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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Happy Holidays: Django Unchained

Django Unchained - Conversation

I've been hearing this a lot lately;  "Tarantino is back.....classic Tarantino," blah, blah, blah.  My question is; "What would you call classic Tarantino?"  Yes, he's known for his witty dialogue, mind-bending plot twists, and recently, alternative takes on important periods in U.S. and European history.  But I reiterate; "What would you call classic Tarantino?"  My answer:  There's no such thing!  People like to come off as smarter than they are, myself included, but of course I'm reviewing movies so I need to come off as a little bit of an expert, aka, dickhead.  Tarantino is Tarantino, you can't say any of his work is "classic Tarantino" because every film he makes is entirely original and nothing like the previous film he made.  Here's a practical example of two other directors to prove my point:  Take Ridley Scott.  He is known for his sci-fi epics, "Alien" and "Blade Runner."  After those two films he went in entirely different directions, please see "Gladiator" and "Matchstick Men" as examples.  Classic Scott would be sci-fi, and he went back to that with 'Prometheus" with mixed results.  Another director would be William Friedkin, known for taut thrillers and exciting crime work, please see "The French Connection" for a excellent example.  Friedkin left those movies for a while but returned with "Killer Joe" a taut thriller that keeps you on your toes with plenty of violence.  "Joe" would be classic Friedkin.  Digressing, enough talk about "Classic Tarantino." Yes, you can say a movie of his is a classic but enough saying "Classic Tarantino."  I feel it's something that someone says whose only seen "Kill Bill" and "Inglorious Basterds."  Sorry, I had to get that off my chest, but this brings me to Tarantino's newest "classic" the Southern-fried Spaghetti Western "Django Unchained."

"Django" is a modern day "Birth of a Nation," only with more guns, more talking, and the white man getting his comeuppance.  It's intriguing, noteworthy, timely, violent, offensive, and thought-provoking.  Not since 1997's "Amistad" has the issue of slavery been covered in such an unflattering light.  Whereas Steven Spielberg directed "Amistad" with his usual gravitas that includes a two-and-a-half hour history lesson, Tarantino directs with HIS usual gravitas that includes memorable characters, witty dialogue, graphic, sudden violence, but this time, with more maturity.  I might add that Tarantino had the added challenge of directing his first movie without the assistance of late-editor, Sally Menke, who passed away shortly after the premier of "Inglorious Basterds" in 2010.

Tarantino uses both the original 1960s "Django" film, starring Franco Nero, (who he also gives credit to during the opening credits for "Django") and the much-maligned (and probably still is) film "Mandingo" as a template for his newest blood-soaked revenge opus.  We follow Django, played with much restraint by Jamie Foxx, as he and Dr. King Schultz, a dentist turned bounty hunter played by Christoph Waltz, set out from Texas to Tennessee and into the dark heart of Mississippi to collect bounties and save Django's wife, Broomhilda, from the evil clutches of plantation owner Calvin Candie, played with conviction and maniacal delight by Leonardo DiCaprio.  Once again, the plot is easy to follow and unlike much Tarantino fare, is streamlined and doesn't deviate into his non-linear storytelling aside from a few flashbacks of both Django and Broomhilda.  In typical Tarantino fashion, he is also able to find humor in dark subject matter which ranges from KKK riders who are having disguise issues to cameos by the likes of Don Johnson playing a slave-owning Colonel Sanders, and Tarantino himself as an Australian slaver.

If you're a fan of Sergio Leone, or any Western, you'll love the vast landscapes that Tarantino uses to great effect and moments of tension between characters.  It's much like "Basterds" where the tension usually pays off with a grand crescendo of violence, blood, and dead bodies.  Contrary to what people might say about the violence in "Django," its nowhere as bad as some of the other stuff that is out there, but I think it's the context in which the violence is portrayed that might get some people's goats.  Aside from the physical violence, which runs the gamut of black on black, white on black, and black on white, there is also the assault of the dreaded "N-word." dum-dum-dum......the word that people still try and skate around as much as they can.  However, I don't have a problem with Tarantino's use of the word, especially in "Django." Spike Lee might have an issue with it, but when you haven't made a movie that matters since "Inside Man," I'd be a grumpy, short, black guy too.  The word pretty much takes on a character in-and-of itself.  It flows freely throughout the film, but you know what, it flowed freely in 1858, and it still flows freely today.  No matter your creed or race, everyone has said the word, either out loud or under their breathe.  George Carlin gave us the "Seven Words That You Can't Say," and thank goodness he didn't put this on the list.

Maybe it's my white guilt, but yes, I have black friends.  Does that give me the excuse to use the "N-word?" No, it doesn't.  There really isn't a need to use the word at all, but we still use it, even in casual conversation. While I was watching "Django," in a packed theater, I knew the dialogue was going to be chalk full of "the word that shall not be named," so i was waiting to hear some noise when stars like DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson starting dropping the "N-bomb" like it was going out of style.  But, alas, not a peep.  Perhaps people were prepared to hear that type of language, and if you've seen "Jackie Brown" you know that Tarantino loves using it in a casual sense.  The reason this word is effective, and makes sense in "Django," is the context.  Yes, slavers and plantation owners used this word freely (of course I don't know that for sure, but what would you expect racist slave owners to say in the 1850s).  Tarantino's dialogue has always been known to be both direct, and a zeitgeist for the time and place the story is taking place in.  He takes ugly language and somehow makes it beautiful and poetic.

The one problem I did have with "Django" was ironically enough the music.  Usually the music that QT picks is almost as important as his dialogue and characters, but this time around it seems like a cash-in.  There's original music from John Legend and Rick Ross (the first time in a Tarantino film that music was actually written for his films), and while you're not going to include music from the 1850s, why include the 808-thumping sounds of Ross.  In a film full of good ideas, this was by far the most awkward and perplexing.  It almost felt like a cheap MTV-type movie gimmick, see the trailer for "Gangster Squad" as a prime example.     

As most of Tarantino's films, there will be a lot of conversation about the violence, language, and how he takes portions of genre films that he loved and makes them his own.  But I find "Django" his most polarizing film.  You already have the line in the sand where many people think that he is tearing the scab off the topic of slavery and uncovering the ugly, but true, side to life in the South for African-Americans in the 1850s.  Others are saying the violence is too much in a post-Newtown world, while I'm saying, relax!  Sorry social crusaders, it's a movie, or maybe this time, it's a little more than a movie.  Maybe it's time to have a conversation about our ugly past.  Since the founding of our nation we have been gun-toting, slave-buying, violent jingoists.  As a society we crave violence in our films, video games, and news.  But the moment something tragic occurs it's time to tone it back.  Enough toning back, we have to face our past demons and prepare for new ones that are sure to come.  While "Django Unchained" might not be Tarantino's best film, it's an example of filmmaking where someone decides that we can't keep looking at our past through rose-colored glasses.  There were some despicable things, and people, in the work-up to the Civil War, and whether you like his style or not, no one spins a story quite like Quentin Tarantino who re-writes history again, sort of, with "Django Unchained."

Fun Fact:  The story of Broomhilda, or Brynhildr, is an old German legend that involves a Norse Valkyrie.  She was later popularized by Richard Wagner's "Ring" cycle opera series.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Simplistic Reviews Podcast: December 2012


You've all been clamoring for it, well here it is.  The Simplistic Reviews Podcast for December 2012!  In this sophomore edition we dig into the holiday season with what made us happy in the cinema during 2012.  From "The Dark Knight Rises" to the re-release of "Pulp Fiction" we touch it all, and not in that inappropriate way....okay, just over the pants, but give us a break.

We also give AMC, Nerds, "The Vow", and British -Voiced Nazis a hard time in our newest segment, "Sincerely."

All this and more on The Simplistic Reviews Podcast for December 2012.

Click on the link below to download the podcast and enjoy folks!

FOR MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY.
 
Show Notes:

 Click HERE to listen to podcast

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Crappy Holidays: Killing Them Softly

FRUSTRATING
Hey, have you ever watched a film that has great characters, great performances, great dialogue, and creative visuals, but still ends up being a totally FRUSTRATING mess?  If not and if that is your cup of tea, go ahead and watch Killing Them Softly.  A crime noir film by Andrew Dominik based on the George V. Higgins novel Cogan's Trade.  I haven't been this FRUSTRATED after seeing a film in a while.  FRUSTRATED because it is a good film that seems to do everything in it's power to be a bad one

The film stars Brad Pitt as a 'Fixer' of problems for an organized crime organizationWhen two petty criminals hold up an illegal card game, Pitt is brought in to make sure the right people pay and clean up the damage.  It is a simple premise that is drawn out by terribly slow pacing.  Killing Them Softly plays out more like a play than a novel.  With little to no surprises to be had throughout, you will find yourself wondering why it took so long to get to their payoff.  However, the largest criticism of the film, for me, is it's methods in attempting to deliver a message. 

This film is about the realistic methods of capitalism in our society today.  How we actually fight and claw to make a dollar in this world, and what consequences we suffer for our efforts However, Aaron Sorkin himself would blush at the heavy-handed way this allegory is forced down our throats.  From beginning to end, while the plot of the story tries to play out, we are audibly and sometimes visually interrupted by speeches from Barack Obama and George W. Bush talking about American society, the American dream, and the separations between the rich and the poor.  No, really.  A gangster film that doubles as a documentary for MSNBC.  The clumsy way they place these clips in the film completely took me out of the movie.  I might be stereotyping here, but I didn't think many mafia thugs listen to NPR right before tuning up a guy.  They don't make their message the elephant in the room.  They make it the animated flying elephant in the room, complete with magic feather and racially insensitive talking crows to boot.  It is a distraction, not a backdrop that hurts the picture through its unsubtly.

I threw up my hands many times while watching Killing Them Softly because it is very good when it isn't preaching to you.  Performance wise, Pitt is excellent.  James Gandolfini delivers one of the better performances you'll ever see him do.  Richard Jenkins puts me at ease, performance wise, like a confident pilot on the intercom of a turbulent flight.  His scenes with Pitt are great, but belong in a better movie.  Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn round out a cast that all seem to have brought their A game.  Unfortunately, I feel that they're all wasted on a film that I could only recommend to 1980s republicans and wannabe cinematographers. 

Director Andrew Dominik's visual style is one of the most underrated in Hollywood.  He can make you exclaim "That was cool!" with a scene as simple as someone getting out of a car.  His camera trickery, however, never gets too overbearing.  He brings a richness to the dreary city environments and an intimacy to every setup.  The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford put him on the map.  However, I'd love to see him do something even more ambitious than an indie and get him more exposure.  This film definitely won't help matters.

Killing Them Softly proves that even the perfect arrangement of film circumstances can still produce a lackluster movie.  A result that FRUSTRATES the person anticipating the the film for months and the oblivious audience member equally.  Watch it...reevaluate your political outlook on society...pay me...then tell me I'm wrong.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Happy Holidays: Jack Reacher

GRITTY
All my cards on the table.  Christopher McQuarrie is my favorite writer in the business.  He is responsible for creating Keyser Soze and all the other Usual Suspects.  He is responsible for writing and directing my favorite film of all time, The Way Of The Gun.  He is responsible for uncredited rewrites of films that range from the first two X-Men films to The Aviator.  He wrote the new Wolverine film for James Mangold and Hugh Jackman, assisted on Jack The Giant Killer for Bryan Singer, probably gonna do Mission: Impossible 5 for Tom Cruise, and all of this for good reason.  McQuarrie's dialogue, his storytelling technique, his characters all just sing to me.  He makes modern atypical stories feel GRITTY, pulpy and classic.  So, I was very excited when I heard he was adapting Lee Childs's best selling novel One Shot.  A story about an Ex Military Investigator trying to solve a brutal mass murder.  After watching, I felt completely satisfied.  However, my biases are clearly noted and I knew what I was getting into.  I can see where someone not on the McQuarrie bandwagon and unaware of the actual plot of the film going in could complain.  However, love or hate Jack Reacher, its GRITTINESS is without question.

Advertising can make or break a film.  Done right and you can break opening day records with a film that has Sam Jackson yelling at snakes while on a commercial flight.  Done wrong and you can alienate and mislead your audience with unfulfilled expectations of what they think your film will be.  I personally think the advertising for this film was done wrong.  Watching the trailer for Jack Reacher  makes you think that it is a balls to the wall action film.  It isn't.  Jack Reacher is a mystery thriller with some very GRITTY action scenes seasoned in.  A crappier version of this concept was attempted a few months back with the abismal Alex Cross.  A who-done-it missing the who part and boring us with the done it.  The slightly false advertising is a tough thing to criticize because how do you exactly promote subtlety?  How do you draw in audiences with the promise of fleshed out characters and a gripping story as opposed to fantastic visuals and explosions?  It is kind of the conundrum of the film industry in how to properly bring attention to films like Drive or The American or Jack Reacher.   Needless to say, Jack Reacher has a pretty tight mystery, a believably creepy adversary, a quick pace, and an awesome hero.

The character of Jack Reacher is built up in such a way throughout this film, he begins to supersede even the story itself.  You just want to see what he'll do next.  He's clever, he's uncompromising, he's cold.  He is a 'shortest distance between two points' type of guy like Bourne but comfortable in his own skin like Bond.  The purists of the books point to the casting of Tom Cruise as a huge problem they have with the film before even seeing it.  In the novels, Reacher is supposed to be this hulkingly huge, intimidating guy.  In other words, the opposite physical build of a Tom Cruise.  As a guy who witnessed Michael Bay torch my nostalgic preconceptions in Transformers, I understand a One Shot fan's hesitance at Cruise.  However, if you're worried if Cruise delivers the intimidation, rest easy.  Cruise can play a scary badass.  Or have you not seen Collateral?  His performance is solid and his intensity makes up for any height inadequacies he may have.  Sure the casting of a Thomas Jane or a Jeffrey Dean Morgan might have been better visually for the character.  However, the film would probably not have been made with them attached.  I'm just grateful Tom Cruise is still interested in getting films like these made and still giving it his all in these roles.  Along with Cruise, there are some polished performances from Robert Duvall, Rosamund Pike, and Richard Jenkins.  Werner Herzog, for his tiny amount of screen time, will make your skin crawl.

The action that is in Jack Reacher, is painful to watch.  Not because it is bad, but because McQuarrie makes you feel every punch, kick, crash, and bullet.  McQuarrie has ties to the Navy Seals and has shot probably the most realistic gun fight in cinema history already.  So, he knows his way around an action scene.  The great thing about his action scenes, however, is that there seems to always be a story in them.  It isn't just mindless violence.  Each blow or shot has a reason behind it and an arc to get there.  And in light of recent events in Connecticut, the opening scene provides perhaps the most gasp worthy suspenseful moment in the film.

Jack Reacher will probably get lost in the holiday shuffle with Hobbits and Djangos roaming about.  However, if you want some suspense and GRIT to top off your egg nog...hop on a bus...pack light...real light...Get Jack Reacher...watch it...then tell me I'm wrong.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy Holidays: End Of Watch

CHEMISTRY


One of the most constantly compelling occupations to base a film off of, other than a gangster, is that of a police officer.  More specifically, an officer of the LAPD.  It's why the television show The Shield was amazing for 7 seasons straight.  It's why Ethan Hawke and Denzel Washington's best work to date is arguably in the movie Training Day.  It's why I watch the Sean Penn Robert Duvall film Colors whenever I catch it on TV.  It is all common and covered ground, but the dangerous and gritty war zone of South Central LA never allows the material to get stale in our eyes.  There is a terrific show on TNT which I should probably review soon called Southland that captures the drama of being a cop in that world.  End Of Watch is Southland on steroids.  A film that sets itself apart as not just a great LA cop drama, but one of the better cop dramas ever made.  And it works primarily because of the CHEMISTRY.

Found footage films have practically become a genre unto themselves.  Done correctly, you get the enjoyably original Chronicle.  Done incorrectly, you get a Cloverfield or one of the five billion Paranormal Activities.  End Of Watch uses the gimmick as a technique but doesn't make it an overbearing centerpiece of the film.  It is not the thing that you will come away with as being fantastic after watching the film.  It is the relationship between the two leads that makes or breaks End Of Watch.  On paper, it is just a film about two friends working together and living their lives.  It sounds pretty easy to translate that concept to film.  However, if the CHEMISTRY between the two friends doesn't feel convincing or affable, the film falls apart.  Writer/Director David Ayers lucked out casting two actors who seem to have a rich and real connection.

Say what you will about Jake Gyllenhaal, but he remains one of the most fearless actors in Hollywood.  His charm and ability to fit into any role and still exude true humanity is a rare talent.  It is still a wonder to me why he isn't a more popular performer.  His character of Officer Taylor reminds me of every cop I've ever met.  This is also easily the best performance of Michael Pena's career.  Some will more than likely point to his role in Crash.  However, he just a small cog in that film.  In End Of Watch, Pena carries a lot of the film and gives A+ effort throughout.  A nod should also be given to America Ferrera's almost unrecognizable performance as Officer Orozco.  It had to be pointed out to me that it was her.  She definitely needs to do more films like this because I can see her pulling off grittier roles.

End Of Watch is a movie that I knew would be good, but still surprised me as to how good.  The story itself is somewhat predictable and even a little cliche.  However, because you like these guys so much, you forgive it and still want to follow what happens to them.  Put on your dress blues....gear up...roll out...enjoy your Christmas...watch it...then tell me I'm wrong.  

Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Holidays: Premium Rush

SILLY
When it comes to Simplistic Reviews, I'm the elder statesman of the site.  My co-reviewers possess an amazingly vast knowledge of film and television stretching back to kingdom come.  I have the slim benefit and sometimes curse of having been alive when some of these older films and shows came out.  Sometimes it gives me perspective.  Most times, as my younger sister would say, it just makes me old.  Premium Rush reminds of a time in the early 80s before Xbox and cell phones and Netflix.  A time where you were the happiest son of a bitch alive if you had a nice BMX bike with the pegs or, God willing, a go-cart.  Where films like Rad, Quicksilver or BMX Bandits, starring an adolescent Nicole Kidman by the way, could capture your imagination like the Avengers does for kids now.  Those three films were SILLY, but you'd watch them a million times on cable and try to pull off the sick tricks they do in it with your friends.  Premium Rush is a film made in the wrong decade.  Made in the wrong century for that matter.  I thought about how my brain would have melted out of my head if had I saw it at seven years old.  Now, it just seems SILLY

What is the biggest flaw of Premium Rush?  The plot essentially makes sense, but can be easily unraveled if you start pulling at it.  That's forgivable.  The main thing that makes Premium Rush feel SILLY is whenever it tries to introduce serious stakes.  This is a movie about a bike messenger alluding a dirty cop in New York City.  I have a hard time being moved in a film where anyone does a wheelie through Central Park or bunny hops over police cars.  Premium Rush has the benefit of being a 90 minute chase sequence.  However, it short circuits itself by attempting to be poignant.  Take a tip from Sly and the Expendables.  Know what you are.

I've made mention that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a soon to be Hollywood leading man.  His work in Looper and 50/50 is brilliant, he was a standout in Inception, and he ostensibly is the glue for The Dark Knight Rises.  You'd think with a film this...well...basic, he'd phone in his performance.  But he doesn't.  I think Gordon-Levitt, much like his character in Premium Rush, only knows one speed.  All the way.  He does the best with what he has to work with for the character of Wilee.  However, most of the good stuff goes to his antagonist Detective Bobby Monday, played by Michael Shannon.  If there is any reason to see Premium Rush that I could point to, it would be Michael Shannon's performance.   Monday is very reminiscent, but not better than Gary Oldman's Detective Stansfield in Leon: The Professional.  Wow, that's second time I've mentioned Leon: The Professional in as many reviews.  It does give me the opportunity the link THIS again.  Shannon is batshit crazy in Premium Rush.  I can only imagine how dark the character could have gotten if the film wasn't burdened with a PG-13 rating.  Shannon still remains my primary hope to make Man Of Steel awesome.

Visually, Premium Rush is like watching an editor's orgasm.  Well, that may be a little too graphic.  I mean, it isn't as bad as Ang Lee's Hulk or ANY Tony Scott film.  However, the Run Lola Run-like editing is frenetic, though somewhat appropriate for the material.  It turns bike accidents into a video game, which is apropos to the overall feel of the movie.  You have got to give writer/director David Koepp credit for having the balls to make an action thriller about a bike messenger.  Koepp has worked with some of the greats in Hollywood.  However, the directorial style that I think rubbed off on him the most was that of Sam Raimi.  Koepp's framing, his camera movements, his mixing of comedic visuals during tense moments is all very Raimi. 

Premium Rush is a SILLY, yet, harmless film with a good performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and a great one from Michael Shannon.  As a whole, it would have been a great concept for an ongoing webseries.  For a film, however, it is as substantive as cotton candy.  Hop on...yank off the brakes...ride like hell...watch it...then tell me I'm wrong.  



Happy Holidays: Kill Bill

Kill Bill - Feet

After the brilliance of "Jackie Brown" and showing his critics that he wasn't just an exploiter of violence, our old friend, Quentin Tarantino, stood up, brushed the dirt off of his shoulders, straightened his tie, and said "Guess what motherfu*cker, I'm going to do an old-school kung-fu flick now!  What!"

Of course that's not what he said, but it would have been bad-ass if he did nonetheless.  After all the accolades of both "Pulp Fiction" and "Brown," Tarantino decided to work on his first pet project.  A true genre film that centered around one woman and her blood-thirsty quest for revenge against a group of assassins that tried to murder her on her wedding day.  That movie(s) is "Kill Bill" or as I like to call it "Uma's Got Some Hammertoe."

*I will be reviewing these films (Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2) as one film.  Sure, I could split it up into two reviews and make you wait for the second one just like QT made us wait in the theaters, but since it's the holiday season, I'll do you guys a solid.

As mentioned above, the core of "Bill" is a revenge film, wrapped in a Shaw Bros. movie, encased in a Shakespearean tragedy, tied up with a nice bloody bow.  You can take Tarantino's three previous films and throw them out the window; "Kill Bill" is a love letter to a by-gone era of 1970s chop-socky karate flicks that members of the Wu-Tang Clan were getting high to back in the early 1990s. (side note:  RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan was the music supervisor for Vol 1.)

Across a four-plus hour epic, if watched back-to-back, Tarantino takes us on a blood-spattered journey with The Bride, our protagonist, as she extracts revenge the best way she knows how; with a samurai sword crated by Hattori Hanzo and the Five-Finger Exploding Heart Technique taught to her by Pai Mei, the mysterious karate master.  If you grew up in the golden age of karate movies, watched "The Green Hornet" or were "Protectin' Ya Neck" with the Wu back in 1993, Tarantino creates a world that you can still put in the same universe as "Pulp Fiction" and "Jackie Brown" but fashions it in a way that makes it seem other-worldly.

The plot is simple, but its the way that Tarantino weaves this revenge yarn that's the treat.  Told through a series of flashbacks and his trademark non-linear format, we see The Bride training with Pai Mei, learn how to walk again starting with just one wiggle of one toe, her vengeance on the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, and finally her face-off with Bill himself.  Oh, I almost forgot;  plenty of Uma Thurman feet through both films.  No need to head over to your local adult video store if you love feet, because Tarantino shares your tastes.

I know I might be selling this movie short, and I'm withholding a ton of information, including plot twists, but my recommendation is to stop reading this review, go out and buy "Kill Bill" and enjoy it for all it's worth.  Thurman's turn as the killer bride is good, but its funny how she all but fell off the face of Hollywood after what you might call her magnum opus.  One of David Carradine's last roles as Bill is almost as iconic as his turn as Caine in "Kung-Fu," and the fight scenes, as over-stylized as they are, are extremely fun to watch with plenty of arterial spray.  Chill.....have a pill, and watch "Kill Bill."

Fun Fact:  If you want to get creative you could call "Fox Force Five," first mentioned by Mia Wallace in "Pulp Fiction," as a precursor to the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad.  There was a Black fox, Asian fox, French fox, and two American foxes.  Coincidence?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Crappy Holidays: Lawless

FORGETTABLE
Seven minutes into watching Lawless, I knew how I'd feel about it by the end.  I could see my final thoughts bearing down on me like the subway train light did to Neo in The Matrix.  The story would get boring halfway through.  Tom Hardy would be awesome, but underutilized.  And Shia Labeouf would be less annoying, but still forced down our throats.  Suffice to say, I hate being right.  Lawless suffers from one of the big no-nos a film can have.  You can make a good movie or even a terrible one.   However, you never make it be FORGETTABLE.  Be honest and tell me you didn't say to yourself when seeing the headline for this review "Oh yeah, Shia LaBeouf did do a gangster film with Tom Hardy."  Those of you that didn't probably never heard of the film at all. 

Why is Lawless so FORGETTABLE?  Well, from the beginning, it leads us to believe we'll be learning a lot about the interesting art of bootlegging OR that we'll witness an epic confrontation between the crooked law and an infamous family.  However, it speeds past the bootlegging information in about thirty seconds while drawing out this epic confrontation FOR...EV...ER!  The pacing of Lawless is the only crime I witnessed.  Whenever it looks like you're about to get into the wheelhouse of the film, it delays you with a contrived double love story or just plain boring build up.  It hides the good moments from us while sticking us with moments we don't care about.  We see a man get his feet washed in church while drunk off of moonshine for three minutes.  But there's a castration...off camera.  Gangster films aren't supposed to hide the brutal moments from you.  Those moments make it memorable.  You remember the chainsaw scene in Scarface.  You remember the horse head in The Godfather.  The baseball bats in Casino.  Lawless drowns us in snail like pacing between its few memorable moments, and when we get there, it doesn't allow us to fully see them.    

It is a real shame this film is so lifeless because there truly is another terrific performance by Tom Hardy here.  The man is poised to be the next great Hollywood star, yet people will have missed probably half of the amazing performances he's done.  Like Bronson, or The Take or RocknRolla or this.  The only person in Lawless that holds his own with him in the acting department is Guy Pearce.  Pearce plays slithery lawman Charles Rakes in a way only a certain few could pull off.  The brief...and I mean brief...badass scenes he and Hardy have together shakes you out of the slumber caused by the film's slow pacing.  It is also good to see crazed Gary Oldman again.  His run as Jim Gordan has caused people to forget how awesomely nuts he can be.  But those guys collectively play second fiddle to the elephant in the room, Shia Labeouf.  Does Shia annoy you in this?  Yes.  Does Shia whine in this?  Yes.  Does Shia overact to cover his inability to act in this.  Yes.  However, compared to his previous work in a robotic trilogy that will remain nameless, it isn't unbearable.  He would have been better as a costar in Lawless instead of the star.  I'd rather follow Tom Hardy's more interesting Forrest than be force-fed Shia's cliched Jack. 

If you want to see a compelling true story about prohibition, watch Boardwalk Empire.  If you want to see an actually decent Shia LaBeouf performance, watch Disturbia.  If you don't have HBO, don't own Disturbia, but are at least having trouble sleeping, watch Lawless.  In the lexicon of gangster films, it falls short enough for me to name ten others better than it off the top of my head.  Godfather 1, Godfather 2, Goodfellas, Casino, Miller's Crossing, The Untouchables, Sexy Beast, The Departed, Carlito's Way, Scarface.  See?  Compared to any of those Lawless is easily FORGETTABLE.  Take some Nodoz...watch it...try to remember you saw it after...then tell me I'm wrong.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Crap/Happy Holidays: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - Experimental

The hub-bub of the holiday season is "The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey."  Yes, you get to return to Middle-Earth to see all of your favorite Middle-Earth friends, well, some of them, not the ones that you really care about however.  But this time around Middle-Earth looks a little different, of course that all depends on how much you intend on spending at your local cineplex, but more on that later in the review.  I digress, yes, "The Hobbit" is a movie that is nearly a decade in the making and while it does give fans of the books and the previous trilogy what they want, director Peter Jackson is still two movies away from the big payoff, and with his experimental new vision of The Shire and beyond, we are left to wonder if the experiment will change how we view movies in the future.  I hope this isn't the case.

Onward and upward, let's get into "The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey" the first of three planned films to tackle the classic J.R.R. Tolkien novel from 1937.  I'm not much of a reader, but I've attempted to read "The Hobbit" or "There and Back Again," and the three "Lord of the Rings" books, I really tried, but I just couldn't do it.  I would think it would be the same thing if I tried to read any of the "Game of Thrones" novels.  I much prefer something visual and I'll stick with the Cliffs Notes versions of the books.

"The Hobbit" follows Bilbo Baggins, the uncle of Frodo, our hero in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy.  A younger Bilbo is commissioned by Gandalf the Grey and sets out with a company of 13 dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield, who is out for both revenge and to take back his family's home in The Lonely Mountain.  The only problem is that a deadly dragon, named Smaug, had taken up residence in the mountain.  If you weren't into the original "Rings" trilogy I don't expect any new converts to this new "Hobbit" trilogy.  There is a lot of walking, a lot of fantasy-speak, and long dialogues of exposition.  That's no indictment to the film, I actually enjoyed it quite a bit, but I can see why people have problems with the "Rings" franchise.  Another thing that seasoned Middle-Earthers might find alarming is the lack of fighting.  There are a few scenes where you get to see that dwarves are formidable warriors, but they are mostly running away for their enemies, which include goblins, trolls, and orcs, especially Azog the Defiler (truly a bad-ass name).  The lack of hand-to-hand combat is a bit troubling, but I hope for more swordplay in the coming sequels.

Ashamed to say this, I was actually falling asleep within the first 45 minutes of the film.  It prodded along, many of the jokes fell flat, if they fell at all, and aside from the exposition in the beginning explaining the dwarves' plight, there was no action to really speak of.  After I got a wake up call, right when Bilbo had decided to make a decision that would change Middle-Earth forever, I was able to finally get into the film. As I journey further into this review I feel like I'm forgetting the elephant, or troll, in the room; both the 3-D and 48 frame per second element of "The Hobbit."

*A disclaimer:  If you haven't seen "The Hobbit" yet, and decided to see it in the theater, deciding which version of the film to see in and of itself is an adventure.  There is a standard 2-D version, a 3-D version, a standard 2-D version in 48 fps, and a 3-D version in 48 fpsKnowing is half the battle.  Go Joe!

I'll start with 3-D; no need for it in this film, or any film in my opinion.  In any type of fantasy film, you have to suspend disbelief, it's a must if you are going to enjoy anything from the genre.  However, there are points where the 3-D really takes you out of your zone and you realize that the CG is poorly super-imposed over a real backdrop of clouds, valleys, and mountains.  Think anything at Disney World, EPCOT, or the former-MGM Studios park (ironically enough, MGM was one of the distributing companies for "Hobbit").  I noticed this more near the end when the CG was obvious.

Now, the bigger controversy; 48 frames per second.  How can I describe this method of filmmaking?  I'll hand it to Peter Jackson, he has balls of New Zealand granite to try this experimental method of filming.  It's unlike anything you've ever seen before, unless you own a TrueMotion TV at your house.  Tarantino was right, this is truly TV in public.  Benny Hill fans will appreciate some of the scenes where it looks like someone in the projection booth set the fast-forward button to x1.5 and forgot to turn it off.  It's painfully obvious during scenes with a lot of action where characters are running or fighting.  You are left to wonder, what is the purpose of this technology?  Why do we need TrueMotion in movie theaters now?  We're all aware that 3-D is a fad, but hopefully this doesn't become the newest fad to hit our films in the future.

Aside from my gripes, I did enjoy "The Hobbit" once the paced picked up.  While the sword-fighting lacks, the action set-pieces are well done and keep you on the edge of your seat.  There were times during the movie that I had a hard time picking the CG from practical effects, including Azog the Defiler and his pack of roving orcs.  The return of Gollum is great, and is once again brought to stunning life by Andy Serkis.  The game of riddles segment is probably the best scene in "The Hobbit."  It will take time to get used to the larger "fellowship" this time around, and the lack of a Legolas or Gimley-type character is hard to swallow, but with the sequels in the pipeline I'm sure I'll gain an appreciation for my new dwarf friends.  Add in the plot line of a necromancer, Bilbo obtaining the One Ring, and Smaug the Dragon, and we have some wonderful adventures ahead of us the next two years.

Fun Fact:  Talk about a flip!  While both Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins) and Benedict Cumberbatch (Necromancer) appear on a collision course in "The Hobbit," they are quite the contrary in the BBC's "Sherlock," where they play Watson and Sherlock Holmes, respectively.

Happy Holidays: Lawless Heart

Lawless Heart: Intriguing
2001, 99 mins, Drama

I'm really not sure how this film got under my radar for so long, but I'm glad I finally saw it.
The other day I got home from work early, figure I watch a film and I searched on demand high and low. I found something called Lawless Heart and started to read into it. The film stars Bill Nighy (Underworld) and Tom Hollander (Pirates of the Caribbean). Well I figure that is a damn good enough reason to take a look.

The story straight from IMDB contains, Three intersecting stories about people whose lives are affected by the death of a gay restaurateur. 

The film starts off at the restaurateur's funeral, which becomes a key moment for all and you will come back to this and other moments throughout the film.

Films that warp time and connect stories of different characters, always grabs my attention. I really love to watch films like that. The reason I think I do so much, is the crew, when making a film like this creates a lot of detail both inside the story and visually throughout the film. When you have great characters  this becomes something that grabs me and keeps me around for each persons story and to me that can create a damn good film because we seem not to get that anymore in films. 


Bill Nighy, in anything this guy does is simply great. He holds the screen and brings life to characters that you just don't get out of other actors. He is always someone I look for when I'm looking for a film to watch.
Tom Hollander stands out in this film in a good way. He plays Nick, the gay restaurateur's partner. He's character's story is quiet fascinating and intriguing in a way I never really see in a film.

All in all this is a wonderful acted and written film. I just wish we had more films like this come out more often. If you're looking for a film to simply sit and relax too, then you should check it out.  


(The trailer is shit, but the film is really good)






Monday, December 17, 2012

Happy Holidays: Jackie Brown

Jackie Brown - Comeback

Pam Grier was a big star in the 1970s.  I mean she was Foxy Brown (the original Foxy Brown, not this one, even though this one did have something to do with the following film) and Coffy.  She was the epitome of "the baddest bitch" (and not this shit either).  Pardon my language, after dealing with Tarantino flicks for the past two weeks I finally feel like I'm getting into character.  The novice Tarantino head will consider either "Pulp Fiction" or "Inglorious Basterds" his masterpiece (for the record I have no issues whatsoever with either film, they are both fantastic in their own rights) but "Jackie Brown" from 1997 is by far Tarantino's most accomplished effort and showed a master at work, in complete control of his cast and story while developing an alternate universe that paralleled, or maybe even intersected at times, his "Pulp"and "Reservoir Dog," universe.

A comeback can come in many shapes and sizes.  For "Brown" this was a comeback of sorts for both Grier and Robert Forster (who was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance) and also Tarantino himself.  Between the time "Pulp Fiction" premiered in 1994 and the release of "Brown," QT had hit some rough times.  Have you ever seen "Destiny Turns on the Radio"? And while "Four Rooms" was decent enough it was still a bomb.  Come 1997, he had a lot to prove, and by God, he proves it.

Like any great genre film, the plot is simple, yet complex.  We have an airline stewardess, played by Grier, who works for a small-time pimp and drug-runner named Ordell Robbie, played by Samuel L. Jackson (and for my money the best performance of his career).  Two ATF agents bust the stewardess and she heads to prison.  Enter the middle-age bail bondsman, who falls head over heels for our stewardess who has a plan to put an end to Robbie's career.  We have twists, double and triple-crosses, and enough quirky characters and quotable lines to shake a stick, or an AK-47, at.  "Brown" is an exercise in blaxplotation for the mod-set.

What makes "Brown" special is the fact that normally when books are taken and transformed from the written word to the silver screen, it's never done as good and you always hear the same comment, "the book was better."  Well, when the author of said book that you are adapting says that this is his favorite adaptation of his work, you got something good.  "Brown" is based on Elmore Leonard's novel "Rum Punch" from 1992.  You might remember another Leonard novel that was adapted shortly before "Brown," which was "Get Shorty" from 1995, starring John Travolta, who was Vincent Vega in "Pulp Fiction."  It's the circle of life baby.

Overall, if you want the perfect Tarantino flick to check out during the holidays, or anytime for that matter, it has to be "Jackie Brown."  While it might be the most unappreciated of his film repertoire, it's an exercise in writing, acting, and direction at the genre's best.

Fun Fact:  Have you ever payed close attention in "Pulp Fiction" to the music faintly played (between 2:30-2:35) in the hallway where Jules and Vincent are discussing foot massages?  That song is "Strawberry Letter 23" which you can also hear in this scene in "Jackie Brown."

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Happy Holidays: Love Actually

WARM
Full disclosure.  I'm not the biggest fan of the holiday season.  I pretty much peter out after Thanksgiving and pray for New Years to start.  Pretty sure me and the Grinch are cousins.  Full disclosure.  I'm not the biggest fan of romantic films.  They are generally very color by numbers predictable or tragic for tragedy's sake.  So, imagine my surprise when a film came along that combined both of my dislikes and still managed to knock my socks off.  Love Actually is that film.  For years I've held it up as my favorite, most watchable chic flick and my second favorite Christmas movie.  I'll get to the first later.  No matter how many times I watch it, I'm left with a WARM feeling that actually gets me in the holiday spirit...if only for a little while.

Love Actually comes to us from writer and, then, first time director Richard Curtis of Bridget Jones's Diary and Four Weddings and a Funeral fame.  The film is a collection of interwoven stories that explores the different aspects of love during the Christmas Season.  The stories range from slapstick comedy to heartfelt drama.  Some are hit and some are miss.  As a whole, however, they all compliment each other perfectly.

Love Actually set the ensamble films bar too high for puke inducing copycats like He's Just Not That Into You, Valentine's Day and New Years Eve to come close to reaching.  Ggack!  Just reading the titles of those films almost made me throw up a little.  You might think Love Actually out does those films because the quality of actors in it are amazing.  Liam Neeson, Alan Rickman, Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, Keira Knightly, Martin Freeman, Bill Nighy, Emma Thompson, Laura Linney, Rowan Atkinson and many more.  However, I think its because Curtis just knows how to use his talent in the proper way.  Each actor is the right fit for their roles.  They aren't haphazardly thrown in to parts that we're forced to accept because they're Zach Efron or Taylor Swift.  If each side story were a full length film, the actor in place would still be properly cast.  The film, as a result, thrives because of these performances.  Especially those by Neeson, Rickman and Thompson.

Neeson's story about a suddenly widowed husband and his stepson is the most dramatic driving force in the film.  It is an almost frightening coincidence that this scenario would actually happen to Neeson later in life.  The story is extremely well done and has a rare great child actor performance in Thomas Sangster.  Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson's tale about a waning marriage and infidelity always evokes a different feeling in me every time I watch it.  You should really hate Rickman for straying from his wife.   However, Curtis presents the circumstances in such understandable way that you'll find yourself sympathizing.  Though, the tale that is sure to put a smile on your face has to be the one about Bill Nighy's aging rock star Billy Mack.  Of all the stories that I wished had a full length film or sequel, it would be Mack's.  Nighy's obvious nods to Mick Jagger and his brazen attitude toward those around him are easily the comedy high points of the film.

Love Actually is a great film to see if you want to feel good about Christmas but avoid the overly cliched shlock we're usually bombarded with.  I've made a habit of watching it every year.  I, then, immediately plop on Die Hard right after in order to keep my man card.  What?  Its my favorite Christmas film.  Don't judge me.  Watch it...watch your heart grow three sizes that day...plop on Die Hard after just to be safe...then tell me I'm wrong.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Crappy Holidays: The Shooting in Newtown, Connecticut

*This is purely a commentary on the tragedy in Newtown, CT.  In no way do I condemn the 1st and 2nd Amendment, or any amendment of the Constitution.  Now is the time to reflect and be with friends and family, especially during this holiday season.*

This is Matthew Stewart from Simplistic Reviews.  On behalf of Simplistic Reviews and my two friends and co-reviewers, DJ Valentine and Justin Polizzi, I would like to send my heartfelt sympathy and compassion to all the fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, grandparents, and friends affected by the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.  This is another tragic reminder that we continue to live in a dangerous and jaded society where it's not only easy to obtain a gun (either through theft or legal means) and that mental illness and its treatment are sadly undervalued in this country.

Yes, people have drive and desire, and will do anything to get their point across, no matter how sick and deplorable it might be. However, you can't tell me with a straight face that Adam Lanza, the individual that carried out an atrocity that killed nearly 30 people, including 20 children between the ages of 5-10 years old, wasn't in need of some help. Yes, I do not know the facts of the crime at this point, and none of us will ever know what was going through his mind before, during, and after his crime was committed, but when will Washington, both Democrats and Republicans, see that we obviously have a problem in this country with the ability to obtain guns so easily and with our healthcare system for the mentally ill.

*Link to Review for Elephant*

I recently had my grandfather pass away nearly two weeks ago and I attended his funeral last Saturday.  It was a sad day for my family.  It always hurts to lose a love one, but imagine losing your child, at school, during the holiday season.  Imagine you get a call from an emergency official that you need to hurry down to the school you just dropped your son or daughter off.  You gave them a kiss and a hug before they jumped out of the car and handed them their lunch.  "I love you, I'll see you at 2 o'clock."  No, that parent will never see their child alive again.  No more walks to the park to play on the big yellow slide or fly a kite.  You won't get to see their face when they open their gifts on Christmas or Hanukkah, or ride their bike for the first time.  You won't see them walk down the aisle at their high school and college graduation, or their wedding.  Families have been broken, forever.

This isn't the time to discuss politics, we need to have respect for the families and friends who have lost their innocence and loved ones.  Reporters also need to have respect for the children and families and lay off the old adage "If it bleeds, it leads."

Will we have another tragedy of this magnitude in the future?  Unfortunately, we will.  Its sad to say that, but if you're prepared to accept the truth, the action will be just a little easier to swallow.  I'm not a father or a brother to a much younger sibling (my sister is 24 right now) and in no way can I comprehend the gravity of this horrific event, but as a society we can't let this stop us from living our lives.  We can't shut ourselves off to the world or stick our head in the sand.  Our kids will continue to go to school, we'll continue to go to the movies, we'll continue to live.  Hug your kids, love your family, but also tell them what happened.  Make them aware of the world that they live in is a dangerous and at times, unforgiving place.  Be honest with them, and treat them like kids, but with a little more respect.  Kids are smarter than we give them credit for, even the ones that run into plate glass windows and blow spit bubbles.  Be the parent that will tell them the truth and prepare them for the world they are going to inherit one day.  The tragedy is that the parents of 20 children will not be able to tell their children the same.

If you would like to help the families and the community of Newtown, CT, please click here to find out how to assist. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Happy Holidays: Pulp Fiction

Pulp Fiction - Coolest

Okay, you're the new kid on the block, you just wowed people in Sundance and Cannes with "Reservoir Dogs," you completed a script for "True Romance" and worked on a script with Oliver Stone for "Natural Born Killers."  What do you do next if you're Quentin Tarantino?  Well, you help resurrect John Travolta's career, create a film that will change cinema forever, and turn Samuel L. Jackson into a Hollywood leading man (of sorts).  You simply create "Pulp Fiction," for my money, the coolest film ever made.

To create the coolest film ever, you have to start with a cast, and "Fiction" gives a Woody Allen movie a run for its money cast-wise.  From Eric Stoltz, to Christopher Walken, and everyone in-between, you could say that everyone in this film gives the performances of their lives.  No one is mailing it in, and while some of the dialogue might come off a bit hokey and a little too noir-ish, the actors are giving it with conviction and believability.

To keep the cool factor going, you have to know you're genre, and in Tarantino's case, he uses every genre he's ever loved and it shows.  You have blaxploitation, exploitation, french new wave, action, rape-revenge, buddy movie, the list can go on and on.  While you can call "Pulp" a drama film, I'd almost like to call it a homage to the essence of film.  It's the best of what the genre can be in a tight 2 hour and 50 minute package.

As a side note, as much as people look into the film for it's religious undertones, (Marcellus Wallace is the Devil, and Vincent and Jules are sent to get his soul back) get off of that already.  At the roots, "Pulp" is a grindhouse film at its best, and looking for deeper meaning in a grindhouse film is like looking for a virgin in the Catholic Church.  Get off your high horse cinephiles, for all we know it's Wallace's dirty laundry in the briefcase and it's yellow because he pissed all over it.  Boom!  Mystery solved.

As for the plot of "Pulp" it goes a little like this.  Two hitman, Vincent and Jules, are sent by their boss, Marcellus Wallace, to procure a package from four men in an apartment.  Needless to say things get bloody, and both Vince and Jules need to lay low and dispose of a headless corpse in a trunk.  The plot moves to a series of vignettes that involve Vince, a boxer named Butch, played by Bruce Willis (I would also call this film a comeback of sorts for Willis as well) and a date with Vince and Wallace's wife, Mia.  Needless to say, things don't go so well with that either.  Moving along Butch pulls a fast one on Wallace when he doesn't throw a boxing match in which Wallace loses a great deal of cash.  While Butch plots his escape from Los Angeles he gets sidetracked in the search for his missing gold watch.  Not to sound like a broken record but things turn sour for Vince, Butch, and Wallace himself.  Just like Tarantino's previous outing, "Reservoir Dogs" the story is told in a non-linear fashion that keeps you guessing and even when characters meet their end you still end up seeing them again.

While many call "Pulp" the best film in Tarantino's repertoire; it's a tough call for me.  It's groundbreaking in the development of indie cinema throughout the 1990s, and proved that good writing can be both dramatic, smart, cheesy, and funny as hell, but I'll cover my favorite film of his in a future review.  Tarantino turned the mundane conversations of what they call Whoppers in Paris into high art and created a cultural zeitgeist.  He turned the inhuman into people that we can relate to, and while there is a good amount of violence in "Pulp" it never feels gory or overdone in a way that seems unneeded to move the story along.

You know how when you were a kid and you would tell someone "Hey, if you looked up the definition of stupid you'd find a picture of you next to it."  Well, if you looked up coolest you would find a picture of Samuel L Jackson holding a 9mm with Tarantino standing behind him like a proud parent.

Fun Fact:  Recognize who played the waiter Buddy at Jack Rabbit Slims?  Well, that was Steve Buscemi, who played Mr. Pink in "Reservoir Dogs."

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Happy Holidays: Word Association 2nd Edition


In this excerpt from the inaugural episode of the Simplistic Reviews Podcast, Justin Polizzi volunteers to play Word Association.  Find out how he does.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Happy Holidays: Reservoir Dogs

Reservoir Dogs - Cool

Disclaimer:  Reviews this month will either be listed as Crappy or Happy Holidays.  This in no way is saying that certain movies are bad or good, but rather will make you feel good or happy, or depressed or crappy, but on occasion crappy will mean just that, a big pile of crap.  Glad we cleared that up, now enjoy the reviews.

20 years ago I was eight years old, and Quentin Tarantino had made his first film and it was playing at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah.  Being eight I was more interested in Nintendo, Saturday Morning Cartoons, and watching "The Goonies" for the 100th time.  Tarantino in no way had been engrained into my brain....yet.  Come 1994, "Pulp Fiction" is released.  I'm still a little too young to fully grasp that two movies had been made within two years of each other that would change the way I thought, wrote, and viewed film.  But more on that later, let me tell you why "Reservoir Dogs" is the coolest movie to grace cinema in the last 20 years.

This past Tuesday I went to my local multiplex to see "Dogs" as it was intended, on the big screen (thank you Fathom events for giving audiences the chance to see classic movies again in a theater setting).  It was quite an experience to think this is how people were watching this same movie 20 years ago at Sundance or even Cannes.  It was incredible to be honest.  The crowd looked a little young, like scenester hipster kids who just heard about QT after "Inglorious Basterds."  But I digress.

"Dogs" is the tale of six strangers handpicked by crime boss Joe Cabot, played by Lawrence Tierney, to hold up a jewelry store and steal a large stash of diamonds.  Without fail, the heist turns sour with several of the men getting killed and the survivors questioning what happened, and thinking that one of the crooks might actually be a police informant.  Simple right?  Well, it actually is a relatively common plot device used in crime films, but Tarantino weaves a narrative that is anything but.

The main thing that sets Tarantino's movies apart from other common fare is the narrative construction that moves forward and backwards through time with ease.  Sure, flashbacks are used where we meet Mr. White, played by Harvey Keitel, Mr. Blonde, played with maniacal perfection by Michael "why don't I get more work in Hollywood" Madsen, and Tim Roth as Mr. Orange, but the non-linear storyline was something relatively new in Hollywood 20 years ago, and while many try to duplicate it, rarely can anyone replicate it like Tarantino.

Normally in films with murderous criminals we don't feel remorse or anything in common with them, but its funny that as soon as these criminals open their mouths and start talking about the meaning of a Madonna song, why tipping in a restaurant is a biased idea, or whether Pam Grier played the role of Christie Love, you forget that these guys are bad guys because they talk just like you and I.  This is another trademark of Tarantino; he makes you feel empathy for characters that can be supremely evil and sadistic, and by sharing a common bond, such as love for Blaxplotation movies, or music from the 1970s, you feel a kinship, which is incredible even while someone is having their ear cut off with a straight razor.

While "Dogs" might not be Tarantino's magnum opus (I'll reserve that for another review upcoming), it still stands as a touchstone for independent film in the early 1990s, and encouraged young filmmakers to go out and try their hands at movie-making.  Without "Dogs" you probably wouldn't have movies like "The Usual Suspects,"  "The Way of the Gun," or "Lucky Number Slevin."  While all of those films are cool, they will never have the far-reaching influence of "Reservoir Dogs."

Fun Fact:  A reference to a female thief named "Alabama" is made by Joe Cabot to Mr. White.  You might remember another female criminal named Alabama Whitman from the Tarantino-penned "True Romance" from 1993. 

Crappy Holidays: The Man With The Iron Fists

CONVOLUTED 
I am usually in favor of the person at the helm of a particular genre film loving the material they are making.  You put Joss Whedon, a man who has comic book blood running through his veins, in charge of The Avengers, you get a film that is highly enjoyable to the uninitiated while still respecting and indulging the built in fan base.  You put Marc Webb, who is known mostly for music videos and 500 Days Of Summer, in charge of Spider-Man, you get a Twilight-esque, tweentastic, crapfest that commits every single atrocity a superhero film critic uses to devalue the genre.  So, I was very interested when I heard RZA, a man who has loved martial arts films his entire life, was actually doing one.  Unfortunately, The Man With The Iron Fists turns out to be a film with good intentions but poor execution.

For those who don't know, RZA is a founding member of the 90s rap group The Wu Tang Clan.  Watching any of their videos or listening to any of their song lyrics should illustrate how much he is into martial arts films.  Fellow martial arts film fan Quentin Tarantino even sought RZA's help to pick out the proper songs for his film Kill Bill Volume 1.  A friendship grew and led to many collaborations.  The culmination would be RZA's seven year dream project The Man With The Iron Fists.  RZA wrote the script under the watchful eye of Tarantino and fellow friend Eli Roth, and took on directing duties himself.  With all that history and love, with all those helping hands, it is a shame that the film itself turns out to be such a CONVOLUTED mess.  There are so many storylines happening at once with so many vaguely explained characters, you'll be hard pressed to follow along.  This weakens any stakes the film tries to set up and creates nothing but confusion for the audience.  I'm a pretty attentive guy when it comes to movies, but even I found myself muttering "Is that guy a good guy or a bad guy?" more often than not.  Robert Rodriguez's films Planet Terror and Machete stumbled into the same problem.  However, those films have a tongue and cheek approach throughout that distracts you from their overly confusing plots.  The Man With The Iron Fist is not light enough to excuse the clutter.

So, why bombard the audience?  I believe RZA does this in a futile effort to world-build.  To create a universe that he can transport us to and manipulate it's rules.  However, he is not nearly as experienced enough of a filmmaker to do that.  To really pull this film off he'd have to have the scope creating skills of a Chris Nolan or an Ang Lee with the character creation understanding of a Quentin Tarantino or a Guy Ritchie.  He does not.  He would have been better off making this script simple.  A revenge flick or an epic quest.  Not a Shaw Brothers version of Snatch.

The performances are a mishmash as well.  You have RZA as the lead playing everything completely straight, while Russell 'Why The Hell Am I Here?' Crowe clowns around like its an SNL sketch.  Now, I can't completely blame RZA for Crowe's performance.  I'm not sure how much direction a hip hop mogul can seriously give an Oscar winner before being laughed off his own set.  It might have been a better idea to just have unknowns in these parts to give RZA more control over the performances.  That or have producer Eli Roth direct the film outright.  His lack of understanding in how to direct his talent shows. 

The one positive I can give The Man With The Iron Fists is that its nice to look at.  The cinematography is descent and the action scenes are very fun.  How much of it was RZA and how much of it was stunt choreographer Corey Yuen and Eli Roth is debatable.  The CGI feels slightly out of place at times, but not any more than the hip hop soundtrack. 

The Man With The Iron Fists is the text book example of someone biting off more than they can chew.  RZA is a gigantic fan of the martial arts film genre and you can see his love for it buried underneath the chaos.  However, a more tempered and measured approach to the story and direction could have possibly helped make a better film.  If you want to see this done right, watch Kill Bill Volume 1 or 2.  If you want to see it done not so right...drink some honey nectar...watch The Man With The Iron Fists...then tell me I'm wrong. 


The Simplistic Reviews Podcast: November 2012


Welcome all to the inaugural Simplistic Reviews Podcast.  This is something that we had been planning for a while, and we finally got it done.  This edition we talk James Bond, namely, his newest adventure "Skyfall," and remember some of his greatest villains and which James Bond theme song speaks to us.  Not in that creepy way that your uncle used to when he was drunk during Thanksgiving.

We also talk TV, where DJ explains why "Arrow" is his newest guilty pleasure, Justin talks about balls dropping, and why Jewish people aren't allowed to watch "Mad Men," while Matt asks "Why is AMC so stupid!"

We also wonder "What is it about Ghost Dad that gets our motors revving?" And "What was Morgan Freeman really doing during his voice over sessions on "March of the Penguins?"

All this and more on The Simplistic Reviews Podcast for November 2012.

Click on the link below to download the podcast and enjoy folks!
FOR MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY.

 Click HERE to listen to podcast
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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Happy Holidays: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

SLEEPER

Robert Downey Jr. is one of the most iconic actors working in film today.  He has solidified himself in the role of Tony Stark the same way Christopher Reeves did with Clark Kent.  But that wasn’t the expectation at first.  Jon Favreau had to fight with Marvel to get Downey Jr. in the role that put their studio on the map.  Whether it was because of drug problems, legal problems, or relevancy problems, Downey Jr. was a hard sell.  However, Favreau fought for him anyway.  Why?  I like to think Favreau stumbled upon the 2005 SLEEPER Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.  A film that was the catalyst for Downey Jr.’s reemergence, but also excellent on it’s own merits. 

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a novel adaption from veteran writer and freshman director Shane Black.  Don’t know who that is?  Well, perhaps you weren’t alive during the late eighties or early nineties and never saw any of the Lethal Weapons, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Last Action Hero, or The Last Boy Scout.  Perhaps you only heard of him when he was named as the writer/director of Iron Man 3 and were puzzled by the choice.  For the former, I recommend you do some netflixing.  For the latter, the notoriously known script Nazi Robert Downey Jr. approved him for Iron Man 3 because of their work together on Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.  Black just gets Downey Jr.’s voice and vice versa.  The Tony Stark we know and love might have been born through this collaboration. 

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a crime comedy of mistakes and unusual circumstances.  Very similar to, but not as blissfully odd as The Big Lebowski.  A funny coincidence, seeing as the stars of both starred together in the 1st Iron Man film.  Instead of a genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, Downey Jr. plays a petty thief with an affinity for magic who is mistakenly recruited to solve a mystery.  Trust me, the journey you take to get there is so worth the trip.  You will find yourself laughing one moment and riveted the next.

Like The Big Lebowski, it isn’t really the plot that makes Kiss Kiss Bang Bang good.  It’s the performances.   Robert Downey Jr. is of course great.  He’s charming, witty, snarky, and surprisingly moving in some moments.  It is hard to have a film with narration, especially not done by Morgan Freeman, that avoids being pretentious and out of place.  Downey Jr.’s narration succeeds with that and turns out as one of the most funny and original ones you’ll ever hear.  His costars, no matter how small their roles, are solid.  None more so than Val Kilmer.  This is my favorite Val Kilmer role.  Yes, even more than Iceman.  Gay Perry is an amazing character that could have easily been botched.  However, Kilmer nails every single line he has.  His chemistry with Downey Jr. is magnetic.  I personally would kill to have a sequel with these two.  The greatness of Kilmer’s exchanges with Downey Jr. rivals Jude Law’s and even Gwyneth Paltrow's

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a SLEEPER comedy that many moviegoers may have missed.  Those that finally do see it, more often than not, come away asking themselves, “Why haven’t I seen this film before?”  Watch it…ask yourself that question…then tell me I’m wrong.  

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