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Saturday, February 9, 2013

Quick Reviews: Zero Django

I have five movies to write about but the other three are 2013 releases, so I'm getting these two out of the way first. (By the way, I have a handful more 2012 releases to see, including a couple of Oscar Best Picture nominees, so I'm going to hold off on a best-of-2012 a bit.)

After watching Zero Dark Thirty, which tells a story -- not the story, as there are some details (including names) changed for various reasons -- of the USA's long but eventually successful manhunt for Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I was struck with two things that kind of bothered me a bit. And one of those things was not whether the film glorifies the torture used to obtain evidence. It clearly doesn't. It displays it quite graphically but it doesn't really take a side. The film centers around Maya (Jessica Chastain), a CIA officer with a dogged determination to solve the mystery of bin Laden's whereabouts, but she's such a mysterious character -- all we really know about her is she began her CIA career after high school -- that I thought it was difficult to understand her or identify with her. And while there may be artistic merit to the style of shooting the raid on bin Laden's compound, with jittery cameras work, with scenes either dark or seen through night-vision goggles, and no real "money shot" of the actual killing of bin Laden, it also blunts the emotional payoff a bit. It's a very good film but it seems a bit drained of passion. My grade: B-plus.

As for Django Unchained, it fits right into the Quentin Tarantino formula: lots of violence, lots of in-jokes, homages, music, cameos, etc. Where "Inglorious Basterds" was a revenge-on-Nazis fantasy, this one is all about revenge on slave traders and plantation owners. It's so...out there. A German bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) who frees, then teams up with, Django (Jamie Foxx) to collect more bounties before rescuing Django's wife, now owned by plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio -- actually a nice change of pace for him, playing a villain instead of a hero). Of course, the plantation is called...wait for it...Candyland. It's just hard to take too seriously, which is fine, but at the same time I almost feel like Tarantino should do a romantic comedy or something, just to challenge himself. My grade: B-minus.

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