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by Eric Kohn, Carrie Rickey and Anne Thompson
December 26, 2012 10:46 AM
13 Comments
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Critical Consensus: Carrie Rickey and Anne Thompson Discuss 'Django Unchained,' 'Les Miserables' and Other Fall Movies

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.

TWC "Django Unchained."
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.

The Sad Off with Samuel L. Jackson and Anne Hathaway from Samuel L Jackson

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.

13 Comments

  • reston | December 31, 2012 12:40 PMReply

    Great discussion

  • fred | December 29, 2012 8:50 PMReply

    This movie brinfgs an important message about ourselves. The review compliments it

  • Goodvibe61 | December 29, 2012 5:32 PMReply

    Further more:

    "CR" says, " I saw the movie with critics and tastemakers", and then goes on to say "there were probably people there who had never seen a Tarantino movie before".

    Really? What kind of critics are we talking about here? Evidently ones who don't care much about their work. It's like saying, "I got my degree in 20th Century American Literature, and who are these Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner guys?".

    I don't buy any of it for a second.

    I didn't go see the film with "critics and tastemakers". I saw the film with John Q. Public. And yet, I didn't here a single person on the way out of the screening asking others, "what about this reference? I didn't get it". The audience was completely riveted for 2 3/4 hours, and by the way, the scenes at Candieland, particularly the scenes that ratchet up the tension, carried a feeling of electricity in the theater, you could hear a pin drop in the theater, people on the edge of their seats. The whole concept of Tarantino's films not having anything at risk, that he makes "meta" films that "aren't about anything" is the biggest cop out I consistently see. The characters carry as much if not more weight than the movies of almost any other filmmaker, creating characters that have stood the test of time in popular culture. More people remember Mr. Pink, or Jules Winfield, or Jackie Brown, or The Bride, or Hans Landa, then remember other director's characters. Don't waste your readers time with either out and out B.S. or lazy theory.

  • goodvibe61 | December 29, 2012 4:17 PMReply

    What references are specifically being discussed here? I've seen the movie twice now. I simply cannot imagine what is being said, that people walked out of the theater saying they didn't get the references.

    This is just some made up stuff by somebody who has a preconception of not liking the film.

    I've asked my entire family, "you've gone to see this movie. What part of any of it do you walk out saying, I don't get the refences".

    This is absolute garbage.

  • terence | December 27, 2012 11:40 AMReply

    After watching the movie (twice). I agree with the reviewers. QT manages to mix graphically 1- a horrible fact of our history (the first scene) 2 A mythology that allows the oppressed to punish the oppressors (rest of the film), and 3 Some dark humor to express the moral absurdity of slavery. I believe the reviewer got it right. as black parent of teenage boys we need black heroes

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  • jake | December 26, 2012 1:35 PMReply

    Worst analysis ever. Agreed with all comments already posted. You guys can do better than this..

  • BLOB | December 26, 2012 11:51 AMReply

    This whole article is a head scratcher. Django is a snuff film? Zero Dark Thirty is fascinating? I suppose it is if you enjoy your movies to be devoid of any personality whatsoever. ZDT is nothing but an overly simplified cliff notes version on the hunt for Bin Laden. Thorough it is not. However, to its credit it does continue the well-worn tradition of movies people enjoy in order to feel smarter than they actually are. You're in good company Ann and Carrie!

  • BLOB | December 26, 2012 11:51 AMReply

    This whole article is a head scratcher. Django is a snuff film? Zero Dark Thirty is fascinating? I suppose it is if you enjoy your movies to be devoid of any personality whatsoever. ZDT is nothing but an overly simplified cliff notes version on the hunt for Bin Laden. Thorough it is not. However, to its credit it does continue the well-worn tradition of movies people enjoy in order to feel smarter than they actually are. You're in good company Ann and Carrie!

  • Forrest Cardamenis | December 27, 2012 4:01 AM

    Nothing in the world is more ironic than someone saying people like ZDT because it makes them feel smart if that person is obviously a Tarantino fan and probably worships Pulp Fiction, a film that is presented out of order for the sole purpose of appearing smart despite having no subtext whatsoever (just like the rest of QT's filmography!)

    Anyway, more to Anne: You said a lot of men aren't taken with Zero Dark Thirty being a female-led procedural? Maybe it's a different circles thing, or because I consider myself to be acutely aware of and advocating for feminism in film despite being male, but I haven't noticed men not taking well to Maya. I'm working on a piece about ZDT regarding both the torture argument and, more generally, ZDT's depiction of this era where American Exceptionalism sort of comes to an end, where the country loses its moral compass and is stuck so far in the past that they can't even accept the idea of a woman being good at this kind of a job and picking work over family, and in the end it's sort of the realization of the enormous sacrifice that Americans, women especially, have made in the name of security. It's a very, very complex film, perhaps the only artwork thus far to really capture post-9/11 life in the way it has changed the position and outlook of America within the world. The only thing that really comes close is Wilco's album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which was actually leaked before 9/11 but took on eerie new meaning in the wake of the tragedy.

    Anyway, loved this conversation, though I did not like either Les Mis or Django (didn't hate them either).

  • spassky | December 26, 2012 11:36 AMReply

    As a film lover and Philadelphian, I have to voice my extreme displeasure in Indiewire having included Carrie Rickey in this discussion. Her writing is consistently subpar and her critical approach to films is fundamentally flawed.