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Recent Movies: Django Unchained; Amour; The Impossible

February 23, 2013

Recent Movies

Django Unchained

In the mid-1800s, an American slave (Jamie Foxx) receives freedom in exchange for working for a German bounty hunter  (Christoph Waltz).  Much of the later part of the film takes place on a Tennessee plantation owned by a charming but very devious man (Leonardo Dicaprio).  The film is written and directed by Quentin Tarantino.

Tarantino is truly an enigma.  As he proved in ‘Pulp Fiction’ and more recently in ‘Inglorious Basterds’, he is truly one of the best film-makers of the past twenty years.  Likewise, in those other films plus the ‘Kill Bill’ series, violence is used in excess to advance the plot.  The same is true in ‘Django Unchained’.  Some of the violence is necessary (considering the evil of slavery) and always well executed.  It is rarely, if ever, the in-your-face gore which is used by less talented directors.  Still, Tarantino’s skill in creating edge-of-your-seat tension and suspense is so strong, he  doesn’t always need violence.

But with all the qualms aside, this is truly one of the best films of 2012.  Despite its length of nearly three hours, every moment is intense and engaging.  This is mainly due to the film-maker’s brilliant use of camera angles, music and getting the best from a great cast particularly from Samuel L. Jackson.  Jackson plays the complex role of a high-ranking slave who gains much privilege in exchange for his willingness to turn (often harshly) against his fellow slaves.  His performance was sadly overlooked during this awards season.  (Jackson also gave Tarantino a superb performance in ‘Pulp Fiction’.)

I often turn away from violent films.  But in that genre, nobody does it better than Quentin Tarantino.  He has another winner here with ‘Django Unchained’.

Rating (out of four stars):   * * * 1/2

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Amour

In Paris, a couple who are retired piano teachers in their 80s (French legends Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva) must deal with the woman’s deteriorating health.

This film is written and directed by Michael Haneke.  His recent films “Caché” and “The White Ribbon” were highly acclaimed.  To me, those films showed signs of brilliance but didn’t meet their full potential.  Luckily, the full potential is met and highly surpassed by Haneke in “Amour”.

The film takes place entirely in the luxury apartment of the couple with very few actors.  Despite these limitations, Haneke creates riveting tension and engages the viewer throughout.  This is mainly because his story touches on a common truth that most people would rather avoid: the great difficulty in dealing with slow dying process of an elderly loved one.  The difficult choices faced by the characters are the same as those faced by all of us:  should we follow the loved one’s choices no matter how difficult they seem?  How much longer can we stand this?  Then, there are the blunt discussions of euthanasia along with the subtle conflict between one who feels ready to die vs. the heatlhier loved ones who don’t want to let go.

Isabelle Huppert, another French legend though a generation younger than the other two, does a fine job as the couple’s daughter.  Trintignant is superb as an elderly man in deep inner conflict with many difficult decisions while grieving the changes in his wife’s state.

But the ultimate powerhouse performance in this film belongs to Riva as she has the most challenging role and shows brilliance in it.  She was already in her mid-eighties when making this film.  She is truly convincing as someone who is ashamed and angry about losing her independence and abilities while being truly heartbreaking as someone in pain and delusion in later stages.

The impact of this film is so strong, it could not only be a strong candidate for best film of the year; but also for the decade.

Rating:   * * * *

Outstanding Achievemnts:

1)   Directing by Michael Haneke

2)   Screenplay by Michael Haneke

3)   Acting by Emmanuelle Riva

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The Impossible

This film is based on a true story of a family’s experience in the tsunami in southern Asia in December, 2004 during a visit to Thailand.

The film is a Spanish production made in the English language.  The family whose experience is the basis of the film is Spanish but in the film, they are depicted as English.  Possibly, this decision had the intention of drawing in more English-speaking viewers.  Although this decision might reduce the authenticity of the film, the consolation is magnificent performances by Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor as the parents and some great child performances – especially from Tom Holland.

“The Impossible” takes on the major challenge of dealing with one of the greatest natural disasters in history that is in recent memory for many.  For the most part, it succeeds quite well.

The family bonding at the beginning is well set up to connect the audience with the main characters but without getting overly sentimental.  The tsunami itself was very powerfully filmed, creating a very gripping experience.  Credit must go to director Juan Antonio Bayona and his special effects team. 

The aerial shots of the crowd scenes during the aftermath also showed great skill on Bayona’s part.  The only flaw is that the scenes seem to show little or no hardship of the local Thais; they seem to concentrate mainly on the white tourists.  Hopefully, another film can expose the plight of Asian residents during and after this disaster.  But, as an account of one family’s experience, “The Impossible” does a superb job.

Rating:   * * * 1/2

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