Thursday, 7 February 2013

Django Unchained – Hang on a minute . . . this aint no Western

I am not 18. I am therefore not allowed to legally watch Django Unchained, and, even more illegally, I watched a ‘For Your Consideration’ copy that I have no right to (Thanks, Mikey). But how could I miss out on the chance of seeing Quentin Tarantino’s latest cinematic offering?

Am I a bad person? Am I exploiting an industry that I hold dear to my heart?

Who knows . . . but, in my head, I managed to justify such devilish deeds. My rationale was this; if I write a review for it, then I may well persuade someone who had no previous interest in the film to go see it, therefore paying for my ticket . . . kind of.

But that won’t be as simple as I thought because Django Unchained is not the rip-roaring success I had anticipated.

Throughout his career, Quentin Tarantino has made his name taking other people’s ideas and repackaging them in a shiny and fast-talking post-modernist parcel. His movies feature visual cues, camera angles and now even titles from a selection of great (and less great) movies. He uses his encyclopaedic knowledge of cinema and pays homages some truly obscure films. But there are a few filmmakers he goes back to time after time; including the late, great Sergio Leone.

Along with John Ford and Sam Peckinpah, Leone is probably the greatest Western director of all time, and Tarantino is a known Leone-phile. He’s featured Western elements in all of his films to date, and he obviously loves the genre; the violence, the heroes, the villains and the set-pieces etc. So, surely a Quentin Tarantino Western is a mouth-watering prospect. But, for me, something went seriously wrong.

You see, now he’s finally got a Western canvas to work with, he seems to want to make other genres. Django Unchained doesn't feel like a proper Western. It feels like a below-par Tarantino film wearing a funny hat.

And, I’m not for one moment doubting that there are some great moments in Django. Some of the dialogue-based confrontations absolutely fizz with energy and wit, and Leonardo Di Caprio is absolutely tremendous.

But, when I look back on it; yes, it has some beautiful vistas, a steely cool protagonist, crazy villians, blood-drenched set pieces, the triumph of good over evil, but it seems forced. Instead of a calm and collected cowboy of a film, picture a giggling, spoilt fan-boy jumping up and down on a horses back firing revolvers in the air and shouting ‘yee haaaaaaaa, motherfuckers!!!!’. That is Django Unchained.

. . . Yet I still think it’s better than 80% of the movies that invade our multiplexes week in, week out.


Saturday, 2 February 2013

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena Review – Porn? . . . On My Television?

I know it’s an odd place to start, but the dictionary definition of porn is ‘the depiction of erotic behaviour intended to cause sexual excitement or, when referring not just to sex, ‘the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction’. 

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena is both of these, and probably the most pornographic thing that's ever made it on to my TV . . . and I've watched Babestation.

Featuring gratuitous – and, at times, utterly ludicrous – sex, violence and language, season 1.5 of Spartacus is back in familiar territory for those who watched Blood and Sand. For those unfortunate enough to have missed out on one of the televisual surprises of the last few years, Spartacus is a boiling-pot of serious drama with lashings of grindhouse hot sauce.

At first glance, it’s a show that simply delivers decadent sex and violence, but, when given a chance, the audience are introduced to something far more grand and, at times, truly emotional.

What’s so special about Spartacus is the symbiosis of these two aspects; on the one hand, adult historical drama with conniving characters and deception, and on the other, explicit and utterly brutal sex and violence. Never before have I seen so few holes-barred (and yes, that also works as a euphemism) with regards to the mature content on show.

We are introduced to some fan favourites and also some new faces; with a special note to this seasons champion, Gannicus, who’s conflicted and surprisingly warm character is surely destined to return in coming seasons. The acting is stellar all round really, both from the brains and the brawn.

While Gods of the Arena delivers nothing the first season didn't, it’s a very successful expansion of the universe creator Steven K. Knight has crafted for our viewing pleasure.

Though not for the fain-hearted or the prude, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena is something of a guilty pleasure. 

As a stand-alone season: ★★★

As a prequel to Blood and Sand★★★★