Saturday, December 29, 2012

Ten Statements About....DJANGO UNCHAINED! (2012)

Yes, he is a free man and yes, he meant to dress like that....

"How do you like the bounty-hunting business?"
"Kill white people and get paid for it? What's not to like?."

1) Since this is a Quentin Tarantino movie, I appreciated the way he incorporates elements from the original Franco Nero films into the story.  Hell, I practically stood up in my seat when the Morricone theme (arguably the greatest movie theme of all time) came out of the speakers at the beginning, and pumped the air when Nero shows up for a brief cameo that passes the torch onto Jamie Foxx.

2) Even though Tarantino has had flirtations with other actors before, I have come to believe that he's found his muse in Christoph Waltz.  Just like with his portrayal of Landa in Inglorious Basterds, Waltz' Dr. King Schultz is a vivid character who seems to have his own weird code of honor.  And given how well he plays off of Foxx, he's a great characters who brightens the film as long as he's onscreen.

3) I think the real charm of Leonardo diCaprio's Candie is that while he does villainous things, an argument can be made that he may not exactly be the villain.  Yes, he does some hideously awful things, he has that subtle but gross incestuous relationship with his sister...but nothing he does is outside the law or mores of the culture he exists in.  It's only when Samuel L. Jackson's Stephen outs Schultz and Django that Candie becomes a monstrous individual.  Taken in this context, it makes sense that his role is relatively small.  And speaking of Stephen....

"You are supposed to be me? Funny...I do not look black...."
4) I have to wonder if Stephen is, in Tarantino's mind, the true villain of the piece.  Jackson's performance is extremely clever.  Judging by the way Stephen seems to shift in intelligence depending on who he's addressing, this seems to be a man who gives off an inferior facade to hide the fact that he's always angling to be in a superior position.  And give it to Tarantino that he doesn't give the character the redemption moment we are led to expect him getting at some point simply because of who is playing him and what his character is in the context of the world.

5) God bless Tarantino for continuing to use practical effects.  These wounds are splattery and messy, and doesn't have the sameness of CGI wounds in other films.  This carnage is so gross that you sort of understand why Django hesitates to kill one man in front of his son.

6) I know that some people have some problems with the humorous way Tarantino handles Don Johnson's Big Daddy and his proto-Klan buddies, especially the scene featuring Jonah Hill complaining about the hoods.  But that humorous element was vital.  There's so much grimness on either side of that sequence, especially when we start moving toward the Candie sequence, that those moments (and I'll fess up to laughing out loud at the whole discussion of whether to wear the hoods or not) are necessary to allow the audience to relieve the tension.

7) One thing that sort of niggles at me is how we never see the logical extension of what Django does at both Big Daddy's and the Candie plantations.  There is so much gravitas to the way Django dispatches the overseers at Big Daddy's that I expected the slaves watching him to rise up.  I can understand why the slaves wouldn't rise up at the Candie's initially--they do have Stephen manipulating them into thinking they should be good lil' slaves--but the ones at Big Daddy should be running around kicking all sort of white ass after seeing Django beat and kill their masters.
Look, Don Stroud...I know you were hot shit in the 70's, but
you don't mess with Christoph Waltz....

8) It puzzles me why Tarantino chose Kerri Washington to play Hildy.  Don't get me wrong; Washington is an excellent actress....but given how little play Hildy has in the film itself, it seems like a waste of her talents.

9) And speaking of talented actors...I am totally cool with Foxx as Django for about 95% of the film's running time.  But there's about 5% where Jamie Foxx The Personality steps out of Jamie Foxx The Actor and totally subverts all the work the latter has put into making his version of Django into a living, breathing character.  There are some moments where I can forgive it, like in the coda at the end, but some of the other moments in Act Two and the early parts of Act Three end up being discordant.

10) I was somewhat floored by the amount of celebrity cameos in this film; if it was made in the 70's, I could easily see it being marketed with one of those headshot lines showing all the big names in small roles in the film.  But without a doubt, the most pleasurable of these cameos for me was seeing John Jarrett of Wolf Creek as an Australian mining guy who is tricked into arranging for his own death. excellent western in the Tarantino mode that only makes me sadder that this may be the beginning of the end of his career.

I was at the Atlas again--they've now raised the price to ten dollars for a matinee, which is almost as expensive as the regular price--and managed to avoid the sludge that is the Firstlook.  What I did not avoid is the family behind me who brought both their infant child and their young son, who thought nothing of deciding to play a little Angry Birds about midway through the film; I really think there should be a parenting license in this country, don't you?   Not a lot of interesting trailers, perhaps the most intriguing being the one for Scary Movie 5--not because I wanted to see it, but because I was surprised the producers took this long to tackle the found footage genre.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Ten Statements About....TIME BANDITS (1981)

"I think the reason I've gotten top billing over you is called...
oh, I don't know, celebrity?"
"Who was that man?"
"That was no man. That was the Supreme Being."
"You mean God?"
"Well, we don't know Him that well. We only work for Him."

1) At the core, this is a children's fantasy, and one of its strengths is how Terry Gilliam makes it a children's fantasy as a child would imagine it, not how an adult would.  Thus it's messy, it's gross at times, it's illogical....and it is sophisticated only to the lengths a particularly bright child can achieve.

2) And let's be honest here; the other strength is Gilliam's incredible attention to detail both visually and story-wise.  I was particularly struck by how the Castle Of Evil in certain shots seems to be made out of Lego Bricks...thus making it something a child can build itself.

3) However, it's not perfect.  It's obvious that Gilliam's script (written in collaboration with Michael Palin) hasn't shaken off his Monty Python sketch structure.  There are moments--like the frequent visits with Palin and Shelly Duvall's lovers--where the film stops so we can get a sketch.  Hell, the whole first half plays out like an extended, star-studded Python episode.  And speaking of that first half....

4) It really could have used some trimming.  I understand that we needed to establish the idea of the time holes and all, but did we really need to spend as much time as we do with Napoleon and Robin Hood?  The Napoleon sequence in particular seems very drawn out.  So does the King Agamemnon sequence, but that one serves the secondary purpose of showing us what Kevin's ideal father would be like before we get the diametrically opposite father figures of Evil and The Supreme Creator....
"What do you mean this is supposed to be a comedy?"

5) While we're on the subject, I like how both David Warner's Evil and Ralph Richardson's Supreme Being are designed as reflections on Kevin's thoughts on what fathers are like.  Warner's is capricious and cruel and prone to punishing for the sake of punishing, while Richardson's is condescending and lecturing to his assistants, making his punishments seem like kindness.  These are both valid ways a child like Kevin might see his own father as being.

6) I find it fascinating that Warner's Evil is obsessed with recreating the world with technology, as opposed to humanity, coming first.  But then, there's a definite luddite-ness to the whole film; it's technology that seems to obsess Kevin's parents to the point of neglecting him, it's technology that tempts the Bandits to their capture by Evil, it's technology that backfires on the Bandits when they're fighting Evil, and it's ultimately technology that ends up delivering Kevin's parents to their fate.

7) As much as I liked Sean Connery's Agamemnon--and I liked him alike--he seems to be in an entirely different movie.  Whereas John Cleese's Robin Hood and Ian Holm's Napoleon are aware they're in some form of a comedy, Connery plays his role absolutely straight.  Even the one moment that could appear comedic, where he does a magic trick for Kevin, is done very seriously.
In its last days, some of the members of Menudo were...
Questionable Choices.

8) I appreciate how everything that Kevin experiences on his adventure can be ascribed to a dream he has inspired by his toys and surrounding and exacerbated by what we learn in the very last sequence has been happening to his house....but attention is never drawn to this fact.  We see the items that might inspire his fantasy in very tiny glimspes so that if we catch it, that's good but if we don't we still get a strange adventure.

9) I totally adore the way Warner has this weird sort of dynamic with his three minions.  There's an active....affection Evil seems to have for these three misshapen lackey, and yet he is incapable of showing that affection except through cruelty and torment.  And the even weirder thing is how much the minions seem to delight in this, to the point that they cheer when they're about to be destroyed.

10) You know, that ending leaves a strange taste in my mouth, especially given what The Supreme Beings says about Kevin's future.  It seems maybe too dark a note to end the film on, even for a film like this that has some really, really dark notes.

Overall...a good children's fantasy that marks a particular moment of development in an excellent director, this film is glorious for its flaws and a compelling watch.

Sunday, December 16, 2012


Oh, oobee do/I wanna be like you/I walk like you/talk like
you, too....

""We have the power to do anything we like, absolute power over every particle in the universe, everything that has ever existed or ever will exist as from this moment. Are you listening to me, Romana?"
"Yes, of course, I'm listening."
"Cause if you're not listening I can make you listen, because I can do anything. As from this moment there's no such thing as free will in the entire universe. There's only my will because I possess the Key to Time."

1)  ...and so the final story of the Key To Time Saga ends with this bloated, epically awful story which serves as an argument against the six-part format, primarily because so much of it is taken up by the equivalent of water-treading.  There is barely enough in this mess for a four-part story; making it a six parter makes for an unbearably slow watching experience.

2) This serial is rife with some wretched performances--and none are as bad as John Woodvine's scenery-devouring turn as The Marshall.  Woodvine pitches his performance at such a melodramatic level where he seems to be shouting every single line--even the ones where he's supposed to be whispering--and comes off as strident and bullying.  Hell, when your performance is so bad you can't even convincing sell the single word 'Fire!' (a word you have to repeat over and over again for an episode and a half because you're stuck in a time loop),'s time to go act in another story.  Or show.

3) I'm still scratching my head trying to figure out what the deal was with William Squire's Shadow.  We're literally given no back story whatsoever when it comes to this goof save that he likes to laugh a lot and is an agent of The Black Guardian.  Much like Woodvine, Squire is chewing up the scenery while actually doing very, very little.  And when we learn of The Shadow's ultimate fate--and that the Guardian actually planned for it to happen--you have to wonder why he was sitting there on Xeos doing all this pointless scheming and running around in the first place.
Nooooooo!  Drax!  Go away!  Stupid Drax....

4) This is Lalla Ward's first appearance on Who, and her turn as Princess Astra (coupled with Baker's interest in her) inspired Williams to cast her as Romana when Mary Tamm gets pregnant.  However, even though Astra is integral to the plot and Ward is fairly decent in her performance in comparison to Woodvine, Squire and others, the reason she's so integral is literally forgotten about for about three episodes until someone realizes they need to get back to the Key To Time aspect of the story.

5) ..but then, the scattershot nature of the plot is indicative of the script by Bob Baker and Dave Martin.  Plot developments are dropped suddenly, perils are introduced only to be waved away a few minutes later, whole characters seem forgotten for long stretches, and there are gigantic stretches of plot that seem riveted on just to eat up time.  Add in a shockingly shoddy grasp of science even for this era of classic Who, and you have a monstrous mess.  

6) And then there's...grumblemutter...Barry Jackson's Drax.  An awfully conceived character to begin with given tiresome life by Jackson, Drax is given far too much time to introduce himself as a comedy element the story really didn't need, then seems to complicate the plot solely for the sake of complicating it.  And the biggest problem with him?  He's introduced in the fifth episode, long after the last significant character (the computer Mentalis) was introduced in the second episode.  I have to think that Baker and Martin had so written themselves in a corner that they created Drax solely as a deus ex machina to get the story to wrap up neatly.

7) Look, I know that the science in classic Who can get really wonky....but The Shadow uses a mechanical device designed to control and communicate with living beings to control and communicate with K-9.  Really, Bob Baker and Dave Martin?  Really?

"Of course I am evil...I am able to turn myself into a
negative image, see?  See?
8) Given what she's endured this season, Mary Tamm ends up in this serial being one of the better things in it.  She ends up actually functioning the way she was set up to function in The Ribos Operation, and figures out some of the plot angles before Baker does.  Plus she ends up wearing a modified version of the outfit she wore in Ribos, with the skirt shortened slightly and rather kicky boots, that is extremely flattering to Tamm.  Pity she steps down to become a mother after this serial, because she seems to have found Romana's character again.

9) And while we're on the subject of characters I actually like, I rather enjoyed how Davyd Harries' Shapp is originally presented as The Marshal's lackey who does nothing but follow orders...and ends up transforming over the course of the serial into someone who is opposing his superior's insanity in his own way.  Plus Harries manages to infuse Shapp with a strange sardonic humor of his own that actually serves as a subtle form of comedy relief.  Sadly, he degenerates into a slapstick buffoon (get used to this), but for a while he's a refreshing presence.

10) Of course, all this five-pounds-o'-story-stuffed-into-twenty-pounds-of-television leads to a rather good finale to this ambitious season-long story arc.  The moment where Baker figures out the implications of what having the Key to Time truly are works wonderfully until it's blunted by some of the patented Williams era forced humor.  And the status quo the series ends up with, where the Doctor slaps a 'Randomizer' onto the control console so he and Romana can evade The Black Guardian (well realized by Valentine Dyall) is promising at this point.  Granted, it all goes to Hell starting with the very next serial (and guess what we're covering next time?), but for the time being it leaves the series in a potentially excellent place.

Overall...a boring and aggravating serial that's marred by some horrendous acting and poor plotting.  The final sequence, which is good, does little to alleviate the overwhelming ennui that infuses this pointless tale.

And just a gets worse.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Ten Statements About....GOLDFINGER (1964)

Yep...Shirley Eaton covered in gold paint...why does this do
it for me?

"Do you expect me to talk?"
"No, Mr. Bond!  I expect you to die.  There is nothing you can talk to me about that I don't already know."

1) This is pretty unique in the Connery cycle in that it's the only film where Spectre doesn't have any role.  As such, this film is not so much an exemplar of The Connery Era as the blueprint for the Roger Moore era that is to follow.  There's a decidedly different feel to this film that sets it apart from the other Connerys--which might be why it's used as the reflex choice for most people when asked to name their favorite Bond film.

2) Gert Frobe is essential to this film even working to the extent that it does.  He's so...grotesque in his behavior, a true glutton who is nonetheless supremely satisfied with himself.  Frobe's physical acting (his voice was dubbed) is wonderfully operatic, and he drives home the monstrousness and arrogance of Goldfinger well.

3) However, as much as I respect her for being a major part of my favorite television show, and for being the woman who forged the symbiotic connection between The Avengers and the James Bond series, I cannot endorse Honor Blackman's Pussy Galore.  The character is fairly mangled in the film as the script tries to acknowledge her lesbianism without out and out saying it, and her motivation seems thoroughly messed up in the process.  Plus the sudden face turn after Bond hits the hay with her--literally--makes no sense whatsoever.  And...I'm being honest here...she does very little for me, ending up arguably in my bottom tier of Bond girls.
The first laser on film...and it's used to threaten
Sean Connery's nuts.....

4) Is it just me, or does all the argle barge Goldfinger does leading up to Operation Grand Slam seem excessively showy?  Granted, part of Goldfinger's nature is his desire to be thought of as the cleverest guy in the room (notice how he decides to keep Bond alive a little longer only when he acknowledges how brilliant Operation Grand Slam is), but the whole 'let me bring you all together so I can brag, then kill you' thing seems a bit...pointless, doesn't it?

5) The thing that strikes me about Howard Sakata's Oddjob is how, solely through body language and facial expressions, he creates a fully realized character with menace and, most importantly, a sense of humor.  We never once doubt that Oddjob is anything but a scary individual--partially because Connery treats him thusly--but those little smirks reveal something in his inner life that's extremely vivid.  It's not for nothing that he remains one of the greatest Bond henchmen in the series' history.

6) I have this theory that the films where an American city is the central site of the adventure tend to be lackluster...and this may be the best, but not by much.  Kentucky is so....unphotogenic until we get to Fort Knox, and then the film is almost over.  There's little to engage the eye, so much so that the only thing I was concerned with in one scene involving Felix Leiter was the big ol' Kentucky Fried Chicken sign in the background.
"I'm so glad we had this time together....."

7) I like Shirley Eaton.  Really like.  She's got far more life and fun than either of the other Bond girls, and it's a shame she has to exit so quickly.  It's not for nothing that she is the center of one of the most iconic images in the series' history.

8) I don't know why it bugs me so, but I really wish they hadn't hired such a dowdy, obviously older Felix Leiter.  It makes the whole friendship between the two seem less than close.  Hell, Cec Linder looks and acts more like Connery's uncle and not his friend.

9) Boy, Ken Adams' sets are still amazingly tasty....particularly the one for Fort Knox, which Adams made up whole from his imagination.  These few sets--the Fort, Goldfinger's weird lounge room/planning area, the laser laboratory--just jump out at you amidst all the rather ordinary landscapes, reminding you that yes, this is supposed to be a Bond film.

10) Is it just me, or does Connery just stumble around annoying the crap out of Goldfinger until the goof drags him by the ear into his plan?  For a spy film, Bond doesn't do much in the way of spying...which is why it's so odd how so many of the tropes of the series seem to solidify here.

Overall...I know this is heretical, given how this is usually the default choice people have for Best Bond Film, but this is a film that drags at times, detracting from the generally good acting from its principles.  Not my favorite, although far from the worst of the Connery cycle (that's for the next time we look in on 007....)