karaokegal (karaokegal) wrote,
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Movie reviews-Zero Dark Thirty and Django Unchained

Two incredibly different movies in genre, style, tone and yet in a way, they're both revenge fantasy movies, predicated on the concept that whatever the identification figures do is justified because the baddies are so much worse.

Long piece of writing ahead. I'm in Pauline Kael mode today.



Quick Barrowmania note-John appears in two scenes during the last third or so of Zero Dark Thirty, in period building up to the raid. He's got two lines, but one of them is in an elevator scene with James Gandolfini. He gets to say, "I think she's fucking smart," adding to his repertoire or onscreen vulgarity.

Aside from the joy of seeing him looking yummy as hell, and the HI JOHN, feeling, it was also a relief to see him and Gandolfini, because they were the first actors I recognized. I think there was one "HITG" previously, but basically everyone on screen had a certain amount of realness to me because I couldn't associate them with other roles and use that to detach myself. Everything was done in a very realistic and also restrained manner. In that regards, the writing, direction, acting, music, all perfect. Then you come to the big "but," which is the political angle, and the level of propaganda involved.

This is a revenge fantasy, no matter how "real" the events depicted. The entire movie is predicated on the idea that because of 9/11 and following terrorist attacks, such as the London Bus attacks, the Marriott in Islamabad etc, that any and all action taken to get the information to get Bin Laden is justified.

Before the movie came out, it was the wing-nuts who were in a tizz because they thought it would be a glorification of President Obama and now that they feel it is a vindication of their "24" inspired torture wet-dreams, they've decided to embrace it. Somehow it proves "Bush was right."

I'm not saying it's quite as blatant in the propaganda dept as that. At one point the "24" scenario does occur and the "detainee" doesn't give up the information and the attack goes as planned. It's also subtly shown that the people carrying out the "enhanced interrogation" are brutalized by the experience and the ending shot is NOT a victory dance, but rather the protagonist devastated and in tears. BUT...you cannot get away from the way the film (as did Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld) makes us complicit in the torture. It doesn't necessarily go the torture porn route and make us enjoy it, but it does make us want the prisoners to talk just so we don't have to see them being hurt anymore. In a better world, that would be an acceptable difference, but as things are, that's a little too subtle. Also the fact is that with all the subtlety, the movie still says we wouldn't have found Bin Laden in 2011 without the torture that went on nearly ten years earlier.

About the only aspect of the torture scenes I can say I "liked" was the game-playing element. That the interrogator has to judge exactly how much or how little will make an individual crack, because at least at that level, they're treating him like a human being with a mind and a soul.

At one point a character refers to President Obama as a careful, thoughtful man and it doesn't seem to be a compliment. The CIA characters are considerably miffed that they "no longer have access to the detainees." So again, it's better than 40's or 50's or even 60's propaganda, but as beautifully as it's made, I think in the end it's still an ugly piece of work.

I think a lot of this comes down to something I've written about before, which is my reaction to 9/11 as a political event rather than anything personal, emotional or visceral. I was here in San Francisco 3000 miles away. I had family and friends on the east coast, but I didn't lose anyone and I never felt the attack as a personal affront. I just immediately knew we'd already lost the next election no matter who was nominated by the democrats. In a way, because I was by then so wrapped up in on-line UK fandom and had so many friends in the UK by that time, I actually had more feeling for the 7/7 bus attacks in 2005. It's still not enough for me to say, "Yes, more torture please."

I will give Kudos for not particularly playing it up as specifically anti-Muslim. I'm very curious about one scene where a high-ranking CIA member is shown as a convert to Islam and we see him praying. Given current news stories, I'm 90% sure that character, called only The Wolf in the credits must be based on John Brannan, currently Obama's pick to head the CIA, but Slate disagrees.

Moving on to a purer, more blatant, grosser, and somehow more entertaining revenge fantasy. Django Unchained.

Obviously one doesn't go to a Tarantino movie for historical verisimilitude, or we'd happily know that all the members of the German high command got incinerated in a movie theater. Tarantino continues his tributes to the trash genres with a melange of Sam Peckinpah, Spaghetti Westerns, and Blacksploitation, mixing tropes as he goes along and in SOME cases hitting all the right notes, such as the theme music which completely captures the kind of western movie themes that were being used up until the 70's and then throws in anachronistic 70's music (my favorite Jim Croce song, I've Got a Name,) which is also sort of true to 70's bad western making and then goes where none of those genres went before or just over-the-tops it so much that there's no way not to be thrown out of every possible illusion, so that you can ONLY enjoy the film with Hipster Detachment.

I really wish he'd ditched the "bag head" scene. It's not funny and it also fails if the point is just to mock the idea of the KKK. The moment a bag comes off and it's Jonah Hill...fuggedaboutit. That was sort of the deal-breaker moment, although there were till bit of genre tweaking that I enjoyed. Because yeah, although I'm not African American, I still got off the revenge fantasy aspects, even though I saw through the manipulation to make the evil white people, even MORE EEEEEEVILLLLLL than any white people in the history of the US or at least the history of bad movies. Yes, Leonardo DiCaprio got to be more mustache twirling (literally) evil than the entire white cast of Mandingo and Drum put together. (Throw in some Hurry Sundown as well.)

In a way, it's as much fun as watching The Jew Bear take his baseball bat to Nazis, and I am Jewish. On the other hand it's a disgusting piece of film-making for that reason as well. Also, physically disgusting, although the blood splashing about was more Monty Python's take on Peckinpah than the real thing, where the blood and violence actually meant something and we actually cared what happened to the characters.

In this...well, I liked Dr. Schultz, because Tarantino clearly wrote the part for Christoph Waltz to be the most likeable person and he succeeded. Any attempts to say that Bounty Hunting is comparable or worse than slave-holding get wiped out by the EEEEEEVIL of the slave-holders and the likability of Schultz. Waltz seems to be Tarantino's new Harvey Keitel. (I wonder if Quentin and Harvey had a falling out or if Mr. Keitel is just not showing his face after the Life on Mars US debacle, which would be quite understandable.)

THIS IS NOT ME DEFENDING SLAVERY....this is me pointing out stupid, coarse film-making, and possibly flagellating myself for enjoying the crude revenge fantasy bits in the moment, or just admiring Tarantino for what he does well and the obvious fun he and everybody else had doing it. This is me saying even a crude Tarantino film should have more going for than sweeping the audience along in a revenge fantasy. Or at least I think it should.

Meanwhile, great music, fun cameos,(Hey Tom Wopat, is that you? Hey, Don Johnson, what have you been up to lately?) anachronistic snark, and revenge fantasy, depending on whether you're willing to shut off your brain and critical faculties or not.

I was sort of fascinated by the character of Stephen, played by Samuel L Jackson, in what appeared to be an homage to the late Roscoe Lee Browne. (If you've seen the movie, but aren't familiar with Mr. Browne, check out some picture and you'll see what I mean.) On one hand he subverts audience expectations, except really not, because he's Samuel L. Jackson, so he AIN'T gonna be the shuffling buffoon we see in his first scene. Yet, according to Django (and presumably Tarantino) in the final scene before the last big revenge kaboom, he's basically damned for doing exactly what that character would have had to do to survive.

I'm not sure if I'm actually supposed to be thinking that's unfair, or if I'm supposed to buy into Django's assessment, but it's the one point that I think may be worthy of discussion, since Jackson brings a genuine reality to the part, as opposed to the cartoonishness of almost everyone else advised.

Really Quentin, Jonah Hill?


OK, off to see Les Miserables.
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