Tag Archives: Christoph Waltz

Bloody Well Write

The French Dispatch

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Who’s ready for Wes Anderson’s most Wes Anderson-y movie to date?

It feels like we say that every time he releases a new film, but The French Dispatch is absolutely the inimitable auteur at his most Andersonesque.

The French Dispatch is a magazine — a weekly addition to a Kansas newspaper covering the ins and outs of Ennui, France, the town where the periodical is based. The film itself is an anthology, four shorts (four of the stories published in the final edition) held together not by the one character each has in common, editor Arthur Howitzer, Jr. (Bill Murray), but by Anderson’s giddy admiration for France and The New Yorker.

Boasting everything you’ve come to expect from a Wes Anderson film — meticulous set design, vibrant color, symmetrical composition, elegance and artifice in equal measure, and a massive cast brimming with his own stock ensemble — the film is not one you might mistake for a Scorsese or a Spielberg.

Expect Anderson regulars Tilda Swinton, Mathieu Amalric, Lea Deydoux, Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Frances McDormand and newcomers Benicio Del Toro, Timothee Chalamet and Jeffrey Wright. And those are the big roles (although truth be told, no one is on screen all that long).

Blink and you might miss Saoirse Ronin, Willem Dafoe, Henry Winkler, Elisabeth Moss, Ed Norton, Christoph Waltz, Liev Schreiber and Jason Schwartzman.

In the segment filed under the “Taste and Smells” section, Dispatch writer Roebuck Wright (Wright) turns in a sprawling profile on master chef Nescaffier (Steve Park) that – to Howitzer’s chagrin – contains merely one quote from Nescaffier himself. As with the other pieces of the anthology, the many tangents of the piece are explained through Anjelica Huston’s narration, which can’t replace a truly emotional through line and holds the film back from resonating beyond its immaculate construction.

Anderson’s framing of symmetry and motion has never been more tightly controlled, and the film becomes a parade of wonderfully assembled visuals paired with intellectual wordplay and an appropriately spare score from Alexander Desplat.

As a tribute to a lost era of journalism and the indelible writers that drove it, Anderson delivers a fascinating and meticulous exercise boasting impeccable craftsmanship and scattershot moments of wry humor. But the layer of humanity that elevates the writer/director’s most complete films (Rushmore, Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel) never makes it from page to screen, and The French Dispatch ultimately earns more respect than feeling.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0_hwGWen-I

Shaken and Stirred

No Time to Die

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Daniel Craig’s had a good run. As Bond, he delivered a much needed transformation for the Brit spy series, shouldered the best film in the entire franchise (2012’s Skyfall), and allowed considerable nuance to seep in to the characterization.

Bravo.

He needed a bold and fitting final film to cap his time with MI6, and 2015’s disappointing return to the old guard Spectre wasn’t it. A global plague pushed his finale back nearly two years. Luckily, No Time to Die was worth the wait.

Craig’s retired agent is lured back to the game (of course he is) by a global threat (of course it is) involving an old nemesis (natch), a new rival (sure) and the beauty who broke his heart.

Yes, but wait, because co-writer/director Cary Joji Fukunaga (Beasts of No Nation) takes these familiar elements in new directions, thanks mostly to Craig’s wearily vulnerable performance.

Bond is a tough gig for an actor because there has generally been so little actual acting required – or allowed. And while Craig shows us a wizened soul with humor, longing and vulnerability to spare, Fukunaga surrounds that performance with a story worthy of his send off.

Since the Craig era began, his Bond has always seemed more determined to exist in a more relatable world with more universal stakes. Here, Craig’s final outing speaks often of love, legacy, sacrifice, and precious time, against the threat of human contact itself becoming fatal. And while there are still plenty of moments to suspend disbelief, this film again benefits from the move away from the parody-ready version of 007 that reigned for decades (cheekily emphasized here by Bond’s brief adventure with Ana de Armas’s rookie agent, Paloma).

Mysterious new villain Safin (Rami Malek) shares a tragic past with Bond’s love Madeleine (Léa Seydoux), while the legendary Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) is still able to pull deadly strings from inside maximum security.

Bond’s old friend Luther (Jeffrey Wright) and an over-eager newbie (Billy Magnussen) recruit Bond for the CIA, seemingly pitting him against M”s (Ralph Fiennes) MI6 team and its new 007 agent, Nomi (Captain Marvel‘s Lashana Lynch). Can Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) sit this one out and remain neutral?

Not bloody likely.

Opening with a tense and expansive 26-minute prologue, Fukunaga unveils thrilling set-pieces and gorgeous visuals that beg for a big-screen experience. Aided mightily by a soaring, throwback score from Hans Zimmer, Fukunaga infuses NTTD with a respectful sense of history while it marches unafraid into the future.

The one-liners, callbacks and gags (like Q’s multi-piece tea set) are well-placed and restrained, never undercutting the nearly three-hour mission Fukunaga clearly approached with reverence.

Where does James Bond go from here? Hard to say, but this 007 doesn’t care. Five films in 15 years have changed the character and the franchise for the better, and No Time to Die closes this chapter with requisite spectacle and fitting emotion.

Spare Parts

Alita: Battle Angel

by Hope Madden

Cyberpunk comes to the big screen in the form of a post-apocalyptic roller derby. I would not have guessed that’s how it would go.

Alita: Battle Angel is, among other things, director Robert Rodriguez’s best film in years. That isn’t saying a lot, but the truth is that the filmmaker does more with dystopian YA heroine tropes than most recent directors have.

In a terrestrial wasteland in the shadow of a sky city eternally out of reach, one kindly scientist (Christoph Waltz) scrounges a scrap heap looking for cyborg parts. He rebuilds something he finds there—something that reminds him of his own lost daughter. Though Alita (Rosa Salazar plus motion capture magic) has no memory of who or what she was, her instincts oscillate between earnest adolescent and battle-honed killer.

Based on a Manga series about a bounty hunter, Alita concerns itself more with the themes of today’s young adult franchises: empowering young women to be true to themselves, stand up to authority, own their own destiny, and only crush on boys who love you for who you truly are.

All fine lessons. A stocked supporting cast including two more Oscar winners (besides Waltz)—Mahershala Ali and Jennifer Connelly—elevate the sometimes threadbare dialog with sheer will and undeniable talent.

The film also showcases the latest cinematic tech wizardry at the disposal of co-scriptor James Cameron, wielded by Sin City’s visionary helmsman.

And it looks great. Better than the trailer makes you think it looks. The ruined city, the cyborg monstrosities, the action—all of it commands attention and refuses to be dismissed.

If nothing else, Alita absolutely marks a departure from the filmmaker’s traditional style. Indeed, it looks more like something Cameron would make: glossy and epic versus edgy and idiosyncratic.

There is nothing especially groundbreaking or memorable, however, about the film. There is nothing inferior about it, either. It pushes some boundaries in terms of content as well as movie experience and it entertains from start to finish. It’s Hunger Games with a more likable protagonist, Ready Player One with a plot.

It’s forgettable, cool looking and fun.





Let’s Get Small

Downsizing

by George Wolf

Word is, writer/director Alexander Payne has had the Downsizing idea for years, apparently waiting for when a satire of endless greed and unapologetic self-interest would feel the most relevant.

Good timing, then.

Payne, working with frequent co-writer Jim Taylor, returns to the political mindset he showcased so effectively in the classrooms of 1999’s Election. Here, their palette is a not-at-all distant future where science has come up with a solution for global sustainability: shrinkage!

By reducing people and communities to a ratio of 2.744 to 1, the potential for a guilt-free good life is off the charts! That sounds pretty great to Paul and Audrey Safranek (Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig), and a hilariously obnoxious info-mercial (Lauren Dern and Neal Patrick Harris, killing it) seals the deal.

Of course, it isn’t long before human potential meets human nature, familiar class systems develop and, as Paul’s smarmy neighbor (Jason Sudeikis) points out, getting small becomes more about saving yourself than saving the planet.

For three quarters of the film, the satirical slings and arrows find frequent marks, and layers deepen when Paul starts hanging with a crazy new neighbor (Christoph Waltz) and his cleaning lady (Hong Chau, in an award-worthy, film stealing performance).

Payne and Taylor aren’t as sure-footed when the satirical tone gives way to the absurd, or when a budding pretense makes the opening of a white man’s eyes feel a bit too heroic.

But while the scale of Downsizing is small, the film is thinking mighty big. The new world it envisions is engaging, with sharp comedy, unexpected turns and the keen observational structure to make it all impactful.





What Big Eyes You Have

Big Eyes

by George Wolf

 

Do people buy art because it touches them, or simply because they are “in the right place at the right time?”

The often combative relationship between art and commerce, and between two people who personified it, lies at the heart of Big Eyes, Tim Burton’s eccentric take on the story of Walter and Margaret Keane.

Walter rose to fame in the 50s and 60s as the artist behind those massively popular portraits of “big-eyed waifs” staring out from behind a frame. He became the Thomas Kincade of his age, savaged by critics but embraced by the masses… and it was all a sham. Margaret was actually the talent, while Walter took the credit and honed his considerable skills in self-promotion. She finally ‘fessed up and claimed her works in 1970, igniting a legal tussle between the former spouses that lasted years.

One look at Keane’s big-eyed characters will tell you Burton is a fan, and the film often benefits from his whimsical vision. Like a mix of Edward Scissorhands and A NIightmare Before Christmas, Burton gives Big Eyes a setting that looks historically familiar, yet slightly other-worldly.

Amy Adams delivers another captivating performance as Mrs. Keane. We feel the conflicting emotions present as Margaret agrees to stay out of the limelight, with Adams creating her own finely crafted portrait of a woman’s quiet struggle against the submissiveness expected of her gender. Margaret is an underdog, and Adams makes it easy to root for her.

It’s a stark contrast to Christoph Waltz’s over-the-top depiction of Mr. Keane. Waltz is a gifted two-time Oscar winner, but Burton and the writing team of Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (Man on the Moon/The People vs. Larry Flynt) don’t give him room to let Walter become anything more than a one-dimensional con artist.

Big Eyes is an entertaining period drama held back by Burton’s broad stroke. The very nature of the Keane’s story begs deeper questions, but they’re ultimately abandoned in favor of those crowd – pleasing happy trees.

 

Verdict-3-5-Stars

 

 





Like Your Crazy Uncle Frank

Horrible Bosses 2

by George Wolf

After trying to kill your boss and getting away with it, the sensible career choice is clearly self employment. That’s the plan for the three bumbling schemers in Horrible Bosses 2, a film with scattershot hilarity that can’t quite match the success of the original.

Nick, Kurt and Dale (Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day, respectively) have a great new plan for business success and surprise, it’s legal! Their new “shower buddy” invention looks promising, so all the guys need now is a big investor, and their days of working for someone else will be history.

Things look good when business tycoon Bert Hansen (Christoph Waltz) puts in a big order, but when he pulls out and leaves the boys high and dry, their criminal minds take over. After an inspired brainstorming session, they decide to kidnap Hansen’s obnoxious son Rex (Chris Pine) and hold him ransom for a payback payday.

Hard to believe, but the plan goes quickly sideways, and to stay ahead of the law and out of the morgue, the boys turn to some old friends: Nick’s former boss (Kevin Spacey), Dale’s sexual harasser (Jennifer Aniston) and the trusted criminal adviser “MF” Jones (Jamie Foxx).

Most of the original writing team is back for the sequel, but their script is lighter on laughs and heavier on convention, relying on the cast to just squeeze out laughs whenever they can. With this cast, that’s a safer bet than most. Bateman, Sudeikis and Day are flat out funny, and their wonderful chemistry is anchored by flawless timing that is just a kick to watch.

The supporting trio of Foxx, Aniston and Spacey is nearly as good, and Pine blends in nicely with the stable of returning castmates. Only Waltz seems out of place, his usual greatness wasted in a very limited role.

You know that crazy uncle you still invite over for Thanksgiving because, even though he can be offensive and tedious, he’s still funny and likeable?

That’s Horrible Bosses 2.

Pass the peas (and stay for the credits).

 

Verdict-3-0-Stars

 





What Is the Meaning of Life?

The Zero Theorem

By Christie Robb

Director Terry Gilliam questions the meaning of life in The Zero Theorem, but instead of exploring the idea via Monty Python antics, Gilliam approaches the topic in a more Brazil-like satire.

Imagine Times Square having a three-way with CNN’s scrolling text and Facebook ads– a colorful chaos of noise, both aural and visual.

This is the world inhabited by Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz), a monkish data cruncher who speaks in the royal we. Qohen longs to escape the life of a cubical drone and work from home. He doesn’t want to miss a call-back. Years ago, someone cold called him dangling his personal reason for being. But Qohen dropped the receiver and the line disconnected.

Management, embodied by Matt Damon, grants his request, putting him on a notorious burnout project, the Zero Theorem, its goal to prove that everything adds up to nothing. If Qohen’s project succeeds, Management will help him get his call.

Sidetracked by Management’s constant, unrealistic deadlines, his former supervisor-turned-computer-repairman (David Thewlis), a company-provided AI shrink (Tilda Swinton), Management’s teenage hacker son Bob (Lucas Hedges), and a manic pixie call girl (Mélanie Thierry), Qohen is wooed back toward the little pleasures he’d abandoned.

Zero Theorem is an often beautiful, somewhat heavy-handed film that explores the extremes of hedonism and asceticism, the consequences of living among scads of information and the distractions of virtual reality. Studded with allegory and stuffed with zany Gilliam details that can only be fully explored in subsequent viewings (including a delightful ad for the Church of Batman the Redeemer), it derails a bit in the last act, but fans of Gilliam’s dystopian flicks will find much to enjoy.

Verdict-3-0-Stars





For Your Queue: Who’s the smoothest, baddest mutha to ever hit the big screen?

Django Unchained releases this week. Woo hoo! Quentin Tarantino’s first Oscar winning screenplay since Pulp Fiction unleashes a giddy bloodbath that’s one part blaxploitation, two parts spaghetti Western, and all parts awesome. Astonishing performances from Leonardo DiCaprio and Oscar winner Christoph Waltz might keep you from noticing the excellent turns from Sam Jackson, Jamie Foxx and Kerry Washington. That’s why you’ll need to see it again. Lucky for you it’s available on DVD today!

For an homage with a more comical edge, we recommend 2009’s Black Dynamite, a hilarious send-up of the blaxploitation films of the 1970s. Co-writer Michael Jai White is perfect as the titular hero who is out to avenge his brother’s death at the hands of..who else?…The Man. With character names such as Tasty Freeze and Cream Corn, and B.D. seducing the ladies with “you can hit the sheets or you can hit the streets, ” you can bet you’re last money this flick is superbad, honey.