Sunday, December 30, 2012

How the West Was Dumb, Dept.

Saw this today after an endless stream of godawful trailers.  Wow, different target demo from The Hobbit, I tell you whut.  One that the studio believes loves horror, crap comedies and Big Guns. was good.  For the first half of the film, Christoph Waltz pulls focus by dint of his onscreen charisma, talent and characterization.  Jamie Foxx is very good as the slave-turned-bounty-hunter.  Leo DiCaprio also very good as the genteel/brutal Mississippi slaveowner.  Samuel L. Jackson great as an √©minence grise of a house slave.  And there are a bajillion recognizable (and less so) cameos, from Russ Tamblyn and Franco Nero to Don Johnson and Bruce Dern.

What keeps it from greatness?  The soundtrack was...odd.  Spaghetti western score meets hip-hop and the world's least adroit Jim Croce song placement.  Like, I know QT has a thing for '70s pop, but "I Got a Name" was a complete and utter failure in its slot.  He might as well have used "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown."  Ugh.

There was also a strange emphasis on slightly fey characters for the worst of the villains that might be characterized as homophobic or at least a throwback to the late '50s-late '70s when the villains were gay because, YOU know, those nancies are psycho!

But, really, the thing that turned me off most was one of Tarantino's calling cards: gratuitous violence.  Now, in a film about slavery, it would be odd and out of place to have smiling slaves and gentle overseers.  And Tarantino does not stint at showing those things besides busting one's back in the southern sun that made slavery a brutal, dehumanizing institution.  For the first two-thirds of the film, there had been some non-slavery violence, but really nothing out of the norm for the period and genre.  And the film had been trotting along as a pretty good Western, actually.  With comic relief and period color and interesting characters.

Then, in the last half hour or so, the gorefest commenced, and the bodies piled up alarmingly quickly, all dispatched in vivid closeups and at disconcerting angles.  Not cartoon violence, like The Bride's decimation of the Crazy 88 in Kill Bill Volume 1, but rather graphic, realistic violence at close range.  (By contrast to which, there is no sex at all in this film.  A very occasional reference to some aspect of sex, two very non-erotic scenes of nudity and that's it.  Which makes me wonder about the auteur a bit.)  Because, as enjoyable as aspects of Tarantino's films are, the inescapable bouts of gratuitous, explicit, screensplattering carnage are tired.  So very, very tired.  It's one thing to show the violent side of slavery--that's real and necessary for a film such as this.  It's quite another to have the walls literally painted red.  It's not really entertaining, and, if anything, destroys the rhythm and mood of the film.  Like a triple-bacon cheeseburger after three courses of nigiri.

So, a qualified recommendation for this film.  The acting is enjoyable, the story not strikingly original (then again, it is Quentin "slavish hommage to my favorite genres" Tarantino) but engaging and the characters vividly drawn (especially DiCaprio's henchmen).  But the odd soundtrack choices a real disappointment, the veiled homophobia disconcerting and the violence boring when not repellent.
I wish he'd learn to holster that particular gun, because this could've been a really fun Western, spaghetti or otherwise, without it.

Oh, and could someone explain the final moments' flashback to a scene we'd not seen earlier regarding Django as the "fastest gun in the South" and especially Django's dressage bit?  Because, unless there's a sequel planned in which those two points are principal plot elements, it was the strangest derail I've seen for a film ending since the stupid breakdancing that concludes Tim Burton's abortion of an Alice in Wonderland remake.

Monday, December 17, 2012

You're Getting to Be a Hobbit with Me, Dept.

Here are a few notes for you on The Hobbit:
  • Your sobsister saw it today in 3D HFR (high frame rate).  In my case, at least, I did not experience seizures, blackouts or pruritus ani from watching a film at 48 frames per second versus the 24 fps to which we as a species are accustomed.  I didn't notice, as a few had noted, that the high frame rate made effects and props seem less real in the same way HDTV was supposed to reveal how crap TV sets are.  It does afford one a more-unmediated view in the sense of showing how the actors might look were they standing in front of you.  In some ways, it's a bit like the difference between filmed and videotaped TV shows, particularly when video was still relatively new.
  • The longueurs reported may be in the eyes and wristwatches of the reviewers.  I was into it.  I liked the slower exposition and extra detail that are necessitated by taking a single book and turning it into a trilogy.  I am, however, in the target demo's sweet spot, so YMMV.
  • Martin Freeman is quite a good Bilbo.  I wondered whether I would carry over his Watson from Sherlock.  And then, as the credits rolled, I saw that Benedict Cumberbatch is in the film.  Can we get Matt Smith and John Barrowman in there somehow for the full-body BBC nerdgasm?
  • As you might imagine, love the dwarves.
  • Tim Finn sings the outro song, composed by him.  All Kiwi all the time, that Peter Jackson.
  • There are some eye-popping set pieces in this film and some amazing (virtual) camera movement.  I can't begin to imagine the work involved in realizing some of these images.
  • I will be interested in seeing how the rest of the book is stretched into two more films, though.  As The New Yorker's film critic somewhat peevishly noted, it's 45 minutes into the film before we see young Bilbo, as we're first shown the fall of Erebor and the older Bilbo and young Frodo on the eve of Bilbo's departure at the start of LOTR.  Fuck him.  I enjoyed it.  And I will likely enjoy seeing all the other cool backstory that Jackson and his crews will share with us.  Again: SWEET me SPOT.
Go see it.  Interesting run of trailers preceding it.  Including Man of Steel, which looks really good.  Supes never my favorite character, but this looks to have some chew to it.  Star Trek: Into Darkness ditto.  Two sci-fi flicks--Oblivion, After Earth--featuring, respectively, Tom Cruise and Will/Jaden Smith in returns to a way-future, way-hostile Earth.  The Lone Ranger with Johnny Depp as Tonto, who actually does call the LR "Kemo Sabe" (and Helena Bonham Carter is in it, despite not being directed by Tim Burton, FTW!).  And two animated flicks: Epic and Escape from Planet Earth with, respectively, a too-thin teenage girl lead and a gang of "wacky" aliens who'll doubtless invoke plenty of pop culture references for all ages--pass.

Oh, and 2013 is also bringing us Iron Man 3, World War Z, The Wolverine, Spielberg's Robopocalypse, Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim and prequel 300: Battle of Artemisia.

I take my escapism neat and big.  Truly, this is a golden age for fantasy/superhero/sci-fi fanboys and -girls beyond imagining 20 years ago.