12 Years a Slave is a faithful and bold adaptation of Solomon Northup’s 1853 autobiography of the same name. British director Steve McQueen gives us an unblinking account of Northup’s abduction into slavery in 1841 and his attempts to “not just survive but live.” McQueen’s style is assured and minimalist—this period of American history needs no dramatization. The truth is harrowing enough.
Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is an unapologetic, over-the-top kinetic fantasy. Everything is big (Klipspringer plays a castle-sized organ, not a piano), loud (the deservedly much-hailed soundtrack delights), and bursting with color. The camera zooms, twitches, leaps and dances through a roaring feast of 1920s decadence and despair. It also relentlessly pushes in on the titular character: self-made myth Jay Gatsby. And that is the reason you should see the film.
In the midst of all the swooping 3D (meh) and exquisitely detailed sets (woot!), Leonardo DiCaprio’s depiction of Gatsby is sensitive and real. Just as Fitzgerald introduces us to the mask Gatsby presents to the world then peels it away page by page, DiCaprio and Luhrmann start with Gatsby’s facade (that famous smile, lit by fireworks) and then let it fall away scene by scene. We see the longing, the panic, the joy (what’s this? DiCaprio laughing on screen?), the fear, the anger, and most importantly, the hope. In short, they get Gatsby, and they get him right.
Oh, friends. It has been a hard week. In the small frustrations category, I learned I couldn’t unpack or live in my new place for another week until the painter is finished. Technically I could live there, but I’d be dodging paint spray and living out of tarp-covered boxes. So I packed a nomad bag and moved all my stuff in the new place…in easily-cover-able piles in the middle of the floor.
And in the realm of big heartbreaks, my grandpa passed away from complications from Alzheimer’s. He’s been struggling with the disease since I was a teenager. I’m so glad that he’s no longer trapped in a failing body and confused mind. But it’s still hard to say goodbye to such a compassionate, principled man. The visitation and funeral were bittersweet: I got to see family I hadn’t seen in years, be with my twin sister and her incredibly sweet kids and husband, and hug my much-loved younger cousins. And hugs were needed. My Uncle Jay, my grandpa’s oldest son, passed away just a month ago (he was battling MS). My family’s share of sadness has come all at once this season.
“Hey girl, are you going to see Gangster Squad this weekend? I’m giving myself cancer for the sake of historical accuracy and everything.”
This star-laden period piece is directed by Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland, 30 Minutes or Less) and written by Castle-scribe Will Beall, based on the book by Paul Lieberman. It tells the story of how a small team of LAPD officers fought mob-boss Mickey Cohen for control of Los Angeles.
When faced with tragedy, some of the most comforting words you can hear are “That should’ve never happened.” The assertion of the wrongness of reality is strangely comforting. With Django Unchained, as in Inglorious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino takes that righteous anger one step further to “And here’s what should’ve happened instead.”
Tarantino paints a guns-blazing, upside-down world—a Southern-Western that brings bulleted justice to one plantation in an over-too-fast 165 minutes. It’s one of the most alive films I’ve seen since, well, Inglourious Basterds. Tarantino is an exuberant filmmaker. He uses every trick in the book, from gorgeously framed silhouette still shots to quick zooms to extreme close-ups. Injuries spurt. Smoke curls. Stuff moves. As bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) says of Django (Jamie Foxx), it can be said of Tarantino: “My friend has a flair for the dramatic.” He’s not afraid to highlight the quintessential gesture, as in the trailer-featured moment when Django slo-mo shrugs off his rough slave blanket at the start of his transformation into a bada$$ bounty hunter.
In honor of the Christmas Day opening of Django Unchained, let’s look at Quentin Tarantino’s back catalogue. One of the most unique filmmakers working today, Tarantino has a signature style that borrows heavily from ’70s-era genre films, adds in stylized and idiosyncratic dialogue, then mixes it all up with over-the-top imagery. His films often feature shocking violence and revenge themes. I’m ambivalent about the use of both; sometimes I think he’s being exploitative, and sometimes I think he’s rightfully using them in the service of the story or an issue. More study is necessary: At the time of writing, I’ve only seen half of his films (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill: Vol. 1, Kill Bill: Vol. 2, Inglorious Basterds). I’m making a New Year’s resolution to see the rest.
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds, Kill Bill) Starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Johnson and more.
If there’s one thing you should know about 1865, it’s this: That dark year was really well lit. Gorgeous morning sunbeams streaming in the House of Representatives’ chambers, sun flares that sparkle over the horrors of a grave pit for soldiers’ amputated legs, profiles perfectly outlined by lamplight. 2012 has really got to step up its lighting game.
In other words, if you’re expecting a post-post-modern exposé with shocking revelations that scream that Everything You Thought You Knew About Lincoln Was Wrong, Dead Wrong! this is not the film for you. (I don’t know, maybe this is.) No, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is a reverent and expertly executed film about the man who cajoled, parable-d, lawyered and bribed the House of Representatives into passing the 13th Amendment.