Sometimes you cannot stop the haters from hating. Case in point, there’re three films that opened late last year, and for each film I’ve met a person(s) who’ve slammed said film without even seeing it. “I hate musicals.” “I hate violence in movies.” “He’s weird/short/gay.”
Truth be told Les Misérables, Django Unchained and Jack Reacher are all perfect genre films: musical, western, action thriller. Each one achieves what it set out to do. Tarantino in particular has had me in his corner since day one, and Django Unchained exceeds every notion you could hope for. There’s crystal clear photography and explosive violence. If Tarantino changed the outcome of history in his previous film then here he adds to historical perspective by reminding the audience that Alexandre Dumas (the author of The Three Musketeers) was black. Tarantino, by the way, released his script for DU over a year ago on the internet, and even though you know what’s going to happen it still comes as a complete surprise.
Jack Reacher may be one of Tom Cruise’s best vehicles. It’s an action thriller that’s stripped down to its core perhaps due to director Christopher McQuarrie (Oscar® winner screenwriter of The Usual Suspects) and his vision of the kinds of actioners that dominated movies in the pre-CGI era of filmmaking. Robert Duvall has one of his best supporting turns in years; Rosamund Pike, Werner Herzog and David Oyelowo co-star. Les Mis likewise pays off by focusing on the epic, operatic notion of good and evil as embodied in Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe’s performance and singing. You cannot be unmoved by some of the vocal passages on display. Likewise Les Mis is wall-to-wall music and if you can’t hang with that you’re just setting yourself up for a cinematic sewer of despair.
Promised Land goes down like medicine. As well intentioned as the script (by stars Matt Damon and John Krasinski) and the solid direction by Gus Van Sant, this story of the dangers of fracking to mine for natural gas too often borders on preaching to the choir. Frances McDormand, Hal Holbrook and Rosemarie DeWitt co-star. Just to note due credit, Damon has an Oscar® as one of the screenwriters for Good Will Hunting (shared with Ben Affleck), and he invests the PL script with actual moments of rooting for the good guys at the moment they need it most.
The Impossible tells the story of the 2004 Christmas tsunami off the coast of Indonesia that killed over 230,000 people. Stars Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor are upwardly mobile types vacationing with their family who all get swept away in floodwaters. The special effects of the tsunami and its consequences are spectacular but don’t go in thinking this is some kind of Roland Emmerich adventure of destruction. After the first act we follow the valiant efforts of Watts to find her family despite being injured during the ordeal. The Impossible marks the American debut of Spanish helmer Juan Antonio Bayona who previously gave audience the incredibly effective horror chiller about dead kids The Orphanage (El orphanato).
And don’t forget that this weekend the Houston Film Critics Society will present a free program at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (Saturday, January 5, 4 pm.). The one-hour presentation honors films from 2012 with a reception following in the lobby. Free food and a free film program are the key words. Often smaller release and foreign films don’t get the love bigger studio films get because fewer people see them. That’s why my critic cohorts and myself are the go-to people to find out if a particular foreign film may deserve your interest. Because we know about films. You may’ve heard of the recent criticism of a certain movie by members of Congress like Dianne Feinstein and John McCain, a movie incidentally that practically nobody outside of Gotham and L.A. has seen, and that opens in Houston on January 11. (I’ve seen Zero Dark Thirty twice and it’s a great sit.) Don’t listen to them; they don’t know diddly about movies. By the same token if I start talking about politics don’t listen to me.
- Michael Bergeron