Saturday, December 29, 2012

Django Unchained & The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

One’s a shattering comedy-drama, the other is the darkest comedy imaginable – guess which is which

     A lot of our friends liked The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (for the Elderly & Beautiful) when it ran for about six months at the Mariemont Theatre.  We didn’t go because I said I didn’t want to see a movie about euthanasia.  Yes, I know it was supposedly a gentle, civilized British comedy about a group of literate, elderly retirees moving to India, but they were going there to die (eventually).  Plus, I thought it would be an example of hyperlink cinema that wouldn’t
work like Love, Actually where there were nine stories and I could have cut two or three of them easily.  My sister sent Marigold Hotel as a Christmas gift so we watched it and I liked it much more than I thought I would.

The Seven Retirees Meet
     It feels comfortable, at first, because there are seven retirees, all played by the usual great actors that many middle-class, conscientious viewers have seen in other art house movies and PBS or BBC America series.  While enjoying the prospect of watching them adjust to India and wondering whether it will be a bittersweet tale, a number of troubling issues arise.  They’ve led half-lives because they didn’t have the courage to pursue what they wanted or they gave in to others.  Why?  Because they’re mostly middle-class.  They’re mediocrities and they and we hope they’ll somehow rise above their ‘natural’ culture in a new culture that will more fully nurture them.

Judi Dench Adapts To Her New Home
     Judi Dench plays the authorial voice, which is wise and open to possibilities.  It’s the enticing ideal for the viewer, though many of us may be more like Penelope Wilton’s character that hates everything about her life because it didn’t work out as she’d planned, but had little control over, and takes her frustration out on India and her husband, played delicately by Bill Nighy with his patented, but charming, physical and vocal idiosyncracies.  Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, and Tom Wilkinson play characters looking for love on various levels.  Maggie Smith’s character is the bigoted, working class woman, who needs a hip replacement.  So, it’s three strikes and, basically, the viewers’ and the other, more pleasant characters’ sympathies are turned against her.  Yet, she’s the one who connects with an ‘untouchable’ servant because she also is invisible.  The irony is that she saves the hotel and the future way of life for most of the others because of her understanding of microeconomics.  Dev Patel and Tena Desae are the beautiful young Indian lovers fighting against the caste (class/racial) system so that they can
Dev Patel and Tena Desae
succeed romantically and economically.  Whenever it comes down to love and money (or generally the other way around), westerners sit up at attention.

     The underlying messages from the movie are that we may not be able to afford retirement in our own first world countries so we’d better hope that the rising Asian nations would have a place for us and that pragmatic common sense and math are the way to sustaining vitality.  Don’t discount those that may initially appear unattractive because their gifts may be the most useful.  As Europe totters financially and the U.S. faces a fiscal cliff, this movie’s implications are timely and frightening.

I kinda enjoyed all the color of the Marigold Hotel, but I don't think I'm up for this next one.

     Django Unchained is Quentin Tarantino’s latest and it’s a shocking, unbelievably bloody variation on the spaghetti westerns of the ‘60s and a great screwball comedy.  Actually, all of his movies have been screwball comedies, but instead of the stakes being about romance, they’re about desperate survival.  It’s already been controversial because of its questionable language, but this may result in bigger box office.  Specifically, the N word is used over one hundred times, though the two mature black women in front of me did not react as if they were offended.  It was the continual F word repetition that I found objectionable because it didn’t seem of the period, whereas the N word usage, while chafing, is consistent with the historical cultural context.  There have been other objections by Spike Lee and Tavis Smiley, among others.  While I respect their opinions, Tarantino never makes light of slavery and its warping affects upon anyone who came in contact with it. 

Jamie Foxx as Django
     The cast looks authentic from stars to bit players.  I thought the group of trackers looked like an inbred version of a couple of generations of Carradines and then a couple of seconds later I saw Robert Carradine and laughed at the appropriateness.  Jamie Foxx has his best part since Ray and he races with it.  Like Marigold Hotel, this movie focuses on a character’s search for identity (Django’s) after being freed from the culture in which he was raised and Foxx tries on a number of different personae as that former slave searching

Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx
with Christoph Waltz’s German dentist/bounty hunter for his wife (Kerry Washington).  Waltz’s character is almost angelic in his Teutonic motivation to assist Django, but he has no qualms about shooting criminals and we never see him bring in any alive.  Leonardo DiCaprio as the creepy, entrancing

Leonardo DiCaprio
plantation owner with a passion for Mandingo matches (male slaves wrestling each other to death) and Samuel L. Jackson as his head house slave connect in a Stockholm syndrome relationship that’s almost as disquieting as the amount of blood that is shed, exploded, splattered, and wiped across the screen.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  When Jackson’s
Samuel L. Jackson
as the Head House Slave
character and Laura Cayouette as DiCaprio’s older sister were dispatched, there was cheering in the theater.  Tarantino doesn’t miss that DiCaprio and, earlier, Don Johnson’s Big Daddy are the real villains, but their ends are not as compelling or funny.

     Yes, the violence is shocking and perverse and funny just like it was in Inglourious Basterds, but that dealt with American Jewish heroes battling Nazis far away in Europe; this is about Americans (and one German) battling one another and it’s far more dangerous politically.  Django comments significantly (and this is a paraphrase) that he knows how America is with violence because he’s been raised with it and implies that the dentist is naïve in comparison.  Tarantino knows how Americans are thrilled and repelled by violence and he shows the terrible price that must be paid for both retribution (Basterds) and freedom (Django).  However, a recurring motif in his work is that people that cannot communicate with those from another group, either through language or cultural respect and understanding, will eventually lose to those that can.
     While the pundits wring their hands and rebuke, we must remember that Tarantino is the only major American white director to consistently utilize ethnically diverse casts.  He refuses to portray blacks in this or Jews in Inglourious Basterds as victims; they stand up, fight, and suffer the triumphs and tragedies.  Unfortunately, there aren’t any great parts for women in Django; this is a shame since Uma Thurman, Pam Grier, Rose MacGowan, Rosario Dawson, Mélanie Laurent, and Diane Kruger have shone in his earlier movies.  With this mature, commercial entertainment, Tarantino simultaneously confronts the Left that doesn’t want anything portraying disenfranchised group without compassion and sensitivity and the Right that doesn’t want anything that details the racial anguish inherent in American history and culture.

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