Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Movie Review: Django Unchained (2012)

Christoph Waltz Jamie Foxx Leonardo DiCaprio Kerry Washington Samuel L Jackson in Django Unchained Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Django Unchained has won 2 Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor (Christoph Waltz) and Best Original Screenplay (Quentin Tarantino).

My heartiest Congratulations to Christoph and Quentin on their success.

Django Unchained is my favorite Quentin Tarantino movie since Pulp Fiction. Inglourious Basterds was Quentin's revisionist take on World War II and this movie takes an unflinching look at black slavery.

The movie is set in the 19th century and opens with shots of Django (Jamie Foxx) being led along with other slaves in chains. Like previous Tarantino movies, the opening credits are done in the genre style - in this case, Spaghetti Western. The song accompanying the stylish credits is sung by Luis Bacalov and sets the tone for the movie.

Django is soon set free by Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Shultz is a German bounty hunter and needs Django’s help to identify the Brittle brothers. After netting the trio, Schultz agrees to help Django get his wife, Broomhilda von Schaft (Kerry Washington) and trains him.

Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx as Dr King Schultz and Django in Django Unchained
Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained
Broomhilda is being held by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), a young and sadistic plantation owner. Calvin’s right hand man is Stephen (Samuel L Jackson).

Schultz devises a plan to free Broomhilda. He introduces Django as an expert on Mandingo fighting and offers an insanely large amount of money to Calvin in exchange for his top fighters. Schultz’s actual intention is to acquire Broomhilda as part of the bargain, by showing his affinity for her knowledge of German language.

The observant Stephen catches Broomilda stealing glances at Django and confronts her. Broomhilda does her best to convince Stephen otherwise. The astute Stephen does not buy her arguments and promptly and discreetly informs Calvin of the situation.

Kerry Washington as Broomhilda von Schaft in Django Unchained
Kerry Washington as Broomhilda von Schaft
The enraged Calvin finishes the business transaction at gunpoint. He gloats over the fact that he was not deceived by Schultz’s plan and forces Schultz to acknowledge that fact through a simple handshake. Schultz has already witnessed the brutal death of a slave and refuses to (literally) shake hands with the devil.

The resulting showdown is pure entertainment in Tarantino style.

Both Waltz and Tarantino richly deserve their Oscars. Waltz is just amazing as Schultz. Schultz has a very dramatic style of presenting himself and just as accurate with his shooting. Tarantino has done some of his best writing for Colonol Hans Landa and Dr King Schultz. It comes as no surprise that Waltz scored Oscar wins for portraying both these characters.

Christoph Waltz in an Oscar winning performance as Dr King Schultz in Django Unchained
Christoph Waltz gives an Oscar winning performance
Leonardo DiCaprio gives the second best performance as the villainous Calvin Clandie. DiCaprio’s natural good looks combined with his French goatee and red clothings make Calvin one handsome devil. DiCaprio has delivered one strong performance after another in a variety of roles and Calvin is yet another feather in his cap.

Leo did some research and came up with the idea of using the skull in the pivotal dinner scene. He is reported to be highly interested in the Victorian era and looks very much at home, smoking his pipe.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie and Jamie Foxx as Django in Django Unchained
Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie
Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington and Samuel L Jackson give great performances as well. 

Samuel Jackson in particular is excellent as the cunning and sharp Stephen who has some tricks up his sleeve.

Leonardo DiCaprio Samuel L Jackson Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained
Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L Jackson in Django Unchained
There are a number of supporting performances. Jonah Hill and Quentin himself appear in brief cameos. The bag head scene featuring Jonah is pretty funny and is classic Tarantino.

There a lot of beautiful outdoor shots and full credit to Robert Richardson for the amazing cinematography.

Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx on horses in Django Unchained
Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained
The costumes, makeup, the sets and the music are all top-notch.

As expected, the dialogues crackle with wit and energy. Tarantino loves to write long chatty scenes and Django has a bunch of them. Still, the movie is consistently entertaining thanks to Quentin’s sharp writing and even sharper screenplay.

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The shootout scenes are just spectacular and will leave a smile on your face. This is Tarantino doing what he does best: a genre movie that can stand on its own and simultaneously is an homage to the genre.

Quentin Tarantino won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Django Unchained
Quentin Tarantino
A must watch for fans of Spaghetti Westerns and Quentin Tarantino.

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Image Sources: The Weinstein Company and Columbia Pictures

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Movie Review: Skyfall (2012)

Daniel Craig as James Bond Skyfall
Daniel Craig as James Bond
The movie opens with Bond on the pursuit of a document that has a list of MI6 agents. This is an extended chase scene, first on motorcycles and concluding on a moving train. Bond gets mistakenly shot by his fellow agent, Eve (Naomie Harris) and is presumed dead.

Silva (Javier Bardem), a former MI6 agent is determined to ruin MI6 and especially M (Judi Dench). He ends up blowing up the MI6 building right in front of M. He is so effective in his plans that he ensures that she is actually present when it happens.

Bond is forced to come out of his self-imposed exile. Bond fails the fitness exams and is still assigned to work. There is a new Q (Ben Whishaw) on the block. Q is much younger than Bond and considers Bond to be too old for active duty.

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The next section of the movie is set in Shanghai and has been shot beautifully. We meet the requisite femme fatale of the movie, Severine (Bérénice Marlohe).

The next action scene is set in a nightclub and has a nice nod to the crocodile jumping scene from Live and Let Die (Roger Moore, 1973).

Bond and Silva meet and Silva shows his admiration for not only Bond’s intellect but also his brawn. Bond quickly dispatches Silva’s henchmen and takes him into custody.

Naomie Harris as Eve Skyfall
Naomie Harris as Eve
Q tries to break into Silva’s laptop and discovers that it was latter’s plan to get caught all along. Silva escapes after killing a couple of agents. Bond stops Silva from murdering M, who once again makes good with his escape.

Bond takes M to his home “Skyfall” to prevent further collateral damage and to finish Silva once and for all.

Sam Mendes is an exceptional director and is responsible for two of my all-time favorite movies: American Beauty and Road to Perdition. It comes as no surprise that Skyfall is one of the best Bond movies. In addition to the usual gadgets/guns, the iconic Aston Martin DB5 also makes a comeback.

Aston Martin DB5 Daniel Craig James Bond Skyfall
Aston Martin DB5
The cinematography by Roger Deakins is spectacular in the Shanghai sequence and in the final section of the movie set at Bond’s home.

The movie has already won the Golden Globe award for Best Original Song (Adele and Paul Epworth) and the BAFTA award for Original Music (Thomas Newman) and Outstanding British Film. The movie has been nominated for 5 Oscars as well.

This is Daniel Craig’s third outing as Bond and he is very good. I have seen Casino Royale and am yet to watch Quantum of Solace. I enjoyed his performance in the former and this performance is even better.

Craig is an excellent actor and he brings a lot of depth to his performance. Craig may not have the dashing looks of Pierce Brosnan or Roger Moore. To me, Craig is on par with Sean Connery as being the best Bond.

Daniel Craig as James Bond and Javier Bardem as Silva Skyfall
Daniel Craig and Javier Bardem in Skyfall
Craig’s Bond is the most three-dimensional I have seen yet. It is a fitting way to celebrate the 50th year of the Bond movie series.

Javier Bardem oozes pure menace as Silva. He is aided by some great CGI work, especially in the scene where he explains his sufferings to M. He is one of the best Bond villains in a long time.

The supporting cast fills out their roles nicely. Special mention must be made of Ben Whishaw as Q and Albert Finney as Kincade.

Ben makes a good successor to Desmond Llewelyn as Q. It was fun to watch Q and Bond develop their chemistry over the course of the movie.

Albert Finney as Kincade Skyfall
Albert Finney as Kincade
Albert Finney is one of the best character actors around and makes a good impression as Bond’s mentor.

Craig’s scenes with Ben and Albert are among the best in the movie and sparkle with great chemistry between the actors.

Ralph Fiennes, Judi Dench and Naomi Harris are good in their roles as Gareth Mallory, M and Eve respectively.

Helen McCrory has a brief cameo as Clair Dowar MP. Sherlock Holmes fans might remember her from Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking.

Ben Whishaw as Q Skyfall
Ben Whishaw as Q

The film does suffer from a couple of drawbacks:
I felt that the movie was heavily inspired from Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies. The movie was like a reverse walkthrough of the trilogy. The scenes where Bond’s age catches up with him and he fails his tests and is being made fun of by Q reminded me of similar scenes with Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight Rises. Silva’s plan to deliberately get caught and then making his escape from the MI6 building was similar to the Joker’s in The Dark Knight. Finally, the scene where Bond’s home “Skyfall” is burnt to the ground reminded me of the scene in Batman Begins where Bruce Wayne’s manor is destroyed in the fire set off by the League of Shadows.

----------------- Spoilers Ahead -------------
If you have not seen the movie yet, I would recommend that you skip this section.
Bond is at least partly responsible for M’s death. If M had stayed hidden inside the hidden tunnel/basement under “Skyfall”, she would most probably have lived through the day.
----------------- End of spoilers ----------------

The movie is a must watch for James Bond fans and readers who enjoy action/thriller movies. Daniel Craig makes a great Bond and I look forward to the next Bond movie that reportedly reunites him with Sam Mendes.

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Image Sources: Eon Productions, Danjaq

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Monday, February 18, 2013

TV Review: Attenborough's Life Stories - Episode # 3 - Our Fragile Planet

Attenborough's Life Stories Episode # 3 Our Fragile Planet PBS Nature David Attenborough

After covering man’s efforts to study the world around him, David takes a look at the consequences of human activities on not only the living beings that cohabit our planet but the planet itself.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) was formed in 1961 and one of their earliest conservation efforts was focused on the endangered animals in the Galapagos Islands.

The Galapagos tortoise weigh upto 250 kgs and live upto 150 years, making them the longest living animals on earth.

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We then meet the late Lonesome George, who was the last member of his species, the Pinta tortoise.

Then the focus shifts to the Virunga Mountains, one of the last remaining strongholds of the critically endangered MountainGorillas.

Attenborough's Life Stories Episode # 3 Our Fragile Planet PBS Nature Mountain Gorillas Conservation
Mountain Gorillas
David’s visit was shortly preceded by the brutal killing of Digit, Dian’s favorite gorilla. He witnessed first-hand Dian’s grieving for her loss. After returning to England, he took up the cause himself. Readers interested to know more about Mountain Gorillas are encouraged to read the book: Gorillas inthe Mist by Dian Fossey.

Mountain Gorillas are not the only great apes covered in this episode. David also worked with Orangutans back in the 1950s. He brought back one of the Orangutans to the London Zoo and named him “Charlie”.

We then move on to the giants of the oceans, the Blue Whales. David encountered them for the first time at the age of 76. The whaling industry has taken a heavy toll on the worldwide population of whales.

In addition to these magnificent beings, the planet is also at the receiving end of man’s activities. Earth’s climate has been undergoing some drastic changes and this affects every living being in the world.

Attenborough's Life Stories Episode # 3 Our Fragile Planet PBS Nature Rhinoceros Animal Conservation

It is high time, we human beings take active steps to ensure the survival and flourishing of our fellow beings who share our wonderful planet with us. As David states, we need concerted efforts on an international level.

David’s observations about Mountain Gorillas perhaps sums it the best:
“There is more meaning and mutual understanding in exchanging a glance with a gorilla than any other animal I know.”

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Image Source: PBS Nature

Friday, February 15, 2013

TV Review: Elementary - Episode # 16 - Details

Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes and Aidan Quinn as Captain Toby Gregson CBS Elementary Episode # 16 Details
Jonny Lee Miller and Aidan Quinn in Elementary
The least explored character in the show has been without a doubt, Detective Marcus Bell (Jon Michael Hill). Captain Gregson (Aidan Quinn) has had his share of fame in some of the previous episodes. Detective Bell, on the other hand, has remained a non-entity. He has remained the token member of the official force who bears the brunt of Sherlock’s sarcasm.

This episode seeks to rectify this situation and Bell gets to hog the limelight.
Bell is attacked by an unknown assailant in a car. Bell’s car flips, leaving him bruised. Bell suspects that Curtis Bradshaw (Anwan Glover), a powerful drug peddler from one of his earlier cases is behind the attacks. The case takes a new direction when Curtis himself is murdered.

The suspicion next falls on Bell’s brother, Andre Bell (Malcolm Goodwin) who is an ex-convict and out on parole.

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In the episode’s customary subplot, Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) has grown apprehensive about Joan’s safety since the incidents of the last episode. Holmes in his search for a martial arts trainer for Joan zeroes in on Bell’s colleague Paula Reyes (Paula Garcés). Holmes has deduced that Paula is good at boxing.

Continuing the show's downward trend, this episode is another weak one. Many of the attempts at humor fell flat. It felt like Miller was trying too hard to be funny.

His guerilla style attacks on Joan to test her reflexes reminded me instantly of the same antics employed by Cato (Burt Kwouk) on Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Peter Sellers) in A Shot in the Dark, the second in the Pink Panther movie series.

Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes in CBS Elementary Episode # 16 Details
Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes

I did like Holmes’ usage of the British term “Water Closet”.

Canonical References
1.   Holmes' attempt to get information from Curtis by placing a bet – Reference to The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, in which Holmes places a bet with the salesman to obtain information about the goose.
2.   Holmes conducting a Ballistics exam inside his apartment – Reference to this line from The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual: “ … Holmes, in one of his queer humours, would sit in an armchair with his hair-trigger and a hundred Boxer cartridges and proceed to adorn the opposite wall with a patriotic V. R. done in bullet-pocks,..”
3.   Holmes remark about catching the scent of recently used firearms in Bell’s apartment - Holmes states in The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier: “I have, as my friend Watson may have remarked, an abnormally acute set of senses, and a faint but incisive scent was apparent.”
4.   Holmes commenting that Bell was not stupid enough to conceal the gun (used to commit a crime he is accused of) in his apartment – Reference to The Problem of Thor Bridge, in which Holmes deduces that the discovery of the revolver on the floor of the governess’ wardrobe was meant to frame her.
5.   We see the set of locks on the wall in a couple of scenes - The Canonical Holmes is an expert in lock picking. He even mentions in The Adventure of the Retired Colourman: “Burglary has always been an alternative profession had I cared to adopt it, and I have little doubt that I should have come to the front.”
6.   Holmes treating Bell as just another resource for getting information – I think this is an indirect reference to this statement by Holmes in The Sign of the Four: “A client is to me a mere unit,—a factor in a problem. The emotional qualities are antagonistic to clear reasoning.”

Jon Michael Hill as Detective Marcus Bell and Lucy Liu as Joan Watson in CBS Elementary Episode # 16 Details
Jon Michael Hill as Marcus Bell and Lucy Liu as Joan Watson

The song “No Man is an Island” (Losers Theme) by Losers is played when Holmes is conducting his ballistics exam.

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Friday, February 8, 2013

TV Review: Elementary - Episode # 15 - A Giant Gun, Filled with Drugs

Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes CBS Elementary Episode 15 A Giant Gun, Filled with Drugs
Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu as Holmes and Watson
Sherlock is visited by Rhys, his former drug dealer. Rhys’ daughter, Emily has been kidnapped and the kidnapper sends a ransom note demanding 2.2 million USD. Rhys had stolen that amount from a drug cartel and it seems his past has caught up with him.

Holmes deduces that the kidnapper was in a nightclub before he abducted Emily. Holmes tries to get some information from a DEA agent working undercover in the club. Sherlock does acquire the “information”, but has to undergo considerable amount of pain in the process.

The kidnapper does not take kindly to the fact that Rhys has applied for outside help. He sends Emily’s severed finger as a warning and wants the money handed over the very next day.

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Rhys is convinced that Holmes needs his regular intake of drugs to solve the case sooner and attempts many times to reintroduce Holmes to drugs.

Racing against time and under pressure from Rhys, Holmes contacts his father to arrange for the money. Holmes, acting as the mediator, turns up at the meeting place to hand over the ransom money and secure Emily.

But, things do not go as planned and the kidnapper has other plans in mind.

This was an OK episode, as far as the mystery was concerned. I felt there was too much emphasis on Holmes’ addiction to drugs.

John Hannah as Rhys and Lucy Liu as Joan Watson CBS Elementary Episode 15 A Giant Gun, Filled with Drugs
John Hannah as Rhys and Lucy Liu as Joan Watson
The episode scored well on the humor aspects. Both John Hannah and Jonny Lee Miller had some great lines that both actors delivered with great aplomb. Rhys referring to Watson as a “bird” Holmes brought over was hilarious.

Miller’s best lines were with reference to Emily’s tweets. He describes them to be “serving as a valid argument for eugenics”. He goes even further: “Demonstrates that brevity does not protect against dullness”.

He finally tops it off by saying that the time he spent “wading in the cesspool of social media was not a complete waste” and that he did discover a possible clue.

Lucy Liu’s Watson did not have much to do in this episode, other than warn Rhys from trying to make Holmes take drugs again.

Lucy Liu as Joan Watson CBS Elementary Episode 15 A Giant Gun, Filled with Drugs
Lucy Liu as Joan Watson

Canonical References

  1. Sherlock talks about his case involving a mongoose – Reference to The Adventure of the Crooked Man
  2. Rhys’ appeal to Holmes’ ego to take the case of his missing daughter – Reference to this line spoken by Watson from A Study in Scarlet: “I had already observed that he was as sensitive to flattery on the score of his art as any girl could be of her beauty.”
  3. Holmes also indicates that he might talk about the case of the blue carbuncle in future drug recovery sessions – The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle
  4. Sherlock deducing the club name based on the print left by the kidnapper – In The Adventure of the Norwood Builder, Holmes uses a fingerprint left on the wall to solve the crime.
  5. Holmes deduces that the cigar ash, left behind at the scene of Emily's kidnapping, belonged to Crema, a Dominican cigar. Holmes also refers to his ability to recognize 140 brands of ash and to his monograph on the subject – Holmes states in The Boscombe Valley Mystery: “I have, as you know, devoted some attention to this, and written a little monograph on the ashes of 140 different varieties of pipe, cigar, and cigarette tobacco.”
  6. Holmes cracks Emily’s bank password – Reference to Holmes’ statement from The Sign of the Four: “Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere.”
  7. Holmes determining the name of the Ethiopian dish by “tasting” it – In A Study in Scarlet, Stamford mentions to Watson about Holmes’ habit of beating the corpses with a stick to verify how far bruises may be produced after death.
  8. Holmes asks Watson to check on Rhys, since he cannot hear of any sound to indicate that Rhys is still present in the house – Indirect reference to Holmes deducing that Susan, the maid was overhearing his conversation from The Adventure of the Three Gables: “I have been listening to her for the last five minutes, but did not wish to interrupt your most interesting narrative. Just a little wheezy, Susan, are you not? You breathe too heavily for that kind of work.”
  9. Holmes’ statement to Rhys: “After today, you are never to darken my doorway again.” – A very similar line was uttered by James Browner in The Adventure of the Cardboard Box: “this man Fairbairn is never to darken my door again.”
  10. We see a large number of locks on the wall in the ending scene – The Canonical Holmes is an expert in lock picking.

John Hannah as Rhys CBS Elementary Episode 15 A Giant Gun, Filled with Drugs
John Hannah as Rhys

Overall, an average episode and a considerable comedown from the previous episode, The Deductionist.

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Elementary Ep # 14 - The Deductionist