Monday, December 31, 2012

In Theaters: Django Unchained

Django Unchained poster
Poster via

Django Unchained feels like a movie we should have gotten a long time ago. Hollywood's reluctance to deal frankly with race and the history of black/white relations in America is disappointing for many reasons, but the main one has to be that we too often miss out on the simple pleasure of watching black cowboys battle slaveowners. There are some films along these lines, but not many, and few this high profile. Quentin Tarantino gave us another kind of guilty catharsis in Inglourious Basterds, and at first glance this is cut from the same cloth; a brutally violent exploitation picture about the oppressed taking revenge on bigots, but given a good amount of dramatic weight and narrative complexity. It's not exactly a redressed remake, though, and while Basterds was more about images of violence, Django draws its power from a brutal and uncompromising picture of the ugliness of American slavery. By presenting this material in action/exploitation dress, Tarantino lets this material reach people who wouldn't be caught dead at a respectful biopic of Harriet Tubman.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

In Theaters: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Hobbit poster via

It's been over ten years since the first of Peter Jackson's films of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings arrived in theaters, and it honestly was starting to feel like we were overdue for a return visit. So The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey feels like an indulgence, expanding Tolkien's much more concise children's story into three epics bolstered with expanded subplots and backstory. And perhaps it can be said to lack the discipline used to tame the earlier material. It's just a little sloppy. But it is Middle Earth, real and sumptuous and inviting, and Jackson makes us feel at home in a fun rambling story that promises to provide three Christmases worth of ornate, overstuffed adventure.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Frasierquest 5.9: Perspectives on Christmas

Tensions rise in Santa's Village

Martin: You know the only part about Christmas I don't like? How quickly it's all over!

Frasier: Yes.  Come December 26th, it's all just a memory.  With nothing but your light decorating touch to remind us.

The problem with a Christmas episode coming up near the actual holidays is that I have to either rush to get to it on or before December 25 or postpone it to at least February or March, when people aren't sick of Christmas stuff. So here we are looking at Christmas of 15 Years Past, and at a brilliant example of the Rashomon approach to sitcom writing. Instead of dissecting a single incident and pitting the characters against each other, though, "Perspectives on Christmas" poses a series of interconnected hassles and stress-inducers for everyone in the main cast, showing how the holidays drive people insane at the same time they bring them together.

Frasierquest 5.8: Desperately Seeking Closure

Roz: Oh, come on, Frasier, why don't you just admit what you're doing here. This isn't some "help-me-be-a-better-person" thing. You're trying to figure out what you can fix so you can win Sam back.

Frasier: Oh, now, Roz, that's proposterous.

Roz: Look who you're talking to! I've been down this road so many times, I call it "The Roz Expressway".
Niles: I've heard that phrase before but in a slightly different context.

(Note: From now on transcriptions are coming via

And it ends as suddenly as it began. You always expect this to happen; sitcom girlfriends and boyfriends are fleeting things. Still, "Desperately Seeking Closure" makes an interesting companion piece with its prior episode, if not the most gripping one. It's another introspective episode for our protagonist, where he faces his need to be liked and ends up finding out at least one thing that's very wrong with him.

Frasierquest 5.7: My Fair Frasier

Frasier shows off his latest gift

Frasier: Thank you, Niles, but I am not some dewey-eyed teenager. But she did say the cutest thing… she said that murderers often show no remorse for their actions because they have no moral center. (beat) It was cute the way she said it.

For a while now we've seen Frasier desperately in pursuit of love, but not as much about what he does when he has it. The first half of an informal two-parter, "My Fair Frasier" largely disposes with the messy chase to dive into the tricky business of being in a relationship, and of the power relations therein. It plays around with gender roles and expectations in a way that's of its time, but will probably still be relevant for a while. In the meantime it's fun TV, more grounded than last week's episode but only by a little.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Random Movie Report #112: White Zombie

The zombie has changed a lot from its cultural origins. Night of the Living Dead and its myriad of sequels and rip-offs ensured that we think of zombies as flesh-and/or-brain-eating ghouls who travel in hordes and destroy civilizations when the word is used, and it's a powerful icon. But the original zombie of voodoo lore, the myth of the mindless servant arising from a culture which developed under the yoke of slavery, has a power of its own. White Zombie takes that central fear, the total loss of will, and expresses it in a uniquely stylish way. An early sound film made by the conventions of silent cinema, it's a fascinating mood piece that could use a little more attention.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Frasierquest 5.6: Voyage of the Damned

Frasier, Roz, and the Barracuda

Roz: I don't see [Maris], maybe she went back out.  Oh, wait.  I see her coat on a hat rack.

Frasier: Look closer.  Is the hat rack moving?

Roz: Oh my God!

Sending characters off on a cruise is a sitcom staple with two key advantages: it provides a change of scenery and opportunity to mix things up, while at the same time being cheaper than actually going anywhere fancy. After an epic 100th episode, "Voyage of the Damned" is a return to manic setbound farce, and it's strongly written enough to excuse any seeming gimmickry in the premise. As highfalutin' as I can get about this show, it is a traditional sitcom, and it will inevitably indulge in classic sitcom tropes. It just does so very well.