Tag Archives: quentin tarantino

The Black and White of American Sniper [No, This Isn’t About Race]

There were just so many angles from which to approach American Sniper. One of them is, of course, within the context of the Oscars, especially when set in stark contrast with the amount of nominations Selma received [or didn’t receive, as it were]. Another is as the whitewashing of both a man who took great joy in taking lives and the war he fought in. While both are important, the latter more so in my opinion, I will actually be focusing on neither.

As I so often do on this blog, I will instead be writing on and cataloguing a number of reactions to the film [which I haven’t personally seen], some of which you can see below-

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Evan and Gordon Talk: Django Unchained

GORDON: You know what they call a quarter pounder with cheese in France?

EVAN: What?

GORDON: A poor attempt at distracting our readers from the fact that we ain’t gonna be talking about drugs like we said we would.

EVAN: I have seen very few Tarantino films, and only barely recognize the references.

GORDON: You make me sad.

EVAN: I know.

That aside, what we’re going to be talking about today is Django Unchained, a movie I finished watching less than an hour ago and the subject of this Monday’s post [written by Gordon].

GORDON: So what did you think?

EVAN: Initial thoughts are: Very long. Not what I expected. Apparently in Django’s world everyone is a skinbag filled to bursting with blood.

GORDON: Speaking as someone who’s fired black-powder guns, I can actually kinda see something like that happening.

EVAN: That is ridiculous, but interesting to know.

Now if you don’t have anything in particular you wanted to talk about, did you want to maybe address Spike Lee’s reaction to this film really quick?

GORDON: The Lee-Tarantino feud has been going on for a long time now, so I really wasn’t surprised that Lee reacted the way he did. I naturally wish he had at least seen the movie, but I don’t think it would’ve made a difference in his mind.

EVAN: To give readers a little context, director Spike Lee tweeted:

American Slavery Was Not A Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. It Was A Holocaust. My Ancestors Are Slaves. Stolen From Africa. I Will Honor Them.

He also straight-up said “I cant speak on it ’cause I’m not gonna see it. All I’m going to say is that it’s disrespectful to my ancestors. That’s just me…I’m not speaking on behalf of anybody else.”

GORDON: I get where he’s coming from, but (1) I don’t think the movie dishonors the slaves and (2) I don’t think that there should be any time period off-limits for telling stories.

EVAN: I definitely agree with both points. Tarantino does not disrespect the plight of slaves during the time period, and there are really no eras of history that we shouldn’t be allowed to explore through various media. How it’s done is what matters.

GORDON: It’s Tarantino; you either love him or you hate him. He does a spastic, scatterbrained style of movie which is two parts tense dialogue and three parts references to obscure exploitation flicks. It is what it is.

EVAN: So did you like it?

GORDON: I did, but not as much as his other movies. And not for the subject matter, simply for the storytelling. I felt it was anticlimatic. Especially compared to his second latest, Inglourious Basterds.

EVAN: Very much agreed. You expect [SPOILER ALERT YOU’VE BEEN WARNED] Monsieur Candy to be killed by Django, or at least in a big way, but instead he’s just shot by Dr. Schultz with his sleeve-Deringer.

GORDON: And there’s still plenty left in the film, we just kinda trudge through it. I simply wasn’t impressed. I mean- I ain’t asking for a John Wu fightscene, but something more than [SERIOUSLY YOU GUYS, SPOILERS] Django shooting unarmed people from the top of the plantation stairs.

But as far as the whole thing goes, relatively amusing and a major stepping stone in addressing the subject of slavery.

EVAN: I mean, sort of going back to where Lee was coming from, it’s not a very realistic depiction by any means, a revenge story of this fashion can’t be. That being said, isn’t it the same sort of concept as Inglourious Basterds? Revenge enacted by the persecuted?

GORDON: That’s exactly what it is. A revenge fantasy. Bad guys being killed by the people who they oppressed. It gives us a feeling of divine judgment upon the wicked. Which is a theme a lot of westerns have.

REVENGE.

EVAN: I have seen at least one, and you are not wrong.

GORDON: I think what Lee needs to get is this:

This was not a movie about slavery, this was a movie about revenge set in the world of slavery. This wasn’t- and shouldn’t be- taken as a commentary of any kind about African-Americans anymore than Kill Bill should be taken as a commentary on women.

You wanna pick a fight with Tarantino, do it over something that’s actually there. (And just so everyone knows, I really like Spike Lee’s work and admire the guy as an individual)

EVAN: So you’re saying that slavery must be viewed as a backdrop, and not the subject matter? I know that you wrote your Monday post on this, but we can go over it just a little.

GORDON: That’s exactly it. It’s not a history film, it’s a Tarantino film. Don’t look for realism there, and don’t look for buoyancy in a nightstand; it’s not what either of them are for.

EVAN: I agree with you to a point, in that the exploration of slavery was in no means Tarantino’s intent. It’s just difficult to look past that as subject matter when it permeates the film [what with it opening up on a slave’s scarred back, etc].

GORDON: That is true, and you can question whether or not it’s right for Tarantino to use the subject matter to shock and horrify people and draw in crowds, but from what I saw and understood of the film the scenes of horror inflicted upon the slaves were, what’s the word for this, “respectful?” enough to indicate that even blood-and-guts Quentin wasn’t unaware of what he was dealing with.

EVAN: I can accept that. Two more thoughts as we wrap up this talk: the soundtrack and Samuel L. Jackson as a real life Uncle Ruckus.

GORDON: The soundtrack sucked. We can all agree on this. Usually he can make it work- this time he didn’t.

EVAN: My cousin and I actually really liked it.

GORDON: Really? I couldn’t disagree more. I felt it lacked cohesion, which the soundtracks in his other works normally have. Heck, more often than not it’s the commonalities in the soundtracks trying the whole thing together.

EVAN: I felt like the more contemporary hip-hop rap tracks were a little bit jarring, but thought the other songs overall were good picks.

GORDON: We’ll have to agree to disagree on that one. Let’s move on.

EVAN: Samuel L. Jackson’s character.

If you don’t know who that is on the right you need to start watching The Boondocks right now. Finish this post first, then immediately go find an episode online or something.

GORDON: I thought he knocked it out of the park. Didn’t have any problem with him whatsoever.

EVAN: 1) Did not know Samuel L. Jackson could play such a convincing old man. 2) Sycophants in films are normally played up for comedic value, and that is no less the case here.

GORDON: Let’s not forget that Jackson was not only an active member of the civil rights movement, but even associated with some of its more radical leaders.

EVAN: That is something that I, and presumably our readers, did not know.

To end this off, did you have a favourite moment in the film? [I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO WARN ABOUT SPOILERS, BUT I AM ANYWAY]

GORDON: For me, it would have to be the scene where Christoph Waltz (who really stole the show) was explaining bounty-hunting the Django in the bar. The dude is awesome to watch.

EVAN: Christoph Waltz’s accent was amazing. I could listen to him talk all day.

My personal favourite was the posse getting ready to go kill Django and Schultz and arguing about the masks. The dialogue was hilarious, and Jonah Hill was a nice surprise, too.

GORDON: That was awesome. And speaking of awesome stuff, our discussion topic for next week:

EVAN: Ah man, I kind of just want to talk about movies. Could we somehow generally address the trend towards big budget sci-fi flicks that’s coming about in Hollywood?

GORDON: No. No more movies. We do ’em too much already.

EVAN: Fine, fine. Suggestions?

GORDON: College: what should its purpose be? Careers or Well-Rounded Individuals?

EVAN: Or just in general, I’m not sure it has to go one of two ways. But that’s a good one. I’m on board.

Thanks everyone for reading, and for continuing to unwittingly stumble upon our blog in 2013! Evan and Gordon out.

Slavery and Movies

I recently had a chance to see The Man with the Iron Fists, a gritty Kung-Fu-Spaghetti-Western-70s-Exploitation mash-up film presented (of course) by Quentin Tarantino. I say presented by Tarantino; the creation of the film itself is owed largely to The RZA of the former (and still awesome) Wu-Tang Clan. In addition to co-writing and directing the film, the RZA stars in the epic slug-fest itself, serving as the narrator and titular character.

Now I went into this film simply suspending my disbelief. I assumed all the nonsensical elements in the film would simply be loving jabs at the old-school kung-fu and action movies that Tarantino and Roth grew up on. That’s why Russel Crowe’s character has a gun-scissor-knife weapon, or why (and here’s the big thing) the blacksmith in this fictional Chinese village is black. Much to my surprise however, the movie began offering explanations (though not to the gun-scissor-knife). The blacksmith is, in a flashback, shown having grown up on a plantation and receiving his freedom from his dying master. Despite having papers declaring him a free man, he is continually treated as a slave- in one scene he is told by a couple of dandies that there’s no way he can read, and therefore understand what’s written on his documents. The two men crumple up his paper and proceed to slur and shove him until he fights back, inadvertently killing one of them. He flees west, and after his ship is wrecked, finds himself in China.

Now obviously that whole last bit about him running so far he winds up in the far east is obviously just the movie shifting back into fantasy, but what really got me was the depiction of slavery. Not prejudice, not segregation- slavery. When’s the last time you can actually say you saw a film deal with that? Glory in 1989? Some Little House on the Prairie episode sometime in the 70s? It simply isn’t done (and that one episode of The Boondocks doesn’t count).

And that’s what I want to talk about. Our depiction, or lack of depiction, of slavery. For all our grand talk of freedom, liberty, and American “exceptionalism,” we do tend to gloss over the uglier elements of our history, such as Manzanar, Wounded Knee, and perhaps most notably, slavery. It brings up all sorts of uncomfortable, and frankly unresolved conflicts. It throws a dark shadow over all of our self-reported greatness. Nevertheless, we really can’t shove it under the carpet, and it looks like, at long last, it’s starting to all come out.

AMC’s Hell on Wheels takes place during the years following the close of the Civil War, and like The Man with the Iron Fists is one of the few depictions of slavery I’ve ever seen on film or TV. In addition to its frank depiction of slavery, I want to take a moment to give the show some applause for the historical accuracy it had in general, depicting Northern racism towards the ex-slaves, as well as the racism inflicted to (and by) the Irish immigrants- another nasty little thread in American heritage you won’t find in most history books.

Of course, beyond that, there’s the highly anticipated Tarantino film Django Unchained, which we’re all expecting to be jaw-dropping in how good or bad it turns out to be. Unlike the previous two examples, which depicted slavery only briefly, this is a movie set completely in the antebellum South. That’s another hefty jump, though again, how well this is going to be executed is still very much up in air.

Now I’ve been struggling all night to come up with a conclusion for all of this, but I’m really not sure what to say. I can’t say why we’re suddenly interested in a subject we’ve been ignoring for the past century and a half. I can’t quite figure out if this is some little trend or the awakening of some part of our culture that’s been dormant so long we’ve forgotten it. I can’t pinpoint what’s causing this. I can’t tell you where it’s all going. I can tell you, however, where I hope it goes.

I hope this is the beginning of something that might pass for maturity in our culture or our generation. I hope that movies depicting the reality of slavery become a thing. I hope that they open up the doors for the rest of our small-pox-infected, witch-burning, Japanese-interning, waterboarding history. I hope we can actually learn something from all of this once it’s out there, and hey, maybe we can actually get some racial diversity in our movies for a change.

Maybe.

P.S. I haven’t seen Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter or Lincoln yet, so I can’t say how they deal with it in there.