Tag Archives: Brad Pitt

12 Years a Slave (2013)

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Steve McQueen probably hated Django Unchained. Where Tarantino’s Django Unchained toyed with history’s facts to make the horrors of slavery a plot point, 12 Years a Slave is a film about a torture perpetrated on millions of black men, women and children. McQueen’s third feature isn’t interested in the audience’s comfort or catharsis, and tells a story full of vicious, hard violence and fractured souls. McQueen brings you as close as he possibly can to the horrors of antebellum slavery, not shying from bloody truths, and ultimately reminds us that far, far too often, history’s mad men and their ugly horrors go unpunished and unredressed.

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Killing Them Softly (2012)

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We like to imagine that we’ve cleared the orbit of the circle of life. That we’ve achieved a degree of self-awareness far greater than that of our savage forbears, and a good distance from the antiquated notion of hunters and prey. The reality is that we’ve created a new circle of life, one in which we are the sole patrons, and the money is the mission. This is the world according to Writer/Director Andrew Dominik‘s latest, Killing Them Softly, a film as well-made and intriguing as it is heavy-handed and bleak. Softly is a gritty crime allegory, allowing a hierarchy of gangsters to stand in for our nation’s government and its people, and as the film unfolds it expends loads of energy conveying this connection, asking blood and gore to serve as a proxy for dollars and cents.

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Moneyball (2011)

When the Miami Heat acquired Lebron James well over a year ago, it was the only thing the sports media could talk about. James, the best basketball player in the NBA, was joining a roster that already boasted Dwayne Wade, perhaps one of the top three players currently in the league, and had also pulled in Chris Bosh, another NBA superstar. Nothing like this had ever been seen in basketball, and within hours the conversation turned to Miami’s potential to go the NBA finals year after year after year. Sure enough, they ended up in the finals in their first season as a team…and lost. The reason I bring this up is because, looking at the cast, crew, and history of the film Moneyball, it’s hard not to see the all-star squad comparison. It’s got a supporting cast of legitimate talent, from Robin Wright to Jonah Hill to Philip Seymour Hoffman. The film’s director Bennett Miller is helming just his second feature, after his first (Capote) got him a Best Picture and Directing nomination. Then there’s Brad Pitt, the Lebron James of Hollywood. And much like the Miami Heat, the group that came together to make Moneyball, though objectively successful, end up feeling, frankly, a bit lackluster.

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The Tree of Life (2011)

It seems as though only in failure is great ambition ever spoken of as a favorable trait. This isn’t surprising, as a successful project will always be discussed primarily for its success, and an acknowledgment of ambition can be a salve in defeat. But only in the rarest of cases is the architect of a project given credit for, not just the assembly of something great, but the scope and the presence of mind to approach something massive and significant. In film it’s men like Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick, or even James Cameron; men whose work hinges on innovation and imagination. Terrence Malick is surely a member of this class. In the five films he’s made since 1973, he has consistently (if a bit sparsely) assembled staggeringly beautiful pictures, all with the earnest intention of showing us something true and universal. With The Tree of Life, Malick has created a film that is ambitious and successful, visceral, draining, deeply consequential and lofty enough to be just a bit pretentious. This is the opposite of a director playing it safe. This is a swing for the fences, and a man trying his damnedest to illuminate the kind of mountainous existentialisms that humanity has been mulling for millenia.

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Inglourious Basterds (2009)

The third act of Quentin Tarantino‘s Inglourious Basterds finds the Nazi elite mingling languidly in a quaint and gorgeous theater in Paris.  They are here to witness the debut of Joseph Goebbel’s latest film, Nation’s Pride, an account of Private Frederick Zoller’s (Daniel Brühl) war heroics, wherein he killed hundreds of Americans with only a gun and his German cunning.  From Bormann, to Goebbels, to Hitler himself, the Third Reich’s most distinguished members are in attendance to celebrate a mass slaughter carried out by one of their own.  And he no more than a private in Hitler’s army.  Zoller’s exploits feed their nationalism, their lust for victory, and as the lights in the theater dim and the film rolls, Goebbel’s film finds a ruggedly handsome Frederick Zoller killing one American after the next for an eternity.  The audience is held captive in their delight, their sweaty, angry faces beaming with a rapture both large and terrifying.  For you see, according to Quentin, Nazis are simply irritable nerds, and death is their porn.

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The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

By the end of this film, one can’t help but feel they’ve been misled a little by the character of Robert Ford, or perhaps, not so much by the character but by the characterization. Initially Ford comes off as a lesser dimwit in the midst of dimwits. A slow-moving type with grandeur delusional perhaps only in the presence of one so grand as Jesse James. As things progress, Ford proves himself to be, at least in his company, capable of something. As things progress it appears that perhaps it is not his mettle that proves him less than, but simply his youth. Perhaps, had Ford lived a different life in a different place, he would have done something of note, and made a name for himself other than “coward.” As it is, the only way Ford could ever achieve the notoriety he was so desperate for, was to murder one as notorious as Jesse James. And so, he found what he was looking for. Continue reading

Babel (2006)

To me, where Iwo Jima is the film of an older, less progressive Hollywood, Babel is the future. It defines its own structure. It plays with time and story and relationships. In the end, you feel like you figured something out, you unlocked a truth. That is one of the most important things a film can do. Make you read the text and meet the author halfway, find his message on your own, opposed to just watching the Powerpoint.

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