Thursday, December 27, 2012

Django Unearthed

Some Django Unchained blowback from me, in response to the distinguished review by the guy who does a far better job of analysis than i do, Matt Poole



okay . . . some observations on this film

i think i hated it, but i’m not sure . . .

i didn’t say it was a bad film, i never once thought i’d rather not have seen it, or thought about walking out, but as for its ‘importance’ or ‘merit’ i have to think right now that it has little to none . . . it self-destructs

Tarantino is a dork . . .

last week, i thought one of the actors in the film was a waiter and asked him to get me a menu (which he did) . . . in retrospect it’s a cool deal, but i was horrified when i figured out what i’d done . . .

i suspect you’re going to be pretty much on the money about nominations, but i’ll hate that too . . . except that in a relative sense maybe some performances stack up, but they’re not what i would throw against some of the classic Oscar performances  . . . what i’m trying to say is that i become more and more disenchanted every year with what passes for ‘good’ performance – there is too much allowance for stretches of poor characterization forgiven for a few minutes of brilliance (this is the fault of the director imho), and too much acceptance of stereotypical characterizations rather than applauding unique performances (and which is where, imho, Pulp Fiction [or for that matter Reservoir Dogs] generously outweighs Django in the heavyweight filmmaking department; and is also why Tarantino will never achieve the level of say, the Coen Brothers, which is what i think he aspires to) . . .

Leonardo DiCaprio is one of my all-time favorite actors, but in this film he is always just rote Leo with one major hissy fit (which was not completely as out of the blue as it needed to be, but also strangely too out of character for the character we had been witness to) . . . now, rote Leo is good acting, but again he was just that caricature of a slimy (to use your word) plantation owner . . .

Kerry Washington was totally wasted . . . while this film, ultimately, i guess, was about the horrors of the time, she still was the point of the quest . . . the minuscule, in some cases totally disjointed, flashbacks and the handful of scenes in which she is a) naked, b) screaming or crying, and c) struggling to make herself believable as the incapable-of-pulling-off-a-life-saving-lie dame in distress, did nothing to make us believe in the strength of their love, to make us care about them as a couple, or to believe in the quest, despite being told in fairly pedantic and ultimately ridiculous form about the German legend (smarmy old white German guy instructing the freed black slave as Neanderthal around the campfire) . . . and, i thought everyone was just misunderstanding her name . . . there is no Broomhilda in German . . . it’s Brunnhilde . . . but alas i see she is even in the credits as Broomhilda . . . so is this some weird cultural reference to Broomhilda the cartoon witch? and what would be the significance of that? are we to think she is really a witch (in the nagging spouse sense) and he just has been blinded by love and hasn’t seen it? if so, then there is no other hint of it anywhere . . . then again, Tarantino is such a dork . . .

Jamie Foxx . . . i can’t say i disliked his characterization . . . i only wish that he hadn’t spent the entire second half of the movie either brooding menacingly or reaching for his pistol, only to impress us with his self-control, until of course he has no more self-control (warranted of course, we sorta could guess it was coming, but if you’re going to show the growth of a ‘man’ then don’t squander all that heart by making him ultimately ruthless and soulless) . . . his hero-worthiness kinda vaporized for me in that ridiculous denouement – sorry i’m gearing up to go into my story-making rant – i realize most everyone will go to the movie a) to see all the stupid gore, and by that i mean, the slapstick crap, and/or b) because Tarantino is such a dork and people want to see what he does next . . . okay, so back to Jamie Foxx, ultimately i think he is the most forgettable main character of the lot . . . sad but true . . . unfortunately i think Will Smith or Jim Carrey or Jon Heder (or whoever else QT wanted) would have been just as forgettable because this was about in-camera direction . . .

Waltz – meh . . . as you said, we’ve seen this guy before . . . and i’m not sure they’re so different . . . as with Foxx, we see him ultimately build to a breaking point, one that seems to defy the man we thought he was (again, the story is set up so that we cheer when he does it, but it felt rather manipulative to me) . . . if there’s a difference it’s that his growth was always building in that direction, we saw him grow both queasier and also harder hearted, so that his end was inevitable . . . the best part, from a story-telling angle was that, in his character, we could actually get under his skin, to feel what he felt and to have a sympathetic reaction to how he tried to handle things . . . it’s a  shame that his supporting cast was not along for the ride . . . ps, he had some really bad stretches of phone-ins

Jackson was brilliant in his role (the best total performance of the lot i think) . . . as it were . . . do i buy that someone as racially ruthless as DiCaprio would allow him to do what he does – no, i don’t . . . and yeah, i get the history between them . . . but it doesn’t square with history, nor does it square with human nature . . . if this is a complete farce, well okay i guess, but then one should definitely be comparing it to Blazing Saddles (which it obviously is in some homage to) instead of something more weighty . . . at least in Blazing Saddles they took the race issue, put it in the forefront, and did something smart with it . . . there is a huge difference in taking a comedy and using it as a cultural mirror vs. shoving a mirror in our face and then trying to get a few chuckles and guffaws out of it . . .

this might as well have been an animated feature . . .

Matt, i’m pretty sure we have gone down this road before . . . my ideas about storytelling . . . i am going to assume that this was an attempt at telling a story, if not, if it was just as it seems, Tarantino seeing how much crap he could throw up on a screen and have us pay to see, then my whole point will be moot . . .

my concept, to restate and elaborate on, is that regardless of what you are dealing in, be it film, novels, poetry, songs, painting, dance, or music, art is about telling a story . . . my story-telling acme is that in which nothing gets in the way of the telling and full understanding of the story itself . . . and so, when editing, etc., my objective is always to expand that which needs it for the sake of the story, and eliminating everything else that makes one stop and go “what was that?” . . . it’s okay to make folks stop and ponder bits of the story, it’s okay to create backstory, it’s okay to lead one down a false path as long as all those things further the finished telling . . . but making someone stop to reread a sentence ten times because it’s so poorly written that it makes no sense? in the moment it takes you to do that it removes you from the story and it falls apart . . . tell the story man, if you have a story to tell . . . if you have to constantly throw meaningless stuff in, then you probably don’t have a story to begin with . . . if you have to throw in stupid gimmicks and cutesy dialogue (and make no mistake, a lot of his dialogue IS smart and does prod the story along; but some of it is pure crap; there is a rather large difference between intellectual, or knowing, ‘smart’ dialogue, and ‘smart’-aleck dialogue that ultimately is worth nothing more than the moment in which it is uttered and delivers a chuckle . . . there is no “The Dude abides” in this film, not even a shadow of it . . .), then that is nothing but base ego (and i guess there are plenty of folks who like that gimmicky crap because it’s signature Tarantino, well fine, but it’s still gimmicky crap and it’s still, pathetically, about his ego and not the story)

there is a time and place for non-linear exposition and flashback, but Tarantino either hasn’t located that place, or he is deliberately screwing with us – if the latter is the case, then fine, he succeeded, but at what cost? the loss of story? pretty pathetic that he’ll take people’s money and do that to them . . . especially when the film had not only the potential to be something really special, but important . . . he could have made a defining statement, replete with humor and bloodshed, and odd moments, but it’s completely squandered by stupid giant titles, and beyond ridiculous violence and stunts that make a mockery of film and even his own abilities . . . he has concocted a story little short of brilliant and then turned in into a Lego version of “The Village” . . .

so . . . the Blazing Saddles hood scene, i agree, the funniest (intentionally anyway) scene in the movie . . . but it totally took me out of the story, totally, and it was also unnecessarily long, the humor could have been done in about 15 seconds . . .

so, the dog scene, i suppose, was meant to display some level of brutality, and also to show the limits Walt’s character could stand before breaking, but those things could have been handled elsewhere, and the dog scene, if necessary, could have been much shorter . . . in any case, the scene took me out of the story again . . . i feel like that’s because i had the gut instinct that the real purpose was to get Tarantino’s cutesy little hillbilly stereotypes into the story . . . again, maybe for slapstick it works, maybe not for the purpose of a good story . . .

so, a screen-sized Mississippi crawling across the screen, not only figuratively took me out of the story, but literally too, as nothing could be seen behind it . . . pure ego-flashing gimmick . . . silly at best . . .

so, i’m not much into gratuitous violence and bloodshed . . . but i can certainly handle it when it is a part of the story, and i don’t think that one should back away from depicting reality, but when it gets cartoonish (yeah, i know it’s just another signature Quentin ‘thang’, but it’s also just another really dorkish signature) then it immediately takes me out of the story because i begin thinking about how ‘unreal’ it is and dissecting scenes instead of staying engaged (and this is a fault with a lot of films the last decade) . . . when it approaches cartoonish then i am really out of the story, and this film has perhaps done that to me more than anything since Natural Born Killers & Tropic Thunder (don’t get me started) . . . it really feels most like Tarantino trying to one-up Tarantino, because no one else is willing to sabotage their own films at his level . . . the final bloodletting at the Big House was just ridiculous . . . okay the bloodnuts in the house got a kick out of it, but what else did it accomplish, besides removing one from the story? and okay, i know guns, i was a long-time instructor/hunter/yadayada, i know guns . . . there isn’t a shotgun made that will blow someone 20 feet into a bookcase and destroy the bookcase (oops, taken out of the story again), nor will a shot from a balcony from any non-military-only rifle (especially of that era) blow someone off their feet, even a petite lady, at a 90 degree angle to the shot – the killing of Laura Cayouette’s Lara was especially ludicrous, and brought the first, unintentional, laughs in the theatre i was at in probably 30 or 40 minutes, though there were a lot of attempts to humor in that time (i think we were all thoroughly numb by then) . . . so all the semi-serious bloodshed, supposedly in service to rescuing one damsel in distress, lost in one foul moment of either a) poor direction with lousy stunt engineers, b) intentionally stupid filmmaking, or as c) the last big fuck you to the audience who lined his pockets . . . out of the story . . .

i could go on, but the idea is that we spent much of the time in that quite taxingly overlong film being dragged around places that served no purpose other than to excite Tarantino fans . . . most of those moments would have been much better had they been uploaded as out of context clips on YouTube (maybe that was his real goal?)

i guess it’s obvious that my big frustration was that so much could have been done with this story and it was clearly a hugely wasted opportunity . . . maybe QT is not capable of really delivering a good story, i don’t know . . . i understand, but don’t really like, his cult appeal . . . but again, holy crap man, if you actually come up with a good story, and have an opportunity to really make a splash, to really create a living pinnacle for your really uneven ouevre, then why squander that chance for a few moments of pure goof . . . highly disappointed . . .

i’d almost like to take the film when it comes out on DVD and recut it myself, but i’m afraid i’ll find there was far less substance than even i give it credit for . . . and then i’d put the leftovers on YouTube . . .

ps, the music was cute, if obvious sometimes, and occasionally cheesy, which i know he did on purpose because there was so much spaghetti sauce lying around when he was done, high dollar Ennio Morricone sauce at that . . .  

pps the two guys i went to see the film with really liked it . . . i think . . .




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