Writing, Reviewing and Criticism In The Internet Age

Tag: Leonardo DiCaprio

Oscar Winners In Review – Django Unchained

It's Quentin Tarantino...What did you expect?

It’s Quentin Tarantino…What did you expect?



Let’s start with this – Quentin Tarantino is a self-aggrandizing, controversial and loud-mouthed movie nerd who pisses off as many people as he makes fans. He’s also a genuine genius and I don’t think he’s made a bad film in his life. He’s a cultural powerhouse, a real-life cinema auteur and one of the few film-makers whose new films are treated as both commercial and critical events. The common wisdom was that the man went off the boil in later years and only found his way back with ‘Inglorious Basterds’ but I’m one those who never lost faith in his ability to produce smart, exciting entertainment.

So, last year he released his latest piece, the bloody funny ‘Django Unchained.’ As with most of Tarantino’s films it’s yet another piece where he gets to show off his ability as a cinematic DJ, someone who can mix together genre, style and influences and create something genuinely unexpected. Here, what should ostensibly be a relative straight-forward historical drama in Tarantino’s hands a Grand Guignol style, spaghetti Western with gunfights, gratuitously racist language and hyper-violence.

So, as per usual I’ll attempt to give a brief outline without spoiling the magnificently fun plot. The action follows the slave Django (Jamie Foxx) who is bloodily emancipated by the German bounty hunter Dr King Schultz. The unlikely duo then team up in order to rescue Django’s wife Broomhilda who is held captive by the horrifyingly racist Calvin J. Candie.

As befits someone with QT’s reputation the cast is all genuinely fantastic though the stand-out is probably Christoph Waltz who after his Oscar winning turn in both this and ‘Inglorious…’ is seemingly turning into Tarantino’s latest muse. His Dr Schultz is a wonderfully portrayed creation; violent and quite happy to exploit the slavery system but also pragmatically invested in helping Django. He bounces incredibly well of the slightly more stoic Django. The two central characters form the crux of the story and Jamie Foxx plays Django with a subtlety that balance the slight more hyper Waltz. As with other Tarantino film’s some of the best characters are those who only appear briefly and here Samuel L Jackson is probably the best playing the racist Uncle Tom style stooge, Stephen, of the villainous Candie (Leonardo Di Caprio).

So, the main point of any review – Is it any good, and more importantly, did it deserve to win at the Oscars? Good? No. Tarantino doesn’t do good, rather he does films like this; it’s big, brash, offensive and utterly exhilarating to watch. Yes, before going on any further let me sort out something I may have been dancing around. This is a great movie. It’s also one that to many people will be deeply, deeply offensive. Because of…language…Yup, I’m talking about the ‘n word.’ It’s used. A lot. In contexts that might well be historically accurate but will also be hard for a big portion of the audience to listen to. When you add to that the concerns articulated by people like Spike Lee, who said that slavery wasn’t a Western, it was a Holocaust. As a result, it wouldn’t be right for me to talk about this film without pointing that there are several important reasons why this is what critics like to, somewhat euphemistically, call ‘problematic.’

However, that doesn’t stop this being a great movie. The director himself said that he wanted to make a film about the serious issues of American history but without making an ‘issues movie’ but rather he wanted to make a genre  movie that included all of the dark things in American history that have never been dealt with because ‘Americans were ashamed of them.’

Whether he succeeded or not is probably answered in the slew of debate and occasionally stoked controversy around the film. It became the highest grossing film of his career and it managed to make talking about America racial history something that could (and had) to happen precisely because there was a big, violent piece of cinema doing just that.

It won deserved acclaim for its energy, humour and occasional brutality and Quentin kept his streak of being notorious when he accepted his writing Oscar he claimed this year was the ‘year of the writer’ as a way of getting back for not getting the nod for direction. Like Tarantino himself it’s a film you just can’t ignore, whether it’s the Academy or the box office people had to pay attention to it. Art that’s impossible to ignore or silence will always gain plaudits. I could have touched on much more than I have in trying to review this but really the best place to finish is here – go watch it yourselves and make up your own mind.



Classics Month IV, or, Romeo yo Romeo


After last week’s somewhat controversial choice I decided here to round off classics month with a choice that no-one could argue with and for a stone cold classic that means only one thing, for the first time here on thegreatandthegood its time for the Page Boy to open the Bard.

At the beginning of Classics Month I said that was aimed at books that you really should have read already and to be honest Shakespeare doesn’t really fit into this category for most people. Now, I’m not going to make the somewhat basic mistake of assuming that everyone has read any Shakespeare but if they haven’t, everyone has at least heard his name and seen that famous portrait. In a way that mass of popularity makes it really quite hard to do a comparison of a film version of Shakespeare with the original text. Shakespeare is so deeply ingrained in Western literature, and thus culture, trying to say how ‘well’ someone adapted his work is like trying to assess how good an artist Da Vinci was. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to try though and I imagine this isn’t going to be the only time that we try to plough through the colossal adaptive history of Shakespeare.

First up, is the classic love story and I am using the article here without any sense of hyperbole. Romeo and Juliet is really the definitive tale of doomed teenage love and is probably one of the most famous plays that Shakespeare ever wrote. I can’t stress enough how silly the next bit of the blog will sound, but for those of you who haven’t read, or heard of Romeo and Juliet –here are the high points.

The play tells the story of two feuding families in Verona; the Montagues and the Capulets have been at each other’s throats for generations and in the midst of this feud two young people – Juliet, Capulet’s daughter and the son of the Montague’s, Romeo make the tragic mistake of falling in love with each other.  Along the way people fight, the feud ends up costing people’s lives and the end for the two young lovers, is, as in all of Shakespeare’s tragedies, not good to put it as mildly as possible.

The play has been the staple of English literature classes for generations now and forms part of the syllabus for tragedy classes in universities across the world. Without this play, the whole course of Western literature shifts – without going too far down the alternate history route, this was one of Shakespeare’s early successes and so without this, then things could be very different indeed.

This play, a central tenet of literature that has been staged and adapted in various ways, and the film version more or less had to happen. The film under consideration today is not the first version of a film adaptation –syllabuses across the academy jumped on a film version 1960s and for a long time Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet was considered a classic that was impossible to top in terms of cinema. Until a new film found its way onto the curriculum of schools and classes, 1996’s film Romeo + Juliet.

The film in many ways re-ignited the vogue for transposing Shakespeare’s plays into new environments. Here the action takes place in the modern-day setting of Verona Beach, with characters keeping the older language but everything else becoming modernised. Now, let’s get onto the good stuff – and for me this might be a little painful. Baz Luhrman is famous as a director with a strong sense of visual aesthetics, he famously directed the whiz-bang pastiche that is my least favorite film, Moulin Rouge but here his style works adding some fun and drama to what could be a stale re-telling of the same old story.

This leads nicely into the next point the cast all do great work; Leonardo Di Caprio and Clare Danes are the two eponymous leads and do share a nice chemistry though personally I think Danes as Juliet is a little younger looking compared to Di Caprio’s Romeo but nothing here that really puts me off.

In terms of adaptive differences this is an abridged version of the play’s original text but the changes are not really major deal-breakers. The question of whether this is a good adaptation is a more complex question than with other adaptations, because with a text that is so well-known all the cool stylish flicks from the director don’t necessarily mean all that much – with Shakespeare costume, explosions and cinematography is basically window dressing. The strength of the director and, with this play, the two leads is what makes it a good performance and all three do know what they’re doing and as such this is a good version of the play.

Well that’s about it really and I’ll admit that maybe I haven’t exactly been glowing in my opinions here but this is good. But…and here comes my hair-splitting again – I don’t like it. Yes, the director is good but here’s the thing, he’s done a great job in his style, but his style isn’t my taste. It feels overly loud, focused on the flashy nature of his aesthetics. This is the problem with trying to review someone talking on Shakespeare, because it means that no matter how good the job the adaptation does it will never make everyone happy, you simply can’t do it. Crucially though, this adaptation got Shakespeare out of the past for many people and showed the strength , beauty and sheer quality of the language and the stories to be told. That I can applaud  – I just wish  I wasn’t having to applaud the director of Moulin Rouge too!

So classics month is finished now and to be honest I feel like I’ve sold these titles short – they are just a little too big for one humble internet writer to get to grips with, so do me a favor. If you haven’t really tried the classics, give them a go. Find out for yourselves why these stories have endured for so long.