Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Dentention

Yeah, like kids ever actually go to detention.

How does one even attempt to describe the film Detention? It’s as if Grant Morrison had been contracted to write the script for Not Another Teen Movie, which was then directed by the speed-riddled, zombie corpse of Bob Clampett.

Try to imagine The Breakfast Club, She’s All That, Scream and Donnie Darko put into a garbage smasher with hydraulics powered by self-derision and a healthy dose of hallucinogens. Or Dan Harmon going so unbelievably meta that he disappears up his own ass and comes out in Dante’s candy colored third level of Hell.

After a sensory-blasting opening, we settle in with our main character, the self-proclaimed “biggest loser in school.” Perhaps it’s her militant vegetarianism that pisses everyone off. Perhaps it’s her idiot, alcoholic father. Perhaps it’s her sad sack-ness. But regardless, most people just plain don’t like poor, gimpy Riley Jones. On the flip side, we’ve got the biggest reason this film was picked up for distribution following The Hunger Games kicking the Spring box office in the head; Josh Hutcherson’s character. A popular slacker that is beloved by most of the student population, Clapton Davis is pined for by Riley, who is devastated that he is dating her former best friend, Ione. But after murder, aliens, time travel, hipster nostalgia and an awful performance by Dane Cook pretending to be Principal Vernon from Breakfast Club (which drags the film down by half a star alone) get done with the three of them, nothing will be the same.

The plot’s engine is the same kind of bugnuts chicanery that fuels my love of such bizarre films as Hideaki Anno’s adaptation of Cutie Honey or Jason Eisener’s Hobo with a Shotgun. There is nothing quite like it and that’s probably a good thing. The closest film in my estimation is Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, but while in terms of filmmaking energy they may be in the same sport, Detention is in a completely different ballpark (and with a AAA team.) It certainly isn’t the best self-reflexive meta horror comedy this year. Cabin in the Woods delivers the ultimate nut punch to that particular genre. But even with it’s own glorious finale, Cabin never reaches the same level of “what the hell”-ness.

I have not seen Joseph Kahn’s previous film Torque, which I’ve heard is a good thing. Regardless, Detention is not an experience that will be equal to all. While I found myself with a dazed smile on my face and arched eyebrow as all of this unbridled weirdness unspooled before me, many… perhaps even a large majority of people, may find themselves with the kind of migraine headaches that make your brains liquify and drip out your ear canal and all over your couch. (Guess grandma was right to put plastic on her furniture.)

I almost have trouble saying that Detention is a good film so much as that it’s a good film equivalent of pixie-stix sandwich overkill.

(Three and a half out of five stars)

 

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Django Unchained

House of Chain

To say Django Unchained is Quentin Tarantino’s crack at Blazing Saddles is the highest praise I can put upon it. In both cases, Mel Brooks and Tarantino in turn used the genre of the Western to push our faces in the collective poop that the United States took in the form of slavery and racism and say, “Look what you did!” And somehow, both manage to do this in an incredibly entertaining way. Talk about a magic trick.

The story of Django is more straightforward than most of his previous films, leaning much more towards Inglourious Basterds than his earlier work. Also like Basterds, it is something of an alternate history, full of anachronisms to play with the theme, though it does not fiddle with things on as grand a scale by any means. It mostly settles for things like naming characters “Von Shaft” or “Dr. King.” And unlike Basterds, there is only one sequence that comes across as Tarantino being in love with his own monologuing. And that particular speech is actually highly reminiscent of the infamous Dennis Hopper/Christopher Walken showdown from his True Romance script.

In a nutshell, Django enters into what would more strictly be referred to as an endentured servitude when Dr. King Schultz (in an astoundingly fun turn by Christoph Walz) purchases him in complicated fashion from a pair of thugish brothers and offers him freedom in exhange for helping him hunt down three wanted fugitives known as the Brittle Brothers.
Schultz, a bounty hunter emigrant from Germany then does something astounding to Django; he treats him like a human being. While Schultz certainly does not romanticize his place in society (comparing himself to slavers because he deals in the “flesh trade”) he operates on his own code of honor. He will not hesitate to kill a bounty from a distance or take out a threat at the first sign of trouble. But it is not until he is threatened that he takes action against those that do not have a bounty on their heads and he treats Django and the other blacks he comes in contact with if not as equals, then as lives that should be respected. Impressed by Django, Shultz takes him on as a novice partner and eventually offers to help him free his still enslaved wife.

The problem? Calvin Candie, played by Leonardo DiCaprio with all the subtlety of a plantation-owning freight train, now owns her.

In the process of all this, blood is spilled in much the same way I imagine it would be had the Black Knight sequence of Monty Python and the Holy Grail used shooting irons instead of swords. It sprays red and superfluous, coming close to the kind of overkill that would make Sam Raimi impressed.

There are several noteworthy performances in the film, but most of the attention seems to be focused on the wrong people, in my opinion. The first of the standouts has got to be Walz, who somehow manages to outdo his own star-making turn in Basterds with what is already looking to crawl onto my list of my favorite film characters of all time. Also showing off is Samuel L. Jackson in a bizarre role as Candie’s head slave. His head tufted with cottony white hair, he has made a place for himself at the top and he will do anything he has to in order to keep that place. As he acts the part of the ignorant servant, machinations are always churning behind his eyes in ways that make him at once hysterically funny and disgustingly vile. On the other end of the spectrum, Tarantino himself continues to pretend to be Hitchcock, this time hiding behind an awful Australian accent. It’s a thousand times better than M. Night’s ego boosts, though.

The structure of the film is a little weak with the real climax coming about three quarters of the way into the film, and the film feels a bit too long as a result. Granted, many of Tarantino’s films can feel that way. The character work and the humor make up for it though, as well as the fact that, for a Western by a director known for his visual accumen, it sometimes seems flat. One would expect Tarantino to get his John Ford on, but looking back I can only think of a handful of landscapes that are really given much attention, mostly in one montage sequence. Perhaps it was a concious decision to make the film a bit more spartan. Perhaps I’m remembering it wrong. But it was something that occured to me while watching it. It’s a bit of a moot point since you can’t really fault a Tarantino film for being a Tarantino film. Especially one as strong as Django Unchained.

(Four and a half out of five stars)