Movie: Django Unchained (2012)

Typical Tarantino flick through and through. 1850s. America. A charismatic dentist-turned-bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) teams up with a black slave (Jamie Foxx) to take out outlaws and bandits wanted by the federal government. Personal dislike for slavery and his humanity compels him to help the black slave find his wife who was separated from her husband and sold elsewhere.

Straight films dealing with a topic of historical importance tend to be too heavy for light entertainment. The issue of slavery and African slave trade is one such cliche ridden and overdone theme. This film is all about slavery in America during mid 19th century but the theme is so masterfully enmeshed in a light, entertaining and personal story of a black slave and his quest to find his wife that you don’t really feel the heaviness of the topic. It’s cleverly funny and offensive at the same time.

2 hours 45 minutes run time is 45 minutes too long. The plot and sequence of events doesn’t quite justify the length. Tarantino’s films are known for their non-linear and chaotic plot lines. This one is pretty linear and drags half way.

The unceremonious and sudden death of the intelligent and savvy Christoph Waltz, the lead character and bounty hunter, at the house of the plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio) also didn’t go down well with me.

The dramatic escape of Jamie Foxx too was too oversimplified. I’d give it one star less than I’d have if not for these weaknesses. 4/5

Best actor of the film is undoubtedly Christoph Waltz for his excellent delivery of intelligent dialogue followed by Samuel L. Jackson, the house Negro at Leonardo DiCaprio’s estate, a self-hating black. IMDb Link

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Movie: Lincoln (2012)

Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece depicting events leading to the passing of the 13th Amendment to the US constitution amid the civil war. It shows the pressures of the war on Lincoln and his family. He suffered from “melancholy” according to people close to him. Today we know it as clinical depression.

Nearly everybody believed that the attempt at the amendment would be defeated in the Congress as it had already been a year or so ago. But Lincoln is confident after his re-election and must go through with his plans. He did.

And so it happened. The amendment outlawed slavery and involuntary servitude and led to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln by a disgruntled and famous stage actor who hated the President for his sympathetic views toward the “Negros”

Daniel Day-Lewis without doubt has been outstanding in the character of Lincoln. Not everyone’s cup of tea but for those who know, it’s a must watch. 5/5 IMDb Link

Movie: Trade of Innocents (2012)

Why is self righteous indignation the preserve of the White West? Only if Edward Said was around to watch this film.

Cambodia. Child prostitution is rife. Since the local officials can’t deal with it, they hire an American human trafficking expert to clean up their house. He has personal interest in the matter after he lost his young daughter to kidnappers (in the US, surprisingly) when he was on duty in Afghanistan.

So it begins. No one in Cambodia wants to do anything about it. “You Americans don’t know anything about the Asian culture. The best way to survive is to remain silent”, tells the Cambodian police chief who is deputed to the American agent to assist in operations. “You think by capturing one criminal you can change the system?”, he asks again of the American later in the film.

Nearly all local Cambodians seem to be indifferent to the problem of child prostitution which should suddenly ignites massive levels of indignation and sorrow in the human heart. Those few who seem to want to do something about it are staff of the American agent and, one would think, doing it for money. Their good motives if any do not find expression in the film’s narrative. Moreover, only one grandpa and his granddaughter who put some resistance are shown to be Cambodian-Americans, who left America for Cambodia after some family tragedy befell them.

To give some credit to the film and on a positive note, it does show us how acute poverty turns out to play its role. Even those few girls who are rescued eventually leave rehabilitation centres to go back to brothels so that “they can provide for their families”. Compulsions of basic survival probably blinds parents who are depicted as willing to sell their daughters to traffickers without a hint of pain and a trace of shame.

Even if I ignore old school Orientalism and judge it by the merits of good film making, it still falls way short of anything worth applauding. It’s a blandly linear plot with oversimplified scene of the capturing of the ringleader. Happy ending!! I’d say 1/5 but I’m generous¬†¬†so 2/5.

Movie: American History X (1998)

It’s a story of two American brothers who are sucked into the Neo-Nazi ideology and go on about cleaning their neighbourhood from social problems created by blacks and immigrants, or so they believed. The elder brother is gaoled for manslaughter where he learns his lessons and comes out as a changed man. His younger brother follows him into Neo-Nazi activities to his dismay.

The film weaves a complex and nuanced narrative in the first half, such as showing the human side of seemingly hateful Neo-Nazis who believe in spilling blood of everyone who is different from them and also informing us of the socioeconomic reasons that might lead intelligent and ordinary people down that path.

However, the narrative falls short of pulling things together later on. The sudden change in protagonist’s beliefs was rather simplistic and the ending put everything in disarray. The younger brother is killed in school by a black youth due to a previous grievance.

Derek’s (Edward Norton) change of heart itself wouldn’t appear far fetched if it was better incorporated into his subsequent actions apart from impulsively punching his mentor. I think this twist in the tale could have been utilised better in the narrative. It could have led to a better ending too.

“Has anything you’ve done made your life better?” is arguably the film’s punchline. Edward Norton has been excellent. Good film to watch. My rating 4/5. IMDb Link