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theOneliner.com Podcast Episode 103, in which our heroes review Les Misérables, Django Unchained, Zero Dark Thirty and Gangster Squad.
Film musicals used to be a Hollywood staple, but are (you may consider fortunately) much rarer these days. Of the handful of notable entries into the genre in the last decade or so, one was an example of that inexplicably popular breed of musicals where a story is retrofitted around the existing music of a popular act (Mamma Mia!) and one was a more traditional purpose-built musical which went down the unexpected route of having a cast almost entirely unable to sing, but which miraculously ended up being entertaining anyway (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street). The most recent entry is one of the heavyweights of the stage musical world, Les Misérables, and differs from these last two in being both purpose-written as a musical and featuring a cast who can carry a tune. Whether that's enough is open to debate, and as with any musical if you don't like the songs you're unlikely to get a tremendous amount from it. Opinion is split on the merits of Les Misérables, but we'd recommend you see it regardless in order to make up your own mind.
Quentin Tarantino's career never lived up to the promise shown by his early masterpieces Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, and the relatively poor quality of films like Inglourious Basterds and Death Proof, coupled with continual use of his name in cynical 'Quentin Tarantino Presents' marketing (including, bafflingly, a producer credit on Iron Monkey) suggests he's been content to coast on his early reputation for the last 15 years. Fortunately it turns out he's still capable of producing an entertaining film, which Django Unchained most-assuredly is. The tale of the unlikely partnership of a former slave and a bounty-hunting dentist trying to extricate the free man's wife from slavery at a huge plantation, Django Unchained is to black Americans what Inglourious Basterds was to Jews, but vastly more entertaining. It's entirely silly and over the top, filled with oodles of blood, ludicrously powerful weaponry and lashings of great Tarantino dialogue, and, while it's far from perfect, it's an absolute hoot. Highly recommended. Note: only very stupid people think that anything at all in Django Unchained should be taken seriously.
Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker was hugely popular at theOneliner, so we had high hopes for her next feature, Zero Dark Thirty. The film follows a young CIA operative as she aids in the hunt for the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks, and all of the failures up until the operation in Pakistan where he was finally brought to ground. Zero Dark Thirty has been criticised for condoning or glorifying torture, which is a nonsense. It does neither of these, but rather documents torture as something that happened and credits the viewer with the intelligence to make up their own mind about it. What it can be criticised for, though, is being dry and boring. It's commendable that the hard work involved in hunting for the world's most-wanted criminal hasn't been sensationalised, but it doesn't make for the most compelling viewing, the final assault on Bin Laden's compound in particular notable for the conspicuous absence of the tension that helped make The Hurt Locker so successful. And as such it's not something we can recommend you watch.
If you'd like to know what Gangster Squad is like, it helps to be familiar with Brian De Palma's The Untouchables. Now, do you have The Untouchables in mind? Good. Now imagine if that film had been written (in crayon, probably) by a 13-year old boy. And there you have, more or less, Gangster Squad. In a corrupt post-World War II Los Angeles ruled by mobster Mickey Cohen, one of the few incorruptible cops in the LAPD is tasked by the chief of police with creating a squad of similarly-upright colleagues to tackle Cohen's empire head-on. This they achieve by shooting a great many people. Simple. The film looks nice, and the A-list cast are entertaining (even if they're given absolutely nothing to stretch their acting muscles) but everything else about this screams B-movie. There's a place for cartoonish gore and violence in cinema, certainly, but you're currently much better served in this regard by the vastly superior Django Unchained. Gangster Squad is perhaps a film to keep in mind if you're looking for some undemanding viewing some wet Sunday.
And there we go, another podcast over. At the risk of becoming predictable, we'll be back with another podcast soon. As always we encourage you to get in touch with us (firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/theoneliner), and we'd appreciate you taking a minute to rate and review us on iTunes or wherever better podcasts are served.
Well, uh, hope you folks enjoyed yourselves. Catch ya further on down the trail.