“Django” Is Solid Entertainment, But Lousy History

“Nominate me for Best Supporting Actor. Or else.”

(This post contains some spoilers.)

I know I said I wasn’t going to, but I had to face the awful truth.  People don’t take you seriously when they ask, “Have You Seen It?” and your answer is “No.”   Your argument–no matter how correct it may be–is invalidated.   “How can you  criticize something you haven’t seen?” is the next thing you hear and saying, “I’m not.   I’m critiquing what I know about the topic, not the topic itself,” is a weak comeback.

The only way for me to repair my shredded credibility is to actually break down and see Django Unchained and then nobody could throw the “You haven’t seen it, so you can’t say anything about it” card in my face any longer.

Which is why I saw Django Unchained this morning. It’s a “B-” as a film and a “D-“for historical accuracy and relevance. One viewing will be quite enough for me.
It was better than Inglorious Basterds but it’s fatally overlong.  By the time Tarantino shows up only to offer a prop for the final bloodbath, I was checking my watch and the film is not nearly as much fun as I thought it would be.

Is it Best Picture of the Year material?  Not by my standards. Leonardo DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz and Sam Jackson were all good. Maybe award-winning good. Jamie Foxx was stoic, but not spectacular. Kerry Washington cries and cringes real good.

“Django? Now where have I heard that name before….?”

The music was awful. Jim Croce? Really? Music should enhance a scene, not distract and annoy. Tarantino needs to find a composer who can write a frigging’ score. The absence of his longtime editor Sally Menke was felt. Too many scenes go on too long. Tarantino’s appearance was totally unnecessary and served only to provide Django the means for an explosive finish.

Regarding Tarantino’s “nigger” fetish, the N-word gets dropped so often it becomes numbing.   I stopped hearing it after a certain point. I just shut it out.   All the talk about “niggers” doing this and “niggers” doing that failed to resonate.   It became like a car alarm down the street.  Vaguely annoying, but not worth focusing on.

I get it that some folks are digging’ on Django for giving them a freshened up blaxploitation flick. Fine. I’ve seen Shaft, Superfly, Coffy, A Fistful of Dollars, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and heathenish. I know what genres Tarantino is tapping from and he’s a better director than any of the guys that made any of those movies (with the possible exception of Sergio Leone).

Django isn’t the story of slavery.  It’s a live action cartoon and revenge fantasy of how we might wish slavery had been.    Hissable villains and bad ass brothers putting heads to bed.  The reality was a lot more terrifying, far crueler, and a lot less cinematic.

Something I did find interesting. For as much of a bad ass as Django was, he didn’t give a damn about any of his fellow slaves except his wife. He offered others no hope, no leadership and no advice. Why would anyone want to look at him as any sort of half-assed “hero” when he was only out for himself? That’s no hero.

One guy is concerned about slavery. The other just wants blood.

The only person Django cared about liberating was his woman. He couldn’t give two farts for anyone else. Nothing wrong with Looking Out for Number #One, but let’s not make Django any symbol of Black Liberation when all he liberated was his lady and the hell with everybody else.  This is not a man of the people.   He’s motivated by  pure self-interest and nothing more.  Freeing his people from their shackles or leading an uprising, is not on his agenda.   His mentor, Dr. Schultz is far more distressed by the horrors of slavery than Django ever is.     Between Schultz and Django only one of them is affected by the horrors he’s seen and it’s not the Black guy.

As pure entertainment, Django delivers the goods.   As far as kicking White folks asses and killin’ them up because they need it so bad, it doesn’t disappoint.

Just don’t tell me Django is a Nat Turner, a Gabriel Prosser, a Denmark Vesey or even a John Brown.  He’s none of those things.   He’s a brother with a gun and an attitude and that is not something in short supply, but that’s all he is and apparently to the delight of many, that’s enough.

One of these days we’re going to get an honest, unflinching and real look at what the peculiar institution of slavery in the antebellum South was like.   It wasn’t like Tarantino’s wet dreams of Mandingo fights, Black bounty hunters killing Whites with impunity and blowing shit up real good.

It’s not just the “d” in “Django” that is silent.   Tarantino has created a competent bit of popcorn entertainment which is  guilty pleasure fun, but as far as offering any meaningful new insights into The Peculiar Institution of American Slavery it has nothing new to say.

Inception Perception part I

Your mind is the scene of the confusion.

The first rule of Inception is you do not talk about Inception because you do not understand what the hell Inception is about.  

It is almost impossible to write any sort of review of Christopher Nolan’s caper flick meets head trip without giving away some key scene or plot point and I’m not going to even try.   Most of all because I’m going to see it a second time just so I can be confused all over again by the parts I didn’t get the first time.   

When we walking back to the car my better half Vanessa observed sagely,  “I don’t know if I liked it or hated it.  The last time I felt this way about a movie was after we saw, Blue Velvet.    You can see the obvious artistry of the director and the vision a David Lynch and Chris Nolan bring to their work, but dammit if they don’t make movies that strain the brain.   

As much as I’ve argued against brain-dead entertainment that fills up the mind with empty computer generated imagery, big explosions, and cartoon characters, I can’t hate on Inception simply because it is a demanding, complex and sprawling movie.    Maybe too much so for audiences numbed and dumbed into insensibility based upon a steady diet of Iron Man 2,  The A-Team, and  Shrek Whatever.   Maybe the ballsiest thing about Inception is while it has all the expected money shot scenes you’d expect from a $160 million summer movie, it’s got more ideas than a dozen  Transformers minus the suck factor of Michael Bay, Shia LaBeuf and Megan Fox.   

Anybody expecting me to try to explain “the dream within a dream with a dream” theme of Inception had better look elsewhere.  The film’s Wikipedia page is lousy with all the spoilers and exposition you could ever want.    Proceed at your own risk.  

My expectations for Inception are probably the highest I’ve had for a film of its type since The Matrix. which was a similar alternative reality that required several viewings to get the point.   That’s something I don’t mind because I’m going to have to give some serious thought as to what in the age of DVD dominance was a movie I felt a need to see in theaters more than once.    What I can say is, the maturation of Leonardo DiCaprio into serious leading man is pretty much complete.    DiCaprio still looks like he’s dressing up in his daddy’s suit and tie, but eternally baby-faced he plays grown-up really well.   Now he’s teaching Joseph Gordon-Leavitt that trick because Third Rock from the Sun was a while ago.  

However, Ellen Page is going to be a munchkin no matter how many movies she makes.   

Leonardo demands everyone admire his funny faces.