Spectre

November 8, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux
Directed by: Sam Mendes (“Skyfall”)
Written by: John Logan (“Skyfall”), Neal Purvis (“Skyfall”), Robert Wade, (“Skyfall”) and Jez Butterworth (“Black Mass”)

After the events of “Skyfall,” James Bond (Daniel Craig) finds himself in trouble when causing damage on an unofficial assignment in Mexico. As he disobeys his suspension, Bond tracks down an organization called Spectre, which leads him to people from his past. From there, Bond is sent on a globe-spanning path to take down the leader of this evil organization. Meanwhile at MI6, M (Ralph Fiennes) must fight to keep the 00 program alive when an intelligence operation between multiple countries threatens its future.

After one of the best-received Bond films of all time, Craig dons the Bond suit without much energy this time around. It certainly isn’t a bad performance, but it also doesn’t appear like Craig is having much fun in the lead role. As a villain, Christoph Waltz is still chasing the kind of terror he was able to instill in “Inglorious Basterds.” Rather than develop any true sense of menace, Waltz merely delivers lame monologues as his form of evil. Of course, if the audience ever thought Bond would be in any real sense of danger, perhaps it would play better. The franchise is chugging along, though, and so words are not enough to feel any fear for his safety.

There’s a level of complacency that seems to be running throughout “Spectre,” especially in the sense that nearly everything feels obligatory. Yes, there are giant set pieces and a few scenes of great action, especially in the opening sequence. But there’s also a boring repetition of the same three things that always happen to Bond. He drinks, he beds beautiful women, and he kills people. In one scene of “Spectre,” Bond bangs a grieving widow whilst getting information out of her. That very well may be what diehard fans are looking for, but it makes for eye rolls and more importantly, completely absurd plot development. Frankly, if you take away all of the unnecessary plot contrivances, sex, women, fast cars and guns in “Spectre,” nothing remains.

There’s almost no sense of a ”spy” movie here either. Everything is out in the open and it’s extremely hard to care about what little mystery exists. It’s loud, messy, filled to the brim with pointless secondary characters and agonizingly long. It is also, admittedly, polished, sleek, and stylish. Bond fans should be pleased with yet another “Bond being Bond” film. But for those looking for something with more substance and narrative, there’s little to be found underneath the superficial sheen.

Big Eyes

December 25, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Christoph Waltz, Amy Adams, Danny Huston
Directed by: Tim Burton (“Ed Wood,” “Alice in Wonderland”)
Written by: Scott Alexander (“Ed Wood”) and Larry Karaszewski (“Ed Wood”)

A return to form effort from wayward director (and Johnny Depp enabler) Tim Burton might elicit more praise on the surface than it deserves when you really dig in strictly because of how long we’ve had to wait for something that wasn’t terrible. “Big Eyes” may, in fact, fit that description, but for now, bask in the refreshment a Burton movie with style and focus—and without gothic weirdness or Depp in a weird hat or even former flame Helena Bonham Carter—brings to the table.

As the film opens, Margaret (Amy Adams) flees an abusive husband and an “Edward Scissorhands”-esque treeless suburb with her daughter Jane (Delaney Raye at first, aging to Madeleine Arthur) in tow. Settling down in 1950s/1960s San Francisco, Margaret works on her artwork, using Jane as a model for a series of paintings featuring big-eyed children. After meeting and marrying fellow artist Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), Walter begins taking credit for Margaret’s work on the “big eyes” paintings, using his innate showmanship to turn the artwork into a kitschy sensation. As tensions escalate between the sidelined Margaret and the increasingly disjointed Walter, Margaret begins to regret the trap she helped build for herself and her art, looking for a way to escape.

For better or worse, the film belongs to Christoph Waltz and his charming-turned-dangerous performance as Walter. He owns every scene he’s in, at times leaving Amy Adams—the story’s protagonist—in the dust in her own story. Waltz as Walter becomes such a commanding presence in the film, you can hardly blame Burton, doing his best work since “Ed Wood,” for turning the film over to this convincing weirdo. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Burton re-teamed on “Big Eyes” with “Ed Wood” screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski for another tale of a strange fellow on the fringes of stardom, clawing his way into relevance no matter the cost. While “Big Eyes” doesn’t have the whimsical spirit of “Ed Wood’s” love-letter to a purveyor of crap, instead diving into the darkness that comes from Keane being cornered by the idea of the truth being revealed, the film rekindles enough of that spirit to make you look forward to Burton’s next project with an open mind.

Epic

May 24, 2013 by  
Filed under Ashley, Reviews

Starring: Colin Farrell, Amanda Seyfried, Christoph Waltz
Directed by: Chris Wedge (“Robots”)
Written by: James V. Hart (“August Rush”), Tom J. Astle (“Get Smart”), Matt Ember (“Failure to Launch”), William Joyce (debut) and Daniel Shere (debut)

While the title is a drastic overstatement, “Epic” is sure to send the kiddos off with a smile and some good laughs. With that said, it’s important to warn those who are expecting a magical world filled with dynamic characters and a heartwarming storyline to wipe your expectations clean. “Epic” doesn’t reach those heights.

In “Epic,” teenager Mary Katherine, aka M.K., (Amanda Seyfried), who has recently lost her mother, must deal with the transition of moving in with her kooky and absent-minded father, Professor Bomba (Jason Sudeikis). Hard at work, the professor is trying to prove the existence of a secret world which inhabits tiny warriors who protect the forest, a theory M.K. isn’t buying. The only bright side to living in her new creaky home is spending time with her rambunctious, beat-up Pug, Ozzie. After accidentally letting Ozzie loose, M.K. ends up chasing him into the forest where she is magically shrunken into the secret world her father told her about – a world of fairylike creatures and talking animals.

Caught in the middle of a raging war between good (the Leafmen) and evil (the Boggans), M.K. finds her tiny self destined to protect the “chosen pod,” which now holds the good spirit of the forest, passed on by the slain Forest Queen, Tara (Beyonce). In order to defeat Mandrake (Christoph Waltz), leader of the Boggans, who is plotting to take over the forest, M.K. enlists the help of Ronin (Colin Farrell), the noble and trusty Commander of the Leafmen; Nod (Josh Hutcherson), a rebellious hero; and a couple of comic-relief sidekicks, Mub the Slug (Anziz Ansari) and Grub the Snail (Chris O’Dowd).

With so many opportunities to live up to its name, “Epic” never fulfills its destiny. Focusing a little more on the divided relationship between M.K. and her father would’ve been the easiest fix, but the film never takes full advantage when it has the chance. It barely grazes the surface of the father-daughter narrative and leaves the audience with unanswered questions.

Although unsuccessful at capturing the emotions of the entire story thanks to mediocre voice acting and a static storyline, “Epic” makes up in aesthetics with its whimsical animation and intricate battle choreography. But what truly slides in and saves the day, literally, are Mub the Slug and Grub the Snail. With their slapstick humor and memorable jokes, “Epic” is more enjoyable than it really should be.

Django Unchained

December 29, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jaime Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino (“Inglourious Basterds”)
Written by: Quentin Tarantino (“Inglourious Basterds”)

Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino (“Inglourious Basterds”) takes a no-holds-barred approach to the topic of slavery in “Django Unchained,” a sharply-written, ultra-violent spectacle masked as a spaghetti western. Sergio Leone would be both proud and traumatized.

As a film about racism in America, it’s a welcomed punch to the gut unlike the seriously overrated Oscar-winning 2004 drama “Crash,” which also bashes you over the head with the subject matter, but with far less blood and entertainment value. When conveying slavery on the big screen, not many directors would have the backbone to present it as a savagely dark comedy and gun-blazing action flick. These topics are serious issues about our nation’s dark past. But what Tarantino is able to do here is monumental. By taking something as revolting as slavery and turning it on its head, he uncovers the ugliness of the era in a way we can all appreciate. It’s cynical, cartoonish and shocking at times, but Tarnantino knows how to get our attention and keep it till the last body is riddled with its fair share of bullets.

In “Django Unchained,” Academy Award-winning actor Jaime Foxx (“Ray”), in a title role that was actually written for Will Smith (who wussed out of the movie), stars as Django, a pre-Civil War slave who is given his freedom by German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) in exchange for helping him track down a trio of murderers. Once the job is complete and Django and Dr. Schultz have developed a kindly partnership, Django teams up with him to go on more bounties so he can make enough money to go buy back his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from whatever slave owner has acquired her.

Upon their journey, Django and Dr. Schultz learn that Broomhilda has been purchased by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio in a terrific supporting role that should garner him an Oscar nom), one of the most well-known slave owners in the American South who gets his kicks in watching able-bodied male slaves brutally fight each other to the death. Once infiltrated onto the plantation of Candieland by pretending to have an interest in buying one of Calvin’s fighters, Django and Dr. Schultz scheme a plan to save Broomhilda before Calvin’s house slave Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) figures out what’s really happening.

While the film loses steam in the last half hour (and includes a ridiculously unfunny cameo by the always arrogant Tarantino), the exaggerated elements of the filmmaker’s narrative, dialogue and style remain much like they have been over the last 20 years. Sure, it’s not in the top tier of what he’s done in the past (“Kill Bill” is a lot more fun and “Pulp Fiction” will forever be his masterpiece), but Tarantino’s films are imaginative and unique. Until he stops serving that up – even if it is the form of a moronic group of Kl Klux Klan members – I’ll have a few scoops.

Carnage

January 14, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly
Directed by: Roman Polanski (“The Pianist”)
Written by: Roman Polanski (“The Ghost Writer”) and Yasmina Reza (“Chicas”)

With a title like “Carnage,” even if the weapon of choice is words, one might expect to see some type of intellectual bloodbath. In Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski’s (“The Pianist”) new dark comedy, the dialogue may be sharp at times, but the force behind the jabs is nothing a little Band-Aid wouldn’t fix. As overblown as it is, however, those involved would have you believe they were tossed into a pit of meat cleavers.

Based on the play “God of Carnage” written by Yasmina Reza (the Broadway version starring Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini, and Marcia Gay Harden won Best Play at the 2009 Tony Awards), the screenplay — co-written by Polanski and Reza — starts off effortlessly enough before diving into a diatribe of irritating proportions.

Two preteen boys get into a fight at a park in the swankier side of Brooklyn. One of the kids busts the other’s mouth with a big stick (in a less privileged neighborhood it might’ve been a shank or a 9mm). The kids’ parents (Cristoph Waltz and Kate Winslet play Alan and Nancy Cowan; Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly play Penelope and Michael Longstreet) decide the best way to remedy the situation is for both couples to meet in person and talk it out. But when their face-to-face goes from civil to sour, the Longstreets and Cowens flash their claws and berate each other on everything from parenting techniques to animal cruelty.

If you enjoy listening to people air their dirty laundry to the point of sick fascination, “Carnage” might produce enough snarky attitude to allow you overlook phony characters at their worst. Maybe that’s the point. Just because I couldn’t relate to these whiny parents who drink expensive Scotch, have out-of-print Oskar Kokoschka books in their bourgeois apartment, and use words like “conciliating” and “upbraided” in everyday conversation, doesn’t meant there aren’t some out there who will. There’s supposed to be an uncomfortable dark humor behind their snobbery, but as the quarreling continues and goes off on tangents, it gets less and less interesting. Despite the consistent rhythm Polanski is able to pull off in this contrived chamber piece, I kept hoping there might be a gas leak somewhere in the kitchen. Get halfway through the 80-minute “Carnage” and you’ll feel like you’ve earned some quiet time.

Now, I admit, I’ve only seen a handful of public theater versions of the play on YouTube, but I’m convinced this is one of those instances where a film adaptation was an ill-fated idea right from the start. Even the simple mechanics of the production don’t make sense in movie form. On stage there is nowhere to run and hide, but in Polanski’s take there are countless moments when the chaos would come to an end if someone just said good-bye and meant it.

“What the hell are we doing here?”Nancy asks well past the point of no return. A better question would’ve been, “How many times have we walked back into this apartment for more coffee?”

While a lot of the material is grating, the performances (even the miscast and sometimes overly-aggressive Foster) are just as proficient as the 11 Oscar nominations and four wins between the foursome would lead you to believe. The standout is Waltz who plays his father character with a menacing twinkle in his eye. He knows how silly all this is, but he’s still waiting for someone else to get the joke. If “Carnage” gets under your skin, however, the last thing you’ll want to figure out is why a cultural comparison between Ivanhoe and John Wayne is supposed to be clever.

Water for Elephants

April 30, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, Christoph Waltz
Directed by: Francis Lawrence (“Constatine”)
Written by: Richard LaGravenese (“The Bridges of Madison County”)

While it deserves some recognition for creating a visually-pleasing spectacle (credit Oscar-nominated production designer Jack Fisk and Oscar-nominated cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto), the Depression-era melodrama “Water for Elephants” isn’t the charming phenomenon one might’ve imagined based on the popularity of the 2006 historical novel by Sara Gruen from which it’s adapted.

Instead, the film lacks the romantic luster needed between its leads to match the enchanting, saga-like feel of the time.
Brooding as boyishly as ever, Robert Pattinson (“Eclipse”) plays Jacob, a veterinary student who spontaneously hops the rails and joins a traveling circus after tragedy strikes at home. Working his way up the ranks quickly, Jacob is entrusted with the training of the titular pachyderm. His animal instincts invite conflict when he becomes smitten with the circus’ star performer Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), who’s also the wife of the heartless ringmaster August (Christoph Waltz). Waltz isn’t as cold-blooded as his Nazi character in “Inglourious Basterds,” but he still runs his circus like part of the Third Reich.

In a small but touching Gloria Stuart/”Titanic”-type cameo, veteran actor Hal Holbrook (“Into the Wild”) gives the film its most tender moments as an elderly Jacob reminiscing about his year under the Big Top.

Inglourious Basterds

August 23, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Melanie Laurent
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino (“Kill Bill”)
Written by: Quentin Tarantino (“Kill Bill”)

As Brad Pitt’s character Lt. Aldo Raine retracts his bloody knife after carving a swastika into an enemy’s forehead at the end of “Inglourious Basterds” (misspelling intended), he admires his artistic work and makes a confident statement: “I think this just might be my masterpiece.”

If that’s any indication of what filmmaker Quentin Tarantino thinks about his new highly stylized World War II flick, he’s sorely mistaken. That doesn’t mean, however, that the director of such films as “Pulp Fiction” and “Kill Bill” hasn’t delivered audiences a very entertaining spectacle. Along with Tarantino’s unique directorial approach and take on German history, an undoubtedly remarkable performance by Austrian actor Christoph Waltz makes “Inglourious Basterds” a summer blockbuster must-see.

In the film, Lt. Raine (Pitt) leads a bloodlusting team of Jewish soldiers known as the Basterds through France killing Nazis and collecting their scalps. Tarantino settles on Lt. Raine to be the spokesperson for his “bushwhacking guerilla army” and therefore doesn’t bother much with the stories of the other members of the renegade militia. We do learn a bit about Eli Roth’s character Sgt. Donny Donowitz (AKA the Bear Jew), whose weapon of choice for killing members of the Third Reich is a baseball bat, and the sadistic streak of Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger). Other than that, the rest of the Basterds are lost in the gunfire.

Those who think “Inglourious Basterds” is really all about “killin’ Nazis” will be disappointed. This isn’t a story like “Kill Bill” where the Bride is checking off victims from her hit list one by one. It’s interesting that Tarantino went with the title “Inglourious Basterds” in the first place. One of the many working titles, “Once Upon a Time in Nazi-Occupied France,” which is used as a chapter title instead, fits the synopsis much better since the Basterds themselves are only a fraction of the action.

The rest of the film follows Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent), a young Jewish movie theater owner who four years prior escaped a massacre involving her entire family. Back to his familiar theme of revenge, Tarantino sets Shosanna on that exact path when she finds out her theater has been chosen to host the premiere of a Nazi propaganda film. With the screening being attended by the most high-ranking Third Reich officers, Shosanna see an opportunity to get her revenge and ultimately end the war in one night.

But with an always-suspicious Col. Hans Landa (Waltz), who is known as “the Jew Hunter,” watching everyone’s every move, pulling off the murders of hundreds of German soldiers might be a bit more difficult than first anticipated. As Landa, Waltz gives us one of the best overall performances of the year; one brimming with tension-building dialogue and just enough humor to keep him from becoming as terrifying as someone like Ralph Fiennes’s Amon Goeth in “Schindler’s List.” Alone, Waltz is worth the price of admission ten times over.

As a writer and director, Tarantino is still one of the most creative voices working today, but he allows “Basterds” to get away from him in a few of his chapters. Another story involving actress Diane Kruger (“Troy”) as Bridget von Hammersmark, a German movie star turned spy, seemed like an unnecessary addition to the plot.

Nevertheless, Tarantino has fashioned some flat-out great scenes with some good ones. It all adds up to a manic faux-history lesson only someone like he could conjure up.