Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Tarantino Unleashed in the Antebellum South

“Django Unchained” was a Christmas 2012 release in the US. Two months and two Academy Awards later (Quentin Tarantino for best screenplay and Christoph Waltz for Best Supporting Actor), it’s ready for release, uncut with an R-16 rating in the Metro’s theaters.

In a nutshell, “Django Unchained” is the story of a man (Jamie Foxx) who starts off in the film as a slave, becomes a free man, then a bounty hunter and finally rescuer of his ladylove, Broomhilda Von Shaft (Kerry Washington).

Christoph Waltz plays Dr. King Schultz, the man who unchains Django. I remember this quote of his from the 2012 San Diego Comic Con: “This is a unique and fabulous relationship that is forged in the course of fantastic adventures. We're talking about a Spaghetti Western, and I find it sensational that Italian directors imported a genre to Italy to forge a new thing--Spaghetti Westerns --and then an American director comes and takes the new thing and brings it back to America."

Leaving the screening room of Django Unchained with my cousin Hank, it was inevitable to get into a discussion about which one we liked better: “Django Unchained” or  2009’s “Inglorious Basterds.” Our jury of two was split. I preferred Basterds for the pacing and it’s more memorable scenes. I found the running time of two hours and forty-five minutes for Django bit too long. Ah, but this could all be a matter of taste for those who go to Tarantino films.

There were things we did agree on, apart from Christoph Waltz being brilliant again. We enjoyed the “amo” and “utusan” (or if you like Filipino internet memes, “Facundo”) chemistry and repartee between Calvin Candie (Leonardo Di Caprio) and his butler Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson.)

Schultz and Django arrive at the estate known as Candieland and Calvin Candie instructs Stephen to prepare a guest room for Django. Stephen shoots back with an incredulous ,“He stayin' in the big house!?!” He then adds he’s going to have to burn all the bedsheets after Django leaves.

Another great scene is one with Don Johnson and Jonah Hill as members of gang most certainly a precursor to the Ku Klux Klan. A good chunk of dialogue is devoted to how difficult it was to see through the holes in the white bags they used as masks.

What’s a Tarantino film without Easter eggs? I know we didn’t get them all but aside from having Miami Vice’s Crockett and Tubbs (Johnson and Foxx)—there are so many other little pop culture links. Tom Wopat who plays Marshall Gill Tatum was Luke Duke in the 80’s show “Dukes of Hazzard.” Franco Nero—the original Django from that late 60’s Western has a short scene with today’s Django.

Film buffs will likely recognize Tom Savini  who played Sex Machine (the man with the “groin gun”) in “From Dusk Til Dawn” and Osiris Amanpour in “Machete.” Ted Neeley who played one of the trackers was Jesus in the 1973 “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

There are also those zoom-in shots with a “whoosh” which were so common in 70’s films.

Expect excessive blood splatter—it almost looks like gratuitous red jello or watermelons exploding everywhere when the guns go off, scenes with great dialogue and of course Tarantino getting his actors into roles we thoroughly enjoy.

Django Unchained opens here March 13.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Is Oliver Stone Always Supposed to Be Taken Seriously?

Oliver Stone’s latest full-length feature,  “Savages,” was released in July of last year in the US. It’s finally being released here uncut.

I watched it with my friend and short format movie-reviewer, Manuel, and he loved it. I left the screening room feeling like the film had some sort of identity crisis. Maybe I should blame it on the Stone films I grew up with: Salvador, Platoon (where I first laid eyes on and fell in love with Johnny Depp), Wall Street, JFK and Natural Born Killers.

He was constantly making statements about politics, the US government, foreign policy, economy, the media, reportage, war and the current zeitgeist. So there I was sitting through “Savages” and looking around for that Stone statement on the drug war, or maybe on the legalization of marijuana.

Instead I got something that was sometimes stylish, sometimes thrilling, sometimes funny, often dark, bloody and violent. While it had brutal scenes of torture and murder to depict the ruthlessness of how Mexican drug cartel’s operate, I wonder how much of it real or fantasy?

Ex-Navy Seal Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and botanist-entrepreneur (Aaron Johnson) peacenik Ben run a small independent of producing some excellent cannabis in sunshiny Southern California. Mexico’s Baja Cartel gets a whiff of this and wants in. 

O (short for Ophelia) is the woman both best friends share—which makes her a target for the cartel seeking leverage on Ben and Chon’s operations.  O is played by Gossip Girl’s Blake Lively, who narrates the beginning and the end of the film.

Apart from having a ridiculously good-looking functioning love triangle at the center of story, you also have Salma Hayek as the vicious “Reyna Elena” of the Baja Cartel in her high fashion get ups and Cleopatra hair. I keep wondering if she is based on an actual character.

Rounding out the main cast is Benicio del Toro as the absolutely creepy carter “enforcer” Lado—the man who shoots, burns, tortures in the name of the drug business and John Travolta as Dennis, the DEA agent with questionable allegiances.

I thought Savages crossed a lot into Tarantino / Pulp Fiction territory.  And because of my previous view of Stone, I kept wondering whether he wanted us to take this movie seriously or not. Especially with the ending.

(I also saw “A Good Day to Die Hard” and while I heard some applause from the audience at the special screening, I thought it was downright awful. It was a textbook action movie with a forced plot, and one implausible scenario after another. I leave with a quote from an old Filipino film, “huwag mo nang buhayin ang bangkay.”)

"Savages" opens on Feb. 20 exclusively at Glorietta 4, Greenbelt 3, Trinoma, Market! Market! and Alabang Town Center.

Do all marijuana entrepreneurs look like this?