Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Having been a twitter follower of Ed Burns, I was familiar with Newlyweds for a while before it was released. This simple way of 5D filmmaking with a skeleton crew and a low budget is a way I’d truly like to make features. I’ve done it once as a lead actor, and directed a short that way and a simple natural way of filming, using available light is a thing I’d like to pursue for some projects. It’s a nice way to work and forms a close-knit team. It took me a while to get to see Newlyweds, as the iTunes release was not accessible in the UK and it wasn’t until I got Netflix recently that I discovered it was on there and found it to be a light, charming and easy to enjoy, slice of life movie with a touching feelgood factor.
The story is one of relationships and the importance we give them. Buzzy and Katie are the newlyweds of the title, each on their second relationship and wanting an easy time of marriage. Katie’s sister Marsha and her husband Miles are close to both and a little disapproving of the casual attitude towards marriage that the newlyweds have adopted, despite their own long marriage having begun because of an unplanned pregnancy. Hanging around is Katie’s ex husband Dara, an actor who is too hapless for Buzzy and Katie to fully reject from their lives and thrown into the mix is Buzzy’s half sister Linda who shows up from LA to impose herself on them while she secretly tries to recapture the one who got away and now lives in NYC. Friendships, familial relationships and marriage are put under the magnifying glass as the characters talk their way through what is working and not working for them and the impulsiveness with which Buzzy and Katie have jumped into marriage is either going to prove their salvation or their downfall as everyone begins to question who they really love and why.
Filmed with lovely clean cinematography, in an intimate style, it's a nice looking and sounding film. In some sections, the characters talk ‘interview style’ to the camera which is inclusive toward the audience but not really a mocumentary or pseudo documentary even. More it’s an artifact for breaking the fourth wall to allow us these characters to tell us want us to understand about them. If that sounds odd then you’re in denial about all those conversations you’ve had with thin air as if you were explaining your life to an invisible documentary crew.. or is it just me who does that? I’m not sure those sections really added a lot or moved the film forwards but they are oddly interesting and revealing so I didn’t mind them in the least and felt that they worked overall. There’s a natural ambience to all the scenes and New York becomes a character in it’s own right as we pace the streets and slide into apartments, bars and restaurants observing what’s going on in the lives of our protagonists. The acting is pleasant, at ease and believable from a pretty talented cast and while I didn’t worry about them or find the circumstances particularly high stakes, I liked them all a lot, even the puritanical and annoying Marsha. These were people I’d want to know and have a cup of tea. People I could grow to love. Testimony to a great ensemble cast.
For someone who’s written, directed, acted a lead in, and produced the film Edward Burns has (unsurprisingly given his penchant for multitasking) done a great job of wearing all hats at once again here on a low budget and tight schedule (It’s really not easy!) and neither the direction nor acting lacks aplomb with his distinctive lyrical style and pacing at the forefront.
At the end of the film I felt happy, entertained and like I’d met some nice people and got to like them and sympathise with their woes. If you asked me if I thought Newlyweds was an amazing film I might say not amazing but definitely lovely. If you asked me if I thought it’s an amazing independent film shot for a $9K budget in 12 day shooting schedule and if it’s really worth you watching it then yes, I’d have to say ‘I do.’
Sunday, 10 March 2013
A simply stunning coming of age story dealing with questions of beliefs, indoctrination, hatred and the humanity that tells us right from wrong. I haven’t seen a film as evocative as Lore since I watched Redland some years ago.
The group of children must travel on foot and Lore is unprepared for the extremities of terrain and brutality by which she’s confronted and reluctantly accepts help from a roadworthy Jewish boy, distrusting of his motives, yet needing his guidance to find food and safer passage and discovering she is strongly attracted to him despite her confused feelings of loathing and guilt as she comes to terms with her parents role in the horror of the death camps. Around them people have become both forlorn and feral as they scrabble for food and survival and attempt to hold on to their ideas of a perfect Germany that has crumbled around them. As the children travel, the very bond the young people make brings them irrevocable losses of their own.
Beautifully directed by Cate Shortland and with earthy cinematography by Adam Arkapaw we are shown echos of a defeated country as both the country and characters break and regroup into something new. Picture and sound are both simple and intimate and the acting nothing short of courageous by a primary cast of young actors. Leads, Saskia Rosendahl and Kai Malina are particularly captivating and have compelling chemistry on screen.
Though the pace and intensity of story is fairly spread out and trails off somewhat toward the end the catharsis of the final scene for Lore is a poignant physical full stop to her inner emotional journey, her transition through adolescence and a fitting end to a film that was not entirely perfect but from the moment I saw the trailer, I knew was pefect for me and the kind of film that I would love. Love it I do and after seeing it in the cinema twice now I can only recommend it, it is quite unusually brave and a uniquely piercing perspective of the human experience. More like this please.
Saturday, 9 March 2013
On International Women's Day today (well, yesterday now as it's now the early hours) I didn't have a great day personally and I didn't achieve very much. I saw lots of articles and shout outs to the amazing women of the world, the world leaders, the artists, the businesswomen and the celebrities, all of those and more. I saw articles about the girls and women overcoming the most abject of poverty and inequality and abuse. All of them, heroines, inspirational to our gender and to the human world in general.
I also thought quite a lot about why we have International Women's Day and why we still need it. That there's a lot that needs to change in the way women are treated. One of those things for me is how women see themselves represented in the arts. Because as I looked through all the articles about inspiring women I really thought to myself that if there was one woman I would like to be a bit more like, then it would probably be my sister. And it's the women in our own lives who truly touch us most and leave an indelible mark on us that are the true inspiration to most people, both men and women. And how often do women like that get written about or represented for the fully rounded people that they are in the dramatic works we create? How often do they receive equal pay and acknowledgement for working to create those arts, even?
The answer is not enough. Not the same as men, even though we are no less human than men.
Yes, I celebrate women on International Women's Day although it is somewhat reluctantly and sometimes feels like a pat on the head rather than a voice for our sex. I look around me at the women I know and the women of the world. I always remember that, for all of us, the end goal is to not need this day anymore. That it is in many ways a pat on the head and should one day become that quaint tradition more than a necessity born out of human inequality. Most of all I remind myself that today should not be all about valuing inspirational women and their contribution to the world it's about all women being valued and represented well every day, even on the days when we are least inspirational.
Wednesday, 6 March 2013
It's never been my dream to move to an industrial city but if it were, I'd have to say that Hollywood is one that has a great deal to offer and is probably one of the most successful ones of the planet in which to make a mark doing work that you love. But make no mistake, it is an industrial place and while thousands of people go there to break into the business and partake of the glamour, probably only a handful succeed in becoming a part of that industry and forging a sustainable career and life in it. It's not all talent related either, this is serious business with some seriously clever people and turning up to this city like a country hick with not the least idea what is needed to live and work, survive and be respected by these business people as one of them, is not beginning in the right way. Whether your dream is to break into Hollywood to stay or just to be able to go there to work sometimes, having first hand guidance and advice from people who've done it successfully is definitely going to be a bonus you'll want to have.
Original half of the Guerilla Filmmaker duo, Genevieve Jolliffe packed her bags and headed for the Hollywood heights some time ago and has put together the Guerilla Pocketbook 'Breaking Into Hollywood' for the express reason of sharing her own insights and those of the experts in the fields to steer the plans for trips into working within this siren city in the right directions and make anyone's journey there both productive and pleasant, whether you're coming and going, staying for keeps, or would just like to understand how the capital of filmmaking works and makes it's money.
Reading through the book, I got a sense of how complex and yet straightforward the process can be if you approach it, and the established people there in the right way. Business is competitive, and yet there is a willingness to meet new talent and with time and the right approach it's very possible to succeed here. For a small book the chapters go into surprising detail about the way the industry works and the channels taken into the various areas of it be you actor, director, screenwriter, all of the above etc. and I know that if and when I do head to a city where I know relatively few people and have a lot to prove then having this in my pocket will be a source of succour and a reachable reminder of where my focus should be for those moments where I might feel less courageous, doubting of my abilities or just plain overwhelmed. Like the other Guerilla Pocketbooks before it it's a friend at your side to reassure you about what you've chosen to do.
Aimed at a British audience, because that's where Genevieve entered Hollywood from, I daresay this book has much to offer to anyone moving to LA to make headway in the film and television industry there, but it's particularly useful as a guide to immigration and working in Hollywood as well as the stuff you'll need to live there like when to carry your ID, where to shop, how to tip and where the phones, wireless internet and other things you need can be gotten. Nothing is missing here, I feel reading this that I could almost get on a plane right now without being too far out of my depth. I guess this book does that too, brings that all important confidence you get from understanding a place enough to feel at home there the moment you arrive. And I think the author's spirit and voice comes across in this and holds out a hand of welcome to a city she has made her home. It's a book that you won't regret having if you want to do the same and it has a lot of British heart toward this American dream that is pretty inspiring stuff.
Before I go running off to the airport, I'll just finish this cuppa I'm drinking.. and perhaps another few screenplays too!
You can pick up your own copy of the Guerilla Filmmakers 'Breaking Into Hollywood' for under a tenner and with a wad of online resources to go with it, direct from the Guerilla Film folks themselves by clicking HERE.
Saturday, 23 February 2013
The more I look at lauded films the more I believe that the greatest thing I’ve seen this past year in a cinema is Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master.
With clean, structured cinematography from Mihai Malaimare Jr. (who also did Tetro and the lovely Youth Without Youth) the film is stunningly beautiful and frank. Shot mostly on 65mm centre cropped to a ratio of 1.85 which PTA said 'felt right' for the picture and while I don't much hold with film snobbery myself there's no doubt it's certainly stunning.
The film’s sound design is as powerful in it’s silent moments as much as in it’s busy ones. We are given space to be with these people and allowed into their environment. The editing too gives space to the film. It’s not long or drawn out but it’s there when it’s needed. There’s a perception to the film that allows for what we need to process the thoughts it stirs in us. And there’s a certain dreamy perfection in that. By the time I had reached the end of the film I felt love. Love of the characters, love of myself, acceptance for those things we imagine are reachable or unreachable in life. It’s an extraordinary film. But then the true master here is perhaps Paul Thomas Anderson.
Admittedly, I’m British so a biopic about an American president isn’t really ever going to float my boat in the same way that it will a US audience, but even so, Lincoln is at best a beautifully crafted borefest.
About forty minutes too long the screenplay takes us in excruciating detail through the machinations of Abraham Lincoln’s thirteenth amendment to the Constitution. And while the man was no doubt an extraordinary and exciting president a lot of what happens here is stuffy old pomp indeed. Two and a half hours of it, coupled with a hysterical Mrs Lincoln, and a couple of spoiled brat kids and a babble of heckling bigots made the story rather an unpleasant one to sit through.
To be fair, Spielberg does a good and strangely subtle build with the material he has, making the best of the sublime Daniel Day Lewis’ performance as the great man himself and filling most of the roles with some excellent character talents and a few moments that are even transcendent. Ms. Field does a decent job of making Mrs. Lincoln both unbearable and intelligently formidable political partner. Overall I’d say we get an interesting and accurate portrayal of a man who rightly became the most loved US president of all time and that we know him better at the end of this film is testament to an incredible director/actor pairing between Spielberg and DDL who have striven to bring us a relatable character who we can understand as a whole man rather than a political powerhouse. It’s tender and rightly so.
As charming as that is it doesn’t quite rescue a film that is stiff and bristling with argumentative vainglory. Technically, while the production design is flawless, the cinematography was proficiently not to my taste leading me to wonder if Kaminski while still obviously competent at producing a pretty image is just losing his appetite for the business of storytelling and at times I felt keenly aware of being manipulated by the angle of imagery, something someone like me should never even notice in a film of this calibre. The editing too, jarred at points, although overall there is a build of scene and story with lovely sound design that works on a subconcious emotional level and I’ll admit to having a surprising little sob at the lovely window scene when the bells ring because until that point, I wasn’t aware that any tension from the story had been built up in me. If the movie had finished at that point I might have been more inclined to be benevolent toward it but no, Spielberg has to relentlessly take us onward to the whole story of Lincoln and a very unnecessary and drawn out tail off wrapping up facts and adding sentimental flourishes bored me to sobs of a different kind. The repeated imagery of gavels and crab mallets became strangely symbolic to me of what I was being put through.
Frankly it was a relief to see the credits go up and to leave it behind, though I am very glad to have seen Daniel Day Lewis’ work which was extraordinary (though not the best acting I’ve seen this year) and I’m glad I know this US president and perhaps the American mind a little better through his endearing performance. Rest assured though I shall never be watching this bizarre borefest of a film again.
Saturday, 16 February 2013
After finding Boal & Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker more than arduous to sit through, I was reticent about seeing Zero Dark Thirty in case it potentially could just be more of the same. It is and it isn’t, in that it’s a similar style and quality of film, but this movie does have more to it and turned out to be a more fully rounded film that I really enjoyed a lot.
The screenplay is somewhat limited (and perhaps this is a good thing for Boal) by the actual published happenings of Osama Bin Laden’s discovery and death so we kind of know where the plot is going and the facts of how it plays out and the story elements have to fit around that. It makes for a workable plot structure, a little weaker toward the end of the film but it’s solid and it goes somewhere. In fact the somewhere it goes dramatically, right after Bin Laden’s death, surprised and rather delighted me with the culmination of our heroine’s work and a good bittersweet ending to her endeavours.
The way events in Zero Dark Thirty are portrayed has come under much public criticism and accusation but, while it cast acts of torture, sorry ‘enhanced interrogation,’ in a kind light where agents seemed to be almost benevolent in the reluctant pragmatism with which they tortured their detainees, it neither glorified the techniques or their effect on gathering accurate information. In fact, the film, I felt, gave a real sense that in any interrogation, some of the information obtained will be true but much false, contrived because of the pressure, and it’s the agents ability in interpreting and verifying given intel is what really counts in the long run. Bigelow has trodden a careful and patriotic line to be sure, but she’s making a film to sell to a predominantly US audience so it should hardly be a surprise if she's made the US look like mostly good guys. If she’d really wanted to make propaganda then Bigelow is certainly a more than capable director to do so but it most certainly wouldn’t have looked anything like this film. ZDT is guilty of nothing more than trying to be both 'true' and dramatic at the same time. Something that never really works well.
The cinematography by Grieg Fraser is pretty damn nice, with some real storytelling stuff that gets both the intimate and wider picture of events into it’s structure and has some nice hues of colour and shade that make for a fairly lovely view on a somewhat stark story. The camera moves and stops with the action and the scenes are edited together well, with a nice overall flow of storytelling from the images alone. Coupled with a delicate sound mix the film feels atmospheric, matter of fact, down to earth and sometimes beautifully barren and this helps a lot with adding gravitas and cinematic power to the sometimes bureaucratic action playing out within functional settings.
Jessica Chastain is mesmeric as the unyielding Maya who toughs her way through the ten year search for Bin Laden using her knowledge and education rather than the usual amount of bravado type charm often employed to bolster female leads occupying space in a male dominated profession. Jennifer Ehle is one of my favourite actors too and builds a great feminine chemistry with Chastain fostered too, no doubt by having a female director at the helm. Jason Clarke is a fantastic actor who also claims his corner of the film, as does Mark Strong. The rest of the cast are excellent bringing the right balance of charm and assholeosity to the tense and political storyline. Again, Bigelow’s direction is clearly present behind the performances and the characters are worth getting to know. That the film takes it’s time in doing so is okay by me.
Overall I liked the film way more than I had dared to hope, I will watch it again and I think it’s been vastly underrated. Having paid very little attention to any of the news about Osama Bin Laden’s capture, considering it unlikely to change anything much at the time, I actually got way more of a sense of the US feeling towards this figurehead of terrorism from watching Zero Dark Thirty, and perhaps understood better how much it was worth for them to see him finally punished for their hurts. In that way it’s a film that will be cathartic for some, interesting for others and dramatic enough for most. The ending for Maya was for me, far more satisfying than seeing what happened to Osama and I thought ultimately that’s what this film will be seen as when it’s viewed from a future perspective. I hope it receives the respect it deserves.
In terms of events, there's a lot that goes on, and a lot of characters get introduced, and most clearly in transitioning from one character to another, Maya doesn't stay at the forefront of all the films plot points, most notably when the Navy Seals take over the actual meat of what happens when the compound is taken. However I think Maya's character has given us things to look for in these men from her prior interactions with them and that helps somewhat. I certainly didn't feel like her character became at all sidelined at the story's conclusion. A sort of spiritual idealism reigns but it's not an unpleasant conclusion for all that was done, and all that was lost, the price everyone had paid to get to there to that compound and that man, though not all for the same reasons.
On top of my already great love of Ben Affleck’s directing capabilities, I’d heard a good deal of praise for Argo before I saw it but aside from the basic premise I didn’t know what to expect. I know that I didn’t quite expect the film I saw. Argo is both beautifully and precisely put together, and a little bit oddball, even aside from the bizarre and real life CIA ‘movie production’ plot.
The film centres around a plan to extract US officials from their hiding place in the Canadian ambassador’s home, after they’d made a secret escape from their embassy building during the onset of the hostage crisis in 1979. It film begins with an explanatory animation setting out the political history of the region and it’s feelings toward the United States, which I didn’t much care for in style or accuracy, but was at least succinct and efficient way to background awareness for understanding the events that play out in the film.
Films featuring filmmaking are usually one of my major bugbears. A few good films of this nature do exist though and Argo is one of them, perhaps exactly because it’s an adaptation of the true story and people. The writing has flowing language and focus, highlighting the political feel of the times, and it paces well with the right balance of focus on everything, except perhaps the Canadian level of involvement that is rather glossed over. However it’s a neat screenplay with some fantastic quotable lines. If you’re not spouting ‘Argo fuck yourself!’ coming out of the theatre then there’s probably something wrong with you. Where it falls down a little is the story which is more odd than truly thrilling or political and so this is bordering on the TV Movie feel and needs both the tension and considerable humour present in the writing to make it a film worth seeing in a cinema. This it achieves. And with really tight direction from Ben Affleck it makes a pretty cool film that has a real feelgood factor as all is well that ends well and America gets to pat itself on the back.
Acting-wise, I’ve said before that Ben Affleck truly is the best person to direct himself and I rarely see him as at ease as when he appears in his own movies but the wonderful Alan Arkin steals the show from him with a good deal of charisma nevertheless. Tate Donovan has long been a happy face for me to see on TV and is compelling as mistrustful embassy worker Bob Anders, and Clea DuVall gives a memorable performance standing out amongst an otherwise nicely balanced, competent ensemble cast.
The cinematography is processed to enhance the grain with a real late seventies colour palette and more than works to cobble together the widely differing scenes into a film that gels excellently. Argo blends into the era it’s set in so perfectly that it would be easy to believe it could have been filmed back then. In fact, the look of it reminded me of Kramer vs Kramer that when I checked was indeed a 1979 movie. I guess that’s big props (pardon the pun) to the production design also, but the camera placements deal very well with the frenetic office to office movement on the US side coupled with the fidgetyclaustrophobic feel of the Iranian settings. The sound is made cool with evocative period music, authentic foreign dialogue and has clarity to it so that things don’t become muddled. All in all, the film is slick and accomplished in every department and that more than makes up for a story that while unusual and interesting has little in the way of real cinematic edginess to offer.
Still, a well put together film is always a pleasure and this is certainly that, deserving of it’s recent awards and with probably more success to come in Sunday’s Oscar ceremony. Ben Affleck grows in stature on my list of awesome directors and all is well that ends well for a film that I wanted to like and ended up even being held hostage by for a little while. But ultimately, as the credits rolled, I put back on my filmmakers cap, escaped from the auditorium and told myself that as much as I’d been highly entertained by this movie, I wanted to make films with more meaning to them than this and I hoped Ben Affleck too, would find something with a little more substance for his next go around.
Monday, 28 January 2013
Looking to pass the billion mark at the box office by March, there can be no doubt of the commercial success that is The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Whether it’s such an artistic success or not has been a matter that I’ve heard some mixed and quite vehement feedback on.
On a story adaptation, the film works pretty well as the first part of a triology, breaks at a good place and was satisfyingly accurate to the book. What I think it missed, was getting the real feel of the book across though, it has japery but without jollity and plays much more as a slightly sillier Lord of The Rings style prequel than it perhaps should, and that the book really didn’t. I know they’ve pulled not only on The Hobbit book but on the Lord of the Rings appendices for the writing and while I was in favour of that extra material being brought to screen, I wonder now whether some of the innocent charm of The Hobbit hasn’t been utterly lost in the process. It’s somewhat menacing and takes itself very seriously in places and it’s not a film I would want to take a small child to see, though I’ve frequently read and gifted the book to small children. The book isn’t one I enjoyed reading myself as much as I have Lord of the Rings though, and so if I don’t like the film quite as much as I do the Lord of the Rings films then it’s not the end of the world for me and I like it considerably more than I do the book perhaps because it’s so much more tied in with the Lord of the Rings tone. What was a book that I fairly quickly grew out of has become a film that I will watch again and I can’t say that it’s a failure in any way. It’s just something different to what I’d expected.
So, cinematography I think works, acting wise there are some very bombastic, robust and beautifully timed performances from all. Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman and Richard Armitage are great as Gandalf, Bilbo and Thorin, and and there’s a solid rightness about the rest of the cast including the company of dwarves who work very well, so much so that the ridiculous lengths gone to in order to make each dwarf unique hardly seemed necessary. It’s the performances at the end of the day that make you remember them, except perhaps for Bombur who comes across as completely cartoonish in both character and movement. Dean O'Gorman and Aidan Turner deserve special mention as they manage to make their personable characters very down to earth and less silly than they might have been and frankly James Nesbit is unrecognisable (in fact I didn’t recognise him at all) and everyone else does a solid if not groundbreaking job. Radaghast is just bonkers! We didn’t need nearly as much of him but I secretly rather enjoyed the little delve into his creature filled world, even if my filmmaker self tut tutted at such indulgent goings off on unnecessary tangents! Old favourite characters make cameo appearances to their usual pleasant degree of presence too including Ian Holm as older Bilbo. It’s not the strongest of stories to really attach yourself to the characters through other than in fond smiles, perhaps that will change some with the subsequent films as the stakes change but for now, this beginning is just adequate and nice. Nothing wrong with nice.
The sound and score are truly lovely, very Lord of the Ringish and familiar. Score of course is by the fantastic Howard Shore and that’s a warming thing indeed. Visual effects are a little more theatrical than in Jackson’s prior films and that fits with the overall style of this story too and is pretty beautifully done on a technical level. Make up I thought was good, if quite over the top, and the HDR certainly puts a clarity on this that makes it almost like a stage production, perhaps in particular because of the over the top presentation of the story. We suspend belief though and move on. At least I did.
As a film, if you’d never known the story it all gets explained very clearly. Too much so in fact because it’s quite long and explanations are laboured. The script has been jam packed, perhaps unnecessarily so but it’s a feat of direction and Jackson hasn’t done badly. There’s a lot of interesting by-story added in for good measure and the characters are blended in from LOTR fairly well. With a fairly flung around attention to detail it felt busy and buzzy in places. It didn’t need as much as it had, was sinister and awkward in tone and as I said already lacked true jollity amid the japery. Less could have been more here and a simpler, happier movie might have been more loved but then again I couldn’t in any way fault what was there, it’s pretty slick filmmaking and the only thing it’s truly guilty of is putting in more than is needed. I think on a second viewing (which I do intend to have once some time has passed) I’ll like it better and be less judgemental, knowing what to expect. First time around my expectations were set in the same zone as the book. For a hardcore Tolkien geek like myself that’s hard to switch off to be able to see the film in it’s own right.
Watching this film was something I can only equate with having sex as an adult inside your childhood bedroom, still incredibly fun, but somehow feeling a bit wrong and awkward in the back of your mind. That’s not to say it wasn’t a sexy experience though! It most certainly was a film I enjoyed and will enjoy again and again. I saw the film on Tolkien’s birthday and I don’t think he’d have considered that a terrible present at all.
If you haven't yet indulged yourself then off to Hobbiton with you! The adventure is only beginning!
Sunday, 27 January 2013
I have only one thing to say about the racial controversy surrounding Django Unchained, because, frankly, it’s not my right to decide whether it’s racist or not. I’m neither American, German or black. I don’t get to make any call on racism or tell anyone they’re wrong for a call that they have made. What I will say is that in all I have ever learned about life and movies I can tell you, without shadow of doubt in my heart, that nobody learns about life through movies but that movies are a way that we communicate and process some of the emotions that life creates in us, emotions that we’re unable to process in any other way. And that is why I love Django Unchained.
Right. That little issue out of the way, the film is less an homage and more a parody of a Spaghetti Western. Yes I said parody and I mean it. The original Spaghetti's were made cheaply out of necessity and were meant to be as good as they could be with stories that were somewhat over the top but also expected to be taken seriously in nature. Django was in many ways more obviously ridiculous and full of ironic imitation. Contrived cheapness abounds, and at some point while pondering this over the end credits I understood it to be a deliberate story technique rather than a mere replication of what we’ve seen before so it's not really an homage. Tarantino has taken us to absurd extremes even for this sub-genre because the most ridiculous thing of all is that we understand the references in this movie where something as simple as a man riding a horse is an insult, a fear and a wonder to others, including those of the same colour. That we know this and can to some extent use the western format to laugh at it from our more enlightened perspective is what makes the film work at a deeper level than some of Tarantino’s other films. He’s back on super top form here, as auteur. I haven’t seen anything this good out of him in a long time, perhaps even since ‘Dogs. His encyclopaedic and visceral knowledge of film genres serves him well along with his affinity for memorable characters and language and a lot of what he's processed before in his work comes to play in this work. It’s pretty hard not to like this film. And if a film written to work on an emotional level and well directed too isn’t enough for you, let’s talk about the cast.
Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leo DiCaprio, Samuel L Jackson, Walton Goggins , the sublime Kerry Washington, etc. etc. etc. (what a cast, the list goes on and on!) are all incredibly tuned into what is required of them which is an intensity of expression without a great deal of genuine emotion being expressed, rather an invitation to revel in the ‘setting the world to rights’ quality of the revenge drama. There is I believe only one genuine moment of pure emotional truth in the film, unsurprisingly from Walton Goggins, and I leave you to discover it for yourself, or not. It won’t affect the overall impact that is the underdog rising and the audience loving every minute, most especially the performances by Jamie Foxx who was outstanding and the inevitable camp as Christmas cameo of the QT himself this time with an inglourious basterd of an Australian accent. I did find some weakness in perhaps the choice (not the performance) of Dicaprio as I wasn't sure I liked him in it as much as I should have and I'd like to have seen what someone else did with the role (maybe that's just me?) and I felt that Dennis Christopher was weak as Leonide, although he didn't have much to work with he could have made it count more. Overall though there's an incredible amount of perfection in the performances that hit the perfect note for the sub-genre effect. Samuel L Jackson is delicious in the difficult role of Stephen and the story tension is maintained by all with some drippingly uncomfortable moments that you just know are going to lead you to the next good guy / bad guy playoff. Gripping stuff.
The effects are good at being bad. They're horrendously over the top, even using the tricks of the cheaply made westerns we all know and love. At one point I even felt a bit sick from the sheer splatter of it. There's a level of sophistication to not hiding the FX and still having it have an effect that's real. Kudos for that. Scriptwise, QT doesn't back away from prolific in your face character, effects, language or symbolism at all. It's all in there, not for laughs, not for realism, but to illustrate character and story and to some extent, by the sheer overwhelming repetitiveness, excorcise some of our demons about these things. For those who accuse QT of glorying in slurs and violence, I say no. He demistifies them for us and shows that seen from the proper context without fear or shame, they just are what they are, words and pictures that illustrate how far we have come (and perhaps for some characters that it's not far enough).
Musically, this film is very memorable in it’s carefully created soundtrack, the music is good, a little more bombastic than is truly required, but damned if everyo one of those tunes don’t stick in your head afterwards. The sound works much better and is fully Spaghetti. I fancied running out of the auditorium while ducking and bobbing and shouting ‘pew, pew, pew.’ Fortunately I didn’t indulge. That would have just been silly. There is a fantastic track by track rundown by Quentin Tarantino here that's well, well worth a listen. Including the new music created for the film, a first for QT.
This is a film that sort of screams for sequels, and whether they will come or not depends on QTand Jamie Foxx (the box office success means the studios should certainly support more Django) and it will be interesting to see if any emerge in time or if this will remain a one off. It's certainly a film with an immersive quality and it's easy to get very into the whole legend of it. I've certainly been drawn in on just one viewing and I could definitely watch this film a lot. In fact, I fully intend to. I invite you to join me!