Apologies for not having written a post in ages! I have been overwhelmed with university work and since I only had time for one, I had to choose between watching movies and writing about them. So I chose watching them. Go figure! However, I felt compelled to write something about two films – Django Unchained and Lincoln. First, because they had such a huge impact on me when I watched them and second, because with all the Oscar buzz surrounding them, it would just be wrong not to. And since various publications, websites etc have already provided (too) lengthy (going-to-fall-asleep-before-I-finish-them) reviews and commentaries, I decided to tame my huge mouth (translated into what my itchy-to-write opinionated fingers want to type) and present you with two very succinct 5-sentence reviews (mind you I can write incredibly long sentences!).
Django Unchained finds Quentin Tarantino shredding to pieces the established visual and conceptual canon of yet another genre, and rebuilding it as a Southernized Western, which, through balanced representations of equally blood-infused comedy and drama, provides a skilful re-imagining of one of the most controversial topics in cinema. The humour-filled segments of the film benefit from the palpable charismatic presence of Django’s verbose bounty hunter mentor Dr Schulz (Christoph Waltz), as well as Django’s (Jamie Foxx) own capacity for presenting the violent and grotesque as hilarious and witty. The rest of the cast, and respectively the characters they portray, are also superb: Leonardo DiCaprio’s plantation owner Calvin Candie is a vain, petulant brute, whose deceivingly courteous ways bring a threat similar to the calm before a storm; Samuel L. Jackson’s malicious head slave Stephen is equally despicable, yet deliberately comical; and finally, Don Johnson’s Big Daddy sets the scene for a shamelessly funny Ku Klux Klan spoof. Yet, although Tarantino’s hallmark of surreal violence and blood splattering fits well with the purposes of black comedy, it may seem somewhat out of place next to the genuinely disturbing terrors of slavery – the lashings, the dogs feasting on alive human flesh, the “hot box” and the Mandingo fights. In the end, it all comes down to that Django Unchained is not a feature for the easily upset, the ones uncomfortable with the “N” word, or the ones with weak stomachs, but if you decide you are up for the challenge, Django will undoubtedly leave you equally distressed and amused – something Tarantino is the master of!
The humbly staged Lincoln turns a new page of Steven Spielberg’s filmmaking – one that shies away from his trademark blockbuster, wow-effect-action, big-hearted ways in favour of a more subtle depiction of a historical moment, where it is words and not actions that take the central stage. The film is not a biopic since it centres around just one political event as part of Honest Abe’s life – his attempt to pass the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery, yet in the midst of the Civil War and terrors of slavery, it is not a war- or a slave-emphasized feature either. What is left is an unpretentious, purposeful political drama, where the eloquent speeches and dialogues paint the imagery. The oratory-filled script goes hard on your concentration capabilities (since one missed line might throw you into confusion), but for the viewers interested in a soulful historical adaptation, it proves to be a gripping, beautiful, and abundant with personality film. In the end, it is Spielberg’s elegant (if cautious) directing, Tony Kushner’s elaborate, yet engaging and comprehensible script, and Daniel Day-Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones’ captivating portrayals of conflicted Abraham Lincoln and headstrong Thaddeus Stevens, that make you feel content with dedicating your Friday night to a 3-hour-long history lesson.
So apparently, there are two sides to every story: the Tarantino side – excessively visual and genre-busting, walking the border between ingeniousness and impropriety; and the Spielberg side – stylish and more covertly epic, offering the benefit of realism. Which one would come on top is a matter of personal taste, but in any case Django Unchained and Lincoln vouch for the two directors’ top form, which is very welcome with the new installments of their favourite “children” – Kill Bill and Indiana Jones, on the way.
4/5 Marvelous points