DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: December 2012

Monday, 31 December 2012

Django Unchained

Django Unchained is Tarantino at his most grisly, brutal, but also straightforward, a film made for instant satisfaction but little resonance. Tarantino’s pulp slavery-era Western is certainly in line with QT’s current fetish for grindhouse-worthy cult-cinema. While Django Unchained is more Inglourious Basterds than Death Proof, there’s a strange feeling of emptiness not present in both Kill Bill and Basterds. That said, I don’t think three hours have ever gone by faster for me in the cinema.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The critical tepidness to this picture is astounding to me, the newest Hobbit film a natural extension to The Lord of the Rings trilogy is in fact a better film than any of the three original, critically acclaimed, and Oscar winning films. Peter Jackson miraculously manages to find the same pulse of the original series but hangs his startling visuals and impeccable fantasy action filmmaking skills onto a stronger and more accessible story as well as casting his characters with stronger actors./

Pitch Perfect

An overachieving cinematic version of A Capella version of Glee, significantly 'straighter' and minus the television earnestness, but also piggybacking on the show's unique self-awareness that removes the silliness of its premise.

Monday, 24 December 2012


The comparison has already been made but indeed Lincoln plays a historical episode of The West Wing, a modest affair considering the canvas of American history at Mr. Spielberg's disposal. By the story of Lincoln, admirably is confined to the two month period or so in which he sought to pass the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery, with most of the conflict involving the political dealings it took to secure the two thirds House vote. With Spielberg histrionics kept in check, the only misstep is the needlessly long running time, and at times overly verbose Tony Kushner dialogue.v

Thursday, 20 December 2012


Robert Zemeckis’s return to live action filmmakers makes for one of the year’s most pleasant surprises. Denzel Washington’s achingly honest portrait of an alcoholic anchors what turns out to be Zemeckis’ most modest film to date (mostly) without the special effects razzle-dazzle he’s been known for. A couple of heavy-handed moments, and a bloated running time not withstanding, it’s one of the most satisfying films of the year.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Behn Zeitlin's immensely moving coming-of-age story (of sorts), set in the fringes of civilization in Southern Louisiana in the most environmentally vulnerable place in the region, is an experiential film about youth stylized with the same kind of dreamy realism as the more accessible and admittedly on-the-nose 'The Tree of Life'.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Heaven's Gate

Expensive – who cares? Egotistical director – who cares? At the end of the day, what miraculously rises from the ashes of time is the superlative cinematic splendour of Cimino’s picture. Heaven’s Gate is the comeback picture of the last 30 years and a terrible cinematic injustice now vindicated with its glorious high definition restoration by the Criterion Collection, and before that an open vault festival screening at the Venice Film Festival.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Bonfire of the Vanities

Even by Brian De Palma standards — a man whom critics and audiences continually fall in and out of love with — the collective reaction to his adaptation of the revered Tom Wolfe novel about the evils of '80s capitalism was vicious. But comparing the nuanced social critique of Tom Wolfe's prose to Brian De Palma's wholly unique and bold cinematic recipe requires a different set of expectations. I hope critics and audiences these many years hence who may not have the novel so clearly in their heads can re-watch and enjoy the film for what it is: a bold socio-political farce told through the eyes of a cinema master renowned for visual ingenuity and obsessive cinematic references.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

Like the 30 lbs of muscle Tom Hardy apparently gained on top of an already ripped body to play the brutish Bane character, Christopher Nolan applies this mentality to every aspect of filmmaking for 'The Dark Knight Rises'. The result is a gargantuan monster of a film, a breathless and sometimes exhaustive experience.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Life of Pi

A cinematic Moby Dick of sorts, Ang Lee’s celebrated adaptation of Yann Martel’s novel is indeed an incredible high seas adventure film of one man's battles against the power of the ocean and a beast. The technical achievement of rendering the isolation and conflict between an Indian boy and a hostile Bengal tiger aboard a lifeboat on the Indian Ocean is out of this world and worth the price of admission. Bringing this boat down, though not sinking it, is the sloppy and awkward bookend scenes in the present, a storytelling challenge which unfortunately Ang Lee and all the money given to this film just couldn't solve.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Catch Me If You Can

Despite the mostly unanimous praise and monetary success for this picture, Catch Me If You Can works best as a counterpoint to most of the films on Spielberg’s filmography - a tepid light-as-air crime comedy, mildly charming, mildy funny and mildly suspenseful, a kind of cinematic modesty rarely seen in any of his films.

Catch Me If You Can (2001) dir. Steven Spielberg
Starring: Leonardo Di Caprio, Tom Hanks, Martin Sheen, Amy Adams,

By Alan Bacchus

Spielberg finds his hero in the real-life figure of William Abagnale Jr (Di Caprio), a kid caught in the middle of his parents' divorce. He witnesses the self-destruction of his father (Walken), who is failing as a parent, husband, entrepreneur and in the American dream. Running away from home, Abagnale never desired to become a conman, and almost by accident he discovers ways to cheat the financial system and exploit the welcoming nature of American citizens for his own benefit. Soon Abagnale finds himself forging cheques, faking identifications of airline pilots, lawyers and doctors, and at his worst deceiving his fiancée (Amy Adams).

In writer Jeff Nathanson’s attempt to constrict the actions of William Abagnale Jr. within a two-hour script, the film comes off as a scattered montage of his life, a difficult narrative method to make work. Nathanson only partly succeeds. The depiction of Abagnale’s schemes are fun, executed not so much in the procedural detail of a crime film but with a soft swagger of a '60s sex romp. What doesn’t quite land is the plotting of the chase - that is, the character of Carl Hanratty (Hanks), the FBI agent hot on his tail.

Despite the aggressive pursuit of Abagnale, Spielberg’s tone is so pillowy-soft we feel that if he ever goes to prison it’ll be the Shawshank Redemption kind, full of charming personalities and old-boy flavour. It's part of Spielberg’s desire to retrofit the film into a Wilder-esque '60s farce, completely separated from any kind of real-world danger. The Frank Sinatra crooning show tunes hit this on the head too hard for me, a surprisingly uncreative, played-out device. The naivete and ease with which the fanciful girls succumb to Abagnale’s charms is obviously the main attraction of the film, and certainly Mr. Spielberg turns Di Caprio into a boyish playboy with ease. But it’s this artifice which props up the film.

Abagnale’s core internal struggles, his identity issues and desire to run away from his domestic conflicts, are obvious metaphors to Spielberg’s well-documented childhood and career-long affectations. That said, the casting of Christopher Walken, who acts more like Christopher Walken than an emasculated underachieving absentee father, is a distraction. I understand Mr. Walken’s unique voice cadence and now iconic persona please most viewers, but to me he’s a scene-chewer who distracts us from the important emotional relationship in the film.

Looking back on Leonardo Di Caprio’s career, before Django Unchained this was the last time he’d attempted comedy. His boyish affability is a natural for the character’s innocent charms and unassuming, and thus manipulative, nature. The rest of his career would see him wallow in self-despair and heavy, brooding tortured characters, choices perhaps made in an attempt to distance himself from his roots as a child actor in television comedy and the Titanic burden of being a teen mag sensation.

But now, 10 years later, what’s most important is how this film sits on Steven Spielberg’s filmography, admirably next to his other anachronistic and unambitious pictures such as Always and The Terminal.


Catch Me If You Can is available on Blu-ray from Paramount Pictures.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Lawrence of Arabia

Its excellence in spectacle cinema notwithstanding, as long as the Middle East is in conflict, Lawrence of Arabia will be a relevant and timeless film. As Arab states battle against their Israel neighbours today, David Lean's lauded and legendary epic follows the plight of the Arabs in the days of WWI through the eyes of T.E. Lawrence, the eccentric British officer who sought to unite the separate Arab tribes of the region against Turkish oppressors, sometimes in the name of the British King, sometimes in the name of his egotistical ambitions.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962) dir. David Lean
Starring: Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn, Anthony Quayle, Alec Guinness

By Alan Bacchus

While there isn't a single female in the film — it's three hours and 42 minutes of masculinity — the romantic feeling is strong. A romance of the windswept Middle Eastern deserts, the spiritual connection to the rigors of the untamed environment and the exotic culture of the Arabic peoples. Cinematographer Freddie Young's unrivalled 70mm photography translates marvelously to high definition Blu-ray. Each shot is so rich, detailed and classically precise that, at times, it looks as if we're viewing a Jacques-Louis David Neoclassical painting.

As cinematically epic as the visuals are, the marvel of the film is Lean's ability to create intimacy within his broad canvas. Peter O'Toole's iconic performance as Lawrence is still as marvellous, delightful and mysterious as ever. It's hard to imagine anyone else's striking blonde hair or piercing blue eyes on the screen. Lean elegantly weaves in the political narrative with Lawrence's ascendance as a military officer. Like his Arab compatriot, Lawrence is inextricably linked by the independent, vagabond lifestyle. Lawrence never fits in anywhere; he's uncomfortable in the starched British officer's uniform and is never fully accepted wearing the Arab attire given to him by the people he's trying to save. O'Toole's off-kilter performance is lyrical, poetic and, at times, grating and abrasive.

Some of the most memorable visual moments in the film are the smallest: the introduction of Omar Sharif, emerging from a mirage, is always discussed. However, a smaller but equally significant moment is Lawrence's decision to take Aqaba, the port city protected by massive Turkish guns. The decisive moment is visualized by two Arab minions who accidentally hit him in the back with a rock. For days they had been sitting in agonizing contemplation of how to turn the tide of war. The seemingly insignificant and accidental action becomes the plan to cross the un-crossable desert and attack Aqaba from behind. The pay-off is one of the greatest sequences and shots in cinema history. The Aqaba attack sequence is brilliantly choreographed with thousands of extras and horses in real time and space, mixing intense on-the-ground close-ups with awe-inspiring wide shots from the hillside. It's capped off with a superlative long take of the camera panning over the army of horses running through the Aqaba village, ending on those heavy artillery guns looking out towards the sea.

Still, as much as the film is beloved, some issues remain. Despite the casting of Omar Sharif, we still have to endure Brits and Americans, such as Sir Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn and Jose Ferrer, playing Arabs and Turks with fake noses and dark face. And it's impossible not to feel the lack of narrative momentum after the intermission — there's no doubt the film's best moments are in the first half.

The Sony Blu-ray comes in two options: a massive box set and a cheaper but still impressive two-disc set. The smaller edition contains two new featurettes for the HD release: a comprehensive discussion with Peter O'Toole reflecting on the film and his creative collaborators, and an interactive featurette that incorporates tidbits of production and historical information into the film. Archived featurettes range from documentaries dating back to the '60s and '70s, material from its restoration in the early '90s and material created for its DVD release in the '00s.

This review first appeared on Exclaim.ca