Hank’s Recommendations 05/07/13

hank_paperJACK REACHER — This film got terrible reviews; The New York Times hated it.

But I liked it (so did IMDB, with a 7.0 rating). True, you might have to be in the mood for this thriller (I was—long day). And it’s true, Tom Cruise is no longer so fresh-faced but simply grimly determined; the fuzz is off the peach. Co-star Rosamund Pike wears an expression of constant, mouth-opening alarm and both Robert Duval and Richard Jenkins are a bit long in the tooth. But the film, itself seeming from the 70s, has bite. The movie’s more than formula and less than cheesy. It’s a good adaptation of a Lee child thriller (which I read), hitting all the sweet spots. Werner Herzog plays the heavy with restrained and eloquent menace, helping to anchor a film that moves along with a pleasingly energized pace. Tom Cruise’s best thriller remains COLLATERAL (with Jamie Foxx). But this one’s satisfying.

If you had a hard day, take a Cruise at Best Video.

Devil_and_Miss_Jones_DVDTHE DEVIL AND MISS JONES – Now here’s a formula that’s fresh as the day it was born—a Depression-era comedy from 1941.

A wealthy New York City magnate takes umbrage to the headlines with a photograph of himself being hung in effigy by disgruntled employees of a large department store he owns – as well as does his sycophantic board of directors. So he takes matters into his own hand by infiltrating the store’s ranks as a lowly shoe clerk in order to unearth the unionizing rabble-rousers.

The movie is exquisitely paced (especially without intruding background music) and acted with exuberant aplomb by a cast that includes Jean Arthur, Charles Coburn, Robert Cummings, Edmund Gwenn and Spring Byington. This socially conscious classic comedy, back when—unlike today’s Depression—there was an actual vision of the future, has wit and charm and heart.

Hank’s Recommendations 04/16/13

hank_paperDJANGO JANGLES SPURS AND NERVES

DJANGO UNCHAINED — An escaped slave (Jamie Foxx) bonds with an intellectual German white bounty hunter posing as an itinerant dentist (Christoph Waltz) in order to rescue the slave’s wife from the plantation he escaped from.

This film is the first to deal unstintingly with the cruelties and indignities of slavery since Steven Spielberg’s AMISTAD, but dare I say the treatment here is different. The style of director Quentin Tarantino’s film derives in part (especially the climactic part) from the testosterone blood-splattering showdown mannerisms of the “spaghetti western” made famous by one of Tarantino’s pulp mentors, Sergio Leone (FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, A FEW DOLLARS MORE, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY).

In other words, Tarantino’s film addresses seriously and with a feeling of authenticity the violence of slavery of the anti-bellum South in yet an often non-serious, humorous, albeit stylistically violent way. Some critics and viewers have found this pulp treatment of such a serious subject jarring, even offensive (as they did his pulp treatment of the Holocaust in his prior Academy Award nominated film, THE INGLORIOUS BASTERDS). Spike Lee went out of his way to harshly criticize both Tarantino and his film, tongue-lashing his white colleague’s inappropriately self-taken treatment of an illimitably serious subject that was none of his business in the first place. Others have applauded Tarantino’s daring in offering historically telling details through a stylistically entertaining genre that brings the subject home to a popular mass audience.

On the other hand, perhaps it’s just Tarantino being Tarantino, ever on a quest to top himself both thematically and visually, putting his archival film and filmmaking knowledge in the service of his audacity. Interestingly, Mrs. Video shied away from seeing this violent movie but wound up really liking it; just as many women have come up to me at the store to tell me how much they liked The Inglorious Basterds.

The film does offer historical information made vividly fresh in a good, well-produced story laden with surprises and many Oscar-nominated (and winning) performances. Unmentioned in all the Academy Awards hullabaloo are particularly impressive performances by Leonardo DiCaprio as the glibly menacing wealthy plantation owner and Samuel Jackson as the owner’s servile but deviously self-serving black task master. The film does go on too long (as many films do these days), ending not where the dramatic arc demands but continuing on through a long, blood-splattering coda in order, I suspect, to have the Jamie Foxx character prevail as the hero instead of his white Kemo Sabe dentist bounty hunter. But all carping aside, the film is one to reckon with: to contemplate and even argue about.

Spike Lee admitted he never actually saw the film. You should.