part, I feel this is not really a big screen documentary. Even seeing TVO, which is for the educational channel TV Ontario, at the end credits makes it obvious this is a documentary meant for television airing. I think if it were to be aired on the big screen, it would have to be in an art gallery that has a theatre screen or a performance stage, like the Winnipeg Art Gallery. It’s possible to show it on an art gallery theatre screen whether or not there’s a Group Of Seven exhibit.

Painted Land: In Search Of The Group Of Seven may be more of a television documentary than a big screen documentary. Nevertheless it’s a good educational documentary for both art and history.

Movie Review: Django Unchained

Django Unchained movie still

If you’ve seen Lincoln already, you’ve already seen one man’s approach to slavery. Now Django Unchained is another man’s approach to slavery that’s more what Quentin Tarantino had in mind and not what you’d expect.

The film starts with the Speck brothers walking a group of male slaves down across Texas in 1858, three years before the Civil War. Their journey is interrupted by Dr. King Schultz who appears to be a traveling dentist. He offers to buy one of the slaves, Django Freemen. Before the Specks can refuse Schultz shoots one of the Speck brothers to death, shoots the other leaving him in pain and frees the other slaves to let them kill the wounded Speck.

Schultz confesses to Django he’s no longer a dentist but a bounty hunter who kills fugitives for reward money whenever the opportunity arises. He especially chose Django because he can help identify his next targets, the three ruthless Brittle brothers. Schultz admits he hates slavery and offers Django to help with freedom, $75 and a horse as a reward. Django assists successfully in helping Schultz shoot down the Brittles.

Not only does Django get his promised rewards but Schultz hires him as his bounty hunting associate. This comes as Schultz learns that Django has a wife: Broomhilda ‘Hildy’ von Shaft who is also a slave now owned by a separate owner. Schultz is hoping making Django his associate will reunite him with Hildy. Schultz does a good job in training him and Django is fully ready with the shooting skills and the desire for blood. His first operation on Smitty Bacall is a success from hundreds of feet above off a cliff. Django and Schultz are successful in other bounty shootings too and soon learn Hildy is owned by plantation owner Calvin Candie. Once arriving as his plantation, Candyland, we learn Calvin is a charming but brutal man who has his male ‘mandingo’ slaves fight to the death for his entertainment pleasure.

The two try to pose as ‘mandingo’ purchasers to Candie however the purchase turns real when they witness a slave mauled to death by angry dogs. They then ask for Hildy as an addition. Candie agrees to the sale but it raises the suspicion of Candie’s staunch slave Stephen who suspects Django knows Hildy and is up to something with this sale. Upon the advise of Stephen, a drunken ruthless Candie gives Schultz a deal: Hildy for $12,000 or death. Schultz agrees and shoots Candie after the offer. A shootout occurs with Schultz shot and Django shooting many of and many of Candie’s men dead only to end when Stephen threatens to kill Hildy is he doesn’t surrender.

Django is sent to punishment by Stephen and Candie’s sister working as a coal miner worked to his death. That’s what Stephen thinks as Django is able to outsmart the slave drivers, kill them and take their dynamite. This comes for the set up at the end for Django’s revenge on Stephen and all those at the plantation. Even though most people know what the ending will be, it’s the style that it’s done in that’s the treat of the movie.

One thing about this movie is that it’s not supposed to be the answer to slavery. It’s not supposed to be even a version of how slavery should have been solved all along. What this movie is basically is Quentin doing what he does best: a revenge movie done in his style. I’ve been an admirer of him since Pulp Fiction. I remember when I first saw it near the end of 1994. I was a college student of the time and Pulp Fiction was a movie that impressed people of my generation. I came from a generation that was strongly anti-censorship and looked at commercialism in movies as a downgrade in creativity and an attempt to soften the authentic. When Pulp Fiction came out, we were impressed. Finally a movie where the director/writer has complete creative control and it excels. Finally a movie that takes filmmaking to new levels as filmmaking should. Finally a film that pushes envelopes as us Generation Xers in college felt all art should. Finally a movie that makes original pay off at the box office. Finally an independent movie that could make the Hollywood fare at the time look like a laughing stock. Finally a film that doesn’t censor itself and doesn’t bow down to pressures of ratings boards or family values groups and it excels. In the end, Pulp Fiction has been hailed by most as the best film of the 1990’s.

Eighteen years have passed since Pulp Fiction has been released. While most directors have had a flare last for a number of years only to flare out over time, Tarantino never did. He still delivers movies that know how to charm and even enchant. Also while it appears that there’s a lack of taking film in new directions right now and more interest in creating a box office winner, Tarantino is still one who dares to stand out, take risks and do things his way. One thing I’ve come to know of Quentin Tarantino’s movies over the years is that he aims to deliver a film in style. It’s seen very clear in the films he shows that he attempts to tell a story via film noir or blaxploitation or spaghetti western style. He wants to deliver a stylized story as he’s done in his past movies and he does it again here.

Another thing Quentin does in his films that he does again here is deliver a movie with stylized characters with eerily charming personalities and deliver their acting with style. We see it with the characters of Django Freeman, Dr. Schultz, Calvin Candie, Hildy and Stephen. All of them have their personalities in their likeable traits and their hateable traits. All also deliver in their stylized acting without coming off as ridiculous. Few times can an actor get away with doing such a showy stylized character in movie performances without looking ridiculous or over-the-top. It’s here in Quentin Tarantino movies where it works the best. It’s funny because when I learned Django was about a slave getting revenge, I was expecting the actors to play characters with mannerisms from the 1850’s. Not in a Tarantino movie.

Also noticeable is how Quentin works to avoid the sentimental and touching in his films and it’s seen again here. The two where I got the biggest sense of this was firstly the scene where Django shot Smitty Bacall from a cliff and we see Smitty’s son coming to him on the ground. There’s no scene of the son’s reaction. The second was the scene where Hildy saw Django after being away from him for so long. I was expecting Hildy to be in tears and embrace him. Instead she faints at the sight of him. Not what I expected but should’ve in a Tarantino movie.

If there’s one glitch to comment about the movie, it’s that it’s yet another revenge flick from Tarantino. Back in the 90’s his films had the focus of the criminal mind. I was good with that. In the 21st Century, his movies have been focused on the theme of revenge, from the Kill Bill series to the Death Proof part of the Grindhouse movie to Inglourious Basterds. I didn’t have a problem with that because it was done entertainingly and even enchantingly at times in some scenes. Here it was a case where I went with the feel “Not another revenge story from Quentin Tarantino.” I’ll admit that it was a very stylishly done movie that delivers in entertainment value but seeing Tarantino toy around with the theme of revenge once again gives me the impression he’s masturbating to that theme a little too gratuitously.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to say in my review that this is the movie that is the turning point for my respect for Tarantino. In fact I still consider him one of the best filmmakers out right now. I would however like to see him work with other themes too. Like many people, I feel one trait that makes for a great director is one that can do many genres well. Steven Spielberg is an example of a director that can do a multitude of film genres. Martin Scorsese may be famous for gangster films but he showed he can do other styles of film well too, even family movies. Ang Lee is another filmmaker that has demonstrated versatility. I would like to see Tarantino become more versatile in the films he delivers. This may sound odd coming from a fan of his movies but I’d like to see him try it.

Okay, enough of me both praising and sacking Quentin. The film’s acting consists of character acting that knows how to be stylish without coming across as ridiculously showy. Jamie Foxx was impressive as Django Freeman. The only problem is that he was constantly upstaged by the supporting players. Christoph Waltz delivered excellently as King Schultz with all of his charming arrogance who somehow had a heart. Leonardo DiCaprio also was phenomenal as the charmingly hateable Calvin Candie. Samuel L. Jackson was excellent as the hateable Stephen: the former slave who now owns and beats his own. He makes you want his payback in the end. Kerry Washington was also good as Hildy but her character lacked the depth and style the leading male characters had. The sets were perfect in fitting the time. Even the springy tooth on Dr. Schultz’s coach looked less ridiculous over time. The music mix was also excellent. Another trait of Tarantino’s movies is the inclusion of music that enhances, stylizes and even enchants in the movie’s story and Quentin delivered again. It was a mix of original music and of songs from decades past that blend like magic into the film.

One would assume a movie like this would be one to cause controversy. And they’re right. This movie has had people speaking out against it on the subject of either the violence or the subject of slavery or the use of racial slurs. The most outspoken critic has been director Spike Lee. Spike has been critical of Quentin Tarantino in the past for the use of a certain racial slur in Pulp Fiction. Spike hasn’t really spoken about the use of that slur in Django but he has spoken about the movie itself and has declared it: “an insult to my ancestors.” This is particularly questionable since there are African American actors in leading roles. If they felt it was an insult to their ancestors, they would have refused to be in the movie. Besides I’ve always gotten the impression Spike Lee wants the world to think he’s the voice of all of black America simply because of Do The Right Thing. Fortunately the controversy hasn’t generated too much news overload.

It’s interesting while Lincoln showcased justice given to slavery, Django Unchained is about one slave’s revenge. Ironic how both are released in the same year and both have expectations to win the Best Picture Oscar. As for Django, it’s starting to feel redundant to see another Tarantino revenge flick but his stylized filmmaking compensates for that and delivers a winner of a movie for the most part. Not for all to see but it will entertain those that do see it.

Movie Review – The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn

When you think of cartoon characters that have become pop culture icons, who comes to mind? Garfield? Snoopy? Calvin? How about Tintin: the freelance reporter with the funny hairstyle that was all the rage more than ten years ago who travels the world with his dog Snowy? You can bet he’s a pop culture icon in Europe, especially the French speaking countries. In fact his 75th anniversary was celebrated in 2004 with a special 10 Euro commemorative coin.

Tintin cartoons have been known the world over but has had only two live-action movies made of him made way back in the 60’s. Tintin comes to the big screen as a full-length animation feature in The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn.

Tintin is out in an open air market and purchases a model of the ship the Unicorn. A villain named Sakharine wants to buy it off Tintin but he refuses. The ship is broken on the day Tintin buys it as Snowy runs around the house chasing a cat. The break also knocks out a small scroll inside a metal flask. Meanwhile incompetent detectives Thomson and Thompson are searching for a pickpocket in the city. Also we’d learn how skilled of a villain Sakharine is: with associated accomplices and eagles trained to fly on command and steal.

Tintin would later visit Sakharine where he would learn there are two model ships. Soon Tintin is kidnapped by accomplices of Sakharine and imprisoned on the SS Karaboudjan. He meet the Captain Haddock who has been made drunk by a first mate under Sakharine’s control and doesn’t know what’s happening on the ship. Tintin, Haddock and Snowy successfully escape on a lifeboat and are able to salvage a seaplane which they take to return home only to crash in the Sahara desert.

It’s while in the desert that Tintin learns of the secret as Haddock hallucinates from the heat and suffers from a sudden lack of alcohol. His ancestor Sir Francis Haddock was captain of the Unicorn in the 17th Century. The ship was treasure-laden and was attacked by a pirate ship led by the masked Red Rackham. Sir Francis surrendered the ship but sank it with the treasures rather than let it fall into Rackham’s hands. It becomes clear that the three model ships each had a scroll and the scrolls together would lead to the location of the Unicorn.

In the Moroccan town of Bagghar, Tintin and Haddock learn that the third modal ship is there and owned by a wealthy villager in a bullet-proof display case. Also there is to be a concert given by an opera singer known as the Milanese Nightingale. The reason why is to break the case open and retrieve the third scroll. It works: he has all three scrolls and he’s able to get away despite being chased by Tintin and Haddock. Sakharine returns on the Karaboudjian but Haddock also arrives on.It’s revealed that Sakharine is a descendant of the Red Rackham and the two, Haddock and Sakharine, get involved in a fight that replays the swashbuckling swordfight between their ancestors. Even cranes are involved. In the end, Haddock is victorious and Tintin leads the ship to the dock allowing for Sakharine to be arrested by Thomson and Thompson.

 Tintin and Haddock then use the scrolls to find the location. At the location, which is the hall built by Sir Francis, they find some of the treasure and a clue to the location of the sunken Unicorn. They both agree to continue the adventure.

This movie was a dream project of Steven Spielberg for decades. Spielberg took an interest in the cartoons when someone compared his Raiders Of The Lost Ark to Tintin. For years he’s wanted to bring Tintin to the big screen. Even Tintin cartoonist Herge became a fan of Spielberg’s movies and thought Spielberg was the only person who could bring Tintin to the big screen properly.  Herge died in 1983 but Spielberg could not purchase the full rights on Tintin until 2002. He even collaborated with director Peter Jackson to achieve this. Jamie Bell, who grew up reading Tintin comics, even came to Spielberg years ago about the idea. It wasn’t until years ago that this movie had started being made. Jamie Bell was Spielberg’s first and last choice to be Tintin. Even Peter Jackson recommended him after working with him in King Kong. The end result is the right mix for the movie.

The movie is very true to a Tintin cartoon. It’s set in the right time and features a lot of elements of European culture familiar in Tintin cartoons, like the artwork, the markets, the opera singer and the use of Interpol. The movie also has a lot of commonalities with a Spielberg adventure like Raiders Of The Lost Ark.  The animation was top notch. It features some of the best animation effects of the year. The story was kept in good taste and strayed away from cheap laughs and crude humor.  Simon Pegg and Nick Frost were also an excellent choice for being cast as Thomson and Thompson. Andy Serkis was also good as the drunken Captain Haddock. Daniel Craig was also good as the villain Sakharine. Snowy was always a reliable companion who had a liking for bones. John Williams was able to deliver a score that didn’t sound like your typical John Williams score.

The world box office results went as most would expect. Worldwide outside of North America, the film has made close to a very impressive $300 million. In North America, the film has made only around $75 million. This shows the big divide in Europe and the United States in their pop culture icons.

Another big shock is that Tintin was heavily favored to win the Best Animated Feature Oscar leading up to the nominations. It had already won the Golden Globe and the Annie award. To the shock of almost everyone, the nomination didn’t happen. Instead Tintin’s only nomination is for Best Original Score for John Williams. I’ll never understand the Academy. I’m fascinated by the Oscar race and the biz’s pursuit of nominations and wins, but I’m still left confused even as I understand it more.

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn is a pleasant surprise for animated movies. It’s not as cutesy or goofy as most of the animated movies this year or most years but it was a very enjoyable adventure. A refreshing alternative from one of those cutesy animated features.

Move Review: The Help

I know what you’re going to say before I talk about The Help. There have already been a lot of movies about racism and segregation. Yes there have been. Nevertheless The Help is a well-made story about showing a black woman’s point of view on racism from a state most synonymous with segregation: Mississippi.

The movie revolves around three women in particular. The first is Abilene; an African American maid whose latest maid work comes right after the death of her son. The second is Milly; another African American maid who was recently fired from Hilly Hollbrook–Jackson’s white female ringleader–for using a toilet meant only for Hilly’s white family and is only rehired by a white ‘misfit’. The third is Skeeter; a white journalism grad from Ole Miss who is unmarried and wants to make a career for herself in writing but lacks a story.

The setting is Jackson, Mississippi. Segregation is alive and well but is facing abolishment. The black maids have had enough while the white upper class females want to see it kept. Hilly herself wants to enact a passage of a law to make it standard for separate bathrooms for white and colored people. Skeeter is tired of writing a housekeeping column and wants an actual story. She comes across it just after her former maid Constantine, who she always looked up to as a child, is mysteriously gone, Hilly speaks her pro-segregation mind at her ‘clique meetings’ and she encounters Aibilene and Minny. They have quite the story to tell and she learns a lot from what they have to say and what they’ve experienced. Even Milly’s story of her revenge on Hilly with ‘the pie’ makes for some colorful. Nevertheless a book publishing company wants to have the points of view from twelve maids, not two. It’s a struggle for Skeeter as she becomes more of a misfit in Hilly’s clique for being unmarried and being opposed to segregation and because of state law: Mississippi law can imprison writers and interviewees for cross-race writing. It isn’t until the shooting death of Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers that Skeeter finally gets her twelve to interview, however giving them pseudonyms to protect their identity. The result is the novel finally being made and boy does it stir up a lot of debate and reactions.

One thing about the ending is that a lot is accomplished and many good things come out of it. Despite positive changes, some bad things still remain and the movie doesn’t end on a completely positive note. The ending takes a turn for a different more negative ending. Nevertheless it did so on the right note. It reminds us that even after segregation was ended for real in the Southern States, some negative aspects of racism still remained and some changes didn’t go as far as it should have.

There have been movies about racism in the past and conquering racism but hardly has there ever been such where it’s on the basis of the black maids for white families. It touches on a common notion. The white children were raised and cared for by the African American maids and many of the children would look up to them as a mother figure. As most of those white children grew up as adults, they would then go on to the hiring and firing of them. They would adopt the cruelness to the maids their own parents had. The story is set in Jackson, Mississippi around the time of the civil rights movements and around the time Jackson, the capitol of Mississippi, is where segregation is possibly the most alive and well. The story features Skeeter, an aspiring writer who’s looking for a story and sees one. Remembering how Constantine was like a mother to her and wondering whatever happened to her, she hasn’t developed the hardness of heart her girlfriends had developed over the years. It is with her willingness to see the maids’ side and write about it that made her want to set the record straight. That helps to create the intrigue of the story.

One of the interesting themes in the movie is oddly enough its use of toilets. Many people including myself still look at toilets as something taboo but in recent decades, many people and many creative artists have defied this taboo and become more public about it and even incorporated it into art. In this film, it plays a significant role because as we remember, toilets were a part of the days segregation: separate ones for whites and colored. The Help presents toilets in many different references. It is Aibilene’s toilet teaching where she shows she’s a better mother to Mae Mobley Leefolt than Mrs. Leefolt is. It is where Minny uses a toilet for white people only in Hilly’s house that gets her fired. It’s where Hilly strongly believes in segregated bathrooms to the point to where she’s willing to take her plea to the surgeon general. It’s also the prank Skeeter uses to pull on Hilly for her lobbying. As taboo as it is, there’s no denying the significance of toilets in the movie.

One thing about the movie The Help is that it’s based on a novel that is complete fiction. That fact might make some question the triumphant moments in the movie. Question it all you want. One thing you can’t deny is that despite it being fiction, there are a lot of hard truths experienced by the African Americans in Mississippi that are portrayed very well and will make you think. Seeing how Hilly treats her maids meanly to the point of firing them instantly and even getting them arrested makes you think how many others were as mean as Hilly. That scene where Minny is with her eldest daughter in a maid’s uniform about to board the bus can also disturb you. Imagine a future that limited. Also that scene where Charlotte told how and why she fired Constantine. How many times do you think that has happened in the past? So the novel may not be based on a true story but possibly based on a thousand true stories.

The directing from Tate Taylor was top notch. He did an excellent job of directing the movie and writing the storyline well. The acting however is what made the movie most. The standout without a doubt was Viola Davis. Her performance of Aibilene was the glue of the movie and had the most to tell. Her acting was full of believability from start to finish. Octavia Spencer was the top scene-stealer as Minny. She was able to make for an excellent turn with adding elements of humor to her role. Emma Stone delivered possibly the best performance of her career. Already people are saying she’s the next big thing. Her performance of Skeeter demonstrates she can also make a good actress of herself. Also a standout is Bryce Dallas Howard. Her character acting was so excellent, she will easily make you hate Hilly.

Overall, The Help is a very excellent movie revealing a harsh reality of 60’s Southern racism. Some say it’s not as harsh of a depiction as it should be. Nevertheless we shouldn’t forget that even in racism situations that aren’t as harsh, the hurt can still be felt and the picture can have an ugliness of its own.

Elizabeth Taylor 1932-2011

I’ll start by asking a series of questions. When you think of the term movie star, who comes to mind? Or what comes to mind? Is it their captivating looks? is it their ability to epitomize fame and fortune? Is it their ability to win crowds to the big screen time after time? Is it a presence that captivates the audience in their seats? Or is it their ability to do great acting time and time again? Do the standards of those that deserve the term movie star change over time? Or are the standards of a movie star timeless? When you think of the term movie star, how many from the past deserve that title? How many current actors deserve to have such a title bestowed upon them?

On Wednesday morning, we lost one who deserved to fit the term movie star in any or possibly every definition of the term. Her name was Elizabeth Taylor. She’s possibly one of the last of a breed that fit the term movie star as we know it to a tee. She had the looks, she lived large in more ways than one, she was able to attract crowds to the theatres and grab hold of their attention, and she knew how to give wonderful acting performances time after time.

Her acting career started early. She was discovered and signed on by both MGM and Universal at the age of ten. She had a great career as a child actor in gems like Lassie Come Home and Jane Eyre but it was her performance in 1944’s National Velvet that was her signature turn as a child actor. She was also successful in making a transition to adult actor almost immediately when she starred in 1950’s Father Of The Bride. Her career as an adult actress would accelerate starting with her role in 1956’s Giant opposite Rock Husdon and James Dean. She would then be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress four years in a row starting with 1957’s Raintree County opposite Montgomery Clift, 1958’s Cat On A Hot Tin Roof opposite Paul Newman, 1959’s Suddenly, Last Summer opposite Montgomery Clift and finally a Winner for 1960’s Butterfield 8 which she acted opposite then-husband Eddie Fisher. In 1960, she became the highest paid actress in Hollywood and more starring roles continued, including for 1963’s Cleopatra, 1967’s The Taming Of The Shrew and her second Best Actress Oscar winning role in 1966’s Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? Soon after, the movies she starred were flopping and her bankability faded. It wouldn’t stop her from acting in movies, television and stage. Her last movie role was in 1994’s live-action version of The Flintstones. Immediately after, she announced her retirement from films.

She also had one-of-a-kind winning looks. Her looks were definitely that of a movie star. Even at a young age, you knew she had a face for the screen. The smooth face and glowing violet eyes. You could tell in her earlier moviesthat she had the looks. Even in adolescence, she matured with grace and beauty and would have the looks perfect for Hollywood’s Golden Age. She also knew how to live the glamorous life. She was always seen with the most glamorous dresses and was renowned for her huge collection of jewelry including huge diamond rings and diamond necklaces. She even launched two fragrances in the 1990’s.

She also had the ability to be the subject of much publicity, both while active in her acting career and after. She was known for her eight marriages to seven husbands: starting with hotel mogul Conrad Hilton and ending with Larry Fortensky. Her relationship and eventual marriage to Eddie Fisher made headlines because it interfered with his marriage to Eddie Fisher. She married Richard Burton twice over a period of twelve years. Only her marriage to Michael Todd lasted until his death. She was known for her weight gain battles, frequently lampooned in Joan Rivers’ standup comedy material. She had well-publicized substance abuse battles that included a stay at the Betty Ford Clinic where she met her final husband Larry Fortensky. Her friendship with Michael Jackson also made tabloid headlines. Fact: she is the godmother of Michael’s two oldest children. She also battled constant health problems and they would always make for good tabloid copy. She broke her back five times and had two hip replacements. She also battled life-threatening illnesses like a brain tumor, two bouts of pneumonia and numerous heart problems. 

Despite her life of luxury and her questionable relationships, she was also one who knew how to use her celebrity to attract a cause. She supported AIDS causes starting in 1984 when they were not popular but became more active after her friend actor Rock Hudson died of the disease in 1985. She founded or co-founded two major AIDS charities and promoted major AIDS fundraising events. He also devoted herself to many causes relating to Israel and Zionism. She herself converted to Judaism in 1959. She would use her celebrity for many fundraising events and for awareness for the causes she believed in. In turn, she has been awarded humanitarian awards during her life. She was even named a Dame in 2000.

When she died on Wednesday, many believe we lost the last great movie star of Hollywood’s Golden Era. Although that’s disputable, we did lose a one-of-a-kind. She had the picture perfect looks for Hollywood but she delivered solid acting every time. What mistakes she made in her personal life, she made up for in her charm and grace. She lived every inch of the definition ‘fame and fortune’ but was still in touch with what was happening in the world. Many leading ladies came before her and many have come since but she will never be equaled. Elizabeth, we’ll miss you.