Ever since Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino has been out in the wilderness, a recognized master of his craft unable, despite access to funds and some of the best actors in Hollywood, to put together a half decent film. With Django Unchained, the buzz is that Tarantino is back in form. This is not to say that Django Unchained, with its appealingly psychotic take on the western and race relations, is everybody’s cup of tea. The story of a freed slave (Jamie Foxx), who, with the help of a German bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz), sets out to rescue a maiden in distress (Kerry Washington) from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio), Django Unchained rides a crazy, violent course, making the best of Tarantino’s willingness to take wild risks. Roger Ebert describes Tarantino as having “an appreciation for gut-level exploitation film appeal, combined with an artist’s desire to transform that gut element with something higher, better, more daring,” and in Django Unchained both the bad boy and the artist come together to mesmerizing effect.
Debut feature by Lin Li-shu (林立書), who was assistant director on local hits Winds of September (九降風) and Au Revoir Taipei (一頁台北), Faithball brings together baseball and Taiwan grassroots temple culture in an amusing take on the real-life story of a backwoods school baseball team that overcomes all kinds of obstacles to make it into the national championships. The film stars ABC singer Anthony Neely (倪安東) who hit Taiwan screens after his success on CTV’s One Million Star (超級星光大道) talent program. He is joined by Chantel Liu (劉香慈), who has emerged as a major star following her success in the TV soap Rookies’ Diary (新兵日記). There is plenty of gentle humor, and the background of the team’s faith in the goddess Matsu (媽祖) presents a more interesting picture of Taiwan’s religious culture than many more serious flicks.
Jack the Giant Slayer
The endless mining of fairy tales for action fantasy films carries on apace, with Jack the Giant Slayer, loosely based on Jack and the Beanstalk following close on the heels of the competent but eminently forgettable Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. Predictably enough, the film rejigs the story to provide plenty of opportunity for CGI effects, combat sequences and of course romance that succeeds against the odds. The film tells the story of an ancient war that is reignited when a young farmhand (Nicholas Hoult) unwittingly opens a gateway between the human world and that of a fearsome race of giants. He joins up with spritely princess Isabella (Eleanor Tomlinson), and there are supporting parts by the likes of Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, and Eddie Marsan, giving this B-film fantasy an A-list gloss.
An appealing spin off the zombie movie, Warm Bodies sees how this pure horror genre can be worked together with romantic comedy. It is an unusual mix, but one that works remarkably well in a low-key way. The relatively unknown cast, with Nicholas Hoult (also appearing in this week’s Jack the Giant Slayer) as R, a remarkably sentient zombie, and Teresa Palmer as Julie, a girl he saves from an attack and develops a relationship with, are appealing and amusing in equal measure. The film is given some ballast by John Malkovich, but it is the young leads who provide much of the warmth (if you can say that about a zombie flick), and director Jonathan Levine (50/50) keeps the pace just right for a comfortable 98 minutes of light, assured entertainment.
This is Forty
More Judd Apatow humor in this sequel to Knocked Up that takes the story of Pete and Debbie on to age 40, when all the issues of middle age, marriage, sex and children provide plenty of material for humor. If you like Apatow humor, This is Forty will be enjoyable, but it holds few surprises. Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann are on firm ground, and work well with Apatow’s mix of bawdy humor rooted in the real issues of long term intimacy, and though the film is rather shapeless, there is a vital energy and appreciation of the absurd ups and downs of life. That said, if you are not into the humor of the less hygienic of bodily functions, This is Forty could be off putting.