Queue Total

284 MOVIES (released titles only)

Note: Real spoilers are in black text on a black background. Highlight the black areas to read the spoilers.

Queue Numbers

#50- Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

#100- Black Swan

#200- Mysteries of Lisbon

Last- Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Django Unchained

Django Unchanined (2012)

Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Starring Christoph Walz, Samuel L. Jackson, Jaime Foxx, Kerry Washington, Leonardo DiCaprio,

After retrieving (buying) the slave, Django, from some resellers, Dr. King Shultz, a bounty hunter, employs Django to identify some people he’s been tracking.  Django has personal experience with these men.  After completing their transaction, the two agree to a business partnership that will end with Shultz helping Django locate and free his wife.  The two quickly become friends.  During their rescue plot, feces and fans collide.

I know many of you (one in particular) will feel that I’m prejudiced in favor of Mr. Tarantino.  I can’t concern myself with such matters.

For me, as a Tarantino person, the movie is defined in the way that it diverges from expectation.  You might think that King is just another Landa at the beginning of the movie.  You might expect a chilling monologue from him.  You might expect a beautifully staged one take scene.  You might expect cartoonish departures.  You might look for a twisty timeline or a set of plots that intersect at a key moment.  I expected each of these things, some of them almost to the last frame.  I don’t feel that the denial of these pleasures was a cheat, because this is not a pleasant movie.

The story here is not very complicated.  It goes from point to point.  They have their little commissions, they grow together, Django learns things, they become fast friends.  They enter their final task with a plan, and the plan doesn’t play out as expected.  The little things within that story are what sets it aside.  The way we see Django learn and the way we infer that he’s learned pair with each other perfectly.  “Let [reading this] be your lesson for today,” communicates volumes both about how Django is learning and about how their relationship is growing.  The chemistry between Walz and Foxx is undeniable, and in the earlier scenes it’s easy to see them having fun with each other.

Even though it’s not as tricksy as some of his earlier stuff, it still shot like Tarantino.  It’s still amazing to behold where it’s supposed to be.  Framing sets the tone in a way that he and few others can do.  As always, the music is its own character.  From fake-ish, modernized “western” songs through to anachronistic hip-hop everything has its place in this film.  Actors have a chance to react, to emote.  The number of characters who don’t pontificate is much larger than the usual two, and the camera lingers in a way that never feels forced.  When we know that someone is watching someone else, we feel it in the shot.  When we’re watching a conversation as an outside observer, we get exactly enough expression to understand what’s behind the eyes.

Speaking of the actors, this is a movie that is bursting at the seams with perfect performances.  Walz is dependable as always.  Foxx and Washington are each short on words, but each is a full character.  DiCaprio really owns his disgusting fec, replete with haughty laughter at inappropriate moments and glances that know his hand is atop the bat.  But Jackson, holy fuck. Jackson.  Early in his performance I felt like I was getting a caricature of Cosby.  That feeling dispelled about 20 words in.  There’s such depth to his performance that he puts emotions back on the page.  Stephen has his own roles to play, but they’re all coming from the same place.

This film represents a significant advancement in the maturity of Tarantino.  To call it an exploitation film is to pigeonhole it unfairly.  While it shares characteristics with such films it is so much more in every way.  It is a thoroughly gory, visceral experience.  Some of the violence is unnecessary, but it all serves the story.  It all drives to a climax which is breathtaking to behold.  My heart was racing for 10 minutes after the end of the credits.

Quentin is an adorable auteur, and he’s an intolerable interviewee.  To hear him talk about how this movie changes the discussion of slavery in America makes me want to vomit.  Unfortunately, it’s true.  I’m white, and in the middle class.  I went to a decent high school and I studied AP US history and we spent a fair amount of time on the Civil War.  My education did not include the sorts of things we see in this movie, and I have no doubt that they happened, and far worse.  We view slavery in an abstract way, how people were made to do things and sold to other people and had no control over their lives and lived in horrible conditions.  We don’t think about the implications of humans as property.  Those people were treated worse than cattle, worse than dogs, worse than lab animals.  This was a Holocaust in America.  I can watch just about anything, because I can suspend just about any disbelief.  This is terrible to behold and totally believable.  Every American should see this film.

There are two performances that make this movie.  Shultz starts as a man who’s kind of given in to slavery.  He despises it academically, but until he goes in with Django, even in his position he doesn’t see the things that happen. He doesn’t see the two men egged on to kill each other.  He doesn’t see people literally torn apart by dogs.  He doesn’t see young women put in the “hot box” for two days, with no sustenance.  His arc is not something that we’ve seen from Tarantino before.  In the earlier movies, everybody is pretty much in on the violence.  Nobody turns away.  (I can think of one exception to this, and that makes my point even stronger.)

Dr. King tries not to turn away, and he fails.  He just can’t take it.  In Walz’s most perfect scene he snaps completely.  He can’t stand listening to the Fur Elise played on the harp as lives are being sold.  He can’t stand to touch even Candie.  And he breaks.  It’s at once exhilarating and heartwrenching.  Everyone could have gotten away if he had just shaken the fucker’s hand, but he couldn’t do it.  He couldn’t stand to touch such a piece of garbage one more time. Killing Candie was his imperative, his destiny.  He knew it would be the end of him and he did it anyway, and the way Walz plays it is utterly moving.  As I watched his face, I almost lost it in the theater.  Thinking back to it I’m welling up now.  It’s clear in my head days later.  His heart undoes his mind undoes his strength.  In its way, it’s as difficult to watch as the scene with the dogs, or the one on one fight scene.  It’s a beautiful scene in every imaginable way.

Then there’s Jackson.  Stephen is even more despicable than Candie, because he’s totally in on Candie’s game while KNOWING that he’s every bit as good as Candie is, as are all of his fellows.  He’s fully complicit.  He knows what it means for Broomhilda to stay, but he’s more interested in saving his OWNER money than in letting the young flower go.  He manages the torture of other slaves, to make his life just a little more comfortable.  He’s the embodiment of the character that Django plays, and that irony is not lost as he sets Django up for the worst fate imaginable, far worse than the castration that was almost finished.  He does it with glee, because Django dared to upset his place in life, his comfort, his seat at a desk, his handling of his master’s money. We watch him make these decisions.  We see his face decide to do these things and then we seem him take to them with glee.

I would like someone to interview Jackson about his performance.  I would like to know how he felt about it, and how he kept it together.  To play this role as a black man is very important to the movie, and to our culture.  But I can’t think about what it must have done to him.

Saturday, January 19, 2013


Modelland (published 2012)
Written by Tyra Banks

In a universe that contains an analog for Earth that is governed by a global fashion monarchy, beauty is the most important attribute.  To be selected as a member of Modelland is the fate of an envied few.  One apparently-unlikely member of this few is named Tookie de la Crème, and she doesn’t have the most ridiculous name in the book.  She calls herself a “forgetta girl” because nobody ever notices her, to the point where she literally lies on the floor and waits for someone to step on her.  Her mother has less love for Tooke than she has for either her younger sibling, “The Myrracle,” or a strange porcelain doll; and Tookie seems destined to be cast away like so much garbage to make a living in one of the factories that support the all-powerful fashion industry.  Her father hates her because he hates her mother because while he was performing an intricate trapeze act a flash of light reflected from Creamy’s (her mother’s married name is Creamy de la Crème) makeup mirror and caused a crippling fall.

The day that new girls (only girls are considered worthy enough for this honor) are “selected” to attend Modelland is called, of course, The Day of Discovery.  On this particular Day, even though her more-favored, easily dopey sister  has been training for her life, Tookie is selected by the Triple7 Intoxibella Ci~l (pronounced “seel”) to join this illustrious academy.  The rulers of Modelland and the select Intoxibellas are imbued with magical powers, such as the ability to pause menstruation and, the ability to teleport, and the ability to essentially do whatever the fuck the story demands.  There are numerous magics and magical artifacts, none of which has an impact on the arc of the story.
Tookie’s tribulations are many.  Eventually her self-confidence improves by an iota or two and she’s set to graduate.  Simultaneously, her mother and Myrracle are working to cross the barrier between the world of the plebes and the mountain on which Modelland sits.  There is a climax in which the relationships between some of the characters are revealed.  Some of them may live happily after.  I sincerely hope nobody ever finds out.

There are a few other subplots, left hanging in the wind like the threads of a torn dress, or the straps of Cinderalla’s lost Manolo.

MOster, the only person in any house of which he is aware stupid enough to undertake this task

There’s no way to look at my completion of this task that doesn’t include incredulity.  The fact that I started it—that I, in fact, paid for two licenses to the material—is difficult enough to comprehend.  The fact that I decided that I must see it through is… well, maybe that part is believable, because I *am* MOster after all.  The fact that it took me THIRTEEN MONTHS, during which I consumed no other written fiction, is silly beyond reason.  I implore you to look upon this entire endeavor with derision.  I did not take one for the team, because there is no team worth mentioning who would have been exposed instead of me.  There is no justification for the fact that in addition to reading the Drivel of the Banks at a snail’s pace I withheld from myself all other art in this medium.  And yet, I’m publishing this with the expectation that three or four of you will consume it and the hope that said number may approach S7even.

Alright, I’m going to try to tone the style down now; but I’m writing about Tyra Banks.  Yes.  I am writing about Tyra Banks.  I have to try to do something to justify this, or to offset it.  Like these few hundred words are a carbon credit against her hundred thousand.

When I write about movies (or, at least, those about which I care) I try to talk about the elements of a system and then the system as a whole.  I’ve done the same thing with the couple of books I’ve reviewed on here.  It is difficult to disentangle from this offal the various junk foods that entered the intestine that is Tyra Banks’s brain.

Critically, the best-executed element of this work is characterization.  There are three or four main characters and maybe a dozen secondary players.  The main characters have separate voices, motivations, fears, and foibles.  Tookie is sheepish, kind, generous, and noble.  She’s naive.  She’s supremely beautiful but too humble to notice it.  She’s the surrogate of the author in the worst way.  She’s not a believable human being, but she has recognizable traits.  Her mother truly is a cunt.  She’s deplorably selfish and vain, manipulative beyond belief, bitchy enough that people concede leadership to her because it’s the path of least resistance.  She, too, could not exist as a person.  There are no people like her anywhere.  The “Ci~l” character is probably the most interesting, in that she vacillates wildly through varying forms of generosity and bitchiness, intellect and stupidity.  In fact, the overarching stupidity of each character is their acceptance of the Modelland ethos their disregard of how harmful to the rest of the world their participation is.  This is not intentional on the part of the author.  The author is too stupid to realize that she’s glorifying the villains.  The most admirable characters in the book glorify the villains.

The rest of the characters are archetypes either borrowed or created.  The “villain” of Tookie’s life, Zarpressa, is really just a run-of-the-mill high school bitch.  She has a clique that feels better than everyone else even in the space of Modelland.  The .01% of the .01%, in her own mind, even though her parents are poor for some unexplored reason.  The characters who bond to Tookie, each similarly extracted by the disobedient Ci~l on the same tDoD—everyone speaks in abbreviations in this book—are defined by a single characteristic and an affectation of speech.  We don’t really need to talk about them, though, because they don’t matter enough to even get a passing mention in the last 10 chapters.  Even the street urchin with whom Tookie bonds before she leaves for the mountain is dismissed easily, and with no real end to her story. All these characters do is serve to show Tookie as slightly more confident than someone, slightly wiser than a fucking boulder.  The love interest is tacked on and generic.  He wants to be an architect but is settling for a role as a second class male model at the nearby school, Bestosterone.

Yes.  Characterization is the part of this book executed with the greatest competence.

Most of the story of this book is irrelevant.  The idea is that Tookie learns something from her tribulations.  Each of these challenges plays out languorously, and few of them are connected temporally.  And none of it really matters to the end, because she doesn’t learn anything.  She’s exactly the same person at the end of the book that she is at the beginning, except that she’s willing to kiss her boyfriend.  She still loves her mother, even though when her mother thinks she’s on her deathbed she asks for the doll rather than Tookie.  She still can’t stand up to Zarpressa, even though she was directly involved in the crowing of the new Bella Donna, who is essentially the ruling authority of the world.  Have I mentioned that she has authority to kill and maim whomever she chooses with impunity, the power to convert people to immortal robots as punishment for minor transgressions.? We’re supposed to believe that now that Ci~l is the new Bella Donna the world of modeling will be a better place, but her actions 30 seconds later bely that notion quite clearly.  She’s so manic as a character that we have no idea how she’ll act, if any of her earlier ideas of changing the system will remain with her.  This could have played as a tragic lesson in the corruption of power.  Instead it’s left at a climax with no denouement.

There are attempts at urgency in this book.  They fall flat uniformly.  Sure, there are things that play quickly; but there are no stakes in those scenes.  Any time we’re supposed to be invested in the outcome the author goes out of her way to use as many muddy words and tangled concepts as possible to get her point across.  There is no economy in the storytelling because if there were there would be no book.  There are no mixed metaphors because there’s no concern with the real world.  Nothing is relative to anything.  If there’s any true success in this work it’s that as every letter passes through the reader’s mind it feels covered with the author’s atrocious arrogance.

I have no question that Tyra Banks penned the manuscript personally, and I imagine the character of the junior editor on whose desk this pile of words fell having a much more interesting arc.  Staring with delight in the sheepish eyes of the person who works for the person who owes whomever a favor, and learning in a few bamboo-cage days how the world really works.