YEAR END STRESS? ESCAPE TO THE MOVIES!
Writer-director Quentin Tarantino’s movie has already generated a lot of attention not only for its racial elements but for its on-screen violence. Putting those elements aside, there’s no doubt about the entertainment value embedded deep in this outrageous homage to spaghetti westerns with the added elements of dark humor and the quirky dialogue Tarantino so loves. But it would be a mistake to ignore the core truths of America’s rancid racist history as the central conceit of this inflammatory, gore-soaked, sadistic, goofy, visually rich, waking dream of a movie.
Tarantino has rebooted the title and main character of Sergio Carbucci’s brutal 1966 film starring Franco Nero that spawned over 50 unofficial sequels. In the original, Nero is “the lone stranger who roams the west dragging a coffin filled with chaos towards a destiny ruled by vengeance.” Yikes! Tarantino’s story takes place in the South two years before the Civil War. Jamie Foxx is Django, a slave who connects with a bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) on the trail of the bloody Brittle brothers. Only Django can lead Schultz to his prey. But Django’s true goal is rescuing his beloved wife lost in the mire of the slave trade. The quest leads to the plantation of Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his trusted house slave Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson). For me, the best moment of the film is the pivotally emotional scene during which the song “Freedom” is heard as sung by co-writer Elayna Boynton. It gave me chills and seems likely to be nominated for Best Original Song come Oscar© time. Is there a point to the film? Yes, it’s in that song. [Note: Blue-Underground.com has available a restored disc of the original 1966 film.]
ZERO DARK THIRTY
Director Kathryn Bigelow has crafted a gripping and unexpected retelling of the sequence of events that lead to the final killing of Osama bin Laden. From a screenplay by producer Mark Boal, Bigelow lets the story unfold almost like a documentary as one lone, lowly, female (Jessica Chastain), a member of a secret, elite team becomes obsessed with locating her prey and eliminating him. I was caught up in the increasing tension and the realism of this vivid recreation of “history’s greatest manhunt for the world’s most dangerous man.” What still surprises me is that with all of America’s technology we were not able to pinpoint Osama bin Laden’s actual location and when we did during the Clinton and Bush administrations, he was not killed. What I most appreciate about this great film, besides the superb film craft, is that it is devoid of a political agenda. A lot of controversy has already been raised about the so-called “torture” scenes that may or may not have rendered valuable information. But that too is part of the legacy.
Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen seem like the perfect team for a wicked road trip trope that extolls the love, terror and wisdom of the fabled, smothering “Jewish mother.” But, what could have been, is nowhere to be seen in this watered down bonding film with barely a laugh in sight. And neither is it exactly a heartfelt or poignant trip, although both Streisand and Rogen are affable enough. He’s an inventor who has meetings across the country to sell a poorly named, organic cleaner (you can drink it) and he invites his mother along for the ride with a secret agenda in mind. The original title was “A Mother’s Curse” which is actually more accurate. Too bad they didn’t just scrap that and make the movie better fit the new, inspired and perfect title! Streisand at 70 seems to be especially relaxed and enjoying herself. Her charisma oozes off the screen. Too bad she didn’t have a chance to pull out all the stops and let loose with a character she could have so well inhabited to our great delight. Once again, the idea hinted at in the film’s title is far funnier than the actual film. Amazingly, the entire movie was shot within 45 minutes of Malibu, per Streisand’s wishes. This one’s an amiable, but lesser diversion. And if you are a Streisand fan, she can do no wrong.
WAR OF THE WORLDS: THE TRUE STORY,
This incredibly creative and clever faux documentary purports to tell the real events of the 1900 war between Earth and Mars. Yes, H.G. Wells wrote about it, but here we see the actuality in vintage interviews and amazing combat footage. It appears that a 1965 film crew captured the memories of the last survivor of the war and his attempt to find his wife during the chaos. The interviews were lost until 2006 when they were re-discovered in a vault of a condemned house. Also in the vault were reels of previously unknown – and astonishing — footage of the actual Martian invasion. This remarkable film makes it all real again. RobinESimmons@aol.com