It's a season for staying home sick, layed up with a pile of films to watch, and a season for leaving the house, too, spending $12 at the multiplex because the weather's so bad there's nothing else to do. With that in mind, I thought I'd catch you up with a film and 2 documentaries I've consumed in the past week. Each was outstanding, and earn Hedonist Jive's much-coveted "A" grade. I'd encourage you to see each of them immediately if not sooner - but please read my short reviews first.
DJANGO UNCHAINED - I may be in minor company here, but it's my belief that Quentin Tarantino was in a 15-year directing slump from the time he finished "Pulp Fiction". "Inglourious Basterds" brought back the director that blew me away with his first two films, and now "Django Unchained" keeps his new 2-film winning streak going. Nearly 3 hours, this does for American slavery what "Basterds" did for the Jews of WWII Europe. At no point was I even a little bit bored or anything less than fully entertained and gripped by what is at turns a funny, comically violent (of course) and tense drama in which the good guys win and the bad guys get their brains & guts splattered against the wall. The dialogue, as in "Basterds", is extremely comic, and yet is not comedy in a we're-gonna-make-you-laugh-at-our-jokes sense. You know Tarantino's style - this is him at his very best, doing his thing as well as he did in "Reservoir Dogs", "Pulp Fiction" and "Inglourious Basterds". The other ones can take a friggin' hike. (Oh, and I'm posting a picture of Samuel L. Jackson because he's the best thing in a film crammed with great performances). A.
BALLPLAYER (PELOTERO) - Let me say right up front: this is not just for baseball fans. A near-perfect documentary about teenage would-be ballplayers in the Dominican Republic, and the Major League Baseball ecosystem of money and fame that corrupts and yet drives them. When you hear about Dominicans in the MLB who lie about their ages, take steroids and so on, watch this film. You may not approve, but you'll understand a bit more about the grinding poverty of the country and the pride of its many amazing ballplayers who are dying to get to the big show in the USA. The filmmakers who set out to put this documentary together may not have known it at the time, but the 2 players they chose to focus on were just note-perfect in stitching together the broader themes of corruption, ego, poverty and greed. It makes me want to closely follow the careers of these guys and frankly anyone coming out of the Dominican - which is, get this, 1 in 5 major leaguers....! A.
MY PERESTROIKA - The very same night I watched "Ballplayer" I was also fortunate to also see this amazing documentary, a meditative rumination on the current lives of 5 1970s-era Soviet Union classmates in modern Russia. Not only does it exist as an elegant film about choices made when growing into middle age, regardless of the country it was made in, it's an eye-opening first-person look into how people who were brought up in the Communist Soviet era adapted in the 1990s and 2000s to first Yeltsin- and then Putin-era Russia. Several are very happy with their lot; several are not. All seem to loathe what Russia has become under Putin. It's not a "political" film; it is instead a close look at the social attitudes, mores and proverbial dashed hopes and future dreams of some ordinary people who've lived through some pretty "interesting times". One of the best documentaries I've seen in years. A.