BARE BONES: LETTERS TO JULIET (2010)

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LETTERS TO JULIET (2010)

Amanda Seyfried is Sophie, a young writer who, while on vacation in Italy with her fiance’ Victor (Gael García Bernal), stumbles upon The Secretaries of Juliet, a group of women who answer the letters that hundreds of broken hearted women write to Juliet Capulet at the place of her birth (a real life occurrence!). Sophie’s writer instincts kick in and she answers a years old letter which throws her and the letter’s widowed author Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) into a trek across Italy to find a lost love from her youth and presenting Sophie with the perfect story to use as her big break. Claire’s handsome grandson Charlie (Chris Egan) is along for the ride and we all know what’s going to happen there.

As directed by Gary Winick from a script by José Rivera and Tim Sullivan, Letters to Juliet is a predictable and formula romantic comedy, but it charms you and draws you in anyway, even thought you know how it’s all going to turn out. This cliché but fun romantic comedy set’s itself apart with it’s fairy tale-like angle of lovelorn women writing to the legendary Juliet Capulet for help and the ‘secretaries’ which answer. It presents a cast of very likable characters to get attached to and takes them on an old fashioned quest across the beautifully captured Italian countryside, to find an ages lost love and possibly a new unexpected one. Sure it’s schmaltzy, but it works anyway. We want Claire to find her Lorenzo (the legendary Franco Nero) and we want Sophie to fall for the charming yet cynical Charlie and leave her workaholic, self-absorbed fiancé. We know as soon as the plot is set in motion how it will end up, but we go along for the ride anyway. In this case it’s not the destination, but the old fashioned charm of the journey that makes it worth while. A fun, cute movie despite being so cliché and the Italian locations in Siena and Tuscany are sumptuously filmed.

 

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2

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JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 (2017)

John Wick: Chapter 2 is a well-made sequel that returns Keanu Reeves’ “retired” assassin back to action. Here he must honor the marker from Italian crime boss Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) and go to Italy to assassinate D’Antonio’s own rival crime boss of a sister, Gianna (Claudia Gerini). Wick completes the mission, but is betrayed by D’Antonio with a contract put on his head for seven million dollars. Now every assassin in the NYC area wants the bounty, including Gianna’s vengeful bodyguard (Common).

Written and directed again by Derek Kolstad and Chad Stahelski, respectively, the duo deliver an action packed and fun sequel to the surprise hit John Wick. The action is slick and rapid fire with a larger body count as now Wick must battle his own kind. The locations are used well between Rome and New York City and Reeves is again solid as the stone faced assassin, who just wants to retire. It’s an entertaining action flick and a sequel that knows to stick close enough to the formula to not alienate it’s core audience and yet change’s things just a bit to keep it from being stale. Ian McShane returns as Winston as does John Leguizamo as Aurelio with Lawrence Fishburn appearing as the leader of a guild of homeless street people assassins in NYC.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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THE “D” IS SILENT: A LOOK AT DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012) AND DJANGO (1966)

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DjangoUnchainedDJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)

As Tarantino’s hit Spaghetti Western homage comes to blu-ray on 4/16/13, I take a look back at Django Unchained and the film that inspired it…

Quentin Tarantino has become one of America’s most innovative filmmakers in that he takes his unapologetic love of movies, B movies in particular, and crafts original films out of bits and pieces that pay homage to the movies he loves. No more obvious than his latest ode to the Spaghetti Western, Django Unchained.

This epic story of ex-slave turned bounty hunter, Django (Jaime Foxx) has it’s main character named after the lone gunslinger played by Franco Nero in Sergio Corbucci’s classic Spaghetti Western of the same name. And in case you didn’t get that point, not only does the film open with that 1966 film’s theme song, but sports a delightful cameo from Franco Nero himself. The story opens with a slave, Django being bought in a humorously violent scene by German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz ( Christoph Waltz). Schultz promises Django his freedom if the slave will help him track down three wanted men Django has seen, but Schultz has not. Django has quite a knack for bounty hunting and after their quarry is gunned down, in a great scene involving a hilariously sleazy Don Johnson as a racist plantation owner, the two team up. When Schultz hears of the plight of Django’s German speaking slave wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), he agrees to help him search for and free her. This brings them to the door of a vile plantation owner, who specializes in slave fights, named Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Will Django and Schultz be able to rescue his wife from the devious and well armed Candie? A lot of bullets and blood fly before that question gets answered. Django Unchained isn’t perfect. It is definitely a bit too long and the last act could have been structured a bit more efficiently, but Tarantino has always been a bit overindulgent and we let him slide because of all the things he gets right…and because his films are usually so damn entertaining.

And one of the things he gets so right here is the performances out of his cast. Jaime Fox is impressive as Django bringing both a sly humor and a smoldering strength to the slave turned bounty killer. I’m not usually a fan, but he won me over here. Christoph Waltz is an absolute delight as the German bounty hunter with a heart and sense of honor. He gives Tarantino’s crisp and witty dialog vivid life and creates an instantly classic character from the pages of the director’s script. The same could be said of the phenomenal performance by Leonardo DiCaprio, whose wonderfully over the top Calvin Candie practically steals the show. DiCaprio is having a blast playing the vicious and sleazy dandy plantation owner whose charm oozes out of every pore, but only to cover up that this snake has fangs filled with venom and he will strike first chance he gets. And if that triple threat isn’t enough, we have a side splitting performance by the great Samuel L. Jackson as Candie’s cantankerous head slave Stephen. Stephen may be a slave, but sometimes his manipulation of Calvin makes you seriously wonder who is really running the Candie Land plantation.

Tarantino once again gives this top notch cast some wonderful Tarantino dialog to work with and, as usual, shoots Django with his trademark luscious camera work. QT’s love of film fills every frame. He skillfully mixes controversial topics such as the horrors of slavery and racism with some very sly and funny humor and peppers it with some blood spattering action and violence. Basically it’s a Quentin Tarantino movie…and that’s exactly what we paid to see. A fiercely entertaining movie with a great supporting cast featuring the likes of Jonah Hill, Bruce Dern, Don Stroud, Russ and Amber Tamblyn, Dennis Christopher, Michael Parks and James Remar to name a few.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated a solid 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) pistols

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BONUS REVIEW:

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DJANGO (1966)

As 1964’s A Fistful Of Dollars was a huge hit, director Sergio Corbucci answered with his own Spaghetti Western in 1966, the classic, Django. Where Sergio Leone filled his films with beautiful sweeping vistas and made good use of the Spanish locations, Corbucci’s look for Django was very nihilistic and bleak as was it’s tone. Filmed in winter, the landscapes are barren and dead and the streets of the town are filled with mud and the sky seems mostly always gray. The films’ heroes Couldn’t be more different, too. Eastwood’s “Joe” is an opportunist who plays two rival gangs against each other in a dangerous game to profit from both, while Franco Nero’s Django, on the other hand, is a former soldier who returns to a small town dragging a coffin behind him and seeking vengeance for the loss of a loved one. Django is a man whose heart and soul have been torn out by the Civil War and the murder of his wife and he doesn’t care how many have to die before he exacts his revenge on the evil Major Jackson (Eduardo Fajardo) for her death. And death is indeed what lies within the coffin he takes with him everywhere, as Jackson and his men will soon find out. The loner gunslinger Django also plays two gangs against each other for his own gain, but his gain is far more personal than profitable. The film’s graveyard shootout finale is also very bleak and makes one wonder if Corbucci is asking us whether Django’s surrounding himself with so much death has made him an outcast amongst the living. Django is a hard and violent tale under Corbucci’s direction and Franco Nero’s Django is a hard and violent man who, unlike Eastwood’s charming anti-hero, is a man on a path to hell and plans on taking as many with him as possible. His flashes of humanity are brief and seem only directed at the saloon girl Maria (Loredana Nusciak), who falls for the dark loner. But, even Maria is not immune to the violence that follows this man wherever he goes. Django is an interesting entry in the Spaghetti Western genre and seems to be the dark opposite of Leone’s series with Eastwood. And as such has earned it’s own classic status and is rightfully regarded as one of the genres best examples.

-MonsterZero NJ

Also rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) pistols

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