07 March 2013

DJANGO UNCHAINED and INGLORIOUS BASTERDS/QUENTIN TARANTIO/2013

I did a review of the Quentin Tarantino film Inglorious Basterds quite a while back but after switching to the new URL here I never reposted it for a couple reasons. Nothing special, just had yet to put it back up. I will be reposting that piece along with my take on the new Tarantino movie Django (or Django Unchained). The films here at The Uranium Café are typically obscure films of the midnight movie or creature feature variety. Most of my reviews are impartial and typically I would not pan a movie here too harshly and save that sort of review for my sister blog Necrotic Cinema, where my opinions of newer horror films are a bit more ruthless than my views on stuff from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. So why include Django or Inglorious Basterds as reviews here when I tend to shy away from reviewing newer films? Because Tarantino uses as fodder for all his films those very same old, forgotten low budget b-movies of the 60’s and 70’s, and in particular those of the exploitation variety. He mimics the camera work of the period (with sudden fade ins and outs and loss of focus at times, for example), pays homage to the title sequences of the time and soundtracks of the time and creates characters with names that are drawn from old films. Even the character Django, as most everybody reading this sort of blog would have known even before seeing or even hearing of Tarantino’s new film, is taken from a 1966 Western film with Franco Nero. All of what I am saying now is really nothing new and several films back it was established that this is what Tarantino is all about. And for someone like me wouldn’t that be a good thing? Wouldn’t I salivate in geek-abandon at trying to be able to catch all the little in jokes and references? Actually, I stopped liking Tarantino’s films after Jackie Brown and I was hoping I would find some sort of redemption in his work in Django after the boring mess that was Inglorioius Basterds, but it is not to be so. I just don’t like the guy’s work anymore and Django has only distanced me more from appreciating what I personally enjoyed about his earlier films (although I never liked the talky Reservoir Dogs all that much).

So what is wrong with the film from my perspective? There are more than enough raves online about how great it is and that it is his best work to date (I read the same thing about Inglorious Basterds, so to some folks he just seems to topping himself now, surpassing his last opus with something even grander). There are negative reviews as well, but the majority are all more than favorable. My issue is not so much with the race/slavery issue as it is presented in the film, with hammer over the head references to civil rights struggles in the 60’s and 70’s (get it, things haven't really changed at that much yet and we need rich white guy Quentin to remind us of that). I don’t  really want to explore those issues here, like most online reviews do, either pro or con, though it may hard to avoid the issues since the film is built around throwing it all in your face over and over. I don’t know if America needs somebody like Tarantino to serve as the voice to breathe life into the slavery/America’s tainted past dialog, but there it is. He is suddenly the new voice of abolition and the plight of the racially downtrodden. I, as a movie watcher and not a social reformist, am more concerned with less ethical and topical issues. Like for example, the simple fact that movies taking place in the 1850’s on plantations in Mississippi are not really “westerns”. Even Civil War films are not really westerns, though they can be categorized under that label for the sake of being able to place a film somewhere on a DVD shelf in a store and make money off its sale or rental. The name of the film is Django and it is an obvious reference to the Sergio Corbuccii film featuring Franco Nero’s darkly iconic coffin dragging gun fighting drifter character. Okay, so what does that mean in the big picture of things? Does that really mean that Tarantino has to make a virtual remake of the Corbuccii film? Of course not. I wouldn’t expect it. But I am, to be honest, expecting some sort of homage to Italian Westerns of the 60’s and early 70’s, or Spaghetti Westerns as they have come to be labeled. Oh, okay there are those clever (and getting less clever film by film) Tarantino gags and references, and even the use of cool Spaghetti Western film scores (some by Ennio Morricone himself) over some scenes, and then having the core senselessly morph into some sort of rap or 70’s pop music. I don’t know what was going on with the music here. Was Tarantino just trying to think ahead to boosting sales of the inevitable soundtrack by peppering it up with things for the kids?

Yes, bottom line is once the film was to placed in the pre-Civil War south and not in some tumbleweed littered town of dried up adobe house with sandal wearing Mexicans and cigarette rolling white guys (some played by Italians maybe!) I just lost 80% of my drive for the film. For God’s sake it is called Django! Its like making a film called Mandingo then filming it all in Monument Valley and not featuring one big black buck in the film. And I like Jamie Foxx for the most part -not a big fan- but I just did not buy him in the role at all. I had to watch this for almost three hours too. The team of the freed slave and his German bounty hunter mentor King Schultz (the Nazi Christoph Waltz from Inglorious Basterds) traveling the south and getting to kill 1) white men (Foxx) and 2) Americans (Waltz) and making stale race jokes that seem like they belong in a movie from the 70’s (and some things should have stayed in the 70’s) is just not convincing. Tarantino must have hit his editing strides in Kill Bill! and Pulp Fiction and now people have to sit through long, drawn out drivel like the retelling of the German folk story of Siegfried and Broomhilda over a campfire. Or a scene where Django is to shoot down a wanted man plowing in his field and when having doubts King Schultz has him lay down his rifle and then extols on and on why shooting this bad man is not only okay but rather profitable. I just found myself getting bored over and over, the way I did in Inglorious Basterds where the “clever” Tarantino dialogs were all done in friggin’ German! Another scene where Schultz kills a wanted man who has been elected as a town sheriff is drug out to excruciating lengths. Leone could have had his Man With No Name come into town and end the whole affair using less than six words of dialog and move on and have killed four or five other guys in the same amount of time and had it all seem more interesting. And I did not like Watlz in this. Did he and Tarantino become pals in Inglorious Basterds and Tarantino just feel like he owed the guy the part? And so what if he won an Oscar? So damned what! Do I run blogs that look like the Oscars mean anything to me? I didn’t like his performance here or his character. Okay, on one level I get it, I guess. To see the truly vile nature of American society we have to see it through the eyes of a refined European gentleman, like the cold blooded bounty hunter King Shultz who has no qualms about gunning down men in front of their children. Or we have to see how evil Americans can be through the eyes of freed slave Django, who at one point allows a frightened fellow negro slave to be torn to pieces by dogs rather than have Schultz pay $500 to free him (he had to stay in character you see). I didn’t like the two heroes in any sense. They had no mystique the way a good western hero should have, being sort of cowboy "ronins" really, despite Tarantino’s rants to the opposite about having created a new black hero figure for black men in American to look up to (excluding Spike Lee it seems who had his malarkey detector turned on) in Django.

Leonardo DiCaprio is rather good fun as the bad guy Calvin Candie (evil plantation owner of course) as is Samual L. Jackson as “house n****r” (I ain’t saying it) Stephen. The gun fights are bloody -very, very bloody and even horses get shot in the head here- but really not believable or entertaining, trying to mix up humor alongside over the top violence in a way that the 1st Kill Bill! did successfully, but that falls flat here and reeks of simple bad taste. Sure, I rewound them and checked out the spatter effects being a fan of that sick stuff but I was also just happy to have something finally happen after an hour of bland banter. The ending is so utterly absurd as to make me wonder what the hell was Tarantino thinking.  Did he say to himself “what ending could I come up with that would be stupider than the one I tacked on at the end of Inglorious Basterds?” To be honest Django’s ending is not that stupid or bad, but it is close. Basically he winds up dressing like Will Smith in The Wild, Wild West on a horse doing cute little horsy tricks for Broomhilda and riding off into…what? He and Broomhilda ride off into the Mississippi night –where blacks cannot even ride horses- and then on to what? Stop in at a plush hotel in town in the morning and she shows the clerk her little paper of emancipation and all is cool?The ending is full of holes and lacks basic consistencies.

 
Bottom line for me: I don’t like, and never have liked “southern westerns”. Don't like civil war movies, especially where the south is is always portrayed as the "good side" for some reason. I don’t need to have Quentin Tarantino preach to me about what is evil about America’s past in a film that is a three hour send up of exploitation films and where he throws around the word “n****r” (I ain’t saying it, no way) as though he were a bonafide homeboy himself. Remember the scene in Pulp Fiction where he thinks his character (ergo he himself) is so cool he can say “dead n****r storage” over and over to Samual L. Jackson. What bullshit. Are black people comfortable with this? I guess I am uptight or something. Which leads me to wonder who the audiences for his films are now? At one time I could imagine true geeks and nerds who knew all these old films and got the gags. But now I am not sure. How many people in Tarantino’s current audience would recognize Franco Nero in his cameo performance or get the joke traded between him and Django at the bar? This is a poor homage to Italian Westerns and Blaxploitation films. It is too fucking long and boring. The dialog is formula and forced and the lead characters are unbelievable and unlikable. If you read reviews talking about the film’s humor, blow them off. I can actually imagine a theater of new wave Tarantino aficionados laughing it up at the sequence where the lynch mob stop and complain about how they can’t see out of the holes in their masks. It was simply not funny and was as bland as the attempts at similar humor in Death Proof. And it just went on and one and on. Like the whole movie did. On and on and on and… 

My original and unedited draft/review for Inglorious Basterds:

INGLOURIOUS 
BASTERDS

I have to admit that I really did not enjoy this Quentin Tarantino film but I really, really wanted to. In fact I still want to be able to write something about it and sound like I am one of the people (one of the many people) who got the film and consider it to be Taratino"s best work to date, I read that the film got an eight minute standing ovation at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival. And while I am at it I will have to say I was let down by his Grindhouse Death Proof feature as well. The last thing I liked by the guy was Jackie Brown and just feel he has lost his mojo since that film. I will be direct. Inglourious Basterds had too much banter and not enough gutsy action in it for me. Sure Tarantino could once create riveting dialog about Quarter Pounders I France but the dialogs in Basterds, a script he reportedly worked on for nearly a decade, simply drug on and on and lacked any of the wit and humor one watches his earlier films over and over for.

I really had my hopes for this film and so I probably am all the more miserable for having them dashed. I had been reading about Tarantino doing a WW II combat film loosely based on The Dirty Dozen for a couple years now and could hardly wait. I imagined all the cool dialog and character conflicts and humor that such a story could allow but I also pictured actual combat. Guns shooting people. Of course that does happen here and there for tortuously brief moments but the actual combat and battles seems to be done with sly innuendos and witty jabs over the dinner table than in a battle field or shell blasted side-street somewhere. At nearly three hours long I kept losing interest in the characters. Brad Pitt as Tennessee born Sgt. Aldo Raine is the leader of the Basterds which is a group of specially trained commandos that have been raising hell behind enemy lines with the Nazis since the early days of the war.  I am not sure how I feel about the idea that the group is made up solely of Jews, except for Raine,  bent on revenge and terror. I do not see it as remotely necessary to make the group all Jewish and if there is some message here I missed it. I also do not like the way the Basterds simply come into existence with little explanation of who they are as individuals. In fact the Basterds all but vanish from the middle part of the story while a series of painfully long and drawn scenes occur one after the other in restaurants and coffee shops between various Nazis and French citizens. And to add to the agony the dialog occurs in German and French with all sorts of subtitles. That is okay for the most part but well over half of the dialog in the film is in French or German and the puns and clever Tarantino phrases that make the scenes in Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill quotable and priceless are all lost here. There is, for an example, a scene of a group of spies in a tavern who have as their guest an uninvited SS officer who causes stress levels among the group to jump of the chart. Thee problem is not that the dialog here is in another language than English but that it goes on for too damned long and when things finally erupted in gunfire I was in a state where I just did not care.

Some people have said the film was too violent but I am saying it was not violent enough. There is not enough action and mayhem to make up for the long attempts at Tarantinoesque banter in German or French. While actor Christoph Walsh is simply great as the Jew Hunting Nazi Col. Landa I just was not excited by any of the other character"s or the actors performances. In particular I was utterly bored by Brad Pitt"s weary performance. He is one of my favorite actors and I was picturing some sort of Lee Marvin type character here and it was maybe the worst performance of this fine actor"s career. And like the joke from Annie Hall about the bad food at some restaurant in the Catskills (paraphrased): A: the food here is so bad. B: Yes. And such small portions. I did not like his performance and he was simply on the screen enough. I though the film was about him and his elite squad of killer Jews but they the people one sees the least. Eli Roth as the baseball bat welding "Jew Bear is goofy at best. Definitely not imposing or larger than life. Tarantino has said that this was actually a Spaghetti Western with a WW II backdrop. Well crap man, just make a spaghetti western then. Or maybe not. Why muck that classic genre up as well. What the hell happened here? I wanted to see Nazis being blasted with a Tommy Gun and Panzer tanks terrorizing tough talking G.I.s from Brooklyn, instead I get to see Nazis put out cigarettes in cheese cake and wax philosophically about rats and squirrels. Hey, lots of people like this one. I would, and have, watch any previous Tarantino effort more than once. Including Death Proof. Hell I love that scene where that gal"s leg sours through the night sky. But, and say this with regret, this is one Tarantino film that I will not watch again. But there are a couple other war dramas I have seen more than a couple times and will probably see again. These films may have inspired Tarantino"s war drama but his story falls way short of at least two of these great war epics, The Dirty Dozen and Iron Cross. The third film is not a great film but is notable in that it was the inspiration for the title Tarantino"s dreary adventure. That"s film is called (with proper spelling) The Inglorious Bastards. Lets take a brief look at those films before leaving this subject behind. (These shorts reviews are excluded here. Bill)
   

2 comments:

Gabriel said...

"...not violent enough." Totally agree! (As with other points.)

I'm really happy to read this post, as your review goes so in line with what i think of Tarantino's last two movies. Sometimes, i would think i was going crazy be reading so many complements, when i'm thinking of how boring these two movies were. Death Proof was horrible, too. It's like all he cares about is his dialogues. I hope he goes back to his old good ways.

Anyway, glad to know I'm not alone in my opinion. Cheers.

Bill D. Courtney said...

Yup. Like he read all the reviews after his early films and they went to his head and he began thinking he could do wrong with his dialogs. well he can and has over and over, as he has with his drifting and shifting story lines. I too look for ward a time when he just decides to make a watchable movie again.