Just in time to add gore and thunder to the end-of-year march of bloodless, whimpering, would-be Oscar contenders, Django Unchained, writer-director Quentin Tarantino's latest film, is in many ways also his best film, combining his maniacal style of mashed-up fragments from the cultural canon with a seriousness of intent that turns Django into a discussion of both pop and politics.
Much as Inglourious Basterds was inspired by a forgotten (and properly spelled) 1978 war picture, Django Unchained takes Franco Nero's 1966 spaghetti western Django and unspools it into a brave piece of filmmaking and a commentary on culture, on both the false "history" we learn from movies and how that history gets respun into rousing movies.
Since its publication in 1862, Victor Hugo's Les Misérables has been adapted for radio, television, film, comic book and, of course, the stage. It has been romanticized, canonized, contemporized, monetized and even sequelized. To director Tom Hooper, these adaptations are the work of pikers. Thus, Hooper has charged himself with creating a film version of the stage musical so grand and definitive that all other iterations of the material can only withdraw into the shadows from embarrassment. In his follow-up to Best Picture Oscar winner The King's Speech, a reverent Hooper plays everything to the rafters, a strategy that admittedly yields great rewards.Read more
"People think I'm nice, but I'm such a dick," says Paul Rudd in This is 40. Now we believe him. Judd Apatow's latest should have been called This is 40 Going on 14, because married couple Pete (Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) have aged down since we last met them in Knocked Up: Rudd's reclaimed his '90s haircut, and Mann now speaks in a baby voice and sneaks cigarettes like a high school freshman. Worse, they fight like pouty preteens, which means halfway through this so-called comedy, we're rooting for their divorce, or really, their outright death. (Hey, even Pete wishes Debbie would slip into a coma—women love widowers.Read more
This winter, audiences will not only have the choice to see Peter Jackson's The Hobbit, they'll also have the choice to see it in 2D or 3D, or in 3D at 48 frames-per-second, a speed twice as fast as conventional projection that promises a clearer, more lifelike and sharper image. What the 48 frame-per-second projection actually means is flat lighting, a plastic-y look, and, worst of all, a strange sped-up effect that makes perfectly normal actions—say, Martin Freeman's Bilbo Baggins placing a napkin on his lap—look like meth-head hallucinations. Jackson seems enamored of 48 fps, but I can't imagine why. To me, it turned the film into a 166-minute long projectionist's error.Read more
As yet another awards season film featuring King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth, Hyde Park on Hudson suffers, perhaps unfairly, by comparison with Best Picture Oscar winner The King's Speech. But this odd tale about the Royals' historic weekend visit to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Bill Murray) in June of 1939 really focuses on the personal life of Roosevelt and his numerous indiscretions, particularly with distant cousin Margaret "Daisy" Suckley (Laura Linney). A competent period costume drama, this intimate character study is light as air—and probab...Read more
Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning isn't just one of the most remarkable action films of the 21st century, it also feels like one of the first. Which is especially surprising as this cut-rate slice of ultra-violence is the fourth (or sixth, depending on what you consider to be canon) installment of a franchise that epitomizes the pyrotechnic banality of '90s action movies. Initially, this saga of re-animated rival soldiers Luc Deveraux and Andrew Scott (Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren) was conceived to exploit the explosively meat-brained vogue of a bygone era, but the series—much like the two dueling beefcakes at its core—refuses to die.Read more
The decade-long manhunt for Osama Bin Laden races by in a 159-minute adrenaline-fueled chase in Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty, which unfolds with certainty and smart decisions on both sides of the camera. It's a rarity, a truly entertaining film that never condescends to its audience or cheapens history and truth. Zero Dark Thirty lacks the existentialist peril and high drama of Bigleow's previous, Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker, but replaces those showy-but-strong elements with both tension and truth in the pursuit of drama, fiction lightly draped over fact. Despite a star-free (and talent-rich) ensemble, its box office can count on curiosity, awards-season buzz and the word-of-mouth in support of its excellent and unsentimental approach.Read more