May 19, 2013
Written by Mark Schumann, Father of Three
Thursday, 14 February 2013 13:58
As we savor Oscar season — and the best films of the year fill theaters — the Reel Dad checks out the nutritional value of the nominees. This week’s pick is Django Unchained, a nominee for five Academy Awards including Best Picture.
Few look at the world the same way as Quentin Tarantino.
No matter what this director may view, he sees beyond the traditional setting, situation or moment. He takes what is and magically translates it into what could be. And he makes us believe in the journey, no matter how improbable the destination may be.
With Django Unchained, Tarantino initially seems to serve a parody of the standard issue Hollywood Western. Picture Blazing Saddles for a new generation. The director creates a fabulous first act to brilliantly skewer every expectation we bring to the genre. But as soon as he makes us think the movie will travel one direction, he maneuvers a brilliant U-turn to create something totally different. Suddenly we find ourselves in the midst of a compelling story about the issues of slavery. Tarantino invites us to enjoy one meal and then decides to serve something else indeed. And we leave incredibly satisfied.
Connecting the dots in this complex picture are stunning performances from Oscar-winning actors Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx. Waltz portrays a former dentist who pays to free Foxx, a former slave, because he needs a sidekick. After all, in a Western, the hero always has a sidekick. And just when we think we will relive the buddyhood of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Tarantino decides that a trip to the South makes the most sense, so we trek to a plantation where Foxx’s wife is enslaved by the mean owner played by Leonardo DiCaprio. What opens as a comic treatment of the Western becomes, instead, a meaningful look at slavery. Tarantino tricks us to pay attention to his moral by entertaining us with his characters. And the result is a thrilling ride that only a savvy director can steer.
Waltz, who won his Oscar for Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, thrills as a man who hides his true ambitions as carefully as the director shields his intentions. The actor makes the character deliciously humorous in the comic moments and authentically touching in the dramatic sequences. Foxx, as well, makes us laugh and think as he essays the struggles a former slave would confront. And Samuel L. Jackson — who should have received an Oscar nomination — stuns in a surprising portrayal of the plantation owner’s right-hand man. Only DiCaprio, in a role beyond his grasp, feels out of step. He doesn’t seem to know whether the character is real or cardboard. And he looks uncomfortable with Tarantino’s approach to the material.
The director continues an impressive journey of visual development as he pays tribute to the characteristics of the Western genre. We could be watching a widescreen epic from John Ford or Howard Hawks instead of a deceptively scintillating spoof from an offbeat creator. By making the film look so traditional, Tarantino shrewdly tricks us to hold one set of expectations that he quickly replaces them with the story he wants to tell.
Ultimately, Tarantino offers just what we look for in a satisfying time at the movies. He entertains as he enlightens, delights as he dissects. And we never know what will happen next.
* Content: High. Master movie creator Quentin Tarantino creates a story that works as an entertaining exaggeration of the Western and a detailed depiction of the issues of slavery.
* Entertainment: High. Even with its complicated content, Django is so filled with magical moments that we delight at every gag while we wait for meaningful messages.
* Message: High. No matter our expectations when we enter the theater, Django surprises us with something equally memorable.
* Relevance: High. Any opportunity to talk with older children about the realities of slavery in US history is worthwhile.
* Opportunity for Dialogue: High. You and your older children will have a lot to consider as you absorb what Tarantino delivers with this most unusual and satisfying film.
(Django Unchained is rated R for strong graphic violence, a vicious fight, language and some nudity. The film runs 165 minutes.)
5 Popcorn Buckets
What’s on your family’s movie menu this week?
Choosing what films to offer is a lot like planning what meals to serve. And all the choices on television make it easy to savor something at the same time you nourish the mind and heart. This week, broadcast, cable and instant on-line video offer a range of nutritious movies. Here are a few choices.
The golden days of Hollywood are easy to savor this week thanks to the vast archives of Turner Classic Movies (TCM).
Gene Kelly salutes the magic of the movie business in the classic musical Singin’ in the Rain, broadcast at 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16. The film returns us to that wild time in the late 1920s when the microphone had just been invented. That means, for the first time, audiences can actually hear movie stars talk, instead of just watching them mime in silent films. Well, no surprise, some of the voices don’t match the looks, and the performers have difficulties adjusting from silent to sound. And that’s the funny part. Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Conner and Jean Hagen are on hand for the lunacy. This movie is such fun — and filled with so many wacky characters — that you may experience nonstop laughter from beginning to end. Or at least continuous smiles.
The musical magic continues at 4 p.m. Saturday when TCM broadcasts Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. This inventive musical — about brothers who capture the women who capture their hearts — celebrates dance is a most endearing way. Choreographer Michael Kidd brings a dynamic athleticism to the movements in a series of thrilling musical numbers. Add Howard Keel and Jane Powell to the musical mix and a classic is born. Savoring this special film makes us wish the original musical film could still find a place on the Hollywood menu.
Another musical classic, Gigi, follows at 6 p.m. Saturday on TCM. This precious movie — the winner of nine Academy Awards including Best Picture — tells the story of a young girl in Paris who confronts the romantic choices of her day. While that delightful tale may frame the film, the real story occurs behind the screen. MGM so loved the Broadway musical My Fair Lady that it asked creators Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Leowe to create parallel magic on screen. And with Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold at their best, the songs leap from the screen.
The Oscar-honored movie work of Elizabeth Taylor highlights three TCM offerings on Sunday, Feb. 17. The legendary actress won her first Oscar in 1960 for Butterfield 8, a tawdry story of a call girl who gets involved with the wrong man. While the movie is a mess, Taylor is a marvel in a performance that defies the material in its depth. The film airs at 6 p.m. Sunday.
The actress fares even better in her Oscar-nominated turn as Maggie in the film adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof from 1958 to broadcast at 4 p.m. Sunday. While the production code forced changes to tone down the script, Taylor keeps the heat turned up in a portrayal of intensity and command. And this great star reveals her lighter side in the original Father of the Bride from 1950. As a young woman preparing to walk down the aisle, Taylor is simply radiant in a spontaneous demonstration of humor and humanity. Look for this classic at 2:15 Sunday on TCM.
If you are in the mood for a Hollywood epic, check out MGM’s amazing production of Ben Hur that shows on TCM at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16. This massive film from 1959 — made in the Hollywood heyday before computer graphics became available — tells the moving story of a man who fights for justice at the start of the first century. Among the 11 Academy Awards the film received, Charlton Heston won an Oscar for playing a rich prince and merchant who is forced into slavery. The classic chariot race sequence contains stunts that still thrill all these years later.
Serving nutritious movies can be as easy as turning on the television. And be sure, as you watch together, to share what you observe, question and consider. Watching films together can prompt meaningful family conversation.
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