Django Unchained

The Weinstein Company

Rated R for profanity, nudity, ethnic slurs and graphic violence

Ex-Slave Exacts Vengeance In Tarantino Variation On Spaghetti Western

There’s a sensible reason why nobody ever wanted to be an Indian whenever we played Cowboys and Indians as kids. That’s because the white man was invariably the hero of the Westerns on which we’d been weaned, while the red man had always been presented as a wild savage dismissed by the dehumanizing affirmation that, “The only good Injun is a dead Injun.”

Sure, a few films, such as Apaches (1973), The Sons Of Great Bear (1966) and Chingachgook: The Great Snake (1967), flipped the script by portraying Native Americans as the good guys and the European settlers as the bad guys. But those productions were few and far between.

Hollywood has also promoted a set of stereotypes when it comes to the depictions of black-white race relations during slavery, with classics like The Birth Of The Nation (1915) and Gone With The Wind (1939) setting the tone. Consequently, most movies have by-and-large suggested that it was a benign institution under which docile African-Americans were well-treated by kindly masters, at least as long as they remained submissive and knew their place.

Leave it to Quentin Tarantino to put a fresh spin on the genre, much as he did in the World War II flick Inglourious Basterds (2009). With Django Unchained, the iconoclast writer/director again rattles the cinematic cage by virtue of an irreverent adventure that audaciously turns the conventional thinking on its head.

Set in the South in 1858, the picture is visually reminiscent of the Spaghetti Westerns popularized in the ‘60s by Italian director Sergio Leone, being replete with both big sky panoramas and cartoonish, one-note villains who are the embodiment of evil. But instead of cattle rustlers, it’s inveterate racists being slowly tortured or blown away to the delight of the audience.

The movie stars Jamie Foxx in the title role as a slave lucky enough to be liberated by a German dentist-turned-bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz). Abolitionist Dr. Schultz altruistically takes Django on as an apprentice, and proceeds to teach him how to ride a horse and handle a gun.

The grisly business of tracking down outlaws “wanted dead or alive” conveniently affords the revenge-minded freedman many an opportunity to even the score with folks responsible for his misery, from the scars on his back, to the “R” for “Runaway” branded on his cheek, to being separated from his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). As you might guess, the action gets pretty gruesome, as is par for the course with any Tarantino vehicle.

Slavery reimagined as a messy splatterfest where massa gets exactly what he deserves, and then some!

 

Excellent (4 stars)

Running time: 165 minutes

 

Promised Land

Focus Features

Rated R for profanity.

Gas Company Downplays Downside Of Fracking In Timely Eco-Drama

In 2011, a disturbing documentary called Gasland was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Documentary category. That eye-opening exposé chronicled how energy companies had duped landowners in Pennsylvania and Colorado into signing over the drilling rights on their property while downplaying the ecological risks.

For hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking, the process employed to mine natural gas, has contaminated many a community’s environment, thereby rendering homes virtually uninhabitable. In that movie, victims demonstrated with a match how their tap water had become flammable, and how their pets had inexplicably turned sickly and started shedding fur in patches.

Ostensibly inspired by Gasland, the Biblically-titled Promised Land is a cautionary tale tackling the same theme. This modern morality play reunites director Gus Van Sant with Matt Damon for their fourth collaboration, which began back in 1997 with Good Will Hunting. The pair also worked together on Finding Forrester in 2000 and on Gerry a couple of years later.

Here, Damon stars as Steve Butler, a farm boy-turned-itinerant corporate pitchman employed by a gas conglomerate to fast-talk country folks into turning over their drilling rights. He and his partner’s (Frances McDormand) latest assignment takes them to McKinley, a cash-strapped, if otherwise idyllic, rural community that stands to be polluted if tricked into signing on the dotted line.

Steve has a down-home way of insinuating himself with the locals which even turns the head of a pretty schoolmarm (Rosemarie DeWitt). Fortunately, a couple of gadflies in the ointment emerge in a skeptical science teacher (Hal Holbrook) and an outside agitator (John Krasinski) who urge everybody not to be blinded by dollar signs, but to do a little research into the potential fallout from fracking.

A transparent message movie which might deserve to be forgiven for moralizing and politicizing, given the urgency of the underlying environmental issue.

 

Very Good (3 Stars)

Running time: 106 minutes

 

OPENING THIS WEEK

Kam’s Kapsules:

For movies opening January 4, 2013

Texas Chainsaw 3D (R for grisly violence and pervasive profanity). 7th installment of the enduring horror franchise finds an unsuspecting heiress (Alexandra Daddario) travelling to a tiny Texas town to take possession of the mansion she has just inherited only to discover a bloodthirsty madman (Dan Yeager) lurking in the shadows. With Trey Songz, Tania Raymonde and Scott Eastwood (Clint’s son).

 

56 Up (Unrated). 8th episode of director Michael Apted’s periodic documentary interviewing the same set of Brits every seven years since they were seven years of age.

 

All Superheroes Must Die (Unrated). Action thriller about four superheroes (Lucas Till, Jason Trost, Sophie Merkley and Lee Valmassy) who are abducted by their archenemy (James Remar) and stripped of their powers before being forced to fight to save a town of innocent civilians. Support cast includes Nick Principe, Sean Whalen and Brian Taylor.

 

A Bottle In The Gaza Sea (Unrated). Unlikely romance drama about the love which blossoms between a 17-year-old Jew (Agathe Bonitzer) and the 20-year-old Palestinian (Mahmoud Shalaby) who finds her message in a bottle seeking to make sense of a terrorist bombing in Jerusalem. With Hiam Abbass, Riff Cohen and Abraham Belaga. (In Hebrew, Arabic and French with subtitles)

 

A Dark Truth (R for violence and disturbing images). International thriller about a retired CIA agent-turned-political talk show host (Andy Garcia) who is enlisted by a corporate whistleblower (Deborah Kara Unger) to help expose her company’s cover-up of a massacre in an Ecuadoran village. With Eva Longoria, Forest Whitaker and Kim Coates.

 

My Brooklyn (Unrated). Kelly Anderson directed this class-conscious documentary chronicling the racial tensions which surfaced in her neighborhood as a consequence of gentrification.

 

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