Celebrating Great Films

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Django Unchained

#37 at time of writing.

...In which Quentin Tarantino tries to assuage the collective guilt of White America by dreaming up a black vigilante who cuts a swathe through scores of Confederate slave owners in a blood-soaked revenge fable. I'm not sure a single white character that spends more than about five minutes with Django makes it to the end of the film alive.

It slightly makes me worry for the mentality of Hollywood and America in general that so much racism, rape, hatred and gory murder can so easily be extruded into such a jaunty film. Tarantino knows instinctively what he can get away with, and thereby pushes the boundaries further than most would dare.

One of the things he does particularly well in this film is create tension - there's plenty of it, building up, and then getting periodically released with fountains of special sauce. And, this being a Tarantino Western (or Southern as he puts it), there are plenty of nods to other Westerns, not least Django.

The thing I've always admired most about Tarantino is that his status as filmmaking legend is entirely self-created. Not based on the quality of his films, although his early work surely helped, but because he just decided to spread his own rumours that he was a movie god. Only someone like that would make a movie like this. Totally amoral, utterly self-indulgent, and (*sigh*) brilliant.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Great Escape

#113 at time of writing.

This World War II action film manages to be relentlessly upbeat (largely thanks to Elmer Bernstein's classic catchy theme song); even when things go horribly wrong, the jokes roll on.

A gang of mostly British soldiers (plus Steve McQueen, inserted purely as a crowd-pleaser) organise an incredibly ambitious escape from a high-security "Stalag Luft III" prisoner-of-war camp. The true story on which this is based is so amazing that it begged to be told, and although this film deviates widely from the known facts the salient points remain.

There aren't many war films that will make you smile, get your feet tapping, or hold your attention for nearly three hours - but this manages all three with style.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

#119 at time of writing.

After the phenomenal success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy (and some legal wrangling with New Line cinema and the Tolkein estate), Peter Jackson gained enough trust from the studios and the fans to do whatever he liked with The Hobbit. Originally planned as a two-part film with Guillermo del Toro at the helm, Jackson took over and expanded Bilbo Baggins's tale with backstory from the Lord of the Rings books to end up with a behemoth three-parter.

And it shows. Part one, An Unexpected Journey, runs to nearly three hours (will the DVDs still have an extended edition?). It's certainly flabby and self-indulgent. But you know what? I was very happy to indulge it.

I sat enjoying the expansive story world, feeling at home as each scene lingered languidly. Like sitting by a fire with a glass of port on Christmas morning.

Much has been made of the fact that this is the first feature film to be shot and projected at 48 frames per second, twice as fast as the industry standard of 24 frames, the intention being to provide the smoother, more realistic motion, especially in 3D. Did it make much difference? Meh.

Interesting to note that the filmmakers did not have the requisite rights to use material from Silmarillion or Unfinished Tales - evident when Gandalf "forgets" the names of two of the five wizards, Alatar and Pallando, who only appear in the book Unfinished Tales. So, plenty of scope for yet more engorged trilogies in the future.