“This steam-driven military weapon of an enterprise is a sobering reminder of just how tinny a musical Les Miserables was in the first place — the listless music and lyrics by Alain Boubil, Claude-Michel Schonberg and Herbert Kretzmer, the derivative characters fashioned from Oliver! scraps. And even if you do come to Tom Hooper‘s neighborhood loving the show, having seen seven stage productions and named your cat Gavroche after the urchin who hitches his fate to those of grown-up revolutionaries, well, you’re in for a gobsmacking: This ‘prestige’ production is at heart a minor road-show carnival, leaving behind little but tinsel as it rumbles through the streets of Awardstown.” — from review by Entertainment Weekly‘s Lisa Schwarzbaum.
“Startled” is one way of expressing my reaction to Django Unchained‘s 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Another is “gobsmacked.” Because make no mistake — this film is a wankathon and a piece of faux-“performance art” that is so air-quoted and layered (or lathered) with ironic references that it doesn’t stand or breathe on its own, not by a damn sight. It’s “the kind of vaguely awful film that only a talented person could have made,” as Pauline Kael (I think) once said in a review.
I wasn’t convulsing and moaning in my seat, but I felt bored after the first hour and undernourished and close to appalled during the second hour (i.e., the dead zone) and then irritated as hell during the last 45 minutes.
“Talented but wildly undisciplined” is Quentin Tarantino‘s cross to bear. For his latest film is two hours and 45 minutes of indulgent spaghetti-western cheese whiz with leather hats and rifles and six-guns and horses. Plus an endlessly talky, verbally flatulent second hour (after a reasonably tight and engaging first 60 minutes) that has to be experienced to be believed. Yappity-yappity-yap-yap-yappity-yap-yap…we can talk all night long and into tomorrow morning and all the top critics will still kiss our ass and give us hand jobs…yaw-haw! Nigger twirlin’ a six-shooter! Nigger! Nigger on a horse! “Did you see a sign on my front yard that said ‘dead nigger storage’?” Oh, wait…
Django Unchained is a cowboy-playtime-in-a-sandbox movie that screams “movie!” every step of the way and isn’t worth a damn after the first hour. And yet critics are still going “whoo-hoo, that Quentin…my, what a clever-ass fellow! And how clever and knowledgable he makes us feel! Clever and knowledgable and highly moral because we approve of his anti-slavery message, and so we agree that white slave owners of the 1860s need to be shot, speared and slaughtered just like the Nazis in Inglourious Basterds.” So everybody comes out happy and looking good.
If you’re not that hip and you don’t mind sleazy supporting characters drooling all over each other and grotesque overkill from time to time & if you believe that long running times and blood-spattered walls are a mark of aesthetic integrity, you’ll probably love Django Unchained.
I just want to say upfront that I think slavery is, was and always will be a vile, terrible thing, and that Hollywood Elsewhere stands foursquare with Quentin Tarantino and the Weinstein Co. in condemning this wretched practice. HE also agrees, incidentally, that Abraham Lincoln and U.S. Congress did a very fine thing when they passed the 13th Amendment.
The real subject of Django Unchained isn’t “let’s get the slave owners of the middle 1800s the way we got the Nazis in Inglourious Basterds.” The real subject is “how lazy and bloated and wanky can the writing and filmmaking stylings of Quentin Tarantino get?”
The guy started out dense and cool and hard in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction — his glorious peak period. Things got a little looser and less urgent with Jackie Brown, but the plotting and the flashbacks were nicely interwoven, and the performances (especially Robert Forster and Samuel L. Jackson‘s) were dead center. And then Tarantino became more of a style hound and a shitload-of-film-references guy with Kill Bill Volume 1 and Kill Bill Volume 2. I kinda loved Deathproof, the jukebox, hot girls and fast-car movie that was part of Grindhouse, but I was mostly bored and pissed off at Inglourious Basterds (especially by the beating the head of a German officer with a baseball bat scene). Django is about masturbation and masochism and show-off moves, and in my book a movie that uses “slavery” in order to get low, cruel and cheap.
Shot like an Almeria ’70s western (those fast-zoom shots are one such signature) and pointedly inauthentic in terms of period detail and speech, Django Unchained is the least “real” and most self-consciously fake Tarantino film ever made. It’s semi-“thoughtful”, sometimes comedic and smirking and incredibly impressed with itself. It’s a personality movie start to finish. Mildly funny a few times, lurid, unsubtle, tedious, simultaneously Mandingo-esque and an anti-Mandingo, a hoot, astonishing at times and too effing long. But at least it’s not three hours, which it allegedly was a while back.
I guess it’s written somewhere that any movie about a moral pestilence has to end with punishment and cleansing of evil behavior, and Django Unchained certainly does that. Although I wouldn’t call the walls of DiCaprio’s mansion “clean” at the end. What they need is a five-man crew with sponges, rags, buckets of hot water and a container of Mr. Clean.
Prescient Todd McCarthy observation #1: “The anecdotal, odyssey-like structure of this long, talky saga could be considered indulgent [as] some might object to the writer-director’s tone, historical liberties, comic japes or other issues”…do ya think so?
Prescient Todd McCarthy observation #2: “A stellar cast and strong action and comedy elements will attract a good-sized audience internationally, though distaste for the subject matter and the irreverent take on a tragic subject might make some prospective viewers hesitate.”
As the movie is more of a QT variety show than anything that rings of commitment or sincerity, the performances, flamboyant as they are, only sink in so deeply. I don’t think Jamie Foxx‘s Django performance is strong or tasty enough, if you wanna know. He looks cool and sometimes cuts a dashing figure, but the film is not really his to own. Christoph Waltz‘s Dr. King Schultz, a German bounty hunter with a loquacious speaking style, has more pizazz to throw around. Southern plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) struck me as a typical Tarantino gasbag. Samuel L. Jackson‘s obsequious Stephen, Candie’s all-knowing, totally-subservient house slave, might be the most intriguing. Kerry Washington‘s Broomhilda…naah.
The scuzzy supporting cast includes Don Johnson, James Remar, Dennis Christopher, James Russo, Don Stroud, Tom Wopat, Bruce Dern, Russ Tamblyn, Robert Carradine, Tom Savini, Michael Parks and Tarantino himself. (Tarantino has gone from looking thin to well fed to seriously fat — he’s literally doubled in size since he played Mr. Brown in Reservoir Dogs 20 years ago. Time to lay off the booze and the steaks and the cherry pies and hit the treadmill.)
Almost all movie deaths, it seems, are brutal, shocking, bloody, sudden, ghastly, traumatic. Nice little nod-off deaths — like Sir Cedric Hardwicke‘s passing in The Ten Commandments or Keir Dullea‘s in 2001: A Space Odyssey — have been few and far between over the last 50 years. Is real-life death ever smooth and easy? Very rarely, it seems. I’m almost tempted to say “only if you do yourself in with pills” but I’m sure exceptions abound.
James Toback once told me that (I’m paraphrasing) “almost none of us are going to die as pleasantly as we’d like to…it’s always under circumstances we can’t foresee, much less plan for, and sooner than we’d like.” And the likelihood that you’re going to die while lying comfortably in bed between recently-washed sheets is almost nil. The odds are that your final throes are going to either be painful or traumatic or grotesque, and possibly a combination of all three.
There’s a fairly great Albert Brooks/Judd Apatow q & a in the Apatow-edited Vanity Fair comedy issue. It’s summarized in the online version but a Brooks quote about “being ahead of the herd”, readable only in the magazine version, is the best of it. Apatow tells Brooks that he’s always been respected “as a bit of a futurist,” and Brooks says he realized early on “I should at least take [that] as a compliment because that’s all it’s good for.
“My friend Harry Nilsson used to say the definition of an artist wa s someone who rode away ahead of the herd and was sort of the lookout. Now you don’t have to be that, to be an artist. You can be right smack-dab in the middle of the herd. If you are, you’ll be the richest.”
Also: “Brooks says the comedian who made the biggest impression on him when he was starting out was Jack Benny. ‘Because of his minimalism. And the way he got laughs. He was at the center of a storm, he let his players do the work, and just by being there made it funny. That was mind-boggling to me,’ Brooks says.
“He tells Apatow that early on in his career he performed on The Tonight Show one night when Benny was on. ‘There was always that last two minutes where Johnny was asking people, ‘Thank you for coming — what do you have coming up?’ And during the last commercial Jack Benny leaned over to Johnny Carson and said, ‘When we get back, ask me where I’m going to be, will you?’ So they came back. Johnny said, ‘I want to thank Albert. Jack, where are you going to be performing?’ And Jack Benny said, ‘Never mind about me — this is the funniest kid I’ve ever seen!'”
“‘And it was this profound thing,’ Brooks continues. ‘Like, Oh, that’s how you lead your life. Be generous and you can be the best person who ever lived.'”
A little while ago Hollis Mulwray declared that Argo‘s Alan Arkin was SAG-nominated for Best Supporting Actor because he’s become “the pet of the Oscar geezers.” I really like that phrase and I hope it sticks to the wall. For years and perhaps decades to come this or that over-65 favorite can be jovially referred to as “a pet of the Oscar geezers.” This is coinage, what we all live for. Some day Mulwray will talk to a girl in a Pavillions aisle or at a bar and he can say “I’m actually the ‘pet of the Oscar geezers’ guy…yeah, it was me.”
Due respect to the admirable Nicole Kidman, but her Best Supporting Actress SAG nomination for The Paperboy, announced this morning, is, to say the least, a curious call. The Paperboy is an appallingly bad film, and Kidman’s performance as a lacquered, sexed-up Florida floozie is, at best, a tawdry, campy thing. It’s especially regrettable with SAG voters failing to nominate The Master‘s Amy Adams, Silver Linings Playbook‘s Jacki Weaver, Compliance‘s Ann Dowd and/or Arbitrage‘s Susan Sarandon — all far more deserving of a nomination.
For Best Actor, SAG nominated Lincoln‘s Daniel Day-Lewis (of course), Flight‘s Denzel Washington, The Sessions‘ John Hawkes (fully deserved), Les Miserables‘ Hugh Jackman (which Glenn Kenny will agree with) and Silver Linings Playbook‘s Bradley Cooper (completely deserved up and down). The Master‘s Joaquin Phoenix was blown off, presumably because his imitation of a booze-sipping alien serpent in Paul Thomas Anderson‘s film struck too many SAG voters as egocentric or weird for weird’s sake or whatever. That or his screw-the-Oscars rants did him in. But I’ll never forget his Freddy performance. Tattooed on my brain.
Poor Richard Gere, who gave one of the best two or three performances of his career in Nic Jarecki‘s Arbitrage, didn’t make the cut. Amour‘s Jean-Louis Trintignant was also nudged pushed out onto the fire escape.
SAG’s Best Actress nominees included Zero Dark Thirty‘s Jessica Chastain (a cinch), Silver Linings Playbook‘s Jennifer Lawrence (natch), Hitchcock‘s Helen Mirren, Rust & Bone‘s Marion Cotillard and…The Impossible‘s Naomi Watts? Due respect but Watts overacts (too much crying, not enough steely adrenaline) in Juan Antonio Bayona‘s technically admirable film. In place of Watts SAG should have nominated Anna Karenina‘s Keira Knightley or Amour‘s Emannuelle Riva.
SAG Best Supporting Actor nominees include Lincoln‘s Tommy Lee Jones (agreed), Argo‘s Alan Arkin (because he delivers funny lines in his usual deadpan way), Silver Linings Playbook’s Robert De Niro, The Master‘s Philip Seymour Hoffman and — a surprise but fully deserved — Skyfall‘s Javier Bardem. Due respect but I would have I have nominated Matthew McConaguhey in place of Arkin. I have no quarrel at all with SAG ignoring the Django Unchained guys (Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson) in this category. The movie is mostly cheap dogshit and all these guys do is prance & strut around in Quentinworld.
What about the John Goodman blowoff? Not too long ago I had him pegged for a probable Best Supporting Actor nomination because of two highly likable, big-sell performances — a swaggering, self-amused drug dealer in Flight (his second entrance has audiences cheering) and as amiable makeup artist John Chambers (a real guy who died in ’01) in Argo. Plus he plays a highly sympathetic Atlanta Braves front-office guy who cares a good deal for Clint Eastwood‘s aging scout in Trouble With The Curve. Plus he’s lost all that weight. At least a nomination, right? Nope. What happened here? Was that Xan Brooks Guardian interview partly to blame?
A month goes by and I don’t pay attention to this Side Effects trailer until today. What is that? I know I’m going to love it (Rooney Mara frazzled about impending release from jail of creepy husband Channing Tatum) because it’s from director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns, and formerly called The Bitter Pill. Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Vinessa Shaw costarring. Opens on 2.8.13 through Open Road.
2012 is over and Lincoln is probably going to win Best Picture. I can’t stand it. I don’t want to think about it any more. I just want to focus on January and February releases and on the Sundance, Santa Barbara and Berlin film festivals.
From the mind of Joe Bomowski, posted yesterday at 1:10 pm: “This is independent of AFI and Silver Linings PLaybook‘s awards momentum, but in terms of JW thinking that SLP should or could be a bigger mainstream juggernaut than it actually is, consider this gem from a loud female coworker: “I like Bradley and I like Jennifer, but I don’t know if I like them together…not sure if I need to see this.”
“This in some weird way is how women process movies. As a guy, as a movie fan, it’s totally alien to me, but women have these imprecise signifiers letting them know if a movie is ‘safe’ for them. It’s based on their real-life behavior (“Eww, I do NOT LIKE so-and-so because he cheated on so-and-so”) and their INTERVIEW DEMEANOR on talk shows, on the fashions they wear in magazine shoots. And they refer to the actors by their first names. Their TV friends Bradley and Jennifer from Kimmel and Stewart. It’s so bizarre.”
Wells: To borrow from Laurence Olivier‘s Christian Zell in John Schlesinger‘s Marathon Man, “Is it safe?”
Back to Bomowski: “I know that a feminist critic like Sasha Stone will deny a generalization like that, but look at the MINEFIELD of obstacles any movie has to work through to get to HER sweet spot. It’s undeniable. Jeff wasn’t entirely wrong to think SLP could be a crowd-pleaser, but when it comes to a romcom first and foremost you’ve gotta get the female vote, and something imperceptible to male critics, bloggers, and fans of SLP is ringing in women’s ears telling them there’s something ‘off’ about it, and that and it doesn’t have a non-threatening female lead finding out she can have her ad agency job AND the perfect guy!
“It’s kind of the world’s first sausage-fest romantic comedy in ages — I really only hear guys talking it up, and it’s usually guys who are AWESOME alpha-male blowhards like Wells or yours truly. Thus far, to bring it full circle, this doesn’t have the ‘campy chicks at the office water cooler listening to ’80s Rewind talking it up at the water cooler’ enthusiasm.”