Tuesday, December 25, 2012

An Endless, Thoughtless Bloodbath: Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino, 2012)

by James Hansen 

Over the past few weeks, the internet has been abuzz with critics, pundits, and politicians considering the moral, ethical, and political implications in regard to the representation of violence – particularly torture – in Kathryn Bigelow’s highly acclaimed Zero Dark Thirty. Interest in the movie has grown in large part because of these discussions, almost making an actual analysis of the film itself a moot point. (I’ll still have something to say about Zero Dark Thirty once it opens locally in Columbus.) Not garnering the same amount of controversy prior to its release – aside from a breif dustup when director Spike Lee commented that he will not be seeing the film – is Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. Recalling both films now, I have to admit the outrage(ous) [responses] to the films feel somewhat backward. What I want to offer here is a bit polemical as to the reactions each film has received (again, leaving a direct critique of ZD30 for later) which stand as indicative of the relative merits of each film. That is, if Zero Dark Thirty has been, at the very least, a “conversation starter,” a lack of furor over Django Unchained reveals an utter lack of seriousness, the complete absence of even a veiled attempt at critical dialogue, in Tarantino’s blaxploitation-slavery-revenge epic. 

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Friday, December 21, 2012

And Must I Now Begin To Doubt?: On the Disappointments of "Les Miserables" (Tom Hooper, 2012)

by James Hansen

I suppose I would be remiss if I didn’t mention at the start of this review that I grew up as something of a Les Miserables nerd. It’s one of the first (traveling) Broadway shows I ever saw. In high school, I only had a few tapes in my car to listen to on my 20 minute drive to school and the Les Mis soundtrack was one of them. I still randomly quote lyrics from “The Confrontation Song.” So, when several friends, unaware of this fact, wanted to watch the movie, I clammed up, got a bit jittery, and could hardly contain my hysterically nervous trepidation of watching this thing – my thing – with other people. Naturally, they found this hilarious, pressed forward, and demanded we watch it together. We did. And it wasn’t pretty. In fact, I suppose I would be remiss if I didn’t say that this fan of the show found it completely disappointing. 

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Friday, December 14, 2012

The Hobbit (Peter Jackson, 2012)

by James Hansen 

"...Jackson’s unwillingness to streamline anything leaves The Hobbit feeling more like a special-effect sledgehammer set to automatic and left to bludgeon its audience for an interminable running time." 

It’s a little strange writing a review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit because anyone who has seen his Lord of the Rings trilogy (which is pretty much everyone) already knows exactly how this movie is going to look and operate. Of course, Jackson is using newer technology here – his choice to shoot in 3D 48 fps has been much discussed – and there are new adventures and creatures, but, at the same time, the color pallette, the swooping landscape shots, the near-identical score are all present. Even more than Lord of the Rings, the technology permits Jackson’s supreme indulgence with effects, here building an almost completely animated world in which the characters walk around, eat, drink, walk, run away, fall through things, fight things, and triumph. 

Bilbo’s heroes journey is extremely familiar, but, of course, this isn’t the point at all. The narrative is merely a cardboard cutout for Jackson’s technical wizardry. The Hobbit nearly abandons its narrative every 15 minutes or so to take us into the world of a new creature – glimpses of spiders and dragon, the already familiar home of elves, rock monsters, orc armies, etc. Jackson desperately wants to create an entire world here, but a world not established by space but rather by number of small things in it. Given the film’s epic scale, it does seem a bit strange that, aside from the aforementioned helicopter shots, there is little spatial orientation, often shooting in close ups to reveal the “naturalism” of the creatures rather than establishing the dimensions in which the story takes place. 

Still, this isn’t to say there is no excitement – there are several spectacular sequences – but Jackson’s unwillingness to streamline anything leaves The Hobbit feeling more like a special-effect sledgehammer set to automatic and left to bludgeon its audience for an interminable running time. More so, perhaps a credit to the 48 fps, the motion and color of the creatures is so fascinating and vivid (good thing!) that the main characters seem almost entirely out of place (bad thing!) Undoubtedly, there remains a tension between the effects and the actors, the technology and the narrative. That is, as the creatures become more “realistic,” the actors look more and more artificial. Indeed, if The Hobbit shows us anything, it’s that this fantasy stars a bunch of dudes playing dress up. 

Grade: C+ Continue reading...