The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Django Unchained

Let's get this out of the way. I love Quentin Tarantino movies. I loved "Reservoir Dogs." I loved "Pulp Fiction." I loved "Kill Bill." I loved "Inglourious Basterds." Even though he didn't direct it, I loved "True Romance." Okay, I didn't much like "Death Proof" or "Jackie Brown" but even Hitchcock and Kubrick had their failings. I am always prepared to not love one of Quentin Tarantino's movies. I didn't have to brace myself, because I loved this one. Tarantino brought his A-game with his ability to make you laugh and horrify you within seconds without it feeling like mood whiplash.

The cast was great. Jamie Foxx really sold the character of Django Freeman, and while he may be freed when the movie opens, the title of the movie smacks you in the face as the film progresses. Christoph Waltz is terrific as always in the role of Dr. King Schultz, a German dentist turned bounty hunter. And as for Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candi, the sadistic slave master of the largest plantation in the country? Everyone... stop hitting DiCaprio with "Titanic" he is a great actor, one of the best actors... if you watch this movie and still can't see that, there is something wrong with you. Period. Samuel L. Jackson is in this movie too, but I would rather not spoil his character much, you need to see it for yourself.

As with every Tarantino movie, you can feel his love of the medium in every frame. This movie was shot on film, not on digital, and I am grateful for that. Film will always look better. I cannot wait to own this on Blu-ray. The dialogue is as witty as any Tarantino movie, and as always feels like more than your standard action movie.

When I saw this movie my first thought is how pissed off this will make so many in the south. Slavery is a very touchy issue for large portions of the former Confederacy. I was amazed how unapologetic this movie was and it raises points that have been largely absent from mainstream cinema. The "lost cause" ideology has been dominant in most movies, I knew this movie was going to challenge that idea, but I was not prepared for how it subverted that ideology altogether. This was a very refreshing movie for me, because the south can throw up whatever excuses and revisionist myths they want, they built their economy and culture on the backs of slavery and human trafficking... they were only slightly better than Nazi Germany. It took seventy-three years for the myths of "Gone With the Wind" to finally be challenged, and it is much appreciated.

Friday, December 28, 2012

It's the end of the year. What do I own?

An update to what I own on DVD and Blu-ray. There are a few new additions, some things I cashed in at FYE, and others I upgraded from DVD to Blu-ray.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Surprise, Motherfucker!

If I didn't do it now, it would never have gotten done. I've got four episodes of "Dexter" to talk about, four episodes that really develop the character and push him and the people around him forward. First of all, I thought this season, oddly structured as it was, was great. Easily the best since the fourth season. Throughout seasons five and six, I felt like Dexter was in kind of a holding pattern, he didn't seem to grow or develop all that much even if some of the people around him, especially his sister, Debra, did.

I thought Ray Stevenson's Isaak Sirko was great. I was surprised and saddened to see him go relatively early in the season... Stevenson had a commitment to "Thor 2" so they had to wrap up his character a little earlier than intended. But, despite his being a killer and a Ukrainian mobster, he was as close as any antagonist of Dexter came to being a man of honor. I thought his ending where he joined his beloved Viktor was perfect.

But while I missed Sirko, the rest of the season had more than enough to offer. Dexter's romance with Hannah McKay was a plot thread that, I'll confess, I wanted to hate. And yet, I didn't and couldn't. I think I felt as conflicted about it at times as Dexter himself. When her degenerate father came onto the scene (played by Bobby from "Supernatural"), even though he did not fit Dexter's code at all, I was happy to see Dexter murder him and throw him off a boat.

But where is Dexter now? He has acknowledged that there is no such thing as a Dark Passenger. There is nothing inside him that makes him do what he does. He kills because he wants to. It's a deep and a strong want, but he can't blame it on "an imaginary friend." And, while Dexter has killed innocent people before, two instances by accident and once while in shock and grief over the murder of his wife, Rita, this season marks the first time we've seen him plan and carry out the deaths of people who don't fit the code.

Combine the previous paragraph with the question of where is Debra now. The very instant she found out what Dexter was, she has been on a slippery slope too. First she tried to cure him, then she acknowledged she couldn't but let him roam free, then she asked him to kill Hannah McKay (which he refused to do), and then.... well, we always knew that eventually she would have to choose between her brother and the law she had sworn to uphold as a police officer... a choice that Dexter and Maria LaGuerta both forced in a very emotional scene in the season finale.

Season eight is the final season. But I will leave you all with this: Dexter's never been a hero. He may have killed some bad people, may have saved some innocent lives, but not because he was a hero; those outcomes just coincide with his actions. Dexter's sole purpose as a character is to advance the plot and make the audience identify with him. If you thought he was a hero and now you're disappointed that he's not, then the story was effective. Over the course of the series, the story has managed to make a hero out of someone who kills people, chops them up into pieces, and disposes of them in the ocean. Your "hero" wasn't even perfect; he killed some innocent people in the process too. Don't hate Dexter because he's not living up to what you hoped he would. He was never a hero, and I'm sure Dexter would agree with that.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

An Unexpected Journey

Over the last two weeks, I flew down to West Palm Beach to drive my grandparents back up to their old apartment in Brooklyn so they could back up and move whatever was left there that they wanted and then drove them back down and flew back up. The reward I gave myself for all of this was almost quite literally going to see the first installment of "The Hobbit" almost directly after stepping off the plane. I had been waiting for this movie to come out for a very long time. I cannot quite say how long... since they green lit it? Since "The Return of the King" came out? Since I was a kid and read the book? Since I was an even younger kid and saw the Rankin Bass cartoon? Yeah, I've waited a long time for this. So what did I think? I haven't spent as much time smiling through a movie as I have this one since... well, since "The Return of the King," actually.

It's hard to give this movie a proper review at this point because, well, it's not finished. As much as I loved it, the most honest grade I can give is "Incomplete." But I like how the pieces are moving into place, the characters have all been introduced and the best is yet to come.

As with "Lord of the Rings," the casting was inspired. Martin Freeman is Bilbo Baggins as much as Ian Holm was (and still is). Likewise, Richard Armitage embodied Thorin Oakenshield better than I ever imagined. The rest of the dwarves were great, and I don't need to rave about the returning cast.

The entire sequence between Bilbo Baggins and Gollum was exactly what I wanted it to be. I've read that chapter in the book so many times that I found myself asking the and answering the riddles with the characters. And the scene where Bilbo showed Gollum pity and spared his life. Yes! Exactly! The moment that saves Middle Earth was done justice.

I have seen some negativity surrounding this movie, and I think that comes from people who were expecting another "Lord of the Rings." The Hobbit is certainly lighter in tone, but that's not a bad thing. The movie actually matched the book's tone pretty well, in my opinion. If people go in expecting the same darkness that comes from an apocalyptic war, then it's their own fault for not doing the research. But I do suspect more darkness to come, especially as the story arc about the Necromancer plays out, as it should if you know who he actually is.

Count me in as another one who thought Radagast the Brown was over-the-top. But I didn't dislike him, actually I enjoyed him, I just wish Jackson had toned him down a little. But he is hardly Jar Jar Binks and this movie is not "The Phantom Menace." For starters this movie is really, really, really good. Did I have my fears? Honestly, no. I had faith in this production and so far, that faith has been rewarded. Prequels aren't bad, the "Star Wars" prequels just sucked... of course the originals were mediocre at their best as well; while here we have a very good prequel to great originals. But, when all is said and done, I suspect I'll be watching "The Hobbit" Extended Editions before my "Lord of the Rings" Extended Editions when I re-visit the series on Blu-ray as I know I will.

The pale orc, Azog's survival after the battle of Moria might have been an invention of Peter Jackson's, but I liked him and I already foresee how he will be used as the story progresses. In the book, the orcs arrived at the Battle of Five Armies pretty much out of no where. I suspect Azog's grudge against Thorin will be the reason why the orcs will head to Erebor. Between Smaug, the Necromancer, and Azog, we're going to have a lot of fun villains. And speaking of villains, I loved seeing the Witch-King of Angmar and Saruman again.

It was exactly what I wanted. More light-hearted and whimsical while at the same time building towards the tone and threat that Sauron will pose in the not-too-distant future. I loved it. I will see it again. This may be my favorite movie experience of the year, and in a year that had "The Avengers," "The Dark Knight Rises," "Lincoln," and will have a Quentin Tarantino movie, that's high praise.