New Releases Double Reviews: Jack Reacher & Django Unchained

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Thanks to Ted for these reviews as I was on vacation when the screenings took place.

Jack Reacher

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Tom Cruise continues his “comeback” on the big screen with another action thriller after the success of last year’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, this time he’s playing another super-spy type in Jack Reacher. It’s based on one of Lee Child’s popular series of novels, One Shot. The film starts out with a mysterious person who randomly shot and killed five people in a public place with a sniper rifle. With the recent tragedies in real life, this opening sequence was a bit eerie, so just a warning if you’re still too upset about what happened in Connecticut, I don’t recommend you go see this movie. Now the scene was well shot and staged and to me it didn’t glamorize the violence but I can definitely understand if someone can get upset when they see it. Later an ex-marine sniper named Barr (Joseph Sikora) was arrested for the crime and during an interrogation he asked the detective on the case Emerson (David Oyelowo) and district attorney Rodin (Richard Jenkins) to get him Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise).

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Director Werner Herzog as the Russian mobster known as ‘The Zec’

Emerson and Rodin decided to look up Reacher but couldn’t find anything on him. A few moments later Reacher showed up at their office and asked to see Barr. But Barr is in a coma because he got beat up badly by some other inmates while in custody. So Reacher met with Barr’s lawyer Helen (the gorgeous ex-Bond girl Rosamund Pike). Reacher told her that he’s there just to make sure Barr is behind bars because he believed Barr did the shooting, he and Barr had a history together back when they were in the army. But Helen convinced Reacher to help her investigate what really happened and as both of them dig deeper into the case, they got in trouble with some local thugs, Charlie (Jai Courtney aka John McClane Jr.) and his mysterious boss known as The Zec (the great director Werner Herzog).

Performance wise, I thought everyone did a good job. Especially Cruise who was in the command of the role. I’ve never read any of the books but I know some fans weren’t too thrilled that he was cast as Reacher. But I think many of them will find out that Cruise did well here.

The film is a straightforward procedural thriller; there aren’t any major surprises that will wow you. The humors are well-placed and they didn’t feel forced into each scene. The action sequences were pretty great, I’m so glad that the filmmakers decided to shoot action scenes where we can actually see them. Some directors tends to forget that when we go see action films, we want to SEE the action, not trying to figure what’s going on during a scene or get dizzy from it. Christopher McQuarrie who wrote and directed this film, did a tremendous job with his sharp dialogues and action sequences.

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The climatic shoot out was probably one of the most meticulous action scenes I’ve ever seen. The way he laid out each sequence and edited were quite astonishing to me. Then the mano-a-mano showdown between Reacher and Charlie was well staged and looked like a “real” fight between two grown men. Of course this being an action film, it needs a car chase scene and it was well done too. It reminded me of the chase scene from Bullit but I kind of wish it ended similar to that film, if you saw the trailer then you know how the chase ended. I thought it’s too cheesy and didn’t really make sense.

In the end I thought it was a well made action thriller that didn’t take itself too seriously and I like the fact it has that old school 70s thriller feel to it. I would definitely love to see more of Jack Reacher films in the future.

4 out of 5 reels

Django Unchained

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Having read the script last year and loved it, I was very excited to see this film. (Read my script review here.) Surprisingly the film is very close to the script, only a few scenes didn’t make it to the screen. Quentin Tarantino is obsessed with spaghetti westerns and he tends to pay homage to that genre in some of his films, particularly Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds. Well now he’s finally made a film that truly pays homage the genre but he also mix in another genre, blax-ploitation, mostly the slave related subject that were popular back in the 70s, the most popular film from the genre was called Mandingo. Anyone who likes 70s films as much as I do will probably have seen some of these films; even though they were considered “trashy” by most critics, I somehow enjoyed them. It also burrowed a lot of elements from Sergio Corbucci’s films, especially Django and The Great Silence; if you’ve seen either of those films, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

The film opens with a “dentist” named Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) looking for a slave who can identify three fugitives for him. We then meet Django (Jamie Foxx) who said he knows these three fugitives, so Schultz decided to buy Django from his owners but they refused. Well, Schultz being an educated man tried to reason with these clowns but they still won’t budge. So he used his skills with a pistol to convince them. Django is freed and both of them set out to find the three fugitives. After they hunt down the fugitives, Schultz was quite impressed with Django skills so he asked if Django would like to be a bounty hunter like him and join him in the hunt. In return Shultz will help Django with anything he wants. Django agreed and said he wants to find his wife who’s been taken away from him. The first half of the films was about Schultz teaching Django how to become a good bounty hunter and sharp with a pistol.

A few months later, Schultz found out where Django’s wife is being kept. She’s at a plantation known as Candieland which owns by Calvin Candie (Leo DiCaprio). So in order to rescue her, Schultz came up with a plan by pretending to be a rich German who’s interested in purchasing a Mandingo fighter and Django is his Mandingo expert. The rest of film took place at Calvin’s Candieland plantation.

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I thought the performances by the lead actors were great, especially Waltz and DiCaprio. Jamie Foxx surprised me, I was skeptical when he was cast in the title role but he did a good job. Apparently QT wrote the part specially for Will Smith but Smith turned him down, I was hoping QT would cast someone like Anthony Mackie or Idris Elba. Also, the cinematography by Robert Richardson was excellent, from the snowy landscape of Montana to the muddy streets of Mississippi, every shots looked spectacular. The action sequences were great, there’s a shootout scene that’s similar to the carnage scene in Kill Bill Vol. 1 where the Bride took down the Crazy 88s.

Now I’m going to talk about why I was very disappointed with this film. As mentioned earlier, I read the script (which I reviewed here) and loved it, but somehow the actual film just didn’t deliver in my opinion. It’s clear that QT really needed his long time editor the late Sally Menke to work on this film with him. I thought the first half of the film was sloppily-edited and just wasn’t coherent. The music selection was kind of odd too. I always love the music QT used in his films but when you hear a Tupac song during a shootout scene in this one, it sort of take you out of the film. Now I understand why QT cast a not so well known actress in the role of Broomhilda, Django’s wife, she hardly spoke in the film. She either screams, cries or look scare in each scene she appeared in.

This was one of the films I most looking forward to see this year and unfortunately it was a major disappointment to me. Now I plan to see it again soon since I saw it almost a month ago, so I might change my mind when I see it again. I’m not saying it’s a bad film, it just didn’t lived up to my expectations. I know that I might be in the minority since after the private screening, many people in the theater thought it was great. If you’re a huge QT fan, you might enjoy it. Just a warning though, the film is violent and very bloody. The N-word were uttered constantly by pretty much everyone in the film, so if you’re easily offended, I don’t recommend you go see this film.

In an interview, QT mentioned that he might release a longer extended cut of the film down the road. At one point his producer Harvey Weinstein tried to convince him to split the film into two parts like they did with Kill Bill but QT vetoed that idea. I assume he shot many scenes that were in the script but decided cut them out. I don’t know if a longer version will improve the movie, I mean most of the scenes left in the cutting room floor were probably just violent and rape scenes. I’m assuming here of course because those sequences were in the script.

2.5 out of 5 reels

– reviews by Ted S.


What are your thoughts on these films? Did they live up to your expectations?

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Musings on Hollywood Relentless Miscasting

I read the other day that Tom Hardy was being considered for lead role in the Jack Ryan spinoff Without Remorse, which prompts me to write this piece.

Filmmakers and studio executives tend to cast the wrong actor/actress for a certain role many times. Some times it works out well, but other times, not so much. For this post, I’m going to start out with my rant about Hollywood miscasting and then ask you, dear readers, some questions about casting.

With the upcoming film Jack Reacher starring Tom Cruise, many fans of the books have been complaining about how Cruise looks nothing like the character from the books.

Now I’ve never read any of Reacher’s novels, but apparently he’s 6’5 and weighs well over 200lbs. (per stats on author Lee Child’s website), while Mr. Cruise is merely 5’7 and weights maybe 170lbs.? That’s definitely a miscast, but I’m still looking forward to seeing Jack Reacher this Winter. Why you ask? Well Tom Cruise is my favorite actor and I dug the teaser trailer they showed us a few weeks back.

Another book adaptation that’s coming to the big screen is Without Remorse written by Tom Clancy. I used to read a lot of Clancy’s novels and many of them were very good but my absolute favorite is Without Remorse. The book’s about a character named John Kelly who later became sort of a super spy for the CIA named John Clark; it’s basically a prequel. It tells the story of how Kelly became known as Clark, think of it as a Casino Royale type of story, instead of James Bond, it’s John Clark. His character appeared in two films, first he’s played by William Dafoe in Clear and Present Danger and then later in The Sum of all Fears, which was portrayed by Liev Schreiber. None of the actors captured the true essence of the character.

According to some reports, Paramount Pictures is trying to sign Tom Hardy for the John Kelly/Clark role. Now I like Hardy as an actor but he’s totally wrong for this part. Clark is described as lean and stands about 6’0″ to 6’4″ tall. Hardy on the other hand, is about 5’10″ and rather stocky-looking. If Hardy accepts the role then I’m sure he’ll lose some weight and look leaner; but I still don’t believe he fits the character. To me the right actor for the role would be a younger version of Bruce Willis or Clive Owen, these actors are way too old for the role now though; in the book Clark’s in his 30s. The only actor I believe fits the role right now is Michael Fassbender. He’s the right age and of course he looks the part. Back in the mid 1990s, Keanu Reeves was actually cast as Clark and John McTiernan was going to direct. Fortunately the studio that owns the rights to the book went bankrupt and the film never happened. I like McTiernan as the director but Reeves would’ve been a disaster.

This kind of bone-headed decision really tick me off as a fan, I was too young to remember but apparently there was uproar by fans of the comic books when Michael Keaton was cast as Bruce Wayne/Batman in Tim Burton’s Batman back in the late 80s. My opinion, this was one of the worst castings ever, I like Burton’s two Batman films but Keaton’s no Bruce Wayne/Batman. In fact, I thought Keaton looked kind of silly when he’s in the Batman suit, with his big head and tiny body, he did not look intimating at all. Another awful casting was Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon in The Da Vinci Code and Angel and Demons. Hanks a great actor but he’s no Langdon, what a idiotic decision by Ron Howard and Sony Pictures.

Howard again made an awful decision by casting Javier Bardem as Roland in The Dark Tower film adaption of Stephen King’s epic novels. Thankfully the project never took off, Bardem’s a great actor but he would’ve been awful as Roland The Gunslinger. Currently they’re having trouble getting the project green lighted and Russell Crowe is now the front runner for the part of Roland, a better choice but to me the perfect actor to play Roland is Clive Owen. Take a look this drawing of Roland, to me the only actor who fits that photo is Owen. Now I know King said he wrote the part with Clint Eastwood in mind but if you’ve read the 6th book then you know that’s not true, I won’t go into it but I’m still mad about it.

Now here’s my question to you.

Say you’ve written a great script and then you’re lucky enough to have gotten a meeting with executives at one of the big movie studios. They love your script and want to make it into a film. They even agree to let you direct your own script (it’s a dream of mine and many other film maker wannabes out there), so you’re now super excited and can’t wait to get going. But before the executives signed off on the project, they give you a list of actors they want to play the lead. Unfortunately none of the actors fit what you had in mind when you wrote the script. So what would you do? Do you tell the executives that you want a certain actor for the role and risk losing the deal? Or do you suck it up and go with one of the actors they gave you?

I’m going to use myself as an example here, I’m currently finishing up a script and the actor I want to play the lead role is Clive Owen (yes I have a man-crush on Owen), so when I look at the list of actors the executives showed me, Owen isn’t on there. What I would do is tell them I want Clive Owen for this role and not only that, my agent and I have sent the script to his people and that he wants to be in the film for a very cheap price. Of course Owen is not an A-list actor, I think he’s in the C-list category now since he hasn’t starred in any big budgeted films for a while; the studio people will for certain reject him.

So what shall I do? Well it depends, I’ve spent many years writing this script and now I’m finally close to make it into a film; I will have to think hard before agreeing to the deal. Say the list of actors were Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Leo Di Caprio and Will Smith. If I agree to cast one of these actors, I will have the budget that I need to make the film the way I envisioned. If I keep insist on casting Owen then I’ll probably lose the deal with the studio. I could shop the script around and hope one of the smaller studios would bite but I won’t have the big money to spend and I won’t be able to shoot what I wrote in the script. So in the end, I will cave and go with Mr. Cruise as my lead actor.

– post by Ted S.


So what do you think of studio keep mis-casting roles? And would have cast an actor the studio insisted or do you keep your principal and tell the executives to f-off?