Tagged Bruce Dern

Patty Jenkins’ Monster: Forced to Kill, One Way or Another

Monster. 2003. Directed & Written by Patty Jenkins.
Starring Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci, Bruce Dern, Lee Tergesen, Annie Corley, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Marco St. John, Marc Macaulay, Scott Wilson, Rus Blackwell, Tim Ware, Stephan Jones, Brett Rice, Kaitlin Riley, & Cree Ivey. Media 8 Entertainment/Newmarket Films/DEJ Productions.
Rated 18A. 109 minutes.
Biography/Crime/Drama

★★★★★
POSTER For those that don’t know the entire story, Aileen Wuornos was indeed a serial killer. She murdered men. She was a prostitute, one that had been abused, supposedly raped, tortured, and one who took emancipation from a life of sex as business into her own hands when there was nowhere else to turn. And that was the ultimate problem concerning Aileen’s long, tumultuous life. Starting from an early age she was frequently beaten, while naked, by her adoptive father. At the age of fourteen she got pregnant, later putting the boy up for adoption in 1971. She was actually married to a multimillionaire by age twenty, which later ended in a restraining order against her and an annulment. This was also around the time Lee started getting arrested, charged with assault and battery, among other things. When she finally wound up in Daytona, drinking in a gay bar, she met Tyria Moore who’d become the one big love of her life. It was in Daytona the trail of bodies behind Aileen – affectionately known as Lee to those close to her – started piling up.
And this is where director-writer Patty Jenkins’ Monster comes in.
Wuornos, by all accounts, had trouble with the truth. Most of all after her arrest in 1991. What Jenkins does is examine Wuornos in those days after meeting Moore – here named Selby – and the steady decline of her mental state from the time of her first murder onward. In a realistic style alongside a great script, Jenkins uses the fascinatingly honest, brutally true-to-life performance of Charlize Theron as the centerpiece of a discussion about everything from murder to prostitution, to how we judge prostitutes when they say they’ve been sexually assaulted, love, as well as so many other themes in between. This movie is a great film from the early 2000s containing one of the single best performances ever seen in the history of cinema.
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There’s some great editing in this film. When Selby and Aileen first stay together in the hotel, after she’s murdered her first victim, things are so light and lovely, which then switches quickly into the stone cold realities of this woman’s life: we cut fast to Aileen in her stolen car, spraying down the windshield and wiping off any of the last bloody remnants inside to make sure it’s not a rolling DNA lab. This is one of the most evident points where we see the division in Aileen’s life, between the woman she wants to be and the woman she is/has become. An instance of when good editing and writing come together to create a sorrowful look into the inner life of a character, especially heart wrenching due to the fact Aileen is a serial killer, as well as partly a very tragic case.
What is part serial killer picture is also part indictment of our general society, which chews people like Aileen Wuornos up and spits them out. Aside from her alleged rape (I only say alleged because Aileen was the only person left on Earth who knew the truth for sure about that particular event), one of the first truly sad scenes is the montage sequence where Aileen heads out looking for a job. First just seeing her dressed in a nice little outfit while looking terrifyingly rough is semi-comical, which might explain Jenkins once telling an interviewer the film was meant to be played as a lighthearted comedy with bits of the murders tossed in amongst everything else. Secondly, when Aileen then goes on to a law office where she hopes to get a secretarial job, the treatment she receives is downright appalling. Then when she freaks out, it’s as if she is being the unreasonable one, but the man provoked her into that behaviour, and furthermore we continue to see how the system is not designed for people like Aileen. One poignantly tragic moment is when Selby is being chastised about Aileen by her aunt, who basically says
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Basically, a long and ruined life led Aileen to where she ended up. Having been used and abused most of her lifetime she wound up doing all she was ever conditioned to do: prostitute herself and sell her body. The saddest part to me is that one way or another, Aileen was likely to become a killer. Because if she didn’t willingly start killing men that she felt were assaulting or raping her then there’s still a high probability she would’ve likely, at some point in life, contracted HIV and spread it. Aileen wasn’t some high class escort, she lived on the street going from one situation to the next in desperation, so there’s a huge chance HIV would’ve come along. But the biggest, saddest irony lies in the fact that if Aileen was telling the truth about the original john she killed in the beginning, it’s likely this rape and assault which pushed her into killing the others, even if they never assaulted her themselves. Not to excuse her crimes, they are horrific and inexcusable. It just begs attention paid to the systemic abuse of low class prostitutes that are living dangerous lives on the fringe of society, no protection, barely any mind paid to their situations and their struggles. Eventually the levee has to break, somehow, somewhere down the line. Aileen represents one of the most perfect cases of a woman pushed too far. People want to act like a prostitute gets what she deserves, whatever that means, as if selling her body to survive and get through life effectively relegates her to a life of rape, torture, and all around terror. As if she asked for that. But Aileen asked for none of the life she was given. The title of this film accurately describes Wuornos, yet it has more than just the surface meaning that she is a monstrous person. This title refers further to the monster which society made her, the serial killing creature into which society molded her.
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Obviously the most impressive piece of Monster is Theron. Not just the physical transformation, though that is perfect. She not only takes on the physical appearance of Wuornos, she also gets the mannerisms and the phrasing, everything, so dead on correct. If you’ve ever watched any of the documentary material on Aileen, specifically the films made by Nick Broomfield, you’ll find it undeniable how accurate Theron portrays this woman, from top the bottom. Emotionally, this role is heavy, and all the various traumas of Aileen are not easy to illustrate onscreen. Theron proves that empathy reigns supreme, as she crawls inside the skin of this woman, whose story is sad but still altogether scary to relate to. We do, though. We relate in the most unnerving of ways, and that isn’t solely on the writing by Jenkins, fleshing out many important moments in the later stages of Aileen’s days. Theron opens the door to that empathetic viewing, which ultimately makes Monster one of the more compelling films to look at a true story about a serial killer. Yes, there are graphic moments. Even those are tactfully written and handled with solid directorial choices on Jenkins’ part.
With Theron’s powerhouse acting talent this movie doesn’t have to linger totally on the murder, the blood, the rape, none of that. Instead those lie on the peripherals of the film, adding their touches lightly, as Jenkins chooses to focus on the emotional, sentimental aspects of Aileen’s life. In doing so, Theron is able to show off her skills, and the movie reaches a height many other biographical films concerning the hideous legacy of serial murderers often can’t manage to attain. This is a 5-star masterpiece of a crime film. Even better, it’s based in real life, the melodrama is almost non-existent. Not only is Monster one of the best films in the past 16 years, it is an excellent movie period. And Theron’s performance as Wuornos will forever go down in history as one of the greatest. She deserved and still deserves all the accolades heaped upon her for this role because it is tremendous. To make people care about someone who has killed, a bunch of people, is truly remarkable, and to bring forward some of the issues in this film is brave on both the part of Theron and writer-director Jenkins. Truly a phenomenal work of cinema.

Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained: Slavesploitation

Django Unchained. 2012. Directed & Written by Quentin Tarantino.
Starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins, James Remar, David Steen, Dennis Christopher, Don Johnson, Franco Nero, Bruce Dern, M.C. Gainey, Jonah Hill, Tom Wopat, Don Stroud, Russ Tamblyn, Amber Tamblyn, and Tom Savini.
The Weinstein Company/Columbia Pictures.
Rated 18A. 165 minutes.
Drama/Western

★★★★★
POSTERRecently I saw The Hateful Eight. Taking a step back in time, in that same universe, I went back to Quentin Tarantino’s brutally honest, raw Western (or “Southern” as he likes to call it), Django Unchained. Sometimes I actually forget how good Tarantino is. To me, he’ll always be a truly great director. A master, in fact. My favourite film of his is still, and always will be, the adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch that Tarantino did, Jackie Brown.
But I do believe Django Unchained is one of his most impressive works out of the entire filmography. Let’s face it – there are rarely as interesting, influential and weird writers as Quentin out there. He brings that to the world of slavery and America in its former days, its worse days.
Editing by Fred Raskin, cinematography from D.P. Robert Richardson, practical effects courtesy of KNB wizards Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero (fucking legends), plus a load of other talented people, it all compounds to make Django Unchained into a great Western/Southern for the modern day confronting America’s historical race issues, specifically slavery, topped with the usual wit and style of Quentin Tarantino.
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Down around Texas in 1858, a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) is being transported, along with a bunch of others like himself. Soon enough, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) shows up. He offers to buy Django, but things end up going bad. Schultz murders the men carrying the slaves, and then takes Django with him; now a free man.
With Django riding side by side with Schultz, they set out to find the Brittle brothers – whom the doctor seeks, being a bounty hunter and all. This is how Django purchases his freedom, tagging along to help track and kill a few wanted men. Perfect for the newly freed slave. He’ll have his revenge. Better yet, Schultz agrees to help Django track down and free his wife: Broomhilda von Shaft (Kerry Washington). Only problem is she belongs to the notorious slave owner Calvin J. Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) at the Candyland Plantation. Encountering various wild and nefarious characters, Django and Schultz work their way towards Candie with death, madness and terrifying racism always nipping at their heels in an American Southern Hell.
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One thing I love about this film is the fact it boasts an incredible amount of characters. Better yet, they’re Tarantino characters. Now, for those who do not like his style, or his characters, whatever – then they’re probably not for you in general. But I dig the way he gives us characters, often not diving too deep into their backstory – especially depending on if they’re big or small characters – which sort of intrigues me. Here, it’s not simply an ensemble cast, there really is almost an entire Southern U.S. filled with characters in Django Unchained. From Big Daddy (Don Johnson) and his nasty group of pre-Klu Klux Klan bagheads, to James Remar’s awesome Western-homage double character Ace Speck/Butch Pooch, to M.C Gainey as Bible thumping hypocrite Big John Brittle and Bruce Dern as Old Man Carrucan, to a Franco Nero cameo and a tiny appearance by Walton Goggins. So many different characters occupy the space of Django Unchained. And I know that all of Tarantino’s films are ensembles, there are often a bunch of characters. It feels to me, though, this one takes the cake. It doesn’t introduce too many either, not in the sense that too many are there to be touched on. Even Jonah Hill gets in a cameo with the bagheaded mob led by Big Daddy.
Best of all are the main cast. Foxx gives Django a ton of charisma, the likes of which no other actor could’ve given him. Hands down. Sure, maybe he wasn’t Tarantino’s first choice on the list. But he makes this film what it is, without him it doesn’t matter how well Walt dances over the wonderful screenplay. There’d be no movie without Django the character, and Foxx makes it worth every last second. From the first to the last, he gives it his all. Then alongside him, Waltz impressively characterizes an odd yet charming man in Schultz – both a bounty hunter and a gentleman, a liar and a straight shooter (in more than one sense of the term). No doubt he deserve his Academy Award. He also brings to life the other half of the film. Perhaps others could have played Schultz, though, I’m hard pressed to think of anyone whose abilities rise to the level of capability required to sell this character; Waltz has a hokey-ness about him that isn’t cheesy, it works so well, it makes Schultz who he needs to be, the perfect counterpart to Django.
I can’t not mention DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie and Stephen, played by the ever fabulous Samuel L. Jackson. They both give terrific performances in two very tough roles. Again, as I said recently while reviewing The Hateful Eight, as a white man I’ll never understand how it feels watching a film about race, especially slavery, and even more so considering this one is laced with the word “nigger”. Sadly, this is historically accurate, as the mid-1800’s were a viciously racist time in many parts of America. Candie is a savage representation of the young men who were brought up on plantations, raised into the family business of their fathers, the type of person who molds himself into the best possible version of a terrible person. DiCaprio performs this despicable man in the most terrific way possible, giving his all in a role that couldn’t have been easy. Likewise, though Jackson pulls off a magnificent performance it’s a sad character – Stephen has been bent and broken by white men, turned into a true slave, less free than any of the ones in shackles even while he roams free himself. It’s a wildly entertaining role, albeit tough to watch. Can’t imagine Jackson relished playing him, but in a way it had to be exciting, bringing to life an awful piece of history.
All these people together? How can you not find the cast beyond amazing?

DJANGO UNCHAINED
The conversation about Django Unchained is never complete without talking about aesthetics, from sound to cinematography to set design to effects. I won’t bore you too long. Although, certain names need mentioning.
In particular, there’s editor Fred Raskin. His other work as editor includes the recent (and fantastic) Western-horror Bone TomahawkGuardians of the Galaxy and others, plus he worked in various editorial positions on films like Tarantino’s Kill Bill films, Punch-Drunk Love, Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia remake, Hard EightBoogie Nights, and much more. His editing shows greatly in this one. There are times the way scenes are cut from one to the next are very Tarantino-esque, others it’s typical Western, and some are just odd; it all works. There’s a reason Raskin and Tarantino have worked together several times now. They compliment one another. Bad editing can really kill a movie, and fortunately this one is done well.
Another Tarantino regular, cinematographer Robert Richardson, makes the look of Django Unchained so slick and beautiful. Each sequence is almost done in its own style, but always captured crisply by Richardson. His eye brings to life all the colours of the South, the costumes and the set design all look so vivid under the care of Richardson as director of photography. Many great films have been captured under this guy’s lens from work by Scorsese to Stone. This is but one of those titles.
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Full stop, a 5-star film. This is one of my favourites out of the Quentin Tarantino collection thus far, but still doesn’t top Jackie Brown for me. Either way, an amazing movie. It takes on a period of history many Americans would sooner forget. Instead, Tarantino’s whipsmart screenplay goes head-on at all the ugliness. At times it may be tough to digest. Although, the actors take each character and breathe into them a wild amount of life. Everything here is working on all cylinders, from the writing to the acting, to the wonderful aesthetics brought out by all the artists on the production. I cannot recommend this enough. To the naysayers: let them keep naysaying. This is a destined-to-be classic in the Western genre, though it takes place in the South. I’ll always love this movie. When it first came out I saw it several times in the first couple weeks. Can never get enough of Tarantino.

The Hateful Eight: Tarantino & Race Relations in America

The Hateful Eight. 2015. Directed & Written by Quentin Tarantino.
Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kurt Russell, Walton Goggins, Bruce Dern, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, James Parks, Dana Gourrier, Zoë Bell, and Gene Jones. The Weinstein Company.
Rated 18A. 187 minutes.
Comedy/Drama/Mystery

★★★★★
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For me, when I first got interested in film Quentin Tarantino was sort of the guy whose movies everyone talked about. Pulp Fiction was out a couple years before I saw it, then I went back to watch Reservoir Dogs, which blew me away almost even more. Later on I came to love Jackie Brown most of all his work. But Tarantino continually pumps out solid movies, his writing is consistently interesting and full of his charisma. And you can give me all the “Tarantino steals” nonsense you want, ain’t gonna change my mind, gals and goons! Heard it all before. To me, Quentin is the ultimate film lover. Someone I understand. As a fellow cinephile, I see him as a master of the homage and a connoisseur of the world of movies.
The Hateful Eight sees him a little ways down the road from the world of Django Unchained, directing a film filled with exciting Western charm and boasting an interesting ensemble cast with standout performances by Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Samuel L. Jackson. I’ve seen plenty of other reviews with their nitpicks, their bore with Tarantino’s style. Not me. I loved it. Let me tell you why.
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As a white man, I can’t tell you how it feels for black men and women to watch this or Django Unchained. The word ‘nigger’ only gets used about half as much in this film as it does in Django, but god damn if it isn’t a lot. Now, at the same time, this is set in an era just after the end of the American Civil War; a bloody, heated time in U.S. history. Naturally, there were many, many people out there dropping that word on black people ALL THE TIME. I’m not saying it has to be like that on film, but isn’t a huge part of the story about Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and his feelings about being black in a hellish white world? Come to think of it, isn’t a blizzard such a great metaphor for the type of white trouble at which Marquis finds himself the center? So naturally in an honest, brutal film tackling some racist issues, we’re going to hear the word. Again, I can’t possibly understand how it is for black people when they watch this.
My feeling is this – without spoiling anything for those who’ve yet to see it, The Hateful Eight wraps mystery around a main plot, while we also end up with Major Marquis getting trapped at Minnie’s Haberdashery with guys like Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), an avowed racist who served in his father’s small but hateful troops, and also the older much more sternly racist former Confederate General Sanford “Sandy” Smithers (Bruce Dern). So a good portion of what happens has to do with Warren and his confrontation with these racists in such close quarters. In fact, we find out Warren and Sanders fought at a battle in Baton Rouge, so it’s almost more intimate with them stuck in a cabin during a raging blizzard than they ever got on the battlefield. I understand it can’t be easy for anyone black to hear the word ‘nigger’.
Although, here’s to hoping bits of Major Marquis and his story help to patch those wounds. He is a great character, a strong, intelligent black man in a vicious time. Jackson plays him to perfection, which is no surprise. A role clearly written with him in mind, but in the best way possible. Lots of typical Samuel L., and at the same time there are extremely subtle moments where his small gestures and pensive attitude make things interesting, as well as tense. Great character, great performance.
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Speaking of performances, both Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason Leigh complete an excellent triple threat of actors at the forefront of The Hateful Eight. Leigh is one of the few women in the movie, but is in the middle of every last portion. Her character is wild, outspoken, she is a woman in a man’s world. Not only is she feisty, she’s tough as hell. Daisy Domergue, Leigh’s character, takes a beating from start to finish, in so many ways. Brutal at times to see a woman receive such violence; then again, Daisy happens to be a murderer. Either way, Leigh was the perfect fit for this role. A mixture of genuine crazy, humour, and plenty of strength.
Perhaps my favourite in the film, even above the amazing performances of Jackson and Leigh, is Kurt Russell as John “The Hangman” Ruth. Everything from his miraculously beautiful facial hair, fitting in with the period piece, to the delivery of his lines, his screen presence. He fills the frame, even when he’s only taking up a third of it. Russell’s a solid actor who brings his talents to The Hateful Eight, in a role that could’ve easily been played by others. Though, no one else would have brought what Russell did. The Hangman is a fun character, he’s a laugh at times, but don’t fuck with him. Russell and Leigh have incredible chemistry, plus he and Jackson do, too.
As an ensemble you’d be hard pressed to find many films rivaling the performance in this one. Tarantino usually brings together an interesting collective on each of his productions. This may be favourite, honestly. Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Demián Bichir who was lots of fun. Above anyone else, I have to say Walton Goggins knocks the character of Mannix out the park. I’ve loved him since The Shield. Here, he takes his career to another level. Difficult character to tackle, but when he and Samuel L. Jackson share the screen at various points it is true gold. Great casting, even better performance from Goggins whose abilities are on display over and over here.

THE HATEFUL EIGHT

The look of the film is magnificent. Cinematographer Robert Richardson has done a TON of amazing work, from Oliver Stone’s Salvador and Platoon, as well as Natural Born Killers and the criminally under appreciated Nixon, the fascinatingly weird U Turn to work with Scorsese on Casino and Bringing Out the Dead and later The AviatorShutter Island and Hugo. He’s worked with Tarantino already on Kill Bill and Django Unchained.
Richardson brings his brilliant eye to The Hateful Eight making the Wyoming winter come to us in vivid white, the stark mountains sitting among it all, capturing the characters and the stagecoach at the start with such a raw beauty. Then after Tarantino’s tight screenplay moves into the cabin of Minnie’s Haberdashery, the way Richardson brings to life the spirit of the Western all while staying within those four walls, rarely stepping back outside at all, it’s genuine cinematic magic. Love the way everything looks and feels.
Add to that Ennio Morricone’s score, and things become classic. There is plenty of that good old Western feel we expect to come from Morricone, then there are bits and pieces of other scores he’s done – for instance, parts from Exorcist II are dropped in, as well as unused score Morricone did for John Carpenter’s The Thing (which Tarantino admittedly modeled this film after). Even further, Morricone gives us these foreboding pieces that rock us, right from the beginning as the stagecoach toughs through the Wyoming wilderness, a half snow covered Jesus on the cross at the fore of the shot, right in our faces. Plenty of great moments where Morricone’s music lifts Tarantino to that otherworldly place many classic Westerns now exist.
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A 5-star film. At three hours and seven minutes, The Hateful Eight was fun from beginning to end. There were parts I expected, which were still great, and others I did not expect, even greater. Quentin Tarantino brings to life a universe he similarly existed in with his last film, only this time a little past the Civil War and the end of slavery. Though, as we see and know already slavery was almost only the beginning of America’s race issues and thoroughly awful problems. With a bunch of stellar performances, the characters of Tarantino come alive in their own ways, each with their particular quirks and personalities. Further than that, the way this story ends up is surprising, and extremely enjoyable. With all the talk of race in the U.S. today, especially with a rash of terrible killings by the police in America this past year or more, The Hateful Eight may or may not have things to say; you’ll have to ask a smarter, more qualified person than myself, an African American man or woman who knows what it’s like to be black in America, as Major Marquis does.
Nevertheless, I loved this movie. I’ll see it again, maybe in theatre. Definitely snatching this up on Blu ray when it’s released, adding to my complete collection of Tarantino directed and written films. See it on the big screen – the visuals and the sound are out of this world.