Archive for Christoph Waltz

Spectre: Messy, Long and Boring Cover Up the Fun.

Posted in 6, Action, Drama, New Releases, Ratings, Reviews, Thriller with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 27, 2015 by mducoing

Spectre - IMDBCinematic Law: long and anxiously awaited sequels typically disappoint. Often catastrophically. While not every sequel is a plunge into the abyss (T2, Aliens are just two superiors films), these are often exceptions that prove the rule.

Spectre, while technically the fourth installment of the Daniel Craig Bond franchise, is often considered as the sequel to the mega-hit Skyfall, the final act to director Sam Mendes’ Bond Oeuvre. Viewed in this light, our mentioned cinematic law remains firmly intact.

Premise: Bond is on a trail to uncover a sinister organization at the heart of all his woes. Result: Disappointing.

Spectre finds Bond (Daniel Craig) -some time after M’s (Judi Dench) death- in Mexico City on the Day of the Dead, stalking a villain of some sort. A minor chase then ends with a thrilling helicopter battle above the crowded Zocalo resulting in the death of said villain.

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Big Eyes: Smaller Than Expected

Posted in 6, Drama, New Releases, Ratings, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2014 by mducoing

Big EyesDirector Tim Burton (Alice in Wonderland, Sleepy Hollow), working with writing team Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, delivers the extraordinary story of Margaret Keane in a relatively ordinary way. All lead in with hardly any pay-off, this film –while generally a good time – misses big when it counts.

Premise: A drama about painter Margaret Keane’s personal awakening, after her then husband, Walter, attempts to take credit for her talent. Result: A fair film that struggles and ultimately tumbles with too much build up without the right resolution.

This is the story of an artist struggling to find herself her voice in a man’s world. Set in the late 1950s and into the 60s, Margaret Ulbrich (Amy Adams), a recently divorced mother flees an oppressive husband and lands herself in San Francisco, with only her daughter Jane and her childhood friend DeeAnn (Krysten Ritter) for support.

Margaret sits on a tremendous talent: the facility to paint “big eyed” waifs, a tantalizing image that haunts the screen. But she is woefully undiscovered and it is not until she meets Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), that her luck begins to change.

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The 85th Academy Awards Recap!

Posted in Articles, Award Ceremonies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2013 by mducoing

AA-85The 85th Academy Awards held Sunday, February 25, 2013, managed to finish the Ben Affleck apology tour by giving the night’s top honors to ArgoArgo also took home Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Editing to firmly place it in tie for second place with Les Misérables behind the night’s bigger (if only slightly) winner, Life of Pi, with 4 awards.  Life of Pi took home Best Score, Cinematography, and Visual Effects as well as the coveted Best Director award for Ang Lee.  This marked Ang Lee’s second win in the Best Directory Category, also having won for Brokeback Mountain.

In a surprise to no one, Anne Hathaway took home the Best Supporting Actress prize while Jennifer Lawrence continued her run and snatchedSM2 the Best Actress Award. Probably the most memorable moment about either of those awards was a hilarious skit involving Seth McFarlane and Sally Field.

But in a a crushing disappointment to those who actually thought The Best Actor should win that award, Daniel Day-Lewis’s unstoppable “street-cred” topped what was a stronger, perhaps lifetime performance by Joaquin Phoenix in The Master.  Sadder still, people are trying to make “DDL” work – he’s won three Oscars people – say the full name!  Waltz won for Django Unchained (he had previously won for Inglorious Basterds) in a remarkable performance yet somehow that entire category seemed up-for-grabs, even as Tommy Lee Jones finally found a few smiles in his back pocket – a little too late Mr. Jones.

In addition and worthy of note, Quentin Tarantino won his sceond Best Original Screenplay award for Django Unchained, his first win since Pulp Fiction in 1994.

Here is the full listing of category wins:

BEST PICTURE: Argo
BEST DIRECTOR: Ang Lee, Life of Pi
BEST ACTOR: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
BEST ACTRESS: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Christoph Waltz,  Django Unchained
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Django Unchained
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Argo
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: Brave
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: Amour
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: Searching for Sugar Man
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Life of Pi
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: Life of Pi
BEST ORIGINAL SONG: Skyfall” from Skyfall 
BEST EDITING: Argo
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN: Lincoln
BEST COSTUME DESIGN: Anna Karenina
BEST MAKEUP: Les Misérables
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: Life of Pi
BEST SOUND MIXING: Les Misérables
BEST SOUND EDITING: Skyfall and Zero Dark Thirty
BEST ANIMATED SHORT: Paperman
BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT: Curfew
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT: Inocente

****Also, see 2011 winners here.*****

Django Unchained: A Fairytale in the World of Historical Horror and Awesome from Start to Finish!

Posted in 9, Action, Comedy, Drama, Ratings, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2013 by mducoing

DjagnoWriter/director Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2) has created yet another masterpiece with Djano Unchained. From the catchy, poignant soundtrack, to the clever dialogue to the exhilarating action and brilliant performances, Django is an unforgettable thrill ride unlike others we’ve seen.

Premise: Bounty Hunter Shultz and ex-slave Django team up to bring criminals to Justice and save his wife, Broomhilda. Result: An action-packed fairytale that fully exceeds expectations.

The film focuses on Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave who has been sold away from his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) by the vile Old Man Carrucan (Bruce Dern) after a failed escape.  He is discovered in the winter of 1858 by bounty hunter Dr. King Shultz (Christoph Waltz) after a long, arduous journey and -in one of the most humorous introductory segments in recent film history- brought into the life of a bounty hunter.

Ultimately, as the story unfolds, Django is given a proposal: help Shultz find and kill the Brittle Brothers and he will set Django free.  The scenes around this first pursuit are consistently gripping and hysterical and the characters such as Big Daddy (Don Johnson) are spot on.  They essentially focus on a discomforting juxtaposition of misery and situational comedy that reduces hideous scenes of slavery to absurd events while still somehow preserving a respect for their true darkness.  And this only sets up the phenomenal story to come.

As the two become friends and partners in a winter’s long campaign of bounty hunter justice, Django tells Shultz more of his wife. This reminds Shultz of a German fairytale of a warrior who saves his beloved bride Broomhilda ater undergoing inexplicable misery to do so; their friendship, as well as the desire to participate in this real life “fairytale”, propels Shultz to pledge his support in the rescue plot. A plot that must be seen to be believed.

The true intrigue therefore centers on “Hildy” who has been purchased by the repellent Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) and kept on his infamous Candieland Ranch in Mississippi. Their plan is to masquerade as Mandingo traders and acquire Hildy under the guise of acquiring a fighter from Candie.  While the rouse seems fool proof, it is a difficult undertaking when pitted against Candie and his allies including the vile servant Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), who is much more than meets the eye.

Tarantino does a fantastic job of pacing through his signature directorial style that seems to dramatize every scene beyond life while still preserving a gritty sense of reality through grainy, edgy cinematography. Each scene is more intriguing than the last not only filled with action, but brilliant, unique character development and tantalizing dialogue.

The acting in this film is of particular note.  Jamie Foxx delivers one of his better, more intriguing performances through Django, consistently demonstrating poise, humor, wit, strength and fragility in a single character and making audiences root for him throughout.  He becomes our hero and is everything an action star should be.

Waltz is flawless.  After winning his first Academy Award for an evil German (Nazi) in Tarantino’s last film (Inglorious Basterds), he now plays a good German (so to speak), a man with implacable manners and pedigree yet capable of shooting a man at point-blank range without batting an eyelash. He delivers every line with stunning facility and transforms the character on screen into one of the most memorable of the decade.  This may be the best performance of his career.

DiCaprio is also quite strong in his role, delivering just the right amount of dainty and darkness, offering a few scenes where his menacing, smug demeanor is deliciously unbearable.

Come into my parlor...

Come into my parlor…

But it is Samuel L. Jackson who delivers what can only be described as evil.  His role as Stephen is nuanced with countless dimensions, often exceeding all expectations.  He is both bumbling fool and brilliant mastermind but in each scene he captures audience attention unapologetically.  In one scene in particular, Jackson becomes a monster, frightening observers to their very core. 

It should be noted that there has been much complaint of Tarantino’s fairly liberal take on factual events in Slavery America.  Director Spike Lee, in fact, while pointing out that he was boycotting the film, argued, “”All I’m going to say is that it’s disrespectful to my ancestors to see that film…” and on Twitter: “American Slavery Was Not A Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. It Was A Holocaust. My Ancestors Are Slaves. Stolen From Africa. I Will Honor Them.” (Read more)While the liberal use of the “N-word”, the unclear veracity of Mandingo fighting in Slave America, and other such concerns are valid as opinions, they really should not diminish the impact of this film.   Slavery in America is blight on our social history, a horror that is undeniable among educated peoples and by no means minimized by Tarantino.

If anything, the “N-word” is quite historically appropriate in this film as this was how people who devalued and demeaned other humans to a race of sub-humans or worse would likely speak. While there are many laugh-out-loud moments, no one is making fun of the hardship of Slavery or minimizing it; if anything, this film calls into question why Americans as a whole are not more cognizant of its horrors.

In the end, Django is an exhilerating, shocking, fast-paced, tale that faces one of the darkest days in American history fearlessly.  It is brilliantly written and while it may be a bit long (at 2 hours 45 minutes), there are few films able to better keep audience attention throughout.

The performances, dialogue, action, plot, and general nature of the film come together into an undeniably successful finished product, and the level of controversy it has created speaks further to its impact.  Tarantino proves yet again that his work can not only withstand any controversy, but thrives because of it.

Rating: 9 – An expensive red wine and juicy steak that someone else is paying for and where you don’t have to put out

Carnage: Ok, Stop Me If you’ve Heard This One…Four Crazy Parents Walk into a Living room…

Posted in 8, Comedy, Independent, Reviews with tags , , , , , , on December 25, 2011 by mducoing

Based on the much heralded play The God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza, Director Roman Polanski teams with Reza to deliver one of the better films this year despite a small cast and really one apartment. However, it should be noted that the cast is spectacular and far from unknown, and the apartment is great for what they pay, and that location, oh my…..

Premise: Two couples hold a cordial meeting after their sons are involved in a fight, but soon enough, the true nature of these parents’ feeling toward the fight, and each other begins to surface. Result: A very humorous tale of two couples trapped in unhappy marriages that inexplicably find an attempt at diplomacy to be the best time to air their dirty laundry.

Carnage is by no means the typical film today, filled with action, death, sex, millions of stars, animated animals, and even Muppets. Instead, this film is a hysterical lesson in understatement that explodes into farce, taught brilliantly by seasoned director Polanski.  Using the already well-known kindling from Reza, he manages to lead his brilliant cast in the delivery of a film that will capture audience’s attention and keep it for all 79 (far too short) minutes despite its lack of sex, guns or felt creatures. 

The premise of the film rests on two families brought together by an incident: one son, Zachary, hit the son of another couple, Ethan, in the face with a stick, causing him to lose two teeth.  Ethan’s parents, Penelope Longstreet (Jodie Foster) and Michael (John C. Reilly) invite Zachary’s parents, Nancy Cowan (Kate Winslet) and Alan Christoph Waltz) to resolve the issue in a calm and diplomatic manner. The premise itself, and how an observer may react to it, likely proves the point of the film: the conventional wisdom and experience around such an incident is not to see it handled with any degree of composure and aplomb, rather it often degenerates into an incident at a zoo far before diplomacy is even attempted.

Nevertheless, the Longstreets, in their infinite and divine wisdom, choose to be civil rather than call for Zachary to be publicly flogged.  Of course, even the best of intentions do not land far from destiny, and in this case, the attempt seems to be more an act of passive aggression than anything else. 

It is only moments into their interactions that audiences will begin to understand the true dynamics that will affect the direction of these relationships and the plot.  The first incident is largely between Penelope and Alan, when as she attempts to write the Longstreet version of events, she uses the term “armed” to describe Zachary’s and his stick, a term that Alan finds unnecessarily hostile.

Within moments, observers will note all sorts of strange cracks in the quorum of civility: Alan spends much of his time there on the phone and worse still discussing the legal strategy behind the defense of a medicine clearly showing dangerous side effects; Nancy appears completely overwhelmed by the event, quiet and submissive yet docile in the same manner as a volcano before eruption (somewhat literally).  Michael is overly accommodating and upon further inspection appears to be blatantly harboring a thinly veiled resentment for the entire event; and Penelope, the captain of the ill-fated journey, is barely able to suppress her rage.

This film is about the subsequent events, the thoughts and issues that emerge as tangential to the main purpose of meeting.  Their reactions to the event are simply the gateways to further madness that stems from their resentments of one another, as each couple begins to open up about what is really bothering them, creating a chaos of dialogue and circumstances that pack non-stop laughs.

Foster is fantastic as that queen of passive aggression and persecution, trapped in a marriage with a man she believes is one step above savage, and herself writhing in her own cage where she appears to have thrown away the key.  Winslet is remarkable as the erratic wife who will no longer remain silent and who faces some antics that take the film to yet another level of hysteria.

Waltz and Reilly are also brilliant in completely different roles.  Reilly is the uber-Conservative husband who resents being “dressed up like a liberal” who will say everything in utter frankness and Waltz is the “too busy to care” Father whose indifference and condescension is stellar.

The four bicker throughout the film to make sure there is non-stop anarchy and the result is hypnotic.  While at times there appears to be a bit too much pontification, it is not long before the troupe is able to steer the ship back on course.  Overall, Carnage is a hilarious crucible of over-ripe emotions drawn out of two couples at the worst of times.  While the formula may have been risky considering today’s audience, the ensemble cast combined with strong direction and script, are more than enough to keep audiences watching!

Rating: 8 – An expensive red wine and juicy steak

The Green Hornet: Where’s the Bug Spray?

Posted in 4, Action, Comedy, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 24, 2011 by mducoing

It is hard to imagine what possessed movie execs to think Seth Rogan would make a good super hero.  The former lead of Knocked Up and Pineapple Express who made his career as the adorably hapless panda-man lobbing comedy at his audiences, never seemed right on paper and sadly, on screen either.  While there were a few scattered laughs woven into the bed-bug-ridden fabric of this film, audiences will leave this film feeling bitten by anything other than excitement.

Premise: After the death of his father, Britt Reid, heir to his father’s newspaper company and super-brat playboy, teams up with Kato, his late dad’s assistant and apparent martial arts master, to become a masked crime fighting team. Result:  A few laughs and scattered excitement don’t stack up against a loose and often absurd script that never connects with the audience.

French Director Michel Gondry, better known for non-comedic films like masterpiece Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, has once again attempted his hand at comedy with worse results than his last, failed attempt Be Kind Rewind.  It seems clear that comedies are not his forte.  However, to blame this solely on Direction is to completely misdiagnose the problem: nothing really works in this film. 

Media mogul, James Reid (played by an unexpectedly flat Tom Wilkinson) dies leaving his media empire to son and serial spoiled brat, Britt Reid (Seth Rogan).  Reid then finds that his father’s assistant Kato (Jay Chou) and closet martial arts master/science genius/awesome coffee maker who may offer him the opportunity to turn his life and his Father’s newspaper around.  In short, teaming Reid’s money and Kato’s ability to do just about everything else, they become crime fighting super heroes: The Green Hornet & Company. Of course, part of their plan is to fight crime by pretending to be the crime, thus earning the trust of fellow criminals whom they will then defeat.

As they begin their complex journey to super hero status, they run into arch-villain Chudnofky (played brilliantly by Christoph Waltz) who is going through his own humorous transformation into “Bloodnofsky” in an attempt to remake his image as a “scary” villain that will strike fear in the hearts of men.  This storyline, which delivers tongue-in-comedic gold through Waltz as a whiney psychopath, is one of the only redeeming qualities in the film, providing some much needed self-aware humor.  

The same, of course, cannot be said for the rest of the film.  It suffers from two very real problems that absolutely are inexcusable in comedies: a disjointed delivery of plotlines and sequences followed by the complete overuse of cliché.  There is the “Your shenanigans are ruining your Father’s company” plotline where Reid butts head with Mike Axford (Edward James Olmos) ad nauseum and never seems like anything but filler.  Olmos for his part flounders on screen; apperaing bored and exhausted by a role that is as tired as he looks.  In no way looking like his Oscar-nominated performance in Stand and Deliver or even as Commander Adama in “BSG”, Olmos wanders  around on screen delivering only disappointment.

Worse still is the “Let’s create tension by falling for the same girl” plotline; here, Lenore Case (played by Cameron Diaz) aka beautiful and overly qualified secretary, becomes the object of affection for both Reid and Kato who nearly destroy their already tenuous friendship and more importantly fledgling superhero status over jealousy.  Their rumblings are boring and formulaic coming off as thinly veiled plot devices to make the film longer.  Case, for her part, seems to exist for only two reasons: to create this unnecessary tension and to use her uncanny and unused talents as a stealth journalist to locate the crimes that the Green Hornet will inevitably target.  Ultimately, Case takes a turn as a superhero herself if in theory only, coming off as a cross between an irrelevant Pepper Potts and The Invisible Girl as she slinks unnoticed and unremembered from scene to scene performing in a role that might best have been played by an iPad with a wig. 

Of course, there is no escaping the interest-crushing blackhole pull of the central plot. Reid comes off as an obnoxious brat with zero likeability. Further, Reid’s development into a crime fighter of sorts can only be described using a montage of animal images: the playboy lifestyle and initial crime-fighting attempts resemble a hapless Orangutan, his crime-fighting technique looks like the product of someone teaching their sloth karate and placing the film on YouTube, and his quasi-romantic advances for Case summon reminders of Koko the Gorilla and that kitten. His interactions with Kato are forced and while they do manage to produce some laughs, they ultimately cannot hoist this film past the finish line.

I will admit that there were some funny moments and Waltz’s Bloodnofsky storyline provides an appreciated respite from the sag of the rest of this movie. Overall, the film isn’t strong or cohesive enough to push past some clear problems and often seems to have perhaps left its best parts somewhere on the editing room floor. 

Rating: 4 – A case of PBR and a “Dear John” letter

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