Django Unchained (2012)

Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino is back, and with him he has brought a truly remarkable piece of work. Django Unchained is the story of Django Freeman, a slave who finds his freedom and sets out to find his wife, from whom he was tragically separated. In the spirit of the old western and also of classic slavery films like Roots Tarantino attempts not only to approach the nasty topic of slavery, but to compose a sort of epic tale of heroism for blacks, that has been curiously absent from cinema where this particular bit of history is concerned.

Like all of Tarantino’s films, the cast is wonderful and strange. In a line-up you wouldn’t quite understand how all of these actors and actresses fit together, but Tarantino’s perverted and imaginative methodology acts as a sort of equalizer. The film stars Jamie Foxx as the title character Django, Christoph Waltz as bounty hunter and retired dentist Dr. King Schultz, Kerry Washington as Django’s wife Broomhilda, Leonardo DiCaprio as plantation owner Calvin Candie, and Tarantino’s favorite player Samuel L. Jackson as the detestable Uncle Tom, Steven.

Unsurprisingly all of the actors gave astoundingly wonderful performances. Each character clearly represented an attitude

Jamie Foxx as Django
Jamie Foxx as Django

and point of view relevant to the time period, and each actor embodied that point of view with surgical precision. The pressure was on for Foxx, seeing as a western needs a strong, unique leading man whose charm and determination set the tone for the film. In this, I would say that Foxx succeeded. His was one of the more dialed back performances, despite the jarring violence he was charged with portraying. This quality juxtaposes nicely with Tarantino’s poppy, in your face style of storytelling. Waltz on the other hand showed the same indescribable charm that we saw in Inglorious Basterds. Dr. King Schultz, the

Kerry Washington as Broomhilda
Kerry Washington as Broomhilda

character, adds an interesting and foreign element to the slave story we are accustomed to hearing. Washington had very few lines, but astoundingly her performance was the strongest. She conveys more

Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Schultz and Jamie Foxx as Django
Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Schultz and Jamie Foxx as Django

emotion with her body and her countenance than most of the films actors do throughout. DiCaprio fits into this character role so naturally and vibrantly that it was almost theatre. You got the feeling that his portrayal of Calvin Candie was literally the character that Tarantino formed in his mind. Jackson was truly and unbearably horrid, which means of course that he did his job exactly. He has that ability, to step into a role and give it exactly what it needs. Overall, the cast was tuned perfectly. Even down to the peripheral characters.

Django, as a telling of a man who wants to find his wife, is powerful and beautiful. Django as a retelling of slave times, was not told gently, but rather brutally. It was told, in many ways, how it was, with frequent use

Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie
Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie

of the word “nigger” from both the white and black actors. The film included mandingo fighting, klan riots, whipping, scientific racism, slave trading, prostitution, and all manner of racial politics. While humorous in places, it was as honest a telling as can be expected from this director, and he did well with the subject matter. Django as a story that gives black people a western hero, was a success. Tarantino made a film that deals with the darker side of U.S. history, but also made a film that tells a story about black people, and black love, which is lacking outside of films made exclusively by black film makers.

As with most of his films, Tarantino injects style into every aspect of a film. The soundtrack was wonderfully various. The inclusion of a theme song, along with songs specially made for the film like Rick Ross’ 100 Black Coffins. Everything from the music to the font of the captions, to the schmaltzy close ups throughout the film. Everything Tarantino does works because he does it with such candor. With such a remarkable posture, it is hard to imagine Tarantino doing any wrong.

I could go on about how personally impressed I am with Tarantino’s ability to tell stories, but I would mostly like to impress upon you the importance of this particular story. Most films are attempting to tell stories that have already been told. With Django, Tarantino tells a new story in a new way. And this particular story is so needed.

Rating: 10/10


Midnight in Paris (2011)

“You’re in love with a fantasy.”

And so went one of Woody Allen’s most recent reveries, Midnight in Paris, which follows Gil Pender, played by the charmingly befuddled Owen Wilson. There’s something

Directed and Written by Woody Allen

that Woody Allen understands about longing that no one else has the capability of articulating. So like many of his stories, this one is one of a search for fulfillment. Gil Pender is a successful Hollywood screenplay writer who winds up in Paris with his fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her family. The trip forces Gil to confront the failings of his relationship with Inez and the lack of fulfillment he is getting from his life and his career. At midnight, he travels back in time to a place that he imagines to be ‘the golden age’: Paris in the 1920’s.

The film, like most of Allen’s film, has a wonderful cast. It stars the adorable Owen Wilson. Alongside him is Regina George (a.k.a Rachel McAdams) who gets more evil as she gets blonder. The ‘pedantic gentleman’ Michael Sheen, who impresses in a smaller role, as per usual. Then we get a barrage of psychotically amazing performances from royalty like Kathy

Alison Pill and Tom Hiddleston as the Fitzgeralds

Bates, Adrien Brody, Marion Cotillard, Corey Stoll, Alison Pill, and Tom Hiddleston. Sometimes films can get bogged down with too dense a cast, but this orchestration of talents made for a enchanting story.

‘Portrait of a Woman’ by Amedeo Modigliani

The magic starts in when the first time skip sequence starts. When Gil first meets F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, the Fitzgeralds, there’s a feeling of being profoundly star stricken. I may have even blushed (all due to the incomparably handsome Tom Hiddleston, I’m sure). There were also many peripheral appearances and mentions of sentimental historical characters like Josephine Baker, T.S. Eliot, Cole Porter, Man Ray, Amedeo Modigliani, Henry Matisse and Edgar Degas.  The appearance of those fixtures in our culture, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Stein, Picasso, Dali, summons the pure mass of artistry they brought. It calls forth those valuable cultural magics that were followed by a recess in love and true art that has extended into ours lives and into the life of Gil Pender. The feeling is truly wonderful, and it is where Allen makes a connection with the intellectual.

Gil: That’s what the present is. It’s a little unsatisfying because life is unsatisfying.

I would say that the true magic of the film lies not with the time travel, and the beautiful shadows of legends bouncing around the walls of Gil Pender’s mind. No, it lies in the truth that Allen is attempting to communicate through this journey. That dissatisfaction with the present is not an ailment that can be cured by any supernatural escapism. That escape in any form, while romantic and quite wonderful, is not the answer. That the answer to fulfillment and happiness isn’t confined to any particular bracket in time. It’s a worthy message, one communicated beautifully, charmingly and romantically.

Where the film could have improved is in the personal relationships in the present. Gil’s fiancee, Inez, was an altogether one dimensional character with absolutely no

Michael Sheen being pedantic

redeeming qualities. As were her parents. The movie was mostly great but a truly great film cannot ignore the opportunity to develop characters, even if the message ultimately has nothing to do with them. The romantic dilemma Gil experiences between Adrianna (Marion Cotillard) and Inez is one that could have been strengthened by a more developed character in Inez.

Allen finds a way to do a million important things in one film. It was stupendously humorous. Michael Sheen’s character Paul provided many good laughs, seeing as he played an insufferable “pseudo-intellectual.” Allen managed to inject humor into the story in every context without losing the heart of the drama. Also, there was an overarching theme of Parisian worship. The romance of the place was really at the crux of this very human story. All of that along with the inclusion of the famous artworks and authentic costuming, this movie achieved authenticity though messaging and atmosphere.

Gertrude Stein: The artist’s job is not to succumb to despair but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence.

Woody Allen has a way of taking what appears to be a generic idea, nostalgia, and making it into something very true, and real. Even with the fantastical ‘going back in time’ plot point, somehow the experiences of Gil Pender with the great artists of the 20th century feels close to home. So how does he do it? I think he knows how to tap into some of the most fundamental human dilemmas. Nostalgia for a time you never knew. The feeling that you do not belong. The feeling that you’ve wasted your life. All of which are a part of the internal monologue of our collective psyche as human beings. It’s powerful because it knows you, and it talks to you, and tells you you’re not alone.

Rating: 8.9/10

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Directed by Wes Anderson

“I hope the roof flies off and sucks me into space.”

Said Walt Bishop, played by a classic from the Wes Anderson arsenal, Bill Murray. Wes Anderson’s latest work of divine theatre, Moonrise Kingdom does something that his previous films have come quite close to, but have never fully succeeded at. That thing can only be fully described through the rat maze of ramblings that are about ensue. Proceed at your own peril. [SPOILER ALERT]

MK had a cast that anyone with eyes and a brain would die for. Bill Murray is a fucking champ. Tilda Swinton is her own magnificent species of bird. Jason Schwartzman, like Murray, is an Anderson trademark. Sprinkle our visitors from the A-List, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, and Harvey Keitel on top of that and we have some sort of strange moth ball filled sundae. With nutmeg.

Walt Bishop: What am I looking at here?

Laura Bishop: He does watercolors. Mostly landscapes. Some nudes.

In addition to from the wondrous cast, the film features Anderson’s famous panoramic landscapes and wide shots brought to life with blindingly colorful impact, the likes of which Dr. Suess himself would have tipped his hat to. The fantastic thing about this is that somehow there is another story happening that can only be communicated through color, and contrast, and framing. As if the film could be watched without sound and become another thing entirely.

Wes Anderson has a way of confronting the viewer with demanding, yet accessible framing/imagery. Every scene looks like a picture. Character stare into the lens. They look into you, and you look back. It’s strange actually. Almost interactive. And utterly engaging. When Suzy (Kara Hayward) looks through her binoculars, she is looking at you. Or you are looking with her.

Sam: I love you but you have no idea what you are talking about.

Kara Hayman and Jared Gilman

The love story of Suzy and Sam is one that will become classic. It’s timeless, in that it documents the experience of falling in love. It is the story of two people in love, two people that happen to be children, that misunderstand themselves, are misunderstood by their peers and guardians, and that misunderstand each other. All that, and you somehow watch and get the feeling that you’ve misunderstood your own life. Misunderstood what it means to be happy, and close to another person.

The role the adults in the film play is very interesting. Wes Anderson has successfully found a way to validate the children, through telling their story from their point of view, and by mobilizing the story around them. But he has done that without reducing the adults to bickering nitwits. The dynamics in the film happening higher than 4ft. off of the ground are just as interesting as the love story between Sam and Suzy. The infidelity between Laura and Captain Sharp. The abandonment felt by Walt. The confused commitment and dedication of Scout Master Ward. All very captivating.

Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton and Bruce Willis

Bruce Willis was stunning to watch as Captain Sharp. I always remember him from Pulp Fiction. Muscular and handsome. Strong and commanding. Anderson’s Captain Sharp is a smaller man. One who has accepted love from a married woman into his life; someone who would rather have half of someone than be alone. His journey from that man to the man that implants himself into Sam’s fate is one that could have survived center stage in any theatre.

This entire film, from the very beginning with the gnome-ish Bob Balaban narrating, gave me the feeling that there was a world around me that I hadn’t seen or touched. One whose name never lived up to its glory. A kingdom. In a world of brilliant color and arresting candor you feel as though you have been sung a song. You’ve been taught how to see again. Moonrise Kingdom is a film, but it is also a gift. To those who see, to those who love, and to those who wish to continue on in that way but haven’t the slightest idea how to.

Rating: 10/10