Thoughts on four very different movies I’ve watched on DVD recently…
“Django Unchained” includes a character like none I’ve seen before, the bounty hunter played by Christoph Waltz, who won an Oscar for the role. Although Jamie Foxx’s ex-slave seems like the core of the story, it is Waltz’s character — and the lines Tarantino wrote for him — that make the movie zing. However, the movie is about a half-hour too long, with some scenes unnecessary to the plot (dogs vs. man and then man vs. man). Tarantino is also a little too in love with gore and spurting blood. It’s not as over the top in “Django” as it was in “Kill Bill” (which eschewed anything resembling a plot in favor of multiple decapitations and swordplay), but he could have toned it down and not lost any of the violent aspects of the movie. Overall, I recommend “Django,” mostly for Waltz.
I can see the packaged-pitch meeting for “Hope Springs” — Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones as a couple in their sixties stuck in a loveless marriage who get counseling from Steve Carrell. Sounds pretty good, but the result is less than the sum of its parts. Everybody does what they’re supposed to do, but it just doesn’t work. The movie also contains a couple of scenes of Streep and Jones making out (one on the floor and one in bed) and, frankly, I didn’t need to see that. If my wife and I wanted to watch two middle-aged people in the act, we would have put a mirror over our bed. When it comes to on-screen love scenes, leave it to the younger demographics. You can pass on “Hope Springs,” eternally.
“The Debt” is by far the most serious movie I’ve watched recently, with a plot about Israeli agents trying to capture a German doctor who was a notorious torturer in Nazi concentration camps. Part of the plot takes place in 1965, with Jessica Chastain and two male colleagues working to kidnap the doctor in East Germany and get him to Israel to stand trial for his atrocities. The other part takes place 30 years later, when Chastain has grown up to become Helen Mirren, whose daughter has written a best-seller about the events of 1965. But there’s more to the story than what’s told in the book and, as it unravels, we’re caught up in the mission and its aftermath. Very gripping stuff, well told, with vivid characters portrayed brilliantly. A big recommendation for “The Debt,” which I have added to my Movies You Might Not Know list.
There have been two bio-pics about Alfred Hitchcock in the last year. HBO’s “The Girl,” about the making of “The Birds,” was okay, but not worth recommending. However, “Hitchcock,” is much better, with Anthony Hopkins as the great director during the making of “Psycho,” and Helen Mirren (again, flawless) as his wife and co-conspirator, Alma. They make quite a team, ably assisted by Scarlett Johannsen as Janet Leigh and the rest of the supporting cast. What makes “Hitchcock” a more appealing story is the relationship between Alfred and Alma, plus the attention to detail in the movie-making scenes, where some of his directing process is revealed. He may have been a strange man in real life, but he created movie masterpieces, and “Hitchcock” does a good job taking us into his world.
One last recommendation from the world of streaming video…
Amazon has followed Netflix into the original programming business, and recently posted 14 half-hour TV pilots available for streaming. One of them, “Alpha House,” is worth your time. It’s a single-camera comedy about four Republican senators who share a house in DC — an arrangement that’s not that unusual, particularly for first- and second-termers who have a residence in their hometown and choose not to get another one for the few days a week they spend in Washington. What makes this pilot work is having John Goodman and Clark Johnson as two of the four, with a very funny cameo at the top by Bill Murray. Whether the pilot begats more episodes will be up to viewers, as Amazon has asked its customers to rate each of the shows as a kind of crowd-sourced ratings service. I didn’t bother to offer my feedback to them, but I can recommend it to you for a few laughs.