We Want Action: Django Unchained (2012) & Gangster Squad (2013)

django unchained I’m a big fan of Quentin Tarantino’s films. I certainly don’t like all of his movies equally — Jackie Brown and Death Proof don’t really do it for me — but I rank the rest of them in the Awesome category. Reservoir Dogs was my first and still one of my all time favorite films, Pulp Fiction is a classic, Kill Bill is both an amazing homage and also a brilliant bit of bloody goodness and Inglourious Basterds is so wonderful I can still write the title correctly. I’m actually surprised that I haven’t reviewed any of his other movies here on the blog, but I think part of that stems from the idea that a lot of ink has already been spilled on Tarantino’s career and I’ve found that some things are just so close to my heart that I don’t want to write about them. Sometimes you just want to keep something for your self.

I thought about skipping a review for Django Unchained, Tarantino’s first western, but after thinking about it for awhile, I decided to dive in a bit. If you haven’t seen the movie, do it. It bummed me out that I had to wait as long as I did to see this movie, but that’s what happens when you have a kid and no babysitter. The story revolves around bounty hunter King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) buying slave Django (Jamie Foxx) in an effort to track down a particular bounty. Along the way, Schultz trains Django to become a bounty hunter and the pair become friends to the point where Django tells King that he wants to track down his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) who was sold to Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) a plantation owner who gets his kicks from watching slaves beat each other to death.

Considering the setting and the director, you probably have a pretty good idea of what you’re getting with this movie and it’s truly not for the faint of heart. Even I was impressed with how much blood was spilled in this film, mostly through old school gunfights and a few fights. And, as you’ve probably heard, the language is very of-the-time which translates into “incredibly racist.”

But the real heart of the story revolves around a man taking advantage of every opportunity to find the love of his life. He’ll act like a slave trader himself, he’ll kill people, he’ll play nice with the man who enslaved his wife. But, when the chips are down and it’s time to pull through, Django does everything he can to achieve his goal. Foxx does a terrific job in his role as does, well, everyone else in the whole movie. As you can expect there’s some touchy areas here, but everyone really commits to their parts and Tarantino directed them deftly. All around, Tarantino once again shows how good he can be at taking a genre he loves, mixing in his own sensibilities and even his own take on history and creating something that’s both emotionally satisfying and also fun to watch.

gangster squad poster Gangster Squad also takes viewers to a time in our country’s past and features a heckuva hero. This time we’re in 1949 LA which has been overrun with gangsters like Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). But there’s still a few good cops around like Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) who’s a heard headed justice seeker unafraid to mix it up with the bad guys in an effort to keep his city safe. The police chief (Nick Nolte) realizes this and offers him a chance to go after Cohen and company, but only off the books. O’Mara puts a team together that includes guys played by Ryan Gosling, Anthony Mackie, Giovonni Ribisi, Michael Pena and Robert Patrick who do just that.

The film, directed Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland), is actually based on real life events from the time, but, of course, punched up for more Hollywood goodness. Emma Stone plays both sides of the fence as one of Cohen’s regular lady friends and faling for Gosling’s character (who can blame her). The story bobs and weaves around, actually taking on a lot of the same story beats seen in Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy (a longtime favorite of mine, gotta check out that Blu-ray).

As I noted in this week’s episode of the Pop Poppa Nap Cast, posted over on my dad blog Pop Poppa, I really appreciated the bravery these men exemplified in their attempts to clean up the city. O’Mara’s the kind of classic hero we don’t see much of anymore. He does the right thing because it’s right and good and the only gain he gets out of it is the ability to live in a better world…assuming he doesn’t get killed along the way. All the other guys on the squad have similar motivations, wanting to make the world a better place for their kids, the people in their neighborhood and the like. They’re real, old school heroes who also happen to look and talk slick, shoot well and fight even better. Once again that mix of heart and action really gets me. It also helps that this movie is freaking gorgeous and looks amazing on Blu-ray, as did Django though I didn’t mention above.

Halloween Scene: Eye See You (2002)

I added Eye See You (also known as D-Tox) based solely on the fact that Sylvester Stallone is in at and as longtime readers know, I’m a big fan of his. Well, it turns out that Eye See You is actually a slasher movie. When I read that, I quickly moved it to the top of my list and gave it a watch last night. Don’t let the fact that Universal sat on this flick for a few years before selling it off to some other distributor get you down, it’s a pretty serviceable mix of action and slasher horror, though it’s not really the most original story.

See, Stallone headed up an FBI task force trying to track down a serial killer who went on to kill his wife. After that he kind of lost his shit and his partner takes him to a rehab center in snow-covered Wyoming that caters specifically to law enforecement types who have also lost their shit. The group is watched over by Kris Kristofferson. In addition to Stallone, the group includes Robert Patrick (T-1000!), Tom Berenger (Sniper!), Charles S. Dutton (A Time To Kill!) and Robert Prosky (the old guy from Last Action Hero & Christine!).

Like I said, the plot isn’t really all that original because it takes the plot of any slasher movie and puts it in the setting of The Thing. Instead of a shapeshifting alien, though, the killer this time around is the serial killer form the beginning who has taken over the identity of a cop. As you might expect, the film develops as the characters start realizing some of their group are missing, then they arm themselves, more people die, someone figures out the killer’s identity, but the audience isn’t told and everything ends with Stallone facing off against the killer. The killer’s identity didn’t really blow me away, but I didn’t call it and they avoided going with the obvious choice, which was nice, but in the end the movie’s pretty fun. Not great, but I don’t think it needed to be shelved and dumped like it was. I would imagine the combination of Stallone, the rest of those actors and a horror movie would be enough of a seller to make at least as much money as they made selling the damn thing. Ah well, the best part of the movie is the very end when SPOILER Stallone throws the killer on a wall of knives or blades and then picks him up and throws him further into the blades. Dude was clearly knew Randy’s rules from Scream and wasn’t about to take any chances.

Faculty Advisory

2008-07-10
3:32:44 am

Robert Rodriguez is one of those director’s who’s always impressed me. Sin City, From Dusk Till Dawn, Planet Terror and his Mexico Trilogy were all great in my mind. So, when we got our online Blockbuster account I added just about all of his movies, especially looking forward to The Faculty because 15-year-old TJ wasn’t allowed to see it and later TJs never got around to it. Well, the wait was a pretty long one and then, what do you know, we included it in ToyFare’s Best Alien Invasions (see ToyFare #133 on sale today to find out what place it took and who snagged the #1 spot). So, with that, I borrowed the flick and watched it last night.

The Faculty (1998)

Written by Kevin Williamson, David Wechter and Bruce Kimmel

Directed by Robert Rodriguez

Starring Elijah Wood, Jordana Brewster, Clea DuVall, Usher, Josh Hartnett, Salma Hayek, Famke Janssen, Bebe Neuwirth, Robert Patrick, Jon Stewart and many more

Well, you can add this one to the list of Rodriguez movies that I dug. Part of it was a sense of nostalgia I got while watching it. It kind of reminded me of Can’t Hardly Wait. Not thematically, but when it comes to star power. There are SO MANY familiar faces in this movie. Just check out the list above. Freakin’ Jon Stewart plays a science teacher who gets possessed by an alien parasite and stabbed in the eye with some kind of caffeine drug. Great stuff.

Oh, I guess I should explain the plot. A small town in Ohio gets invaded by alien parasites who burrow their way into bodies, taking over control of the inhabitant. Elija Wood’s character finds one of the parasites on the football field and later finds himself in a closet with the hot girl as they see the football coach (T-1000 himself Robert Patrick) and another teacher drop a parasite in the hot nurse (Salma Hayek). From there a mismatched group of high schoolers (think basically The Breakfast Club. Don’t know what that is? Go away) bands together and figures out that the drugs that Josh Hartnett’s been peddling around the school can kill them and do their best to stop the invasion.

I really like how they don’t muck about when it comes to the story on this flick. You’re into the story pretty early on with Elija Wood finding the parasite. They don’t mess around with “is this really happening” BS too much that comes with these kinds of movies. You get your set group of characters pretty early on and you strap in for the ride with them. I also like that Matt Parkman’s partner from Heroes (Clea DuVall) actually compares what’s going on to Invasion of the Body Snatchers and all that. She tells Elija Wood about this and he wonders if all the movies and whatnot about aliens is actually a way for them to get people complacent so they don’t think an alien invasion is possible. It’s a great bit of business that feels really natural in “our world.”

Speaking of the cast again, it’s a lot of fun to see some pretty huge actors (along with some not-so-huge and completely unknown actors) in these roles. But they’re also really really convincing in their roles. Elija Wood looks like a huge geek and acts like one too. Josh Hartnett’s loser Zeke is pretty much a genius who just doesn’t like school and deals drugs on campus. They all handle the Thing-like suspense of “who’s an alien and who’s not?” so convincingly that I really couldn’t figure out who was and who wasn’t.

I also liked how the special FX (do they still spell it like that? Probably not, oh well) looked. Especially in the scene where the parasite-controlled Jon Stewart attacks the kids in a classroom. Zeke rips the blade off of a paper cutter and chops Stewart’s fingers off. But they don’t just lie there, the snake themselves towards the kids. But that’s not all, whisps of blood snake out from his fingers until he’s stabbed in the eye, foams and the parasites under his skin die. Crazy stuff.

All in all, this is a fun little romp that shows off Rodriguez’s directing chops along with the acting talent of the cast that has gone on to prove itself just as well as the adults who play the teachers. Oh and Bebe Nuerth looks hot as the principal. Yeah, I said it.