Fri, Dec 28, 2012

: Django Unchained

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Cool homage to the spaghetti western, totally Tarantino, and a lot of fun. The story is simple enough, about a slave that is taken on as an apprentice bounty hunter and finds his calling (Pay him to kill white people? He’s in!), and sets off to rescue his slave wife who’s been sold to an evil plantation owner.

But the real meat in this is all the wonderful characters, from delicious bad guys to cool good guys. All the performances are fantastic, as the all-star cast delivers. Christoph Waltz is amazing as always, but he’s strong supported by Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Samuel L. Jackson.

Of course since it’s Tarantino, everything’s over-the-top, with plenty of absurd shoot-em-ups and spurting blood, but that’s the joy in it. In any other movie scenes like the Klan members arguing about how they can’t see through their hoods would be out-of-place and fall flat, but here it’s just classic.

Long, but doesn’t feel like it at all. The pacing is just perfect, like savoring a delicious meal. Wonderful.

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Wed, Dec 19, 2012

: The Secret World of Arrietty

I was curious about this as I usually love Hayao Miyazaki’s work, but the trailers made this seem much too much like The Borrowers novel it was based upon (there already was an animated movie based on that) and I skipped it in theaters.

But it turns out, it’s really good. It’s definite not very American — it has a glacial pace and a minimal plot — but it’s surprisingly emotional. The story is about a teenage Borrower (a miniature person who lives underneath a human’s house and lives on “borrowed” odds and ends) who meets a human boy. It turns out the boy is dying and there to convalesce, and though the Borrower is not supposed to allow herself to be seen, the two become friends.

There are a few oddities, like the weird housekeeper, but this is probably the most mainstream thing Miyazaki has ever done (though he only wrote and planned this and didn’t direct it). The story is simple and pure and wonderful. The hand-drawn animation is amazing, especially the level of detail. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Definitely great for kids.

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Sat, Dec 15, 2012

: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

It’s been a while since I’ve read the book (I’m rereading it now) and my memories of it are blended with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, so it’s a little difficult for me to compare this to the novel. In that regard, it seems they’ve taken liberties in rearranging the structure slightly, and adjusted several scenes to give various characters more weight. While these are somewhat galling to a purist like myself, I do understand why they made those changes (at least for the most part).

As an example — a slight spoiler warning here — instead of Gandalf mimicking voices to confuse the trolls, the movie has Bilbo provoking them. The conclusion is exactly the same, which is good, and it’s easy to see the filmmakers wanted Bilbo to be more heroic, but of course, that is not what happened in the novel.

That said, judging this strictly on its own merits, it’s a terrific film. The visuals are fantastic, the performances excellent, and the drama and action is non-stop. The near three-hour length flies by in about an hour. The film adds a darker tone by introducing the Necromancer (a wizard that can control the dead) and the threat he promises adds import to the quest so that it’s not just about reclaiming stolen gold from a dragon.

Of course the most disappointing and frustrating thing about the film is that it ends just as it’s getting good, and we have to wait an entire year for the next part. Arrggh! I knew that going in, and though it does end at a perfect pause point (thankfully not in the middle of a sentence), it’s still annoying. I wouldn’t be nearly so upset if part two was coming out in a few months, but a year? Still, this is definitely worth seeing sooner rather than later. (I saw the 3D version and it’s not bad, though I’m not sure the extra dimension is worth it. Other than a few arrows whizzing at you, it doesn’t make much of a difference.)

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Sat, Dec 08, 2012

: Contraband

This film didn’t interest me at all when it was in theaters, but it’s actually quite good. I knew it was about smuggling, where a former smuggler is forced to go back into his old life for one last deal, and that didn’t seem very interesting. But it turns out it’s much more of a clever heist movie.

I had no idea that smuggling meant putting stuff on legitimate cargo ships — I always thought guys used their own private boats. The logistics of getting stuff on and off a cargo ship without anyone noticing is fascinating and exciting, and the film moves from one dramatic sequence to the next. The concept of drug dealers putting pressure on the guy’s family to force him to do one last smuggling job was actually pretty good, as our hero wants to go legit but must protect his wife and kids.

The ending is interesting. At one point it seems anticlimactic but there are some lovely twists at the end and I loved the way everything worked out. Perhaps not the most intellectual fare and there’s some nastiness that isn’t totally necessary (I much preferred the light-hearted humorous aspects), but it’s all in good fun in the end.

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Fri, Dec 07, 2012

: Flypaper

Interesting little bank robber caper flick about a guy who’s sort of mildly autistic (he can solve math problems in his head and is very logical but has zero social skills) who tries to protect a pretty teller he has a crush on. He’s caught in the middle as two sets of bank robbers attempt to rob the same bank and the same time. One set of robbers are high-tech and sophisticated, while the other two are bumbling idiots.

The whole thing’s more than unrealistic, with explosions and gunshots going on all night in the closed bank and no cops show up, but it’s still sort of fun and interesting as the math guy tries to calculate what’s really going on. The ultimate explanation is pretty silly, but there are some fun twists. The ending was predictable to me but still enjoyable and I liked the way everything worked out. Fun.

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