Critical Consensus is a biweekly feature in which two critics from Indiewire’s Criticwire network discuss new releases with Indiewire’s chief film critic, Eric Kohn. Here, The Philadelphia Inquirer film critic Carrie Rickey and Thompson on Hollywood blogger Anne Thompson discuss "Django Unchained," "Les Misérables" and other fall season movies.
On Christmas Day, moviegoers were given the option of two new releases: "Django Unchained" and "Les Misérables." But if you had to pick just one…
CARRIE RICKEY: I would probably go for "Les Miz," mostly because after the first hour of "Django," I felt the movie went from a fun exploitation movie into something more dehumanizing; it wasn't for me. It exceeded my threshold for combining humor and violence. The most interesting contrast between the two movies I've seen is that great Funny or Die video where Anne Hathaway and Sam Jackson, respective stars of each movie, talk about whether it's better to be a 19th-century slave in the United States or a 19th-century whore during the July revolution of 1832 in France.
Were you surprised by the way "Django" shifted gears in its second hour?
CR: Most directors have a certain running time they feel good about. Tarantino's seems to be between two and a half and three hours. Once the movie gets to the plantation, Candyland, it became airless to me. I have a problem with this forensic interest in violence and what it can do to people's bodies. That's just hard for me even though I've been doing this for a long time.
'In a funny way, Tarantino's afraid of all the material he's working with here and keeps himself at a distance from it.' --Anne Thompson
Of course, "Les Miz" has plenty of physical discomfort as well.
CR: Around our house, we call it "Hugh Jackman Unchained." Although I've admired his performances in "X-Men" and rom coms like "Someone Like You" and "Kate and Leopold," I feel that when he sings he becomes fully himself as an actor. He's working everything. I was surprised how much I liked his performance. I didn't like the whole movie as much. I think the scene in which Anne Hathaway has her big number, "I Dreamed a Dream," I was surprised by the mise-en-scene. A man is having sex with her from behind and we see her breasts as if they're on a platter. I was just unnerved by that scene. Because Tom Hooper likes wide angles, it was even more exaggerated. Yes, there's a lot of misery in both movies. To answer the Funny or Die question, I don't know how to compare being a slave or a prostitute in the 19th century. They're not jobs I want.
ANNE THOMPSON: I'm in the same camp on both films. I just saw "Les Miz" a second time and really enjoyed it even though it is miserable. Both films are beautiful and have their own strong, powerful signature styles. My argument on "Django" is that as beautiful as it is in some ways, it is also very ugly, distributing and very out of control. He didn't modulate it. He didn't figure out in the editing room. I agree that Candyland is where it goes wrong. Talk about forensics -- it's an issue when Leonard DiCaprio goes off on the question of phrenology, which he apparently introduced to Tarantino as an idea, because this has been added to the script, which I greatly admired. There's a heartbreaking love story in "Django," but the way that Tarantino, in his characteristic way, references old movies, it's very disjunctive. He doesn't allow for a more heartfelt experience. He brings you in and out in a headier way. In a funny way, he's afraid of all the material he's working with here and keeps himself at a distance from it.
CR: I was thinking, god, I liked this better when it was called "Skin Game," the movie with Louis Gossett Jr. and James Garner. The best thing about "Django" for me was Christoph Waltz. He was wonderful and the film had a different tone when he was onscreen. All the oxygen goes out when he leaves.
AT: He's the human character who brings civilization to this world.
CR: Without him, it's a snuff movie.