Django Unchained (2012)

Gorgeous poster, though probably not in the category of previous Tarantino films.  Argue about that.

Gorgeous poster, though probably not in the category of previous Tarantino films. Argue about that.

Directed by: Quentin Tarantino (we could argue over what his “best” movie is, but the safe bet will most likely always be Pulp Fiction)

Written by: Tarantino

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, James Remar, Kerry Washington, Laura Cayouette, Walton Goggins and Samuel L. Jackson.  Also, check the tags for many actors that basically filmed cameo roles.

What it’s about: in 1858, a former slave becomes a bounty hunter and searches for his wife

B-Movie Alternate Title: It’s a pretty B-Movie title already

Movie Mash Up: Inglourious BasterdsTombstone + probably hundreds of blaxpoitation movies that Tarantino has watched

What I liked: I have to admit, Jamie Foxx ruled in this movie, and I hate having to say that.  Tarantino wrote such a great character in Django, and knew exactly how he wanted the character to appear and succeeded on all levels.  I would argue that Christoph Waltz deserves to be nominated in the Best Actor category, rather than the Supporting Actor category for his performance in this movie, but whatever.  It is a fun movie, dealing with some super serious themes, and it may be Tarantino’s funniest movie yet.  Argue some more about that too, if you want.  The movie looks gorgeous, and flows fairly well (see below), so well that at points it doesn’t exactly feel like a near three hour-long movie.  DiCaprio was amazing in it as well, particularly the scene in which he actually accidentally cuts open his own hand, bleeding profusely all over himself, and continues acting.  Don’t know how Kerry Washington felt about having his blood smeared all over her face, though.

What I disliked: The running time of nearly three hours is fairly daunting, Tarantino movie or not.  You could make arguments about trimming the fat and lessening the homages to whatever obscure movie Tarantino was referring to with whatever camera angle or sound cue, but you don’t have the same movie then.  I consider myself a fairly knowledgeable movie fan, but I probably don’t know half of the references Tarantino is making, even in regards to certain actors and actresses he ends up casting for whatever reason.  There were some scenes throughout that I thought were misplaced or came from some wacky sitcom script (the Jonah Hill cameo scene springs to mind), and while they weren’t terrible, they did put me off a little.

Would I recommend it to anyone?: While it is pretty great, the exceedingly long running time and excessive (but totally in context) usage of the word “nigger”, probably means it isn’t for everyone.  Tarantino fans will eagerly lap it up, though.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

I am surprised this .gif hasn't been Hasslehoff'd.

I am surprised this .gif hasn’t been Hasslehoff’d.

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Die Hard: With a Vengeance (1995)

Let's forget Die Hard 2 ever happened.

Directed by: John McTiernan (who handled the first Die Hard and The Thomas Crown Affair)

Written by: Jonathan Hensleigh

Starring: Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Irons, Larry Bryggman, Graham Greene, Sam Phillips, Colleen Camp and Anthony Peck.

What it’s about: Five years after the second Die Hard, John McClane is back and at the mercy of a terrorist threatening New York City with bombings

B-Movie Alternate Title: Die Hard in New York

Movie Mash Up: It’s like Die Hard, but in New York!

What I liked: Huge fan of the Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson chemistry.  Loved the writing, which is so much greater than the second one that it makes the existence of the second one even more annoying.  Jeremy Irons makes a great foil for McClane.  It’s got great action sequences, intrigue, a playful sensibility and it isn’t afraid to be a bit different than the Die Hard formula, although there STILL is a black sidekick.  Seeing how McClane’s personal life had fallen apart so much since the second movie – while depressing – gives the film more of an authentic feel.

What I disliked: Larry Bryggman seems to be attempting to do the world’s worst Commissioner Jim Gordon impersonation.  Perhaps that’s just the direction he was given, but his character was just weak all around.  While I did say the movie isn’t afraid to be a bit different, the times it decides that it has to show that it is a Die Hard movie are some of the weaker points in the film.

Would I recommend it to anyone?: Sure.  For years I was more a fan of this movie than I was a fan of the original Die Hard, but I’ve gone the other way now.  It’s a strong sequel, not just a slapped together moneymaker.

Rating: 4 / 5

Badass in black and white

The Negotiator (1998)

In the interest of full disclosure, the first time I reviewed this movie, I gave it a full 5 stars.  I’m posting that review here now, and I still love the movie, but I don’t think it’s a 5 star movie anymore.  There are some beats in the film that just detract from the overall package, but I still think it’s a fine thriller, one where the director, F. Gary Gray, plays with the audiences sympathies and makes you question exactly who is good and bad.

F. Gary Gray took time out from making music videos and movies specifically targetting the black audience to direct this action / suspense / thriller. Sadly after directing this movie, he went on to underwhelm me with the Marky Mark Italian Job and the disappointing Be Cool, as well as some crappy Vin Diesel movie that I never had any desire to see. Now I’m not saying Gray is a middling director or anything like that, just that The Negotiator will probably end up being the best movie he ever made (Note: the only new feature he’s released since Be Cool was the alright Law Abiding Citizen).

Gray is certainly responsible for crafting a masterfully suspenseful police movie, but I probably never would have come across this movie if it weren’t for the two stars of it. Samuel L. Jackson stars as Danny Roman, a hostage negotiator for the Chicago police force, ironicly forced to take hostages in an attempt to prove his innocence after being accused of corruption and murder. Kevin Spacey is Chris Sabian, a negotiator from a different district that Roman requests be brought in to help prove his innocence. Problem is, Sabian’s so damned good at his job that he doesn’t care about the accusations leveled at Roman, he just wants to get the hostages out, alive and well.

The supporting cast is absolutely fantastic, featuring late greats J.T. Walsh and John Spencer, as well as familiar character actor faces like Ron Rifkin, the underrated David Morse, and good ol’ Paul Giamatti, back when he seemingly couldn’t get roles that didn’t require him to be fucking annoying. Some of them are good cops, some are hostages, all do an excellent job with their performances, hitting all the right notes. These are veteran actors and they know exactly what they’re doing, and Gray looks even better as a director thanks to them.

It says a lot for the writing team of James DeMonaco and Kevin Fox, when you’re actually wondering how everything’s going to turn out in the end. The entire premise of the movie has to be given away in the trailers, there’s no big surprises there, and that’s the nature of the beast. Throughout the rest of the movie there are plot twists and revelations that consistently keep you on the edge of your seat, leaving you wondering if there’s going to be a happy ending for Danny Roman after all.

There’s a lot to love about The Negotiator, but the chemistry between Spacey and Jackson is easily number one on my list. Their line deliveries, how they seem to be savouring every syllable, and still making their characters seem real and believable, is truly awe-inspiring and surprising in a movie that many might dismiss beforehand as a cookie cutter police procedural. Truly an excellent movie, and it makes me miss watching Kevin Spacey movies, though I don’t know if I’ll be able to buy him as Lex Luthor in the new Superman flick (Note: he was believable enough, but the movie absolutely sucked).

4.5 / 5

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Alright, so I did a whole nice write-up yesterday for the first Iron Man movie, and well, this one is more of the same.  It’s not The Dark Knight sequel to Batman Begins, it’s more like what Batman Forever was to Batman, if that makes sense.  It probably doesn’t since I just casually omitted Batman Returns, but Forever had sooo much Batcrap shoved into it that the movie actually shat out a sequel.

I just wanna sit back and appreciate that thing that I just wrote.  Man, I hope I didn’t subconsciously steal it from someone, because it is such a perfect description of Batman & Robin.  You can LIKE this review or G+ it or RT it or whatever.  I don’t even want to write anymore.

Alright, fine.  So Iron Man 2 brings back almost the exact same cast and creative team as the original movie, minus the unlikable Terrence Howard (replaced with the awesome Don Cheadle) and bringing in Justin Theroux as the screenplay writer.  At this point The Avengers movie release date was (I think) set in stone and there were preparations and things shoved into the story that seemed to be less about just Iron Man, and more about pumping up the Avengers plotline.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but it gives the whole movie more of an episodic feel.  Like, you can’t have “The Body” episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” without “I Was Made to Love You” which I had to research (and I actually dug that episode too) to remember it took place directly before “The Body”.

I feel like I’m getting all Pitchfork-y with this review, making allusions to other things that seem quite brilliant in my head and maybe seems assholeish when someone else reads it.  Anyways, the film also brings in Mickey Rourke as the main villain Whiplash, Sam Rockwell as Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey, Jr.) main business rival, Justin Hammer, and Scarlett Johansson as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent – and future Avenger- Natalya Romanov or y’know, Black Widow.  There’s also a lovely little appearance by John Slattery as Tony’s dad in archival footage, and the whole Stark family thing reminds me so much of “The Venture Bros.”

So there are parts I like about Iron Man 2 because they remind me of other things, and it’s a competently enough made movie, but not nearly as great as the first movie.

3.5 / 5

Iron Man (2008)

Okay, so this is the movie that kicked off the whole Avengers Initiative thing that ultimately led to The Avengers being made and probably becoming one of the Top Five highest grossing movies ever (pure speculation at this point).  If this movie had ended up being a box office bomb, well, it would have bankrupted the newly made Marvel Studios, Robert Downey, Jr. would probably have had a relapse and the entire world would be a different place now.  Probably.  But it didn’t, so yay!

I’m a DC Comics fan, so most of the characters in Marvel’s comic universe I have only a smattering of knowledge about, though I do tend to pick up little tidbits of info here and there.  Iron Man probably wasn’t what Marvel would consider a first-tier marketable character, but they didn’t have 100% control over their most recognisable movie characters – Spider-Man and Wolverine/X-Men – so the film for Iron Man became the launch pad of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  It was directed by Jon Favreau in an apparently less than 100%-scripted environment, which leads to some scenes of dialogue which feel much more natural because of Downey’s nature of neverstoptalkingwhenotherpeoplearetalking.

Downey was probably no one’s first choice for Tony Stark/Iron Man, but the actor took that ball and fucking repulsor rayed it to the moon.  The rest of the cast is 95% perfect as well, but only because I find it hard to buy Terrence Howard in anything.  This film also marks the first fun appearance of Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) of S.H.I.E.L.D. and boy I hate typing acronyms like that.  Iron Man also pretty much laid out the formula for all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, with Coulson appearances, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) appearances, post-credit scenes and numerous nods to the future films in the Universe.  Like Pixar, only more fanboy serverish.

Anyways, solid fucking movie.  Great launchpad for the Avengers franchise, and I wish DC would be able to replicate the same formula for a future Justice League movie, but oh well.

4.5 / 5

Thor (2011)

With The Avengers having recently been released, I thought it would be a great idea to look back on all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films that have been released (read: search engine optimization).  The only one that I’ve already reviewed is Captain America so feel free to go back and read that one after reading this stirring bit of literature I’m probably not going to provide you with here.

Of all the Marvel movies that have been made and were rumoured to be being made, I thought that Thor would have been the hardest sell to mainstream movie audiences.  I don’t know much about the comic book version of the character, other than he fucking bored me.  I didn’t expect the cinematic interpretation of the Norse mythology behind the character to be anything even remotely approaching interesting.  And then a funny thing happened: Kenneth Branagh was named as the director and I thought to myself that at the very least, it’s going to be high quality boredom.  I just wasn’t expecting a movie that was a fun popcorn summer blockbuster, but that’s exactly what Branagh delivered.

Of course, all the directing miracles in the world wouldn’t be able to save a Thor movie if the actor playing Thor was completely unsuited for the part (I’d use Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze from Batman & Robin as an example but fuck that, that movie had more problems than just one miscast).  Thankfully, Chris Hemsworth got the part (and doubly thankful that Triple H didn’t), and as a heterosexual male, even I had to admit that dude was ripped.  He was Thor.  He also had a weird Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You accent going on for the whole movie, which was somewhat disorienting, but whatever, he was great.

Honestly, the entire movie was pretty great all around, visually stunning, great casting, super performances and a surprising amount of fun.  I might have truly loved it if I was completely familiar with Asgaardian stories and such, but let me just give it a solid thumbs up mark.

4 / 5

The Avengers (2012)

I have to admit, I’m a bit jealous.  See, I’m not a Marvel Comics fanboy and the success that their high quality movie versions of their characters are enjoying makes me – a DC Comics fanboy – insanely jealous.  See, I know that if there ever were to be a Justice League movie, well DC Comics would have to have some sort of alternate (read: inferior) version of Batman, because it’s quite clear that the Christopher Nolan Batman isn’t in a world populated with heroes.  And while I enjoyed Green Lantern there are loads of others that didn’t.  Not to mention how every Superman movie that has come out since Superman II has been pretty craptacular.  Marvel went and signed Joss Whedon to direct The Avengers, so there went the best hope for any Wonder Woman movie, and there aren’t even any rumours that I’ve heard about a Flash movie.  So yeah, super jealous because DC can’t get their cinematic shit together.  Moving on.

In the next couple days, my reviews for the rest of the movies that are part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be posted (except Captain America, as that one was already posted) and what you’ll find is that they’re all pretty damn good movies.  For the most part.  The sum of them all is The Avengers, and honestly, you couldn’t find a better director than Joss Whedon to helm this ship.  Whedon has an affinity for the characters that he’s been reading for decades, and if we’ve learned anything from Whedon’s fanbase, it’s that he can make us feel in a way that most directors/writers take for granted.  When Wash dies in Serenity, he wasn’t the only who felt like they’d been impaled, and that was because of the heart that Whedon instills in his characters.  So the whole time watching Avengers, I was wondering which ancillary character was going to bite the dust so we could truly feel like This Means Something.

Another trademark Whedon-ism is the wry sense of humour that characters have in the face of insurmountable odds, and that humour is very much evident throughout the entire film.  I’m pretty sure every character, from Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) to Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) hell, everyone of them gets a laugh in the movie.  Of course, front and centre is the most fleshed character out of the Avengers team (so-far), Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), but this movie isn’t his.  It’s not Captain America’s (Chris Evans) or Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth).  In fact, I think that the Big Bad of the movie, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), might have had more screen time than anyone else.

The movie doesn’t really have to waste time with showing the origin stories of all these heroes, because they have their own series, just like in the comic book world.  It’s the story of a bunch of combustible elements coming together to form a super power to combat the end of the world.  Honestly, I would have to say that this is the greatest comic book movie of all time, and that’s mostly because I think the Christopher Nolan Batman films can actually hold their own as non-comic book movies.  The Avengers movie and the Marvel Cinematic Universe has a lot of fanboy pandering to them, but it’s all great popcorn, summer blockbuster fun.  The Nolan Batman films, well they’re exploring areas outside of the comic books with the implication that they take place in a very realistic world.  Nolan’s Batman would never be in the Justice League.

Anyways, The Avengers is pretty much what any comic book nerd dreams of: the action on the screen taken directly from the pages of their comic books.  The heroes they love, the villains they hate, they’re all expertly interpreted into a new medium and it’s a goddamn great movie.  I don’t even think you’d need to see the other Marvel Cinematic Universe movies to completely enjoy the movie, but they would certainly add more depth to the experience.  Also, the 3D was much like Toy Story 3, not invasive and all OMG LOOK IT’S 3D so I strongly recommend seeing it in a theatre when you can.

5 / 5