Category Archives: Western

Movie Review: Django Unchained

For any of you who think I have a severe Quentin Tarantino bias, let me just say that I disliked “Death Proof.”

Now that that’s out of the way, “Django Unchained” may have just stolen the top ten list of the year in one fell swoop. It may lack the audacious perfection of “Inglourious Basterds,” however this messy masterpiece is bold and brilliant in its own right.

“Django Unchained” rightfully opens with the theme music from 1966′s “Django,” a film that is similar with this Django only in name. This is the first time that Quentin has made a Western that actually takes place in the appropriate era and locale. This is not modern-day Los Angeles, Tokyo, or Nazi-Occupied France. This is Texas in the years just before the Civil War.

Django (Jamie Foxx), a quiet slave with a sharp tongue and a deadly grin, is freed by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Foxx is fantastically deadpan and unpredictable as Django. Unsurprisingly, Waltz displays his incredible way with words as the verbose dentist-turned-bounty hunter. There is a giant tooth on top of his carriage. I don’t why any of that is important, but it sure is funny.

Like Quentin’s other films, “Django Unchained” is less a story and more a series of cause and effect vignettes. Schultz at first frees Django because he is the one man who can help him identify and track down the ruthless Brittle Brothers, whom he is hired to kill. The mission allows Django to prove himself to be a great shot, as Quentin opens the doors of a slave revenge fantasy of the highest sort.

As his career progresses, Quentin’s films have gotten bigger and more ambitious. During a stretch of the film that is surprisingly quiet on a Tarantino standard, “Django Unchained” takes a beautiful detour into the American frontier as Django and Schultz cross the country.

“Django Unchained” is also Quentin’s funniest film. A scene involving an attempted lynching by a proto-KKK group (which includes Don Johnson and Jonah Hill) quickly dissolves into pure farce. Even with all of the gruesome violence, what shocked me most about “Django Unchained” was all of the moments I found myself laughing and feeling giddy when I probably shouldn’t have. The film is full of comic moments framed around serious moments. Laughing at these demons helps remove their power.

More than any other of his past films, Quentin has challenged himself here, by making a film that takes place before movies. Without the cushion of his typical pop culture references, he goes to some new and interesting places. Surfer movies and Elvis are traded for The Three Musketeers and German fairytales as “Django Unchained” is a mashup of western, southern, and European legends. When Django asks Schultz to help him rescue his wife, Schultz remarks that the name of his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), is the name of a character from Germany’s most famous folktale.

Just when the film couldn’t get any more exciting, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), the Mississippi slave master who currently owns Broomhilda is introduced. Candie reminds me of the villain that Waltz played in “Basterds” but on a whole different level of delusion. DiCaprio, so good at conveying southern hospitality, making Candie seem like a kind and reasonable man even when he clearly isn’t. It is this charm that makes him even more terrifying. He hosts slave fights and doesn’t blink an eye when he orders the violent execution of a rebellious slave. There were many times I forgot that it was even DiCaprio in the role. In a perfect world, the Academy would just hand an Oscar over to him already.

Without the cushion of film, Quentin delves deeper into overanalyzing historical issues with excessive dialogue. Several scenes are so good, yet so dense, that I have to watch them again. His dialogue can explain simple things in such eloquent ways.  Without pop culture, you can see Tarantino’s dialogue for what it really is: a cross between indulgence and intellectualization.

Very few films have been made about American slavery. “Gone with the Wind” and “Roots” are the only ones that have truly stuck, and even those feel a little outdated. Even if it carries some extreme historical inaccuracies, “Django Unchained” is the most interesting and complex portrayal of slavery ever put out by Hollywood. Even when Tarantino intentionally overlooks historical truths, he does wonders with the details. Every costume and set is given so much loving and painstaking detail that I I felt myself becoming deeply immersed in the era. Tarantino shows the slave owners as white trash in fancy outfits, and their accompanying women are exaggerated southern belles.

And then there is Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen, an old slave who is also racist. This character totally topples the terrible archetypes in American fiction of the “Magic Negro” and the “wise, old black man.” Stephen has been Candie’s slave for so long and is so close to the man that one might argue that he believes that he is white. However, I think it is deeper than that, and it greatly shows why Tarantino’s history benders are so marvelous and so filled with depth. It is as if slavery rewarded those with loyalty by creating an immense fear of the outside world, and immense comfort on the plantation. Stephen is more than just an excuse for Samuel L. Jackson to curse and say the n-word a lot. Though, watching him do both of those thing is predictably entertaining.

“Django Unchained” does to slavery what “Inglourious Basterds” did to Nazis and The Holocaust.  It is also the most perplexing and entertaining film of 2012. Nobody combines high and low brow as well as Quentin Tarantino. Only in one of his films could a Mexican standoff segue into a conversation about racism and French culture. After 20 years as a filmmaker, Quentin still knows how to pull the rug out from under the audience. “Django Unchained” constantly change our opinions of who the bad guys are. It may not totally rewrite history or change the way movies are made, but it does go way past the point in which it should have ended, and then gives great reason as to why it does just that.

How I Rank Quentin Tarantino’s Films:
1. Pulp Fiction- Still Tarantino’s best film, “Pulp Fiction” is still as brazen and funny as it was when it first came out. This pop culture tribute has become an indelible part of pop culture.
2. Inglourious Basterds- Jews kill Nazis. Christoph Waltz is introduced to the world. History is rewritten. What’s not to love.
3. Kill Bill 1 & 2- Part one is a breathtaking action spectacle. Part two is the most emotional film Tarantino has ever made. Altogether it’s the film that kicked off my movie obsession.
4. Reservoir Dogs- The place where it all began. Still one of the best directorial debuts ever.
5. Django Unchained
6. Jackie Brown- This was not loved when it first came out, but it’s hard to follow “Pulp Fiction.” “Jackie Brown” holds up well on repeat viewings.
7. Death Proof- This is where Tarantino went a little off the rails. It’s the weaker half of “Grindhouse.” This ode to trashy cinema forgot to be fun.

Analog This: Breaking Bad a.k.a. The One Where They Rob a Train


This week’s episode of “Breaking Bad,” entitled “Dead Freight,” once again proved that the show that is never bad just keeps on getting better.

Obviously, somebody had to pull out the Jesse James comparison once the only solution to the methylamine shortage turned out to be a train robbery. This is not surprising, as Walt is starting to believe more and more that he is Jesse James. Here is someone who will push it to the very end without the fear of death. Maybe it’s time something bad happened to him, something that will finally make Heisenberg cease to exist. And that final straw may have come loose tonight.

Each season of “Breaking Bad” reminds me of the Tortoise: slow to start, taking its time at the beginning, and then taking off and not stopping. Tonight was like the taking off point kicking things into high gear. This momentum should get us through the remainder of this final season.

In one of tonight’s first scenes, Walt paid an unexpected visit to Hank’s (Dean Norris) new office. Walt breaks down and opens up about his fears that he is not a good father and a bad influence, as Skyler (Anna Gunn) told him in last week’s episode. The fact that I bought it for a quick second shows either my naivety as a viewer or Walt’s now uncanny ability to fool others. Of course, it was a rouse, and when Hank gets up to get Walt a cup of coffee, Walt hastily bugs the place. As Heisenberg, Walt is no longer guided by a need to protect his family but rather as a need to keep his business going. As he notes in the preview for next week’s episode, he’s in the empire business. In season one, he talked about leaving his family money to survive long after he died. Now, all he wants is a legacy for himself.

The one thing that currently makes Walt and Hank similar is that they are both good at hiding information that the other has no clue about. There have been many subtle hints so far this season that Hank knows about Walt’s secret criminal life. Hank’s words of wisdom to Walt seemed almost strained. This could foreshadow that Hank’s kindness toward Walt was an act, as Hank is probably the only genuinely good character on the show. Look how good he was with Walt and Skyler’s baby. The “Breaking Bad” team is slowly, slyly building up to a showdown between Walt and Hank. Bloody or not, I’m sure it will be one of the most memorable moments in television history.

But let’s get back to the heist at hand. With all of the methylamine barrels being tracked, Walt, Jesse, and Mike needed to find the miracle chemical elsewhere. So Lydia (the basket case who might be the most irritating character in the show’s history) suggests that they rob a freight train where they can find all the methylamine they need. At first, it seems like a suicide mission. But then, Jesse comes up with a way they can rob the train and not get caught. And while it’s kind of insane, it actually works.

This season, Jesse has become the man with the brilliant plans. Walt always talks about leverage and in case Walt ever wants to dispose of Jesse, Jesse has this leverage over him: Walt has the crazy needs and demands, and Jesse has the plausible execution. In an earlier episode, Jesse finds an old test of his from when he was Mr. White’s student. The words “NOT APPLYING YOURSELF” were scrawled across it. Jesse may not want to be a criminal, but when he applies himself, he is actually a pretty good one.

This is not the first time “Breaking Bad” has taken form of a heist film. They did it earlier this season, when they absconded evidence using magnets. During season two, in one of my favorite episodes of the entire series, they staged a drug bust and hired a fake Heisenberg to go to jail for them. Now, they were using a broken down truck to stop a train. That works. The next step for them is to drain the train of just enough methylamine for them to start their new business, but not too much so no one would notice that any of it was gone.

I hope “Breaking Bad” keeps doing heist episodes every once in a while, because they show off the absolute best and worst of the characters, as well as the best of the creative team behind the show. By setting the stakes so unrealistically high, the characters must think in ways they would usually never think. While most heists onscreen usually unfold with the predictability of the plan, “Breaking Bad” always draws its heists out and adds in unexpected obstacles. In the aforementioned false-Heisenberg scheme, another bald man accidentally gets involved in the middle of the crime. In “Dead Fright,” the unexpected obstacle is Walt’s hubris, which becomes more frightening and unpredictable with every passing week.

Part of the robbery involved Vamonos Pest Control’s (this season’s Los Pollos Hermanos) Todd (Jesse Plemons) pumping water into the barrels as Jesse pumped methylamine out of the freight car. Meanwhile, Saul’s henchman (Bill Burr) blocked the train with his truck. Once the truck diversion can hold no longer, Walt still doesn’t have enough methylamine. Instead of settling for what he has, he insists that they keep pumping, despite the fact that Jesse is under the train and the train has started to move. We now know that Walt will sacrifice the people who care for him so he can get exactly what he wants. It’s not so much that Walt thinks he will get exactly what he wants, but that he will do anything for it. Surprisingly, this isn’t so different from the Walter White of season one. Remember the “I’ll do anything for my family” mantra? Well, now it’s just “I’ll do anything for myself.”

The second the phrase “train robbery” was mentioned, I got giddy in the kind of way that a twenty-year-old probably shouldn’t. John Ford would be proud of those stunning shots of the railroad slicing through the wide open desert. The cowboys of the old frontier would rob trains for money and any other supplies they needed to live off of. That is what Walter was doing. But then again, they could have cooked with cough syrup. Clearly, Walt is still a man who thrives off of the idea of danger.

Speaking of western motifs, the Jesse James comparison came up once again. A few weeks ago, Mike tells Walt, “just because you shot Jesse James, doesn’t mean you are Jesse James.” But with this train robbery, Jesse James comes back once again. If anything, comparing Gus to Jesse James and Walt to Robert Ford might make a little more sense. If “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” taught me anything (besides the fact that snow looks pretty), it’s that Jesse James was still a hero despite being an outlaw, and even if his death would be better for the country’s safety, he would be missed by many. However, at this point I doubt that Walter White will be missed by anyone if someone pulls the trigger on him. If that was to happen, I am still betting that Jesse will take on the role of Robert Ford in this modern western folktale.

As the train passes over Jesse, barely missing him, I squirmed in fear that the show might off him in that moment. Because that’s how good “Breaking Bad” is: even when you know it’s not the right moment to kill a character off, you still get the feeling that any moment could lead to their demise. But after the robbery turns out to be a success, Jesse gets to yell “yeah, bitch!” This is his equivalent of a battle call of victory.

The celebration couldn’t last long. The episode began with a boy we never met scooping up a tarantula in the desert and then riding off on his dirt bike. Knowing this show, I should have known this was another instance of Chekhov’s Gun. The boy from the beginning appeared seemingly out of nowhere. Everyone on “Breaking Bad” has the ability to commit murder. Without a moment’s hesitation, Todd takes out his gun and shoots the little boy. Mike told them that every successful heist leaves no witnesses, but he never said what to do with children. It was a tragic moment, and one that brought Jesse to tears, while Walt just stood there silently. Past Walt would never have allowed that to happen. Next week, Heisenberg will probably conclude that it was “either him or us.”

“Dead Fright” ended with a very “Breaking Bad” shot in which the tarantula that the little boy had collected in a jar struggled to get out of the jar which lay next to the boy’s lifeless body. Perhaps it shows that Walt’s evil is becoming an inhuman force of nature itself, which drags in and kills anyone that gets in its way. As the tagline for “The Dark Knight” touted, welcome to a world without rules.

Side Observations:

-Anna Gunn is killing it this season. In earlier seasons, she got a lot of the same flack January Jones got on “Mad Men” after Jones’s Betty decided to kick her adulterous husband out of the house. Gunn’s Skyler was also faced with the tough choice of tearing her own family apart in order to protect her children. However, the difference between Gunn and Jones is that Jones has the personality of a doorstop. Gunn has gotten to show her true colors ever since Skyler broke bad. In season five, she is proving herself to be one of the few people who can stand up to Walt. She claims to be Walt’s hostage, but she acts like anything but that. 
-Lydia tells Walt that there’s an “ocean of methylamine” on the train. Maybe I’m the only one who felt this way, but I was immediately reminded of Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) proclaiming, “there’s a whole ocean of oil under our feet, and I’m the only one who can get to it!” in “There Will Be Blood.” These two pioneers of the American West have a lot in common, including an unstoppable desire to build empires while putting their families at risk. Based on the flash forward that opened this season up, Walt is likely going to end up in a similar, lonely place that Daniel Plainview ended up in. In a perfect world, Paul Thomas Anderson will be asked to direct an upcoming episode.
-Once again, everyone was addressing Walt Junior (R.J. Mitte) by his old nickname of Flynn. This time, he didn’t seem too pleased about it, and it had nothing to do with the fact that he didn’t get to visit an omelette bar like I had wrongly predicted would happen this week. Perhaps the nickname was made to totally separate him from his father. The poor kid didn’t even understand why he couldn’t see his father anymore. When the secret finally comes out, I don’t think Flynn will be standing at his father’s side.
-Saul Goodman, who was absent this week, must have felt pretty left out. As the guy who always knows a guy, Saul is usually an instrumental part of helping Walt and Jesse get out of the messes that they create. 
-Walt, Jesse, and Mike make an awesome team. Their dynamic is very clear at this point: Walt and Mike fight over who’s right, and then Jesse comes up with the idea that saves them. I hope next time Jesse comes up with a great idea, it is accompanied with one of the graphics that included a bunch of light bulbs and the word IDEA that used to appear on “Rocket Power” anytime someone thought of something.
How Jesse comes up with his best ideas.

Your Friday Dose of Weirdness: John Ford

“You know I don’t speak Spanish…”

Some characterize directors as egoists. They could be right, until they watch this interview with John Ford, conducted by Peter Bogdanovich (director of “The Last Picture Show,” which I will hopefully have a review for later this week).

The interview is so insightful because there is absolutely no insight provided by it. Is Ford being rude, or humble. Is he arrogant, or self-conscious? I usually don’t take much credence in what YouTube commenters say, but the discussion on this video is surprisingly toned down and intelligent. Take a note from that, Internet.

Anyway, what I found so interesting here is the way in which Ford answers the questions. Should a director remain closed off and mysterious about their work? Or is it better to reveal all of their intentions to the world? Discuss, and watch below:

Movie Review: Cowboys & Aliens

A lot of unusual things happen to the unassuming western folk of “Cowboys & Aliens.” Mainly, aliens land on earth. Yet, nobody seems to react to it. In fact, these people don’t react to anything at all. Is this a movie, or an assembly of cardboard cutouts?

“Cowboys & Aliens” has a cast of cutouts that includes some of Hollywood’s best action stars being reduced of their charms and talents. Daniel Craig plays a cutout named Jake Lonergan, a wanted man who wakes up one morning with a mysterious metal band around his arm and blurry memories that might involve aliens.
As he tries to piece this puzzle together, he wanders into town and captures the attention of the townspeople by standing up to the local rough-and-tumble outlaw, Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Dano), who thinks he owns everything. Among the other people in town include the timid doctor (Sam Rockwell), and the token hot lady (Olivia Wilde). After Percy’s father Woodrow (Harrison Ford) rides into town, a series of “flying machines” begin attacking and what is deemed by the priest as “demons” is most certainly an extraterrestrial attack. Now, everyone must unite and fight for the future of humanity.
Where exactly did “Cowboys & Aliens” go wrong? In too many places to even keep count. With Jon Favreau at the helm, his direction feels more like it did in the second “Iron Man” as opposed to the original. That is, it feels like he started directing an action sequence and then halfway through it, gave up. As a director, Favreau hasn’t yet gotten to the stage where he can phone it in, and still pull it off. No, that takes many more years of experience.
“Cowboys & Aliens” was penned by “Lost”co-creator Damon Lindelof. It contains all of the intrigue of “Lost” without an of the wonder. If you are trying to put us into a time where the idea of life outside of earth is as foreign as the idea of cell phones, you must also put the audience into that sense of wonderment. Instead, all anyone can feel the whole time is, oh they are being attacked by evil aliens from space. Where is the film’s extra hook to really surprise us; where is the film’s polar bear in the jungle? How can we expect to take an alien species seriously when their spaceship looks like Squidward’s house?
The cutouts of “Cowboys & Aliens” consist mainly of a series of western archetypes. There is the young outlaw who’s seen too little, the old outlaw who’s seen too much, the knowledgeable doctor who can’t defend himself, the old coot with no teeth, and the guy who has to march down the town’s streets and yell about how he gets free drinks because he owns this town. None of the characters turn into anything above those stereotypes. I don’t blame this on the actors as much as I do on the writers.
The actors do the best they can, which is really all an actor can do with weak material. Craig, who has deservedly become the new face of James Bond, seems to struggle with his American accent. It doesn’t even come close to sounding like a grisled outlaw, it sounds more like an English guy trying to sound American. Besides the Bond movies, he should just stick to playing badass Jews from now on.
Harrison Ford, meanwhile, was the person I was most excited to see and yet, he doesn’t bring any of the typical Ford charm to his performance. Ford has played Cowboys before, in varying forms (Han Solo; Indiana Jones), yet Woodrow carries no outlaw spirit. He seems less angry about the aliens he has to fight and more angry that he is involved in this movie. He never even seems too concerned about the missing son that he is fighting the whole movie to get back. Shocking, as Ford is usually a master at yelling about missing family members.
I will say this, though: the closest the film ever comes to an actual human interaction is the scene in which Ford gives a young boy his knife. It is never very well explained, but these two characters are the only ones in the film that ever seem to have any chemistry. The fact that nothing is ever done with this represents all of the film’s underutilized potential.
“Cowboys & Aliens” strives to combine two genres that have been combined many times over, with much better results. In fact, the sci-fi western has been considered a genre for decades already, ever since “Star Wars” first came out in 1977. “Cowboys & Aliens” tries to fall under this genre, but it never makes these two very different genres seamlessly blend. The point of “Star Wars” was that if it took place in the Old West, it basically could have been “The Searchers.” I don’t even know what “Cowboys & Aliens” could have been. All I know is that it really made me want to keep watching “Firefly,” the TV series that did exactly what “Cowboys & Aliens” wanted to do, but in a much more exciting and coherent fashion.
The worst part of “Cowboys & Aliens” is that it isn’t very fun. I appreciate that Favreau wanted to tackle this story in a serious manner, but he takes the idea of straight-faced a step too far. Even Leone’s great western opuses had a sense of humor about themselves.
As for the sci-fi part of the film, the aliens feel less like an enemy, and more like a plot device. The aliens in the film look like those from “District 9,” but with way less personality. The reason why the aliens are here at this very moment remains totally unexplained. Even though “Super 8″ somewhat failed in that respect, at least they tried to make us understand its creature.
Amongst the seriousness, the makers of “Cowboys & Aliens” forgot that this is a summer blockbuster, and blockbusters can be both smart and serious while providing entertainment. This isn’t entertainment, this starring blankly at a bunch of preposterous characters and situations. Westerns are supposed to be slow, not boring.

The One Tarantino Rumor I Hope is True

I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about Quentin Tarantino. And over the past few posts, I’ve mentioned “Inglourious Basterds” at least once. You’re probably so sick of the name by now. However, this is one piece of news you just may have to hear.

I don’t know how entirely truthful this piece of news is. It comes from Tarantino himself. The man does have a knack for bringing up film projects he never seems to follow up on. Over the years, he’s brought up the possibility of a Vega Brothers movies, a “Basterds” prequel, and a third installment of “Kill Bill.” Those sound all like great follow-ups to such great movies. Then again, we are talking about Quentin Tarantino, one of the most original directors working today.
That is why today I was thrilled to read a story today on FilmDrunk (originally from the New York Daily News) that Tarantino is throwing around the idea of doing a film based on the Underground Railroad during the days of American Slavery. He’s defining it as being sort of like a Western, but called a “Southern.”
I’ve been hoping that someday, Tarantino would do a pure Western. However, I’m also invested on how he’s taken the Western ideology and implanted it into Nazi-Occupied France, Japan, and the greater Los Angeles area.
I can already picture Tarantino’s vision of slavery now. Like “Basterds,” it will take place in a slightly altered alternate universe and likely center around a slave rebellion. One slave will escape his plantation and seek brutal revenge on their former owner. Meanwhile, another group of escaped slaves will seek their own form of revenge by destroying plantations, and scalping lots of white people. Samuel L. Jackson will play a badass slave seeking vengeance, and Christoph Waltz will play a harsh yet charming slaveowner. Daniel Day-Lewis will have a minor, but affecting role as Jefferson Davis (just because he needs to be in a Tarantino film already).
I have a bad feeling this project might go the way of that Vega Brothers film. Let’s hope not. As much as I really want to see Tarantino save the Western by making a true one, I am enjoying seeing the ideas of the Western get inserted into other aging dramas. Has there ever been a good, tasteful film chronicling American slavery besides “Gone With the Wind?” I remember once watching an 80s version of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” in school. That’s about it.
Then again, if there was anyone who could make a movie about American slavery and do it right, it would be Quentin Tarantino.
More information on this here and here.
Side Note: If you must understand the true roots of my Tarantino obsession, read here.

Movie Review: Crazy Heart

There are some movie characters I really wish were real. Bad Blake is one of them.

“Crazy Heart” is a great movie propelled by an even greater performance by Jeff Bridges. Bridges plays Bad Blake. Bad Blake is an aging, chain-smoking, alcoholic country singer who’s seen better days.
Bad is long past his glory days and is now taking small gigs at bars and bowling allies. He doesn’t really have much a home, he just tours across the American West and does any show he can for money. Along the way, he gets interviewed by music journalist Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and falls in love with her. The film shows Bad as deciding between two life paths: either rekindling his career, or recovering from his problems and settling down.
Bridges has been receiving the most praise for “Crazy Heart.” Obviously, I’m going to spend a large portion of this review talking about him. But before I get into that, lets talk about the film itself. The movie seems something like “The Wrestler” for the world of country music. However, the film amazingly manages to steer away from genre conventions. Just when you think it’s going to turn in one predictable direction, it steers away and goes somewhere you wouldn’t have expected. And there are certain events that occur that just have to occur. However, writer and director Scott Cooper makes them less much less contrived than they could’ve been.
I think two things that impressed me most about “Crazy Heart” are two things you’d never even notice: sound and set design. These two elements make the world “Crazy Heart” takes place in seem so real. When Bad plays in a bar, it sounds like he’s really playing a concert in a bar. Even every little detail, from the lights to the behavior of the audience when Bad plays at a bigger venue is pitch perfect. Were these shot at a studio, or on location? I’d rather not know, I’d rather just be sucked in by the magic of movies.
I also must commend Cooper for creating such engaging characters. Beyond Bad Blake, all of his friends, acquaintances, and lovers are equally compelling to watch.
But of course now is the reason you’ll likely see this movie: Jeff Bridges. Yes, it is one hell of a performance. Bridges takes a whiskey chugging burn out and turns him into someone you’ll actually like. Mainly, he makes the character seem so realistic through the smallest mannerisms. Most hilariously, he always opens his belt before he drives. Small details like this might seem insignificant, but they ultimately bring humanity to the character. In this case, a loosened belt shows Bad’s carefree attitude towards life.
Bad Blake is the role Bridges was born to play, and the role that will win him an Oscar. This is the most Dudesque performance Bridges has done in years. It’s a testament to how much “The Big Lebowski” has shaped Bridges career that the first scene of”Crazy Heart”‘ takes place in a bowling alley.
Truly, the best part of a good performance is how it makes you feel in relation to how the film is supposed to make you feel. No matter how emotionally cold Bad can be sometimes, there is still this level of warmness that is projected from his character at all times. We only get a very short glimpse of Bad’s 57 years on earth, but we get a fully realized understanding of Bad’s amiable personality and amazing ability to form relationships with pretty much any human being he meets.
At times, Cooper’s film feels sort of like a New Age Western, as Bad travels across the west staying in motel to motel doing what he can to make money. Not to mention, Bad perfectly embodies the reckless outlaw spirit.
“Crazy Heart” also contains what is likely the best original score of the year. The songs by T Bone Burnett bring extra layers of meaning to the film. The last song we see Bad write, a song that shares its name with the movie’s title, shows Bad’s true nature: no matter how much he changes, he’ll always be that same outlaw. He might go back to his old name, but he’ll still always be Bad Blake. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Movie Review: The Book of Eli

There are few films I’ve seen that are bad enough to remind me why I need to review them. Then I saw “The Book of Eli” and remembered this: I need to let you know when Hollywood is trying to make you pay for an inferior product of something you’ve already seen ten thousand times.

“The Book of Eli” takes a tired subject that has potential for originality and manages to make it even more tired. The film takes place sometime in the distant future. Humans are bad. Humans are selfish. Humans like to use more than they should and therefore a bomb goes off and destroys the world. Makes so much sense, right?
Well, despite what was probably a large nuclear fallout, people seem to be surviving just fine. Not only that, the future also seems to be lacking zombies. Eli (Denzel Washington) is a man who wanders through the desert waste of the United States. He fights off bandits and basically does anything to survive. The reason for his mission is to protect a very sacred book called the Bible. This makes “The Book of Eli” the first movie ever made to contain Biblical undertones.
Anyway, Eli wants to bring the Bible to a safe place on the western coast. However, a very bad man named Carnegie (Gary Oldman) wants the Bible for himself. He wants to use the knowledge in it to take over the world. This still doesn’t make much sense to me.
The rest of the film varies between sparse action sequences and long, dull expanses of meaningless dialogue. In between that is crammed horribly obvious product placement (most hilariously occurs during one scene involving a megaphone).
The film steals from the brilliance of “Fahrenheit 451,”* “Children of Men,” and “The Road”* without much guilt. It is one thing to be inspired by these classics, and another to just blatantly rip them off. The idea of the Bible as a guide to restoring the world was already done much more convincingly in “Fahrenheit 451″ and the idea of some guy traveling across a post-apocalyptic landscape has already been done too many times to count.
I am actually highly fascinated by films portraying the future. I like to see how artists use their visions of the future to show where the human race is headed. “The Book of Eli” contributes absolutely nothing to this idea. Perhaps the directors, the Hughes Brothers, didn’t intend the film to be this deep. However, it fails as good entertainment as well.
You’d think that “The Book of Eli” would have at least have some exciting action. After all, it is shot like a video game. However, the action sequences amount to maybe under five minutes. They are shot in an unreal, very unfocused matter. There’s no way to get any sort of joy out of the action if it’s shot like this. Also, action can’t be very intriguing if the hero never seems to be facing any sort of vulnerability.
Another part of the film that had potential was also sorely under utilized. During the film, the young Solara (Mila Kunis) follows Eli on his journey. With all the time they spend together, no sort of bond seems to form between them. The Hughes Brothers act like something forms between them but in reality, nothing does.
I would probably the call “The Book of Eli” more of a Western than a Sci-Fi film. I guess you could call it something of a dystopian western film. In that light, I wish the film had made Eli into a more complex western outlaw than a cliche Messiah type. Besides, how can any man be considered Jesus if he chops people’s hands off?
I will give “The Book of Eli” credit for one thing: a big end twist that’s actually surprising. It might turn into another lame Biblical metaphor, but I need to give the filmmakers credit for actually making one part of the film remotely interesting.
Perhaps the biggest problem of “The Book of Eli” is that while Eli’s motives make sense, Carnegie’s are never defined. Therefore, the entire plot just becomes irrelevant.
The overall message of “The Book of Eli” seems to be something along the lines of, “we will all be saved by the Bible.” I don’t know if I should be deeply offended or just flabbergasted at its unoriginality. Usually, when a film has Biblical undertones, they’re supposed to be much more subtle.
Some will probably want to recommend this movie just as an escapist form of entertainment. However, just because it has the label of action movie, why does that make it automatically entertaining? Any film with sparse action, poorly developed characters, and a weak storyline cannot formulate anything close to a true form of cinematic entertainment.
*I have not seen the film versions of either “Fahrenheit 451″ or “The Road.” However, having known the stories, I can still tell you how similar they are to the plot of “The Book of Eli” and how superior they both are.