Posts Tagged ‘critics’

Joe Giambrone

alice

Sometimes you have to give credit to Hollywood, and even to Disney, when they do something right.  Letting Tim Burton go wild with fantastical source material was the right call.  Some of his previous miscues notwithstanding, you must roll the dice in the arts and see what eventually emerges.  Burton brings Depp and Helena Bonham Carter and just a fantastic choice for the leading role, Mia Wasikowska.

Little unknown Mia carries this whole film into the wackiest reaches of Burton’s visual imagination, with some prescient updates to the original story.  I sat spellbound throughout the entire film, and that was in 2D.  There’s the possibility that the 3D version might work even better, but it didn’t have to.

Alice’s story is a timeless fantasy, the villains disturbing, absurd reflections of real power mad tyrants, whom history knew so well.  The fantasy follows such flights of political imaginings as Gulliver’s Travels and The Prince.

ALICE IN WONDERLAND

I tried to get a handle on the new beginning/ending vs. the original.  Choices were made to modernize Alice with social commentary on Victorian era mores, and this gave an entirely new dimension to Alice and her real life outside the dream world.

Alice is empowered to challenge the expectations of society, and to make a stand for modern women and the progress of the last century.  Strong women are included in various roles in the film including the evil psychotic Red Queen (Carter) and her rival the White Queen, played by Anne Hathaway.  Alice, caught in the middle, and quite overwhelmed for much of the build-up, eventually rises to the challenge without trading away her conscience or morality.

Such a delightful, engaging, tense, suspenseful, lush visual extravaganza, this movie should be included among the top children’s films of all time.  Adults should appreciate it as well.

Now onto the haters, via Rotten Tomatoes.

“Lewis Carroll is bent over a table, tears filling beneath his eyes. Something in your heart breaks. Your childhood, perhaps?” -Gareth Simms

Speaking for Carroll?  Why should this critic assume Carroll would be seeing the film as he does?  In all likelihood he’d have sat spellbound and unable to speak.  Sorry, Gareth.  You’ll have to do better than that.

“It’s a weak structure, thinly tied to the picture’s tired and antiquated theme about Alice reclaiming her “muchness” and defying societal expectations.” -Annlee Ellingson

It was less than a century ago that women couldn’t even vote.  They actually did need to regain their “muchness”, and Annlee should probably think a little harder on that point.  Not as “antiquated” a notion as was glibly typed.

“Tim Burton is the kind of director who probably does come up with six impossible things before breakfast. So it was a surprise to see him produce a film so lacking in joy, innovation and curiosity.”-Gina Carbone

Huh?  Innovation?  Did we see the same movie?  Curiosity?  The one arguable point is the “joy” as this is a dark tale, a fairy tale fraught with danger and allusions to death and brutality.  I don’t find that a deal killer.

Who’s next?

“Not to say that Tim Burton’s made a bad film, more that this is a missed opportunity.” –Alex Flitch

You want the man’s liver?  What the hell else could he have given you people?  I’m seeing the passionless bickering of a spoiled, uninterested (and uninteresting) culture here.  Thank God for the handful of Burtons and Hunter Thompsons and David Lynch’s this land has ground out.

“There is very little to praise in what amounts to Burton’s most mercenary movie.” -John DeVore

I think most of these whines are of the kneejerk variety.  Such an obvious barb, tossed lackadaisically at King Rat DisneyCo. doesn’t even necessitate watching the actual film.  Yeah, Burton is just in it for the money.  Nevermind he improved a cherished classic in more ways than one.

“A bore and an affront to anyone who is even familiar with the concept of Lewis Carroll and his books.” –Devin Faraci

Appeal to culthood?  Not a bore.  Sorry.  I should mention a good 21 point spread between what critics were saying and what audiences (who frequent Rotten Tomatoes) were saying.

“The visuals are stunning, as you would expect, but characterisation is weak, and Depp’s turn is one bout of lunacy too far.” -Catherine Jones

In the film’s defense, the characterization is actually quite improved over the original.  But a bout of lunacy too far?  The Mad Hatter?  Balderdash.

“The episodic nature of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland doesn’t really lend itself to traditional three-act plotting, but screenwriter Linda Woolverton puts Alice through her Joseph Campbell reluctant-hero paces, and none of it ever sparks.” -Alonso Duralde

All true, except for the last few words.  Audiences are jaded and inundated with similar themes and situations.  This is true.  But, some perspective.  The story stands on its own internal logic, its own unique perspectives and challenges.  It doesn’t require cynical analysis by bored people who probably need a break from movies altogether.  Yes, there is some hero journey plotting, and that certainly can be a problem to those predisposed to reject such storytelling.  But is that a failing of the film, or of the viewer who probably should not have bothered in the first place, knowing they didn’t appreciate that type of narrative?

“A succession of chases and fanciful combats, more akin to Dungeons & Dragons than to Carroll, leads to a peculiarly truncated climax. The 3-D effects are enjoyable, but the added depth can’t make up for deficits in the concept or the plot.” -Joe Morgenstern

Wow.  Tough crowd at the Wall Street Journal. Maybe ask your kids.

New survey at Criticwire,  and here are the A listers:

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Leviathan

The Gatekeepers

It’s a Disaster

Eden

And although Spring Breakers only got a B+, you know you’re going to see it.

All-American Babe Who Didn’t Torture Anybody Wins OscarJennifer_Lawrence_35972

 

One more waterboarding for Bigelow and Boal. Glenn Greenwald, who always keeps his razor sharp, gives a needed fuck you to the bootlicking film critics who ignore morality, ethics and propaganda, even when it’s right in their faces.

Zero Dark Thirty, the CIA and film critics have a very bad evening

The stigma attached to the pro-torture CIA propaganda vehicle, beloved by film critics, results in Oscar humiliation


  

Django’s Vengeance

Joe Giambrone

Tarantino strikes again to howls and a little hostility.  Django is at 88% with critics and 94% with audiences on the Tomatometer.  We know that Spike Lee refused to see the film at all, and so I was interested to see what the negative reviews were going to point out.

Obviously, the blood, the gory violence, but many are calling the film self-indulgent and too long.  On that point I disagree.  The film was about as long as it needed to be to resonate as an epic, a large scale western with social commentary on slavery.  Perhaps the extra time wasn’t spent in the expected ways, but running time alone is no excuse for a shoddy review.

One of the reviews that caught my attention was by Dana Stevens:

There’s something about [Tarantino’s] directorial delectation in all these acts of racial violence that left me not just physically but morally queasy.”

That’s an interesting point.  Obviously the staging is effective.  To what end is debatable, but it’s certainly well executed and harrowing.  When dealing with something as unthinkably massive as centuries of atrocities against millions of people, and the racial psychosis, which accompanied it, I’m not sure that showing blood and violence is all that inappropriate.  It could be argued that no amount of red corn syrup can make up for the real history that is meant to be conveyed, however abstractly, through these unexpected genre motifs.

Another review by J.R. Jones said,

Like the earlier movie, in which Jewish-American soldiers assassinate Hitler, this one draws heavily on minority group revenge fantasy, the only difference being that the trick isn’t as impressive the second time around.

To which I would reply that the word “trick” is condescending.  And Django Unchained is a considerable improvement over Inglorious Basterds, which was less fun and less focused.  This American story may even be too close to home for some.  While it’s fine to beat up on Nazis, after so much conditioning over the decades, the idea of beating up on genteel white American males packs its own baggage here.  Racism is still alive and well, and thus racially-charged American films can be risky, not to mention “tricky” to pull off.

David Germain writes for the AP:

“Django Unchained” is Tarantino at his most puerile and least inventive, the premise offering little more than cold, nasty revenge and barrels of squishing, squirting blood.”

Germain didn’t notice the iconic, mythical imagery?  Scene after scene gives inventive twists in order to expose slavery to the modern viewer in ways that they haven’t seen before.  Tarantino, of course, is going to be Tarantino, and you can’t fault him for that.  You either appreciate a B-movie exploitation take on serious subjects, or you don’t.  As for the revenge narrative, on that I do agree with Germain.  It does confine the story to a set of expected outcomes, and it does lessen the impact of the ending somewhat.  That is the trouble with all genre pictures, and yet is one of the main reasons they keep getting made – audiences supposedly like consistency.

This is a revenge film, and that is pretty much made clear even by the title.  Is that sufficient reason to dismiss it?  As one would The Count of Monte Cristo?  Revenge is a strong motivator, but it is also a peg in the viewer’s mind on which to hang some weighty topics.  Django’s revenge isn’t purely personal, but racial, a response to great historical crimes.  Great historical crimes that have not been avenged or rectified in the real world, for the most part.  Right there is the topic simmering below the silver film grains.  A great wrong was done to an entire class of people, and they did not exact the kind of revenge dramatized through the person of Django.  Django is a fantasy, through and through, and was never meant to be anything else.  His existence is purely on an intellectual plane, the realm of conflicting historical narratives.

Does Django work as intended?  Perhaps 94% of the audience today thinks so.  I think so.  The narrative was immersive and the journey worth taking.  Was it perfect?  Of course not.  No movie is.  Was the violence gratuitous?  In places, yes.  In others it was uncharacteristically restrained and realistic.  Bullets do kill people.

DjangoUnchainedOfficialPosterPT

I was particularly piqued by some of the reviews by African American reviewers.  This is the meat of the issue, and I’ll quote a few opinions.

Tanya Steele wrote:

“In Tarantino’s imagination, he could accept slavery if he thought of it as black people fighting back under the gaze of a white male. This works for a culture that does not want to confront the evils and system of slavery. We want to believe that it wasn’t all that bad. That it was endurable, escapable, provided opportunities for heroics. Black people were slaves because we didn’t fight back. Django was a character created by a privileged white male.”

Seriously, that’s a stretch that just doesn’t work.  Django’s predicament arises from a plausible bounty hunter narrative.  Django is “under the gaze of a white male” to make this plot work.  It is the initial condition which allows the story to unfold. By story’s conclusion the white bounty hunter is not only dead, but Django is free and victorious.  His progression from slave to skilled assassin to free and clear hero comes in stages of development.  Tarantino is certainly not endorsing slavery, and his white bounty hunter character isn’t comfortable with the practice either.  It is this character who also grows and rejects the practice to such an extent that he would rather kill the plantation owner at the cost of his own life than to simply shake his hand.  These myopic, cherry picked complaints ignore the rest of the story.

Cecil Brown wrote in Counterpunch,

African American critic Wesley Morris hated it. He called it “unrelenting tastelessness — […] exclamatory kitsch — on a subject as loaded, gruesome, and dishonorable as American slavery.”

Pretty damning stuff at first glance, but Wesley Morris actually gave the film 3.5/4 stars and also wrote,

I really like “Django Unchained,” but I didn’t like watching it amid the moronic laughter of some of his movie-geek fans. No filmmaker gives you as much as gleefully as [Tarantino] does. He’s 49 now, and there’s a new maturity in his style.

I can understand that Cecil Brown “hated” the film, but clearly Mr. Morris did not.

I’m quite sensitive to the perception of white money, white director, white screenwriter, black cinema.  Understandably this is a very prickly topic, and can be perceived in any number of ways.  Cecil Brown compares the plantation presented in the film to today’s Hollywood:

“What are the social conditions that would permit Django to be the big howling, empty nigger joke that it is? One of these social conditions, certainly, involves the relationship between black actors and Hollywood as a symbol of the plantation system. …The plantation is called CandieLand (Candyland) and is meant to refer to Hollywood itself as a producer of entertainment (Candy). Get it?”

Really?

As Hollywood did not exist during the timeframe of the film, I saw no references in the film itself to suggest that this is so.  Actual candy predates the motion picture system.  This is an assumption, and a bit of a leap onto a pretty thin branch.  It may be Tarantino’s style to infuse everything with references to Hollywood, but the plantation system during slave times?  Would Tarantino even think of this comparison?

That metaphor seems to originate with Ishmael Reed, who was admittedly biased against the film right from the opening credits.  Reed wrote:

“Tarantino’s fictional blacks apparently lack that part of the brain that makes one compassionate. While some blacks are being brutalized other blacks go about their business. In one scene, a black woman is being whipped while nearby a black woman is enjoying herself on a swing.”

Those particular characters are obviously there to make a point about the divide and conquer strategies employed during slavery to create different classes of slaves, the house slave vs. the field slave.  As such it would be more appropriate to examine in terms of class, and not race.  The house slave vs. field slave distinction is obviously not an invention of Tarantino’s, as Mr. Reed knows full well, but an expression of known historical phenomena with resonance and relevance today.  This is a highly-charged emotional topic, but it’s certainly not all concocted whole cloth by the director.  He is merely pointing his camera in that direction.

Reed then admonishes the film for what it isn’t.  It is not a story about a slave revolt.  That’s true.  It uses the genre cliché of a single man on an obsessive quest to save his lover.  This makes for a tighter plot and a more focused story.  It could have veered off in any number of directions, but this is the story.  A slave is freed, learns to become a bounty hunter, becomes a top-notch bounty hunter, a killer, and saves his wife from slavery.  How this particular narrative could earn so much ire, I still don’t understand.

We should be angry over slavery as well as racism.  But lashing out at those who are trying to shine a light on both?

Tarantino has not only looked at slavery unflinchingly, but taken it to new levels of abstraction for modern audiences to ponder over.  This is a very brave film that uses certain pathways into modern audience perceptions so as to bring home very real historical points, points which apply today.  The psychology at work is universal, and power disparity and the stripping of human rights goes on right now somewhere in the world.  Tarantino has used his own understanding and skills to craft a new take on an old subject, the way it most certainly wasn’t taught in high school.  For that alone he should be treated seriously and given some leeway, some fictional license to explore things on screen.  The alleged hidden racist agenda of the director is simply not supportable.  Filming a situation and endorsing a situation are two very different things.

Tarantino responded to some negative audience members at a preview screening:

“It’s a rough movie. As bad as some of the shit is in this film, a lot worse shit was going on. This is the nice version.”

I do support the film, and I consider it worthy of serious consideration.  Coincidentally, the NAACP has nominated the film in four different categories for its “Image Awards.”

“Despite a controversy over its use of the n-word, Tarantion’s film collected four nominations, one for best picture and others for Jamie Foxx, Samuel L. Jackson and Kerry Washington.” (Hollywood Reporter)

Joe Giambrone is a filmmaker and author of Hell of a Deal: A Supernatural Satire. He edits The Political Film Blog, which welcomes submissions. polfilmblog at gmail.

 

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The more crap I read from Bigelow and Boal…

…the better Leni Riefenstahl looks in comparison.  After all the German filmmaker was merely being patriotic and supportive of her government.  She did not endorse, or worse — make light of — the torture of human beings.  The Nazi enterprise was in its infancy at the production of Triumph of the Will, prior to the atrocities we think of today.

Boal and Bigelow have no such defense.

“…Mark Boal, also a “Zero Dark Thirty” producer, accepting the prize for Best Film. Boal tackles the torture debate more directly, but not before having some fun with it. “‘Apparently, the French government will be investigating the accuracy of ‘Les Mis,'” he cracked, before noting that he and Bigelow had been eager to comment on the situation. ‘Some of you may have wondered if we would have liked to comment on that coverage,’ he added. ‘The answer is yes.” His position? “If anybody’s asking, we stand by the film.'”

Complete disregard for the accurate charges of fabricating a case for torture and of filming CIA lies as truth.  These Good Germans put Riefenstahl to shame.  These are the words of shameless, loathesome propagandists without consciences.

Naomi Wolf called out Bigelow in The Guardian:

A letter to Kathryn Bigelow on Zero Dark Thirty’s apology for torture

“By peddling the lie that CIA detentions led to Bin Laden’s killing, you have become a Leni Riefenstahl-like propagandist of torture”

While Naomi Wolf makes this categorical comparison, I’m ready to go one further and say these two, pictured above, are sufficiently worse than Riefenstahl and her pro-German government propaganda film.  With these ugly Americans  presenting America’s actions to the world, and lavishly praised by “critics” around the nation, no one should be wondering “why they hate us” for quite some time to come.

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More on the Zero Dark Thirty fiasco:

Arrest All Torturers

Zero Dark Treason?

Our Glorious Torturers

Trailer: The Hurt Locker

Screening the Politics Out of the Iraq War

By David Sterritt, Ph.D.
DavidSterritt.com

The Hurt Locker, the widely praised movie about American soldiers on a bomb squad in Iraq, has arrived in theaters with enough rave reviews to fill two dozen quote ads. While the film is excellent in some respects, its politics are worrisome – not because they’re wrong, but because there are no politics in a film about the most politically fraught conflict in recent memory. And the eagerness of critics to overlook or excuse this bothers me just as much.

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