Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

Archive for December, 2012

Explaining Movies to Morons: Django Unchained

Posted by CinemaPsycho on December 30, 2012

First off, I want to sincerely thank my readers for getting this blog over 40,000 hits. Much appreciated.

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So I saw Django Unchained last night and really loved it. Yes, I am a Tarantino guy. But it’s not because of the hype, or because he’s “king of the film geeks” or any of that. It’s because of what he puts on the screen. It’s because he proves it – film after film, time and time again, he swings for the fences and knocks it out of the park. Those who dismiss him as a genre copycat simply don’t get it and never will, and that argument isn’t even worth addressing at this point. There’s so much more going on in his work than that, and for any intelligent person not to see that by now is laughable. His Django is massively entertaining and unexpectedly moving, a blazing fireball of righteous rage shot straight at the evil eye of racism itself. It’s a giant middle finger towards the history of hate, and if you have a problem with that, Tarantino doesn’t give a flying fuck. Nor should he.

But I find the reaction to this film from some corners bizarrely fascinating. I’m not even talking about the critics, I’m talking about people in general, who should still be smart enough to know better. I know, I shouldn’t even bother to read comments from the peanut gallery, because it just drives me nuts, but sometimes it’s hard to avoid. I’ve heard people (some of whom have seen the film, and some who haven’t) call Django “pure filth”, “racist”, “anti-white”, and of course (the snowball that morons always throw at things they don’t like), “anti-American”. The funny thing is, I never heard anyone say any of these things about Spielberg’s Lincoln, even though both films are basically about the same issues, are they not? Both films deal with the issue of slavery in America, and both films take strong stands against slavery. But one film is revered for taking that stand, and the other film is pilloried for it. Does that make sense to anyone else? Yes, they are very different films, no question about that. But they basically have the same message: that slavery was wrong, and needed to end by any means necessary. I actually had problems with Lincoln as a film, but I certainly did not disagree with its message. With Django, it seems that people are attacking the film for no other reason than its message.

Look, I am a white male and I am generally unashamed of that fact. It’s simply what I am. But it doesn’t stop me from having empathy for other people. I grew up around rednecks and generally racist white people, but I didn’t become one of them. I find them to be hands down the worst people on Earth. So I don’t feel that Django is attacking me personally. If you feel that way, perhaps you need to look at yourself. If you can’t accept the idea that maybe, I don’t know, slavery might have been a bad idea as we’re approaching the year 2013, then maybe you’re the problem. But the only reason any white person should find this movie to be “controversial”, “dangerous” or even “anti-white” is if you’re an ignorant, racist asshole. If that’s the case, then no one should give a shit what you think anyway. And you probably shouldn’t go see a movie about slavery in any event. Go see Cirque du Soleil 3D or something. Have a blast. Seriously though, I thought we were all at the point now where we all agreed that slavery was a bad thing. Are we really not there yet? Still? We’re not all against the buying and selling of human beings for slave labor? We’re not united on that point in the 21st century? Wow. I really didn’t realize that. Silly me.

So here’s what I’ve decided to do. I’m going to do something I’ve never done before, which is to speak directly to the morons out there who apparently “don’t get” Django Unchained. If you’re not a moron (which hopefully describes my entire readership), you might get a good laugh or two out of this. I’ll do the moron-speak in italics so you know when I’m talking to them. It might be a futile effort, but it seems there are a lot of them on the internet, so who knows. Maybe I’ll get through to one or two of them.

“Duh. Hey dude. Heard you saw Django. Thought it sucked, huh? I know it didn’t have any talking animals, rapping grannies, or half-words like “bro” or “tard”. I guess it confused you. No, seriously, you probably still think of QT as “that violence guy” and you were shocked there was actually a human story in the middle of all that revenge shit. Wait, listen, I’ll go down the list point by point and explain the movie to you. Then you’ll get it. Just don’t drink any more beer while I’m telling you this or you’ll pass out, OK? Cool.

Slavery. This is a thing that actually happened in America. No, really. You should have learned about this in grade school, but you probably weren’t paying attention. OK, “back in the day”, way before you and me were ever born, these rich white guys used to bring black people over from Africa (which is like a different continent from ours) to work for them. They worked in their fields and their houses and all that shit. They didn’t have no choice, like they couldn’t go home or nothing, all right? They were stuck there. It was a real bummer. You can look this up in the history books, or you can just Google it or whatever. Unless you don’t believe in history or facts or any of that shit like some people. I’m sure it’s up on Wikipedia though.

Racism. Yeah dude, I know it’s hard to imagine, but a lot of white people just don’t like black people. It was even way worse “back in the day” too. They used to beat them and then whip them and all kinds of crazy shit. It was pretty harsh. Like, they didn’t even have rap music or anything. They used to think black people were inferior to white people. Remember all that science stuff Titanic guy was talking about? Some people still believe that shit to this day! They never listened to Bob Marley, you know what I’m sayin’? Hendrix is not on their iTunes. These guys are like hardcore dickheads about it. It sucks, but this kind of shit went down back then and sometimes still goes down today. It’s fucked up.

Revenge. Wow, that black dude killed like a ton of white people, right? He even talked about how much he loved killing white people. He made a point of it! That’s gotta be a racial thing, right? Well, you gotta remember, this guy was a slave. He was a victim of white people all his life. White people beat him and branded him and took away his wife. He didn’t have any power then, but now he has power and he can do something about it. What would you do in that situation? See, that’s the way revenge movies work – the weak grow to get revenge against the strong. It doesn’t really work the other way around, now does it? Django’s been wronged and we root for him to get even. Besides, these guys are all fictional characters anyway, you know? It’s not you, it’s not your ancestors. No need to take it so fucking personally, man. It’s just a movie. Chill out.

America. Yeah, this movie is set in the America of the past. Back in the day. That doesn’t mean that the people who made it hate America. They hate certain people who did a certain thing. Not all Americans practiced slavery even then. Should we all just ignore the history of our country? That’s dumb. If exploring problems makes you “anti-American”, does that mean ignoring problems makes you “pro-American”? Does that mean we should just ignore all the problems we have now? Of course not. If you have a problem, the smart thing to do is deal with it head-on, right? Pretending it doesn’t exist just makes it worse. Sometimes we need to be reminded of the bad things that happened so they don’t happen again. That’s why people watch the news and documentaries and read books and shit. OK, I see I’m losing you. Next topic.

The date. The movie is set in 1858, two years before the Civil War began. I don’t know if you got that, but some people seem to be having problems with it. The movie HAD to be set before the Civil War. It couldn’t be set DURING the Civil War, because all the men would be off fighting the CIVIL WAR. It couldn’t be set AFTER the Civil War, because slavery was ABOLISHED. There would be no point. That’s where Spielberg’s Lincoln movie comes in. Django Unchained only works if it’s taking place while slavery is actually in effect. Like, duh.

The n-word. Yeah, there’s been a LOT of talk about the n-word. Seriously, this is a movie set in the South in 1858. Written by Quentin Tarantino. Helloooo, McFly?? What were you expecting? I know, to us that’s a dirty word. Back then, at that place and time, it was the same as saying “black”. That’s why it’s a dirty word NOW, because it’s associated with slavery. But that’s the way people talked at that time. Would it have been better to have whitewashed the language (for lack of a better term) to placate sensitive ears? (I know, I’ve broken character already… I’m assuming the moron has passed out) Besides, Tarantino uses that word in his films anyway, because black people use that word anyway. I watched Jackie Brown again last night, I think he actually uses it as much in that film as he does in Django. If you really walked into a Quentin Tarantino film about slavery and did NOT expect to hear that word, then I really have no sympathy for you. There’s a difference between naive and just plain stupid.

The violence. Sigh… IT’S A QUENTIN TARANTINO FILM. What’s it been, 20 years now? The film is rated R. Know what you are fucking walking into. There are lots of other movies playing at the cineplex. Were you forced at gunpoint to watch this one? If screen violence bothers you, DON’T WATCH VIOLENT MOVIES. Take some responsibility for your own choices.

OK, I’m back. So that about covers it. I will probably have my Top 10 of the year up in early February, and I’m about to spend the next month or so catching up on films that I missed in 2012 (mainly because they didn’t open near me). I think it’s going to be really interesting. If anyone has any suggestions for obscure films I really need to see, let me know in the comments section. Happy New Year to everyone. No morons were harmed in the writing of this blog post, unfortunately.

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Watched at Random: Teens Sail the Seventies in The Dove (1974)

Posted by CinemaPsycho on December 2, 2012

deborah-raffin-the-dove-1974-poster2.jpgEvery now and then, I happen to watch an old movie that I know nothing about and the results fascinate me because they are so far out of my wheelhouse. Such is the case with 1974’s The Dove, a film released by Paramount, produced by none other than Gregory Peck (who sadly not does appear) and directed by Charles Jarrott, best known for British costume dramas like Mary, Queen of Scots. The Dove is a sailing movie, a subgenre I’ve always found interesting because I have no understanding of or interest in the activity itself whatsoever, and have always wondered why anyone would want to do that. I still haven’t seen a sailing movie that communicates the appeal of it to me, but then I have never understood why people risk their lives climbing really tall mountains either. “Because it’s there” doesn’t really do it when you’re suffering from frostbite.

Anyway, those of us who were children in the ’70’s remember a time that seems to have been forgotten by mainstream chroniclers of the decade like That 70’s Show. It wasn’t all punk rock, Star Wars and Zeppelin – there was a weird leftover hippie vibe typified by smiley faces, “Keep on Truckin'” stickers, Free to Be You and Me, The Electric Company and other strange effluvia. If you remember any of this, chances are you will enjoy The Dove, because it’s all about being a free spirit and love and doing your own thing, man. Groovy. We even get a warbly Joni Mitchell sound-alike on the soundtrack encouraging our hero to be a song on the wind or something like that (oh, if only Christopher Cross’ “Sailing” had been recorded by then).

The Dove is based on the true story on Robin Lee Graham, a 17-year-old American boy (played by Joseph Bottoms) who sails around the world. And that’s pretty much the plot, so if you expect much more than that, you’re out of luck. Wikipedia tells me this happened between 1965 and 1970, but the film version seems to take place very much in the loosey-goosey 70’s. Robin even has a Leif Garrett-style hairdo. I guess he avoided that whole Vietnam thing somehow, but let’s not get into that. I would’ve liked to have been a fly on the wall during that conversation with his parents – “Mom and Dad, instead of going to college or getting a job, I’d really like to spend the next five years sailing around the world by myself.” I know, different times. But the movie doesn’t even show us that conversation. The possible safety hazards involved don’t even seem to be an issue with Robin’s Dad whenever he pops up, so I guess young Robin must have been an excellent sailor already. Anyway, we don’t get much of a sense of the passage of time in the film itself, so for all we know it takes place within a few months. I know, that’s probably not possible, but most of the people watching the movie are not experienced sailors.

Along the way, Robin meets Patti Ratteree (Deborah Raffin, who sadly died recently at the age of 59), a lithe young beauty who is only two years older than him but fancies herself a sophisticate. Patti is also traveling around the world, and the explanation of how she talked her parents into giving her the money they would have spent on her last two years of college so that she can “educate herself” in this manner is quite hilarious in its youthful narcissism. At first Patti kind of annoys Robin (who is bummed about losing his cat – he has bizarrely bad luck with cats on this voyage), then Robin kind of becomes her stalker for awhile (but of course she finds it “charming”), then eventually, just when the audience can’t take much more of this, they somehow decide to fall in love. Never mind that they have nothing in common and don’t really know each other that well – they’re young and they’re in love, OK? It’s the 70’s, man!

The really strange thing about The Dove is that Robin himself seems to have serious doubts about his own journey, quitting several times along the way before deciding to pick it back up again. At one point he decides to quit sailing and become a construction worker in Australia. At another point he and Patti decide to get married, despite the fact that they have none of the documents they would need to get married in a foreign country. Oh, those wonderful naive youth! Never mind that Robin’s parents invested a ton of money in his boat, he has a contract with a magazine for a photo layout, and he’s a celebrity and an inspiration to people around the world. It’s all about him and what he wants to do at that moment, you see? The most hysterical scene in the movie comes about 3/4 of the way in, when Robin has decided once and for all not to finish the voyage. He’s found a buyer for the boat and he’s going to hang it up once and for all. Then suddenly he comes to a realization: “I NEED TO FINISH IT FOR ME!!!”

Wow. OK then.

deborah-raffin-plays-guitar-in-the-dove-1974.jpgI don’t want it to sound like I didn’t enjoy The Dove. I actually did like it quite a bit despite my sarcastic tone. It’s very much a movie of its time, and I accept it as that. That’s exactly why I find it so fascinating. I’m sure I would have viewed it a lot differently had I seen it at a younger age. It’s not a great film by any means, and I doubt anyone in 1974 saw it as such. But viewed nearly 40 years later, it’s kind of an amazing little curio. I’m sure any decent shrink would see it as a celebration of young narcissism, and they wouldn’t be entirely wrong. But I think The Dove is basically a movie about every kid who only saw their own tunnel-vision dream and wanted to live it, the rest of the world be damned. Who didn’t want that at 17? Who didn’t want to be a song on the wind, or whatever the hell that song said? I feel sorry for anyone who didn’t.

Note: I have no doubt that the real Robin Lee Graham learned quite a lot on his voyage. You just wouldn’t know it from watching this movie.

The Dove is available to watch on Netflix streaming. Groovy.

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