Friday, January 4, 2013

Two Sides Of The Same Coin (sorta)

Django Unchained (2012)
In the span of two days I saw what might be my favorite movie of the year and what might be one of the worst movies I have seen this year. Let's get that one done first: Ted is terrible, hackneyed, and obvious. And Seth MacFarlane is awful. It doesn't even merit a full review.

The other movie? Django Unchained. A movie I have been really anticipating and, to me, I wasn't disappointed. But the fact of the matter is, I saw this movie two days ago and not only has it stuck with me but I am not even sure how to discuss it. Phoebe Robinson does a really good job of discussing a lot of the controversy surrounding it and points out one of the first things I thought of: the irony (if I am using the word correctly) that Quentin Tarantino can get the backing and money to make such a movie but a black director wouldn't have been able to scare up the kind of capital for it. Leave it to Quentin Tarantino to make a controversial movie based on historical atrocities in a B-movie setting, that gets people talking about it. I am sure it wasn't exactly what he intended, or maybe it was, but I have to think that might be one positive: it gets people talking about these things, on (or near) the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, it still seems like America has never really had an honest discussion about slavery in any real sense. I think of Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds  and how Germany had to deal with Naziism in a very real sense, and how they eventually had to view it as a national shame. I feel like slavery has never really been dealt with in the same manner in the United States, like it should have. Case in point, about 10 years ago I went down to New Orleans for New Years and we went on a tour of a local plantation, and in that tour they showed us the main house and what not but they never showed us the slave quarters (we could explore them ourselves-but still) and at one point the tour guide even started referring to the people coming in and working there as "contractors" and we were like "no, they were slaves". I am probably being over dramatic, but I think Django Unchained could at least be a starting point for a discussion. I mean, for me, I couldn't stop thinking about it for a couple days and not even just the movie, but all the implications surrounding it. (Of course, then getting on the internet and going down that rabbit hole was a whole other thing....) But I don't think you can escape those implications when looking at the movie itself...and what of the movie itself? Well, I actually liked it better than Inglourious Basterds and I liked that movie a lot. Here this might be easier in list form:

1) Django Unchained works on two levels. The surface level is that of a simple revenge flick, of the wronged taking up arms in a mission of revenge. From that point of view, it’s a movie that has been made a hundred times, usually with Clint Eastwood as the hero. The movie works well in that genre. Played straight, it stands with the best of Western vengeance tales, spiced with Tarantino trademarks of ultra- violence,perfect music, and humorous asides. But the fact that this particular version of the Man with No Name is a former slave cannot be overlooked. The implications of that, and the focus of the story on slavery itself, construct the film’s second level and elevate it from effective genre film into something more.

2) Christoph Waltz was born to speak Tarantino dialogue.

3) I wasn't sure about the casting of Jamie Foxx before I saw the movie, but upon seeing it he seems like the perfect choice. This character, in a weird way, reminded me of the non talking version of his Willie Beamon character from Any Given Sunday, ( as Johnny Lieberman points out in his awesome review of that movie: "Last but not least we have Willie “Steamin’” Beamen (Jamie Foxx) as the black man that every single white man automatically hates.").just all swagger and more brooding.

4) I liked the anachronistic music here better than say in Inglourious Basterds. And who has Quentin Tarantino been hanging out with that is hepping him to the likes of Rick Ross!? It wasn't a music moment like say Reservoir Dog's "Stuck In The Middle With You" but that interstitial moment when Rick Ross' 100 Black Coffins plays is pretty amazing. As is whoever's idea it was to mash up James Brown and Tupac was just genius. Chris Rock once said on Marc Meron's WTF Podcast that James Brown was "the blackest man of all time" or words to that effect. Having him mashed up with Tupac at the end of revenge fantasy revolving around slavery is just sublime. Oh and John Legend's original song is really good too.

5) Leonardo DiCaprio is the liveliest I have seen him in years.

Roger Ebert just today posted a piece from the New Yorker looking at Django Unchained, which is interesting. The only way I might disagree with him is he seems to think that Stephen, Samuel L. Jackson's character, the house slave of Leonardo DiCaprio's Calvin Candie, is supposed to be comic relief of some sort but I didn't take the character that way at all. And maybe this is a personal thing, but the character and performance made me uncomfortable more than anything else, and I have to think that that was the intention. But the piece is interesting over all, even though it doesn't change my opinion of the movie.

Oh and also, for some reason it also reminded me of an expanded version of Dave Chappelle's "Haters In Time" sketch. I agree, I'd watch every episode of a slave master getting killed.

Lincoln (2012)
We honestly didn't mean for this to turn into a themed 2 days at the movies but it just turned out that way. I thought this was interesting, and I like the idea of a biopic that chooses a certain piece of time to focus on someone than say going through their entire life. I mean they both pose their pitfalls but it makes it, well, in some ways much more interesting. There is a lot to like here including, as everyone says, Daniel Day Lewis. Actually, I also really enjoyed Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens, as a history nerd I enjoyed all the back room maneuvering and the smoke and mirrors. But I couldn't help to think of this movie in the shadow of Django Unchained. I am sure Steven Spielberg could care less but it was just a matter of timing. The author mentions this in the piece above, but I couldn't shake this feeling of what WASN'T in Lincoln- this could be a product of showing how insular Washington, DC can be (and is) but besides one scene showing a battle they didn't show much of the civil war, nothing of slavery, and then made dubious decisions to make Abraham Lincoln the only moral compass around in those days, discounting radical abolitionists and, well, even African-Americans. I mean they couldn't get Frederick Douglas in there somewhere? So it looks really nice, and is acted well, and is somewhat interesting, but it ultimately left me cold. And definitely didn't get me thinking the way Django did.


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