Film, Writing

How does DJANGO UNCHAINED look, revisited, in 2020?

In an upcoming episode of my podcast Motion Pictures, I revisit Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, one year on from his ninth film being debated, discussed and dismantled by a hungry film-going populous. We discuss several of the film’s controversies, including how Tarantino represents Bruce Lee and ultimately approaches diversity in general… which brings me to his seventh movie, 2012’s Django Unchained.
Having missed the film in cinemas during 2012 (I have no idea why), I first enjoyed Django in the spring of 2014 and hadn’t seen it since, so with Tarantino back in the mind’s eye, it felt like a good point to take another run at a film that Spike Lee openly pilloried for the use of the ‘n’ word at the time, part of an ongoing back and forth with QT about how he portrays people of colour. I wondered if Django Unchained might have taken on new shades in the tumultuous shadows of the second half of the 2010’s.
First though, here’s what I made of it back in 2014 on first viewing…
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2000 in Film, Film, Writing

THE BEACH: Apocalypse Now 2 – Beach Vacation (2000 in Film #6)

This year, 20 years on from the year 2000, I’m going to celebrate the first year of cinema in the 21st century by looking back at some of the films across the year at the turn of the millennium which took No #1 at the box office for their opening weekends.

This week, I’m looking at Danny Boyle’s millennial curiosity, The Beach

You almost can’t reconcile twenty-something Leonardo DiCaprio with his forty-something incarnation. He moved across the 2000’s from the teen heartthrob who raced pulses for Baz Luhrmann in Romeo + Juliet and melted a generation of hearts for James Cameron in Titanic all the way into a skilled, chameleonic leading man and character actor all in one by the time of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

When you look back at The Beach, it feels like the first stirrings of DiCaprio’s edgy, youthful brio shedding its skin. Danny Boyle’s picture is DiCaprio embracing his sex symbol icon while simultaneously rejecting it.

Some commented at the time that Titanic, released three years earlier in 1997, likely helped The Beach at the box office, yet I’m cheating this week as it wasn’t the biggest financial success in the US on its opening weekend. That honour goes to Disney’s The Tigger Movie, rather ignominiously for Boyle the auteur. Yet the film picked up traction for a decent take, no doubt pulling in Leo’s fans who would have been totally unprepared for the Heart of Darkness-tale the actor undertakes in The Beach, which perhaps deserved to be called Apocalypse Now 2: Beach Vacation.

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Film, Writing

Film Review: LE MANS ‘66 (2019)

Akin to most movies about sport, Le Mans ‘66 aka Ford vs Ferrari is not really about the field in question, motor racing. It is about men. James Mangold’s movie is almost obnoxiously masculine in an era where, and not without good reason, it is far from cache to be so. It is, quite deliberately, a throwback.

Mangold’s film, which tells the real-life story of the British driver who helped an American racing firm win the famed Le Mans race in 1966 for the Ford Motor Company, is a muscular slice of high octane drama. Following the sun-dappled haze of 1969 in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Mangold gives us a hot, bleached Los Angeles slick with oil and tarmac; a mid-60’s in the throes of a culture war. Ford, headed by Tracy Letts’ iron clad descendant Henry Ford II, are bastions of pure-blooded American conservatism, a Stateside corporate aristocracy who consider modern pop-culture icons such as James Bond “a degenerate”. Christian Bale’s British-born mechanic and driver, Ken Miles, is an unashamed team player. “He’s a beatnik” a Ford executive describes him as but, in truth, the family man Ken simply isn’t on brand.

Le Mans ’66 is, therefore, about masculine individuality. In some sense, David works for Goliath in this story, and the conflict isn’t really Ford vs Ferrari at all. That’s not the beating heart of Mangold’s film, and is only being sold as the title in the US because of the lack of modern associations with the name Le Mans. Framing the film as a conflict between the most famous American car company and legendary European racing firm in the world is an easy read, but the real battle is between individual American exceptionalism and a growing corporate hegemony in a post-war, pre-neoliberal space. Henry Ford represents a world people are still battling against in the Western hemisphere and, oddly enough, Mangold’s film doesn’t necessarily reflect a universe in which the little man can win.

If Le Mans’ 66 is a David v Goliath story, make no mistake… Goliath wins.

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Film, Reviews, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK provides a chilling teen-inspired look at false narratives (Film Review)

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a film about the power of narrative, hence why much of the action takes place on a key night in 1968.

Just after Halloween, always a night popular with horror films as a setting, in 1968 saw election night of the next President of the United States, a night in which Richard Nixon finally was elevated to the position of Commander-in-Chief. While Andre Ovredal’s adaptation of the children’s book series by Alvin Schwartz is primarily concerned with the terrifying events swirling around bookish teenager Stella (Zoe Colletti) and her friends as they are haunted by the murderous stories of a tormented spirit, the story undulates with the ominous spectre of Nixon’s election looming over small-town America, the kind of latent 1950’s hangover, Midwestern town that wouldn’t go amiss in the world of Stephen King.

Schwartz’s original book takes place at the tail end of the 1960’s, a decade in which the counter-cultural revolution swept its way across the Western world, particularly the United States, though it seems to have passed Mill Valley, Pennsylvania by. Stella is haunted by her mother’s abandonment, perhaps to explore the big city world offered by the promise of the 60’s. Her friend Auggie (Gabriel Rush) is a middle-aged man in a young guy’s body, while mysterious stranger Ramon (Michael Garza) turns out to be a draft dodger – avoiding the senseless Vietnam conflict that killed his brother. These are not teenagers rushing headlong into a heady 60’s of abandonment, if anything they are anxious and rooted by their circumstances. This makes them far more contemporary and relatable than their period setting suggests.

Nixon’s re-election is a sign, given the US is now experiencing its most divisive and controversial President since ‘Tricky Dicky’, that Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark has one eye on our current problem of confused, false narratives.

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Film, Quentin Tarantino, Reviews

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD is Tarantino lovingly embracing his legacy (Film Review)

There is a different aura around Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. There is the sense of a film maker continuing to season, to look back, not just at his own legacy but that of cinema itself in the last half century.

The title almost says it all. Not just a nod and wink to the king of QT’s beloved Spaghetti Westerns, Sergio Leone, and his epic Once Upon a Time in the West, but rather acknowledgement that Tarantino has crafted a Hollywood fable and, as a result, what has to be the most sweet-natured picture he has ever given us.

Gone are the loud, vituperative gangsters or assassins, war heroes or slave traders, replaced by the most sensitive of all warriors: the actor.

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