Sunday, January 13, 2013

Arterial Spray and Other Bodily Fluids

Quentin Tarantino loves his arterial spray.  Geysers of it, in fact.  For his fans looking for that sort of thing, Django Unchained did not disappoint.  Something did though. 

Christoph Walz as Dr. Schulz and Jamie Foxx as Django.
Django Unchained was sort of fun while it lasted.  Christoph Waltz as Dr. Schulz is brilliant, hilarious, and perversely lovable, as is his little traveling dentist’s wagon.  Jamie Fox does good work growing from a slave who barely raises his head to a free man on a mission.  And it was fun to pick out all the old TV/movie cowboys in the cast (Bruce Dern, Don Stroud, Lee Horsley, Michael Parks among others) and other “cameos” by Tom Wopat, Russ Tamblyn and his daughter Amber, not to mention Mr. Tarantino himself.  Yes, it’s a self-referential Hollywood western film, and pure Tarantino — a revenge masquerade on people who deserve the punishment. There was a lot of excellent work by the likes of Don Johnson as a southern slaveowner as well as Dennis Christopher as a sycophantic family lawyer.  Before I sound like the Academy Awards, I will take note of Leonardo DiCaprio’s slimy and marvelous work as Calvin Candie of the Candyland plantation, one of the most despicable characters ever seen on the screen.  Kerry Washington was beautiful and heartbreaking, Walton Goggins perfectly repulsive, and Laura Cayouette was creepily fragile as Candie’s widowed sister. This was all topped off with an unpleasant performance by Samuel L. Jackson, whom I did not even recognize until halfway through his first scene.
A hammer-wielding DiCaprio.
Unpleasant.  This film is unpleasant.

Many scenes in Django Unchained — perhaps I should say most — are deeply disturbing, and Mr. Tarantino may have been right to shove it down our throats.  Nevertheless, there’s really only so much blood and gore I can watch before it — dare I say — bores me.  While I sort of enjoyed the film as I watched and cringed and sometimes put my hands over my eyes, I really was not inspired to read or write or urge others to see this movie.  Loved the soundtrack, though.

Django Unchained is a little too long and a little too much, but while it is not likely to win him new fans, Mr. Tarantino’s work has plenty of fans who will probably love it.


In December, I saw the quietly delightful Red Bull Theater production of Volpone or The Fox during its limited run.  Ben Jonson’s moralistic comedy shows the deteriorating mores and hypocrisy of Venetian society circa 1607 and is remarkably funny until everyone comes to their just ends, which were rather harsh in the 17th century. The production at the Lucille Lortel Theatre starred a sparkling Stephen Spinella as Volpone accompanied by a sleazy Cameron Fomar as Mosca, his “Parasite.” These two were joined by the unerring Alvin Epstein as Corbaccio, with a saucy turn by Tovah Feldshuh as the English Lady.  Even Christina Pumariega in what could easily have been the thankless role of the Merchant’s wife was a delight.  The entire cast shone under the tiptop, brisk, funny direction of Artistic Director Jesse Berger


I liked Silver Linings Playbook.  I didn’t love it.  Largely because by the end I felt it was a crock.  Early on, even halfway through, the mental issues of the characters were, so far I could see, honestly portrayed.  There is humor, compassion, crazy people, misunderstandings, and a lot of laughs.  Then suddenly love conquers all.  Oh well.  It was fun while it lasted.

David O. Russell, directing his own screenplay based on a novel by Matthew Quick, has a splendid cast and they all have a rollicking good time, as does the audience.  Bradley Cooper is the damaged young man who is just getting out of a psychiatric institution where he was incarcerated after his violent attack on his wife’s lover.  Pat (Junior) seems like a nice guy, looking for a positive way to view life — and then he loses it, for no good reason.  We see and hear the cues, but they are not good reasons for a sane person to trash the attic room or wake people at 4 in the morning.  Of course he doesn’t want to take his meds, or see his shrink (a warm and fuzzy Anupam Kher), or abide by the restraining order his wife Nikki has out on him, which Officer Keogh (Dash Mihok) is prepared to enforce.  In fact, the whole neighborhood seems ready to enforce it. The reaction of Pat's former employer (an excellent scene for Patsy Meck as the high school principal) when he approaches her tells us just how scary this guy was.
Cooper, Weaver, and Tucker
Pat’s parents are played by the remarkable Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver.  This woman is amazing, such a wonderful mother, loving, protective, tolerant of her sons and her husband.  It’s as if she and DeNiro and been married for decades, they all fit together perfectly. To watch these two performances alone, this film is worth anyone’s time.

Back to Pat — all of Pat’s behavior is suspect, all of it is self-destructive, and he believes he and his wife have an amazing love and will get over this little bump in the road.  He is the only one in the film and in the theatre who believes that for a moment.  Pat visits an old friend (John Ortiz as Ronnie), married to Veronica (a good job by Julia Stiles) who is a friend of the estranged wife, Nikki.  Underdressed at dinner with Ronnie and Veronica he meets Veronica’s little sister Tiffany, young, recently widowed, and with problems of her own.  These two first connect over the medications they dislike.  Jennifer Lawrence gives a terrific performance as a tough girl who appears to be fighting for her life.  And then she’s fighting for Pat’s.  All of this through dance.  The visit from Danny, Pat’s friend from the mental institution as played by a delightful Chris Tucker, adds some pizzazz to that dance routine.
Cooper at Pat, Lawrence as Tiffany, and Tucker as Danny.

The film is fun, the characters engaging — even when we really want them to take their meds — and the insanity of “normal” people over sports events is delightfully portrayed.  Americans’ relationship with sports plays a part in this story, as does gambling, as do anger management issues…. The apple did not fall far from the tree, is all I need say.

So up until the last few scenes, I quite enjoyed being all positive with Pat and his parents and his friends.  I am well aware that film compresses time and events, but really.  Love does not conquer all, and I found the final scenes of “normalcy” to be quite annoying. 

Nevertheless, all the performances are quite good, with outstanding work by Mr. DeNiro and Ms. Weaver. 

~ Molly Matera, signing off until next time.

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