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Archive for January, 2013

Even as an English teacher, I have a hard time describing tone. Is it an attitude?  Is it atmosphere? How is it different from mood?  All very technical.  I wouldn’t even call tone a “you-know-it-when-you-see-it” kind of a thing.  In fact, I think you know it better when you don’t see it.

That said, I didn’t “see” a consistent tone in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.  Oh, over the course a two hours and forty-five minutes,  I saw a bunch of other things—a lot of exploding blood packets, for example (hard to take, with memories of the Sandy Hill school shooting still fresh in our collective minds), and a bunch of characters, both white and black, throwing around the N-word.  (Hey, I get it’s a period piece, and I accept that’s how people talked in 1858, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.)

That stuff didn’t thrill me, but after talking about it with my colleagues, I realize I mostly have a beef with the film’s muddled tone. Here’s what I mean: to me, this overly long film is really two films in one. And apparently, I’m not far off with this:  according to the December 21st Entertainment Weekly, Tarantino and producer Harvey Weinstein had actually considered giving the film the Kill Bill treatment by cutting it into two.

As it stands, Django Part I is basically a pre-Civil War buddy movie, detailing the madcap adventures of Dr. King Schultz (the always mesmerizing Christopher Waltz) and Django (the capable though somewhat less mesmerizing Jamie Foxx).  Dr. Schultz is a dentist-turned-bounty hunter charged with bringing in criminals “dead or alive”; despite the fact that he conveniently overlooks the “alive” part, Dr. Schultz is likeable and strangely honorable.  He also hates slavery, and early in the film, Schultz frees Django and then enlists him to be his partner in the bounty hunting business.

I like Django Part I a lot.  Sure, it has some dark, unsavory moments (it’s not a Pixar movie, after all), but overall, it has a certain lightness to it. There’s humor (including an amusing Jonah Hill cameo).  There’s the touching friendship between Schultz and Django, which to me is the best part of the movie.  Heck, there’s even Jim Croce’s “I Got a Name” on the soundtrack.  You don’t get much bouncier than that!

Then comes Django Part II, which introduces us to an insane and merciless slave-owner named Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).  Mr. Candie owns Django’s wife, Broomhilda, and so Schultz and Django undertake a covert mission to rescue her.  A great concept , for sure, and Django Part II does have some compelling moments.  (DiCiaprio particularly shines, especially when delivering a captivating speech involving a skull—a wild, profane twist on Hamlet’s “poor Yorick” meditation.)

The problem, though, has to do with the drastic shift in tone between Part I and Part II: basically, when Candie shows up, out goes Jim Croce, to be replaced with extended scenes of slaves fist-fighting to the death, extended scenes of slaves being fed to dogs, and hyper-extended of people getting shot up.  These scenes were so extended, in fact, that I started to wonder if Tarantino was critiquing the violence or exploiting it.

Hey, I’m not saying that a little tonal inconsistency is a bad thing.  Shakespeare has some funny moments in his tragedies and some sad undertones in his comedies.  Judd Apatow can write raunchy comedic scenes with the best of ‘em, but all of his movies have a heart as well.  That’s not what’s going on in Django Unchained, which abruptly changes into a completely different movie for the last hour-and-a-half.

The thing is, Tarantino is even inconsistent with his inconsistencies.  Near the end (and this doesn’t spoil anything, I hope), Django shoots Candie’s sister, Lara Lee, and she literally goes flying off the screen.  Obviously, this is played for laughs– which is fine, except that this came after a long, bloody, graphic, non-laughable shoot-‘em-up.  I don’t know if you can have both.

Ultimately, because of the schizophrenic tone, I think there’s a “whole not as great as the sum of its parts” thing going on with Django Unchained.  It’s not a bad movie; in fact, if they cut down on some of the really gruesome scenes, it’s a combination two potentially good movies.   Just not one great movie. (Or should I say “djust not one great movie”?)

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642 things to write aboutOne of our favorite gifts this Christmas was a book called 642 Things to Write About by the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto (2011).  Given to us by a dear friend, the book is a collection of prompts (642 of them, we’re guessing), such as “Write ten sayings for fortune cookies” or “Write a story that ends with the line, ‘And this is the room where it happened.’”

For our New Year’s Resolution, we’d like to “do” this book, to use it to fire up our somewhat-soggy-from-the-holidays creative embers.  Much like the NaBloPoMo Challenge, we’re hopeful that this endeavor will bear fruit in several ways: new and interesting blog posts, a “stretched” or enhanced creative energy in our writing, and a renewed dedication to our next big writing project—a sequel to our first (as of yet unpublished) young adult novel.

We have some individual resolutions, too—ones that don’t have anything to do with writing. And what are they? Well…

SHERI

All best plans seem to come in three’s, so I’ve come up with three resolutions for 2013.

I resolve to spend more time outdoors. January in New England may not be the best time to start this one, but I read a statistic from the Gale Encyclopedia of Public Health that the average North American spends 90 percent of the time indoors, 5 percent in cars, and only 5 percent outdoors.  And I know I fit into that category.  When you’re a writer, a reader, a mom, and a pop culture fanatic, you tend to be more of an indoor person.  So 2013 will find me putting on my warmest coat and getting outside to let the sun shine upon my face, the snowflakes coat my eyelashes, and the gentle breezes carry me away.

I resolve to eat more vegetables.  This may seem like an odd one for a woman in my 40s, but if I’m being honest… I hate vegetables.  I envy those people who can serve up a plate of roasted eggplant, zucchini, asparagus, (fill-in-the-blank with your vegetable of choice) and devour it with the kind of ecstasy I only reserve for Ben & Jerry’s.  In the words of Corey Flood from the movie Say Anything: “that’ll never be me, that’ll never be me!”  However, I do resolve to eat more vegetables, even if I never grow to love them.

I resolve to act on benevolent impulses.  Scottish philosopher David Hume argued that humans possess a “natural benevolent impulse” that moves us to love others and to perform kind, charitable acts.  I would say this is definitely true for me with one slight difference: my benevolent impulses lead me to want to perform kind, charitable acts.  It’s the doing where I tend to fall off the rails.  Oftentimes because I’m too busy (or too lazy), and other times my introverted nature stops me from putting myself out there.  But not in 2013!  Every time I have an impulse to do something nice for someone, I resolve to do it.

MARK

I, too, have three specific goals… as well as one less quantifiable, infinitely goofier one. First, the specific ones:

  • I’d like to lose twelve pounds (at least) before April.  In January 2003, I lost twenty-three pounds as part of a New Year’s diet; ten years later, the pounds have slowly but oh-so-surely crept back. I figure I’ll try to lose half of that original amount (twelve is half of twenty-three, kind of) this time around.
  • I’m going to make a project on iMovie. We bought an iMac almost two years ago now, and I don’t think I have used iMovie even once.
  • I want to improve my ping pong game.  We have a table in our house, and I want to get better at it. (Probably the first step would be to call it by its proper, snootier name: table tennis.).

Now, here’s the goofier goal: I want to be more “up” on things. Not necessarily political things or big-ticket news items. I just want to know things that everyone else seems to know about.

Let me give an example:  with the end of the year comes lists—the most popular songs of the past year, the biggest news stories of the year, the top ten Sporcle games that chewed up the most potentially productive hours. (OK, that last one might just apply to me…)  But my favorite year-end list has to be the “Dead Celebrities” review—the one that provides a final farewell the famous folks who died over the past twelve months.

The individuals on this list often fall into different categories: the “Fond Remembrances” group (e.g. Dick Clark, Adam Yauch, Maurice Sendak); the “Such a Shame/ Cautionary Tale” group (Whitney Houston); the “Wait, You Mean This Person Didn’t Die, Like, Ten Years Ago?” group (Ernest Borgnine).

Then we get to the most frustrating category of them all: “Yes, This Celebrity Died Months Ago and Somehow You’re Just Finding Out Now.”  Every year, I learn about one celebrity death that somehow passed me by. In 2011, it was Dobie Gray. In 2004, it was Rick James.  And in 2012, it was none other than… Donna Summer.

Apparently, the Queen of Disco died of lung cancer last May…. so how did I not know about this until a few weeks ago?  Hey, I wasn’t her biggest fan, but… it’s Donna Summer!  Why wasn’t there more hubbub about this?

I’m not saying no one knew about Donna Summer’s death; in fact, everyone I talked to about this has said, “Oh, yeah, I knew.” So I guess I’m not so much sad she died but more frustrated that I didn’t know.  I hate being left out!

So maybe next year I will either try to be more aware of what’s going on, or else enlist a massive team of pop culture watchdogs who will send me an alert whenever a famous person dies.  (Then again, maybe I’ll just stick to the ping pong.)

To hold ourselves accountable to our joint and individual resolutions, we promise future blog posts with updates on how we’re doing.  But now we’d love to hear from you!  Use the comments section to share your resolutions for 2013.

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