Django Unchained

When you go to a Quentin Tarantino film, you don’t expect historical accuracy, or even plausibility.  Instead, you expect a glimpse of Tarantino’s dark, twisted soul.  You expect to see hyperviolence.  You expect a few scenes of torture.  You expect kitschy credits and ’60s vintage music.  You expect uncomfortable, non-politically correct things to happen.  But you also expect crackling dialogue, and unexpected humor found in oddball situations, and a few stunning set pieces that simmer with high-wire tension that builds and builds and builds until you almost can’t breathe.

I thought Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds were terrific movies.  They showed what Tarantino can bring to the big screen.  I was more than willing to take the occasional over-the-top Hitler death scene along with all the really good moviemaking.

Django Unchained isn’t terrific, however.  In fact, I’d say it sucks.  I wouldn’t watch it again, and I wish I had the 2 hours and 40 minutes I spent in the theater squirming at my latest exposure to Quentin Tarantino’s weirdness.  It’s overlong and apparently unedited and, even worse, it’s really kind of boring after you become desensitized to all the blood and guts.  Only one scene, where members of an early version of the KKK debate the quality of the hoods they’ve been provided, has the kind of witty, hilarious dialogue that made Tarantino famous.  But as for the Tarantino hyperviolence — well, prepare to be drenched in it, and in the sickest forms imaginable.  You’ll see great geysering gouts of blood by the gallon.  You’ll see dozens of people blasted to oblivion and screaming in agony.  You’ll see a captured slave torn apart by dogs, slaves whipped and branded, slaves tortured and beaten to death with a hammer.  And you’ll hear the “n” word, time and time and time again.  I kept thinking to myself:  “What’s the point of all of this?”  And I concluded that there was no point, really.

This movie has quite a cast — Jamie Foxx, Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz, and Leonardo DiCaprio, among many others — and they turn in good performances, I suppose . . . but it’s hard for me to get past all the violence and the feeling that the movie really somehow cheapens and exploits the entire appalling history of slavery in America.  When I left the theater, I felt like I needed to take a shower.  I also found myself wondering if the fountain of Tarantino’s creativity has run dry, and his only response is to just try to shock.

With the number of recent, real-life hyperviolence incidents we’ve experienced in this country, I also find myself wondering about Hollywood.  Do we really need to make so many movies where corpses could be stacked like cordwood, and the message is that one man with a gun can kill all of his enemies and right all the wrongs by blowing his enemies to Kingdom Come?

The Avengers Tear Up Cleveland (Cont.)

The Avengers movie opens this weekend.  As I reported last summer, it was filmed, in part, in Cleveland, so I’m hoping it does well.

This trailer makes the movie look like must-viewing.  Samuel L. Jackson in an eye patch?  Awesome.  Robert Downey, Jr. reprising Iron Man, and getting into the obligatory, caused-by-a-mutual misunderstanding fight with Thor so we can see how evenly matched their powers are?  Even more awesome.  Scarlett Johansson in a tight-fitting black jumpsuit, looking to take out some dangerous supernatural foe with just a pistol?  Double awesome!  And a giant airborne slug-like creature tearing buildings to shreds in pursuit of Iron Man?  Most awesome of all.

Nothing says summer is here like a mindless action movie, and The Avengers will fit that bill nicely.  I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for a little summer.

Review: Iron Man 2

I didn’t realize how devoted Iron Man’s fan base is. When I saw the first showing at midnight on Thursday, the theater was packed with boisterous fans who chanted “OH – IO” and “Iron Man rules!”, and who booed the trailer for the upcoming Twilight sequel.

Their excitement was rewarded. Iron Man 2 isn’t as high-quality as the original, but its pretty damn good for a sequel. Not The Dark Knight good, but good.

The formula is pretty much the same as the first film: some good action scenes with top-notch special effects that show off Iron Man’s suit, with lots of funny one-liners in-between. Tony Stark has a few arrogant freak-outs, and he flirts with Gwyneth Paltrow. He builds a few incredible machines in spurts of brilliance.

Technically, the movie breaks my rule against seeing formulaic sequels, but it’s made so skillfully that it gets a pass.

Well, the movie isn’t exactly the same as the first, because there are additions to the cast, but none of them struck me as memorable or original. Scarlett Johansson plays some sort of martial arts expert who works for some sort of organization that’s helping Iron Man out for some reason, but she’s basically just there to add star power and to look good in a leather body suit. Sam Rockwell plays the weaselly C.E.O. of a competitor of Stark Industries. Samuel L. Jackson is a guy in the same whatever organization as Scarlett Johansson. They give him a few good Samuel L. Jackson one-liners of the Snakes on a Plane variety, but he doesn’t do much else. Garry Shandling makes a humorous appearance as the “asshole dissenting Republican senator” stereotype, parodied so aptly by South Park.

I went to this movie to see Mickey Rourke, who plays a Russian fellow who feels cheated by Tony Stark for some reason (the movie doesn’t dwell much on its plot). I really liked Rourke’s performance in The Wrestler, as well as a lot of the work he did in the eighties, before his boxing career morphed his face and changed his brand as an actor. Unfortunately, his character doesn’t do much apart from being angry all the time and having a thick Russian accent. The final fight scene between him and Iron Man was a definite let-down. In fact, [spoiler ahead], he ends up getting killed in the same “cross the streams!” situation used in Ghostbusters. I guess the movie’s screenwriters were too exhausted to come up with anything good after thinking up all of Stark’s witticisms.

That’s understandable. Tony Stark seems to have become even wittier since the actions of the first film; you might call this an action-comedy along the lines of Ghostbusters. In real life, someone whose main form of communication is wisecracks would be unbearable, but Tony Stark comes off as funny and sympathetic and exciting thanks to Robert Downey Jr.’s confident, understated performance – like Bill Murray’s in Ghostbusters.

The Iron Man suit is as cool as ever, and we get to see a silver one operated by Don Cheadle, who plays some general or whatever who talks to Iron Man a lot. Mickey Rourke’s character builds a cool suit of his own, which has whips of electricity coming from his arms that can cut through a car. Sam Rockwell’s company builds these flying robots that are kinda cool, but basically the equivalent of those disposable putties on Power Rangers. There are some great action scenes, such as when Rourke confronts Iron Man at a race track.

Iron Man 2‘s strengths make it so entertaining that you hardly notice the flaws. It’s a worthy successor to the original film. Hell, even Die Hard had its cheesy moments (John McClane: “This is a nice computer.” Security Guard: “Yeah. If you take a leak, it’ll even help you find your zipper.”). When I left the theater I wasn’t thinking about the cliched showdown; I was thinking about Tony Stark’s quips and the image of Iron Man flying solo in the night sky above L.A.