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Django Unchained (2012)
Django Unchained: The Good, The Bad, and The Silly - Part 1
Now a criticism of an old Spaghetti Western or World War II action film was likely to be that the dialogue was weak and the characters were poorly developed and both were obviously secondary to the action scenes. Of course in a Tarantino film the characters and the dialogue become the show and the action is secondary. So it is in Django Unchained. As Inglourious Basterds was not at all like Enzo Castellari's Inglorious Bastards, Django Unchained is not Sergio Corbucci's Django...although Franco Nero does make a brief throw away appearance in the film to wink at the use of the name Django.
In a way Nero appearing in the film is the key to understanding what Django Unchained and what Tarantino's filmmaking career is really all about...a love of movies. Tarantino may not have the best taste in film, he may overindulge his love for B or Z grade pictures but he seems to do so in the spirit of a young Orson Welles who once described making motion pictures at a film studio by exclaiming "This is the biggest electric-train set any boy ever had!" What is any Tarantino film really about above all else...simple...it's about movies and his unabashed love of them. It is why I laugh a little when people start to point out historical inaccuracies and anachronisms in his period films Inglourious Basterds and now Django Unchained. Tarantino is not making films about actual history and he flaunts that fact. Nor is he making films that are intended to seriously comment on the Holocaust or slavery.
Tarantino is making films about film history and commenting on how movies in the past have addressed these subjects. One thing we all know about movies is in general they are concerned in most cases less with accuracy and realism than they are with drama, artistic license, and ticket sales. Truths in movies are often not revealed by telling a true and accurate story but rather by artistically opening up an event to allow an audience to use their imaginations to experience the emotions of that event through the characters.
Here's where you go through the looking glass in a Tarantino film...his characters are not playing emotions inspired by any kind of true event but rather emotions inspired by other movie characters and how these movie characters and other movies inspired Tarantino to create the ones in his own films.
So, in a Tarantino film you are in a "movie world" that was inspired by other "movie worlds" pretty much leaving any comparison to the real world pointless. This is why anything can and pretty much does happen in a Tarantino film...he has freed himself from any rules of realism.
To give you an example of how Tarantino's mind works in this way in Django Unchained the characters he created Django and Broomhilda Von Shaft are supposed to be the relatives/great or great great grandparents of John Shaft...yes, that John Shaft...the one played by Richard Roundtree in the 1971 film Shaft.
When you understand that Tarantino is showing us the story of the great great grandparents of John Shaft and using a pile of references to other films to do so you begin to see how ridiculous it is that a person discussing this film would concern themselves with historical accuracy and anachronisms. I'm sure the fictional John Shaft is not rolling over in his celluloid grave about how Tarantino portrayed his great great grandparents...of course in Tarantino's mind John Shaft might have a score to settle, ha! So, in this Southern Fried Spaghetti Revenge Western Tarantino has dreamed up, his German dentist bounty hunter Doc Schultz and Django - the slave he sets free to help him complete a job - wander through a candy colored world that seems part Blazing Saddles, part Mandingo (the 1975 Richard Fleischer film) and part Euro-Western as seen through the eyes of a young video store clerk that seems fascinated to have discovered this strange, vulgar, and exploitive movie universe.
This really is not a story about a slave taking revenge on those that enslaved him but rather a story about a couple of movie characters taking revenge for the things that happened in the film Mandingo.
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Entertaining but Tarantino is stuck in revenge fantasy mode.
The film was promoted with the phrase "Once upon a time..." both a tribute to one of Tarantino's heroes, Sergio Leone, and a tip off that the film presented would be a FANTASY. Tarantino has been stuck in strictly revenge fantasy mode since Kill Bill, as the two Bill films, Death Proof, and now Basterds are all nothing but revenge fantasies. He clearly let us know he was not making a film that presented us with accurate history. The Nazis in the film serve two purposes, comic relief and symbol of evil and the violent destruction of them fulfills the fantasy.
It is well known that Tarantino does not make films that are polite or in "good taste" he makes films that satisfy his childhood film fantasies. I can't imagine a person walking into a Tarantino film thinking they are going to get a history lesson or learn something. This has never been the point of a Tarantino film, he makes films to pay tribute to the pop culture and filmmakers he loves so much. He is not a complex filmmaker, he is a kid in a candy store and like that kid all he wants to do is overindulge himself. The "fun" in seeing one of his films is watching him do so with such glee.
This film is a big goofy mess, not meant to be taken seriously, the thing is you can either laugh along with Tarantino or walk away. I won't argue that there is plenty in this film, including the ending, which could obviously be seen as "offensive to Jews" and some of my Jewish friends have already told me they think the film is a travesty but I think the thing is you have to try to take into consideration Tarantino's intention, which was to make a film that would make the kid in him yell "That's so cool!" Is that sort of dumb considering Tarantino is an adult? Sure it is, but I guess watching the film is like watching kids open presents, they are thrilled and excited to be tearing off all that pretty colored paper...not very deep but it is true.
Hotel Chevalier (2007)
The beginning of a journey...
This is a wonderful short film to introduce us to one of the main characters in Wes Anderson's film The Darjeeling Limited. A broken romance sends Jack (Jason Schwartzman) off to a Paris hotel to lick his wounds it seems. In this short the ex-girlfriend has arrived and Jack must come face to face with her and his pain. Pay very close attention as you watch this as I think it will pay off. Personally I found this to be a nice little gift from Anderson as we wait for the release of The Darjeeling Limited. I don't really understand the question about it appearing in theatres as part of the main film but I think it does a nice job revealing the characters a bit. I enjoyed it and it certainly is very much like Anderson's previous work.
I know that many fans of Wes Anderson tend to be very thrown by each new film he creates and they tend to have a favorite that they won't stray from. I have never really understood this because I think his body of work is really quite consistent and he seems to improve with each film. The key to all of his films, at least to me, is that you feel that you have stepped in to each one and lived with the characters because he takes such care revealing their quirks to you. I think what causes the discord among his fans is that they feel so close to certain characters they have trouble letting go of them. So, we end up with passionate arguments about why Rushmore, Bottle Rocket, or The Royal Tenenbaums were "better" than The Life Aquatic.
The Good Shepherd (2006)
Interesting film...Damon miscast
Mr. De Niro has a fine cast to work with and gets some juicy acting from the supporting characters but in the end this film flops. Matt Damon is miscast in the lead portraying a glum, repressed, shell of a man with the weight of the world, or United States, resting firmly on his narrow shoulders. Damon is a solid actor but he is not at all suited to play this part. It was probably intentional that throughout the film Edward Wilson is never really there and all Damon does in the part is wear the same pinched expression from beginning to end. It would take an actor of great skill and nuance to make this role work and Damon is not that actor. He matches his pained expression with a flat monotone delivery of his lines. Damon delivers a line telling his son how much he loves him at a pivotal moment like he was ordering coffee or reading from a file to John Turturro (who plays his right hand man in the film).
As I watched the film I kept waiting for the next supporting character to show up to give the film a kick. We see great turns from William Hurt, Michael Gambon, Billy Crudup, John Turturro, Alec Baldwin, and Mr. De Niro himself. Even Lee Pace brings some nice menace to his small part. Angela Jolie in a bland wounded wife role does all she can with it and makes you feel something for her as well. I have to wonder why Jolie took this part as it is poorly written and only distracts from the main story. I would assume it was to work with De Niro and the rest of this stellar group and to her credit Ms. Jolie does a lot with the little she was given.
The best part of this story is following Edward Wilson through to the formation of the CIA. This is an interesting and exciting tale but unfortunately the decision was made to tack on a family drama as well. Wilson's wife and the character of Wilson's son are nothing but window dressing to try to provide a little more weight to Damon's character. It was a horrible choice to throw this in and you could easily have summed up their part in this story in a single scene. Edward Wilson after all ignores his family through the first six years of his child's life. We also as an audience are much more interested in the world of secrets and spies Wilson is at the heart of than the details of his failing marriage. It's hard not to feel like our time is just being wasted as we snore through the family drama portions of the film.
There is a lot of effort and information put into creating the world of covert operations in this film and the filmmakers would have been best served sticking with that. They do a great job with introducing us to the language of spies and their "black arts" and to me at least it was clear that's what interested them in making this film in the first place. Throwing in the family drama just leaves you with a bloated 167 minute film that meanders too much. They would have been much better served spending that extra time in the world of spies and the countless stories that were available to them there. I would recommend this film to people that enjoy spy films and have an interest in history and the CIA. It has its rewards in these areas but to some folks I think they will find the film is a confusing drag. There certainly is a great movie to be made about the CIA and this is not it.
The Village (2004)
The Village...a love story
It should come as no surprise that this film was marketed as a horror film. That is after all what Mr. Shyamalan is known for and what they figure will sell the most tickets. The fact is the film is a love story. I think this is why many people were let down by the film. They were expecting a Sixth Sense or Signs type of film but what they get, in fact, is something very different.
As I watched the special features on the DVD I realized that Mr. Shyamalan may have started writing a spooky horror yarn but then got sucked in by the characters he was creating and took more of an interest in them than the goblins.
Basically, if this film were marketed with a bit more honesty more people may have enjoyed it. I would say this is not a film for fans of Night's past work but more a film for a broader audience.
To me, what I think Night does in this film is explore a little deeper parts of the Rev. Graham Hess character from Signs. As a progression for the filmmaker I think this makes perfect sense. In this film it's more about the characters than the supernatural. Love is this films central theme and in case you miss that point the characters are given several lines to drive this point home.
Perhaps that is the real twist of this film, that it's a film made by M. Night Shyamalan that's not like the other films he's made. He's made a love story this time and seemed to put a great deal of care into creating it.
The actors all do a fine job and it is quite a cast. Hurt, Gleeson, and Weaver are fantastic, as are the often mentioned Howard and Phoenix. Brody also does well with his role. Just the cast alone was enough to get me interested in seeing this and I'm not a fan of Mr. Shyamalan's work.
Overall I found the film to be interesting and well made. It's not a great film, having sort of tried to be two things at once and failing at both, but it is a good entertainment. The secrets of the film are not kept well hidden and I believe most people will sort out what's going on early on but I think that is what the director intends. He is a director of big popular entertainments, in the same way that guy who made ET and Jaws is. So, the films message will always be hammered home and made quite obvious. He does succeed in entertaining I think.
Watch this film expecting a love story and I think you may enjoy the ride. Watch it expecting a horror film and you may fall asleep halfway through.
If I were ranking it on a star system with no stars being the worst and four stars being the best...I'd give this film 2 stars.
My IMDb vote for this film is a 5.