Django Unchained – Wife vs. Hubby

My wife and I went to see Django Unchained yesterday. This is part of an exchange deal where I take her to see Les Miserables on our next date.

My wife’s take on Django:

“This is Tarantino at his most self-indulgent.  Long, long-winded, poorly paced.  I went in knowing that it would be enormously offensive (it wasn’t nearly as offensive or difficult to watch at Killing Them Softly) and was surprised to find that it was instead mostly just … dull.  Any editor with sense could have cut at least an hour from this film and made it better.  Instead we have long, lingering shots of plantations, mountains, guns, snowmen, and more that don’t propel the story forward in anyway.  And then, two thirds of the way through the movie, it goes from buddy-flick (two wacky bounty hunters on the road to fame and fortune) to sadistic revenge flick (they enslaved him, and took his woman, now they’ll pay) without much transition.  And finally – this is the very first Tarantino flick I’ve ever watched and not thought I MUST GO BUY THE SOUNDTRACK RIGHT NOW.  There wasn’t a single song in this one that worked for the film (or for me).

So very disappointed.  I hope next week’s viewing of Les Mis is more satisfying.  If only I can keep people from spoiling it (further) for me between now and then…”

My take: Were we even watching the same film? Django was an utter delight. Tarantino has an amazing talent for mashing up and updating genres. To borrow from Kellogg, his dialogue snaps, crackles and pops. The violence was done in an amusingly over-the-top spaghetti western style and the cameo from the original Django, Franco Nero, was a hoot.

The acting ranged from good to amazing. Jaime Foxx carried the film quite well, channeling the quiet reserve of an early Eastwood. Christoph Waltz was fantastic as the bounty hunter as were Samuel L. Jackson and Leonardo DiCaprio. Less good but still a lot of fun were Walton Goggins, Dennis Christopher, and Don Johnson. In addition to Franco Nero, other cameos include Quentin Tarantino, Jonah Hill, Michael Parks, Russ Tamblyn, Amber Tamblyn, James Remar, James Russo, Zoe Bell, Tom Savini, and Robert Carradine.

Having extolled Django’s virtues (and there are many delights to be had here), I have to agree with my wife on a few points. The music appears to have been haphazardly chosen. There wasn’t a single spot on tune. Can you hear “Stuck in the Middle with You” without imagining the ear scene in Reservoir Dogs? All of the songs in Pulp Fiction make me think of their individual scenes yet none of Django’s songs made an impression.

The editing is clearly the sore point. Django runs over two and a half hours. Sally Menke, who expertly edited all of Tarantino’s films passed away in 2010. Sally was nominated for Academy Awards for Pulp Fiction and Inglorious Basterds (losing to Forrest Gump and The Hurt Locker, sheesh). That loss is clearly felt here as almost every scene ran on too long. I love an epic but Django desperately needs to lose about an hour of running time. Some of the dialogue becomes repetitious and establishing shots linger past their expiration date.

Tone is all over the map. The first two-thirds of the film turn Django from a slave into a bounty hunter and then the movie screeches to a halt as we reach Candyland, the plantation DiCaprio reigns over. None of the women make a strong impression – not that the actresses aren’t good, the roles are simply underwritten.

Django is weak Tarantino but weak Tarantino is better than most filmmakers on their best day. It is a lot of fun but it could have been a lot better.

 

Donnie Brasco – Al Pacino week

This week is Al Pacino week. Netflix has Donnie Brasco currently available for instant play.

Donnie Brasco

WATCH: Donnie Brasco (1997) – Netflix version shows as unrated. The theatrical version was rated R for strong graphic violence, pervasive strong language, and for brief nudity and sexuality.

“When FBI agent Joe Pistone (Johnny Depp) goes undercover and becomes “Donnie Brasco” to infiltrate the Mob, he dangerously starts to identify more and more strongly with the made men he’s charged with taking down. Mike Newell directs this fact-based drama that explores the relationship between the hunter and the hunted — the mobster (Al Pacino) who grooms Brasco as his protégé. Anne Heche and Bruno Kirby co-star.”

“You get sent for, you go in alive, you come out dead and it’s your best friend that does it.”

Donnie Brasco is based on based on real life undercover operative Joe Pistone’s book “Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia”. The movie provides an intriguing look at mid-level mafia operations. While the operations seem very mid-level, Florida boss Santo Trafficante Jr. is mentioned several times and they show the Carmine Galante execution in a newspaper.

In an early role, Johnny Depp is marvelous as Donnie Brasco. He wisely underplays things when he is opposite Al Pacino as his mentor in crime ‘Lefty’ Ruggiero. Al Pacino turns in a really nice performance as a mafioso passed over for promotion – he is great at mixing menace, disappointment and loneliness.

The rest of the cast is good as well. Michael Madsen was made for mobster roles – here he plays the boss of the crew, Sonny Black. James Russo and Bruno Kirby put in expected performances as mobsters. Anne (I’m straight! I’m gay! Just kidding I’m straight!) Heche does a very nice job playing Depp’s long-suffering wife.

Direction is good without being flashy. The details are wonderful but, being a true story, the narrative is bit limited in scope. This is a very enjoyable slice of undercover mafia.

People Watch: Paul Giamatti and Tim Blake Nelson have small roles as FBI technicians.