Last week, we discussed our favorite TV series of the last year. This week, we turn to the big screen.
PAUL: 10. DJANGO UNCHAINED (dir. Quentin Tarantino)
With Django Unchained, director Quentin Tarantino takes us once more back to a terrible moment in our history, and once again asks us to indulge him his little anachronisms and revisionist revenge fantasies. This time, instead of Nazis and baseball-bat-wielding Jews, we get slavers and bounty-hunting dentists. Set in the pre-Civil War Deep South, Unchained is Tarantino’s homage to the Spaghetti Westerns of Leone and Corbucci, which he prefers to call his Spaghetti Southern. I’ll say that the absence of editor Sally Menke is sharply felt here, though. If I, of all people, notice the nearly three-hour runtime, then there could’ve been some tightening. The cast is great across the board, including a list of hidden cameos longer than my arm (among others, original Django Franco Nero makes an appearance). Jamie Foxx is great in the title role, though I imagine what Will Smith could’ve done with the part, as was the original intent. Leo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson, and Walton Goggins all shine in their respective roles. Kerry Washington was reduced to little more than the damsel in distress, however, which is unusual for a Tarantino picture. But the standout here is Christoph Waltz. He is every bit as charmingly heroic and admirable this time as he was charmingly repulsive and hateful in Basterds.
AJ: 10. MOONRISE KINGDOM (dir. Wes Anderson)
Wes Anderson’s films often have a childlike quality about them, whether it be his colorful storybook compositions or the petulance of many of his characters. So it’s fitting that he’s finally made a film about children, one in which the kids are on the run from what’s expected of them and their adult guardians are forced to accept the roles they’ve played in their children’s abandonment of them. Newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, both in their first screen acting roles, give perfectly awkward performances. Anderson regulars Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman are in their element here, while Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton join the auteur’s troupe with ease. Perhaps most encouragingly, Moonrise Kingdom is the first sign of life in years from Bruce Willis–who, with a movie soon to appear on our lists, proved later in the year that he’s most definitely still kicking–and Edward Norton, two actors who really needed a movie like this.
Four years ago, two films gave the superhero genre a much-needed kick in the pants: Iron Man and The Dark Knight. They were on opposite ends of the spectrum–the former bright and funny, the latter dark and gloomy–but both felt honest, and honesty’s something the genre needed in order to mature. This summer sees the release of two films which seem destined to revitalize the genre yet again, and it’s only fitting that they are The Avengers, the end result of Marvel’s first wave; and The Dark Knight Rises, the last of Christopher Nolan’s Bat-flicks. The Dark Knight Rises is still a couple months off, but just as that one looks like it’s angling to be even darker and more despairing than its predecessors, The Avengers aims to be more colorful, rousing, and exciting than those leading up to it.
Any superhero movie that wants to be even semi-successful has to on some level examine the nature of heroism. When one doesn’t, which was a big problem in the period between Spider-Man 2 and Iron Man (give or take a Batman Begins), you wind up with something like Catwoman or Elektra or Batman & Robin. Marvel’s pre-Avengers efforts, which I’ve mostly enjoyed, have excelled at asking just why each of their heroes feels the need to suit up and take action. With The Avengers, an even bigger question is posed. Why would such disparate people, each with their own sets of skills, hang-ups, and needs, come together to form a team? Writer-director Joss Whedon, a veritable geek god, is the one tasked with providing the answer to that query, and he does so brilliantly.
Saying this upfront: NO SPOILERS. Paul and I have also discussed the film on the show.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A bunch of kids pack into an RV for a weekend of fun, sex, and sexy fun. That they encounter the extremely creepy owner of an ancient gas station on the way does nothing to deter them from their destination: a remote cabin in the woods, owned by one of the kids’ cousins. The place immediately seems a little off, there’s some disturbing stuff in the cellar, someone maybe reads Latin, and eventually bloody mayhem ensues. Though they should know better, each one succumbs to some very stupid behavior for which they will be punished.
This is the set-up for dozens, maybe hundreds, of horror movies. The Cabin in the Woods is something different. When we first meet these kids, they seem like lively, intelligent college students. They don’t seem like they would do some of the dumb things they end up doing. Which seems par for the course for this kind of movie, except The Cabin in the Woods dares to offer a justification as to why the victims would seemingly offer themselves up as fodder. There’s more here than meets the eye. Characters played by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford are part of a shadowy organization which makes everything much more complicated. This I guarantee: If you’ve only seen the ads, which paint the movie as your generic Halloween Saw Massacre deal, it is not that. At all.
Gobbledygeek episode 92, “Am I on Speakerphone?,” is available for listening or download right here.
Calling all jocks, nerds, sluts, virgins, and stoners: there’s a certain cabin you might want to take a trip to. Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s long-delayed The Cabin in the Woods is finally in theaters this weekend, so Paul and AJ offer up their thoughts. We know the movie isn’t just about kids going to a cabin and getting sliced and diced, but how much can we say here without pissing off the Internet? As far as that goes, in lieu of a witty banter portion, we discuss our NON-SPOILERY thoughts on the film up top before getting into a SPOILERY discussion. So, yeah. It’s a barrel o’ laughs, there’s some arguing, and lots of affection for certain cast members. Why don’t you go ahead and walk down into that dark cellar?
Next: Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace and Titanic were both recently released in 3D. Both of our hosts enjoy one of these movies, and both of them also hate the other one of those movies. Expect fistfights and the death of a friendship.
(Show notes for “Am I on Speakerphone?”)
THOR (DVD/Two-Disc Blu-ray, DVD & Digital Combo/Three-Disc Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, DVD & Digital Combo)
The penultimate pre-Avengers Marvel franchise hit like a thunderbolt! Well, a severe summer shower at least. Chris Hemsworth (Papa Kirk from Abrams’ Star Trek) plays the titular Thunder God, an impetuous and brash young warrior eager to earn the respect of his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Instead, he reignites a war with his people’s ancient enemies the Frost Giants, and finds himself exiled, penitent and powerless, to Earth. There’s a rushed romance with a sexy scientist (Natalie Portman); a fun but sadly bloodless battle to reclaim his birthright Mjolnir, the literal hammer of the gods; and a final showdown with his half-brother, the once and future God of Mischief. But the real highlights of the film aren’t the action set pieces: Hemsworth is a joy, with the muscles and the cocky but charming smirk; Hopkins chews the scenery appropriately, adding to the Shakespearean vibe director Kenneth Branagh was aiming for; and Tom Hiddleston as Loki steals the show with his wounded-little-boy-in-the-body-of-a-god routine. My earlier review was perhaps a bit glowing for what is probably just a good-not-great summer popcorn film…but then perhaps not. I look forward to watching it again and seeing if the ol’ Asgardian magic can still enchant me like it did before. – Paul Smith
(Originally reviewed by Paul and myself in “The Hammer Is His Penis.” Like Paul, I also wrote a review for the blog.)
Gobbledygeek episode 51, “The Hammer Is His Penis,” is available for listening or download right here.
Thor kicks off the summer movie season this weekend, so Paul and AJ get hammered–by, uh, by the movie, of course. Yeah. They discuss the look of Asgard, whether or not the mythology stuff is super goofy, Chris Hemsworth’s terrific performance, and what Thor means for Captain America and The Avengers. Plus: news and Formspring questions.
(Show notes for “The Hammer Is His Penis.”)
I’ve long thought that Marvel’s overarching plan for its homegrown superhero movies was absolutely insane–and pretty ingenious, too. Spider-Man, the X-Men, and some other notable players are tied up at other film companies, but Marvel wisely held onto the rights to each member of the Avengers and ever since Iron Man in 2008, they’ve been working on getting the band together. Iron Man had some subtle Easter eggs and a nifty post-credits scene, and it’s a miracle that Iron Man 2 didn’t entirely collapse under the weight of its Avengers teases; The Incredible Hulk, besides a brief scene between Tony Stark and General Ross, was too busy restoring its hero’s rep to get involved. Thor is the next Avenger to get the spotlight and, well, he’s an interesting case.
Well, that settles it. Kenneth Branagh is a geek. How else to explain the brilliant blending of Shakespearean pomp and circumstance with the Lee/Kirby pseudo-sci-fi goofiness? Thor the comic was always just a tad inconsistent in the way it imported ancient Nordic mythology into the modern superhero landscape. The two writers that, in my opinion, handled the sacred and the profane best, Walt Simonson and J. Michael Straczynski (the latter one of the five credited screenwriters), each found a way to strike a comfortable balance. Thor the film favors the sci-fi over the fantasy, no question. But Branagh manages to create a cosmology here that is both theologically intriguing and satisfyingly silly.
So what is all this about, anyway? Well it’s that old familiar tale of the beautiful astrophysicist that discovers a fallen Norse god in the New Mexico desert, teaches him how to eat Pop-Tarts and wear low cut jeans, and ultimately helps him learn humility by being sweet and pretty and trusting of him, which of course allows him to regain his divine power just in time to destroy the god-killing robot set upon him, return to his heavenly realm and defeat his traitorous brother before he can steal the throne from their father. So, basically it’s nothing we haven’t all seen before.
But it’s gods damned fun!