CHICAGO – If you’ve ever wondered what the difference is between a director and a producer, let “47 Ronin” explain how the hierarchy of creativity hinders the evolution of even the most straightforward-sounding pitches. “47 Ronin” is the type of samurai movie set in Japan that features native actors speaking only English, while Keanu Reeves stars as an outsider clearly plunked into the picture for stateside star power.
CHICAGO – It’s been a year of updatings that has seen venerable characters like Norman Bates and Hannibal Lecter solidly re-envisioned by the small screen. So how fare the Gecko Brothers? Not all that great sadly. This overly slick redux of the fantastic film “From Dusk Till Dawn” (1997) not only suffers from pretty people syndrome but borrows so heavily from the original film that it feels less like homage and reboot than redress and reshoot.
“Big Bad Wolves” pulls no punches. It rips off toenails instead. This incredibly dark thriller, courtesy of the twisted folks who made the indie horror hit “Rabies,” built notable buzz at its Tribeca Film Festival and Chicago International Film Festival screenings but really took off when Quentin Tarantino named it his favorite film of 2013.
CHICAGO – Veteran actor Bruce Dern is now up to bat. That is how he describes what is at stake in his role as Woody in director Alexander Payne’s new film, “Nebraska.” But this film icon – with an over 50 year career – also has plenty other stories to offer, regarding Jack Nicholson, his family, his life and performing a “Derns-ser.”
CHICAGO – Hollywood stuntwoman Zoë Bell is best known for an acting bit she did in Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof,” playing “herself.” Otherwise she has had a prolific career doubling on stunts for Lucy Lawless, Sharon Stone and Uma Thurman, among others. She attended the 49th Chicago International Film Festival last weekend to premiere her new film, with director Josh C. Waller, called “Raze.”
CHICAGO – Who but Quentin Tarantino could make a nearly-three-hour movie about slavery and turn it into the highest-grossing film of his career? The movie made over $160 million domestically and over $400 million worldwide on its way to two major Oscars — Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor. With all of its massive success, one might expect a lavish Blu-ray release. What we get is a bit more cut-rate. It’s got a good transfer but it’s slight on special features and it’s very likely that a special edition is inevitable. Then again, I’ve been waiting for the “Kill Bill” recut, full-movie edition that QT promised years ago.
CHICAGO – With Seth McFarlane as host, the 86th Academy Awards had more fun, and culminated with “Argo” winning Best Picture. Other major awards went to Daniel Day-Lewis (Best Actor, “Lincoln”), Jennifer Lawrence (Best Actress, “Silver Linings Playbook”) and Ang Lee (Best Director, “Life of Pi”).
CHICAGO – “The Man with the Iron Fists” is the most tedious picture in many a moon. How, you may ask, can wall-to-wall action possibly by tedious? Two reasons: 1.) The action is nonstop, and 2.) The characters are impossible to care about. The single take of Uma Thurman’s devastated outburst upon awakening from her coma is the emotional hook that keeps the audience engaged as she wreaks her path of vengeance through both volumes of “Kill Bill.”
CHICAGO – Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” has some undeniable pleasures, the kind that erupt from the screenwriting abilities of one of the best movie scribes alive.
CHICAGO – A quick search of the web will reveal hundreds of articles and blog posts and message board rants about how the smash hit “The Hunger Games,” both the Suzanne Collins book and Gary Ross movie, wouldn’t exist without Kinji Fukasaku’s amazing 2000 film “Battle Royale” (itself based on a 1999 Japanese book).
CHICAGO – I’m old enough dear readers to vividly remember Quentin Tarantino’s premiere with “Reservoir Dogs” and then how much he took the world by storm with “Pulp Fiction,” a common choice for the best film of the ’90s. At the time, “Jackie Brown” seemed like a disappointment by comparison (how could it not?), but it is now widely respected and even beloved. These aren’t just good movies — they’re classics of their time. What more do you want from a pair of Blu-rays?