Django Unchained (12/25/12)

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A slave becomes a bounty hunter and seeks to free his wife from a brutal plantation owner in Django Unchained.

A pair of slave traders traveling through Texas with a handful of slaves is stopped by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Schultz is looking for Django (Jamie Foxx) regarding the identities of the Brittle brothers for a bounty he is after. After a scuffle that leaves one slave trader dead, Django is bought by Schultz, who despises slavery and trains a newly free man, Django, as a fellow bounty hunter. After dealing with the Brittle brothers, Django tells Schultz about his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), and Schultz vows to help Django track her down and free her from slavery. They discover she is working at a plantation owned by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) but they have a plan to ensure Broomhilda’s freedom.

Quentin Tarantino has made quite a name for himself in the last twenty years and his films are widely praised for good reason. He makes films that are amalgamations of all the best parts of various genre films but instead of feeling cobbled together or copied, they feel fresh and raw. His craft has certainly been refined as of late, and Django Unchained may be his most refined film to date. The production feels immense and maybe even more polished than any of Tarantino’s previous works. That is, if you aren’t afraid of erupting wounds, unflinching violence, and lots of course language, it’s one of his finest films.

Django Unchained is one of the better movies to come out of 2012 and it’s one of my favorites of the year. The only thing that really held it back is its length; at 165 minutes it feels long and it drags a bit near the middle. Had the film been closer to two hours I think it would have been lean and mean, without losing much of its charm. Django Unchained constantly tries to keep things interesting, but it’s tough when a film is approaching three hours. After a while, I just wanted less talking and more shooting.

The length of Django Unchained is really my only complaint against the film. I think Leonardo DiCaprio gives one of his best performances of his career, something I was kind of surprised by. Christoph Waltz is, of course, fantastic, as is Jamie Foxx. Kerry Washington doesn’t really do much for me, but she does a good job as well. Unsurprisingly, Samuel L. Jackson gives a great performance that truly only he could give.

I’m concerned that Tarantino’s visions are getting larger and larger and the Weinstein’s are willing to let him run free. Normally this would be a good thing, but I think Tarantino’s movies are technically getting more refined, but there is also a trend of them getting long. If his next film is even longer than Django Unchained, it’s going to need to be something incredibly special, which it likely will be. Django Unchained has been dubbed a Spaghetti Southern, a riff on the Spaghetti Western genre, and I kind of wish more filmmakers took up and made films for this new genre to match Django Unchained.

I give it 5 Samuel Jacksons out of 5.

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Reservoir Dogs (11/20/12)

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A bank robbery goes wrong the group tries to find out who is the rat of the group in Reservoir Dogs.

A group of eight men are having breakfast in a diner discussing the plans for a heist, among other things. The men include theorganizer, Joe (Lawrence Tierney), his son, “Nice Guy” Eddie (Chris Penn), Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi), Mr. Blue (Eddie Bunker), and Mr. Brown (Quentin Tarantino). Cut to shortly after the robbery and Mr. Orange is bleeding in the back of Mr. White’s car. After they arrive back at the meeting place, Mr. Pink thinks they were setup by a rat in the group.

Quentin Tarantino stormed onto the movie scene with Reservoir Dogs and 20 years later, the film still holds up incredibly well. It’s smartly written and shot and is just a raw film. Tarantino may have become a household name with Pulp Fiction, but I would argue that Reservoir Dogs is almost as good. In fact, I think I may prefer Reservoir Dogs nine times out of ten. The ensemble cast and small scale of Reservoir Dogs makes you feel like you are there in the warehouse trying to figure out what to do next alongside Mr. White and Mr. Pink while Mr. Orange is bleeding to death.

When the story begins to come together in a traditional Tarantino non-linear way, the story doesn’t feel like it’s expanding into something larger it’s just building itself up. Added to the mix is the interspersed bits of radio hits from 70s from K-Billy which give Reservoir Dogs one of the best soundtracks around. In fact, it’s one of three soundtracks I purchased physical copies of (the other two are Pulp Fiction and Drive, if you were curious).

There are times when Reservoir Dogs feels a bit rough around the edges and it is admittedly hard to tell if that is lack of experience on Tarantino’s part, low budgeting, or simply the look the film was supposed to have. There are few special effects and much of the film takes place with just a few guys on screen in a warehouse. Considering its scale, Reservoir Dogs does a tremendous job to make something special and it brought us one of the most debated directors working today.

I watched Reservoir Dogs as part of the incredible Tarantino XX blu-ray box set. While the set doesn’t have a ton of additional extras if you already own the films included, having all of Tarantino’s films in one set is pretty great for fans of his work.

I give it 5 “why am I Mr. Pink?”s out of 5.

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Pulp Fiction (7/5/12)

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Pulp Fiction tells the tales of  several different completely different, but completely intertwining events.

It would be impossible for me to detail the entirety of Pulp Fiction’s plot(s) in just one paragraph so I’ll keep it high-level. Story line #1: There are two robbers (Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer) at a diner planning to rob it. Story Line #2: Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) both work for Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) as hit men, and Vincent has to take Marsellus’ wife, Mia (Uma Thurman),out. Story Line #3: Marsellus tries to fix a fight with boxer, Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis). All of these story lines intersect at least once, continuously adding to the cast of memorable characters.

While not his first film, Pulp Fiction is what firmly placed Quentin Tarantino as a name to watch and remains high on the favorites list of many. Pulp Fiction itself is an absolute wonder to watch, a film that is simple in theory yet complex in execution. The characters (and there are a ton of characters) are incredibly memorable and even if you haven’t seen the film before, you will likely understand several popular culture references that came as a result. The early scene with Jules and Vincent talking about burgers is particularly memorable.

There are more than a few times, if you look hard enough, when the production values of Pulp Fiction show the film’s budget constraints. Luckily, this doesn’t detract from Pulp Fiction. If anything, the production cements the themes of the stories all being pulp novels. If the film was being made now it would likely suffer from “too many celebrity syndrome”, a term I am coining right now where the film suffers because it tries to cram too many big names and it just doesn’t work (an example is New Year’s Eve).

Pulp Fiction is a raw movie that will keep you guessing, even if you know what’s going to happen you likely don’t know exactly when it’s going to happen. Not as narratively complex as a Nolan film, Tarantino’s style is in perfect form here. Do yourself a favor and watch Pulp Fiction, whether it be for the first time or the tenth.

I give it 5 “Donuts, I got donuts…Hey, I know you!”s out of 5.
(it’s one of my favorite Simpsons lines and it’s a Pulp Fiction reference)

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