Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Cinema File #76: "Django Unchained" Review

I really don't mean to be the turd in the punch bowl all the time, but I have to say that despite the nearly unanimously positive critical consensus regarding Quentin Tarantino's latest film, I can't bring myself to regard Django Unchained as anything better than just shy of okay.

Django Unchained follows the story of a slave in the pre-Civil War South who is liberated and recruited as a bounty hunter's apprentice and eventually, after what could have easily been two hours instead of almost three, goes on a mission to save his still enslaved wife. Maybe I'm just still sore from The Hobbit, but seriously, why the fuck does every movie have to be so "epic" nowadays. Were the last several decades of 90-120 minute movies not enough for you people? Was anyone demanding this trend in ball shrivelingly long cinema? For something like Cloud Atlas, I get it, because there's so much story to tell, and whatever my other problems with that movie, I have to give it credit for using its time to the fullest. This movie feels much longer than it is, basking in its own perceived awesomeness, just assuming that I think this shit is as bad ass as the producers obviously do, and would have no problem sitting through scene after scene establishing the same point about said bad ass-ness over and over again. I'm not, just for the record.

Caine!...and also Django I guess.

That's not to say that there aren't things to enjoy about this movie, I just wish the title character was one of them. This movie should have been called Cain Unchained, And This Other Guy He's With. The extent to which Christoph Waltz makes this movie cannot be stressed enough. Every moment he's on screen and every line he has in the movie is delightful, and his presence is so overpowering that the guy I'm supposed to be following through all of this pretty much fades into the background. Yeah, I'm sorry, I know he was supposed to be good in Ray, but I never saw that, and I'm not on board with the "Jamie Foxx as credible actor" bullshit Hollywood is trying to shove down my throat. The guy from Booty Call, Stealth, and the worst self titled sitcom in television history does not do it for me here. By the time he finally comes into his own in the last act and weakly gives his climactic bad ass Eastwood speech, I found myself wishing that the guy he was shooting at, Samuel L Motherfucking Jackson had been in the role.

Why aren't you Django! It makes no sense!

The typical Tarantino throw-back homage style is in full force, and I gather that if I was more of an obsessive Spaghetti Western devotee and not just a casual fan, I'd find the little touches more enjoyable, and yet even that tone seemed off to me. He makes a point to include a soundtrack right out of the 60's complete with an authentic sounding recurring Django theme, but then in the middle throws in a rap song that just doesn't jibe with the rest of the score and instantly took me out of the movie. And while again I am no expert in the genre, the tone he seems to be trying for seems a might too wacky for this kind of film. I couldn't take the serious moments in the second half seriously after the extended Klu Klux Klan sequence featuring among others a bumbling Jonah Hill cameo. By the time the Plantation becomes a bloodbath (something I can't imagine is a spoiler if you know anything about this movie), to me it came off more like a hyper violent twist on Blazing Saddles than anything resembling The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, and that would have been fine so far as it went, but I'm not sure if that was the point.

I had high hopes for this movie, and chief among them was for a better than average villain. Leonardo DiCaprio's sadistic slave owner was billed to me by others who had seen the film as one of the best villains of the year, and while I can't hold that inflated standard against him, he was still a disappointment by any standard I could apply. Again, I'm very sorry, but Leonardo DiCaprio is not a good actor and never has been, and people really need to stop intimating as such. The guy is just as good as he was in Critters 3, which is to say not at all. How is it that Michael Parks is wasted in a cameo and this whiny bitch gets the part of the bad guy? For my money, the best villain of the year is still Matthew Fox from Alex Cross (make of that what you will). And on the subject of cameos, I have to put my foot down and say no! Don Johnson and Tom Wopat are two nostalgic Tarantino actor comebacks too far. Travolta was one thing, but fuck that. John Schneider wasn't a bad Pa Kent and I love Nash Bridges as much as the next guy (who does not like Nash Bridges, because nobody likes Nash Bridges), but let's not get ridiculous here.

Back you! Back into your hole of obscurity!

And is it just me, or have Tarantino's films of late lost some of the dark gritty feel that they once had? They're just as bloody obviously, more so in fact, but there's something about the unabashed fist pumping populism the last few have elicited that seems a bit hollow compared to his earlier work. When I look at this film, Kill Bill, and Inglorious Basterds, I recognize a one sided moral clarity that almost feels like pandering when I think back on movies like Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Jackie Brown. Where once the violence and brutal lack of sentimentality enhanced stories about morally ambiguous people doing morally ambiguous things, now he seems content to give us easily identifiable good guys and bad guys, hitting the pop culture trifecta of Ninjas, Nazis, and Slavers in three films flat. Don't get me wrong, they are all made very well, but they don't seem to be saying anything original or unique anymore, merely working as excuses for a very good writer and director to play around in various genres without bothering to do anything new. The Tarantino style applied to different contexts is almost bordering on Tim Burton levels of predictability, and like Burton's work, I think I've finally reached the point where I'm just kind of sick of it.

"My effete cigarette proves my evilness!"

I wanted more from Django Unchained, but I have to admit, there is most likely enough there for most people to enjoy. The action is solid and there's enough good mindless fun to keep you engaged for the parts that don't drag. I won't go into another diatribe about the merits of a good editor, but just prepare yourself for a long slog to get to the end, which is admittedly explosive enough to satisfy the violence-loving little sadist in all of us. Missed potential aside, its probably a safe bet for a decent time out at the theater.

Oh yeah, and you can't pick up on it here in text form, but I refuse to pronounce it "Jango." If you didn't want me to say "Duh-Jango," than drop that silent "D" bullshit. I was saying "Thulu" for years before somebody said it was "Kuh-thulu," and you can't have it both ways.


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