The Unbiased Eye

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Tarantino Unchained

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Whomp! Did You See That? I Blew That Mother’s Head Off!

The director of Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown has disappeared, and it’s the biggest mystery in Hollywood of the young century.

There is a guy making movies today who has the same name, but he either isn’t the same guy of 20 years ago, or he isn’t working for the same people.

If he inhabits the same body, he has changed quite a bit. It’s not a matter of growing up or maturing, because this guy has undergone a serious regression. I’ve seen the real-life versions of the characters who populate his most recent efforts, like Django Unchained and Inglourious Basterds. They are all exactly like the boys I remember from junior high school, myself included.

Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino

Of course, those kids would’ve been in ecstasy if someone had time-transported a few computer games from today and sent them back to 1959, so my friends could have enjoyed the exploding cartoon characters in the games and saved the girl with the pneumatic tits from whatever danger she was in.

That pretty much sums up the story in Django. A couple of bland characters roam around various locales in the old South and the Great Plains shooting at people with deadly accuracy from up to 200 yards. The plot would make a mediocre cartoon, much less an bona-fide second-rate movie. Most of three-hour ordeal is about their search for the wife of one of them, the one who’s a former slave and who had been freed by the other, a former dentist who says he’s German but talks with a weird Irish accent and articulates like a fruitcake.

You might ask why the German freed the slave. I expect it would cross anyone’s mind, and as moviegoers are wont, they would likely forgive most any preposterous reason if the story moved along. (You know, the suspension of disbelief.) But since this story doesn’t move, the question lingers, so I’ll tell you the answer: The former slave is the only person in the world who can identify the Brittle brothers, wanted criminals with prices on their heads.You see, the German former dentist is a bounty hunter and a crack shot who expects to claim a big reward.

Django has been criticized as a violent. At one point, the great director barked back at reporters and petulantly refused to submit to more questioning about violence.

Now, violence in the media is worth thinking about, but the bottom line as I see it is that we cannot blame violence on violent stories. But the trouble with Tarantino is that his violence is completely lacking in emotion, in horror, and most of all in humor. Maybe a psychopath would like it, but it’s much more junior high school boy territory. POW! BANG! SPLAT!

Every one of the bad guys, unverified, is executed without a shred of due process, while Tarantino’s characters roam around. Come to think of it, if I were 13, living on farm, I’d have more fun shooting rotten melons with a .22 rifle, which is exactly what each execution looks like, only the gunk splattered in the air is bright red. That’s what you see in the film: a succession of exploding melons at the hands of bored boys. It’s a plodding drumbeat of exploding melons. It’s got the impact but little of the humor of Bugs Bunny.

If you are bored enough and need to waste three hours, it would be far more satisfying to spend the time on a computer game, where at least you get to pull the trigger.

Of course, the movie critics love Django as they love everything else Tarantino does. As the mob they are, they have anointed Tarantino a genius and there’s no way they can take it back. The reviews are fawning. They are filled with film school allusions, to other movies, and other genres, other art forms, and to history. Even Fox News is in the pack: “Django Unchained is Quentin Tarantino’s greatest exploration of the human condition, from its idea of what is right to its heinous moments of evil. Continuing with the theme of revenge explored in Inglorious Basterds, Tarantino blends the Spaghetti western genre with 70s Blaxploitation, creating an insane concoction of vengeance and thoughtfulness, tossing between the disgustingly funny and the most primal notion of violence.” That’s Justin Craig for Fox News.

More high-falutin critics, like David Denby in the New Yorker is typical with stuff like this: “Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained is his most entertaining piece of moviemaking since Pulp Fiction. Some of it, particularly in the first half, is excruciatingly funny, and all of it has been brought off in a spirit of burlesque merriment — violent absurdity pushed to the level of flagrancy and beyond.” Funny? Exploding melons? Oh, come on!

There are a couple of critics, maybe 1 in 50, who weren’t so moved, and of course there is Spike Lee who says Django dishonored his slave ancestors. Mr. Lee might have had a point if Tarantino’s had something to say.


But what of my opening questions. Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown are excellent movies, and certainly violent, but in each, the violence is arresting and works in razor-sharp plots. I loved Pulp Fiction so much that I’m still trying to squirm through Tarantino’s newer movies. What happened?

I think it may have something to do with the dynamics of making a movie. I don’t mean the camerawork, the artistry or trickery that produces the visuals, or the Foley artists. Rather, I’m talking about the more familiar rythyms office politics. Movies are a collaboration, a complicated, expensive, huge endeavor involving dozens of people with out-sized egos and varying degrees of clout — which probably translates to has the most money-making potential. It’s amazing that as many good movies come out it as they do — even if it’s only 1 in 10 or 1 in 20 — Hollywood manages to do great work.

In our time, celebrity seems to rule and great directors can easily rival big stars in clout, even the producers who bankroll the movies. To make matters more complicated, the Weinstein Brothers have been the producers on almost all of Tarantino movies, and as the talkative brother, Harvey, often says, he is a very hands-on producer, and a brilliant film editor. I’ve read the phrase “auteur producer”.

According to the scores of stories about the making of Pulp Fiction, the Weinsteins insisted on having a bankable star, which turned out to be Bruce Willis. It’s anyone’s guess what else Harvey Weinstein did on the movie. Back in the early 90s, Tarantino would’ve had very little clout, having but one movie credit, and that was Reservoir Dogs, which, at 99 minutes long, was the only one of his movies that had truly chilling realistic violence — for me, excessive, revolting violence — not a cartoonish imitation of violence, and it was the only one of his features that wasn’t produced by the Weinsteins.

Well, guess what? Tarantino, anointed by the critics, revered in film schools, and worshiped by the intelligentsia, is now bankable and then some. And I strongly suspect that when Harvey comes around with a suggestion, Tarantino can tell him to get lost.

A victory for chortling junior high school boys everywhere.


Written by theunbiasedeye

August 28, 2013 at 2:51 pm