Friday, September 26, 2014

Django Unchained Review

The first time I saw Django Unchained, I somehow both loved it and was underwhelmed at the same time. The depth of my appreciation for two specific works by Quentin Tarantino, Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds, cannot be properly demonstrated by words. In my cinematic world, they are both what I would deem flawless masterpieces, as I have watched them repeatedly and kept a close eye on every possible detail and yet I still can't find a single moment of either I would alter in any way.

So when it came time to screen Django, I couldn't temper my expectations. I wanted that type of experience, I craved 160 minutes of pure joy dripping from every single word of Tarantino's screenplay. I wanted laughs, I wanted heartbreak, I wanted intense personal drama blended with horrific depraved violence. I wanted the greatest Quentin cake ever baked, and God damn it I wanted to eat it too.

I recall thinking certain moments dragged, that the pacing was slightly off and it wasn't quite as tight and attention-grabbing as those two films I mentioned above, and thus something felt as if it was missing. Well, I figured it was about time for the always important revisit, as many films throughout my life have either found a spot in my heart or vanished from my thoughts forever due to that second viewing. The Social Network when I first screened it? Good but not great. After the second viewing? A total masterpiece. My Tree of Life debut? Ridiculous rubbish. Now it sits comfortably as my favorite film of all time.

I can confirm it is official. Django Unchained joins the ranks of those films I mentioned, the type of work that left me cold initially and yet now just mentioning the title makes me want to leave work immediately so I can go home and cinegasm all over again. What the hell was I thinking? What did I miss that first time so many months ago? Was it too late at night, did a fatigued mind prove to be incapable of embracing genius? Everything I hoped for when I took my first trip to Candyland, it is all here. It always was, just waiting for me to give it another chance so I could wrap my arms around it and never let go.

Django Unchained is a masterful, confident example of how to perfectly balance true comedic wit with a total understanding that the subject matter still needs to feel serious enough to make an audience care. The performances across the board were sensational, the ideal cast to deliver exactly what Tarantino wanted to showcase when he mapped out such a truly inspired screenplay. The beauty of the Quentin Tarantino - Christoph Waltz dynamic is that when Waltz was handed both Supporting Actor Oscars for their collaborations, you could feel the honesty in the gracious acceptance speeches that those trophies felt like they belonged to both of them because one would not have shined as bright without the other. Was Waltz deserving of recognition based on his scene stealing performances? Without a doubt, the way he brought those words to life was astonishing, yet without those brilliantly clever words such a character could have easily been ignored.

The first time I watched Django Unchained, I woke up the next day and lived my life and didn't think much of the film despite enjoying the experience and admiring the craft. I always knew it was great, but I needed it to be more than that. I needed it to be the third film I could mention when asked "What is your favorite Tarantino film?".

Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Three films worthy of each other.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Modern Times Review

I love animated films, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with them, but I remember when my daughter exclusively watched only that genre at a very young age and I was thinking to myself, at what point can I show her more? When will she be ready to explore cinema beyond talking animals and snappy songs?

While she has been beyond that point for a while now, something happened the other day while watching the Charlie Chaplin masterpiece Modern Times that I was not anticipating. There I am, lying on the couch mesmerized by the film when I realized I wasn't alone. Not in the literal sense, I knew the soon to be seven year old was sitting across the room playing with toys, but the playing had stopped. She couldn't take her eyes off of Chaplin, and they never wavered from the screen for the remainder of the film.

It wasn't just the slapstick comedy that did it either. She was asking me questions about the story, she was expressing concerns about the relationship between the Factory Worker and the Gamin, but yeah, sure, she was also laughing hysterically at the brilliant comedic presence of Chaplin. She asked me to rewind the film multiple times so she could see specific scenes over and over again.

Modern Times was released 78 years ago, yet it managed to fill a 30 year old man and 6 year old girl with joy on a Saturday afternoon in 2014. It's an amazing achievement, a step above the also wonderful City Lights, and I can't wait to keep exploring his work.

Never imagined I would be doing so with a first grader, which makes the cinematic journey all the more special.


Upstream Color Review

I can't put my finger on any one reason, but lately I just haven't had the urge to write about film in any regard. Watch them, sure, despite some blips on the radar from being busy or recently under the weather that aspect hasn't suffered. After a long day of work and a few wonderful hours spent with the little one, I adore the opportunity to put my feet up, take in a film and just let my mind drift away with the sights and sounds of cinema, but then the time came to do a write up and I couldn't even bring myself to turn on the laptop. Just go to sleep, I would tell myself. I can always put something down tomorrow, but when tomorrow arrived the words still didn't.

Maybe I just needed the right film to open the floodgates again.

Last year, when I first screened the Shane Carruth gem Upstream Color, I was still relatively new to the world of abstract cinema. I admired every aspect of the feature yet I couldn't wrap my arms completely around it, I couldn't show it the full love it deserved. Tonight, in my dark and quiet living room as a mild, comforting breeze hit me from every direction, I flipped through the ol' Netflix queue to try to find something to spark my passion again and I quickly scrolled passed this film, only to slow down and head back to it. It just felt right.

Technically nothing has changed since my original viewing. It is a dense, abstract, baffling film that I may not understand any more than I did the first time, yet something intoxicating swept me up tonight. The sights, the sounds, the chemistry between Kris, portrayed beautifully by Amy Seimetz, and Jeff, played by Carruth himself...I couldn't look away. I didn't want to.

At the end of a rather trying and forgettable week that lacked, well, just about everything I hope for when I wake each morning, Upstream Color was there waiting to kick off my weekend and remind me why I used to find such joy in writing about film. For a moment there a few days back I actually asked myself, "Have I lost the passion for it?".

Found it.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For Review

When the first Sin City came out nine years ago, I couldn't stop talking about it.

I saw Sin City: A Dame to Kill For a week ago today, and just now I decided to write something about it, and really I am not writing anything of interest because I still can't find the words.

It isn't because I am baffled at how poor the film was, it wasn't. It isn't because I am rendered speechless over how amazing the sequel is, it isn't. It just sorta exists, and I watched it, and it ended, and I still don't care.

The cast was solid. I really enjoyed the presence of Eva Green. The problem is, something about the film made it feel bland and uninteresting, and I can't quite put my finger on it.

I could watch Sin City again and again, giving that glorious Blu-ray a spin and finding myself dazzled every single time. I'm not even sure I will watch Sin City: A Dame to Kill For again. I don't need to dissect it and search for any sort of thematic subtext bubbling beneath the surface. It is what it is, and what it is certainly ain't something I would kill for.