Here, I wrote a “non-review” of Django Unchained. As I wrote then, I’d fallen for Pulp Fiction and felt compelled to return to Tarantino, repeatedly, looking for that sugar high. But most all of his later work I found goofy-to-execrable. I concluded on a less than conscious basis that his later films must be flukes. Yeah, that’s the ticket. A long string of flukes. But by the time of Django, I had decided enough was enough, and that I would just not go. And so I wrote a non-review.
But as it happens my impulse control is poor so I found myself, almost against my better judgment, watching Django somewhat later and finding once again, no surprise, that it was yet another of those odd Tarantino one-off flukes.
I fought with myself again on the release of The Hateful Eight. It was showing in a grand old restored movie house nearby in 70mm and I was tempted for that reason alone. As Blowhard Esq. wrote in his review of Django here, Tarantino’s visuals can be impressive and the 70mm experience appealed. But I held firm.
But then there it was a few days ago, staring up at me from the rack at the local library. All I had to do was walk out the door with it and pop it into my DVD player. So I succumbed.
What did I like? The opening visuals, accompanied by a Morricone score, were majestic. After that, I settled back to see if it would be another fluke. From what I saw it was. But I didn’t complete the journey and hence this partial review.
Reviewing Django, Blowhard Esq. accused Tarantino of weak storytelling and wrote this:
(The) third act contains Tarantino’s worst scene since his segment in Four Rooms in which Django convinces the world’s dumbest slave traders to free him by retelling what we’ve seen for the previous 30 minutes.
Just so. Tarantino’s labored efforts to story tell are on ample display here, too. There’s a scene in the stagecoach near the outset where the ex-confederate Mannix (Walton Goggins) recognizes Marquis (Samuel L. Jackson) and commences, in a strangled Southern accent, to tellin’ the story of Marquis’s misdeeds during the Civil War.
It is common in drama to squeeze needed backstory into what seems like natural exposition but here Mannix goes on . . . and on . . . and on. TIME OUT! BACKSTORY ALERT! Tarantino uses this extended backstory technique a few more times, too, in the haberdashery, with equally labored results.
Now, I am one who likes words in movies and am not put off, when they are employed artfully, if they are clearly visible as artifice. I liked that a lot about the Tarantino-inflected Bone Tomahawk. And for sure that tendency is on display here. But what was original and fresh in Pulp Fiction is by now trite and repetitive. We even have a Samuel L. Jackson rant lifted in tone and spirit directly from Pulp Fiction.
The first time I tried to watch the film I fell asleep part way through, before any violence. I tried again the next night and once again nodded off. Third time a charm, I hoped. But even on night three I couldn’t make it much past the first killing, of the Bruce Dern character. So far, mostly bloodless and mostly charmless.
But then later that third night I found myself waking to the film in progress. I thought to rouse myself to go to bed. I glanced at the screen in time to see two or maybe three heads exploding like bloody pumpkins. I can’t be sure about the number or sequence since I was half asleep. But the sudden violence of the visuals, combined with my dreamlike state, prompted in me a feeling of strong revulsion.
I saw the trailer to Scanners when it came out, the one that includes the scene of the exploding head, and it got under my skin enough in a dreamlike way that I was afraid to see the film. Haven’t seen it to this day.
So kudos to Tarantino in a way for creating imagery capable of such a strong emotional reaction, at least for someone half-asleep and prone to dream consciousness.
But I will not finish the movie. It goes back to the library today. I may not have sworn Tarantino off altogether but this is progress. I am in recovery and taking it one day at a time.
I note though that he may be doing a gangster movie set in Australia. Maybe it will be good. I liked Pulp Fiction.
My wife and I really disliked this movie as well. Tarantino trotted out all is old tricks and added a heaping of ugly misogyny for fun. I’m referring to the final scene and not necessarily how Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character gets beat up constantly throughout the movie. He’s always skirted the line on that in a fun and interesting way, but in my opinion, he jumped over it this time around. Not only that but they broke a near-priceless 1930s Gibson acoustic guitar during the filming. For fucks sake. It was pretty to look at, though. We saw it in the theater in 70mm. That format, done properly, really does stand out. And yeah, Morricone’s score was fantastic.
I thought about asking my wife to watch it with me on DVD but thought the better of it.
No Roger Avary, no Pulp Fiction. QT is a mimic and a mash-up artist who has been confused for being a storyteller.
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For the past 50 years or so, filmmakers have overestimated the value of creating imagery that produces a strong emotional reaction.
that damn pauline kael again
I was surprised at how much I hated the acting in this movie, aside from Channing Tatum and Michael Madsen, who aren’t normally known for their skills as thespians, but at least managed to suggest something going on under the surface of their characters…maybe I was holding on to them like a life raft because everyone else was so loud, cartoonish, inauthentic, and look-at-me! Look-at-me! (it was a real bummer seeing Kurt Russel, who I love, be so repulsively blustery); it’s like a movie filled with the Allen Garfield character from Altman’s Nashville.
(This is probably bad form to suggest but the movie might have worked better if Tatum and Walton Goggins had switched roles.)
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Well, I just have to show up and spoil the Tarantino hate party. I liked the film — I thought it had its flaws (the story was weak) but I actually enjoyed the exposition, found most of the characters interesting and amusing, and liked the ending (a bit of racial healing.)
I’m someone who loved QT’s early, stylish work (including “Kill Bill”) but refuse to even bother to watch his historical revisionist movies. I don’t find the subject matter interesting.
To my mind, though, his most under-rated film is “Jackie Brown” — strong female lead, coherent story, fun characters and Bridget Fonda’s tush. What’s not to like?
Nothing not to like about Jackie Brown. Wouldn’t it be cool if the excitable boy just CALMED THE F*CK DOWN (spoken in the cadence of Samuel L. Jackson), checked his ego at the door and made more movies like Jackie Brown? Way back in 2012 here at UR (was it that long ago?) I said I made a special exemption for JB, and that I thought it was “earnest and honest in its throwbackness”.
Another vote for Jackie Brown here. It’s my and my wife’s favorite Tarantino movie. Could be that it’s based on someone else’s story, Elmore Leonard’s, no less, that kept the Tarantino-isms down to a tolerable minimum. And what great performances from Pam Grier and Robert Forster.