Nov 1, 2014

Literary Contender or Pretender: DJango Unchained

Hypothesis: Django Unchained offers a fantasy script that will resonate with humanists, but misfires for audiences expecting a masterful composition from Quentin Tarantino.  

There's the typical Tarantino flare that pulsates from Django Unchained: The hyperbolic violence, the candid and extended dialogue, bombastic audio, and animated characters that often parallel cartoons.  This is the good stuff.  This is the stuff that helped Tarantino create his very own style, and almost, his very own genre of film literature.  Many of his works are considered, by the Sirloin Furr blog, to contain literary merit: Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, and Inglorious Bastards.   But these mentioned films offer more than style: they present well executed story lines that intermingle the zany characters that are standards in Tarantino's work.  And unfortunately, that story line doesn't fully bloom with the same seduction that some of his other works have evoked.  

The Good Stuff

The Visuals

Most of Tarantino's films award the viewers with flawlessly orchestrated visuals.  This is a keystone to not only his success, but a major contribution towards achieving literary status.  Django Unchained offers these iconic screenshots, which helps give the film an distinct placement within the literary community.  

Django Throwing The Blanket
This 4 second moment of Django Unchained is a fraction of a fraction in the 165 minute film.  But, it stands as not only one of the most iconic images of the film, but for Tarantino's portfolio.  Firstly, the scene erupts with frisson, when Django, launches the tattered blanket from his shoulders, and displays his chiseled back like a triumphant boxer.  But even beyond the instant visual, the scene is symbolically driven, with Django's actions speaking vibrantly like a shackled man being granted freedom.  This moment perfectly reflects the rewarding sensation of achieving freedom, and offers a very realistic sensation for its audience, which is what literature is all about.

The Dialogue

(Video is NSFW)
Tarantino's other talent is his absorbing dialogue.  His characters often recite these loaded, emotional, and magnetic strings of dialogue, that perfectly presents every complex modicum of entangled emotions in each of his scenes.  And what makes this talent so important is that the personal divide between movie viewer and witness disappears.  The viewer transcends from passively viewing the film, to actively becoming a member within the scene.  And Calvin Candie's (Leonardo DiCaprio) scene, where he confronts Django and Dr. Shultz, embodies tension, fear, suspense, and anxiety, a web of emotional terror that blankets the viewer with an authentic reflection of a cruel and monstrous slave-owner.

The Bad

Inadequate Editing

Keeping focus for 165 minutes is a challenge.  But indepth stories, fascinating characters, and sublime presentations can help conceal the challenge.  Goodfellas is considered by a few critics to be the shortest 3 hour film they've ever seen.  And it's for good reason, it has fascinating characters, absorbing stories, and has dancing cinematography that tango's with the viewer through the entire ride.  Tarantino has experience building a long film that provides these caveats, but unfortunately, they just aren't there in Django Unchained.  The story is an interesting revenge, history piece, but when broken down to its cinematic DNA, it is a "find a missing person" case.  Great films can be made with this plot line, but it is too one-dimensional for a nearly 3 hour movie.  

Although the editing is the film's biggest issue, it is a LARGE issue.  Scenes drag on, characters sit silently, and the camera doesn't feel like it always knows where it should be looking.  These aren't pandemic throughout the film, but they are serious issues that would be expected from a film student, and not an auteur.  And the issue with these missteps is how it impacts the viewing experience.  These scenes don't carry the emotional frisson, disrupting the film's ability to transition the viewer into the world of the film.  This seriously impairs Django Unchained from becoming literary merit.

The Literary Verdict

Films like Django Unchained stand in literary limbo.  Between its visuals and dialogue, but inadequate editing, there just enough reason to merit the film as literature, as there is to dismiss its credibility.  There is no right answer, as all of these observations are absorbed subjectively.  But as far as Sirloin Furr is concerned, although Django Unchained offers impressive and transcending monologues and iconic visuals, its not polished enough to fulfill literary merit.  It provides enough creativity and skill to provide valuable guidance for aspiring film-makers, and it is another diverse piece of solid entertainment for Quentin Tarantino's portfolio.  But its inadequate editing doom the film's rhythm, and breaks away from the audience too many times during its 165 minute showtime.  

Aug 2, 2014

Literary Review: Glengarry Glen Ross

Hypothesis: Glengarry Glen Ross is a minimalist film that utilizes character exploitation to drive desperate actions by the supporting cast to create a memorable and honest film.  

Displays Literary Merit: YES

Key Points:

  • This film loves (well-written) monologues.  
  • The film is simple.
  • The film exploits every ounce of desperation from its characters.
The Film Loves (well-written) Monologues
Glengarry Glen Ross isn't rich in set pieces or special effects.  But the props don't interfere with the meaty dialogue that does more than enough to make up for the lacking props, by gasconading testosterone-fueled bravado and discourse over intensity and desperation.  The under-performing salesman are presented with a stipulation: either sell, or be fired.  After the salesmen learn that the one who sells the least by the end of the week will be fired, the entire staff is launched in an uproar of defense and panic.  Some try to sell, others think of alternative solutions; stealing the good leads from the office in the middle of the night.  The next morning then becomes a who-dun-it mystery, as the sales staff is forced to defend themselves against the interrogation from the police.  And what really propels the desperation, is each salesman trying to sell their own defense of their innocence against the others.  And just as natural salesmen do, these characters all recite detailed, verbose, and volatile monologues, reinforcing the only trait that this subset of working class has.  

The Film is Minimalist
Glengary Glen Ross isn't trying to preach minimalist ideals (suggested by the natural inclination of a salesman).  But the film's lacking special effects, CGI, or expensive set pieces create a very singlular scene that takes place almost entirely in an office.  And although this sounds like an unlikely environment for a film, the scrip writers put all of their chops and bravado into the script, that maximizes the quality actors used for the film (Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin, Al Pacino, Ed Harris).  Glengary Glen Ross strips filmmaking to its core, and puts its emphasis into its script, injecting so much power and strength that the lacking set practically has zero influence on the picture.  There's a good chance the film could have been filmed in a remote location, and still offered the same impactful delivery due to the magnitude of its script.  

The film exploits desperation from its characters
Although the film doesn't offer much to chew on, what is there is alot to swallow.  And all that it offers is presented in an honest disposition that makes Glengary Glen Ross a film containing literary merit.  The desperation fulfills the bulk of the honesty, as the desperate actions are believeable because of what is on the line for the salesmen.  

Jul 11, 2014

Literary Review : Prisoners

Prisoners is Literary Merit Certified

Thesis:  Although baring some holes in its script and forcing the audience to accept some questionable antagonist motives, Prisoners successfully executes a gritty mystery/drama by focusing on the perspectives of those most haunted by the trauma.

Key Points:
  • The desperation of the father and detective drive the film
  • The environment and score contribute to the desolate atmosphere
  • The captivating portrayal of the father and detective over shadow the holes in the script and questionable antagonists.  
The desperation of the father and detective drive the film
Their motives and actions are captivating, and ultimately drive the interest of the film.  Although the surrounding environment is enriching and the plot is enough to reach front page of national news, the depth of their desperation draws the audience to enter the deep and dark place that the film dares to descend.  

Keller Dover (father)
Hugh Jackman utilizes the testosterone fueled aggression that helped secure him the role of Wolverine, to present a relatable portrayal of a vengeful father relentlessly seeking the abductor of his daughter. His anger and impulsive actions can be understood by the audience (especially if the viewer has any children of their own), making the film feel honest.  By creating an honest character portrayal, the film has freed itself from viewer skepticism, allowing itself to demonstrate the extreme magnitude that Keller Dover is willing to take to find the location of his daughter.  Kidnapping, torture, and incarceration are all actions that a reasonable person would never consider.  But forced into a situation where a raging father believes that police and authorities are not fulfilling their civic obligation, that are not working relentlessly to find an innocent little girl, then it suspends belief, and allows the audience to believe that the actions of Keller Dover, although extreme, desperate, and radical, are honest.  

Detective Loki (detective)
There isn't much revealed about the detective.  His history isn't revealed, personal tastes aren't disclosed.  All that we know is that he has solved all of his cases, twitches his eyes due to an unknown and unacknowledged condition, and buttons his shirt all the way to the collar.  Should the audience believe that we have an atypical, hard-nosed, down-on-his luck cop?  Or should the audience believe that, because Detective Loki has solved all of his cases, that he's actually a well studied and above his time detective?  It's hard to say.  Not knowing his history prevents the audience from typecasting the detective, which gives the film some more ambiguity.  And that ambiguity gives the character some freedom, by not having to fulfill pre-conceived expectations, of what we're expected of on-screen pigs.

The Score 
The score was great.  It's not a Grammy winning sound track.  Instead, it adds subtly anxiety to very specific scenes, helping the audience commit to the realness of the film.

Plot Holes
The film wasn't perfect, so there are most likely other holes.  But one glaring hole that I'd like to mention is the forensic teams inability to find Keller Dover's truck or bag of tools.  So after Dover is brought to the hole by Ms. Leo, Detective Loki shows up shortly after.  There could not have been any more than 1 hour between the time Dover went into the hole, and the time that Loki showed up.  So how did Ms. Leo find time to hide Dover's truck and bag of tools?  She wouldn't have been able to.  So how did the forensic team not find the Dover's truck and bag of tools?  They had reason to believe that Dover was there, and should have noticed that his truck and tools were there.  This did not deflect from the mood, tension, or atmosphere the film built.  However, anyone paying attention will have noticed that this is something that was not presented honestly, and is asking the audience to dismiss its unfeasibility.

Conclusion: Contains Literary Merit
Regardless of the ending plot hole, the atmosphere and honest characters pitted into this atmosphere justify the tension and radical decisions that the characters present.  Detective Loki's collectiveness, and Keller Dover's anger, build an tense parallax within the film, that contributes to the stressful situations that they both find themselves in.