Sunday, February 24, 2013

Putting the B in Oscar

I would like you to meet Mystery Critic.

Besides being a wise, fantastic and generally hilarious person, he has been blessed with an incredible skill. 
What is it, you ask?
He can sum up a film in a few simple sentences. 
And his predictions: Spot on.
Suck on that Mayans!

Let me just show you a hint of his prowess by way of example. Here are his observations on one of my current obsessions, Downton Abbey:

Mystery Critic: Whose that lady and why is she making you cry?
Me: Her name is Lavinia and she's dying.
Mystery Critic: What's she dying of? Boredom.

End scene. 

Skills like these shouldn't go to waste, so I asked him to weigh in on the Oscar films. But let me be clear: Mystery Critic's time is incredibly limited. He has zombies and aliens to slay in his basement and math test to pretend to study for, so some of the films he simply refused to screen. This was understandable, of course, but incredibly frustrating as a film fan thirsty for a fast one-take on each film. When I could get him to comment, however, it was well worth the wait.  Here are his simple but erudite predictions:

Mystery Critic on Beasts Of the Southern Wild - The people in this movie are eating shrimps right out of the shell. I didn't know you could do that?! Why don't you let me do that? Wow. Their table manners are pretty bad, huh? Wait, wait, wait: Is that guy driving a boat-made-out-of-the-back-part-of-a-truck? AWESOME!!

Mystery Critic on Argo- This movie was pretty good but The Town was waaaay better. Anything with Renner is better.

Mystery Critic on Zero Dark Thirty- So I can't see this because there are some torture scenes in it? That's lame. I play Black Ops, all the time! And why is Jessica Chastain in everything?

Mystery Critic on Lincoln- Is this about a dead president? Ugh. I'm out.

Mystery Critic on Life of Pi - This movie made me think about life. Alot. But not about pie. I prefer cake.

Mystery Critic on Silver Linings Playbook - No. Way.

Mystery Critic on Les Miserables - They got the title right, anyway.

Mystery Critic on Django Unchained - Why did you go to that without me? That is so unfair.

Mystery Critic on Amour - I have to listen to French all day at school. My brain needs a break from that language.

Peace out and enjoy Oscar Night! Or as we refer to it at our house The Female Super Bowl.

Friday, February 1, 2013

There Will Be Blood

Christoph Waltz Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained

It is two years before the Civil War in the American South and an itinerant German dentist (Christoph Waltz) frees a slave, Django (Jamie Foxx). The dentist and the newly freed slave make an arrangement: together they will form a bounty-hunting team that brings in wanted men dead or alive. It's a "flesh for cash business," the dentist explains to his new partner, an ironic and slightly pointless statement when you consider that Django has spent his entire life in bondage. No matter, because Django proposes a more daunting task: the two men will find and rescue his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), who had been captured by a cruel plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio). Easy-Peasy/Lemon-Squeezy, right? And so the two men set out on horseback to accomplish this very thing leaving a few laughs, more than a few uncomfortable moral quandaries and buckets of blood in their wake. 

As most of you know, the above is the set up for the film, Django Unchained, the latest opus from Quentin Tarentino, the man-child director who brought us Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown and Inglorious Bastards. What you may also know is that the film has already won the director a Golden Globe for Best Screenplay, has received numerous accolades from the critics and a ton of criticism for its possibly-wanton use of the N-word. It is also has a great, star-studded cast - Leonardo DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz, Jamie Foxx, Samuel L. Jackson - ripe dialogue and easily one of the funniest scenes involving the Klu Klux Klan ever written. Here's what you don't know, though, I suspect:  no horses were hurt in the film's making. Do you want to know how I know that? There is a statement to that effect at the end of this almost 3 hour-long (!) film and the reason I noticed it was because I had kept my eyes  closed for most the last 20 minutes of it. When I finally gathered the courage to open them again, I saw that statement and laughed and laughed and laughed. Perhaps a disclaimer warning that our sensibilities and imaginations might also be in danger might have been better suited. But I'm getting ahead of myself....

Anyone who has ever sat through a Tarentino film would know only too well that what he finds consistently exciting are people being murdered, people screaming in pain, people begging for mercy and in this, Django doesn’t disappoint. But the film is so self-indulgent that tension eventually dissipates. There’s an entire 10-minute sequence (with the Australian cowboys) that could’ve been omitted, or at least rewritten that adds so little that you begin to suspect that it only made the final cut because it stars QT himself, making a lamentable attempt at an Aussie accent. The first half is picaresque and essentially irrelevant, though things do improve once we get to the plantation (‘Candyland’) only to degenerate again in the mindless final bloodbath.

Don't get me wrong: the film isn't all bad. The main asset here are the performances. Leo plays has Candie, a bored libertine who lives for “a good bit of fun” with a decadent gleam in his eye. Samuel L. Jackson is initially clownish and finally chilling as his grotesque, Uncle Tom-ish retainer and I promise you, you won't look at him the same way again. Waltz has the juiciest role, though,  (he won a Golden Globe last week) from a story-moving point of view. He embodies the hypocrisy, or just complexity, of a man whose heart bleeds for the “poor slaves” yet who also has no compunction killing people labelled ‘bad’ by the system (even if they’ve turned over a new leaf. His dentist would make for a great character study – I also expected him to be called on the fact that he offers Django a third (not half) of the bounty money, making him a sidekick as opposed to an equal partner – but in fact Tarantino is unwilling, or unable, to accommodate such moral shadings. He points out the contradiction, but does nothing more with it. 

When Inglourious Basterds re-wrote history by having Hitler shot in a movie theatre – just like that! – it made an exhilarating point about cinema’s ability to improve on real life. But Django takes a trickier subject and offers less, not more. An attempt is made to make a complex moral issue that been tackled a million times by filmmakers more engaging but, ultimately, the drama lacks richness. This is a film made in broad stokes in which you are either black or white or bathed in blood.