“WHITE HOUSE DOWN” (2013) Review

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“WHITE HOUSE DOWN” (2013) Review

When it first hit the movie theaters during the summer of 2013, “WHITE HOUSE DOWN” received a good deal of flak from movie critics determined to justified its failure to become a box office hit. But there were others who had offered another reason why the movie flopped in the U.S.  And that reason centered around the release of another film some three months earlier called “OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN”.

Like the Gerard Butler film, “WHITE HOUSE DOWN” focused upon an assault and invasion of the White House by a group of paramilitary terrorists. The movie begins with U.S. President James Sawyer proposing a controversial peace treaty between allied countries to remove military forces from the Middle East. One of the opponents of the treaty is Speaker of the House, Congressman Eli Raphelson, who is guarded by U.S. Capitol police officer John Cale. Hoping to impress his estranged daughter Emily following his divorce, John attempts to apply for a job with the U.S. Secret Service. He takes Emily to the White House for an interview with his former college schoolmate, Secret Service schoolmate, Carol Finnerty. Unfortunately for John, Carol rejects his application, claiming that his lack of respect for authority and inability to follow through with official reports makes him unqualified for the job.

Following his interview, John joins Emily on a tour of the White House, a paramilitary terrorist sets off a bomb in the rotunda of the Capitol building. Both Congressman Raphelson and Vice-President Alvin Hammond are among those who manage to safely escape. However, the Capitol bombing proves to be a distraction for a more important mission for his colleagues – namely the takeover the White House. Although the latter is officially locked down by the Secret Service following the Capitol bombing, a paramilitary group consisting of ex-servicemen and a computer hacker that managed to infiltrate the White House as janitors, proceed to take over the White House. Their leader is a disavowed ex-Delta Force member named Emil Stenz, who proved to be a hot head. Not only do the terrorists take a group of tourists – including Emily – hostage; they nearly kidnap President Sawyer with the help of Secret Service Agent Martin Walker, Head of the Presidential Detail. Walker sought revenge for the death of a son who had died in an aborted black op mission for the U.S. Army. Fortunately, John manages to rescue President Sawyer before Walker and the terrorists can use him to access the nuclear football for nefarious means. Unfortunately for John and Sawyer, they are trapped inside the White House with no way to get out.

Unlike a good number of moviegoers, I did not readily accept the opinion that “WHITE HOUSE DOWN” was a bad movie. Yes, it had its flaws. After all, it is a Roland Emmerich film. And like other Emmerich films, it possessed the usual cliches – a divorced main character, an annoyingly precocious child character, and slightly cheesy dialogue. The biggest flaw in the movie proved to be a plot point that allowed John and his daughter to get swept into the action inside the White House – a tour of the latter. Apparently, screenwriter James Vanderbilt forgot that White House tours have been a thing of the past since the September 11 attacks, twelve years ago. And I found Carol Finnerty’s presence with the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Speaker of the House something of a stretch, considering that she is not the Secret Service’s Head of the Presidential Detail, let alone head of the agency. But despite these flaws, I still enjoyed the movie.

“WHITE HOUSE DOWN” had its virtues. First of all, it benefited from a strong chemistry between leads Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx, who portrayed John Cale and President James Walker. Two, Vanderbilt’s script did not make the mistake of turning the President Walker character into a highly skilled action man, like Harrison Ford in “AIR FORCE ONE”. Although he managed to avoid spending most of the film as a hostage, Foxx’s Walker made mistakes that struck me as natural for one not to used to violent action. “WHITE HOUSE DOWN” also featured some first-rate action. My favorite scenes turned out to be the initial takeover of the White House by Stenz and his men; John’s rescue of President Walker; and the chase sequence on the White House lawn, with John and President Walker inside a Presidential limousine. The biggest virtue of “WHITE HOUSE DOWN” is that the terrorists managed to infiltrate the White House with inside help – namely Secret Service Agent Walker. In the post 9/11 world, I would have found it impossible to accept a terrorist takeover of the White House without such help.

Despite the occasionally cheesy dialogue that marred “WHITE HOUSE DOWN”, I was relieved to see that the cast managed to rise above such flaws. As I stated earlier, the movie did benefit from a strong chemistry between Tatum and Foxx. And both actors gave first-rate performances that blend good, solid comedy with well-acted drama. I also found the development of their on-screen relationship very satisfying. And Foxx managed to utter one of my favorite lines in the entire film. Maggie Gyllenhaal gave a strong performance as the no-nonsense Carol Finnerty. I could also say the same about Lance Reddick, who portrayed the equally no-nonsense Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman General Caufield. I do not recall ever seeing Jason Clarke in a villainous role before, but I must admit that he gave a scary performance as leader of the terrorist, Emil Stanz. Jimmi Simpson, on the other hand, was quite funny as computer hacker Skip Tyler. And Richard Jenkins struck me as very effective in his performance as Speaker of the House Eli Raphelson, who found himself with more authority than he was used to. There were a few performances that did rub me the wrong way. I think Zoey King, who portrayed Emily Cale, is a talented actress, but I feel that not even she was able to rise above the precocious dialogue and scenes that Vanderbilt dumped on her. Nicholas Wright’s performance as White House tour guide Donnie did not strike me as funny . . . only annoying. Kevin Rankin’s portrayal of the uber-aggressive terrorist Carl Killick seemed both hammy and wince-inducing to me.

When I saw “WHITE HOUSE DOWN” at the movie theater, the audience broke into an applause when the film ended. Minutes later, I found myself in one of the theater’s restrooms and overheard a woman claimed that although she liked the movie, she noticed that it bore a strong resemblance to “OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN”. And she was right. Both movies were about terrorists taking over the White House in order to gain control of the President and his defense codes. Both movies featured female Secret Service personnel trying to help the hero. Both movies featured the Vice-President getting killed and the Speaker of the House becoming the new Head of State. And both featured American elite forces making a failed attempt to save the White House from terrorists. I liked “OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN”, but I feel that it was marred by one major flaw – the North Korean terrorists lacked any real inside help and was able to acquire top-secret military technology on their own. This led the Gerard Butler movie resembling some one-note anti-Communist propaganda film. “WHITE HOUSE DOWN” managed to avoid this major trap by allowing the terrorists – who were American-born – receive some serious inside help from within the U.S. government. And this is why I rate “WHITE HOUSE DOWN” over “OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN”.

“WHITE HOUSE DOWN” had its flaws. But it also possessed a decent story, first-rate action and some solid acting by a cast led by Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx; thanks to director Roland Emmerich. And although its virtues outweighed its flaw, I suspect that in the end, “WHITE HOUSE DOWN” became a victim of bad timing. Pity. I feel it deserved a better fate.

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“THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2” (2014) Review

 

“THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2” (2014) Review

Following the success of the 2012 movie, “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN”, Marvel and Sony Pictures continued the SPIDER-MANsaga with the second chapter. Unlike the first movie, “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2” proved to be quite controversial.

“THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2” begins in the past, when Richard and Mary Parker left their son Peter behind with the former’s brother Ben and sister-in-law May. The couple leave New York City on a private jet, but the latter gets hijacked by an assassin. Unfortunately, a deadly fight ensues between the Parkers and the assassin, the pilot is killed and the plane crashes, killing everyone else on board. The story then jumps to the present, which finds Peter as Spider-Man pursuing a criminal named Aleksei Sytsevich on the day he graduates from high school. During the chase, Spider-Man saves OsCorp Industries engineer and ardent fan Max Dillon. Following Peter and girlfriend Gwen Stacy’s graduation, Peter has a vision of her father, NYPD Captain George Stacy, reminding him of a promise he had made to keep Gwen out of his life as Spider-Man. When Peter reminds her, they break up. The young couple eventually reconcile, but Peter also learns that Gwen plans to attend Oxford University on a scholarship.

Peter eventually discovers that he has more to worry about than Gwen’s departure for Europe. While attending to maintenance in an OsCorp laboratory, Max Dillon falls into a tank of genetically modified electric eels and transforms into a being known as Electro. When he wanders into Times Square and causes a blackout, Spider-Man tries to calm him down. But the police attack, causing Max to lose his temper at them and the web-slinger, who eventually captures him. Meanwhile, Peter’s old childhood friend, Harry Osborn returns to New York to see his dying father, OsCorp Industries CEO Norman Osborn. Harry eventually learns that he has inherited a disease that is killing his father. Upon Norman’s death, Harry feverishly searches for a cure to his disease and discovers that Spider-Man’s blood might be able to save him. At the same time, Harry is forced to deal with the corporation’s Board of Directors, who wants to oust him out as CEO. Peter’s personal life and his dealings with both Electro and Harry eventually clash when the two form an alliance on a fatal night.

Before I saw “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2”, I had stumbled across criticisms of the movie that was not so kind. Usually, I try to ignore criticism of any kind, but for once I found it difficult to do so. I did not exactly approach the movie with any high expectations. But to my surprise, I actually found myself enjoying it . . . well, most of it, with the exception of the last 10 to 15 minutes. Mind you,“THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2” does not exactly reek with any real originality, despite not being based upon any particular past comic book story arc. But Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinkner and James Vanderbilt created a solid story. This movie featured the origin of at least three Spider-Man villains – the Rhino, Electro and especially the Green Goblin. I thought I would be upset when the story line regarding the disappearance of Peter’s parents would eventually form a connection to the creation of the Green Goblin. But no . . . I did not mind at all. The screenplay accomplished a good deal for me. It continued Peter and Gwen’s romance in a believable way, allowing it to be threatened by Peter’s promise to Captain Stacy and Gwen’s ambitions to study at Oxford. Not many people were fond of the Electro character in this movie, but I was impressed not only by Jamie Foxx’s performance, but also by how the screenwriters handled the character’s story arc from worshipping geek to enraged super villain. I was very impressed by the movie’s opening scene that revealed the details of Richard and Mary Parker’s death. It reeked with good performances, along with plenty of action and suspense. I thought Webb’s direction in this particular scene was first-rate. The scene also benefitted greatly from Pietro Scalia and Elliot Graham.

Harry Osborn’s story arc proved to a bit more problematic for me. Mind you, I had no problem with him becoming the Green Goblin, instead of his father Norman. And I was impressed by Harry’s problems with the OsCorp board members. But the friendship between Peter and Harry was not as firmly established as it was in the three Sam Rami films. I also thought the screenwriters had stretched it a bit by allowing Dr. Parker’s formula to be responsible for the emergence of the Goblin. The idea of a a genetic spider formula being responsible for someone transforming into some kind of malignant green elf does seem somewhat ludicrous. And I wish that the Green Goblin had made his appearance a little earlier in the film, instead of in the last half hour. Of course, this probably means an appearance of the Green Goblin in a future “Amazing Spider-Man” film. Probably. I am not really sure.

But if there is one thing I had no problem with in regard to the Goblin’s appearance in the movie was how it led to Gwen Stacy’s death. Many are in an uproar over the character’s death, due to their fondness of actress Emma Stone’s interpretation of the character and her screen chemistry with lead actor Andrew Garfield. Personally, I saw it coming a mile away. When the Captain Stacy character promised Peter to keep Gwen out of his life before dying in the 2012 film, I knew that sooner or later, Gwen was a goner. The fact that director Marc Webb and the producers have plans to include the Mary Jane Watson character into this particular series of Spider-Man films only confirmed my suspicions. I really enjoyed Stone’s portrayal of Gwen and I found the character’s death rather heartbreaking, but I had no problems with Webb and the screenwriters including her death into the plot. Especially since I thought it was well handled by them.

I had other problems with “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2”. One of the biggest problems I had was the character of Aleksei Sytsevich. It is a good thing that the character had a small appearance in this film, because I really disliked him. One of the problems I had was Paul Giamatti’s performance. I am a big fan of the actor, but his portrayal of the comic book villain has to be one of the worst in his career . . . possibly his worst. I have never encountered such hammy acting in quite a while. And I certainly did not welcome his reappearance in the movie’s finale as the Rhino. One, I had to endure the hammy acting again. And two, his reappearance reminded me of the ending of the 2004 Disney/Pixar animated film, “THE INCREDIBLES”. And the latter handled this same scenario a lot better. In fact, I really do not like the ending. I wish Webb and the screenwriters had simply ended the movie with Sytsevich’s sudden reappearance. But no, they had to subject the movie audiences with this ludicrous scene that featured Spider-Man, the Rhino and some mentally disturbed kid who thought he could serve as Spidey’s replacement. Even worse was the movie’s mid-credit scene that was basically a trailer for the upcoming movie, “X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”. Really? They could have used the hint of OsCorp’s involvement with the creation of the Secret Six for the mid-credit scene, but . . . no. Webb and the screenwriters thought otherwise. Pity. It is a good thing that I enjoyed most of this film.

But I cannot say the same about two other performances. Felicity Jones was wasted as Harry Osborn’s new assistant, Felicia Hardy. Comic book lovers remember the character as Spider-Man’s most ambiguous lover, the Black Cat. Instead of giving audiences glimpses of the extroverted character, Webb and the screenwriters forced Jones to portray a not-so interesting character with little screen time. But she was not alone. Also wasted in this film was B.J. Novak, who was given one (or possibly two) two scenes as Max Dillon’s supervisor at OsCorp. All he did was sneer at Fox’s Dillon and disappeared from the movie. What a waste! Marton Csokas portrayed Dr. Ashley Kafka, the head of Ravencroft Institute for the Criminally Insane, where the captured Electro . And he did it with a hamminess that almost . . . almost rivaled Giamatti’s performance.

Thankfully, most of the performances were excellent. Aside from his occasional penchant for early Brando-like behavior, Andrew Garfield gave an excellent performance as Peter Parker aka Spider-Man. I was especially impressed by his scenes with Sally Field and Emma Stone. Sally Field gave a wonderfully emotional performance as Peter’s Aunt May, especially in one scene in which she admitted to her nephew the difficulties in dealing with life as a widow. Dane DeHaan gave a very interesting and complex performance as the young Harry Osborn. He did a great job in taking Harry’s character from the young man wary over a reunion with his cold, dying father to the inexperienced CEO dealing with backstabbing corporate executives to the super villain with blood on his hands and vengeance in his heart.

Colm Feore appeared in his second Marvel film as OsCorp’s back-stabbing Vice-President Donald Menken and gave a subtle, yet scary performance. Chris Cooper’s portrayal of OsCorp’s CEO Norman Osborn was equally subtle and scary . . . and he was portraying a dying man. As I had earlier stated, I was very impressed by Webb’s direction and the editing featured in the movie’s opening sequence regarding Richard and Mary Parker’s fate. But that scene would have never worked without the skillful performances of Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz as Peter’s parents.

The two performances that really impressed me came from Jamie Foxx, who gave a surprisingly effective performance as Max Dillon aka Electro and Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy. There had been some negative criticism regarding Foxx’s performance. But honestly, I was impressed. He did an excellent job in developing the Max Dillon character from an insecure geek with a pathetic crush on Spider-Man, to a very angry super villain with an enormous chip on his shoulder. And I could see why so many were upset over Gwen Stacy’s death in this movie. One has to thank Stone for giving an exceptional performance as the strong-willed, intelligent young woman whom Peter fell in love with. Her performance also struck me as very charismatic.

Yes, “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2” is not perfect. It featured at least two characters that were criminally underused, two characters that struck me as unbearably hammy, some lack of originality in its plot and a godawful ending that featured a confrontation between Spider-Man and the Rhino. But despite these flaws, I still believe it was a first-class movie thanks to a decent, yet flawed screenplay, excellent direction from Marc Webb and first-class performances from a cast led by Andrew Garfield as the web slinger. I think it is a lot better than many give it credit for.

Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1850s

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Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1850s:

 

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1850s

1-Django Unchained

1. “Django Unchained” (2012) – Quentin Tarantino directed this Oscar winning tale about a newly freed slave who searches for his still enslaved wife with the help of a German-born bounty hunter in Mississippi. Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson starred.

 

2-The Charge of the Light Brigade

2. “The Charge of the Light Brigade” (1938) – Errol Flynn and Olivia De Havilland starred in this exciting adventure story set in both British India and the Crimean War. Michael Curtiz directed.

 

3-Race to Freedom The Underground Railroad

3. “Race to Freedom: The Underground Railroad” (1994) – Courtney B. Vance and Janet Bailey starred in this television drama about the adventures of four slaves who escape from a North Carolina plantation, while being tracked by a pair of slave catchers. Don McBrearty directed.

 

4-Skin Game

4. “Skin Game” (1971) – James Garner and Lou Gossett Jr. starred in this dark comedy about a pair of con artists who clean up in a slave selling scheme in Missouri and Kansas, before their scam finally catches up with them. Paul Bogart directed.

 

5-Seven Brides For Seven Brothers

5. “Seven Brides For Seven Brothers” (1954) – Stanley Donen directed this famous 1954 musical about six backwoodsmen brothers When a backwoodsman in the Oregon Territory, who decides to marry after their oldest brother brings home a wife. Jane Powell, Howard Keel and Russ Tambyln starred.

 

6-The First Great Train Robbery

6. “The First Great Train Robbery” (1979) – Michael Crighton wrote and directed this adaptation of his novel about three Victorian criminals who plot to rob a shipment of gold for British troops serving during the Crimean War, from a moving train. Sean Connery, Donald Sutherland and Lesley Anne Down starred.

 

7-Wuthering Heights

7. “Wuthering Heights” (1939) – William Wyler directed this superb adaptation of Emily Brontë’s 1847 novel. Merle Oberon, Laurence Olivier and David Niven starred.

 

8-Westward the Women

8. “Westward the Women” (1951) – William Wellman directed this excellent Western-adventure about a trail guide hired by a Californian rancher to escort a wagon train of women heading west to marry men who have settled in the rancher’s valley. Robert Taylor, Denise Darcel and John McIntire starred.

 

9-Mountains of the Moon

9. “Mountains of the Moon” (1990) Patrick Bergin and Iain Glen starred in this historical account of Victorian explorers Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke’s expedition to find the source of the Nile River on behalf of the British Empire. Bob Rafelson directed.

 

10-Jezebel

10. “Jezebel” (1938) – William Wyler directed Oscar winners Bette Davis and Fay Bainter in this adaptation of Owen Davis Sr.’s 1933 play about a headstrong Southern woman, whose actions cost her the man she loves. Henry Fonda and George Brent co-starred.

Favorite Movies Set in MIAMI

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Below is a list of my favorite movies set in Miami, Florida: 

FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN MIAMI

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1. “Bad Boys II” (2003) – Martin Lawrence and Will Smith starred in this hilarious sequel to their 1995 hit film about two Miami cops who, this time, battle a Cuban drug dealer. Directed by Michael Bay, the movie co-starred Gabrielle Union, Jordi Mollà and Joe Pantoliano.

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2. “Miami Vice” (2006) – Michael Mann directed this remake of the 1980s television crime drama about two undercover cops for the Miami-Dade Police, who investigate a Columbian drug lord on behalf of the F.B.I. Jamie Foxx and Colin Farrell starred.

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3. “Absence of Malice” (1981) – Paul Newman and Sally Field starred in this high-powered drama about a liquor warehouse owner, whose life begins to unravel when a prosecutor leaks a false story about him being involved in the murder of a union leader. Sydney Pollack directed.

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4. “2 Fast 2 Furious” (2003) – Paul Walker and Tyrese Gibson starred in this exciting second film in the FAST AND FUIROUS franchise about former cop Brian O’Conner and childhood friend Roman Pearce forced to help the Feds arrest a local Miami drug importer in order to clear their names. Directed by John Singleton, Eva Mendes, Chris Bridges and Cole Hauser co-starred.

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5. “The Crew” (2000) – Richard Dreyfuss, Burt Reynolds, Seymour Cassel and Dan Hedaya starred as four retired mobsters who decide to make one last score to save their apartment at a South Beach retirement home. Directed by Michael Dinner, the movie co-starred Carrie-Anne Moss, Jeremy Piven and Jennifer Tilly.

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6. “Bad Boys” (1995) – Martin Lawrence and Will Smith first starred together in this funny movie as Miami-Dade cops Marcus Burnett and Mike Lowrey; protect a witness to a murder, while investigating a case of missing heroin. Directed by Michael Bay, the movie co-starred Tea Leoni, Tchéky Karyo, Joe Pantoliano and Theresa Randle.

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7. “The Birdcage” (1996) – Mike Nichols directed Robin Williams and Nathan Lane in this funny remake of the 1978 movie “La Cage aux Folles” about a gay couple who pretends to be straight for the conservative parents of their son’s fiancée. Gene Hackman, Dianne Weist, and Dan Futterman co-starred.

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8. “Marley & Me” (2008) – Owen Wilson and Jennifer Anniston starred in this heartwarming adaptation of John Grogan’s 2005 book about the experiences of a journalist and his family with their incorrigible Labrador Retriever. The movie was directed by David Frankel.

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9. “A Hole in the Head” (1959) – Frank Capra directed this engaging comedy about a womanizing widower who struggles to raise his son and hang on to his small Miami Beach hotel. The movie starred Frank Sinatra, Eleanor Parker, and Edward G. Robinson.

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10. “Moon Over Miami” (1941) – Betty Grable and Carole Landis starred in this charming musical about two Texas sisters who move to Miami in order to meet and marry millionaires. Directed by Walter Lang, the movie also starred Don Ameche and Robert Cummings.

“DJANGO UNCHAINED” (2012) Review

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“DJANGO UNCHAINED” (2012) Review

Over three years following the release of his 2009 movie, “INGLORIOUS BASTERDS”, Quentin Tarantino courted success and controversy with a new tale set the past. Called “DJANGO UNCHAINED”, this new movie combined the elements of the Old West and Old South and told the story about a recently freed slave-turned-bounty hunter in search of his still enslaved wife. 

The movie begins with a gang of male slaves being transported across Texas by a group of slavers called the Speck brothers. The group encounter Dr. King Schultz, a German-born dentist, who also happens to be a bounty hunter. Schultz offers to purchase Django, whom he believes can identify a trio of murderous siblings called the Brittle brothers, who had worked as overseers for Django’s previous owner. The Specks become hostile and Schultz kills one of the brothers. He then frees Django and leaves the wounded brother behind to be killed by the newly freed slaves. Django and Schultz come to an agreement in which the latter will give the former freedom, a horse and $75 for helping him identify the Brittle brothers. Once the pair achieve their goal at a Tennessee plantation owned by one Spencer “Big Daddy” Bennett, Schultz takes on Django as his associate and over the winter, collect a number of bounties. In the following spring, Schultz offers to help Django track down the latter’s wife, Broomhilda von Shaft. They discover that she is owned by a brutal, yet charming Mississippi planter named Calvin Candie. The pair realize that in order to rescue Broomhilda, they would have to pose as potential buyers of a fighter slave in order to secure an invitation at Candie’s plantation called Candyland.

Even before its initial release in movie theaters in late December, “DJANGO UNCHAINED” managed to attract a good deal of controversy. Producer/director Spike Lee declared the movie as an insult to his ancestors in a magazine article and his refusal to see it. Others have criticized the film for its violence and its use of the word “nigger”. And some have criticized the movie for historical inaccuracy. They claimed that the practice of fighting Mandingo slaves never existed and that Tarantino depicted the Klu Klux Klan a decade before its actual existence. And Jeff Kuhner of The Washington Times complained that: “Anti-white bigotry has become embedded in our postmodern culture. Take Django Unchained. The movie boils down to one central theme: the white man as devil — a moral scourge who must be eradicated like a lethal virus.”

Mind you, I have my own complaints about “DJANGO UNCHAINED”. Actually, I have three complaints. One, I found the movie’s chronological setting rather confusing. According to the movie’s opening, it began in “1858 – Two years before the Civil War”. Judging by the weather, Django’s first meeting with Schultz in Texas occurred in the fall. Which probably means that the movie began two-and-a-half years before the Civil War, not two years. Yes, I am being anal about this. However, Django and Schultz accompanied Candie to Candyland in early May 1858 . . . at least according to a scene that featured Candie’s head slave Stephen writing out a check for supplies. It is quite obvious that Tarantino got his time frame a little off. Was “DJANGO UNCHAINED” set between the fall of 1858 and the spring of 1859? Or was it set between the fall of 1857 and the spring of 1858? Only Tarantino can answer this. I also found the character of Broomhilda von Shaft slightly underdeveloped. Some have claimed that her character is passive. I would disagree, considering she was introduced being punished for attempting to run away from Candyland. But aside from a scene or two, I feel that Tarantino could have done a little more with her character. And three, I have mixed feelings about Tarantino’s use of flashbacks in this movie. Some of the flashbacks were well utilized – including those featuring Django’s memories of Broomhilda being whipped and branded as a runaway, Schultz’s trauma over witnessing the mutilation of a Candie slave named D’Artagnan, and Big Daddy organizing a group of night riders to attack Django and Schultz. But some of the flashbacks seemed to go by so fast that I found their addition to the film unnecessary.

As for the other complaints about the movie, I do have a response. Spike Lee is entitled to his decision not to see the movie. However, I do find his willingness to condemn the movie without seeing it rather strange. Criticism of Tarantino’s use of violence in his movies have become repetitive in my eyes. “DJANGO UNCHAINED” is a Quentin Tarantino movie. Can someone name one of his movies that did not feature any violence? Because I cannot. And his recent films do not strike me as violent as earlier films such as 1993’s “RESERVOIR DOGS”. Also, violence has played a part in many slave societies throughout history . . . including U.S. slavery. Yes, the Ku Klux Klan was first organized in the late 1860s, after the Civil War. But the Klan’s origins came from patrol riders, who were recruited by planters in many Southern states to maintain vigilance of both slaves and free black in local rural neighborhoods. So, the idea of “Big Daddy” Bennett organizing a group of local riders to attack Django and Schultz is not implausible.

In response to Jeff Kuhner’s accusation of anti-white bigotry, Tarantino not only created the German-born Schultz, who helped Django attain freedom and find Broomhilda; but also a Western sheriff portrayed by television veteran Lee Horsley (“MATT HOUSTON” anyone?), who seemed very friendly to both the German immigrant and the former slave. Tarantino also created Candyland’s head house slave, Stephen, who proved to be one of the film’s worst villains. So much for Kuhner’s accusation. A great deal of “DJANGO UNCHAINED” is set in the pre-Civil War South and its topic happens to be about American slavery. The use of “nigger” is historically accurate for the movie’s setting. And I am surprised that no one has complained about the slur being used in Steven Spielberg’s recent movie, “LINCOLN”. Hell, the word is used throughout productions such as the two “ROOTS”miniseries, the three “NORTH AND SOUTH” miniseries, “QUEEN”, the 1971 movie “SKIN GAME” and in a good number of other movie and television productions set in antebellum and Civil War America. Even the use of the slur in a production set in the 19th century North would be historically accurate. I also recall the use of racial slurs for whites in a few scenes. As for Tarantino’s use of Mandingo fighting slaves in the movie . . . I have no explanation for its presence in this film. There is no historical evidence of this particular sport. And I suspect that Tarantino was simply inspired by the 1975 movie, “MANDINGO” and Kyle Onstott’s 1957 novel upon which the latter was based.

So . . . how do I feel about “DJANGO UNCHAINED”? Frankly, I believe it is one of the best movies of 2012. And I also consider it to be another cinematic masterpiece by Quentin Tarantino. One of the aspects of “DJANGO UNCHAINED” was Tarantino’s ability to take a rather dark topic like slavery and fashioned it into a explosive mixture of action, drama, suspense and some comedy. Many have complained that the movie should have been a straight drama, considering its topic. But I disagree. Yes, “DJANGO UNCHAINED” could have been an effective straight drama. But Tarantino decided to take a rare and unique route in unfolding his tale. And in doing so, he managed to fashioned a fascinating story that allowed me to experience an array of emotions that left me more than satisfied by the movie’s last scene.

“DJANGO UNCHAINED” was not the first time comedy was used to reveal one of the darkest episodes in this country’s history. This has been done in “SKIN GAME” and in television shows such as “BEWITCHED” and the comedy sketch series, “KEY & PEELE”. Tarantino used the same mixture of pathos, horror, drama and comedy for many of his past movies – especially in“INGLORIOUS BASTERDS”. I found this use of humor especially effective in scenes that included the surviving Speck brother’s attempt to convince the slaves freed by Schultz not to kill him. I never knew that James Russo, who portrayed the surviving Speck brother, could be so funny. Django and Schultz’s little exchange regarding the former’s identification of the Sprittle brothers struck me as funny. I could say the same about Stephen’s reaction to Candie’s treatment of Django as a house guest and Lara Lee Candie-Fitzwilly’s (Candie’s sister) futile attempts to attract Schultz’s attention. But the funniest sequence has to be the flashback featuring “Big Daddy” Bennett’s recruitment of night riders for an attack on Django and Schultz. In fact, that particular scene practically had me rolling with laughter.

Some people have complained that “DJANGO UNCHAINED” is basically a revenge tale for African-Americans. I find this accusation rather odd, considering that Django’s main objective was to find Broomhilda and get her out slavery by any means possible. And despite the movie’s prevalent humor, Tarantino did not hold back in presenting not only the horrors and emotional traumas of slavery, but also racism. This was especially true in a handful of scenes in the movie. The opening scene featured an emotionally shell shocked Django being transported across Texas as part of a slave coffle. Other traumatic scenes include Candie’s little speech on the inferiority of blacks, the erruption of violence at Candyland that resulted in Django hanging from a barn’s roof, naked and bound and Stephen’s maleovelent revelation of Django’s fate as a slave for a Mississippi mining company. One horrifying scene that I found particularly brutal was a flashback featuring Broomhilda’s brutal whipping at the hands of the Brittle brothers, while Django desperately tries to convince one of the brothers to spare her.

I really do not know what to say about the performances featured in the movie. I realize there are no Academy Award nominations for ensemble casts. If there were, I would nominate the cast of “DJANGO UNCHAINED”. One, Tarantino cast old movie and television veterans in cameo roles. I have already mentioned Lee Horsley and James Russo. I also spotted the likes of Russ and Amber Tamblyn, Don Stroud, Tom Wopat, Cooper Huckabee, Robert Carradine, Michael Parks and a humorus special guest appearance by Franco Nero. Both Bruce Dern and M.C. Gainey (of “LOST”) were especially scary in their brief appearances as Old Man Carrucan (Django and Broomhilda’s former owner) and Big John Brittle. Both Dana Michelle Gourrier and Nichole Galicia gave solid performances as Cora and Sheba, Candie’s housekeeper and concubine respectively. And Dennis Christopher’s performance as Calvin Candie’s obsequious attorney, Leonide Moguy, struck me as spot-on.

Don Johnson provided a skillful combination of charm, menace and humor in his role as Spencer “Big Daddy” Bennett, the Tennessee planter who served as the Brittle brothers’ current employer. Jonah Hill had a funny cameo as one of his night riders. I could say the same about Miriam F. Glover, who gave one of the movie’s funniest lines, while portraying one of Big Daddy’s house slaves. Ato Essandoh of A&E’s “COPPER” was very effective as D’Artagnan, the frightened fighting slave whose runaway attempt led to his brutal death. Laura Cayouette’s performance as Lara Lee Candie-Fitzwilly, Candie’s widowed sister, struck me as effective. On one hand, I found her attempts to seduce Schultz rather funny. On the other hand, her outrage over Candie’s attempt to display a naked Broomhilda during supper provided a great deal of tension in the scene. Walton Goggins gave a memorable and scary performance as one of Candie’s henchmen, Billy Crash. James Remar got to portray two intimidating characters – Ace Speck and Candie’s main henchman, Butch Pooch. And he did a damn good job with both roles.

Although I had been critical of Tarantino’s creation of the Broomhilda von Shaft, I must admit that Kerry Washington still managed to wring out a first-rate performance from the role. I especially impressed with her in scenes that featured Broomhilda’s tense encounters with Stephen; and her subtle, yet pleased reaction to Schultz’s purchase of her from Candie and her painful whipping by the Brittle brothers in one of the flashback. And I must admit that I found that last shot of her removing a shotgun from her saddle rather interesting. Perhaps after all that Broomhilda had endured, she was not taking any chances. I believe that the year 2012 will prove to be one of Samuel L. Jackson’s best years professionally. Aside from portraying Nick Fury in the year’s biggest hit, “THE AVENGERS”; he got to portray one of the most complex and villainous roles in “DJANGO UNCHAINED” as Candie’s trusted and malevolent head house slave, Stephen. Watching the movie, I was struck at how much Stephen reminded me of the Mr. Carson character from the British television series, “DOWNTON ABBEY”. Both characters possessed the same blinding loyalty, snobbery, jealousy over his position within the slave hierarchy, and anger toward anyone from their background who managed to rise higher than they (for example: Django). Jackson did a superb job in not only conveying Stephen’s penchant for utilizing the old “Puttin’ on Old Massa” routine publicly, but also his intelligence while in the private company of Django, Broomhilda or Candie. And by the way, the man has a nice singing voice. Many people have expressed surprise at Leonardo Di Caprio’s portryal of the villanous, yet charsmatic Calvin Candie. I was not that surprised, considering I have seen him portray a villain before – as the cold-blooded Louis XIV in 1998’s “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK”. But I do believe that Candie not only proved to be a more memorable villain, but also one of the actor’s best roles ever. He was fantastic as the charming, yet brutal Candie . . . and at the same time rather contradictory. It was obvious that Di Caprio’s Candie fervently believed in the superiority of whites; yet at the same time, he had no problems with allowing Stephen to handle the plantation’s finances or accepting the elderly slave’s intelligence and sharp observations about Django, Schultz and Broomhilda with very little reluctance.

Instead of portraying a villain, Christoph Waltz portrayed Django’s friendly, yet ruthless mentor and partner; the German-born dentist-turned-bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz. And he was fantastic. Waltz effectively portrayed Schultz’s cold-blooded pursuit of wanted criminals for profit, yet at the same time; conveyed the character’s disgust over the institution of slavery and open-mindedness toward Django, Broomhilda and other slaves. Waltz’s best moments proved to be Schultz’s encounter with the Speck brothers and Django in Texas, his taking down of the wanted Sheriff Bill Sharp (portrayed by Don Stroud), his reaction to D’Artagnan’s mauling and the revelation of his disgust toward Candie. And Waltz proved to have great screen chemistry with Jamie Foxx. I believe that the latter’s portrayal of the title character has proven to be vastly underrated by the majority of film critics and some moviegoers. I am a little disappointed, but not surprised. Django turned out to be a somewhat introverted character that was not inclined to speak very much . . . whether as a slave or a free man. Critics and filmgoers are not inclined to pay much attention to non-showy characters. Since Django proved to be a quiet character, Foxx resorted to good old-fashioned screen acting to convey most of the character’s non-speaking moments. And he did a superb job in portraying Django’s array of emotions – especially in the opening scene featuring the slave coffle in Texas, Schultz’s killing of the criminal, his first view of Broomhilda at Candyland, and the confrontation with Candie during the latter’s supper party. Ironically, another one of Foxx’s best moments proved to be quite verbal in which he attempts to con a group of slavers for a mining company to take him back to Candyland in order to collect on a fake bounty. In the end, Foxx did a superb job in developing Django from a slave in shock over the traumatized separation from his wife to the soft-spoken, yet self-assured man who could be very ruthless when the situation demanded it.

I also have to say a word about the movie’s behind-the-scene production. I was impressed by Sharen Davis’ costume designs. She did a solid job in re-creating the fashions of the late antebellum period. However, I noticed a few oddball designs for Candie’s slave mistress Sheba and a maid at a social club in Greenville, Mississippi; reflecting the planter’s penchant for anything French. I suspect this was a visual joke on Tarantino’s part. I was also impressed by J. Michael Riva’s production designs and Leslie A. Pope’s set decorations in the sequences for the Texas town featured in the movie’s first 10 to 20 minutes, Candie’s Napoleon Club in Greenville and especially the interiors for Candyland’s mansion. Robert Richardson did an excellent in capturing the beauty of California, Louisiana and especially Wyoming with his photography. As he had done for “INGLORIOUS BASTERDS”, Tarantino used already recorded music to serve as the score for his movie. I did notice that a few songs – especially one for the opening title sequence – seemed to have been written specifically for the movie. However, I do not know who may have written them.

It occurred to me that “DJANGO UNCHAINED” was Tarantino’s second period piece in a row. And I found myself wondering if he planned to write and direct a third period movie as part of some kind of semi-historical trilogy. Whether he does or not, I must say that I was impressed with “DJANGO UNCHAINED”. More than impressed. I believe it is one of the best movies I have seen released in 2012. And I feel that it is one of the writer-director’s more original works, due to superb writing, direction and an excellent cast led by Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz.

P.S. Check out this photo:

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Ohmigod! It’s Crockett and Tubbs!

List of Favorite Movies and Television Miniseries About Slavery

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With the recent releases of Steven Spielberg’s new movie, “LINCOLN” and Quentin Tarrantino’s latest film, “DJANGO UNCHAINED”, I found myself thinking about movies I have seen about slavery – especially slavery practiced in the United States. Below is a list of my favorite movies on the subject in chronological order: 

 

LIST OF FAVORITE MOVIES AND TELEVISION MINISERIES ABOUT SLAVERY

13-Skin Game

“Skin Game” (1971) – James Garner and Lou Gossett Jr. co-starred in this unusual comedy about two antebellum drifter who pull the “skin game” – a con that involves one of them selling the other as a slave for money before the pair can escape and pull the same con in another town. Paul Bogart directed.

 

9-Mandingo

“Mandingo” (1975) – Reviled by many critics as melodramatic sleaze, this 1975 adaptation of Kyle Onstott’s 1957 novel revealed one of the most uncompromising peeks into slave breeding in the American South, two decades before the Civil War. Directed by Richard Fleischer, the movie starred James Mason, Perry King, Brenda Sykes, Susan George and Ken Norton.

 

2-Roots

“Roots” (1977) – David Wolper produced this television miniseries adaptation of Alex Haley’s 1976 about his mother’s family history as American slaves during a century long period between the mid-18th century and the end of the Civil War. LeVar Burton, Leslie Uggams, Ben Vereen, Georg Sanford Brown and Lou Gossett Jr. starred.

 

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“A Woman Called Moses” (1978) – Cicely Tyson starred in this two-part miniseries about the life and career of Harriet Tubman, the former slave and abolitionist, who was the most successful conductor of the Underground Railroad during the last decade before the Civil War. Based on Marcy Heidish’s book, the miniseries was directed by Paul Wendkos.

 

3-Half Slave Half Free Solomon Northup Odyssey

“Half-Slave, Half-Free: Solomon Northup’s Odyssey” (1984) – Avery Brooks starred in this television adaptation of free born Solomon Northup’s 1853 autobiography about his twelve years as a slave in antebellum Louisiana. Gordon Parks directed.

 

4-North and South

“North and South” (1985) – David Wolper produced this television adaptation of John Jakes’ 1982 novel about the experiences of two American families and the growing discord over slavery during the twenty years before the American Civil War. Patrick Swayze and James Read starred.

 

6-Race to Freedom - The Underground Railroad

“Race to Freedom: The Story of the Underground Railroad” (1994) – Actor Tim Reid produced this television movie about four North Carolina slaves’ escape to Canada, following the passage of the Compromise of 1850. Janet Bailey and Courtney B. Vance starred.

 

10-The Journey of August King

“The Journey of August King” (1996) – Jason Patric and Thandie Newton starred in this adaptation of John Ehle’s 1971 novel about an early 19th century North Carolina farmer who finds himself helping a female slave escape from her master and slave catchers. John Duigan directed.

 

8-A Respectable Trade

“A Respectable Trade” (1998) – Emma Fielding, Ariyon Bakare and Warren Clarke starred in this television adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s 1992 novel about the forbidden love affair between an African born slave and the wife of his English master in 18th century Bristol. Suri Krishnamma directed.

 

11-Mansfield Park 1999

“Mansfield Park” (1999) – Slavery is heavily emphasized in Patricia Rozema’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1814 novel about a young English woman’s stay with her rich relatives during the first decade of the 19th century. Frances O’Connor and Jonny Lee Miller starred.

 

7-Human Trafficking

“Human Trafficking” (2005) – Mira Sorvino starred in this miniseries about the experiences of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent investigating the modern day sex slave trafficking business. Donald Sutherland and Robert Caryle co-starred.

 

5-Amazing Grace

“Amazing Grace” (2007) – Michael Apted directed this account of William Wilberforce’s campaign against the slave trade throughout the British Empire in Parliament. Ioan Gruffudd, Benedict Cumberbatch, Romola Garai Rufus Sewell and Albert Finney starred.

 

12-Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter

“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” (2012) – History and the supernatural merged in this interesting adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2010 novel about the 16th president’s activities as a vampire hunter. Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie and Mary Elizabeth Winstead starred.

 

1-Lincoln

“Lincoln” (2012) – Daniel Day-Lewis portrayed the 16th president in Steven Spielberg’s fascinating account of Lincoln’s efforts to end U.S. slavery, by having Congress pass the 13th Amendment of the Constitution. Sally Field, David Strathairn and Tommy Lee Jones co-starred.

 

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“Django Unchained” (2012) – Quentin Tarantino directed this take on Spaghetti Westerns about a slave-turned-bounty hunter and his mentor, who sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner. Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo Di Caprio, Kerry Washington and Samuel L. Jackson starred.

“HORRIBLE BOSSES” (2011) Review

“HORRIBLE BOSSES” (2011) Review

The summer of 2011 provided moviegoers with a slew of what I would call raunchy black comedies. May saw the release of“BRIDESMAIDS” and “THE HANGOVER, PART II”“BAD TEACHER” premiered in late June. And two weeks later saw the release of the most successful of the bunch, “HORRIBLE BOSSES”

Directed by Seth Gordon, “HORRIBLE BOSSES” starred Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis. The trio co-starred as three best friends who decide to murder their respective overbearing, abusive bosses (portrayed by Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston and Colin Farrell) who they believe are standing in the way of their happiness. Nick (Bateman) works at a financial firm for emotionally-abusive Dave Harken (Spacey), who dangles the possibility of a promotion to Nick, only to award it to himself. Dale (Day) endures sexual harassment from his boss, Dr. Julia Harris (Aniston), who threatens to falsely tell Dale’s fiancee that he had sex with her unless he actually has sex with her. And Kurt (Sudeikis) actually enjoys his job under his boss Jack Pellitt (Donald Sutherland). But after Jack dies from a heart attack, the company is taken over by Jack’s cocaine-addicted, amoral son Bobby (Farrell). One night at a bar, Kurt jokingly suggests that their lives would be happier if their bosses were no longer around. After a brief hesitation, the trio agree to the idea. In search of a hit-man, the friends travel to a bar and meet Motherfucker Jones (Jamie Foxx), an ex-con who agrees to be their “murder consultant”. Jones suggests that Dale, Kurt and Nick kill each other’s bosses to hide their motive while making the deaths look like an accident.

I really did not know how I would accept “HORRIBLE BOSSES”. Being a fan of the 2009 movie, “THE HANGOVER”, I had found myself slightly disappointed by the recent sequel, “THE HANGOVER, PART II”. And I was not really anticipating “HORRIBLE BOSSES”. But since I was in the mood to watch a new movie, I went ahead and saw it anyway. And I enjoyed it . . . very much.

Screenwriters Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein did a great job in finalizing a script that took several years to finalize. Superficially, the idea of three amateurs committing murder without attracting the attention of the police seems rather ridiculous. Two of the characters, Nick and Dale, certainly viewed the idea with amusement or disbelief. But further transgressions by their respective bosses finally pushed them to the idea with hilarious results. One of the funniest aspects of “HORRIBLE BOSSES” was the problem that the three friends endured to find a professional hit man to do the job. Their search led to a hilarious meeting at a motel with a man who does “wet work” (Ioan Gruffudd) – namely pissing on his clients. The three friends’ second search for a hit man leads them to a local bar, where Kurt manages to insult an African-American bartender in an effort to be “politically correct”. Their trip to the bar also leads them to “Motherfucker” Jones, an ex-convict who claims to be a hit man. As it turns out, Jones went to prison for video piracy and merely conned the three friends for money. But after agreeing to be their “murder consultant”, his advice for them to kill each other’s boss led to some hilarious scenes, including one that featured Dale’s encounter with the psychotic Dave Harken, when the latter nearly died from accidentally consuming some peanuts.

“HORRIBLE BOSSES” benefited from some funny performances by the supporting cast. Well, most of the supporting cast was funny. Only Donald Sutherland, who portrayed Kurt’s amiable boss, was never given a chance to display his talent for comedy. Thankfully, the likes of Ioan Gruffudd, Julie Bowen, P.J. Byrne and Bob Newhart received the chance to tickle the audiences’ funny bones. The three actors hired to portray the “horrible bosses” proved to be horrifying in a hilarious way. If I have to be honest, Dave Harken was not the first aggressive psycho he has portrayed in a comedy. His performances in “SWIMMING WITH SHARKS” and “THE MEN WHO STARED AT GOATS” come to mind. Despite his past experiences with such characters, Spacey still managed to make it all look fresh in his portrayal of Nick’s manipulative and aggressively controlling boss. Jennifer Aniston’s performance as Dr. Julia Harris was a revelation. Mind you, her Rachel Green character on the television series, “FRIENDS” was very complex. But I have never seen her portray such a scummy character before . . . and with such comedic skills. Colin Farrell’s appearance in the movie was not as long as Spacey and Aniston’s, but it was just as funny. In fact, I would cite Farrell’s performance as coke-addicted and self-delusional Bobby Pellitt struck me as the funniest of the three performances. His rants against the employees he wanted fired was one of the funniest scenes in the movie. And finally, it was good to see Jamie Foxx in a comedy again. Actually, he had a supporting role in the 2010 movie, “DUE DATE” and he was funny. But his role in that movie seemed mildly amusing in compare to his hilarious portrayal of “Motherfucker” Jones, the criminal wannabe, who seemed more adept at video pirating and posing than being a hardened criminal.

But the craziness of “HORRIBLE BOSSES” could have easily fallen apart without Seth Gordon’s direction and especially the performances of the three leads – Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis. As funny as the movie was, it was bizarre enough to fall apart at the slightest misstep. One, the trio made a solid and charismatic comedy team. I would go as far to add that they could easily rival the comedic team from the “HANGOVER” movies. Jason Bateman is deliciously sardonic and witty as the ass-kissing Nick Hendricks, who spent most of his professional career toadying to guys like Dave Harken. I have never been aware of Jason Sudeikis before this movie. I am aware that he had co-starred with Aniston in last year’s comedy, “THE BOUNTY HUNTER”, but I do not even remember him. He was certainly memorable as the trio’s verbose lady’s man, who first talked his two friends into committing murder. But the funniest performance came from Charlie Day, who portrayed the slightly nervous and “hopelessly romantic” Dale Arbus. It is quite apparent that most of the other characters – including his two buddies – have no real respect for him. Nick and Kurt did not take his complaints of sexual harassment by his boss seriously. One, I suspect they find it hard to believe that any female would find him attractive and two, society views the idea of a man complaining of sexual harassment by a woman seems ludicrous. But it was the hilarious and socially awkward Dale who found an effective way of dealing with the sexually aggressive Julia without any problems, whatsoever.

There have been some complaints about “HORRIBLE BOSSES”. Some critics have complained that the movie was racially or gender-wise offensive. Others have complained that it was silly. I agree that “HORRIBLE BOSSES” was silly . . . but in a positive way. Besides, most comedies of this manner tend to be rather silly. But thanks to a wacky script and a first-rate cast, the silliness in “HORRIBLE BOSSES” made it the most enjoyable comedy I have seen in quite a while. I really look forward to its DVD release.