Tag Archives: Christoph Waltz

Spectre (2015) (IMAX)

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Truth be told, I’ve never been that big a fan of the James Bond 007 franchise. It’s always kind of the same, no? A suave super spy who loves the sexy ladies and whom the sexy ladies love in return. Slick cars, cool gadgets, and a whole lot of style.

The reason Daniel Craig has been so loved as Bond is because he supposedly makes the character more vulnerable and more human. I really enjoyed Casino Royale, almost fell asleep during Quantum of Solace, and quite liked Skyfall (review here), though I still don’t think it lived up to the hype. Yeah, Sam Mendes made a very nice looking, very artistic film, but I didn’t think there was much substance behind the simple yet unnecessary convoluted plot.

The same can be said for, Spectre, which could very well be Craig’s final outing as James Bond (he’s signed on for one more, but the rights to the franchise are going up for auction and whoever wins it might decide to start afresh) — except it has more problems than just a lack of substance. I don’t want to say I disliked the movie — it was enjoyable on some levels — but it’s definitely weaker than both Skyfall and Casino Royale (can’t compare to Quantum of Solace because I can’t remember it). And for what is supposed to be the “climax” of the Daniel Craig franchise, that’s disappointing.

Spectre starts off with a bang in Mexico City, with Bond on pursuit of a mysterious criminal. I remember being blown away by the opening sequence of Skyfall on that moving train, and Spectre arguably tops that. I saw it in IMAX too, so it was even more spectacular.

The ensuing title sequence they have for all Bond films is also done very well through a catchy blend of artistic imagery and the soulful voice of Sam Smith. It also provides flashes of characters from the previous three films to jog our memories as Spectre ties it all together.

From there, however, the film struggles to keep up. Granted, there is more plot that Skyfall, and the surveillance technology premise is well-suited to the post-Snowden era. Further, the technical execution is still excellent. The action, from what I remember, is perhaps better than that from Skyfall, with a few explosive and eye-popping set pieces that keep the adrenaline pumping. A lot of guns and a lot of explosions, a few slick car chases and nicely choreographed hand-to-hand combat scenes. And of course Sam Mendes ensures everything looks as pretty as ever and Craig remains as suave and unflustered — for the most part — as he possibly can be.

But amid all of this is a whole bunch of ham. Ham-fistedness, that is. The Bond cliches start pouring out, and they feel unnecessary and contrived. From the women and romances to the villains and their moronically elaborate tactics, so much of Spectre gravitates towards the tropes that Craig is supposed to be steering away from. I don’t want to divulge spoilers, of course, but ‘m not kidding when I say this film does the exact sort of things Austin Powers has made fun of.

I was disappointed in the female characters too. I absolutely love Monica Bellucci, but her role in this film is ridiculous and a complete waste of time. I also thought Naomi Harris, who didn’t get to do much in Skyfall, would play a bigger role this time. She does feature more prominently, though just barely, though her presence all but disappears in the second half of the movie. You almost forget about her. Of the Bond girls, only Lea Seydoux has a meaty role. She’s awesome and sassy, but if you think about it, her purpose is still quite conventional — to look sexy and to be rescued.

That brings me to the villain, played by dual Oscar winner Christoph Waltz. He’s supposed to be the baddie of all baddies. The ultimate nemesis. The guy who makes the villains from the previous three films look like pussies. He’s certainly built up to be that guy, and on paper Waltz is perfect for the role. And yet, he totally sucks. Every one of his appearances — every damn one — is preceded by a long, elaborate and over-the-top introduction. And it’s not like we don’t know who he is. Everyone knows it’s Christoph Waltz! And yet it seems he always feels the need to hide in the shadows for five minutes before unveiling his face. The amount of effort Mendes puts into setting Waltz up as the king of villains only ends up accentuating how inept he actually is.

I sound harsher than I mean to. Spectre is skilfully made, looks fantastic (especially in IMAX) and still has its moments, like the opening sequence and some of the scenes involving badass Dave Bautista. Ben Whishaw’s Q is also very likable and Ralph Fiennes does a solid job of stepping in for Judi Dench as M. It’s just that, after three films of making us feel that Daniel Craig represents a different and better kind of Bond, Spectre brings us right back to the formulaic version of the character and tropes that I never cared much for. There’s no other way to call it other than a step back.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Horrible Bosses 2 (2014)

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I didn’t think much of 2011’s Horrible Bosses despite its lovable main cast of Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day. You can read my full review here, but basically I just didn’t find it funny enough, and it’s always disappointing when a comedy fails to come to close to living up to its potential.

And so it surprises me to say that even though Horrible Bosses 2 is possibly one of the most unnecessary sequels of all time, I actually found it funnier than the original. Call me crazy, or perhaps it was the lowered expectations; maybe I was just in the right mood this time — whatever the reason, I laughed more and was generally less annoyed by the unfunny stuff this time around.

Fed up of being bitches to their horrible old bosses, Bateman, Sudeikis and Day ditch their day jobs to become inventors of a new shower appliance. Their embarrassing appearance on morning television attracts the attention of a wealthy businessman played by dual Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz, and his son, played by Chris Pine. Naturally, being the idiots that they are, the trio get screwed over by father and son, and vow to take matters into their own hands.

Things don’t go according to plan, of course, and soon the movie spirals into a kidnapping farce with plenty of outrageous stupidity. Kevin Spacey and Jennifer Aniston, who played two of the horrible bosses in the first film, manage to make their ways back into the script somehow in smaller roles, and are actually allies to our bumbling heroes.

The jokes are still mainly crass, crude and vulgar, sexually explicit, politically incorrect and (borderline) offensive. The main difference this time, at least for me, is that everyone involved seems more relaxed and less eager to impress, and as a whole, the film doesn’t as hard to be deliberately shocking. As a result, the comedy came across as more free-flowing and less scripted.

The core strength of the film still lies in the three protagonists. As a huge Arrested Development fan, I am glad to say that Bateman’s character definitely channels his inner Michael Bluth — he even says “Come on!” Jason Sudeikis also does that pervy act he does so well, and Charlie Day is basically still the moron from It’s Always Sunny that made him famous. No matter what you think of the film, at least take comfort in the fact that the three actors played to their strengths.

The newcomer, Chris Pine, is also very good here, and adds a wicked vibe and new dynamic to the film. There really aren’t any “horrible bosses” in this sequel, but I suppose he comes closest in terms of the top supporting star.

On the whole, Horrible Bosses 2 is an unnecessary but adequate sequel that might surprise some you if you expect as little of it as I did. It has it’s fair share of misses for sure, though I’m fairly sure I laughed more times watching it than I did watching its predecessor.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Big Eyes (2014)

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Tim Burton movies don’t quite have the same allure they used to, but I was still looking forward to his latest change-of-pace effort, Big Eyes, the amazing real-life story of artists Margaret and Walter Keane.

As the title suggests, the film is about the controversial “Big Eyes” artworks. I may have lived under a rock for most of my life, but even I have seen them before. Like most people, however, I had no idea who painted them and that there was a crazy story behind the true artist. If you don’t know about it, then I suggest you go into the film knowing as little as possible, though even if you do — as I did after “accidentally” doing a bit of reading about it — it’s definitely not a deal breaker.

Amy Adams plays Margaret, a divorced single mother and artist who meets the charismatic and manipulative Walter, brought to life by the always impressive Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz. Walter sweeps Margaret off her feet and the two soon marry. To make ends meet Walter starts renting out wall space in the hopes of selling their paintings, and before long the Big Eyes strike it big, giving the couple everything they could ever dream of. But of course, there is a secret — a very badly-kept one if you’ve seen even just five seconds of the trailer…

Set in the 1950s, Big Eyes is a film that speaks volumes about the sexual equality and the role of women back in those days, which goes a long way to explaining the characters’ actions and motivations. Apart from providing social commentary, the film is also quietly entertaining — not with action or thrills, but with thought-provoking intrigue and quirky humour. You can sense Tim Burton’s shadow in many of the jokes and in Waltz’s flamboyant performance (it’s a role Johnny Depp probably could have done), though thank god it is mostly restrained and not over the top. That said, it is still a very funny film, one that almost pokes fun at the outrageousness of the situation at every turn.

Speaking of performances, Amy Adams delivers another stellar one as the uneasy Margaret, a woman who settles for less because of the times but has an enviable inner strength waiting to be unleashed. The Golden Globe win was well deserved, but I can also see why Adams, as well as the rest of the film, was overlooked for the Oscars. It’s a pleasant and very watchable film, though despite its shocking true-story premise the production lacks a certain “wow” factor that typically captivates Academy voters.

Notwithstanding its lack of Oscar-worthiness, Big Eyes is a fun and educational experience that doesn’t take itself too seriously despite tackling some serious themes. I laughed, I cringed, and I even learned a thing or two. I enjoyed it a lot.

3.75 stars out of 5

Post-Oscars Movie Blitz: Django Unchained (2012)

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Artwork courtesy of Hubert Widjaya. See below for our discussion on the film.

If you like Quentin Tarantino films, then chances are you’ll love Django Unchained. To me, this film is in his top five all-time. Personally, I’d rank it above both the Kill Bill films and Inglourious Basterds, and I already think those films are freaking awesome.

Tarantino films are a unique experience you just can’t get with any other director out there at the moment. His subjects are imaginative and bold. His characters are captivating. His worlds are seductive. His humour is black and wacky. His violence is ridiculously over-the-top. And his dialogue is simply the best. Sure, his movies can sometimes make no sense and come across as self-indulgent, but you can always be sure that a Tarantino film is never boring.

Django Unchained is Tarantino’s take on the spaghetti western genre. The titular character, Django, played by Jamie Foxx (apparently Will Smith was Tarantino’s first choice) is a negro slave from the antebellum era who becomes a bounty hunter under the guidance of Christoph Waltz (who won his second Oscar for best supporting actor in his second Tarantino film). The dynamic duo go in search of Django’s wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), and when they track her down, devise a plan to rescue her from a vile slave owner played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Of course, no Tarantino film is really complete without Samuel L Jackson, who plays Leo’s loyal senior house slave.

In essence, Django Unchained is a fantasy hero film about a wronged black man who goes on a killing rampage against nasty white guys. There are parts that defy logic and reason, but who cares when you’re having so much fun?

The performances are ridiculous. Jamie Foxx is spectacular as the man who will stop at nothing to get his wife back. Christoph Waltz just beat Robert De Niro, Alan Arkin, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Tommy Lee Jones at the Oscars, so you know he’s good. But damn, it’s a travesty that Leo was not at least nominated for the best supporting actor category this year. It’s one of his best performances ever, and if you gave me a choice between Leo and Christoph I’d probably pick Leo. He was just that good. Heartthrobs just can’t get a fair shake with the Academy.

As expected, the release of Django Unchained polarized viewers for its controversial subject matter and content. Spike Lee, before even seeing the film, declared it disrespectful to his ancestors for making light of slavery. Some complained about the crazy violence, even though most of it was applied in a comical kind of way. But what twisted the most panties was the excessive use of the “N” word. Now I don’t claim to be a historian, but I assume that’s the way they spoke back in those days. (That said, knowing how much Tarantino loves to use that word, I have a feeling that much of it probably was gratuitous.)

Whatever. Django Unchained was hands down one of the most entertaining films of the year. A little overlong as usual at 165 minutes, but all things considered still a near masterpiece.

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Original poster

Conversation with HW:

HW: G’day fellow film geek! In the pantheon of Quentin’s work how did you like his latest mind-blowing mash-up?

PJM: I loved it. It’s not quite at the level of his all-time greats like Pulp Fiction but it’s up there. Just for the fun factor I’d rank it above Inglourious Basterds and Kill Bill. That’s how much I enjoyed it. What about you?

HW: In terms of discomfort, i.e. controversy factor, easily number one as it deals with slavery without flinching. Fun factor wise its equal to Inglourious Basterds. It has EASILY by far and away the best Tarantino film performance though in Leo. If not for him playing a racist southerner, he’d be a lock for Oscar nom and win…best villain since the Joker (Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight).

PJM: Absolutely. Leo was phenomenal. I actually thought everyone was great, except for Tarantino himself, of course. He still can’t act. I still reckon he made the film just so he and Samuel L Jackson can say the “N” word to their hearts’ content.

HW: Waltz was charming, and Foxx solid but Leo STEALS every scene he’s in…the best dialogue, the best accent and all delivered with a killer southern accent…my other fave Leo role actually uses another accent too — Blood Diamond.

PJM: That’s the thing with Tarantino — he’s like no other filmmaker out there. He excites me more than any director out there right now (cinematically speaking, of course…)

HW: Funny too…hes banking on, and is usually safe, in assuming that 90% oh viewers don’t know the films he’s ripping off…although there is a definite skill in mashing up genres.

PJM: What would you give it out of 5?

HW: If it weren’t for an absolutely pointless conclusion after the conclusion, I’d give it 9 out of 10…the super tense, brilliant, Samuel L Jackson stealing dinner setup, which ends with [spoilers!] would have brilliant conclusion…would have been a tighter film, with no fat…his second act of [spoilers!] adds nothing, and weakens the film.

PJM: I agree it was a little overlong and had some unnecessary fat to trim, much like Tarantino’s body in this film. I’m giving it a 4.5 out of 5 anyway. This is just the kind of film you don’t see anymore and who better than Tarantino to give it to us. I loved the dialogue, the performances, the action and the humour. Classic Tarantino.

HW: I’d say thats about right.

Movie Review: Water for Elephants (2011)

Here’s a surprise.  I not only watched Water for Elephants, I actually enjoyed it a lot.  I remember last month when R-Patz and Reese Witherspoon were here for the Australian premiere and I just happened to be passing by, hoping to catch a glimpse of the elephant.  Unfortunately, the screams of teenage girls forced me to retreat before I saw anything.

But to make this film all about R-Patz is unfair.  Water For Elephants, based on the bestselling novel by Sara Gruen (who amazingly started it as a part of NaNoWriMo!), is a very good movie about an educated young man (Pattinson) who finds himself working for the Benzini Brothers Circus during the Great Depression and the Prohibition era.  The owner of the circus is August (Christoph Waltz), a charming but cruel man, and his wife and star performer is Marlena (Reese Witherspoon).  Oh, and of course there is an elephant.

It’s one of those classic coming-of-age stories, and if you have any interest in circuses or animals or R-Patz, then chances are you’ll find Water for Elephants a pretty enjoyable ride.  This was a shock to me, considering don’t particularly like Pattinson or Witherspoon, though I am a massive fan of Christoph Waltz (and have been since Inglourious Basterds).

Having interviewed circus performers last year, I do have a bit of a thing for the circus (despite my fear of clowns), but I think I would have enjoyed Water For Elephants in any case.  It’s a lovely film, beautifully shot and oozing a nostalgic old school feel.  The progression of the plot is painfully predictable but I still had a good time with it.

3.75 stars out of 5

PS: After playing a character called Jacob in this film, it looks like R-Patz is now both Team Edward and Team Jacob!

Movie Review: The Green Hornet (2011)

The Green Hornet is the worst superhero movie I’ve seen in a long time.  Actually, let me rephrase that.  It’s a pretty decent movie about the worst superhero I’ve seen in a long time.  In fact, it’s almost an anti-superhero movie.

Before you read further, let me make it clear that I have never seen the original TV series (or read the comics or heard the radio show or watched the film serials ) that made Bruce Lee famous (other than brief snippets in Bruce Lee documentaries/films), so I have no idea whether this film was faithful to the source material.  I highly doubt that it is, but honestly, I don’t really care.  Regardless of whether the original superhero is anything like the new version, this particular Green Hornet is egotistical, moronic, basically useless — and as a result, very funny.  Some say that Rogen was ‘miscast’ as the superhero.  That’s not correct.  Seth Rogen co-wrote the script (with Evan Goldberg — Superbad, Pineapple Express), and he has essentially reshaped the Green Hornet into his own image as opposed to the other way around.  How can he be miscast if he wrote the character as himself?

So for those wondering how someone as goofy as Rogen could have ever pulled off a superhero, wonder no further — because Britt Reid (the Green Hornet’s alter ego), the wealthy slacker son of a newspaper magnate, is exactly like all of Rogen’s other characters — lazy, incompetent, but with a good heart.  For some that might be a reason not to watch this film, but for me, in an age when superheroes were taking themselves very seriously, it was refreshing to see a superhero that’s not always moody, doesn’t have any special powers or abilities, doesn’t even design or make his own gadgets, and has absolutely no desire to save the world.  Reid wants to be a superhero for the same reason we all did when we were kids — because it’s cool!

This is why The Green Hornet is unlike any superhero movie I’ve seen.  There are guns, fights and car chases (with a very cool car) but it’s predominantly a comedy (as opposed to an action film) — and it’s not a spoof or satire.  The guy who does all the work is not the hero, but his sidekick (in this case Kato, played by Taiwanese superstar Jay Chou — who is beyond huge in Asia).  The ‘love interest’, played sparingly by Cameron Diaz, has little interest in the hero.  And even the bad guy, played by acting god and Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz (from Inglourious Basterds), is a deadpanning hoot.  There’s also a very sweet cameo from one of Rogen’s ex–co stars.  It’s completely farcical and intentionally so.  I think a lot of people are looking at this film straight up and have failed to see what Rogen, Goldberg and director Michel Gondry (the guy directed Be Kind Rewind for goodness sake!) were going for.  This is essentially Pineapple Express for superheroes.  Yes, that means the film is pretty weak, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be lots of fun.

Having said all that, The Geen Hornet is not without plenty of problems.  The biggest one is that the tone and pacing are quite uneven, making the film sporadically entertaining — but it also means it occasionally suffers from sequences that don’t work.  Chou, who only started learning English recently, struggled with some of his lines, though I think he did okay — certainly no worse than say Chow Yun Fat, Jet Li or Rain when they first tried to crack Hollywood.  And of course, Rogen’s stupidity does get a little tedious towards the end, and the film loses steam in that tricky area between the second and third acts, as many films do.  And even though I watched this film in 2D, I’ve heard that the 3D effects absolutely suck.  Don’t waste your money again.

On the whole, however, I still enjoyed The Green Hornet much more than I thought I would, probably because I know nothing of the original character and don’t care.  I suppose it’s the type of film that you need to be in the right mood for, and it certainly helps if you weren’t expecting a ‘proper’ superhero film.

3.5 stars out of 5!

[Note: It’s interesting to see how this film developed.  Initially the Green Hornet was supposed to be George Clooney, then Greg Kinnear, with Jason Scott Lee [who played Bruce Lee once] as Kato.  Then the role was offered to Mark Wahlberg before it went into hiatus.  Next, Jet Li was offered Kato, and then Kevin Smith was offered to write and direct, with Jake Gyllenhaal intended for the lead role.  Then in the most interesting development, Hong Kong comedy star Stephen Chow came onboard to direct and star as Kato, before dropping out of both commitments.  Nicholas Cage was offered the role of the villain that Christoph Waltz eventually took.  Each of these configurations would have created a completely different film, but this is what we ended up with!]

Movie Review: Inglourious Basterds (2009)

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One thing I’ve always liked about Quentin Tarantino movies is that they are unpredictable.  You may know the basic outline of the story, but rarely do you know where the scene is heading.  Anything can happen.  Anyone can die.  You just go along for the ride and have fun.  His latest, Inglourious Basterds, is an entertaining, enjoyable film that contains much of Tarantino’s trademark dialogue, humour, gratuitous violence and wacky characters, but it’s not quite the Tarantino masterpiece I had hoped for.

Inglourious Basterds is set once upon a time in Nazi-occupied France, and tells a two-pronged, history-altering tale through 5 interrelated parts.  The less known about the plot the better, or it would spoil some of the neat little surprises (isn’t it always the case?).  Let’s just say there are Nazi hunters, Jew hunters, SS officers, movie stars and cinema owners.  As Tarantino intended, it feels like a western movie set during World War II (complete with western-style music).

Each of the 5 parts has a lot of build up, filled mostly with engaging dialogue.  And that’s the great thing about Tarantino – he can fill a scene with slow, creeping tension just from a couple of guys talking.  However, I got the feeling that Tarantino may have fallen in love with the story and the characters of his own movie too much.  Some of the conversations were just too long and occasionally felt a little tedious – and this is coming from someone who loves Tarantino’s dialogue.  The movie is 2 hours and 29 minutes long, but perhaps could have been about 15-20 minutes shorter to make the overall package a little tighter. 

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Christoph Waltz is dynamite as Colonel Hans Landa

That’s my main complaint.  Everything else was pretty darn marvellous.  From the meticulous sets to the costume designs to the camera angles, it’s clear Tarantino knows what he’s doing.  Like some of Tarantino’s best works, there are several memorable scenes and images that fans will no doubt re-enact themselves with a chuckle.  And needless to say, the acting from the ensemble cast was superb.  Brad Pitt is hilarious as Aldo Raine, the leader of the Basterds (though entirely replaceable in my opinion), and Eli Roth is both creepy and amusing as the ‘Bear Jew’.  Michael Fassenbender also impressed me with his screen presence as Lt Archie Hilcox.  Of the two main female cast members, French actress Melanie Laurent outshines Diane Kruger, though both are excellent.  The one that absolutely blew me away, however, was Austrian actor Christoph Waltz, who deservingly won the Best Actor Award at Cannes for his portrayal of the brilliant Colonel Hans Landa.  If the Oscars were held now he’d definitely get my vote for Best Actor.

4 out of 5 stars!